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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Polyface Farm Summer Internship: Week Eleven

By Kristen Kilfoyle

Tags: Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm, turkeys, poultry processing, fencing, internship, Virginia, Kristen Kilfoyle,

Monday, August 11th


My morning chore this week was to move the broiler shelters. The moving of the shelters went very well aside from that the birds didn’t seem to want to move. The way the Polyface shelters are set up is that one side of the pen is poultry wire and the other side is enclosed. The birds generally like to move towards light, so pulling the shelter from the poultry wire end is generally pretty easy and the birds move along with you. This week, due to the way the shelters are situated, we were pulling from the enclosed end so the birds would need to move towards the darker end, which they don’t usually like to do. The way to remedy this is to have someone else with you on the other side of the structure to help move the birds along. If there is nobody available, you just have to move the shelter very slowly. Fortunately, this wee I was paired with Erik, one of my fellow interns, as I was the mover and he was in charge of feeding and watering the birds after they were moved. I liked having him there, as the moving went along much faster.

The rest of the day was spent stacking wood, doing some work in the freezer trailers Polyface stores their inventory in and setting up a spigot on the water system upgrade Eric, our Apprentice Manager, and Daniel Salatin have been working on.

That evening we interns were invited to meet with the Salatin family, namely Joel, Teresa, Daniel, Sheri, Apprentice Manager Eric and his wife Leanna to discuss our future plans. This is the point where you would let them know if you were interested in applying for the apprenticeship position or if you had any other ideas you would like to run by them. We had had a few days to mull this over prior to the meeting and I took some time the weekend before to sit down and organize my thoughts. I had known shortly into the internship that I most likely would not pursue the apprenticeship for a few reasons. First was that I miss Dan and my family and I wasn’t prepared to be gone for another year. I am also really excited to get home, start working on my own farm and get to full time marketing my own products. I did ask the Salatins, however, if they would be allright with my teaching classes about what I had learned here, to which they were very supportive. The Polyface systems are very simple and can be applied in both rural and urban settings. I’m not sure if people really understand how easy it can be to try a bit of farming and I feel compelled to get the word out.

Tuesday, August 12th

Tuesday was one of the first really rainy days we’ve had during my internship time here at Polyface. After moving the broilers, most of the group was given the morning off while fellow intern Josh and I were able to help with buying club load up. I have written about buying club load up before, but it is really fun and I enjoy doing it. By the time we were finished, the weather had improved and we worked on repairing some of the broiler shelters in anticipation of new chicks. We then got the afternoon off, which I was very excited about and appreciative of. I took that time to find some wifi, submit my blogs to Mother Earth News and buy some new work gloves. I have a sneaking suspicion that my constant poison ivy is coming from contaminated gloves, so it was high time to upgrade.

Wednesday, August 13th

After morning chores, we worked on processing about 165 broilers and 100 turkeys. We did the chickens first because they’re easy and then prepped for the big birds. Turkeys are, as you can imagine, three to four times the size of a broiler and the processing time is about double. It took me a few birds to get used to the new ergonomics of working on these guys, but in the end everyone was doing well.

After lunch, we bagged the birds, weighed and inventoried them and boxed them up for freezing. This sounds simple, and technically it is, but it can get interesting quickly. I was at the end making and labeling boxes, packing birds in them, then shuttling boxes to other interns who were running them to the freezer and replacing the full box with a new one. Where one can only fit two to four birds per box and birds are flying down the line, it was pretty fast paced trying to keep everything organized. I like that this intern group likes to work quickly because we were all able to form a pretty efficient system without too much of a huddle and get everything done by mid afternoon.

After turkeys, fellow intern Tim and I went with apprentice Miriam to gather chicks from the brooder to put in the shelters Josh and I had prepped yesterday. I really like putting chicks out because they always look so happy when they first get out on grass while they bumble around looking at bugs and pecking at seeds. They get used to grass very quickly, so I like to make a point of watching them while this is all new and exciting to them.

Thursday, August 14th

fence postsAfter working with my broiler buddies this morning, Tim and I were assigned to dig post holes at the fence line we have been working on at one of the Polyface rental properties. I had mentioned earlier that we haven’t had much rain and the ground is pretty hard, hence the application of water to the existing holes. These holes were new and needed to be at least 30” deep, so this took a long time. It actually took most of the morning… But at least they’re done! I keep mentioning how much I have learned to love machinery and I felt like renewing my vows after those holes were finished.

I spent the rest of the afternoon picking up a tractor from the repair shop with apprentice Hannah, going back to the fence project to see the progress then heading back to do evening chores.

Friday, August 15th

Friday was more turkey processing. We ended up processing about 135 turkeys that morning and I was on the gutting station. Josh and I had the chance to go with Eric to a freezer facility about forty minutes away to store some of our inventory. The turkeys need to be stacked a certain way to allow for proper freezing and to do that, we needed to remove a decent amount of product from the Polyface freezers and store it somewhere else.

After lunch, we interns boxed up the birds using our system from Wednesday and were finished very quickly. Eric seemed very proud of our cooperative effort. We finished up chores a bit early and as a group went to the fair and watched a demolition derby. If you have never been, you really need to go! We had a great time.