Polyface Farm Summer Internship: Week Four

Reader Contribution by Kristen Kilfoyle
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Hi everyone! It’s hard to believe that this internship is already a month in. We only have three months left! The time has passed so quickly and it’s pretty amazing to reflect back on how much we’ve all learned. I definitely have a lot more to learn, but we as interns have come a long way.

Monday, June 23rd

Monday morning began my week of moving broiler shelters as my morning chore. I had mentioned a few weeks prior that I had gotten the hang of moving the broiler pens. After this week, in the essence of full disclosure and to not create an image of myself as this rock star intern that can do everything extremely well, I want you all to know that while I have a good grasp of the technique involved, I am slow when it comes to actually moving the coops. As I get stronger, I am confident this will change. I like to be good at everything immediately and am sensitive to keeping things running efficiently, so I will admit to having a tiny meltdown because I was flustered by my lack of speed. The way our system operates is we have three interns assigned to move the broiler and pullet shelters and two interns who come behind the movers and feed and water the birds. I felt bad that I was keeping the feed/water people waiting and Tim, one of my fellow interns who was a feeder/waterer, stepped in to help me move the coop. He reminded me we are a team, that everyone is still learning and to not get upset about timing. I appreciated his bringing me back to reality and his assistance that day and the rest of the week in moving the shelters when time was of the essence. We at Polyface are a team and it is nice to work with people who will help you when you need it, be it a hand moving something heavy or a kind word when you need it. Or both.

After breakfast, we headed to one of the properties Polyface manages to set fence posts for some cattle fencing we are building. The property had recently been logged and the fencing configuration needed to be changed entirely. We had brought the hydraulic post pounder, and because the pounder was attached to the tractor (The pounder is time consuming to take on and off), we went directly to another site that needed some fence posts redone once we were done at the first property. It was a busy day of sharpening posts, installing the insulators (plastic pieces that hold the wire in place on the fence post), pulling old posts, installing new posts, removing old cattle fencing panels and installing new wire. We got back to the farm in time for evening chores and after dinner we had a seminar with Joel Salatin on the concept of Cow Days. Those of you who have read Joel’s book Salad Bar Beef will already have an understanding of what a Cow Day is, but for those of you who don’t, a Cow Day is essentially how much one cow will eat in one day. It will take experience for us as interns to get an eye for how much that is depending on the quality of the grasses, but the Cow Day concept is very important in determining how much acreage to give your herd so they can properly mob graze it. This also helps one plan the year; figuring out how many animals one can have, where they can go and for how long.

Tuesday, June 24th

Tuesday morning entailed moving broilers, helping with the buying club load up (we pull meats from the freezers based off an inventory sheet which summarizes that day’s orders), stacking hay in the hay loft and moving one of the pigs and her piglets into a separate corral. Polyface doesn’t farrow piglets, but unbeknownst to anyone, this particular sow had a litter of piglets one night and thus needed to be separated from the rest of the herd. Those of you who have worked with mother sows before know they can be a bit protective, so we had to make sure we had a solid plan of how to get her and the babies from Point A to Point B before proceeding. Everything went well and the pig family is currently enjoying their new digs.

After lunch, we went to a property Polyface manages to make hay. Joel, Daniel and some of the others had gotten to the site earlier, so there was a baler and hay wagons going and bales that were on the ground as some of the wagons were full when they were being made. My job was to drive the truck and trailer while some of the others threw the bales that were on the ground onto the flatbed to stack them. There were some good songs on the radio, but I felt bad that I was in the cab while the boys were trying to throw bales and keep up with the moving vehicle, so I shut it off. We ended up in the property owner’s barn unloading and stacking what we’d collected. We were able to bale and stack over 700 bales of hay for the property owner that afternoon, so it was a productive day.

Wednesday, June 25th

As you all may remember, Wednesday is processing day at Polyface. This was the first time I had been involved with collecting the birds to be processed, so immediately after moving the coops, we set to gathering. We ended up collecting over 500 birds and since we were just one crate shy of what we needed, I got to ride back to the farm on the back of the trailer with a chicken under each arm. I think the birds enjoyed the scenery and I enjoyed their company.

Most of the rest of the day was consumed by processing birds and packaging them. During the processing, I bounced between eviscerating and quality control, both of which I enjoy and we were done by 12:30. After lunch, we packaged the birds based on orders that had already been placed being completed first, parts and pieces needed for inventory and prepping the rest of the birds to be frozen. We were done with this by about 3:30, spent a fair amount of time cleaning up and did evening chores.

Thursday, June 26th 

Thursday, for me, revolved around the construction of a new Gobbledego, a roosting and shade structure Polyface uses for turkeys. After morning chores and breakfast, I helped Daniel and one of the apprentices clean the bearings in one of the axles we needed while the other interns went with Joel to measure the existing Gobbledego, get a better understanding of the concept and pull the right amount of wood from the saw mill inventory. During the construction, I was otherwise occupied with the bearings, but once the pieces were done, a lot of us were needed to hold the pieces in place while they were connected.  When it was all said and done, the Gobbledego looked great. The turkeys will be pleased. The rest of the day included clearing away some encroaching walnut trees, chopping thistles, getting caught in a rainstorm while chopping thistles, and moving cows at two of the other properties Polyface manages. After the Cow Days talk, I had a better understanding of why the apprentices place the fences where they do.

Friday, June 27th

Every third Friday at Polyface, we have an extra day of processing. After moving broilers, we collected +/- 460 birds and got to work processing them. I was in the same processing capacity as I was on Wednesday, which was fun. I enjoyed being able to practice and am definitely getting better. As a group, we are definitely getting faster and finished earlier than we did on Wednesday. (Granted, there were about 60 less birds, but still…) Evening chores went smoothly and we had enough time to quickly change before dinner, which is always a treat.

I hope you all are enjoying reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it. Polyface Field Day is July 19th, which we’re all looking forward to. I hope some of you will be coming so you can see what I’ve been talking about in person. Happy July 4th! See you after Week Five!