Essex Farm Note

Week 15, 2015

Things are really cracking now. We have 20 lambs on the ground – all twins except for two singles. We’ve had no troubles with births nor with the newborn lambs, and they are all growing so fast my only concern at the moment is space. I had to get creative to fit everyone in the north side of the east barn, and am eagerly awaiting the departure of the laying hens for pasture, since that will free up the south side for the lambed ewes and their babes. Right now they are grouped four or five mothers to a pen, which makes eight or ten lambs together. When the ewes get up from resting we have a few minutes of noisy confusion while they sort out which lambs are their own and therefore welcome to nurse. The older group’s lambs have started to stot and play in a gang, romping around the pen all together. It’s good for the heart to see it.

Meanwhile, in the west barn, two sows have farrowed. The first one had only four piglets, but they are all thriving. We were checking on that litter last night when we heard a squeak from behind the sow next to her. She was just giving birth to her first piglet. When Mark checked her at midnight, she had more than twelve, maybe fifteen. This morning they were all nursing, a squirming pile of life. Because that litter is so big we may try to graft a few onto another sow to raise, as the sow doesn’t have enough teats to feed them all at once. The team did a great job getting the barn ready. They constructed farrowing pens, and nailed tarps to the drafty places so that we could get the ambient temperature up to 65 with a heater. Each farrowing pen has a heat mat, which raises the temperature another 30 degrees. Instead of constructing the false walls I wrote about a few weeks ago, we decided to simply anchor a farrowing hut in each pen. The huts have a metal bar around the inside edge that gives piglets a safe place to rest. So far, so good.

To complete the trifecta of adorable babies, the first batch of broiler chicks arrived yesterday. Because the greenhouses are full of plants, these first birds are being brooded in the garage of the farmhouse. It’s not like I was using it for the car anyway – the skid steer lived in there all winter. You see we have our priorities straight.

Finally, it was a busy week in the sugar bush. The forecast calls for nights above freezing and highs in the 60s, so this may well have been the last big week for syrup, which is good, considering how busy we are. As our neighbor Ron says, we are always happy for the first run and even happier for the last.

I hope the snow we got yesterday was winter’s final prank. It’s almost all gone now, leaving the surface of the fields a colloidal mess. The ground is still frozen hard a few inches down but that crucial top layer is terribly vulnerable to compaction right now, which makes us extremely grateful for the USDA grant that allowed us to build the covered barnyards two years ago. All animals are under cover and therefore not destroying the fragile pastures. This will pay off in less nitrogen runoff now and increased productivity throughout the season. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this mucky-sweet 15th week of 2015.      -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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