Week 19, 2019
Lambing is almost finished now. Only ten ewes to go. The rest of the flock went from the barn to pasture yesterday, the first rite of passage for new lambs. They get trailered separately from their mothers to minimize the danger of crushing, then reunited with them on the green green grass, under blooming plum trees. If your heart needs something beautiful this week I recommend some lamb/grass visual therapy. I have really enjoyed the intense work of lambing and I love working with Anne, Charlie and the rest of our animal team, but am also happy to be at the end. For the last four weeks I’ve been a little sleep deprived; my hands have smelled constantly of iodine and birth, from carrying newborns to their jugs, and my clothes have been covered with smears of orange colostrum poop, streaks of the red and blue spray paint we use to identify the lamb families, and blobs of blood and manure. Before I hug the children they ask me if I’m crusty or not and if so, could they please not be hugged? Fair enough. The lamb count stands just shy of 160. We lost one lamb to watery mouth (due, I believe, to insufficient intake of colostrum with a first time mother), one to a lethal birth defect, three or four stillborn, and, as usual, zero loss of ewes, which I think is a darn good outcome, especially on a year when we’ve increased our lamb crop by 40%.
We have no bottle lambs at all this year. Bottle lambs are adorable but they are a lot of work to raise to weaning, and without a mother, they never really learn how to be lambs. This year we managed to shift any lambs who couldn’t be raised by their own dams to other ewes who would claim them. But we had one tenacious orphan, #11, who couldn’t catch a break. After her mother rejected her, 11 spent a week stealing milk from anyone who wasn’t paying attention. Like a wooly Artful Dodger, she got very good at it, even if it earned her a lot of brutal kicks. We topped her off with a bottle every time we were in the barn, but it was clear that she was managing well enough. Then a yearling ewe had a single stillborn lamb, and we saw the opportunity for 11 to get her very own mother. I skinned the dead lamb and put the skin on 11, to try to make her smell right to the ewe, then put them in their own jug together. This is the oldest shepherd’s trick in the book, but the ewe was not fooled. For another full week, 11 endured rejection, and lots of kicks. Then, at last, this week, the ewe had a sudden change of heart, and claimed 11 as her own. Watching the ewe nudge her closer to the udder instead of kicking her away, nickering motherly encouragement, might have been the best part of a very good week.
Mark won’t like that I spent all this space writing about lambs, and none about the new Skid Steer. It’s a John Deere, and it’s the first new diesel machine we have ever owned. More about that next week! Other things: the soil temperature is still a chilly 50 degrees, way too cold for seed, and we have gotten over an inch of rain today. But the transplants are happy, and we’ve spread an insane amount of compost on the vegetable ground, and everyone – human and animal alike – is healthy and excited for spring. Lettuce has been amazing, and so have the pea shoots, right? And that is the news from Essex Farm for this peak-spring 19th week of 2019. Find us on insta at kristinxkimball, essexfarmcsa, and farmerkimball, or 518-963-4613, essexfarm@ gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball