Fall Rain

This post includes more pictures from our Learn to Farm draft-horse series at Fair Winds Farm. The work is picturesque and a joy to admire, and the picture are from Amber Bahn, a student in this year’s class. 

We’re coming to the end of a wet week here at The Farm School, with just over a half-inch of rain on Tuesday, and more than an inch through the day on Wednesday. This part of New England is still in drought, and the heavy rain has been a welcome addition to local reservoirs, and our little ice-skating pond.img_3880 These conditions have also really tested our winter livestock accommodations, and have forced us to make some great changes to help keep our animals comfortable and dry. Most of our designs rely on the ground freezing, and more snow falling than rain, and those have not been the conditions on the ground here yet this early winter. In response, we have enhanced our covered indoor spaces, added more bedding, and spread deep beds of wood chips to dry out some of the muddiest locations. We also built a hay feeder inside the beef barn, big enough to accommodate all of our beef animals, and out of the mud and rain. Wednesday was the new hay feeder’s inaugural run, and it seemed to work really well. It is always very rewarding to identify an issue that our livestock is facing, figure out and execute a solution, and see the animals adapt and benefit from the work. Seeing the whole herd lined up in the barn enjoying fresh dry hay from the new feeder while the rain poured down in sheets outside was certainly one of those rewarding moments.

This is the time for the final steps in putting the vegetable growing acreage to bed for the winter, and we’re lining up our straw supply for bedding strawberries and garlic for the winter. We want those plants to survive the winter and be ready for vigorous growth next spring, so we cover them in a thick mat of loose straw to shelter them from winter weather. Most of the rest of our cultivated acreage is under a nice growth of cover crop, and will rest in that condition until tillage begins again in the spring.

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We’ve taken in all the fencing, and stored it for the winter.

Monday morning of this week saw the first of three workshops at the Learn to Farm Program with Dr. Major, of Green Mt. Bovine Clinic. He takes the adult students through a three part examination of livestock health and upkeep, focusing on the life-cycle, reproduction, feeding, housing, common illnesses, and basic healthcare of our beef and dairy cows, sheep, and horses. The third component of this series has usually included a visit to a large conventional dairy in our area to look at discuss some of the different issues that they face within their system.

This week at LTF also includes an introductory look at our beehives with Anne, weather permitting. Anne participated in the program a few years ago, and developed a passion for beekeeping. After graduating, she stayed in the area, furthered her bee knowledge, and has installed and manages several beehives throughout our acreage. Students work alongside Anne whenever the opportunity presents itself, and have the chance to harvest honey, extract it from combs, and enjoy it, if the season has been a successful one. Students will have a class this week with Tyson as well, focused on ‘whole farm planning’ and regenerative agriculture.

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Bale Mountain- winter feed for the beef herd.

Tyson is working to develop a long term farm plan for all of the acreage that The Farm School stewards, and he meets regularly with our adult students to share his work with them, and to discuss some of the principles that guide his work.

One More Week

This week was the last in our three-part draft horse, timber frame, chainsaw training series, so now every adult student has had a week in each of these three areas. The skills and confidence that they developed over these weeks will be put to the test over the coming winter, with the bulk of our work focused on forestry, firewood production, and chiseling out our annual timber frame.

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Driving the Suffolk-Punch draft horses at Fair Winds Farm.

The Farm School Learn to Farm Program is unique in the breadth of skills and topics that we include in the year, and this most recent span of programming is a great example of some of the exceptional areas that go into it.

Turkey processing is happening on the farm as I write this, marking the end of the livestock production season. We have been going full speed since lambing started the first week of April, then hundreds of chicks came in the mail, piglets arrived, calves dropped in the beef and dairy herds, and our community of animals got larger and larger. The opposite trend started in August, with broiler processing, fall trips up to the slaughterhouse for lambs, pigs and beef, and finally, with the turkeys gone, we are back roughly to where we started.

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Jay Bailey and student-farmer Sophie working the reins.

This year’s turkeys came a month later than usual, and it looks like the finishing weights coming from the packing table are a bit smaller than we usually achieve. With one month less to grow, most of our turkeys this year are coming in just under or over ten pounds.

This week also saw our first pack-out for the meat CSA, and Josh B and the adult students spent the morning on Tuesday picking up our meat from the slaughterhouse, organizing our big walk-in freezer, and crafting a wonderful blend of cuts for the first delivery. This month’s share includes pork butt roast, ham steak and pork chops, half a leg of lamb, some goat chorizo, and a dozen eggs. The share is typically about twelve pounds per month, with a diversity of types of meat, large and small cuts, some fancy items and some of the basics.

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Finished turkeys in the walk-in, ready for the holidays!

Our last cow in the dairy came into heat on Wednesday, and Brad stopped by to breed her that afternoon. If the breeding is successful, that will mark the end of the breeding season in the dairy, and we can pretty accurately map out the calving schedule for next spring and summer.

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The cow breeding board for 2016/17

A cow bred in middle of November should deliver her calf at the end of next August, with a gestation of about 280 days, or nine and a half months. We try to spread calving out through the spring, summer and fall to ensure that we have fresh cows producing lots and lots of fresh milk throughout the long year.

The bull is still in with the beef herd, and although I am pretty confident that he has accomplished his task by this point, it can be a challenge to get his owner to come by and pick him up. Not only have the feeding costs shifted to us while the bull is here, but, unless the bull is destined for another breeding situation, picking him up understandably hangs out near the bottom of the to-do list. He is not a major burden in our feeding schedule, but we are all a bit more at ease going in with the herd once he is gone, and we’d like to see him move along some time soon.

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Cow info for visitors

The ram stays in with the ewes all winter, and we don’t separate him out until just before lambing season begins. He is in the ewe flock for shearing day, and we typically get him, and his brother, off to their own yard just after that. Shearing the large ram is an annual challenge that some brave student farmers attempts every spring, and with the wonderful support of our shearing instructor, the job gets done one way or another.

The Program for Visiting Schools hosted Orchard Gardens for the first half of the week, and Nativity Prep for the back half. Orchard Gardens is a public K-8 school in Boston, and Nativity Prep is a tuition-free Jesuit all-boys middle school also in Boston. Both groups were truly wonderful, enlivened our farm environment beyond any imaginable level, and also got some vital and significant work accomplished. They put the garden to bed, cut, split and stacked lots of firewood, cooked some incredible meals, and looked after all the livestock with love and attention. We are all grateful for their energy and help!

The Season’s End

We’re finishing up another week of timber framing, draft horses and chainsaw work at the Learn to Farm Program, and we have concluded another great week in the Program for Visiting Schools as well. We hosted 7th graders from the Lawrence school this week, and they were able to bring three groups over four days for shortened one-night visits, accommodating their larger class sizes and giving every 7th grader the chance to come out and spend the night at the farm. Our Learn to Farm students go through a full Game of Logging workshop over the course of their week with Bill Girard, our local Game of Logging instructor. They learn the ins and outs of the chainsaw, including service and chain maintenance, how to fell a tree safely and to a chosen location, and how to limb and buck the tree in preparation for firewood production. Safety is obviously the primary focus of this training, and Bill does an incredible job every year getting folks from wherever they start in their knowledge and comfort with a chainsaw to a place where they can use the tool safely and effectively, feel confident in using it on their own farm, and step into a vital role here in our considerable yearly firewood production effort.

We have completed all of our processing dates for livestock for the year with six steers coming out of the beef herd last Sunday, and now have just the Thanksgiving turkeys to finish up before the livestock year can really be considered finished. We’ve moved all of the layers at Maggie’s Farm into the winter coop for the colder seasons ahead. Both the pullets and the layers were under some pretty heavy predator pressure this summer, so we ended up just blending the two groups of about sixty into one large flock of one hundred and twenty birds. Both groups started out close to one hundred birds, and I detailed some of the issues we faced last winter with hawk predation, so we will have to step up our protection approach significantly next year to avoid losses like we experienced this past year. We anticipate getting between two hundred and two hundred and fifty eggs from each productive hen before culling, so the loss of eighty hens, multiplied out, approaches twenty thousand eggs.

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The layers checking out their winter scene. 

 

This was our final week of veggie harvest and markets, and Alex was also able to run the disks over the majority of our remaining beds not already under cover crop. The vibrant and assorted colors of the growing veggie beds have been replaced with dark brown soil and green cover crop, and to the eye, the slate has been wiped clean for the winter. We rest assured that the swirl of life in the soil, under the surface, continues at least a bit longer into the late fall, until hard freezes really set in. The winter rye cover crop is happy with this weather, and has put on a lovely thick green flush this fall.

There is just one more cow to breed in our little dairy, and if we can get her taken care of in the next few weeks, we should have a nice spring and summer calving season next year. Pearl was the first cow to deliver a calf this spring, and we thought we had bred her successfully a few months after that. However, she repeatedly showed the initial signs of coming into heat each month, without every really following through with the whole process. I asked Dr. Major, from Green Mt. Bovine Clinic, to come out and do ultrasound pregnancy checks on the cows, and in that process he determined that Pearl had a case of Pyometra. We treated her with two doses of Lutalyse to help her cycle properly and flush her uterus, and we are now waiting for her first natural cycle to attempt to breed her. Pearl retained her placenta after delivering her bull calf Prince this spring, and it seems that that complication was the probable cause of her challenges in breeding this summer and fall. Pearl is our best cow in the dairy at this point, we look forward to years of working with her, and we are confident that she will have a full recovery from this process.

Timbers, Trees and Horses

This has been the first week of an incredible stretch of programing in the Learn to Farm Program, with a third of the class spending their first week in the timber-frame shop, another third of the class in the woods for a few days of The Game of Logging, and the last third of the class at Fair Winds Farm in Brattleboro learning to drive draft horses. The schedule will rotate over the next few weeks to get every student their week in all three areas, and have everyone ready for the work of the winter.

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The greenhouse is a timber-frame shop now.

These are really wonderful weeks in the fall schedule, introducing our students to some really captivating skills and exciting instructors, and highlighting some of the true depth of the Learn to Farm Program. The bulk of our time in the late fall, and most of the winter, is spent logging, making firewood, and chiseling out the timber-frame. Livestock chores continue and we have some great classroom time too, but firewood and timbers move firmly into our focus.

This week saw another round of pig loading, and this time we were unable to load four of the ten pigs left to go. The pigs were super flighty about the process, executed some incredible escape maneuvers, and refused to have anything to do with us by the time we gave up. We have made some changes to the loading setup, moved food and water into the transport trailer, and we will give it another shot in a couple of days.

Luckily, we have a strong relationship with our local slaughterhouse, and they are willing to give us a little flexibility in this process. There are few things on the farm that humble and frustrate me more than a pig that won’t load, and they can really be one the most challenging animals to move when they’re feeling stubborn. The pigs are the smartest animals we keep, they are incredibly strong with a low center of gravity, they have nowhere good to grab onto, they don’t herd nearly as well as sheep and cows, and they’re clever enough to figure out the loading process and defy it. So much of farming is dictated by lists, plans and a sequence of events that will allow the rest to fall into place, but when the pigs won’t load, the whole thing feels like it is coming apart all around us. After that quick moment of despair, we’re quick to trouble shoot the situation and make a plan for accomplishing the necessary adaptations. We can always find ways to shuffle the schedule, add some things to the list, and remember that there is almost always a solution.

Our two rams went in with the ewes on Monday, keeping with our traditional November 1st opening of the breeding season. That should give us lambs arriving some time at the beginning of April, late enough in the winter to avoid really cold weather, but early enough in the spring to have a good growing season ahead for the lambs. The rams spend most of their year together in their own pen, separated from the rest of the sheep flock, to avoid out of season breeding.

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The hoop house is greening up.

This allows us to schedule lambing pretty directly for when we want it, and helps avoid surprise lambing. The rams will be in with the flock for the majority of the winter, and won’t be removed again until just before lambing begins in the spring. They get their work done in the first few weeks that they’re in with the ewes, but they certainly prefer living as part of the flock, so we let them stay as long as we can.

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The new manure/compost pile for next year.

We spread tons and tons of manure this week, hoping to set some up of our hay fields and pastures for vigorous growth in the spring. Our little dairy generates a lot of really wonderful manure, mixed nicely with wood shavings and straw, and we are able to work that up into some pretty nice compost in the yard behind the dairy barn. We mixed carbonatite rock dust into the spreader loads with the composted manure this year with the goal of adding more minerals to our pastures as well. We spread manure over about eight acres at Sentinel Elm Farm, including the Sawmill, Poll Barn, and North West pastures.

A Whisper of Winter

We are coming to the end of another busy week here at The Farm School, and with colder weather drawing near, the pace of preparation for winter has increased. We had two nights down below thirty degrees this week, freezing water systems, and reminding everyone that winter is drifting our way.

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A frosty sunrise with Tom and King

Our lambs went to the slaughterhouse on Wednesday, cutting the sheep flock just about in half, and making much more room at the hay feeder. The second round of pigs went off too, leaving us just nine more to go. The four beautiful Berkshire pigs that Dave was raising at Sentinel Elm Farm (home of the Program for Visiting Schools) were included in this week’s load, and they were some of the best pigs we have ever raised here. The heritage breed pigs develop larger shoulders and hams than the modern Yorkshire varieties, they stay shorter and rounder all over, and seem to be a bit more motivated to root and forage. More modern pigs have been tailored to fit our prevailing production systems, with whiter, leaner meat, and a long, tall, thin frame that can hang more efficiently in the cold storage of the slaughterhouse and packing facility.

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Dave built this great loading setup to load his pigs.

Harvests continued this week, featuring kale, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, garlic, cabbage, shallots and onions. Kale is the last leafy green going, but this is prime time for carrots sweetened by a little frost, and wonderful cabbages, onions and garlic that has been growing all season just for this time of year.

The student farmers had their ‘Dairy Transformation’ class on Thursday with local cheese-maker Emily Anderson. The class is an introduction to cheese making, and the students have the opportunity to try several different cheese types over the course of the day. This year’s efforts included fromage blanc, two types of mozzarella, ricotta, yogurt and kefir. Every year we hope that a few students are inspired enough by the cheese class to find a real passion for cheese making, and to start supplying us all with fresh homemade cheese.

Lamb loading day, and the preparation and planning that go into it, is always one of the first and most powerful moments of realization for our new student farmers about some of the harder truths of farming in general, and livestock farming in specific. We keep a flock of sheep for several purposes, including wool production and educational value, but primarily for the meat. The creation of that product necessitates the slaughter of lambs every fall, as well as the culling of older ewes or ewes that are not thriving on our farm. Many years, there are ewes to cull where there is no doubt that the animal should not stay on the farm, should not breed again, and should be shipped off. We have been culling pretty aggressively over the past few years, eliminating most of the poorer animals. This year we had no flagrant candidates, but to make room for younger ewes with fresh genetics, we had to be more aggressive in culling for potential problems, advancing age, and animals that appear fine now, but seem likely to have problems in the near future. Culling any animal is tough, and that struggle is made even more uncomfortable when the cause of culling is not clearly visible. However, the long term work of developing a superior population of animals on the farm, a group that has the desired traits, that fits our ecosystem and farm system, and that produces economically, is one of the most interesting and thought provoking aspects of livestock farming.

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A truly wonderful farm dog

We’ve had quite a bit of rain to end the week, and when that inch and half is added to what we’ve gotten so far this fall, our recovery from the drought of the summer seems to be advancing pretty well. There is a little shallow pond tucked along the road between Sentinel Elm Farm and Maggie’s Farm where The Farm School community ice skates and plays hockey when conditions permit in the winter. The summer drought had just about dried it up completely, with just a few wet spots in the middle by the driest point, and we were all worried that we’d have to find a new spot to take a spin on the ice this winter. The fall rains have started to fill the pond back up, there is water stretching from side to side, and our local pond-hockey fanatics are optimistic for upcoming season again.

 

Full of Fall

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The dairy cows are at the top of the farm.

Warm summer weather has held on for most of the week, but we are ending with a few cooler wet days here to finish the week. Despite the dry summer, our fall foliage has been really spectacular this season, and lots of trees are still holding most of their leaves. The Farm School Instagram (#thefarmschool or the_farm_school) has lots of great images of the changing season, with some incredible pictures of the bright fall colors up and down the ridge.

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Spreading minerals on the Secret Pasture.

We had minerals spread on three pastures Thursday, hoping to adjust the chemistry in the soil a bit with a goal of encouraging the growth of a more cow-friendly community of forage plants. Any time that a pasture starts being overwhelmed by a single type of plant, it is a sure sign that there is some imbalance in the soil, creating the conditions that the dominant plant is taking advantage of. Two pastures that we treated were being over-run with poison-ivy, and the third was covered in bed-straw. Soil tests from the summer revealed a variety of soil mineral deficiencies, poor organic material content, and a low PH. Lancaster Agriculture Products, the company that we buy our chicken and pig feed from, worked with us to develop a custom blend of minerals to address our specific issues, and they were also able to come up and spread the blend on our pastures for us. We addressed almost twelve acres, putting down just over a ton per acre, and the whole process took just three or four hours.

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Loading the minerals in the truck.

Thursday also saw a second round of wrapped bale delivery, with forty-four coming in for the beef herd. We’ve had to buy winter hay from a variety of sources this year because many local producers were unable to make a second or third cut in the drought conditions that dominated the summer weather. There are some wonderful hay producers in the area, including southern Vermont, and it was really reassuring to be able to fill the barns with such great feed, even in such a challenging year.

Bradley has been out in the woods with the student farmers this week, introducing some foundational forest management principles, marking trees for this winter’s cutting, and finding large straight pines to harvest for this year’s timber frame project.

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From logs to timber frame.

A local sawmill owner moved the log Bradley cut to our sawmill, and students will start milling out the timbers needed for the frame over the next few weeks. Once the greenhouse is emptied for the season, Josh will setup a makeshift heated timber-frame shop in there for a winter of joinery work under the lights.

The student farmers did a full day tractor operation and safety class last week, and this week started the half-day tractor maintenance classes, as well as tractor operation one-on-one training. The tractor is by far the most dangerous part of any farm, and we do a lot training throughout the year in the hopes that we can start every student with a strong foundation of understanding, comfort and caution for that machine.

New Students

We are approaching the end of the first week with our new class of student farmers, and it has been an incredible start to the eleven-month program. The week has included livestock chore and veggie harvest training, a walk in the woods with a local natural historian, a full day of tractor operation and safety training, and will culminate on Friday with the first class in our farm carpentry series.

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The beef herd on fresh pasture.

That first week encompasses so much of what a farmer does through the year, and it is exciting to anticipate working alongside all of these wonderful new students as we delve deeper and deeper into all of these skills over the coming months. The charge of energy that has gone through this place with the arrival of eager new farmers is incredible, and their willingness to engage in this work is an invigorating reminder of our mission here at The Farm School.

We have had at least one strong frost so far this fall, and with Friday night’s temperature forecasted to be down to twenty-eight, it seems like the grazing season may be drawing to a close a bit ahead of our November 1st goal. The grass will tolerate freezing temperatures well, but the cold weather sends a message to the plants to stop growing, and the grass that we have now may be it for the year. We have a couple of beautiful pastures left to graze, and the cows will be enjoying some of the best grass of the year over the next few days.

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Some of that beautiful fall pasture.

The winter’s supply of large round wrapped bales of hay began arriving today, and we will get them setup in our usual grid layout for winter-feeding. Both the dairy herd and the beef herd are primarily fed outside through the winter, and we preset large grids of round bales that we can use temporary fencing to expose as needed for feeding. This system spreads manure pretty evenly over the whole winter-feeding area, and can be operated successfully by a single farmer after the bales have been setup.

The harvest season continues its incremental creep toward the end, with our focus turning more and more to the cold-hardy vegetables, storage crops already harvested and curing, and cleaning up from the growing season. Leaks, hard melons, garlic, onions, beans and kale are prominent on the list, and those deep green kale plants seem to carry on vigorous and sturdy no matter what.

The plastic went up over the winter hoop-house this week, preparing that space for plantings of cold-hardy vegetables that we can harvest through the winter.

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The hoop house filling for winter harvest.

Hopefully the warmth that the plastic creates will encourage the three beds of late-seeded spinach to grow up big and strong, although that’s a bit of a gamble because spinach likes cooler temps for germinating. Our goal is spinach ready to harvest and eat by Christmas. We have have also planted 2 beds of carrots, which are looking great, and will be big, beautiful and sweet all winter long. Putting the plastic on means having to irrigate occasionally, which happened for the first time Thursday with an overhead sprinkler, and will likely have to happen a couple more times until the spinach is established.

Cover crop continues to green over dormant veggie beds, and I get a sense of hunkering down and bundling up as I look out over our beautiful farm.

Cool and Crisp

We are approaching the end of another beautiful week here at The Farm School, and the cool crisp autumn weather has got us all feeling lucky to work outside all day. Frenzied preparation has continued up until the moment our new class of student farmers arrives Thursday afternoon, and the Maggie’s complex is looking better than ever. We have made some dramatic upgrades in the farm house, trying to make more space, more seating and better Feng shui for the larger class coming in.

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Ready for new students!

Work has started on the pig loading setup, and with processing dates at the slaughterhouse every Wednesday for the next four weeks, we need to be ready soon. Loading pigs is always challenging work, and my limited experience has shown me that a thoughtful setup can go a long way in avoiding a crisis at the critical moment. There are not many things worse than trying to fight three hundred and fifty pound pig about where it’s going or not going, and our goal in loading is to have the whole process be easy for everyone involved. We try to keep the pigs from feeling like there are any choices in the process, like everyone is moving in the same direction, and that there is something good to eat inside the trailer at the end.

The recent cold nights have done a great deal to move firewood into a more central place in our plans and work, and making sure that the wood shed at every

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Another crazy egg.

cabin is fully stocked has become a priority. I’ve seen smoke curling out of a few chimneys already, chainsaws have been buzzing around the farm, and the transition from growing to hunkering down for the winter is starting to build. The change in seasons has some unforeseen consequences on the farm, and the transitions in the weather often create or remove opportunities that we try to be ready for. In warm months, the ground is soft, digging is possible, but the world is covered in a thick layer of growing things. Come winter, the plants will be dead and gone, but the ground will be frozen hard. Between the two seasons may be a moment when the plants are gone, the ground is exposed, and we can still dig before the real freeze comes. This is our chance to move a building, dig holes for fence-posts, and do sight work as we work to improve the infrastructure of the farm. Then the snow will come (maybe), and anything left out will be gone until spring.

 

Cover crop is growing thick and green on veggie beds that we’re done with for the season, and every added day, every inch of extra growth, is a benefit for next year’s soil and crops. Farming has so many time scales, from the immediate to the longest term, and there are so many places where those time scales intersect and interact with each other. The growth of this fall’s cover crop and the conditions that determine that growth will have a profound effect on next season’s success, and the sequence of cover crops over a series of years will affect the health of farm for years to come. We make great effort at the end of every season so get our cover crops in with ample time for successful growth, with varying degrees of accomplishment, but this year the stars have aligned for a flush of growth.

We’ve run into another hawk problem up at the Egg Mobile, with three layers killed and partially eaten this week. I am not really sure of a good solution with the chickens out in the field, but I think we’ll start with a more significant move of the house, to see if we can just go somewhere the hawk is not comfortable working. I’ll try to keep you posted in the coming weeks as this latest chapter in our hawk vs. chicken saga unfolds.

 

September into October

Winds of Autumn

Even in a person
most times indifferent
to things around him
they waken feelings
the first winds of autumn 

Saigyo

On this cool and blustery day, the turn of the season is plain all around the farm. The sun is bright, and after a few days of misty rain, the trees and pastures are practically iridescent in the late September wind. The soil of veggie beds is the deepest, darkest, bottomless brown, and the hardy kale and chard is standing up at attention so tall it seems ready to launch like a model rocket. These are such sweet days on the farm, after the heat and humidity of the summer has passed, and we get a short return to vibrancy and vigor before it all closes down for the winter. The pastures love the weather, and it’s put on a little final flush of growth to end the season. The cows and sheep love the weather, and as the flies are blown away on the fall wind, they are truly comfortable again, resting in the pastures and chewing their cud. The fall crops love the weather, and with a little more rain over the past few days, they are ending the season in great shape.

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The red pullets got new neighbors on Wednesday when the sheep went into a new paddock. The sheep in the picture are trying to find grain that the chickens might have spilled.

Work continues inside and around the Maggie’s farmhouse, getting it ready for the coming class of Learn to Farm students. The dry-wall work is done, and the painter is in there now making the whole place sparkle with a fresh coat of paint. The LTF staff is meeting regularly to prepare the schedule, field trips, classes and all the other myriad little parts of the daily swirl of activity that make up the Learn to Farm Program. We are anticipating a class of fifteen students this year, up from ten last year, so the schedule has to be reworked a bit to keep everyone moving through every part of the farm. Every year we make little changes and adaptations to the schedule, both in the short term as well as long term, trying to reflect the experience of the year just ended, the feedback of students and teachers, and the challenging realities of the production cycle. In general, we have been moving incrementally toward larger blocks of time over the long term to allow students to dig deeper into each area of the farm over the course of a couple of weeks, rather than moving daily or weekly. Our hope is that extended time in an area will generate deeper mastery, understanding and a richer feeling of responsibility for each component of the farm.

 

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The beef cows, lined up to get the freshest grass they can find.

The work of the fall season is primarily wrapping up the schemes of the summer, and getting everything ready for the coming winter. Some components of the farm are purely seasonal, and are eliminated before the cold weather really sets in. Broiler chickens, turkeys and pigs are all gone by the end of fall. Other than garlic planted in the fall, and cover crops in the veggie beds, veggie fieldwork wraps up for the most part with the coming frost. Some endeavors span the year, and the fall is one of those seasons consumed with the transition between warm and cold weather arrangements. Animals need shelter, water systems need to simplified and even heated, feeding switches from pastures to stored feeds, and everything draws in a bit closer to the barns. These shoulder seasons, when our work is divided between the conclusion of one phase and the preparation of the next, encapsulate so much of the feel of the work of farming. Looking back over the production season from here gives us some our most valuable lessons for next year, and at the same time, we are all irrationally hopeful that we can set up the perfect winter systems that will make everything go effortlessly over the months to come. Like us, farmers all over the world are trying to learn from each season’s end, and are absurdly optimistic about next year. A lot of farming can be captured in the image of the farmer, working diligently to develop a system that might work, and then watching as the natural world has its way with that system.

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Toward the end of their first laying cycle, chickens start to produce eggs of strange shape and size. This is a huge chicken egg!

 

 

Transitions

Although the last few days have certainly felt like summer, we have been getting little tastes of fall around the edges, and the end of the growing season really seems to be approaching.

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The beef herd grazing as the sun goes down.

There are leaves changing color up and down the ridge, we’ve had nighttime temperatures down in the forties, and the ten-day forecast even includes a few nights down in the thirties. Other signs of fall include the greenhouse full of curing root crops, turkeys growing out on pasture for Thanksgiving, and the pullets just starting to lay the first eggs of their lives.

 

We got a huge rainstorm through this part of Massachusetts Sunday and Monday, with over three inches of rain falling here on the farm.

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Our rain gauge, checked often…

The rain was so welcome here, and really has the potential to setup the whole rest of the fall growing and grazing season. Ponds in the area have a bit of water back in them, the ground is not too hard to put fence posts in anymore, and the pastures are green and vibrant again. Getting all that rain in a matter of hours was a bit much for such parched ground, but, at this point in a droughty year, we’ll take rain in any form we can get it.

The Student Farmer class of 2016 has graduated and left the farm, and we’re down to a skeleton crew to keep the whole place rolling along as best we can until the next class arrives. Their first day is October 6th, so we’ve got a couple of weeks to hold it together until the cavalry arrives to pitch in. The Maggie’s farmhouse is getting its yearly refurbish, with drywall, paint, plumbing and electrical work going on throughout the building. The farmhouse is more than two hundred years old, heavily used by many many people every day, and it takes some real work to keep it together through the year.

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The bull on the left, a steer on the right. Aside from the obvious differences between them, a bull also develops other visible traits that show his fertility. The clearest one shown here is the curly hair on his head and shoulders. 

 

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Dry beans processed and in storage.

The extended dry summer has given us the opportunity to brush-hog in pastures, corners and roads where we rarely get to go, and we have been able to tame some pretty wild areas of the farm. Surprisingly for a farm stretching along a ridge, we have quite a few spots that are consistently too wet to drive a tractor over, and those spots can end up growing some pretty gnarly stuff without the attention of the brush-hog. Though there are few benefits to long-term dry weather, one silver lining is the manicure we can put on all of those spots usually too swampy to address.