Saturday, October 23, 2010

put me in, coach.

Herding Instructor Denise Leonard in the round pen with Gibson

Friday, October 22, 2010

best. coffee. ever.

sal and taylor

I walked outside this morning and without meaning to, walked in on a very private moment between Sal and Maude. Not that it was all that private—since they were standing in middle of field—but clearly some oats were sewn.

I'm not worried about it. Every fall Sal gets frisky but nothing has come of it. He's been castrated. Twice. I was told this from the homesteading family I got him from. Apparently the first time didn't take, so the vet came back and clamped down a second time. Sal is supposedly a wether, but for a weather he is still packing heat, as his manhood is still pretty substantial. I suspected earlier in the year that Maude might be pregnant, but I was wrong. So perhaps he really isn't fertile? Sal's possible fathering ability is a mystery. Let's just say if there's an extra white lamb this spring: he's the baby daddy.

I'm off work today and spending the morning getting ready for company. My friend Taylor is coming up for a cold weekend in New York from the sunny south. She works in Nashville, and is hankering for seeing her breath in the morning. I told her we'd be getting up around 4:45 to pack the truck for a roadtrip Saturday morning to herd with Gibson at a sheep farm in Massachusetts. Then we have to also find time to buy a trailer full of hay, paint the new sheep barn, bottle the beer if it's ready, and other some such. She seemed excited about it all of it, which says to me she's exactly the kind of guest a small farm likes! So here's to our weekend and yours. I'll make sure to post photos of Gibson's lesson, painting, and any other trouble I get into.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

beekeeping, son!

photo by Erika Thompson

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

announcing cold antler farm's fiber csa!

I have decided to start a Fiber CSA here at Cold Antler Farm. Inspired by the article my pal Ashley sent me, it seems like a great way to get Cold Antler Farm up and running. Here is how it works:

When you sign up for any Community Supported Agriculture Program you pay up front for products you reap throughout the year. In the world of fiber, this means you'd pay your subscription and then the farmer uses that money to run the joint and raise the wool. When the harvest is reaped (in this case sheared) you will be mailed the completed skeins you paid for in advance with your subscription. This first year I am limiting the membership to twelve people. I am fairly sure with five sheep I could take on more, but in this case I think it's better to start small. I'd rather have ten thrilled customers then twenty satisfied customers.

People who buy a share will receive a welcome packet that comes with a Thank you letter, the year's plan and projection, a list of future products, and a skein of this year's Cold Antler Farm yarn which is due to come in any day now. Then next spring When the Scottish Blackface sheep are shorn the wool will be sent off to a mill to be processed and you will receive that as well. I am expecting about 4-6 skeins of their yarn for each subscriber, as well as raw wool if so desired for your own processing and other little CAF treats I whip up.

This blog lets you watch your wool go from the first day its hooves hit the farm till the day they are sheared. I expect to have the first year's wool harvest back by August based on my partnership with Still River Mill in Connecticut. If you are seriously interested please email me at: First come, first subscribe!

i got your back, jack

When we decided to get into home brewing my friend James and I were talking about how exciting and fun the process was. I was really wound about the cider pressing and could not wait to bottle our own. So I told him I wanted to try some simple kit beers too. The pressing inspired my long-put-off home brewing itch. I explained this and he just shook his head at me, "Let's just stick with the cider, Jenna" he said, "a jack of all trades is a master of none." And I was instantly hit with this shot of odd guilt because my entire lifestyle is based around trying to be Jack.

Then I realized how ridiculous it was to feel guilty about not living up to an aphorism, specially when it feels so damn wrong.

I am a master of nothing. I despise perfection, hate details, and roll my eyes when someone complains about a finger print on their car's new paint job. I have no desire to be "Jenna the Knitter" or "Jenna the Fiddler" or "Jenna the Baker." I want to be Jenna. And being me means a messy life full of animals, music, experiments, mistakes, victories, and a wide variety of utilitarian skills and interests. I want to do well at the things I am involved in, but my measure of "well" does not have to match anyone else's. If I grow food I can eat: I consider this a successful garden. If my sheepdog herds sheep: I consider this a successful partnership. I do not need three-pound tomatoes or trial ribbons.

I think that was the spirit of the original homesteaders. Back then being a master of a craft meant one of two things: it was either a luxury or your trade. You either had the money and time to do one thing well, or doing that one thing was what paid for you to everything else not nearly as well! I bet the best farriers and blacksmiths made skunk beer from time to time. They had to become Jack too, because in the spirit of self-sufficiency they needed to learn many skills across the board just to survive. So even if they made a sweet wagon wheel they still had to be okay at butchering hogs or sewing new shirts. It never crossed their minds to have another master do these things simply because they were better at it.

I'd much rather play a mediocre tune on the fiddle, while drinking passing home-brewed beer, while wearing a scrappy homespun hat in a house that needs vacuuming than be an artist at one thing. Frankly, that seems boring as hell. I like knowing I can set up a chicken coop, tack up a horse, raise geese, spin wool, and bake a pizza in the same day and know none of these things are artisanal, but utilitarian, which is what their purpose was in the first place.

Some of us have the perception that we should strive to perfect one discipline. That's great if you want to get into Julliard or earn a football scholarship to Yale. I want to run a small, diversified, farm. I honestly believe if I keep doing all the things I am doing I will get better at them. I believe I will naturally gravitate to fewer and fewer till it appears that I have settled on "mastering" one or two things. Truth is, those will be the things I liked the most and simply did the most. Maybe one day Cold Antler Farm will just be sheep, border collies, and pumpkins. Right now it's a beautiful frenzy.

So, you can call me Jack.

comic from

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

caf locals

Any of you guys interested in changing, revializing, and breathing new air into the forums?

I am.

bottling this weekend!

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