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.

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!

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.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Excavation Day!

It's been a week of fighting a cold (or pop-up 30s allergies?). I haven't been running or working out much because of it and little tasks like moving buckets full of water up a hill became tiring much faster. I'm glad to say that cold has began to slide off. My head is clearer and eyes are brighter, which is surprising since most of the day was spent around a broken toilet.

With the mortgage finally caught up I felt it was okay to work on priority number 3 for this farmhouse. (Priority number 2 is earning the next mortgage payment!) P3 was repairing plumbing and a friend of fellow farmers Patty and Mark who happens to be a pro plumber stopped by this morning. We took the toilet apart and off the pipes, dug up the septic, and had adventures with a lost snake (the tool not the animal), cut and repaired pipes, and enough digging to feel it in my shoulders. It was 4 hours of work and we're still not done but this Angel in Coveralls named Dan busted his ass trying to help with drainage blockage. I found the above treasure while looking for the septic lid.

At the end of it all I asked him what I owed him and since he didn't solve the problem he refused payment. I sent him home with some pork chops and he'll be back at 7AM. The good news is the rate is reasonable. I can pay him tomorrow after we fix the issue (I am being positive about this) and that is a good feeling.

And honestly, how often do you get a chance to really clean behind a toilet tank? Today I got that chance. Livin' the dream.

In other farm news the place has found its summer rythem. My days start with my boss, which is a small spiral notebook including the day's to do list. Because I'm kind to myself at 6:30AM I write down "Make coffee" every time to have something joyous to check off. Then the list of morning chores is done, checked off animal and task by animal. Some days items are added by need. For example: Trim goat feet, scrub hawk mews, make soap, or weed potato patch might be added along with morning food and water resources. Today the goal was just to get everything done before the mechanic arrived so I could help him dig and pass him tools. I'm glad I stuck to that list because plumbing waits for no woman when it gets fussy.

Many good things are in the works. No news or reasons to crack open bottles of champagne but I am optimistic about these things as well. What's the alternative? 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Piglets for Sale!

If you are looking for piglets, I have plenty here looking for new homes. They will be ready for pickup in six weeks, and will be wormed and electric fence trained before you take them home. (Both on wire and electric pig netting I ordered this morning). All the piglets are black (save for this little guy) and are from a mixture of Tamworth, Black, and Yorkshire lines out of Joshua Rockwoods's stock at West Wind Acres. If interested in reserving a piglet or four do contact me at this email.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Space Coop

I messaged Patty first thing in the morning after chores, asking if she wanted to come and help put together what I have been calling the "Space Coop." She was game.  She said she would be over around 10AM, between the thunderstorms hitting our corner of Veryork all day. I was grateful, since my ability to assemble or build anything is pretty awful. As a carpenter I am a great farm blogger.

But Patty, oh man, Patty has the ability to follow directions and solve problems with grace. Watching her build something from scrap lumber or repair a barn wall is like watching a natural at the cello play a concerto. She just gets it. She can create.  And she can look at directions and make things happen - be it a new pie recipe or a chick brooder made of old glass door frames. It's a gift I don't have and was happy to have her help.

 She arrived between the storms and it took us 2.5 hours and a lunch break, but we got the Eglu Cube built! It is the nicest piece of chicken housing this farm has ever seen. It will be home base for the Silkie chicks, whom I hope to breed in the future. Friends on Twitter have named the head male Falkor. So Falkor and his ladies will be moving into their new digs tonight.

I'm most impressed by how well thought out this coop is. It's built like a cooler, with the same thick, double-walled industrial plastic (cool when hot, warm when cold) - but for CHICKENS! It is vented, with doors to nesting areas and outside pens, and safe from predators and bad weather. It's also mobile. You can easily kick the wheels into gear and place it on new ground. I am impressed. These Silkies get an Eglu Cube and Scratch & Peck Feed - some fancy fowl!

When we took a break from building I got to share with Patty the good news. I called the bank this AM and the farm is caught up on the mortgage for the first time in a long time. Thanks to this weekend and the community here and on twitter I have weeks of work ahead of me. A lot to do and mail, but still, what a relief to be hired by so many people. I am still sending out thank yous and emails as I have time. The power was out for a few hours today, so I will do my best to catch up but if for some reason I missed you - know it is the community around this story and blog that sustains and encourages this farm. Thank you from the bottom of my misanthropic heart.

I'm still here. Still farming. Still going.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Update: Saturday Afternoon

I am so amazed at the support from the blog and twitter. Thanks to the readership this farm is already in a better place than it was this morning. So many people reached out and offered to buy logos or illustrations, enough that I feel I have some skin to put into the game when I call the bank first thing Monday Morning. It will either be enough to get out of the woods or at least give me a place to start the conversation - and the confidence from knowing that conversation can happen at all is enough to help me sleep tonight. I have tried to respond to all the emails and comments, but if I missed you know how much it means to me. Know this farm is because of those who want to read about it, follow my story, and support a feral woman. I am feeling hopeful.

The Letter

I have been farming at my homestead in Jackson, the township area outside the village of Cambridge, New York, for seven years. As a single woman I have purchased this farm, raised good food, taught classes, and wrote books. I’ve followed my passions here. I've fallen apart here. I built myself back up here. This is the place that created the woman I am today. This is home.

Today a certified letter arrived in the mail. A notice of foreclosure. Making monthly mortgage payments is all well and good – but if you are always a month or two behind when you send them - you are still behind. And every day you are behind adds up as default. I haven’t had the ability to earn enough in one fell swoop to cover the back payments. I thought I was keeping the wolves from the door by making regular payments, but the wolves are not waiting any longer.

I have a few days to gather the money and I don’t want to do a crowdfunded charity if I can avoid it. I have zero problem with people using these, but I feel that I have skills and work I can offer instead.  I'd much rather have a folder of 30 clients wanting something I made and the ability to give something of value in return for hard-earned money.

So here is what I am going to try. I am going to design a voucher for a pet art commission or logo and offer them to you to purchase.


The pet art/animal commissions are $100 for full color artwork mailed anywhere in the world. They are on 9x12” Bristol Board. Please Email me at dogsinourparks(at)gmail.com if you would like to purchase or gift one to someone who could use it.

The Logo Design vouchers are $200. It is a flat rate for a custom logo. Please Email me at dogsinourparks(at)gmail.com if you would like to purchase or gift one to someone who could use it.

These are both $50 off the regular price. If you buy one from me you can use it anytime in the future or the person you gift it to can for a drawing or logo. If I can sell enough to catch up it will literally save this farm. It’s made it 7 years and I really, really, want to see it make 8.

If artwork or a logo isn’t your thing, I offer archery and fiddle classes at the farm. there is also an option on my blog, barnheart.com to subscribe as a patron for $5 a month for the writing.

If you just want to make a one time contribution to the blog - there is the option to use www.paypal.me/JennaCAF

And what is the plan if I do manage to save this place in a weekend? The plan is to keep writing, farming, freelancing, and working until I gain the solvency doing what I love. And if I fail, then I fail. If my writing or products created from this place are not valuable to people than that is what should happen and I accept that. But I’m going to keep trying. And hoping to make the break that makes a name for this place that makes all the difference - whatever that may be.

Note: If you do not want to support the blog, that's fine. The blog is free and has been for all ten years of content. I do ask that if you dislike me, this farm, or my work you keep your comments/emails/tweets to yourself for a few days. Please respect my candor, if nothing else. I am trying my best to earn the money I need from people who want to support the farm. I want to use work, and repaid loans like Kiva offers instead of crowdfunding if possible. If asking for that opportunity offends you, I don't know what else to say.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Power of Micro-Loans!

So happy to share some great news! I JUST sent in my last loan repayment on my beloved pickup truck. Thanks to the magic of micro-lending, 63 different people loaned my farm small amounts of money. Those small gestures of faith and friendship 2 years ago added up to the total cost of buying, taxes, tags, and registration of a used 1989 F150. That truck is my baby, and what I depend on every day to move meat, hay, feed, and myself around Washington County. As of today my only auto expenses are a small insurance bill (around $48) and gas/maintenance. As someone who has dealt with auto payments most of her adult life this is a true reason to raise a glass tonight!

Kiva was the program that made this possible. Thanks to their website I was approved, loan launched, and funded in under 24-hours. I was able to set up repayments I could manage and it made all the difference to this small farm. And the people who loaned the money to me had the choice of either returning the repaid money to their bank accounts or lending it to someone else. This is the magic of Kiva. I have been able to help many people over the years by re-lending the same fifty dollars all over the world. I've helped farmers over and over, seven loans as of this morning (Just sent $25 to a woman needing pig feed in the Philippines!) and that was money recycled through Kiva.

It feels good to accept loans from people who want to help you, it feels great to repay that loan, and it feels even better to use my money in my portfolio on Kiva to help others.

Soon I'll launch another loan through Kiva for farm repairs/improvements. It'll help me to buy equipment, fencing, and farm repairs without having to use the money earned through logos/soap/illustration and other creative means for anything but catching up on the mortgage. As I prepare for that launch I ask that you consider loaning through Kiva - if not to help Cold Antler to help people all over the world take care of their crops, beasts, and families.

There's enough bad news out there. Let's help each other where we can.

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!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Round 'Em Up!

Gibson has turned into a swell piglet wrangler. They have been getting a little too adventurous around the farm and are learning the dogs don't go into their den and staying closer to the moms. But catching this action shot made my morning! See photos like this, and many more each day, over at twitter. I'm @coldantlerfarm

The Jump

It started with me standing at the edge of a waterfall in Tennessee. Abrams Falls is only three stories, but it's amazing how high that feels right before you decide to jump off it.

I was fresh out of college and had spent the year working my first real job. I was a web designer for HGTV in Knoxville. Born and bred in the northeast, the decision to move to the South alone was the biggest I'd made in my life so far. But I did it. I got an apartment, adopted a pair of Siberian Huskies, and now this young woman hopped up on adrenaline and corporate health insurance was standing on the edge of a waterfall feeling invincible. My real life was just starting.

...And I was possibly going to end it by jumping off a wet cliff. Why? Because my friend Heather and I had hiked several miles to this mountain spring in the glorious summer heat and we brought towels to enjoy a swim as a post-hiking treat. While we played with the baby trout swimming around our knees in the shallows, we witnessed several frat guys jumping off the falls and having a hell of a time. I decided I wanted to do it, too.

So I climbed up the craggy trail and stood at the edge of the falls, the water rushing around me as my legs wobbled on outcropped rocks. I knew I had to run and jump. There was about six feet of clearance needed to not end up skewered on large rocks directly below. From the comfort of the ground that distance looked easy to clear. Up here, not so much.

I jumped.

I didn't run. I should have run. I just used my shaking thighs to launch myself and I hadn't cleared that crucial distance. I will never forget watching those rocks rushing up at me, knowing I was going to die. I closed my eyes and accepted the mistake.

A second later I was surrounded by cold water. I looked up at the sunshine above me, liquid light at the end of a tunnel of green water. I moved all my limbs slowly. I felt my head. I was still underwater and I think, in shock. I didn't think about breathing. I was suspended in awe.

When I finally swam up to the surface all those frat guys were around the ledge, faces white and horrified. A guy made a measurement between his thumb and index finger and said, "You were THIS close. We all thought you hit the edge. We came down to fish you out!"

I walked back to the trail head feeling ethereal. I was certain I'd float off if I wasn't weighed down by the luck that allowed me to survive. It coated me in a cold sweat, like dew. How was I still alive? How did I still have time? I shouldn't have any more time?

The next day the local news reported that two grown men died at the same falls. Not from jumping off, but from swimming too close and getting pulled under by the force of falling water. It scooped them out of the world in an instant, a hunting undertow. It took a harnessed SCUBA team to pull out the bodies. They were trapped by the pressure.


Read more »

Thursday, June 8, 2017

50 new. I taken. I gone.

My morning started with death. While doing the morning rounds I noticed only 8 of the 9 sheep were out. The oldest ewe, Split Ear, who came here 6 years ago wasn’t accounted for. It didn’t take long to find her in the pole barn. She had died in the night, by all accounts peacefully. I sighed and got the chore cart I usually used to load hay bales with up into the field. She would need to be buried straight away. It was a somber way to begin a sunny day.

Martha called from the Post Office this morning. It was some time after the dead ewe was removed from the farm and hay was fed but before milking. I could barely hear the ring from outside the farmhouse.

Side note: I need to get one of those landline outside ringers I see attached to the old dairy barns around here. They still sell them on Ebay, and they are loud as alarm clocks. I ran inside and pulled the yellow receiver off my wall-mounted yellow dinosaur.I played with the cord as I turned down the stove so the boiling-over coffee would stop vomiting.

”Jenna, I have your babies." Was what the voice said to me. I thanked her and said I’d be down in twenty minutes. My chickens had arrived.

The sun was out and that’s a novelty these days. My county is about 6 inches above the seasonal average for rain. Great for growing hay/horrible for harvesting it. But today there were rays of light and clouds of fog coming off the road and trucks. Sun was hitting wet things with such force it demanded changes in physical states. I wasn’t going to argue. Time to get moving.

The chicks were 50 meat birds from Freedom Ranger Hatchery. Sturdy little nuggets and all arrived in good health. It didn’t take long at all to take them outside to a chicken tractor and get them settled in with feed, water, and extra electric fencing around the perimeter. I had learned that just because animals are inside a pen doesn't mean predators can't get to them.

As I worked on settling in the babies the sows from the pig paddock watched in interest. Were these chicks snacks or neighbors? They grunted and the little piglets above them on the muddy hill darted around. With the boar out of the picture it was just the ladies and their combined litters. All the piglets born were hail and spry. They sleep together, nurse together, raise them as a combined unit. Good for them. Don’t say that rural America isn’t progressive.

This is farming. Before I had my coffee I had held a funeral and set up a nursery. It’s not for everyone.

Later in the afternoon my friend Tara would be arriving. She’s launching this amazing new food site called The Woodland Kitchen. I am so proud of her, beyond proud. She’s traveled the world, nested in Vermont, and now wants to share her passion of food. Her site will be about local foods and seasonal meals in her world and I thought she’d want to be a part of the process of harvesting a pig. I invited her to photograph the process and blog about it if she liked. She was game.

Tara arrived and shortly after the butchering crew did as well. It amazes me how fast they work. From the pull of the trigger to the time the animal is skinned, gutted, and halved and being set into their truck to be returned to the shop is under an hour. Tara took some photos and was okay with the whole endeavor. Not everyone is, but as a cookbook author and world-watcher - she was fine. Soon we were bagging up leaf lard, cheek meat, and liver into separate bags to share for recipes. Around here things with names go to things in recipes pretty fast.

And just like that the farm's tally changes. My brain slides the clumsy census abacus around a few knocks. 50 new. I taken. I gone.

There's a lot of life here now, far more than death. The piglets, the chicks, the ducklings and silkies. There are still more animals to come and go but among the green and the hope of this place the blood and bodies are rare. Part of that is luck, but mostly its doing the same thing for years on end. As a new farmer I made mistakes that meant animals died. Proud to say death comes far rarer these years. An old sheep dying quietly in her sleep is okay. A pig harvested for people who ordered shares of him is okay, too. The chicks will be in the freezer here and freezer of friends soon.

Personally, I am working to sell another book and share more of my story. The time between book sales has gone from months to years. I learned to be resourceful. I learned to share and sell skills and items besides words for profit. In a few weeks I am teaching beginner archery lessons here at the farm. People who bought shares of this particular pig will be notified. Right now things are so tight I can't actually leave the farm until some income comes in, but that's okay. I have what I need. The animals have what they need. There is food and sunlight and work for all. There's a new proposal to work on, designs and illustrations, and my weekly fitness goals to smash. I got a lot of books to read, rivers to fish, roads to run, a farm to care for, a hawk to fly, and a horse to ride. and most of all, I got a place to fight for. I still feel like I am proving the endurance test that lets me stay here. That proves this is home. I can't wait to pass it. To get there.

I think this is it for me - this writing thing. It's part of every day and there's a stack of six books I managed to publish so far. I want to see that stack grow. I want to keep up a life of good deaths and hope in the form of fluff balls like those chicks. I want to keep getting better at understanding all of it.

I think it might be love.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

35

It's midnight in New York. I'm wide awake.

I'm just home from visiting Tara and Tyler in Vermont. They're home from a few weeks of visiting relatives in the Midwest. I missed them. We made plans earlier in the week to catch up, and I offered to head their way. I figured crossing half the continent was enough travel for them this month. So after the evening chores were done and the farrier had packed up - Gibson and I jumped into the truck.

Gibson just comes along. He's always with me. He's a ghost at people's homes, asleep in a corner or silently sitting beside me. Since he's so well behaved it's expected he'll come along for a night like this in another little farmhouse. 

I live a few miles from the state line. Around here everyone calls it Veryork, a weird spot in America where half our lives are in Bennington or Manchester and the other in Albany or Saratoga. That is the radius I spend most of living in. The ride was less than half an hour and I was at their driveway. The same timber-framed cottage I helped raise and the same people I've known all these years. I parked Taylor, Gibson jumped out of the bench seat, and inside we went.

Tara had just made fresh bread. The house smelled amazing. She also cooked up some bacon, sliced up a giant ripe tomato, and set out lettuce and mayo. BLT's were on the menu and as we hugged and swapped salutations I reached into my rucksack and pulled out a package of bacon from my own pigs. A future BLT night was on Cold Antler.

We ate, we caught up. We talked about their trip, our work, our lives. We ate and laughed, cracked beers and jokes. Things family do. And then Tyler pulled down their giant screen (that takes up a whole wall) and turned on the projector. We watched Get Out on the big screen, with an intermission for Tara's homemade cherry pie.

So I got home late. This is a late Friday night for me these days. A movie at a friends' place, my dog sleeping beside me, dinner, pie.

That's where I was tonight.

I don't want to be anywhere else.

A short while ago, right before I sat down to write this, I was outside with a flashlight, searching every corner of this farm for ducklings. They usually put themselves to bed before dark, waddling into the barn and tucking into the space between the goat pen and bales of hay. It feels safe. It's the best spot. If I had to spend the night in the barn that's the place I'd choose, too. But they were not in the barn and so I started looking for them.

I did it while checking on the other animals, mostly by listening. Chickens know to be silent after dark, but not ducks. They hear footsteps and start to let out shuddering peeps. That is what I was listening for as the beam from the flashlight walked around the pens and fences.

Around me were fireflies, the sounds of the stream, the tree frogs - all the inhales and exhales of a forest and farm. I heard the blowing of air from Merlin's giant nostrils and turned my beam toward his pasture. His black outline and brown eyes caught the light, glowing silver and green. I smiled. I thought of the old superstition of seeing a female horse before bedtime and the bad dreams they could bring you. Merlin's a gelding, not a night mare.

I walked the familiar paths. The flashlight danced and flirted with the fireflies. The half moon was bright enough I didn't need it, but it was a way to direct focus. I checked on the sows and their piglets. They were all tucked into hay and breathing deep. The boar in the barn was out cold. The sheep were in their pole barn on the hill. The chickens roosting. The ducklings didn't peep.

I walked to the mews to check on Aya. She was inside, resting like a queen on her throne. I had spent the day scraping, raking, painting, organizing and cleaning her space.  It looked tidy in there with the gloves and hoods on pegs in a neat row. As I was checking to see her feet and their grip on the perch I heard a duckling's whisper behind me.

I turned. They were in the bushes beside the house. Not a bad place for a camping trip but I wanted them in their barn. I wanted them in the safe place. So I grabbed a large walking stick against the mews and tapped their rumps gently. They stumbled out and soon there was a line in the moonlight - farmer and staff, flashlight and fireflies, and ducklings making their way across the lawn to the open barn door. Now everyone was in their safe place. Now it's my turn.

My safe place is here. Yes this house and this land, but mostly writing. I can't imagine not doing this, not sharing this story. Not because it deserves to be shared but because it's a compulsion. And as far as addictions go this one is pretty cheap and reliable, I'll take it.

I'll be thirty five in a few weeks. Which is great, but a number like that demands a certain amount of looking around. Here's what I see: married friends, their kids, career advancement, and world travel. I see women my age at a different place. For years I felt I had to compare myself to that. Then I felt I had to vocally announce to the world I didn't compare myself to it. I'm exhausted from both.

I'm at the fortunate crossroads of not wanting to be anyone else at a time society seems to expect me to more than ever. I don't want to raise children. The idea of a wedding makes me ill. I don't want to date your boyfriend or girlfriend or have your career. I don't want your passport. I don't want to have your body, your hair, your pets, or your living room set. I am entirely content with the story I wrote.

Yeah, there are still things I dream about, and people, and places I want to stand and feel wind. There are books and conversations yet written and shared. But there's also this duck-sleeping-between-the-goat-pen-and hay-bale contentment knowing that a night with friends, pie, movies, and laughter fills up all the cracks inside me. That safety of knowing fear isn't motivation anymore. That hunger to change and grow and keep expecting things to surprise and delight me is what's ahead.

Women haven't had this kind of 35 before. 

I feel like life is just getting started. It's a weird alchemy to try to explain but it makes me feel lucky. I hope I always keep this feeling. I think it's the trick to the whole thing.

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Good Pack

When I was in high school a new store opened at the Lehigh Valley Mall. It was called EMS and it sold all the coolest backpacking and climbing gear. I was a lifeguard in the summer and worked at a rock climbing gym in the winter and this was a dream come true. I bought this inexpensive canvas rucksack back then. I remember having it loaded for day hikes with my Golden Retriever mix, Murray. I remember filling it with some bouldering gear and my climbing shoes to bum with friends out on the rocky ridge by our high school. It's been with me ever since. It came to college with me. It bummed around the art campus until I felt it looked too shabby and out of place with the tech-pack phase that was going on then. The teal I loved looked embarrassingly weird. I threw it in the closet.

Then I moved from college to Tennessee, and it came along in the U-haul. After that it came on hikes in the Smoky mountains. From there it moved with me and my Siberian huskies to Idaho, and then Vermont, and now to this farm in New York. I just found it last week hanging and covered with dust in a storage area.

I washed it. I sewed a patch on it. Now it's my summer bag. What always has the essentials for a day on the job around here: first aid, water, sunblock, bug spray, snacks, wallet, etc. It's like a purse but the kind you can strap to your body and get lost all morning in the forest beside.

Why share this? Because I was looking online for a new backpack before I searched for this. I stopped shortly after seeing what the newest trends were. Now packs come with all sorts of water bladders and built-in rain covers and enough hooks and ladders to keep a filing clerk happy. What I needed was something to hold things. And it no longer is exciting or fun to buy new when you can take care of what you already have. It's how I feel about the farm. It's how I feel about a lot of things. And I'm proud of nearly 20 years of service from a good pack.

Thank You

Readers,

Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts, see the pictures, and share the adventure. It always will be. But all authors, artists, musicians, and creators depend on the people who appreciate their work to be patrons on some level.

If you own my books, thank you. If you share my blog posts, thank you. If you have come to a workshop or event here, thank you. And if you simply want to kick in $5 a month towards feed and hay - I thank you. It's a small way to both encourage me and help keep the lights on.

Like NPR stations, I'll be here to tune into whether you wish to subscribe and be a patron or not. But I do ask if you enjoy what you read here and do not already subscribe - to consider it. This is a time that the farm needs support from those who wish to see it remain the home of Cold Antler.  Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,
-j

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Piglets!

It's been a beautiful and rainy morning on this farm! I woke up to see that a litter of piglets was born to the black sow, and all the babies and the mom are doing well. This morning she let me come right into the pen and deliver her breakfast of pig chow and goat's milk and I snapped this photo of two of the littles while mom ate. The delivery happened in the night and seems to have gone off without a hitch. I made sure to scratch the boar on the head and congratulate him, "You're a dad, buddy! Good job." And he seemed more concerned about his Seamless delivery than he did about the news.

This is a first for Cold Antler Farm. I have been raising pigs here for years but never had them born on my own land. It's a proud moment but also a little daunting, since that beginner's panic is laid out. My reading and preparation (and advice from pig-breeding neighbors) has been helpful. Some reading says to expect up to 25% loss of piglets in open pen environments. My sow isn't in a confined pen not allowing her to roll over or move freely. I spent an hour or so with her watching her move and for a new mother, she seemed hyper aware of where every piglet was. She lay slowly, grunted softly, and let me watch them nurse. When I saw all the piglets were suckling I left her alone with them.

Soon after the piglets were checked on there was the rest of morning chores to see to, hay to pick up at another farm, a few packages of soap to mail to readers in Oregon and Georgia, and the regular work here at home. I mailed out a house payment, too. It should be postmarked with enough time to keep the wolves pacing outside the yard and not inside it. This is all good news. This scrappy little mountain farm has new life, a payment sent, packages shipped across the continent of my words and work, and much excitement for coming projects of new books and publishing adventures.

Sometimes it is all a little overwhelming, but if you turn up the music and dance in the barn a little it's hard not to get back to work with more joy in your heart than fear. That's the race we are all running. Can we be more excited about tomorrow than afraid of it? If the answer to that is yes you're on my team.