Essex Farm Note
Week 14, 2016
From bed before dawn on the Monday after Easter, we heard the first intrepid peeper, peeping away in the dark from the still-cold pond. Every spring of the last 13, the first peeper has marked the first week we are able to work the fields. Every year, when I hear it, I doubt the rule will hold. This year was no exception. I wrote in my notebook: Peepers notwithstanding, I don’t think we will be in the fields this week. Too wet by far. Doubter! The peepers are always right. Over the course of the week the soil temperature rose to 46 degrees and the strong south wind spirited away the water from the surface of the fields. Mid-week, Kirsten and the vegetable crew transplanted the perennials – sorrel, chives, nettles, sage, and dandelion – from Home Field to Mailbox Field, to make way for Taylor and Mark, who harnessed Jake and Abby to the one bottom walking plow and turned the soil over the site of the new hoop house. It was good to smell fresh dirt, leather and warm horses once again.
A smallish gilt named T-Bone farrowed on Tuesday, and had a hard time of it. After seven piglets, four of which survived, her labor stopped. The next day she looked dull, wouldn’t get up, and would not eat. Later, she partly pushed out a bit of placenta, which led us to believe she had retained her afterbirth. Ben came over and we got a bucket of soapy water and some lubricant. It’s a job that calls for small hands. I scrubbed and lubed and in I went. I’d never done it before so Ben directed me. The sow was sick enough not to protest. I felt around, blind, following the trail of the placenta, until I felt something sharp. “Like a broken bone?” Ben said. “No,” I said, “more like a finishing nail.” Then – oh, of course – it’s a tooth! A dead piglet, very firmly stuck and beginning to decompose. There followed an agonizing hour of invisible struggle, my right hand versus a rotting piglet. I could hook a finger into the mouth or under the jaw, and get the head past the cervix, but the piglet still wouldn’t come. My finger didn’t have enough strength to draw it all the way out. I could grasp the whole skull with my hand behind its ears but then I couldn’t get it past the sow’s pelvic bones. Whenever I paused to adjust my grip, I lost all the ground I gained and the piglet would slide back into the depths of the uterus. It was maddening. We called Dr. Goldwasser, who prescribed antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and a shot of oxytocin, which may have done the work, as we found a dead piglet in T-Bone’s stall that evening. She’s still quite sick and we’ve fostered her four piglets onto Flop, a gargantuan sow who conveniently farrowed last night. We are nursing T-Bone and hoping for the best.
Zohar had her last day with us yesterday, and is back to her job at Blue Mountain Center. She was a wonderful presence here since fall, did incredible amounts of work, and was a superstar lunch cook. Recent lunches were known as Zo-feasts. Thank you, Zohar! We’ll miss you, wish you a great summer season and hope we see you here again. We’ve recently welcomed three new farmers onboard: Anya, who joins vegetable team, Conor, on animals, and Phil, who is joining veg. Please make them welcome, members, as I know you always do! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this first-peepers 14th week of 2016. -Kristin & Mark Kimball