Saturday, May 15, 2010

the new hive is installed!

The new hive is installed, and Lord do I hope they stay. There's always a chance your bees will decide the hollow tree across the street or the neighbors' old rusted pickup range would make a better home. Unlike other "livestock" we never really domesticated bees, we just learned how to make them comfortable. I hope mine agree their small home (loaded with feeder pollen) will do. It's good to have a hive back on the land. It's been a long time since the last one got destroyed by a bear, and this one will be surrounded by an electric fence. Wish us luck. We like honey around here.

stop making fun of my banjo

First published on the Huffington Post. July 16th, 2008
I recently discovered this little eco-gadget that let's you listen to all you're favorite music whenever you want (for as long as you want) on 100% renewable energy. It's this amazing nature-based technology that requires no offshore drilling, leaves no trace of Co2, and even polar bears occasionally enjoy them. It's cordless. It's free. And you can paint the tips all sorts of fancy colors. You know where I'm going with this.

Yes, gentle readers, your hands.

It's time we put down our ipods and picked up actual instruments. Stop listening to all that music and start making your own. I'm serious, dust off that guitar you haven't touched since college or finally order that banjo you've been joking about for the last six years and take on the completely green alternative to cds and turntables. It'll help reduce your energy consumption, save you a little money, and possibly help you get email addresses at that next impromptu-bonfire party. Score.

I am not going to follow this declaration with any statistics. Mostly because that would be ridiculous. We do not need numbers to back up the fact that your Martin DM uses less electricity than your stereo that takes up the same amount of shelf space as a bullmastiff. And even if your stereo is attached to a solar panel or a wind turbine - playing your own music still wins. Hands down. Here's why.

You and I, we live in an ear-budded world. Everywhere you go, from farmers markets to subway stations - America is plugged in. I think all that internal rocking out throws us inside our heads and outside of our communities. Something we all enjoy occasionally, but imagine the people you could meet and the kilowatts saved if for just one day every machine that plays music was turned off because people where making their own?

So what if you can't read music, never held a pick before, or think a fiddle and a violin are two different instruments? There are a million books, online classes, DVDs, and other resources out there for wannabe bluegrass kings. Get that used mandolin off eBay and figure it out. Even if you pull off a few simple songs you'll get the very real sense of accomplishment your day job skipped town on years ago. Plus, learning music uses all sorts of new parts of your brain you forgot you had. It requires determination, dedication, and possibly the help of members of your community. You know, actual people, and that's something you can't get from iTunes. There's the guy on Craigslist you bought the banjo from, the kid upstairs who offered to teach you the basics, and the jam you found on that will take you under their wing and then out to the pub. Opting to participate in the world of music instead of passively observing it gives your mind a workout, new friends, and you'll learn a new skill to boot. When was the last time you could do all that without involving paperwork and merit badges?

I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy the recorded music you own. Lord knows I've got so many cds, records and computers blaring here at the cabin, it's borderline indecent. But ever since I started teaching myself the fiddle and banjo - the electronics have been on less and less. When I come home from work the first thing I want to do to unwind is, well, hang out with the dogs. But the second thing, is sit outside on the porch and pluck a few songs on the banjo. Sure, it may look and sound a little...inexperienced. But, all mocking of peers aside, I'm getting more relaxation and general fun out of learning old waltzes then I've gotten from any new pop album in months. The hardwiring is different, and I like that. Plus, it's nice knowing I don't need to recharge it every 45 minutes.

So in a world that's swilling energy like a fat kid sucking back a snackpack, why don't you and I grab our guitars, go outside, and enjoy some tunes without being hooked up to the city grid? We can revel the company of new people, dive deep into a creative outlet, feel something emotionally tangible, and end our day feeling pretty damn satisfied for pulling it off. And those are things we just don't get enough of when our hands are tied.

pickin' print from yeehaw industries

the flock on the hill at dusk

Posted on this very blog, September, 26th 2007:

the big one

I just want to be a shepherd on a hill. That's my life's goal.
A flock of sheep.
A hill.

Friday, May 14, 2010

a heavy may

The past week took me down—a little too much is happening all at once here. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, in the last few weeks I have: bought a farm, moved, unpacked, painted a kitchen, prepared to install a hive of bees, slaughtered chickens, started another twenty chicks, planted a garden, started tilling more, cooked all meals at home, kept a near-daily blog, tended a farm's daily needs, finishing edits on one book while finishing a manuscript on another, am hosting a photo shoot this weekend, have my parents coming to visit next weekend. I also have more guests possibly over memorial day, repairs, magazine articles, home projects, and I'm raising a puppy. I also have a 40-hour work week at the office, leaving 4:45 AM - midnight to do everything else....

When I say I'm overwhelmed, I mean it.

It's all good stuff, great stuff really, but for girl to juggle all that: the pressures of publisher deadlines, the office politics, a farm, I have found myself worn just as thin as I am pulled every May. May is the month gardens hit the dirt, chicks hit the heat lamps, and new animals meet the farm. All the other events are happy accidents and big life changes. Please don't think I am complaining, I am just a very tired girl. Sometimes just crashing on the couch instead of posting on the blog is the extra 45 minutes of rest that maintain my sanity.

I'll be on a more even keel by June. Just getting through. Patience is appreciated.

photo by tim bronson

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


true story

The paperback of Made From Scratch is out now, and the new cover shows me driving down the road with a car full of livestock. It's a cool illustration, but this photo from the recent move to the Jackson farm proves it's based on a true story. Actually. I've moved all my animals in the station wagon at some point (Save Gibson, who has only been here a week, and has only been in the truck). Puppy aside: all my sheep, my goat, ducks, chickens, geese, dogs, bees, and 17 jillion bags of compost and bedding plants have been farmed in the station wagon. It took me five years to pay it off. It's dented, stained, smells funny and looks a horror. It's a damn mess. I love it.

That's me at the wheel (forgive the hair) transporting my small flock from Vermont to New York. My friend Zach took the photo while we navigated through Shushan to Cambridge. It was a fairly calm ride, and as you can see, Sal and Maude are showing us their better halves as they stare out the back window. Luckily, no cops stopped us. I'm not sure where the law stands when it comes to sheep trafficking.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

an introduction

Monday, May 10, 2010

the story of a salad

Tonight for dinner I ate a simple salad. Greens, shredded cheese, chicken breast, and honey mustard dressing with a side of bread. Nothing fancy. But this dinner, as humble as it is, stands for so much more than a full stomach. This salad contains a chick I held in my hands, flour that sifted between my fingers, milk I stirred over the stove into stretchy mozzarella, and greens bought at the supermarket with organic stamped on the side. It's a collection of work, and choices, and young life, and a bloody death.

This salad inhales and exhales; it is so alive.
Every bite is a story.

I know the chicken part, which I raised here on Cold Antler and harvested on Saturday. It was my third of this crop. I have ten left to dispatch. With every bird I get more comfortable, more adept, and thus, more kind to the birds. The thank yous are sincere, the sacrifice is real, and the work is precise. I end each chickens life quickly as possible and without remorse. My birds all live a good life, and are now totally free range. I gave up on the tractor and simply let them strut around the coop and sprawl on the lawn. They seem happy. They are like the laying hens, free and sassy. I'm proud of what I've raised.

I now own boning knives and butcher string. Who knew?

The cheese was nothing more than a gallon of pasteurized organic milk dumped into a steel pot over medium high heat and stirred with nothing but a tablespoon of citric acid till the thermometer hit 85 degrees. Then a small 1/4 cup solution of water and a quarter of a crushed rennet tablet were added and mixed in. As the milk curdled around 115 degrees, I pulled out the white curds with a slotted spoon and set it in a cheesecloth lining a pyrex bowl. I squeezed out the water, zapped it in the microwave a few times, kneaded it like bread will the ball turned shiny and smooth and salted it. I wrapped it in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge. It keeps well long as the air stays away.

The greens are just plain old Earthbound Farms from Shaws, an industrial organic joint as big and loud as any conventional farm, but at least the slew of chemical pesticides and fertilizers were spared from the acres they grew on. As were the workers who had to pick them and work in those fields weeding. At least my dinner wasn't forcing a person who could be a friend to inhale things with warning labels.

It cost 99 cents more than the alternative.
Most people spend more on tolls.

The bread was kneaded last night as I listened to this American Life on the radio. It was made from a local mill in Vermont and sweetened with local honey. I don't even think about baking bread anymore. It is just something that happens, like rain or Seinfeld reruns. The way it smells in the oven makes my house feel like I lived in it for a hundred years. It makes me so happy to know it's in there. It's good for the soul of the place, and my own.

You know, I really think if every house had a loaf of bread in the oven the divorce rate would go down about 27%.

The point of this post is not to boast, or guilt, or condemn conventional food. I am not interested in green elitism, nor do I tolerate the argument that healty food is only for the rich. I am not rich, and there was nothing elitist about standing outside in the cold rain pulling white feathers off a dead bird hanging from a tree. The point of this post is to share the story of one meal and how all those small ingredients turned into voting ballets. How all those small choices meant chemicals were pulled off a few acres, and a bird felt sunlight and stretched her wings, and a cow wasn't force-fed hormones and antibiotics, and cheese wasn't shipped 1500 miles on a truck soaking the curds in petroleum. It helped employ my neighbors, and bees, and kept the distance between me and this dinner's history a little thinner. And while yes, there are contradictions and imperfections in the meal (as well as my fair share of fuel and consumption)—it is a meal trying to be something else:

A little safer. A little kinder. A little smarter.

And I'm not asking you to raise meat, or stir curds, or buy organic, or shop local. I'm just explaining that there's another way to sit down at the table and feel full. And to honestly admit, right here, right now, that that was the best damn salad I have ever eaten. It was more than dinner. It was my the rest of my life.

Sometimes a good story is all it takes.

specials board hanging in the kitchen

the new guy

My internet is down at the house, has been since Saturday morning. I'm not sure why. It's frustrating. It's why we went through a weekend without updates at CAF, and for that I apologize. I wanted to just send a quick update about the dogs since people have been asking how they are getting along. There seems to be some concern about Jazz and Annie adapting to the new puppy?

So far, so good. Annie plays, sleeps, and entertains Gibson best she can and Jazz tolerates him with his nose in the air. There have been as many warning growls for stealing food and biting tails as necessary—but so far not so much as a snap at the little guy. We all spent the weekend together, at home, and while I won't let the three alone unsupervised yet, there hasn't been any signs of danger in their pack. I think we'll be okay.

Friday, May 7, 2010

annie in the kitchen

puppy chores

I just came in from morning chores with Gibson. The little guy is coming along brilliantly. We had a rough first night, but that was to be expected. He howled and screamed like a caged science monkey and I got 45 minutes of sleep. The next morning (get this) I was too tired to drink coffee, and brought him to work sans caffeine. He slept on a dog bed by my desk all day, getting loved up by co-workers and friends. Today he'll join me as well. I love that he can be near me.

He and I have gone outside both days for the morning chores. He follows me around, nipping at my heels, as we feed the chickens, ducks, and venture into the barn for the rabbits. He just trots by my side, amazing a husky owner that he doesn't run away into the woods....

As we crested up the hill to feed the sheep, I stopped and scooped him up into my arms. My three sheep aren't dog-broke, and are not going to be herded by a new puppy. In fact, they'd happily head-butt him out of this world. So I held him in my left arm as I threw the hay into the pen. His eyes were locked on the sheep like they broke his brother's leg in an Italian restaurant. Without blinking, he let out a low, hilarious, puppy growl. A sound I never heard him make. I broke out laughing, and gave him a squeeze. He just chased and played with all the other animals and people, but get three sheep in front of him and it's business time. I kissed his black head as we walked down the hill together, in my arms.

He's going to do just fine.

P.S. I've been getting emails and comments about Finn. Finn will be back! Right now I have a small sheep pen and a few unelectrified fences the ovines mind, but no goat ever would. I need to get set up for him and that means money, effort, and serious fences. If I took him today he'd have to be alone in his own enclosure to be safe, like a chain link dog pen, instead of with other animals like he should be. So I am getting some real fences put in with electric tops and when they are ready for goats: he'll be here! I promise!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

puppy shots!

photos by tim bronson

he's here

Monday, May 3, 2010

behold a dark horse

I recently got a feature article printed in Paste Magazine, about my one true love, the Gibson J-45. If you want to read something totally unrelated to farming, but still 100% jenna. Check it out at the digital issue below. Skip to page 44.

Behold a Dark Horse

gibson flies in this week!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

poultry swap haul!

my first farm chicken dinner

I am a 8-5 corporate employee, so weekends like this are when I get the bulk of my farm work done. When the combination of beautiful weather, a project list, and an event like the annual Poultry Swap all collide in 48 hours—I'm in my own personal bubble of agricultural ecstasy. So when Saturday morning arrived, sunny and full of promise, I was in rare form. I wanted to celebrate the day, my first real full day of work on my own farm. No errands, no plans, just me and this land. As I pulled on my rubber boots I felt as excited as a first date.

It all started with the chicken tractor. I walked outside and eyed up my pile of scrap wood and chicken wire. All I needed to build was a small open-air pen without a bottom. It's only purpose is to let the meat birds eat and fertilize the grass, while feeling sun and fresh air. Hopefully it's something predators can't get into easily and ends up being light enough for one person to drag easily. The poultry-moving device doesn't have to look pretty, it just needs to keep my thirteen cornish rocks in one confined grassy spot until I see fit to move them to another. Hammer in hand, away I went.

In a few minutes i whipped up a sorry looking pen. Aesthetics aside, it worked just fine. As I was moving the five-week-old chickens from their coop pen into their brave new world I could not help be be impressed at their size. In just over a month those cute fluffy yellow chicks were beasts! Time, care, and two fifty pound backs of feed gave me these white giants. Maybe it's the small farmer coming out in me, but as I moved them to pen to tractor I thought...I wonder how they'll taste?

So I decided to find out. I could harvest one bird and prepare it for my evening meal. After all I had all day, didn't I? It would be good practice too. If I planned on selling my chickens to friends and coworkers, or even giving them as gifts I would need to get decent at the nuts and bolts. So I put a canning pot on the stove to heat up 145 degrees, and went back to the tractor to pick out dinner. I was going to slaughter, cook, and eat my first farm-raised chicken.

For those of you who think this may be morbid, or sad, please don't. Cornish rocks are 100% food animals, unable to survive a few weeks past their 8-10 week harvest time due to their giant frames. If they aren't killed swiftly for dinner they'll usually die of heart attacks, organ failure, or broken legs. Now at about 3 pounds each, and all white feathers and bright eyes, my birds looked nothing like victims. They were happy, clean, birds. Instead of growing up in a dark factory with 10,000 other birds—these guys were living with 12, under my careful watch. They were living exactly the life I felt farm animals should live: outdoors, on green grass, seeing sunlight, and chasing flies. I picked up the fattest bird, held it by its feet (which lulls them instantly into submission), and walked it over to the chopping block. Here we go.

I thanked the bird, almost at a whisper, then with one swift hatchet move and all was done. No squawk, no pain, just over. I tied it upside down to a tree limb and let it bleed out. The boiling water had been moved from the stove, to right next to the stump, so as soon as the bird was empty I dumped the whole thing in the water and counted to sixty. When I pulled it out, the feathers came off like velcro, peeling off with just the slightest friction left to hold them to the skin. Just five short minutes ago this bird was blinking its eyes—now it looked exactly like what you'd see hanging on the streets of an Asian market.

Wow. How fast the animal turns into the recipe.

After the bird was cleaned of all feathers, I took a boning knife and removed the feet like Steve (my friend and Chuck Klosterman assassin) showed me. I followed his lessons and had an open Butchering Basics book by my side as well. Within a few moments the bird was eviscerated and ready for my kitchen. It looked exactly like what comes out of shrink wrap at the grocery store. I placed it in a big pyrex bowl of ice water in the sink and let it chill down to 40 degrees.

While it soaked I went outside and got to work on the garden. I expanded it a little, making room for the heirloom veggies I had ordered and was excited to finally taste. La Ratte potatoes, Dragon Tongue Beans, and pickling cucumbers were just some of the new additions I was planting this year. Seed Savers' Exchange offered these packets of heritage farm favorites and lettuces so I bought them. I had the seeds and the potatoes shipped to the office a few weeks ago. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of the fact I had a pound of rat spuds delivered to my desk. Yup. I had veggies, meat, eggs, and flour back at the new farm house. I was learning the fine are of really eating in.

I also started to see the Deer Tongue, Red Velvet and Arrowhead lettuces seeds I had ordered starting to sprout. The onions and Amish Snap Peas were also coming along well. As I sling my hoe it hit me that I could throw a dinner party here, featuring my own salad, veggies, roasted bird and warm bread... As sweat literally stung the corners of my eyes, I stopped planting, leaned on my hoe and took that notion in. I just stood there and satiated a bit. The garden rests on the flat bit of land above the farm house and below the sheep field. I closed my eyes and let some wind hit me. I heard the bees roaring in the apple trees above me. Joseph bleated for grain. Down by the well spring the geese were eating lush grass. The surviving chickens in the tractor were fat and now dust bathing in their shade. The place was thriving. I was thriving.

This little farm will feed me. It'll hurt, and burn, and cause sore muscles and sleepless nights but it will continue to feed me. That simple truth, is everything to me. Because darling, don't you realize that everything that any human being ever accomplished: from symphonies to atomic bombs was done because someone else was growing their food? Because someone else was doing the work that kept them alive? I prefer to cut out my middlemen. I want to be responsible for me, whatever that happens to be.

Between gardening breaks I brined the bird. I was following the step-by-step instructions in the newest issue of Cook's Country. I mixed a half cup of sugar and a half cup of salt into water and let the bird soak in the fridge for an hour. While the bird took in all that moisture and flavor: I went back to the garden to work. I knew I was getting a sunburn but didn't care. It's not good, I know, but after this winter it was a sadistic thrill to feel hot skin. I buried the chicken head, feet, and offal into the dirt below the garden soil. It would continue to feed me, and the soil, as compost.

When I couldn't take the heat, I went into the kitchen. It was in the mid-eighties outside but inside was a cool 68. I'd swill water, clean up, and go about more prep work. I took the bird out of it's brine bath and toweled it dry. (The dogs were very interested in this part.) Then I got out a honey mustard herb rub and some olive oil and massaged it into the meat. The magazine said to poke holes in the skin when doing this, so I did, and then placed the chunky little bird in a roasting pan, breast side down at 375 degrees. I would flip it and crank it up to 450 in about 45 minutes.

I went back to my work day. I finished up in the garden, fed the rabbits, collected eggs, and started preparing for the Poultry Swap in the morning. I had to clean out the back of the truck and get cages out of the barn for the Guinea fowl and meat rabbit buck I hoped to buy. When all was set for a day of bartering and haggling— I returned to the kitchen for more water, forgetting what was in the oven. I was blown away by the smell. My. Dear. Lord.

It was amazing! The place smelled of smells I never knew but always wanted, was starving for actually. Maybe it was the heat, or the work outside but that chicken roasting in the oven was tantric. I peaked in the oven and heard the crackling and smelled the herbs and fat. It was browning and bubbling. This was going to be amazing. Any yuck factor from the first phases of the meal was forgotten. All was excitement now. And after all that sun and work, I was famished.

When the day was done I took a long shower and changed into a sun dress instead of my usual farm clothes. I sat down outside on the deck to, as expected, a marvelous dinner. It was hands down the best chicken I had ever tasted. Sweet white meat and crispy skin and just a hint of herbs. On a bed of greens with some honey mustard dressing, it looked almost fake. I was impressed with myself for pulling it off, but also shocked that what had yellow feet and clucked a few hours earlier now was on the end of my fork. I felt the same way I did when knitting my first hat, or eating my first tomato. I had made this meal, really made it. I ate a third of the bird that night. I savored it, every single bite. I looked out over the farm around me sighed deeply.

I felt damn lucky. Yes, I had worked hard for the meal, and hard for the farm, but I felt lucky to have been able to reign in my wit and resources at the same time this place was available at the price it was. A perfect storm of timing, and recession, and evictions and now even births and deaths had all lead up to this chicken dinner on this deck. I felt it all the way into my bones. They shook.

I don't know why anyone needs to go across the globe on vacation. You want to really change your life? You want to be forced to slow down, think, and question the meaning of your existence? You want to better know how you fit into the story? Then buy a chick for 1.75 at Tractor Supply and follow a recipe. The whole world begins and ends there.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Friday, April 30, 2010

a slow waltz

The new farm is starting to fall into old routines. The dust is settling. The place is starting to feel like home. There are some moving pangs, and old ghosts haunting the place, but I'm not worried. I see no point in getting worked up about what is behind me.

And while the place is falling into a slow waltz; we've certainly had our ups and downs. Recently Jazz and Annie broke into the brooder and killed five of the chicks. It was my fault. I was running around cleaning for company, feeding the sheep, and left the laundry room door cracked a little. The dogs snuck in and had a grand time being pro-bono butchers. The other sixteen were spared. (Either they were meat birds living outside, or ran away to safety behind the washing machine.) Never a dull moment.

I can't blame Siberians for being Siberians. I can blame me for being careless. Five birds is a sad loss.

Besides that small massacre every other animal is thriving. The bunnies (seven total) are healthy, and at two weeks old, all have open eyes and new coats. That photo is one of the babes with his poultry cousins on the lawn. In six weeks the bunnies will be ready for harvest, and between them and the chickens... I'll have a heck of a meat supply put up for everything from BBQs to fancy dinner parties. Feels good to cater your own shindigs, I bet.

Food is certainly the name of the game. The chickens are laying nearly 8-12 eggs a day, and the garden survived the cold snap. Thanks to some well placed tarps: there will be salad! and this weekend the potatoes go in, as does my hoe. I'll be out in the sunny weather slinging that beast to make room for more veggies. I already bought a pint of cookie dough ice cream as a Saturday night treat, post sod breaking. It sure will be earned. No doubt about that.

I'm most proud of the meat birds, who have all grown into fat, happy, nuggets and are just a few weeks away from harvest. I think they will be hitting my freezer (and friends' freezers) just in time for the new crop of roasters to come in from the feed store. The pastured poultry is a new thing for me, but so far has been going swimmingly. I hope to finally build them their tractor this weekend. While I don't mind sitting outside and shepherding their grass time, it would be nice to let them in their own pen for a few hours while I painted inside or worked on something else. It'll all happen in time. It always does.

PSA: This Sunday is the Poultry Swap! (Where Finn came from last year.) I'm looking forward to it. I'll take photos and probably come home with something, but wanted to give a heads up for anyone in the area looking for a hell of a farming tailgate party. It's a great event, and a great place to find stock. (Just get there before 7:30. All the good stuff is gone by eight.)


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

plastic insurance policies

This weekend I was outside in a tank top heaving a hoe into the sod and have sunburn on my back to prove it. Tonight they are calling for up to three inches of snow. I hate April.

I spent the bulk of sunlight after work pulling plastic sheeting over the young beds and weighing it down with rocks. This freak storm may bring snow, but it won't re-freeze the soft ground. Not when it was 76 Sunday and they want it 67 again on Friday. It will be a fluke. Long live plastic insurance policies.

All that said. I'm waiting till the weekend to put my potatoes in.

I'm all moved in now, and the boxes are waiting to be unpacked. Right now the animals come before personal move-in indulgences like hanging up clothes. Housing, fences, feeding and new night rounds are being learned. But hell, I did buy a can of paint for the kitchen, and got one wall painted already. I did it late last night while it rained. I had to use all my self-preservation skills to not blue-tape up another wall tonight. But I didn't pack away dinner till nearly 9, and I do need some sleep before my 4:45 wake up call. Painting will have to wait till the weekend.

You'll have to forgive my scattered writing. Right now all the change, the new farm, and the projects involved have me reeling. The sheep still need to be shorn (though they will appreciate their late-spring coats if we do get those three inches tonight) and the meat birds need their chicken tractor. The new puppy arrives within a week or so and I haven't even bought a bag of puppy chow yet. It will all come together: the shaved sheep, the new addition, the snowy salad greens—but tonight I find myself feeling a little overwhelmed. A positive satiating, but drowning none the less. It'll be okay. In fact, it will be amazing. But these first few days have been exhausting. July has never looked better.

Monday, April 26, 2010

one story ends

I packed up my final box from the cabin today, swept the floor, and closed the door.

I drove away for the last time.

It hurt more than I thought it would.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

first garden's in the ground!

morning chores

A lot of folks who read this blog aren't homesteaders, gardeners, or even bread bakers (yet). They seem to have concerns about time restraints. People ask me often how much time goes into caring for the farm and animals. I thought this morning I would time each task, at my normal speed, in hopes it gives you an idea of the energy I have to set aside. So here's a timed example of morning chores.

Taking care of the new laying hen chicks: 2 minutes.

I refill water font and feeder jar from a bag of feed right next to the brooder and the laundry room has a sink in it. Easy. later that day I'll have to refill the brooder with new pine shavings. (I do this every 3 days.) That will take about 5 minutes.

Preparing the laying flock/meat birds for the day: 8 minutes.

Open coop door, feed birds from metal bin and scoop next to the chicken coop. Refill gallon metal water font at the well. Catch egg-eating chicken and place in spare rabbit hutch in barn. Refill meat birds' (too young to free-range unsupervised) feed dish and smaller plastic water font. Later today I will build a meat bird chicken tractor for the sheep pasture. It'll be a simple portable pen of scrap wood and chicken wire. Some nails and a staple gun are all it will take. I look forward to the project, which might last fifteen minutes?

Rabbit work: 3 minutes

Refill all feed trays with pellets, give small ration of second cut hay. Refill any low or empty water bottles at the well. Check on adorable kits. 7 made it and are doing fine. (The others were destroyed by the doe.) Besides repeating this later before bed, that is all the effort they require today.

Sheep work: 5 minutes

Walk up hill. Open gate. Let Sheep graze on hillside surrounded my portable fence. Place hands on hips. Take a deep breathe. Take in the view and smile. Later today I will refill their water, and move the portable fencing to a new area of grass. Because of the hill, wait time for the buckets to fill, and all - this may take fifteen minutes total.

Now, that's a quick morning of clock-winding to keep the animals going for the day. But don't think it's always that simple. If it's pouring rain: things slow down. If something breaks, or you run out of feed it takes longer to mend it or run to the feed store. I imagine if I had children this would take longer and require a second person, possibly. And of course I didn't include the time it took to build the fences, re-fix the chicken coop, build the meat bird pen inside the coop, or transport sheep. However, it was all done in the last eight days with a thirty-two hour work week, a few friends, some hard work, and a trusty post pounder. Far from impossible. And for all it gives me in satisfaction, good food, and sore arms: totally worth it.

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.