Saturday, September 17, 2011

dog and pony show

Quite the goings on today. My morning started at 6AM with chores and morning prep, and after two farm visits from animal trainers (Jasper and Gibson had special lessons today), I went to load up the truck with hay. A whole day outside and twenty-two bales later all I'm concerned about for the rest of this Saturday night is a solid hour of stretching after a warm shower. I don't know if the ancient Yogi's did their asanas in front of Netflix menus? This one does.

I'll write more about the amazing Maggie and Julie tomorrow, but I will summarize today's dog and pony show thus: I have so much to learn. When it comes to driving a horse and training a sheepdog I know such basic information I sometimes worry I took on too much. Today I was constantly reminded how new I am to working animals. How very far I have to travel down this path of sheepdogs and working animals to get to a point of calm daily use and practice. Both will come along with diligence and stubbornness—of which I have plenty.

I used to see people in movies driving wagons and feel so jealously peaceful. It looked exactly like the way I would prefer to get around. I would see the handlers at sheepdog trials and their effortless words to clever dogs and be inspired at the partnership, happily intimidated to join their club. I still feel these things, but I feel them the way I used to watch the Olympics on cable. This is not a bike ride in the park or a stroll down the road with your pooch, this is nothing short of a lifetime of hard lessons, hard work, and determination and acceptance of humility so intense it can set a girl back 5 steps in her spirit.

Today I learned how much I need to learn. There will not be any driving or herding workshops at this farm anytime soon! But someday there will be, maybe a decade down the road if I keep at it and learn a few things from these amazing people and animals.

I am so grateful for the work of these friends, human and animal alike.

Watch the National Sheepdog Finals LIVE!

Watch the Sheepdog National Here Live!!! Hey folks, today you can watch some great runs live on this link, a webcast for the Nationals is streaming and could use our support! Watch Gibson father Riggs take the lead. All our luck from CAF Patrick!

colder mornings

I woke up at 6AM to the near-dark of Washington County. My body was mostly wrapped in quilts and a black dog. But one arm had escaped the covers in the night and was absolutely freezing. It was in the airflow of the cracked window above the bed. Why did I have the window open during a frost advisory? Because my grandfather always said to keep air in a house, all year long, so I do. I check the weather on my phone. 36 degrees, a few ticks above solid water. In preparation for the chill I have a pile of late-season cucumbers and three fat tomatoes inside on the counter. Sunflowers are in a vase. Anything I could save from possible ice-death was brought indoors.I brought in a pot of basil to save from the cold, but Gibson ate most of it last night anyway. You know the ol' saying, while people sleep, border collies dine on pesto.

The house is probably around the mid-to-low fifties as I remain curled up in the warmth of my bed. Nothing tragic or even uncomfortable, but for us getting used to colder weather for the first time this season... well, it takes some adaptations. Under my sheets I packed a frumpy sweater, hat, and a scarf I finished knitting last night. My clothing slept with me for two reasons.

1. My body heat makes them toasty-warm on cold mornings.
2. Knitter lore.

I was told by my friend Sara—when I first learned to knit with her in a college dorm—that you always sleep with your scarf after you knit it. Get through the night together and you know it is actually "done". So I always have. I like the idea that proximity and and body-heat render a process completed. So I sleep around with my outerwear on some occasions. What can I say? I come from a long line of gypsies from the old country. I'm superstitious.

Anyway, this new scarf, it's a long, chunky thing. Over 5-feet long, and knit with yarn that was more akin to thin roving. It was completed in hours due to it's heft, but in it's natural gray it looks like it is from some other century. I wrap it around my neck and slide on my hat before I brave the world outside of my quilts. When all my sheep-armor is on, I head to task one: the wood stove.

Here is the order of importance in this farmhouse: people, dogs, livestock. Being first in that line I ignore Gibson's cries to go out and chase things. He can wait, the person is cold. Instead of taking out the dogs I head to the back mud room where the hatchet and wood is stacked. I splinter off tiny slivers of wood, then smaller splints, and then cut one decent piece into three smaller pieces. It is my pyramid scheme of fire building. I grab some old newspaper and wad it into a tight ball. I set it inside the stove and start making a little piece of sculpture by placing the thinnest slivers of kindling over the paper, and then slightly larger pieces of wood, and then all the way to the three larger chunks. What I'm left with is an airy teepee with paper in the center. I light it with one match and the system worked. Within minutes the wood stove in the living room is howling. I set the percolator on top of it, (for the novelty and the nostalgia of it all) and when satisfied that this room will be a lot warmer. I call the dogs.

All four of us go outside into the chilly air. Four puffs of lung fog coat the dawn. Three familiar pieces of leather in my chilly hands. This is not going to be a brisk walk. After everyone who eliminates outside was empty: we headed back inside. I fed Jazz and Annie and then Gibson and I headed out to do morning chores, the abbreviated version. I went to the barn and got a bale of hay. I load it in a wheelbarrow and walk it over to the pasture gates. I used to just carry it, but years of carrying it have made my back angry and my doc has suggest I take the pioneer crap down a few notches if I want to walk upright at 60. So Barrow it is! I give a quarter of it to Jasper, who spent the night out in the field. And the rest to the 16 sheep on the other side of the fence. I go through two bales a day here, a little grain. That comes to seven dollars a day to feed the hoof stock. I think it's reasonable, since that same amount won't get me 2 gallons of gas for the truck. I get a lot of mileage out of these guys for 3.50 in second cut.

I decide that the way I know a scarf is done is flecked with hay. The morning work baptized it properly. While Gibson explores the scent of two-day-old weasel piss—I head over to the wood pile. I grab a few more pieces that look to be in service of the cause and hold them close to my chest. I call my dog. I go inside, wood under my arms and close to my heart. The farm house is warm now. The fire is roaring and the mornings efforts both bring me back to a climate of comfortable. I am so grateful for the concoction of wood smoke and caffeine, the remedy to any notion the day won't start well.

In a few hours a driving-experienced Haflinger owner, a friend of a friend, will be here and I'll be holding those black reins in the pasture. After that, Julie Williams is coming by to work on Gibson's herding with me. The last task of the day starts at 2PM with a hay-run to Hebron with Diane Kennedy. My day is packed with activities, friends, and errands all close to home, all within a few miles of this stove, these dogs, this land. It feels correct.

Friday, September 16, 2011

take a tour of the new sheep shed

Construction is done on the new 15x7' long sheep shed. A four-sided structure with an open door ready for me to stain it and welcome the elements. It is made of hand-milled pine from Common Sense Farm, down the road. These trees were standing in the forest last winter, and now they are making another kind of shelter for animals. Video shows all sides and inside of the shed, which should serve this farm well. Such a good feeling having this on the hill and the wood stove in the barn. My last goal is (besides finishing paying off those two items) to get the roof repaired in time for snow.

Mother Earth News Fair in under a week!

Looking Into Not-Too-Distant Future, Joel Salatin Sees the Spectre of Animal Rights Haunting Small Farms

CAF readers, this is a piece I found online from Good Housekeeping. I'm posting it because I'm interested in your thoughts and your experiences on the subject. Please feel free to leave a comment below, let me know if you agree with Joel or think he's worried about the wrong scene?

Believe it or not, there's a food issue lurking out there beyond food rights and food safety. Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer-author-activist is worried that that next issue is animal rights. He's already seeing evidence of it at Polyface Farm, his own farm in the Shenandoah foothills. During a tour of his farm Saturday for 150 attendees as part of a fundraiser for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Salatin said he's been reported to his local animal control officials by area residents who have had concerns about the treatment of his cattle.

In one case, someone reported him because one of his steers was limping. In another case, he was reported because his cattle were "mobbing"--hanging out close to each other as a herd in a new pasture. In each instance, "We had to spend two days with local vets explaining what we do"...and he was off the hook.

His view of animal rights as an emerging issue for owners of sustainable farms rates a chapter in his upcoming book, Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. It's due out in early October.

During the Saturday farm tour, Salatin wondered aloud what other problems the animal rights people might find at his farm. He pointed out how, during recent heavy rains, the chickens (who stay outside in mobile structures) got pretty wet, which isn't unusual. "We have days when our chickens are out here in the rain and cold and shivering. I know there are people who would like to go out and buy them L.L. Bean dog pillows."

Joel Salatin explains the workings of Polyface Farm on Saturday, as FTCLDF attendees, and chickens, look on. Might the animal rights folks be better off focusing their attention more on CAFO's and other factory farm practices? They already have, of course, but Salatin speaks to a more ideological tendency.

The problem is a theme of his book: "We live in extremely abnormal times..." And one expression: "In our communities, we have more and more animal rightists."

Among other issues he previewed that come up in the new book:

* The outsized attention being given by government and corporations to food safety, and the disparate approaches between his farm and factory producers. Salatin says he shuts down his operation for two 21-day periods each year, to allow all pathogens to die off. Factory farm operations, of course, refuse to build in such shutdowns because of the loss of income inherent. "They use bleach and drugs and fumigants of various sorts, to try to break the natural cycle," Salatin stated.

* The societal orientation toward removing all risk. "You can't have freedom without risk," he said. He discussed after the tour his challenges conforming with the new food safety standards of a huge food services company like Sysco. He's wanted Sysco to include his food in cafeterias at the University of Virginia, where demand from students for locally-produced food is strong. But so-called safety standards continuously have become so onerous, he's been unable to convince the company to examine his operation. For example, Sysco and others demand delivery by refrigerated truck. Salatin uses large coolers. He monitors food temperatures, and says he maintains constant refrigerated temperatures throughout deliveries, but the big corporations tend to be locked into one way of doing things.

* The growing influence of Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. He said the organization has intervened three different times on his farm's behalf to head off unwarranted regulatory interference. "Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has clout," he stated.

As a measure of the support for FTCLDF, the organization raised more than $150,000 from the Saturday farm tour and other fund-raising efforts. And membership has passed the 2,000 mark.
Wayne Craig, one of the Wisconsin farmers who lost his raw milk case, as I described in my post last week, told me Saturday, at the FTCLDF event, that the judge made a serious factual error. His farm uses its Grade A license to sell a significant portion, about 90 per cent, of its milk output to a processor. The judge indicated he was ruling against Craig in large measure because he exclusively distributes raw milk to herdshare members. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has filed a motion for reconsideration based on the discrepancy.


The enlightened discussion about food safety and illness going on here is in stark contrast to what generally occurs in the mass media. The mass media tend to apply fearmongering of the sort they use for child kidnappings--you never know when the boogeyman will get you. The latest example comes from a major article in the October issue of Good Housekeeping, "Why Your Food Isn't Safe". The feature includes a full page given over to 20 photos of children and adults who died from tainted food--hamburgers, peanut butter, pizza, oysters, spinach. So mysterious is the affliction that four of the 20 died from "unknown" food...though there's no indication how the authorities can be so sure the deaths were even caused by tainted food. Somehow, raw dairy escapes even a mention in the article--don't know how that happened.

sourced from

first loaf from the bun baker!!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

poems could be written

Poems could be written about nights like tonight. I am not a poet, but if given enough time, I could write so many paragraphs about the details and events that lead up to such simple things it could make disclaimer copywriters blush. I am standing in my kitchen in my father's old sweater. I am wearing a hat I spun and knit from my sheep. Dinner was two small bowls of potato soup and bread from the woodstove, chased by hard cider. My potatoes, my onion. Milk, garlic, and cheese from neighbors and friends. A chicken was found dead a few hours ago during chores, killed by a weasel. She had bites in her neck dripping blood in the rain. This no longer ruins a night, it's just a part of it. Rain came, so did cold air. Jasper and I did not work in harness. Gibson did not herd sheep. Tonight I rested and stayed dry, ate soup, and felt supported and happy. I knit chunky wool into a scarf. I watched an episode of Heartland on the Roku box. I snuggled into this cold, rainy, evening the best ways I knew how. And the little things that brought me here: a garden, a flock of sheep, a community, a stove, a chimey, needles and yarn....

This is not being self congratulatory. This is being incredulous.
I can not believe this is the girl from design school. How can she be?

Second Wool Workshop Added

UPDATE! A second workshop just like this will be February 25th! Sign up, three spots already taken! We won't have Joesephs wool, but I will source some raw local wool to use. And I have a lot of alpaca we could work with as well! Come up for a comforting weekend in Washington County!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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

a little help from my friends

photos by Tim Bronson

Announcing New Winter Workshops at Cold Antler!

Mountain Music!
February 4th 2012

This is going to be a fun one. A full snowy day at the farmhouse with an introduction to the mountain dulcimer, southern fiddle, and clawhammer banjo! The morning will start off around the woodstove with dogs and introductions, and then we'll go over the basics of stringed mountain instruments. You'll learn how to play a tune on the dulcimer, bow and hold a fiddle, and the clawhammer strum known as flailing. This beginner's class will be about getting acquainted with the instruments, as well as how to teach yourself. You'll learn my method of self-education that comes from using very beginner-friendly audio/visual aids like tab/cd sets as well as easy practice schedules and tips. I'll point you in the direction of good beginner instruments and anyone who already has a fiddle, dulcimer, or banjo laying around they want some re-upping of inspiration on: bring it along! We'll spend the entire day getting group and one-on-one instruction. and eat some amazing slow-cooked pork and potatoes with apple pie for dessert! We'll have drawing for a mountain dulcimer too, so some one will go home with music in their hands!

Feb 25th 2012

Yup. Just like it sounds! We're going to learn some meat basics, including home sausage making, perfect crock-pot pork BBQ, the herb-buttered oven roasted chicken, and introducing rabbit into your diet. There will also be running conversation over the ethics of meat, and how to support and raise your own even on a small scale. Also, home brewing 101. How to start making beer at home, and includes how to bottle and store. I'm going to get some pros involved in this (Alli and Collin..cough cough) We'll be giving away a beermaking kit from Northern Brewer as a drawing!

Urban Homesteading 101
March 24th 2012

This will be a workshop for those of you in the suburbs or the city who want to take a daytrip out to the farm and learn about what can be done to be more self-sufficient in your own backyards or fire escapes. We'll start the day learning to bake bread from scratch (no bread machines or kitchen aids here, folks!) and cheese making 101. The entire morning will be these two domestic basics: bread and cheese and for lunch we'll be enjoying our morning's creations! (as well as other potluck goodies). The afternoon will go over container and small-space gardening, introduction to vermi-composting, backyard chicken basics, and small-scale rabbitries. Everyone who comes along leaves with heirloom seeds ready-to-plant for early season crops and all you need to make a few pounds of mozzarella at home! There will be a drawing for a small library of urban farm books too!

Sign up for these, or any of the workshops below by emailing me at

And for anyone interested in other dates of upcoming workshops!

Antlerstock 2012!
October 15th-16th

Black Sheep Wool Workshop
(full, but if people are interested, I'll have a second one)
January 28th 2012

Mountain Music!
12 spots available
February 4th 2012

Urban Homesteading 101
15 spots available
March 24th 2012

Backyard Chickens
(comes with chickens!)
15 spots available
April 7th 2012

frustrations in horse training

Well folks, when it comes to horses I'm a great dog trainer. While Gibson is growing into a working sheepdog, Jasper is another story. Dogs, I get. I started showing dogs in AKC obedience and conformation events in high school. I always lived with and trained my own animals, earning titles, running my sled dogs, living in harmony as a co-species team. But Jasper is (literally) a whole new animal. My riding lessons over the years have made me comfortable around horses and in the saddle, and I can read their emotions and behaviors, but when it comes to learning to be a driving instructor... I just don't have it down yet.

Jasper won't stand still to be harnessed unless he is on crossties or held by the halter by another person. He fidgets, nibbles my clothing, pulls my pocketknife out of my jeans and throws it on the ground. Once in harness, he won't stand still, has to be moving. And he won't move forward from a whoa into a step-up unless he feels like it, 80% of the time he just turns around to walk towards me and gets the chains and traces tangled. So I need to unstrapped them, move him back into position, tell him to whoa and try again. It gets so frustrating I want to scream. Yesterday, we were ground driving without any chains or weight, just me and the reins and he just decided to lie down and roll around in the grass, hooves in the air scratching his back. I stood there like a moron holding the reins, asking "Are you kidding me?" while he showed me his belly and acted like a toddler having a fit in the grocery store. After a while he starts walking on his own and some progress is made, like what you saw in that video, but I think the writings on the wall here: he needs an experienced trainer. And I need to hit the books.

I was in the break area at work talking with a friend about Jasper and I, and the struggles I'm having. I said out loud, but to myself, That I should have apprenticed under someone with cart horses first. Should have done my homework. Should have studied, and prepped, and so on. "That's not the Jenna way." was his response. This is very true.

I'm not giving up. I just need to keep at it, and go about it differently. But I would be lying if I wasn't getting disheartened.The upside to all this is how sound of an animal Jasper really is. He acts the way he does because of my poor handling an inexperience, but even with the confusing commands, wrong bit (we now have a properly fitted driving bit), and new chains and people: he has not kicked, bolted, bit or caused any harm. To put up with me and my learning curves proves there's some patience and kindness in this pony. We'll get through it.

So this weekend, and experienced trainer is stopping by the farm. A Haflinger trainer from a town over, and she'll help me get right with Jasper. In the mean time, I'll train him the most logical and successful way I know how: with help. If I am driving from behind and another person is calmly walking him by the halter, we can make progress. Tonight two friends are coming to the farm, Tim and Geoff, to help train Jasper and Tim will take some photos as well. He hasn't been up to the farm since it was muddy, cold, and lamby so it'll be quite the change with grass and three times the sheep!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

after-work herding practice/chaos

here's a promise

I will never, ever, ever, ever use this blog to bash another blogger or peer.


Monday, September 12, 2011

the new shed has begun!

Update: 8:45PM 9-13-11
The crew put up four front support beams today and sided the back with the rough cut pine. Should I stain this? What kind of stain?

if you are coming to Antlerstock....

Please leave a comment here. I need to know how many copies of the Backyard Homestead to order, and some of you are pairs. Please let me know!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

practice, practice, practice

Here's a short video of ground driving with Jasper, my good friend Brett at the reins. Brett knows how to work a team and I know enough about tack to get by, making for the best ever practice with Jasper out in the pasture. All of us worked up a sweat—and now with a properly-fitted harness, chains, and singletree—I'm ready to get into a serious routine of practice with Jasper. It'll be a half hour a day in harness from here on out, slowly complicating the course, adding weight, and working out near the road and around the farm and woods. I was grateful for Brett's help, and proud of my little pony, who did a bang up job out there in harness.

While out at dinner in Manchester, I asked Brett when he last thought that singletree was used? He said a hundred years, probably. It was the same singletree that was hanging on the side of the farm house as a decoration. The folks I bought this place from probably found it in the barn and thought it was better for ambiance than use. A few years later, some kids are in the pasture training a cart/logging pony with a small dead sumac trunk that fell down in the hurricane. Life rolls.

My new routine:
Sheep herding with Gibson in the morning.
Horse training at night.

Thank God for the internet, books, and instructional DVDs.

my boys


metrics as a measure

People say it's a fierce independence or love of animals and the outdoors that tips parents off that their children are going to become farmers. I think the real red flag out there on the future farmer charts is attention to weather. If you know a child who looks up at the sky, asks about rainfall amounts, checks, and pays mind to the changing seasons with unusual attention: that's a farmer. I'd put money on it. Same goes for adults who have an urge to homestead or become farmers. You might love fiber or cheese, or always dreamed of hosting a cook out with your own Belted Galloway steaks and microbrews: but dreamers alone do not make farmers. I say the guy in the cubicle on with a rooftop garden's a better bet than than guy at Outback Steakhouse doodling branding logos on his napkin.

Here's why:

As a small farmer there is nothing that excites, terrorizes, or impacts my life more than weather. I wake up and check it first thing. The farmhouse is set up with a mini weather station in the kitchen, telling me indoor temps, outdoor temps, forecast, barometrics, the works. I own two weather radios I can switch onto NOAA at any moment. And if I am 7 hours into the workday, wishing I was home with Gibson on the hill, it is the weather websites I turn to. Because when I know what it's like outside I can shape my whole day around it, every part of it. I know what boots to put on when I come inside and change and weather I need to put on a sweater and my waxed cotton or a light hoodie and a bandana. I know what the animals will be doing, how they will be acting, where they will be resting when I pull in the driveway. I can already see Gibson's panting and muddy frame, the way the sheep run uphill in poorer weather and how they run out to the far pasture in fair. The weather rules everything around here.

Today will be a mild day, this morning it was cold enough to see my breath. This afternoon I will work with Brett and Jasper in the field. I already know what to wear, how to be comfortable, and how the day will go. It's my rulebook, best friend, worst enemy and addiction, this weather. And I don't know a single person with acres or a herd that could disagree.