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.

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Change is Coming

Well, it’s the first week in January of the year 2015. It’s hard sometimes to believe that so many years have gone by for us. As the years have ticked by, we have watched the world change dramatically around us.

When I was a little kid on my Grandparent’s farm, there wasn’t the big, massive farm equipment of today. Cars were huge gas guzzling beasts that we now call classic cars. Four wheel drive trucks still had lockout hubs, not electronically transferred like most models have today. Neighbors knew each other and helped out during times of need. There weren’t cell phones or internet back then either. If you wanted to communicate with someone miles away, you wrote a letter or sent a card. If they lived close by, you would stop over for coffee.

Inside our homes, we went from home cooked meals with the entire family around the dinner table to fast food eaten in the car. Both parents have to work to make ends meet and the cost of goods just keeps skyrocketing.

Everything has changed. Nothing is as simple anymore as fighting for what’s right or standing on moral ground with the convictions you feel hold true. People will continue to express that change is good, it’s progress. I’m not so sure that I can agree. It’s when you feel you are forced to make dramatic changes that you gain insight into much more than you realized.

Why am I writing all this? It’s out of frustration, sadness, elation and tribulation.

As we have worked for years on expansions on the farm, nothing has come easy. Working hard at multiple jobs to make ends meet, save a few dollars here and there and struggling with the burdens of debt have taken a toll of both of us. Rich, being the sixth generation on the farm, has done the best he could to keep the farm going and kept mostly together. Each year, that struggle gets harder and harder. Income stays the same but expenses keep raising. Property values go up but in turn generates more tax debt every year. The struggles are very real and very frightening. The expansion past this current generation into the worry about who will take over for the next generation. Who could manage such an operation? Who would even be interested?

For three years, we’ve struggled with the taxes, debt load, and worry about who could take over. As time has gone on, the realization is we can’t afford to keep struggling with no potential future. We don’t want to continue working this hard to keep going no where. We can’t get a milk market developed with a small herd like we had hoped. We don’t have the extra funds to expand our beef herd because of the money invested every month into just getting by. After hearing from one that she wouldn’t ever milk cows and the other now located in another state, neither of which showing a real working interest in the farm, we know that the next generation won’t be taking over on the farm.

It’s with a heavy heart that we announce that we will be selling the farm. It’s frustrating to know that we just can’t do it on our own. The reality of the situation is that at some point, we need to admit defeat and do what needs to be done for our own self preservation. Maybe if we had funds to invest for a larger herd or a milk market developed, we wouldn’t be doing this. I’m sorry to say that here in NY, I feel that all the promotion for beginning farms and farm expansions is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. I can’t even begin to express the disappointment of stepping aside after all the time and energy spent into building the farm into what it is today.

I’ve lived in this area my entire life and I’ve always thought it was a shame to see so many abandoned barns, empty fields and vacant lands. I now know why my Grandfather advised me to stay away from farming. It’s always a fight. A fight over taxes and land values. A fight over markets. Risks in income. Struggles to just earn enough money to live. It’s a fight for any kind of working help. It’s a fight with Mother Nature. This isn’t the job for the faint of heart or the people light in the wallet.

For months, we have held a discussion about what the future may hold. We’ve fought over selling or keeping family property that has been in the family since the Boston Purchase. Neither one of us can do it anymore. The farm will be sold to someone who has the funds to bring in a bunch of beef and be able to make the farm into what it’s meant to be. It’s all setup now and ready to go, all you need to do is bring the animals.

What will we do? We will be keeping some of the cows, stepping back on our size and scale. We will be relocating to a small farm somewhere in Tennessee. We aren’t sure yet on a time frame but are hoping it’s in the very near future. We are looking forward to more relaxing days, not working so much and being able to take vacation, relaxing and just enjoying life at a slower pace. It’s discouraging to leave the history and the farm here. It’s a beautiful place with spectacular views, a secluded pond and in a good area. The future though is that we just can’t manage all of this alone anymore.

I (Doreen) may be staying for a while to work with the new owners to assist with the learning curve of the rotational paddocks and connecting them with the locals. It will be an adventure over the next year that will hopefully end in the successful transition into a less stressful life for both of us. It’s been suggested that we do some video recordings and write ups on the whole transition, which I will start working on in the near future.

Thank you all for your support, follows and comments up until now. You have been a huge encouragement for us to follow our passions and our dreams, I just wish the interim result was a little different.

If anyone is interested in buying the farm:
149.9 acres located in Center Lisle, NY with approximately 100 acres fenced with new 5-strand high tensile fencing, perimeter and cross fenced. An older double wide home, a 48×72 stick build barn with a new metal roof, a 32×70 hoop building. Rolling hills and spectacular views. Private 6 acre pond. Brand new cattle watering pond and pipelines (constructed and installed fall of 2014). A partially construction two story cabin. A sugar bush for making maple syrup.

Optional: 13 head of cattle, Ford 2120 tractor with fork and bucket attachments, New Holland 489 mower, brush hog, 2004 Dodge Ram 1500, Evaporator, temporary paddock supplies including step in posts, wire and reels and remaining hay and bedding.

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.

 

 

Make It Monday ~ Pumpkin Muffins

Last Friday, I decided to make some pumpkin muffins. Rich’s family planted a whole field of pumpkins this year and some were rather small. I took a couple of them and made puree from scratch.

I just cut it up into chunks, removed the innards and baked on a rack in the oven at 350 until the pumpkin “meat” was nice and soft. I also find that if you add a little water to the pan, it prevents everything from drying out too much.

Once I removed the skin by scoping the pumpkin off with a spoon, I reserved everything into a bowl. While it cooled, I started looking up some recipes online. I happened to stumble across this one: Pumpkin Muffins and decided I would give it a try with some slight alterations.

Instead of adding in pumpkin puree and water, I assumed (yeah, I know…shame on me) they were using canned pumpkin which is much thicker. Instead, I decided that since the homemade puree was a little more watery I would just add 3 cups of pumpkin. In addition to this, I also added 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Everyone who had any gave rave reviews. They were moist and very flavorful. I will be making more in the very near future. I may even try some with cheese cake frosting too.

When you open the link, you will find all sorts of alterations that can be done as well. If you make some, feel free to share your results!

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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.

Transition Thursday ~ Improved Management

Top 30 Oct. 29
Exactly one years difference between these two photos, taken October 29th in 2013 and 2014

Better management practices and additional rotations have great improved this pasture area. I arrowed the same tree referenced in both photos as a landmark.

2013~ This field had been planted the year prior and only had one cutting of hay removed. As our cattle numbers rose, we decided to put the cows into this pasture later in the year. The older growth and light colored grasses are from the previous years grasses and ones that had already died off due to colder temperatures. Most of those standing stalks were still left in the spring of 2014.

2014~This entire field was broken up into 10 rotational paddocks. Due to improper grazing methods the year prior, we saw additional weed growth and still some residual standing dead grasses remaining for 2012/2013. We decided that after the first rotation of grazing, the paddocks would be clipped. The clipping added organic matter for moisture retention and soil cover. When the cattle were turned into this paddock, the grasses measured approximately 11″ tall and fairly uniform (other than where heavy manure patties were located and the grasses were about 2-3″ higher).

Synopsis of tests and trials:

In 2014, we did some additional management testing. As each of the paddocks were clipped, we either left the animals in the same paddock for 24 hours or pulled them out prior to clipping. We had the same amount of rainfall for the first 21 days on two adjoining small paddocks, NONE. One we left the cows in and the other we pulled them out.  Which of these paddocks do you think grew back better? Do you think there were any uniformity difference?

Now that we are grazing these two paddocks again after the same amount of growing days, we are surprised by the results.

Paddock 4: The day the cattle were turned into this paddock, the grasses were approximately 11″ (or knee high on my legs) for second grazing. There were large patches of dark green grasses (from manure and slightly better nutrients).

Belly deep grasses of paddock #4

This is the paddock that was clipped and the cattle left in for around another 24 hours. There are one or two weeds that did pop up, but nothing like the previous year.

Paddock 5: I turned the cattle back into this paddock for regrazing just this week. The grasses were remarkably shorter with more defined patches of thick dark green grasses. The grass was averaged about 9″ tall.

Take note of the patches of darker grasses.

This paddock was clipped after the cattle had been located into the next paddock.

Rainfall rates after the 21 days could have made an impact because the paddocks had  7 days different growth. Or could the differences be from the actual animal impact? We really aren’t sure but think the animals were a major contributing factor.

Why would that impact be so important? Any farmer that has cut hay can explain that once grasses are clipped or mowed, they dry fairly quick. Grasses will lose a lot of moisture in that first 24 hours. What happens to grasses when they start to dry? The become brittle! As the animals walk, stand, and trample the dried grasses, it shatters or breaks it apart into smaller pieces. This could be the crucial difference. Not only do smaller particles breakdown to return nutrients to the soil faster but think about how sawdust can cover a floor faster than a tree. The particles are more evenly dispersed over the soil. I’m sure there are other benefits, like how any moisture is retained, too.

All of this has been a “work in progress” and “testing”. I’ve recently heard lots of complaints about how Holistic Management doesn’t give a “one size fits all” prescription. FOLKS, IT CAN’T AND IT NEVER WILL!

Why not? Holistic Management is about working with wholes. Not holes but WHOLES. I can’t identically replicate what I’m seeing as results on any other farm. Why? Every farm, even adjoining ones, will have different soil type, different nutrients, and even possibly different plants. What works here for me might not work exactly the same on a farm 50 miles away that has a slightly different climate. Holistic Management is about working with your whole environment. It covers everything within your own whole and you would be surprised how much variation there really is.

I think that’s the problem with the mindset with most people in agriculture today. It’s all about a “prescription”. If a farmer plants corn, there are specific nutrients (nitrogen is a big one) that are needed in the soils. Since corn is planted as a monoculture, it’s easy to get a soil sample and apply whatever amount is needed to amend the soils. It doesn’t work that way with more complex situations. For example, our three main paddocks have a total of 5-7 different soil types and a range of nutrient variations. We have planted more than 15 different plant species into our paddocks and not one field is the same. You can’t do a “one size fits all prescription” in that scenario.

Just like you don’t wear the same type of clothing in the summer as you do in winter months on the East Coast. The same methodology is used for management. Field A (spring) requires different management than Field B (winter) and even different yet than Field C (summer drought). Hopefully, you are starting to see and understand how Holistic Management is an ever evolving thing, on the same farm and difference from year to year.

If anyone has any questions, concerns or would like to chat about what we do, please don’t hesitate to comment below. That’s why we share what we are doing (try to anyway). It’s been hard for us to adapt and learn, I encourage others to learn from our mistakes and trials.

Make It Monday ~ Dog Toys

No farm is complete without a dog. Well, we now have three. Two are older dogs but the third is a 14 week old pup that we just added into the mix on Friday.

I would like everyone to meet Brandy.

Hi y'all! My name is Brandy! I'm a 14 week old bloodhound puppy.
Hi y’all! My name is Brandy! I’m a 14 week old bloodhound puppy.

If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter you would have seen that we have said her name was Honey. Here’s the real scope: When she came on Friday, her previous owner called her Vi, short for Vilula. After hours of attempting to get any type of response, other than her running the opposite direction, we went to another name that had been mentioned, Honey. She did respond…about 1 out of every 15 attempts, if that.  After reviewing all of the paperwork that came with her, we noticed that at the top of the original sheets there was a name of Brandy with a number.

At this point, before confusing her anymore, I reached out to the original seller and asked about this. I was informed that she had been called Brandy and pup-pup. I also learned that her favorite treats were bits of string cheese. I had really wanted to respect the lady that I had gotten her from with the name but when a stubborn hound (and bloodhounds are at the top of that list) refuses to listen, you need to show them a little respect and try to work with the dog.

Bloodhounds are a great breed but they are far from perfect. They are stubborn to a fault and already have issues with selective hearing. Having issues with a name just compounds matters and they just refuse to comprehend. Think ultra selective hearing.

We also needed to begin acclimating her to us. This is where our Make It Monday comes in! Hounds primarily use their sense of smell, especially bloodhounds. They can track smells that are a day old, lingering for miles in a matter of minutes. Knowing this is how hounds operate, I decided it was time to do a little crafting. Puppy loves toys, so I started thinking and researching ways to incorporate a few of our old clothes into something useful.

We had just gone through some of Rich’s old jeans that were ripped beyond repair. I knew I had a couple of old tshirts. I had some fiberfill floating around. Grabbing a piece of paper, 8-1/2 x 11″, I folded it in half long ways and then in half again. I cut the end of the bone first. Much like you would cut a paper heart, just stop about halfway to the point. Then I cut straight from their toward the fold. When you unfold, you have a perfect symmetrical bone shape!

Now that I had a template, I traced along the edge of the paper onto a piece of blue jean leg, placing the seam in the center.  I did this to strengthen the point in the loops at the end of the bone shape. After cutting that out, I repeated the process onto a piece of t-shirt. I cut that out and pinned the two pieces together back to back.

Starting at one of the loops, I sewed around the end of the bone, along the flat side, and then around the opposite end. I stopped sewing before the second flat section. Once the thread was secured, I turned the material inside out and stuffed with the fiberfill. I then pinned the flat side and hand sewed it shut. Project complete.

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Brandy loves her new toy and carries it with her all over the place. She even slept with it last night. She now has a favorite treat that smells like we do. If I had wanted to get really fancy, I could have embroidered her name of it but I have a feeling it will be shredded before the end of November.

 

Diversified farm in Upstate NY