Week 4, 2023|Kristin Kimball|January 31, 2023

Winter is the season of trying new things. Barbara Kunzi has been experimenting with our large supply of sheep and lamb tallow this week, making prototypes of candles and samples of tallow salve that we could jar and sell in the farm store. I’ve really enjoyed testing the candles. The cheery light feels like company and gives me courage at my desk. I’m pleasantly surprised by how well they burn, and how long the larger ones are lasting. The salve is impressive, too. It’s better than anything I’ve tried for overnight treatment of cracked heels and dry cuticles, but I do wonder what normal people will make of the slightly lamby smell, which isn’t quite masked by the essential oils. You know me – I consider sheep scent a feature, not a bug. It smells like a good savory pastry crust to me, and what is wrong with that? I am imagining a 100% natural tallow lip balm called Pie Hole. It’ll kill. If you want to try a sample of the salve and give us feedback, let me know.

A major change this winter has been moving the dairy cows to once a day milking. The most pressing reason to do it was the difficulty of filling fourteen milkings every week with a small crew. Anne and Jackie were spending hours begging for people to cover shifts and I’m sure they’re relieved to not have that task on their lists anymore! We were wary about the possible loss of milk production, and a higher risk for mastitis. Loss of production can happen because the udder is a demand-driven system. The more it’s emptied, the more it produces, up to the cow’s nutritional limit and biological potential. Typically, production decreases by about 18% in early lactation cows when a herd shifts from twice to once a day milking. But our cows, who eat only forage and a token amount of grain at milking time, don’t pump out the volume of milk they would if we fed concentrated feeds. And this winter’s forage quality is not terrific, due to the lack of rain during haymaking season. So production in our herd is limited by feed and not the cow’s potential. As a result, the herd average dropped only a little bit after the shift, and even that is a good thing: putting out fewer calories should help the cows hold their body weight better until we get to grass. As far as udder health goes, everything looks great so far. We had a discussion about it this week with our vets Dr. Martha and Dr. Virkler, who is our Quality Milk Production Services veterinarian, and they both gave us the greenlight. (Dr. Virkler, by the way, just published a paper in Hoarde’s Dairymen based on a study he did here at our farm a few years ago. Read it if you feel like nerding out but the gist is that the pathogens that cause mastitis fall into two categories: those that are transmitted primarily from the environment and those transmitted from cow to cow at milking time. He and his research partners were able to show that one type previously thought to be transmitted environmentally was actually contagious. That’s useful!) Members, we’re working through how to best manage the new dairy production schedule, and milk supply has been limited by all the calves we are feeding right now, but we’ve made adjustments on both those fronts this week, which will mean more goodness to go around. Please check limits on the board this week.

Mark drove Hot Mike, our very beat up green van, to New York City for deliveries this week. Mark loves a good adventure, especially one that offers a problem for him to solve, and he got a flat on the way home, which seemed to delight him. Thanks to Daisita for the absolutely seamless last mile service! We’d love to do it again next month. The lamb that Mark delivered to Springbone appears on their menus starting today, so if you’re in the city, give it a try and say hi to the Springbone team from us.

Welcome to the Sky, Rosemary, and their three little ones, who arrived here yesterday. I think they get the award for traveling the farthest to come visit our farm. Hawai’i! They have their own farm there, milking a small herd of Guernsey cows on the Big Island for raw milk sales. They’ll be with us for the next two weeks, so say aloha if you see them.

And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this nippy 4th week of 2023. Find us at 518-570-6399, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball