Tuesday, February 28, 2012

your winter goats?

When I hold a workshop here, it always starts with food, coffee, chatting and when everyone has been fed and decaffeinated, a circle in the living room to introduce ourselves. This past weekend women from Maryland, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts had arrived and all of them seemed drawn to homespun the way I was. One woman named Susan from up near Burlington talked about how she wanted to get sheep, how a neighbor had Shetlands lambs she could practically have and she was telling me this at a Wool Workshop she had traveled nearly three hours to attend, and yet she was hesitating. Sheep were a big step.

To me this gal was a shepherd through and through. (We know our own.) Yet she doubted the preparations she had made in her heart? To me it looked like everything was lining up for her, but she was hesitating....and I knew exactly how she felt. Sheep ARE a big step. Heck, for me, chickens were a HUGE step. I'm not sharing her story to egg her into the woolly life, but to explain I was in her shoes not too long ago. I understand that hesitation. And I can best explain it in a memory.

When I lived in Idaho I rented a farmhouse on endless land near the Selkirk mountains. the back fields were used for haying (rented to another farmer), but the farmyard and front barn area I used for gardens, chickens, rabbits and such. Now, as much as I loved my tomatoes and corn in the front yard and waking up to a rooster's crow...what I wanted was a dairy goat. I mean, I really wanted a goat. I used to imagine going outside for walks in the snow with a leather lead and a goat walking alongside me, a bell around her neck. I used to dream of the hoof life, this near-Amish kind of simplicity and peace to caring for livestock that would feed me. It was all romance, all based on images from books and movies, but so what? I wanted that goat and I flirted with the idea, but it was never really possible to me. I might look at ads on Craigslist and visit goat farms but no part of me felt I was really ready and I trusted that. At the time a goat seemed such a big step, bigger than any chicken or garden had ever been. And my gut was right. I only lived in Idaho 13 months. That goat would have been re homed in short order, not moved to Vermont with me when I lost my job.

Big steps feel big for a reason. Maybe Susan is ready for sheep and maybe she isn't. I write about all my crazy goings-on here and it probably seems erratic to some, but I don't do a lot of things I want to do as well. I don't take the free dairy bulls offered for meat because I know I'm not ready for a 1000+ pound (non equine)mouth to feed. I know I won't buy a Meadowbrook cart off the internet because I haven't the funds, even if the perfect cart horse is appearing right under my nose. I don't go to conferences, or vacations, or ditch the office on a sunny day, or do many of my gut desires. And maybe something in Susan is saying "not yet" to her as well. A good reason to hold back on the fence and lambs.

But as I write this I can't help but ask? Have any of you felt that gut reaction to not do something with your farm? Have you felt it was the right or wrong choice? And did you feel the same way about a certainty something was right? Any regrets?

Tell me about your winter goats?

storm on the way

Snow is on the way, possibly a lot of it. For the first time this winter I may have to hunker down and go into farm-preservation mode. A heavy ice storm means raking roofs, preparing for a blackout, stacking wood indoors, and making sure there is plenty of feed on hand for the critters. At lunch I'll head out to the feed store to get some things (non storm related) and grab another sack of chicken feed for good measure. Never hurts to have a spare sack of Chicken feed about.

countdown to magic: 3 days (I hope!)

I'm working out the final details of obtaining Merlin.There are contracts, trainers, vets, tests, farriers, and friends with horse trailers involved. Waiting to hear from the boarding/riding stables to see if everything is ready to launch. If it is, this Friday four of us will head down to pick up Merlin and deliver him to Riding Right Farm here in Cambridge. It's an exciting community event, really! Elizabeth and Weez from the Berkshires are coming up and Patty offered to use her trailer. So the lot of us will all be there to load and unload the black beauty into his new digs and get him settled in. (I hope!) Some form of paperwork or medical test might delay the process, but my heart is still set on this Friday. Fingers crossed, crows in pairs, and heart wide open.

photo from geordansfellponies.com

Monday, February 27, 2012

my old apartment

This photo is from summer of 2005, when it was just Jazz and I in a Victorian home in Knoxville. I was just out of college, new to the South, and my only other living things to worry about besides Jazz was a pair of ferrets and a houseplant. I had no idea, not the foggiest sense, that in five years I would close on a farm in upstate New York. This was before Idaho, Vermont, Orvis, or the words Cold Antler Farm ever crossed my lips. This place is so far away now, in so many ways, I can't return to it.

I was a vegetarian then. I was broken hearted. I was just learning what living alone would be like. Life happens so very fast, sometimes I can't hang on without shaking a bit.

countdown to magic: 4 days

Sunday, February 26, 2012

rabbit for lunch

I know I said I was planning on staying inside and relaxing after the workshop, but a surge of chorenergy shot through me and in the oddly quiet moment of the weekend I was all workboots, axes, pitchforks and wheel barrows. To hell with rest while your body sings. I'll sleep when I'm dead.

I was outside feeling the sun on my back and watching Jasper watching me from his stall. "Do you want some sweat on your shoulder?!" I yelled out, and his ears perked up at my call. I headed down to the barn and grabbed his halter and lead line. I struggled to control him, frantic with the pent-up anxiety of a stalled, barely trained pony. He shot out into the field and lifted his head and tail in a triumphant kind of trot you usually see those high-headed standard bred Amish horses doing as they rocket down the roads. I like seeing that kind of relief, in any animal. The joy of no confinement. He ran around in the melting snow and kicked and farted and had a fine time. I turned around and set to stacking wood into the empty spaces under the side porch.

I stacked and split wood until the side porch looked respectable enough, a pile of dry wood and locust rounds, and space on the far end for a couple or three bales of hay to save me the trip to the barn for the sheep. I hate to sound proud, but that work looked right pretty. All that warmth for cold nights, all that green hay waiting for the rumen, a summer stored up in a couple pieces of twine. I love baling twine, I really do. People look at it wrapped around fence posts and scattered around the beds of pickup trucks and forget that it is a time machine's containment unit. You release the last summer when you set it free.

I set to mucking his stall, hauling him fresh water and loading up his hay bag. I checked his electric fence (sound) and made sure his salt lick was holding up. I did right by the beast. As I moved out barrows of slop and set down some clean bedding I thought about how much I have been writing about Merlin, the magic of him. The excitement of a horse I can finally ride, drive, and learn from. Merlin will be an amazing animal and a sign of growth for me in this life, but as much as I look forward to owning that horse someday, Jasper is my horse right now. He doesn't care about romance or possible roommates, he cares about running up a sweat in the pasture, clean water, good hay and little trouble if he can find a way to cause it.

Rabbits got fed, bottles hauled inside to defrost. The barn got tidied up and the sheep fed. I walked Jasper back to his stall, removed his halter, and hung the black halter and orange lead rope on his pegs inside the barn. I smile and think of the work to get ready for him, the help of Brett and others. I watch him settle in and feel full of good things. His current comfort was a direct result of my previous discomfort. So goes the whole damn world. I smile even wider.

I was about to turn in when I saw my recent hay delivery coming up from Karen Whitman. I forgot she was coming! She drove her blue GMC and helped me unload 20 new green bales. It took a while to haul them all off the truck and then into the barn, but by this time I was beat. I was ready to come inside to a glass of hard cider and a documentary on the iMac and let the days work set in.

So I am inside now. The cider is poured and the stoves are lit and I have a pot of soup or chili waiting for me for dinner. I spent this day sharing coffee with a great new friend. I spent my morning harnessing a draft horse, spending some times on a country road with the lines in my hands as cars passed us and I felt like they were on mopeds and I was in a Rolls Royce. How rich I felt! I ate rabbit for lunch. Every home I went into was heated by wood stoves and surrounded my land and animals. My body aches a little from the work, and my mind is still thumping with ideas for stories and writing and tonight I am just so damn happy I turned around the corners and switchbacks that lead me here. Lead me to this farm on a mountainside with a naughty pony, friends who know what hames and eveners are, and cold cider in a glass pressed with friends a few months prior during that Holy time all the regular people call October and I call Everything.

I'm not sharing this to boast, but to remain a little incredulous that the gal writing you this used to sit in a city apartment a few years ago fresh out of a state college without a single idea what was ahead. I got a bad case of Barnheart (chronic) and now rabbit for lunch is as normal as soup in a can is for other folks. A few random choices like a move to Idaho, a chance meeting with a farming coworker, a book, a blog, and now I am so excited about next weekend I feel like a child before her birthday. I am going to pick up that amazing horse and come hell or high water find a way to make him mine, find a way to house him, find a way to make him work. A blog reader and fellow horse girl emailed me to say horses were all about passion, not logic. I loved her for it. I got passion out the yinyang. I can turn it into a horse because I am too damn stubborn not too.

Crows are flying today. I'm a happy woman.

fattening up the blog

Blog posts have fallen a little thin lately, mostly because of the amount going on in the past few days. I just wrapped up the last workshop in the month of February (4 workshops in the past 5 weeks!), and between the stresses of review week at the office, workshop preparation, and hosting some company—I didn't have the usual writing time set aside. So the blog suffered a bit. I am fattening it up as we speak though. I'm halfway into a new chapter of Birchthorn, working on the next webinar, and just finished sweeping the kitchen floor. That last one has nothing to do with the blog, but it did just happen.Talk about a play-by-play, eh?

Just wrapped up the weekend of wool and fellowship. My last guest left moments ago and I am about to walk the dogs and take in a calm afternoon at home. I have enough leftovers to feed a small militia and the beer we bottled last week should be primed and ready to enjoy proper. Not a bad way to welcome the next few days.

That photo is of some plans Mark Wesner pulled together for the new barn in the woods, he calls it "Merlin's Thatch" and I love that name. A combination sheep shed and horse barn with a run in, hay loft, and area for the sheep on one side of the fence and horses on the other. I think it is grand. A good architect's sketches are a piece of art in themselves, and this one will be framed and put on the wall.

It was a busy last couple of days, but good. I have four days of the office to get through and then Friday we go to pick up Merlin and take him to his new temporary home at Riding Right Farm here in Cambridge. By this time next weekend my new horse will be in his new stall. Just a few days to push through and before you know it I'll be holding a hot mason jar of coffee and riding shotgun with Patty and her blue trailer to pick up the horse of my dreams.

Now, how to figure out how to buy him! A technicality that I'm not worried about in the least.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Plan B PSA

The Plan B workshop moved from May 12th to May 19th. James will be speaking at the new urbanize conference in Florida the week before and this way both speakers will be able to make it.

i love that sound...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

lion's maw

Snow is coming and that means payment in advance. Payment in sweat and time, that is. I just got in from what I call "extra-dose" chores. The kind of animal care so over the top no part of you feels guilty sleeping in a little, knowing everyone had their dinner and enough leftovers for breakfast. They aren't calling for a lot of snow, 3 inches at the most, but this winter that is a damned Nor'easter. I plan on staying in to work on webinars, Birchthorn, and enjoy a farm morning at home. Heck, I might even get the coffee pot ready for morning right now.

The second Wool Workshop is Saturday. I had a cancelation if anyone wants to take the spot (email me please) and enjoy a snow-covered sheep farm on a mountain side. At least, I hope it remains snowy for Saturday's workshop, because everyone else who came this winter just got to see dead grass with sheep poo on it. Not exactly the kind of stuff on the cover of Mother Earth News. But the people and food will be great. The menu is pretty standard, but with a little more fatty comfort like a rich potato soup. Some day I will get it as good as Cathy Daughtons....someday.

As for me, I'm still in shock that I will be the future owner of a Fell Pony. Between Merlin and the garden plans, spring seems closer than ever. I have enough kale, greens, and arugula seeds hanging out here to start soon. I have little shoots of garlic already poking up out of the hay in their raised beds. Some neighbors said the snow drops were coming up and there are buds on the trees. Sap buckets are lining all the back roads and sugar bushes are running before March. Strange times, these. Am I the only one getting restless?

But if Nelson Green is right, our winter starts March 1st. He think the whole month will be the lion's maw. Part of me wants a shot of winter, and hopes he is right. But mostly I want to think about ordering spring chicks and green shoots. I'm a seasonal woman, moved by the wheel like a dervish, and this year Ol' Bitch Nature is toying with us all...

photo by tim bronson of 468photography.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

rabbit ginger soup

Rabbit Ginger Soup

By Patty Wesner:

(I use a big cast iron soup pot to brown the rabbit and veggies and then add everything else to the pot)

Sear/ brown Quartered rabbit pieces in olive oil
(don’t cook through)

Then add enough olive oil to cook veggies in:
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
2 stalks chopped celery
Till translucent

Add water -4-6 cups
1-2 tsp chicken bouillon
(Or just use chicken stock instead of the water and bouillon)
Add 4-5 cubed potatoes

Set to simmer on the stove – never boil rabbit –(makes it tough)

Add thumb sized piece of ginger – cut up and squashed

And two cloves of garlic chopped and crushed

I let it simmer on the woodstove or back burner for the afternoon or until the potatoes are done. Before eating I remove the rabbit pieces, bone them and cut meat to bite size and return to the soup.


let's set the world on fire

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

peace inside these walls

I never thought I would see the day when Jazz shared his bed with a cat. There my two boys are, George and Jazz, alpha males in their own right sharing a patch of padding and sun. When I adopted Jazz back in 2005 I was told he could never live with a cat. He had killed a cat once in his outdoor run in Knoxville. But all it took was a cat that lived like a dog, and he became a part of the pack. How about that?

the doris day of doom!

Friend and fellow author Kathy Harrison was recently filmed at her home for an episode of Doomsday Preppers! I haven't seen the show yet, but I wanted to share this clip of a positive and active group of folks ready for the worst and hoping for the best. She'll be here at Cold Antler Farm on May 12th for the much anticipated Plan B workshop with James Howard Kunstler, a whole day about emergency prep, energy, and our future. This might be the most important workshop at the farm and only has 5 spots left. Read more about it here

Monday, February 20, 2012

do you believe in magic?

My first sight of Merlin was out in the sun, laying in the pasture like a large cat would. Feet splayed, resting up on his elbows so his head was up. He was out with a few other Fells enjoying the warm winter sun. When Lisa (his owner) whistled and called him in there was a burst of powerful activity. He erupted up, all black muscles, girth, and hair— came bounding towards us in a way that made the earth shake. At nearly 1,000 pounds, Merlin was no meek creature. He was a pony, sure, but this was no Shetland. As he galloped towards us I realized he was larger than the pictures showed, not taller, but larger! He was stocky and strong and (I mean this in the best way possible) kind of like a rhino with a wig. If Jasper was a Labrador Merlin was a brawny Newfoundland. He slowed to a trot and joined some of his friends about ten yards away from us. I was so excited. I just walked right up to him.

I came over to him and reached for his forehead, and he didn't mind. We regarded each other in that way species that live close and depend on each other do and always have. Dogs, cats, people, livestock, all of us know down in our bones we make sense together, its the finding the right match ups that's the trick. So he eyed me and I eyed him. Both of us suspicious but game. I grabbed a hold of his halter and asked him to walk with me over to my friends and his owner. He did, calm as St. Peter at the Gates. I felt calm too. This horse was not going to run away on me. I guess when you are that massive you don't need to make a fuss.

Patty of Livingston Farm was there and so were Melina and Robert. They were on their way home from a night in Cambridge and were willing to come along and meet the horse, too. It was their last stop before heading home to their own Farm, their car loaded with beer, brats, and two young rabbits from CAF. I gave them two of the young bucks Meg had given me to eat. I thought they would do better helping other rabbit raisers get started (either as recipes or breeding bucks) than added to my freezer, already happy with hares. (I hope that is okay Meg?. Anyway, when your car is full of homebrew, case meats, and livestock the idea of checking out a rare draft pony isn't that crazy.

Melina snapped some pictures of Merlin and I while I overheard patty asking the 34,000 questions I should have had the wherewithal to ask, but I was not really present. I was a couple inches away from an animal I had only seen in photos and had only dared to day dream of. Now his giant nostrils and black nose were in my hair, his deep eyes considering me, and his dusty coat and beautiful mane under my lanolin coated fingers. This was the shepherd's pony. I was a shepherd. I walked around the farm's pasture with him, talking and taking videos. He seemed curious but not concerned, almost bored following this crazy lady around his backyard. All I felt in my gut was comfort

We got him saddled up in western tack and after Lisa demonstrated his walk, trot, canter and some basic dressage moves I was impressed and excited to jump up into the saddle too. I was helped up onto his back and amazed at how wide it was for a pony, and how right it felt. I didn't feel a bit of fear, just confidence. I asked him to walk and trot and realized I was as out of practice as he was. Both of us were winded, hot air coming from our noses. I jumped down and kissed his soft nose. I was falling, and falling hard.

Then both Robert and Melina were invited to ride him, neither of them having any experience with horses. They were to sit while being lead by Lisa, and I wanted to see how he reacted to a stranger without any use of leg, reins, or purpose would suit him. It was like a fair ride. Robert seemed very happy on a horse. I bet he's next...

We left shortly after, I was allowed to lead him back to the barn. I told her how excited I was and that I would contact her soon with my decision about him. Patty asked some more questions and I stumbled drunk around cloud nine.

All last night I wondered what I could do at this point to make a rare, highly trained, beautiful pony mine. I knew what I could and couldn't afford, but I also knew I had a lot to offer him. I would be able to board him a few months while I took lessons with him, each of us getting to know one another under the care of professionals, vets, farriers and riding lessons. I would have a pony wonderland built soon as the days got a little longer. Brett, Patty, and Mark were willing to help fell (ha) trees and plan out the new two-horse shed behind the barn. I had a plan, I had it all figured out. I just needed to convince the owner I was worth it, and worthy of her fine animal. I fell asleep going back to the barn I always go to.

The next morning I had a plan. I started the morning taking the usual farm chores in stride, but I did them extra well. I scrubbed out the sheep's water trough. I wiped off the crud on the defroster. I cleaned out the rabbit cages, gave extra feed in their little crocks and scritches on their heads. I gave Jasper a good curry combing and made sure he was properly outfitted for a day of piss and vinegar, a carrot in my pocket. I took my dogs out for a long walk and while they smelled the doggy news I thought about this horse, the ramifications, the possibilities. I felt the extra close attention to my chores was a prayer in itself, a ritual of rededication to my animals and this farm. I listened to my heart. How it felt to hold those reins, sit on his comfortable back, and how safe it felt up there. I am an anxious woman. To feel like a 1,000 pound animal was a Lazy Boy is not common for me. I prayed. I paced. I asked for guidance and for the best possible outcome.

Then I came inside and took a long shower, prayed some more, and opened up my email. I took a deep breath and then sent Lisa a long, heartfelt letter. I told her how I felt about the Fell, how much Merlin meant to me. I told her my honest financial limitations, my plans, and ran through some options to make that beautiful boy mine. I asked her to consider these things with an open heart. I told her I looked forward to her reply. Then I turned off the computers to let the magic happen. I jumped into the truck and headed over to Livingston Brook Farm. I had done everything I could do. I didn't want to stay at home constantly checking emails, worried about what would happen. I was thrilled when I was invited for an afternoon drive, and thought no matter what the outcome I would have the next few miles logged behind a working horse to dream and hope before any bad news landed on me. I would truly savor this afternoon.

Patty had invited me to go on one of her favorite drives. Her neighbors are good friends and have over 400 acres of farmland. It is a beautiful, hilly landscape that tumbles and rolls with old farm roads used to get from field to field. It was the perfect place to drive a horse cart. No cars or trucks to fuss with, just the smell of dead corn, fallow ground, deer scat and wood smoke. The hillside trail lead to what Patty called "The Top of the World", a high field that looked over all of our area's mountains and peaks. When we reached it we turned Steel around and from the metal tractor seat of a forecart I could see Colfax Mountain, Equinox in Vermont, Bunker Hill Farm, other peaks and the Adirondacks in the distance. It was breathtaking. And silently, as I listened to Patty share stories of the same hillside covered in mustard and butterflies, or a buck leaping out of the hedge in front of Steel, I prayed again. (You can never pray too much.) I asked, over and over, if Merlin and I were meant to be that a path would reveal itself. Some sort of option? Some sort of magic?

When we got back to her farm we took off the harness and fed her two horses for the night, then retired to her farmhouse for black bean soup (with workshop cheddar brats!) and good homemade bread. We talked about a lot of things, and I realized in just two weeks I had made some fairly serious friends. How lucky was I to find a pair of folks just as crazy about farming, working horses, working dogs, as I was? And the hilarious part? Us two women, practically Luddites in our past times, found each other because of an online publication of Barnheart at Mother Earth News. A woman with a draft horse 7 miles away and she found CAF through the net. It's magic all in itself, this friendship.

I left for home, heart in my throat. I knew soon as I got inside the door an email would be waiting. Lisa would have had plenty of time to make a decision. I fired up Ye Olde eMac and saw her reply, bold and black the way all unread messages are. Hope in bold san serif. I clicked it with my eyes closed. This is the first sentence I read as I slowly opened my eyes.

"Hi Jenna,

I loved your email, it is truly heartfelt and I can say I know just how you feel. Letting go of Merlin is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. He's been my dream pony too. I will definitely work with you to make sure he becomes yours. I can't imagine a better home for him..."

15 years ago, somewhere in North England on the wild hills Merlin trotted and breathed in that fine British air. 25 years ago I was a toddler in a small town in Pennsylvania with a sidewalk, streetlights, and the only farm I knew came from Fisher Price. Starting the first week of March we will ride together. I already have a stall waiting for him at Riding Right Farm and we start lessons together in a little over a week. Lisa said we'll work out a way to make it happen. He is mine!

I believe in magic.

photo by Pat Wesner

greenhorns book trailer!

the human side of industry

I don't know what it is about homebrewing, but I am hooked. Hooked in ways few other farm hobbies have captivated me. I like to bake okay. I enjoy sewing and embroidery when the mood strikes. I can knit for hours at a time...but homebrewing has a sort of subversive style to it I just can't shake. It makes you feel special, a member of a secret society or tree house club. When you have finished a batch and are priming and capping the brown bottles (adding sugar for carbonation and sealing the metal pry-off caps) it feels like you just did something you weren't supposed to do. Not a guilty feeling, not a naughty one either. Just a feeling of industry rarely felt in your home and you get the sense you just did something only places with smoke stacks and assembly lines were supposed to do. Kind of like a seamstress with a heavy duty sewing machine that can make jeans and has a rivet machine. She did at home something assembly lines, factories, and machine folk can do, not us civilians in apartments and homestead kitchens? And yet, when I go to the fridge there next to the bottles of Guinness or Saranac are my bottles, just as hoppy, carbonated, alcoholic and frothy. I was the recipe and the factory. Makes you feel rich.

It's kind of intimidating at first. You need special equipment, some minor discipline in regards to sanitation and measurements, but generally it is a potion and a promise. You mix up your cauldron of wort and add your herbs and spices and then through the bubbling toil and trouble of the yeast you will get a totally changed substance. A little buzz, a smile, and sigh in a bottle.Pair that bottle of homebrew with a banjo or fiddle and you have a woman so happy she might float off her fireside log.

After all that hop-homily, I just wanted to share here that the workshop went well. Even though I had four last-minute cancelations that left us with only 9 people to brew and grind sausages with, it was an educational and busy day. Possibly the most tiring workshop I ever held. I think because both brewing and sausage making requires such preparation, presence, (and then clean up) that you can't rest. It is the ADD adult's dream hobby.

As for the workshop scene, it was a good crowd. A combination of friends new and old. Patty and her husband Mark arrived, a thank you barter for her time teaching me about becoming a competent driver. Melina and Robert of Smyler Farm, a vegetable operation down in Hudson. There was also Stacey and her Husband, a recent vet back from a tour in the Middle East (many thanks were shared) and good friends Elizabeth and Weez, a married couple from the berkshires who always bring a fiddle and guitar and liven up any scene. Oh, and me.

We started out with homebrewing, spending time going over sanitization and setting up your kitchen to brew. Between video clips and short talks we started up a batch of sweet stout, beginning with soaking a bag of specialty grains in the big 5 gallon stainless steel kettle over the stove. As the hour went on we added malt, lactose sugar, and hops. Even when you are not "doing" anything with beer you need to let it putter along at an observed boil. While it did its thing we dine on a lunch of my standby, winter chili (thank you Tasty the steer) and cracked a few local brews as well.

We regrouped to talk meat. I showed the folks how to soak the pig intestines in warm water, how stretchy and tough the casings were. I passed around a piece and folks tore and pulled at it. The I got a combination of pork and beef and the spice mix for a beer and cheddar brat and we set to work putting on plastic gloves and sinking our hands into a big ol' pryrex bowl of meat stuff. Then when the two worlds of flesh and spice seemed to know each other fairly well, we loaded meat into the heavy grinder and hand cranked the meat into a long attached tube that the casings covered. Meat was fed through into pudgy little sausages and many off-color remarks were made. It was impossible not to giggle.

The afternoon slipped away into a combination of conversations, brewing bottling, and a small factory of shared work. At one point I was running around getting more bottles out of the cabinet to sanitize while Robert and Mark were grinding away with a heavy cast-iron Weston grinder/stuffer while Stacey was helping cap and Weez was running past with more to set up in the living room in pretty rows. It was a flurry and a frenzy. Everyone worked, everyone helped, and in the end we had brewed give gallons of sweet black beer, bottled another five of a coffee stout porter, and made a plate full of giant brats for folks to ziplock and take home to cook up for dinner. All around me was the human side of industry. People who used their kitchen, hands, stoves, cranks, and cappers to create a viking feast of meat and ale. It felt hardy. It felt primal. It felt good.

And I now raise my glass to you.

photos by melina smyers

Sunday, February 19, 2012

calm boy

he is wonderful

"In buying horses and taking a wife, shut your eyes and commend yourself to God" -proverb

photos by melina smyers

a snowy morning light

Saturday, February 18, 2012

maude and sal in the snow

photo by melina smyers

sausage party!

Just wrapped up the first ever Cold Antler Farm Meat and Beer Workshop. Eight of us got together to brew a five gallon batch of Sweet Stout from Northern Brewer, bottle five gallons of a coffee porter, and ground and cased a plate full of beer and cheddar brats. More on the workshop tomorrow, and more Bircthorn too, but right now I am going to enjoy a good night's rest. It is snowing here, gentle and wet like all spring snows. The farm is white a few hours and I am happy and tired.

Oh, and tomorrow I'll meet Merlin. So who knows what waits between that sunrise and sunset!

photo by melina smyres

Friday, February 17, 2012

chasing down a dream

one big harness

Worked with Patty and Steel today (and Jasper, but that is another story), went for an amazing drive on her 42 acres. Through a field, near the lake, along a gurgling creek...beautiful time. This is me proud as a lioness for getting off the harness (hames to spider) in one motion! Not easy when you're 5'3" and built like a hobbit.

Also, Patty makes the best rabbit ginger soup in the world.
photo by 468photography.com

freedom ranger update

Here is an update on the very wet Freedom Rangers. They are between 8-10 weeks old and thriving. On wet mornings they spend more time indoors with their food and water, but as the day warms and the sun comes out they get brave and explore about 20 yards around their haybale barn. The laying hens are far braver, but with such low forage about this time of year these guys stick close to their free lunch. They are all a bit damp because when I open the bale in the morning they all stream out, get wet in the rain, and walk around underfoot at my buckets of water and feed. It takes about 10 minutes to put down clean bedding, rinse and fill fresh fonts of water, and offer them about 5 pounds of food! Once the coop is cleaned, bedded, filled with treats and water they all seem to prefer it to the Laying Hen Bullies and cold and wet. Can't blame them. Comfy in there!

ordered these guys from www.freedomrangerhatchery.com

Thursday, February 16, 2012

driving into lettuce

Friday Driving might be a new thing here at Cold Antler. Heading to Patty's Farm to hitch up with Steel again and hopefully have some amazing photos to share. After we're done working her Perch we plan to come back to CAF to work with Jasper. It takes two people to get him started ground driving (one leading at the halter, one with the lines behind him) and hopefully the training will go well. As much fun as it is to learn the ropes with Steel, it will be a lot more gratifying getting my own boy back in harness. We'll also measure him for a proper collar, a better tool for his farm work than his light breast harness.

I've got salad on my mind. This mild winter is going to have me getting my thumb greener earlier than usual. I bought one of those 4-shelf bookcase style "greenhouses" on sale for 19.99 at the farm store and two bags of garden soil. I have some pretty shifty plans to make some seed starters and try to get some super-early greens going on the south side of the house. It's plan A in an A-D plan of sneaking in gardening before I have any business doing so outdoors.

Plan A: Try this little cheap greenhouse out, start some seeds in it on the south side of the house.
Plan B: Set up a South-Sider from Convertible Greenhouses to expand the operation.
Plan C: Once the meat birds are done with their hay coop, fill that somebitch with garden soil, cover it with windows, and turn the entire once-chicken coop into a giant cold frame. Hello KALE!
Plan D: Start the new garden outside behind the barn. Scare deer with fences of glory.

let's catch up

This is a video of the first year at the Jackson Farm, from closing day through the first winter, spring, and summer. From Gibson to Jasper. If you're new to this blog, consider it our introduction.

Nice to meet you, I'm jenna. Welcome to the farm!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

around the farmyard

photos by 468photography.com

pony update

I have been getting a lot of emails about Merlin. Everything from threats to stop reading the blog to Readers who want to donate to help pay for him. Folks, if I can not afford to purchase and keep the animal I won't buy him, it is that simple. I haven't even seen him yet, and when I do and the owner and I talk terms and such, he may very well be a current impossibility. But you can't stop a girl from wanting, trying, and kicking the tires. I need to at least look him in the eye.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the greenhorn revolution

The Greenhorns, a new book hitting shelves in April about the passion and promise of young farmers in America, is available for pre order through Battenkill Books. While I am just one small contributor to this collection of fifty essays compiled by Severine, Zoe, and Paula, I am happy to sign my essay and write you a message of encouragement if you like. Heck, I'll even throw in Gibson's greenpaw print if you ask for it.

I asked Connie if we could do even more than pre sell the book. We are talking about hosting a screening of the full length documentary the book is based on right here in Cambridge. Battenkill Books, Cold Antler Farm, and a third party organization will be cosponsors of the screening if it all falls into place, which it will, because Connie is amazing and this county is busting at the seams with people in their twenties and thirties aching to get their hands back in to soil.

For information on how to pre-order from Battenkill Books, and to hear about updates and events visit battenkillbooks.com, or click this link.

the luckiest

Valentine's Day is horseshit.
Happy Lupercalia, wolves.

happy valentine's day

Monday, February 13, 2012

merlin at the kentucky horse show


I might, might get this amazing 15 year old Fell Pony (my dream horse) for a barter and a song. The owners need to size down their herd due to illness, and this UK import is too good to pass up. He's 13.2 hands (a little taller than J, but thicker and well trained!) rides english, western, drives, drags...he's a beautiful gelding and I am going to see him this weekend with Patty or Wendy if they are up for it. Plus, Jasper would have an equine partner, finally. This is literally a dream come true for me. If this happens you will be reading a whole lot more about cart horses...

His name is Merlin.

I'm dizzy....

sausage party!

Last night I got out my sausage making gear, placed some natural pig casings in warm water to set, and started mixing meat and spices for Sweet Italian Sausage. I didn't have the pork on hand, but I did have a 50/50 mixture of grassfed beef and lamb. Since both meats came ground, I didn't need to grind them so I just used the steer-horned cast iron sausage stuffer to fill the shockingly strong casings.

It is meditative work, even if it is a little messy. You take the soaked intestines and slide them over the metal tubing, then the spiced meat is pushed through. I tie off one end and use kitchen shears to make the knot clean. As the meat is stuffed and the casing is filled I either twist it into links, or more elegant half-circle curves. It doesn't look like what you see in the store, but it doesn't look unappealing either. I'd dare call it beautiful if cased meats could be called such a thing. Now they are sitting in the fridge to take some time to cure up the combination of spices and ground. You can fry them up soon as you case them, but most sausage resources I came across said waiting is better. I'll do as I'm told!

I am lucky to live near a little independent grocer in Shushan who not only sells good meats and sausage-making supplies like spices and casing, but also teaches class in it. His clients are most interested in making products out of their wild game, but the same classes would apply to homesteaders and homemakers who want to turn their backyard turkeys and pigs and chickens into a value (and flavor) added product. I think its a great skill for anyone to learn though. You can source really healthy meats and herbs from your own garden, local farms, or green markets and with a minimal amount of gear make your own artisan meats in a very short amount of time. My 3-pounds of Italian steer and lamb links took 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes of clean up and an hour pre-soak for the casings.

This coming weekend is the Sausage Party* here at Cold Antler Farm. Should be a nice crowd, too. A lot of folks are coming to learn the basics of homebrewing and sausage making. We'll spend the morning working with casing, spices, grinders, meat and the non-electric tools of the trade and then after lunch we'll brew 7 gallons of beer. Two of those five will be made with a super-easy Mr. Beer beginner kit, and then the other five will be a traditional grain and hops combination over the stove. WE'll auction them both off at the end of the night with a beginner sausage making kit too, so some folks will head home with two cases of beer or pig intestines in salt, FUN!

*not that kind, sorry ladies.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

making tracks, taking a rest

Went for a mile run down and up the mountain today. I'm getting back into the swing of running (a sometimes hobby that should be an always hobby) and it makes me feel so good. I didn't bring my running shoes home from the office gym, but I am not a girl to let myself off the hook that easy. So today I went for a jog in my Georgia Work Boots, the same ones I muck the horse stall with. They worked fine. I came home blowing hard, heart pounding, and feeling like my body has a proper use. I hate running while it is happening. It's hard. It hurts. But I am euphoric when I get through it.

The rest of today and the next two nights are dedicated to rest. I pre-programmed the blog posts through Wednesday and will be taking time after work for exercise and relaxation. Right now I am going to stretch, read, and eventually get to the holy act of Sunday Roast. Tonight I'll enjoy an herb rubbed chicken over carrots and kale with a home brew. I backed out of some club meetings in Albany to rest easy, making the farm and a good meal my only work today.

things will be alright

One of the songs that has stuck with over the past ten years is Phish's Farmhouse. I used to dance to it with my old Golden Retriever Murray in my parents kitchen. Last night while falling asleep next to Gibson I started singing it to him. He was in his usual place, back against my chest where he has slept nearly every night since he was an 8 week old pup. I don't know if he sleeps there out of habit or solidarity, but it is nice. I was upset from the past week. So I started whispering to my little black dog the lyrics I sang to dogs before him. His tail thumped as I scratched his ears.

Welcome this is our farmhouse. We have cluster flies, alas, and this time of the year is bad. We are so very sorry there is little we can do but swat them.

Gibson has this ability to seem almost human in his interaction. He did something incredibly sweet next. He scooched his body around so his head was facing mine on the pillow, and he placed his paws up onto my shoulder. Somewhere along the road he learned that his paws can work like my arms, and uses them to hook around hips and shoulders and bodies in what appears to be a hug. I'm sure it is some canine form of dominance, or maybe just the way he is used to getting closer to me, but whatever it is, last night it felt like I got a hug from my dog and I really, really, really needed it. So I started to cry and that's how I fell asleep. Not sad, not overwhelmed, just finally getting out all that emotion I had been building up from the things I share (and do not share) here. I sang the whole song to him, but I must admit, it is the chorus I like best.

I never ever saw the Northern Lights
I never really heard of Cluster Flies.
I never ever saw the stars so bright.
In our Farmhouse things will be alright.

I'm feeling much better this morning, and will head out for a jog in a little bit. Enjoy your day. I will be enjoying mine! I got a farm to see to and lungs to bust!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

the last ten minutes

I must have began and ended a dozen posts for today. My head isn't in the right place to write. It's been a hectic week here, as you have read. My mind feels just as frantic. Some times the highs and lows are so great you get blindsided by them. You lose your footing, you forget the end game.

I mean, some things have been so amazing it makes you shake. Recently I had to grab the wooden seat of a Meadowbrook cart as the Percheron ahead of me took off at a controlled canter. It was the most exciting feeling I had felt in weeks. I know people who swear by the thrill of their cars and motorcycles but a machine is still a machine. It will do what you ask of it, what it was designed to perform and maybe some more. But at no point will a motorcycle decide to stop dead in its tracks, buck you off, and drive off without you just because it felt like it. Driving a cart horse sounds so placid, serene. It wasn't. It was wild, feral as transportation gets outside the sole and saddle. I got to spend time with Meg and Patty make new and closer connections. I took in some refugee rabbits. I got the signed paperwork back for my fourth book. On paper, things are amazing. They are amazing.

And yet...

And yet there was Pidge, Lisette, the bad pork, and Valentine's day. All of this has me reeling for fifty different reasons. Usually this is the kind of stuff I just accept, stiffen my upper lip and trot on. But right now, honestly, I'm feeling a that lack of focus that infects my better nature. I'm usually really good at shaking off the fringes and putting my head down and getting to work. Lately I have felt that uncomfortable lack of control, proven over and over again by events on this farm I could never control.

No one tells you when you decide to start a farm how much you need to take responsibilty for and let go of at the same time. Not just the agriculture, but everything. You sign up for this life and you are both the stewart and the monastic. You need to be make sure everyone eats, drinks, thrives and sings and then when it all gets taken away from you—either by your own mistakes or dumb luck—you're supposed to just accept your lot and move on, as calm as clergy. I understand both sides of this coin and have performed the mental trapeze swinging for quite some time without needing the net. But right now, I'm feeling a loss of grip. Nothing serious, but something to chalk up my hands and get me centered again. And that too is up to me, of course. I don't have a life coach. I have a pitchfork. Same damn thing.

I blame this weird winter. Apparently the season wasn't that into us. A few dates and we got stood up by the season like prom dates. Sure, it might get cold tonight or even snow an inch or two, but this winter has been downright weird. Maybe that's part of the loss of balance, too. Or maybe I just need to sit down and sink into meditation and work through it like a zen monk once told me he did. "When I get frustrated. I meditate. For the first ten minutes it is like being stuck in a phone booth with a crazy person. The next ten minutes, with a therapist. The last ten minutes: with me."

A reader recently wrote me to tell me she wasn't going to read the blog any more because it was getting too personal. She wanted recipes and farm updates and education, not a narrative of a stranger's life. I'm pretty sure it is posts just like this she was talking about. I don't know what to say to that other than the blog grows with me, changes with me, and I bet you could print out the whole thing and highlight when I was in the first ten minutes (now), the second ten minutes (when you felt inspired by something i wrote) or the last ten minutes (when you sensed I was at peace). My response to just wanting content, and not narrative: you're reading the wrong blog, darling. But if you stick around, we can work towards the last ten minutes together.

Ring the singing bowls, hands in prayer position, time to sit it out and shake the dirt off my hide.


Lisette is gone, I am sad to report. I found her away from the flock, on her side, unable to move. She was barely breathing, rail thin, and seemed to be either in great pain, or so weak she couldn't even stand. I got my rifle. I thanked her. I told her I was sorry about both her and her lamb. And now they are at rest in the same compost pile, returning to the earth they came from.

Friday, February 10, 2012

draft horse diaries

By Meg Paska, brooklynhomesteader.com

meet steel, my new mentor

I just had such an amazing experience a few miles up the road at Livingston Farm. Patty gave me a driving 101 lesson with her Percheron, Steel. Steel is 8-years-old and 17 hands. He weighs 1800 pounds and yet (surprise surprise) was easier to control than my Jasper. She went over harnessing, ground driving, basic line direction and talked about the local Draft Club. She then hitched him up to a large Meadowbrook Harness (thus named because they are a sturdy two-wheeled cart that can handle either the meadow or the brook! think early ATV) and we drove right down the road. It was Patty, Meg, and I and when she handed me the lines I was more comfortable than I ever felt in a truck or car. I got to drive a draft horse at a trot down a country road on a Friday morning. Cars and vans and trailers passed us and Steel was a perfect gentleman. He has done parades, fairs, the works. Patty and his story is quite the inspirational one too, since just three years ago neither of them knew each other or how to drive. Now they wave as trucks pass them on route 29.

It was a thrill I can't compare with any recent events in my life. A type of exhilaration that feels so correct and genuine you aren't sure if you are really you, or a configuration of idealistic nostalgia from postcards, books, and movies. Regardless, I was alive. I was foaming for more. And she invited me over to train with her, learn from her, and work with her neighbors Haflinger, Waylon, as I learn towards getting my own Haflinger someday.

I met Patty because she came to my reading at Battenkill Books. What a great connection, I am so grateful to have met her and her husband Mark. The work they are doing to restore and bring life to their 1800's barn and farmstead is remarkable. This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

ponies are pro coffee

photo by Meg Paska

a visitor from the big city

Meg Paska of Brooklyn Homesteader drove up from the city yesterday to spend a night up here at the farm. It wasn't just a social call either. In her borrowed Mini Van she had three breeding rabbits (two does and a buck named Ghost) and seven bunnies! She was recently told by an anti-backyard-slaughter landlord she had to have those critters removed. She looked all over the city for a place to keep them but she needed a farmer, not a babysitter, and I said they were welcome here. Honestly, what's ten more tiny mouths to feed? She had been here before (for the meat rabbit 101 workshop where she got her three critters that starter her herd) and knew I knew exactly what I was getting into. I don't mind caring for her rabbits, but the true reason I wanted to offer to foster care for her critters was because I myself had been in her shoes. I know what it is like to not own your farm and be told what has to stay and go. I was happy to take in the caravan of rabbits and urban homesteader that arrived yesterday evening.

And here's a bonus: she graciously offered me the kits for my own freezer and I will certainly enjoy them! The breeders however, are staying here on foster care. When she relocates in late summer to her new beachfront farm near the city, I will happily return them to her fat and happy and hopefully with their own litters of kits to raise back in Jersey.

Next, we are off to visit a neighbor's farm, Livingston Brook Farm, for a driving lesson with her dapple percheron mare! I am so looking forward to (quite literally) grabbing the reins! Hopefully I will have photos to share.

And on the note of anti-backyard animal slaughter... Did you guys see this article? Seems like Novella Carpenter and her scene in Oakland are dealing with quite the anti-farm crowd! Ridiculous complaints, I say.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

2012 workshops updated!

I added a button right over there on the right (with the crow and fiddle) of all the workshops, dates, and other events going on at the farm. Click it to see new summer events. To make the blog itself less commercial and pitchy, I'll just pop a notice when a new workshop is listed (two new ones, pizza garden and rabbit 101) are in there now along with all the others. Hope having it all in one place helps!

Maude, never change.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

not looking forward to tuesday

I'm not an anti-Valentine's Day person. I think the notion is sweet. But as a long-time single woman it can be frustrating, sometimes lonely, often just mentally awkward. A long time ago I posted this little essay, and it I got four emailed responses. Two were lesbians and the other two were parents trying to set me up with their adult sons. All of the inquiries were sweet and well intentioned, but not right for me. I forgot about it until today. I was picking up pantyhose at the drug store and as I turned towards where they were lying in wait, there was this tunnel of love candies. "Cartoon Hearts" was what it said, and I laughed. That was always my problem right there.

A farm doesn't need a farmer with a partner to run it. This farmer doesn't need a boyfriend, a husband, or children. She doesn't need candy in the shape of cartoon hearts or frilly laced underwear or bright red roses. But that doesn't mean she doesn't want them. The moon sees that, too.

cotswold smirk

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?