Large round wrapped bales of hay have started arriving on the farm as we stock up on winter feed for the dairy and beef herds. We make almost forty of our own bales here as a first cutting of our own pastures in June or July, but we’ll need more than one hundred for the beef herd and another seventy or so for the dairy herd to get us through to grazing again in early May of next year. The dairy herd gets the premium stuff in the hope that they can stay on a highly nutritious diet and keep making that good milk through the cold weather. The beef herd is happy with first cut since they’re just keeping fed and growing the first stages of next spring’s calves, with much lower demand than the dairy cows in milk. These wrapped bales, full of slightly pickled hay that the cows love, can be stored
outside, and stay fresh for months and months. Their use does require a tractor, since they’re so heavy, and they are wrapped in plastic and twine that can really become an eyesore and a nuisance on the farm if they’re not managed carefully, but they have been a wonderful innovation for feeding large ruminants. Each round bale is the equivalent of twenty-five to forty square bales, depending on weights and quality, so they are a really efficient way for us to keep our cows well fed through winter.
We bought two little piglets this week, and installed them in the pig yard near the greenhouse. They’ll get the extra milk from the dairy all winter, and grow up to be big beautiful fat pigs by spring, ready for the BPG or the freezer. They have a deeply bedded house to burrow into, and they spend most of their time nestled under the straw during the cold weather. I would love to include a picture of them here, but they are quite elusive in their warm hide-out,
and I hate to roust them out of there when they’re so happy snuggled up with each other.
This was a cold week here on the farm, and we didn’t really have any precipitation, which is the first time that I can write that in quite a while. By my reckoning, and this is another instance when I really wish that I kept a weather journal, we have had measurable precipitation here every week since the Fourth of July. The dry weather did wonders for the animal yards, roads, pastures and driveways, and the coming week looks dry until Friday as well. Dry cold weather firms up the ground so we can drive out on it again, turns the mud of the cow yard into cement, and generally gives us all firmer footing in everything that we’re doing. One interesting issue that I am dreading somewhat is that the ground has frozen solid while totally saturated. Of course the ground freezes every winter with a certain degree of moisture in it, hence the freezing part, but this year temperatures got cold with what I must assume is almost 100% water-logged soil. This seems to me to indicate that the ground will be particularly hard frozen, and that when it thaws, it is going to be an ever-loving mess. We have started having multiple mud seasons throughout the winter in these parts with less consistent cold temperatures, and I expect that we are in for some really sloppy conditions at several points this winter.
The cold weather means meeting season has begun here at The Farm School, and the veggie team has been huddled a bunch this week as they re-hash last season’s experience, look for lessons for the coming year, and make their plans for next year. They look at
which crops and varieties grew the best for us, which of them our customers were most excited about, new varieties that might be able to address production and sales issues that we faced, and when and where to put it all as the season unfolds. The coming season will mark two shifts for us in veggie production as we integrate our newly enhanced Flat Field acreage into the mix, and also as we change from the traditional ‘Head Grower’ management model to a more collaborative approach. We will try to use the power of spread-sheets and digitization to maintain a framework for folks to work within, and we’ve downsized our veggie CSA membership to lighten the pressure a bit in this inaugural production year. Both changes seem really exciting from where I stand over here with the livestock, and I think that we are all really looking forward to seeing how it all works out. I’ll let you know!
All the photos this week are from our greenhouse, converted, as we do every year about this time, into a timber frame workshop. There are pictures of some of the many tools that students are taught to use in their work, turning the timbers into the many components of timber frame structure, there are pictures of the timbers and finished pieces, and at the bottom is an image of the book that we use as our reference throughout the work. Enjoy!
The turkeys have gone to the holiday table, the last two pigs are ready to be picked up at the slaughterhouse for Monday’s butchering class, and Friday marked the end of our fall season of programing with visiting school groups at Sentinel Elm Farm. It all adds up to a true changing of the seasons here at The Farm School. The Learn to Farm program rolls on for a few more weeks before our winter break, with a focus on more chainsaw, tractor and horse training, and some intensive livestock class time with a UMASS animal health professor. The big greenhouse has made its annual transition into a timber frame workshop, and we have begun the slow work of turning large timbers into posts, braces, beams and joists. The skills that students develop with the chainsaw, tractor and horses will be put straight to use in our annual cord wood production project, making the firewood to power our outdoor furnace, and enough to share with some neighbors too. The students have already had more intensive introductions to working with horses, chainsaws and tractors in their first month on the farm, so these weeks are a chance to remind them of that introduction and to try to add some more experience and comfort.
The student farmer started their week with Dr. Major, the large animal vet from Green Mt. Bovine Clinic, who works with our dairy, focusing on cow health, diet and reproduction . He gave the students an in-depth look at the major health issues that face dairy cattle, a summary of the a typical year in the life of a dairy cow, and then some hands on time with the cows, checking pregnancies and looking at other issues in our herd. He also helped the students get a feel for the vet/farmer relationship, how to keep it strong and effective for both parties, and what information and supplies to have on hand when the vet is coming to your farm. The more time I spend working in our dairy the more I see the vital roll that the vet plays in that enterprise, especially with a novice dairy manager like myself, and the more significant place I see for the working relationship that we try to maintain with Dr. Major. We have spent many hours together, on the phone or in the barn, looking over cows, reading health records, inspecting facilities, discussing health issues and treatments, and looking for ways to improve the health and production in the unique dairy environment of this teaching farm. This time the students spent with Dr. Major was a great opportunity to introduce them to that relationship, and to give them a chance to see the enterprise from Dr. Major’s experienced vantage.
We’ve had a few brief tastes of winter weather on the farm already here in November, and now with the livestock down to winter levels and in winter quarters, the fields and orchards dormant until spring, we can turn to the quick period of trying to get everything put away and cleaned up before true winter sets in. We still have a few hoses out there on the farm, some water troughs and other equipment around that we’ll need to drain, clean and get under cover before everything freezes and gets lost under the snow. We’ve had an extremely extended stretch of wet grey weather here, really since about the fourth of July, and now with the pastures brown and the leaves off the trees, this landscape, under clouds and mist, is nearly colorless. There are bright red Winterberries for an occasional splash of color here and there, but everything else seems to be within a narrow spectrum between brown and grey. A nice white blanket of snow would certainly make those browns and greys stand out clearly, and as always, we are looking forward to snow and ski season.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
The rain kept up this week, the pastures stayed soft and muddy, farm roads were a mess, and I think that frogs were the only animals around happy with the weather. We’ve had the beef herd grazing rotation stopped for about two weeks, trying to let soaked pastures dry out and firm up so the herd doesn’t churn up the soil too much as they graze. After going through ten round bales of hay, it felt like the time had come to get back into grazing, so despite the rain, the cows started moving again Thursday afternoon. They were really excited to get some fresh grass, but the pastures that they are moving through now certainly did not dry out nearly as much as I had hoped they would before the cows went on them.
We have been having real trouble getting Penguin bred this summer and fall, and after
five attempts and an exam from the vet, we have moved her down the road to join the beef herd and their bull. The Jersey cows can gain weight really quickly if they are not growing a calf or making milk, and Penguin, at two years old and open, has been showing signs of weight gain over the past few months. We discovered that her reproductive anatomy was already pretty small when Brad tried to breed her, so our concern was that the addition of internal body fat would only make breeding her get more and more difficult. The vet came out to examine Penguin and her mother Patty, who has also been having a little trouble breeding, and recommended getting Penguin bred as soon as possible. He said that everything seemed to be in place and proper, but that weight gain was going to become an issue very soon. She had been in a good standing heat the day before the vet’s visit, and he said she could even be bred right then and there. We hustled her into the livestock trailer, somehow got the truck and trailer through the submerged fields roads out to the beef herd, and inside the fence. The bull was immediately interested in Penguin, and I am hoping that he got her bred that afternoon or evening. We’ll leave her in with the beef herd for about a month more, giving her at least one more cycle for breeding in case the connection was not made this week. I was worried about the potential for Penguin, bred by the beef bull, to grow a baby too big to birth next spring, but the vet is confident that the match should work out. We have been letting our heifers grow to two years old before their first breeding, but the vet has advised us to advance our first breeding to fifteen or sixteen months or age to help avoid the weight issues we’ve been having. The next challenge will be to get Penguin out of the beef herd and back into the dairy in a month’s time.
Penguin’s mother Patty, the star of our milking and breeding programs, had a calf in May, but has not been cycling at all since then. Obviously a cow that doesn’t come into heat cannot be bred, so we have been watching Patty carefully and waiting for a heat cycle. The vet came out to check her this week, and, using a small ultrasound probe, was able to detect a cyst on one of her ovaries. This cyst, something quite common in older dairy cows, has been secreting hormones and confusing the function of her reproductive system, and was keeping her from cycling properly. We administered a hormone injection while the vet was cow-side that will begin a heat cycle, we’ll give her another type of treatment in ten days to bring the cycle to fruition and cause Patty to shed the cyst, and then hopefully she will able to begin her own regular cycling and we can breed her for a late summer calf next year. Patty has delivered and raised the vast majority of the cows in our herd, she makes by far the most milk of any of our cows, she has the gentlest manner at milking, and will let any hungry calf nurse from her. She also has the smaller size and expansive rumen that we want in our pastured herd, so we are eager to keep her healthy and productive here for as long as is possible. Her daughters in our barn include Pearl, Pip, Penguin and Pepper, and little Purple Rain and Pumpkin from this year are her grand daughters.
The leaves on the hilltops have taken on the first tints of brown, red and yellow, and our thermometers here on the farm were down in the forties last night. Veggie harvest is still going strong, but I think the end is drawing into sight. The pumpkins have been harvested and sent into Cambridge to be converted into beer, more and more veggie acreage is going under cover crop, and my thoughts have turned to preparing winter quarters for our livestock. The beef herd’s winter barn got a huge make-over this summer, and I am eager to get it setup and ready, and to see if our changes work the way we hope. The laying hen’s winter house needs a full clean out, but our two rams and the stinky buck have spent the summer in the chicken’s winter yard keeping it neatly trimmed. The pigs will be gone by winter, though we did buy in two piglets this week to raise up over the winter. They’ll need a nice deep nest of straw to root and burrow into to stay warm this winter, and we’re hoping to get them a bit bigger and fatter before the cold weather really sets in. They’ll get a steady diet of extra milk from the dairy, and should do quite well.