Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The fences stopped working again. Finn was playing with the wire between his horns this morning.

Finn 2
Jenna 1

UPDATE: Went back at lunch and Annie was coming down the road, she repaired the down fences and had them hot again. I thanked her, and then went home to let the dogs out. Finn was on the hillside in the shade with sal. Fences on.

Finn 2
Jenna 2

Monday, August 30, 2010


fences on

Annie my a goat farming neighbor came to my rescue. Annie has a herd of goats in Cassyuna, fifteen minutes to the west of Jackson. We spoke briefly over emails—certainly we were strangers—but when the shit hit the wall with Finn I had a gut reaction to email her. The subject like read ANNIE HELP! GOAT EMERGENCY! within an hour she was on the phone.

I explained my worries and she said she'd stop by in the morning after I left for work to check things out. Then, after I came home that evening, we would attack the pasture with a proper double line of wire at head and chest height. Do this and my goat problems would be over she assured...for now.

She explained that I should ditch the nylon tape and get straight up wire and a stronger charger. That tape isn't goat proof, and in her opinion raw wire is the only way to get a goat to mind. So on my lunch break I picked up a 1/2 mile roll of wire and more t-post insulators and called my friends at Common Sense Farm to see if the offer to loan their spare fencer was still on the table? It was, and after work I stopped at their farm stand in Cambridge for watermelons and a 30-mile charger (the last one was 2 miles!!!). Now were were stocked and ready for honorable caprine combat.

Listen. I love Finn. But I understand now why people keep sheep and alpacas. I really do. It's humbling being outsmarted by something with four stomachs.

I asked her to meet me at the farm by six, but I was running late from chatter down at the farm. At ten-past the hour I pulled into the driveway and saw quite the sight. I was just as concerned as I was amused. There by the fence was Annie, a fit blonde in an orange chicken t-shirt, sitting with Finn outside the fence gate. They looked like kids on the bench at a little league game, playful. "He was just standing in the front yard when I pulled in a minute ago," Annie assure me, "He's a sweet boy." She seemed to take to him and I took that as a compliment.

Goats have very liberal interpretations of captivity. My four-foot field fence was a joke to him. At some point while I was at work he got bored and pulled it down enough to climb over. Probably walked around, took a tour. You know, the usual house warming. We put him back inside the gate and got to work.

It took us two hours but together we electrified that pasture. Finn and Sal were our shadows, following both of us around like our jeans were stuffed with hay. It was nice. It was also somewhat of a work bee. We spent the whole time talking about our lives, our animals, our farms and other farmers. I learned tonight if you want to make new friends in the country, get a goat. The sayings are true. Single moms may be strong, but it takes a village to raise a kid.

Her husband Joe and her are old hands at this stuff but she seemed willing and able to help me out. I thanked her over and over but it didn't seem like enough. Giving up a sweltering afternoon to electrocute a goat isn't many people's idea of a good time. God bless Annie.

We ran the fence both Finn and Sal took a shock on the nose. JUICE! I gave her a high five. Before she headed home I handed her some honey. I told her I would be coming by with pie later this week and arguments would not be tolerated. Thanks to her help I learned how to set up, ground, and work my fence. Finn is safe inside and away from the road and predators will have to really second guess hopping inside too. Tonight I go to bed with a little extra spark. Not from the new fences, but a new friend.

Not bad for a Monday night among hayfields.

staredown: jazz, annie, and june carter.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Help! The electric fencing charge is so weak..it barely sparks my bare palm. Yet the grounding wire is wicked charged...I know because I brushed it by accident with my hand. I am using a 2 mile electric charger on a 1/6th of an acre pen...I went out in a panic and bought a grounding rod three feet long and nailed it into the ground to replace the 1 foot copper rod that came with the kit. I don't know why it's barely working but Finn is ignoring it. I have to go to work tomorrow and am terrified he'll get out, break down the fence so the sheep get out too while I am half an hour away... If he got into the road and got hit or caused an accident (people fly down this road) I am just so stressed out.

I have been running around all over Washington and Bennington county buying sledgehammers, grounding rods, electrical supplies and the works yet it is barely buzzing. Does anyone know what I can do to up the charge? help!

If I can't contain Finn safely I don't know how I can keep him. I have spent the day either in a panic, in tears of frustration, or driving all over trying to contain him.


Well folks, less then 24 hours after his return home to Cold Antler, Finn has broken out of the fence. He found a weak spot by a tree, placed his hooves on the Red Brand woven wire, and ripped it down. Pulled the nails right out of the bark. I caught him in the act on the return from a jog. Just as I was coming into the driveway huffing and puffing—he was half out of the fence eating some sapling all to hell. So I grabbed a hammer and nails, fixed the downed fence, and hoped it would hold while I ran to Bennington to buy electric supplies. I set up a top line of eletric tape around the whole first pasture pen. So far, no more escapes....

finn's return

The side door to the mini van opened and I caught my breath. Standing in the back, taking up all the space there was to take, stood a grown man. The little toddler I had bottle fed on the cabin porch was no more. Before me was a sturdy caprine who's shoulders came up to my hips with long, curved, horns. He had the exact same eyes though, yellow and childish. He started to nicker and I smiled when the sound was exactly the sound I left this past winter. How could such an animal still sound like a little kid?

It was so good to see him. I had tried to ignore missing him. If I didn't think about Finn I could focus on other things. Part of me worried I'd never have the fences he needed (part of me still worries about that) or he'd me miserable as the lone caprine laughing in a pile of wool. But he seemed good, healthy, and strong as an ox. All I could do now is pray the fences would hold and no horns pierced anything but tree trunks.

I lead him into the sheep pasture and unsnapped his collar to see what would happen next. Sal, Maude, and Joseph watched from their corners of the hillside. None of them looked thrilled. I knew Sal would trot down here and challenge the goat but wasn't sure what would happen next. Would Finn leap through the sheep field fence? Would he fight back? Did he know what those horns (the size of my forearm) could do to a pissy sheep? I watched from the other side of the gate.

Sal and Maude did chase him around a bit. Sal knocked him over twice. Joseph watched. He had no interest in smacking a goat around, and I laughed when I realized he was watching a black sheep for the first time.

After those initial introductions all went well. Finn walked up the hill to the shed and the others returned to their grazing. The goat curled up under the shade of the apple tree and looked around the new farm. I watched him swat flies with his ears and nod his head up and down. I know he was just avoiding the bugs, but I like to pretend it was approval.

Thank you Abi and Bobbie, for watching my boy. I hope to return the favor some day.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

he's back!

big day!

Big day today. In a few hours cars will be pulling into the drive for the fiddle workshop and one of those cars will be holding my goat Finn. After months of foster homes and moving drama I am fenced and ready for my little pack goat. So I'm going to start a loaf of bread and get a quiche in the oven and coffee on the stove and prepare for my guests. It should be a grand day of music, food, and if the fences hold: dinner with friends at the Washington County Fair. Photos and stories to come.

I can't wait to see my boy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

washington county fair

snyder farm: a backyard put to work

Snyder Farm is what I call it. It's a small hidden place behind a sidewalk along a road in a small town. You might think when you pass by that it's just another suburban house but then you might find yourself making a double take as you notice the landscaping is all...well, edible. My friends Zach and Shellee live on an 1/8th of an acre in the small town of Bowmanstown, Pennsylvania.Their house takes up much of that space, but what backyard is left has been transformed into a farm. This is the Snyder's first year gardening outside of the occasional container adventure, and it has certainly paid off. Now what was once a lawn and above ground pool (Zach ripped out the pool for gardening space) is a cornucopia of production. They grow salad greens, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage. They've pulled turnips, scallions, beans and beats. They have corn rows and pumpkin patches. All of it on land that once hosted flip flops and swim towels. I consider this a vast improvement. So do they.

The Snyder's are an average American family. Shellee is a stay at home mom, Zach works as an antique dealer in a home office and holds a part-time night job as well. They have a little girl named Madeline, a pair of dogs, and a cat named Mojo. They pay their taxes, go to church on Sunday, vote and love Netflix. There is nothing all that different about them from you and I. They simply made a choice to grow what they could and step back a little from a culture obsessed with consumerism. They both agree the work has been worth it.

They added some angora rabbits to the mix this year and use them for wool and tea compost, both of which help other aspects of the homestead. They plan on chickens eventually if they can butter up the idea to the town council woman who lives across the street... big plans on Snyder Farm, that is for sure.

here is a list of what they Snyders have grown from 200 square feet of town backlot:

Kidney Beans: 2.5 quarts dried ~ 5 quarts soaked
Pumpkins: 1 dozen jack-o-lantern size
Pickling Cukes: 25lbs
Horseradish: 2 large plants/roots
Eggplants: 1 dozen
Bell Peppers: 20lbs
Basil: 5 full mature plants
Peas: 1-2lbs
Corn: 60-70 stalks with 2-3 cobs/stalk - we lost most to rot because of the weird weather we had this year. These will make good compost though
Broccoli: 10 full heads
Cabbage: 10 green, 6 red
Garlic: 15-20 bulbs
Onions: 10-15lbs
Scallions: 4 large freezer bags
Turnips: 3lbs
Carrots: unknown - they were a bust
Potatoes: 15lbs
Tomatoes: I have no clue. I'm pulling a plastic shopping bag worth every day or two and have been for a while now. We've pulled easily 40-50lbs with no signs of letting up. We planted Better Boy, Beefsteak, and Romas (25 plants in all) and have cherry tomatoes in the compost pile :)
Strawberries: all 20 plants died

Zach says this about their year of food so far:

We were able to grow quite a bit, because our last frost date was earlier this year. We were able to grow turnips, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and onions, and then pull them to put in our summer plants. I pulled some of our summer plants and put down cabbage and broccoli. The cabbage got eaten, but we have about 6 heads of broccoli still kickin'.

We built all of our beds from recycled deck wood from the pool we took down. Any fencing we used was acquired from estate sales or yard sales. We said very early on that our garden needs to be practical. The whole point is to be more self-reliant, not to see whose beds look the prettiest.

We did not spray anything or use anything unnatural. We used our own homemade compost and compost tea. We started our compost pile last August after we moved in, in order to have rich compost for this year. The rabbits are really helping build our supply. We fenced anything that the wild rabbits would bother. Other than that we did things like plant basil in between tomato plants to cut down on pests (it really works well). Also, we let the dogs pee around our raised beds of kidney beans. I read about this in See You In a Hundred Years. They emptied their camber pot around their corn to keep rodents away. We let the dogs go around 3 of our 4 raised beds. Sure enough, the rabbits/squirrels/etc only ate out of the bed we didn't let the dogs near. We were told by a neighbor to brush our dogs and put their hair around our beds to keep rabbits away, but we haven't tried it yet.

We started with 4 small 8x4' beds and grew from there. I read You Can Farm, per your recommendation, and he says if you can't make it in your backyard, you won't make it on 20 acres. We took that to heart and had at it. We still have to be careful, because we're in the middle of town and it can't look too wild, but by letting passersby take a walk around and look, giving neighbors fresh peppers and tomatoes, and talking garden with the Bowmanstown Lifers, you'd be surprised what they'll tolerate.

The difference this garden has made on our grocery bill has been and continues to be amazing. To be able to cut an onion from the braid, pull peppers from the freezer, and snag a tomato off of the plants really adds up.

Next year, it's on like Donkey Kong.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

pasteurized reading

chuck klosterman is back...

Yup. One of the surviving pullets is not a hen, but a rooster. A white, black, green and gold rooster exactly the same breed and size of Chuck Klosterman. God laughs.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the sacred 45

Gibson woke me up to go outside sometime around 4AM. My alarm goes off 45 minutes later, but those are a sacred 45 minutes. Sleep is something I want more of but my body seems to disagree. Without fail I get up every morning around 4:47 AM.

I like my early mornings. I wake up to the pre-dawn light (now almost dark again as fall creeps in) and see the world before most. I take time to listen to the farm wake up from my bed. I cab hear the young roosters moan and the shuffle of Maude as she shakes out her wool and starts rooting for apples that fell while she slept. I know every sound and where it comes from.

Gibson usually sleeps right till I get up but today I was ready to go outside early. So I wrapped myself up in a blanket and took him outside to pee. We came back inside and he ran fast as his little legs could carry him back to my bed. He was curled up and eyes closed in moments. I sighed. Some battles are not worth fighting. I found a place for myself and he sidled closer to me. He placed his head in the crook of my arm and scootched his spine back into my belly. He was snuggling and then fell alseep. A puppy out cold. I whispered to him the same question I ask all my dogs, "Are you getting all the love you need?" and set a hand on the side of his dear head. He turned onto his back, stretched out his long paws and then collapsed back into a heap with a sigh, like he gave up on the effort of the stretch. I took that as a yes.

We slept for 38 more minutes like that. Crates be damned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

i barely put a dent in that box...


The Stannard Farm stand is just down the road from Cold Antler and I love it. It's a small farm in south Cambridge that produces meat, eggs, and vegetables. The stand sells all their food and also carries local cheeses and milk. It's kind of like having a farm-fresh mini mart a bike ride away (exactly 1.8 miles from my front door). The clientele up here in Jackson isn't interested in five dollar cartons of milk or over-priced organics, so the food is priced to move for the locals. This crate of slightly over-ripe/bruised tomatoes was $5. I almost fainted when I saw the sign. Jackpot.

The woman at the counter said when the fruit goes slightly past its prime it's perfectly fine for sauces and canning, but not for commercial sales so they box them and sell them to canners. I told her I could make a pot of sauce and freeze it tonight, to hell with canning on the fly. (My canning pot is used for chicken scalding...so I need to get a new canner before I start preserving this fall.) She smiled at the ambition, but seemed to think all the people snatching up the five dollar cartons were crazy. She could think whatever she wanted. A twenty-pound box of locally grown tomatoes for a Lincoln was worth rolled eyes. And I bet if you asked around your local farm stands and growers, they'd sell you their over-ripes for a song as well. Worth a phone call anyway and that homemade sauce defrosted and poured thickly over pasta is going to taste just as amazing when the first snow falls. Think ahead a little and savor in advance. That's what I say.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

lanky defined

hudson valley saturday night

Kinderhook Farm is beautiful. That's really what this comes down to. I was sitting on Lee and Georgia's porch last night with a slew of their friends at dusk, drinking Saranac and watching their flock of Dorper/Texels half a mile away munch on their new pasture. It was a scene right out of a story book. The kind of farm we grew up thinking all farms were based on songs and illustration. I drank my beer and smiled. Right before I arrived they had moved the entire flock (without a dog) by Georgia simply sweet talking them through it. No grain, no yelling, just a new fence on fresh grass and the request to follow her. I heard it became quite the stampede.

Kinderhook Farm is in the heart of the Hudson Valley. It's a haul from Cold Antler, almost an hour and a half drive, but lazy and fine. I always opt to ride down 22 instead of the highways. It takes an extra fifteen minutes but instead of whizzing down the interstate I can weave the truck through old towns and farms. When I hit 295 I head west through Chatham and then a few county roads later you find yourself coasting along a series of fences and hillsides. Black cows eat happily on what seems like endless pasture. (At 1200+ acres endless isn't exactly accurate, but you get the idea.) Keep driving and you'll come up to a red barn with an old restored GMC truck and a restored barn that doubles as their farm store. Exhale and grin: you've reached Kinderhook Farms.

I pulled up to the farmhouse and let Gibson out on his leash. Louie, their handsome boxer, came rushing to play with my pup. It took Gibson a while to realize the gentle giant wasn't going to eat him and then his tail came out from between his legs. In a few hours Gibson was with us at the kitchen table, playing with a little girl named Meg who took to him like a pair of old roommates. She walked him around the farm and yard. They were a happy pair.

I had first met Lee and Georgia at the Greenhorns event they hosted this past spring. I wrote about it on the blog and Georgia read it and got in touch with me over email. We chatted and emails started back and forth. She liked what I wrote and I loved their farm and thanked them for hosting such an inspirational day. I mailed her a copy of my book, and we said eventually I'd come down for dinner. Last night they held their promise true, and we had an amazing meal of Red Devon burgers, potatoes, glazed carrots, and a chocolate soufflé-type dessert with cream and berries. Fresh pressed cider (hours before was apples) was made by Shaun, and I was proud to serve my own bread and honey as an appetizer.

The meal was amazing, that goes without saying. Eating anything that fresh and clean, right off the farm, is an experience that changes how you understand a meal, what a meal can be. But food aside: it was the farm itself that wowed me. Just walking the miles around the main horse barns. Checking out the moving layer flocks and meat birds. Watching the lambs follow their mothers, bleating as we walked by with Louie trotting ahead like a carriage master. At night before I left a crew of us young guns went out with flashlights to close up the birds and settle in the farm for the night.

Night rounds are my favorite of all farm chores. I walked through the fields with the others, following erratic flashlight swerves and thought about closing up Diana's farm in Idaho. I remembered how we'd go out to close up the chickens and feed the cattle after a few drinks and dinner and then come back to her warm house and family with that satisfying feeling of safety-granted. That sense that everyone outdoors and indoors was okay. I did the same with my small Idaho farm, and then again in Vermont, and when I drove back to Cold Antler I would do the same. Across years and this nation: putting chickens to bed connects me to a place in a way an address and electric bill can't. Taking care of future meals, keeping them safe as possible, collecting eggs and saying goodnight...it makes a place home, for all species involved.

After the farm was put to bed, I was ready for the same. I thanked my hosts, gave Louie a kiss, and drove north up 22 to my own warm comforter. Gibson breathed slowly at my side, asleep on a sheepskin as the first drops of rain started to hit the windshield. My stomach was full, my nostalgia fresh, and my body tired from walking and driving. Tomorrow I'd pick up feed and t-posts and start planning fall work parties, but as I drove all I thought about was this culture of food and people I have been so lucky to have fallen into. I have fallen into it, sure, but it is there for anyone with a container garden and a canning jar. It's there for anyone who opts for the farmers market or a chicken in the backyard (even just once in a while) over the grocery store. It's a club, but it's not exclusive. It's for anyone who wants to know the story behind the recipes and sometimes those stories come with chicken lullabies and full stomaches.

I sighed, smiled, turned on the wipers, and headed home.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

the road home

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

how long does it take...

...for a house to feel like a home?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

keeping time

Well, there's two ways to look at this darling. Two ways. I can look at these tiny excuses for watermelons and feel like a complete failure for growing something so weak that it could barely entertain a flock of egg birds. Or, I can look at these tropical fruits I managed to conjure out of yankee dirt on a brand new farm and be proud to turn them into vitamin C enriched eggs. To a farmer they aren't much. But to a chicken....that is one huge watermelon.

Tonight I'm taking the chicken's point of view. A little kindness for the attempt is a recipe for better sleep. I've scolded myself enough about the garden, the meat rabbits, the slow fence progress, and other things. I think I've had enough self-admonishing for a while. I have to keep reminding myself no one is keeping score.

a barn on fire

Friends, readers, future farmers, and current homesteaders:

When the Amish suffer the loss of a barn or home, it is tragic but understood. All members of the community know that even in their hardest times there is the insurance and care of their community. If they lose a barn they know the community will raise up their shovels and hammers and help them rebuild. It's a good system, this looking out for each other.

We are not Amish. We still look after our own.

The community of this blog is large and kind. When I was facing eviction, and scared out of my mind how I would ever land on my feet: the support and donations from this blog lifted me to a place where I could find home. Sometimes you have to realize when you need help, ask for it, and be very grateful. One of our friends has arrived to this time.

I recently found out one of CAF's readers is losing her home. The bank sent the notice. She's scared. She's not alone in this either, her husband is just home from Irag having served his 400 days. She wrote me, "Grateful we are that he's here, hearty and hale. One of the many reasons it's hard to ask for help since we've been so blessed with that alone and others have not." and together they raise five children. All of them are facing foreclosure next month.

She did not ask me to do this. I somewhat demanded. I understood her reservations but thought we could help. I knew we could help. Like us they are hopeful farmers, working towards the dream of homesteading. They have some land they bought and it hosts a storage unit, but no house. So they need to find a way to convert the land they have into livable quarters and start living off it. Through circumstance and hard times they are being forced onto their land and are going to start working it for their income. But they can't do this alone. They'll need some help.

I'm asking if you have a dollar to spare, please send a donation via paypal to this address:


The cash will go towards getting our friends back on their feet, starting their farm, and give them the help they need.

Their barn burnt down. Pick up a shovel. It's what we do.

Monday, August 16, 2010

my first jar of farm honey!

Sitting in my kitchen is a quart of honey. it's a rich, dark, golden brown and when you hold it up to the light, it shines. I just held it in my hands for a while as I leaned against the kitchen sink. For three years I have been keeping bees, hoping for this moment. I had lost hives to my own faults, poor planning, two bear attacks, and poor luck. But because I wanted to harvest honey I kept rebuilding supers, spray painting hive bodies, and ordering new bees. Yesterday I finally filled a jar. A very large jar.

I had only planned on checking the hive. I had no plans whatsoever to harvest honey—but like so many things out here—plans rarely matter. Last night I was out checking the hive. It had been a few weeks and we'd been through quite the mess of rain and heat waves—it seemed like a check-in was due. So I suited up in my bee gear, grabbed my smoker and hive tool, and headed out to the hive to see how the girls were doing.

When I got to the bees I was shocked how many were hanging outside of the Styrofoam super. I had read about how bees look before they swarm, and this wasn't far off from that description. But how could they? They had two giant supers on that hive (without a queen excluder. I planned on not harvesting at all this year and putting it on next spring under a third super) and all my previous years keeping bees no hive had managed to fill two to capacity by mid-August. Specially when it was practically June when they were installed...

So I did not expect much when I went to lift the lid. If a quarter of the top section was filled in with comb I'd be ecstatic. smoke rising all around me. My goatskin beekeeping gloves protecting my hands as workers crawled between my fingers. I placed my hands on the lid and tried to lift it. It wouldn't budge. Using my hive tool (a mini-crowbar for beekeepers) I wedged open the lid and then did the same for the inner lid.

Oh. My. God...

The super was exploding with combs and honey! I was expecting famine and discovered a feast! Each frame was packed. Wafting fumes of the gold stuff hit me like someone just opened one of those tree-shaped air fresheners in a compact car. I loosened out to frames with my hive tool and lifted one out. Honey, honey honey.... it dripped off the edges. I realized around this point why the bees were swarming around the outside. They were done here. It was packed. I would have to add another super pronto or give them some other form of work to give them reason to stick around. So I ran (literally ran) back into the house to get some roasting pans from the kitchen to hold a frame or two. I came back out and pulled two fames heavy with honey into the pans, but soon realized one was full of brood chambers and would have to be returned. I was interested in honey, not genocide, so I put it back.

I had no idea how I was going to extract the bastard. I had only watched extraction once. A neighbor in Sandgate showed me how she used an expensive Italian machine to whip honey out of the frames by centrifugal force. I had no such machine. I knew how to prepare and load combs into that but alas, I was a long way from Sandgate now. So I figured something else out.

Necessity is the mother of invention, of course. I grabbed a giant Lobster-sized saucepan and stuck a colander in the bottom. I heated a large serving knife under hot water and carefully removed the wax caps. The wax fell into the strainer and globs of honey poured out into the large metal container. It was pretty primitive honey extracting, but easy and inexpensive to pull off. Annie watched nearby. When a drop or two of honey fell to the floor she licked it up and then padded back a few steps and sat again to watch for another drop. I threw her a piece of comb and she chomped it happily. Annie is a fine sous chef.

When there was a remarkable amount of honey in the pan, I poured it into a jar, filtering it again through a strainer. The liquid was warm which surprised me, but why shouldn't it be? I sealed the lid, ran it under hot water to clear off the stickiness outside. I wiped it off with a dishtowel and leaned back against the sink, just as I said. My house clothing, floor, counter, sink and pans were covered with honey. The place was a mess. I was slick with sweat from the hive clothes and running around. One gold jar.

I am the wealthiest woman in Jackson.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

gibson stalks a rabbit

big ol' bowl of heirlooms!

Compared to last year's bacchanal: this year's scruffy garden is a bust. But this bowl of ripe tomatoes is a lesson for me. Even if the garden wasn't what I hoped it would be, it still keeps providing food for me. I may not have a cellar full of potatoes and walls of garlic and onions. But I do have some of each, and this humble bowl of heirlooms will make a great sauce for my pizza tonight. I can caramelize some of the onions on the back of the attic door and if I'm feeling really frisky: even make my own cheese to top it off. It may not be a storehouse of food for the winter. But it is a cupboard of options. There's always next year.

P.S. I would like to thank the reader who sent me the DVDs of the Welsh Sheepdog Finals. I have been watching them over and over, I didn't even know about the TV show Come Bye! Thank you!!!

homebrewing 101

I got an email about root beer, and it reminded me how much I enjoyed making it last summer. So I decided to put a pot of homebrew on the stove tonight with directions. Check back and see how easy it is to procure your own DIY carbonation. I'll be making a few quarts of either root beer or birch beer. I think soda is a perfect introduction to homebrewing. It's a short, harmless (well, try not to use glass...mostly harmless), two-week curing process and ends with good inexpensive soda for floats and post-fence building music jams. I'll be using a store-bought base (not actual birch roots) but even if it's a kit soda: it's still kinda of neat learning to make it yourself. Check back for more tonight.

UPDATE: Out of sugar (well, soda making-amounts) and will have to do this tomorrow night. I'm sorry!


The trials in Cooperstown were fantastic. I have never seen such a crowd at a sheepdog trial in my life! The Annual Leatherstocking Sheepdog Trial had so many cars in the parking lot you would think it was the little-league playoffs. I'm used to being one of a possible dozen stragglers watching these contests, but I was in the throngs yesterday and rightly so. It was a wonderful event.

There were spinning and weaving demonstrations, food tents, vendors, and shade seating under the tent. I forgot my folding chair (still not in the habit of bringing my chair) and just rolled a sheepskin under my backpack to be a blanket. I sat along the fence with a couple from the south who were here as part of their RV Gypsy Life in the local KOA campground. We talked about the south, what they had seen. They asked me about the trial and I explained the points and dogs. Gibson didn't seem to care much about the event. He liked eating a big marrowbone and digging holes more.

I got a chance to watch my future charges....um, charge. The Scottish Blackface ewes I'd be raising were in the trial, right in front of me there were loping across the field with their spring lambs. Have you ever seen a Scottish Blackface lamb? My dear lord...they're like little-chubby-cuddly-monster stuffed animals: hooves and horns and shaggy coats with tiny bleats for mom. My heart melted. Gibson coughed up some dirt clods.

I got to talk to a trainer in Massachusetts I really admire and respect. Her name is Denise, and I have been to her place before for lessons and clinics so I felt okay approaching her. I asked if I could train with her a little in the fall? I already have plans to train with the blackface breeder, but her farm is just as close and offers different land, sheep, and opinions. She said sure and to email her later in the season. Gibson will be seven-months-old in October and ready to try out sheep for the first time by then. We talked briefly about dogs, turkeys, chickens and the trial.

The rest of the time around the trial was observing and watching. I am still amazed these dogs do what they do. To see a black dog turn on a dime 400 yards away from his handler, because of a series of whistles: amazes the hell out of me. When the sun came out we hunkered under the shade tent and I looked at the scores posted on the wall, hand-written on poster boards. One small category caught my eye, the Novice scores. Friday was the beginner trial and about fifteen new sheepdogs did their best. I smiled. Seeing those scores on the board was like wanting to be a pilot at an air show and walking among 747s until you found the glider hanger. This was my level (eventually). I tried to picture my name with Gibson on the wall.

The drive home was long and hilly weaving up into the northern part of the state from south of Albany. Roadtrips like this wear us both out. I was content with the radio and some iced coffee, but Gibson slept the entire time on the sheepskin, breathing slowly like the tired boy he was.

Friday, August 13, 2010

sunset at common sense farm

Thursday, August 12, 2010

shepherding takes some attitude

farm shape update

It's been over a month and I am still running, nearly every day. Since early July I have only missed three days of exercise and now I find myself needing it to feel content with the day. It hasn't become any easier. I still huff and puff and sweat buckets: but I have learned to get used to the discomfort. I can now run three miles at a time, and do a few times a week. When I get a mile and a half from the farm and turn around on a hillside looking over route 22, I am both daunted and amazed my swarthy little body got me that far—carried me over land like a little ship.

I haven't lost any weight. Which is frustrating but my doctor tells me I am building muscle and losing inches, even if the scale starts to gain pounds. I believe him. My body is tighter, my jeans a little looser. The other day a coworker asked me if I lost weight and I had to sheepishly admit I had not, gained some actually. But I do think it's a stronger me just finding herself under my skin. If I stick to this routine, and eat well, stretch, and meditate I think I will eventually shed those twenty pounds. I am in no large rush. After all, I can only run so fast.

visit my booth at the festival!

I'll be at the Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival! I applied for a booth and was approved. Come by and say hi at the Washington County Fairgrounds the weekend of Sept 25th & 26th. I'll be selling books, yarn, angora rabbits, farm antiques (maybe)and home-knit goods. I might also offer photography prints if I can get them made proper in time. It'll be a great fundraiser for the farm and who knows, if I'm really lucky the farm will cover the October mortgage. This is my first-ever festival and I'm excited to be selling my farm-wares for the inaugaral time in a public setting like this. More updates as they come, but for now just wanted you locals to save the date.

here i am

There was a package hanging from my mailbox when I got home. I immediately recognized the name, David Shearer, and smiled. David and the Shearer family are shepherds in California. On a recent trip out east David contacted me and shared a cup of coffee with Gibson and myself at Common Grounds in Cambridge. We sat outside the cafe and talked about his farm, my farm, and our experiences in getting started. It was a brief, but kind, visit.

So when I opened the box and pulled out a pair of giant truck magnets reading "Cold Antler Farm - Jackson NY" I grabbed my breath in m y throat and just stared at it. I laughed a little at the irony. I had just given up my truck's green plates and now I had a much larger set to slap on the sides of the pickup. RIght there in the driveway I put on magnet on the tailgate and stepped back. I took in the whole scene. The white house, the recently mowed lawn, the sweeping old Maple, the sheep on the hillside, the chickens scurrying past the front door.... and then returned my focus to the sign on the back of my truck. Cold Antler Farm. Here I am.

Thank you, David.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Dear Friends,

Please, go to VPR.net and download the Eye On The Sky Stargazing Party show.It will be available later tonight or tomorrow and you can burn it to a CD or MP3 player. Then, take a boom box or your ipod, a blanket, and find yourself a dark place to watch the sky. From tonight until the 14th of August the Perseid meteor showers are going on and tonight in Jackson they were breathtaking. I saw one so bright and close it was as thick as my pinky held up to the sky and as white as heat. You'll have to start the show at 9pm to make sense of where things are in the sky, but I'm pretty sure if you're in the northern hemisphere you will be able to follow along. I adored this. I think I started a new tradition tonight.


barn cat at riding right's main barn

cooperstown trials

I'll be heading down to Cooperstown, NY this weekend for the Leatherstocking Sheepdog Trials. Saturday morning Gibson and I will load up the truck for a day and hit the road at the crack of dawn to make it to the trial field before the handlers meeting. We'll bring all the essentials: a folding chair, cooler of cold drinks and sandwiches, binoculars, notebook and pen. Sheepdog trial gear is pretty much what you'd bring for a mix of extreme bird watching and low-key tailgating.

I can't wait. It'll be a fine day of watching dogs work, talking with shepherds, and seeing those classic Scottish Blackface sheep on the trial field. My trainer and herding instructor is hosting the event, and some of my future sheep will be out there on the grass. I hope to talk with her about setting up Gibson's first lessons in early October. Maybe someday that will be us out there, trying our luck.

If you're in the area come out and join me. Trials are a great family activity too, with plenty to watch if your kids are into animals. I'll be the girl with the 5-month-old puppy in the green John Deere chair, come say hi and see the big show.

photo by sara stell

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

dusk in the pasture

if you live near maine....

There's a Greenhorns event coming atcha! If you are able to head north and be a part of it, it will be well worth it. The Greenhorns is a new, young farmer initiative and film project. Their events support small farmer and sustainable solutions for modern agriculture. They have a ton of resources for beginners and I was lucky to attend one of their sheepcentric-events this past spring. Not only did it make me even more excited about becoming a shepherd: it started a friendship with the people at Kinderhook farm. Now we're planning farm visits and dinners, and the chance to talk with and grill successful farmers will be wonderful.

Learn more about it here!

Monday, August 9, 2010

august ram: canceled

I have decided to delay the ram's delivery and it may have cost me the ram. I emailed the breeder and explained to take him in August I would have to separate my flock into gender, leaving Maude alone in her own paddock or the ram alone in his. I don't like leaving herd animals alone like that. I did it for a while with Finn and he was far happier when she was shacking up with Alpacas and other goats. A ram in a box seemed like a lot of stress for all of us. For the ram, for me, for the sheep and Finn on the other side of the fence.

I couldn't just throw him in with the flock. If I didn't separate the boys and girls for at least two months: I'd have lambs in February. A new shepherd without a warm barn and lambing jugs needs later season pasture lambing. It wasn't a good idea.

No, an August ram wouldn't be fair to anyone. And the breeder did state she would not sell him to anyone who would keep him alone...I think the breeder was disappointed in changing the dates. She said if he was still available in late fall she'd let me know. I should have told her I couldn't possibly take him that early, but I didn't realize the consequences till recently and I just didn't know what else to do. I can't just have animals here for the sake of having animals. A breeding ram stuck alone in a pen doesn't seem fair, he should be with a flock of other rams/wethers. Does anyone else keep rams alone? How do they fare?

So no ram this month, sorry for jumping the gun. I made an ass out of myself to the breeder, but I'd rather eat crow and go back on the arrangement then have a ram in my fields I wasn't ready for. I made a mistake setting up delivery dates but at least I stopped before I pulled the trigger.

I am beginning to realize I shouldn't be sharing news off the cuff like this. While I don't mind sharing all my mistakes and updates right as they happen. The fallout of emails and angry feedback is getting heavy. I can take whatever criticism you have to offer, but I prefer advice. I can learn from advice and fix my mistakes, but angry emails just leave two people's day worse.

banjo for sale


finn comes back the 28th!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

that's that.

all the fireflies are gone now.

we're getting one like this, sal

home companions

I've been savoring these cool end-of-summer nights. It really feels like fall is near. last night I dug two flannel shirts out of storage and washed them for that extra fluffy just-out-of-the-dryer feeling and set them by the back door. At 6PM I had a date planned. Me, the pasture, the flock, and my man Garrison.

Up under the apple tree I set down a blanket and the crank radio and listened to Prairie Home Companion. I like this spot, this repose. Leaning back with my hands behind my head, listening to the latest goings-on at Lake Wobegon: I was rather content. I wasn't alone long. I shook my staff at the tree above and apples fell with a plop. Sal came loping over and a small platoon of chickens came marching up to join us (they like apples too). I liked hearing the rhubarb pie song with the birds cooed and Sal hovered and then tucked his front legs under for a rest. Sal often comes and lays beside me. He's a sucker for an ear scratch and knows I''m the baroness of all things apple. So we enjoyed each other's company on the hill and watched the farm. Home Companions, indeed.

June Carter is doing well. Quite the barn cat, her. She's fast and clever and scrappy as hell. As I watched from my perch, I saw her sit right in the middle of the chickens and nibble around the cracked corn along with the birds. Possibly catching crickets, possibly eating feed. I guess her cat chow wasn't cutting it.

I just had six rabbits and four cages picked up by a reader, Susan and her friend (who generously offered her truck to carry off the load). I was glad to see the animals off to a farmer who wanted them so much, and was happy to add them to her menagerie. I realized the rabbits weren't that much work at all, but I had simply taken on too much, too fast. A common beginner's mistake. So today I scaled down to just six rabbits. I still have my pair of original breeding angoras and four meat rabbits ranging around the farm. I may very well keep the Cali doe over winter too in case I want to breed again, but the rest have a certain fate. By Labor Day all the meat rabbits and remaining Cornish Crosses will be freezer-bound. I may need to consider a chest freezer...that's eight animals and my freezer still has spring rabbits and chickens.

So this was an interesting update: serene hilltop entertainment and kitten antics along with livestock sales and slaughter plans. What is this place, but a farm?

P.S. No dates ever did come of my man post in July. I got a few kind responses but none of them felt right. Some were too far away, or a few decades ahead of me, or just felt wrong for me. (There were five responses of single men, and a few dozen encouraging emails from women and married men telling me good luck.) But who know's? A new season is just around the bend. Perhaps this October will be the best one yet...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

first skein of homespun

ram delivery: later this month!

attention: workshoppers

If you are coming to the farm for one of the music or wool processing workshops, please send me an email to confirm your plans. I got a few dozen interested emails but as far as confirmed certainties: just a handful. If you are certain of coming please let me know soon as you can: jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Everyone asked about the cost of the workshop. There is no cost. A donation would be appreciated for the time, food, and supplies and if you email me I can go over a suggested amount: but is not necessary. While I do plan on running paid workshops in the future: right now its an honor donation system at your governance. I don't want people who want to learn to bow a fiddle or make yarn not learning because of money. If you were worried about that, please come regardless.

raising thunder

Raising a working border collie has been a non-stop education- not so much in dogs, but in people. When folks familiar with the breed run into Gibson and I at farmer's markets or on the sidewalk they have questions and they aren't always sweet. Lovers of the breed are wary of poor matches. Do you understand what kind of dog this is? Does he have a job? Have you any experience with the breed? Do you work away from home? Do you have a second collie? What are you feeding him? And so on into some time....They feel it is totally okay to ask strangers about their intentions and personal life when it comes to the dog. I find this both bemusing and somewhat creepy, but welcome the questions. They come from a good place.

So when we are grilled I assure them that Gibson was chosen and purchased from a reputable and knowledgeable breeder. That I had been a member of the local shepherding club for three years and have volunteered at trials and visited workshops. I told them I had land and livestock, and that this would not be a dog tied to a post or fattened on the couch. And yet even after I tell them this I still get a cold stare when they hear this is my first pup. No one who loves these dogs for what they are wants them to fall into the wrong hands. I understand. I myself was the wrong hands for a Border Collie once, and while it all worked out in the end for human and dog: I understand the mistakes of acting with impulse around loaded guns.

I don't think every border collie needs a trio of sheep and a mountain-top view. I know many friends and folks with pet herding dogs that live happy, active, and busy lives. I think it's more about matching wits than lifestyles. I'd rather see a border collie pup with a marathon runner who works at a home office in the middle of Philadelphia than on a farm where he has nothing to do all day but wear a ditch along a fence line. I am not a canine expert, but that is my stance. As someone who has trained previous dogs to AKC obedience titles, passed several CGC tests, and did therapy work with her old Golden. I know dogs enough to understand how not to ruin them for the world. I like the idea of that urban marathon team.

Gibson and I are doing well. He has grown into a lanky pup, 5-months-old and 36 pounds already. We work on basic obedience and socialization. Training together when he's seeming the most willing to please, never pushing lessons when he's too tired or too wound to focus. Yesterday we were at Gardenworks in Salem and he lay down beside me as I shopped for some beef and pondered cheesecake from New Skete. (I ended up not getting the cake, as I am still running every day and it seemed counter-productive.) He was well behaved, if still a puppy. No barking or fuss, and would sit still between jumping up and wagging at other customers. I'm grateful places like the farmer's market and Gardenworks welcome dogs. The training opportunities are wonderful. We travel, and train, and play together much. I can not wait till the season turns some more and we're driving to our first herding lessons. I hope he wants to work sheep as much as I do.

Hints of instinct come out of Gibson from time to time. When he spots one of the meat rabbits his body turns instantly into a stalker. His tail goes down below his back, his head lowers, and his eyes stare unblinking in a way that could cut the grass if he darted his eyes fast enough. He moves deliberately. His whole body quivers. All he wants to do is chase, but the look of a trained herding dog is there. The desire to control and stalk is there. I hold the end of his leash and watch him. Before he has the chance to bolt I call him back to me, "That'll do, Gibson" I say and lead him back inside. His brown eyes keep looking at the rabbit, like a toddler being pulled away from the candy rack. I tell him he'll run like thunder across a pasture someday, just as strong and dark. It's just not his time.

good morning from jackson!

Friday, August 6, 2010

back in the saddle

A box of alpaca fleece arrived at the office today, a gift from a reader in Houston. I can not wait to wash, card, spin and dye it! I bought some saffron and teal dyes and hope to make some home-spun hats in screaming autumn colors. Getting this box of fleece a grand gift, and some amusement to my coworkers. My friend James said, nonchalantly, "You know, if anyone else got a giant box of hair delivered to them at work, it would be weird. But since it's you...it seems totally normal. Thank you Kimberly.

My first riding lesson was Wednesday night down at Riding Right in South Cambridge. To summarize: my thighs still hurt and my heart is soaring. I spent sunset on the back of a haflinger mare, working on my rusty posting trot. It was wonderful. Even after all my time away from horses (I used to be on my college's equestrian team), I felt comfortable on top of that work pony. Someday I would like one of my own: to check on the sheep and do farm work, but that is a goal for later. Right now I just want to get fluent in horses again. Really feel confident and able around reins so when the time comes to invite a pony into my life—I'm ready for her.

wonderful, this.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

sal is often happy

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

the work of cold antler farm

My goal is to turn these six and a half acres into a working farm and my own small business. I want to eventually make my living by farming and writing about farming, and getting to that point is my life's work. Right now it's a mixture of mistakes, lessons, experiments, and small victories. Without the help of prior experience, family-farming roots, a trust fund, or a partner in crime: it has been a sharp learning curve. The fact that five years ago I didn't even know what a hoof trimmer looked like doesn't help either. I came into this brand-new, wide-eyed, and love struck. I'm still all of those things. It gets intimidating. It is never easy. But it's also not hard. Not at all.

I hate the phrase hard work. Hard implies suffering or unwilling effort. It gives good work a bad name, a negative association. It gives people the impression that I am struggling or under strain. This isn't the case. Oh, there is a lot of work, no doubt about it. But just because it makes you sweat, or curse, or cry doesn't make it hard. It makes me lucky. I am damn lucky to live this life and own this farm. The efforts that bring food to the table are a privilege. I relish it.

I am not a victim: I'm a volunteer. No one has to live like this in the 21st Century. Far as I know, there wasn't a draft with Holstein-spattered humvees collecting agrarians for a forced deployment of composting and weeding. I know this every single morning I get up and put on my muck boots: that I made a choice and it involves much work. That said, the romance has never left me, and it never will. As long as I am taking part in even the smallest efforts to feed myself and friends: I will continue to be amazed and grateful for this opportunity—and to the hooves, claws, eggs, and dirt that help make this possible. I'll keep doing this work, but I will never dare call it hard anymore. I can't possibly look at it that any longer... I have learned if you change your mind about work - the work changes you.

I am not a hopeless romantic though—the reality and effort of country living have made their points loud and clear. From self-inflicted food poisoning to rainy day sheep-shit mucking—I am grateful to have even arrived at the point where farming mistakes can be made. I have been rammed by sheep and had to walk with a cane. I have been doubled over with pain in the garden. I have been so sunburned, or sick, or exhausted I wanted to (or did) throw up. But all of it (even the misery!) is beautiful. There is a bittersweet reality to getting campylobacter from rushed chicken processing. I only got it because I had chickens to process. My own nuggets in the backyard were once a pipedream and now they are clucking away outside and biting my ankles during morning feeding. I may have taken a hard hit getting sick and being so foolish, but hell, gut-wrenching bacteria wants to live too. Who I am to blame them for jumping on a sucker when they saw one?

I am doing all this so that a few generations from now my grandchildren can laugh at people like me.

I told you I was in love.

I have made many mistakes, but I have also had a few successes. I've enjoyed many homegrown meals over the years, learned to cook, spin, sew, can, raise animals, garden, and play music. For someone who grew up microwaving spaghettios—this is anthem.

I know I am a long way from what Cold Antler can be, what I hope it will be. I want to learn to raise and breed a small flock of sheep for lamb and wool. I hope to expand my garden and turn it into something I could turn for a small profit at the farmer's market. I want to continue raising chickens for eggs and some meat, and breeding angora rabbits: both in personal and small-scale operations. I do this because I want to raise healthy, locally-grown food for my coworkers and community and do things like the workshops below to get people started in self-sufficiency. I want to make this my life, my living, and do my best to help others get started along the way.

I am not interested in changing the world. I am interested in changing your Tuesday. If your apartment has one snap pea plant in the windowsill because of this blog: I am thrilled. If you have a pair of hens in the shed you used to only use to roof your riding mower: I am giddy beyond words. Those are the goals, to inspire and effect small changes in the folks who read this. That is the real work of Cold Antler Farm.

I use this place to talk about where I've going and where I have been. Please understand if you read this blog you are not following a how-to manual (more of a how-not-to manual at this point)—you are following a story. I am not by any means an authority, role model, or mentor on starting a small farm. I'm a beginner homesteader and greenhorn small farmer. Sometimes this blog is foolish and ugly. Sometimes it is breathtakingly satisfying. At least to me. Those are the breaks.

I thank you for coming along for the ride.
I have a long way to go.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

just sleep it off

fall workshops!

I'll be hosting three weekend workshops here at Cold Antler. One will be an intro-to-fiddling, another will be wool 101, and the other will be intro-to-mountain dulcimer. All three workshops will be on Saturdays and be four hours long with home-baked snacks and coffee. The workshops are as follows:

Beginner Southern Mountain Fiddle: August 28th If you ever wanted to learn to play the fiddle: this is for you. Show up with your fiddle and bow, and we'll go through all the basics to get you started. You'll learn to tune, hold, and bow. You'll learn the finger positions and start your first tune. Everyone is required to bring an inexpensive beginner book called "Old Time Fiddling for the Complete Ignoramus" but between that book and some one-on-one instruction you'll be well on your way to playing sweet music by Halloween. Includes a farm tour and general lollygagging around CAF at break time to practice your music in the pasture or outside with the chickens. Class limit is 6, first come first served. Email for details and to reserve a spot at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Beginner Southern Mountain Dulcimer: September 18th Learn to tune, strum, and play beautiful music on the mountain dulcimer. Class starts with basics and how to read tablature and then takes us outside under the maple on quilts with cider and more music. You'll need to bring a dulcimer (I can suggest inexpensive models for beginners) but no need for a book. I'll have some beginner music waiting for you. Just like the fiddle class, this includes a farm tour and general lollygagging around CAF at break time to practice your music and meet the animals. Class limit is 6, first come first served. Email for details and to reserve a spot at jenna@itsafarwalk.com
Three Spots Left!

Wool 101 - Processing, Spinning, and Knitting: October 2ndLearn how to wash, card, and spin wool with a drop spindle! That's right, a homesteading 101 course in raw wool to knittable yarn. Workshop includes roving and a drop spindle and will also teach basic knitting. So you get to meet sheep, touch lanolin, learn to process and then go home with spinning and knitting skills. This workshop Includes a farm tour and general lollygagging around CAF. If the weather is good we'll do most of the class work outside with the farm. Class limit is 6, first come first served. Email for details and to reserve a spot at jenna@itsafarwalk.com
Just ONE Spot Left!

P.S. Donations for workshops will all go into the barn raising fund.

Monday, August 2, 2010

no need to fuss

I live with three dogs, and I am happy to report in relative peace. It is rare that teeth are shown or barks ring out. I have the mix of ages and breeds in the house to thank for that. Siberian huskies (especially older ones) are not interested in pointless barking or high stress. Jazz and Annie spend their day sleeping, chewing, playing with stuffed toys and going on walks. They do not care for volume, hollering, or messing around. If a point has to come across it does—swiftly and with teeth—with minimal growling. Gibson learned quickly that barking in circles was useless and unwanted and now he rarely makes a sound indoors. This is rare for collies, to be quiet. And since his main role models are large, calm dogs he too is carrying himseld high and still. When we go out to bookstores or the market people tell he he's so well behaved and calm for a herding dog. I smile. I know it's partly because we train everyday, but mostly because he's being raised by kind, quiet, dogs and shepherd with a book in her hands. No need to fuss.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

hey, you napping in my pasture?

hay outside the kitchen window