New arrivals sweeten Coggeshall Farm’s sugaring festival


The weather conditions weren’t ideal for tapping the sugar maples for their sap this past weekend, but Mother Nature did provide another surprise – or three – for those who ventured out to Coggeshall Farm for the event. On Friday night, the farm’s ewe gave birth to two baby lambs, adding to the newborn calf that was born a week before during the Blizzard of 2013.

“Life on the farm is about the process,” said Jon Larason, executive director.

On any given day, visitors and volunteers experience life as it was in the 18th century and become part of that process, sometimes tedious, sometimes challenging, always educational, Mr. Larason said.

Historically, maple sugaring was considered to be “side work” among the farmer’s duties, another opportunity to earn money from resources found in nature. Although he couldn’t verify the fact through research, Mr. Larason gave his account about how maple sugaring became a yearly event back in the 1800s.

“By the middle of February, the wives got tired of seeing the men sitting around inside, sharpening tools,” he said. “They told the men they should go off in the woods to make a camp and sugar.”

For “a couple of weeks,” the men would trudge into the woods surrounding the farm and, using primitive tools, such as a mallet and spigot made from tree branches, and a carved out log used to catch the watery liquid that flowed from the tree trunks would convert the liquid to a granular sugar they could trade.

Farm worker, Clark Andrew, helped tend the fire used for the sugaring demonstration.

“It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and one gallon of syrup will make one pound of sugar. The fires would be going 24 hours a day for as long as they could stand to live in the woods,” he said.

While Mr. Andrew instructed visitors on the art of sugaring, Elizabeth Kail led a candle-making demonstration inside the farmhouse. After watching Ms. Kail painstakingly dip a row of wicks into a bucket of melted animal fat, Stephanie Nisbet, Molly Liolios and Tess Schuster tried their hand at the process.

Despite the activities going on around Coggeshall Farm’s sugaring, visitors were draw to the barn where some new arrivals were also getting used to life on the farm

At the height of the Blizzard of 2013, farm manager, Shelley Otis, said workers were in the barn for the evening milking when the very pregnant cow began going into labor. A short while later a bull calf was born, but not without complications. The mother didn’t recognize the calf as her own.

”She was afraid of him,” Ms. Otis said. “Just just looked as if to say ‘what just happened?’ She didn’t want any part of it.”

The farm crews had to intervene, holding the mother still as the calf nursed. A week later, the mother and calf were still getting acquainted.

“She’s mellowed out now. And he’s fearless. They’re all right,” Ms. Otis said.

While the calf they named ‘Nemo’ after the winter storm rested in the cow barn on Saturday, Ms. Otis introduced visitors to a pair of lambs that were barely 12 hours old.

“They were just born last night,” Ms. Otis said.

Already the lambs were exploring their surroundings under the watchful eye of their mother. All appeared healthy.

“She’s a good mom,” Ms. Otis said.

With the earlier than anticipated births already occurring, the young animals will be well adapted to human interaction in time for the next farm event, Ms. Otis said. In mid-April, Coggeshall Farm will hold Wake Up in the Barnyard, where participants can enjoy a farm fresh breakfast, as well as visit with Nemo and the twin lambs.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.