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

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

photo by timothy bronson of

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012

drop spindle work party?

If any local folks would like to come by this Saturday for an indoor work party, I will be making 20 drop spindles and preparing wool for next weekend. It'll be a day of hand saws, wood glue, and wool but I'll make some good lunch and you can take home a spindle for yourself and pet a pony.

11-2pm, if you're free send me an email.

P.S. Folks coming to the first wool workshop, it is next Saturday the 28th at 10AM. Hope you are excited?!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

smoke, bracers, and great horns

Little mistakes change everything, change the whole pull of the day. On the way home from work I had planned to stop at Wayside to pick up a bucket of scraps for the pigs and some 25lb bags of feed to hold me over until Friday. The little general store always has a few sacks of layer feed, rabbit pellets, cracked corn, and scratch for folks like me. I did stop at Wayside, but other things on my mind and conversations in the store made me forget the point of the trip.

I went home and went about the pre-farm chores the farmhouse and its inhabitants demand before I head outside to the livestock. The dogs are walked and fed, George and Lilly get their fresh water and kibble too. Then I try to suss out what will feed me and what (if any) tasks can be done that night to help me unwind from the day. I had already started preparing to bottle some stout beer when I realized the pigs had just enough for a single meal and the rabbits and chickens of Cold Antler would wake up famished. I forgot the feed. This wouldn't do.

If it was just the pigs, or just the dogs, or just the chickens I would simply cook for them at home. On more than one occasion the dogs had rice and scrambled eggs or the chickens a pot of cooked pasta to fill them up till proper rations could be acquired. But I wasn't about to cook for 60. I told Gibson we'd be heading out, and he ran to the front door, tail wagging.

Back now from the errand, and all the animals at Cold Antler are either chewing, slurping, pecking, or ruminating as I type. There's a pony keg of beer I'm going to bottle soon, and after that I'll send out some emails to folks asking on workshops and ads. The mortgage payment will go out this month, and like every month, it is at the last minute, but making it. For that I am proud, and will stay up late as it takes to cover the truck payment too.

I'm taking the break now because writing to you folks has become a meditation and a chance to unwind for me. I so look forward to it. I can't haul wood or water or bottle beer while typing, I can just stand and think and breath.

So what does that extra trip on a work night mean, really? It means it will be another hour before bed, and things will slip. It means another day that an interview request goes unanswered, or a chapter isn't written for a contracted book. It means that the list of addresses to mail wool off too might sit another day. It means a lot, it took a lot.

I felt the tiredness scoop me up as I lifted the third bag of feed into the back of the truck at Wayside, and I stepped aside from it. The way you might step out of the wafts of smoke from a campfire if the wind sends it your way. You don't argue with the smoke, you know it is real and present, but you can't deal with it so you keep moving. I have learned to move tired, and move smart. The farm is covered with ice now, and slipping on a patch with 80 pounds of water in tow, or moving the full garden cart of haybales could mean serious injury. So you slow down. You hold onto things with all your weight before you take the next step. I'm a natural klutz, and my body proves it, covered with burns and scars and bruises. However, I have learned that some areas can not be cut deep or you are in grave danger. I farm with bracers on my wrists if they are ever exposed. Honest to God bracers, little leather cuffs around my wrists because I have nearly sliced them open on wires, tools, or fencing. When you farm like I do you need armor.

The winter here is always a little trying. The cold takes morale, and sometimes, lives. I lost one Freedom Ranger this week when the temperature dropped to -10. A runt without much fat on him. I removed him without ceremony and dropped a fresh load of straw down for bedding for the other 29. Tonight as I was listening to an audiobook on my iPhone during extra-late night chores I walked past the hay bale coop and was shocked by the heavy WffftWFFFTWttff of flapping wings taking off. A Great Horned Owl had been feet away from me on a fence post. I watched it take off terrified from the shock and in awe that such animals share my property (or more accurately, I share theirs). Then I remembered the catamount sightings earlier this month and took the story out of my ears. If a bird could sneak up on me out in the open, a catamount could chomp me up easier than I could order Chinese take out.

Which is what I ate for dinner. I would have cooked something but I forgot the feed. Not very authentic, not even that good, but it was the first meal of the day and I savored the spicy veggies and rice. I chewed the way Sal chews up under the apple trees in summer. I chewed like a girl who needed calories. I chewed like someone who knew their take-out days were numbered. When you change your whole plan for backyard chickens and perform their humble funeral rites, you chew different.

Thank you for reading this another day.

Breakfast in the Backyard

Breakfast in the Backyard
Saturday April 7th 2012

This is crash course in how to raise backyard chickens for beginners, and get this, it comes with chickens! Everyone who signs up for the all-day workshop will go home with three herrtiage breed laying chicks and a copy of my signed beginner’s book: Chick Days. The Chicken 101 will cover brooders, housing, feed, healtcare, HOAs, nosey neighbors and more. The spread will include breads, quiche, and other goods made with free-ranging eggs.

You’ll go back to your own coop with your new birds and everything you need to know to raise them right. This is a great opportunity for people who just need that friendly push to take the plunge into the poultry world. No experience with chickens needed to attend, and I am confident anyone leaving CAF that day will go home with gumption that they can raise their peeps to laying hens come fall.

The workshop will start at 10AM and include a brunch spread, coffee, and juice and start with group intros and lecture on how I came into birds and how they changed me into the farmer I aim to be. There will be a tour of the coop and farm and more discussions on housing, healthcare, and a Q&A period as well. Lunch is also provided (CAF pork bbq!)and after that we'll take a trip down to Common Sense Farm to see their HUGE and amazing chick operation in their brand new barn project. See their special housing (called Cotes) for their jungle fowl and talk with some experts there and see the hatchery.

I would also like to host a group discussion about the importance of self-reliance and the first steps of adding animal husbandry to our modern backyards: both for food security and local production. It will be a day of like minds, baby chickens, farm animals, and probably a fiddle tune or two. Sign up by emailing me at

Cost: $150 for the full day, three birds, book, tour, and two meals. Discounts for pairs.

write your congressfolk or answer to maude

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

...and now a break from our regular programming

photo by tim bronson

what isn't authentic?

One of the keystones to modern homesteading, be it rural or urban, is striving for a more authentic life. You must read that phrase, speak it yourself, as much as I do. It comes up over and over in the world of homesteaders, small farmers, authors and bloggers. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, a whole lot. I'm trying to come up with what Authentic means to me, because I feel I have a long way to go. Having a farm, growing your own food, raising your own

This is harder than I thought it would be.

I find myself constantly getting caught up in other people's definition, constantly. To some people authenticity is more about the state of mind than lifestyle changes, they have no problem being "authentic" homesteaders with ziplock bags and cable. To others, it's stripping the house of anything that may bring inklings of consumerism, materialism, or character-building shortcuts. Some authors write about how the only way they felt authentic was being pulled out of a rut and forced to change to new circumstances, find themselves so to speak. It all seems like a fairly personal religion, and we could probably spend a lot of time deciding what authentic is to us and to society in general. I know I have my own ideas, a collage of things.

But I think it's easier to know what something is, by deciding what it isn't. So I ask you? What isn't authentic to you?

photo from thebritfarmer

Monday, January 16, 2012

old threads

Yesterday I took part in a local Arts and Science event held by my shire of the SCA. The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) is a living history club, based on the middle ages and prior (pre 1600AD), and all things lifestyle before motors, guns, engines, and such. The skills are old, the clothing is old, the sports are old (equestrian, archery, jousting, combat practice with swords, etc.) So as you can imagine, there are a lot of homesteaders, blacksmiths, seamstresses and historians involved. All of them have a lot to teach! Skills are traded, events held in meeting places and homes. This particular class was in embroidery. And not just any sort of embroidery, but the delicate and detailed work of past ages. The day was part sewing circle, part history lesson, and part cookie-eating. My kind of scene.

As for my first club activity, it was a small group, all women, but their skill and dedication to authenticity floored me. That sample above, it's about 8 inches long on a piece of blue wool, a wyvern done entirely in stem stitch (there's a video below that teaches it to anyone who wants to learn). Watching these architects, real estate agents, and computer programmers gently copy images from old rune stones and ancient texts and bring them alive again was inspirational, link all of us around some card tables to women hundreds of years before us. My own stitches were clumsy, but empowering. But you know me, I get off on doing anything by hand that a machine usually does.

I showed them my humble crow sample, and they were all very polite about it, but drawing a crow on linen and filling it in with as many stitches needed to make it a solid, heavy, patch was a little crude for their taste. In the class I learned the chain stitch, stem stitch, satin stitch and the French knot. I worked on a small piece of linen in the circle, and then when I came home I got more ambitious. I took an image from the Book of Kells, a lion, and changed it into a wolf but kept the same vibe. I used the stitches I learned and while it's nowhere near as nice as their work (or even historically accurate) it is a nice way to learn a new craft.And it is addicting, like knitting, but maybe even moreso for me. I love making handmade things, even more personal, a little soul branding. Which for this farm girl, means Scottish wolves from old manuscripts. It takes all kinds, people.

thank you, ed!

Ed, a reader and backyard farmer from Pennsylvania dropped off this handmade garden cart yesterday, a gift to the farm. Here he is putting it together in downtown Cambridge. It will be put to good (and hard!) use. What an amazing, skilled, and kind thing to do, sir. Me and everything else with paws, claws, and hooves at Cold Antler thank you!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

balance restored

Balance has been restored to the order of the animals. Cat and Dog are resting side by side now (notice who is on the sheepskin) and scratching and hissing is at a minimun. And on an unrelated but equally good note: all the chicks are fine outside, even at the below zero temps Washington County is offering up...I am on my way out the door to meet a CAF reader down at Battenkill books, says he has a gift for the farm he built himself! What a grand thing.