Category Archives: Environment

Image of Agriculture vs Beliefs

I’ve written up a post before about the Image of Agriculture (following the link to read more about how farms and ranches can “dress for success”). Now, I want to utilize some stuff that I’ve just learned in a Social Psychology class.

I’m going to transpose an excerpt from the book “Social Psychology” by David G. Myers.  (This book is utilized within the course as a form of a textbook and contains lots of great information)

“…Research reveals that it is surprisingly difficult to demolish a falsehood, once the person conjures up a rationale for it. Each experiment first implanted a belief, either by proclaiming it to be true or by showing the participants some anecdotal evidence. Then the participants were asked to explain why it is true. Finally, the researchers totally discredited the initial information by telling the participants the truth: The information was manufactured for the experiment, and half the participants in the experiment had received opposite information. Nevertheless, the new belief survived approximately 75% intact, presumably because the participants still retained their invented explanations for the belief. This phenomenon, called belief perseverance, shows that beliefs can grow their own legs and survive discrediting of the evidence that inspired them.”

I want to point out here why this is important to agriculture. It’s important due to the power of persuasion used in advertising and marketing campaigns. Some of you are already aware of the fear tactics used by food companies pitting one style of farming against another (ie: the great GMO debate and Organic vs Conventional). These fear tactics play on our emotions and health concerns. *As an FYI, I’m not taking sides here, I’m just looking at the tactics and impacts*

How do these powers of persuasion in advertising and media affect our behaviors and beliefs? Here’s how! Let’s use the example of this image below.

Image clip from: http://newmacdonald.onlyorganic.org/
Image clip from:
http://newmacdonald.onlyorganic.org/

As a mother, the first thing I notice in this image is the toxic sign to the left of the image and the brown sky. Second thing I notice is the no spray zone and the sun shining in the blue sky. As a farmer, this is a polarized image with zero fact based information.

How does this clip use the power of persuasion with fear appeals? Well, that type of farming to left appears to be dirty (brown sky) and toxic (the sign). It looks unhealthy even with the corn growing exactly the same as the right image. The type of farming on the right shows me a beautiful landscape with sunny blue skies and the idealist image of what we would all want farms in our neighborhoods to be. See that little logo at the top, with the “join the New MacDonald Movement”, well that gives us a directive to what to do as the next step if we “fear for our environment”.

Here’s the funny thing. The New MacDonald is the OLD MACDONALD! It’s the image of what we all think as consumers of what we want farms to look like. It’s the image we’ve seen our entire lives as we’ve driven past farms in rural areas. To be honest, I’ve never once witnessed huge puffs of pesticides bigger than the clouds in the sky. I’ve never once seen green soils in corn fields. I’ve never once witness a brown, dirty sky (other than a dust bowl which I’ve never physically witness, just to clarify).

This image is very polarizing and untrue. Now, let’s see some reactions if this was done in real time with real people. (Pay close attention to the reactions in the audience, staged or not they still impact us with a power of persuasion)

Say you are a farmer now that sits on the other side of the fence. You aren’t organic, yet you aren’t a conventional farmer either (like me, by the way). I know you will find these images and tactics rather disturbing. I’m sure you noticed that NOT ONCE was there any factual information that discussed any type of real environmental impacts, crop yields, or hell, even a tractor (not one? How can this be?)

Peripheral routes to persuasion are one’s that makes us feel good and making us “feel good” about let’s say choosing Organic based products is saving the environment, creating a better life for animals and giving us the perspective of all those farms we pass by on road trips. While in reality, some organic farms aren’t any different than what’s deemed a conventional farm. Yet after many view this imagery, they associate a feeling of bad and negative to any farmer not carrying the organic label.

Why is this bad for all of us? Let’s go back to the  quote at the top about belief perseverance. If ten people see this image for the first time and believe the center line of demarcation, all farmers that are not organic are deemed as bad, untrustworthy and uncaring. Even when these 10 people are presented with fact based information and many times know farmers they can talk too (either in person or via social media), 7.5 people will still hold the belief that it’s organics only from now on.

Now, I want all of you folks that are non-organic believers to step back for just two seconds and put on your thinking cap. Haven’t some of us done the same thing? How many are sitting there right now thinking about where their beliefs come from that GMO’s are good or that spraying pesticides are okay for the environment? With the sheer number of farmers that are generational farmers, I will lay money on the table (that I don’t have to spare) that you use the systems you do because your dad did it and everything turned out okay. Some will say that they have read the research and they are confident in their belief. How can you be when for every pro scientific study their is one that contradicts the findings?

Many of us will immediately jump on the band wagon to refute claims, as I did above. Here’s the issue with counter arguing: If you aren’t convincing enough in your counter appeal, all you do is build resistance against your viewpoints. It’s called attitude inoculation and very much like immunizing someone with a low dose vaccine. The more you argue, the higher the vaccine and the more resistant the opposing side becomes.

Why is all this important in today’s world of agriculture? It’s important because to be FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED. We live in a world today full of available outlets and inlets for information. Just be aware that everywhere we look someone is trying to persuade us to their side. I think Myer’s had some good advice for everyone to use, farmer or consumer, it doesn’t matter….

“To be persuasive, you have to stimulate people’s thinking. stimulating thinking makes strong messages stronger and weak messages less persuasive.” (Myers, D.  Part 3 Social Influence, Social Psychology, p. 180.)

What we think of a message is crucial. That’s where our beliefs come in, but don’t argue your case unless you have all your counter arguments lined up and are prepared to have the case you’re making not result in immunization of the recipient. Second, if you are going to make your case…. make it first. I’ve said before (and I’m going to continue expressing it) that you need to be proactive, not reactive.

You have to get people’s undivided attention, present your case (with facts preferably) and keep repeating your message.

What’s my message in all this? I just want people, all of us, to sit back and think about the arguments we all have over food production. Some of us know and understand that it takes all of us and that many farmers make the best decisions they can based on the information and circumstances in front of them. Let’s stop focusing so much on peripheral and subliminal advertising and start communicating with each other directly. Today’s farmers are much more available than ever before. The diversity of farmers on Twitter alone is staggering and they are from all regions in the world.

Communication between the producer and consumer are crucial to the future. All of us have the same goals in mind for the future: Safe, healthy and nutritious food for everyone. Can we stop throwing up prison fences around one production form over another? No one wants to climb chain link fence to get ripped to shreds by razor wire. Each side does it too. Stop demonizing others for their choices, hold open discussions, everyone ask each other questions. Take the power back to make your own educated decisions, not just follow along because someone told you to.

I’m hoping this gives everyone as much food for thought as it did me. Please feel free to comment, add remarks, whatever.

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The Book of Life

The past is nothing more than pages written in our book of life. The future is still unwritten (I think those are lyrics to a song). As the pages develop, chapters start and end. Each new page contains another memory.

Barrows Farm has a big, thick book already. To tell the tale will take some time but, eventually I hope to put it all together. There are stories like the family history within the deed. A deed that contains pages dated all the way back to 1850. A deed that contains information on parcels that go all the way back to the Boston Ten Townships purchase. 165 years of heritage contained within those papers, written and documented history of Barrows Farm.

In more recent years, there are stories about farm owners and livestock that bring a smile and shared laughter among the family, tales of buggy rides to Syracuse and how a young man worked with his Grandfather and eventually took over on the farm.

Not all the memories are happy ones. There are tales of government buyouts and the end of a dairy here. There are tales of barn and house fires. Many things have changed over the years, mainly with the last owners occupation. It’s hard to express the hardships that have been endured. Granted, I haven’t been here for the majority of them.

I’ve lived here for ten years and I love this place as much as this family does. Someday, I really hope to be able to have the time to sit with Rich’s parents to document some of the history. Even if it’s only ever to just put together to share with the family for future generations. I think it’s something important to be passed down throughout the years, from generation to the next.

As I sit here with this thought rolling in my head, I’m also saddened that it won’t be passed down to the next owner within the family. After so much that has gone on here since 2008, I’m devastated. I can’t even imagine the thoughts rolling in Rich’s head. Having been on or around the farm his entire life, it has to yank a piece of his heart out to make decisions like selling. Eventually though, when push comes to shove, self preservation takes over.

I’ve talked with others about concerns over farmers committing suicide because of these types of decisions, lack of funds and severe depression. In my way, I’m trying to explain how hard it is to lose a piece of yourself at times like this. Farmers who have worked the land, watched it grow and change have an affinity for the property that is unparalleled. They put their heart and soul into every piece of hay, every head of livestock, every grain of soil and every drop of water. Farmers love their farms like parents love their children.

To farmers, our farm is our legacy. It’s our book of life that we have written the pages for. Failures or success, risks and rewards, it’s all in there. Our pages might not be written over the years on paper, but they are written on our hearts, our souls and within each detail we find on the farm. It doesn’t make a difference what kind of farm it is, how big or how small. It’s just the way it is for farmers.

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.

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

Winter Grazing

We’ve been posting some photos on our Instagram and Facebook pages about the cattle and their winter choices and preferences. I’ve had various people from all over the world comment about their cattle and if they go outside and graze or stay inside to just eat and lounge around.

Here is what we have discovered over the past couple of years in our attempt to gain more days of grazing throughout the year.

Fall Grazing
Here the cattle are grazing (not an intensive grazing) in late October

1. We had a field that was going to be used for hay that didn’t get cut due to many days of rain and an over abundance of shale rock sticking out of the ground. This is the second year we had this issue and decided fairly early in the year that our new seeding fields would produce enough hay crop for our animals over the course of the winter. We allowed the grasses to grow over the entire growing season and created a stockpile of grasses in the field. Late in the year, starting toward the first of October we started grazing the animals in this unmowed paddock. The grasses were of various heights, many of which ranging between the 8-12″ mark. Some was taller and had died off while the bottom was a thick carpet of new growth.  The cattle stayed in this paddock until we got a heavy rain in November that caused some severely muddy areas that were starting to freeze and creating a hazard for the cows. They were shifted out of this paddock on November 27th.

Day One of Winter Grazing, November 27th, 2013

2. Cattle that have been raised to graze WILL graze when given the chance. The Irish Dexters we have here are natural grazers, so it makes sense to us to run all the younger cattle (yes, even the dairy breeds) with them as much and as often as possible. Cattle learn from repetition and by example. The older cows teach the younger cows what to do. Sometimes, this has additional woes to consider when it comes to animal handling but that’s another topic. Here is a link to a short video, taken on December 30th with about four to six inches of snow on the ground Post by Barrows Farm of one of our dairy cows grazing.

3. I’m slowly learning that weather issues that bother me might not actually bother the cattle much at all. Here’s an example of what I’m trying to say:

Snowy Cold Weather? These cattle are having a blast on their “snow day”
Older cattle teaching the younger to eat "grassicles"
Older cattle teaching the younger to eat “grassicles”

4. It isn’t only the cattle that prefer to eat something out in the pasture. We have chickens that refuse to eat the “rationed” diet provided by the feed store, instead the forage for their own food.

Look at those chickens go out and get goodies!
Look at those chickens go out and get goodies!

We have 18 head of cattle right now and we are still feeding hay. We feed 2 bales that measure 4 foot x 5 foot every two to three days depending on how much the cattle graze. We’ve done some rough estimates and we are figuring about 25% of their diet is still coming from pastures every month. Hard to imagine but it’s happening. We do want to increase the amount from pastures but after dealing with the harsh reality from this winter, I don’t think we are doing too bad since I think we have had two or three days in the past three to four weeks that have been above 15 degrees. The cattle go out everyday to walk the pastures and nibble on grass…all by choice, not force. They always have hay available inside the barn. Sometimes we do roll bales out in areas that could use some additional organic matter…

Bale grazing on January 27th
Bale grazing on January 27th

Overall, I have to say that this has been an experience for me. Each generation seems to be more adaptable to the winter grazing. Maybe we are just noticing it more but I can demonstrate what I mean by viewing the photo below. All the calves are doing great and at six to seven months of age are developing well.

A Dexter cow and her 2013 calf at 8 months old

We will continue to monitor and push for more “grazing” days. Of course, every day the cattle graze here but we want to get more of their diet from the grassicles (frozen shards of grasses) than the current percentage. There will be some additional trials into the paddocks themselves to increase the winter fodder coming for many years to come. One thing is certain, we aren’t afraid of change or adaptability. I will keep you all as up to date as possible on the happenings…and don’t forget to stop by and like our Facebook page to stay more current on details. I try to post a couple photos every week of what’s going on around the farm. “See ya soon”

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Ring in Hello

2013 is now gone and in the record books. As the old saying goes,  today is a new day! A new day to the start of a brand new year full of hopes and dreams. I’d like to take a minute though to review our year of 2013 on the farm.

We have so many things to be thankful for that happened in 2013 but it didn’t come without heartache, stress and tragedy. We have suffered through the stress of planning, budgeting and financial woes. We have had our hearts broken over the loss of Belle, the rescue cow and favorite “mother” within the herd. We’ve had bad times through illnesses, aches and pains but we still keep pushing and we still keep going.

Farming isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s dealing with the tough times and take the good along with the bad. We did have some absolutely amazing things happen in 2013 that completely out weigh the bad.

After much personal discussion about financial woes and our own morals and ethics, we filed for a grant in November of 2012. In March, we finalized the paperwork on an EQIP grant that helped us reseed a field back into pasture, relieved financial stress of fence building and will even assist with a water project in 2014. The grant didn’t come without it’s own stress issues though. Budgets and monitoring, differences in opinions, and even clashing mentalities on timelines came with it. Yes, it’s been stressful but it’s also been a very rewarding adventure. Now that it’s past, we have a newly established 24 acre pasture planted with a wide variety of plants (18 or so were seeded) for grazing. We ended up with about 110 acres of perimeter fencing that was 5 strand instead of the USDA-NRCS recommended 4 strand. There are nice gates and hot wires to keep cattle in line and under control so they aren’t wandering the neighborhood anymore! These are major accomplishments!

We had five calves born on the farm in 2013 and brought in three more! Our total herd has expanded to 20 today with eight calves expected to be born in 2014!!!! It’s so hard to believe that in 2009, we had just one steer! My, oh my, how things have changed!

We held the first annual party in the pasture in May. I (Doreen) was so overwhelmed to have people I haven’t seen in a decade come to spend time on the farm with their children, letting them get to know what a cow is. We’ve had folks come visit for just the cattle kisses that are often shared on the farm. We’ve had visitors come from both near and far, made new friends, hosted a video crew and learned so much about what you enjoy about what we do.

We raised our first animals for meat to cater a wedding. Granted it was Rich’s sons wedding but who cares…well, maybe the bank account but hey, it’s all for a good cause right? We bbq’ed 200 quarters for that wedding! We raised them, butchered them and then the fun began around the bbq pit. It was a whole lot of hard work to make it all happen but the response from the guests was what made it all worth while.

Through all the stress and hard work, we managed to make some big changes in 2013. All of those changes will be allowing us to do even more in 2014! We are now preparing to work with another local farm to pasture their heifers in the grazing months. We are planning for more meat bird production, more eggs to be produced and even more Rose Veal to be raised! 2014 will also be a big transition in our marketing and we are expecting to start setting up stands once the markets open around May! We are also planning a second annual Party in the Pasture too! The water system will be started in April/May and will be completed during the summer of 2014 too.

All of these changes are because we are dedicated to our passions in life. Yes, it takes a lot of money and a lot of hard work. Yes, we suffer through heartache and stress. But…in the end and looking at everything big picture, we know that through all the struggles and trials we are doing just what God meant for us to do! Expect to read more about us as times goes on. Now that things have “slowed down” to a more regular pace, we will have the time to share more often.

In closing, our wish for you on this day of new dreams and hopes. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson and  “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” ~Minnie Louise Haskins

Happy New Year to you all!

A new day, a new year...new hopes and new dreams. Follow your own star!
A new day, a new year…new hopes and new dreams. Follow your own star!