Week 3, 2020 | Kristin Kimball | Jan 17, 2020

What a cleansing blast of cold and snow today! This feels more like winter. Everyone is working to get chores done well without freezing. Yesterday, following a brainstorm session with Anne, Mark buried the pigs’ water line in the hot active compost pile, to see if it will keep the water warm. Stay tuned for results.

      Evan and I had a good meeting yesterday with Dr. Paul Virkler, who works for Cornell University’s Quality Milk Production Services, and Dr. Martha Jackson, who has taken over from Dr. Goldwasser as our large animal vet. QMPS tests our cows’ milk twice each year, and this was a chance to go over results and ask questions. I enjoy face time with vets. It’s the intersection of theory and practice, of book learning and barn management — nerdy and dirty — and that’s my sweet spot. We focused on udder health. As any nursing mother knows, mastitis is no fun, and it’s very common, even in humans, who don’t live in barns or have teats near the ground (at least not for the first few kids). Mastitis can be caused by pathogens in the environment, or by pathogens within the udder.

     We do our best to avoid all of them. Our cows move to fresh grass every 12 hours during the grazing season, and in winter, we keep them well-bedded. We emphasize the importance of good preparation at milking, stimulating the udder to encourage letdown, and making sure the milking equipment is clean and properly adjusted. And we try to keep our cows healthy and relaxed so their immune systems function well. But sometimes, mastitis happens anyway. We have a strain here – staph chromogenes – that is known to be environmental, but seems to be acting more like a contagious mastitis, and Dr. Virkler is following it with academic interest. We don’t give our cows intra-mammary antibiotics at the end of their lactation, a standard practice in conventional dairies, so we are a good place for him to study. We have some nice cows who keep turning up positive for staph chromogenes, though they show no symptoms (and their milk is perfectly safe to drink).

      While not concerning, it’s interesting. We discussed the possibility of trying an intramammary antibiotic in some individuals at the end of their lactations, to see if it clears. The cows are dry for at least 8 weeks before they calve and come back into production, so there is no possibility of antibiotic residue in our milk supply. That led us to a talk about European organic standards vs the USDA standard. In Europe, organic farmers can judiciously treat an animal with an antibiotic, wait the specified period for the antibiotic to clear, and then return the animal to organic production. How sensible! Here in the US, once an animal has been treated, she’s never organic again. To me, this is illogical and inhumane, and it is one of the reason we choose not to certify.

     As you know, members, we always tell you when we step outside of the organic standard, and if we do try it with some cows, I’ll tell you. For now, I just wanted to share my fascination with mastitis pathogens, which I’m happy to continue in person. (And yes, this is why I spend a lot of time talking to myself.) Huge thanks to Evan for his good management in the barn and knowing all the right answers yesterday. In other news, our farmer from Uganda could use some good warm work gear. If you have a quality parka, sturdy snow pants, mittens, etc. that are looking for a new home please drop them by. He’s medium height, medium build. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this seasonably-cold 3rd week of 2020. Find us on instaFB, and the web, or right here on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball