The first few days of this week brought a little taste of fall, with temperatures in the seventies during the day and the low forties at night. It was a wonderful relief from the heat of the summer, and a reassuring reminder that this crazy summer will eventually transition into another season. This has been one of the most challenging seasons that I can remember in my time at The Farm School, and while we have all learned a lot from these trials, we are all looking forward to a change.
We also had three-quarters of an inch of rain Sunday night, keeping the nice string of rain accumulations going, and keeping the veggies and the pastures moving in a positive direction. We have now had a few weeks with somewhat regular rain, and the whole farm is getting back on track.
The beef herd started grazing again on Tuesday evening. They will get tiny sections of new grass every evening through the remainder of the week, easing their digestive systems back over, from the hay that they have been eating over the past six weeks, to green pasture. We are also taking advantage of this grazing period with the beef herd to do a little weed control in the pasture that they have just begun grazing. The pasture, named Upper Racetrack, is one that we have used for overwintering the beef herd, with our massive grid of round bales pre-set in the fall for winter feeding.
This practice adds tons of manure and grass seed, but also sometimes introduces strange seed from the bales that we buy in. Several years ago, I noticed a new weed taking over in this pasture after we had used it for the winter, and now we are going to see if the beef herd can take care of it. With the small sections of new grass, less than they would like to have, I am hoping that they will be motivated to eat the weeds they would otherwise pass up.
The Maggie’s student farmers processed their broiler chickens on Tuesday. They raised one hundred birds from chicks delivered in the first week of June by Hoffman Hatchery. The Heavy Silver Cross Grey Broiler grows a bit more slowly than the industry standard Cornish Cross, but they seem to avoid most of the challenges that the Cornish Cross has with it’s super rapid growth. The Silver Cross Broilers also forage on fresh pasture better than the Cornish Crosses, and are able to walk along in our daily-move pastured system very well. The Cornish Cross birds are typically raised for only seven weeks, so our approach adds time and cost to the process, but seems more humane and successful to us.
We sent seventy-five of this year’s birds to a Massachusetts approved processing facility, and kept thirty for processing on farm. The on farm processing system that we teach starts with killing the birds, dunking them in a pot of hot water to loosen their feathers, a spin in the plucking machine, evisceration on the table, and a drop into the ice bath to cool. Every student has the opportunity to try their hand throughout the whole process, and can take a bird from start to finish, or find one job in the sequence to really master. By doing just thirty on farm, we take away most of high-paced pressure that a full one hundred would bring, and give the students plenty of time and space to navigate what can be a very difficult experience. The chilled birds end up in the kitchen, where Cristina (Head Chef/Kitchen Master) and Josh Buelle (New Age Renaissance Man) teach students how to break down the carcass into usable parts. They are vacuum sealed and frozen for next year’s student farmers to eat throughout their time at The Farm School.
The student farmers put up their timber frame last weekend, completing a nearly eleven month process from log to standing structure. They milled timbers on our sawmill, chiseled out all the joinery, and finally put the whole time together on sight. This year’s frame was actually sold to a student from this year’s class who lives locally enough that we could make it work. He hopes to apply the things he’s learned in his year at Maggie’s to an expanding homestead, and the timber-frame barn will be a part of that growth.