Last week was another busy one at The Farm School, and with some really cold weather, we made an early entrance into some deep winter work. The Learn to Farm Program included the final Monday morning session with Dr. Major of Green Mt. Bovine Clinic, with a focus on our dairy cows, and a trip to a large local dairy, a Wednesday afternoon butchering demonstration with Chef Barry from Future Chefs, a Thursday morning trip up to visit Adam’s Farm slaughter house, and a push to get our final students through the chainsaw/draft-horse/tractor refresher. This was our first week of quiet winter break time at the Program for Visiting Schools, and the work at Sentinel Elm Farm was mostly directed at some deep cleaning and renewal in the bunkhouse. The super fancy round bales for the dairy herd’s winter feed finally came in this week, so we had huge trailer loads arriving in the yard through the week, and we now have a mountain of enormous marshmallows stacked up and ready to keep the milkers happy and well fed.
Dr. Major has been coming out to The Farm School for many years to teach a series of classes on livestock health, anatomy, diet and lifecycle. He typically does a sequence of three workshops over three weeks, with one dedicated to small ruminants, like sheep and goats, one dedicated to larger animals like horses and beef cows, and the finale focused on dairy cows. These in-depth examinations of each type of animal includes a discussion of how their bodies work, how they get up and down, their walking and running, and the subsequent issue of how they eat, process their food, and pass waste, and the functioning of their reproductive systems. These issues naturally lead into a discussion of how the farmer manages the environment and diet to suit these specific traits, some of the most common issues that arise, and their treatment. Dr. Major is able to draw from his deep store of experience gathered from years of traveling around the farms in our area, and to share his insights developed from seeing things that work and don’t work on the farms that he visits. His visits always raise important issues and lead to great discussions among our Learn to Farm students as they wrestle with the many and often conflicting factors that go into raising animals humanely and profitably. This week’s final session at a large commercial dairy, paired with the visit to the slaughterhouse later in the week, and the butchering workshop, really got people thinking about all that goes into raising livestock on a large scale, what it means to eat meat, and how their ideals fit into all of it.
I placed our orders for next year’s chicks this week, and we have changed hatcheries for both our layers and our meat birds. We have also pushed our arrival dates up a full month from this year, in the hopes that we can avoid the three week drought in eggs that we experienced this fall as our older layers just about stopped laying and our pullets had not started yet. Next year our meat birds will come to the farm first, with fifty five Kosher Kings (the same type we’ve raised the last few years) and fifty five Freedom Rangers coming from Freedom Ranger Hatchery the first week of April. They’ll be followed a month later by one hundred and fifteen New Hampshire Red laying chicks coming from Cackle Hatchery. I am really excited to raise the Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers side by side here on our farm, and to see how they compare in performance in our system. I am also really excited to try chicks from a new hatchery, and I hope that we can avoid some of the challenges that we faced with chick mortality last season. I also made our processing dates at Adams for next year, and although this is the earliest that I have ever made those dates, their calendar is already filling up way out into next fall. It seems that more and more folks are raising a few animals out on their back forty, and the pressure to get the spots we want for processing is only increasing year after year. Our schedule for next year will be very similar to this year, with most animals going in for processing in October and November.
The Learn to Farm Program is shut down from December 15th through January 15th, though chores keep going through that time, and the outdoor furnace has to be kept stocked too. The staff will be meeting a bit through that time to iron out the details of the winter and spring schedule, map out the large components of the program, and make sure that we are ready for the growing season that is coming.