To get to know the Farmer’s Watershed Alliance (FWA) membership, we are highlighting a member farmer and their good work! Our featured farmer in this article is Darlene Reynolds. Darlene is the Chair of the Farmer’s Watershed Alliance, as well as one of the founding members. She farms with her husband, Newton Reynolds, at Crosswinds Dairy & Daughters in Alburgh. They have been farming in Alburgh together since 1994. They currently run a Medium Farm Operation (MFO).
I arrived on a Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. and the farm was bustling. Darlene had been up working since 3:30 a.m.! She and Newton greeted me with excitement and immediately began to show me around their dairy farm. My tour started at the main cow barns with explanations of the different methods they use to take care of cow comfort and health.
All of the cows at Crosswinds Dairy wear a pedometer on their ankle to monitor their health and condition. The pedometer gives the Reynolds insight into how the cows are feeling. Typically, if a cow takes more steps than average it is a sign she is in heat. Cows in heat will see one of two specialists to determine if they are ready for in-vitro fertilization (artificial insemination). For cows that have trouble getting pregnant through in-vitro, the Reynolds have a bull on site. If a cow is taking fewer steps, she might be sick. This allows the Reynolds to get the cows the attention they need as soon as possible. For the cows that are taking fewer steps and might be sick, the Reynolds call one of their veterinarians that routinely stop on their farm for a special visit.
The Reynolds also provide sand bedding for the cows to sleep in (pictured above in the stalls) that is a similar to beach sand! Darlene chose this option because she wants her cows to be as comfortable as possible.
“If you notice, none of our cows have bruises on their legs.” Darlene said, gesturing to some of the cows in the stalls.
Cows can get bruised legs if they sleep on hard surfaces, such as rubber or concrete beds. That is why farmers choose alternative options like sand beds and even water beds! Darlene and Newton like knowing their cows are comfortable. The sand in the beds gets changed about every 8 days to ensure it stays fresh.
Next, we walked outside to see a newer addition to Crosswinds Dairy – the manure pit. The manure from the cow barns gets pumped out of the cow stalls and shoots into the pit. It is a mixture of manure, sand, and saw dust. Almost all the manure is recycled to be used as fertilizer on the corn fields. Any extra gets used by friends of theirs and fellow farmers. This farm has a nutrient management plan that tells them how much manure to apply on the fields – it is based on federal, state, and local clean water laws that regulate how manure is applied on cropland, so nutrients are absorbed by crops, not groundwater. The manure pit is lined with cement walls and well-tiled to ensure it is secure. When it was being constructed, it would have been deep enough to bury the cement truck being used to build it! It is about 14 feet deep, with a stadium design. The Reynolds received government grant funds to build the manure pit on their farm because it meets standards set for water quality and environmental protection in the state.
After walking the property and chatting with Darlene, I was able to ask her some more specific questions:
What are you most proud of?
“I’m proud to be [farming] here for 25 years and have made it!” Darlene said, reflecting on the past couple of decades that have left dairy farmers of Vermont facing new, difficult challenges. Darlene and Newton take a lot of pride in being able to stay farming and provide for their family, while adapting to the changing regulations and fluctuating milk prices. Darlene shared how amazing it feels to help her family make such great progress. Her grandmother could not read or write, and her mother taught herself to do so. Darlene has a degree in social work. Of Darlene and Newton’s four daughters (pictured below), one is still in high school, one will soon graduate with a B.A., another is attending Vermont Technical College, and the oldest graduated from Vermont Tech. “We are building new roads every step of the way,” Darlene said.
Darlene is also extremely proud of her employees. Working in the barn so much herself, Darlene’s full-time employees start to feel like family to her. She likes to take the time to get to know her staff and learn about their personal goals. She wants to inspire her crew to be the best they can be. Darlene thinks of her farm as a stepping stone for her employees. She encourages them to pursue ways to improve themselves and leave better than they came. Her support has motivated workers to get their GED and other certifications that help propel them in their careers.
Last, but certainly not least, Darlene is proud of the care the farm gives to their cows. “You do it every day. Take care of the animals,” she said. One of the most rewarding aspects for Darlene is knowing that she is doing her best to give her animals a happy and healthy life. She said she loves to, “take an animal that’s not feeling well and turn her into a beautiful lady.”
What do you want the non-farming community to know?
“Farmers are out there to produce a nice, healthy product.” Crosswinds Dairy takes pride and responsibility in the dairy products their cow’s milk contribute to. That is one of the main reasons why Darlene is so in-touch with and concentrated on individual cow’s health. She noted, with the growing population of the world, “We [farmers] have to [be prepared to] feed the people of the world.”
Darlene said the majority of Vermont farmers want to make water quality improvements on their farms, and have been successfully working towards that goal. But for many farmers this means making changes in both agricultural practices and infrastructure. There needs to be funding and education opportunities readily available to farmers for a difference to be made. She added that the negativity she sees in the media surrounding agriculture is disheartening for farmers, “water quality is not a simple task.” It takes time to learn new practices, invest in and build infrastructure, and become educated on conservation practices/techniques that work in Vermont, and farmers need support.
Some of the notable water quality improvements completed at Crosswinds Dairy & Daughters:
- Cement driveways
- Manure pits to increase storage capacity
- Buffer strips to reduce potential runoff
- Cover cropping all corn fields to increase soil health and reduce potential runoff
- Creating and following a state-approved Nutrient Management Plan
- UV water pump for cows drinking water
- Monitoring slope of the land for any potential runoff developments
Why do you farm?
Darlene farms every day for her family. While Newton grew up in a farming family, Darlene did not come from a farming background. Before joining Newton as co-operator and co-manager of the farm, she was a social worker. Part of her decision influencing her transition from social worker to farmer came after her first daughter was born. She made a conscious decision to be with her on the farm as they began raising a family. Farming provided Darlene with a lifestyle that allowed her to work toward her ultimate goals to be happy, provide for her family, and give her four daughters the opportunities in life that they deserve.