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.