We are coming to the end of another busy week here at The Farm School, and with colder weather drawing near, the pace of preparation for winter has increased. We had two nights down below thirty degrees this week, freezing water systems, and reminding everyone that winter is drifting our way.
Our lambs went to the slaughterhouse on Wednesday, cutting the sheep flock just about in half, and making much more room at the hay feeder. The second round of pigs went off too, leaving us just nine more to go. The four beautiful Berkshire pigs that Dave was raising at Sentinel Elm Farm (home of the Program for Visiting Schools) were included in this week’s load, and they were some of the best pigs we have ever raised here. The heritage breed pigs develop larger shoulders and hams than the modern Yorkshire varieties, they stay shorter and rounder all over, and seem to be a bit more motivated to root and forage. More modern pigs have been tailored to fit our prevailing production systems, with whiter, leaner meat, and a long, tall, thin frame that can hang more efficiently in the cold storage of the slaughterhouse and packing facility.
Harvests continued this week, featuring kale, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, garlic, cabbage, shallots and onions. Kale is the last leafy green going, but this is prime time for carrots sweetened by a little frost, and wonderful cabbages, onions and garlic that has been growing all season just for this time of year.
The student farmers had their ‘Dairy Transformation’ class on Thursday with local cheese-maker Emily Anderson. The class is an introduction to cheese making, and the students have the opportunity to try several different cheese types over the course of the day. This year’s efforts included fromage blanc, two types of mozzarella, ricotta, yogurt and kefir. Every year we hope that a few students are inspired enough by the cheese class to find a real passion for cheese making, and to start supplying us all with fresh homemade cheese.
Lamb loading day, and the preparation and planning that go into it, is always one of the first and most powerful moments of realization for our new student farmers about some of the harder truths of farming in general, and livestock farming in specific. We keep a flock of sheep for several purposes, including wool production and educational value, but primarily for the meat. The creation of that product necessitates the slaughter of lambs every fall, as well as the culling of older ewes or ewes that are not thriving on our farm. Many years, there are ewes to cull where there is no doubt that the animal should not stay on the farm, should not breed again, and should be shipped off. We have been culling pretty aggressively over the past few years, eliminating most of the poorer animals. This year we had no flagrant candidates, but to make room for younger ewes with fresh genetics, we had to be more aggressive in culling for potential problems, advancing age, and animals that appear fine now, but seem likely to have problems in the near future. Culling any animal is tough, and that struggle is made even more uncomfortable when the cause of culling is not clearly visible. However, the long term work of developing a superior population of animals on the farm, a group that has the desired traits, that fits our ecosystem and farm system, and that produces economically, is one of the most interesting and thought provoking aspects of livestock farming.
We’ve had quite a bit of rain to end the week, and when that inch and half is added to what we’ve gotten so far this fall, our recovery from the drought of the summer seems to be advancing pretty well. There is a little shallow pond tucked along the road between Sentinel Elm Farm and Maggie’s Farm where The Farm School community ice skates and plays hockey when conditions permit in the winter. The summer drought had just about dried it up completely, with just a few wet spots in the middle by the driest point, and we were all worried that we’d have to find a new spot to take a spin on the ice this winter. The fall rains have started to fill the pond back up, there is water stretching from side to side, and our local pond-hockey fanatics are optimistic for upcoming season again.