Sugaring season has begun at The Farm School, the maples are tapped, we’ve had a few good runs so far, and we have more than ten of gallons of finished syrup bottled and ready to go. Friday night was good and cold here, and Saturday warmed up into the forties, so we had a pretty good run. With no kids around to collect, we put together a staff crew, with a few children that live on the farm, hitched up Tom and King, and collected by wagon. We boiled in the sugar shack Friday afternoon and evening, started again Saturday morning and boiled pretty late Saturday night, trying to work our way through as much sap as possible. We had another pretty good run on Sunday and Monday, and another small run Tuesday, so we have been boiling and boiling all this week. Cristina and Eliza served the visiting students homemade syrup for pancakes on Wednesday morning, and it was well received, as usual. This was our first syrup of the season after a long dry spell, and it was exciting for staff and students to be a part of the process.
Student farmers are shearing sheep in the upper barn at Maggie’s this week with Fred DePaul. Fred has been shearing sheep, demonstrating shearing, and training shearers for many many years. He has been working with our students here at The Farm School since the beginning, and has always gotten every sheep well sheared, and every student successfully and gently through the process. He has a wealth of old farm and livestock tricks to share, lots of great stories of New England farming, and the unflappable calm that helps get the job done. He accommodates every level of strength, capability and bravery, and is always sure to point out that a successful shearer depends much more on technique than strength to shear a sheep.
Firewood production and greenhouse seeding are continuing this week. Some have claimed to have glimpsed a glimmering of light at the end of the firewood tunnel, with five or six cords still to produce of the sixteen needed to supply the outdoor wood furnace at the Learn to Farm complex. With a forecast for sixty degrees and warmer for several days next week, we are trying to get firewood finished before what feels like an early spring, really gets going. Frozen ground is the best for cutting and dragging trees, and making firewood, and once we get deep into mud season that kind of work really has to stop. Trays of early season onions and scallions are seeded in the greenhouse, the heat is on, and we are all eagerly waiting for sprouts to pop up.
Last winter we came to realization that our dairy barn could no longer handle the deep bedded pack system for our winter cow loafing area. So after a bit of research, and a new cement retaining wall, we gutted the back of the barn and rebuilt. We added an inside winter area for the goats, and eight free-stalls for the dairy cows. The cows are not tied into these stalls like they are in the tie-stalls in the milking area, but use them as a place to lie down when they want to. The stalls are slightly slanted up, so the cows only lie in them head first, and they are narrow enough that they can’t turn around in them. They are bedded with straw and a bit of wood shavings at the back end. All of this is in an effort to keep the stalls clean, so the cows stay clean, and the milk stays clean. We feed round bales out on the pasture, so the cows always have access to that space, water and minerals, but they can always come in to get out of the weather. Our hope is that their only good choice for lying down is in our nice cleanly bedded, soft free-stalls, and their udders and teats will stay nice and tidy. So far the new system seems to be working well, but with this mild winter it is hard to say that the cows are really using the stalls much. The new indoor goat area allows us to bring the goats in for milking, and back out when they’re done, without going outside, and it has shortened the walk from the goat area to the milking area. That walk was proving to be really challenging with visiting students and young goats, and this system is working much better for all of us.