Farming Empathy

Harvest Magazine Article – Spring 2018

Dairy farmer Laura Beck describes how farm individuality arises out of a farmer’s integration with her animals, land and community.

I’ve been playing with the idea of what farm individuality means for a few years now and letting the idea slowly evolve in my head and my senses.

When I first started this farm almost five years ago, I was whirring with the different, varied and many needs to get the farm and the business up and running. I didn’t give myself much space to sit and be present in the farm. But, slowly over the years, the daily rhythm has crept into the pulse of my body and there are times that I can see things in a new, fresh way. These times happen mostly when I am entirely present with the cows that live on the farm.

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Cover image for "Why cows have horns"

Why Cows Have Horns

“Why cows have horns” is a resource compiled by the cattle breeding group of the Swiss Biodynamic Association in conjunction with the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and co-published by the NZ Biodynamic Association.

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Suckling calf

Ethical Calf-Rearing

Harvest Magazine Article – Autumn 2016

Reports late last year of brutal calf-rearing practices at conventionally-run New Zealand dairy farms shocked the nation. But a Manawatu organic dairy producer has demonstrated it’s possible to run a productive and profitable operation without compromising  animal welfare standards.

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A Mothers’ Milk + Good Practices for Raising Calves

Harvests Magazine Article – Summer 2015

Bucking an industry accustomed to quiet cruelty, Canterbury raw milk dairy farmer Laura Beck shares her quest toward kinder calf-raising.

This article has been republished from the Summer 2015 of Harvests Magazine.

I have a lot of time to think on the farm. As I squat behind the cows every day to wash their teats before milking,
I often receive this immense sense of calm, contentment and joy. And it got me thinking: These animals are so much Mother. Many New Zealanders’ lives – and a significant part of our economy – revolve around these beautiful creatures, with their massive udders and their incredible capacity to produce milk. We are fortunate that these big beasts stand quietly for us twice a day as we take this milk from them with absolute ease. Their mother’s milk feeds our children and our adults.

And then I got thinking: How is it that we receive this gift, given so gracefully, but we remove so quickly the reason for giving it? In most dairy farm systems, including organic and sometimes biodynamic, calves are typically taken from their mother within the first 24 hours of life. They are then reared by humans away from the herd. For most milk drinkers, the practice of calf-rearing is an unknown facet of dairy farming; some people are not even aware that to give milk, the cow has to have a calf. I’d like to relate to you my experience of calf-rearing.

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The Group Soul of the Sheep

Smallholders learn the basics of all things sheepish from Ian Henderson.

Each year, over the last three years, I’ve organized seminars at my place in the Murawai Valley, inviting speakers and the local community.
The district is about 35km north west of Auckland and is predominantly five and ten acre blocks. It is lucky enough to have a very active local Smallholding Association with monthly evening talks and weekend field trips. This group helps people find their way in the local community. But the idea of more in-depth teaching and learning, using an organic approach, has proven both popular and informative.

It is great that a wonderful array of speakers make themselves available to come and talk to such far-flung groups.
This is definitely a worthwhile initiative if you have a catchment area of people interested in learning. People bring their own lunches and drinks so time is not spent
with catering. A small fee charged for the day goes to the speaker and enables them to cover their costs for giving up a day or so and travelling.

The thought-provoking side of a day of listening to new ideas and seeing different approaches makes such seminars so worthwhile. The latest in the series, in November, saw Ian Henderson of Milmore Downs (biodynamic farmer for nearly 35 years) come to Muriwai Valley for a seminar aimed at people who have a lifestyle block and are running sheep or thinking about it. A lot of lifestylers living on the urban fringe of larger cities do not necessarily have a strong rural or farming background. Many have moved out of the city without good knowledge of animal husbandry or pasture management.

So how do you find out what to do with your land?
Whether to mow or graze? What to graze, where to start, and then where to next once you have your stock? The seminar looked at these and other issues.