Thursday, September 3, 2009

the birthday flock is thriving

Remember those chicks I bought as a birthday present in early July? Well, here they are, all grown up just two months later. These youngest members of the flock sleep in a huddle behind the grain bin in the coop. They're either too nervous or too small to fly up into the roosts and join the older birds, so here they sleep. I also think it's a warmth thing. On these chillier nights it must be nice to have a down comforter built in via birth-community. John the rooster is down in font, with his young wives behind him. I like that he watches the door.

let the ghosts die

I originally planned to drive into Manchester tonight. I was going to do laundry, run some errands, pick up some provisions and generally stress myself out for the long weekend ahead. I have only been farming a few years, and that post-work impulse to run into town and spend money in preparation for company still haunts me. However, upon pulling into my driveway all plans died. The setting September sun, the hint of woodsmoke in the air, the cries of my animals, the weather report claims that tonight would drop into the mid-forties... Screw town. I was a homesteader and home I would stead. I'm learning to let the ghosts of town die.

I let the sheep and goat out to graze. I mowed the lawn. I baked bread and pie for the weekend (which would involve a handful of guests, a bonfire, and friends). I ran out of dogfood and instead of running to the store I put some rice on the stove and scrambled half a dozen eggs. It would do for one night. The dogs did not complain, and gobbled their meals down to the lamb biscuits at the bottom of their bowls. Then they chomped into them and came by my feet to be reminded how wonderful they are. Which I did, over and over.

As the evening turned I went out into the pasture with the hoofstock. I grabbed a bottle of hard cider, a book, and a quilt. I sat and read while Finn and the sheep ate around me. The chicks I bought on my birthday scattered around as well. They seem braver (read: stupider) than the large laying hens which were already roosting in their coop. I watched them try to fight the sheep's mineral block. Finn watched with me. He spent most of his time by my side, as a dog would. Like my co-captain he would stand next to me. Together we'd look at the sheep and without looking away from the flock, munch some grass and sigh. "Yeah Lady. We got this place covered..."

I scratched my goat's head while I read. The book in hand was Gene Logsdon's The Contrary Farmer. Inside the front flap was a note from my friend Diana, who had gifted me the book a few years ago back when we were coworkers in Sandpoint. If you read Scratch you may remember our adventures stealing chickens by the cover of night, saving honeybee colonies from the brink of death, and finding fiber rabbits. She wrote this:

Jenna,
My favorite book—May it be the inspiration to you that it's been to me! -Diana 4/10/07


Diana, it most certainly has.

I wanted to share this excerpt from the book. Something I read a few years ago, but did not fully understand until recently. This year taught me a lot. Some of it epic and wonderful—and some of it downright gut-punching awful. You take your lessons as they come. Gene shares this observation:

There is a deep satisfaction in scattering clean yellow straw knee deep for the animals to sleep on and then feeding them in the still of a winter eve. Sheep give the most contented little sighs when they nose into their food. Horses snuffle in their hay, and the soft munching sounds of cows chewing their cuds rise serenely into the hay mow where I sit and listen. The mother ewe with her coaxing grunts encourages the new lamb to nurse and finally the smacking sound of a lamb sucking vigorously reaches my ears. All is well. It is no surprise to me that a god might choose a stable to be born in; only the ignorant think such a birthplace would be below a god's dignity.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

today show does segment on backyard chickens!

the rules

I am often asked how I make time for the farm. My best answer for that is simple: planning. I have a schedule I stick to religiously, and a system of getting chores done that is so fine tuned and efficient by this point it flies by. I plan my evenings to include at least an hour of time outside working. (This hour is the quickest hour of my day.) Every night the animals with hooves are let out to pasture from the confines of their pens and the poultry are fed fresh scratch grains and oyster shell crumbles by the coop. While the livestock eat, I walk around in my big brown wellies and carry fresh drinking water and muck stalls. I make sure bedding is clean and the feed bins are topped off. I putter around the pumpkin patch and apples off the small apple tree in the garden. These I feed to the sheep and Finn. When the animals are once again refueled and content, I leave them to their grasses and go inside the cabin to light a fire and make dinner. I eat, knowing the animals will always eat first, and then before I change into lounge clothes I return outside just before dark to coax the animals back into their pens, close the coop door, and make sure all is well before I do the same.

I probably spend the same amount of time taking care of 25 animals and 13 raised beds as the average person spends commuting to their job: two hours a day. Not bad.

In the AM things go quicker. Since everyone has eaten and been given clean water the night before—my mornings are just a quick routine of dumping hay, scratching ears, and letting the birds out to free range the neighborhood. Sometimes Juno joins me, a neighbors black dog who looks like he's half Labrador and half Border Collie. Juno and I inspect the sunflowers and check on the progress of the younger members of the flock before he runs back to his owners cabin up the way and I go inside to be with my own dogs and a hot cup of coffee. Which by this point is on the stove spitting and bubbling. I can hardly wait to taste it. I would suffer without my coffee.

Keeping a small farm isn't hard—it's constant. You do it out of love and responsibility, not toil. As naive as this sounds from a single woman—I imagine it's not too far off from what keeping a husband or children would be: something others may see as work, but you see as the reason. Love's a funny thing. Sometimes it makes you sign new insurance documents or change diapers and other times it makes you wipe chicken crap off your sleeve cuff. I don't make the rules.

Photo comes from the old kitchen in Idaho. Annie watches the pre-game of an omelet...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

angry sheep are kinda great

One this is blatantly clear: Maude does not approve of having her picture taken. There she is—standing around, ears back, foot stomping, hating everyone. The world owes her. I'm not sure what exactly, but it better pay up.

For being such a miserable animal I really have grown to love that sheep. There is a consistency to her spite that has gone from annoying to absolutely endearing. It always shocks me how animals as seemingly anonymous as sheep have such stark contrasts in personality. Maude is nothing like Sal and Sal is nothing like Joseph. All of my sheep have their own levels of tolerance and bravery—habits and vices. You learn them as you go. After my first year being a shepherd, I feel I've got these guys down.

Not sure it'll be as easy when there are 50 in the back pasture....

The forums seem to be really taking off. Last I checked over 60 people signed up for the Locals, and as I write you people are talking about alpacas, chickens, knitting, and what's the best beginner spinning wheel. There are folks swapping recipes and sharing advice—it's a great place to check in with between CAF updates or to make new friends. So if you haven't signed up yet, check it out. It costs nothing but a little time.

Monday, August 31, 2009

the forum is live!

Announcing a brand new level of community here at Cold Antler! I have built a forum for all of us homesteaders, gardeners, urban planters, farmers, ranchers, dreamers and everyone else who wants to get more involved in modern homesteading or the world of Cold Antler. The sister forum is called CAF Locals, and you can click the link below to sign up and start chatting with other friends you met here on the farm. So far the topics are few, but they'll grow. (And the design will improve too.)

Become one of the Locals Here

Sunday, August 30, 2009

smug sal

check out this sweet buckle i scored

Scored this old belt buckle for five bucks at the Washington County Fair. The back of it says 1982, the year I was born. I adore it. And belts are something I recently have had a need for. Most of my old jeans no longer fit.

When I started homesteading I was a 14. Now my size 8 jeans hang off my hips at the end of the day. I still weigh roughly the same amount. (It would be a grand act of kindness to consider me a thin woman.) But the work of this small farm has moved my body around. My back and upper arms are broader and my waist keeps getting thinner. And while Cold Antler might be the reason I'm a size 8—it's also the reason I will never be a 6. I love and live to eat. Cooking, baking, gardening, chickens, pies, pizza... heaven, all. Life is too short to pass up a good meal.

I try not to be too hard on myself or compare myself to other people. The way I see it: If you got all your limbs, can see with your eyes, and can carry a bale of hay you're ahead of the game and lucky as a fast dog. Our bodies are just fine as they are. We should be grateful they're still around to show us these passing afternoons while we still have our wits about us. A person outside in the the thick of it, working, smiling, and sun-touched is what's beautiful in my book. I don't give a damn about scales, labels on my clothes, and the approval of others on the current state of my footwear. Those things: details. And I am a woman who abhors details.

he's all mine

Yesterday had its moments. It was blustery, wet, and cool. If fall ever had a reason to sneak through a crack in the door—yesterday was it. I went into Manchester to do my laundry. On the way home I stopped at the Equinox Garden Center. I just wanted to buy a mum for my doorstep, but the center was a movie trailer for Autumn. The crisp wind, gray skies, and scarecrows flailing around the pumpkin patch were something out of a twisted Norman Rockwell painting. It was beautiful. Like a 6-year-old waiting up on Christmas Eve I was humming in anticipation for what's ahead. I drove back to the farm with two big orange mums in the back seat and a grin I could not hide. Annie hung out the passenger side window, catching raindrops in her open panting mouth.

When I got back to the farm I called Laurie. Laurie found my book, then the blog, and announced we were neighbors in yesterday's comments. Turned out she was meeting a goat breeder down the street to look at the kids she was buying soon. She said in an email she'd be down the road from me this afternoon. I told her to swing by when she was done visiting her new kids.

I knew nothing about this goat-breeder woman save for the one conversation we had last year. I was mushing the dogs on a cold winter evening and she was out feeding her horses. I pulled the dogs over to say hello, to share in the beauty of the snowy night. Rwo woman and their animals in the swirling whire. We had this singular exchange.

Hello there! I'm your neighbor up the road.

Are you the girl with all the animals?

Yes.

Good.


That was it. I wasn't sure what it meant, but as the dogs and I hiked away into the snow I had a sense it was approval. For all I know she had a bet with another neighbor that I was the "girl with all the animals" and just won twenty bucks. But I'd like to think she felt a passing of the guard was happening right there on a snowy dirt road. That the experienced elder was giving the scrappy green horn a nod. A mutual understanding that the mountains here would still wake up to crows and cattle if people like me stuck around. Or, you know, twenty bucks.

Laurie, her husband, and kids came by for some coffee and a visit. She was kind enough to offer me a giant bag of gifts: squash, sweet corn, homemade jam, a hand-felted bookmark and get this...homemade vanilla extract. We talked about how we landed in New England. (She was a California native. Her husband, a Texan.) Her two charming kids were curious and polite the whole time. I think her daughter Clair had a special affinity for Jazz. I told you this blog has become quite interactive. People leaving comments in the morning are showing up for coffee later in the afternoon. Let's hear it for the internet, folks.

The late afternoon brought sunshine, genuine warm late summer sunshine. I went out to the garden to grab a few sprigs of basil and check on the pumpkins who are starting to get bigger than basketballs in some cases, but stay greenish. I suspect the bees cross pollinated them with the zucchini, making them giant green-hybrid orbs. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I made a pizza for dinner. Honey from vermont bees, yeast, and flour made the dough. The toppings came from my own tomatoes, onions and peppers. The cheese from the fine people up north in Cabot. The sauce was Ragu in a can. I'm not a purist. I'll catch up.

Today's looking to be a lazy Sunday. I woke up and lit the fireplace to bite off the morning chill. I fed all the animals and had the dogs out by 6:30 and then sat in front of the fire to knit and watch DVDs. My aspirations were few. I'm fighting back a cold, or something. Seems like everyone around here is coming down with the same symptoms. I feel tired and sore and a headache keeps haunting me. Farm chores and errands will be minimal and most of the day will be spent writing indoors, which is a shame when it's supposed to be a sunny 77 degrees before the night dips back into the low 50s. Tomorrow night they want it 40 degrees here. The hollow will be full of woodsmoke and that morning will call for flannel and insulated vests to carry hay around in: Two old friends I can't wait to meet again. I know Autumn belongs to everyone, but sometimes I can not help but pretend he's all mine.