Our new student farmers are on the farm, and Maggie’s Farm is buzzing with a mix of excitement, nervousness, and the incredible volume of information that we are going to try to share with these great folks over the next days, weeks, and months. We went around the circle on Friday morning to give everyone the chance to share how they’d arrived at this place at this time, and, as usual, the stories were inspiring, funny, thoughtful, and gave me a sense of real excitement in helping all of these new farmers take a step forward that they’ve been contemplating for a long time.
We are passing through what I think will be the final grazing rotation of the year, visiting pastures and paddocks for the last time before fall and winter really set in. Most of our grazing acreage has performed really well this year, and despite the dry fall that we’re
going through right now, the grass out there still looks pretty good. I have begun taking down fences behind the dairy herd and beef herd where I can, and I’ve even spread a little manure too. I think we have a few more weeks of grass available out there, and that should take us pretty close to our November 1st goal for the end of the grazing season.
Last winter’s beef feeding system, with round wrapped bales setup out on the pasture in a large grid, and fencing moved to allow the cows to access fresh bales as needed, ended up turning the pasture into mud. Our cows were super dirty, mucking their way through some really unpleasant conditions when temperatures were not cold enough to keep the ground frozen solid. With the mild weather we had last winter, we ended up with just about six weeks of well frozen ground, and the rest of the winter saw various stages of muck and mire. This year we have worked to develop a small feeding yard on some ground that we hope will not turn into mud, and plan to use this space for feeding when mild winter weather keeps us from putting the cows out to eat at the pasture bale setup. We scraped as much topsoil off as we could, leaving some hard packed sand and clay behind, sloped the area so that it can drain a bit, and now we’ll build some fences to give us access with a tractor for setting bales and scraping the area clean. We are going to have to do something similar for feeding the dairy herd this winter as well, hoping to keep them high and dry through muddy weather as well as we can. We have put huge piles of wood chips to good use over the past couple of years to help keep the dairy herd out of the mud, and I expect we’ll try something similar this winter until we can develop a solid feeding yard at the dairy farm as well. The dairy herd can always stay inside if the conditions really preclude sending them out, but our preference is to have them out as much as we can. With body temperatures over 100 degrees, the cows are usually most comfortable out in the weather, and we really only start to worry about them when things get wet, or the ground is not safe for them.
Firewood season is sneaking up on us here at The Farm School, and Brad’s saw is a more and more common sound coming from the woods around the farmyard. Tom and King are pulling logs in for the sawmill, as well as for firewood production, and their earth-shaking walks through the farm are always a highlight for the farmers and visiting students. The Student Farmers at Maggie’s Farm will be trained up on the sawmill in the coming months, and then will mill the timbers for the next timber frame, using pine logs from our surrounding forests. Students will also have the chance, once they’ve completed a three-day draft horse intensive training at Fair Winds Farm, to help Bradley and the horses in pulling logs from the woods to the sawmill. Once the timbers are milled, they’ll get them over into the timber frame shop (the greenhouse emptied and setup with sawhorses, tools and louder music), and spend a couple months with Josh Buelle chiseling out a frame.