Category Archives: Polyface Farms

My summer at Polyface Farms in Virginia

Photos from Polyface

Building the corral at Mitchell's so that the cows can be moved to Grey Gables. This is the final loading approach.

Noah raking hay

The truck I was driving holds 20 bales.

This stack will only last the big herd for 20 days

The whole package- Daniel Salatin stacking, Noah salting the hay, Derek Ewer driving truck in the far field, Eric loading bales, and Lavern baling.

180 tons of hay…..
Eggmobiles after the storm, but before the EERT got to them (Eggmobile Emergency Response Team).
During the renovation

After- all done- in 98 degree heat.....

Our job is to make the hens happy……
Unrolling the hay tarp over 210 tons of hay.

What does it take to be a farmer?

What does it take to be a farmer? A couple of us were talking about this the other day. What skills are essential to make it in agricultural production? This week, I kept track of the different jobs and skills that I performed. Farming does not just entail taking care of vegetables or animals but a myriad of other tasks that keep a farm going.

On Monday we were building new shelves for the shop to put tools and supplies on. So we were carpenters for the day on Monday.

On Tuesday morning I worked in the shop, using the acetylene torch to heat and cut metal. In the afternoon I helped Joel on the sawmill, stacking and stickering lumber. So welder and mill worker for the day.

On Wednesday we moved cows from one rental farm to the other. This involved collecting the cows and putting them into the corral. Then we sorted them into mama cows, stockers (the ones we eat), and calves, stuck them into trailers and hauled them. Then I spent the afternoon back in the shop, rewiring an old tablesaw, replacing a frost-free hydrant, and cutting wood for some projects. I ended up being a cowboy, electrician, plumber, and carpenter.

On Thursday morning Joel turned me loose on the sawmill to mill 2x4s for the latest building project on the farm. Not only does running the sawmill involve brute strength to turn the big logs but the finesse to cut the boards at sub-inch accuracy. There is a lot of math involved in trying to maximize the number of boards out of each log. In the afternoon we drove over to a rental farm, loaded up some equipment on the goosenecks, and hauled it back to the home farm. Thursday’s jobs were sawyer and trucker.

Add to that salesman, mechanic, chef, writer…..  and you start to get the picture of what a farmer does. Needless to say, we keep busy.

5 Lessons in Hay from Joel

this was supposed to go up a few weeks ago…..

 

5 Lessons in Hay from Joel.

 

 

Joel said we would be doing a lot of hay this year on the farm-  It’s been pretty wet so we haven’t made to much but last week the forecast looked good… so…..

Sunday we baled about 1/2 of the ridge field which is right by Daniel and Sheri’s house. It had been cut on Thursday night and was going to be baled up on Monday and Tuesday but the weather changed to show rain for Monday. They tedded it (turned it over so it would dry) Friday and again on Saturday.  Then after church on Sunday Daniel hooked up to the rake and started raking. We joined as they started baling around 3 pm and for the next 3 hot (85) and muggy hours loaded bales. Around eight hundred big, heavy bales total. As we were finishing baling for the day (8 wagons total) Joel said that when they just got to the farm, the whole farm produced the same amount of hay that we had just baled in just a part of one field in that afternoon. Pretty phenomenal.

 


Couple lessons we learned-

 

-We make hay while the sun shines. We weren’t happy about it but Sunday the hay was ready and Monday it was going to rain. So we made hay on Sunday. And took it a little easier on Monday.

 

– Have a lot of wagons and a lot of places to park them under cover. This allowed us to plow through and make a ton of hay straight through without having to stop and unload. Take 5 minutes to switch wagons and then away we went again. We then unloaded starting at 6am Monday morning before the rain hit.

-We were using flat wagons with backs and stacking it. This allowed us to get more hay per wagon and made unloading a breeze. And wagons don’t have to be pretty-they just need to work. Polyface had a pretty motley array…

 

– Salting down hay. We put down around 50 lbs per wagon. It helps any hay that isn’t 100% dry cure properly. It also helps make it more palatable for the animals. I mean, you like salt on your food too, right?

– You know the old adage? Hay is for horses… Pigs would eat it but don’t know how? Well Polyface pigs do eat hay. See the below picture for proof. A few bales busted in the process and we threw them to the pigs.  They rushed it and fought over it.

Piggies chomping on hay

Polyface- First thoughts….

The road to Polyface

Polyface Polyface is, it seems, is in the middle of nowhere. Tightly gripping my phone, I drove the last 10 miles from the highway. Granted, the country is beautiful. Rolling hills, covered in either waving grasses and black angus, hay on the ground or being baled, or hardwoods spread off to each side. The very narrow black ribbon of road in front of me darts and dances between or over the hills. Grasses line each side, spilling out into the road. You’ll round a bend, find yourself in a neighbors barnyard, with chickens running about, a tractor parked barely off the road. Then through the woods, along a steep sidehill, and down to the creek that separates the farm from the road.

One of the things you’ll notice right away about Polyface is there is a LOT of activity going on. Crews showing up from other farms to process chickens, customers picking up orders, Richard coming to pickup another box truck of product for the buying clubs or restaurants, film crews, celebrities (sorry, sworn to secrecy….) contractors showing up to do work (they’re building a new pond), the neighbor showing up to cut hay, deliveries, visitors…..

One of Joel's Lunatic Tours

Yes, the visitors… I’ve probably had my picture taken more in the last 3 days than in the last year. 🙂 I’ve met people from a number of states so far, customers as well as people just interested in how the farm runs. Joel and Daniel made it clear that part of the reason we’re here is for the visitors and that we are on display, modeling to the world how safe, clean, environmentally responsible food is produced.

We start chores at 5:45, pretty much walking everywhere we go. Walking. I think all of us have a new appreciation for how to walk, FAST. I thought I walked fast, as on our farm, I usually have to slow down for people, but here, I’m lagging. Joel likes to say that he farmed for 10 years without a four-wheeler and that we should learn to use our legs too. 🙂 I definitely see the point. When the situation requires, we’ll jump into the truck or take one of the four-wheelers, say to collect the eggs, but most of the time, fast walking will get us there cheaper and faster than a machine.

Breakfast is at 7:30, most of the time the first one off will throw eggs and sausage onto the griddle, we’ll inhale that as well as copious amounts of apple juice and raw milk, before getting back out to start the morning. Then back in for lunch, where if we haven’t crock-potted something, it’s usually hotdogs or sandwiches. Chores start at 4 or 5 which involves feeding and watering up to 40 pens of broilers again, collecting, sorting and packing the eggs and closing everything up for the night. Then it’s on to dinner. Brie, the farm chef, has proved herself very capable and has turned out amazing food. All made from scratch, from on-farm meats, eggs and vegetables. Then we collapse, usually grabbing a shower and going to bed.

The intern team at Polyface--  with bosses Eric and Daniel on either endThe intern team has been a joy to work with. Daniel says they are getting better and better at picking the right ones, and it is true. Eight of the nicest, friendliest, funniest, most trusting people from places such as Oregon, Ohio, Connecticut, Australia, and Colorado are here with me and we’re fast becoming friends. I’m incredibly privileged to be working with the cream of the crop, as the acceptance rate here is more stringent than Harvard and Yale.  And yes, we have a Yale graduate interning here this year…..

Yes, dreams do come true …

Jessica Reihl Photography

Big news in my life!! I applied for, and was accepted for, an 2012 internship at Polyface Farms, down in Virginia. It runs from June 1 through the end of September. I’ll be gone, but the farm will still run just as strong as ever. We’ve been working very hard over the last couple of months to train the crew, buy machinery, and implement procedures to make things easier while I’m gone.

Let me tell you the story …

Many of you remember last fall when Joel Salatin, co-owner, of Polyface farms, visited the farm. He’s a pretty big deal in the sustainable ag community, author of several books, subject of several films (“FRESH”  and “Food, Inc.”), and speaks worldwide on food and agricultural issues. A short video of his farm is here.  He’s been one of my heroes (and inspiration to start farming) ever since I read about him in Smithsonian magazine, back in 2000. His farm down in Virginia raises pastured beef, pigs, turkeys, broilers, layers and rabbits on more than 1,200 acres.

Last August, I applied for an internship at Polyface. I was accepted earlier this spring after a rigorous (tougher than Harvard) acceptance process. I’ll be blogging about the experience at my new blog, Michael-kilpatrick.com.

I did this for several reasons.

One of my dreams in life has been to internship there and I realized I’m not getting any younger. As the business grows in the next couple of years it’s not going to get any easier for me to do something like this.

Joel is an incredible innovator, speaker, communicator, and change agent. As one who wishes to change the direction of American agriculture I feel he would have an incredible amount to teach and share.

Polyface is a holistic, very integrated, animal, pasture-based farm. Their marketing channels are different than ours: buying clubs, wholesale, restaurants  and an on-farm store. The past two years or so, we have been looking to integrate much more closely with animals and expand our marketing channels, thus us raising broilers, hens, turkeys and pigs over the last couple of years. There’s nothing better than learning from the best.

Of course, the question everyone’s thinking is: How will the farm run while you’re gone?

We have a great team. I am no longer the only farmer at Kilpatrick Family Farm. I’m completely confident that our amazing team will manage splendidly while I’m gone. My brother Jonathan, has stepped back on board to run the fields, Keith will be making sure our amazing produce gets to market, and the rest of the crew (which we’ve supplemented with a few great hires) will be stepping up to make sure everything else gets done. We’ve got a great crew manning the markets and running the office. I’ve spoken to several grower friends of mine and they have agreed to drop by periodically and glance an experienced eye over things. We’ve invested heavily in some equipment this year to simplify and speed up weed control, harvesting and processing, and spraying. We’ve spent the last 3 months training people, writing things down, and simplifying tasks.

I’ll keep you updated on how the summer goes!!