Monday, October 18, 2010

many faiths, one pasture.

After the shed was built and everyone who had helped had gone home I remained to let the sheep and Finn back into the main pen and reset the electric fence. It was dark by this point—and my stomach was gurgling from too much celebratory pizza—but my flashlight scurried around the wire lines, and one insulator at a time I got the wires ready for juice. Finally, through clouds of my warm breath I kneeled down to unlatch the main gate and let the sheep and goat back in to see their new digs. I watched like a new novelist opening up her first NY Times review...

Their review wasn't that intense. All the sheep looked at it, and then promptly walked around it. It was as if I spent my day doing nothing of interest at all. Finn however, stared at it with intense wonder. He looked it up and down. He tried to solve problems, cocked his head to the left and reached out a long neck to lick it. Then, deciding the only plan left was action: he headbutted the wall about fifteen times in a row. BAM THAWWAACK BAM! Once his faith was restored, he relaxed and joined the sheep for some hay and slumber in the front yard of the new barn. How funny that two species had an entirely different reaction to the structure? The woolies ignored it with a mld acceptance. The goat had a fiery passion to get his deepest questions answered.

Sheep are buddhists. Goats are Baptists.


The barn raising yesterday did more than build a structure: it lifted my spirits. I am feeling a renewed an energetic excitement towards homesteading I had not felt in months. Being outside with friends and farmers and throwing that work party was a blessing in so many ways. I loved getting up at the crack of dawn to back breads, muffins, and cakes for my helpers. I loved hoisting the 4x4s over my shoulder as I trudged up the hill to help build. I loved the measuring, handing over hammers and screws to the guys up in the rafters. All of it was watching a beginning. And when this barn is weather-beaten and broken in a few months later another beginning starts: lambs.

Perhaps it's the fact that it's fall again and I'm back into my month? Or maybe I'm just trilled about Halloween a few days away...But I know that tonight I have so much to plan for winter and instead of feeling scared or anxious: I'm downright excited. Excited to watch those new sheep in their new barn. Excited to bottle and share my bubbling beer. Excited to stack hay, pile wood, and hunker into the holidays. I'm still working on a farm sitter for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I'll figure it out and I'll keep up with it all online along the way.

P.S. The last winner never emailed me or checked in, so the new winner of the Maude Roving is Rosa from Alberta! If you are interested in getting a drop spindle with a bit of roving, email me, as I have about four or five more.

P.P.S. I am so behind on emails. If you emailed me and I didn't reply it's not for any social or mean reason! I simply am horribly behind!


I have received a few emails and comments recently about why I do not turn this blog into a pay-to-read site. They've asked this because folks who know my dream is to someday support the farm with my writing (and do the bulk of my writing here) wonder why I am not setting up a subscription system? You know, making the blog help pay the mortgage in a more efficient way. It is an interesting idea. it certainly would help.

But I just don't like the idea of making this site something you have to pay for. It's more or less a story, not a service. Some folks have been following me a long time on here, offering advice, sending gifts, or even coming over to hammer a few nails or trim sheep hooves. It's become a community in a sense and I don't like the idea of asking for any sort of payment to see what I am up to. It's like having to bring a check to a potluck. While I appreciate the suggestion, and hope to someday meet my goals of making a living writing about farming: this blog will remain a free site to the public.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

thank you

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I know they look ridiculous. But a few weeks ago when my coworker Phil walked into the office with a leather pair of these Virbram Five Fingers, I was instantly intrigued. As someone who goes barefoot as often as possible, who hates the feeling of bound up feet and only wears wellies because of the amount of chicken and sheep poo in her life...these slip on shoes were a godsend for the house and walking the dogs along the road. It's like having your foot dipped in cloth and rubber, everything moves perfectly. It's like having sticky paw pads and the traction on wet rocks and such is fantastic.

The price is a little steep, all seem to hang around the Benjamin mark, but I found these on eBay drop shipped from the factory for 29 bucks. So if you do a little snooping, you can find a better deal.

VIbram is not a sponsor of the blog. I just plain old like 'em.

tomorrow we'll raise a barn*

Friday, October 15, 2010

leconte had a cap on her

This place is feeling more and more like home, especially on nights like this. There is a driving rain with flakes of ice in it. I now need gloves and a waterproof jacket to get work done. I currently have a plasticish cheap raincoat, the kind that's heavy and feels like it's made of a more flexible version of rubber boots. But with a wool sweater below it I am insulated and waterproof and the work can get done. It needs to get done. Someday I will find a used waxed cotton jacket like the great dogmen in Scotland wear when they work their sheepdogs in this weather. But you need to start somewhere. A Barbour Jacket is out of my budget right now.

I came home from work and did my evening chores in a cold rain. By the time everyone was fed (including me - leftover pasta) the world was wetter, colder, and darker. Yet inside this small house are thick walls and warm blankets. I haven't raised the thermostat above 58 yet, but with the tight home a simple night of laundry in the dryer and a cooked meal heat the place up so warm I am peeling off layers when I sleep. Right now there are three fluffy dogs and candlelight. Jazz and Annie look like wolves by a campfire when it hits them. Tonight I am sharing the dark with a cup of coffee and a scary movie (the Village) and I am so comfortable I am ready to call it at night after 8pm. It's Friday. Like I said, I'm a homebody.

You know you're going to become a farmer when you find out a coworker has to leave an upstate New York October for the Bahamas on business and you're gut reaction was. That sounds terrible...

I came in tonight from my final night rounds and saw that the livestock were all in their sheds and roosts. The rabbits were on their hay in the barn. I called for June Carter into the wind but nothing came of it. She's still gone.

They are calling for a few inches of snow tonight, up to six in elevations above 2,000 feet. I think this is special, but I've already been told there was snow in the Smokies a few weeks ago, that LeConte had a cap on her. Tennessee is always first, at least in my mind. That state is the reason you are reading this blog because Cold Antler Farm started at the bottom of a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains. That's another story though.

Tomorrow I am sleeping in. Without herding lessons to race off too—and not plans till I go buy barn-building supplies later in the afternoon—I see no reason not to revel in this warm house while the wind picks and howls outside.

I am fed. I am warm. I am tired.

I am glad.

i can not believe...

...that I canceled Saturday's herding lesson on account of snow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

name that brew

Hey everyone! Tonight I am brewing my first ever two gallons of beer, a pale ale I plan on fermenting with some Cold Antler Farm honey. I'm using a Mr. Beer kit (it's in my budget at 39.95) and in a few weeks it will be ready to bottle and rack. I'm already saving old beer bottles, and bought a bag of new caps (a whopping 3.75 for 150!). I'm excited to start this simple kit beer, and will eventually move into more refined types of homebrewing, but for this first adventure let's think up a good name for this honey pale ale I'll be making right here on the farm.


photo by tim bronson


So after the eigth guy on has recently explained I'm sorry, but I no longer have any romantic interest in you after seeing your blog...I think it's time to move to another dating site. Somewhere where men don't equate livestock to shock treatment. I guess I should have figured that out when every single guy on that site lists "travel" as their favorite things to do.

I wish homebodies weren't so out of fashion.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

homemade smoked-pheasant ravioli

my first upland hunting trip

I’m new to this, painfully new. I just completed my Hunters’ Safety course this past summer and had only aimed a shotgun at clays. I had no plans of coming home with a ringneck, but the possibility had me excited on the dark drive to our meeting spot before dawn. When I pulled my truck to the parking area on the side of the road, I was greeted by what I would learn would be the classic pre-hunt scene. My friends Steve, Tim, and Tim’s son Holden were outside their trucks, talking with coffee in their hands and Steve’s dog, Cayenne, lunging at the end of her leash. I was an emotional concoction of excited and nervous. I kept it to myself that I hadn’t felt this way since Prom Night. This was a whole different dance though, and the borrowed 20 gauge would’ve looked awkward with my teal dress from high school.

At dawn we were on the move. Cay exploded into the thick undergrowth as if letting go of her leash was a trigger in itself. We moved in pairs along the pathways and then grew bolder, walking right through the tall weeds and burdock. (I instantly learned to appreciate my borrowed chaps.) Within ten minutes of frantic, high tailed pacing the dog flushed a bird up in the air. It was the perfect shot right in front of me, but in the chaos of the moment I was too nervous to concentrate and missed by feet. My left thumb was bleeding like crazy from being caught in the safety latch in the frenzy. Not only did the bird escape, but I was wounded. Let’s hear it for me.

I kept my eyes and ears open. As the hunt wound down, we started moving back towards the parking area, and it was here we came across a veritable nest of pheasants. Within twenty minutes we took four birds, one seemed to come down every few minutes. When slightly off to my left a bird presented himself I took my shot and watched him drop. The thrill was remarkable. The excitement indescribable. I had taken a bird on my first hunt.

Now there’s a smoked pheasant with my name on it in the company fridge, literally. Tucked in behind the Tupperware salads and soggy sandwiches is a zip lock back with a little brown bird, and “Jenna” is written across it with yesterday’s date. Tim smoked it last night with the other four birds we took Saturday morning at dawn. What a delicious affirmation of a morning spent with friends, and a new tradition started in high grass. I doubt I’ll ever forget it, but If I need a reminder, the smoked pheasant ravioli I’ll have for dinner tonight should do it. And if I remember correctly, it’ll be a far better meal than what was served on Prom Night.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

barn raising this sunday in jackson

There will be an old-fashioned work party here at Cold Antler Farm this weekend. I'll be putting up the frame of the new sheep shelter. My friend James and I planned out all the materials and costs and Saturday after Gibson's herding lesson in Western Mass, I'm going to Home Depot to buy what I need. Sunday morning from 10-2pm folks will be coming over with their powedrills and saws to help raise what will be the home of the Scottish Blackface ewes that are the foundation stock of my future lamb and wool enterprise. If you live nearby and know how to use a hammer and are friendly: then come on by. There will be refreshments and cute dogs and three leering sheep.

P.S. No sign of June Carter yet. I do hope she returns.

P.P.S. Chelle, you were the winner of the spinning contest. If I don't hear from you in a week, another reader gets the goods.

sad news

I have not seen June Carter in four days.
I am sad to report I don't think I will again.

Monday, October 11, 2010

foraged, crushed, and fermenting

Yesterday was spent outside in the sunshine pressing thirty gallons of cider with good friends. It was the start of a new tradition here in the wilds of Veryork. Myself, and my guy friends James and Tyler dedicated some of our weekend to a very old-school way of copping a buzz: learning to make alcohol from pressed apple mash. This is my initiating into the cult of home brewing—my sponsor is hard cider.

We started Saturday morning, collecting apples off the scrub orchard I inherited with the farm. After pheasant hunting and before herding lessons we gathered all we could around Cold Antler. Between the trees on the side of the road and what was left of the apples in my pasture (so many went to feed the sheep and goat. Which will not be happening next year!) we were able to collect about two bushels. But two bushels does not a pressing-work-party make, so James hit up the back roads of Peru and Londonderry and was able to nearly fill the back of his dad's truck with several varieties of feral apples. Through some slick foraging we were able to collect enough fruit to keep us busy for hours, and we didn't spend a dime. Not a bad deal.

We arrived with our apples (and dogs) at our friend Dave's house. Dave is a modern backwoods MacGyver. He can figure out how to make or fix anything, and often does. Back in the eighties he bought a giant apple grinder/cider press for $200 from an old NY state orchard. The giant machine was built in 1865, and with some work on his part it was now looking brand new and working like a song. He rebuilt the wood frame, painted it, and had mineral-based oil moving around the fly wheel and gears. The beast had a big hungry bucket on top: the maw for our road kill.

For two hours we created a mini factory right there in his backyard. We ground, pressed, poured, strained, and bottled the sweet cider. We filled the keg that Dave tricked out with a spigot and strainer, and when it got too full, we emptied it into plastic and glass car boys. I couldn't take the temptation and filled some quart jars and drank right there on the job in-between cranking the press and grinding apples. Then Dave cracked open a bottle of 1987 vintage, and MAN did it have a kick to it. We nipped the hard cider as we worked, making us a little more limber and silly. I could not believe how fast and fruitful the day's labors were: so much cider sitting in the October sunlight.

I brought my fiddle, since Dave is also a string sawer. Together we'd take brakes to play alone or together, the twangy sounds of our strings under the trees. It was nice to practice when the work grew slower. Gibson and his setter friend Ellie played and ran about. Bill (Dave's friend and fellow ciderteer) told stories and we learned each other's histories. We made plans to add more apples and potluck foods to next year's pressing. I'm already making plans for it! Before I headed home Dave gifted me a bottle of his 2008 homebrew, and I thanked him with a big smile. Now that I understood how much effort and science went into that gift, it meant the world to me.

Our cider will be ready around New Years. A long time to wait, but well worth it. Between then and now it will bubble with the five pounds of honey we're putting in each fermentor. We'll transport it to growlers and bottles and then it will be ready to serve. Homemade hard cider to ring in the new, and new lambs!

Now I have the home-brewing itch. I'm looking into some easy 2-3 week kit beers. I can't believe how easy and inexpensive it is, and how satisfying it is making your own libations. Even without taking a sip, I am hooked. This winter will not be boring, not by a long shot. Cold Antler Brewery is in the works! Cheers!

photos by tyler atkins

a girl, her fiddle, and her truck.

photo by tyler atkins

Sunday, October 10, 2010

guess what we did with these?

two shepherds, us

He just can't sit still in a car. He's well behaved enough, but the entire ride to anywhere Gibson will stand, pace, stare out the window, bark at motorcycles and paw the dashboard. He has this bit where he puts both front paws on the dash and uses the passenger seat for his back feet, suspending himself in mid-air above the truck's bench, using it as leverage to make his teenage body as long as possible. his yoga for when he really wants to get outside. Sometimes he moves over to me and sits aside me, my arm around him, and I feel like a character in a Norman Rockwell oils. But usually he just scatters about. He summons enough static electricity to shock me when his nose touches my cheek. His body is literally a live wire, excited to be let out for the next adventure.

That's how my little pup was the entire drive down to Taravle Farm. I was tense too, because my Googlemaps directions had taken us on a ridiculous scenic route, making us nearly an hour late. I called, but was worried another handler and dog had an appointment after us and we'd simply be out of luck. I kept driving south though, through Amsterdam, Florida, and other upstate towns I never saw before save for names on maps. One thing was for certain though, it was a beautiful drive.

I was in the low 60s and sunny. The perfect blend of crisp and sun struck. Peak foliage had the leaves cascading around us as we drove over countless county roads. I had on the local country station out of Albany and was singing to Gibson to keep my tardy-conscious light. "We're all about John Wayne, Johnny Cash, and John Deere....Way out here." I crooned to still-distracted border collie. He wasn't about any of the Johns. He was about sheep.

Or so I hoped. Truth is you never know what any sheepdog will do with livestock until he is actually in a pen with them. In my reading and conversations with other shepherds I had heard stories of many a pup who was scared of the sheep, or too violent and made them bleed from bites. I heard of pups who simply did not care and just sat there, staring at them like wooly office furniture. Part of me was nervous that Gibson wouldn't even bother with them. He rarely raises an eyebrow to my flock and has never been in a stock pen. Since my bruiser sheep aren't dog broke (meaning used to working with collies) they aren't allowed to be alone together. Someone would get hurt if I did. Really hurt. So Gibson won't be working sheep at Cold Antler until his flock arrives later this fall: five pregnant Scottish Blackface Ewes from Taravale.

We arrived and I let Gibson out of the truck. He circled around smelling like crazy off leash while I went to find Barb Armata, one of my main mentors in this club. She greeted me and explained she appreciated the lateness, gave her time for lunch. I shot back a sheepish smile. Gibson was darting his head everywhere. So many smells and sounds. Taravale is 80 acres and hundreds of sheep. Quite the culture shock.

Barb asked me permission to go into the pen with him alone for the first meeting. I handed her the lead, no questions asked. Handing Barb a border collie is like a carpenter asking for a hammer. It makes sense, and the receiver is instantly comfortable with the acquisition. She took Gibson inside a small, 50x50 ft pen on a long line and I stood on the fence to watch. She had the dog, and a big plastic paddle to shoo him away from gripping (biting wool) and keeping his distance. I held my breath and camera. This was it.

She let him go and he ran right to them! He chased, barked, his tail in the air like a little buck. Tails up aren't a great sign, it means he's chasing and playing: not herding. He was having a great, albeit frenzied, time. Barb explained everything that was happening and told me not too worry about the high tail. "He's a seven month old pup! of course his tail is up!" she told me. And later in his lesson, when he was a little worn out, he trotted across the pen to the sheep with his tail down she praised him. "Good boy Gibson!" and my heart became three-sizes too large for my own body.

As the lesson went on his tail dropped, his eyes focused, and he started to tire a bit from that manic first chase. We praised him and removed him from the pen for a while and I took him back to his crate in the truck with some water. Barb was going to work her new pup, a ten-month old named Kate. Kate came out of the kennel smiling like a little fox, she was maybe thirty-five pounds of mischief and smiles. Her fine features, pointy face, and merle spotting made her look a breed apart from Gibson: who was what Barb called "big and blocky" but she was still a rookie too. This would be her fifth time on sheep.

Little Kate was all business out there, a real pro. Her tail down and her head focused. You could tell she was the dog of a Nationals competitor and herding instructor. She was a dog with a job, and solved some problems out there. Kate was something to aspire to. Right now I just hoped my dog would circle without barking. Small steps.

After Kate's lesson was done, Gibson was going back into the pen with me instead of Barb. She handed me the light plastic paddle (imagine a boat paddle if it was created for wiffle ball) and told me to circle the pen with him till he was looking interested and would be able to go around them. Within moments I was spinning in circles, dizzy as hell, trying to not trip over the two ewes and keep Gibson from biting wool as he herded all three of us. As his teeth got a little closer to nipping, I whacked him on the head with the plastic paddle and then hollered an instant apology to Barb and Gibson. "I'm sooo sorry! I just wanted him to stop biting!" and Barb told me to chill out because Gibson didn't even notice it (which was true, the light plastic barely put a dent in his herding). But to bonk a dog on the head was not the Armata way, and I didn't want it to be mine either. Feeling like a damn fool, I went back to trying not to throw up.

In a few minutes things got much better. I was learning to walk more, and not fall into that small nauseating circle of panic. GIbson started putting his tail down, watching me, changing directions and keeping a bit more distance. I was able to take him off the long line ( a tripping hazard for a klutz like me) and work with him as a team for a moment. When he slowed down a bit Barb asked me to have him stop and lie down. I praised him like he brought me a superbowl ring.

Barb's assessment was he'd make a fine farm dog and if so inclined, a trial dog too. He was, in her eyes, a good dog for me. He wasn't too timid or too bold, controllable and interested in pleasing me above all. He certainly was driven to work and his attitude would change from panic to business in a few lessons. I was thrilled, relieved, and covered in sweat. Gibson was panting like a greyhound off the track. Two shepherds in a huff, us.

I was happy. So happy. We came this far. Years of trials and clinics on my end, a plane ride from Idaho and seven months of living on his. We were both glowing, yet he seemed changed now. He was calmer in spirit, as if after all this living he finally found the one thing he was supposed to do in the world.

Or maybe, that was my projection on the smiling, sprawled-out pup in the truck cab next to me. I sighed. I hardly think it matters, really. Gibson let out a long sigh too, and then curled up into the final leg of our road trip. He had never been so tired in his young life.

He slept like a stone the entire ride home.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

he did well!

My day started at dawn with a pheasant hunt and ended with a campfire. There was apple picking, sheep herding, bird cleaning, seven hours in the truck and venison on the stove. I'm too tired to write much now, but would just like to share that Gibson did well on his first sheep herding lesson. His tail was up for most of it (a sign of play and chase, not work) but the interest was there and he had a blast. By the end of our hour he was starting to circle, change directions, and watching me with his tail down. It's in there, that's for sure. My trainer said he'd make a fine working dog and could be a trial dog. He wasn't too bold or timid, listened to me and her, and seemed to want to please me. I was so proud I talked about it at a dinner party tonight like he just made honor roll in his Waldorf class.

first ever hunt!

Friday, October 8, 2010

spinning giveaway! take home some maude!

I'm giving away a handmade drop spindle—handcrafted in Vermont—already wound up with my hand-spun yarn from Maude (as well as extra roving). It's everything you need to learn to drop spin! My friend and fellow spinner, Andrea, made a couple of these spindles for the Wool 101 Workshop for me, and hand-stained them as well with a vintage barn-red color. They are wonderful, and they are sturdy buggers with hook attachments on both ends. With the help of Youtube, books, and spinning clubs you'll be making yarn in no time, from the mother of all miserable, old, ewes herself. I'll throw in a signed book too!

Here is how the Giveaway works: All you need to do to enter is tell a friend, coworker, stranger, anyone about Cold Antler Farm and then post who you told here in the comments section of this post. Just write who you shared CAF with and leave some sort of name I can holler at you with. You can send an email to the new guy at work who think chickens are cool, or you can write on the bathroom wall of your local Watering Hole*. A comment is randomly selected and the winner gets a mailed gift and a signed paperback of Made From Scratch. Neat!

Winner will be picked Monday Night!

*Please do not vandalize. I kid. I'm a kidder.

goats smile

photo by sara stell

stars and slime

This morning was the first in a while that I didn't have to start my day in a rain slicker. I could see the stars, bright above, as I fed the animals. There's a small cluster of stars off to the righ of Orion, Taurus I think. I'm not much for astrology, I know nothing of it really. But I have always been drawn to those stars. They really pull me in, stick out to me among all the rest.

But yes, the dry morning! It was a nice, calm, change for the better. I love rain, I do, but was growing tired of the dampness. Time for some cool, crisp, days ahead this weekend.

The chickens are eating their eggs again, this happens from time to time. Usually because something sets them off into the habit. Either an egg cracks or is forgotten about and the fugitive hen pecks it, or food outside is growing slim as it gets colder and they need more to forage for. Today I'll set out a sacrificial pie pumpkin and let them eat it to pieces below their favorite nest. I hope it works. Few things are as gross as reaching for fresh eggs and coming back with slimy yellow hands.

Time for coffee. Enjoy your Friday, all.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

october rolls on

While the rain started to fall, the Daughton Family and I struggled to lift the 200+ pound calf into the back of their blue-tarp-lined Suburban. Myself, Tim, and their sons got a good deal of mud on our shirts and shoes loading that big boy into his taxi. I waved them goodbye as I re-latched the paddock fence and let out a rainy sigh. My life as a cattle rancher is temporarily suspended. Maybe some day down the road I'll raise a steer or two for the freezer but right now my mind's on the mutton. Tasty is on the road home to their farm in White Creek, and I am back in the ovine business.

Eat Lamb. Wear Wool. That's my slogan.

Soon I'll be back to three sheep again, and they will be joined my five more ewes in a few weeks after that. This weekend Gibson and I will be able to see them again, down at Taravale Farm in Esperance. That's where his lesson will be, and I am personally satisfied knowing his first ever time working with sheep will be Scottish Blackface: the future breed of Cold Antler. These hardy hill sheep from the highlands are great meat and wool animals and easy lambers . They forage well, and are used to climbing hillsides very much like the slopes of my small farm. Gibson will be set loose on a lead and we'll see what he does once he's alone with his charges. I hope he does some sort of round-circling, but he might chase them, bite wool, or just sit next to me bored. There's always a chance your collie won't work, though I have a hunch he'll do just fine. His breeding is true. His eyes and stalking like something out of CSI reruns.

Saturday night there's a bonfire at a friends Chrissy and Tyler's house. We'll be celebrating a day of apple picking and talking about Sunday's big adventure: my first ever cider pressing. Tyler, James, and myself will be joining our friend Dave (fiddle and antique press owner/operator) to make some hard cider down near White Creek. Talk about a fine fall weekend. I'm beside myself!

Though not all is pristine around here. I had to drop a ridiculous amount of money on the truck today (well, ridiculous to me) to repair a ball joint, axle, and get a pair of snow tires on the back incase we get caught in poor weather. While it stunk dropping hundreds of dollars on the Ford, I am very happy to report it's no longer dangerous to drive it (there was a chance of a wheel falling off...). We'll be ready for the road trip to Esperance, and maybe even stop at Sharon Springs if the weather is nice and we have the time. I'd like to see the town I've been watching on the Beekman Boys and buy a bar of soap.

And, speaking of Sharon Springs. If you'd like to see photos from the weekend my friend Sara was up here: you can click here. She stopped by the farm, Beekman 1802, and Cooperstown and there are photos galore of everything from my kitchen counter book piles, to throwing bales of hay to the truck at Nelson's Farm. Also some shots from our picnic at Riding Right Farm in South Cambridge, where I take my riding lessons. (I adore that place.) Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

gibson's first herding lesson is saturday!

photo by sara stell

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

ten months ago

Someone recently pointed out in the comments that ten months ago I was in such a scary place. I was anxious and confused—unsure of where my life would lead me and what the fate of Cold Antler would become. When I came home after last Thanksgiving vacation to a note on the cabin door warning me that my days were life changed forever. I can still feel that empty spot in the corner of my gut. A few weeks later I received my official Notice to Quit and the countdown to find a new home was ticking like a bomb.

Today I look around the Jackson Farm and am so grateful for that note. I am happy I saved it. Hell, I plan on framing it. It's the reason these six and a half acres are mine. It's the reason I forced myself to buy. It's why lambs will be born on this ground for the first time in generations. It's how I was able to grow up. It's a puppy and riding lesson. It's a garden and a truck. It's home.

Now the only one posting notes on the door is me.

Looking back, it is unbelievable the circumstances and luck that had to happen to make me a freeholder. An eviction, a random USDA program, a desperate/retired couple who wanted to skip down and were willing to drop the price. The luck of a friendly and willing mortgage broker, a kind and loyal realtor, a new state, a fresh start. It all happened less than a year ago and that time as flown by so fast I am barely keeping up at my own clip. Today I was going over plans for the sheep's new pole barn we'll be raising in the next few weekends before the weather starts to turn. I know exactly what I need to buy, build, and with the help of some friends and power tools: we'll raise that shelter. I have a little red barn full of hay and getting fuller. If my posts this month seem shorter, or far-between, it is because I am preparing this new farm for its first winter and for the new soon-to-be mothers arriving later this year. Five Scottish Blackface ewes will be delivered, pregnant, to CAF's new fenced pasture and hillside. Gibson will have a few months of training under his belt and possibly even help gather them in from winter snows and for grain feeding and hoof-trimming.

I'm taking a break from the blueprints, lists, and lessons to say thank you for coming along with me. Thank you for helping with advice, phone calls, donations, and support. Thank you for building these fences, coming to visit, or writing me emails and comments. Even if I can't write back, know it's not about anything more than a wild life in a tame world and farm that wins over email 99% of the time.

A lot more to come. Tonight, just some tea. Thank you again for checking in and keeping up.
photo by sara stell

Sunday, October 3, 2010


It was one of those weekends so busy, so non-stop, that writing about it would take three hours, and frankly, I am almost ready to fall asleep here at my computer. In 48 hours I held a workshop, made new friends, pulled an angry bee out of someone's hair, went to an apple festival, watched a pie eating contest, saw a live outdoor concert, listened to an amazing guitarist, watched a play (The Lottery!) , cooked meals, put up 16 bales of winter hay and 200 feet of new fencing in the pasture. I pet whippets, drank pumpkin beer, and played music off a sheep's back. And now I am going to sleep, because this tank is empty and tomorrow I have a full day of work and a date with an Appendix Gelding at the stables to meet.

Things are good. It's fall. And I am happy.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

field table

I was just outside in the pasture with the animals, playing the dulcimer, digesting the bratwurst and pumpkin beer from Cambridge's Apple Festival. It was a lovely, slightly chilly, evening. As I sat in the grass and strummed Sal trotted up to say hello. I scratched his back and waited for him to lie down next to me, but he just stood. So I stood up with him and realized his back was perfectly level for my dulcimer. I gently set it on his spine. He didn't move. I strummed a chord. His ears shot forward interested, but still, didn't move. I played Wild Mountain Thyme, and he just stood there as my living table in the middle of field. When I finished I took a bow to our horrible audience. The other sheep and cow just ate, uninterested in our performance.

I love October.

twenty hooves

Friday, October 1, 2010


The other day I was at Wayside—paying at the register for my morning coffee—and the two men ahead of me in line walked out the front door and scoffed at my truck's tailgate. "Cold Antler Farm!?" they said, with that tone reserved for every out-of-stater who buys land, gets some chickens, and names their backyard. They meant nothing harmful, they were just bemused. I smiled with them. (The fact I own a small farm is still incredulous to even me.) If you're a fourth generation dairy man and grew up on the lap of your dad's John Deere: you might find a Ford Ranger with a magnetic sign on the back...euphemistic. I smiled with them, but it took me a while to get to that point. For some new farmers though it can be downright unsettling: feeing a like a butt of a cosmic joke or a worn stereotype.

It's this experienced-local-vs-new-beginner divide that seems to make many a new farmer or homesteader uncomfortable. After all, if you're fresh from an urban back-lot and are more familiar with hot dog vendor umbrellas than breeds of laying have good reason to feel a little separated from the locals. I have been doing this a few years and I can share this certainty:

Don't. Do not let who you are presently get in the way of who you want to be. Embrace it and let it become part of what's ahead.

When I first moved from Knoxville to Sandpoint, Idaho: it bothered me a lot. I was thriving in a warm and social city in the Southeast. Moving to a frigid logging town of 5,000 was a culture shock, to say the least. Those first months going to the Co-op to buy chicken feed and rabbit pellets felt like a girl acting in the role of "Hopeful Homesteader" on a movie set, and not my real life. It was all so foreign: the lingo, the clothing, the words printed on the feed bags like another language. I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

I realized I had to decide to either be intimidated by the experienced farmers all around me or sidle up next to them and join in. I thought if I smiled, listened more than I spoke, and was polite I could at least learn something by osmosis. It turned out to be true, and slowly over the months I learned facts, stories, remedies, names, and tips the way you slowly pick up the Indian names for yoga poses if you go to enough classes because you're too stubborn to give up. I made close friends with a local sustainable farmer and spent hours at her farm learning the difference between honey bees' careers and pellet vs crumbled layer rations. It all rises to the top if you soak in it long enough.

Moving to the country is not an identity shift, it's a lifestyle change. You're still you regardless of what your zip code states. You can come here and worry that you don't fit in or that the people at Agway won't be friendly, but you're probably underestimating their apathy. You'll be "the new guy" for a while, sure, but that's not a bad thing. It's a clean slate, a chance to start every conversation with a smile. Unless your new neighbors were sorting seed potatoes on the Mayflower: they probably had someone in their lines start out as the new guy too. It's not a bad place to be.

If you want to be a local, then here's how. Move to a new place. Walk outside. Inhale. Exhale. Congratulations, as far as the IRS and post office are concerned: you're a citizen of your new town. It's that easy. If people give you a hard time and purposefully exclude, mock, or ignore a new person based entirely on their virginal status: then so be it. It's more a reflection of their own unhappiness or self-doubt than your character. Bake them a pie. All they can do is push it into your face, which is comic genius.

Belonging is a state of mind. Being part of something outside yourself can only start if you've already made it a part of what's inside you. It doesn't matter if it's your Bible Study class or your first day at a horse auction: communities are communities. When you, just little old you, accept the fact that you're a part of it your entire self relaxes into your new role and everyone else believes it too. Trust me on this one.

As for me, I do yoga among chickens. You haven't even begun to understand balance till a pullet launches and roosts on your Vrksasana. And I say that as a goddamned local of Washington County New York. If that made you cringe, come over and have some pie. We'll deal together.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

it's a rainy day in jackson

inside day

It's a very rainy day here in Veryork, and I am home from work. I told myself if I woke up feeling better I'd man up and hop in the shower and head into the office. But I didn't. I woke up feeling swirly in the head and tired in the body. Outside was a steady downpour of rain and I knew I had three sheep, a goat, a calf, a cat, three dogs, two geese, four rabbits, and a flock of chickens to see too before I could even consider going back to bed. So I suited up into my new rain slicker (the best $27 I have spent this summer) and wellies and filled formula bottles, fed hay and corn, and opened coops. By the time the farm was up and running my energy stores were winding down. I cam inside and fed the dogs, took a long hot shower, put on one of my father's sweaters, and made a cup of Lyons with honey. I am happy to report I am indoors from the cold and about to go back to sleep. Today is about rest.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

a perfect picture

It is an absolutely gorgeous and warm fall afternoon. The sun is basking yellow light on every leaf. The farm feels like breathing embers. The creek is littered with golden maple leaves and the fresh winds send wafts of the last cut hay and apples ripening past their primes on the vine. It is heaven.

I pulled into the driveway and saw a calf curled up like a cat on the hillside in the dappled light. My heart melted. The sheep trotted past Tasty down the hillside for snacks (Finn was already there) and all the animals in the September light seemed extra clean, extra friendly, and extra hungry. They chattered at me, tails wagging. Behind me the back of the pickup truck was busting out with new t-posts for pasture expansion, fresh blooming mums, a bale of hay, and a blue bag of chicken feed. It was a perfect picture of rural America. It was everything I had ever worked for.


...Then I coughed up enough phlegm to choke an alpaca. What I spit out onto the pile of beautiful leaves could've well had a name and mortgage of its own. I'm sick.

I left work early, feeling guilty, and called to cancel my riding lesson. What started as a head cold has morphed into some sort of body-aching overall tiredness that made standing up too much work and walking a dizzy ordeal. When I feel like that, I go home.

So here I am, inside, on a beautiful day. At least the hoof stock are enjoying that dapple light. I'm going to bed. I better get this out of my system by October.

sheep know how to savor

Sheep know how to savor. They may appear to be ripping grass and eating fast, but that's not the case at all. In fact they are just filling their gas tanks for a long day of happy chewing later on. Every time I drop down morning hay or let them on new pasture I see the same bit. Sheep acting like fools to get that first stomach loaded with food and then they slow down. They stop the frantic chase and start to sniff mint leaves and nose the ground for fallen apples. They know how to relax, ease into their long day of cud and comfort. They might start their days in a rush but once they realize they'll probably survive to see nightfall: they let go of all anxiety, sit on the hill, watch the world and chew. They aren't bothered by wind, flies, barking dogs across the street or the occasional rainstorm. They savor the morning's hay a second time and let the world worry about itself till morning.

It's not a bad lesson, this.

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