by Eleanor Kane on April 30th, 2014

When I think back to last spring, we had our fingers crossed that Warren Farm would be the place for us.  We were still months away from closing on it and working and living on leased land in Dudley, MA.  Farming here in Barrington was a dream, one that we talked about incessantly but one that was always couched in terms of ‘if it works out’ or ‘it could be like this.’
Now, sitting and looking out at the buds on the peach trees and the dogs playing by the ponds, it did work out, and it is like this.  April 30th seems like a strange time of year for farmers to take a deep breath and start to reflect, but after purchasing Warren Farm in August, spending the fall moving our animals (not to mention our own belongings!), December selling Christmas Trees, and January through now getting the barn and equipment set up for the season, it has finally started to feel like we can relax a bit.
Which is ironic, because spring in New England waits for no farmer.  Theo has been out plowing until dark for the last few nights and I’ve been getting the store ready for customers, getting us signed up for markets, and transplanting as soon as he’s done with a row.  We had a window of sunny, dry days followed by some gentle rain last week in which we planted an entire field of onions.  That kind of weather is the type that we are so, so thankful for because that hardly ever works out.  Tonight we’re looking at an inch of rain, so once again we’re playing chicken with the weather forecast… to determine when to put the chickens out on pasture.  
But rain and wind and sun (when we see it!) is just part of the excitement and while this past winter was cold and tough in so many ways, a late spring has given is a chance to get some projects done and let us work at a less harried pace.  Our piglets have been romping through the woodlot and our boar, despite an Easter morning escape, has been enjoying the huge new paddock that Ellen set up for him.  Speaking of work Ellen’s done, we have five brand new chicken tractors waiting for their avian occupants, and row after row of raspberries perfectly pruned and just waiting for the weather to warm up.
Relaxing for us really means a break from simply transition to a new farm and instead a chance to actually farm.  We are chomping at the bit to get out there and put more plants in the ground, so between putting the polishing touches on the store (come check out the new paint job it got last month!), playing with the lambs (someone has to- they are too cute to not be played with), and checking on the grass in the new pasture (it looks less like a post-apocalyptical wasteland and more like something that will someday be an idyllic field), we’re eagerly looking forward to transplanting some lettuce and kale.
There’s nothing like looking at a row of freshly transplanted plants, newly cultivated dirt, and imagining what they’ll look like in a few weeks or months.  It’s a harbinger of a season about to start, and us standing on the cusp of our first summer on the new farm.  The house might not be completely unpacked (whoops!) and we might still be scrambling here and there with such a big transition over the last few months, but settling down into farm work on new land, new fields, and with a new community that we’re excited to get to know, is what we were hoping for a year ago, and we are nothing but thankful for the opportunity.

by Eleanor Kane on November 21st, 2012

What a crazy, busy week this was!  Distributing our 50 pasture raised, organically fed turkeys felt like the last big hurdle of our first season and we're glad to say that it's done and it went well.  We already miss watching them walk around the fields and sunbathe in the driveway. 

We have lots of thoughts of what we're going to do next year (more heritage breeds!) and what we can improve (bigger white board in the kitchen to write down orders!) but for now, we're enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done. 

Not only did we get to meet a lot of new families, we had most of our CSA members order a turkey and lots of our regular customers from our farmers markets.  It was great to have everyone come to the farm, or meet them in Grafton or Framingham, this week and hand them their holiday meal.  I'll enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow knowing that many other families in the area are eating local, healthy turkeys. 

One of the best parts of the week was getting a write up by the National Young Farmers Coalition.  They did a spotlight on our farm and we couldn't be happier!  We're excited for the day when there's a Massachusetts chapter.  You can find a link to the article here.  They're a great organization and we're glad to have worked with them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

by Eleanor Kane on June 27th, 2012

Multispecies Grazing at it's Finest

When we started farming, we committed ourselves to multispecies grazing.  This was news to our animals when we brought them to the farm this past spring.  We separated the sheep, goats and llamas so that they could all see each other but still had fences between them.  This allowed them to adjust from their trip to the farm, as well as check out their new pasture-mates.  After a couple days, we combined all those pastures into a single large one.  It took a little while, but eventually they got to know each other and are now inseparable.
Acquiring some sort of guardian animal was very important to us.  Our farm is full of bobcats and coyotes, as well as neighborhood dogs.  We were nervous about our lambs and goats being out in the far fields day after day with only an electric fence around them.  Fencing works great at keeping most animals in and most animals out, but you can never underestimate a hungry predator.  Raising animals not only means providing food, water and shelter, but also an environment where they’re never stressed or scared.  That meant that if we couldn’t be around all the time to watch for predators, we needed something that could.  We initially considered guardian dogs but decided against it for two main reasons.  The first was that caring for a dog is much different than sheep and goats.  They need food brought out to the field and we already had one dog in our life.  The second reason was that they are so excellent at guarding, some dogs have a tendency to guard their flock from other humans.  This meant that once the dogs bonded with us, it would be hard to ever have someone else do chores on the farm and the dogs would be stressed when visitors arrived.  Llamas, which are naturally curious and watchful animals, seemed like the best solution.  They eat grass, so there was no need for special food, and they’re friendly towards people while being vigilant about any prey animal.  They don’t like it when Russell comes near their pasture and they even took it upon themselves to chase a hawk away from our chickens.  We feel confident with them watching our lambs and goats, and that’s a great feeling for everyone.
There are certainly some challenges to multispecies grazing.  One is diet: goats like to browse, which means eating brambles and the lower parts of some trees.  Sheep prefer just grass.  Luckily for us, our fields had been fairly neglected before we started farming here and are rife with delicious treats for the goats.  As soon as we move them into a new paddock, the sheep go straight for the clover and grasses while the goats busily strip the leaves off nettle plants, eat the multi-flora roses and munch on curly dock.  They’ve saved us a considerable amount of time clearing what we would consider weeds.

One other important thing to keep in mind is the mineral needs of each animal.  Llamas and sheep cannot tolerate copper, while it’s an essential nutrient for goats.  To manage this, we fence in a single bramble patch where there isn’t much forage for the sheep and llamas to begin with and separate out the goats for a day or two.  This gives everyone a chance to eat all the minerals they want and we do this repetitively throughout the season to make sure all their nutritional needs are being met.  Admittedly, as the species bond with each other, it’s harder and harder to separate the goats.  We recently had to convince a lamb to leave the goat pasture and a goat to join the rest of its kind.  These moments certainly make farming fun and exciting.

While we’ll breed our ewes this fall and raise our own lambs from now on, we won’t be keeping any goats for breeding.  Luckily, our friends at Frizzell Hill Farm do a fantastic job and we’re excited to continue to work with them buying kids every spring. 

Multispecies grazing has helped cut down on the amount of work around here, since there’s often a single fence to move and a single bucket of water to fill.  It has also increased our ability to manage healthy pastures, since the goats do the lion’s share of weeding.  Our goal is to incorporate our laying hens in this rotation, so stay tuned for when we complete their mobile chicken coop!

by Eleanor Kane on April 1st, 2012

The Quest to be a Farm Dog

We got Russell on January 2nd of this year.  We've wanted a dog for a long time and after settling into the farm, we were anxious to get one right away.  I spent December looking at listings for local shelters and Craigslist, hoping to find one that seemed like a good match.  Theo had grown up with Australian Shepherds, so he was excited about getting that same breed.  I used to work at the PSPCA in Philadelphia and older dogs and black dogs have a tendency to not get adopted as often as younger, lighter colored ones.  This is pretty heartbreaking since it's certainly not the dog's fault.  Darker dogs don't photograph as well, so their online listings don't look as good, and they're much more intimidating to meet.  I was pretty set on getting an older dog so that we wouldn't have to deal with a puppy's energy and house training.

I saw Russell online at the Baypath Humane Society and we showed up when it opened the next morning.  He had lived with a family from when he was a puppy until Christmas and was given up due to their divorce.  He was absolutely perfect for us- well behaved, liked cats (maybe a little too much), very calm and very, very excited to have a new home. He's an Australian Shepherd mix, a little over seven years old and pretty awesome.
So far, he loves the farm.  He gets to run around the fields on his evening walks and lays in the sun watching us while we work.  His other favorite activities, besides shedding on the rug, are chasing the cat, chasing the chickens and chasing rabbits.  He's learned that if he stands in sunlight it will reflect off the tag on his collar and he can chase that too.  Sadly, the best rabbits live where the burrs are densest.  His coat picks up more burrs than I though possible, so we spend a lot of time either convincing him to stay clear of them, or cleaning him up.

We assumed when we got him that our cat wouldn't be too thrilled (he isn't) and that Russell would eventually learn to settle down a bit around him (he hasn't).  We didn't know what he would do around farm animals and we weren't pleased that in his perfect world, Russell would use chickens as chew toys.  Thankfully, all the hens are safe and love teasing him when we have him outside.

His old family must not have done much training with him, so we're slowly teaching him come, sit, down and how to walk politely on the leash.  He still jumps on people when they come to visit, which we're also working on, and he gets really anxious when he can't see one of us.

We started taking him to obedience classes at Pack of Paws in Southbridge.  We love the trainers there and it's fun to watch Russell learning new tricks every week.  The goal is to get his basic training skills really firm and then see if he has any aptitude towards herding.  He was never a farm dog and I'm pretty sure he's never seen a cow or a sheep, but years and years of breeding have brought out instincts in a lot of these breeds.  There's a good chance that he's predisposed towards herding.  If not, we'll still love him for all his other great qualities- laying on cold feet, getting excited when we come home and being the best companion ever.

by Eleanor Kane on March 28th, 2012

Our seedlings are growing up so fast!  We're excited and anxious to transplant them to the garden but first we needed to harden them off.  Their cozy days of 70 degrees and daily watering in the greenhouse are over as we reduce the amount of water they get each day and expose them to more extreme temperatures.  This helps them adapt when they are transplanted.

Just like our chicken tractors, we built our cold frames out of PVC.  What I like best about this design is that if we have a cold snap once the plants are in the garden, we can simply place the cold frame over the garden bed to protect our plants from frost.  This will be especially helpful in the fall to extend our growing season as the days start getting colder. 

We use soil blocks for our seedlings and we built the cold frames to hold nine of the trays that Johnny's makes for them.  Our vegetable production is pretty small this year so we're not too worried about running out of space.

We currently have Swiss Chard, Winterbor and Red Russian Kale, Bok Choy and Butterhead Lettuce in the cold frames.  We'll transplant these in the next few days and in a week or two, we'll start hardening off the onions, shallots, scallions and leeks.  Stay tuned for our first harvest! 
You can also see our Chicken Defense System, as I like to call it.  The hens, who spend their days running around the barnyard, want nothing more than free access to the greenhouse and everything inside of it.  Not only is it nice and warm in there, it's also full of their favorite foods: delicious, young seedlings.  As much as we love our hens, we prefer that they stick to grass, bugs and the table scraps we give them.  We'll have to put another fence around the vegetables once we're ready to start transplanting.  I certainly don't want to go out to the garden one day and find the hens busy eating my dinner.

by Eleanor Kane on March 27th, 2012

We're almost done with our first chicken coop for the broilers.  They're almost four weeks old, which means that we only have a few days left to completely finish this project. We're hoping to put them outside this weekend when the weather warms up a bit and the nights are above freezing.

Why PVC instead of wood?  We took into consideration moving this at least once a day from April through October.  That's a lot of work and not every day is 70 degrees and sunny.  There are plenty of times that it will be cold, raining, snowing, sleeting, hailing, etc.  We want chores to be as easy as possible, which means building a chicken coop that is light and strong and one which won't break or wear out at an inconvenient time.  After putting this much effort into it, we need it to last for many years and PVC will stand up to the sun, wind and rain better than wood.  It's also incredibly easy to modify if we decide that we want to change it.

We based our chicken tractor off of these plans but made quite a few modifications.  
We’ll be using a bell waterer which means a full five gallon bucket will need to rest on top of the coop.  We didn’t want it to sit directly on the chicken wire since it isn’t sturdy enough to support that kind of weight.  Instead, we built this base out of plywood and a bit of extra PVC pipe.
The original plans called for a larger door which we initially built.  We found it cumbersome to open and it had a lot of flex to it.  We replaced it with this door which is half the size.  It’s positioned near the middle of the coop which will allow easy access to the whole interior.  It’s held down with a latch made up of a larger piece of pipe glued to a snap clamp.  It's easy to use and so for it works well for us.
We need to provide shade from the hot summer sun as well as shelter from the rain and wind.  Chickens can keep themselves warm by huddling together and puffing up their feathers but can get into trouble if they’re wet or there’s a strong draft.  We’re adding home wrap to half of the coop to allow them to get out of the weather.  Many farmers use aluminum paneling for this job.  We decided against this since it’s much heavier and can get really hot to the touch in the sun.  It didn’t seem to make sense to offer the chickens shade under something that absorbs so much heat.  To make sure the home wrap drains, we added a support which slopes down towards the edges of the coop.
In preparation for adding the home wrap, we made sure the chicken wire was attached to the interior of the frame and that the zip ties were neatly trimmed.  This will allow us to stretch the home wrap over the PVC without tearing it.
Of course, the hens came over to see what we were doing.  They approve of the broiler's chicken coop and spent the morning scratching up any bugs they could find near it.

Posted on March 16th, 2012

There is nothing better on a chilly March day than going into the greenhouse.  Bright green plants are sprouting, a welcome sign of spring, and behind them are the lettuces and herbs that we grew on a window sill all winter.  It's always warm in the greenhouse (often warmer than our house) and I've been known to go in there to make phone calls, answer emails and read a book. 

We spent January and February working on building it and are pretty pleased with how it turned out.  It's only 8'x10' so while we may outgrow it someday, for now it's the perfect size for our small vegetable patch. 

We have kale and chard seedlings, which are growing quickly and soon will be ready to be hardened off in the cold frames before we transplant them.  We also have lettuce, mesclun, bok choy, onions, shallots, scallions and leeks and we're excited for the day they'll be out in the garden! 

Our very first tomatoes have sprouted.  We chose a variety known for its cold tolerance and early production so we can hope to see fresh tomatoes in late June or early July.  Of course, it all depends on the weather so we hope we don't get a cold snap in June.
It's been so warm this spring that we're already glad for our ridge vent.  We often open it first thing in the morning and keep the door open as well.  This provides plenty of ventilation and keeps the temperature from climbing too high during the warmest part of the day. 

We put the plastic on in two layers, one attached to the outside of the frame and one on the inside.  This creates an insulating layer of air between the plants and the cold nights outside which makes the heater more effective. Later this spring and summer, the nights will be warm enough we won't need the heater at all. 

We'll have seedlings in the greenhouse until August.  Once the last plants have been transplanted,  we'll start thinking about building raised beds inside for winter greens.  We'll choose hardy plants such as kale, chard and spinach which will be able to withstand freezing temperatures at night and grow during the days.  There will be no need for a heater with these plants.  It will be great to have fresh greens year round!

Posted on March 7th, 2012

Having baby chicks around is definitely the most fun we've had so far this year. They arrived on Sunday morning, which means they hatched on Saturday. Granted that's a rather small egg this guy is standing next to, but it's already hard to imagine that it could have held a chick.
As you can see, their wing feathers are starting to come in. As soon as they have their adult feathers and grow out of their fuzzy, yellow chick feathers, they'll be ready to move outside.

Since it's so early in spring, we won't want them to go outside if it's too cold. We'll keep them inside until sometime in April. All this time indoors, however, means increasing their space so that they're never crowded. We give them hay chaff to eat and scratch around in. This get them used to foraging for food, a necessary skill when they're on pasture. Hay chaff is the seeds and bits of grass left behind from a bale or flake of hay. Imagine when you pick up some hay and everything that is left on the ground and on your clothes. The chicks love it and it's is full of nutrition. We also gave them some swiss chard yesterday, which they loved.

As soon as the weather gets warmer and the snow melts, we'll let them go outside for a couple hours in the warmest part of the day. Even though they'll come back in at night, this allows them plenty of sunshine and again, lets them practice foraging.

In a month or so, they'll move to their portable chicken coops. They'll have their organic grain, fresh water and all the bugs and grass they can eat. The coops don't have a floor, so when we move them twice a day, fresh grass is underfoot for the chickens to eat. We'll let them out of the coops during the day to stretch their legs and explore their pasture but it'll be really important to keep them in the coops at night so that they're safe from predators.

Their happiness and health consumes a lot of our time and energy right now. From the moment we wake up ('have you checked on the chicks yet?') to right before we go to bed ('where's the flashlight, I want to see if they're ok since it's supposed to be cold tonight') we're thinking about them.

They're pretty darn cute and a lot of fun. I can't wait to watch them as they grow up and I'll be so excited when they're old enough to live out on the pasture. They'll be happier out there and that's what we're aiming for.

Posted on September 25th, 2011

While it's sad that summer is over and the days of corn and squash are behind us, I'm thrilled that it's time for squash and cider. Dinner tonight? Roast chicken with vegetables and cider.. The house smells amazing. Later this week, once we're done with the leftovers, I'll be making broth from the carcass.

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables and Cider

1 chicken
2 tblsp butter
2 firm tart apples such as Granny Smith, cored, peeled, and cut into 1” dice
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1” dice
1 medium onion cut into 1” dice
1 large parsnip cut into 1” rounds
2 medium carrot cut into 1” rounds
½ head medium cauliflower cut into 1” chunks
Salt and pepper
2 c. fresh apple cider

Preheat oven to 400.

Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken in a flameproof (so you can put it on a burner later to make the sauce) roasting pan large enough to hold it and the vegetables without crowding. Smear the chicken with the butter, surround it with the vegetables, sprinkle everything with salt and pepper, and pour in the cider.

Place the chicken and vegetables in the oven and roast until the apples have practically melted, the vegetables are tender and brown, and the chicken juices run clear when the thigh is pricked with a fork, about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Stir the vegetables halfway through for even cooking.

Remove the chicken to a platter. Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables and place them around the chicken, and keep warm. Set the roasting pan over high heat and bring the cider and juices to a boil, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half.

Serve the sauce alongside the chicken in a sauce boat or pitcher.

Serves 4.

Posted on August 24th, 2011

Check out this awesome article about the Farm School, where Theo and I have spent the past year. It's awesome to see the publicity around farming!

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