by melissa on December 11, 2013 | 0 comments
Over the years, Merck Forest and Farmland Center has offered sleigh and wagon rides through the farm and forest. This winter, we will once again be hosting sleigh rides. Keep your fingers crossed for snow; starting Saturday, December 21, the Sweetheart Sleigh will make its annual debut, and this two person sleigh will run weekends through March 2014. The group sleigh, a great option for families, will also run for three weeks. Schedule and info here.
There is a tremendous amount of leg-work that goes into getting the sleigh rides ready. The sleighs need to be cleaned, tuned up, bolts tightened, and moved out of the Harwood Barn. Scheduling is coordinated at the Visitor Center.
The apprentices, Colene, and Tim have been working the draft horses in preparation for them to pull several sleigh rides a day over the next three months. Sadly, Merck Forest’s draft team, Ellie and Daisy, will not be working the sleighs much this year. Earlier in the summer Daisy was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, and she has been struggling to regain her strength since then. While Ellie could physically pull the sleighs herself, she is often uncomfortable working without Daisy near her…
In order for sleigh rides to run, the decision was made to enlist the help of a draft team from a neighboring farm.
After a bit of scouting, Tim found Mae and June, a draft team from True Love Holsteins Farm in North Rupert. They will be with Merck’s farm through the spring. The team of Belgians arrived nearly two weeks ago. The team is in good shape, though we’ve had to get them acclimated to the Merck hills (this is true of any one who comes to work at Merck, the steep hillsides are a good initiation!).
When you come up to visit this winter, to take a sleigh ride, or go skiing, stop by the farm and say hello to Mae and June, Ellie and Daisy, and the rest of the farm gang. If you are up in the next couple weeks, you’ll see the horses out on trial runs. There is nothing more lovely than seeing a pair of draft horses trotting through the snow, sleigh bells ringing.
New draft horses join the farm!
This post is to answer the questions of some visitors who have been interested in knowing about Ms. Plum:
Last month we posted about artificially inseminating Plum, Merck Forest’s sow. It’s been three weeks and three days since the AI took place, and we are starting to think that perhaps Plum may be pregnant. She is not yet showing signs of entering a standing heat, but to be on the safe side, we don’t want to make any declarations. We’ll let you know for sure in a few days.
Piglets at the farm!
by melissa on December 4, 2013 | 2 Comments
For the past several years the pipes at the Frank Hatch Sap House have frozen in the winter, and no one on staff could figure out why. The pipes were taped and insulated, everything indicated that they should actually work–but they did not. It was just a mystery, one that we learned to work around.
That mystery was unearthed several weeks ago.
Chris, trail maintenance coordinator, had been eyeing the eroding retaining wall at the back of the Harwood Barn. The logs, which had been staked in place along the stone stairway, were starting to rot, and the soil behind the logs washing away. A great project! He, Tim, Colene, and the apprentices harvested and hauled logs from the larch plantation (behind the caretaker’s cabin) down to the barn. There they planed and cut the logs to size. They began began excavating around the old retaining wall only to discover…an exposed pipe!
At one time, when the original retaining wall was in place, and the soil behind it was compact, the pipe had been insulated. However, in the last few years, the eroded soil had exposed the pipe, though it remain hidden behind the rotting logs.
Viola! Mystery solved! The pipe to the sap house runs from behind the Harwood Barn. Hopefully, with some new insulation around the metal plumping, and a new, beautifully built wall, filled with gravel from onsite, the pipes will not freeze this year.
In a working landscape there are always mysteries to solve: everything from freezing pipes to figuring out the best way to integrate the needs of the farm in with the natural world. It’s just part of the dynamics: being a Nancy Drew in coveralls.
Tim, farm manager, atop the new retaining wall.
by melissa on November 25, 2013 | 0 comments
A picture of Plum from the spring, before she farrowed for the first time.
The piglets had their two month birthday last week.
That two months marks a time of change for the both the piglets and Plum, their mother.
Right around 8 weeks of age, piglets are usually weaned from their mom. They are eating solid foods, and able to forage out on pasture. Our six piggies were ready to move away from Plum and the Small Animal Barn, and their new paddock was set up on the south side of the old hoop house.
Plum was not particularly pleased when the piglets were removed from her side. In fact, she even jumped over the lower portion of the Dutch door in the Small Animal Barn, which, if you have ever met lovely Plum, seems like some feat (“some pig”). Don’t worry, though, Plum is fine, though the door is a little dinged up.
The other reason for weaning the growing piglets is that we would like Plum to have more babies by the spring. Within this week of her piglets being weaned, Plum was in heat again. Physically, Plum’s body changes when she is in heat, and anyone at the farm may have heard her “dinosaur sounds”, a whine/grunt/bellow that also signals she has entered estrus.
Rather than keeping a boar on the farm, we artificially inseminate Plum. Carolyn and Becca took on this task, and had to act rather quickly: sows generally are in heat for only 40 hours—which, when orders need to be placed and mailed overnight, allows for a quick window of opportunity for Plum to conceive.
We’ll know if the AI was a success in approximately 21 days. If it was unsuccessful, everyone will probably hear those “dinosaur sounds” erupting periodically from Plum’s paddock during her next estrus. If it was successful, look for new piglets around the Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast in March.
We’ll keep you updated via the “Piglet Post”.
by melissa on November 14, 2013 | 0 comments
Carolyn planting the gardens in the late spring.
When I arrived in Rupert in January 2013, my hope was that I would gain the skills during the coming year to eventually run a homestead of my own. My secondary goal was to be directly involved in agriculture so as to integrate responsible land use with a career in environmental problem solving.
During the year, the depth and breadth of opportunities for learning have blown my mind. At work, I’ve cried in frustration while learning how to harness and drive the horses or when that darned piece of equipment just won’t work; and I’ve laughed while chasing muddy pigs around the farm yard, working in the woods with the teen trail crew, playing farm games with kindergartners or simply eating lunch with the farm staff. I’ve found peace in the sugarbush, hayfields and berries, and been given a run for my money with the goats and rams. One of my most adventurous commutes occurred in March, when Old Town Road iced over so badly that we had to slide to work most of the way from the Lodge on our behinds. The same day, the wind was so strong that it blew me into a snow bank. Working at Merck has been nothing if not new, daring and wonderfully funny at times.
Living at the Lodge has been a joy and a complement to working on the farm and in the forest, especially given my interest in homesteading. This winter, we tapped 15 trees behind the house and learned to boil sap ‘the old fashioned way’. Sitting outside at sunset or under a starry winter sky, watching steam rise off the pots (which eventually gave us three gallons of homemade maple syrup) was magical. After our fall harvest, I’m up to my ears in canned and blanched foods ready to be eaten this winter- a result of learning from my housemates and books. Installing and living with solar power is prompting me to think seriously about integrating a similar system into my own future. And, there’s really no better way to end a day than curled up by a woodstove with a good book and a cup of tea.
I can say with certainty that working at Merck has taught me more skills that will be relevant to my future than any other employer. Yes, we work with livestock and grow high quality food, engage with the public as well as drive tractors and make hay- all of which have been extremely satisfying. I can now comfortably use a chainsaw and a crosscut saw. And working with draft power has been one of my favorite parts of the apprenticeship. But the less flashy aspects of the apprenticeship have also been valuable. Before January, I had no idea how to fix most broken implements, or do basic carpentry, or maintain vehicles or use a plow truck. Those skills, which should be a part of high school or college (and are not) will be relevant to me for the rest of my life.
When I describe my experience at Merck to family and friends, I say that this year has been like getting a degree in farming and life skills. And it’s also wonderful to know that our work here is integral to Merck. As a farm staff of five, three of whom are apprentices, the farm really relies on apprentice power to function year-round. Now that’s what I call a win-win situation.
by melissa on November 6, 2013 | 0 comments
For months Tim has been working on a plan for the farm: one that acknowledges what can grow well on our land, the desire to use draft power, the strengths of educating apprentices, sustainable landuse, a farm that is visitor-friendly, et al.
One component of the plan, which started to go into place a few weeks ago, was the cultivation of land for more berry bushes.
Currently, Merck Forest has pick-your-own blueberries and raspberries during the summer season, but the plan is to extend the growing season (and picking season) with fall raspberry varietals.
The farm also wants to expand the types of berries we offer, and so blackberry bushes will be added too.
The latter are an experiment. We are not sure if we have the best location for blackberries, but the farm staff picked an area up by the old greenhouse, which has a nice, warmer, microclimate. We hope that the blackberries will grow well here.
Emilie and Colene used Ellie to prepare the location for the bushes.
by melissa on October 29, 2013 | 0 comments
Making Merck Forest a more visitor-friendly space has been a top priority this year.
As such, the parking lot is getting a little bit of an overhaul.
We’re closing off the smaller parking area to cars. What? you say…
Well, let me explain. You see, so many visitors come here and drive loops around the parking area while looking for the right area to place their vehicle. Sometimes in the summer, people cannot find the large parking lot, the one meant for daily and overnight visitors, because the trees block the view into the space. Often, the passenger will bounce out of their idling car and run into the Visitor Center. “Where do we park?” they’ll ask.
This sod was taken from the farm trail and will be used to revegetate part of the parking area.
The installation of new signs last year seemed to ease some of the struggle, but overall, the parking lot setup is just not intuitive enough for most people to easily navigate the space.
And, when they come to visit, they don’t want their first minutes here to be filled with confusion. It doesn’t start the trip off on the right foot.
We hoped the signs were a first step toward mitigating the traffic confusion, and then this past summer, Chris worked with various groups to make a new trail that runs from the large lot to the VC.
It looks pretty snazzy and more foot traffic seems to be following the route, but it still doesn’t solve the difficulties of people knowing where to park: big lot, small lot, on the grass by the Visitor Center, somewhere under a tree?
The smaller “short term” lot seems to add to the general confusion. It’s not large enough to hold more than five cars comfortably, and with the introduction of the new pathway, even fewer cars can park there, unless the path is blocked.
So, the smaller lot is being revegetated, and all cars will be directed into the larger lot–hopefully in a concise, easy way.
Becca raking the compost across the loosened gravel. Compost went on top of the gravel to provide the sod with some good soil to grow.
The revegetation is ongoing. That sod mentioned in the last post, two flat beds worth from the completion of the farm trail, was hauled down to the VC last Thursday. After dragging up the compacted gravel, our staff worked to lay down composted soil and then place the sod on top of it. Leaves and other detritus were added into the mix.
The area still needs some more work. More sod may come from the addition of a small trail to the new coop at the farm.
The borders of the newly vegetated area were filled in first. Leaves will be raked in to cover other areas.
Hopefully, with one large open lot for parking, instead of several tinier not-quite-parking-spaces scattered around, visitors will feel more comfortable when they come up the driveway.
by melissa on October 28, 2013 | 0 comments
Trail ends at the pasture by the raspberry bushes. Trail work was done by Chris and many volunteers and groups.
Two weekends ago, students from Middlebury College worked on service projects here at Merck Forest. The final phase of the Farm Trail was one of the projects they completed. In 2012, Chris (trail maintenance coordinator) and various volunteers had started revamping the neglected farm trail, and, with the assistance of the Middlebury students, the connection to the farm was completed.
The Farm Trail provides another avenue for visitors to access the farm. It can be argued that it is the most exciting of the pathways to the farm, cutting up through various segments of the forest, old tree plantations, and new growth, before exiting on a hill that has a spectacular view down over the pastures and barn area.
The crew worked to remove sod along the edge of the hay field, but instead of delivering the chunks of grass to the compost pile, the vegetative clumps were saved on two flat beds, and hauled down to the Visitor Center on Friday (see next blog post for more information on the second part of this cool project!).
With new trail signs in the ground, and a freshly maintained walking surface on the trail, we invited our visitors to change up their usual route to the farm. Feel free to let us know what you think of the trail improvements.
Plum and her piglets were moved from the Small Animal Barn last week, and they now reside on pasture at the end of the Farm Trail.
by melissa on October 22, 2013 | 0 comments
The farm staff have been working hard on the new coop. It’s very close to being done, and it will be a great new home for our flock of chickens.
The chickens are getting a new home at the farm…in the Harwood Barn as a matter of fact.
Raising chickens is tricky dice here at Merck Forest.
Well, raising chickens may not be, but figuring out which type of coop works best is a true challenge. We like our chickens to have mobility, to be able to move around and peck and graze where they can find food–this might mean that a flock of chickens would do well in a coop that can be rotated through the pastures.
But a coop that can be easily moved also must be able to withstand the winds, which, on this mountain top farm, are frequent and can be strong. Structures that are not well-built don’t often last for a long time.
Old coop setup in pasture. New coop is in the Harwood Barn will be much easier to keep warm than the above structure.
Plus, with the winter winds, a stand-alone coop can be difficult to keep warm (imagine 20 chickens fluffed up, perched above their nest boxes with a heat lamp for warmth. The electricity for the heat lamp would come from an extension cord pulled across the pasture–not very practical).
With these considerations in mind, the chickens are moving into an underused room in the Harwood Barn.
The new coop when still under construction. Emily created an awesome roost for the chickens.
The barn is a wind-proven structure, having stood for the past 150 years. It already has electricity, so a long run of extension cords is not necessary. And the smaller gang of hens and rooster will fit quite comfortably in the new space. Their coop will be open during the day, and the chickens will be able to roam around the farm.
The coop will be finished soon. The chickens might even move in tonight!
Let us know your thoughts on the new design…
Carolyn was in the field office several weeks ago ordering a new piece for the mower. Part of the connection to the tractor had fallen off in the field and gone missing.
Last Friday, parts all in order, Carolyn worked on putting the mower back together. She was so excited about the mechanics of it—”so simple, yet so effective.”
It’s gratifying to watch someone take pride in the maintenance of a piece of equipment they use. Somehow, that process of caring and building (or rebuilding) creates a deeper connection to place—no matter if it is fixing a part of the tractor used several times a week, or brushing down the horses after they have spent the morning pulling the wagon.
The mower is fixed now. Becca is using it today to mow part of the Hundred Acre Meadow—a grant-funded wildlife habitat at the top of Old Town Road.
by melissa on October 16, 2013 | 2 Comments
It’s good to marvel at the little things some times.
One of those small things that never fail to make us wonder: the collections of remnant walking sticks.
We find them everywhere, usually after a weekend, or a busy week day. Birch, maple, oak. In multiple sizes. Two foot sticks for the pint-size hikers, and taller walking sticks for the more mature visitor.
They collect in front of the welcome sign. They lean up against the side of the Visitor Center, and of the Harwood Barn. Even random tree trunks are decorated with them. Sometimes there is even a stash in or outside of the outhouse. Gosh knows, some probably have been hucked down into that murky hole (but, I won’t be looking there).
Tom and Kathryn usually just shake their heads, “Why do they leave them here?” But they say it with a smile.
Most of the time, we just toss the sticks back into the woods…probably to be discovered again at a later date.
I like to think that the hiking stick repositories are something more. That each stick was left with good intentions by the people that enjoyed spending an hour, or a weekend, exploring Merck Forest.
Those remnant walking sticks are badges of time well-spent. They are small tokens anonymously conferred from one visitor to the next; an invitation, saying, “Here, go explore. It’s beautiful out there.”
by melissa on October 9, 2013 | 0 comments
Before chores, the farm staff gathers in the maintenance building office. If it’s chillier out, like this morning, mugs of tea and coffee line the table, sending steam curls up into the air. Emilie, Carolyn, and Becca know the routine; they’ve been working this schedule for nearly 8 months as part of their year-long apprenticeship.
Merck Forest wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much without apprentices. These three women have been so critical in further developing the farm.
This year, “the girls” have had a hand in everything that happens at this non-profit: animal husbandry, plowing, planting, harvesting, trail work, farm planning, education programming, and decision-making. They get to put on their chaps and buck up logs with chainsaws, and make educational crafts with school groups. They’ve offered ideas for how to increase the visitor-friendly atmosphere; they’ve hoed and raked the growing garden patches and fields.
Patient, caring, questioning, and wicked smart—Carolyn, Emilie, and Becca are awesome to work with, and they always make the time to answer the queries that come from visitors: little kids all the way up to the adults.If you want to know about Merck Forest, ask one of them. They live, work, sweat, and laugh here; it’s all just a part of the routine.
Apprentices are undeniably important to our operations, and apprenticeships provide young adults ten months to develop their farming skills and understanding of the non-profit sector. Many future blog posts, similar to many of the former ones, will be directly from Carolyn, Emilie, and Becca (and future apprentices).
by melissa on October 7, 2013 | 1 Comment
Sometimes it seems like nothing is happening at the farm, but that is far from the truth.
How does Merck Forest get visitors involved in the day-to-day activities of our working landscape?
It is not always easy to invite the public into our daily operations: who wants to volunteer to castrate the piglets or de-worm the lambs? How many people have time to follow the implementation of the ten year forest management plan?
Chances are not many of you are raising your hands in a hurry.
Merck Forest is an actively managed 3,000 acre property, and so much of it seems off limits to visitors. Or not visible, not approachable. Sometimes, Amy will send visitors to the farm, and they come back down 20 minutes later. “Where is everybody at the farm? We didn’t see anyone,” they’ll say.
This is a challenge we face week-to-week. We want to change that. Merck Forest staff wants you to feel like you can take part in tangible, visible farm activities or forest work.
Sarah (ed. director), Timothy (farm manager), and Chris (trail maintenance coordinator) have been developing ways for you to get your hands dirty with us: Year-long apprenticeships, volunteering opportunities, trail crew, seasonal school offerings, and programs like Farm Chores.
Programs are important ways to let the community share in our work; being such a large working landscape, sometimes our small staff cannot always be visible to the public. But set program times allow you to interact with the farm or forest when things are happening!
We invite anyone with an interest to contact our staff and learn more.
Next post: Get your hands dirty with us…Apprenticeships at Merck Forest
These two helped catalog species during MFFC’s fist BioBlitz, held last May. Programs like the BioBlitz are great ways to be involved with Merck Forest.
by melissa on October 2, 2013 | 0 comments
Melissa wonders if it is better to print the Ridgeline in black and white, to reduce the amount of color ink used, or if readers prefer the bright colors?
Merck Forest, as an education non-profit, is always seeking ways to let members and visitors know what programs, events, and activities are happening here at the farm and forest.
As an organization that strives to be sustainable, MFFC struggles to find the most environmentally-friendly ways to publicize the programs, events, and activities.We are constantly looking for the best answer to this predicament.
Unfortunately, the answer is never black and white. So many questions have to be asked before an answer can be found.
Do we use paper? Which kinds: post-consumer recycled, certified-sustainable paper, etc?
If we use paper, should it be printed with soy-based ink? Not all soy products are harvested organically or sustainably; some are grown in large monocultures.
Do we switch everything to electronic sources? What does that mean for electrical use and the future of electronic waste? Does this favor only a select group of our readers, as many prefer a “paper-in-hand” experience.
It seems with every choice we make, as a staff we must make a list that measures the positives and negatives of that choice…
…and consult our visitors’ and members’ opinions. Your opinion really matters in our decision-making.
The newest question focuses on the Ridgeline, the Merck Forest and Farmland Center quarterly newsletter. It contains articles on our partnerships, educational programs, annual events, volunteer information, farm animal updates, recipes, and more.
The Ridgeline is written as a collective: staff, apprentices, board members, visitors, and school groups all contribute to the newsletter. It’s awesome!
But…is printing the color ink, eight page (front and back) newsletter four times a year, and sending it to 900 members each time (that’s 14,400 pages total/year) sustainable?
We are weighing the pros and cons right now. We hope you’ll give us your opinion.
by melissa on September 30, 2013 | 0 comments
“…and feel free to sample some maple syrup…”
…That’s what Amy usually says when a group comes into the Visitor Center, inquiring about the production of Vermont-certified organic maple syrup here on site.
Amy Holding a Half Gallon of Syrup
Six months ago, our staff and apprentices were working hard in the below freezing temperatures of the sugar bush to tap sugar maple trees, and boil the sap into syrup in the sugar house.
Throughout the rest of the year, Amy works with the apprentices to take the syrup, which is stored in 35 gallon drums, and run it through the filter press and canner.
This process is STICKY, to say the least—but it’s the only way for visitors to be able to take home a pint.
Now that the holidays are approaching again, the syrup sells more quickly. Amy runs orders from the online store and sends those orders all over the nation. Several went to California just last week, and someone from Alaska called the other day to ask about the syrup!
We’re so grateful that people from all over the country love our syrup, and come back year after year for the ample liquid. “It’s the best, it’s definitely the best,” we hear them say.
Maple Leaf syrup containers make great gifts!
And none of our staff disagrees, especially after we get to lick our fingers clean at the end of the process (don’t worry, we won’t contaminate your gallon)!
Merck Forest makes and sells its own maple syrup year round from the Joy Green Visitor Center. We offer Fancy, Grade A Medium and Dark Amber, and Grade B.
Pick up a quart next time you visit for you or a gift… and, while you are in the store, feel free to sample some of the syrup!
by melissa on September 27, 2013 | 0 comments
The school group gathered for an introduction on the class: Ins and Outs of Eating, Nutrient Cycle on the Farm.
With fall comes a surge of students to the farm.
It’s fun to watch the students disembark from their bus, usually with big smiles on their faces. And, why wouldn’t they? How often does an elementary or high school student get to spend a morning or afternoon on a beautiful mountain-top, gaining hands-on experience with farm animals or the regional flora and fauna?
This week, elementary students from Wells, Vermont arrived on sunny Monday afternoon. The breezy air was just cool enough to keep everyone feeling sharp. Sarah, Merck’s education director, brought the students to the west side of the Harwood Barn. There, she and the apprentices introduced the teachers and kids (little guys to middle schoolers) to the course: Ins and Outs of Eating and the Cycle of Nutrients on the Farm.
After the brief opening, the circle disbanded into two groups, which would go around and observe the different animal groups on the farm. Sarah and Emilie took the older guys to see Ellie and Daisy, the draft horses, and Carolyn and Becca led the younger students to their first stop: the chicken coop.
Observation is a skill that our staff tries to instill in students of any age. Students spend time watching the animals, paying attention to the details, and the bigger picture—What do the characteristics of a chicken tell you about what or how it eats? What happens once a ewe has consumed clover from the field? Where does the horses’ waste go? What does the cycle of nutrients mean for the farm environment?
Carolyn holds the hen for the students to inspect up close. Students observe the chicken’s features and learn how it fits into the ecosystem of the farm.
Questions may lead to observations; observations may lead to more questions. The nature of observation is a cycle within itself.
Either way you want to look at it, getting school groups to notice their environment, and understand how that space fits into the larger ecosystem, is key to our place-based education programs.
by melissa on September 23, 2013 | 0 comments
Autumn seems to creep up on us here at Merck Forest. The first “smell” of it usually comes in the late summer, and we’ve already had several nights that dip down to the freezing point. Appearance-wise, it looks like fall is just about to take off.
The apples are still ripe and hanging onto the trees. They started to come out in mid-August, and now the trees are heavy with the fruit.
The leaves are really starting to change their guises. On the radio this morning, the host announced that the upper elevations might see peak foliage later this week into next.
With the colder air becoming more of the daily norm, grasses are not growing as quickly. The farm staff worked last Thursday and Friday to prepare and hay several of the pastures, which never had their second cut. The summer’s rainy weather, and MFFC events, held back some of the haying season, but now it must be done before the vegetation withers.
Emilie, apprentice, and Sarah, Education Director, took turns tossing bales of hay to the back of the flatbed.
Haying is a necessity for a farm that strives to be as self-sufficient as possible. The hay that was cut earlier in the season, and again now, will feed the sheep and horses through the 6 months of winter. Once the first real frosts come, the animals will not be able to graze on pasture, and the farm staff will have to carry hay to the flock.
While we welcome the changing aesthetics of the forest, the shifting seasons make for a change in operations at the farm as well.
by melissa on September 18, 2013 | 0 comments
Piglets were born this past Sunday. Plum, Merck Forest and Farmland Center’s heritage breed sow, gave birth to three in the early morning hours, and by the time Colene, the Assistant Farm Manager, arrived for morning chores, Plum had given birth to a fourth. Three more piglets were born during chore time, unfortunately one was stillborn, but with apprentice Emily checking in to make sure everything was going well, the other piglets and Mom did just fine.
Piglets begin nursing within 10 – 35 minutes of being born.
Six curly-tailed, pink piggies might be considered a small litter by some, especially when you look at the size of the newborns—they weighed in at an average of 2-3lbs (As Colene put it, “the size of a homemade loaf of bread”), which, all-totaled, still only equals a fraction of Plum’s 500 lbs. But, piglets grow quickly, and six piglets, plus a sow, can have a big impact on the land.
This past summer, Merck used a group of pigs to help manage the farmscape. The pigs cleared overgrown brush in the understory around the farm by grubbing around in the dirt, scratching their itches on fence posts and small trees. The six summer pigs made a huge difference in the viewshed, clearing densely vegetated areas that had previously blocked visitor’s and staff’s views into the pastures.
The new piglets, though little now, will also impact the land. As they grow, they will frequently move to new pastures, both in the fields and the forest. Pigs that stay too long in one place can cause erosion of topsoil and chew down too much vegetation, but a rotational grazing pattern will help create a varied landscape that respects both agricultural needs and those of the forest ecosystem.
But…ideas of land management and stewardship might be too much for Merck’s little piglets. Right now, they are comfortable in the warmth of Plum, heat lamps, and the straw bedding in the Small Animal Barn.
Come visit Plum and the piglets in the Small Animal Barn at the farm!
Piglets sleep within the “bumper”, the perimeter around the farrowing stall that allows them to be warmed by the heat lamp and be safe from their mother potentially rolling on top of them.
by apprentice2013 on June 7, 2013 | 1 Comment
This week Chris took us out to do some trail maintenance on East Hollow Road and the Hatch Trail. We knew there would be some fallen trees to clear, after the many wind storms we’ve had this spring.
We didn’t bring any chainsaws with us, instead we brought an antique crosscut saw. There are advantages to using a crosscut saw. For starters it uses human power rather than fossil fuels, and without a loud engine running you can hear any cracks or shifts as the tree is cut.
We all got a chance to try the crosscut.
The cross cut saw uses its own weight to cut into the tree, so its not necessary to push downward. The trick is to get into a rhythm with your cutting partner. When each cutter can pull release in time with each other, its amazing how quickly the saw can slice through the wood. I tried singing a song while Emilie and I sawed.
- To finish the cut, we removed one of the handles to use the end of the blade
As an apprentice at Merck Forest, it’s great to be able to learn the technologies of yesterday and today. By learning how to operate tractors as well as draft horses, and chainsaws as well as crosscut saws, I feel empowered to choose the system that works best for whatever my situation is in the future.
P.S. It was also just a beautiful day to hike around Merck, while we were out we saw indian cucumber, jack in the pulpit, and almost walked right into a birds nest.
by apprentice2013 on June 1, 2013 | 1 Comment
In the upcoming summer Ridgeline newsletter, I (Emilie) write about exploring Merck Forest this past winter and spring and finding favorite spots along the way. One place I write about is outside of The Lodge, especially in front of a campfire making maple syrup on a cold day.
Emilie, Becca, and Carolyn making maple syrup in April.
Now we want to hear about your favorite places at Merck! Is it the top of Antone, a certain cabin your family returns to each year, or a specific tree on your favorite trail? Leave a comment on this blog post, or find us at the farm and let us know!
by apprentice2013 on May 24, 2013 | 0 comments
Today was a very busy, cloudy, rainy day at the farm. As we walked down from the lodge this morning, it seemed like Merck was in a cloud.
We started the day with animal chores, such as feeding the pigs, moving the sheep, and collecting eggs from chickens. As the rain came down harder, we moved to projects that would allow us to be half inside, half outside, such as moving wood into the barn and cleaning out the Small Animal Barn.
Amy and Melissa prepare to check the cabins in the rain.
Ellie stands in the rain.
However, our plans were interrupted by a call saying the pigs were all the way down at the Visitors Center! We spent much of the morning corralling 5 of the 6 piglets back inside their fence.
The piglets and Plum, our sow, are currently in the woods by the Discovery Trail, where they are able to root around in the mud and clear brush without destroying the pasture.
When the pigs were all back in their fence, we went to check out the other fences. We noticed part of the sheep fencing down and went to fix it. As we walked up, we were a little too late, and all the sheep moved into their next pasture. Luckily, Carolyn had set up the next pasture for them the day before, so they were fenced in.
We spent the rest of the day, with all the animals where they were supposed to be, cleaning and mucking out the Small Animal Barn. We moved some of our heartier seedlings, like kale, outside, but kept the rest, such as corn and squash, inside as the temperature outside got down to 42 degrees!
Corn sprouting up.
Later today we will be breeding our sow, Plum, through AI (artificial insemination.) Check back soon to see if we were successful and to find out more about AI in pigs!
by apprentice2013 on May 10, 2013 | 0 comments
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!
by apprentice2013 on April 27, 2013 | 0 comments
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!
by apprentice2013 on April 16, 2013 | 0 comments
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 on April 2, 2013 | 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 on | 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.
by apprentice2013 on March 20, 2013 | 0 comments
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
by merckforest on August 2, 2012 | 0 comments
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.
by merckforest on June 6, 2012 | 0 comments
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
by merckforest on April 10, 2012 | 0 comments
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.