by George Looby, DVM
On July 24 the Windham County Food and Agriculture Council sponsored a tour of the Pakulis Farm in Brooklyn, CT. This tour was designed to give attendees the opportunity to observe firsthand some of the recent updates that have taken place on this operation.
Dawn Pindell, of the USDA Farm Service Agency, introduced the farm owners Sandy and Lou Brodeur, who presented an overview of the hay/vegetable farm. Hay growing, harvesting and sales are Lou’s responsibility, while the vegetable side of the business falls to Sandy.
The first topic on the agenda was a discussion of low-interest farm storage facility loans presented by Dawn Pindell, who coordinates such loans in eastern Connecticut. This type of loan facilitated the construction of a new hay storage barn. One goal in developing a budget for the new structure was to keep the cost under $50,000 to keep the application approval process as simple as possible. This 32’ x 74’ barn with 14’ overhead doors was designed to replace an old conventional drive-through barn, a structure dating to the post-Civil War period. This older barn is not adapted for round bale storage, so it became necessary to look at an alternative as round bale production continues to become an increasing percentage of the total crop harvested.
Adjacent to the new hay barn is another new building, a 30’ x 70’ high tunnel greenhouse. This structure affords Sandy the ability to extend her growing season at both ends of year, with adapted cool weather crops grown in very early spring and late fall. This facility was funded in part by a USDA EQUIP Seasonal High Tunnel initiative cost sharing program, which also provided technical support. This program was established by the USDA as an initiative to farmers to establish high tunnels to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation friendly way. The vegetables produced are marketed through a farm stand, retail stores and a cooperative farmers market.
At this time, circulating hot water provides heat during the shoulder seasons, with the heat source an outside wood burning furnace which also supplies heat to the house. One of the problems encountered has been the soaker hoses used to water the vegetables — they have exhibited a tendency to plug up at their ends, limiting the water delivered to the other end of the greenhouse. The venting system has also been something of a problem and it is expected that the addition of fans will help correct this problem.
The sale of hay is a major part of this operation, and purchases by horse owners constitute a good percentage of the total sales. These customers often have one or two animals, so they prefer conventional square bales which better meet their needs for storage and feeding. There has been an ongoing conversation for many years among horse owners as to which is the better hay for their animals — alfalfa or timothy. A recent new seeding consists of 80 percent alfalfa and 20 percent timothy, with the hope that this will make some buyers happy. For the alfalfa advocates, the Brodeaurs put up some of the best alfalfa to be found in northeastern Connecticut. An attempt is made to harvest in the very early blossom stage and bale on day four after mowing. Tedding is done, but only once in order to minimize leaf loss resulting from excessive machinery beating. Fertilization is done as needed, with the major elements supplied being potash and lime. Nitrogen fixation by alfalfa supplies that need, and much of the better cropland has adequate levels of phosphorus.
To ensure the quality of the hay, the hay baler is equipped with a moisture meter. This determines the amount of moisture in the hay as it is picked up in the windrow. This unit has a gauge mounted on the tractor which gives the operator a continual read out as baling progresses. If the level is too high, the driver stops his work to allow additional drying. If moderate but not excessive levels are detected, a tank mounted on the baler containing proprionic acid delivers a measured amount to the hay to make it unfavorable for the growth of mold despite the presence of excessive moisture.
Proprionic acid is an organic acid that inhibits mold growth. It often occurs when hay is harvested with a too high a level of moisture. Controlling this undesirable mold growth allows the hay to “sweat” allowing the excessive moisture to evaporate without “spoiling”. Many animal owners may be concerned about such an additive being fed to their animals. But in ruminants such as cattle and sheep, it is a normal end-product of their digestive process, which occurs in the rumen. In horses the same may be said to be true, except that these products are found in the caecum and colon.
Horses may be somewhat reluctant to eat hay containing proprionic acid as a preservative because of the odor, so owners should allow sufficient time for the odor to dissipate before feeding. There is no evidence based on controlled feeding trials that it is harmful in any way, and when one considers the potential damage that may arise as the result of feeding moldy hay, there is no comparison.
Following the overview of the hay operation, the group strolled down to 2-acre plot devoted to squash, especially acorn and butternut, with some Hubbard also grown. Adjacent to this plot is a field of winter rye that will be combined soon with the seed harvested to be planted in the fall for cover crop.
Many decades ago, a professor at UConn in the Department of Agricultural Economics was fond of saying the Connecticut farmer’s best cash crop is a school bus. That era is long behind us. In its place, diversity, imagination, change in consumer attitude and a broad base of support for local agriculture has changed the picture dramatically. The Pakulis Farm is an outstanding example of that change.
A tour of the Pakulis Farm
by George Looby, DVM