February 5th – February 11th

Little Indigo is growing up fast.

We experienced some truly remarkable weather here on the farm this week, testing all of our systems in new and challenging ways. We started the week with nighttime temperatures well below zero, but by Wednesday, with a big blob of warm wet air moving into New England, temperatures had climbed up into the sixties. This swing was extraordinary, taking us from a bit below typical temperatures for February in Massachusetts, to far above.  The cold ground, and every cold surface, first condensed and then iced over, and then just thawed and made thick mist and fog, trapping moisture in every building and animal shelter. The beef cow’s deep bedded pack barn, buttoned up pretty tight to keep out the cold winter wind, was a humid mess, and we had to slide the doors open to try to get the moist air to move through. It is important that those animals get fresh air to breath all the time, and that we avoid overly moist air lingering in their space, so getting things moving in there was really important. Our nice little snowpack melted away, the ground got super soft, and driveways started to resemble quicksand. Every step outside was soft and approaching bottomless, and care had to be taken in selecting

The forestry crew has been working to get us setup for sugaring season, which seems to be coming soon. 

routes and pathways for every endeavor. Things turned around dramatically Friday with driving winds from the northwest pushing in cold winter air again, and now the chopped up ground has frozen hard into treacherous mud-formed mountain ranges ready to eviscerate any passing vehicle. As the new front pushed in Friday afternoon, the low sodden clouds and mists were vigorously pushed out to reveal blue sky and the nearly forgotten sun, and I think that we all shared a few hours reveling in our deliverance before the evening came.

We took advantage of the warm weather and thaw of midweek to replace the plastic on the greenhouse, and to dismantle most of last year’s pig infrastructure, which had been frozen solid in their old pasture on top of the hill. Both projects were lingering in our collective minds, and it was a relief to get this little weather respite to tackle both under mild conditions. The plastic of the greenhouse is much easier to stretch and put in place with warm temperatures as it softens a bit as it warms, and we can work better without gloves. The metal frame of the greenhouse can be remarkably cold to the touch in winter conditions, so we are always pleased to find a warm stretch, when the building is not in active use, to do renovations and repairs. The pig palace, consisting of a deck and walls built of wood, was a project that we just did not have time to get to in the fall after the pigs moved out. I am eager to give those wooden structure, which we use year after year, ample time to rest and dry out between pig seasons, so I was really happy to find a few days to get most of it disassembled and stacked for some drying time before we set it up again in the spring.

Purple Rain, named by visiting students, peaking out from behind the remains of the round bale. 

Veggie planning continued this week, as did a few other great classes in the Learn to Farm program, though with the warm temperatures, we weren’t all taking shelter indoors as much as usual. We met with a large animal veterinarian Monday morning for our annual calf castration workshop, working with last year’s group of beef calves to get them all vaccinated, wormed, castrated (bulls only) and re-tagged. This is always a high-test experience for the students, and calves, but everyone conducted themselves with grace and determination, and we got all the work done effectively and smoothly. We had only two bull calves in the group this time, but we did have the change to do the first castration surgically so that the students had the opportunity to see the intricate parts we were after. We finished the week with two days of race and equity workshopping, continuing to further the commitment that we’ve made to this work step by step.

January 28th – February 4th


Kids are back at the farm next week!

We had a good stretch of staff work at Sentinel Elm Farm this week, getting the farm, bunkhouse, and our plans, setup and ready for the visiting kids who are coming Monday morning. The inside of the bunkhouse has been painted and it’s looking fantastic, projects and supplies are laid out and ready to spring into action, and we are super excited to welcome kids back to the farm. The quiet weeks of winter are a wonderful chance to meet, discuss, learn and plan, but the beating heart of The Farm School is the visiting kids rocking and rolling all around. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be bustling and bumping in the bunkhouse dining room, the kitchen will swing back into action, the bunk-rooms will be full of a clamorous crowd of tired kids, and this wonderful program will be back in action.

We have lined out a few changes that we’d like to achieve in our livestock work this spring, updating our approach to our management approach based on lessons gleaned from the past year. We hope to make some changes to the road that the dairy cows use to get from the barn to their water trough, and on to the paddocks spread throughout the pastures of the upper farm, and to change the direction and size of their paddocks to make moving the chicken’s egg-mobile around those paddocks a bit easier. We’ve handed over the majority of a nice pasture we call the Old Sheep Pasture to the new Flat Field vegetable production initiative, so we are going to graze some pastures that we have made hay on in the past in an effort to maintain adequate grazing acreage for the dairy cows.  We’d also like to expand the goat’s yard, and enhance their house, as we prepare for them to have babies in there this spring. The buck went in with them at the start of November, so with a five month gestation, we expect babies in April. We had only two does in with the buck this year, so this should be a small, and hopefully uneventful first kidding season for our fledgling meat goat operation. Our hope is that we get some good doe kids this year, we can expand the breeding group in the next few years from our own group, and work to develop the goats into another profitable ingredient of our operation. I have dreams including some of these goats, any that we don’t need for breeding or processing, in the sheep setup down the road at Maggie’s Farm. The far end of the sheep pasture, some of the nooks and crannies around the edges, and some of the wetter areas grow brush and forage that the sheep don’t seem to be interested in grazing, and I hope that a handful of goats might be able to do some work in these areas, and succeed within the existing sheep systems without too many other changes. We also

The dairy herd enjoying some sunshine. 

ironed out some of the details for our new pig feeding program, securing a feed supplier, and transportation and storage plan, and placing an order for a new feeder. We’ll be buying grain from Clover Hill Farm in Hardwick, MA, transporting and storing it in metal fifty-five gallon drums, and feeding it out in a new Fabcore eight-door pig feeder. I am really excited to try out all these new plans, but we still need to decide on a location to raise the pigs this summer, and of course we need to find some piglets.

This was a full week of work and classes in the Learn to Farm program focused again mostly on cordwood production outside, and the business side of farming when we were in the classroom. We had some really cold weather through most of the week, so working out in the cordwood yard was pretty challenging first thing in the morning, but I think that folks felt good once they got working and warmed up. Sitting inside, discussing, thinking and planning also felt really good when the thermometer was down around zero, and everyone appreciated the wood furnace and some inside time. Wednesday afternoon included a full staff meeting for a few hours after lunch, when we had a chance to continue working on our racial equity and liberation efforts, learning and discussion. Next week looks warm and wet, and I’ll let you know how it goes.