Category Archives: sustainability

Wildlife Wednesday ~ Butterflies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day One of Winter Grazing, November 27th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dexter cow and her 2013 calf at 8 months old

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

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Ring in Hello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year to you all!

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

My Rant!

Do y’all remember back when I did the “13 Questions” blog post and I talked about how differently women get treated within the Ag sector. WELL….let me just explain how different women are treated!

A little background first…I am no stranger to digging deep to get what I want. An example of this is the grant we just received. I have done my homework, spent countless hours researching and networking to learn all I could about rotational grazing. Even went to the extent to build a small area as a “test plot” to try the whole concept out. I was told by our local NRCS and Soil & Water representatives to NOT move forward with permanent fencing until we were completely approved for the grants being filed. Alright, I will admit I am not a patient person and I drove them crazy with phone calls asking for updates, double checking on dates, etc, etc. BUT, low and behold we finally got approved for a $60,000 project that includes new seeding, soil amendments, perimeter fencing and a water system to ensure water supply to the cows.

Problem one: I don’t really know the first thing about high tensile fence. It has been a SEVERE crash course in construction, post holes and rock formations. But in the end and after several serious conversations, I feel equipped to talk to people about what I want. Five strands, three of which will be “hot” or electric strands with two that work as grounds on posts every 50 feet or so; 13 gates, 10 are spring gates while the remaining 3 are tubular steel….Does anyone notice anything too difficult yet? Didn’t think so. Now there are 26 corners and 22 ends. I can even give you a rough estimate of the number of posts. Then there are the extras like tensioners, the gizmo to supply juice called an Energizer, ground rods, crimping sleeves and some other odds and ends. Still don’t see anything too difficult, do you? Nope me either.

Our allotment of funds is equal to around $2.09 per foot. Okay, well that’s a little low so I know I am going to need to put in some line posts myself and that I will need to also string the wire myself…with a little help here and there of course. During my conversations with these various fencing companies, I have been continually asked if I want it done the right way. Seriously? UMMMMM….NOPE I THINK I WANT IT TO FALL DOWN IN A YEAR!

Okay, well what is the worst is that I actually had a contractor tell me he would be willing to come in to do the job for around $2.00 per foot, completely installed. NOW that I have a quote in hand, the price is more like $2.50 a foot. I ask how much for just corner post and end post installation…to which I seriously got this response: “I will pay you $14 an hour for any work you do.” Okay, you are billing me at $30 but you are going to “knock off $14” and if I get hurt too bad because I am the landowner? And I’m using my own equipment (ie: four wheeler and the spinning jenny to unroll the wire)? What’s wrong with this picture? OH MY GOD wait…this is for 4 strand, not 5!!!! Did you listen at all? Apparently not!!!

The issue above is just one of many but it continues over about four different companies. Alright fine. I’ll start calling locally to find out just what equipment is available. One guy, Bub, has a post pounder I can use for FREE. Another guy, Troy, has a post hole digger with a rock bit (we have lots and lots of shale rock) that I can use. SCORE!!!! I have a tractor, truck and four wheeler. I CAN DO THIS! So I sit down with Rich and we come up with a lengthy list of supplies needed. I make a phone call on a price quote for just the supplies (which will total around $15,000 prior to shipping). Yup, they will send me a quote to turn in. Yup, I think you have everything listed you need. Yup, we will email you the quote. SIX HOURS LATER another fence company CALLS ME.

Oh, we are the fence company for this supplier. I’ll bid it all out for you. We understand you are extremely upset over the way other fence companies have been. I’ll get you a quote directly. Give me an hour. THREE HOURS LATER STILL NO QUOTES FOR THE JOB OR THE SUPPLIES.

So let me explain something to all you MEN out there! Listen close because you are really starting to wear on my last nerve and Tractor Supply is about to get my business. Be respectful of the ladies when you talk to them. We are a growing sector within the industry and YOU DO NOT NEED MY PARTNERS APPROVAL FOR JACK SHIT! It is my fence. It is my project and the fence is going where I WANT IT TO GO. I know what I want and I will get. Don’t want to work with me…FINE! I have no issues with that. I will do the whole damn job myself! No big deal. I am sure there are enough people out there I can offer to pay $14 an hour and they would love to have the work. Or maybe I will just be greedy and keep all the money in MY POCKET SINCE IT’S OUR TAXES THAT PROVIDED THE FUNDS ANYWAY!

Seems to me y’all would want to work with someone who is having issues keeping animals inside a fence. I would have been forever grateful to anyone who could have pulled their egotistic male head out of their own ass long enough to actually be respectful.

End of my rant!

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.

 

Exciting Times Around the Farm

Well, now that things have kind of fallen into a routine…it’s time to get back on track with updating.

We are excited to say that we are now collaborating with a store front located in Binghamton, NY called Old Barn Hollow. We have been sending our eggs to their newly opened store front for about a month now. It is so great to be able to share our eggs with some of the fine folks within the city that are purchasing local food goods! I am excited to see how they do and know in my heart that this is just the start of a great adventure!

Second, we send our fast growing meat chickens over to a USDA certified butcher shop that is now open locally too! Cascun Farms is now the only processor I know of within our area. When talking with them after our birds we processed, we discovered that our ideas on how to support, increase awareness and generate fair income for local small farms fall right into line with each other! Andrea is a joy to work with and we have been collaborating on developing some ground work for some future developments. Andrea has a ton on her plate right now with being a mom of three and operating not only a farm herself but also being involved with the poultry processing. Both her and her husband have been working very hard at setting up meetings and looking into new market avenues for small farms within the upstate New York regions.  As time goes on and more things come online…I will start sharing the progress.

As for us….we are now chugging away with 18 head of cattle (including a couple of dairy heifers that I am super excited about), around  60 chickens and 15 turkeys! It’s really hard to believe that just four short years ago there weren’t any farm animals here! They seems to be multiplying all over the place!

All of the turkeys that we grew since this summer are no spoken for as well! Twelve are headed to Cascun Farms for processing…with four to return and just two for us to keep! Unfortunately, that means no remaining for us for the rest of the year…but it just means I can get more birds in the spring!

We have sold and eaten some of our pasture raised Rose Veal now too! There is much conversation all over the place about what we do with these unwanted bull calves and why. We know have an amazing brochure that explains the basics in detail as well! Now I have been talking with a few local restaurants and a whole sale supply chain on developing some new markets as well. Several folks have requested some samples and I can’t wait to hear what they say about the product…I know that we have worked hard to do the right thing by these fellas and I know it shows through in flavor and texture!

So many things have been happening all at once that it has been extremely difficult to keep up with everything….but now that a couple of things have been changed around, I find myself with an extra few minutes everyday to be able to get back to doing what I love to do so much……Go figure! It’s talking about the farm and the animals!

Make sure you stop by and visit our facebook page too. We are posting conversations and sharing lots of photographs! You can see how well the animals did on rotational grazing this summer and even get to see some of the fantastic meals we eat! We will be running some specials for ordering very soon too so don’t forget to click that like button!

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!