Shearing

Essex Farm Note

Week 13, 2016

Snow fell on the backs of 49 naked-looking ewes yesterday. It was not the best day to take off your thick wool coat, but aside from that, everything went smoothly. The flock was locked in the barn the night before to stay dry. Mary Lake drove over bad roads to get to us from Vermont, bringing her fancy new shearing machine. Matt and the animal team had a good crowding pen and catch system set up, so the sheep stayed calm and happy. Mary Lake has been shearing for us since her second year at it, when our flock totaled 7, and every year she’s done the job faster and more gracefully. The sheared ewes came off her board and went to Conor and Charlotte, who trimmed hooves, vaccinated them, and recorded their tag numbers. There was a rotating cast of farmers – Alex, Aiden, and Ben – learning to catch sheep and move them through each step of the process, before releasing them to the outdoor corral, where they bleated and milled, trying to recognize one another. We have 4 ton-size totes of wool this year. Without it on their backs it’s possible to really see the ewes’ condition, which is good and pregnant. I can’t wait to start lambing in three weeks.

Lots of news on grant applications this week. We’ve dropped our quest to add 75kw to our solar array. The best we could come up with offered about a 30 year payback on the project, which is not viable. But there will be other funding rounds in the future, and we will keep alert for opportunities there. On the upside, we got word of partial funding for two new projects. One is big: a ½ acre composting barn that will help us be better stewards of the land and the waterways by minimizing silt and nutrient runoff. It will also help us make better compost, and our own potting soil. The other project is smaller, but probably more interesting to members: a 30’ X 80’ greenhouse that will allow us to grow vegetables earlier and later in the season, and also gives us total control over those fickle elements of nature, like water and heat. As Mark says, it’s like having a tiny piece of the Central Valley of California on your farm. It’s always warm and rain comes as ordered, when you turn on the sprinkler. I’m thinking of moving in. Construction will take two weeks, and should be wrapped up by June 1st.

Big runs in the sugarbush this week. Volume is high but the sugar content is low at 2%, and the season is closing fast. Thanks to Taylor and Conor for many hours at the evaporator. Members, the beef that we butchered last week was from Jersey cows. The special thing about Jerseys is the way they metabolize the beta carotene in their feed, which gives the beautiful tint to their cream and also makes their fat yellowish orange, which can be disconcerting if you don’t know what it is. Taste is unaffected and it’s delicious and healthy to eat. We’re saying goodbye to two team leaders this month. Tonight is Matt’s last team dinner. He has led the animal team over the last two seasons, and we will very much miss his skills and his kind presence. Lindsey has one more week! She will leave behind a healthy happy herd of dairy cows, and a better-organized dairy. We are so grateful to both of them for their hard work and dedication. We have lots of welcomes and introductions to make too but we’ll save them for another week. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this sugar-on-snow-and-mud 13th week of 2016.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

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