Brittle

Essex Farm Note

Week 4, 2014

Travis plugged the tractor into the block heater this morning, to get it warm enough to start, and the extension cord snapped. It’s that cold. I recorded -14 after sunup, but really, once you get into the negative double digits, who cares? Super cold is descriptive enough. Mark has been in New York City since Wednesday. He comes back tomorrow, when the weather is due to warm up. Note this is exactly what happened last time he left the farm. It has occurred to me his energy might be enough to change the atmosphere.

I don’t want to curse us by saying this but I do like the cold, especially when the sun is brilliant, and I’m most impressed by how many things have gone right in this stretch of weather. The greenhouse waters are frozen but that was to be expected. They should thaw when it warms up. The automatic waterer in the covered barnyard has a thermostat and heater built into it. The valve got plugged with bedding and it overflowed and froze, but Travis got that fixed yesterday. The dairy team’s new crush is this big hot guy named Mr. Heater, a 125,000 btu kerosene-fueled hot air blaster that sits in the aisle of the barn during milking. The milking parlor is curtained off from the rest of the barn with one of our famous billboard tarps and it gets, temporarily, quite toasty in there. No more frozen lines or sluggish pulsators. Thanks to good bedding in the covered barnyard, no frostbite on the cows’ teats this week either, except for Winnie, who has a tiny, blind fifth teat that was doomed to get nipped eventually.

The biggest challenge in the dairy herd right now is not weather related, but might instead be due in part to the excellent feed we have this year. Three of the fresh cows are struggling with varying levels of mastitis in one or more quarters, which is a lot for us. My theory is that the highly nutritious haylage they are eating has boosted their production, and that, coupled with our once-a-day milking schedule, is putting some strain on their udders. Production is indeed copious. We just ordered two more 10-gallon milk cans, so we don’t have to juggle cans on the fly when we run out of capacity during milking. Clara freshened this week, with a bull calf. She’s the last of them until spring. Much as we love having babies it’s good to be finished with calving and the extra work it brings. While the rest of the farm is in the winter slow mode, dairy has been running at full capacity and then some, and Kelsie especially has been pulling some very long days. We just ordered a new 5-calf milk feeder to making calf chores a little easier. If we can get a handle on the mastitis that would make things easier still.

We had bad news this week from across the lake. Our friends Beth Whiting and Bruce Hennessy of Maple Wind Farm had a barn fire on January 13th. They lost a 12,000 sq foot barn, equipment, and stored crops. Like any farmer in this situation they could use some help rebuilding. There’s a donate button at http://maplewindfarm.com/category/blog/ and a fundraising dinner in Hinesburg VT on Tuesday, January 28th.  Info here: http://maplewindfarm.com/meet-farmers/

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this brittle 4th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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