Essex Farm Note
Week 7, 2017
Spring comes slowly, and then all at once. We have a thick blanket of new snow on the ground, and yet right now there are chicks chirping next to the woodstove, Mary Lake will be here to shear the ewes in less than two weeks, and we are watching the forecast in earnest, to decide which day to tap the sugar maples.
Late-winter snow is not kind to wild things. Trudging knee-deep through the sugarbush this week, the woods were full of hungry-looking tracks. The rabbits and squirrels had been searching for food. Mary dog raised her hackles and stopped to mark on a trail coyotes had worn across the sugarbush road. The snow is too deep for the coyote to hunt their staple, voles. They’ll be hungry too, and hunger makes them bold. The ewes, heavy with their lambs, are penned close around the barn at Bonebender Farm. A motivated coyote could do a lot of damage in that pen in one night. We’ve never had coyote predation in sheep flock, but other people who raise sheep in the north country say that we’ve just been very lucky, it’s only a matter of time.
Meanwhile, back in the home barnyard, I found a dead and half-eaten hen. She’d been dragged just a couple yards from the net, eaten guts-first. When Brandon checked out the crime scene the next morning, he found what looked like a set of fisher tracks leading from the barn toward the woods around the cabin. Fisher! Carnivorous mustelid, only the size of a housecat, but known for punching well above its weight. Predation is a perennial problem with the hens, year round. Every carnivore in the world likes chicken. During the grazing season, the electric nets protect from foxes, skunks and raccoons, but slinky things like weasel can get through, and nets can’t keep away the flying predators. While the birds are cooped at night, hawks can pick them off during the day, and owls hit at dusk and dawn. If you graze poultry, predation is part of the deal.
I was thinking about all these things this week when I came across a notice in the CCE Sheep & Goat news about three trained, mature, out-of-work Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs, living an hour north of us, in Champlain. Their owner just sold all his stock, and the dogs have lived with and guarded both sheep and chickens. I’m going to meet them this afternoon. If all goes well, we’ll have three big fluffy new employees by the end of the day. I’m hoping we can place two dogs with the sheep and one with the hens. Look for me driving down the Northway in a car stuffed with white fur. In related news, Essex Farm Institute is co-sponsoring Farming with Carnivores, a panel discussion at the Grange this Tuesday at 7:30. It’s the first in a four-part lyceum series, Living and Farming on this Land. This week we welcome conservation biologist Geri Vistein; Abby Sadaukas of Applecreek Farm in Maine; and Willsboro farmers Shaun and Linda Gilliland, who use a combination of tools to protect their stock from predators. Details at thegrangehall.info.
Members, we really want some feedback from you this week to help us plan 2017. Tell us what items you love, what you want more of, and what you would like to see in the share in the future. What could we process at the Hub to make cooking from the share more convenient for you? Which processed items that we’ve offered could you do without? And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this white fluffy 7th week of 2017. -Kristin & Mark Kimball