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...

Friday, July 22, 2011


I just finished mowing my lawn!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

a hot one

It's a hot one. Nearly 100 degrees, humid, and begging for a thunderstorm that never came. I didn't run tonight, and the main reason for skipping it had to do with the fact that just thirty minutes of basic outdoor chores left me soaked in sweat. I sometimes don't end a run that damp...

Sal is still limping, it seems a little worse. The day after I gave him the antibiotics, he seemed better. Then I stopped giving them to him, thinking he was on the up and up, and he started up again. So tonight I checked him again, and gave him the designated dosage for a 20-stone wether. I no longer think about going into my kitchen drawers and picking out a syringe and needle, loading it with that white Pen G, and walking right up to him and delivering the needle under his muscle. He is calm and lets me. I'll treat him for four days straight and trim his hoof and hope for the best.

I want this

the other other white meat

Rabbits are the cosmic joke of this farm. They were never supposed to be a large part of it, but no matter how many times I sell them, swear off them, or say this will only be a sheep and egg farm: they keep showing up.

I can't shake them. They simply make sense. In a small space they can produce high quality meat and fiber, are inexpensive to keep, and reproduce quickly. They grow to a finishing weight fast, and are the easiest of all backyard livestock to slaughter. Since the first 2011 litter was born a few weeks ago I have raised nearly 50 pounds of rabbit for the freezer. They will be filling the crock pot all winter, in white wine sauces and thick ragus. It is hands down, my favorite white meat.

They are now a sizable operation here and they've grown on me. It's a satisfying business, mostly because of how fast you get to enjoy your labors. You might buy a pig or two and spend the better part of the year harvesting that pork, (and spending a lot of money to do it). But a trio of rabbits can breed and start getting meat on the table in 8 weeks.

In a few weeks there will be a Meat Rabbit 101 workshop here. It's on August 7th, starting at 10AM. I'm excited to show folks the rabbitry, and will have some stock for sale as well. If you are interested in signing up for this, or the fall workshop (people coming in from all over America!): please let me know!

For more information on this workshop, click here!

photo by Tim Bronson

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

gibson takes the plunge!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

three miles

I start my run down the mountain. I look drunk. I'm twenty-five pounds overweight and even at a downhill shuffle I am awkward. It takes me a while to get to know my own body. Some day it will take less.

A mile in: I am sweating profusely, but my legs are clear. They are moving with the music. Kiss Each Other Clean is on the iPod and I am doing my best to do it justice. I make it to the bottom of the road and cross Route 22. It is the end of the day and I can tell the leaves on the trees are all middle-aged. Still green, but tired.

Between the over-saturated leaves and the dwindling fireflies, I know that summer is finally pushing through its bell curve and will be heading south soon. Yesterday, a dead leaf that blew off a tree in a storm landed in front of the farm house. I walked outside to go to work and it was bright yellow in death. An RSVP from October.

On one of the hottest days of the year I went into the local EMS and bought a thick, bright orange fleece on sale for less than two large cheese pizzas at Jay's in town. In a few weeks I will wear it and match my world. When the Days of Grace come I will wear it to stalk deer. I am an irregular consumer who hopes her material gains can work magic. Summon a season by sheer desire.

I get across 22 and start running uphill, towards Shushan. Now I am pouring sweat. It's hot out, and I am starting to feel like a moving animal. I think about even at 90+ degrees I am not hot when I am still. But when I move, I bust open like a dam.

I nearly sprint down the hill. At two miles I am at the highest point of the run. I have all that distance behind me and I am going home. The music makes me explode into the pavement, I bet I scare any locals who might see me from their windows. I feel my heart pounding, and my whole system is like a steam locomotive of the old times, constant and efficient. This is how a body is supposed to feel, I realize.

The ground evens out and I understand that last mile is all up hill. I cross 22 again, and at the hayfield at the bottom of my road I run alongside a pair of tied dragonflies. I am sick with envy. To be a creature that can have sex while flying through the air with no understanding of death seems unfair on such a cosmic level. Philosophy, democracy, posable thumbs...the hell with them. This pair can use their genitals and wings at the same time.

I run a little faster.

Relationships are on my mind, or the lack of one. I am coming to the realization that in a world of poodles, few folks are interested in bringing home a timber wolf. Hell, even the other wolves are with poodles. I think about that post I made on the blog about my perfect man and laugh. When I posted that I only got emails from parents of twenty-something man-childs and lesbians. I am not complaining, but I have a picture of Sawyer from Lost posted by my monitor at work.

I run a little faster.

I stop thinking about men and start thinking about what I spent my folk's birthday gift to me on: an old, used fiddle off ebay. It sounded amazing on the sample audio, and it was in the back of the truck on a burlap sack waiting for me to tune it up. Before dark I will play Great High Mountain in my kitchen. I will think of Brian, his black truck, and Cade's Cove and probably cry.

I miss Tennessee so much it has caused lines under my eyes.

I am nearly halfway up the mountain now, half a mile from home. Usually this is when I am dogging it so hard that elderly speed-walkers can lap me. But today I am numb to discomfort and the soundtrack is possessing me. I pick up the pace. A red Dodge truck nearly hits me. I jump mid-stride, scared nearly into a bowel movement. My music was too loud and I am wearing a faded, earthy-green tee shirt. It has old-time fiddles, guitars and banjo illustrations on it growing out of a pea garden with the phrase "BlueGrass: Pick it!". I make a mental note to wear my bright purple NEBCA shirt for the next run.

I am within a hundred yards of the pond and I sprint. I turn up the music even louder. I make it to my destination and deliberately collapse my butt into the ground. I put my head between my bent knees, stretch out my arms to my feet and suck in air, rocking back and forth. When I gather myself. I stand up, realize I have just ran three miles without stopping, and promptly throw up.

I just want it to be October. For so many reasons.

Monday, July 18, 2011

winthrop's gone

It's never what you think it is. I expected to home home to a lame sheep, overheated animals in need of fresh water, more dead chickens, and a destroyed garden. Everything I worried about didn't happen. What did happen was on the left, front side of the barn. Under a canopy of rusted old tools lay the dead body of Winthrop, my favorite rooster.

He died of natural causes. There was no trauma or blood. He had been spending more time in the shade, his crow sounding weaker and weaker. Last night he slept in the hay instead of roosting. I knew it was his time. He passed away in the shade of the red barn on the soft ground on a summer day. Not a bad way to leave the world.

Winthrop was an enormous Light Brahma, kind and cuddly. He howled like a wolf, purred like a wookie, and watched over this flock for nearly four years. Many hens came and went from his watch over this place, but every winter and spring: he was here. He was from my first order of chicks when I made that little cabin in Vermont my home. He lived in two states, engaged in much sexual congress, and got his portrait on this blog, my chicken book, and Tim's photography site. I have a lot of happy memories of that bird. He will be missed.

photo by Tim Bronson

rainy day

I'm worried about Sal. The ol' man was limping this morning and for no visible reason. After close inspection of his front hoof that he was avoiding, there was no wounds, blood, pus, foot rot, or even over-grown hoof nail. Out of precaution, I gave him some PenG in case an older wound had gone systemic. I hope he is okay. If he doesn't turn around soon, the vet will be called. Sal is, hands down, my favorite farm animal. I will do what I can to keep him around long as the quality of life is there for him.

Something is killing off poultry at the rate of one or two animals a night. I am down to just one turkey, and larger laying hens. At least a two dozen young birds, maybe more, have gone missing. I keep seeing this small cat hanging around and I set a trap for her this morning. Though it certainly could be something else. Either way, it turns out I am not much of a cat person and don't really want any strange cats on the farm. Period.

Deer are taking over the garden at an alarming rate. The potato patch got a hard hit, half of the plants eaten down. I don't know if they'll make it or not, or if I should cut my losses and dig up whatever I can save...

Rain all day today. I will be at the office, concerned.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

it's our policy!

I was on the way to herding lesson with Gibson when I stopped into Wayside. The little country store was booming with summer tourist business, and I waved to Erin and Chelsea inside. Erin beamed at me. "Not a lot of people could pull that outfit off!" she said with a light voice. She wasn't mocking me, but complimenting my getup. I was wearing long khaki shorts, a black t-shirt, knee-high black Muck boots, and a big straw cowboy hat. A mala dangled from my left wrist and a large pocket knife gleamed from my thigh pocket. I smiled and told her the only reason I could pull it off was because I didn't care if I could or couldn't. I just liked it.

I am sad to admit it took me nearly thirty years to stop caring what people thought about me. In college I would have been terrified to wear a cowboy hat anywhere outside a costume shop. Now I am just grateful to have something light and airy to keep the sun out of my eyes. If people wanted to laugh, let them. Nothing else happens. They don't ask you for money, or hit you, or even usually have the balls to make fun of you to your face. With no consequences at all, I wear what l please. Let them laugh and scurry home to their peer-approved brands and wardrobe. I'm wearing my goddamned hat.

If anyone ever makes fun of you for your clothes, chickens, canning jars, vehicle, hair, makeup, pets, choices... just look them straight in the eyes and say. "So?" And you will be amazed at the lack of follow-up. If you can get an answer to that, ask again. I have never met a person who could make it to three So?'s.


Look at that tan line Your arms are Hispanic and your legs are Irish!


You don't match, is all. It's funny!



See what I mean? The Jenna of two years ago would have worn jeans because she would be ashamed of her pasty legs. Even though keeping them hidden is exactly what made them pasty in the first place. That Jenna isn't around anymore. Good riddance. She was a chump.

The hat incident reminded me of when I bought the Dodge. After hours of paperwork and fussing at the dealership I just wanted to sign the dotted lines and go home. I had to pick up 12 bales of hay at Common Sense Farm and was way behind schedule. When hands were shook, they told me I had to wait another 30 minutes so they could wash and detail the truck. "Please don't." I asked, and I meant it. I had no interest in a mindlessly clean truck. Within hours it would be loaded with hay, dog hair, spilled coffee and my own sweat. "Oh, we have to. It's our policy!" He said, as if this was some sort of incentive. I explained I did not want a detailed truck. I had absolutely no interest in a detailed truck, whatsoever. I told him about how within 45 minutes of leaving this driveway their work would be covered in hay and mud. Detail someone's new show pony. Not my draft horse.

I had to wait the thirty minutes.

I'm not saying you shouldn't shower or drive around in a filth bucket. When the truck gets too gamey, it gets a ride up to the car wash in Salem for an old fashioned wash, vacuum, and rub down of random varnish and interior tonics. I know my way around an Armor-all wipe. But if you think I gave it a second thought when Gibson leapt up into the front seat just out of the water tub after our 90-degree herding lesson.... think again. Wet seats, as it turns out, are impermanent.

This truck might make it a decade if I am lucky. I'm not getting buried in it, and no U-haul is following my hearse full of material possessions I meticulously dusted and kept tidy. Nothing lasts, certainly not us, and I'm not going to go through the rest of my life with a plastic container of Clorox wipes in the back seat or worried about scratches on my dang truck. Life is too damn short to worry about detailing. I have no patience for it. I'll never get those thirty minutes of my life back.

Here's to stupid hats and wet dogs. May they procure ridicule and scratch cars forever more.