Week 4 & 5, 2022|Kristin Kimball|February 4, 2022

The thermometer hit -19 since my last note, and then we had a thaw that made all the streams swell and run, and now, we are watching the end of a really big storm. The snow is still falling this afternoon, and the wind is blowing hard, pushing it into sculpted white dunes. They are a pain to walk through but so pretty you can’t hold it against them. The drifts are moving so it’s hard to say how much we got. Nine inches? Ten? Mark has been on the tractor snowblower all day, clearing roads and turnarounds that are quickly covered over again. I love walking through the heart of a storm, when all you can hear is wind and all you can see is snow coming at your eyeballs. I just came in from such a walk, during which I visited with a trio of dairy cows loitering next to a clump of fallen ash, snow on their backs, icicles on their flanks and eyelashes. They have access to the dry barn but chose the storm instead today, like I did. 

I didn’t get a note out last week, and have so much to report! Best news first: the cream separator is reportedly back in working condition. Mark found a machinist in Vermont, Fran Lalumiere, who was willing to take it on, and last night Fran sent a video of the venerable old thing, reconstructed and whirring away like a top. We will go retrieve it this weekend, and return the borrowed one to Echo Farm with a ton of gratitude, 

In other news from the dairy this week, we decided to treat a heifer and two cows with antibiotics. As you know, when we do something outside the organic standard, we tell you about it. Antibiotics are not allowed under the organic standard for any reason. Here, we never use them indiscriminately, to promote weight gain, as a prophylactic or substitute for good husbandry. But we do use them occasionally when other measures are not sufficient, when an antibiotic is the best or only course of treatment, and especially when one can relieve an animal’s suffering. That was the case this week with King, a 9 month old dairy heifer who had a painful infection in her hoof that was making it hard for her to get around well enough to get her share of food in the pushy herd of dry cows and heifers. She is up in the barn now, getting some TLC and lots of good hay. 

The other two we treated are cows in the milking herd who have mastitis, and these were harder calls. Usually, when we have a cow with mastitis that can’t be cured with the treatments allowed under the organic standard (massage, mint liniment, time and good nutrition), she’s either dried off for the year or retired to the beef herd. Our herd has developed pretty good udders, thanks to this policy. So why did we decide to treat them now? Bear with me for a convoluted explanation. It’s because our heifer babies are drinking so darn much milk. You’ll remember we are experimenting this year with the madre method, raising heifer calves with their mothers rather than on bottles by hand? I knew the calves would be getting more milk this way but I failed to grasp how truly astounding their level of consumption could be. The calves are absolutely humongous compared to the bottle fed babies of the same age. The part I didn’t quite foresee is the shortage of milk we are facing as we head into the late stretch of winter. We’ve modified the method a bit, taking the older calves off the cows for the night, with access to grain and hay, and milking the mothers in the morning, then giving the calves the cow’s daytime production. I honestly don’t know if we capture any more milk for the tank this way, as the calves seem very comfortable stealing milk all day from any udder they can reach when they are out with the herd. So, not wanting to run short on milk, we decided to treat these two cows, as they are good productive cows at the beginning of their lactations. We cultured their mastitis to determine the pathogens that are causing it and are treating them in consultation with our vet. As we always do when we use an antibiotic, we will double the required milk withholding time after their treatment is finished. We will also test the milk for any trace of antibiotic residue before it goes back into the tank. There’s no guarantee the treatment will work, but we decided it was worth the try this time. We won’t breed these cows again, as we don’t want to perpetuate genetics that aren’t working in our system. If you have any questions about this, or just want to chat about our farming philosophy vis-a-vis antibiotics, please feel free to get in touch with me or Mark. 

One last memo from the dairy! We noticed a cheesy/ off-tasting flavor in the butter last week. It was fine to eat but not delicious. We think we chased down the cause, and we are back to delicious. 

Mark plus a rotating cast of knife-wielding butchers, cutters, trimmers, and wrappers have been spending these winter days in the butcher shop, moving through a lot of cattle and pigs. Mark says some of the cattle are older, leaner individuals, and so please know some tougher cuts may be coming your way. You can use a mechanical tenderizer like a Jaccard or a mallet on steaks or thin cuts. Larger roasts should be cooked slow and low, with liquid. And of course it’s a great time of year for stews. 

The last news might be the best of all. Jake and Taylor Armerding are playing a concert at the Grange next Saturday, February 12th, to benefit the weekly deliveries we make to community food shelves in New York City. (We supply the food, the Hub does the delivery.) We’re so grateful to the Armerdings for doing this. The concert starts at 7:30, tickets are $15/ under 18 $5, and proof of vaccination is required. 

That’s the news from Essex Farm for this wonderfully wicked 4th & 5th week of 2022. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball