Saturday, December 24, 2011

a victorian farm christmas!

comfort and joy

Yesterday afternoon Brett arrived at the farm with the most beautiful leg of lamb I have ever seen. I beamed with pride, looking at it. It was, as he called it, our joint-custody dinner, but the credit goes to him. This past summer at a chicken butchering workshop he loaded up lamb number 9 into a crate in the back of his pickup, with plans to raise him for holiday meals. He left here a scrappy little ram lamb with amazing vertical jumping abilities (he had to nail a lid on the 4-foot tall crate on the back of his truck, funny story), and now the lamb had come full circle. He returned to the place of his birth for a Christmas Meal.

Brett didn't let me help with the cooking so I headed outside to see to the animals while he bathed the leg in cream sauce, butter, garlic, mushroom and rosemary. He also had biscuits, beans, Adirondack Blue potatoes (which make purple mashed potatoes!) and I had set a peppermint pig on the table as a post-meal treat. (Peppermint Pigs are an upstate NY tradition from Saratoga) My first chore was the Freedom Rangers, who are still in the brooder. They were already doubled in size and would need more space soon. But they next week or so they would be fine. I gave them clean bedding, fresh feed, and water and then walked outside to the barn..

Standing next to the barn, was y Christmas Present. A Jasper-sized stone boat! I squealed! A stone boat is what you see in that picture, a wooden draggable sleigh used by draft horses to pull field stones, firewood, farm implements, and move over ice and snow with sap buckets in March. It is the original "tractor attachment" the most basic working horse's rig. It's not something that comes in pony sizes, but Brett took a photo of the stone boat at Merck Forest during Antlerstock and made it from his own home-milled lumber. Amazing...

The meal was epic. I had never tasted such lamb. It was succulent, slightly pink (the greatest sin of lamb is over cooking), and covered in the creamy sauce. The potatoes and greens were perfect sides. We enjoyed the biscuits with butter and a bottle of red wine. Cheers to a friendship so grand, and to his skills and kindness. This is a man who not only raised the sheep, but created a 4-star meal out of the flesh he butchered himself and has the home-tanned fleece rug on his cabin floor to prove it. I'm proud to know him, and constantly impressed by his talents.

I am impressed by your talents as well. I received hand knit socks (wore them last night!), a painting of a howling wolf with antlers, hand-knit sheep toys (with a border collie!), music, books, letters, and enough cards to drown my kitchen door. There will be a donation made from this community to for (you guess it!) a lamb for a family in need. That's right, we came together with enough to deliver a sheep to people who truly need it. A blessing, one of many, from you wonderful readers across the globe.

And as far as eating my own lamb, I will say this, for anyone curious. Eating the leg of lamb from a sheep I delivered here on a cold spring night was not in any way weird or uncomfortable. It was an honor and a blessing. It was possibly the best meal of my life and I could not believe such a feast started in my own pasture. I asked Brett how he felt about the lamb, since his relationship was more primal. He was the one who raised, slaughtered, butchered and served him. He thought about it for a moment and replied, "I chew slower." Perfect.

This Christmas, we should all take a moment to chew slower. You don't have to raise your meal to be so grateful for it it gives you pause. To be celebrating a religious holiday without fear, in a country at peace, with people you love and cherish deserves the reflection and amazement it should deliver to everyone warm and surrounded by grace this season.

From this farm, to yours, Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011



I have decided to offer a Season Pass for Cold Antler Farm events and workshops. For the price of Antlerstock and another workshop and a half you are welcome to come to any Cold Antler Farm event for a full Calendar Year. This includes Antlerstock, special speaker workshops like Plan B, and upcoming events such as Beekeeping, Soap and candle making, the Farmer's horse and Backyard Rabbit workshops. I host at least 10-14 events a year and even if you make half you will get more than your money's worth!

Cold Antler Farm workshops are how I make a living now. Your support gets you not only this continued blog and its posts, but an entire community of like minds from all over North America. Antlerstock alone is becoming a homesteader's Woodstock! Two nights and days of workshops and events here in Veryork about traditional skills, livestock, timber, and crafts.

I hope some of you decide to invest in a whole year of learning, community, and continued support of this little mountain freehold. Email me if you are interested, please. I promise to get back to you right quick.

And always, open to barter for labor, livestock, or good of equal value.

P.S. Workshop pass includes most things, but special events like fiddle camp or soapmaking that require entire kits or instruments and books would still require some supply costs.

I have some updates about workshops happening at the farm, some events are new and some have changes added that might excite you! To start out: In the spirit of the wonderful and successful fiddle camps I am offering a version for those of you who are looking for instant gratification and less squeaks and squawks:

Introducing Dulcimer Day Camp!
April 13th 2013

Come up to the farm this April when the snows are gone and lambs are on my mind for a Saturday dedicated to learning the Mountain Duclimer. Everyone who signs up for the day gets an Apple Creek Dulcimer of their very own and a basic instruction book. We'll spend the morning learning about the history, tuning, and strumming patterns and the afternoon learning your first songs! You will also leave knowing how to read tabs(so you don't need to know how to read music to attend) and the basics of jamming by chord and ear.

Just like fiddle camp you arrive knowing nothing and leave not only with your own instrument, but the knowledge to tune, play, and enjoy it. The dulcimer is a wonderful way for even the most skeptical of wannabe musicians to start with. It is tuned to itself and there isn't really a way to play a wrong note on it. As long as she's in tune, she'll make sweet music for you.

So if you ever wanted to add some music to your campfires, living rooms or farm front porches and and learn to bring home that beautiful music. Meet other beginner's, and enjoy a spring time farm. If you already have an older dulcimer then all you need to do is get it checked by a music shop and possibly get it restrung. If you own a newer dulcimer but never really learned, then sign on up and get inspired. You'll be strumming out Shady Grove in no time!

Please email me if you are interested, cost will be $225.00 for the whole day and the instrument and book, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch or plan to eat out in town. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along, you only need to buy the book and dulc!

The Farmer's Horse with Trainer Dave!
October 27th 2012

Halloween Weekend, my favorite weekend of the year, Patty and I are hosting the Farmer's Horse Workshop. It's an introduction to working farm horses for beginners and covers the basics of what it means to share your life with a cart pony, saddle, or draft horse. It doesn't matter if you live in the middle of the city or own 50 acres, this workshop is for people just considering the dream. It's a golden opportunity to learn about the animals, tack, work, and costs of horses and see what it is like to put on a collar and hames and watch working animals up close and personal.

The day's events will be split between our two farms showing you, most of all, scale. You can see what a pony like Jasper can do for your backyard acre by hauling logs, moving carts, and general ATV work. And then you can see what a saddle horse like Merlin can do as a second vehicle. My farm will cover the small pony and regular multi-purpose farm horse. So the smaller scale work and riding part will be all at Cold Antler. Then we'll break for lunch.

At Patty's Farm we will meet Steele, her 17 hand 1800 pound Percheron Gelding. You'll see what 42 acres requires! Patty uses Steele to log, cart, and ride and will share in detail their story. You'll see larger tack, larger vehicles, and a demonstration with a full-sized rig. Trainer Dave, the farrier/nature horsemanship trainer who brought me and Merlin together in confidence and problem solving, will be there as an expert to give a talk about finding the right horse for you and what to look for. He will also answer your questions.

All you attend are welcome to stay after the workshop ends for a special private campfire with music, hot cider, a bbq dinner, and lantern read readings from Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" Which, being about upstate New York, Horses, and Halloween will be a perfect ending to a magical day of manes and tales (get it!). Only 5 spots left!

Please email me if you are interested, cost will be $150.00 for the whole day at 2 farms but you only pay $75 to sign up and the other half the day of the event. Price includes speaking event and a farm tour. Please pack a lunch for a midday break. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along!

Words & Wool with Jon Katz!
Dec 1st 2012

Come to Cold Antler Farm this winter for a special workshop called Words & Wool. It is a knitter's circle and writing workshop dedicated to the small homestead or farmer's blog and the marketing and promotion of it. Come learn straight from the shepherd's mouth how I built, promoted, and expanded my blog. Ask me questions about publishing and writing professionally, learn how to sell or pitch ads and giveaways, bring a sample of writing to talk about and share with the group for a healthy and kind critique. Tell your story with eager ears listening, and a border collie in your lap....At the very least get some ideas for your personal, non commercial blog for your friends and family. It's a day dedicated to expanding your own brand and business, and getting the word out about your own website as another, vibrant, source of income for your farm and family.

Jon Katz (that's him loving up his donkey Simon), the New York Times Bestselling author will be here as well to do a talk about how he started blogging and how the internet has helped grow his brand. He writes and shares his amazing photography at His blog is one of the most popular farm blogs online now, with nearly 5 million hits! Some of you may already read it, and those who don't, should. It never hurts to have a little more Washington County in your life! He'll be available to share his own experiences and do a Q&A as well as sign any books you may have for him. And as for the wool? Bring a knitting project! If you are coming along to listen and talk, you might as well have something to work on near the wood stove. Other knitters will be on hand to help, give advice, share patterns and teach you the basics if you are new to the craft. Expect a comfortable day, indoors mostly, at the farm. The class starts at 10AM and goes till 3PM, and if you want to stay after the class for a private party of creamy potato soup and bread fresh from the Bun Baker wood stove you are welcome to it!

Please email me if you are interested, cost will be $100.00 for the whole day, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch for a midday knitting break. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along!

Season Pass promotion: Sign up for either workshop and you can pay a little more and be welcome back all year long as a Season Pass Member. SPM's are a driving force of support and goodwill on this little farm. They keep me going, as all of you do who read, email, comment, donate and come out to scratch Gibson behind the ears and tussle Merlin's mane.

P.S. Webinar Subscribers, you are not forgotten! The manuscript is done and winter is coming so expect ALOT of webinars all at once come snowfly ANTLERSTOCK 2012
2 Days of workshops and fellowship!
4 spots available
Columbus Day Weekend 2012

Antlerstock 2012 will be held here at Cold Antler on Columbus Day Weekend. I'm expanding the workshops, events, and options this year and starting it (informally) on Friday night.

email me at if interested! First come, first served as far as reservations go!

WORDS AND WOOL Come to Cold Antler Farm this winter for a special workshop called Words & Wool. It is a knitter's circle and writing workshop dedicated to the small homestead or farmer's blog and the marketing and promotion of it. Come learn straight from the shepherd's mouth how I built, promoted, and expanded my blog. Ask me questions about publishing and writing professionally, learn how to sell or pitch ads and giveaways, bring a sample of writing to talk about and share with the group for a healthy and kind critique. Tell your story with eager ears listening, and a border collie in your lap....At the very least get some ideas for your personal, non commercial blog for your friends and family. It's a day dedicated to expanding your own brand and business, and getting the word out about your own website as another, vibrant, source of income for your farm and family.

And as for the wool? Bring a knitting project! If you are coming along to listen and talk, you might as well have something to work on near the woodstove. Other knitters will be on hand to help, give advice, share patterns and teach you the basics if you are new to the craft. Expect a comfortable day, indoors mostly, at the farm. The class starts at 10AM and goes till 3PM, and if you want to stay after the class for a private party of creamy potato soup and bread fresh from the Bun Baker wood stove you are welcome to it!

Email me if you are interested, cost will be $100.00 for the whole day, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch for a midday knitting break. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along!

THE FARMERS HORSE I am quivering with excitement as I write about this! This October 27th the Saturday of Hallow's, Cold Antler Farm and Livingston Brook Farm are co-hosting an all day workshop on the Farmer's Horse. A whole day dedicated entirely to equine draft power for field, road, and pasture!

The point of the workshop is to learn the basics of taking on a horse, pony, or mule as a beginner farmer. Whether it is a farm pony like Jasper or a bigger draft like Steele, this is a day for you to gain some hands-on experience and get your questions answered, farmer to farmer, about the realities of working and living with horses.

This is not a horse-training demo, professional clinic, nor is it driving lessons. It is a friendly first step towards working with horses in your own life. It's an introduction to the broad-backed basics of working horses. The breeds of horses and work, the equipment and harnesses, and will end with a lecture by a seasoned Natural Horsemanship trainer's advice on choosing a horse of your own some day.

The day will start out at Cold Antler Farm where you'll get to meet Jasper and Merlin and learn the basics of housing, fencing, and keeping a horse on small acreage. We'll talk about riding your horse, and the kinds of saddles and styles of bridles, bits, reins, and tack. We'll talk about what to realistically expect cost wise and how I manage to do it here at Cold Antler. We'll harness a horse together, going over all the pieces and parts of that complicated beast. Learn what those strange words and straps mean, and how it all fits together and what they do. Lead Jasper along with a stack of firewood on the back of a stone boat. Learn about curb chains and blinders with Steele. There will be discussions on how to proceed in your own area, too: mentors, local draft clubs and such.

Lunch will be brought, bagged. Please bring a picnic style spread for your own enjoyment. We'll most likely break sometime in the early afternoon.

After lunch we'll drive a few miles over to Livingston Brook Farm where we'll meet Steele, the Percheron with power, and see the same stuff on a larger scale and enjoy some time in the back of a cart. Patty will talk about her own experience with her horse, how they learned together. She'll give you rides and show us her different vehicles (cart, sleigh, and forecart) and talk about the uses and advantages of all.

After all that a Driving Specialist/ Natural Horsemanship trainer will be there to give an afternoon lecture on selecting the right horse for you, and what to look for when you are ready to grab the reins. This will be a chance to really ask the hard questions. A nice wrap-up to our day of Draft School 101.

When the workshop part is over we'll dismiss and those who want to stick around can stay for a cookout/campfire are welcome! And get this, we'll end things right. With the light of lanterns and jack-o-lanterns we'll enjoy a campfire reading of excerpts from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and sip hot cider and warm stews under wool blankets around the flickering light. And if you never heard the tale of our own New York State's Headless Horseman after a day with horses around a campfire...well, you best come and find out!

If interested, please email me at to sign up. Half of the workshop fee will be needed upfront ($75) and the second half paid the day of the class. Discounts for couples and groups, as always. Mark your calendars and get out your deerskin gloves, we're going grab those reins!

Due to the growing interest in Fiddle Camp (all but one spot has filled up for this August) I have decided to add a second camp for the winter! It will be Feb. 9th and 10th, a Saturday and Sunday. A chance for people who couldn't make it to the summer camp, or just need more time for travel plans. Since no one will be out in the backyard sleeping in tents, "camp" seems like a bad name so I'm calling it the Fiddler's Winter Rendezvous. This one will be only for half the amount people and held indoors here in the farmhouse, but remain the same in spirit!

The Rendezvous will be the same 2 days of instruction for the absolute beginner fiddler. You'll come knowing nothing, not even how to hold a fiddle upright, and leave playing music. You have a 100% guarantee from me. I promise that anyone with any musical ability (or none at all) can come knowing nothing and leave with a song in them and the skills to learn more. You'll learn to teach yourself the beloved mountain reels, aires, gospel and folk songs of the American South. I supply the violin: set up, and ready to play, and you just supply yourself and the text book.

So why put off your dreams folks? Why just listen to those fiddles on the country station and Allison Krauss cds. Start making your own music and do it with a community of support and other adult beginners around you. Spend two days here in beautiful Washington County while the farm is wrapped in winter white and the hotel and Inn rates are cheap! You'll arrive here at the farmhouse mid morning and we'll start with the basics and get you acquainted with your instrument and then spend the rest of the weekend going through the method of learning my ear and touch, the way people learned in the mountains, so that within a few weeks of practice you'll not only be able to hear a favorite song on the car radio, but figure it out on your fiddle too.

The cost for the fiddle, Rendezvous t-shirt (featuring an antlered fiddle), and two days of instruction is $350 a person. It costs a lot less if you bring your own fiddle. But basically, you can come with nothing and leave a fiddler. And if any of you are looking for a Christmas Present from your darling spouse, this could be the one to remember. Learn an instrument, support a scrappy farm, add music to the world.

Feb 23rd & 24th
This February the 23rd and 24th will be a winter wool retreat here at the farm. It'll be snowy and cold outside, but even if the weather is frightful there will be a warm pair of woodstoves and fluffy dogs to keep you warm inside the farmhouse. So please, join me in a weekend dedicated to fiber arts. We'll have Saturday entirely focused on sheep and wool. The morning will be about the costs, preparations, and basics of taking on a small spinning flock of sheep in as small a space as a suburban backyard. A pair of Icelandics or Jacobs with a simple wind-proof shed and some field fence can turn any 1/4 acre into a wool production zone. I'll talk about my own sheep, their stories, and how I went from 3 in a rented backyard pen to the snowy hillside breeding flock you'll meet, pet, and see outside the warm windows. Then after lunch we we'll go into washing raw wool by hand, drying it, carding, and spinning with drop spindles and wheels. I'll have a wonderful instructor on hand, Katherine of NYC to come and teach you the skill with her own wheel and mine. Feel free to bring your own wheels as well and get some hands-on instruction.

So Saturday will be about sheep and wool, and Sunday will be all about knitting. Come and learn even if you don't know which end of your new needles point up. It'll be a day of knitting by the woodstove and enjoying homemade treats. Not as structured as Saturday, but I'll have some skilled teachers on hand to get you started and making fabric out of sheep even if you never did it before. The small goal will be for all of us to learn to wash, card, spin, and knit at some level by the end of the weekend. Come for one day, or both, and enjoy a wintery day at the farm. I'll be working on socks, I can promise you that much!

If you want to sign up, it is $100 for one day, or $160 for the whole weekend. IF you are coming from the city or need a place to stay, here is a list of local Inns and Hotels around Cambridge NY. Email me at to sign up, or give the workshop as a gift. If you are giving a workshop, season pass, or some combination as a gift let me know and I will mail you a signed copy of one of my books with a written invitation to the person who gets the workshop or season pass as a gift. I thank you again for supporting CAF, all of these workshops are helping prepare me and the farm for winter!

Have you ever wanted to know more about the healing properties of plants? Does native and ancient wisdom raise your eyebrows? How about healing a case of the common cold with nothing but dried herbs from your own larder and honey from you own hive? It doesn't have to be witchcraft or fiction, just basic and practical herbalism. It's a topic I am interested in and want to learn more about as well. So I asked a good friend and gardener/herbalist extraordinaire to come and teach us all.

The first Saturday in April will host a very special workshop here at Cold Antler Farm. Kathy Harrison, author of Just in Case and National Geographic Channel Doomsday Prepper, will be here to talk about natural medicines. She's a trained herbalist who gardens her own. She knows how to turn dried plants from her own backyard (and foraged from the forest) into teas, salves, tinctures and lotions. Kathy will talk about everything from planting to harvesting, and do a demonstration of making salves and ointments. Bring a notebook, questions, and tolerate a Border Collie in your lap and you'll love this spring day.

The workshop will start out with introductions and a basic overview on herbs. It will include a lecture on the beginning herbalist's garden, and from there take us off into the world of homegrown healing arts. We'll discuss what herbs are best for what ailment or symptom and all the business that goes into procuring them. This is a workshop for the person interested in a small garden they can tend, harvest, dry and then implement in everyday remedies. Something to set next to the taters, carrots, and lettuce patch. Some plants feed our bellies and others calm our minds. If you're already learning how to grow a meal, why not learn to grow the remedy for the stomach ache that might follow?!

We'll talk about specialty gardens, like for example, a calming garden. A bed of mints lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and valerian. A small 4x4 bed with these herbs could be turned into teas, rubs, and bath soaks. Even aromatherapy can play into herbalism. What the day will achieve is getting you acquainted with the basics to start out.

Everyone who comes will get a small herbal manual called Herbal First Aid from the fine folks at Microcosm Publishing. You'll also receive some seeds, and Kathy might bring plants along as well (season and weather permitting!).

Sign up my emailing me at This workshop is limited to a small number of people due to the books, seeds, and plants included in the workshop budget, so it is first come, first served as far as reservations go. If you are a season pass member and want a spot, email me quick to claim it!

Workshop Rundown
Date: April 6th
Time: 10AM -3PM
Cost: $125
Spaces: 13

Homemade bread is a staple at this farm. It is as naturalized in my environment as other native kitchen species like dark roast coffee, raw milk, and freezer chickens. My bread machine is pretty basic, just my two hands and the will to knead. My supplies are a bowl, a large spoon, and a few choice ingredients. Together this human animal and her learned skill has made this farmhouse smell like heaven and nourished my body and soul. I'm pro carbs around here. As the saying goes, happiness weighs more.

And yet, I recently decided I wanted to add another level to this love affair. I want to grow my own wheat right here in my own garden. Not a lot, not amber waves, maybe an amber raised bed? And not only do I want to grow it. I want to harvest it, mill my own flour, and make a broom from my own straw. I understand that we live in a time when bread is just a few dollars a loaf, waiting for us in plastic wrap at the grocery store. But I also understand how many preservatives, chemicals, diesel, and dangers go into something so wholesome produced so commercially. I want to go against the grain (pun intended, with gusto) and make this basic food from the ground up, something few people do. It'll be a lot more work, but a lot more rewarding. I'm certain of that

I want to do this, and I want to do it with you.
Keep reading, this is about to get real, people.

I want to make my first grain harvest OUR first grain harvest. I want to share in the journey from seed to bread together, as a community all over North America and beyond. I want to learn right along side you, with all of you there to get dirty, laugh, and support me along the way.

So here is the plan: We will plant in the spring, basic wheat, spelt, or whatever grain you prefer and follow our progress through next year's growing season. Then, at the very beginning of next August we will all gather with some of our dried wheat (stalks, head, and all) here at Cold Antler and learn the ancient skills associated with these humble grains together. We'll mill our own flour, of course, but we'll also learn to use the straw for crafts like broom making or hat weaving. It'll be a day of celebration and harvest, stories shared here in the farmhouse of our adventures "bringing in the sheaves."

So Join me in this! Anyone who wants to plant and read the story here, certainly can. But for those interested in another level of dedication and in supporting Cold Antler Farm can go against the grain right along side me in our own membered club. I am officially starting my Against The Grain Society right now. The Society is a combination of everything CAF has ever offered, online writing, a book, supplies and a workshop here at the farmhouse. Sign up for the price of an enhanced workshop ($160) and get the following:

• One pound of organic wheat seed in a cloth sack
• A copy of Storey's Homegrown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer
• An invitation to The Society's Harvest Party here at the farm next Fall
• And a membership card with the special address for our own Society blog.

(CAF Season Pass members only need to pay for supplies and shipping)

That site will be a place to share recipes, post photos of our crops, support each other with advice for the garden or kitchen, and then harvest together as an online clan. This special site also means that you don't need to come to Cold Antler for the in-person workshop to be in the club. Instructions on buying a home grain mill, harvesting your seeds, making brooms... all of that will be available on the secret blog. We will plant in the spring in our "fields" (raised beds and gardens!) and follow the story together.

If you want to join the society, or give it as a gift, sign up by emailing me at - You can expect your membership kit of organic seeds, party invitation, book and instructions by August 1st of this year. Now, off to the fields with you!

Proceeds of this event go directly into firewood and lumber purchases for the farm: firewood to heat the place this winter and lumber to build the walls on the pony barn so Jasper and Merlin have some solid 3-sided protection from the north country winter!

meet the new kid

Thursday, December 22, 2011

solstice work

I was standing outside the sheep's gate with a wheelbarrow. All sixteen sheep charging towards me, thinking their evening meal had finally arrived. This was bad, and only because I wasn't toting a bale of beautiful Washington County Second Cut. Instead I had one, dense, 70-lb bale of straw I had bought and stored just for nights like tonight. A storm was moving in, starting with freezing rain and turning into several inches of snow. My flock like to be under cover and on dry ground as night snow falls, and so, for this exact purpose, I cover their barns with a new layer of clean bedding the night before a snow hits. It's a clean sheet to call home as the coming snow storm wailed into the small hours. I needed to get it up the hill and right now opening the gate would be a mob riot. I needed help.

I let Gibson take on this task, however he saw fit. I opened the door to the farm house and he bolted to the sheep gate. At his sight, many of the flock started to move towards their barns. I let him in the fence and told him to lie down. He did, and the flock raced to their pen, away from my working area as if Gibson had read all of our minds. I let him walk towards the flock, and when I told him to stop and lie, he did. I shut the gate. I then told him to look back at the pasture behind him and he shot off into the night, looking for a fleece under the waning moon. He saw none and sprinted back to me. I was thrilled for his help, as simple as it was. He calmly got the flock away from my work zone and behind a gate. A small victory for this eager pup and new shepherd.

It's the solstice tonight! The longest night of the year. Tomorrow the days start to grow longer and hark towards spring. If I needed a more blatant reminder, a gosling was born from Sara and Cyrus, and I am so proud of those 3-year-old geese I could hug them. The little one is doing fine and I am leaving it to its mother's care. No brooder box for this fella, just down, feed, water, and hay. I hope the little one is just the first of many. The Twelve Tribe farm down the road wants to barter for some goslings and I hope to deliver. Good friends deserve good geese.

this just in!

Today I came home to a new edition to CAF! Cyrus and Saro did it, a gosling was born today, hatched on the solstice. I don't know what the Farmer's Almanac has to say about goose babes on the winter solstice, but I am chalking it up as a good sign! I hope he/she is just the first of many little ones out of that clutch of eggs. Both geese have been working hard to guard and care for that nest in the coop, may it bring all sorts of chirps into this new light!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

take me back

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the chickloo, and other life changes

The Freedom Rangers are doing well. They are thriving in the mud room brooder. Under a heat-lamp near a roaring fire, they are learning to scratch, socialize, and stretch their little red wings. I have not lost a single bird, and am excited to build and create their winter shelter. I have plans for a super low-cost, low-energy chickloo out in the snow by the barn this winter. I'll purchase an inexpensive garden tractor/single car type tarp-covered "garage" and line the sides with pallets and haybales. A thick floor of pine shavings and straw, hanging heat lamps and feeders, and cozy meat birds should cost less than 300.00 to set up and be used over and over throughout the season. I'll post photos and updates as we go, but right now the Rangers are still in that amazingly-cute fluffball stage. They'll live inside with me for another 3-5 weeks and slowly we'll learn how to make-do outdoors.

You know your life is permanently changing when the idea of suspending heat lamps in a backyard chicken camp makes you want to spend the night drawing plans and sketches, and researching recipes yet uncharted...

P.S. Thank you for all the gifts and cards! Today I reached the 45 dollar mark towards the Heifer International Fund, and someone sent a beautiful set of presentable cookware...amazing. I am AMAZED!

Monday, December 19, 2011

tough love

This has been a tough morning.

I started writing all that had been going on here in the last few days and (even) hours while waiting for the chimney sweep to get here. The paragraph was full of drama. A series of accidents and incidents, personal strife, fear, and anger at myself. I looked at my blog post, shook my head, and hit delete. Not because I wanted to hide it from you, dear readers, but because I am fairly certain that writing about strife, fear, and anger just creates more and more of it. It causes me to get sucked into feeling like a victim, or fills my head with notions of things that haven't even happened yet. I don't want to live that way, not anymore.

I'm not saying I won't share bad news about the farm on the blog, or turn this into the fluffy-bunny of homesteading network. But I don't think any of you need to hear about my problems that you already have yourselves... things like money issues, relationships pains, medical problems or any sort of negative talk about politics, farms, bloggers, or farmers.

So here's what I will share about today:

Today amazing things happened. Through a lot of luck, love, community and phone calls disaster was avoided, stress relieved, and problems dealt with in a timely fashion. This farm was full of animals that got attention, feed, water, room to move around in and explore. The dogs have full stomaches. The house is warm. The electricity is on. The truck is getting repaired in the shop. I have a 4x4 rental sitting outside waiting to take me to work. I am blessed. I am lucky. I am grateful.

Tonight I would love it if every reader posted to share something they are grateful for, too. It can be anything, just something that makes them happy and that they truly appreciate. Write it down. I can't imagine the positive energy a list of gratitudes can create, but it has to be stronger than a list of pity-filled comments or there there's. I want to be uplifted, not consoled. I want to be proud of the generosity, kindness, and good will of strangers who sit down to check in on this blog. I want to hear about your grandchild's first steps, your puppy's healing leg, your overcoming cancer, your husband's warmth, your sister's laugh. I want to hear what you are smiling about.

I'll start: I am grateful for all of you who support this farm, in every way. Your comments, donations, workshops, emails...your love is a reason to wake up and create words and pictures and keep this dream alive. Thank you.

whoever mailed me this, you made my week

appreciation and tidings

A few weeks ago I posted about a little girl from an urban homesteading family in my hometown that needed your support. Thanks to your generosity, kind words, emails and calls...this family pulled through. Shellee wrote this to me to post on the blog so that all of you who donated and offered prayers and assistance can get an update. I am amazed at this community. It heals.

My husband and I would like to thank all of you for the prayers and generous donations that came our way through this difficult time. I had been waiting to hear from the doctor and finally have an update. Madeline will go into surgery on December 27 at 7:30am. This will be her 4th surgery (She will have one more and hopefully that will be all). She had a KUB xray (kidney, urinary, bladder) in Nov and her Dr said that the stones have moved down right at the base of the ureter!! This is fantastic news because they may not have to make an incision. He had said he is really trying to avoid that because her condition is lifelong and will more than likely have stones in the future. If they go in and surgically remove through incision, it may make it difficult in the future if they ever have to put another stint in ( her last surgery will remove the one that's in right now). So he is going to try to break them down by laser as best as he can and hopefully pull them out which means less hospital time after.

This has been a lot for our family but through our faith and the smile on a little girl who has been through so much, makes you realize what really matters especially this time of year. She is an active, fun-loving, kindhearted child, and I never want to break that sprirt. She prays for the children in St. Chris's every night that they get to be free (I think she means from the hospital...I never asked because that is between her and God and he knows her heart). Christmas is her favorite time of year so I was worried about how she would react having to go down again. As much as she doesn't want to get another "nap" (as we call it), she is ready for this to be all over. I pray this will be the last time she has to deal with stones.

We teach our children to be humble and accept the things God gives you. You may not always understand why things happen, but she knows that God makes everyone special. She believes God gave her stones to help other children with something they may be going through. And in her prayers at night she always puts herself last.....she's 4. I'm so proud to have her as my daughter. She teaches me to see what life is really all about. God has good things in store for this one!!! From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for everything. You will always be a blessing to our family.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!

Love Shellee Snyder

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 degrees

It's 12 degrees outside, and that's a new kind of cold for this farm. So far the lowest temps have been in the high teens, but last night the mercury dipped to ten degrees and when the farmhouse stoves went out around 2AM the house dropped to the low fifties. This isn't horribly cold, but chilly enough that when I reached over to hug Gibson his black fur was cold to the touch. When I woke him he stretched out his lanky body so he was easily 5 feet long from front paws to back paws, and then curled his spine back into another ten minutes of sleep, tail covering his nose. He must have learned that trick from the huskies.

Today's work includes some everyday chores like repairing the sheep fence, turning out the pony, and loading up the truck with some hay from Nelson's farm for the barn's larder. I'll pick up some more feed in Bennington and stop by the home-brewing shop so I can pick up a valve I am missing for siphoning the hard cider. I'll call the farrier for Jasper (his feet need some trimming) and the butcher about the pigs. They have a date with destiny soon. It feels like just last weekend I picked them up with Tara. But by the time those two are in my freezer Tara will have a belly the size of a throw pillow under her shirt. Life rolls.

There's a Christmas Potluck tonight at my friends' house in Arlington, and I'm bringing a big pot of mac-n-cheese with veggies. It's a comfort food potluck, by the sounds of everyone's menu and for nights this biting, I welcome it. Right now however, I have hot coffee by my side and a list in my head of errands and supplies, chores and plans, recipes and outfit selections.

I hope you all have a wonderful and festive Sunday! The solstice is in just a few days, and that means starting the 23rd, the light returns! Days will get longer, and Christmas even more special. At least, to me.

parts of a cow

Yesterday I posted a photo of two steer feet, muddy and bloody, in the snow-sprinkled grass. I shared the photo because I wanted to convey the raw reality of harvesting livestock for the table without showing the whole steer half skinned, hoisted on a giant tripod, with a near decapitated head covered in blood. The feet seemed to get my point across without being sensational.

I was mistaken. Emails, comments, and complaints came streaming in. I removed the post because so many people were offended, and offending people is not something I wish to do before the Holidays, or any time of year. What shocked me about the upset parties was that only one of them was a vegetarian. The others were people who happily eat meat but felt showing the feet of the steer was gratuitous, and using the word harvest was dishonest or elitist. Some thought I sounded cold and naive. Others were just grossed out.

Here's the thing. If I posted a picture of a perfectly cut raw steak on a plate, I assure you I would not get a single complaint. That raw part of a dead animal, because we are used to seeing it, is acceptable. Yet it is carcass, a once-moving sinew, the insides of a beast, a far more gory and intimate display than anything I shared here yesterday. The feet were two black hooves on the grass of a small family farm, with mud and exposed bone, gently being covered with snow. I wrote how my life with animals had changed, and that the experience of seeing those feet was just like the experience of seeing a filing cabinet in my office. They are a part of the process, objects that should not effect how you go about the work of your day. And so people assumed I cared about the death of the animal as much as I care about filing cabinets. That was both insulting and the exact opposite of everything this blog is about. Why is seeing backyard livestock slaughter as a part of my everyday life offensive?

If you think my acceptance of livestock death means I don't care about animal welfare, conscious eating, and invoke deep gratitude for the lives lost to sustain my own than I have done a horrible job of sharing my heart.

P.S. I put it back up...