Snow is falling steadily here at The Farm School today, taking us from what seemed like the first real stirrings of spring, back into winter. The forecast calls for more than a foot of snow through today and tonight, and I am certainly feeling a bit of whiplash from this sudden turn-around. Our pastures were finally clear of snow after a warm sunny day yesterday, the mud of the previous couple of weeks was beginning to show the first signs of drying out, the ground had thawed enough to start work on pasture fences, and we even had our first lambs this morning. Now we’re taking a leap back in time, the snow shovels are back out, the plow-truck will be running soon, and this latest storm promises another long spell of muddy yards and roads. Farming in New England has always been unpredictable, but the dial seems to have been cranked a few clicks crazier in the past few years. Just as a reminder, we were up near just shy of eighty degrees for a few days at the end of February.
The morning sheep chore folks found four lambs in the sheep pen this morning, and though things seemed to have gotten a bit mixed up, we now have the ewes in jugs, one with a single lamb and the other with three. We were a bit unsure of which lamb belonged to which ewe, but after some experiments and close observation, we think we’ve got it straightened out now. The single lamb is enormous, full of milk, and bouncing off the walls. The triplets are having a few issues, and we have been bottle-feeding the smallest of them since she just could not get a turn on the teats or any attention from her mother. We have lots of willing bottle feeders here at The Farm School, so what can be an onerous task for a single farmer ends up being a real treat for the student farmers and kids at The Chicken Coop School. Each ewe has just two teats, so that third lamb, unless it really is aggressive and lively, often ends up undernourished, scrawny, or starved, and is usually best served by some support from a warm bottle of milk. Also luckily for us, we have a nearly inexhaustible supply of rich jersey milk coming out of our small dairy down the road, so we have plenty of fresh food for lambs.
Work has continued on the new chick brooder all this week, and we are really coming to the end of the project. The inside is completed, with a small area for storing equipment and supplies just inside the door, and a nice large space for raising the chicks. We have a large door built into the east wall of the building, and that will lead to a ramp down into a large yard. I am always eager to get our chicks access to the outdoors once they’ve put on some real feathers, in the hopes that this will help them acclimate to the weather better, and get them scratching and pecking as young as is possible. The brooder is getting the final trim, siding and paint now, and we hope to have it all done by the middle of next week. Our attention will then turn to building a new mobile pullet house. This will be similar to the egg mobiles that we already use, but will house the pullets, young hens between chicks and layers, before they start laying eggs and move into the layer house.
The rams were separated from the sheep flock this week into their own yard with the goal of getting them off the scene before lambs started arriving. It is much easier and more comfortable to work intimately with the sheep without the rams sniffing around everything.
The greenhouse is filling with starts, and Alex has been busy all week getting all of our cultivation equipment in perfect running order. He also spent this week finishing the last few tractor one-on-one training sessions, making sure that every student feels as comfortable as possible with the equipment before the fields season really gets under way.
We expect more lambs next week, we’re hoping to finish the brooder, and lots of other things that I’ll keep you up to date on.