Scooping Manure and More on the Family Farm

Editor: Greg Baka

This article was written by Julie Baka, wife of the owner of

scooping manure into a spreader

I grew up on a medium-sized family farm of close to 100 acres. We had 24 dairy cows and the same number of steers so there was always manure to scoop. I spent a lot of time on the neighbor's farm where they had some pigs, and at my uncle’s place where they had horses. This article may not be scientific but it is based on my experience. I am going to talk poop first and then I will cover some of the other things we shoveled on the farm.

Four Situations with Manure to Clean Up

Fresh Manure

Choosing the right tool depends on what animal you are cleaning up after. Usually when you are using a scoop shovel you are lifting it into a wheelbarrow or moving it to a larger pile. If you are cleaning up after cows, you will want a scoop shovel with high sides since cow manure is runny. If you are cleaning up after horses, a smaller scoop shovel is sufficient since horse manure is dry. You could also use a manure fork to clean up after horses. I’ll discuss forks more in the next section. Pig manure is between cow and horse manure, so either type of scoop shovel will be sufficient.

Manure Mixed with Straw Bedding

cleaning out a horse stall

When I was a kid, I often had to clean out the part of the barn where the animals slept. To help animals stay clean and dry, straw is usually added to the floor. To clean the resulting straw and manure mixture you will need a manure fork. When you look for a manure fork there are several styles available. You can use a fork shaped like a large scoop shovel to clean up dry droppings from horses which does not have a lot of straw mixed in. To clean up areas with lots of straw, you can use a smaller manure fork with 4 to 6 tines. This kind is often called a "pitchfork" since you use it to "pitch" or throw your fork full into a manure spreader or wheelbarrow to get it out of the barn.

Manure in the Barnyard

This area is the hardest to keep clean. Not only do you have manure from the animals, but also you often end up with mud around the watering and feeding troughs. This area may require you to use all your tools. Where the animals have pulled hay out of the trough and stomped it into the ground, you will once again find a pitchfork to be the best tool for this task. But a scoop shovel will work best on the hard-packed dirt of the paddock.

Manure in Grass or Pasture

If you tether your animals in the grass, they will feed on fresh grass and help you mow. To clean up manure from grass and pasture you will want to use a scoop-style manure fork or a perhaps a manure rake. This tool allows you to get down into the grass and underneath the manure. And as a bonus, cleaning up after large dogs is easier with this type of scoop than many dog scoops you can get at a pet store. If your family walks or plays in these grassy areas, another option is to use a garden rake and a scoop shovel as a "dust bin" to be extra sure that you have cleaned it up well.

Other things to shovel on the farm

Corn: Shelled and Ears

boy using scoop shovel for grain

Most of the time we would be shoveling from the corn crib into a wheelbarrow or buckets to take to the barn to run through the sheller. Since corn that is still on the cob is not that heavy, we always used the largest grain scoop shovel in the shed. A scoop shovel with the tall sides was the best at moving lots of ears at one time. This is the same type we would use to shovel cow manure - but not the same one! Once we had shelled the corn, or if we were scooping oats or wheat, we would often go back to using that big old scoop shovel with tall sides. But if we were scooping into a 5-gallon bucket to carry grain to the different pens or milking parlor for feed, the big scoop shovel would be too big to easily fit the bucket. So we would use a smaller scoop shovel that was narrower than the bucket. And again, a different one than we used for manure.

If you were not scooping off the floor but out of a pile, we would use a common round-point shovel. Because of the round point it was easy to penetrate the pile, and it could move a lot of grain with each scoop. Plus it made it easy to get the grain into the bucket.

Gravel and Sand

On my family's farm there were two other piles that we were always scooping out of. One of small stones and gravel, and one of sand. The general-purpose, round-point shovel was the best for the small rocks and gravel pile. The point helped to get the shovel into the pile so deep enough to fill it. Then we could move the gravel into the back of a pick-up or wheelbarrow and take it into the never ending potholes that grew in the driveway and the tractor paths.

Which shovel we used for the sand often depended on when it had last rained. Wet sand often works best with your general-purpose shovel. While dry sand is easy to scoop with a small flat-bottom scoop shovel. We sometimes used the sand for drying and disposing of oil spills. And it seemed like we were always mixing up sand and concrete in a 5-gallon bucket to set a new fence post or fill in a crack on the barn floor.


author Julie Baka with calf

When on the farm, it is good to have a variety of scoop shovels available to complete your everyday chores and for those every-once-in-a-while projects.

And here is a picture of me in 1971 with my favorite calf.

Thank you for reading!   Julie Baka

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