Hello from the Joy Green Visitor Center! Spring has FINALLY sprung at Merck!
From the wonderful additions to the farm, sugaring season, and Wilfred (yes, I’ve named him) our friendly woodpecker who likes to bang on the roof of the wood shed!
As winter came to a close, so did some of our seasonal activities. Last week, we held the final Knitting Circle. I always look forward to this monthly gathering, and am sad it’s come to an end until November! There are so many talented women producing absolutely STUNNING projects, from felted bags and socks to sweaters. I so look forward to sitting at the table with them, listening to their stories of Merck, knitting, and other crafts they’ve attempted (successful or otherwise J). There is so much to be learned from these women, I will surley miss them!
Most of you know, at the end of March we held our annual Maple Celebration! For another year, people came out of the woodwork to indulge in our delicious syrup, sausage, and pancakes. What a great time had by all, visitors, volunteers, and staff. If things couldn’t have been more fun and energetic, our sheep got the memo to start lambing! Our visitors had the amazing experience of seeing lambs born during the breakfast. PRETTY COOL! Our apprentices put together some super fun kids’ activities as well! They did a great job keeping the kids involved and entertained with activities such as syrup taste testing and making maple trees from pretzels, peanut butter, and chocolate syrup. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to actually boil that weekend, still too cold a top the mountain, BUT, we had a RECORD year! Syrup production was through the roof!! We have lots to choose from in the Visitor Center, from a variety of glass and traditional plastic jugs so stop in and have a peek!
We also kicked off our first spring moonlight hike! April 27, Carolyn took visitors on a guided moonlight hike all around the Merck Forest Trails. The weather cooperated beautifully, clear skies and warm air! If you haven’t heard of these fun hikes, we put them on once a month (weather dependent of course!) and they are a great way to meet some of our staff and enjoy a guided hike through our woods. Our next one will be May 25, led by Melissa. If you would like more information on these hikes and how to attend, shoot me an email (email@example.com) or give me a call (802-394-7836). I love hearing from our visitors!
Did you know Chris, our trail maintenance coordinator, is hosting Trail Days?! Another great event where you can come up to Merck Forest, donate your time, and help us keep our trails in tip top shape for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. With over 30 miles of trail (30 MILES!!!) sometimes we really need the help of volunteers to manage these trails. Not only will you be helping us out, but Chris will take the time so share tips, tricks, and the science of making a really great trail! The next Trail Day is just around the corner, May 18, I hope you can mark it on your calendar and join us!
Well that’s about it from the Joy Green Visitor Center!! I love hearing from you all, feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or concerns. Can you believe it’s May? Yea me either!
Ta Ta for now!
We have been very busy at Merck Forest lately! Carolyn, Becca, and I (Emilie) have been spending lots of time getting the farm ready for the spring. Although the three of us thought it would never happen, the snow has actually melted, the grass in the pastures is turning green, and flowers are popping up everywhere! We’ve decided that it is official — spring has reached Merck!
There have been lots of new changes and additions to the farm as the season changed, most importantly being some friendly new faces.
That’s right, MFFC now has 5 baby goats! These five guys are from Consider Bardwell Farm in Pawlet, VT, and will be helping us manage the forests when they get a little bigger.
We also now have a two year old Tamworth sow named Plum! Plum will be bred this spring to have piglets in the fall (the gestation period for a sow is 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days.)
We are seeing new changes in many of the other animals, as well.
The lambs are now eating hay, grass, and grain, as well as their mothers’ milk.
The chicks are growing so fast, some are even starting to fly! The piglets continue to grow as well and will soon be put outside. The horses are being used more in the spring, too, as they help us spread manure in the pastures and fields.
And that’s just a few of the springtime additions and changes at the farm! Come up to Merck to see the animals grow and all the other changes spring brings!
Since our last blog post the final two pregnant ewes have given birth! The first of the two surprised everyone with triplets. Sadly, as is common with lamb triplets, the ewe “rejected” two of the lambs. That means she wouldn’t allow them to nurse. After a rough start, the two female lambs have been bottle fed since, and are both very healthy (and friendly!)
The next day, the final pregnant ewe gave birth to a healthy lamb. To conclude lambing season, here are, as promised, some more pictures of the lambs taken by Assistant Farm Manager Dan!
All the lambs are now outside enjoying the springtime. Come see them soon – they are growing more and more each day!
by apprentice2013 | 1 Comment
One of the first signs of spring has arrived at Merck Forest: Lambs!
Over the past three weeks, all but two of the pregnant ewes (female sheep) have given birth. The first lamb was born on Sunday, March 17th, and we have been keeping very busy learning about the process of lambing ever since.
The first born lamb
The whole laboring process for a ewe about to give birth is relatively short and easy, and the lambs are typically born without human intervention. Once the lamb (or lambs, in the case of twins) are born, the mother ewe encourages them to nurse so they can drink the colostrum, or the first milk that contains nutrients and antibodies.
Twin lambs soon after being born
We learned how to do the important “ips” of lambing: strip, sip, clip, dip, and flip. First, to help the lambs nurse, we “strip” the teats, or milk the mother ewe to release a waxy plug that makes it easier for the lambs to nurse. “Sip” then refers to making sure the lambs nurse, ensuring they get their colostrum from the mother.
After the lambs nurse, they are weighed and then their umbilical cords are cut so they are about an inch long. After the chords are “clipped” they are “dipped” in iodine to reduce the risk of infection. Next the lambs eyes are checked and, in rare cases, their eyelids may have to be “flipped” so they are out of their eyes.
So far 22 lambs have been born. We continue to be amazed by the natural process of each birth and of the ewes’ maternal instincts. The lambs are put outside to join the flock with their mother after three or four days, and they are almost all outside now, prancing around and trying to eat hay. We will post more pictures soon – be sure to check them out, and come see the lambs for yourself at Merck!
by apprentice2013 | 1 Comment
3 weeks ago after pestering our farm manager about how much we really needed more baby animals on the farm, we nestled 35 freshly laid chicken eggs into our incubator. The incubator keeps the eggs at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit and turns them every 15 minutes to simulate the environment a broody mama hen would provide. During the 21 day incubation, we had a few hiccups in our electricity causing the temperature of the eggs to drop, and we were pretty doubtful that we would get any chicks out of our little experiment. But on the morning of the 28th (exactly 21 days after we started), there was a tiny cheeping chick standing confusedly among the rows of eggs inside the incubator! We could hardly believe it, we scooped her out and placed her in a box with food and water and a heat lamp. She was hardly the lone survivor, her brothers and sisters have followed suit and we now have 19 healthy (and loud) baby chicks eating and drinking and thriving in the maintenance building.
Our chickens lay different colored eggs
the shells they left behind
Be sure to stop by on your next hike to the farm to visit these little ones, they’re growing bigger by the day.
Hello from the new apprentices!
From left: Carolyn, Becca and Emilie
The three of us moved up here to Merck in the beginning of January, and so far have enjoyed spending our winter…
maintaining our trails,
working on the farm and learning to drive the horses.
We will be keeping you all updated about our time at Merck this year. Feel free to say hello and ask us any questions you might have when you see us hiking around Merck.
Be sure to check back for our next post, as we enter into the spring!
Emilie, Becca, Carolyn
Mural at Cerridwen Farm
Over the last few months, Merck staff members have been visiting other farms and education centers to tour around their sites and meet with program staff. By making these efforts, we hope to identify different aspects of their educational and agricultural programs that could help inform our work and perhaps provide a little inspiration. The most wonderful part of visiting places like Stone Barns Center (Pocantico Hills, New York) or Cerridwen Farm of Green Mountain College, is uncovering what we have in common while also recognizing what makes Merck uniquely different.
All three organizations strive to strengthen local food systems, work with natural systems rather than against them, and we invite others in to learn and be renewed by our landscapes. While the most obvious things that set Merck apart is our 3,100 acres of managed forest, 30+ miles of trails and roads and rustic cabin rentals, I think the most compelling difference is the visible history of land use that spreads throughout our hillsides. Whether you’re taking in the views from the farm or atop Mt. Antone, examining the change in forest structure as you move up and over ridges, or hiking alongside aged stone walls, there are stories to piece together. These stories speak of our past influences on the land, and provide a powerful context for us as we continue sustaining the land into the future.
Do you ever notice the small changes in the natural world while hiking? Like when one plant replaces another as you get closer to a stream? Or when a chickadee’s call changes when a hawk flies overhead? Maybe you notice larger changes like different trees in the forest canopy or when the wind and clouds predict rain? Do you take a notebook along and chronicle what you see during your trip? If you do these types of things or would like to, perhaps it’s time to nurture your inner naturalist.
In case you are unfamiliar with the term, a naturalist is someone who studies the natural world through firsthand observation and research. A naturalist takes a generalist approach to the natural sciences and through direct experience gathers information about a place’s flora and fauna, geology, weather and cultural history. So if you find naturalism intriguing, here are a few things to consider.
First and foremost, heighten your senses and awareness. As humans, we have weaker senses compared to many other animals. For most of us eyesight is our dominant sense and when we turn it off, our other diminished senses begin to compensate in surprising ways. A good exercise is to put a blindfold on and sit in a forest. You’ll notice textures, sounds, smells, and even tastes will become more intense. If you’d like to go further, you could even get down on your hands and knees and use your senses to explore what’s around you.
Second, you may have to change your approach to life and your hiking style. Are you the type of hiker that barely stops to breathe on the epic quest for the summit? Or are you more child-like, meandering from a flower to a salamander to a tree and on to the next interesting thing. Yes, peak baggers can be naturalists, but it’s the slower pace and attention to details that hones the naturalist’s observational skills.
Lastly, you must develop a “sense of place”. To me, a sense of place is the first hand knowledge of the identity of a landscape. It’s noticing and understanding the interactions of an area’s natural environment including those of the plants, animals, and humans that live there. It’s knowing what existed before the houses and strip malls and what forces created the hills and forest near your home. It’s knowing your watershed, climate, and who lived on the land before you. Gaining this understanding won’t happen overnight. The naturalists who possess a deep, penetrating sense of place usually have lived in one spot for most of their lives.
To start, keep a nature journal as it can be a wonderful tool to record your experiences. In your backyard or your next hike at Merck Forest, try these activities:
1. Sit-spot – Sit outdoors silently and without moving for 20 minutes. Using your journal, describe what is happening around you in as many details as possible. Use any form or style of writing you like. Count how many times you hear and see a creature do something and draw symbols representing the directions and type of sounds. Focus your attention on one square foot of ground and write about the minute details you see.
2. Animal Tracking – Look for tracks in sand, mud, or snow. See what prints and scat you find and describe them in your journal. Afterward use a field guide to help identify the tracks.
3. Nature observations – While outdoors pay special attention to weather, animal signs, changes in vegetation, topography, etc. Use your journal to make drawings sketches, stories, and poems to record what you see. Write down any questions that come up and try to answer them through observation before using other resources.
Becoming a good naturalist will take patience and time. You will have to pay attention, remain curious and ask good questions about what you observe. Over time your naturalist skills and sense of place will deepen. You will be surprised that you’ll actually begin to discover the real stories of a place and then it will be up to you to share them.
I challenge you to find some of the many hidden stories throughout Merck Forest and Farmland Center’s working landscape.
Coyote’s Guide to Connecting Kids with Nature
by Young, Haas, & McGown
Keeping a Nature Journal
by Clare Leslie and Charles Roth
Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation
and Tracking by Tom Brown, Jr.
Vermont Naturalist Organizations:
Institute for Natural Learning
Vermont Wilderness School
Blog Post by: Chris Wall
Illustrations by: Niki Sherey
Our current set of interns is moving on. Meghan, Dena and Martha got a great taste of our farm and forest here at Merck. They got the opportunity to install a sugar bush, produce maple syrup, work Daisy & Ellie, the draft horses, and see the way our farm runs. They were great and we will miss their smiling faces and excitement to get to work and get dirty.