Cold Snap

Essex Farm Note

Week 2, 2016

winter, finally

The kids went directly from playing in the mud to skating on the pond this week. The weather station registered a low of 2 during the cold snap, and it was windy. Together, that was just enough to flush out the weaknesses in our winter systems. We had a few frustrating moments in the dairy barn, and a mishap in the west cooler that left some products frozen solid. But on the whole, all the people and all the beasts on the farm came through the first patch of real cold very well. We are close to the last of the kale because of it, and the spinach is iffy at best now, but even iffy spinach is amazing in the north country in January.

The last of the broiler chickens were slaughtered yesterday. I’m sure we’ll toast that fact at team dinner tonight. As much as we all love chicken, there are not many on our crew who deeply love chickens, at least this time of year. Chores are a drag and wintertime chicken slaughter, even in such a mild winter, is a cold, wet, messy, unpleasant job. I am not usually on the chicken slaughter crew myself but I can be sure it’s a chicken slaughter day when I see Ben looking grouchy, or when I see one of the farmers walking around with a blotch of gore on her forehead. In 2016, we’ll aim for finishing chickens in the fall instead of at the turn of the year.

We lost a beef cow to an accident this week. She was one of our old Scottish Highland brood cows, and she got her long horns stuck in a hay feeder, then slipped in the mud and broke her neck. Poor girl. But that unexpected death was counterbalanced by the promise of unexpected new life. One of the gilts began to bag up last week, indicating that she is close to farrowing. That was a big surprise. The timing doesn’t square with her exposure to Romeo, the boar, so she must have been bred by a cryptorchid pig – a male with an undescended, but apparently functional, testicle. This makes sense on another level, as I noticed that some pork I cooked over the holidays had a touch of boar smell to it. I am particularly sensitive to that unique smell, and strongly dislike it. As for the boar Romeo, he has been retired to the freezer, as he may well have carried the gene for cryptorchidism. Sam Ehrenfeld is in the butcher shop today, and he’s going to make some heavily seasoned pepperoni out of Romeo, which is a great way to make something delicious out of boar meat. Even I look forward to that. Our new boar, Scooter, is in with the sows, all of them deeply bedded down in the metal barn.

Now the focus of the farm is on getting the laying flock settled into their winter quarters, in the east barn’s west side run in. That has required more work than we expected, as the run in needed some emergency structural work. Mark is out there now, helping pour cement as foundation for new posts,. We’re lucky the weather is allowing it now, before heavy snow makes for a dangerous situation. Meanwhile, we’ve cleaned out the granary completely and grain has moved into one of the new trailers, which is rodent proof, to the chagrin of our resident rats and mice. We’re also working on getting a bulk tank into the milkhouse, which will be a huge and long-due improvement. The seed order goes in next week, and the cycle of the seasons begins anew. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this good-skating 2nd week of 2016.                                                 –Kristin & Mark Kimball

This was last week:


And here is this week:



A treat of cow-warm milk for ‘helping’ with the calves at evening milking.


Lovely heifers, waiting for their milk.


Kohlrabi in the snow


Mark, Jet and Mary, contemplating the cover crop

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