Saturday, December 31, 2011

Plan B: A Very Special Workshop This Spring!

I'm very excited to announce this special workshop coming to Cold Antler on May 12, 2012. It's about a topic on many homesteader's minds and the occasional topic of discussion on this blog: Emergency Preparedness and the Future of Energy. The focus will be specifically on preparing your small farm or homestead for a disaster (natural or man made) and how the future of energy will affect us as and how you can be ready for it. And there are going to be two amazing guest presenters sharing their minds and experiences on this topic: Kathy Harrison and James Howard Kunstler.

Kathy is the author of the book Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient when the Unexpected Happens, and James Howard Kunstler, an internationally-renowned speaker and author on Peak Oil and Collapse. His book, The Long Emergency, as well as Kathy's, will be included in this workshop. Both have been featured in several television shows and documentaries on these topics They are leaders in the field. And both agreed to help set up this event as a way to support Cold Antler Farm, I'm lucky to know them both.  
The day of conversations and demonstrations will focus on personal disaster prep for your own farms and families. Kathy Harrison will talk about things you can do to prepare for when that ice storm takes out the power for a week, and what you can do in your current situation even if it is an apartment in the city. Topics covered will include food and water, car and personal emergency packs, first aid kits, non-electric alternatives for everyday appliances, alternative energy for your home and gadgets, gardening and preserving food, hunting and fishing, and all day questions will be welcomed and answered.

While some topics covered will be controversial, all will be based on practical skills and knowledge. This is not a Survivalist Training Camp, Tin Foil Hat Sewing Circle, or a UN stake out. If you're looking for a scary day talking about the end of the world, it isn't that either. This is a day about empowerment, action, preparing, and safety. It's about knowing that if a tree crushes your car in a storm and you're snowed in for 3 days without power you, your kids, and the dogs will have a lamp-lit scrabble night by the fireplace with some back-up kerosene heaters with a warm meal you cooked on the gas grill on the deck. Kathy will be explaining to us exactly why being prepared matters, and our responsibilities to do so. I'm sure she'll be happy to sign books and field your questions about many homesteading and preparedness topics. She has a heck of a farm!

JHK will be hitting us from a different angle. He'll be having a conversation with us on energy, peak oil, and the bigger picture, as well as his thoughts on what's in store through the next few years. Get a chance to hear one of the leading people in the field in a home setting talking about communities and localized economies. Hear his theories on why we should be thinking more about things like trains, local businesses, sustainable farm practices, and other topics. Get your copy of World Made By Hand signed by the author in the very county the book was written about!
The workshop runs from 10AM - 3PM Saturday May 12th at the farm. A water bath canning demonstration, a pressure canner overview, backyard homesteading tour, and homegrown music and home brewing will also be discussed. James is one heck of a fiddler and has been known to saw out a tune here at the farm on occasion, maybe he'll bring his along? So I hope you'll join us in this information-packed weekend talking about how to prepare for the worst, and feel safe and comfortable no matter what mother nature, your boss, or the economy throws at you!

Email me at to reserve a spot!
Limited to 20!

Friday, December 30, 2011

pumas, banjos, blood and cancer

I only have four things to discuss tonight because this woman is tired, and seriously in need of an adult beverage. I got some rest today but also unloaded a truck of hay, entertained some guests, and did some serious stall mucking. However, these four items are of great import in the life of this farm and blog:

1. A catamount has been sighted in Cambridge, 6 miles from Cold Antler!!! I heard it from the horses mouth (err, Julie Dugan's mouth) when her and her husband Dennis stopped by the farm today to check out my Bun Baker wood stove and sit for tea. They told me they both saw what was certainly a catamount, a tawny brown cat about 3-4+ feet long with a tail easily 3 feet long, at close range to their farmhouse. And for those of you certain "It's not a puma!" (I hope you said that with an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent). These are educators in the community who know wildlife and exactly what they saw. They are the fourth sighting in the last few weeks around this area as well, I am told. They have since bought a rifle, air horns, mace, and set up a gamer camera! Suddenly my backyard has turned into a place of mystery and concern, as silly as that may sound. But I sure did look up in the trees when I did my night rounds tonight!

2. Julie agreed to come instruct and play at the Mountain Music workshop! This is a HUGE DEAL! She's a nationally known clawhammer player, and has taught all over the nation at banjo camps and festivals. She's amazingly talented and said she'd bring her whole music group and old mountain instruments too (she has over 30 banjos!). This is a great treat to any banjo folks coming to the workshop this winter! And remember, farm food and a fiddle giveaway happen that day too!

3. A reader emailed me about blood in her hen's eggs. More than the usual little red spot. She asked what to do. I tried to email you darling, but Comcast blocks as spam, so no dice. Here is my best guess: red spots (more than usual) mean a vitamin A deficiency. Put a teaspoon (no more!) or it diluted in a cup of warm water and mix it into an entire gallon of feed every day for the flock (depending on flock size, the ration of liver oil to feed is 2%). If the yokes are blood red, like the whole yoke, DO NOT EAT THE EGGS and know this might be cholera. Research both of these online and be mindful of the symptoms! Remove any infected birds from the flock by culling. Don't get the hatchet out right away though, most of the time it's the vitamin A thing.

4. Test results came back from the lab. My mole was not cancerous, and melanoma has been defeated, at least for now! I'm okay! It's not a puma!

Everyone with a backyard flock should pick up The Chicken Health Handbook. It is like having a poultry vet on your bookshelf (you can actually afford) and understand!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

she's back!

Last year I had to sell my Leaping Deer Dulcimer to make some bills, and sent it off to a new home at a reader's house. But this month I got Craggy Mountain Music to sponsor the blog and instead of payment via cash, we bartered for this little girl. Such a beautiful tone, and what could be more CAF then a mountain instrument with antlers!

I have only every played TK Obrien's dulcimers. Craggy Mountain Music is his site, and I highly reccomend, I have long before he agreed to support CAF.

You'll see more in the Dulcimer Webinar! Coming real soon! Got 15 more minutes filmed this week!


No animal even remotely compares in import to the dog here at Cold Antler Farm. Dogs get the lion's share of attention, love, and care. They live in the house with me. They share my bed and furniture. They get the best medical attention, food, and effort I can afford. Dogs are not livestock to me. They are not children, siblings, or any other simulacrum of human interaction. They are my dogs. That is enough.

I am a dog person. When I say that I do not mean that as a sub-culture identifier. I do not spend my evenings in paw-print embroidered sweatshirts scouring to foster homeless canines or sifting through breed-specific email lists. Dogs are not my hobby, occupation, or entertainment. When I say "I am a dog person" I mean my personhood is intensely connected to, and made better through, my life with dogs.

They are my partners in living in this world. And I don't mean "partners" as a replacement for a human spouse or family, not at all. I mean partner in the most basic way possible. They are my wingmen, staff, and teammates. we exist in a primal partnership that has sang the same long howl since before any human beings had surnames or used complex tools. We ran beside each other long before memory-foam dog beds and nylabones. This partnership is ancient and ceremonial. It is the combination of two amazing stories, shared over meat and firelight. It is our legacy and privilege to share our lives with another beast so in tune and useful to us.

Dogs chose us. Unlike cats, horses, or other domestic animals, they became a part of our lives by their own volition. They didn't do it because of some cosmic wanderlust to serve man, but because we kept some mighty tasty scrap piles at the edge of our camp. So they became comfortable with our campfires and voices. and over the centuries have co-habituated with man in a pact of mutual benefit and success. Dogs, like man, are predators that live in groups and hunt by daylight. Their skills in running down prey far exceed our own. When the spoils were shared, pups raised with humans, and generations of selective breeding and adaptation were put in effect, we were gifted the company of an amazing and multi-talented animal. We now have dogs to aid people in every civilization in the world. No other domesticated species has become so useful in so many ways. So adaptable, varietal, and integral to our own civilization.

Dogs protect our livestock, homes, and children. They detect bombs, lead the blind, and track criminals and the stranded alike. Some tow boats to shore. Others race across fields in search of game. Some dogs flush, retrieve, or point. Others herd, gather, drive, or drove. Some dogs pull sleds, taking us where we could never go alone. Others sniff out drugs, detect heart attacks, or listen to sounds in the forest we could never hear. Some dogs fill stewpots while luckier ones sit on cushions in royal halls. They are heroes and villains. They are lab rats and show stock. Some dogs go off to war for us while others simply let us hold them until we can't cry anymore. Look at any painting or any piece of literature (of any class!) in the history of Man and there is a dog. They have helped us live, work, and eat and in this relationship both of our species have exploded in populations and prominence. While such population explosions come with their problems, the numbers don't lie.

I refuse to see all animals as equals. Call me a speciesist all you like. Livestock raised for our plate are not on the same emotional, societal, or cultural plane as dogs. Certainly not to me, or to our history as co-dependent species. If you have the audacity to compare my working dogs to my edible livestock, I have already stopped listening to you. Dogs are not dinner, they are home. And even if some dogs are raised as food by other cultures, it doesn't diminish the story of Dog, or negate the work they have done and continue to do with us humans. They have been watching over us, protecting us, hunting with us, carrying us, and sharing our lives since the story of modern man began. Don't you dare compare them to a pig.

I could live the rest of my life in peace without another person, but would collapse in spirit without a dog. This, I am certain. For those who don't like or share your life with dogs, my heart goes out to you.

It must be hard going through life all alone like that.

photo by tim bronson

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

words and work

I got home around 6PM, cold and aching for a hard work and a stove to warm myself by. My truck's heat is on the fritz, so there's no comfy commute from the dropping temperatures, but there is refuge from the wind, and tonight with 30MPH gusts ripping through Veryork: that was enough.

By the time I finally got back into the farmhouse I was almost blown back as I stepped through the threshold of the 51-degree home. It seemed so incredibly comfortable compared to the alternatives since leaving the office. Greeted by Jazz and Annie, it was even warmer. I sweat that huskies smile.

First task: Take all three dogs out for a constitutional to release their urgencies. When returned and fed, I was free to see to the warming of the place. I heated up the oven to 410 degrees to bake up a small pizza. Then I set to work collecting the last few day's worth of ashes from the two wood stoves and set to work lighting them in their fresh homes.

With fires starting to blaze, I set outside for the first trip of wood collecting for the night. I chose thinner, lighter, dry logs to ensure a healthy fire before I headed outside to the farm animals. While they burned and the fires grew warmer, I dined on a quick supper while I watched the kitchen thermometer climb a few degrees from the oven and two stoves. Heat is not a fast thing here. It comes only from labor, the elements, and sweat. I prefer this kind of heat. It is warmer than the degrees tell.

When all the wolves were fed, it was time to head down the farm's food chain, starting with the 30 (I lost one) meat birds in the brooder. Like so many of you warned: the birds stank. Every night they needed a fresh layer of bedding and every third night I had to bring the wheelbarrow indoors to unload all that soiled bedding and totally re-clean the brooder. Tonight was a barrow night, so I set out to fetch it and spent a half hour scooping, dumping, scooping, dumping, shaking fresh wood shavings down, and offering clean food and water services. The chicks seemed to appreciate it. Now twice their incoming size and ready to be moved to their hay bale winter barn (yet to be constructed) any day now. I swept up the mess I made around the brooder and left the room smelling and looking better than when I arrived in it a bit earlier. The fire across the small room warmed my back, and I decided it was time to feed the pigs.

In the back of the truck were two two-gallon buckets of food scraps from The Wayside Country Store. They've donated all scraps and edible garbage to Cold Antler and every day after work I pick up the buckets of old deli meats, sandwiches that didn't sell, salad greens and somesuch. The pigs are voracious now. They get four gallons twice a day now and could probably eat more. As they dove into their rubber bin I cleaned out and refilled their water bucket. Jasper watched from his stall. He doesn't seem to understand why the pigs eat so much more than he does?

Jasper got three flakes for the cold night and a fresh bucket of water as well. None of the water around here comes from a hose. There are no outdoor faucets. The people who I bought this farm from had spent five years turning a beat-up farm into a beautiful retirement home. They had no need for hoses or pumps. They sold it to a farmer though, and she uses the 5-gallon buckets by the artesien well and carries them the 50 yards to the barn or sheep trough.

And so the pigs and Jasper had food and water. I stand in the barn a bit to collect my breath and think. I am hoping the farrier comes soon, he really needs a trim. Ken Norman will come by when he can fit it in, I'm sure, but the young man could use a manicure. I make mental notes about the shuffling of bills and circumstances to make sure it happens soon as possible. I scratch his head. His salt-and-pepper mane makes me smile. I am so very partial to those colors on my good boy.

I collect eggs and I grab the frozen rabbit water bottles and bring them all inside. It has now been over an hour since I lit the fires and I need to go inside to mind them. Deciding not to waste a trip, I bring in an armload of proper stove wood too. As I hand-feed the fires I start to sing to myself. I sing Pretty Saro, the folk song my goose is named after and the words float from my work like a soundtrack to evening.Oh, when I first came a to this countrrrrryyyyy, iiiiinnnn eighteen and foooorrrrrty nine. I saw many true a looovers, But ne'er sawa miiiinnnne...

I smile, thinking of how I sing it like the woman on the porch in Songcatcher. I wonder how accurate that is to the real Appalachian vocal traditions. Annie just wags her tail. That bitch loves a good miserable ballad. The house is now 56 degrees and outside it has dropped into the high teens.

I head back outside to carry a barrow of hay to the sheep. I know their 30-gallon water tank is fine, mostly full, and a submersible de-icer is keeping it from turning solid. The water in the barn doesn't freeze at this temperature, kept warm by the hay and life inside it. I do not fret, and know that the water bottles by the stove are ready to return to the rabbits. I think my does might kindle in this cold. I am excited and worried for them. We will see what comes of it. Bruce, my rabbit mentor, says kindling goes okay in barns save for the days over 100 degrees and below -5. We are still in the safe zone of the local legends. I put my faith in them.

I shut the door on the coop. I bring the chicken water font in by the stove to defrost for morning's chores. It has been over 2 hours of solid work. the house is new 58 degrees and in celebration of the work I will drag the sheep skin and some quilts to the Bun Baker to read my book. The TV is still here, but it's dead to me right now. Instead of watching reruns of television shows I wrote this to you. I emailed some hopeful blog sponsors (Got plans for heat in that truck!). All of it better and made me feel more alive than the empty feeling I get watching Netflix alone in an old house.

Some people took my post about television removal as a judgement on their own usage, or even of the medium in general. This is silly. I have no qualms with the invention or art of television. I appreciate the news, education, and entertainment of it. But for me (and this blog only speaks for me) it has become a sad center of my evenings. I want my evenings back. I want to write, play music, work on the business, write books, call friends, and read. I want to close my eyes on a sheepskin rug and hear the sounds of breathing dogs, nearly asleep, chicks in a brooder, and cracks from the fire. I love Jon Stewart, but I love this more. You folks do whatever it is you need to do with your televisions. I just need to see other people for a while.

I have split my night instead into words and work.

That is my favorite life. One of writing and chores. Tonight I got to live it, take it in in every sense. To an outsider looking in, this place is a burden. To me, it is a sanctuary, temple, dance hall, theatre, therapist, library, best friend and grocery store. Isn't that what all homes aim to be?

This was a weeknight at Cold Antler Farm. I'll be asleep by 10. I'll set my phone to wake me up every two hours to keep the stove fires alive, but I'll enjoy the naps in between. Tomorrow is the last full day of work before a 4-day holiday weekend. And you know what I will do with those 30-degree afternoons in a 68-degree farmhouse?


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

say goodbye to my little friend

The television, all 46 inches of Living Room Glory, is being picked up by friends and removed this Saturday. Good riddance. I don't like that a television has been the center of my relaxation and creative free time on the farm. I'm too distracted by it, too enamored by the endless thrills of Netflix, Crackle, and Amazon Prime. I don't have cable, haven't for years, but just having a giant screen as the focal point of my home had changed my idea of relaxation. I used to just play music, read, call friends or family, and research farm projects. Recently, these past few months, I have just pushed through chores and meals to get to a point where I sit down and mindlessly watch TV. I have seen seasons 1-3 of Glee. I watched the Hanna Montana Movie. I rewatched shows I had seen a million times. And you know what? All it did was make me put off the work I liked, that I wanted to do! I used to end an evening on my farm with hard work, good food, and then a book or a fiddle. Now I just fall asleep to nameless voices on streaming entertainment.

If I could use its forces for good, if I had the self control to just use it for documentaries and education, or if I had the ability to leave it off for days In a row, I would keep it. But I don't. For me, the television is poison. It's keeping me from writing, from my animals, from going out and making connections with other people and places and farms.

I'll get my news from the radio, internet, and (gasp!) other people I converse with every day. And the best part, no conversation with my friends about Iraq or Peak Oil will be interupted by a stranger trying to sell me tampons or diet soda. Even on the streaming internet channels—like Crackle and Hulu—commercials reign.

I think, to some people, turning off the television is harder than losing indoor plumbing or refrigeration. I know plenty of people who think backyard chickens, worm composters, and dairy goats are easier sells to their partners than no TV. Why is this? How did this thing that isolates us in our homes and distracts us from our goals become so addicting? It's become the center of our time and lives after work and before bed. To me, it's a time suck and dangerous to the soul. It has swooned me away from the energy of the farm and my dreams. It's easy to put off that book proposal if you've got a Ghost Hunter's marathon staring you in the eye....

It's not going on tonight, or ever again. If I want to watch Braveheart, I'll need to set up a computer screen in front of a couch when I am really jonesing for it. Tonight, I'll work on the dulcimer video and return to Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children. I consider this a little victory. It's taking back hours of the night lost to mindless distraction and directing it to music lessons, books, conversations, meetings, and creativity.

Monday, December 26, 2011

lamp black

This morning I was in the kitchen cleaning out and organizing some drawers and cabinets when some good advice wafted from the computer screen. I was watching the Victorian Christmas series I had blogged about Saturday, and there was a scene where Ruth (one of the show's historical renenactors) was cleaning up the cottages oil lamps. She explained that as the lamp black fills the glass chimneys they let out less light. They need to be cared for and cleaned on a weekly basis of regular use. She also talked about refilling the oil levels, and trimming the blackened edge of the wicks. This kind of service done in daylight means that at night the farmhouse would literally shine. "Neglected, and the lit dims from all the soot. Your whole home becomes a little dingier..." I looked across my own farmhouse to the oil lamp that sits in the center of my living room dining set. It was embarrassingly dirty.

I picked it up and ran a glass cloth through the black chimney. In minutes it was clean. I then trimmed the black end of the wick with scissors and refilled the reservoir with some oil I had under the kitchen sink. I set it back on the kitchen table, ready for service. When it was lit again it would burn true, and bright, in service to whatever purpose I called it to. I smiled.

There is something decent about letting light shine. You feel cleaner all over.

P.S. Willow, I read your letter and cried in my kitchen. Your painting hangs on the wall. Keep drawing wolves.

csa update

Just wanted to check in with all of you CSA and Webinar subscribers. CSA packages have began shipping, some hopefully have arrived at your doors before Christmas. For those that have not, I do apologize and they will get to you soon. As for the webinars, had no DSL since Saturday afternoon into this morning, and it is spotty at best, so I am waiting for a connection strong enough to support a 25 minute upload! You will get the dulcimer video in all its glory soon as I can get it too you.

I realize to some of my more cautious readers that might sound like a line. But feel free to call the folks at Common Sense Mechanical who came out on Christmas Day to check for rat/mice damage chewing through my phone lines. Turns out it wasn't chewed lines (like I thought) but the actual phone jack outside in the gray box is dead. So someone from the phone company has to do their voodoo to the outside connection. In the meantime I get my 5-8 minutes here and there where it works! (took three failed attempts to post just this!). It's always something.

Know I am doing my level best, and as things move forward and I have more time to dedicate to just the farm it will only go smoother. I appreciate your kindness, patience, and support.