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.