Thursday, January 17, 2008


Yesterday was my first day of work at Howell -- I'll be making several visits before my internship proper begins at the end of February.

The morning's first order of business was to coax the sheep from their pen into an area called the Market Garden. I assume the Market Garden is where vegetables that are grown for a market are cultivated, but at this point that's just a guess. (Being the new guy, I'm trying to refrain from asking too many annoying questions all at once.)

Rob, my internship coordinator, explained our purpose: If the sheep eat in the barn and drop their manure there, somebody will need to shovel it up later and take it to where it's needed as fertilizer. Since the Market Garden can indeed use some fertilization, it's easiest to let the sheep make a "direct deposit."

The farm recycles itself. The animals' manure is put into the fields to help the crops, the crops grow, and then the crops are fed to the animals. Or, in other cases, the animals sleep on the crops.

My job the rest of the day was to feed a mountain of dried cornstalk into a fodder chopper. (I was introduced to this machine by being told it was one of the most dangerous on the farm. Apparently, somebody's arm was broken some time ago when it--the arm--got caught in the big iron wheel that spins on the side of the chopper. Needless to say, that's definitely preferable to mangled inside the chopper.)

I don't have a picture, so I'll try to describe the setup: A machine with sharp, rotating metal teeth is attached to a heavy fabric belt; the other end of the belt is attached to the spinning pulley on the side of a farm tractor. The result is very much like a wood splitter. I fed the stalks into the feeder, a powerful grinding noise followed, and they came out the other side as stalk dust. It was very satisfying.

After a few hours, I had a giant pile of shredded cornstalk before me. Three different farm workers came up to me individually and waxed on about the amazing and apparently one-of-a-kind qualities of shredded stalk as animal bedding. Apparently, it soaks up animal urine like nothing else. So there you go.

Note: My next visit to Howell will be for the Ice Harvest on January 26. Until then.