Tag Archives: environment

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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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.

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!

New Bridges

Let the day dawn bright and new, full of passion for what I do. Cock-a-doodle-do!
Let the day dawn bright and new, full of passion for what I do. Cock-a-doodle-do!

I post a lot of farm photos over on our Facebook page and lately I have gotten a ton of requests to build a photo book. After doing some digging into some options, I’m now working on building one through MixBook. I’m hoping to have it all set by the end of the month to use as a fundraiser!  I will work on a calendar after that like I did for last year.  Sometimes, I feel like there is so much to do and so much to get done. I’m slowly working on getting all this stuff figured out and still managing to keep up.

The research is the worst by far because it’s so time-consuming. It’s all worth it in the long run through. Without new knowledge, we never expand our horizons. My horizons keep going and maybe I will never be able to fully attain my goal on what I build for years down the road, I hope that my dreams can inspire another generation. A generation that makes it to my horizons and their own beyond. Maybe it will be family and maybe it will be a random stranger, I don’t know but the possibilities are endless!

It’s still kind of hard for me to grasp that I am a farming photographer. Five years ago, if you had asked me where I would be in the future and what I would be doing neither choice would have been considered. I wish I could pass on half the feelings I get now when it comes to both. I feel so entirely blessed to be able to photograph and share my life in transition. I have photographed so many people along the way, so many different events and through it all I have come out of it all with a true dedication and passion for all things agriculture.

I love that I can photograph my everyday world of cattle and country. I love that I can create artistic images that capture the “feeling” within those moments that inspire me. I am truly blessed with talent through my passions. To those that say it’s all a hobby, I have this to say. It still takes time to care for each animal. I would bet my camera that I spend more time per cow in a week than most farmers do in a year. I may operate something closer to a petting zoo but, for all those kids who are here experiencing a hands on thing with cattle that give them kisses, it means more than a stroll through a barn to watch cattle eat. Maybe it’s all those years I worked in sales and marketing that make me see and do things differently. I honestly don’t know.

Maybe it’s all those years of cruel people who’ve been involved in my life that makes me more compassionate to the animals. And to clarify, I’m  not saying the “standard farmer”, whatever that may be, doesn’t care for their animals. I’m saying that I feel. I’m passionate about each cow, calf or bull. I touch them many times a day and not just during a milking chore. I touch them like we humans do when we gentle touch someone’s hand in comfort or their arm when we are talking to them. Being the photographer has made me observe. I’ve observed countless farmers who will scratch a head as they walk by or talking to an animal when they need them to move. I’m just different. It’s difficult to explain.

My herd is my family. I love them all for different reasons. I still have a favorite or two and spoil them with extra attention. I know that some will go on and others will become food for my belly. It doesn’t matter to me, they are still something I get rather passionate about. They provide me a counselor when I need to talk my way through a problem. They are my friends who are always happy to see me (usually because I give attention or have treats). They share affection when I need it the most.  The greatest thing about them is that they make me happy. If you’ve ever watched calves playing, you know that warm fuzzy feeling that comes over me when I get around my cattle.

Each one is individual yet part of a whole, kind of like us. Each one with unique personality difference, yet all part of the same community. To me, cattle are inspiring. To them, it doesn’t really matter if it rains or is sunny. As long as they have food to eat and a dry place to lay (unless they are idiots and go lay in a mud puddle), they are happy. Nothing sparks an inner peace like cattle grazing on the top of a knoll with green grass under their feet and nothing but a cloudy sky of blue above. You can imagine it, can’t you? That’s my life. That’s the moments I live for. That’s my bridge to a better me. That’s the bridge that inspires photographs.

I’m working hard to expand those bridges. A bridge of knowledge for the younger generations to hopefully find the same inspiration I have managed to find in farming. That bridge that leads to that moment when all in the world feels right inside your soul. Maybe that bridge can be built on the farm through physical contact with the cattle or maybe through the visions I create through a photography book or calendar. Maybe that bridge will be through a video or seminar. I honestly don’t know what’s going to bridge the gap for the next generation to feel the same passion for the cattle, animals and the land like I do. I was fortunate to have grandparent’s when I was young but so many don’t have that privilege. It’s something I want to share…or as the title says, building a new bridge to.

Farm Visitors

Every year, during the time when the local kids have spring break…we start getting visitors. Friends and family members bring their youngsters out to play with the cattle, chickens and turkeys. This is always the time of year that reminds me of the biggest reasons why I raise, care and tend for animals the way I do.

Two days, two families. Smiles and laughter shared that no amount of money can buy.

Our first visitor that came this week was Sue and Ava. If you follow this blog on and off, you will know that Ava came out last year and the year before. Ava is a favorite, loyal visitor.

Ava loves spending time with the youngest calves.
Ava loves spending time with the youngest calves.

Last year, one of the calves kept trying to eat her hair. So this year…she was worried about her hair and kept telling them all “Please don’t eat my hair.” It is really amazing to watch kids with the animals though. This is what makes my job working with the cattle so important.

Not only with the kids…but with the adults it’s important too. You have no idea how many adults want to get “cow kisses”! It’s strange…but I get it. It’s that moment when you feel special with an animal. It’s that much greater because it’s a cow!

Cow kisses
Cow kisses

The following day after Ava came, we had new visitor for this year. A father (Pat) and his two sons (Logan and Connor). I didn’t know who was more excited when they pulled in…Dad or boys.

I haven’t seen smiles so big and so full of joy as when the calves started licking fingers and trying to get rubs on the head.

Pure Joy and Excitement
Pure Joy and Excitement

To those that don’t know me…this is the most important thing about what I do. Yes, I love raising our own beef, dairy and poultry. But, I LOVE sharing my passion for farm animals with KIDS! It’s an experience that I feel every kid should have.

There are really moments sometimes that almost bring a tear to my eye when I watch animals that are fearful of everything, nose up to a child. It’s one of those things for me.

To anyone in our area reading this…you are more than welcome to come visit, anytime. We love to have people stop by, young or old.

In the meantime, I will be out working (more like playing) with the cows…gotta get that next generation trained for cow kisses!

 

 

 

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.

 

Farm Visit and Meeting

I am excited to say that I am going to get time to go spend on another Jersey Farm today! Lawton’s, who are some of my favorite people around, have a 75 milking cow herd of the most beautiful jerseys!

I have to admit, I feel almost priveledged to be able to go sit down with them for a couple of hours and talk with them about the four generations that have worked the farm. They are lacking ONE year from being in operation 75 YEARS! And I really hope I live to see the day when the celebrate 100!

First thing this morning though, I have to go sit through a bioenergy training class that I am an advisor and instructor for….blah! But, someone needs to do this to educate our local economic development agencies just how important agriculture is to the renewable energy sector and local economic development. Too many times, these agencies won’t talk anything agriculture. I am hoping that these monthly classes (that have been going on for almost a year) have changed the mind sets of the staff. I don’t get paid to do any of this either. It’s been my commitment to the agriculture sector and hopefully more farm security in the upcoming future. I do it for my neighbors, my friends and yes, even a few of my extended family members.

Do I feel I am an industry leader? In some ways, yes I do. In others, no. I am just trying to do my part to educate and promote agriculture. Too many people don’t understand the full diversity of how important our farm land is. It isn’t only about food production anymore. It’s about food, fiber, and energy. It’s not all about the little guys and girls like me, it’s about doing what is best for the environment. It’s about using left over waste products and land that isn’t valued for the food system. There are so many different aspects that most people just don’t grasp. Maybe the whole concept is just too big…another reason why this program is taking a year already and I am sure at least another to begin actual projects.

It takes time to get people to open their minds and sometimes their eyes to see the world around them. We don’t live in a concrete jungle, not all of us anyway. We live in wide open spaces where we watch the birds come in to nest. We watch wildflowers bloom and cover fields in a sea of purples, blues, yellows and whites. We watch as deer, turkey and geese walk across fields looking for food to forage. We sit along creek banks and ponds watching the fish swim and jump. It is just a different way of life that needs preservation. It’s that way of life that keeps me passionate about everything I do.

So for now…I am off to the concrete jungle to talk about nature’s finest moments and how agriculture works together with nature to provide us the stuff we need….would rather be watching that new calf out running in the pasture along side his mother but, sometimes we all have to make sacrifices for the greater good!

Peace to all and God bless you!