Essex Farm Note

Week 12, 2017

A quarter of the year is now behind us, and the ongoing contest between dark and light stands, again, at a draw. It does not feel like spring, with lows in the single digits, and an inch of slippery snow this morning. But the sun! I feel it gaining strength every day. It’s like watching a story unfold and knowing, despite the current action, that the good guy is going to win in the end. Meanwhile, the present is not so bad. I think my favorite weather of all is strong sun in cold air, the kind where your face is warm and your backside is cold, the kind we had for several days this week. The animals seem to feel good about it too. The hens have increased their production, from absurdly low to slightly less absurdly low. But fear not, egg-loving members! 600 reinforcements arrived yesterday from a certified organic poultry farmer, Daniel Stoltzfus, who has been supplying us and other farms in our region with 16-week old pullets for the last few years. They are well grown, healthy, fully beaked, and almost ready to lay. This new flock is settling in at Bonebender Barn, above the sheep, and I expect we’ll go from dearth to abundance in the egg department very soon. Thanks for your patience with egg limits this winter.

            In other life-affirming news, Zoe the Jersey gave birth to a gorgeous little heifer calf sometime before dawn this morning. It’s the first calf born here since we switched to artificial insemination, a change that Ben Christian has spearheaded and managed. The benefits of AI are manifold. Rather than using whatever bull we can find at the time we need him, the best Jersey bulls in the country are available to us, and Ben can choose the sire to augment the cow’s strengths, or mitigate her weaknesses. Our grass-based feed regimen isn’t meant to maximize the cow’s genetic potential for production, so we don’t need to breed for extreme milk, and can focus instead on healthy moderation, and traits of soundness and longevity, like good udders, feet and legs. Also, AI allows us to select A2/A2 genetics (google it if you’re interested) and to run a closed herd, which means we don’t buy pesky diseases like Johnes along with a bull. Finally, for me, the biggest benefit is simply that we no longer have to have a Jersey bull on the farm. They are deadly dangerous and unpredictable animals, and I really do sleep better now that we don’t own one. So, finding this morning’s little heifer was a joy on all fronts. When I asked the kids at breakfast for Z name suggestions, Jane came up with “Ziti” and Miranda with “Zydeco.” I might have to flip a coin to decide between those two good options.

            It’s been an up and down season for sugaring so far. We had two good runs this week, which brought in 600 gallons of sap. Chris stayed at the evaporator until 10pm on Wednesday to get the syrup made and the pans drained before the temperatures plummeted to valve-crushing lows. The forecast looks fairly promising for the week to come. In plant world, Anya and her crew have been very busy seeding. The north and middle greenhouses, which are blessed with automatic propane-powered heaters, are stuffed to full capacity with seedlings and chicks, so the cold-tolerant leeks have been moved to the unheated high tunnel. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this equinoctial 12th week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Instagram daily at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.          –Kristin & Mark Kimball