Our first weeks at the farm have been a whirlwind! We have spent lots of time getting acquainted with how the farm functions, getting to know the farmers, David and Anna; Kyle and Owen, the other apprentices, and friends of the farm, as well as the animals. We’ve also been learning chores, and two weeks in, we can do chores independently already.
There are six horses, five who work and one who is in training. Pat and Lady are the older team, Tim and Gus are the strong younger team that have winter shoes and have done most of the work around the farm since we got here. Star is the fifth worker, and Whinny (or Winnie?) is in training. Living in the barn with them are Red the sow and Fred the boar, who turn the horse manure and bedding into mature compost and produce two litters of piglets each year. There are seven ‘piglets’ who each weigh nearly 250 pounds and are ready to turn into bacon soon. The farm also has 150 laying hens who produce about eleven dozen marketable eggs each day. Rounding out the farm team are Amos the dog and three cats.
We spent much of our first weekend moving in and getting settled. We also spent a few hours helping clean up a neighborhood in Conway that was badly hit by a tornado a few weeks back. About sixty people from town came out and picked up windblown junk, pieces of roofs, and helped clear fallen trees. Although it was caused by terrible circumstances, it was amazing to see the town come together to help out the affected neighbors.
Each day starts at six with barn chores. We feed all the animals, turn the horses out to their paddock for the day, and clean the stalls and the barn. If any of the horses will be working that day, we harness them and feed them in their stalls. We break from seven to eight for breakfast, then work until noon, when we check all the animals water, feed the horses more hay, and collect eggs. After an hour for lunch we work until six, and finish the day with evening chores, bringing the horses back to their stalls, and feeding out more hay.
On our first day of work, we all walked around the farm together getting oriented, and we went through chores for the first time. We also talked about areas of responsibility. David identified six categories that he wanted one of us to take on and spearhead throughout the season. Sidney volunteered to be in charge of Livestock and Berries, Brian will be focusing on Equipment and Cover Crops, and Owen will manage Pests and Diseases as well as Greenhouse Seeding.
As newly-minted livestock point person, Sidney spent much of the first two weeks working on a multitude of small projects around the barn. She moved the hogs into a fresh bin of horse manure and bedding; set up a ramp for the hogs to go outside; replaced dead light bulbs, fixed some broken boards in the horse stalls, fixed a partition between two feuding horses; and prepared the pen for the sow Red to farrow (the word for pig birth) in a few weeks. This past Friday, she also moved a trailer into the pen where the meat piggies are kept so that they can get comfortable around it; on Monday we will load several of them up for the drive to the slaughterhouse. She also seeded the leeks and onions, some of the very earliest crops to go in the ground.
Brian worked mostly on the new cabin. David and Anna are putting up a new apprentice cabin to replace a very old, very small cabin. Once it is finished, Sidney and I will move in and Owen will get upgraded to the cabin we are currently staying in. I worked primarily on casing and trimming the windows, which was very finicky but satisfying once it was finished. I also helped put on siding, pour footings for the porch, and seal cracks with foam. On a snowy day this week, Kyle and I put up insulation. Sidney and I also worked on preparing the windows themselves for installation, which included scraping off loose glazing putty, replacing cracked panes, re-glazing the panes, and priming and painting the frames. Throughout the week, the whole building was sided, and we built the beginnings of the covered porch. If we keep our current pace, we may be moving in after only two more weeks of building.
Although it has been at times challenging to keep up with all of the new information, we have been settling into the rhythm of the days and are starting to feel at home. As apprentices, we are challenged to independently problem solve and manage time, but there is lots of guidance and instruction. One thing we looked forwards to before we arrived was seeing the inner workings of such a well-organized and efficient farm, and it is already evident how well-thought out the farm systems are. It is still fairly wintry here (last week we got nearly two feet of snow!), but birds are returning, the days are lengthening, and we are already beginning to look ahead to the coming growing season!