Getting Ready

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Clipboards and cast-iron

The visiting students come back to The Farm School next week, so we’ve been busy at Sentinel Elm Farm, getting everything put back together before they arrive. We’ve been working and meeting, refreshing work spaces, making plans, and doing everything we can to make the farm as welcoming and ready as is possible for when things really get going. We did a lot of work on the Bunkhouse over the winter break, with kitchen painting, new shelves, lots of work in the bathrooms, and some refreshing in the visiting teacher’s rooms as well.

Now we’re bustling around to get all those work sights cleaned up and made straight again, ready for the visiting students to move in and call it home.

The PVS staff has also been working to make their winter and spring project lists in our three primary work areas of the farm, making sure that we have the supplies and tools we’ll need to do the work, and that the farm will be able to push ahead to meet our production goals. Although the experience of our visiting students is our primary product and focus, Sentinel Elm Farm is a production farm, supplying the kitchen that feeds

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Big new speakers!

thousands of visiting school kids and teachers every year, as well as the staff and their families that keep the farm going. We also heat just about all the staff housing and the bunkhouse with firewood, cut, split and stacked on the farm. Now is the time for mapping out the farm-work of the coming months, designing each project to make sure that students can do it, and fitting it all into the larger production plan.

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The timber frame has been moved out.

This has been another great week of winter programming at Maggie’s Farm, as the Learn to Farm Program charges ahead with more firewood production and a full slate of wonderful classes. This is the most classroom heavy stretch of the program year, reflecting the planning heavy nature of the work that most farmers in New England are doing this time of year. This week included a calf castration hands on workshop with our large animal veterinarian, the second in the Farm Business Planning series with Ray Belanger, Garden Planning, Starting you Farm with Ben Schute of Hearty Roots Community Farm, and finally the next in the Crop Planning series, mapping out this season’s veggie CSA planting schedule.

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The layers, and a shadow, at sunrise. .

We can’t spend all of our time inside however, so we’ve also been out making lots and lots of firewood. We supply firewood for our neighbor Maggie, who lived and farmed at the Maggie’s Farm sight with her family before we started there. We cut, split and stack five cords for her every year, before turning our focus to our own supply of furnace wood. The

furnace uses between fifteen and twenty cords of thirty inch length firewood every winter, and we dream every year of making enough so that at least some of it can dry for two years before use. These winter days, split between a morning inside thinking and learning, and an afternoon at the firewood yard, have a nice natural rhythm that keeps us all healthy and growing as farmers and workers.

This week also included another day with Ron Mott, a local welder who leads a yearly workshop with our students, introducing them to the basics arc welding and torch cutting. He takes a new small group of students each week for three or four weeks, and gives every student time with the tools in their hands and an opportunity to develop a bit of comfort and experience with these difficult skills. Although students only get one day with Ron, we always seem to have a couple of vital welding and metal projects on the farm every year for students to try out their new skills. Many students have also used the independent project time in the spring to work with metal, building on the work they did during the welding workshop.

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Gladys, the heifer, up close.

We started installing a second door on the Maggie’s Farm egg mobile this week, hoping to bring that unit into AWA compliance for the coming season. The layers will move into that house some time in the first week of May when the pastures are ready for them, and I am hoping to get that project crossed off my list now so that we’re wide open for fencing and grazing when the spring rush comes.

Crop Planning

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We’re weaning two calves. The nose rings make it so they cannot nurse.

The student farmers at Maggie’s Farm have started their series of garden and field crop planning this week, starting with the basic principles of laying out the schedule and sequence of the growing season, then digging deeper into the details of how we ensure successful production to meet demand for all of our customers through the spring, summer and fall. This series of classes will give the students a chance to contribute to the crop plan for The Farm School’s cultivated acreage, as well as some time to imagine how they would map out their own potential vegetable production. In January, veggie growers all over New England are reading seed catalogues and dreaming big.

We have been working over the past few months to bring our sheep and layer operations into compliance with the specifications of the AWA, and we took another step forward this week with the completion of another larger chicken door on the winter coop at Sentinel Elm Farm. The AWA mandates that the chicken doors be large enough that no hen feels trapped inside, so we have been expanding the doors on both winter coops to accommodate a more free flow of hens in and out. I mentioned the start of this project last week, and I can report that we have finished both coops by now.

The next step will be do similar work on the summer ‘egg-mobiles’ used at both farms, but in that case we will be adding a second door, rather than one large door. We’ve ordered a second automatic door for the Maggie’s egg-mobile, so that both doors will have light sensitive controls opening and closing them at dawn and dusk. We also added a feed house out in the yard at the Maggie’s winter coop, hoping to encourage the hens to come outside more, and to give them some shelter out there.

We’ve gotten every student farmer through the firewood yard this week, re-introducing everyone to the hydraulic splitter, the chainsaws, the team of horses, and the mauls. Once everyone is comfortable using the requisite tools, and knows the workings of the yard pretty well, we can push production up to top speed, and try to get through this year’s quota as quickly as we possible.

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The latest view at the firewood yard.

Every tool we use for making firewood is dangerous, and every step is physically demanding, so no matter how quickly we’d like to get the firewood split and stacked, the work demands care and attention.

 

Our chick brooder at Maggie’s has been a small outbuilding in the yard, originally built as a chicken coop. It is too small to accommodate the groups of chicks we work with for more than a couple of weeks, and we have been considering an upgrade for quite a while. We salvaged a small timber-frame structure from the sheep yard when we upgraded their situation this fall, and we’ve pulled it up near the barn to use as our new brooder house. This frame was the first built by Maggie’s student farmers way back at the start of the program, and we are currently trying to adapt it for its new purpose.

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The new brooder, still working on the foundation.

Time and use have twisted it a bit out of square, and the trip from the sheep yard didn’t do much to make it any straighter, so we’ve spent quite a bit of time this week trying to establish a level foundation, and a vision for how the whole thing will work best. We need to have a suitable brooder house ready for broiler chicks coming in the mail May 1st, and while that seems to be quite a way off, the spring is notorious for getting incomprehensibly busy all of a sudden in April, and we’re trying to get this thing finished before the crush of warmer weather. We’ll keep working on the project, and I will report back with progress.

Back to Work

Snow fell on the farm Tuesday night and Wednesday, and the landscape has gone back to mostly white. Some winters, our backdrop is white nearly the whole way through, and some winters, like last, we see snow only once in a while. This winter has had an almost predictable calendar, switching from brown to white, and back to brown, like a snake shedding its skin. With warm weather in the forecast ahead, I expect that we’ll lose this latest covering pretty soon. The skating pond has held up pretty well through it all, so we’ve been enjoying plenty of winter fun, no matter the snow pack.

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Emily and Phoenix trying the new feeder.

The Learn to Farm program got going again this week after a month of winter break, and the schedule has been packed with some new things, and some continuation of the pre-break work. Work at the sawmill continued, milling out the last few timbers for the timber-frame project. Students were back in the timber-frame shop as well, chipping and chiseling out the final joinery on that frame, in the hope that it can be completed in the next two weeks. Once the timber-frame is completed, and moved out of the greenhouse, that space will be cleaned and setup for starting seeds and raising seedlings. The conversion from timber-frame shop back to greenhouse is remarkable, and is a sure sign that the spring, and the growing season, are coming soon. Firewood production is ramping up, but once the timer-frame is completed, that work will really start to dominate the schedule for the next six weeks or so. We rarely get the whole student-farmer group making firewood all at the same time, but even with a half-group of seven, the work can move along pretty quickly. Bradley and his horses play a vital roll in our firewood production, helping to pull logs from the forest out to the landing for bucking, splitting and loading. Brad started taking each student on a refresher drive with the horses this week, giving everyone the chance to get behind the horses again, remember the technique and commands, and to get ready for the driving time that is coming.

img_4054We have been working over the past six months to get our livestock operation AWA inspected and approved, and one of the changes that they asked us to make in their tour of the farm, was to enhance the chicken doors on our winter coops. We were given the option of adding a second door, or making a single door large enough that chickens could get in and out without disagreement. The concern of the AWA is that a chicken near the top of the pecking order could potentially stand in a small doorway, trapping chickens lower on the pecking order either inside or outside the building. On Monday, we boarded up the old door, cut a big hole in the wall, and installed a new large door with a gloriously large ramp. Whether the new door has really made a difference in the layer’s ability to go in and out more easily or not, the new door has certainly put a large hole in the side of the building, and we are going to need to come up with some type of bad-weather adaptation to keep that house at a more comfortable temperature when the weather gets cold and nasty. I hope to do the same project on the door to the winter coop at Sentinel Elm farm this week as well.

img_4056Despite some small vital changes that I need to make, the new dairy feeding trough seems to be working well. There were several factors that encouraged me in making this change, and it has been on my mind for quite a while. The current cow feeding area is a tiled floor space just in front of their tie-ups. It is a tough space to keep clean, with grout between the tiles, lots of foot traffic in and on the area, and the whole thing right down at floor level. Watching the cows essentially licking the floor to get the last few pellets of grain, especially in really cold weather, really started to bother me, and I took some measurements and sketched out a simple wooden frame and trough that could be built in. img_4052The frame is pine, the decking is hardwood, and whole thing means that the cows are licking on wood, rather than cold dirty tile, nobody can walk directly where they eat, and there is a lip to keep their grain accessible. The new space is more difficult to sweep out, but I am hopeful it will stay cleaner in general because the cows can access all of the area to eat, and can reach every bit of grain and hay.

Most of the students and some staff are headed off to the NOFA-NY Winter conference Friday and Saturday of this week, eager to learn new approaches, dig deeper into old ones, and meet some great farmers!

The Snow is Gone

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Our two winter pigs.

We’re coming to the end of another pretty quiet week here at The Farm School, with both programs still off for vacation, and only the Chicken Coop school in session. Wednesday and Thursday of this week were above fifty degrees, and the snow is gone from the fields. The field edges and plow piles are lingering, but the farm has almost entirely changed from white to brown. Work has continued on the Bunkhouse this week, with the attention shifting from the kitchen, which looks incredible, to the teacher rooms and bathroom. The kitchen, which was totally emptied for patching and painting, has been put back together and is ready for action. We bought a new huge pair of speakers for the kitchen, and we’re anticipating taking the cleanup music scene to insane new heights.

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Brad’s firewood world.

Bradley and his horses make regular passes through the farm, headed out to this year’s firewood yard in the forest, and the distant whine of his chainsaw is in the air most of the day.

Meetings, planning, dreaming and preparation have continued all week, and just about every table has seed catalogues strewn across them. We’re planning the next production season, but also laying the groundwork for the coming months of the Learn to Farm Program.

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The beef herd at dawn.

The schedule has seemingly limitless components, with classes, work sessions, field trips, visiting teachers, and more. They all have to be puzzled together, and an adequate amount of time has to be allotted to the vital work of the farm as well. In addition, we are in a constant search for ways to enhance and deepen the adult student’s learning and experience, and we use these quiet winter weeks to analyze, debate and develop all of our practices toward that goal. Our students make a significant commitment to spend the year here with us, and we are constantly working on ways to maximize their opportunities for learning and hands on experience.

We packed the months’ meat CSA share this week, and sent it into Boston for distribution. Josh B and Nora keep a careful inventory of the cuts that have come back from the processing facility, and work hard to craft the perfect share every month.

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Inside the hoop house.

The share this month had sausages, ground lamb, a chuck roast, several other cuts, and the usual dozen fresh eggs. We try to make each bag about twelve pounds each month, include cuts of beef, pork and lamb, and make sure that we can stay consistent and varied through the season. I am super proud of the meat we produce, and I am pretty sure each CSA share bag makes each member happy, and goes a long way to keeping them warm and well fed all winter.

These quiet winter weeks are also a chance to try a few things out before the wild tempest of visiting students return to the farm, and the production season and Maggie’s really gets going. This year I built a little feeding bunk into the dairy cow feeding setup, in the hopes of getting their feeding area up off the ground. I put the contraption in place at the beginning of the week, and if it seems to be working okay by next week, I’ll include some pictures and explanation. We’ve been using it for a couple of days, but I have not heard anything from the other milkers yet about how it has worked for them.

The beef herd bull was finally picked up on Thursday, more than three full months later than we really wanted to keep him. He arrived during the first week of August, and we like to give him minimum three heat cycles to breed the cows. A cow heat cycle is about twenty-one days on average, so two months in the herd will give a bull just about three chances to breed each cow. If the bull was actively breeding for August and September, I would have been happy to have seen him leave some time in the first half of October, pretty confident that he had done his job. However, the bull owner doesn’t have much incentive to come back for the bull, since we pay the same price no matter how long he stays, and we feed and care for the bull while he is on the farm. It is understandably challenging to get that type of priority moved to the top of the to-do list, but we finally got him shipped off this week. Now, all the cows and calves can fit at the indoor feeder, and going to visit the beef herd is a little less tense.

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An area Brad has cut.

New Year, New Plans

This is still a quiet time at The Farm School, with both programs taking time off until the student farmers come back in the middle of January. Despite the quiet, work continues at both farms, and the Chicken Coop School is back in session too. Work at Sentinel Elm Farm is focused on getting the facilities in tip-top shape, with special attention directed at the bunkhouse.

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The Bunkhouse kitchen, renewed.

We’ve had a crew in the kitchen all week patching, painting, and repairing everything they can get their hands on, and the place is looking better than ever. Dave has been in the hay-loft of the dairy barn all week sorting through the jumble that inevitably piles up in there, discarding whatever he can, and organizing the rest. This is a seemingly yearly exercise for us, but we always find more stuff to get rid of, more curious treasures stashed away up there, and a renewed hope that we can keep the space organized and useful in the future.

With the work of last year behind us, and the flush of spring still weeks and weeks away, we spend the cold winter months planning and dreaming about next year. We look back on last season to see where we may have gone wrong, where we came up short, what we did really well, and what we would like to change.

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Sentinel Elm layers having breakfast.

We look forward to the spring with an irrational optimism that we can finally get it all right, and sketch out how we’re going to get it done. I have ordered our chicks for the coming year and made our processing dates at the slaughterhouse. The new wall calendar is up in the office, and arc of the production year, at least for the livestock, is starting to take shape. Some of the big projects that we are looking forward to for the coming year include a new and improved brooder for raising chicks, and a new pullet pasture trailer for transitional housing between the brooder and winter coop for the newest layers, pasture expansion and high-tensile fencing for both the beef herd and the sheep flock, a rebuild of our piglet training area, and continued adaptations to accommodate our move toward AWA certification. I will be reporting on all of these projects over the coming weeks and months, and hopefully you’ll be able to follow along as we continue the unending work of perfecting this farm.

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Daisy and Pip enjoying a sunny morning chew.

Aside from all of our dreaming and planning, winter is also firewood season, and we are making our plans for the coming production season. We try to blend three complementary goals into our firewood production approach, so there is often a bit of added strategizing that goes into this work. Firstly, we need to produce something close to thirty cords of firewood, split between fourteen-inch stove length pieces, and the longer thirty inch furnace material. This will hopefully be enough to get neighbor Maggy through next winter, and to keep our furnace chugging along too. Secondly, we need to give every student the opportunity to take the next steps in their mastery of tree felling and bucking, building on skills introduced in the Game of Logging workshop earlier in the fall. Thirdly, we try to use this work to open up pasture and veggie field edges, expand bar-ways, or otherwise optimize the effect of our work on the larger farm landscape.

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Unwrapped round bale, like a big ball of summer!

In most cases, I am adamant about leaving trees around pastures to give our grazing livestock the chance to get out of the hot sun as needed, but there are certain areas, especially around veggie fields, where adding a few more hours of sunlight every day, by eliminating over-hanging trees, can really make a difference. We strive to advance all three of these goals at the same time, working through the majority of January and February to get it all done. We will be cutting around the Back pasture, Sheep pasture and trying to expand and rescue the Horse pasture this year, and I will keep you informed as we go along.

Winter Break

Hello friends, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and stay warm out there. The Farm School Manual will return the first week of January with a new entry. We’re all enjoying the wintry farm, doing lots of ice skating and cross country skiing, and making plans for the coming spring! We’ll be back in the new year!

Quiet Times

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The log pile, ready to bucked, split and stacked.

This has been the final week before the Learn to Farm Program takes a month long winter break, so we have been finishing up several projects around the farm to make sure that the place is ready for the quiet times ahead.

We put in a solid week of work on cord wood production, bucking and splitting in the yard at Maggie’s Farm as well as at the log landing just south of the farm complex.

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A growing firewood pile, and rounds to split beyond that.

The log pile at Maggie’s is finished, but there is a massive pile, left by the logging crew that did our forest thinning project this summer, to work through at the landing. We have dreams of producing forty cords of firewood this winter, so that will be the work of the next few months.

The tools of farming change with the season, as the work moves from cultivation and fencing to firewood and forestry. There are tools, like the harvest knife or the scuffle hoe that almost become extensions of our bodies through the summer months, only to be set aside for new tools used for new work when the weather gets cold. Winter is the chainsaw season, the maul season, and the splitter season.

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The gear lineup for firewood work at the landing.

Things forgotten become newly essential, like winter gloves, a good hat, and warm boots, and things used everyday are put away to be forgotten again until spring. This change is reflected in our travels across the farm, where certain areas become focal points for a time, only to be left again for other projects in other places. In the warm months we are out in the fields and pastures, and we spend countless hours in veggie wash-up, but now our work is in the barns and yards, and wash-up is cold and dark.

We put up walls on the north-west corner of the new sheep shelter yesterday, working in some really cold and windy conditions to get the sheep a bit of a wind-break down at their hay feeder. We had milled siding material at our sawmill from pines harvested by Brad and his horse team, so the whole project, other than the screws, was sourced here on the farm.

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Sheep enjoying the new finished corner.

The walls had a great effect on the feeder area, and once we’d bedded the area with an extra bale of straw, we all wanted to curl up and nap in the cozy corner we’d built, out of the wind. Of all of our livestock, I think that the woolly sheep mind the cold and wind least of all our animals. However, it is essential that we provide them with a dry place to stand and eat, which they do for hours and hours every day, and we really want to keep the blowing snow out of their shelter. The new walls block the wind and snow, and also give the sheep a sheltered spot to ruminate. Every calorie that they spend keeping warm on a cold windy day is a calorie that is not going to their growing lambs, or their own fat reserves, so a simple wind break can do a lot to enhance their condition.

The student farmers took their annual trip up to visit the Adams Farm slaughterhouse on Wednesday, looking in on the kill floor, hanging coolers and processing room. This visit affords our students an intimate view of the process of turning our livestock into cuts of meat, and it feels like an important part of the cycle to see and to understand. This can be a challenging visit for our students, and we always follow the trip with a chance to sit around the farmhouse table to talk about the experience. There is no nice way to do the work that is done up at Adams, but they do it well, and do it efficiently, and have taken every step they can to develop as humane a process as is possible.

This week also included our final Monday morning with Dr. Major, this week focusing specifically on dairy cows. The group spent some time in our little dairy, looking at the cows and their facilities, discussing some of the common issues that dairy cows face, as well as some of the adaptations and improvements that modern dairying has made to house cows comfortably. This was followed by a visit to Hunt Farm, just down the road in Orange, MA. They milk about 115 cows, using many of the hallmark components of more modern dairying, and this visit was an opportunity to expose our students to that approach to dairying. George Hunt Jr is always a wonderful host, answering questions honestly and openly, sharing the many challenges that he faces on his dairy farm, and really offering wonderful insight into some of the business pressures that face farmers operating at his scale. From tax law to hiring staff, George gives our students a truly essential look into production farming and commodity marketing.

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A view into the inferno.

Both of our wood fired furnaces are going full speed this week, and with the super cold weather to finish out the week, we’ve been busy keeping them well stocked and cranking out heat.

Freezing

Winter seems to really be here now, with snow on the ground, ice in the water troughs, and sand spread on the driveway. We’ve had two little snow events over the past week, neither of which amounted to much, but which collectively have turned the farm nearly white. With some cold weather in the ten-day forecast, and more snow too, it is beginning to feel a lot like….

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A view under the Reemay in the hoop house; spinach and arugula might not get to full size this year.

Sentinel Elm Farm, the home for the Program for Visiting Schools, is feeling a bit empty this week with Friday of last week marking the end of programing for the winter. We hosted The Village School and our own Chicken Coop School on Tuesday, bringing the place back to life a bit for a day, but we’re missing the kids already. We’ve got a few projects to button up before the quiet winter break really takes hold, and we are spending this week making sure everything is resolved. We put a new roof on the wood shop yesterday, we’ve dusted off the wood splitter and tuned the chainsaws for firewood time, fences are down, grain is stocked up, and the windows are on the barn.

Similar work continues this week at The Learn to Farm program, with Alex leading the work of shutting down veggie operations for the winter. Wash-up and the walk-in are closed down for the winter, and strawberries and garlic will be mulched with straw in and all-group-work-project to end the week. We spent a good part of our weekly staff meeting yesterday mapping out the firewood production plan for the winter, trying to pair our production goals with the need to get every student ample time with a chainsaw in their hands, and under good supervision.

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Timbers finished and drying in the shop.

This is one of the most challenging teaching components of our program, with ambitious production targets, a super dangerous tool to master, and elevated staffing requirements to ensure super-direct one-on-one instruction. The work can also involve further daring complications, like dragging logs with the tractor, driving a team of draft horses, hand splitting with a maul, and operating the hydraulic splitter. All of these additional components deepen the learning opportunities for the student farmers, and demand heightened management from the Learn to Farm staff.

Work continues in the greenhouse on this year’s timber frame, with the hope that it can be completed and put away to dry before we break for the holidays. Students also continue to plug away at the sawmill, milling out boards to use as siding for our new sheep shelter as well as our enhanced chick brooder.

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The sawmill, and some finished boards.

They take round logs, mill them off into square or rectangular beams, and then slice them over and over, each time an inch thick, to create ‘one-by’ siding. (The siding is one inch thick, and after ‘by’ you’d say whatever the other dimension is, but ‘one-by’ can be used to refer to any one inch thick board, since they come in so many different widths. We produce ‘rough-cut’ lumber on the mill, which refers to lumber that has not been run through a planer to make it smooth. The dimensions of lumber refer to the size before the planer, so a 1×8 from a conventional lumber yard is not actually one inch thick and eight inches wide, but is usually 3/4 of an inch thick and 7 1/4 inches wide, and is still called a ‘one-by-eight’).

Pearl was in heat again Wednesday in the dairy, and Brad and Rachel managed to try another breeding attempt during evening chores. A cow bred now can be expected to deliver a calf in the middle of September, so December breeding is fine for us. We try to avoid winter calving, so December and January are really the last months that we are willing to breed in the dairy.

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Pearl, on a nasty day at the farm.

Cold weather calving can just add complications to the process that we are happy to avoid. Unfortunately, that means that we have occasionally had cows that don’t breed within our preferred window, and that we then have to carry them through quite a ways with no calf in their future. That is a significant cost to us, and we always have to decide whether it would make more sense to move an un-bred cow along to another destiny rather than keep her on the farm. Pearl is the best cow in the dairy, so we will make every effort to get her bred successfully and on target for another great year to come.

Fall Rain

This post includes more pictures from our Learn to Farm draft-horse series at Fair Winds Farm. The work is picturesque and a joy to admire, and the picture are from Amber Bahn, a student in this year’s class. 

We’re coming to the end of a wet week here at The Farm School, with just over a half-inch of rain on Tuesday, and more than an inch through the day on Wednesday. This part of New England is still in drought, and the heavy rain has been a welcome addition to local reservoirs, and our little ice-skating pond.img_3880 These conditions have also really tested our winter livestock accommodations, and have forced us to make some great changes to help keep our animals comfortable and dry. Most of our designs rely on the ground freezing, and more snow falling than rain, and those have not been the conditions on the ground here yet this early winter. In response, we have enhanced our covered indoor spaces, added more bedding, and spread deep beds of wood chips to dry out some of the muddiest locations. We also built a hay feeder inside the beef barn, big enough to accommodate all of our beef animals, and out of the mud and rain. Wednesday was the new hay feeder’s inaugural run, and it seemed to work really well. It is always very rewarding to identify an issue that our livestock is facing, figure out and execute a solution, and see the animals adapt and benefit from the work. Seeing the whole herd lined up in the barn enjoying fresh dry hay from the new feeder while the rain poured down in sheets outside was certainly one of those rewarding moments.

This is the time for the final steps in putting the vegetable growing acreage to bed for the winter, and we’re lining up our straw supply for bedding strawberries and garlic for the winter. We want those plants to survive the winter and be ready for vigorous growth next spring, so we cover them in a thick mat of loose straw to shelter them from winter weather. Most of the rest of our cultivated acreage is under a nice growth of cover crop, and will rest in that condition until tillage begins again in the spring.

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We’ve taken in all the fencing, and stored it for the winter.

Monday morning of this week saw the first of three workshops at the Learn to Farm Program with Dr. Major, of Green Mt. Bovine Clinic. He takes the adult students through a three part examination of livestock health and upkeep, focusing on the life-cycle, reproduction, feeding, housing, common illnesses, and basic healthcare of our beef and dairy cows, sheep, and horses. The third component of this series has usually included a visit to a large conventional dairy in our area to look at discuss some of the different issues that they face within their system.

This week at LTF also includes an introductory look at our beehives with Anne, weather permitting. Anne participated in the program a few years ago, and developed a passion for beekeeping. After graduating, she stayed in the area, furthered her bee knowledge, and has installed and manages several beehives throughout our acreage. Students work alongside Anne whenever the opportunity presents itself, and have the chance to harvest honey, extract it from combs, and enjoy it, if the season has been a successful one. Students will have a class this week with Tyson as well, focused on ‘whole farm planning’ and regenerative agriculture.

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Bale Mountain- winter feed for the beef herd.

Tyson is working to develop a long term farm plan for all of the acreage that The Farm School stewards, and he meets regularly with our adult students to share his work with them, and to discuss some of the principles that guide his work.

One More Week

This week was the last in our three-part draft horse, timber frame, chainsaw training series, so now every adult student has had a week in each of these three areas. The skills and confidence that they developed over these weeks will be put to the test over the coming winter, with the bulk of our work focused on forestry, firewood production, and chiseling out our annual timber frame.

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Driving the Suffolk-Punch draft horses at Fair Winds Farm.

The Farm School Learn to Farm Program is unique in the breadth of skills and topics that we include in the year, and this most recent span of programming is a great example of some of the exceptional areas that go into it.

Turkey processing is happening on the farm as I write this, marking the end of the livestock production season. We have been going full speed since lambing started the first week of April, then hundreds of chicks came in the mail, piglets arrived, calves dropped in the beef and dairy herds, and our community of animals got larger and larger. The opposite trend started in August, with broiler processing, fall trips up to the slaughterhouse for lambs, pigs and beef, and finally, with the turkeys gone, we are back roughly to where we started.

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Jay Bailey and student-farmer Sophie working the reins.

This year’s turkeys came a month later than usual, and it looks like the finishing weights coming from the packing table are a bit smaller than we usually achieve. With one month less to grow, most of our turkeys this year are coming in just under or over ten pounds.

This week also saw our first pack-out for the meat CSA, and Josh B and the adult students spent the morning on Tuesday picking up our meat from the slaughterhouse, organizing our big walk-in freezer, and crafting a wonderful blend of cuts for the first delivery. This month’s share includes pork butt roast, ham steak and pork chops, half a leg of lamb, some goat chorizo, and a dozen eggs. The share is typically about twelve pounds per month, with a diversity of types of meat, large and small cuts, some fancy items and some of the basics.

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Finished turkeys in the walk-in, ready for the holidays!

Our last cow in the dairy came into heat on Wednesday, and Brad stopped by to breed her that afternoon. If the breeding is successful, that will mark the end of the breeding season in the dairy, and we can pretty accurately map out the calving schedule for next spring and summer.

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The cow breeding board for 2016/17

A cow bred in middle of November should deliver her calf at the end of next August, with a gestation of about 280 days, or nine and a half months. We try to spread calving out through the spring, summer and fall to ensure that we have fresh cows producing lots and lots of fresh milk throughout the long year.

The bull is still in with the beef herd, and although I am pretty confident that he has accomplished his task by this point, it can be a challenge to get his owner to come by and pick him up. Not only have the feeding costs shifted to us while the bull is here, but, unless the bull is destined for another breeding situation, picking him up understandably hangs out near the bottom of the to-do list. He is not a major burden in our feeding schedule, but we are all a bit more at ease going in with the herd once he is gone, and we’d like to see him move along some time soon.

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Cow info for visitors

The ram stays in with the ewes all winter, and we don’t separate him out until just before lambing season begins. He is in the ewe flock for shearing day, and we typically get him, and his brother, off to their own yard just after that. Shearing the large ram is an annual challenge that some brave student farmers attempts every spring, and with the wonderful support of our shearing instructor, the job gets done one way or another.

The Program for Visiting Schools hosted Orchard Gardens for the first half of the week, and Nativity Prep for the back half. Orchard Gardens is a public K-8 school in Boston, and Nativity Prep is a tuition-free Jesuit all-boys middle school also in Boston. Both groups were truly wonderful, enlivened our farm environment beyond any imaginable level, and also got some vital and significant work accomplished. They put the garden to bed, cut, split and stacked lots of firewood, cooked some incredible meals, and looked after all the livestock with love and attention. We are all grateful for their energy and help!