Essex Farm Note
Week 10, 2014
Every few years the rat population takes a bounce around here, we have one too many sightings of our sleek gray friends in the barn, and we must clamp down. I am on rat patrol this week. Spring traps are set in strategic places, but they don’t work very well on older, wiser rats, so we are adding some barrel traps with pirate-style planks above them. The planks are made of aluminum flashing, baited with peanut butter and anchovies. They are too flimsy to hold the weight of a rat, so, in theory, the rat is overcome with greed for the bait, ventures too far out on the plank, and slips into the barrel, from which it cannot escape. This may sound far-fetched but it works on YouTube. And we’ve had some luck with similar traps in the past. So far this time, though, the score for our side is a big fat zero. Maybe the cold has frozen all the smell out of our baits, or maybe the rats have gone south for spring break.
Gwen came by on Wednesday to castrate the piglets. She has a good steady hand and strong nerves, and both are necessary for this job, which involves temporarily separating a protective half-ton mama from her precious babies. Castrating a piglet is not quite as straightforward as castrating a calf or a lamb because the testicles are inside of the body instead of hanging outside in a scrotum. The piglet is positioned on its back, and the lower belly is scrubbed with iodine. The testicles can be felt as little bulges under the skin. Using a scalpel, a small incision is made above one testicle, which is then forced out of the incision. The testicle’s cord is carefully severed, using a scraping motion instead of a straight cut, to prevent bleeding. Repeat on the other side. Another squirt with iodine and the piglet is returned to his mama, who is waiting in a cleanly-bedded stall. There is not any blood and the piglets recover very quickly. Usually, the little guys go straight to nursing and in a day or two the incision has healed.
Now that I’ve grossed you out for two paragraphs, how about some plant news? We finished the germination tests this week. Seeds lose potency with time, so we test any that are left over from last season. The kids and I made uniform pads out of paper towels, labeled them, wet them, then tucked twenty seeds of each type into a pad. We will check them every few days and record how many seeds have sprouted at what time. If the germination is poor or too variable we will discard that lot of seed. It could have been a tedious job but I had good company, and besides, I like seeds. They mean spring is coming, despite the weather. And it is still amazing to me, after all these years, that so much comes from so little. A mint seed, for example, is almost smaller than a thought, and yet that tiny spark of life, once lit, is a revolution that can overtake an entire field.
Short news? The horses are starting to shed. Another cow is due to calve. 14 lambs in the barn. The new farm stand is wired for electricity. The sauerkraut is ripe and ready, delicious. I made polenta twice this week, and it bounced me out of the carb rut I was in. I think I saw a robin yesterday, but he was wearing earmuffs. And that is the news for this leonine 10th week of 2014.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball