Pleasant Valley Farm

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

I have been most blessed to be welcomed, with open arms, into a new family of sorts lately. I shared the story of my pony, Sara, and how much she meant to me, but one blog entry couldn't possibly cover our whole story. Her story actually had a horrible beginning...she was one of over 30 Morgans who were rescued from starvation and death by a wonderful organization called the Equine Rescue League in Leesburg, Virginia. After I adopted Sara, I sent pictures back to show how well she was doing, and got a reply of thanks, and that it might help her son find a forever home too. Although I occasionally received a newsletter from them, and had contacted them a few times in the 20 years Sara and I were together (just to say she was doing well), I never really made personal connections, nor knew anything about what happened to the rest of the herd, including what became of her baby. When Sara passed, I let the ERL know, and gave them the link to the tribute I had posted here. It was forwarded to the ERL's Facebook, and Amanda, who manages that page, had actually adopted two of the Stafford County Morgans, as the group was known. One had passed, but the other is alive and well. Her friend Tara has three as well, and she kindly offered to let me meet the group, as the herd was related many times over, she called them Sara's “cousins”. I asked if anyone knew anything about Sara's son- what happened, if he was still alive, if he had had a good life. I told her if it was possible that I would love to see a picture. Upon further communication, Tara's three horses turned out to be Sara's full brother, her niece, and in an amazing twist of fate, her son Gus. He gives lessons to young girls at her horse sanctuary and looks so much like his mom it brought tears to my eyes. They also pieced together the fact my Sara had not one, but two colts before she came to me. A picture of the younger one, Sammy, has been found, although it seems where he went is at present time unknown. I guess Sara wanted me to find her family, and it's been amazing the way these women have reached out and embraced me despite the fact we've never even spoken on the phone to each other. Our bond is having our lives graced by a very special group of horses. My personal Facebook page is blowing up with pictures of these special Morgans. Amazingly, they are not all that far from Tom & Betty, so I look forward to the day I can visit in person and meet these special horses and humans. I know Sara will always live on in my heart, and I can't wait to share more of her story with them, and hear the stories of Gus, Mia, Justin, Flower, Disco, and all the other Morgans who are my special girl's relatives.
 
 

First Cutting

 A very important thing happened over the weekend...we put up our first cutting of hay! The weather was perfect for enough days for us to cut the entire upper hay field, as well as part of the field by the neighbor's woodline. Dan and the horses cut the hay Wednesday and Thursday, and by Friday it was raked and dried, and we were ready to put the “new” John Deere hay loader to the test. Dan and I were very excited to see how it would work out in the field. I was so excited, I snapped this picture of the first hay coming up onto the wagon.


Considering the hay loader hadn't been used in over 60 years, this was pretty exciting to see. There were a few bugs to work out and bolts to tighten, but that was expected. Overall, it worked wonderfully and, even making the necessary adjustments out in the field, Dan and I were able to put up 4 wagonloads that evening. Since the next day was Saturday, I was busy with customers at the stand, but Dan was able to do a bit more work on the hay loader to get it in perfect working order. To me, it's simply amazing the way he can look at a piece of equipment, and despite having no manual or prior experience with a machine like this, he's able to see what needs to be fixed and make it work. By the time I had closed up for the day, the hayloader was adjusted and the hay had been raked with the side-delivery rake. We put up a couple loads, and then help arrived. Dan's father, Tom, didn't want to miss the hay making fun, so he and Dan went back out into the field and put in a few more loads, bringing the day's total to six. The weather Sunday was great as well. Dan's brother Matt was here to help as well, so there wasn't really room for me on the wagon, leaving me the equally important jobs of photographer and person in charge of lunch. Here's a picture of them hard at work- Tom is driving the team, while Matt & Dan use three-tined hay forks to move the hay forward and pack it in for an even load.



All in all, we made 14 wagonloads of hay off the field. That is a very good yield, and we're expecting to make another cutting later this summer. While we were also hoping to make hay off of the other field, we just didn't have time to do it all, and Monday brought rain, ruining the hay. But it was the least nice of all the hay, so it was the last priority. Just mowing the field was good for it though, so perhaps we'll still be able to make the second cutting from it also. Even without that hay, we still have a barn full. This is just one side- and we put hay in both mows. The picture shows Tom forking the last of the hay off into the mow, after the trolley system had done most of the reloading. And having Tom in the picture gives you an idea of how very large the haystacks are!



To a farmer, there are few things as exciting or important as getting the hay in. The amount & quality of the hay determine how many animals we'll be able to support over the winter. On our farm, it's also one of the major keys to the sustainability of our methods...we use the horses to power the machinery to make the hay. We feed the hay back to the horses as they provide the power for our fields. The horses turn the hay into manure, which is used to enrich both hay fields and gardens. In a system like this there is no waste. No exhaust fumes, no need to buy foreign gasoline or expensive and toxic chemical fertilizers. It's why, to me, even though it's always 90+ degrees, doing hard and sweaty and dusty work in the sun, haymaking is a beautiful thing. And nothing smells like summer goodness to me like a barn full of freshly cut hay. If I could find a way to bottle it, I would!  

 
 

Being a Teamster

 When you hear the word teamster, what springs to mind?  Unions?  Jimmy Hoffa?  Big 18-wheeler trucks hauling freight down the interstate?  (And yes, I am going somewhere farm-related with this...)

Originally, a teamster was one who drove a team of horses.  Someone who made their living with a set of reins in hand.  Back before tractors and big rigs, there were big horses.  They were used to plow the fields and to pull wagons, loaded with goods, from town to town.  Interestingly enough, the word “teamster” stuck with the freight haulers, but not the farmers when hooves were replaced with steel.  So today, most Americans think of teamsters as truckers, but it is also a word proudly used by the small but dedicated group of people who choose to farm with horses, like Dan and I.  Being a teamster, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, is really a dying art, although it does seem to be making somewhat of a comeback with the increases in both interest in sustainable farming practices, and also the cost of diesel fuel.  Being an old-fashioned teamster AND a woman is rarer yet.  And while I certainly am no expert (I won't even think about working the horses if Dan isn't home, just in case), I do take great joy in helping to do some of the real work of the farm with those lines in my hand.

Two weeks ago, Dan spent a good part of the weekend walking behind the plow.  This weekend, we finished the rest of the soil prep.  So on Saturday, Dan harnessed up the horses and ran the disc and harrow.  Both of these machines break up the large clods turned over by the plow into smaller, more workable pieces.   Next comes the cultipacker.  It's like a big roller with a seat above.  You ride it, and it basically smashes the remaining small clods.  It is my absolute favorite piece of machinery to run.  Probably because it was the first piece I ever drove without Dan being right next to me.  That, and it's hard to mess up.  If you miss a spot, you can go back and catch it on the next pass.  If you go over the same spot twice, it's fine.  But of course, it's a point of pride to try and have those rows straight and even, and doing it efficiently means you spend less time doing it, which is important too, since there is never enough time in the day to get everything done on a farm, especially in spring.  Having grown up riding horses (I met my horse just before my 12th birthday), I'm quite used to a set of reins in my hands.  But there is something different when you're driving a team.  I'm not sure if it is because you're controlling them in a different way- using only voice and pressure from the lines as opposed to the subtle ways all your muscles communicate when astride- or if it's the size thing.  I love Dixie & Dolly, I often feed them, bring them inside the barn, clean their stalls...I'm very comfortable working around them.  But they are big.  Really big.  Their backs are at least as tall as the top of my head when I stand next to them, and at 5'4', I'm not terribly short.  Their feet are literally as big as dinner plates.  We estimate their weight to be somewhere between 1800-2000 pounds.  Each.  There is incredible power in those muscles, and especially as a novice teamster, I'm very aware of that when I take up the reins.  

But through generations of breeding and hours of training, the horses really do seem to understand, even enjoy, their job.  When we got to the end of a row, almost before I changed the pressure on the reins to tell them to turn, Dixie & Dolly were already moving to turn the cultipacker.  When it works, it is amazing...a feeling of two horses, a person, and some otherwise lifeless equipment, all moving as one through the field, with the smell of fresh spring soil everywhere.  It's almost magical.  There really is a sense that we are all taking pride in our work, all three of us.  Heads up, backs straight, we move together across the freshly turned earth, preparing it for another spring of new life, and another season of producing real food.  Using many of the simple, effective, and sustainable methods that American farmers used for generations, when small family farms were the norm, and not the exception.  Except for the neighbors driving by in cars and my purple plastic sunglasses, it could be a scene from 1912 as easily as 2012.   

But of course, as easy as it is to be charmed into that daydream by the creak of leather and the jingle of metal, I snap out of it soon enough, when Dixie tries biting Dolly again on another turn, or when the pair of them want to go too fast across the field.  Make no mistake, for all the idyllic splendor of the scene, it is real work.  But the kind of work that leaves you with both tired muscles and a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.  It makes me proud of what we do, and just as importantly, how we do it.

 

 
 

101 Things to Do With a Tractor

One of the things we're known for, and a point of pride for us, is that we do all our field work and hay making with a team of draft horses.  For us, this is truly what "sustainable" is all about; the horses help us to make the hay in the summer that will sustain them all winter, and we use the manure to naturally enrich the soil of our farm the way nature intended.  They are born here and trained here- our mare Dolly is a 3rd generation Pleasant Valley Farm Belgian!  It's definitely a commitment not taken lightly:  the horses actually require more care in the winter, when a tractor can be parked.  Using horsedrawn equipment can be a challenge to find or to maintain, as some pieces we use are nearly 100 years old and parts aren't readily available.  For us though, it is a labor of love and I wouldn't trade Dixie & Dolly for a John Deere, no matter what its retail value might be.

However, we choose to work horses, and unlike the Amish, aren't bound by any restrictions against changing that choice if we feel like it on any given day.  So this weekend was a bit of a noisy one, as Dan and his brother Matt rented a tractor from the neighboring Builder's Supply store.  I asked Dan and he said the real name of the machine would be a compact escavator, or a compact backhoe would also be acceptable.  I'm not really up on the names of construction equipment, so Dan knew if he didn't tell me otherwise I'd probably end up calling it the "orange diggy thing"  or something like it!

 I'm amazed at the number of people who comment that the work must really be winding down, because on a farm work never really slows, it just changes form.  Right now we're putting our energy to building repair, maintenance,  and winterization.  A few different projects got lumped together for tractor time this weekend.  The scooper on the front of the tractor saved my back and arms from wheeling loads of gravel from the pile by the road to the house.  We're putting a gravel floor in the basement, and I'll be excited to have that space available to use someday soon.  Then the next project was digging a ditch and installing a French drain behind the barn, then filling the ditch with gravel.  One problem that occurs whenever we get heavy rain or a significant snowmelt is that water will come into the barn, leaking between the barnstones that form the foundation and into the horses' stalls. That project went very well, the most difficult part was keeping the cows from sneaking past into the haymow for an all-you-can-eat lunch! The rest of the gravel was spread over the parking lot, so neither we nor our customers will be stepping out of our vehicles into mud puddles anymore!  It was great; 3 projects down and 21 tons of gravel moved with minimal hand work.  

The milk house between the barn and the road recently received a new steel roof, (the goats had put holes in the shingles) and next up is to repair the part of the block wall that has fallen in, so the orange diggy...I mean compact backhoe... was taken around the barn to dig out behind the wall.  The angles of the building itself, the corncrib and barn, and the slope of the hill made it a bit tough, but it will be less hand digging now for that project.  I suggested using it to move some of the mud & muck that has accumulated near the gate by the barn and that went well.  The gate is near what we call the "lower part" of the barn, which is primarily used as a run-in shed where pastured animals can get out of the elements.  The problem is where animals congregate, manure happens.  Since that area is dirt, you tend not to notice how much has ended up  there, decomposing and becoming part of the soil, until it reaches a point where water no longer flows past but rater is retained in all that organic material, creating a terrible mess to trudge through while doing chores.  Not something that was crucial on the to-do list of the farm, but while we had the tool to make it a quick project, it just made sense to make life a little easier.  Also, a little drainage ditch was put in to ease the giant mud puddle that forms on the lane through the barnyard down by the road. To me, it seems like when you get access to some new piece of machinery, especially when you pay for it, you can think of 101 projects you'd like to get done before that time is up!

It was a very productive weekend for us, and I'm really thankful Matt came and helped us out so much while I was waiting on the stand.  It's wonderful to have all these projects  well underway or completely finished.  (Believe me, on a farm with numerous 100+ year old buildings, there are always more things you'd like to do than you ever have time or money for!)  However,  we will be completely content to return the tractor and go back to the real horse-powered life.

 
 

Old Horse, New Tricks

Yesterday was a busy day here.  We needed to move around some of the livestock as the trailer from our processor, Hirsch's Meats, was coming to pick up a cow, a couple of pigs, and the first of our spring lambs.  Dan and I had already moved the pigs from their tractor to a pen in the barn, but it was my job to get the sheep and Louie, the cow into the barn.  Louie wasn't hard as he eagerly followed the sound of a scoop full of feed into the barn. Emotionally it was harder than anything else though.  Louie has been here since early January of 2009, when he was just a weanling calf.  He was a character and I'll really miss seeing him, but that is the nature of raising beef.  I try to content myself with knowing I gave him a good and happy life while he was here, and that it was the complete opposite of the lives led by most cows destined for beef who must endure feedlot conditions.

Physically, rounding up the sheep was the most difficult part of the process.  Our sheep have been roaming 20+ acres of pasture all summer.  Being completely self-sufficient makes them much less tame than during the winter when they look to us for food.  They are also usually up in the far reaches of the pasture, so I don't have the daily interaction of feeding them treats.  I figured if I could just get the whole flock into the little paddock by the barn, Dan and I could pick out which lambs we would send.  So I walk off to find my sheep, armed with a small white bucket filled with feed and cookies.  This wasn't part of the usual routine, so the sheep started to run away.  Except Rosa.  She is one of the oldest ewes in the flock and is so tame she is somewhat of a pest at times.  But I was grateful she accepted my offer of snacks and as we began to walk towards the barn, the other sheep began to follow. I got Rosa and one of her twin lambs into the paddock, but the rest of the flock just wouldn't follow.  The more I tried to herd them through the gates, the more agitated they became until all of them ran back into the pasture, including Rosa.  I figured I would let them calm down and try again a bit later.  Later even Rosa ran and wanted no part of my cookies.  I needed to move them, I needed to do it in the next couple of hours, and at that time I was really wishing for a well-trained Border Collie or something that could help me.

I went back to the barn, where the horses were.  In addition to the work horses, Dan and I also have a miniature named Ponyboy (bought as a pet soon after our wedding)  and I have a Morgan mare named Sara.  Sara has been a part of my life for many years now.  She was 6 when I adopted her from a humane society and she is celebrating her 25th birthday tomorrow.  (Yes, that's correct-25 people years!)  Although 25 is retirement age for most horses, Sara hasn't slowed down much at all.  We've only started to train her to work in harness the past few years. She's descended from government-bred calvary horses, some of whom lived well into their 40's and I hope I am that lucky with her.  Giving her new tasks to do or new trails to ride truly seems to keep her young.  So I threw a saddle on my pony, tied a lasso to the horn and headed outside.  I left the barn door open because at this point I didn't care if I caught the sheep in the barn or the paddock.

Now I am no cowboy and Sara is no roping horse.  I didn't really think I would rope a sheep, the lasso was more to wave in the air to scare them in the direction I wanted them to go.  I tied it to the horn because it was raining and I didn't want to have to stop and get off if I dropped it!  Sara hasn't been ridden much at all this year, and like most horses she'd rather not go off by herself leaving her herdmates in the barn.  Plus I'd never herded anything on horseback so she had no idea what we were doing riding around in the rain in the pasture.  I tried to get her to trot, but she wanted to buck every time I got her out of her foot-dragging walk.  Once I got around behind the sheep, we were pointed back towards the barn and she was much happier to get up.  Things were going really well and I was quite proud of our work.  The sheep were thinking about going into the barn, and I figured this would be easy until Ponyboy, who had gotten himself loose, came blasting out of the barn, whinnying and chasing the sheep back into the pasture with glee.  I was so mad!!  I rode into the barn, shut the door and tied Ponyboy up very short. Now the sheep are back out in the pasture (for the 3rd time of the day) and are pretty spooked by all this action.  Sara, by this point, seemed to have grasped the work at hand and was eager to move quickly for me.  We got behind the flock again and pushed them into the barnyard.  They were even down by the gate to the paddock, but this was the tricky part.  Not only were the sheep scattered between a few pieces of machinery, the gates are located near the corner of our workshop building.  As the sheep headed back towards the hog house, Sara and I raced around the backside of the building to cut them off.  They turned, but I couldn't let them get up past the barn either, so back around the shop we would go at nearly full speed.  This happened multiple times.  At this point Sara was really seeming to have fun; she would get impatient when we had to stand for more than a minute or two.  It's like we were playing a game and she had just figured out the rules.  (If this sounds like too much credit to give to a horse's brain power, all I have to say is that you've never met Sara!)  At what seemed like long last, Rosa moved through the gate into the paddock.  She may have remembered the feed I had dumped on the grass earlier as sheep-bait when I was still working on foot.  One by one, then two by two, the rest of the flock followed.  Sara and I ran up to shut the gate and finish the job.  By now, both of us were soaked from the past hour's intermittent rain showers, so we went into the barn where I unsaddled her and gave her a few cookies as a thanks for her cooperation.

 

 Who says you can't teach an old horse new tricks?!?

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How We Roll

I'm commonly asked how we control weeds if we don't use pesticides.  The rototiller and hand weeding between plants are the main tasks once the plants are up.  For other veggies, like peppers & tomatoes, we put down a thin layer of black plastic, called mulch, and then make small holes to put the transplants in.  The black plastic absorbs the sun's warmth, heating the soil surrounding the roots up more quickly, but since light doesn't pass through, weeds don't grow underneath it.  The past two season Dan and I have put it down by hand, stretching it tight and straight before heaping dirt along all sides so it won't blow away in the wind.  This year we wanted longer rows, and frankly, putting it down can be a real pain, especially if even a tiny bit of wind kicks up.

Shortly before the farm went on hiatus, Dan and his family purchased a piece of horse drawn equipment called a plastic mulch layer.  It holds a large roll of plastic as well as a roll of drip tape, which goes underneath to provide irrigation.  There is a seat and a foot pedal which can be used to turn the wheels in case the horses step aside, since it's pretty important to keep the row of plastic as straight as possible. There are also two discs in the back to cover the sides of the plastic as you go along so it won't blow away. It had only been used a year or two, and besides the cobwebs from being stored in the barn, is practically new.


 The trickiest part was remembering how to thread everything through the rollers, but once that was finished  the job went very quickly.  I've been wanting to learn to operate more of the equipment this year, so I got to drive.  Once Dan covered the end of the plastic with some garden soil for a little tension, we put it in gear and away we went!  Overall, it was fairly straight...good enough that we didn't have to pull it up and do it over!  Although I'm getting much better at driving the team, this was absolutely my first time steering with my feet and hands at the same time, and it took a bit to get used to the feeling!  The plastic and drip line were cut, we turned around, centered the freshly tilled row, and Dan again covered the end.  Getting the hang of it a bit more, it was much straighter this time.  I was excited to learn about a new piece of our equipment, and was wishing just a bit that we needed to put down more than two rows.  I know it's pretty unusual for a non-Amish family to farm with horses, even more so for young farmers.  Also, few teamsters (originally the word referred to those working horses, not driving trucks) are women, so I'm both excited and proud to be one of those few.


The view from the driver's seat is pretty neat, don't you think? 

 
 

I know where the goats are!

Since summer is fading and winter is on its way, lots of plant life is heading into its dormant state.  This includes the grasses in the pasture, so at this point in the year, the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence.  Some of the critters are quick to realize this, and it creates a bunch of fencing problems.  I think to make an absolutely goat-proof fence, your farm would look like a prison...10 foot high chain link fence topped with razor wire just might do the trick!  The goats, even the ones weighing nearly 200 lbs, can squeak through a hole 8 inches square in the woven wire.  If they can't find a hole, they can create one if determined enough.  These days, the destination of choice is the topmost hay field.  We don't really care if they eat it at this point; we're not cutting any more hay, and there is quite a bit of quality feed there.  So they are eating for free and not doing any damage.  Unfortunately, this field borders the road running past our house.  There is no fence at the property line at the road's edge.  Now our road is not terribly busy.  It is a small secondary road which doesn't even have lines painted on it. My father-in-law still laments it's not dirt like it was when the Stevenson family purchased the farm. So it amazes me how many times a day someone will stop by the house to inform us that the goats are loose. It's almost always when we're in the middle of something that is hard to stop in the middle of, like grinding sausage. While good fences are said to make good neighbors, I guess bad ones mean meeting more of the neighbors!

The other problem is Dixie, one of our Belgian draft horses.  To give you an idea of how big she is, picture a horse whose back is over 5 feet off of the ground, is about 1750 lbs of muscle, and whose hoof prints are about the size of a dinner plate.  Her trick is to walk up to the fence when she spies a tasty patch on the other side, and use her large hooves to stomp down the woven wire and just walk across.  This works really well for her until it snaps back up with her front feet on one side and her back feet on the other, with the fence now running under her belly.  At this point she will realize she is stuck and calmly stay there until we find her in the course of morning chores.  (She almost always does this at night.) It is an easy fix; Dan will walk up to her, bend down the fence and help her pick up her feet high enough to back into the pasture.  The fence is inspected and tightened, the whole process takes only a minute or two.  The problem is when we don't find her!  One night, after a long day when bed was going to feel really good, a truck pulls in just as soon as we had retired for the night.  A young man came up to the porch to let us know that he was spotlighting for deer and had seen our "Clydesdale all wrapped up in barbed wire".  He probably thought that she was injured and in danger, so he seemed confused when we didn't get too excited about it.  We thanked him, Dan went out and freed Dixie, and I'm sure she was grateful she didn't spend the whole night in the fence.  Another time we had an archery hunter knock on the door before it was even all the way light out to let us know she was in the fence.  I told him we'd take care of it right away, but that she did this all the time and I was sure she wasn't hurt.  The hunter then let me know he had thought about cutting our fence to free her but then thought maybe he should see if anyone was home first.  I thanked him for that because I would have been furious if the fence had been cut; we probably wouldn't have known about it until the horses or cows went through the hole and we found them in the cornfield or wandering up the road.  Plus fence is expensive, not to mention time consuming, to replace! If you want to get on a farmer's bad side, cutting up fence without permission is a great way to start.  Farmers also don't want strangers trying to "rescue" the animals either.  We know our animals and they know and trust us and generally they will cooperate.  A stranger coming up to them when they are stuck in a fence can excite the animal, and no one wants to see the animal or the person hurt if the creature struggles. 

So, if you are driving by Pleasant Valley Farm and the goats are in the open field, don't worry, they are ok. You'll just get a better view of them as you pass.  We probably know where they are, so you don't need to stop to tell us unless they have migrated to somewhere dangerous, i.e. there are 15 goats wandering down the road looking for rosebushes or fall decorations to eat!  If you see a horse straddling the fence, by all means let us know, but don't think we don't care about our animals when we don't get too worked up.  It's just Dixie, she's fine and we'll have her back where she needs to be in no time.  And before too long, the snow will be covering everything, so nothing will look greener, even the grass on the other side of the fence!

 
 

Runaway!

On Tuesday, our neighbobr stopped by to ask if he could used our recently cut hayfield to work his new team of Haflingers, a small draft horse breed.  We had no problem with that, and shortly thereafter we saw them in the field.  The ponies seemed to be working well pulling a small two wheeled cart, and after watching for a minute or two, Dan and I went back to our evening chores.  I was harvesting salad greens in the garden about an hour later when I heard our neighbor commanding his horses to "whoa" loudly and repeatedly.  He was standing beside the wagon, and soon the horses got so upset that they took off running at full speed, luckily leaving him behind in the field.   They started running toward the road, and the wagon began to bounce high in the air behind them, and I could hear the sound of equipment breaking from a long way off.  The field ends and there is a 4 ft drop to the road, so the ponies swerved and started heading toward our barn.  When they came to the large wooden pasture gate they tore through our cornfield and back up into the field where they started.  At this point I ran to get Dan and we took the truck up to that part of the field to see how we could help.  Our neighbor is older and our first concern was that he wasn't hurt.  At first we though the ponies had run back to their barn, but as we rounded the bend in the road, we saw them at the far side of the field, against the fence where they had gotten stuck.  We parked the truck and began walking to avoid scaring the ponies, and let our neighbor walk up to them.  Then Dan helped to unhook them and drove them back to the barn while our neighbor caught his breath.  One of the ponies has a cut on his back leg but they were otherwise unhurt.  After returning the ponies, we took the truck around the fields and collected the pieces of the wagon and surveyed the damage to the corn field.  Luckily, they made only one pass through and stayed to the perimeter, as the corn in thoer path was destroyed.  We were also thankful that they didn't run through any of the fences.  We returned the wagon pieces and tried to piece together what happened.  The ponies were 3 and 4 years old andhad only been hitched to a wagon twice before.  They could have gotten spooked by something no one else noticed, maybe they were just fed up after an hour of work, or possibly something on the cart broke before they ran away.  All I know is that it really makes you aware of how dangerous a large animal can be and that even with a trusted team like our Belgians, one must always be aware of what is going on at all tiles to avoid being seriously hurt. 

Hope, our Boer/Saanen cross female, had twins last night, bringing our total to 11kid goats born this month!  We have had some torrential rain this week, and although Dan found them safe and sound in the barn last nigh as he was shutting in chickens, I haven't seen the babies yet.  The rain looks to be letting up so I am headed out there now.  The other babies are doing wonderfully, I truly think there is nothing cuter in the world than to see them playing and running about in the barnyard! 

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Cultipacking and other farm adventures

I did my first fieldwork with the horses by myself!  Dan was finishing planting the hay field when I got home from work last week.  As he was sick of spending so much time up there, I got to drive the cultipacker.  It's like a big roller that presses the seeds into the ground just enough so they can sprout.  Dixie and Dolly, our Belgians, have gotten used to the rhythms of field work again this spring and were wonderful to work with. They are a mother (Dixie) and daughter (Dolly) team and both were born, raised and trained at the farm.  It's an amazing feeling to be out there working with them.  I look forward to doing more, possibly with my horse, this weekend.  It's supposed to be near 80 degrees and sunny.

Our seedlings are doing so well we'll be transplanting to larger pots this weekend.  We'll use peat pots and put them out under floating row cover when they start to outgrow these new pots.  We've done a little planting outside- spring onions, a few potatoes and Dan transplanted garlic so he could plow the garden last week.  I started to move the hay off of some of my herbs as well- the hay was starting to sprout!  This is my first year overwintering them and I am simply amazed at how well they've done.  I have so much green oregano I could make a great pasta sauce if my tomatoes were more than 2" seedlings!  The chives look great, I may have to try them on a baked potato if we grill out this weekend.  My sage seems to be coming back, as does the thyme and the lemon basil is huge!  It must not be directly related to real basil as that died at the first nip of frost last fall.

The rhubarb is well on its way up and will be ready for harvesting soon.  We have 2 great patches that produce the nicest you'll find anywhere.  I don't bake, so I have lots for sale if anyone out there is interested!!

Butchering went very well, other than running out of pepper for some of the sausage.  We let the sausage marinate in the spices for a day or two before grinding anyway, so I was able to fix it.  But I'm so happy to have a freezer full of pork again! We do have a a limited amount of extra sausage, chops and roasts for sale if anyone is interested.  Mmmm...pork chops on a charcoal grill...

 
 

Butchering time is here again...

It's a beautiful spring day here in Pennsylvania.  I'm looking forward to a productive weekend on the farm. 

My husband's parents are kind enopugh to help us with the butchering of our hogs, so I am looking forward to seeing them this weekend.  We are doing 5 hogs this weekend, so I'm not sure whether I'll be grilling pork chops for dinner or if we'll all want chicken!  This will be my 3rd time helping with this particular farm activity, and since we send the piggies to a USDA facility for slaughter, the sides of meat we pick up from Hirsch's don't look like any creature I'm used to feeding.  That makes it a bit easier for a new to farming girl like me. (I never even had a vegetable garden until I met my husband...my mom can't believe that I pluck my own chickens now!)  This will also be the first time I'll be doing hogs that were born on the farm...the last 2 times we raised up feeder pigs that we bought.  I am looking forward to this weekend though, my freezer was quickly emptying after a long winter.  I am excited to make sausage this time.  I was let in on the 2 "secret family recipes" for sausage, a brown sugar breakfast type and a sage variety, and as a cook I can never just follow the recipe without trying to make my own adjustments.  I grew my first ever herb garden last year and dried some sage that I'm excited to used in the sausage.  If it turns out well, I'll use it in all the sage sausage we make and sell in the future, but for now I'm only going to try it with what my husband and I will be eating.  Lucky for me, he really enjoys sage, so if it comes out a little strong it won't go to waste.

We also have 15 adorable little piglets that will be 2 weeks old this weekend.  Our 2 sows, Fern and Charlotte (yes, the boar's name is Wilbur...I'm a family literacy teacher by day so some of the creatures get literary names) have done a great job with thier piglets, both this time and with the last litters.  We give our piglets iron shots at 3 and 10 days of age to make sure they don't become anemic.  I was happy to finish that up last night.  Char is as sweet as can be and makes some noise when you handle the babies, but dosen't cause any trouble.  Fern, on the other hand, well, you have to admire her motherly instinct.  On the other hand I really don't want a 350 lb sow biting me for trying to handle the babies.  So what works for us is to lure her just outside the hog house with a little feed and shut the door!  We can quickly give the babies the care they need, clean out the pen and no one gets hurt.  She's ready to come back in when the door is opened. 

Other than that, I plan to keep up the spring cleaning and help Dan in the fields if possible this weekend.  He hopes to finish up planting the hayfield today before I get home.  This weekend is the opening day of trout season in PA, which means lots of campers and former customers will be driving by.  It always amazes me how many people will stop on the road so they can talk to you...I guess seeing someone working a team of horses in the field dosen't register to most people as work, but rather something you do for fun.  It sure makes it hard to have a productive day though.  We bought a work collar and adjusted a harness to will fit my little Morgan mare, Sara.  I hope to try and work her in the garden this weekend. (it dosen't border the road!)  She is my baby, I adopted her from a rescue society when she was 6 and I'm proud to say she is an unbelieveably healthy 23 now.  I hope to teach her to do some light field work to keep her in shape as I don't get to ride as much as I used to. She's been a 4-H show horse, a trail horse, a pet that didn't get ridden when I was away at college, we taught her to pull a buugy and sleigh in the past few years, now it's time for something new for both of us!

 
 
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