Week 8, 2017 | Kristin Kimball | Feb 24, 2017

Mark and the girls and I spent four days this week camping in the snowy woods between Blueberry Cobbles and Bald Peak. We came down from the mountain on Tuesday to find that while we were gone, spring had arrived in the valley. Arrived, or just visiting? Odds and the calendar favor the latter but many signs yesterday pointed to the former. Everyone worked outside in tee shirts, the cows basked in the sunny spots in the covered barnyard and sunburned their teats. The frost is nearly out of the ground. (Soon as we can dig, we will harvest last year’s parsnips, which should be very sweet from their time in the cold cold soil.) One thing is certain: sugar season is here. The sap is rising in the maple trees. We missed the first run, because of our trip, but we may try to tap this weekend.

We hired the three Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs I mentioned in last week’s note. So far, so awesome. When breeding and instinct and training line up with a job that needs to be done, you can almost feel a click of satisfaction in a working animal, the same sort of feeling that emanates from people who are doing work they value and are good at. These three started the week penned with the ewes, but separated, in a four-foot high run made of page wire and solid fence. The idea was to allow the ewes to get used to the dogs through the fence, and let the dogs learn where home is while safely confined. Every day, we took the dogs out of the run and walked them through the flock, then put them back in their fence. Two nights ago, just before bed, I went to check on them. Before I reached the barnyard I could hear coyotes howling all around us, the nearest group not a hundred yards away. The ewes were bunched next to the feeder, and in front of them, on guard, was the female dog. Somehow, when the coyotes started yelping, she’d managed to climb out of our very solid run to put herself in front of the sheep. I still have no idea how she did it, but her sense of duty makes me optimistic. I’m hoping that the most mellow of the three, Jake, will be able to join the laying hens as soon as the ground is soft enough to fence. Chickens are more challenging than sheep for livestock guardian dogs, because they’re just so tempting for a dog to grab and chew on, but if any dog can do it, I think it’s probably Jake. He is one very chill, very big boy.

What else? We have another 90 newly-hatched chicks peeping away in a big tub in the farmhouse, next to the wood stove. The first batch has graduated to the greenhouse, where seeding will begin next week. As the permies would say, we are stacking functions, sharing space and heat. In the greenhouse, we’ll have trays of seedlings on tables, with chicks underneath. Next Thursday, Mary Lake is coming over from Vermont to shear the ewes, who are due to lamb beginning April 15th. I’m eager to see how they look with their wool off. In three weeks, we’ll get 600 certified organic Amish-raised pullets, 16 weeks old and just about ready to lay. Thanks to the members who sent us feedback and requests for the share last week. It is so helpful to hear from you. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this springy 8th week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball