Essex Farm Note
Week 53, 2016
On Christmas Eve Ron came to say the horses were out, thundering down Route 22, headed for town. As Mark and I were pulling on our boots the phone started ringing with more eye witness reports. But by the time we got to the road the herd had disappeared. It is a hard crew to miss: seven drafts, a spotted pony, and the cheeky little mini. Ron, good neighbor that he is, drove all the way to the ferry to make sure they had not gotten by us. By then Mark and I had picked up their trail across the road from Monument Field. The land there is brushy, with some trails mowed through it. We followed their hoofprints as fast as we could, hauling halters and lead ropes. The trees were good cover, so we heard them before we saw them, the pounding sound of a herd on the run. And then there they were, across a gully, along a little ridge. Their manes were flying, and their winter fur was damp with sweat. The ground shook with their exaltation. They looked so wild and free on their holiday toot, maybe even worth the price of our adrenalin. Barbara came out from the milkhouse to help us. Ron directed traffic. They turned around, and ran back across the road into the field of green rye, and put their heads down and grazed, blowing. We got three halters on three horses and that was just enough to turn anarchy into order. Mark led Abby and Cub in front, I brought up the rear with steady old Jay, and the rest of the horses walked in between. Soon they were back to their pasture and their very steady winter life of good hay but little excitement.
I’m sad to report that Penelope the cat was killed this morning. We think she jumped up on the warm engine block of an idling truck before dawn and was run over when the truck drove off. She was a terrible cat, and we really loved her. I know a lot of members feel the same way; some probably have scars from her claws and teeth to remember her by. Her classic move was to rub against your legs, begging to be petted, and then turn on you with a hiss. But she was strangely endearing, and a five star mouser. We’ll miss her fierce presence.
Here’s a quick rundown of the wins and losses for 2016. The hay crop was excellent; the first cut has 12% protein, and the second cut tested at 16% — the best we have ever made. Thanks to Ben for leading the hay making this year, and to everyone who worked long days to bring it in. Our corn crop was also great, thanks to our new field; what we have stored in the bin should be enough to bring us right around to next year’s crop. Pigs must be chucked into the loss column, with hard farrowing in the spring and this dastardly circovirus to close out the year, and so must broiler chickens, due to poor growth at the end of the fall. Vegetable yields were somewhat reduced due to drought, and weed control was poor in some places, but the quality of the produce was excellent, and I think members were universally pleased. Sheep were definitely a win, with good gains over the grazing season. The dairy was a big win, too, with lots of improvements in herd health and management. The biggest wins were on the human side: a wonderful management team, and a great crew, and our faithful members, who make our green world spin. All of us at the farm wish all of you a happy, healthy and joyful New Year. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this white 53rd week of 2016. –Kristin & Mark Kimball