Essex Farm Note
Week 24, 2016
We are almost halfway through the 100 day sprint now, in the annual race to capture as much sunlight as we can, and keep it. I see surprised exhaustion on the faces of some of our new farmers these days, but those of us who have been at it a while are accustomed to the intense power of June and the work that comes with it. Yesterday, Ben said that when he was in his twenties and dairying he worked such long hours in June he would fall asleep on the tractor and wake up when his head hit the steering wheel. I know that feeling from having fallen asleep while cultivating in June, stopped at the end of a row to let the horses blow. With the strong June sun hammering down on us, those few profound seconds were sweeter than dark hours between cool sheets.
The brand new AI tank is in the barn now, full of liquid nitrogen and, as of yesterday, forty straws of deep-frozen Jersey bull semen. We’re sending thanks to Skip Maynard of Milk and Honey Genetics, who drove all the way over from Orwell, Vermont to get it to us in time to service the three cows who are scheduled to come into heat this weekend. It was wonderful to select semen from prime bulls to compliment each cow, rather than using a single live, dangerous, and genetically fair-to-middling bull. Among other traits, like good feet, strong udders, and the ability to thrive on grass, we chose bulls with genes for A2/A2 milk. Some background: The A1 and A2 alleles determine the kind of protein a cow will produce in her milk. There is some research suggesting that the A1 gene (which predominates in Holstein cattle, and exists, but does not predominate, in Jerseys) makes for milk that is difficult for humans to digest, causing inflammation and intolerance. Now, some of that research was sponsored by a corporation with a vested interest in promoting A2 milk, so you have to take it for what it’s worth, but additional research has shown there may be something to it, and in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the demand for A2 milk is very strong. We have had some members ask about it, so I’m happy to be able to say that with artificial insemination we know which gene the bulls carry, and can select for A2 milk.
Short news, now. We had several calves born in the beef herd this week. The 500 new pullets are beginning to lay, and are well-trained to get in their coops at dusk, thanks to Mary the dog, who specializes in finding the outliers in the long grass, and the stowaways under the grain wagon. The piglets are weaned and moving to pasture next week. The corn is up and cultivated. All hands were in the field last weekend to get that done before the much-needed rain came. We got 2 ½ inches, good for plumping up the strawberries, which are in the share today. The lettuces are thriving and we’re eating them by the giant bowlful around here. The farm has never looked better, Mark says, which he says every year, and means it. Thanks to Liam for coming over this week to get the new greenhouse endwalls made. The plastic is not up yet, so the frame has served as the biggest kids’ jungle gym ever. Every time I look outside there’s a girl scaling a pole or hanging from a hoop, upside down. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this intense 24th week of 2016. -Kristin & Mark Kimball