Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Get Started!

Running a logo and illustration sale! The farm is still working towards keeping ahead of bills and improvements going into winter. So to encourage you - right now if you buy a custom pet or farm animal illustration (color, 9x12") or a logo - you can get a voucher for a second logo or illustration to give as a gift for the Holidays ahead. Or perhaps you need two different projects or gifts? Give them both, share, whatever works! I am offering this to three people and will have the illustrations/logos started this coming Monday. So take care of a Holiday gift, treat yourself to some fine logo or artwork, or simply buy one for a rainy day ahead when your farm business plan is set and you are ready to create a brand. It helps keeps the lights on, school loans paid, roof dry, and this farm chugging along.

If interested, please send me an email at dogsinourparks@gmai.com

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sick Lamb, Trail rides, & Soap Orders!

A few days ago I walked out to the field to check on the lambs and saw one, a smaller ram lamb, was down. I thought he was dead and I cursed under my breath and Gibson and Friday ran past me up the hillside. When I got closer I saw he was alive, but weak. I knew it was the transition from his old farm to this one. My soil has tetanus, there are new parasites and animals here, and a young lamb either thrives or fails, rarely one or the other. Sheep are masters at hiding weakness. It is their evolved trick of survival -to seem fine and stoic and strong until they are literally down. It is the shepherds job to know their body weight and score, to make sure they are wormed, immunized, etc. These guys had their shots and were wormed, but nothing is certain in farming. I scooped up the lamb and brought him inside.

I gave him a booster CDT and some anti-toxin, just in case. I added sugar and electrolytes to the water and gave him the entire kitchen to eat, lounge, and have grain in peace. TO my relief he was up and walking in an hour. He was drinking out of the dog bowl and leaving normal feces behind. There was no diarrhea. There was no shakiness. I don’t know how common it is to cheer at solid sheep stool in your kitchen - but I cheered.

The lamb was carried back out to the field that same night, once I had medicated and checked him out and saw him eating and drinking as normal. He was underweight and I suspect it has to do with worms not being treated by the wormer I had used. So I ordered some newer stuff and added herbal wormer as well to their feed of daily grain. The other two are plump and hail. As is Sean, the lamb born here back in late winter.

In other good news, my friend Tyler has taken up the saddle and started riding with me. He had not been on a horse in 20 years, but was so game it was amazing to watch his confidence and ease on the back of Merlin. I rode Mabel, who has been nothing but wonderful after a small adjustment period. Together we galloped (YES, GALLOPED!) those horses all over the mountain. He was a natural and rode Merlin like the whimsical hairy rhino he is. He said he’ll be back to ride this week and I hope to get some pictures.

I used to get all my kicks out of riding alone. I still love it. I took Merlin out by ourselves for a bit today and we are such old friends I can pop an earbud into one ear and listen to an audiobook as we ride on trails we know as well as our own paddock. But there is some real joy, and real wealth of spirit, seeing a new rider you are teaching beside you enjoy your horses as much as you do. You get to see those smiles of a first fast canter up a hillside, or grabbing apples off high branches as you slide below them on the back of a clever beast. Tyler was so great and will only get better.

Lastly, I am making soap like crazy. If you are interested in a custom batch and signed book, do email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com - Takes about 2 weeks to cure and mail, sometimes sooner. I am making around 6 pounds of soap a week right now and mailing it all over the US and Canada. IT fills me with solid pride and the bars are lovely. You can also just order 4 bars of what I have laying around if you don't want to pay for custom designed special orders or books.

Also! I have 4 piglets left to sell and would love to sell them to blog readers, feel free to mail about them as well.

Want a Pet Portrait?

If you want to support the endeavors of Cold Antler Farm, one fun way is to commission a sketch, inked drawing, or full color pet portrait! They are all done on 9x12" Bristol and shipping is free. If interested in getting up to three animals on a custom portrait, email me! dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Raccoons

Yesterday morning I walked out behind the barn to where the pigs and meat birds reside. The pigs were in their paddock, a yard of forest and brush against a hillside with a shelter. The meat birds were in the now tilled-under kailyard. But those meat birds are not just in cute garden fence. They are inside a chicken tractor with a latching door, which is surrounded by electric wiring, inside a cute garden fence. So you can imagine my surprise at seeing 3 birds ripped apart and dead inside.

Raccoons.

There was a hole in the roof of the wiring. It was enough to let a raccoon reach in and grab/pull on/eat alive some of the birds I was raising for the freezer. How did they get past the electric fence you ask? Easy. I had forgot to turn it on the night before. One night and one mistake and three birds gone to the wildlife hunger fund. I cursed myself for forgetting. I had a long day and company over and during night rounds I got caught up with the laying hens in the barn and trying to find a missing pullet (she was in the rafters) that I didn't go back into the woods to plug in the meat bird fence.

I've not lost a bird from predators all spring and into summer with the triple fortification system I was so proud of. All it took was a night off for the bandits to test, climb, and find the weakness in the system.

I learned my lesson and patched it yesterday. I also checked all the wiring and clearance. But it is still disheartening, and a failure to those animals. This is part of farming, learning from mistakes - over and over. The point is to not let those mistakes stop you, and to farm better the next day.

This morning all of the birds were fine, whole, and no returning raccoons took any more. A small victory but means the world to those inside a kailyard tractor! 

Friday, August 11, 2017

50lbs of Flour

I have been sharing on social media my plans to set aside four months worth of ingredients for winter. Things like flour, yeast, salt, potatoes, rice, cooking oils, pastas,  etc. Mostly, the kind of bulk commodities that can be boiled or baked into a starchy base and stored at room temperature.

Nothing dramatic, the kind of stuff you can fit in regular kitchen cabinets without a backyard bunker. Food that is generally cheap, but gloriously enhanced with sauces, cheese, meat, and spices. I have been up to this for a few weeks. Freezing goat milk and cheese, buying a few extra cans of pizza sauce, getting flour in 50lb bags from the local Amish market. Basically getting my hibernation nation in order.

Out here in the countryside this is normal, economic, and prudent. Everyone is canning tomatoes, slaughtering livestock, and sighting in their rifles for deer season. But online it seems at best, eccentric, or at worst - launching into a book about "a year of cupboard living!" or a survivalist panic about North Korea.

I think sharing these plans online gave people the wrong idea? This isn't about locking the gates at the first flakes of snow and eating purely out of house, never to enter a grocery store or restaurant until spring thaw. I am sure there will be Game Nights with pizza delivered and the occasional trip into Saratoga or Manchester for a meal out. This isn't about purity of intent or a reaction to fear. It's about feeling safe, comfortable, and hospitable during the hardest months of the year.

I want a farmhouse full of food and a woodshed full of firewood because it makes me feel good. It's emotional insurance, as well as kind to my budget. When the cold months come I want to know that this place is a sanctuary. When there is a foot of snow outside and more storms on the way - I want to know that bread is rising by the woodstove and coffee is perking on top of it - even if the power has been out for days and the roads are impassable down the mountain to town.

The house is heated by two wood stoves. Both allow cooking on their ranges and one has an oven. Electricity makes life easier here and the internet is fun, but it isn't needed to keep me warm, fed, and safe. There are oil lamps, candles in bulk, and food set aside for months. There is a fresh water stream and deep well. There are livestock, seeds, warm blankets, and firewood. If the zombies come, this isn't a bad place to be. I mean,  I am an armed black belt guys. But it also helps (I am sure even more so) that I have three big geese that sleep in front of my main door at night in the lamp light. No one messes with angry geese.

As I write this I see myself wanting to slide into that prepper bravado. Bragging about what a fortress this is. It isn't. It's a country home. But in today's culture a normal country home does seem like a fortress compared to some urban apartments. Look around your kitchen. Do you have enough food on hand to feed yourself today? What if guests stopped by and you were both skint on cash? Having a few jars of sauce, some frozen meatballs, and some cheap linguini ready to whip up means never having to worry about dinner or sharing a meal with a hungry friend? Wouldn't you feel better right now knowing those things were in your presently bare cabinets? Wouldn't it be even awesomer if you had 2 weeks worth of pasta set aside? See where I'm going with this? For me, living with an unpredictable income means food is one less thing to worry about when sales are light. A lot of urban freelancers would do well to live more like country farmers. I know Seamless takes credit cards, but c'mon.

I want to be a safe place for friends and visitors. I want them to know a warm bed, kind dog, and hot meal are here. If you stay at this farmhouse on a winter night you will wake to bacon and eggs, piping hot tea or coffee, a giant library of books, a warm fireside, animals to tend and care for, dogs to cuddle and cats to ignore you - even if the rest of the world is in chaos. I want this not because I expect chaos, but because life is hard enough when trains are running on time. Make it easier if you can.

I want my winter energy to go into creative forces - like writing, design, and illustration. Or to go into the harder work of tending a winter homestead.  It's hard enough making it as a single, self-employed lady. I don't need to worry about being warm, fed, and safe on top of it.

I'm storing up food so regardless of outside forces it means I will be okay - not because I think the world is coming to an end - but because it is just me here. And I want to know I can depend on me through thick and thin.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Soap & Signed Books!

Have 3 sets of Batch/Book Combos to sell! Includes 8 custom-made bars and a signed hardcover of One Woman Farm! You pick the scent/combo of exfoliants and I make it to order. Takes 2-3 weeks to cure and mail. Email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com if you are interested.

Larder

I am preparing for winter earlier than ever before. There is a cord and a half of wood stacked and more on order. There is hay set aside in several banks around the area, and plenty in the barn. Over the past few weeks the plumbing and truck have been repaired and the truck passed inspection! I put up 15lbs of potatoes yesterday and am planning for a winter with as little food costs as possible - meaning buying/growing/butchering/hunting 90% of my food and having it on hand. My goal is to go into winter with my only expenses being the mortgage, insurance, and the usual utilities. If my farm and planning can feed me on wholesome, homemade, local food all winter it will be a blessing. So I am looking into bulk flour storage and asking locals about large orders of onions/potatoes/garlic/etc as well as setting aside staples like pastas, oils, sugar, etc and whatever the garden has left to offer. I have already put up 6lbs of goat cheese and several gallons of milk to keep making soap through the winter.

The preparations for all this are exciting and incredibly comforting. I want winter to stop being a time of stress, stop being something to get-through. Instead I want to hit the first snowfall knowing I have four months of comfortable fires and food set aside. I want all the income earned to go towards bills and savings. Common Sense living for sure but I have been playing catch up for so long it is weird to be planning to lean in. It feels like a first date, this farm. It feels like I am looking at it with the eyes of joy instead of fighting to keep it or fear of banks and threats. Things aren’t perfect, not by a long shot, but things are better. I already made every mistake there is to make in homesteading and now the seas are calming and the boat is in the right direction. Still far from land, but out of the storm.

I have been working with my agent to prepare a book proposal for early fall. I am so excited for it, so thrilled to share the story of it. Unlike past books that were just about this farm and agriculture - this one is about my passion for living like fiction. The desire to live a life following my passions inspired by Fantasy novels, games, movies and shows. So I will write about archery, horses, hawks, hounds, martial arts and other activities that don’t have to only live on the pages of Tolkien and Martin.

Life is back to flushing toilets, a working truck, farm improvements, and writing books!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

It's all been worth it.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Letter From Today

I woke up to sunlight streaming into the farmhouse's upstairs windows. Friday was sprawled over the guest pillow to my left, her head against mine as she sighed. She was the only guest in the bed tonight and was making as much use of the joint as possible, stretched out like a yogi, smacking her lips. Gibson was already off the bed and looking out the window at the chickens milling below. The light in the room was telling. It glowed the way daylight does right before it gets tired at the end of summer and even on hot days you know that Autumn is close. But this morning the saturation was still turned up and I felt the pull to be in the river.

I let the dogs out and they burst onto the day with border-collie levels of enthusiasm, cranked to 11. Chickens scattered, the goats bleated, and Merlin whinnied from the far pasture. I fed hay to all hoofs and made sure all pasture and paddock gates lead to fresh water. I checked Aya in her mews and promised her we would fly later in the day. After all the stations were hydrated, coop doors open, and animals content - I brought the dogs inside to their breakfast and grabbed my fly rod.

I was in the knee-deep clear water by 8AM. I watched schools of baby brown trout circle my flies and consider them. I didn’t care if I caught a fish or not, fly fishing is a reason to stand in the middle of a grand summer river and not look insane. I saw trout rise around me, little orcas with their vertical tails slapping as they returned to the cold water.  I cast to them. A bite here, a bite there. I didn’t catch a fish in the river but I spent a lot of time scrambling barefoot over rocks and watching crayfish scuttle around my feet. I felt a swelling of goodness and luck.

I took stock in the day so far: I woke up safe alongside kind dogs. I had coffee that energized and comforted me. I chomped into a protein bar and saved the last third of it to bury in the sand by the water’s edge as an offering to the land and water wights. If I was going to walk into a place I wasn’t caretaker of and expect to take something from it, it was only polite to leave an offering - for safe passage if nothing else. I drew the rune Algiz into the sand and asked that my ancestors keep an eye on me today. I planned on doing some dangerous things later in the day. Things that included fast horses, sharp talons, and editor deadlines.

I spent two hours on the river. I didn’t bring a camera. I cast and saw my strong arms, brown and scarred, and felt lucky they were mine. My rolling cast needs work but was good enough to get a nice small dry fly dancing in a tight space. I know a lot of people enjoy bait fishing but to me it is like waiting for a varmint to step into a trap. I prefer hunting, always, to trapping. I cast to a rising trout. I laughed as big fish swam right past my flies and reeled in to try again. I had a little black box of flies with me, mailed to the farm from a friend on Twitter. I wasn’t about to avoid such a fine gift. I lost track of time.

I drove home without a trout, but happy. I felt revived. On a lark I decided to pull over on my own mountain road and cast into the stream that cascades down the mountain from my farm. I did and caught a brown trout first cast! With my truck growling her pretty growl I held the jewel of a fish. I love the redish spots on a brown trout. I removed the hook and returned her to the mountain after my bit of reverie.

I came home at 9AM to the work of the farm. I grabbed a five-gallon bucket and a shepherd’s crook and headed up the hillside to the apple trees. Friday and Gibson raced around me. I used the crook’s hook to grab tall branches in the trees and shake down apples. They hit the ground and the thump perked the horses ears and they walked over to eat what they could as I filled the bucket. I watched the dogs roll in the dust and pant, laying beside a thousand pound animal with sharp canines 5 times the size of their own without worry. I had raised these dogs to be farmers. Herbivores don’t worry them, regardless of wolf teeth.

I brought the bucket to the pigs. I have eleven pigs now to feed, Holy Crow. I am trying to sell the nine piglets but so far no buyers. The dog days of summer are not when people are thinking about piglets. I dump 30+ pounds of apples in green and red into their wood lot paddock and they chomp greedily at them. I see their mouths drip with cider and watch the little runt steal the biggest apple and run into a bush to eat without competition. While they are busy I check the electric netting and attach a fence tester to it. All levels seem fine. I refill their water and let their breakfast be fruit. They’ll get corn, grain, and kitchen scraps when the sun is father away.

I milk the goats next. I am trying to make cheese every day and freeze it. In a few weeks their milking will start to taper off and then stop all together. I’ll dry them off for breeding season in November. I will need a supply of frozen milk and cheese for winter so I am stocking up. It's work I know by heart and I like it.

I bring the milk inside the house to strain into a 2-liter milk canister. It is steel and shiny. I filter the milk and then add culture to it so over the net 12 hours it will turn into curds and whey. The curds will be salted and herbed. The whey will be poured over corn, apples, and kale stalks for the pigs.

With the morning chores now all done I realize I still feel the pull of summer. Fueled by 2/3rds a protein bar and coffee, I get Merlin from the pasture and tack him up. Last night I rode Mabel at a full gallop up the mountain. It was exciting as hell, since she’s so large and a new horse. It was the first time I rode her above a trot and it was like going up a roller coaster, but instead of the thrill being the fast descent it was the thundering, panting, ascent on the back of a half-ton on sentient power. I whooped. I couldn’t help it.

But today I wanted to ride the pony I knew so well. I changed out of cut off shorts and a tee shirt into bike shorts and a kilt. I love riding in skirts. I got him tacked up and sprayed for flies and hoped it was enough protection. It was so humid at this point we were shiny with sweat before taking a step off the property. I mounted him and we headed down the road. As we made our way to the gates of my neighbor’s property (he let’s me hunt with my hawk and ride my horse on his 200+ acres) I saw my neighbors coming up the road on their bikes. We made small talk. They had traveled into Cambridge (3 miles one way) for breakfast and rode home. From the saddle I told them I had eggs if they needed any and we agreed to barter for a loaf of sourdough bread next time she baked. They rode up their driveway and I gave Merlin some heel and he arched his back and took off up the mountain. I can make a hell of an exit when I am horse-adjacent.

Merlin ran at a full gallop up the mountain, just like Mabel did last night. They can’t help it. It must feel glorious to stretch and grab the earth with their dinner-plate hooves. We road those trails until the bugs were so large and bad we gave up and trotted home. I untacked him and set the gear on the back of my truck, laughing at the sight of my two favorite forms of transportation sharing space.

That was my morning. It was a farm, fishing, milking, piglets, horses and bugs. The next few hours were entirely the computer's. I updated designs for clients, inked illustrations, and checked emails from my agent about my new book proposal and writing revisions. I took notes and worked out deadlines. I made changes to logos and did the quiet work that pays for mornings in rivers and mid-day gallops.

I have 2 weeks to earn the money for the Augus mortgage, which does not come out of the Kiva loan used to upgrade the farm and repair the truck’s transmission this past week. I haven’t made a sale in a week and was feeling nervous. I made a note to follow up with some old emails with people having interest and advertise more on social media. Two weeks isn’t a lot of time, but I’d figure it out. Honestly, I am grateful I am working to pay the current month and not three month’s earlier. It’s enough to buoy my spirits.

I write and submit a monthly column to a Heathen blog. I work on revisions to the proposal. Most of my day is in front of machines. What people see online is horses and animals. They see pictures of chickens and dogs and sheep and fields, but the bulk of my day is sitting on my living room floor in front of an old iMac Jon Katz (neighbor and writer) gave me because it was old to him five years ago. The desktop sits on top of a wooden box. I work through my to-do lists. I download podcasts for afternoon work.

I eat a meal a day around 2-3PM. I use zucchini, kale, and onions from the garden and fry them up in a skillet with some Sweet Italian sausage. It is served over rice with some salt, pepper, olive oil and soy sauce. It is delicious! Everything fresh and local. I make enough to have leftovers for tomorrow, stored in mason jars in the fridge. The milk is starting to separate on the stove top for the cheese. I feel rich. I don’t know how I’ll earn the August Mortgage, but feel rich. I made it 7 years as a homeowner here, five being self employed. It will be paid. It always is.

Afternoon comes fast and hard. I have a full belly and feel like a nap. Instead I call Othniel at Common Sense Farm about firewood delivery. I want 2 cords stacked by Sept 1. I need 4 for winter. I also need to get chimneys swept, and inspected. I email the woodstove company about a warped part of my stove. I scan social media.

With a full belly and the sigh of contentment from the meal I am ready to digest with a thwack. I string up my horse bow and head set up some hay bales for a target. It’ll be just a couple dozen arrows, shot to keep me sharp. I have been listening to World Made By Hand, by J. Kunstler on audiobook and am feeling haunted by it. The book is about my town, right here in Washington County, NY - 20 years after the collapse of America. The characters start the novel fishing in the same river I started my morning fishing it. It’s weird and lovely. The first two books in that series are summer and fall, and I am listening as I realize I live a life not very different at all from the characters in the books.

I shoot arrows. I do another set of rounds on the livestock. A friend with sheep calls me. I hear the phone in the kitchen, a 1970’s rotary phone with actual bells inside. I cringe every time I hear a cell phone mimic that sound for a ringtone. Phones that do not have dial tones should not be allowed to mock their elders. My friend tells she lost her ram to flystrike. I worry for her, asking “Did you remove him from the rest of the flock? Are the ewes okay?!” and we talk and catch up. Flystrike keeps me up at night. She assures me the rest of the flock is okay but they need a ram this fall. I think of all the people I know and make some notes on a pad to call.

The dogs join me every trip outside. I refill water and check fences. I make sure the meat birds have clean bedding and water. Soon ducks and chickens will be in the freezer for winter roasts. I ignore the weeds in the garden. In August all I care about are the squash, a large crop of butternut that go into the larder for storage. In a few weeks I’ll have squash chowder by a roaring fire as the first snowflakes fall, probably around Samhain. How is that just 12 weeks from today? Will I be ready? I wonder if the potatoes I planted will be okay or ruined by the shallow soil at the edge of the old sheep pasture. I make a note to buy in 100lbs of potatoes, 50lbs of flour, and 10 pounds of sugar/salt/olive oil for winter. This house always has 6 months of food on hand. It’s not some weird survivalist thing. It’s knowing that good food is stored and not an expense in the coldest, hardest months. As a self-employed woman I want to know my meals are set well in advance if sales drop as the snow falls. I want a freezer of meat I raised. I want veggies in my larder. I want frozen cheese and milk. I want guests to come to a warm home any day of the long winter with enough food to feed a pile of dwarves and Gandalf himself. If I am lucky I'll take a buck this winter for venison. I know the hawk will get plenty of rabbits, too. Hunger isn't a concern here, even if the world stopped turning. It makes me feel safe and strong.

Thinking of hunting, I take Aya out for some short practice flights. She is getting ready for hunting season in a few weeks, fall is really just an exhalation away. She needs stronger wings, a broader chest, lower weight, and the regained desire to work with me but right now she just wants to stick talons in my face. It’s a little daunting. My goal is five flights to my fist for her evening feeding. They can be just ten yards or less. I want her to remember after a summer of eating, molting, and relaxing that hunger and hunting are back in her world again. If she decides she would rather not fly with me I’ll know soon and release her back into the wild. I’ll trap a new bird and start over. That’s how it goes. But I want to keep her. I want to build on what we started last year as strangers.

Her red tail is almost all grown in. It is a point of pride that I have trapped this scrappy thin bird on a telephone pole last September and here she is now; strong and dangerous in her adult plumage. I set her on a perch outside on the lawn. She looks around the world of the farm with awe. She hasn’t been free to fly in an open space in a few weeks. It takes a few moments but I get a few hard-winged flights out of her. They are sprints to her food, not the glides of an expert flyer. But she only cares about the meat and lands all her marks without a single scratch. It is encouraging.My face remains talonlles, today.

It's late in the afternoon now. I have farmed, fished, hiked, rock-scrambled, designed, illustrated, wrote, emailed, shot arrows, trained a hawk and rode a horse. I wanted nothing else from the hot day but the sweet routine of evening chores. I went about the work of them early. I fed the pigs, horses, sheep, goats, chickens and dogs. Then I came inside and set the 1940’s Westinghouse fan on the ground for the dogs to lay in front of, panting from their running around as I saw to the animals. I was ready to end this day where it started. I would drive back the four miles to the river.

You can park your truck at the river and get into the water where the kayaks and canoes get in. From there you can float and swim down river till you hit the next "beach". It is about 200 yards, not very far. But to jump in and float that distance is heavenly and weightless. I don’t feel like a 184lb woman. I feel like an otter. Under the surface I twirl and swirl among the fish. I can see the sunbeams hit the surface and the lazy carp below. The depth changes from walking to floating deep, but I still see the river bottom. The river is calm, as the storm just passed us last night. I have checked the weather 4 times today and try to think of a life where the weather doesn’t matter? I can’t. My day, my work, my life is tied to it. Thunderstorms are listed for tonight, maybe. I am excited for them as a first date.

Floating in the river on my back I look up. Above me in the sky a pair of redtails soar together. I wonder if Aya is their cousin? What would they think if they knew a relative was hunting varsity with a primate? I watched them until they caught a rise and soared so high they were out of sight.

I swam to a distant shore and walked out, soaked. I didn’t bring a towel. I set up a saddle pad on the bench seat of the truck and drove the four miles home wet. I’m in running shorts, a sports bra and tank top. I’ll be dry in about twenty minutes. The heat of the day is still there but I am air conditioned by the river and feel so tired and happy.

When I get home I strip naked and hang my swimwear out to dry in the sun and put just the worn kilt I went riding in earlier and a clean cotton tank top. That’s it. Those two clothing items and I head to the hammock with a glass of bourbon to feel the sunset on my skin and air dry.

It’s 6Pm on a Thursday night. I will be asleep by 10pm. The next few hours will be spent either at home with a movie or at a friend's farm to soak in their hot tub. I'll probably just stay in and relax. Rain is in the forecast this weekend and I know mornings of fly-fishing and afternoon rides won’t be an option. The only way I’ll get on a horse is with my character in Elder Scrolls Online. Khajits gotta ride, too.

So I am retiring early this summer day. I did the summer things I love, as was my intention. Yesterday I spent so much time worrying about money, winter, love, death - all the things that keeps Game of Thrones interesting but today I wanted to enjoy this weirdo life I carved out of force and hope. I'm sharing it because what's the point of doing all this alone? So thank you if you read all of this. I hope your day was good to you as well. And if it wasn't - there is still time to get pizza and beer and raise a glass to tomorrow.

-j

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Come to Cold Antler & Leave a Fiddler or Archer!

Come to this farm this summer (or fall) for a special trip to see this place and leave with a new skill and the tools to practice it at home. I offer half and full day workshops in either fiddle or archery for beginners. The requirements are easy - come willing to learn with the ability to hold a fiddle or draw a bow, and we take it from there. You don't need to have any athletic or musical experience. These two passions of mine can be taught to anyone with the will to learn, a sense of humor, and the stubbornness to practice at home. I provide the instruments (class comes with your own longbow or student fiddle!) and you leave learning how to play your first song or safely shoot your first bow.

These classes also make great gifts! Want to give your spouse the ability to play a song or shoot a bulls eye? You can buy them from me and get a printable pdf emailed you can set into a card or wrap as a gift. The card lets the gift receiver set up their own date and time for the class at their choice. Classes here include:

Fiddle Indie Day: A student fiddle, spare strings, bow, and case. Class covers care and feeding, tuning, your first scale, your first song, and practicing at home. Play among sheep, goats, chickens and horses on the side of a mountain. Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time, a second song and scale as well.

Archery Indie Day: A palm wood long bow and string. Class covers care and feeding, safety, equipment and range rules, instinctive archery shooting and aim, target practice, and beginner tips and lessons in bow and arrow fitting.  Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time and a woodland field course shooting through cover, down cliffs, and at animal targets on trail.

You can also sign up for both in the same day, which means a morning of music followed by an hour lunch break and then an afternoon of archery. Prices vary by amount of students and times. Base price for a half day with fiddle/bow is $250. Email me to sign up at dogsinourparks(at)gmail.com

P.S. I also have done custom classes in Chicken 101, Goats & Soapmaking, Mountain Dulcimer, Beginner Horsemanship & Driving, Rabbits, etc. Ask for a custom class if interested!

Dave and Mabel

Last night the farrier came by. Dave Czukrovany is a man who knows horses, and has been trimming Merlin's feet for years. Over that time I have come to value his wisdom and skills beyond measure. I have been using what he has taught me, both through demonstrations and conversations, and it's made me a better rider, owner, and human being.

His methods are gentle and based on how horses think, move, and live in herds. Yesterday was his first appointment seeing Mabel. I wanted to hear his thoughts on the new horse.

Mabel is head shy and has a tendency to pull back in her halter, throwing her head back if she feels scared. This isn't anything abnormal in a fearful horse. Moving their head out of the way is instinct and a noggin is something you want to protect, but as a working animal you wish to ride - it makes things like putting on a bridle tricky. I told Dave about some of the issues I've had with her on the ground (fear of the bit, pulling back when tied, etc) and Dave took her lead rope from my hand and started his dance moves.

He moved her in gentle circles. He was calm and present. He asked for her head and when she pulled away in fear he moved her again, circling in a way that naturally brought her large snout towards him. He would take the neck and nose and sway them, rocking them like a child that needs to be soothed. Within twenty minutes the horse was letting him touch and lead her anywhere. She had ground manners of a demo horse at a clinic.

I listen to Dave talk, train, and trim horses the way parishioners listen in pews. I have so much to learn, so so much. Dave connects with equines in ways I am just starting to understand. It is breathtaking.

I said with a sigh, "I have so much to learn. I barely know anything and I learn that more and more each year..." and he sighed too, and said, "I know nothing." and then kept working masterfully with my horse.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fast As We Can

If you told the 13-year-old me that by age 35 I would not only own two horses, but know how to tack and  ride them ... she would believe you but have 300 questions. She would want to know how it happened, how long it took from the wishing and wanting to holding a lead rope in her hand? She'd want to know how much it hurt - how many falls and scabs paid for that kind of skill set? And most of all, she would want to know their names and colors.

Well, 13-year-old weirdo me: it happened through stubbornness and took a decade of wishing and wanting. It hurts falling off horses, I won't lie to you. It happens less than you fear but more than you want. And the skill set you really want doesn't come from lessons you pay for riding in a circle - it comes from sweat and time on forest trails. It comes from learning to jump streams, recover from leaping deer or flushed grouse, and hundreds of miles spent on the back of a thousand pounds of herbivore. But it is all worth it.

Today my good friend (and amazing horsewoman) Patty Wesner came by to ride Mabel for the first time. Mabel has mild arthritis, and can't be ridden every day. But she can enjoy a few hours on the trail a week and today Patty rode her faster and harder than anyone has in a while. Mabel didn't so much as hiccup at the hour in the woods. She loved it. Patty couldn't stop smiling, herself!

Together we galloped through fields and trails. I was on Merlin, the man of my dreams. Mabel was ahead of us, moving across the landscape as if she already knew them by heart. Patty would give her her head and ask her to run and Mabel was thrilled to do so. Merlin and I weren't far behind. The old man kept up with his new girlfriend quite well. It was a glorious Sunday morning! To feel the wind you ask for on the back of a running horse. The years of work and time to feel happy and comfortable running together through the woods. When I first got Merlin, five years ago, I was scared of him. I didn't understand his body or mine. Now we are a time and the lessons he taught me translate to the paint mare I am falling in love with. Seeing Patty fly on her was a dream.

When we were home and currying our mounts, Patty looked over to me and thanked me for letting me ride my horse. I made a joke but inside I felt like it wasn't real. My horse? Is that tall, gorgeous, animal also mine? Will the director yell cut and the handler take her away, as if this is a movie set and not actually real? It's hard to believe I have made it this far. No one can take away those years of riding and learning and becoming the kind of woman who can race up the mountain with laughter on her tongue and joy in her heart. It's a pride that is worth boasting about. And I am proud of the home I made for Mabel and can give her. She is currently eating some apples off a tree and trotting across the pasture with Merlin by her side. It's a sight I barely believe, but will take in with all I have.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Now on Instagram!

Hey guys! I signed up for Instagram! For those of you who want to follow me there for the pictures of the animals, farm, me, and life here on the mountain you can do so by going to my IG page @coldantlerjenna. Thanks!

Piglets & Ponies

There is new electric pig netting set up and it took less than 2 days for the piglets to test it. Thanks to the Kiva funds I have been able to order a stronger charger and more fencing, so I feel more space and a better shock will keep them minding their own business. It's important to confine them because one night out can destroy your property. Last summer piglets rooted up my entire back lawn in an evening thanks to poor fencing. That stinks for me, but imagine if they got over to the neighbors... But already the netting from Premier One is a huge improvement, so far!

The piglets are for sale, but so far no buyers as they weren't ready to be away from mom until recently. Peak time to sell piglets is spring not high summer. But I have faith I'll get them out to new homes soon. If you're local(ish) and looking for some pork futures, I am happy to oblige. Email me!

In other winter-prep news I have made some calls and emails over firewood and if I get a delivery next week it'll be a record, or at least I think a record, for stocking up on winter heat early. My goal is two cords stacked and ready by mid-September. And the biggest goal of all is getting my truck repaired and inspected before the end of August as well. I am dreading the trip to the transmission shop, not because of the costs (thank you, Kiva!) but the way people who have beloved pets reaching an older age fear going to vet checkups. I love that truck more than any vehicle I have ever owned and want her to last me a long, long time. She's got my heart.

I shouldn't be making up issues in a life with plenty of projects to already tackle, but what can I say? I have a very active brain fueled by anxiety and fear of regret. It got me this far.

This weekend my friend David came to learn a little about horses and go for a trail ride. He was a natural. He took to Merlin as if he was born to ride horses and together we groomed, checked feet, fly-treated, tacked, and rode the horses. I rode Mabel (who took the bit so well!) and he took the Old Man. I have always loved riding alone, and still do. But there is a real magic to sharing the trail with a friend. Mabel and Merlin are good in pasture and on the mountain together. And to see the mish mash of tack I bought used or piled together over the years on two horses I own is a magical thing. The girl I was ten years ago would not believe that I rode out from a farm I own on two horses I know how to tack, ride, and share. A magical moment, for certain.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Dirty Work & Fighting the Bit!

Yesterday was one for the books. The kind of day you look back on with instant nostalgia. Not because it involved some amazing insight, celebration, or story but because it was full of the good, everyday, work of a farm. I don't think I have ever been so dirt or so pleased in quite some time. It all started in the pig pen.

The two sows and nine piglets outside in the woods behind the barn have been doing well. Happy to report the moms and every one of their babes has made it since their birthday, even the smallest runt. The piglets weren't behaving with the three-strands of electric wire the adults abided so I switched to a roll of electric netting. Once trained to it fairly well I felt confident expanding into the woods surrounding their pen. So yesterday morning in the glorious, pre-storm humidity of a New York July day I went out with hedge trimmers and made a path through the dense brush to make it clear enough to post the netting. If there is too much hitting the woven nylon strands the charge is pretty week. So in advance a few hours of hand-tool brush removal took place. I was soaked through my clothes in moments. Then I fell over in the muck a few times. I got so filthy I honestly can not think of a time I have ever been more riddled with muck, bug bites, nettle stings, sweat, and curse words. But I gotta say - the look on the sounder when I opened the gates and let them explore the wild would make the people at Hallmark ashamed of their lack of expressing good tidings.

That picture above is the first few moments exploring the underbrush and weeds. They were all so excited! Piglets dashed around like bowling balls tumbling down a mountain. The sows ate the weeds with pure joy. I stood there with the fence tester in on hand, wire cutters in the other, dripping with unmentionable filth so pleased. This farm has never been better, the animals never better, me never better. It feels so good even when you can taste pig mud in the corners of your mouth.

I took a long shower. It was glorious.

Post shower I had an appointment with Tabitha Morgan of Long Shadows Farm. She's a horse trainer and the person who originally connected me with the owners of Mabel, the new draft/paint cross mare that lives here. When I was over at Long Shadows this past weekend helping load up hay in their barn (Tabitha and her crew helped Patty and I load hay at Livingston Brook Farm, so the favor deserved a return!) she asked me if I did logos. I did, I replied. A few moments later we struck up a barter deal. I'd design her horse training business logo in exchange for a session with Mabel. Mabel started refusing the bit. She's almost 16 hands tall (15.3) and as a 5'2" woman a horse with a high head that refuses a bit is near impossible to bridle. I had been taking it slow and steady with her - sometimes taking an hour or more to get the bridle on without losing my temper or forcing it in her mouth. But that gets old, fast. I needed a horse trainer.

Tabitha got that mare to pick up the bit out of her hand in 45 minutes! She might be a witch. I'm kidding, she's just a very experienced horse trainer who shared this with me. I was listing all the reasons and concerns I had about Mabel and the bit - everything from wolf teeth to pasture-grazing soreness (she was in a stall/paddock at the boarding situation before) to testing a new owner. Tabitha listened to me and checked her teeth, and after hearing the owner's lament and accessing the dental situation told me that you can spend a lifetime wondering what the problem is with a horse and asking yourself why it is happening - or you can just start fixing it. She's a doer. And I loved that.

I don't know if it's some breach of ethics to share a trainer's methods. So all I'll say is using calm, positive methods that horse went from anxious and unwilling to practically taking the bit out of her hands. then I tried and had success on the first time! In the horse/rider relationship it was a really pleasing and encouraging moment. I feel that I got the upper hand on the barter, but swapping skills out here in the country is a real satisfactory exchange. 

Just another day on the farm. One that started with dirty work and ended with equine witchery. I'm glad I was there for both!


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Logo Sale!

Logo Sale going on now, either for logos designed this season or bought cheaper now to cash in later when you are ready to start designing. Message me here or send an email to dogsinourparks (at) gmail and get some custom design work for your home farm, business, crafts, bakery, family reunion, or just art for your home. Support a One-Woman farm and help keep this place going strong! 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Funded!

Great news, guys! The Kiva loan has been funded! I'll get the truck to the mechanic to investigate/repair the failing transmission, get fencing and repairs to the farm, and other winter-prep and supply needs. It is an exhale of relief and I thank all of you who loaned Cold Antler for this endeavor! The funds arrive in a few days and I'll be posting about the truck, fencing, and more as it all happens. Again, thank you for your support of Cold Antler and I hope you are beating the heat wherever you are!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Winter is Coming and I'll Be Ready!

A few days ago I kicked off a Kiva Loan campaign. With the farm's mortgage finally caught up and income from writing, design, and illustration going towards keeping it that way - this loan is a way to repair, upgrade, and prep the farm going into winter without a fear of falling behind again. It's part of my three-part plan to stay financially healthy and eventually - profitable.

Part one was fueled by that scary letter in June - to earn enough in logos, illustrations, classes and reader subscriptions to bring the farm current. That amazing month got me out of the woods. Now I want to race ahead of the trees going into winter - without the costs of truck repairs, winter fuel, roof work, and plumbing updates letting things fall behind again. I'm not going back to being afraid for the roof over my head.

Kiva is the only way I can get a small loan without interest. I was approved for up to $10,000 dollars but couldn't budget their repayment plan so I am doing a little more than half that. So far it is just shy of 40% funded, and I hope to hit the 50% mark soon. The money from this loan goes towards fence replacement (switching from woven wire to electric), new electric solar fence chargers, roof repairs (worse parts of the kitchen roof before winter), and a new transmission for the truck I bought with my first Kiva Loan. You can view that fully repaid loan here. 

Right now my mechanic advises I don't drive it more than 20 miles from the farm and always pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes, cash, and water bottle with me...I want a safe and sturdy vehicle going into winter and I don't want to get a new truck either. I'd rather repair the one I have, own, and can afford the low insurance rate on.

So if you were a part of that first loan, you can go into your Kiva Wallet and reloan the cash I repaid if you like. If you have never been a part of Kiva - check it out! It's a way for you, fellow farmers, and small businesses around the world to gain working capital without high interest. It also is fueled by people who want to support the farm, folks that know you. It's a nice personal touch to lending.

~View the Campaign Here~

Sal

Last night I was checking on the flock with Friday. It was past dusk and the world was almost dark. I was up near the sheep pen looking for the new lambs, who now are out of their introductory pen and have full-range of the farm. I couldn't find them. I knew they had no left but they weren't with the eight established sheep. That motley crew was in their pole barn for the night. I could see Monday the ram, Brick, the yearlings, the new Scottish Blackface ram lamb, Joseph and Sal. Everyone seemed okay but Sal didn't. He didn't seem to be in pain, just slowed down and in the corner of the pole barn. He lay his head down on the hay and rested with his eyes shut. At age 13 he is the oldest sheep I have. He, Maude, and Joseph came here in my station wagon from Vermont when I moved here seven years ago. He was 4 when I bought him in Vermont. He was breathing steady and no other sheep were bothering him. I let him be. I had a feeling that was the last time I'd see Sal. I went back to looking for the lambs. I found them, finally. They were far in the back pasture having made a summer night's nest among the fireflies near a fence surrounded by maple trees.

This morning Sal was gone. He was a very good sheep. I used a garden cart to move him away from the animals and into the woods where he will be buried. As I pulled the cart this morning I passed the lambs at their firefly nest. They watched quietly. I was quiet, too.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Batch & Book Combos! Available again!

Taking Batch and Book Combo Orders. Only selling 5 more sets this weekend. Set includes 8 full-sized bars and a signed copy of One Woman Farm. Soap is made FOR YOU, your custom choice of scent combinations -which include any combo of the following - unscented (just milk, coconut oil and olive oil), lavender, mint, honey, oatmeal, or pumpkin.

I will make the batch (about 2 pounds of soap total) specifically for you in 8 matching bars of either the dragon style or handmade mold style. Also, the book will be signed to you or whomever you prefer. If in the US, add $10 shipping. If in CA - $20. You pay via paypal to reserve your batch. Email me if interested!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Morning Chores

Morning chores start at the Space Coop. The new Eglu Cube has been nothing but a joy to own and use. I lift the handle that opens to raccoon-proof door and the five Silkie Bantams come down their ladder to the open door of the farm. This is the first chore of the day, letting the Floof Empire out of their spaceship and into the world of rain, moss, grass, grubs, and chicken feed they don't know I named Cold Antler Farm. I take a sip of the coffee in my hand and enjoy their fluffy-butt waddle to discovery as they head down the slope to the stream.

The rest of the poultry on the farm is in other disparate coops and tractors. The majority of the egg layers sleep in the barn on the wall of the goat pen. The meat birds are in two separate chicken tractors - one in the kailyard and the other in the woods between the kailyard and the pig paddock.  Because of the simplicity of filling chicken feeders and waterers - the birds get taken care of first. It's a job I can do with coffee in one hand and dogs playing tag beside me. It is amazing how much quieter a farm becomes when fifty-plus birds get their breakfast.

Next is the work of hay and water, which is fed to the livestock year round in varying volumes. The horses get some flakes to share, but most of their diet is out on pasture. Same goes for the summer sheep and lambs. The goats eat mostly hay and grain and before they are milked (last chore of the morning) they get some hay and their water refilled. The pigs need new bedding nearly every day (depending on the amount of rain) and drink like fishes when they are lactating. So now the real sweat of the morning has taken its first real calories off my frame. I don't have hoses to the stations so I carry 2 5-gallon buckets from paddock to paddock and they refill from the well-runoff hose. The good news is my farm is small and all of these water stations are fairly close to home. The highest and farthest is in the sheep's pen.

Feeding pigs is next. They get a mix of kitchen scraps, day-old whey or milk, fallen apples, grain, and garden scraps. It's done after the work of bedding and water. One of the real joys of the day is watching them all dine like the lovely savages they are.

Once every sheep, lamb, pig, piglet, chicken, chick, goat, horse, and hawk has had their food/water needs met I go back inside. This is when cats and dogs get fed and coffee gets refilled. I can clean up and prep the work of milking and cheese or soap making (depends on the day) and make my to-do list of logo designs, illustrations, writing tasks, etc. It's a nice ten-minute break from the physical work outside.

Next up on the AM chore list is milking. I head out to the barn with a pail and clean hands. I have some supplies like warm soapy water in a bottle and a cloth. This is for cleaning off udders before milking. The act of cleaning also helps to let down the milk and encourage the does to give it their all on the stanchion. While milking the goats get their grain. Their minerals are free-choice right now in a pail. I milk and listen to podcasts or audio books. It's a focused few minutes I look forward to.

Since I am in the barn I collect eggs, usually just one or two at this time of the day. Most of the hens laying now do so closer to noon. I get the rest at evening chores after dinner. 

The milk comes inside and is filtered and either set in the refrigerator in half-gallon mason jars or set on the stove to become cheese. I use packets of culture I buy online and the work of filtering, cheese-making, soap prep, and dairy dishes is second nature now. Today I am not making soap so chevre is setting on the stove and a half gallon is in the fridge.

Last I check on the gardens. A little weeding, some meal planning, and a mental inventory of what is growing and when it will be ready to harvest is ticked off in my brain. Today I have tomatoes, lettuce and kale greens, defrosted some bacon, and have bread dough rising. I'll make a BLT sometime in the mid-afternoon and that will be my first non-coffee meal of the day. Most likely my only meal of the day. I like eating one real meal a day and a little snack when the sun goes down. It works for me.

Lastly, the horses get their daily joint supplement powder with a little grain to make it appealing. It helps Mabel's arthritis and Merlin's older frame. By this time I am leaning back against the fence tired and happy. The farm is quiet. Everyone is eating, drinking, or napping off the morning's work of eating or drinking. The occasional hen squawks or rooster crows. A sheep might call out to a lamb or a dog will bark at a passing jogger - but mostly quiet. It's taken over an hour and now my day can truly begin.

Farming isn't for everyone, but for those motivated by bacon, checked off to-do lists, and possible pony rides - it's for some. 


P.S. Thank you to the 44 lenders who have been a part of the farm's Kiva Campaign! In 2 days we are at 30% and gaining ground! If you were a part of the truck loan through Kiva, you can log into your account and re-lend that money repaid to you to CAF again - or support another farmer!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Pleasant Stranger

Mabel has been here at Cold Antler for a little over a week, but it's still a quiet shock to see her up in the pasture. Her bold chestnut and white coat seems to glow among the greens and browns of the field and trees.  Seeing her and Merlin side by side is a happy sight. For so many years Merlin was the sole pony on this farm. He is always close to Mabel now. She's definitely the one in charge and he's fine with that. Now in his twenties and six inches shorter at the withers  - the pasture looks like a Hobbit and a Cowgirl sharing a conversation or a breakfast of first cut hay.

I've ridden her four times since her drop off day, worked with her on the ground, and have an appointment with horse trainer and farrier, Dave, to meet her next week. I trust Dave's opinion so much on horses, and he may be the second most educational individual in my equine education. (The first being Merlin.) His expertise will be a combination of his many skills with horses - from feet condition to the swirls on her forehead. His particular combination of science, lore, experience, and horse sense will be well worth his $40 fee to trim her bare feet. My friend Patty told me that if I listened closely, I would never leave a hoof-trimming appointment with Dave without learning at least three new things. She was right.

So far Mabel has been a pleasant stranger. She's working out and I'm glad. Myself and friends have ridden her, and while she is more horse than Merlin (in size and attitude) she isn't interested in hurting anyone. She's a chestnut mare, through and through. If you want her to do something for you, well, you better be worth the trouble. She's already outsmarted, tested, and worked around my requests several times. But I know enough now to understand the difference between malice and stubbornness. There isn't a malevolent bone in Mabel's body. She just doesn't suffer fools, the nervous, or the easy-quitters. I like that in a woman!

In other news: I have been approved by the wonderful people at Kiva for my second loan through their micro-lending platform! This was the service I used to get the funds to purchase the 1989 F150 two years ago. That loan was paid off this summer and I applied for another last week. Details are here if you are interested in lending or sharing it on social media. Unlike crowdfunding, micro loans are repaid to you in full. You can put the money back in your bank or loan it to another farm. I have loaned the same $50 about 4 or 5 times now! Regardless, Thank you for looking!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

River Days Are Here

Morning started earlier than usual. I was up and outside around 5:30AM, an hour ahead of schedule. I wanted to sleep in but the day was already warm enough at dawn to make sleep less about comfort and more about sweaty sheets. So the dogs and I headed outside. The coffee perked up on the stove top went right over ice. This woman was in a tank top and hauling buckets before 6.

Every day I make a list of things that need to be done. Depending on the day that list changes specifics, but in general it is a check-off of all the farm animals' AM needs in food and water, 3-5 design and illustration clients, a writing goal, and income goal. Making the list is my first task of the day after making my bed. It tells me what to get done no matter what, what to hope for, and where I am at. I wish I had this system four years ago. I learn everything the hard way.

Anyway, when I have taken care of the animals and at least 3 clients - I take a break to go run, fish, ride, or just head outside to walk around the farm. It's an hour to unwind and break up the day. Today I headed to the Battenkill river near my farm. I wanted to fish.

The clear water was finally comfortable. For weeks it has been too cold and the summer to mild. Here in Veryork we've had record rainfall and a very extended spring. Days in the eighties were sparse and true dog days were scattered and rare. So my body and mind didn't crave the river. Today it did. Today it felt like an old friend.

I cast out my trusty Orvis rod and watched fish rise in the distance. People in canoes floated past. The occasional dog or grandmother watching grandchildren swam by. It was lovely all around. I didn't care if a single trout took my fly, I was just happy to feel cold rushing water on tired legs that had been up and working the past five or six hours. Breaks feel better when earned, all around.

River days are here, or at least river breaks. It's a few miles by truck to the Georgi (4 miles by road) so to drive there, swim, read a chapter of a book, and drive back is a nice lunch break. Today was all about the coming thunderstorms. It's a lucky feeling and a fine reward.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Soaked and Sorted!

It's a wet and soggy morning here at Cold Antler, and I am glad. I'm sitting here at my computer in the living room, with a black Hogwarts tee shirt from the 1900's stuck to my back. My sopping hair held out of my eyes with a bandana. I was out sorting sheep with Gibson in a steady rain. Last night was the first night the newly-introduced lambs were with the rest of the flock instead of living separate in two pens. The rain meant most of the flock would be in their pole barn and I was worried in the mean world of sheep politics they wouldn't be allowed in with the rest of the flock. So I jumped out of a very comfy bed with dog wearing underwear beside me (Friday is in heat, she wears doggy diapers at night to protect the sheets) and ran up the hill in the rain. As expected the three new lambs were standing in the rain outside the pen, not yet welcome to the folds of the flock. They didn't seem to care. The rain was gentle and their coats thick and they were eating some first cut hay by the water tub. I opened the door to let them all out to graze and sat and shepherded them in the rain with Gibson. We took in the shower (a nice summer morning) and the flock grazed, all 11 of them.

Mabel and Merlin came over to check on their breakfasts. I give the horses a flake of hay because while they have the whole pasture it keeps their diet consistent and Mabel is new to pasture. She's been in stalls and paddocks for a long time and still considers hay "real" food. So do I. But we had sheep to sort first so the two horses swished tails and enjoyed the flyless summer rain while me and a wet dog watched the sheep.

The good news was no one was being violent to the new kids. They were being ignored. That's better than Monday deciding to push them around. The horses also didn't mind them. After a bit I herded the original 8 into their pen and shut the gate. I brought them hay instead of summer grass allotment and let the majority of the fields use this rain day to grow. The little lambs stayed out with the gate to their pen open in case they wanted shelter without a ram body guard.

Sheep. Such drama. Once you really know a flock you can cater to them in such ways. At least you can with such small numbers as mine. By winter only seven sheep will remain (6 if old Sal doesn't make it this winter) and that is a better number for limited pasture like mine. But I am proud of this year's management. Instead of brown from overgrazing and moss, there is grass everywhere. The horses and sheep are well. Even soaking wet on a hillside it feels good.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Soaps for Sale & Made to Order

I have this little set of mini skulls and hearts for sale for $25 (includes S&H) for sale today! It includes three skills and three anatomical hearts and they are shipped in a little egg carton and are great for everyday use, decoration, or gifting!

I you are interested in some other soaps I have a few available to mail of assorted types. I also make soap to order and offer signed book/custom batches made to your specifications. It's a way to support this internet word farm and get a beautiful set of soaps handmade with goats you know from the blog and books! All come from Bonita and Ida's milk! Email me if interested!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Okja: Thoughts From a Pig Farmer

I settled down to watch Okja after morning chores. Unlike (what I assume) is the majority of the audience watching this movie, I raise pigs for pork. Right before refreshing my coffee and settling into a worn easy chair - I had just fed breakfast to eleven pigs in their forest paddock behind my home.

I loved this movie. It was so well directed, shot, and acted. It walked the tightrope of magical realism and stark morality play with graceful, beastly plods. I felt a range of very human emotions told through the story of an CG animal. Okja, the film’s namesake, was a the Pete’s-Dragonesque giant pig. I laughed and cried. I can’t recommend it enough.

This film touched every age and relationship I’ve had with animals. I was the little girl with an imaginary friend. I was the animal activist in my twenties. And now I’m a pig farmer, raising animals alone on the side of a mountain. Every version of my story was portrayed in this perfect movie and I would like to explain why those roles have changed.

In college I became a vegetarian and remained one for nearly a decade. My reasons were strikingly similar to the tone of the ALF characters in the film; compassion over greed. I saw the grainy slaughterhouse videos. I read the statistics about the environment. I could not understand how everyone was just okay with it all? My diet turned into edible activism and I went from believer to fundamentalist. When people challenged my views I felt satisfied with the certainly that I maintained the moral high ground...

Read the rest of this article at Huffington Post.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Beautiful Beast

Friday just turned two years old. She's grown into such a beautiful beast. She's so unlike Gibson, who is all work and loyalty. Friday is something else; a firecracker and chaos. But don't think it means barnyard anarchy. No. Friday is patient, clever, and attentive. When things get serious she is tuned into me like a private channel on the radio. She knows when things are problematic and kicks into working gear in a heavily serious way, but only when needed. Like a whimsical Batman she waits for her signal in the sky to become a hero. Here she stands proud and strong, even at her slight 38lbs. A wrist all bandaged from a cut dew claw pad, but unphased. I like this little pup from Idaho. She turned out to be a ringer in a pinch.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Lambs and First Trails!

A trio of beautiful Romney/Dorset lambs were brought to the farm today by the lovely Nathan. Here he is with one of the ram lambs he delivered this morning between the storms. They are up on the hill in their own small pen and shelter while they get used to their new home. I'm really happy with them, and ever more happy I was able to work out a partial barter for a logo design for his farm just south of Cold Antler. I never knew in art school just how handy being a graphic designer would be on a homestead. Life's kinda neat when you can plait together skills and dreams to keep a place inhaling and exhaling.

In other good news, I had my first trail ride alone with Mabel this morning. She did so well. Or rather, she did so well on the trail but was a little bossy on the ground before. I took her out for half an hour of the Natural Horsemanship training I learned from Dave, my farrier. We worked with a stick and flag and long line. After she was doing what she was asked on the ground, lining up with me on stops, and no longer crowding me I felt better about putting on the saddle. She balked a little at the bit, but it didn't take long to be tacked up and ready for an adventure.

I was a little nervous. I had never ridden this horse on trails alone before, and the one time I did ride her was in an arena with other horses and places she knew. Taking a mare just introduced to a whole new farm, pasture, companion, and life the day after she arrived was a lot to take in. But I knew this mare was trailered and ridden on trails all over New York and was used to new places and new work. The real nerves weren't hers, they were mine. So I took the plunge, found an egg crate to stand on as a mounting block, and got onto Mabel and asked her to head up the mountain. She obliged.

A new horse means a very attentive ride and being prepared for anything. We don't know each other. I smiled when she gave me small challenges along the way, like wanting to stop and eat or go left when I wanted to go right. When she realized I wasn't going to be pushed around it went from a game of mental tag into a nice morning walk in the woods.

We reached the mountain top view and I took it in. It looked a little different from a higher saddle. Not better, just different. I pet her neck and told her to enjoy a few bites of grass. She did and I watched the western storm clouds come closer. The sun was still out but knew it was being chased.

I rode her home. I'm so glad to report she is settling in well. The new lambs are as well. Big storms are hitting the farm all day, but as of right now the AM chores are long behind me and the saddle and tack are back inside hanging on the walls. New goat cheese is curing on the stovetop and I just had a fine lunch of warm sourdough bread from my neighbor's oven - a barter for a dozen eggs.


Things are really good right now, guys. And I am spending the rest of the day making soap to order (Thank you, Bonita and Ida and readers who email to buy soap and books!) and working on illustrations and logo designs. I have a list of 4 clients (a light workload but it is a Saturday and Holiday weekend!) and after all that I hope to enjoy this Fourth of July with my good friend Sara, visiting from Ontario. We are going to visit Hildene this week, thanks to tickets scored by Mark (Patty's Husband) who was the main architect on some of the remodeling and work on that museum. How cool is that? A new trail horse and a trip to Robert Todd Lincoln's home in Manchester to take in the beauty of Vermont, history, and a good friend to laugh with along the way.

Enjoy your weekend, and make time for good things you enjoy!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Come in, sit down.

Welcome new readers and old friends, I often post this: Come in,  Sit Down, which means introduce yourself here on the blog by your name and location, and maybe share a little more about yourself as far as homesteading dreams or goals are? If you don't feel comfortable giving your name online, you could always just leave your location and perhaps a suggestion for the blog. It's a way for me to see who I am writing to and say hello. It makes the place a little more friendly on this side, as you know so much about me, but I know so little about you. A simple introduction makes it feel like I'm talking with a group rather than writing to the sky. If you never comment this post is an exception worth making. You might even make a friend or two...

It's also a way for you guys out there to connect with other folks with like interests. If you're sitting in your Sausalito apartment dreaming of mini angus bloodlines and rototillers you might just see another name from Sausalito a few comments down dreaming about coop plans and explaining his container gardens.... and before you know if you've made a farming friend. The internet is great—you'll never hear me say otherwise—but it keeps us inside a little too much. It should be a tool to network and learn from, not a replacement for three dimensional conversations and relationships. (I am talking for myself right now as much as anyone) and by saying hello here you might just spark book clubs and dinner potlucks, meetups and work parties, farm visits and advice, or just someone to grab coffee with in the Philadelphia Barnes & Noble and pour over the new issue of Hobby Farms together while chatting about why your husbands think chickens are ridiculous.

So come on inside, pull up a chair, and say hello.

Mabel

A few weekends back I was sitting in the kitchen of Livingtston Brook Farm, after helping load hay in their barn. It was a hot, humid day and all of has had unloaded about 400 bales into Patty's old threshing barn. Once done we had all gathered in the cool farmhouse, we handful of other plucky volunteers. It was a group of mostly horse ladies and kind neighbors, a good crew. As Patty handed out plates of her warm berry pie and ice cream we chatted and enjoyed the reward for our given time. As beers were clanked and pie swallowed, Tabitha from Long Shadow's Farm was looking at an alert on her phone. She then said aloud, half joking, "Anyone looking for a horse?"

I perked up. Merlin had been alone at the farm with just sheep to keep him company for years. I was looking for a horse, had been for years, but not in any position to take the purchase price of a good animal or the medical needs most free rescue horses. I wanted that dream situation of a horse that needed a good home, was already trained to ride and drive, was younger than Merlin, and didn't come riddled with behavior or medical expenses. But as the saying goes: there is no such thing as a free horse.

But there was such a thing as Mabel.

Tabitha showed me the photo on her phone. At first I thought it was a Gypsy Vanner. A mare with proud red and white splotches and built sturdy as a brick house. Feathered feet, a proud red mane, and that short thick neck all draft horses share. This was a mare to be reckoned with. "She looks young?" I said. Tabitha nodded. Around here most animals that need rehoming for free are older pasture pets, unsound, or have never been trained or worked on. This horse was Amish broke to ride and drive, 10-12 years old, and needed a new home.

The story was sad, but not tragic. The owner loved her like a daughter and took amazing care of her, boarding her at a wonderful stable in Saratoga. But for personal reasons she needed to let her go, as it didn't work out as expected, and find her a place where she could live a good life.

Mabel has a lot going for her, but was hard to re-home due to some mild arthritis. She is sound at a walk. And when she's up to it trots and canters but needs some extra medical care like a daily supplement and, on occasion, an injection every six months or so. I had long talks with Patty, Tabitha, and the owner about the whole situation.
So last weekend Patty, Tabitha, and I drove out to meet her, evaluate, and ride her. Between then and today - the owner came to Cold Antler to inspect the place, meet Merlin, talk to my farrier and vet, and generally do the homework you do before rehoming an animal you hold dear. Everyone agreed this was a dream situation - three acres of pasture and a companion horse, run in shelter, an on-farm owner. Today Mabel was delivered to the farm and met Merlin. Both are thrilled with the situation!

I bought Mabel for one dollar. I signed the paperwork and Patty trailered him to Cold Antler this AM. And now the farm has a second horse to trail ride and drive with, at least within Mabel's ability. Mostly I wanted a partner for Merlin and an animal a guest could hop on so they could see my world from the best vantage point I can offer - the saddle. I am thrilled to have her and feel lucky as hell she came into my life.

And now I am going to head outside and spend some time with the herd.

For more pics and videos of Mabel, head over to twitter! I'm @coldantlerfarm 

Also: I should note that the owner and I agreed if for any reason I chose not to keep her she will pick her up and take her back. So if it doesn't work out - she simply goes back to the owner. But I don't anticipate any problems and we have an arrangement to take care of her needs.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Good Place

For a decade now I have been writing about my life as a homesteader. What started as a fever dream on a rented Idaho cattle ranch has developed into this home in the mountains of New York. Between then and now are three states, three different farmsteads, and now I am nesting into this little 6.5 acre spot on the side of a mountain.

Back then, everything about farming was new and exciting. A mason jar could get my heart rate up and new chicks at the post office was more exciting than Christmas morning was as an eight-year-old. Over the years farming went transitioned from my dream life to my everyday life. This isn't a bad thing because while highs and lows have come and gone, that love for this life never faded. Ten years later there are new events that still get my heart up. The skills I have collected and worked on keep growing and expanding off one another. If you told the 24-year-old version of me that by 34 not only would she own a draft horse but know how to harness and drive it - she would not believe you.

The farm is in a good place right now. I mailed off the July mortgage and it's June. I know that is normal, but it took a while to get ahead, even by a few days. It's freed up my mind and heart to focus more on planning instead of catching up. Which hasn't really settled my anxiety but has replaced tired fears with more anticipatory adventures. The good news is it isn't anything a nice long run and a sip of bourbon after a hard day can't fix.

Anxiety is part of my life and partially a gift. It keeps me running on just enough extra energy to accomplish things. Now that things are finally catching up to solvent, plumbing is (mostly) repaired, and there aren't cars driving by taking pictures from the bank my nerves are focused on keeping things that way. So I'll keep up the work of offering logos, illustrations, shares of meat, piglets, lambs, fleeces etc. Maybe some of us are just born nervous?

In other exciting news I got the first proofs of the hardcover version of Birchthorn! The book is lovely, cloth bound, and has a nice black jacket. It's being printed shortly now that it is approved and will be in the mail this summer to the backers, followed by the printing of the paperback this fall. I look forward to getting it out to all who supported it.

It's been mild up here. Looking forward to some real heat in the air. I've only been to the river once to fly fish and not swam at all. It's been to long of a spring and now that the Solstice has past and it still is rarely above 80, it makes it seem like a pre-fall before the light is tired enough to give into September. Has me thinking about firewood, which is good. My goal for July is to have a cord stacked and new boots. My recent pair is starting to fall apart from the inside!

Happy to report good news and honest nerves. Excited for the book to be in backers hands and that long campaign finally completed. I hope all of you are excited for this weekend! I'll be teaching archery and tuning up my fiddle.

Monday, June 26, 2017

At 39 Patty realized no one was going to buy her a horse, so she bought one for herself.

At 50 she started learning to drive carriages and trained her own Percheron, Steele by herself. Steele weighs a ton.

At 58 she bought her first horse bow & is now setting up a mounted archery course on her farm.

Be like Patty.