A Look At Last Summer

I’ve been spend­ing some time recent­ly look­ing back at pic­tures and video I shot last year.  It’s amaz­ing how much the farm has changed in such short time.  It’s also remark­able how much fur­ther along we are this year than we were at the same time last year.  For exam­ple, last year at this time we had JUST start­ed form­ing the rows of our main garden.


I also came across some video I shot one morn­ing last August with my sis­ter’s Canon 60D.  It’s excit­ing to think that the gar­den will soon look like it does in this video.


Meet the Newest Member of the BBFg Team: Diamond! (plus new piglets, chicks etc.)

First of all, I hope that you’re all enjoy­ing our new site. Aside from hav­ing a sleek new ban­ner, some new pages and a bet­ter URL address, our web­site also makes it pos­si­ble to reserve meat online using Pay­pal. Just got to our Pre-Buy Meat Online page.


I’ve been mean­ing to post for a very long time, but so much has been hap­pen­ing around here that I did­n’t real­ly know where to start. How­ev­er, yes­ter­day there was a big enough change that I could­n’t help but come online and share it with all of you…

Meet Dia­mond!

Meet Dia­mond, our new lla­ma from Pel­ham, NH. Dave and I just went to pick him up yes­ter­day, and so far he’s exceed­ed our expec­ta­tions for awesomeness.


I’m get­ting ahead of myself though. This all start­ed because we’ve been look­ing into find­ing some oth­er pas­tures for our sheep to graze on this sum­mer. Because we bred all our ewes to a Finn ram, a breed that’s known to throw triplets, quadru­plets or even quin­tu­plets, I’ve been get­ting a lit­tle ner­vous that we were going to end up with more sheep than we have pas­ture for at Black Brook Farm. Add to this wor­ry the fact that we’ve been get­ting very lit­tle rain so far this year, and we have to ready our­selves for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a very dry sum­mer, and you can see why we might want some back up fields. How­ev­er, the more we talked to peo­ple, the more obvi­ous it became that there was no way that we could put our sheep out on pas­ture some­where with­out pro­tec­tion against coy­otes. Dave and I have yet to see a coy­ote since we moved to BBF (which could be because of all the bark­ing dogs, or the hors­es, or just blind luck) but there are sure­ly coy­otes in these woods too — so that’s where Dia­mond comes in! We researched some dif­fer­ent ways to pro­tect our girls and their babies from preda­tors — guard dogs, per­ma­nent struc­tures — but a lla­ma seemed like the best solu­tion. Dia­mond eats the same things that sheep do (unlike a dog), he does­n’t require any spe­cial train­ing, and he’ll stay behind 4′ elec­tronet fenc­ing! Plus, he’s a per­fect gen­tle­man, and appar­ent­ly has nev­er spit at a human, he just does­n’t like coy­otes. There’s lots of infor­ma­tion about guard lla­mas online, but here’s a nice suc­cinct study if you want to read more:  http://www.sprucelane.com/guardllamas.pdf.

The ewes check­ing Dia­mond out

So hand­some!


The sheep also have got­ten sheared and look more preg­nant than ever! We’ve expect­ing lambs to drop any day now.






And now, final­ly, our new baby chicks and piglets…We were on our way up to get our breed sow from Ver­mont when we got a call that she had had a mis­car­riage, so we decid­ed to go with piglets instead. It’s sad that we’re not going to get a big beau­ti­ful pig mom­ma, and that we did­n’t get to see our piglets birthed, but it’s nice to have con­trol over exact­ly how many piglets we have (six right now!) I’m just going to post some pic­tures, and I’ll write more lat­er. It’s almost 9 AM and there are things to do today so I have to wrap this up.

Baby chicks under the heat lamp


More baby chicks (note all those feet under the heat box)


Com­ing home in the trailer


Chow­ing down on whey


And final­ly, the pic­ture you’ve all been wait­ing for…

Our new sign!

Pigs on Pasture!

The pigs are graz­ing, root­ing, sniff­ing, and explor­ing their new pas­ture. They are so hap­py I can’t describe it in words. As soon as I released them from their tem­po­rary train­ing pen, they start­ed eager­ly explor­ing the whole area and soon were run­ning and run­ning all over the place. Its a tru­ly beau­ti­ful sight.

Tran­si­tion­ing the pigs to pas­ture took some plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion, but in the end it went very smooth­ly. After I got their A‑frame sit­u­at­ed in the field, I built a tem­po­rary pen for elec­tric fence train­ing. I pound­ed some U‑posts into the ground and then just built up some walls with skids and old boards. It was not very pret­ty, but it was easy to set up and it served its purpose.

I built three sides of the pen and then set up the elec­tric net­ting as the fourth wall. Then I set up more boards on the oth­er side of the net­ting. This is the secret to train­ing pigs to the fence. Pigs don’t have the best eye­sight so the thin strands of the net­ting are eas­i­ly missed. Putting up a phys­i­cal bar­ri­er behind the net serves two pur­pos­es. It helps them see the net­ting bet­ter and it pre­vents them from barg­ing through the net­ting in pan­ic when they first get shocked, which is often their instinc­tu­al reaction.

When the day final­ly arrived for the big move, I put up some tem­po­rary ply­wood sides on the bed of my pick-up truck and filled it with hay. Then I backed it right up to their pen in the barn­yard and my dad posi­tioned him­self in the truck while Gal­lagher and I caught the pig­gies one by one and hand­ed them up to him. Gal­lagher used a 4x4 piece of ply­wood to help herd the pigs into a cor­ner and then I swooped in and grabbed a hind leg. The pigs are about 50 lbs. now I would guess–I won’t be able to pick them up pret­ty soon! Pick­ing them up by the a hind leg is the best way to do it. It does­n’t hurt them and they don’t strug­gle very much as soon as you have them in the air, but they do scream. They’re not in any pain, but they scream bloody mur­der. Its so loud it real­ly does hurt your ears. And then the sec­ond you set them down on their feet again and let go, they stop.
We got them all in the truck very quick­ly and they stood calm­ly for their slow ride out to pas­ture­land. We backed the truck up to the pen and did the exact oppo­site maneu­ver. All of them got a shock from the fence with­in sec­onds of explor­ing their new space and quick­ly learned to avoid that wall as they went about rip­ping up the grass and root­ing around for bugs.
Soon they were right at home. They were in the pen for two days to make sure they had been trained, then this morn­ing I took down the walls and let them roam. As they explored the pad­dock, just like the rap­tors in Juras­sic Park, they each test­ed the fence in a few places, got a shock, let out a brief yelp, and scur­ried back in the oth­er direc­tion. What smart pigs! I’m so proud of them.

New House for the Pigs

I recent­ly com­plet­ed the pig’s new shel­ter for when they are relo­cat­ed onto pas­ture. I knew that I want­ed to build a sim­ple A‑frame for them, so I looked around online and found some plans from an exten­sion ser­vice from the 60s. This is a very clas­sic design. The only dif­fer­ence is that the plans called for doors, but I decid­ed not to add them because it just does­n’t seem nec­es­sary. My pigs won’t be around in the win­ter and if at some point I do keep pigs over win­ter, they prob­a­bly wont be out on pas­ture any­way. This is sim­ply the pig’s sum­mer home.

My goal was to build the house as inex­pen­sive­ly as pos­si­ble and to use as many free/recycled mate­ri­als as I could find. At first I thought it was going to be dif­fi­cult to get what I need­ed for free since its all dimen­sion­al lum­ber and sheet goods, but it worked out pret­ty well. After a some­what awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion with the lum­ber­yard man­ag­er at Lit­tle­ton Lum­ber, they took me around back and fork­lift­ed down a huge stack of 2x4s and 2x6s for me. They were all recy­cled and had lots of nail holes and some sta­ples in them. And they were pret­ty twist­ed and checked, but there were a lot of long lengths, a bunch of 16′ and 12’ers. So I said thank you very much and took the whole stack.
I had 5 sheets of Tex­ture 1–11 ply­wood which were left over from some project. I found them in the garage and I have no idea how they got there. Tex­ture 1–11 is ply­wood that some­what resem­bles barn boards. Its kind of hokey stuff, but it was free and for this pur­pose it actu­al­ly was per­fect. It looks nicer than nor­mal exte­ri­or ply­wood at least.
I was real­ly hap­py with how effi­cient­ly I was able to use my mate­ri­als. I used all 5 sheets of the tex­ture 1–11, with very lit­tle scrap left over. The tri­an­gu­lar­ly shaped sec­tions in the pic above were all cut out from one 8′ long strip. The only mate­ri­als that I end­ed up buy­ing were:
(2) pres­sure treat­ed 4x4s (for skids)
(2) 4x8 sheets 3/4″ exte­ri­or grade ply­wood (for the floor)
(1) gal­va­nized steel ridge roll
screws, glue, and paint
All togeth­er, I don’t think I spent more than $150.
All the fram­ing I did with dry­wall screws and then I attached the ply­wood to the frame with glue and nails (using my new fin­ish nail­er). I found this glue that Tite­bond makes called Interior/Exterior Wood Con­struc­tion Adhe­sive which I real­ly liked. You apply it with a caulk gun so its great for these projects when you need to get a lot of glue on quickly.
I took an old can of paint from when the barn was re-paint­ed and got it cloned so the pig house match­es all the outbuildings.
I drilled through the skids and installed a loop of chain with 1/2″ hex bolts so that the house can quick­ly be hooked up to the trac­tor. The house will be mov­ing every month or so with the pigs as they are rotat­ed through the pasture.
And here it is, all the way out at the end of the field! I can’t wait to get the pigs out there. I will be set­ting up the fenc­ing tomor­row, so hope­ful­ly I’ll be mov­ing the pigs in a few days.

Welcome Home Piglets!

Well, I’m hap­py to report that the doxy­cy­cline seems to be doing it’s job and this week is promis­ing to be much bet­ter than the last one.

Just in time too, because we had four lit­tle piglets wait­ing for us in New Hamp­shire. Yes­ter­day morn­ing Dave put the fin­ish­ing touch­es on our piglet pen, we packed a cou­ple sand­wich­es (and some of Bec­ca Chap­man’s famous oat­meal wal­nut pecan cook­ies), threw a cou­ple of old large dog crates in the back of the truck and pre­pared to make the trip north.

I made their bed for them
Dav­e’s Pig Trough
This pen used to belong to Wilbur, the Viet­namese Pot-bel­lied pig. But since he’s decid­ed he’s more com­fort­able in the barn, it seemed like the per­fect place to keep our pig­gies for the first cou­ple weeks that they’re here before we’re ready to put them out to pasture.
After a beau­ti­ful two hour dri­ve we arrived in Bath, NH, home to Clin­ton and his pig farm. We’ve emailed back and forth with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent poten­tial piglet sell­ers in the last cou­ple of months, some much clos­er to us than North­ern New Hamp­shire, but Clin­ton had impressed us both with his knowl­edge and his love of pigs. His barn con­tains tons of mama pigs and their lit­ters, and they all seem very hap­py and healthy. Clin­ton was hon­est, straight-for­ward and full of infor­ma­tion. In addi­tion, the piglets that we received had already been wormed and cas­trat­ed, and were guar­an­teed not to die (he promised to replace them if they did).
Clin­ton’s Pig Farm
Clin­ton allowed us to pick from a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent lit­ters. We quick­ly iden­ti­fied which lit­ter was our favorite, and decid­ed to take all our piglets from that one mama. It’s okay to mix lit­ters, but the pigs will often squab­ble at first, and we just liked the idea of keep­ing the broth­ers and sis­ters togeth­er so they would be more com­fort­able when we got them home. We picked out two match­ing red boys with black snouts, a white boy with a brown face and spot, and one lit­tle feisty girl with a white stripe across her back. We ruled out anoth­er larg­er girl because her tail was hang­ing straight and loose, which is often a sign that a pig isn’t feel­ing very well. Clin­ton picked them up one at a time by their back legs, try­ing to avoid the mama who appar­ent­ly has a mean streak and is extra pro­tec­tive of her piglets, and loaded them into our dog crates. We had filled them with lots of hay to keep the piglets cozy and com­fort­able, and wrapped a tarp over the top to keep them out of the wind.
We checked on them once at a gas sta­tion on the way home and they seemed very com­fort­able and hap­py. Once we got them home, we placed them one by one in their new bed and watched as they root­ed around in the hay for a lit­tle while and then stepped out to explore and dig around in their new pig pen.
In Oth­er News:
The fence has been put up around the kitchen gar­den, so now we can start real­ly plant­i­ng the raised beds in earnest.
Dave also har­rowed the field on Sun­day, so all the big sod clumps are bro­ken up and buried. Only one more week (to let the sod real­ly break down under­ground) and we can start planting!
Disc Har­row: dragged behind a trac­tor, it cuts through strips of sod and breaks up the soil
Com­ing Soon: Piglet videos!

Welcome Back Wilbur!

Where to begin…?

Although we haven’t quite eked past the last pro­ject­ed frost date (around May 1st in East­ern MA), it feels like it’s offi­cial­ly Spring. There’s green grass, buds com­ing out on the trees, Kim­bal­l’s farm ice cream stand is open for the sea­son, and Wilbur, the Viet­namese pot-bel­ly pig (not for eat­ing, although he does sound like he would be deli­cious in a spring roll) has emerged from his den in the back of the barn and I can see him graz­ing in the fields from my win­dow — which is open by the way. I seem to have got­ten in the habit of always start­ing my posts with a com­ment on the weath­er, but it’s pret­ty much all we’ve been think­ing about around here. When’s it going to be dry enough to till the field? Is it warm enough to open up the green­house? Is it still too cold for us to buy meat bird chicks and put them out to pas­ture? Every deci­sion we make requires input from Moth­er Nature. 

Bio­dy­nam­ic Sow­ing and Plant­i­ng Calendar

There are some that argue that when tak­ing cues from our envi­ron­ment we should be pay­ing atten­tion to more than just the local weath­er report. I’ve been read­ing a lit­tle bit about bio­dy­nam­ic agri­cul­ture, which is an organ­ic method of farm­ing that empha­sizes how inter­de­pen­dent the plants, ani­mals and soil on a farm are. Like many forms of organ­ic agri­cul­ture, bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is about cre­at­ing farms that are closed loops. This bal­ance is made pos­si­ble through the inte­gra­tion of crops and live­stock, the recy­cling of nutri­ents, and the main­te­nance of soil — no out­side assis­tance or pes­ti­cides necessary. 

In addi­tion, bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing also con­sid­ers that there are astro­log­i­cal impacts on agri­cul­ture. Most of these impacts are exert­ed by the moon as it pass­es through the twelve con­stel­la­tions of the zodi­ac. Maria Thun (and now her son Matthias) are the author­i­ties on bio­dy­nam­ic astrol­o­gy, and have been releas­ing their Bio­dy­nam­ic Sow­ing and Plant­i­ng Cal­en­dar every year for almost a half a cen­tu­ry. In her most recent cal­en­dar she writes:

“In its 27-day orbit round the Earth the Moon pass­es through the con­stel­la­tions of the zodi­ac and trans­mits forces to the Earth which affect the four ele­ments: earth, light (air) water and warmth (fire). They in turn affect the four parts of the plant: the roots, the flower, the leaves and the fruit or seeds. The health and growth of the plant can there­fore be stim­u­lat­ed by sow­ing, cul­ti­vat­ing and har­vest­ing it in tune with the cycles of the Moon.”
pg 10

The cal­en­dar lists the parts of the plant enhanced by the moon and the plan­ets each day. So for exam­ple today, April 14th, the con­stel­la­tion of the moon is Leo and the cor­re­spond­ing ele­ment is heat, so today is a good day for seed­ing veg­eta­bles that pro­duce fruits. There­fore, when I do my plant­i­ng this after­noon I’m going to seed sum­mer squash and toma­toes. I’ve been try­ing to stick as close­ly to the cal­en­dar as pos­si­ble, allow­ing for the fact that some­times due to tim­ing and suc­ces­sions I’m going to have to plant a root veg­etable on a leaf day. Many farm­ers that I’ve talked to, even though who claim that they are more con­ven­tion­al , have said that they’ve noticed huge improve­ments in the qual­i­ty and yield of their pro­duce when they’ve used the bio­dy­nam­ic cal­en­dar. I guess I’ll just have to see for myself. 

Ready­ing the field

We’ve spent the major­i­ty of our time these last few weeks get­ting the field ready to be plant­ed. This has involved a lot of brush clear­ing and burn­ing. We had about 10 brush piles on the field, all of which need­ed to be removed before the first till­ing next week. 

 It was hot and smokey work, but thanks to lots of help from fam­i­ly we man­aged to get it all done in a cou­ple of days. 

Our soil test indi­cat­ed that we had great soil with a ton of organ­ic mat­ter, but there are some things that it deter­mined we were lack­ing. My mom has been tak­ing a nutri­ent den­si­ty course with the North­east Organ­ic Farm­ing Asso­ci­a­tion. The NOFA web­site defines “Nutri­ent den­si­ty [as] a qual­i­ty goal that is active­ly sought after in the bio­log­i­cal approach to farm­ing. It refers the nutri­tion­al con­tent per vol­ume of food we eat.” It seems obvi­ous, but the idea is that the more rich and bal­anced the nutri­ents in our soil are, the health­i­er the soil will be, and the more nutri­tious and deli­cious the veg­eta­bles grown in our soil will be as well. Nutri­ent den­si­ty is a lit­tle bit of a tricky sub­ject, and I don’t yet under­stand it wholy myself, but suf­fice to say we have been col­lect­ing the ele­ments that our soil is lack­ing and we are plan­ning on spread­ing them on the field this week­end before the first till. Hope­ful­ly, these addi­tives will make our soil and our veg­eta­bles health­i­er — and, nat­u­ral­ly, those of us eat­ing them health­i­er as well. I’ll write more on this lat­er but, if you’re inter­est­ed in read­ing more now, NOFA has a lot of good infor­ma­tion on their web­site: http://www.nofamass.org/reference/nutrientdensity.php.


Our chick­ens have been set­tling in nice­ly and been pro­duc­ing eggs like crazy. After the ini­tial trau­ma of mov­ing to Mass­a­chu­setts (and the lin­ger­ing trau­ma of their barn burn­ing down), the new ladies from New Hamp­shire seem to have decid­ed that they’re hap­py enough to start lay­ing again. In addi­tion, we man­aged to snag anoth­er 7 chick­ens from a woman in Con­cord who was mov­ing, and so now our flock is up to 33 birds! 

We had been feed­ing them plain organ­ic feed, but one of the guys from Erick­son’s Grain Mill in Acton rec­om­mend­ed that we try organ­ic soy-free feed. The jury’s still out on whether or not soy-free food is bet­ter (espe­cial­ly if it’s already organ­ic and not genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied — as most con­ven­tion­al soy in ani­mal feed is), but there are many argu­ments in favor of soy-free, the best being that it makes our eggs safe for those aller­gic to soy. We were con­vinced as soon as we opened the bag, how­ev­er, and saw how much bet­ter the feed looked! Final­ly, food that did­n’t just look like lit­tle homoge­nous turds, but instead clear­ly con­tained pieces of dried corn, grains and all kinds of dif­fer­ent good look­ing stuff! In addi­tion, the chick­ens seem to love it and they’ve been lay­ing like mad since we changed them over. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, they love it a lit­tle too much, we went through a 50 lb bag in less than a week. In order to reduce the amont of mon­ey we have to spend on feed, and there­fore keep the price of our eggs rea­son­able, we’ve start­ed sup­ple­ment­ing left-over pro­duce that we get from dif­fer­ent restau­rants and super­mar­kets in the area that oth­er­wise would be throw­ing it away. Now our chick­ens are feast­ing on apples, greens and bananas every morn­ing in addi­tion to their deli­cious new feed, and they seem pret­ty hap­py about it. 

Chick­en break­fast time!

One more piece of excit­ing news: we drove up to New Hamp­shire last week­end and vis­it­ed our piglets! We’re plan­ning on bring­ing them home in the begin­ning of May. 
This is the lit­ter that (most like­ly) con­tains the
piglets com­ing home with us in May

Look­ing out my win­dow, I feel a lit­tle jeal­ous of Wilbur who is leisure­ly enjoy­ing the spring­time. But it feels good to wake up in the morn­ing know­ing that, for most of the day at least, I’ll be out there with him, the sun on my back, even if I am drag­ging brush instead of wad­dling and grazing.