Eight Weeks to Grass

Essex Farm Note

Week 9, 2015

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Mark and I just came back from a walk through the sugarbush. The snow is soft and drifted in some places, and blown thin and hard in others. In the tracks you can read the late-winter hunger of the predators, the anxiety of the prey. There were lots of coyote paths, and the remains of a rabbit kill. Coyote had left only the fluffy brown-and-white tail and a little smudge of mess. We saw a medium-sized white raptor that I could not identify hunting the edge of a field, and then a bald eagle swooping out of a tall dead tree. Back down the hill, we were checking the body condition on the ewes, not paying any attention to the dog, and a few minutes later noticed she was outside the fence, chewing on something that looked like a giant rat, except for its strange flattened tail and powerful curving claws. It turned out to be an unlucky muskrat who had come out of his den at the wrong moment. Mary must have killed him while we were busy with the ewes. He had the softest, thickest fur! Made me want to wear him whole as a muff or a mitten.

We paid for the year’s corn this week – 100 tons – and lightened the bank account considerably. When forking over large sums for grain it is comforting to remember that we get to make use of grain twice: once to feed the animals, and, if we do a good job with compost production and fertility management, we use it again to boost the fertility of our soil. Also, this organic corn is local – thank you, Mark Wrisley and Bob Perry – and keeping money in the neighborhood always feels better than sending it far away. In other financial news, we paid down the last of the line of credit we opened with Yankee Farm Credit two years ago. It is a very useful line of credit but it feels good to not make an interest payment on it this month.

We’re playing a complicated shell game with various groups of pregnant animals for the next couple months. Ewes are going to lamb in the east barn, so we have to scoot the laying flock out of the north side of it. The layers can’t stay in the east barn for long – we’re going to need that space for brooding chicks. Meanwhile the 13 farrowing sows are moving to the west barn, which is currently occupied by the dairy heifers. Heifers will be moving down to the metal barn in the middle of the farm. Indoor space is really at a premium this year.

I keep gazing at the National Weather Service web page as though it is going to magically change. It was -24 on February 24th. Is it possible that grass is only eight weeks away? The lake is frozen fast and hard, and the fields look like tundra. Animals are all eating like maniacs to stay warm. I am looking for excuses to be in the greenhouse, where it was 75 degrees this morning. But the cold really is coming to an end. It’s supposed to break freezing on Wednesday. I can almost smell the mud and hear the drip-drip-drip of sap from the sugar maples. Mike has hitched the horses a few times, to pull wood out of the sugarbush for the evaporator. The sight of them has made me itch to be out there with a horse myself. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this deep-frozen 9th week of 2015.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Hello, coyote

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Long pasture, with Camel’s Hump in the distance

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Cows dream of grass, Mark dreams of windsurfing.

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Pretty sow

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Muskrat!

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The best place on the farm today.

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Who needs Florida when you can visit the greenhouse? 75 degrees.

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