Sheep Shed Ergonomics
It has been a heck of a winter… and I don’t
mean the weather, although one might mark upon it. No, this winter we
noticed, among other things, a depressing similarity between Stowe’s
seemingly diverse restaurants. Each and every one of them has suddenly
decided to produce their menus in microscopic, impossible-to-read, type.
We were shocked to discover, on recent trips, that this phenomenon extends
beyond Stowe, to Middlebury, Montpelier, and even into Morrisville.
As March unwinds into April it is time to turn the sheep
sheds from rudimentary shelters into a nursery. Our ewes are once again
starting to resemble wooly trash barrels on stick legs and although
they have not resolved into the pictures which herald impending lambs,
udders on cloven feet, it is time to start preparing the sheds for the
new arrivals. This means a winter’s worth of discarded hay, bedding,
and, as we say for public consumption “sheep waste by-product”
must be shoveled from the sheds.
The husband and I differ dramatically in our approach
to construction. I am a minimalist… I employ the absolute minimum
in time, effort, and materials to achieve the job at hand. The husband
prefers to overbuild under the theory that a job done to bomb shelter
specifications and roughly twice the size necessary will probably be
useful, if not stand up longer, than one of my cobbled together constructions.
Where the sheep sheds are concerned, however, I won the day. Aided and
abetted by a need to outlay substantial cash last year on transportation
the sheep sheds are a study in New England thrift.
One place you can skimp when constructing domiciles for
short animals is in the height of the thing… we may be minimally
comfortable with a six foot ceiling, but a three foot high sheep requires
considerably less height, ergo, less materials required in construction.
This seems a brilliant savings in overhead until that fateful March
day when, pitchfork in hand, you slump your way into the shed to clean
out the winter waste.
Those of you noticing for the first time the dramatic
shrinking of print to the illegible take note: lifting 50 pounds of
compacted bedding at the end of a pitchfork while hunched over in the
Human Entering the Hobbit Household position, pivoting, and attempting
to fling said waste some distance and with accuracy, is ill advised.
Stubbornly continuing to do this for some period of time after you’ve
heard an ominous pop coming from your hip is seriously ill advised.
However, a combination of fermentation and medical science
can be employed to cover almost any contingency… this is why beer
and motrin were developed. To combat pain. Our theory is the injury
isn’t serious enough to warrant professional attention if it is
manageable after three beers… and three motrin.
Unfortunately, beer (a considerable and lavish application
of beer) and motrin didn’t do the trick, nor did grinding teeth,
and in short order I’d acquired not only a diagnosis but a bemused
physical therapist. It seems that pitching sheep poop while hunched
over in the Human Entering the Hobbit Household position is bad ergonomics.
Who knew? It never bothered me before. But then… I never noticed
how small type has become before this winter either.
“You must,” a well intentioned friend intoned
in all seriousness, “slow down some.” The implication being
that we’re not as young as we used to be. I’ve had a week
to contemplate “slowing down” simply because slow was the
only way to perambulate. It leaves much to be desired. It is time consuming,
painfully so, for someone accustomed to moving at speed.
The husband, sensing an opportunity, points out that
with a bigger barn, possibly even a bigger tractor, not only would the
Human Entering the Hobbit Household position have been avoided, but
internal combustion would have been employed in the emptying of the
(bigger) barn… not a pitchfork… and the speed by which a
tractor could empty a barn would surely compensate for any physical
limitations brought on by encroaching middle age.
But I am not sold on internal combustion, although a larger
barn with decent hay storage would be a beautiful thing. Cleaning sheds
by hand invites sheep participation. Round and curious they dash in
and out of the shed, the boldest stopping for a pat, to check the pockets
for a treat of corn, the shy ones bounding straight up and down in their
excitement. My prettiest ewe pokes her head in the doorway, blocking
progress and we pause together so I can admire her perfect horns and
mahogany fleece. Tractors may be faster, but pitchforks have their purpose.
should be cutting wood in this “spring” weather of ten degrees
and howling winds, but instead I’m learning the names of muscle
groups and how to best deploy them to stabilize the spine. There’s
an irony for you… a New Englander learning how to stiffen their
spine. The therapist is learning new things too, and has added “logger’s
hooks,” those indispensable tools of the woodcutter’s trade,
to his vocabulary.
Regardless of his unfamiliarity with logging hooks and
chainsaws, however, he does know how to ply his trade. The Friday before
last I was in such discomfort (this is a nice euphemism for “the
prescription pain pills, knocked back with double doses of motrin and
tylonol, were bouncing off”) he actually made a house call. Who
knew people did such things in this day and age? Complete with a knock
down examining table… using the kitchen table would have been
more authentically Vermont, but I will admit, the padded table was probably
This Sunday, 9 days later, Peter and I spent the afternoon
attacking the log pile. Made a goodly dent in the thing, considering
that it is buried under a significant amount of snow, and we had to
keep stopping and using the tractor to “fluff up” the pile
so we could find the logs.
Thus, in a few weeks, thanks largely to the skill of
a PT and not my own recuperative powers, I’ll be back in the sheds.
Just in time to catch the first of our spring lambs.
Assuming, of course, they come out large enough for me to see!
(Visit the Stowe
Vermont Physical Therapist we depend on for Manual
Therapy and Myofascial