Summer Heat

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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,

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Drying out a little…

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Alex doing some primary cultivation

We’re coming to the end of our first dry week of the spring, and our vegetable acreage is really starting to get into summer shape after the solid block of work that this drier weather has made possible. We saw cultivation, bed prep, direct seeding and transplanting up and down the ridge, and we were even able to pay some attention to keeping ahead of the weeds as well. The soil just under the surface is still really damp, so our starts and seeds, as well as the weeds, have had the moisture they’ve needed to come up strong in response to this week of sun. Farmers all over New England have been cutting hay this week, and we are looking forward to starting on our winter stockpile in the coming days as well. We had temperatures well over ninety degrees on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of this week, so the feel of summer has certainly arrived here at The Farm School.

The incredible fluctuations of New England weather astonish me every season. Although

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The new batch of layer chicks in the brooder

the transition that we just experienced, from a low temperature on Saturday of forty-eight degrees, to a high on Monday of ninety-five degrees, felt jarring, it was certainly in keeping with the reputation of New England’s weather. There is not much that we can do to prepare for conditions that change so quickly and swing so far, but we try to build flexibility into everything as much as we can. Keeping things mobile, diversifying enterprises, and developing new approaches to the work that we do, help to keep us from becoming too rigid in our work and helps to ensure that we can adapt to the conditions around us. For our livestock, the water systems, providing adequate shelter, shade, heat and bedding as needed all play important parts in keeping the animals reasonably within their range of comfort. Although we have been limiting water in dishes as we try to train our newest piglets to use their automatic water system, we did give them large dishes of water that they could climb into for a cooling soak during the hottest weather.

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Two automatic water dishes

We finished up the summer pig water system this week, with two automatic water dishes supplied by a 275gallon water tank that we can pump full as needed. With their feeder and milk trough in place on the deck, we just need to spend a little time getting their fence and the fence charger setup before we can move the pigs in. They seem to know the electric fence well at this point, and I am reasonably confident that they all know how to use the automatic water system too. There is one little pig in there that is looking a little droopy, so I have been researching the idea of trying to worm her before the group heads out to the woods for the summer. Once the pigs are out for the summer, running around in the woods and hiding in the undergrowth, they become much more difficult to catch and treat. We do the best that we can to make sure that they’re all healthy and ready before sending them out on their own.

Our little milk cow Patty delivered a calf about two weeks ago, and despite our careful attention and care, developed a bit of milk fever a few days after freshening. Dr. Boyd, from Green Mountain Bovine Clinic, came out to the farm on Labor Day and successfully treated Patty, and she was back out with the herd a few hours later. However, Patty

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Our little dairy cows enjoying some tall-grass-grazing

relapsed a bit on Saturday of last weekend, and with all the vets in our area unavailable, we successfully treated her ourselves. No one here has ever experienced a cow getting milk fever more than once in a lactation, so I dug into the issue a bit in an effort to find any changes that we could make in our management to avoid this issue down the road. Older cows can grow more and more susceptible to developing milk fever, so our commitment to long-lived cows will probably expose us to this challenge more in the future. Dr. Major and Green Mountain Bovine Clinic also had some good suggestions for us, and we’re looking forward to developing our approach to this issue.

Love the rain!

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The sheep following the broiler houses

I’m beginning to feel like these updates are getting a little repetitive, but we’re drawing to the end of yet another week of heavy rain, moderate temperatures, and just a little sun. We had more than an inch and a half of rain to start the week, shutting down tractor work on the cultivated acreage for several days and topping off the soil moisture again. By Wednesday, the water standing in the pastures and fields had just about soaked in, but tractor work was still limited by the wet soil. Our CSA and market harvests began this week, but with the cool wet start to this year’s growing season, there has not been much to harvest yet. All of this rain has really gotten our pasture forage plants growing in top gear, and the acreage that we cut for hay over the past couple of weeks is coming back fast and strong. I think that we are all still a little uneasy after last year’s extended and devastating summer drought, and I am still half expecting the rains to stop at some point here, and be gone for the rest of the summer.

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The LTF layers emerging after a move

We spent the first part of the week making some changes to the new brooder house, and our latest batch of chicks came in the mail yesterday and moved right in. We’ve reduced the initial floor space that the chicks have access to, with the plan to expand it as they grow. We’ve also made it so that the windows can be opened and closed to increase our ventilation options, and we’ve changed the door to simplify letting the chicks in at out. The move in was very successful, with just one dead chick in the box when it was opened, and everyone busily getting a drink and a belly full of our good organic chick starter feed.

This week marks the transition from our spring schedule to our new summer plan, and with a few bumps along the way on this inaugural run, we are really looking forward to giving every student full weeks focused on individual components of the farm. Our goal, in developing the summer schedule, was to allow each student to dig deeply into a particular aspect of the farm, to gain intimate knowledge of the whole of that area over the week, and to start to feel a real sense of mastery and ownership for it. We hope that this process can build toward the final segment of the program when we turn the operation of the farm over to the students, as much as is possible.

We are still waiting for our first calf of the year in the beef herd, and I am starting to get

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We built a deck for the PVS pig feeding area. 

a little nervous about the situation. The bull went in with the herd on August 10th of last year, and with a gestation of about 283 days, we expected to start seeing calves some time in the middle of May. There is usually a little lag time between when the bull arrives, and when he is able to get down to business, but this delay has got me a little worried that he may not have been a viable breeder. The bull was in with the cows for an extremely long period of time last year, from August until the end of the year. As a result, we could be seeing calves born any time between now and October, if he bred cows further into his time here. That potential for late calving is another reason that we are eager to get the bull picked up in a timely fashion, usually after about ninety days with the herd, but it is understandably frequently difficult to get the bull owner to prioritize that project. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date, with cute pictures, if we have any new calves in the coming weeks.

The pattern continues…

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The Maggie’s laying flock enjoying new pasture.

With another week of generous rain, sparse sun, and cool temperatures, the work of the farm carried on under this spring’s enduring weather pattern. The pastures love it, the veggies endure it, and Alex seizes every fleeting opportunity to cultivate and shape beds for planting. We had an inch of rain on Monday and Tuesday, but the sun came out enough over the second half of the week to dry down some veggie beds, and we were even able to cut and bale hay at the dairy farm. We made round wrapped bales, which are rolled up and wrapped in plastic when the hay is about half dry, so the process demands a much shorter window of dry weather than traditional dry hay production. Round wrapped bales, also referred to as balage, haylage and wet-bales, are usually baled after a single day of drying, while dry hay usually requires two or even three days of sunny weather. The wrapped bales are made as airtight as is possible, and the moisture and lack of air inside allows them to ferment rather than rot.

The broiler chicks went out into their mobile houses on pasture this week, emptying the

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Round wrapped bales of hay for winter feeding

brooder and giving us the chance to clean and renovate it a before the next batch of laying chicks arrive in ten days. We are going to divide the brooder space in half to start, and change the chick door to make it a little more user-friendly. With more time, we’ll change some of the windows so that they can be opened to allow for more ventilation. The broilers are happy out on grass, and they are quickly learning the routine of daily afternoon pasture moves. The whole house slides forward one length every PM chore, getting the birds off the space they have manured, giving them access to fresh forage and insects, and spreading their droppings over a larger space.

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25 new piglets sharing the house

We picked up our second batch of piglets on Wednesday, and they’ve moved into the piglet training area for a few weeks of observation and a chance to learn our fence and water systems. They are a mixed group that includes just about every strain of heritage breed out there. There are quite a few red and white, black and white, and all red pigs in the mix. They are all looking really good at this point, enjoying our high quality Lancaster Ag feed, keeping a close eye on the electric fences, and figuring out how the automatic water system works. We need to put the final touches on the pig summer area out in the woods, and then they’ll move out there for the next few months until processing in October and November.

Sunday is our annual Big Pig Gig fundraiser in Cambridge, and the whole community has working at full speed to develop art and decorations for the event. Party preparations always bring in an eclectic group of wonderful alumni who gather at Josh B’s barn to turn stone, metal and wood, gathered from the ridge, into distinctive farm-themed works of art. This year’s celebration will feature our very own West Hill Woodcutters, an

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One of our Jersey heifers ruminating on the hill

old-timey band of Farm School musicians featuring traditional American music. The Woodcutters put on a square dance every Wednesday night for the visiting students, and on Sunday they’ll bring the show to Cambridge to entertain our donor community as well.

Spring Cleaning

Veggie work has been a challenge this week, with rain keeping the ground pretty wet throughout the week, and lots of rain here at the end soaking us even more. Despite the difficulties, Alex, Kate and the student farmers were able to keep things moving forward beautifully this week, and they even got the tomato starts in the ground on Thursday. Tomatoes like hot dry weather, which has not been the character of the season so far. With soaking rain all night last night, and more coming down right now, we’ve got to keep our fingers crossed that those newly planted starts can hold on until the sun comes out again tomorrow. The green house and hoop houses are full of starts ready to go out as well, so the veggie growers are really hoping for a little run of dry weather to get out there prepping beds and planting.

 

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The beef herd enjoying some tall grass.

Josh and the student farmers spent most of this week digging out the sheep winter area. The sheep have an indoor space they use for really nasty weather and lambing, and another covered space for eating and hanging out. We try to make the sheep walk back and forth between these two areas during the winter to make sure that their growing babies stay well aligned and ready to come out smoothly when the time comes. Both areas get bedded deeply, so the spring dig out is a real project. We used two tractors, and Josh’s large dumping wagon, and moved a massive amount of poop-infused bedding straw and hay from the sheep yard at Maggie’s Farm over to the composting yard behind the dairy. Our work over the past year to re-develop the sheep yard and systems there really paid off in this work, and we were able to quickly and safely muck out the area, and generate a huge pile of material for composting.

The broiler chicks in the new brooder house were let out into their yard this week, and

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The ‘egg-mobile’ out on pasture at Sentinel Elm Farm. 

after a tiny bit of hesitation at first, they all piled out and enjoyed the fresh air and increased space. Using the new brooder house has been a real learning experience for all of us, and this part of the process was no different. We built the chick door to serve as the clean-out door and a ramp, when opened, for the chicks to get down to the ground. The door is quite large and heavy, and we had to do some quick retrofitting and adaptation to get it to function somewhat properly. There are some further changes that I would like to make to the building to really get it working just right, but with a batch of layer pullets coming quick on the heels of this group of broilers, I’m not sure we’ll have time to do much. The broilers should go out onto pasture next week, meaning they will have been in the brooder for a little more than three weeks. (They arrived May 5th, and will go out by the 31st.) We may have shortened this period a bit with warmer and drier weather, but with a cool wet spring we are going to keep them warm and dry for as long as we can. The larger and more fully feathered out the little birds are before they go out onto pasture, the better chance they have of thriving. The layer pullets will spend longer in the brooder since they won’t have anyone coming in behind them, and they grow more slowly than the broilers.

We also spent some time this week getting the pig summer area ready for our pigs coming next week. We’ll be getting 25 piglets, and they’ll spend a couple of weeks in the training yard before going out to the woods for the summer. The forest area needs to supply food, water, some shelter when they’re little, and the means for us to catch and load them in the fall. Pigs are super rough on everything they can touch, so we try to take real care in developing a system that will work for the pigs and for us, and hold up to their abuse. A couple of years of doing this, and some challenging experiences trying to load large pigs, has taught us to lay out the system carefully.

Summer Time

We caught hold of a little shot of summer weather this week, with temperatures well up into the nineties on both Wednesday and Thursday, giving the farm the feel of late July here in the middle of May. The leaf cover is at about three-quarters of full right now, so while there is some shade out there for our animals to hide in, they did face a little more direct sun exposure than they liked during the hot spell. Everyone seems to have come

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The new egg-mobile is done. 

through the challenging weather well, and things have cooled off Friday after a truly epic thunder and lightening storm came through last night. The chicks in the new chick brooder were the most difficult to keep comfortable, but we put up a screen door, turned off the heat, and setup a fan to keep the air moving through the building. We built that structure in the cold of early spring, and thought a lot more about keeping it warm than we did about keeping it cool. We’ll have to do some retrofits to increase airflow between this batch of chicks and the next, putting in screens and windows that can open. Chicks like temperatures in the brooder right around ninety, mimicking the body temperature that they would feel from the broody hen. It easy to get them too hot if things get much warmer than that, so we need to have careful control of the brooder environment to keep everyone happy and healthy.

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Cutting hay

To further the summer feel around the farm, we also started cutting hay Thursday on some of our pastures used for beef grazing. The grass grows so quickly here at the beginning of the season that our little herd cannot get to all of it before it goes to seed and becomes much less palatable. If we hay some of our acreage at the beginning of the season, and then let it grow back up for grazing, we can use a smaller and more manageable amount of acreage for grazing now, when we have too much grass, and increase the grazed acreage later in the summer when we have too little. This is our first season trying this approach in regard to the beef herd and their acreage, though we do something very similar with the dairy acreage every year. We operate some really well aged haying equipment here at The Farm School, but between Josh, Tyson, Warren Rice and the student farmers, we manage to keep it working well enough to just about get the job done every year.

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A well used tool

This year, just two passes into cutting our largest and first field, the belt on the mower-conditioner failed. We made an emergency run to the supplier, did some ‘in the field’ repair, and got back to mowing within a couple of hours. This first-cut hay will be rolled up into large round bales, wrapped in twine and then white plastic, and stored for winter feed for the beef herd. We make some of our own hay for the beef herd every summer, and buy in the rest. I am optimistic that we will be able to tip that balance a bit more in our favor this year with this more aggressive haying on the beef pastures, hopefully saving us a bit of money at hay buying time. Harvesting hay is nutrient extractive in regard to the soil and pasture plants however, and this practice will demand that we are careful to keep our soils well fed down the line.

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A map/plan for the summer pig yard

Alex and his crew made some great progress in the veggie acreage this week, and the warm dry weather gave that effort a real boost. The onions are out, planted through beautiful straight rows of black plastic, direct seeding is moving forward full speed, and the greenhouse and hardening off house are bursting with starts waiting for their turn to ride out to the fields and go into the soil. Weeding started in earnest this week as well, another clear sign that the season is advancing all over the farm. Early weeding, done before things get well established, deep rooted and tall, is significantly easier and more effective, so Alex and his crew do their best to stay ahead on this front as well as they can.