October 7th – October 15th

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This rainy weather has meant a bumper crop of wild mushrooms. This is a huge puffball in the Flat Field.

We just cannot get a break from the rain here in central MA, and with more than an inch falling here this week, conditions have remained saturated and soggy. Brad and Tyson were able to sneak out into some veggie fields during the first half of the week to cultivate and spread cover crop seeds, but it started raining Tuesday evening and has not really stopped since then. The dairy cow road, the sheep road, around the water trough in the beef cow’s daily paddocks, and everywhere that we drive out on the fields is a soft muddy mess, and I continue to worry about the condition of our hoofed animals feet. They all need to have the opportunity for their feet to dry out periodically to avoid ‘foot rot’, and those chances to get out of the wet seem to be few and far between these days. We are trying to use straw strategically to give them dry loafing areas, but in really wet conditions, straw just ends up saturated and holding more water. We are seeing more and more clearly the work that needs to be done to prepare the land that we farm to accommodate the farming that we want to do. Our roads, our animal housing and our veggie systems all need some updating and improving if this weather is going to recur in seasons to come. We cannot predict if super wet summers will be the new pattern for us here, so I think that we will need to think long and hard about how to adapt our endeavors and methods to be resilient in the face of a wide variety of weather challenges. The issue that I expect we’ll be facing is not really any specific type of weather becoming more prevalent, but rather an intensification of the weather generally, with hotter hots, wetter wets, and drier dries. This means improving our infrastructure in terms of flooding, but also thinking about ways to keep our animals and vegetables comfortable and well fed and watered in hotter and drier weather too.

There was frost on the tallest grass in Middle Earth Pasture when I was out moving the

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The pumpkins have been harvested, but some stragglers remain.

egg-mobiles before sunrise Saturday morning, and with the temperature forecasted to fall down near freezing again on several nights this week, it looks like we might really be coming to the official end of the growing season. There are cold hardy veggie crops like kale still out in the fields, and they can handle the cold, but most plants stop growing or are killed completely with a couple of frosts. We have some really nice grass out in the pastures which will also stop growing for the season with a few frosty nights, and now we just need to be vigilant that our grazing is gentle enough that we don’t do too much damage to the dormant pastures. We want to the pastures to rest through the winter with a nice cover of grass, so close grazing will put the plants and pastures at risk if we take that cover down too short. A nice healthy grass plant with a large root system under the soil is ready to get things going again in the spring, and has the resources available to begin growing early and strong, but a plant that the cows or sheep thrash in the fall won’t have much energy to get going when temperatures climb in March and April.

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The Kale and Chard enjoying some rare sun in the Flat Field. 

Frost on the pastures turns my mind to the winter work to come, to the projects that need to get done now before the ground freezes, and to the systems that need to be setup before there is ice in the hoses and water dishes. We have a stack of logs in the yard at Maggie’s Farm ready for bucking, splitting and stacking. Student Farmers will take the Game of Logging class in a couple of weeks, get their introduction to chainsaw use, care and safety, and the months long cord-wood project will start rolling along. The winter layer house still has the bedding from last spring in it, so it will need a full clean-out and refresh before the new layers can move in. We need to initiate round bale deliveries at the Waslaske barn and at the dairy, stocking up on winter feed for the beef and dairy herds. Six beef cows load out to the slaughterhouse next Sunday, so I’ll need to get the chute in order, review the herd records to select the steers and cows that are ready for culling, and mark them with paint so we can pick them out next weekend without too much trouble. Our first batch of pigs goes off for processing Wednesday, and I’ll work with our Student Farmers to finish up the loading setup and get the trailer in place. Finally, though I’m sure there are a lot of things I’m forgetting, November first is the date we put the rams in with the sheep flock, so we need to figure out the rotation of rams, bucks, ewe lambs we don’t want bred, and goat does so that everyone has a nice place to live, nobody is in with the boys that shouldn’t be, and everyone is safe. I’ll let you know what we figure out.

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October 1st – October 7th

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Out turkeys are growing.

The new class of student farmers arrived on the farm Thursday evening, and they’ve been traipsing all over the ridge over the past few days, seeing the fields and forests, meeting our neighbors, and getting to know each other a little. On Friday morning we circled up to give everyone a chance to share a little bit about how they ended up here at The Farm School, and every student shared some incredibly compelling story that has brought them here. It is inspiring to hear why folks have made the decision to spend the next year here doing the work of the farm with us, it validates the work that we put into the program and our belief in the significance of our mission. It is also wonderful to have Maggie’s Farm re-invigorated, lights on in the farm house and folks out and about bringing the place to life again. Soon they’ll be moving through this landscape, doing chores and harvest, building and repairing, and keeping this whole big thing spinning for another year.

Next week will be the first full week of the 2018/19 Learn to Farm program, and it will be

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The leaves have started turning at the farm. 

a busy stretch full of time spent getting students up to speed on harvest and livestock chores so that they can go right to work keeping the farm humming along. We’ll do chore, truck and harvest training on Monday and Wednesday, in depth livestock observation and a walk through the forest on Tuesday, a full day of tractor safety on Thursday, and food preservation and carpentry on Friday. Its quite a list of topics and skills, and while we try to stay vigilant in not overloading our new students, we are eager to get them the knowledge and skills they’ll need to get right to work on the farm. The fall is a training and class heavy time when we introduce some of the fundamental concepts that will guide the whole year. This is also the period when the tenor of the group can be set, and strong bonds that will carry the class through the long hard seasons can be formed.

The work of the farm continued this week, though the wet weather also continued, keeping us out of the fields and pastures with tractors and trucks for fear of damaging the soft ground. We have been unable to cultivate finished veggie beds to prepare them for cover crop seed, and I have not been able to drive into the pasture to hook up and move the egg mobiles. We did have one really nice sunny day on Friday, which felt wonderful after days and days of grey and damp, but Saturday and Sunday have taken us back into the mist and humidity, so I don’t think were drying out at all.
Pigs start loading up for the trip to the slaughterhouse next Wednesday, so we’ll spend this coming week getting their

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Winter spinach is coming up in the hoop house. 

chute setup and ready. We’ll take ten pigs in every Wednesday until they’re all gone, so we need to have a good setup that makes loading as smooth as is possible. The pigs start the fall processing sequence, and we’ll be taking livestock over to the slaughter house pretty regularly through the fall. Thirty pigs, twenty sheep, six cows, maybe a couple of goats, and the whole flock of fifty turkeys will exit the stage here in the coming couple of months, emptying our farm quite a bit for the winter season.

September 23rd – September 30th

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One of our rams, and the buck, out on pasture. 

The rain kept up this week, the pastures stayed soft and muddy, farm roads were a mess, and I think that frogs were the only animals around happy with the weather. We’ve had the beef herd grazing rotation stopped for about two weeks, trying to let soaked pastures dry out and firm up so the herd doesn’t churn up the soil too much as they graze. After going through ten round bales of hay, it felt like the time had come to get back into grazing, so despite the rain, the cows started moving again Thursday afternoon. They were really excited to get some fresh grass, but the pastures that they are moving through now certainly did not dry out nearly as much as I had hoped they would before the cows went on them.

We have been having real trouble getting Penguin bred this summer and fall, and after

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Penguin has mixed in nicely with the beef herd. 

five attempts and an exam from the vet, we have moved her down the road to join the beef herd and their bull. The Jersey cows can gain weight really quickly if they are not growing a calf or making milk, and Penguin, at two years old and open, has been showing signs of weight gain over the past few months. We discovered that her reproductive anatomy was already pretty small when Brad tried to breed her, so our concern was that the addition of internal body fat would only make breeding her get more and more difficult. The vet came out to examine Penguin and her mother Patty, who has also been having a little trouble breeding, and recommended getting Penguin bred as soon as possible. He said that everything seemed to be in place and proper, but that weight gain was going to become an issue very soon. She had been in a good standing heat the day before the vet’s visit, and he said she could even be bred right then and there. We hustled her into the livestock trailer, somehow got the truck and trailer through the submerged fields roads out to the beef herd, and inside the fence. The bull was immediately interested in Penguin, and I am hoping that he got her bred that afternoon or evening. We’ll leave her in with the beef herd for about a month more, giving her at least one more cycle for breeding in case the connection was not made this week. I was worried about the potential for Penguin, bred by the beef bull, to grow a baby too big to birth next spring, but the vet is confident that the match should work out. We have been letting our heifers grow to two years old before their first breeding, but the vet has advised us to advance our first breeding to fifteen or sixteen months or age to help avoid the weight issues we’ve been having. The next challenge will be to get Penguin out of the beef herd and back into the dairy in a month’s time.

Penguin’s mother Patty, the star of our milking and breeding programs, had a calf in May, but has not been cycling at all since then. Obviously a cow that doesn’t come into heat cannot be bred, so we have been watching Patty carefully and waiting for a heat cycle. The vet came out to check her this week, and, using a small ultrasound probe, was able to detect a cyst on one of her ovaries. This cyst, something quite common in older dairy cows, has been secreting hormones and confusing the function of her reproductive system, and was keeping her from cycling properly. We administered a hormone injection while the vet was cow-side that will begin a heat cycle, we’ll give her another type of treatment in ten days to bring the cycle to fruition and cause Patty to shed the cyst, and then hopefully she will able to begin her own regular cycling and we can breed her for a late summer calf next year. Patty has delivered and raised the vast majority of the cows in our herd, she makes by far the most milk of any of our cows, she has the gentlest manner at milking, and will let any hungry calf nurse from her. She also has the smaller size and expansive rumen that we want in our pastured herd, so we are eager to keep her healthy and productive here for as long as is possible. Her daughters in our barn include Pearl, Pip, Penguin and Pepper, and little Purple Rain and Pumpkin from this year are her grand daughters.
The leaves on the hilltops have taken on the first tints of brown, red and yellow, and our thermometers here on the farm were down in the forties last night. Veggie harvest is still going strong, but I think the end is drawing into sight. The pumpkins have been harvested and sent into Cambridge to be converted into beer, more and more veggie acreage is going under cover crop, and my thoughts have turned to preparing winter quarters for our livestock. The beef herd’s winter barn got a huge make-over this summer, and I am eager to get it setup and ready, and to see if our changes work the way we hope. The laying hen’s winter house needs a full clean out, but our two rams and the stinky buck have spent the summer in the chicken’s winter yard keeping it neatly trimmed. The pigs will be gone by winter, though we did buy in two piglets this week to raise up over the winter. They’ll need a nice deep nest of straw to root and burrow into to stay warm this winter, and we’re hoping to get them a bit bigger and fatter before the cold weather really sets in. They’ll get a steady diet of extra milk from the dairy, and should do quite well.

September 16th – September 23rd

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The sheep are enjoying some good fall grass. 

With the Learn to Farm graduation last weekend and the departure of the wonderful student farmers, Maggie’s Farm was certainly a different place this week. The bunkhouse wing of the farm house has gone quiet, there are no delicious baking projects to sample on a pass through the kitchen, and all of those smiling faces we have grown to love are missing. Although the students are gone, harvest and chores continued, and we started sprucing the campus up in preparation for the new class coming in a couple of weeks. The kitchen is getting its annual make-over, with an inventory of equipment and a refinishing of the floor, the parlor is getting rehabbed as well, and all the bunk-rooms will be repainted. We have also started our annual round of program and planning meetings, digging through the whole Learn to Farm Program to scrutinize each part, to make sure that the purpose and effectiveness is clear for each component of the program, and to find ways to improve what were doing across the board. There are parts of the program that we seem to wrestle with each year as we continue to seek a structure that works for everyone, and this fall we’ll be working on the independent project section of the program, our assigned reading curriculum, and our advisor work. Each of these are significant aspects of the Learn to Farm year, but we still have work to do the refine them into their most positive and effective forms.

We had the beef herd grazing rotation stopped all of this week with standing water and

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This week’s rain

mud is many of our pastures. I had hoped that a week of drying would make these pastures a bit firmer and more ready to graze, but with three and a half inches of rain on Monday and Tuesday, things only got wetter rather than drying out. We’ll keep the beef herd stopped through at least the middle of next week, eating wrapped round bales in Circle Pasture, and hope that we can get some good drying weather for the next few days. The grass in the better drained pastures is growing really nicely, so I am really looking forward to getting the herd back out for some good fall grazing. Fall’s chillier weather is usually really good for our cool season grasses, and October can be one of our better grazing months as we fatten up those steers for November slaughter. The weather patterns around here were pretty scrambled this summer though, and I am trying not to count on anything playing out the way that it usually does.

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Indigo is getting to know her new herd. 

We purchased a six month old Normande heifer calf this week, hoping to add a new genetic line and a bit of diversity to our little dairy herd. Indigo came from Chase Hill Farm just down the road, and we are really looking forward to seeing her grow up to be a big part of our dairy in the future. Chase Hill has Indigo’s grandmother and mother in their milking lineup, and we are always happy to gave cows that come from good stock like that in our barn. She is old enough to be weaned at this point, and we have just put her in with the herd to find her own way. She may find a mother cow who is willing to let her nurse, or she may just give up nursing, but we’ll keep a close eye on her and support her nutrition if needed.

September 9th – September 16th

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Harvest’s bounty

The Learn to Farm class of 2018 graduated on Saturday, marking the end of a remarkable year of work, learning and community building. This class was a powerful and productive whole, but was also made up of spectacular individuals. Each and every student poured their hearts, plenty of sweat and maybe even a little blood into the work of this farm, and our community is full of thanks and amazement for their time here. The farm is a better place for their contributions, the work of The Farm School has been carried forward for another year, and our community is a better place with them in it.

Saturday’s graduation program included a section that the students called ‘telling the

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We’re converting the hoop house from tomato production to winter greens and carrots. 

seasons’ in which they recounted the year on the farm that they are now completing, while acting out many of the most significant parts of each season. This review of the year was an amazing snapshot of the length of their commitment to our farm, to the breadth of work that they have completed, and to the variety of tasks in which we have immersed ourselves through this year on the farm. It was striking to be reminded of the places in the year where certain pieces of work take on seemingly mythological proportions, the focus of nearly our whole organization is brought to bear on one area or project, and it feels like the whole world exists in that work. I am thinking mostly of the cord wood production period of the program in the winter, and the veggie production period running through spring, summer and early fall. The immensity of these projects, the repetitive nature of the work, and the exhaustion that came with each day cast these endeavors indelibly in the memories of our students, and they figured prominently in their reenactment of the seasons. Fell, buck, split, stack, fell, buck split, stack was the cadence of the winter, repeated at graduation to recall the work of cordwood.

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Summer’s end on the farm 

We got another inch of rain this week, and although we have had a nice period of drier weather since the deluge of July and August, this last rain seems to have had nowhere to soak into. Several of our beef pastures are again under standing water, and we have had to adapt the beef grazing rotation to keep the cows off  some of the swampier fields. We have parked the cows in the Circle Pasture, and I have setup five round bales in there to feed out over the coming week. I hope that a week’s time will let the pastures dry a bit and allow us to graze them the following week, but we do have another inch of rain forecasted for Tuesday. We are creeping up on the end of our grazing season, which usually runs through the end of October, so I am beginning to consider the condition that we leave pastures after grazing since we may not have the cows back over the same ground again this year. The grass above ground is a good indicator of the root system below, and our goal is to leave strong roots to ride out the winter with enough vigor for spring, so we try to leave as much residue on the soil surface as we can. Some of our pastures are growing extremely well with all of the rain we had this summer, but some of the lower and flatter areas seem to have just gotten too soaked, and to have stopped growing.

The pigs are growing well up on the hill at Sentinel Elm Farm, and turkeys have begun to

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The turkeys are growing for Thanksgiving! 

really put on weight now too. Our lambs are starting to approach a good market weight with five or six more weeks of grazing ahead of them before heading off to slaughter, and this year’s steers look incredible in the beef herd. These weeks are the last breath of the flush of summer, and the gentle slope down into fall is just becoming visible over the horizon. The hornets in the orchards are nearly panicked, sensing their own imminent demise, and we too are working hard to squeeze everything we can from the season before it ends.

September 2nd – September 9th

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The pigs moved to a new paddock Friday. 

This was the opening week of the fall session at the Program for Visiting Schools at Sentinel Elm Farm, and we hosted a large and wonderful group of seventh and eighth graders from The Charles River School for three days of work on the farm. We endured another stretch of astonishingly hot weather while the kids were on the farm, but they held up great and got a lot done. The thermometer went up over ninety-five degrees Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, and with high humidity it was difficult to work outside for any stretch of time. We had undertaken so many big projects in August that the farm still needed a little polishing to get into tip-top shape, and the visiting students helped get it all done, while taking regular water breaks. The kitchen was a really busy, and hot, place through the week, and we ate some amazing meals, as usual. Despite the heat, we are moving towards the end of the growing season, so work around the farm has begun to turn toward cold season preparations. The hoop-house tomatoes came out of the ground this week, and beds were prepped for our usual spinach and carrot planting. Students worked to clean and rehab the winter chicken coop in anticipation of moving the laying flock in there when the weather turns really cold.

We finished a bar-way in the northwest corner of our sheep pasture this week, giving us

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The beef herd on a hazy day. 

the opportunity to get into that field with the manure spreader, and to get the sheep out of there and across the street into a neighbor’s field. I have been dreaming about making this bar-way for years, and I am really excited to put it to use. Unfortunately the new sheep field has grown tall and weedy this year without regular mowing, so I am not sure we’ll get the sheep in there this fall. We’ll get it mowed as soon as possible, and see if there is time for anything to grown up through the mowed mulch for some late fall grazing. If there isn’t enough time for regrowth, we’ll just have to wait until next year and try to keep ahead of the mowing to keep the grass green. We will definitely get the manure spreader onto the sheep field this fall, using the new bar-way, and spread manure for the first time on a field that really needs it. That pasture has barely been keeping up with the sheep, and I am really excited to increase fertility in there with a healthy dose of composted manure from the dairy.

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The new bull, and the rest of the herd. 

The bull went in with the beef herd on Monday, a couple weeks later than we usually like, but still on time for calves to arrive in the middle of the next grazing season. We rent a bull every year from the original Rotokawa Devon herd imported from New Zealand years ago, usually hosting a different bull every time. This year’s bull is a very handsome youngster, just the right size and shape for us, and I am really looking forward to seeing his calves next summer. We always want a reasonably sized bull, hoping for easy birthing calves, and we aim for getting shorter and stockier as we develop a herd best suited to thriving on a 100% grass diet.

August 25th – September 2nd

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Pearl giving Pumpkin her morning bath. 

There are so many forces at play on the farm that it must be just about impossible to say for certain that one thing caused another, or to really know for sure why something happened, or the season has unfolded the way that it has. Despite that, there are patterns to be seen all around us here, and I think that we are sometimes lucky enough to trip over the threads that tie them together. This year our farm has grown incredible clover, both red and white, thick, lush and abundant like I have never seen before, and sweet enough that even my jaded human tongue can taste the sugar. This year we have grown perfect melons, beautiful to the eye, bursting with flavor and sugar, bright, with the ideal consistency. This year we grew the most perfect cucumbers, firm, juicy and full of flavor, and so many of them that we could barely keep up with their ripening. This year we have grown not a single apple. This spring we had more ticks than any of us could remember, pulling dozens off of ourselves and the farm dogs every day, and now, at the start of September, I have not seen a tick in at least six weeks. This year the

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The other pumpkins, still growing. 

cauliflower and broccoli were just about drowned by all the rain, the tomatoes in the field were squashed and rotted by the same, and the hoop-house tomatoes ended up saving the day, thriving under their shelter.

The melons and cucumbers are both Cucurbits, so I can see a connection there to explain why both would thrive in the same growing season, under the same conditions. Both produce large fruit full of water, so it may be that the inundation that we experienced here from the beginning of July through most of August just gave these crops enough water to really reach their full potential, and the extreme heat cooked them to just the right sweetness. I’m sure that there are quite a few reasons that could be floated out to explain this year’s character, in its minutia and in its whole shape, but it feels to me, trying to keep up with the work, that it just passes by so fast that all I can do is notice these patterns as they go wheeling by, and let them go. Then

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There are some peaches out there, and they are looking good. 

the years stack up, this one on top of the last one, and the things we’ve seen and learned, the things that seemed so vital and important, start to slip away. Every year I try to commit myself to keeping a farm journal, a place to record the weather, the events, the mistakes and successes, all of these lessons. Every year my initiative comes up short of my intentions, but every year we try to teach our student farmers that the most important thing to learn at The Farm School is to be an observant farmer. There are thousands and thousands of right and wrong ways to do every task on the farm, so we cannot teach anyone ‘the right way’ to do anything, but we can, and try, to teach everyone how to observe.

From “Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer” by Wendell Berry

XIII

Don’t worry and fret about the crops. After you have done all you 
can for them, let them stand in the weather on their own.

If the crop of any one year was all, a man would have to cut his 
throat every time it hailed.

But the real products of any year’s work are the farmer’s mind
and the cropland itself.

If he raises a good crop at the cost of belittling himself and
diminishing the ground, he has gained nothing. He will have to
begin over again the next spring, worse off than before.

Let him receive the season’s increment into his mind. Let him 
work it into the soil.

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The grapes are almost ripe. 

August 20th – August 25th

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Onions curing in the greenhouse

Another inch of rain fell on the farm this week, adding some icing to an already fully saturated cake, but in comparison to the rain totals we’ve had since the beginning of July, an inch for the week was actually a bit of a relief. Other than that one rainy day, we’ve had some nice sunny weather, and things are finally beginning to dry out a tiny bit. While much of the ground under-foot, the roads, lawns, veggie beds and pastures seem to be drying, the immense volume of rain that has fallen in the past two months means that there is still an enormous amount of water moving through the soaked soil and heading down hill. Many of our pastures, especially at the dairy farm, slope up away from the main farm complex, and there is still water seeping out of the base of those pastures into the farm. The abundance of standing water on the farm has also lead to an explosion in our resident mosquito population, and venturing into the shady forests, or outside at dusk, has become remarkably challenging. The soaked soil should lead to strong pasture growth, and we certainly have been mowing the lawns a lot trying to keep up with the grass, so I am hopeful that we will have a great fall of grazing. The rainy weather slowed the grass for a while, but it really seems to be getting up to speed again now.

August has been incredibly busy here at the farm because we made an effort to schedule several large infrastructure projects while the Program for Visiting Schools was out of session. We pressure washed and painted the bunkhouse, re-roofed the bunkhouse, put in a new farm road branching off the main driveway and going around the lower (east) side of the dairy barn, drilled a new irrigation well in the Flat Field, added a new bar-way at the road-side end of the Upper veggie fields, and made more progress on the new dairy facility. The new road, bar-way and well are all connected to an effort to develop the Flat Field at Sentinel Elm Farm into a more intensively cultivated bit of acreage. We hope that we can enhance our veggie operations and teaching facilities by making the Flat Field, and its great soil, the highly managed, smaller scale heart of our veggie production. We will keep the larger scale field vegetables going strong, and keep the Maggie’s home garden, but the Flat Field will offer us another relevant model to share with our students. We also recognized that this change would mean more truck traffic to and from the Flat Field, so the new road and the new bar-way are efforts to give folks headed to veggie acreage at Sentinel Elm Farm ways to avoid driving through the middle of campus.

Monday marks the start of what we call the Capstone part of our Learn to Farm year. Friday was the early graduation celebration, an earlier date where some students have the opportunity to head out to start new jobs or to go back to school. This leaves about half of the initial class to finish out three more weeks of farming, and gives them the chance to take on more responsibility in the management of the farm. The class divides itself into either Vegetable or Farm tracks, and the students will spend their final weeks working exclusively in those areas. Students in the Vegetable track will manage the whole of our veggie operation, weeding, harvesting, packing, marketing, and all the rest, while those in the Farm track will manage the livestock and do a large renovation on our beef winter barn. We are hoping to expand the bedded area for the beef cows to use in bad weather, build a new and improved feeder, and re-install windows all around the barn to keep a bit more of the weather out. We have cleaned and gutted quite a bit of the beef winter barn this summer in preparation for this project, and we discovered that there is more work to do in there than we can complete in this three week Capstone period. I expect that renovation and repair work will continue in the beef barn through most of the fall, with the goal of having everything ready for the cows to move in at the end of October or beginning of November. We had dreams of renovating the outside systems as well this fall, but it is beginning to look like that will have to wait until next year.

August 13th – August 20th

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The draft horses and cows are in the same pasture. 

I hope that we are coming to the end of an extended period of remarkable weather here at The Farm School, and the experience has got me thinking a lot about adapting our farm to changing weather patterns and extremes. We’ve had over fifteen inches of rain since the second week of July, and I think the thermometer stayed over seventy degrees for just about that whole stretch. The humidity has been constant and quite high, giving the farm a rain forest feeling. This part of the country usually sees somewhere between three and four inches of rain per month, so this has been a departure from what we expect and what we are prepared for.

Though this wet weather has swamped a good portion of our vegetable acreage, softened fields up to the point where we could not go on them with the tractors, and saturated several types of crops, my focus has been on the effect on our livestock. For them, the rain has meant never having a dry place to lie down, constantly wet hoofs, an explosion in the population of pasture parasites in their environment, wet feed, mud all around them and on their legs and bellies, and water in the pastures and the roads that they use to move around the farm. Some of these issues are more nuisance that problem, and many will resolves themselves once the rain stops, the sun comes out, and the water soaks into the soil. Other issues have had a much more significant impact, with a real effect on the health and performance of our livestock.

We lost our third sheep in a month Tuesday of last week, and decided that it was time to get the veterinarian out for a postmortem in the hopes of determining the trouble. Losing a single sheep is pretty normal, losing a second might just be a coincidence, but losing the third shows us that we probably have a real problem on our hands. We did the postmortem on Tuesday afternoon, and although there was nothing visibly wrong with the ewe, she was thinner than we’d like. The vet took a fecal sample from the ewe, and another sample collected from various areas in the sheep yard, and tested them for parasite load back at his office. The test revealed a very high level of parasite eggs in the general yard sample, and an even higher level from the sample taken from the dead ewe. We had wormed the sheep Tuesday morning in anticipation of the high parasite finding, and we plan to worm them again next week with a different medication. The warm wet weather has created and maintained a perfect environment for the parasites resident in our pastures, with grass that never dries and warm temperatures allowing the tiny worms to remain on the grass stems indefinitely. These parasites are water dependent, moving up and down the leaves of pasture grasses as dew develops over night and dries in the sun. The sheep pick them up as they brush their noses through the grass, and constantly wet grass means that they are constantly picking up parasites.

The question we now face is how to adapt our systems, infrastructure and practices to

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We are developing a new road to the Flat Field. 

keep our livestock comfortable and healthy in the face of a changing weather landscape. Specific ideas on my mind include having a place for every animal to get out of the wet, to have a place for everyone to lie down in a dry spot, improving our farm roads so they drain and remain passable despite the rain, developing and installing nice sheep corral system so that we can catch and worm our sheep more quickly and easily, and will therefore do it more frequently. I’d also like to see us develop a high-ground area that we could move our cows to in extremely wet conditions to get them off of the pastures to a comfortable place with feed and water access. There are many other ways that we could enhance our farm landscape to be resilient in extreme weather, and I’m sure that we’ll be looking at all of them in the coming months and years.

August 4th – August 13th

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.