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HERd management: The house the birds built

Laura Flory Published on 31 March 2014

females on a farm

It was one day last summer I first caught a glimpse of the little nest. I was feeding calves when I took notice of a beautiful bird sitting on a post just outside the barn.



It wasn’t like any bird I had ever seen before, so I walked closer to get a better look. Just as I had gotten close enough to confirm its beautiful blue color, it flew away to a nearby tree where its tiny nest was nestled in the lowest branches of a young maple tree.

It was delicately crafted from pieces of hay and straw intertwined with assorted pieces of plastic and material from around the dairy.

As the summer went on, I would occasionally see the elusive pair of blue grosbeaks as they guarded their nest. I loved to watch them while holding a bottle or bedding the hutches with straw.

As the cool nights crept in to southwest Virginia, there was a lot going on at the farm. Harvest time was upon us, as well as the beginning phases of a major expansion project our family has been planning over the past several years.

It goes without saying that my time for bird-watching became nonexistent. There were calves to be fed, and a lot of them. Cows to be bred and feed charts to be changed. There was corn to be harvested and one last cutting of alfalfa, plus don’t forget about lunch for the men. Throw in the meetings with the builder, the banker, the equipment dealer – and some days I didn’t know if I was coming or going.


One morning in mid-November, I was feeding calves when I saw the first bulldozer slowly making its way out onto the hill. I dropped everything I was doing and went running behind him, desperate for one more picture while the dirt was still unscathed. I had to document one last “before photo.”

I had been waiting for days, months, years for this moment. I had taken a thousand photos of this hill before, but I needed just one more. One more photo of that hill that we had stood on so many times dreaming of what was to come. That hill I had walked to every evening at dusk and wondered if we would ever reach our goals.

The weeks moved on and the dirt kept moving. As the fall gave way to winter, the work continued but moved at an ever-slowing pace. I remember my particular excitement one day in early January when I went to the construction site for my daily round and found a giant ‘0’ marked on the ground. The grading was done.

Work on the barn began that very week, but the weather kept progress moving very slowly. I must admit, what had once been great enthusiasm for the new barn had now morphed into great impatience. As if we hadn’t had enough hurdles to overcome, now we could add a hard winter to the list. It felt like the spring would never come.

farm in winter

One morning I trudged to the hutches on the frozen ground. The wind was blowing fiercely out of the west, as it had done all night. On this particular morning I had already wondered several times why on earth we put our calf hutches in what seemed to be the windiest place on the entire farm. My face was stinging from the cold and my hands burned from being exposed to winter’s fury.


As I approached the hutches, something caught my squinting eyes and I looked up to the tree that had once been full of lush green leaves. I was stopped in my tracks when I saw that little bird’s nest, still sturdily fastened in the branches of a bare maple tree.

Its inhabitants had long abandoned it and the leaves that once protected it had been gone for months. But there it was. No matter how hard the wind had blown, no matter how much ice had weighed it down, it had been built with enough tenacity to weather any storm. What a lesson I learned that day.

While building a new facility, our family has certainly endured many seasons. There have been days of pure joy at the realization of our dreams coming true. Other days, doubt and stress seemed to hang like a cloud and made us question ourselves and each other.

There have been meetings and contracts and many cups of coffee shared at the kitchen table. We have been excited and terrified all in the same moment. But on that cold winter day, as I stood looking dumbfounded at that little nest, I realized something very important.

You must never underestimate the power of determination and a dream. You see, like those little birds, if we had listened to all the voices that had told us the wind would blow too hard or our plans would never work, we might have not embarked on this fantastic adventure.

I hope that no matter what season your farm is in, you may always remember to follow your dreams. And don’t be afraid of a little wind. PD

Photo courtesy of Laura Flory.

laura flory

Laura Flory
Dairy Producer
Dublin, Virginia
Hillside Farm