Hurry hurry hustle zzzzzzz……

Essex Farm Note

Week 18, 2016

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Budbreak this week on the apples, red maples, the lindens. First weeding. Lots of seeding. And snow. White on the lilacs and on the bright green grass, between the furrows of turned earth. It snowed and kept snowing, and there are still piles of it in the shadows of the barns and the round bales. I was concerned about the newborn lambs, but they hunkered down next to their mamas, on piles of hay, and in the farrowing huts we took to the field for them, and kept themselves out of the cold north wind. The ewes who lambed this week were smart enough to do it in the snug dry barn. (Don’t let anyone tell you sheep are stupid.) The plants didn’t mind the cold snap, either. The snow was a blanket for the transplants, as the nighttime lows dipped into the low twenties. Onion snow, they call it, or, the poor man’s fertilizer. All the plants look good, and so far, no deer damage. Mark is still sleeping in the field every couple of nights, and Kirsten is going to bait the hot line with some apple scent, so the deer get a good shock and learn to stay away. The horses are out on pasture now, and so are the chickens, and Mark is putting a fence around the fall-planted rye as I type. The dairy cows are going out tomorrow for a few hours of fresh green grass.

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Green!

Piper the gilt had her litter this week, a dozen small but lively black and white piglets, all alive and thriving. It was so good to see a large healthy litter after all our farrowing troubles earlier this month. Piper is a good mother, lying down carefully so as not to crush her pigs, and positioning herself just so, so that both rows of her teats are exposed for nursing. She has 16 functional teats, which is awesome. One of the big sows, Lolita, farrowed yesterday, and is nursing eight. The piglets in these litters are more uniform and much smaller than those born earlier. Still not sure what was wrong or what helped turn things around. Cornell came back with the final results on the piglet they necropsied (who died, conclusively, of a heart defect) and he was negative for all pathogens they can test for.

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Oh so ready to wean

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Piper and the 12 pipettes

News from the lambing barn is mostly good. We have about 40 lambs on the ground, all happy and healthy. The firstborn lambs are in that ridiculously cute phase where they gang together away from their mothers and stot and prance all over the pasture. The small ewe with the giant lamb had a prolapse today, so she’s wearing a bright red prolapse harness, which will hopefully keep everything in place. Her lamb is thriving. A couple of the older ewes came in with humongous teats and udders, which their lambs had a hard time nursing. They got some special attention – milking out the mothers, bottle feeding the lambs until the size of things became more reasonable — but otherwise, it’s been a very easy lambing so far, relatively speaking. We have 14 ewes left to go, and much as I love this work, I’ll be glad when it’s over and I can get some more sleep. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this hurry hurry hustle crash 18th week of 2016. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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After lunch farmer posse

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Mark’s house

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Caffeinated

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Essex Farm Note

Week 17, 2016

Last week, hearing the forecast, I got the same physical, fluttery feeling I get when contemplating a fresh double espresso. The body knows before you even taste it: with this there will be action. Dry warm weather in April must be grabbed like a brass ring. All the field work that can be done now, on the early side, will pay dividends at harvest. So with that on everyone’s mind, and lambs coming like hotcakes, it has been a mighty exhilarating week for all.

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Lambs! The first one arrived on Sunday morning, and we have 21 on the ground so far, including one ridiculously beautiful set of triplets. The singletons are uncomfortably big this year. This morning I pulled a 12 pounder from a first time ewe. Both the ewe and her lamb are alive and well, but the ewe looks like she would rather not attempt that business again any time soon, thank you very much. The good thing is that the lambs hit the ground so sturdy and hale they are up and nursing in no time, and after a day or so in the jug they are ready to go onto pasture with the rest of the flock. It’s good for the soul to see them bouncing along with their mothers on the bright new grass.

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Barn check, moonset

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No new piglets this week, which was convenient, since lambing was so busy. We’ve given the sows who are close to farrowing a shot of selenium, a dose of wormer, and a bit more bedding to improve comfort and prevent chilling the newborns. So we’ve done what we can do, and now we hope. David Goldwasser called with one bit of news from Cornell about the piglet we sent for analysis last week. It died, he said, of a heart defect, a hole in the aorta. Assuming that was unrelated to our other troubles, I guess we picked the wrong dead pig. They will continue testing it for other things.

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I’m sending a big thank you to the small but mighty dairy team this week. Barbara Kunzi is boss of the milk after it leaves the cow, Ben is bringing us closer to my goal of bull-free artificial insemination, and we have two new milkers, Alex and Aiden, who are learning the dance of bucket milking. Our friend and former farmer, Kelsie, has agreed to come back to milk four mornings a week until we find the right full time milker, for which I am really grateful. Ben has been milking every morning and he is badly needed in other areas right now.

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Next generation milker

We have had tractors and horses in the fields from can until can’t this week, getting ready for corn, beans, vegetables, and cover crops. Kirsten, Isabelle, Anya, Taylor, Aiden, Phil, and Mark spent last weekend transplanting onions, Brussels sprouts, spring greens, flowers, and herbs, and direct seeding carrots, beets, and peas. The new field, which we are calling Newfield, received much of it, and the deer tracks are so thick over there, Mark has spent every night since then camped out in the middle of it, in the moonlight, plant guarding. We need to get a hot wire up out there before he becomes too sleep deprived to be good company.

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Bad ass farmers or new album cover?

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All hands on deck

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Big hugs to Megan Moody who is heading to work at the café at North Country Creamery. We are glad we will still have her in the butcher shop here one day a week. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this highly caffeinated 17th week of 2016.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Springing

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Garlic

Essex Farm Note

Week 16, 2016

Are you tired of repetitive news about difficult farrowings? Me too. But difficult things happen, and I’ve always thought it important to share the bad news as well as the good. So, the third gilt farrowed on Saturday morning and it was the same story all over again. Two piglets out, but dead, and the next one stuck fast, the gilt straining and straining until she was exhausted. I got the bucket of warm soapy water, the iodine, the industrial-size bottle of lube. With all this practice, I’m getting better at porcine midwifery. The piglet was head first and already through the cervix, so I could get two fingers around the back of the ears, thumb under the chin, and pull. It took a while but it came, a four pounder, which is a big piglet for sure. The next one was breech, with just the tail presenting. No way it was going to fit like that. I hooked a finger under the hocks and pulled the slippery back legs straight, then gently, gently, past the pelvic bones and out. This string of bad farrowings is not normal. Pigs usually birth with no trouble, needing help less than 1% of the time. I reached out to everyone I could think of this week; vets, pig farmers, and the hive mind of the internet have generated no obvious answer. The trouble could be anything from selenium deficiency to overfeeding, a bad mismatch of narrow-hipped gilts with a big-headed boar, something contagious, or a combination of things. The woman who sold us this boar, Scooter, is having difficult farrowings this year, too, though the boars she used on her gilts are not related to ours, and are of a different breed, so that’s a confusing data point to add to the mix. We sent a piglet off to Cornell for necropsy and tissue analysis, so maybe we’ll get a definitive answer. Meantime, Charlotte and I gave the remaining sows a shot of selenium, which will help if selenium is the problem, and won’t hurt in any case. We’re going to check their worm load, and keep our fingers crossed that this warm weather brings better results. Good news is that all of the gilts are alive and well, despite their ordeals, and the piglets that made it through birth are beautiful and growing like crazy.

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Nice pigs

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Alex and Charlotte, ear notching and castrating.

There is a big circle on the calendar today, and inside it, LAMBING BEGINS, with a bunch of exclamation points. Nobody lambed early, which was wise of those ewes, since the weather is making a sudden turn from harsh to beautiful. The lambing barn looks fantastic, ear tags and lamb slings and crooks and all the other supplies set out in good order. We are lambing in Beth and Josh’s barn this year, across Middle Road, and Beth, my techie friend, has fitted the barn with a lamb cam, which might cut down on my midnight barn checks. If we can get it working I’ll share the address with you and you can follow along at home.

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The view from Bonebender Barn, where lambing is about to begin

The forecast says we are at the front end of a stretch of perfect weather. The fields are already workable, and we’ve been plowing, harrowing, dragging, drawing up field plans, and debating the ratio of soy to corn we should plant. In the greenhouse, Kirsten, Isabelle, Phil and others potted up 2,350 tomato plants. The air in there feels thick with oxygen. We are waving goodbye to Katherine and Ben who departed for California today, with thanks and good wishes. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this crazy-good 16th week of 2016.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Garlic at sunrise

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Husband and wife farm walk, resting at the stream. Love those Billy Boots!

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One of the new fields is on a slope of glacial till. Lots of interesting rocks.

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Making plans at daybreak

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Kirsten, Isabelle and Phil potting up tomatoes

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2,350 pots done. Check.

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Cow

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Cowlick

Farrowing

Sunrise over the pond

Sunrise over the pond

Essex Farm Note

Week 15, 2016

The poor little peepers got refrozen into their pond this week. Good thing we haven’t taken the snow tires off yet, nor cleared the hall closet of mittens and parkas. Mark and the team installed two new heaters in the greenhouses, which kept the tender starts safe and warm. And despite the cold, the first flats of lettuce and onions are out of the greenhouse, hardening off, and the garlic in the new field is three inches tall. The animals are all eager for grass. I see a little more green every day, and I’m eyeballing the fall-planted rye in Superjoy; if we have dry weather, we could graze the dairy cows on it the last week in April, which would get them outside a week or two earlier than our usual on-grass date. There is nothing better for the health of a cow than a decoction of green grass and sunshine.

The farrowing report is a little dark. Good news first. T-Bone is alive and getting better, sharing her pen with another gilt, Happy, who is due to farrow any day. I saw them spooning last night, Happy’s front foot over T-Bone’s shoulder. In the next pen is Rizzo, another gilt who got into the same trouble as T-Bone this week. She had two healthy piglets on Sunday night, and then got stuck. Next day, I could feel the head of an enormous piglet corked in her birth canal. Ben and Charlotte and I got out the lube and warm water, Alex ran to Westport for oxytocin, and we found the lamb puller, a sturdy noose-like gadget with plastic-covered cables. After a minute, we got the noose around the back of the piglet’s head in a perfect position. Rizzo stood up and pulled hard against us. The piglet came slowly, and then all at once with a giant wet pop. That was perhaps the most satisfying five seconds of my life. The piglet was dead, of course, and the satisfaction did not last, because she had more dead piglets in her, and despite my efforts and those of a vet, we could not get them out. Rizzo got a shot of long-acting antibiotics and was left to rest. By the next day, she’d managed to get two dead piglets out, and two days later, two more. It was not pretty, and she is not feeling well, but she’s still mothering her two live pigs like a champ. We’ve never had this trouble before, and two in a row bodes ill for the three gilts left to farrow. We are not sure if the problem is the size of the gilts (which seems average for us), or nutrition, or the boar, who may just throw large babies.

Taylor had Jake and Abby hitched yesterday for a full day of work. They cultivated the strawberries, aspaeragus and rhubarb, dragged pastures, and collected all the 400 buckets and spiles from the sugarbush. Taylor and Conor got the evaporator washed up and stored last weekend, so this is the official end of the 2016 sugaring season.

There are some nice potted hardy perennial plants in the share this week, members. Plant them out in the sunshine as soon as you can. Many thanks to our lean mean crew of farmers, who worked hard and well this week, checking innumerable things off the lengthening spring to-do list. We’re still looking for a full time weekday milker, so please get in touch if you know someone. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this raw 15th week of 2016.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

First plants ready to report to the field

First plants ready to report to the field

Newborns

Newborns

That's not grass, it's chickweed, and it's going to be a big pain to get rid of this year. One year of seeding is ten years of weeding!

That’s not grass, it’s chickweed, and it’s going to be a big pain to get rid of this year. One year of seeding is ten years of weeding!

Machine shop, east wall

Machine shop, east wall

Best mystery of the year: how did that single line of rye get into a field of oats this fall?

Best mystery of the year: how did that single line of rye get into a field of oats last fall?

Peepers

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Essex Farm Note

Week 14, 2016

From bed before dawn on the Monday after Easter, we heard the first intrepid peeper, peeping away in the dark from the still-cold pond. Every spring of the last 13, the first peeper has marked the first week we are able to work the fields. Every year, when I hear it, I doubt the rule will hold. This year was no exception. I wrote in my notebook: Peepers notwithstanding, I don’t think we will be in the fields this week. Too wet by far. Doubter! The peepers are always right. Over the course of the week the soil temperature rose to 46 degrees and the strong south wind spirited away the water from the surface of the fields. Mid-week, Kirsten and the vegetable crew transplanted the perennials – sorrel, chives, nettles, sage, and dandelion – from Home Field to Mailbox Field, to make way for Taylor and Mark, who harnessed Jake and Abby to the one bottom walking plow and turned the soil over the site of the new hoop house. It was good to smell fresh dirt, leather and warm horses once again.

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A smallish gilt named T-Bone farrowed on Tuesday, and had a hard time of it. After seven piglets, four of which survived, her labor stopped. The next day she looked dull, wouldn’t get up, and would not eat. Later, she partly pushed out a bit of placenta, which led us to believe she had retained her afterbirth. Ben came over and we got a bucket of soapy water and some lubricant. It’s a job that calls for small hands. I scrubbed and lubed and in I went. I’d never done it before so Ben directed me. The sow was sick enough not to protest. I felt around, blind, following the trail of the placenta, until I felt something sharp. “Like a broken bone?” Ben said. “No,” I said, “more like a finishing nail.” Then – oh, of course – it’s a tooth! A dead piglet, very firmly stuck and beginning to decompose. There followed an agonizing hour of invisible struggle, my right hand versus a rotting piglet. I could hook a finger into the mouth or under the jaw, and get the head past the cervix, but the piglet still wouldn’t come. My finger didn’t have enough strength to draw it all the way out. I could grasp the whole skull with my hand behind its ears but then I couldn’t get it past the sow’s pelvic bones. Whenever I paused to adjust my grip, I lost all the ground I gained and the piglet would slide back into the depths of the uterus. It was maddening. We called Dr. Goldwasser, who prescribed antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and a shot of oxytocin, which may have done the work, as we found a dead piglet in T-Bone’s stall that evening. She’s still quite sick and we’ve fostered her four piglets onto Flop, a gargantuan sow who conveniently farrowed last night. We are nursing T-Bone and hoping for the best.

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Zohar had her last day with us yesterday, and is back to her job at Blue Mountain Center. She was a wonderful presence here since fall, did incredible amounts of work, and was a superstar lunch cook. Recent lunches were known as Zo-feasts. Thank you, Zohar! We’ll miss you, wish you a great summer season and hope we see you here again. We’ve recently welcomed three new farmers onboard: Anya, who joins vegetable team, Conor, on animals, and Phil, who is joining veg. Please make them welcome, members, as I know you always do! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this first-peepers 14th week of 2016. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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