I was raised on my Grandparent's dairy farm until the early 1980's. I used to help my Grandpa in the barn and watch my Grandmother make these huge meals to make sure her family and half the neighborhood was fed. My Grandma was considered the area's best nurse and she took care of a lot of sick people over the years. They never had much but they were always willing to give up what they had for someone else in need. Their home burnt around 1982 and they sold off the cows, never rebuilding.
I owned my first calf around age 7. My dad bought it for me at a local auction. We didn't have a barn or anything at our house, so we actually kept it in the outhouse building out back at night. (No joke) I was a hard learning experience because it ended up getting sick and died. I was young and didn't understand why or what could have been done differently but it impacted my lifelong views on all animals. (I'll explain more later) After that we had two goats that we used to chain out in a field next to the house. That didn't end well either because they got tangled up together and actually ended up strangling each other.
I stayed away from farm animals for a long time after that point. I studied hard in school and as time went on, considered pursuing a degree in Architecture or Mechanical Engineering. When it came time to choose college, I was convinced that I couldn't "hack" it at college far from home and ended up not going. I went to work in sales and retail, pursuing a marketing and advertising career. In 1997, I got married and had my first child. We moved into a country home and I started back into the farming aspect with chickens for eggs. In 2002, my now ex-husband and I separated and in 2003, we officially divorced with three children. I struggled but somehow managed. I ended up living with my parents, helping them with their bills and working a lot of hours at a high stress job in print and graphic design as an account manager. I had a nervous breakdown, made some wrong choices and got myself into some trouble. In 2006, I ended up in rather nasty custody battle for my children. I was deemed only fit enough to see them via supervised visitation. I loved my children and it sent me into a tailspin of severe depression. I started counseling and changed careers. I was a painter and drywall taper. I was still completely lost though.
In 2004, I met Rich. He owns the farm I currently work. He was a dairy farmer until the big buy out in 1985-1986. The 150 acre farm has been in his family since the Boston Purchase (roughly 165 years) but the farm sat basically idle since the sell off. It's located in an agricultural community in Northern Broome County, NY with rolling hills and beautiful scenery.
In 2008, just a little over a year into my new career, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My doctor advised that I find a new career, one away from the chemicals. I was also advised to completely alter my diet and keep active. I spent days in bed, sleeping my life away. Again swirling in the modes of severe depression. I went to counseling, to the doctors for shots several times a week and stumbled my way through life. Over the course of all this, I discovered that I had always given so much of myself to others (kids, other family members, spouse, etc.) that I didn't even know my own passions in life. One fateful day, during a counseling session, my therapist suggested that I get myself a cheap point and shoot camera. I spent $35 on a Kodak EasyShare 3.1mp camera and off I went. Her goal was a simple one. She wanted me to take pictures of things that sparked my interest. I remember driving around on country roads, stopping to take photos of all kinds of livestock from cows to lambs, barns and silos, the rolling vista and farmers out working in the fields. The theme was consistent to the farm life. Every week for a month, I started really digging into the things that I felt connected to. Every week, there were more and more photos of cows. As life would have it, in it's mysterious ways, a friend of my partners gave me a Jersey bull calf to raise around the same time. I was instantaneously in love.
I knew very little about cows, calves or anything else at that point. I learned a lot about myself. I spoiled him (his name was Buck) all the time. I brushed him, played with him and everytime I got depressed or started feeling sad, I would just go spend time with him. He made me laugh as he ran, kicked up his heels and headbutted anything he could. Truthfully, they are some of my favorite memories in a really hard time in my life. In the spring of 2010, a phone call came in about a cow that had been in a bad situation and we purchased her for $300. I will never forget the day she came to the farm. She was a giant Jersey cows, with two calves nursing on her, that was extremely thin. She was so weak that she literally stumbled her way off the trailer. I sat with her in the newly fenced in pasture area and made a promise to her that I would make sure that she had a good home for the rest of her life. It's because of that cow that I learned everything I could on cattle nutrition, how to care for them, what they needed and they best way to give them a life they were designed by nature to have. She is the inspiration behind everything we have started here.
This is my Sweet Belle after she had been with us for about a year. We lost her during the summer of 2014 and she is buried her on the farm on the backside of the main pond.
In 2011, we had a lot of steers and just Belle, a cow and Ruby, a young heifer calf. That fall, we purchased our first Irish Dexters (3). In 2012, we started operating our first rotational grazing paddocks with step in posts and temporary wire, adding in an additional 4-1/2 acres of pasture to the existing 5 acres. We had one Jersey calf born that year and three dexter calves. At the end of summer, we had 17 head of cattle. We did our first farm camp and also raised our first rose veal that year. We started making lots of cheese and butter with Belle's extra milk too.
Today, we are currently home to 34 head of cows with 4 calves still due. We have expanded our grazing to cover about 110 acres and just installed a pond to supply gravity fed water to the cows in the pastures.
I can often be heard telling people that cows are my therapy. They have help keep me grounded, are always good listeners and most aren't afraid to share a kiss or two. I've always been good with animals but my unique niche is calves. I've learned a lot over the years and I'm very passionate about what I do. I will go without sleep to save a calf from hypothermia or head to the barn every hour to make sure that a calf doesn't die from dehydration. I've held off getting medical attention for myself to make sure that a calf was cared for. I have no regrets when it comes to devoting myself to these animals like this. I haven't been able to save or cure them all. The ones I have lost, I gave every ounce of compassion and empathy I could. I can tell you every name and every circumstance of death too. It bothers me when I lose one of them on my watch, enough so that I have gone to extremes to learn anything and everything I can (and continue to do so) about ways to make their lives better. I also seem to have this ability to "read" an animal too. I spend a lot of time with them, so I learn their mannerisms, attitudes and overall demeanor. Each one has it's own unique personality. When something is off, I can tell by the changes in their personality.
Today, I also get to work with my oldest son to teach him about what I do and why. I can see much of the same care and compassion in him with the cattle too. He even has his own calf here that he spends time with when he has a chance too.
What do I think are major misconceptions about farming? Phew, there are a lot. I think the biggest one that bothers me is the delineation between conventional farming and organic farming. I'm not in either category. People often think that I'm an organic farmer. I'm very close, but I'm not. As you can tell from all the lengthy background, I'm very big on animal welfare. Animal welfare is priority one on my farm. Consider me crazy but I value each and every animal here (cows, turkeys, chickens, dogs, cat and guinea hen) just like they were my own children. Yes, it gets complicated for those raised for meat but it doesn't mean they are devalued or somehow treated inferior. If an animal gets sick, I want to be able to treat it with the best tools possible. I recently watched a video called "The First Season" about another start up farm (dairy) right here in NY. While I enjoyed the documentary, it disturbed me when one of their dairy cows had a Displaced Abomasum or DA. They shipped her out and sold her instead of treating her. Modern medicine, while sometimes overused, does have a place when it comes to cattle. DA's are treatable! Anyone that has watched Dr. Pol knows this. The inherent issues lay within the Organic standards and guidelines because of the treatments required to make the animal healthy again. The cost difference? A vet visit and surgery topping out at a $250 or the loss of a $1800 cow (or more) PLUS all of the input into grooming the animal for pastures, future calves, etc. It confuses me how people will pay thousands of dollars for cancer treatment on a dog but farmers aren't "allowed" to treat a common ailment, therefore sending a sick animal to auction and causing the animal to suffer. I find it morally reprehensible.
I wish that people, instead of label shopping, would spend extra consideration on the methods and care that a farmer gives to an animal, the land, the environment, etc. Instead, many will walk away from purchasing food goods from be because I morally do not agree with Organic labels and end up purchasing boxed beef with a certified label produced in a feedlot somewhere and fed organically labeled feeds. Most people just assume they aren't finished that way because of a label, but they are every day. Animal welfare is the primary reason for the battle with so many groups like PETA, HSUS... I just wish that people could see that some farmers do work really hard to do the right thing by their animals, not just to get a label.
I hope you enjoyed hearing the lovely Doreen's story this line sums it up to me :-)
I wish that people, instead of label shopping, would spend extra consideration on the methods and care that a farmer gives to an animal, the land, the environment
to contact with Doreen
she also does lovely Vines so happy she joined
Barrows Farm - Manager
Farm Girl Photography - Owner/Photographer
1279 Caldwell Hill Rd.
Lisle, NY 13797
Office: (607) 849-3945
Cell: (607) 205-2425