We’re Tapping In!

1 03 2008

Winter Sledding in Pond Field

Sorry again for no real Bull for February- but we have been trying to get so much planning work done for this coming growing season and since there was not a whole lot going on outside in January we decided to forgo it for the shortest month. Still February has been productive- we have been having meetings with our technical assistance crew, provided by the Farm Viability Program, and they have been incredibly helpful. These individuals are or were farmers, farm-stand operators, and professional marketers and they have been able to guide us in making some important decisions about the upcoming year and what we should be doing with our grant money.

We met with Carolyn & John Wheeler of Wheel-view Farm in Shelburne, MA to talk about grass-fed beef, and we went to visit their beautiful farm and met their gorgeous herd of heritage breed Belted Galloway, White Galloway, Scottish Highland and Murray Gray cattle. I forgot my camera or I would have taken a million pictures of those deep brown, long-lashed eyes. I fell in love with the gentle Galloways immediately. Not too big, sweet natured and no horns. Perfect. We brought some of their beef home- delicious!

Ed Maltby came to talk to us about sheep and suggested that we look into a heritage breed called Clun Forest that lambs well outside and grows quickly on grass. A little research has revealed a beautiful animal that is predominantly white-wooled, with dark face, ears and legs. This is a dual purpose breed, good meat and good hand-spinning wool. It might take us a bit to track this breed down, but we’re hoping that we can find some to bring to the farm in 2008. He also advised us on fencing and animal housing and we’ve decided to put in a solid perimeter fence near the livestock barn to make it safer for our sheep to lamb outside in April.

Craig Richov talked with us about our farm-stand and gave us some good suggestions on how to improve the site for parking, beautification and ideas for future growth.

Dave Tepfer of Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst came to teach us more about whole farm planning using guidelines from a decision maiking process we’ve been interested in called holistic resource management. While hard to explain in brief, this is basically a way to constantly remind ourselves that everything we do is a part of a whole farm system and that the farm is a part of our community and that it all needs to fit together in a manner that is beneficial and sustainable. Sounds complicated and it is, until you just become used to making decisions in that manner. But since it is very much a part of our mission to be an asset in our community and be an example of good land stewardship and conservation- well, it makes sense that we make decisions by taking those larger ideals into account. You can’t write a mission statement like that and then forget about it. Dave also advised us on mulit-species grazing and housing and he has knowledge about the pig operation and how we can improve its efficiency and the bottom line.

Melissa Adams is our point person and has been helping to organize the technical assistance and financials we need as well as helping with writing the actual plan. It is wonderful- she has been really supportive and we couldn’t have done this without her.

CSA & Rare Earth: Almost all the seeds have been ordered and are filling up the office. We don’t actually get going on starting them for another couple weeks or so, but soon we will be spending all day up to our elbows in potting soil and trying not to breathe too hard when starting those really tiny flower seeds. One wrong sigh and poof! they’re gone. We’re working on building a special insulated germination box so that we can get one more week before turning on the propane- our biggest expense besides labor in the vegetable operation. We are excited by the prospect of getting growing! The Garden CSA is rapidly filling so if you want to get a vegetable share and haven’t yet, now is the time.

Old Spots

Animal News: The pigs are growing and growing well, but they are starting to get a little bored with winter. They are chomping in anticipation of spring as much as we are. Pinky & Lucy have their boyfriend, Porter, in with them (we’re looking for piglets in June) so at least they have something to talk about. Most of their days right now are spent snuggled up in warm, deep piles of sweet hay. The three Gloucestershire Old Spots have settled in nicely and the little boar (still nameless!) is turning out to be as sweet as his dam & sire. Be sure and give him lots of treats and scritches when you visit him- we want him to be as biddable and gentle as a lamb even when he has four inch long tusks and weighs 400lbs.

With the coldest part of the winter over and our thoughts turning to spring despite the thick covering of snow on the ground, well we have visions of CHICKS! We’re getting a little ahead of Easter here, but our first new batch of chicks will be showing up on March 3rd– give or take a day. There will be 80 or so of the cuties, so come by and check them out. I will put some pictures up, but it isn’t the same as holding one of those little softies in your hand. They will be all heritage breeds and crazy colors again this year- I’ve got Barred Rocks, Blue Adalusians, Auracanas, Dark Cornish and White Wyandottes coming for the farm, along with some more Buff Rock boys (for culinary enjoyment) & Blue Cochins for a friend.

Maple syrup: We’ve been tapping in for the past two weeks. We took advantage of school break to bring back some of our great teenage workers to really get a good jump on the sugarbush and it really paid off. Some of them have even continued to work after school. I only regret that I haven’t had a chance to get out there myself—Jesse took Morgan & Pippin out with him last weekend, but since Elspeth doesn’t want to ride in the backpack anymore (she’s all about walkin’!) and is still too small for snowshoes, I doubt that I will get a chance this season. In any case, even though it looks like we’re early for tapping in, it is nice to not be scrambling to get it done and to take a goodly amount of time to get the line repairs done, the RO (Reverse Osmosis) shed and the sugar house in good working order before the sap really starts running. We want to catch all the early run we can this year so that we have enough light amber syrup to get us through the year. We didn’t get any last maple season since it ran really early, in December, and almost no one caught it in MA (global warming anyone?). As soon as we get sap- be on the look-out for steam boiling out of the sugar-house cupola and stop on by, we’re happy to give you a tour or let you participate in the process. The steam is fairly obvious- we had someone stop by last season thinking that the barn must be on fire since the steam had drifted down thick over Rte. 9. We also arrange group tours (for a small donation per person) which are more of a production- including a tractor driven hayride to collect sap from our old-fashioned buckets hanging around the field edges close to the farm. Everything is weather dependent so make sure you dress warmly when you come! Call us at 413-684-0444 to arrange for a group, for more info or if you want to know if we are boiling yet.

Pippin is our newest addition to the farm family- she is still a bit shy and is still figuring out her job(s) and us so don’t be surprised if she gets it wrong. She is a young 18 mth old border collie/blue heeler mix. She has already proven her worth in herding pigs (well, she keeps the little ones off the gate so that we can open up their pen without them getting out and wrecking havoc in the barn). She still has a long way to go in her training though because she came with some bad habits (and little basic training- we’re still house-breaking!) but we have hopes for her training into a multi-species herding dog. We are planning on using a professional trainer to help get us started since using a dog is new to us, but it really is the only way we can think of to get the numbers of sheep, cattle and pigs moved around the farm during the grass season. Pippin- working dog

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