I’m starting to feel a bit repetitive, but we’ve had another week of wild weather here at The Farm School. We had a bit of snow on Saturday night into Sunday, and Sunday was a strange, mixed up, windy day. The sky was full of enormous dark islands of cloud absolutely tearing by overhead and spitting snow, and breaks of blue sky in between. With the wind whipping the trees and blowing last falls leaves around, and the crazy sky above, it made for a really dramatic scene. Sunday night, which was the third of April, we got four or five inches of snow, and we’ve had night-time temperatures in the teens since then. The forecast for today is for temperatures in the fifties and an inch of rain.
As I’ve mentioned before, these fluctuations can be really challenging for our livestock since they never get the chance to really get accustomed to conditions before the conditions change dramatically again. Cold animals are fine, and wet animals are fine, but cold wet animals can have real trouble staying warm, especially with a good wind blowing like we’ve had seemingly all spring long.
We are waiting for our first lamb of the season, and this weather has really gotten me nervous. We time our lambing to avoid newborn lambs coming onto the scene while the weather is still too cold and wet, planning to lamb in April when, typically, things have warmed up a bit. Many farmers time lambing for much earlier in the spring or even in the heart of winter, in the hopes that the lambs will grow larger by fall slaughter if they’ve had a few more months to grow. The challenge in that approach is the cold winter weather, and the added pressure that puts on the new-born lamb, emerging weak and wet from that nice climate controlled space inside the ewe. We’ve added more towel drying to our new-born lamb routine to make sure that the lambs are dry as quickly as possible, but with no lambs born so far this year, we are yet to give it a shot.
The first warm drink of colostrum also becomes more important to a new lamb since they will be burning more calories just to stay warm, and will really need a good fill-up from mama. Warming new-born lambs artificially is a complicated issue, and we have been able to avoid this practice entirely with our warm weather lambing calendar. There are many ways to warm a cold lamb, and this can be a life saving endeavor when a lamb’s body temperature goes below 99 degrees. Warming boxes seem to be the preferred approach to warming a cold lamb, but there are many other techniques out there.
The strange spring weather has also been difficult for Alex and the student farmers as they work as quickly as possible to prepare veggie beds for our first planting of the season.The planting schedule for the year has April 18th as our first planting day, which is coming pretty soon.
They had a nice run over the last few weeks, with fields drying down a bit enough to get the big tractor out there plowing up beds, but we’ve been rained, and now snowed out now for the last week or more.
The return of winter, again, has given us another chance to work on pasture edges, clear brush, and burn. This week we have been focused on the Sheep pasture, nearest the Maggie’s farm house. Josh B and his crew have been out cutting thorns, removing dead trees, and cleaning up along the electric fences to make sure that they are unencumbered all the way around the pasture. Although the ground has thawed by this point, and the grass is greening up, the snow offered enough of a cushion for us to drive out on the fields and go to work.