Pleasant Valley Farm

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

I'll Miss Him


 I'm having a rough day today. It's 90+ degrees out, which is just too hot for me...I'll find stuff to do indoors rather than be out in it, but it's hard not to feel like I should be out in the garden or mowing the lawn or doing something outside. But the main reason for my melancholy is not the blistering sun. I know that the trailer will be here tonight to take a cow for processing. And this time, it makes me very, very sad.

I've gotten used to the idea of sending animals to be processed and I don't really get bothered by it anymore. I know that the life we provide for these creatures is a good one, and light years away from the conditions found on feedlots & factory farms. I take pride in being able to offer my customers meat raised without cruelty or inhumane conditions- meat from healthy animals, leading a natural life in the sun and grass. I'm proud of what we do and how we do it, and I know the purpose of the animals when they come to the farm. I don't pretend I'm getting a pet cow, even if I do name them and feed them. I monitor the inventory and make the arrangements with our processors. The process is one I'm totally involved with from start to finish.

So why is it so hard this time? We got a little calf, just days old, two years ago. We fed him bottles and watched him grow. We called him Baby Buzz. He would gleefully run up to people, and like all bottle baby cows, you had to watch that he wouldn't headbutt you trying to get you to feed him. As he grew, he went from the small paddock into the fields with the other cows. As he grew and the heard changed, he went from being the smallest cow to the tallest. Buzz appointed himself the leader of the herd. The girls follow him around, the babies play with him. When Lil went into the barn, Buzz called for her more than Lil's calf from the previous year did- Buzz wanted to know where his herdmate went. And he's still a friendly beast, always sneaking up on you to see if any snacks are to be found. Besides Finni, he is the most sociable cow here. I've been telling Dan that he would make a great ox, because I hate to see him go so badly. But that's just not in the cards. So tonight, the trailer comes, I don't think I'll be there. While I'll help get Buzz into the barn this afternoon, I think, for the first time ever, I'm going to stay out of the barn when they load him up. This time, it's just a little too hard. Dan tries to cheer me up by reminding me that we saved Buzz from his likely fate- veal- and extended his life very considerably. And I know he's had a good one, and that I need more burger for the stand, but...

 Some animals are just special for some reason or another. Some have the ability to capture your heart, and it's hard when they go.  I'll sure miss this face.


Planting at Last!

Finally, the warm temperatures and sunny skies are making it feel like spring!  This weekend, we were finally able to get the horses harnessed and get the majority of this year's garden plowed.  We'll still need to do lots more, like discing and harrowing, before it's ready to plant, but it sure is nice to see some freshly tilled soil when I look outside.  We did get a few things in the ground as well, in a space tilled with our BCS rototiller.  Again, we planted beets, green onions, radishes, lots of lettuces, carrots and peas.  It's important to plant things like lettuce and radishes every few weeks in order to be able to harvest routinely as the season wears on.

 We also planted some potatoes.  Our potato order from Seed Saver's Exchange arrived, so we wanted to get them into the ground as soon as possible. We're trying a neat new variety this year called Mountain Rose.  These red-skinned potatoes also have swirls of rose through the flesh.  The description in the catalog said they will be a non-waxy potato, great for chips, fries, mashing or a unique looking potato salad.  We were also anticipating more All-Blue potatoes, which we've grown for the past couple of years.  They're small, with a purple-blue skin and flesh.  Tasty potatoes that are great for baking & frying, and also retain their color when boiled.  I had visions of a really patriotic potato salad if I combined the two varieties!  Unfortunately, despite the fact I placed my order months ago, when it came time to ship, they were out of the All Blues.   I'm still trying to locate another source with hopes of growing them yet this year.  But I was excited that Seed Savers shipped another variety of potato (at no charge) to make up for the ones I wouldn't be getting.  So we're growing Nicola potatoes this year.  They are medium-large, white potatoes.  They are said to have a low glycemic level and are waxy and excellent for boiling & salads.   I've yet to be less than amazed at the rich flavors of the wonderful heirloom plants from Seed Saver's Exchange, so I'm looking forward to trying these as well.

We're also looking at moving at least some of the herb garden.  It's been years since the soil has been tilled and properly limed and fertilized.  The weeds are thick and most of what herbs are there need thinned.  So yesterday, as Dan was plowing, I began transplanting some of my chives, thinning them and moving them to their new home.  This morning, they looked great, it didn't seem to faze them one bit.  I have more to thin and move, so I just may put some in pots and offer them for sale when we open.

It's hard to believe, but we'll be open for the season in just three weeks, on May 28!  There is lots to do before then.  One thing we needed to take care of was getting meat processed- we'll be offering our grass fed beef by the pound and also some lamb kielbasa on opening day, so of course we needed to make arrangements for those animals to go to Hirsch's, our meat processor.  We penned up the animals in the barn last night, which ended up being a very good thing.  Matt was around and able to lend an extra hand sorting out the right animals and moving them. The trailer usually comes in the evenings, but this morning I got a call asking if it would be possible to load them this morning instead.  I said yes, it was just great as far as I was concerned to get it done with earlier in the day.  The only thing was that Dan was working an hour away, so it would just be me  and Tom, the driver.   He is almost always the driver who comes to the farm, and is a pro at loading the animals with a minimum of fuss and stress for all involved.  When he got here, I opened the barn doors, spotted as he backed the trailer, and let him know it was just me on the farm today.  He said it would be no problem, and 15 minutes later, the animals were loaded and the trailer was on its way down the road.  

I've gotten used to the idea of loading animals onto the trailer for processing into meat, and I don't get too choked up about it anymore.  A frequently asked question I get is how I can eat something that I raised (and usually named, as well!) The answer is that I know we raised them in a humane way, with all the luxuries of pasture, sun, and wholesome diet that most animals raised for meat don't get.  The animals wouldn't even be born if they didn't have a purpose, so giving them a good existence before they are killed quickly and humanely is nothing to get too upset about.  In fact, just the opposite- not only do the animals live in a way fitting to their nature, but it gives people in our area an option to support something besides the factory farms with their food dollars if they choose to eat meat.  And it tastes so much better!  So, over time, loading has become more of a semi-routine farm chore and less of an emotional roller coaster.  Even though it was unexpected, it did feel good to know I could take care of this chore myself, without Dan.  It wasn't a big deal, everything went well, and the driver seemed comfortable working with just me there in the barn, which to me was a big compliment.  I've noticed that many farm and livestock folks aren't big on giving each other praise.  Often the biggest is that they are happy to work with you, and when they do, you trust each other enough to get the job done safely and quickly, like we did today.


Black (Angus) Monday

We said goodbye to our two black Angus beef cows last night.  Because of government regulations, the only animal we can legally process start to finish and sell here are the chickens.  All other meat animals get picked up and transported to Hirsch's Meats, the local slaughter facility.  Mondays are the days when pickups occur, so we had a very busy day.  First, we had to get the cows into the barn.  Although they have been with us since July 2008, they have been out to pasture since about May with no real human contact except running up to the fence when we threw corn stalks over for them to eat.  Luckily for us, they remembered the sound of feed rattling around in a feed scoop and followed us into the barnyard and then the barn without too much trouble.  They even remembered where their stalls were and let us put collars on them so they could be tied up for the afternoon.  Next we had to catch the two lambs, so the easiest thing to do was lure all the sheep into the barn.  My older ewes came on the run at the sound of the feed scoop with the rest of the flock following right along.  Unfortunately about half of the goats snuck in too.  Just as we were shutting the barn door to sort out the male lambs, a black lamb jumped through Dan's arms and out into the barnyard,  Of course, that was one we needed!  Luckily he ran into the lower part of the barn and was caught.  Upon looking at the younger of the two ram lambs, he had done better than expected on a grass-only diet and was even bigger than the first, despite being a couple months younger.  So he was sorted out into the holding pen, and the rest of the sheep & goats were shooed out of the barn.  Lastly were some pigs out in the movable pig tractor.  It was too muddy & far to move it down to the barn, so we put a crate on the trailer behind the pickup and loaded the pigs onto the trailer, then backed the trailer into the barn.  Using portable gates to make a kind of runway, we simply opened the crate and the pigs backed out and followed the path we had to the pen.  So far, so good!

Later in the evening, well after dark, the trailer arrived.  We had spoken to the driver before he got here, so he knew where to back in.  I don't know how he gets that big stock trailer backed around, but I guess he's had plenty of years of practice.  The pigs were the first to be loaded.  To avoid a pig trying to squeak under the trailer to freedom, we wedged bales of hay in the opening.  It gave them a step to get up into the trailer, too.  We set up the gates again, opened the door of the pen, and all went according to plan.  I've watched enough pigs get loaded by now it doesn't bother me to see them go, especially when there is a new batch of cute little babies running about.  The lambs were next, and we kept all the females this year, so there are still 4 for me to try and tame down this winter.  They each weighed less than a big sack of feed, so Dan was able to just pick them up and carry them to the trailer and put them where they needed to be.  Last to load were the cows.  When we bought them they weighed about 200 lb each, so they could be pulled or pushed to load onto our little trailer without too much problem.  They gained 700-800 pounds with us, putting their weights around 900-1000 pounds, so that wasn't an option.  Dan tried to lead Bandit, the steer, who walked right along until it was time to step up into the trailer.  He then refused to budge, and no amount of pushing, pulling or tail-twisting could convince him otherwise.  Monica was missing her buddy and really trying to get loose, so we untied her and she ran right for the trailer.  She started to go in, but her hoof got caught in the twine holding the hay bale together and she pulled back.  By this time Bandit was loose too, and with a bit of yelling, arm waving, pleading and poking, they did load.  We've had these cows for over a year, and I'll really miss seeing them.  I was even getting a little sad when I walked into the barn to help load the trailer.  I was glad they were a bit uncooperative, because they really weren't that bad (no one, human or bovine, was hurt), but my mind was more focused on the task at hand than on where the  trailer was headed.  We do still have 3 more cows here, and the best part is that when we get the beef back, not only will we have some money to put into various projects around the farm, we'll be able to buy more cows!  Although it's so hard to watch an animal you've raised go to be killed, every animal on a farm has a purpose and not all of them are glamorous.  I wasn't going to name or pet or feed snacks to the cows when we bought them, knowing that they were going to have to die, but Dan reminded me that just because you aren't going to keep an animal for the whole of its natural lifespan, that doesn't mean it won't appreciate love and cookies.  So that's how I look at it too.  They had a good life while they were here, and now I get to fill the empty spot in the barn with adorable little cows who will get more love and cookies.

RSS feed for Pleasant Valley Farm blog. Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader