October 21st – October 28th

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We’ve got lots of composted manure, and some lime, to spread on the pastures this fall. 

Although it has been raining off and on just about all weekend here at The Farm School, we did have a nice stretch of rain-free weather over the past week, and things had the chance to dry out a bit. Fields dried enough for some more fall cultivation, roads firmed up enough so we could get up to load ten more pigs for the ride to the slaughterhouse, and the sheep yard was hard pack again until this latest rain started. Conditions improved enough that I even made an attempt to start our fall manure spreading, with the goal of putting down the majority of our composted manure on the sheep pasture, but the manure spreader failed me. It has been limping along at a barely functional stage for the past few years, forcing us to load it lighter and lighter to actually spin, and despite valiant efforts to rehab the machine both of the past two winters, it finally stopped completely on Thursday morning. We pulled the back end apart Thursday and Friday, diagnosed what we believe the major problem was, and have it back together ready for another go at it next week. The whole unit is really getting on in years, and may need to get replaced some time soon, but we’re trying to keep it going for as long as we can.

We sent six cows from the beef herd off to the slaughterhouse on Sunday of last week,

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The slip recording tag numbers for beef cows going in for processing. 

and those animals will restock the supplies in the freezer for both CSA distribution and cooking in the bunkhouse and at Maggie’s Farm. The beef herd is finishing up the last bit of green pasture this weekend, and then they’ll head into winter quarters early next week. We have been putting the finishing touches on their renovated winter barn, and stocking up on the straw that we use for their bedding. I think things are looking good for a pretty cozy setup in there, and the production of a good supply of deep bedded manure compost. I have been researching design plans for a moveable dry hay feeder to add to their facilities, and I hope we can get one in the works quickly and put it to use.

The rams go in with the sheep at the end of next week, and the buck goes in with the does at the same time. Those breeders will get a little tune-up before going to work, with a hoof trim, vaccine booster and worming. This will be the first breeding season for our rams, as well as the buck, so I am eager to see how they perform. One of the rams developed a little hoof problem this week, and while it was minor enough that we would have usually just let it resolve itself, we had a the vet in on Thursday to fix it up. We really want to make sure that the ram is fully mobile and on his A-game when breeding starts so that the window of breeding, and the resulting lambing window, can be as short as is possible. The vet found a ruptured abscess in one pad of the rams front right foot, so we flushed it with iodine and wrapped it, and gave him an antibiotic to ensure that the infection clears up.
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We’ve plowed up a section of the old sheep pasture to add to the Flat Field system, and found some really good soil in there, and almost no rocks (except those two bigs ones). 

Trees starting coming down along this year’s firewood area this week as we worked to prepare for the big production push starting in a few weeks. We’ve found that having a hand-full of trees down and ready for bucking and splitting really helps to get the work going while individual students work one-on-one with Bradley and Tyson on the slower and more careful work of more tree felling. We’ll be cutting along the western edge of the Flat Field at Sentinel Elm Farm this year, opening that hedgerow up as much as we possibly can to permit the maximum amount of sunlight onto the veggie beds in the field. The Flat Field is undergoing a significant upgrade and development into a tightly managed permanent bed system with irrigation, all established and planted at a hand-tool scale. We are hoping to produce a consistent supply of the smaller more intensive crops in that space, do it under tighter control with more consistent results, and free up some of our other veggie acreage for fallowing and other management. This is a really exciting development of our land and program, and the first steps taken this fall have been an effort to have next year’s growing season go as smoothly as a first year can. I’ll let you know how it all goes down.

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October 14th – October 21st

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Tomatillos in the home garden

Cold temperatures, strong wind, and frosty mornings have made this week feel like a true step into fall for us here at the farm, and there is a new urgency around our work to prepare winter quarters for our livestock. Both chicken winter houses are getting cleaned and fixed up so that the layers can come in off pasture and move into their cozy winter homes, and we’re working on the beef winter barn too. We renovated the inside space, expanded the room the cows will have to lie down, fixed up the walls that surround the cow’s space, rehabbed the windows and restored the hay-loft upstairs. We are excited to see how the changes work out this winter, and also to get the beef herd included in our AWA certification. That certification demands a certain amount of square feet of indoor area per animal, so one motivation for our renovation was to get the barn up to that standard. Fall is also breeding season for our sheep and goats. We’ll do quite a bit of shuffling to get the rams and bucks where they need to be on November 1st, and to get the younger ewes and does that we don’t want to breed out of the way. The rams and bucks will get wormed, get their vaccine boosters and their hoofs trimmed before they go in with the girls. Our buck is so stinky by this point that I have ordered hazmat suits to put on before handling him.

We took our first round of pigs off to the slaughterhouse Wednesday, the loading chute worked really well and the whole operation came off very smoothly. These are some of the best looking pigs that we have ever raised here at The Farm School, probably because we had so much milk for them as we renovated our dairy facility, and I am really excited to

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The dairy herd headed in for a drink. 

see how the cuts come back in a few weeks. We’ll hold onto the last, smallest pig of the bunch, keep it for a couple of weeks down in the farmyard, and have it ready for the student farmer’s butchering class in December. That class will give us a hands on look at the quality of the animal, as well as an opportunity to hear from the professional butcher teaching the class about how it looks. The butchering class is always a very direct verdict on the how our pig enterprise went for the year, and I relish the chance to see the product and to hear about its quality.

The cold weather has also put a charge into this final push in the veggie fields, cultivating and seeding with cover crop seed as Tyson and Brad race to get as much acreage prepped for a good winter as is possible. The student farmers have been going through their one-on-one in-depth tractor training this week as well, so the tractor and its operators, have been pretty busy. By this point in the fall we are spreading winter rye seed as our cover crop, and it can germinate at temperatures as low as thirty-four degrees, and will grow as cold as thirty-eight

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The greenhouse is just about empty.

degrees. This gives us a bit more time to get that seed in the soil, and hopefully to have it grow a bit before things really shut down for the winter. The rye in the field will help hold the soil in place through the winter and spring, and will provide a little ‘green manure’ when it is cultivated into the soil in the spring.

 

October 7th – October 15th

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This rainy weather has meant a bumper crop of wild mushrooms. This is a huge puffball in the Flat Field.

We just cannot get a break from the rain here in central MA, and with more than an inch falling here this week, conditions have remained saturated and soggy. Brad and Tyson were able to sneak out into some veggie fields during the first half of the week to cultivate and spread cover crop seeds, but it started raining Tuesday evening and has not really stopped since then. The dairy cow road, the sheep road, around the water trough in the beef cow’s daily paddocks, and everywhere that we drive out on the fields is a soft muddy mess, and I continue to worry about the condition of our hoofed animals feet. They all need to have the opportunity for their feet to dry out periodically to avoid ‘foot rot’, and those chances to get out of the wet seem to be few and far between these days. We are trying to use straw strategically to give them dry loafing areas, but in really wet conditions, straw just ends up saturated and holding more water. We are seeing more and more clearly the work that needs to be done to prepare the land that we farm to accommodate the farming that we want to do. Our roads, our animal housing and our veggie systems all need some updating and improving if this weather is going to recur in seasons to come. We cannot predict if super wet summers will be the new pattern for us here, so I think that we will need to think long and hard about how to adapt our endeavors and methods to be resilient in the face of a wide variety of weather challenges. The issue that I expect we’ll be facing is not really any specific type of weather becoming more prevalent, but rather an intensification of the weather generally, with hotter hots, wetter wets, and drier dries. This means improving our infrastructure in terms of flooding, but also thinking about ways to keep our animals and vegetables comfortable and well fed and watered in hotter and drier weather too.

There was frost on the tallest grass in Middle Earth Pasture when I was out moving the

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The pumpkins have been harvested, but some stragglers remain.

egg-mobiles before sunrise Saturday morning, and with the temperature forecasted to fall down near freezing again on several nights this week, it looks like we might really be coming to the official end of the growing season. There are cold hardy veggie crops like kale still out in the fields, and they can handle the cold, but most plants stop growing or are killed completely with a couple of frosts. We have some really nice grass out in the pastures which will also stop growing for the season with a few frosty nights, and now we just need to be vigilant that our grazing is gentle enough that we don’t do too much damage to the dormant pastures. We want to the pastures to rest through the winter with a nice cover of grass, so close grazing will put the plants and pastures at risk if we take that cover down too short. A nice healthy grass plant with a large root system under the soil is ready to get things going again in the spring, and has the resources available to begin growing early and strong, but a plant that the cows or sheep thrash in the fall won’t have much energy to get going when temperatures climb in March and April.

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The Kale and Chard enjoying some rare sun in the Flat Field. 

Frost on the pastures turns my mind to the winter work to come, to the projects that need to get done now before the ground freezes, and to the systems that need to be setup before there is ice in the hoses and water dishes. We have a stack of logs in the yard at Maggie’s Farm ready for bucking, splitting and stacking. Student Farmers will take the Game of Logging class in a couple of weeks, get their introduction to chainsaw use, care and safety, and the months long cord-wood project will start rolling along. The winter layer house still has the bedding from last spring in it, so it will need a full clean-out and refresh before the new layers can move in. We need to initiate round bale deliveries at the Waslaske barn and at the dairy, stocking up on winter feed for the beef and dairy herds. Six beef cows load out to the slaughterhouse next Sunday, so I’ll need to get the chute in order, review the herd records to select the steers and cows that are ready for culling, and mark them with paint so we can pick them out next weekend without too much trouble. Our first batch of pigs goes off for processing Wednesday, and I’ll work with our Student Farmers to finish up the loading setup and get the trailer in place. Finally, though I’m sure there are a lot of things I’m forgetting, November first is the date we put the rams in with the sheep flock, so we need to figure out the rotation of rams, bucks, ewe lambs we don’t want bred, and goat does so that everyone has a nice place to live, nobody is in with the boys that shouldn’t be, and everyone is safe. I’ll let you know what we figure out.

October 1st – October 7th

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Out turkeys are growing.

The new class of student farmers arrived on the farm Thursday evening, and they’ve been traipsing all over the ridge over the past few days, seeing the fields and forests, meeting our neighbors, and getting to know each other a little. On Friday morning we circled up to give everyone a chance to share a little bit about how they ended up here at The Farm School, and every student shared some incredibly compelling story that has brought them here. It is inspiring to hear why folks have made the decision to spend the next year here doing the work of the farm with us, it validates the work that we put into the program and our belief in the significance of our mission. It is also wonderful to have Maggie’s Farm re-invigorated, lights on in the farm house and folks out and about bringing the place to life again. Soon they’ll be moving through this landscape, doing chores and harvest, building and repairing, and keeping this whole big thing spinning for another year.

Next week will be the first full week of the 2018/19 Learn to Farm program, and it will be

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The leaves have started turning at the farm. 

a busy stretch full of time spent getting students up to speed on harvest and livestock chores so that they can go right to work keeping the farm humming along. We’ll do chore, truck and harvest training on Monday and Wednesday, in depth livestock observation and a walk through the forest on Tuesday, a full day of tractor safety on Thursday, and food preservation and carpentry on Friday. Its quite a list of topics and skills, and while we try to stay vigilant in not overloading our new students, we are eager to get them the knowledge and skills they’ll need to get right to work on the farm. The fall is a training and class heavy time when we introduce some of the fundamental concepts that will guide the whole year. This is also the period when the tenor of the group can be set, and strong bonds that will carry the class through the long hard seasons can be formed.

The work of the farm continued this week, though the wet weather also continued, keeping us out of the fields and pastures with tractors and trucks for fear of damaging the soft ground. We have been unable to cultivate finished veggie beds to prepare them for cover crop seed, and I have not been able to drive into the pasture to hook up and move the egg mobiles. We did have one really nice sunny day on Friday, which felt wonderful after days and days of grey and damp, but Saturday and Sunday have taken us back into the mist and humidity, so I don’t think were drying out at all.
Pigs start loading up for the trip to the slaughterhouse next Wednesday, so we’ll spend this coming week getting their

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Winter spinach is coming up in the hoop house. 

chute setup and ready. We’ll take ten pigs in every Wednesday until they’re all gone, so we need to have a good setup that makes loading as smooth as is possible. The pigs start the fall processing sequence, and we’ll be taking livestock over to the slaughter house pretty regularly through the fall. Thirty pigs, twenty sheep, six cows, maybe a couple of goats, and the whole flock of fifty turkeys will exit the stage here in the coming couple of months, emptying our farm quite a bit for the winter season.