Winter seems to really be here now, with snow on the ground, ice in the water troughs, and sand spread on the driveway. We’ve had two little snow events over the past week, neither of which amounted to much, but which collectively have turned the farm nearly white. With some cold weather in the ten-day forecast, and more snow too, it is beginning to feel a lot like….
Sentinel Elm Farm, the home for the Program for Visiting Schools, is feeling a bit empty this week with Friday of last week marking the end of programing for the winter. We hosted The Village School and our own Chicken Coop School on Tuesday, bringing the place back to life a bit for a day, but we’re missing the kids already. We’ve got a few projects to button up before the quiet winter break really takes hold, and we are spending this week making sure everything is resolved. We put a new roof on the wood shop yesterday, we’ve dusted off the wood splitter and tuned the chainsaws for firewood time, fences are down, grain is stocked up, and the windows are on the barn.
Similar work continues this week at The Learn to Farm program, with Alex leading the work of shutting down veggie operations for the winter. Wash-up and the walk-in are closed down for the winter, and strawberries and garlic will be mulched with straw in and all-group-work-project to end the week. We spent a good part of our weekly staff meeting yesterday mapping out the firewood production plan for the winter, trying to pair our production goals with the need to get every student ample time with a chainsaw in their hands, and under good supervision.
This is one of the most challenging teaching components of our program, with ambitious production targets, a super dangerous tool to master, and elevated staffing requirements to ensure super-direct one-on-one instruction. The work can also involve further daring complications, like dragging logs with the tractor, driving a team of draft horses, hand splitting with a maul, and operating the hydraulic splitter. All of these additional components deepen the learning opportunities for the student farmers, and demand heightened management from the Learn to Farm staff.
Work continues in the greenhouse on this year’s timber frame, with the hope that it can be completed and put away to dry before we break for the holidays. Students also continue to plug away at the sawmill, milling out boards to use as siding for our new sheep shelter as well as our enhanced chick brooder.
They take round logs, mill them off into square or rectangular beams, and then slice them over and over, each time an inch thick, to create ‘one-by’ siding. (The siding is one inch thick, and after ‘by’ you’d say whatever the other dimension is, but ‘one-by’ can be used to refer to any one inch thick board, since they come in so many different widths. We produce ‘rough-cut’ lumber on the mill, which refers to lumber that has not been run through a planer to make it smooth. The dimensions of lumber refer to the size before the planer, so a 1×8 from a conventional lumber yard is not actually one inch thick and eight inches wide, but is usually 3/4 of an inch thick and 7 1/4 inches wide, and is still called a ‘one-by-eight’).
Pearl was in heat again Wednesday in the dairy, and Brad and Rachel managed to try another breeding attempt during evening chores. A cow bred now can be expected to deliver a calf in the middle of September, so December breeding is fine for us. We try to avoid winter calving, so December and January are really the last months that we are willing to breed in the dairy.
Cold weather calving can just add complications to the process that we are happy to avoid. Unfortunately, that means that we have occasionally had cows that don’t breed within our preferred window, and that we then have to carry them through quite a ways with no calf in their future. That is a significant cost to us, and we always have to decide whether it would make more sense to move an un-bred cow along to another destiny rather than keep her on the farm. Pearl is the best cow in the dairy, so we will make every effort to get her bred successfully and on target for another great year to come.