We’ve just come to the end of a truly remarkable week in terms of our weather, and it has been a real test for our animals, farm systems, and land.
Dawn came last Sunday with our coldest temperatures of the winter, with the thermometer up at the dairy barn at thirteen degrees below zero. That was the culmination of an extremely cold stretch of weather reaching back to around Christmas, and by Sunday, the farm and farmers were well adapted to the cold, and the farm and livestock were comfortable and functioning well. We then experienced a moderation of temperatures through last week, with a sudden jump on Thursday and into Friday that brought us all the way up to fifty-seven degrees during the day on Friday. That jump, from thirteen below on Sunday, to fifty-seven on Friday, covered seventy degrees in five days, and felt extraordinary. Everything on the farm was wet as the warm moist air blowing in from the south condensed on every surface super cooled from the previous weeks of winter. The cement floor of the dairy barn was alternately wet and icy, as water condensed and froze on that huge thermal mass. Then it started to rain, and we got more than an inch and a half from Thursday night on, and lasting through the day on Friday. The ground had been so thoroughly frozen after several weeks of subzero nights, that the quick warm up did not thaw it out, and the falling rain and melting snow could not soak in at all. The rain and melt just pooled and moved right over the ground, sliding over the frozen ground and heading for low areas. Our farm was almost completely cleared of snow, the Miller’s River down in the valley flooded and pushed massive flows of ice over its banks, and the dirt roads along our ridge suffered significant washouts. Our animals all have shelters where they can get out of the weather, and I was confident that all of those shelters had been designed and built in such a way that the animals would stay dry inside, even with significant water moving over the frozen ground, but Friday and Saturday were a real test for our livestock. The swing in temperatures, paired with the intense rain, was a unique weather pattern that I have never experienced here at The Farm School, and it was another reminder that we need to be really committed to building flexibility and redundancy into our livestock systems. This fall we developed a roughly two hundred and fifty square foot, deep bedded wood-chip yard just behind the dairy barn to feed the dairy cows on if the weather and ground conditions got really bad. Our cows have a nice run-in in the back of the dairy barn, but we setup their round bale and feeder out on the new wood-chip pad Friday morning, and the cows were able to stay up above the flood happily eating all day Friday, and could go back and eat there Saturday and Sunday after all that water froze into a sheet of ice. That little project really gave us a nice chance to keep the cows comfortably eating and making milk, and it serves as a nice example of the kinds of adaptations we are going to need to build into all of our livestock plans if we are going to stay functional here in the changing New England climate.
Both farms have remained pretty quiet over the past week with both programs on a little
winter break. We have had a some great meetings over at Maggie’s to lay out the rest of the winter plan and lay the groundwork for our spring and summer work. We’ll be moving into heavy firewood production at Maggie’s when the students return Tuesday, and we’ll also have quite a few classes over the next few weeks while the weather is cold and nasty. Students will start their crop planning series of classes, their business planning series, garden planning, fiber arts intro, they’ll go to the NOFA-NY Winter conference, we’ll shear sheep and prune fruit trees, work on the tractors and equipment, do lots of reading and thinking, and dream and plan about the coming growing season. I’ll be sure to let you know how it all goes!