February 6th – February 11th

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The buck and a ram in the bachelor pen

This was another week that fit our usual winter pattern, with our student farmers splitting their time between classes inside, and time out at the firewood landing. Business planning, garden planning, and crop planning continued, we looked at the livestock budgets for the last few years, and on Friday afternoon, the students presented their work on an electric fencing assignment. The work at the landing transitioned from producing short wood stove length firewood to the longer wood boiler material, which mostly means that hand splitting is over, and the hydraulic splitters are now the most critical component of the work. We have found that the longer boiler length pieces are just too long to split effectively by hand, but with two splitters going full time, we can get through the work. We had a nice little snow storm during the day Wednesday, and the visiting seventh and eighth graders from the Mission Hill School got on the bus early Wednesday morning to head back into Boston before the roads got really bad. Their classmates were scheduled to come out to spend the rest of the week with us, but they canceled, and the farm was quiet to end the week. These were the first students back on the farm since early December, and it was really wonderful to see and hear them re-enliven the place, fill the bunkhouse, and get some wonderful work done on the farm. The seventh and eighth graders from Mission Hill have been coming out to the farm

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The sheep shed has worked well in these tough conditions. 

every school year since kindergarten, they know this place intimately, and their return is like having family for a visit. Theirs was a fantastic group to restart this year of programming at The Farm School.

On Monday, our student farmers met with the veterinarian, Dr. Mark Ledoux, and castrated last summer’s bull calves in the beef herd. This is an annual course of action here at the farm, and we wait until the ground is frozen and the weather is cold to make sure that our animals will not face any mud or insect pressure after the procedure. Dr. Ledoux teaches the students three different approaches to castration, usually starting with a surgical technique that gives everyone the chance to see the internal workings of the organ so that they have a clear understanding of how the other two techniques will work. We move on to banding, the application of a strong rubber band around the top of the scrotum to stop blood flow and kill the testicles below, and then try the Burdizzo, a device similar to a pair of pliers which, when used properly, breaks the blood vessels to the testicles without cutting the skin. There were ten calves to treat from last year’s calving season, though two were heifers and did not need castration, so there was plenty of work to go around. Every calf also got their two vaccine injections, protection against most respiratory infections and another to prevent most clostridium based infections. All of the castration work was done under general sedation, and the calf that was surgically castrated also got a local anesthesia. This makes the work environment much safer for our students, makes the work a bit easier for everyone, and prevents the calves from feeling the brunt of their discomfort. Despite the sedation, Dr. Ledoux also teaches our students several useful rope restraint techniques to immobilize the animal and make the work safer and easier. These calves are three hundred pounds or more by this point, and quite powerful, and it is vital that we do everything that we can to keep the animals and the farmers safe. One drawback of using sedation is that we cannot do this work with temperatures below ten degrees for

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The ground in every animal enclosure has turned to ice.

fear that the sedated animals will lie out still and immobilized for too long on the cold ground. Sedation also requires that we position and support the calves properly after their procedure since a ruminant animal needs the ability to almost constantly burp and release the digestive gasses being generated in their rumens. The gas can end up trapped at the top of their stomachs if they lie out flat, and the pressure that builds up can dangerously impede their breathing. We make sure that they end up lying on their briskets with their heads up as much as is possible, and check them regularly to make sure everyone stays upright and is back on their feet as soon as they can be. The whole operation went very smoothly this year, the calves are recovering quite well, and I don’t think that the students were too shocked by the work.

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January 29th – February 5th

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New front doors on the greenhouse

This winter’s firewood yard cranked up into full production this week, and with our whole community on the sight for a few hours on Wednesday morning, wagonloads of split firewood have started rolling out for delivery all over the ridge. We usually start the season making the shorter fourteen or sixteen-inch home wood stove length cords, before moving on to the longer thirty-six inch pieces for the outdoor wood burning furnaces. The shorter fire wood is easily hand split with a maul, so we had an impressive army of farmers swinging mauls Wednesday, turning large rounds into fine split firewood ready to stack and dry until next winter. This year’s cut has been marked out along the eastern edge of the long thin beef pasture that we call the Runway, and the student farmers have been able to drop the trees into the open space of the pasture. We’ve found, after several years of training new loggers, that our students, and the whole process, really benefit from the simplicity of dropping and processing trees in more open space than inside the forest would allow. This location is also giving us the added benefit of expanding the pasture a bit, and since we have had to remove the high-tensile fence at the edge of the pasture to cut the trees, we’re planning to move the fence deeper into the woods to give the cows an expanded space for shade. We have also stepped up our scheduling and tracking for the tree felling and bucking part of the program this year, trying to make sure that every student gets multiple

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No more ducks, so we’re dismantling their fortress. 

opportunities to cut down trees with one-on-one instructor guidance, and to follow that up with extended work bucking up their trees with staff support. We have found, over the years, that students can begin to self-select away from the more nerve-racking work of dropping trees and bucking them up, and we want to ensure that everyone gets a good hold on these skills.

The student farmers had more great classes this week as well, continuing their crop planning series of workshops, their business planning classes, more fiber arts work, and another in the garden planning series. As usual, we do our best to mix plenty of work out on the farm in between all of these classes to give everyone the chance to stay in shape, and to have some time to digest all that they’ve learned.

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A look down the milking line, with everyone relaxing inside

The Program for Visiting Schools starts again on the 5th, so we spent this past week meeting, planning and getting everything ready for kids to be back on the farm. We did our annual review of the daily schedule, going through the details of every part, making sure each one is serving the kids and their experience as well as it possibly can, and adapting things accordingly. This has been a really fruitful and valuable process for us over the years, keeping the program vital and fresh, renewing its connection to our mission, and giving every farmer a voice in crafting the environment they’re working in. We didn’t make any huge changes this year, but did develop a new alternative schedule to use when the kids end up arriving late. We also spent time this week preparing our four major work areas, getting the bunkhouse all setup for kids to move back in, and whipping the whole place into shape in general.

January 23rd – January 28th

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The Bunkhouse is down there somewhere. 

Getting all of the cows in our little dairy bred in a timely way has always been a bit of a challenge for us. The key to the process is the consistent detection of cows in standing heat, which usually means spending some time watching the cows around morning and evening chores to see how everyone is behaving. Cows come into heat about every twenty days, and we know they’re doing so when they start messing with the other cows. They become very interested in what everyone else’s back end smells like, and when a cow truly comes into heat, all the other cows will be fascinated by her back end, and the cow will stand still while other cows mount her. When we see a cow in standing heat, we know we have eight to twelve hours to get her bred. Bradley does most of our breeding here, and he is always on call and available when we see a cow in heat. A cow’s pregnancy lasts about 280 days, or close to ten months, so breeding this year determines the course of next year’s calving and milk production. We usually start breeding some

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The lane on a misty morning

time in July, and breed through the summer, fall and most of the winter, depending on how we do. Our goal is to have a consistent supply of milk throughout the year, so we need spread the breeding out to a certain extent to make sure we have enough cows in milk in all seasons. A cow bred in July will deliver her calf the following April, just before our grazing season starts. A cow bred in January will deliver her calf in October, just at the end of our grazing season. We try to avoid having calves born in the really cold weather of winter, so we try to get all of the cows bred between July and January. Some cows have regular heats that we can predict pretty accurately every twenty days or so, demonstrate clear signs of being in heat, and breed back pretty easily. Some cows, on the other hand, seem to have irregular heats, or fail to exhibit clear signs that they are in heat, and we always have trouble getting these cows bred in a timely way.

We bought Daisy from Misty Brooke Farm six or seven years ago when we needed to restock and renew our dairy herd, and she has been a strong milker for us ever since. Despite being a great milk cow though, Daisy has always given us trouble when it came time to

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Tom and King in the January mist

breed her. Her last calf was a heifer delivered in 2016, and she did not breed last year. I thought that we had her bred successfully, but when the vet came out and found that she was not bred, it was too late in the season to breed her. Between her erratic heat pattern and lack of standing heat exhibition, we could not seem to get her bred again this breeding season, and she went into the winter still open. Although we are pretty lax in terms of shipping off cows that don’t breed, we cannot justify keeping a cow on the farm that does not breed for two years. We consulted our vet, and worked with him to develop a program to give Daisy her best chance to breed here in January, with the recognition that this would be her last chance to breed. We looked back at her heat history, did our best to predict when we thought she should have been coming into heat, and used those dates to time our treatments. Two weeks ago she got a CIDR (intervaginal progresterone insert), and we

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The greenhouse is empty between timber framing and seed starts, and it a great place for indoor fun.

followed that with two further hormone injections a few days apart, and finally a third and different injection, and breeding, about ten days ago. I am satisfied that we did just about everything that we could here to give Daisy her best chance to successfully breed, and now we’re just waiting a few more weeks until we can do an ultrasound to see if she’s pregnant.

This was a full week of firewood production out at this year’s firewood yard, and the work site and routine has been ironed out for efficient and safe production. The piles of split wood are growing, and the smoke of the burn piles is a constant reminder of the work of this winter season.

January 16th – January 22nd

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A grey start to the week

The student farmers came back to the farm on Tuesday, and it has been wonderful to be at Maggie’s Farm with folks in the farmhouse and out at work. We had a short week, but got a lot done, and the students have gone off to attend the NOFA-NY Winter Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York for the weekend. This week included a fiber-arts introductory class, delayed a day for the traditional annual snowstorm that seems to arrive every year on fiber-arts day, our first class in the crop planning series, our first class in the garden planning series, and introduction to our huge winter firewood production project, and some time keeping all of livestock happy and comfortable in their winter quarters. The next few months will include a nice balance of indoor class time and outdoor work time, with the majority of the work focused on our yearly firewood production.

Beside for making firewood, winter is also the time of year when farmers can go to conferences and workshops, and dream of ways to integrate the new ideas and approaches that they’re learning into the work of their own farm. Farmers can spend some time learning about areas of the farm that they are most interested in and passionate about, areas that they would like to improve, things they would like to add to their group of farm enterprises, or things they are only dreaming about. This new

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Our pigs are growing, despite the tough winter weather. 

learning is brought back to the farm, and is mixed into the yearly winter planning sessions that lay out the arc of the coming growing season. This mixture of learning and planning is a fertile brew, and given the breathing room of the slower winter season, it gives many farmers a chance to refresh themselves and the perspective for a fresh look at their operation. New ideas and new ways of doing things that feel like just another thing to add to the seemingly endless list of things to do in the growing season, seem much more reasonable and possible now, and commitments usually dismissed out of hand in the summer are confidently made. Small issues that have been ‘good enough to get by’ until now can finally rise to the top of the to-do list, and get fixed.

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Hopefully we’ve bred all the cows in the dairy. 

I have always wanted to raise different breeds of meat birds in our pastured poultry system to see which would be the best fit for our approach and thrive most thriftily. In the heat of the summer and swirl of getting everything ordered and lined up for the year, this always just seemed like one more complication that we didn’t need to take on. This year we’ve changed hatcheries, and they carry both types of birds that I would like to include in our initial round of testing, so we have ordered fifty+ of each. We will have a couple houses of our usual Kosher Kings, and a couple houses of the also common Freedom Rangers. Both will be raised under the same conditions, and through their raising, and after processing, we’ll be able to evaluate which type did better for us. There is also the conventional Cornish Cross white meat bird that populates the massive indoor poultry farms supplying the chicken found in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. Many, or most. small farmers raise this type of bird as well, but I am not sure they would be a good fit for us. These birds grow to market weight in only seven weeks, rather than the twelve that we raise ours for, and that rapid growth often leads to quite unpleasant health problems, immobility and high mortality. Our daily, and twice daily, moved pastured approach has proved a poor fit for this type of bird, and we’ve found that the slower growing birds, more dynamic, and mobile enough to keep up with their moving houses, works better for us. I look forward to keeping you informed as we go through this experiment, and to having the best product we possible can at the end!

January 9th – 15th

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Our rain gauge got some winter work this week.  

We’ve just come to the end of a truly remarkable week in terms of our weather, and it has been a real test for our animals, farm systems, and land.

Dawn came last Sunday with our coldest temperatures of the winter, with the thermometer up at the dairy barn at thirteen degrees below zero. That was the culmination of an extremely cold stretch of weather reaching back to around Christmas, and by Sunday, the farm and farmers were well adapted to the cold, and the farm and livestock were comfortable and functioning well. We then experienced a moderation of temperatures through last week, with a sudden jump on Thursday and into Friday that brought us all the way up to fifty-seven degrees during the day on Friday. That jump, from thirteen below on Sunday, to fifty-seven on Friday, covered seventy degrees in five days, and felt extraordinary. Everything on the farm was wet as the warm moist air blowing in from the south condensed on every surface super cooled from the previous weeks of winter. The cement floor of the dairy barn was alternately wet and icy, as water condensed and froze on that huge thermal mass. Then it started to rain, and we got more than an inch and a half from Thursday night on, and lasting through the day on Friday. The ground had been so thoroughly frozen after several weeks of subzero nights, that the quick warm up did not thaw it out, and the falling rain and melting snow could not soak in at all. The rain and melt just pooled and moved right over the ground, sliding over the frozen ground and heading for low areas. Our farm was almost completely cleared of snow, the Miller’s River down in the valley flooded and pushed massive flows of ice over its banks, and the dirt roads along our ridge suffered significant washouts. Our animals all have shelters where they can get out of the weather, and I was confident that all of those shelters had been designed and built in such a way that the animals would stay dry inside, even with significant water moving over the frozen ground, but Friday and Saturday were a real test for our livestock. The swing in temperatures, paired with the intense rain, was a unique weather pattern that I have never experienced here at The Farm School, and it was another reminder that we need to be really committed to building flexibility and redundancy into our livestock systems. This fall we developed a roughly two hundred and fifty square foot, deep bedded wood-chip yard just behind the dairy barn to feed the dairy cows on if the weather and ground conditions got really bad. Our cows have a nice run-in in the back of the dairy barn, but we setup their round bale and feeder out on the new wood-chip pad Friday morning, and the cows were able to stay up above the flood happily eating all day Friday, and could go back and eat there Saturday and Sunday after all that water froze into a sheet of ice. That little project really gave us a nice chance to keep the cows comfortably eating and making milk, and it serves as a nice example of the kinds of adaptations we are going to need to build into all of our livestock plans if we are going to stay functional here in the changing New England climate.

Both farms have remained pretty quiet over the past week with both programs on a little

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The barn pasture and pig house with the snow gone. No more Pig-loo. 

winter break. We have had a some great meetings over at Maggie’s to lay out the rest of the winter plan and lay the groundwork for our spring and summer work. We’ll be moving into heavy firewood production at Maggie’s when the students return Tuesday, and we’ll also have quite a few classes over the next few weeks while the weather is cold and nasty. Students will start their crop planning series of classes, their business planning series, garden planning, fiber arts intro, they’ll go to the NOFA-NY Winter conference, we’ll shear sheep and prune fruit trees, work on the tractors and equipment, do lots of reading and thinking, and dream and plan about the coming growing season. I’ll be sure to let you know how it all goes!

January 1st – 8th

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Not quite ready for the growing season

We’re back with another update from The Farm School, and though it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written, the farm has been really quiet and there is not too much to report on. The story of the end of December and beginning of January has been the incredible cold weather and snow that we’ve had here in central Massachusetts.  Starting Christmas week, and going strong through the seventh of January, we’ve had weather significantly colder than we’re used to around here. Our nightly cold temperatures have been well below zero almost every night, and our daily highs have been in the single digits and teens above zero just about every day. The cold has really tested our infrastructure and farm systems, and I’m sorry to say that some components did not perform as we’d hoped. We’ve had several water systems around the farms freeze, and we’ve had to add insulation and heat in several places to keep things working. Our

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The winter pigs and their deep bedded pig-loo.

animals have come through this cold weather well, though they have spent quite a bit more time inside than we’d like. On Thursday, the 4th, we had about a foot of snow fall here at the farm, starting just before dawn and lasting through the day. The wind blew hard all day, driving the snow sideways into every crack and opening in every building, piling up huge drifts, and undoing shoveling and plowing work just about as quickly as we could get it done.

The super cold weather added some new challenges to our livestock care, and forced some changes in our systems to keep everyone comfortable and healthy. The cement floor of the cows run-in in the back of the dairy barn got so cold that the manure dropped by the cows froze within minutes of falling, and then developed into a surface that the cows were very uncomfortable walking over. We found that if we kept the cows in the main barn at night, their body heat kept the inside space warm enough to keep the manure gutter thawed out, and we could shovel it out in the morning before it froze when the cows went outside and the barn cooled. We have not kept our cows in the barn at night for several years after developing a nice little run-in area with deep bedded free-stall in the back, but this cold weather showed us a weakness in

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The dairy herd has been inside a lot during the cold weather. 

our system that we luckily found a quick solution for. We also moved one of our layer feeders inside their house, giving up on forcing them to walk out to eat during this cold snap. We changed the water in one layer house from our usual red and white closed water dispenser to a big black rubber dish with a heater in it, and our the rams and the buck in our breeder’s pen needed their water changed to a heated bucket. Not surprisingly, water management became the biggest issue during this cold weather, but with a few changes, I think we were able to keep everyone well hydrated.

I think that all the cows we want to breed in the dairy are bred, except Daisy. She missed breeding last year, and with her less than consistent heats, we have been unable to breed her again this year. A cow in the dairy, unbred, is not doing much for our bottom line other than eating lots of hay and making some good manure, and there is always

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The view out the back of the bunkhouse

pressure to move those unbred cows along. It is certainly quite tempting to process a cow that doesn’t breed for two years, and Daisy is moving closer to that status. A cow bred in January will have a calf some time in October or the beginning of November, and since we really try to avoid winter cold weather calving, January is the last month that I am willing to breed cows before we resume breeding again in the summer. So this feels like Daisy’s last chance to breed, and we are going to enlist our veterinarian to help give us the best shot of giving Daisy a productive future here. I’ll let you know how it goes!

December 10th – 18th

Last week was another busy one at The Farm School, and with some really cold weather, we made an early entrance into some deep winter work. The Learn to Farm Program included the final Monday morning session with Dr. Major of Green Mt. Bovine Clinic, with a focus on our dairy cows, and a trip to a large local dairy, a Wednesday afternoon butchering demonstration with Chef Barry from Future Chefs, a Thursday morning trip up to visit Adam’s Farm slaughter house, and a push to get our final students through the chainsaw/draft-horse/tractor refresher. This was our first week of quiet winter break time at the Program for Visiting Schools, and the work at Sentinel Elm Farm was mostly directed at some deep cleaning and renewal in the bunkhouse. The super fancy round bales for the dairy herd’s winter feed finally came in this week, so we had huge trailer loads arriving in the yard through the week, and we now have a mountain of enormous marshmallows stacked up and ready to keep the milkers happy and well fed.

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Pig butchering workshop

Dr. Major has been coming out to The Farm School for many years to teach a series of classes on livestock health, anatomy, diet and lifecycle. He typically does a sequence of three workshops over three weeks, with one dedicated to small ruminants, like sheep and goats, one dedicated to larger animals like horses and beef cows, and the finale focused on dairy cows. These in-depth examinations of each type of animal includes a discussion of how their bodies work, how they get up and down, their walking and running, and the subsequent issue of how they eat, process their food, and pass waste, and the functioning of their reproductive systems. These issues naturally lead into a discussion of how the farmer manages the environment and diet to suit these specific traits, some of the most common issues that arise, and their treatment. Dr. Major is able to draw from his deep store of experience gathered from years of traveling around the farms in our area, and to share his insights developed from seeing things that work and don’t work on the farms that he visits. His visits always raise important issues and lead to great discussions among our Learn to Farm students as they wrestle with the many and often conflicting factors that go into raising animals humanely and profitably. This week’s final session at a large commercial dairy, paired with the visit to the slaughterhouse later in the week, and the butchering workshop, really got people thinking about all that goes into raising livestock on a large scale, what it means to eat meat, and how their ideals fit into all of it.

I placed our orders for next year’s chicks this week, and we have changed hatcheries for both our layers and our meat birds. We have also pushed our arrival dates up a full month from this year, in the hopes that we can avoid the three week drought in eggs that we experienced this fall as our older layers just about stopped laying and our pullets had not started yet. Next year our meat birds will come to the farm first, with fifty five Kosher Kings (the same type we’ve raised the last few years) and fifty five Freedom Rangers coming from Freedom Ranger Hatchery the first week of April. They’ll be followed a month later by one hundred and fifteen New Hampshire Red laying chicks coming from Cackle Hatchery. I am really excited to raise the Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers side by side here on our farm, and to see how they compare in performance in our system. I am also really excited to try chicks from a new hatchery, and I hope that we can avoid some of the challenges that we faced with chick mortality last season. I also made our processing dates at Adams for next year, and although this is the earliest that I have ever made those dates, their calendar is already filling up way out into next fall. It seems that more and more folks are raising a few animals out on their back forty, and the pressure to get the spots we want for processing is only increasing year after year. Our schedule for next year will be very similar to this year, with most animals going in for processing in October and November.

The Learn to Farm Program is shut down from December 15th through January 15th, though chores keep going through that time, and the outdoor furnace has to be kept stocked too. The staff will be meeting a bit through that time to iron out the details of the winter and spring schedule, map out the large components of the program, and make sure that we are ready for the growing season that is coming.

December 3rd – 10th

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Snow down the lane

The first real snow of the winter is falling right now at The Farm School, again switching the pallet of the landscape to wintery white and brown, and shutting out all the noise. We’re only expecting a few inches of snow here in central Massachusetts from this storm, but with temperatures forecasted to go down into the single digits a few nights next week, I think we are safely in the grip of winter. We spent the week doing some overdue deep dives into nooks and crannies around Sentinel Elm Farm, emptying the hayloft, tackling the back office, and putting the Hero’s Wall up. Once the forecast crystalized, we also raced around to put the final touches on winter prep, with the understanding that things left out may not reappear until spring. Bradley spent a few days taking down some sad looking spruce trees in rough shape on the east side of the bunkhouse, and his work has transformed the look of the farm. Spruce wood is not good for much, so we burned most of the limbs and logs when we did our burn pile.

The Learn to Farm program charged ahead with tractor, chainsaw and draft horse

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The chickens stay on the path with new snow.

refresher training, as well as soil class, small fruit class, and a visit to Hettie Belle Farm just up the road in Warwick, MA. Olivier and Jennifer focus on meat and poultry production, and after spending years teaching at The Farm School, they always welcome our students for a close look at the logistics and business of running a family livestock operation. Olivier will come down to Maggie’s later in the winter for an in-depth look at his business model, and share his insights gathered from years of running a meat-CSA.

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Some new art in the PVS Bunkhouse

In the later summer and fall, we built an elaborate sheep alfalfa pellet feeder at Maggie’s farm, and I’ve written about that project. The new feeder has been working really well, and has achieved our goals of letting us feed the sheep without having to wade through them, keeping the sheep inside their fence, and keeping everyone safe. However, sheep got in the habit of climbing up into the feeder to get at the last little crumbs of alfalfa, and with them came mud and poop. In general, we aim to keep mud and poop out of feed dishes as a rule, so we recognized that something had to change at the new alfalfa feeder. This week we installed vertical boards every ten inches down the length of the feeder, spaced so sheep can get their heads in to eat, but not get their bodies in and defile the trough. So far, this adaptation seems to be working well, but I am sure that sooner or later we’re going to find a sheep stuck on the wrong side, unable to remember what space it squirmed through coming in.

The staff of the Program for Visiting Schools spent a day at The Mission Hill School this week, renewing and strengthening the wonderful connection that we share with that great organization. Students from Mission Hill come out to the farm in every grade, and

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The view from the top of the pasture

that unique setup makes our relationship with the school, and the kids, really strong. We work closely with their teachers to make sure that our program meets these kids right where they are, and we watch the kids grow up over the years in a wonderful and powerful way. I have been at the farm for eleven years, and have seen Mission Hill students from their first year of school through to their graduation, and the bond between our programs is one of the truly profound aspects of the work that we do.

Thanksgiving – Dec. 3rd

We had a great Thanksgiving week at The Farm School, but there was not much time to write an update of everything that we got up to. We had a short week of work on the farm, with the adult students heading off for the holiday on Tuesday evening, and the kid’s programing only running through Wednesday. It sounds like everyone really enjoyed their turkeys, and there was plenty to eat for everyone.

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The round bales have been arriving. 

Although we have not had much really cold wintery weather yet, the farm is taking on the feeling of winter more and more every day. Most of the fences are down for the winter, and the green of the pasture grass has faded to the light brown of winter. The home gardens are resting under blankets of mulch hay and wood chips, and our stack of round wrapped bales is growing by the day. We got our large tractor setup with a bale grabber this fall, and that has made the work of loading, unloading, moving and setting up round bales so much faster and easier than it has ever been for us. Rather than borrowing a bale grabber, or contracting out to get someone to come use theirs to do our work, we have been able to get wagons of bales parked in the yard where we can unload them before they’re driven off to get reloaded. Instead of trying to get all the bales delivered in one or two crazy days, we have had a much more gradual and easy-going go of it so far, and I really appreciate that!

The Learn to Farm program spends these weeks between Thanksgiving and our winter

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Josh and the students picked up this year’s meat from the slaughter house this week. 

break renewing everyone’s training with the draft horses, tractor and chainsaw, in preparation for the intense firewood production season that is coming after break. We have a nice pile of logs in the farmyard, setup well for safe bucking, and with one-on-one supervision, we’ll get everyone a few hours in that work to keep those newly acquired chainsaw skills fresh. Bradley is taking two students at a time to re-introduce them to our draft horses, Tom and King, show them our equipment, and give them a few hours to drive the team around the farm and keep themselves comfortable working with horses. Finally, everyone also gets another couple of hours on the tractor, and with more direct instruction, we’re introducing bucket work and heavy lifting. All of these tools and

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Two new winter piglets meet the old piglets. 

skills are the foundation of our firewood work, and we want to make sure that everyone has the skills that they’ll need to move that work ahead efficiently and safely. This span of the program also starts to have more and more classes, as we transition from full days out on the farm, to a more even split of classroom and outside time.

This has been the last week of fall programing at the Program for Visiting Schools, and we are ending on a high note with a full week of fourth and fifth graders from The Orchard Gardens School. A good portion of these kids are native Portuguese speakers, and it has been wonderful hearing them fill the farm with this beautiful language. They have been actively translating for each other throughout the week, and while this has slowed some of our programing a bit, it has

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We’ve refreshed the cow road, and made a mud season pad with wood chips. 

made us distill all of our wonderful chatter into concise and bite sized pieces, finding the relevant meaning in all the talking that we’ve grown accustomed to. This has been a really enlightening process for everyone, and has been a great way to reconnect to our message and work with a fresh perspective. We’ll spend the next couple of months working on the farm and infrastructure, and welcome kids back again in late winter.

November 13th – 20th

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A very artistic picture into the layer house

I’m a bit late in writing this week’s entry after a busy few days setting up for and processing our Thanksgiving turkeys. We aim for turkey processing to happen on the Sunday before Thanksgiving every year so the birds never have to go into the freezer, and they are ready for folks in our community to pickup, whatever their plans. Sunday was a pretty nasty day, and we had some really large turkeys, so this year’s setup included some additional elements that made the whole process a bit more cumbersome this time around. Sunday’s weather forecast called for the day to start warm and rainy, with rain all of Saturday night too, and then a cold front blowing in mid-morning, winds picking up, and temperatures dropping. We setup pop-up tents over all of our work areas to keep the rain off, and built a roaring fire in the stove in the neighboring wood shop, and things got off to a pretty cozy start around 8am Sunday morning. About a third of the way through our work the wind suddenly gusted in, and our pop up tents were saved by some quick thinking farmers

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A dusting of snow on the Flat Field and hoophouse

who grabbed them as they tried to blow away. The rain was light enough by then that we could just take the tents down, though that was an adventure too with the wind gusting, swirling and blowing in hard from the west. The rest of the process was cold and wet, with colder and colder air pushing in on a strong and steady wind, regular spits of rain to keep us all uncomfortable, and only infrequent peaks of sunshine. The wind played havoc with our propane burners, and it was a real challenge to keep the scald water hot enough for proper plucking. We resorted to putting backup pots of water on the wood stove in the shop where they heated pretty nicely out of the wind. The shop became an essential part of the process, with our crew rotating through the heat (and hot coffee and donuts) inside to warm up before heading back out to keep the work going. Luckily the turkeys were warm inside, so there was a strong incentive to keep busy. The larger birds also called for a careful and patient approach to the work, especially at the killing end. The large toms can be really powerful, and slow and steady teamwork helped keep everyone safe through the whole process. We got through all the birds in good order, and they all came out the end looking beautiful! Our largest was twenty-five pounds and the smallest was seven, with most coming in somewhere between seventeen and twenty-one. While we want nice big turkeys to make sure that everyone has a true feast when they cook one of these birds up, we try to avoid growing monsters that no one has a oven big enough to cook. We also culled thirty older layers, and the kitchen crew will brew up some massive pots of chicken stock to squirrel away for winter’s cold season.

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Chickens hate snow, but their foot prints are cool arrows! 

Things got cold and nasty enough Sunday night that we woke up to a little bit of snow on the ground Monday morning. This dusting is going to melt away before too long, but it certainly is a clear reminder that the season is changing quickly all around us. We left a bunch of material out in the pastures and fields in our rush to get the livestock into winter quarters before the really cold weather came through a little while back, and now, with a tiny bit of snow, I am really eager to get everything else inside before things start to disappear for the winter. Turkey fences, chicken feed cans, range shelters and pig troughs are all still where we left them, and this week’s work list is made up mostly of entries that start with ‘clean’ or ‘pickup’. We are coming to the end of the working season, the season where we are out and about, traipsing over just about every square foot of this farm. Now comes winter, where we are in the shop fixing things, in the woods cutting, in the yard bucking, splitting and stacking, and hopefully, in the farmhouse, planning for next year.