Category Archives: lifestyle

Transitions

Since I haven’t updated anyone in a couple of weeks, I guess I need to take the time to do so. As we have been building pages with the sale information (please see our Farm for Sale page), listing the ad on several social media sites and craigslist, it has become official that the farm will be sold.

As much as I hate to see this happen, I know that there are many different factors that have contributed to this decision. Looking back through the photos I’ve gathered over the years, it’s been an amazing transition to see the farm change. We’ve seen animals grow from newborn calves into cattle that have had their own (one has had two). We’ve watched turkeys grow, lay eggs and hatch their own young that are now prepared to do this same this coming spring.

We have seen major transitions in the land too. In 2006, the farm sat idle. There were no animals to graze, no tractors mowing the hay and the farm didn’t produce anything. In 2011, nearly the entire farm was planted into corn, contrary to what we wanted. In 2012, we planted fields back to a variety of grasses. In 2013, the whole farm was surrounded by new fencing and all the ground had been established as pastures. In 2014, the water system was built to make it easy to water the cattle without the use of electricity or trucks.

We’ve witnessed major improvements in the quality of the grasses we manage for grazing. We’ve seen first hand how well the cattle have done. This farm has also become a haven for birds like the Bobolink and the Eastern Bluebird. Last spring, we were blessed enough to consistently see the offspring of the wild turkeys (20 poults in total). We saw fawns and their mothers out grazing in the lush pastures. We’ve documented butterflies galore, by photography at least roughly 20 different species.

This farm isn’t just any other farm to me. In my opinion, it’s a work of art. It showcases our natural systems working together and how each layer benefits another. Consideration into small things that others typically overlook, like the earthworm population, and larger things like water quality and clarity of rainwater run off.

There is still work to be done like getting lime on the soil but, it’s still amazing to see how far we have come! It’s been a great lesson in learning that couldn’t have been done without trial and errors. This farm is at the cusp of becoming something great. With financial backing and the right people, this farm has the potential to become another Polyface farms. I know it can be done! Unfortunately, it’s just not us that will be able to do it. From health reasons, age and the lack of finances to keep expanding, we just can’t do it anymore. It would be great to be able to continue alongside the new owners as mentors/advisors though.

The new perspective is that this isn’t the end of an era, it’s the beginning of something amazing for the next person. There are others with the same visions we have and while they may be a select few, I know that someone out there reading this understands exactly what’s being discussed.

Thank you again to all of our supporters for the wonderful years you’ve given us. Hopefully, someone will come along to continue what we got started. I’m looking forward to making that announcement as time goes on and a buyer comes forward. Until then, we will keep searching.

Please feel free to drop an email to farmgirldoreen@gmail.com if you have any questions or would like more detailed information.

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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.

 

 

Colder weather

As the temps dropped this morning, I realized that I could give you all some good advise and suggestions.

Do you have a farmer or other person who works outside in your life? Do you struggle to find good gifts for them?

I’m a firm believer in giving gifts of use. For the farmer who is an active researcher and reader, a new book available for beef, poultry, or other meat animal production might be a great option. Same goes for anything soils, crops or amendments.

Then there are the things that farmers can never have enough of. We usually destroy our wearable goods before most others would. Zippers break and pockets rip. Insulated bibs, jackets and long johns are always useful in winter months, as are boots.

One item that never lasts long is gloves! I can’t seem to find any that last longer than a month. Same thing for heavy insulated socks.

Heavy hooded sweatshirts are always handy to have too. They work great for layering. Good turtlenecks save wearing scarves that can catch on all kinds of crap.

Insulated coffee mugs and thermos items are a must for us too. If it keeps liquids hot….we LOVE them!

For the farmer or farm wife that loves to cook…those crock pot and thirty minute recipe books are always good to have too. Try to find ones that a person working 12-18 hours a day could use.

Other good things are boot jacks and boot scrubs.

Hope these help you with your shopping issues this holiday season, including our own families. We really aren’t that hard to buy for as long as you keep our daily basic needs in mind.

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

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.

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Weaning and Training

Well, life sure has kept me busy lately. I think I’ve eaten more breakfast for dinner lately than I ever thought possible. I have been super busy trying to keep up with my son’s wrestling tournaments, photography work, a new writing job, the farm and filling in for another farm while the owners went on vacation. It’s been a rough few weeks to say the least.

Now as we sit, discussing upcoming changes and events, there is so much to get done for 2014 on our farm. My head seems to swirl in a hundred different directions at just the thought of it all. Dividing animals, separating bulls from cows and last years calves from their momma’s, is next up in line. I’ve had a few people asking me lately what we do, how and why. So I guess it’s time to discuss it. First off, our beef breed (Irish Dexter) are really good mothers. We like to leave the calves with their mom’s as long as possible. It helps the calves continue to grow good and gives them the availability of having fresh warm milk from their mother through the cold of winter. Normally, we start pulling calves away from their mothers just about the time spring comes in March. This year, spring hasn’t even showed any signs of arriving anytime soon, unfortunately. That being said, we are still going to need to take the calves out of the paddocks. They will be shifted to the calf pens.

I know this sounds cruel but it isn’t. Once calves hit a certain age, they really don’t need the milk anymore and the majority of their diets come from the hay or pasture grasses. A good cow will reproduce every year but in between each calving, she needs time to rest and gain a little peaceful time. This helps her build her body stores back up and gets her in shape to provide for the next calf. This is very, very important to give cows this rest cycle or as I like to call a vacation from kids 😉

The calves are typically between eight and ten months old when we wean them from their mothers. This is when they hit what I like to call the adolescent stage of their lives. Any parent knows that teenagers can drive a mother insane. It’s no different for cows. Half the time, the calves are about 50-75% the size of their mothers and way too big to continue nursing. We have only ever had one calf that didn’t need to be “removed” from the pen with her mother. She weaned herself, amazingly enough.

Here we sit, right now, on the verge of separating animals. We have paddocks set up for housing just the calves and we do what is called “fence line weaning”. The divider between the mother and calf is a 5 strand high tensile electrified fence. It is rather noisy but is the least stressful way to separate them. They can still see their momma’s and talk back and forth. They still have the chance to get licks through the gate too. Most people outside farming don’t understand the bond between a cow and a calf. It’s an important one. The cow teaches the calf how to graze, what to eat and how to act. Sometimes, this results in animals passing on habits we really don’t want but that’s how it is until they are separated.

After a couple of days, the bleating starts to calm down and everyone transitions into the quiet they are used too. Once the beef calves are inside the calf pen, we start working with them to break some of the bad habits their mothers have instilled in them. The original dexter cows are the only ones who really have this issue and that’s really only two of them. Each year, we have one calf that is a little more “friendly” than the others. Not always from the same momma either. When we start working with them, it’s basically to get them used to having someone human upfront and in their face on a more regular basis. This happens because the barn they go into is a much smaller area and they are forced into the area each end of the day. It takes weeks before they stop running from one end to the other. As time progresses, we shrink the area they are allowed to move around. We sit with a hand out, allowing them to smell us or lick our fingers. Once they settle down and stop running in fear, then we attempt to get a halter on them. Sometimes this takes several weeks or even months. Once they are haltered, they get a collar. The collar makes it easier for us to reach out and grab them. The halter training continues until they are used to it…most of the time. Some never become accustomed to it.

Why halter train? There are a great many reasons to halter train a calf. One is that it’s easy to move them from one location to another without the exhibition of a typical “cattle flight mode”. Other reasons include being able to move them for vet visits, physical exams, potential pregnancy checks, and even transportation. Halter trained animals are much easier to handle. It’s builds their trust in you and teaches them that YOU are the boss. Halter training isn’t typically something that happens overnight either. Some do pick it up quicker than others but typically I would say it takes roughly 15-20 minutes daily for about two weeks before they really start grasping the whole concept of not pulling, tugging or attempting to run. The beef breeds seem to be a little more pig headed and stubborn than the dairy breeds too which doesn’t help. Some of the calves have picked up halter walking within the first two attempts. Others, well…let’s just say that when they see the rope come out that flight response goes into overdrive.

Both the fence line weaning and the halter training can be very dangerous. You can get run over by a calf that is running the fence line. You can get angry mothers who get rather nasty when you take their calf. You find out where every crack in your fence line is too. Halter training an animal that weighs in somewhere around 400-500 lbs and you weigh in less than 200 can be a trip too. I’ve seen one of these calves drag a full grown man like a rag doll on the first attempt. Staying calm but understanding the reactions of the animal are crucial. It isn’t recommended for the weak of heart. You have to be calm but just as stubborn and pigheaded as they are. You also have to understand that not every animal will be successful every single time.

As we go through this process, I will attempt to take some videos. I will forewarn you, it is rather difficult to get video when you only have two working hands operating the farm. I am going to see if I can enlist the help of a teenager who is showing some extreme interest in farming, even if only to video record. It would be a great learning experience for him and would benefit me with a video.

Until then, I need to start preparing for our first calf heifers to start having calves the end of the month. We keep praying that the weather will break and we will start getting some warmer weather by then. I’d hate to have calves come in this bitter cold. It’s below zero right now. I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen if it’s that cold when the calves come. I don’t think Mr. Farmer will like it much if I bring three calves in the house to keep them dry and warm. So, now I’m off to plan the “just in case” to ensure the calves get off to a good start, no matter what the weather.

I’ll update when I can. Sorry about no new recipes lately…. unless you want to know how to make toast, sunny side up eggs or oatmeal, I’ve got nothing new and exciting to share.