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October 08, 2014 | Farm Snapshot
Farming for Wildlife
At Barrows Farm, we play close attention to the wildlife and natural activity of bugs, insects, wild turkeys, deer and more. –Doreen Barker
October 08, 2014 | Farm Snapshot
Farming for Wildlife
At Barrows Farm, we play close attention to the wildlife and natural activity of bugs, insects, wild turkeys, deer and more. –Doreen Barker

We have decided to do some highlight feature for the month of October. On Wednesdays, this month we will be discussing wildlife. 

There is much more awareness now for our pollinators than ever before. With the population collapse of the bee colonies to the decreasing numbers of monarchs, it has caused an sensational buzz. It forced me to start thinking about my own farm and what we do here.

Several years ago, we were approached by a local beekeeper and honey producer. He's the third generation in his business and many of the things he does for the bees is done with knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Howland Honey has a brief description on honey.com that reads, "James Howland started with Bees in the summer of 1930 as a hobbyist while working in his father’s furniture factory. By 1940 James was ready to go commercial. During the 2nd World war, the price of honey was high so James increased his Bees. In 1960 his son David, who loved helping his father work with Bees since he was eight, was out of college and went into business with him. Howland’s had 4,000 colonies of Bees by 1970. David’s son, Michael, joined his mother, Joan & father in the business in 1988. Today, 77 years later, Howland’s Honey is not only well known for it’s high quality honey in NY state but in other states all over the country as well."

Since we started working with them years ago, we have learned to co-adapt what we do in our pastures to promote the health and well being of the bees. We have multiple varieties of clovers that we allow to flower out as a food source for the bees. It also has a benefit for us as we graze cattle. The benefit is that prior to flowering, the clover can cause bloat in cattle. After flowering, the nutritional components within the plant itself alters just enough that it reduces the chances of bloat. (Bloat is caused by quick fermentation in the cattles rumen and the resulting buildup of gases in the stomach.)

We also have areas that we set aside with natural, native vegetation for the bees. If you live on the east coast, you know that goldenrod and purple asters bloom late into the fall and holds up under light frost conditions. You can actually smell the difference when the bees start bringing in the heavy goldenrod pollen to the hive. In the spring months, we have areas that are loaded with dandelions. Many people consider them a weed and a nuisance but we've discovered that this is literally the first spring food source for bees. We've also noticed that the cattle devour the plants at certain stages of growth too. One cow in particular with seek out large patches and nip it all off in a matter of minutes.

While other farms are spraying pesticides to remove weeds, we have learned that weeds are actually a good source of many nutrients and minerals for cattle. We've seen our cattle eat whole leaves off burdock plants, bull thistle and even golden rod. 

Less than a week old and this calf is nibbling on burdock leaves.

It isn't only the bees that are benefitting from the way we are grazing, managing and harvesting grasses. Our farm was host this spring to several mating pairs of Bobolinks. Bobolinks are a bird that has seen major declines in numbers for many years. Upon reviewing and researching why they have chosen our farm, we discovered that our spring grass growth and later grazing or haying cycles actually provide a natural habitat for their ground nests. It's interesting how assisting one level of the ecosystem, ultimately benefits another. 

Two male Bobolinks found along the edge of a pasture paddock.

We've also noticed an influx of cowbirds that are now hanging out with the grazing cattle too. The cows and the birds would together. The cows stir up bugs in the grasses and the cow birds will eat them up, including any flies.

Two male cowbirds in with the cattle.

Grazing later and not clipping pastures after the first grazing has also provided habitat for numerous amounts of butterflies, spiders and other insects too.

Line of Eastern Bluebirds

We are still seeing monarchs all over in the pastures this last week, the first week in October.

Monarch butterfly found while switching grazing paddock

And there is nothing like sitting on the tailgate of a truck, while watering the cows that are belly deep in third growth grazing paddocks and seeing a fence line covered in Eastern Bluebirds.

Line of Eastern Bluebirds

These are just a very small portion of all the wonderful world of wildlife we have seen this year on the farm. If anyone is a bird watcher, butterfly fanatic or just love nature...you are welcome to come for a visit and a photography journey through the pastures or just sit to watch the birds. We would love to have more people experience our little world here at Barrows Farm. 

To reach us:

By email: farmgirldoreen@gmail.com

Via Facebook: www.facebook.com/barrowsfarm

Via Twitter: @cnyfarmgirl

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