With each passing day, Polyface is starting to feel more and more like home. The routine is feeling normal, the work rewarding and my friendships here are deepening.
For chores this week, I was in charge of the Feathernet. Essentially, the Feathernet is a portable shelter that provides roost space and nest boxes for up to 1,000 laying hens. It is surrounded by electrified poultry netting designed to keep the chickens contained and keep predators out. The birds have plenty of pasture space to search for bugs, eat grass and bask in the sunshine while also having shade, protection from the rain, a place to sleep and cozy nest boxes to lay their eggs. Every three days, the whole set-up is moved to a new patch of pasture. Each morning, I was in charge of heading out to the Feathernet, feeding the chickens and checking to make sure their automatic waterers were working. I also had to open their nest boxes for the day. Every night after gathering eggs, we shut the nest boxes so that the chickens can’t sleep and poop in the nest boxes. This keeps our nesting boxes and eggs much cleaner.
My morning chore routine also included caring for the young turkeys. They just moved from the brooder to the great outdoors this week. For the next month or so, they’ll live in the same type of shelters that we house the broiler chickens (meat chickens) and pullets (young hens who have not yet begun to lay) in. My job was to pull them to fresh grass every day and feed and water them. I haven’t worked with turkeys before, so I’m eager to continue learning how to raise them!
As for projects, a few highlights stand out to me this week. On Tuesday, I was weeding the garden when Eric (the apprentice manager) came and said he was going to teach me how to spread compost. I hadn’t done any more work on the tractor since my brief lesson with Daniel last week, so my tractor confidence was still subpar. Eric patiently walked through all the tractor driving steps again as we headed to the field. Then he explained how to work the manure spreader and where to spread. After emptying the spreader, we made our way back to get another load. This time Eric was on another tractor and I had to manage on my own. It was about 75% exhilaratingly fun and 25% gut-wrenchingly terrifying. However, by the fourth load, I was feeling much more confident and comfortable driving.
Now that I’ve had a little more training, I’ve been working with tractors more throughout the week. On one occasion, I drove a tractor back from the field and Daniel told me to back it into one of the barns. My eyes grew large and my nervousness became apparent, so he hopped on the tractor, helped me shift into a lower, much slower gear and coached me through backing up. “It’s just like backing a car,” he said. “Just take it slow.” In the end, the tractor was parked, and I didn’t hit anything, so that’s a big success. Later in the week, I had the opportunity to back in again, this time by myself. After taking a deep breath, I managed to maneuver the tractor into its spot.
Since we processed chickens twice this week (Wednesday and Friday), I had the opportunity to do a lot with chicken processing, packaging and cutting-up. On Wednesday, I was lunging. Basically, after the birds are gutted, they go to the lunger. The lungs don’t come out easily with the other guts, so the lunger scrapes them out and checks to make sure the wind-pipe is fully removed. I think I got the hang of it, it’s not an overly complicated job. However, it is hard on your finger nails. The nails on my right hand are ground lower than they’ve ever been before…hopefully they grow back a bit before I have to lung again!
My favorite part of the processing days this week was helping with cut-ups (cutting up the chicken into breasts, tenders, legs and thighs and wings). I’m not sure why, but I love this job! On Wednesday, Marit assigned me to cut-ups. First, I took the birds from the chill tank and cut them into the different pieces. After that, I labeled bags for the parts. Then I put the birds in the labeled bags and packaged them with the vacuum sealer. On Friday, we had a few more birds to cut-up, so there was a team of us working on it. Ashleigh gave me a few helpful tips to improve my technique and I’m slowly starting to get better/faster. I hope I’ll be cutting up a lot more this summer!
Gardening was another task that I did this week. I’ve discovered it is one of the most relaxing ways to spend a hot afternoon. Weeding alone is peaceful but weeding with the other interns always produces quality conversation. I cherished spending time with my hands in the soil while engaging in interesting dialogue with my fellow interns.
A few other random things that happened this week:
I woke up on Tuesday morning, made my way to the bathroom and discovered that our glass shower door had shattered in the middle of the night. For a second, I thought I might be dreaming. After confirming that I was most definitely awake, I asked the other girls if they had any idea what happened. Emma (another intern) said she had woken to the sound of glass crashing down around 1:30am. It’s all cleaned up now and we have a curtain hanging until our new door arrives, so all is well.
This weekend I ventured into town for the first time on my own. The roads to Polyface are twisting, turning and narrow compared to those in the Midwest. It’s a stunningly beautiful drive, but it still confuses me a bit. Plus, directions aren’t my strong suit – I’ve always depended on Google Maps. Since cell reception is extremely spotty, my cellphone is no use to me until I get about 10-15 minutes from the farm. I thought I could make it that far…nope. My impromptu detour only lasted a few minutes. I quickly realized my mistake and was able to get back on track. I think my next time out and about I’ll have it down.
Before I left MN, I had my car checked to make sure everything was in good working order. It checked out just fine. The day I arrived in Virginia, one of my brake lights burned out. Bummer. I debated what to do before asking Jonathan (one of the Polyface staff who does a lot with machinery maintenance) how hard it is to change a bulb. I don’t know anything about cars and had never changed a brake light before. He showed me how easy it is and after running into town for a bulb, I now have a fully functional light!
Overall, it’s been a fantastic week! This weekend I’m off work, so I took some time to wander around the farm, take pictures, nap, eat ice-cream and go into town. I feel completely refreshed and ready to embrace and conquer another week. Here we go!