This week, my morning chore assignment was to be on the project team. I like working on projects because your activity changes daily and it gives you a good idea of what kind of farm related trouble shooting you can expect when you’re in the swing of things on your own farm. Today’s project was to take the feed buggy out to the fields where we have broilers and fill the feed bins. The feed buggies are very large and need to be brought out using a tractor, so Tim, my project partner for the week, and I teamed up to get that done.
We spent that morning and most of the rest of the afternoon doing some work on a new pasture at one of the Polyface rental properties. This involved more time with the chipper, collecting firewood and organizing the posts Joel Salatin had made out of some of the trees he had cut down. I did get an opportunity to use the hay mower with Jonathan, one of our apprentices, which was a blast. It’s a huge machine and it was really fun to drive. Going around one corner, I did miss a little strip of grass, which I’m told isn’t too bad for your first try but it would have been nice to have a perfect first run.
Tuesday morning’s project was reconnecting a piston on one of the tractors (It sounds harder than it is. All we had to do was put a pin and some spacers in.), cleaning out the 6” of bark and sticks from the bottom of the wood trailer that had come loose during all our firewood collecting into the piglet pen and loading up lumber and tools for some fence repair we were going to do later that day.
After breakfast, we spent the rest of the day at one of the larger properties Polyface manages. Our objectives were to repair some fencing and a section of a corral that was broken over the past year by a wayward bull and catch a steer who had escaped through a section of fence from the comfort of his lush pasture and cattle friends into what has to be some of the most dense brambles I have ever seen. Daniel Salatin decided that since catching the loose steer was more of a toss up time wise that we should do that first. There were several of us there and we broke into two teams each starting at opposite ends of bramble land with the plan to regroup once someone found the steer. Thankfully Hannah, our eagle eyed apprentice, spotted him about eight minutes into our quest. I say thankfully because the brush and thorns were over five feet high and looking for something, even something as large as a steer, was a bit of a challenge. As you can imagine, this steer was stressed out and unhappy because he was alone and away from his companions and wasn’t really in the mood to be directed as to where he should go. It took a group effort to get him across the field and over to his pals, but the relief he clearly felt from being reunited with his herd made the whole production it took to find him and get him there worth it. After Operation Steer Reuniting was completed, we moved the entire herd across a country road and down a driveway to their new pasture. This move went very well and we stopped to eat and regroup before spending the rest of the afternoon on repairs.
When you’re on the project team, one of your weekly jobs is to catch birds on processing days. Today was a big day and Tim, apprentice Jonathan and I were responsible for catching nine pens worth of birds, which came out to 560. This speaks a lot to how much we’ve learned over the past few months, as we were able to catch all those birds in about 45 minutes. If this were a month or so prior, catching this many birds would have taken us a lot longer to complete. To catch birds from the broiler shelters, we use boards to herd them towards the front of the structure and take off the two removable covers. One person then gets in with the birds and hands them to the other, who puts them in the chicken crate. We then move the crates to the flat bed trailer and bring them down to the processing shed.
After breakfast, we headed down to the processing shed and got to work. I should have known something was off because I kept bursting the gallbladders of the birds I was gutting, rendering their livers unsalable, which is unlike me. One gallbladder even exploded on my face. Gross. Totally my fault, but still gross. I’m usually good for bursting two or three over the course of a few hours, not six in ten minutes. I then suddenly didn’t feel fell, went to get a drink of water and ended up going back to bed. I think what did me in was a migraine, but whatever it happened to be was unpleasant and I felt bad for having to leave the line. Nobody minded, as we’ve had our share of sicknesses, sore backs and the like, but you always like to think of yourself as invincible and it can be frustrating when you’re reminded that you’re not.
Thursday morning, project people are in charge of doing restaurant load up. We pull food from the freezers and walk in refrigerator, assemble orders in coolers and load the truck for Richard, our affable and very intelligent driver. (I really enjoy talking with him, in case you can’t tell.) Once that was done and we had eaten, we headed over to a Polyface rental property to gather pigs to send to slaughter. Pig herding is a bit of an art because pigs are very smart and quick, despite their large size, and are very sensitive to cues from those who are herding them. Eric, our apprentice manager, was there and between his directions and some of the pig nuances we have learned over our time here, we were able to get the trailer loaded.
We spent the afternoon working on whole bird cutups. I had mentioned learning how to part out a bird a few weeks ago, which we call parts and pieces. Whole bird cutups are a bit different because where doing parts and pieces yields packages of parts from many birds (You would buy a bag of just wings, legs and thighs, necks, boneless breast, etc.), whole bird cutups are one bird cut up and packaged with all the parts. I enjoyed learning how to do this, as it involves using a meat cleaver (I’m hardcore now.) and arranging the pieces so they look nice for resale. There was hay stacking going on as a result of Monday’s mow, but I was so excited about learning how to cut the birds apart that I opted out. Some of the boys love working with hay, so I didn’t mind letting them have their fun.
Friday was another big processing day, which meant project people needed to catch another 570 birds. We got this done quickly, following our Wednesday bar setting and we spent the rest of the day processing, bagging, freezing and doing more whole bird cutups. It was a big day and we got a lot done.
This weekend I went to New York City with my roommate Greer and happened upon the Union Square Farmers Market. I’d like you farmers to note that there are farms getting $40/lb for pork tenderloin and $5 for a half dozen of eggs. Take heart and sell your products! While we may all not live near New York City, there are people who will pay a fair price for our food and we need to get creative and find them.
I hope you all had a great week and look forward to giving you next week’s installment.