Warm again

Essex Farm Note

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Week 51, 2015

I realize I have led every recent farm note with a paragraph on the weather, but I’m going to excuse myself for the repetition because a) we are farmers and b) it is truly remarkable. The air temperature is 40 degrees as I type; the soil temperature is 43 degrees two inches down, 44 degrees ten inches down, and 45 degrees twenty inches down. I walked out to the new field to see the garlic this week, and found it still growing, with good strong roots now and a little bit of a shoot. The cover crops are still gaining too; from the top of the sugar bush hill they make vibrant green patches in the dull and leafless landscape. On the downside, I pulled a big fat tick off of Mary this morning. A tick! On December 18th! The forecast calls for a little freeze tonight and tomorrow night, but highs right back up in the forties. If this goes on too much longer, we’re going to get soft.

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We have a large team on the farm right now and their extra hands, plus the fine weather, have allowed us to catch up on tasks that had been shouldered to the bottom of the to-do list. We got fecal egg counts on all the draft horses, treated the horses who had a heavy worm burden, and Dr. Goldwasser came to float their teeth. He was speedy and efficient, as always, and made dental work on 2,000 lb patients look fairly effortless. We were surprised to find that Jack, our ribby senior draft, did not have any major problems with his teeth, nor with worms. He is in his mid- to late twenties now, and has been thin since summer. In the field, Kirsten and her crew hand-weeded all the strawberries, and pruned the summer raspberry canes back from an unruly state to something more artful and productive. Taylor and Scott hitched Jake and Abby to mow down the asparagus fronds and the fall raspberry canes. Today, they will hook to the manure spreader to put a heavy load of bark mulch over the asparagus, rhubarb and raspberries. That should help keep the annual weeds down, and make the perennial weeds a little easier to pull. With two weeks left in 2015, we have hitched the horses 132 times.

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The two young rams we bought from Betsy Hodge in Canton have been hard at work. We were a little nervous that they were too small to breed our big ewes, but as usual, they managed to figured it out. Matt and Jon caught them and switched from red raddle to green raddle on their chests last week, and only four girls turned up with green butts. They were all first year ewes, the smallest of the bunch, so I am betting the rest of the flock is covered. We have some lamb in the share today, a holiday treat, thanks to Megan, Matt, Scott, Connor and Sam, who got a lot of butchering done. Our Amish friends came for two nights this week and we sent them home with the lamb skins, which they will cure and use to keep the seats warm on their buggies and implements. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this warm winter solstice 51st week of 2015. Happy holidays, everyone. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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It’s getting very colorful in the sheep flock.

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It took us a while to figure out that this UFO looking thing is the rain gauge on the new weather station.

Freakishly Warm

Essex Farm Note

Week 50, 2015

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Are we really this close to the close of the year? The light is thin, the calendar is on its final page, but the fields are green instead of white. Yesterday, I opened the door to the porch to let the sun stream in, and the cluster flies thought it was spring, and woke to buzz around and bash themselves against the window panes. Outside, it topped out at 60 and sunny. Miranda was home from school with a cold, but nobody can feel too sick on such an afternoon, so we tacked up Trigger and took a ride around the farm, marveling at the cover crops, still growing, the hens, still foraging, their triclawed feet scratching bugs from the soft ground. There is no frost coming for the next six days. No frost! Not even close – the lowest low predicted is 37 degrees. Weird as it feels, we’ll take it. It makes the winter work so much easier, and the animals are more comfortable, and require much less hay. We are using less bedding, too. The dairy cows are back on pasture this week, basking in the afternoon sun and cropping the last bits of grass from the field.

The newest New York Mesonet weather station, installed right here at Essex Farm, is now online. Go to http://www.nysmesonet.org/mesonow and click the Essex spot on the map of New York to see current data, which includes air temperature, wind speed, soil temperature at three depths, dew point, pressure and solar radiation. It’s almost unbearably exciting to weather-obsessed farmers like us. The live camera shows a view of Paddock 2, looking north toward Blockhouse Road. Local forecasts should be better now that we have local data.

We said goodbye to Clara this week. She was the nearly-black Jersey cow with pretty, curving horns. She came here in 2006, and she was pregnant with her second or third calf when she arrived, which means she was at least 13 years old, and maybe older, but we tended to forget it because she never looked her age. Personality-wise, she had her quirks. She didn’t get on well with other cows, was pushy with her horns, and had the quickest hind foot in the herd. Back when we milked by hand, she held the record for the most kicked-over buckets. But she gave us so much beautiful milk. She calved last week, and went down with milk fever the following night, despite a prophylactic dose of calcium. Milk fever is an acute drop in blood calcium that can happen when a cow freshens, and older Jerseys are especially prone to it. When Lindsey found her in the morning, she was lying flat and pretty close to dead. A dose of calcium revived her, but she stumbled in the barn, and went back down. After that she never recovered enough strength to stand, so after four days of coaxing and massaging her, we decided to put her down. Thank you, Clara, for your good milk and for your daughters, who will carry on your line. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this freakishly warm 50th week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

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The rams are in with the flock now. They have red paint — raddle powder — on their chests, so when they mount the ewes, they leave a red spot on their backs. That’s how we know they have been bred. This one has a red head. The rams were young, and perhaps confused.

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This week, we switched to green raddle powder, so we can see how many ewes were not bred the first time around. Also, because fluffy white sheep with green and red butts are as close as we can get to decorating the fields for the Christmas season.

Back from Cuba

Essex Farm Note

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Michele and I got back from our week in Cuba on Saturday. It’s good for the agrarian soul to see farms in other places, and good to recognize the bond we share with all other farmers, one that transcends geography, politics, and language. There were 250 people from 25 countries on the trip, and we broke into groups of 20 or so to tour farms in different provinces. The farms I saw, in Artemisa province, were similar to ours in that they were focused on growing healthy food for their own communities, and were highly diversified, with many relying on animal power forsome or all of their traction. Unlike ours, most of them focused on fruit, and used permaculture-style intense production methods on smaller-scale pieces of land (of 3 to 10 acres), with an emphasis on intercropping, and on worm compost.

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Predictably, I was obsessed with the buey – the good-looking oxen that are used for tillage, hauling and cultivation. Animal traction in Cuba has existed since colonial days, but it became newly, urgently important after the fall of the Soviet Union cut off not only most of Cuba’s food imports, but also access to tractors, parts, and diesel. Two of the teams we saw included one steer and one bull – or so it appeared from down low and behind. My Spanish wasn’t good enough to ask too many questions about that situation, but I have never seen working bulls in North America. One farmer hitched his team for us and demonstrated his method for killing weeds before planting, using a one-row walking cultivator with a bar running under the surface of the soil. I am a horse person and have always thought of oxen as rather slow and plodding, but those big buey moved out a lot faster than I thought they would, the yoke strapped to their strong necks by their horns.

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