This has been a busy week, and with turkey processing on the farm Sunday morning, I don’t have much time to write. It seems that winter arrived here at The Farm School this week with cold temperatures and snow putting all of our winter systems to the test. The really cold weather started Wednesday and Thursday, with temperatures down in the teens freezing hoses, mud and water troughs. Thursday night into Friday morning we got four or five inches of snow on the frozen ground, and the landscape took on that classic New England winter look. We were not quite ready for this sudden step into winter, and some of our setups for livestock needed a bit of reworking to resume functioning in these freezing conditions. Heaters have been put into most of the livestock water troughs, all the laying hens are in winter quarters with lights, and we are working to get comfortable with the new winter chore situation. We raced the cold weather to get cement poured out behind the dairy barn to hold up four new fence posts and gates that had to be put right on top of the bedrock out there, and now the dairy cows are eating round bales in their new
winter yard and using the new access road. We had to change the cow’s route to the old sheep pasture to keep them away from the new Flat Field East veggie fields, and this new setup seems like it is going to work well. We to dig a trench and lay a new electrical conduit to bring power from the Bunkhouse to the outdoor wood furnace before the ground froze this week, finishing that work at dusk on Thursday night just before the snow started. We loaded twenty lambs off for processing Wednesday morning, and now with the turkeys done, we are just about finished with our livestock processing for the year. There are two pigs in the barn yard fattening up for a butchering class, and that’s it until next year.
As much as I hate to write it, it did rain quite a bit again this week, pushing conditions on the farm even further into the mud. The sheep seem to be taking advantage of the dry indoor space that we opened up for them last weekend, and after scraping their yard with the tractor this weekend, I am feeling a bit better about their situation. We also have some nice cold weather in the ten day forecast, so there is some chance that all this wet and mud might just freeze into a nice firm surface. Everything off the hard roads is dangerously soft, and any necessary drives onto the pastures leave muddy ruts and damage. We cannot drive out onto the pastures to spread manure in these conditions, we cannot access the pasture edges for tree clearing, and the turkeys are making some really muddy spots as they continue to graze out on the pasture behind the bunkhouse. There is some rain in the long-term forecast, and some really cold weather, and we continue to wait for an extended dry period to let the ground firm up so that we can get back out onto the pastures.
In the mean time, Tyson and the student farmers have been able to continue the work of making permanent raised beds in the newly cultivated Flat Field East, forming that
beautiful well-drained soil into sets of straight rows that will be ready for planting in the spring. This work has been mostly accomplished with hand tools, and this new acreage drains really nicely, so the wetter conditions have not slowed us down too much. As we work to hone the balance of enterprises undertaken on this land, it is gratifying to see the veggies moving into acreage with rich soil and good drainage, while we move to seed new pasture in the areas that are less suitable to vegetable cultivation. Observation of the land over time and experience over a wide sweep of seasons and conditions gives us an ever clarifying understanding of the nuances of this acreage we work, and we try our best to put this growing understanding to work as we make long term plans.
These November days come and go so quickly that I always start to feel a little panicked trying to get through the work of winter preparation. Early mornings are frozen, the afternoon feels like its about half an hour long, and the to-do list is full of weighty projects that our livestock and infrastructure need for a comfortable and healthy winter. We’ve got the beef winter setup just about finished, except we still need to build a new dry-hay feeder, and make a small annex to the beef winter fencing situation to accommodate the new feeder. The well at the beef winter barn continues to struggle along, periodically giving us a hundred gallons, but usually doing very little. These struggles mean that the water cube has to stay in service for the winter, and the student farmers need to keep a close eye on the weather forecast to make sure that they don’t leave the cube full of water on really cold nights. The sheep are in their winter quarters, with the rams in with the flock and hopefully doing their business, with access to pasture still in the hopes of giving them a drier place to spend time while their yard dries. The youngest layers are in the winter layer house at Maggie’s Farm, having moved in on Monday of this week. They seem to be settling in quite nicely, and their egg production continues to climb. Though they are still laying those smaller pullet sized eggs, we are counting on them to really start laying in earnest soon to supply the Maggie’s farmhouse as well as our meat CSA. The older layers are still out on pasture for one more day, and they’ll move into the winter house at Sentinel Elm Farm Monday evening. They have been laying for the past year to supply Maggie’s Farm, but they’ll keep on producing for another year, at a lower level, down the road at the kid’s farm. We culled the majority of the layers at Sentinel Elm on Sunday to make room for the new flock, and there are some massive pots of stock bubbling away in the bunkhouse kitchen right now. That delicious broth will help us all stay healthy and fit through the winter ahead! Wednesday of this week we take the lambs off to processing, and Sunday is turkey processing day. Other than the two pigs in the yard fattening up for the student farmer’s butchering class, the lambs and turkeys will mark the end of the livestock production year, and will take us down to our winter livestock population.
I feel awfully repetitive by now, but the rain just won’t stop here at The Farm School, and these wet conditions have moved firmly to the center of my concerns as it relates to our livestock. In last week’s post I described a moderate stretch of dry weather that gave us the chance to till up a new field and even try to spread some manure. However, we had rain most of this past week, with a whopping two and a half inches falling Friday and Saturday, and we are back to mud and muck up and down the ridge. The dairy cows stayed in the barn for the day on Saturday, munching on dry hay and keeping out of the wet. The beef herd is in their winter quarters and can get out of the weather in their renovated barn. The laying hens and turkeys are still out on pasture, and while the layers can go into their egg-mobiles to stay dry, the turkey’s houses have no floors, and those birds are pretty exposed. They are enormous by now, and relatively water proof, but I would love to find a way to give them roosts that would get them up off the ground.
Finally we come to the sheep, whose yard has turned into a terrible muddy mess. I spent most of the day on Saturday preparing and opening up their indoor winter space, re-bedding their large feeding shed, changing their pasture fence and trying to give them as much opportunity as possible to dry out. The big concern for the sheep is their feet, which I think have been pretty consistently wet since July, and which can start to get into trouble if they don’t have the chance to dry out from time to time. My hope in opening the indoor area is that the space can stay truly dry, despite the rainy weather, and that sheep resting in there will come out with dry feet.
On Friday afternoon we pulled off a big shuffle with the sheep and goats, getting the rams in with the ewes and the buck in with the does. We had to get the ewes that we don’t want bred moved out of the sheep flock before the rams went in, and the does that we don’t want bred moved out of the goat flock before the buck went in, and we had to do it all in pouring rain and mud. First we put Ethel, the youngest doe, into the livestock trailer and drove her down to Maggie’s. At Maggie’s we loaded the three lambs we don’t want bred into the trailer too, and wormed and vaccinated everyone we’d caught. We then put a halter on Rubble, the big buck, and lead him out of the breeders pen. We caught both rams, treated the one with the foot injury, wormed and vaccinated both rams, and sent them into the sheep pen. With the breeders pen empty, we moved the young ewes and Ethel in, and put Rubble into the livestock trailer. Rubble rode down to Sentinel Elm Farm, we wormed
and vaccinated him, trimmed his over-grown feet, and lead him down to the goat pen to go in with the two older does. Finally, we drove over to Dave’s house, loaded up Frank, the young buck, and two young does named Honey and Sugar. They all rode back down to Maggie’s, Frank was moved in with the big sheep flock, and Honey and Sugar went in with the young ewes and Ethel. The rams are super happy to finally be in with the sheep, and Rubble is also quite pleased to be with the does, but everyone else is taking some time to settle into their new situations. Frank, the young buck, required some additional high fencing and gates at the sheep pen since he is so much more athletic than the sheep and is so prone to jumping escapes.
Work continued this week on a fourth hoop house going up just west of the one we call the hardening-off house. This new plastic covered space will have no floor, so we’ll be
planting directly into the soil in there. This will serve like our winter greenhouse, giving us a warmer space for spring and fall growing, and a place where we can control the moisture levels directly. This will support the developing program we’re putting together in the Flat Field, giving us more acreage for intensive production.
This was the first week of the draft horse and chainsaw training component of our fall in the Learn to Farm program, with one third of the student group headed off to Fair Winds Farm in Brattleboro, one third in our woods with Bill Gerard doing The Game of Logging, and a third in the Flat Field working to get that acreage as ready for next year’s growing season as is possible before the ground freezes. This is a really rich part of the program, and a stretch when students are picking up the essential skills that will prepare them for the firewood work coming over the winter.