Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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8/26/2014

As a farmer and a writer, I often use this column as a way to work out something I’ve got stuck in my craw. Today that’s the burden of beef.

I recently listened to one of my favorite radio programs, Living on Earth. There was a segment where the host, Steve Kerwood, interviewed one of my favorite young writer/activists, Anna Lappé. Anna and Steve had a very interesting and informative conversation about the environmental impacts of a system that puts steak and burgers atop the American diet.

Beef cattle grazing in field

Their discussion was a good one, and most HOMEGROWN readers could follow along closely. If you’re like me, you understand that we live in a world where resources are constrained. You’re deeply concerned about building ecologically resilient communities and about unequal access to clean water and decent places to live. You’re probably in favor of ethical, humane treatment of livestock and wildlife. You probably believe that giant industrial feedlots are disgusting and problematic on many levels.

I share these concerns and feel strongly about the need to transform the food system. I think Americans eat too much meat and that conventional beef production is a disaster.

But still, here on this farm, beef cattle is the main economic engine that keeps the farm up and running — well, that and my father’s good union job at a power plant. We raise cattle, and so do so many other farmers in our region, because cows are profitable most of the time, they’re relatively easy to keep, and there is an entire infrastructure that supports our production. We can find vets to help us when we encounter illness. We have markets for our calves. We can find hay (we grow our own but can locate more if necessary) and grain to supplement feeding, as needed. We can find people to come out and haul the cattle if we can't do it ourselves.

Beef cows are born on mostly smallish farms. They spend half of their lives here. Yes, they end up in feedlots and in the messy industrial behemoth of the Western Plains. But they are born here, right across the fence from where I'm writing these words.

Beef cattle grazing under a cloudy sky

These beef herds pay the mortgages for the farms all around me. They also share the land with us human animals, as well as with a variety of wildlife. Cattle production is compatible here with the many species I see every day: songbirds, hawks, herons, squirrels, rabbits, deer, woodchuck, mice, wild turkey, raccoons, snakes, coyotes, frogs, and countless varieties of insects. Cows do use resources, but they also leave plenty of room for the other creatures I like to see around the place. (I might be in the minority when I say this, but I’d also welcome bears, elk, wolves, mountain lions, and other species that were native before Europeans arrived in North America. Yes, even the predators.)

At the end of the day, when we consider biodiversity in a working landscape, we have to take into account the reality of economics. Cows pay the bills.

I’m not trying to shill for the beef industry. I don’t think raising cattle is the answer to most questions. I feel strongly that people should eat more veggies and less meat (and less sugar). I make no presumption that the current beef feedlot system is anything other than an enormous mess that taxes human health and the environment, especially when it comes to the problem of greenhouse gasses and a disrupted climate.

Beef cattle at sunset

But it seems to me that, strictly in terms of a sellable agricultural product, beef is one thing we can raise on a part-time, beginning-farmer basis that doesn’t rapidly and wildly damage the ecology. We already live in a region transformed by human impact. That’s the canvas we have to work with.

This is not so much an argument with Living on Earth or Anna Lappé. Anna might even agree with me that, done right, beef production can be part of a multifunctional landscape populated by diversified family farms. We just have a lot of work to do if we want beef production to improve and to minimize harm.

But if the decision is between corn and soybean monoculture or a herd of herbivores in the pasture just over the fence, I’ll take the beef cow any time. How about you?

Now let's get to work on a system where those aren’t the only options.

This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.

Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and conservationist in West Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

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8/22/2014

St Paul city garden

Sometimes we country folks take for granted the right to grow vegetables and having enough space to do so. A recent trip to St. Paul, Minn., reminded me that not everyone can just plop a row of tomato plants in the ground.

Those ingenious Minnesotans, however, found ways to grow their own fresh veggies right smack in the middle of a big, bustling city. Surprisingly, they were not limited to growing vegetables in containers.

At first, as I strolled around the residential neighborhood near St. Catherine University, I didn’t realize what I was seeing. After all, we are so accustomed to only flowers and decorative greenery lining sidewalks that I almost missed noticing the zucchini and raspberries growing there.

Potted tomatoes

On the 10-block walk to a wonderful used book store, I encountered enough incognito front-yard vegetable gardens to warrant going back to my daughter’s apartment for my camera. I saw squash of all sorts, a variety of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, chard, rhubarb (which grows to positively monstrous sizes in the North Country), herbs, onions, peas, beans and beets. I suspect now that some of those sunflowers and nasturtium were doing more than beautifying lawns.

Illegal Gardens in the News

Not only were the undercover edibles rooted discreetly in pots and window boxes, they were openly growing in the grassy strip between the sidewalk and street. This is especially pleasing to us who have followed Mother Earth News’ shocking forbidden-food-growing stories. Here is a list of “illegal garden” news compiled by Mother Earth News staff.

In 2013, Mother Earth News assistant editor Kale Roberts wrote of two Des Moines, Iowa, residents complaining to the city council about separate front-yard vegetable gardens they considered less attractive than grass. Also, beginning in 2012, Roberts wrote of Jason and Jennifer Helvenston, an Orlando, Fla., couple facing fines of $500 per day for growing vegetables where grass “should have been.” In both instances, thanks in part to heavy public pressure, the issues were eventually dropped. The municipalities deemed it could be an invasion of property rights for a city to mandate what can be planted on lawns.

From Lawn to Food Production in St. Paul

St Paul sidewalkAs I wandered about St. Paul taking photos, I encountered one yard completely devoid of lawn. The entire front yard along busy Randolph Avenue is a perennial wildflower garden without a blade of grass to mow or water. Wildflowers are naturally more drought resistant than domesticated grasses.

At another front yard alive with all manner of vegetables, the homeowners were, of course, sitting on their front step. Where else? Before I even had a chance to tell them what I was up to with my camera, they waved me over for a chat. Nearly every square inch of their yard was filled with delicious-looking fruit and vegetables. Only one slim grassy path cuts across the front yard ― as a convenience for the mailman, they said.

“When you live in Minnesota, you don’t walk, but RUN outside and start planting in spring,” the woman of the house laughed.

St Paul street

When I asked how it all started, the friendly couple said they bought the house 10 years ago and nonchalantly planted a row of red raspberry bushes along one side. When no one complained about that, they kept adding more growing beds each year. Rather than protesting, their neighbors admire and frequently thank them for their lovely gardens.

The couple said they are unaware of city ordinances prohibiting front-yard vegetable gardens, but have not asked, “just in case.” Based on the number of up-front kitchen gardens I saw on my short walk, I guessed St. Paul encourages residents to plant “patriot gardens.” I was correct, later finding a Twin Cities Boulevard Gardening Guide prepared by Sustainable Resources Center’s Urban Lands Program that addresses how to properly plant along Minneapolis and St. Paul streets. So, not only does St. Paul invite front-yard planting, it promotes planting on the boulevard — that grass strip we always think of belonging to the city.

St Paul squash

Even businesses got in on the movement. I found herbs growing outside a dentist office, yoga academy and therapeutic massage studio. Beside one apartment building, a resident planted peppers, squash and cucumbers in hay bales. Nearby, Swiss chard and kale grew in flower pots. All the plants were lively and producing fruit.

To learn more about growing food in the city, be sure to check out fellow Mother Earth News blogger Mike Lieberman’s article about his patio garden in Los Angeles that details how you can grow food in your city. For more pictures of St. Paul’s front-yard gardens, see our blog, Hooray for St. Paul, Minnesota Boulevard Gardens.

Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.



8/21/2014
tractor

Week Eight. My goodness, we’re about half way through the internship. This week was a lot of wind down/clean up from Field Day, profound permaculture lessons and setting up all kinds of birds in all kinds of spots. 

Monday, July 21st

As you can imagine, after having about 1,800 visitors to the farm on Saturday and being somewhat catatonic on Sunday, there was a lot to clean up on Monday. My morning chore for this week was to feed and water my broiler buddies, so after that was done, we all set to dismantling everything Field Day. Down came the cinder block BBQ pit, vendor tables, the 700+ bales of hay we set out as seating (Those went up actually, to the hay loft.), rental tents and other assorted items. After the barn was cleared up, we set up gates, waterers, bedding and feeders for the new piglets due in later in the week.

After lunch, I went with Gabe, another intern, to one of the Polyface managed properties to set up one of the Eggmobiles that had been shut down in the spring. Whoever shut it down prior had done a good job, as no major repairs were necessary and they even left some hay behind for us to put in the nest boxes. The only things we needed to bring back were bottoms for some of the nest boxes, where the old ones had rotted out, along with some feeders, but we didn’t need to do that until the end of the week when the new birds came.

We did stop working a bit early on Monday to be able to go to Charlottesville for a talk by Darren Doherty of Regrarians about their vision for regenerative agriculture. I had mentioned Darren and his wife Lisa Heenan in last week’s blog post, but in case you missed it, Darren and Lisa have a company, HeenanDoherty, providing consulting services for whole landscape plans for properties. They are also working on a documentary, Polyfaces, which is expected to debut this fall. In any case, their talk was packed and very inspirational. Their passion for pragmatic solutions towards issues of sustainability, capturing water runoff, keyline water systems and climates, both economic as well as locational, were extremely helpful. I highly recommend checking out their website to see what they’re all about. They are doing a lot to advance our cause and the more people who know about them and their documentary Polyfaces, the better.

Tuesday, July 22nd

Tuesday was the first time I’d ever helped with the Buying Club load up at Polyface. After feeding and watering the broilers, Brandon, another intern, and I went to the sales building where the morning project people had pulled out crates of meats according to the order sheet given by our inventory manager. Buying Club load up is really fun. Jackie, one of Polyface’s office super stars, sits at her computer generating invoices and calls out to us what needs to be put in the coolers. As an example, “One Boston Butt! Two ground beef! Five whole broilers and one Freedom Ranger!” Brandon and I, under the supervision of both Jackie and our inventory manager, disperse and assemble the order. When there is one item, the weight is usually listed on the label and we read this to Jackie so the item can be properly invoiced. A category with more than one item are weighed and the total given to Jackie. We then let Jackie know which cooler the order went in and she lets us know which drop off location it is meant for. We then organize accordingly and put the coolers in the freezer so they are ready for delivery. At times, it was hard to remember everything on the order, so it was good to work with another person. I had a good time doing load up though. We have been spending so much time raising the animals and doing preparation work for their processing and sale, so it’s good to be coming full circle. I love to sell things, so I’m excited to learn this part of Polyface’s business. There were a lot of orders for this week, so putting these together took the entire morning.

calfAfter lunch, we went and gathered firewood (another arm of Polyface’s offerings) and moved cows to sort the heifers from the steers. I was given the opportunity to lead the herd down the hill to the sorting pens, so I opened the gate, steeled my resolve and attempted a cattle call. Apparently it was well received because the cows started running and I had to sprint to keep ahead of them. When we finished, a few of the other interns were wondering why we all had been thundering down the hill, but I didn’t really have an answer. All I know is, if the cows get ahead of you, there is no leadership and that’s a problem. I’d really prefer there not be cattle anarchy on my watch.

We also had a few night projects this week with regards to the birds. Monday’s project was to meet at the pullet shelters once it was dark, gather up the birds and put them in crates. They are getting older and are starting to lay eggs, so they are being promoted to living in an Eggmobile. We were splitting up the flock between two different properties, so following our covert pullet snatching operation, we split into two groups and set off to take a group of birds to their new spot. The reason we catch birds at night is because they are so fast, thus making it very difficult to catch on such a large scale during the day. They are much more docile at night and one can fairly easily catch one without too much noise and chaos. Once we got to the new Eggmobile, we unloaded the birds, put them in to sleep and shut them in for the night. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, July 23rd

Besides being my mother’s birthday (Happy birthday, Mom!), Wednesday was another processing day. During today’s processing, I did my usual swing position between lunging, quality control and gutting. After all the birds were done, Daniel taught me and a few other interns how to part out the birds, which I’m really excited to have learned. Not only is it a good skill to utilize for upselling product, but it’s a general life skill I felt I needed. I now know how to cut the wings and legs off a bird, plus remove the breast and tenderloins. At this point, this takes me a while, but Daniel did it in 44 seconds. I’m looking forward to getting more practice. Daniel mentioned that if more American families knew how to do this, the savings would be in the hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. Generally, buying a whole birds costs way less per pound than just buying breast meat, so this makes sense.

Thursday, July 24th

Thursday morning was dedicated to setting up the baby broilers in the Ridge Field behind Daniel’s house. There were already some shelters there that we had dropped off a few weeks ago, but we also needed to use the flatbed trailer to transport the other twelve that had been used by the pullets as of Monday. Moving the shelters, while it was a good amount of lifting, was a lot of fun. Seeing projects get done is very satisfying to me. In any case, we moved about 24 shelters to the Ridge Field while another team of interns did repairs, set up waterers and feed and gathered chicks and put them out in their new abodes. The birds always look so excited running around in grass for the first time (The brooder, the bird nursery, has a sawdust floor) and it’s funny to watch them look at bugs and try to peck at them.

In the afternoon, we went to one of the properties Polyface manages to move cows along with the Polyfaces film crew. They are so much fun to be around and the footage they got was really beautiful. There was a thunderstorm minutes away as we were trying to get the cows to their new spot, so this made for some scenic backdrops against the thundering of hooves. Said thunderstorm arrived right after the filming was done and we ended up waiting out most of the rain in the truck.

That night, our job was to train the Eggmobile. I had never heard of such a thing, but now it makes perfect sense. Since the birds at the Eggmobile are free ranging hens, they need to learn to sleep inside the Eggmobile at night. This is to ensure they don’t get picked off by predators while they’re sleeping and so they can be shut in at night to be moved in the morning on moving days. A lot of them like to go under the structure and roost in the axle or on the wheels and some like to sleep on the ground near the Eggmobile. As interns, we split up with some of us going under the Eggmobile to shoo out birds who try to get under, some rounding up rogue birds and some making sure there isn’t a bottleneck of hens going up the ramp to get inside. This was the first night these girls were ever trying to get inside, so there were some funny attempts by the hens to fly up to the door and not quite making it. It took a while to get everyone inside because a lot of the hens were confused, but it wasn’t their fault. They’re just learning.

Friday, July 25th

Friday was a special treat. After chores, we learned that we were going to get to spend the day with Joel’s brother, Art, and his wife Donna as they processed honey from their hives. I had mentioned last week that Art is a talented apiarist, and we have all been hoping to get to watch him work with the bees, so as you can imagine, the news of working with Art and Donna was very well received by the interns. Art explained to us how he opens the hives, determines how much honey each hive needs to get through the winter and how to store the honey filled frames as to not encourage hive robbing. (I learned that bees can smell honey and if they get the word out that honey is available, there can be pandemonium. Bee pandemonium is not cool.) We spent the morning watching and helping Art while he gathered frames, then went to his processing area, learned how to use a hot knife to remove the comb from the frames and put them in an extractor. I’m not familiar with the range of extractor options, but Art’s extractor is stainless steel, has slots that hold the frames and spins them using centrifugal force to release the honey. The honey then gets strained into a food grade bucket with a spigot, which we use to put the honey in jars. Luckily, finger licking was encouraged and Art and Donna were kind enough to give us some honey to take home.

That night was Round 2 of Eggmobile training. This went much better as some of the birds had caught on. I ended up under the Eggmobile shooing out the hens and I was getting a boot out of how offended the hens act when you tell them to get out. They ruffle their feathers indignantly, squawk at you while giving you a look of utter disapproval then run away in a huff. I love them.

Saturday, July 26th

On Saturday, Allan Savory of the Savory Institute visited Polyface. This was a big honor and very exciting for the interns, as Allan is one of the brightest minds with regards to holistic management in the world. As part of the filming of Polyfaces, we were able to have a small cookout and sit down with Allan. Out of respect for Polyfaces, I won’t delve too deeply here into what Allan discussed should they be using it for their film, but prior to his speaking, Joel pointed out that having Allan to the farm was a very special opportunity for the interns present and he was right. While waiting to sit down and eat, I scanned the small crowd, saw Joel Salatin, Allan Savory and Darren Doherty, among others, and it hit me how lucky I am to be a Polyface intern. I was about to eat burgers in Joel’s backyard with some of the best ecological minds in the country. My cup runneth over.



8/18/2014

Ameraucana Chicken, 10 Weeks Old. Photo By Rachel ConlinI love chickens. They are a beautiful bird that not only provides us with endless amounts of eggs and easy to cook, delicious meat, but they are a joy to own. Just to stop what you are doing and watch them peck the ground, dust in the sand and interact with one another is not only relaxing, it is entertaining. And that is exactly why I asked for chickens for my Mother’s Day gift this year.

We have raised chickens, hatched eggs, sold the eggs, done our own meat birds and just plain enjoyed them at different times in our lives. But about 6 years ago a weasel invaded the coop and killed our last 33 chickens within three nights. It was not a pretty sight. It looked as if a ‘chicken vampire’ had evilly drifted through leaving dead chickens with holes in their necks in its wake. We had set traps for the callous weasel, but never caught it. My husband announced, no more chickens until we have the time. After leaving my ‘off-farm job’ just over a year ago to pursue our farm business, I felt this was now the perfect time! And that is how my request for Mother’s Day chicks came about.

The Ameraucana Chicken

Variety Of Chickens Including Ameraucana and Easter Eggers. Photo By Rachel Conlin

I was delighted to receive 18 + (1 extra day old chicks); 6 Barred Plymouth Rock, 6 Columbian and 7 Red X Sex Link. They would begin laying in mid-October. Almost immediately I had market customers asking me when the eggs would be ready. Not only wanting to provide for my customers, but also longing for some good homegrown eggs myself, I went on a chicken hunt. I was not only on a hunt for more egg layers, but different egg layers. While running my farm market I have discovered that people like things that you just can’t buy at the local Wal-Mart. They want things that are local, real and perhaps a little unusual. That is where the Ameraucana Chicken comes onto the scene.

There are only 3 breeds of chickens that lay coloured eggs other than the typical white and various shades of browns. I say ‘breeds’ loosely, as only two are actually recognized breeds; the Ameraucana and the Araucana. The third, known as the Easter Egger Chicken, is not a recognized breed, but rather a cross between any other chicken and either an Ameraucana or an Araucana. True Ameraucana & Araucana chickens are in fact not that common. Many people believe they may have one of these breeds, but it is more likely that most people have the Easter Egger. Araucana’s originally come from Chile and were introduced to North America around 1921 and were standardized and accepted into American Poultry Association (APA) in 1976. They do not do well in cold climates and are quite rare. Araucana’s are rumples (no or little tail feathers) and have ear tufts; feathers protruding from the ear area. They lay blue eggs only. The Ameraucana is not very common either. It is America’s most newly recognized APA breed. There has been much discrepancy over the years regarding origins, standards and such for these two breeds. APA created a standard and recognized the Ameraucana breed in the 1984. The characteristics to meet the APA Standard for a true Ameraucana are as follows;

Must be a blue egg layer. The shade of blue can vary, but it must be blue.
Must have ‘pea’ combs; A small, plump red comb towards the front of head.
Must be bearded and muffed. They appear to have a beard of feathers.
Cannot have ear tufts.
Must have slate blue legs. Although the black variety sometimes have black legs.
Males must have red ear lobes.
There are 8 accepted feather colours; Black, Blue, Blue Wheaten, Brown Red, Buff, Silver, Wheaten, White.
Cock weight; 6 ½ lbs. Hen weight; 5 ½ lbs.

Other characteristics include; curved beaks, large expressive eyes, absent or small wattles, full hackle, a well spread tail carried at an angle and 4 toes. These characteristics apply to both male and female. The breed also comes in a recognized Bantam variety. I found ameraucana.org to be an excellent reference for this information.

If your bird does not meet these specifications, then it is more than likely an Easter Egger. There are no recognized breeders in North America that I am aware of for Araucana chickens and few recognized breeders for the Ameraucana breed.

Searching For Ameraucana Chickens

Easter Egger, Rumpless and Yellow Shanks.  Photo By Rachel Conlin

I basically only knew that these chickens lay coloured eggs when I began my search. The first place I looked was on Kijiji, the Canadian equivalent to Craigslist.org. In retrospect this was probably the most unlikely spot to find Ameraucana chickens, but the Chicken Gods must have been smiling on me because that is exactly where I found some advertised and only a few hours’ drive away. We purchased all 25, four week old pure Ameraucana’s and 10, ten week old Easter Eggers. Then my research began in earnest. I have found that a few of the ‘pure bred’ Ameraucana’s that we purchased are not fitting the standard. One is rumples and two have yellow shanks, but other than that they seem to be fitting the bill. All 35 happily moved into our large pioneer built chicken coop with the other 19 and I have since purchased 9 more brown egg layers that were already laying. I seem to have gone a little chicken crazy!

We are now eating our delicious brown eggs, selling the extras and soon will be blessed with many blue and other coloured eggs. Easter Eggers can lay blue, green, pink and brown eggs. The nutritional value is equal in all the eggs. Just the beautiful colours make them unique and of course all the beautiful chickens!



8/18/2014

photo by Sgarton from www.morguefile.comLast night we heard chirping. Loud chirping we’ve never heard before in all our time living in the mountains. Loud enough to hear over the TV and over the fans as they worked toward cooling down the house. My husband muted the TV and turned off the fan. Sure enough, something was chirping out there. But what?

We’ve seen and heard all manner of critters while hunting, while at home, and on hikes. Deer and elk are commonplace. Pronghorn, no big deal. Snakes, toads, newts, salamanders, skinks, marmots, picas, squirrels, rabbit, prairie dogs, owls, birds of all kind, diurnal raptors, you name it. Bobcat, black bear, coyotes, lynx, fox (both red and gray), bobcat, moose, and mountain lions. I even swear I’ve heard wolves howl. I’ve owned wolf hybrids in the past. So, we’re not exactly new at this and we’ve had some interesting interactions when it comes to critters.

Mystery Chirps

This chirping bothered me. We went down the list of possible culprits. None seemed obvious. We thought about raptors like hawks and eagles, but it was way too late and the chirps didn’t match anything either of us knew.

It was late and time for me to milk. Something in the back of my mind told me to look up mountain lion. I did a search on “mountain lion vocalizations” and found an article from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Suddenly, I had a bad feeling when it mentioned that mountain lions sound like a bird chirping.

For years I lived in the mountains and had to deal with mountain lions all the time. As a musher, I was constantly worried about my dogs because we had five mountain lions in our valley. These cats were so pressured with humans and each other that we always heard their territorial calls and their mating screams. Never chirps.

I searched again, this time for mountain lion chirps. I found a YouTube video and by golly, that’s what we heard. I told my husband I wasn’t going to milk in the dark with a cat prowling around. We’ve had encounters with them at our place before. We’ve actually been hissed at by one and even heard the territorial calls when they went to visit some of my neighbors.

Counted noses this morning and all were here. It’s dry now, so there’s no way to track a cat. I may have to switch to milking in the daytime. Mountain lions aren’t as reclusive as people like to think. They’re sneaky, yes, but they do come visit from time to time.  And they are dangerous so I'll have to keep an extra vigilant eye on my livestock.

Maggie Bonham is a multiple award-winning author of more than 30 books and the publisher of Sky Warrior Books. You can check out her blog Eating Wild Montana about her adventures with hunting, raising, and growing her own food in Montana.



8/15/2014

If your loved ones were depending on you to start a fire for their warmth in a pouring rain, could you do it? Survival expert and author of Practical Outdoor Survival, et al, shows you how it's done.



8/13/2014

Hi everyone! This week was a lot of preparation for Polyface Farm’s last ever Field Day (It’s okay to boo. The people who attended Field Day were bummed when Joel made the last Field Day ever announcement.) and a good amount of working with machinery for me. It was a really fun week and I hope you enjoy reading about it! 

Monday, July 14th

bale pile

My morning chore this week was moving the broiler shelters. Those of you who have read my posts before probably remember that my adventures moving broilers has been a recurring theme, but I am happy to report that my shelter moving this week was greatly improved from weeks prior. My hands have gotten more used to this type of work (ie. manual labor) and over the course of the week, my roommate Alicia only helped me with a few shelters. Even though it was a humbling lesson to have learned, I am glad to see the progression of my strength and my patience. After morning chores, I had the chance to work in the gardens to clean them up for our impending Field Day visitors.

The afternoon (and better part of the evening) was spent stacking and moving square bales of hay at one of the properties Polyface manages with Daniel Salatin, Eric, our Apprentice Manager, Jonathan aka. Jak, one of our apprentices and Josh, one of my fellow interns. Doing this has been one of the highlights of my time here, as I got to drive one of our trucks and a gooseneck trailer full of huge bales of hay (I’ve included a picture so you can see what I’m talking about) from about 1pm until dark. Polyface subcontracts the making of these big bales to an operator with the proper machinery, as the baler we have only makes the small bales. After the bales are made and dropped onto the grass, it is our responsibility to gather the bales, stack them, salt them and cover them with tarps to protect them until winter. Since these bales are so large, we need the tractors to lift the bales, stack one on top of another, lift the two stacked bales and place them on the flatbed trailer. Said flatbed trailer driver (Me! And Josh. We had two trucks going.) drives a full load of bales to the massive stack (see photo) where another tractor is there to unload and stack the bales. Generally, it is the driver’s responsibility to get out, climb the stack and salt the bales, but Jonathan was doing that task the day I was there. We needed to bring these bales from one corner of the property to another, which included going through some fairly tricky turns through gates. Before we were unleashed, Daniel taught Josh and I how to make these turns and where I had never driven a trailer before and these turns included some backing up, I was a little nervous, but we ended up doing well. We were able to finish the hay that day, which I’m told is all the hay we will need for Polyface this year. !!!!!!!! After all the hay we’ve been doing, it seems odd that it’s done, but a relief nonetheless. All in all, it was a fun and exciting day, and was wrapped up with a double bacon cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys (a bit of a hay making tradition if you miss dinner because you had to work through it). Big thumbs up.

Tuesday, July 15th

hay bales

Tuesday was a big cleaning and rearranging day here at Polyface. After moving broilers and eating breakfast, my roommate Greer and I set to cleaning out the freezers, washing windows and wiping down shelves in the sales building. This was a bit nostalgic for me, as I had done all that during my two day check out back in December. It’s pretty amazing to think about how much my life has changed since then.

After lunch, we worked on the fence line along the area we bushwhacked last week. On Monday, our Apprentice Manager and some of the other interns had installed posts so all that needed to be done was to install the insulators (plastic pieces that hold the electric wire) and tighten the wire. It was a long fence, so this took three interns and one Apprentice Manager a few hours. In the meantime, we also worked on shoring up some pig fencing that was currently there and I learned how to make a gate on an electric fence. After wrapping up at the pig pasture, I helped my roommate Shalana reinstall some metal roofing panels that had been power washed back on the Racken, the hoop house where the rabbits and some of the laying hens live. The panels were pretty high up and we were having a hard time maneuvering them with one of us on the ladder and one not but Daniel came by with the tractor and lifted us up in the bucket. Things got much easier from there. I’m learning to really really love machinery.

Wednesday, July 16th

Wednesday, as usual, was a processing day. After moving my broiler friends, we all went to the processing shed to set up. This involves filling the metal tubs with water and ice, cleaning the tables, setting out knives and moving the crates of birds to where they can be easily reached. We didn’t start processing until after breakfast and during the processing I worked on quality control, gutting and lunging. We were done with everything by lunch.

After lunch, along with chores, Greer and I were given the task of moving two of the manure spreaders from the shed to an area where machinery was to be parked for Field Day visitors to be able to easily check out the Polyface equipment. Daniel gave us this assignment because there was a spot of free time and he knew we needed to learn/practice driving the tractors and backing them up with attachments. My backing up attempt was going a little sideways (or potentially jack knifey) and Miriam, one of our Apprentices, came over and gave me a lesson. I did, with her very patient guidance, get the spreader where it was supposed to go and am grateful to her and Daniel for giving me the chance to learn this skill in an unhurried fashion.

Thursday, July 17th

Thursday was another processing day, as we needed chicken for our deliciously grass fed local Field Day lunch. I was on the lunging station, which I have been looking forward to getting. I enjoy lunging and wanted to see if I could do all of them myself. In an ideal processing line, there only needs to be one lunger and I wanted to make sure I could do that. Sheri Salatin, our legendary master chicken gutter (She’s just as good as Joel, which is saying something.), came down to teach us and help. She can gut six birds for every one we can, so I was pumped that I was able to keep up with her.

The rest of the day, my roommate Greer and I made signs for Field Day. We needed signs for the flavors of the drinks we were offering, signs for the rabbits, private residence signs, some directional signs and some signs asking visitors to stay off the hay that was stacked. We were pretty excited to be given this task (Crafts! Yay!), so we raised the scrap wood/roofing metal/extra paint/baling twine pile and spent the rest of the day working on signs.

Thursday night, we were joined by Darren Doherty, Lisa Heenan and their family  (www.heenandoherty.com) for a discussion on permaculture, their Regrarians movement, which is their effort to promote regenerative agriculture (you can find them on Facebook under Regrarians or on Twitter @Regrarians), and to learn more about the documentary, Polyfaces, they were hoping to wrap up filming on. Darren is a world renowned expert on permaculture (Joel refers to him as a genius when it comes to water) so having an opportunity to meet with him and his family was a treat. Also, if you haven’t seen the trailer for Polyfaces, you really need to check it out. Seriously. Google it now and watch it. Polyfaces. The documentary. I had seen it prior to coming here, but we had the chance to watch it again and now that I have spent time here and become bonded to those in the film, it was very moving. Those of us here really believe that the Polyface methods can, in a nut shell, save the world. Sometimes I get bogged down in the minutia of chores and day to day farm things and I tend to forget what motivated me to change my entire life and come here. Watching what Darren, Lisa and their children are putting together in the form of this documentary really inspired me and made me grateful to be here and to have chosen this life.

Friday, July 18th

Being the day before Field Day, Friday was a bit of a blur. After chores, Greer and I finished the remainder of our signs (They took longer than I was anticipating.), set up the food and drink lines, did some last minute checking on my broiler friend’s shelters and wrapped up the day helping Sheri Salatin prepping her website www.EagerFarmer.com , which launched on Field Day. I strongly suggest that, even if you have the slightest inkling that you may want some farm help or would like to work on a farm, you check out this website. There are already several opportunities available all over the world already listed on the site and lots of eager people looking for a position. It’s a great resource and it was inspiring to be a part of setting it up.

We had had several past interns and apprentices arrive today to help with Field Day and at the end of the day we were all able to get together for a barbeque to get to know each other. There were so many people, some apprentices dating back all the way to 1998, and I felt honored to be part of such a special group.

Saturday, July 19th Field Day

Field Day came and went in a giant blur. It was awesome. I started out at 5:45 am at the registration table, which I was psyched to get assigned to because I like to meet people. We had visitors come in from Canada, Costa Rica, across the country, as far as Hawaii, and the energy was so positive.

The day started where guests were welcome to watch chores being done, have some coffee and check out the farm. Come 8am, the rest of the morning was broken up into, essentially, two options. Your first option is to go on a farm tour with Joel, which lasts about 3.5 hours. The tour route encompasses the pastured broilers, the cows on pasture, the eggmobiles, the feathernet, the pastured turkeys, a visit to the hay shed and pigerator compost area and wraps up with the pastured pigs. This tour also happens after lunch, so many people decide to wait until the afternoon and instead will attend some of the other shorter and more specialized seminars such as a rabbit class with Daniel Salatin, a brooder and chick raising session with Miriam, one of our apprentices, and a forum of sorts on Polyface’s Apprenticeship/ Internship program. There was a break for lunch, where we served BBQ pork, chicken and beef, cucumbers, tomatoes and some of the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. The afternoon held another tour with Joel, if you had missed the morning one, along with some other specialized sessions. Some of the morning classes were repeated, but there were some new ones as well. Sheri Salatin had her marketing class, which I found very helpful, and there was a tour of our hoop houses with Jonathan, one of our interns, where he explained the season extension techniques Polyface uses in its garden production. The day was wrapped with a question and answer session with Joel that is always very popular.

In addition to the classes and tours, there were several vendors I got a chance to speak to and a book booth where I bought way more books than I’ll have time to read this summer. But knowledge is power, right?

On another note, it was fun to meet some of you on Field Day! Thank you to those of you who introduced yourselves. I really appreciated speaking with you all and am honored to be a part of this blogging community. I hope you all have a great week!









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