Category Archives: agriculture

Change is Coming

Well, it’s the first week in January of the year 2015. It’s hard sometimes to believe that so many years have gone by for us. As the years have ticked by, we have watched the world change dramatically around us.

When I was a little kid on my Grandparent’s farm, there wasn’t the big, massive farm equipment of today. Cars were huge gas guzzling beasts that we now call classic cars. Four wheel drive trucks still had lockout hubs, not electronically transferred like most models have today. Neighbors knew each other and helped out during times of need. There weren’t cell phones or internet back then either. If you wanted to communicate with someone miles away, you wrote a letter or sent a card. If they lived close by, you would stop over for coffee.

Inside our homes, we went from home cooked meals with the entire family around the dinner table to fast food eaten in the car. Both parents have to work to make ends meet and the cost of goods just keeps skyrocketing.

Everything has changed. Nothing is as simple anymore as fighting for what’s right or standing on moral ground with the convictions you feel hold true. People will continue to express that change is good, it’s progress. I’m not so sure that I can agree. It’s when you feel you are forced to make dramatic changes that you gain insight into much more than you realized.

Why am I writing all this? It’s out of frustration, sadness, elation and tribulation.

As we have worked for years on expansions on the farm, nothing has come easy. Working hard at multiple jobs to make ends meet, save a few dollars here and there and struggling with the burdens of debt have taken a toll of both of us. Rich, being the sixth generation on the farm, has done the best he could to keep the farm going and kept mostly together. Each year, that struggle gets harder and harder. Income stays the same but expenses keep raising. Property values go up but in turn generates more tax debt every year. The struggles are very real and very frightening. The expansion past this current generation into the worry about who will take over for the next generation. Who could manage such an operation? Who would even be interested?

For three years, we’ve struggled with the taxes, debt load, and worry about who could take over. As time has gone on, the realization is we can’t afford to keep struggling with no potential future. We don’t want to continue working this hard to keep going no where. We can’t get a milk market developed with a small herd like we had hoped. We don’t have the extra funds to expand our beef herd because of the money invested every month into just getting by. After hearing from one that she wouldn’t ever milk cows and the other now located in another state, neither of which showing a real working interest in the farm, we know that the next generation won’t be taking over on the farm.

It’s with a heavy heart that we announce that we will be selling the farm. It’s frustrating to know that we just can’t do it on our own. The reality of the situation is that at some point, we need to admit defeat and do what needs to be done for our own self preservation. Maybe if we had funds to invest for a larger herd or a milk market developed, we wouldn’t be doing this. I’m sorry to say that here in NY, I feel that all the promotion for beginning farms and farm expansions is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. I can’t even begin to express the disappointment of stepping aside after all the time and energy spent into building the farm into what it is today.

I’ve lived in this area my entire life and I’ve always thought it was a shame to see so many abandoned barns, empty fields and vacant lands. I now know why my Grandfather advised me to stay away from farming. It’s always a fight. A fight over taxes and land values. A fight over markets. Risks in income. Struggles to just earn enough money to live. It’s a fight for any kind of working help. It’s a fight with Mother Nature. This isn’t the job for the faint of heart or the people light in the wallet.

For months, we have held a discussion about what the future may hold. We’ve fought over selling or keeping family property that has been in the family since the Boston Purchase. Neither one of us can do it anymore. The farm will be sold to someone who has the funds to bring in a bunch of beef and be able to make the farm into what it’s meant to be. It’s all setup now and ready to go, all you need to do is bring the animals.

What will we do? We will be keeping some of the cows, stepping back on our size and scale. We will be relocating to a small farm somewhere in Tennessee. We aren’t sure yet on a time frame but are hoping it’s in the very near future. We are looking forward to more relaxing days, not working so much and being able to take vacation, relaxing and just enjoying life at a slower pace. It’s discouraging to leave the history and the farm here. It’s a beautiful place with spectacular views, a secluded pond and in a good area. The future though is that we just can’t manage all of this alone anymore.

I (Doreen) may be staying for a while to work with the new owners to assist with the learning curve of the rotational paddocks and connecting them with the locals. It will be an adventure over the next year that will hopefully end in the successful transition into a less stressful life for both of us. It’s been suggested that we do some video recordings and write ups on the whole transition, which I will start working on in the near future.

Thank you all for your support, follows and comments up until now. You have been a huge encouragement for us to follow our passions and our dreams, I just wish the interim result was a little different.

If anyone is interested in buying the farm:
149.9 acres located in Center Lisle, NY with approximately 100 acres fenced with new 5-strand high tensile fencing, perimeter and cross fenced. An older double wide home, a 48×72 stick build barn with a new metal roof, a 32×70 hoop building. Rolling hills and spectacular views. Private 6 acre pond. Brand new cattle watering pond and pipelines (constructed and installed fall of 2014). A partially construction two story cabin. A sugar bush for making maple syrup.

Optional: 13 head of cattle, Ford 2120 tractor with fork and bucket attachments, New Holland 489 mower, brush hog, 2004 Dodge Ram 1500, Evaporator, temporary paddock supplies including step in posts, wire and reels and remaining hay and bedding.

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Wildlife Wednesday ~ Birds

As the seasons pass here in Upstate NY, we see species of birds come and go. Fall is that time of year we get to see large flocks, swarms or gatherings of birds as they prepare to fly south to warmer regions.

One thing we noticed this year is birds that we normally do not see on the farm. A couple of weeks ago, a whole group of Bluebirds were seen in the upper pastures. It was neat to see their bright blue feathers as they flew from ground to fence and back.

A group of Eastern Bluebirds hanging out on the fence within the pastures.
A group of Eastern Bluebirds hanging out on the fence within the pastures.

Every fall, we always see a lot of Canadian Geese because of the pond. I think they like it there because it’s rather secluded. Can’t say that I blame them either because I like it for the same reason.

Just a few of the geese that come to visit every year
Just a few of the geese that come to visit every year

We’ve seen more Wild Turkeys too. This spring, there were 20 poults hatched and wandering around the pastures. It’s an amazing sight to see when all the hens (mother turkeys) would gather together with the little ones.

We’ve seen baltimore orioles and bobolinks too. There are Savannah Sparrows, Chickadees, Cardinals, Blue Jays and so many other birds that I don’t even know names for. We’ve had Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets. We’ve seen a Bald Eagle too.

Two male Bobolinks in one of the pastures during late spring and early summer. We had a total of four pairs this year…up from two the year previous and just one the year before that.
Sparrows on a temporary post that divides the pasture paddocks

Life in the country is actually rather amazing, if you just take the time to stop and see what’s around you. Sometimes, you just really need to sit, watch and observe…or you miss out on some really neat things around you.

Cow bird found in the pasture right next to the cows.
Early summer the Killdeer will nest in a couple of specific areas of the pastures.
It’s common to see birds sitting on fence lines.

Hope that you enjoy the “snippet” of birds we are fortunate enough to see all summer long. Next year, I’m hoping to host a “Bird Photography Day” here on the farm and allow all kinds of bird watchers to come set up, take photos and hopefully capture more of the amazing birds we have here.

If you are interested in coming out to the farm to bird watch, just give us a shout! Send an email to farmgirldoreen@gmail.com. Hit me up on twitter @CNYfarmgirl or find us on facebook at www.facebook.com/barrowsfarm.

 

 

Transition Thursday ~ Improved Management

Top 30 Oct. 29
Exactly one years difference between these two photos, taken October 29th in 2013 and 2014

Better management practices and additional rotations have great improved this pasture area. I arrowed the same tree referenced in both photos as a landmark.

2013~ This field had been planted the year prior and only had one cutting of hay removed. As our cattle numbers rose, we decided to put the cows into this pasture later in the year. The older growth and light colored grasses are from the previous years grasses and ones that had already died off due to colder temperatures. Most of those standing stalks were still left in the spring of 2014.

2014~This entire field was broken up into 10 rotational paddocks. Due to improper grazing methods the year prior, we saw additional weed growth and still some residual standing dead grasses remaining for 2012/2013. We decided that after the first rotation of grazing, the paddocks would be clipped. The clipping added organic matter for moisture retention and soil cover. When the cattle were turned into this paddock, the grasses measured approximately 11″ tall and fairly uniform (other than where heavy manure patties were located and the grasses were about 2-3″ higher).

Synopsis of tests and trials:

In 2014, we did some additional management testing. As each of the paddocks were clipped, we either left the animals in the same paddock for 24 hours or pulled them out prior to clipping. We had the same amount of rainfall for the first 21 days on two adjoining small paddocks, NONE. One we left the cows in and the other we pulled them out.  Which of these paddocks do you think grew back better? Do you think there were any uniformity difference?

Now that we are grazing these two paddocks again after the same amount of growing days, we are surprised by the results.

Paddock 4: The day the cattle were turned into this paddock, the grasses were approximately 11″ (or knee high on my legs) for second grazing. There were large patches of dark green grasses (from manure and slightly better nutrients).

Belly deep grasses of paddock #4

This is the paddock that was clipped and the cattle left in for around another 24 hours. There are one or two weeds that did pop up, but nothing like the previous year.

Paddock 5: I turned the cattle back into this paddock for regrazing just this week. The grasses were remarkably shorter with more defined patches of thick dark green grasses. The grass was averaged about 9″ tall.

Take note of the patches of darker grasses.

This paddock was clipped after the cattle had been located into the next paddock.

Rainfall rates after the 21 days could have made an impact because the paddocks had  7 days different growth. Or could the differences be from the actual animal impact? We really aren’t sure but think the animals were a major contributing factor.

Why would that impact be so important? Any farmer that has cut hay can explain that once grasses are clipped or mowed, they dry fairly quick. Grasses will lose a lot of moisture in that first 24 hours. What happens to grasses when they start to dry? The become brittle! As the animals walk, stand, and trample the dried grasses, it shatters or breaks it apart into smaller pieces. This could be the crucial difference. Not only do smaller particles breakdown to return nutrients to the soil faster but think about how sawdust can cover a floor faster than a tree. The particles are more evenly dispersed over the soil. I’m sure there are other benefits, like how any moisture is retained, too.

All of this has been a “work in progress” and “testing”. I’ve recently heard lots of complaints about how Holistic Management doesn’t give a “one size fits all” prescription. FOLKS, IT CAN’T AND IT NEVER WILL!

Why not? Holistic Management is about working with wholes. Not holes but WHOLES. I can’t identically replicate what I’m seeing as results on any other farm. Why? Every farm, even adjoining ones, will have different soil type, different nutrients, and even possibly different plants. What works here for me might not work exactly the same on a farm 50 miles away that has a slightly different climate. Holistic Management is about working with your whole environment. It covers everything within your own whole and you would be surprised how much variation there really is.

I think that’s the problem with the mindset with most people in agriculture today. It’s all about a “prescription”. If a farmer plants corn, there are specific nutrients (nitrogen is a big one) that are needed in the soils. Since corn is planted as a monoculture, it’s easy to get a soil sample and apply whatever amount is needed to amend the soils. It doesn’t work that way with more complex situations. For example, our three main paddocks have a total of 5-7 different soil types and a range of nutrient variations. We have planted more than 15 different plant species into our paddocks and not one field is the same. You can’t do a “one size fits all prescription” in that scenario.

Just like you don’t wear the same type of clothing in the summer as you do in winter months on the East Coast. The same methodology is used for management. Field A (spring) requires different management than Field B (winter) and even different yet than Field C (summer drought). Hopefully, you are starting to see and understand how Holistic Management is an ever evolving thing, on the same farm and difference from year to year.

If anyone has any questions, concerns or would like to chat about what we do, please don’t hesitate to comment below. That’s why we share what we are doing (try to anyway). It’s been hard for us to adapt and learn, I encourage others to learn from our mistakes and trials.

Feature Friday ~ Ruby

Every Friday, I will be doing a feature on one of the critters here at Barrows Farm. I want to be able to explain what each animal is like, how they came to be here and what’s important to us about them. Why do I think this is important? It’s important because as a farm, we wouldn’t be where we are today with each animal here. WordPress also gives me an outlet to hold open discussions with our fans that aren’t allowed on other blogging format. It’s important to us that YOU, the reader, have that ability.

This weeks feature animal is Ruby. Ruby is a Lineback/Jersey cross cow and the oldest in our dairy herd. She came to live with us at about a week of age. We got her from Rich’s uncles farm and was originally one of a set of twins. When we first started, we didn’t have everything set up the way that it should have been. The calves, three at that time, were in the main part of the barn. They had free movement and a large area covered in sawdust and bedding. Unfortunately, the bull calf that was with Ruby and her sister Scarlett was rather dominate. One morning, upon arrival in the barn for morning chores, I found Scarlett on her back, wedged under the four wheeler.

To those that don’t understand that cattle have issues with bloat, I will explain. Cattle need to have their heads up, not be facing down hill or rolled over so that the gases inside of their stomach have a place to escape. If left untreated or unnoticed, the gases start entering the bloodstream and literally poisoning the animal. We lost Scarlett because we just didn’t know she was in the wrong position for hours. I did everything I could to treat her, including burping her and propping her head up. It was too late, she was gone.

About a week later, I found Ruby laying in the middle of the concrete floor. It wouldn’t have been bad if it was summer but unfortunately, it was the dead of winter in Upstate NY and it was cold. She was barely responsive and very lethargic. I went into immediate action and moved her to the sawdust pile, grabbed blankets from the house and made a call to the vet. Upon arrival she was given vitamin shots to boost her and the vet and I discussed how to rewarm her. For two solid days, I didn’t sleep. Instead, I walked back and forth from the barn to the house every fifteen minutes to warm blankets and keep changing them out. I used soda bottles with hot water tucked along her sides and slowly got her warm.

I didn’t know if she would survive but I was giving it 110% to make sure she had every available treatment to get her over the hump. You have no idea how elated I was going into the barn the third morning to find her standing at the bale in the center of the floor nibbling on hay and drinking from a bucket full of electrolytes. I actually cried tears of joy.

Now it’s years later and I still can’t get that feeling of connection out of my system. She is my cow. My favorite in the herd. She shares kisses and hugs. There is no better feeling in the world when you ask for a hug from a thousand pound cow and she wraps her head around you. Or that moment when you ask for a kiss and she takes that massive, scratchy, cat-like tongue and licks your face. She is my girl alright.

Beyond her early life struggles, Ruby has developed into the perfect cow. She is easy to care for and hasn’t needed any treatments since. She has provided us with two healthy calves, one heifer and one bull. She gives us lots of milk, even with her calf still nursing. She’s a gentle and loving creature but is also the boss of the herd. She has no issues with keeping her body condition on an all grass diet, in fact she gets kind of fat.

Ruby has had two calves on the farm now and just celebrated her third birthday. Her first calf, Suri, was a heifer (female calf) who is growing up to be very much like her mother. Her second calf, Ramrod, was a bull (boy calf) that is currently nursing and growing very well.

Ruby is the first in the line of cattle we are really looking to integrate into future generations. In years to come, more of her offspring will come and they will become part of our herd. Her calves will take first priority in selecting which ones are used for the next generation because of the ability to do so well on our grass based farm. Her legacy will live on for many, many years to come and we look forward to have her around for many more generations of calves.

Ruby the day we got her. August 2011
Ruby the day we got her. August 2011
Ruby at a year old in 2012
Ruby at a year old in 2012
Ruby with her newborn calf (Suri) in 2013
Ruby with her newborn calf (Suri) in 2013
Two generations. From left to right: Suri, Ruby and Ramrod. Suri and Ramrod are Ruby's offspring from two years.
Two generations of calves. From left to right: Suri, Ruby and Ramrod. 2014
Just lounging around. Rich laying on Ruby
Doreen and Ruby sharing cattle kisses

Wildlife Wednesday ~ Butterflies

I spent some time this year around the farm, experimenting with a macro lens that I recently acquired. In my trips to water cattle, check on calves, or change paddocks, I would take my camera and new lens along. I’d never used a macro before and I’m still not all that adapt at using it but by trial and many, many errors, I managed to get some beautiful captures.

As I started to photograph different flying insects like flies, bees and grasshoppers, I also started to notice a multitude of butterflies in all shapes and sizes. I didn’t even know there were varieties called skippers up to that point. I’d never really paid much attention to anything other than the ordinary and bright monarchs or swallowtails.

What I discovered was a whole new world of pollinators, right in my farm pastures. I have photos of some that I still haven’t managed to identify. I found spots in one pasture that was loaded with so many butterflies the ground was almost covered.

I will number the images…and there are lots! If you happen to know the common and/or scientific name, please comment below or send me a message.

21. Yellow Swallowtail?
20. Eastern Black Swallowtail?
19. Eastern Black Swallowtail?
18. Monarch?
17. UNKNOWN
16. UNKNOWN
15. UNKNOWN
14. UNKNOWN
13. Boston Checkerspot
12. UNKNOWN
11. UNKNOWN
10. UNKNOWN
9. UNKNOWN
8. Suspected European Skipper but not positively identified
7. UNKNOWN
6. UNKNOWN
5. White Admiral butterfly ~ Limenitis arthemis
4. Long Dash ~ Polites mystic For more info: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Polites-mystic
3.The flowers here are called Ragged Robins are a member of the Pink Family (Caryophyllaceae). The species name – flos-cuculi – means cuckoo flower. The butterfly is a Painted Lady ~ Vanessa cardui Sighting details: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/sighting_details/982157
2. Harris’ Checkerspot ~ Chlosyne harrisii For more info: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Chlosyne-harrisii
1. European Skipper ~ Thymelicus lineola The host plant is Timothy grasses used for hay on farms. For more info: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Thymelicus-lineola Sighting details: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/sighting_details/982184

Feature Friday – Minnie

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here. I’ve been busy over on our facebook page trying to keep everyone updated on a regular basis on what’s happening around on the farm. I’ve also been doing some random posts on What Farming Is webpages too. Neither really gives me an outlet to discuss what’s really going on or how we feel about it. For that reason, I’m back on here! With a new format and new content coming!

Every Friday, I will be doing a feature on one of the critters here at Barrows Farm. I want to be able to explain what each animal is like, how they came to be here and what’s important to us about them. Why do I think this is important? It’s important because as a farm, we wouldn’t be where we are today with each animal here. WordPress also gives me an outlet to hold open discussions with our fans that aren’t allowed on other blogging format. It’s important to us that YOU, the reader, have that ability.

For today’s feature, we are showcasing Minnie. Minnie is the oldest and smallest within our herd. She is an Irish Dexter. Irish Dexters are known for their compact size. They are similar to the miniature cattle seen in other breeds, like Jerseys, but the Dexter’s are traditionally just a smaller, more compact animal.  Minnie is what’s considered a short-legged variety. She’s just a short little thing. I stand 5’8″ tall with a 34″ inseam and she barely reaches my hips. She’s about 36-37″ tall. She’s now 6 years old and has resided with us since September of 2011.

When we purchased her, we didn’t know much about Dexters and thought they looked decent for the breed. How wrong we were! As the years have gone by, she has really come into her own, gain weight, slicked up and is now rather round. It was amazing to see the transformation. Knowing what we do now, we are very glad that we got her when we did.

Minnie has had three calves in that time, all three of them heifers (female). Her first daughter, Mini-Me, had her first calf this year and made Minnie a grandma. All three generations are still here on the farm. Her second calf, Amy, is a Dexter Jersey cross and will be giving birth to her calf Spring of 2015. Her third calf, Minnie-Pearl, was born this last spring. Dexters are great mothers and Minnie is no exception. She is protective of her young, gives them good milk and grows them healthy and strong. She is a herd mother. Many times, you will find her “babysitting” the group of calves. She’s docile and sweet in nature. She’s inquisitive too, smelling around at anything new.

When Minnie came here, she was very frightened of everything. Any noise would send her running in the other direction. She didn’t want to be near people at all. Last winter (2013), we were finally able to pet her back as she lounged in the barn. It takes a long time to earn an animal’s trust, especially when they have never been handled. I wish you could all know that feeling and sense of accomplishment when you can finally touch an animal without them running away in fear.

Minnie is one of our herd favorites for many reasons, including all those listed above. She has a lot of other great traits too. She is compact in size but holds her own in weight. She is very efficient at converting the grasses she consumes to meat and milk. Yes, Dexters are a dual purpose. We love her too because she has given us great offspring that is the base of our herd expansion. She is easy to maintain with no signs of lameness. She’s never been sick since she’s been here. Her hoofs wear down perfectly, causing no need for a hoof trimmer. She steadily holds her weight, even when nursing older calves. Literally, cows just don’t come any better than her. She’s a perfect little Dexter. She loves to play with the calves, run through the pastures kicking up her heels and acting like a kid.

Want to know what else is great? Since she’s a Dexter, she’s part of a breed that is known for it’s longevity! At six years old, she is just getting started in life. We’ve heard lots of great stories about Dexter’s that have lived well over 15 years of age. We are really looking forward to having her around for a very long time to come!

Now, onto what everyone loves to see….PICTURES!

This photo is from Dec. 2011. Minnie is the smaller of the two. Meanie (#43) is a year younger and much taller.
This photo is from Dec. 2011. Minnie is the smaller of the two. Meanie (#43) is a year younger and much taller.
Minnie in 2013 with her first calf born on the farm, Mini-Me.
Minnie in 2013 with her first calf born on the farm, Mini-Me.
Minnie and several of the other Dexters are out playing in the snow. Dexters LOVE days like this and are often found out playing like this.
Minnie and several of the other Dexters are out playing in the snow. Dexters LOVE days like this and are often found out playing like this. Minnie is the center animal.
Look at that face! She is just the sweetest girl.
Look at that face! She is just the sweetest girl.
Minnie is the second from the left. All these animals are standing on a level spot, just over the brink of this field. Her daughter, Mini-Me, is the fourth from the left.
Minnie is the second from the left. All these animals are standing on a level spot, just over the brink of this field. Her daughter, Mini-Me, is the fourth from the left. (Sorry about the poor image quality)
Minnie is the one with her head up, tail curled and looks like she's smiling.
Minnie is the one with her head up, tail curled and looks like she’s in pure bliss.

Now available: HOODED SWEATSHIRTS FOR $25 to show your support!

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What Farming Is

All of my future posts about the farm can now be found on a great new blogging network. My friend Michael Fermia started this blogging network as a way for us farmers to share our stories.

Find more by following the link to What Farming Is.

I may still occasionally share some posts here but the day to day stuff will be found on the other site. Many changes are coming for us in the future too.