Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Lightning Fence

Surely you've heard of an electric fence but do you know about the Lightning Fence? That name fits, because this is beyond any power tucked inside boxes and wires. This is a force of nature. A line so strong, so absolutely undisputed that rams shake and lambs scatter at the sight of it, much less a touch.

The Lightning Fence is just that; an ever presence. It is like a thunderstorm hovering above a pasture. And just like a storm it knows when to strike quick or become the gentle pulse needed to control the stock. It's a thing of beauty, under utilized as rainwater and just as necessary.

Do you know about how effective it is in any weather? Come drought or snow, power outage or shaking earth - the Lightning Fence still runs! It's dependable the way a farmer needs dependability. One purchase lasts for years, works for over a decade without complaint, and can add extra warmth to your home on cold nights. It runs entirely on renewable energy, requires minimum maintenance, and makes a single shepherd as powerful as a fleet of ATVs, waving hats, and barbed wire. Sometimes us with Lightning Fences wonder how any of you are doing this fine work without one? But sadism is growing rampant in these troubling times and who are we to judge?

The Lightning Fence is not new. It has been used since time out of mind to move animals to fresh grass. Where do you want them? How long? Perhaps you need them over here, under there, across this stream or through these woods? The Lightning Fence understand you, speaks your language! It hears you and does whatever it can with a power that tears into the earth and, at times, can fly across the twilight sky.

It makes the farmer question everything he has ever been taught about the sacred. For how could holiness be found only in stone churches when such grace and force dances before their eyes? And how could words in books ever doubt the certainty of want?

I am a wielder of a Lightning Fence.
If that is all I get to be in this short and wild life, it is enough.


Goat Life

Anyone who shares their life with goats knows all too well that the reputation is well earned. In so many mythologies and traditions the goat (or goat-like attributes) have been associated with wit, joy, frivolity, pleasure, passion and naughtiness. We see horns and cloven feet and we think: you little devils, but we think it with love. Part of living with goats is accepting the fact they will constantly outsmart you, frustrate you, and challenge you - but you are better for it. My fences are better, my feeding regimen is better, and the animals have given back so much. Just two goats and I am set up for all the milk, cheese, yogurt, and soap I could ever want. I trade and barter the extra and any old milk gets poured right into the piglet's trough. And not just little pigs enjoy milk. My older pigs in my barn love it as well and stand next to the edge of their pen while I milk Bonita with happy squeals and open mouths. I can shoot right from the teat four feet into their mouths and that is a scene worth getting up early for! I can't encourage you enough to take on a goat or two if they interest you. I really can't. Once goats are a part of your life, you can't go back.

Bonita and Ida are doing well. They have slick coats, trimmed hooves, and seem happy as Pan himself. Here they are on their afternoon walkabout, realizing that there is grain in the back of the truck. Bonita is already up and investigating and Ida (bottom left) is about to jump up and join in on the ravel. They never did get the bag open but had I not herded them back into the woods they very well may have! I love their afternoon gambol around the farm. Usually it is after milking and all other chores and I just sit and read in the chair hammock while they eat things out of shrubs and trees. Ida prefers apple leaves and Bonita prefers Burdock. They play with Gibson, snort and fart, and just act...well, capricious.

If anyone out there has any goat life questions, reservations, or tips for fencing - please do share in the comments. When it comes to these guys most of us need all the help we can get, but even in our collective fray we like that we share our days with these imps. They put the party in pastoral.

Enjoy this short clip of our afternoon walkabouts. It lasts a short while until a border collie jumps up into my lap and the film cuts out! (Gibson is soooo much better now!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

INDIE DAYS! One on One Skill Sharing

Indie Days are a new thing here. The reason for them is exactly states in the title. Indie means Independent. If I want to live a life as a self-employed woman, independent and resilient, then I need to keep a roof over my head, stay on top of my bills, and slowly try to improve my own situations. Indie Days are a step in that direction

It’s the chance to come to the farm and hang out for a whole day to talk, learn, ask questions, or just see what life on a farm with this many animals is like? It’s just you and me. Or you, me, and your best friend or spouse or teenage daughter or son. Point is it’s a tiny group and just for you. You can schedule it in advance or make it an Indie Weekend. They work like this: you show up in the morning and we do a farm tour and get to know each other and then we get started on what it is you want to experience: fiddle lessons one on one? Backyard pigs? Homesteading for beginners? Building and planting raised beds? Learning to shoot a bow? Starting a blog or getting into writing? What it takes to take on the dream of a working equine? Always wanted a border collie and want to see one or two (we can ask Jon and red, he offered to share his pooch with CAF readers at times) we can do that! If it is something I can teach you, I will. If it’s something I can’t I’ll let you know.

Here’s an example of an Indie Day, and something I am also offering to anyone interested in this. Woolcentric: come to the farm and join me out in the pasture with the sheep. We’ll talk livestock, I’ll show you my system and animals, and then we’ll take some wool (either off the sheep’s back or from a stash of brown Joe wool) and learn to wash, dry, card, and spin it with a drop spindle or spinning wheel. I’ll send you home with some raw wool and GET THIS, a spinning wheel! You can also buy the Ashford Traditional Wheel I bought from Jack’s Outback Antiques downtown. It’s the wheel I learned on, and love, but I am happy to sell it to someone to help keep this farm in the black. I can always buy another spinning wheel when my money situation improves. Right now I just want to get this place back on track. And that’s the exact point of an Indie Day. You come to hang with a blogger and writer you enjoy, learn a new skill, and go home with what you need for said skill (like a spinning wheel!). Things like fiddles, bows, and dulcimers have to be purchased as well but you can task me with finding the right instrument or tool for the job and you just have to come and learn it, love it, and give it a good home. I also have a stag adorned mountain dulcimer you can buy fro Craggy Mountain Music, Taxidermy, Horse Equipment, and others.

The point of this is to give readers a chance to experience and support the farm in a special way. It’s one on one, catered to what you want to know, and at a date of your choosing. It will cost more than a workshop, but not a huge amount more and isn’t included in the Season Passes (though season pass holders can certainly do this, too). Indie Days are special.

If you are interested please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com. I'll send you all the details, pricing, and such. If you want to send an email about how you think this is ridiculous, how you are happy to see the place struggling, how I don't deserve my farm, or how I am a general horrible person you can direct all of your complaints here!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Story of a Burger

This here burger is not an expensive, gourmet, meal. It is not reserved for the rich, fancy, or social elite. This is pan-seared meat, seasoned with salt and pepper and bonded with one of my hen's eggs. It's on a quickly made sweet bun, and dressed with lettuce and regular ol' ketchup. It's a cheeseburger. But what is neat about this burger is it's life story. If you give me a minute I can share it's entire dossier.

The quarter-pound of meat comes from Mack Brook Farm, a local Angus producer here in Washington County. I bought the pound at Gardenworks, a local farmyard grocer and berry operation. It cost eight dollars, and was the most expensive part of the meal. I don't raise cows (though my heart does flirt with the idea of miniature highlanders...) and so I bought the pound.

The bread was made from cheap flour bought at Stanndard Farm Stand. They didn't used to carry flour in little pound-to-three-pound sacks but now they do because I asked them to. They obliged and the whole sack of three pounds cost me around two dollars. It is not organic. It is not fancy. It's just white flour. I made the dough with well water, a pinch of salt, some yeast from a packet and baked the five buns in a buttered skillet. Before setting them in the oven I brushed them with some local honey and butter melted together in a pan. They are, literally, honey buns.

The lettuce was planted in my garden, raised up and harvested last night. It was crisp and lovely. It was free. Well, not really. I bought a six pack of started lettuce back in early May for two bucks and this shady stuff hasn't bolted yet. It's probably five cents worth of lettuce? Perhaps two or three cents?

The slice of cheese came from the deli at Stanndard Farm. It was $2.60 cents for half a pound. I'm sure it is not local or organic, but it is from Amish country since the folks at Stannard ship up all their deli meats, jams, sodas, and such from the Lancaster area for the stand. I am not too hung up on the cheese, or the flour, because I was able to buy it from a local farm stand who has children to raise, put through college, and happens to run a shop a literal horse-cart ride away from Cold Antler.

This here burger is pretty darn local. At least it is an east-coast burger. But that isn't as important to me as the price. This burger cost me about $2.73. Most of that came from the price of the meat. The rest was divided by the price of the lettuce, flour, egg, cheese, honey, and squirt from a bottle of Heinz. That is not a bad price for a meal so rich, tasty, and filling.

What this burger did take - was time. It took time to plant the heads of lettuce. It took about fifteen minutes to mix, knead, and brush the rolls. It took five minutes to cook the meat. By historical standards this is still fast food—peasant food really, just a bit of meat and bread—but by modern standards this was not at all fast food. I did not pull up to a drive thru, I knew the cows by zip code and reputation, baked the buns,  it cost more than 99 cents, etc.

The question I pose is this: is this burger worth the time and effort to most people?  I ask this because I know some of you will like this story of a burger and get you excited to post your own Burger Stories on Facebook and Reddit. Others will balk at this and think I am preaching, being elitist, or unrealistic. What I'm more interested in is WHY people feel one way or the other? Does it come down to money? Time? Access to such food? Would this burger cost double in NY City to make in your apartment? Would it cost triple at your local cafe?  All of a sudden the story of a burger becomes the social commentary of a burger, the politics of a burger, or the guild of the burger. I added that last one because if you think I eat totally local and homemade all the time, I don't. Last night I did but some nights I am so tired and beat I don't eat at all, or I just run into town for something quick.

My intention was just to share the story of one meal and see where it goes. But also to share it tasted really good. Like, ridiculously good. And I'm curious to know if Burger Stories are something you enjoy, roll your eyes over, or would just rather have the recipe for the bun and patties?


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brianna!

It is not easy taking pictures of lambs, but I did my best for now. Just wanted to share an update on little Brianna, Maude's surpirse daughter and the current Diva-in-training at Cold Antler Farm. She is quite the combination! Half wool sheep and half meat sheep, she is turnining into a sass blaster with little devil horns and a winning smile. She still comes when called, is still ignored by her mother, and has outgrown all the other ewe lambs born this year! She is a doll, and I am mighty proud of her. May she do a grand job of adding more ewes to the flock, turning hay into warm hats and scarves, and teaching future generations the meaning of adorable.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Only A Few Spots Left for Antlerstock!

Just a few spots left for Antlerstock 2014! Email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com to sign up and join the small festival of homesteading, lumberjacking, horse logging, food preserving, cider pressing, preparedness discussing, husbandry talking, goat milking, tree cutting, animal raising, horseback shooting, bow stringing, hunting storied campfire that is this October!

Summer in a Jar

Canning at home was one of the first country living skills I ever learned, and I learned it long before I ever trimmed a goat's foot (note to self: trim goat feet today) or herded sheep with my Border Collie. I learned it first because you don't need the country to do it, savor it, and reap the rewards of it. Anyone can get a hold of fresh fruit now—be it from the garden, forest, friends, farm stand or what is on sale at the grocery store—and start "putting up." And please do not forget that last mention either. I know in the homesteading community we all love to grow, barter, share and support small farmers but for some people their location or budget does not allow for the time or gas money to travel to the kind of stands and agriculture. There is nothing wrong with learning to can with store bought fruit right from the supermarket! We all know peaches, strawberries, and such taste a lot better now than they will in February and they cost half as much, too. So keep that in mind urban or new homesteaders out there; you don't need a garden, farm, or sunset looking over a mountain vista of berry fields to can.

You just need to want to can! So, you want to can?!

The fine people at Mountain Feed, a wonderful small homesteading company (and Cold Antler Sponsor, for which I thank them!) sent me the Big Daddy of all beginner canning sets. They sent me the Ball Fresh Preserving Canning Kit and some jars! I was so thrilled!  I have a canner but it has been used more for soaking chickens for de-feathering during butchering and I was pretty happy to have a new one just for preserving. And seeing that new canner and all the shiny new gear really is what inspired me to get out there and start picking those berries. It didn't take long to collect enough to start getting ready to make jam. I'm including their short intro video with this post as well because it really is a well shot and easy to understand overview of fresh preserving high acid goodies like jams, jellies, pickles and pasta sauce. Enjoy it!


Mountain Feed Learn'Ems: Water Bath Canning from Mountain Feed & Farm Supply on Vimeo.


So I spent a little time this week canning up some of this summer's harvest. I put up a large supply of berry jam and water bath canned it and I turned those three big cucumbers you saw in the produced basket a few days ago into fridge pickles. I have been enjoying both already! Since one of the can's lids didn't seal that jam went straight into the fridge. I spread some over a slice of toast and wondered why I ever bought jam before in my life? The berries on this farm are ripe and gorgeous, and when turned into a hot, red, stew over the stovetop with some added strawberry goodness it was such a delight. My little house was filled with such amazing smells

Oh? What's a fridge pickle? Well, thank you for asking. It's the world's easiest pickle recipe when you have just enough cucs to warrant five minutes of work, I highly recommend it. And if this post has you a little excited about putting up food and you are nervous about being a new canner - this is a grand way to start. Adjust the technique as you see fit (there are also many recipes online if you search for fridge pickles). As a general rule the more sweet - the more sugar, and the more vinegar - the more tart. I like a nice balance and they don't last long in my fridge. Most of these are now gone, and only the picture delayed their inevitable demise!

How to Make Easy Fridge Pickles.

1. Cut up your Cucumbers into spears or slices.
2. Place in large bowl or glass baking dish.
3. Cover all the pickles with sugar, plain sugar.
4. Pour canning vinegar over the sweet slices.
5. Add pickling spices to taste (comes in spice jar at your grocer).
6. Put in fridge for a few hours to get to know itself better.
7. Place in jar and enjoy right out of fridge!
(Good for a week or so, then get soggy like)

So What are YOU putting up where you live?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Open Letter To Angry Vegetarians

About once a week I get an email or comment from the Animal Rights contingent. It is expected and usually I do not engage. I need to remember that when I published my first book I was a vegetarian raising a few laying hens and pet rabbits. Readers who knew me as the 25-year-old girl they read about (at the time just farm-curious and toying with the idea of homesteading) meet a very differnet woman on my current blog. To read that book and then pop into a blog where just seven years later that same vegetarian is raising hogs, lambs, and poultry for meat is unsettling and shocking to some readers. And so I get these notes from what I call the Angry Vegetarians. The folks who feel personally betrayed, not just for my change of diet but my change in ideas. Yesterday I was called a murderer. I've been called that many times, and in some emails, that is the nicest part of the correspondence.

The following is a letter to that Angry Vegetarian and to any others who may feel the same way. But before you read it please understand that this letter is not directed at the vegetarian diet in general. I have no qualms with it, at all. Millions of people avoid meat for religious, health-related, or various reasons of preference. This letter is not directed at them. This is a letter for the angry folks who think not eating meat makes them morally superior to those of us who do. 


Dear A.V. Club,

I recently received your note, the one that accused me of being a murderer. I understand why you are angry and I applaud your compassion. I understand because I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade, the same breed as yourself actually. Meaning; I chose the diet because of a love for animals, passion for conservation, and concern for our diminishing global resources. Avoiding meat seemed to be a kinder, gentler, and more ecological choice. I supported PETA. I had ads in Vegan magazines for my design website. I am no longer a vegetarian and do raise animals on my small farm for the table, but we have more in common than you may realize.

It would be foolish for me to try and change your mind about eating animals, and I have no interest in doing so. The vegetarian diet is a fine diet. We live in a time of great abundance and luxury, and that means choices! Never before in the history of the human animal have so many options for feeding ourselves been presented like they are now. If you want to eat a gluten-free, dairyless, low cholestoral, and mid-range protein diet based on whey extracted from antibiotic free Jersey Cows-  you can. Your great grandparents could not. There was no almond milk at the Piggly Wiggly and ration cards kinda ruined that conga line. But now there is so much food and your diet is as much a personal a choice as your religion and sexual activity, possibly even more personal. So understand I am not writing you this open letter because you don't eat meat. I'm writing you this letter because you called me a murderer.

Murder is a legal term, meaning the unlawful and premeditated act of taking a life, usually with malevolent intent. To call me a murderer is to imply that I broke the law and there is malice intended in my actions. When animals are harvested here for food, I assure you there is none. There is only gratitude, respect, and blessed relief. I do not enjoy taking animal lives and the bulk of my supposed premeditation include looking up recipes. I am not a murderer.

But I am a killer.

You are 100% correct. I kill animals. I raise chickens and rabbits from young fluffballs in the palms of my hands and mindfully bring them to the age of harvest when they are killed and stored for food. If I don't do the killing myself I hire a professional butcher to come to my farm and harvest the pigs I raised. I am also a licensed hunter in the state of New York, where I stalk deer and wild game of all sorts. I also do this with the intention of harvest. I am a killer for my table and I fully understand the seriousness of that statement. I also understand why you are disgusted by it. You are digusted because you see me as taking sentient lives when there are alternative choices as bloodless and innocent as the down on a muscovy duckling.

I know that I do not need to eat meat to survive, but I also know now that it is impossible for me to live without killing. It is impossible for you, too. I think this is the heart of our misunderstanding. This is why PETA and the FTCLDF are not working together to be one giant powerhouse for good and ending animal suffering. Most animal rights activists do not acknowledge (or perhaps are not aware) that every meal includes death. The simplest backyard salad from your own organic garden to the fake bacon in your shopping cart — both take lives. I have simply chosen to take lives in a way that causes the least amount of suffering and causes the least amount of wasted global resources. And yes, it means there is blood on my hands now.

I know that is hard to understand. It was hard for me, too.

I was a vegetarian and animal activist before I was a farmer, but that was all about passion for me and did not include much science. The only things I read about meat and the environment were based on giant corporate farms. I did not understand anything about ecology, biology, wilderness, and the personal responsibility of eating local. But what I really didn't understand was agriculture. I mean I was totally ignorant. I did not think about anything but ingredients on the package, never questioning the methods or politics behind them or the larger picture. As long as my dinner did not include animal flesh or animal products I was content in my righteousness. I was a pro-choice vegan. To be blunt, I didn't think things through.

The truth is there is no meal we can eat without killing. None. A trip to your local grocery store for tofu and spinach may not include a single animal product but the harvesting of such food costs endless animal lives. Growing fields of soy beans for commercial clients means removing habitat from thousands of wild animals, killing them through deforestation and loss of their home. Songbirds and insects are killed by pesticides at legion. Fertilizers are made from petroleum now, and those fields of tofu seeds are literally being sprayed with oil we are fighting wars over. Deer died for that tofu. Songbirds died. Men and women in battle died. And then when the giant tofu factory harvested the beans they ran over those chemical oil fields of faux-food with combines that rip open groundhogs, mice, and rabbits. Tear apart frogs and fledgling birds. It is a messy and bloody business making tofu or any of that other non-murderous food.

What about organic tofu and vegetables? That doesn't include chemical fertilizers and the companies are mindful? Right? Well, that is correct. But if you are not using oil to fertilize your crops then you are using organic material: manure, blood, bone, fish, etc. You may be a vegetarian but your vegetables are the most voracious of all carnivores. That small farm at your local green market needed to lay down a lot of swine blood, cow bone, and horse poop freeze-dried in bags marked "ORGANIC" to grow those carrots so big and sweet. Animals are an integral part of growing food for us, as food themselves or creating the materials that feed the earth. And the earth must be fed.

And let us not forget the miles on the road these vegetarian options must travel. That oil-free organic tofu sure needs a lot of diesel to get here to New York...

You can not ignore this. You can't call a small farmer a murderer and turn a blind eye to the groundhog ripped in two, the owl without a nest, or the blood spilled for oil halfway across the globe through military force. I mean, you can ignore it, of course you can. You can also search the internet for people killing pigs and call them names, but that doesn't make you right. There is nothing you or I eat that wasn't once alive save for some minerals. Plants and mushrooms are living things, just as alive as animals. And we take their lives wholesale and without regret. In the words of Joel Salatin,

" ...By what stretch of arrogance do you think a life form that looks like you is more important than a life form that doesn't?"

Though I know you may not appreciate that quote. After all, Joel is a murderer, too.

I eat animals I raise myself because I want to eat local food that causes less animal suffering and empowers my local community. I live in upstate New York. A place where farming vegetables does not make sense. This is a far cry from southeast Asia or southern California. Our growing season is around 100 days. What we can grow here in bulk is grass, and by extension the meat that eats the grass. We can let hogs range our woods and eat grubs, vegetation, and nuts. We can buy local non-GMO feed grown by our neighbors and give our animals full lives, outdoors and on pasture! Eating meat here is eating in a way that respects our region's food shed.

We can graze our animals in ways that returns good nutrients to the soil and heal the earth. We can grow two or three harvests of those grasses and feed them to animals like sheep, cows, and goats all winter. This is what my part of the world eats if they are serious about saving the environment.  We can do this without using a lot of oil, close to home, and harvest the animals we know without driving to a store to waste gas, plastic bags, and pave another parking space. When I kill a chicken I end one life. A life I was present for, grateful for, and worked hard for. I have a hard time taking criticism seriously from someone who swipes a credit card for a bag of groceries they have convinced themselves is more righteous, having never weeded a row or hefted a bag of feed. A really hard time.

My "murdered" pigs were raised from babes, seen to several times a day, carefully tended and lived a life of ample space, porcine company, sunshine, mud puddles, and rooting their snoots in the dirt. They were raised with the help of a small village of folks who bought shares of the pigs to help pay for my livelihood. These people are counting on me to help them buy good food that isn't laced with antibiotics or factory farm atrocities. And while raising these pigs I purchased feed from neighbors raising non GMO field corn and soy, a rarity these days. I employed a small butcher and his staff to come to my farm so these pigs never have to be loaded into a truck and driven away to a slaughterhouse. They have had one bad day, one bad moment actually, and that moment surprised the hell out of them.

Eat in whatever way invokes respect and gratitude in your soul. Be grateful we live in this time of contrived and soon-to-be over luxury and abundance. But do not come to battle here, accusing those of us raising good meat of murder. Those are fighting words, unkind words, and for someone so intensely passionate about treating animals well you seem to have no issue treating human beings like crap. I'm an animal, too. I would appreciate some ethical treatment.

So, yes. I am a killer. I take lives and eat the flesh of sentient beings. I farm and fish. I hunt and stalk. I fully embrace this primal and beloved part of my person. I do this with great joy and appreciation, savoring every bite of effort, community, time, and grace those meals include. Each slice of bacon or bite of roasted chicken comes with a couple dozen faces of neighbors and friends. It comes with stories of carrying buckets in the rain, of catching escaped piglets, of never leaving for a vacation or even visiting my family for Christmas.

I am a solider for my soil, stationed here at these 6.5 acres to create mindful, healthy, food because I think it makes a better and more peaceful world. And that world is not found in the fake meat section of the grocery store, darling. Life is not a storybook where you get to ignore the fact that the Three Little Pigs boiled a wolf alive. Eating meat you raised means eating food infused with integreity, sweat, loyalty, determination, love, friendship, memories, loss, perserverance and respect.

And none of these things are ingredients you will find on a package of tofu no matter how close you look.

Greatest Farming Advice Ever!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Maude Just Wanted to Remind You....

Just letting you folks know:

There are only 2 spots left for Arrow's Rising in October.

There are only 4 spots left for Cold Antler Confidential in August.

There are only 8 spots left for ANTLERSTOCK!

For details on any of these click right here! There you will find dates, details, and even information on one-on-one lessons, season passes, and such. Email me to sign up for any of it. Workshops are first paid, first reserved so if you want to join us for learning archery, the farm starting, or the big festival - please do so right quick!

No Downside, at All!

There is no downside to the homesteading life! Living close to the land allows you to go grocery shopping in the backyard for the best, healthiest, and tastiest food in the world! Here is my little farm's morning haul: three cucumbers, goat milk, fresh berries, new potatoes, salad greens, basil, half a dozen eggs and kale!

What is in your backyard this morning to eat?! Share with the blog please! I'd love to hear more from the readers, I really would. So if you read along and garden or raise stock - let the readership know! And if you don't but really would like to some day, let us know why and ask how to get started, as a community we can all help each other out with advice and ideas. Comment away!

come in, sit down

I haveb't reposted this link in a while, and I think we are due! About once a year I ask that you folks Come in, and 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, after all, 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 Borders 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.

First Fruits!

My property is covered in berries right now! Wild berries, blackberries and raspberries, are all over this little mountainside! This is the haul from just a few minutes of picking and I plan on spending a lot of time out there today picking more while the fruit is heavy on the vine...literally. I think there may be some jam in the larder before the day is through!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Potatoes & Chainsaw Bikes

It is gently raining outside and I am very tired. It has been a long and glorious Sunday, and that tired is a very good sort of ailment. The day started here with chores and then I headed back into the pickup to head to the sheepdog trials. This time, Gibson stayed at the farm. It was a grand thing having him with me, feeling special and proud, but the club I am a member of, NEBCA (though lapsed recently, I think?)—runs on a volunteer heartbeat. So I returned without the glory of my good dog just to sit under a tent with the judge and help keep score. That was most of my day and while writing down points on outruns, fetches, drives, and shedding I learned much and had a wonderful conversation with the man, who turned out to work for Cornell University. It was fun kicking the tires with him. And while we watched the dogs compete out on the windy fields gentle rains came and left across the mountaintop farmland. Some one hired a bagpiper for the festival and the soundtrack was perfect.

When I came home I spent some time outside with the critters, doing chores and checking on beasts large and small. I weeded a small kale patch in my kitchen garden (pictured above). That little garden is doing well and providing plenty while giving the bee hive some valuable real estate. That whole front garden, long and true, is just potatoes. There are 24 plants in there and I am hoping for a harvest of sixty pounds of spuds. Sixty pounds will keep this one woman all winter, most likely. What a thing, that. It seems like a lot of potatoes, and it is, but what amazes me about growing potatoes is how much food you get for such little effort. This year it was one pass of the rototiller the Hoff family brought over. The year before: an afternoon with a shovel and hoe. Work, sure, but talk about a repayment. A third of my body weight in food! Hooo!

When the chores were done tonight I headed down to my friends' farm. The Daughton Family was helping me out with my truck, which is due for inspection by the end of the month and has several obstacles in its path to passing said test. Mostly having to do with some O2 sensor on the V8, which means I am emitting more emissions than I should. I joke around about how much I get around on a horse these days but Cathy Daughton said she doubted the state had leniency for hoofed miles. But they said they knew the part I needed and would help me install it next weekend. Cathy handed me some freshly picked gooseberries and we snacked while talking about how to get the truck road legal in three weeks. I am praying I can afford the repairs. If I can't, well, I have a horse and work from home. Worst things happen to better people every day.

The highlight of my visit to the Daughton's is Ian's invention (age 12). He has created a motor bike by rigging a chainsaw engine to a regular bicycle. It is genius. By adding a belt, a belt wheel, a starter button and some welding Ian has created gas power to his huffy. Ian is going places. I eat more gooseberries and wonder what people in the city do on Sunday nights?

The rain is starting to pick up and thunder is starting to rumble. I am thinking about the piglets. Earlier this afternoon I made sure they had a pile of bedding deep enough to sublet a rabbit warren. They had a dinner of yesterday's goat milk and some pig chow with some kitchen scraps and I am thinking of them now as I write you fine people. Out behind this farmhouse two piglets are dry and sleepy, buried in hay and listening to rain on a metal roof while they doze off with full belly. It makes me happy, as any thought of animals in comfort based on my direct actions does.



Tonight I am going to sit back and watch Babe, a favorite move with plenty of sheepdog trials and farm goodness inside it's truffle center. I have not seen it in years. I am excited. Rex is my favorite character in that story and it'll good to see him again. And on that note I say goodnight. Let us celebrate good dogs, beds of potato futures, snug piglets fat on goats' milk, and movies that keep us smiling. We're the lucky ones, us.

Her Own Society



The Soul selects her own Society — Then — shuts the Door —


Emily Dickinson c. 1862

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Back To The Start



This morning as soon as chores were done and the farm seemed to reach a baseline of homeostasis - I threw my day pack into the back of my truck and Gibson and I headed to Vermont. It was a grand day, the weekend of the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials - of which I have been attending since the very first summer I lived in Veryork, over five years ago. It was an important day. The girl (and she was a girl) who showed up at that trial years before rented a little cabin in Vermont and desperately wanted a border collie and some sheep. She showed up at Merck cow-eyed and bushy tailed. And over the next four years would go from volunteering at trials and attending beginner clinics without a dog at all to getting her first puppy and taking lessons with wonderful trainers in Massachusetts and New York. Gibson grew up to be the dog of my dreams, the dog I needed, and while we have never entered a trial and he can't even do an outrun—we work together every day on this farm. I depend on him.

A lot is going through my head tonight. Some of it is guilt. I wanted to be one of those handlers down in the trial fields so badly, and I still do, but the reality of driving three hours round trip to herding lessons, working (at the time) a full time job, and writing books and running the farm became too much. Then Merlin came along right when time for herding lessons came back and I was out on trails and with the Draft Animal Association. Basically, I dropped the ball. I felt guilty because I know Gibson could have been a dog at this trial had I put in the time and effort. I watched the handlers around me, many of which I know by name, still feeling that awe. But also feeling that if I had a tail it would be between my legs, because in my head I have let them down. The trainers who started us out, the folks in NEBCA, the readership on the blog...

Amongst all these swirling feelings of trial excitement and regret, I felt that old excitement again. The feeling of just starting out into the Society of Lamb & Wool. The thrill of being asked to help keep score with the judge. Talking with handlers, explaining to tourists how the trial worked, just being engaged. With Gibson at my feet and a morning of chores under my belt I started to feel less like a failure and more a part of this world. I was not a trial handler. But I did live with the finest border collie in the world, and at four years old maybe he still can train for the trial fields? Old dogs/new tricks and all that. Someone asked me if my dog was competing today? I pointed to a dog in the trial field. Out there a sleek, 35-pound, dog was expertly driving sheep through a gate. I said "That is a precision instrument." Then I pointed to Gibson. "This is a hammer."

On the ride home from the trials—Gibson riding shotgun as always—I thought about the blog a lot too. Had I failed the readership the same way I failed the herding community? Had losing that beginner's mind, that excitement, that thrill of learning to bake and garden, raise chickens and sheep, and all that just left like magic sucked down a drain? I went from wanting a farm so bad it hurt to finally getting one of my own, then desperately trying to hold onto that farm. And I think in the struggle I have lost sight of some of the simple joys of digging up new potatoes, cooking a simple meal I new as a seed, and the amazed wonder at reclaiming country skills. I realize now, as I am typing this out, that my guilt was not about never walking up to the post with Gibson and saying "Come By," not really. My guilt was based on becoming the woman who forgot what the girl felt on the trial grounds. So I am going to try and find her, ask for her help, and go back to the start.

This evening ended with Gibson and I back at our farm. I opened the sheep paddock up and let the flock out to graze on the new pasture on the hillside. The grass was tall and lush and that amazes me because just a few weeks ago it was mud and rock. Overgrazing had destroyed it, topsoil slid off it and pooled in the driveway. It also looked hideous. "Welcome to Cold Antler Farm! To your right, notice the giant Dirt Hill! What DREAMS are made of!" but now that mistake is fixed and the sheep all doing well. Gibson joined me, acting as the electric fence - only zapping at the sheep if they left the grazing area we had allotted. But mostly the sheep just munched, we just sat and did what shepherds have done for thousands of years: watched. And in the sunlight, on my own deeded land, with my own flock, and this fine dog I didn't feel like a failure anymore. I felt hope.

I mean, if a landslide can turn into a pasture such as this; I can grow better, too.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How To Be Taken Out To Dinner

Step One: Get a date. I found a tall, dark, and handsome British fellow with dreamy hair. He didn't even mind carrying the picnic gear for our trip up into the mountains. Note the classy touch of a sheepskin rug. Not shown: a packed lunch of very fancy Annie's Organic Mac-n-cheese in a thermos and a green apple for dessert.

Step Two: Once picnic destination is reached, halter and tie off horse to maple tree by tasty grass. Then set out your evening's entertainment on your classy blanket and your dinner. Not shown: Smiling woman who is so touched that Connie down at Battenkill Books handed me this advanced copy of The Scavengers by Michael Perry, to read for my birthday.

Step Three: Sit back with a full belly after you feed half your dessert to your date. Then enjoy a nip of bourbon while leaning back on a sheepskin - overlooking your mountain home. Read an adventure, feel blessed, and waste some serious time in style.

Piglets Have Arrived!

It was my 32nd birthday and a pig was peeing on me. At this point, it didn't really matter nor did I flinch. The pants I was wearing —the first pair of new jeans I had purchased in a year on sale at a workwear factory story—were already covered in mud and poop. An hour before a the piglet in my hands decided to add some final touches to the once beautiful jeans I was picking her out among all her brothers and sisters at a small hard scrabble farm in Fort Ann. When I knew which of the fifteen pound gilts I wanted, the breeder reached in and picked up the little gal by the back legs and handed her to me - a hock in each hand. I took them without hesitation and carried her upside down the short distance to the truck where I had a dog crate lined with hay waiting for her and her sibling to come back to Cold Antler. What I didn't expect was the amount of mud and slop all over her and as I carried her my entire front side was covered in what smelled…. like a pig pen.

Everything I know about pigs has shown me that a swine is an animal that likes options. They love mud and water, but they also like the option to stay dry. These pigs had access to a grassy pasture but apparently this muddy shed was where they wanted to be on a hot day. I couldn't blame them either. It was wicked hot and a mud bath sounded kinda great.

So I got one, thanks to the two pigs carried over to the truck. Gibson was with me and loving every second of it. He circled and smiled at the pigs, one of which was quiet and the other screaming his head off, like all pigs do when a human being dares to ruin their mud bath. I shook the man's hand and handed him the cash. I was grateful to pay it, too, because piglets are so hard to find this year. A disease had really hit the industry, at the industrial and small town, backyard level. Basically, piglets were getting bad diarrhea and dying from dehydration, usually in the first weeks of life. People who raise large hot farms had to buy in pigs wherever they could get them to make up for their losses and it was very hard to find a breeder who would sell a hog or two at a tailgate like this. But I found Patrick and I was happy to be here.

I chatted with him and his son for a bit and then brought the piglets home. I stopped at a country store on the way back to my place to get a cold drink and I'm sure I wasn't looking very presentable, but heck, this was a country store wasn't it? What is more country than a woman in a cowboy hat covered in pig crap with a border collie riding shotgun? I decided that any self esteem issued related to how I smelled were beat down by the level of verisimilitude I granted the establishment. I bought two things: a cold soda and a tall can of hard cider for later. (I'll explain that later in a bit. ) Chatting with the folks at the store the pigs in the back of the truck came up. The girl working at the desk thought piglets were adorable and wanted to see them, so I took her outside. The shop owner asked what I was going to do with them? And I explained that I raise them to around 200 or 250 pounds and then they are butchered for pork. She made a face, and I pointed out that they sold BLT's on the shop menu. She laughed and said she knew she was being a hypocrite but she just didn't like to think about it. As a woman with two piglets to raise for others folks to enjoy, I tipped my hat to her and said that was okay by me.

I got the piglets home and set them into their pen in the woods behind my barn. They had mud here too, but also a dry place to sleep with a metal roof, grass and plants to munch on, two bowls of feed (right now they are on a mix of goat milk and piglet chow) and clean drinking water. It took a few days to weed whack down the pen, rewire the electric, set up the grounding rod and run out an extension cord but I did it all in a matter of an afternoon. Last year this set up grated me nearly 600 pounds of pork and with these two little ones I was well on my way. I would get at least two more and then in the fall, two more again. Sharing pork out is an important part of this farm. And I have a respect for the porcine I never thought I would have.

later that evening when chores were done I carried out the goat milk canister to the new piglets. I poured it over their dry chow and they did this wonderful thing where they stick their whole snoot in there and blow bubbles and drink. With the rest of the animals fed and watered, and Merlin tied to the hitching post out front for grooming and tacking up (He was taking me out to dinner in a bit), I went back into the farmhouse and pulled that can out of the fridge. I poured it over a quart jar filled with ice and the pint of cider danced and swirled. Lord and Lady, that is my favorite drink! I poured a splash of bourbon in it too, and brought it out to the pigs. I watched them there for a while, taking sips of the drink and celebrating the new arrivals.

I love pigs. I never thought I would, but I do love them. This was always going to be a sheep farm with some extras like chickens and turkeys, but the pigs really shine here. They are so smart and clever, so funny and hedonistic. They are a joy to watch and as they wandered over to my side of the fence I poured a little bit of the haymason into their bowl. A small offering and bit of luck. When a new ship launches you break a wine bottle. When a pair of new pigs arrive on your birthday, you offer them a nip of cider. They snarfed it up and I toasted them. 'Welcome to the farm," I said as I raised my glass to them, "You'll do just fine. "