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....