Category Archives: Meet the Farmers

Image of Agriculture – Conformity and Loss of Individualization

As a farmer, I like to think I express a great deal of my own individuality. I’ve heard it referenced in the past (by myself, I think) that “farms are like snowflakes, no two are the same”. Each farm has different soils, different landscapes of rolling hills or flat ground, different weather (NY sure is a whole lot different than Hawaii) and each farm has a unique set of owners, operators or managers bringing in their own beliefs and perspectives.

Recently, some research has come to my awareness that has me rethinking that statement and adding much more detail. All farms, no matter where they are located are impacted by authority. Nationally, we are all impacted by the USDA, the EPA, even organizations like Farm Bureau. How does their authority impact what we do as farmers? The laws and regulations handed down from our government officials are enforced by some, others hold political clout that impact these decision making government processes. The end result is a law or regulation that dictates things like our planting schedules, our water usage and testing, slaughtering and food safety processes, emission recommendation on our trucks and tractors and even recommendations about the foods we all eat.

Regionally, we are impacted by state run organizations like NY Ag and Markets that set standards, recommendations and laws on things like milk pooling for dairy products, testing and even additional standards on exactly what can be sold without a license and what cannot. We also have the Department of Environmental Conservation that watches us to see how much manure we spread, when we spread it, and they monitor for things like soil erosion and runoff issues.

It doesn’t matter what state, region or locale you are from as a farmer. We have federal laws, state laws, intrastate laws, county laws, and local town laws. Talk about being overloaded with authority. We may say that we are doing things the way WE want to do them based off from a decision making process on the land WE own or operate… but are we? How much of an impact about what we do is derived from one or more of these laws, rules, recommendations or regulations? Coming from NY, the second least friendly state for agriculture, I will flat tell you that authority dictates a lot of what we do. From filing documents on manure application, to agriculture exemption forms for taxes, to how we can slaughter an animal and even what types of fuels we can run in our equipment, we plan according to authority.

Sure, we make small decisions on stuff like what kind of operation to run, whether it be confined or pastured for example. Still, there are many outside influences that factor in. Farmers like Joel Salatin have been pushing to buck that trend for years. He also takes a lot of flak from other farmers too about what he’s doing.

The rest of us are doing the best we can, without bucking the system (always issues somewhere by the way). That means we are conforming to authority, whether we agree with it or not.

As we have progressed through the years and have become a society of conformist to laws handed down to us under the guises of sustainability, environmental soundness, or food safety, have we traded off our own values and beliefs to not end up being punished? I’ve read countless articles about the sales of raw milk that have landed sellers in court, broke and some have been threatened with jail time. 75 years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Times have changed, without a doubt, but at what cost?

Growing up on a small dairy in Upstate NY, we didn’t have these high overhead expenses from these laws and regulations of today. My grandfather used belly milkers on his dairy herd and stored milk in milk cans until the milk truck came, which wasn’t a tractor trailer either. Today’s milking happens with pipelines and goes into rooms filled with giant shiny equipment that sparkles in the sunshine. The glistening effect has come at a cost though. Dairy farmers conformed to laws or went out of business. These milk house rooms that have more stainless than professional chefs see in a lifetime cost a chunk of income to build, equip and maintain. Not only did many conform, they went bankrupt doing it or they ended up adding to the herd to get more milk to cover the new bill each month. Why would they just conform? They conformed because authority told them they had to, all in the name of food safety. They either conformed or they would not get milk pickups which meant no income. What do you think you would do at the prospect of losing any prospect of income? Would you conform or rebel against the new laws?

Dairy farmers across the country were impacted by this change. I can almost visualize the conversation around the dining room table. My grandpa with his weathered skin, hat next to him on the table, scooping his food around his plate with his head hung down. My grandmother sitting by the fire, sewing up patches in the boy’s pants because they couldn’t afford to keep buying new ones, watching everyone eat the meal she made from the goods she pulled from the garden that morning and the meat from the cellar that had been smoked last fall. Everyone is tired from a long day of work, the heat from the wood fired cook stove keeping it hot inside. Grandpa says, “Boys, we won’t be getting new tractor this year. We gotta buy a new fancy thing called a bulk tank and a bunch of fancy pipe to meet this new law so we can still get paid for farming.” The oldest probably rebelled and ensued in a heated discussion about what a bunch of bull it was to change the system. One probably spoke up and commented that its progress and it’s not healthy or sanitary to milk this way anymore. I’m sure an argument ensued. It probably went on for weeks, if not months.

Slowly, the time came to when a bulk tank would have to be put in. Unfortunately, the decision was never really made. My grandparent’s house burnt that winter. They barely had enough money to pay for what few groceries my grandmother bought, let alone homeowners insurance. Not a week later, all the cows were sold and my grandparents retired. My grandpa knew that he had to conform or sell, that was the option he was given. It’s hard to believe that this all happened early in 1982.

In the mid 1980’s, along came some new issues for dairy farmers. Milk prices plummeted and the government offered to buy farms out to help offset the over saturation of milk in the pool. Farmers were given good prices to sell their cows for slaughter or continue struggling. I don’t know the specific numbers or percentages but I can tell you that I know of two small farms that sold out, took the money and ran. What do you think you would have done? Would you have risked your family heritage or sold off cows for a profit?

Also during this same time, the USDA started recommending to farmers that they could increase milk production if they confined the animals and started feeding in the barns. The reasoning also included a reduction in herd health issues, broken legs and the list goes on. Many dairy farmers followed along like sheep in a pasture being herded with a dog. I think many did because they had just been forced to build these fancy new milk houses and a penny saved is a penny earned. In retrospect, I almost wonder how many farmers transitioned because of the fear of another new law coming down the road that could cost them a lot of money if they waited.

More farms start shutting their doors, going bankrupt and more laws just kept coming down the pipeline. The farms that have stayed have conformed to all these new laws and regulations. Today, the general heading of farm has been gathered into this rather large group of a one size fits all mentality, even while the individual farmer struggles to find their own identity.

As a result, some of the people that have fought back against the grains of laws and regulations have also been taken over by government organizations. These farmers are now deemed as Organic Farmers. The farmers that have conformed have all been lumped into the nutshell of Conventional Farmers. In today’s society, something has happened nationally that I don’t think was anticipated by any farmer, group or organization…the deindividuation of the American farmer.

Today, less than 2% of the population is a farmer. The majority of people today don’t have any idea the plight of the farmer in the minority. Deindividuation when defined in a psychology term occurs when “individuals are not seen or paid attention to as individuals… [and there is] a reduction of inner restraints against doing various things.” The negative extremes of deindividuation are lynching, gang rapes, and riots, stealing and cheating.

The negatives I’ve witnessed, read about and later saw video, for farmers is astonishing. Social media provides an outlet for the bias against farmers, not matter how good of a job they do. Organizations like PETA and HSUS, to name the two major ones, post videos about the horrific treatment of animals using the scare tactics and emotional based content, to turn average citizens against farmers. The long term impacts have been devastating to farmers, as a whole not just as individuals. These tactics create modern day lynching on social media sites. Farmers are demonized for using animals (often referred to as machines) for milking. We’ve been told that we rape our cows, that we all abuse them like the videos portrayed. These sensational videos get hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views but farmer’s videos rarely hit the 10,000 views mark. Social media provides anonymity unparalleled to any venue seen in the past.

As the size of the social networks increase, the more vicious the attacks on farmers and some have gone to the extent of criminal arson of cattle haulers. As the size of the groups continue to grow, the stronger the urge to do non-normal behavior increases and the greater the diffused responsibility. This effect is rather overwhelming for a small portion of the populace. The minority perspectives do still have an impact on these judgments roughly 8% of the time; according to research experiments concerning the impacts of minorities on a group of majority. Yet, 25-35% of the people that don’t conform to the group dissent initially will before the “war” is over.

Yet more deindividuation occurs between the differing social groups within farming. The line has been drawn in the sand by both consumers and national advocates that you are either an organic farmer or you’re something else, typically defined as a conventional farmer. It’s an internal war waged about the good and evil of the farming culture. Farmers are pitted against each other in this debate. Modern Era farmers are tech-savvy and social media crazy. We know it doesn’t matter which side of the proverbial fence we stand on, we need people to side with our decisions and beliefs. When consumers lash out against one form or the other, the non-normal behavior rears its ugly head yet again. The conventional farmer is an abuser. The organic farmer gets deemed a greedy person due to cost structures. The comments will spin out of control; result in hate speech spewing from each side.

These actions and group sociology impact all of us as consumers of these goods. The arguments are always the same; each individual farmer should represent themselves clearly and defend their positions. Enflaming the counter arguments is unproductive and typically results in dissention among the groups, often resulting in a negative extreme on all sides of the table. Farmers need to be more aware of their beliefs on issues of conformity, as do consumers. Basing decision making processes on the “in-crowd” and against our own standards and beliefs is causing a larger rift between the sectors. We all need to be more aware of the agenda hidden behind authorities’ procedures and law making capabilities.

Educating yourself thoroughly, speaking up to others about your beliefs and communication is crucial to stop this cycle of negativity by all. Every person that has become involved in any of these arguments needs to heed these words of advice, farmers and consumers alike.

I know many farmers that are willing to answer questions and talk about what they do. I’m one of them. To name just a few additional blogs you can read or follow to learn more:

Ryan Goodman at I am Agriculture Proud

Carrie Mess at The Adventures of Dairy Carrie

Megan Brown at The Beef Jar

Jenny Rohrich at The Prairie Californian

and many, many others that you will see referenced and linked within other blogs or shared via Twitter.

To start the conversation with farmers, ranchers, veterinarians and advisors via Twitter

Doreen Barker @CNYFarmGirl
Lorraine Lewandowski @NYFarmer
Carrie Mess @DairyCarrie
Ryan Goodman @AgProudRyan
Megan Brown @MegRaeB
Jenny Rohrich @PrairieCA
Mark Rohrich @sunflowerfarmer
Howe Ranch @HoweRanch
Ryan Bright @Farmerbright
David Foster @fosterdairy
Sheila Marshman @Marshisms
Nicole Day Gray @CatskillsDay
Laine Lewin @2cylinderfarmer
Kathy Swift @cowartandmore
Bossy Eats @BossyEats

I could probably add a 100 more names to this list too. Each person above is linked with more from all around the world. I know that each one will take the time to answer any questions in a positive manner. I encourage you to NOT send hate mail but to reach out in a positive way to ask questions first. Let’s create a wave of positive change and I’m hoping that this will spur further conversations into the choices that farmers make and why.

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.

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.

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.

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”

 

 

 

Illnesses and Injuries

I don’t feel good today and I am battling through some sinus infection, sore ears and just a general overall feeling of blah. Being sick gets me thinking though about 40-hour per week jobs, calling in sick and being able to lay in bed all day. Something that farmers don’t have the luxury of doing. Who should I call when I don’t feel like braving the elements with a pounding head, ringing ears and snot running out of my nose? I don’t think the calves, cows or chickens are going to care. They want their food!

Living the farm life isn’t for everyone. We farm through broken ribs, flu season, broken toes, dislocated bones and everything in between. I’ve cared for animals in casts and splints. I’ve cared for animals through pounding heads and aching backs. Farmers who deal with livestock are care givers. When you get sick, you still have kids who need caring for or a dog that needs to go for a walk…it’s really not that much different for us. It would be much more convenient if the cattle were in the house so I wouldn’t have so far to go…but it doesn’t work that way.

Being a farmer takes grit. I’m sure you’ve heard that before but it’s true. We have to push ourselves to work through an illness or injury to get the job done. We don’t get sick days, we don’t get days off. It doesn’t matter, 365 days a year you will find me in the barn caring for calves and feeding the animals.

I’ve learned a lot about pushing myself to get the job done since I have been diagnosed with MS. You need to push but not overdue things. Even if a chore takes you ten times long than it normally would, do it anyway. When it gets done, you can sit down with satisfaction knowing that you  accomplished the job. Besides, if your dealing with livestock they will find a way to make you smile.

Now, since it’s raining outside and more extreme cold weather is coming…I think I’ll tackle some paperwork and housework! Wish me luck in finalizing my plans for 2014 and getting my entire life better organized!

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!

Classes

It’s hard to believe but I have started taking classes as part of the 2013-2014 Holistic Management Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program for women in the Northeast. I wish you could all understand that this is an honor for me to be accepted into the program and become part of such a great group of women from all over the world, not just the Northeast.

I wouldn’t have even filled the application if not for a couple ladies encouraging me to do so. I know that many people have different opinions on what is the right way and wrong way to live life, run a farm or business but I have my own ways. Since 2006, I have been forced to continue looking forward and at the bigger picture. The Holistic Management training will help me do all that with new key insights and with better tactics.

Life has been floundering. Two different people involved in farming with two different aspects. One who has been around farming and ran a day to day operation in the past and another who may have grown up on a small dairy but has no clue about grasses, soils, fertilization, etc. I’m the second. One area that I handle is the cattle and small animals around the farm. I work with them to be friendly, halter trained and care for them. Sometimes, I have felt disconnected from tasks that I just don’t understand. My opinion is kicked to the curb because I just don’t know what I need to know to make a viable choice. These classes will not only give me a crash course in some of these steps but will also help us plan better for open communication and planning.

I have been reading and studying Allan Savory’s book titled Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making since January of this year. We have been actively putting these management practices to use since 2012. We just didn’t know it until a copy of the book was borrowed from the library. I think I have been using the same concept of planning and life choices actively since 2009 on a regular basis. Was it done right or with an intention of doing so? Nope, it wasn’t. Could/can it be refined to use and help eliminate planning issues, work issues and more? You bet it can! That’s why I’m taking these classes.

In section One, the topic was how to enhance success, meeting challenges effectively, addressing environmental issues and how all this works together inside your “toolbox” of management. The key is knowing who’s involved, what you are managing (an inventory of what you already have) and then knowing what quality of life you want and what you need to have or do to get there. The key is to PLAN-IMPLEMENT-MONITOR-CONTROL.

Section Two takes you from principles to practice and really starts digging into your Holistic Goal, defining what you manage and testing your decisions. It makes you take a look at who are decision makers and what human assets you have. It makes you look at the “stuff” you already have, including equipment and money.

If you want to test yourself on creating a holistic goal, it’s also important to know how you want people to see you. By people I mean your neighbors, vendors, suppliers, customers, etc. You also need to think about how you want the environment around you to look and how you want your community to be. I will admit, this task was rather daunting for me. I spent time talking with my advisor and one of the key things for me was to develop not one, but two holistic goals…maybe even three now that I think about it. Having the farm and knowing that this is something I am extremely passionate about is one things, but my own personal goals and even my photography have overlapping goals but ultimately, they are very separate and on very different levels.

Costs of Products

I was part of an interesting conversation today about the prices of Organic Food versus Other Food. I’m going to attempt to break it down so non-producing people can understand.

Each farm does things differently, each step costing a different amount. In a traditional business, we call this production. In farming, the consumer associates that word with assembly lines of animals or parcels of land providing goods at the expense of those who care for it or them.

As a farmer, each thing I do has a cost associated with it. We call this the cost of production. It covers everything from seeds, fertilizers, wages, marketing and feed. It also covers taxes and fuels and every other thing in between. Businesses call this overhead. Small farms are like those boutique shops where everything is done on a smaller scale and products are limited. Larger farms are like chain stores where they get discounts for what we call “purchasing power.”

With these comparisons, just why is Organic more expensive if it doesn’t involve costly fertilizers and spray chemicals? It’s actually rather simple to do the math. For example purposes, I am going to use the terminology of convention and organic with no line drawn in the sand between the two. I am not a supporter of either system for various reasons.

Let’s take a look at things that are the same for both systems:

1. Land taxes – Yes they vary from town to town, county to county and state to state but each acre of land has an associated cost of using that land.

2. Insurance – It doesn’t matter what type of farming you do. Building insurance, farm machinery insurance and auto insurance all have fees associated.

3. Electricity Consumed – Unless a farm is providing its own electricity through wind, solar or capturing methane gases, there is always a cost for fences, lights, milking pumps, water, etc.

Here’s where things start to drastically vary:

1. A Consolidated Feeding Operation (CAFO) will utilize more harvested and stored materials while Organic utilize more pasture based systems.

  • CAFO have high costs associated with planting, maintaining and harvesting materials. Organic has high costs for fencing and electricity to charge the fence.
  • Most farms purchase supplements grains. Let’s say Conventional or GMO corn is selling for $4.25 per bushel provided, Organic Corn for feed is selling for $10.00 per bushel. Most Organic farms do not have the “buying power” discussed about to play the market futures for corn commodities either, which results in slightly lower price structures. On these market based reports, Organic corn for feed costs 242% more.
  • On CAFO operations, the overhead costs of lights are at a lower input rate on a per head basis. If you are comparing at 100 cow dairy to a 1,000 cow dairy the prices to provide lights, heating/cooling, water and other associated costs are normally close to the same cost per month. So if that monthly bill is $200, it’s a $.50 fee per cow on the small dairy and $.20 fee per cow of the larger farm. It works the same with fuel to provide feed.

2. It isn’t that Organic farms don’t use fertilizers, sprays or chemicals. It’s that what can be used is limited. With any other “specialty” market, we expect to pay higher prices for these goods. You can do some research via the internet and discover the differences in pricing structures and what’s allowed for organics according to the USDA.

As you can see, Organic is in my view-point a much costly endeavour due to feed costs alone. Organic farms also deal with different commodity brokers or do much of their own marketing on smaller farms. No answer is ever simple and it’s difficult to express the real differences in costs. Again, this is another reason I suggest you purchase from a farm you can talk too. Boxed goods on the shelf, unfortunately, do not tell us the real story behind the scene.

If there is anyone who would like to sit down and discuss our pricing structures, we always welcome you to come look over the books. Here on our farm, we do not fit into the brackets of conventional or organic. We base our choices on economic, environmental and animal benefits. The system we use isn’t a marketing tool, but instead a sound decision based off those three aspects. I will keep all opinions on both of these productions to myself today. If you want to know more, feel free to comment or send us a message via twitter or Facebook.

Lots of News

So much has been going on that I’m not really sure even where to begin. A year or so again, everything that has been happening was just a dream. A pipe dream of wishes written out on a scrap piece of paper and internet page links stored in favorites full of useful information. Twitter conversations about plants, seasons, materials and lots of questions were happening then too.

I have made so many great friends in the past two to three years of my life. Some of which I haven’t met YET but share the same kindred spirits. This is a group of people who have inspired, encouraged and guided. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that can attest to the power of the internet, in good ways and bad. What I’m discussing today is the power of knowledge, prayer and positive thinking.

As many of you that read this blog know, I’ve had some big transitions in mind for the farm I live on. Earlier this year, I thought those dreams were shattered. I’m not going into gory details but I will tell you that the whole ordeal took it’s emotional, financial and health tolls on me. It wasn’t the worst situation I had ever been through but I will admit that it ranks right up there in the top 5 fearful months of my life.

I opened up to a few of my friends about concerns I had. I talked to advisors about what to do about myself in the role I was holding to in a death grasp. It’s when I truly learned who to REALLY listen too and whose opinions to dismiss. I do have this word of advice….NEVER LET ANYONE DISCOURAGE YOU FROM LIVING THROUGH WITH A DREAM THAT YOU ARE SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE YOURSELF WITHOUT IT!

I had an advisor that told me that I wasn’t the one to make difficult decisions about the farm I have managed and that the animals are a business only. He proceeded to inform me that what I did do with the animals here didn’t have much worth in the “big” picture of things either. He never asked me about what type of protocols or plans I had set into place. All he seemed concerned about what my overall dollar value. It was rather insulting to tell you the truth. Okay, I admit that I am a pauper working toward a bigger dream. I struggle to pay my bills. I work hard and go without to work toward a bigger goal. But seriously, is that all I am viewed for? Nothing more than my “worth” on paper or my bank account? Well, to make a long story short, it was determined that my “real worth” was $675 a month. How about them apples?

I struggled for weeks with this new information. I doubted myself and what my long-term goals were. Then it suddenly hit me. I may only be worth $675 a month now but what about next month or even next year or better yet three years down the road? I started thinking about that kid going through college, building up debt, and working part-time at McDonald’s. I am at a stepping stone. The first step into a new life with a new future. Everything for the past three years has led me to here, worth zero when I started and look, I’ve increased my “worth” by what percentage rate? Just imagine how much I can change that worth in the next three years with proper planning, some of my awesome marketing skills, my photography and my networking!

I decided to take a risk and file an application to a Holistic Beginning Women’s Farm Management Program. I GOT ACCEPTED! Classes start in TWO WEEKS! Whoa, I’m doing what? Oh yeah, I’m not letting some or anyone for that matter tell me my SELF WORTH and I’m sure not letting anyone tell me to let go of what really makes me WHO I AM. You know that passion for nature, animals and the environment? You know that dedication and love I have for the cattle? Well, those are all something that God has given me that don’t have a dollar value! Just ask that rescued cow who lived another 5 years under my watchful eye and who know how it felt to be well cared for! Go ahead, look up into the sky and just ask yourself…is that something you could have done with tenderness and compassion when she first came here? Would you have taken the chance to get to know a scrawny cow who looked like she stood on the edge of starvation? In the end, that same cow you would have made into hamburger provided me with beautiful calves, LOTS of milk, butter and cheese but most of all, she provided a vision of what MY future may hold.

So again, I ask you to not let anyone judge you by what they see in paper or in bank accounts! Only you know what passions are held in your heart and soul. For me, it’s farming and photography combined. For you, it may not be. Look to people who are going to POSITIVELY encourage your own personal growth, NOT what society says it should be. Find what you love to do and NEVER let go of that internal drive that ultimately makes YOU happy!

After months of fighting my “worth” internally, I want to report that my “hobby farm” as this kind man put it, is now up to 21 cows, around 75 chickens and a handful of turkeys. I have 110 acres surrounded by beautiful high-tensile five strand fence. I have a full fledge water system for the fields going into the ground in the spring of 2014. I have increased our sales of meat products by 100%. We supplied chicken and beef for our first catering event this year. We have more and more people coming for visits. I am preordered on beef for next year. Demand is blooming for the rose veal. Contracts are in the works for some direct marketing for poultry. Eggs aren’t building up in the refrigerator. AND contracts are in the works to rotational graze additional animals for around $2200 per month until I can build my own herd. To say the least, my next worth has increased double since those fateful words back in June of this year! Just imagine what that worth will do next year as I am raising more chickens, selling more eggs, beef, rose veal, rabbits and pork.

Sometimes we all just need to take a step back and evaluate what our future is really “worth” to ourselves! I can’t even begin to tell you the changes that have happened since I told myself I’m worth more than just a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. My passion has proven enough that maybe just maybe I can inspire another generation with the help and encouragement of someone like me. In the meantime, I’m going to keep on trudging….and getting better at this blogging thing. After all, I want to share all this new and exciting information I am going to learn!

For now, take a look at this picture.

Not my camera but that is my cattle on the farm!
Not my camera but that is my cattle on the farm!

I look forward to comments on speculation of what’s going on around the farm! This image holds a bunch of clues…can you figure it out?