Spring is perhaps the most anticipated season in the Northeast. As winter drags on, we yearn for longer, warmer days of summer when we can go outside in t-shirts, work in our gardens, and enjoy being outside without thinking about bundling up in all our wintertime layers of clothes. Each of us has our favorite signs of spring that we look forward to each year. Some of us who tap trees and make maple syrup feel the spring coming just a little ahead of everyone else. Then the first blooming snowdrops tell us that the crocuses are coming soon with daffodils following shortly thereafter. We might take notice of the first bluebird we see.
One of the most anticipated signs of spring on the farm for both the farmers and the cows is the first day the cow are let out onto pasture. We have all been watching the fields greening up little by little these past few weeks. The farmers have been carefully taking note of when the pastures will again be ready for the cows to graze. The cows seem to know, too, acting a little more restless in their barnyard as they sense the readiness of the grass.
The daily rhythm of the cows on the farm through the seasons is a strong guiding force for the farm and the work of the farmers. During the grazing season, the cows come in and out of the barn twice daily for milking, each time moving to a fresh piece of pasture, slowly rotating from field to field week by week until they return to where they began and then they start the whole rotation again. Over the course of the year the cows fully take in nourishment from all the pastures around the farm.
The manure they deposit on the fields as they graze adds fertility directly to the soil. The manure and bedding that is collected in the barns throughout the winter is composted and spread all over the farm in the market gardens and other crop lands throughout the growing season.
The cows at Hawthorne Valley are central to maintaining and improving the fertility of the farm every day. As we celebrate Earth Day today and watch the cows go out on pasture for the first time this season, we can pause for a moment and give thanks to all the cows give to us, and do for the land, throughout the year. For every day is Earth Day on the farm.