Sept. 11-16

The Farm School’s Learn to Farm Program runs almost a full year, from the beginning of October through the middle of the following September. It has been an evolving program over its entire existence, and we’ve continued working to perfect the mix and balance of experiences that make up the year. Our goal of farmer training is ambitious, and we try to pack so much into every student’s experience that we feel an immense pressure to

IMG_5362
One more fall beef calf

sustain a resilient balance among the countless student undertakings. We alway strive to furnish each student with the broadest and deepest possible set of knowledge and experiences, and to temper all of it with as much authenticity as we can. We made a couple of changes to the end of our program this year that addressed these concepts, and really seemed to make the student experience even better than it had been.

We have recognized over the past few years that many students need to leave the Learn to Farm Program a couple of weeks early to either go back to school or to take a fall job on another farm. In response to that recognition, this year we offered the option of an earlier completion date for the program, and just under half of our students chose that option. Rather than students trickling out over the last few weeks, this year we had a fixed date for early departure, and we were able to tailor specific programing to address the final phase of the program for the students who stayed. With about half of the original group still on the farm for the last three weeks, we developed a simpler capstone style schedule with the aim of really emphasizing the management and direction of the work of the farm. The students chose to spend their last three weeks in either the vegetable or livestock tracks, and they were pushed into the roll of planning, scheduling and managing the work of the farm. We hoped to give them the chance to move beyond simply using the skills and

IMG_5388
The dairy herd enjoying fresh grass

knowledge that they had developed here over the past year, and to start placing those skills and knowledge into the larger tapestry of the working farm. We also wanted to give these students a block of time to feel a bit more of the weight of responsibility, still within our safe setting and supported by the staff, and to recognize some of the pressure of being answerable for the whole operation.

This was a really exciting and wonderful way to culminate our program year, and it felt like a perfect way to empower and celebrate the development of this year’s class. The work that was accomplished was truly amazing, and the maturation of each student as farmers was remarkable to see. The students in the vegetable track took control of our vegetable acreage, managed harvests and CSA pack-outs, cultivated beds, staffed the markets, and through it all, proved themselves fully capable of overseeing this scale organic vegetable operation. I think that every teacher here at The Farm School was thrilled to watch the new vegetable managers confidence grow through the three week capstone block, and to watch them rise to this

IMG_5393
Dave’s finished barn

challenge. The students in the livestock track took over full management of all of our diverse livestock enterprises, managing the grazing rotations for the beef, sheep and chickens, and maintaining all of the systems that keep the pigs fat and well fed. They split their time between managing the livestock and doing two great building projects, finishing Dave’s timber frame barn, and building our new sheep alfalfa feeder. The barn had been a bare frame with a finished roof, and after three weeks of hard work, it now has beautiful board-and-batten walls, windows and a gorgeous sliding door. The project has improved the visual beauty of our working farm to a remarkable degree, and it is going to give Dave the opportunity to really get on his land and get to work. The alfalfa feeder, imagined and designed by the students, will allow us to feed the sheep alfalfa pellets without having to go into their yard with full buckets of their favorite food, avoiding the hurly-burly struggle that we all dreaded every afternoon. Both of these projects have had

IMG_5395
The new alfalfa feeder

remarkable and positive impacts on this farm and community immediately, they were both finished on-time, and I think every student in the livestock track has mastery and confidence in their building skills.

Today is the graduation for the Learn to Farm students of 2016/17, and it marks a bittersweet moment for all of us here at the farm. This is a wonderful group of young farmers that we have all grown to know well, and to love for their strength of character and determination to engage in the work of farming. We are truly and deeply sorry to see them leave the farm, but we are all so excited to see them go off onto their next adventures. We know they will bring joy and a can-do spirit anywhere lucky enough to have them! Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2016/17!

Advertisements

September 2nd-9th

It has been a couple of weeks since I’ve had the chance to sit down for an update on the work going on at The Farm School, and I feel like there is quite a bit to report. We have had some great late summer weather over the past few weeks, and with two inches of

IMG_5328
Sunrise over the dairy barn

rain this week, plants and pastures are looking flush up and down the ridge. All the moisture in the soil should mean a vigorous fall of growth, and I am optimistic that we can have a strong late grazing season. We try to graze to the end of October, taking into consideration the damage that can be done when grazing pasture that has gone dormant and will not recover before truly cold weather sets in. We usually do not quite reach the end of October, but I have some hope that this rainy weather may give us a chance this year. A longer fall grazing season will shorten the period of winter hay feeding, keep our cows and sheep happier, and save us some money.

We have taken the first batch of pigs off for processing, and have another scheduled to go on Monday. That run will take care of the rest of the eleven larger pigs that we

IMG_5335
The grapes are ripening, but not quite ready yet. 

scrambled to find a processing date for, and will leave an additional twenty-four that still need some more time to grow. We have those later pigs scheduled to go to processing in batches of ten through October. With about a month left to grow, I am hopeful that we will end up with some really nice pigs. There are a couple of pigs in the group who’s growth and size has not really kept up with everyone else’s, and I am considering keeping them through the winter to put on some more weight. We usually raise a few winter pigs that get a pretty milk rich diet, grow enormous, and go off for processing before mud season makes loading them impossible.

Our Thanksgiving turkeys are growing well in their mobile houses out on pasture, and their twice-daily IMG_5325moves have carried them, and their powerful manure, over a large section of our dairy pastures. We are happy to reap the dual benefits of happy healthy turkeys and super powered pastures that this approach gives us, and we get delicious turkeys at the end. This year, for the first time, we stocked one of our turkey houses with smallest couple birds from all the other houses, hoping that getting the little ones their own house, and feeder, might give them a bit more access to the food, and a better chance to grow.

IMG_5349
This year’s rental bull at work

We had one more surprise calf in the beef herd last week, bringing our total for the year up to eleven. This calf arrived quite a while after our last one, and came as a real surprise to me. We would like to keep the bull in with the cows for about three months, giving him enough time to breed the majority of the cows, but limiting the calving season to a time frame that we can keep an eye on. Last year’s bull lingered for quite a while, I think finally getting picked up right around January 1st, and leading to this bonus calf. This year’s bull went in with the cows right at the end of August, and he is with the herd now, doing his work. We usually try to get the breeding season started in the first week of August, but I got a little sidetracked with a new baby and the bull was delayed.

We have one more week until the end of the Learn to Farm year, and the arrangement of IMG_5337the program has shifted for this final few weeks to try to give the students the chance to manage the farm. They have spent the past eleven months learning skills and developing an understanding of the farm, and we try to give them space at the end of the year to step into the decision making position. This is an exciting time for the students, and a really rewarding time for the staff as we watch this group of wonderful young farmers step forward and take hold of our farm, carry it forward, and thrive.

I’ve missed lots of great work and growth from around the farm that’s happened over the past few weeks, but this update feels long enough. I’ll try to get everything else in next week!

Summer Break

IMG_5322I’ve been on paternity leave for the past few weeks, holding a brand-new baby girl, and watching the late summer moving past my window. We’ve had some good rain, some nice sunny days, and we’ve dodged most of the really hot humid weather that usually makes August so tough on the farm. The pasture grasses have been growing well all summer, and the consistent rains have set us up for what is looking like a pretty nice fall of grazing and fattening up for processing dates coming in October and November.

 

I will send out a full update at the end of this week, thanks for reading!

July into August

We got a half an inch of rain Thursday night, and after another week of summery

IMG_5156 (1)
The dairy herd enjoying North West Pasture, and the top of Sentinel Elm Farm

weather here at The Farm School, I’m feeling quite relieved for the pastures to have gotten that recharge. We had a nice soaking rain on Monday of last week, but nothing since, and with some really hot dry weather, things were starting to droop all over the farm. We had some near misses on afternoon thunder storms throughout this week, but finally had a nice rainfall just after dark Friday night, and the pastures and vegetables have freshened right up. There looks to be some solid rain in the ten day forecast, and I am optimistic that we will continue to stay wet enough for the pastures and veggies to grow well through August. There had been some loose talk among the vegetable growers about starting irrigation on certain crops next week, but we’ll have to see if this rain, and more to come, changes those plans. Broccoli plants have grown enough to start putting on the edible heads, and that process can be enhanced with consistent and ample water.

IMG_5136
Fresh water on fresh pasture for the beef herd

The sunny hot weather this week forced us to make some small changes in our beef herd grazing plan, but we were able to keep the herd moderately comfortable throughout the heat wave, and they did some good grazing along the way. They spent most of the week in Best Pasture, and instead of breaking it up into three sections, we gave them the whole thing for three days. We added an annex at the north end of their pasture that gave them access to a nice shady yard under the edge of the forest, and they took advantage of the opportunity to get out of the afternoon sun every day. We prefer to break pastures up into small single-day paddocks to ensure that the cows are not re-grazing individual grass plants, and to give the grass as many days as we possibly can to regrow before the next round of grazing. The singe three-day pasture that we used this week was not really in keeping with these ideals, but it was a small compromise that gave the cows a much more comfortable experience through this hot summer weather. The dairy cows also get single-day paddocks to graze, and this week we gave them fresh grass every morning and brought them back into the barn just after lunch to get them out of the sun. They stayed in through afternoon chores, and headed back out for some more grazing around six in the evening, once the heat of the day had passed. The cool cement floor of the barn keeps that space pretty pleasant, no matter how hot it gets outside, and I think our ladies stayed pretty comfortable in there.

Our tomato harvest has just started coming to life, with SunGolds and cherry tomatoes available at our farm-stand Thursday night at the end of the last session of summer programming, and larger tomatoes ripening on windowsills at the Maggie’s farmhouse.

IMG_5150
Tomato sandwiches have taken over our diets!

SunGolds ripe for picking in the home gardens, huge trays of beautiful slicing tomatoes stacking up in wash-up, and fresh tomatoes in every meal means the peak of summer at The Farm School, and it is a time of year that we all really look forward to. Josh has been doing regular Wednesday canning and preserving sessions in the Learn to Farm Program, and that work will turn to tomato based products starting next week.

I cruised the pastures on Friday afternoon, and there is a lot of grass out there. We’ve had some great rain this summer, lots of sun, and we have not had any really long baking, hot, dry weather to truly shut down the pasture growth. Rain is by far the most significant factor controlling grass growth, and these July and August rains have made our grazing acreage lush and beautiful.

Summer Rain

In last week’s update I revealed my growing worries about a lack of rain, but we got

IMG_5080
Alex and the Cub, veggie-masters

more than a full inch of wonderful, gentle, soaking rain on Monday, and a bit more on Thursday, and things are looking up again here at The Farm School. The dust has been washed off the leaves, the pasture plants are standing up tall and practically glimmering in the bright sun, and I am optimistic again about the next few weeks of our grazing plan. Rain in July is a real treat, giving plants braced for the hot dry stretch of summer weather a respite from the persistent drying of the sun, and a boost of energy and vigor. I always expect July and August to be rainless and hot, so this storm system was a real treat that the pastures, veggies, and I truly enjoyed.

IMG_5127
The pullets marching down their ramp for the first time

We moved our pullets out of the brooder this week, shifting them into the new egg mobile that Josh and the student farmers built this spring. They spent a night getting used to the their new accommodations, and then headed out to a fenced pasture paddock in the Middle Earth Pasture. They will move every other week or so, getting fresh ground to hunt for insects and other good things to eat, and doing their part to help till up some acreage to make space for better grass. They had a little trouble figuring out how to get back inside the house after their first day outside, and I ended up spending a good deal of time on my belly under the house last night, catching them one at a time and putting them on roosts inside the house. Needless to say, the ground under the coop was not the cleanest place to crawl around, and I am hoping that they can do a bit better for themselves in the days to come.

IMG_5075
New micro-compost bins at Sentinel Elm Farm

Going back through these weekly updates over the past few months, the growth that the new animals have put on is really clear to see. We see the pigs, turkeys, calves and pullets every day, so it is hard to see their growth from day to day. When I track back through these pictures however, their rapid development becomes crystal clear, and it is really impressive to see. It would be really interesting to take a picture of the same young animal every week, and to track it’s growth through the season to watch it develop. Like most ideas on the farm; ‘maybe next year’.

Veggie plants and fruit trees are really showing the maturation of the season, with apples and pears developing really nicely on some of the trees at Maggie’s Farm, and the corn tasseling beautifully in the home garden as well.

There are tomatoes and peppers plumping up out in the fields, melons and squash everywhere, and the wealth of the fall harvest season is truly starting to show all around the farm. The period from August through the end of October is really the most abundant time of the farm, with the young animals reaching their full potential, fruit and veggies bursting out, and cold storage filling up.

Summer Heat

IMG_5047
The turkey poults are growing. 

We are at the end of a week of real summer weather, with every afternoon topping out right around ninety degrees this week, plenty of humidity to make everything sticky, and no rain in sight. With a full week without rain, I am starting to get worried about our pastures again, though we are not in any real danger yet. We have had a really nice growing season so far, with ample rain arriving with just the right timing, so I think our soil is still holding a pretty nice level of moisture.

We had one last surprise calf in the beef herd to start the week, and the hot weather has been a challenge for that baby who has not yet figured out to seek shade during the heat of the day. The cows are headed into one of their longest stretches of pasture without shade trees on the pasture edges, but the ten-day weather forecast looks like they will not be facing much really hot weather. They are moving into a large pasture in two sections

IMG_5064
Our enormous Berkshire pigs

that we call Lower Barn Pasture and Lower Racetrack Pasture. This is acreage that we cut hay off of so far this season rather than graze, and it has grown back as a lush stand of dark green forage that I think the cows are really going to enjoy. Great grazing means more milk for the calves, and it means growth and weight gain for the steers that we plan to take for processing this fall. Growth, and taking in enough energy to start laying down inter-muscular fat, is what makes beef tender and delicious, and this next stretch of grazing promises to be a really productive period of growth for our beef animals.

We picked up a little load of sixty bales this week, finishing off our first cut quota for storage for the year, and topping off the dairy barn hayloft almost all the way to the ceiling. It feels great to have a huge supply of winter feed, and puts us in a much better position than we were in last year when we scrambled to get just more than half this much during the drought.

IMG_5044
Racks of curing garlic in the hoop house

Alex and the student farmers harvested the garlic this week, and moved it into the hoop house to cure. The garlic was planted in the fall of last year, just in time to take root before going dormant for the winter under a deep bed of mulch straw. It put shoots up through the mulch in the spring, grew tall scapes that we harvested, and put on nice big bulbs over the last few warm months. We will take cloves out of the harvest to use ourselves as seed, sell the rest, and replant again this fall to complete the cycle and keep process going.

We are headed into our last session of summer programming at Sentinel Elm Farm on Monday, and this final program runs for two weeks with the oldest kids of the summer. We are looking forward to getting some serious work done with these able-bodied kids, and we’re hoping to really get the farm into tip-top shape before the place quiets down for a stretch until school groups come again at the end of August. One big project that I anticipate working on a lot is a new house and yard for our two growing ram lambs and buck goat, hoping to get them away from the girls before we have

IMG_5057
Our little goat herd working on a new hedgerow

unintended pregnancies. These new breeders will live together, as laid out in the AWA rules prohibiting animals from living alone, and will cycle in and out of their respective herds for breeding seasons.

The Middle of July

IMG_5008
The beef herd at dawn, in some scrubby pasture

We put a bunch more hay up into the hay loft of the dairy barn on Monday, bringing our total so far to just over two thousand square bales of first cut hay. We try to get between two thousand and twenty-five hundred, so we’re getting really close to calling the loft full for the year. We’ve had rain on and off every day after Monday this week, so that has put a stop to the haying for a while, and given us a chance to rest up for the next load. There will be another extended break in the haying schedule between first cut, which is coming in now, and second cut, which should start at some point in the second half of August. We usually try to buy between five hundred and a thousand bales of second cut hay, and use that primarily for the sheep.

The Farm School is running two groups of pigs this summer, with one group of eleven at Sentinel Elm Farm, and another group of twenty-five down the road at Maggie’s Farm. The group of eleven, made up mostly of Berkshire pigs, is about a month older than the larger group, and has been growing remarkably well this summer. They have been

IMG_5029
The home garden at Maggie’s

getting the extra milk from the dairy, and are from outstanding genetic lines, and they are growing into truly beautiful pigs. They are scheduled for processing in October, and after going out to see them this week, I called the slaughterhouse to see if we could get an earlier date. Many of these pigs are already approaching two hundred pounds, and the slaughterhouse charges a ten cent penalty per pound for every pound over two hundred at processing. Although this penalty is not much of a deterrent when we sell our pork at around ten dollars per pound, we do try to stay somewhere close to their two hundred pound target and in the good graces of the facility operators. These Berkshires, close to two hundred pounds now and growing the way that have been, will probably be pushing four hundred pounds by October, and will certainly be challenging to deal with. We are hoping to develop some special pork sausage products this coming winter, so the glut of pork that I expect to come in from these pigs may end up working out well, but the challenge of dealing with such large animals has got me a bit nervous.

IMG_5024
The sheep are trying to clean up any grain that the broilers dropped. 

Our head grower Alex mentioned at a meeting this week that he is keeping a close eye on the garlic these days because it is almost ready to be harvested and put up to cure in the hoop house. Garlic harvest is the first sign I’ve noticed that this growing season is maturing, that although it often feels like we are still just getting started, just getting things setup and growing, we are moving rapidly through the summer and heading irresistibly toward the fall. It seems rare to me that I feel ready for whatever is coming next on the farm; seldom do I feel like I have my plans set, my equipment ready and all the vital parts prepped for a smooth roll out and use. More often, we are reacting as well and quickly as we can to events as they unfold, and too quickly moving on to the next pressing issue. In late winter, with spring approaching, we scurry around trying to lay things out just right to be able to seize the coming growing season and wring the most we can from it. Inevitably, by July however, it seems we’re just racing to keep up. The potential for garlic harvest this week reminds me that another growing season is quickly passing us by, and there is still so much left to do.

The broilers go off for processing on Tuesday, with seventy-five going to a facility in Warwick for processing and packaging for sale, and the other twenty-five or thirty

IMG_5016
Kosher King broilers, ready for processing

staying for on-farm processing by the adult students here. Those birds will go into the farm-house freezers for next year’s class to use throughout their time here. This will be the final poultry processing work for this year’s class, and after starting with turkeys and layer culling in November of last year, our hope is that the students feel confident enough to raise and process birds on their own farm some day. This year’s crop of broilers looks much better than last year’s, and I am really looking forward to getting the finished product back from processing and to get them out for sale.

Drier Weather and Hay

IMG_4881
A little dew to make it look incredible!

We had a pretty dry stretch of weather this week, and that of course had me worried that the rains were gone for the summer. Luckily, we got a few tenths of an inch of rain Friday morning, and more through Saturday, and I’m calming down a bit. Surface soil that had been drying out got another nice soaking, and all the veggie plants out in the fields are looking clean and vigorous. Bradley has corn growing beside the dairy barn at Sentinel Elm Farm, and it is growing visibly taller by the day. Our pastures have been growing nicely all season, and so far we have been able to hold some acreage out of the grazing rotation for making hay. We try to keep some acreage for making the first cut of hay, but this year I am hopeful that we will also be able to get a second cut off that area as well. Every bale that we are able to make ourselves is one less that we have to buy, so we are glad to have the weather that allows the grass to grow well enough that we have this opportunity.

Our broiler chickens, started in the brooder and now living in mobile houses out on

IMG_4883
Brad’s corn starting tassels. 

pasture at Maggie’s Farm, are scheduled for processing on the 18th of July. They have just about reached full size by this point, but we’re hoping that they can pack on a little extra weight and really fill out over the next ten days before processing. They look to me to be a much better size than last year’s group, when we were so disappointed in their growth, and I am looking forward to adding them to our product list in a few weeks. The roosters start to show male characteristics, with different plumage, larger combs and wattles, and even a few early attempts at crowing, and we know they’re approaching full size.

This was another big hay week here at The Farm School, and we put more than a thousand bales up into the hayloft of the dairy barn. We try to get between two thousand and twenty-five hundred stored away in there over the course of the season, and plan for

IMG_4879
Beautiful rows of chard

two-hundred days of hay feeding over the late fall, winter and early spring. The bulk of our hay comes to us in round wrapped bales, but the supply of small square bales plays a vital roll in feeding sheep, goats and horses, as well as filling in the edges of the feeding schedule for both the beef and dairy herds. The small square bales also give us a bit more flexibility in our feeding regimen as we transition out of hay feeding in the spring, and they also play a vital roll in feeding animals separated from the group with a new baby. We need to make sure we take enough in now to see us through the winter and to meet all of the vital needs. A big stack of bales in the hay loft helps any farmer feel a bit more safe, secure and wealthy.

Peaches and apples are starting to grow in our small orchards, and at this point, the peaches look like they’ll be the better crop this year. The peach trees put on way too much fruit to start, and we try to do a little thinning at this point so that they are not over burdened

IMG_4871
Tiny peaches on a blue-bird morning

once the fruit starts to really get larger. Thinning also gives the tree the chance to direct more energy to fewer peaches, and gives us larger juicier fruit when harvest comes.

 

Summer

IMG_4852
A volunteer at the winter chicken coop

Summer has settled in here at The Farm School, and the hay is stacking up in the barn, the corn is inching taller in the field, and all of our eyes are turned to the weather forecast. So much of the success of the summer season depends on the rain, how much we get and when and how hard it falls, that it feels like the ten-day forecast becomes the major governor of everyone’s state of mind. Our pasture plants, mostly suited to cooler weather, become deeply reliant on regular rain to withstand the heat of the summer sun. Our veggie starts, with their shallow roots, also easily dry out, and rely on regular watering from above while they try to get their roots down deep enough to find moisture. Hay producers, in contrast, are looking for extended periods without rain to cut, dry and bale hay suitable for storage as winter feed, and our cultivators are looking for stretches of weather dry enough to allow them to safely drive tractors out over the veggie beds without churning the whole thing into mud. So everyone is invested in the weather forecast, and everyone is hoping for slightly different mixes of sun and rain, and everyone worries and frets a bit. The rains have been just about perfect for pasture growth so far this year, so I’m pretty happy.

We had another calf in the dairy herd on Wednesday, and the kids here for the week voted to name her Eclipse. Her mother Emily is one of our older cows, and was one of the

IMG_4844
Eclipse, in the pasture

wonderful Evening’s last calves. I am eager to keep heifer calves from Emily since she fits the cow model that we are striving to develop here, and I am really glad to have Eclipse here at the farm. Emily is a smaller Jersey, makes lots of milk, and seems to do pretty well in our low-grain system. Eclipse is a beautiful little calf, with a unique ringed stripe pattern on her tail.

Monday and Wednesday are harvest days in the Learn to Farm Program, with a third of the students out in the fields harvesting, a third in the barn washing and packing, and the last third keeping everything else moving along. Last week’s harvest list included salad mix, cilantro, parsley, strawberries, garlic scapes, turnips and radishes. Looking down the veggie work list shows some direct seeding, including mesclun, carrots, beats, arugula, kale, beans and rutabaga, some hand weeding, and lots of tractor cultivation, mowing, and weeding. We go to markets on Tuesday and Thursday, and those end up being solid work days in the veggie fields for the folks who don’t go to market.

IMG_4859
The layer chicks using their doors and ramp

Our calf count in the beef herd is up to nine, with seven in the herd, one down at the dairy farm living with the dairy herd, and one who died this week. The calf that we lost had been challenged from birth, never really seeming to catch a good hold of the world around him, and always needing lots of support from the farmers managing the herd. He was regularly separated from the group and showed very little initiative to nurse, find shade, or stay with his mother. We found him Wednesday laid out in the sun, breathing shallowly and erratically, twitching and rolling his eyes, and we immediately took him in a truck down to the cool dairy barn. His temperature was off the end of the thermometer (109deg +) and in consultation with our vet we started trying to cool him with water. We got him down to 105deg and he started vocalizing and looking around, but his breathing got weaker and weaker and finally stopped about an hour after we’d brought him in. We have had calves before that seemed unable to properly regulate their body temperatures, but with temps in the high seventies on Wednesday, it is unclear exactly what issue our lost calf was facing. The rest of the group seems to be doing really well, with just one other calf who seems a bit slow to grasp this world. He is scheduled to have a visit from the vet Monday, so hopefully we’ll get some guidance about his behavior then, and I’ll let you know.

We had some dramatic weather on Tuesday, with strong winds, heavy rain, hail, lightening, and a power outage to top it off. The storm rolled through here about 7:30pm,

IMG_4854
Tom and King keeping out of the sun

bending trees over and whipping things around, and sending the dairy cows running for cover in the barn. The power was out until about 12:30, so we ran a generator to keep the heat on for the turkey poults, but everything else came through wonderfully.

Beef Calves

We put our first loads of hay into the hay loft of the dairy barn Thursday night, starting against the wall at the south end of the space, and shrinking the dance-floor by ten or fifteen feet. We usually head out on a hay run in the afternoon, once the hay has dried down

IMG_4758
An orphan beef calf getting breakfast at the dairy

completely and the baler has started running. We can transport around 175 bales per load, so on a big day, we end up doing multiple rounds of loading in the field and unloading at the barn. With an afternoon start, 350 bales to pickup, and another load of loose hay after that, we finished up Thursday around 7:30, with flood lights on in the hay loft as we stacked bales. The farm workday runs from dawn until dark, or just after, and with sunrise just after 5am and sunset at 8:30, we’re putting in pretty long days at this point in the summer. There is an essential back-and-forth between the short winter days, when we just can’t seem to find the time to get everything done that we want to do, and these endless summer days when we have to find ways to summon the energy to see the day all the way through to the end.

We had another wonderful inch of rain to start the week, refreshing the moisture in the soil and powering up the pasture plants and veggie starts for another growth spurt. We followed the rain with some incredibly hot and humid weather for a day or two, a beautiful taste of cool dry weather in the middle of the week, and back to pea-soup humidity to finish out on Friday and Saturday. All together it’s been a pretty typical stretch of summer weather, and as long as we continue to get regular rain, things are looking pretty good. We had gone weeks without rain by this point last year, the ponds were shrinking, the pastures had stalled, and irrigation was ramping up to keep the veggies happy and growing.

IMG_4778
A new beef calf hiding in the tall pasture

We’ve had four beef calves born this week, with three happily staying alongside mama out on the pasture, and one here at the dairy barn. Like last year, we found a beef calf abandoned out in a pasture the herd had moved through, half a mile or more from the group. We scooped the little bull calf up, drove him over to the beef herd, and put him down to see if any mama cow would show ownership. Nobody reacted positively, despite the little guy’s best efforts to get a hold of an udder of milk, so we scooped him up again and drove him down to the dairy. He sucked down a bottle of milk in short order, and we’ve spent the last few days working to get Patty to adopt him as her own. She had a calf a couple of weeks ago, and has plenty of milk and patience, so we’re optimistic that she will provide for both calves. The kids here at camp named the little red bull Jax, and he is now out with the dairy herd trying to learn the routine here at Sentinel Elm Farm. Last year I assumed that we had an issue with our management of the beef herd when this same sequence unfolded, but with this very similar recurrence, I am starting to wonder if we have a mama cow out there a little deficient in the responsibility department.

IMG_4781
One bay of the brooder, full of poults

I picked up fifty-one turkey poults from Bob’s Turkey Farm on Thursday morning, and they’ve been moved into the brooder in the back of the dairy barn. They’ll be in there for a few weeks, until they make the transition from fluffy down to real feathers, and then they’ll move out to spend the rest of their time on pasture. We’ll process them on the farm the weekend before Thanksgiving, and make them available to the Farm School Community.