Week 46, 2021｜Kristin Kimball｜November 19, 2021
You think it’s Thanksgiving week, but that’s because you’re not a sheep. To the sheep, it’s breeding week. The rams are gearing up for their annual moment. On the varsity team, we have Jean Claude Van Ram, a fancy bought-in stud who never got a real chance to breed last year, due to the errant teenage ram lamb who managed to hit nearly the whole flock before Jean Claude was turned in. I have hope for JC, but we have to admit he’s past his prime, and if it weren’t for his ruined 2020 season, he would probably have retired to the freezer by now. We shall soon see if he turns out to be an ovine Tom Brady, or not. On the junior varsity bench, we have six very lucky boys who were chosen from last spring’s lamb crop. These guys are all JC’s offspring, and I’m hoping they will bring a little more consistency to this very heterogeneous flock. JC’s genes are meant to improve muscling in our grass-finished system. The catch is that the ram lambs are all quite small, because they were late born and also raised apart from the main flock, on less-choice grass. I’m trusting nature to find a way, but they could probably use a cheering section.
Meanwhile, in the ewe flock, we have 200 mature ladies and 150 ewe lambs. In the past, we’ve bred the whole flock all at once, but lambing 350 feels extremely overwhelming. We might sort out the ewe lambs, and breed them after the main flock, or not breed them at all. We always cut out any ewes who required extra work. This policy, over years, has made for a flock with great mothering ability and parasite resistance. We had no bottle lambs to raise this year. And we did not treat any sheep for parasites during the whole grazing season. Those are both pretty remarkable facts that make me proud of the whole animal team and, of course, the sheep. An aside: If your inner bio geek has ever wondered about the heritability of parasite resistance, or if you want to finally understand the mechanics of how the small ruminant immune system fights off strongyles, this is the podcast episode for you. The part I found most interesting starts about 15 minutes in. Weep and sweep!
It’s also breeding season in Jane’s dairy goat flock. Bode, the buck, is with the does. If you are a local member, you will surely catch a whiff of him when you pull into the driveway. (Everything you have heard or suspected about bucks is true, and then some.) Bode is a very nice Alpine from Asgaard Farm, and he’s for sale, so please help Jane spread the word. Her email address is email@example.com.
Fields are saturated now, but victory preceded the rain. All the compost we made here this year was spread on next year’s fields, and the last 16 acres were planted to rye for spring grazing. All the cabbage is in storage. Rutabagas, turnips, and three types of storage radishes have been harvested. As Mark says, rutabagas bring the depth and radishes bring the sparkle to winter cooking. My jury is still out on what turnips bring to the party.
We had to treat a dairy calf with antibiotics this week, for foot rot. (When we use antibiotics on an animal, we always let you know, as it’s outside the organic standard.) The team slaughtered 300 stew hens, 200 from our old layer flock and 100 certified organic hens from Philo Ridge Farm. These mature hens are not for roasting, as they would be tough as rubber, but they are the key to the best chicken stock on the planet, and you can’t buy them in a grocery store.
We have 34 tons of certified organic roasted soybeans arriving today, at double the usual price, which comes to a shocking sixty cents per pound. This is the necessary high-protein component of our broiler chicken and pig feeds. Members, given this, please communicate your feelings on unlimited pork and chicken versus the 100% grass-finished meats, beef and lamb, so we can use your input to make plans and set share prices for 2022.
And it is Thanksgiving week, also, so we should talk about that. We have a tradition in our family of eating chickens for Thanksgiving instead of turkey, and nobody complains, because chickens are so delicious and easier for cooks to manage. The sides report: drought followed by flood quashed our squash harvest, so we’re doing the best we can there, but the potatoes and brussels sprouts are terrific this year. I’m adding a cabbage slaw to the table for crunch and brightness. Homemade rolls and good gravy make it a celebration. And we are so happy to offer cranberries from Old Earth Orchards in the share again. They were grown in an IPM system (not organic) by our friend and Essex Farm alumnus, William McCaffrey, who farms on his family’s bog in East Taunton, Massachusetts. They are so beautiful and delicious. Thanks to William and Veronica and wee Hazel for growing them. They store well, so we will distribute more through the holiday season, as long as supply lasts.
Goodbye to Ben Seigfriend this week, with huge thanks for countless hours in the vegetable fields this year. Welcome Ryan, Jack and Leah, who bring fresh energy to the waning year! We are so glad you are here. Finally, it’s almost time to sign up for the 2022 season. We should have the new contract ready very soon, and we are raring to grow for you in the coming year. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this deep and sparkling 46th week of 2021. Find us at 518-963-4613, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball