Originally published in the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Sunday, September 10, 2012.
By LAUREN BOYER
Daily Record/Sunday News
Rodney Eisenhart stands in wait — a ham-and-cheese sandwich in one hand and a metal shovel in the other.
It’s lunchtime at the York Fair, but the 75-year-old’s eyes are locked on the row of bovine buttocks sauntering into a ring at the Toyota Arena for judging.
When a tail lifts up, he jumps in.
“They call me the pooper scooper,” he said shyly, leaning against a wooden fence.
The retired Paradise Township farmer earned the title a decade ago after an innocent inquiry about volunteering with the animals.
He got lucky. An opening had just become available.
“The last guy who did this,” Eisenhart paused, “did it until he died.”
And it’s no petty task.
About 1,100 animals visit the Toyota Arena during the 10-day event, said Mike Rutter, livestock director.
That’s a lot of poop — enough to fill two five-ton trucks per day, he said.
“We all take it for granted,” he added. “It’s just something we’ve got to do.”
In fact, he said, the Toyota Arena was built with manure in mind.
A loading dock in the building’s rear houses a truck where animal exhibitors empty wheelbarrows of the nutrient rich brown stuff, which is hauled away by a local farmer and used as fertilizer.
It’s all part of a coordinated effort to keep the fair free of feces.
On Saturday, fair worker William Freed and York Expo Center employee Justin Claytore participated in that magic, watching cows navigate the halls of the arena.”We’re actually sitting here in case one decides to make a mess,” said Claytore, 25, of York.
The tools of the trade: shovels and sawdust, which is sprinkled on liquid waste and swept up with a broom.
When given his pick of poop, Freed said he’d choose cow patties over Friday’s group of goats and the pellet-sized droppings they scattered across the floor like marbles.
“The whole time I wished I had a giant bag of corks,” he joked.
“The goats stepped in it. The farmers stepped in it. The civilians stepped in it,” he added. “Everybody stepped in it.”
Jim Bortner has stepped in it dozens of times.
Manure is a daily reality for the foreman at Glatfelter, who helps out with his wife and brother-in-law’s cows.
“Do you have a dog? Do you clean up after your dog?” he asked, watching 10 dairy cows. “It’s the same thing, just more volume.”
Together, he said, his cows will produce about seven wheelbarrows of manure during the fair.
“As much as you put in, comes out,” he said, “and they eat a lot.”
Moments later, a black and white Holstein named Melanie lifted her tail, and the Jackson Township man stepped in, nearly catching five airborne clumps with his pitchfork.
“If you don’t, they’ll back up and step in it and drag it other places,” said Bortner, 42. “Every now and then, they’ll cough while they’re going and it will fly across the aisle way.”
What’s that smell?
Animal manure contains dead plant material and three basic nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, said John Rowehl, Penn State Extension educator.
The smell, he said, is created by bacteria interacting and producing hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, which contains nitrogen.