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 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

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.