Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Becoming More Familiar with the Polyface Eggmobile
Having grown up in the Sacramento region of California, fireflies were not a regular part of my childhood. They were never part of my “every day” bug exposure, if you will. Sure, there are many beetles, Praying Mantises and Jerusalem Crickets that might be odd to other people and are common place to me. But fireflies have always been the coolest thing.
I have relatives that live in Pennsylvania, and trips that took my family out that direction were welcomed because they brought me to firefly country. In my mind, fireflies are synonymous with cool summer evenings that find me and my siblings running through my grandparent’s lawn on a dewy evening, laughing while the winged marvels twinkle around me.
Fireflies also make me think of romanticized scenes from many a film, where they are often used to set a deep and often serene ambiance. When I was working with the Walt Disney Company at The Walt Disney Resort, The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was my favorite. The first segment of the ride is set in a swamp where (via use of a small fan and a gently pulsating LED) fireflies glow off and on to set the mood.
With this as my background, one of the small yet very enjoyable perks of working here at Polyface is when, during the late spring/summer evenings, I get to witness the fireflies come to life in the evening twilight.
It is evenings just like tonight, right after the sun has set behind the ridgeline to the west, when I will walk, run, or ride one of the farm four-wheelers to the Eggmobile to close it up in preparation of Joel moving it in the morning. This short trip to the Eggmobile is the perfect opportunity to just soak the fireflies in. I often get distracted by them, but I don’t mind. And it makes the task of closing the Eggmobile something to look forward to.
If you have ever had the opportunity to visit Polyface, it is a safe bet that Joel’s Eggmobile was somewhere on your list of things to see. If you didn’t know it existed before your visit, I’m guessing you were familiar with it by the time you left. From what I’ve seen, it is one of the most duplicated structures on the farm, and I have heard about and seen many variations.
Our Eggmobile is a two-section version, with each section boasting a single axle. It is constructed from rough-cut lumber (milled from the farm), sheet metal for the sides and roof, and chicken wire on the ends to prevent early and unwanted departure by the birds. Each section holds four hundred birds comfortably, and has nest boxes and bulk-feeders that we fill as needed.
The concept is simple. The chickens return to the Eggmobile at dusk to sleep. We close the Eggmobile the evenings before we move it. The Eggmobile follows the cows; hence, the chickens follow the cows. We let the chickens out in the morning. Boom. Done.
It is simple in practice, but there is much more going on here than first meets the eye. The Eggmobile follows the cows, leaving roughly a three day time period between when the cows are in a specific section and when the birds get on it. What this means is that the chickens are having their pick of delicious fly larva that are (at three days old) perfectly plump for the pecking. Moving the Eggmobile like this helps to keep the fly population down, keeps the pasture more sanitized, helps the cow’s manure to build the soil more efficiently (via the birds distributing and spreading it while tearing it apart looking for food), and provides the chickens with a continues supply of fresh “salad-bar”, as Joel likes to say.
As an apprentice, it falls on me and my fellow apprentices to close the Eggmobile. We take week long rotations, and this week it is my turn to complete the task. This entails me making my way to wherever the Eggmobile might be. Upon arrival, I first verify that all the birds are inside. I then disconnect the water line which is connected to the black poly-pipe that we have around the fields, and begin to roll it up with the crank-handle spool that’s attached to the end of the Eggmobile. It is important to note that it is VERY easy to lose the rubber washer that’s on the end of the hose. I make sure I don’t lose it. Losing it can cost other people extra time, which never makes them happy. I then empty the small water pan that the chickens drink from, and place it on the front tongue that the tractor connects to.
After the water line is properly stowed, I then stash the ramps leading to the small doors that the chickens travel in and out of. There are four doors, two on each section. Two of the ramps are laid between the two sections on the connecting rod, and two ramps are slid into custom slots directly below the doors. All of the doors are fastened with bungie-cords.
Now it is closed up for the night, and I’m done. It’s that simple. The procedure takes me maybe ten minutes tops. The journey to the Eggmobile consumes more of my time than the task itself. Come tomorrow morning, Joel and one of the interns will ride out on one of the tractors to move this sucker. After hooking up, they will make the journey to its new temporary resting place. Sometimes this journey is only a hundred feet and sometimes it is clear across the farm.
Moving the Eggmobile is officially Joel’s job, but I have done it several times while he is traveling and speaking across the world. Moving the Polyface Eggmobile is an adventure. It is wide, long, heavy, and has the turning radius of a ‘64 Buick. It is hard to hazard a guess as to the amount of fence posts that have fallen prey to its sluggish maneuvering and blunt sides. Once it begins moving forward, it is hard to convince it to do anything else. And heaven forbid you have to back it up. Oh my.
It is not the prettiest structure by any stretch of the imagination…but that’s the trick. The beauty isn’t in the aesthetics of the Eggmobile…it is in the innovation, imagination, and effectiveness that is all bundled together and morphed into the rambling chicken totter that makes its constant pilgrimage around the farm. Once you can see it for what it is, it is hard to view it as anything but ingenious.
So here I go. It is time to head out and shut the ol’ girl up for the evening.
I can already see the fireflies twinkling in the dusk, lighting the way to the Eggmobile that’s tucked away somewhere in the shadows.
Interested in seeing more of what Tim does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username MyPolyfacePerspective.
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