Hawks and Burn Piles

Crazy winter weather has continued this week, with some of the coldest temperatures that anyone has seen around here for a long time. We set low temperature records Friday, Saturday at Sunday nights with -8, -9 and -14. Saturday night also featured 25mph winds, so things were pretty chilly out there on the farm. All of our livestock has a shelter to go into any time they want to, all winter, and we made sure to give everyone a deep fresh pile of straw to hunker down in before the cold really set in. Ducks, sheep and chickens are well insulated, cows and horses are big enough and operate hot enough that they don’t mind the cold too much, and the pigs burrow down into their straw bedding and snuggle to keep warm. Everyone came through well, and Tuesday it was fifty degrees and raining. The rain and melting snow really added up fast, and our farm was a wet flooded mess Tuesday afternoon. Drastic changes in temperature are hard on our livestock as they try to adapt to current conditions only to have those conditions constantly changing. Our animals had dealt with a few days of super cold, then we had a twenty-four hours of warm and wet, and by midnight Tuesday night, we were back below freezing and all the water standing in the fields, roadways and yards turned to ice and frozen mud. I am a strong advocate against confinement livestock practices, but with weather like we’ve been having, I can see some of its appeal.

View from the top of the pasture.
View from the top of the pasture.

We all got together on Monday for a whole farm project, clearing the edges of a single large pasture and processing 4+ cords of firewood from trees cut from the pasture perimeter. It was incredible to see the work we could all do working together for a full day, and the long term positive effect we had on our farm environment. We cleared fifteen or twenty feet of brush around the full perimeter of a 5 acre pasture, creating hundreds of square feet of grazable area in a single work day, and made Carlen a supply of firewood that will last her many years. I wrote last week about exposing the old stone walls again, and how nice it is to see them again so clearly in our landscape. This pasture has been finished now, and the effect of the full perimeter of wall standing out clearly again is wonderful.

Our laying flock is still under pressure from a visiting hawk, with another two birds taken in the past week. Despite a ridiculous amount of strings, ribbons, cds and other flashing deterrents, as well as Hedwig the owl dummy, the hungry hawk will not be denied. We now have the layers closed in their house (not a situation they enjoy at all), and and we have a huge net on order to string up. We’re trying to keep the hens entertained while they’re in lock-down, so we keep bringing them scraps, we add hay for them to scratch and peck through, and some of our adult student-farmers are working on a Broadway style song and dance routine to perform in the coop. 1980-01-01-00-00-13There is a process for application for a permit to shoot birds of prey that are destroying livestock in the state of Massachusetts, with a burden of proof on the farmer that they have tried to drive the bird off by other means. We have certainly tried other means, and I am confident that we could get a permit to dispatch this particular hawk, but that is an option that I would like to avoid if possible. Birds of prey are, to me, the most incredible part of our New England landscape, and seeing them around our pastures and forests is always a treat. I often find myself driving our farm roads with my neck craned out, watching a hawk, falcon, owl or eagle glide over our fields scanning for prey, and those are some of my favorite moments on the farm.

1980-01-01-00-00-04-1