This week was a lot of fence line and firewood work, fun with turkeys and my birthday on the farm (with a surprise guest).
This week’s morning chore was working with the turkeys and the ladies of the Feathernet. At this point, we have two groups of turkeys, one older with fairly large birds and one of younger. While the others were preparing the nets for the new spot for one of the groups, I went up to feed and check on the older ones. This was when I got my first lesson in how to catch turkeys without getting your bell rung in the process. When I pulled up on the four wheeler, I noticed there were two turkeys out. Since wayward animals aren’t encouraged, I was trying to catch them to put them back in the net with their friends. I grabbed one, and they way I caught him left one wing free. This quickly led to my taking several turkey haymakers to the face. I wasn’t expecting the hit to be as hard as it was, which made it kind of funny. Not wanting to admit I had been beat up by a turkey twice, I grabbed the second one keeping both his wings to his body and was able to escape without further incident. We did have one bird that needed to be moved from this group to the other and after the wing incident, I decided to put my sweatshirt on the bird so should she decide to flap her wings while sitting on my lap on the four wheeler, they would be contained. I wish I had my camera because, while dressing up the bird had practical beginnings, she looked really cute in a hooded sweatshirt riding down the mountain and I would have liked to remember it better.
The afternoon was spent having a talk on water with Joel Salatin. I was really excited for this talk, as Dan and I have been trying to figure out the water situation back at Sugar River Farm. (For those of you who only recently started reading these posts, Dan is my fiancé and Sugar River Farm is the property we own in New Hampshire and the business we are building.) We know we need to build a few farm ponds, but wanted to wait until I had the chance to sit in on Joel’s water talk.
Joel’s talk was very inspiring, as Polyface’s water system is essentially built off some ponds, some ¾” and 1 ¼” pipe, and pumps. It is simple, straightforward, portable and inexpensive. Joel’s position, as is with many other permaculture experts, is that investing in water storage is extremely important. We learned two objectives. The first is that, ideally, surface water should never leave your farm. The second is that you should never end a drought with a full pond. Basically, if you need your water, use it! We learned about the many benefits of a farm pond and where they should be placed on your property (Per Joel, “Build more ponds.” I think Polyface should make a tee shirt that says that.), using cisterns, siphons and springs. We also learned very simple ways of how to move this water (mainly using pumps and the aforementioned plastic pipe). Joel has a great way of explaining how to do things in a very simple yet empowering way. I left feeling like building four ponds was entirely doable. The New Hampshire property also doesn’t have gutters (yet), and learning just how much water comes off the roof makes me excited to get back and get those gutters and rain barrels up!
After working with the turkeys and having the chance to move their shade structure with the tractor, Jonathan, one of the apprentices, talked me through using the forks on the tractor to pick up a giant log and bring it back to the farm to be used on the sawmill. I really appreciated him taking the time to show me how and letting me practice. The forks are such a useful implement and it’s pretty amazing what you can do and move with them.
The rest of the day was spent gathering firewood and chipping saplings and dead trees in part of Polyface’s woods. Polyface has a pretty active firewood business and they use the chips for animal bedding and composting. Those of you who are familiar with Joel’s books will remember the phrase ‘carbonaceous diaper’. We were on diaper duty! The carbon we are able to put back into the soil through the chips is so important and I completely understand why we spent so much time working on this.
Wednesday was very much like Tuesday, aside from not needing to move the Gobbledego (the turkey shade structure) and the Feathernet. After chores, we went back to the woods and chipped and gathered firewood. I drove one of the larger older tractors with the wood trailer attached, and managed to get it stuck in a dip in the trail (the wood trailer was so heavy that once the wheels got in the dip, it was hard to get out). I was with Gabe, one of the other interns, and we used the bucket on one of the other tractors to push on the trailer while I drove the tractor in front and were able to get it out pretty easily. Situations like these have helped me to not get as flustered as I used to when things don’t go according to plan. Mistakes happen. Things get stuck. There is always a solution. If you don’t get all amped up about that an error was made, it is usually pretty easy to figure out what to do.
It isn't every day that you get to have your birthday at Polyface Farm, especially your golden birthday. I didn't know a golden birthday was a thing, but you learn something new every day. I turned 31 on the 31st, thus making this a golden birthday. And it was a wonderful day.
I started out by doing turkey and Feathernet chores by myself after being sent to the mineral shed to get turkey grit (more on the significance of this in a minute), set up new nets for the birds in anticipation of the next day’s moves, got caught in a rain storm and went to breakfast. My roommates were nice and thoughtful, giving me nail polish (it hides the dirt under your nails) and a tee shirt, since our clothes get stained so easily. When I went back, Tim and Erik (my intern friends from the Week Two post who sing while they work) asked me to go to the mineral shed to get dog food for Michael, Polyface’s guardian dog. I thought this was odd since I thought the dog dish was already filled, but I love Michael, so I went in only to find they had made a gift basket out of an egg basket and filled it with candy and a tee shirt that had Yoda on it and said “Size Matters Not”. They had put it in there prior to my going in to get grit and I completely missed it in my early morning stupor. I guess all the boys were watching to see what I’d think of the gift and were all confused when I came out expressionless and basketless. This was a big basket prominently placed so I don’t quite know how I missed it. I was very touched as I am usually apologizing to them for not being able to lift as much as they can, so the shirt had special meaning to me.
We spent the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon collecting firewood, chipping and cleaning up along a new fence line we’re making at one of the Polyface rental properties. Later that afternoon, Daniel Salatin pulled me and another intern to head back to the farm to start chores while the others finished up. I was in the middle of giving my broiler friends their evening water when turned around and saw Dan standing there. He had driven twelve hours to surprise me on my birthday. Daniel and Sheri Salatin were in on it and Dan was invited to have dinner with all of us. Our cook had made me lasagna (she lets us pick a dinner when it’s our birthday) and a cake. I am grateful for all the people who came out of the woodwork and sent me cards and packages from home, to the Salatin's for letting Dan come visit and keeping it a secret and to Dan for visiting. It was a great day.
Friday ended up being a rainy day, so after morning chores, we set up more nets for the birds, did some odds and ends around the farm, such as gathering weeds for the piglets (they love greens) and watched while Daniel, Jonathan and some of the others took apart part of the tractor. A very solid looking steel part had snapped in half while they were using the tractor to push wood chips up and needed to be removed.
After lunch, a few interns, Daniel and I went to one of the Polyface rental properties to move some broiler shelters and finish tarping some of the large bales of hay from the other week. The way we move the shelters here takes four people and a flatbed trailer, but could be done on a smaller scale if necessary. We have one person per corner and move the shelters three at a time. It can be heavy work, but I was with strong people so the time went by quickly.
When we got back, I was excused from dinner so I could spend some time with Dan. After not seeing him for two months, I was excited to see him.
Saturday was Dan’s behind the scenes tour of Polyface Farm. He has heard so much about it from me, so t was fun to show him around. The farm he worked at last year has many systems modeled after Polyface methods, but I think it’s important to see the original source of the ideas, if you can. One of the most heartening things about Polyface Farm and the Salatins is that they pride themselves on portable, reproducible systems that are easily implemented. If there is a cheaper, simpler, faster way to do something, that’s what they will do. Efficiency and practicality are king here. There are no unnecessary bells and whistles or flashy expensive equipment. Polyface’s way of farming can be done by those of us without lots of starting capital and they are very transparent about how they operate. As new farmers starting a business, it’s a relief to see simple affordable methods are still used at Polyface Farm, even with their fame, because they work.
I hope you all are enjoying your summer. Next week, some of us will get the chance to can, which is a new skill I’m excited to learn. See you all next week!
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