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.

January 20th – January 28th

Tom and King

Students were back at Maggie’s Farm this week, and they were quick to slide back into the swing of winter farm work and classes. We’re gearing up for our big cordwood project, so they spent some time in the shop reacquainting themselves with the chainsaw and its upkeep. The hoop house is full of spinach and other winter crops, so they spent some time in there harvesting and tending to that space. Our livestock is out on the farm, enduring the wild swings in winter weather that seem to be the new norm here in New England, so they spent some time tending to the spaces and systems that keep everybody warm and dry. To balance the physical work of farm upkeep, we also had some wonderful classes this week, focussed mostly on business structures, accounting, and planning. These classes directed and the business side of farming are really important, and speak specifically to the difficult part of farming that trips up most would-be farmers. Though profoundly challenging, the production side of the farm is often the easiest and most enjoyable, while the business operations component, the place where the money comes from, is marginalized, neglected and ignored. We ended the week with a fabulous field-trip to Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, where we toured the farm and had the chance to sit down for a cozy talk with the legendary Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge, who’ve been operating the farm, the NOFA Mass office, and The Natural Farmer, for thirty-five years. Many Hands Farm has always served as a wonderful model of a moderate sized balanced operation for our students, and it really gets them thinking about their own future farms as they see the orchard, veggie beds, livestock, and passive solar house that make Many Hands roll along.

On Monday of this week, our high temperature was three degrees, and on Tuesday night we hit five below zero. By Wednesday night it was raining steadily with temperatures in the lower fifties, and more than three inches of rain fell on the farm through the day on Thursday. The ground was frozen solid from the cold start to the week, so the melting

The hoop house, under cover

snow and falling rain could only move down hill with nowhere to soak in. The dirt road running up to Sentinel Elm Farm was massively washed out, though the quick and timely work of the town road crew meant we were only stranded for couple of hours Thursday afternoon. All of our ground water management systems were pushed to their limits, though most things held up pretty well. The back of the dairy barn took on a bit of water, basement sump-pumps swung into action, and we worked hard to give every animal a dry place to get out of the weather. It seems that every season is teaching us new lessons about our farm, the infrastructure and systems that we have relied on for so many years, and the challenges that they are going to face as the weather patterns and ranges that we are accustomed to shift and change. Dirt roads that have worked well deep into the past are now washing out as they serve as stream beds in these wet conditions, stream beds and drainage ditches that have served us for years are now getting over topped, scoured and destroyed with flow rates higher than they can deal with, and we find standing water in places that we’ve been able to farm in the past. There is no guarantee that excess wetness will be the dominant trend as the changing climate distorts the weather of New England, but that seems to be the trend so far, with occasional extreme drought mixed in from time to time. It seems to me that these changing conditions will the challenge of farming in New England going forward, and we’ll have to find ways to adapt our approach to the land, production, management and our work patterns if we are going to help New England feed itself into the future.

January 13th – January 20th

Finally, so snow. 

I spent a good portion of the week cleaning in the dairy barn, going through piles and shelves, dealing with work deferred, and imagining new uses and purposes for these well-worn stations. We’ve been working in the dairy barn for for almost thirty years, and farmers, cows, and who knows what else, has worked in the space for fifty years before that. The barn has seen generation after generation of farmers and animals pass through it, each with new ideas and new visions, new beliefs, new ways of getting the job done, new challenges and new successes. We have moved things around, changed things, built walls and removed walls, cut holes and patched holes, painted, broken, repaired, cleaned and fixed almost every bit of the structure, always trying to make it better, make it suit the need of the season, or keep it from falling. The structure has held up well, though there is some sag here and there, some rotting wood and several empty window holes. The building got a handsome new metal roof a few years ago, and that gives the whole place a much stronger feeling of endurance and fortitude than the old faded shingles. Right now the dairy barn, like so many of our buildings, is plagued with large flock of European Starlings that come to raid grain from the nearby chickens and pigs, drink from the cow’s open water trough, roost and cackle in the rafters of the back-barn, and deposit their droppings generously on every surface. Today, under the oppression of the first winter storm of the season, the cows have spent a good portion of their time hiding in the back-barn, and they all are spotted, head to tail, with Starling droppings. These birds are not from around here, and their aggression and tendency to travel in a large flock means they are ruinous to the smaller local birds we know and love. They bully their way into other bird’s nests, invading any cavity they can find, and disturbing nesting, egg laying and the raising of chicks. They are a torment down at Maggie’s Farm too, where they gather on the roof-peak of the chicken’s winter house, blanket the surface with their manure, and descend in mass to pillage at the chicken’s hanging feeders. They also seem to spend a good deal of time in the tractor barn, and take special pleasure in pooping all over the tractors. Rumblings have begun amongst the staff about making an attempt to eradicate them, though we are yet to hit on a course of action that balances the desired effect and community impact. In the summer our dairy barn is home to a wonderful group of barn swallows who raise two rounds of chicks in mud nests stuck on light fixtures and joists all around the barn. They come back and use the same nests every summer, arriving and departing as regular markers of the turning seasons. Swallows are incredible fliers that catch airborne insects as their main foodimg_7235 source, and they use their breathtaking flying agility to zip in and out of the barn doors and windows, around the farmers and cows, passing within inches with a flash. These birds are threatened and declining in Massachusetts, and we are really happy to give them a safe place to raise their chicks every summer. Their arrival in early summer kicks of our stretch of warm weather, and I am always reminded of the immeasurable hidden workings of the natural world when I walk into the barn for morning milking to find swallows where there had been none the morning before. To my mind, scurrying through an endless list of work to get done before the sun goes down, they have seemingly sprung from thin air, appeared in my world from nowhere, deciding, on a whim, to nest in my barn. In reality, they’ve arrived after a long and arduous migration, traveling for months from thousands of miles south, using the same destinations on either end, and paths between, year after year. The space between my experience of the barn swallows in the barn, and the depth of the lives they trace to be there, is overwhelming.      

Of course we have ideas and plans for changes to be made in the barn this spring, ways to improve operations and make the barn serve the program better, and though these seem from here to be ultimate fixes that will finally carry us to perfection, I’m sure we’ll have tweaks and changes in mind come this time next year. We plow the ground every spring, change the layout of the beds and pathways, order different seeds and try new tools, but the ground is the same ground, and the barn is the same barn its always been.  

January 6th – January 13th

img_7219This was another really quiet week here at the farm with both programs on winter break, though there were a few farmers toiling away in the firewood yard keeping that effort alive. The ground is frozen hard now, and the bright sunny days we’ve had, with temperatures staying below freezing, really seem true to form for the middle of January. The veggie team spent the week meeting and planning, trying to craft a crop plan and corresponding seed order that will carry us through the coming growing season. We have chosen to develop a few acres we call the Flat Field into an intensively managed, cultivated and irrigated new component of our veggie production, and the integration of this new acreage and model has added a new wrinkle to our planning. Our hope is that this new area will offer the program a vibrant novel realm of curriculum with the rigorous management, dependence on hand-tool scale work, and intensive irrigation and control, and the planning that goes into the teaching aspect of this new endeavor makes the preparation even more laborious. The veggie CSA will be smaller this year, but the whole Flat Field effort needs to be blended into our larger veggie production system, and breaking this new ground in a way that sets us up for long-term success is slow-going.

I ordered both layer and meat-bird chicks this week, and we’ll be on a similar schedule to the one that we followed last year. We’ll get one hundred and twenty broiler chicks in the mail in the first week of April, and then one hundred and ten layer chicks a month later. That timing gives us a chance to raise the broiler chicks in the brooder until they’re big and feathered enough to move out into their pasture houses, and to then move the new layer chicks in when they arrive, and after we’ve cleaned the brooder. The broiler chicks, bred to reach full size in twelve to fifteen weeks, grow must faster than the layer chicks, who will need to stay in the brooder for several months before being big enough to go out onto pasture. I ordered the same 50/50 mix of Freedom Rangers and Kosher Kings that we raised for meat last year, but I’ve ordered Black Australorp layers for the first time. Australorps are great layers of brown eggs, and are reported to be hardy, laid back chickens. After a couple of uninspiring years raising some of the more modern strains of laying hens, we have gone back to a focus on the more traditional varieties for the past two years, and these Australorps, though new to us, are an old-time breed that I am really excited to try. When the description of the birds includes the word ‘heavy’, as you’ll see if you click the link above, we can be pretty confident that we’ll be raising a larger, sturdier most traditional variety of chicken, in contrast with the lighter more modern breeds that we’ve found not able to hold up well.

This week was also the time to make our processing dates for the fall and early winter, and the only real change we made from our customary pattern was that to book spots for eight beef cows this fall rather than our usual six. This fall will be two years since our large ten-calf cohort from the summer of 2016, so we should have more animals ready for slaughter than we have typically had. This will give us some great marketing opportunities come next winter, and I am really looking forward to getting our delicious grass-finished beef out to more folks.

The Turn of the Year 2018/2019

The 2018 calendar reached its end, and our thoughts have turned to next year’s farm. The farm year and the calendar year line up nicely, flipping back to a new beginning at just about the same time. The calendar year marches numerically forward year after year, but the farm year seems to me rather to go more round and round, cycling over the same ground again and again. These quiet frozen months of mid-winter help to set the stage for the rush of spring and summer that’s coming, and we have the chance to reflect a bit about both the season that has just ended and the season that’s coming next. I’ve said before, quoting the wonderful Wendell Berry, that the growth of the farmer’s mind, our learning, discovering, improving and understanding, are the truest measure of the health of our farm, and this winter interlude gives us all the chance to look directly at our own growth as we shift from past to future.

img_7209Dichotomy seems to me to be one of the principle characteristics that determine the shape and nature of farming. From the broadest balance between wet and dry, cows and bulls, growth and decay, to the subtler equilibriums, like the ones that we hold between pasture grazing height and cow intake, or between planting space and bed yield. Another balance on the farm is between the daily physical labor of the work, and the paper and pencil time of planning, reading, learning and imagining the world that work inhabits. An observant farmer can learn from the labor, can watch the work unfolding around her and see the faults and successes as they develop. Tilling, prepping, planting, and then tending pea plants will grow peas, we hope, but it will also grow knowledge and experience in the art and science of growing peas. Up from that planting can also come fluency in physical labor and long days, in the warmth of the sun and the chill of the rain, in the sound of the wind and the hum of the insects. All these lessons are on hand to be noted, and here in the winter months farmers have a moment to recollect, to sift through the jumble of summer’s notions and to try to forge something reasoned from it all. This rapport, between the work of the world and the knowledge that we glean from enacting that work, gives frisson to the adventure of farming, enlivening every task as a chance to grow.

We need to commit fully to the depth and seriousness of this quiet time in the year, to the detailed consideration of the season that has ended and our plans for the next, if we are to maintain a balance between this more peaceful and reflective season and the mad headlong scramble of the growing seasons ahead and behind. We are meeting to discuss the ground we’ve covered, to discuss the ground ahead of us, to count through the last year and to order our supplies for the next. We are looking at successes, and examining our deficiencies, and trying to learn from it all. The Learn to Farm Program recommences on January 23rd, and the Program for Visiting Schools a few weeks after that.

December 9th – December 16th

The student farmers went up to the Adams slaughterhouse for a tour this week, getting a look at that vital component in our meat production cycle. This field-trip raises important questions and concerns in every group of students, and it gives us all an opportunity to think more deeply and to discuss our own views on the issue of meat production. The Adams facility is really well run, and was built and designed to reflect our most up to date understanding of livestock welfare and processing, but there is no

Last summer we worked to rehab the hay-loft in the old Waslaske barn, where the beef herd spends the winter. This week we put some straw bales (on the left) and some hay bales (further along) up there, and we’ll see how they keep.

nice way to accomplish that work of slaughtering and butchering livestock. Though the staff at Adams works hard to make the process safe and low-stress, the contrast between the life that we provide for our animals, and their experience in the slaughter facility, is stark. This contrast often makes our students question the structure of the meat production system that has this type of animal experience built into it, despite the efforts of the farmer to treat their animals well. This naturally leads to the desire to process animals on the farm, in the place that they were raised, cared for and know, to avoid the trip the slaughter facility, the time spent in the pens, the walk onto the kill floor, and all that goes into these activities. In Massachusetts, and the country at large, meat sold to the public must have a USDA stamp on it, must have been processed under the supervision of a USDA inspector, and the processing must meet standards developed and laid out by the USDA. That precludes on farm processing, unless the on farm component really just means a USDA inspected slaughter house on your own farm. The cost of building a facility that meets USDA standards, that the USDA will staff with an inspector, puts this out of reach for almost all farmers. So if a farmer wants to legally sell meat to the public, they have to bring their livestock to a USDA approved facility, and therefor subject their animals to the difficult environment inherent in that process. An alternative to this approach would be raising animals for only your own consumption. This would require processing the animals yourself, or finding one of the last few remaining roving on-farm processors who will come to your farm and take your animals through processing for you there.

This week also included our first Livestock Health class with Dr. Beltaire of UMass. The Maggies’s students will have several sessions with Dr. Beltaire, going through the major health and management issues that face the livestock that we manage. The first class was focused on beef cows and ruminant digestion. We have had a great working relationship with UMass on the veggie side of our program, directed mostly at improving and implementing our insect pest detection and management program, and these classes will hopefully help us to develop this relationship on the livestock side as well.
There is no program running at Sentinel Elm Farm these days, but there were a few farmers on the farm never the less, cleaning, organizing, and re-imagining the spaces

We have been building this large hay feeder for the past few weeks, and we finally deployed it this week, filled it with hay, and the cows, and students, gave it a try. It seems to be working well. 

and systems that make the Program for Visiting Schools work so well. The art-brary has been gutted and restored better than ever, we’ve filled a dumpster with metal scrap for recycling, we’ve cleaned and organized the barn fencing area, and the dairy cows now have a second winter yard closer to the barn to use if conditions get too bad for their main yard.

We made some great progress with the livestock at Maggie’s farm this week too with the breeding bull picked up Thursday, the dairy heifer we had with the beef herd for breeding returned to the dairy, and another one-hundred and forty bales of straw loaded into the beef barn. We also finally got all of the temporary beef fencing taken out of the pastures for the winter, and continued to stockpile round wrapped hay bales for winter feeding.

December 2nd – December 9th

Round bales stacked at the dairy barn

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

The beef herd in their winter quarters

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,

We’ve been building a new dry hay feeder for the beef herd.

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

The wood furnace is going full tilt in this cold weather. 

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!

November 18th – December 2nd

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 IMG_7107Farm 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 theIMG_7111 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.
IMG_7109We’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.

November 11th – November 18th

We had an early winter snow storm Thursday night, and the shovels (some usually used to clean up after the cows) came out for their first use of the 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

Sun rise Sunday morning, presage of the work of Turkey day. 

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.