November 13th – 20th

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A very artistic picture into the layer house

I’m a bit late in writing this week’s entry after a busy few days setting up for and processing our Thanksgiving turkeys. We aim for turkey processing to happen on the Sunday before Thanksgiving every year so the birds never have to go into the freezer, and they are ready for folks in our community to pickup, whatever their plans. Sunday was a pretty nasty day, and we had some really large turkeys, so this year’s setup included some additional elements that made the whole process a bit more cumbersome this time around. Sunday’s weather forecast called for the day to start warm and rainy, with rain all of Saturday night too, and then a cold front blowing in mid-morning, winds picking up, and temperatures dropping. We setup pop-up tents over all of our work areas to keep the rain off, and built a roaring fire in the stove in the neighboring wood shop, and things got off to a pretty cozy start around 8am Sunday morning. About a third of the way through our work the wind suddenly gusted in, and our pop up tents were saved by some quick thinking farmers

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A dusting of snow on the Flat Field and hoophouse

who grabbed them as they tried to blow away. The rain was light enough by then that we could just take the tents down, though that was an adventure too with the wind gusting, swirling and blowing in hard from the west. The rest of the process was cold and wet, with colder and colder air pushing in on a strong and steady wind, regular spits of rain to keep us all uncomfortable, and only infrequent peaks of sunshine. The wind played havoc with our propane burners, and it was a real challenge to keep the scald water hot enough for proper plucking. We resorted to putting backup pots of water on the wood stove in the shop where they heated pretty nicely out of the wind. The shop became an essential part of the process, with our crew rotating through the heat (and hot coffee and donuts) inside to warm up before heading back out to keep the work going. Luckily the turkeys were warm inside, so there was a strong incentive to keep busy. The larger birds also called for a careful and patient approach to the work, especially at the killing end. The large toms can be really powerful, and slow and steady teamwork helped keep everyone safe through the whole process. We got through all the birds in good order, and they all came out the end looking beautiful! Our largest was twenty-five pounds and the smallest was seven, with most coming in somewhere between seventeen and twenty-one. While we want nice big turkeys to make sure that everyone has a true feast when they cook one of these birds up, we try to avoid growing monsters that no one has a oven big enough to cook. We also culled thirty older layers, and the kitchen crew will brew up some massive pots of chicken stock to squirrel away for winter’s cold season.

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Chickens hate snow, but their foot prints are cool arrows! 

Things got cold and nasty enough Sunday night that we woke up to a little bit of snow on the ground Monday morning. This dusting is going to melt away before too long, but it certainly is a clear reminder that the season is changing quickly all around us. We left a bunch of material out in the pastures and fields in our rush to get the livestock into winter quarters before the really cold weather came through a little while back, and now, with a tiny bit of snow, I am really eager to get everything else inside before things start to disappear for the winter. Turkey fences, chicken feed cans, range shelters and pig troughs are all still where we left them, and this week’s work list is made up mostly of entries that start with ‘clean’ or ‘pickup’. We are coming to the end of the working season, the season where we are out and about, traipsing over just about every square foot of this farm. Now comes winter, where we are in the shop fixing things, in the woods cutting, in the yard bucking, splitting and stacking, and hopefully, in the farmhouse, planning for next year.

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November 5th – 13th

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Marks from where the sheep slept on a frosty night

We’ve reached the end of the week, and this time, were in the grip of some really cold weather. The thermometer at my house was at 18 degrees when I got up Sunday morning, and Saturday morning was even colder. These are pretty normal winter temperatures around these parts, but conditions don’t usually get this wintery until some time in January. The forecast of cold weather turned the last week into something of a mad scramble to get the farm ready for winter in a hurry, making what is usually the work of several weeks into a hurried few days. The layers moved into their winter houses at both farms, the sheep have come in off the pastures and their indoor space is setup, the ducks are in their winter pen, and the dairy cows have been spending cold nights in their little free-stalls in the back of the dairy barn. We had plans to renew and reconfigure those stalls this fall, but we just put down a lot of straw and they’ve been working okay for this cold stretch. We did move a large stock trailer out to the turkey’s area, bed it deeply with straw, and herd everyone inside for Friday and Saturday nights. We raise turkeys every year, but we have never had them on the farm

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Tom and King soaking up some sun

with temperatures forecast to be down near ten degrees. We have no winter housing for the turkeys, since they are always gone by Thanksgiving, so the stock trailer and straw seemed like our best option. They all went into the trailer without too much fuss, and came back out in the morning pretty content after a night of cozy snuggling. The forecast implies that temperatures will moderate quite a bit next week, so I am hopeful we can go out there and fine-tune some of the work that was done quickly this week, and get to a few things that we’re passed over.

The LTF students had another week of draft horses, chainsaws, and timber framing this week, the second of a three week run that gives everyone a week in each of the three areas. This cold weather made the chainsaw and horse work pretty chilly, while the timber framers, in short sleeves in the heated greenhouse, were pretty comfortable. Friday was a super windy day as well, as this cold weather blew in from the northwest, making tree felling extra challenging. The cold weather, and the

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Breeding a cow, and blowing some minds

smoke coming from our wood fired furnaces turned on in answer to the cold, has also really turned all of our minds to firewood production. We are really eager to get our students out to the firewood yard, using their new chainsaw and horse skills to crank out our yearly supply of firewood. When we have a crew of fifteen, capable of felling, dragging, bucking and splitting firewood, we can really get some work done.

Tyson has been working over the past few weeks to adapt our largest tractor to fit a bale grabber. He got it all put together on Thursday afternoon, and I was able to use the machine on Friday and Saturday to move bales around. Rather than trying to slide our somewhat bent forks under each bale, pick them up and carry them to their spot, and

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Our last two pigs, growing fast on lots of milk

then trying to slide the forks back out from underneath, I can now pickup each bale with a pair of squeezing arms, carry them around, and put them down. This means we can stack bales, turn them around and over as needed, and do all of it with little risk of tearing their plastic wrapping. The airtight wrapping is the key to keeping these bales fresh and delicious for the cows, so maintaining that integrity is a top priority. Getting set up with a bale grabber on our own tractor is a huge improvement for our farm, and it is going to make the work of the winter much better. We also now have the opportunity to teach this skill to students, and have them out moving bales around, setting up the feeding yard, and expanding their abilities.

 

 

October 30th – November 5th

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Spinach and carrots ready for winter harvest

All but two of the pigs have gone, six cows have gone, fourteen sheep have gone, and the turkeys are gobbling and growing out behind the bunkhouse. We’ve got a long string of cold weather in the ten-day forecast and more than half of the leaves are off the trees. Despite the string of warm wet weather that we’ve had over the past two weeks, I think fall is finally really creeping over the farm, and we have begun in earnest our work to winterize our systems. The beef herd is in their winter barn, with bales setup on pasture and hay in the indoor feeder, but the sheep setup needs to be converted into its winter configuration and all the chicken flocks are still out on pasture. We’ve got the winter chicken houses just about ready for occupancy, but we’ll need to put the finishing touches on them early next week and get the birds in there as soon as we can. We try to do a pretty complete clean-out and refresh between the last winter’s chicken housing season and the next, hoping to break any parasite cycle in the house by letting it sit clean, dry and empty for as long as we can. That includes getting all the old bedding out, vacuuming the nooks and crannies, and spraying a strong vinegar solution over every surface we can access. I’m hoping that we can keep the hawks off the layers in their winter quarters this year and avoid the trouble we’ve faced the last few winters.

Wednesday was our final veggie harvest of the season, and Thursday was our last CSA

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Our sawmill is going full speed this fall.

drop-off market. Everyone here was excited to see the end of the long harvest season, but the veggie work immediately turns to completing the processing of all the storage crops, putting the remaining beds under cover crops, and packing everything away for the winter. Alex will quickly begin an inventory of equipment and tools to determine repair and replace priorities, and the garage and shop will soon be filled with implements and tractors getting tuned up and ready for next season. Veggie cultivation in New England, where rocks make up such a large portion of our natural environment, is really hard on our cultivation equipment, and winter is the season to bring all of those tools back into proper working order.

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The greenhouse/timberframe shop

This was the first week of the Learn to Farm’s big three-parted fall training stretch, with a third of the students in the timber frame shop, a third driving horses, and a third in the woods felling trees. This year’s chainsaw and tree work is happening on the edge of a pasture that we call The Runway, and trees are coming down into our pasture. We have found that for this initial training, when students are cutting down the first tree they’ve ever cut, working on the edge of the woods, with some open space on a couple sides, really helps ease the process. Controlling the direction that a tree falls, and doing it safely, is the key to the Game of Logging approach that we use and teach here at The Farm School, and having a few less trees around to get in the way makes that first attempt a bit simpler. The trees are dropping where we had a high-tensile fence, so we’ll be rebuilding that in the spring as our annual high-tensile fence building and training project. I am excited to move

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Timber framing tools

the fence twenty or thirty yards further into the forest, expand our pasture a tiny bit, and give our cows a nice big chunk of thick shade for when the heat of the summer returns.

Our sheep and chickens had their annual AWA inspection on Thursday, and the inspector was very happy with the progress that we’ve made over the past year in bringing those two components of our farm into alignment with their standards. We still have a few small tweaks and enhancements to make between now and our next inspection, but most of our work will be in beefing up our record keeping system. Every inspection gives me new insight into ways that we can improve our livestock’s experience on the farm, and the AWA’s singular focus on animal welfare sets down a strong marker to help keep us, and all their participating farms, with our attention on the animals. I will let you know about the things we do this winter to further adapt our farm under their guidance.