lamb jackets

Week 4, 2013

It was a rather bloody week here at the farm. The hens in the south coop began picking at each other’s feathers over the weekend, and the picking quickly escalated into cannibalism. By mid-week we had lost forty birds. Cannibalism is one of the most common problems in egg production, and it is the reason large commercial egg producers routinely cut the beaks from their newly hatched chicks. It is less common in small, pastured flocks like ours, and we have not faced it before this batch of hens, but this is actually the second time we’ve seen it with this same flock. When they were chicks, we lost a good number of them to cannibalism in the brooder. The causes of cannibalism seem to be partly genetic, and are also tied to nutrition, light levels, housing conditions, and population density. In this case, I believe the outbreak was triggered by a combination of genetics, more crowding than usual (because the hens were not inclined to go outside during this cold weather) and too much artificial light. We have the light adjusted now, and the problem has almost stopped.

There was more blood in the dairy barn, when David Goldwasser came over to remove some half horns from our yearling heifers. As you probably know, we kept horns on all our home-raised heifers in the past, and have had some injuries in the herd as a result. Most of them were not life-threatening, but they made the cows uncomfortable, and when they happened in the udder, they caused bleeding, loss of production, and obvious pain. Then we bought eight dehorned heifers two years ago, which shifted the power dynamics in the herd, so that the low status hornless cows got seriously bullied. After weighing the pros and cons of horn removal, we decided to evolve toward a dehorned herd, by disbudding the heifers we raise for replacement cows. But our first attempt last year did not fully stop the horns from growing, because the instrument we used (which burns the tissue around the calf’s horn buds) was inadequate, so Dr. Goldwasser came out with his big horn cutters and some vials of lidocaine to fix the mistakes. He ran his finger over the skull at the edge of the first yearling’s eye, to find the cavern that houses the nerve that serves the horn, and filled it with 2 ccs of lidocaine. Then he took the horn loppers to the horn and nipped it off at the base. The little severed arteries squirted blood at his glasses. He fished for the arteries with a pair of forceps, gripped them, then pulled them until they snapped, which stopped the blood. After the cavity was packed with gauze, the heifers went back to eating hay. The disbudding on this year’s calves was far easier, less traumatic, and also bloodless – much preferred to  dehorning.

Mark came in just now to say that one of my ewes has dropped a lamb, so I’m heading out quickly to towel it off. I watched another ewe lamb last night, twins, and was anxious about how the babies would survive their first night, the coldest of the year. I dried them, bedded them in a jug with their mama, put lamb jackets on them, and hoped. This morning they were up and nursing beautifully. It’s amazing what a tiny newborn can withstand if it is dry and has a full belly. Since the protocol worked so well yesterday, I’m off to do it again now. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this frozen 4th week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Beer google

Week 3, 2013

After bragging to Mark about how dang successful I’ve been at avoiding illness this year, I’m down with fever and sniffles today, so a quick note before I crawl back to bed. Last Sunday, Mark and I rode Jay and Jack down to the cattle barn, then circled back through the swamp, where Jay dropped his head to sip the cold, clear water, and then home, over Monument field. The ground was almost bare of snow and water was running in little rills over the half-frozen ground. The drainage pipe at the low end of Monument Field was as full as I’ve ever seen it, drawing the melt off of 30 acres. We wouldn’t mind a bit more snow now, to insulate the ground and the perennial plants from extreme temperature changes.

In the kitchen, I re-discovered the utility of cheap beer this week. I made a big pot of pork and beans, with hocks and a beautiful piece of shoulder, navy beans, onion, garlic, carrot, and celeriac; all the flavors came together when I added a can of Genesee.  Then, on Wednesday, I roasted a chicken, and as I was making the gravy, I realized I didn’t have the white wine I usually add, so I used a can of Busch instead. We still have a case of the special edition cans that were distributed during deer season, hunter orange. You’ve heard of red eye gravy? I’m calling this redneck gravy. And it was fabulous. Fancy beer is too hoppy, and adds bitterness. A good old boy American lager is just right. In other kitchen news, I’m doing another batch of nixtamal today, for tortillas. We’ve printed out some instructions for making nixtamal and masa for those of you who have been asking.

Liam is here until he and Jenny leave to travel in Colombia at the end of the month, and everywhere I see a horse these days, there’s Liam: ground driving Jay and Jack single and double, shadowing Chad while he pulls logs or puts calks on his horses’ feet, joining Mark to skid round bales into the dairy barn with Big Abby the mare. It makes me happy to see his desire to learn these skills. I know the other farmers are just as eager, but they are too busy with their farm duties to be with the horses as much as Liam is right now.

Cory got the last pig butchered this week, a triumph. It has been a busy, porky two months in the butcher shop. The rest of the winter should be a little bit easier on him. There is also beef in the share this week, from a cow we bought from Steve Martin, a grass-fed seasonal dairyman who milks all by himself in Westport. We invited Steve to team dinner last Friday, and interrogated him about his herd and his practices. Jenny and I are fishing for an invitation to his farm, to see how he handles his nurse cows and their calves. In other dairy news, we are losing confidence in the dairy bull, who is supposed to be breeding our cows right now. Every time he makes the attempt, he glances off-target, landing to the right. We suspect he has a physical defect. (Note to self: in future do not google bull penis deformity images before breakfast.) And that is the news from Essex Farm for this brisk 3rd week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Dare to dream

Week 2, 2013

It’s planning season, always an optimistic time. It’s good to dream of what could be while the days are short and our spirits are fresh. It makes for some BIG dreams, and they might lose some of their puff as spring comes along and pushes them from imagination toward reality, but it’s good for us to have exciting goals to aim for. We keep the year plan and our mission and vision statements posted in the office, so feel free to take a look if you are interested. Here are the highlights:

Mission/Vision statement

This is in process. I’m never sure if it is useless or indispensible. We’re tweaking it to go beyond food, and aim to provide more of your material needs, like firewood.

New products

  • We hear your desire for winter greens, members. We in the Carhartts tend to be happy with shredded roots and vegetables from the freezer, but you miss your green salads. So we’ll try to make that happen for next winter. We need to write a hoophouse and row cover into this year’s budget.
  • We are definitely adding firewood to the share. In fact, Chad and his horses are pulling four cords worth of logs out of the sugarbush today. Stay tuned for specific details.
  • Scrapple. I believe it is the perfect breakfast food.
  • We’d like to add dried herbs, if we can work out a good drying system and make the time to do it.
  • Lamb and mutton. Our pilot flock is doing well and we plan to expand.
  • In the dare-to-dream category: corn tortillas.

 

Agriculture

There are always enough dreams in this category to keep us busy for the next hundred years. We’ve prioritized the most urgent ones, plus the ones that will give us the biggest bang for the buck.

  • Weed control. If we get behind on weeds, we pay a heavy price in increased labor, loss of production, and missed opportunity to work on other things. If we nail it, everything else is easier. Therefore, it’s priority #1. We need to set aside time this winter to overhaul our weeding equipment and perhaps add some multi-row cultivators to the arsenal.
  • Drain Jackson and Potato Fields. We are amazed at the exponential boost in production we’ve gotten from draining Monument and Pine Fields. Drainage is also a hedge against climate change – it helps mitigate the cost of extreme weather – so we believe it is a wise (though hefty) investment.  These two fields are about 25 acres total.
  • Grow enough high quality feed and bedding to make us independent of rising market prices. This may mean hiring out some of our haymaking and spring tillage.
  • Build a proper root cellar near the pavilion. This would reduce loss due to poor keeping conditions and save time hauling vegetables around in the winter. It would fit into the 5 year goal of a new distribution building.
  • We are looking at some “insourcing”: hatching our own chicks, making potting soil, saving seed, etc.
  • We need a huge generator in case the power fails.

 

Farmers

Mark and I are motivated to keep employees here as long as possible. When we asked the whole crew what they most want, it was unanimous: teamster training, and to build equity in their own houses and land. The first part is simple, and we have begun to throw ideas around for the second part. We’d love to hear your own ideas, if you have them.

 

In other farm news, we had a pair of lambs born on Wednesday night, twin rams. One had a slow start. He was small and a little chilled, and he had a hard time getting his front feet to work; I gave him a couple bottle feedings of cow colostrum (because Juniper conveniently calved the same night) and he seems to be in good shape now. You can say hi to the new boys and their mother in the run-in east of the East Barn. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this thawing 2nd week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Shards, chips

Week 1, 2013

Real cold this week for the first time in two years. The thermometer at the house read negative 8 just before dawn yesterday morning. I kept the woodstove jacked all day on dry split wood. I don’t know if I will always love winter but I know I do now. Especially these clear frozen nights, with shards of moonlight, chips of starlight, glinting off fresh snow. Hooray for the frost free waterers serving all the cattle and the horses. I’m happy to report they worked. The only real difficulty was the pulsators for the milking machines, which froze during yesterday’s milking. Amy heated up first-aid gel packs and laid them on top of the pulsators and that got her through it. Speaking of heat, Amy is off on a trip to Thailand next week, so Kelsie will be distribution coordinator in her absence. Happy travels, Amy!

The dairy cows had a rousing New Year’s Eve. They broke out of the covered barnyard through a weak gate and caroused all over the farm. We found tracks in every part of the barnyard, and at the house, where they explored our woodshed. By dawn, though, they’d had enough of the fast lane, and put themselves back into the covered barnyard, where Amy found them, chewing their cud.

We had our annual meeting yesterday with Dr. Goldwasser and the state vet, Dr. Ellis. We purchased a cow about three years ago who turned out to have Johne’s disease. She was quickly culled, but we couldn’t be sure that other cows and calves hadn’t picked it up from her. Johne’s is difficult to detect before it spreads. While a calf can be infected by its dam the day it is born, via milk or manure, the test is ineffective before that calf turns 2. Carriers can be asymptomatic. And the best test is only 50% accurate. There is no cure. Dr. Ellis says that 70% of dairy herds in New York State have some Johne’s cows. We would like to be in the other 30%, so we joined a state program to make sure we are clear of it, and to prevent it from entering our herd. Last year, all our samples tested negative, and we will test again this year and probably for several more years to make sure we’re free. What a bad deal that one cow was!

How do you like the cozy pavilion, members? I think we are becoming masters of repurposed, recycled, free materials.  Those tarps came thanks to my father, who knows a guy who owns a billboard company. Tarps are also helping keep the horses and dairy cows warm in the new covered barnyard, which, I have to say, is a smashing success. It is such a pleasure to milk dry, clean, happy cows! Go take a look, and if you feel like a long walk, visit the beef cattle in their new barn. Members are always welcome to walk or ski the farm roads. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this shiny new 1st week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

You make our little world spin

Week 52, 2012

The year is tiptoeing toward its exit, white and hushed, and here on the farm, it is going happily, peacefully. Amy, Cory and Stephen stuck around for Christmas, and Kelsey and Travis came back just in time to help get things buttoned up before the snow storm hit. This year’s infrastructure improvements mean that storm preparation is not the stressful race it used to be. The beef cattle are in their new covered barnyard now, and their hay is stored in the old metal barn right next door to them, so we no longer have a mad rush to haul hay to them before the farm road becomes impassable. Now we can snowshoe to them if necessary, and, with a pair of hay elevators and a generator in place, one person can get their bales to them without breaking a sweat. Even better, we have a frost-proof automatic watering system set up, so no more freezing the fingers while fiddling with wet hoses. Heaven. Up in the farmyard, the dairy cows are in their covered barnyard too, enjoying both an automatic water system and big round bales of our late second cut haylage. The winter dysentery is all cleared up, and the cows who were struggling with a bit of mastitis are better, so milking is once again a pleasure instead of a chore. The sheep came up to the barn the night before the snow hit, and are tucked into the base of a pile of loose straw, next to the sows and the dairy calves. I am glad to have them close by. Cold is coming and that makes the coyotes hungry. There was one sad casualty of this year’s warm fall: the winter leeks rotted in the root cellar, which was 10 degrees warmer than usual, and we threw them to the compost pile this week. But the onions like warm temperatures and are holding well, and so is the garlic, so we are not going to get bored in the kitchen just yet. Speaking of which, I’m still working on my tortilla technique. Mark and I ground 4 or 5 pounds of corn into masa last night, and Jane and I will press them into tortillas when she gets up from her nap, to be served at tonight’s team dinner. I am experimenting with how long to boil the corn, how much lime to use, and how fine to grind the masa. When I get it dialed in, we’ll do a demo at distribution. Mark and I are dreaming about how to get masa or even tortillas into the share.

A less visible but crucial improvement for this year was getting all our finances onto QuickBooks. This has allowed us to really scrutinize our numbers, and the result is a rise in the share price, from $3300 to $3700 for the first adult in a household, which breaks down to about $8 more per week. We needed to do this to keep up with the rise in organic grain prices, offer health insurance to the farmers, and keep the farm healthy and solvent. We will happily share these numbers with members in a few weeks, when they are in readable shape, so you can see what we see. As always, if you can’t afford the cost of the share, we offer a sliding scale. Talk to Mark about that or any other questions regarding the 2013 share. We are so excited about the coming year and are so grateful to our members. Your support allows our little world to spin. And that is the end-of the-year news for this puffy 52nd year of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Banditos

Week 51, 2012

I’m traveling today, so am sending news from afar, and it may be a little stale, as I haven’t had news from the farm since yesterday morning. Clara had her calf this week, a little heifer named Corey. She is tall and brown, and looks more like her father Spenser than her black, high-strung mother. At two days old she caught the winter dysentery that has been going around the dairy herd. In the adults the disease has, as the vet books say, low mortality but high morbidity – the cows feel and look perky, but they lose condition rapidly, due to dramatic, explosive diarrhea. This condition is common in warm winter weather, and there is no treatment for it; it must run its course, which it will do in a week or two. We have been through this before and know how it goes in the adult cows, but we’ve never had it in such a vulnerable little baby. When Jenny saw she wasn’t taking her bottle, she moved the calf to one of the horse stalls, and got out the little plastic bag with an esophageal tube attached, used for feeding calves too weak to suck. She filled the bag with milk, pushed the tube past the calf’s tongue, and got some good warm nutrition in her belly. The next day, when her guts were worse, we switched to an electrolyte solution – homemade, of salt, baking soda, and karo corn syrup. We got it into her the same way as the milk, then covered her up with one of those shiny foil space blankets, which I pulled out of our human emergency kit, and attached to her with bungee cords. She looked like she was ready for the Halloween parade, a sleepy little space calf. By the time I left town she was looking much better, but the rest of the calves were coming down with it. We have a particularly hale batch of calves this year, so I have hope it won’t set them back too far.

The whole Essex Farm crew came over on Wednesday for our annual holiday caroling party. Mark hitched Jake and Jay to the wagon and set up some bales for seats, and Jane grabbed the beautiful set of hame bells that belonged to my great grandparents. Then we rode to town, and inflicted the Twelve Days of Christmas on Essex’s unsuspecting citizenry. Back home, we ate chili and drank glogg and told stories about the year that is ending. I was reminded, again, what a good life we have here, surrounded by a wonderful group of people, and dedicated to the never-dull art of nurturing living things. Mark, who is not known as a present-giver, has been searching the internet for the last couple months, looking for the type of balaclava that he finds indispensible in cold winter weather. He had some extremely specific requirements, and the one he has used and loved for the last 15 years has been discontinued. We finally found a similar model, black only, at an army surplus store, and all the farmers got one, and everyone wore theirs for a picture at the end of the night, so our holiday party is thus captured for posterity: a gang of banditos with good biceps, aligned on the farmhouse couch, with twinkle lights and poinsettias in the background. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this very merry 51st week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

State of the Farm

Week 50, 2012

I just came inside from a glorious morning walk around the farm. Here is today’s state-of-the-farm report. It has been a mild, dry first half of the last month of the year, and the animals are still out grazing. This is good – more time on pasture equals less expensive stored feed. The milking cows are way up the hill by middle road; just Alma, Clara and Juniper left to calve. The draft horses are in the same area, grazing a mix of pasture and corn stover. They are largely idle now except for a bit of plowing; I’m looking forward to doing some logging with them next month. The dairy heifers and dry cows are on Long Pasture where the coarse grass has turned palatable. Jenny and Liam took a roadtrip this week to pick up a new Jersey bull. He’s in the bullpen now, ready to join the cows. The sheep are cleaning up the ditch and laneway between Superjoy and Monument fields. The flock of 17 has been enormously useful against weeds. The ram, Rambo, returned today from breeding duty on another farm. The dairy calves are under the protection of the east barn’s shed roof. We have increased the milk ration for the calves this year and oh how they have grown. The fall-born heifers are already big, robust girls. The boar and his ladies are next to the calves, under the same roof. Black Diamond’s romantic moves are a great source of entertainment during calf chores, as pig love is just as awkward as you might imagine. It also appears to be totally exhausting, for the boar at least. He looks about as done in as a Chippendale at a Tupperware convention. The non-breeding pigs are still in the woods just north of the cabins, but their numbers are decreasing quickly. They are perfect slaughter weight now, so pork is going into the walk-in freezer just as fast as possible. Hens are stationed in the barnyard for the winter, in both greenhouses, with a run to the outside. Sorry egg production was so poor last week, members. The older flock is molting (which means their energy is going toward making new feathers and not eggs) and production for the younger flock was disrupted by the move; we made some adjustments to the feed ration, and gave them additional light in the greenhouse, and production should bounce back quickly. Last but not least, the beef herd is still happily grazing the fields near the lake. When they are finished or when the weather turns, they will go to the new covered barnyard. Meanwhile, Mark is acting as mission control today for a project of NASA-level complexity, moving 210 bales of haylage to the barnyard from the leased acres on Middle Road. The bales are wrapped in plastic that must not be punctured, or the feed will go bad. The tractor and truck traffic along the driveway is insane! Inside, Steve Blood’s fingers are flying through thousands of financial transactions, getting all of the farm’s financial transactions into QuickBooks. Soon the computer will spit out the answers to my money-related questions. And in the kitchen, I’m still in love with corn. I got my corn grinder this week (Victoria brand, $60 delivered) so la cucina is fully outfitted, and Jane, 5, is now competent on the tortilla press. We had extremely authentic tacos, and made tortilla chips with the leftovers. I promise a tortilla workshop during distro early in the new year. And that is the fast and poorly punctuated news for this short, bright 50th week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Farmer reunion

Week 49, 2012

Mark and I were away for a few days this week, speaking at Cornell and Ithaca College. On the way home, we squeezed in a pair of farm visits with some old friends. First, Northland Sheep Dairy, where Donn Hughes and Maryrose Livingston milk a flock of sheep and make exquisite cheese. Actually, I think it might be more accurate to say that Maryrose milks sheep and makes cheese. To Donn, I think it’s all just an excuse to work his horses and mules. The newest addition to their farm, and one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, is a three month old mule named Leigh, out of Donn’s Suffolk mare, Connie, and their mammoth jack (donkey), Eddie.

Next stop was year-round diversified CSA Greyrock Farm in Cazenovia, owned by Essex Farm alumnus Matt Volz, and run with our friends and former employees, Tim Biello and Sam Ehrenfeld, plus a host of other savage and lovely farmers. We found Sam’s girlfriend Brooke in the barn, milking the herd of mostly Brown Swiss cows, which includes Minnie, the girl Matt bought with donations from Essex Farm Note readers after his very first cow died an untimely death. Sam was in the butcher shop, as usual, turning pork into art. He gave us a little package of boudin noir that was so divine that Mark and I began discussing the gory technical details of making a batch here. At sunset we walked out to find Tim and Matt and Matt’s girlfriend Jillian in the field with Matt’s chunky team of Percherons. They gave us a tour from the wagon as we picked up hoses to be stored for the winter. We said goodbye in the first floor of an old barn that Matt is turning into a heated distribution center with a commercial kitchen. Greyrock has grown so much and so well in the last few years. Next trip, we’ll be looking at that new barn space for inspiration.

Meanwhile, back on our own farm, the gang kept all the animals fed, watered and inside the fences, got the last batch of chickens in the freezer, and stopped Jet from descending into the depths of depression. (He really doesn’t like it when his family goes away.) It’s such a pleasure to know we can leave the farm for a couple of days without (much) fear. Thanks, all. And members, please say hi to Travis, who joined the full time team this week.

It’s busy out there today. Peter Gucker and his crew are here putting finishing touches on the covered barnyards, which will be ready to receive cows very soon. We just got a huge bulk delivery of potting soil for next year’s greenhouse starts. And we put $7,000 of roasted certified organic soybeans in the granary. The price of soy – and organic soy in particular – has skyrocketed, alongside the price of other grains, so Mark and I are talking about growing it next year. We’re also looking into growing Canadian field peas – a high-protein alternative to soy.  And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this balmy! 49th week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Ode to corn

Week 48, 2012

If you are a regular reader of the farm note you already know about the affection I hold for corn the plant. I feel exactly the same way about corn the food. I love it because it is our own native North American grain, in the same way that I love maple as our own form of sweetness. When I eat it I remember the corn in all its instars, from a bin of fluid yellow seed to the thousands upon thousands of milky tender seedling so tempting to the crows, to mighty summer grass waving in the wind, and finally the hefty ears on brown stalks, the kernels of which the kids and I test with our teeth in the fall until they are hard like stones. We had this year’s dried corn in the share for the first time last week, and I’m feeling seriously Mexicana in the kitchen right now, so let’s talk about how to prepare it. Please note, members, that the whole corn in the share is not quite dry enough to store at room temperature yet. You should not take more than you will use in a week unless you keep it in the fridge or the freezer.

Corn fulfills its potential for flavor, energy and nutrition when prepared according to traditional methods. I’m talking about nixtamalization: cooking it in an alkaline solution to free up niacin, which also changes the taste and the color. Nixtamalization is the difference between corn and hominy and it is why corn chips and tortillas taste like they do; once you try it and realize how easy it is you are going to go nuts making delicious and interesting things like pozole (hominy stew), tamales, your own corn tortillas (I just bought a tortilla press), and – praise the lard – tortilla chips. While you can nixtamalizize with wood ash, it’s more convenient to use lime (calcium hydroxide), which is sold as cal in Latino groceries and easiest to find around here during canning season as pickling lime. I bought Mrs. Wages brand at the hardware store this year, but since canning season is over and it is annoyingly expensive to buy online, I’ve ordered 20 lbs bulk to put in the share to get us through to next summer. I hope it will be here by next week. My favorite way to use hominy is in pozole (pork and hominy soup), a hearty one dish meal for a crowd. Other classic Mexican uses are gallina pinta (oxtail, pork and bean soup) and menudo (tripe stew), the traditional Mexican New Year dish. However, the possibilities are endless and don’t need to be Latino in flavor. You could use hominy in a chowder, in chili,  a cheesy casserole, or a cold salad.

In other news, real cold and some snow arrived last night. The team, bolstered this week by volunteers Travis and Cynthia, has been working hard to get roots out of the ground before it freezes solid. In came the winter leeks (which are shorter and more flavorful than the summer leeks we have been eating); the rest of the Brussels sprouts (we have more than we could ever use before they go bad so please take extra to share with your friends); half of the parsnips (the other half was left to winter and sweeten in the field until spring); and the whole field of mangles, those 20 lb fodder beets that will help feed the dairy cows through the winter. They are piled in a straw-covered clamp to the west of the barn, a heap I’m calling Mt. Beetmore. The farmers also sorted and moved six thousand pounds of potatoes to the basement of our house. The dusty, dark smell of them has wafted up through the floorboards so that it hits you when you open the front door.

We had three new calves born in the dairy herd this week. Only Betty’s was a heifer but oh what a pretty one she is. Amy found her and so claims naming rights. I love her choice: Beatrice. Peter and Brian and Leo are putting finishing touches on the new barns; we should have animals in them in two weeks. Meanwhile, the cattle, horses, and sheep are grazing the last of the fall forage. Our new Angus bull is not used to rotational grazing and is also not the most well behaved bull on the planet; it took a brave posse to move him to a new paddock this week. Either he’ll get the hang of it or he will be in the share this winter, after he has bred the cows. We have Christmas trees in the share this week, and don’t forget, this Saturday is the Magic of Christmas in Essex celebration in town. Santa arrives at the blinking light at 9:15. Chad and Fern and Arch will give him a wagon ride to the firehouse for a free pancake breakfast starting at 9:45. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this white 48th week of 2012.

Kristin & Mark Kimball