By Kathleen M. Tenpas (Kathleen) September 7, 2011
The southwestern corner of New York State is a place of rolling hills. Worn down from ancient mountains, ground by ice age glaciers, these hills that rise east of Lake Erie support a decreasing number of small family dairy farms.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 25, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
The farm that we call ours, although it would be closer to the mark to call us the farm’s, sits on the rising top of a hill that starts up out of the valley that holds Clymer Center and North Clymer. We are just past Wickwire Corners, but don’t look for it on a map, because it vanished years ago when they moved the church down to North Clymer - a town still on the map but now without a zip code.
Like the tiny hamlets that had a church and a school house and a grocery/ post office in the front of someone’s home, farms like ours are quickly disappearing. The farms that my husband and I grew up on have vacant barns or no barn at all and the only cattle that grace their fields are our heifers off at summer grazing. The meadows are hayed off by neighbors, used but not really farmed. It is a story seen on a drive down any country road.
Our farm was built out of two 70 acre farms in the early part of the Twentieth Century. We have lost two corners to house lots and now have, at home, 132 acres. To support our 55 cow herd, we rent about 50 acres of both meadow and pastureland and own 104 acres, some in partnership with Stan’s older brother, out of the farm where they grew up.
It’s hard to write about farming without falling into one of two cliches: the nostalgic quasi-romantic version of life on the farm, grandma’s pies, grandpa’s stories, baby animals and endless summer days or the woe-is-we farming-is-hard and-there’s-no-profit-in-it-for-anyone why-would-you-ever-do-this unless-you-are-some-kind-of-masochist version. There are kernels of truth in both, and I will try to give you those kernels in this journal. It will be sporadic, and full of the weather. There will be entries of joy, and entries of pain. Some days you will find me lamenting and other days wishing it could go on forever.
This week has been late summer busy. We are having a dry year and had both first and second cutting hay pretty much done by the Fourth. Early in the week, Stan baled up the last of the second cutting hay, some clover he had planted last year up on Clymer Hill, and got it still in wagons under cover before the sparse rain in the middle of the week. Yesterday, we had a friend with a hoof trimming bed here to do some hoof trimming - pedicure for the bovine set - and Stan and our oldest grandson and one of his buddies got the hay in the mow. Right now, Stan is off mowing some old meadows to see if he can keep the spread of weeds down. On Monday, the plan is to start third cutting. All of that will go into the tower silos as haylage, chopped rather than baled. It will ferment into a rather aromatic forage that we feed year around in a ration mixed with a protein supplement and ground corn.
Our farm is a grass farm. We do not grow corn, but do purchase some shelled corn and some steamed flaked corn (think corn puffs without the sugar) to use in the tmr (total mixed ration). The cows go out as early in the spring as possible, this year early May, and graze everyday on an intensive rotational set of paddocks. We give them a different paddock of ½ to 1 acre everyday depending on the state of the grass and the season. As we move into autumn the paddocks are larger and in late October or early November they get all of their feed in the barn.
But that is jumping ahead. Let’s stay in summer for a bit longer and enjoy the endless days and the fresh peach pie in the kitchen.
About Kathleen M. Tenpas
We have a grazing dairy of 55 cows in the rolling hills of western New York State where we raised two daughters who have now blessed us with four grandchildren. I have messy, jungly beds of old roses, (some real antiques left by former owners), perennials, wildflowers and lots and lots of not so ornamental grasses! I have a Masters degree in Creative Writing: Poetry from Antioch University. I am a photographer and fabric artist and I bake a mean loaf of bread.