Teats Out

Essex Farm Note

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Week 20, 2016

The kids and I are rushing to get on the road to see my parents and sister and pick up our seed potatoes, so please forgive the brevity this week, along with any typos.

The vegetable team has worked to get the new greenhouse staged and ready for raising, lots of transplants and seeds in the ground, and, already, hours of the never-finished work of weeding. The very first asparagus has emerged, the long-awaited taste of spring. I’m hoping they will come on fast now. The lettuce is coming along in the field, and the tomatoes, which are hardening off outside the greenhouse, are pushing the limits of their four-inch pots. They are lovely, stocky, healthy looking plants. We had a scare this week, when Anya and Kirsten found a couple of plants with bad-looking damage, but the lab analysis shows it’s nothing more than a fungus and not the dreaded late blight that we all know and fear.

The dairy cows gave us a rough time these last few days. On Monday, Kelsie, who milks four mornings a week, told me that they had been particularly kicky, but I was distracted, and told her it was probably because their udders were so full on this nice spring grass. Then, that evening, I milked, and realized what she’d meant. My meditative gentle hour in the barn turned into a full-on two hour rodeo. Cows who have never raised a hoof during milking were trying to take my head off, and the touchiest cow managed to kick the milking machine apart. I couldn’t figure it out. Their teats were tender and red, as though they’d been… burned. That was it! Of course. They had been bathing in the sweet May sun, teats out, like a bunch of tourists on the beach in Ibiza, with the same pink, hot, sunburned results. We slathered them with aloe, but it was still difficult going. Finally, today, they have started to settle down, their teat skin peeling off in sheets.

Lambing is finished, hurray, hurray. The grand total for the year is 62 lambs. I should know better than to crow about no difficulties before the lambing is over, as I did last week. On Tuesday, the ewe who had triplets was standing in the field looking off. I got closer, and half of her bag was blue with bad mastitis. She’s in the barn with her lambs, getting a course of antibiotics, and the lambs are being supplemented with cows’ milk and some grain. The rest of the flock is combined now, and will begin pasture rotation on Monday.

Heifers are finally on pasture, as of five minutes ago. They have had to watch their elders walk back and forth between the pasture and the milking barn since May 1st, and have been increasingly expressive about the injustice.

That is all the news I have time for on this blooming 20th week of 2016.

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-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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The Sound of Contentment

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Essex Farm Note

Week 19, 2016

There is a very specific feeling you get at the end of a long day, when you are close to the bed you desperately want to be in, and you glance out the window to look at the sunset and see instead eight half-grown heifers high-tailing it down the driveway, washed in the soft orange light. The mind rebels – it just can’t be – and then is quickly resigned. Back into the pants you’ve just stripped off, jump into the boots, call the dog, and hurry to head them off. These Jersey calves were born in fall and so had not yet grazed, and their first nips of sweet green grass were novel, intoxicating. They galloped south, then north, then scattered, some west, some east, before allowing themselves to be bunched up and lured back to the barn they had come from; they had knocked a hay feeder into the electric fence and thereby won their freedom. Let’s hope they aren’t smart enough to do it again.

The dairy herd has been on pasture for a week now, grazing a strip of fall-sown rye and a piece of clover-rich pasture in Superjoy. The cows head out of the barn after milking at a fast trot, teats swinging, eager to get back to the work of eating. When they come in, their udders are tight with milk. Production has jumped, and the quality of the milk has changed, too. It is foamy when I put it through the filter; the butterfat is softer, and butter from this cream will be bright yellow. The cows themselves smell different now, their breath and their skin both earthy and green. It is such a pleasure to milk clean, happy cows, and a pleasure, too, to go to the field with them, lie down for a minute and listen to them graze, that rip rip sound that is the source of their contentment.

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As the animals move onto pasture, the winter bedding packs are being turned and made into compost, to be spread back on the fields. Ben and Brandon spent many hours on the skid steer this week, taking the pack out scoop by scoop, and then turning the rows to keep them hot and active. The rich compost that results is what feeds the plants that feed us.

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Cameron, Taylor, Phil, Brandon, Aidan and Charlotte spent a lot of time around the butcher shop this week, butchering hogs. Practice makes perfect – they’ve become a fast and efficient crew. It’s good to get these sized-up pigs in the freezer before they put on too much fat. On the other side of the circle of life, Birdie had her piglets – a nice litter of 12, with 10 surviving.

Yesterday, four ewes gave birth to seven lambs, but now the pace is slowing down. We have sixty lambs on the ground now, and no bottle babies, and no losses. Much credit for that goes to the animal team, and Conor in particular, for keeping a sharp eye out for trouble. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Soon, we’ll combine all into one big flock and move to fresh pasture.

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And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this bright 19th week of 2016. -Kristin & Mark Kimball