Free Range Quest goes to Farm School!

Farm school starts real early.  And on a Saturday, no less! Kinda like actual farming, I suppose…

I recently received an email from the Oregon State University Extension Service about the 2012 Small Farm School, so of course Kristina and I had our applications and a check in the mail before the ink was dry.

We had the chance to choose from classes on crop and livestock production, farm  maintenance, small-scale equipment, soil and water conservation, and animal husbandry.

Small Farm School was a one-day event at Clackamas Community College in Molalla, Oregon. So much to learn! We wanted to take nearly every class they offered, but we had to narrow our choices to two. We decided to take a morning class in veterinary care, and a two-part afternoon course in the field for tractor operation and safety (Kristina also snuck into a fascinating class on soil sample analysis! This may not sound terribly thrilling, but it’s a great skill to have if you happen upon your dream farm land, but aren’t too sure if it’s as fertile as it is beautiful).

Seemingly overnight, the season changed from summer’s loafing stroll to the snappy step of fall to come. Not a cloud in the sky as we got up Saturday around 6 a.m. The air was a bite into a crisp, cold apple… and we were in search of hot coffee and tea… We are not morning people, but this particular, gorgeous morning reminded us how much easier it is to rise at the asscrack of dawn when you are doing so in order to pursue your passion (Self discipline note: I even swore off college football game day for school – That’s dedication!).

Starting out in the classroom, a place neither of us had been in several years, we were treated to a host of slides on parasites and treatment (host, get it?)!

We were fortunate to be in the company of others who are small farmers and livestock breeders; each student shared many of their own experiences along with our veterinarian teacher.

It was still quite chilly as we headed out into the field, past the hoop houses, greenhouses and compost displays to the animal pens. There, our vet demonstrated proper handling of the animals and taught us to administer vaccinations, take a temperature, care for hooves, and procure a stool sample…manually. So that’s what those elegant, elbow-length gloves are for!

We tended to sheep, alpaca, one horse, and some mini goats who had arrived in the back of their owners’ Subaru wagon.

We got a chance to measure the animals’ body fat and gauge them on a scale by feeling around the spine and hindquarters amid their bleats and baas.

Sheep flipping was a class favorite and looks like it takes some training.

Then it was out to the tractor field.

Our instructor Wynn and his wife run a small pig farm and teach tractor safety to high school kids by day. We got a look at a fantastic textbook from the 1980s with safety tips and illustrations… All still relevant, of course…

Wynn had to keep reminding himself he wasn’t teaching kids, and it seemed any moment he’d bust out the driver’s ed gore movies. It was a close guess though – he’d taught shop for 20 years.

Bottom line – the tractor is big and powerful as hell, so don’t flip it or run anyone over.

I was the first to volunteer to master the array of gears, speeds, directions and tools and away I went.

After a fantastic sandwich bar lunch at Farm School, we were able to meet some of the vendors and check out some info on small farm suppliers and soil enhancement techniques. We were on the lookout for materials to create a mini hydroponic greenhouse for herbs in ALFie, and one vendor in particular had exactly what we were looking for —

iCoir Coco Peat! iCoir’s Coconut Fiber is a more absorbant and renewable substance than peat moss and has many uses including animal bedding, composting toilets, a moisture retaining additive for garden soil, even as a medium for mushroom and hydroponic gardening — We picked up a few super compressed bales ourselves!

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