Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Baby Time Returns

It's a gloomy, soggy way to end February today.  I'm kind of surprised there are not ducks swimming in the backyard today, as there is enough standing water there (and I've seen them do it before!).  But grey days like this always seem a bit cheerier when there are babies about, and we've gotten the spring baby season underway!


Nutmeg was the first mama of the year, and she had this healthy ram lamb.  Her twin sister, Rosa had the most recent lamb, this one a girl.


 For some reason, even though they are twin sisters, and both black themselves, Nutmeg virtually always has white lambs, and Rosa's are almost always colorful.  Never all black, quite a few have had white on their head like this girl.  She even had a speckled brown and white lamb one year!  Baby lambs are just about the most adorable  things you'll ever see.  Once they get steady on their feet, they jump and twirl around their mamas in the lambing pens.  (We keep them inside for the first week or two to watch both mama and baby for any health issues, and to keep the lambs out of the cold or wet weather.)

And it's not just the sheep who are multiplying around here, we also have baby rabbits!  Murphette had a litter yesterday.  They are snug and warm in the nest she made from hay and her own fur.  I knew the big day had come when I saw the fluff moving ever so slightly inside her pen.  It's not quite picture time for the bunnies yet...they are born with their eyes closed and are nearly bald, so we'll wait a week or two for their photo shoot! 

We're also beginning to save chicken eggs to set in the incubator this week.  We'll set the eggs at the end of the week, and three weeks later we anticipate chicks! Our Bourbon Red tom turkeys are gobbling and strutting pretty much continuously now, and the hens are starting to pay attention, so turkey breeding season is upon us as well.  I expect to begin getting eggs from the turkeys in 2 weeks or so, and the poults will hatch four weeks later.  The geese are squawking and fighting now as well, but we'll let them make their own nests and hatch the goslings.  Experience has taught us that it is very hard to hatch the goose eggs in the incubator successfully because of the high humidity requirements, so we'll just let nature take its course.

We've got the sprout house completed, and back up fluorescent lighting in the house for the seedlings  in case of cold or gloomy weather.  We've already got flats of tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, eggplant, and a wide variety of herbs planted, and I will be starting more flats of other veggies next week.  We also started dismantling the large greenhouse frames yesterday.  I am so excited to set up our new one!  The old greenhouses were a bit of an eyesore, so I'm happy to get them down at last and recycle the frames into a new 65' growing space for earlier tomatoes, peppers and such.  Between babies and seedlings, it is really starting to feel like spring is here!


Springing Ahead

Did you remember to set your clocks ahead this weekend?  Another welcome sign that spring's coming, but I hate it.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy having more daylight in the evenings, but I hate the out of sync feeling you have for a few days.  It also makes the evening chores weird- this time of year we start about 4:30 PM, which gives us enough time to feed everything as well as take care of any unexpected tasks- think fixing the French drain that iced over and caused water to leak into the barn again or fixing the electric fence because Wilbur the boar hog is trying to get loose.  So the critters are used to eating about 4:30-5:00.  They have their own routines, and instinctively know it's time to eat.  The horses will whinny from inside the barn when they hear footsteps (somehow they can tell human from cow, goat, etc!)  The cows return from the far reaches of the pasture to wait by the barn for their hay.  So for them, we bump chores "back" by an hour after the change, which means that in reality they are eating just when they expect, but it always throws me off for a few days. 

Tomorrow I'm going to DuBois, PA for a grazing conference.  One of the nice things about not working, besides all the wonderful stuff I get to do here, is that I can now go to some of the seminars and workshops to see how other folks farm and how I might improve what we do here.  This grazing workshop is really the first one I'll be going to, and I'm excited.  While grazing may not be the most engaging topic ever, it's so important to what we do.  That being said, I'll admit that my main reason for going is the keynote speaker, Temple Grandin.   For those who've never heard of her, Temple is an autistic woman who also has a doctorate in Animal Science.  She's renown for her ability to understand animals and has been instrumental in reshaping slaughterhouses across the country to make the handling of the animals there more humane and less stressful.  In my "previous life" before farming, I earned a Master's in Social Work and did work with autistic kids.  I also loved animals and one day came across Ms. Grandin's book called Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.  It was fascinating and a wonderful read, even for those with little knowledge of livestock or autism.  It gives a lot of insight into animal intelligence, and even why dogs do what they do.  In the meantime, I've heard hers is such a remarkable story that there's even a movie about her out now!  So I'm really excited to go and listen and learn tomorrow.

These is so much going on here at the farm as well!  We're seeing signs of new growth all over the place.  The rhubarb is pushing tiny crimson buds through the soil, and there are deep purple, fern-like shoots in the horseradish patch.  The herb garden perennials are coming back to life as well- an inspection this weekend revealed new leaves on the sage, oregano, and lemon balm, as well as new shoots of chives, already 2" tall!  Inside, I've got cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and herbs sprouting in the flats I planted, and so I now watch the outdoor temperatures to see when it's safe to set them out in the greenhouse for some good spring sunshine.  The pullets have begun to lay in earnest and we're beginning to save their eggs for hatching.  In fact, this time next week I hope to have chicks hatch!  

But possibly the most exciting news for me is that we have another lamb.  Now, once lambing season kicks off, it's not quite as exciting since you've been watching the woolly bundles of joy leap and play for some time now.  But this one is kind of special.  After the whole Sheepie tragedy I watched my other ewes for signs of anything amiss.  Unfortunately, another one of my young ewes seemed a little off within a week after Sheepie's death.  So we brought her in, caught it early, and seemed to get everything straight.  (At least that's what I thought. Dan wasn't entirely convinced that she was ill, but agreed that we should treat her anyway, as the medicine that treats is also used as a preventative.  Better safe than sorry and all that.)  I didn't blog about it, as it was just too hard emotionally to get so many notes of support, then lose the fight anyway the first time around.  However, this has a happy ending, as this ewe, Lisa, has been fine for a month now, but you never know about the baby.  This morning, before Dan left for work, he let me know that she'd lambed unassisted.  Just a single, but alive and healthy and both mom and baby were doing fine in a lambing jug in the barn.  I'm still out of whack, sleep-wise, and forgot to ask if it was a ewe or ram or if it was any color but white.  I went down to the barn to check on them later and found her to be pretty wary of me, although she did take a treat from me.  So I didn't bother to inspect the little one, as it seemed to be doing just fine, resting in the back corner of the lambing jug, and I hate to interfere with the bonding, especially with the younger ewes. Lisa is Rosa's daughter, and Rosa always seems to throw uniquely colored lambs.  Rosa is black, and has had lambs that were all black, black with white markings (esp. on the face & head), and last year the one I called "Speckles" because he was brown and white speckled all over (I so wanted him to be a ewe, so I could keep it instead of processing it in the fall!).  Lisa herself is black with a touch of white on the face, but Rosa's ewe lambs this year are both pure white. (Still adorable, but I do love the fun colored ones!)  So I was about in shock to see this little one...not white, or black, or even brown, but what seems to be a charcoal gray with white all over, which Dan totally failed to mention.  I'll be interested to see what it looks like when it's been dry for a few days, but really an eye-catching sheep.  And I hope it's a girl, since males don't stay nearly as long on the farm, but we'll just see...   


Lots of Excitement!

The weather here has been beatuiful, the mud is drying and we have even more beautiful farm babies!  Lambing season continues, we now have a total of 6 healthy little lambs...5 rams (boys) and one ewe.  Last years we fininshed the season with 4 ewes and only 2 rams, so I guess it's just the boys' year this time!  We also have three more ewes who we are watching closely, as they have yet to deliver.

Both our sows have delivered their piglets, with Fern giving birth a few days after Char.  We have a grand total of 19 healthy little piglets!  Wow!

The incubator is filling with eggs and our first chicks of the season will hatch next weekend.  I've missed the soft peeping of chicks, so I'm excited about that, too.  I also spotted the first goose egg of the season this week.  This goose found a nice spot under the rabbit cages in the back yard.  It's fairly out of the way, but I can watch from my kitchen window, so I'm hoping she sticks with this spot for hewr nest this year.  I noticed this location as I moved the bantam Japanese chickens from that rabbit cage back into their summer home.  It is a bottomless pen called a chicken tractor, and now that the snow has melted, I can put those birds back out on grass.  It sure is nice to see them in the yard again!

The plants are coming to life as well.  I noticed the first glimpses of crimson popping up through the mulch covering our rhubarb patches.  The blueberry bushes are showing little buds and it looks like my rosebush survuved the winter.  A few early leaves of green mark where the oregano, thyme and lemon balm are in the herb garden as well. The daffodils are poking up and I'm sure the forsythia and lilac bushes will be blooming soon, as the buds are starting to swell on the branches.

Besides all the spring excitement, I'm also looking forward to the Farm to Table conference set for next Friday & Saturday at the David L. Lawerence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.  While the cost of a table for the 2 days was a bit out of our farm's advertising budget this year, we belong to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, aka PASA.  They are featuring member farms and giving free samples of products at a table there, so I've already sent them a box of our jams and mustards.  Dan and I are planning on attending on Friday as well, and if all goes according to plan, we'll be at the PASA table when our farm is featured to answer questions and have some of our products to sell.  I think this is really neat, but I'm also just as excited to check out what other farms in our region are doing.  When I find out the actual time our farm is scheduled, I'll be sure to post it so that you can stop by and say hello if you're there!


Spring is in Full Swing

Although the weather is a bit gloomy, the rain did get rid of the snow.  Even though it's still muddy, at least the water has stopped coming in to the barn.  The hog house has stayed wonderfully dry with its new roof, which is great since we have so many new piglets!  Charlotte had her litter Thursday-11, a new record for her.  While we lost a few the first few days, if she raises these 8 it will still be a successful litter.  Her sister, Fern, gave birth last night.  She had a whopping 12, but 2 were stillborn, which often happens with such large litters.  Again, we're still thrilled.

We though there would be a lull in lambing season as the 4 ewes still outside are young and historically, the youngest give birth a bit later on into the spring months.  However, looking out my kitchen window into the pasture, there is a new lamb who will need to be brought into the nice warm barn before nightfall!  The other five are growing at a record pace, and we can't wait for the pasture to dry up a bit so we can let them out!

We are super busy inside the house too.  We had tons of home improvement projects on the to-do list to get done over the winter.  Spring is here, so we're trying to do as much as possible while it's still too muddy to plow.  Once the outdoor work of planting and field prep begins, major inside projects are pretty much on hold!


Rosa's Special Deliveries

Today brought lots of driving and a less than looked forward to meeting at my day job, so it was good to come home to more baby lambs.  Rosa, had been staying in the barn for the past 10 days or so, baa-ing for food whenever a person came or went.  It can be a bit frustrating, hoping for lambs daily and continuing to wait, but as Dan kept reminding me "they have to come out sometime!"  Today, we have another set of twins.  Rosa is my favorite ewe not only because she's friendly to the point of being a pest, but because her lambs are always just a bit different looking.  The first one I saw was black with a key-like white shape down her face, and last year she had black twins with bits of white markings.  So, before I changed into barn clothes, I asked Dan what the new twins looked like.  "One black, one white, both rams" he replied.  Rams mean boys, which means they won't be here past fall.  That's too bad, I thought out loud, disappointed that I wouldn't have a little ewe to keep as part of the permanent flock.  But Dan reminded me that we never speak negatively as long as there are healthy mammas and babies and the little ones are getting fed without a 2AM feeding from us.  I have to admit how very right he is.  

Upon entering the barn, Rosa began calling to me...or more specifically, to the cookies in my pocket.  I went over to check out our newest arrivals.  One is all black with a tuft of white wool on the crown of his head.  He looks much like his older siblings.  I looked a bit closer at his brother, for a minute I though his wool was still dirty, since being born can be messy.  No, not dirty...brown.  He's mostly white with brown rings around his eyes and brown across his back.  I've never seen a lamb like this before, either here or on any other farm.  Rambo, the father, is a pure white polled Dorset, and Rosa is all black and of uncertain breeding, but all other babies have been black with a touch of white on face or legs.  Some of the other ewes have had all white lambs with some black "freckles" across the muzzle too, and most sheep come out all white.  So he's unique.  And although the boys are newborns, they already are taller than the lambs in the next pen (who are also thriving and bouncing about!).  But most importantly, Rosa is feeding both.  Last year, she also had twins but only cared for one.  The little guy she rejected was also born blind.  While he was able to see just fine a week later, we had to bottle feed him.  I'd much rather feed mama a cookie and let her take care of all the late night and early morning feedings.  Plus a pocket full of cookies is far less expensive than a sack of milk replacer at the feed store!




Lambing Season is Here!

Our small flock of sheep has just increased by two!  We began the winter with 7 ewes and our ram.  Four of the ewes were born last year, so while they will probably lamb in the late spring, we won't look for that to happen until late April or sometime in May.  Of the other three, one is two years old, and the others, twin sisters, are what I like to refer to as the "senior ladies."  Their names are Nutmeg and Rosa.  If you've ever stopped by the farm and been mobbed by a black sheep looking for treats, that would be Rosa.  Nutmeg is a bit more reserved, but still fairly friendly.  She's been in a pen in the barn since last week.  We noticed her udder was filling up, a sure sign that lambs won't be far behind, so we penned her up where it is warm and dry.  She gave birth sometime last night, to two healthy lambs, one female and one male.  Here's a picture of them.  They are less than 18 hours old!


 Rosa is also looking like her udder is getting large, so we set up a second pen for her tonight.  I lured her into the barn with a bag of sheep bait...otherwise known as day-old bread from the local bakery outlet.  I gave Nutmeg a few slices as well as a treat for a job well done.  We're looking forward to even more lambs.  They're a sure sign that spring can't be too far behind, despite the blizzards we've seen lately!



Seedling Trauma and Stunt Pigs

Well, last Friday we planted a few seedlings in the garden.  Some of the heritage zucchini, squahes and melons were getting a bit crowded on the kitchen window sill.  We put down black fabric to cut down on weeding and put the plants in.  A gentle rain fell all night and the temperature stayed in the mid 60's.  Sounds like a great start...until the wind started on Saturday.  The black cloth ended up wrapped around the moveable rabbit pen at the edge of the garden.  I'm not sure how or if we'll get it back where it should be.  Plus last night was the 3rd night in a row we had to cover everything with floating row cover because of frost.  Happily, more than half of the seedlings appear to have survived their traumatic transplanting!! My flower bed and herbs seem to have weathered through well. Some of the potatoes got nipped a bit by the frost, but they'll be ok, and the rhubarb seems to be indestructible at this point.  It's beautiful but I just don't have enough time right now to be making anything with it.

Alicia, our only ewe born last year, had a little ram lamb on Monday.  She's a dedicated mother and he seems to be doing just fine. She was born last year the day after Mother's Day, and had her own baby the day after Mother's Day this year! It's been cold the past few nights, so I put a little fleece blanket on him.  I think it makes me feel better than the baby, but it surely isn't causing any harm.  I started making the "lammy jammies" this February when most of the lambs were born out of scraps of fleece material I found on discount at Wal-Mart along with a few clearance-priced buttons.  It sure beat the prices in the livestock supply catalogs, and they were custom fit.

We'll be weaning the piglets this weekend.  The sows are going a bit stir-crazy in thier pens. They both escaped out into the boar's run this weekend.  I would have loved to have seen the 450-lb sow climb over the 3 1/2 foot stall divider. Twice. Luckily, no pigs were hurt during this stunt.  The babies are also getting very good at pushing the hog house door open and escaping into the main barnyard and pasture if the door isn't shut VERY tightly.  A cinder block propped up on the outside works too.

  Dan is done with the plowing for the year.  There is still much fieldwork to be done before all the field corn is in, but everything is moving right along.  Tom, my father-in-law, is coming to help us out again this weekend so I'm hoping for clear skies! I am also hoping to work my horse a bit behind the harrow this weekend.  Dan has worked her a bit, but she's acting a bit barn sour and I think he's a little too easy on her when she starts to throw a fit.  But I am excited to get her used to her new harness.  We were at an auction and found a gorgeous show pony harness with both a collar and the ability to hook up to shafts for a buggy or sleigh for a price we could afford. When it was brought out, I was in love with it and was sure it would go too high, but it must have been meant to be!  It is beautiful and covered in metal dots which will be shiny once I find time to clean and oil it. When we tried it on Sara in the barn, it fit like it was custom made.  I only had to adjust one buckle on the whole thing! The leather is in fantastic shape, it's just got a good layer of dust accumulated on it.  It even came with an ornate piece of leather that fits over the hames and collar just for decoration.  I told her she'll look fancier than a Budwieser Clydesdale!  The only thing I was nervous about is that the bridle has blinders on it, which Sara has never worn.  However, Dan used the new bridle with the old harness last week and said she acted like she'd worn them all her life.  Now if I can just get her used to the straps around her hind end without a royal kicking fit...



Hello to everyone online!  I've never blogged before, so please be gentle :)

Signs of spring are popping up everywhere on the farm these days.  This morning, we have a new litter of baby bunnies! A quick check of the nest box revealed 4 new ones, but there may be more hiding in the "hair coccoon"...I'll be checking better tonight to make sure everyone's ok, but I didn't want to upset momma too much this morning.  She's a first time mom and I always get nervous that they won't take good care of the babies.  We've had good luck with the rabbits so far though, this is the third litter this spring and all have been successful so far...

So far this year we've also had 5 Dorsett cross lambs born (3 black and 2 white!) and 3 Boer kids.  We have 1 goat and 1 lamb that ended up being bottle babies, but they seem to be growing just as well as the others.  More goats should be on the way soon, so I'll keep you posted as best as I can...

We are anxiously awating our seed orders to come in the mail.  Dan has been plowing a little and I can't wait to get started in the greenhouse!

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