I step into the dark. To the east, the horizon is dark purple, to the west midnight blue. A balmy mist envelopes my face. I deeply breathe with gratitude at the anticipated retirement of the ice pick and flat blade hoe.

I’m excited to walk into the barn to greet the ladies and gather obvious evidence of this seasonal shift, and the blessing that the ice pick and blade will soon transition out of daily use. The barn thermometer this morning reads approximately 20 degrees. A nice difference from the -22 degrees just a few weeks ago.

In the midst of fluffing up a morning hay “aperitif” (sans alcohol) for our herd of Guernsey milk cows and yearlings, I’m looking for routine signs that the chores can proceed on schedule: cows and calves rising up from beds of pine shavings with a hearty stretch from the top of their head through to their loins and legs, and “all systems go” in the milk room and milking parlor. On this particular morning — the one marked by misty raindrops on my face — I’m purposefully pursuing the nitty gritty.

The results of this mini-morning mission means the tricep exercises I began in late December, with the help of the ice pick and blade hoe, will shift to a different source of training.

I’m examining whether or not the processed plant matter our cows produce is frozen into a 15-inch cow patty, or something that doesn’t require an ice pick, flat blade hoe, or wide-tined metal fork to move into a pile of frozen poop and dirty bedding.

Moving manure. Pushing poop. Pick your alliteration. It doesn’t matter how it’s described. It’s just something that needs to be done year-round on the farm. Making sure that the barn is tidied up from cow pies isn’t just an effort in cow comfort, barn aesthetics and pride in workmanship.

Due to the nature of our current farm building structure, it’s our choice to move manure and dirty bedding from the barn and into contained compost areas so we can provide clean dry bedding for our cows to rest upon. It’s our cows’ choice to take their naps in the barn during the winter.

Luckily, the cows tend to poop in areas that aren’t part of their resting space. But, there are two things that facilitate this. One: give the cows plenty of room to comfortably share their bedded area with their herdmates, and two: keep moving the manure. This task is especially important in the winter, since the cows are not being rotated into various summer grazing paddocks in their pasture.

When an animal can produce between 100 and 130 pounds of poop in 24-hours, it’s easier for us to tend to it at routine intervals than to wait a few months for it to pile up in the barn and then move it. Thus, once the first frozen patty appears, the ice pick, flat blade hoe and the wide-tined metal fork are added to the list of the right tools for the job when we move manure two times per day during morning and evening chores.

Growing up on a farm and being tutored by family, friends and animals who have decades of first-hand knowledge to pass along has taught me many things. The cows and my parents continue to teach me lessons about finding out what works to keep things going on our farm.

Many of these lessons can be extrapolated to apply to life in general. In the daily task of moving manure, the following lesson rings true: find the right tools for the job, use them to do whatever it takes to accomplish the task, and try not to let it pile up.

Anne Trenholm operates Wholesome Holmstead Farm with her family in Winthrop.

Tell us stories about the culture of self-reliant Mainers, the ingenuity of their enterprises, and how they live in connection to their homes, land, animals and community.