June 16th – June 23rd

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The beef cows doing some tall-grass grazing in the Upper Barn pasture. 

The beef herd completed their first grazing rotation on Friday, finishing a full circle over every acre of their pasture. They started grazing in the first week of May, so here around the twentieth of June, their first pass around the pastures took about forty-five days. We typically try to make the first rotation as short as we possibly can so the cows can pass over everything when the grass is growing at its fastest. If they can knock everything back a bit by grazing it, we hope that we can forestall the production of seed heads and the growth of the rigid and unpalatable stem that holds it up high. This year, with a rainy spring coming on top of our already saturated soil, we made some adaptations to the usual grazing’s opening gambit we employ to move the cows over the landscape. We had to move the cows first to the sloping, better drained pastures, keeping the herd off the lower softer areas to avoid tearing up the ground. Those sloping areas also grew better grass this spring while the flooded areas were significantly delayed as they slowly dried out. Many parts of our wetter pastures seem to have taken a significant step closer toward being wetland and swamp this growing season after being inundated for the majority of the summer last year, and being soaked well again this spring. The majority of the plants that thrive in these wetter conditions are not appealing to our grazing animals, depriving us of these areas in our productive acreage, and reducing forage intake opportunities for the sheep and cows. We have started looking into ways to improve these wetter areas, either by enhancing drainage, or by planting forage species that will tolerate the wet conditions and better serve as livestock feed. Reed Canary Grass is a forage species that thrives in wetter soil, and that our cows will happily graze, but it also has some significant drawbacks in our pastures as well. It is not native to our area, it will crowd out every other type of plant growing out there with aggressive expansion, and it becomes much less palatable to the cows when it gets more mature. Thinking about  seeding a forage species that we may potentially need to brush-hog in a wet area that we may potentially also not be able to drive a tractor over gives me a good deal of worry, and we continue to consider the options. Other than these wet pasture challenges, our pasture looks really great so far this year, and I am looking forward to another strong rotation over the next month and a half.

We have had four pregnancies delivered in the beef herd since I wrote last week, with some significant complications kicking off the start of calving season. We had two cows in labor last weekend, and both ran into enough trouble that we had the vet come out Sunday to take a look. The first cow had been in labor since early Sunday morning, and with just the ends of two little hoofs sticking out of her back end, she was not making enough progress in a timely manner. We got a halter on her, tied her tight to a tree, and the vet managed to pull the calf still alive. He was simply an enormous baby who’s remarkable size had him stuck on the way out, and he’d done a bit of swelling trapped in the contracting birth canal as well. The cow was a first time mother, and though she did demonstrate some good mothering instincts, the calf was unable to get on his feet to

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The tomatoes in the hoop-house are coming along nicely. 

nurse. We bottle fed him in the field for a couple of days while the cows were in the area and his mother could make it back for periodic visits, hoping that he’d eventually get up and get moving. These larger calves often end up curled up a bit in utero, and this can lead to joint tendons grown a bit too loose and long for proper leg function. This little guy was doing the classic ankle roll on his front two feet, putting his weight on the turned over front of his ankle joint rather than on his hoof, and this posture kept him from moving around much. After a couple of day, we drove the calf down to the dairy barn and put him in a little pen in the milking area of the barn. He’s getting three half-gallon bottles of fresh Jersey milk every day, regular ankle massages to get his tendons worked out, and more attention from the campers, who’ve named him Lynus, than any cow has every gotten. We’ve had many calves born with similar difficulties in their knees and ankles, and every one has eventually tightened up loose joints and developed into a healthy animal. The second cow was in a much more dire condition, having gone into labor Saturday morning with no results at all by Sunday. We also haltered her and got her cinched tight to a tree, and the vet found that her calf was in a breach position. With some intense manipulations inside the cow, the vet was able to get the calve’s back legs directed at the exit, and then to pull the calf. Unfortunately the calf had died before birth. Another internal examination by the vet found that there was a second calf also in breach inside the cow, and with a similar sequence of care, he pulled a second dead calf. We hustled the dead calves off the scene in the hopes that the cow would not form that strong maternal attachment to them, and then we flushed her whole reproductive system with iodine wash to help avoid infection after her difficulties. This was an experienced and successful mother cow with a good record of delivering and raising calves, so there is some hope that she can breed and be a successful mother again next year. We had two more smooth births this week, and there are two healthy calves running with the herd now. We had ten pregnant cows last year, so with four delivered so far, I expect we’ll have more over the next few weeks.

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Camper strawberry processing setup in the Bunkhouse.

Strawberry harvest is still dominating the vegetable and fruit side of things these days, and those beds of plants are producing a truly incredible pace. The community has been harvesting as fast as we’re able, but the gorgeous red berries keep ripening and ripening in this nice sunny weather. We’re in the throes of that funny transition from the initial excitement about the onset of a beloved seasonal crop, and the exhaustion that comes with trying to keep up with the prolific harvest as that crop chugs along through its season. Though we all love strawberries, and dream about their season all winter, I can sense a bit of strawberry fatigue setting in around the farm these days. Other than strawberries, we have a lot of healthy looking crops developing around the farm, and the Flat Field is looking really good at this point. We have had some nearly ideal weather over the past few weeks, with regular gentle rain and some strong sunny days, and it wasn’t until the end of this week that we ran into any real sticky humidity. This nice stretch has done a lot for the pastures and veggie crops, and we are all hopeful that things can continue like this for the rest of the season. Hay production has also benefited from this excellent weather, and I expect we’ll be putting up quite a few bales next week as folks finalize cutting started this weekend.

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June 9th – June 16th

This was our first week of veggie harvest, and we had a very successful first effort from both our student farmers and the plants. Both will get stronger and stronger as the season progresses, the students will master both the physical actions of harvest and the understanding of how the process is managed, and more and more acreage will mature into beautiful harvestable crops. The systems that we’ve put in place for harvesting, moving, washing, labeling and packaging will be refined and mastered, and as familiarity with the whole operation deepens, we’ll find new efficiencies and improvements. There are several crops that will mature a bit later in the season and that will have significant impact on the volume and labor of the harvest. This will put our new-found skill to the test as those added crops expand the work of harvest days. The two largest additions will be tomatoes and squash. When the tomatoes put on fruit and ripen later in the summer, and if we have a large and successful crop, the work of harvest will increase dramatically. We’ll  have flats of tomatoes stashed everywhere, bowls of tomatoes covering the the counters of every kitchen, and every kind of tomato processing we can

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Tom and King grazing in the Barn Pasture. 

imagine running full tilt everywhere that we can find the space. Often the tomato crop here in Massachusetts is curtailed by blight, so in an effort to ensure that we have enough of this super popular crop, we plant quite a surplus of bed space. If they all come to fruit, we end up with more tomatoes that we know what to do with, though the pigs are happy to eat their share too. A successful squash crop will also put a bit of a strain on our harvest systems as this crop, when doing well, will put out just a staggering amount of product. Individual squash fruit also increases in size rapidly, becoming difficult to process and much less palatable as it matures, so the urgency to harvest them at the right moment demands attentive management and adequate labor at the right moments in the season. Luckily this is another crop that the pigs are really happy to do their part in consuming, and the huge over-developed squash fruit ends up entertaining them as they try to dig the seeds out of the middle of each one. We also grow quite a few peppers, though they are often disinclined to thrive in our frequently cool and wet conditions, lots of small cooking pumpkins that love our soil, acres and acres of various greens, and a whole variety of small fruit. The strawberries are exploding right now, and the community has been gathered, on sunny days, in the upper field strawberry beds harvesting as fast as we can to try to keep up with production. Strawberry plants will continue to fruit productively with the regular harvest of their ripening fruit, and the warm sunny weather that we’ve had this week has accelerated that growth and ripening dramatically. I know that the chest freezers at my house are filling really nicely with berries, and judging by the turnout in the strawberry beds yesterday, I bet the same is happening at most houses around the farm. The strawberry crop is one of the first really prolific ones to develop in the harvest season, and one that renews that ancient notion of harvest and storage for the darker days of winter that we know are coming. Pulling a bag of frozen berries out in January does a lot to lift winter spirits, and the vitality of summer, preserved in that beautiful sparkling fruit, is like a little echo of lightning from a summer thunder storm. After strawberries, we’ll move on to raspberries and blueberries, though their fruiting never seems to match the opulence of the strawberry fields, and then on to apples and peaches, if conditions are right for them this year. The ripening of these fruits casts real markers along the path of the summer season, and although they come on strong and fast, and only seem to last for a couple of weeks, the profusion of their bearing is enough to command our attention. They are fleeting over the year, but abounding in their season; they are perishable in their nature, but overwhelming in their accumulation; they mark the summer, but we try to keep them for the winter.

We’ve had some pretty ideal grass growing weather so far this spring and summer, and our pastures are humming along quite nicely. The dairy herd is about half way through the second rotation over their grazing acreage, and we are beginning to think that the new system we put in place for this year may not be quite adequate for their needs. Though the grass is keeping up with them so far, once things slow down in July and August, it seems that we’ll be coming up a bit short. I think that we’ll be able to find some corners here and there around the pastures to give them to extend their grazing rotation a bit, and if we keep getting regular rain, the grass will hopefully keep growing enough. The sheep are moving through their second grazing rotation as well, and their pasture is also holding up pretty well. The lambs are growing beautifully, getting most of the their diet from grazing, and they are looking really good as they bulk up for fall processing. The beef herd is yet to complete their first pass over their grazing acreage, with a few more days to go before they come all the way back around to where they started more than a month ago. A good portion of their pastures are a bit wet, and with the rainy spring that we started the grazing cycle with, I was really nervous about running them over some of those swampier areas. We shuffled their rotation a bit to give those spots a bit more time to dry, and that has led to a slower pace through their pastures. Regrowth has looked really solid so far, and I think the pastures seem to be setup nicely for the next rotation. The beef herd typically takes about forty-five or fifty days to complete a circle around their acreage, so they should finish the second pass some time in August. They’ll complete four or five runs around the whole rotation in the course of the grazing season, depending on how the grass grows and how deep into the fall we feel like we can graze.

May 26th – June 9th

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The dairy herd enjoying some tall-grass grazing behind the Bunkhouse. 

We are in a beautiful stretch of summer weather right now, the first extended dry spell we’ve had in quite some time, and the farm has definitely taken on that certain growing-season feel. The air around us is alive with the sound of busy insects, the veggies and their accompanying weeds are growing almost too fast to keep up with, and the livestock has been spending most of their time resting in any shade that they can find. Our pastures have been soaking up the heavy rain for weeks and weeks, and this sunny dry weather has done a lot to help them dry out a bit and to grow. The pastures that drain well, mostly those with some slope, have been doing really well so far this grazing season, but those that are prone to wetness have really struggled. Some areas seem to have fully transitioned to wet-land type conditions, with the good grazable forage disappearing and more water-loving species taking over. I hope that this stretch of weather without rain might give some of those less water tolerant plants a chance to make a little come-back. I have also started exploring the idea of trying to establish grazable grasses that can thrive in consistently wet conditions in those areas that seem to have really turned the corner on soil saturation and standing water. Most articles that I have read recommend Reed Canary Grass, though there seems to be some mixed opinions about this non-native plant. Conditions over the past few days have been just right for cutting and drying hay, and I expect that we will go pickup our first load of dry square bales this evening. We’ll start building our stack in the hay barn level by level, eventually standing over twenty feet above the floor. We ran out of square bales this spring and had to search around to buy some, so I am hoping to load in a bit more this summer in the hope that we can make it through next winter on our own supply.

Two weeks ago was our final week of school group programing at Sentinel Elm Farm, and this last week was pretty quiet on the farm. We hosted a group of forty kindergarteners from the wonderful Mission Hill School on Wednesday, so that got the farm rocking and rolling again for a bit. Students from Mission Hill have been coming to the farm since the founding of this program, and they are the only school that brings kids out in every grade. We have a deep and meaningful relationship with the school, the teacher, and the kids, and we have the privilege of seeing many of the students, who come back year after year, grow up through the school. The kindergarten visit is a short day trip, but we pack a lot of action into their time on the farm with lunch, some games, story-time, and plenty of opportunity to cruise around checking out the gardens, forest and animals. Summer programming will start the week after next, and we are already compiling a great big list of project that we need help with. We’ll spend this week getting everything put back to rights, polish everything up and we’ll do our best to have the farm and bunkhouse looking perfect before the kids return.
The pigs are growing well with their new feeder down in the woods, the broiler chickens are almost full grown out in the sheep pasture with processing scheduled for the 20th of June, and the next generation of laying hens in the brooder has just started going out into their little yard. We have not had any calves in the beef herd, but the this year’s lambs are looking great out there grazing with their mothers. We got the rams and bucks out

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The summer farm

onto fresh grass this week as well, giving them the area between the chicken yard and the poll barn at Maggie’s Farm. They were the last animals still in their winter area, and, similar to the situation on many farms, they were the last to get our attention. Until breeding season in the fall it is difficult to prioritize the boys since they’re just waiting to do their job, while everyone else is busy growing, milking, and laying eggs. Most of our livestock systems are in place for the growing season, and now our work turns more toward maintaining those systems and the animals that they house. We’ll be clipping pastures as needed, weed-whacking along the fences, fixing things that the animals break, and keeping the grazers moving over the landscape to wherever the fresh grass is growing. The bulk of the summer work will be on the veggie acreage, and our first harvest and CSA pickup of the season is scheduled for next week. That harvest will start a long line of twice-per-week harvests on Mondays and Wednesdays all the way to October, and that rhythm will really set the pace for the season. Our farming year is full of these regular events, from daily milking and chores to summer harvests, and their consistency and predictability helps establish some order in what is often otherwise a pretty chaotic endeavor. Most of the veggies are looking really great, and careful management has helped them come through the cool wet spring healthy and ready to grow.

May 19th – May 26th

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Lettuce plants under the sprayer heads.

We installed the new pig feeder on the wooden feed and water deck Monday afternoon, and filled it with feed. The pigs have quickly learned to open the low doors on each side to access the food inside, and they seem quite happy eating with their heads in the little bays. I was really uncomfortable with how anxious and agitated the pigs appeared to be, and the addition of the feeder, with its constant supply of feed, seems to have helped the pigs feel more comfortable and to settle down a bit. With the challenging feed system we had been using before the new feeder came, I think the pigs were paying a lot of attention to when farmers were showing up to feed them, and getting really worked up about getting at that new feed. They have really begun to spend more and more of their time out in the brush, deep grass, mud and forest of their fenced in area, and I am really happy to see them venturing deeper and deeper into their space and away from the comfort of the deck and food. The more they explore and spread out, within their prescribed area, the less impact and smell we will all experience on the farm. They should also be able to root up quite a bit of their own food out there, find nice spots to develop wallows and sleeping areas, locate deep cool shade, and generally take charge of their own business a bit. We are always eager to give our livestock as much agency as we possibly can, within reason, so we expect a lot from the purportedly intelligent pigs.

We had another week of mostly dry weather, so veggie work plowed ahead with cultivation and bed prep, lots of planting, and the trial run of our new irrigation system in the Flat Field complex. More and more of that new space is filling up as the raised beds are formed, compost is applied, and starts go in. We ended the week with the whole community out there putting down more compost and planting, bringing the whole project closer and closer to our vision for it. The gradual development of a project, from a dreamt of aspiration to an actual productive enterprise, is always engrossing to watch and to be a part of. Things rarely unfurl the way we’ve anticipate that they will, certain parts come easily and some with much more struggle, there are moments of revelation and moments of impasse, and we always seem to get somewhere near where we had

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The tomato starts are strung up in the hoop house. 

hoped to be in the end. The Flat Field project has had the added complication of difficult weather, and this drier stretch over the past few weeks has helped us catch up after the slow wet start of spring. As the Flat Field beds fill with veggies, the irrigation system grows out from the new well head, and the shape of the place begins to come into focus, we all have a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction witnessing the progress. Similar things can be said about the new dairy processing facility project, though it has been immune to the weather challenges that plagued early Flat Field work. We have gotten pretty comfortable with the equipment in the new dairy room, and have used it to make a few different products. We’ve outfitted the place with most of the supplies, hooks, hoses and brushes we’ll need to run it full time, and we’ve gotten a pretty good look at what the process and timing will be to make it run. Now we need to sit down and work out exactly what products will work best in the bunkhouse kitchen, which have a production schedule that we can fit into the daily operations of the farm, and which ones farmers are most interested in producing. Every choice that we make about production leads to a cascade of other decisions and impacts that we’ll need to work into the plan, so developing the right path forward is going to take some careful consideration. We also need to get every step of the process approved by state and town inspectors, so that adds a significant factor to our deliberations. We started with a focus on making butter, which meant an initial step, after pasteurization, of super chilling the milk and letting it settle and separate so we could draw the cream off. Once the cream has been removed, we are left with quite a bit of what is essentially skim milk. With butter as the goal, that skim milk is a byproduct, but one that we have a lot of and that has great potential. We can make yogurt with it, or cheese, or package it for drinking, or we could just feed it to the pigs. For yogurt or cheese production, that chilled skim milk would have to go back into the pasteurizer and get brought up to the appropriate temperature for further processing, and we would need the state inspector to approve that process. The state will also have to approve the packaging process used for any yogurt that we made and wanted to serve in the bunkhouse. For serving the milk up just for drinking, we would need the state to approve the packaging, delivery and storage process as well. All of these steps will also include the potential for significant time and capital investment, so we need to proceed carefully as we develop our plans and avoid following any thread too far before knowing that its one we really want to pursue.

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The irrigation running in Flat Field.

Next week is our last of school group visits for the season, and we’ll pretty quickly transition to summer programing in June. We have kids on the farm for five day stretches in the summer, giving them the chance to really dig into the work of the farm, become fully familiar with the livestock and their upkeep, and make some strong friendships and connections. Summer on the farm, and summer programing, is a busy and wonderful stretch of time, and one that all the farmers look forward to throughout the year. The Learn to Farm schedule will also transition a bit after next week as we enter our Summer Schedule. This span in the program is focussed more on giving students longer stretches focussed in specific areas, with whole weeks in either veggie work or livestock and building work. Our goal is to offer an immersive experience where students can really take hold of projects, manage them from start to finish, and get a taste of that in-depth responsibility that running a farm will include. This will culminate in a couple months with students having the opportunity to select either veggie or livestock work to focus on exclusively, again deepening that engagement in work.

May 12th – May 19th

I don’t think that I will ever get tired of watching our dark red cows wading through the rich green spring grass pasture with the the chirp and hum of the warm weather birds and insects, and the steady drumbeat of the tearing and chewing of grazing, filling the air. The contrast between the condition of the land, the animals, and the natural world just a month ago, and where they stand now, is amazing, intricate and humbling. With a little sun and warmth, the world has seemingly come to life, and the lives of our livestock

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The beef herd under dramatic skies. 

have been transformed from patient dallying to eager alacrity. The mud and hay have been replaced with fresh green grass stretching to the horizon, growing fast and good to eat. Jostling around the hay feeder, shoving and leaning to get the daily allotment of rationed feed, waiting for chore time to come around again; all of that is over, and now there are seemingly endless fresh vistas of grazable food all around, and the space and time to wander over all of it. Now there is more than enough to eat, the animals are filling out, shedding their matted winter coats, and beginning to take on that grazing season sheen. Now there is open space to run, to leap, and to put those new bodies to the test. There is new strength in the lambs that will not be repressed, and their frantic troop is compelled to tear around the pasture at full tilt in a bouncing boiling black and white riot. Now there is movement, and the herd of cows makes their gradual sweep across the pastured landscape earnestly devouring the grass’s labor, and the sheep, always moving together, go in and out from pasture to shelter, over and over again. Now we are moving forward again, growing and advancing, and hopefully building toward big healthy animals when fall harvest comes around. These days I find myself lingering with the cows every afternoon, just after they have been moved to their next fresh paddock. I have been watching and listening as they go to work, heads down, intent and focussed on getting as much grass as they possibly can into their rumens as quickly as they can do it. They are professional grazers, supremely skilled and capable at this work, forged for this event. Those are some of the most rewarding moments of livestock farming, when I get to see the animals contentedly doing the thing that they were designed to do, doing it in a healthy place, with the natural world swirling all around them.

We ordered a new pig feeder several months ago with the hope of replacing the big round metal one that we have been using for the past few years. It had worn down over the years, and it was beginning to require too much time and effort to keep it dispensing feed consistently. Last year it only let feed out on about just over half of its circumference, and I found myself messing with it pretty regularly to achieve even that. Not only did it perform poorly, but it also let the feed get wet in rainy weather, and since we had more rainy days than not, we had wet feed just about all the time. Our new feeder finally arrived on Friday, and I am really looking forward to installing it on the

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The mushroom yard has moved up to the shade of the Secret Forest. 

pig’s deck, filling it, and seeing how it works. This is a large plastic rectangular unit with doors over the food access holes that the pigs can hold open while they eat. We brought the pig’s long wooden trough and black rubber dishes down from the piglet training area to keep them fed while we waited for the new feeder, but those have limited capacity and it always seemed like the pigs were waiting to be fed. They seem to be pretty excitable pigs, and I am really eager to see if having a constant supply of feed will help them settle down a bit and to feel more content. Once the feeder is in and working, the pig area will be all setup for the season. I have a few little tweaks in mind to make it just right, but having that enterprise checked off the list will be a relief.

With the weather a tiny bit drier this week, our veggie work moved ahead nicely to catchup to the planting schedule. The soil dried a bit, beds were formed, and the potatoes went into the ground. We have just passed what they say is the last day for possible frost around here, and we did even have temperatures down in the lower thirties one night this week to remind us that that’s a real possibility. Now the veggie work can charge ahead, as long as we have enough dry weather in the mix to keep the soil workable with a tractor.

May 5th – May 12th

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The beef cows on fresh pasture. 

This spring and early summer season finally seems to be getting going with animals out on pasture all over the farm, veggie beds filling up, and temperatures occasionally reaching into the seventies. We had a couple days of sunshine this week as well, and the forage in the pastures has started filling in, and reaching up. Cooler rainy conditions are still dominating however, and our ten day forecast looks like more of the same until way out closer to the end of the month. With saturated soil, it only takes a little bit of sun to really get those veggies and grasses growing fast, so this week’s breaks in the pattern have been remarkably effective. The sheep have even started their managed transition from hay to pasture this week, and we have been giving them small paddocks every day to get them reacquainted with grazing. With the sheep grazing, we now have all of our livestock out of their winter housing and onto some grass, though the rams and bucks still are closed out of the chicken winter yard which they usually graze. Student farmers are doing a little broody hen chick hatching experiment in the winter house, so we’ll have to find a way to accommodate those layers and the rams and bucks in that space safely. We also got our next generation of laying hens in the mail this week, and those one hundred and twenty Black Australorp chicks have moved into the brooder. We have never raised this variety of laying hen before, and though they certainly seemed to be tiny little chicks,

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A view out over Flat Field West. 

they are growing well and seem quite vigorous so far. They’ll spend quite a while in the brooder and its connected yard, growing much more slowly than the broiler chicks that were in there earlier in the spring, before moving out to an egg-mobile on pasture for the last part of the summer and fall. The pigs have moved out of the piglet yard up at the main farm complex, and are happily ensconced in their wooded summer area. They have their usual deck, with automatic water and a long milk trough, but we are still waiting on delivery of the new pig feeder. Rumor is that it will arrive Monday, and I am looking forward to installing it and putting it to use. Once that piece of equipment is deployed, the pigs are largely self sufficient, digging, rooting and foraging for a good percent of their diet, supported by grain in the feeder, milk from the dairy, and push-button water dishes. We have procured some pretty uninspiring piglets this year, and while they seem to be growing well, their interest in exploring their area, and rooting up food, has so far been pretty limited.

For the first time that I can remember, we were able to worm the sheep before putting them out onto pasture this spring. This is a common practice in sheep management in New England, but one that we have not invested the time and effort into yet. We are most concerned with the Barber Poll Worm in our sheep, and this parasite’s life cycle is

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Veggie starts toughening up for impending planting. 

dependent on wet pasture grass to re-enter sheep after emerging from eggs in dropped manure. In theory, this should mean that our winter yard, predominantly mud (liquid or frozen solid depending on the weather), is an inhospitable environment for this specific bug, and that our sheep in winter quarters are not getting reinfected. However, I was seeing some troubling looking droppings in the yard over the past few weeks, and decided to try pre-grazing worming as a fix. The Barber Poll Worm is resident in our sheep, and burrows from their stomachs into their muscles in the cold winter months to sleep away the time when dropping eggs in manure would be fruitless. They re-enter the sheep’s stomach when things warm back up again in the spring, and egg dispersal resumes. The hope in a pre-grazing worming is that we can eliminate a significant portion of these egg-laying worms in the sheep before they go out onto pasture, reduce the number of eggs being dropped onto the pasture, and really lengthen the time until the number of emergent worms on pasture, hatching from eggs, begins to negatively effect our animals. We’ll see if it works, or if we even have the capacity to tell if it worked or not. There are so many factors that go into the parasite load on the pasture and in the sheep that it is difficult to tell the effect of any one action, but we’ll try to keep a vigilant eye out on this one.

Our new dairy processing facility is setup and running, and we are pasteurizing milk, separating cream, and churning butter pretty regularly. Without inspection and approval from the state yet, we are just trying to run the process to learn how it all works and to see if we can, in fact, make good butter. A significant factor has been the development of a schedule that fits into the hectic PVS schedule, and that gets kids the chance to work in the facility processing product. We are starting to outfit the room with fun food-safe

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We are using two BCS machines in the Flat Field. 

clothing, gloves, booties and head coverings, find where to put the coat racks and brush hooks, where to stage equipment, and how to make it all work. The pasteurizer that we purchased seems to be a really wonderful unit, and we have all been impressed with it as we get to know it better. So far we have had some success, made some butter, and run into plenty of challenges, and we are slowly working toward getting the whole operation inspected and producing food.

April 28th – May 5th

Now the rain just won’t stop, and it feels like it has been weeks since we’ve seen the sun around here. This spring has felt like a painful echo of last summer when we had rain nearly every day from the middle of July through the end of the growing season. With the soil saturated and soft from snow melt and the spring thaw, this, and winter, are really the only two times in the year that we don’t actually want rain on the farm.

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The fruit trees are flowering, but nobody seems to be around to pollinate in the rain.

In spring, we are hoping for nice dry weather with a gradual warm up, plenty of sunshine to warm the soil and feed the pastures, and everything to firm up after mud season. We had a nice start to the spring this year, with a quick recovery from the spring thaw and a quick green flush on the pastures, but now all that growth appears to have stopped for a lack of sunshine. I am really eager to get our grazing animals out onto tall green pastures, and they are even more eager than I am to switch from eating winter hay to that delicious spring grass. Our winter hay supply is gone, and we have been buying in hay to keep everyone fed until the grass grows tall enough to accommodate the livestock. They can see and smell the grass on the other side of the winter yard fence, and we have had a couple of break-outs when they just can’t resist any longer. The dairy herd is actually out on the grass, and has been for a few days, because they have a hill-side pasture that drains well, never grows very good grass anyway, and that we were willing to put them out on a little early. The beef herd has been getting little tastes of grass in some micro-paddocks over the past few days, and I think they’ll go out on pasture for real on Sunday or Monday.

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Ducklings in the barn, again. 

Though most of their pastures are still not ready for grazing, we have one that I’m willing to put them on early, and I think we might even setup some round bales out in that space as well to give us a bit more time for all the other grazing acreage to grow. The beef winter yard has become remarkably muddy and unpleasant, and since early May also marks the beginning of our potential calving season in the beef herd, I got really nervous about someone delivering a baby in bottomless mud. I decided that they needed to move out of their winter space, so even though I would really like to let their pastures grow for a while longer, we are going to make a solution that I hope will get them on clean ground but will not do too much damage to their long-term grazing prospects. The sheep herd is the most challenging to get out onto some pasture right now, and their grass is the farthest behind of all of our grazing acreage. That pasture has always been the most difficult to manage effectively, had the weakest regrowth, and been the most over grazed. This spring, it’s growth has been anemic so far, and the sheep are besides themselves with impatience to do some grazing. Their hay feeding system has also been the most difficult to adapt to the larger square bales that we have been buying this spring, so I am really eager to find a new way of keeping them fed until their pasture can grow a bit. Luckily there is some sun in the ten day forecast next week, with a particularly good looking day on tap for Monday, I hope. I don’t think that it will take too much sun to get things really going, and with all the moisture in the grass, the pastures are poised to explode in the right conditions.

Veggie work has largely stopped in these wet conditions since cultivation and bed forming cannot happen with saturated soil. The plants that have been put out are in something of a holding pattern, getting plenty of water but not enough sunlight for much growth. These wet conditions will probably mean a significant bloom of weeds when the

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The garlic in it’s cozy bed does not mind the rain. 

sun does come out again, but there is not much that we can do about that now. Work has continued in our covered veggie spaces, and the greenhouses are bursting with beautiful veggie starts ready for their chance to go out in the fields.

We had our first calf of the year in the dairy herd on Wednesday, with Phoenix delivering a little bull calf that the visiting students named Pluto. Phoenix and Pluto spent a few days in the calving pen in the back of the dairy barn, but they are out with the herd full time now. That means that the milker has to plan on an extra fifteen minutes (or maybe two hours) at milking time to help Phoenix find her baby before everyone can head into the barn. Mother cows stash their babies in tall grass or brush while they graze, then usually forget where they parked them, and spend some frantic time searching and calling before they can be reunited. The baby typically sleeps right through mama calling, so it really helps to have a farmer out there aiding in the search and ready to wakeup, or even carry the baby, as needed. We really had hoped that Phoenix, daughter of the legendary Patience, would have a heifer calf this year since she is the only cow in her family line. She is a great cow, and we’d be happy to have more like her, so daughters that we can raise up and add to the milking line-up would be wonderful. Eclipse, a heifer who stands next to Phoenix in the barn, is in the same situation, and came from the indomitable Emily (my favorite cow). She is due to have her first calf in July, and though we don’t know if Eclipse will be any good as a milker, her mother was wonderful and I have high hopes. It would be really nice to re-establish Emily’s line, keeping the link back to her fabulous mother Evening alive. We had been basing most of our herd development around Patty, a small, chill, heavy milking cow with a giant rumen. She has all the traits we want in our cows, but none of her daughters have lived up to her standards, and we are looking for other genetic lines to develop. I am looking forward to the calving season ahead in the dairy, and I’ll let you know how it all goes.

April 21st – April 28th

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We also had three more baby goats this week. 

Our last ewe delivered the last big lamb of the year on Easter Sunday, so lambing season is officially over. The first lamb arrived on April 1st, and the last just three weeks later, making this a remarkably short and efficient season for us. Lambs were born at a steady pace starting on April 1st, the majority of births were quick and unassisted, and everyone seems to be doing really well. We ended up with twenty-six lambs in total, which is also a nice number for us. This lambing season was the result of the first breeding season, last fall, of our new pair of rams, and I am really happy to know that they are now proven to be effective breeders. These were two rams that we selected out of our own lamb group two years ago, so these good results are doubly reassuring in their affirmation of our genetics and the selection process. We picked, and utilize, two rams, with the understanding that if one is injured, ineffective or lost, we’ll have another who can hopefully get the job done on his own, and that finding ourselves without a viable ram would be something of a disaster. We have a dark ram, certainly the better of the two, and quite a handsome well mannered fellow, and a white one who is a bit less impressive or friendly. Both go in with the ewes on November first, and while they do a bit of arguing and rough-housing, and certainly distract each other from the task at hand from time to time, the evidence shows that they were effective. With the sheep pasture steadily growing more and more lush with spring grass, I plan to worm the sheep next week and start them transitioning

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We’ve had plenty of rain. 

over from winter hay to grazing. We always engineer a gradual shift from the hay based winter diet to grazing out on pasture in the hope of avoiding excessive bloat, and I hope that we can begin that process for all of our ruminant grazers next week. If things go as planned, we should have the beef herd, dairy herd, and the sheep out grazing full time by next weekend. We have had plenty of rain over the past several weeks to get the grass up and growing, and now I would certainly vote for a stretch of warm sunny weather to make it all really pop.

The raised beds in Flat Field East and West are gradually coming into shape, and they’re being steadily planted with the early season crops that can tolerate the cooler and wetter conditions of spring. We had an enormous pile of compost delivered a couple of weeks ago, and farmers have been working steadily to cover the new raised beds with a generous layer of that rich black material before the veggie starts go in. The Flat Field project is predicated on the idea that smaller acreage, carefully and attentively planted and managed, can produce more and better crops, and this thick application of compost is part of that new approach. We’ve removed the rocks, we’ve dug and plumbed a well, we’ve laid out beautiful raised beds, we’ve added tons of compost, and we hope the results will justify all the effort. This shift in our planting plan should free up some of our other acreage for some fallow time, for transition to more tractor cultivated row crops, or even to grazing pasture. There are several areas in what has been veggie production acreage that have been quite difficult to consistently cultivate and plant, season after season, because they stay too wet, or are too rocky and poor to justify the effort. These areas seem like they might be better used as pasture, letting perennial grasses and clover do their best to soak up the moisture, cover the rocks, and hopefully to develop into a space that better serves our farming needs. We are always looking for more acreage for the beef herd and sheep flock to graze, hoping to extend the grazing rotation by as many days as is possible, and adding acreage to the rotation would be a great step. The longer we can let the pasture rest between grazings by the cows or sheep, the more and better forage we can expect to be there the next time for them to eat. In the heart of the grazing

season we are measuring this metric in days, looking at the days between when the cows graze a paddock and when they come back around the circle again to the same spot. In the early spring we try to make it around the whole rotation as quickly as we can, trying to keep up with the quickly growing grass. As pasture growth slows in the heat and dry of the summer, we try to slow the rotation down as much as possible to give the pasture the maximum time possible for regrowth. I expect the first rotation to last about thirty-five or forty days, and the rotations in the middle of summer to be closer to fifty or fifty-five days, with the ultimate goal somewhere down the line to have a rotation closer to sixty or seventy days long.

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The new dairy fence system is almost done. 

The brooder is getting really full with those broiler chicks in there growing fast. They are just about fully feathered out by now, and I think that they are ready to go out in their mobile houses on the pasture. The weather next week is not looking very nice, but I think that they are big enough to handle it. We have a batch of layer chicks coming some time next week as well, so we really need to get that brooder empty and cleaned out in preparation for those new arrivals. So far, the broiler chicks have been growing really well, and we’ve only had one mortality. Though I expect growth will slow once those birds are out of the heated brooder and moved to the cooler wetter conditions outside, I am hopeful that they will do well for us, and that we’ll have another solid addition to next year’s meat CSA. There is some hope of running these birds over fallow veggie beds seeded to cover crops, but the cool wet spring weather we’ve had so far has slowed the growth of those cover crops enough that it is looking like the plants may not be ready for this plan.

April 14th – April 21st

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We are weaning Purple Rain, so she’s longing to get out of the calf pen. 

With a stretch of warm rainy weather here to end the week, the worms have come out and are exploring the driveway, paths and games field. There are several explanations for why worms surface after a heavy rain, but one of my favorites (and one of the most likely) is that the wet conditions give them a chance to move safely over the top of the soil, so they take the opportunity to migrate more quickly and easily than they could in their usual underground world. Regardless of why they do it, the first warm wet day of the year, with worms under foot, is a sign that the the season has truly turned. As folks thinking about the health and function of our soil, we are happy to see a vigorous population of earth worms here at The Farm School, and we do our best to stay out of their way when they’re moving across the farm. We had some dry weather and some rainy weather this week, so there was a bit of a dance, as is usual this time of year, as Brad, Tyson, Carlen and Kristen did what they could to cultivate and prep veggie fields for spring planting. Peas went into the ground this week, and so did some hearty onion and greens starts, though the soil is still pretty cool and wet. Bed prep and compost application continued full speed in the new Flat Field acreage this week as well, with the BCS two wheel cultivator moving steadily over those fields forming the raised beds that will make up the back-bone of that growing system. We had heavy rain forecasted for the end of the week and over the weekend, so midweek Thursday and Friday were a real race to get as much acreage cultivated before tractor work had to stop again while the soil is too wet. When I hear the distant murmur of the tractor at dawn as I’m milking the cows, or again at dusk as the work day ends, I know that the veggie managers have seen rain the on the horizon and are squeezing every minute they can out the dry weather, trying to set the stage for rainy weather planting work while they still can.

We have only one more bred ewe undelivered in the sheep flock, and with twenty-five big healthy lambs on the ground already, and very few complications, this has been a great lambing season. I am a little shy of writing anything to qualify the season before it is truly over, but our last ewe is a seasoned veteran, so I am relatively confident that

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A look inside the egg-mobile, after cleaning but before chickens move in. 

she’ll pull delivery off well. Our typical six or even eight week lambing season is one ewe away from completion at twenty-one days, and even with that quick pace, we were never overwhelmed by an over-fast sequence of births. We’ve seen quite a few pairs of twins, everyone has had the appropriate conformation and assembly, and the mothering has been diligent and nutritious. I had real trepidation going into the season, having employed our two new rams for the first time this past breeding season, but it seems from the results, and the timing of the event, that those two boys did a great job. Though there is not a direct and quantifiable (at least for us simple farmers) measurement to be made between the day of service and the day of delivery, it is always interesting to me to try to read the sequence of the past breeding season in the tea leaves of lambing or calving season. With the lambs coming quickly and at the very start of the potential lambing window, I can imagine the rams getting right after their work from the moment they were put in with the ewes, and keeping after it diligently until everyone was bred. A three week lambing season probably means that breeding was successful for everyone in the first heat cycle that the rams and ewes spent together, which is remarkable to me knowing that it was accomplished by inexperienced rams.

Work began this week on the pig’s summer infrastructure, and we’ve built the walled deck that will hold their feeder, milk trough and water system. This year’s deck is ridiculously high on a few sides since we could not find much level ground to put it on in the corner of the farm we’ve chosen for the pigs. I think that we did a  good job bracing up the posts that it sits on, and now we’ll have to do thorough work blocking the pig’s off from getting under there to root those posts and bracing up. I picked up the pigs on Saturday morning, and they have been moved into the piglet yard at Sentinel Elm Farm.

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Gus resting, after a long week playing with the visiting students. 

Unfortunately they are another batch of those pink pigs with docked tails, I believe coming out of a conventional confinement pig operation. We have raised this type of pig in years past, and have found that while they grow quite well, they seem to have lost some of the intelligence and natural pigginess of the more traditional pig strains that we prefer. A confinement pig operation is interested in pigs that grow well, and not much else, while we would like pigs that can thrive in our forest and fields based system. Our approach gives the pigs the chance to dig and root, and to find natural food for themselves, and relies on their agency a bit in the process. Locating and securing piglets in the spring is a real challenge for me every year, and this year I found a source that could supply all thirty piglets at once, for a good price. I guess getting less than ideal pigs is the price we pay for that convenience, but I am hopeful that our good feed, fresh milk, and the forest lifestyle will result in big healthy pigs come fall regardless.

April 7th – April 14th

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Some green grass, and some fencing materials. 

Our pastures turned from brown to green this week, marking a major turn toward spring and the coming growing season. This has been a remarkably slow and gradual change of seasons, but the greening of the fields, the peepers hollering in the swamp below the farm, and the lingering light at the end of the day have begun the inevitable march of warmer weather. There are farmers who put their grazing animals out onto pasture at the first sign of green grass, taking the sensible position that free green food is better for everyone than the expensive hay in the hayloft. We’ve found here at The Farm School that our pastures perform better, and for longer through the season, if we let them grow up nice and tall before grazing starts. Of course this approach can be taken too far, and we have sometimes found ourselves unable to keep up with the burgeoning grass putting up seed in ungrazed pastures. Our aim is to strike just the right balance in our timing and grazing rate to give the pasture plants time to grow big and strong, with energy stored for regrowth in their roots, but not to get so mature that they’ve gone to seed. We have a well established and moderately successful grazing pattern established for the beef herd, sheep and dairy cows, though weather, growth and demand keep us flexible and on our toes. The dairy herd will have an entirely new grazing system in place this year however, so I expect we’ll climb a pretty steep learning curve as the season progresses. We transitioned about an acre of our most level well drained pasture into veggie beds in the fall, and that change has, in my mind, tipped the balance on our grazing acreage so I do not think we’ll be making any of our own hay on dairy pastures this year. That means that fields that had been hay fields can now be fenced for grazing, and we need to establish a good system for weaving those added areas into our grazing pattern. Added to that consideration is the erosion and degradation that some of our cow roads went through last year with the heavy and constant rain washing them out. To address both of these areas of change, we have decided to flip our grazing pattern around, run the cow road in an east-west direction along the bottom of the fields, and run long paddocks north-south off that road. Every paddock will connect to the road that stretches along the lowest part of the pastures, and that will feed back to the barn. These paddocks will be pretty long, and will rise as they go away from the road, making me worry that the cows will be reluctant to graze the highest farthest areas. I am hoping that by moving a short section of fence up each paddock every few hours, we can entice the cows to graze the heights with that fresh grass. We’ll also make some changes in the old sheep pasture where the new veggie acre has been carved out, leaving the appropriate buffer between grazing and veggies for organic certification, and adapting the grazing pattern to fit a new entry point. The new veggie beds abut the old cow road, so we will now plan to send the cows into that field through a lower bar-way, accessed down a road headed east out of the back of the barn rather than the old westerly road, and the field will probably have just two big paddocks rather than the old eight. That old sheep pasture has always had a wonderful flat top area that grew our best grass, and a much less appealing sloping hillside below that. With the flat section now in veggies, the cows will have to settle for the hillside, and I hope that a little added grazing and manure deposition out there might get the grass on the hillside to thicken up a bit. Here in New England, with limited open space, and even more limited flat open space with good growing soil, it seems to be supremely logical to put the veggies in the flat places and the animals on the hillsides, if you’re farming both.

Lambs are coming fast and furious in the sheep herd, and our count by Sunday morning is close to twenty, with just over half the ewes already accounted for. We usually end up with between twenty and thirty lambs, and this year, with more twins so far that usual, I think we’re a bit ahead of what I expected. The season has been quite easy so far, with mostly daylight births and no significant complications. We’ve pulled a couple of lambs, helping the ewe deliver a baby that might have otherwise been really tough to get out, but nothing major. On Saturday we had a ewe, still pregnant, who got herself convinced that a pair of newborn lambs were hers, and it was all we could do to get her off them and out of the way. She spent the next few hours tragically calling and looking for them, though she eventually seemed to give up the hunt. It is not uncommon for ewes close to lambing to get a little confused about which baby belongs to which ewe, and to think that a newborn is their own, even if they haven’t had their baby yet. I have never seen a ewe as adamant as yesterday’s, and it was really sad to see her distress when we got her separated from what she thought was her own babies. The true mother needed some peace and quiet with her babies in the jug to solidify that vital connection that will keep those tiny lambs well fed and alive for the next six months, so we had to shut the door on the would be adoptive mother. Once she delivers her own lamb(s), I am hopeful that her strong mothering instinct will be brought to bear on her own offspring, and that will help erase the confusion and anguish she experienced over the weekend.
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More cow barn art. 

Cultivation and bed prep continued in veggie world this week, though with a few rain events through the week, we were not able to get the machines out in the fields as much as we would have liked. April is one of the only months in the year when farmers here are hoping for no precipitation, eager for veggie acreage and pastures to dry enough for the planting and grazing seasons to really get started in May. Veggie growers are looking for soil to dry enough to hold cultivation and machine pressure, and livestock managers, with pastures already wet enough for the grass to grow, want those nice sunny days to supercharge pasture growth. Once the grass is tall and veggie acreage is tilled and formed into beds, we’d all like a bit over an inch of rain per week, and we’d like it to fall at night in a strong but gentle mist.

The Maggie’s Farm layers went out into their egg-mobile on Thursday night, and they are now happily digging, scratching and pecking through the huge composted manure piles at the Waslakse barn where the beef herd spends the winter. They seem happy to be out of their winter quarters, and now we’ll have to keep moving them, usually once or twice per week, through the growing season until frost comes again in November.