Monday, May 2, 2011

and she was

Monday, May 2nd
I woke up at 4:40AM, still sore, but less so. Either my body is used to all this farming business or simply giving in. Weekdays are a routine of their own, and I can only lay there in bed with Gibson for a few minutes. There is much to do.

I get up and change into work clothes. This morning it means a pair of cotton thai fishing pants, tied at my waist, and heavy wool socks over much boots. I throw on a thin cotton sweater and head outside with my dogs. They go about a quick morning relief and then come inside for breakfast. Dogs come first on this farm, always will. They are seen to and fed long before any sheep, chicken, or pony sees a flake of hay. Family always comes first.

When the dogs are settled, I load Gibson's plastic crate into the back of my pickup cab and let him wait at Shotgun until I feed all the hooves and claws, and then head inside to grab my gym bag. I leave for work an hour early to hit the gym. I run a mile on the treadmill every weekday, then shower in the gym before I sit down at my desk chair. My friend Geoff joins me, and unless someone from marketing beats us and puts on Sportscenter, we watch the Science Channel and gab about our lives.

The workday is split into a morning and afternoon, and today I enjoy lunch outside with the dogs. I say dogs, not meaning my three, but with Gibson and his work friends. An English Setter named Ellie, an Australian Shepherd named Jackson, and a cast of other characters (mostly gun dogs, this is Orvis, after all). Some days I run home to the farm to check on things, specially if it's rough weather. But it's a mild day and all was quiet and well stocked with hay and water when I left at 6:45. It would be okay until 5:30 when I pulled back into the drive. Gibson runs and barks and play-growls and wrestles with his friends and the new puppies this season. A little black lab named Hattie tries to join in, but pretty much just barks from the sidelines with his tail wagging. She is such a sight. Me and the other owners sit on the grass and take in the show. Before long Gibson sprints down the hill to bother a well-bred Labrador Puppy named Murph from his lessons in being a gun dog, and then slams into the water of the pond, scaring the young trout and bass. Jackson joins him. Murph goes back to retrieving his plastic dummy. He doesn't mess with that sort.

In the afternoon nothing of great consequence goes on, but I do take a lot of joy in the Obama Chia Pet our E-commerce department has set up in the window. Someone posted his birth certificate next to it. I love my coworkers.

On the ride home Gibson and I crank the radio. Talking Heads And She Was blares and we sing along. (Well, Gibson pants rhythmically—I sing.) We drive west on route 313 into New York, and past Shushan and Cambridge. They are our new stomping grounds. I am falling for Washington County, hard.

I get home to a laundry-list of things that need to be done. I plan on introducing the sheep to the pony tonight. Mostly out of necessity. Heavy rains are coming and I want Jasper to know he can walk right into one of the sheds for shelter if he wants to. I have a feeling though, in this warm weather, he'll just stand in the rain. But he needs to know he has the option. So I let him into the sheep's mostly hard-packed dirt pasture and they run onto his side of greener, softer, ground and continue to munch it into oblivion. I need more pasture, and fast. I plan on assembling a work party soon. A role of Red Brand and some t-posts and I'll be back in business. I just need the manpower. That 1/8 of an acre saturday damn near tore my arms out....

The sheep and Jasper meeting is totally anti-climatic. Lisette tears out there with her lambs, and soon everyone else is out there too. Jasper ignore them all. With the fences hot and the horse shown his optional shelter. I feel like I did all a shepherd can do. So I spend some time with Jasper, trying on his new bridle. It's dark leather and silver conchos shine. He takes the bit and I adjust straps and the throat latch and decide the bridle is fine but the bit is too large. He should have a smaller, swivel bit. But he looks fine in his new headgear, and leads calmly. It was a quiet thrill to see him in his headdress, me holding the reins. I take it off and let him back to sheep time. He's so patient and I am deeply grateful.

Eggs and collected, chicken feed scatted, and the rabbits are seen to. I use the Silver Fox buck to service the two does that need to be bred and he does a heck of a job. This is his second day of whoopee (I had him on the does yesterday between tree pruning and concrete) and now have three probably pregnant does. If each has an average litter of 6-8 kits, that dress out around two or three pounds, then those small hutches have nearly fifty pounds of meat from a few small animals. That's almost half of what raising a pig put in my freezer. Anyone who thinks raising meat requires a huge space in the country needs to read Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits, or Farm City (or both!). They are an amazing introduction to home-grown meat. Between them and a hutch of meat chickens you could fill a chest freezer in a Brooklyn summer.

It's getting late. I have a chapter to write about my first turkey (TD) for my editor, and I'm feeling lucky to have it ahead of me. Tonight the farm seems okay, no drama and no danger. I call it a night early and kiss Jazz on the head. Just four more days until the weekend and this one should include my first outdoor market. I'm excited for it!

Oh, and for those of you kind enough to read all the way down to this point. Leave a comment to be entered in for a drawing of Frances O'Roark Dowell's novel Ten Miles Past Normal (A young-adult novel inspired by CAF). I'll pick a winner Friday for the hardcover, and mail it your way. And if you are wondering if you won a recent giveaway, check the comments on that post. The last few winners never contacted me to claim their prize!

P.S. I will be at two book events up here soon: from 9-11 at Northshire Books in Manchester Vermont, and then 1PM at Red Fox books in Glens Falls, New York. Come over and meet me and some of my chicken friends. Get books signed, talk turkey, the works.

one week

I decided to share a week—in great detail— of what it is like living on Cold Antler. How it works, what I do, and how the farm and my 8-5 job work together under the effort of a single person. Starting with yesterday, here we go.

Sunday, May 1st
I wake up in pain. A lot of pain. The combination of sunburn and aching muscles is what wakes me up before the alarm. It's 4:40AM and for a Sunday, that's even early for me. It's still dark out, mostly. I roll out of bed and at my feet is Annie, a living stuffed animal. I whisper a good morning and she tucks in her front paws and rolls onto her back for a belly scratch. Jazz is on his bed downstairs and Gibson is in his crate. Since he still thinks this house is his buffet, he has to be crated at night. He'll poison himself eating AA batteries if I let him.

I'm so dang sore because yesterday I extended the sheep's side of the pasture an 1/8 of an acre, and put in a new raised bed garden by myself. Sometimes I can wrangle help, sometimes not. Saturday: not. The whole afternoon was spent slamming 15 pounded posts, stringing electrical wire, and hoeing a new raised bed. I started at 1 and ended around 6PM. I was proud of the full day of work, but paying for my lack of sun protection (straw hat or somesuch) and choice of tank top instead of a button down. So I am red as Brandywine on the vine. Outside the kitchen window I can see Jasper on the hill, laying down. He looks so small when he's laying down and so very large when he is running. The sheep are still curled up in their crumbling shed. It need to be rebuilt or shorn up, soon. It's not about to fall on them, but it won't make it through another winter as is. Panic quickly shoots through me at the thought of this.

I don't even have time to make coffee. I need to scurry through morning chores (test and repair any faults in the electric fence, feed 12 sheep, chickens, geese, mallards, a full-rabbitry, and three dogs before I can head down to my neighbors farm. We're going together to the annual Poultry Swap, which starts way before 7AM. I am only bringing 15 dollars cash because I know myself well enough to limit my ability to buy animals and animal supplies. All I need is a hardy buck for my breeding meat rabbit does in the barn. The rex is too young to do the job, and the Silver Fox buck delivered yesterday by Jennifer hasn't been tested yet. I decide right there to not buy a rabbit until I plan on breeding with Gotcha, that new SF buck. But I need a working buck on this farm, three does and no kits yet. I am hankering for rabbit meat. It's a favorite. Something I didn't even know until a few summers ago.

I get dressed in worn jeans, a blue cowboy shirt, a five-dollar Salvation Armani men's J Crew wool sweater, wool socks, brown beaten Hi-Tec hiking boots, a leather belt with a TENNESSEE buckle and head outside. I laugh to myself quietly. This outfit just a few years ago felt like a costume. Now it's most of my wardrobe. My clothes went from hipster to wrangler pretty fast. Mostly because you can't buy American Apparel hoodies in Tractor Supply.

The indoor weather station reads 38 degrees and I am happy I covered the new broc garden last night with plastic. There are two stupid-impulse tomato plants in there. I hope they made it. I put the potted basil in the passenger seat of my truck last night. Trucks make great overnight plant protection if you roll up the cab windows.

After the dogs have been fed and walked, I head over to check on Jasper. He's standing where he always seems to stand, right under the big old apple tree on the hill. In the dawn light he is beautiful, so much bigger than a small pony to me. He puts his front hoofs on the tree stump, I think to seem even bigger. I open the gate and he walks down to me and takes some hay as I pet his neck. I still don't really believe he's here. For kicks I run away and his ears shoot up at my sprint. He runs right behind me, both of us chasing nothing like fools. I like that he stays beside me in the pasture, trotting next to me in play. I stop because my soreness isn't interested in pony jogging. And Jasper enjoys his breakfast of hay from down the road.

After all the animals seen too. I heat up day-old coffee in the microwave and pour it into a dented VPR travel mug (AKA adult sippy cup so I don't spill half) and turn on the truck. Ice covers the windshield. I sigh, and scrape it. I keep the plastic sheeting on the garden bed I covered, and hope for the best. It should be 70 degrees in a few hours.

I head down to Common Sense Farm, which I am seeing a lot of this weekend. Othniel, Yasheva, and their three children are in the barn with a french WOOOFER named Mitch. We're loading up goat kids in my truck, and their mini van along with plant starts, hanging baskets of berries, spelt, and meat chickens. When all is loaded, we drive south into the sunrise and Oth knows some secret shortcut to the fairgrounds. We float over hillsides and farm, passing a herd of deer so sprite and far away it looks like the goats escaped into the horizon.

We arrive early enough to have our choice of prime spots. We unload and build a small pen for the goats, set up plant stands, and hang strawberry baskets from the tent. The sun is out in full force now, but we're still cold in our sweaters. I walk the rows of vendors and am surprised how much the swap has grown since I first came to it four years ago. Now there are donkeys, ponies, and highlander calves. I see a man selling wooden Adirondack chairs (handmade and painted!)for 45 bucks and the folks across the road from us are selling horse tack for a dollar. I get a saddle pad, bridle, bit, reins, and a used western saddle for a song. I walk the thing back to my truck and have a flash of being part of another time and place. Cowgirl and her saddle...

By noon five of the eight goats are sold and Othniel is haggling over the market price of the Highlanders. I just keep thinking about getting home to the farm to refill water stations. Dog alive, it is hot out. My sunburn seems even hotter on my shoulders. All of us are growing sun-weary. We pack up and head home another secret way, past farms from storybooks. I listen to the CD mix my old friend Leif mailed me, and laugh when the song "All for Me Grog" comes on sang by a troupe of 11-year-olds. Classic.

I'm beat, but happy to know that my friend Brett will be over in a few hours. He'll be stopping by on his way home to the Adirondacks to help me shore-up the barn. We've slowly been repairing it, making it more sturdy and expanding the space inside. That afternoon we poured two concrete slabs for future posts and beams to rest on, and took measurements for a stable (needed by winter). We take a break to enjoy the coffee porter he brought and talk about our unusually similar pasts. Both of us worked in television and now take care of chickens and heat with wood. The beer is amazing. So smooth.

By now it's nearly dinner time and I am famished and tired, very, very tired. So is brett, but he sticks with the game plan. There is still much to do, and the fact that I had help meant I couldn't put it off and miss the oppurtunity of having someone who competed in logging sports aid in the lifting of heavy things. So Brett kindly helped me straighten and repair the weak sheep shed, prune the giant maple, and carry 80-pound bags of Quickcrete. I offer him a hanging basket of strawberry plants and one of the ram lambs. He accepts the barter for his efforts and I feel a little debt repaid. Without the talents and skills of others, this farm would not run. And thanks to them, I now now how to pour slabs and mix cement. Take that, design college.

By the time he leaves and hugs and plans are exchanged, I am too tired to even make pizza at home for dinner. I order Chinese (sorry, idealists out there) and while I wait for it to wok up, I go about evening chores so that when I return with it, it's just me and three dogs and Jamie and Adam on Mythbusters with my lo mein.

I set my alarm for 10PM in case I fall asleep. I'll need to go out and shut the chicken coop door. I saw a fox last weekend the size of a coyote slinking around the far pasture. His orange and white poof-tail gave me the finger as he trotted off.

It's on.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

a horse story

I watched him in the rain. His black mane tussled, his brown eyes focused. Why is it that when any horse moves, and I mean really moves, he looks larger than life? To me, this 11.2 hand pony was as magnificent in a canter as a Fell Stallion. He was being demonstrated to me. On his back a ten-year-old who had little experience with horses slowed him down into a walk and then picked him up into a trot again. I was impressed. Not so much with how he moved (though he seemed easy and well-paced) but the fact that on this cold, rainy, and miserable Saturday morning this equine saint was letting a nervous child prance him around a yard. This was after he had spent the entire night in a small trailer, away from his herd. Green grass was everywhere around him, yet his head never lowered once that bit hit his mouth. And I had to keep in mind this was after he was walked around by a stranger (me) on a lead line, and then tacked up for a demonstration ride outside in a high wind. If I were him I would have bucked off the kid, and had a snack in the nice green grass, and then joined my herd in a dry shelter. But he just trotted. "My 16-year-old daughter rides him bare back with just a halter." said Rob (the trainer and seller).

I was there because of a series of emails we had shared that sprouted from a Craigslist post. I saw a chunky little white draft pony and emailed him (what is more harmless than an email?) to ask if the "draft" horse was actually was trained to drive. After finding out the pony was never in a harness and 20-years-old, I told him I wasn't interested. He asked me what I was looking for and said he had a small Welsh-like pony from an Amish Auction, which I dismissed outright. At first.

But after a while my ears were perked. Rob explained how patient and even tempered he was. That his children rode him bareback, that he was trained and raised by the everyday-driving Amish downstate. And the price we agreed on over the phone was less than half of what people spend on a decent guitar... So I went out to see him (what is more harmless than a trip to visit a pony?) I would drive out into Belcher to pet his brow and watch him work.

Which I did last weekend, in a downpour, and through all the stress and fuss he was Temperance embodied. Then I said something that even surprised me.

"I'll take him."

A handshake and deposit later, I owned a horse. Holy Shit.

We agreed he would be delivered that following Friday. I had a week to prepare. There was new fences to run electric top wires on, pasture to expand, supplies to buy, hay to stack, and more. So I did what I could during the work week and decided to take Friday off to set up the new gate and wiring. I could also turn my weekend into three days of pure-farming. A joy to this scrappy shepherd, and a change from the usual routine.

A hour before he was delivered, I ran the truck three miles down the road to Common Sense farm to pick up hay. Othniel and his family were all inside the barn, doing the chores of a working dairy. Two kids were born at 6:30 that morning, and Yasheva was bottle feeding the twins when I walked into the barn's main door. We chatted about the Poultry Swap on Sunday, and then I headed up into the loft of their ancient dairy barn to thrown down hay to the truck. When ten bales were secured in the back, and I was heading down the ladder to run home to meet Jasper (!!!). I was climbing on air, so thrilled to run back to my farm with a truck full of hay to temper the maw of a small horse. My cart horse. But I stopped walking halfway down the ladder. Othniel told me to be still and look up.

I looked up.

"That's for you." He said, smiling in his voice.

High above me in the rafters of the 19th-Century barn was the skeleton of a single pony cart.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


the hudson

Last night I was on my way to meet some friends for a party in Saratoga Springs when I hit a series of flashing lights and police lines outside a quiet village. I soon realized the crime, wasn't, but that the Hudson River was pretty angry. While this is in no way a comparison to what is happening in the South, here in the Upper Hudson Valley the entire town of Schuylerville (Skyler-Ville) was road-blocked because the river was taking it over. I'm not used to seeing police lines in Washington County, and when I saw the giant cement bridge over the Hudson lined with people and cameras I jogged up to see see what was happening. I saw a familiar face, Ben Shaw, my chicken processor with his wife walking fast to the bridge. I waved hello, jogged up, and asked them what was going on? They explained that deep snow in the Adirondaks had all melted too quickly and it was too much for this part of the river to take. See that picture? Whew.

As far as I know, only property was hurt. More here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

cast away

When you produce a raw product like wool, you see it differently. It goes from being a thing of yarn to a thing of sheep. I used to see wool in a clump and imagine the work of washing, carding, and spinning my own yarn to knit into fabulous creations. Kind of how someone who covets a high-end sports car would look at frame being assembled in the factory and imagine someday waxing it in his garage. Two people looking at effort with joy of ownership. That is how I used to see wool.

But now I see wool and I see sheep. I see breeds, and hay, and footrot, and lambing. I see the joys and frustrations of the animal and while it has certainly not taken away any love of yarn and knitting: it has certainly given me less time to do so. Kind of like if that guy waxing his sports car had to learn how to take apart the entire Porsche and put it back together again before he could drive it. He'll still imagine that wax in his hands and a beautiful vehicle taking hair pin turns, but he'll probably be wondering if he put the right type of screws back on the frame. And nervous about the seven still in his pocket...

Cautious optimism is the same in knitting as in farming. You go into a project with something raw, drunk with plans, and then after a lot of work you end up with something you can use. And when people send me photos like this: of their creations made with my wool—I am shocked back into those hair pin turns with pure delight. Teresa sent me a photo of these laced gloves. Janet mailed me a gorgeous winter hat. My boss knit me a tiny stuffed chick out of Sal's wool. Another reader sent along a Mod handbag, get this, made out of Maude....priceless! What amazing emails, gifts, and images! Thank you. You're getting this farmer to pick up her needles once again and maybe even take on that dream sweater!

Why is it that running a farm seems easy, effortless really... but knitting a sweater feels impossible?!

photo by T.G.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

caused pause.

It was around 5:30 this evening when I found myself walking around the backlot at Tractor Supply in Bennington. I was shopping for a new gate, and as I walked around the chain-linked yard comparing different styles and sizes I felt the sun break out from the clouds and scatter the playground of metal and wire with light. An industrial place, all cement and steel, turned into quite the site. It caused pause.

All day it had been a blustery, hot, wet world. At lunch me and few friends sat outside our first-floor glass doors that opened to the Orvis backyard and let our dogs play in the rain while we sat on desk chairs under the overhang. We talked about the same things most people in offices across America were talking about: the tornados in the south, the rising price of gas (well over 4.00 a gallon in New York), The spring Turkey Hunting Pool (which I am in), and our dogs. Gibson played with other hounds and ran the 1/4 mile down the hill to pond for a swim with Lucie the Golden Retriever. Cathy, a coworker, stepped outside on the cement slab and took in the scene of high winds, humid air, playing dogs, chatting people, and bending trees and said "I feel like we're in the Caribbean." Southwestern Vermont, actually. Common mistake.

But now that the rain and storms had passed, I found myself outside the office in a farm supply parking lot loading a 6 foot metal gate into the back of the Dodge. I had plans to pop right over to Home Depot afterwards and see if they had basil yet, which I wanted to smell and hold as much as I wanted to plant it. I was going to put in some more raised beds this weekend and I wanted some basil to be amongst them. The early seedlings of lettuce, peas, potatoes and carrots were already coming up and so far my bamboo and bird-netting frames were keeping out all sorts of critters and chickens. By the end of this weekend basil, tomatoes, and broc would be in the ground for certain and three new Silver Fox rabbits would be at the farm. A rare American breed of meat rabbit delivered here by a reader from Maine.

I have some very big news to share, but I'm not ready to share it just yet. Hopefully by the end of this weekend I will post a photo that will make more than one of you smile, and some of you shake your heads. I'm excited to share the news with you first lot, and unfazed by the second. The more I fall in love with this farm, the less I seek the approval of others (but the more I value their advice).

Wind's picking up out there. I better close the door on the chicken coop and check on the barn rabbits and ol' Castro. No sign of goslings yet. I hope Saro manages to hatch a few. I feel like she's giving it her all. I hope any readers in the line of fire down in the south will reach out to us when you are able. I bet we could pass around the hat and help a few of you get upright. Or at least give it a shot. You're all in my thoughts tonight in Jackson.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


photos by 468photography
Freedom Hangs like Heaven Over Everyone: Iron and Wine

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The maple tree outside my house was swaying in the dark tonight, heavy with its new buds just starting to bloom. This same tree was covered in ice so heavy it bowed to me, just a few weeks ago. Now there's a blanket of grass around it, and little brave pullets pecking at its trunk. In the dark, against the black sky, that maple looks massive in an ancient way. Who knows how many farms and families it has watched over since it was sapling. In just a year it has seen so much. I played a banjo under that old tree tonight. I hung a dead pig from it when the world was ice. Children of friends (and I) have climbed it. Birdhouses hung like ursine pinatas. My brother in law pulled a chair under it to cool off last July, and a gray kitten called it home base. It's much of this farm and this loud farmer, far better than both in its silence.

Everything here is turning green, and nights are starting to roll into this hefty humidity of early summer. Last night a thunderstorm shook the house so loud that I actually thought the roof collapsed. I didn't know if I should get dressed to assess damage or just close my eyes and hope for the best. I opted for the later. Turns out the roof made it, but some tree limbs did not.

The sheep are in a safehold now. My Easter Sunday was not spent as planned. I was supposed to join the Daughton family for a big meal at their farm in White Creek (two towns south) and called them sad to cancel. After a week of escaping sheep, complaints (and help) from neighbors, and one ewe leaping right over the gate towards my truck...I realized I needed to use this last day off from work before the week started to secure my animals. Farms do no recognize holidays.

When I told the Daughton's this, they simply said. "Oh, well, we'll bring Easter to you then" and in a few hours they had set up (on a table they brought, since I don't have one yet) a full Easter dinner with ham, salads, pickles, cake, and finger snacks. They brought me a hand-made bluebird house and I almost wept. I have never had friends willing to uproot an entire family holiday to help me keep sheep off a road.

We spend the afternoon setting up wire and testing lines and by sunset my sheep were being shocked away from danger and my belly was full. Tonight while I walked the perimeter of the fence to pick up any pulled wires and reset it before bed, I thanked them again. I don't know if they heard it, but I said it.

Wind picked up all around me and the stars started to disappear into the black above my mountain. The weather report called for more storms this night, and the air felt humid, which I love. Humidity gets a horrible reputation because it makes people temporarily uncomfortable. It lasts a few months and then it's gone, and it leaves trails of thunderstorms, lush grass, fireflies and warmed working farmer bodies in its tail strands as it saunters through in hot gasps. I love humidity, and so does the old Maple. Who watched my clumsy farm's Easter in quiet. And knows more stories than I can bear.

Monday, April 25, 2011

shearing movie coming up!

Shearing Day has become more than a chore, it's a holiday. An annual ritual I look forward to more and more each year. A few weekends ago all eight of my adult sheep (six ewes and two wethers) were penned and barbered here on the premises. It took two professional shearers, the landowner, and a willing photographer to both complete the task and document the entire event.

I've been starting and stopping a shearing post for the past week and every time I get into it, it turns into more of an essay on the agricultural holidays created through seasonal work. A heartfelt and beautiful topic, sure, but let's face it. You guys want to see some naked sheep. Don't you?

So, I decided to save the farm holiday post for a rainier spring day and show off some great photos with some fun music, a real visual essay of the day. I'll make a big music video slideshow, I'll get some banjo music from Julie Dugan's website (with her and Tim's permission, of course) and put the day to music. I would have done it tonight, but I messed up burning the DVD and came home with a blank disc. Let's hear it for me...

I'm better with dirt than I am with machines lately. I consider this a sign of progress!

get out!

Cyrus does not like people too close to his woman's nest. With Saro due to hatch out goslings any day now: he is on high alert.

Also, gander's generally disdain the paparazzi.

photo by tim bronson

Saturday, April 23, 2011


It's near impossible to be involved in the homesteading or local food culture and not be aware of the topic of Peak Oil. It's something I never really talk about on this blog, as Cold Antler Farm isn't a post-oil survivalist website. However, the more I read about energy issues the happier I am to have chickens, gardens, and a wood stove....

I am very interested in what you think. Do you think Peak Oil is fact or fiction? Is it something you and your family base any decisions on? Do you think the majority of the homesteading community came into small-farming because of the worry about peak oil, food supply, and energy? Or do you think the current trends in DIY food are more about what's on the cover of Martha Stewart Living? A lot of questions but I am curious what all of you think.

Friday, April 22, 2011

sugar hill, son!

Banjo Equinox Players
Okay gang, let's hear it. Post your videos of Sugar Hill. All levels, speeds, and fingertastic adventures welcome here. And when all the entries are in I'll do another random winner for a skein of Cold Antler Farm wool. Which means that by our next challenge (and the last challenge in Double C tuning) you could be frailing in a hat worn by Sal this time last year. I'll post my video soon, I just need some more practice. I haven't played it in a while, but I that didn't stop you. If I remember correctly, I think you can use a hammer-on in this beginner version!

And here is the first entry, Maggie, who has been playing just since Banjo Equinox Started, and I am so proud of her. This sounds like it deserves a campfire, fireflies, and a warm summer night already. Keep posting videos!

photo from

playing doctor

Tonight I played doctor. One of my coworkers asked me to help his neighbor with some new babies and I obliged. It just so happened that a pair of lambs were born in Sunderland Vermont (and they were quite the faux-miracle). I guess the four "wethers" the ewes were raised with—weren't. So this past weekend when my coworker Mike was watching his neighbor's farm (while the greenhorn farmers were on vacation), you can imagine his surprise when he realized the sheep population had doubled! The two Jacob ewes in the pasture were suddenly joined with two little splotched lambs. Not planning to breed until this fall, their shepherd was equally thrown off by the new arrivals. And so, with only one recent lambing season under my belt, I was asked to come give shots, band tails, check vital signs and help the new shepherd learn what I myself had just figured out.

...Kinda soon to become a mentor, but it seems to happen a lot out here. When my yearling's weak ram lamb needed to be tube fed out in the lambing jug this past March, I watched my friend Yasheva slowly feed him the plastic tube down his throat and wait for him to swallow it before she offered any colostrum. She needed to make sure it was going into his stomach and not his lungs, and explained calmly how she needed to feel him sucking before she squirted the sheep's first milk into him. I said, in awe, "Wow.... how many times have you had to do this with your goats?" Yasheva, ever the professional, replied, "I've never done this before, but I read about it. Seems to be working...." And that little ram lamb is hanging out with her goats right now, doing magnificently. Winging it is a rule of thumb.

So I took a note from her book, and acted like everything was under control and I had done this a million times (and not, you know, seven). I told him what to buy at Tractor Supply: from needles to CDT to antibiotics (just in case) and I told him I would bring my docker and ear tagger and help get these little ones ready for the big world.

When I pulled up to Rob's farm I parked the Dodge with Gibson, grabbed my wicker "Doctor's Basket" of needles, bands, dockers and meds and walked out to the barn to show him the ropes best I knew them. He was just as nervous as I was watching Yasheva do it the first time. I asked him to give the shot and he said "I better watch you do it, I didn't see before" which is exactly what I said when I was asked the first time! (I had five ewes to go through, so I did get my turn. She only accepted my excuse twice.) I checked the second ewe's (expecting any day now) udder and it was HUGE. New sheep were on the way. I acted as sure as possible, like I've been doing this for years.

I think he bought it.

The little Jacobs are doing well—and thanks to a poorly castrated ram—tonight, I became a lamb nurse.

scratch it, sal!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

this is not a hobby

I am starting to cringe every time I hear the phrase Hobby Farm. I just hate the assumptions that surround the word, circling it like confused sharks. The idea that your backyard farm or small rural acreage is equivalent to your Tuesday night bowling team or bird-watching club really gets me. It is so much more.

Regardless of scale, growing food is a skill and a blessing. It is a timeless and honorable job that can do nothing but benefit the practitioner. This is true on every level: literally, socially, physically, emotionally. The work of raising animals, grains, fruits, eggs, fungi, fish and vegetables for your table is above the spinning classes and golf clubs. It is creating the source of your existence. It is learning to produce the energy to keep you alive.

There also seems to be a Caste system here in upstate New York. A different social ranking between the people who live and work full-time on their land and those of us who shuffle off to our off-farm jobs every day. The stigma is that those of us who need to earn a living off the land to supplement our farm are either:

A) bad at a farming and need financial help, or
B) Doing it for fun and therefore, not serious. (aka Tuesday night wings and pins.)

Calling people who grow food part-time Hobby Farmers is like calling people in the National Guard Hobby Soldiers. Most people would never dream to peg the people who might give their lives to protect their country such an aloof term (even if they are part-timers) because the stakes are too high. Well, when it comes to creating food, I feel the same way. And while the accountant down the street with the two-acre dairy goat and vegetable operation hasn't quit his day job: he still is providing food for your community. He deserves a higher title than Hobby. He is a farmer, end of story. He may be other things as well, but if he is making cheese and squash, he is learning a skill and providing a product to help keep all of us alive.

The soldier might die for us, but the farmer lives for us.

I have sweat buckets and tore muscles. I have walked through snowstorms and heat waves. I have been rammed by sheep, bit by turkeys, and poisoned by ivy. I drive a truck and I own a gun. I am these things, and not because they are a simple pastimes but because not doing them makes my life feel like a fabrication, some sort of stage play. An act where I go through the motions of being a human animal while the stagehands behind the scenes pull the ropes and press the levers. But I don't want to be in the show anymore, I want to know how things work, and be a source instead of a consumer. I want to know what's behind the curtain.

So those of us with part-time farms, people who subscribe (as I do) to Hobby Farm magazine and grow food even though it's not our full time job...we need to either change our title or own it in a new way. Because, this is not my hobby, darling. This is not a phase. This is not a trend, or a marketing ploy, or a subscription to a magazine. This is growing food.

This is my entire life.

disclaimer: I am not saying people who use the word hobby farm without issue, or books and magazines that use it, are wrong. I am saying that I think the effort and energy of the work has outgrown the term. I do not care if people call Cold Antler "Hobby", it's not their opinions I care about, but what I do care about is that something as important as growing food at home is seen as an afterthought or cute lifestyle choice unless it is on a larger scale.


Every. Sheep. Escaped.

Update 8:26PM: All the sheep are back in the pasture. They escaped by lifting a weak piece of fence like a tent flap and shimmied through. A helpful neighbor, Sarah, and her two dogs helped me get them back into the pasture gate from the wood and after all the chaos was over I ran up to her place with a carton of eggs and a thank you. Tonight I did my best to secure it and dumped a whole bale of hay inside to temper any nightly escape plans. This weekend I'll run a line of barbed wire at nose level around the base. I am beat.

Gibson can't help yet with herding them. He's a year-old puppy who is too excited and he would just chase them right down the road into the highway if I let him lose. All I needed to do was call them and bribe them back inside with the promise of sweet grain. But hopefully by this time in the fall, he will have enough experience, lessons, and work with me to be working here. The trainer told me it takes a new handler with a new dog up to three years to become a team.

For my next trick:
I will be watching the rest of Gone With the Wind with a glass of wine.

ten miles past normal

When a CAF reader posted a comment a few days ago about how her favorite podcasting quilter wrote a novel inspired by the antics at Cold Antler Farm, I had to contact the author and see if it was true. Turns out that author Frances Dowell is a CAF reader herself, and felt it was time to write a story with chickens and goats in it, thanks to a little inspiration from this mess. Shucks.

Frances, welcome to the farm and thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
Thanks, Jenna. I'm really excited to be here!

You're a quilter, a blogger, and also an author. Could you tell everyone here about yourself?
For starters, I live in Durham, NC, with my husband and two sons, and when I'm not writing, I make quilts and play the fiddle. Making quilts has become somewhat of an obsession with me lately, and with the good spring weather we're getting here, I've been deeply into my garden. I also do a weekly podcast about quilting, called The Off-Kilter Quilt, which has been a great way to connect with a fabulous online community of quilters.

I started out my writing life as a poet, but after grad school I figured out that no one was going to give me a paycheck for poetry, so I started writing novels for middle grade readers (think 4th grade through seventh) about fifteen years ago. I'm eternally eleven in my heart and still a passionate reader of middle grade and young adult fiction (I've read Bridge to Terabithia about twenty times and I still cry every single time), so writing for young people has been a great fit for me.

I've invited you over for an interview because of your new novel, Ten Miles Past Normal. Tell us all about it!
Ten Miles Past Normal is my first foray into young adult literature. It's the story of 14-year-old Janie, who is a high school freshman and having a rough time. She's overwhelmed by the size of her school and the fact that hardly ever sees anyone she knows. She eats lunch in the library. It's a bad scene. It doesn't help that Janie lives on a farm and keeps dragging bits and pieces of it with her to school. Her family has five acres where they're raising goats and chickens, and up until high school, Janie loved farm life.
But lately she's found that being known as Farm Girl isn't exactly a social advantage.

It's really a story about figuring out where you fit in and what's important to you, which is a hard job when you're fourteen. At the beginning of the book, what's important to Janie is being seen as a totally normal teenager, but by the end, she's reassessing. Maybe normal's not all it's cracked up to be.

Rumor has it that CAF had a role in inspiring parts of the story?
Yep! What happened is that I stumbled across your book Made from Scratch and just fell in love with it. It really spoke to my own dreams of living a more homemade life. Through the book, I found my way to your blog, which I have been keeping up with ever since. Like a lot of your readers who've been following CAF for a awhile, I feel that I'm on this journey with you, though of course you're doing all the hard work and I'm just cheering from the sidelines. I was so excited when you bought the farm, I could hardly stand it. And I was pretty worried about you this winter!

But to back up, after I read Made From Scratch, I was really in the mood to write a book set on a farm with characters who were trying to live a DIY lifestyle. I should say I'm also a huge Wendell Berry fan, and a farmer wannabe from way back. The beauty of being a writer is that even if you can't live out your dreams in real life, you can live them out through your books.

By the way, it was after I read Made from Scratch that I ordered a fiddle from the Internet, and started learning how to play. I pretty quickly upgraded to a better fiddle and started taking lessons, and fiddle playing has been a joyful part of my life ever since. It's so funny to think that if I hadn't picked up your book, I might not be having all this fun!

What draws you into the handmade life?
I've always loved making stuff. It's just so deeply satisfying to wear a pair of socks you've knit, fall asleep under a quilt you've made, or bite into a tomato you've grown yourself. We've been putting in our spring garden, and some nights my husband and I just stand on the back porch and look at the peas and tomatoes we started from seeds. You feel like this is what we--and by we, I mean everyone--should be doing. If nothing else, it's therapeutic! But it's more than that. We just get so disconnected from our own lives. It's not good for the soul.

So who do you relate with more, Janie or her mother?
That's a great question! I relate with Janie's desire to fit in, since I always feel like a bit of an odd bird in social situations, but I'm more her mother's age, and like her mother, I'm trying to live more of a homemade life. I find as I get older, and as my boys gets older, I'm growing more and more sympathetic to the parents in my stories!

Any plans for more from this fictional farm family? a sequel or series?
I don't have plans for a sequel right now, though I've been playing around with the idea of a sort of post-peak oil book, where people find themselves having to acquire the kind of homesteading skills that very few of us have anymore. For one thing, writing this sort of story would allow me to buy a butter churn and write it off on my taxes as a research expense!

Besides quilting, do you do any other homesteading hobbies?
As I've mentioned, I knit and garden, and this summer I'm going to finally learn how to can. We have a deep freeze and have preserved food that way, but I need to learn how to put stuff in jars. I'm also collecting supplies for cheesemaking, which is going to be my next big project. Essentially, it's my hope to become as self-sufficient as possible. We've got three-quarters of an acre, and you can do a lot with that amount of land.

I've even got a little plot of wheat growing. I'm trying to convince my husband that our front yard should be a wheat field. It's incredibly beautiful, for one thing, and for another, you only have to mow it once.

Thank you so much, I can't wait to read your book!
Thanks, Jenna! Don't forget to check out the acknowledgments page, because you're there in a big way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

under aries

Tonight I sat on the tailgate of my truck with a lamb in my arms. It was dark. The little ewe, Pidge, seemed tired. I caught her moments before with my crook after noticing her move so much slower than the others. She seemed thinner too. Worried about a slew of issues, I decided to feel her over and check her out. I gave her some supplements and a bottle of milk replacer to pep her up with a light dose of antibiotics. We sat in the porch light streaming off the house, the crook leaning against the tailgate. I was using a clean beer bottle with a clear nipple on it to feed the little lass. In my arms was twenty-five pounds of wool and hooves. She seemed okay, but a little tired. I could relate.

I held her close to my face and smelled her head. The potion of baby lanolin and grass. The air felt like rain. The other sheep grazed above us on the hill, the occasional baa muffled by new grass mixed in with the sounds of tree frogs farther down the mountain. I sat out there with her longer than I needed too. Her weight on my lap, and wool in my arms, felt like my body had been waiting for it forever. To be this comfortable in the world. Not worried about my hair, or my skin, or my weight: just complete.

I'm not into astrology, but I love watching the stars. On this late April night I wondered if the ewe lamb and I were under the watch of Aries, up there in the heavens? It wasn't until I came in here to write to you that I realized we were. It was such a happy discovery. Here in North America so many shepherds are lambing, or tending to lambs, around this time. It took 28 years, but I finally understood why there's a ram in the sky. Someone's got to keep an eye on us.

I thanked god, luck, and a star ram tonight. I'm grateful for them all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the bun baker has landed!

The new woodstove got delivered today, and I was shocked at how big it was! It's sitting in my living room right now, and while it will be a while before I save up the cash to get the permits, buy pipes, and get someone here to install a proper new chimney: this winter there will be the combined smell of woodsmoke and rising bread from this fiddler's living room. I think I'm in love...

wah, wah, bok....

Mistakes happen, and they happen all the time. Today I went to pick up the chickens I drove over to Ben Shaw's farm ( named Garden of Spices) yesterday, and what came out of the back room was a pile of cornish game hens! Under all those feathers my meat birds only topped out at three pounds. Oh lord, I was so embaressed. I had simply thought they were larger, a lot larger. Under all that fluff and feathers they had not filled out to market weight. I had been tricked by post-winter bliss and excitement to think that they were ready before they really were. They are half to two-thirds the size of what you would get in the store. I simply messed up.

Well, all I can do is offer to trade them for half of what I already asked of possible buyers and let them know they don't have to take the little guys if it's not the product they want. I'll put most in the freezer and same them for bbqs and weeknight roasts for this single gal in Jackson. And hey, they might be small, but they should still taste pretty good. I'll roast one of them tonight and find out before I offer any to my coworkers. They won't have the flavor of an older bird but I have some butter, herbs, and hard cider that might have my back on that. I'll just revert to my meat bible—The River Cottage Meat Book—and hope Hugh has some advice...

P.S. Banjo players, how do you feel about sharing Sugar Hill soon?


I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin' fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin'.

And I been wonderin' if all our folks got together and yelled...

-Grapes of Wrath

photo by tim bronson

Monday, April 18, 2011

dinner and sweaters

After work I had a special task lined up. Besides the usual cores I had two crates to load into the back of the truck. 12-15 birds I had raised since they were chicks would be driving to Ben Shaw's farm in Greenwich to be slaughtered, bagged, and labeled "Cold Antler Farm" first thing in the morning. Ben usually doesn't deal with such small numbers, but being so early in the season I think the work was welcomed. For three dollars an animal I would return tomorrow afternoon to pick up meat. The Jumbo Cornishes I had first held in my palm at the tail-end of February are now 6-pound broilers. They had been outside for a few weeks now and yesterday I watched them run through the grass just like the lambs do, picking up worms from the rain-soaked new grass. They were strong, fast, and perfectly white. I was proud of both their life and their deaths.

So in a light rain I fed the birds their usual night ration in one small pile of grain. All the meat birds flocked to it and started to peck. I went into the barn to grab the two big plastic poultry crates leant to me by Bruce at Wannabea Rabbit Farm. They were kind of like giant plastic cigarette boxes with hole in them, a design that would not allow the birds the ability to crawl on top of each other while they waited at quietly at the Shaw's for morning. I watched the party of feathers and yellow feet and then dove into the pile to pick up the fattest chicken and carry it over to the crate like I would a rabbit. You don't need to rush, and you don't need to stress them out when you deal with such small numbers. Within five minutes I had 14 birds in the the two crates. I loaded them into the bed of the pickup (it has a cover so they were not in the wind and rain) and let Gibson join me in the front seat. We were off to deliver a truck of birds to the butcher.

While driving I kept thinking about lunch. I had made a giant crock pot of pulled pork, at least a 3 pound shoulder from Pig slow cooked all night and morning in a stew of apple cider, bbq sauce, my bee's honey and brown sugar. I plugged it in at the office and at lunch at least fifteen people got to enjoy an animal I raised on my farm. It tasted amazing. The meat was literally falling off the shoulder bone in the ceramic pot and some people eagerly awaited seconds. I was so proud. And not proud of me, but of Pig.

So a bunch of people in the office enjoyed a farm pig lunch, and wednesday I'll drag in a cooler full of fresh chickens in for folks who wanted roasting birds from me. I always am handing out eggs, and my boss has a jar of my honey at her desk. The new VP in our department always seems both bemused and shocked when something else I grew comes into the office. I am starting to be a place people think of when they need things, even if it's just a dozen eggs or the occasional free lunch. I love that. I love that I am able to feed people, even occasionally, from a couple acres and happy work.

I must sound so over-the-top lately. I can't help it. This winter is over and I got through lambing. Now aI have a whole summer of work I understand and enjoy: gardening, rabbit breeding, chickens, workshops, cooking, baking and canning. I am looking forward to the time for my banjo and fiddle and maybe a date or two if I'm lucky. I'm just happy, and for a while my posts might reflect that in a farmy-Disney way of sappy posts. It's collateral damage of getting through four feet of snow and afterbirth. Your patience is appreciated!

I'm a dinner and sweater farmer. How about that.

if looks could kill

Shearing day was Saturday morning, and soon I'll post the whole story, but I wanted to share this picture of me and Sal. After being shorn I packed his wool into one of the wheel barrows with Maude's. Tim caught this image of him leering at me (it was rather chilly). Usually Sal is such a happy-go-lucky guy, but shearing does seem to slam his confidence down a few levels. Anyone who thinks sheep are automatons without much intelligence has never stolen their clothes and felt their resentment. They're great.
photo by tim bronson

the buck starts here

Sunday, April 17, 2011

shepherd's dozen

12 eggs a day in the fridge
10 meat birds going to the butcher tomorrow
9 minutes till I start dinner
8 sheep shorn yesterday morning
7 dollars in my back pocket
6 friends went out to enjoy indian food and Iron and Wine
5 coworkers getting fresh free-range chicken Wednesday
4 different vegetables sprouting in the raised beds
3 pounds of pork shoulder in the big crock pot
2 apple trees ready to be planted
1 sheepdog back into his herding lessons
0 things to be ungrateful for this Sunday night.

Little known fact: a shepherd's dozen is 11.

an off-grid morning

Wind storms took out the power early this morning. I was shaking and straining my way through a BIggest Loser Weight-Loss Yoga DVD in the kitchen, and was never more grateful for a blackout then when Bob disappeared instantly (a girl can only do so many plank-pose pushups). I needed the break.

My guest, Erin, was still asleep upstairs. I didn't want her waking up to a dark house without warm food or hot coffee, so I did what any proper homesteader would do. I turned to my wood stove. I fired it up and set a cast-iron skillet on top of it with a pat of butter. Then I grabbed some eggs from the hens and scrambled them while the stove-top percolator water heated up. I poured some whole coffee beans into my hand-cranked grinder and within moments a hot meal with protein-and-caffeine a plenty was sizzlin' on the metal top. I turned on the radio (battery powered with a hand-crank option) and soon NPR was sharing all the latest goings-on. Not bad for a house without a working outlet.

I'm not an extremist when it comes to all this emergancy/survivalist gear but I have noticed that the more I get into homesteading and self-sufficiency the less interested I am in buying things I need to plug in to do the same job as something that doesn't have a plug and simply does it slower. It may have taken twenty minutes to make some eggs and drink a hot cup of coffee today, but there were eggs and coffee. I like knowing my plan A also works as plan B. I'll take the trade off of time and effort for reliability.

And plan B is getting pretty exciting this week... Tuesday afternoon the people at Vermont Wood Stove are bringing over another woodtove for the farm and I am *really* excited to have a hearth in the living room again. Having a warm fireplace in the space I read and relax in while the snow falls outside is true comfort to me. Primal comfort. This stove actually does it all. It has both a firebox heat and a lower oven section for roasting, baking, and cooking. I love the idea that even in a blizzard without power I could crank out warm bread or a roast chicken if the woodpile was high enough. Now I just need to save up the money for the chimney! It will be a few months before I can use her, but hopefully by the first crisp weekends of fall I will be enjoying toasty nights in a two-stove heated house. I also am hoping it helps with fuel costs. I cant' imagine it won't?

Clearly, the power is back on now. I'll have stories and photos from shearing soon, hopefully later today. I just wanted to share about the woodstove, and give Tim some time to pull together the best images from the day. He came out to take some photos of the wool circus. I will say that shearers Jim McRae and his mentor Liz did an amazing job. All eight adults in the flock look like chubby Labrador-deers and suddenly appreciate their out buildings a lot more. I guess everyone needs a plan B.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


it's shearing day!

Shearers on the way, coffee on the stove, donuts in the kitchen, and stories and photos to come. What a great, great, thing to happen on this happy day: One Full Year on my own land!

I'm off to build a holding pen!

Friday, April 15, 2011

I can't wait....

livestock and deadstock

My Jumbo Cornish Crosses are ready for their date with destiny. I made the appointment at the poultry farm in Greenwich (and here in Washington County that is pronounced green-which)—they are going to take my crate of 10-15 plump birds and professionally slaughter, clean, eviscerate, ice, and wrap them. I will get a cooler of wrapped birds in plastic with Cold Antler Farm printed on a label. It's a step up from processing them all at home, but a step I am happy to take. I learned the hard way how a mistake in backyard meat production can nearly put you in the hospital. While I have processed rabbits, chickens, and game here myself since (without incident. lesson learned.) I have learned that the price of three dollars a bird from live-in-crate to bagged meat is a price worth paying for a full-time employed office worker with lambs to castrate and a sheep shearing coming in the morning....So you pick your battles. I'll help catch and wrestle sheep, but I won't be preparing this lot for the freezer alone. And here's something worth celebrating: already enough coworkers have signed up for the birds to cover their purchase price and feed. That means the one I keep were free-of-charge (minus my labor and time) and that's an economical milestone as well. I'll deliver fresh chicken to the office on Wednesday. This place is becoming place people think of to get dinner.

I was in Manchester today to pick up a few meat rabbits from Wannabea Rabbit Farm. Bruce is an expert, I mean it. This man knows his trade and he sold me three beautiful rexes (one buck and one bred!) and a giant Chin/New Zealand cross I've named Bertha. Now they will join my heavy Palomino Doe and the young black buck in the barn. Five hefty meat rabbits. I can smell the crock pot already...I think rabbit might be my favorite of all meat.

The two Angoras I bought both died earlier this week. They had coccidiosis, I think, and the breeder refunded the money I paid for them. It was quite the hit, but I don't know what else I could have done to prevent it. They were set in a completely clean cage with the same feed the breeder handed me. They had clean water, protection from the elements, natural light and twice-a-day check ins from me. But three days after I bought them one was dead in the cage, and the sister died a few days later. I tried electrolytes, diet changes, grass (that is what saved my Palomino doe when she was ill at that age) but no luck. We failed each other in the end.

It's a part of all this, I know, and the girl who removed those corpses was a lot tougher than she would have been if that was Bean Blossom or Benjamin in 2008...But as I explained to a non-farming friend today, it's simply how the farm functions. Where there is livestock, there is deadstock. Birth and death are so common. They do not cease to be awe inspiring or incredibly sad, but they both become common. You keep a stiff upper lift and tend to those among the living.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of buying this farm. The shearer is coming and I am going with a small army of friend to see Iron and Wine perform at Mass MoCa in North Adams. Not a bad way for a farm to spend its birthday.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

hang a picture, feed a dream, and win some sal!

I'm happy to announce that there is now a Cold Antler Farm print shop! You can now take a piece of Cold Antler home, while supporting a new talent in the Veryork Community. Award-winning photographer, Tim Bronson, takes a nice picture. Like I aspire to be a farmer, Tim aspires to follow his own path as an artist of shutter speeds, glass, and pixels. He has posted a collection of his farm photos (mostly Cold Antler, but some other local sheep and barns) for you to peruse. These images are ready to own for as little as five dollars a print. These come to you directly from a professional photo lab, shipped safely in a plastic protective sleeve so they arrive in mint condition. They are perfect for framing, gifts, and hanging for inspiration on your wall. I'll be posting a few around this farmhouse, that's for darn sure. I think I need the photographic evidence to even believe I got through lambing season....

To enter to win the print of sal,check out the gallery at Tim's site and leave a comment here (or on his blog if you prefer) letting us both know what photos you like, and what you would like to see more of! One commenter will be chosen randomly Friday night to win the 11x14 signed print of smilin' Sal. Good luck and thank you for all of your support, whatever the dream!

UPDATE! Devouring The Seasons, you are the random winner of the print!!! Please email me at, and I'll have it in the mail to you Monday. Congrats! And I hope those of you who didn't win will consider supporting Tim's work and taking a piece of Cold Antler Farm home with you.

Shop 468photography Now!

the lambs of cold antler farm!

a small favor?

I have a small favor to ask? I am currently working on a project with my publisher, and they asked me if it would be possible to get quotes from blog readers about why they read Cold Antler Farm? They want to use it for possible promotional materials, back covers of books, that sort of thing. Would you guys be willing to share in the comments why you check in on this random farm in Upstate New York and how/if the stories of this shepherd effect you in any way? You never know, you could find what you type here on the back of a book jacket! (With your permission, of course.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

droppin' thumbs

the wolf and the lamb

I came home to not a single escaped sheep today.

I came home to four.

A ewe and three lambs were pacing along outside the fence when I got back. Now I was certain there was a hole in the fence. A ewe could jump over the combination of sagging fences and piled up winter hay, but not the small lambs. Even at their best jump it's not enough to clear three feet yet. So I went into Farmcon Level Blue mode: tricky but stable.

Step one: don't panic.
Step two: control the animals not outside the fence.
Step three: figure out how to get the cause of step one into step two.

I dumped a pile of hay inside the fence for the other sheep and then went inside to fetch my long crook. When I came back outside the ewe and her twins were back in the fray, eating with the others. Just one lamb remained bleating outside. A short exploration of the fence showed me a small hole that all three scrambled through. I used some green baling twine for a Jackson patch job and decided it was time to play a round of lamb-catch.

The road to catching lambs is littered with the corpses of failure. You can't hunt them like a wolf. You can't sneak up on them in open ground and catch them with your staff. At this age they're just too fast, too agile, and too damn smart. The little ram just circled the entire pasture line, both of us making loops that meant nothing. Finally, I gathered my wits and decided to open up a section of fence and chase him towards it, hoping he'd see the inside of the sheep pen as an "escape" from me. After two laps, it worked. I got a workout and a small victory. The ram lamb got to see the suburbs.

I have learned that 90% of shepherding is about letting the sheep think they are outsmarting you. It is a path of least resistance to gain maximum results in this game.

get'em started right!

If you’re new to raising chickens, you might be a little intimidated setting up house for your new flock. After all, this is a big step. Chickens aren’t pets: they’re livestock. That word seems to carry a sense of import not bestowed on our humble cats and dogs. And rightly so — these girls have a job to do! In a few months your little fluff balls will be producing eggs so rich in omega-3s and energizing, wholesome protein you won’t be able to remember a time in your life without hens in the backyard.

But before you can start learning how to make your own Hollandaise sauce, you need to learn how to raise those birds. Here’s my recipe for the perfect chick-brooding environment. Follow these basic rules of warmth, safety, and care and feeding, and you’ll be home free.

Preparing a Safe Brooder
Chicks need a warm, clean, draft-free place to start off in the world: a large container that allows enough room for the birds to walk, scratch, and get the space they need to stretch their wings. You can create a brooder out of something as basic as a cardboard box or as complicated as a large stock tank. I know someone who once used her downstairs shower to raise laying hens, lining the bottom with newspaper and then washing it down between regular cleanings.

You don’t need to share a shower stall with your chickens, though. The classic cardboard brooder box is perfect for a few laying hens. Line it with newspaper or pine shavings (which I prefer), and set it in a draft-free area of your home or garage that curious cats and toddlers can’t get near. Once the brooder is in a safe, quiet, corner, above it place a heat lamp that is clamped safely. These powerful 250-watt bulbs become your foster mothers, and make the brooder a comfortable 90°F (32°C) for your little ones. To be sure your box is a safe temperature, place a thermometer in the base and check on it in a few hours. If it reads higher than 90°F, lift it up a few inches, and take another reading a while later. If it reads 70°F (21°C), drop it an inch or 2, and do the same. You want that magic number of 90°.

Feed and Water
When your brooder is set up with proper temperatures, location, and bedding, you can set up your cantina. Choose water and feed bases designed with chicks in mind. These usually are made to screw onto the bottom of quart canning jars and are inexpensive. They allow chick feed and fresh water to flow out all day by the grace of gravity, letting you leave for the office worry free. Just make sure you have them set up on sturdy bases so none of your new charges plows them over and makes a mess.

Feed your chicks a medicated starter feed, which prevents the early onset of such diseases as coccidiosis, which can easily kill an entire brooder box of chicks. If you want organic eggs, you can always switch to organic feed when they are laying age, but to prevent unwanted disease in so fragile a creature, I suggest the medicated starter or paying for immunizations on any laying-hen chicks you plan on raising organically. It really is the best insurance for a healthy start.
With this combination of a warm place to crash, good food, and clean water, you’ll have yourself some truly happy hens on the way. The care and attention you put into their upbringing will shine forth in your future adventures together on the farm, in the backyard, or on your condo’s roof. Welcome to the backyard poultry club, and good luck with your very own livestock!

P.S. Join the conversation over at on Chickens, farms, and more!

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

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 - 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.