Monday, October 10, 2011

Antlerstock is just days away!

Antlerstock is coming up in a few days! Soon dozens of people from all over North America will be traveling to Veryork to enjoy the Fall Festival here at the farm, two jam-packed days of workshops, talks, hands-on work, and all the questions you want to ask about anything from sheep shearers to winter gardens. Preparations are underway, and have been, for weeks. A truckload of pumpkins is getting picked up tomorrow. Saturday night a campfire will roar and 30+ jackolanterns will light up the farm. (Everyone will have a chance to carve their own between workshops) Bring your cameras, folks.

Some friends will be getting in Thursday, others Friday, and the party officially starts at 10AM on Saturday (though you are welcome to show up to park anytime after 9:30). A brunch of free-range egg vegetarian quiche, cider donuts, coffee, and such will start the day with introductions and welcoming remarks, followed by a short farm tour and outline of the day's events.

From there on out, this is the plan:

Saturday October 15th
10:30 AM - Farm Tour (everyone_
11:00 AM - Cheese Making (kitchen) with Cathy and Diane
11:00 AM - Backyard Woodlot Management with Brett
(maybe Jasper)
12;00 PM - Chicken 101 with Jenna at the brooder/coop
1:00 PM - Lunch!
BBQ Pork from Flying Pig Farm of Shushan
(3 miles from CAF),
Potato soup from homegrow spuds of Firecracker Farm,
Hand-pressed apple cider from CAF apples!
(we'll have to shake them out)
Masonades of Lemon Ade, well water, and local beers
2:00 PM - Meat Rabbit 101 with Jenna in the barn
2:00 PM - Soapmaking with Tara of Ghost Dog Hollow Farm in the Kitchen
2:00 PM - Splitting and Stacking with Brett, Timbersports talk!
3:00 PM - Sheep 101 in the pasture with Maude and Sal
3:00 PM - Chicken History and Culture Lecture with Tamine of Common Sense Farm
4:00 PM - Wool Craft with Jenna - home wool processing, knitting 101
(bring needles and yarn!)
5:00 PM - Second Lunch, pies,more cider

Break till 7:30 PM - got to your hotel, get a shower, strech your legs, or stay to help set up for the fire.

7:30 PM Campfire! Bring your instruments, blankets, etc!

8:00 AM Early Brunch! Come for more breakfast goodies and hot coffee
9:00 AM Canning 101 with Jenna in the Kitchen
(berry jam)
9:00 AM Backyard Food production with Brett, talk outside, Q & A session
10:00 AM Intro to Mountain Music with Jenna
11:00 AM Trip to Common Sense Farm for Herbalism workshop in their fields
(2 miles south)
11:00 AM Sheep herding/chasing lesson with Gibson.
12:00 AM Lunch! Homemade Pizzas with local cheeses
1:00 PM Gear up for a hike at Merck Forest in Rupert VT,
(amazing fall foliage!)
4:00 PM back at the farm for closing remarks, and thanks

That's the plan, so far. You will be able to skip in an out of workshops if you want, or not do any at all. Maybe you just want to sit outside with your guitar and drink fresh cider? Okay by me. There will be new books for sale on all sorts of topics covered here as well as copies of Made From Scratch and Chick Days, get one for a gift or for yourself signed!

If you are coming up to the farm please come prepared with a clothes ready to work, waterproof mucky boots, indoor shoes (if you don't like wearing socks in the house), rain gear (just in case), notebooks for taking notes and emails, warm clothes for the campfire (or if you're from Texas, Florida, or Southern California). Coffee is always a welcomed gift, because I have an addiction. And last, but not least: bring your excitement and kind selves! If you still need directions, you gotta email me with the address you registered with and I'll fork 'em over.

See you Saturday! If you're coming up, please post a comment with your name and state! Let's see the turnout!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

save max!

Good morning, folks. I got this email this morning while making my pasta sauce here in the kitchen, a reader asked if it would be okay to post a message on the blog? A dog needs a home in Maine, and his situation is rather sad. If you live in New England, and are looking for a sweet and loyal dog: please consider Max. He was there till the end, and now needs a home.

Hi Jenna,

I read your blog. I have an interesting favor for your blog - if you are willing. A friend of mine's dear friend passed away last week in Maine - apparently she died alone with her dog in the house and was discovered after her mail carrier called the police to let them know she hadn't picked up her mail a couple of days. So sad. The dog's name is Max - he is a six year-old field lab, black. Very good dog according to my friend - the poor pup!

He is currently at the humane society in or near Rockport, ME. I know you have a lot of readers and maybe one of them is not too far from ME and has been wanting a dog? Would you possibly be able to post something about this on your blog? My friend says people can email her for information - I'm sort of the messenger trying to help her out during this difficult time. Her email is

If this is too much to ask, I completely understand, but I thought I'd put it out there to help an animal who could use some love in a good home. Many thanks.

Kind regards,

9-5 Homesteader's Sunday Kitchen

Saturday, October 8, 2011

the hidden farm

I started my day yesterday morning in my father's blaze orange deer hunting jacket, walking through the nearby NY state gamelands with my shotgun. I had on knee-high rubber boots, extra-denim padded brier field pants, and a flannel shirt. I had not had coffee, or even fed the sheep yet. This early dawn was for me, and the forest, and the hope that I could put a pheasant in the bed of the truck and make a pot pie for dinner. I walked through the woods, listening, breathing slowly, senses on fire, my desire focused. The world was beautiful, and I was a part of it then. There is no sitting on the bench when pursuing game. You are on the front lines of the way things are. Your hackles are raised but your mind's a haiku.

I adore hunting, the whole process. I love the silent times waiting for turkeys in the blind, or the high stepping conversations and laughter and loping dogs of the upland fields. I love knowing that I am engaging in one of the oldest activities humanity has ever known, and how it brings me back in time to feelings and anticipations rarely equalled anywhere else.

I didn't get a pheasant. I didn't even see one. But I did spend an hour hiking, tuned in, and not worried about missed emails or office work or hoof rot. My mind was in pursuit, which is when I am at my best.

Us humans are carnivores that hunt in daylight and live in community groups. So are dogs. It's why scientists believe we paired up as early as we did. Long before horses were pulling carts or cats curled up in our laps: people and dogs were a team with a common goal of living another day with the other's help. If you watch a shepherd and his dog work sheep, you see something not too different than early man and their wolfish kin working together to gather a different meal.

I never thought this would be a passion of mine. I never thought I would be the pickup pulled over on the side of the road where the state land begins with a deer sticker on her truck and a gun in the back seat. I'm ashamed to admit that I used to think, not that long ago, that trucks, camouflage shirts, blaze orange hats, and guns were things for dull minds without anything else to do. I am ashamed I looked down on hunters, hunting, and the important role we play in managing wildlife and promoting local food. It is one of the endless changes in how I see the world that farming and rural life has granted me. Now I own a blaze orange hat. I dream of venison in my freezer. I feel safer, more prepared, and more alive in the world because of it. And now there is little that rubs me the wrong way more than hunter jokes or assumptions. Some think hunting is man playing dominator of nature, a rampage of ownership and carnage. Hunters are not above nature, we are simply participating in it.

A few years ago I was a vegetarian.

But now, hooooo! Lord, do I love the food! The forests offer here in the North Country. I adore rabbit, pheasant, venison, duck, goose, elk, moose, and stag. I think the best piece of meat I ever ate was at the cookout after last summer's Hunter Safety Class where the Orvis staff cooked up some red stag from Europe that made the best beef steak I ever ate in my life taste like a hockey puck. It's true.

After my hunting adventure was over, I came home to the farm and put my shotgun away. I grabbed my trusty .22 long rifle, a good friend. The gun I know inside and out, that I have used to put down livestock and hunt small game. I took it with me back into the wilder places of my property, not so much to hunt as to retain that sense of vigilance I had when I was dreaming of pheasant pie.

The forest at my place is magical. It is a system of ravines and paths that lead to long forgotten orchards and groves, stone steps that lead to where a barn once stood, circles of fieldstone, running streams, old stone walls and a history of people and farmers who were here since before the American revolution. I walked back there in awe, stopping at a steep ravine that looked down on the stream running to my pond. That is where that picture was taken, the hidden farm.

I spent so much time on my farm in the domesticated places. Working inside fences and open spaces. But yesterday I walked past the wing of a dead chicken, the giant fox's latest meal (He is the size of a labrador, several people have seen him. His tail is as long as my arm, white as snow on the tip). I found deer scat, and then, with shock, bear scat. I had to double check my tracking books but it was bear scat and it was fresh. This was not the backyards of my hometown, this was a wild place. A place of monsters and crime scenes but also a place of dappled sunlight, and old barn steps, and groves of orchards long forgotten. There are eaters and eaten here. I am one of them. I am not above this system, and find peace knowing my place inside it.

I'm a carnivore. I hunt by daylight. I seek community.


Friday, October 7, 2011

sled dog reviews: wood stove pie

Just In Case!
Exclusive Author Interview and Giveaway!

While at the Mother Earth News Fair I got to know Kathy Harrison, an author and blogger just a few hours south of me in the Berkshires. She was a hoot, quick and clever, pragmatic and welcoming. I adored her. My mother and her hit it off during the Fair, often sharing meals and conversations. They met for the first time when Kathy, my Mother, and I were sharing lunch after our morning workshops at the hotel bar. We were talking as a trio when my dad called to say he was unloading the van with their bags. My mom lifted up her sunglasses off her face to explain to me, seriously and slowly, to make sure I got all five of her bags (for a one night stay) out of the van with my father, and not to forget the black Saks bag in the front seat with her pillow and book on the Kennedy Family. Kathy looked at this put-together woman in heels, and then back at the chubby little farmgirl in a blue tee shirt and straw hat across from her, and asked, politely, "Are you two related?!"

My mom looked her dead in the eye and replied with a sigh, "You have no idea. It's an uphill battle.." And put her sunglasses back on.

We all broke out laughing. And I made sure all the bags got to our room.

As the weekend went on, I got to talk to Kathy more and more, learn about her life and books. She's a mother, a homeschooler, and a serious homesteader. She gardens, puts up most of her own food (1,000 canning jars loaded in the pantry!), heats with wood, and wrote the best seller Just In Case, a few years ago. It's a new guide for families about basic preparedness for weather events (hurricanes, blizzards, storms, etc) and social events (pandemics, economic collapse, power grid failure, etc). It is a beacon of honest hope for coming emergencies. I bought the book and read it. It's conversational and engaging without making you want to buy MRES and stock your basement with bullets and composting toilets. It's not some scary end-of-days book, but a guide on how you and yours can ride out any storm, in the country or city, safely and in comfort. Common Sense and clever writing guide you home.

I asked Kathy if she would mind doing an interview on CAF about basic preparedness. With winter coming, this is the perfect time for all of us to get ready for coming storms, blackouts, or any sort of trouble. Read this exclusive interview below and then write a comment about it to be entered in a giveaway for a copy of Just In Case. I'll give out three copies to readers who share their own thoughts (any and all welcome) on the topic. Enjoy the interview, check out her wonderful blog, and enter to win a free book!


1. Your book Just In Case, helps families prepare for possible disaster and hardships (weather events, blackouts, etc). But I also know you are an active homesteader and gardener, who puts up most of her own food in a house heated by wood with an active community of like minds. Why do you think self-sufficiency and community  is so important in the 21st century when so few people have much of either?

I think the idea of self-reliance is misnamed. We are interdependent and we each have an obligation to contribute to a wider community and that means learning how to do the real work of living a more sustainable and productive life. If we really don't have time to stick a shovel in the dirt or volunteer for the fire department or bake a loaf of bread or something, anything that isn't about consuming or being electronically entertained then we need to make some serious changes in our lives. For me, the whole idea of preparedness is not about a stash of #10 cans of dried food. It's about recognizing that the way of life we consider "normal", the life with water and power and healthcare and food available 24/7 and requiring nothing from us but cash is a very new phenomenon and it's only here because we have cheap energy and a functioning infrastructure. We are all one ecological disaster, one geo-political event, one natural disaster, one terrorist attack from being hungry. Most of us can't imagine what life was like 150 years ago. That life is nothing more than a piece of fiction in a history book or something Hollywood imagines for our entertainment. It was a very real place in history.
2. In your experience, are people generally prepared for even the most mundane problems, such as multi-day power outages or broken down cars? 

Preparedness for most people means grabbing some canned ravioli, bottled water and batteries on the way home from work because you hear a storm is coming. The belief has been that the "they" we hear about will come rescue us before things get really uncomfortable. "They" will fix the lines or plow the snow or repair the bridge or bring us food. But we have all seen examples, and we see more each year, of when "they" are confronted with events so big and so overwhelming that it can take weeks before things return to even a semblance of normal. I think it's irresponsible to be so dependent on any "they" At the bare minimum, you should be able to remain home and provide yourself with a way to stay warm, lighting, food, water and basic medical care for at least a month. Longer is better but a month is easy to do and a good start.
3.  What items should we have on hand to be prepared for the short-term? Do you think people should have GOOD (Get Out of Dodge) bags ready? Or focus more on making their homes prepared? 

I keep a combination evacuation pack/car kit in the back of my car. I travel on back roads in bad weather a lot and a bit of food, some water and foul weather gear, as well as some tools and a way to communicate distress is a good idea. I don't go overboard but I sure don't want to be stuck in a blizzard with nothing for my feet but a pair of divine little heels. (Not that I wear a lot of heels but you get my point.) I don't go crazy with GOOD bags. My house is in a good spot and pretty self-contained. My goal is to stay out of a shelter so, unless the place burns to the ground, I'm staying put.

4.  What items should our homes have to be prepared for more serious problems?

When I talk to people about preparedness, I urge them to think in terms of systems and the plan for likely events. It makes little sense for me to invest in digging a deep well and a hand pump when a year-round river borders our land. It makes more sense to have a means to purify the available water and a way to easily transport it and put my money somewhere else. It did seem wise to have my chimneys rebuilt so I can safely heat the whole house with wood. For lighting, I have a large cache of kerosene lamps and a closet full of lamp oil. I have several hundred candles (I buy them by the case) and I store lots of wooden matches. It didn't put up a solar array because I wanted to use my cash to put in the permaculture garden with fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and perennial vegetables. I don't have much purchased food but I have 1000 canning jars, reusable lids and all of the non-electric equipment for preserving and preparing food. If I lived in the city I would be planning differently.  At a minimum, I hope folks have one month of food, a can opener, matches, a camp stove and some way to stay warm. If you rely on municipal water to flush, you need to have a way to manage your waste. I also think getting a hand-crank radio is critical. Information is very good thing. There's a big difference between a car taking down a pole and leaving you in the dark for a few hours and region-wide grid failure that might last for weeks. Have a way to keep entertained and don't forget animal needs. We keep a couple of extra bags of chicken and rabbit food around. It sucks to sit around in the dark and batteries run low pretty quickly. Get some lamps and lamp oil and have them ready to go before the lights go out.
5. Where can people go to learn more about serious issues that might give reason for some personal preparedness? Such as peak oil, economic collapse, or climate-related issues? 

There a a number of great documentaries out there and some fabulous writers who will inform you about the real issues of resource depletion, climate instability and economic issues. Anything  by Richard Heinberg is good. I like James Howard Kunstler too. Sharon Astyk is probably my favorite for giving facts, responses and hope. I think The End OF Surbubia is a terrific look at Peak Oil. The web site, Nature Bats Last is very good. Once you go to one web site you will find links to other sites. Just don't let the information consume or overwhelm you to the point that reading the blogs is all you do. Balance is good. I keep informed but we also play a lot of music, prepare and eat fabulous food, dance and have cider pressing parties. I plan for a very different future in an energy constrained world. I don't expect any economic recovery. I plan on having less money. But different doesn't necessarily mean worse. It's just different. It's our response that determines our happiness and our comfort. People were happy without big-screen TVs and cars for their teenagers. They were comfortable without AC and on demand hot water. They managed without Ipods and Ipads and 24 hour news and trips to Disney. We make our happy and we make our place.

7. Lastly, Do you feel that such issues are over-hyped and making people unnecessarily fearful? Or do you think the general public ignores such issues as much as possible?

That's it in a very small nutshell. Go to the Nature Bats Last site. I really like Guy McPhearson and he knows his stuff. He has video of a talk he recently gave and I think it sums up our predicament really well. We are putting our plans in high gear based on the climate economic models.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

driving home

Come to this Spring's Birds and Bees Workshop!

Come up to Cold Antler Farm this spring to meet the new lambs and enjoy a full day workshop dedicated to the backyard flock of laying hens and your first hive of honeybees. This is a total beginners workshop, no livestock or pollinator experience necessary. Class covers everything you need to know to take home and raise up a trio of your own laying hens and besides three chicks, it comes with a text book: Chick Days (my chickens for beginners guide)! We'll cover everything from the brooder set up to caring for sick laying hens. In the afternoon we'll change gears and learn what it takes to get started with your own hive, we'll go into the hive at the farm and learn about the rolls and uses of bees on a small homestead, answer questions, and possibly even install a new hive (if Betterbee gets them in that early). Either way, we'll go over supplies, the beekeeper's year, and costs. Expect egg and honey meals throughout the day, like cookies and quiche, and the company of like minded homesteaders who think a weekend at a farm with the parting gift of chickens in the backseat beats a day at the track. Sign up by emailing me at - first registered, first served!

The Birds and the Bees
(comes with chickens!)
12 spots available
April 7th 2012

Click here to learn more about other workshops!

photo by Erika Thompson


Greenfire Farms down in Florida is sending me some chickens this month, and I'm thrilled to ad the new blood to my coop. Next week a dozen Swedish Flower Chicks will arrive, but this week they sent up four young Isbar pullets. They arrived yesterday. They came to the place most of my mail comes: the office. While at my desk working on "spend £100 save £25" promotion I got an email from the mail staff that went like this.

Subject line: Your birds
email content: are here.

They are used to my shenanigans, and I love them for it.

So I scuttled up to the mail room to get my box of chickens. Inside were four wild looking beasts, like as if a pigeon and a hawk had a night in a cheap hotel room and left me the evidence. I brought them down to the truck and Tim took these photos of the new gals. Not sure if you are familiar with the breed, so here's what the GreenFire Farm's site says about them...

Every nation seems to harbor its share of backyard biologists and mad monks who are irresistibly drawn to tinker with the chicken genome in the quest for a more perfect bird. Sweden is no exception, and its monk –literally in this case—was Martin Silverudd, a Catholic monk who in the tradition of Gregor Mendel before him plumbed the depths of genetics and created a number of chicken breeds in the 1950s and 1960s. Silverudd had in mind the goal of creating auto-sexing breeds that laid a high volume of unusually colored eggs. (For a more detailed description of the auto-sexing function, please read the description of the cream legbar.)

To a remarkable degree Silverudd was successful in his quest and along the way created breeding protocols that would later be studied and adopted by sophisticated university geneticists and animal scientists. But, perhaps his greatest achievement was the creation of the isbar (pronounced ‘ice bar’), a breed as practical as it is beautiful and the only green-egg-laying single combed chicken breed in the world.

Father Silverudd created a number of fancifully named breeds including the fifty-five flowery hen, the Queen Silvia, the molilja, and, of course, the isbar. There are a few varieties of isbar, and Greenfire Farms was lucky enough to locate one of the last remaining flocks of blue isbars, the most spectacular variety of the breed. Probably fewer than a hundred blue isbars exist in the world; a tragedy given the beauty and usefulness of this variety. Roosters have shimmering metallic hackles that overlay deep blue body feathers. The hens are also striking with their blue feathers, and splash color patterns are common within the variety. Because of the genetics of the blue coloring, the auto-sexing feather patterns in chicks are not as pronounced (and may be altogether absent) when compared to other auto-sexing breeds like the cream legbar. The chicks produced by blue isbars can be blue, black, white, or splash. These cold-hardy birds are thrifty foragers that will produce 150-200 moss green eggs a year. Whether speckled or pure green, the isbar eggs are as fantastic and exotic as the birds themselves.

photos by

proof on cold fingers

I felt the frost before I saw it. It was too dark outside at 5AM to see any of the grass, but my rubber boots crunched down and my breath circled around me like a force field when I exclaimed a little yip of joy at the discovery. Now, this was a proper fall morning. It was 31 degrees at the farm, the first frost. I was happy to note that while the house wasn't toasty as it was when I fell asleep—the fire went out around 2AM—it was 62 degrees inside thanks to the Bun Baker. No oil heat needed at all. I felt like I won something Tonight I'll plant garlic in one of the turned-over beds.

I walked with Gibson to the barn, and we went inside to feed Jasper and collect some hay for the sheep. The chores are now so ingrained they flow through me the way Great High Mountain does on a fiddle. You do something enough times it becomes a part of you, like driving, or putting on a pair of pants.

I was wearing a flannel shirt, a Carhartt sweater, a thick wool scarf and my fingerless mittens (you can fiddle in these). I was certainly feeling the weather. The percolator was already heating on the stove, but I wished I had coffee before chores. Some mornings, these new weather events, call for celebration.

I thought about my day ahead. I thought about Steve jobs. I thought about how that gray/blue light of pre-dawn in October is still mine, even though people left the world yesterday, I can have this a little while longer. I said a prayer. Joseph, my black sheep started running down the hill to me and my grain, he had a bit of frost along his back. I suppose they all did, but his you could see by the trick on contrast, even in that dim light. I felt the ice on the wool and understood a small bit of real change in the world, proof on cold fingers.

I learn things slowly. If I don't want to learn something, I fight against it with all I've got. But when I realize them, like ice on a wether at dawn, they are accepted without fuss. Things are how they are. We're lucky to be here.

Enjoy this new day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

the have more plan

The "Have More" Plan is a thin book. At a glance it is nothing particularly special, almost archaic by today's homesteading book criteria. It's the exact opposite to our bible, The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery. Unlike Emery's newsprint tome (which I think could single-handedly restart civilization if it had to) The "Have More" Plan is a thin book, almost a pamphlet. Yet this little book, with the adoring couple on the cover looking over a scale model of a few acres of land on their living room floor, is a gem and should not be overlooked. It is a great beginner's introduction to buying land, gardening, and small-scale agriculture. It covers hand tools and hard work. The advice is timeless, and the sort written about by those who learned the hard way, which holds a special place in my heart. It's a braver book than most.

The remarkable thing about this book was it was written right after WWII. A guide for suburban-minded families to go back to the land in the late 1940's, when the entire country seemed to be trying to sell them subdivisions and washing machines. This was possibly the bravest little book around admits all this amazing modernization and post-war wealth. Think about the couples who were reading it? Folks who had come through a war, who had been rationing sugar and working in factories when they though, just a few years prior, they would be on their third child in a peaceful world. Now they had seen great upheaval, sacrifice, and hardship and were still drawn to this little book, with duck pen plans and charts of dairy goat quarters, and choosing to find a different type of peace after the war was over. They didn't want a 1/4 acre lot in the suburbs, they wanted eggs and bacon, from their own chickens and hogs. This sounds practical, even normal, to many of us now but it floors me to see a family in 1950's dusting off a copy of this book and walking away from the supermarkets and streetlights so many of their peers had chosen, to live like their parents, or memories, or dreams of plenty.

I love this little book. The fact it was written in such a time concerned with consumerism and fiscal growth, thrills me. If you get the chance to read it, please do. And imagine paging through it in the back of an ol' L-120 pickup on your way to your 5-acres after having casserole at your friend Betty's place in Oak Grove Springs (Lots still available!) as the streetlights and lawnmower din fades into stars.

Here's the ones who came before us.

listen to a tale

Here's a treat for all of you, who like me, are sitting in your office chairs on this beautiful early October morning. Sit back in tht ergonomic desk chair with a hot cup of coffee, put on your headphones, and enjoy this free classic audiobook of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And for those of you at home, watching the kids or planting your garlic, download it and put it on your ipod for your chores, or play it in the kitchen. Tis the season!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

cider day

As Sarah walked by me she asked what I had in my hand. She had just dumped a bucket load of power-washed Macintoshes for Sam, who was feeding the grinder one-perfect-fruit at a time. "Where did you get THAT?," she asked about the delicious fried dough in my clutches. I pointed to the workbench-turned-buffet in our friend's garage. "Apple cider donuts, Stewart's Finest!" and she snatched one up. She took a bite and said, mid-chew, "I love fall"

My sentiments exactly.

The cider pressing we held Saturday was the kick-off to my true Autumn. A new tradition here among all these peers who are mostly non-native Veryorkers. Sarah's from Ohio, Sam's from Connecticut, Chrissy and Tyler come from Virginia, and I hail from Pennsylvania. Others such as James and our host, Dave, are locals. But we all ended up here in this rural, awkward, corner of the world post-college and have found some community between the fieldstones. Thanks to this culture of misfits and locals: we're starting some new traditions, such as the annual hard-cider making weekend that starts collecting apples and ends with us sipping some of Dave's 24 proof knockyouback. Viva las tradiciones.

And so I spent a day amongst friends and our joint desire to make booze out of fruit. My company was mostly human (a few canines) and mostly skirts and blokes around my age, plus a cider press from 1865. It was hosted by Dave and Sue who's land and home is just outside the New York borderlands in Shaftsbury, Vermont. You can get there by winding through this area called Ashgrove, which to me is like going to a hobbit village. You drive through this magical place where highland cattle and ponies are more common than cars. Horse-drawn vehicles pass you on the left. Monks and nuns who train dogs and make cheesecakes live in monasteries on hillsides, and all of it separates Cambridge from Vermont This is the land between my farm life and office life.

When I arrived at Dave's I had my friend James in the front seat with a big black Dutch oven of pork in his lap. Gibson was in the backseat with my fiddle and cider containers. We were going to press a lot of apples. We filled Sam's Tacoma's bed with drops from a local orchard that morning. Half a dozen of us braved the mosquitoes and rain to pick up what the farmer didn't want to turn into compost. It took an hour and James handed him the agreed-upon forty dollars. It felt like a crime, all that food for the cost of two large pizzas and beer...

The work of the day was split into stations. No one was assigned to any one task, but it was agreed by all to fill in where the chain was broken. If you don't see anyone replenishing the grinder pile, start power washing what was in the truck. If you don't see anyone filling carboys from the filter-keg, start locking and loading. The grinder did not stop for nearly three hours. With so many hands, the work party flew by. There was plenty of time to stop and enjoy the potluck and crack a beer. I made pulled pork but others brought chili, mac-n-cheese, and pies and cakes. Beer was plentiful. At one point I drank a Guinness pint in one hand while cranking apples with another. It brought on a lot of laughs, and a light buzz.

The day ended with 65 gallons of fresh-pressed, most of it will be turned into alchol through a few months of yeast and honey and tight airlocks. But some will be enjoyed fresh, or heated up over the stove on cold nights with cinnamon (they want it in the twenties here Wednesday night)! There will be some supping on cider, this week at the farmhouse.

At some point during the fray, I sat down with my fiddle and played a few tunes while the rest of the hive buzzed around me. Eventually I found myself in a folding metal chair, slumped back, Gibson at my feet and slower dorian drones coming from the strings. This was my favorite part of the entire day. Being a soundtrack in the background, while people I knew and cared about laughed over shared work. A dog at my feet, a full stomach, a promise of a future buzz on a cold night, and music in my sticky palms. That's my kind of tradition.

I can't

...start my day with the news anymore.

Monday, October 3, 2011

you're not supposed to know

Came home from work with a chemical tablet in my pocket and a package at the front door. The tablet—which looked like a little aspirin—was a small, white, pill of campden, used in this first step of making alcohol out of apple juice. You drop it in and let it kill excess natural yeasts for the first 24-hours in the carboy. Tomorrow I add brewing yeast, and four pounds of honey as well as an airlock top. As soon as I walked to the front door I had it ready to plop my tab in my plastic fermenter. The package, however, was in the way of getting inside. It was there in all its vulgar glory, a little more mysterious than my chemistry experiment... Inside that unmarked brown box was something I ordered last week from a catalog: and item I never thought I'd be seeing on an invoice for my accountant: a leather ram breeding harness with bright orange chest chalk inserts.

No, you're not supposed to know what that is.

Normal people do not buy their animals S&M gear, but apparently, us shepherds do. This brown leather harness is fitted over the ram with a colorful square of sticky chalk (AKA raddle) on his ribs. When Atlas "acts out the old urgencies", the lady will be left with a bright orange smear on her rump. Which means I can keep accurate notes of exactly when each ewe was bred and mark off 5 months down the line when I can expect my first lambs. Makes sense, sure, but you can't help but smirk at the product. The raddle is named MatingMark and has a logo of a ram winking on the packaging. A rib poke to us people pimpin' sheep. (Most rams wouldn't be winking if they knew their usual fate after a breeding season.) I'm not planning on letting Atlas loose with the girls just yet, but when I do he'll be wearing this beauty. There are going to be a lot of blaze orange sheep in my field. The deer hunters will not be confused.

Just wanted to share that bit, more on cidering and that wonderful day at Dave and Sue's place soon. Tonight though I am fighting a cold and in need of some chicken soup and tea. Gotta get my wits about me, the countdown to Antlerstock is ON!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

65 hand-pressed gallons in 3 hours!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

We have a winner!

Nicole Ethier of Canada is our winner!
Nicole, email me at so I can send it your way!

Thanks to all who signed up!

Happy October from Cold Antler Farm!

So it begins! October is my favorite time of the year, my favorite holiday, my favorite air, and smells, and traditions. It's a rainy start this weekend, sure (and I am fighting off a bit of a cold) but the stock is dry and warm, hay and grain has been fed, and I am looking forward to having some company stop by soon for a day inside, baking with breaks for shotgun target practice outside. (I am dead accurate now with my .22, but enjoy boning up on my shotgun before bird and deer season!). I'm making a pumpkin pie out of an antique variety of squash called Long Pie, which looks like a stretched out greenish tinted pie pumpkin. I got my grandmother's pie recipe from my mother, from the 1936 American Stove Company Cookbook: a Woginrich standard. Excited to give it a try. We usually use long-neck white squash for our holiday pies but this might be the bees' knees, this Long Pie. Intrigue!

So that's my rainy day: company in the kitchen. I have two gallons to stout to brew and The wood stove can crank later on if I'm jonesing for some comfort (and if it gets chilly enough). Today is all about friends, shotguns, pie, and pulled pork for tomorrow's Annual Apple Cider Pressing Potluck. The whole Sunday morning will be spent collecting apples around here and the afternoon is dedicated to taking turns at the press and prepping our carboys for hard cider brewing! I'll be lugging along my pig, pie, and fiddle! And in a few months the bottles will clink! Happy October to you all!

Fiddle Winner Announced at 5PM EST Tonight!
You Have till then to get in an entry! (See a few posts down!)

photo by 468photography

finding home again

Those of you who have been reading this blog a while know how much I admire and look up to the work of Polyface Farm, a beyond-organic farm in Virginia. While at the Mother Earth News Fair I got to hear the honcho of that operation talk, a charismatic fellow by the name of Joel Salatin. He does many speaking gigs like this all around America, and when I sat down to hear him in Pennsylvania I didn't get what I expected. While there was plenty of talk about agriculture, it was really more about our personal culture, and I took one main thing away from his talk.


Joel pointed out that one of the largest problems with our culture, health, and community is how our houses (specially our kitchens) have gone from the center of our lives to a boarding house we sleep and eat at. Home has faded into lazy nostalgia, we're remember a place we no longer actually practice. There are people who pay every month to live there, hire someone else to mow and clean it, and unless we are asleep or grabbing a Pop Tart out of the toaster: they aren't there very often. Even weekends are dedicated to hitting the road to shop and go to soccer practice. Some people claim they could not even fathom spending an entire weekend at home: their children would go nuts without activities and events and play dates. Others without kids just find their homes boring, a place that is shut off from the world. They don't want to stay home because, even as I type this, I feel like the words "stay home" are a stick-in-the-mud's anthem.

I'm not saying you should all resort of agoraphobia to retain some sense of historical authenticity: I'm saying that home isn't such a bad place to be. For me, it's the only place to be much of the time! I've turned this backyard, old fenceless scrub pasture, and a one-car-garage barn into a farm. It took a while, a lot of help, a lot of animals, and good friends: but this white house on the mountain has become my refuge, my exercise, and my career. Writing and farming from this HQ is my dream job, and this blog and your support is slowly making that happen. My goal is for this place to also get off the grid and be as self-sustaining as possible. I want heat from wood, hot water and electric from solar or wind, breeding livestock, saved seeds, and enough scrappy farm-skills to render my own leaf lard for apple pies.

That's my story, yours is certainly going to be different. Maybe your home by the sea, a place passed down for generations, with an old coal range, dairy herd, and a wind turbine is your idea of a perfect home? Maybe it's an apartment in Portland, with a bike propped inside the front door, a community garden, and a cat you can't imagine reading a book without it curled near your chest? Maybe it's nothing crunchy or farmy at all: a loft in Philadelphia, a half-double outside the city, a suburban quarter acre... It doesn't matter. What does seem to matter, more than ever, that we value and appreciate home. That we try to honor it by cultivating good memories, good food, and community around it.

I grew up in a small town, in a very busy family. But I always knew dinner was served at 5PM and either my father or mother had prepared it. If we got busy, or too tired, they might serve us pizza or take out, but that was rare and usually during Friday around Lent (Palmerton cheese pizza was our vegetarian Friday night). But we spent a lot of time around that table, and every Sunday after Mass my father cooked up a heck of a brunch: eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, orange juice and coffee. We ate it in the dining room often, it felt special. And the whole family touched base. It wasn't until I went to college I learned how special and rate that was.

I miss that home, Columbia Avenue. But I am proud to start traditions just as important here. A place where the kitchen is my center, the keyboard my office, and the backyard my grocery store. I do the work that honors the promise of a small farm, and invite you all to join me when you can, and even though I'm a young single gal ready to light the world on fire: I'm still baking a pie tonight and planning for a winter pig. Some traditions (even new ones) are too good to give up for the bar.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Updates! Two Spots Left for Antlerstock!

Had a cancellation from a couple, and now I have two open spots for Antlerfest, weekend of October 15th. If you would like to come, email me ASAP, as they are first-come-first-get. This is certainly going to be your last chance to sneak in and I don't want to be telling tales out of school. but I just bought a pound of rendered leaf lard and 10 pounds of Boston Butt from Flying Pig Farm next door, and that Saturday's pie crusts and pulled pork are going to rock your heritage-pig-eatin' world!

P.S. Just a heads up, the Meat and Beer Workshop has been moved to Feb 18th, a week before the second wool workshop. Please email me if you signed up and this is a problem! And if any of you like the idea of sausage and stout, consider signing up!

that time of year again....

I decided that on this farm, pork is a winter activity. PIgs are traditionally raised through the summer into fall, which is why late autumn is called Hog Season. But with sheepdog training, fall breeding, horse training, and everything else I do through the summer: I like the calm ease of a winter pig. I have more time and attention for it, and the cold weather keeps down the smell. Winter is also not the pigs favorite time either, so there's no escaping into the three-feet of ice and snow when you've got a warm, dry, barn with the occasional heat lamp and hay to burrow into.

Keeping my eye open for a pig or two!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

a few good sheep

After work I set about treating (what I assumed to be) hoof rot in Sal. His on and off again limp was back, and this time the sides of his hoof were coming off like shingles. I penned him in with Atlas and washed his hooves with soapy water, trimmed them, washed them down with Hoof-n-Heel, and gave him a shot of Pro-Pen G. It took about half an hour and when all was said and done I left him in the pen. He could get regular doses of whatever he needed there, and Atlas seemed to like the company.

Just as I was locking up their hold, I noticed one of the Cotswold lambs limping. It took a while to catch her, but it was clear the only reason I could was the limp. I checked her over and saw no bruises, blood, cuts, nails or issues with her feet. I trimmed them a little (though they barely needed it) and sent her on her way again. In case it was an infection, I decided to load up another syringe of her weight dose of the antibiotic and went back to the fields with a crook in one hand and the needle in the other. I made a quick catch with the crook around her neck, flipped her, and medicated her right quick. I checked her eyelids, and they were pink. She seemed totally fine minus the light limp. I made a mental note to pick up more anti-toxin for spring.

As I watched her limp off I said a small prayer, hoping she would heal. I'm getting worried about some of these sheep. Most seem fine, but a few Blackfaces seem gaunt. I wormed them all last week in case it was that, and started adding more grain to their fall diets, but 7-06 is acting odd, like Lisette did when she was at her worst (who, by the way, is fine, if not the scrappiest and sorriest looking animal in the lot). If a sheep is dewormed, has fresh water and plenty to eat, open spaces, no sign of mucus, limping, or stress? What can it be? She's not pregnant? It can't be a toxemia? Perhaps they need more minerals? I was told that we don't have selenium in our soil here. I'll get them a fresh lick Friday at the Agway in Salem. This blog post has become nothing more than a shepherd thinking on a computer to herself...

Anyone have any suggestions? I'm devouring my sheep books but I have a feeling this isn't a disease as much as it is a lack of something....

i'm watching it all over again

updates and etc

It was a half day in the office yesterday, I took the morning off. I thought it was wise to slink back into my old routine instead of jumping in. But the half day was one of those non-stop barrages of changes, information, and complications that only exist in the world of online marketing. It's quite the culture shock, going from the real world of agriculture into the contrived-urgencies of the office. Hoof rot is a problem. A jammed printer is not.

I was completely reenergized by this weekend, and thrilled at the amount of people I saw buzzing like a happy hive from workshop-to-workshop. 10,000 people were there to learn how to milk a goat, spin alpaca wool, and plant garlic after the first frost. If you ever get the chance to head to the Pennsylvania fair, do so. It will leave your mind and heart reeling. The people were all so positive (even the peak oil speakers were smiling). And I especially loved just walking around the fair grounds with Gibson, taking it all in. The twenty hours of driving was totally worth it. And it got me REALLY excited for Antlerstock, which is turning into quite the event. Last night Othniel from Common Sense Farm asked if anyone wanted to come to an herbalism workshop at their greenhouse Sunday Morning, a 70-year-old elder will be hand pressing Echinacea into viles for folks who want to learn to use the healing herb. Tamine, their chicken Guru, will give a big talk on the history of the chicken and our culture on Saturday too!

A few of you are arriving Thursday night, and will be helping prepare all day Friday with me. Expect to get up early for a run to the market for pumpkin by the bin and a full day of slow cooking local pork for Saturday with some cider.

Update for 2010-2011 CSA members!
You're wool is coming from the mill to my farm any day now, just waiting for it to arrive. But I got a phone call explaining that only Maude and Sal's wool could be made into yarn, the Blackfaces could not. I told them I had twenty people waiting for wool and they explained that they needed wool no longer than six inches to spin. (I didn't know I had to have the blackfaces cut twice a year...) but they could make it into sheets of felt for making bags, slippers, gloves, etc. I accepted that offer. So sorry for the change of plans, but all CSA members will be getting some more wool skeins, like the ones before, and felt from the blackfaces. It should be to you around Hallows, certainly before Christmas.

P.S. You have until Friday night to put in a donation chance for the Beginner Fiddle Package, scroll down a few posts for details! Winner will be announced Saturday!

photo from

Monday, September 26, 2011

hotel expert

Dogs are hotel experts and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If a hotel/resort has nicer rooms for people with dogs than most hotels have for people without dogs: it's a winner. At the Seven Springs Ski Lodge/Hotel complex I was put in the "pet friendly" wing. Usually "pet friendly" means smoking rooms. I don't smoke, and while I don't mind the smell of fresh smoke at all/stale smoke makes me gag. So when I was given a beautiful room with a door that lead to an "exercise area" right outside my porch complete with a poo-bag station and waste buckets... I was impressed.

Gibson was impressed with the sheets. There was much audacious rolling about while I tried to read.

Joel getting ready for his 2-hour workshop

first morning of the fair


Antlers, I am home. Hundreds of miles, a slight fender bender, and six presentations later: I just completed my first every Mother Earth News Fair. It was amazing, and I am not using that term lightly. I spent the entire weekend around other Storey authors and experts in the Homesteading/farming field. I got to listen to Joel Salatin's Keynote address on Sunday (and deliver my own keynote address on Saturday!) I also did 3 intro-to-chickens workshops and two meat rabbit workshops (assisted by a new Silver Fox Doe I bought from Mule's Ear Farm) who had animals to sell in the ALBCA tent).

I was very happy and comfortable teaching those beginner workshops, but I was literally shaking before my keynote address. I'm not used to talking about me outside of this blog, not in front of hundreds of people. I didn't prepare a speech either, just a piece of paper from the resort's complimentary pad and pen.

I'll be posting photos and videos from the event all this week, as well as sharing stories and links. So keep checking back and if you were there and took the time to hear me speak, I want to thank you so much. So, so much.

And whoever shouted "WE LOVE YOU JENNNNNNNNAAAA" when I walked up to the stage: You were the reason I was able to relax enough to get through that ordeal! Thank YOU!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Off to the FAIR!

It is pouring outside, a big loud storm. I just closed the latch on the coop as it raced down the mountain. It's such an intense thing to experience, hearing the storm and pounding water getting closer and closer, as you remain dry knowing it's only a matter of time... Then the clouds burst and the sky flashed and I got soaked on my way back into the house. Gibson watched from the French doors. He never understands why I would ever farm without him? Even if it just closing a coop in the rain.

It took me the entire afternoon to prepare to leave. By the time the front lawn was mowed, the sheep de-wormed, and the truck cleaned up inside I was spent. I looked at Gibson and told him to jump in the truck. We drove into the damp town of Cambridge to enjoy one of the last warm Thursday nights in town.

I love Thursday nights in Cambridge. The Co-op, bookstore, and Common Ground Cafe are all open till 8, meaning you can grab a magazine or a novel, local eats, and a warm meal all within a few feet of each other. Common Ground was packed with locals and tourists alike. I saw Bliss, who takes yoga classes with me on Friday and runs the Tuesday night music circle. I think she is starting the monthly contra dances in town too? And I know most of the folks at Common Sense Farm (this is their cafe), so I just sat at the counter with some kids and got soup and a veggie wrap and iced tea. I sat near the giant stone fireplace and realized this winter I have a hangout just a few miles down the road, and if I get overwhelmed I can come take off my scarf and sit near the fire and talk with folks from neighboring farms over coffee and cream cheese pie. KNowing this made my veggie wrap taste even better.

So I'm off for the big show. The truck has been washed, vacuumed, oil changed and tank filled. The farm animals have all been seen to with fresh bedding, water, and topped-off feeders. Jazz and Annie are at the kennel/doggy spa in Bennigton. And only Gibson and I remain in the farm house as the thunder rumbles over Washington County. Early tomorrow morning when the couple that is housesitting arrives to take over the role as Head Antler around here. Then Gibson and I will be on the great American Highway by sunrise, chasing it south as we head into Pennsylvania and west towards Pittsburgh for the Mother Earth News Fair. I'll be there for the whole weekend, giving a keynote speech Saturday night and several workshops throughout the two-day event. I hope to meet some of you out there, and take advantage of some of the speakers and workshops myself (Joel Salatin is talking Sunday night!). I will try and update from the festival, but that might get tricky as I don't have a laptop, iPad, or other fancy somesuches of technomobility. I do have a cracked iPhone though! So I'm not a total Luddite. I'll make due.

Here's to a safe trip! See ya at the Fair!

P.S. Here is my page on the Fair's site, tells you about when and where I'll be in the fray

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

let's hear it for canadian television dramas

guard chicken, keeps bikes safe

photo by tim bronson -

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Tonight Gibson ended his lesson calmly balancing sheep around me, which he took from a fence to my feet within twenty minutes of (Mostly) controlled work. 180 degrees from yesterday, and I stood the entire time. He is growing calmer.

Half the battle is just going back to do it all over again.

the book of job

Slept in this morning. No yoga, or meditation, or coffee on the stove. In the rush to get to the office on time I just brushed my teeth and packed a bag for the locker room. No point in getting ready on a rainy morning just to show up to the office with wet hair and mascara bruising under my eyes. I threw clean clothes and a towel in a totebag and called Gibson into the truck. I ran around in the rain getting everyone hay and water, and then we left for work just a half-hour after waking up together. I'm used to 3 hours of morning before I leave for the World. This morning was a hot mess.

In the shower I saw my new bruises, nothing drastic. It was more of a morale blow than anything else. I had a rough day and the sheep knock down was the breaking point. The Book of Job starts by explaining he farmed 7,000 sheep. Soaping up in the shower over my new Calico thighs I had a new respect for the man. No wonder he could handle the rest.

But despite the bad day and rushed morning, I am in better spirits. A hot cup of tea after a warm meal and some reading under the blankets had me in a better frame of mind. I spent the night reading from Heike Bean's Carriage Driving and Derek Scrimgeours' Talking Sheepdogs. Both address the novice trainer, and begin with the animal's mind. It occurred to me last night how I am simultaneously trying to understand the minds of prey and predators, sometimes in the same hour. I don't think I ever trained an herbivore before, and assumed my canine mind would translate. It was my second hit in the gut for the night: I'd been talking to the horse as if it had sharp teeth. Then I laughed, realizing Jasper does have his fighting canines, sharp little fangs, where his bit rests. He needs them removed when the equine dentist comes. The appointment was made, and the dental work should make training easier on us both.

One thing I am learning about the Dog and Pony Show is that I expect too much/too fast, and it is crippling our progress. I need to walk out on the field with one, simple, specific goal and leave on a good note. This is something we all know (we being those who train dogs and horses), but in the frustrations of real-time field work I lose this wisdom. I get caught up in the fray, the moment. I have the ability to know this is wrong, but keep making the same mistakes. But I am working on it. Always, working on it.

By the time this horse and dog can work this farm I will be the one changed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

ten horns

Wasn't in the right frame of mind for herding lessons, but went out in the field anyway. After a frustrating twenty minutes of poor handling and a frantic dog, Gibson sent the five horned ewes sprinting directly into me. They knocking me into the ground, the blunt end of several horns hitting my thighs and gut. Winded and bruised, I got up, called my dog, and sat on the hill and cried for a long time.

I'm making tea and going to bed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

she growled from the station

Tonight I softly sang to Sacred Vision while pounding t-posts into the ground with everything I had.

I think this combination of actions describes me perfectly.

what a dummy

Got a box of tomatoes (seconds) at Stannard's Farm stand for 5 dollars and set them in the back of my truck over a few bags of mulch. Then, as I drove through Bennington I heard the slam of the tailgate opening and watched as the box of thirty tomatoes hurled behind me and landed in front of a Subaru, who didn't even swerve and hit them full force, sending red blobs everywhere.

I came home and unloaded the heavy bags of mulch to do some landscape work and sat down with a plop, forgetting my iphone in the back pocket I was using as my storyteller, an audiobook distracting me. It shattered, glass looking like a bullet hit it. I couldn't afford a new one if an iPhone Store was around the corner from my farm, which it most certainly is not. Some sighs are longer than others.

Minor faults in an otherwise beautiful day. Got the animals trained and seen to, going to spend the evening before dark setting up the new hot wire around the sheep's main pen, give that grass a break from their antics. All that time in the pasture has turned it into moss, it needs some rain and a good week without hooves on it to start growing back to good. Hoping no more losses for this beautiful Sunday evening, but I'm not counting my crows just yet.

surprise in the pig pen!

I don't feel a bit of regret starting a Sunday morning with bacon and eggs when I plan on having mornings like this. I started the day up in the fields with Jasper, working on his driving lessons. Then had a great training period with Gibson and four of the original Blackface ewes. By 9:30 AM I had cooked a traditional North Country Farmer's Breakfast and worked off at least half of it chasing the dog and pony show. But I saw glimpses of progress today. Jasper stopped and remained in place for a while and then walked forward again without turning around. Gibson got the sheep off the fence easily and is starting to learn Come Bye and Away to Me. I spent the morning mowing and cleaning up around the yard, planning to do some mulching and landscaping later on after I rewire and shore-up the sheep fences. I don't want to leave for three whole days and find out the sheep escaped because I didn't take a few hours to lock down on the charge. Last I plan on working in some winter rye into the two raised beds I already turned over for the season. So it goes.

So today is a day of work. Here I go!

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!