April 16th – April 22nd

This year’s piglets are checking out their new area. 

I took our two winter pigs up to the slaughterhouse on Wednesday, and the visit there renewed for me the question of our place in the meat production industry. Every visit to every slaughterhouse that I’ve been to has been a powerful reminder to me of the contrast between our animal’s experience here at the farm, and their experience at the slaughterhouse. I don’t think that there is any nice way to provide the service that slaughterhouses provide, and I am confident that the ones that we take our business to are doing the work as well as it can be done, but the nature of the work is certainly unpleasant. I think that the collection and short-term housing of livestock for processing will inherently involve a strong dose of indignity if it is going to be done in a way that the facility can afford. I can imagine an idealized facility that pampers every animal and gently ushers them onto the kill-floor, but that level of care would bankrupt any business attempting it, and would slow production to unacceptable levels. Because of the shortage of facilities in New England, there is a good deal of pressure on slaughterhouses in our area to process animals quickly and efficiently, and to work through the high level of animals being delivered to them every day. That pressure demands that their systems be efficient, in both time and staffing, and under that pressure there is not a lot of space left to consider the animal’s experience.

That stands in contrast to the attention that we pay here at the farm to the experience of every animal that we raise, where growth, health and comfort are really the three principal issues that we consider for all of our livestock. We invest a lot of time and effort into the day to day care of all of our animals, as well as thought in the design and implementation of the systems in which we raise those animals. We are committed to giving every animal as much opportunity as is possible to live out the character and

We’ve got some new chicks in the Sentinel Elm brooder. 

design inherent to them, letting pigs root in the soil, chickens peck through the grass, and cows graze out on the pastures. Slaughtering and butchering these animals on the farm, completing the final step in the cycle that takes them from birth to our freezer, would be the approach that would best honor the effort that we have put into their upbringing, as well as the innate virtue in each animal. Processing our animals on-farm would mean that they never left the farm, that they stayed in our care throughout their entire lives, including until their very last moment, that they could avoid the stress of travel and of spending time at the slaughterhouse. However, there is currently no practical way to achieve this on-farm processing within the USDA inspection system which allows us to sell our meat commercially.

The onion starts got their annual haircut. 

Our extended winter weather held on a bit longer this week, with several days of off-and-on snow, plenty of cold, wind and rain, and limited sun. The ten day forecast seems to imply that the pattern will change a bit next week, with ample sunshine and temperatures heading up into the sixties. The pastures have been inching slowly up over the past few weeks, but I think a dose of warm spring sun might get things really going out there as we head toward grazing season starting in early May. I hope to move our broiler chicks out into their pasture houses next week to make room for the layer chicks coming in the mail the following week, and I think they are ready to get out there and to start scratching through the grass and hunting bugs. Twenty piglets arrived at the farm on Thursday evening, and they have moved into our piglet training pen across the yard from the greenhouse at Sentinel Elm Farm. They came from the same farm as last year’s, born from the same sows, but

The old milk room has been gutted, and the floor has been jack-hammered out. We will pour a new floor and drain, put up some new walls and doors, and get things moving forward next week. 

with a different boar. They look great, and we have started work on their summer area in the hope of moving them out there before the end of May. Work has also started on our milk room renovation, with most of the demolition completed this weekend, in hopes that new cement, plumbing, walls and electrical can start this coming week. We have our first cow of the spring due May 8th, so we are eager to get the milk room back in as close to working order as is possible before the milk starts flowing again.

Alex has been roaring around the ridge, getting veggie acreage tilled up and cultivated as fast as it dries down, and with more rain in the forecast for Wednesday, this spell of dry sunny weather has him moving in top gear.
The hardening off house is put back together, and now we need the plastic to arrive so we can cover the frame and start moving in onions. 

April 9th – April 15th

Despite the spring feel to the week, we did have some frosty mornings.

This week really felt like spring here at The Farm School, with some bright sun, temperatures pushing seventy degrees, and the grass in the pastures really making solid progress toward the coming grazing season. We even had the windows in the brooder house open for a few days this week, letting in some nice fresh air and giving those not-so-little chicks their first taste of the great outdoors. The chicks need a bit more time in the brooder, warm and safe under the heat lamps, before they can move out into their pasture houses, and I expect we’ll give them ten or twelve more days before clearing them out. We have a big batch of laying chicks coming in the first week of May, so we’ll need to get the broiler chicks out, and the house cleaned, before the new arrivals can

The repair of the hardening-off house in progress

move in. I plan to run our broiler chicks in the Sheep Pasture this year, just north of the Maggie’s Farm complex, in the same area that we have run them the past few years. The sheep pasture has barely been keeping up with the grazing demands of our little sheep flock over the past few years, and the manure put down by the broilers has done a lot to keep that grass growing well. The broilers are delicious, they are a great addition to our meat CSA, and as an added bonus, their manure is one of our most effective pasture growth stimulators, if we manage them well and keep them moving.

Alex and the student farmers got out onto several parts of our veggie acreage this week to do the initial

Some of that soil, drying out in the sun

cultivation of the driest fields in preparation for the first round of spring planting. Alex keeps a really close eye on the weather during this period of cultivation, looking for the soil to dry out enough to support the tractor and to turn over well, and for the impending rain to stop his work. This stretch of the season is always a race between field prep and the veggie starts growing in the greenhouse, as Alex, Kate and the student farmers wait for stretches of dry weather and the chance to prepare bed space for the plants ready to leave the greenhouse. Some areas of soil in our driest fields was just starting to dry nicely by ThursdayFriday and Saturday of this week, but with a return to winter cold on Sunday, and more than an inch of rain forecasted to fall here on Monday and Tuesday, it seems likely that cultivation with have to stop for while again. Now the race is on to get the damaged hardening off house rebuilt in time to move starts in there, make room for new trays in the greenhouse, and buy ourselves a bit more time while we wait for the soil to dry.

The horse-draw implements and carts are back in the yard and ready for the growing season.

We seem to go through an extended and stressful search for feeder piglets to purchase every spring, looking for about thirty to fill the needs of both programs and our meat CSA. We have developed nice relationships with several wonderful pig farmers around the area, but we still cannot find someone to supply thirty pigs consistently every spring. This was another challenging spring, since the great farmer we got pigs from last year has decided to get out of the business. I have been searching for a while, and finally heard this week that the farmer we bought piglets from last year has sold his operation to another local farmer, and he’ll have twenty pigs ready for us next week. So we went from zero to twenty piglets coming next week in the span of a single phone call, and now the race is on to get the piglet training area setup, and to start getting the larger summer piglet system in shape. I have dreams of running the pigs over the North West Pasture this summer, hoping that they will be able to destroy the bed-straw that has taken over about seventy-five percent of that pasture. This would be a new area to run pigs in for us, and while there certainly are some significant challenges inherent in the idea, I think the benefits might make the effort worth it. The bed-staw has to be dealt with in some way, and the pigs offer us an intriguing alternative to tractor cultivation. We’ll start working on the pig setup next week, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

April 2nd – April 8th

Now it feels like the weather is just messing with us, swinging from what feels like spring,

Seems to still be winter, but the view is pretty nice. 

back into deep winter conditions in a matter of hours. We had a couple of days of sun, the pastures started looking a little green, and now we’re back under a couple of inches of snow and the thermometer fell below twenty several nights this week. These conditions have been tough for our new arrivals on the farm, but the lambs and chicks have been holding up so far. We have added about as much heat as I think we can in the brooder house, and the tiny chicks in there have found the warm spots and are staying pretty comfortable. The lambs have also found cozy hiding spots to keep out of the wind and snow, and as long as they keep well fed, they can withstand these difficult conditions. We have been paying some extra attention to getting newborn lambs dried off as quickly as is possible, trying to cut down on the time that they are out in the wind while they are still wet. The mother ewe usually does a great job licking them off, but we have providing a little extra drying, and we’ve hustled them inside the jugs and out of the weather.

The wind Wednesday night was strong enough to do some damage, smashing one of our shop doors. 

We started setting up seasonal electric fences for the beef herd this week, even though conditions and the weather gave no indication that the grazing season might be only weeks away. We have been working to shift the balance of fencing from seasonal temporary fences to permanent high-tensile fences, cutting down on the amount of fencing that has to be put up every spring and taken down every fall. This lightens the spring work load a bit, at a time when there are so many other projects to complete that we are always looking for extra time and workers just to keep up with all of it. However, those permanent high-tensile fences are a big investment, and stay in place for many many years, and we need to be sure that we know exactly how we want them setup before we build them. This often means that we are going to invest quite a bit of time and effort into a fence location before building the high-tensile fence, clearing brush, grading and leveling, and trying to get everything in a condition that can last for the next ten or fifteen years.

All of our tomato and pepper seeds for the coming growing season have been started in

We’re keeping the brooder house warm and cozy for the new chicks. 

the greenhouse, and now we are just waiting for the magic of germination to happen. Alex converted two old refrigerators into germination chambers this winter, and we have been using those to encourage more robust germination whenever possible. The greenhouse is filling up, and with snow still on the ground, it seems like we may run into a little bind getting veggie beds tilled and prepped in time to get our beautiful starts in the ground in a timely manner. We had some pretty intense wind here at the farm on Wednesday night, and the plastic cover on the hardening-off house next to the greenhouse was mostly torn off. Our veggie starts typically move to the hardening-off house for a bit before planting in the fields, so the repair of that building is another project that we are hoping to get taken care of as quickly as we can. The work continues next week, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it all goes.

March 26th – April 2nd

Back to winter

The weather around here seemed to change pretty quickly just after I wrote about our prolonged winter conditions last update, and we ended up with a stretch of really nice spring weather through most of the week. The snow had just about all melted, and with nice sunny days, the ground dried out a bit, roads and yards firmed up, and the pastures even began to take on just the faintest tint of green. However, as I am writing this Monday morning, snow is falling heavily here in central Massachusetts, and the pastures, roads, stonewalls, and everything else, is white again. The forecast calls for temperatures to approach fifty degrees under sunny skies by this afternoon, so it seems that we’ve really entered that crazy time in the spring when the seasons don’t really seem to know what they want to do.

There are buds developing on the trees up and down the ridge, but still no hint of any

Onion starts

color in the trees at all. We pulled most of the sugar maple taps this week since since the trees were starting to make yellow cloudy sap, though we still have some taps in trees on cool, sheltered northern slopes. My thoughts have been consumed with reseeding our winter feeding yards, how the pasture is regrowing after winter dormancy, and different patterns we could try when it comes time to restart grazing.

Our weekend chore team discovered two pairs of lambs at chore time Saturday morning, so our lambing season has officially started. Both sets of lambs are in jugs with their mothers, and doing great. I think we’ll let the more experienced ewe and her babies back out with the group either Monday or Tuesday. That means lambs running around the sheep yard, getting into all kinds of trouble, and being super cute. We have 18 ewes total, with a few that I bet are not bred, so we are expecting more than a dozen more ewes to deliver their lambs before we’re done. Many ewes will have twin lambs, and with enough good quality feed, they can make plenty of milk for both, and raise nice big healthy youngsters by the fall. Some will have only a single lamb, and while this cuts into our production numbers a bit, the single lamb does end up growing larger than a twin since it gets more milk and attention from the ewe.
Greenhouse work

We’ve dried off our last milk cow, and we won’t be milking for the next five weeks. This is a strange break for us, but we’re hoping to take the opportunity to renovate the milk room, and to also really get everything setup nicely for the coming calves. We are going to try to feed our dry cows an alternate diet this year for the first time, trying to avoid the challenges that we faced with milk fever last spring. The heart of the issue is a cow’s

Frank and Ethel are growing up, but they’re still pretty cute. 

ability to meet the extreme demand for calcium that her first big bag of milk requires after her calf is born. Calcium is vital to the milk, but also vital to muscle and nerve function, and when it quickly exits the cow’s blood stream to enter the udder, the cow can lose strength, collapse, and ultimately die.  Manipulating her diet in the weeks before calving can better position her to find the required calcium she needs without putting herself in danger, and we have been working with our local veterinarian to develop a feeding plan to try here at our farm.

Soil block creation

We have our first batch of chicks scheduled

Ready to grow

to come in the mail this week, and the brooder is almost ready to receive them. With a nice wood shavings floor, some heat lamps and heat plates, organic chick starter mash and fresh water, we are eager to get those little tinies out of their shipping box and to get them warm and fed. This first batch will be the birds that we raise for meat, and we are raising both Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers this year. I have always wanted to raise both types of pastured chickens side by side to see which type does better in our system, and I am really excited to have the opportunity to try it out this year. I think we will try some houses full of a mix of the two types, as well as houses specific to each type too. This will give us a chance to compare feed consumption between the two, as well as having some raised in exactly the same conditions to compare. I am excited to see how they grow, and to let you know all about it.

3/19 – 3/26

The ponds around the farm are freezing and thawing daily, making incredible patterns every morning.

Winter is clinging to the farm, with snow still covering a good portion of the pastures, and lying thick through the woods and shady places all over the farm. Our ten day forecast does include some warmer days, but most nights look like they’ll being going well down into the twenties. We are almost always grazing by the first week of May, so April is certainly lining up to be quite a month for transition and change from where we are now, to pastures full of grass. We set up lambing jugs at Maggie’s Farm this week, in anticipation of lambs starting to come the first week of April. We really try to avoid cold weather lambing, so I am eager for this extended winter weather pattern to change before lambing gets going. We also have our first batch of chicks coming in the mail the first week of April, and I hope temperatures aren’t really cold for those little ones too. These signs of the coming production season seem to be in disagreement with the wintery scene still apparent around the farm, but I expect that things will come back into alignment with a snap any time now. Any time that I’m feeling like spring will never really get here, I remember five or six years ago when we were lambing with temperatures in the nineties, and running a sprinkler on the roof of the old lambing shed to keep the place cool since there were no leaves to cast shade yet. The weather here in New England is unpredictable, changes quickly, and always keeps us on our toes.

This coming week will be our last week milking Phoenix before we dry her off next

We are rebuilding a high tensile fence 10 or 20 yards deeper into the woods along the east side of the Runway pasture, and we’ve put up our bracket holders on the trees as a first step.

weekend. Once she is dried off, we will have no cows in milk for a month, before Patty is due the first week of May. Although this is not a situation that we like to be in, and one that came about because we had to cull Emily unexpectedly, we are going to try to take advantage of the milking break to renovate our milk room. The cement floor is a little rough after years of use, the walls could use a little refreshing, and this will be a chance to renew the plumbing and electrical setup, and refresh our sinks and shelves as well. We also have plans to remove the large two-hundred and-fifty-gallon bulk tank, and to replace it with a much smaller ninety-gallon version. This planned removal means that we are going to have to tear down one of the walls of the milk room, since the bulk tank will not fit through either of the doors. All of this work is the first step in our planned development of a pasteurization facility attached to the existing milk room, with dreams of pasteurizing our milk and developing a product that we can sell or consume on the farm.

Student farmers pruned blueberries this week, trimming and cleaning up the hundreds of bushes at Blue Ox Farm, a local blueberry operation that we work with every year. We harvest blueberries at Blue Ox throughout their production season, leaving some with them to sell on sight, and taking some to sell at our farmer’s market tables and in our veggie CSA. This partnership has worked really well for both The Farm School and Blue Ox Farm, giving us a wonderful resource we wouldn’t otherwise have, and giving them a large and constant customer, and a pruning crew. The students also had a great workshop about accessing farm land, lead by a representative from Land for Good, an introduction to honey bee farming with our great alum Anne, and a trip to Cold Springs Farm to learn about pruning grape vines. The students were also busy in the greenhouse, seeding more trays and giving the tiny onion starts all the tender love and care that they need to grow up vigorous and delicious. Work continued in the winter hoop house, transitioning from beds of spinach to a blank canvas for our summer tomatoes, and we got the first run of trellising up successfully. I’ll include a write up and some pictures once that project really gets going!

March 12th – March 18th

Onion starts in the greenhouse

The Farm School was hit with another pretty significant snowstorm Monday night and Tuesday, with almost another foot of snow added on top of last week’s total. We’ve had to change our plans and delay projects to accommodate the snow, pushing back blueberry pruning and the start of electric fence season, and making access to our various yards and roads much more difficult. A month ago there seemed to be a regular chorus of stories in print and on the radio describing how spring is now measurably and consistently about two weeks earlier that the historical average, and while I am 100% sure that that is true for most of the world, here in the middle of Massachusetts, we seem to have slipped back into the middle of winter. The ground had almost fully thawed before we resumed our winter a couple of weeks ago, so the farm has been particularly sloppy after all of this snow on top of the muddy ground. Walking through fields and pastures is a strange sensation with soft ground beneath the soft snow above, and it seems like quite a bit of damage could be done to our pastures, paths and driveways if we’re not careful. Snow plowing is really difficult when the ground under the snow is not frozen, and the plow truck is rattled almost to pieces as the plow digs into the soft mud under the snow. We have another snowstorm forecasted for the middle of the coming week, which would be our fourth in the past three weeks, and another for the weekend, even further deepening this springs strange weather.

This early spring season seems to be the last chance to finish up projects before the real rush of the growing season starts, but the list of things that we would like to get done still seems to grow longer and longer, rather than shorter. We finished adapting the automatic doors on one of our pasture egg-mobiles to meet AWA standards this week, and will turn our attention to the other two egg-mobiles next week. We also finally

Sentinel Elm collects all the old layers, but they look good, and keep laying eggs!

installed a gate between our new brooder house and the side of the Maggie’s barn, giving farmers a much shorter route from the barn hayloft down to the sheep’s hay feeder. Alex had various pieces of cultivating and seeding equipment down in the garage for fine-tuning before they have to go into use in the coming weeks, though the snowy landscape gives this work just the tiniest feeling of absurdity. Alex’s record show that a few years ago, he began cultivating his first fields by next week’s time. This also feels like our last chance to get together to talk about big plans and ideas before the cascading work of the production season shifts our focus so directly to the many tasks immediately at hand. The dreams we share of ways to adapt and enhance this collective endeavor are the fuel that keep the work humming along at the fevered clip that we’ve grown accustomed to, and it feels really important to make as much time and space as we possibly can for dreaming, while we still can.

We have plans to grow this year’s tomatoes in our hoop-house over the summer, and we are working to get that space ready for the effort. This week’s work has been focused on harvesting and clearing the rest of the winter’s spinach from the beds in the hoop-house,

The hoop house, before clearing the beds

and we have been researching and developing a design and plan for the trellis structures that will support the tomatoes as they grow. There a many different ways to support growing tomatoes, and we are hoping to develop a high-tensile trellis system that will allow us to prune and tie up our plants for optimum air flow, health and fruit production. Our plan calls for five long trellis structures running east to west, each with a row of tomato plants on each side. We plan to build the first prototype this week, and I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

March 5th – March 12th

A mixing of the seasons

As the same milestones in the farm year come around again and again, I sometimes start to worry that these weekly updates from the farm have become a bit repetitive in describing these events year after year. Imagining the year on the farm like the face of a clock, with a pointer slowly revolving around, it is clear that we pass over the same ground again and again. The cycle is broken into the four seasons, and further into months, but there are other distinctions, linked directly to the conditions of the natural world, that control much of the work we do. Hours of daylight, freeze and thaw, wet and dry; all these dynamics divide our time into tangible pieces, they all fluctuate, they rise and fall moment by moment, making every day fresh, despite the repetitions of the year.

Farmers here at The Farm School got back into the greenhouse this week, starting with mostly trays of onions. This marks a significant turning in the production year and adds the first

The sugar shack and our gear

load onto the wagon of enterprises that we will try to navigate through the coming growing season. The opening of the greenhouse season is also another important step up on the ladder of responsibility for our student farmers, and one that we have worked hard to leverage in their development as farmers. The responsibilities of the firewood quotas and livestock chores have laid a foundation of accountability and management, but the delicate greenhouse, and its thousands of dollars of potential produce, offers a deeper and more acute charge. The awoken greenhouse is also a marker for the start of the growing season, the end of the idle dreams of the dark winter months, and an alarm sounding that all those little projects and distractions begun when the span of winter seemed to stretch on ahead of us unendingly must be buttoned up and resolved before the trees bud out, the pastures green up, and headlong rush into summer sweeps us all away.

We have had to move along two great cows in our little dairy this week, opening up two spots in the milking lineup that have now been filled by Eclipse and Pepper. Both of these heifers were born last summer; Eclipse from Emily, and Pepper from the

Eclipse is settling into her new spot in the barn. 

indomitable Patty. Emily, who tested positive for Staph Aureus Mastitis last year, tested positive again this spring, and our veterinarian advised us that she would carry the bacteria for the rest of her life, and that we should cull her from the barn. This strain of mastitis, although not particularly dangerous to the cow’s health, is markedly contagious, and will degrade milk production and quality. In an effort to avoid the pathogen spreading throughout our herd, we aimed to eliminate the source. We also culled the wonderful Daisy this week, removing the ornery boss of the herd and breaking all of our hearts here at the farm. Daisy, with unpredictable and subtle heats, has always been a bit of challenge to breed, and after some serious efforts to get her bred this winter, we got word a couple of weeks ago that she was still open. Unfortunately, a dairy cow that doesn’t breed, doesn’t make milk, and can’t be a part of the milking lineup. Daisy was one of the two cows we bought six or seven years ago as we renewed our dairy operation, and she has made tons and tons of milk for us over the years, some great calves, and occupied a unique and powerful place in the experience of thousands of visiting students and student farmers.

February 26th – March 4th

The sugaring wagon, in all its splendor

February has turned into March, we’ve tapped the sugar maples, and smoke is rising from the sugar-shack chimney. Though is has seemed to be mud season just about all winter long here in Massachusetts, we are now really in the part of the year when thawing and mud are fully in control. The roads and driveways, paths and parking lots, are all pretty soft, with the road between Sentinel Elm Farm and Maggie’s Farm being a particularly bumpy and sloppy treat. Our livestock yards and pathways are pretty unpleasant, and we have an order in for a few more dump trucks worth of wood chips to try to improve the situation. This is our second winter in a row with more days of soft muddy thaw than deep hard freeze, and it is forcing me to reconsider how we house our livestock in the winter. Our systems are currently based on an expectation of frozen ground to keep the animals relatively high and dry, but it seems that that expectation no longer holds. All the animals have nice dry deep bedded shelter to go into, but their yards and paths are

Shearing under Fred’s watchful eye

in bad shape. I hope to spend some solid time this spring, summer and fall researching alternative ways to comfortably house livestock in the winter, and ideally have the chance to take a look at some other approaches on farms around New England. I’m pretty confident that there are quite a few other farmers facing the same challenges that we are facing, and I’m sure this will be a pertinent issue around our area. Maybe I’ll even be able to find a workshop or two in the summer conference season addressing this situation.

We sheared the sheep this week, cutting off a year’s worth of wool growth in just a few

The sugaring season record, so far

minutes, and shrinking the volume of our little twenty sheep flock almost in half. The sheep also get their hoofs trimmed at shearing time, as well as getting their annual vaccination booster. We make our sheep walk quite a bit, so in general, their hoofs are in great shape. However, with the mucky conditions they’ve been wading through most of the winter, I was a little concerned that we’d tip them over and find some foot rot or other issue with their wet feet. I am happy to report that everyone’s hoofs were found to be in great shape, and they’ve been well trimmed and cleaned up for another year of high stepping. We changed vaccines this year, moving up to a seven strain version that should give us some protection from most of the Clostridium based illnesses, like black leg and over-eating disease. Shearing time is also fruit tree pruning time, and we had students scrambling up pruning ladders all over the ridge this week. We have little orchards in several locations at both farms, and in back-yards all around the neighborhood, and the pruners had a busy week trying to get it all done.

Quite a powerful storm blasted through New England between Thursday night and Saturday morning, though we were spared most of the trouble out here at The Farm

The greenhouse opens for business Monday morning.

School. We got about an inch of rain through the day on Friday, with strong wind, and even a spit of snow once in a while too. Further north, the storm dropped more than a foot of snow, and further east the flooding and storm surge did considerable damage, but we missed most of it. Our livestock yards, roads, paths and driveways certainly didn’t need any more moisture, but things seem to be drying out pretty well now.

With the ground quickly thawing and turning soft, we had to make a sudden end to our firewood production out in the Runway pasture. Josh, Brad, Tyson and the student farmers put together a valiant final effort to get out the logs they could, burn off the slash, and clean the yard before things turned to soup and real damage could be done to the pasture. We hadn’t quite met our yearly quota for fire wood, so the loggers poked around in a couple other less

Some of this year’s maple goodness

delicate locations to find enough logs to fill out the last nooks and crannies of the firewood pile.

Next week I’ll give you an update on changes in the dairy hard. Thanks!


February 6th – February 11th

The buck and a ram in the bachelor pen

This was another week that fit our usual winter pattern, with our student farmers splitting their time between classes inside, and time out at the firewood landing. Business planning, garden planning, and crop planning continued, we looked at the livestock budgets for the last few years, and on Friday afternoon, the students presented their work on an electric fencing assignment. The work at the landing transitioned from producing short wood stove length firewood to the longer wood boiler material, which mostly means that hand splitting is over, and the hydraulic splitters are now the most critical component of the work. We have found that the longer boiler length pieces are just too long to split effectively by hand, but with two splitters going full time, we can get through the work. We had a nice little snow storm during the day Wednesday, and the visiting seventh and eighth graders from the Mission Hill School got on the bus early Wednesday morning to head back into Boston before the roads got really bad. Their classmates were scheduled to come out to spend the rest of the week with us, but they canceled, and the farm was quiet to end the week. These were the first students back on the farm since early December, and it was really wonderful to see and hear them re-enliven the place, fill the bunkhouse, and get some wonderful work done on the farm. The seventh and eighth graders from Mission Hill have been coming out to the farm

The sheep shed has worked well in these tough conditions. 

every school year since kindergarten, they know this place intimately, and their return is like having family for a visit. Theirs was a fantastic group to restart this year of programming at The Farm School.

On Monday, our student farmers met with the veterinarian, Dr. Mark Ledoux, and castrated last summer’s bull calves in the beef herd. This is an annual course of action here at the farm, and we wait until the ground is frozen and the weather is cold to make sure that our animals will not face any mud or insect pressure after the procedure. Dr. Ledoux teaches the students three different approaches to castration, usually starting with a surgical technique that gives everyone the chance to see the internal workings of the organ so that they have a clear understanding of how the other two techniques will work. We move on to banding, the application of a strong rubber band around the top of the scrotum to stop blood flow and kill the testicles below, and then try the Burdizzo, a device similar to a pair of pliers which, when used properly, breaks the blood vessels to the testicles without cutting the skin. There were ten calves to treat from last year’s calving season, though two were heifers and did not need castration, so there was plenty of work to go around. Every calf also got their two vaccine injections, protection against most respiratory infections and another to prevent most clostridium based infections. All of the castration work was done under general sedation, and the calf that was surgically castrated also got a local anesthesia. This makes the work environment much safer for our students, makes the work a bit easier for everyone, and prevents the calves from feeling the brunt of their discomfort. Despite the sedation, Dr. Ledoux also teaches our students several useful rope restraint techniques to immobilize the animal and make the work safer and easier. These calves are three hundred pounds or more by this point, and quite powerful, and it is vital that we do everything that we can to keep the animals and the farmers safe. One drawback of using sedation is that we cannot do this work with temperatures below ten degrees for

The ground in every animal enclosure has turned to ice.

fear that the sedated animals will lie out still and immobilized for too long on the cold ground. Sedation also requires that we position and support the calves properly after their procedure since a ruminant animal needs the ability to almost constantly burp and release the digestive gasses being generated in their rumens. The gas can end up trapped at the top of their stomachs if they lie out flat, and the pressure that builds up can dangerously impede their breathing. We make sure that they end up lying on their briskets with their heads up as much as is possible, and check them regularly to make sure everyone stays upright and is back on their feet as soon as they can be. The whole operation went very smoothly this year, the calves are recovering quite well, and I don’t think that the students were too shocked by the work.

January 29th – February 5th

New front doors on the greenhouse

This winter’s firewood yard cranked up into full production this week, and with our whole community on the sight for a few hours on Wednesday morning, wagonloads of split firewood have started rolling out for delivery all over the ridge. We usually start the season making the shorter fourteen or sixteen-inch home wood stove length cords, before moving on to the longer thirty-six inch pieces for the outdoor wood burning furnaces. The shorter fire wood is easily hand split with a maul, so we had an impressive army of farmers swinging mauls Wednesday, turning large rounds into fine split firewood ready to stack and dry until next winter. This year’s cut has been marked out along the eastern edge of the long thin beef pasture that we call the Runway, and the student farmers have been able to drop the trees into the open space of the pasture. We’ve found, after several years of training new loggers, that our students, and the whole process, really benefit from the simplicity of dropping and processing trees in more open space than inside the forest would allow. This location is also giving us the added benefit of expanding the pasture a bit, and since we have had to remove the high-tensile fence at the edge of the pasture to cut the trees, we’re planning to move the fence deeper into the woods to give the cows an expanded space for shade. We have also stepped up our scheduling and tracking for the tree felling and bucking part of the program this year, trying to make sure that every student gets multiple

No more ducks, so we’re dismantling their fortress. 

opportunities to cut down trees with one-on-one instructor guidance, and to follow that up with extended work bucking up their trees with staff support. We have found, over the years, that students can begin to self-select away from the more nerve-racking work of dropping trees and bucking them up, and we want to ensure that everyone gets a good hold on these skills.

The student farmers had more great classes this week as well, continuing their crop planning series of workshops, their business planning classes, more fiber arts work, and another in the garden planning series. As usual, we do our best to mix plenty of work out on the farm in between all of these classes to give everyone the chance to stay in shape, and to have some time to digest all that they’ve learned.

A look down the milking line, with everyone relaxing inside

The Program for Visiting Schools starts again on the 5th, so we spent this past week meeting, planning and getting everything ready for kids to be back on the farm. We did our annual review of the daily schedule, going through the details of every part, making sure each one is serving the kids and their experience as well as it possibly can, and adapting things accordingly. This has been a really fruitful and valuable process for us over the years, keeping the program vital and fresh, renewing its connection to our mission, and giving every farmer a voice in crafting the environment they’re working in. We didn’t make any huge changes this year, but did develop a new alternative schedule to use when the kids end up arriving late. We also spent time this week preparing our four major work areas, getting the bunkhouse all setup for kids to move back in, and whipping the whole place into shape in general.