Polyface Farm Summer Internship: Week Three

Reader Contribution by Kristen Kilfoyle
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Hi everyone! I hope you all enjoyed your week and are enjoying reading about my exploits at Polyface Farm. This past week was pretty much devoted to hay. We have made so much hay, 1,300 bales on Monday alone and many more the rest of the week. I didn’t get a hard tally on the total number of bales, but I can assure you, it was a lot of hay.  I’m also not so tired anymore. Daniel said it would take a few weeks for our bodies to acclimate and he was right. (Daniel is always right.)

Monday, June 16th

Starting this week, we were assigned a certain chore for the entire week. I was assigned to work with the turkeys (currently the object of my affection) and the pullets at the feathernet. We move the turkey and the pullet nets every three days so the birds can all get fresh forage. Moving the feathernets is pretty straightforward. We set up a new net, open the old one, let the birds in and pull in their shelter with the tractor. The turkeys have a roosting/shade structure called the GobbledyGo and the pullets have a mobile coop. After moving the nets and getting everyone fed and situated, we headed to breakfast. I then spent the rest of the day helping Polyface’s garden manager work in the various hoop houses and garden beds. We weeded, weeded some more, and then weeded some more. I was happy to work in the garden for the day though. We always are eating vegetables from the garden at dinner, so I enjoyed tending to them. It was a big hay day for everyone else. A lot of the interns spent time either on the hay wagon with the baler or unloading the wagons and stacking the bales in the loft. I ended up joining those unloading bales around 3pm until chore time. For evening chores, I went with Greer, one of my roommates and the one who takes most of the photos I am in that I post here, to gather and wash eggs for our evening chore and then headed to dinner.

Tuesday, June 17th

Since we had moved the nets the day before, my morning chore was spent just feeding and checking on my turkey and pullet friends at their respective feathernets. The corral project was still ongoing, so after breakfast we built wooden gates needed to complete the project (using Polyface’s own sawmilled lumber), stacked more hay and I backed up the tractor for the first time with one of the apprentices. There was a film crew onsite while I was having my tractor lesson and I remember fervently hoping I wouldn’t crash the tractor into the barn or something catastrophic of that nature while they were filming me. Don’t worry, I didn’t.

After lunch, I went with one of the contract farmers to help set up cross fences for some new herds of cattle he’s expecting the next week. I really enjoyed being able to tag along for this trip. It was good to be able to practice one on one Polyface’s method of setting up wire fencing. Once I get better practiced in their method, I’ll take some photos and do a little how to here in the blog. This took a few hours and by the time I got back, everyone else was on hay, either loading or unloading, so I did the broiler and egg collecting chores while they wrapped up their hay duties. It’s nice to be part of a team; you always know someone is doing what needs to be done in some way or another.

Wednesday, June 18th

Wednesday is processing day for us here at Polyface. Last week, we processed birds on Tuesday, but that was a bit of a fluke. After feeding the turkeys and pullets (and myself), it was time to report to the processing shed and get to work. I was on the gutting station again this week and am pleased to say I had a much easier time of it than my first go a few weeks ago. We were able to process and package about 230 birds in a few hours, which seemed fast to me, but I’m assured we’ll be even faster in the next few weeks.

After lunch, we spent a few hours stacking the hay that was harvested on Tuesday The bales were light and there were a lot of us, so the time went by quickly. I also took a brief interlude mid-afternoon with Tim, one of the other interns, where we went and filled the water for the broilers. It was a hot day, so we need to make sure all the animals are cool and hydrated. Someone does this every day when the temperature gets up there. It’s not only the broilers – the pigs get in on the water fest too. I wish I could have gotten a picture of Daniel misting the pigs with the hose- they were so happy! We did wrap up stacking hay and evening chores a little bit early today, which was appreciated.

Thursday, June 19th

Thursday morning, we moved the turkeys and pullets to their new pastures. It took a little longer than I would have preferred because I kept tangling up the nets, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. The rest of my morning was spent at one of the properties Polyface manages. I went with one of the apprentices and we moved +/-430 turkey poults (So cute! They kind of look like tiny dinosaurs.) from their brooder onto pasture. Turkeys are delicate, so it takes longer to move them from their brooders than it would with broiler chicks. At first, they seemed a little confused about what to do in the grass, but they soon set up pecking at bugs and leaves. After lunch, I went for another round on the hay wagon with two other interns. This went much better than my stint the first week I was here. The bales were lighter than the ones prior, but I still can’t get them over my head. I stacked rows to about 5’6” high (I know that because that’s about how tall I am. I didn’t measure the height of the stack, don’t worry.) and then ended up climbing to the top of the wagon to arrange the bales that get tossed up high. We went for three wagons, finishing the pastures that had been mowed and avoiding the rain. After hay, I got a chance to ride along as one of the apprentices spread compost with the manure spreader over the fields and was trying not to laugh as Michael, Polyface’s livestock guardian dog, ran around rolling in the newly dispersed very fragrant compost piles. We wrapped up the day with broiler chores and washing eggs.

Friday, June 20th

Friday morning chores went pretty smoothly and had the added bonus of giving hay to the new calves Polyface is keeping. These guys will be added to the herd but could use a week or two of time to bulk up before being sent out. With the general populous  After breakfast, we went to one of the more remote pig pastures on the Polyface property and prepped the fences for the new pigs that will be heading out there soon. A fair amount of the fence posts had come loose, so we interns divided up into teams of two and set to digging new fence holes and replacing posts. The apprentice we were working with checked all the wires and tightened them where necessary. By the time we wrapped this project up, it was time for lunch.

After we ate, we went to one of the properties Polyface manages and chopped thistles. You may remember from last week’s entry that I love to chop thistles. Getting a big backswing (making sure you’re not going to maim those you’re working with, of course) and taking out a massive thistle in one fell swoop is surprisingly cathartic. This field was pretty big, so it took five interns a few hours to clear everything out. Our apprentice manager also ended up mowing one field that was choked with thistles while we handled the less densely populated sections. It was a nice way to end the week.

The Weekend

I won’t usually write about what I do on weekends since it’s generally not farm related, but I went this past Sunday to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s residence in Charlottesville, VA. Besides all the great artifacts, art, architecture and history, the gardens, orchards, plant nursery, and vineyards are really something to check out. It was affirming to learn that the author of the Declaration of Independence, governor of Virginia, secretary of state, vice president and third president of the United States thought of himself as a farmer. I took a lot of photos of how he made his trellises and such so I can copy him when I get back to New Hampshire. I highly doubt my house will ever look like Monticello, which is fine because I’m sure it would take a lot to heat a place that big, but my gardens can look like theirs! Enjoy your week everybody!