Hot Cold


Essex Farm Note

Week 19, 2014

I was traveling the last two Fridays and did not write the weekly notes. In this season of rapid transition, it feels like the entire world has changed since the last one. Grass grass grass. Seeds seeds seeds. A string of those evanescent days when your sun side is warm and your shade side is cold. The fragile wildflowers in the woods gave way to their assertive, domesticated sisters, the daffodils and the tulips.

All animals are on pasture now, even though the grass is not quite as luxurious as it usually is by May 9th. The ewes were sheared before they went. Mary Lake came over from Vermont to do it. She brought her wall-mounted clippers as well as a helpful sheep-catching friend, and buzzed through 24 head in the first part of a morning. I love to watch her. Her forearms and biceps remind me why I don’t do this work myself. Shearing reveals so much! As the wool comes off, you see the body condition that you were mostly guessing at for the whole winter. There was wide variation this year. Lambs, the new fall-born ewes, and some of the mothers ranged from healthy to fat, while a few – older gals nursing multiples – were thin. Josh, of our full time staff, helped us set up, and then practiced shearing one ewe by hand. It took ten times longer with hand shears than with Mary’s clippers, but it was fun to watch. Mary joked that when he was finished, that ewe looked like she’d been to the fancy salon, while hers had gone to the $8 barber.


Josh with hand shears, Mary with the electric clippers.


Barbara took some wool home to show Jane how to spin.


We’ve been awfully short on eggs in recent weeks. The flock is smaller than usual this spring due to some predation trouble last year. When we moved the hens to pasture a few weeks ago, we saw the expected dip in production that occurs whenever there is a major transition, and it has not yet climbed back up. Barring any unforeseen complications, we will buy in some local, organic eggs to give us a boost until the new flock of pullets arrives and begins to lay, at which point we will again be in a state of eggbundance. Ahem.


Now the short news. Kelsie has moved the milking herd to pasture, which has added character to the milk. Barbara is experimenting with aged hard cheeses. Scott and Josh have fused with the lines, having spent so much time behind the horses, cultivating perennials, plus some plowing and harrowing. Meanwhile, Travis has been spreading load after load of compost with the tractor. Aubrey is heading up the planting. Lettuce, chard and onions are out of the greenhouse and into the field. The first direct seeded crops go in this week.




We have had a tough run in the chick brooder. The heat lamps tripped a breaker during one of the coldest nights, and the stress of that deep chill made for a lot of weak and fragile babies. Here’s to Mike, Michael and Matt for diligent care in there. While sending thanks, I can’t leave out Jori and Andy, our magical secret weapons in the office and the field. And welcome Lindsay, who has joined the Essex Farm Institute staff. So glad she’s here!

Our first farm tour of the season happens on Saturday, May 24th, two weeks from tomorrow. Please help spread the word. It is a wonderful time to see the farm. Details are on the events page. And that is the news for this hot/cold 19th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball


Take your child to work day, farm style.



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