July 1st – July 8th

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The beef herd in some tall grass

This was an extremely hot week here at The Farm School, with the temperature Monday and Wednesday up over one hundred degrees and close to that every other day, bright sun, and pretty uncomfortable humidity. The weather put a significant strain on our livestock, and we worked all week to do what we could to keep everyone as comfortable as was possible. Most of our animals come from English or European origins, and are most comfortable in cooler, and even wet weather. Our Devon beef cows prefer temperatures below seventy degrees, and will seek shade any time the thermometer goes above that point. Our Border Leicester sheep also would prefer cool English weather, and the pigs, with a very limited ability to sweat, can overheat quite easily. We made sure that all the livestock had access to cool fresh water throughout the week, managed our beef grazing pattern to make sure that the herd had constant access to deep shade, and parked an extra water tank up at the pigs for soaking them periodically and for maintaining a nice muddy wallow. Everyone came through the week remarkably well, and we had a nice rainy Friday morning as a cold front finally pushed in and squeezed the tropical air out to sea. We had a great soaking rain in the middle of last week, so while the hot weather did make everything seem a bit droopy and baked, our veggies and pastures held up nicely and are enjoying a cooler end to the week. There is some hot weather in the forecast for next week, (and no rain), but nothing as extended and hot as we just suffered through.

We are up to six calves in the beef herd so far this summer, matching our yearly

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The laying flock moved to a new pasture Sunday morning. 

processing demand. We had twelve last year, so I expect that we may have a few more before the season is over. We have had a nice mix of bulls and heifers, giving us the opportunity for some great steers in two years, and some replacement cows as well. The whole herd is looking great, sleek and fat out there on the pastures, and an amazing contrast to the rough look everyone has coming out of the winter and mud season.

This year’s Thanksgiving turkeys are in the brooder in the back of the dairy barn, and we would like to get them out on pasture some time in the coming week. They grow amazingly quickly, and fill the brooder in a matter of two or three weeks, so we are eager to get them more room to stretch out in, and get them outside on the grass. We transitioned the turkeys from our usual daily move small house

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Turkey poults in the brooder

model to a day-range fenced model last year, and I think we’ll do that again this year. We start the birds in small houses, moved once or twice per day to fresh ground. Once they’ve grown big enough that we are not worried about hawks carrying them off, we setup a large perimeter fence, and open the doors to their houses and let them wander. We setup a few feeders and waterers throughout their fenced yard, and move the whole setup periodically to get them on fresh ground. The turkeys herd very easily, so the moves have been really easy and our visiting students really enjoy that part of the work. Last year we lost one turkey to predators out of our group of fifty birds, so the system seemed to work for us, and it certainly gives the birds more freedom and space.

We have some fences up around veggie beds these days, trying to deter the local deer population which seems to have gotten a taste for some our lettuce and peas. Carlen has also been battling a family of woodchucks that has been dining on our veggie starts in the LongMowing area of the farm. She has been humanely trapping for a few weeks, and we have setup a low electric fence in their area as well. Some years these issues never seem to arise, but on the years that they do, we have found it difficult to dissuade an

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The next generation of layers is growing well in the Maggie’s brooder house. 

animal from eating our produce once they’ve gotten in the habit of doing it. The deer follow a regular path through their habitat every evening, stopping to eat at locations that they’ve found and prefer all over the area. Once they establish comfort with a spot, especially if it’s full of delicious lettuce, peas and other organic veggies, there is not a lot that can stop them from coming back. They are extremely agile and can jump remarkably high, are determined browsers, and are relentless in their efforts. Our approach has been to setup a strong electric fence, and to hang scented baits on it to encourage the deer (unfortunately) to touch the fence and feel the shock. Our hope is that one strong experience with the fence will make a memory powerful enough to keep them away in the future. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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