Saturday, October 30, 2010

relax, have a home brew


In a few hours a family will be here to adopt Finn. He's going to live with two wethers and some llamas at a small family homestead. It's bittersweet. Part of me feels pangs of guilt, since he's been so well behaved since we got the fencing right. It showed me that with proper planning goats are wonderful homestead animals. Finn found his place here with Sal as his good friend, and his antics have lightened the pasture into quite a scene. But the other part of me is relieved and happy. For all of Finn's goodness, he is still a goat in a sheep farm. He's grown bored, destructive (just ask the apple trees, field fencing, and shed walls) and misses the company of other goats. While it will be a gut punch to see him drive off in that mini van, it's also time he did.

This is a sheep farm. I know that now.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

a problem

Cold Antler makes visiting my family, just five hours south of me, so hard. Going home for the holidays might be impossible this year, depending on the weather and the farm's needs. What do you do when the lifestyle that makes you so ridiculously happy and fulfilled is hurting the people you love?

rose in a storm

I am really enjoying Rose in a Storm, the new novel by Jon Katz. The story is about a sheepdog dealing with a very bad situation: a blizzard in Washington County that all but destroys the farm and farmer she loves. Rose is the focus of the book, a 6-year-old working border collie based on his own by the same name. I'm about halfway into it and secretly enjoying the horror of such a storm on paper. To read about five feet of snow and white-out conditions when it's 67-degrees outside is a contrary decadence, but I think it's one of the underlying thrills of this book. It's a story that absolutely could, and might, happen. It could happen to me.

So I am diving into this hardcover. It's hard not to when you're a small farmer in the region of the story, but I think it transcends proximity. It is one of those books that has such visceral imagery of the weather it makes you want to curl up and read even more. So if you want the kind of book that requires a wool sweater, hot coffee, and a dog asleep at your feet: pick one up.

Jon will be doing public readings at Gardenworks in Salem, and here in Cambridge if you want to check him out live in the neighborhood.
A package arrived yesterday. Inside was a collection of items I understood and would certainly need, but have never used. Things like brass ear tags and rubberband-ammunitioned tail dockers. Supplies like lamb jackets, iodine, rubber gloves, buckets, sprays, and a flock management guide that will force me into record keeping (a habit I need to get into if I plan on making any sort of business out of this farm), and other odds and ends. Unpacking that box was what made the idea of lambing very, very, real to me. More real than it's been so far. There is something damn substantial about the doing of a thing, when you are holding the tools in your hands to do it. If you could follow that last sentence and understand this, you've been reading this blog a while. Thank you.

Farming is bringing back to my life the excitement I felt as a child and the passion that forced me through college. I realized when I was out in the working world; a place of utility bills, rent, health-insurance claims and used-car salesmen—that all the old ritual was gone. The magic of childhood had vanished, and the rights of passage were over. No more waiting up for Santa or Graduation ceremonies. My cookie and cap-and-gown days were behind me. But farming! Farming takes our hands and shows us new holidays, new rituals, new and exciting rights of passage. Or rather, old ones that we are reclaiming. Rights as old as civilization, as genuine as any human experience can be. The work of hay, lambs, gardens, and geese: this is the original work of people. It is a lifestyle that sustains us, perhaps the only lifestyle that actually keeps you alive. Perhaps when society lost much of this work is when we started making up ceremonies to fill in all the white space. People with loaded hay trucks can see their effort and know their worth. They don't need sheet cakes with their names in cursive.

This winter will be Shepherding School at my farm. I am collecting all the literature I can to learn as much as I can retain for this flock, for this farm. I am going to subscribe to SHEEP! magazine, and keep piles of how-to and husbandry manuals stocked everywhere from the foot of my bed to the bathroom. Between the literature, sheep herding lessons, and surrounding myself with shepherds: this could be a crash course education. I'm also reaching out to some local farms here, hoping that early lambing operations might let me help or watch. Any and all experiences are welcome.

It seems like a long road from opening that package to the day I'll be using the supplies inside it. When I ordered the box from the livestock supply company, I forgot to mention what numbers I wanted on the tags. Shortly after I hit send on the order my cell phone rang and I was asked what sequence I wanted the tags to be numbered. Apparently, if you've been doing this a long time, or have a lot of stock, you can go from 1 to 1,000 on the lamb tags.

"Let's start at one," was my reply.

hot off the press!

My advanced copy of Chick Days came in, and what a rush to hold in your hands the finished product of many months of work! Chick Days is a beginner's guide to raising birds, filled with stories, music, and photographs of Cold Antler as well as three special chicks in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The real hero of this book is Mars, the photographer, his work is enchanting and made this how-to book something else. It comes out in late December/January and you can pre-order it from your local indie store, just ask the people at the front desk. They know what is up.

The revolution will be molting!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

panting among us

When I was growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, my parents brought me to church every Sunday. As a little girl, I couldn't really comprehend the complications or beauty of the Mass, but I did listen to the stories and remember going to summer Bible camps and CCD classes. One thing that always stuck with me, even at such a young age, was the concept of guardian angels. At home, at church, and even on television and movies this idea of a benevolent spirit watching over me, keeping me safe, was a big deal to me. I just didn't buy the whole dude-with-wings concept. They didn't seem all that tough when it came to protection. The angels in the church literature looked like George Stephanolopous in drag with a harp fetish. I did not want to be caught lost in the woods or in a dark alley with that guy watching my back. Since I didn't care much for literal interpretations: I went with my gut on this one.

So as a little girl when I got scared, or worried, or felt bullied at school I would just close my eyes and ask for my angels. In my 6-year-old brain I didn't see people with wings and harps but a pair of large wolves at my side. They were the size of lions, talked like people, and when they growled the earth shook. If I was scared walking home in the dark I'd imagine one walking on each side of me, padding along with their heads low, scanning the streets of Palmerton for danger. If a ghost, monster, or mean kid was out there they would scare them off. I remember imagining my hands on their thick coats, feeling the fur of their manes under my fingers. As I grew older I never really lost this mental image. I think I trained myself into it actually. When I learned to drive a car they were loping along outside as I drove. They weren't as clear as they were as a child, more like milky shadows or afterthoughts, but still there. When I moved out of my parents house and into college dorms and apartments I'd have dreams of two giant wolves outside the door, sleeping like golden retrievers, keeping watch.

Now I'm all grown up. I rarely think about lupine guardian angels anymore, but I did realize something last night. As I sat on my couch watching a scary movie, I instinctually reached down to hug Jazz, who was asleep on my lap. His giant head resting, breathing on my thighs. Annie was curled up at my feet, like a fat little fox with her tail over her nose. The two large dogs had thick coats, prick ears, sharp teeth, and wolfish figures. (Jazz especially looks like a wolf, with yellow eyes and huge canine teeth.) Together these two gentle beasts have been by my side in every state, every farm, every adventure. I had held their necks shaking and crying when I was terrified or heartbroken. I had held their paws and danced in happy bliss to the kitchen radio. I had ran beside them, slept beside them, and I miss them when they are not by my side. I can not imagine a day without them...

Had my guardian angels finally found me after all these years?

facebook group is live!

Go on Facebook and search for the Cold Antler Farm group page. There you can join in all the homesteading and sheepy glory. I hope to make it a place where a lot of conversations, photos, recipes, and advice can be shared as well as bonus photos and stories from the farm!

Monday, October 25, 2010

cold antler bottleworks!

questions, suggestions, and advice please

Here is how I feel about yelling at people on the internet: unless know them personally: don't. It's like giving the stranger in the check out line at the grocery store a lecture on healthy eating. Just because you're both out in public, and his purchases are in plain site for all to see, doesn't mean you should comment on them. You can't possibly know the context. There are a lot of reasons why someone might be buying ice cream.

photos from the weekend!

big boy

Sunday, October 24, 2010

gibson, lie down.

There's a quart jar in the fridge. It's packed tight with chicken stock and all the meat that melted off the bones while it cooked down in the pot. Today for lunch Taylor and I feasted on one of my spring chickens, a little four-pounder I raised right here on the farm and harvested in May. Following the advice of The River Cottage Meat Book, I gave it a thirty-minute 400 degree sizzle and then let it roast at a comfortable 350 degrees while we took care of work outside. We dispatched one of the big boys to take the place of the one we had removed from the freezer. I kid you not this chicken weighed in at fifteen pounds, possibly more. He is almost as big as my family's Thanksgiving Turkey. So I would just like to refute the rumors that all Cornish Rock's hearts explode or legs collapse at 15 weeks of age. All my meat birds who are still alive are pretty much Emus, and happy as clams.

Well, until I eat them.

The roasted chicken turned out to be perfect. We ate in celebration of a weekend spent working to get this farm a little closer to its goals. Gibson had a good herding lesson, and while still a pup out there in his training pens—he is starting to let the instinct shine through. I can see it in his eyes, in how he puts down his head and walks fast by keeping his back level and low to the ground and reaching as far as he can with each long arm to move around the sheep. When he gets tired I say "Lie Down" and hope he does. He doesn't. But he does stop, which is a start, so to speak. In that photo I walked up to him and set him into a lie down before walking back to the other side of the sheep to talk with Denise about lambing questions. He was too tired at this point to get up, but too interested in the sheep to stop watching them.

We kept busy this weekend. The sheep shed got a coat of paint, and picked up 15 bales of new hay. I unloaded 350-pounds of various feed and stored it for winter. This puts me at about 25 bales. I plan on 35-45 to get eight sheep through to spring. I have been warned so many times not to overfeed the bred ewes or every one of those lambs will be huge and need help being born. So I am following the breeder's advice to the letter. To. The. Letter. How much to feed, how often, and what to buy. I was told the ewes were experienced and my plan was okay. I worry all the time something will go wrong. Everyone tells me that first lambing season is the hardest. There are sheep care books in every room of the house. I don' expect things to go perfect. But I hope with the help of books, mentors, other shepherds and common sense: there's more sheep here in the spring than in the winter. The ram lambs will go to other farms or the freezer. The ewes lambs will stay.

Good news though: thanks to the great success of the CAF CSA: I was able to get most of my lambing supplies. Soon a box with everything from ear tags to elastic tail-docking bands will be in my closet, hibernating till late April when the first little Scotts will drop.

I'm going to head downstairs and eat some leftover potato cheese soup, watch Sweetgrass, and call it a night. No one has to tell me to lie down. When I get the chance, I savor it.