August 4th – August 13th

Some soil has been on the move. 

We’ve reached the end of another really rainy week here at the farm, and with something over fifteen inches of rain falling over the past month, conditions are really starting to get messy. We had over three inches of rain on Saturday night alone, adding to the incredible rain totals that we’ve had over the past month. I have never experienced rain like we’ve had over the past couple of weeks, so this is all new ground to cover for me. There is standing water in most of our pastures, and the big cows are starting to do some damage with their feet as they break through the sod. Anywhere that they have congregated, around the water trough, in the shade, or where they’ve collected any time that the sun has been out, has been ground up into a pretty muddy mess. While this is

More field flooding

not something that we want to have happening out on the farm, it has given us the opportunity to spread grass and clover seed in these muddy areas. I am hopeful that these churned up wet spots will grow some beautiful new forage for our cows, and that we will have turned these challenging weather conditions into an opportunity to upgrade our pastures.

These tomatoes are not very happy. 

All this rain has also put a serious hurt on our field tomatoes, and they are really starting to droop and discolor under all of this moisture. They are absolutely full of fruit, but they do not thrive when they’re regularly wet, and I’m not sure that they’ll be able to get much more fruit to ripeness. Luckily the hoop-house tomatoes are still going strong, and we’re hoping they’ll keep chugging along well into the fall. We have had enough rain falling fast enough that some soil has moved in a few veggie beds, swamping some of our smaller crops like lettuce and radishes. The wet conditions have also made getting out into the fields with tractors a real challenge, so we’ve had to put in extra time on hand work to keep up with the weeds and bed prep. Our farm roads are also getting really muddy by this point, and we’ve had some trouble getting the water wagon to the cows on the routes we usually take. After getting a few trucks stuck on the muddy roads last week, we have a tractor in the field for moving the beef cow water cube, and I am hopeful that that machine will be able to keep its head above water and to get the job done.

All of this rain is certainly making the pastures grow well, but we are now in a situation

The dairy herd grazing on the high ground. 

where the pastures are a little too lush and rich for the cows and sheep. This can lead most directly to super loose manure, but can also make a little trouble on a more cellular level as well. The lush pasture is super high in protein and non-protein nitrogen, and low in fiber and energy. This imbalance can lead a ruminant animal to generate excess ammonia in their gut as they work extra hard trying to convert protein and amino acids into energy. The liver and kidneys have to go into overdrive as they work to filter the toxic levels of ammonia out of the animal’s blood, drawing more energy for their operation. These high levels of ammonia can also begin to push aside oxygen in the blood, depriving the animal of this critically important blood ingredient. All of this trouble leads to lowered milk production, slower growth, and if unaddressed, serious health problems. The typical fix for this is to make sure that cows are eating a healthy

White faced hornets in the upper orchard. 

amount of dry hay to balance out the lush protein rich pasture going into their guts. Here at The Farm School, where we practice tall-grass grazing, we allow the pastures to grow taller than is typical, recognizing that this taller grass is acting like hay in the cow’s diet, providing them with all of the energy and fiber that they need. Our pastures are just too lush to maintain this balance right now, so we’ve had to add some more barn time and hay to the cow’s routine. They have been happy to spend more time inside out of the rain, and I’m hopeful this weather will make for some great fall grazing.


July 30th – August 4th

The sheep are on some lush pasture. 

This was another week of remarkable weather here at The Farm School, with extremely high humidity all week, and several periods of torrential rain adding to the soakings that we’ve gotten over the past month of extended wet weather. We got more than four inches of rain in total this week, with 1.8 inches falling in just two hours on Friday afternoon, and another 1.5 on Saturday morning. All of this rainy weather, stretching back over the past several weeks, is the product of a unique weather pattern that has been dominating almost the entire East Coast since the start of July. The system, called a Bermuda or Azores High, is an enormous high-pressure system centered and stalled over the Atlantic near Bermuda, and spinning clockwise. This high-pressure system, like most of these classic weather drivers, is clear and dry at its center, but the dynamic spinning pattern that it has stirred up is pulling tropical air and moisture from the Caribbean and funneling it in an almost completely south-to-north flow over New England. The high is relatively stationary, so the flow of moisture and rain can be nearly continuous, leading to the very high rain totals that we have had here over the past month. Our spring and early summer were definitely characterized by a lack of rain, and conditions have completely swung to the other extreme by now. The effect of all of this rain on the farm is complex, from making the pastures grow quickly and lush, to filling our fruiting crops with water until they actually burst. The issue that has been front and center for me is the explosion of harmful bacteria on the farm, flourishing in these constantly warm and wet conditions. This extended period of heat,

The broiler chickens moved over the left side, and not on the right. 

humidity, and rain has made a perfect environment for bacterial to grow, and I believe that we are seeing the effect in our livestock. We have lost two sheep in the past two weeks to unknown causes, and I am suspicious that they came down with bacterial pneumonia or another bacterial infection. We also had to put down a cow in the dairy this week who developed a very aggressive case of acute gangrenous mastitis just after freshening. These are not typical events for us here at the farm, and it seems to me that the elevated levels of bacteria growing throughout the farm environment, in the damp soil, on the floor of the barn, in the bedding around the sheep hay feeder, and on just about every surface, are putting all of our livestock under added health pressure.

This was the last week of summer camp at the Program for Visiting Schools, and we

The beef herd seeking shade in this hot weather. 

ended with the oldest kids on the farm for a full two weeks of work and fun. Most of these campers have been coming to the farm for years and years, and we have known them from when they were little. Now they are huge hard working farmers, they know these fields, gardens, forests and the livestock better than we do, and they put in an incredible amount of work over their too-short stay here. The long session of camp feels like an extended family reunion, and it is a stretch of the year that every farmer here really looks forward to.

A look at the processing side of the new dairy facility. 

Our dairy facility renovation keeps moving forward, and this week we got the plastic panelling up on the walls, and the sinks in place. State regulations call for a three-bay sink and a hand-washing sink in every work room, plus another hand-washing sink in the little testing lab just off the processing room. That is a total of five sinks, two of which are long three-bay models, and quite a bit of plumbing. Our wonderful plumber came out and got most of that work done Friday, before he heads out of town for long summer vacation, so we are hopeful that the remainder of the work in there can go ahead now that the sinks are in place. The shape of the work spaces has really become clear over the past week, and it feels like the concept that we imagined and drew out will be a solid functional work area for the program. It is difficult to really know how a space will feel through only a drawing, to know if the dimensions will accommodate the people, equipment and movement that is inherent in a working space, but things feel good in our new facility now with the walls, doors and windows in place.

July 22nd – July 30th

IMG_6706This was another remarkably rainy week here at The Farm School, with heavy rain almost every day. Our new rain gauge was busy keeping score, and we ended the week having gotten somewhere more than three inches of additional rain. That is on top of the over two inches of rain that fell on the last two Wednesdays in row, so now things are truly saturated. We typically don’t see rainfall like this in July, and these wet conditions are in contrast to the expected dry season we are accustomed to in the summer. The moisture is going to setup a strong second cutting of hay in this area to compliment the healthy first cutting that is already in the barn. All of this rain was the product of a large circulating weather system, spinning counter clockwise with its center south and west of us. The system was quite large and powerful, and stalled in just the right spot to draw a river of warm wet tropical air up from the south, out over the ocean to get well and truly saturated, and then over New England. Areas of rain and thunderstorms moved almost perfectly south to north over us, and seemed to come in a nearly continuous stream. The storm system wavered east and west a bit each day, moving the stream of rain accordingly, almost like a farmer watering trays in the greenhouse, and by Friday it finally started moving east and away from us for good.

We have been working over the past couple of months to renovate and rehabilitate the barn that the beef herd winters in, and we finally got all of last winter’s manure and bedding out this week. The cows generated a really amazing depth of bedding and manure this past winter, more than I have ever seen in there by far, and this year’s dig out was a serious undertaking. We had some big days of digging in there, and some smaller ones, but I am happy to report that it is finally finished. We now have a large beautiful pile of composting manure out in the yard to turn and age before spreading next fall. Most of our attention has been paid to the hay loft of the barn, cleaning it out and repairing it so that we can start storing hay in there with the confidence that it is weather proof. With that area completed, we need to turn our focus to the downstairs area where the cows take shelter, and that required that the bedding be removed. Now we can really see the space, and can envision how we are going to expand and improve the cow’s area. They have done some damage to the walls over the years that they have been occupying the space, and we are eager to give them more room to stretch out, so we are now investigating how to maximize their area and to build in a way that can withstand their pressure. We have dreams of developing the barn that they winter in into a real headquarters for our livestock operations, with the capacity to hold all of our various livestock equipment and supplies, so this renovation is part of a larger dream to develop the entire facility. We hope to improve the barn space for the cows, improve the round-bale feeding system, build a poll barn to hold equipment, renovate the loading the chute, and establish a large functioning composting yard. We anticipate this being a multi year project, and we are trying to bite off pieces that we can bring to full completion each year, until it’s all done.

Squash harvest is winding down, tomato harvest is ramping up, the peas are just aboutIMG_6700 finished, and the cucumbers are at their peak. The rain of the past week will change everything though, loading vegetables with water, and giving every plant all the moisture they need for some really vigorous growth. The hoop-house tomatoes, out of the weather and supplied consistently with irrigation, are immune to these changes, and are coming along beautifully. The grape vines are absolutely loaded with fruit, there are no apples or peaches, and we have been busily harvesting raspberries and blueberries whenever the rain lets up. We usually face two truly hot months of summer, with a varying tastes of summery conditions before and after, and here at the end of July we are at the halfway point of this hot stetch. July was a remarkable month, with the hottest weather that I have ever seen here in the twelve years I’ve been farming this land, and now the rainiest stretch I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see what August brings.

July 15th – July 22nd

The pullets are out on pasture. 

We use our broiler chickens and laying hens to improve and renovate pastures here at The Farm School, trying to take advantage of the wonderful food that they provide, and also their strong manure and scratching behavior. We have seen some really positive results from both types of birds, and we continue to look for ways to do even more.

The broilers, or meat birds, are run on the pasture in eight by ten foot movable houses. Each house has a hanging feeder and a waterer in it, and sits on wooden skids so that we can slide the whole thing along over the grass. There is no floor, so the birds are right on the ground, and have access to the grass, bugs and other treasures that they can find. The birds go in there after about a month in the heated brooder, or when they have just about fully transitioned from baby down to real feathers. The full feathering makes them almost water proof, and although they are under cover and out of the weather in their houses, we’ve found that that extra bit of protection really helps to keep them comfortable and growing well. We start with fifty birds in each pasture house when they are small, and divide them into more and more houses as they grow, reducing the number of birds in each house and giving everyone a bit more room and time at the feeder. The houses are moved ahead one full length per day to start, and we step up to one move per chore when they grow larger. This model ensures that the birds deposit an eight by ten foot rectangle of manure every day, or twice per day, as they move across the pastures, blanketing any area that we can run the houses over with a very powerful dose of fertilizer. Chicken manure has the highest NPK content of any livestock manure, and we have found it to have a very positive effect on the pasture. The birds do eat and trample the grass a bit, but the benefits of the manure seem to far outweigh their impact on the grass.

We run our laying hens in large egg-mobiles out on the pastures during the summer.

The beef herd was in the orchard, cleaning up. 

Each egg-mobile is a converted hay wagon, keeping the nice metal running gear and tires, and building a house on top of that. These egg-mobiles provide the hens with shelter, food and water, laying boxes, and the electricity to power the fences that enclose the whole setup. We try to move these houses to fresh pasture once per week, though we have found that a second week can give the birds the added time that they need to really denude a section of pasture, if that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. We have about one hundred layers in each house, with a couple of roosters in there to keep a watch out for hawks. With their larger area to roam, the layers do not deposit manure as consistently as the broilers do, though they leave quite a bit right where the egg-mobile is parked. The layers do scratch through the pasture, eating and pecking through everything that they find. This process opens the thatch of older mismanaged pastures, giving seed and other plants a chance to grow. If we combine this action of the layers, and their strong manure, with some seeding behind them, we have been able to get some great results in converting older pastures into something more palatable for our cows and sheep.

A look at our new rain gauge, in use! 

We had more than two inches of rain on Tuesday, renewing the soil moisture and setting the farm up for another good period of growth heading into the second half of July. Rain events like that really help to make up for the shortage of rain that we have had this spring and summer, though we certainly would like to see that much rain spread over a longer period rather than falling all at once. We have quite a bit of rain forecasted for next week too, so I am hopeful that we’ll have a strong period of growth moving forward.

July 8th – July 15th

The dairy herd is grazing above the bunkhouse. 

We are coming close to the end of our second time through the beef grazing rotation, passing through paddocks and pastures that we’re grazed once earlier in the growing season. On the first pass over these pastures, the grass was super tall and growing fast, and we tried to get the cows to pass over all of it as quickly as possible to keep the grass from getting too mature and going to seed. Now things have slowed down a bit, and with the shortage of rain that we’ve had around here so far this summer, there is a real difference in the pastures this time through. Visually, the pasture is dominated by a rich green bottom layer where shorter grasses and clover are growing well after the first rotation, interspersed with isolated patches of tall golden dry grass topped with big seed heads where the cows didn’t graze the first time through. Mixed into all of this are some tall weeds like thistles and lambs quarter that we’ll have to mow in the next couple of weeks. We are still growing some incredible clover this year, and there are large areas of it, even in some of our poorer pastures, covering significant portions of our acreage and making up the bulk of our grazers intake. Clover does not grow super tall and put up a high seed head like grass does, but rather flowers in multiple spots on the plant, spreads horizontally across the soil, and grows back quickly after grazing. Clover can also be a bit more resilient in dry weather since it stays closer to the ground and can thrive in that lower region where soil moisture and the morning dew can keep things from drying out too much. We are happy to see the clover beginning to exert itself out in our pastures and to spread in a meaningful way because it also has the highest sugar content of our pasture plants, giving the cows the most energy, vigor and growth as they consume it. We are in the business of turning pasture forage into beef, so we are always eager to get more clover into our pastures, and cows. Clover also fixes nitrogen from the air in small nodules in its root system, and releases that nitrogen into the soil when its roots die at grazing or mowing. That nitrogen, essential in plant growth, helps promote vigor and production in all the other pasture plants.

We had two calves this week, one in the dairy, and one in the beef herd. That is our seventh calf in the beef herd this year, and I expect that we are getting close to our total for the summer. The bull comes in about a month, and I hope that we are finished

Tiny Purple Rain meeting her cohort.

calving before he arrives. Our dairy calf, a tiny little heifer that the kids named Purple Rain, was delivered by Pip, another of the many daughters of the incredible Patty. This is Pip’s first calf, and although she has been a bit of a challenge to milk, we are making progress at every try. Modern dairy cows are bred to have smaller teats than the old style cows of fifty years ago because there is no more need for large teats sized for milking by hand. With mechanical milking, a smaller teat is easier, and safer for the cow, and most cows now have teats shorter than two inches. An old style cow could have teats close to four inches long, giving the milker enough space to get a hand on and give a good squeeze. Pip has really tiny teats which have been difficult to get the milking claw to latch onto, and that difficulty has been exacerbated by the typical swelling that her udder is going through as it gets used for the first time. Things will settle down a bit and come into better shape over the next couple weeks, but there is always a bit of a learning curve when we add a new heifer to the milking lineup. Gladys, another first time heifer, is due is a couple of weeks, so we’ll be going through all of this again soon. We let our heifers get to about two years old before breeding, which is a little longer than the industry standard, so Pip is now just about three years old and has started her first lactation. She has been a very attentive mother so far, and I hope to put her and little Purple Rain out with the herd on pasture Monday morning.

Our hoop house tomatoes required a little emergency trellis support this week as the weight of the large plants, filling with plump tomatoes, pulled the wires down enough that some of the wooden posts began to split and tilt. We installed a second level of ground anchors to pull the posts back up, repaired where they had begun to crack, and

These tomato plants have been pruned for harvest. 

installed additional supports along the lengths of wire to help hold the whole thing up. Those plants are doing really well with their regular irrigation, lots of sun, and shelter from strong wind and rain. They are putting on some really impressive fruit, and we are looking forward to adding those tomatoes to the CSA in the coming weeks. This week should include some leaf removal and pruning down around the lower region of the plants, opening them up for easier harvest and hopefully lightening the strain on the trellis system enough that they can make it deep into the fall. We have all learned a lot about trellising tomatoes in a hoop house this summer, and we’re looking forward to perfecting the system for next year’s planting.

The pullets moved out of the brooder house at Maggie’s this week, and the turkey poults moved out of the brooder at Sentinel Elm, so we have all of animals out on pasture. The pullets moved into an egg-mobile in the same pasture as the mature laying hens to make that chore as easy as possible, and they have their own fence, feeder, water and fence charger. They will move around the farm just like the layers, scratching up pasture and soil that we want to renovate, and leaving behind their powerful manure. The turkeys moved into a small moveable pasture house, and we’ll add more houses as the birds grow before finally letting them out into a large fenced yard when they’re big enough to stay safe. With all of animals out on pasture, the work of livestock care for the rest of the growing season is taken up almost entirely with maintaining the systems that support the animals out there. We’ll be keeping the water and feed flowing, weed-whacking fences, clipping pastures, moving animals across the landscape, and supporting calving, but the major work of setting up the season is done.

July 1st – July 8th

The beef herd in some tall grass

This was an extremely hot week here at The Farm School, with the temperature Monday and Wednesday up over one hundred degrees and close to that every other day, bright sun, and pretty uncomfortable humidity. The weather put a significant strain on our livestock, and we worked all week to do what we could to keep everyone as comfortable as was possible. Most of our animals come from English or European origins, and are most comfortable in cooler, and even wet weather. Our Devon beef cows prefer temperatures below seventy degrees, and will seek shade any time the thermometer goes above that point. Our Border Leicester sheep also would prefer cool English weather, and the pigs, with a very limited ability to sweat, can overheat quite easily. We made sure that all the livestock had access to cool fresh water throughout the week, managed our beef grazing pattern to make sure that the herd had constant access to deep shade, and parked an extra water tank up at the pigs for soaking them periodically and for maintaining a nice muddy wallow. Everyone came through the week remarkably well, and we had a nice rainy Friday morning as a cold front finally pushed in and squeezed the tropical air out to sea. We had a great soaking rain in the middle of last week, so while the hot weather did make everything seem a bit droopy and baked, our veggies and pastures held up nicely and are enjoying a cooler end to the week. There is some hot weather in the forecast for next week, (and no rain), but nothing as extended and hot as we just suffered through.

We are up to six calves in the beef herd so far this summer, matching our yearly

The laying flock moved to a new pasture Sunday morning. 

processing demand. We had twelve last year, so I expect that we may have a few more before the season is over. We have had a nice mix of bulls and heifers, giving us the opportunity for some great steers in two years, and some replacement cows as well. The whole herd is looking great, sleek and fat out there on the pastures, and an amazing contrast to the rough look everyone has coming out of the winter and mud season.

This year’s Thanksgiving turkeys are in the brooder in the back of the dairy barn, and we would like to get them out on pasture some time in the coming week. They grow amazingly quickly, and fill the brooder in a matter of two or three weeks, so we are eager to get them more room to stretch out in, and get them outside on the grass. We transitioned the turkeys from our usual daily move small house

Turkey poults in the brooder

model to a day-range fenced model last year, and I think we’ll do that again this year. We start the birds in small houses, moved once or twice per day to fresh ground. Once they’ve grown big enough that we are not worried about hawks carrying them off, we setup a large perimeter fence, and open the doors to their houses and let them wander. We setup a few feeders and waterers throughout their fenced yard, and move the whole setup periodically to get them on fresh ground. The turkeys herd very easily, so the moves have been really easy and our visiting students really enjoy that part of the work. Last year we lost one turkey to predators out of our group of fifty birds, so the system seemed to work for us, and it certainly gives the birds more freedom and space.

We have some fences up around veggie beds these days, trying to deter the local deer population which seems to have gotten a taste for some our lettuce and peas. Carlen has also been battling a family of woodchucks that has been dining on our veggie starts in the LongMowing area of the farm. She has been humanely trapping for a few weeks, and we have setup a low electric fence in their area as well. Some years these issues never seem to arise, but on the years that they do, we have found it difficult to dissuade an

The next generation of layers is growing well in the Maggie’s brooder house. 

animal from eating our produce once they’ve gotten in the habit of doing it. The deer follow a regular path through their habitat every evening, stopping to eat at locations that they’ve found and prefer all over the area. Once they establish comfort with a spot, especially if it’s full of delicious lettuce, peas and other organic veggies, there is not a lot that can stop them from coming back. They are extremely agile and can jump remarkably high, are determined browsers, and are relentless in their efforts. Our approach has been to setup a strong electric fence, and to hang scented baits on it to encourage the deer (unfortunately) to touch the fence and feel the shock. Our hope is that one strong experience with the fence will make a memory powerful enough to keep them away in the future. I’ll let you know how it goes.

June 25th – July 1st

The beef herd resting after a grazing session. 

We’ve reached the end of the second week of summer camp at The Farm School, and this week’s group of campers has been truly wonderful. They have worked hard in the fields and forests, and with our livestock, and once again they’ve really brought the farm to life. We got the new tent up on Tuesday, so everything was back to normal and we were enjoying meals out there by Tuesday’s dinner. Our previous tent was destroyed in a very dramatic wind, rain and lightning event last week, and we worked fast to clean up the old one and get a new one in place. The tent has ended up being the heart of our summer program, with most meals happening out there, quite a few evening activities, and also serving as a shady place for campers and staff to get together for any reason throughout the day. We felt a real urgency to get the old tent replaced as soon as we could, and it feels nice to be back out under the shade again enjoying meals together.

We got about an inch of rain last weekend, and got over two inches on Wednesday night

This year’s garlic.

and into Thursday this week, so it feels like the dry conditions that we were facing throughout the spring may have finally been broken. Our forecast for the coming days calls for extremely hot weather to move in by Saturday, and we are looking at highs on Sunday and Monday around ninety-five degrees. Hopefully the rainy weather has given our pastures and veggies the moisture and strength that they’ll need to stand up to the heat, and to endure what looks to be an extended stretch of hot weather. We’ll have extra water up at the pigs through this hot stretch, and do our best to keep them comfortable with shade and mud, and plenty to drink.

Fall brassicas just getting started. 

Our count is up to five calves in the beef herd so far, and with a long move and road crossing on Wednesday of this week, we got a really good look at everyone as they paraded by. The whole herd looks really nice right now, sleek and shiny from all of that good spring grass, with the yearlings from last year growing nicely, the two-year-old steers looking enormous and stocky, and the new calves healthy and frisking around the group. We had twelve calves last summer, and while I certainly don’t expect that many this year, I think we still have a few more cows due to calf here in the next month. We typically put a bull in with the herd around August 15th, and my preference is to have calving completed before he makes the scene if possible. There is some concern out there about a bull being aggressive toward new calves, though I do not share that concern, and I am much more worried about my safety when trying to tag and handle a new calf with the bull looking on.

Alex and the student farmers have been tilling up and planting the last of our open

Salad greens after the rain. 

veggie fields, filling in those areas that typically take longer to dry out from the winter and spring. These plantings are focused on fall crops that will keep the CSA and markets going strong through the fall, so are plants that can tolerate the cooler weather and shorter days that we expect towards the end of the growing season. That cool weather will have to wait a while yet, and I’ll let you know next week how we come through this heat wave.

June 18th – June 24th

Dark clouds moving over the bunkhouse before Monday’s storm hit.

We’ve reached the end of another full week here at The Farm School, with a full slate of harvests, CSA drops and markets, big changes with our livestock, and some wild weather too. This was the first week of summer camp at Sentinel Elm Farm (Program for Visiting Schools), and we had a wonderful group of just girls on the farm for five days of hard work, great food, and lots of fun. Most of these girls have come to the farm previously with their school group, and chose to come back for a longer stay over the summer. They are all super excited to be here to pitch in, and we are even more excited to have them back on the farm.

Monday was super hot, pushing the thermometer up around ninety-six degrees in the afternoon, and the heat was broken around dinner time by some really intense thunder storms. We got more than an inch of much needed rain in about half an hour, though most of it ran off  the hard packed dry ground. Winds whipped the rain just about directly sideways, tore down several large branches, and totally destroyed our summer dining tent out in the garden. We have moved the picnic tables into some shade under a line of trees, and we’re working on getting a new tent as soon as possible. We also got a little rain on Friday night, and with more forecasted through the weekend, I am hopeful that we might break the extended dry streak we’ve been in since mid-spring.

Our broiler chickens went off for processing on Monday, and we kept about thirty-five

We have tomatoes in the hoop house, but also plenty in the field. 

here and processed them on the farm on Tuesday. Those birds processed on the farm were mostly parted out into cuts, and were put into the freezers in the Maggie’s farmhouse basement for next year’s class. Everyone is excited that the broiler chore is done for the year, though we did get sixty turkey poults on Thursday that we’ll raise in about the same way. I picked up the finished chicken product on Thursday as well, and the birds seem to have really come out beautifully! They were loaded into the big walk-in freezer at Sentinel Elm, ready for the meat CSA this winter, and some other select sales too. We raised Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers this year, hoping to compare the two breeds in our system to determine if one would be a better fit for us, and it seemed at the end that they performed about the same. This was not really a clarifying result, though I’m happy that both grew well, got big, and stayed healthy.

A view south over the beef herd grazing in Runway Pasture. 

We had two more calves in the beef herd this week, bringing our total up to four by this weekend. One calf was born on Wednesday, just before the daily cow move, which coincidentally was a really long move through several winter feeding areas to the next area of fresh grass. The new calf and mother would not move from their spot, and I ended up having to carry the calf several hundred yards to the fresh paddock, driving the cow ahead of me. These little calves are born weighing more than a hundred pounds, and this one was still a little wet and slippery from birth. With a long fresh umbilical cord, and plenty strong enough to struggle against me through most of the carry, I had quite a time getting the job done. We got the baby and mother to the new paddock, got them back together, and they seem to be doing great now.

We picked up hay throughout the week, and we’ve almost reached our thousand bales

Another look at the beef herd enjoying Runway Pasture. 

for the summer. We got way too much hay last summer, and still have about a thousand first cut square bales left over from the winter feeding season. We are going to buy a thousand more this summer, and feed out both stacks this winter, and we’ll hopefully end up closer to an empty hay loft than we did this spring. We have never kept hay for more than a year, but the bales from last year still seems to be in really good shape, and I am optimistic that it will be well received when the grass runs out this winter.

June 11th – June 17th

Lettuce growing in the Flat Field

We had two tiny rain events this week, both coming in at under a tenth of an inch, so our last meaningful rainfall was on Monday June 4th. We were already well under our average rain amount for the spring months, so this dry run has only deepened our deficit. The soil under the grass is dry and hard, the dirt road running between and around our farms and fields put up clouds of dust when we pass, and Alex is running irrigation just about full time. Despite the lack of rain, our pastures are in good shape, full of nice tall grass and growing back pretty nicely after grazing. Before being grazed, the nice tall thick grass has been able to maintain a pretty moisture rich environment under all that cover, so things are holding up remarkably well. One benefit of our tall-grass-grazing is that each pasture plant is given the opportunity to dig its roots down deep into the soil before grazing, so our pastures are able to be more resilient in drawing moisture from the deeper reaches, and energy from their nice large root structures. I have been really pleased with the performance of our pastures through this dry spring, and we still have quite a bit of grass out there in the paddocks ahead of the dairy herd, beef herd, and even the sheep. My thoughts are almost constantly on the rain in spite of our solid pasture situation, and the ten-day forecast is up on my phone about a thousand times a day.

The dry weather is great for growing veggies, if we can get irrigation everywhere it’s

The tomatoes in the hoop house are growing well. 

needed in a timely way. Most of our plants benefit from these drier conditions to resist many types of health problems as well as insect pests that depend on having some moisture to thrive. The ample sunny weather also means that there is plenty of solar energy to absorb, boosting growth and making those plants that get enough watering, quite vigorous. So now the race is on to get those water loving crops the irrigation they need to take advantage of all the sunny weather, and if the veggie crew can keep ahead of it all, we’ll have abundant harvests earlier than usual, and sweet delicious produce for all of our customers and community.

Rows and rows in black plastic

We’ve had a second calf in the beef herd to go along with the little heifer born a few weeks ago, and both mother and baby are doing well so far. We watched a little nursing difficulty on Friday afternoon, though the calf was not interested in a bottle of warm milk that we brought over from the dairy, and seems to be getting enough milk to grow and be happy. The beef herd, made up of some pretty large and ornery cows, is much more difficult for us to get hands on and intervene with nursing and mothering problems than the dairy herd. We don’t have the facilities to restrain a beef cow and manage nursing by getting the calf on the teat by hand, so when things go really badly, our only real recourse is to remove the calf and bring it to the dairy for adoption. We considered that option on Friday, but thought twice about trying to remove a calf from its mother while she was being fully attentive and motherly. The beef herd is generally quite docile and safe to work around, but one of the only times that they can be really aggressive is when a mother cow responds to her baby in distress. We will keep an eye on this pair, and try to make sure that the calf seems like it is getting enough to eat.

We’ve made more progress on our milk facility renovation, with siding, plumbing and

Our new dairy facility entrance

electrical work this week. We have a door in place on the outside, the framing is all ready inside to receive the fancy waterproof wall panels, and the sinks have been ordered. Plumbing and electrical will be inspected next week before the walls are insulated and closed in, then fixtures, plugs, switches and faucets can start to go in too. Our new bulk tank is in the barn waiting to be setup, and the sinks can go it once they arrive as well. I’ll let you know how this coming week goes!

June 4th – June 10th

We’ve added a small entry room to the north east corner of the dairy barn. 

Work on our dairy facility renovation project moved forward significantly this week, with walls, windows and the roof going up on the little entry room just outside the barn, and walls up on the portion inside the barn too. It is really exciting to see this project coming along, and we are all looking forward to getting our milk room back, new and improved. The new facility will include a pasteurization setup, and we are really excited to expand our operations and products. We have been using a quick little outdoor wash-up station to clean and store our equipment for the past few weeks while this project has been going on, and the pigs have been really pleased with all of the milk, but our new facility is going to fantastic. The walls, both outside and inside, have started to finally give the dreams and plans that we concocted over the past year or more a shape, and it is remarkable to walk through the new rooms and imagine how they will finally be put to use. All of this work and planning was new to us, we have learned a lot in the process, and I, for one, and still nervous to see how the facility finally shapes up.

We cut hay on the dairy farm fields last week, generating twenty five round bales from

A look at the new facility from inside

the Poll Barn and Saw Mill pastures. That is quite a few more bales than we made from those fields last year, and I am hopeful that running the turkeys and laying hens over those fields last year has really increased fertility and production. Now that these fields have been hayed once, we will setup cow fencing over them, dividing them into a handful of large grazing paddocks, and include them in the diary cow grazing rotation for the rest of the summer and fall. This haying/grazing model gives us the opportunity to make some of our own hay and reduce our yearly hay bill, reduce our grazing acreage while the grass is growing too fast for the cows to eat it all, and then expand our grazing acreage when grass growth slows down and we need more feed to keep up with cow demand. We just about double our grazing acreage for the dairy herd when we convert our hay fields in grazing paddocks, giving us enough space and grazing days to keep those high-demand dairy cows well fed and making lots of delicious milk. We use a similar model with the beef herd, though the hay fields added to the grazing rotation make up a smaller percent of the beef herd’s large acreage. This is a fairly common practice among grazing farmers in New England, and it offers the farmer a nice set of benefits.

The beef herd is in some tall grass. 

Alex, Kate and the student farmers continue to cultivate, prep and plant veggie beds up and down the ridge, expanding our planted acreage and moving starts through the greenhouse, hardening off house, and out into the fields. Their work turns relatively empty spaces into ground that we have to actively manage and maintain, greatly expanding the area that we’re intimately involved with for this quick growing season. Once beds are planted, they need to be cared for, with row cover (if needed), weeding, irrigating, pruning and harvest. The growers build this ever expanding empire of plants in the hope of harvesting delicious vegetables for our customers and community, and work as hard as they can to keep the whole thing up and running until frost shuts it down in the fall. Each new bed added to the list demands it’s own suite of care and effort to keep it growing and productive, and the larger our kingdom, the more work it takes to sustain it. We are approaching the peak of the season in terms of acreage under management, though there are still a few of the wetter areas that will be tilled up into beds and planted in the next couple of weeks.

We had just over an inch of rain last weekend, and into Monday, and have not had anything since. That rain was a welcome respite from a pretty dry stretch of weather, and with zero rain showing in the ten-day forecast, I am, yet again, getting just the tiniest bit nervous about soil moisture and pasture growth. We have had a truly incredible season of grass growth so far this spring and early summer, and there is so much forage out in the pastures that I am confident we can graze for quite a while without much trouble, but I know that Alex and his veggies would like some rain. We are both eagerly checking the ten-day forecast and hoping some rain will make the scene. I’ll let you know how it looks next week!