SAVING AMERICA’S SMALL FAMILY FARMS
An Open Discussion
Meet the Author
Purpose of this Blog
Status of America’s Family Farm
How to weather the storm
Local bottling and sales
What do you suggest?
Meet the Author
Laura Burnside considers herself a lifelong animal lover and caretaker. She graduated SUNY Morrisville with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Equine Husbandry. Straight from college she went on to help manage the New York campus of Southwind Farms, a world class Standardbred operation. The New York operation was generally the nursery where the weanlings were grown out to become saleable yearlings.
In addition to the horses Laura was able to develop and maintain a nationally recognized Jacob Sheep flock. Laura first purchased Jacob Sheep in 1989 as part of the Southwind Farms operation. Following the passing of her employers in 2013 Laura has maintained the flock as the Butternut flock to the present day.
In the 1990’s Laura and Southwind Farms ran a purebred Polled Hereford operation of 120 cows. The beef was certified organic under NOFA and the cows were successfully shown though out the country. Beef had been kept on the farm from the early 80’s until its demise following the passing of the owners. On the current farm a small herd of Aberdeen Angus are kept as well as other ‘miniature’ and exotic bovines.
In 1998 Laura and Southwind were part of the importation of the first Golden Guernsey Goats to the US. In addition to the GGG Southwind had always had various goats mainly boers and fainting goats.
In 2008 with the downturn in the economy the decision was made to leave the horses on the NJ campus and the New York Farm dove into diversification. We will get into that in a later chapter.
Laura began working at Southwind in 1981 and met her husband, Kevin, a fellow employee there. They were married in 1985. Two sons joined them in 1994 and 1996 and were blessed to grow up and graduate high school before the loss of the farm owners.
Southwind Farms had been owned by Allen and Connie Skolnick. They were both highly admirable people, whose loss is still painful. They believed in loyalty, fairness, and ran all of their businesses from that basis. The world could use a lot more people like them.
Today Laura and Kevin are caretaking a farm for another couple. There are Jacob Sheep, pigs, cattle, goats, horses, donkeys and poultry as well as a few surprises on the current farm.
The Purpose of This Blog
In the past month four dairy farms have dispersed their cows within 10 miles of where I live. To begin with, I have never worked on a dairy farm. But I have nothing but respect for the people who devote their lives to that life. How can we save the American Family Farm? There is no one answer. There is not a one size fits all solution. I picture this blog as a round table, a sounding board of ideas. Please comment and share your ideas and thoughts.
America could easily feed herself with more to share if agriculture were supported at all levels. However, it appears the larger ‘corporate farms’ send to get the help will the little guys are squeezed to death. Many of the smaller dairy farms in my area are being told that the milk companies cannot be bothered picking up their milk. The big farms are being told not to bother to expand. The news says that there is an excess of both milk and cheese on the market. How do we help America’s farmers get past this impasse.
The first few ideas will be mine, until we start to get feedback from those who might read this and share my concerns.
Valley Brook Farms Therapy and/or Work Barter Program
Can you provide the following:
We can accommodate flexible work hours, so contact us today to find out more or schedule an interview.We'll coordinate a schedule that'd work for both of us. There's always lots to be done. If you're not familiar with the "task", it takes time to show you how it's done.
Contact us to schedule a day & time to help: If you have to cancel, please call or email us to let us know!
Each situation will be arranged individually.
If you would like to garden in exchange for produce, super.
If you would like to tend livestock in exchange for eggs, or livestock wonderful.
If you would just like to spend time unwinding, you could try socializing and grooming animals, that is great too.
If you would like to work for hay to feed your animals that works also.
Possibilities are unlimited.
What are the Choices of Work to Do?
Learn all aspects of handling, husbandry and care of the following livestock:
Alpaca, cattle, sheep, poultry, goats, pigs, llama, camel and yaks
What Do You Get in Exchange for your Volunteer Work?
In addition to hands-on training in small-scale farming, gardening or livestock husbandry you could receive:
For 4-H groups, families with children, or a group for community service, we can also accommodate them with various age-appropriate tasks and educational hands-on programs.
If interested, please send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Who are we and why should you think you might be able to learn from us
35 years as manager of the NY division of the world famous Southwind Farms Standardbred nursery. Two years as caretaker of Valley Brook Farms.
Kevin has experience as a leader of a crew at Southwind Farms. He can utilize tractors and all sorts of farm equipment. He typically put up 10000 square bales of top quality grass hay for the future race horses in our care. In 2016 he put up 900 round bales. He was the top shipper of the horses for Southwind Farms. He is also an accomplished carpenter and built many of the buildings on the NY farm.
Laura has an AAS degree in equine science with a Standardbred tilt, from SUNY Morrisville. For over 35 years she produced world class yearlings which were sold by Southwind Farms. Although she no longer rides, Laura does enjoy driving horses. In addition to horses Laura started and co-owned Jacob sheep as part of the Southwind Farms Jacob Sheep flock since 1989. This flock sold sheep all over the US and into Canada. Laura was instrumental in helping to bring Golden Guernsey Goats to the US in 1998. She developed and co-owned the Swind flock of Golden Guernsey goats while also raising Boer, fainting and pygmy goats. Southwind Farms always had beef cattle as well including at one point being certified organic in the 1980s and early 1990’s. We had up to 120 head of beef at one time and also concentrated on purebred polled Hereford cattle, which we dabbled at showing. Laura served as VP of the NY Hereford Assoc. during this time period. We also did some grass fed beef with Scottish Highlands.
In 2008 the focus at Southwind Farms, NY switched to food production. As part of this new focus Laura developed an on farm store as well as flocks of poultry for both meat and egg production. The store was used to sell farm produced beef, chicken, quail, pheasant, turkey, lamb, goat, rabbit, pork, (aquaponic) tilapia, and more. We also sold greenhouse and farm raised, sprouts, greens, tomatoes cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, asparagus, and much more. All of this as well as the supervision of all the livestock fell under Laura’s direction. Laura also took care of the marketing and advertising, attending the local farmers market and much more. There is a lot in there if you would like to pick our brains.
The animals here at Valley Brook are an eclectic group that share there space and live basically strife free.
This short recap is meant to illustrate my attitude toward the animals, and hopefully the people, that I come in contact with.
About a week ago we were tagging the kune piglets. Two of them were male so I wanted to clip teeth on them. The little black and white one bit me. My reaction, a surprised laugh and I said' "The little bugger bit me." I then approached his head again with the terrifying set of tooth nippers. "He bit me again." I commented, quietly, and proceeded to clip the teeth, with blood running from my thumb down my arm. Is this a normal reaction? It was actually a tiny wound but I have done the same thing many times. I want to stay calm around the animals and the people I am working with.
Once we were working angus cattle though a stock chute. I was running the head gate. A cow kicked the sorting gate which swung back and smacked the lower part of my thumb like a baseball bat. Despite the pain, numbness and swelling I never reacted and continued with the job at hand never letting those around me know that I had been hurt.
Yesterday, I was feeding marshmallows to the animals in the barnyard. One of the big spotted commercial pigs in the picture above missed the mini marshmallow and caught my pinky nail. We had visitors, so with out a word I went into the feed room, quickly wrapped some vet wrap around the finger and continued showing the people around. Then I loaded two of my dogs up and took them to their vet appointment. They are white dogs. I was getting blood all over my shirt and the dogs. I took the vet wrap off and the vet and the techs took a look at the finger. The nail was ripped completely out of the bed with a couple of small tears next to the nail. They felt I should go to the hospital, which I did, after I took the dogs home. They said that the nail would die but they put it back in the bed and said that eventually a new nail would grow out.
Someone asked if I was mad at the pig. Why would I be mad at the pig. It was an accident. If a 300 pound plus pig wanted to hurt me, it would be a lot worse than a damaged pinky nail. In each case I had put myself in the position which caused me to be injured. The animals were just being natural. Does anyone else react like this or is it just me?
"Honest people expect people to be honest. Dishonest people expect people to be dishonest." Allen Skolnick, one of the most honest men I have ever met.
Beth, Laura and Grandma with Macaroni in the 70's
I lived and breathed horses as a youngster. I read about horses, thought about horses, pretended I was a horse. I had had lessons on a paint called Sam before my father left when I was seven. My great grandmother said I had an old soul. I was always very responsible and serious. As the oldest of four children, left with a mother who was a bit less than responsible, I stepped up into the adult rule to raise my brothers and sisters. I never thought that any one realized it. In middle school I had a scary health teacher. One day in class I could not stop coughing. She followed me into the hallway and talked to me about how I was missing school to care for my younger siblings but no one was caring for me. I was also painfully shy and very quiet. I found it hard to believe that she seemed to know what was going on. At 12 years old I became the only one in the family to work. I had a newspaper route, every morning before school I delivered papers. After school I delivered papers. Then I did my home work.
When I was 14 years old my 'Uncle' Danny' (My mother's best friend's husband) and my grandparents arranged for me to have a pony. Uncle Danny's sister had horses so I think maybe it had been theirs. My grandparents agreed to pay to board the pony. I had always been a favorite of my grandparents. I was blessed to have such thoughtful and kind people around me. My mother named the pony, Macaroni. She said the Kennedy's had had a pony named Macaroni. Also she recited the song, " Yankee Doodle went to town riding on a pony, stuck a feather in its cap and called it Macaroni", thusly. So the pony was called Macaroni. My favorite food is pasta so it was approriate. I was able to visit Macaroni over the next year or so. There are still songs that I hear that take me back to the drive to the barn where Macaroni was stabled. I was very blessed.
Before I was born my parents were stationed in Germany. They came back with a black German Shepard named Trixie. She was my big sister growing up and started my love of big dogs. From the start I was addicted to horses. To this day I tell directions by the horses along the route. I read everything I could get my hands on about horses and other animals. In Junior and Senior High School I spent my study halls reading about wildlife and then writing fictional stories based on the animals I had studied. In the early days before my father left I took riding lessons on a palomino pinto called Sam, Sam was great for a horse crazy child. I went back to that place once when I was a little older and although there were new owners Sam was still there.
At home there was always an assortment of dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and more. I had a penchant for collecting wild things, raising and releasing them. There was a myriad of baby and injured birds. I raised a litter of possums once, which had been rescued from their dead mothers pouch in a rain gutter. The possums were messy, homely little things. They did well though and were finally turned over to a nature center to be released. They said they had never seen such healthy looking possums. Later, soon before our move to NY there was a half grown racoon which must have been released but still craved attention. Rascal moved into the house with us. She was pretty awesome except that she did not like my stepfather. She would hide in his closet and then dive out and bite his ankles. She went her own way before we moved.
After I was married we worked a couple of years on a horse farm in PA. While there I raised a tiny featherless sparrow, which we called Fred. Although most of his diet consisted of bugs and bits of meat and meal, I do remember one time that I gave it a piece of spaghetti and we could track that though his digestive system. Despite the spaghetti Fred grew into an adult female sparrow. She learned to fly. I would take her out with me in the morning and let her go where she liked. If I called Fred would come, land on my arm and go back inside with me. This went on most of the summer. Then one day I saw a cat stalking her. I hollered and grabbed for the cat. Fred flew away but never came back to me after that.
"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." Henry David Thoreau How very true this statement is.
My name is Laura. I live in central New York State with my husband of 30 years, Kevin, our two boys Clay 21 and Austin 19, as well as a farm load of animals. I grew up in Pompton Lakes, NJ. I graduated from Pompton Lakes High School and then moved to the rural central New York region. Once in NY I graduated from Morrisville State College with an AAS degree in Equine Science. While still attending college I posted a job wanted ad and got two replies. The ad said that I was seeking to work with Standardbred horses. One of the replies was from a trainer at a county fair track. The other was from a breeding farm. That was my dream job and that is the one I took. I met my husband at this farm and we are still here 35 years later.
One of my great grandfathers had raced standardbreds in the streets on Paterson, NJ. I had always loved horses and had a special attraction for Standardbreds. I had a cousin who was born one month after me. We were close growing up. One of her first jobs was also on a standardbred farm. Standardbreds are amazing horses. They can and will do whatever you ask of them. They are very willing to please and easy to work around. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general I found standardbreds to be everything I dreamed they would be. They also can look like almost any other breed. I have seen the old stereotypical jughead standardbred, but I have also seen standardbreds which look like quarter horses, arabs, morgans, and throughbreds. I have rarely regretted my decision to work with standardbreds and to live and work on Southwind Farms. It was an honor to work with Connie and Allen Skolnick. Their loss is still keenly felt.
In addition to working with standardbreds we have always had beef cattle on the farm. In 1989 we added Jacob Sheep. The Skolnicks had seen them while traveling in Chesham, England and I was able to find some and gave them their first Jacob as a Hanukkah gift. We have had all manner of other animals and livestock since then. There have been peafowl, chickens, ducks, rabbits, chinchilla, quail, pheasants, chukkar, ducks, geese, swans, dogs, cats, llamas, alpaca, donkeys, ponies, mini horses, full size horses, a draft, pigs, goats and tortoises. In the late 90's the Skolnicks returned from another trip to England talking about Golden Guernsey Goats. It took a long time but we were finally able to get some pregnant reciients carrying these rare goats. To this day Southwind Farms is the only farm in North America where purebred Golden Guernsey Goats are raised.
I am a daughter of God. I am a wife and a mother. I am an animal lover. I have devoted my life to the care and well being of animals. Each one has taught me valuable lessons. Each loss tore a piece from my heart. You are welcome to share some of my experiences here on this page.