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 in the decreasing numbers of monarchs, it has caused a sensational buzz. It forced me to start thinking about my 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 before 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 cattle’s rumen and the resulting buildup of gasses 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 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 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 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.
It isn’t only the bees that are benefitting from the way we are grazing, managing and harvesting grasses. Our farm was the 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 provide a natural habitat for their ground nests. It’s interesting how assisting one level of the ecosystem, ultimately benefits another.
We’ve also noticed an influx of cowbirds that are now hanging out with the grazing cattle too. The cows and the birds would band together. The cows stir up bugs in the grasses, and the cow birds will eat them up, including any flies.
Grazing later and not clipping pastures after the first grazing has also provided habitat for numerous amounts of butterflies, spiders and other insects too.
We are still seeing monarchs all over in the pastures this last week, the first week in October.
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.