Polyface Farm Summer Internship: Week Sixteen

Reader Contribution by Kristen Kilfoyle
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Monday, September 15th

This week I was assigned to work with Joel Salatin as he does his morning chores, namely moving the Eggmobile and checking on the cows. To refresh your memory, we have two mobile laying hen shelters here at the farm; the Feathernet and the Eggmobile. The Eggmobile birds are entirely free range and sleep in their coop at night while the Feathernet birds are enclosed using an electrified netting system. Due to this extra protection against predators, the Feathernet girls can sleep wherever they want, thank you very much, provided it is inside their net.

After breakfast, I worked with Eric, our apprentice manager, and fellow intern Chris on installing some PVC gutter systems on the Carbon Shed. At one point, the Carbon Shed was basically a roof to cover Polyface’s fresh wood chips and compost piles, but over time, walls have been added to it. We recently installed some metal siding and Eric wanted a gutter system to direct rainfall. I have never really done anything gutter related, so it was interesting to me to see how quickly all the pieces came together and how versatile the PVC components were. I hear they are relatively inexpensive as well, but I’ll have to do my own research when I get back to New Hampshire.

Tuesday, September 16th

Tuesday involved several projects, one of which was pouring a concrete pad for the sawmill. Prior to this point, the farm’s sawmill had sat on the ground, but its ideal placement is on a level concrete surface. This was fun as all the interns were there, even if there wasn’t something for each of us to do. (All I did was watch and take pictures.)

Once everyone was rolling on this project, intern Greer and I went with apprentice Jonathan to move the pigs into one of Polyface’s acorn glens. In the fall, Polyface makes sure to move all the pastured pigs into these glens as the pigs LOVE acorns. The move was pretty straightforward. The paddocks were pretty near each other so all we had to do was create an alleyway between the two using a strand of poly wire and some metal stakes and open the gates. Greer called the pigs in using some grain as a reward and Jonathan and I followed behind to make sure nobody was left behind.

That afternoon, our apprentice manager let us know that there was a catchment pond being dug at one of the farms Polyface is renting if we’d like to go see. Where Dan and I are planning to add some farm ponds to our farm back in New Hampshire, I really wanted to watch. There is a spring on the property that the Salatins thought would be good to capture and between them and the excavator they hired, they worked out a dam location and a spot to dig the actual pond. I have been saying all summer how I have a newfound love and adoration for machinery and all it does for us, and this was another time. The pond was started Tuesday morning and was completed the following morning. I can’t imagine having to dig a pond by hand.

That evening, we went to catch stewing hens and roosters from one of the other properties Polyface is renting. The birds are much easier to catch at night, so we went after dinner and waited until it was dark before beginning our covert mission. I had mentioned in past posts that catching stewers can be difficult because they are speedy, but they are like tortoises compared to the roosters. Those roosters were fast!!! And wiley. And big. Good thing there were several of us, so we were able to get them all together but if it had been just me, it would have taken a while.

Wednesday, September 17th

So, those birds we caught last night… We processed them today. We had a big processing day, 240 stewing hens, 124 broilers and 57 roosters, and it ended up taking us until the early afternoon to get all the birds processed and in the chill tanks. After a quick lunch, we regrouped and got them all packaged.

I spent my afternoon chore time replenishing the hay in the nest boxes for my laying hen friends and washed eggs. I also checked on my acorn eating pigs from Monday’s move and one was out of the pen! Naughty! Since I was by myself, I had to take a minute and think about how to get him back in. He didn’t want to jump over the electric wire and herding him might send him deeper into the woods. I decided instead to try and play to the naturally curious nature of pigs in general. I stood still for a few minutes against the fence talking to him and soon enough, all his pig friends who were well behaved and stayed where they were supposed to came up and stood near me. He then came over to see what was going on and I used one of the stakes to lift the wire and he scooted right under. Hurray! Objective met in a quick and drama free fashion! I felt pretty validated by how it all went. It was one of those times when you can see the results of your training, research and hard work actually manifesting. There is no set way to handle getting a loose animal back where it is supposed to be, so I’m pleased that I now know enough that I can assess a situation like this and am able to control it in a way I am comfortable with.

Thursday, September 18th

Thursday started out with chipping and firewood collecting at that pasture we have been working on for the past month or so. It is really starting to take shape and I think the cows will enjoy it next season.

The afternoon was spent with Gabe and Tim, two fellow interns (both of which will be apprentices next year, along with Chris, another intern) moving a herd of cattle at one of the rental properties, feeding round bales and moving the shade structures. We had to feed about six bales, so this whole trip took a few hours. The cattle in this herd are really pretty, so I did take a few minutes to take some pictures.

Friday, September 19th

Friday was another big processing day, 200 broilers and 120 turkeys. It took a lot longer than usual because of some problems with the pluckers, which left the turkeys more feathery than one would like. We can pluck the wayward feathers with these little pliers we have just for the occasion, but it takes a while. We were done with processing and packaging with enough time to finish afternoon chores without being late for dinner.

Saturday, September 20th

I worked this weekend, which was fun because I got to sort cows! We needed to sort out some cows we believed to be pregnant to bring back to Polyface (We were at another rental farm.) and pick some finishers to send to slaughter.

I spent the afternoon deboning turkeys for grinding, which I actually enjoy, and gathering eggs.  We then had dinner with Joel and his wife Teresa and I got to try her famous honey baked chicken. It is definitely worth the hype.

Sunday, September 21st

Normally I wouldn’t write about Sunday because it is usually chores only, but this Sunday was different. Polyface had a client who ordered 1,000 live birds that they elected to have processed at a different facility. This meant we needed to catch said 1,000 birds. We had all hands on deck and were able to get this done in about an hour and a half but it was a lot of birds! I personally worked with interns Brandon and Alicia, with Alicia and I catching and Brandon carrying the full chicken crates (Those can be upwards of 75lbs each. I’ve got to give the man his due.) to the flatbed trailer we had just for the occasion. Our apprentice manager and his wife were nice enough to have ice cream ready for us after and we all sat on the front porch of the sales building to watch the sun set.

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