by Haye Hinrichsen
translated from the Hallig Friesian by Peter Constantine
On the Uses of Dung
On Langeness, our island, we don't have any use for dung in farming.
Plow a field with dung, and the crops wouldn't be fit for dogs
we'd all be running for the dikes! But we don't throw the dung out,
either; we use it for fuel.
Each farmer has a four-cornered pit down by the barn. We call it
a potstaol, and it's usually built up with stonetwo-and-a-half
to three yards long, two yards wide, and one-and-a-half to two yards
deep. Twice a day, morning and evening, after the cattle have been
fed, we haul the dung out of the stall gutters in dung carts and
take it to the potstaol. There the slosh oozes down through
channels into the dung sewer. By the end of winter the pit has grown
into a large mountain.
We begin our dung spreading around Easter. First comes the dung
hauling. No one enjoys thisit's nasty work. On dung hauling day
all the neighbors pitch in: the young girls stomping and the young
men hauling. The strongest man climbs down into the pit to shovel
up the manure; one cartload after another is taken down to the wharf
and emptied out in heaps, which the women trample flat. Then comes
the foot-kneading. Each woman wears two pairs of socks, as you can't
get the dung nice and smooth with shoes and boots. The job is usually
done by late afternoon. Once the women have finished their stomping
we can all go home.
The dung is left to dry for a week or two, depending on the weather.
When the dung is hard enough to walk on, it's time for dung cutting.
We use a "dung-stinger," a wooden spade with a sharp iron edge.
We use it to cut the dung into small eight-inch squares.
Once the dung is cut it's flipped over, and the squares are laid
out like roof-tiles on a house.
Lining up the dung squares
When the dung squares have dried on both sides they are arranged
in rows. That's a tough job too: it always gets you in the back!
We place four or five dung squares one on top of the other, in rows
about three feet apart.
Making the kluade
After a week or two the dung squares have to be hauled away from
the wharf, for the spring grass is growing fast. We pile them beside
our houses. Four rows high and a fifth row on the top. We call these
Bringing in the dung squares
If the weather plays along, the dung squares are dry by late May
or early June, and we bring them into our houses and store them
in the attic. Here again, we need all the help we can get. Some
have to fill the baskets; others have to carry the squares from
the wharf, and others carry them up to the attic, where someone
sits on the rafters packing the dung squares into neat piles. It's
important that this person take special care to keep the dung wall
even and tidy.
Making dung disks
The dung squares don't burn too wellthey're too thick. So we
also cut thin, round dung disks. Between dung spreading week and
May 12th the day we chase our cows out onto the fens we gather the
dung every day after cleaning the animals and bring it down to the
wharf, where we put it in little piles. Then with a twig broom we
beat these piles flat. Once they are dry enough to be stood up,
we line the disks in rows just like the dung squares. But we don't
pile them into mounds by the house. Once they've dried we just bring
them in. Many of the disks break during handling into what we call
smoll, stray bits of dung are called moot, which also
covers the sheep dung we sweep together in the stables.
In the old days, when island farmers didn't have as many cattle
as today and were often short of fuel, they would go out into the
fens. Each farmer had his own dung territory, where women and children
would set the cow droppings out to dry, and collect sheep manure.
We use the dung squares year-round in our stoves. The stove is built
into the wall over the oven and has a fuel chamber on each side
into which we put the dung. The fire burns constantly. After dinner,
we put a dung square into the stove and cover it with ash. The following
morning it is still aglow. We lay onto it things that burn easily,
and flames jump up immediately. In winter we also heat our ovens
with dung squares, dung disks, and other manure. Our ovens are different
from those on the mainland; ours are square boxes made of cast iron,
usually with Bible scenes on the front and sides, and decorated,
in some houses, with brass buttons.
The oven is built into the wall and supported by two feet in front.
It's closed to the room and heated from the stove. There is a large
opening in the back which leads to the oven, and over it is a small
air vent that allows the smoke to escape to the chimney.
Every kitchen has a square-shaped fuel cupboard near the stove built
into the wall like a shaft all the way to the ceiling. There's an
opening for the dung at the bottom. When the cupboard is empty,
someone has to climb up to the attic and bring down a fresh batch
of dung squares, dung disks and dung droppings in a basket.
[Note: Every attempt has been made to inquire into the copyright
status of the work, which was originally published in Langeness