Spring Cleaning

Veggie work has been a challenge this week, with rain keeping the ground pretty wet throughout the week, and lots of rain here at the end soaking us even more. Despite the difficulties, Alex, Kate and the student farmers were able to keep things moving forward beautifully this week, and they even got the tomato starts in the ground on Thursday. Tomatoes like hot dry weather, which has not been the character of the season so far. With soaking rain all night last night, and more coming down right now, we’ve got to keep our fingers crossed that those newly planted starts can hold on until the sun comes out again tomorrow. The green house and hoop houses are full of starts ready to go out as well, so the veggie growers are really hoping for a little run of dry weather to get out there prepping beds and planting.


The beef herd enjoying some tall grass.

Josh and the student farmers spent most of this week digging out the sheep winter area. The sheep have an indoor space they use for really nasty weather and lambing, and another covered space for eating and hanging out. We try to make the sheep walk back and forth between these two areas during the winter to make sure that their growing babies stay well aligned and ready to come out smoothly when the time comes. Both areas get bedded deeply, so the spring dig out is a real project. We used two tractors, and Josh’s large dumping wagon, and moved a massive amount of poop-infused bedding straw and hay from the sheep yard at Maggie’s Farm over to the composting yard behind the dairy. Our work over the past year to re-develop the sheep yard and systems there really paid off in this work, and we were able to quickly and safely muck out the area, and generate a huge pile of material for composting.

The broiler chicks in the new brooder house were let out into their yard this week, and

The ‘egg-mobile’ out on pasture at Sentinel Elm Farm. 

after a tiny bit of hesitation at first, they all piled out and enjoyed the fresh air and increased space. Using the new brooder house has been a real learning experience for all of us, and this part of the process was no different. We built the chick door to serve as the clean-out door and a ramp, when opened, for the chicks to get down to the ground. The door is quite large and heavy, and we had to do some quick retrofitting and adaptation to get it to function somewhat properly. There are some further changes that I would like to make to the building to really get it working just right, but with a batch of layer pullets coming quick on the heels of this group of broilers, I’m not sure we’ll have time to do much. The broilers should go out onto pasture next week, meaning they will have been in the brooder for a little more than three weeks. (They arrived May 5th, and will go out by the 31st.) We may have shortened this period a bit with warmer and drier weather, but with a cool wet spring we are going to keep them warm and dry for as long as we can. The larger and more fully feathered out the little birds are before they go out onto pasture, the better chance they have of thriving. The layer pullets will spend longer in the brooder since they won’t have anyone coming in behind them, and they grow more slowly than the broilers.

We also spent some time this week getting the pig summer area ready for our pigs coming next week. We’ll be getting 25 piglets, and they’ll spend a couple of weeks in the training yard before going out to the woods for the summer. The forest area needs to supply food, water, some shelter when they’re little, and the means for us to catch and load them in the fall. Pigs are super rough on everything they can touch, so we try to take real care in developing a system that will work for the pigs and for us, and hold up to their abuse. A couple of years of doing this, and some challenging experiences trying to load large pigs, has taught us to lay out the system carefully.

Summer Time

We caught hold of a little shot of summer weather this week, with temperatures well up into the nineties on both Wednesday and Thursday, giving the farm the feel of late July here in the middle of May. The leaf cover is at about three-quarters of full right now, so while there is some shade out there for our animals to hide in, they did face a little more direct sun exposure than they liked during the hot spell. Everyone seems to have come

The new egg-mobile is done. 

through the challenging weather well, and things have cooled off Friday after a truly epic thunder and lightening storm came through last night. The chicks in the new chick brooder were the most difficult to keep comfortable, but we put up a screen door, turned off the heat, and setup a fan to keep the air moving through the building. We built that structure in the cold of early spring, and thought a lot more about keeping it warm than we did about keeping it cool. We’ll have to do some retrofits to increase airflow between this batch of chicks and the next, putting in screens and windows that can open. Chicks like temperatures in the brooder right around ninety, mimicking the body temperature that they would feel from the broody hen. It easy to get them too hot if things get much warmer than that, so we need to have careful control of the brooder environment to keep everyone happy and healthy.

Cutting hay

To further the summer feel around the farm, we also started cutting hay Thursday on some of our pastures used for beef grazing. The grass grows so quickly here at the beginning of the season that our little herd cannot get to all of it before it goes to seed and becomes much less palatable. If we hay some of our acreage at the beginning of the season, and then let it grow back up for grazing, we can use a smaller and more manageable amount of acreage for grazing now, when we have too much grass, and increase the grazed acreage later in the summer when we have too little. This is our first season trying this approach in regard to the beef herd and their acreage, though we do something very similar with the dairy acreage every year. We operate some really well aged haying equipment here at The Farm School, but between Josh, Tyson, Warren Rice and the student farmers, we manage to keep it working well enough to just about get the job done every year.

A well used tool

This year, just two passes into cutting our largest and first field, the belt on the mower-conditioner failed. We made an emergency run to the supplier, did some ‘in the field’ repair, and got back to mowing within a couple of hours. This first-cut hay will be rolled up into large round bales, wrapped in twine and then white plastic, and stored for winter feed for the beef herd. We make some of our own hay for the beef herd every summer, and buy in the rest. I am optimistic that we will be able to tip that balance a bit more in our favor this year with this more aggressive haying on the beef pastures, hopefully saving us a bit of money at hay buying time. Harvesting hay is nutrient extractive in regard to the soil and pasture plants however, and this practice will demand that we are careful to keep our soils well fed down the line.

A map/plan for the summer pig yard

Alex and his crew made some great progress in the veggie acreage this week, and the warm dry weather gave that effort a real boost. The onions are out, planted through beautiful straight rows of black plastic, direct seeding is moving forward full speed, and the greenhouse and hardening off house are bursting with starts waiting for their turn to ride out to the fields and go into the soil. Weeding started in earnest this week as well, another clear sign that the season is advancing all over the farm. Early weeding, done before things get well established, deep rooted and tall, is significantly easier and more effective, so Alex and his crew do their best to stay ahead on this front as well as they can.

Farmer’s View

Endless tomato starts in the greenhouse

The start of the growing season is a frantic rush to get everything setup and in place as early and quickly as is possible so that we can capture every possible moment of the short stretch of warm weather from May to October. We’re pushing forward as hard as we can right now to get the starts in the soil, the fences up, and the new animals growing, and we’ll spend the rest of the summer maintaining those things toward harvest in the fall. This always seems to be the busiest time on the calendar, when lots of essential things are crowding each other for attention at the top of the to-do list, and lots of other things that we know we should be doing are falling off the bottom. In a few more weeks, we should have our systems in place for the summer, and then be we’ll able to slow down a bit as the work shifts toward just keeping those systems up and running for the summer and fall. We setup fences in the spring, and weed-whack them in the summer. We plant in the spring, and weed in the summer.

We’ve caught a nice little dry spell over the past week, and Alex and the student farmers have been able to make a great push cultivating and planting quite a bit of our vegetable acreage. We have had pretty cool and cloudy weather however, and the soil has not been

The ducks lay their eggs wherever…


drying or warming as much as Alex would have hoped for by this point in May. The cool wet conditions are ensuring a superior degree of soil moisture however, and this feels like a much more comfortable place to be in comparison to last year at this point when we were already entering drought conditions. With nearly no snow last winter, and the insignificant snow-melt that followed, we went into the spring with dry soil, got nearly no spring rain, and then went into an extended summer drought. Those three factors together put our area into an extremely dry pattern that we are only now coming out of. We have some significant rain forecasted for this weekend, so Alex is racing now to get beds cultivated and shaped ahead of time so that they can be planted next week without the need to drive the tractor over newly soaked soil.

Phoenix and her new bull calf

This is also the season when we’re adding new baby animals to the farm, from chicks coming in the mail to new calves in the dairy and beef herds. We have twenty-one lambs out there running around the sheep pasture, eleven piglets in the training area with twenty five more on the way next week, one-hundred layer chicks coming in a few weeks, and turkeys poults after that. The brooder is full of broiler chicks, and we had our first dairy calf Thursday morning at around 1am. This was Phoenix’s first calf, and she has done a wonderful job looking after her little baby boy. The visiting students will vote on a name this morning before they go home, and I’ll let you know what they pick next week. Phoenix is the daughter of the wonderful Patience, and we are all really happy to keep that family line going here at The Farm School, and eager to see her deliver some heifer calves in years to come. We add animals through the spring and early summer, with the beef calves and the turkeys (scheduled for pickup June 22nd) vying to be the last ones to show up. We reverse the process in the fall, processing animals for the freezer and working our way back down to the principal group that will stay through the winter and start it all over again next spring.

As the leaf cover gets thicker on the trees our view around the farm gets shorter, and we

Growing piglets

turn our eyes to the work closer at hand. The seed in the furrow, the grass in front of the scythe, and the ewe cleaning her newborn lamb all call our attention to the world within reach all around us, and to the urgency of the task of the moment. The bare trees of winter describe a landscape well suited for gazing back and forth across the year, but in the spring and summer, we keep our eyes firmly fixed on the ground beneath our feet.

Rain = Grass

The dairy herd back on grass.

All of our animals, other than the piglets in the training area, are back on pasture by now, and the pace of the season has sped up to match that change. Now that we’re grazing full time, now that we’ve cut the connection to the barn, the constant movement of the animals across the farm landscape sets the rhythm of each day, and each week. The time frame has been condensed down to the day, the need is immediate, and the whole grazing infrastructure has to be ready to accommodate animals now, because now they are in relentless motion.

The beef herd enjoying a sunny graze.

In the fall we prepare the winter chicken coop to house the laying flock for six months, and then move the birds in and maintain and service the space through that time. With the layers on the move in the egg-mobile, the time frame has been shrunk down to a week, and we need to be ready and available to relocate and re-establish the chickens over and over again through the summer. The beef herd moves every afternoon, the dairy herd moves morning and afternoon, the layers move once or twice per week, and the sheep move every five days. I’ll spend most of the rest of the next six months making sure that we’re setup and ready for the next move, whichever group of animals is next.

IMG_4527 (1)
The rainy weather has made some pasture roads pretty muddy.

We’ve had another stretch of cool rainy weather this week, and while that has been great again for the pastures (‘A cold wet May means a barn full of hay.’), Alex and his veggie work have had another frustrating spell. They got a little window to work in the fields Wednesday and Thursday, and really tried to make the most of that stretch to get veggie starts and seeds into the ground, but we got more than an inch of rain Friday into Saturday, and that is going to make bed preparation challenging again next week. If we can’t cultivate and prep beds, we can’t plant starts and seeds in the beds, so we really need to soil to get dry enough for cultivation for the whole process to get started. As the guy monitoring and

The sheep getting a little grass too.

managing the pastures however, I love the rainy weather, and it sets the stage for strong pasture growth for the coming months. Water is the single most significant determiner of our pasture growth, and so far this spring has been just about perfect for growing grass.

Our new home-made chicken feeder.

We have chicks in the new brooder at Maggie’s Farm, turning what was a beautiful, but empty space, into a peeping rollicking good time. Lots of farmers were making noises about moving into the brooder for the summer, but luckily we got some chicks in there before anyone packed up and made the move. This first batch of chicks is our broiler group for the summer, and they’ll move into movable pasture pens in a few weeks, and spend the summer scratching and pecking their way through the sheep pasture for before processing in July. The layer chicks come in a month, and they’ll go into the brooder once the broilers have moved out and the place has been cleaned and setup again. We made more good progress on the layer pullet’s new mobile house, and I’ll update you on that project next week!

Rain, Sun, and New Additions

The peach trees are blossoming.

We’ve come to the end of another wonderful and wet week here at The Farm School, with a blast of warm sunny summer weather on Friday as the week ended. Most of the trees along the ridge are moving quickly through the beautiful early leaf-out stages, and with their new leafs shimmering the palest green, they’ve added a dusting of color to the hedgerows and hillsides. We seemed to be stuck in the clouds all week here, with damp grey weather, but not a lot of measurable rain. It was great weather to get the pastures growing at full speed, but not such great weather for drying down veggie beds, and Alex has been chomping at the bit to get out there to cultivate. We have big plans to plant all of onions on Monday, and with a day-off at the Program for Visiting Schools, we’re hoping to put everyone to work to get it all done.

The student farmers made incredible progress on our new pullet house this week,

Student farmers working on the new pullet house.

starting with a rehab of the running gear that we bought earlier in the spring, and finishing the week with the floor and two walls finished and installed. The running gear got sanded clean and repainted, the wheels were pulled off and re-greased, and then construction began. This set of running gear is a bit sturdier than our others, so we are going to build the house a bit bigger than we had planned. The difference will be great enough that our current plan is to actually make this new house the full sized layer house, and use the one we built a few years ago for the smaller pullets.

Piglets arrived on the farm this week, and they’ve gone into the revamped piglet training area at Sentinel Elm Farm. This batch of ten will spend the summer at Sentinel Elm, and Dave is working furiously on their acreage out in the woods. They’ll spend the next few months growing to just over two hundred pounds on a diet of milk from the dairy, non-GMO pig grain, vegetarian scraps from the kitchen, and whatever they can dig up out in the woods. Once this first batch moves out to the woods, we’ll have another group of fifteen arriving. They’ll spend a few weeks getting to know electric fences and the automatic water system, we will have a chance to observe them for health concerns, and then they’ll move out to the woods on the Maggie’s Farm property. We try to raise about thirty pigs every year to fill the freezers and supply the meat CSA, so I anticipate raising some winter pigs this year as well.

Three new baby Boer goats.

We also bought in three Boer goat kids this week, jump-starting our effort to transition the goat herd from dairy to meat production. We got two little does, and a buck, and hope that he can be ready to breed our two full grown does this fall. With the ever-creeping hedgerows, and the invading hordes of multi-flora rose, bittersweet and knot-weed, we’re beginning to feel like expanding our goat powered hedgerow control efforts will be appropriate. Plus, baby goats are the cutest farm animals possible.

The last bred ewe at Maggie’s farm finally delivered her lambs to finish the week, so the student farmers have suspended night-time lambing checks.

Veggie starts are filling the greenhouse, and the overflow has started to fill the little

The onion starts fill up the hardening off house.

hardening off house next door as well. The onions are taking up most of the room these days, and with a plan to plant them out on Monday, things should open up in there soon. The hardening off house gives the plants an intermediate stop as they transition from the warmth of the greenhouse to the exposure of the fields, and helps them toughen up so that they’re ready to meet whatever weather challenges come their way.


Getting Going

The lambing board at the start of the week.

This year’s growing season is picking up steam, and as spring takes a firm hold of our farm, greening the pastures, warming the soil, opening buds and guiding our work, I can feel the head-long rush into the coming frenzy begin to swirl around my feet like undertow, pulling me on from each finished task to the next. We make our plans in the cold weather; we try to execute those plans when it’s warm, and the move from plan to execution is the mystery of each year. Every element of the farm is alive and real; none can be stopped or turned off while we finish the work or go back to redo the project. Once the warm half of the year begins, the urgency of the present defines our diversified New England farm, and the deepening green of the pastures outside my window attest that that time is here.

This has been a vacation week for the schools in our area, so Sentinel Elm Farm has been

A new door and ramp for the egg-mobile.

pretty quiet over the past few days. We did our best to keep the work going without any visiting students however, splitting and stacking tons of firewood, getting the laying hens out of their winter coop and onto the farm in their egg-mobile, prepping the calving pen for our first calf expected next week, and working hard to get the kitchen-garden going for the season. We also hosted a few great workshops in the bunkhouse, with composting on Tuesday, plant-based dying on Wednesday, and farm chemical safety on Thursday. Our compost workshop was our second in the last two years as we work to develop a farm-wide plan for generating, managing and using our own compost. Our various livestock operations produce quite a bit of manure and bedding material, and we have a rough composting yard for mixing and curing it all, but we are hoping to improve the system and maximize the impact we can have on the fertility of our land. Organic certification mandates strict processing guidelines for the production of the organic compost that our certified veggie acreage needs, and we are trying to determine the feasibility of trying to make that compost ourselves from on-farm products.

Some of our cultivated acreage dried down enough this week for Alex and the student farmers to get out there for the first round of tillage in preparation for spring planting. With the greenhouse filling with starts, our veggie team is eager to get beds plowed up and ready for the initial rounds of planting out in the fields.

Our new seeder.

We started setting up temporary electric fences for the grazing season this week. We’ve been working over the past several years to increase our high tensile fencing, which stays up permanently, and decrease the amount of temporary fences that we have to put up every spring and take down again in the fall. The high-tensile fences are more durable, work better for containing livestock, and withstand the pressure of weeds and other debris on them better than the temporary fences. One advantage of the temporary fences however is that they are quick to put up and take down, making them more flexible in meeting the changing demands of our pasture throughout the grazing season. We use high-tensile fences in places that we know we want fences to stay perpetually, like the perimeter of pastures, and use the temporary fences to make divisions within those perimeters to manage daily pasture moves. This time of year we are building some high-tensile fences and setting up some temporary fences in places that high-tensile fences are not an option.

I spread several acres of grass seed last week, hoping to grow some fresh grass over the

Some casual nursing.

areas where the cows overwintered this year. Grass seed is slow to germinate, and the little grass shoots easily dry out before they can get their roots down deep enough to draw from moisture down in the soil. It seems like we’ve had a little dry spell every year just after I’ve spread our annual grass seed, and we’ve had poor growth every time. This year however, we’ve had a nice soft soaking rain yesterday and today, and I am optimistic that this moisture will give our new grass the jump that it needs to make a good start and grow up into solid pasture. I’ll let you know how it all comes along next week.


Charlie and Chicken-Coopers plant the first starts of the year.

We’re coming to the end of another spectacular week here at The Farm School, and with a turn toward warmer and sunnier weather, the feel of spring has really taken hold. The pastures have taken on a shade of green for real now, and the red maples, one of our earliest budding trees, are blushing red as their buds swell before opening. The muddy yards have dried, the old snow piles are gone, and there are kids sitting out in front of the bunkhouse enjoying the warm sun.

This was the first week of the independent project component of the Learn to Farm Program, so the student farmers were on their own Tuesday afternoon to spend their time pursuing projects of their own design. This year’s class is focused on a really diverse set of projects including drilling and plugging mushroom logs, welding a water wagon out of an old pickup truck, making cheese, researching bio-dynamic practices, developing curriculum, working with bees, building a loom, experimenting with ‘no till farming’, exploring digital farm record keeping, biodiesel research and carpentry. They will have the next eight Tuesday afternoons to advance their projects, and the process will end with a presentation to the community to report back on their work.

This week also included quite a bit of time at the sawmill, with the student farmers

Into the greenhouse

working to mill out the lumber required to build our new mobile pullet house. They have been working with Josh to develop a blue-print for the building, turned that plan into a cut list, and are now turning a pile of pine logs into the material on the list. We hope to get the building started on top of our new set of running gear in the next couple of weeks, and need to have the building finished and ready to go by the end of June when the pullets will have sized out of the brooder.

We shoveled the winter bedding out of the Maggie’s Farm winter layer house yesterday, removing several truck-loads of nice material to add to our compost yard. We use a deep bedding approach for the layer house, shoveling the old bedding under the roosts once per week and adding new shavings on top. This allows the older bedding to start breaking down in the house and keeps the space a bit warmer through those cold winter months. This approach means that when we decide the time has come to dig out the bedding, we’re looking at quite a project, not only in the volume of material to be moved, but also in the smell and vapors coming out of that deep bed of material. Yesterday was a cool windy day, and we all really appreciated the refreshing breezes as they revived the air around our work site.

Maggie’s Farm cultivation equipment

Alex has been rushing to put the finishing touches on the tractors and cultivation equipment this week, and checking on our drier fields in anticipation of getting out to do the first round of pre-planting plowing. Our fields run the full spectrum from dry to wet, so every spring demands a careful dance of monitoring and timing to get acreage plowed and prepared for seeding and planting, all with a constant eye on the weather. We had a few tenths of an inch of rain this week, but our cultivated acreage is coming along nicely toward planting.

Sentinel Elm Farm hosted The Acera School and Woodside Montessori for the first half of the week, and our very own Chicken Coop School from Wednesday to Friday. We work with the Chicken Coop students regularly throughout the school year, but it has been a long time since we had them do a full program at Sentinel Elm Farm. This visit was a wonderful opportunity for them and for us, and we had a truly spectacular time hosting them on the farm. We got some great

Our chicken tractors are ready.

work done, ate some delicious meals, and we were able to achieve that unique family feeling we all cherish that happens from time to time with groups of visiting students. We projected a movie on the wall of the hay loft Wednesday night, feasted on unbelievable cheese burgers on Thursday night, and finished the visit off with pancakes and Farm School syrup this morning.


April Showers…

Yarn spun from our wool

It’s been a wet week here at The Farm School, with heavy rain Tuesday and Thursday, and not much sun in between. The ground was already saturated by the snow-melt runoff from last weekend, so with nowhere for the water to go, this has been a muddy messy couple of days. The scene over at the beef herd has gotten pretty ugly, the sheep yard is a mess, and all the new lambs have been facing some challenging conditions for their first week of life. We’ve got some warm sunny weather in the forecast, and the sun is even trying to come out today, so I am hopeful that we’ve reached the wettest point, and that conditions will steadily improve over the coming days.


Despite the weather, we had some great programming at both farms this week. Sentinel Elm Farm hosted The Highlander Charter School from Providence RI for the first half of the week, and two schools, Metro West Christian Academy and Veritas Christian

Intrepid workers brave the mud.

Academy together for the second half. All three groups brought big smiles and a real willingness to go out there in the cold wet weather to get significant work done on the farm. We took advantage of the wet weather to burn off our burn pile, and to cut and burn more brush from around the edges of some of the dairy pastures. We also found lots of inside work to do, keeping the dairy barn clean, shelling and cracking the dry corn from last year’s harvest, cooking some incredible meals, and enjoying good times around the wood-stove.

The adult students down at Maggie’s Farm kept things rolling along through the wet weather this week as well, with the glorious completion of the new brooder house, seeding in the green-house, some great classes, a little outside work clearing the edges of the sheep pasture, and a wonderful trip to eastern New York State on Friday to visit a few bio-dynamic farms. With stops at Camphill Copake, Hawthorne Valley and Roxbury Farm, they will get to see three

Cute, and finished.

wonderful examples of farms guided by a strong system of practices and ideals, and the wonderful results that those approaches can bring.

We’ve had a few more lambs this week, bringing our total up to nine out of five ewes. Everyone is doing really well, even through this cold wet weather, and our little bottle lambs from last week are hanging in there. They have found a balance of getting some milk from their mother, though she is quite a reluctant care giver to two out of the three lambs, and getting some milk from the bottle. We are currently offering them a warm bottle of milk at AM chores around 6am, and another at PM chores around 6pm. Depending on how much they’ve been able to get from their mother, they have more or less interest in our offering, but we are committed to keeping a floor under them with those bottles to make sure they don’t end up malnourished. We

A new lamb, chilling.

will slowly ramp up the amounts we’re offering them as they grow, but I expect that they will start to find other ewes willing to let them sneak a nurse in from time to time, and will lose interest in the bottle completely at some point this spring. They have an incredible drive to find warm milk from someone, and usually, through relentless determination and perseverance, they find a way to get it.

Winter? Really?

Snow is falling steadily here at The Farm School today, taking us from what seemed like the first real stirrings of spring, back into winter. The forecast calls for more than a foot of snow through today and tonight, and I am certainly feeling a bit of whiplash from this sudden turn-around. Our pastures were finally clear of snow after a warm sunny day yesterday, the mud of the previous couple of weeks was beginning to show the first signs of drying out, the ground had thawed enough to start work on pasture fences, and we even had our first lambs this morning. Now we’re taking a leap back in time, the snow shovels are back out, the plow-truck will be running soon, and this latest storm promises another long spell of muddy yards and roads. Farming in New England has always been unpredictable, but the dial seems to have been cranked a few clicks crazier in the past few years. Just as a reminder, we were up near just shy of eighty degrees for a few days at the end of February.

There are three lambs in there.

The morning sheep chore folks found four lambs in the sheep pen this morning, and though things seemed to have gotten a bit mixed up, we now have the ewes in jugs, one with a single lamb and the other with three. We were a bit unsure of which lamb belonged to which ewe, but after some experiments and close observation, we think we’ve got it straightened out now. The single lamb is enormous, full of milk, and bouncing off the walls. The triplets are having a few issues, and we have been bottle-feeding the smallest of them since she just could not get a turn on the teats or any attention from her mother. We have lots of willing bottle feeders here at The Farm School, so what can be an onerous task for a single farmer ends up being a real treat for the student farmers and kids at The Chicken Coop School. Each ewe has just two teats, so that third lamb, unless it really is aggressive and lively, often ends up undernourished, scrawny, or starved, and is usually best served by some support from a warm bottle of milk. Also luckily for us, we have a nearly inexhaustible supply of rich jersey milk coming out of our small dairy down the road, so we have plenty of fresh food for lambs.

Work has continued on the new chick brooder all this week, and we are really coming toIMG_4366 the end of the project. The inside is completed, with a small area for storing equipment and supplies just inside the door, and a nice large space for raising the chicks. We have a large door built into the east wall of the building, and that will lead to a ramp down into a large yard. I am always eager to get our chicks access to the outdoors once they’ve put on some real feathers, in the hopes that this will help them acclimate to the weather better, and get them scratching and pecking as young as is possible. The brooder is getting the final trim, siding and paint now, and we hope to have it all done by the middle of next week. Our attention will then turn to building a new mobile pullet house. This will be similar to the egg mobiles that we already use, but will house the pullets, young hens between chicks and layers, before they start laying eggs and move into the layer house.

The rams were separated from the sheep flock this week into their own yard with the goal of getting them off the scene before lambs started arriving. It is much easier and more comfortable to work intimately with the sheep without the rams sniffing around everything.

The greenhouse is filling with starts, and Alex has been busy all week getting all of our cultivation equipment in perfect running order. He also spent this week finishing the last few tractor one-on-one training sessions, making sure that every student feels as comfortable as possible with the equipment before the fields season really gets under way.

We expect more lambs next week, we’re hoping to finish the brooder, and lots of other things that I’ll keep you up to date on.

Turning seasons?

Here is a collection of pictures of some super-pregnant sheep; expecting lambs in the first week of April.

As we draw towards the end of March we are quietly slipping back into that time of year when every farmer begins to pay closer and closer attention to the ten-day weather forecast. The weather in the heart of winter is certainly worth keeping an eye on, with special attention paid to really cold nights, rain, and big snow-storms, but with the ground frozen and the livestock off the pastures, it is all a bit abstract. Now, with the growing season coming into sight over the horizon, these factors take up their rightful place in our thoughts, and become more and more influential on the farmer’s state of mind. When will the snow be off the pastures? When will the soil dry down enough for the first round of cultivation to begin? When will soil temperatures rise enough for the initial plantings? What will conditions be like when lambing starts in ten days? How closely will snow-melt and pasture green-up be spaced, and how will that affect the first flush of grass growth? In addition to those examples, we have a long list of projects to complete that are waiting for the snow to reveal the ground, and the ground to thaw enoughfor digging holes.

Our farm landscape is about half brown and half white now, with the pastures slowly clearing of snow, and paths and roads clear as well. Buds are just revealing themselves on the maples, but we still got some good sap runs in the first half of this week. The sugar shack has been running full speed most of the week, trying to work through a few full tanks of sap, and the jars of syrup or collecting in the kitchen. We made five gallons of syrup this week.

Tar paper and trim

The student farmers moved several great projects ahead in leaps and bounds this week, with seeding in the greenhouse, serious progress on the new chick brooder house, a major pasture edge renovation, one-on-one tractor training, several great classes and field trips, and the final presentation of their business plans. We’ve had a bad cold going through the community this week as well, so all of this great work has been done by a revolving crew of survivors powering through the illness. The brooder house is drawing close to completion, with the door and some windows in, and the clapboard siding painted and ready to go on the exterior. We will use the brooder for our first round of chicks coming to the farm in the first week of May, so we are eager to get it all finished up with plenty of time to work out any last minute details before then.

In our constant effort to give the beef herd plenty of shade options throughout their

The fence line was at the dark posts…

grazing rotation, we spent a couple of days this week clearing out the north-west corner of our ‘1-Acre’ pasture to give the cows a spot where they will be able to get under some trees. My chief concern for the beef herd is direct sun in the afternoon, from about 1-4pm through the warm summer months, so we are looking for shelter to the north and east of trees to block the afternoon sun. Our cows, with English origins, really prefer cool cloudy weather, and temperatures over seventy start to send them looking for relief. Ample shade is essential in keeping them comfortable, and although we don’t seem to have temperatures here that would pose any real danger to the beef herd, I am committed to keeping them as happy and comfortable as is possible. Hot cows do not graze efficiently, so giving our herd the chance to cool off in the shade between rounds of grazing seems to help keep them eating  enough to keep growing and making milk.

We’re all setup and ready for lambing, though hopefully we can wait one more week before they start to arrive. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on everything that happens here on the farm.