Tuesday, February 7, 2012

full moon chores

I love doing my evening chores on the night of the Full Moon. She rises up over the mountain above me, sometimes popping out of nowhere, and then as I muck about with buckets and boots over frozen chicken poo, she watches the entire night unfold on this farm.

The moon sees me dump out Jasper's old water and fill it with a new fount, clear and cold. She sees me waddle about with my glowing lantern, from chicken coop to broiler pen, laying fresh bedding and turning stale loaves of bread from this weekend's workshop into eggs and meat. She'll see me toil and laugh out there as I move a barrow of hay to the flock, talking to the frail Lisette as I hand her a small flake all for herself.

I have learned that in a flock like this some sheep shine and others wither. You can offer them feed and shelter, medical care, attention, and everything else but some just have the better genes and braver hearts and they live like it. The now two-year old Blackface I called Brigit is a brick shit house, the finest ewe at this farm (don't you dare let Maude hear you say so though). She is sturdy and strong and easily 175 pounds of meat and bone. Lisette is 6 years old and never truly recovered from the wounds of a Ketosis-riddled pregnancy. Her ewe lamb is dead. I shot the same small girl I helped bring into the world. A farm is not a place of innocence, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. The moon saw that too.

More sheep thrive here than not. I consider this my work and the goodness of the farm so far. Before I left the moonlight I looked around at the horse pen, the fields of dead grass, the places Brett and I talked about improving with new pasture and sheds and gates. I listened to the meat chicks rattle in their warm barn and the coos of resting hens on their roosts. The big white rooster remains in the same branch of the same tree he has slept in every night since October outside the coop. It has been so mild he has never spent a night in. I don't think the reining rooster, Lou, would let him.

I wish for spring like many others, but I know chores at moonrise are winter's gift. I am grateful for it while it lasts, and grateful for the firelight indoors when the lanterns are put out.

Monday, February 6, 2012

meet miss lilly

Spinning Wheel Winner is...

MIST! Congrats darling! I am as jealous as a green cow!

Random Winning Comment:

I've always wanted to take up weaving, so I think my dream project would currently be to use one of Halcyon Yarn's Kennebec rug kits to weave myself a rug.

I'd feel pretty damn accomplished after that feat. :)

Contact Me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to get the wheel!

Come to the Meet & Beer Party!

In two weeks a special event is happening here at the farm, a specific workshop for a specific kind of reveler: the Meat and Beer Party (Workshop). We're going to go through all the aspects of home brewing and sausage making for beginners, pork and beer in particular. We're starting out with the brewing. As a group we will go through supplies, sanitation, and together we'll brew a batch of Sweet Stout from Northern Brewer as a team. We'll learn to bag and soak the grains, add the malt, boil, and watch the brew kettle as the wort bubbles. Then quickly chill it before getting it ready for fermentation. yeast will be added, along with a special sealed lid and fermentation airlock and it will be set aside as a raffle item. Someone who attends the workshop will get to take it home to bottle in a few weeks and enjoy! Not a bad haul, a case of home-brewed stout, just for showing up to learn how to make it!

After we brew that new batch, we will learn to bottle as well. I have a Coffee Stout Porter (much like the stout we will have just brewed) and we'll go through sanitizing bottles, tubing, bottling and priming for carbonation. Folks will learn to use a capper, bottling wand, and prime a variety of vessels from 12oz brown bottles, to growlers. Everyone will be able to take a primed bottle of that home too. It will be ready to pour in a week!

After the homebrewing 101, we'll use an old fashioned cast-iron meat grinder to grind either pork, rabbit, turkey, beef, or lamb (or a combination). I am intentionally using non-electric tools for this. Same goes for the steel sausage stuffer, which we'll use with the meat, spices, and casings to create breakfast, Italian, brats, and sweet sausages. When they are made, we'll fry some up and try them out.

The workshop will end with a tasting party, of both different local beers and our meatasticos. It will be a super casual evening, with plenty of music (folks are bringing their fiddles and guitars) good food, and friends. It officially wraps up (cases up?) at 4PM, but folks can stay later if they wish for a dinner of Brats and beer. It's in two weeks, and still have some spots open. Email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com if you want to join us. Feb 18th, 10AM-4PM at the farm.

P.S. Anyone want more Birchthorn?

Atlas lives

Didn't have time to slaughter and butcher the ram with a hay delivery and a late start to it all yesterday, so Atlas lives to see a few more weeks. I am damn proud I got that ram into the pen in short order. Talk about grabbing life by the horns!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

border collies don't nap. they crash.

a future full of music for all

A few months ago I read a pretty horrible novel about post-collapse America. I'm not going to share the author or title—the last thing I need is that kind of karma on my shoulders after this past week—but let's just say if our future requires us all to become evangelical militia in paramilitary prisons...where do I opt out?

Honestly, it wasn't the extremist view of the future that bothered me. What made my stomach turn was the entire book, not once, did anyone stop to pick up a guitar or fiddle and get a music group going? Not only music, but any sort of natural craving for the arts or real agriculture was in the story. Art, writing, music, all forms of personal creativity was entirely out of these people's lives. They read the occasional book out loud, but no one was writing one. They didn't miss recorded music. They didn't sing. They didn't pick up a guitar and play it in the evenings. There was also no livestock, just rations of pre-bought food in cans. Agriculture was an afterthought, something to "get to" later. No livestock was a part of the story, not even horses until the book was nearly over. The only dogs they had lived outside and was only used as a form of perimeter security. A family with "useless" golden retrievers, ate them out of spite because they didn't attack unwanted visitors. I found this lack of music and working animals so unrealistic it ruined the story for me. I can not imagine a life without these things.

This was a group of people struggling to survive, so certainly they had higher priorities in mind than fiddle lessons. But look at our country's land and history? What group of Americans had a harder time scrapping together a living on poor, sloping soil in a wild place more so than Appalachia? And yet the African/Scots-Irish blend made it the melting pot of percussion and melody that gave birth to nearly every form of popular music today. I guess it is a matter of priority. You preserve and keep on with what matters to you. In this book about fighting UN troops you had sniper rifles and military uniforms in jeeps running on hoarded petroleum people killed each other over....

Yesterdays workshop was very much lessons in self-reliance, even though it was about music. To create music without the need of electricity, recordings, or depending on other voices is such a vital skill to me. It is a form of expression and Independence worth every lesson and minute spent learning your beloved choice of instrument. When you can walk into a field without a single outlet, play a few chords on the guitar slung over your back, you are a freer person than many. Don't like playing instruments, than sing or whistle a song. If something is stopping you, get that checked.

We learned how to teach ourselves an instrument, hear music by ear, and try out different musical adventures. Entertainment of the soul and body is just as important as the labor or planting crops, raising animals, and harvesting food. It is all well and good to weave your own fabric and build your own outdoor firepit for roasting pigs but if you aren't singing every once in a while while you hauled those sows their slop or as you work the loom you are a different breed of person altogether different than I. I love hard work, but I sing while I do it, and there is no better feeling than coming inside to a pint of dark stout homebrew and a fiddle tune or seven.

So this workshop yesterday was not lessons in music, but an introduction to several acoustic instruments anyone with the will and enthusiasm to learn, will learn. We talked about the dulcimer and its place in our musical history (and my own). Next we went through the basics of the fiddle, notes and tuning and how to place your fingers. Will, one of the attendees, had never touched a fiddle before and the first time his bow-hand touched the strings a perfect A note played and I smiled like a mother lion, all teeth and squinting eyes. Within a few moments he knew all the finger positions and I explained it was exactly the same on every string, then patted his shoulder, and congratulated him on learning the fiddle today. It was that simple. The fiddle is the most over-rated instrument in the world. It is cake to learn a tune or two. The hard part is getting good at it, but you have a whole lifetime to mess with that musical freehold. For right now, we'll just tackle the D scale.

Lunch was the usual potluck style, chili and soup, fresh bread and butter, cheese and snacks. Folks ate their fill and just as we were about to sit down in the living room Julie Dugan walked through the front door all smiles in her black beanie, banjo case at her side.

Julie is a natural teacher and instructor. Listening to her introduction to the world of banjo, festivals, history and her songs were a wonderful way to sit back and take in some bright and beautiful sounds. She talked and played for about an hour. Folks were asking questions, taking recordings, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Afterwards we just went at the instruments we were drawn too. I helped someone tune up their new fiddle (fresh from ebay!) while others got together to practice and try out a dulcimer or banjo. I think more than few will end up ordering some dulcimers, and the folks who brought their fiddles seemed happy to get them out of their cases and tuned up. At one point Elizabeth and I played Ashokan Farewell together and it was such a beautiful little moment of the day, afterward Weez, her, and I jammed out with some of Weez's songs she wrote and sang (quite beautifully) in the kitchen. I never lost that lions grin. It was a wonderful Saturday.

As for the end of the world in creepy fiction: not everything is as awful and boring as that first version of the future I mentioned. In the current book series (also a post-oil series) people are living in modern versions of the old Celtic or Nordic Clans alive with music, culture, horses, religion, folklore and ceremony. There's plenty of horror and killing too. Its not a Utopia, but a totally different view of it all, and to me, a better one. A future with music in it still exists. It is necessary, even. These are my people. If the world turns to shit I will be a woman with a fiddle, longbow, and horse with a pack of dogs. Call me Artemis over GI Jane any day.

I didn't realize it when I shared the workshop schedule, but I planned four workshops in February! Whew, two down and two more to go and then there's a short break in my weekend plans until the backyard laying hens class in April. I'm not complaining, I love these events and never regret a single one, but next weekend I plan on hibernating Hedi's-Grandfather style. Just me, my animals, and my mountain.

Oh, and my fiddle and banjo. And dogs.

Okay folks, I'm off to meet up with Brett, butcher Atlas, and then head out to a Superbowl party. This is a normal weekend in my life now.

P.S. Listen to Julie's Music for FREE at banjofrailer.com

Saturday, February 4, 2012

the remedy

So what is the cure for bad news, disappointment, and despair? Music. Today was the Mountain Music workshop here at the farm and it was exactly what I needed. I will write more about it later, I promise. Right now, I just want to say that a day spent teaching, playing, and listening to mountain music cured this woman's heavy heart. It will do it every time. I had a wonderful afternoon with the folks who came from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York to learn the basics of dulcimer, fiddle, and banjo by the woodstove. Thank you all for being part of this day.

For the now, let me share this video of some damn good clawhammer banjo. Julie Dugan came by for lunch and a concert. She talked about banjo for a while, its history and place in our culture, and then played between frailing lessons and stories. Here is a short video of her playing a fine tune on her knockdown banjo.

Friday, February 3, 2012

bad meat

I'm so upset to write this, but I think all that pork I raised and invested in has to be thrown out. I found out when I picked up the meat that one of the livers had a white cyst on it the size of a quarter and was yellow inside. Yellow isn't normal, it is a jaundice and a sign of a bacterial infection. The butcher didn't save the liver so I can't test it and I don't know what meat in my freezer came from which animal.

So what can I do? I spent the morning talking to USDA slaughter houses, local farms, butchers, vets, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension. All said the same thing: the meat is most likely okay, probably healthier than anything at the grocery store, but they can't be sure without having seen the liver or having it tested in a lab. So there is no way to know that if I cooked and served it to myself or others that the bacteria that caused the yellow liver couldn't hurt me or others. It could be a bug the oven or our stomachs could not kill. Even though only one pig was guilty, I don't know which pig it was (the butcher isn't exactly sure either, they butchered 13 pigs that week) and I can't eat pork on a hunch it is "probably" fine. And even if I could pinpoint the yellow liver, I can't tell the cuts apart. And as it turns out that sausage is the ultimate democracy...

So what caused the liver problem? Websites and vets told me it most commonly happens if that particular pig had a selenium, corn, or personal allergy or deficiency. There really is no way to tell. It's not a confinement vs free range issue (or every pig in industrial America would have the same problem) as much as it is a sore luck issue. In the giant slaughterhouses if a carcass has a bad liver, it is disposed of. When you only have two pigs on a farm and don't know this till you pick up the meat, it is too late.

So while I am waiting to hear back and see if there is a last-ditch way to get the meat tested and approved, I don't have any faith in it. All the experts I talked to said flat-out a yellow liver is a risk and a condemned carcass. Testing the meat would cost more than replacing it would. This years pork is too risky to even use as dog food or compost. If the chickens or wildlife ate it, the bacteria could infect them too. It is heartbreaking news. A total waste. An emotional and financial hit I wasn't prepared for. Between putting down Pidge and this I just feel deflated.

All I can do is try again, and fail better next time. I know this, and you haven't seen the last pig on Cold Antler Farm, but I am going to cry like a child when I start bagging up that meat in trash bags. I feel horrible.

Beef chili and potato Soup tomorrow at the workshop. No pork.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

celebration and sadness

This morning I drove south to Greg Stratton's Custom Meats Business, about 30 minutes from the farm in Hoosick, NY. I didn't know what to expect, but when I pulled into the driveway of the impeccably maintained farmstead and cut shop I was so impressed I stumbled walking inside. Outside the butcher shop, (their family business), were perfectly painted red barns and a blue farmhouse. Inside the shop was spotless floors, stainless steel, joking and laughing staff and a small office with white aprons hanging behind it neat as soldiers.

I picked up 150 pounds of meat, in two huge boxes. And that was without the hams, ham steaks, and bacon being smoked at a local meat shop (ready in a week or two) My two little pigs have served this farm well. I wrote him the check for three hundred dollars (includes on-farm slaughter, custom cuts, and packaging in vacuum-sealed freezer wrap) and carried them out to the truck with Gibson watching, tail wagging.

It is quite the proud feeling driving home with that amount of good food, work of your own hands, to feed friends and family alike. My thanks to all involved: breeder to butcher. Time to feast!

When I got home with Gibson and unloaded the truck, I had a very different task to tend to. I had to cull Pidge out from the flock. She was in poor health, not breeding quality, selling quality, and doing poorly this winter. It was a sad event indeed and I don't want to discuss, defend, or explain it any further than that. It needed to be done. I never had to put down my own lamb before, and it was hard on the soul and nerves, but I do not regret it. Not at all.

I hope that as I type this another generation is growing in my flock's bellies. I hope that late spring will welcome lambing once again. As tiring and stressful as those days are, they are my favorite time of the shepherd's year.

This Sunday Brett and I will slaughter and butcher Atlas, his work being done at the farm and my plan all along was to use him for breeding and then for the table. If he had grown into a mighty beast and outstanding specimim of the breed I would have sold him as breeding stock, but the truth is you can't have a ram full-time loose with your flock unless you want to invite hormones and incest in a few months. I can't use him next year on his own daughters and so he will be used to serve this farm as food. I'm just glad I have a chest freezer...yikes it will be full on Sunday afternoon. Afterward we'll head to a Superbowl Party in Manchester. Quite the weekend, equal parts somberness and celebration. I suppose that is what I signed up for, and I am glad in my choice.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mountain Music Workshop: Saturday!

If you are coming to the farm this weekend for the mountain music workshop, please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com and let me know the following: diet restrictions, what instruments you are interested in, what instruments you will be bringing, and if you have any allergies to dogs/cats/rabbits/horses/peanuts etc. While this place is kept clean, I do live with two cats and three dogs. Hair happens. Lunch will be potato soup and pulled pork served with fresh bread and local cheeses. There will also be a breakfast spread of NYC bagels, donuts, and a homemade quiche. If you need directions and information about times and such, ask me via email as well.

Looking forward to it, and I have three spaces left if anyone wants to swoop in and take them!

Ashford Kiwi Spinning Wheel GIVEAWAY!

This is the first giveaway on this blog I am insanely jealous that I can't enter for. It's a BRAND NEW Ashford Spinning Wheel from the amazing folks at Halcyon Yarn of Maine. (Halcyon Blake herself set us up with the wheel!) Halcyon Yarn is an independent yarn shop in Maine and offer everything you could dream of to scratch that fiber itch. They are going to give away an Ashford Kiwi Spinning Wheel on the blog this week and here's how you enter. You go to their website and peruse a while and then report back here on what you would create if nothing was stopping you. For example: If I had my druthers I would buy some Cascade Magnum 100% wool in red and make a new hat tonight. I love that about those super bulky wools, you can whip up a piece of clothing in less time than it takes to finish a Lord of the Rings movie. And I would get a traditional spinning wheel, whatever is out there that can handle thicker and thinner yarn weights...I'd have to do some research, but hey, this is just me thinking out loud. I dream of a snowy afternoon spent by the woodstove spinning roving from the flock carded in the farmhouse. It's bound to happen here, just not this week. I can assure you that one of you lucky folks will end up with a brand new spinning wheel Monday night.

You get the idea. Check out the yarns, supplies, carders, drop spindles, roving and more and then report back here with what you'd make from your dream stash from this charming store. You can enter with a new comment and facebook share every day if you like, which means each of you can enter to be the random winner 14 times! I'll pick a number with an online random generator Monday Night. As always, you can double your chances by sharing a link to this contest on Facebook, just report back here with the comment SHARED!

Good luck Antlers! Visit Halcyon yarn here and start looking around!

P.S. Canada is welcomed to enter too, but you have to help pay the shipping!

wear your horns

Very excited about this book coming out in a few weeks from Storey, and even more excited to have an essay inside it. The book has over 50 new farmers writing stories, advice, and inspiration to other dreamers and doers out there. I haven't read it yet, and when I do I will post a longer review, but in the meantime I am thrilled to know there is such a growth in new farmers there's a market for such a compliation!

dancing chickens

photos by 468photography.com

fresh hell

Monday, January 30, 2012

it is time

So often I get emails from people that I call the "long sighs," they are the laments of frustrated men and women alike who want to start homesteading, but can't. They have a pair of teenagers in highschool and hate to move away from their friends and district. They have a spouse who thinks they are crazy. They are too young, too old, to used to the way things are. Some feel trapped, others feel victimized, and more just feel like they have a million tomorrows ahead of them to make their plans turn real. I am sorry to break it to you, but you don't have five decades, you have a few, no matter what your age is. Time leaps ahead of us all, stealing years and taking lives. Do not wait, to not doubt. Join me on this worn buckboard seat and we'll take this cart to the farm.

As for those of you raking nails across want, but unable to step onto your own acres: here's the thing... You do not need to have a 6.5 acre farm to grow food. You can do it in a 6 x 5 raised bed in a sunny spot in your yard. You don't need a cart pony, or a flock of sheep, or any of this chaos here at Cold Antler to be more self sufficient at all. What you need is a feral mind, a predators grin, and a stubbornness to change how you see the world. Your suburban half-double townhouse may have rules against chickens, so what? Does it have rules against canning? Homebrewing? Stocking up on local farm's good and food? Can you still knit a sweater, plant a container garden off your fire escape, and pick up a banjo? There are plenty of feral people living all over cities and towns, far away from the fields they are called to in spirit and kin. You don't need to own a farm to prepare for hardship, or enjoy a night without television, or spend a day hiking in the forest or train your dog to carry a light pack. Myself, I rented for five years before I got lucky (and it was luck as much as it was will) that landed me this piece of land, tucked into a mountainside on a curve in a mountain road. Your small holding may be waiting for you too, but it may also be waiting inside, as a desire and determination to finally walk into your bookstores knitting circle and ask to be taught. It may be taking that first guitar lesson from a friend. It may be your first three chickens I hand you in April, or a song you hear on a drive home from work that splits open your heart and makes up your mind that this is the year, the blessed year, you put the apartment up for sale and move to a place with a well and a lawn.

Tonight that is all I want to stress. Its an old homily from this well-worn soapbox: start where you are. Dreams are like caged beasts, they need to tended to, fed constantly or they perish. If some part of you wants a herd of goats, and you are reading this on the subway, then you need to order a goat care book and set it on your nightstand and read it every night. You need to email some goat farms a train ride away, or invest with friends in a rental car and get out there and actually milk an Alpine. Workshops, extension classes, phone calls and more. Buy that water bath canning kit and some strawberries (even if they are out of season, to hell with it) and learn to can jam. Get a subscription to a farm magazine, join a National Organization. Hell, I was a member of NEBCA for three years before I owned my own border collie. Just get started, there is no reason to wait any longer and the more you do all you will gain is regret. Trust me.

No more long sighs, okay? You are the only person who can start changing your life. Take the reins and snap that horse cart.

photo of jasper from 468photography.com

tim's photos from the wool workshop!

all photos by tim from 468photography.com

giles and sue (and their new pigs)

Here's a clip from this series, a BBC wonderfest of backyard homesteading. I think it is hilarious, and have been enjoying the series online before the office. Have fun with these two, folks.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

a little snow

They are calling for snow tonight, a few inches, nothing drastic. I am looking forward to it with ferocious anticipation. Remember when I mentioned how restraint, scarcity, and hard work make all those simple comforts so much the more? Well, it goes for the entire farm as well. Tonight as the snow falls I can fall asleep knowing some amazing things. I have nearly refilled my freezer with wholesome meat and did right by the ends of two fine pigs. I filled the barn with 30 bales of green hay. I was delivered to this farm late in the day and as I climbed up into the bed of the large pickup, I realized it was easy for me to personally pick up and toss 30 fifty pound bales. I am not bragging here, but appreciating this hefty body of mine. I am always, always hard on myself about my looks and yet this vessel I have been given can do such labor, can run a farm. I may wish to wear a size 8 jean again, and will (mark my words), but tonight I am just so happy it is alive and able. I have arms and hands and legs and heart. It still beats, it still loves the world, and it still hopes. I don't care how fat, thin, young, or old you are: this is our gift tonight.

Jasper was seen to this morning by a farrier. The little firecracker was calm as a swaybacked drafthorse at the county fair. I met a new and grand farrier and soon as he left the trio of butchers arrived and I thought to myself, What must these men think of me? A women alone with working ponies, pigs to slaughter, and chickens running around like toddlers at a town park? Whatever they think, they are kind and keep it to themselves.

I brewed ten gallons of beer this weekend. Five with Kate on Friday night and five just now while typing the pork post. It is fermenting as we speak. Five of said gallons are a Coffee Stout Porter and another five are an English honey-brown ale. I am loving home brewing, so much. I love soaking the bag of grains in the nearly boiling water and then pouring in the malt, boiling it and adding hops. I love adding my honey at the end, an hour of boiling later and filling the house with bubbling. And I adore sharing those beers with friends, and letting folks know they too can carbonate and kick one back! As the video I watched said: if you can make mac-n-cheese out of a box, you can brew beer. Hell yeah.

So tonight the barn is loaded with hay, the animals are fed and content, Jasper has better feet, the pigs are on their way to being sausage, and ten gallons of magic is brewing in my kitchen. A pot of wool is soaking in the bathroom to clean. The dogs are fed and walked and the only thing left to do is unwind and call it a night. Snow comes, and as it comes I hope it purifies more than the chicken-poo covered ground. I hope it cleans up my head and my angry thoughts about my body or status. I am a lucky and clever little wolf, and I have a body to prove it. And it only gets better, long as that is my goal and belief.

I'm happy tonight. I hope you are, too.


The following post goes into detail about exactly what happens during a farm kill by a mobile slaughterhouse team. It is a graphic post, with both graphic words and photographic descriptions. If you do not want to read about the slaughter or see the pictures (which should start below the fold of this page, as a courtesy) than please ignore this post. I understand some readers may be upset, and we are all entitled to own our feelings about diet. I am not posting this to offend anyone, nor telling them that backyard meat is what they should do. It's what I do. I am proud of the animals and food I raise. So read on if you like, and if you don't, then simply shut the browser and check back later and I promise the next post will not include a dead animal (well, I certainly hope not!).

There were only two shots fired from Greg Stratton's .22 Magnum rifle. The first dropped Bacon instantly, and she fell into the pen's hay with a thrashing thud. The second took a few seconds to aim at, since Kevin was certainly confused by the commotion and ran around the pen, but he didn't run for long. Ten seconds later one shot hit him squarely in the head and he too hit the ground, flailing as much as Bacon did. Their thrashing was normal, it is what happens. It's not pretty and the combination of bullet holes and chaos made for a very messy end.

In Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life she writes about how different animals die. How the steers seem to drop with a force stronger than gravity (she says so do sheep), how chickens flap and seem to panic, and how pigs scream and bleed and thrash. She said when she started farming, she thought these were the beasts' personalities coming out in their deaths: the calm steer, the quirky chicken, the charismatic pigs, but after a while that assumption died with the livestock as she witnessed more and more deaths. It was a series of synapses and nerves, a chemical reaction of the end of a life. I agree with her observation. What I saw in the pen was not a piteous flailing, but a last explosion of life, the mind's finale of fireworks sent through the parts it has always controlled and moved. The struggle was energy leaving the body and moved into another form. A mystery and a gift, that.

Soon as both pigs were shot one of Greg's assistants, a gentleman from the Eagle Bridge Slaughterhouse close by, jumped right into the pen and slit their throats. If there was any life left in the two hogs, it was gone within moments of that significant artery being sliced. The blood covered the hay that made their bed the night before. Jasper was about five feet away and showed zero emotion. His ears did perk up at the gunshot, but as they died he just ate his hay outside.

Once still, a large hook on a wooden handle as slid into each pigs' mouth and then the animals were dragged across the farm one at a time to the Stratton Truck: our little farming community's abattoir on wheels. While getting the pigs hocks onto the two hooks that would lift them up to chest level for skinning and gutting, Greg told me he did in three steers this morning for one of my coworkers. He had come recommended by the Daughton's, who used him for Tasty the cow a few weeks earlier. This was a man well appreciated and it showed why in his careful work, he was professional the entire time.

Once the pigs were both hooked, the skinning process could begin. First Greg sawed off the feet at the ankles, and threw them too the ground. I couldn't help but smirk and take a picture, there I was again, looking at carcass feet on a sunny winter day: this time, porker edition. Soon after the feet left their heavenly body, so did the heads. One of the gents cut out the tongue for me and asked me, while dumping it in the bucket of hot water, if I'd like to keep it. He held it right up to my face, and it felt almost like a character test. Could she handle seeing a tongue cut off a dead head and sloshed in a bucket and then still eat it? Darling, I wanted to say, as if a little tongue ever made me shy? Who do you think you're dealing with here, son?

Instead I smiled and asked, "I never ate pig tongue, before. Is it good?"

Greg chimed in at this, "A pig tongue is good eatin'. You boil it with bay leaves and it makes a great meal. Can't beat it."

"I'll take them!" What the hell. You only live once. It's the only tongue I'll be getting anyway next week.

After my lesson/recipe, the two pigs were skinned expertly, starting at their hoofless ankles, down around their inner thigh, and then the tail and bum area were removed. From there the pig skinned just like I would skin a rabbit, starting with shallow cuts near the skin and then peeling away easily. I watched the blood-soaked animals, all hair and chaos moments ago, being slipped off like a bad memory. As if their death was an outfit and instead of being naked, there was just food under their coats.

I was asked what I wanted to do with the heads, feet, offal, and such. I went and grabbed the wheelbarrow I mucked the stall with earlier this week and parked it right by the hanging pigs. That'll do the job, it has done worse.

Post skinning, it was time to disembowel. The animals were cut open right down their middles and their organs came out, clean and bloodless, in one package. This is called the offal, and it isn't awful at all. Because these fellas were experts no stomach opened or intestine shared their putrid inside smells. In fact, the entire process had no unpleasant smells at all. It was a beautiful 30+ degree day dappled in sunshine. The conversation was casual and happy, about the farm and how long I lived here, about deer harvests and their work. It's not a somber thing, at least not sad. Their death means so much bounty for this little farm and its guests. Folks coming to the farm soon as next week's mountain music workshop will be chowing down on slow-cooked shoulder roasts of pulled pork sandwiches at lunch. I celebrate these animals, and do so with respect in my joy. If that makes no sense to you, just wait till you bite into your first home-raised pork chop. Things change.

While the men went on with their work, Greg sidled up to me with a clipboard and order sheet. We went through a detailed list of packages and cuts. It was so detailed I got to pick how many slices of bacon went into a package and how many chops made it into another. I got to choose how heavy the smoked hams would be, and what kind of sausage I wanted (breakfast, Italian sweet or spicy, or meat ready to grind.) I chose all of them!

The wheelbarrow was filled soon with the pile of bloody hides, heads, feet and organs. It was set to the side, kinda of watching the whole thing go on. Later, I would carry the thing back into the woods to dump off the ridge down a steep slope. The crows would host a levee in my honor soon as they found out. I owe crows a lot, they are lucky to this girl, and I am glad to offer them dinner too.

Next the animals were to be halved, and this was the final step in the process. Greg plugged in his big ol' meat saw and made short work of the job. The halves were hanging in the sunlight and I looked on at them, at the barrow of dead parts, and at the four people who made this happen today. Then, realizing with a sheepish smile, it was far more than four people who would create hundreds of meals for me and mine. There was the breeder upstate who sold me his own stock, Tara who joined me on the adventure and helped me set them up in their new home. It was the folks at Wayside who offered their scraps as food saving me tons of cash) and all the folks saving scraps at workshops and birthday parties at the office. My pigs ate well, grew well, lived well, and died well. This is something to be proud of, and I am. Proud and grateful for all involved and enjoying my wolfish grin as I think about the recipes ahead and the ability I have now to barter and trade for things I don't have right now, like turkey or duck or a bed of vegetable starts.

So how did I feel about it? I didn't feel any guilt, nor any disgust, or anything beyond a scientific interest in what was going on and a desire to learn the trade myself. That doesn't mean I wasn't mindful of what happened, it's just that it gets easier and it gets to be more about the bigger picture than one or two deaths. I can only say that time offers this and it was much easier than last year's Pig. And I can not stress how lucky I am to have a professional team like this come out, for what I consider a good price: fifty dollars a pig, talk about a reasonable fee. Then I buy my meat back from him at the shop later this week, all frozen and packaged and ready to enjoy and the smoked pieces a week or two later. As a small farmer with a full time job and other things to tend to (this day also included a farrier visit and 30-bale hay drop off) it is a blessing having pros come and take care of this and then offer me packaged roasts and sausages for a dollar a pound (or whatever his rate was). I am expecting to pay around 280 dollars total for the whole ordeal. Not bad for 140+ pounds of home-grown meat.

Of course, it isn't about the money or the deal. It's all more than that, but what I want to stress before I head off to bed is this: You can raise your own bacon and hams. It wasn't hard, or expensive, nor did it take a lot of space or equipment. I built them a pen in the corner of a barn with hog panels, deep bedded them every other day, and offered them fresh water and food morning and night. There were no vets or antibiotics, wormers or pills, or anything unnatural used in their rearing. They got to keep their tails, keep their noses free of rings, and spent every day being scratched behind the ears and given space to root into the hay looking for corn kernels, tussle, and scratch their big asses on the wall. This kind of pork is rare in this country, but only because folks like us haven't had at it yet. If you have the land and space, I say give a pig a try next year if you enjoy pork, bacon, or hams. It is nothing a person with a house cat can't handle, and you don't have to be there like I was at their ends. That said, I bet there are mobile units like Greg's all over the nation and you can find out about them from livestock vets, auction houses, feed stores, and friends. You can do this too, if you want to. I promise you that.

Thank you for reading along. Hope some of you get to come over and enjoy their reincarnation as farm meals in the months to come.

goodbye kevin and bacon

Just in from feeding Kevin and Bacon their last meal, homemade apple pie. They ate like they always do, with pure bliss and purpose. In a few hours the butcher will be here to shoot, hang, skin and disembowel the two hogs and then load them into his truck to be wrapped and smoked. The next time I see them they'll be in plastic vacuum sealed freezer wrap as chops, bacon, and hams.

While I am prepared, I am always emotionally hit by such events. I don't feel guilt, but you can't raise an animal from a young thing without bonding on some level. So in a way, the Slaughter day is both a celebration of bounty and a time to pause, be grateful, and understand on a visceral level how much blood goes into glossy photos of restaurant dishes in magazines. And after a short spread of time that gore ebbs and flows into recipes and gatherings with friends, or sausage making work parties over home brewed mugs of beer. The death becomes a reason another story goes on. That is how it has always worked, but having a farm means I get to understand it. The difference between watching birds and hang gliding.

I have chosen to be a part of the entire story of my future meals. It's better this way.

P.S. The next post will be about the slaughter, there will be photos and content about how a farm kill and slaughter is done on small homesteads. If it makes you uncomfortable to see dead animals, skip the post. I think this is fair warning.

a bunch of black sheep

When I planned to host this winter wool work class I had visualized something very particular. I imagined people driving through snow squalls to the farm from apartments and cities all around, braving the winter weather to be welcomed into the warm embrace of a wood stove. I imagined snow-covered sheep watching us from their hay piles, a pony warm in his stall, and folks knitting to music and noshing on comfort foods like soup and chili spooned out of mason jars, lost in conversation. That wasn't how it went at all.

Instead the thermometer almost reached fifty degrees and I stood inside the hay bale chicken coop holding a 6-week old Freedom Ranger by the body explaining their story and place in the farm's plan. I was in a light sweater, jeans, and bandana. I wasn't even wearing wool. You could see every puddle of water, legions of mud, ugly bit of trash, and every other imperfection and ugliness working farms have. There was a flooded mud room with a black pipe, a cat scared to leave her realm behind the washing machine, and folks who booked a hotel room downtown ended up being bumped to a local B&B because Gordon Ramsey's film crew needed their hotel rooms...

That said: yesterday's Black Sheep Wool Workshop was one of the best events the far has ever hosted. Readers from Montreal, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and just down route 22. The weather wasn't frightful, but the food was plentiful and all the guests seemed to enjoy the event. We started out with brunch, then went on a short warm-weather farm tour, then came inside to learn how to handwash, card, and spin wool with a drop spindle. After a while the energy of the event took over and I just stood back and watched. Two people were winding the drum carder with four others sat with their spindles. A pair of dedicated attendees with an open copy of the ol' Reader Digests' Back to Basics, tried to get someone's spinning machine to work. Others were already starting to learn how to knit on the supplies they brought from home. Tim Bronson stopped by for a few minutes to take photos of the event and the pigs' last day. (In a few hours they will be slaughtered). I can't wait to show you what he shot, including many photos of King George, who wasn't shy of crowds and spent the day in the middle of the workshop, loafing about, large and in charge.

After a hearty lunch we all just enjoyed the quiet fervor of a knitting circle, people sitting all over the farmhouse knitting and chatting until the lights started to fade and the table lamps needed to be lit. It went well over the usual workshop end time and none of us cared, knitting is a five-course meal.

I loved this event, and I especially enjoyed meeting the folks who I only know as emails and comment names. Everyone was so kind, some brought gifts (like Taylor Ham Pork Roll from New Jersey, jonquils, and letterpress images of sheep, horses, and bee keeping!) and there was left over food to feed several more people than I planned, folks went home with whatever I could unload on them. Some left with garbage bags of fleece (no joke). Some left with a plate of pie and a smile.

Some folks left eventually because they were going to be filmed at the "reveal dinner" of the new Gordon Ramsey show filming downtown. They had no idea (neither did I) when they signed up for a CAF class it would coincide with the Cambridge Hotel's filming of Hotel Hell , and while they did get bumped from their rooms they were invited to be at the dinner and in the television program. Who knew they'd learn to hand wash wool and then get on a reality show?

So today, post workshop is a day of reloading and re-upping the farms needs. The farrier comes today (new appointment time), the pigs are done in, and a truckload of hay gets delivered. Usual management, plus heavier moments like gunshots and butchering. It'll be a long one, but rest at sunset will be savored like Cathy Daughton's potato soup...

Next Saturday: Mountain Music Workshop at the farm! Still 3 spots left if anyone wants to come and learn the basics of making traditional stringed Appalachian style music part of your life. It starts with wanting to learn. It is that simple.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

the morning before a workshop

The roosters sing, and the fires are burning bright. The cat is curled up in his chair and the dogs are stirring. Bread rises and bakes and stray coffee beans and grinds swirl around the flour swirls on the countertop. Two apple pies I baked last night were once hanging from a New York orchard's trees. Eggs from the hens outside and whipped up into quiche pourin' and kale from my friends' farm are prepped to be baked inside with salt and pepper and local cheeses. The mason jars are all washed new and set out on the drying rack to get ready for Firecracker Farm's home-grown potato soup and beef chili. If you didn't know about the 20 drop spindles and 8 bags of raw wool upstairs you might think this was a feast or a cooking class, but it is just humble, simple food to make people warm and well for a day dedicated to fiber.

My guest is still asleep upstairs and I'll hop in the shower soon, but soon as I am out and cleaned up, and the sun is too, I'll head outside to see to the birds and beasts and then come inside to the warmth and hot coffee on the stove top and call that a beginning.

I'm excited for today, and I hope you are too.

chill that wort, son

Friday, January 27, 2012

Only 8 spots left for Antlerstock 2012

email me if you want them. You can pay for the spots via credit card through paypal, if that is what you prefer. Hope you can make it!

sheep to the rescue!

The beautiful few inches of snow covering the farm last night were demolished in a torrent of rain. It rained all night, nonstop, and in the morning there was a real stream flowing from the crawl space behind the washing machine in the mudroom out onto the floor. Lilly was perched on the dryer, angry and scared. I looked with a flashlight and saw that an overflow/drain pipe was spewing water. I knew it was coming from outside. I grabbed a shovel and pickax and went to dig out a new path for the water to flow (instead of into my home). What I saw was a nonstop funneling of water going under the house, all the water from the driveway was pooling right to the natural whirlpool to Lilly's lair.

I had to divert the flow. I tried using the axe and shovel but the ground was frozen and it would take forever. I realized I needed sandbags and some sort of plug. I didn't have either. Instead I used pieces of firewood to make a dam, and then watched the water flow slow down (a good step). Hmm...what would work as a plug that could fill that space, slow down (but not stop) the natural drainage), and me flexible enough to fit that wonky area?


I grabbed a handful of raw sheep's wool and filled in the hole. It did the trick great. The stream has stopped. The mudroom is drying out. And the cat isn't swimming. Sheep to the rescue!

UPDATE!The fleece worked for about half an hour, but it was a finger in the dam. I needed to line the entire water entry-point with fleece (which you can see in the photo) and then run to the hardware store to buy hose and clamps and run a tube from the pipe spewing water inside to outside the house. It isn't pretty, but I did it. No need to call in rescue rangers! It just took sheep, hose, ducttape, and then more sheep!

P.S. Sorry Wool Workshop friends, this farm will not be covered in snow. It will not be pretty. It will be slush and mud and pools of standing water and wet sheep. But I promise we'll be comfy inside, thanks to the wool.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

next time, too

I have watched Braveheart more than any other movie, ever.
Hundreds of viewings, at least.
I still cry. Every time.

growing up gray


a correspondence course in subterfuge

Snow came, soft as a snow globe turned gently upside down and set on a child's night stand. I was out by the barn, taking deep breaths in as I worked. Flakes danced around my face, fat and happy as tummy-rubbing Buddhas. I wanted to enjoy it, I tried to enjoy it, but I was too busy yelling at my horse.

"DO. NOT. PLAY. WITH. KNOTS!" I yelled up at the pasture gate, raising a pitchfork in the air and shaking it at Jasper. He was in the pasture by the large metal gate with his lead rope in his mouth. He had been watching me load, haul, and dump18 wheelbarrow loads of hay and horseshit from the deep bedding of his 12x10ft indoor stall. When I walked the pony out to the pasture (he was raring to go, that was a challenge in itself on slippery ground) I used his orange lead rope and tied it around the gate to shut it tight. The previously frozen chain that usually held it shut was currently defrosting near the wood stove. I didn't think anything of it when I tied him in. I'd done the trick a hundred times. But as I looked up from barrow 12 at my little dappled asshole, he was pulling the lead rope knot out as discreetly as if he took a correspondence course in subterfuge while I was at the office. He had untied the knot with his teeth and was flinging the lead rope in the air like a cat plays with a mouse. I was about five minutes ahead of him pushing the gate open and leaving for a jaunt around the mountain. Maybe up the hill a little ways to greet one of the other three homes with horses.

I marched up and tied the gate shut to a horse with a twinkle in his eyes. I locked it up with some baling twine. That'll showed him, I thought. And if it didn't, the giant truck unloading a cord of dried, seasoned, split firewood certainly would prick those ears to attention. I rubbed his nose and told him his room service was almost done.

Today was Jasper's day. His stall was cleaned and laid out with fresh straw. He got a long recess in the pasture to run and scamp around, and a treat of carrots and an apple from me. I tied him up to an apple tree to give him a long curry combing in the field. He stood as it the plastic teeth were the best feeling he's had in days. He was then lead back to a stall of soft bedding, fresh water in a frost-proof bucket, a little grain and a cookie in his feeder. It was nice to spend an afternoon dedicated to the little guy. Tomorrow the farrier comes to trim his feet and meet, as he said in a bemused voice on the phone, "The only POA in America pulling logs..."

It was good doing that sort of work too. Winter is such a time of resting muscles and fattening bellies, so to spend a day heaving pitchforks and dumping the manure was nice. At one point I remember thinking as I pitched the acrid sheets of hay, urine, and feces into the small barrow this is making earth, and I swelled with a bit of pride for being a human animal that makes soil, adds to the fertility of a place. It is impossible not too when you live with livestock. Their care, feeding, life, death...all of it feeds the ground as much as it feeds us. And today I added a long trail of composting grass and rich dung to a piece of land screaming to come back to the small farm it once was, long before I was born. Sure, you need to pop some ibuprofen and get out the heating pad when you're done but it's worth it. It is always worth it.

Oh, and Jasper ran like a jackrabbit away from the wood truck! So HA!

a rough idea

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

first taste of homebrew

i'm on it!

I would like to share that in the past two weeks I have received hundreds of emails, facebook messages, people leaning over cubicle walls, posts, or comments about the Cuppow mason jar lid. For all concerned: I ordered two.

Coworkers sick of me spilling coffee out of mason jars and mugs are thrilled to know it. I have a sippy cup, or as I say "It's a travel mug when made for adults." Thank you for the suggest, but rest-assured I am on it.

this must be the place

Birchthorn: Interlude One

E. Mauren was a patient man. A war, 60 years of farming, and 17 grandchildren taught a person to be still when he had to be. He was just outside milking barn's main doors leaning on his cane, staring at one of his favorite jersey heifers standing alone. She was about 300 yards away on a gently sloping hillside. A brown figure surrounded by white, clean, snow nearly at the forest's edge. The heifer had not moved in nearly fifteen minutes he had locked eyes on her. She did not flick an ear, swish her long tail, or lift a hoof. For a healthy second-calf milker to be frozen where she stood was making him was churning his stomach. He remained still as a raptor, watching without so much as a blink. Terrified that if he did he'd miss the movement that would wash him over with sweet relief. The heifer remained a statue. Something wasn't right at White Creek Farm.

He first noticed her away from the rest of the herd when chores started at dawn. He usually liked to have his morning work completed before Sun Up, but today had not allowed the habit. He had risen at the chimes of his brass alarm clock at 4:15, just as he had every morning since he took the farm over from his father after the war. He'd married his girl, had six children, and watched his family blossom here in the Battenkill Valley while he tended his beloved cow. The children were grown, and his dear wife had passed from the flu last winter when it spread through the county like wildfire. He truly believed it was the cows that saved him. That so many years outdoors among the rust, woods, blood, milk, and dung had build an immune system no sickness had touched since he laid in a hospital bed after the battle of Cold Harbor, so many lifetimes ago...

He got dressed in heavy wool and his favorite leather fur-lined cap and started the coffee while he fetched a lantern and lighting supplies from the cabinet. While lighting his favorite black lantern in the farmhouse's kitchen, he was thinking about how much he liked his oil light, how he hated the harsh gas lights of those new Colemans every other dairyman was raving about. He was startled out of his murmuring by a sudden and violent wind that shook the entire home, knocking cans off the shelf and rattling the windows. The fire in the kitchen's hearth spat and howled as the wind caused such a strong draw it shot up and filled the room with orange light. He spilled his metal tin of lamp oil, and sent an angry curse into the room. A torrent of snow screamed across his valley farm. He tried to go outside, but didn't make it five paces before he felt nearly lost in the white-out, chilled into his bones, and turned around and back towards the nearly-diminished light of his kitchen's fireplace. He had never seen such weather. It swallowed everything.

He crawled back inside and shut the door behind him panting, sliding to the floor. He then tried to listen to the farm in the storm. He couldn't hear anything but cloven air and angry branches breaking from the force. He prayed that the herd was near the barn, taking shelter in the sturdy walls his great grandfather built when this country was new. He remained on the floor, and let himself rest his eyes while it blew and fussed behind the 3 inches of maple that made his barrier. Without meaning to, he fell asleep, and when he awoke it was dawn and the farm seemed as unaffected as the stare of the Virgin mother statue outside his garden wall.

When he did start at his morning chores he was calmed at the site of his girls by the old red barn, near their feeders and water trough. He fed them fresh hay by the pitchfork, and noticed they all seemed more skittish than usual. Their eyes showing more of the white than he cared to see. As he pitched what his body could afford, slowly and with much strain, he raised his scratchy voice in a loud, "Home Girls! Home!" hoping to round up all the stragglers up near the tree line, probably taking shelter in the woods from the storm. All came down in their ambling, eager, way save for the brown heifer near the trees. It stood still. And as he called, watched, went about chores and heading inside for a bowl of oatmeal with butter and maple syrup, she remained standing.

And so now it was an hour since he first saw the girl on the hill, and he stood near his barn afraid. His son, who lived on the opposite end of his property—a mile away near the main road into town—would not be here to start morning milking with his sons for another hour. Mauren decided to investigate. He could not wait through the suspense, and if something was wrong he would need to know so to properly convey it to his son. He fetched his shotgun and a few medical supplies into a shoulder satchel and slowly started up the pasture.

Crows watched from high in the birch branches as Mauren slowly climbed the hill. He stopped twice, to look around as much as to catch his breath. Curious? There were no prints in the snow, no disruption at all on the entire hillside. Yet he could see the trails through the powder plainly on the other side of the barn where the cattle ate. he could follow them to places in the forest a half mile away. But not over here? This stretch of snow was virgin ground, save for the tracks he made behind him.

Now, just fifty feet from the heifer he could see she was dead. Dead and frozen where she stood. He had heard stories of this happening, but never saw such a thing in his own life nor knew anyone who had. As he gained on her his curiosity grew. She was, without a doubt, dead as a hammer but she had actually died mid-stride. Two hooves were off the ground reaching forward, and her face placid as a calf's. But something was odd about her front left foot. It was black. It seemed skinnier too? He stopped walking, not ten feet from the animal, and then looked harder. It was bone. The front hoof was nothing but black bone reaching out trying to step. It was clean as glass. No sign of blood, sinew, or skin? Then he noticed the same from the back left leg, planted firmly into 5 inches of snow but also nothing but black clean bones. As he stepped closer, he unintentionally held his breath. His heart pounding in his temples, his eyes wide and mouth agape.

As he turned the corner on the giant animal he clasped his hand into a fist and shoved it into his mouth to bite into it. An involuntary reaction he hadn't succumbed to since the first terrors of war when he was 18. The drastic lurch for his teeth made him drop his shotgun and cane and then didn't even flinch when the buckshot exploded into the dead cow in front of him. The side of the beast facing the forest was gone, save for the black skeleton, perfectly in place as if a surgeon had come in the night and sawed the animal in two. A perfect division right down the spine left one side flesh and the other just bone. It looked as through some how the animal was frozen, picked up, and dipped into deadly acids that perfectly consumed the flesh to the water's level, then lifted out and set back on the ground. The muscle and organs that had been spliced were frozen too, not a drop of blood or a single sick smell filled the air. The bones on the flesh side seemed white, normal. But the bones facing the old farmer were black as if charcoal. He composed himself, reached out to touch the bowl of the shoulder blade, expecting soot on his fingers, but recoiled back his hand at the shock of their metallic firmness. Never in his life had he seen such a sight. Not in books, or side shows, or even posters at the animal doctors' offices. This was abomination.

He reached a rattling hand into his coat pocket, searching for his rosary. He found it, solid ground at last, and started chanting through Hail Marys as he stared into the cavern of the heifer's ribs. Something caught the light, a flash of gold. He leaned forward, slowly, and saw that hanging from a black ribbon was a golden locket. He prayed louder, as if to scream sense into the moment, as if to tame the experience into understanding. As he shouted, HAIL MARY, FULL OF GRACE. OUR LORD IS WITH THEE.." He reached into the black ribcage to remove the small pendant from the bones. It came away gently. It looked identical to the last time he saw it. He could never forget the family heirloom. His wife was buried with last winter.

Shaking now, covered in cold sweat, Mauren took the locket into his cold hands and forced it open. If this really was his wife's jewelry their pictures taken in New York City in Central Park would be inside. His hands were clumsy, cracking, and starting to bleed from the cold but he persisted even through the shaking, his rosary dangling around the black ribbon in his hands. Inside on her side of the locket was his wife. She looked just as he remembered the photo, smiling under a flowering dogwood tree. Then he stopped his persistent prayer. Stood silent in the snow.

His photo was gone.

Catch up on the story:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Birchthorn is a work of community fiction, a story of the Battenkill Valley in 1919 dealing with a mysterious creature of local legend and song. Readers of the CAF farm blog are part of it, becoming characters, names of places, horses, and so forth. Reader comments and suggestions help move the plot along, and create the mystery. Each chapter is supported through donations to the "Story Pot" which is the donate button on this blog, on the right-hand side, under the heart image. If you like what you read, and want to read more, please throw in a dollar or two and leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas. If may become legend!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

good morning from cold antler farm!

Monday, January 23, 2012

ice rain and respite

No part of this farm is level. None of it. The land all slopes downhill to some degree and the farmhouse's old floors are so warped from a century and a half of human life and weather, no ball set down won't roll. Usually this isn't worth mentioning or concerning yourself with, but when the entire thing is covered in ice in a hard rain at night: it matters.

Chores tonight were long, wet, and rough. I think about the people who email me wishing they had a farm of their own and wonder if they too would want an evening like the one I just pushed through? Melting snow from the warm winter day quickly covered the earth in a saran-wrap layer of ice. Even with my good snow-gripping boots I had to slow down. I had to really slow down when it came to carrying 80-pounds of water or a 50-pound sack of feed. Every step tonight was a measured and calculated motion. Add a wheeled cart and some plastic-battery lantern and it ante ups to a ballet. You have to know your body the way a yogi does, or a dressage rider. Everything you do from toes gripping around stones through a boot to a deep exhalation while you pull hay bales down from the high places could mean a slip or a fall. So you think. You go as slow as your mind needs you to. You consider things. You get very, very wet.

I am proud that I am gaining focus. I didn't fall down once (though I did spill water all over my jeans), and no part of me is bleeding, bruised, or even scratched. A homestead kindles a messy grace.

I'm inside now and grateful that I did the dishes and set out firewood before I left for work. Chores are done, tea is on the stovetop, and I am fed and feeling fine with a glass of cider. I just fed the cats and spent some time with the timid Lilly, who meows and lets me pet her honey pelt, and then eats wildly before hiding back behind the washing machine. I'm just grateful she is so used to the litter box she uses them, and isn't filling the house with cat scent. Little things like this make me beam.

I have changed into my "post-farming clothes". I have fallen in love (this is not a dramatization, but love) with Thai Fishing Pants. I come inside and wash up, and change into clothing so impractical for farm chores it is laughable. However! These clothes are perfect for meditation, yoga, sitting cross-legged with a bowl of rice and beans, or sitting with a fat cat and a book. The Thai pants are practically sheets—comfortable swathes of airy and clean cotton you wrap around your waist like a hug and then tie around you with a fabric belt. A comfortable tank top later and you feel equally ready to do downward dogs or cook dinner. It's a silly luxury but a happy habit, using a pair of baggy pants to celebrate being dry and warm.

And I am dry and warm and happy as a clam. Its an easy emotion to drum up when just an hour ago I was out in that endzone of icepiss. I say that with a coy smile, but the truth is, I love nights like this. Even when I am out there amongst the concentration and cold rain—I love that kind of work. I love it because no matter how cold, or miserable, or wet, or whatever it is out there I am literally a couple dozen feet from certain comforts. You don't have to fret about pain or wet gloves on a temperate night that close to your hot shower, warm meals, and dry bed.

I have a theory that people drawn to homesteading and comfort pornographers. I mean that. We are so serious and into creature comforts that we will put ourselves through all sorts of physical exertion, animal slop, weather, and strife because we all secretly know that the more we put into the world outside our farmhouse door the better that woodstove and fiddle feel when we return from the war. It's twisted, really. I bet I am not the only one out there with a horse or chickens who worships her shower and bathrobe and revels in a favorite blanket and movie? This kind of farming makes the simplest things: clean pants, warm soup, cold beers - seem like coveted jewels. I adore this modest sadism, it feels normal. How far removed must we be from normal human toil to be irreverent about such things? I like this about our tribe, this desire to sink into comfort that we earn. It's not being lazy, and it's not mindless relaxation, but instead the kind of end-of-toil prayer we call respite.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Does your town come with an abandoned hospital?

Mine does. Check out this amazing set of photos off flickr, by IanC83. It's a hospital right here in Cambridge, downtown, that has been empty since it shut down in 2003. Just two miles from Cold Antler Farm is this hot mess. Where are the Ghost Hunter shows? This is golden!

Think I should put it in Birchthorn?

What a night!

The event at Battenkill Books was my best-attended book event ever. Standing room only, and an hour of reading, conversations, and questions. Folks came from a few states, shook hands, listened politely, and even laughed at my jokes. Jon did a wonderful introduction for me and Connie. I read a bit and talked a bit, and afterword made some new friends. A woman up the road who belongs to the Washington County Draft Association (I didn't even know about them) offered to teach me driving with her Percheron. A teacher from Saratoga just bought a homestead near mine, and we got to say hello to each other. A veterinarian with a Border Collie gave me a truckload (no joke) of Jacobs' wool and introduced me to her red Border Collie in her car (Gibson likes any event with girls). Jim Kunstler gave me a box of pots and pans for the farm. My coworkers brought me pie, and Cathy Daughton brought me sharpies tied up in a bow! Others I am forgetting to mention made the night complete as well. It was almost surreal, to see that amount of folks wanting to hear about my tornado of a dream. Soon as Jon sends some photos I'll post them! If I sound like I am gushing it's because I am. I'm just floored. Thank you all, so much.

And now for my next trick I will feed all the animals, have a glass of wine, and go to bed.

photo by jon katz. I need to hit the juicer, I can see that much.


Common Sense Farm is giving me an old metal nesting box kit like this. It's old, rusty. I don't care. So what am I going to do with it? I'm going to sand it. Spray paint it. And mount it as a bookshelf on my wall for all my livestock care books and manuals.


ruth stout's garden

Thanks for sending this my way, Meg!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

many hands...

Spent a few hours today with two good women, Alice and Kathryn, who gave up a Saturday afternoon to held saw, sand, glue and screw together 20 drop spindles for next week's big wool workshop. We had a beef chili with some crusty bread, bottles of juicy yerba mate, and talked like old friends while we worked. Within no time all the spindles were completed and we were all shocked at how fast our little factory put out the product!

When the work was done we walked around the farm to see the hay bale chicks, pet the pigs, talk to Jasper, and check for eggs. It was cold, around 18 degrees, but they were both good sports. When we came back inside we just hung around the Bun Baker rubbing our hands and keeping the conversation going.

Thank you ladies, it was a pleasure.

Come to the Barnheart Launch Party Tomorrow!

Tomorrow, right here in my adopted hometown of Cambridge New York, Battenkill Books of Main Street will be hosting the Launch Party for Barnheart! Come on down to hear good friend and famed author Jon Katz introduce me as the crazy farmer I am, and enjoy in some reading, talking, and food and conversation. It'll be an informal and warm event in a wonderful little bookstore championed by Proprietress, Connie Brooks. Connie is just back from an Indie Bookstore Owner conference in New Orleans, and she damn well deserved the vacation. She's been working harder than anyone in the book world, keeping a bookstore thriving in a town of roughly 2,000 people. She is the one who approached Jon and I to sell autographed copies. I don't think she expected to sell 1500 combined!

What I love about Battenkill Books is it is Our store. The only place I know where you can get Backwoods Home, Orion, The Believer, Chickens Magazine, People, and The Economist on the same shelf. It's the size of a 3 car garage and yet has a larger farming and homesteading section than Barnes and Noble. I'll be there tomorrow night and I hope some of you can make it, say hi, pat Gibson on the head and shake hands. Have a cup of coffee and hear about all my big dreams and share some of your own. I look forward to it. I hope you do, too. And I promise Gibson will look more excited than he does in this post paw-printing photo!

More information at Battenkillbooks.com

Friday, January 20, 2012

wool past the winter sunset

so they grow

The winter meat bird project, so far, has been nothing but easy, inexpensive, and holding strong. A rectangular structure of haybales held in place with t-posts, and roofed with some metal sheeting is all their "barn" really is. One heatlamp hangs inside, and the 29 red fat birds make it home. Twice a day they get fresh water and feed—and they seem to need fresh bedding every other—but that is the extent of the work. I don't recommend raising meat birds when it is 10 degrees outside but for this farm they are growing fine.

Either a local farm or I will butcher these birds. If I do it I will only do four at a time, weekly, and deliver the two fresh birds to Steve and Molly to eat or freeze. I daydreamed about this while hauling water buckets to Jasper today. Thought about handing a couple of people I care for a meal I spent weeks tending to, like a little garden, and knowing they will savor and sustain their day from it. So simple, so very very simple. But I really look forward to handing him that cooler in a few weeks, and shaking his hand, and telling him the River Cottage Meat Book's herb chicken recipe is all you need the rest of your life, and to enjoy it.

If Jenna from college could meet Farmer Jenna of her own future, she would shudder at this post. Things change.

Antlerstock 2012 is going to be HUGE!

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 for those who come into town early and would like dinner on me. There will be a campfire and burgers and dogs for anyone who wants to enjoy a totally class-free evening of music and firelight. BYOB.

The classes offered last year will be the same, but expanded to include all sorts of grand new teachers and animals! A Polyface Farm intern-come-dairy goat farmer will be here with some of her Nigerians, with a class on the littlest-dairy herd in the city. Learn about a dairy animal you can raise around the size of a labrador.

Brett will be back, of course, with more axe man skills such as backyard timber work, axe throwing at targets, felling trees, chopping, and Jasper will be helping to pull timber out of the forest as well, in harness. There won't be a working horse class -so to speak- but I will talk more in depth about being a new equine owner and what goes into the spirit and education of a working pony. I'll show you the harnesses and how to put one on. You'll see my own homegrown methods of working with the 11.2 hand beast I call Sir, on occasion.

There will be a new class on raising pigs, taught by a pig farmer. Also adding workshop on honey and the hive and homebrewing beer or ciser. A sourdough starter bread workshop is also a welcomed addition. All of this happens along with constant classes and demonstrations. You have to pick and choose what you want to do, but it is always a blast. There will be an optional trip down to Common Sense Farm to learn about herbalism and their farm. There will be a herding demo with Gibson and I, plus the usual classes in cheesemaking, music, soapmaking, canning, and more.

Breakfasts are quiche and homemade apple pies as well as apple cider donuts and hot cups of strong locally roasted coffee. Lunch is hearty and hot, chili, stews, soups and pork bbq. All of the food is grass fed, free range, and locally sourced as possible. Apples from the farm's trees will be pressed and served as cold cider. Eat all you can and be merry!

This is the Mother of all Cold Antler Farm events, and held during the peak foliage time Veryork has to offer. Already it is 2/3rds filled up but there are still some spaces for folks if they would like to attend. the plan for next year is to have a tighter schedule and help from my friend Raven to organize it the way only her mind can. I think it'll make last years seem like more of a gathering than a festival, and for anyone wondering, yes, the pumpkin procession to the Saturday Night Bonfire will be back!

email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com if interested! First come, first served as far as reservations go!

photo by timothy bronson of 468photography.com

no lambs?

I started filming the next webinar, set for the month of February today. It'll be a Wool 101 type video, going from raw sheep's wool to yarn with nothing but some dish soap in a tub, a carder (hand or drum), and a drop spindle. Wool is all over my head right now. I'm sending out CSA share packages, planning a spindle gathering for tomorrow, and all of it to prepare for the at-farm workshop next week. This place looks more like a yarn factory than a farmhouse right now.

The living woolies outside, the ones on the hoof, seem to be wintering well. I'd like them a little fatter, but everyone is in hearty spirits and ambling through the light dusting of snow we received last night. I'm a little sad to announce there may not be lambs this year. I don't have much faith in Atlas, that he did the job. It wasn't his fault as much as it was this shepherd's failure to offer the right circumstances for success. I put a too-small and too-young ram in with a flock already protected by a wether (named Sal) who still thinks he can work the ladies. So little Atlas couldn't sneak in any hits unless Sal was penned up or not watching. I don't know if the work was done or not, but I didn't see any real gripping evidence it was.

What may happen is one or two ewes might be pregnant, but not the numbers I was hoping for. I suppose only time will tell. In the meantime, I will treat them all as if they were pregnant and start feeding them accordingly, same with their mineral intake. I'll know for certain in late March or April if any little ones will arrive. I hope so. It's kind of a tough blow, but a lesson well learned.

photo by timothy bronson of 468photography.com