End of Year

Essex Farm Note

Week 52, 2014


What a warm close to the year. Last year at Christmas, we were dealing with frozen pipes and frost-bitten ears. This year, our neighbor Ron brought us some oyster mushrooms that sprouted up on his woodpile, and at our house, we went the whole of Christmas day without lighting a fire in the woodstove. Today, we worked outside without jackets today, faces to the bright sun. The ice has melted from the farm roads, which makes getting around less treacherous. The fields are nearly clear of snow, exposing the garlic, which is two inches tall. The animals eat so much less in warm weather; they don’t need the extra energy to keep warm. So we are saving on firewood, and on feed. A brown Christmas is not quite as pretty as a white one, but it is easier and cheaper on the farm.

Pancake the orphan pig is a fine big guy now. He is weaned, but still gets some cow’s milk for breakfast, plus some broken eggs, and all the water and grain he wants. A couple times a day we open the greenhouse door so he can come outside and root in the mud. He and Mary mess around like energetic siblings now – sometimes friendly, sometimes mutually exasperated. As soon as we wean the litter of piglets that is closest to Pancake’s age, he’ll go out to join them, and discover what it is to be a pig. I hope his immune system is good enough to keep him healthy. He was so close to being dead when he was a newborn, I doubt he got any of his mother’s colostrum. He did get a lot of cow colostrum, but a baby’s gut can only absorb immunoglobulin for a few precious hours after birth – with cows, it is best in the first six hours, and useless after 24. I don’t know how old Pancake was when he finally got colostrum, nor how much good it did him, given it was cow and not sow. We’ve done about all we can for him, so now we just observe, and hope.

Both of the two-week-old dairy calves, California and Frankie, came down with a case of scours this week. Scours is calf diarrhea, and it is the leading cause of death in calves. They are particularly susceptible at two weeks old, for some reason. The cause in this case was probably nutritional – that is, they were getting too much milk, or milk at the wrong temperature, or a combination of those things plus stress, which can come from changes in weather, housing or management. It was not severe enough to cause dehydration, so we just backed off on the quantity of milk, and are making sure it is warm enough. They are both on the mend now.

We had a small, tight crew on board for this holiday week. Thanks, gang! Besides a full load of the usual work, they moved more animals to winter quarters. The sheep came down from the Middle Road pasture to a paddock in the front yard. It was beautiful, before the snow melted, to look out at their wooly backs and friendly faces. It’s not quite as nice now that they’ve churned the yard to mud, but sheep are always better than no sheep in my opinion. The laying hens are in the east barn now, and the dairy cows are in the covered barnyard, looking very content.

Happy New Year to each of you. Thank you, as always, for supporting what we do. We are so excited to crack open the seed catalogues and start planning for the 2015 season. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this final 52nd week of 2014.                                                                     -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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