February has turned into March, we’ve tapped the sugar maples, and smoke is rising from the sugar-shack chimney. Though is has seemed to be mud season just about all winter long here in Massachusetts, we are now really in the part of the year when thawing and mud are fully in control. The roads and driveways, paths and parking lots, are all pretty soft, with the road between Sentinel Elm Farm and Maggie’s Farm being a particularly bumpy and sloppy treat. Our livestock yards and pathways are pretty unpleasant, and we have an order in for a few more dump trucks worth of wood chips to try to improve the situation. This is our second winter in a row with more days of soft muddy thaw than deep hard freeze, and it is forcing me to reconsider how we house our livestock in the winter. Our systems are currently based on an expectation of frozen ground to keep the animals relatively high and dry, but it seems that that expectation no longer holds. All the animals have nice dry deep bedded shelter to go into, but their yards and paths are
in bad shape. I hope to spend some solid time this spring, summer and fall researching alternative ways to comfortably house livestock in the winter, and ideally have the chance to take a look at some other approaches on farms around New England. I’m pretty confident that there are quite a few other farmers facing the same challenges that we are facing, and I’m sure this will be a pertinent issue around our area. Maybe I’ll even be able to find a workshop or two in the summer conference season addressing this situation.
We sheared the sheep this week, cutting off a year’s worth of wool growth in just a few
minutes, and shrinking the volume of our little twenty sheep flock almost in half. The sheep also get their hoofs trimmed at shearing time, as well as getting their annual vaccination booster. We make our sheep walk quite a bit, so in general, their hoofs are in great shape. However, with the mucky conditions they’ve been wading through most of the winter, I was a little concerned that we’d tip them over and find some foot rot or other issue with their wet feet. I am happy to report that everyone’s hoofs were found to be in great shape, and they’ve been well trimmed and cleaned up for another year of high stepping. We changed vaccines this year, moving up to a seven strain version that should give us some protection from most of the Clostridium based illnesses, like black leg and over-eating disease. Shearing time is also fruit tree pruning time, and we had students scrambling up pruning ladders all over the ridge this week. We have little orchards in several locations at both farms, and in back-yards all around the neighborhood, and the pruners had a busy week trying to get it all done.
Quite a powerful storm blasted through New England between Thursday night and Saturday morning, though we were spared most of the trouble out here at The Farm
School. We got about an inch of rain through the day on Friday, with strong wind, and even a spit of snow once in a while too. Further north, the storm dropped more than a foot of snow, and further east the flooding and storm surge did considerable damage, but we missed most of it. Our livestock yards, roads, paths and driveways certainly didn’t need any more moisture, but things seem to be drying out pretty well now.
With the ground quickly thawing and turning soft, we had to make a sudden end to our firewood production out in the Runway pasture. Josh, Brad, Tyson and the student farmers put together a valiant final effort to get out the logs they could, burn off the slash, and clean the yard before things turned to soup and real damage could be done to the pasture. We hadn’t quite met our yearly quota for fire wood, so the loggers poked around in a couple other less
delicate locations to find enough logs to fill out the last nooks and crannies of the firewood pile.
Next week I’ll give you an update on changes in the dairy hard. Thanks!