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.