Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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New Arrivals

Lots of excitement going on here at the farm!  We have 3 new Dexter cattle here as of yesterday afternoon.  Mark & Edlyn Muir were kind enough to loan us a few!  We met these wonderful people last fall when we purchased Fiannait from them.  This time, they brought us Finn-Bar,  one of their impressive bulls, for us to breed Finni to.  (So far, they've hit it off quite nicely!) Although Dexters are not tall, he is a beefy, solid, well-built animal, and gentle enough to follow me into the barn calmly when we put them in away from the heat of the day this morning. He gladly followed me, but it may have had something to do with the feed bucket in my hand! As the Muirs sold us Finni knowing we were hoping to milk her in the spring, they were disappointed for us that a calf never arrived.   So Lil also came with them, along with her calf.  They were kind enough to loan Lil to us for the summer so we could have a family milk cow for a time, and the calf is ours to keep as a replacement for the one Finni didn't have this past spring.  It is just amazing to deal with breeders like that!  Plus the cattle are so tame and easy to work with, even the bull, that they are a true joy to have here.  I'm excited to try my hand at milking a cow for the first time ever this evening!

I was also thrilled to check the incubator this morning and find three newly hatched peachicks!  We set every egg the peahens laid this year, but being that these were the very first eggs they had ever produced, I wasn't expecting a great hatch.  Sometimes it takes a few tries before a bird will produce a hatchable egg.   So, I'm just tickled pink with 3 out of 5 hatching!  That's probably all for our first round, but there are more eggs in the incubator, and I'm confident that there are more chicks on the way.

The garden is looking amazing. Saturday we were able to have the first of our green peppers for sale, and more are on the way this week.  I spy some jalapeños and other hot peppers as well.   I see tiny zucchini, yellow zucchini, and crookneck squash, as well as cucumbers, that should be ready for this weekend.  The new crop of lettuce, spinach & other salad greens are going strong, although I may give them another week before I start cutting.  I have green tomatoes appearing on more plants every day. I should have green beans by now, but the deer have been munching on them and the peas, so we'll see if there are enough to pick by the weekend. We often don't have enough hot weather to grow melons properly, but these past couple weeks have been ideal.  Even the seedlings that didn't look so hot at first are thriving. This year, I'm trying 3 varieties of watermelon (2 heirlooms), a honeydew, a cantaloupe, and an exotic French heirloom melon (Delice de la Table) that I didn't have success with last year, but sounded so intriguing I had to give it another shot.   I have herbs sprouting and otherwise just going crazy in those beds as well.  I'm headed back outside to do some more weeding, so among the weeds that took over some of the earlier plantings, I'm hoping to see kohlrabi, pac choi, beets and Swiss chard, hopefully of picking size. 

It's hot and humid here, but the chance of rain looks fairly low for the next few days, so Dan is out mowing hay.  He mowed some a few days ago, so hopefully it will dry out enough later today or tomorrow to get it into the barn.  We had hay in by the beginning of June last summer, but this year it's so far been next to impossible as we need 3 rain-free days in a row, and June hasn't cooperated much!  I like to help with the horse drawn equipment, so I'll probably be raking hay, as well as driving the haywagon again when we load it.  

Another pig left us this morning, so we'll be making sausage by the end of the week to have fresh sausage to sell this weekend.  I'll also need to make a seperate trip to Hirsch's to pick up our beef, which will be available for the first time since last fall.  Plus I have more vinegar to bottle, and more bottles should be delivered tomorrow.   These is so much ripening and coming in that I may need to get another table to the stand before the weekend to have a place for all of it!  What a great time to be home on the farm!


A New Season Begins

A new season is here at our farm!  Yes, it's officially summer now, although it's been pretty hot with lots of thunderstorms for some time now.  As I mentioned in my last post, we're transitioning to a new season in our lives as well.  Tomorrow is my official last day of off-farm work.  I'm excited, optimistic, and yes, a little nervous about where this will lead.  I'm walking away from what I've known for the past five years, but during the "test run" of a 3-month layoff last fall, I came to know, without a doubt, that this is really where my heart lies.  Will I have to find another day job or will the farm be enough?  I don't know.  I do know I have a vision of what I'd like the farm to be someday.  A teaching place.  A place where anyone can learn about how food is grown. How it is possible to build up the soil rather than destroy it while producing your crops.  How to raise animals in a way that is humane, sustainable and healthy for the creatures, the people and the environment.  How to partner with horses to work the land like Americans have done for generations, before our dependence on oil put a tractor in nearly every field (and why this part of our lives doesn't have anything to do with being Amish).  What an heirloom plant or heritage livestock breed looks like, what it tastes like, why it's valuable and how we can save them.  I'm not sure exactly how this will work or what it will look like.  I am excited to take a small step in that direction July 24th by being part of the PA Buy Fresh Buy Local farm tour.  I'll be showcasing the poultry on a short walking tour, letting people see our birds and letting them know more about what we raise and why.  We'll see where it goes from there!

The garden is thriving in this weather.  My heirloom lettuces, Grandpa Admire's and Crisp Mint Romaine, have taken the heat well so far and didn't bitter like some of the other varieties.  Peas are here, both sugar and shelling.  The borage (a beautiful herb that tastes like a cucumber) is in bloom already.  The green onions are rapidly growing into big onions. Tiny zucchini and summer squash are appearing with the promise of being plentiful as always. Little green tomatoes have appeared, and so far no reports of the blight that plagued farms in our area last year.  More treasures appear every day.  I swear you can see the corn stalks' growth between morning and night!   The hay fields are also more than ready, and with a break in the predicted thunderstorms we'll be mowing hay Friday with any luck. A great time to be in the fields.

All the animals are thriving on pasture.  We recently got a couple more beef cows that have joined the herd without incident.  This weekend we're anticipating the loan of a Dexter bull along with a Dexter cow to milk and a calf to raise.  One of my doe rabbits just had 6 healthy babies.  The spring lambs are growing so fast on the lush pasture, some of the boys are nearly as tall as their mothers.  The turkeys are growing by leaps and bounds, with the males attempting some hilarious-sounding teenage gobbles.  While the peafowl are finished laying eggs for the year, the eggs are in the incubator and I'm anxious to see if we have a successful hatch. A wonderful time to have animals.

I've begun canning garden excess, so far I've made 2 rhubarb jams- one with oranges, the other with ginger and oriental spices.  I have new batches of homemade vinegars fermenting, and I'm excited to try some  herbal or fruit infusions with them when they are ready.  There are new mustard recipes to try, including my quest to master a good champagne-dill one.  I was trying to use Google to find an alternate recipe last night, and I had to laugh when my blog entry about my utter failure with this earlier in the year was the #4 result when I typed "champagne dill mustard recipe"! A superb time to use up the bounty of the garden, to try new recipes, to create my own.

Tomorrow, I'll come home and put the khaki slacks away.  (ok, I'll wash them first.)  I'll put on my jeans and barn boots, and begin a new day, a new season.  I don't know how long it will last or what storms lay on the horizon, but I'm excited.  I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be, and I can't wait to have more time to put my hands in the dirt. 


Home on the Farm

I've really been looking forward to this week for some time now.  I've planned to take vacation days from work and have the whole week off for what I like to call "Birthday Week!" While I don't plan on going anywhere, it's nice to catch up around the house and farm, or try some new recipes for my canned goods.  

This past week, though, I found out I'm going to have a lot more free time to do this after the end of June.  Budgets are tight, and the non-profit agency I have spent the past 5 years working for decided to eliminate a position in my office.  I did not want to take over the revamped position (essentially doing more work for less money) , so as of July 1, I will officially be a farmer with no other day job.  As I did have the experience of being laid off and able to farm for 3 months last summer, I know it's where my heart lies.  I actually feel busier, more purposeful, and more productive here than I do at the office, so I know I'll be anything but bored.  Including the commute, it's like getting 50 free hours back, but I know they will be filled.  I'd like to think that the stalls will be cleaner, the garden will be weeded better, I'll have more canning products for sale, and the blog and website will be more up to date.  I also have "me" projects like catching up on some good books or painting again.  It's exciting and I'm so happy to have Dan's support in this.  It was a big leap when he quit his job a year and a half ago, but that worked well for us.  He's now much happier to be working with his brother. (shameless plug- for those of you in the Tionesta area in need of a licensed, insured contractor, Matt's Construction will do any job, call 657-8400 for more info!)  

I don't know when or if I'll be back working somewhere else, but for now I'm excited to put my efforts into making this the best year on the farm it can be.  One of the ways I'm hoping to make that happen is by being part of the Western PA Buy Fresh Buy Local farm tour day, July 24th from 10:00-6:00.  Watch for more details, and we hope to see everyone then if not before!


Cow Madness

We're getting ready to have beef for sale again.  We've been planning on offering it for sale for the 4th of July weekend, so that means Happy and Louie will be leaving us in a matter of days.  Although we'll still have Fiannait and Baby Buzz (who's not really a baby anymore except in personality!) it's always sad to see half the herd leave, so we've been looking for new cows.  There is always so much going on at the farm that we just weren't able to get them in the spring when there are plenty for sale, but we saw an ad in a local paper offering feeders.  We contacted the owner and took a ride after we closed the stand on Saturday to check out the calves- one Angus and one Hereford/Angus.  Both are heifers, and black, with the cross also having a white face and small horns.  We were able to have them delivered on Sunday, and after being chased by Ponyboy and Louie for a few minutes upon arrival, they seem to have settled in nicely.  I'm told they are tame enough that they would come up to be scratched or petted at their previous home, so I'm sure our two new girls will be eating cookies or a stale bagel from my hand in no time.

Speaking of cows, those of you who have been following this blog know we got a Dexter heifer last fall in hopes of having a milk cow.  Although the sellers thought she was bred, either she didn't take or something happened, because w didn't get a calf this spring.  However, we're still so glad to have Finni, as she's just full of life and personality.  You just don't get that with the average Angus or Holstein in our experience.   Dan and I had just begun to discuss what to do when I got an unexpected email from the couple we bought her stating that they have a gentle bull for us to use.  They had offered to loan us one when we bought her, so I'm anxious to see how this will work out.  A bit on the nervous side too.  

Breeding animals means being around large, powerful males.  Working around boar hogs or bulls is actually considered a hazardous job in PA which means the farm worker must be over 16 to do so.  Even male horses (stallions) or sheep (rams) can and have killed people.  So it's best to use caution.  On the other hand, I truly believe that the way animals are raised and treated makes a huge difference.  I like to think that my boys are trained by friendship and respect, not fear. My boar, Wilbur, gladly lets me scratch his head.  My ram, Rambo, has charged at me at a full run many times, but always stops.  I'm never scared because I can see by the look in his eye that he just wants to beat the ewes to the cookies in my pocket.  Of the four horses, Ponyboy is the shyest and least aggressive.  (It probably doesn't hurt that he's a mini among big girls.)  But these are my animals and I work with them daily.  However, when we went to look at Finni and the other cows for sale, we walked among the whole herd, including bulls.  All were calm as could be, even in close quarters.  It also helps that Dexters are small and even I could see easily over all of their backs.  And we're dealing with reputable breeders, so I believe it to be a gentle bull, which should lead to an adorable, gentle baby calf!    


Turkey Miracle

A few days ago, we moved our heritage turkey poults to an outdoor pen.  This has an open bottom for access to fresh grass and a small ramp leading to an enclosed, raised floor where it is always sheltered and dry.  We’d been carefully watching our little birds for the first few days, making sure that they came inside towards dusk and if it looked like rain. 

Baby turkeys, at least the commercial broad breasted whites, are noted for their stupidity; it is not uncommon for them to drown in less than an inch of water or starve to death even when the feeders are full!  The solution is to put a few healthy chicken chicks in with them until they get the hang of the basics.  Although they did start out with chicks for companions, our heritage poults seemed pretty bright, and not only figured out food and water quickly, but were using the ramp in no time once moved out by themselves.  After checking on them often the first two days, they seemed perfectly capable and we let our guard down a bit.  We had fairly severe thunderstorms yesterday, and when the rain finally quit and I began evening chores, I saw what looked like multiple wet, dead turkeys piled in the lowest corner of the outdoor run.  Devastated, I called across the field to Dan that half our poults were dead before rushing off to turn on the heat lamp in the brooder to dry the survivors.  I was thankful that I had cleaned out the brooder and only needed to plug in the heat lamp and add some shavings to create a warm, dry environment.  Grabbing a shoebox, I rushed back outside.  Some of the poor little things were drenched but standing upright, obviously chilled.  I scooped them up and put them in the box.  One was laying on its back, legs twitching as if in the final stages of death.  It wasn’t dead yet, so I figured there was no harm in picking him up, too.  (I’m a softie, and have a hard time admitting when a baby is a lost cause!)  The ones in the soggy pile of dead-looking birds were in terrible shape, but none had actually expired, so they went in the box too.  The rest ran from me back upstairs, so I let them go as they seemed ok.  (My guess is that they were smart enough to get in out of the rain in the first place.) 

Under the heat lamp, it looked like life was quickly returning to about half of the eight birds I rescued.  The other four were at least laying on their bellies instead of their backs, heads upright, so it was an improvement, but they were wet and cold to the touch.  Like any reasonable person, I decided I needed to do more to get them warm and dry ASAP.  I decided to grab the soggiest, sickest looking one and take it inside the house to try and blow-dry it. When Dan came in the house, I was in the bathroom, hair dryer running on warm, turkey poult on the bathroom counter.  Actually, it worked so well, I was drying the second turkey by the time Dan was done feeding the pigs.  I love that he doesn’t question my slightly eccentric ideas; he just poked his head into the bathroom to ask how the “turkey makeover” was going.  The little things would stretch out their wings in the warm breeze, and were dry and nearly fluffy in just a few minutes.  I blow-dried three in all, by then the rest were upright in the 100-degree brooder.  They were quickly dry and active, so I unplugged the heat lamp and placed fresh food and water in the pen.  It seemed to be a miraculous comeback, but I hesitated to get my hopes up too high.  The common wisdom with raising turkeys is that a “chilled poult is a dead poult” so I was still expecting losses. We also locked the rest of the turkeys in the dry upstairs portion of the outdoor pen, hoping they’ll remember that as their home and run to it the next time it pours!   

This morning came and, despite my dire initial assessment, we did not lose a single baby.  Not one.  I am just amazed that you would never know the birds were on death’s door 12 hours before.  Had I been 5 minutes later in finding them, I don’t think I’d be able to say the same, so I think I’ll be extra watchful when we let them back outside!

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