Week 20: 800 Chickens! Also, Other Stuff. But 800 Chickens!

It appears that I brought cold weather back from Michigan, as Week 20 has seen the true entrance of fall weather here in the Shenandoah Valley. We have had consistent lows in the fifties all week (47 last night!), and warm – but not hot – days. As Eli (from Minnesota), Parker (from Michigan), and I rode out to morning chores Monday morning, we were joking that we’ve all gone soft – we were freezing!

Of course, moving shelters warms you up in about two minutes, and then the cool weather is really nice.

Monday: Pig Stuff All Day, Yay!

This week, on our weekly chore rotation, I was assigned to moving pullet shelters and helping Gabe with pigs. On the downside, it wasn’t a big pig week (and I was on other projects) so I only had one big pig day…but the day I had, was great!

After Monday morning’s meeting, Gabe sent me over to the barn to start checking on various groups of pigs while he finished up some other stuff. We had an unusually high amount of pig group in the barn, so I dutifully checked four different waterers and feeders Then, per Gabe’s instruction, I took down the training wire in one of the pens. By this time, he had arrived and we spent the next few minutes setting up a new training wire and spreading hay bedding in all of the pens. Continue reading “Week 20: 800 Chickens! Also, Other Stuff. But 800 Chickens!”

Week 19: Yeehaw, All The Chicken Catching, & Going Home

[Editor’s Note: Apparently pre-scheduling posts glitched out. Sorry, and enjoy all the posts today! We should be caught up today though.]

No, not going home for real.

Anyway, Week 19 has come and gone and I’m really beginning to feel that summer is coming close to being over. Although I’m excited about the apprenticeship, I would very much like summer to keep going on indefinitely. We still have a lot to do, and I will seriously miss each person who will be leaving.

But enough of that. Stuff we did this week!

Monday: Yeehaw Down the Mountain

After the morning meeting, I was sent with a big team to yee-haw a group of pigs down the mountain.

“Yeehaw down the mountain” is a term that Polyface uses that describes bringing pigs down the mountain by herding them down, as opposed to putting them into the pig trailer and driving them down. We use the trailer when we only need to pick up a few pigs, but when we are herding a big group it’s more efficient to yee-haw them instead of making multiple trips with the trailer. I’ve been hoping to get on this task for quite awhile, but this was my first time actually getting to do it (although I’ve herded pigs a shorter distance before). In this case, we were bringing the pigs from one of the uppermost pig pastures all the way down to the corral. There, we would be sorting out a few pigs to send to the local abattoir for butchering, and the rest would be sent to a pen in the barn for a few days until the next shipment to the abattoir.

There were a large group of us assigned to this task, since pigs are notoriously stubborn and difficult. We all drove up in the back of a pickup truck, then spread out across the large mountain paddock to find the pigs. Continue reading “Week 19: Yeehaw, All The Chicken Catching, & Going Home”

Week 18: Hurricanes & Corral Building

Week 18 has come and gone and we are into September. I’ve had a couple of mornings where I need a hoodie on the way to chores, although the days are still hot and humid.

I can’t believe how close we are to the end of summer. Honestly, I don’t want to think about it, although I need to start planning for the fall. Yikes.

But thing continue to be good here, and I’m constantly grateful for such an awesome team – Salatins, staff, and stewards alike.

Anyway, what I did this week…

Monday: Hurricanes Suck

On Monday we had the joy of waking up to the effects of Hurricane-Whatever-The-Heck-They-Named-This-One. In other words, a sad, dreary, all-day rain.

All day rains don’t seem to be common here in the Shenandoah Valley. Even though we have had a TON of rain this summer (way more than they normally get here), it’s mostly been in the form of tempestuous thunderstorms. I kinda of love this. We get rain, and it’s annoying, and sometimes we get soaking wet…but the end is always in sight. It’s not out of the question to wait out a 15-20 minute rain indoors, and if you do get soaked…well, you can always go change into dry clothes and be fine the rest of the day.

It’s great.

All day rains? Not great. Blegh. Ugh.

Of course, at a certain point, you just embrace the rain (or “embrace the suck” as my roommate Lauren says), and cheerfully go about your business. But it’s still not fun.

Anyhow, the morning began with broilers – my last official chore rotation moving broiler shelters. It’s weird to think that this is the last time for the biggest, most daunting chore of the summer (although no worries – I’ll still have plenty of chances to move pullet shelters, which is basically the same thing).

Moving broilers in the rain is never fun because the poor chickens don’t want to move – and I can’t really blame them. But we did it, and we did it pretty fast, which was cool. Moving shelters has gotten a lot easier than it was in the beginning of the summer, and a lot of us are now focusing on hitting benchmark (3 minutes per shelter). I didn’t time myself in the rain (since moving shelters is ALWAYS slower in the rain), but I fully intended to time myself later in the week, when it was drier. I thought I’d be pretty close.

Next was the usual Monday long breakfast/staff meeting, during which we spent some time discussing Joel’s blog and the new idea for a Stewardship Fair to be hosted next summerr (instead of the Mother Earth News Fair, which was cancelled). When it was time to split up for the day’s assignments, Brandon and I quickly volunteered to work with Lydia in the Raken – the Raken is still one of my favorite places to work, and it’s popular among several of the other stewards as well.

The job today wasn’t super glamorous or anything – we were scraping poop out of the cages. Now that the chickens wings have been mostly clipped, we wanted to get the chicken poop out of the rabbit areas, as well as repair some of the chicken wire that is supposed to prevent them from getting up there in the first place.

Of course, we also held baby bunnies because…I mean…it’s the Raken.

After a late lunch, I worked with Steward Daniel to repair some of the electric nets. As the summer winds down, there are less and less groups of poultry out in the field, and we needed to repair and store a couple sets of nets for the winter. This was my first exposure to repairing and storing these nets, and it was super educational. It was also kind of fun, in a weird way. Mostly we were using J clips to clamp new pieces of polywire into the net to patch holes, as well as straightening bent stakes and occasionally replacing a broken end-tie thingy that is attached to the end of each net (and normally used to tie different nets together). The rain FINALLY broke around 3:30 so we headed out to do evening broiler chores a little early, before it started up again. I was sure glad we did, because it was raining again as we finished repairing nets in the time leading up to dinner.

Downside? Tons of rain. Upside? A pretty fun day that was mostly under roof.

Tuesday: Corral Building

The rain was still coming down when we went out for broiler chores on Tuesday morning. This time we did not move the shelters quickly, because the chickens had been in a nearly 24-hour rain and absolutely didn’t want to move. I had to pause at least once per shelter move, tap on the back of the shelter, and try to poke and prod the chickens into walking forward. But my (slow) efforts worked – I didn’t accidentally kill any chickens by running them over, although I did have one dead one from pneumonia (a common ailment of the Cornish Cross broiler chicken that is stuck in a period of chilly rain).

Thankfully the rain had let up by the end of chores, although we had apparently gotten over 2 inches of rain and everything was a pit of mud. I was glad the rain had stopped though because that meant we could finally start on one of our big projects – building the corral at Briarmore (one of the rental farms)! Lydia packed lunch/snacks for everyone and a big cooler of water, and the vast majority of the team piled into a couple of work trucks in preparation for a big day.

The entire steward team had been to the site of the new corral for an educational exercise about planning a corral, but very little work had been done on it so far. A couple of poles had been set…and that was about it. It was still a fairly blank chunk of field.

But today, with a large team in tow, Daniel and Eric turned it into, well, sort of a corral. Or at least, the good beginning of one.

Eric led a team (Eli, Jon, & Brandon) in using the tractor powered post pounder, and together they managed to set all of the available posts. We still need about 24 brought down from the main farm, but the vast majority of the posts got set in the ground. Meanwhile, Daniel led a team with Lydia, Lauren, Isaiah, and myself on nailing up wooden boards between the posts. We finished about 5 or 6 sections, each of which are five boards high.

For the sake of explanation, let me give some background information on the Polyface methodology behind building the corral.

First off, Polyface harvests it’s own posts from the forests up the mountains the tree lines around the farm. We use almost exclusively black locust, which is a type of wood that won’t rot for 30ish years (better than pressure treated lumber!). The corral would be using a LOT of large posts, so would be using the tractor’s post pounder. When there are poles (which are too tall for the tractor) or only a few big posts we typically dig the holes by hand with post hole diggers, and when we have all smaller posts we use the he-man pounder (more on that later).

The corral is designed in way that the cows are always being pushed in a circular fashion. They start by entered a huge holding pen, where there is very little pressure on the cows. Then there are several smaller pens, all arranged in a way that there are always two gates in and out so that, as Daniel explained, “there is always somewhere for the cows to go.” One of these leads into the loading chute, which is much smaller and narrower, and has a place for the cattle trailer to back up to it. It’s a pretty cool design, and I’ll try to include pictures sometime in the future.

The outer pen, where there is little pressure, can be built as a woven wire fence. This type of fence is cheaper and easier to build.than a board fence. The inner pens, however, have to be built with boards, since they need to be very strong to stand up to cows that may freak out when they’re in a high pressure setting. Before we can start nailing up boards, the bark has to be removed from the locust posts where the boards are going to go, since the bark will rot off within a couple of years and weaken the fence if it is left intact. Normally we would use a hatchet but on this particular day we forgot to bring the hatchets so we were using the back of a hammer…

The bottom board starts 18 inches off the ground, to allow a trimmer to easily get under the fence, which is important to prevent weeds that contribute to rot. Then four more boards are placed every six inches. The boards are sturdy oak, about 6″ tall and 2″ wide, and they are nailed to locust posts that are placed every 8-12 feet (depending on their place in the corral – smaller gaps are in areas with more pressure). These fences are solid – no cows are jumping or breaking out of them!

Nailing up the boards is harder than it sounds, and has a fairly exact procedure. We would start by measuring up 18 inches from the ground, and holding the bottom board in place. Then, we would pre-drill the holes through the oak board, making the holes at an angle. The idea is to start the hole on the far edge of the post and drill at a 30 degree angle toward the center of the post. This gets the nail set solidly into the post, but allows somebody to come along with a chainsaw and trim right down the center so that two sets of boards can easily and neatly butt up against each other. Then we hammer 4-inch nails through the oak board (not hard with the pre-drilled holes) and into the locust post (very, very hard because there are no pre-drilled holes and also locust is one of the hardest woods ever). There are two nails per side. Next, we place two 6″x6″ blocks on each end of the board to act as spacers to place the second board. Rinse and repeat until all five boards are in place. Then we trim up the edges with the chainsaw (well, by “we” I mean “Daniel” since chainsaws are dangerous and we haven’t been thoroughly trained on them), and go onto the next set.

It was hard work but was pretty cool to watch the corral taking shape around us. We finally called it a day when we ran out of posts for the post pounding team, and got back to the farm in time for a short break, then afternoon chores.

Wednesday: Processing Day – with Cutups!

Wednesday was processing day – the only one of the week! But it was a big one – we had 600 chickens, about 275 of which were cutups. These chickens were massive and we needed to restock our chickens parts (breasts, thighs, etc), so we cut up anything that was 5 pounds and up.

I don’t like cut ups, mostly because I am not good at them (yet). But since the only way to get better at things is to do them, I volunteered for cut ups. In my defense, I thought a lot of people would be doing cut ups, since there were so many to do, and so it would be a good day to practice. Buuuttt, as it turned out, there was a bunch of random stuff that came up elsewhere, keeping our team quite small. In fact, it was just me, Lauren, and Steward Daniel for a looonngg time, Eli joined us (who is probably the fastest steward at cutups, second only to Isaiah).

And that took us all the way to 6:15, when we helped wash the last few eggs and made it to dinner around 6:30.

It had been quite a day for everyone. Daniel was tied up off farm way longer than he’d planned, Grace’s truck had broken down halfway through her buying club run, and we had barely managed to finish all the chickens. And yet, as I commented to Lydia, it was a really good day – helped along by the fact that somebody discovered an old, but functional, radio stashed away in the corner of the egg room and an AM radio station that plays all classic country. I don’t know how it took us to September to discover these things, but boy does music make packaging chicken more enjoyable!

Thursday: Chicks, Corrals, & I <3 Farming

Thursday was an awesome day. It was also exhausting.

First of all, it was great day on broilers. Things had finally dried out, and I was moving super fast. Brandon – who had the row opposite mine – was timing himself and managed to hit benchmark (2:48). I hadn’t been timing myself but I had moved in lockstep with him on shelter moving, fell only slightly behind on watering, and was about halfway through feeding when he stopped and started yelling in excitement about hitting benchmark. Considering that I was slowed by navigating a cow fence that was between my shelters and the water tank/feed barrels, I felt pretty good about that. I think the only thing really slowing me down is feeding ,and I made a mental note to ask Daniel to watch me and let me know how to improve feeding efficiency.

After breakfast we had our shop talk with Buzz and Jonathan. This week we learned about changing a tire on a truck (a bit different than on my car!), and patching a tire. It’s amazing how simple and effective a tire patch is; I made a note to buy one to keep in my vehicle, especially since I don’t have a spare tire anymore.

After shop talk, we divided ourselves up to handle the day’s tasks, with instructions from Daniel to meet down at the shop at 2pm to leave for more corral work at Briarmore. We thought we were in for a fairly easy morning – all we needed to do was take out chicks and bag parts and pieces from yesterdays cutups. We didn’t even need to prep the brooder, since this was our last batch of broiler chicks of the summer and the brooder would be sitting empty for awhile.

When you think it’s easy…….

Things started off okay. Gabi and Lauren went to do parts and pieces, while the rest of us started in on chick stuff. We needed to send about half the chicks to a rental farm, and take the other half up to the Ridge Field to put in the broiler shelters we had emptied out yesterday. Those shelters would need to be repaired, but we didn’t think the repairs would be very complicated, since the shelters had been in use and the waterers were already cleaned out in all but five of them. Brandon, Oleg, and Jon went up to finish prepping the shelters, while Eli started loading chick crates onto two separate trailers – one for the rental farm and one for Polyface. I started catching chicks with Sarah, Isaiah, and Charlie, and we quickly got the rental farm truck loaded up. Charlie and Isaiah then took off for the rental farm.

So far, so good, right?

Then came the hiccups: Eli discovered that we did not have enough chick crates to take the rest of the chicks out to Polyface. Not even close. I don’t know where all the chick crates are, because this hasn’t been a problem before, but we would definitely need to make multiple trips (which wastes a lot of time). Next, Brandon came down and said he needed two more people on shelter prep, since they had to move the shelters into position (which requires four people). Eli and Sarah went to help, while I finished catching chicks by myself. This was fine, but definitely took longer than it would have with more people.

Then I got to drive the tractor, with the chick crates, up a big hill, also by myself. It was the big Massey Ferguson tractor, which I haven’t actually driven before…but I figured it out, though I took things slow. Actually, I think I like driving this tractor better than the other ones. Shifting gears is easier, and I can reach the clutch better than I can on the blue tractors.

When I got up to Ridge Field, the other stewards were still hard at work prepping shelters, though Brandon and Sarah joined me for the ride back down to the brooder to catch more chicks. When we were almost done, Charlie and Isaiah returned from the rental farm. I was grateful for this, since that gave us enough chick crates to keep from needing a third trip!

They all went up to Ridge Field, but I decided to stay behind and finish cleaning up the brooder. I figured they shouldn’t be long, since dumping chicks is pretty quick once everything is prepped.

The operative words there are “once everything is prepped.” Eli told me later that the shelters needed way more repairs that we had originally thought, so they weren’t able to dump the chicks right away.

As a result, I finished all the cleanup – composting chicks that didn’t make it, cleaning out and putting away feeders, stacking empty chick crates – before they were back down from Ridge Field. Then I helped Lydia and Parker finish up their work in the freezer before heading to lunch…at 1:42. 18 minutes before we were supposed to meet back down at the shop…and the chick team still wasn’t back.

Not gonna lie, we were late – we took about twenty minutes for lunch, not fifteen, and got back down a little after 2. As we were leaving, we saw the chick crew pulling into the hunt camp for their “lunch”. Oh boy.

It was okay; Daniel is late a lot, so it was kind of like we were right on time. Along with Gabi and Lauren (who had a normal day with parts and pieces), Lydia & I loaded up the trucks, and Eric told us that he told the chick crew to take a half an hour for lunch and meet us as Briarmore. Besides that, he explained, he was going to leave some of them behind to handle chores.The only people who had to go to Briarmore were the ones who hadn’t gone on Tuesday (Sarah, Gabi, Oleg, and Charlie).

To my surprise, Eli showed up right behind us. He had apparently just taken five minutes for lunch and was ready to go. Charlie wasn’t far behind him, and we were actually able to get two trucks full of the people we needed out of there by about 2:30. Go team!

The work at Briarmore was great. Eric took Lydia and Eli to work on putting up woven wire, and Daniel got the crew who hadn’t been to the corral yet (Sarah, Gabi, Oleg, & Charlie) working on nailing up boards. Since I’d already done the boards, he sent me to do a variety of tasks. First, I measured the space between posts and laid out boards to nail, then assisted with his demonstration of how to nail of the boards. Next, I hatcheted bark off of a whole bunch of posts. At this point, the board crew was well on their way, so Daniel came out to help me and we dragged the massive he-man post pounder across the field. The he-man pounder is a Polyface-made, welded, giant, heavy metal pounder thingy. It is essentially a hollow metal tube that fits over the top of a post with handles on each side. Two people heave it up and over a post, which slides into the tube. Then, with one person on each handle, they lift and pound the post into the ground. It is a heck of a lot easier than digging post holes, although it is hot, sweaty work nonetheless.

Part of the corral job involves moving part of a permanent electric fence, so we needed to set four new posts and string single strand electric wire from the existing fence, across the new posts, and up to the corral. We placed and pounded in the posts, then Daniel sent me to get the electric fence tote.

I had no real idea what I was doing, so he showed me how to set up the electric fence and I got some good practice in. Setting up electric fence has a ton of little steps and is one of those things that is probably really easy with a lot of practice, but is hard when it’s newish because there are so many things you can miss. I mentioned this to Daniel and he laughed, assuring me that I’d get plenty of practice. Oh boy.

We got back in time for a slightly late dinner, and then had about an hour and half to chill before our evening project: catching pullets.

This will happen several times at this point in the year. As pullets “grow up” out in their broiler shelters, we are catching them (at night) and transferring them to the hoophouses. They will live in the hoophouses during the winter, where they will start to lay (I think?) and then get sent out to be next summer’s laying hens.

This is the chicken catching that involves crawling in the poopy broiler shelters, which I was ready to do, but before I could get under there, Lydia was doing it. Lydai, MVP, since I didn’t really want to crawl under the shelters. I was tired. Instead, I counted the chickens as she passed them to me and put them in their respective crates. It didn’t take long at all with everyone helping, and before I knew it, we were finishing unloaded the crates into the hoophouse and heading up to bed.

It was a super tiring day, and it was also an absolutely fantastic day.

Friday: Not A Good Day

On Friday, I was afflicted with the stomach bug that is going around the hunt camp. I spent the day alternating between the couch and the bathroom. It sucked. And that is probably all the details you need.

I’m actually not certain it was a stomach bug – it felt more like food poisoning. I didn’t feel sick, I just couldn’t eat or drink anything without it coming straight back out again. I actually was whining to my poor roommates about being bored, at least up until I got dehydrated from not being able to keep fluid in (yes Mom, I kept drinking water anyway, it just didn’t stay inside longer than fifteen minutes).

I had eaten grocery store lettuce which is usually the culprit of food poisoning, so maybe it was that? I dunno.

Saturday: Tour Day & Being Weak as Heck
On Saturday, after my 6am bathroom appointment that was a bit less bad than the previous day’s bathroom appointments, I vowed that if I could keep a cup of chicken broth in my stomach I was going down to the farm. I was scheduled to work the weekend and I already felt really bad about missing chores that morning. I’d just wash my hands thoroughly in case it was a virus and do light duty work. But I absolutely did not want to spend another day on the couch.

Hallelujah, the chicken broth stayed down, and I headed down to the farm with Lauren and Gabi. Eric assessed how I was doing (listening me saying I was good to go, but also being intelligent and knowing that I had missed chores only a couple hours ago) and set me and Lydia, along with his five year son Nathaniel, to shucking corn for winter preservation – a job in which I got to sit down on a cooler in the cool shade of the processing shed and in close proximity to bathroom. Eric is smart.

That said, Lauren got to go do stuff with cows all day and I was super jealous. Of all the times I had to be on light duty…

Anyway, when we done with the corn it was time to prep for the afternoon tour. Lydia and Gabi worked the hot dog stand but I, in my light-duty-but-also-not-touching-food status, got parking detail.

It was fine. It felt good to be out in the warm sunshine. But also, I realized that I was incredibly weak, probably because I hadn’t had solid food in over 24 hours, and the only liquid food I’d had was a couple of cups of chicken broth, only one of which had stayed down. Standing was hard. Bright side? I was hungry. Really, really hungry.

So hungry that I had a hot dog once the tour was gone and I was helping to clean up. Then I had another hot dog. I decided that since I was eating them with lacto-fermented sauerkraut and no bun, it had to at least be a net-neutral thing for my stomach (keep in mind that Polyface hot dogs are made from actual meat, not whatever weird byproducts are in regular hot dogs. The ingredients are literally beef, pork, water, and spices).

Hot dogs were probably not the smartest thing to break my fast on, but I didn’t get sick, so whatever. I then spent the afternoon blanching and vac-packing corn with Lydia and Gabi. For afternoon chores, I was exempted from broiler detail and instead went to gather eggs. We did need to feed the Eggmobile, and I swear, carrying buckets of feed felt like carrying buckets of water. I was frustrated, feeling weaker than a day old kitten, despite the hot dogs. I vowed to eat a good dinner, albeit not eat too much.

During egg washing, Daniel switched up morning chore assignments for Sunday, and told me that I could come to broilers if I felt “up to it.”

“Oh, I’ll be there,” I said stoutly. “I’m good to go now!”

And thankfully, it was true. This morning (Sunday), I went out to move shelters and it felt great. Recovery? Almost complete. I’m still betting on food poisoning.

Week 16: Yes I Know I Missed a Week

It’s Week…I dunno.

I didn’t make a blog post last week. Sorry. I was working the weekend, had some pretty crucial phone calls to make (more info later!) and never got a quiet couple of hours to write.

Highlights from Last Week:
1) Chipping – I FINALLY got to chip again (it’s been awhile). I love chipping, and I had a great team for it – mostly big guys so there was a lot of ‘pick up the giant tree and stuff it in the chipper’.

2) Prepping the brooder – the last batch of broiler chicks went into the brooder, which is crazy to think about. They are soy-free, so we also had to switch out the feed. The new feed is green (peas?) and smells weird. Not bad, just different than the regular feed.

3) Processing turkeys – I processed and boxed turkeys in an absolute daze last week, since it was Meeting Day (more later), but it was cool, I guess.

4) Hot dog stand! Read more about that this week under ‘Saturday’.

5) Bowling – part of why I didn’t publish a blog post last week was that everyone in the hunt camp (so stewards, apprentices, Grace, and Parker’s wife) went bowling on Saturday night, along with Tim and Heidi (contract farmers). We filled up three lanes at the bowling alley, and had an absolute blast. The bowling alley was pretty high tech, so there were also arcade games and a jukebox that we were taking full advantage of. In fact, at the end of the night (around midnight…), the entire group of us were line dancing-ish to a Shania Twain song in the lobby on our way out of the door.

So fun. But also, I was exhausted when I had to get up for chores on Sunday, and spent my pre-church time napping, not writing. Ditto for my post-church time.

Okay, now let’s talk about this week instead! Continue reading “Week 16: Yes I Know I Missed a Week”

Week 14: PIDS & Meetings

[Editor’s Note: Between car issues, not getting internet, waiting to talk to family before making an announcement – stay tuned – I haven’t posted in a minute. BUT I WROTE POSTS. I PROMISE. They will go live, one per day, until the blog is caught up! Enjoy. 🙂 ]

Week 14 has come and gone, and it’s been a weird one. On one hand, it’s been a stressful week with several evenings spent driving around aimlessly to think things through. On the other hand, it’s been a pretty chill week, with way more “downtime” than usual. I say “downtime”, but we’ve been busy….just in a different way.

Basically, now that PIDS is over, it is time for a whole bunch of meetings for leadership. Some of these meetings don’t involve us, but some of them do – specifically, the meetings regarding our future plans. Leadership takes the time and energy to meet with every steward individually to not only discuss the steward’s future career plans, but to see how Polyface can help, as well as address any issues that might have arisen. It’s a future planning meeting, but also a check-in with the steward to see how things are going. Leadership is also meeting with a whole bunch of other staff during this time, so they’re pretty darn busy. This, combined with the excessive rain stemming from the hurricane, means that we weren’t starting any major projects this week, but everyone was stressed out about their meeting with the Salatins.

Continue reading “Week 14: PIDS & Meetings”

Week 13: PIDS Again, A Visitor, & A Lot of Cows

Week 13! This week was a weird one, so I’m going to blog in a different format than usual…and it’ll be a little shorter.

Not only was this week the second PIDS weekend – the one I got to attend – but it was also my rotation on Gabe Week, where I accompany our sub-contractor, Gabe, on off-farm cow moves. Although cows are my favorite animal here, and I absolutely love doing the moves, there’s less to say on a blog to the outside world because I don’t need to describe the individual cow move for each day of the week. Like, “Monday: I moved cows. Tuesday: I moved cows”. Y’all would get bored.

So instead we are going to do some overview highlights, and call it a day!

Processing Days!

Tuesday and Wednesday were both processing days. Since I don’t accompany Gabe until the afternoon, I spent both mornings on the processing line doing a mix of QC and gutting.

There’s not a lot to say about this except that processing days have really grown on me. Initially, I was pretty ambivalent about them. Later, I didn’t care for them. Now, I kinda like them. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to process every day, but as my skill has grown and I’ve gotten more comfortable, I’m come to appreciate it. It’s fun to talk to everyone on the line, and I get a certain amount of satisfaction from a job well done.

This week’s processing highlight? Parker’s wife, Lauren, came to try her hand at processing for the first time, and I gave her a tutorial on QC. I haven’t taught things in a long time, and I forgot how much I enjoy it!

Rob Greenfield

An interesting highlight this week was getting to meet Rob Greenfield, an environmentalist, extreme minimalist, social media influencer guy (check out his website here). He was visiting the farm for a couple of days, and I ended up having a long conversation with him after dinner that was absolutely fascinating.

For those that don’t know, Rob Greenfield is known for doing fairly extreme things to make a point. For example, he is well known for his Trash Suit, where he saved his trash for thirty days and wore it in a custom made suit while he walked around New York City to illustrate how much trash the average American produces in a month. He only owns the possessions he can carry on his back, commits to donating 100% of any money he earns from speaking engagements, and he doesn’t have a driver’s license or a bank account. Most recently, he finished a 1 year stint of growing or foraging 100% of his food (including the salt, which he harvested from the ocean).

I’ve read some of his online work in the past, and meeting him was really cool. He has a unique perspective, and although I wouldn’t want to do some of the things he does, I really appreciate his purpose and the work he is doing in the world.

COW WEEK/GABE WEEK

I love the cows.

Did you not hear me the first 20 times? I love the cows.

A brief overview of what Gabe Week looks like:

First, I would meet up with Gabe by the shop around noon. I was responsible for managing my time to be ready to go, so I actually carried my phone this week to make sure I was heading to lunch at an appropriate time to get back by noon. I also took short lunches, since I wasn’t really hungry that early anyway. Gabe would list off the stuff we needed, and I would go collect items such as mineral bags, egg baskets, stakes, batteries, or whatever else we needed to bring for the day.

Next, we would typically drive to Hay-You, the furthest rental farm. We would take care of the cow move there, then drive back to Cedar Green, a different rental farm. There aren’t cows at Cedar Green currently, but we would take care of a group of turkeys and gather eggs from an Eggmobile. Finally, we would head to Cambell’s, a third rental farm, and move that cow herd.

So what does moving cows entail? Well, in the simplest terms, you call the cows, they come, and you let them through a gate or fence into a new paddock.

But obviously it’s not quite that simple. There’s a decent amount of variation depending on the specific details, but in general we would start by moving the water tank (if necessary), the mineral box, and the battery/spark. Then we would move the cows, and take down the electric fence from the previous paddock, then use it to set up the next day’s paddock. The idea is that each move/paddock is fully set up the day before the move. In addition to the nuts and bolts of performing the move and setting up paddocks, we would also check fence, check water line, and assess the grass quality and cow-days for the next few moves.

Figuring cow-days was a really exciting part of this week, actually.

For the uninitiated: a “cow-day” is how many cows a specific amount of grass will support for one day. The formula is: cow days = (cows x days) / acres, measured in cow-days per acre. So in some places the grass might support 70 cows for a day per acre, and in other it might support 50. The cow-days tells you how large to make the temporary paddock, and helps you make the grazing plan.

I kept pestering Gabe to tell me how many cow-days different field were, and trying to guess myself and develop what Joel call’s the “grazier’s eye”. I was wrong a lot, but I was a lot less wrong at the end of the week than at the beginning, and I’m super excited to keep developing this skill.

The other really exciting part of the week was the increased independence that Gabe gave me. The last time I did a week of off-farm moves was in Week 1, when I was basically saying “what’s a cow?” (Okay, not literally, but I knew utterly nothing). But this week, Gabe often just told me to take down and put up fences, get water tanks, and do other things more on my own, which I really appreciated. It also pushed me to figure things out instead of asking questions, which (in my opinion) is one of the best ways to learn.

Not A Highlight: Busting a Fence Post

Not so much a highlight was when I busted a fence post at Cedar Green. Gabe was having me drive the tractor with the feed buggy (which I haven’t done before), and I was maneuvering it through a tight space between the Eggmobile and a fence. And…the tire of the feed buggy caught a fence post and ripped it out.

Oops.

It was entirely my fault – I was busy watching the front of the tractor, and things were going super well. I had just gotten past the tight space and eased up on how careful I was being…but I wasn’t watching the back tires of the feed buggy, and didn’t account for the fact that the feed buggy was still in the tight place.

But Gabe was great about it. His laughed at me a little bit, and just said “Watch where you’re going next time. We’ll fix it tomorrow.”

And so the next day I loaded a fence post into the truck and Gabe helped me put it in.

And next time I will be carefully watching the back tires of the feed buggy.

On the upside: I got a good bit of tractor backing and trailer backing experience that day, and things overall went well although I generally had to try a couple of times to back up the feed buggy into the hoophouse and pull into more difficult areas. It was great practice, which I definitely needed.

PIDS

Once again, PIDS was AWESOME, although in a completely different way than the first time, since I was attending instead of working.

First of all, it felt really weird to not be working. I kept trying to think of what I needed to do, and the only answer was “listen to Joel” and occasionally “carry the water jug.” It was odd.

But the seminar was really educational. Some of the segments were a review of things I knew already, such as the segment on raising broiler chickens. They provided a nice review, and also served a positive affirmation of the fact that yes, we have all learned a bunch of stuff. Other segments were on things that we’ve only received rudimentary exposure to, such as marketing and forestry. All of the attending stewards were busily scribbling notes during these segments! Still other segments, such as the one on salad bar beef, gave a great overview of things that we have had exposure to, but haven’t received a full, integrated lesson on how all of the pieces fit together to make a full picture.

Part of PIDS also simply involves talking to the other attendees, and we answered a TON of questions from people during travel times, such as in the car on the way to rental farms and on the wagon between stops. It was pretty cool how much they expected us to know, and it was also cool how much we actually did know and could answer. Of course, sometimes we had to say simply “I don’t know; that would be a good question for Joel,” but a lot of the time we could provide explanations or additional details. It was really neat!

Of course, I couldn’t handle not working the entire time…on Saturday after everyone was dismissed, I immediately started doing dishes.

Things I’ve Learned About Myself This Summer: I feel the constant need to be busy doing something. It’s a good/bad thing.

Church & Fellowship

Today (Sunday), I went to church, as usual. I typically go to Daniel & Sheri’s church, and I usually attend with Grace, and sometimes Lydia. The sermon was particularly good today, and I went out to lunch with Grace and Lydia afterwards. The fellowship I was able to have with them was well worth the loss of my Sunday afternoon nap, and I’m once again reminded of how nice it is to fellowship with other people…and how blessed I’ve been to be a part of such a great community these last few months.

It’s not just the animals that makes Polyface great. It’s also the people.

Week 12: Bears, Equipment, and Sore Muscles

Week 12: The week between PIDS, and the week that flew by even faster than usual. Let’s see, what did I even do…

Monday: Moving Shelters, Dirt Work, & An Afternoon in the Garden

This week’s first big project was to move two rows of broiler shelters from one field to another. The broilers have been running in a big field behind the hoophouses since the beginning of summer, and we are finally running out of space – they only had about a week or two left before they would run into stuff. And, in order to keep the amount of nitrogen under control, the broiler shelters shouldn’t run over the same piece of ground in the same summer. Some of shelters were empty of chickens after last week’s butchering, and the remainder of two rows would be empty later in the week, so it was time to move them to a different field, known as the “Ridge Field,” behind Daniel & Sheri’s house. Continue reading “Week 12: Bears, Equipment, and Sore Muscles”

Week 11: PIDS!!!!

Week 11 is getting posted late, but in compensation…it’s long. It was a VERY exciting week (particularly the weekend!) and I went into a bit more detail than usual.

Monday: Mice, Chickens, & Trucks

Monday began with an odd assortment of tasks – after our usual weekly meeting (which went a little longer than normal because we were going over PIDS stuff), I went with Buzz to change the water filter in the hunt camp and work on dealing with a mouse problem in Lydia and Grace’s apartment. It was cool to see how the water system works: the hunt camp water comes from a cistern that stores water collected from the roof. The water is then passed by a UV light to kill any bacteria and filtered to get any weird dirt particles out. The well is a backup water source, but most of the water is rainwater, which is super cool. Buzz explained the filtration system, and went over other filtration options which was really interesting. I’m really intrigued by the idea of utilizing rainwater and I liked getting more information on how to do that safely. Continue reading “Week 11: PIDS!!!!”

Week 10: Poop & Other Fun Stuff

[Editor’s Note: Posted a week late. Also, this week’s post isn’t done yet. I’M BUSY SORRY BE BACK SOON. Keep checking back!]

Well, it’s Week 10 and today marks the halfway point of my summer stewardship.

This is mostly sad, although also pretty cool to have come so far. The summer has been amazing and it feels like almost no time has passed. At the same time, it feels like I’ve lived multiple years in the past few weeks because of how much I’ve learned and done.

I’ll simply say that coming here was the best decision I have ever made. No doubt.

But anyway, I did stuff this week! I worked the weekend and I have several errands to run and stuff so this will be a slightly shorter post with highlights only.

Monday: Water Lecture!

Monday was extremely hot, and the leadership decided to work with the weather by scheduling one of our lectures for the early afternoon. Continue reading “Week 10: Poop & Other Fun Stuff”

Week 9: Independent Projects for Independence Day

Week 9! Things here are settling into a routine, and I love it. This week there was a LOT of off-farm hay (big square bales) that kept Daniel and some of the other staff off farm, leaving us stewards frequently on our own for projects and chores. I really like chores, and I enjoyed the various projects that I was working on throughout the week.

Monday: Fixing Fence w/ Joel, Miscellaneous Projects

Monday was a mismatch of assorted projects, making the day go incredibly quickly. Continue reading “Week 9: Independent Projects for Independence Day”