Polyface Farm Summer Internship: Week Five

Reader Contribution by Kristen Kilfoyle
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Hi everyone! I hope you all had an enjoyable 4th of July! This week was a bit abbreviated simply because of the holiday, but there was still a lot of firsts for me. 

Monday, June 30th

This week, my morning chore was to work with Joel Salatin and assist in the moving of the Egg Mobile (the movable chicken coop that houses the free range laying hens) and other assorted farm tasks that need attention. The Eggmobile is moved using a tractor every other day, but did not need to be moved that morning. On days where the Eggmobile does not need to be moved, our responsibilities are to open the nest boxes, which are kept closed at night so the layers won’t sleep in them/mess them up, and check to make sure the birds are all set with food and water. After we did this, we went to one of the fence lines where the neighbor’s cows had gotten through and cut back the brush and plants that had grown up around the area to give the cows better visibility of the barrier. This is good to do even if the neighbors cows aren’t giving you trouble, as branches and such touching the wire can weaken the charge of the fence.

The rest of the day was spent building another Gobbledego. A Gobbledego is a mobile shade structure used for the turkeys and we built our maiden one last week. We will need to build two more shade structures for the pigs, which will be slightly simpler since they won’t need the roosting bars notched in. I anticipate we will be building those within the next few weeks. Since we had built a Gobbledego last week, we were able to build most of it between four interns, but we needed more hands on deck once it came time to lift the two halves and screw them together.

Tuesday, July 1st

Tuesday morning, the Eggmobile needed to be moved. Moving is a pretty straightforward process. The night before, the doors are closed on the coops while the chickens are inside sleeping. We attach the Egg Mobile to the tractor, move it to its desired location, detach it from the tractor, open the doors and then open the nest boxes. The birds are also fed using a bulk feeder, which needs to be filled every few days, so we also took care of that. After we finished with the laying hens, we went and checked on the fence line we had cleared yesterday to make sure nothing had gotten through. (Nothing had.) After breakfast, one of my roommates, Alicia, and I worked with Joel to clear another fence line on the farm. This was more intensive than yesterday’s fence line, as we were clearing saplings, low branches from trees, thickets of tangled thorny plants and all kinds of brush. It was hard work, as Joel is pretty handy with the chainsaw and there was lots of brush coming our way. One bonus was that we hacked down some raspberry plants so I got to trash pick some of the berries before they went in the pile.

After lunch, I spent a few hours with one of the apprentices running errands (ordering tires for the new shade structures, dropping off a broken tractor piston, getting fuel for the different machines here at the farm, etc.) and prepping the nest boxes at the Feathernet, the mobile chicken coop where the pullets live. The pullets are beginning to lay eggs, so we needed to clean out all the debris (old hay, acorns, manure, mouse nests, etc.) from the nest boxes that had been left closed up to this point and fill them with fresh hay. The pullets seemed pretty amped about this whole turn of events because when we’d go to get handfuls of new hay, there were always hens burrowing around in the hay pile being cute.

Once we got back, we got to be involved in an on farm pig processing. Polyface sends their pigs for processing to a USDA inspected facility, but where this was for our own consumption, we did not need to go to these lengths. We have processed plenty of birds here, but this was the first time I had ever seen any other type of animal be slaughtered. The whole process went very smoothly and it was interesting to see how quickly people were catching on to Daniel Salatin’s instructions given our experience with working on the chickens. For example, when he asked us to remove the feet at the joint, we knew what he was getting at instead of tilting our heads quizzically. Don’t get me wrong, he showed us how to do one. We just weren’t as mystified by the process as before.

Wednesday, July 2nd

Wednesday was a big day for me – my first cattle sorting day! Daniel, Will, one of the other summer interns, and I left at 5:30am for one of the properties Polyface manages. We needed to get there with ample time to herd the cows into the pens designed specifically for cattle sorting to be able to have things in order in time for the haulers. Our task was to pick out a certain number of cattle to be finished on pasture at Polyface Farm and the rest needed to be put into groups of 15 (that’s all the trailers will hold comfortably) to go to a different Polyface managed property to graze there. Both Will and I got ample time to work with Daniel and learn how the cows respond to different movements and body language. We were able to get a little over 240 head of cattle sorted and on their way and fencing down by about 1pm.

Following this, we went to another Polyface managed property to sort out a bull who needed to come back to Polyface, ear tag some of the new calves and set up cross fencing. When we got back, we learned that the chick delivery was going to be earlier than expected because of the 4th of July, so we needed to hustle and get fresh bedding and food ready for the new babies. It was a very busy day. Thank goodness Daniel had brought granola bars, because I didn’t bring anything and it would have been a long day to go without food!

Thursday, July 3rd

Thursday morning was another Eggmobile moving day. After taking care of the layers, I was able to go with Joel while he checked on one of the new calves that was born at Polyface. After my chores with Joel were done, we interns helped with organizing the freezer inventory. Polyface has a large walk in freezer, walk in refrigerator and two freezer trailers so I can see the importance of keeping things organized. There are lots of places for items to get lost and trying to locate a pork belly in a freezer isn’t that much fun when you’re dressed for working outside in the summer.

After breakfast, we all worked on chipping the brush pile Alicia and I had piled up during Tuesday’s brush cleaning. Joel ended up getting in the bucket of the tractor so he could be lifted up higher to chainsaw more of the out of reach branches. The objective of this is to let more light in, optimizing growth conditions for grasses and other types of plants. I ended up being pulled off this project to make a restaurant delivery in Harrisonburg, VA, which I enjoyed. I like seeing restaurant kitchens and meeting the different types of people who buy local and sustainable food. We had some pretty intense rain showers following my return to the farm, so we did under roof chores for a bit until it cleared up and we were able to take care of the outside animals.

Friday, July 4th

July 4th was a pretty light day here at Polyface. We did morning chores and went to the 4th of July parade. We went later on to try and hunt groundhogs, but we didn’t see anything. Alas.

I hope you all are enjoying these posts. Please leave a comment if there is anything you’d like me to elaborate on and I can be sure to do so in the next entry. Thanks for reading!

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