Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
This week’s morning chore was to work with the rabbits. Polyface’s rabbits are housed in a few different spots; the Racken, which is the hoophouse where the older laying hens sanitize the rabbit droppings, the big barn and in Hare Pens, mobile rabbit shelters placed in different central spots on the farm. My duties entailed feeding and watering all the rabbits in the Hare Pens and in the barn. When those were done, I’d check in with Hannah, our apprentice in charge of the rabbits, who was usually in the Racken feeding, breeding various pairs, keeping records and checking on the new babies. Some days I’d need to fill the bulk feeders for the hens that live in the Racken and other days entailed gathering comfrey leaves to feed the rabbits who aren’t on pasture. I really liked working with the rabbits. They’re quiet and cute and a nice way to start the day.
After breakfast, Hannah and I went to pick up calves at a farm about an hour from Polyface. I was really excited to go partly because I am a big fan of Hannah, but I also wanted to check out another cattle operation. This particular farm had a really nice sorting and loading area all under roof and the calves very calmly loaded up onto the trailer. Originally, I had been a bit apprehensive about how it would be hauling twenty +/- 500lb calves over an hour on the freeway, but they were well behaved the entire way back. Once we returned to Polyface, we sorted out the heifers from the steers, weighed them and gave them a new ear tag. Since the calves were so calm, it was a good chance for me to learn how to remove the old tag and put a new one in through the existing ear tag hole. We then brought the steers up to join the Polyface herd while the heifers went to a different herd at one of the rental properties.
Tuesday, August 5th
Tuesday was a comfrey day for the rabbits. After giving them their feed, I would take two five gallon buckets and harvest comfrey from one of the several comfrey patches on the farm. I like giving the rabbits their greens. It gives me a chance to check on each one and get to see the new babies.
The rest of the day we spent chipping, stacking and unloading wood. I did notice we were messing around with some logs that had these peculiar looking vines on them which I believe lead to a rip snorting case of poison ivy that manifested a day or so later. Oh well, such is the life of someone with sensitive skin. It was a good day and we got a lot done, but I was definitely tired. And itchy.
Wednesday, August 6th
I canned my first green beans with Teresa Salatin today! Yay! But more on that in a moment. We started out the day processing about 450 birds and I was on the quality control station. We check the birds for stray feathers the plucker may have missed, the odd lung or windpipe that was left behind and basically give the carcass the once over to make sure it is ready for market.
After lunch, when we usually bag and sort the birds, I got the opportunity to work with Teresa, Joel Salatin’s lovely wife, on canning green beans. I had never canned before and had asked if I could help if there was any that needed to be done. Initially, we snapped the beans and made them into bite site pieces. We then washed them many times in cold water, put them into clean jars, put ¼ teaspoon of salt and added boiling water. By no means is this a recipe on canning or a tutorial, since I’m definitely a newbie. The cans then went into Teresa’s pressure canner. (I want one of those!) Canning was a lot more straightforward than I was expecting and I’m looking forward to canning more.
Thursday, August 7th
Rabbit duty got a little less cute today. It was rabbit processing day. After chores and breakfast, Hannah and I picked seven rabbits (The number is based off pre orders placed through restaurants and buying club. Sometimes it’s more than thirty and other times it’s only a few.) and brought them to the processing shed. I then learned how to dispatch, skin and gut a rabbit. I have rabbits of my own (Don’t worry guys, I’m not going to eat you.) and I anticipated that it would be difficult to butcher such a cute little fluffball, but it wasn’t.
Hannah’s rabbit processing set up and procedures are pretty simple. The rabbits are taken from their crate, hit with a pipe on their forehead to quickly stun then and then bled out. We then put their feet into these little slipknots that are already hung from the ceiling, remove their skin and organs, leaving the livers with the rabbit and bag them up for clients. Hannah can process three rabbits in the time it takes me to finish one, but she gave me the chance to work on three of the seven. I ran into trouble separating some of the joints, but I think that I will get more proficient with practice. As I write this, I’m envisioning the surprise many who know me will feel reading that I have butchered rabbits. I have always been a big animal lover and had lots of pets, so I’m sure this new skill seems odd. I take comfort, though, in knowing that the process by which the rabbits are butchered is fast and low stress. These bunnies are for food, not for pets, and the way I can express love for them is to provide them with a good life and a quick departure.
We spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for a fence line installation at one of the rental properties. Some of the other interns had dug holes for the fence posts while I was chipping on Tuesday and every day since we have been filling the holes with water. We haven’t had much rain here and the ground is really hard. This can make post pounding difficult and annoying, so adding water really helps.
Friday, August 8th
After chores, we interns processed about 500 chickens. This Friday was fresh bird pick up at the farm, where people can pre-order fresh birds and come to the farm to buy them. I was on quality control again and between everyone, we were finished with the birds by noon.
After lunch, we packaged the birds, setting aside some for those who had pre-ordered. I then went with Hannah and Will, a fellow intern, to move some cows across a road on a property Polyface is leasing for grazing. The move went well but once the cows were in their new pasture, we noticed some party games from a kid’s birthday were still out in the field and had to haul them out. I'm sure the people driving by were wondering what the three people in the cow pasture were doing carrying a water balloon catapult through a herd of steers. It's always something.
Saturday, August 9th
This was a weekend where I was working, hence the Saturday entry, but it ended up being a great day. After chores, fellow intern Greer and I were given the chance to work on our tractor skills and were asked to take the feed buggy up to the Eggmobile and fill the feeder. I still need to work on backing up, because it took a few tries to get the buggy close enough to where the arm of the buggy would reach the feeder, but we were excited we got this done without any supervision/intervention. After our glorious tractoring, I went with Hannah to pick up peaches from an orchard about an hour away. The families of Polyface end up buying seasonal produce in bulk and setting it aside. We picked up eight bushels (a lot of peaches) but they smelled so good I bought some for myself. I enjoyed seeing another farm business and the amount of customers they had for their peaches. It gives me hope for my and Dan’s farm enterprise.
The afternoon was spent with Miriam, one of the apprentices, setting up a shade structure for the cows at one of the other rental properties. Since it was the two of us, it took longer than normal. (We usually have about four people helping.) Once we got back, I gathered the eggs and we wrapped up with enchiladas at Daniel and Sheri Salatin’s.
I hope you all are enjoying reading about how things are going. Next week will be a lot of work with turkeys, so check back in if you’re looking to talk turkey. (Sorry. Bad pun.)