By FRANCIE LIN
For the Gazette
Published: 6/12/2020 3:25:20 PM
Interview with Steven Barstow II, dairy farmer
Who lives in the same house as you? Caroline Barstow (large animal veterinarian), Nelson Barstow (19 months), OVH (cat), Moose (the farm dog)
How are you juggling all your responsibilities during this time? Although much has been turned upside down in the world, the cows on the farm have no idea. We have a herd of 600, and we milk 300, and we are still providing the same care, devotion and routines to ensure their health and the health of our family business.
My day is largely the same: up at 5:30 a.m. and in the barn by 6 a.m. for fetching cows, robot milker maintenance, feeding of cows and calves, and animal health checks. We are actively planting 200 acres of hay with our new no-till hay planter, so that equipment leaves the yard by 9 a.m. We just finished planting our crop of no-till corn on 250 acres. Morning chores are done by 11 a.m., and we move on to special projects depending on the day of the week: new bedding, moving cows/heifers, maintenance, cleaning projects, etc. Lunch at 12:30. And then evening chores 2 to 6 p.m.: fetching cows, robot maintenance, feeding calves, milk reports, etc. I’m on call every few nights in case the robot milker goes down in the middle of the night.
I don’t do all of this stuff by myself, it’s with a great team. My father and uncle are my partners in this business, and big thanks to our four awesome farmhands — Doug, Michael, Megan and Kelly — for helping us get it all done and sticking with us even in these uncertain times.
Also, as usual, we’ve leaned on our incredible nanny and our big family to watch Nelson while I’m in the barn and my wife is working with other farm animals across the state. As they say, it takes a village. And we have got a really big village!
How are you getting the things you need? Our family farmstand, Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery, has been able to provide much of what my family needs. We have plenty of fresh milk, eggs, meat and cheese, as well as local groceries and produce. (We’re open to the community as usual via our drive-thru window, weekdays from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
My wife, Caroline, is already out in the world every day as a large animal veterinarian for Hess McWilliams Veterinary Services, based in Amherst. She travels to farms all over Massachusetts and Vermont and can make a Big Y or Four Seasons Wine & Liquor run on her way home if we need something.
What has been hardest part? Like most farms across the country, Barstow’s Longview Farm has had to decrease milk production to minimize food waste and better match demand. Fifty percent of our dairy market was shuttered at the beginning of March with the closure of restaurants, schools, universities and institutions. It’s been incredibly stressful to restructure our herd to reduce production. But it’s also given us the opportunity to look at our business and make some improvements for the better. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that these difficult changes for dairies across the country now, and legislation like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which provides financial assistance to farmers who have suffered a 5% or greater price loss and who are facing significant marketing costs due to the coronavirus, could mean more small family farms like ours will be strong enough to carry on.
If we want our milk supply to continue to be local, we’ve got to stop losing New England dairy farms.
What has brought you relief/happiness? Coming home to my family each day, and Nelson’s laugh and smile, makes every day better. Pasture Day on the farm was in May, and that’s always such a fun day … we let the heifers and dry cows (pregnant cows not milking) out of the barns and onto pasture. There’s nothing on the ground to eat in the winter, so the girls are in the barn. Come spring, there’s plenty to eat, and we all have cabin fever, so they run and jump around the field. Because we couldn’t do Pasture Day as we usually do — with our community gathered on the hillside at the farmstand, with live music and farm tours — my cousin, Denise, did a Facebook Live stream.
More recently, we just started bringing in our first cutting of hay. I run the chopper while my dad does the mowing, Michael does the trucking and my uncle is in the bunk silo doing the packing. It’s a true change of pace. When we are haying, most of my day is spent sitting in a tractor, every day for almost a week. I enjoy listening to books on tape, calling friends and relatives to catch up with a wireless headset, and spending some time in the fields of the Pioneer Valley. So far I’ve seen a few bald eagles, some deer, plenty of song birds and a few foxes.
Any good suggestions to offer? Buy local! We are so grateful for the support our business has received in these uncertain times and hope that folks continue to prioritize buying local when and where they can before heading to a box store. Local dairy purchases do more than just keep businesses like Barstow’s afloat: They maintain open space in the community, ensure a resilient food system and preserve local heritage. We’d love to see as many farms as possible make it through this time and beyond.