Monday, December 13, 2010

narnia, ny: population 1

When I was about ten I was gifted the entire Chronicles of Narnia Series for the Holidays. I still remember reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by the time I went to bed on Christmas day. I devoured it in hours. I loved the other world, and I especially loved the idea of it existing alongside the mundane. I think we all strive for that in some sense. We know there's a world we can't change, but a home we can create. For some of us it's the stuff in our backpack as we hike the entire AT, and for other's it's a little farm in Jackson.

Outside my house is one lamppost. The Millers (whom I bought the house from), had connected it to the house so I can flip it on when I get home. I never thought much about it in the summer, but now that there's a heavy snowfall coming down outside: I keep thinking of Narnia. I keep thinking if I wait outside by that snowy lamppost in the woods a fawn named Tumnus will come out of the woods and tell me something important. Or, more lightly, a horned sheep who's hungry for grain.

It's really coming down out there. In a minute I'll suit up and check on Pig, close up the chickens, and walk up to see the sheep on the hill. I want to see if they are using the shelters yet, now that there's a driving snow. I know Maude, Sal, and Joseph are in theirs, but I am curious to see if this 3-5 inches falling tonight will get the Scots in their winter quarters. I'll grab a lantern and my crook and put on a hat with earflaps. Take that, fashionistas.

This place no longer feels like a stranger's house. It took a whole spring, summer, and fall but now that winter is here and I will soon have been in this place an entire year: it feels like home. It feels like mine. I pulled in from the white-knuckled drive in white-out conditions and just instantly went to the work of caring for the place and my animals. Got pots on the stove, got a fie going, put water on for tea, saw to the animals. When you come inside from all that, eat a meal, and sit down to read on a winter night you can't help but sigh. For tonight at least I am warm, full, and surrounded by my pack of kind dogs. I'm exhausted, but it's a happy tired. And older kind of tired. The tired that we all thought went extinct before every home had a microwave and a Tivo. I love this tired. It can eat me up.

Oh, and I did eventually get a chance to play a lead character in my High School's performance of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I didn't get to be a queen or princess. I played Fenris Ulf, the wolf.

Go figure.

want some of this?

I'm selling a few skeins of wool in bundles before the farmer's market this weekend—for folks that would like to buy wool but aren't in the CSA and/or can't travel to Vermont to shop this weekend. If you are interested in knitting some of Maude's angry wool (anger keeps you extra warm, if you're curious of its inherit benefits) please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com for details on prices and shipping. I will warn you that entirely home-grown wool isn't cheap as storebought. Prices for bundles will cost what half a CSA share would cost since three skeins would be half a share upfront. I am only offering a few three packs so email quick and I'll package it up this week and you'll have it by Christmas!

bluster

Outside is a blustery and chilly day here in Veryork. It's freakishly warm in the high thirties. last night the temperature never dropped below 44, and I slept with a window open as the rain fell outside. It felt like April, not December. At some point in the night Gibson busted out of his crate (I have no idea how) and woke me with a wet nose and wagging tail on the edge of the bed. "Fine, darling," was all I said, half awake, and he jumped up next to me and curled up right near my chest, put a head on my shoulder, sighed, and fell promptly back to sleep. I placed a groggy hand on his head and told him he was a good boy. All was forgiven from Saturday's romp. He can't help himself. I can't help loving him.

I have never known a dog who needed to be close to me this much.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

to market, to market...

I just found out today that the board of the Walloomsac Farmers' Market of Bennington, Vermont approved my application for the winter market next Saturday! I'll be selling wool and signed books from 10-2pm on December 18th in the First Baptist Church on Main Street. Stop by and say hello if you're in the area, buy some angry wool of Maude's, or pick up a book. I'll be there (knitting, most likely) and so will other winter vendors with root vegetables, pastries, crafts, and grass-fed meats. There's plenty of local shops and restaraunts as well if you want to make a day of it. Hope to see you there!

the rookie

There was a point early Saturday morning when I was hunched over a large, upset, sheep holding her in place by the horns, panting like I just sprinted a mile. I was holding the new sheep between my knees, shearing-style, to slip on a makeshift halter. After which I slowly walked her through the snow back to the pen she had recently escaped from in a wild panic. We made our way past the dead garden (where I caught her), past the Subaru in the driveway holding a frantic, howling border collie who was ripping up the interior while I pulled one of "his" sheep away from him. All the while, I was trying not to slide or fall (again) on the slick wet snow covering the farm. Covered in sweat, heart-racing, I lead the sheep into the pasture and shut the gate. The ewe walked off to her friends who watched the whole adventure in quiet amaze. I turned around to face Gibson in the mystery machine. He stopped barking when I looked right at him, narrowing my eyes. He smiled that dog smile and wagged his tail, tongue out long enough to reach his elbows. Can we do it again, Lady? Please pleasepleasepleaseplease. He had no idea why I stopped all the fun short. I let out a long sigh, the kind that leaves a trail of smoke, grabbed my puppy out of the car and went inside. I was covered in mud, sweat, and lanolin and had not yet tasted my first cup of coffee.

One of those days, you see.

Yesterday morning was Gibson's first time with his own sheep. It didn't go as planned. I was herding under the influence, drunk on the excited of the event. I would be herding sheep today on my own farm, with my own fine dog, with my own stock. To walk out into that pasture with my collie and my crook, I felt like my heart was stitched together with wool and tweed: a hill shepherd to be. When you get glossy-eyed at 28 at the idea of a life of a sixty-year-old Scottish Farmer, you know you're in trouble.

I had selected two of the older dog-broke, Blackface ewes to work with, and had Gibson on a lead. We had been training for weeks, so I planned on doing what I did at Barb and Denise's farms, just here in the backyard. I walked up the hillside and Gibson seemed focused, but calm. When things seemed okay I let him circle the ewes, but that peaceful stride soon turned into an all-out chase. The sheep were running away from the young dog, who had no interest in hurting them but had a lot of interest in seeing who could win the race down the hill. He was right on their heels.

Oh man, was that puppy happy... Gibson was nothing but pure glee, running up and down the hill after one sheep at a time. I however, was not sharing in the euphoria. A sheepdog is supposed to be subtle, move the sheep with his eye, suggestion and what not. They can (and do),use force when needed but not on a small 1/4 acre paddock. Thinking my area wasn't that much larger than the training pen at Denise's Farm I foolishly thought I could control the situation like I did there with a trainer on hand. But this was Bedlam. Gibson was digging his claws into the ground with each joyous lope. One ewe flew past me and like a deer vaulted over the gate into the driveway. The other one slammed on the brakes in front of the fence and then turned around and stomped at Gibson.

I'd seen this before, and so had my orthopedic specialist. A knee of mine has been damaged by a sheep that stomped at a dog right before I shoved my right leg in front of the dog to protect it from a head butt when it was backed into a corner. Not wanting to repeat history: I told Gibson to stop, come here, and lie down (which he did, now happy to listen that one sheep was backed into a fence and the other was trotting around the driveway. So his work was clearly done). I shooed away the ewe, and grabbed his lead and stuck him in the back of the station wagon while I tried to collect my lost sheep. "That'll do." I told him as I shut the car door. He barked the canine version of a cuss word.

Seasoned as I was now at the antics of runaway sheep: I went right for the grain bag and decided honey would bring my a fly better than vinegar. So I filled a small wooden box with grain and tried to bribe her back into the fence she just vaulted from. She just looked at me from half an acre away. Just looked, then trotted away around the back of the fence.

Great.

Gibson cried and barked as I got more grain and convinced the other 7 sheep to join me for a nosh. This got the loner interested and she came around to about five feet away from me, a fence away from her friends and the free buffet. When She was between the garden fence and the pasture fence I decided my honey days were over, and jumped her. I pulled her rump and head the way I was taught in Sheep 101 from the Vermont Extension and flipped the horned gal on her butt. With one hand on her horn, the other on a dogsledding x-back harness I grabbed from the hutch of the Subaru, I created a halter and slowly walked her back with grain to the pasture gate.

Like I said, I still hadn't had any coffee. I was beat.

I came inside and Gibson drank a gulp and sprawled out on the kitchen floor, he was in pure Nirvana. I emailed my trainer and explained what an ass I had been, taking on too much work too soon. She explained that all Gibson did was exactly what he does at her farm: starts out frantic, but since he wasn't in a controlled environment like her round pen, he panicked the sheep and they fled the circumstances. I needed to be in control, not Gibson. I needed to be able to have him work for me, not me chasing him, shaking a crook in the snow. I simply expected too much. I apologized to Denise, Gibson, and the sheep and realized if I wanted to train my pup here I'd had to build a proper pen to start in.

The good news is no one got hurt. Not me, not the sheep, and not Gibson—and while it sounds like chaos it really was just a few ewes being scattered around for a few frantic moments and then fleeing the scene. Then it was just a hassle to get the world back in order again. But it's a good lesson, all this. Just because you have a border collie and a few sheep doesn't make you Aled Owen. You can't expect to have a great training session when you're new at this game, the dogs new at this game, and the sheep have only been here one week. But I am glad I gave it a try, that I know what not to do, and that while I was frustrated I'm not detered from training myself to train this dog. His father might have been winning Nursery Trials at 10 months old, but he was trained by a pro. My crook cost twelve dollars.

It's only up hill from here, right?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

to be continued

Gibson got a chance to herd his own sheep this morning. Well, two of them. I put two older Scotties in the main paddock and gated the others in the back pasture. I thought we could do some basic circling, practice balancing sheep, and work on our lie downs. I was so excited.

It was a disaster.

No one got hurt, and I'll share the whole story later. But let's just say there were ewes leaping over gates, me grabbing animals by the horns, a broken fence, a frustrated person, and very very happy border collie having the time of his life.

good morning from cold antler farm!

Friday, December 10, 2010

this is your brain on homesteading

This is a store-bought $9.93 "natural" chicken. This is a $1.75 home-grown, farm-harvested chicken.
Any Questions?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Giveaway winner is Pacy from MO!

Email me, at jenna@itsafarwalk.com for details on how to get your new Barn Light Electric Pendant!

some like it hot

It was 3 degrees this morning on the farm, and as soon as I went into the barn and turned on the pig's light she exploded with a grunt from her nest of hay, shook, and went right under it. She's learned that Jenna = food and warmth. I was thinking about warmth too. I was in my winter half-coveralls, wool hat, gloves, and vest. Man it was cold....She ate her morning feed while I brought her bucket inside to defrost. A good half-inch of ice set on top of it, even inside the barn. But despite the cold she was alert, warm, and frostbite free.

A happy pig, that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

get your own copy

'Cause Gibson is hogging mine...Chick Days released today in bookstores. It's my new paperback on beginner chicken care. Think "What to Expect When You're Expecting" but with chickens. It's a day-by-day guide for the new chicken keeper. Starting with day one to laying age, it follows three birds from fluffball to bonefide hen with Mar's amazing photography and advice from my experiences at Cold Antler. There are also songs, recipes, stories, and more inside. This aint your grandmother's chicken book, son.

Edit: So I found out that the Release Date and Publisher's Date are different. The Release Date means the books are printed and on their way to stores and it's going to be up on shelves. It doesn't come out until Jan. Sorry, I was confused too.

our antlers are cold

It's a calm night here at the farm. I'm bottling Irish Stout and feeding the wood stove. I usually am at the stables, but tonight I canceled my riding lesson due to the temperature. It's twelve degrees now, and by the time we hit pre-dawn it may very well drop below zero. I wanted to keep an eye on the animals on this unusually cold night we're having. To make up for the low temperatures everyone's getting a few extra calories and a place to hunker down and stay out of the wind.

The chicken's wire windows have been covered in plastic and cracked corn has been added to their diet. I up their usual feed an additional third when it gets like this, and I do it for two really important reasons: a full chicken is a warm and content chicken. With snow confining them to the coop. close quarters can lead to fighting. So if everyone has enough, they tend to remain calmer and snooze instead of squabble. Also, extra fuel means extra heat. The birds are warmer with corn in their stove piping. The only other cold weather routines I have is plenty of fresh, thick bedding on top of older bedding to create compost and heat under their feet (a deep bed poo-composting coop is a warmer coop) and add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to their water (helps with the coughs).

The pig has her heat lamp still. She loves it like her own personal tanning bed. I turn it on and let her bath in it a few hours before I turn in. But by the time I do my last night rounds of closing the chicken coop door and turning off the lights in the barn: she's already under her mountain of hay. She's also getting some cracked corn in her pig ration, and all the extra human food I can manage. It's served her well - she's doubled in size!

The sheep remain sheep. No matter how cold it gets they seem to prefer the hill to the barn. The original three still use their small shed we built in Vermont, nearly three years ago, and the Scots seem to venture in and out but until the snow gets really deep or it gets really stormy: I think they'll remain outdoors as they like it.

Gibson seems all healed up. This weekend I will let him work a few of his sheep for the first time for a few minutes. I'm ready. He's ready. The sheep are ready. I know this because tonight when I took him out for an evening pee (his, not mine) he took a lunge at the flock from our side of the fence and all 8 took off up the hill in a fever. We felt both our hearts race, it was the first and only time I ever moved that many animals (even for a moment) with dog power. He saw them move and lunged at his leash to round them up. I told him a quiet, "That'll do" and brought him inside. He sat by the front door pouting for an hour. He now knows just outside the red paint is everything he's ever wanted, but he can't have it just yet. Love hurts, baby.

photo from http://www.oldtimefarmshepherd.org

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the big day: part 2

By 5:30 AM this morning I had ten CSA orders filled, fed the sheep, rabbits, chickens, and pig, took the dogs out for their morning constitutional. After all that, I was quite ready for breakfast. I came inside from the 20 degree morning and cracked two eggs into a cast iron skillet. The plan: smoked-maple cheddar scrambled eggs to go with my coffee. I rarely make such a breakfast on a weekday, but I was starving. In yesterday's flurry of activity I forgot to eat dinner, and between a growling stomach, a morning of chores, and the fresh coat of snow covering the farm: I was ready for a warm meal. It was glorious.

Speaking of food...

I was prepping my kitchen yesterday for some cheese making with my friend Cathy when a large trailer backed into the farm's driveway. I caught a glance of it when I peaked my head out into the front room and saw through the windows a large, bulking, mass of metal making its way into the drive. I felt my heart race as I fumbled for my wellies by the front door. This is happening. Breathe. This is happening. Breathe. This is happening. Breathe.Gibson was right beside me. He wanted to see what all the fuss was about too. From inside I watched two women step off the rig and a flash of black and white jumped out with them. It's was Barb Armata's Meg. Daughter of her famed trial dog, Jill. They had backed the trailer close to the open pasture gate. We were going to unload straight away. With Meg crouched in their rear, and people on all sides, the five ewes darted from the back of the trailer into my field in about 90 seconds. I shut the gate. I thought unloading would be more of a hassle? Barb explained sheep like gates, and they like going uphill. Duly noted.

I paid, thanked, and waved the delivery crew off and then there was this moment when I looked at the turn in the road the trailer and disappeared into, and then over to the five new sheep, and then back to the road...and realized these were not rented. These were my charges. To have and to hold until death do us part.

I had separated my original trio of British longwools from the main paddock, moved them over to the other pasture and shut the gate.. I didn't want anyone knocking heads (or my knees) during that first unloading bit. But there wasn't any fuss. The Blackface ewes stayed in a tight clump and sashayed over to the fence line where Sal, Maude, and Joseph were. Noses met noses through the border. I was amazed watching Maude. She seemed to lose about ten pounds of anxiety. Finally, she wasn't the only woman on the scene. And Sal was so happy to see a harem I thought his curled lips would break the wire. Yikes, this might get scandalous.

I wasn't alone in all this. I was with the Daughton Family (Well, most of them). Tim was at the office, but his wife Cathy and her three boys were here with me. They arrived just as the livestock trailer was pulling in. I had asked if they wanted to come over to help with the new sheep (in case help was needed) and to learn how to make cheese. Cathy and I brought it up in conversation, but I thought a cheese making lesson would be a good excuse to have some familiar faces share in the excitement of the big day. I'd have some company, and we'd turn some Stewart's whole milk into mozzarella. It would be a win win.

...but right now the entire Daughton progeny (and their mother) were watching me climb the fence to let both tribes of sheep meet for the first time. I was hoping it wouldn't be violent, but expected some fireworks. I climbed the hill, opened the gate, and let my three good sheep meet the new kids. Scenes from Braveheart flashed through my mind. Would my Brits and Scots feel the need to reenact history?

It was amazing how calm they were. Both groups nuzzled and grunted, and that was that. No one butted heads, or hollered, or lifted a hoof to stomp. It was pretty anti-climatic acually. Within minutes the new girls were laying on the hillside like it was their home all along. Sal literally paraded around, in glory. The new ewes (newes?) didn't even bat an eyelash at him. They just sat down with their punk rock wool and acted like prep school kids being hit on by a pimple-faced barista. Or maybe it wasn't snobbery, but motherhood sinking in. They had no time to flirt anymore. They had big red and pink marks on their rears from recently being serviced by Barb's Blackface Ram. Proof positive there would be lambs in a few months.

As the day went on I got lost in sewing projects and cooking, but as it grew dark I turned on the lamp post outside and saw my new sheep all on the hill. As the snow and wind beat their faces, they just sat like great Buddahs. I worried they didn't realize they had shelter, so I bundled up and decided to give them a tour. I walked out to the flock with my big crook in my hands—a big, clunky, inexpensive, wooden job I bought for twelve dollars from Sheepman Supply—certainly not the classy ram's horn and cherry wood you see at the sheepdog trials. No, this was an everyday schlub of a crook and I was its handler. Together me and my humble crook walked up the slippery hillside (It was starting to really snow as the day grew darker) and I called the sheep over to me with some grain in a white bucket. All eight filed behind me, walking with their new shepherd in the lead. I poured the grain into the larger, new, shelter and when all of them were inside eating, I decided my work was done.

I walked down the hillside with my crook, a calm smile, and eight sheep behind me in a little brown barn. And that is how the first day of true snow on Cold Antler Farm ended.

And this story is just beginning...

Barn Light Electric Giveaway!

Barn Light Electric is giving away one of their beautiful Ivanhoe Sinclair Porcelain Pendants here at Cold Antler Farm. To enter, all you have to do is (starting right now) leave a comment leaving your name and state, and talk about where you'd love to hang this lamp in your home/farm. Easy. A random winner will be chosen from the entries using a number generator (so please just one comment per person). These are seriously good quality lighting folks, sleek and modern while retaining an industrial and agricultural heritage in the economy of design and brilliance of performance. Winner will be announced this Thursday at noon, so just make sure you comment on this post before then. (No email entries please. If you don't have a Google account you'll have to make one to enter, but hey, three minutes for a gorgeous pendant is worth the hassle). If you are the winner, I'll get you in touch with the fine people at BLE and they'll help you pick out whatever color and hardware they have in that Sinclair model to match your own home. Good Luck!

Here's a link to the lighting!

P.S. I was told they will ship to Canada if the winner will cover the duties or any excess taxes.

a useful dog

This is a wonderful video from this year's Nationals in Virginia. A great musical tribute to the sport of herding, and it ends with a very happy photo of Gibson's father after taking the title home. Certainly worth checking out, and maybe some day I'll get to watch these in person?

Monday, December 6, 2010

snow and hoof prints

It's snowing outside, a beautiful crystal-white snow that looks like glitter before it hits the ground. There are a few inches out there now, and every so often the flashing yellow lights of the plows fill the farm house walls. With the wood stove heating the downstairs, the Subaru finally registered, and the furnace repaired: I feel ready to take on winter as a first time home-owner. But there's also a reality that never set in before when I was renting or living under someone else's roof. If I get in trouble here, only I can get myself out of it. It makes winter a little less fun, and a little more like an obstacle course.

The huskies are beside themselves. (I swear they prance when they can't feel their paw pads anymore.) Gibson ignores it. I don't think Border Collies savor winter the way Siberians do. I took him outside in the dark, snowy, night he didn't even flinch at his first real snowfall around his white paws. To his defense, he was more interested in the eight sheep munching on hay just beyond the driveway fence. Honestly, So was I.

The flock is here. Finally. Gibson was just a pup when I went to pick them out this spring. I left a deposit of $200, and spent the summer mailing Barb checks whenever I could. Today I handed her the final check, that covered the sheep and the delivery cost. Handing her that envelope felt like a weight off my chest. My Scotties are here. Five beautiful ewes currently up in the shelter of the shed built for them just a season ago.

Why Scottish Blackface? Because they're a tough, foraging, heritage breed traditionally worked by border collies and raised for wool and meat. They do well on steep land (Cold Antler is on a bit of a tilt) and can handle harsh weather with pluck. They are naturally easy lambers, easy to handle, and responsive and ready to work with Gibson when he heals up. They're the perfect match for my life, goals, land, and usage. I can wear them, eat them, or sell their offspring to other area shepherds. And I think they have some of that feral and forgotten beauty of an older breed. They seem to be a small farm's perfect animal, with a hint of something wilder in their nostrils. I dig that.

Far as I know, we're the only breeding flock of Scotties in Washington County, but I could be wrong. I know there are some fine flocks south and west of me, but I didn't see a single SBF farm at the fair, or online, or through the grapevine of feed and tack stores.

So it might just be us in Jackson? I'm going to need some proper names. I already decided one would be Mary (Queen of the Scots) and another would be Narwhal (whoever she pushes around). Mary had a croquet mallet made out of a Narwhal's fossilized horn and she never lost a game with it. Sounds like a good name for the alpha and omega members of the new clan. I'm just not sure who's who yet. I'm just getting to learn their personalities, but one of the splotchy faced ladies seems to be running the show. She'll be Mary for sure.

I'll fill you in on the day of unloading, sewing, cheese making, and snow tomorrow. Tonight though, let us raise a mug of hot chocolate to new flocks, fresh snow, and debts paid.

the gang's all here




the big day: part 1

So I woke up and checked my email this morning, delighted to see a note from a Miss. Aileen McFazdean, Secretary of the Scottish Blackface Breeder's Association, the UK-based club I joined a few weeks ago for their resources, journal, email list, (and hopefully) advice. To get my first official club meeting notes and email on the day my sheep are being delivered, I thought, was a good sign. A little kismet on this very cold, very snowy day.

I've been up and doing chores since before dawn. Starting with Gibson and I hauling the truck to Stewart's to get milk and apple cider donuts for the delivery crew. Two members of NEBCA are coming to see the farm and unload the sheep. The least I could do is offer them some nosh for the ride home.

I feel like it's already noon. I've pounded fresh fence posts in the nearly frozen ground (no small feet), and have restrung and (am trying to) reactivate the electric fences in the main area for the new sheep. So my day has involved walking fence lines, hauling out fresh water, moving Sal, Maude, and Joseph into a separate paddock so they can all meet between a fence before they become one big flock. I got a new watering 16-gallon bucket that's electric and will stay warm without freezing. The goldfish from the Washington County Fair are still alive in the other stock tank. They grew up into some hardy fish, let me tell you. They are currently swimming under a sheet of ice. I think they have deserved a warmer winter condo. I can't believe they made it this long.

Cathy Daughton and her kids are coming up on this snowy day to help with the sheep unloading and learn to make cheese. We'll be making mozzarella and I am hoping, adding it to our own homemade pizza for lunch. Should be a fun time, and a nice way to stay warm while the snow falls (just an inches, if that) and the stove roars. I can't wait to post photos. Stay tuned throughout the day!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

so excited

tomorrow is a very big day....

all here

Something changed. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, or how it happened, but something changed here. For years I have been living this country life. I've had chickens, gardens, fiddles, and dogs. I've kept sheep, a goat, rabbits, I even have a pig in my barn now...but no matter how others saw it, or what it truly was—it always felt like some sort of feral and eccentric backyard. Not anymore.

Some time between packaging up the wool for CSA subscribers, and emailing back and forth with the Scottish Blackface breeder: this small acreage turned into a working farm. My entire mind shifting into accepting it, and shifted fast. Like a 50-pound bag of feed flopping over in the back seat of your car on a sharp-turn: the state of things changed. That simple. That fast.

Years in the making, months of hard work, days of panic and worry, and hours of prayer. This is my farm. You can argue with that, but you'd be punching underwater.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

beautiful people

giveaway next week!

Cold Antler Farm and Barn Light Electric are teaming up to give away this Ivanhoe™ Sinclair Industrial Porcelain Pendant. The winner gets to choose a color and hardware to match their own home. Get excited, cause I'll be announcing this event in the next few days!

a simple product

a modest saturday

I did something this morning I never do. I slept in long enough to wake up to daylight. I needed it. This past week has been an exhausting jaunt. It is a relief to meet a snow-sprinkled Saturday morning with the coffee pot and wood stove and know that for the most part: I have no where to be. I am stretching, sipping strong coffee, and enjoying that lull between feeding the animals and getting a shower. It's a wonderful place to be, that.

I toyed with the idea of packing up the truck and spending my day at a Farm Film Fest two hours south in the Hudson Valley—but last night after visiting one friend's new baby boy, and then driving to another friends place for music and drinks: I realized how extremely beat I was. A girl just can't go from 4:30 to 1 AM. Since our herding lesson was canceled, I decided to just spend the first day of my three-day weekend taking care of the farm, the house, and staring the first round of CSA packages.

There is a lot to do around here. Weekends are now the only time I get daylight outside, so I must take full advantage of it. Today I want to repair any weak spots in the fencing, defrost and replace all the water fonts, and get everything ready for the new flock being delivered Monday. The five ewes will arrive in a trailer, delivered by their breeder and a friend. Both ladies will be members of NEBCA, my border collie association and the group of trainers and mentors teaching me how to go about this new shepherding life. I want them to be happy with this place in every way. I know I don't need their permission, but I would like their approval.

I also plan on returning to work Tuesday with half of the CSA packages ready to mail. But that means I need to spend the weekend working on the welcome letters, price guide, expenses list, and projections for the fall. Each subscriber gets more than just a skein of yarn. They are part of the farm now, and in a way, investors. So to hold true to my word of 5-7 skeins a person (plus some raw wool) I want to make sure everyone has what they paid for, and understands what goes into the production of yarn at this basic a level. I figured if they saw exactly where every penny goes, an explanation of the shepherd's year, and plans for the harvest this spring: they would appreciate and understand this farm all the better. I also can not wait to see what folks create from my sheep's wool. I am fully prepared to be jealous of your knitting abilities.

P.S. I still have two spots left to fill. Waiting to hear from the people chosen (by lottery). Please let me know your decision soon as you can.

Friday, December 3, 2010

two new csa winners!

Moose Nugget (AK) and Meredith (VA)!

Two spots opened up.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

now that's a lot of yarn...

It has been a monstrous week. Trips to the doctor, foul weather, a broken furnace, and Gibson hurt his elbow and is on painkillers. He doesn't understand how to slow down and rest. I think for border collies, recovery is just Latin for "limp faster." When he started limping today I called the vet right away. I needed to know if it was anything beyond the normal wear-and-tear of an active farm dog. As my partner, and the power that will make this farm run smoothly: I need him to be healthy and able to train. Turns out it was good I took him in, because the vet said he could easily have torn something on a weekend herding lesson or jaunt with the other dogs at work. He's in elbow limbo right now, and too much of anything fun might tear what's already strained. So my very-active puppy needs to learn to heal, and is doing so. Slowly.

So the week's been hard on all of us, but it is coming to a beautiful end. Tomorrow is Friday, of course, and for those of us running farms while holding down a day job it means the holiday starts at 5pm. This weekend is a big deal, too. With the hard cider bottled and ready to drink, the wool shipped from the mill, and my fabric here from the online shop—I have a three-day vacation to farm, sew, prepare the first round of CSA packages*, and some how take the time to realize it is here. The farm is here. There are 50 bales of stacked hay, a fenced in pasture, a sheep shelter on the hill, and five new ewes coming in a trailer this Monday. There is wood stacked by the stove, and bills on the table, and I am looking forward to whittling both down to insignificance.

I'll give a proper update on the CSA soon, the wool, the whole experience of holding your sheep's fleece on a string. But tonight I am going to tend to my pup, watch a DVD, and get some rest before the weekend hits me like a ton of wool-felted bricks.

*If I don't hear from the folks listed below, I will draw more names. I only heard from half? Please email me if you want to keep your spot in this year's program?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

lottery winners are...

Trista Hill - Ohio
Bee in the Balm
Joy - California
Victoria, IL
Dk - IN
Jane - CA
Lisa

Please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com for details!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

6 more shares!

Well! I found out today a total of 17 pounds of yarn will be delivered to the farm this week! A total of 68, 170-yard white skeins of 3-ply yarn will be in my hands soon. Since that already covers my first few CSA members: I will be opening up the CSA to six more shares. To be fair, we'll pick via lottery. If you want to get in on the CSA leave a comment here with your name and location and we'll make a random drawing Tomorrow at 5pm. That way everyone has over 24 hours to get their one (only one please) comment in for a share. The price of a share includes your welcome packet and first skein before Christmas and then next fall (or sooner) you will receive another 4-6 additional skeins of 100% wool yarn at 170 yards. And, a pound of raw wool to process yourself (if you want it).

Comment away to enter the drawing!

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

coldantler.com coming soon!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Em C G D

Sometimes a girl just needs her guitar.

sissy farmer

barter?

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 chef...wow. 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.

gilt

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.