Saturday, April 24, 2010

the first farm weekend

This morning's dawn was met by me riding a 200-pound sheep into the sunrise. Well, "riding" isn't really the correct term—I was being dragged. It was not yet 6 AM and as my favorite wether pulled my not-so-small frame across the hillside—it occurred to me that most normal people were still in bed. Little did they know us crazy small farmers were out having amateur rodeo hour. My friend Zach and I had loaded the sheep into the Subaru the day before. Had I known then they were planning to teach me some lessons about gravity and hoof-speed: I might have left them there.

Bruises aside, I was happy to have all of my animals (save Finn, who I am waiting till I have electric fencing to call home) back in my care. And that bit about leaving them in Vermont, that's a little dramatic. Truth is I have grown far too fond of my first three sheep to do anything but shear and feed them. There will be lamb and wool on this farm, but these guys aren't food stock. They are the training wheels I fell in love with. Even the mean one.

Zach, his wife Shellee, and their daughter Madeline were visiting from my hometown. They were here to help tear down the old farm and set up the new one. Not many folks jump at the chance to wrangle livestock, so I not only welcomed their visit, I bought new towels.

The family arrived Thursday night, and was helping feed chickens and filling rabbit fonts by 5:30 Am the next morning. After farm chores were done Friday morning, we drove over to Sandgate for the flock. I backed the car right up to the gate. hoping the loading would go smoothly. I opened the hatch to the tarp-lined back seat and threw some grain in. Sal thought this was marvelous and tried to jump in but was too heavy. I lifted his front end up, and then squatted on my knees to boost him into the back seat. It worked. Joe followed with little effort and Maude...well, was Maude. She balked, tried to run away, was caught, and then had to be lifted a foot at a time into the back seat. But we got them all loaded in a matter of minutes. As the hatch slammed I felt the weight of the world lift off my chest. All of Cold Antler was now heading home.

Zach seemed unfazed sitting shotgun in the beat Forester while Maude stuck her head in the space between the two front seats. (People who ride in cars with sheep are my kind of people.) After the drive back to the new farm, we moved them into the small holding pen cobbled together two nights earlier with the help of some coworkers. It was a simple affair: just field fence and some t-posts. Thanks to my friends Phil and Steve—who had come up for beer, pizza, and fence-building Wednesday night— I had the joint ready for some sheep. We had prepared knowing it would be a few days before the sheep shed was dismantled and delivered, but the forecast called for sunny days and they had the shade of a few apples trees. I thought they'd like their new pen and spend some happy time inside it come the weekend.

Sal didn't.

As I walked up the hill to the sheep pen, hay under one arm and somewhat groggy (I was still waiting for the coffee to perk)—I realized Sal had escaped. He had boldly shimmied under the fence in search of greener pastures. The trio had mowed the pen's grass to nothing in a few hours and the endless field around him was too tempting to stay put. I walked right up to him and pat him on the head. Morning Sal, I nodded. He kept eating, in love with the high, lush grass. I dumped the hay into the pen for Maude and Joseph (who had remained in the pen) and walked down to the car to grab some of the grains we used yesterday morning to bribe them into the station wagon. When I returned to the rogue with the grains, he ignored me some more. Wow...This had to be some seriously good grass... So I went with plan B, which was to grab him and push him back under the fence.

This was a mistake.

Sal was not interested in being man handled and started to trot away. I held on tighter. I stepped over him, straddling the 200 pound sheep between my legs, crab walking him towards the break in the fence. To steady him, I leaned the bulk of my weight over his upper back and foolishly thought this would lull him into submission and he would trudge back into the pen. He did not. He took off. I was just along for the ride.

For a few moments I was half riding/half being dragged across my new pasture by a grass-crazed fiend. I bounced as he cantered, holding onto his long wool like a chump. Finally I yelled for him to stop, and out of shock at the noise, he did. Both of us panting, my back covered in sweat, I was then able to follow the original plan of shoving him back under the lame fence. I placed a roll of spare Red Brand in front of the hole and walked back down the hill to the house. I had no idea if he'd mind the improvement or roll it out of the way again. Honestly, I didn't care. I hadn't had any coffee yet and I was panting like a sheepdog. My guests were still fast asleep. I hoped the neighbors weren't up to see the hootenanny. I hadn't even shook hands with them yet...

It was the beginning of a very long (but grand) day. A day that started with rodeo and would end with a toddler dancing barefoot in the grass around a small flock of meat birds, soaking up the sun together. How it should be.

More tomorrow. I'm so tired right now I could sleep a horse.

Friday, April 23, 2010

the gang's all here

There's so much to update you on, and I will shortly. The past week has been a flurry of activity but the end result is nearly here. I'm almost completely moved in. All the animals are here now. (Including the sheep! Who were transported this morning in the Subaru. More on that later.) The Cornish Rocks are outside in their own pen in the coop, and the big birds have made themselves at home. I'm currently hosting some friends from out of town and their four-year-old daughter, who shared this little story with her parents:

During her lessons about John 10:11 in Sunday school, she learned that Jesus is the shepherd and we are his sheep. A few days later, when her father asked her if she was excited about going to the farm, he asked her "Madeline, who has sheep?" Her response: "God! ....and Jenna!"

(That was in no way meant to be a comparison, but still, hilarious.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

the dairy bar is open!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

photos of the new farm!

Monday, April 19, 2010

slowly bringing them home

You're looking at the new/old chicken coop at Cold Antler. I call it Trappers Cabin (after a reader's band) since it's got a bunch of rusty traps hanging by the outside window and an ancient dead mink nailed above the door. It's a little creepy, but damn charming. (Certainly nothing a girl with first editions of Edward Gorey comics would balk at.) Both the coop and barn are covered in old rusty tools, traps, and old farm wares. I imagine they were pulled out of the fallen barn/dump on the property. What was once a regal barn is now a pile of scrap hidden behind the house. It's the one downside of the place, and has a lot of trash under the old barn boards, but also some antiques and great, usable, tools. Ugly, but worth the hassle. Old junk piles are rich with cool finds. I saw some old windows in there I can turn into cold frames.There's enough scrap around here to start another farm.

Yesterday my friend Steve came over early in the morning to help transport the rabbits and the bee hives. Having a second pair of hands (and a second truck) allowed us to do it all in one trip. When all was set up with the rabbitry in the barn, we decided to tackle the coop. After cleaning out the garbage and analyzing the structure we figured out how to best predator-proof it. I spent the afternoon setting the coop up in the rain and when the sky broke and the sun came out: I went to buy and load hay.

It's been a hell of weekend. Since closing Friday afternoon I've been scrambling to get Cold Antler from Sandgate to Jackson. So far the movers have managed to transfer most of my stuff and haul off two F150's full of trash. I started some unpacking, but the house seems to be the least important thing. Right now I just want the old cabin empty, clean, and ready to hand back to the landlord and all my sheep and fences back in New York. I am hoping to move the shed there, but not sure it's possible. I can't pick it up and lack a trailer. I'm not sure what to do exactly, about that...

I did move all the poultry last night. I wrangled, loaded, and drove all the chickens, roosters, and geese (by the way, geese do not like riding shotgun...) and they are now safe inside their new digs. The rabbits are in the barn, cozy and out of harms way. Slowly, the place is turning into home again. I feel so lucky. It was great to wake up to roosters this morning.

I also placed a spring poultry order for a few ducks (magpies for training Gibson to herd), turkeys, and more meat birds. I got my package of seeds and potatoes from Seed Savers Exchnage in as well. It's a little overwhelming, but it will all get done. It has to.

It's going to be one hell of an October folks.