Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
[ Member listing ]

Meet Yardie

Pop Quiz! Do you know what the #1 irrigated crop in the U.S. Is? It's something most of us see every day, is grown in virtually every neighborhood nationwide, and nothing eats it.

The answer is grass. More specifically, lawns. More of our nation's water supply is diverted to make the yard look pretty than to grow any other crop. Add to that the pollution from lawnmowers & riding lawnmowers, the amount of synthetic herbicides and fertilizers used, and the fact that so many of those grass clippings go not to the compost pile but to the landfill, and you'll realize that lawns aren't the “greenest” feature to many homes.

Here on the farm, we hate wasted space, and it's always seemed like the yard is pretty much that, but we do keep it mowed so it looks nice for business. We've come up with some creative ways to reduce our mowing responsibilities, though. When we debated on where to house the turkeys, we enclosed part of the front yard as their run. It was the part with the pine tree roots I hit with the mowing blade most frequently, so that was another added bonus! Little did we know that the turkeys would roost in the tree and free-range all over the place, but they do. They also do an admirable job of keeping the grass down near their run in their quest for bugs, slugs and such.

We also employ some natural lawnmowers in the back and side yards. We use bottomless pens, called tractors, to house rabbits, quail and our meat chickens. These allow the critters to dine on fresh grass and the bugs in it, and provide a fresh, clean living space when the pen is moved daily. Although we still mow these areas to maintain a uniform look (instead of looking like a patchwork quilt!), at least the grass is being used to provide nutrition to our animals, and cut down on our feed bill! Spring has arrived early this year, and with it the chore of mowing. Or, at least it seemed so until last weekend. Dan is really good at thinking outside the box, and has solved more than one problem with a single, organic solution!

 

 Yardie, relaxing in the spring sunshine

Our demand for meat has risen drastically in the past year, and so we needed to expand our beef herd. We've also kept a Dexter bull for our breeding program. The problem is that we have a very nice Hereford heifer we will use for beef later on this year, but she can't be turned out with the herd because she is of breeding age. While the pasture has multiple sections, it is in need of some repairs to effectively segregate the cows. Keeping her in the barn on these beautiful, summer-like days, feeding hay, seemed like a waste. The solution? Yard Cow, aka Yardie. Yep, turn her loose on the lawn! Well, not really loose, for now she is tied to a soft cotton rope attached to a stake in the ground. We put her out in the morning and take her back to the barn at night. It has worked exceptionally well so far! Yes, the downside is that there are cow pies in the yard, but truthfully, it really doesn't bother us. At least they are easy to spot, not like the doggie land mines that don't catch your attention until they are all over your shoe! We hope to get a portable electric fence set up for her soon, but for now, I just keep an eye on her to make sure she hasn't wrapped the rope around the stake or anything. I'm also amazed, it's been nearly a week and no one has called or stopped and knocked on the door to tell me there is a loose cow in the yard. (We have folks stop all the time to inform us of our goats' whereabouts when they are in the unfenced hay field.)   We're happy to have such a mild-mannered cow, who really seems to love her new job as the head of lawn management here at Pleasant Valley Farm.

 Yardie, hard at work in the back yard!

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Waiting for Wednesday...

Farmers are generally patient people.  There is a lot of waiting from the time a seed is planted until you can eat the results, and depending on the animal, it can be a very long time waiting for the arrival of a baby!  But sometimes even patient farmers get excited about an upcoming event...that's why we can't wait until Wednesday, when our newest member of the farm family will arrive.  Her name is Finniat and she is a Dexter cow.  We purchaced her yesterday and we are beyond anxious for her arrival.  We would have brought her home with us, but we don't have a stock trailer and so had to make arrangements for delivery.  I am grateful I have Veteran's Day off from my day job, or I would be sorely tempted to stay home and use up vacation time!

So, what is a Dexter cow and why do we want one?  Although Dan grew up milking Jersey cows, we aren't really interested in becoming dairy farmers.  However, we are interested in having milk for personal use and to make our own cheese, butter, yogurt and other yummy dairy products. We did research on the wide variety of breeds available to find one that we felt would fit our needs best, and we fell in love with the idea of getting a Dexter cow.  They are the smallest non-miniature breed of cow and are celebrated as a tri-purpose animal, having qualities for beef, dairy and also as oxen for draft animal power.  A cow will be between 36-42" in height at the shoulder when she is full grown, making for a small, manageable animal.  They have the highest output of milk per pound of feed consumed, and are docile and easily trained.  They originated in Ireland as a family, backyard cow for milk with the ability to process unwanted offspring (usually males) as beef or to train them as oxen to work the field.  Dexters are becoming more popular in America as a homesteading cow, and luckily for us we found breeders of these amazing little cows within a reasonable driving distance of our farm.   We had a lovely time talking with the couple that owns the farm and really learned a lot.  They had several cows for sale and we got to meet the whole herd.  Dan was most interested in the practical concerns of buying a bred cow that would be producing milk in as short a time as possible.  All the cows were bred for the spring, so that didn't make the choice any easier.  I had an idea that I wanted a black one (the most common, but not only, color) and one that had horns, just because I like the look and think it lends an old-time appearance to the animals.  When I contacted these folks by email ,they stated that they had bred cows for sale, but that all but one was polled (naturally hornless) or dehorned, except one.  While standing in the middle of the paddock, discussing bloodlines and general information about the girls, one cow came up to me a couple of times, sniffing my outstretched hand as though she were curious and wanted to greet me, on her own terms. The other cows tolerated our presence, but didn't go out of their way to investigate us. This friendly little cow was among the ones for sale, and was the one that had horns!  So of course, there was no question in my mind she would be the one we should buy.  Although Dan looked over the other cows closely, the horned one was named Finniat and will be coming to live with us. She will be having her first baby this coming spring and will be our hand-milked family cow.  So now I feel like a small child that knows Christmas is coming really soon, but isn't quite here yet...it can be so hard to be patient sometimes!

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