Week 12: Bears, Equipment, and Sore Muscles

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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.

I went with Eli, Lauren, Brandon, and Parker to move the shelters. Thankfully, the shelters aren’t that heavy when there is a person lifting at each corner, so it was no trouble to maneuver them onto the back of a flatbed trailer. The tricky part was balancing them and driving slowly enough to avoid breakage. We also needed to repair the shelters before the next batch of chicks went out, so we spent some time stapling chicken netting and repairing busted braces.

When we were done, we headed up to a field that is across the road from the main farm where Daniel Salatin was putting in a road over a creek. He’d told everyone to check in with him before lunch, since he wanted to show us some of the principles of building the road, even though he didn’t really need any help with it (since it was pretty much all equipment work with a rented Bobcat).

First, he dammed up the creek temporarily, in order to get rid of the water while he worked. Then, he scooped out all the goo and muck from the place where the road was going to go. Next, he laid pipe down to channel the water from one side of the road to the other, showing us the proper placement of the pipes and how to pack clay around them so that they wouldn’t move or get clogged up with silt and goop. Finally, he pulled red clay from a cliffside to pack in and build up the road, smoothing it carefully as it went and packing it down tight.

We all watched him for awhile, assisting minimally with putting in a couple of fence posts in the area. It was strangely fascinating to watch the road come into existence, and the five of us talked excitedly amongst ourselves about the utility of having a road here and the usefulness of a Bobcat. Around 12:30, we grudgingly headed to lunch, a little bit hesitant to leave even though we were literally just watching.

I spent most of my afternoon in the garden, pulling weeds and tending plants. It was one of the less pleasant garden days, since the temperature was close to 100, with an incredibly high humidity. I felt like I was bathing in my own sweat, mixed with garden dirt. No sooner did I drink a bottle of water, than it poured out of my body via sweat glands. But by the time I broke to wash eggs, all the vegetable garden beds were relatively clean and I felt pretty good about that.

Tuesday: Working With Jonathan

Tuesday morning started with my VERY FIRST manual truck driving lesson. I was beyond excited since I’ve been pushing to learn this skill since Week 1. Buzz told us that if we wanted to come down to the farm early (during our breakfast hour), we could try and catch him for a one-on-one or small group lesson, so I showed up with Sarah and Charlie bright and early. I only drove the truck around a few circles, but it went well and I’m excited to keep working on this skill. I want to leave here able to drive a manual, so I intend to give it what I’ve got.

When the group met to split up for the day’s projects, Daniel asked if there were any volunteers to work with Jonathan, the person who is in charge of equipment maintenance. I quickly raised my hand, since I haven’t spent a day working with Jonathan yet. He doesn’t take a ton of helpers, since so much of his work is skill based, but working with him is on our summer checklist for exposure to some of the more mechanical things.

And let me tell you, it made for an interesting and unusual day. The highlight was getting to watched Jonathan weld stuff. I’ve never seen welding done before, and he explained a little bit about the different types of welding while he worked. He’s basically self-taught, and seeing the possibilities of what he can do, welding might be a skill worth cultivating. It’s super awesome.

We also replaced a seat on one of the tractors, which I got to help with more significantly. Of course, as is often the case with projects, there were all sorts of issues with something as seemingly simple as putting a seat on, and it took several hours. The thing that stood out to me the most was Jonathan’s attitude toward the project – instead of accepting that the seat wouldn’t work (since it wasn’t technically made for our tractors and didn’t fit), he figured out how to make it work, down to drilling new holes in the seat base and dismantling a significant portion of the tractor. He and Buzz seem to have similar mindsets about making things work, and it’s something I hope to take with me when I leave here. After all, that mindset saves a lot of money and makes a lot of things possible that wouldn’t otherwise work!

The other highlight of the day: guns. After helping out with dishes, I ran into town really quick to use Internet, and when I got back, I discovered a group of the boys hanging out on the front porch – they had just finished shooting, where had I been?

Then, because the boys here don’t suck, they told me to go get my ammo and Brandon re-brought out his shotgun. And I shot through way too much ammo because jeez, that’s easy to do.

It’s like I told Eli in the car the other day when we were discussing how we spend our monthly stipends…my stipend goes to coffee, peanut butter, raw milk, and ammo.

Worth it.

Wednesday: BEAR! Also, Music.

Wednesday was our weekly processing day, and the usual schedule involves catching chickens in the morning during chores. Since I was on broiler chores this week, but my row wouldn’t be the one getting butchered, I decided to head up to chores a little bit early so that I could finish moving my row and help out Eric and the project people with the catching.

So there I was, taking a shortcut up the steep part of a hill at 5:45am, filled with appreciation for the cool air, the mist circling the mountaintops, and the early morning birdsong all around me. As I approached the broiler shelters, I noticed that the feed barrel lid was hanging off the feed barrel and I groaned inwardly. There’s been an ongoing battle with a local bear who keeps getting into the feed barrel. Several people have staked out the broilers at night and seen him around 11pm, shooting into the air and trying to scare him away. Usually he goes away for awhile, but always ends up coming back at some point. Once he’s back, it’s super annoying – we have to electrify the feed barrels and sometime run extra electric fence around the shelters.

I kept walking, thinking grumpily about the extra work of running electric wire during afternoon chores. When I got within about 300 yards, I heard a loud thump…and there came the bear, hopping out of the feed barrel, as nimble as a cat!

“HEY!” I hollered, and started running at him. He spared me a quick glance, and tore off toward the woods, his fat, furry rump disappearing into the trees in less than a minute.

I was filled with an unreasonable sense of elation. Not only did I (finally) SEE the bear, I CHASED the bear, and he RAN AWAY. Turning, I saw Charlie coming up the road toward broilers, and I started jumping up and down and yelling about the bear. As it turned out, he’d seen the whole thing (from further away), but he let me tell the whole story before we started moving shelters. I repeated the jump-up-and-down-and-yell routine when Isaiah showed up, and again when I got back to the girl’s cabin for breakfast.

It was exciting, okay? BEARS!

Processing day was actually pretty great this week, for reasons unrelated to my morning bear sighting. It was horribly hot still, but with giant, sporadic thunderstorms, so it was a great day to spend primarily in the processing shed. I spent the morning doing mostly QC/chill tank, which is my favorite station, and enjoying the company of the team. And in the afternoon…we. Got. The. RADIO!

First, keep in mind how much I enjoy the radio. Back home, I had the radio (or Youtube) on basically all the time if I was doing some sort of work. The background noise is awesome, and I really like listening to music (and podcasts and talk radio and…you get the idea).

We haven’t had music on processing day before, although a few of us (okay, mostly me and Brandon) have been loudly pushing for it. At first, this was because we all needed to be able to hear frequent instruction and we needed to not be distracted, since we were trying to focus on doing things correctly. Not only that, but Lydia said there had been some issues in the past with people arguing over which radio station to listen to, so it was simpler to just not have the radio at all. But pretty much everyone likes, or at least tolerates, country music – and the boys cabin has country radio on pretty much all the time anyway – so we tried to convince everyone that the radio was, in fact, a great idea.

So this week, wonder of wonders, Lydia told us we could give it a shot. Brandon ran down to the kitchen to get the radio, set it to the only country station that the antennae could pick up in the processing shed, and we had MUSIC. And it was wonderful.

It helps that everyone basically agrees that old country music is better, trashy songs are bad, and pop country isn’t really country. And by “everyone” I mean “everyone who is also vocal about their music preferences”. As we were packaging chicken, somebody was consistently able to turn off terrible things, like Taylor Swift or that stupid “room key” song that does NOT fit with good, country music, Christian values that we want to represent here (if you don’t know what song I’m talking about, don’t look it up. It’s terrible). But for the most part, we got to enjoy good music that made packaging way more fun.

Otherwise, it was a pretty typical packaging day. I started off by bagging up all the hearts and livers with Lauren, then bagged whole birds with Brandon for what seemed like a bazillion years. The next thing I knew, it was 5:00, and I was heading off to broiler chores.

To be honest though, I no longer mind processing day, or even packaging chicken. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, but I’ve gotten used to the once or twice a week schedule, and even enjoy parts of it. I really like managing the assembly line, and I think consistently grouping up with relatively the same group people for packaging also helps – we’ve developed a very efficient system of bagging and boxing the chickens that allows me to move around a lot and bounce between stations, which keeps it interesting.

Thursday: Sawmill 101, Brooder Prep, Random Stuff, Beating the Rain

Thursday started with our weekly shop talk, where we divided into teams that we will be in for the next few weeks to receive small group instruction on welding, manual truck driving, and the saw mill. We will eventually rotate through all three subjects. But since I am trying to get extra truck driving lessons during breakfast and I just saw welding on Tuesday, I jumped to volunteer for the sawmill group.

Tim was the instructor for this particular “class” and we milled one log. I got direction on generally how the saw mill operates, and got to make a couple of the cuts, as well as to practice using the cant hooks to hold the log in place (which was harder than I expected). The shop talks are not supposed to make us expert millers, welders, or drivers, they are just supposed to provide introductory exposure – we can seek out extra time developing these skills during free time or if we see that a leader needs help on those specific projects during the work day. But simply getting the exposure is really helpful, and it was pretty cool to push the GIANT saw down the length of the log. It cuts through it like a knife through butter, and was pretty darn impressive.

When the shop talk ended, the entire team went up to the ridge field to finish prepping broiler shelters.

Although I had moved and prepped a six of the twenty shelters on Monday, a different team had moved the remaining 14 shelters this morning during chores. These were shelters that we had just emptied during yesterday’s processing day. They still needed to be repaired, and all twenty shelters needed to be ‘prepped’ – the water systems needed to be cleaned, and food and water needed to be gotten ready in preparation of moving a new batch of broilers from the brooder to the field. This had to happen today, since chicks were being dropped off at 3pm, and the brooder needed to be emptied, cleaned, and re-filled with sawdust before that happened.

I spent most of my time stapling chicken wire, then went off with Steward Daniel to take feed to the Eggmobile. After lunch, I did brooder prep with Lydia, Charlie, Jonathan, and Isaiah. Once the chicks had arrived and were safely in the brooder, I did a few filler projects and embarked on afternoon broiler chores with Sarah, racing against the rain as we watched a thunderstorm come over the mountain toward us.

I’m happy to say that literally running with water buckets did, in fact, help us beat the rain, and I didn’t get wet. I hate getting wet. But also, I ran a lot and was tired.

Friday: Corral Work & How To Create Muscle Pain

Friday brought the most physically intense day I’ve had in awhile, and also my favorite day of the week.

It started with extra long chores and an extra short breakfast. I finished my normal chore of pulling broiler shelters, and then hopped aboard an ATV to go help some people on the other side of the farm. Right now there is a lot going on over there, including two rows of pullet shelters (same as broiler shelters but with pullets in them instead of broilers), one of which is going up a horribly steep hill, the Feathernet (electric net structure for laying hens), and a portable turkey shelter called the Gobbledy Go. Plus, the turkey shelter needed to move this morning, on top of the usual feed/water/grit routine.With Parker off for the day, there were only two people assigned to do chores over there this morning, so a bunch of us were going to lend a hand after we finished our assigned chores.

Since there was a good sized group of us, it didn’t take too long to finish the chores. I helped with the turkey move, watered some pullet shelters, and then most of the people left. But I stood around and debated with Eli and Steward Daniel the best time and place to move the turkey feed barrel. The turkey structure is moving along a very steep hill that makes moving the feed tank with the tractor difficult, so we were trying to figure out the optimal time to move it and place to put it where it could feed the turkeys for the next couple of structure moves (the Gobbledy Go moves every two days). We finally settled on a location and moved the feed barrel. Eli drove the tractor that carried the feed barrel while Steward Daniel and I staggered up the super steep hill carrying the unusually heavy wood/metal feed barrel lid, trying not to slip and fall on the wet grass.

So we got to breakfast about fifteen minutes after everyone else. I quickly cooked my eggs and sausage, drank my cup of coffee, and headed back down to the farm as soon as I saw some of the guys (who had gone to breakfast earlier) heading out. After all, I didn’t want to miss getting started on projects! I even left before the other girls, who were getting ready as I was driving down the gravel drive, antsy (for some reason) to get a start on the day.

But when I arrived at the shop, the farm was empty. Literally the only person I saw was Brandon, who was standing at the post pile doing something with a hatchet. Shrugging, I went over to see what he was doing.

He explained that his directions were to chip off the bottom three feet of bark off of three giant tree trunks, I mean, posts, using a hatchet. After about fifteen minutes, I located another hatchet in the shop (well, I looked for a hatchet, failed to find it, asked Brandon, Brandon failed to find it, found Buzz, and had him find me a hatchet because he knows where all of the things are. Finding things is hard).

And thus began the Day of Making My Muscles Hurt.

Brandon and I chipped all of the bark off the tree trunks. It wasn’t horribly difficult, and we were able to talk (which was nice and made the time go by quickly), but my forearm was definitely sore by the time I was finished. I was pretty glad when Steward Daniel showed up toward the end and took a turn while I had a water break.

We had just finished and were wondering where the leaders were, when Daniel Salatin showed up and announced that now we were going to put the posts in. They were part of larger fix-the-corral project that had been ongoing, but I hadn’t been a part of yet.

This involved using a post hold digger and digging bar to dig three feet down for three different posts. The holes needed to be pretty big, since the posts were tree trunks that had pretty good sized diameters.

Steward Daniel and I started on two of the holes while Brandon went to the hunt camp to fetch the boys some muck boots.

Why muck boots? Glad you asked. Well, see, we had some big thunderstorms recently, and they managed to flood the corral. And by flood, I mean there was so much water and mud and muck and ick that you absolutely, positively needed muck boots to do anything. Also, the holes we were digging kept filling with water. Have I mentioned that Virginia has solid clay? Imagine digging a giant hole that is filled with wet clay. Now add water so that you can’t see inside the hole and throw a bunch of rocks into the picture. Welcome to my Friday morning.

When Brandon got back a couple of minutes later, he and I started switching off on the digging. I would use the bigging bar to loosen the rocks and dirt, then he would use the post hole digger to pull out dirt. We periodicially switched instruments too, so we both were using both tools, but also taking turns to keep from getting horribly tired. Remember how we talked while we hatcheted off bark? Yeah, we mostly stopped doing that while we dug the hole because it was hard. We switched to grunting at each other instead.

Switching off worked well though, and we finished our hole well before Steward Daniel finished his hole because, well, because we were switching off and he was by himself. But that was okay because there was a third hole to dig! So we did that. This hole was significantly harder than the first hole because it was basically solid rock. At one point, I’m pretty sure the post hole digger was just pulling out water and gravel, not dirt.

This took the rest of the morning. Daniel Salatin came by a few times and gave us some pointers and tips – and helped us get out some particularly stubborn rocks – and Jon showed up somewhere along the line and partnered with Steward Daniel, but I was mostly paying attention to my hole, and to Brandon, who I was very unwilling to let outlast me on the post hole digging despite the fact that he is much stronger than I am.

After our team broke for lunch, we went back to it – this time, to set the posts. Per Daniel’s directions, we started by bailing water out of the hole, then set the post and packed the hole with fresh clay. After each bit of clay, we had to tamp it down with the other end of the digging bar in order to create maximum stability for the post. We also packed back in a bunch of the rocks, for the same reason.

Brandon, Jon, Steward Daniel, and I all took turns tamping the clay, shoveling the clay, finding rocks, and holding the post steady. By the time we finished filling in the hole, we were all beat to all heck, but we got it done. And I was pleased when Brandon and Steward Daniel shook their heads and told me that I had more energy than they did even if they were physically stronger because I don’t quit. Mission accomplished, as far as I’m concerned.

Now it was time to fix the corral! We partnered off again to work on different sections, and Brandon and I started measuring, cutting, and nailing boards into place. The boards were thick and heavy, being made of solid oak, and the nails we used to attach them to the posts are about six inches long. We took turns hammering them and I’m not ashamed to say that Brandon nailed two nails for every one that I nailed. Driving six inch nails through a thick oak board into a locust wood post is hard. Plus, now it was afternoon and the sun had come out, so we were bathing in our own sweat again.

When we finished our section of corral fence, Lydia (who had arrived at some point with a third team) told us to go ahead and start chores, so we headed out on an ATV to tackle Barth side chores (egg collecting, plus watering and checking all the pullets, and feeding the turkeys).

After egg washing, I went with all of the girls up to the Ridge field to set up an electric fence to keep the bear away from the broiler shelters (he had been seen meandering between the shelter rows this morning). We still needed a battery and a few extra rebar stakes by the time we headed for dinner.

Despite how tired I was, I got a second wind at dinner. We are assigned random seats by the chef every night to keep the team mixed up at meals, and I was coincidentally at an end table with…you guessed it. Brandon and Steward Daniel, along with Daniel Salatin’s son, Andrew. We were laughing about – the three of us were literally together all day, and apparently we had to eat together too. But since we really had no reason to ask each other about our day, we jumped right into make-as-many-jokes-as-possible and be-as-silly-as-possible so the energy level spiked considerably.

And a good thing too, because after dinner Daniel Salatin asked if I could run the supplies back up to the Ridge field and finish setting up the fence. And then he asked if I wanted to learn more about trap setting, since there have been a few predator issues. Of course I did, so I went with him to learn trapping and didn’t get done until 9pm, when I still needed to do two loads of laundry and deliver the weekly milk to the boys.

I went to bed kind of late.

I was exhausted.

My body hurt from all the digging and pounding and hatcheting and nailing.

And I fell asleep in complete contentment, having just finished a wonderful, satisfying, fulfilling day.

I love this place and this summer.

Saturday: I Decide to Become a Chef

I wasn’t technically scheduled to work this weekend – that task fell to Brandon, Charlie, and Isaiah – but I definitely wanted to check my traps from the night before, so I headed out to broiler shelters at chore time with my .22 revolver stuck into my belt in hopes that a raccoon would be caught in the trap.

Sadly for me, all the traps were empty, so I grudgingly picked them up. Then I watered for both Brandon and Charlie, before heading over to the other set of broiler shelters to help feed.

In the beginning of the summer, watering two rows of broilers would have seemed like a lot, but now it is just part of weekend chores. I’m happy with how far I’ve come and with how much I’ve adapated to the workload (although I still can’t say that I like carrying water buckets).

After broilers, Daniel pulled me and Brandon to accompany him to check on some cows and try to find bear tracks – he’d seen the bear again this morning – which ended up being super fun. The bear is a pain in the neck, but it’s an exciting pain in the neck. On top of that, the mornings here are absolutely beautiful, and whenever I have a spare second on the back of an ATV or walking up a hill, I’m struck by the beauty of the mountains.

I had a long, relaxing breakfast hanging out with the girls in our cabin before I embarked on my day’s task: becoming a temporary chef.

You see, normally when we officially work a weekend, we have dinner with Joel & Missy, which is super nice. This weekend, however, Joel and Missy are out of town, so the weekend workers were going to be on their own for dinner.

When Lydia mentioned this to me while we were prepping the brooder on Thursday, I suddenly heard myself say, “Oh, that’s too bad. Hey, why don’t I cook for you guys? That way you have dinner ready after chores. It would suck to work all day and then have to cook.”

Why did I make this offer? I have no idea. It just popped out of my mouth. I have barely cooked since I’ve been here and although I like cooking a lot, cooking a big dinner is not a normal offer that I make to people.

Buuutttt….I really wanted to do it for some reason. I guess maybe it was my way of still trying to help out, while taking a break from the regular farm work. So I planned my menu (shepherd’s pie, Texas coleslaw, buttermilk biscuits, and chocolate chip bar cookies), shopped for the off-farm ingredients, and cooked everything.

It was actually pretty fun. Our chef, Sylvia, told me that I could use her kitchen, so I spent most of the afternoon alone in the kitchen, listening to the radio and preparing all the food. I made a lot so that there would be leftovers, and because farmers eat about double what normal people eat.

The boys said they anticipated being done with chores around 5:30 today, since often chores get started early on weekends, so I was scrambling at 5:45 as I took the last thing out of the oven. I started doing some of the dishes (since the kitchen was in full on disaster mode), expecting a hungry work crew to show up at any minute.

But when I glanced out the window at 6:15 and saw Isaiah feeding the brooder, I knew something was wrong. I put everything back in the oven on warm and went out to see what was going on.

“Yeah, chores went a little long,” he said. “I think we have it under control? I just finished the brooder and I imagine people are almost done. I’ve got to run to the compost and then I’ll check on eggs.”

I thought for a second. “Well, I’ll check in at the egg room,” I said. “Just in case.”

Weeellll….I walked in to find Lydia, Brandon, and Charlie just starting in on washing eggs, with several full egg baskets waiting for them on the floor. I jumped in to help, and we all finished up around 7pm. On top of that, Grace was late getting back from her Saturday deliveries and had just had a stressful, tiring day.

I still don’t really know what possessed me to randomly decide to make people dinner, but I’m sure glad I did, because they’d had a tiring, long, sweaty day and were done way later than planned. I was really glad that I was able to provide a meal, and I hope it made everyone’s day a little better – it seemed to go over well, at any rate! And to their credit, they all refused my attempts to get them to let me do all the clean up – instead, everyone pitched in and got it done rapidly.

But my day wasn’t quite over – I met up with Daniel Salatin again around 9 to go set more traps. He gave me a ride back to my car when we were done, and he chose that moment to check in with me (the leaders all check in periodically to make sure things are going okay for us – something super considerate and awesome of them).

“How is your summer going?” he asked me. “It seems like you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Oh my gosh, I love it,” I said. “The more I do, the more I want to do, and the more I love it.”

I hadn’t realized how true that was until I said it, but it is true. The last several weeks I’ve worked my Saturday in some capacity, and I’ve done more and more things in the evenings and on off times…and the more I do, the more I love what I am doing. There’s a lot more going on philosophically, from principles of servanthood to work ethic to stewardship, but basically: the more I do, the more I enjoy doing.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy having fun (I often mention shooting with the boys, hanging out with the girls, and regularly going to Sunday movie night, and that doesn’t include all the fun I have during the work day doing goofy things like having races to see who can drive the ATV or playing word games on processing day). I also enjoy – and need – rest. I typically spend my Sundays going to church, writing these blog posts, and napping on the couch. But I love the work here. We are three months in, and it might be the best three months I’ve ever had in my life, no joke, no exaggeration.

I may write more on the subject in the future, but for now…it’s a good time to take a nap before Sunday afternoon chores (because yes, I’m probably helping with Sunday chores too. Because I want to. Unless I’m still napping – we’ll see. I won’t be setting an alarm).

Editors note: I woke up at 3:50pm, ten minutes before Sunday afternoon chores were scheduled to start. God’s way of giving a stamp of approval to the whole help-with-chores-on-weekends thing?

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