Tag Archives: fencing

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.

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.

Weaning and Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”

 

 

 

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.

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.

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?