May 14th – May 21st

IMG_6450We’ve reached the end of another wonderful week here at The Farm School, with work up and down the ridge moving ahead quickly under blue skies and ample sunshine. Our pastures are exploding with fresh green growth, veggie starts are perking up in their long straight rows, and the greenhouse is bursting with more ready for their turn at planting. Alex and student farmers had a huge planting day Thursday, putting the rest of our tomatoes, those not going into the hoop-house, out into raised plastic covered beds. We had really nice planting weather, and with a nice day of rain on Saturday, those new plants have taken very nicely to their new surroundings.

Some pretty extreme weather passed over southern New England and New York on

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The view from the back of the Maggie’s barn, out over the sheep.

Tuesday, with tornado warnings and watches even going up in several counties south and west of the farm. For the first time that I can remember, I heard an actual warning broadcast after the emergency alert tone on the radio, and we were told to take shelter in our basements in case of a tornado. Luckily all of the really strong wind and large hail missed our farm, but we know several farmers, including guest instructor Ben Shute at Hearty Roots Community Farm, who were not so lucky. We had heavy rain that totaled almost an inch before everything was over, and a few little wind gusts, but avoided any real trouble.

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The pigs are rooting and growing. 

We got the pig’s electric fence setup this week, and those little porkers are out there happily rooting through the top layers of the pasture in search of delicious treasures. It is really great to watch the pigs have the opportunity to put their incredible snouts to work, pushing their way through the soil and roots, breaking everything apart and smelling out grubs, worms and tasty roots. One of our chief management principles is a commitment to giving all of our livestock as much opportunity as we can to live out the life they have been designed for, and seeing the pigs out there grinding up the pasture is a rewarding affirmation of that goal. The added bonus this year is that they are working through an area of pasture that has been almost totally taken over by the invasive bed straw, so while they enjoy working for their food, they’re helping us renovate acreage that would otherwise be lost or mechanically managed.

We ran into a little trouble in our flock of sheep last weekend, with ewe #91 unable to get her lambs delivered. I spent a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon with several student farmers trying desperately to pull the stuck lamb out, and although we got things really close, we were unable to get it the final few inches and free. We corralled the ewe up in a lambing jug, and put in a call to the veterinarian. He came around dinner time, and we all worked for a couple more hours to finally pull the lamb. That first lamb was dead,

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The beef herd is way out there, grazing the Back Pasture. 

and upon a further examination, we found that the ewe had another dead lamb in her birth canal. The second lamb was pulled out with much less trouble, the ewe was flushed, cleaned, given a few stitches in her vulva to prevent a prolapse, dosed with some antibiotics, and sent on her way. The first lamb was pretty large, but signs seemed to indicate to all of us that both lambs had been dead for several days, so it’s not fully clear what exactly happened to lead to the trouble we had. Regardless, the ewe seems to be fine, and will unfortunately have to go off for processing this fall. Experiences like this restore my dedication to putting ‘Lambing Ease’ at the top of our criteria when making culling and replacement decisions.

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May 7th – May 13th

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Our little dairy herd, waiting to come into the barn. 

With animals grazing out on the pastures, and veggies growing out in the fields, the farm is really beginning to feel like we’ve entered the sprint of the production season. Alex and the student farmers are zipping around cultivating and shaping beds up and down the ridge just about as fast as they can, we’re building electric fences as quickly as possible in every pasture, and the shape of the coming season is developing all over the farm. This late spring period is a mad dash to get the infrastructure of the growing season setup quickly, and in a few weeks, when everything is established, the focus of our work will shift into more of a maintenance mode as we try to keep it all going as well as we can until November. We have this little chunk of time, starting when the ground thaws at the end of winter, to setup the systems that we’ll need to carry our vegetable and animals through the short New England growing season, to give everything the best chance that we can for a healthy productive summer, and to make it all work for the farmers too.

We built our trellis system in the hoop house this week, put down plastic and irrigation

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A look down the beds in our new hoop-house tomato setup. 

drip lines, and the students planted tomatoes on Friday. This work was the culmination of a lot of dreaming and planning for Alex and Kate, and the change in our growing plan is a really exciting improvement. The hoop house tomatoes should come on earlier in the season, and we hope we’ll be able to keep them healthier longer in the hoop house, prune them better with the trellis system, and water them just right with irrigation. Tomatoes face quite a bit of pest and disease pressure here in New England, the biggest being Late Blight, and the hoop house will allow us to keep their leaves drier and better trimmed to avoid many of these issues.

Our pigs moved out to their summer area this week, although the electric fence has not been built up there yet. We build a deck to hold the feeder and automatic water system, a hard fence around the edges of the deck, and a hog-panel fenced yard around three sides of the deck so that we can keep the pigs in a smaller yard if we need to. Around all of that we setup an electric fenced area large enough to entertain and feed the pigs through the summer, and this year I am dreaming of establishing a little paddock rotation cycling around the pig yard to keep the pigs moving through their summer area. We are really hoping that the pigs will help us renovate a pasture this summer, so we are aiming to maximize their impact on the ground. The pigs currently are on the deck, and in the hog-panel yard, and I hope to build the electric fenced area next week. We usually have a short period like this, especially when the pigs are not quite big enough for me to feel confident that they will be predator-proof adventuring out in their large electric fenced area.
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We ran our layers under the apple trees at Maggie’s Farm last week. 

This was another nice week of mixed sun and rain, and the pastures are really growing fast now. They start slowly in the spring, with limited leaf area with which to photosynthesize, but now that they’ve put on some leaves and can really capture ample sunlight, the pasture plants are growing like crazy. Now we are trying to race our grazing animals through the pastures as quickly as we can, trying to get them to clip the top off as much grass as is possible to keep it from going to seed. Our grazers like leaves, not seeds, so our goal is to maximize leaf growth and to avoid seeding. I think we’ll even be cutting some hay the week after next if we get the right weather!

April 30th – May 6th

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The dairy herd got a little taste of grass at the end of the week. 

We had our first taste of summer weather this week, with temperatures on Wednesday passing ninety degrees on the thermometer. With no leaves to cast shade, the heat and sun were pretty powerful, and the farmers, livestock, and growing things were happy to see conditions turn cool and rainy again by the end of the week. The hot dry weather did seem to put a super charge into the growing pastures, and we are now racing around trying to get everything put in place to start grazing in earnest next week. The beef and dairy cows have been getting little sections of grass over the weekend, working to get their digestions carefully switched over from hay to grass, and I expect they’ll be grazing full time early or the middle of next week. We try to time grazing and the start of calving season to coincide for the beef herd, and we could be having calves any time

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Patty delivered a heifer calf Sunday, and we’re calling here Pickle. 

now. Birthing a brand new calf out on fresh green pasture is much nicer than it would be in the winter barn or yard, so we really hope that all of the expecting mothers can hold out until the herd is out on the grazing rotation. Last year, we had a six-week span between the start of the potential calving season, and when our first calf actually arrived, and I was getting myself worked up into quite a worried lather by the time that first calf finally arrived. We then had ten calves in two weeks, with several days of two or three calves at a time, so it ended up being a great year for us. The timing of calves really depends on the behavior and success of the breeding bull, and that is always a mystery to us. Some bulls get out there and pursue breeding openly and with vigor, while some are quite subtle and low key about it, but they have all succeeded for us every year so far.

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Some classic PVS style carpentry for the new goat house.

The hot dry weather also dried our veggie acreage down nicely this week, and the great cultivation race continued as before, as we try to get as much space cultivated and prepped up into beds, ready to receive either direct seeding, or fresh veggie starts. The greenhouse and hardening-off house are filling with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, with plans to get those moving out into the fields over the coming week. Final cleanup and trellis building is planned for next week in the hoop house, with a big push to get the tomatoes planted in there next Friday.

Our next generation of laying hens came in the mail Wednesday, and moved into the nice warm brooder for a couple of months of growing and putting on feathers. We got one hundred and fifteen New Hampshire Reds this year, and they are doing great so far. With conditions so hot and sunny on the farm Wednesday and Thursday, we ended up having the heat off in the brooder and the windows open, trying not to overheat our new babies. Now we’re back to cool and rainy, so the heat is on and the chicks are happily snuggling up under the heat plates and heat lamps. This time of

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The new PVS dairy has a new cement floor. 

year is often characterized by wide swings in temperature, so we keep a vigilant eye on the thermometer in the brooder and do the best we can to keep our new chicks as comfortable as we can. These girls will spend quite a while in the brooder, and then they’ll move out into an egg-mobile out on pasture for the last half of the summer.

April 23rd – April 29th

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The hardening-off house has plastic, and plants. 

We planted this year’s onions on Friday, marking the first transplant of the season, and officially getting the fields season started. The onions are the largest volume crop that we transplant in the year, and the student-farmers spent most of the day getting the fifteen thousand starts tucked into their black plastic covered beds, and ready for a strong growing season. This planting opened up plenty of space in the hardening-off house and greenhouse, giving us room to keep the seeding moving ahead on schedule. The peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants have all been started in the greenhouse, and are ready to be moved into larger pots for a bit more growing before heading over to the hardening-off house, and then finally out into the fields.

Our broiler chicks were moved out into their summer pasture houses on Thursday, and

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The layers have moved into their egg mobile, and into the Barn Pasture. 

we cleaned the brooder house and got it all ready for the next batch of chicks coming in next week. This next batch will be layers, and we have ordered one hundred and fifteen New Hampshire Reds. This is a breed that we have not tried before, but I am really hoping to get us raising only the more traditional brown-egg laying chickens after the disappointing performance of the Red Stars we raised two years ago. We raised Barred Rocks last year, and they have been really wonderful layers so far. We put the broilers into three houses out on the pasture, with each house holding about thirty-five birds. We are raising two types of meat-chickens this year, Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers, so we did a house of each type, and a house that is mixed. We will add more houses as the chickens grow, ensuring that everyone has enough space to be as comfortable as is possible, and has plenty of access to the all important feeder. I am hoping that we can observe their growth, feed conversion and general success in our system, and raise the better of the two strains in the future. We are raising these birds a month earlier this year than we usually do, and we certainly had some challenging weather for them this week once they had moved out of the warm brooder. The cool wind from the north and west, blowing at almost twenty miles per hour on Thursday, prompted us to use hay bales as a quick sheltering wall on the north and west sides of the pasture houses, and we’ve left those bales in place through the weekend with cold wet weather forecasted Sunday and Monday.

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Grass and clover, getting bigger every day. 

We have had some ideal grass growing weather this week, and our pastures are really getting nice and tall. This is a difficult moment in the year as we watch the beautiful fresh grass coming up, and know that our grazing animals are desperate to get grazing after a long winter of eating hay. However, the longer that we can give the new grass of spring to grow tall, and dig nice deep roots, the stronger each plant, and the whole pasture, will be for the long grazing season ahead. If the weather continues nicely, as it was this week, I estimate that we are about ten days from starting grazing. We always transition into grazing gradually, giving our ruminants time to gently transition their digestions from hay to the rich fresh grass, so I bet we’ll be fully grazing in more like two weeks. We still have quite a bit of fence to setup, especially in the dairy acreage, so this looks to be a busy stretch of work getting everything in order. The laying hens at Sentinel Elm Farm are already out on pasture, but the egg-mobile at Maggie’s is still idled. We’re hoping to run the layers through the home orchard to help break up the development cycle of the apple tree parasitic insect Plum Curculio, so the bud production date is really dictating our layer launch this spring. These little bugs lay eggs in the newly formed fruit, and their maggots eat their way through the growing apple, causing spots, holes, and for the fruit to often fall off early. We hope that the chickens will be able to eat the bugs as they arrive on the scene, preventing them from laying eggs, and saving the apple crop. We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll be sure to let you know all about it.

April 16th – April 22nd

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This year’s piglets are checking out their new area. 

I took our two winter pigs up to the slaughterhouse on Wednesday, and the visit there renewed for me the question of our place in the meat production industry. Every visit to every slaughterhouse that I’ve been to has been a powerful reminder to me of the contrast between our animal’s experience here at the farm, and their experience at the slaughterhouse. I don’t think that there is any nice way to provide the service that slaughterhouses provide, and I am confident that the ones that we take our business to are doing the work as well as it can be done, but the nature of the work is certainly unpleasant. I think that the collection and short-term housing of livestock for processing will inherently involve a strong dose of indignity if it is going to be done in a way that the facility can afford. I can imagine an idealized facility that pampers every animal and gently ushers them onto the kill-floor, but that level of care would bankrupt any business attempting it, and would slow production to unacceptable levels. Because of the shortage of facilities in New England, there is a good deal of pressure on slaughterhouses in our area to process animals quickly and efficiently, and to work through the high level of animals being delivered to them every day. That pressure demands that their systems be efficient, in both time and staffing, and under that pressure there is not a lot of space left to consider the animal’s experience.

That stands in contrast to the attention that we pay here at the farm to the experience of every animal that we raise, where growth, health and comfort are really the three principal issues that we consider for all of our livestock. We invest a lot of time and effort into the day to day care of all of our animals, as well as thought in the design and implementation of the systems in which we raise those animals. We are committed to giving every animal as much opportunity as is possible to live out the character and

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We’ve got some new chicks in the Sentinel Elm brooder. 

design inherent to them, letting pigs root in the soil, chickens peck through the grass, and cows graze out on the pastures. Slaughtering and butchering these animals on the farm, completing the final step in the cycle that takes them from birth to our freezer, would be the approach that would best honor the effort that we have put into their upbringing, as well as the innate virtue in each animal. Processing our animals on-farm would mean that they never left the farm, that they stayed in our care throughout their entire lives, including until their very last moment, that they could avoid the stress of travel and of spending time at the slaughterhouse. However, there is currently no practical way to achieve this on-farm processing within the USDA inspection system which allows us to sell our meat commercially.

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The onion starts got their annual haircut. 

Our extended winter weather held on a bit longer this week, with several days of off-and-on snow, plenty of cold, wind and rain, and limited sun. The ten day forecast seems to imply that the pattern will change a bit next week, with ample sunshine and temperatures heading up into the sixties. The pastures have been inching slowly up over the past few weeks, but I think a dose of warm spring sun might get things really going out there as we head toward grazing season starting in early May. I hope to move our broiler chicks out into their pasture houses next week to make room for the layer chicks coming in the mail the following week, and I think they are ready to get out there and to start scratching through the grass and hunting bugs. Twenty piglets arrived at the farm on Thursday evening, and they have moved into our piglet training pen across the yard from the greenhouse at Sentinel Elm Farm. They came from the same farm as last year’s, born from the same sows, but

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The old milk room has been gutted, and the floor has been jack-hammered out. We will pour a new floor and drain, put up some new walls and doors, and get things moving forward next week. 

with a different boar. They look great, and we have started work on their summer area in the hope of moving them out there before the end of May. Work has also started on our milk room renovation, with most of the demolition completed this weekend, in hopes that new cement, plumbing, walls and electrical can start this coming week. We have our first cow of the spring due May 8th, so we are eager to get the milk room back in as close to working order as is possible before the milk starts flowing again.

Alex has been roaring around the ridge, getting veggie acreage tilled up and cultivated as fast as it dries down, and with more rain in the forecast for Wednesday, this spell of dry sunny weather has him moving in top gear.
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The hardening off house is put back together, and now we need the plastic to arrive so we can cover the frame and start moving in onions. 

April 9th – April 15th

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Despite the spring feel to the week, we did have some frosty mornings.

This week really felt like spring here at The Farm School, with some bright sun, temperatures pushing seventy degrees, and the grass in the pastures really making solid progress toward the coming grazing season. We even had the windows in the brooder house open for a few days this week, letting in some nice fresh air and giving those not-so-little chicks their first taste of the great outdoors. The chicks need a bit more time in the brooder, warm and safe under the heat lamps, before they can move out into their pasture houses, and I expect we’ll give them ten or twelve more days before clearing them out. We have a big batch of laying chicks coming in the first week of May, so we’ll need to get the broiler chicks out, and the house cleaned, before the new arrivals can

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The repair of the hardening-off house in progress

move in. I plan to run our broiler chicks in the Sheep Pasture this year, just north of the Maggie’s Farm complex, in the same area that we have run them the past few years. The sheep pasture has barely been keeping up with the grazing demands of our little sheep flock over the past few years, and the manure put down by the broilers has done a lot to keep that grass growing well. The broilers are delicious, they are a great addition to our meat CSA, and as an added bonus, their manure is one of our most effective pasture growth stimulators, if we manage them well and keep them moving.

Alex and the student farmers got out onto several parts of our veggie acreage this week to do the initial

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Some of that soil, drying out in the sun

cultivation of the driest fields in preparation for the first round of spring planting. Alex keeps a really close eye on the weather during this period of cultivation, looking for the soil to dry out enough to support the tractor and to turn over well, and for the impending rain to stop his work. This stretch of the season is always a race between field prep and the veggie starts growing in the greenhouse, as Alex, Kate and the student farmers wait for stretches of dry weather and the chance to prepare bed space for the plants ready to leave the greenhouse. Some areas of soil in our driest fields was just starting to dry nicely by ThursdayFriday and Saturday of this week, but with a return to winter cold on Sunday, and more than an inch of rain forecasted to fall here on Monday and Tuesday, it seems likely that cultivation with have to stop for while again. Now the race is on to get the damaged hardening off house rebuilt in time to move starts in there, make room for new trays in the greenhouse, and buy ourselves a bit more time while we wait for the soil to dry.

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The horse-draw implements and carts are back in the yard and ready for the growing season.

We seem to go through an extended and stressful search for feeder piglets to purchase every spring, looking for about thirty to fill the needs of both programs and our meat CSA. We have developed nice relationships with several wonderful pig farmers around the area, but we still cannot find someone to supply thirty pigs consistently every spring. This was another challenging spring, since the great farmer we got pigs from last year has decided to get out of the business. I have been searching for a while, and finally heard this week that the farmer we bought piglets from last year has sold his operation to another local farmer, and he’ll have twenty pigs ready for us next week. So we went from zero to twenty piglets coming next week in the span of a single phone call, and now the race is on to get the piglet training area setup, and to start getting the larger summer piglet system in shape. I have dreams of running the pigs over the North West Pasture this summer, hoping that they will be able to destroy the bed-straw that has taken over about seventy-five percent of that pasture. This would be a new area to run pigs in for us, and while there certainly are some significant challenges inherent in the idea, I think the benefits might make the effort worth it. The bed-staw has to be dealt with in some way, and the pigs offer us an intriguing alternative to tractor cultivation. We’ll start working on the pig setup next week, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

April 2nd – April 8th

Now it feels like the weather is just messing with us, swinging from what feels like spring,

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Seems to still be winter, but the view is pretty nice. 

back into deep winter conditions in a matter of hours. We had a couple of days of sun, the pastures started looking a little green, and now we’re back under a couple of inches of snow and the thermometer fell below twenty several nights this week. These conditions have been tough for our new arrivals on the farm, but the lambs and chicks have been holding up so far. We have added about as much heat as I think we can in the brooder house, and the tiny chicks in there have found the warm spots and are staying pretty comfortable. The lambs have also found cozy hiding spots to keep out of the wind and snow, and as long as they keep well fed, they can withstand these difficult conditions. We have been paying some extra attention to getting newborn lambs dried off as quickly as is possible, trying to cut down on the time that they are out in the wind while they are still wet. The mother ewe usually does a great job licking them off, but we have providing a little extra drying, and we’ve hustled them inside the jugs and out of the weather.

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The wind Wednesday night was strong enough to do some damage, smashing one of our shop doors. 

We started setting up seasonal electric fences for the beef herd this week, even though conditions and the weather gave no indication that the grazing season might be only weeks away. We have been working to shift the balance of fencing from seasonal temporary fences to permanent high-tensile fences, cutting down on the amount of fencing that has to be put up every spring and taken down every fall. This lightens the spring work load a bit, at a time when there are so many other projects to complete that we are always looking for extra time and workers just to keep up with all of it. However, those permanent high-tensile fences are a big investment, and stay in place for many many years, and we need to be sure that we know exactly how we want them setup before we build them. This often means that we are going to invest quite a bit of time and effort into a fence location before building the high-tensile fence, clearing brush, grading and leveling, and trying to get everything in a condition that can last for the next ten or fifteen years.

All of our tomato and pepper seeds for the coming growing season have been started in

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We’re keeping the brooder house warm and cozy for the new chicks. 

the greenhouse, and now we are just waiting for the magic of germination to happen. Alex converted two old refrigerators into germination chambers this winter, and we have been using those to encourage more robust germination whenever possible. The greenhouse is filling up, and with snow still on the ground, it seems like we may run into a little bind getting veggie beds tilled and prepped in time to get our beautiful starts in the ground in a timely manner. We had some pretty intense wind here at the farm on Wednesday night, and the plastic cover on the hardening-off house next to the greenhouse was mostly torn off. Our veggie starts typically move to the hardening-off house for a bit before planting in the fields, so the repair of that building is another project that we are hoping to get taken care of as quickly as we can. The work continues next week, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it all goes.

March 26th – April 2nd

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Back to winter

The weather around here seemed to change pretty quickly just after I wrote about our prolonged winter conditions last update, and we ended up with a stretch of really nice spring weather through most of the week. The snow had just about all melted, and with nice sunny days, the ground dried out a bit, roads and yards firmed up, and the pastures even began to take on just the faintest tint of green. However, as I am writing this Monday morning, snow is falling heavily here in central Massachusetts, and the pastures, roads, stonewalls, and everything else, is white again. The forecast calls for temperatures to approach fifty degrees under sunny skies by this afternoon, so it seems that we’ve really entered that crazy time in the spring when the seasons don’t really seem to know what they want to do.

There are buds developing on the trees up and down the ridge, but still no hint of any

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Onion starts

color in the trees at all. We pulled most of the sugar maple taps this week since since the trees were starting to make yellow cloudy sap, though we still have some taps in trees on cool, sheltered northern slopes. My thoughts have been consumed with reseeding our winter feeding yards, how the pasture is regrowing after winter dormancy, and different patterns we could try when it comes time to restart grazing.

Our weekend chore team discovered two pairs of lambs at chore time Saturday morning, so our lambing season has officially started. Both sets of lambs are in jugs with their mothers, and doing great. I think we’ll let the more experienced ewe and her babies back out with the group either Monday or Tuesday. That means lambs running around the sheep yard, getting into all kinds of trouble, and being super cute. We have 18 ewes total, with a few that I bet are not bred, so we are expecting more than a dozen more ewes to deliver their lambs before we’re done. Many ewes will have twin lambs, and with enough good quality feed, they can make plenty of milk for both, and raise nice big healthy youngsters by the fall. Some will have only a single lamb, and while this cuts into our production numbers a bit, the single lamb does end up growing larger than a twin since it gets more milk and attention from the ewe.
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Greenhouse work

We’ve dried off our last milk cow, and we won’t be milking for the next five weeks. This is a strange break for us, but we’re hoping to take the opportunity to renovate the milk room, and to also really get everything setup nicely for the coming calves. We are going to try to feed our dry cows an alternate diet this year for the first time, trying to avoid the challenges that we faced with milk fever last spring. The heart of the issue is a cow’s

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Frank and Ethel are growing up, but they’re still pretty cute. 

ability to meet the extreme demand for calcium that her first big bag of milk requires after her calf is born. Calcium is vital to the milk, but also vital to muscle and nerve function, and when it quickly exits the cow’s blood stream to enter the udder, the cow can lose strength, collapse, and ultimately die.  Manipulating her diet in the weeks before calving can better position her to find the required calcium she needs without putting herself in danger, and we have been working with our local veterinarian to develop a feeding plan to try here at our farm.

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Soil block creation

We have our first batch of chicks scheduled

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Ready to grow

to come in the mail this week, and the brooder is almost ready to receive them. With a nice wood shavings floor, some heat lamps and heat plates, organic chick starter mash and fresh water, we are eager to get those little tinies out of their shipping box and to get them warm and fed. This first batch will be the birds that we raise for meat, and we are raising both Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers this year. I have always wanted to raise both types of pastured chickens side by side to see which type does better in our system, and I am really excited to have the opportunity to try it out this year. I think we will try some houses full of a mix of the two types, as well as houses specific to each type too. This will give us a chance to compare feed consumption between the two, as well as having some raised in exactly the same conditions to compare. I am excited to see how they grow, and to let you know all about it.

3/19 – 3/26

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The ponds around the farm are freezing and thawing daily, making incredible patterns every morning.

Winter is clinging to the farm, with snow still covering a good portion of the pastures, and lying thick through the woods and shady places all over the farm. Our ten day forecast does include some warmer days, but most nights look like they’ll being going well down into the twenties. We are almost always grazing by the first week of May, so April is certainly lining up to be quite a month for transition and change from where we are now, to pastures full of grass. We set up lambing jugs at Maggie’s Farm this week, in anticipation of lambs starting to come the first week of April. We really try to avoid cold weather lambing, so I am eager for this extended winter weather pattern to change before lambing gets going. We also have our first batch of chicks coming in the mail the first week of April, and I hope temperatures aren’t really cold for those little ones too. These signs of the coming production season seem to be in disagreement with the wintery scene still apparent around the farm, but I expect that things will come back into alignment with a snap any time now. Any time that I’m feeling like spring will never really get here, I remember five or six years ago when we were lambing with temperatures in the nineties, and running a sprinkler on the roof of the old lambing shed to keep the place cool since there were no leaves to cast shade yet. The weather here in New England is unpredictable, changes quickly, and always keeps us on our toes.

This coming week will be our last week milking Phoenix before we dry her off next

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We are rebuilding a high tensile fence 10 or 20 yards deeper into the woods along the east side of the Runway pasture, and we’ve put up our bracket holders on the trees as a first step.

weekend. Once she is dried off, we will have no cows in milk for a month, before Patty is due the first week of May. Although this is not a situation that we like to be in, and one that came about because we had to cull Emily unexpectedly, we are going to try to take advantage of the milking break to renovate our milk room. The cement floor is a little rough after years of use, the walls could use a little refreshing, and this will be a chance to renew the plumbing and electrical setup, and refresh our sinks and shelves as well. We also have plans to remove the large two-hundred and-fifty-gallon bulk tank, and to replace it with a much smaller ninety-gallon version. This planned removal means that we are going to have to tear down one of the walls of the milk room, since the bulk tank will not fit through either of the doors. All of this work is the first step in our planned development of a pasteurization facility attached to the existing milk room, with dreams of pasteurizing our milk and developing a product that we can sell or consume on the farm.

Student farmers pruned blueberries this week, trimming and cleaning up the hundreds of bushes at Blue Ox Farm, a local blueberry operation that we work with every year. We harvest blueberries at Blue Ox throughout their production season, leaving some with them to sell on sight, and taking some to sell at our farmer’s market tables and in our veggie CSA. This partnership has worked really well for both The Farm School and Blue Ox Farm, giving us a wonderful resource we wouldn’t otherwise have, and giving them a large and constant customer, and a pruning crew. The students also had a great workshop about accessing farm land, lead by a representative from Land for Good, an introduction to honey bee farming with our great alum Anne, and a trip to Cold Springs Farm to learn about pruning grape vines. The students were also busy in the greenhouse, seeding more trays and giving the tiny onion starts all the tender love and care that they need to grow up vigorous and delicious. Work continued in the winter hoop house, transitioning from beds of spinach to a blank canvas for our summer tomatoes, and we got the first run of trellising up successfully. I’ll include a write up and some pictures once that project really gets going!

March 12th – March 18th

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Onion starts in the greenhouse

The Farm School was hit with another pretty significant snowstorm Monday night and Tuesday, with almost another foot of snow added on top of last week’s total. We’ve had to change our plans and delay projects to accommodate the snow, pushing back blueberry pruning and the start of electric fence season, and making access to our various yards and roads much more difficult. A month ago there seemed to be a regular chorus of stories in print and on the radio describing how spring is now measurably and consistently about two weeks earlier that the historical average, and while I am 100% sure that that is true for most of the world, here in the middle of Massachusetts, we seem to have slipped back into the middle of winter. The ground had almost fully thawed before we resumed our winter a couple of weeks ago, so the farm has been particularly sloppy after all of this snow on top of the muddy ground. Walking through fields and pastures is a strange sensation with soft ground beneath the soft snow above, and it seems like quite a bit of damage could be done to our pastures, paths and driveways if we’re not careful. Snow plowing is really difficult when the ground under the snow is not frozen, and the plow truck is rattled almost to pieces as the plow digs into the soft mud under the snow. We have another snowstorm forecasted for the middle of the coming week, which would be our fourth in the past three weeks, and another for the weekend, even further deepening this springs strange weather.

This early spring season seems to be the last chance to finish up projects before the real rush of the growing season starts, but the list of things that we would like to get done still seems to grow longer and longer, rather than shorter. We finished adapting the automatic doors on one of our pasture egg-mobiles to meet AWA standards this week, and will turn our attention to the other two egg-mobiles next week. We also finally

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Sentinel Elm collects all the old layers, but they look good, and keep laying eggs!

installed a gate between our new brooder house and the side of the Maggie’s barn, giving farmers a much shorter route from the barn hayloft down to the sheep’s hay feeder. Alex had various pieces of cultivating and seeding equipment down in the garage for fine-tuning before they have to go into use in the coming weeks, though the snowy landscape gives this work just the tiniest feeling of absurdity. Alex’s record show that a few years ago, he began cultivating his first fields by next week’s time. This also feels like our last chance to get together to talk about big plans and ideas before the cascading work of the production season shifts our focus so directly to the many tasks immediately at hand. The dreams we share of ways to adapt and enhance this collective endeavor are the fuel that keep the work humming along at the fevered clip that we’ve grown accustomed to, and it feels really important to make as much time and space as we possibly can for dreaming, while we still can.

We have plans to grow this year’s tomatoes in our hoop-house over the summer, and we are working to get that space ready for the effort. This week’s work has been focused on harvesting and clearing the rest of the winter’s spinach from the beds in the hoop-house,

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The hoop house, before clearing the beds

and we have been researching and developing a design and plan for the trellis structures that will support the tomatoes as they grow. There a many different ways to support growing tomatoes, and we are hoping to develop a high-tensile trellis system that will allow us to prune and tie up our plants for optimum air flow, health and fruit production. Our plan calls for five long trellis structures running east to west, each with a row of tomato plants on each side. We plan to build the first prototype this week, and I will be sure to let you know how it goes.