Snow fell on the farm Tuesday night and Wednesday, and the landscape has gone back to mostly white. Some winters, our backdrop is white nearly the whole way through, and some winters, like last, we see snow only once in a while. This winter has had an almost predictable calendar, switching from brown to white, and back to brown, like a snake shedding its skin. With warm weather in the forecast ahead, I expect that we’ll lose this latest covering pretty soon. The skating pond has held up pretty well through it all, so we’ve been enjoying plenty of winter fun, no matter the snow pack.
The Learn to Farm program got going again this week after a month of winter break, and the schedule has been packed with some new things, and some continuation of the pre-break work. Work at the sawmill continued, milling out the last few timbers for the timber-frame project. Students were back in the timber-frame shop as well, chipping and chiseling out the final joinery on that frame, in the hope that it can be completed in the next two weeks. Once the timber-frame is completed, and moved out of the greenhouse, that space will be cleaned and setup for starting seeds and raising seedlings. The conversion from timber-frame shop back to greenhouse is remarkable, and is a sure sign that the spring, and the growing season, are coming soon. Firewood production is ramping up, but once the timer-frame is completed, that work will really start to dominate the schedule for the next six weeks or so. We rarely get the whole student-farmer group making firewood all at the same time, but even with a half-group of seven, the work can move along pretty quickly. Bradley and his horses play a vital roll in our firewood production, helping to pull logs from the forest out to the landing for bucking, splitting and loading. Brad started taking each student on a refresher drive with the horses this week, giving everyone the chance to get behind the horses again, remember the technique and commands, and to get ready for the driving time that is coming.
We have been working over the past six months to get our livestock operation AWA inspected and approved, and one of the changes that they asked us to make in their tour of the farm, was to enhance the chicken doors on our winter coops. We were given the option of adding a second door, or making a single door large enough that chickens could get in and out without disagreement. The concern of the AWA is that a chicken near the top of the pecking order could potentially stand in a small doorway, trapping chickens lower on the pecking order either inside or outside the building. On Monday, we boarded up the old door, cut a big hole in the wall, and installed a new large door with a gloriously large ramp. Whether the new door has really made a difference in the layer’s ability to go in and out more easily or not, the new door has certainly put a large hole in the side of the building, and we are going to need to come up with some type of bad-weather adaptation to keep that house at a more comfortable temperature when the weather gets cold and nasty. I hope to do the same project on the door to the winter coop at Sentinel Elm farm this week as well.
Despite some small vital changes that I need to make, the new dairy feeding trough seems to be working well. There were several factors that encouraged me in making this change, and it has been on my mind for quite a while. The current cow feeding area is a tiled floor space just in front of their tie-ups. It is a tough space to keep clean, with grout between the tiles, lots of foot traffic in and on the area, and the whole thing right down at floor level. Watching the cows essentially licking the floor to get the last few pellets of grain, especially in really cold weather, really started to bother me, and I took some measurements and sketched out a simple wooden frame and trough that could be built in. The frame is pine, the decking is hardwood, and whole thing means that the cows are licking on wood, rather than cold dirty tile, nobody can walk directly where they eat, and there is a lip to keep their grain accessible. The new space is more difficult to sweep out, but I am hopeful it will stay cleaner in general because the cows can access all of the area to eat, and can reach every bit of grain and hay.
Most of the students and some staff are headed off to the NOFA-NY Winter conference Friday and Saturday of this week, eager to learn new approaches, dig deeper into old ones, and meet some great farmers!