Category Archives: Environment

Why Rotational Grazing?

Since this is a question that has been asked several times over the past weeks, we decided now would be a good time to discuss what actually drove our decisions.

A few years ago, we allowed a local large-scale dairy farmer to utilize the 80-ish acres of tillable ground for producing crops for his farm. What we didn’t realize at the time was how he intended to use the ground. After tilling the soils around  half of the farm this first year, we started noticing some issues with soil retention. We held conversations with him to communicate our concerns about the erosion and run off issues. Unfortunately, our concerns fell on deaf ears or he just didn’t care.

He continued to till the ground from lowest to highest points, providing “alley” lanes for the water to just run toward our pond. Water wasn’t the only concern, it was also the over abundance of manure waste from his farm that he began applying as well. Every field slops toward the pond.  Concerned over contamination of our pond, we started really paying attention to what was going on. Even to the extent of documenting through photographs what was happening. Our Department of Environmental Conservation started doing water samples too. Low and behold, the phosphorus levels started to increase in the pond water. Not to the point of dangerous…but close.

Look at the top, you will see bare ground and corn stubble
A closer look at the “silt” or soil erosion
All the water funnels to a pond…can you see the “silt” along the ice?

There are ways this could have been prevented all together!

With just the simple motion of NOT plowing the field straight up and down the slope, much of this erosion would have stayed in the field instead of heading directly into the ponds. Cover crops that establish root systems would have worked too. Unfortunately, neither happened and now, we as the land owners need to repair the damages.

What started out as major concerns over erosion and run off, we stumbled across some information that has undoubtedly changed the course of our entire farm. The recommendation to start rotational grazing for our small herd of cattle has altered our whole perspective on farming. In April of 2012, we started rotational grazing on the lone 4-1/2 acre piece of the farm that wasn’t plowed up and bare dirt. We spent around $800 for step in post, braided wire and an energizer. It took us a few hours to put in the posts and another couple of hours to string all the wire.

We started grazing April 1st, 2012. We started noticing after the first month that the grass was getting greener in spots from the cow manure patties. We started noticing less and less water running across the field too due to the small pieces of matter laying between the plants. We noticed that our grass was still growing in July when every one else’s in our area had dried up and turned brown. Benefit after benefit started to show.

We planted the highest elevation piece into grasses for hay and future grazing too. 30 acres were planting with grass and legumes. After the first three weeks, we noticed less and less run off from that field too! Another 14 acres was reseeded and we started noticing spots of no growth. That got us to wondering why some spots were growing great and others barely at all. After walking through the field, the explanation was simple! All of the topsoil was GONE! Literally, it had all flowed off of spots and deposited in others. All that was left was the shale rock base. We knew right there that something had to change dramatically!

After talking with our Natural Resources Office and our local county Soil and Water representative, we all came to the same agreement. Based on the success of our rotational grazing trial and the erosion issues, we would all work together and apply for some grant funding to put the entire farm into Managed Grazing. March brought us the approval and the contracts for two separate programs! We are happily reporting that the full 90 acres of acre we deem as “farm” will soon be pastured and used exclusively for rotational grazing and hay production ONLY. There will be no more tillage, other than by cattle hooves.

Which do you think would be better if it was your property?

Erosion from water on tilled ground that was left bare after the corn was harvested fall of '12
Erosion from water on tilled ground that was left bare after the corn was harvested fall of ’12
Water draining out of the pasture.
Water draining out of the pasture.

 

Advertisements

Lots of Activity

I thought life was crazy before! I have changed my mind. Currently, we have added in the woes of fence construction, new seeding, grazing management, frost seeding, and relocating temporary fences.

Let’s start with the temporary fence. A great deal of our fence areas are set in with step in posts and braided wire. I hasn’t been a problem until now. The issues that have come up now are long-haired animals (see photo below) just walking through the fence. Hair seems to NOT conduct the electricity within the energized wire. Needless to say, about two to six times a day…I am putting cattle back inside the fence or getting a phone call while I run errands because the cows are out.

Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.
Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.

It really doesn’t make much sense. As you can see, the grass is very low to the ground in that area. Inside the area fenced in, some of the grass under the laid over hay is several inches long. In this case, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence!

This shows the grasses inside the fence
This shows the grasses inside the fence

Now let’s talk about this photo a little more. This is part of our pre-spring grazing management. We have an area fenced in that needed some “work”. The area gets very steep and doesn’t allow for any type of tractor work. So we are using the cattle to do the work for us. As you can see in the photo, the old forage growth within the paddock has provided a sort of blanket for the new grasses underneath to sprout and grow quicker than the worked up field areas that we grazed last fall.

This is just part of the area that we are "working" with the cattle
This is just part of the area that we are “working” with the cattle

The standing stalks of weeds will get eaten, trampled and the ground develops as the cattle hooves dig into the ground. We have already seen improvements…in 2 days! Take a look!

This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.
This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.

I will be posting follow-up photos with before, during and after shots. We are trying this as part of an experiment for land reclaiming. They are eating the briars and the weeds! Proof in these next two photos.

Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Cow clipped briars!
Cow clipped briars!
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next stage for us will be fencing in the 90 acres we will be using for rotational grazing this year and for many years to come. It’s a big job with over 14,500 linear feet of fencing, posts, wires, etc to have put up! Once it’s all completed we will have enough area to grazing 45 animals. To someone like me with an obsession with cattle…it means I can buy more cattle! (Reminder: I like to buy cattle like most women like to buy shoes!)

We also have 30 acres to get seeded for another grazing area too. Rich has been researching, reading and learning what types of grasses and legumes will be best suited for both the soil and the cattle. He thinks he has finally figured out which blend (a custom mix with lots of plant diversity) he wants to go with. In the meantime, we will be frost seeding clover on last years pastures to start building nitrogen in the ground. Did you know that clovers are nature’s way of providing nitrogen? I didn’t…but it’s very cool! No more synthetic fertilizer for nitrogen!!!

Saturday, we will be headed to a grazing seminar that will help us learn how to become more adapt at managing our grazing plan. I am super excited to go and I will make sure I take LOTS of pictures!

For now…it’s back to chasing cattle, taking more photos and reading more books! Thanks for stopping in to read about my adventures and sharing our little piece of Heaven!

 

 

Extreme Weather Calf Care

All of us across the country have seen some extreme weather this year. Farms with animals have to pay extra attention under extreme heat and cold, not to mention high winds and heavy rains.

Here in Upstate NY, we aren’t facing winter colds as low on the thermometer as some of the others across the country but we are still facing morning temperatures of negative 6 and some wind chill factors.

As any person would, extra care needs to be taken to ensure safety in such extreme cold. This is one of the reason we make sure that our animals have good shelter and a warm place to rest. Cold stress in cattle is very difficult to deal with and should be monitored for.

Cold stress in cattle is just like the stress of hypothermia in a human. Treatment is very much the same. It involves slowly warming the body to get body temperatures elevated without reheating too quickly. Cold stress slows heart rates down and often makes animals very latargic. To rewarm an animal here on our farm, it involves many trips from the house to the barn; blankets being warmed in the dryer for several minutes and then tucked inside a coat to be run to the barn; it involves warm water (often electrolytes to prevent dehydration); and hours before an animal is back on it’s feet again. As you can imagine it is a very daunting task.

Calves are the most easily effected by cold stress. Without fat stores or long haired winter coats, they aren’t equipped to deal with these freezing temperatures. Calves can be stressed in temperatures at 40 degrees if the wind is blowing and there is high humidity. This is one reason why calf care is crucial. By closely monitoring how a calf acts and/or reacts to environmental conditions, you can determine a method of prevention. Many times, something as simple as a calf coat is enough to 1)block air movement and prevent body warmth from escaping and 2)provide a layer of protection against air moisture.

Adding a calf coat for cold temperatures in an attempt to keep a calf warm.
Adding a calf coat for cold temperatures in an attempt to keep a calf warm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paying attention to bedding is also crucial. A calf will not retain body heat if it is laying on damp or wet bedding. We pay extra close attention to this detail year round but will add extra bedding with the use of additional straw to keep them warm. Wheat or Oat straw is important to have within our bedding mixtures because straw is actually hollow. Standard hay is finer and is natural a solid “stalk”. The hollow core of the straw will absorb body heat and help retain the heat. We double load bedding area with straw during colder months to ensure that the animal is nested down inside…much like the shape of a dog bed.

What happens if the bedding and a coat aren’t enough? Sometimes we use heat lamps. The heat lamps, just like the ones used for keeping baby chicks warm, create a warm area under the lamp. Most often, this step will assist a calf from getting cold stress.

Have we had animals with cold stress? Yes, we have. Last, we had a couple of calves group housed within the main area of our barn. We provided them with thick sawdust bedding and lots of straw in one area inside the barn. Unfortunately, overnight on a sub-zero night one of the calf decided to be a jerk and keep the other calf off the bedding. Calves do get territorial from time to time and this does happen. We did not anticipate it happening with two calves over a very large area…but it did. The calf rejected from the bedding then laid down on the concrete floor. Needless to say, as she slept her body temperature dropped and continued to do so until I made my way to the barn.

After seperating the calves into different areas and getting her off the concrete floor onto good bedding…I started treatment for hypothermia. Warming blankets every 20 minutes, dribbling warm electrolytes into her mouth because she had minimal body function and a visit from the vet to make sure I was doing the right thing. The vet administered a shot of Vitamin B and told me to keep slowly warming her the way I was. Proudly, I can say that over the course of 12 hours, her body temperature elevated back to normal and she was back on her feed drinking and eating normally again. Today, she is one of my favorite girls and will be having her first calf this coming spring.

Ruby is one of the friendliest dairy heifers you could ask for
Ruby is one of the friendliest dairy heifers you could ask for

What are we doing different this year? Well, we have a calf that is just days old now hanging out with me inside. With zero fat stores, a wet and slimy newborn coat and the temperatures continuing to drop…we were keeping close watch when he started to show signs of hypothermia with uncontollable shaking that didn’t stop. Not wanting to expose him to the other cattle yet…one option remained. He is a good boy. He lays on a blanket (with an absorbtion pad much like those used for puppy training). He comes into the living room a couple times a day to jump and run around so he stays flexible. When the weather gets warmer, we will start getting him used to cooler temperatures and slowly start working him back to the barn a little more each day until he is back in the barn full time.

Is this the right way? Maybe not…but with me being unable to do some of the normal barn activities, I feel this was the best choice for his chance of survival. Personally, I rather enjoy the little guy being around. I will miss him when he goes back to the barn.

I will miss all of his "help" with paperwork
I will miss all of his “help” with paperwork

Winter Blues

They say the life of a farmer slows down in winter. I beg to differ. Winter time is usually the time we catch up on reading, sit through forage classes and plan out for the coming year. This year isn’t much different for me other than I am reading more on Holistic Land Management and taking some additional business and financial planning classes online. The extra course work, which takes a couple hours per week per class, really isn’t that much but it still takes time.

I have some other classes that I am taking too. Ones on the food system in the US and another on human nutrition. Why am I taking these classes you ask? Looking at from my perspective, I feel as a farmer who works extensively with consumers about food production, it’s my job to be as informed as possible about how food impacts choices when it comes to how you eat. It’s also important for me to know and be able to express how food moves and travels because you never know someday we might be selling our goods all across the US. As for the business and financial planning classes, no matter how you want to look at farming or agriculture in general…it’s still a business where we need to make sure that we are planning and spending funds appropriately but also ensuring that we are making enough money to stay afloat too.

Farming doesn’t have the profitability of many other jobs but it is rewarding in other ways. That’s one reason why it’s important to look at management from a Holistic standpoint since those methods also take a look at lifestyle too.

On top of classes, I am still doing all of the same stuff…dealing with frozen water, cold stress in cattle, feeding hay bales, changing bedding, filling water jugs several times a day, gathering eggs, feeding chickens, caring for calves, keeping the fires going, cooking the old style home cooked meals and still trying to keep up with laundry, dishes and housework.

Life doesn’t slow down for much on the farm. Sometimes we are forced to take breaks from the daily routine due to illness (and believe me, I have to be SUPER ill to keep me away from the barn) but it isn’t often. Even if we aren’t doing the manual labor involved for the farm, there are still other things we do. Research, reading and formulating crop charts, rotational grazing map or looking through seed catalogs…there is always something that can be done.

I have been down and out for a couple of days with one of those illnesses that prevents me from standing too much…but I still didn’t miss the birth of the first calf of 2013. I even managed to capture a video!

I didn’t get to stay out there too long and I am thankful for a cow that is awesome about birthing. I missed the first steps and the first suckle, which happen to be some of my favorite moments on the farm. It’s rather depressing to miss such moments too but, sometimes we have to take care of our own health first or we won’t be any good for anything at all for a very long time, if ever again. So for now, I will deal with my winter blues the best way I know how…learning, researching and communicating via books and the internet. I have to say, I have had some awesome conversations over the phone too about our grazing plans, the success we have had and why I think it’s important for others to consider rotational grazing. Being down isn’t all bad…it just takes some adapting.

I will write more soon about extreme animal care and welfare. I want to give some details about how we cope with winter months when temperatures hover around ZERO with freezing cold wind chill factors, what we do to ensure animal safety during winter, and how grazing has also been incorporated during the winter months. I may have to write up a series of articles but, I think it’s important that people see just how much care and planning goes into animal care during extreme weather.

Hope you are all staying warm…and I will leave you with a photo to contemplate for the next blog! Have a blessed day!

Here is Abel...warm, relaxed and sound asleep. What's "off" about this photo?
Here is Abel…warm, relaxed and sound asleep. What’s “off” about this photo?

A Growing Christmas Tree

I have to say…it isn’t gifts or spending time around my crazy family this holiday season that has me all excited like a kid on Christmas morning!

IT’S MY GROWING FRESH CUT CHRISTMAS TREE!

I have looked all over online to see if this is something normal…with ZERO results.

We cut our tree down on December 1st. It’s one of the trees that Mr. Farmer and his two children planted about twenty years ago…or maybe the offspring from one of them anyway. On the first, we had a couple of visitors from the NYC area come up to pick out a couple of trees to take back. While we were assisting them, we figured…hey, might as well cut our own. Makes sense right?

Mr. Farmer did the hard work (sarcastic) and cut the tree down. We loaded in the back of the pickup and drove down of the hill. I trimmed it up within an hour or so and got it standing in our living room. It was a little too tall (aren’t they always?) so I trimmed the top spire down to fit my angel, strung the lights and gave it some cold water.

I have to admit…it sat here for almost two weeks with nothing but a couple strings of lights and some additional pine cones wired on. I check the water daily and when it calls for a drink, I have been adding a little warm water. I finally rolled around to getting some ornaments on it last Friday. Not many of them but just enough to make it look like a Christmas tree.

Everything has been going just fine, typical and normal until last night. I came out of the bedroom door (the tree is straight ahead and maybe six foot away) I noticed these white looking “bumps”. After turning on the lights, I thought I was seeing things. At first, I thought we had some type of bug growing all over on the branches. After getting the flashlight and my glasses….to my astonished surprise here’s what I see.

Not a bug afterall
Not a bug afterall

Can you believe that? The tree is LOADED with them. Nearly every branch looks like this:

Look at all those!
Look at all those!

In all my years, not on my tree or others I have seen, have grown pine cones once cut! If anyone has any idea on how I did this…PLEASE comment and let me know. I have done several internet searches to try to debunk this fluke of nature…with no results.

One awesome thing….I think I have the coolest Christmas tree EVER!

Haying Time

It’s hard to believe that we are continuously working on haying it seems. Some of the fields are still first cutting hay, while others are already seeing rebound growth of third cutting hay that looks extremely promising…that is, as long as we continue to get a little bit of rain here and there.

I know that our farm and the additional family farm we work with are very fortunate this year when compared to what some of the farms out in the corn belt and Texas are dealing with. The whole country seems to be facing one sort of drought or another. I know I have driven past areas that the corn is shriveled and pointed toward the heavens with it’s leaves curled up like hands in a silent prayer, begging for rain. Some of our grasses here are scorched and a limp pale green yellowish color. We have had a few sprinkles of rain…but we still aren’t facing the dried up ground that many others have.

I worry and say a lot of prayers for those in the areas affected by the fires that are cropping up every where. I worry and say prayers for all of those farmers that supply so many with the goods they produce. I scares me to think of how it could impact all of us in the long run if they don’t start getting some rain. Food shortages are the biggest thing that freaks me out. The northeast will never be able to supply the world demand for US grown crops and we seem to be the one’s least affected by the drought so far….scary thoughts!

Even with the good hay crops that we are getting here…we still won’t be able to come up with enough to support the diminishing supplies needed in the other regions of the US. Two consecutive years of extensive drought has many concerned, including all of the farmers I have talked to locally.

I know many people are getting prepared for the onslaught of hay demands for the south and are stuffing their barns full to the gills already. We are all trying to prepare to assist…but you can’t just create hay from weedy fields…bedding maybe, but not food that cows will actually want to eat. We can only be as prepared as the fields are…

We have actually been getting some really nice looking hay to put up. A few of the fields have actually shown record production too. The one field were worked in yesterday has beat it’s all time record of 40 round bales (size of bale is about 4-1/2 feet by 4 feet and weighs approximately 750 lbs) to an astonishing record of 51! Hopefully, that will mean that some of them will be prepared and ready to drop onto a truck if the need arises. Most of the fields this year have been this way, thank goodness!

Anyways, time for me to get my own chores done, that way I can head out here in a bit to see what needs to be done and what fields are going to be worked on today…with the temperatures hovering around 95 degrees with a heat index up over 100, who knows what and how much we can get accomplished today.

God Bless you all…and pray with me for more rain!

Time to Garden

I am excited to say that now it’s time for us to shift into the gardening mode! We are running about a week or so behind but we will still be good for the stuff we plant on growing days.

Yesterday we picked up about 1/2 of our tomato plants. Typically, we plant 36-42 Roma tomato plants. When they bear fruit, we make sauce and more sauce. There is nothing like a huge pot of sauce simmering on the stove! The smell is one of the best in the world!!! Then we plant plum tomatoes for using fresh in salads but the majority of them will be peeled and make into stewed tomatoes!

We also plant peppers to freeze and to use in our sauce. We upgraded from just three plants last time to six this time. I might even attempt to get some additional ones that aren’t just the green ones this year too. I think I need some yellows and reds in the freezers too!

Last time we did tomatoes, we ended up with 32 quart jars of sauce and 21 quart jars of stewed tomatoes! For the two of us, that’s enough to last about a year and a half! Oh, I do love to can! Every time I walk to the pantry, it gives me such a sense of pride knowing that we planted, grew and harvested that delicious portion of our food!

We will also be planting cucumbers for pickles, squash, watermelon, peas, carrots, radishes, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, beets, hot peppers, eggplant, cauliflower, pumpkins, two types of squash, and probably a few I have forgotten.

I have my herb garden started. The chives in the raised bed outside my front door are HUGE! The green onions that are in the same bed are also growing well and have been since February…which is unheard of in NY! I picked up my parsley, rosemary, mint and thyme yesterday. Now I just need to get my basil seeds planted and see what else I can find! 🙂 I am actually thinking of planting a bunch of lavender to place in all of the house windows…wouldn’t that smell great as the breeze comes through during the summer! Then we can’t forget the dill, cilantro, coriander, fennel, majoram, oregano and sage!!! I am slowly working on building up an herb garden. I really want to be able to supply ALL of my own! I will get there, at some point!

Any way, I am off now to go in search of more plants and then to work getting the garden all planted today! BTW…did I tell you our garden measures about 50 feet long by about 25 feet wide! Our composted manure is all tilled in and sits there waiting for us to get moving!!! Photos to follow soon!