Drought

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The summer sun has been so intense I had to get a new sun hat.

Our fields and pastures have been getting pretty dry over the past couple of months, and in the past week they have gotten much worse. We’ve started a full time irrigation schedule on the most delicate veggie beds, trying to keep the youngest and most vulnerable plants from succumbing to the dry conditions. We do not have an irrigation system installed, so our approach has been to use a 350-gallon tank mounted on a trailer, a small generator and sump-pump, and drip line irrigation hose.

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Patrick and Bennet explaining our irrigation system to Student Farmers.

We can cover three or four long beds per day, and each treatment should keep the plants going for about a week, so we’re optimistic that we can ride out this dry period until it rains again. We can’t irrigate our pastures however, and they are gradually turning brown. The stress of the hot dry weather makes the grass hurry to put out seed, in the fear that it won’t get another chance, and without any rain, nothing has come up underneath the initial growth to fill in. Pastures that have been grazed during this dry spell have not grown back, and I am getting pretty nervous about our next grazing rotation.

All of our goats have had their babies for the year, and we have five goat kids running around there being the cutest things on the farm. One mother goat is only letting one of her babies nurse, so we have a baby to bottle-feed. Our visiting students love that chore more than anything, so no one complains too much about the added work.

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The beef herd in summer splendor.

In addition to a baby goat to bottle feed, we have an orphaned calf from the beef herd that we’re bottle-feeding in the dairy too. Monday afternoon, two student farmers weeding carrots, noticed a little red calf wobbling along in the pasture nearby. They knew that the beef herd was more than a half-mile away on another pasture, so they called me. We caught the calf easily, loaded into a truck, and drove it to the dairy barn. The little heifer calf was super weak with a totally empty stomach. We’ve been slowly getting her milk rations ramped up, she is great with the bottle, and we hope that we can get her back on track. However, now that she has been separated from the beef herd for so long, we will not be able to get her back in the care of her mother.

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Little Sojourner, now in the dairy barn.

We’ve all been speculating about how this little calf, who the kids are calling Sojourner, got so far from the beef herd, but no explanation makes much sense. Once this little girl has gotten her strength back, we’ll see if we can’t get her adopted by one of the dairy cows and moved out into their care.

We have eleven laying ducks here at Sentinel Elm Farm, living in a fenced area with a moveable pond and shade. We shift their scene all over the farm through the warm months, and collect their eggs every day to add to those from the chickens. Ducks, unlike chickens, are not really interested in nest boxes for laying, and seem to prefer laying their eggs all over their area on the ground. This makes collecting eggs a bit of a search, but we try to get every egg every day.

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A duck egg, half eaten by crows, on some horse manure.

These girls are prolific layers, so we are getting seven or eight eggs per day. An average hen will lay right around two hundred eggs in a year, and our Khaki Campbell ducks can easily lay over three hundred eggs in the same time period. However, our resident crows have noticed that the ducks lay eggs all over the place, and have gotten into landing in the duck area, picking up an egg (I’m not sure how they can do this), flying out of the pen, and pecking open the egg to eat it. There are duck egg shells on the ground around the duck area, and several folks here at the farm have witnessed this behavior.

Keep your fingers crossed for some rain at The Farm School, and I’ll keep you up to date as the season unfolds.

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