Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Our New Deere

Yesterday, Dan and I spent a good part of the evening on yet another restoration project.  We're now the proud owners of a John Deere that will make making hay a whole lot easier.  While we have been using the dump rake for the last few seasons, and then using pitchforks to load the hay by hand onto the hay wagon, it is a time-consuming way to make hay, not to mention very labor-intensive.  We love the antique methods and are proud to utilize them, but the John Deere will save both labor and time, although it will modernize our process a bit.

But no, we haven't given up our horse-drawn ways in favor of a tractor.  John Deere originally manufactured farm implements for use with teams of horses, not tractors, because the company has been around since before tractors were used out in the fields.  Our John Deere is a single cylinder hay loader.  It attaches to the back of the hay wagon and picks the loose hay up off of the ground and then piles it on to the wagon.  This moves our haymaking technology up to the level of our Old-Order Amish neighbors (although the loaders they use are of a more modern design).

This type of hay loader is both rare and old.  We feel very lucky to have come across it.  Dan was hired to do some foundation work on a barn, and this hay loader was inside.  The barn's owner was willing to part with it, because to him, it was just something taking up space that he had no use for.  By his estimate it had sat, gathering cobwebs and dust, for 60 or more years.  Although there is no date on the machine, between what he told us and the research we've done online, we estimate that it was probably made in the 1920's or shortly thereafter.  However, “John Deere Single Cylinder” is still readable in the paint on the side boards, along with a running deer logo that is a bit different than the one that graces today's big green tractors.  Since it was barn-kept, it is in great shape overall.  But, of course, after sitting that long, some repairs are going to be necessary.  The first order of business was lubrication- all the moving parts need to be greased or oiled to run smoothly, and that hadn't been done since the machine went into storage.  The hay loader works by utilizing thin boards and ropes to form a sort of conveyor belt for the hay to travel up.  A few of the boards were broken, and the rope was mostly baler twine.  We did consider just doing the minimum and replacing only the broken boards, but the ropes were a mess and in the end we decided to replace all of it.  So last night, we unhooked the chain and laid the track out on the ground. Old boards were removed, with new ones put into place.  Then 6 rows of new rope were hand-stapled into place.  The hardest part was threading it back through the guides and pulleys to refasten the chain links, but with some patience that was accomplished as well.  

There is still a bit of work to be done, but it is nearly field-ready.  We are waiting for a forecast with a bit less rain, and then Dan will be out mowing hay.  Once it dries, we'll put our “new” hay loader to the test.  We're very excited about this, not only because of the back-breaking labor that it will eliminate, but also because it's a really neat piece of farming history.  Even we have never seen one like it in use, so we're anxious just to watch it work!


 Emily tightening up the bolts that hold the boards in place.

 Dan threading the newly repaired conveyor through the guides & pulleys 


A New Idea

On a farm, like any other business, you have to make sure you have the right tools to get your work done.  Sometimes, that means replacing something that is worn out or otherwise not useful anymore.  (i was going to say outdated, but then again, we work horses and are still using lots of equipment that is older than I am!)

One thing that has been on our list of things to replace for some time has been a manure spreader.  While it is by no means the most fun or exciting piece of equipment on the farm, it just might be the most important. It's also one that we wanted to actually save up for and buy new.  Although we love getting good deals on used equipment at auctions and such, spreaders generally go for almost as much as new if they are in good shape, or next to nothing for a worn out one.  We already have one that has seen years of use, so we weren't interested in the latter. A manure spreader in good working condition is vital to the way we farm, because it serves two very important functions.  The first is to keep the barn clean so the animals can be clean, dry & comfortable.  The second function is to preserve the fertility of our fields, garden and pasture land.  Manure, when properly managed, isn't toxic waste, it's black gold.  By not keeping more animals than our acreage can support (unlike industrial farms), we can put their manure back on the fields without overloading what the ground can absorb naturally.  No polluted runoff into the stream, no obnoxious smell, just healthy plants. It also greatly reduces or eliminates the need to buy fertilizer for the gardens. The problem with our spreader is that the beaters, which do the unloading, are worn out, and can't be rebuilt again, too many parts are past the point of being reusable.  Because of this, we end up unloading it by hand, and piles of manure, even just forkfuls, don't break down nearly as well or as quickly as the fine layer that a spreader should be creating.  It also makes for more work, besides unloading by hand, when we prep the fields to be planted, we need to drag a harrow around to spread out the manure, and extra step that wouldn't be necessary if the spreader just worked properly.

 When I met up with Dan's mother last month while picking up some cheese, we talked about all kinds of things over lunch.  One thing was how she had wanted a new spreader while they were still on the farm.  Dan and I are still using the same one she wanted to replace, so I readily agreed with her.  We laughed about how most women want to spend the big bucks on designer clothes or a new car, but no, we'd be so much happier with a manure spreader.  (I'm thinking that could be one of the signs you're really a farmer, kind of along the lines of those Jeff Foxworthy redneck jokes!) And while the spreader is high on the list of investments to make into the farm, it's getting late in the season and I had started to get the feeling we'd limp though another winter with the one we have.

Imagine my surprise then, when Dan got home one day a couple weeks ago.  He told me that his parents had gotten us an early Christmas present and then handed me the cell phone to show me a picture they had sent.  It was a new spreader!  Well, not brand new, but in like-new condition.   All we had to do was come down and pick it up!  So, one day last week, we borrowed a friend's truck and rented a trailer to haul our new treasure home.  Everything went well, we got it loaded onto the trailer and home without incident.  It's a New Idea 12A, a very good name in manure spreaders.  Unlike the old one, this has only 2 wheels, so to move it we need to use the forecart.  That isn't a problem and actually works out well, because it takes up less room in the barn aisle way while actually having a slightly larger box for holding the manure, which makes for fewer trips when cleaning out the barn.  Dan got it out for the first time on Saturday, and it worked like a dream.   We've put off cleaning out some of the run-in pens for awhile because we didn't want to waste the fertility of the manure, so now we have some work ahead of us.  But actually, I'm excited about it.  I always joke that either the barn or the house is clean, depending on when you visit me, but this will definitely make it easier to keep the barn clean.  


Thanks again, Tom & Betty! 


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!

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