Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Cattle and RAIN!!

Over the past few days the Salatins have been buying weaned calves to replenish Polyface's stock.  We send about 7 to the slaughterhouse that is partially owned by the Salatins every two weeks.   Yesterday we received 25 calves and today we received 50.  We also had about one and a half inches of rain fall over the same two days.  

Moral of the story... If you need rain, plan on working cattle in the corral and the rain will come and make everything sloppy.

New Calf Protocol  (How do you prefer your tail pulled?)

I had always wondered what Polyface's protocol was for receiving new cattle and after the last two days I have a pretty good idea.  Both sets of cattle came from local cow/calf operations.  In fact the first 25 came from the neighbor bordering the south side of the home property.  The others came from about 30 minutes away in Stuarts Draft.  

(It was nice to get local calves since local is a huge word around here.  I heard somewhere that the average steak travels 1100 miles from birth-to-grill or womb-to-tomb, so its nice to think that some of the meat I will eat here on the farm walked everywhere but to the butcher.)

Anyway... Once the calves were sorted off their mothers and/or put into the corral, we had a series of tasks for each calf before turning them out onto fresh pasture.  Here at Polyface we run both steer and heifers.  (We have some cows that produce calves every year also, but to keep up with the beef demand they started buying calves and finishing them on grass.)  One task involves putting each calf on a set of scales to get there weight.  Then we run each calf into a head gate that holds them still so we can put in new Polyface ear-tags.  Both the bulls and heifers are pretty easy up until this point, the only difference being that we still need to castrate the bull calves into steers.  The heifers are turned loose to hang out in the coral, but the bulls are held a little longer by the head gate and a human (I had the lions share this week, but its wasn't to many).  Try and imagine this... I stood on the fence straddling the bull, both feet about belly high on the bull, facing toward his hind end.  This allowed me to pull on his tail and sit on his back while either Daniel or Joel did the castrating.  This worked pretty well under the circumstances and we only had a few that really fought what we were doing.  Once you get their tail pulled over there back, they calm down quite a bit.  In between bulls I would just climb up into the barn, over the chute and cattle to wait till the next calf.  This put me out of sight and allowed for easy access when I was needed to pull tail.

I keep saying calf but I think a different word needs to be used because some of these "calves" weighed in at over 600 lbs.  One in particular weighed 712 lbs.  Surprisingly enough, he didn't fight as much as he could have.  I guess you could say he stood there and took it like a man... or a lesser of a man now?  

This way of working new calves was a little new to me.  I'm used to having the calf either at the end of a rope pulled by a horse and cowboy, or in a head-gate with a squeeze chute.  This is how I've always castrated and tagged cattle growing up.  I can say that I prefer roping over all, and the squeeze chute is next followed by this new method.  With that said, I also respect the way Polyface does it.  All the infrastructure was low cost (home-made head gate with home-milled lumber and posts for the corral) and we got the job done right.  It's not worth doing unless you do it right.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Any Questions?

It dawned on me today that there may be questions from people who visit my blog about what I'm doing.  If you are one of those visitors and have a question for me just add it in the comment section of this or any of my previous blogs.  

I would feel like I'm actually telling people what they want to know about the work I do on Polyface.  Needless to say I am not the spokesperson for Polyface, but I can give insight from the inside looking out.

"There are no stupid questions."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Farm Food Deliveries

"The Bus" (Delivery Vehicle)
On Thursday of this week, I spent the day making deliveries with Richard (our full-time delivery driver).  We delivered to several restaurants and stores, and did two buying club drops.  Needless to say it was a long day.  (Wake-up time = 5 AM... Start Work = 5:15AM... Arrive back on farm = 8PM)


As I said before, Polyface delivers to several restaurants in Virginia.  One of the more popular ones is Chipotle (big mexican-style burritos and such).  They focus on getting meat that is  naturally raised, no antibiotics, etc.  Polyface sells them about 250 lbs of pork a week.  If you haven't had a Chipotle burrito, I highly recommend you go and try one soon.  Anyway... I had lots of great experiences on the delivery run while going to restaurants, but I'm going to stick to one story that remains the most memorable for me, the Rev Soup Beef Drop.

Revolutionary Soup Beef Delivery

That morning we loaded up a half of a beef into coolers that were headed to Rev Soup.  The half beef was only cut into 4 pieces, so none of the coolers shut all the way (imagine beef legs sticking out the top).  I wasn't sure what kind of place Rev Soup was but I figured that they would have a back door that we could bring in these HUGE pieces of meat.  We arrived to the drop location and Richard had never delivered to this particular Rev Soup (there are two), so he went in to ask where the service/delivery door was located.  Turns out there wasn't one.  Only the main entrance.

So there we were pushing this cart loaded with coolers with beef sticking out the top for all the world to see.  Though I shouldn't have, I felt as though I was wearing a dress and the world had a free shot to look up it.  We got to the front door and Richard took the first cooler in while I held the door and the cooler cart.  When he got back I picked up the largest and heaviest of the coolers (96 lbs of grass-fed beef!) and asked him where to take it.  He said to go straight back to the kitchen and they'll be waiting for me.  I hadn't noticed till now that the place was PACKED full of customers.  It was a little after noon, so you can imagine the lunch rush this place had going.  As I walked in the door carrying this huge leg of beef I looked toward the kitchen and realized that I had to walk right through the long line of patrons studying the menu.  I thought immediately, "What are they going to do when they see this huge piece of meat, sticking out of the cooler, headed into the kitchen."  I pressed on through the line and into the kitchen and when I got inside the owner was there and SUPER excited to see the giant piece of meat I was carrying.  That ease my anxiety a little.

This happened a total of four time between Richard and I, and it gave me kind of an adrenaline rush.  I was thinking about it afterward and it dawned on me that, to my knowledge, not a single patron realized what we brought into the restaurant.  The restaurant was located next to the University of Virginia so most of the customers where college-age young-adults.  This lead me to ponder this, "Is my generation so removed from our food that we don't even recognized what it looks like before its soup?"  I hope not, but I think we are.


As far as retail stories go, most of them sell Polyface eggs and pork products.  Some of the places were awesome little hole-in-the-wall places but there were a couple large, unfriendly places on the route.  It seems to me that the larger any store of any kind gets, the harder it is to keep employee moral up (no just food stores).  Maybe a thought to ponder in my other blog.

Anyway... at one of the retail stores, they returned several packs of bacon that they couldn't sell.  Why were they having trouble selling Polyface bacon you might ask?  Was it the taste?  Was it old? NO!!  It was because of the USDA blue edible ink that they stamp everything with at the USDA inspected abattoir.  "Our customers won't buy the bacon if it has the ink on it." says the man at the store.  WHAT A JOKE!  Thanks again USDA.  

So now what?  We can't sell our product in retail stores because in order for it to be "Safe" the USDA must have an inspector on site using his stamp at will.  But because he deems it "Safe" with his stamp, no one will eat it because of fear of the ink.  So were stuck having to sort through bacon each time we send it to this store and forced to explain to customers this ridiculous reasoning and the fact that the ink is soy based.  Awesome... more petroleum being used for a totally natural product.


In the middle of all this we made two buying club drops in Richmond.  I love doing buying club drops.  Every six weeks customers order online and we delivery their product(s) to them at several drop sites.  (You can learn more at  The day before the drop (or a couple days... whatever works) we put together orders in coolers and store them in the walk-in freezer until the morning of the drop day.  On the day of, we load the coolers in the bus and head to the drop.  Once there we unload the coolers for each specific drop and customers arrive with coolers of their own (or sack, boxes, etc.) and we hand over the order as they hand over the money.  It works out really awesome and in 30 mins to an hour we've handed out between 30 and 80 orders.  Polyface has a well oiled machine and I was able to jump right in like a greased cog.  Its wonderful to know that a lot of the customers have been to the farm and most have read about the farm and are excited not only by the good food, but by the awesome stewardship on the farm.

Stay tuned... I'l try and take some pics...