In addition to the regular chores of a Tuesday morning (look for a new video, "Scenes from Morning Chores," this afternoon), today was a day of cleanup after the weekend's Mercer County 4-H Fair. One of the most arduous tasks was loading many bales of waterlogged hay onto a wagon (the farm used bales of junk hay for a maze and other purposes) to then be disposed of in the compost pile. As the interns can attest to, it the soggy hay bales made for some heavy lifting.
A dispatch on oxen training from Farmer Rob:
On one recent training walk with Star and Stripe, we tried to cross the bridge by the pond for the first time since the winter. Star was ready to cross without hesitation but Stripe balked and could not be persuaded to cross the bridge. This kind of problem has occurred with other oxen, and I think even Star and Stripe had trouble back during the winter, it was resolved, but then due to lack of exposure lost their confidence.
The next time I took Star and Stripe out, Kevin came along and when we got to the bridge we tied them to the fence, unyoked them, and let Star across the bridge so Stripe could see that it was not a threat. We tied Star to a tree on the other side of the bridge and then tried to drive Stripe across to meet him. Stripe balked even with his buddy waiting on the other side. We brought Star back over and while Kevin led Star across, I tried to have Stripe follow directly behind him. On the third attempt with this method, Stripe crossed the bridge behind Star. We went back and forth a couple times this way, then yoked them and went back and forth a couple times in the yoke. The next day they walked across the bridge in the yoke on the first try. I will be reinforcing this lesson frequently so that Stripe doesn't lose his confidence.
As I look out the window of the Howell Farm visitor center office, huge tents for this weekend's Mercer County 4-H Fair are being raised and secured.
The fair is scheduled for:
Saturday, July 28 – 10 am to 8 pm
Sunday, July 29 – 10 am to 4 pm
Admission and parking are free. (Suggested donation of a canned good in support of Rutgers Against Hunger)
More details about the 4-H Fair are here:
As Star and Stripe – Howell Farm’s oxen – continue to grow, so must the farm implements they pull around. Today the farm interns helped modify an ox cart by adding a bigger, longer tongue.
Soon, says Farmer Rob, the oxen will start training for the Howell Farm obstacle course, held the same day as the annual plowing match. This year it’s September 1.
As step 1 of their training, Farmer Rob deposited a few orange traffic cones into the pasture where the oxen graze. In past years, Howell Farm ox teams has received significant time penalties in the competition for knocking over too many of the tennis balls that are set on top of the cones. The problem is not, for the most part, that the oxen are running into the cones. Rather, they get so curious about the cones that they knock over the tennis balls with their noses while investigating. Farmer Rob hopes that some pre-exposure to the cones will help satiate their curiosity.
A team of oxen has never won the obstacle course -- their pace is generally slower than horses -- but one year Farmer Rob's ox team had the only perfect run in which no tennis balls were knocked to the ground.
Howell Farm and the rest of Mercer County received some much needed rain on Thursday and Friday, totaling one inch. Nonetheless, abnormally dry conditions persist. Month-to-date, Mercer County has received 1.8 inches of rain. The monthly average is 5.3 inches.
The Howell Farm interns continue to water the kitchen garden vigorously.
Here's a review from the Star-Ledger of a new book, The Pleasant Valley School Story, by Howell Farm's own Larry Kidder:
Farmer Rob and assistants spent much of the morning making cheese and sour cream in the kitchen of the old Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse.
The farm's cheese making operation had been out of commission for some time, while Daisy, our jersey cow, recovered from a case of ketosis, a common ailment that often occurs in dairy cows after giving birth to a calf.
In preparation for the upcoming 4-H Fair (July 28 and 29), today is inspection day for Howell Farm's steam engine.
The hoses are out in the Howell Farm barnyard, as volunteers water down the vegetables in the kitchen garden. The temperature is supposed to reach 100 degrees today, followed by a 98 degree day tomorrow.
Dry conditions persist, despite half an inch of rain on Sunday that came during a sudden deluge. Fortunately, the heat is supposed to break on Wednesday night, followed by a rainstorm and at least two days of cooler weather.
I learned two summers ago -- which was the driest New Jersey summer in at least 40 years -- that dry conditions can definitely change the taste of certain fruits and vegetables, and sometimes for the better. The tomatoes that summer were the best I'd ever tasted. A farmer explained the likely reason:During times of water stress, the sugars in fruits and vegetables become concentrated, leading to stronger more full-bodied flavors.
For other crops, however, heat and dryness can mean early bolting, reduced yields or even crop failure. There's no way to irrigate the corn crop at Howell Farm, and the yield will almost certainly suffer if we don't get some rain.
The Furrow is the online newsletter of The Friends of Howell Living History Farm. We will be updating this site about once a week with crop reports and other insights into life on a horse-drawn living history farm.
|THE FURROW: The online newsletter of Howell Living History Farm||