Polyface Farm Summer Internship: Week Six

Reader Contribution by Kristen Kilfoyle
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Week Six ended up being one of the more fun and interesting weeks for me here at Polyface. I noticed that was able to better apply the skills I’ve learned without as much supervision and the intern team as a whole has become a very cohesive and capable unit. We are also preparing for Field Day, which is exciting.

Monday, July 7th

This week, I was assigned to Projects for morning chores. Projects is fun, as you basically take care of whatever comes up that needs to be taken care of. This morning, we cleaned out the main barn in preparation for some hay bales we needed to put there, assembled float valves for the watering systems for the pastured turkey nets that are going to put out later this week, and set up a training fence for the piglets (a small strip of electrified wire to train them about the joys of touching a live current with your snout). After breakfast, we had a planning meeting regarding July 19th’s Field Day gathering here at Polyface. I’m really looking forward to Field Day. The vendors and exhibitors that are coming all have products I’m going to need for back home and I’m excited to meet everyone that comes. I’ll be at the registration table first thing in the morning, so make sure to say hi if you’ve been reading these! After the meeting, we demolished two old turkey shade structures, saved what we could of the timbers and brought in the chassis to our shop manager for repair in anticipation of the new shade structures we need to build for the pigs.

The afternoon was spent bringing one of the new Gobbledegos (The turkey shade structures we made last week and the week before.) to one of the pastures here at Polyface, setting up the shade cloth and putting the netting up. We were expecting to have turkeys out there within the next few days and needed to have everything good to go. After this was finished, we set out for evening chores.

After dinner, we had the opportunity to join Joel Salatin and his brother Art on one of their adventures. Joel had found a tree that had a massive beehive inside it a few weeks ago and had mentioned it to Art. Art is a talented apiarist and wanted to bring the trunk from the field where it was to the farm to get the try and get bees living in a hive. We all put on long sleeves and set out to watch as Joel, fully suited up in protective gear, chainsawed the hive out of the tree. I have to say, what I was concerned might be a complete disaster ended up being one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Art smoked the hive and filled in the ins and outs with beeswax to keep our stinging friends from escaping. Joel then sawed off the section of the tree above the hive and nailed a board to the top of the stump to encapsulate the colony. Chains were then wrapped around the tree and attached to the bucket of the tractor. Once Joel sawed into the bottom of the stump, the remaining piece of the tree was lifted out exposing the hive and lots and lots of honeycomb. We hammered a board to the bottom (Again, encapsulation. Getting stung would have been a buzz kill. Get it? Bad jokes are kind of my thing.) and off the tractor went back towards the farm. Art and Joel noticed there was more honeycomb in the very bottom of the stump and we all clamored to get a taste of wild honey. The weather was beautiful, the stars and fireflies were out and as we were licking honey off our fingers, I said to my roommate Greer, “I guess we’re really living.” and she most certainly agreed.

Tuesday, July 8th

Tuesday morning, our job was to move a herd of cattle from one of the upper fields to the sorting corral, sort out some of the animals to be sent for slaughter and bring the rest of the herd back to the field. This got a bit hairy on the way back as a calf got separated from the herd and subsequently disappeared. I felt terrible that this had happened and we searched and searched but to no avail. The calf turned up a few hours later, so all’s well that ends well, but I still felt really bad.

Most of the rest of the day was spent stacking hay at one of the Polyface managed properties. This particular property has lots and lots of hayfields so we needed all hands on deck. Joel had been baling without the hay wagon attached to the baler, so we took turns driving the truck with the flatbed trailer attached while the others stacked the bales that had been spit out onto the ground by the baler. There were several trips back and forth bringing the hay to Polyface to stack. The bales were nice and light, so stacking wasn’t bad and the day went by quickly.

Wednesday, July 9th

Wednesday was a big day for me. I killed my first batch of broilers, which was a pretty formative experience for me, but I’ll get into that in a minute. We started the day gathering broilers from their shelters at one of the Polyface managed farms then helped this particular farm manager round up his cattle as the cows had gotten out due to some deer busting through his fencing.

I had originally thought my roommate Alicia was going to be killing that day, but she was called off the line before we started processing to help with the hay crew. Once I found out it would be my turn, I was nervous, as this would be the first time I had ever intentionally killed something (I’ve run over the occasional kamikaze squirrel before, but that doesn’t count.) and I was very afraid of hurting the birds if I made a mistake. Our apprentice manager killed the first twenty or so to give the rest of the processing line something to do while he taught me the technique. I definitely blinked a lot during my first few birds and our apprentice manager was kind enough to pretend not to notice. (I think I may have tried to tell him I had a feather in my eye or something, but I’m not sure.) Once I got the hang of it, the processing went well. It was fast, which was important to me. I knew if I wanted to be a farmer I would have to kill animals, and I wasn’t looking forward to it, although I was willing to do it. I am glad I’m over this hurdle, as now I know what to expect. It was an emotional experience to kill animals we all had raised, but where I expected to be sad or maybe feel negatively about eating meat, I felt at peace when everything was done. I took solace in the fact that the birds were raised comfortably and dispatched quickly. As a meat eater, I have finally participated in the life cycle that produces our food and that was important to me. I certainly do not think that everyone who eats meat needs to kill something to be able to fully experience what they’re eating, but this was something I felt compelled to do at some point in my life.

The afternoon was spent taking turkeys from their mobile shelters and moving them to pasture. Moving turkeys is time consuming as their wings are very fragile and as adults, they need to be moved one at a time. This was a nice ending to my day, as I love my turkey friends, but I also got to see firsthand how happy the birds were to be in their nice big pasture. Knowing that the animals have a good life on the farm takes away any guilt I may have had about consuming them. All in all, today was one of those days where a loose end of mine was tied up and I was grateful for it. 

Thursday, July 10th 

This morning, the Projects team was responsible for helping with the restaurant load up. We go through the order sheet given to us by Polyface’s ordering managers and assemble what is needed. We then separate the orders into coolers, mark which cooler has what for Richard, Polyface’s very nice driver, and load up the truck. Since there are so many restaurants and moving parts, we need to be careful this does not get mixed up. After breakfast, since the piglets got old enough to leave the barn and move onto pasture, we broke down the empty pigpens to prepare the barn for Field Day and cleaned up around the farm.

The afternoon was spent moving turkeys from one of the contract farms to another Polyface managed property. We took the turkeys from their shelters, loaded them onto a livestock trailer (the cutest trailer load you ever did see, if I do say so myself, even though the 400+/- birds were loaded two at a time so it took a while) and brought them to their new pasture. I included a picture so you can see how funny they are.

Friday, July 11th

This Friday, we had an extra day of processing. Usually, the Friday processing is the third Friday of the month but where we have Field Day next weekend, we moved it up a week. For morning chores, we went and gathered more broilers, which went faster than Wednesday’s gathering since my Projects partner and I were better practiced.

After breakfast, I delivered a special order to a residence in West Virginia. I was excited to do this because I like meeting people and I also like driving. This took about five hours, so by the time I got back the crew was in full on Field Day prep mode. I was able to help our shop manager with organizing the scrap metal (I also like organizing.) until chore time and we were really excited about how much better everything looked. I also got some welding tidbits as we were slinging around rusty metal, which I found surprisingly interesting. Maybe I’ll take a class on welding sometime. It would be a good skill to have. Or I could just take to youtube like I have for sewing tips, although you can’t cause an explosion by making a mistake sewing a hem. We’ll see.

I hope you all have a great week! Thanks for checking in!

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