Saturday, July 3, 2010

fast fast dog

hens and market

Mornings with a mission are good for the spirit of a small freeholder. Tiny errands and adventures that add to a common goal fill me up with a certain kind of happiness. Satisfaction I don't know where else to find. It doesn't have to be complicated, and it certainly wasn't today. I got up early, loaded the truck with a wire cage and some fleece, and drive the 45 minutes west to Saratoga. I was off to buy chickens.

I had found a backyard chicken keeper with an excess of barred rocks and black sex-links. I bought four new young hens to replace what was taken by the fox. When I handed over the money, shook hands, and drove off the back of the pickup was alive with the sounds of clucks and squawks. They were padded in from the wind and sun by the fleece on two sides and my little orange truck drove off with a bed of wool and eggs.

Since we were in Saratoga, we decided to hit their big market. What a grand thing that was....I bought lamb burger and sunflowers, fresh lettuce (mine was all eaten by a deer in one night...) and got the number of a sheep farmer near Jackson who also worked with border collies and said I could come by to pick her brain about starting my own lamb and wool operation. Networking is becoming the number one reason I go to markets now. The foods great, don't get me wrong, but the people are even better.

Gibson was with me the whole time, as he is on all farm errands. As my business partner and gangly teenager he was fairly well behaved. Friendly as hell, but growled at a petit basset griffon vendeen that walked by at the market. It was the first time he's growled at anything that wasn't a sheep. I shooshed him up but the market staff walked over in a huff about how dogs shouldn't even be here and can't unless they are practically invisible. I get it. I didn't complain or fuss. Gibson went back to normal instantly. I think he just doesn't care for the French.

I got back to Cold Antler around mid-morning and unloaded the day's haul. I was able to find an antique washing table for my guest room for ten bucks (score). And I set it up with a bowl of fresh sunflowers to boot. My college roommate Erin is coming for the weekend with her boyfriend and I want to show some sort of hospitality(considering my backyard is a pasture and there's no air conditioning). Not everyone is into fans and chicken poo on their shoes. But Erin's never been much for high maintenance. I think she'll be fine.

Enjoy the weekend and happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 2, 2010

the staredown

survey says

Hey CAF readers! Where are you from? I'll start:

Jenna Woginrich
Jackson, NY

Future Lamb and Wool operation, current homesteading web designer.


Thursday, July 1, 2010


wool day

This morning I loaded up the back of the pickup with two season's of wool from my sheep: six fleeces total. Loading that pickup bed while the sheep watched from their new pen, my border collie pup in the front seat, damn it felt good.

I'll be boxing it and mailing it to Connecticut today to a processor who will turn it into yarn. The yard will be mailed back in a few weeks. I don't know how many skeins I'll get, but it'll be a lot. (That's almost fifty pounds of raw wool back there!) Enough to stock up my cabinets and keep me knitting all winter. Also, I hope to save some to sell at markets and wool festivals. I can't wait to get that package back from the mill. And it's a big step for the farm as well. I've been eating veggies and meat off the farm for a while, but now I'll be able to produce a bit of clothing from the backyard to boot.

new pasture and pen

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

not a plane ticket

Today, with the help of my friends Christina and John, I was able to enlarge the sheep pen ten fold. I had been pounding t-posts and running old field fence every night this week, but today I was able to encircle and build on the old pen structure. Now the sheep have an entire hillside to enjoy with their home shed up high in the pasture. I'll post photos in the morning, but tonight I feel wealthy from the work. When I pulled into the driveway after the office my sheep had a hundred square feet to call their own when they weren't grazing. Now they have a quarter acre. Thanks to the selflessness of new friends, I was able to turn a petting zoo into a pasture farm.

The flock was still eating grass when I returned from Christina's place in town. (Just three sheep. No lambs to speak of. I dont know if Maude is pregnant or not. I lack the eye.) When I got out of the truck all three were Sstaring at me through their fence right by the driveway. They aren't used to being that close to the house at night. I'm not sure if they expected me to walk them up the hill to their pen or if they wanted grain. I let them enjoy their confusion.

The turkeys know nothing of going home to roost. When I came home from the celebratory ice cream at Stewart's in Cambridge—all four were huddled together in a circle on the lawn, their heads meeting in the middle. They looked like a dead rabbit, all hunched and over each other to stay warm. I thought to myself how funny that they didn't understand home, yet understood night. They knew when to be still, and warm, and stop, but not where to belong. I know a lot of people who remind me of young turkeys. I'm one of said people.

I picked them all up in two hands. I was instantly nostalgic for the moment, knowing in a few months they'll be so large it will take two hands to barely hold one. But tonight they are small and four heartbeats quietly hummed in my hands in the dark. I placed them on the clean straw of the chicken coop and shut the door from danger.

Fence lines and poults. It's not a romantic dinner, a plane ticket, or even a night in a bar with friends: but I'm happy. I'll sleep well.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

check out my new belt buckle, son!

finding your rural property: part 1

I just finished another twenty feet of fencing, maybe more. I realized a few weeks ago that I would never have the hunk of cash needed to fence in three acres anytime soon. But I did have some spare t-posts and left over Red Brand field fence in a few rolls. Instead of looking at all that land in trepidation—I started pounding posts and running fence just twenty feet at a time. Slowly I've run enough to almost quadruple the sheep's current pen. Day by day, Cold Antler is becoming a sheep farm.

I want to start a series of essays here on buying land or finding your own farm. I want people who are in the same position I was in a few months ago—to see how easy it is. I had bad credit. I had no savings. I had nothing but a paycheck and a decent rental history and yet I bought this farm in April. It took a little homework, savings, frugal months and luck: but I got it. And now with a recession still in recovery, a weak housing market, and land prices lower than they have been in a long can't hurt to look.

And that's really how it starts. Get on or drive around looking for sale signs where you want to live. Knock on doors, call neighbors, ask questions. If you see something that would be perfect for you (even if you can't afford it now) ask to be shown the house. Just getting your foot in the door and shaking people's hands sets off a firestorm of events in the process. Walking around property and having realtors know you're looking keeps them looking for you. Soon you'll be getting emails and advice about other properties.

When you start looking—actually knocking on walls and asking about well water—find a mortgage broker that is savvy about alternative loans and rural programs. If it wasn't for my broker Jim's knowledge of the USDA's Rural Development loan program - I would have never bought a home. The USDA program let me walk onto my own farm with no money down. That left me with closing costs, inspectors, and moving costs to cover. Since the sellers really wanted out, they agreed to a deal called a seller's concession. That means they agree to put a few thousand dollars (in my case, six) towards my closing on the house. It still cost a chunk of money to get in the door, but compared to what it could have cost conventionally, it was nothing.

I am in my own farm house right now because I asked how I could get here. Sure, I was somewhat forced into asking those questions when the cabin deal fell apart—but I'm glad it did. The Jackson farm (which I am just starting to call Cold Antler) is starting to feel more like a home than a new house. Fences are rising, slowly the inside is getting unpacked and decorated...It'll take time.

But today: look. Even if you don't plan on moving for three years, look. Start clicking around online and see what homes cost in your area, and then what they cost a county over. This farm would be double just over the state line in Vermont, and not even qualify for the USDA program. So don't be scared to crane your neck a little. Your perfect place doesn't have to be a pipe dream. It just may be in Delaware instead of Maryland.

But the point is I had no idea I could get here. I had no idea about those programs or tricks. I think I was too intimidated to even ask. I thought needed 20k in the bank and a second income to share the payments, but because I just started looking I was able to start actualizing the possibility. It's the first step: look. The second step is ask. And the third step I'll write about next time: save.

Monday, June 28, 2010

gibson on a bed wool in the pickup

photo by tim bronson

Sunday, June 27, 2010

no lambs...

I think it may be a false alarm, or a while off. Time will tell.

i adore this stuff

be responsible!

four shots of bourbon

sunday morning

Oh my god. Fresh broccoli from the garden. My hen's rich eggs. Battenkill Valley whole milk. Grafton smoked maple cheddar... I just ate the best slice of quiche of my life. Eating it with a side of ridiculously dark coffee and I'm in an edible paradise. The dogs agree, too. If you've never made quiche, it is so easy darling. You just need a pie crust, some eggs and milk, and whatever cheese or toppings you desire. I'm a big fan of cheddar and broc: but when my folks come it's sausage, bacon, and pepper. And men: a man who can make a quiche, well that's mighty fine.

No lambs to speak of yet. I spent a bit of time last night repairing a hole in the fence. It's unnerving to be falling asleep watching episodes of Buffy on DVD to be shocked back into full consciousness by a black sheep, 6 feet away, bleating at the back hatch of your Subaru for grain (which is where I hide it). (The car is parked right outside the living room wall.) Joseph, is the escape expert of the trio. I can come home from worrk and see ol' Sal and Maude munching in the pasture and Joseph is down in the barn eating rabbit pellets. Alas, he cares more about Blue Seal Coarse 14 than he does about freedom, so he'll follow me right back into the pen if I have a handful of grain. I brought him back in his pen, nailed the fence back to the side of the sheep shed, and then went back to the Scooby Gang.

Today I start pounding some fence posts and running some new fences. I have a few used rolls we transfered from old fencing at the farm. It's not good enough for pen fence but fine for field fence. If I can do twenty feet today will be a victory. I need to just focus on small chunks done well.

Gibson is growing into a gangly little man. His fur is growing longer, his legs are too. He and Annie have become good playmates and spend most of their time rolling around the house together and exploring the upstairs. Right now they are playing keep-away with Annie's favorite stuffed animal (Annie is the one keeping it away) and Jazz is guarding his slice of quiche in the other room. He knows he can eat it in a few gulps, or he can sit with it and mock the other dogs who ate theirs to fast. Jazz can be a jerk sometimes; mocking us with his egg pies.

So that's my Sunday in the country. A morning of decadent food stuffs, an afternoon of sweat and midwifery, and hopefully an evening with my old friend, my fiddle. I think it's time I finally memorize Sally Goodin.

P.S. I've never read this blog in whole, but I did look at entries from the first September today. Wow.