Essex Farm Note, Week 8

I’m writing this from the MRI place in town, where Mark is in the big machine, getting some expensive portraits of his knee, two weeks after his accident. The wheels of health insurance grind slowly. We’re rolling now, and looking forward to getting seen by an orthopedic surgeon.

Lots of baby news on the farm this week. The first sow had her littler last night. We went to check her just before supper, Miranda in the backpack, Mark on the crutches, Jane trotting alongside. The pig was up, grunting, looking fine, and her feed and water looked good, but just as I turned to leave I saw a tiny wet something in the straw. It was struggling to get out of the pig-shaped caldera that the sow had made for a nest. The piglet kept slipping down the sides of it, into the zone where its fridge-sized mama was about to lie down. It looked destined to be one flat little piglet. There ensued a several-person mad scramble to move most of the bedding out of the stall to give the newborns some advantage, during which the sow’s labor seemed to stop, and who could blame her? We left her with her one baby and a heat lamp, and when I checked her at bedtime, and she had produced one more live piglet, and a stillborn. At midnight, there was a small squealing heap, clustered together on the floor in front of her generous udder. By morning, a nice litter of nine.

On Wednesday morning, Eric Sherman knocked on the door, carrying what I took at first glace to be a skunk. Why is he bringing a skunk into my house? I thought as I invited him in. It wasn’t a skunk, of course, but a three day old black-and-white orphaned lamb. It was a twin, and the mama had rejected him in favor of his stronger sister. “Looks like you have a bottle baby on your hands,” I said. “Actually, I was hoping someone here would take it,” he said. He had to work and couldn’t keep up with the feeding schedule for a newborn. Who could hold a little baby that needs mothering and milk, and say no? Jane is on school vacation and has spent the last two days with Gem on her lap. He follows her everywhere. It’s a love relationship on both sides. I hate to break it to Jane that Gem can’t live in the house forever.

Kelsie, Amy and I disbudded the dairy calves this week. I injected the lidocaine into the divot upskull from the corner of the calf’s eye, which houses the nerve that serves the horns. Kelsie manned the disbudder, which looks like a souped-up version of the decorative wood burner I used to have when I was a little kid. It gets hot enough to ignite a test-patch of wood, and when applied to the numbed horn buds, it cauterizes the surrounding tissue so that the horns will not grow. Amy’s job was to hold the calf still in front, and so for most of the hour, she and Kelsie had their faces stuck in a cloud of hair smoke. I held the back end, but still came inside smelling like a barbeque gone terribly wrong. By the time all eight were done, we were a crack disbudding team.

Big thanks and love to all the farmers who have been shouldering a lot of responsibility since Mark has been out of commission. He just came out of the MRI to report he has a rather severe fracture. I guess that explains why he was moaning so much! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this never-dull 8th week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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