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