Tuesday, April 12, 2011

queen of the sun

Monday, April 11, 2011

since I was thirteen

The movie Babe—possibly the first and only mainstream movie to show shepherds and sheepdogs working together on a farm,—I first saw when I was thirteen years old. A junior high student, who knew something about that life felt correct. I have carried a copy of this movie with me for over fifteen years. It just keeps getting better and better.

Watch my favorite clip of Rex here

online print shop coming soon!

Over the past few months I've read several of your comments and emails regarding my friend Tim's photography here on the blog. Folks wanted to know how to order prints or tote bags, or just see more of his work? Well I am happy to announce that Tim is working on opening up an online print shop for his business 468 Photography, loaded with CAF photos. Prints will be available for as little as five dollars, professionally printed by a professional lab that ships them right to your door. Hot Dang!

As a bonus he's donated an 11x14" print of Sal, this one you see here, as a giveaway. I'll be handing it out this Friday. So check back and see if you're the winner of a that goofy mug. Framed it sure would look smart on your wall.

See Tim's website here, and sign up on the bottom of his blog for email updates. While not all of his work (most of it actually) isn't farm-related, it's still neat as hell.

just a regular weeknight

All I wanted to do was go for a jog.

It was an unusually warm day for April here in Veryork; 70 degrees and intoxicatingly summery. I had a grand day at work enjoying the design department's move to the first floor from the third. Now I was working literally thirty feet away from my truck, Gibson, and the big-glass back doors that overlooked acres of yard with a pond and woods. I could now step away from my desk and sit on a small porch and watch crows fly or dogs play. This is quite the gift for an office employee. Prime location for a girl with Barnheart and a black dog.

So I was happy. And it wasn't just this downstairs office gig either. It was the fact that this April I had managed to pay my truck loan and my mortgage entirely on my farm's income. This is quite unusual, but between the 2012 CSA and some writing gigs I pulled it off. I was feeling like celebrating. So when the office day was over I decided I would end this fine warm day with a long run, and some pizza and booze.

This was my plan: after work stop at Wayside for a 22oz hard cider, come home, walk the dogs, do farm chores, and then go for a warm dusk run along the dirt roads. I would end my night with a homemade slice of pizza and my ice-cold cider after a shower that was long and well-deserved. I looked forward to this like my mother looks forward to the opening day of the Palmerton Pool.

I pulled into the driveway, cider bottles clinking, and singing along with Josh Ritter on the truck stereo. I let Gibson out of the cab and we went inside to take care of evening chores. Jazz and Annie were by the front door waiting. Patient as saints, they hold it in all day while Gibson and I are at work. I put Gibson in the crate with his dinner, and leashed up the Sibes for a nice constitutional.

We stepped outside to the side yard for their initial relief and before Jazz could so much as lift a leg I froze and backed up. Not ten feet in front of my sub-par wolves was a Blackface ewe (number 15-06) escaped from the pasture fence. She was panting in the garden. She had slipped out from the wire and t-posts and was trying to get back to her lambs. If Jazz and Annie wanted to they could easily rile her up and run her off into the woods. I backed up slowly and rushed the dogs back inside the house. I had no idea if they got to so much as pee, but sometimes crisis is bigger than a husky bladder.

I grabbed some grain and walked up to the Blackface, who let me get close because she was worried about leaving her twins on the other side of the fence. We paced together. I had cut this section of the woven wire a few days earlier to move equipment in and wondered if she figured a way to slip out? As I worked with pliers to let her back in something in the distance went off, a shotgun or a blown tire and she bolted. I watched her crash right through the Heirloom Salad Green bed I had spent my Saturday constructing, tilling, planting, and creating a bird net around by hand. In seconds it was destroyed and the neatly mounded rows a scattering of mud and hoofprints. I realized my five varieties of greens were now all smooshed together. A baby green salad now pre-mixed by an errant ewe.

It took some more commotion but I got her back inside the fence. A long drink of water and some fresh hay and she seemed content to stay inside. I then walked the entire fence line looking for the hole she squirmed through and found none. She must have jumped clean over it. I'll never know why.

Later, tired, and now still faced with farm chores and two dogs with crossed legs. I went back inside and saw Jazz had left a dump the size of a small cat in the middle of the living room floor. I looked right at him and said I was sorry. I cleaned it up and didn't utter a word of admonishment to the old dog.

When the dogs were walked, fed, and the farm repaired and cared for I put on my sneakers and went for a run. Three blessed miles of alone time, music, and a short tour of my neighborhood. It had been a while since I could run a distance (humble as it is) like that outdoors and the fact that I had reunited a stray sheep and her lambs, fixed a broken raised bed, paid for my farm for another month, and still managed to sweat like a man—had me ridiculously happy. Not many days are like this. Few, honestly. I nearly sprinted the last mile home. If the run was exhausting, I didn't notice.

Just a regular weeknight. Just another step towards a feral dream.

So I'm calling it a night soon. Turn on the hot shower and crack open the cold cider: this day is done. And If you think I'm going to feel guilty about tha pizza, you better get to know me. I might even go for seconds.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

might be

The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away.
I might be herding sheep next year.
-Elvis Presley

photo by tim bronson

csa update

I think everyone who is renewing their CSA spot has contacted me, and all shares should be set for the next season. If you have yet to renew, please contact me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Saturday, April 9, 2011

back in the soil

I leaned against the side of my truck and let out a very long, very tired, sigh. In front of me on a slight incline was 32 square feet of future vegetables. Just beyond the bird-netting covered bed was one of Lisette's lambs, watching me through the field fence. I raised my water bottle to her and took a long swig, wishing silently it was either Guinness or coffee. I needed some sort of pat on the back. I had spent most of my Saturday constructing two 4x4ft raised beds out of scrap lumber on sale in the back of Home Depot. Before the cordless drill had the chance to meet any of the 2x4's I reenacted a passion play I have taken part in every year since I lived in Idaho: breaking sod. With my brand new hoe I pulled apart the earth and discovered black foam and earth worms enjoying last years fingerling potatoes I had missed in the harvest. I broke a sweat and broke in a new pair of gloves. When about ten inches of soil was loose and free of roots and rocks I filled a wheel barrel of year-old rabbit compost from the barn. It was covered in decayed hay that was stained with pigs blood. Shit and blood are horrible things, but to a gardener they are poetry. Left alone to think about what they have done, they decompress into a potion so rich and beautiful it literally creates new life. I mixed in the horrible with the raw earth and thought about the rabbits, Pig, and the months of story that go into a bed of lettuce. What a thing, this wooden box.

I covered the earth and compost with 6 cubic feet of organic, black, topsoil I bought in bags. I made five long rows of mounds and planted the seeds a half inches or so below the dark earth. How odd to be engaging in such an ancient practice with heirloom seeds I had ordered online. This really might be the greatest time in our history to start learning older country skills. Between the internet and our gusto we can learn or achieve just about anything we are stubborn enough to attempt.

So why the heirloom lettuce seeds instead of my usual 6-packs of started Buttercrisp and Romaine from the local greenhouses? Well, this year I am trying to plant things now are sustainable; meaning vegetables that if I saved the seeds this fall I could plant them again in the spring and so on and so forth into eternity. Few folks realize that 99.9% of the vegetables grown in America can't be grown again from their own seeds. They have been genetically engineered into a hybrid form that produces just one generation of outstanding product. So if you want a garden that can feed you for more than one season, you need to dig a little deeper and plant seeds saved by folks who kept the old breeds of vegetables alive. Is it just me or do you find it kinda creepy that most vegetables can't be replanted? I think potatoes with eyes might be one of the few things we save from the grocery store we can actually resurrect...

In my lettuce bed I planted varieties called Amish Deer Tongue, Bronze Arrowhead, Red Velvet, Susan's Red Bib, and Speckled Trout Back. You can't find these in Spring Mixes at the grocery store, but you might find them at your local farmer's market. Or you could grow them yourself if you have the inclination and a 4x4 spot in the backyard that gets good sunshine.

I bought the Heirloom Seed Collection from Seed Savers Exchange and planted all of them (save for the Crisp Mint). Tomorrow I'll fill the second bed with Danvers and Dragon carrots and potatoes I had let go to seed in my kitchen. Talk about practical! Salad greens, carrots, and potatoes so far. Early and hardy vegetables I can start from seed outdoors right in the soil. I want to plant not only heirlooms, but heirlooms I eat a lot of. Every time I roast a chicken (and I have a lot of chickens...) I place them on a bed of potatoes and carrots. And who doesn't have a thousand uses for salad greens? Not very sexy, but a good start to real food right here in the backyard. And as the weekend's progress I hope to plant many more raised beds.

It feels good to be back in the soil again. I missed it so much.

what are YOU looking at?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

a lost pullet and future kits

The little pullet didn't make it. Poor thing. I went into the mud room to check on her and she was cold as the stones outside. It was more of a blow than it usually would have been. I'm not sure what else I could have done within the realm of practicality—losing chicks is part of the story. Even the best of us fail one or two.

Cambridge (the closest town to Cold Antler) is coming alive for the big bike race taking over the town this weekend. Cyclists from all over New England and the Mid Atlantic swarm into town to peddle through Washington County's back roads. It's great for tourism dollars and hell for locals who need to get nails at the hardware store or buy milk at the Co-op. It is nice to see the parking lot at the grand Cambridge Hotel (home of pie ala mode) filling up in every spot. Stores are staying open later. New faces are popping up at Stewart's.

Today was a fairly humdrum day at the farm. I ordered some supplies to brew some new stout beer for the early summer. I renewed my membership to the ARBA, and got more pedigrees for the new kits I hope to be born by fall. I'm already excited to hold those pedigreed bunnies in my arms...

I'm also excited about breeding some meat rabbits. Last year was a flop, but this year I hope to run a very small rabbitry for personal use and extra income. Just two breeding does for wool, and two breeding does for meat. I already have the angora bucks (sons of Benjamin and Bean: my previous foundation stock) and one healthy meat Palamino doe that was born in Vermont and raised here in New York. If I can get her a decent buck and one more doe to share him with at the big Poultry Swap coming up in May: I'll be back in the rabbit business.

You know, I always thought rabbits would be a fad with me. An entry-level livestock I would replace with sheep and meat chickens or grass-fed beef. But rabbits are too good, and too addicting, to stop raising. For how inexpensive they are to raise (and how amazing a crock-potted rabbit tastes in Italian seasoning with red sauce and wine) they really might be the most practical source of backyard meat. A doe can raise three to four litters a year, up to 70 lbs over her own harvest weight in meat! For something that lives in a hutch and can make a home in every backyard in America, that is damn impressive! It's also encouraging to know that there's this wonderful alternative for urban and suburban homesteaders to chickens and eggplant. Do many of you eat rabbit? Or is it still a weird idea to have Thumper kabobs?

Regardless, I gave up giving up rabbits. I'm back in the club and happy to be here.

make your own top bar hive!

Beekeeping is an ancient DIY art, performed by amateurs and makers for centuries. Anyone can produce natural honey at home. People keep bees in many different kinds of hives, but we will focus on a cheap and simple design, called the Honey Cow.

The Honey Cow is designed to mimic nature as much as possible. Unlike commercial hives, it does not have frames, foundation or excluders. Instead, it just has top bars, allowing the bees to do what they would in a fallen log: build beautiful, natural combs. Because it is less intrusive to the bees, it's easier to make and manage, which makes it a perfect beginners backyard hive.

(Taken from Instructables.com - Click here for instructions!)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Tonight while doing my usual evening chores I came upon a sad sight. One of the little laying hens, a tiny brown babe, was dead on the ground. No sign of struggle or feather—not the work of a hawk or a fox. It simply died of exposure. Perhaps this little gal wasn't tough enough to get her share of feed from the scattered grain? Maybe she was too scared to drink water from the big-girl font and died of dehydration? Who knows. I reached down to pick her up and bury her under the compost pile.

I was quietly surprised she was still warm and limber in my hands. I looked closer. She was still breathing... She was failing fast, but still with us. She must have accepted 6 weeks as her life's work. I refused to agree. I wasn't giving up without a fight.

I walked her over to the well, keeping her close to my chest and breathed warm air on her. Her eyes half-opened. I dropped her beak into the stream and she barely drank, but some of it seemed to slide down her now slowly opening and closing mouth. I brought her inside by the wood stove and brooder. I set her on a small basket of wool and hay I keep on top of the dryer to collect eggs. I put her on the wool and set her chilled body right under the warm light. I watched her chest slowly rise and fall. She was trying now.

I left her there with a prayer and some hope while I returned to my evening chores. As much as I would have liked to play chicken ER, there are priorities I need to address. One chick gets a second chance, but she can't hinder the meals and water of dozens of other animals waiting. I had lactating mamas bleating for grain. I had rabbits parched for more water. I had my own dogs to feed and walk. The farm is so many parts it is like our own bodies. You can't stop everything because you get a papercut on your index finger. You bandage it up and continue with your life.

I pushed her out of my mind while I went about the regular work of replacing water buckets, counting lambs, collecting eggs, checking on the new bunnies, and feeding the dogs. My brain didn't trot back to the thoughts of the gasping pullet, but they did seem to latch onto something I heard a few weeks ago. In that video I shared here about Novella Carpenter's Ghost Town Farm in Oakland—she did a short bit on the importance of endurance. She said that running a farm, even a backyard homestead, is something you work up to. You don't start with 6.5 acres, a flock of pregnant sheep, 50+ chickens, dogs, bees, geese, ducks, rabbits, an old barn, and a giant garden. You start with a 5x5 raised bed and a trio of hens. Maybe three rabbits in a hutch and plant an apple tree—canning your own jam or sewing your own hooded sweatshirt. You get the jist.

When I look at the things I do in a normal 8-5 work day it seems so utterly normal, but the girl from Knoxville might have thrown up after a week of it all.

Endurance certainly is the word.

I started with such a small project list. In Idaho I had a few raised beds, backyard chickens, bees, and hutch rabbits. It seemed like so much to handle then. Now it seems almost too little to even consider. This farm went from being an idealist hobby into flirtation with self-reliance. Now I am head-over-heals in love with it all. I signed that mortgage and accepted this farm as a partner and friend. It takes care of me and I take care of it. It feels like all those late nights reading about gardening and sheep in rented apartments and busting sod all over the country on stranger's land was training me for this place. Endurance training. And it all started with an apartment in a city with a red dog and a hankering for the mountains. Look at all the trouble I got myself into now...

The little pullet was sitting up and drinking water as of just a few moments ago. She has the whole brooder to herself by the wood stove with feed and clean water. I hope she makes it.

I hope I do too.

winner of the first banjo equinox challenge!

Congrats to Julie! She was the lucky random winner from the videos submitted for the first recital. For all her hard work she gets a copy of the book Banjo Camp! mailed to her (email me Julie so I can send it to you), and hopefully she'll keep on keeping on as we all head into our next song. I think she's a brand new frailer? Even so, how beautiful to see that hand flurry into a blur! Congrats to all who entered and are taking on making your own music for the first time with clawhammer banjo. Now, start practicing Sugar Hill! Our next challenge will be next weekend and the winner out of the videos will get a skein of Cold Antler Farm's yarn!

Here's a question for all of you out there taking part in the lessons: how do you learn a song? Do you go through the whole thing slowly until you can do it? Do you start with one note at a time and add new notes on piecemeal? Or do you do what I do and listen to a song twenty times and then try to learn it in small sections before moving on? Teach us your methods!

start living your dream (and win some books)

CAF is giving away the complete collection of Ashley English's current Homemade Living Series! Four, beautiful, hardcover books about chickens, canning, beekeeping, and the home dairy. Signed by Ash herself, these would be wonderful references (and inspiration) to add to your farm library. To enter for the fancy set, you need to do something for me first.

You need to sit at your desk, coffee table, etc. and write down on a sheet of paper exactly what your dream homestead or farm would be. Not on your computer. Not on your iPad. On paper. Write down the acreage, the house, the barn, and the animals you will share it with. Draw a picture of the layout, where the stables will be, where the garden will be. Be specific. If you are already at your farm or working your own homestead: do the same for a new project. Draw the way the new pork pasture will look, and write a description of the exact solar charger and line weight of the wire. Then, after you brought this dream or project into the world of actual paper. I want you to make that first step. If you described your little cottage in the country, then I need you to call a realtor and explain to them what you are looking for in your price range. I don't care if you plan to move, or buy, or what: just make the call. If you drew chickens next to your backyard garden, then run to the library to get a book on basic chicken care (I can think of one that is just delightful). Whatever it is you wrote down as your dream, the point is to take that first step towards making it happen. Get a book, call a mortgage broker, order seeds online, talk to your husband about wanting that draft horse...just do something that is beyond dreaming.

Then fold up your piece of paper, put it in your pocket, carry it with you always. It will work miracles.

And to win these books, leave a comment telling all of us what that first step was. When you've done that: you've just entered to win.

Winner will be picked Friday Night! Check back to see in comments!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

young man

photo by tim bronson


I'm so incredibly relieved that Spring is here and lambing is behind me. The winter and the births were beautiful and trialing—I don't mean to discount them in any way—as lessons were learned and I feel like I truly pulled through. But for it to be a warm 50-degree morning in April and not have to worry about sinking roofs, dodgy commutes, plowing driveways, pregnant animals, or heating oil is such a weight off this girl's shoulders it makes me almost want to retract all my smack talk about April I've done on this blog years prior....Almost.

April is still a creepy son of a bitch.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Announcing: 2011/2012 Fiber CSA!

Cold Antler Farm's main enterprise is the Fiber CSA, and with shearing day just around the corner, I thought I'd explain how the main business of the farm works and how you can be a part of it if you'd like.

What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It's a fairly popular system. A practice of small-farming economics that helps farmers raise the capital they need going into the season under the agreement that when the crop is harvested (be it eggs, meat, dairy, veggies, honey, or wool) that they will be delivered the goods they paid for in advance at a later date. So you pay for your share up front, and become a shareholder in the farm. While this doesn't make you a part-owner (like a share in stock) you are getting to share in the joys of (live)stock. Members of the Cold Antler Farm Fiber CSA get a welcome packet with some wool at a date based on shearing and processing. You might pay and not get your wool until months down the road.

So that's how it works. It's actually a small gamble in some senses. If all goes as planned, you get a big package of wool and keep Cold Antler on its path to become the farm it will be! But if tragedy strikes and a tornado lifts my flock up into the air: no one gets any wool. While I doubt that's the case, you just need to know a CSA share is non refundable. The money will be long spent by packaging day.

How to Join the Lottery
If you want to be considered for the first lottery, understand that you need to be ready to commit to payment up front and you won't get your share until the 2012 season. This year's members get this season's wool, and if there is enough extra: so will you, but if not, it waits still next year's share. The price is $150 a share for 5-7 skeins of CAF Blackface/Longwool blend. It will be a near weatherproof wool, perfect for hats and gloves, vests and Irish Fishing sweaters! This is fifty dollars more than last year, because I actually lost money on the first round, and am hoping to lose a little less this time... The price is based on the cost of the mill, shearing, feed, etc. And keep in mind producing such a small batch of wool at a professional level is very costly. Last year's mill bill was nearly $900 dollars just to produce 68 skeins, and that wasn't counting the thousand dollars paid for five bred sheep! This next round will also possibly include some Angora Rabbit wool for hand spinning.

If you want to take the plunge with Jenna, leave a comment saying you are interested. I will pick names from this group (3-5) based on how many openings there will be.

Current Members
If you are a current member and would like to retain your membership, please reserve your 2011-2012 spot by emailing me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com with your current mailing address and send a PayPal payment of $150 to that address as well. Please include a few extra dollars to cover shipping and handling. If you will not be renewing, then please let me know soon as possible so I can open more spots up for others for future lottery drawings.

Thank you all, for your interest and support of my small farm.

photo by tim bronson

foundation stock

photo by tim bronson

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Old Molly Hare

Welcome to the first group recital for Banjo Equinox 2011! So for this first go-around, all we do is post videos of our first tune. This is not a contest, nor is it anything you should feel like you are being measured on or against! It is simply a chance to show each other our music, and to see how we are coming along as the weeks progress. In eight weeks you'll be amazed that you're the same person in that first video. I promise. Even if your songs are clumsy now, keep with us and by firefly time this summer you'll be frailing like a front-porch superstar. And no need to apologize or feel sheepish for your music either. For some of you, this is your first instrument ever! Be darn proud of yourselves for the home schooling and homebrewed music! And remember, one of you video posters will win a copy of Banjo Camp, the beginner's book and cultural manifesto I love so much. I'll pick a random winner when all the videos are in, so check back to see if it is you.

Here's my Old Molly Hare. I need to work on keeping my hands closer to the strings, but it's still music. I can't wait to hear all of you, keep plucking!

get your banjos ready!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

tha gang's all here

As of just before midnight on the second day of April, the last ewe due gave birth to a pair of beautiful ram lambs in the far pastture. I sat outside with 15-06 for the birth of her twins. When I walked outside on pe-bedtime rounds I noticed her pacing and pawing at the grounds. Knowing she would be in labor soon, I ran inside for a blanket and a book and outside under the cold stars I talked to her, read, and watched the whole show. When all was done on her part, it took me a while to get the boys and mama into their jug, but I did it. Slow and steady, I stepped backwards with the ram lambs while she knickered and followed me. I set her up with her sweet water, hay, and when I saw the older lamb start to nurse I knew she had it all under control. I was covered in birth fluids. I was clammy from the late night arrival. I was smiling as I walked down the hill to my dogs and warm bed.

Lambing Season 2011 is finally at a close. I'm pouring myself a large mug of warm cider and calling it a night. The first night in quite some time my alarm won't be waking me every two hours to beam a light through the fields. Amen.

proud girl

Here is our champion: Lisette and her beautiful twins. The little girl I'm calling Pidge, which is a nickname form of Pigeon Forge, home of Dolly Parton. Her brother and the yearling's boy are being traded to another farm for hay (a good lot of next winter's hay!) so I'm not naming those for fear of struggling to part with them. So far the count is thirteen total sheep, eight regulars and five new lambs. I wish you could see how Knox and Ashe run together in the pastures, leaping on dirt piles, playing tag. They're just waiting for the little ones to catch up to their reindeer games. I'll have to take a video of all the babes for you soon. Just one sheep left to lamb and the 2011 Lambing Season will come to a close. As grateful as I am for experiences I am getting, I am looking forward to a full night's sleep. I have also decided the extra-large wine glass was invented by shepherds in March.

Some non-related news: I'm hosting an Ashley English Series giveaway this week! Enter here for a chance to get all four of her books, signed by Ash, and sent from the publisher to your doorstep. The books are beautiful, informative, and a great addition to your homesteading library covering chickens, canning, beekeeping, and the home dairy. Not too shabby.

Also, starting the first lottery for the next Wool CSA soon. I decided instead of posting once a year for a giant lottery, I would do it several times a year for just four or five slots. This gives people more than one chance to get selected and if they happen to miss the post, another one will come along. This is for the 2011/2012 CSA, not this year's shares. But you will get a welcome packet and your first skein this fall. Current members will receive the rest of their wool, but it will be a blend of the Longwools and Blackface.


It's 3AM on a Saturday morning. When I was in college, 3AM was normal. We'd be over a friend's apartment, still swigging bottles of Yuengling and talking about how we were going to change the world through graphic design. We'd be on some rooftop in warmer Pennsylvania, laughing through clouds of cigarette smoke and candlelight while the Postal Service played Clark Gable in the background. John Mayer's quiet version from some Atlanta bar of 3x5 was an anthem. I would crank it up as I drove through Amish country, singing along as I planned my future with friends passenger side. Stories about how by the time we were thirty we would have seen Europe, got printing in Comm Arts, and starting our own firms. I was already planning my future brick loft's Eame's furniture in my Rittenhouse Square apartment. I was all set.

It's 3AM on a Saturday morning. I am sitting in an 1860's farmhouse in Washington County New York. I'm typing on the same six-year-old Mac I graduated college with. I'm sitting at the same desk I scribbled on when I was fifteen. It looks nothing like an Eame's desk. It was my grandfather's desk and it was a gift from my parents shortly after I moved in. It is scratched and simple. An old Smith Corona sits here next to a stack of farming memoirs by far better writers than I. And a snow globe that cost three dollars with a black bear in it says Great Smoky Mountains and I am starting to cry just looking at it. It was Tennessee that showed me homesteading, and farming, and mountains, and music. I miss her so much.

It's 3AM on a Saturday morning and I am exhausted. Today three new beasts were born on the 6 and a half acres I now own. One ram lamb was a struggle just to keep alive and the twins I just walked in on. They were Lisette's and already asleep with full bellies when I found them at 2AM. I was so happy for this sheep it caused pause. The ewe I had worried about, given glycol shots to, medicated and called the vet to inspect...the sheep I expected everything to go wrong with come birthing had done it all herself. Her ewe-lamb and ram-lamb twins were big, beautiful, babies and now all three are in a stall next to the yearling and her little curly-faced boy. He seemed alert and healthy as of a few minutes ago. I hope they all pull through.

It's 3AM on a Saturday morning and I am not exactly sure how the design student in the red Jetta became the farmer in the Dodge pickup. I am certain that this farm—and this life—that so many people see as limitations and stress, is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my entire life. I don't know if the other version of me with the Herman Miller chair and wall of records would have friends that would come running to help me when I was scared about a possible prolapsed uterus. I may have had a fully-stamped passport, but would I even know the person who's name was on the front cover? Maybe. I know most of those people I shared all my big plans with in college no longer talk with me. I miss them all.

I do know that it's 3AM on a Saturday night and I am happy. Five lambs and four ewes are okay. My border collie is chasing shadows in the living room and tomorrow I will buy more anti-toxin, crimp ear tags, give shots, band tails and buy mineral licks and all of it was never talked about on rooftops while Ben Gibbard crooned.

It's time to get some sleep. Big day tomorrow. One ewe left to go and lambing season is over.

What a ride it's been.

Sorry about the lack of pictures.
I didn't have a camera by my side this time.

Friday, April 1, 2011

rough day

Sometimes you wake up on your morning rounds and the lambs are clean, next to their mothers, belly full, and sound asleep...

And sometimes you and three friends are pressing an angry yearling against a shed wall in a snow storm so you can milk enough colostrum out of her to fill a feeding tube for her lethargic and neglected ram lamb who is growing colder by the minute....

I'm glad I stayed home today. We're not out of the woods yet.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

a lamb's storm

A storm is brewing up here in Veryork. Unfortunately, I'm not being figurative. An actual snow storm is whirling right now in the angry sky and planning to dump 5-10 inches of snow on our current the world of taupe. The combination of nearly a foot of snow and three more pregnant ewes about to lamb required a vacation day. Some times you just have to put the farm first, and snow storms, a ewe recovering from ketosis, and an inexperienced yearling will be making for an interesting three-day weekend.

But lambs are not the only projects on the farm. I have plans to start really cleaning out the barn after the winter of pig and chickens, and preparing for the smaller rabbitry. Since my friends Zach and Shellee are returning the Angora bucks they got from me last year, and I already have a Palomino doe in the barn, it made sense to me to keep breeding them for meat and side-income. So Sunday I’ll pick up two little Angora does who will be bred to Benjamin and Bean’s progeny later this summer. Wool rabbits are back on the farm and I am glad. Expect cute bunny picks along with new lamb picks (if they ever show up….) soon.

P.S. I still have two spots free for the memorial day laying hen workshop, so come on over! It’ll be a summer day on the farm with friends from all over the New England/Mid Atlantic area with a campfire jam at night. I also have one spot left in the meat bird workshop. And five spots left for Sheep 101!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

knox and ashe

everyman's steer

The meat chicks are now living outside and thriving in the spring sunshine. (The dozen layers are still inside the brooder, but without any heat lamp.) They were welcomed into the coop without much fuss. The other birds mostly ignore them, and they spend their days walking around learning to scratch, hunt, and cause chicken-level trouble. At about a month old, these Jumbo Cornish Crosses are already halfway to harvest weight. In about a month I'll have a freezer full of enough chicken to get me a homegrown Sunday roaster for 5 months!

A lot of folks ask why I don't raise a breeding, sustainable, flock of meat birds that can reproduce? My answer to that is: I do. It's called my laying flock! You can eat any chicken, including slower-growing heavy breeds like the Orpingtons and Brahmas, and I would certainly raise their chicks for meat birds some day when Cold Antler is more along the path to being self-sufficient. However, right now I am a 9-5 office worker with an oil furnace... I order my meat birds with gusto.

So many folks look at the Cornish Cross as an industrial mutant, but hell, I like them. They get the job done right, and fast. I also like raising meat animals that were bred to be meat animals. For example, you could make hamburgers out of a Jersey cow, but certainly you would gain more value out of their milk. So cattle bred for beef like angus and herefords were developed. Same goes for these big Cornish birds. They are the angus chicken. They grow true, make delicious healthy food, and can be harvested right at home with little tools and supplies. They are everyman's steer.

I have heard horror stories about these guys though. About them not moving in pastured tractors. About broken legs and exploding hearts, but I have never experienced anything like that. I have found if let them live outdoors while their bodies are growing—free ranging across a farm—they grow strong and beautiful. They need space, not just a movable pen, and if given that freedom they learn to support those hefty frames. There is still one of last year's meat birds (same jumbo cross variety) in the barn. He missed last year's harvest season so he's earned his place to live out his life as a scrappy barnyard bird, which he does. I call him Castro. He just never dies.

And you may not ever want to raise an animal that was designed to be breasts and thighs and not a functioning breeding animal. I get that. But I still have a fondness for these chunks. They aren't perfect. That is true. But if you are looking for a model of perfection, man, have you ever come to the wrong blog....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

banjo equinox: first challenge!

For those of you taking part in Banjo Equinox: here comes your first group recital. We're going to get together and play some music. This weekend I'll post a video of myself playing Old Molly Hare (the first tune in Erbsen's book), and in the comments you can add a link to your own video. A randomly picked winner of all video submissions will win a copy of Banjo Camp!, which is a beginner's book about the culture and magic of the banjo. Great for inspiration and lessons on clawhammer and bluegrass styles (with a CD to boot). So start practicing.... Video will be posted this weekend! Winner picked next Tuesday night! Oh, and if you learned this tune on the fiddle in the Fiddler's Summer challenge a few summer's back. Post a video of you sawing out that tune and you are entered too. Same goes for guitars and dulcimers, voices and pots and pans.

Below is an interview with the author from a few summer's back.

I want you all to meet Zhenya Senyak, the author of the recently published book Banjo Camp! Zhenya hails from Asheville, a town I love and used to frequent when I lived in Tennessee. Banjo Camp! is a gem folks. It's a beginner's instruction book for teaching yourself the basics, but it's much more than that. This colorful and friendly book is a tour on the backroads of America's roots music. You'll see photos, hear stories, and learn about all the ruckus happening in camps and shindigs all around the country. It makes you want to sling your banjo over your shoulder and start walking to the nearest campfire jam.

Zhenya has been kind enough to stop by the farm for an interview. We'll be having a friendly conversation about old-time music, his love of openback banjos, and some advice for all of us new pickers out there. If you are even mildly interested in making the banjo part of your life, pick up his book. It comes with a CD too, so you can listen to what you should be playing as you frail along at home ( a must-have for all us self-taught folks.) Okay enough yakking from me, everyone pull up a chair and gather round.

Zhenya, thanks for stopping by. Welcome to the farm.
Hi, Jenna, appreciate the invitation. Love the farm… and thanks for the mug of coffee. If Jazz and Annie are willing to move over a little, I can put down my banjo case.

So you've been playing banjo for how long now?
That’s hard to pinpoint. Six years ago I started Blue Mountain Schoolhouse, a teachers cooperative that offered all kinds of classes around Asheville, North Carolina. And in the course of interviewing teachers I got turned on to old-time music. I found a little hand-made banjo at a garage sale, , cracks filled in with bondo, strings high off the fretboard and some assorted tuning pegs screwed into the peghead. The guy said it would look good hanging on my wall but that was my first banjo. I paid $12 for it, about what the Pete Seeger banjo book cost me.

That part of my banjo career lasted about two weeks, maybe less. But I did hear some banjo sounds before I got discouraged. It was three years ago, when I was about to start a newspaper job, that one of the Blue Mountain teachers traded an open-back banjo for one of my acoustic guitars. And there was something magical about that banjo. I played it first thing in the morning, lots during the day and last thing at night. I’d wake up hearing that jingle jamming plunking sound in my head and couldn’t wait to start picking. So I’d say, yeah, I’ve been playing about three years now.

I gather you started as an adult. Was that intimidating?
I don’t know about being an adult, but I know I was surely getting on. I finished that newspaper job two years ago when I turned 70 and figured it’s now or never. I just leaped full bore into banjo and mountain roots music, spending an intensive year studying, visiting banjo camps, jamming. Yeah there were some intimidating parts. I got started playing bluegrass where, beyond learning the rolls and repertoire, there’s a whole routine of lead breaks and backup that you have to know before feeling reasonably comfortable in a jam. Plus bluegrass is a lot more of a performance.

Old time music is mostly people sitting in a circle, putting their heads down and playing together. When I found my way to old-time music banjo playing kicked into a whole new gear for me, more soulful, rhythmic, communal. I’m lucky, living in the heartland of old time music, to be surrounded by great old time musicians. For now, that usually keeps me at the edge of the circle at fiddle conventions and the many old-time jams around town, but I can play along and get into the groove and be part of the music.

Do you think making your own music can be considered a form of self-reliance?
That’s a good question. The flip side of picking with friends – and strangers – is your relationship to your instrument and to music. What I love about the banjo is its transformative power, the way it can jack me up or calm me down, keep me company on the road.

With my banjo, I don’t have to depend on MP3 players or CDs, on an electrical hook-up or batteries and ear buds. I love music, all kinds of music and, play lots of instruments… somewhat. Most any instrument, for that matter, most any way of producing music or rhythm gives us the ability to create an environment. The open back banjo, to me is alone in its range as a solo instrument. It can be mellow or insistent, ring out or just sing along softly on a single string. It’s a drum on a stick with stringed intervals that encompass all musical forms.

Why do you think old-time and bluegrass music feel so kindred to living close to the land?
Old-time music, country music whatever its form, is really folk music, music people make when they come together. Sometimes the music is about current events but often it’s a variant on old tunes passed along in families and communities. This is music that sustained people working long hours on the farm, when maybe the only refreshment was picking up a banjo at the end of the day or coming together with others for a fiddle and banjo dance.

Handmade music as the accompaniment to rural life is the natural way it has been for many centuries, long before cities and concert halls arose All that living history of folk music only started being collected in recordings and published and passed along recently. It’s great that that work has been done because now we have some historic record of folks who are gone, music we might never have

Returning to the roots or roots music is not a big leap. We may take our Blackberries and other electronic gear for granted, but the World War One was less than a century ago and at that time radio didn’t exist. Television, in any form, has only been around for 60 years or so and personal computers only go back a little more than 25 years.

You did mention to me you recently picked up a fiddle. Are you saying mountain music has some inevitable side-effects
When I was researching Banjo Camp! I interviewed many old-time banjo players who also played the fiddle. Maybe it’s not right to say “also,” since you’re talking about some of the best old time fiddlers in the world, like Brad Leftwich. Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham are good old-time examples of the nexus between fiddle and banjo. When the fiddle bug bit me, I understood immediately why these instruments are so bonded together. Of course they’re both light and portable, but their voices just naturally blend. When played together, fiddle takes the lead and banjo provides the beat, but it’s more complex than that since rhythm is an important part of fiddling just as dropping melodic and harmonic licks into a solid frail is part of banjo. It’s a conversation and now that I’m past that first squealing sour note stage of fiddling, it’s a conversation that’s fun to listen to . Bob Carlin and John Hartford made a fiddle/banjo CD called just that, “Conversations” that’s worth listening to if you get a chance. An old-time musician, playing fiddle and banjo is a little bit like Pinetop Perkins playing boogie woogie on the piano, the parts just come together.

What has been the biggest reward since you played your first tune on your banjo?
Hard to say. There have definitely been some highlights, long sessions with David Holt showing me the clawhammer ropes, conversations with Pete Seeger and Tony Trischka, listening to Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at an Obama fund-raiser, the Carolina Chocolate Drops with Joe Thompson on fiddle at the Swannanoa Gathering, weekly Shindig on the Green events in Asheville or the Wednesday night jams at the Jack of the Wood Tavern. For all that, I’m pretty much a loner. The biggest rewards for me have been the break-throughs, the empowerment, feeling close enough to my banjo to make the music I hear in my head, or maybe even close enough to let the banjo lead into the music.

What advice do you have for the timid-wannabe-banjo players out there?
It’s called playing the banjo…and that’s the attitude to take. If you just sit down and mess around for awhile, get some good old-time banjo music in your head and learn a few basic chord positions, it will all come together. You’ve got to just do it, knowing it’s about the music and playing and having a good time. You can work hard at it because it’s fun but if you start getting all grim about it, might as well take up insurance sales or something.

Think you'll ever stop picking?
That’s my epitaph: “Finally stopped pickin’”

Thanks Zhenya, 'preciateya.
So… you ready to break out your banjo and pick a couple of tunes?

Monday, March 28, 2011


Little Ashe is a firecracker! Like their respective cities, Knox is laid back and curious and she's all color and action. When Knox and his mom were let out of the jug he clomped out like a drunk clydesdale. But little Ashe bolted out in a joyful noise and then zigzagged all over the pasture, bleating like an idiot. It was quite the site. As of my last check, both lambs were on the hillside by their mothers with round bellies and brass numbers on their ears. Tonight might bring them more playmates, as both Liset and the yearling are due any moment now...


photo by tim bronson

Sunday, March 27, 2011

smoke, cider, and a roasting chicken

It's Sunday night and the dishes are done, the floors are mopped, the brooders are cleaned, and the wood stove is lit. The dogs have been walked and are asleep in their favorite places. The sheep have been fed—the chickens have too. Saro is asleep on a pile of eggs so large she can barely cover them. (I am certain little goslings will be lumping around here soon). The rabbit doe from last year's litter (the lone rabbit for a few more weeks) is on a bed of fresh hay with clean water and pellets. Outside on the hill the newest member of Cold Antler is curled up in a ball next to her mother, who is chewing on her own flake of Nelson Greene's 5-star hay and sipping from her bucket of molasses water. My sheep have a good life, and they deserve it.

Outside little Knox is running around the pasture ahead of his mother, then turning back to make sure she's still there. I can see this from my window. It's almost dark and the heat lamp in the lambing shack looks like some safe haven from another time and place: like a place people walk all day to come to at dusk, and then go inside where their bellies are full, thirst is quenched, beds are soft and dry, and safety and exhaustion combine into the best sleep of their lives. It's the sheep version of a log cabin in the middle of the woods that welcomes weary travels with hot food and warm fireplaces. You know, before the world was scared of everything we made.

There's a chicken in the oven and the house is filling up with the crackling, warm smells and it is heavenly. I have hard cider waiting for me in the fridge and I can hear my banjo whispering to me from downstairs, asking me to play Old Molly Hare at least five more times before I sit down to eat. I think banjos sound better when you can smell wood smoke, cider, and roasting chicken. Scratch that "think". I'm certain of it.

I know that this school night will be interrupted with 12-degree hill checks after midnight and before dawn, but that's okay. For the next few hours this farm is at peace. I can rest and know that there is nothing out there my head, heart, or long rifle can't deal with.

Life is good.

photo by tim bronson, but cropped and colorized by me without his permission!

knox makes a friend

it's a girl!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

triple hs treatment

Have you noticed I don't post as much during lambing?

I'll be back into my routine again soon, but right now my life revolves entirely around these four things: farm, sleep, office, lambing. The downtime I do manage to wrangle is used to add a few extra minutes of sleep, and even then I wake up a few times a night from my very-loud alarm to go out and check for any new charges. If it was 30 degrees at night and I had all my sheep in a proper barn I would sleep through the night like a rock. But when you're shepherding with an 8x12" shed and a lambing jug shack with lows in the southern teens...you need to get up and get those babies on warmed hay under a hot bulb. So I get up from nightmares* (bad sleeping patterns puts me in full-color, graphic end-of-the-world dreams) and put on all my wool armor, heavy Muck boots, canvas vest and a wool hat and search through the pasture for placenta.

I might be worn-thin but I am crazy-happy. A coworker told me after we got coffee one morning that "lambing looked good on me" and I had to ask her what the hell she meant by that? She told me I was glowing, like a new mom. I couldn't have put it better myself. Bringing these little muppets** into the world has been bliss.

And yet, the lack of REM while keeping up with the 8-5 full time job and running the farm has created a woman in serious need of a triple HS treatment. For those of you who have not tried it, it goes like this.

Hot Shower.
Hot Sugar.
Heart-warming Show.***

For me this means a twenty-minute steamy shower with lots of stretching of sore muscles, followed by a hot mug of cocoa, and a favorite television show on DVD I have probably seen seven times before, but am guaranteed to soak it up like comfort food. Something like Buffy, the Gilmore Girls, or Felicity. I have no qualms admitting to you I have probably seen these entire series four or five times each. Some people get stressed out and go for a drink or cigarette—I opt for Sunnydale or Stars Hollow.

*Did you know that the word nightmare comes from the belief that seeing a female horse before you go to bed caused bad dreams? Night Mares.

**Unlike normal lambs, Scotties come into the world with horns, shaggy hair, and spots. They look like something Jim Henson stuck his hand up.

***For men and extreme cases the shower remains the same, but the hot sugar can be replaced with High Spirits (whiskey, gin, name your pleasure). And the last one.... Well, use your imagination.

Friday, March 25, 2011

06-07 is ready to pop...

Breath is bated. More lambs soon. Maybe even tonight!

run gibson, run!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

banjo equinox: lesson one

First off, congratulations to all of you who signed up! Choosing to learn an instrument is quite the accomplishment in itself! I'm going to ask that everyone out there holding a banjo in front of your computers stop and take a minute to comment on this post and introduce yourself. And if you are someone thinking of joining in a few weeks, say hello too! Tell us your name, about your banjo (or future banjo), and why you want to learn? Tell us where you're from, about your life, etc. If folks see other working parents, teenagers, or retired folks taking on the banjo it might inspire them to drop all excuses and doubts and start making music as well. If we all know each other we can support each other along the way. I also am interested in how many of you are going from complete beginner to old-time frailer!

Parts of the Banjo
Tonight we're going to start with something really basic: anatomy. Before we start talking about what goes where, we need to know the what. This image here shows you the basics, and the names associated with them. This image differs from most old-time banjos because it has that big resonator on the back of the pot. It's a popular addition in Bluegrass banjos, and some of yours may have it, others not. It doesn't matter either way. Both will play music! Get familiar with the parts of your banjo. Go over this list, or the listed illustration in your books, and touch them as you speak their names. Feel the tuning pegs and say "tuning peg" run your hand down the neck and say "Neck, frets, strings, bridge.." etc. Learning an instrument is also learning a whole new language of terms and phrases. And it's important you are familiar with them.

After you felt up your banjo, let's get it tuned. I can't stress enough how important it is you get your banjo tuned perfectly well. So much of this method of playing is by ear, and you need to hear on your own banjo what the videos and CD sound like. We're going to let Wayne take it from here and show you how to get it into our beginner's tuning: Double C. P.S. If you have an electronic tuner, it will be a huge help. Between your ear, the the gage on the tuner, you'll be able to get your instrument pitch-perfect. Here's a link to a video on using your electronic tuner on your banjo. Thanks Youtube!

Frailing!Once you're in Double C tuning, play each note. Hear them. Get to know them. And when you have that little gal ready to play, it's time to learn the meat and potatoes of Old Time Banjo: The frail!! I strongly suggest you go through with the book and CD first and give it a try before you watch the video. It'll just make more sense to you as he goes through the steps visually after you give it the ol' college try. One you gave yourself a lesson in the Banjo Lick, watch and listen to Wayne!

P.S. Julie gave me a tip I'll share with you: when practicing the clawhammer frail (frail is another word for lick), make sure your hand is in a proper "claw" by playing with an empty toilet paper roll in your right hand. As you strum, it forces you into that position.

So from here you have plenty to practice! Honestly, this should keep you right busy till our next lesson later this weekend. The tuning and claw-ham-mer lick are the basis of everything we'll learn from here on out. So play it until you're cats are so sick of it they steer clear of your company. Play it till you can close your eyes and feel it. Make sure you practice at least 15 minutes a day, that is the deal.

Next lesson will be our first tune, and feel free to read and practice ahead. Also, PLEASE comment with posts of videos of you playing! The more music on this blog, the better!

banjo parts thanks to ezfolk.com
seeger's banjo photo thanks to pbase.com

an interview with wayne erbsen!

Banjo Equinox starts this week, and to kick it off I have an interview with none other than Wayne Erbsen, our instructor! Wayne wrote the book we're using for this course: Clawhammer Banjo For the Complete Ignoramus! I asked him if he'd answer some questions about how he discovered the banjo and starting a new instrument as an adult. Later tonight we'll get started with tuning our banjos to Double C tuning and the Clawhammer Lick. These two things will be fundamentals in learning our first song "Old Molly Hare" which we'll be playing by this weekend! Right now, all of you sitting at home with your books and banjos: make sure you read that entire book up to the first tune: Old Molly Hare and feel free to practice ahead. But for right now, let's welcome Wayne to Cold Antler and thank him for being a part of Banjo Equinox!

You can learn more about Mr. Erbsen, his books, classes, lessons, workshops and even instruments for sale at his website nativeground.com

1. Why did you start playing the banjo?
In the early sixties I was bitten by the folk music bug that was biting a lot of people back then with the popularity of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and all the folk groups. I started playing the guitar and was soon giving group lessons when I was just a fifteen year old wet-nosed kid. My sister brought home a banjo and when she wasn’t around, I’d sneak it out and learned how to play it. I was soon giving banjo lessons too. There is something about the tone of the banjo that really grabs hold of you and won’t let go. So far, it still has a grip on me.

2. Do you come across a lot of adults who want to play the banjo but have no musical experience? And have any of them had success?
I seem to be a magnet for older adults with the lust to play the banjo but with no previous experience. Maybe that’s because I advertise the fact that I can even teach a frog to play the banjo. A lot of people claim to be frogs and sign up for my classes. I am able to teach the vast majority of them to play. The only ones that are a challenge to teach are older people who have been harboring the urge to play the banjo for fifty or sixty years. By the time they sign up for my class, they’re often in their seventies and eighties. Although many of these people certainly learn to play, others have difficulty because of arthritis, or other physical limitations. In general, though, I’ve had great success teaching beginners to play. That’s because I’ve been able to break things down very simply in my books and lessons.

By the way, in addition to my clawhammer banjo book, I’ve written Bluegrass Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus, Bluegrass Mandolin for the Complete Ignoramus, Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus and Flatpicking Guitar for the Complete Ignoramus. Right now I’m finishing up my newest book, Bluegrass Jamming on Mandolin. Other books in this series will include Bluegrass Jamming on Fiddle, Bluegrass Jamming on Banjo and Bluegrass Jamming on Guitar. All my books can be found at nativeground.com

3. What’s a reasonable practice regime? How much effort does it take to play a few tunes?
I’m sure most of your readers are busy people with jobs, families and many things requiring their limited time. If they can spent about fifteen minutes a day, they’ll be able to learn to play. If they can spend more time than that, it’s even better. In learning clawhammer banjo, the hardest part is learning the basic clawhammer stroke. Once they learn that, playing a variety of tunes is rather easy.

4. What's the best advice you can give to new pickers and strummers?
Choose an instrument to learn that you’re really passionate about. Some people are discouraged from trying the instrument of their dreams because some well-meaning friend has told them that they heard that the instrument you want to play is very difficult to learn. To that I say “baloney!” If taught right by a good clear book, video, or instructor, anybody with average ability can learn to play any instrument. Mainly, it all boils down to determination. If you are hell-bent to learn an instrument, then nothing can stop you.

Good luck to all the folks who are accepting Jenna’s banjo challenge and are going to learn to play out of my book, Clawhammer Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus. I look forward to teaching you to play the banjo.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

little knox

come on over!

Breakfast in the Backyard
Memorial Day Weekend 2011: Sunday

Still spots open for this Sunday Chicken workshop. It's an introduction to keeping laying hens, and comes with your own three chicks and a copy of Chick Days (my new beginner chicken book!). It's a full day from 10AM till 4PM at the farm, enjoying cuddly little ones This is crash course in how to raise backyard chickens for beginners, and get this, it comes with chickens All people who sign up for the all-day workshop will go home with three heirloom laying chicks and a copy of my beginner’s book: Chick Days. You’ll go home with your new birds and everything you need to know to raise them right. This is a great opportunity for people who just need that friendly push to take the plunge into the poultry world. No experience with chickens needed to attend, and I am confident anyone leaving CAF that day will go home with confidence that they can raise their peeps to laying hens come fall.

The workshop will start at 10AM and include a brunch spread, coffee, and juice and start with group intros and lecture on how I came into birds and how they changed me into the farmer I am starting to become. There will be a tour of the coop and farm and more discussions on housing, healthcare, and a Q&A period as well. I would also like to host a group discussion about the importance of self-reliance and the first steps of adding animal husbandry to our modern backyards: both for food security and local production. It will be a day of like minds, baby chickens, farm animals, and probably a fiddle tune or two.

BBQ in the Backyard
June 4th 2011

I will also do a workshop on small-scale meat bird production if there is an interest (which will not include a Chick Days book, but will include 5 meat birds to take home and raise for your table.) This all day events (also 10-4 with food and refreshments) will include lecture, and instruction in home processing with a live demonstation. You’ll go home knowing exactly which boning knife to buy at the kitchen store and my secret leg loop trick for hanging fowl by their feet without a fuss. All the basics of raising backyard meat will be covered, but the bulk of the day will be on how to safely and humanely turn animals into food. (Trust me, I am an expert on the SAFE part after last summer’s lesson). This will take place on the farm in on June 4th.

All workshops are limited to ten people, and slots are filled when the workshop is paid for to secure your space.

Sheep 101: Summer Solstice
Sunday June 19th, 2011

So you want to be a shepherd? Then come to this sheep farm and get know information and inspiration! This will be a casual intro-to-sheep course that will go into feeding, fencing, housing, and maintaining a flock. You'll get a copy of Storey's Sheep Book, and information on everything from local shearing workshops to sheepdog trials, but not lambing. We can cuddle lambs and talk about my experiences, but I don't feel confident teaching folks about all the birthing business yet! It goes from 10-4 and includes food and farm time, bring along your knitting projects too. Hopefully we'll end the workshop with a campfire and some mountain music, so bring a guitar! I will say this: I attended a similar workshop as a sheepless renter in the Spring of 2008 and now just three years later I am lambing on my own small farm! Get the wheels turning, people!

If you are interested in any of these, please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com for details and booking!

Monday, March 21, 2011

lambing is in full swing

It was a quiet afternoon here at the farm. A late snowfall came and covered the just-budding trees and grass with two inches of wet slush. It was a long day for me already at noon. I had been up since 2AM and was at my desk by 8AM in the office. My boss was kind enough to let me take the afternoon off, which I not hesitate to oblige. I came home and took care of everyone who chirps, honks, baas, and barks and then three dogs and one woman slept. It was the perfect way to spend the calm between the storms. Another lamb (or twins) are possibly due on the 24th out of 06-07. She could drop anytime. (No rest from the 2AM rounds for me.) Then both the yearling and the ketotic Liset are due on the 27th! The last one is due April Fools (15-06). She's the last to go is so swollen, and has such a bag on her; she'd looks like Veruca Salt if she was blue.

Still such a wild ride to go, but I am grateful this first experience was so by-the-book. It was exactly what I read about, and I feel like I knew what I was doing. But even in that systematic understanding of "what happens next", honestly, much of last night was a blur.

I thought I'd be an emotional mess and cry out of joy, but all I felt as I walked in on that lamb was pure excitement. Like, rollercoaster-about-to-dive excitement. I felt my heart pound as I ran down the hillside to get my supplies. All weariness was replaced by adrenaline. It was a blessing and an honor to sit in that tiny sheep shed built in Vermont for Sal, Maude, and Marvin and watch mother and son bond. I like how the farm's natural evolution turned it into a maternity ward. I tagged the ear, banded the tail, and he seems to be doing really well. I was just up there checking in on the pair and for less than 24-hours old he is alert, eating, and talkative. I picked him up and held him close to my face. Smelled that baby smell. Touched little hooves. He is more than the fruit of a ram and a ewe. He's my first lamb. The outcome of so much work, daydreaming, and luck...

Knox is staying on this farm. My first lamb will be neither chops or sold. He'll grow fleeces and live with the others. I'll allow myself the sentimentality. If you're ever going to succumb to it, a first lamb on your first year on your farm is when to do it.

I emailed the breeder to let her know, and she asked if any of the others took? Geez, did that ever stop me in my tracks. I had assumed they were locked and loaded, the idea they could just be wooly and fat never even crossed my mind. She asked me how many had bags on them, and with certainty I can saw Split Ear and Liset are pregnant and ready, but the other two (the yearling and 06-07 don't seem to have any bags on them at all. I can't honestly tell with all that fleece. I curse not having them crotched. I just didn't realize I should do it until it was too late in their pregnancy. A lesson for next year.

So I can say at least two more sheep will give birth on this farm, maybe more. If it is less than five, all will be staying here for wool production for the CSA, and I pray one will be a ewe lamb.

So banjo updates and workshop announcements to come. Expect a summer of fiddles, campfires, chickens, sheep, goslings, rabbits, knitting, markets, books and more ahead. This farm is barely at its beginning, folks. Barely.

P.S. Thanks to a reader email, I called the vet tonight about an anti-toxin for tetanus. I do not want this little guy falling due to an ear tag!

and then there were nine

Sunday, March 20, 2011

rain check?

Forgive me. I just don't have the guff in me to do the Banjo Lesson One post justice. I had a long weekend of cat-napping lambwatch and still waiting for the babes. I'll post a proper first lesson soon, early this week, but even though it is the Spring Equinox, this shepherd need to check out and start her first of four naps till 5AM. But here's the good news: Wayne Erbsen himself has agreed to join in with an interview and possibly even CAF videos to help us get started. How cool is that? Asheville and Jackson are brining American that sweet mountain music, right to your own living room. Can I get an AMEN?

The lamp is on in the lambing jug on the hill. It glows there on the incline like an old log cabin with a huricane lantern inside, waiting for friends to return home. I decided to leave the light on for any lambs thinking of dropping by later tonight.


A few nights back I was in Rite Aid looking at baby monitors. I explained to the sales guy I needed one without a wall charger, because it was going in an old shed I built up from the house on a hill. I didn't want anything that fancy, this would have the shit beat out of it from the elements. He stared at me, mouth agape.

later in the truck I realized I never explained it was for lambs...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

we still wait

Today is the official, on-calendar, unequivocal due date for 06-04. She's round, has a huge bag, and a red rear end. It could happen any minute now and like the midwife I have turned into: I am getting prepared for a midnight delivery. They want it 16 degrees tonight, so I already ran a heat lamp up to the lambing jug. 100 bright-orange feet of extension cord are carrying warmth to that little brown shack on the hill. It is loaded with hay, a water bucket, and a safe gate to keep mother and young together. I bought a small oral injector of LambSaver: a nutritional supplement for the first 24 hours of life. I'm ready, at least as far as physical preparedness goes. I have no idea what will happen emotionally once those little ones are in my arms. I'm pretty sure I'll cry more than I have in a long time.

I think everyone who has Barnheart, who seriously pines for an agricultural life, has these fantasies of being under the stars after a long day of work. Some time of year when everything is green and lush. Of reclining back after the birds have been processed, the salad greens swaying in the wind, and that first hay field cut down and relclining (just as you are ) after all your labor and strife. You want to be on the back bed of your pickup truck, tanned and thin, tired and happy. Perhaps with your dog, partner. or a cold beer (all three please).

But that is a fantasy. It happens, sure, every June night somewhere in America, but the longer I am a part of this farm the more I realize those greeting-card scenes are not what I had wanted all those nights paging through Hobby Farm Magazine in Borders. It is moments like this.

This farm is a mess of mud and melting snow. There are jars of honey glowing in the afternoon light on the window sill and I know another hive is on the way. Right now the chicks in the brooder are on clean shavings, fed and watered. The eggs are collected from outside and in the fridge. Production is good. The lambing basket of gear and supplies by the back door are like a hospital suitcase for a mother-in-waiting. The dogs are asleep. The chores are all done and now there is nothing but anticipation. Sweet, writhing, anticipation. This farmhouse is humming with it. Any minute, hour, or day (even this minute as I type!) a ewe will start hunching with contractions and start going into labor. I'm hoping I am able to be there to watch and assist (if necessary) as the first ever Cold Antler lambs come into the light. If one arrives today by morning it will be tagged and docked, given a booster and a head scratch. I will have completed the shepherd's year, and started a new one.

I'm here writing you because I'm not sure of what else to do? I suppose I could try to take a nap, but even on such little sleep I feel wired and restless. I keep checking for water bags, listening to what might be a contraction. Windows are open. Wood is piled by the stove. I was invited to a solstice bonfire tonight at a friend's farm and I doubt I'll stay an hour. I just want to be here. I want to know what it feels like to be there when this happens to me.

I hope my next post is a photo of a healthy lamb.

Friday, March 18, 2011

good news and bad news

Bad news first: my bees didn't survive the winter. Can't blame them, I barely got out alive myself. When I went into the hive I expected low numbers, but the box was nearly barren. What was left inside though, was a few pounds of uneaten honey...

Good news: I had an early spring honey harvest today! I brought in the combs and scraped the wax and honey into a colander set over a 5-gallon saucepan (cheap extracting) and by morning all that will be left in that colander is wax. So tomorrow I can heat up the honey on a low heat and strain it again through cheese cloth to get it clean and ready to jar in the larder. I wasn't expecting a spring crop of the sweet stuff, but at least I'm getting it instead of the bears.

Losing a hive is a burn, but since I'm not sure if it was disease or the cold that killed the Styrofoam hive: I'm not letting others coming in the end of april re-use it. Besides the fact it might carry mites or other critters—it could easily attract animals coming out of hibernation (like bears!)

Also, it is a goose magnet. Who knew? My geese never bothered the wooden hives but boy do they love pulling little Styrofoam balls off that new hive. It's been trashed by winter, geese, and dead bees. Time to cut my losses in the shape of honey jars and order a wooden hive.

Still No Lambs...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Banjo Equinox!

This weekend is the Spring Equinox! For a girl who just went through a hell of a winter, reading that out loud is music to my ears. It feels like Spring out there, too. I collected five eggs today (girls are back into production!) and lambs are moments from hitting the ground bleating. This farm is still melting the feet of snow and ice that covered it all through the past three months—but spots of grass are showing up. Tiny bright green blades are shooting through the winter of sheep poop. It's a hell of a contrast.

In celebration of warmer weather, Easter, sump pumps, daffodils, chicks, lambs and everything else wonderful about spring: we're going to put on a concert. We're going to play some banjo music. Yes, us. Any one of you out there that wants to be playing tunes on your porch by the solstice (and you will if you stick with us) can. No experience with instruments needed. I don't care if you never read a sheet of music in your life. We are learning the mountain way to play banjo: which is by ear and tune. And not any of that newfangled bluegrass: but OLD TIME banjo!

Yes darling, Old Time! The banjo music that grew out of the soil of the south. The songs from older Appalachia. The banjo tunes people played at Civil War camps and trapper rendezvous. We're all going to start with our first lesson on the Spring Equinox, right here. On this blog we'll start with the parts of the banjo, the history, and how to get her into tune. We'll cover the basic clawhammer strum, and I'll add my own videos of learning along with Julie Dugan: Grand Banjo Frailer of Cambridge, New York. It'll be fun and easy. You just need to promise to practice with us everyday.

You don't need a banjo to join us yet, but if you want to learn, you'll need to get one soon. You can borrow, buy, or beg for one. I can't say enough good things about Banjohut.com. (They aren't sponsors, so I'm not getting any sort of cash for endorsing them. I just really like them.) They hail from Knoxville, Tennessee and sell affordable banjo starter kits for beginners at affordable prices (under 200 shell cards) and the best part: they come all set up. You don't get a box with strings that need to be attached and tuned. They also come with electronic tuners, and many kits come with the book we'll be using to learn. It's called "Clawhammer Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus" by Wayne Erbsen. This course is 100% FREE. Enjoy it! Share it with friends and family who might want to join. If you can't do it in real time, that's okay, you can always catch up later.

Robert Webb won the CAF Bean Blossom Hobo package giveaway. It's a fine beginner banjo, and if you can swing it, get one or one like it. I play the Morgan Monroe Scoop Neck. You can play any 5-string banjo you can think of, resonator backs are okay too if that's what you got. We aint fancy.

So here's what you need to join up, son:

A 5-string Banjo (open back preferred)
An electric tuner (guitar tuners are cheap and work great)
Wayne Erbsen's Book listed above
Practice time of minimum 15 minutes, twice a day.

Additional Goodies and inspiration to check out!

Songcatcher (movie!) about old-time music
Banjo Camp! by Gene Senyak (amazing beginner book!)
The How and Tao of Old Time Banjo by Patrick Costello
Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - DVD- Dan Leverson

Homework before starting: Order Erbsen's Book, read pages 1-22 with CD to listen to as you go. Get a banjo and tuner too. Check back on the Equinox to see our first group lesson: holding, tuning, frailing 101.

Raise up those stickpots, people. We're learning to make mountain music!

the good book

I was living in an apartment in Knoxville when I picked up Catherine Friend's memoir Hit By a Farm. I grabbed it from the shelf in Borders, mostly because Garrison Keillor had a quote on the back. I think I read it in four days. The book was about two people deciding to become shepherds in the 21st century. From clueless to buying land and picking up 50 ewes.... What a ride. It showed me that changing your life 180 degrees was possible. It was the first of many like-minded stories that made me quit my job in the city and move out west.

Last week I got an email from Catherine asking if I wanted to read her new book, Sheepish? I was thrilled and an advanced reading copy came in yesterday. I started it on my lunch break. It is wonderful. You feel like you're walking with her around the farm and she's pointing and talking about things right in front of you. It is reminding me so much, so very much, about that first read of last book. I have no doubt in my mind that Friend's story of becoming a shepherd was one of the many influences that got me to this farm. Her and other authors have filled my house with their how-to, memoirs, and novels. They were all my ticket here. The inspiration that created my reality. Sometimes a good book is all it takes.

Books have been my companion on this adventure from apartment-dweller to small holder. Some like Logsdon's Contrary Farmer have spent as much time in the pasture as I had. Wendell Berry lives in my kitchen. I have listened to Kingsolver, Pollan, and others on my ipod read to me so many days in the garden I equate certain audiobook voices with seasons. Some are funny, like the recently read Bucolic Plague, and others are just Biblical standbys, like Carla's Encyclopedia.

So what farm books have inspired you along the way? Add to my list, please!

P.S. No lambs yet. This is torture.
P.P.S. Banjo Equinox details later today
P.P.S. Anyone want to come to a sheep workshop?
P.P.P.S. That picture is from last summer. I miss green grass here...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

big plans

My morning started with me leaning my arms over a metal stock fence with a cup of coffee looking at sheep vulvas. Not exactly what I expected on my graduation day from my 4-year Graphic Design program, but pleasant enough. It wasn’t easy holding the mug. My right hand had been slammed into the sheep shed wall while administering Selenium shots this weekend. Now a black and blue mark like a large shadow marks the back of my hand. Since this side of the Mississippi lacks natural sources of selenium and haven’t been feeding much mineral in the frozen months, it was an important pre-natal care step. Selenium adds muscle tone and strength to ewes, helps stop prolapses, and fights white muscle disease. It took four of us to inject all five mommas-to-be. Myself, my friends Othniel and Yeshava, and Diane all took turns filling needles, catching and holding sheep, and letting them go one at a time. Liset still feels so frail compared to the others. I worry about her all the time.

I'm often asked by my non-farming friends and family what my plans are for the next few weeks? It’s a conversational segue, a totally benign question, and yet every time I hear it a little flicker of panic shoots up my spine. I have learned that my farm-related answers like lambing! or setting up the brooder for 84 chicks are not what people expect to hear. To them farm events are home-maintenance. It’s like saying I have dusting and laundry lined up for the afternoon. They want to hear about events off the farm. Things like dates, shopping trips, travel, vacations, furniture purchases, movies, parties, anything involving commerce, clothing, and culture. Pretty much anything that doesn’t involve a grain bucket.

My answers usually disappoint. I really don’t go anywhere. I don’t want to. My whole life right now is 6.5 acres, due dates, books, a garden, and this world of chickens and freezer pork. I like to cook and listen to music, play some when the work is done, and when I do leave the farm it’s for things like local friends and neighbors parties and events. We’re almost hitting a full calendar year here in Jackson and the only three nights I didn’t sleep a couple dozen yards away from sheep and chickens were the nights I spent in Pennsylvania with my family over Christmas. So travel is out.

I do buy things, but 85% of it is related to the farm and the other 15% is spent on little whimsical things of my own amusement (i.e. records, antiques, Fireking mugs, expensive coffee shipped from Portland, etc). I have yet to drop a couple hundred bucks on furniture or fashion: mostly because the farm needs fences and field shelters. Clothing is worn till it frays apart, and then I buy second hand online or in thrift stores.

I just got an email from a friend saying her company was sending her to Sweden. I cringed at the idea of being that far from the action at Cold Antler. If someone handed me a plane ticket to Bali for a Yoga/Spa weekend during lambing season I would poach it on Craigslist for a new shed with jugs and creep feeders. I’d buy the winter hay. I’m already in Paradise. I don’t want to be distracted from it.

I forget what it was like to not have all these animals and plans. I really mean that, too. I don’t remember what it was like to have nothing to do but go to work and then come home and feed and walk Jazz. I do remember never sitting still. That dog and I were all over the city of Knoxville, at every Farmer’s Market and Street Fair. We explored constantly, never static. So I’ll start dating (but won’t be blogging about it) and going to things (iron and wine concert in April!) but these things are holidays in a very filled-up life. This first year on the farm: learning the process of lambs and wool mills, markets, ad sales, and working on another book are all dancing along with learning to manage an old farmhouse and all it’s care and feeding.