Polyface Farm Summer Internship: Week Twelve

Reader Contribution by Kristen Kilfoyle

Monday, August 18th

This week’s morning chore was to feed and water the broilers after they’ve been moved. I used to carry buckets that were about half full of water but I’m pleased to report I’m now up to ¾. Woohoo. After breakfast, it was back to turkey processing. We did another 135 turkeys and were done by very late morning.

Once the birds were done, we headed over to the rental farm we were working on last week to finish putting up the fence. The posts were in and it was time for the wire mesh to go up. We attached the wire to a tool called a fence puller and the tractor was used to pull the wire taught while we all pounded staples into the posts to secure the mesh. I was never known for my hammering finesse, which led to Joel coming over to ask what exactly was I doing. I believe he said it looked like I was trying to hit a baseball, but my swings were too small, so maybe he was referring to bunting. I was a bit sheepish that my hammering was so bad that he came from fifty yards away to see what was going on, so I don’t exactly remember what was said. Either way, I got a hammering lesson and it turns out I wasn’t using my wrist enough. After my lesson, I had what Joel referred to as a “hammering breakthrough” and the rest is hand tool history.

After a late lunch, I helped box up the birds then worked in the freezer with Eric, our apprentice manager, to stack the turkey boxes. It is getting to be a tight squeeze in there with all the turkeys so he needed someone who didn’t mind climbing over boxes to move things. It’s nice to get the turkeys all situated and prepped in time for the pre-Thanksgiving rush.

Tuesday, August 19th

After feeding and watering the birds, we set out to do more chipping and firewood stacking at one of the properties Polyface is renting. It seems like we do a lot of chipping, which we do, but it is an important part of creating and maintaining pasture. At several of the rental farms, we are trying to create and/or expand pasture areas and with all the available intern power, we have been focusing on these projects.

Later that afternoon, we went to watch while Daniel and apprentice Jonathan installed a cistern at one of the other rental farms. The issue we were having with this particular parcel is that when the cows would drink water, the existing well was not pumping fast enough to refill in time. The cows would get tired of waiting and knock over the trough, which is annoying and means they would have to wait while we right the tank and fill it before they can drink. The cistern will store the well water in the event that the cows drank the trough dry and will keep everything full and running as it should.

Wednesday, August 20th

Today was a new station on the processing line for me. I got to try my hand at legging. This station entails taking the birds from the kill cones, putting them in the scalder, moving them from the scalder to the plucker, keeping an eye on the plucker and scalder to make sure the birds are in there for the right amount of time, removing the heads and legs and sending them down the line to the gutters. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but it ended up being a lot of fun. I was telling some of the other interns this reminded me of waitressing. You have to pay attention and make sure nothing gets ignored. Missing a beat will send you completely into the weeds and then you bottleneck the line. Not cool. All in all, I picked it up quickly and really enjoyed myself. Legging is another position I’ll be campaigning to get again.

After packaging all the broilers for freezing, we got to go with Daniel and his son to go pick up a guardian dog puppy and a lamb for his son’s flock. We met with the breeder who explained to us how the dogs are trained, which was very interesting. Essentially, you put the puppy with the sheep and let them live together for about a week or so. You then take the dog and put him by himself. When you visit him to administer care, you do not fuss over the dog. The point is to make the dog lonely. When he goes back with the sheep, he will be so happy for the company that the dog/sheep bond is reinforced. You leave them together for another week or so and repeat the isolation process. You should only need to do this a few times until the dog’s bond is to the livestock as opposed to people. At this point, you can be friendly with the dog, but the dog shouldn’t want to leave the flock to be with you. This training process may seem a bit cold hearted, as nobody likes to think of a lonely puppy, but the dog is there to do a job, not be a pet, and needs to be trained as such. I think Daniel brought us so we could understand the importance of not patting and playing with the puppy in this formative time. He is a cute puppy, so sometimes it is hard to drive by and not run over and say hi, but it is the right thing to do.

Thursday, August 21st

On Thursday, I got the chance to do restaurant deliveries with Richard, our driver. It was a great experience. We left Polyface at about 7:30am and headed to Charlottesville, VA and ended the route in Harrisonburg, VA. What I found especially interesting was to see what types of goodies the different establishments had in their walk in refrigerators and freezers… beautiful produce and wonderful smelling sauces, among other things. I was hungry by the second stop. It was also exciting to the irrepressible saleswoman in me to see the variety of businesses that deal in local and sustainable food. This really is a movement, people, and there is money to be made. Farming can be profitable!

We went to several restaurants, high end grocers, butchers, bars and even a bakery delivering Polyface meats and eggs and produce and dairy from some neighboring farms. We didn’t get back until about 5:30, but it was a really fun day.

Friday, August 22nd

After chores, we interns had the opportunity to have a forestry lesson with Joel. Dan’s and my property in New Hampshire (www.SugarRiverFarmNH.com) has a lot of woods that need some attention, so this seminar was of special interest to me. Joel took us up the mountain to an area that needed some thinning, explained to us what to look for in a tree to keep for lumber vs. ones you should use for something else. We then went through and thinned this section of forest, letting in much more light for the remaining trees. One important tip Joel shared with us was regarding epicormic growth. When a growing tree is suddenly exposed to lots of light, dormant buds will begin to sprout on the trunk, which ruins the tree. He explained to us that you take the diameter of the tree you would like to keep (for example, 8”) and convert that to feet (8’). Using said tree as a center, you make a circle around the tree with an 8’ radius. You do not cut anything within this 8’ radius, otherwise you subject your tree to epicormic growth. Any trees you leave become what is called a nurse tree, but you can remove brush and any other undergrowth.

Joel was explaining to us the importance of forestry and land management. He realizes that people have a hard time maintaining a forest as everyone needs to be profitable sooner rather than later and forestry is a long-term plan. His solution is to use your forests for your pigs. Pigs love the forest, especially the acorns one can usually find in them. You can then use your forests in a profitable way until your trees are ready to be harvested. As a nature lover, I really identify with wanting to steward my forests and I am glad for Joel’s monetary solution. I also got to use Joel’s chainsaw. !!! Don’t be jealous. Just kidding. 🙂 Those of us here know how dearly Joel loves his chainsaw, so receiving a chainsawing lesson from the master then being allowed to use his chainsaw is an honor.

That evening, we went up the mountain for a small Polyface cookout, which was really nice. There is a beautiful view of the valley from the spot we chose and we roasted hotdogs and made s’mores over the campfire. It was a really nice way to wrap up the week.

We are getting close to September! Almost one month left! I hope you all are enjoying these posts as much as I am writing them. See you next week!