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

snow!

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?