Brittle

Essex Farm Note

Week 4, 2014

Travis plugged the tractor into the block heater this morning, to get it warm enough to start, and the extension cord snapped. It’s that cold. I recorded -14 after sunup, but really, once you get into the negative double digits, who cares? Super cold is descriptive enough. Mark has been in New York City since Wednesday. He comes back tomorrow, when the weather is due to warm up. Note this is exactly what happened last time he left the farm. It has occurred to me his energy might be enough to change the atmosphere.

I don’t want to curse us by saying this but I do like the cold, especially when the sun is brilliant, and I’m most impressed by how many things have gone right in this stretch of weather. The greenhouse waters are frozen but that was to be expected. They should thaw when it warms up. The automatic waterer in the covered barnyard has a thermostat and heater built into it. The valve got plugged with bedding and it overflowed and froze, but Travis got that fixed yesterday. The dairy team’s new crush is this big hot guy named Mr. Heater, a 125,000 btu kerosene-fueled hot air blaster that sits in the aisle of the barn during milking. The milking parlor is curtained off from the rest of the barn with one of our famous billboard tarps and it gets, temporarily, quite toasty in there. No more frozen lines or sluggish pulsators. Thanks to good bedding in the covered barnyard, no frostbite on the cows’ teats this week either, except for Winnie, who has a tiny, blind fifth teat that was doomed to get nipped eventually.

The biggest challenge in the dairy herd right now is not weather related, but might instead be due in part to the excellent feed we have this year. Three of the fresh cows are struggling with varying levels of mastitis in one or more quarters, which is a lot for us. My theory is that the highly nutritious haylage they are eating has boosted their production, and that, coupled with our once-a-day milking schedule, is putting some strain on their udders. Production is indeed copious. We just ordered two more 10-gallon milk cans, so we don’t have to juggle cans on the fly when we run out of capacity during milking. Clara freshened this week, with a bull calf. She’s the last of them until spring. Much as we love having babies it’s good to be finished with calving and the extra work it brings. While the rest of the farm is in the winter slow mode, dairy has been running at full capacity and then some, and Kelsie especially has been pulling some very long days. We just ordered a new 5-calf milk feeder to making calf chores a little easier. If we can get a handle on the mastitis that would make things easier still.

We had bad news this week from across the lake. Our friends Beth Whiting and Bruce Hennessy of Maple Wind Farm had a barn fire on January 13th. They lost a 12,000 sq foot barn, equipment, and stored crops. Like any farmer in this situation they could use some help rebuilding. There’s a donate button at http://maplewindfarm.com/category/blog/ and a fundraising dinner in Hinesburg VT on Tuesday, January 28th.  Info here: http://maplewindfarm.com/meet-farmers/

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this brittle 4th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Farm Walk mid-January

DSCN0091

Mary learning to stay even when her whole being wants to go after those maddening, flappy, squalking birds. The hens are in the greenhouses for the winter.

 

DSCN0096The sheep are in the east barn, close to lambing. Here they are eating mangel beets, aka sheep crack. When they are finished they look like they are wearing lipstick.

 

DSCN0120The dairy herd is in the covered barnyard. We’re experimenting with using wood chips as part of the bedding pack in here. Steve is with the cows, and young Martin is with the heifers. Here you see Steve demonstrating the Flehmen response. The bubble over his head reads, “Mmmm pheromones…”

 

DSCN0111This is the oops herd of pigs, two unexpected litters that are getting good and fat. They have a corner of the covered barnyard, deeply bedded. In the morning they are steamy lumps entirely covered in straw.

 

DSCN0122Breeding sows, due mid-February. We’ve fed them minimal grain this year, relying on skim milk, mangel beets, vegetable scraps, haylage and the like.

 

DSCN0106Calf pacifier.

 

DSCN0131The fields are sleeping but they are still bearing food. Here is the winterbor kale, which is harvested every week. It is starting to yellow a bit but it is very sweet.

 

DSCN0140The lacinato kale next door is not winter hardy!

 

DSCN0145

Wonderland.

 

DSCN0152Coyote on the left, Mary on the right.

 

DSCN0155Quiet pastures.

 

DSCN0157The beef herd has the south side of the second covered barnyard, and the horses the north.

 

DSCN0164We measure time in hay until spring.

 

IMG_7020Homeward bound. The solar panels are more efficient when it is cold but not when they are covered with snow! I wish it would slide off.

 

 

 

Winter Wonder

Essex Farm Note

Week 3, 2014

The old year had to be shoved out and the new one dragged in with great effort this year. Sorry to be out of touch these last few weeks. We are so glad to welcome 2014 with you, and are looking forward to the year with enthusiasm. The wonderful thing about farming is that each growing season is new in the same way that each day is new. Whatever mistakes were made last year are gone now, wiped clean by snow and cold. Seed catalogues arrived this week, their bright color pages full of promise. Soon we’ll start thinking about chicks, and sugaring, and getting the greenhouse ready for the first seeds. For now, though, we’ll enjoy the dark, the cold and the snow.

We got an inch of soft, fluffy snow this week, after several days of above-freezing temperatures. Incredibly, the warm weather was not enough to melt the thick ice on the farm roads, which has been causing pratfalls since Christmas. It did, however, warm the ice enough to make the snow stick to it and become much less slippery. That convinced me, yesterday, that it was time for a long morning’s farm walk, with Mary, who is now in that teenage half-pup, half-dog phase. She is turning into such a great dog. We saw all the animals and each sleeping field.

During the extreme cold weather, we brought the whole herd of horses into the west barn, to get them out of the cruel wind and also to warm the barn by a few degrees, to make milking a little easier. Then the ice came, and the horses had to stay in like it or not, because walking was too dangerous. They spent two whole weeks inside, with a couple hours per day of relative freedom, running around the covered barnyard while the cows were getting milked. They are finally out again, this time in the remote covered barnyard, sharing space with the beef herd. They look good and healthy. Only Abby Belle the pony is at home, where she is handy for the kids and me to ride and drive when the conditions allow. The sheep are in the east barn, growing broader and broader with their lambs. The first are due the second week in February. More pregnant mamas are in the east barn shed: eight sows, also due mid February.

We had a tricky run with the dairy cows in the last few weeks. Making milk is such a liquid business, and in the extreme cold, everything wanted to freeze. Kelsie, Scott, Aubrey and Barbara deserve lots of love for dealing with the frustrations of balky pulsators and frozen lines. Fern, one of our old gals, got milk fever when she calved just after Christmas, and when we treated her with calcium drench, she aspirated it, and came down with pneumonia. We had to put her down this week. It was a rookie mistake, for which I take full blame. She was not strong enough to swallow, and I was not confident enough in my ability to give her the IV calcium she needed. On the positive side, the calves are all doing marvelously. There’s been a lot of what’s called ‘cross-sucking’ this year, where the calves try to nurse on each other, which can cause injury. We keep them tied for a while after feeding, to try to cut down on it, and this week we’ve added some pacifier nipples to the calf pen, to give them something to do with their mouths. Will let you know how that works. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this winter-wonder 3rd week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

The Last Week

Essex Farm Note

Week 52, 2013

Those of you who have been with us from the beginning will remember the early years, when it was just Mark and me here. There were many times back then that the weight of the farm nearly squashed us. Things have changed so much since then. We have built good systems and there are so many more hands doing the lifting now, but occasionally, something unexpectedly shifts, and we are reminded that the farm is still big and heavy and we are still small and vulnerable. This week was one of those. Mark is away, not only off farm but out of contact, on a ten day hiking trip in the Grand Canyon. The plan to cover milking, chores, and distribution this holiday week was tenuous anyway – a bare-bones crew of Travis and Scott plus me with kids. Then on Christmas Eve, Travis got sick, and the weather got very cold, and one piece of bad luck led to another until this big boulder of a farm was rocking at the precipice, threatening to break away and roll downhill. The horse water and the milking machines froze up. The beef cattle knocked apart the fence that separated them from the year’s supply of hay. The dairy heifers broke into the milking cows. A calf got sick. The farm truck was in a ditch. The washing machine and dishwasher broke. The farm roads were an inch deep in ice. Fresh cows needed to be milked. Jane came down with a fever. Things go like this sometimes, and it’s not cause for wailing or whining, but there were so many time-consuming complications, there were just not enough hours in the day for all the urgent needs to be met. But, as in the past, friends and neighbors came and helped. Even on Christmas morning. Ron helped Travis. Jori and her family took care of our kids. Racey and Nathan of Reber Rock Farm, and Steven of North Country Creamery came over to do chores. Isabelle Smith made a surprise visit. Barbara and her daughter Leah stepped in heroically and helped in the dairy. Many times it seemed Scott was carrying the whole thing on his shoulders like Atlas. Still, every time I saw him, he was smiling, and making good, clear-headed decisions. I fear I may have forgotten someone to thank but I won’t forget this Christmas, not for the presents or the dinner but for the almost slapstick pace of unexpected difficulties, and for the love and gratitude I feel for the many hands who helped hold the boulder in place.

The dairy is an exciting place these days. There are six little heifer calves in the barn now, and one little bull. He was Poppy’s, born this week. He won the yearly lottery for bull calves, in that we decided to keep him for breeding. Poppy is a good producer, and a healthy third-calf cow; her little one, now named Peter, was a fine, big, vigorous boy. We are expecting three more calves in the next few weeks.

While we’re rich in milk this week, we are poor in eggs. The hens are irritable lately. We’re working on it. The kale looks a little rough but man is it sweet.  Finally, it is the last week of the year, dear members. Thank you so much for your support this year. The food was good, wasn’t it? Please remember to sign your contracts for 2014 today. The price of the share will remain the same. Happy 2014 to each of you from all of us. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this last week of 2013. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Yuletide

Essex Farm Note

Week 51, 2013

 

The low temperature of the week, according to our home thermometer, was -12. Barbara got frostbite on her toes while grinding grain. Andy and Peggy, in the office trailer, were bundled so thickly for their desk work I barely recognized them. On the bright side, this cold is festive, right? The ice on the skating pond has been phenomenal. And it has forced us to finish all the deep-winter preparations that can usually wait until January or February. This week, the barnyard was a mixed-up nativity scene, as we settled everyone into new quarters. The dairy heifers were in the north half of the covered barnyard with two bulls. Now they have the northwest quadrant, with one bull. The milking cows were in the south half, alone. Now they have a trapezoidal southwesterly zone, with the other bull. The young pigs have come down from the sugarbush hill, to occupy the rest of that space, and are happy to be under a roof, with lots of straw. The sheep are in the east barn and will start lambing in February. The young laying hens in the greenhouses were the warmest animals on the farm during the cold, clear weather. The old hens are on the compost pile, which generates its own heat. The horses are on pasture until the beef cattle eat their way through some of the hay stored in the second covered barnyard, but they seemed to know the cold weather was coming, and grew thick, warm coats this year.

Mary the cow calved early in the week. The next day, after afternoon milking, Scott came to the house to say that Mary was acting weird, like she was slightly drunk. Drunk cow pretty much describes the classic symptoms of milk fever, an acute and potentially fatal calcium deficiency that can happen after calving. We walked out to the barn and found Mary up and walking around but with dull eyes and a slight club-girl stagger. Scott got the halter and I got the calcium drench and we pinned her against one of the panels and got it into her. Calcium drench works fast magic. I checked her right before bedtime and she was back to her usual sober self. More than half the herd has calved now, and we are rich in milk once again. I hope the rest of the cows calve before the next cold snap.

A quick update on the other Mary, Jet’s daughter, the little black and white pup you see gamboling around the pavilion. She’s a little more than four months old now, and learning so fast. She’s got a reliable sit and lie, and a good solid stay, and a great come, except on the odd occasion when she goes selectively deaf. She has learned to wait politely instead of barging through the door into the house. Best of all she’s got an I’ll-try-anything attitude, coupled with her papa’s desire to please, and the uncanny English Shepherd intelligence.

Holiday preparations are in full swing at our house. Travis and Scott and the girls and I will be holding the fort next week, as the rest of the crew heads home for family celebrations. Mark’s going hiking in the Grand Canyon for ten days. I’m hoping there will be no farm drama while he’s gone, or if there is, that it will make for good stories. Happy holidays to each one of you. We are so grateful for your loving support on this yuletide 51st week of 2013.  -Kristin & Mark Kimball