Essex Farm Note week 5

Mark is away this week, giving workshops at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s annual winter conference. He’s also catching up with friends from his days of farming in State College. Yesterday, he spent the morning in the Stoltzfus family’s butcher shop. They are the Amish friends who originally inspired him to try farming with horses. He’s famous (infamous?) among the Stoltzfus relatives for making their kids laugh so hard and get so riled up that they made themselves sick. This was at a Stoltzfus family reunion he somehow got invited to, and I think it involved a unicycle, a skunk puppet and some juggling balls. He will be back on Sunday, full of stories.

Robert Cushman took his oath of enlistment on Monday, has shouldered all the daily livestock chores, and is starting to learn basic slaughter skills from Courtney. We are so glad he’s here. We are also rejoicing in the impending arrival of the great and powerful Lindsay Willemain, who came for a trial week, won us all over, and will return for good in mid-March. It’s wonderful to watch this group of farmers coalesce into a strong team. If you’re wondering who does what around here, this is the setup: Jenny manages the milkhouse and distribution. Barbara supports the dairy team, and prepares the eggs and grains for distribution. Courtney is butcher extraordinaire, currently on overdrive, getting multiple pigs in the freezer. Ashlee manages the dairy herd, and is improving some existing systems. Ryan Weidenback has been invaluable this winter, handling vegetable washing for distribution, plus special ops and infrastructure fixes that he has put his formidable mind and skills to. Everyone pitches in on projects outside their own area when needed, but that’s the basic layout.

This weirdly warm weather has been a real blessing in the feed department. In cold weather, animals need more calories just to keep warm. We’ve saved tons on feed because of all these mild stretches. We still have fourteen weeks until grass but only four to eight before warm weather is more or less guaranteed. For now, the hay is holding out really well. The dairy herd is also more comfortable this winter, because we cleared out the north half of the west barn to make a nighttime loafing area for them. One of the cows, Mary, has gotten herself stuck in the gutter not once, but twice. Must be something about where and how she likes to rest. Ashlee is working on guards for the gutter, and meanwhile, we’re leaving the barn open so cows can choose to sleep outdoors or in, in the hope that a less crowded loafing area will help Mary make better choices. In short news, Abby Belle, the white pony, is doing well with her training. She pulled a log and a sled this week. I’ve also been doing a little work with Brandy, the green Belgian mare. It’s hilarious to go from the Lilliputian Abby Belle to hulking Brandy, only to discover that training the giantess is oh so much easier. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this Markless 5th week of 2012.

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