Lamb Forecast

Essex Farm Note

 Week 5, 2014

The light seems stronger this week. It’s warmer. The forecast is a little ominous – snow coming? – but what I feel in my bones is surely spring. I also see it on the to-do list. We have about ten more minutes of frozen lull in which to get tools in order and machines serviced and plans laid before the curtain goes up and it’s show time. The first spring-like work this year will be lambing, which should start around the end of next week. I pulled the lambing bag out of storage yesterday to check supplies – stomach tubing, lamb jackets, elastrator, check! – and Scott just popped his head into the house to say he was going out to the East Barn to make lambing jugs, which are the small, temporary pens we use to bond mamas well with their babies. I’m excited to get going. There is no better soundtrack for the return of light than the bleat of a newborn lamb.

Mark and I are in the midst of that annual mid-winter debate. To sugar or not to sugar? The argument for sugaring is pure pleasure: good fun work, and a fabulous product that lights up the endorphin receptors all year long. The argument against is practical: the economics just don’t pencil out. We can’t pay our staff to make syrup the way we do it, with horses and buckets, over a wood fire, without losing money. One option is to make a modest amount of syrup as a family, and retail it at the farm stand. I took a walk in the sugarbush while thinking about it, and it was snow-quiet and inviting. I checked the trails for downed trees, just in case. There is some clearing to do, if we are going to move forward.

The dogs and I took a walk around the farm earlier this week, and discovered some unwelcome creature had made its home in a tunnel among the haylage bales. It’s important to keep rodents away from here so the wrappings around the bales stay intact – otherwise, the valuable feed inside will rot or mold. Jet didn’t need any encouragement. He found the mouth of the den and dug at it maniacally. Mary is now six months old and took her cues from her father. Opossum? Woodchuck? Whatever it was, it has now rethought its choice of den. There has been a lot more dog-to-dog training happening this week. Mary is testing limits all the time, and Jet is suddenly less tolerant of her antics. He is exactly what I aspire to be as a trainer: fast, firm, fair and, afterward, forgiving. When the pup nipped too hard at his ruff or jumped too obnoxiously on his back he corrected her with a single, ferocious snap. It is all sound and no teeth but he is not asking, he’s telling, and he doesn’t need to repeat himself. It’s time to grow up, he seems to say. Mary stops, licks her lips, wags her tail and gains another modicum of self control. It’s like having a live-in super-nanny. Jet turned nine in December and it occurred to me, watching him, that he is more powerful now than he was when he was younger. He was always a big strong intelligent boy, but now he owns it. He used the same ferocious snap and projection of power this week on a dairy cow. One of our cows will sometimes lie down in an awkward position during milking, then be unable to muster the motivation to get back up. It’s annoying, especially since she always makes us think there is something tragically wrong with her, and that she is unable, rather than unwilling. It happened over the weekend, and after Aubrey and Barbara and I spent about twenty minutes rocking her, cajoling her, and trying to lift her with a rope, we decided to put Jet on the job. He trotted into the barn, looking majestic. I said, get her!, he let forth his papa dog bark at her rear end and that cow was up, easy peasy. Mary, watching, was somewhat in awe.

Mark and I inspected the cabin just north of the solar panels this week, the one built by and for our old friend Sam Ehrenfeld, and occupied over the years by many visiting and resident farmers. We’ve been talking about the possibility of renovating it, and moving it to the front of the farm, to house our farm stand. It would be less crowded and more appealing than the office trailer. It has a sleeping loft that can be used for dry-goods storage, and it is well-insulated, so will be easy to heat. It’s also prettier than the office trailer – a low bar, that – and a good size for what we need.

This is Matt’s last week as butcher. He recently discovered that he is eligible for Portuguese citizenship, and can work legally in the EU, and so he’s off to seek his fortune. We can’t wait to hear about all the things he does and the people he meets and especially about all the food he cooks and eats. We’ll miss you, Matt. Thanks for all your good work. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this good-skating! 5th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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