Friday, April 2, 2010

we're back

Cold Antler is thriving. Even as we're down to the final weeks here at the cabin (and still anxiously waiting for a closing date on the Jackson farm...) the place is bursting with life and plans. There are 13 Cornish Rocks and 8 Golden Comets in the bathroom right now, soaking up the rays of the heat lamp and chowing down on starter ration and tiny flecks of red grit. The birds will lead to four or five laying pullets of fresh brown eggs and nearly 70 pounds of free-range chicken meat. You can't beat the investment either: 1.99 a bird. I don't think you can buy natural farm chicken for 1.99 a pound?!

The other residents of the farm are doing capital. Jazz and Annie are spending a lot of time out on long walks or on the screen porch watching farm TV. The four angora rabbit kits are all doing well in their own hutches. The big birds outside are more active than ever before. The warm weather (it's been near 80 degrees the past few days) and the new bugs and soft topsoil have turned them into roaming scavengers. They hunt for worms and flies around the farm like packs of tiny dinosaurs. Seeing a pack of scampering Rhode Island Reds run past a bunny hutch through the sheep fields makes my sore heart swell. A healthy small farm is proof positive a mood can turn around.

So the trees are budding, the animals are active, hell, even Maude seems to have perked up a little over the past few days. I came home early from work yesterday to find her laying in a patch of sunlight with Joseph, not even minding the chicken on her back also taking in some vitamin D. It's a good place, this. We're all optimistic about what's ahead.

In a few hours I'll be at Wannabea Rabbit Farm, learning about the care, breeding, kindling and butchering of meat rabbits. I'll also be taking home my own starter stock: a pair of does and a buck, hopefully Californians. Some students from GMC will be coming along to watch and learn, so it'll be a somewhat educational/community event. I can't wait. I was telling some friends at work about this and one coworker grimaced, Really, Easter Weekend you're going to learn how to raise, kill, and eat rabbits?

Yup! This gals come a long way since design school.

photos from the hogget event

The Greenhorns just posted photos and video from the Hogget event on their website. You can click here to see the slideshow and get a taste of hot young agrarians in action. Whoever took the shots is a far better photographer than I am!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

john and his gang

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

new chicks in the bathroom = spring

Some new life is pumping into this small farm: a few laying hen chicks were picked up on my lunch break at Tractor Supply. Just eight—all scrappy and healthy—are currently taking residence in my bathroom. The sign at the store just said "Pullets: Laying" but I think they're production reds and whites (meaning Rhode Island Red and Leghorn hybrids) sold to small operations like mine. They waited for me in the front seat of the truck with a hand warmer shake packet under them while I designed web sites. I was in a cubicle workspace while eight chickens waiting in my truck. My life is a constant combination of office life and farming. I enjoy the dichotomy.

I called local suppliers about poultry today. Looking to raise turkeys and chickens this year on the new farm for some side income. Cornish Rocks and Bourbon Reds should be the star players. Right now, however, it's just these young ones. 22 dozen an eggs a year each is the possibility in each of those little peepers. It never stops amazing me.

Never.

he's one of these!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

an announcement

The dog pictured above is Patrick Shannahan's Riggs. Riggs is an Idaho stock dog and International Trialing Superstar. He's the grandson of a dog imported from Wales and was on the US team at the World Trial in Ireland. He's gorgeous, gentle, friendly, and a fine working dog. Riggs is exactly the type of rough-coated border collie I have always dreamed of owning. It just so happens that on March 16th Riggs fathered a litter of four puppies. One of those pups, a little boy, is mine.

Gibson, my partner in starting my sheep farm, will be coming home to Cold Antler in May. I'll pick him up at 8-weeks-old at the Albany Airport. Together, we will become shepherds, and bring lambs into this world.

Finally. It is really starting.

stowaway

Monday, March 29, 2010

paying attention

Walking around the farm on this wet, dark night in Southern New England I realized—despite the heavy clouds—that tonight was the full moon. The rain clouds were thick and the sky was dark, but it felt like the full moon and that is the only way I can really explain that. I suppose the best way to describe it is if you walked into a black tent in the middle of a pro football Stadium at night. Sure, inside the heavy tarps it's pitch but you know, you feel, the stadium lights outside even if you can't see your palm in front of your face. I came inside and checked my Washington County Farm calendar and saw that tonight was in fact the full moon.

I can't remember what it was like to not be aware of these things. For most of my professional adult life now I have been outside nearly every night, in all weather, watching the cycles of the moon go from bright to dull alongside my livestock or with the padding trots of my dogs. I don't pay attention to it in any serious way, but tonight I realized I missed the glow, and was expecting it even though it was absent. Make a wish, I thought...Tonight might be special.

Moon talk aside, on the way back to the cabin I tripped over the metal spike in the field that ground the electric current for the electric fences. I fell flat on my butt, getting it soaked as if I dipped it in a creek. Let's her it for me. I cursed under my breath as I went back indoors. I can sense the cycles of the moon on spec but I can't see dangerous lawn obstacles that have been in the same place for nearly two years? Pocahontas, I am not.

Folks have been asking for a Jackson update, and I am nervous to report there are none. I am still waiting for a closing date, but the USDA mortgage was underwritten and signed off on by all parties lawyers. Now it's just twiddling thumbs and hoping nothing falls through before the big day I finally sign those papers, hand over that giant check, and get handed the key. I won't really exhale until that day comes, so keep your fingers crossed and carry a bit of wood in your pocket to knock on from time to time. This girl in Vermont is still livin' on a prayer.

I have other news though, do I ever. Some of it I am waiting to share, but tonight I'll fill you in on Saturday's plans to visit a local rabbitry and learn about meat rabbits and composting red worms. Bruce, A local farmer I know through the Shushan feed store (who caters to all the local restaurants) has invited me to see his operation and, if I am so inclined, take home a few animals to breed on the farm and sell back into the local menu scene. I'm excited to learn about meat rabbits, and to see how his giant operation (over 200 does) functions as a lucrative, neighborhood farm. A student from Green Mountain College may join me. She cold called me this week because her homesteading class brought me up in some college lecture. This blew my mind, but also had me swelling with pride that local schools have homesteading curriculums. Talk about knowledge being power: a class that gets students to learn how to literally feed themselves, and not just get a degree that pays for groceries, has all my respect. I tell you, sometimes this nook of the world just makes me smile like an idiot.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

pods and strings

In my short years of experience with country living I have learned to pay attention to how experiences affect me. Before I even start the season I can tell you how much breaking sod that first weekend out of winter hurts my shoulder—or the amazing feeling of a two-day-old chick's heartbeat in my palm. I understand the economy of gardening, how the patience of growing things wears off and yet that intense joy still comes when that first spring salad hits your fork. I also know what combinations of activities or items can cure loneliness, or anxiety, or fear. A snap pea sprout and a banjo are one such combination.

It is impossible for me to not smile when I look at a spunky spring pea shoot and an openback banjo. The two are strong medicine, and no matter where I am or what's going on—if I close my eyes and picture white pea blossoms and vibrant green vines curling around a banjo neck—I forget whatever has been troublesome to me. The image reminds me why I got into homesteading in the first place: to let the simplicity change me. To allow basic human needs to start and end here, and fill emptiness wherever it growls.

I see a pea sprout and a banjo and I know without a doubt in my mind that tomorrow holds the possibility of good food and good music. The evolve from pods and strings into hope. They are food and music I grow and play myself, which makes them not only hope, but hope I cultivated my my own volition. Meaning the human animal has the ability to not only feed and entertain herself but to understand the perspective and value of waiting for future happiness. I get that from snap peas and banjos. I really believe if more people could tap into their own combinations of basic things they can control themselves, they might find happiness there too.