Saturday, March 5, 2011

splattering the robe

In the Zen Buddhist Tradition there's a ritual I truly adore. Those who choose to take the vows of Jukai—to become dedicated students— sew a small special robe in the shape of a rice field. This garment is called a Rakusu. It's a collection of delicate scraps of fabric patched into a hand-sewn quilt worn across the front of the body. The ordained wear it over their sitting robes as an affirmation of their vows (and so other students are aware of the level of their practice). It takes weeks to create these relics by hand. When the final product is done it is magical. A handmade meditation.

Stories passed down tell of Zen teachers who looked at their students' robes with discomfort bordering on disgust. The students had too much pride in the work, too much attachment to an item that would compost into soil if left out in the rain too long. So to keep their students awake to the point of this world (to live free of attachment and suffering) they would splatter a bit of ink, or tear a corner, or squash a berry into that beautiful robe. Anything that would remove that silly desire to keep something owned as worthy of permanence: from being seen as an object instead of a purpose. It kept folk's eyes on the prize, so to speak.

I once heard a Baptist pastor say that you never see a U-haul following a hearse. He was a great Zen teacher.

Gene Logsdon says the best investment a small farmer can make is in their truck. It does a million different jobs, and makes an agricultural life possible. You get a stock trailer, hay hauler, and car all wrapped up into one. In a way, buying a truck is a homesteading Jukai. It is your Rakusu. As an object of utility it doesn't need to be shiny and show-room ready. It just needs to practice. It needs to be a truck.

The seven-year-old Dodge Dakota I bought yesterday came with a few dents and tears. There's no point in being overly proud in something already imperfect. Just 24-hours after driving it off the lot I have it coated in mud, strewn with hay, and coffee-rin stained. To own it I had to trade in the truck that had carried the farm this far. It was sad to see that little Ford go. Sadder than it should be.

Gain and Loss. Ink and berries.

Consider the robe splattered.

this shepherd got a ram!

P.S. Gibson is pulling through.

ER trip tonight

Thursday, March 3, 2011

news that didn't happen

Liset, I think, I hope, is doing much better. It's getting harder to catch her to give her the prescripted dosage of Glycol. That first day I could walk right up to her grab her. Now we play an eye-locked game of chance trying to hold her still long enough to inject the goo into her mouth. But now she's excited to eat her grain and hay and seems to more a part of the flock now. She's still lean but "with it" Keep her in your thoughts. I depend on each of these girls to help produce the future of my flock.

Good news: Murray McMurray is sending replacements for ALL the birds I lost. All 27 will be here next week. And everyone coming to the workshop will have their pick of the current healthy birds in the brooder now. I'll sell some started pullets later this summer for side cash. It will work out. Chickens make a lot of sense now, folks will scoop them up in pairs and trios.

I have some news (that never happened) to share with you all. I came across the perfect pony this week. A small 37" gelding named Rebel. He was a fully trained 6-year-old, road-ready, drafting pony down in Sharon Springs. Small enough to share my sheeps' sheds and hay and large enough to pull a small plow. He could cart, pack, and help spread manure around the farm. I dreamed of this pony. He was perfect. I went so far as to make plans to have him delivered. I told friends at 28: my dream of finally having a pony was coming true. My new ATV was just a few hoofprints away...

I emailed the trainer to apologize. I can't take him. With lambing, a new truck, a chimney, and so much ahead: a pony isn't a wise choice. I was justifying it because it was so perfect and priced so well, and who knows when a bombproof working horse could be delivered to the farm again? but I need to know what this farmer can handle. Maybe I could have welcomed Rebel into my life without a hitch? But I prefer to not find out the hard way anymore.

Some day I will have a working horse on this farm. This year I'll focus on a working chimney and used 4x4 truck.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

United States Poultry Service!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

liset's big scare

I know everyone is expecting an adorable chick post. I was expecting to write one. I took photos, video, the works... But life has a way of happening at 6:48 on a Tuesday morning. Sometimes it's not all fluff and feathers. Sometimes you're covered in sheep shit trying to inject glucose down a sick ewe's throat.

I woke up this morning excited about a lot of things. I had an order of chicks to pick up at the post office, and there are few cuter mail-order items than baby chicks. I was excited for the workshop this weekend. I sang to the Swedish Flower hen like I was a Muppet Chef while dumping out the laundry into a basket. I had a pot of strong coffee started, the wood stove lit, the brooder lamp had been chugging all night. Damn, things were looking good. I called the post office to make sure my animals were ready. The truck was warm and started like a normal vehicle. The sun was coming up over the ridge line, and the whole house smelled like coffee so dark you could eat it with a spoon. Heaven. All I had left to do before I got my basket-o-chicks was to feed the sheep before I left the farm.

As I was doling out the morning's hay ration I noticed Liset (number 20-06) stumble and walk oddly down the hill. My first thought was hoof needs to be trimmed. I'll check it right after I get back from the P.O. but then I watched her stare blankly at me. Within moments she was standing away from the flock chewing her upper plate in her mouth. She wasn't eating much at all.

This was bad. This was really bad.

I went through the flip-file in my head of sheep diseases. Listeria? No, she'd be circling...Rabies? No drool or twitching. Worms? No, she'd be eating like crazy.... Liset just seemed drunk. Wobbly. Like a waif in some Victorian play about to collapse on her fainting couch.

I ran inside to my lambing supply basket where my neighbor Shellee's number was located on a pink post-it note. Shellee was a large-animal Vet. She knew more about sheep than anyone on this mountain and happened to live a quarter mile away. I called, explained what I saw, and asked her she could come over? She had another appointment but said she'd come by later. Her instinct though was Ketosis; a late-pregnancy disease in sheep. It's a situation where the lambs are literally sucking the life out of her. She said she'd meet me in the farm in moments and bring up some Glycol and an oral syringe. We'd talk more in person.

I stood outside by my running truck and hung up my cell phone. I was no longer thinking about chickens.

I was so worried. These sheep were pined for—a dream come true. They took an entire summer to pay off. I had hauled and stored their hay, carried water, built them a shed and then spent frozen nights removing snow from it. I had studied. I had gone to sheepdog trials, workshops, and everything else I could think to do. What I didn't have was experience. I had no idea what a Ketotic ewe looked like. All I knew was something wasn't right so I called someone who could help. I know that much.

Shellee showed up a little later that morning as I was setting up the chicks in the brooder. She was standing at my front door with a jam jar of Glycol and this plastic-tube device and explained she'd be back later to check on her properly and run a urine test. I didn't ask her the one question on my mind. How do you want me to collect sheep urine?

I had taken the morning off from the office, and was grateful I had. Cathy Daughton was coming over with her boys to get their 15 Silver-Laced Wyandottes. I knew her boy Holden (a teenager) could help me doctor 20-06. When they arrived we set about the business of checking on the brooder and I explained the day's second small crisis. 25% of the birds died in transit or were failing fast. This was because (I think) of bad weather that delayed my order a full day). We did our best to help bring back any chicks that were fighters (and did manage to save a few) and caught up on farm talk. When the birds were as well enough as we could get them, Holden and I went outside to tend to little Liset.

There was a time in my life when walking straight up to a hundred-pound horned animal and flipping it onto its back would have been an impossible to even consider. Not today. In my Polyface sweatshirt (a barter for wool from Wendy down in Swope), my beaten-up Carharrt vest with hoof-trimmers in pocket, Muck boots, and dirty jeans I walked right into the fray and grabbed her by the horns. Shepherds (old or new) are tough stock. Soon she was on her back Holden filled the syringe and handed it over to me so I could slowly inject the energy into her throat. She didn't flinch. She was such a good girl. Holden was an amazing help.

I trimmed her hooves (she was on her back, why the hell not) and offered her more hay. She needed to bulk-up before lambing. This Ketosis is a carb-deficiancy disease. The same disease that human beings can waste away from if their body and brains don't get enough carbohydrate energy. In fact, you force your body into Ketosis to burn fat because the lack of carbs makes your body think it is starving. It's not a good thing, people. Eat bread.

Anyway, I had to head back to the office in about an hour. I debated just calling in the day to be here and keep an eye on the failing birds and the sheep but I had to go in. The office is what keeps the hay, vets, and chickens here in the first place. Also, the vet wouldn't be able to come back till after five anyway. I left the farm worried and confused, but content I was doing everything I could. I'd save my call-in days for lambing.

Work went by fast. I had completed most of my tasks on Monday in anticipation of today's morning off and so I scuttled through spreadsheets and emails. Soon as five clicked I was back on the road. Shellee had called to say she was coming back to the farm for a urine test at 4:30 and I could meet her for a diagnose when I got home. (By the way, if you turn a sheep on its back and hold its nostrils shut it pees. Fun fact for your evening read...) When I pulled back into my driveway I saw the vet-truck there and Shellee and her helper, Billy. They did the test and it turned out positive. My heart pounded. Liset was in the beginning stages of Ketosis and it could kill her if untreated. I asked Shellee what to do?

The remedy would be energy. Get the girl on more hay, twice-a-day Glycol down the throat, and start her on grain early. She would most likely recover, but this hit could mean her ability to produce milk is all but shot. Her lambs might be destined to be bottle feeders. Billy—a long-time sheep and goat keeper—said she would be fine and lambing would be fine too. My own opinion was too raw to decide either way. This morning when I woke up I thought all was well with my sheep's world. I chose to lean towards caution and do everything the Doc says and hope for the best. Tomorrow morning I'll have a date with the Glycol syringe and a skinny sheep. She might hate me for the drugs, but I'll buy back her love with Coarse-14 grain. I'll do what I can.

Now it's after 8 and things are calming down. The house sounds like a weeknight house; dryer tumbling, dogs eating kibble, computer keyboard tapping away. The remaining chicks are healthy and I'll pad the order with more Rhode Island Reds coming into Tractor Supply tomorrow. I think if I call the hatchery I might even get a refund? Right now though, I think I'll take a long hot shower, make some hot tea, and call it a night. I had a long day and another one of sheep-flipping and spreadsheets waiting for me tomorrow. I love this farm, but occasionally love is friggin' exhausting.

I promise my next post will feature adorable chicks.

FYI PDF on Ketosis in Sheep and how to treat it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

images of the new brooder

A few folks emailed or commented that they would like pictures of the Daughton Brooder. Here you can see it in all it's glory. Right now it is lit up and waiting the 84 chicks being picked up early tomorrow morning. My laundry/mud/stove room now has the joint glow of a heat lamp and woodstove. It might be the warmest room in the house. Strike that. It is the warmest room in the house.

get your birds! announcing a memorial day weekend chicken 101 workshop!

Morning everyone! No chickens came in the post today, tomorrow will be the big chicken delivery of 2011, however I do have some news. I will be opening up the farm Memorial Day weekend to have another Chick Days workshop that Sunday. If you'd like to come to the farm for an all-day workshop on chicken 101, please email me for details. All attendees will go home with three baby chicks, and a signed copy of Chick Days and all the information they need to raise them right. If the weather cooperates we might even have a bonfire that night with music. Chicks, lambs, a green farm and fiddles. Does it get any better than that?

email for details

Sunday, February 27, 2011

the happiest sheep in washington county

going broody

Last night Tim and Cathy Daughton pulled into my snowy driveway, and I was glad to see them. Friends on a Saturday night are always welcome, but this night I was feeling extra welcoming to company. I had just spent the last few hours moving snow off the sheep shed roofs and getting a sinfully long shower. Feeling like a new woman—all cleaned and with roofs still intact—I was eager to see them. I felt like I earned their company by making sure the mama-to-be ewes still had a shelter on the hill. When you start farming, everything turns into effort and returns, even drop-in guests feel like a karmic blessing after fighting snow drifts in the dark.

They had sent me a message saying they would be stopping by with a gift: a custom-built brooder box that was made from salvage from their own farm. It was an amazing gesture just to offer such a thing in the first place, but I never expected what they had in store for me....When they walked into the farmhouse my jaw dropped.

In their arms was a structure to behold. A 4'x2' wooden box with a collapsable hinged wall (for easy cleaning/sweeping out) and a wire-hinged roof to prevent escaping chicks. It was a masterpiece. Tim had really outdone himself. Inside the brooder there was plenty of room for the 84 birds on their way. Before they had arrived I was nervous I would have to get a furniture box to accommodate them, but this was perfect. It was so far beyond anything I could have built or ever expected. We'd be just fine when the post office called.

The 84 birds aren't all mine. 25 of them are, but 36 laying hens are for next weekend's workshop attendees, 15 are the Daughton's Silver Laced Wyandottes, and eight more are my friend Noreen's. My own personal order is a mix of meat and egg birds to start off the season with. I ordered ten Cornish Rocks and a mixture of Cuckoo Marans, Ameraucanas, Gold Polish and Brahmas. (I like a colorful egg basket and that pretty much covers the spectrum.)

I'm all set up now. The box is ready to rock with all the comforts a new bird could ask for. It has a clamped brooder light with a 250 watt bulb blasting heat (a small thermometer is right under it on the shavings to make sure I hit that magic number: 90). A new chick-sized feeder and water font are also set up and stocked. Right now is just a test run. I try to always set up my brooder and keep it going the night before the birds are due to arrive. This way I'll be able to track temperature changes into the night, see what works and what doesn't, and make sure all is well. I got my bag of chick grit, medicated feed, reference books, and high hopes. This time next Sunday a bunch of folks will be here at the farm to pick up some of these little guys and take them home to their own farms and backyards. Each person also gets a copy of my book Chick Days which features three laying hens from hatchlings to adults. In the book the birds are Amelia the Ameraucana, Tilda the Rhode Island Red, and Honey the Buff Orpington. So for the workshop everyone who attends will get the same breeds as in the book. I can't wait to introduce some readers to their first-ever chickens!

If you are coming to the workshop, this is what you should have ready:

Sunday (not Saturday!) March 6th 2011 10AM-4PM
No March 15th workshop! Everyone is coming on the 6th!

For my place:
Notebook and pen/business cards
Small cardboard box with pine shavings in it
Optional hot water bottle or
Heat packet in cloth pinned shut
Waterless Hand Sanitizer
Your appetite: we're having homemade pizza and pie

For your place:
Brooder (TV-sized cardboard box is fine!)
Pine shavings
Water font and chick feeder
Medicated chick feed (not laying hen feed!)
Chick grit

I say bring a notebook to jot down ideas, book titles, websites, and other Antler's phone numbers and email addresses. I think ten people are coming, possible more with spouses and friends so it should be quite the event! The small shoe box will be all you need to bring the peeps home. A source of heat inside is a plus, but for anyone just driving an hour or two you should be fine in a heated vehicle. I have no idea where you will all park. I am working on a shuttle from the vet's office at the bottom of the mountain up to the farm. In my mind March would mean spring. I was a damn fool. There's three feet of snow out there. We'll figure it out. Please leave a comment to let me know you are coming and how many of you there are.

Anyway, The post office in Cambridge will call me first thing tomorrow morning or Tuesday to come and pick up the packages of chicks. I'll drive them the 3 miles back to Cold Antler in the passenger seat of the heated up truck and then walk them into the dog-free laundry/wood stove room. There I will carefully remove each bird and dip its little beak in the water font (you need to do this, as birds aren't born knowing how to drink water). Then when each bird has been expected for a clean vent and bright eyes it will be free to explore it's warm new home. When all 84 are watered and examined my work is done until the font and feeder need changing. So I can just ooh and ahh at the chorus of little peeps. It's going to drive Jazz friggin' crazy. At least this brooder is husky-proof.

Expect adorable chick photos and updates soon! And all of you interested in future workshops, I plan on doing another one just like this Memorial Day Weekend. Any takers?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

i love this

hay? i'm eating for three here...

simple gifts

husbands and hens

What is it about husbands and laying hens? I don't have a husband, so I can't about talk them with any base of knowledge, but I do know a thing or two about chickens. Over the years since I started this site I have gotten a lot of emails regarding the little beasts and the most common theme throughout them all paraphrases into something like this: I really want to get chickens, but my husband doesn't like the idea. Maybe some day I will wear him down.... And then the email goes on to explain why he feels that way. Usually the perception is that chickens are more mess, noise, and work than anyone wants to take on. I suppose if you wanted to convince your husband that you wanted to start a 200-hen egg operation—that would be the case—but all you backyard chicken hopefuls out there can rest assured that chickens are easy. They're quieter and calmer than your neighbor's beagle and cleaner than your kid's gerbil. And, unlike the neighbor's barking dog and Spiffy-the-Habitrail-Wunderkind—chickens pay rent. They lay eggs! Amazing, free, glorious farm-fresh eggs. And your husband gets to do all sorts of manly stuff to help you prepare for them. Things like making coops (carpentry!) and going to the feed store to heft 50-pound bags of feed (manly grunting!). And if he's not into the whole pickup-truck scene he can impress his foodie friends with his gourmet eggs or have the coolest pet on the block. Plus, at the end of the day he can watch them torment the neighbor's beagle, whom you hate.

So what's the deal guys? C'mon, get your woman some birds.

the sheep farm on the hill

Friday, February 25, 2011


I sat down to eat dinner at 7PM. Now, that might not seem like much of an accomplishment, but let me put it into context. All this winter I have been struggling with snowstorms. The first one set me into a panic. I missed work, had a minor panic attack, and ended up hand-shoveling a 20-foot driveway. It sucked. The second time was a little better, but until even with a storm under my belt I was scattered and hand-shoveling.

Today a storm came. A big one. Jackson got around a foot of wet snow and I figured it out. I got a ride into work this morning with my friend and his 4-wheel drive pickup, so transportation wasn't an issue. I called the plowman of wonder, Judah, to come to my rescue while at the office. When I got home (early, everyone left work early to beat the icy roads in daylight) it only took two hours to clean off the car, shovel paths to the sheep, hay, barn, and chickens, start a fire in the woodstove, get the driveway plowed, and dinner on the stove.

Dinner is light. Some couscous and tofu. I've been really dedicated to healthier living recently. Ever since I posted that acceptance piece on Valentine's day I have been dedicated to the goal of healthier living. Some folks read that post and thought I was just accepting myself and flaws and not interested in trying to change them. What it was, was me accepting myself and my flaws and choosing to respect myself enough to actively heal them. In ten days I have dropped seven pounds. I started working out twice daily, and eating better (and less). Between being a newborn lighter and figuring out this storm I feel great tonight. It took me all winter to feel like a volunteer instead of a victim, but now I am fighting back. My goal for spring is to be 20 pounds lighter with a healthy lamb or two in my arms. You'll see. I promise.

Currently, these arms are rather sore. I'm not used to free weights. But every second I put in at the gym or with workout videos is another second of better air breathed this spring when the farm becomes my gym. With lambing, gardens, chicks, workshops, and more along the way I'll need all the strength I can muster.

Tonight I am just happy that it's a Friday. That after all that shoveling, hay-hauling, bird tending and cooking I can just sit down relax while the wind outside whips across the farmhouse. It's a warm place to be. I think I'll stick around a while.

Seven pounds and dinner by 7PM... took all winter, but here I am.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

the scott and the swede

There's a Scott and a Swede having a staring contest by my wood stove. In a tiny hand-built wire cage in the mud room is a 5-week-old Swedish Flower Hen Pullet. A breed that until 2010 only lived in tiny farm villages in Sweden, but now is trying to psyche out my Border Collie in upstate New York. Gibson eventually lost interest and came to inspect what I was cooking for dinner. While my dinner sizzled in the skillet the soft coos of a young chicken filled the house once again. It felt like spring.

This morning a package arrived from Greenfire Farms in Florida. They specialize in heritage livestock and in a barter for ad space here on the blog, they sent up two Cuckoo Marans and this little treat. She's too young to go out with the other big girls, and coming from Florida, probably a little timid from the snowstorm we're supposed to get tonight. So I set up the Marans in their own little suite in the cook, a wire cage with water and feed and some time to b alone (and still with) the rest of the flock. New birds need this time. They need to sleep a few nights in their new home to realize it is their safe haven of food and shelter, and they also don't need a Saurapod like one of my geese snapping at it from a low roost. This little flower hen's got spunk, even a little feathered mohawk to prove it. I'm naming her Dre, after my coworker. Like the human versions: she's small, yet badass.

So that is my evening tonight. I came home from work and unloaded the three new members of the farm, and set up Dre in her luxury quarters. That little girl has the warmest spot in the house, right next to the stove. It's a good place to be since tomorrow they are calling for anywhere from 2-10 inches of snow to dump on our little corner of the world. Looks like those robins and days in the fifties were just teases. But I'm not worried. I have heating oil in the tank, wood by the stove, a ride into work, and a weekend ahead with much in store. In a few days 84 chicks will be descending on the farm, 36 of which are for members of the Chick Days Workshops coming up next weekend. The rest are orders from coworkers who tagged their spring poultry orders onto mine, a few layers for this farm, and ten meat birds to start off my season. I am looking forward to fresh spring chickens in the oven in as few as eight weeks from now.

This farm is going to make it into spring. There are chicks near the stove, a border collie to restart training, lambs, workshops, and shearing ahead. Sure, we might get a dump of snow tomorrow but it's nothing of consequence anymore. New life is scratching at the shells around here, and it's being heard loud and clear.

i'm on the renegade farmer radio show!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

useful tools

I like technology. I'm using some right now, actually. I'm writing a blog post on a computer, and it doesn't get more technological than that on a sheep farm. I also enjoy my home’s electricity, my combustion-engine truck, heated water buckets, my refrigerator, and the hundreds of other inventions and advances that make my life easier. They’re useful tools. I applaud them.

However, I am starting to slow my clapping down to a suspicious drumbeat. Things are getting out of hand. Between my growing addiction to wireless internet, smart phones, computers, iPads, video games, and the nonstop plethora of other gadgets being shoved down our throats: I am getting weary. I live in a house where my phone is both my alarm clock and my mail carrier. I can do my job (all 8 hours of my workday) without leaving a 4x4’ space. There’s a machine here that does my dishes. Another has a program does my taxes. I am fully capable of doing small-scale chores and simple math: and yet I am drawn to the easiest way out of the deal. I don't like this about myself.

I live and work on a small farm. Now, when I say small I mean it. Cold Antler Farm is six and a half acres with an 1100 square foot farmhouse. I drive a rusted ten-year-old Ford pickup truck. I own eight sheep and a chicken coop. I raised my pork one pig at a time. I know my geese on a first-name basis. This is not a large operation by any means and yet the life I have been training myself for has been incredibly physical. Even with such a small amount of land and animals: twice a day I am outside, sweating, hauling hay and water, noticing the changes in life and nature. It’s turned me into a seasonal runner, a full-time observer, and the occasional victim. It’s also changed how I view the role of technology in my life.

I want less.

There has to be a limit on the amount of technology we allow into our lives. If not, we are destined to fall into pathetic cultural entropy. What was once innovation has become a crutch. What was once novelty has become addiction. We are already acting as if we are handicapped. For year's we've been letting machines do everything from washing a single person's dishes to opening garage doors for people with working arms and legs. But now we have cell phones that give us directions, download audio books, send emails, and soon will act as our credit cards. There's no reason to ask a person for directions, go to the library, send a letter, or go into actual stores. It may seem like the simulacrum of progress, but I disagree. Instead it is creating a socially, physically, and dare I say it: emotionally retarded society.

Folks seem to have lost a lot of the ability to process and interact. I see it in the grocery store, in company meetings, and in parking lots. Public places are becoming places where the public has headphones on and angrily shuffle about from one destination to the other without so much as a wave to the other people they pass. I know folks who keep in touch with friends across the street online. I have seen friends of mine say and write things online they would never say in the etiquette of face-to-face interaction.

This is not progress. We’ve surpassed good work. We are starting to make human beings obsolete. Taking away human jobs for the sake of invention is not progress. Making people useless in our society is not something to be commended because it comes in a shiny black box you recharge twice a day. Having an automated robotic society running on fossil fuels or coal-fired electricity plants is also not Progress. I don’t want to live in a laborless, atomized, assembly-line world. Call me crazy, but I would rather see a future where people are of use. I want to know craftsmen, farmers, educators, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, storytellers, firefighters, pastors, salesmen, athletes, and artists. I want to hear music out of wood, strings, metal, skins, breath and peoples’ hands—not from headphones on an MP3 player. I want to walk across the street and talk to my neighbor about the weather and call another in an emergency. I want the skills and community back that buttons are taking away from me.

I think we’ve gotten so lost in the addiction of gadgets and innovation, drunk on what we can invent for the rush of it. A few weeks ago a robot that understood human conversation defeated every human contestant on Jeopardy. There is serious discussion by some pretty damn reputable people that the plotline from Battlestar Galactica is a scientific possibility. We already have created machines that understand and interact with humans. These robots are not curing cancer or handing out Malaria nets. They are outsmarting us on cable quiz shows. This is not noble work to me. This is an insult: a waste of resources and money

I have no idea if Cylons are are science fiction or fate. Like I said, I’m a 28-year-old sheep farmer, I don’t claim to understand the proper use of humanized robots. But what the hell. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest if there’s a chance they could take over the world we should probably stop building them and start building greenhouses instead. We have people to feed.

I hope for a change in how we see technology. I’m not a Luddite. I don’t want innovation to fade away. But I don’t see the point of a world where the average person isn’t useful unless they understand HTML 5. I do see a point where hard work, everyday dedication, and the honesty of craft, art, labor, and education are what drive us into a useful and co-dependant future.

So put down your iPad and pick up a shovel. I’m not saying you should throw it away, or cancel your Hulu subscription, just stop for a while. For chrissakes, go outside and work on your lawn. Take your kids to the park. Leave it to your newspaper or a friend’s recommendation to find a restaurant in Portland. Jog around the block. Plant a garden. Invite your neighbors over for dinner. Join a book club. Throw a tennis ball for your dog. Do anything that involves sweating without a touch screen out-of-doors. You don’t need to live on a small farm to notice the value of physical effort and interaction with things that bleed. But I am worried pretty soon the only people who do notice, will be those of us with hay to move around and lambs on the way. As far as I know, there isn’t an iPhone app for how to turn an inverted lamb around in a sheep’s uterus. For the love of god, I hope there never is.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

how to win a new banjo!

I am trying to come up with a way to get some blog readers some banjos for Banjo Equinox: the Spring Banjo Class we'll be doing here online. A lot of folks commented and said it would be be fun to learn, but they can't afford a new banjo. I decided to give one away on the blog here: but I also can not afford a new banjo. So I have an idea. How about everyone who wants a chance to win a new banjo, puts in a small donation to the farm marked "Banjo Equinox" We'll make it something everyone can afford, and then I'll use the donations from the entrants to buy and deliver the new banjo to the random winner (I'll use a number generator to be as fair as possible). I think we can get enough entrants to get a humble beginner clawhammer banjo package: the Bean Blossom Hobo for the winner. If we don't, I'll find a way to scratch up the difference.

Now, if there is donations over the the amount for the banjo package (around $279 at, which comes with a set up banjo, case, tuner, book, strap, and picks) then the rest will remain in the farm donation pot. That money will be used to build a turkey pen off the back of the red barn this summer.

This way a reader gets a brand new banjo for the class delivered to their door for a few dollars, and everyone who doesn't win gets a chance to help the farm and keep this place running into spring. I won't set any dollar amount for the entry to win the banjo. If you want to donate a dollar, then donate a dollar. If you want to donate five dollars, donate five dollars. If you want to donate 25 cents, then donate 25 cents. I'll start off by putting $25 into the pot as the host. Winner will be announced March 15th! So if you want in on a chance to win a fine banjo, enter tonight!

staring at the coop

Monday, February 21, 2011

all over the place

Out of all my dogs, no one loves the truck more than Annie. Any vehicle, really, is Annie's favorite mode of transportation. So this afternoon when the morning's snowfall had melted I asked her casually if she would like to go for a ride? The old girl's head picked right up and she trotted over to me with the lightness of a racing star. Off to Wayside we went for the essentials (dog food and toilet paper). I am a very exciting young person.

Wayside had just finished a batch of some sort of brownie/blondie cookie dessert and I cringed. Ever since that Valentine's Day post I have been trying my hardest to treat myself with the same politeness and self-interest I have in others' well being. I snatched up a granola bar and headed out the door. I tempered the urge and rejoined my canine in the front seat. So far I've lost a little weight from better choices and every day work outs. It feels good, and I don't want to fall off the wagon for something in plastic wrap.

Whenever Annie gets out of the car after a ride she looks like she just won something. She literally prances to the door. An all-Annie-based reality show would be the most boring event on television. This week: jump on daybed, will she make it? Next week! Can she finish her bowl of chow in under 3 minutes? Let's go to tape and find out, Stacy! In the nail-biting finale... SLEEP!

I'd watch that show. Hell, I already do. I love it.

The weekend with my sister and her husband was so enjoyable. When you live with three (generally) quiet roommates you forget about how neat it is to wait for someone else to wake up so they can join you for coffee chatting and you can give them the morning farm report (wether they are interested or not). The three of us had a whirlwind weekend of local adventures in Veryork, and they took me out to dinner in Manchester Saturday night. We did some shopping and I got a $5.86 jean skirt at Ann Taylor's bargain rack and decided I felt both fancy and useful that day. A nice combination, that.

The farm is getting through this last leg of winter with aplomb. All the sheep are holding their heads high. The chickens seem either resigned or oblivious to their indoor lives. They rarely leave the coop more than a few feet so I feet piling fresh bedding on their own waste. When I finally muck that and the winter pig pen out I will have the beginnings of a compost pile so wonderful I can already see myself spreading it up their on the pasture. In my mind a small pony or donkey does the bulks of the heavy lifting and together we walk along the pastures trailing a small spreader and filling this old New York dirt with fresh ground. Replacing and repairing soil here to create new and foamy earth is a big project of this farm. I want to do a little each year, some day with working animals aside me to help. When I think about a draft pony my heart rate literally speeds up.

Saro is still on her eggs but I think the cause is lost. It's been too long, and too cold. I'm giving her a few more days and the the nest has to go. I decided this while cleaning out the coop a bit, after getting snagged by a nail. It was a very shallow scrape, but still drew a little blood. I went inside instantly to clean it up and was grateful I spent the $29 on that tetanus shot last year...

Dinner tonight: a bowl of chili that's been sitting in the slow cooker all day. After that, my plan is to read a chapter on lambing in one of my sheep books and watch some online videos and take notes. We're getting down to the last four weeks before my first lambs are due and besides studying up there are jugs to set up in the shed, the bum-lamb pen to prepare (and hopefully not need) in the barn, and a vet to come and give them a look over and possible vitamin booster. If I can manage getting them shorn mid-March, I will certainly do that as well to make sure their as visible and clean as possible before birth.

It'll be quite the ride, this spring. I'm not sure I'm prepared for it, but I'm already looking forward to the fireflies and storms of June: knowing when they arrive winter, lambing, and so much more will be behind me and overcome. How's that for greedy? Not even through with winter and wishing for the end of spring....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

sheep and goats

I fell in love with goat cheese today. We dated for a few years, but kept it casual. I couldn't commit, I mean, who wants to limit themselves to one type of cheese? We're still seeing other foodstuff, but it's getting harder. Polymeadow Farm's chevre spread over a slice of brick-oven bread was so savory, so rich, so amazing I bought a container on the spot. This is what happens when your wool booth is parked right next to a goat dairy. Love happens in the strangest places. I think this is the beginning of something serious, people.

I came home from my second market breaking even but damn happy. My humble sales covered the table, gas, and bought my lunch. That's more than enough reason for me to spend a winter day around other small farms and their wares. There was live music, artwork on display, carrots the size of my rolling pin and fresh coffee. That's really all I need to die happy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

new shirt design!

jacci and her gang

This wonderful photo was sent in by reader, Jacci. Her companions in the photo are her first-ever chicks! Meet Apple, panini, basil, clover, nutmeg and pepper. Looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

take that

A thaw came today. The real deal. Fifty degrees of slush and sunshine. You actually see parts of my driveway. I was outside tonight with Jazz and Annie on a short walk and the stream that runs through my property was roaring (if a stream can roar) and the sound was spring. I stood out there and closed my eyes. Poetry, that rambling. Mixed in with that gurgling percussion was the soft hools of a Great Horned Owl in the high trees. I turned around to look at the house. It looked tired. Stains from the old furnace pipe on the front, leaves and ice stuck to the sides. It looked like a panting version of the proud white house that shone like a lighthouse on the green mountain all summer. Yet she was still there, and realize that we had almost made it though our first winter here, this pack of four. Gibson was on the steamer chest in the window, sitting on s sheepskin and watching us. A light was on upstairs in my office. It was on because I forgot to shut it off when I was watering the snap pea: but it was also on because somehow through all the furnace drama, snow plows, heating bills, and mortgage payments I managed to keep paying the electric bill. Same goes for the internet, groceries, and gas in the truck. Such modest accomplishments, but I felt like a domestic superhero. This place is making it. We're not eating Lobster dinners or keeping the heat above 64 degrees—but we are making it. And who needs 64-degrees of luxury when it's 34 degrees outside after dark!? Do you know how long it's been since we had a night above freezing?! I was floating out there among the exposed mines of dog poo from a winter of snow cover. Beaming. Hell, I didn't even have a jacket on.

I needed that breather. Today was a rough day. For no particular reason it had me languid. If anything I should have felt great. I started working out again this week, eating better, and even managed to run a mile in the gym yesterday. I had my annual review at work, (and I'm still working). All flags were at full mast, but I was just dogging it. Maybe the barometer gymnastics had me wonky.

But some time to slow down, breathe deep, and come home to a banjo and three smiling dogs was all I needed. Throw a thaw on top of that sundae and you've got yourself a farmer crouching to pounce on that defrosted soil. Soon there will be potatoes, peas, lettuce and more in it. Soon lambs will be running across the fence lines in little gangs of lost boys. And soon I'll be running again across the back roads of Washington County under a blazing summer sun. It just takes me a little time to recharge to see all that. Tonight I got it. I might even get 6 hours of sleep tonight.

Take that, winter.

Tomorrow my sister and her husband are coming up to visit the farm. We'll spend some time just enjoying the hill here, and we'll get to work the Farmer's Market table together in Bennington this weekend. It's my second market appearance, and I'll be hoping to sell some yarn and books. Wish the rookie some luck out there. I never turn it down.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

winthrop and me

go to sleep

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

sheds in the wind

The wind last night was epic. The kind of gusts that make you think the slush under your feet was really planks on an old ship. The warm weather (oddly 50 degrees) and melting snow made the blustery night something out of a sea shanty. All of Veryork was swaying. On this mountain you could hear the wind come howling down in stages. First up high and far away and louder and closer....A few moments later your body is covered in goosebumps and you see the trees break fresh with the air mass, and seconds later feel it on your own face. Your hair everywhere. Cracked lips crack even more. Over and over the wind rolled down onto the farm like this. I was in full batten-hatch mode and made sure everyone was inside their allotted home (be it coop or barn) and the dogs did not get walked. Instead we all ate our dinners inside and watched the clouds race over navy blue stars. What a show.

Feeding the sheep was complicated and labor intensive. I knew the second I dropped those flakes onto the snow they'd be blown into the night. So instead I grabbed an entire bale and hefted it over my shoulder. I carried it up the sheep hill as the wind and drops of freezing rain pelted me. I felt like some character in a Lord of the Rings movie. All I needed was a lantern and a cape. The sheep watched me with their dinner and only the three Longwools followed me. Good ol' Sal and Joseph were right behind me and Maude wasn't far behind. But the five Blackfaces stayed at the bottom of the hill where they always got fed. They had no idea why this crazy woman was pulling a full bale up to their apartments.

When I finally reached the sheep sheds I opened the full bale and spread it everywhere. I wanted the top layer to be dinner, and the bottom to become fresh bedding. I knew only half of the load would be eaten that night and the rest would just be a blanket, but I was okay with that. I wanted that shed as comfortable as possible. As the wind whipped at us all inside the little 8x12 building, I prayed it wouldn't tumble over. I watched my flock all around me in this domesticated space, totally calm and content while I made sure for the hundredth time the roof was clear of ice and snow.

This morning it was still there. The shed made it through. As I walked outside early to let Gibson enjoy a morning pee—all the sheep emerged from their nest content and still chewing cud from their midnight snacks. Storm? What storm? The just watched us from their hill like Gods at the Pantheon. It was a fine sight to see.

On Point!

I'll be recording a live interview on the NPR show, On Point today, I'm a little nervous! This is a show I hear nearly every day, and Sunday night I got an email asking if I could possibly be a part of this day's theme. It's about fiber and fiber optics: kniting in the social media age. The show is about the surge of knitting in a modern world and how blogs, facebook, ravelry, and such are creating even more interest in this old-fashioned hobby. So this small farm, blog, and (mostly online) CSA is being featured to show how knitting and modern technology go hand-in-hand. You can listen live, it airs at 11AM EST.

More information about the show and how to listen here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

something radical

You know what kills me? I can grow broccoli, raise animals, train a sheep dog, buy a farm, and start a small business. But I can not say no to an onion bagel with cream cheese (at least not yet). It's so frustrating. To be a woman who feels totally capable of tackling anything she dares to take on—but unable to drop twenty pounds—is demoralizing. You can't feel like any sort of success when you're unhappy with how your jeans fit. Diet and weight loss that are my biggest failure. I can push myself for weeks, lose fifteen pounds, and then be upset it's not thirty and bounce right back to my older weight. It's never good enough. It is frustrating as hell.

I always wanted to look like a hay-strewn, cowboy-shirt-wearing version of Jillian Michaels with a dog-eared copy of the Dharma Bums in her back pocket. The kind of woman men get nervous around. I had this idea that the only way I would ever be happy with myself was if I looked like people on the cover of fitness magazines, but you know, "farmier". Basically, I want to be a thoroughbred in a draft harness.

But the thing is...I love food. I adore it. I love growing it, raising it, being a part of the system. I love the seasonal role of food. The way my year is shaped by planting and harvesting, chicks and lambs, and the constant waltz of birth, death, and preservation. The same slow dance that has kept our civilization alive since time out of mind.

I love old recipes with butter and cast iron. I love the honey BBQ pulled-pork sandwich on a hand-kneaded fresh butter bun I ate last night for dinner. It was amazing. I love that I spent a whole day in the winter farmhouse smelling that crockpot wafting, baking bread, listening to music, planning a meal. I knew the pig. I learned a recipe. So many experiences and stories, images and tiny victories on one plate. This is the center of my life now. The rituals and dance of making food from earth and animals. My rumbling tummy working up to it is a fasting liturgy. The whole story, canon.

So today is Valentine's Day. A day dedicated to love. I'm single and thinking about dinner. It's not upsetting or depressing, but it is frustrating. I'm constantly battling this desire to be thin with my love of food. It makes me think so little of myself, knowing that the biggest thing getting in the way of my happiness has nothing to do with men or dating: it has to do with me. I can not accept myself for who I am because I have this ridiculous idea about what I need to be. I don't think I am alone here, either.

Today I am letting go. I don't want to want to be anyone else anymore.
Happy Valentine's Day, Jenna.

I have decided to embrace radical self-acceptance. Tonight I looked in the mirror, took a few deep breaths, and smiled. This is who I am. I'm a size ten. My hair is thin. My skin is blotchy, scared, and scratched. My arms are flabby over my bucket muscles. My teeth aren't great. My wardrobe is basic. But this is who I am. I accept it, and am grateful to possess it, and I am tired of believing it's not good enough. In fact, it does a pretty damn good job around here. Not everyone has a body that can run five miles in the summer, wrestle a ram, or take care of a farm through a -25 degree night. Some folks don't even have the ability to stand up—and yet here I am—being down on myself because my perfectly adequate legs aren't fit for the cover of a lululemon catalog? Well guess what dear readers, thoroughbreds aren't draft animals. I am 100% Percheron.

I'm not saying I'm settling. I'm not saying I'm giving up. I'm not saying I should put down those three-pound weights or throw out my running shoes. Accepting myself as is is isn't about giving up on goals—it's about not being angry for not obtaining them yet. I'm embarrassed about how self-conscious I was about my appearance. Embarrassed because I know this isn't the right way to go through the world. This ride is too short, and I am spending the whole time worrying if other people in line think my ankles look fat in chacos. Well, I'm done with that. I'm just going to step onto the rollercoaster now. No one else who is actually enjoying in the ride cares about your ankles, just the people waiting in line do.

So on this Valentine's Day I think I'll love myself for who I am.
All of me.

I'll do that and see what happens next. Because I have a hunch the first step towards actually changing some weakness in you is truly accepting your faults, flaws, fears, and fights for what they are. See them, know them, and let the go. If farming has taught me anything so far, it is that nothing is perfect, and the things that are usually aren't very functionual. Useful buildings, animals, pastures, and people are a mess of history, purpose, and weather. Their work changes them, and always for the better. I'll leave the braided-maned cart ponies pulling ribboned cabriolets to the folks parked next to the white picket fences. I'll be the wind-tussled workhorse beside the faded red barn and barbed wire.

Be grateful, be kind to yourself, and most importantly: be of use.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

my banjo mentor

I found a banjo mentor and her name is Julie Duggan. She plays old-time banjo better than crows fly, and it was an honor to have her sitting in my living room. Today my house was bursting with old songs out of Julie's 200-year-old banjo. It was the kind of clawhammer I had only seen on videos or concerts, never in person, never in a way where I could ask questions and stare at hands. I was in awe.

Julie and I have been in touch on-and-off since I moved to Cambridge, but we never really got together like we planned. She knew I was interested in becoming a better banjo player, and that I had a fiddle here too. But finally after a week of banjo posts on this blog she and I couldn't put off hanging out any longer. So we made banjo-brunch plans.

She lives just 6 miles away from my farm, on her own 30 acres of gardens and music. There, her and her husband Dennis collect antiques, garden, build log cabins and acquire and restore old banjos. She also teaches art in Cambridge High School, paints, does pottery, and plays a bevy of other folk instruments to boot. She used to travel and teach at camps and festivals all over America, but now lives a quieter life (if a banjo player can have a quiet life) here in Washington County. That video posted above is Julie playing Cluck Ol' Hen. It's a favorite fiddle tune of mine, but you can really see her fly on that 1800's pot. She's certainly got the gift. You can listen to plenty of free recordings and videos on her website

As soon as she walked in the door there was an instant sense of familiarity. After all, this was a woman who knew about that sweet music, played fiddle tunes, loved dogs and horses and appreciated small farms. We got along so well we didn't actually get a chance to play anything till the last 45 minutes or so of her visit, but she explained things perfectly. She's a natural teacher, and she showed me techniques, tricks, and hints to help me get started. After years of books and videos I finally had someone really explain, in person, the way to frail the strings. How my hand should feel, how my thumb should work. It will take weeks before I am used to the clawhammer motion, but at least now I know exactly what I am working towards. My homework: one simple lick she called Alligator, which is more or less a lesson in motor functions.

We'll barter for lessons. I'll be providing her with eggs, honey, knit goods, and help with some projects (no meat, she's a proud vegetarian but supportive of small-scale meat farming). I'm beginning to barter more and more, it's swiftly becoming my favorite economy.

She was frank as hell, too. She basically explained I'll be as good of a banjo player as I'm willing to work for. If I play 15 minutes a day, I won't progress as well as if I was playing 2 hours. I nodded in understanding, and when she finished a particularly beautiful version of waterbound, I asked her how long it would take for me to get to something like that? Her answer: about 2-3 weeks with real practice. This blew my mind. I told her I just wanted to get there by summer. She laughed, shook her head, and said "Stick with me, Kid."

As if she could get rid of me now...


photo by tim bronson

thinking on the garden...

I am trying to plan my garden, but no sure about the best way to do it. I am considering building a few raised beds this year, because they are easier to contain and protect from beasties and animals were the number one reason my garden failed this past year. In Idaho my first-ever gardens were raised beds near an old cow barn and I built boxes (of various sorts). Instead of a big perimeter fence I built mini fences around each bed. It worked great, and thanks to my slug eating Black Silkie Bantams: I had built in migrant workers on staff.

So that might be the most realistic option, but I really do prefer working right out of the ground, tilling, hoeing, and building the growing rows with compost and straw between them. However, last year animals destroyed this method with an attack on all fronts. I had deer, rabbits, groundhogs, birds, the works. So I am hesitant to use the same "garden" from last year. The old chicken wire and shallow posts the previous owners used did nothing to stop animals. It's getting ripped out for sure and something new will replace it. But that leaves me with a space that needs some serious work to turn the slight hillside into a cascading garden with tiers and new fences.... or just let the whole things revert to pasture and build a hoop house or inexpensive greenhouse elsewhere. A place to keep out large animals and place it over wire to keep out ground animals. Sounds like vegetable jail, but when your farm is on a mountain in the gotta do what you gotta do.

I do want a pumpkin patch. That I am sure of.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

here i come

The kindness of my banjo has lifted me up, so much. It is amazing how much some bright strings and those those mountain tunes have raised my spirits. I feel like a new woman. Between the instrument, the warmer days ahead (mid thirties this week!), and the promise of spring adventures here on the farm. Bees, seeds, and chicks are on the way. Plans for a raised-bed salad garden are already rolling around in my head. Today I was in a wood-heated greenhouse looking at how they have managed to grow food all year and felt so inspired around those baby greens. To see rows of kale, buttercrunch, and spinach all around me was a farmsmack of goodness. Standing on dirt, tasting cabbage off the stalk, laughing with a fellow farmer and talking about our farm's own plans for summer...

This recent turn of events is just want I needed.

I am beginning to feel like the worst is over. The winter is coming to a close and never before in my life have I had such a soft spot in my heart for spring. It's a season I usually despise, but this year I will meet it on my knees.

I have some neat things to announce, including a joint project with two readers who are starting a small business making bamboo notebooks. They are using Kickstarter, a program that lets you rally funding online in the sense that a bunch of small-scale investors help get you started. A micro-loan thing much like Janet described in her post. You can see information about their notebooks here, which will focus designs like the CAF barnheat, veggies, woodcut animals, and other funky agricultural designs I come up with.

And the second neat thing....I want to propose Banjo Equinox. We're going to start an online old-time banjo course here, and it will go a little something like this: anyone who wants to learn to play the banjo will. You won't need any musical experience, or need to read music—you'll just need some stubbornness and dedication. You'll learn with me right here on the blog. All you'll need to get started is a 5-string banjo, a tuner, and we'll all use the same books and materials and share videos, ideas, stories and what not. To kick it off I will be giving away a beginner banjo kit here on the blog in mid-march. It won't be the fanciest banjo, but it will be a nice open back perfect for some clawhammer action.

Okay guys. Spring is a real thing. She's coming, and when she does, I will be ready with a hoe in one hand and a chicken in the other...

I can not wait.

truck errands

woven in

A corporate office isn't the kind of place that makes you think of banjo music, but yesterday right in the middle of my pod I was playing some beginner clawhammer. Right next to my computer I was strumming and picking on our lunch break, filling the third floor with an old waltz. Out of those who took notice, no one complained.

My banjo arrived—as most of my mail does—at work. I had been stalking the UPS website all morning, waiting to see when the delivery truck had arrived. At noon the men in brown where here and I floated down to the second floor. The long box marked Fragile was there, as was a slew of other employees, and the UPS guy. All were eating cake. It was the driver's birthday, and Tami, our mail maven had made sure he had a vanilla sheet cake waiting for him. (I adore that I work for a company that remembers the mailman's birthday, and bakes for him). I had my cake (at wolfish speed) and then took the box down to an empty room on the first floor to open it, tune her up, and frail away.

When I was in the sanctity of the little private room I opened the box and pulled out the black case. INside was green felt, a little hydrometer, and a thing of beauty: a 5-string open back banjo. It was a modest model, a Morgan Monroe. (They also make the great beginner old-time banjo, the hobo) and since it was ordered from Knoxville's Banjo Hut: it was ready to play—strings on, bridge set, nearly in tune. I lifted her into my arms. I took a deep breath. What a feeling to have back again.

It had been a while since I had played, but the old Waltz came back to me. I played Down in the Willow Gardens, which I learned from a Wayne Erbsen beginner tab book, and that mountain music was back. I closed my eyes, playing from automatic memory. The same type of motions that get you twenty miles down the road you don't remember driving to. I played that song, clumsily, making mistakes and keeping on. I felt the dark green grass under me, and the navy blue and purple sky above me, and the blesses summer heat of Tennessee. I felt the warmth of a campfire on my cheek. The sting of muscles sore from hiking up Chimney Tops. The flash of heat lightening, the glow of a firefly just outside my line of site, the constant percussion of a cold stream.

Old Time Banjo is all these things, every time. From that first lesson of learning how to frail the timeless clawhammer strum to your mastering of Georgia Buck is Dead: it's that exhale of place and past. It's a postcard and a memory. It's instant smiles and heart-wrenching reflection. It's the music played in camps of the Civil War, and 60s protests, and my own adventures around America. It's a part of me, woven in.

Thank you for this fine gift.

Friday, February 11, 2011

a chicken story

Thursday, February 10, 2011

janet's hat

I got an email from Cold Antler CSA member, Janet. She lives up in Nova Scotia, sews quilts, and supports small farmers like me just starting out by buying a share of wool in advance, and then waiting patiently for her booty to be mailed after harvest this spring.... She sent me email with photos and the project she created with the help of Maude and Company. The following post is from the email she sent me, and the photos of the project she knit from her first skeins. (Some members got two skeins to start, others got one. The number you got was based on how cold your area of the country was! All members will receive the same amount when the rest of the shares are mailed, so it will even out, promise.) Thank you, Janet. It is a special kind of satisfaction keeping people on the cold north sea a little warmer!

I had been following Jenna’s blog for about a year and enjoying her quest for a few acres of farmland on which to establish herself, her dogs, chickens, ducks etc, and quietly applauding her grit and determination.

At the same time I had been slowly building an investment portfolio of loans through Kiva, despite misgivings about the sustainability of some of the projects funded.

Mainly I had been concentrating on Africa and on women who were responsible for the future of children and grandchildren. I had been strongly influenced by Canada’s Stephen Lewis an advocate for both AIDS funding and the African grandma’s who were shouldering the burden of raising children orphaned by AIDS. So the concept of microloans to enable women for the first time to access funding for their business and agricultural pursuits struck home.

I knew that if I had had access to microfunding twenty or thirty years ago my future might have been very different.

When Jenna announced her plans to purchase a half dozen blackface sheep and form a CSA (community supported agriculture) cooperative through which to market her wool, I came right on board. In my view it makes a great deal of sense to receive your money upfront with which to finance your ongoing operation rather than seeking a bank line of credit (with its attendant control issues) and paying interest for the privilege of lining someone else’s pockets. Right now, the less we rely on and submit to the control of banks the better we will be…. After viewing the recent meltdowns in the US, Iceland and elsewhere.

To make a long story short, just before Christmas I received Jenna’s preliminary packet of info and wool from Maude and other 4-legged friends and the other night I wound some and chose a pattern I had enjoyed making up twice before – a funky, folky hat with huge tassels, designed by NavIne, I must say I am enjoying using this lovely soft wool, and that it knits up into an elastic, warm, yet lacy fabric. I think all Cold Antler Farm’s other CSA members will be as enchanted by it as I am.

I can hardly wait to receive next summer’s installment of skeins and roving – I see thrummed mittens, a traditional New England and Atlantic Canadian concept using roving knit into the inside of mittens to provide loads of insulation for cold days. As I say, I can hardly wait!

Jenna’s prices, from what I can see by cruising the web, are realistic for the quality of wool on offer. Now I need to learn how to dye wool! Perhaps even to spin! Being able to knit is not enough……

Attached is a picture of the hat I made with Jenna’s first wool CSA installment. Who to give it to? What would be more appropriate than to send it off to Jenna in appreciation of her grit and determination in developing a flock to help support her small hill farm? Perhaps she will use it to publicize her products when she appears at farmers markets.

I can hardly wait for the really big installment of wool to arrive – what will I knit with it? I’m busy scanning the internet and collecting patterns to help me decide.

Thank you Jenna for re-introducing me to knitting with wool, rather than blends and acrylic fibres.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

gifted a banjo

I got an email from a reader who saw my post about missing my banjo, and how it meant spring to me. In an act of pure kindness, she made it possible for me to order one, on the condition I will never sell it. I must treat it like another dog, a thing of companionship and import. I found a Morgan Monroe model, a fine open back design for clawhammer and it will be delivered on Friday. I am so excited about this banjo, you just can't know.

I decided if a gift like that could be given from a stranger, than I must honor that with a dedicated practice of the beast. I will be studying the banjo, in the Old-Time style this spring with a fresh heartbeat, a renewed intent. I want to approach it as a beginner all over again. And if anyone out there wants to join me, we'll do an online webinar course.

As soon as I am able. I will be gifting a banjo here on the blog to one of you readers. We'll keep that sweet music grazing.

hay time switchel

Hay Time Switchel was a popular drink in New England once. It was the original Gatorade for farmers. A homebrew of various potent sources of protein and sugar (maple syrup, molasses, eggs, cider, vinegar, ginger, honey, and cane sugar: among other regional ingredients) and together they created a lasting source of hydration and stamina for men working from dawn into the full moon to bring in the hay. It was quite the thing.

I have created my own Switchel here at Cold Antler, and while the ingredients are different the effect is the same. I make a combination of really, really, strong green Yerba Mate green tea,100% fruit juice, and raw honey. I make it in giant two gallon pots and then let it cool in the fridge. I then bottle it into beer bottles, cap it, and set it in the fridge. These switchels then are ready to be drank as a booster when I come inside from morning chores (so refreshing cold) or this morning, I still am fighting a cold so I poured a bottle into my giant brown mug and heated it up for two minutes and added more honey and lemon. It did the trick.

Yerba Mate isn't like coffee or tea. It's an herb from South America and bought loose and green it brews just like coffee in your percolator. I brew it strong, almost brown, and pour two coffee pots of it into a stainless steel saucepan before I add my can of berry juice concentrate and a half cup of honey from my bees. It is a true natural energy source. Yerba Mate doesn't give you that jolt like coffee (something I still adore but drink much less of) instead it slowly rises you up to a calmer state of awareness.You just feel like it's four hours before you drank it. Refreshed.

So there's something to consider. Either digging up some ancient Switchel recipes and trying them out instead of buying corn syrup and food coloring, or giving Yerba Mate a try. It's pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

this morning

weather and such

I woke up to the snow from childhood memories. The kind that covers every tree, every fence row, and hides all sin. It was still dark when I was outside delivering hay and water, but in the glow of the lamppost the flakes seemed magical. No cars drove by, and because of the atmosphere I would have been shocked if they did. The only transport that would have made any sense was a jingle horse. Inside the coffee was perking, there were some oatmeal cookies in a quart jar, and all the dogs had already been taken out and fed. I stood out by the well, on a slight down slope from the farm house and the sheep and just took it all in.

The weather has been flirtatious lately. Saturday night temperatures rose to nearly 40 degrees and a thunderstorm ripped through Jackson. I wasn't prepared for it. I was out late with the dogs, giving them their last trip outside when I noticed a giant flicker of light. I though the house shorted, or the lamppost was on the fritz...but then a clap of thunder filled the sky and I felt six again, I was so excited. I fell asleep with a window cracked open as the rain fell. It was almost like a summer pre-show. A trailer of what's to come. I missed my banjo. The rain reminded me of spring, and spring is for banjos, mud, chicks, and pea vines.

Sigh. They want it 0 tonight.

Monday, February 7, 2011

shepherd shirts!

I added some more stuff to the Dry Goods store. You can now get this design on some products (including an iPhone holder) and some other nifty farm goodies at my Cafepress store. Might be fun to stretch out on a Barnheart yoga mat, or eat your pulled pork lunch from an antler container. Every item puts a few dollars towards the farm.

peas and snow


Every time I hear someone tell me how stupid sheep are I think of my boy, Sal. Sal's my British Longwool crossbred wether: half Border Leicester and half Romney. He's huge, easily 200+ pounds, and to some people that makes him a little menacing. I remember when my friend James came to see my new farm and he saw Sal up on the hill standing under the apple trees he just stared, asked "when I got a pony with a sweater?"

Truth is, Sal's the calmest and most social sheep at Cold Antler. He comes when called, nuzzles you, and will lay next to you in the pasture if you promise to scratch his ear. I have watched toddlers stand right next to him and tug at his wool. I have set a dulcimer on his back and played it at length. He's just an easy going guy. A Golden Retriever in sheep's clothing. When Gibson charges up at the fence every single sheep but he race up the hill in a dust cloud. Sal stands calm as an iron Buddha. He chews his cud, looks at me, looks at the dog, and says in his own sheepy way, "What?"

Someday Gibson will snap his nose to teach him to respect the Law of Dog, but until then he is unmoved by 55 pounds of talk.
I like that about Sal.

He and Maude change people's minds about sheep. Most people think they are all without personality or thought, but spend one afternoon at this farm and interact with angry, sullen, Maude and joyous Sal and you'll see emotions and complex thoughts like our own behind those eyes. I'm not saying sheep are people, but they are individuals. They react with the world in their own way.