Monday, November 29, 2010

hey csa members!

I got the call from the Mill today. Looks like 17 pounds of Sal, Maude, Marvin and Joseph's wool will be here soon! Everyone who subscribed will be getting a package just in time for the holidays and depending on the haul, I may open up a few more spots for new subscribers (which will be picked by a lottery if anyone is still interested). I can't wait to see what folks knit from Maude!

the town that food saved

I'm currently reading a fairly new book called The Town that Food Saved by Ben Hewitt. It is fantastic. It's about a small, rural, once-industrial town in Northern Vermont and how it totally revived itself by creating a culture and community of local food. It's the potion of the combined efforts of farmers, compost centers, restaurants, CSA, markets and Co-ops. By creating a true community based on a local system, the little town of Hardwick is creating the most necessary model for America: a local economy focused on feeding itself.

What's so great about this book is that it is a living example of what so many of us are trying to create in our own communities, and instead of just another binding preaching to the choir about the importance of local and organic foods: Ben shows us how the practical application of so many efforts are working. It's 223 pages of walking the walk so many of us are just starting to talk about. It's comforting, hell, it's inspiring to know this corner of the world might change the rest of it.

You gotta pick it up.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

a little cheer

kings and chandeliers

King Winthrop rules his kingdom with a steady wing. He doesn't care if it's 18 degrees outside (sunlight brought some warmth to the mountain!) or 80. He's the same kind, fat, giant boy. He's the oldest chicken on the farm now, from the very first batch of chicks I raised that first spring in the cabin. He's never once so much as lifted a claw to me, and I can scoop him up in my arms like a kitten. He never takes a bite of anything till he shouts to his hens, and only after every hen has eaten, does he take a bite of any scrap from the kitchen pail. He's such a fine bird. Brahma roosters are just too big to be surly.

I spent the morning chopping and stacking wood. I certainly am keeping warm. With the wood stove going the kitchen stays at 60 degrees. If I stay busy in there, baking and fussing and cleaning, the oven, my body heat, and the activity make it as comfortable as any kitchen. I do want to invest in a pellet stove for next winter. I hear they are easier to install than wood stoves, and that they are pretty much the same as washing machines when it comes to set up. You can vent them right out the side of your house. Pellets cost around 200 bucks a ton, but that's less than a hundred gallons of heating oil! I try to always keep my winter heating bill under 800 dollars. It's not always possible, but I think with two good stoves I could do it, easy.

Today I might meet a friend for coffee, and start decorating the farmhouse for the holidays. Nothing fancy, but I think a little cheer is needed. My mother would like to know the decorations she sent up are being put to good use. She always made our home in Palmerton into a Holiday Mansion of sorts, she even got on a ladder and tied bows to every section of light on the chandelier. That chandelier in the foyer is a houseware she adores. She she took as a going-away present when she left the Hess's Department Store's Advertising office in the late seventies. I love that light. It reminds me of ice storms, another love of my mother's. I really miss her this time of year.

god laughs

Remember that really comfortable, idealistic, post I wrote yesterday about the perfect winter farmhouse? Remember that?

The furnace broke down again. It's 9 degrees outside.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

yuletide and holy barns

It is an ideal weekend afternoon here at the farm. Actually, the whole day's been ideal, like something ripped out of pages of some made-for-TV movie script sponsored by Hallmark. I started the morning with Gibson at herding lessons. He did well, better than ever before and so did I. We're a long way from being Jock and Wiston Cap, but we're learning how to become a team; starting to make sense of each other. Loading up back into the truck after our hour with Denise I realized I knew enough to start working Gibson with his Blackface ewes when they came. Denise encouraged it. She said the more he works, and the older he gets, the more dependable and mature he will be around the sheep. I drove away beaming. Gibson fell asleep passenger side within minutes, his head resting on my coffee mug.

We took the back way home. Instead of the straight shoot back to New York over the Green Mountains, we turned our wheels to make a loop that would land us in Manchester Vermont. I had some places I want to visit, to harvest ideas and pick up some important little things. I stopped at the Grafton Cheese Company and the Vermont Country Store. I wasn't there to shop as much as I was there to steal ideas for homemade gifts. I saw the idea of an Italian basket with homemade mozzarella, canned sauce, and pasta in brown paper, wrapped in a bow. A day of canning and some simple cheese making and thrift store baskets could easily whip up a beautiful artisan meal. I made a mental note for future dinner parties. I left with a small wheel of their Maple Cheddar, which might be the best thing to happen to scrambled farm eggs since cast iron. I swear.

Next stop was the Vermont Country Store. It was starting to snow as I pulled into the lot. The store was packed so tight you could barely move, but I did manage to get the one item I needed to send my sister as a belated birthday present. (I'd share what it is, but since she reads all this nonsense on here I can't spill it till after she gets my parcel in the mail.) Mission accomplished: I set out to the truck with my little paper bag and had to stop when the Season started to really hit me. Between the snow, the music, the smiling people buzzing for gifts...I got my first real taste of Christmastime. The yuletide spirit was alive and well in Weston, Vermont. I sang carols to my sleeping dog the rest of the flurried ride home.

I got back to the farm and tended to the animals. I am amazed at the productivity of the new hens I bought Thanksgiving morning. I collected ten eggs today, browns to white from the new Reds and Leghorns. I fed the pig leftover rice, tofu, and broccoli from last night's stir fry and she gobbled them up with her pellets and corn. I turned on her light and fed the rabbits as well. behind me the hay was stacked up twice as high as me. As I turned my back to the hay to feed the pig, a Barred Rock burst out from a nest seven feet above the barn floor. She scared me with her post-egg cackle! I thanked her for showing me the new cache of the day's eggs. (I had been checking that spot for a while now. Glad to see it finally was enticing some nesting.)

When I moved here the barn held a few garden tools and plastic Christmas ornaments. Now it was a living, breathing barn again. Lit up at night with a warm light while a pig eats her dinner, a hen lays an egg, rabbits chomp on their pellets and winter feed stacks above where my arms can reach. I look up at the cobwebs in the heat lamp's glow. At the fresh hay Nelson cut this summer, a July pasture caught in time. Every bale of hay is a still life. A memory of a summer gone, sustaining us till spring. I still touch them with reverance for what they do, and what they are. Above me the old wood sings stories about the barn's past. The Sistine Chapel has nothing on a this place.

The sheep got a bit of hay and fresh water, the snow hitting their backs and making them seem even warmer in their thick wool. Sal always seems to know more than a sheep should know.

Outside a light snow has covered the ground with a layer of harmless white. Just enough to make the naked trees look like they belong again. The wood stove is lit, and puffing smoke above the white farmhouse, making my little corner of the world comfortable to those who drive by up the sharp hillside road. There's a pine wreath with a red bow on the door, picked it up from a guy selling them from his pickup near Peru on the ride home from. Inside the oven is the big fat rooster I harvested when my friend Taylor came to visit a few weeks ago. The house is filling up fast with the smells of his garlic-herb rub and olive-oil soaked skin browning in the oven. Coffee I made for the road trip this morning is reheating on the top of the wood stove. Why use electricity for what's already free?

Tonight I starting a new memoir called Fiddle, by Vivian Wagner. The story of a woman who hit a musical-midlife crisis and decided she needed to learn to play this instrument. (I can relate to that.) Her story goes from inspiration, to lessons, to 8,000 miles of traveling America with her instrument. Visiting that fine four-stringed music everywhere from post-Katrina New Orleans to Appalachian music camps. I'm hoping Vivian's story lifts my own playing to a new level. And that I have to put down the book to saw out some Old Joe Clark. So here's to a night of good food, good books, good music, a quiet farm and tired and happy dogs.

Stay warm tonight, darling. It's cold outside.

roll call

Cold Antler Farm currently hosts: Three sheep (five more pregnant ewes delivered December 6th!), two geese, sixteen laying hens, five roosters, two rabbits (the doe might be pregnant?), three dogs, a hive of bees, a pig, and me on six-and-a-half hillside acres in Jackson, New York.

I do not have a gym membership.

Friday, November 26, 2010

a handmade nation, divided?

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to host a film event here in town. It was part of a local craft celebration, a night for artisans in the hood and surrounding countryside to show off their art, do some networking, make some sales and watch a documentary. The turnout was fantastic, and the crafts on display were gorgeous.

Folks brought handmade guitars, birch fishing creels, pottery, wool sweaters, and more all scattered around a table of books on how to do everything from brewing your own beer to making your own furniture. When mingling was done, Connie, the proprietor of Battenkill Books, announced the film Handmade Nation, and we all stopped chatting and plucking to sit and watch the big show.

When the hip little indie documentary was over, I got to speak a little about homesteading and then there was an open discussion about film and the modern state of Craft in America. One woman raised her hand and brought up an amazing point that hadn't crossed my mind. In the film, it was all urban hipster types, making hand-blown glass, letterpressed posters, designer embroidery, and apartment decorations. Even the items that were more utilitarian (things like dresses or quilts) were treated more as specialty designed artsy clothes more than what you'd wear to stay warm in. Yet all around our little Cambridge train depot there was only utilitarian items. The person who pointed this out asked why the crafts in movie, or the younger crafty folk in the film, where just making the knick knacks they would usually buy? Why weren't they making things of use?

I was knocked over by this question. She was taking a somewhat self-righteous stance, but her point was valid. However, all I could think about was my sheep farm and the platypus night light.

The movie did focus on the urban craft scene. It wasn't about traditional craft as much as it was about a consuming public turning into a producing public—trying to show us that a new generation was picking up their grandmother's knitting needles and working with their hands. So I was all for the documentary, in that sense. But it was a sharp contrast to the earth-toned pottery, undyed yarns, and wooden guitars around the walls of this particular crafting junction. Where even our hobbies shaped by the environment we live in? Was there something more to our traditional crafts as opposed to their anime-shaped dolls or tiles with owls all over them?

That said, I'm not knocking this modern crafts movement by any means. One of my favorite gifts I ever received was from a fair just like the ones featured in Handmade Nation. A small night light in my bathroom glows bright yellow and melted into the tile is a happy little platypus. My college roommate bought it for me the Christmas after I moved to Idaho. Knowing I was living in a rugged homestead and a proper gift would be an oil lamp or some chicken-encrusted mug she opted for the most ridiculous, most non-farming item she could find. I adore it. I have brought it across the country and it has lit up three happy bathrooms, in three states, for years. It is as knick-knacky as it gets. It may not be able to carry hot beverages, play a song, or cross-tie a horse in a barn but it makes me smile. It was made with care, funded a local Boston artist, and I have never seen another bathroom with one like it. What's so bad about that?

This Christmas my gift-giving won't be as grandiose as I once planned. The realities of being the sole breadwinner for a mortgage and a start-up farm means dropping a couple hundred bucks on gifts just isn't practical or, well, realistic. But I will spend a few hours making, baking, sewing, and being clever. I ordered some wool-blended flannel for 70% off online and between the discounts and free shipping was able to get enough fabric and patterns to cover my entire immediate family for half of what it costs for a sale sweater at L.L. Bean. Between warm pajamas, hats, and scarves and some homemade breads and jams, I think it'll be a nice handmade holiday. If I knew how, I'd make everyone glass platypus night lights but a girl needs to keep some goals a head of her. Gotta trot towards something.

free lunch?

I worked out a deal with the catering company at the office. I bring them a five-gallon bucket with a lid on it and they'll put their food scraps and edible trash inside it for me to take home to the pig. They get rid of their trash, and I get a free bucket of goodies for the pig. I told them as a barter I would bring back some of the USDA certified pork and they could use it in a few meals here for their business. They seemed delighted at the trade as I was.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the roosting goose and turkey day

The geese are considering expanding their family. I know this because while I was getting ready for work this morning, I witnessed some nesting attempts for the first time since we moved to Jackson. Outside the kitchen window the usual collection of hens were thick into a conversation of coos and clucks on the stacked bales of straw. The Stacked straw bales are kind of like those bird feeders you see in gift catalogs that let you suction cup the two-way mirror feeder right to your glass so you can watch the birds. Well, this is like that, but with 8-pound chickens on hay next to my microwave stand/bookcase. They come right up the glass and peck at it. It drives Gibson wild.

Anyway, I was typing away mindlessly when I heard cackles from the birds and then saw what I thought was a chicken caught in a white paper bag. What it was, was Saro the goose flapping wildly, her white underside contrasting with her gray top. I was suprised. Saro never "roosts" anywhere. This was a good four feet off the ground, but she somehow clogged her tubby self up into the rafters of the bales and was making herself a nest. I walked up to the window (about 5 inches from her face, protected by glass) and she hissed at me. Geez.

So perhaps there will be spring geese? I would like to add a few more Toulouse to the flock, but I'm in no rush. So maybe those eggs will just be for baking. Goose eggs are amazing in cookies and breads. Something about their more jelly-like whites makes grains bounce, feel more filling. Like you already used the piece of bread to clean the edges of a cast iron skillet of stew, only without that meaty-after taste. Just more, is what I mean.

It's the night before Thanksgiving here at Cold Antler, and I am not driving back to PA. I will do my very best to get myself back to Palmerton for Christmas, but with the farm, car repairs, and a killer cold-snap (14 degrees tonight!) the pipes would freeze without the wood stove roaring and the animals need constant care. It's a trade off with many perks, but also heavy guilt and losses. I hope someday the family will be willing to come up here for some Bourbon Red, garden potatoes, and smoked pheasant but one can't get her hopes up.

Tomorrow I'll be joining The Daugton Family in White Creek for my meal. I have a chicken pickup first thing (down to just five laying hens right now, and just as many roosters!) but my afternoon will just be about joining the family of Tasty the calf (from earlier this fall) for some turkey. I was told I could bring a dog and a fiddle. These are my kind of people.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I'm grateful you check in on me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 coming soon!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Em C G D

Sometimes a girl just needs her guitar.

sissy farmer


I need a camera with some video capabilities for the blog. I'd like to barter with the readers out there who may have a spare or used digital camera around? I could trade you anything from fiddle lessons to wool. I'm not interested in anything fancy, (my last camera was three years old from Target and cost 100 dollars brand new). Just something with a cord so I can hook it up to my Mac. My iPhone isn't doing the best job and my old camera died. Let me know if you want to trade?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

it works great!

over our heads?

Some one recently put up a review of Made From Scratch on Amazon and pointed out something I never really considered. There are a lot of folks publishing books and blogs on urban homesteading or small-farming adventures right now. From Barbara Kingsolver's family odyssey in rural Virginia to the authors of The Urban Homestead in California. People of all ages, locations, and interests are jumping into their own food production. But what this reviewer wanted to remind folks was that not many of this new crop of homesteaders are single. Certainly few seem to have off-farm jobs. In fact, she couldn't think of another modern homesteader with a book or blog that was going it alone. I thought about this and decided that can't be true, can it? Many of my blog readers are single, many have their own farms. But it does seem like the farmers in the lime light have a spouse or family in the picture.

I guess people assume it's too much? I think it depends on how much you love it though, and how bad you suffer from Barnheart. I don't think my life would suit a lot of people, simply because of the restrictions it puts on the single person. For me, the work of the farm is nothing compared to the social fall out of being a farmer. Dating is hard. Picking up to travel is out of the question. It strains on my family, work, and I no longer belong to a church like I did in Tennessee. But again, the good things about running a farm outweigh the bad ten-to-one. I mean, I think staying late at the office is too much, and yet there are people who practically camp out there. I think twenty minutes of algebra is too much and hard as hell, but there are folks who adore math and made it their careers. Which brings me to this question, which is much more interesting than the single-vs-team aspect of homesteading. Do you think people with no interest in farming are drawn to homesteading because it has become a green trend? Do you think folks who perhaps have no desire to take on that amount of work, and maybe aren't the best suited to country living, are jumping in over their heads? And if they are, do you think a handmade life makes them better people in the end, or just frustrates the hell out of them?

pie in a jar

A friend at the office forwarded me a link to such a recipe, and I loved the idea instantly. You can bake single-serving pies in little canning jars! These would make such fantastic desserts post-thanksgiving with pumpkin pie, or work as beautifully latticed tiny pies brimming with cherries, berries, or apple slices. I haven't tried it yet but Sunday's a long way from over.

Photos and recipe here

Saturday, November 20, 2010

pig day

I blame Novella Carpenter. In her book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, she creates a farm in the middle of the ghetto. In the middle of a Oakland she pulls off a giant garden, chickens, ducks, rabbits, geese, turkeys, bees and here's the kicker: pigs. Yup. She raised two pigs in a dog kennel in an abandoned lot. If you think you're limited with your quarter acre in Suburbia—take a lesson from Novella—farming can be done wherever a farmer decides it will be.

Ever since I read that book the idea of my own pig has been floating around in my mind. The idea that Novella raised these animals near a Freeway and learned how to make them into various Charcuterie with the help of a Bay Area What the hell was my excuse? I have six acres, a barn, a pickup truck, and a slaughterhouse just twenty minutes down the road and also love bacon. Time to suck it up and grab dinner by the cloven feet.

So during my lunchbreak yesterday (I wish I could tell you how many animals I have acquired on my lunchbreak...) I was scanning Craigslist for a free donkey/llama/mule/mini horse to be on Lamb Watch 2011 and I came across a post that really caught my eye. Piglets, sows, boars: Cambridge NY. Call Dylan. I really wanted to call. So I called.

Dylan explained he had feeder Yorkshires for 60 bucks a piece. I didn't have sixty bucks to spare, but I did make thirty dollars on pie and egg sales that week at the office, and had that cash in hand. In my head the farm had already covered half the cost. We chatted briefly and he said I could pick one up tonight if I wanted, since he was heading to his deer camp for the weekend. Time being short, I told him I'd see him in thirty minutes.

I stopped at his farm on the way home from work and picked out a chubby female shoat (young pigs between 30-50 pounds), called a gilt. (I realized when talking with pig farmers calling their young animals "piglets" was about as ignorant as walking onto the deck of the Titanic and asking where the row men sleep. No one who raises pigs seriously calls their little ones piglets.) I decided the only way I could do this would be if it was cheap and easy. To keep expenses down I would only raise a single swine and do it with as little financial resources as possible. I'd raise a small feeder pig and have it butchered and keep track of every expense, and if it turned out to be $19.99 a pound pork-chops then I wouldn't do it again and let the pros across the road at Flying Pig Farm be my pork source. So far it's been pretty impressive how little money I had to shell out. A fact I came to realize only existed because I already had all the little supplies that add up lying around from other endeavors. Things like heat lamps, buckets, extension cords, bedding and such. I had a five-dollar off coupon and was able to get fifty pounds of feed for 7.99 at Tractor Supply. Not too shabby so far. In fact, this was turning out to be the least-expensive project the farm had to date. Hell, bottling my beer cost more.

So this morning I woke up with the energy of a girl on a mission. I perked my scary-strong coffee and got to work. I moved things around the barn and made a proper pen. I used two barn walls (with metal roofing scraps from the farm's junk pile screwed into them as protection from chewing/escaping), and a $24.99 piece of hog panel I bought that morning with the fifty pounds of feed. A "panel" is about 16-feet long, so I bent it into a half circle and nailed it to the farm and made some clips near the barn door for human enterance. I liked the panel, but was still kinda pissed at it. I got a fat lip trying to load it into the back of my pickup. While loading it into my little pitpull of a farm truck it snapped out of its coil and smacked me in the face. It was behaving now. I lined my little pig pen with enough hay to feed my sheep for a week and recycled a barely used metal feeding tin I bought for the Vermont farm and forgot about in the chaos of the move. It was in storage with the stickers still on. I hooked up a chicken brooder heat lamp and clipped a clean flat-backed cwater bucket to the hog panel and there you have it. Cold Antler is in the bacon business.

Soon as the pen seemed to pass my crude inspections I headed with Gibson down to the farm on the other side of town. It only took a few minutes to grab the girl by the legs and put her in GIbson's crate in the bed of the truck. The ten-minute drive home was mostly spent watching her in the rear view and praying she wouldn't buck the thing onto Route 22.

When we got home I lifted her from the dog crate into her new living space and she instantly went from a shaking, dirty, animal to a calmer state of being. She had grown up in a dirt-lined horse stall and this posh little hotel with fresh straw and her own personal feeding trough and clean water seemed to comfort her immensely. I turned on the heat lamp and within moments she was rooting around with her snout and her once-straight tail started to curl, and dare I say it, wag? She seemed like a happy girl. I told her welcome and to please stay put and not escape and eat all she can. She gave me a little "Humph Wumpth" half-snort and I decided to call it a day. I was starving. Two scrambled eggs does not a pig day make.

I just went out to check on her and she wasn't in her pen! I panicked for a split second, and then remembered a comment a reader left earlier this week. I looked closely at the mounds of hay and upturned feeder and one pile was slowly heaving up and down. She had buried herself in a little mountain of hay and between that and the heat lamp I was certain she'd make it just fine through her first night.

I'm still going to go check on her every few hours though. I'm like that.

iron and swine

Friday, November 19, 2010

write it down

There is a fire in my wood stove, and between that and two glasses of homebrew...I am very warm tonight. I just ate a simple dinner of pasta and red sauce—then with a slight buzz and a full belly—I pulled my fiddle off the shelf and played a few Irish tunes to light up the room. In a little white farm house in Jackson the Scartaglen Slide and Man of the House trotted off my bow while the dogs wrestled on the kitchen floor. I did a little dance with them as I fiddled and hopped about as the fray of teeth and my laughter tore up the peace. It was quite a sight.

What a life this has become! I'm wearing a warm hat over my pigtails. It's made from the wool off the sheep in the pasture outside. There are eggs in my fridge from the birds in the coop and chickens I harvested in the freezer as well (a rabbit too). Besides meat I've made bread, sauce, jams, cheese, beer, cider and pies. There is honey in quart jars I pulled from a hive, and a truck in the driveway. I have a fine pair of geese. I even held one of their just-born goslings in my palm this time last fall. I've grown a garden full of vegetables and held pumpkin in my hands big as bobcats! I've hunted pheasants and shot at foxes. I've heard coyotes sing in the pale moonlight and watched them from the edge of a sheep pen with a crook and a lantern. I've caught a native trout on a dry fly and I know when a river is angry. I've raised rabbits. I've wrote books. I've sewn clothes. I've ridden a dogsled in the blue glow of a winter sunset, and I know how it feels to bottle feed a baby goat during a spring rainstorm on a porch. I can now sit high in a dressage saddle and do a posting trot with a 16 hand horse, and do it quite passingly. A little black and white rocket of a dog runs about as I write you now, and he's the future of this farm: my business partner, Gibson the border collie. We have a CSA in the works, us shepherds, and soon we'll be sending out packages with wool and thank you letters to our inaugural subscribers. There are sheep on the way you know? Those ewes will be heavy with lambs and I'll bring them into the world this spring.

Tonight my plans don't involve any hot dates (though a few might be in the works) and certainly nothing like a night on the town, but this is a night on my farm. Cold Antler Farm. A place that didn't even exist in a gasp five years ago and tonight, tonight I'll be reading about the proper bedding and pen set up for a pig. Tomorrow I add a little swine to the mix. It seems as normal a decision now as deciding which fabric softener at the grocery store. This is now my everyday life.

I've been told by people on this blog that I am a goddamned fool. I must be. Only a fool would be living like this, doing all this, and dancing with dogs to tunes no one even knows anymore. You can call me whatever you please. I'm not changing a thing about this messy life. I like messy. It suits me.

Listen, I don't have much money, and I'm nobodies Daisy...but I'll be damned if I'm not happy tonight—I feel like the wealthiest beast in the world. And you know why this all happened? It happened for two simple reasons and I believe this with all my heart. I landed here because:

1. I always believed I would (not could, not might, but would).
2. And because I wrote it all down.

Something that stuck with my in college was a blip I heard on the radio one night. A person was telling someone on NPR that if you want something to happen with your life, you need to get out a pen and paper and write it down. He said that only 2% of people with goals actually take the time to write them down on paper, but out of that 2% studied—90% achieved their dream. Something about the certainty of pledging it to yourself made it realer to the people he observed. I wanted to be in the 90% of that 2%.

So when I knew a farm was something I wanted. I sat down and wrote out exactly what I hoped it would be. I wrote about a hillside outside my window, about the sheep, about the black and white dog by my side. I drew a pickup truck parked outside, and a veggie garden alive with a lush bounty (Okay, not everything transpired) but the point is most of it did! I carried that piece of paper with me until it naturally disintegrated into scraps. It was my totem, my prayer. And I think because I physically held it on my person I could never forget it was there, and always being on my mind forced myself to always strive towards it.

That said, it's not a magic trick. It wasn't exactly like it fell into my lap. Nothing was given to me. I had to earn it. I had to wheel and deal, beg, borrow, or steal myself to make it happen, but it did. I pulled it off paycheck to paycheck, a little at a time until it rolled into something so epic it wore me down and built me up again. Somehow got a mortgage, a collie, a truck, land, and raised a barn. There are fences outside and a CSA on the books. Thanks to the help of many hands, my amazing parents and siblings, friends, blog readers, thoughts, prayers, and (I think) this daily diary online my aspirations went from a pipe dream to a steam engine. If it was something a girl from Palmerton could get, you can too. I promise.

So if you are someone who wants their own land, wants their own farm... I ask you to sit down and write what you want tonight. Write it all down, fold it up and put it in your pocket. It might take five years before you're in your own kitchen dancing with a border collie—but hell, those five years are coming no matter what—might as well have a farm at the end of it all.

And keep dancing in your kitchen. It can only help.


I picked out a little gilt tonight. A farmer here in Cambridge was selling them for a song. Tomorrow I'll bring into the barn a 9-week-old yorkshire piglet. She'll stay here just a few months really (as my books say they'll reach slaughter weight in 90 days). and by early spring she'll be inside the house (in the freezer). I'm planning on splitting the animal between me and some friends, and it should be quite the experience and actually make a few bucks for the farm. Tomorrow morning I'll prep a pen in the barn and then by 2pm she'll be alseep on a bed of straw.

Here's to a short-term experiment and a lot of bacon!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

i eat meat

I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade, something I decided to do in college when I became aware of the mistreatment and cruelty in industrial agriculture. But I decided to come home to eating meat earlier this year and am glad I did. My reasons are personal but I will share them here. I'll start out this post by saying that these are my opinions and conclusions, and mine alone. Every person has the right to eat however they wish, but I have endless respect for anyone who thinks about what they eat. But this is why I am a shepherd, and why the first meat to pass these lips in 9 long years was lamb.

Because They are Here

Quite frankly, there's a lot of meat around here. I live in an agricultural Mecca known as Washington County. My region of Southwestern Vermont and Northeastern New York (which I lovingly refer to as Veryork) is thriving with small-scale, ethical, sustainable farms producing (within fifteen miles of my front door) beef, pork, turkey, chicken, rabbit, lamb, mutton, deer, emus, and spit-ready goats. There are trout-rich rivers, venison in the fields, pheasants-and-ducks-a-plenty, and even the occasional bear or squirrel stew. Protein sources like these, raised by my neighbors, friends, and coworkers are plentiful. When I found out I was surrounded by so much grass-fed meat and wild game it seemed ridiculous to keep eating tofu shipped in diesel rigs from California. Since my reasons for being a vegetarian were entirely about avoiding factory-farmed meat: I decided it was time to start supporting the farmers who were raising animals the way I wanted them raised. It took a couple years to take that first bite, but now I am a proud and happy carnivore. I support local meat farmers, I raise my own animals for food, and I hunt wild game as well.

I Eat Meat Because I am an Animal

Some people like to consider human beings something else. I do not. I suppose we are in the sense that our advanced evolutionary status, intelligence, and abilities, surpass others but at the end of the day: I am an animal. Being an animal on this planet means I have to abide by certain unquestionable truths to live here. The first and foremost being that the only way I can remain alive is if I eat other living things. There is nothing a human being consumes that wasn't at one point alive, and even the purest Vegan diet still contains living plants. A life was ended. Just because the plant wasn't as advanced a species as a rabbit or a deer, doesn't mean a life was not taken to sustain you. I am not comparing plants to complex animals, just making the simple point that the alive must eat the living. This is how our world works. If I died in the woods and a pack of coyotes came across me, they wouldn't trot past thinking "Oh, we can't eat that. It's not food! It's a person!" Hell no. They'd go buffet on my ass.

Can I survive off plants alone? Of course I can. So can a bear, a rat, a crow, a raccoon, and countless other omnivores. Yet no other animal who has the choice to avoid meat in its diet, does. This is because flesh is a power-packed, vitamin-rich, and calorie-dense source of sustanance. It keeps them going, keeps them alive. Energy in its purest form.

The natural state of this world, I'm sorry to say, isn't peaceful and kind. As compassionate beings, people with beautiful hearts and minds go above and beyond their abilities to stop the taking of lives. Yet, this is not how nature works, and we all know that. If every carnivore stopped eating its prey there would be nothing short of chaos and destruction to the entire system. This is a system that has been working for quite some time. You would never ask the wolf to stop eating rabbits, so why should you ask the humans in the same eco-system to do so? I am constantly told that our ability to choose means that we should opt away from eating animals. I say it is our abiluty to choose that proves that we are animals, and should eat accordingly. Our choice should not be "what" we eat, but "how" we eat.

Pasture-raised meats in moderation is a wonderful thing.

Eating meat also reminds me that I am a dying animal. I am something that is here for a short time, a part of the world for a few decades and then gone forever. When you are farmer producing meat you are constantly aware of your own mortality, it is impossible not to be. I hold no illusions about this, and so it is with every bite of a bird I raised that I am aware of the world he left behind. It makes me talk softer, listen more, and never ever do I get worked up about the things the way I used to. Growing food this way has forced me to live every day like it might be my last. If I love someone: I tell them. If I can give money, or time, or energy to make someone else's life easier: I do. It has made me more compassionate in ways I could never imagine.

Why Sheep?

When I decided to become a livestock farmer, I went with my gut and focused on sheep. The more involved with the animals I became, the more I realized they are the perfect small farmer's animal. They not only produce meat but milk, wool, cheese, shearling, leather, and lanolin. They are easy to manage, respect fences, and small enough that if you get attacked by one you probably won't die. I can also manage a large number with the very green energy that is my sheepdog. The idea that I can get all this, and work beside my border collie, is why I raise these animals. On a bitter winter night I can cover up in a wool hat, sweater, and sheepskin gloves on a full stomach of lamb chops and feed my sheep with just a few flakes of hay. As a single woman I can manage an entire flock with the help of a good dog, which would not be the case with pigs or cows. I ask you, what other animal gives us so much and asks for so little in return. And does it without jumping fences or making a fuss?

If You Care About Farm Animals Eat Them

If you really care about the humane treatment of livestock then I strongly suggest you eat them. I mean that with all my heart. Purchase, prepare, devour, evangelize, and support the small farmers raising animals on pasture. Show this modern world that you don't want your money going towards feedlot beasts, that you are going out of your way to avoid them. Every dollar that goes into clean meat shows the folks making decisions about animal welfare in agri-business that people are appalled and distressed at the factory farm model. That we will no longer stand for assembly-line death and bacteria-filled carcasses. Until they notice their wallets getting thinner—and the organic meat sections growing larger in Wal-Mart—millions of animals will continue to suffer.

And I am not interested in hearing that a pasture-raised animal killed for food is also suffering. Why is all suffering bad? Why should all suffering be avoided? Of course an animal killed for food suffers. It dies to feed us. But food is the reason they are here in the first place, so I am not concerned about their lives coming to a close. I want their lives to end since that is what sustains me. What I am concerned about is what leads up to that final day. I want the majority of animals I eat to know what sunlight feels like. I want them to know how to run, know what it feels like to move every damn muscle in their body. I want them to be healthy, happy, and alive as their wild kin. I feel no guilt in harvesting them any more than I feel guilt slicing a head of broccoli off the stock.

I am grateful for both though, you just can't know how much.

All Meat is Not Created Equal

Some is certainly better, for us and for the beasts. Some people say that free-range meat is overpriced and an elitist option. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You may pay a few more dollars but what you aren't paying for is corn-fed, diabetes-inducing, fat-lined cuts from an illegal-immigrant powered slaughterhouse. If you bulk at the price after that, than why not eat healthier meat less often? Certainly, meat isn't something anyone needs to eat everyday. Most of my meals remain vegetarian with a few heartier ones on the weeknights. That all said, I am not perfect. I do grab the occasional deli meal on the go, but I do so less and less. It is now impossible for me to get any meat while sitting in my truck. Drive-thrus are part of my past. Good riddance.

As a meat farmer myself, I feel as if I am on the front lines of factory-farm liberation. I am providing people with an option of local, grass-fed, healthy animals they can visit and see in person any time they wish instead of some factory-slaughter, diesel-shipped, airline loaded piece of frozen mutton from New Zealand.

A vegetarian's money does support sustainable agricultural and sends a big message to the Conventional Vegetable and soybean business, but keeping your money out of the hands of small meat farmers isn't making a dent in the treatment of those factory farm animals you are protesting. If everyone who agreed on the principal that factory farmed meat was unkind spent their money eating one pasture-raised meat meal a week the industry would be forced to change, and change quick. When there is no good left business in cheap, dirty, meat the factories will go away. As a member of the future of my region's rich agricultural heart: I hope for this above all things.

I raise meat because I love animals.

we bottle our cider in two weeks!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

backseat ballads

I have always been a music lover, and in design school I became a music snob. I devoured as much obscure punk and indie as I could get my ears on, then grew into indie folks bands and old time. I still collect records, and am proud to say my pickup truck has more Radiohead and Iron and Wine than anything else...but I have come around and lost that idiocy that is musical snobbery. Good music to me is music that makes you smile, that makes you sing along, that makes you happy. I started tuning into the local country station last year on hay runs and now it is what I listen to all the time in my Ford. I've discovered that modern country music is one of the few genres keeping traditional ballads alive, telling stories and teaching lessons in a few minutes. This storytelling is what pulled me into my love of old time music, too. So hand me some cowboy boots and a very large belt buckle, gents. I know every damn word of Zac Brown's Chicken Fried.

Sorry, Sub Pop.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

dairy folk get down

All my thanks to Ashley for sending me this. Amazing.

indian winter

If last weekend was all about relaxing and staying at home, this weekend was the opposite! There's this freak weather pattern floating through Veryork right now, with days in the sixties and nights dropping anywhere from the mid 20s to mid 40s. Wood stoves are lit at night and by 10 Am all the windows are open to cool down the houses. If you can believe it: Saturday brought Jackson to 65 degrees. Crazy.

Instead of a picnic or hike, I used that fair weather to take care of things that would matter when it was twenty below here at the farm. I put another coat of paint on the new sheep shed, and repaired weak spots on the old one. I bought another truckload of hay and stored it in the barn, which is now about thirty bales high and reaching up into the loft space. Another ten bales line the covered side porch and will be protected by a tarp from rain. I also did all those little chores I've been putting off like replacing outdoor light bulbs and mending weak areas in the fence. It felt good to know I used the time to help prepare the animals for the coming winter.

Fox wars are still on. Saturday night I was out there with the rifle and almost got him, but discovered the next morning how off the sight was on the 50-year-old gun. I had aimed true as I was taught in hunter safety: but the sight was set too high and when I was presented with the perfect shot just 35 feet away...I missed. I haven't seen him since he ran off into the woods that Saturday night, so maybe I did clip him? That or he's preparing his ranks for Operation Overcoat, in which 4,000 foxes will blanket the farm in an avian death raid...

The fox issue will sort itself out. It always does. But it does have me concerned about the lambs come spring. I'll need some sort of livestock guardian, and am thinking about the options. Another dog is out of the picture. Four dogs is simply too much and they don't seem like the right fit on these few acres. I would like a small (as in under 40 inches) donkey, pony, or mule to live with the flock, since they are proven guardians and also can be trained for draft work. If I'm going to be feeding another animal on the farm I'd like it to be as useful as possible. Dual-purpose security is the preference. But finding a free donkey or mule isn't easy and buying any other livestock is out. Perhaps electric fences will have to do this year.

P.S. ...and if you are wondering what happened to me this weekend without any big posts, you can blame Victorian Farm. I watched the entire 36-episode series on Youtube: twice. That and a brunch party ate up the weekend.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Because I'm me, I forgot to go to this Young Farmer Mixer in Albany this past Thursday. Kinda harsh to realize I missed the chance to meet young gents interested in learning how to raise livestock on pasture. So, if you were planning on going, falling madly in love with me, and living happily ever after please send me an email and I'll try not to miss the wedding.

I kid. I'm a kidder.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

listen to your teacher

fox, beer, and lessons

I woke up to a screaming rooster. Not a crow, mind you, but a scream. I raced downstairs to the glass doors that face the side yard and hen house. On the small deck, Fancy the rooster, was heaving and puffed up. About five feet away from him was a small red fox. None of us moved. I cursed myself for not getting the rifle first. I slid open the glass doors, just a little, and screamed at the fox. He just stared at me. Now I was worried. My neighbor, a large animal vet, told me about the problems with the fox population in Washington County exploding with rabies. Now I was screaming at a fox not ten feet away from me and all he did was stare back. I ran to the front of the house to get my rifle and popped in the magazine. By the time I was outside all I could hear was rustling in the brush. I shot twice into the ground to make a big noise. The fox ran off at this, or so I assume. I haven't seen him since or heard any distress from the flock.

It seems like foxes come around twice a year. They haunt me a few days to a week and then are gone entirely. I suspect this little one will be around the next few days and might take a hen or two, but I'll do everything I can to deter him. I already have an idea involving chicken wire, blinking Christmas lights, and a new twice-a-day automatic timer. If I'm lucky, I'll shoot him. I have no qualms putting a fox pelt on my living room wall. None at all.

It's been quite an exciting weekend so far on the farm, huh? Besides the 4:30 fox alarm there was all that business with the smelly wood stove. I called a professional chimney sweep in first thing yesterday morning. The inspection discovered an inch (to two inch!) thick ring of creosote around the small 6 inch piping. What I had smelled was the paint burning off the section of stovepipe that caught on fire internally. Thank goodness I put that fire out last night when I did, and thank you for your suggestions and advice. I certainly took it! Now the wood stove and chimney have been professionally swept out and I should be good for this season. In the spring I'll be looking into my own chimney equipment, too. Seems like something I can do myself.

Gibson has herding lessons this morning: thanks to the mild weather we're experiencing. They want it in the mid fifties and we'll be standing in a pen with some quiet sheep within a few hours. Hopefully we'll both do a little better than the last lesson. With such a young dog (and such a new handler) there's not a lot of impressive stuff happening in our lessons. But you got to start somewhere, right?

I bottled a full case of red ale last night, it's all capped and carbonating right now in "the brewery," which is to say the cabinet next to the stove in the kitchen. That little cabinet—once used to store pots and pans—has now been the fermenting and carbonating storage of ten gallons of home-brewed beer! I still have another 190 gallons to batch before I hit the limit President Carter allowed in the late seventies when home brewing was once again deemed legal. Right now I am revving up my Black Dog Stout production for the winter holidays and trying a few lighter beers as well because it is so inexpensive and fun. Making a case of beer literally cost 9.95 for the malts and yeast, and another 3.75 for the 144 bottle caps I bought online. The bottles are all recycled from co-workers and right now this farm boasts over 36 bottles of various beers thanks to my little operation.

Time for coffee and loading up the truck for the cross-state drive to Tanstaafl Farm. I hope the fox remains at bay, the sun is warm, and the drive calm as frost. Wish us luck out there.

Friday, November 12, 2010

victorian farm

I want to buy the reader who told me about this on Youtube a drink. I am loving Victorian Farm, a BBC original series about three people living on a small turn-of-the-century farm in the English countryside. There's so much education here, and everything from day-to-day living to how to tell if a sheep is pregnant tips. I'm watching all 36 episodes, with gusto.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

burning plastic?

My wood stove smelled like burning plastic tonight, gave me a headache. It's never given off a smell like this before. I let the fire die early and opened a window to clear the air. Has anyone experienced anything like this before? I'll call an expert tomorrow, but curious to know if this is common?

this place is a mad house

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

winter, colonial men, and yarn...

Winter is certainly upon us. I can tell this is the last gasp before things truly turn in for the year. Tomorrow through Sunday they want it in the fifties and sunny (a blessing for the mountain drive to herding lessons in Massachusetts this weekend), but I think next week we'll meet the true northern chills.

I'm both excited and nervous about this first winter on the Jackson Farm. Excited to be warm and cozy in my own home as the snow falls and the wood stove sings: but worried about freezing pipes, stuck trucks, icy roads, bad commutes, and weather damage and rough storms. Word from the old timers is this year is going to be a bad one, and we all know the only way out is through.

I'm about to head back downstairs to the living room and enjoy a home brew while watching another episode of Colonial House on DVD. It's my favorite reality show ever made, and I think I've seen in 4 times in the past five years. (Netflix is a farmer's best friend right under W-40, baling twine, and duct tape.) I highly recommend that show for any of you DVD-player-owning-back-to-the-landers out there. It's family friendly, educational, and all around grand. I have such a crush on Don Wood, a NYC carpenter on the show. I found out recently via Facebook he was married now. That was a long sigh.

For those of you hankering for some really great yarn, my herding instructor Denise of Tanstaalf Farm (There aint no such thing as a free lunch Farm) has some giant 300+ yard skeins and pound balls of roving for twenty dollars a pop. Beautiful, natural colors in dark grays, from the very sheep Gibson herds at his lessons and processed at Still River Mill in Connecticut. It's 100% New England wool and she's looking to sell what she has left. Email Denise through the link on her site. Just tell her you found her through CAF and you have a yarn problem and need a fix. She'll hook you up.

Thank you all for the kind words about Bean. She was a fine doe. Though I don't think I'll be replacing her anytime soon. Time to put my sheep blinders on and keep my eyes on the prize of healthy Scottish Blackface babes in May.

goodbye beam blossom

Bean Blossom, my French Angora doe who mothered many, many kits passed away last night. She was nearly 4 years old, a good long life for a captive rabbit. That's me and one of her kits last summer, taken at the office before a buyer was coming to meet to pick her up. All over New England and PA her little ones carry on. She was a good girl, and I was sad to see her pass on.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

heat vs warmth

All is well tonight. The house is warm. The dogs are fed. The night is cold, but the house remains a warm nest of paws, fur, blankets, and a favorite program on DVD. Last night wasn't as grand. The furnace stopped working, leaving me without heat or hot water as temperatures dropped into the low 30's. I was a bit scared, to be honest. I always had a landlord to save the day before, but no one was going to fix this but me. So I called the emergancy line at Miles Fuels and the same guy who was here a few months earlier installing the new vent pcked up. After a promise to help in the morning, I was feeling much calmer. Then I got a call from the Daughtons (whom I contacted in a panic earlier when I couldn't get the furnace to start) and was invited to stay with them if it got too cold. But I stayed. I roared up the woodstove and realized the genius of the little farmhouse. The laundry, bathroom, kitchen, and sinks all shared the company of the fire box. If I lost power the flame heat would prevent the pipes from freezing. Content with a 60 degree home (which is what the woodstove alone brought the house to) I slept warmly under the quilts. I knew the house would take care of me, and tomorrow I would take care of the house.

The Heat is back on. Turns out an air pipe was blocked and it shut the whole thing down. Imagine that.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Sunday, November 7, 2010

as luck would have it

I was just outside with Gibson when a neighbor walked by with a dog and a baby stroller. We waved, got to talking, and within a few minutes we realized we had mutual friends in town. Her name was Shelly. Her husband and their little boy live a half mile down the road. And get this, besides being a friendly neighbor she also happens to be a large animal vet and an expert at lambing! She and I talked a bit, but it sounds like I might have an on-call doctor literally next door for lambing! We even talked about the possibility of bartering sheepskin for the service, as she adores bartering. I'm grinning ear to ear! What an auspicious weekend!

wicked little things

There are all sorts of little dangers in this life. Yesterday I went rabbit hunting on the property (no luck) but came home to a dog tick on my neck, a reminder to check myself all over for deer ticks, who carry Lyme. Then while bringing in wood from the old pile I inherited with the house, I noticed the dead remains of a very odd spider on one of the logs, frozen in a crouch. I got out my spider guide book and confirmed it was a deceased Brown Recluse. A spider who's bite won't kill you, but will kill all the flesh and tissue where it bites. (Trust me, brown recluse bite is not something you want to pull up on Google Image Search...). I got a splinter deep in my palm later while feeding the stove, and read somewhere that a splinter in the bloodstream can get to your heart and kill you. I don't know if that's an old Wives' take of it it's truth: but the fact remains that out in the country there are plenty of wicked little things. You must be careful, always.

And then there are the big things.... Recently some folks at work who live in New York were talking about lion sightings in the area. One person watched one scamper across 313 between Arlington and Cambridge in broad daylight. Another saw one at the top of our driveway at our office parking lot (located in the middle of the woods). I have never seen a mountain lion, but the curiosity took over so I did some searching online. I came across a lot of discussions like this and saw several photos of what were absolutely mountain lions in county's south of me like this photo from Greene County. I'm no expert, but that is not a bobcat.

The DEC says (online, in an official statement): lions have been found and shot in the state, but only previously captive exotic pets. I'm not sure I buy it. Truth is the Adirondack State Park is the largest park in the lower 48. It's over 6.1 million miles of wilderness, bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Smokies, and Glacier park combined. It is larger than the entire state of Vermont. I find it hard to believe a few big cats don't call it home, and perhaps they straggle down here from time to time. Has anyone else in the Northeast heard any rumblings of big cats? Have you ever seen a lion in the wild? Are there any natural dangers in your area you need to be mindful of like grizzlies, snakes, or banjo-playing albinos?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

he watches everything

a good morning

I woke up to the sound of Upset crowing. I was certain it was him. When you live with a handful of roosters you've known since they could all fit in...well, a can tell their voices apart. Upset sounds like a recording of a rooster used on a movie set. Winthrop howls like a dog. The little Bantam (named Fancy) sounds like a drunk court jester on speed, and the meat birds sound delicious. Even as I wake I know who is who. You pick up these things by osmosis.

I dressed in a warm sweater once outside the covers, and stepped over the army of dogs at my feet. Jazz and Annie do not move before 7AM, and I gingerly walked around them as I made my way to the kitchen. I started the percolator on the stove and lit some candles. It was still dark outside, and I didn't want the harsh light of the kitchen's electricity to rattle my calm morning. I took a quart jar with a votive in it over to the wood stove and got it roaring. The thermostat never rises above 58 inside, but with that fire going the kitchen would rise to the high sixties. I looked out the window, smelling the coffee stat was starting to perk. Outside the pasture was covered in frost and Sal stared at me a while before letting out a long, low, bbbbbbaaaaaaaa. He looked like I owed him money.

I went outside in rubber boots and a knit hat to feed them a flake of hay. It was light out, but not yet sunrise. Everything was blue. The chickens noticed me and flocked around my legs so I threw them some corn and feed. I didn't go into the barn to check on the rabbits, it was too dark without a lantern. I would see to them after daylight.

Inside all the dogs were taken outside to relieve themselves and then fed breakfast. I went about the business of making oatmeal with some maple syrup to flavor it. (This was an oatmeal morning for certain.) I took a pound of ground beef out of the freezer and let it thaw in the metal sink and then went about prepping some yeast and honey for fresh bread. I had no specific meal planned but thought meat, potatoes (I had 15 pounds stored up), and fresh bread would invent itself into a comforting meal for certain. This house would be warm soon, and smell of butter-topped bread in a few hours.

When my work is done around the farm, and a meal's been enjoyed I'll open a bottle of homebrew and get out my fiddle. I've been meaning to play more and I think that'll wrap up just in time for Prairie Home Companion. A radio show I used to listen to driving (too fast) home from college in a red Jetta with dreams of living in a loft in Philadelphia after graduation. I wanted to fid a job at an up-and-coming design firm and eat Japanese at 3 AM. Back then I wanted to be cool. Now I want to be useful. Tonight I will listen to tales of Lake Wobegon from a little sheep farm in Washington County. What a change in just a few years of mountains and America. If I knew that was where I was going I wouldn't have driven that Volkswagen so fast.

Last night I parked my car after the book event in town and I have no intention of getting back into it until Monday morning. I have plenty to keep me busy here—both on the farm and in my office—so I see no reason to stray for sport. It seems whenever I leave the house it's to spend money, even if it's just the gas to wander somewhere. It's something I am trying to do less and less of and so a solid two days of hard work, writing, and getting the house in order will be both prudent and relaxing. I would not have dream of staying in my house and property for 48+ hours a few years ago but that was before I realized errands and buying things made me very tired. I am through being tired by the world. I'm just starting to learn how to live in it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

let's hang out tonight

Just a reminder to come down to the Freight Yard in Cambridge tonight for a showing of the DIY film: Handmade Nation at 7pm! A free movie and a discussion about handmade living? Can't beat that with a stick, darling. Just can't.

Details Here!

truck stop

Thursday, November 4, 2010

black dog stout

My first attempts at homebrewing were far from failures, but I still have a ways to go before I get this down. My Antler Ale (a west coast pale ale) turned out flavorful enough, but I over-carbonated it in the bottling process, making it almost a seltzer in texture. I'll adjust my sugar next time. Natural carbonation is a fickle bitch.

But my Black Dog Stout came out smooth and slick, black as night and tasting slightly of chocolate and brown sugar. It might well be over-carbonated itself but the beer is so dark and thick you can't tell. Or rather, I can't tell. I adore it. I plan on making four more gallons of the stuff before Christmas.

It's a damp night here in Washington County. The farm's sluggish as most farms are when it's cold and wet outside. The sheep ate their hay fast and then stomped up the hill for shelter in their sheds. The chickens are a sorry looking bunch, all wet and ragged. I watched Upset jump on one of the meat bird's backs and bite right into his comb, causing some blood to cascade off. I yelled at him, and ran inside to grab the Bag Balm. I decided right then and there that any bird that looks like Chuck Klosterman on this farm will probably end up being an asshole. Upset, as it turns out, is quite upsetting. He'll make great soup, though. I should have named him Silver Lining.

The dogs are downstairs, suspiciously quiet. The only dog that usually comes up to the farm office while I'm writing is Jazz. I even have a bed up here by my desk, and he makes it his while I type and yet even he is downstairs. I am guessing there is much plotting going on and I'm going to head down to suss it out. I hope you all stay dry and warm. If your place is anything like here, a stout beer and watching Braveheart for the 34 jillionth time is all this barometer is good for.

time to cut back

Winter is here, ewes are coming, hay, heat and safe cars are on my mind: all these things mean hunkering down on my wallet. I'd like to ask you guys out there, the experts in frugality that you are: how do you make your money stretch and save it? I am looking for common sense hints, tips, links, suggestions and such.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

saddle change

Tonight was a busy night at the riding stables. Seemed like everyone was out on the thirty-degree night with their horses. Most of the school saddles were on other horses in the arena, so out of kindness Hollie let me borrow her own dressage saddle for my lesson. (I am used to general english-style saddles. I never really feel correct in them. )She warned me it would be different.

It was a revelation! I had never used that style before but never had I felt more comfortable, more in control, and more content on the back of a horse than I was tonight. (And that horse was 16.2 hands!) For the first time I felt like I was riding that horse: not just a passenger stranded on her back. Hollie actually said "wow" noticing the difference. She said it was my best lesson ever and I swelled up with some slow-earned pride.

I am not good at this riding thing, but I am stubborn. I go for lessons every week and through heat, cold, bruises, and frustrations I keep going back. Every time I go I am grateful I did. Some weeks that half hour on the back of a trotting beasts is the only peace I get. I'm forced to focus 100%, relax, and for a few minutes I actually release all my tension. It is wonderful.

Tonight was a fine, effortless, ride. Now I am more interested than ever in Dressage. What a handsome sport. Sometimes it just takes a small, simple, change to make everything better.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the witch of hebron

Apparently there are a lot of books out there about realistic fiction in Washington County, New York. I recently finished Rose in a Storm, and am now starting a novel called The Witch of Hebron by James Howard Kunstler, which is about something a lot of us Homesteaders and small farmers have thought about from time to time: the end of modern civilization. In Kunstler's book oil is gone, a middle eastern war bankrupted the economy, and farming and homesteading have taken over as the normal way of life in Upstate New York. Cars have been replaced by horses, old high schools have been turned into communes, and school bus stations are now horse stables. (This all takes place in the not-too-distant future.) The book is certainly a post-apocalyptic but it's not dreary by any means. It's full of interesting characters, a faux-Christian Cult, and a society without electricity, laws, or means to live outside of their own communities. It's actually a sequel to a book called World Made by Hand which I have yet to read, but certainly will. It's so weird to read a book about the end of civilization that takes place in my region of Veryork....He writes about Orvis being out of business, walking along the Battenkill, fishing in Lake's as if the world I know and live had been flipped on its head and the only way of life left is homesteading in the wake of abandoned Wallmarts and stripmalls. The roads all detroyed by neglect and frost heaves. The wild places of highways between towns have been taken over by land pirates and raiders. It is a wild read!

Worth picking up. I'll tell you what though, if you read this you'll feel a lot better about learning to knit or can...will you ever.

Monday, November 1, 2010

sweater mug

I love coffee, I love wool, and I love knitting. Meet the Mug Sweater: the love child of all three. It's a simple sleeve stitched around the handle of a clay mug. It keeps your hands from being uncomfortably hot and helps hold a little more warmth around the beverage inside. It's a very quick, simple, job (knit a small swatch long enough to wrap around the vessel and use a yarn needle to stitch it closed). I think a set of sweater mugs could be great, inexpensive, handmade gift for the holidays. You can pick up old Firekings or crunchy hand-thrown mugs second-hand at Thrift stores and use some of that great left-over yarn hanging around your home. Fill them with some some simple brown bags tied with string of whole bean or flavored coffees and you just gifted someone an entire experience. I can tell you that on a cold morning at the farm, when the woodstove is out and there's ice on the water buckets—a sweater mug is the only proper way for a shepherd to drink Joe.

tired boy

Sunday, October 31, 2010


It's a night entirely dedicated to comfort here at Cold Antler Farm. There's a smiling Jack-o-lantern outside on the front stoop and a fire in the woodstove is making the entire downstairs toasty. I recently came in from checking on the sheep, chickens, and rabbits. It's really cold out there, too. The weather report is calling for some possible snow here in the 12816, up to a half inch. It was the incentive I needed to really get that fire going in the cast-iron belly of the woodstove. She's doing a swell job on this good night.

Halloween means a lot to me. It's my favorite holiday. I have absolutely no interest in the modern scary stuff. I don't begrudge it, it's just not mine. My Hallows is a night to truly reflect, be calm, and be grateful I are still among the living. Thousands of years ago this was the Celtic New Year. The end of the Harvest and a time of much somber remembrance and gratitude for the food grown, animals harvested, and the people lost over the recent year. So for me: it's a quiet day. Not much fuss.

My morning started with Gibson's weekend herding lesson, something I try to make a couple times a month between two trainers. Today I started getting it, Gibson already knows it. My job is to hone instincts and show him the way I need him to work sheep, but he already understands that they are not like other animals. They are his. We are a team, however new at this old game.

You could call us Team Crow if you like. Around my neck is a small silver crow charm, and one identical to it is on Gibson's collar. I believe crows seen in pairs are good luck, always have. When you seen them alone it's nothing special, but together, oh boy have you got a good sign. So when I found these little charms at a discount jeweler I coughed up the couple of dollars and each of us adorned one around our necks. We wear them for luck. Together we're a pair.