Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Oooh, That Smell...

Although we've been hopeful that the chicken killers are no longer with us, we have been shutting the doors to the coop in the evenings.  On Saturday, we noticed that although  the chickens were safe, one of our Pekin (duck) hens was missing from our little flock. The ducks don't have a pen to be shut into at night, so I was starting to worry about how to keep them safe as well.  On a happy note, she was safe and sound and sitting in a little nest I hadn't noticed in the front yard of the house.  Pekins aren't known for going broody and she gave up sitting on the 5 eggs in a few hours, but after the rancid stink bombs I cleaned out of the Cochin's box, I'm ok with just using the incubator!

We've been trying to proctect the henhouse from any further attacks, so this weekend we put a trap by the door just in case there was still a problem.  We awoke Sunday morning to a horrid smell wafting through the open windows.  SKUNK.  Yep, we caught a skunk and he was not happy about it.  Even after getting rid of the actual animal, the scent lingers.  Not much we could do after the spray but close all the windows in the house, light scented soy candles, and I guess I won't be hanging laundry outside for a few days!

If you'd like to learn a bit more about the farm and see some picture of the critters, please check out our new website at www.pleasantvalleyfarm.weebly.com.  It lists what's currently for sale (with prices), FAQs, and I'm working on descriptions of the animals as well as their pictures.  Be sure to sign the guestbook too!

 
 

Really Old School

We went to a farm auction on Wednseday looking to pick up some equipment to make haymaking easier.  Although the hay loader went out of our price range, we were able to pick up a dump rake. It was quite the conversation piece; many of the older men gathered around it to reminisce.  One gentleman, probably in his 70's, came up to tell us how he had not run one since he was a little boy, and seemed very happy we were going to use it rather than use it as an antique yard ornament.  It made me laugh a bit inside, as he was Amish and has been using more current technology for years!  But the dump rake is home and worked great for Dan yesterday.  We'll have much less hay wasted by being left in the field, and it will be much simpler to load several piles of hay than forking up long, narrow windrows.

On a much sadder note, we've had some deaths in our chicken flock recently.  We eliminated a raccoon who had eaten several of my best layers and though it was over.  Three of the 4 killed were my Ameracauna girls, so I'm having a bit of a blue egg shortage at the moment although I do still get one or two a day.  Unfortunately, one of the feral barn cats has developed a taste for chicken and last night killed her 7th hen.  She has got all our adult Giant Cochins, both my Porcelin bantam girls and a mother Phoenix died defending her babies.  We have no choice but to kill her, as she is wild and would not be a candidate for the local humane society.  It makes me sad though.  So I just want to remind everyone out there that farmers do not need extra cats.  Over the years many midnight feline drop offs have occured here because people assume that if they can't give away kittens then they will have a happier life on a farm than if taken to a humane society.  I have 4 "bitty kitties" that came to us in this way in October.  Please know that not all have a happy life- established barn cats, a new road, lack of food if they don't know how to hunt...many other kitties don't make it long.  So let me just channel Bob Barker for a minute and remind you to spay or neuter your pet if you personally can't handle a litter of suprise babies.  I can't take care of them either, and it breaks my heart when I have to destroy one!

 
 

First Taste of Summer

Summer is officially here! The garden is so close to full production I can almost taste it when we go out in the evenings. Actually I guess we have tasted it- I've been able to make a few small salads with fresh greens, spring onions and a few baby radishes, served with a delishious bluberry-basil vinegrette from vinegar I made myself! Delicious!  The peas are blooming, as are the tomatoes and zucchini and last night we put up trellis for our rapidly growing pole and lima beans.  I have a few hot peppers that are getting to pickable size, now I'm busy looking over my canning cookbooks for a good hot pepper relish. If you have a good recipe, I'd love to hear about it.  I can't wait to get started canning for the summer! 

Hay production is going well, as of last week we had 2 entire fields dry and put up in the barn, which put us exactly 2 fields ahead of where we were last year! Dan spent yesterday cutting more, and if the weather is as beautiful as the forcasters are predicting, we will hopefully be done with our first cutting hay by the weekend, including the oat hay which I cultipacted much earlier in this blog.  The fields that have already been cut are growing back at an amazing rate, and we fully expect to be getting a good second crop later this summer.

Our broiler chickens have done so well out on grass, despite the unpredictable weather, that they've reached butchering size in just 7 weeks.  We started processing the first ones last night and hope to wrap this batch up by the weekend.  Chicken is the one thing we butcher start to finish here at the farm, but I don't mind too much.  Dan and I each have jobs to take care of during the process, and it runs pretty smoothly.  We have had orders rolling in for our chicken so if you are interested, contact us soon.  We're already sold out until mid to late August, so don't miss out!   For me, the first real taste of summer comes with some absolutely fresh chicken cooked over our charcoal grill with a wonderful garden salad. 

 
 

Chicks...Extra Small

Today was a first.  Although we've hatched hundreds of chicks this spring and a good number of ducklings and geese, we've never hatched quail before.  This morning I had 2 in the hatching tray of the incubator.  They are so small!  The books describe them as the size of a bumblebee.  I would say our little bobwhites are a tad bigger, but not much.  Even all streched out, the head and body was no longer than my pinky finger!

Although we've had rain the past 24 hours, haying is going well.  We are almost done wit hthe field by the road and soon we'll be moving on to the field by the woods and then on to oat hay.  I'm on vacation from my Even Start job the next week, so I hope to get lots of hay made while still taking some time for a little relaxing!

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Loose Hay and "The Claw"

The major task of spring, planting corn, is over so we've transitioned into the work of summer- making hay and keeping the weeds under control in the garden and fields.  As it is just Dan and I putting up hay this year, after much thought and discussion we decided to make loose hay instead of hiring someone to help us bale it.  Much of the process is the same-Dan uses the horses to mow the field, we pray for 3 days of clear weather and watch the hay dry, and then use a horsedrawn hayrake to pile the hay in the field into long windrows.  At this point, we would have been dependent on someone else to come and operate the baler through the field and we would have taken the wagon out into the field to collect the bales.  But I would have needed to drive the wagon and stack all the bales, while Dan would have been walking the field and throwing them onto the wagon.  Then each bale would have been pulled off the wagon and stacked again in the hay mow in the barn.  For those of you who've never picked up a bale, they usually weigh about 40-50 pounds each and we plan on making 1,000 or so to get us through the winter. Each bale must be handled twice, and that is a whole lot of weightlifting for just 2 people!  So, after the hay is dry, we will rake it more than once, meaning instead of several small windrows across the field, we will have a few larger ones.  Then I will drive the wagon alongside the windrow while Dan uses a hayfork (like a pitchfork, but with only 3 tines) to load it onto the wagon.  My other job is to keep the horses from snacking on the new hay while they are working! 

Once we have a good wagonload, we drive down to the barn and the wagon is backed up inside.  Then we let the claw do the work for us!  Up in the rafters, there is a track with a scary-loking contraption that operates in much the same way as the claw arcade games where you try to win a stuffed animal.  The rope is lowered and the 4 prongs are pushed into the pile of hay on the wagon.  There is a rope that runs through a series of pullies and is hooked to the horses.  When they pull it, the rope lifts the claw and hundreds of pounds of hay clear up to the barn rafters.  When it meets the track, it slides over to the side of the barn over top of where the hay will be stored.  Then, when another rope is pulled, it triggers the release and the hay falls to the floor.  The wagon is unloaded in minutes and with very little labor.  It's an amazing piece of machinery to see in action, all the more so because it works flawlessly despite the fact it was installed when the barn was built- in 1894. 

We already spent an afternoon putting up hay, it looks like so much, but as it's not compressed it probably equals out to about 75 bales or so.  But it is beautiful hay and fills the barn with a delicate scent.  We were so excited that the weather held up and we were able to cut the hay in its prime and have some in the barn on June 1!  Today is the start of 3 days of anticipated clear weather, so we hope to be making lots of hay Saturday.

Last Sunday we had baby chicks born on the farm.  While during the spring we usually hatch 50 or 60 chicks per week with our incubator, these were hatched by a hen.  This is fairly unusual, many of the chickens used for eggs today have been selected over time to produce eggs all year round and not defend the nest when the farmer comes to collect the eggs.  Because of this, most common breeds of chickens no longer know how to hatch babies: we've bred the mothering instinct out of them.  We have a variety of breeds, about 12 different breeding flocks over the spring months, and each have thier own special qualities.  The Phoenix roosters have long beautiful tails and the hens are more colorful than the average female bird.  I noticed one hen sitting on eggs one day and guarding them fiercely from me, so I let her go.  They lay smaller white eggs that I usually don't sell anyway, so I saw no harm in letting her give it a try. Then another hen joined her in the nest box and they sat out the 3 weeks it takes to hatch the eggs.  All together, they hatched 12 little chicks and have protected them from the hungry barn cats for about a week now.  It's pretty amazing to see.  I'm  keeping a close eye on my Giant Cochin hens, 3 of them are sharing a box right now, and I hope they have as much success as the Phoenix girls did! 

 
 
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