End of Year

Essex Farm Note

Week 52, 2014

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What a warm close to the year. Last year at Christmas, we were dealing with frozen pipes and frost-bitten ears. This year, our neighbor Ron brought us some oyster mushrooms that sprouted up on his woodpile, and at our house, we went the whole of Christmas day without lighting a fire in the woodstove. Today, we worked outside without jackets today, faces to the bright sun. The ice has melted from the farm roads, which makes getting around less treacherous. The fields are nearly clear of snow, exposing the garlic, which is two inches tall. The animals eat so much less in warm weather; they don’t need the extra energy to keep warm. So we are saving on firewood, and on feed. A brown Christmas is not quite as pretty as a white one, but it is easier and cheaper on the farm.

Pancake the orphan pig is a fine big guy now. He is weaned, but still gets some cow’s milk for breakfast, plus some broken eggs, and all the water and grain he wants. A couple times a day we open the greenhouse door so he can come outside and root in the mud. He and Mary mess around like energetic siblings now – sometimes friendly, sometimes mutually exasperated. As soon as we wean the litter of piglets that is closest to Pancake’s age, he’ll go out to join them, and discover what it is to be a pig. I hope his immune system is good enough to keep him healthy. He was so close to being dead when he was a newborn, I doubt he got any of his mother’s colostrum. He did get a lot of cow colostrum, but a baby’s gut can only absorb immunoglobulin for a few precious hours after birth – with cows, it is best in the first six hours, and useless after 24. I don’t know how old Pancake was when he finally got colostrum, nor how much good it did him, given it was cow and not sow. We’ve done about all we can for him, so now we just observe, and hope.

Both of the two-week-old dairy calves, California and Frankie, came down with a case of scours this week. Scours is calf diarrhea, and it is the leading cause of death in calves. They are particularly susceptible at two weeks old, for some reason. The cause in this case was probably nutritional – that is, they were getting too much milk, or milk at the wrong temperature, or a combination of those things plus stress, which can come from changes in weather, housing or management. It was not severe enough to cause dehydration, so we just backed off on the quantity of milk, and are making sure it is warm enough. They are both on the mend now.

We had a small, tight crew on board for this holiday week. Thanks, gang! Besides a full load of the usual work, they moved more animals to winter quarters. The sheep came down from the Middle Road pasture to a paddock in the front yard. It was beautiful, before the snow melted, to look out at their wooly backs and friendly faces. It’s not quite as nice now that they’ve churned the yard to mud, but sheep are always better than no sheep in my opinion. The laying hens are in the east barn now, and the dairy cows are in the covered barnyard, looking very content.

Happy New Year to each of you. Thank you, as always, for supporting what we do. We are so excited to crack open the seed catalogues and start planning for the 2015 season. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this final 52nd week of 2014.                                                                     -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Nor’easter

Essex Farm Note

Week 50, 2014IMG_0667

That storm hovered over us like a marsh hawk, didn’t it? It was the heavy, wet stuff. The skid steer got stuck on the farm road. The horses got out, and no wonder. When I went to check on one of the dairy cows on Wednesday night, the electric fence lines were coated with an inch of ice, dragging them down into the drifted, heavy snow. Mostly, we got lucky. The other animals were either in barns or were content to stay hunkered down in the hedgerow. The cow I was checking on did not calve in the heart of the storm. And our power stayed on, though everyone in the village had to go without all day yesterday. No power would have made things much harder. It is no fun to milk 19 cows by hand, now that we no longer have those giant milker’s forearms and hard, muscled hands. Ice walkers are a key accessory today, and everyone is carrying a shovel around, clearing paths and doorways before the piles ossify into permanence. Special thanks go to Amy and Jori who braved the storm to make the Wednesday delivery to New York City.

For the friends who are following along at home, yes, Pancake is still in the greenhouse. His relationship with Mary is evolving. Until now Mary was maternally indulgent, no matter what Pancake did. Then, this morning, as he was eating and she was yet again cleaning his face (he has the cleanest face in pig history), Pancake bit her, and Mary snarled and pushed him back. He is still getting fed by hand four or five times a day, but he should start eating on his own soon, and once he’s weaned he’ll go live with the piglets in the covered barnyard.

We’re still wrestling with where to put the sheep this winter. They are not going to start lambing until the first of April, and with their thick covering of wool, they would be fine outdoors with good feed and some shelter, but the problem is we need easy access to them, to get them their hay and water. Whatever we decide, we need to move them soon, before the next big storm makes getting to them in the field impossible.

We have some beautiful neck roasts of beef in the share today. This is my favorite cut for stewing, because it has tons of flavor, plus connective tissue that breaks down under low, moist heat for gorgeous, gelatinous gravy. It’s perfect for pot roast, or it can be cut into chunks for stewing. The key with braising and stewing is to keep the temperature low. I aim for just below the simmer. Too high, and the meat will get stringy, dry and tough.

We have a major changing of the guard taking place this coming week. We are saying goodbye to three dear and important members of our team. Aubrey, Matt, and Scott, we will miss you all so much. Thank you for your hard work, perseverance, and good will. We can’t wait to hear about your next adventures with animals, plants, food, and horses. And members, please help us welcome Kirsten and Megan, who came on board this week, and Greer, who has been with us for several weeks now but has not been officially welcomed. And that is the news for this nor’easter 50th week of 2014. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

 

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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From Flat to Fat

Essex Farm Note

Week 49, 2014

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Pancake the piglet has gone from flat to fat this week. (Thank you, Miranda and Kate, for that evocative phrase.) We’ve been feeding him cow colostrum, which is denser than cow milk, and contains far more protein and fat. It’s not exactly the same as sow’s milk, but apparently it is close enough. Pancake gets fed with a dosing syringe four or five times a day, spends daytime hours rooting around in the aisle of the greenhouse, and cold nights tucked in a tub of hay, under a heat lamp, with the chickens. He is one social pig. When Mary enters the greenhouse he stands on his hind legs and pushes his snout into her fur. He has sharp little needle teeth and when he is very hungry (which is pretty much always – he is a growing pig) he digs them into her ruff and hangs there, grunting. Mary has become less avid about mothering him as he has grown bigger, but she still cleans his face assiduously after feeding. He must be a very confused boy: born to a sow, saved by children, mothered by a dog, and surrounded by chickens. But identity issues aside, he is a pretty content little porker. Mark is quick to point out that farmers really can’t do things like this, or at least not very often. Time and attention spent on Pancake are taken from other things. The needs of the farm as a whole must trump those of one small orphan. This is not heartless, it is utilitarian. It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong, if I remember my Jeremy Bentham. But sometimes there is a little budget for clemency. And it always feels so good. In a fine coincidence, the Whallonsburg Grange is showing Babe – the story of an orphan piglet raised by a dog who looks a lot like Mary – this Sunday, December 7th, at 2pm, for free.

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Who’s Your Daddy?

We’ve been on a kale binge at the farmhouse this week. It has gotten extremely sweet, thanks to the cold weather. We have eaten it sautéed with onion; tossed with salt and oil and crisped into chips in the oven; chopped into soups, chili, vegetable fritters, and frittatas; and as a main course, blended with garlic, ginger, Indian spices, and yogurt. Now is a good time to take extra to blanch and freeze, if you are so inclined, because very cold temperatures will rob kale that is still in the field of some of its quality. On that note, the delicata squash is nearing the end of its storage life, and the butternut will not be far behind, so enjoy it now and take lots of it for the freezer. Opinions differ on this but I’ve had the best luck freezing a final product in wide mouth pints, e.g., squash soup, or chili with chunks of delicata, rather than freezing raw cubes or cooked purees, which tend to get pushed to the back and never used. Soup and ready meals, on the other hand, are always in demand.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this frozen 49th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball