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:

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 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

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
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
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