Week 10: Poop & Other Fun Stuff

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[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.

Let me back up: one of the educational components of the stewardship program is getting several classroom style lectures from Joel. Don’t forget, this isn’t just a bunch of people laboring on a farm; Polyface genuinely cares about teaching and enabling young people to start their own enterprise.

Anyway, this particular lecture was on water lines, and I was really excited about it. So all of us returned from lunch with notepads and pens, and set up a bunch of chairs in the shade of the processing shed.

The lecture was really interesting, and focused heavily on the advantages of using gravity to deliver water. Joel went through some of the math behind flow and pressure, and explained that it is often better to use a small pump to pump water uphill into a storage unit of some kind, then use gravity to feed it out onto the farm. This isn’t really an issue on Polyface, where there is a convenient mountain to deliver all the water, but would be very useful in, say, a place like Michigan where everything is flat. I was also fascinated by the sheer volume of rainwater that can be collected off of a roof, and some of the ideas to construct inexpensive cisterns for water storage.

Not gonna lie: I was geeking out a little bit. It was all science-y and math-y and stuff, and it was awesome.

Afterwards, we needed to go to Cedar Green (a rental farm) to catch chickens for the next day’s processing and run to a USDA plant. I hadn’t caught chickens in awhile, so I amicably hopped into the shelters.

Boy, did I pick quite a day to catch chickens. I don’t know why, but the chickens decided that today was the day they were going to have explosive poops. Particularly, they chose to explosively poop all over me.

The first squirt got me on the arm, and I winced as I felt the warm trickle and saw the brown goop dripping down my forearm. Catching chickens doesn’t normally involve getting pooped on, but it can happen, so I just shrugged, wiped my arm off, and kept putting chickens in crates. But shortly thereafter, a second squirt got me in the same spot. “C’mon chickens,” I muttered. “Quit pooping on me.”

They listened for a little while, but a particularly large chicken decided that I needed some punishment for lifting him up by his feet to put him in a crate. He aimed his butthole, and sprayed…directly into my face.

The brown shower brought liquid warmth all over my face and neck, and it was one of the grossest things that has happened to me thus far. It was even grosser than the time the chicken pooped in my hair, since this was my FACE and it was centimeters from getting in my mouth. It got better, but also slightly worse, when I grabbed a handful of the nearest leaves to wipe it off my face, and accidentally grabbed some nettle-ish thing that left my face cleaner, but stinging for the next twenty minutes or so.

But gross or not, it was also kind of funny. At least, I laughed.

Tuesday: Processing Day of Awesome

On Monday night, Daniel realized there was a slight scheduling problem – we were planning to butcher chickens on Tuesday instead of Wednesday due to the USDA plant run…but one of the contract farmers was also planning on using the processing shed to butcher ducks.

Oops.

We compromised: Our team started butchering at 6am (instead of 8), and their team bumped their processing day a little bit later. This meant that instead of having chores and breakfast before processing, we jumped right into processing and skipped breakfast all together. When we were done (around 11), we took an hour and a half for brunch, then came back to do all of the packaging. We were pretty much done and cleaned up in time for afternoon chores, and ended up finishing the work day at 5, leaving us time to go up to the hunt camp and shower before dinner.

I loved it.

As I’ve said before, processing day is not my favorite, largely because it feels like packaging the chicken after lunch takes forever. But with the slightly adjusted schedule, for some reason I was way more into it. I think breaking for lunch makes me tired, and I also don’t like rushing through afternoon chores when packaging takes us to 5 or 5:30. Even though technically this processing day took the same amount of time and was the same amount of work, it felt like we had more time and weren’t as rushed (even though we were flying through the assembly line and moving super fast). Something about that kept it way more enjoyable, and I had a good time laughing and joking with people as I packaged the birds.

I’d still rather be running fence, but the schedule change took processing day from about a 4 on a scale of 1-10 to about a 6. For reference, cows are a 10, hay, pigs, and gardening are an 8, chicken stuff is a 7, and mowing grass is a 3. For further reference, this scale only accounts for on-farm activies – if you adjust the scale to account for other things like ‘going to town’ and ‘computer work,’ and ‘cleaning my house’, basically everything on the farm rates at least 7 or higher! (Have I mentioned how much I love it here?).

Anyhow, processing day? Great. Lots of energy.

Oh yeah, and after dinner I went rat hunting with Andrew, Daniel’s son. We were popping them off with .22 single shot revolvers and it was super fun. I don’t think I mentioned buying said revolver, but that happened a couple of weeks ago. It’s an inexpensive gun with cheap ammo that is fun to shoot…and useful for varmint. I’m pretty pleased with it.

Wednesday: Pigs & Fence

Wednesday brought the best task of the week – moving pigs up the mountain with Gabe, Oleg, and Charlie. Gabe sent Charlie and I to prepare the next pig pasture, while he and Oleg dealt with moving and filling the feeder. For some bizarre reason, I thoroughly enjoy checking fence, like, to the point where it is probably kind of weird. So I walked the fence, while Charlie weed whacked some of the brush that might interfere with the electric line.

The pasture we were moving the pigs to was actually one that I hadn’t seen before, and the layout was a little confusing, so I ended up walking multiple paddocks instead of just the one that we needed. This made Gabe laugh, but then again, it’ll save some time on the next move, right?

The pig move went pretty well, until it came time to hook up the water…and there was none. The hose was empty. We all walked up and down multiple paddocks searching for the source of the problem, but coming up with nothing. There was simply no water pressure whatsoever. Finally, Gabe opted to take the ATV further up the mountain to check the water source, leaving the three stewards in the pig pen to make sure they didn’t tip over the empty waterer. We hung out there for a little while, occasionally giving the pigs head scratches, when Gabe came back with the news: he was pretty sure it was a vapor lock, which we had just learned about in Joel’s water lecture. I don’t really understand why vapor locks happen, but basically air gets into the pipe and blocks the water flow. The pipes have Y valves every so often so that you can release the built up air. To (hopefully) fix this water issue, we would need to go up the mountain and release each valve.

I got to go with Gabe to do this while the two guys returned the tractor to the shop and went to lunch, and it was pretty cool to get to fix a water issue so soon after our water lecture. It was also kind of fascinating to see the process of releasing the air work; before long, the water was flowing at a fairly high pressure, and the pig tank filled just fine.

After lunch, I went with Eric, Isaiah, Brandon, and Sarah to put up a woven wire fence. This was a great learning opportunity, since Polyface doesn’t put up a lot of permanent fences so I hadn’t actually been part of constructing one before. Eric took plenty of time to explain the different structural components of a woven wire fence, including tips on getting the posts straight, post selection, brace wires, and more. Although the section of fence we did was pretty small, the principles are applicable to small and large fences, and will likely be very useful.

Thursday: Miscellaneous Tasks

Thursday brought a shop talk, and a day of miscellaneous jobs. We are preparing for PIDS (Polyface Intensive Discovery Seminar) next week, so there is a focus on getting garden beds weeded, landscaping trimmed up, and generally everything looking nice. We aren’t starting giant projects until after PIDS, so there are a lot of smaller ones that I don’t necessarily have time to fully list out here.

My highlight project was repairing a hare pen in preparation for more rabbits to go out onto the pasture next week. I really like working with the rabbit stuff, and I also like working on shelter construction. I feel comfortable with the tools and design now, and I enjoy the process of piecing together what needs to be fixed.

The anti-highlight project was also the hare pen because we ran out of the necessary screws before we were done and I can’t stand leaving stuff unfinished. There’s only maybe 15-20 minutes of work left on the pen (maybe even less), but I’m still super antsy to get it done! If only supplies magically appeared on the shelf instead of having to come from town……..

A fairly significant amount of time on Thursday afternoon was also spent weeding – now that the vegetables are starting to come in, that is turning into a more frequent job. I love working in the garden, and am perfectly content to pull weeds for long stretches of time, especially when I have company to talk to. I’m thrilled to be at a livestock oriented farm this summer, but there is still nothing quite as satisfying as the feel of fresh garden dirt under my fingers!

Friday: Machetes Are My New Favorite Toy

On Friday, I went with Eric to finish the woven wire fence, and also to clear out some thistles from around one of the barns. He handed me a machete, and I went to Jess Heaven as a I sword fought with thistles and poke weed.

No, seriously. It’s Jess Heaven. Not only can I pretend to be a pirate or a knight who is sword fighting stuff, but I get the immense catharsis of wreaking havoc on briers. I told Eric that I might need to randomly borrow a machete after I go to town and get all annoyed at people being dumb and at coronavirus stuff. He laughed, and pointed out a big field that could use some machete work.

In the afternoon, a team went back to Cedar Green to prepare the now-empty chicken shelters for the next batch of chickens. We had to move them to a different pasture and perform several pretty big repairs. It was productive and it was fun. At one point, I was laying on my back in the grass holding up a shelter with my feet and hands while Lydia accidentally dropped screws on me and I could not stop laughing.

It was also a day of psychotic weather. It was brutally hot and humid, such that I’m pretty sure I sweat out several buckets of water during the shelter repairs. I’ve basically gotten used to feeling rivulets of sweat constantly dripping down my face and back. The sun beat down with fierce intensity most of the day…until suddenly it didn’t anymore, and the sky was black and forbidding. Sure enough, a deluge of rain poured onto us during afternoon chores, soaking me through to the skin and making me cold. I didn’t realize it was possible to be so hot and also cold in one day, but apparently it is.

No complaints though – we needed the rain, and it wasn’t bad. We were able to go up and change into dry clothes before dinner, which was really nice.

Saturday: Weeds! Also, Stuff.

This Saturday I was officially on the schedule to work, along with Sarah and Lauren (Girl’s Weekend!). Several of the boys came out to help, so we knocked out chores incredibly quickly. I moved a row of broilers and realized that I actually kind of like moving broilers now (weird, I know), and spent some time with Lydia doing rabbit breeding and stuff. By ‘stuff’ I mostly mean holding baby bunnies because there was a bunch of people in the Raken and we all couldn’t be actually doing anything useful.

After breakfast, I was sent with Parker to pick up a truck and the bushhog from two different rental farms. The bush hog was an absolute bear to hitch up, particularly because Parker’s truck hitch was slightly too high to slip into the bug hog hitch thingy. After a lot of effort and both of us getting covered in grease, we gave up and had to drive to a different farm to get a different truck with a lower hitch. It wasn’t a total loss since we needed to pick up that truck anyway, but still, it was kind of annoying.

I got to drive the farm truck while pulling the bush hog, which meant that I got some nice radio time. I like radio time.

A note on driving: I’m still not as comfortable with vehicles as I want to be (particularly backing up) but I feel okay about pulling a trailer (or bush hog) now, and I actually kind of like doing the driving stuff because it doesn’t happen all the time. Not having a regular commute and being physically active all the time makes driving kind of a nice break, and not a horrible chore. Also, driving large things is fun because there’s more stuff to pay attention to, and also…because…well, because big stuff is fun.

I did some miscellaneous tasks after returning to the farm – picking zucchini, trimming, helping get a cover off of the dump truck, talking to customers, etc – and generally had a really good, chill-but-productive morning. In the afternoon, all three weekend workers – along with Lydia – set to weeding the vegetable beds near Joel’s house. Weeding is always fun and relaxing, since you get to sit and talk, while pulling the weeds.

At chore time, Lauren and I knocked out broilers quickly, then went with Eric to move the cows. It was a fairly big move – we drove them decently far down the lane – but it went super smoothly. After that, I fed the chicks in the brooder and ended the work day by washing eggs.

This is pretty representative of a typical, chill, farm Saturday. No extra projects, just general maintenance stuff, and a wide variety of activities.

I love it. So much.

We had dinner at Joel and Teresa’s house, and as usual, it was absolutely incredible. Teresa cooked a pork roast with potatoes, zucchini & yellow squash, beets, watermelon, and biscuits. We rounded it out by collectively eating a gallon of ice cream (in fairness, there were a lot of people and we HAD to finish it because the container was broken).

Teresa’s cooking is always the highlight of officially working Saturday. It’s so good.

I also love having dinner at Joel & Teresa’s because of the dinner conversation and company. It’s a smaller setting, with only the apprentices, the three officially working stewards, and Grace (and Joel and Teresa, of course), and we often get onto some controversial topics with Joel – which is great. Admittedly, it’s a bit of an echo chamber because I tend to agree with Joel on most things, but I always learn something new and I laugh a LOT.

After dinner this week, Daniel had organized a little gathering of the contract farmers and some of his kids’ friends to celebrate the 4th of July (a week late, post-hay), with sparklers and a few fireworks and stuff. It was fun, even though I ended up staying up too late (again), so that I am tired this morning. Oh well, it was worth it!

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