January 1st – 8th

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Not quite ready for the growing season

We’re back with another update from The Farm School, and though it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written, the farm has been really quiet and there is not too much to report on. The story of the end of December and beginning of January has been the incredible cold weather and snow that we’ve had here in central Massachusetts.  Starting Christmas week, and going strong through the seventh of January, we’ve had weather significantly colder than we’re used to around here. Our nightly cold temperatures have been well below zero almost every night, and our daily highs have been in the single digits and teens above zero just about every day. The cold has really tested our infrastructure and farm systems, and I’m sorry to say that some components did not perform as we’d hoped. We’ve had several water systems around the farms freeze, and we’ve had to add insulation and heat in several places to keep things working. Our

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The winter pigs and their deep bedded pig-loo.

animals have come through this cold weather well, though they have spent quite a bit more time inside than we’d like. On Thursday, the 4th, we had about a foot of snow fall here at the farm, starting just before dawn and lasting through the day. The wind blew hard all day, driving the snow sideways into every crack and opening in every building, piling up huge drifts, and undoing shoveling and plowing work just about as quickly as we could get it done.

The super cold weather added some new challenges to our livestock care, and forced some changes in our systems to keep everyone comfortable and healthy. The cement floor of the cows run-in in the back of the dairy barn got so cold that the manure dropped by the cows froze within minutes of falling, and then developed into a surface that the cows were very uncomfortable walking over. We found that if we kept the cows in the main barn at night, their body heat kept the inside space warm enough to keep the manure gutter thawed out, and we could shovel it out in the morning before it froze when the cows went outside and the barn cooled. We have not kept our cows in the barn at night for several years after developing a nice little run-in area with deep bedded free-stall in the back, but this cold weather showed us a weakness in

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The dairy herd has been inside a lot during the cold weather. 

our system that we luckily found a quick solution for. We also moved one of our layer feeders inside their house, giving up on forcing them to walk out to eat during this cold snap. We changed the water in one layer house from our usual red and white closed water dispenser to a big black rubber dish with a heater in it, and our the rams and the buck in our breeder’s pen needed their water changed to a heated bucket. Not surprisingly, water management became the biggest issue during this cold weather, but with a few changes, I think we were able to keep everyone well hydrated.

I think that all the cows we want to breed in the dairy are bred, except Daisy. She missed breeding last year, and with her less than consistent heats, we have been unable to breed her again this year. A cow in the dairy, unbred, is not doing much for our bottom line other than eating lots of hay and making some good manure, and there is always

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The view out the back of the bunkhouse

pressure to move those unbred cows along. It is certainly quite tempting to process a cow that doesn’t breed for two years, and Daisy is moving closer to that status. A cow bred in January will have a calf some time in October or the beginning of November, and since we really try to avoid winter cold weather calving, January is the last month that I am willing to breed cows before we resume breeding again in the summer. So this feels like Daisy’s last chance to breed, and we are going to enlist our veterinarian to help give us the best shot of giving Daisy a productive future here. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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