Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Fall Babies

Although fall is generally harvest time and not baby season, we've had some adorable little ones join our family this month, bringing both happiness and heartache.  Our brood cow Lil usually has a calf each spring, but something happened and we noticed she came into heat around the first of the year.  While that was a bit of a disappointment, she is getting to be pretty old, and things like that are part of life.  We have been anxiously watching her and knew the time was getting close, but we let her stay our in the pasture.  It's actually more sanitary to give birth outside if the weather cooperates, and Lil has had something like a dozen calves without assistance, so we weren't too worried that she would need help. Of course, when the day finally arrived, it was cold and wet.  In the interest of giving the calf the best start possible we decided to bring them into the barn for a few days.  

Dan had walked out to check on her on Wednesday, and sure enough there was a healthy calf on the ground, far up in the pasture.  I was in the middle of canning some Apple Pie in a Jar jam, so I couldn't really drop what I was doing, so Dan and his brother Matt took the truck out into the pasture.  They loaded the calf into the bed and put a lead rope on Lil. She didn't need any encouragement to follow along and kept an eye on the little one the whole way down.  This was the first calf born since our bull matured, and he seemed protective as well, as he also followed the truck all the way down to the barn.  While things like that can be a pain, it's good that he takes to the calves.  We have a large population of coyotes locally, and having the bull keeping watch over the girls and their little ones is actually kind of nice.  By this time, I was able to step away from the kitchen and was bedding down the stall.  We were able to get Lil and her calf in the barn and shoo Bullwinkle back out, so all went well.  The calf enjoyed his truck ride so much I decided to name him Ranger (after the truck).  He's strong and healthy, and since the weather has warmed back up (our high yesterday was a balmy 75!) he and his mama are back out in the pasture with the rest of the herd, and both are doing fantastic.

We also had a litter of kittens born here lately, which has been the heartbreaking part.   The mother cat has successfully raised kittens this spring, but this time, she seemed to just give up on the whole mothering job.  She seemed to do a bit better when I wasn't around (her motherly hormones seem to make her want to cuddle up to me instead of the babies for some reason), so I'd lock her in the house with them anytime I was running errands or working outside.  Still, after two of the four died, I realized I needed to step in and care for the kittens if they were to have any chance at making it.  At that point, there was a black and white one who was very small and runty-looking and a grey tiger one who seemed a bit better off.  I decided to start feeding them and warmed some milk and found a large syringe without a needle to use, since I don't have any baby bottles small enough for kittens.  But the grey one was nowhere to be found.  I couldn't believe the mother cared enough to move it, but it was gone.  I searched outside, and listened for a crying, cold baby kitty to no avail.   I locked her in overnight with her lone remaining kitten, which she ignored all night. Incredibly, in the morning, as I worked to get ready to open the farm stand for the day, I found the grey kitten on the front steps.  It had somehow survived, alone, outside, on a night where our temperatures went down to 22 degrees. Unsurprisingly, it was cold and not doing well at all, but I got some warm milk into it and put it in the kitty bed next to the woodstove.  It's been a frustrating weekend, as I've been feeding them every few hours, but watching the little black and white one fade away.  It really never took to eating from me, and its mother ignores them completely now.  I did the best I could, but it didn't make it.  The grey kitty has a great appetite and bites at the syringe when I feed it, so I'm hoping that it continues to thrive.  It's eating regularly and well, and naps contentedly without crying after a meal.  I know there is never a shortage of cats anywhere, and I wasn't looking for kittens, but since they are here, I felt it is my duty to care for them as best as I can.  Taking care of orphan critters is part of being a farmer, and even though our livelihood doesn't depend on kittens like it does lambs or calves, I'll do the best I can for this little one. So if you see me and I look a bit tired, it's probably from these every-4-hour feedings, which really don't make for a good night's sleep!


Good to Be Back

The impossible happened this week...Dan and I actually took a bit of a vacation from the farm! We joke that even if the world ended, we'd still have to do chores before we left. While I'm not taking anything away from vegetable and crop farmers, the garden has a down time. You can go on a tropical vacation over the winter if you please. The plants won't suffer terribly if left alone for a day or two mid-season. Having as much livestock as we do, it's very rare that we can get away as a couple, even overnight. I think the last time we did was October of 2009, and that was just for a night. There is a reason raising farm animals is called “animal husbandry”; in a sense, you are married to your animals. They need to be cared for every day, without fail, and whether or not you are tired or ill. You need to care for them when they are sick, and be there for births. Your schedule revolves around their care every single day of the year, including holidays and weekends, since there is no magic day when the animals won't be hungry. I can't count the number of times we have been visiting friends or family locally, only to leave in the middle of the gathering because it was chore time. Please don't get me wrong though, I love my critters, I do choose to live this way, and I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world. But we all need a bit of a break now and then!

Both my mom and Dan's parents live in the middle of the state, just far enough to feel like a mini vacation, and we had been looking forward to visiting on this little trip for some time. There was a pretty small window of opportunity between the holidays and the start of lambing season/piglet time/starting seedlings that we could leave for a few days. Dan's brother Matt agreed to tend to the livestock and the woodstoves in the house while we were gone, or it wouldn't have happened. Matt lived here on the farm for many years and visits us all the time, so the animals know him and he knows them. I can't think of anyone else I could trust to get everything done! We had planned to leave earlier, the end of January, but then Sheepie got sick. Caring for her meant putting any leisure plans on hold. We fought through that, but I'm very sad to report that in the end, it was all too much and she didn't make it. We did our very best, but it was a difficult condition to treat successfully. Then Nutmeg, one of our oldest ewes and consistently the earliest to lamb, had a healthy little ram. We knew the rest of the sheep would soon follow, and Char was expected to have a litter of piglets in mid-February as well, so for us, it was now or never. Baby season is just too much to put on someone else, even a great farm person like Matt.

So Dan and I visited family and took in some local sights from Sunday to Friday. It was nice, but it's great to be back home too. The house was warm and the animals were well-fed and thankfully, none of the animals gave Matt any trouble (except for Puff, my fluffy cat- he demands attention from everyone!). My replacement hens, although close to full grown, seemed like they grew while I was gone. And it seems as though we got back just in time. As we were doing chores last night, I noticed Rosa wasn't following me around looking for snacks as she usually does. I got her into the barn, and by this morning she had two beautiful, healthy ewe lambs. We also knew Char was close and have been watching her and giving her lots of extra bedding, and this morning, eight tiny piglets were busily nursing. The temperatures here are warming a bit, the snow is melting from the rooftops, and with all these babies, spring can't be far behind!

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