Timbers, Trees and Horses

This has been the first week of an incredible stretch of programing in the Learn to Farm Program, with a third of the class spending their first week in the timber-frame shop, another third of the class in the woods for a few days of The Game of Logging, and the last third of the class at Fair Winds Farm in Brattleboro learning to drive draft horses. The schedule will rotate over the next few weeks to get every student their week in all three areas, and have everyone ready for the work of the winter.

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The greenhouse is a timber-frame shop now.

These are really wonderful weeks in the fall schedule, introducing our students to some really captivating skills and exciting instructors, and highlighting some of the true depth of the Learn to Farm Program. The bulk of our time in the late fall, and most of the winter, is spent logging, making firewood, and chiseling out the timber-frame. Livestock chores continue and we have some great classroom time too, but firewood and timbers move firmly into our focus.

This week saw another round of pig loading, and this time we were unable to load four of the ten pigs left to go. The pigs were super flighty about the process, executed some incredible escape maneuvers, and refused to have anything to do with us by the time we gave up. We have made some changes to the loading setup, moved food and water into the transport trailer, and we will give it another shot in a couple of days.

Luckily, we have a strong relationship with our local slaughterhouse, and they are willing to give us a little flexibility in this process. There are few things on the farm that humble and frustrate me more than a pig that won’t load, and they can really be one the most challenging animals to move when they’re feeling stubborn. The pigs are the smartest animals we keep, they are incredibly strong with a low center of gravity, they have nowhere good to grab onto, they don’t herd nearly as well as sheep and cows, and they’re clever enough to figure out the loading process and defy it. So much of farming is dictated by lists, plans and a sequence of events that will allow the rest to fall into place, but when the pigs won’t load, the whole thing feels like it is coming apart all around us. After that quick moment of despair, we’re quick to trouble shoot the situation and make a plan for accomplishing the necessary adaptations. We can always find ways to shuffle the schedule, add some things to the list, and remember that there is almost always a solution.

Our two rams went in with the ewes on Monday, keeping with our traditional November 1st opening of the breeding season. That should give us lambs arriving some time at the beginning of April, late enough in the winter to avoid really cold weather, but early enough in the spring to have a good growing season ahead for the lambs. The rams spend most of their year together in their own pen, separated from the rest of the sheep flock, to avoid out of season breeding.

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The hoop house is greening up.

This allows us to schedule lambing pretty directly for when we want it, and helps avoid surprise lambing. The rams will be in with the flock for the majority of the winter, and won’t be removed again until just before lambing begins in the spring. They get their work done in the first few weeks that they’re in with the ewes, but they certainly prefer living as part of the flock, so we let them stay as long as we can.

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The new manure/compost pile for next year.

We spread tons and tons of manure this week, hoping to set some up of our hay fields and pastures for vigorous growth in the spring. Our little dairy generates a lot of really wonderful manure, mixed nicely with wood shavings and straw, and we are able to work that up into some pretty nice compost in the yard behind the dairy barn. We mixed carbonatite rock dust into the spreader loads with the composted manure this year with the goal of adding more minerals to our pastures as well. We spread manure over about eight acres at Sentinel Elm Farm, including the Sawmill, Poll Barn, and North West pastures.

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