Shoveling Cow Manure – my valuable life lessons!

“Cow manure, also known as cow dung, is the waste product, undigested residue of plant matter which is passed through the cow’s gut. It is rich in minerals and has multiple purposes.” 

As repulsive as that definition may be to you, pinch your nose and read on for now, okay?

These days, I meet lots and lots of new people. Admittedly, remembering their names from one day to the next – and sometimes one minute to the next – is something I continue to struggle with. And don’t you dare ask me to remember passwords.

But the intriguing thing about the human mind is that it allows you to recall names, faces and experiences from years, even decades ago. And one can add specific numbers (think GPAs, SAT scores, birthdays) to that list. For yours truly the number “36” is permanently etched in my memory.

You see, other than cutting grass, selling berries and shoveling snow, my first real job during the summer was milking 36 cows twice daily on a dairy farm a half mile from our house. We had to heard cows, twelve at a time, into stalls in the milking house, fill their troughs with grain while “Bun,” who ran the place, detached then removed the milking machines from each cow. 

And often those cows would raise their tails and, eh, “deposit”their muck in the cement trench behind them. When we saw tails go up, we got out of the way. Fast. Our job – my brother and I – was to carry the full milk cannisters across the street, empty them into processors, then return to shovel the manure, dump it into wheel barrels and deposit it into piles behind the barn. Like working in a bakery, we became so use to the smell that we stopped noticing it. 

Now the interesting thing is that I came to love those cows and could distinguish each one by their colors, temperaments and the amount of milk they produced. We grew fond of the caves they birthed and named and watched them grow up as well. Seriously.

Okay, okay my lessons in life? Well, there are several.

First, I learned at an early age the value of hard work, values that I hold to this day. I developed the belief that there was no job beneath me and to respect those who worked on farms, in factories and on assembly lines. They too helped me appreciate the value of hard work.

Lesson number two was learning what one cannot learn in the classroom – the phenomenal workings of the ecosystem and how one system “feeds” another. Simply put in my story is how grass feeds cows that produce milk and dung that fertilizes gardens that produce the vegetables we consume. So, if someone ever tells you that you’ll “full of crap,” well, in a sense you are!

The third lesson was learning to value the individual cow and, by extrapolation, the value of every person as an individual. Just like the cows we fed and cleaned up after back then, human beings come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, races, temperaments and colors – and sometimes we must feed and clean up after them as well.

One more thing: Often when I return home to Virginia, I visit the site of that old farm and pop in on the nearby livestock yard to encounter the “whiff” of manure from cattle unloaded off trucks for auctioning. And you know what, the fresh apple pies baked and served in that stockyard’s cafeteria today taste and smell(like that manure) the same today as it did back them. 

Okay, you’re free to unpinch your nose now.

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Shenandoah Valley Hit,, The Echo World, the Appreciate You Magazine, The Valley Trail and co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at


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