Although the pace of work certainly begins to slow along with the dwindling daylight here at the end of the year, there are a couple of frantic moments built into this stage of our farm calendar. Most have to do with the livestock, moving those animals ready for processing through our loading chutes, into the waiting trailer, and off the farm. Our last big load of pigs went off on Wednesday of this week, we loaded six cows out of the beef herd Sunday morning, and we take twenty-five lambs and ewes in on Wednesday of next week. Cow loading Sunday morning went really well, but it is a nerve-racking event for me no matter what, and I am really relieved to have it behind us now. We raise a really docile strain of Red Devon cattle, but they are still pretty big animals, and convincing them to go through our chute and up into the trailer can be a little daunting. There is also the real pang of regret knowing the fate of these animals, and knowing that the good life we’ve worked so hard to give them here is coming to an end.
This year’s load of cows was an interesting one, and it was really tough to develop the list
to fill the six spots we need to satisfy all of our beef needs. We had two steers born in 2015 that were ready, and with their big racks of horns, we are really happy to see them off the farm. We’ve had a cow abandoning her calf within the first week after birth both of the past two years, and, through a process of elimination, we sent off two cows that may have been the culprit. Finally, we’ve been struck by an almost total failure of the ear tags that we were using in past years, and the last two spots on the trailer were filled with cows who’d lost their tags and had therefore fallen out of our record keeping. We have a whole bunch of cows with no ear tags at this point, and we either need to run everyone through the chute and retag them, or cull out all the unmarked cows.
After a summer that featured pretty consistent rain, we had been going through a very dry fall. However, we’ve had more than eight inches of rain this week, and the world of The Farm School has been transformed. We had two separate three-inch rain events in the first half of the week, and another two inches of rain Sunday night. Each storm was significant, with heavy rain falling for hours and hours, and Sunday night included strong wind that knocked our power out. Streams and ponds in the area quickly filled and flooded, cultivated fields turned to liquid mud, and our livestock took shelter as much as they possibly could. Radar maps online showed huge storm systems stretching from Florida through Maine, and patterns that I have never seen before. Wednesday’s storm showed an almost totally vertical north/south line of rain about three hundred miles wide, streaming from the south to the north, and barely inching incrementally from west to east. That river of moisture from the south poured on New England all day Wednesday, adding more than three inches of rain to the deluge we got earlier in the week. I am an avid consumer of weather information and maps, but I have never seen a storm system shaped like that!
Both the beef and the dairy herds are eating round wrapped bales by now, signifying the
true end of the grazing season here at The Farm School. There is a little bit of grass out there in the pastures, but we’ve found that leaving a nice mat of green out there gives the whole system a nice foundation to start with in the spring. The grass on the surface mirrors the root structure in the soil, so letting our pasture plants shut down in the fall with a nice collection of roots should make them more ready to start vigorous growth when conditions are right in the spring. Now we have to start really collecting all the round bales that we made over the summer, and the ones that we’ve ordered from hay producers in the area. We’ll collect massive stacks of them at the beef winter barn and at the dairy, and dole them out as needed throughout the winter. We are working to retrofit our largest tractor to make it capable of operating a round bale grabber, and hoping that will allow us to unload, stack and deploy round bales without having to borrow a machine.
The greenhouse is empty and clean, and a new floor has been put down in preparation for its annual conversion into our winter timber-frame workshop. This week is the start of a three-week stretch of the Learn to Farm program that we call ‘the trifecta’ that includes a group learning to work with draft horses, a group learning to use a chainsaw and cut down a tree, and group learning how to timber-frame. Each group spends a week in each of the three areas, and they come out the other end with a whole new world of skills. I’ll keep you informed as it all goes down!