Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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The Boys are Back (for now...)

If you've ever been to the farm, you've seen the (really) free range critters here.  The front yard is usually graced by a combination of chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, kitties and a pair of peafowl.  We like letting them run loose, as long as they stay on the farm.  The poultry do a great job of eliminating insects from the yard and garden if given a chance!  We pen things up when they get too comfortable playing in the road, or when we have issues with predators.

Most of our peafowl are in a pen with a net roof, as they are good fliers.  This shocked me at first, with those long tails, but it's true!  However, when we hatch peachicks, we keep them with other baby poultry, like turkeys, because they are similar in size and eat the same things, and the less pens that need checked, fed, and cleaned, the lighter our workload will be.  So, we have two males that have lived all their lives with our turkeys, and generally wander the farm and sleep high in the pine trees at night.  But, they do have an adventurous side!  The have been spotted all over our neighborhood, and although the neighbors seem to get a kick out of their antics, Dan and I have thought that we should pen them up for some time.  This became more urgent this spring, when "the boys" took off and would be seen hanging out with wild turkeys, but somehow, we just never got around to it.  Then, they stopped coming home.  This worried us, because there are plenty of coyotes, dogs and cars around, not to mention the possibility that someone would shoot them just for sport.   

We heard occasional reports of them being sighted on Muzette road, miles from the farm.  Mostly, we always seemed to be away when the phone call would come, but last weekend I wasn't.  So, after getting an approximate location (nothing says country living like directions "they're out by the new gas well on Muzette"...and knowing where that is!) I headed out, armed with my peacock hunting equipment.  This consisted of a bucket of chicken food (aka bait), a fishing net on a long pole, and some feed sacks to transport them home in the car.  I realized that, as I was driving slowly looking in the woods, if an officer was behind me I'd probably be taken in to the mental hospital when I replied that I wasn't looking at the road because I was peacock hunting!  But the only critter I spotted was a porcupine, so I came home empty-handed.  Amazingly enough, the very next night, as some friends were heading out to their car after a visit, they called up to the house that I had peacocks loose & walking down the road.  Sure enough, the lost boys had returned!  I imagine they took to the woods looking for ladies, and when they didn't find any of their own species, they came home.  They stayed in the yard for the next few days, and then, at chore time, I saw they had entered the chicken coop.  I excitedly shut the door the chickens use to access the run, and captured the wanderers.  

 

While I love looking out my window and seeing a peacock, in all its brilliantly colored glory, strutting in the front yard or perching on the porch railing, I can't in good conscience set them back loose.   I can't put them in the main pen.  There are already 4 males, and I'm sure putting two more in without enlarging the enclosure would just lead to fights.  Plus, we hatched these two here, so putting them back in to breed with the mothers isn't the greatest idea either.  So reluctantly, we've decided to sell them.  I can't imagine splitting them up, so I'm only offering them as a pair.  They don't have the full, impressive tail yet, as peacocks take a full 3 years to mature, and the boys are only 2, but they are still beautiful.  they would also need to go to a home with an enclosed pen, but they do play well with chickens and turkeys.  We are asking $150 for both, and if you're interested, please leave a comment or send us an email! 

 

***Update*** 

The boys left for their new home today.  As sad as I was to see them go, they are going to live with a lovely family, who up until this point, has 2 peahens (female peacocks)  but no boys.  It's wonderful the way things work out sometimes!! 

 
 

Renegade Rabbits

If you've ever stopped by the farm, you've likely seen our free range critters. The turkeys, ducks and chickens frequent the front yard (and occasionally, much to my irritation, my front porch). You'll often see a cat or two (or four!) as well. But lately, there have been a few other critters on the loose.

A few weeks ago, Dan and I decided to trim down the amount of livestock on the farm. We sold off anything that we felt we weren't going to benefit from by feeding over the winter, so we found new homes for some roosters, small turkeys, peachicks (baby peacocks) and rabbits. The rabbits are under my total control- they started out as pets in my home before I met Dan, so he lets me use my own judgment on who to keep, who to sell, when to breed them, etc. I have a few does that are big pets and I won't consider selling, but I've also bought and/or bred others that I keep depending on personality and mothering instinct. So after rounding up the ones I was willing to part with, I also moved the remaining rabbits around to minimize the number of pens that need to be used. Even one less pen seems to make daily chores go faster! A day or two later, I took some laundry outside and was shocked to see a big, brown, cottontail-like rabbit right next to the house. It didn't startle when I stepped into the back yard, at least not any more than I did! I have never seen a wild rabbit in the yard, or really that many on any part of the farm, so this was strange. Then I realized it was one of my does, the one I call Hunny Bunny. I tried to pick her up, as she's really quite tame, but of course she hopped away and hid in the woodshed. Then I looked around and saw a gray rabbit. And a black one. This would be all the rabbits that were in one of the pens, so I checked it and found that there was a hole where two sections of wire had been fastened together.  We must not have refastened it securely enough when we removed some of the others that were in that pen.  I though about securing it, but then decided to make it even larger, thinking perhaps I'd catch one of the escapees if they went back in after food.

I worried when the rabbits disappeared over the weekend. I saw no gobs of fur or any other sign they had met with a bad end, they were just gone. Dan and I though it very strange, as there was lots of grass to eat, and we've had a loose rabbit before that stayed for months around the yard. (He lost his free-bunny privileges one day after eating the better part of a row of broccoli.) The next day, Dan went to the barn to move hay around in preparation to put in our second cutting. When he came back to the house, he said that all three had been spotted in the haymow! He also though Hunny was craving salt, as she hopped over to Dixie (one of the workhorses) and began licking the sweat off of her leg. I was sorry to have missed seeing that, it will probably never happen again.

Over the next few days, I would see the three of them, sometimes in the back yard, other times in the barnyard or near the poultry. I eventually caught the gray one, as she really did hop back into her pen for something to eat one day. I walked over, shut the wire, and that was done. Dan and I worked together with a big net and caught Hunny. That left only the little black buck, whom I had kept partly to try and provide some company for my other buck, Leo, over the months where I didn't want a female in his pen. I hate to see anything forced to be alone all the time. One windy afternoon, I saw both bucks...in the yard! The black one was not being kind, he was actually biting and chasing Leo. I ran out, just as it started to pour, and saw the wind had blown open Leo's pen door, but that he had run back to the safety of his home. I quickly got the door shut, but at this point I was unsure about what to do with the small black one, as he obviously wasn't going to make a nice penmate. So Dan and I have been kind of enjoying having a yard bunny, it's entertaining to see him hop about. I find it interesting that the poultry and cats pay him no mind. He's nearly full grown, so the cats don't see him as a snack, which is nice.

What is not nice was that two days later, Leo found a weak spot in the wire and busted out again! I've seen the two boys happily eating near each other at times, and separate at others, but no fighting. Leo often grazes just on the other side of the wire from the girls, but both boys are getting pretty smart. If I'm going out to the garden or doing chores, I can walk feet from the rabbits without making them nervous. The second I pick up a net to try and catch them, they know. And take off for the nearest hiding place. My little renegade rabbits. Perhaps they will wander back into the pen when they get hungry. Perhaps you'll see them hopping about the next time you visit!


I'm open to suggestions for naming my all-black mischief maker. (Houdini is out, as another rabbit is already called that.) If I get a good one, I'll reward you with something tasty from the farm stand!   

 
 

The Delaware Chicken Experiment Results

As promised, the results are in on our heritage chicken experiment!  Normally, our Cornish-Rock hybrid chickens are processed at 7 or 8 weeks of age, but our Delaware rooster was about 7 months old.  Because of this, we wanted a cooking method to keep the meat nice & tender, so grilling was out!  Dan had been looking to try poaching a chicken, so we decided that a big pot of water could only help keep our bird from getting tough. The water came to a boil, and in went our chicken along with a variety of garden vegetables and homegrown herbs.  After chores were finished we settled down to a feast.  I'm always excited when most or all of the food on the table is produced right here at the farm.  In this case, the only non-farm products were the salt & pepper, the butter for the sweet corn, and the sour cream used on the potatoes.  Not 100% farm raised, but pretty darn close!  So we dig in to the chicken, and I noticed that the dark meat was super tough, but with an awesome chicken flavor.  The legs were even tougher than expected, but these guys were truly free range, running all over the garden and backyard for months.  Note to self: if we do this again, a smaller pen may be in order!  However, dipped in my homemade Lemon-Sage Wine Mustard, it was still great.  Then we tried the breat meat, and the texture was totally different.  I have never tasted such tender, flavorful meat.  Growing up on store bought and fast food chicken, I never really understood what real chicken flavor was, and although our broilers do taste like real chicken, the Delaware did even more so.  My father-in-law always said that his stewing hens (old layers no longer profitable to keep on the farm)  got their flavor from "years of contented living under their wings".  My Delaware must have had a content life because he was full of that flavor too! It was a great chicken dinner, complete with potatoes, the absolute last of this year's fresh sweet corn, along with some zucchini, cabbage and green beans.  I was stuffed and wanted nothing more than a nap, but it was off to the local county Extension Office as I'm serving on the Board of Directors (as well as the secretary of the group) and it was meeting night.

 

The final verdict on my experiment was this:  while he was delicious, he was also a little too tough to market for more than stew or dumplings for the most part.  Unfortunately, it's not going to be economically possible for us to offer them for sale.  This year we raised over 200 meat chickens, but had no more than 90 at any given the due to the (much) shorter time frame of raising the hybrids. I don't think we would have had the space for that many Delawares for that many months.  Also, a longer life span means more total feed for each bird, and just to cover our costs of feed alone would make for one pricey chicken.  But we are still looking to support heritage breeds.  We plan on raising turkeys again next year, and I am very interested in the Burbon Red and Dan would like to try the Royal Palm variety.  So perhaps that will be next year's adventure.

 
 
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