Monday, September 27, 2010

barred rock on the front stoop

the family and the cow

I just spent the last twenty minutes outside in a downpour feeding a baby bottle the size of a gallon milk jug to a very excitable calf. I am amazed at how fast he sucked down the formula, and grateful for the calf feeding 101 lecture I got from Tasty's owner pre-feeding dates. "Don't hold it in front of your body like this" Tim said, as he held the bottle out with two hands exactly like I assumed I should "Cause they buck the bottle, and send it flying into your gut or face with enough force to break a nose. Hold it to the side, like this..." And that is exactly how I was feeding the youngest/largest animal on the farm tonight. In my slicker, while the wet chickens paraded around me looking for corn and June Carter wailed for her evening food. It was a very loud, very wet, scene.

Tasty was dropped off here Sunday morning, the last morning of my parent's visit to the farmhouse. I don't think either of us ever thought we'd get a chance to say the phrase "We'll put off brunch until after the holstein is settled in" but we did. And we did.

The weekend was wonderful: three days with my sister and parents. We spent it doing things I rarely do like eating out and watching movies with Chinese take-out. It was so nice to sit back with some lo mein and watch an action movie with the family, like when we were kids in our basement (which was converted into a family room/den of sorts). We also got to hit up the Southern Adirondak Fiber Festival and my dad bought me a 16x20" print of three sheep (two white, one brown) for the farm house. I bought some cleaned wool to card and spin. We spend the bulk of our time walking around around the festival enjoying cider donuts, catching up, petting sheep, and making dinner plans. I had a great weekend, and I miss them already

P.S. If you are coming to the wool workshop this weekend, please let me know? It's from 10-2 at the farm. And you get to meet a bonus cow!

P.P.S. I know the bull calf isn't a "cow". But I like calling all bovines cow 'cause it's a whimsical word to say at a sheep farm.

P.P.P.S I have been asked what kind of camera I use? A. The cheapest digital Kodak the Coeur d'Alene Target had before I moved to Vermont. It cost $103 dollars three years ago, and it's so worn out that all you can read of the original logo is "dak". Also, my iphone.

let's hear it for patrick and riggs!

Before I share anything about the weekend, I need to stop and congratulate Patrick Shannahan of Red Top Kennels of Idaho. Yesterday Patrick (Gibson's breeder) won the National Sheepdog Finals in Virginia with his dog, Riggs (Gibson's father). What an accomplishment! I'm damn proud of the man responsible for breeding my dog and training his Dad. The farms sends much applause!

Gibson has a lot to live up to!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

i'm cow sitting for a week!


Friday, September 24, 2010

gibson's a fast fast dog

photo by Tim Bronson, though I colorized and cropped the hell out of it.

national sheepdog finals

If you're a fan of sheepdog trials you need to tune into the National Sheepdog Finals happening in Virginia this week. And I mean that literally, because there will be a live streaming webcast you can watch with your family and friends at home. Gibson's father, Riggs, will be there as will one of his trainers, Barb Armata. It's the biggest event for sheepdogs in America. If you live nearbye the trial field it would be well worth it to see these dogs in action down in Middletown, Virginia

Click here for the webcast and results!

what are you doing here?

The blog has changed a lot over the years. What started as a journal, turned into a story. That story turned into a community. Now when I write here I feel like I'm starting a conversation with friends instead of scribbling into a book. I love it.

But why do you read this blog? I'm asking because I'd like to know more about what it is you enjoy reading here so I can deliver content you enjoy. Do you want recipes? DIY projects? Stories? Or do you like the freeflow of stuff that spills out of my wooly head? If there is something you used to enjoy but see less of, let me know. I'll do my level best to make CAF online a place where everyone is full and happy, like a Chinese Buffet, you know, with sheep.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the first hat

I finished my first ever backyard-raised piece of clothing tonight: a knit hat. This chunky, imperfect, hat was grown on my sheep sal's back. It was sheared by Jim McRae here at Jackson while puppy Gibson and I watched. It was washed, soaked, dried, carded, and hand spun into simple white yarn and then knit into a simple hat. Tomorrow morning I will wear it to feed my sheep. As the winter comes in it will keep me warm. Next year's hats will be keeping the sheep warm. It's a good system.

There is nothing more basic on a sheep farm than this. I am wearing the hat right now as I write you in my little office. I am smiling, and not because I made a hat out of livestock: but because the hat reminds me so much of myself: Chunky, imperfect, messy, and created by a farm. I accept them both as a wild sort of beautiful.


It's the Autumnal Equinox, and the farmer is glad. Cold Antler is slowly sighing into the end of our year. I used to see a year's time as January to January, but that is no longer the case. My 2010 started when the ground thawed in March and will end around Halloween. This is the Northeastern-American time table of food-starting with snap peas and broccoli starts and ending with an apple cider pressing party next weekend. The spring, summer, and fall are my new time measurement and the winter a purgatory or planning and reckoning. I like this way of learning the world and following time. I makes sense to me.

The scorecard's been tallied and it turns out all the mistakes were lessons, the arguments conversations, and the frustrations more character. Living closer to the land can be as poetic and spiritual as you want it to be, but for me it's mostly realizing I'm a work in progress. I'll cultivate myself along the way, too.

Gibson starts his first herding lessons soon. A whole new chapter of my life starts the day I grab his leather lead and we step out of the truck together at our instructor's farm. It's a long time coming. I will let out such a sigh of relief when I stand in the training pasture by his side. We made it this far. We'll farm together. He's my friend, partner, and future. I adore my black dog.

I feel like I am always at the beginning, no longer how much I do this dance. At one time that may have frustrated me, but I am starting to learn the passion and excitement of a beginner's mind is worth the hassle. A mind is a lot like produce: it's better fresh.

winthrop's a music fan

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

for sale

If anyone would like to make an offer on this vintage farmer's tricycle, please email me at Its frame is solid, but needs basic updates to the chain and brakes. I was told it was from the late 1920s when I bought it.

I'd like to keep it, but with so many costs coming into winter, and so much still ahead of me to build, move, and pay for I need to sell off some luxury items such as this. The Gibson guitar and a Czech fiddle already sold on Ebay. I'd like to offer this to a local or reader who could come pick it up here at Cold Antler.

Good news. I found a home for Finn. He goes to live with a small family two hours away from here in October.

the first day of fall

This dark morning a chilly one. The thermometer read 39 here at Cold Antler. It was the first that I put on my red flannel, canvas Carhartt vest, and wool scarf to do my morning chores. It was the coldest morning so far, and my breath swirled around the flashlight beams as I carried scratch grains from the back of the truck to the chickens, still sleeping on their roosts. I walked the electric fence line smelling the dead leaves and faint wafts of a wood stove somewhere on our mountain road. I carried hay, poured grain, and tried not to trip over June Carter who follows on all morning and night rounds to make sure I am doing things right on her farm. I smiled. I smiled like I just won a thousand dollars and it was 5:40 AM and I had not even had a sip of coffee yet. I could smell it from the kitchen though, soon as I walked inside the warm door.

Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, but today is the first day of Fall.

Monday, September 20, 2010

cow sitting

A coworker is skipping town on vacation and asked if I could help cow sit their calf at CAF while they're gone. They'll drop off the little guy and he'll live here for one week. I'm looking forward to my crash course! Maude is going to hate this.

bookshelves and refrigerators

..tell you a lot about a person, I suppose. Mine has everything from a tin chocolate mold of a running hare to an old letterpress postcard from Knoxville. There's a photo my father took of my mom holding puppy Gibson, magnets, stickers, and more. It's maybe twelves inches of space and covers a small personal history. Neat.

When Sara came up this weekend for the dulcimer workshop/jam she brought her camera. She took a lot of farm photos and many of them weren't of the farm at all. She got glimpses of cabinets and magnets, smiling coats and backs of trucks. When she puts up the set on flickr I'll post a link so everyone can take a "tour" of the joint.

The weekend workshop was super casual. Since it was just three of us: Sara, Kat, and I—there was less structure than I originally planned. We mostly just sat outside and strummed away, learning bits of songs and chords and talking. We ate pizza from the garden and apple cake I baked earlier that morning. It was a fine, sunny afternoon of cider and new and old friends.

Next weekend my family comes up for a long overdue visit. I've missed them very much. The plan was to help run the CAF booth at the fiber festival but now it looks like I might have to cancel. The mill just told me this week I won't have any yarn for three weeks, which means I'd have no fiber to sell at the fiber event...Oh, well. Perhaps it is for the best? We'll get to spend the weekend outdoors or being together instead of split up running an event and then all of them having to run home right after. There's always next year, right?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

throwing down bales from nelson greene's loft

behind drying wool

settle into us

We're a small farm here. A few hooves, a few chickens, a garden, bees, and some geese. The same fences that hold my stock in—dry the wool I plan on spinning. The same eggs I turn into muffins—also get cracked open over bowls of kibble. Egg shells end up in the soil, and extra food scraps are feasts for the flock. So what was waste to one turns into garden ground and future eggs or chicken sandwiches. It's a simple system. It serves us well.

Cold Antler has a lot of work ahead of it before the snow falls. A shelter to build, fences to go up, a goat to adopt out. There is a garden to turn over and possibly more meat to put in the freezer. There's a car to repair and register, money to earn and save, a book to finish and a cat getting surgery. There's a pup to train on sheep, wool to market and sell, and workshops to host. But all seems to fall into place, and all work gets done. It has to.

It seems like the real work of the farm isn't food or lessons: it's me. I mean that is the most selfless way possible. Building a place into a purpose changes how you understand yourself, but not at the mercy of the main intention, which is humbling. (You don't have room for much ego when removing a hundred pounds of rabbit shit from a barn.) As I turn this property slowly into the place I want it to be—I feel more confident than ever before in who I am—but also more stressed and fearful of things I used to never think about. I worry more about my health, money, and quality of free time. I am a little more scared of heights, loneliness, and bills in the mail. Certain things scab over and other things seem raw. Maybe that's simply growing older? Or maybe this place is training my mind to prioritize and let logic win over emotion? I'm not exactly sure. I do know I am happy here and feel at home in this world of animals and home cooked meals. I can turn around three times and lie down.

Perhaps none of us ever really settle down into our lives. Maybe we just have give our lives time to settle into us.

Friday, September 17, 2010

the bucolic plague

I rarely recommend books on this blog, and that's not because there aren't great books out there about small-scale farming and homesteading—it's because I have barely any time to read. Running Cold Antler and holding down a job have made 98% of my reading time of the audio variety. I have listened to stories read to me by authors (Usually three or four a week. Thank you public library), but rarely do I sit down and read the old fashioned way.

For this book, I had to. It wasn't available at the library or on iTunes, so I bought The Bucolic Plague. It was wonderful. A memoir of a Manhattan couple who bought a 60-acre farm on a whim and ended up falling in love with it. The writer, Josh Kilmer-Purcell (ex drag queen turned advertising executive) is hilarious, smart, and keenly observant about everything going on in his life, with Brent, and 88-boarded dairy goats in Sharon Springs, NY. The story of how they found home, built a farm, and became a part of a town is honest. This is not the sappy "city-turned-country" feel-good book. Instead it's a romance, between two worlds and two people, and how both need to adapt to change and personal (and financial) adversity.

I read the book in two days. When it was over I ended up on their website and watching their TV show on iTunes. This weekend is their annual Harvest Festival in Sharon Springs, just an hour and a half south of Jackson. I don't think I can make the trip, but I will one of these fall weekends to visit the store and say hello.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

i'll know my name as it's cold again

night rounds

six months

dulcimer players!

Leave a comment and let me know when you're showing up at the farm! I was planning on 10-2 with extended playing if anyone wants to? Quite the crowd should be showing up for the workshop, some driving all the way from Atlanta! I'll get us ready with cider and apple cake, and we'll have the whole farm to practice on. The leaves are out, the goat's still here, and I look forward to hosting the day!

The mountain dulcimer is an instrument I fell in love with when I lived in Tennessee. It's a great intro to music because it's so easy to play. How easy you might ask? Well, here is my friend Sara (grant it, a music teacher) with her new dulcimer. She recorded this the first few days of owning one!Click here to see a video of Sara, one of the folks coming to the farm this weekend (from PA!) and her rendition of Fleet Foxes on her new dulcimer!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

it's official!

Cold Antler Farm has a New York State tax ID number, and is working on a genuine business plan for the next three-five years of growth. The paperwork has been filed, the research began, and now the next phase can slowly evolve!

I needed the tax ID to sell goods at the Fiber Show in late September: so it was circumstance that is pushing me towards planning what the farm will be. I have no plans to quit my job, or farm full time, but I do want the animals' products to cover their own feed and care: eggs, wool, lamb, workshops, etc.

So I start on paper.

pour water into the bag

I planned for rain yesterday, but the weather report was wrong. The storm waited until the morning and met me at 5AM in the sheep pasture. It was a steady rain that joined me for my morning fence check. The sheep had once again pulled out the lower wire (their thick wool doesn't even register the shock) and to make sure the fence is still goat proof I need to check it several times a day to make sure nothing is grounded and the charge flows. So there I was, in my stood-up rain shower with a flashlight trying to pull the wire tight enough to get it on the corner insulator. When all was done I poured more water on the ground wire and flipped the switch. You can hear the charger click and see the wires give a little shake. I'll check it with my fence tester shortly. If it flashes red at the weakest part: it's on. I pack up my gear and head inside with a sigh. I want coffee, bad.

They should really brew a farmers coffee, none of the store bought stuff is strong enough to make up for rain-soaked faux-electrician work: just pour water into the bag and chew.

Finn is still here, and thanks to Annie's third line of wire and the 30-mile charger we are keeping him inside the pen. He must have gotten zapped a few times because he has stayed in even when the fences were down occasionally: a good sign he's learning a little about proper domestication. Someone was supposed to take him home to their farm Sunday, but canceled last minute and now isn't returning emails. Pre-buyers regret? He needs a new home by Thanksgiving—that's for sure.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

stowaways outside the kitchen window

september mornings

By 5:38 I was up. I had not set my alarm, but apparently the extra hour was all the sleep my body wanted (or needed) anymore. I had gone to bed early the night before, around 10. I had had a long day that started on the back of a horse, rounded out with a five-mile run, and ended with a bowl of pasta. I love hooves, heart rates, and carbs. I enjoyed all three, with gusto, but they tend to wear a woman out. After nearly eight hours of sleep (twice of what I normally get a night) I felt like I'd go crazy if I went back to bed.

It was dark outside, 2AM dark. A few weeks ago 5:38 would be full daylight and morning chores would be done in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. This morning seemed chilly, and I was already barking for coffee. I stood up in the dark farmhouse and went about a favorite fall ritual: candle mornings. I lit the Jack-o-lantern on the stove and a few pumpkin-shaped votives in giant quart-sized canning jars. The big globe around the flame reminded me of hurricane lamps. I lit another orange candle in the living room and let Gibson out of his crate. He had been whining for a while now. His whimpers are short and high, chirps really. When I first heard them I thought the battery was low on the smoke alarm. But in the gentle light, started with out an alarm clock, his whines were more melodic then piercing. I let him out, leashed him up, and stepped out into the light of the lamp post in the front yard. Gibson peed like a champ.

Then the ruckus started.

The sheep realized their servant was up. All three erupted in a chorus of baaing followed by the nickering of Finn. They raced down the hill from the shed to the gate. Soon after they started hollering the chickens caught on and crowed and clucked to be let out of the coop. The semi-feral rabbits started to circle me (they knew I would be throwing down grain shortly for the birds) and June Carter howled from a nearby tree stump. Gibson barked and lunged at the noise. This was a full-blown hootenanny. I was silently grateful everyone who moves to Washington County has to sign a waiver saying they understand they are in an agricultural area. All my neighbors (though I doubted any were up yet) couldn't call the cops about the party I was throwing. They literally signed up for it.

I took G inside and fed him back in the crate and started coffee on the stove. I then walked Jazz and Annie, fed the sheep and Finn two flakes of hay, dumped some cat food, and scattered chicken feed outside the open coop door. I grabbed yesterday's eggs and realized I only had four in my hands. This meant about thirty were hidden on a pile somewhere else and I would probably find them when I moved the hay bales later. Farming is mostly outsmarting your animals, or learning to play their games in a way that lets them think they won; and you still get omelets.

Within moments the hungry noise had been replaced by chewing mouths and gentle coos. Why had none of my beginner farming books described the whole point of a job well-done before coffee was if everyone shut up? I went inside, content that everyone outside was well fed.

I started my coffee, grabbed my book, and let Gibson join me on the daybed. Under the quilts I snuggled with a memoir (Reading the Bucolic Plague and loving it) and on top of them he snuggled with a rawhide bone. Jazz and Annie were already back asleep in the dim morning light. The coffee I had started before walking the dogs was perking. The outside animals were quiet. My dogs content. It was how I wanted to start every day for the rest of my life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

sunny and me

Friday, September 10, 2010

event at hubbard hall!

I'll be hosting a film and book signing here in Cambridge at Hubbard Hall on November 5th. The film is Handmade Nation, and afterwards I'll have a short talk and signing of Made From Scratch. If you're in the area, or just want to see a documentary about a movement, stop by my little town and say hello. We've got a hotel, bars, restaurants and farms. I say that's a combination for a fine time.

Event information and details, as well as a trailer of the flick can be seen here. There is also a call for local artists to join in. So if you spin, knit, can, sew, or turn a potting wheel you should consider showing up and joining the party.

i still can't believe it happened

It's a small miracle every time I mail in that mortgage.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

21 days to go

Simple Pumpkin Muffins
3 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs cinnamon
1tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Mix all those dry things in a bowl larger than you expected...and then add 1 cup oil, 4 farm eggs, 2/3 cup water, and 2 cups of pumpkin. Mine was a little stringy but after the beaters got to it all was well. Grease your muffin tins with butter and add a sprinkle of flour too. Shake out excess flour and then fill then 3/4 of the way full (though I went nearly to the top...) Bake at 350 for about twenty minutes, check to make sure a toothpick comes out clean. I spread cream cheese icing on mine after they cooled. Coworkers will be happy.

i have a pumpkin and i'm not afraid to use it

I bought a pumpkin at Gardenworks this weekend. A small one, just big enough to make a few loaves of pumpkin bread or muffins, but large enough to still make a fine jackolantern. Tonight I'll fill the house with smells of baking pumpkin and lantern light. With the clouds and rain it'll make everything seem safer, warmer. These past few days have been overcast and blustery. I was outside around dusk with Gibson, watching the trio of crows in the dead limbs of trees high above the farm barking at us. Everywhere around me were the leaves of the big maple. The dry summer may have stopped another season of Blight in the garden, but it also is causing an early foliage turn. All the October tourists will be finding a lot of empty trees. September will be our peak, mark my words.

I am happiest when I need wool wrapped around me, rubber boots against damp earth, and the sky is swirling and overcast. I adore precipitation: rainy days, storms, and snow. The weather that makes us stop and hunker down with books and mugs. I like being outside in it too. There is something a little more tangible about those damp days. The world has a stronger grip on you. You're forced to pay more attention: to how you drive, what you wear, and even if you cupboard has all the right supplies for hot chocolate or tea. I like working outside in a cold mist and getting sweaty, feeling the heat of work bounce back against my skin off wool. I like seeing my breath swirl, hearing distant wind and then seeing it rush into the trees. I like seeing the crows scurry like buckshot, their sounds calm me, very much so.

I don't ever want to be too far from crows and cold wind. That would be just awful.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


my god it feels like fall tonight.

practicing my english

"See, this is why we call it Burdock Meadow," Hollie said to me, half joking and half surprised I didn't pull the seventy-jillion burrs out of Sunny's tail while I tacked him up for my lesson. Sunny's a chestnut Appendix, a regal looking animal in his english saddle and bridle. But it's hard to look good when your personal assistant doesn't realize you have stickers on your butt. Hollie was joking, but she made her point: grooming is head to tail, not just where the saddle goes. I've almost got the tacking part of the lesson down. I can brush backs, pick hooves, pick out and adjust the right pads, lifts, girths and saddles. I can put on the bridle and halter: but I never thought to check his tail. I blushed a little and apologized in some rushed bit about not-knowing-about-the-tail. I made a mental note.

Last night was my best lesson so far at Riding Right Farm. For one, long, side of the arena I did my most-correct, most-comfortable, and most-chilled out posting trot yet. I beamed as Hollie praised me. For weeks I'd been coming to lessons tightly wound and over-working my body. I was nervous being back on a horse again. It had been since college that I rode regularly. (I'm cautious by nature, so having a 1,000-pound animal below me that could throw me at whim had me a little tense.) But tonight some part of me gave up the fight, gave in. For the first time I was at home up there, even for a dozen yards. I could tell it was correct because it felt effortless. I trotted with Sunny, not on him. For a moment my mind was clear and I understood everything he was doing and he tolerated me beautifully.

Within a few more laps and circles I was back to overworking, poor hand position, and over steering. But I'll get it eventually. The point is progress was happening and all it took was letting go.

When the lesson was over Hollie let me un-tack Sunny alone and left me a lantern and instructions to return him to Burdock Meadow. The meadow was on the other side of the farm and it was already after 8pm and dark in New York. After I put away all my gear and Sunny was back to just a halter. I thanked him and gave him a kiss on the nose. I pulled every burr out of his tail. He stood patiently. A good man.

The barn was ours for a minute. I turned on the lantern and we walked under the stars to the meadow. We walked slow and I could look up and around me. At the trees starting to yellow, at Sunny's large brown head just to my right. I opened the gate and removed his halter. The rest of the night was his to do things horses do. I thanked him again for helping me relax, let go, and just be present with him for a few moments tonight. He turned around and trotted off into the dark. I headed back to the stables with a lantern in my right hand, and was smiling. I didn't know horses could be buddhist.

Monday, September 6, 2010

lawn pedicure

fabulous finn?

The three day weekend was kind to me, kinder than it seems from the frustration of earlier posts. I needed it too. I was able to jog everyday, caught up on housework (The shower has never been cleaner) and sleep. I got more sleep last night than I get during the work week in three days. Top off that kind of slumber with a morning of pumpkin coffee and cast-iron baked apple pancakes and you have yourself a remedy. Living on a farm is both the poison and the cure, but at least you don't have to go far from your front door to experience both.

Yesterday Annie Dileo came back over to help run a third line of electric fencing around in the inside of the sheep pen. So far it's working great and should hold him while I'm at work so I don't have to pace around the office worrying. I made her an apple pie with a smiling goat on it as a thank you. I wish I could do more, but I am learning as a new home owner you can't do much of anything when the mortgage is due. I happy and sobering reality, that.

I'm working hard on finding Finn a new home. I'm talking to everyone from Doug at Wayside to Brent and Josh of the Fabulous Beekman Boys (who's farm is south of CAF in Sharon Springs). It would be quite fabulous to get Finn a gig on a TV show with those goat boys, that way this sheep girl can move forward with the fall plans of barn raising and pasture expanding with a lighter heart and less stress.

Someone's gotta adopt this guy, and they will. In the meantime the third strand of wire is working, for now...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

annie has her masters in comfort

a follow-up

A few weeks ago I announced a post where a farm family in Florida needed our help. Donations were sent in from all over the country and HeartSong Farm is slowly building from the ground up. For anyone who donated I would like to thank you personally, and for those of you who sent a gift their way: here is a note from Crystal.

Dear CAF readers,

I feel like I should call you family now. "Readers" has such an impersonal tone, I don't think it's appropriate anymore. So, family you now are and will always be at HeartSong Farms.

I cannot express in words how amazing the responses to Jenna's post have been. I have read each personal note. I have cried in thanks over every penny sent our way. I have prayed for each person that has sent good wishes to us. The world seems a smaller, closer place now. I am in awe over the intimacy humans can accomplish over state lines and broadband connections.

After much frustration with local building laws, we have inched forward with our move to the land. We have a permit for electric, an address, containers for water, and tools to start a simple life on five undeveloped acres. These are all thanks to you. And yet, we've been down right stingy parting with such fine gifts. We have enough left to make the shed a safer place for our babies to live.

There is a lot of work infront of us. But we're moving forward with cautious steps even if they're a bit hurried from our initial plan. We've been rushing out resumes and have had an interview for a job about 45 minutes from our land. I've been sorting out our possessions and have scheduled yard sales over the next few weeks. It's still scary. It's still nervewrecking and nauseating at times but we're resolved to not let this break us. To become a better family because of it. We are fortunate to have a place to call our own and a faceless family that wants to see us get there.

Thank you. Each and everyone of you. We have kept each email and hope someday to return the favor however we can.


Crystal and the HeartSong Farm Family

Saturday, September 4, 2010

what to do about finn...

I pulled into the driveway and there was Finn, coming from behind the house. He was fine but I could see the damage that had been done. The chicken feed container was knocked on its side, the remaining vegetables devoured, strawberries I planted by the door gone, and a rhubarb plant torn to shreds. How Finn knew to not eat the leaves is beyond me. The stalks were gone and the floor of the planter littered with the poisonous leaves. Had he not been such a clever goat he'd be dead.

I am starting to seriously consider rehoming Finn.

I do not take that consideration lightly. After months of waiting for his return I have been doing my very best to accommodate him safely. I have spent hundreds of dollars on fencing equipment and supplies. I have enlisted the help of experienced goat owners. I've read the books, called the vet, and what it all comes down to is this: am I best home for this goat?

If I'm 100% honest I can admit I am not. Finn is well fed, vaccinated, and kept but he lives in a small electric pen with sheep who seem to bore him. He spends his day pacing around looking for something to occupy his mind and time. Yesterday he managed to knock out all the electric fencing wire again in one section, climb out, and destroy property and eat poisonous plants. This is not good.

I know some of you are angry at this idea. We've watched Finn grow up on this blog, people asked me about him for months while he was with Abi (poor Abi, now I understand everything she emailed me about!) or Bobbie. We all adore this little guy, and want to see him thrive, but so far all that has come of this is stress and concern. I put off bringing him here because I wasn't sure my home could hold him. I wasn't prepared (or able) to afford the special accommodations he needs.

I am getting to a point where I can not leave for more than a few hours for fear he'd hurt himself or wander into the road and hurt someone else. I have no idea how I could even drive to PA to visit my family overnight, something I really want to do but can't, because someone has to be here to keep an eye on the electric fences and Finn. And christ, If I got a call that a neighbors' teenager was in the hospital because my stock was out in the road and he swerved into a tree... I can't even begin to wrap my head around that.

People have suggested I build a play structure and get another goat so he can be more content, but that seems unreasonable to me. If this was a dairy goat operation I'd be hammering away at wooden fences and caprine jungle gyms, but this is not a dairy. This is a wool and lamb farm just starting out that happens to host one goat. Acquiring another animal I do not have a use for—other than a babysitter—seems foolish (an expensive) when the profit and point of the farm is sheep. And is he even happy here? Does he want to be in a pen with three sheep? Does he miss the camaraderie of other goats?

This is what I fear. I fear the only reason I have been keeping Finn is because I said I would—not because it's what is best for the farm or the goat. I am torn on what to do and where I would even be able to rehome him. I am not proud of this but understand I am not trying to shirk responsibilities. I am trying to decide what will keep Cold Antler sane.

Your advice and suggestions are welcome. What would you do?

Friday, September 3, 2010


I decided to name my second Ameraucana rooster Upset, after the not-so-famous horse. If you're furrowing your brow in confusion, here's the story of the name: There was a very famous race horse named Man o' War back in the 1920s. He was amazing. He was undefeated and unstoppable on the track. I say "was" because he wasn't entirely successful... In his illustrious career only one horse beat him in a race. That horses name was Upset. Till this day the phrase upset is used in sports and politics when an underdog takes the day.

I want this chicken to win.

Chuck Klosterman was put in the freezer because he was a man of war. He was violent as hell, loud, and angry. I'm going to hope that Upset beats him at being a good farm rooster. I'm going to hope he watches over his girls, croons like lounge singer, and leaves the memory of that mean ol' bird in the dust.

you've been warned

Thursday, September 2, 2010

flying machines

I was outside with Jazz and Annie tonight when I heard a helicopter overhead. I looked up to watch it flash red and said a quiet prayer for those people far away. A helicopter at night means one thing around here: get to the hospital quick. I felt my anxiety rise up as I counted all the other planes in the sky tonight: five total. I never realize how many people are above me... Hundreds tonight, just over Jackson.

I know there's supposed to be a thrill in flying, some sort of freedom. I don't see it that way at all. Flying is freedom to a bird, they are built to do it, meant to. But to a human being flying is a prison or a coffin. You are either trapped in a machine you depend on to not die, or the machine fails and you do. Either way you're a codependent or a victim. Neither option seems like freedom to me. Both rattle me to the core. I'm a land-rail-or-sea kind of gal. The world makes more sense down here.

I'm so scared of being up in the air. I hate flying, am terrified of unnatural heights. I'll be fine up in a tree but a roof of the same size makes me jittery. I hold the record for the fastest descent down the Statue of Liberty. I was nine and nearly had a panic attack in that stupid crown. I remember looking out over the Atlantic and knowing I wasn't supposed to be that high. I looked up at all those planes and all I could think of was how good it feels to walk out of the terminal and start making your way to the car or family waiting to take you home. Every time I get off a plane I am amazed I survived. I wanted everyone up there to walk out of their terminals to smiling, warm, faces. I want everyone to be content.

I think this is why I was so drawn to homesteading and why I am trying to become a farmer. There is such good in knowing everyone is okay. There is no deeper sense of calm here than when everyone is eating, and watered, fenced and safe. Tending to animals isn't the same as landing a 747, but the idea of getting everyone through the day alive is. A lot of times I don't. Foxes snatch, rabbits get sick, raccoons learn to scale walls and steal polts. But when everyone is okay I beam and sigh. A little faux order does wonders for me. I'll take a sheep over a flying machine any day.

The dogs looked up with me for a while and then peed. They could care less who falls out of the sky tonight.

sal says good mornin'

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

welcome fall

At dawn I was outside with the animals. I walked the perimeter of the hoof fences and was pleased to see not a single line or insulator was down. I threw the last two flakes of hay to the herd and said my good mornings. I plugged in the fence charger and watched a wire dance. It was on. So far my fences hold.

Then I walked over to feed June Carter. She came running—somewhat awkwardly—up to meet her can of turkey food. She leaped up to the top of my rubbish bin with a baby mouse in my teeth, still alive. She spit it out soon as she saw the cat food but I was thrilled. Just three months old and already on the job. It was the first mouse I saw with her but for all I know it was her third that morning. I am happy to have such a fine working cat here. I pet her spine and watch her arch under my hand. She purrs with all she's got.

I went about my morning work of hauling water to the hoofstock and feeding the chickens. The rabbits got their bottles refilled and pellets restocked. I took note that the pair of goldfish I won at the Washington County Fair were thriving in their new home: the water tank. I had read on a FFA website about how keeping hardy goldfish in your sheep's tank keeps down algae and mosquitos. They were already twice the size since I won them throwing ping pong balls under the ferris wheel. The water was cleaner than usual too. I suggest my golden filters to anyone with a small number of animals to keep watered. They do the job.

It was the first morning of my autumn. Jazz and Annie went for their morning walk stepping over the first fallen leaves, red as stop signs along the side of the road. The king maple in front of the house already is barking for the rake. September is here darling, and she paves the way to holy October. You can read back entries of previous Septembers and Octobers and notice the verve. This is my time.

woodcut by andrew waddington

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 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.