January 13th – January 20th

Finally, so snow. 

I spent a good portion of the week cleaning in the dairy barn, going through piles and shelves, dealing with work deferred, and imagining new uses and purposes for these well-worn stations. We’ve been working in the dairy barn for for almost thirty years, and farmers, cows, and who knows what else, has worked in the space for fifty years before that. The barn has seen generation after generation of farmers and animals pass through it, each with new ideas and new visions, new beliefs, new ways of getting the job done, new challenges and new successes. We have moved things around, changed things, built walls and removed walls, cut holes and patched holes, painted, broken, repaired, cleaned and fixed almost every bit of the structure, always trying to make it better, make it suit the need of the season, or keep it from falling. The structure has held up well, though there is some sag here and there, some rotting wood and several empty window holes. The building got a handsome new metal roof a few years ago, and that gives the whole place a much stronger feeling of endurance and fortitude than the old faded shingles. Right now the dairy barn, like so many of our buildings, is plagued with large flock of European Starlings that come to raid grain from the nearby chickens and pigs, drink from the cow’s open water trough, roost and cackle in the rafters of the back-barn, and deposit their droppings generously on every surface. Today, under the oppression of the first winter storm of the season, the cows have spent a good portion of their time hiding in the back-barn, and they all are spotted, head to tail, with Starling droppings. These birds are not from around here, and their aggression and tendency to travel in a large flock means they are ruinous to the smaller local birds we know and love. They bully their way into other bird’s nests, invading any cavity they can find, and disturbing nesting, egg laying and the raising of chicks. They are a torment down at Maggie’s Farm too, where they gather on the roof-peak of the chicken’s winter house, blanket the surface with their manure, and descend in mass to pillage at the chicken’s hanging feeders. They also seem to spend a good deal of time in the tractor barn, and take special pleasure in pooping all over the tractors. Rumblings have begun amongst the staff about making an attempt to eradicate them, though we are yet to hit on a course of action that balances the desired effect and community impact. In the summer our dairy barn is home to a wonderful group of barn swallows who raise two rounds of chicks in mud nests stuck on light fixtures and joists all around the barn. They come back and use the same nests every summer, arriving and departing as regular markers of the turning seasons. Swallows are incredible fliers that catch airborne insects as their main foodimg_7235 source, and they use their breathtaking flying agility to zip in and out of the barn doors and windows, around the farmers and cows, passing within inches with a flash. These birds are threatened and declining in Massachusetts, and we are really happy to give them a safe place to raise their chicks every summer. Their arrival in early summer kicks of our stretch of warm weather, and I am always reminded of the immeasurable hidden workings of the natural world when I walk into the barn for morning milking to find swallows where there had been none the morning before. To my mind, scurrying through an endless list of work to get done before the sun goes down, they have seemingly sprung from thin air, appeared in my world from nowhere, deciding, on a whim, to nest in my barn. In reality, they’ve arrived after a long and arduous migration, traveling for months from thousands of miles south, using the same destinations on either end, and paths between, year after year. The space between my experience of the barn swallows in the barn, and the depth of the lives they trace to be there, is overwhelming.      

Of course we have ideas and plans for changes to be made in the barn this spring, ways to improve operations and make the barn serve the program better, and though these seem from here to be ultimate fixes that will finally carry us to perfection, I’m sure we’ll have tweaks and changes in mind come this time next year. We plow the ground every spring, change the layout of the beds and pathways, order different seeds and try new tools, but the ground is the same ground, and the barn is the same barn its always been.  


January 6th – January 13th

img_7219This was another really quiet week here at the farm with both programs on winter break, though there were a few farmers toiling away in the firewood yard keeping that effort alive. The ground is frozen hard now, and the bright sunny days we’ve had, with temperatures staying below freezing, really seem true to form for the middle of January. The veggie team spent the week meeting and planning, trying to craft a crop plan and corresponding seed order that will carry us through the coming growing season. We have chosen to develop a few acres we call the Flat Field into an intensively managed, cultivated and irrigated new component of our veggie production, and the integration of this new acreage and model has added a new wrinkle to our planning. Our hope is that this new area will offer the program a vibrant novel realm of curriculum with the rigorous management, dependence on hand-tool scale work, and intensive irrigation and control, and the planning that goes into the teaching aspect of this new endeavor makes the preparation even more laborious. The veggie CSA will be smaller this year, but the whole Flat Field effort needs to be blended into our larger veggie production system, and breaking this new ground in a way that sets us up for long-term success is slow-going.

I ordered both layer and meat-bird chicks this week, and we’ll be on a similar schedule to the one that we followed last year. We’ll get one hundred and twenty broiler chicks in the mail in the first week of April, and then one hundred and ten layer chicks a month later. That timing gives us a chance to raise the broiler chicks in the brooder until they’re big and feathered enough to move out into their pasture houses, and to then move the new layer chicks in when they arrive, and after we’ve cleaned the brooder. The broiler chicks, bred to reach full size in twelve to fifteen weeks, grow must faster than the layer chicks, who will need to stay in the brooder for several months before being big enough to go out onto pasture. I ordered the same 50/50 mix of Freedom Rangers and Kosher Kings that we raised for meat last year, but I’ve ordered Black Australorp layers for the first time. Australorps are great layers of brown eggs, and are reported to be hardy, laid back chickens. After a couple of uninspiring years raising some of the more modern strains of laying hens, we have gone back to a focus on the more traditional varieties for the past two years, and these Australorps, though new to us, are an old-time breed that I am really excited to try. When the description of the birds includes the word ‘heavy’, as you’ll see if you click the link above, we can be pretty confident that we’ll be raising a larger, sturdier most traditional variety of chicken, in contrast with the lighter more modern breeds that we’ve found not able to hold up well.

This week was also the time to make our processing dates for the fall and early winter, and the only real change we made from our customary pattern was that to book spots for eight beef cows this fall rather than our usual six. This fall will be two years since our large ten-calf cohort from the summer of 2016, so we should have more animals ready for slaughter than we have typically had. This will give us some great marketing opportunities come next winter, and I am really looking forward to getting our delicious grass-finished beef out to more folks.

The Turn of the Year 2018/2019

The 2018 calendar reached its end, and our thoughts have turned to next year’s farm. The farm year and the calendar year line up nicely, flipping back to a new beginning at just about the same time. The calendar year marches numerically forward year after year, but the farm year seems to me rather to go more round and round, cycling over the same ground again and again. These quiet frozen months of mid-winter help to set the stage for the rush of spring and summer that’s coming, and we have the chance to reflect a bit about both the season that has just ended and the season that’s coming next. I’ve said before, quoting the wonderful Wendell Berry, that the growth of the farmer’s mind, our learning, discovering, improving and understanding, are the truest measure of the health of our farm, and this winter interlude gives us all the chance to look directly at our own growth as we shift from past to future.

img_7209Dichotomy seems to me to be one of the principle characteristics that determine the shape and nature of farming. From the broadest balance between wet and dry, cows and bulls, growth and decay, to the subtler equilibriums, like the ones that we hold between pasture grazing height and cow intake, or between planting space and bed yield. Another balance on the farm is between the daily physical labor of the work, and the paper and pencil time of planning, reading, learning and imagining the world that work inhabits. An observant farmer can learn from the labor, can watch the work unfolding around her and see the faults and successes as they develop. Tilling, prepping, planting, and then tending pea plants will grow peas, we hope, but it will also grow knowledge and experience in the art and science of growing peas. Up from that planting can also come fluency in physical labor and long days, in the warmth of the sun and the chill of the rain, in the sound of the wind and the hum of the insects. All these lessons are on hand to be noted, and here in the winter months farmers have a moment to recollect, to sift through the jumble of summer’s notions and to try to forge something reasoned from it all. This rapport, between the work of the world and the knowledge that we glean from enacting that work, gives frisson to the adventure of farming, enlivening every task as a chance to grow.

We need to commit fully to the depth and seriousness of this quiet time in the year, to the detailed consideration of the season that has ended and our plans for the next, if we are to maintain a balance between this more peaceful and reflective season and the mad headlong scramble of the growing seasons ahead and behind. We are meeting to discuss the ground we’ve covered, to discuss the ground ahead of us, to count through the last year and to order our supplies for the next. We are looking at successes, and examining our deficiencies, and trying to learn from it all. The Learn to Farm Program recommences on January 23rd, and the Program for Visiting Schools a few weeks after that.

December 9th – December 16th

The student farmers went up to the Adams slaughterhouse for a tour this week, getting a look at that vital component in our meat production cycle. This field-trip raises important questions and concerns in every group of students, and it gives us all an opportunity to think more deeply and to discuss our own views on the issue of meat production. The Adams facility is really well run, and was built and designed to reflect our most up to date understanding of livestock welfare and processing, but there is no

Last summer we worked to rehab the hay-loft in the old Waslaske barn, where the beef herd spends the winter. This week we put some straw bales (on the left) and some hay bales (further along) up there, and we’ll see how they keep.

nice way to accomplish that work of slaughtering and butchering livestock. Though the staff at Adams works hard to make the process safe and low-stress, the contrast between the life that we provide for our animals, and their experience in the slaughter facility, is stark. This contrast often makes our students question the structure of the meat production system that has this type of animal experience built into it, despite the efforts of the farmer to treat their animals well. This naturally leads to the desire to process animals on the farm, in the place that they were raised, cared for and know, to avoid the trip the slaughter facility, the time spent in the pens, the walk onto the kill floor, and all that goes into these activities. In Massachusetts, and the country at large, meat sold to the public must have a USDA stamp on it, must have been processed under the supervision of a USDA inspector, and the processing must meet standards developed and laid out by the USDA. That precludes on farm processing, unless the on farm component really just means a USDA inspected slaughter house on your own farm. The cost of building a facility that meets USDA standards, that the USDA will staff with an inspector, puts this out of reach for almost all farmers. So if a farmer wants to legally sell meat to the public, they have to bring their livestock to a USDA approved facility, and therefor subject their animals to the difficult environment inherent in that process. An alternative to this approach would be raising animals for only your own consumption. This would require processing the animals yourself, or finding one of the last few remaining roving on-farm processors who will come to your farm and take your animals through processing for you there.

This week also included our first Livestock Health class with Dr. Beltaire of UMass. The Maggies’s students will have several sessions with Dr. Beltaire, going through the major health and management issues that face the livestock that we manage. The first class was focused on beef cows and ruminant digestion. We have had a great working relationship with UMass on the veggie side of our program, directed mostly at improving and implementing our insect pest detection and management program, and these classes will hopefully help us to develop this relationship on the livestock side as well.
There is no program running at Sentinel Elm Farm these days, but there were a few farmers on the farm never the less, cleaning, organizing, and re-imagining the spaces

We have been building this large hay feeder for the past few weeks, and we finally deployed it this week, filled it with hay, and the cows, and students, gave it a try. It seems to be working well. 

and systems that make the Program for Visiting Schools work so well. The art-brary has been gutted and restored better than ever, we’ve filled a dumpster with metal scrap for recycling, we’ve cleaned and organized the barn fencing area, and the dairy cows now have a second winter yard closer to the barn to use if conditions get too bad for their main yard.

We made some great progress with the livestock at Maggie’s farm this week too with the breeding bull picked up Thursday, the dairy heifer we had with the beef herd for breeding returned to the dairy, and another one-hundred and forty bales of straw loaded into the beef barn. We also finally got all of the temporary beef fencing taken out of the pastures for the winter, and continued to stockpile round wrapped hay bales for winter feeding.

December 2nd – December 9th

Round bales stacked at the dairy barn

Large round wrapped bales of hay have started arriving on the farm as we stock up on winter feed for the dairy and beef herds. We make almost forty of our own bales here as a first cutting of our own pastures in June or July, but we’ll need more than one hundred for the beef herd and another seventy or so for the dairy herd to get us through to grazing again in early May of next year. The dairy herd gets the premium stuff in the hope that they can stay on a highly nutritious diet and keep making that good milk through the cold weather. The beef herd is happy with first cut since they’re just keeping fed and growing the first stages of next spring’s calves, with much lower demand than the dairy cows in milk. These wrapped bales, full of slightly pickled hay that the cows love, can be stored

The beef herd in their winter quarters

outside, and stay fresh for months and months. Their use does require a tractor, since they’re so heavy, and they are wrapped in plastic and twine that can really become an eyesore and a nuisance on the farm if they’re not managed carefully, but they have been a wonderful innovation for feeding large ruminants. Each round bale is the equivalent of twenty-five to forty square bales, depending on weights and quality, so they are a really efficient way for us to keep our cows well fed through winter.

We bought two little piglets this week, and installed them in the pig yard near the greenhouse. They’ll get the extra milk from the dairy all winter, and grow up to be big beautiful fat pigs by spring, ready for the BPG or the freezer. They have a deeply bedded house to burrow into, and they spend most of their time nestled under the straw during the cold weather. I would love to include a picture of them here, but they are quite elusive in their warm hide-out,

We’ve been building a new dry hay feeder for the beef herd.

and I hate to roust them out of there when they’re so happy snuggled up with each other.

This was a cold week here on the farm, and we didn’t really have any precipitation, which is the first time that I can write that in quite a while. By my reckoning, and this is another instance when I really wish that I kept a weather journal, we have had measurable precipitation here every week since the Fourth of July. The dry weather did wonders for the animal yards, roads, pastures and driveways, and the coming week looks dry until Friday as well. Dry cold weather firms up the ground so we can drive out on it again, turns the mud of the cow yard into cement, and generally gives us all firmer footing in everything that we’re doing. One interesting issue that I am dreading somewhat is that the ground has frozen solid while totally saturated. Of course the ground freezes every winter with a certain degree of moisture in it, hence the freezing part, but this year temperatures got cold with what I must assume is almost 100% water-logged soil. This seems to me to indicate that the ground will be particularly hard frozen, and that when it thaws, it is going to be an ever-loving mess. We have started having multiple mud seasons throughout the winter in these parts with less consistent cold temperatures, and I expect that we are in for some really sloppy conditions at several points this winter.
The cold weather means meeting season has begun here at The Farm School, and the veggie team has been huddled a bunch this week as they re-hash last season’s experience, look for lessons for the coming year, and make their plans for next year. They look at

The wood furnace is going full tilt in this cold weather. 

which crops and varieties grew the best for us, which of them our customers were most excited about, new varieties that might be able to address production and sales issues that we faced, and when and where to put it all as the season unfolds. The coming season will mark two shifts for us in veggie production as we integrate our newly enhanced Flat Field acreage into the mix, and also as we change from the traditional ‘Head Grower’ management model to a more collaborative approach. We will try to use the power of spread-sheets and digitization to maintain a framework for folks to work within, and we’ve downsized our veggie CSA membership to lighten the pressure a bit in this inaugural production year. Both changes seem really exciting from where I stand over here with the livestock, and I think that we are all really looking forward to seeing how it all works out. I’ll let you know!

November 18th – December 2nd

All the photos this week are from our greenhouse, converted, as we do every year about this time, into a timber frame workshop. There are pictures of some of the many tools that students are taught to use in their work, turning the timbers into the many components of timber frame structure, there are pictures of the timbers and finished pieces, and at the bottom is an image of the book that we use as our reference throughout the work. Enjoy! 

The turkeys have gone to the holiday table, the last two pigs are ready to be picked up at the slaughterhouse for Monday’s butchering class, and Friday marked the end of our fall season of programing with visiting school groups at Sentinel Elm Farm. It all adds up to a true changing of the seasons here at The Farm School. The Learn to IMG_7107Farm program rolls on for a few more weeks before our winter break, with a focus on more chainsaw, tractor and horse training, and some intensive livestock class time with a UMASS animal health professor. The big greenhouse has made its annual transition into a timber frame workshop, and we have begun the slow work of turning large timbers into posts, braces, beams and joists. The skills that students develop with the chainsaw, tractor and horses will be put straight to use in our annual cord wood production project, making the firewood to power our outdoor furnace, and enough to share with some neighbors too. The students have already had more intensive introductions to working with horses, chainsaws and tractors in their first month on the farm, so these weeks are a chance to remind them of that introduction and to try to add some more experience and comfort.

The student farmer started their week with Dr. Major, the large animal vet from Green Mt. Bovine Clinic, who works with our dairy, focusing on cow health, diet and reproduction . He gave the students an in-depth look at the major health issues that face dairy cattle, a summary of the a typical year in the life of a dairy cow, and then some hands on time with the cows, checking pregnancies and looking at other issues in our herd. He also helped theIMG_7111 students get a feel for the vet/farmer relationship, how to keep it strong and effective for both parties, and what information and supplies to have on hand when the vet is coming to your farm. The more time I spend working in our dairy the more I see the vital roll that the vet plays in that enterprise, especially with a novice dairy manager like myself, and the more significant place I see for the working relationship that we try to maintain with Dr. Major. We have spent many hours together, on the phone or in the barn, looking over cows, reading health records, inspecting facilities, discussing health issues and treatments, and looking for ways to improve the health and production in the unique dairy environment of this teaching farm. This time the students spent with Dr. Major was a great opportunity to introduce them to that relationship, and to give them a chance to see the enterprise from Dr. Major’s experienced vantage.
IMG_7109We’ve had a few brief tastes of winter weather on the farm already here in November, and now with the livestock down to winter levels and in winter quarters, the fields and orchards dormant until spring, we can turn to the quick period of trying to get everything put away and cleaned up before true winter sets in. We still have a few hoses out there on the farm, some water troughs and other equipment around that we’ll need to drain, clean and get under cover before everything freezes and gets lost under the snow. We’ve had an extremely extended stretch of wet grey weather here, really since about the fourth of July, and now with the pastures brown and the leaves off the trees, this landscape, under clouds and mist, is nearly colorless. There are bright red Winterberries for an occasional splash of color here and there, but everything else seems to be within a narrow spectrum between brown and grey. A nice white blanket of snow would certainly make those browns and greys stand out clearly, and as always, we are looking forward to snow and ski season.

November 11th – November 18th

We had an early winter snow storm Thursday night, and the shovels (some usually used to clean up after the cows) came out for their first use of the season. 

This has been a busy week, and with turkey processing on the farm Sunday morning, I don’t have much time to write. It seems that winter arrived here at The Farm School this week with cold temperatures and snow putting all of our winter systems to the test. The really cold weather started Wednesday and Thursday, with temperatures down in the teens freezing hoses, mud and water troughs. Thursday night into Friday morning we got four or five inches of snow on the frozen ground, and the landscape took on that classic New England winter look. We were not quite ready for this sudden step into winter, and some of our setups for livestock needed a bit of reworking to resume functioning in these freezing conditions. Heaters have been put into most of the livestock water troughs, all the laying hens are in winter quarters with lights, and we are working to get comfortable with the new winter chore situation. We raced the cold weather to get cement poured out behind the dairy barn to hold up four new fence posts and gates that had to be put right on top of the bedrock out there, and now the dairy cows are eating round bales in their new

Sun rise Sunday morning, presage of the work of Turkey day. 

winter yard and using the new access road. We had to change the cow’s route to the old sheep pasture to keep them away from the new Flat Field East veggie fields, and this new setup seems like it is going to work well. We to dig a trench and lay a new electrical conduit to bring power from the Bunkhouse to the outdoor wood furnace before the ground froze this week, finishing that work at dusk on Thursday night just before the snow started. We loaded twenty lambs off for processing Wednesday morning, and now with the turkeys done, we are just about finished with our livestock processing for the year. There are two pigs in the barn yard fattening up for a butchering class, and that’s it until next year.

November 4th – November 11th

The dairy cow breeding board is filling up. 

As much as I hate to write it, it did rain quite a bit again this week, pushing conditions on the farm even further into the mud. The sheep seem to be taking advantage of the dry indoor space that we opened up for them last weekend, and after scraping their yard with the tractor this weekend, I am feeling a bit better about their situation. We also have some nice cold weather in the ten day forecast, so there is some chance that all this wet and mud might just freeze into a nice firm surface. Everything off the hard roads is dangerously soft, and any necessary drives onto the pastures leave muddy ruts and damage. We cannot drive out onto the pastures to spread manure in these conditions, we cannot access the pasture edges for tree clearing, and the turkeys are making some really muddy spots as they continue to graze out on the pasture behind the bunkhouse. There is some rain in the long-term forecast, and some really cold weather, and we continue to wait for an extended dry period to let the ground firm up so that we can get back out onto the pastures.

In the mean time, Tyson and the student farmers have been able to continue the work of making permanent raised beds in the newly cultivated Flat Field East, forming that

IMG_7066 (1)
New raised beds in Flat Field East

beautiful well-drained soil into sets of straight rows that will be ready for planting in the spring. This work has been mostly accomplished with hand tools, and this new acreage drains really nicely, so the wetter conditions have not slowed us down too much. As we work to hone the balance of enterprises undertaken on this land, it is gratifying to see the veggies moving into acreage with rich soil and good drainage, while we move to seed new pasture in the areas that are less suitable to vegetable cultivation. Observation of the land over time and experience over a wide sweep of seasons and conditions gives us an ever clarifying understanding of the nuances of this acreage we work, and we try our best to put this growing understanding to work as we make long term plans.

We’re developing a new winter road for the dairy cows out the back of the barn. 

These November days come and go so quickly that I always start to feel a little panicked trying to get through the work of winter preparation. Early mornings are frozen, the afternoon feels like its about half an hour long, and the to-do list is full of weighty projects that our livestock and infrastructure need for a comfortable and healthy winter. We’ve got the beef winter setup just about finished, except we still need to build a new dry-hay feeder, and make a small annex to the beef winter fencing situation to accommodate the new feeder. The well at the beef winter barn continues to struggle along, periodically giving us a hundred gallons, but usually doing very little. These struggles mean that the water cube has to stay in service for the winter, and the student farmers need to keep a close eye on the weather forecast to make sure that they don’t leave the cube full of water on really cold nights. The sheep are in their winter quarters, with the rams in with the flock and hopefully doing their business, with access to pasture still in the hopes of giving them a drier place to spend time while their yard dries. The youngest layers are in the winter layer house at Maggie’s Farm, having moved in on Monday of this week. They seem to be settling in quite nicely, and their egg production continues to climb. Though they are still laying those smaller pullet sized eggs, we are counting on them to really start laying in earnest soon to supply the Maggie’s farmhouse as well as our meat CSA. The older layers are still out on pasture for one more day, and they’ll move into the winter house at Sentinel Elm Farm Monday evening. They have been laying for the past year to supply Maggie’s Farm, but they’ll keep on producing for another year, at a lower level, down the road at the kid’s farm. We culled the majority of the layers at Sentinel Elm on Sunday to make room for the new flock, and there are some massive pots of stock bubbling away in the bunkhouse kitchen right now. That delicious broth will help us all stay healthy and fit through the winter ahead! Wednesday of this week we take the lambs off to processing, and Sunday is turkey processing day. Other than the two pigs in the yard fattening up for the student farmer’s butchering class, the lambs and turkeys will mark the end of the livestock production year, and will take us down to our winter livestock population.

October 28th – November 4th

Our rain gauge has been working overtime. 

I feel awfully repetitive by now, but the rain just won’t stop here at The Farm School, and these wet conditions have moved firmly to the center of my concerns  as it relates to our livestock. In last week’s post I described a moderate stretch of dry weather that gave us the chance to till up a new field and even try to spread some manure. However, we had rain most of this past week, with a whopping two and a half inches falling Friday and Saturday, and we are back to mud and muck up and down the ridge. The dairy cows stayed in the barn for the day on Saturday, munching on dry hay and keeping out of the wet. The beef herd is in their winter quarters and can get out of the weather in their renovated barn. The laying hens and turkeys are still out on pasture, and while the layers can go into their egg-mobiles to stay dry, the turkey’s houses have no floors, and those birds are pretty exposed. They are enormous by now, and relatively water proof, but I would love to find a way to give them roosts that would get them up off the ground.

A view down over Sentinel Elm Farm

Finally we come to the sheep, whose yard has turned into a terrible muddy mess. I spent most of the day on Saturday preparing and opening up their indoor winter space, re-bedding their large feeding shed, changing their pasture fence and trying to give them as much opportunity as possible to dry out. The big concern for the sheep is their feet, which I think have been pretty consistently wet since July, and which can start to get into trouble if they don’t have the chance to dry out from time to time. My hope in opening the indoor area is that the space can stay truly dry, despite the rainy weather, and that sheep resting in there will come out with dry feet.

We lost a couple of turkeys to predators this week, so now they have a double electric fence. 
On Friday afternoon we pulled off a big shuffle with the sheep and goats, getting the rams in with the ewes and the buck in with the does. We had to get the ewes that we don’t want bred moved out of the sheep flock before the rams went in, and the does that we don’t want bred moved out of the goat flock before the buck went in, and we had to do it all in pouring rain and mud. First we put Ethel, the youngest doe, into the livestock trailer and drove her down to Maggie’s. At Maggie’s we loaded the three lambs we don’t want bred into the trailer too, and wormed and vaccinated everyone we’d caught. We then put a halter on Rubble, the big buck, and lead him out of the breeders pen. We caught both rams, treated the one with the foot injury, wormed and vaccinated both rams, and sent them into the sheep pen. With the breeders pen empty, we moved the young ewes and Ethel in, and put Rubble into the livestock trailer. Rubble rode down to Sentinel Elm Farm, we wormed

The dairy cows at dawn. 

and vaccinated him, trimmed his over-grown feet, and lead him down to the goat pen to go in with the two older does. Finally, we drove over to Dave’s house, loaded up Frank, the young buck, and two young does named Honey and Sugar. They all rode back down to Maggie’s, Frank was moved in with the big sheep flock, and Honey and Sugar went in with the young ewes and Ethel. The rams are super happy to finally be in with the sheep, and Rubble is also quite pleased to be with the does, but everyone else is taking some time to settle into their new situations. Frank, the young buck, required some additional high fencing and gates at the sheep pen since he is so much more athletic than the sheep and is so prone to jumping escapes.

Work continued this week on a fourth hoop house going up just west of the one we call the hardening-off house. This new plastic covered space will have no floor, so we’ll be

The frame of the new hoop-house going up. 

planting directly into the soil in there. This will serve like our winter greenhouse, giving us a warmer space for spring and fall growing, and a place where we can control the moisture levels directly. This will support the developing program we’re putting together in the Flat Field, giving us more acreage for intensive production.

This was the first week of the draft horse and chainsaw training component of our fall in the Learn to Farm program, with one third of the student group headed off to Fair Winds Farm in Brattleboro, one third in our woods with Bill Gerard doing The Game of Logging, and a third in the Flat Field working to get that acreage as ready for next year’s growing season as is possible before the ground freezes. This is a really rich part of the program, and a stretch when students are picking up the essential skills that will prepare them for the firewood work coming over the winter.

October 21st – October 28th

We’ve got lots of composted manure, and some lime, to spread on the pastures this fall. 

Although it has been raining off and on just about all weekend here at The Farm School, we did have a nice stretch of rain-free weather over the past week, and things had the chance to dry out a bit. Fields dried enough for some more fall cultivation, roads firmed up enough so we could get up to load ten more pigs for the ride to the slaughterhouse, and the sheep yard was hard pack again until this latest rain started. Conditions improved enough that I even made an attempt to start our fall manure spreading, with the goal of putting down the majority of our composted manure on the sheep pasture, but the manure spreader failed me. It has been limping along at a barely functional stage for the past few years, forcing us to load it lighter and lighter to actually spin, and despite valiant efforts to rehab the machine both of the past two winters, it finally stopped completely on Thursday morning. We pulled the back end apart Thursday and Friday, diagnosed what we believe the major problem was, and have it back together ready for another go at it next week. The whole unit is really getting on in years, and may need to get replaced some time soon, but we’re trying to keep it going for as long as we can.

We sent six cows from the beef herd off to the slaughterhouse on Sunday of last week,

The slip recording tag numbers for beef cows going in for processing. 

and those animals will restock the supplies in the freezer for both CSA distribution and cooking in the bunkhouse and at Maggie’s Farm. The beef herd is finishing up the last bit of green pasture this weekend, and then they’ll head into winter quarters early next week. We have been putting the finishing touches on their renovated winter barn, and stocking up on the straw that we use for their bedding. I think things are looking good for a pretty cozy setup in there, and the production of a good supply of deep bedded manure compost. I have been researching design plans for a moveable dry hay feeder to add to their facilities, and I hope we can get one in the works quickly and put it to use.

The rams go in with the sheep at the end of next week, and the buck goes in with the does at the same time. Those breeders will get a little tune-up before going to work, with a hoof trim, vaccine booster and worming. This will be the first breeding season for our rams, as well as the buck, so I am eager to see how they perform. One of the rams developed a little hoof problem this week, and while it was minor enough that we would have usually just let it resolve itself, we had a the vet in on Thursday to fix it up. We really want to make sure that the ram is fully mobile and on his A-game when breeding starts so that the window of breeding, and the resulting lambing window, can be as short as is possible. The vet found a ruptured abscess in one pad of the rams front right foot, so we flushed it with iodine and wrapped it, and gave him an antibiotic to ensure that the infection clears up.
We’ve plowed up a section of the old sheep pasture to add to the Flat Field system, and found some really good soil in there, and almost no rocks (except those two bigs ones). 

Trees starting coming down along this year’s firewood area this week as we worked to prepare for the big production push starting in a few weeks. We’ve found that having a hand-full of trees down and ready for bucking and splitting really helps to get the work going while individual students work one-on-one with Bradley and Tyson on the slower and more careful work of more tree felling. We’ll be cutting along the western edge of the Flat Field at Sentinel Elm Farm this year, opening that hedgerow up as much as we possibly can to permit the maximum amount of sunlight onto the veggie beds in the field. The Flat Field is undergoing a significant upgrade and development into a tightly managed permanent bed system with irrigation, all established and planted at a hand-tool scale. We are hoping to produce a consistent supply of the smaller more intensive crops in that space, do it under tighter control with more consistent results, and free up some of our other veggie acreage for fallowing and other management. This is a really exciting development of our land and program, and the first steps taken this fall have been an effort to have next year’s growing season go as smoothly as a first year can. I’ll let you know how it all goes down.