Essex Farm Note
Week 2, 2015
A good stiff chill this week, to remind us we live in the North Country. When the weather turns cold everyone I see asks me about the animals. I’m looking out the window at the sheep right now. They are so well insulted by their wool, the snow doesn’t melt on their backs. We put farrowing huts in their corral this week, bedded with hay. They have not even tried them out yet. Instead, they are lying down in the thin sunlight, chewing cud. I think the rest of the stock feel the same about the cold (barring, perhaps, the fur-less pigs, who have spent the week buried together under lots of hay and straw). Animals eat more during a cold snap, but away from wind and wet their internal furnaces keep them comfortable and content. I worry much more about their wellbeing during a heat wave, or when the flies are bad.
The trouble with cold is water. When the low fell to -15 degrees on Wednesday night, the drains froze in the milk house and the office trailer, and some of the frost-free hydrants stopped running. This happens in fields with water tables higher than the valves that are supposed to empty each pipe to below the frost line after use. One of those troublesome hydrants is the one we use to water the horses. Luckily, they are near a field with an old, hand-dug well in it. Mark and I walked over the frozen field to inspect it. Had the heat of the earth kept the water liquid, when all the other surface water on the farm was hard as stone? The well sits next to a solitary ancient oak with a trunk so large and hollow the children can play inside it. We used one of the oak’s dropped branches to lever the cover off the frozen ground. There is something magical about that well. It is nearly small enough to encircle with my arms and the stones that line it look carefully placed. Who dug it, and when and how? How many thirsty beasts has it satisfied across the years? To that number add eight frosty muzzles, because it stayed open all week.
Our roster of farmers was full this week, with the arrival of full timers Ethan and Kristen, plus a wonderful working visit from Kirsten’s boyfriend Ben. Mark had that content look at dinner that means we spent the day moving forward, instead of just barely keeping up or dealing with emergencies. The chainsaw got fixed and sharpened and some wood bucked up. The shop got cleaned. There are new tomato stake holders that can be moved by skid steer. And the whole crew made one final run to the transfer station with a wagon load of trash and recyclables. The dump run generally falls to the low end of the priority list and when the trash builds up it gets messy and often has to be re-sorted. Moreover, it takes up an entire half bay of the pole barn, which could be put to better use. So Mark made some calls this week and arranged for two dumpsters, one for trash and one for recycling, that will get picked up and disposed of once a month. Small news, perhaps, but a substantial improvement in efficiency. Speaking of efficiency, we are looking at roll-out nest boxes to reduce breakage and egg cleaning time. The question is, do we design and build them ourselves, or break down, wring our frugal hands, and buy them? To be continued… And that is the news from Essex Farm for this fast-ice-pond-hockey 2nd week of 2015.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball