Saturday, July 18, 2009

old friends

I am in the process of preparing the cabin and farm for weekend company. I have a bread and pie ingredients all over the counter and a batch of cookies cooling on a plate. A hot pot of coffee sits on the stove and I'm listening to an audiobook in the as I scramble around the kitchen to cook, clean, and get the place up to snuff. Soon as all is "snuffed" inside—I can go outside and do the same of for the animals. There are coops and cages to clean, pens to restraw, and rabbits to check in on. Cold Antler is expecting more bunnies any day now. That is, if the last breeding took. My fingers are crossed. A good litter of kits can cover a car payment. I don't think it's any secret that I'm not a wealthy individual, so this small homestead depends on all the animals for their help. Sometimes in the form of selling or trading livestock. Sometimes for help composting the gardens with their waste. And sometimes just for three eggs for breakfast. We're one big codependent community here in our mountain home.

But all that aside, Emily is driving up from Syracuse today. Em and I have been best friends since we shared the same ski life in 7th grade in our hometown of Palmerton, PA. Since we graduated from PHS we've been traveling. I've lived in Tennessee, Idaho, and Vermont and she lived in Alaska, China, Seattle, and New York. While her stories are a little more exiting, mine are a little more comfortable. I can't talk about tiananmen square, but I can tell her to make sure the bathroom door is shut tight so the sled dogs don't eat the chickens. Excitement is relative.

So while the sheep are mowing the grass, and the chickens are out scratching in the dirt I'm going to plod around the place getting everything ready for a visitor. I'm looking forward to pie and wine on the porch tonight, long talks about all the stuff going on in my own everyday and hearing about hers. Good friends do not need heavy upkeep. You can see them once or twice a year and feel as relaxed and easy around them as old hooded sweatshirts. I have missed this sweatshirt very much. Her, and Ajay, and other faces from Palmerton haunt me from time to time.

At least I can promise she'll be well fed. A small farm in July is rich in food.

P.S. Anyone have a few good yellow squash or Zucchini recipes they could share or link me too? It's that time again...

you may be a homesteader if...

You have livestock in the back seat

You have day-old chickens in your bathroom (or kitchen, or spare bedroom...)

You hate slugs

Picking up 50 pounds bags feels like nothing

Your house, office, and home has bailing twine everywhere

You get excited when you see TV commercials at friends' houses (it's been a while)

You drink out of canning jars, a lot

You forgot what grocery store eggs taste like and don't care to find out, thank you

You have corn in your backyard

You really hate slugs

Shopping malls freak you out

People who work at the feed store know your first name

The idea of eating an animal you raised doesn't bother you at all

You buy Christmas light timers in September (for the chicken coop)

You're coffee table has hatchery and seed catalogs on it

You love playing in the dirt

Share some of your own, please!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

radio on

While doing some Shepherding 101 reading I came across a great tip to help with my fox problem. In the book Living with Sheep (which is fantastic, by the way) Chuck Wooster suggests using a radio as an audio scarecrow. The idea is to get your machine tuned to a stream of human voices and hang it from a tree or fence post. The sound helps keep hungry teeth at bay and so far it's been working. For the past few days I've been placing my hand-crank outside in the garden while the birds free range outside their coop. Today I turned it up and grabbed the dogs' leashes for a good long walk while NPR babysat my wild kingdom. So far Terry Gross has done a fine job keeping the chicken snatcher's paws off Cold Antler.

P.S. Living with Sheep was written by a Vermont author. All the photos are these stunning shots of local farms and fairs. Steve Whetmore (from the sheepdog trials) is mentioned in there a few times with his border collies. If you're even thinking about sheep, it's a great easy read. Pick it up.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

calm dogs

Caught Jazz and Annie watching me from the bedroom as I practiced the fiddle in the kitchen. Two calm dogs watching their girl play a few rounds of Cripple Creek. Don't let their quiet fool you—within moments of the snapshot Annie leapt off the bed and plowed into my knees when I told her we could go for a ride to Wayside. Just thought a few paws and some pause might brighten your morning. (I do not apologize for that last corny sentence. Wednesday mornings are a fine time for soliciting day-old nostalgia. It's what gets us to Friday in the office world)...

Good morning!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

mountain goat

a man no more

Yesterday after Finn's hike we both hit the road. I put him in the back of the Subaru (which has now transported chickens, turkeys, ducks, sheep, goats, rabbits, dogs, and coworkers) and we drove the back roads into Rupert. Rupert's a small town, mostly farmers, and that is how my livestock Veterinarian likes it.

Dr. Ceglowski's practice is nestled just outside Hebron, NY (on the Vermont side) with a giant red barn and registered Guernsey dairy cattle. Besides being a full-time Vet—he's a full time farmer. "I like keeping busy," he told me as we went over how to administer needles into the shoulders of goats. I liked him instantly. He's a warm, older, gent with a white beard, glasses, and coveralls. He tends to livestock and pets with great care and a large heart. This past winter he made a housecall to my neighbor's to put Cody, their ailing labrador, to sleep in his own living room. Doc will even look after farrowing sows (something few large animal vets will do around here). And talked happily about helping with piglets just a few week's ago at my neighbor Chris's farm.

So this is where my goat's day went downhill. I had an appointment for a professional castration. Finn's my first goat and I wanted to watch and learn the procedure from a doctor. This is not the kind of thing you "wing"— plus, the little guy needed his shots. So to the doctor we went.

Finn was a champion. He stood for the whole event and when all the crushing (sorry guys) of the arteries above his...goods was done he just collapsed in my arms. He looked up at me breathing deep, shaking, scared to death but calm as a lion. It must have been horrible, but considering the pain he was a saint. He also got his rabies and tetanus shots and a bevy of "goat shots" for fancy goat diseases which I was glad to offer him. Amazingly, the whole time with the vet was only fifty dollars, not bad considering the importance and level of care. I was given a booster needle to take and inject in two weeks.

I have syringes in my fridge. Welcome to living with livestock.

When I got home I placed the kid in his pen with fresh soft straw, water, and grain. He slept like a man no more. While he rested my mind turned to work. (I also like to keep busy) So my neighbor Roy and I moved a ton of sheep shit out of the pen with the aid of his giant orange tractor. Some folks spend a good lot of time bitching about green vs organge tractors and their sussed-out merits. Personallly, if it moves a pen full of mud, straw, and sheep droppings I don't care if it's tie dyed. I'm a practical gal.

Monday, July 13, 2009

finn's first hike!

Finn went on his first ever packing trip today. It was just a half mile with a light dog pack. I filled the panniers with raw wool to give them some bulk and had to make some adjustments based on goat-pack designs, but I figures it out and he was able to move freely with the load in place. Finn did wonderfully. He trotted alongside me and loped up the dirt road as we made our way to my neighbor's forest paths. I had been given permission to hike on their trails, and since it's just across the street from my farm it was the perfect training ground. More later on Finn's big day. Can't say the rest of it was as enjoyable for him...

the garden this morning

good morning from cold antler

This morning feels different. I know it's July but had you told me it was an early September morning, I would've believed you. It was cold enough last night that I lit the fireplace and this morning as I zipped up my blue hoodie to feed FInn and the sheep, it felt like I should come into a house with pumpkin bread in the over. Or maybe I'm just projecting? I can't wait for fall.

By the way, my pumpkins are looking amazing! This year may be the bumper crop I've been working for since Idaho.

Yesterday's trials were great. I stayed till the end and spent most of the day scribing again. Got to talking a lot with the judge who gave me the name of a young couple around Troy who have a big operation and working dogs. He said I should see them, make friends, and see if they'll show me around their farm. They also run dogs in the club. It's a start, whoever they are. A field trip may be in order soon.

No fox yet. I've been hunting without luck, but I know he's still around. I put up a baited Havahart trap and the little jerk dug a tunnel below it to eat the bait from below without going into the cage.... I am dealing with a clever predator.

I took off today, as you well know. I'm sitting here with a cup of coffee so strong it would scare my coworkers. The sheep were extra thrilled to be let out into their pasture on a weekday morning. I even gave them a little extra hay to celebrate the stolen time from the office. (Sal seems to enjoy it, as you can see from that photo.) Soon I'll be getting Finn ready for a short hike and then running off to do some farm errands. I have three new laying hens to pick up to replace from the fox losses and Finn needs some shots at the livestock vet. You know, in case any of you nice people wanted a systematic breakdown of my day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

riding to the fields this morning

hen delivery

When I got home from the trials, I was met right at the cabin door by Jazz and Annie. Their dark eyes and quiet voices (they rarely make a sound). My dogs met me at the door and smelled the dozens of sheepdogs I'd be working with all day. Tails wagging, nuzzling their wolf heads against my waist. They forgave me and I hugged them. I would not trade them in for the best border collie in Scotland. They're family, and the only constant thing I've known since I first left Pennsylvania nearly five years ago. Everything else changes but these dogs are mine. It's written in stone.

After the dogs were walked and the farm taken care of—I called my coworker Noreen. (Noreen was the woman I went on that chicken adventure at the office a few week's ago.) She'd just constructed her henhouse and run, and was ready to have the birds she bought with me delivered. I loaded four hens in the back of the haytruck and we headed down the mountain into Arlington. You just can't know the fun of hand-delivering laying hens to a first-time owner.

I showed up at Noreen's to find her laying in her hammock. (I like hammock people, for I am one of them) and she was as excited a girl waiting for her prom date. We carried the cage to their new home and placed in the two Light Brahmas, an Australorp cross, and a Red Star. The four hens made their home their own quickly. I hope they start laying for her soon. Noreen did not stop grinning the whole time.

There is something empowering about raising chickens. I know that sounds a little silly, maybe a little dramatic, but it is. Chickens up the ante from the basic garden. They bring in the element of protein right to your backyard (without all the messy slaughter work or ethics of killing). I depend on my flock to cover a lot of meals and help with baked goods and entertainment around here (I don't have a TV). And with new chicks chirping away, and some new adult birds on the way as well...I hope to stay in chickens for a long time.