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 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
seeger's banjo photo thanks to

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

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

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 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...