Essex Farm Note

Week 8, 2017

Mark and the girls and I spent four days this week camping in the snowy woods between Blueberry Cobbles and Bald Peak. We came down from the mountain on Tuesday to find that while we were gone, spring had arrived in the valley. Arrived, or just visiting? Odds and the calendar favor the latter but many signs yesterday pointed to the former. Everyone worked outside in tee shirts, the cows basked in the sunny spots in the covered barnyard and sunburned their teats. The frost is nearly out of the ground. (Soon as we can dig, we will harvest last year’s parsnips, which should be very sweet from their time in the cold cold soil.) One thing is certain: sugar season is here. The sap is rising in the maple trees. We missed the first run, because of our trip, but we may try to tap this weekend.

            We hired the three Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs I mentioned in last week’s note. So far, so awesome. When breeding and instinct and training line up with a job that needs to be done, you can almost feel a click of satisfaction in a working animal, the same sort of feeling that emanates from people who are doing work they value and are good at. These three started the week penned with the ewes, but separated, in a four-foot high run made of page wire and solid fence. The idea was to allow the ewes to get used to the dogs through the fence, and let the dogs learn where home is while safely confined. Every day, we took the dogs out of the run and walked them through the flock, then put them back in their fence. Two nights ago, just before bed, I went to check on them. Before I reached the barnyard I could hear coyotes howling all around us, the nearest group not a hundred yards away. The ewes were bunched next to the feeder, and in front of them, on guard, was the female dog. Somehow, when the coyotes started yelping, she’d managed to climb out of our very solid run to put herself in front of the sheep. I still have no idea how she did it, but her sense of duty makes me optimistic. I’m hoping that the most mellow of the three, Jake, will be able to join the laying hens as soon as the ground is soft enough to fence. Chickens are more challenging than sheep for livestock guardian dogs, because they’re just so tempting for a dog to grab and chew on, but if any dog can do it, I think it’s probably Jake. He is one very chill, very big boy.

            What else? We have another 90 newly-hatched chicks peeping away in a big tub in the farmhouse, next to the wood stove. The first batch has graduated to the greenhouse, where seeding will begin next week. As the permies would say, we are stacking functions, sharing space and heat. In the greenhouse, we’ll have trays of seedlings on tables, with chicks underneath. Next Thursday, Mary Lake is coming over from Vermont to shear the ewes, who are due to lamb beginning April 15th. I’m eager to see how they look with their wool off. In three weeks, we’ll get 600 certified organic Amish-raised pullets, 16 weeks old and just about ready to lay. Thanks to the members who sent us feedback and requests for the share last week. It is so helpful to hear from you. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this springy 8th week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball



Essex Farm Note

Week 7, 2017

Spring comes slowly, and then all at once. We have a thick blanket of new snow on the ground, and yet right now there are chicks chirping next to the woodstove, Mary Lake will be here to shear the ewes in less than two weeks, and we are watching the forecast in earnest, to decide which day to tap the sugar maples.

            Late-winter snow is not kind to wild things. Trudging knee-deep through the sugarbush this week, the woods were full of hungry-looking tracks. The rabbits and squirrels had been searching for food. Mary dog raised her hackles and stopped to mark on a trail coyotes had worn across the sugarbush road. The snow is too deep for the coyote’s staple, voles. They’ll be hungry too, and hunger makes them bold. The ewes, heavy with their lambs, are penned close around the barn at Bonebender Farm. A motivated coyote could do a lot of damage in that pen in one night. We’ve never had coyote predation in sheep flock, but other people who raise sheep in the north country say that we’ve just been very lucky, it’s only a matter of time.

            Meanwhile, back in the home barnyard, I found a dead and half-eaten hen. She’d been dragged just a couple yards from the net, eaten guts-first. When Brandon checked out the crime scene the next morning, he found what looked like a set of fisher tracks leading from the barn toward the woods around the cabin. Fisher! Carnivorous mustelid, only the size of a housecat, but known for punching well above its weight. Predation is a perennial problem with the hens, year round. Every carnivore in the world likes chicken. During the grazing season, the electric nets protect from foxes, skunks and raccoons, but nets can’t keep away the flying predators. The birds are cooped at night, but hawks pick them off during the day, and owls hit at dusk and dawn. If you graze poultry, predation is part of the deal.

            I was thinking about all these things this week when I came across a notice in the CCE Sheep & Goat news about three trained, mature, out-of-work Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs, living just north of us in Champlain. Their owner just sold all his stock, and the dogs have lived with and guarded both sheep and chickens. I’m going to meet them this afternoon. If all goes well, we’ll have three big fluffy new employees by the end of the day. I’m hoping we can place two dogs with the sheep and one with the hens. Look for me driving down the Northway in a car stuffed with white fur. In related news, Essex Farm Institute is co-sponsoring Farming with Carnivores, a panel discussion at the Grange this Tuesday at 7:30. It’s the first in a four-part lyceum series, Living and Farming on this Land. This week we welcome conservation biologist GeriVistein; Abby Sadaukas of Applecreek Farm in Maine; and Willsboro farmers Shaun and Linda Gilliland, who use combination of tools to protect their stock from predators. Details at thegrangehall.info.

            Members, we really want some feedback from you this week to help us plan 2017. Tell us what items you love, what you want more of, and what you would like to see in the share in the future. What could we process at the Hub to make cooking from the share more convenient for you? Which processed items that we’ve offered could you do without? And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this white fluffy 7th week of 2017. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, 518-963-4613, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.                                                                

-Kristin & Mark Kimball


Essex Farm Note

Week 6, 2017

The snow that blanketed the city and much of New England mostly missed us, but we shared in the storm’s high winds and low temperatures. All the animals are fine, and probably enjoying today’s clear skies and bright sun. I am. As you all probably know by now, I love a good cold snap. At night, when Mark and I make our final rounds, we stop at the hose that we leave running next to the West Barn to keep the pipes from freezing, and I crunch at the tube of ice that has formed around the spray during the day. I can measure the depth of winter by how much it resists my foot. But we really are getting close to the great crescendo of spring. Seeding begins very soon. Sugaring is just around the corner. Most alarmingly, our first batch of broiler chicks arrives next week. In a moment of weakness I agreed to let them come into the house and live next to the woodstove for a few days, until we can get the greenhouse rigged with heat lamps and an insulated hover. We are already sheltering ten giant bins of endive in the playroom, so I guess my defenses were down. Also, the girls both voted, emphatically, yes to house chicks. I expect they will be dressing them up in little suits and trying to smuggle them into bed. One day we may have a clear division between the house and the farm, but that day is not today.

            Meanwhile, outside, it was a busy week. The dairy heifers got shots of vitamin A and D, to try to help them fight off the ringworm they’ve got. This fungus comes every winter, and clears up when they hit pasture. It’s generally harmless, but annoying, and leaves them patched and itchy. The reason we’re trying to quell it this year is that it’s hard to tell when they are in heat because they keep scratching the heat detecting stickers we have stuck on their tailheads. On that front, our first AI calves are due next month. I can’t wait to see their well-bred little faces. The sheep flock got new feeders this week, thanks to Jon and Brendon. (The bedding pack has been getting higher, which contributed to a ewe getting her head fatally stuck in the old feeder.) We received two loads of weaned beef calves and young stock from Conroy’s Organics, to join the load that came from South Farm last week. We are going to try grazing purchased young stock this year, instead of keeping brood cows and a bull for breeding our own calves. On paper, it seems to pencil out a little better, and allows us to be flexible, but we’re staying open to the idea of restocking our brood cow herd in the future.

            It was a fun week in the farmhouse kitchen. I used Instagram (kristinxkimball) to post what I chose from the share this week, and the meals I made from it. My favorite discoveries were an Oat and Mushroom soup inspired by Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen, and roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar, inspired by Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. As our long-time members know, cooking with the share is a learning experience; it takes most people about a year to really get the hang of making a whole week’s worth of seasonal, whole food meals and snacks that are delicious and convenient. This week of posts forced me to articulate some of the strategies that have become automatic. Check it out on Instagram, or on the Dirty Life Facebook page. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this bright cold 6th week of 2017. Find us at 963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball