Monday, August 15, 2011

Folk School Giveaway!

I am thrilled to announce this giveaway! Cold Antler Farm partner, the John C. Campbell Folk School of Brasstown, North Carolina is giving away a full week-long class, including boarding and meals, to a winner of this very post. Over 800 classes from basket weaving to writing, woodcarving to spinning, gardening to soapmaking, metal work to music. All of this in the amazing mountains of Appalachia. So many opportunities to dive farther into your homesteading passion, whatever they may be. You get to choose the date, and the class, and all you need is a way to get there. So pack your bags and throw that dulcimer in the back seat of the truck baby, you're going back to school.

So here's how you enter. Click through to the Folk Schools website at, and check out their course catalog. Then come back here and post with your first name and location, which class you would like to take. Once you do that, you are entered! Check back on Saturday night to see if you are the lucky winner. And, if you want to double your chances, you can enter a second time if you share this blog's link on Facebook. Just come back and say, "Second Entry: 457 friends notified!" and you are another hat in the ring for the random generator that will pick this contest's winner.

This is such wonderful opportunity for one of you. I hope a lot of you enter twice. You might be stuck in a small apartment or dorm room tonight, but later this year you could be waking up to your first ever blacksmithing class, sliding on that leather apron, and looking up at a rolling vista so grand it could break your heart. Or you could finally learn the fiddle, or take up harp lessons, or maybe you can start that first carpentry class or learn to light a candle you made by hand. So many skills, such a beautiful piece of the world, and the people taking classes and teaching will certainly get your desire to grab a work horse's reins or plant your own loaf of bread. My only advice: go in June, and watch the mountain fireflies dance. They change you.

I wish you all luck!

photo from and

big ups

Rainy Monday mornings do not have the urgency they used to. After three days at the farm I am slow to get ready. This morning, in a downpour, I carried the sheep their hay to the dry cover of their shed and made sure they ate in a place that would leave their meal salvageable enough to be picked at all day. Walking up the hill I noticed how much soil wasn't sliding down in angry trains. The grass I had planted had come up in shoots in scattered patches, and while no golf courses will be hiring me to manage their putting greens, it held the dirt in place. What a grin that slapped on my face. Even in a downpour being heckled by a dozen hungry sheep, you take your ups where you can get them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

jasper's new digs

Jasper's new digs. Today I'm heading to the farm supply store to get t-post caps, some electric fence gear for a top line ran around that paddock, and some other odds and ends. Jasper will be living here in the winter, and I'm so happy it is finally done (well, almost). There's some adjustments and interior work to be done yet, but over all it is set up. If a snowstorm came tomorrow and the farm was coated in ice, Jasper would be safe and snug.

Folks have been emailing and posting comments with all sorts of advice and opinions. I read them all, and appreciate them, but they are starting to overwhelm me. Every time I build, acquire, or share anything on the blog I get a slew of emails, many with contradicting opinions on the "right" way to do something. I weigh them against my own experience, friends and local farmer's advice, and my own animals and situations. I won't always agree or follow your advice, but I do always appreciate it.

If you do have helpful advice or concerns, please email me about them. They are welcome on the blog comments section too, but it is hard to respond to them all. An email is something I can save in my inbox and easily refer to. I do my best to respond to them all, but again, sometimes they are overwhelming too.

P.S. Please don't stop commenting! I look forward to them, I just ask that folks who have detailed advice to email me so I can address it and write back!

potatoes and worms

I dug up those potatoes I planted, filled half a canning pot with them. Some were big as my fist and others were small as marbles. I probably only scored about 15 pounds, and for 85 seed potatoes, that isn't much. The reason for the slim pickings: their spot was too shady and they were planted to close together. (The deer and chickens getting in and eating most of the plants didn't help either.) In a lot of ways, this was a failure. But you know what? I have learned exactly what I need to do to easily double my spuds the same place next year. And a lesson like that is pretty useful. Right now I am not gardening to feed myself, I am learning how to garden here to feed myself in the future. This isn't the only place I get subsistence, but since my goal is to eventually pay the mortgage with words and work for all my own groceries, it was a hard lesson for future french fries.

Anyway, I won't be using that patch for anything but Garlic or onions from now on, I think. I have a new potato plot all picked out in the lowest pasture near the front of the house. That spot where hay and manure have been piling up for a year near the front gate. Instead of shoveling out that mulchy hay an straw to get the fence line higher, I am leaving it as is—fenced in with the electric and everything and simply putting the new fence 8 feet behind it— creating a fenced in garden! Another winter will make that a perfect pile of compost to plant potatoes in. It'll be fenced off from the sheep and the deer outside and involves pounding fences instead of breaking my back to dig out muck. Genius solution, and I can say that since it wasn't even my idea, it was Cathy Daughton's. That woman has vowed to never hoe up another garden bed again long as there's chickens or livestock around to make them for you. Smarter than I, her.

So, to figure out how to plant hundreds of pounds of potatoes in the future it took several people, a year of crap, and a bum crop in another location to ensure* results. But hey, 15 pounds of potatoes as a consolation prize....Not bad.

Another note altogether, I'm really excited about my worms. A few weeks ago I showed you guys the video of the worm farm in my kitchen, and they have kept at it. I'm kind of shocked at how efficient it is. It sits under the red table under the windows, quiet and odorless. The red wigglers inside have already started on their second level of food scraps, the bottom is so dark and fine I am worried it'll be too good to use, too strong on the garden! So I rewatched that video that came with the 360 Worm Factory and in it it pretty much said the same thing. Vermicompost is strong stuff. They only dug little holes in their garden boxes and filed them in with the worm's casting dirt kind of like filling up a tank with fuel. If you want to try one, and start making soil in your kitchen too, you can get one at UncommonGoods. They were the folks who sent me this box to test out. They have them in their Home and Garden section. If you grab one, tell them I said Hi.

Oh, and one last thing. Folks said they could not reach me at my aol email address? That makes sense, since I don't have an aol email address. But I realized on my profile my old AIM screename from 2004 was still listed, and perhaps it linked up to that old account. I'm sorry if you tried to contact me that way, but from now on just email me at - that is my current address.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

a pony winter

I would be lying if I didn't admit I am getting nervous about winter. Just a few weeks till November 1, and I still have a chimney to install, a new sheep shelter to replace the old one, a roof to repair, and heating bills and a horse to see too. Today at least, I saw to the horse.

Brett came down from his cabin near Saranac to help me build a stall and paddock in the barn for Jasper. As much as he loves romping with the sheep in the 3-acre pen—come winter that steep hill covered with ice and snow is trouble. Might as well break his legs myself if I intended to keep him with the flock. Sheep can handle a steep, icy bank. I don't know if Jasper could or not, but I'm not finding out the hard way.

So yesterday Brett and I headed to the lumber store and Tractor Supply and got enough wood and gear to create a stall indoors/fence outdoors for the pony (did you know dented gates at the Bennington TSC are half price?!). It's 10x14 inside, and larger outisde. I had already ordered a hay bag feeder, bridle holders, and other barn supplies to keep him happy. It took us most of the morning, and a bit of the afternoon, but we (mostly he) built a nice stall and paddock out of sheer will. It looks wonderful, and it makes me happy to see him munching on hay in his trial run this evening.

Other tasks like re-shingling holes in the barn roof and placing more support beams were seen too. Brett said he'd give the barn three more years and it would start to buckle. Not a collapse in a flash, or a danger to the livestock, but signs of replacement over repair would arise and the cost of fixing it would not make sense. Thousands of pounds of slate are on that centennial roof. It would cost more to replace that roof then build a new barn. I took this grave news best I could. But like most small farms, you have a running tab in your head of what needs to be done now, and what can last a season or two longer. This winter, we are looking safe barn-wise. I have a PHD woodsman carpenter's okay. I take that as a thumbs up for a pony winter.

Thank you, Brett.

Wood delivered: check
Jasper's winter stall: check
A bit of heating oil ordered: check
New sheep pole barn: soon, (still owe half)
Chimney installed: God, I hope so (also still owe half)
Roof repairs: planned
Blind Certainty I'll figure it out: check
Spots left for Fall Festival: 6
Spots left for Joseph's wool: 7

Friday, August 12, 2011

sweet corn cart

Meet Frank Thomas and his gelding, Bill — a pair of business partners here in Washington County. I met them at the Agway when I stopped for grain after having lunch with a friend at the Burger Den. Frank's a retired dairy farmer who still raises sweet corn for income. He used to drive it around in his truck, but decided he was done wasting money on gas. "Too much," he said, shaking his head and explaining the logical reasons for his new vehicle. The horse was not a statement, but a practical way to get to town. He drives Bill the 4 miles into Salem three days a week and sells his corn the old fashioned way, pressing the flesh, parking the draft horse in the shade, and enjoying the people and conversation. "People come to see the rig and Bill, and then they buy the corn," he said to me, beaming. This man had his market figured out. I sure bought some ($4 a baker's dozen, picked this morning), and we had a good talk about our horses. I told him about Jasper and he seemed to light up at the fact he wasn't alone working a cart horse (I felt the same way!) I asked if I could come see his farm sometime, meet his horses, maybe watch him harness and such? He said sure. We parted ways with a hug, and I left grinning. If there is any question the world is changing, there's proof in the streets here.

yesterday's evening view

Thursday, August 11, 2011

black sheep wool workshop!

I have an idea for a workshop I think some of you are going to love. If you're anything like me, you love the farm stories, and the pictures, but what you really crave, what you can't wait to the comfort. I would like to do a January workshop here at the farm. It is going to be a fundraiser for the chimney (which is 1/3 paid off but yet to be installed!), and here is my plan:

I am going to host a wool workshop. We'll all learn how to skirt, wash, dry, card, and spin wool with drop spindles. Then, after we have learned the basics of creating yarn out of sheep, we will sit down and learn to knit in the living room. With the wood stove blazing, baking us warm bread and apple fritters, we'll spend a winter afternoon talking about our farms, animals, farm dreams, and fears. It will be an interactive knitting circle, a catered affair of farm foods and three meals. The full day is about learning to make fabric, sure, but it is also about community, and new friends, and sitting by a wood stove in a warm farmhouse with a border collie in your lap. Learn a skill, see the farm, share in the conversation. It'll be the last weekend in January, and the farm will be covered in snow. Meet the sheep, help with chores, and wear a comfy sweater. It'll be great.

Everyone who comes will leave with a large bag of Joseph's raw dark wool. You will take it home and wash and spin it yourselves. You need nothing but a plastic storage bin and dish soap. You'll also leave with a drop spindle. Ideally, you will leave with the raw materials this farm can offer to help you create an extremely homemade wool hat from a sheep you will have fed hay that same day.

You need no experience whatsoever to come to this workshop with animals, or knitting. Come knowing nothing about wool and leave knitting your first scarf. No animals will be slaughtered and no sweats will be broken. This is a low-key, but highly inspirational day to hang at Cold Antler and smell that bread rising as you knit a row and the snow falls.

Email me if you're interested, Folks who have come to previous workshops and I know, are welcome to board here at the farm for an extra fee. Wake up to snow crows from Fancy the rooster!

Photo of Joseph (your future hat) by Tim Bronson

apple man

just as she

My day started digging a grave. I had never had to dig a hole that deep before. I dug on the far right side of the barn, back by an old outbuilding I never use that used to house fighting cocks a few decades before. Roots and rocks were born again to sunlight as I prepared to show this girl the earth.

This lamb was my first dead sheep, ever. I did it by hand, with a shovel and pick axe. I got down as far as I could, a few feet. My back was really starting to hurt. I went back to the barn and grabbed the dead animal by the wool, something I have done before in haste with sheep, but instead of pulling her mass towards me, it simply ripped off in my hands. I was stunned for a moment by the rush of decomposition. Grabbing at wool was how I caught her less than 24 hours before. Now it couldn't hold dead weight. I sighed, grabbed the back legs, and drug her 50 pounds to the hole.

She was buried, and then for good measure I covered the grave with large flat stones. I would be late for work. I still had the entire farm to feed and water and prepare for the day. It is an oddly warming thing to do, preparing the living after a morning of preparing the dead. Hopeful.

Losing the ewe, and two more rabbits to the wasting disease, had me so angry and demoralized. To remove three bodies from the world of the living to the world of the dead is not the best way to pick yourself up. I was able to save half the rabbits, and had plans to set up their mobile rabbit tractor that weekend. I needed to do something right then to lift myself up, out of this sad place. So I assembled one of the pens I had ordered from Critter Cages, and set it by the barn. I put in four black kits and watched them hop, drink, and devour the grass I would mow later that night. I decided not to mow this area by the barn, let them do it instead.

I was tired today. I had stayed up with the ewe lamb rather late, and then stayed up worrying even later. Between sections of Ken Burn's Civil War and walking back to the computer to read blog comments, I couldn't sleep. I ended up falling asleep around 3 and waking up around 5:30. It was not enough sleep to wake up, dig a grave, and put in a full day at the office. I went, and I did my tasks, and came home to the usual chores and such. I did them all and am happy to say I am going to sleep shortly without an alarm clock.

I would not trade this long day for anyone else's. It must sound awful, but it was not. I am lucky to have a lamb to bury, as dark as that may sound. I dreamed of being a shepherd for years. Today I was one, in the saddest sense. I am grateful for how it shows me the world. And how I am vulnerable to it, too. Just as she.

she died

I am sorry.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

a very bad night

Just back from the vet's gravel driveway. I spent dusk with the new lamb, sitting beside her on the ground with her panting head pressed against my chest, her feet curled in my lap. Too weak to fight, she curled next to me while the vet injected medicine into her neck vein. It was an anti-inflammatory, and Dr. Shelly said it was the quickest way to the lungs. The little girl had a bad case of pneumonia. Real bad. The stress of the move was too much and she went from plucky to panting in under 36 hours. It happened so fast. With sheep, it can happen so fast...

I had never had a problem with sheep being introduced to the flock before. Joseph came alone as a lamb and was fine. All the new Black Faces fit right in, but this little girl started spiraling last night, and I didn't realize how serious it was. It was hot out, she was new and I assumed it was just her getting used to the scene in my pasture. I thought her avoidance of the other animals was just her being new. It was how Joseph was, how the Black Faces were when they arrived - skittish. I thought a weak in the flock and she'd be an old pro. But when I pulled into my drive and saw her laying in the field, head down, I ran to her. She was so weak I caught her in moments, and felt a different animal in my arms. Thinner, weaker, and my heart pounded next to the hot body. I carried her to the barn, in the shade, and put her in Pig's old pen with cold water spiked with electrolytes. Soon as she was set, I called the breeder and the vet. I got the breeder's machine, but my neighbor the large animal vet was off work and told me to drive her right down.

I loaded her into Gibson's crate and we sped down the hill.

We arrived and I pulled her out onto the driveway. Shelly felt her body, took her temp (over 106), and listened to her lungs. The diagnose came quick. Soon she was given strong antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, iron, ProPen G, and a shot of dewormer. I wrote a check, shook her hand, and brought her home to a pen in the barn. She is there now, barely holding on. I can only hope what I did was enough to give her a chance. Shelly said her chances were around thirty percent, tops. Not the best odds. If she pulls through the night, her chances go up to 50%.

I am worried.

Yee haw

When I lived in Knoxville, my friend Leif worked at YeeHaw, the print shop shown here. I spent a lot of time in there, shopping, talking with friends. Their work is Knoxville to me, and taht video is a perfect representation of the vibe that down has. It's a brick and soil city, and I miss it everyday.

the 1899 horsey horseless

I ran across this yesterday while listening to my favorite podcast, Hometown Tales, and loved it. Talk about the original hood ornament! This is the 1899 Horsey Horseless, a car designed to calm the mostly horsey world around it. The designer felt cars were too different than the usual fare and could scare the horses pulling buggies around them in crowded cities. This was their answer: a tricked-out autocar with a fake horse head on it. I could only find illustrations, but would LOVE to see an original.

Anyone who thinks history is boring needs a slap.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

5:45 AM

I only counted twelve. I stood there, sometime around 5:45AM on the wooly side of the fence, counting over and over. Ten sheep were scattered around me, eating their morning hay. Sal and Atlas were up in the small pen, eating theirs. One animal was missing. and it had to be a lamb since the five original Black Faces were all around me and so were Maude and Joseph. That left one of the new guys. I listened, and then called, and got no response. A sheep was either hurt, dead, or ignoring me.

Little Pidge was at my feet, with her dirty rear end dry, but right near my knee. Knox was close, by his mother and eating more than his share. Atlas was in the Pen. That left Ashe, and the new girl I picked up this weekend. I noticed Ashe moments later, by Knox, like always. When I see those two side by side, I can't help but feel a swell of pride. The first two lambs ever to hit Cold Antler Farm soil and they are healthy as a team of oxen. All seven of my lambs are still alive and well, actually. Three remain here (Knox, Ashe, and little dirty-bum Pidge) and three are at Common Sense Farm. The last one is up at Brett's place near Saranac, and like the lambs at Common Sense, is destined for the freezer. I am proud to feet them all. Between the commune and Brett, over 60 people will take a bite of Cold Antler Farm lamb this year.

I still had to find the new girl. I hopped the gate and grabbed the crook by the front door. It is weather worn and gray now, but it is the same crook that hung on the cabin wall in Vermont. I take it for a lot of reasons, but mostly comfort. I might need to beat back brush, or snag a lamb, or help me hike up and over the hill to the far pasture 2 and a half acres away (about a half-mile hike from the house) but mostly, I enjoy it like good company. A crook is something solid that announces exactly what I am about to do, which is shepherd (the verb), as a Shepherd (the noun). I head over the hill at sunrise, calling for the missing lamb.

Calling, means Baaing. I literally make sheep noises. The current residents all know this means grain or hay, and even at 2AM I can stand in the light of the lamp post, cup my hands over my mouth and BAAAAAHHHHHAaaHHHAAAhhhh into the dark and I will get a stream of replies and soon all the animals I care for will be at my feet. But this new kid, she doesn't know this. Barb has good dogs and dignity, she doesn't need to bribe and yodel. But I try. And soon I am as far into the property as the fence allows and there is no sign of this new ewe lamb. Feeling scared, and concerned, I start walking back. Maybe I miscounted? Maybe she was behind one of the sheds? And as I walk back to the familiar places I hear a low bleat and a rustle of leaves and it is the dark-faced new girl. She must had made camp here in the outpost. Still too new to feel at home curled up between boney Lisette, Flamboyant Joseph, and angry ol' cuss Maude. I call to her, in low sounds and chortles, like a mother ewe and she emerges from the brush like the White Stag. I watch her walk. She isn't limping, or panting, or stressed. I walk away and let her back to her business. She will figure out her people in her own time.

I head back to the farmhouse to shower. My day starts shortly. I have to be at a desk in Vermont by 8 AM. At least when I sit down to it I will know the world I am responsible for is at peace. No one has been eaten, or hurt, or is missing in action. Everyone has food, water, and shelter. I'll go to the office and do the work I am asked, and hope when I return near dusk the place still has a strong heartbeat. But this place does makes it hard to take spreadsheet and coupons too seriously. No one is ripped apart by coyotes if I mess up at the office. At least not yet.

another way to eat rabbit

Monday, August 8, 2011

i'm on a such a civil war tear right now...

I heart Grant.

rabbit 101 was a hit!

I got a new percolator. I love it. Google Rapid Brew Stainless Steel Percolators and pick one up if you're looking for a nice electricity-free way to pump your mud. My old faithful (a little 6-cupper I bought at an antique store for eight dollars) fell into the garbage can that was full of dog hair and other vacuum debris. It needs to be bleached to all get out before I use it again (I know what happens on those carpets). So I found this replacement at the Vermont Kitchen Store in Manchester and while they are not in any way a sponsor of this blog, this thing is the bees knees. I sprung for the 12-cup model with the wooden handle and it served the workshop yesterday well.

I think every kitchen unquestionably should have two things
1. A cast iron skillet
2. A stove-top percolator.

The rest is just details.

Yesterday's Meat Rabbit 101 workshop went well. I had ten attendees from as far away as Brooklyn and as close as down the road. We had a nice time even though the entire day was a muggy heat squall, threatening serious rain. But it held off, and gave the lot of us plenty of time to walk around the farm and rabbit barn all day.

The workshop started in the farmhous, with quiche, coffee and donuts. Folks arrived in groups, bearing gifts like pie filling, honey, squash, and coffee (all ways to my heart). After introductions and some beginning words we all headed outside to the animals. After a sheep and pony show, we turned to the trio of rabbits in a wagon in front of the house. I went over what to look for in stock, from ears to topline, and signs of ill animals. Everyone got their hands on the rabbit, felt what was correct and healthy. (Everyone also got to see me getting scratched open from plenty of feisty animals.) There was a lot of notepads being scribbled, and I was pleased to see people truly diving in. No one was shy. Questions shot out like crazy.

There was also a live slaughter/butchering demonstration. It started with killing the rabbit, a small doe. It was done quickly as possible, using a method of instantly breaking the animals neck through a slip-knot noose tied to a door frame. One yank and the animal's neck is broken. I still shake when I take a life. It's not a shake of guilt, or sadness, but awareness of what I have done and how, someday, it will happen to me, too. I'm a farmer. My entire life is about dirt, sex, and death, now. You can church it up if you want, but the base elements of food and creation come down to that holy trinity.

Then it was hung from the barn door, skinned, gutted, and broken down into loins and legs. It could have went smoother, I didn't have a good skinning knife, but it worked and everyone got a realistic demonstration of the job. Ian, a 10-year-old of Cathy's, kept the pelt to tan at home. The meat is in my freezer.

Right after the animal was harvested, we all came inside for a late lunch and conversation. We ate rabbit Alfredo with over pasta (recipe below) and enjoyed everyone's gifts of food. It was so nice to see the farmhouse buzzing with conversation, from rooftop bees in NYC to how one person manages a market. Everyone seemed to already have their foot in the farming door. One woman was changing her father's Dairy farm into a small homestead. A fellow who came with his girl, ran a cafe and wanted to see how to incorporate sustainable rabbit into the menu. These parts of workshops are my favorite. I savor a house full of farm talk.

got an email from Cathy and Kylie saying they had a good time and learned a lot, and Meg over at Brooklyn Homesteader is having a naming contest for the three rabbits she bought from me at the workshop. I was just happy to see that folks were interested in driving out to the farm, sharing stories, food, and coffee and willing to learn about a not-yet conventional type of dining.

Which, far as I'm concerned, is a shame. Rabbit is a wonderful, clean, meat that tastes great in roast, fried, nugget or pasta forms. It makes stews that summon spring and a family can produce 70+ pounds of meat for pennies per pound. You do have to get over that whole eating-Thumper mindset. I mean, lets be honest, America has been eating Bambi for years without qualms...

Easiest rabbit recipe in the world
take one small rabbit (2 pounds) and place in a crock pot. Cover it with a 20oz bottle of regular Coke. Add three chopped carrots, and three chopped potatoes. Turn on low and let it go all day. 8 to 10 hours later you will have a white rabbit meat so tender the meat will fall off the bone, and when it does, you know it's ready.You can eat it right out of the crock pot as a light stew, or if you are serving it to folks who might be new to rabbit, I suggest you cut off the meat and then flash brown it in a skillet with olive oil and some garlic salt. you place it over pasta with the carrots and potatoes and cover with a white sauce (I used Alfredo). It is a rich, filling, meal. Tasty and easy too!

photos Flickr's Jacob...K and Meg Paska

Sunday, August 7, 2011

what a day

I never nap. But this afternoon, I napped.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

That'll do, horse. That'll do.

she is woman, hear her baa

He didn't even see it coming. With the reflexes of a jungle cat on phentermine I spun around 180-degrees and grabbed Atlas by the horns. The young ram bucked and carried on, and then, realizing I was pulling him uphill by his skull, sunk his legs into the ground cartoon-mule style and refused to budge. It was raining pretty hard at this point, but I didn't mind. I was already wet from giving Sal his antibiotics (he started limping again yesterday) and feeding everyone enough grain to get them back to the main pen. It was the grain that hazed Atlas's awareness, and while his head was down snarfing some up I pounced. What he didn't know was my secret weapon is stubbornness, and I would not let go of those grand horns. In the end, I won. I got him in the pen where his baby-maker was safely tucked away till Guy Fawke's day, or later.

I have learned that when it comes to sheep subterfuge is the only way to go. I trick, bribe, and pounce before they have much time to react. If you walk nervously into the pen with a syringe, pacing about, and holding out a handful of grain all you've got is a bad plan.

This is my first year breeding my own lambs (well, pimping my own lambs) and I had been worried about this ram-removal for weeks. Tonight I decided was as good as any night to fight an ovine. From the office window I hear the sounds of gentler rain, his bleats to be let out, and the cries of the new ewe lamb on the hill. She is sitting under the large apple tree, too scared to join the scary new sheep of Cold Antler. She'll come around.

Tomorrow a bunch of folks are coming to the farm to talk rabbits. I'm looking forward to the entire day—from farm tours to recipes—it'll be an big time with livestock and like minds. I'll post photos from the workshop, and announce some winter ones in the works. Oh, and is anyone planning to come to the fall Sheep 101 class? Some folks backed out, others swapped plans, and others just aren't sure. Please let me know.

Coming soon: A chance to pre-order signed copies of Barnheart from a local bookstore, more giveaways, farm gossip, and workshops.

I told you I grabbed the ram by the horns.

riding in cars with sheep

photos from the field

Had a great lesson today with Gibson down at Taravale Farms in Esperence. Since I was already heading down to pick up the first of two ewe lambs I was getting from Barb (replacing Lisette and Pidge from this year's breeding) I decided to take in a lesson with Gibson. It went so well. He is really starting to come along, to think before he charges in, to pay attention to the human on the scene. We have a long way to go, but we are certainly getting there.

and the winners are....

I'm happy to announce that the winner of the New England Illustrated contest is Devon! And she'll be getting this original ink sketch of a dear on a Deere from Shawn Braley's sketchbook (which I'm mighty jealous of). Shawn will also be mailing her a full set of 24 note cards. Congratulations Devon, and thank you to all who entered. I plan on having a few more giveaways through the fall, so stay tuned and keep entering. You could win next time around... Also! Shawn sent me an email saying I could pick 5 other random runners up to receive a 4-pack of the note cards I showed on the post (draft horses, clotheslines, green tractor, and fat cat). Those winners are:

Farmer Jenny

If your name was selected, please email me at and I will put you in touch with Shawn to arrange your delivery.

Friday, August 5, 2011

breeding trio

I'm excited about this workshop on Sunday. A lot of folks are coming to learn about meat rabbits and see the farm. Today I'm testing recipes, planning the menu, and getting the farm all ready for visitors. I hope they aren't expecing a Martha Stewarty farm. Folks, there will be chicken poo on the walkway and dog hair blowing 'round the floor. I do my best, but the place just isn't a homemakers home. Be kind.

I stopped at Wanabea Farm in Manchester today to talk rabbits with Bruce and pick up a new buck for my herd. I was able to get a gorgeous New Zealand (4 pounds at 14 weeks!) for my own lines, and a non-related breeding trio to sell to any workshoppers who wanted to leave with their own starter livestock. I'll have two does and a buck, two new large 36" cages with metal trays availble for purchase if anyone is interested in leaving with the trio. I also have three beautiful Silver Fox/Rex kits from my stock ready to wean and send off as little buns. Not sure of their sexes yet, but the point is there will be livestock available tomorrow if anyone is interested. Please email me if you'd like to arrange it at

P.S. Still time to enter the giveaway below! Winner will be picked Tomorrow night!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New England Illustrated Giveaway!

A few months ago I got a card in the mail from a reader. It was a beautiful illustration of a farmhouse with a clothesline. Simple, comforting, rustic and elegant. Inside the card was a magnet of a blue early 1980's pickup truck. I kept the card on my typewriter and the magnet is on the fridge. That artwork always stuck with me, though. I picked up the card often, trying to figure out if it was ink and watercolors, computer-generated, or both? Had I seen this house? I swear I knew this place? And then a few weeks after getting the card I noticed that I had seen his work at one of my local bookstores, Northshire, in Manchester Vermont. Well, boy Howdy! Now I knew what was so familiar about this cards, he drew what he lived around, which was Veryork! He was a local artist, right here in my hood. His prints, posters, sketches, and cards are all farm-related images with a touch of humor and a lot of kindness to them. Familiar and happy, all.
And, speaking of happy, I'm happy to announce that I contacted Illustrator Shawn Braley, and asked if he would like to support CAF and have a giveaway on the blog. He obliged! He has an ad up on the blog, which will run all year (and that has helped me pay off the sheep shed)! New England Illustrated has teamed up with CAF for this amazing giveaway. Leave a comment in this post and you are entered to win a complete 24-pack set of Shawn's beautiful note cards, and an ORIGINAL sketch from his own sketchbook! Random winner drawn Saturday Night!

This kid is going places, and that sketch might be worth a lot more than a comment, folks. I strongly suggest you enter! And share this post on your Facebook page as well, please! To see the cards, and more about Shawn, click on New England Illustrated, tell him "HI, and thanks!" from me!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why Are Young, Educated Americans Going Back to the Farm?

Originally published on, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.
By Nelson Harvey

I am a 25-year-old college graduate with a degree from a fairly prestigious eastern university, and I pull weeds for a living. At first blush, you might think I'm overqualified, and after four hours of weeding the squash beds, when the stiffness begins to set in, that's what I start to believe, too. In fact, nothing in college prepared me for this. My only credentials are the past two summers, spent learning by doing: planting, thinning, trellising, fertilizing, tilling, harvesting, washing, packing and, of course, weeding.

I am a farm intern, and to me, the only thing more remarkable than the fact that I have spent much of the past three summers happily stooping over vegetable rows (I am 6'4'') is that I am not alone. Across the country, college students and graduates like myself, many with little or no farming background, have been flocking to small farms in droves, shacking up in old farmhouses, trailers and tents, and working for free or for peanuts, all in exchange for a little instruction in the fine art of running a farm.

"It's almost like a third education after college," said Kelly Coffman, 30, a second-year apprentice at Rain Crow Farm in Paonia, CO. Coffman studied at Prescott College in Arizona and Naropa University in Boulder, CO, and worked in the California state park system and as a kindergarten teacher, before deciding to work on farms. "When you have [a liberal arts] education, you get to a point where you realize wait, I need to have a more basic fundamental education about being human. Food, water, shelter...these things are important," she said.

Read the rest on Huffington Post

Photo Credit: Nelson Harvey/Turnstyle

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Good news: the permit finally came to build the new chimney, and I was able to send the deposit on the parts with the folks at the Stovery, thanks to a new partnership with a popular artist (more soon), your workshop donations, and a renewed ad from, I scrounged up enough to cover the half-cost of supplies to secure a chimney installation! Now I have to gather together what it takes for the other half and labor, but just having made that deposit and holding the pink paperwork in my hands feels more than halfway there. I know I can pull these fall projects together.

Just two hours of sleep last night. I feel dizzy. Heat lightening kept me up. But I think a calm morning and iced coffee will set me right.

beans, beer, and sick bunnies

That there is a hill of beans. Well, a sprawling vista of beans, at least. This weekend I was able to put up four quarts of beans (blanching post coming soon), and brew two gallons of all malt stout for the fall. These are the first greens put to the freezer, and it was nice seeing some veg next to all those packages of chicken, duck, rabbit, and pork. A little something, something for the side. I hope to get more so I can add to the freezer bounty. I don't have a pressure canner so it's the only way to preserve these types of veggies. I might even freeze some of my tomato sauce to be safe this fall. Do you folks can, or freeze your harvest/CSA/market greens? What else are you putting up?

On a sadder note, the first litter of kits has come down with the same disease that took out most of last year's young. I'm not sure what it is, but I do know the only surefire way to stop it is to get these guys out on green grass, pronto. So at the first signs of showing ribs and diarrhea, and grinding jaws, these guys hit the grass. I hope it's enough.

Not to sound crass, but jeesh, of all the luck. I deal with a rabbit epidemic days before the meat rabbit workshop. I suppose this is good in some respects, as workshoppers will see how to spot failing health and how to deal with it, but it also has me worried. I want these kits well, and producing into fall. The good news is there are no rabbit diseases a human can get through ingestion (really) and so if they do recover by fall they will be fine for the table.

This morning everyone was fine but still sluggish. Every kit that was in a hutch was put outside. The rest of the herd is doing well in the comfy shade and hay-lined goodness of the barn. My plan is to get a hutch without a bottom I can move it around the lawn and keep them in one safe spot. They will recover, I just need to be quick about containment (of them) and healing of their woes. I am grateful to have the experience to deal with it swiftly.

Oh, and if you're coming up this weekend for the rabbit 101 class, email me for directions and supplies! Looking forward to meeting you all, several from the city!

Monday, August 1, 2011

are we there yet?!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

the map

This weekend I was out in the barn sorting through the two dozen large boxes that had not been touched in over half a decade. They have remained, like a very personal, very short-term, time capsule in storage across four states, since they were originally packed up and moved from the apartment Jazz and Annie and I shared in Tennessee. Some of the items have not been held, smelled, or seen since I graduated from college in 2005. One in particular sliced into me.

I found the Map.

The Map is exactly that, a little piece of oddly-specific, emotional cartography. I painted it during my senior year of design school. It is not a pretty painting, nor would it mean anything to any other person who looked at it, but at one time in my life, it meant everything to me.

I took a large canvas—about four feet long and two feet high—and painted a map on white gesso in black ink. It was not to scale. (I abhor details.) It showed my college campus at Kutztown, the buildings, the field, the farm behind my dorm where I rode horses, the town, the graveyards, the train tracks, and a very special hill in the middle of nowhere.

The only color on the black and white map is a splattering of dots. Each close friend had a color, and when something happened I wanted to remember I painted their color on the map where it happened. By graduation the entire thing was smattered with four years of nostalgia. Friday morning when I opened the brown paper, and uncovered the map, I cried for a very long time. And I cried because of the three dots painted along hillside on the far edge of the map.

One night my best friend and I drove out into the countryside and the stars were astoundingly beautiful. He told me to pull over, and park my red Jetta on the side of the road. We hiked a half mile up a large, rolling green hill. At the top was two copses of trees, and when we reached them, we sat down and took in the whole world, heaving. I'm not sure how long we sat there, on this vista that looked more like a Microsoft screen saver than reality, and just stared at the void. It could have been twenty minutes, or it could have been hours. We ate a light snack of good chocolate, a cold water. I remember feeling safe, and lucky, and how grateful I was that he was in my life.

A few weeks later I convinced another friend to go there with me. I wanted him to experience what I had felt, what me and this other person had shared. We drove out there on warm night, and even made it a third of the way up the hill. But he stopped and turned around. He didn't want to be up on that hill alone with me, and made up some excuse about the police taking his car from the side of the road. The drive back to our college town was heavy and awkward.

As if this all happened yesterday, I am flush with the smell of wet, dark grass and heaving up a hillside in the dark. My eyes dart all over the map and I realize out of all those colors I only talk to one person now, and rarely. Maybe this is just growing up, this growing apart, but it pained me to see a wall of fading memories. The people I hiked up to that hill with were the most influential and deeply-loved people in my life. Neither of them talk to me anymore. Both accounts are my fault.

Some things can not be helped.

I kept the map, and stored it in the attic. But piles of old issues of HOW, Communication Arts, ID, and Readymade were tossed out. Long-ruined art supplies and musty clothes molded and trashed. I saved all the antiques, gifts, and family items of import but all the paperwork, old college assignments, resumes, and design stuff were useless. In the bin went one lifetime to make room for another. This quieter, dirtier, life on a mountain in New York. It is just six years and five hours away from the last but I might as well be in a crater on Jupiter for how familiar it no longer feels. When you are tossing away your old portfolios to make room for your winter hay and a pig, life has changed.

I moved the Map outside, and went back about the business of sorting antiques and possessions. When I went to open the door of a 1960's Westinghouse cabinet, inside was a photograph of that hill. It was water damaged and beyond help. I closed the door and left it there. Some things were so real to you, the actual proof that they exist makes them feel contrived.

Seeing that map, or that photo, did not make me feel like my life here was a mistake. The tears were tears of lost friends and lost time, but not of regret. I can't imagine living the lives of so many of my old peers, in cities or traveling around the world. It is not what I want, or what I envy, but it doesn't change the fact that I miss them. I wish that everyone on that map was coming up here for Thanksgiving. I wish Kevin and Josh, Erin and Rikki, Raven and Nisaa, and and so many more were going to show up at the farm with hot dishes and warm smiles and tell me all about the big wide world, and how it all works from 30,000 feet in the air or an ocean away. I want to sit on the floor of my living room, Gibson at my side and hand-knit hat on my head and listen to stories of dinners in Tuscany and slamming on breaks down the Autobahn. I can see them all here, happy, smiling, all having learned and seen things far beyond my own slight wisdoms. Some have children now, some have been divorced, others have been mugged in Spain. Life has done a little two-step for us all.

I want to hear all this, sip some hard cider, and see everyone from Typography II again. This can not happen, but for what it's worth guys, the invite is always open.

Maybe I'll start a new map, with new colors. I have new people in my life, some very important. I'd like to think I now know who does and doesn't belong on the Hill. I know who I would take by the hand, and share chocolate and the sky with and who I would not.

I think that is progress.


When I bought Jasper in late April he was not the same horse he is today. An Amish reject from the auction house, bought by a man who trades in ponies in Hebron, and then sold to me based on a gut feeling and my amazement at his good nature. The day I shook the man's hand and put down my deposit) Jasper was dirty, wet, scrawny, and shaggy. It wasn't the trader's fault. He came from a place that fed him as little as possible, and it was the muddiest time of the year. Because I was just amazed that I was buying a horse to begin with, I didn't see his poor condition clearly. I thought he was great. But as friends, blog readers, and fellow equestrians pointed out his overgrown hooves, poor coat, and desperate need of de-worming.

With help from friends, green grass, a good brush and a few visits from the farrier I have a much healthier animal. He and I are still rookies when it comes to working together in harness, but yesterday I needed to slip on a new halter and he let me slide it right over his nose. When he came here catching him to put on a halter was an Olympic event. Now, It is the end of July, and here is a video of the horse I now have.

yard sales and tools

Up here, they call them tag sales, but in the Tri-State Area—they were and always will be—yard sales. I passed by this barn in Salem yesterday while on my way to Agway. I couldn't resist stopping by. It had all sorts of pretty shelves of glassware and old Texaco Oil signs. The big wagon wheel outside was interesting to me, but I didn't want it unless it had a brother I could use on a horse cart. Everything else seemed boring. The old rush I used to feel around junk wasn't there. I didn't buy anything. I did, however, step outside and spend a long time looking at the garage's walls. Here in the middle of farm countr: people use tools as decorations and make a living selling decorations to tools...

The scythe, the wood drill, pitchforks, etc. All of those things seem to have real purpose, and I could use them all back at Cold Antler. I suddenly wanted to laugh. How lucky we are to live in a time of such abundance and good fortune that hand tools used to grow food are so unnecessary we bolt them to walls! The people I bought my farm from did the same, and I left their installations there because I thought they looked nice and "farmy." I wrote them off as part of the decor.

A few weeks ago Brett and Diane came over to help me install that pasture fence. Brett told me via email he'd bring down a singletree from the college's workhorse supply so I could use it with Jasper for training. After the work was done, meals eaten, and thanks given he left and I realized he didn't leave the singletree? I was a little bummed out, since I had plans to start really working with Jasper. The next day at the office he explained in an email he drove off with it in the bed of his Tacoma because there already was one hanging on the wall outside the farmhouse. Where?! I asked in reply. He said it was up like a decoration, mounted on the wall outside the overhang where I stack lazy hay bales. I turned red with embarrassment in my desk chair.. Me, the wannabe teamster, who didn't even realize she had her own draft horse equipment hanging on the walls of her own farm house.

What a tool.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

how's that, CJ!?

Spent the past two days cleaning out all the boxes and storage from the barn and putting it to proper use: stacking haybales inside it. I only got 36 in there so far, but techincally, it's not even August yet and I'm not so behind. Per CJ's comments in the last post, I thought about it and decided he was right. Get more each time, save on trips and your own time. I went back and got 29 more bales this weekend. I'll need at least a hundred stacked in the barn by snowfly, and another twenty or so stacked in the loft. While I'm not far from that goal, it feels pretty good to have this big job started, and now the entire lower part of the barn will be put to use as hay storage and winter quarters for a herd of rabbits, horse, and a feeder pig. Pretty standard use as far as barns go, but this early 1900's barn hasn't been used in a few decades.

No new turkeys are strutting under the maple trees. Bourbon Red pickup was moved to later in the week on account of yesterday's rain. Okay by me, since I am in full farm maintenance mode right now. Last night I had dinner at the Daughton's and Tim talked about having our coworker Brett (who repaired homes for years) come to see the damage. It looks like I will have help on the homefront afterall. He told me this while showing me how to use a vacuum sealer for veggie/meat preservation. (I am totally sold on the Foodsaver front now.) While we sealed up airless, plastic bags with wax beans we talked about their farm plans, my own stove and farm issues, and as we sat down to the table for dinner a cool wind and gentle rain blew through the room. Tim said grace, the summer squash crawled up their fence outside, and thunder rolled over the valley. It was beautiful.

Everything's going to work out just fine.

Friday, July 29, 2011

dangerous money

I was getting a headache. Something I would usually ignore (or remedy with a glass of iced coffee), but I was hard at work in a place without a barista handy. I was up in the hay maw of the Common Sense Farm, bucking down bales one at a time to load into the back of my truck. It takes about an hour to drive down to their farm, load bales, and drive back. I took eight this morning and if the clouds break and it doesn't look like rain, I'll go back for eight more tonight. I buy hay in short trips, a truck at a time. This year, I planned on calling a delivery in of 100-150 bales by August, but plans changed.

I found out this morning from the Pennsylvanian State Treasury that the $7,000 dollar savings bond I was supposed to get a check this week was actually a clerical error. There would be no check. That money was planned to cover the new chimney installation, fix the roof, fill the oil tank, order hay, buy supplies for the stable, and pay the second half of the new sheep shed construction bill. The rest would have gone into a pretty little savings account, in case the truck needed repairs or sitting for the next oil tank refill. Tough cookies ladie, best grab another bale and chuck it.

My head was pounding now, and I was covered all over with chaff and sweat. I decided to stop at Stewart's on the way home for some iced coffee to clear my head, but suddenly it felt like it would put me around $7,001.87 in the red. I drove home. I had ice and coffee I already paid for waiting for me to brew and clink.

I am realizing how dangerous easy money is. That out-of-the-sky check was depended on instead of real work, or words, or workshops or overtime at the office. I was banking on it, and it wasn't even real. It's okay though. I have enough saved up for the second half of the barn (first half was already paid for in cash), and the half-priced deposit for the Stovery, but hay would be bought fifty dollars at a time, loaded by me on bale at a time.

This isn't a sad post, it's neutral. If anything it has energized me to plan more workshops, write more freelance, sell more ads, and find some sponsors. Knowing that money was on the way stopped me from dogging editors or pitching new books. I was going into winter in a lull of contentment, and it was stopping creativity, resourcefulness, and drive. Today I'll find a way to get some of it back from Egress. I am certain the oil tank, barn, stove, roof, stable, hay, truck payments and mortgage will continue to be taken care of. Not certain on the particulars, but I was never into details in the first place.

Folks, it takes more than seven grand to put this girl under. To that, I raise my home-brewed glass of iced coffee. An as if there was some sort of celebration to my new baptism as a scrabbler, I am picking up three Bourbon Red Turkeys tonight, a trade that was already in the works for pork. Tomorrow will be met with ad inquiries and gobbles.

Time to hit the home office and get to work!

Farm Festival Updates!

The plans for the October weekend are looking better and better! I have been contacted by folks who want to do soap making and fiber demonstrations. On top of the already planned wood lot management, timber, cheese making, animal care, and canning workshops it seems like all things are falling into place. I should have fresh cider from pressing the farm's apples in time for this as well, and hopefully, my first silver fox kits. It looks like there will be several stations and workshops going on all at once, in a casual and down-home tone. I only have about 6 spots left, and it is first registered, first served, so if you are thinking about coming up for the October 15th weekend shindig, let me know soon so we can get you registered!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

magic beans

I am often asked how I manage to run a small farm alone while working a full time job. To many people it seems like a lot of work, or impossible. My answer is always the same but never seems to satisfy the people who ask it. I tell them two things: when I started all this I had one red dog in an apartment in Knoxville and it slowly built from there.

The second part: I fell in love.

I attended my first sheepdog trial in the summer of 2008. Less then two years later I had 6.5 acres, a white farmhouse, and a border collie puppy in my arms. What made this happen? It certainly wasn't an inheritance, marrying rich, or because I gave up my day job and found unclaimed dirt. There's certainly nothing wrong with those twists of fate, but they just weren't mine. I'm not from wealthy lines, haven't had any luck in the love department, and everyplace I lived since college I had to pay to take care of. But my point of telling you this isn't to point out shortcomings, it's that you don't need to be a wealthy, lucky, partner-in-crime to have a farm. You need to be resourceful, and stubborn, and believe in sheep.

That's what I did. After that sheepdog trial I was certain I wanted to be a shepherd. I didn't know if I could have sheep on rented land or how to take care of them. All that aside: I got serious about it in my heart. I bought books on sheep care and stacked them in places I would see them everyday. I went to Sheep 101 workshops held by my local extension. I joined the North East Border Collie Association. I bought the Storey's Barn Guide to Sheep (even thought I had no sheep or barn) and hung it up in my kitchen like a calendar. Every day I flipped through facts and charts. I bought a shepherd's crook online. I believed in this possibility with all my heart. It was a spell and a prayer, all of it.

Sheep came a few months later, a surprise trade for fiddle lessons. My landlord allowed them and neighbors and friends helped me build the shed (which is still here in Jackson, and now will house my first ram, Atlas). Supplies to build that first sheep house were less then 200.00. The wood was a kind gift, the t-posts and fencing cheap as they could be. But it lasted long enough.

When it came time to figure out a new home, things were scary, but I never doubted for a minute that there would be a farm. Thanks to you readers, a random USDA homeowners' program, desperate sellers, and buyer's market, and dumb luck—I bought a farm in the spring of 2010. There are now a dozen sheep out there, two new ewes on the way, and a thriving CSA in its second year. People in two countries have knit warmth from the animals I share my morning coffee with. Today a coworker told me about the rabbits she had for dinner, and how her son Jackson even ate the heart and liver. I am a web designer by trade, but a web designer that feeds and clothes people too, even on a small scale.

It fills me with such simple happiness. The work to make it happen has been constant, but it is a warm fog I overlook. The end result—a passing conversation in the women's bathroom or an emailed picture of fingerless gloves—resets my heart.

The list of things I need to do on a daily basis, the animals, chores, gardens, blog and books grew organically over time. If you took that girl from her first sheepdog trial and landed her in this Civil War Era farmhouse (with Civil War Era problems) it would not be the same story. I worked up to my current workload, be it farmwork, officework, and writer work over years of steady addition. What was once a few hens in a backyard in Idaho is now a sheep farm in New York. It happened one small project at a time, over years and across a nation. I am used to my life and what it asks of me. I am grateful for it.

When I moved to Vermont, the idea of owning a flock of sheep was on par with owning my own television network. It was something other people had, sure, but they had some sort of magic beans or knew the right people. My understanding of making dreams happen was confused with money. I thought that as long as I could earn enough, or win enough, or save enough I could make just about anything I wanted come true. This turned out to be absolutely false. Money plays its part, no question about that, but around here all money does is perform tasks and keep the banks happy. It comes and goes in small numbers, exchanged constantly in this community for goods and services. Local carpenters got a chunk today for the building of the new sheep shed. The Stovery needs a down payment for the new chimney. There is a roof to repair, hay to buy, a stable to build, and wood to stack before September comes. If I waited around around till I had 25k sitting in the bank, I still would not have my farm. To me, waiting for lump sum to start playing in the dirt is ridiculous. Starting a farm doesn't take cash, it takes will. If you have enough of the second, the first will find a way to you.

I am telling you this because I want you to see that a breeding flock of Scottish sheep started as a book about sheep care near my toilet. The result you see on these pictures only happened because of that slow addition of hope and force. One weekend it was a book by the toilet. The next there was a potted snap pea in the kitchen window. The next weekend I learned to bake bread. Later that week I'd rent a movie about the Amish from the library and take notes about their canning jars. Nothing happens fast, though it must appear that way when you see it as pictures and posts, or read it all in a few days. Please, never compare your own farm dreams to a weekend read through this blog. This is nearly five years of whittling magic beans out of credit card bills, paycheck-to-paycheck living, long days, and a savings account a 99-year-old could not retire on.

All that said, I am happy. And if a farm is what you want, and you do something (no matter how small) to get there everyday, then you will create it. I know this to be true and I know it from those of you who started reading this blog without land or chickens or cows and now you are running ranches or getting laying hens in your backyards. It is as normal as rain, happiness. You just need to decide it belongs to you and love it with all you've got.

get the stick!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I stood outside and watched for a long time. I didn't see a single firefly. I went from curious, to worried, to sad, and then a slow, happy, smile poured out. I came to one, certain realization: Fall just took his first, panicked, gasp of the year. He's been smothered so long.

I'll miss them, but a girl's got to learn look ahead.

all better then

I was just coming back from a bad jog (some are just bad) when I saw Ken's truck backing into the driveway. Ken's my new farrier, and he comes armed. His big metal truck has everything one needs to see to the needs of the equine pedicure. I called Jasper to the horse gate, and he came down the hill at a fast trot. (He's more reliable at a distanced recall than Gibson.) Jasper was fussy, but good enough to work with him. Ken said he could use more regular trimming on his feet, but his body condition was good. I asked him if he knew anyone else with working ponies in our county and he mentioned some folks with Haflingers in Dorset, but as far as everyday harness ponies go, no. His response made me feel scrappy in a good way. Like I was figuring out a little engine for a radio flyer so I didn't have to push it up hills. I like the idea of my ATP.

This morning marked the last morning of Pidge's Corrid treatment. She and Lisette are now back with the flock and the pen was shut behind them, waiting for the weekend to be mucked and prepared for Atlas. Lisette put on some substantial weight. Her ribs can't be seen anymore, her back hip bones no longer jut like folded wings. I was happy to see it. Long as she has plenty to eat and some more grain from here she should continue to heal.

Sal is no longer limping. Amazing, actually. He walked right up to me this morning and I scratched his head. I told him I was happy to see that business shaken off. Then he saw the oral syringe for Pidge, worried it was for him, and scuttled off. I shook a branch of the apple tree and a small bounty fell and rolled down the hill. He seemed elated, forgetting a world with sharp pointy things for a moment.

For just twelve sheep and one pony, my mornings and evenings are full. Keeping them well means regular visits from folks like Ken and, in some cases, special care. Last week I had one sheep getting antibiotics, another dewormer, another Corrid, and another extra grain. It takes equipment and the will to just give a sheep a shot, but also that first medicine: everyday observation. Know your flock, know what healthy is, and keep watch like a black and white dog would.

It'll be warm again today. Everyone has plenty of water and eats.
This girl is off to work to enjoy the gym and a hot shower.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

kenny rogers wishes he wrote this

i choose cash

Mornings on workdays are an odd routine. I get up between 4 and 5AM (depending on chore-load or weather) and am outside feeding, observing, and occasionally medicating the flock and fowl. Right now the place is in the end of summer long jog towards fall. This weekend the old lettuce will be ripped out and composted and new seeds will go in, a second round. I'll get my first big loads of hay (about 15 bales each) and start making room in the barn for them all. I think this winter I'll need about 200 bales total, and I'd like to have a quarter of that stacked and ready by September 1.

Before I shower and even consider coffee, I need to drench Pidge with her fourth day of Corrid. She's on this routine after vet's orders, and I am hoping it stops her runs once and for all. Friday morning her and Lisette go out of the pen and Atlas goes in. Hopefully she'll recover beautifully out on pasture and hay and be fine for fall breeding. If not, she'll be fine for a french rib roast.

That might sound harsh to some, but to me it is simply how the place has to run. Every day I look out on my flock and beam at the way Knox, Ashe, and last year's Yearling look. That trio is as pretty and strong as any ad in the 2011 Blackface Sheep Breeder's Association's Journal sitting on my coffee table. I know what breeding stock should look like, and I don't think Pidge will cut it. However, I'll do my best to get her there. And if I fail, Lisette will retire to be someone's lawn mower and Pidge will be in the freezer with her fleece in the farmhouse. Future border collie pups will roll on their backs, smelling their first shaggy wool. And if not Pidge, someone's will take that place.

There's no radio on in the morning, not anymore. I used to start everyday with NPR but now I turn on the record player. Johnny Cash is singing Ring of Fire and I sing along. I'd rather start my day singing. I think if Mark in Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life, who felt the news was nothing but trouble. "It just makes you feel bad and you can't do anything about it anyway." He was right. He also stopped using the word "should" and doing so had made him happier. Yesterday Jon Katz wrote about the angry world of the media, and how it's a choice to be a part of that mess. Be informed, but don't be saturated in it. You'll end up starting your day making angry comments at the television and speeding to work. I can wait till I'm at the office to hear about what starlet has died, or how angry congress is about debt. The farm is too good for that, and my time on earth too short to start my day angry at strangers. I choose Cash.

Annie is spreading her furry stomach over as much floor space as possible in front of the living room box fan. Gibson is upstairs, being Gibson. Jazz is sitting by his dish in the front room. The new table in there has him off his game. He's not sure if it's a strategic coup of the enemy or a new fort to protect his kibble. Canine-ego control of this place is a non-stop battle. Jazz is winning by his riches in dignity. Annie too hot to care. I sing with Johnny.

I'll be out the door for work in about 20 minutes.

Monday, July 25, 2011


I'm watching Gashole, which is a movie about the American Oil Crisis, and quite good. But (get this!) Joshua Jackson is featured in it, which has been my number 1 celebrity crush since I first watched The Mighty Ducks as a little kid. I was THRILLED Pacey got Joey. I am totally weak in the knees, cause how often does your offbeat, random, movie star end up in a movie about Peak Oil? What's next? Is Demetri Martin going to fund a doc about backyard Chickens?! So here I am in my pj's, with a cart horse outside my living room window, in the middle of nowhere, 100% tuned in to that voice and loving every minute of it.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

smells great in this house right now...

As I write to you, strangers and friends alike, there is a little cornish hen roasting in the oven. It's one of the birds from early spring, small but plump. I defrosted it yesterday and then today while it rested in the fridge, I dug up what was left of the carrots. I also pulled a few small, new potatoes and a few little onions. I set them on the counter to be prepped for the roasting pan and then looked at the array. To see a white cloth covered with an entire feast you planted and raised is possibly the most beautiful thing you will ever look at on a stove top. That pink, dimpled chicken. The carrots and potatoes, still covered with a bit of dirt. The onions fragrant... I grabbed my camera so I had proof this day in July happened.

I'm feeling good. Just a bit ago I pulled in the driveway from a swim in the river. I was happy to swim when I arrived at the pull off. I had just finished constructing the frame of Gibson's new training pen for herding. In 85-degree heat (cool weather for this week!) I pounded fenceposts and strung woven wire fencing I hauled from the far-pasture to a flat spot behind the sheep shed. It's small, a diameter of 10 t-posts about 4 feet away from each other, but large enough to get started really working with him. After a frustrating lesson this morning with our trainer in Massachusetts, I realized he needed to work everyday here. He needs to practice with his own sheep, on his own farm, to learn the control and state-of-mind necessary for a working farm dog.

These weekend lessons were okay as a beginner, but now as a teenager with good instincts and too much enthusiasm: Gibson needs to learn control and discipline. So The first step it to get two or three sheep in a small pen and have him work outside the pen, following my commands and body. Then I'll expand it and have him work inside it. I stayed for an hour or so, but the barrage of tubers was a bit too oppressive. They weren't the serene, good-natured tubers of Friday. These weekend tubers were either loud, fit, tan teenagers in various levels of intoxication or vulgar, squishy people with sunburns.

One teenage boy realized his brand-new wheeled Coleman cooler was out of beer and didn't see the sense in tugging it down the river now that it was useless to him. So he just heaved it down stream. My mouth dropped. I had seen those coolers at Kmart and they were 39 dollars, perfect for transporting meat to customers or picking up rabbits from Ben Shaw. The decadence of this tanned narcissist astounded me. If there weren't 45 people behind him flowing down stream and playing pong with the "garbage" cooler I would have taken it home, bleached it, put a FarmAid Sticker on it and put it to decent use.

One woman was upset about something that happened at the drop off. She cussed up a storm, just a stream of four-letter words. Now, I am not known for my clean speech, but I do understand a time and place. She was toting a four-year-old girl. "You would think he would have some Mother- #@X%ing DECENCY!?" she yelled to her partner, who ignored her anger. There should be rules about angry cussing on a beautiful river...

You know, writing about other people in a negative way makes me feel both vulgar and squishy. I best stop this fuss.

I watched all this happen while I did my routine. I was on the side of all this action, the tubeless girl with the firefly necklace. I found this spot that is about 4-feet deep, in a weak current about 20-yards long. I can swim a lazy breaststroke with the water, and then fight back against the running water with a cross stroke. It's wonderful. I swim like my mother did (still does) at the Palmerton Pool, my head above water as I do a modified breast-stroke downstream. The view from that alligator position is beautiful. Golden light, green leaves, glistening water. Sometimes I turn on my back and float with the water. Who needs a tube?! My muse is Baloo the Bear, not some aquatic dirigible. When I feel the water pull to hard I stop and swim back. After about 20 slow "laps" I am puffing. Swimming has a way of tricking you into the same exhaustion as jogging. I scurry back to shore as a new boatel emerges from the bend. I had enough of the vulgar and squishy. I am ready to roast a chicken and read under the maple tree.

And so I will. This summer is trotting right through me.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Backyard Farming Festival - October 15th & 16th!

On the 15th and 16th of October, Cold Antler Farm will be one heck of a place to be. The trees will be bursting with color, the fields and pastures around my mountain high in yellow cornstalks and rich with pumpkins.

If you are interested in stopping in for the day, or both days, please do. It'll be a rip snorting time with live demonstrations and outdoor activities, as well as good food and fellowship with people just as motivated as you are to get back into the soil and see how a harness fits a working horse.

As of now Cathy Daughton will be in the kitchen doing a cheese making demo, I'll be walking around the farm working with the animals and doing tours, and Brett will be logging and explaining wood lot management with Jasper in the area behind the barn. There will be plenty going on besides these things. I'll be talking about:

Chicken Basics
Sheep Basics
Beekeeping Basics
Rabbitry Work
Cheese making (Cathy)
Backyard Lumberjackin' (Brett)
Hand Wool Processing
Knitting 101
Pumpkin Carving (for saturday night campfire lanterns!)

Bread making from Scratch
Turkey Slaughter (maybe)
Book and Yarn Sales
Intro to Mountain Dulcimer/Fiddle
Winter Greens/extended growing
Merck Forest & Farmcenter Field Trip
And More!

Saturday night will have a campfire outdoors (weather permitting) near the twinkling lights of the chicken coop and we'll enjoy good local hard cider, kabobs, and music outdoors under wool blankets on hay bales with the occasional fiddle or banjo keeps us warm. Stories welcome, the scarier the better. Night Coffee will be served, which means strong hot cups spiked with some chocolate and baileys, and if we're lucky the Great Horned Owl that haunts the pasture will perch on the barn roof. Which will be wonderful, since the 15th is just a few days after Blood Moon. Awesome.

I'll wrangle a bonefide photographer for this as well. I'l make sure there's a big photo gallery for you to enjoy.

Sunday will include the activities above, and around 2PM or so we'll all head to Merck Forest for a short fall hike. The views of this place, at this time of year, will be breathtaking beyond my ability to write. You just have to see for yourself. Bring along walking shoes and a hiking stick. we're going to enjoy a walk in the woods.

I can't wait to host this event, and just see this place full of friends and passionate people who want to take home a piece of the education, and experience for themselves. Already folks are traveling from far and wide, and I am planning menus and campfire situations. But mostly, I love being surrounded by my peeps. Folks who can kick back a few dark beers and think raising turkeys is a perfectly logical way to spend a summer.

If you want information on registering, or where to stay overnnight, please email me at

red wiggler update

come to the rabbit workshop, free!

A kind, anonymous reader has given the folks here a neat gift. She is wiling to cover the cost of two people's donation to the Meat Rabbit Workshop, so they can attend free of charge. If learning to raise your own herd for food is something that appeals to you, but the cost was prohibiting, please contact me at and we will set you up to come on a full-boat scholarship. Workshop is August 7th at 10 Am, and yes, we will be eating rabbit!

P.S. One spot is taken!
P.S.S. Both spots taken, some kids from NYC are coming up!

I guess deer don't like cucs!

The cucumbers are thriving here at Cold Antler Farm! I got this haul early this morning, and trying to decide what to do with them all? Pickles? Hummus sandwiches? Gaspatcho? What would you do with a bucket of cucs?

exercises in resourcefulness

Mowing the lawn at 7AM on a Friday morning was a new experience. It's nothing special—possibly one of the most mundane summer tasks there is—but to do it instead of going to the office felt scandalous. It was like I was playing hooky. By the time it was done (and the rest of the farm fed and watered) I was soaked in sweat. This heat wave has been hovering over Veryork and it's playing Varsity. I have not been running in a few days, and instead, consider existing my workout in this heat.

The insurance guy came and denied my roof claim. He said it was shoddy construction, and not the weather, that caused the warping. But it seems there are some handymen at Orvis who can help. And while they refused payment, I don't think they should be surprised if a power washer shows up at their house...

Cathy Daughton and her boys Seth, Ian, and Holden came over for lunch. They brought BLTs, a bag of chips, watermelon, and a pitcher of lemonade. We sat in the house and munched and after a bit headed down 313 to jump in the river.

The river was fantastic. In this heat the Battenkill became a colorful shanty town of tubes, rafts, boats, and floating coolers. It seemed like everyone who had the ability to be on the water was, and as we ducked and swam in the 'Kill, people floated by on tractor-tire tubes and Huck Finn styled rafts pushed by long sticks. A lot of Bud Light saw it's last moments that day. It was a parade of whimsical refreshment. I could not believe it was free.

I haven't been swimming in years. I don't even have a suit anymore, but I did have a nylon/lycra tank top and some non-cotton hiking shorts and it worked just fine. The river had areas you could sit or stand in, and the water was so clear I could see down to my toes even at 4-feet deep.

Something about that river changed everything. It was still 95 degrees in the shade, but after we had been spying on crawdads a few minutes the outside air became wonderful. At 5PM when we got back to the farm for a cookout (very fancy meal of hot dogs and mac-n-cheese) and fishing in the pond. Tim joined his family, and brought along some serious spin tackle, and the boys caught some nice bass on rubber-worm rigs. Watching them reel them in was better than a movie house.

We ate under the big maple tree, and Tim and Cathy talked to me about their plans for their land, Firecracker Farm. Feeling blessed and inspired, they will be producing a lot of food on their five acres, and this fall, planting a cover crop of rye, slaughtering a steer, getting pigs, and harvesting from their gardens and laying hen's eggs...Not a bad start. Plans for raising meat birds, turkey, and rabbits are swimming in their souls. I can not wait to see what they create. It will be nothing short of wonderful.

The day wasn't all sunshine and ponies though. The blow from the insurance guy was making the whole Staying-home-on-Fridays' gig a little touchy. And the carpenter I am hiring to rebuild the sheep shed requires half the sum to get started. I have enough saved to get through all this, but it will mean figuring out a new book deal or some sort of cushion to get through winter. I read somewhere that choosing to become a writer is a lifelong exercise in resourcefulness.

The vet came late in the afternoon to check on Lisette and her lamb. She handed me some Corrid and instructions, and was pleased with Jasper, which made me proud as hell. When Jasper arrived he was ratty, shedding, and meek. Now he's a galloping soul, strong and kind. He is good (well, not violent) with the sheep and lets me put that stupid harness on him. I feel lucky to have him. Just looking out the kitchen window and seeing him there makes me think I landed in some other time and place. But it's just here, a little backyard I am calling a farm out of stubbornness and direct intentions. I don't think farms are built any other way...