Essex Farm Note
Week 6, 2015
I was thinking this week that our perception of cold is like our perception of wealth: entirely relative. We hit negative 18 this morning – a temperature that probably sounds torturous to my friends and family from below the Mason Dixon. But one of our members, Matthew, grew up on James Bay, where negative 40 was just a normal winter day. Matthew says that when his father comes down here to visit and temperatures are a little below zero, he’s comfortable walking around outside in a light jacket. I am not that tough but I really do like the winter. No flies, no mud, no burning sun. And it gives me great pleasure to think of the funguses, blights, ticks and other baddies slowly succumbing to the cleansing cold. My daily uniform this winter is a serious set of long underwear, under a pair of light snow pants that I wear both inside and out, and either one or two jackets, depending on how deep the cold is. Also, hand warmers – a luxury that Matthew’s father would probably laugh at, but they take care of my weak spot and make me feel fairly invincible. Mark reminded me that it’s easy for me to say so, since I’m not outside for nearly as many hours per day as he and the full-time farmers are. To which I say, he’s right. And I am glad the ewes are bred to begin lambing on April 1st this year instead of our usual February 14th. The ewes and I hope it warms up significantly in the next month, as shearing is scheduled for the first week in March.
We had our vet, David Goldwasser, here this week to preg check the beef herd. It is a good news, bad news situation. The bad news is that we had a lot of cows that did not get bred. Most of them are the oldest cows, and that should not be a surprise. Some of those cows are the original Highlands that we bought 11 years ago, so they are as old as 15 now. It is a testament to their vigor that they gave us a calf every year until now. The good part is that we are now forced to make a much-needed shift in our beef herd genetics. We have wanted to switch over to Angus or Hereford for many years now, but it was too hard to justify that expense when we had Highlands who were still raising a calf every year. Another benefit to shifting to new breeding stock now is that if we reduce our herd size over the rest of the winter and early spring we will not need to buy in hay to get us to grass time, and that money can go, instead, toward good grass-based genetics for the new brood cows.
Mark and I have been missing the horses a lot this winter, and wishing we had more work for them. Last weekend we took Amos, one of the spotted drafts, out for a ride. It was cold and windy and sitting on top of him was like being on top of a mountain. He is 19 hands, almost as tall at the withers as the 6’6” Mark. It made us both happy to end the day smelling like horses. We are planning a few days of on-farm vacation and decided to spend them using the horses to pull some logs out of the woods, for next year’s firewood. I have a feeling I’m getting my own chainsaw for Valentine’s Day. Romantic, no?
I can’t close without sending a huge thank you to Becca, who has been with us for the last month. Her help and her good company have been invaluable. Now she goes back to Minnesota to prepare for her own CSA season. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this squeaky-snow 6th week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball