Tuesday, April 24, 2012

roll call

6.5 acres - pasture and forest
41 chickens - eggs, alarm clocks, and meat
15 sheep - wool and lamb
22 rabbits - meat
5 raised beds - veggies
3 geese - eggs and alarms
3 dogs - herder/retired winter transportation
2 cats - micer and loafer
2 horses - tractor and transportation
2 wood stoves - heat
1 dairy goat - milk
1 hive of bees - honey
1 old apple orchard
1 person, working 4 days a week.

what you got going on at your 'stead?


The first ever litter of silver fox rabbits on this farm was born today!

The Milk Pail Diaries
Northern Spy Farm Is On It

I recently spoke with Dona and Brad from Northern Spy Farms, over in my old stomping grounds in Vermont. I knew them through friends and some Christmas Party conversations, and thought they would be a good place to start looking for a partner for Bonita. Goats should be with other goats, and I am looking for another female to employ as company and be bred (along with Bonita) in the fall down at Common Sense to their new buck.

Keeping Bonita and Jasper together is not going to work out. Jasper is too aggressive when penned up in a smaller space. And Bonita is terrified of him. Their last two "recesses' together were civil in the pasture, but when placed in the indoor/outdoor stall he just bossed her around. And even if they did work it out, they would be separated soon. When Merlin moves here full time he and Jasper will share a new pole barn and paddock. So a goat in need of a home is in the works. Dona is on it.

farm update

Weekday mornings are a bit more hectic than usual these days. The usual chores of feeding sheep, chickens, rabbits and a pony have been compounded with the morning milking routine, lambing checks, tending to the new crop of laying hens and meat birds and the earliest gardening endeveours. It requires getting up a little earlier than usual, but not much. Bonita and I have hit our stride and she seems to be back into steady production and temperature. I think her problem was I wasn't milking her out entirely, and her right udder kept getting overfilled. I now do it properly, and when we are done milking her teats look like lifeless jewlry hanging under her udder, totally empty. No longer the loud and yelling beakons of MILKMILKMILK. You learn as you go.

No more lambs yet, and it is driving me nuts. Three or more sheep look like they are ready to burst and I am certain at least one has twins. I am locked and loaded for their arrival. I have Iodine, tail docking equipment, syringes, lamb paste, and bottles if I need them. All of my sheep have lambed in the night, so I check before bed and again in the middle of the night, and again in the morning for any new arrivals. It's an exciting time here. Three ewes are already promise to Common Sense Farm, and the rest will either stick around or be bartered. I think Brett and some others are interested in them as well.

On the horse front, things are getting better and better. Merlin and I are practicing regularly, our schooling tasks in dressage as well as trail riding and communication outside the arena. On Sunday Patty came along to help me out, walking with us around the riding stable, across grass, through gates, all of Merlin's vices. He did well and I stayed on and I call that a success. Patty even signed up for a lesson with Steele right after mine on Fridays. What a riot: jenna and her black pony followed up by Patty and her white giant. It'll be fantastic seeing a draft horse in the cross ties at Riding Right though! Move over Warmbloods, time for some cold-ass cart horses to move on in!

Ryan Gosling is still limping, but I gave him some medication for his bad leg and seems to be holding fast. I'll keep you posted.

photo by 468photography

Monday, April 23, 2012

Last Chance - Just 3 Shares LEFT!

Shearing Day for the second year of the Wool CSA is underway on Saturday. The wool sheared will be skirted, boxed, and sent off to the mill for the people already paid and signed up for their share of wool. Folks from the very first year have been mailed their shares. Due to just three sheep and a limited number of longwools turned into skeins of yarn the first year's share turned out to offer 2 or 3 skeins of wool and 2 or three sheets of felt. Everyone who signed up has either got their packages or has them in the mail this week. It took longer than I anticipated, and for that I apologize, but not a single investor went without a return. Some farm CSAs aren't so lucky. I am am sorry the mailings took so long but am happy I have product to send. If anyone is frustrated know that I did not end up making a single dollar of profit. The wool, sheep, feed, shearing, shipping costs and milling cost three times what the shares paid. But, thanks to those shares paid I was able to buy the flock to begin with. So I consider that first year breaking even. What I lost in cash I made up for in lessons.

If you signed up for the second season of the wool CSA, your yarn is starting its journey this Saturday. If you could please email me to let me know your current mailing address and involvement in the program I would really appreciate it. I'd like to send out a postcard with some updates and dates you can expect your shares. You can expect it by late summer, and I am hoping everyone gets 2-3 skeins, felt, or roving. We may do a raffle for some extra value products like a wool rug from the pieces of blackface wool not fit for felting and such.

As tradition holds, every shearing season spots open up for the following year's CSA. If you are interested in the 2013 season of wool (meaning your shearing date is NEXT year and your wool is NEXT summer, email me for a spot). I decided to only take 12 members for 2013. My flock is too small to make 25 people content. But I can really make 12 people's year who want to both support this small farm and the entire Cold Antler Dream. It is first come, first served, so email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com if you would like a share in the warmth.

photo by 468photography.com

it's pretty wet around here

Sunday, April 22, 2012

someone save temptation

This is my favorite song. First heard at my first-ever Iron & Wine concert in a small venue in Philadelphia back in the early summer of 2005. I went to the show post college graduation and pre-move to Tennessee. It was an in-between time and I was with my close friend Ajay. I had never heard this song before, and I was lucky to be introduced to it live.

The song was new to a lot of people then, only heard as the end credit tracks for the movie it was written for. I had not seen that movie yet, nor had Ajay, and so we heard this song as the last encore, just Sam and his guitar.

There were hundreds of people in the Trocadero Theatre, and not one person said a single word as the song played. The baby in the arms of the woman next to me did not cry. The hipsters did not check their vibrating phones. The world stood still and it wasn't until it was over that I realized every single person I could see, including myself, was crying.

This is my favorite song.
It will always be.

pulling his weight

The Milk Pail Diaries
A Doctor Visit

My day started by taking the rectal temperature of a goat. We were in the barn, Bonita and I, and she was already in her stanchion chomping into a feeder tray of Dairy Goat Ration drizzled with molasses. I added the molasses at the last minute, hoping its deliciousness would distract her from what I was about to do. I was equal parts nervous and concerned. I braced myself for the big show, thermometer in my left hand and her tail held up by my right. Here we go...

It easily slipped it in without a fuss. Bonita kept chewing, totally focused on her sugared breakfast cereal as the device calibrated her body heat. Cheap date.

The thermometer buzzed and I slid it out. The temperature was a solid 100.3 degrees, good news! Yesterday it was 103 and her udders felt warmer than usual to the touch. Between the heat of her udders and the engorged teats I was worried about these early signs of infection or mastitis. I'm new to goats and wasn't sure if I was playing with fire or over-reacting. My books seemed to suggest many reasons for the weirdness - from congestion in the milk path to a sore on the outside of the teat. I opted on the side of safety and called Common Sense Farm immediately. Yesheva would know what to do.

She's as good as any vet, better even. Around here most vets do not have a lot of experience with sheep or goats since small ruminant farmers can't justify the vet bills for a $200.00 animal. Common Sense can't either, so they have learned nearly everything there is to know about goat care over the decades, absorbing everything they can get their hands on in books, pamphlets, and online. Partner that book learnin' with constant daily experience and you have Yesheva, a 28-year old natural beauty and walking goat encyclopedia and medic. She has been through it all, from diagnosing and curing Floppy Kid Syndrome to Still Born deliveries to extreme cases of mastitis—all of which she has seen the best and worst of. And that is why I called her over to my farm yesterday. It's also why before my first cup of coffee I was inserting technology into goat orifices.

Yesheva came right up to my farm armored with thermometer, a strip cup, and her kind and gentle manner. We got Bonita on the stand for evening milking and with the ease and unabashed technique of an Old Hand, she took Bonita's temperature. After she saw the low-grade fever she milked a few squirts into the strip cup. I watched all this new stuff in awe. The new tools, the eyes on her udder, the way she talked and massaged the calm animal.

If you are confused about what was going on, let me explain. Strip cups are tools used in dairies for observation of the milk. They are 1-cup sized stainless steel containers with a fine mess screen that you milk right into. This screens shows you any strings or clots in the milk. If the milk passed through the screen without any weird residue or color, she was okay. Her milk came out normal as always, no glop on the screen at all. So Yesheva said she didn't think it was mastitis, as much as stress from adapting to the new farm and owner. She went about massaging the udders, feeling for lumps or other signs, and spoke softly to Bonita. Bonita was her goat for years, and they knew each other well. I think the Alpine was just relieved to have someone good milk her for once.

And she did. With skill I can't fathom Yesh milked the doe in 3 minutes flat, and when the udders stopped giving she massaged a bit more and Bonita let down a bit more milk. After that passed through the strip cup again without residue, Yesheva explained what she thought the high temperature was for. On her right udder there was a scab, small but right where the hands milk. She explained what to do to treat it, how important it was to keep her clean and her bedding pristine, and to wait till after milking to give hay. Apparently it takes about 30 minutes for the valves to shut in the udder that block off access to her milk, as well as infection. A just-milked goat that slumped down on dirty bedding after a milking was asking for trouble. So if they are standing up eating from a hay feeder after milking they are more likely to be up and off the ground while the udders close up, stopping foreign dirt and bacteria from getting inside.

I thanked her, and we went inside for tea. There she told me stories, terrible and wonderful about her years with goats. She talked about cheeses, yogurt, desserts and quiches. She talked about her farm, the goats in another Community in Belows Falls. And she talked about her experience with the Bovine vets around here. She felt most just handed over penicilin and were too rough. They were used to different dairy animals, and the techniques needed for 2,000 lbs of animal. She wasn't anti-vet, but she preferred to treat her own goats 90% of the time. When you see her herd, you understand. They are amazingly healthy. Bonita was just adapting, and needed some extra grain to put back on the weight she had loss in the move. Goats are not into change, she explained. But they are into sweet feed, so offer a little more to fatten her up a bit.

This has been the only bump in the road so far, and it wasn't the big deal at all. Onward to the milk pail, friends. Onward with cream on the top and goat nickering in the yard.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

sal forgave me for his haircut

he has a jenna problem

When I arrived at Riding Right Farm yesterday for my weekly lesson with Merlin, I wasn't sure what to expect. I told Andrea and Hollie (head instructors) about our disastrous loading and unloading and his lack of response to me in the saddle. Andrea takes out Merlin for a training ride every Wednesday as part of our boarding agreement, so she would have just experienced the same animal 48 hours earlier. If his problems were the same for her, that means he could have something seriously wrong with his health or tack. I am grateful for this comparison of amateur and experienced rider. It means that while I am riding him and learning the ropes, he is also getting a really decent training session every week. Andrea is evaluating him for me, as is Patty, and Milt (the Natural Horsemanship Trainer we will work with soon).

Andrea told me she took him out in the fields and her trail ride with Merlin went swimmingly. It wasn't perfect, but darn near it. He balked at the water crossing, but with some encouragement went right across. In the open field of lush grass he didn't fuss, and rode across the landscape without so much as a hitch. She said there were times he acted like a pony, but she was firm and direct in asking what she wanted and Merlin responded without complaint. She didn't have to get off him once, and at his worst he just stepped back a few times and shook his head. He did just fine.

This was good news, mostly because it validated that the problems I had with him last weekend were problems with ME. He isn't in the wrong tack, or in pain, or dealing with poor hooves or teeth. He is dealing with Jenna, and that is no easy task.

He has Acute Jenna Communication Deficiency (AJCD). Symptoms include exasperation, confusion, frustration, and an irrational exposure to kilts, chickens, goat milk, and fiddles. It can never be truly cured, but the remedy is simple: spend more time with Jenna. You don't heal up, but you get used to the beast that smells so much like dog and soil and she grows on you, starts to make sense.

It's all I can ask for.

So our lesson was about my goals with Merlin. After a few minutes in the outdoor arena working on leg yields and a posting trot, Andrea had us go for a walk around the property. Every time Merlin refused a path or started to balk she taught me exactly what to do, how to react, and every single time Merlin chose to trust me and move where I wanted him to go. It was great progress, and not the traditional English Riding lesson. But that is what I love about my Barn. Hollie and Andrea are interested in what YOU want out of the experience, and if I want a trail pony I can hitch to a cart than that is what they will help me achieve. They'll just make sure I look damn good doing it.

I asked Andrea, while she walked aside Merlin and I, what she would recommend to a person buying their first horse? If money wasn't an issue, and the new rider could get any breed, age, or sex of horse, what was her professional opinion on a safe bet for a great experience?

She looked up at me, walking confidently with Merlin's. Her student was finally starting to understand the language between equine and human she knew so well. She thought for a moment, and responded with wisdom I have yet to achieve:

"Take three years of riding lessons on a school horse first."

photo by jon katz.

Friday, April 20, 2012

new moon babes

The first lamb of 2012, a spunky ewe lamb, is thriving. This past Wednesday night Jon Katz and his wife Maria came over to treat me to dinner, a rare occasion for me. (I don't go out to eat dinner often, maybe once every three or four months). So I was excited. But before we could load up into their car I needed to do some basic shepherd's work. The little lamb had been by her mother's side for 48 hours, but she needed to be cleaned up, her tail docked, and given a shot or two. I had a plastic bucket of soapy water and a towel ready, the syringe loaded, and the banding tool locked and loaded by the time Jon and Maria were in the driveway. 

Jon's an old hand at lambing, and I had one season under my belt. We went through the tasks easily and Jon took photos. Maria held the little girl while I cleaned her rump. She had gotten the runs from the rich milk, not uncommon, and had managed quite the mess on her rear end. In two shakes I had her clean and smelling of mint from the castile soap I used from Common Sense Farm's soap shop. Maria cooed and I gave her the tetanus shot right before I slid the band over her long tail. In a few weeks I would find it in the pasture, dead and pointless. She wouldn't miss it, none of them do. Her new docked tail will wag like a dogs while she drinks her mother's milk.

She is already going to join the flock at Common Sense, as are two more of her half sisters yet to be born. They were agreed to as part of a barter to pay off my debt owed for the sheep shed construction. And I have faith they will arrive because several of the sheep (my fingers are double crossed for Maude) are swinging huge udders and seem ready to lamb soon. Tonight is the new moon and seems like a good time to bring a babe into the world. The sheep shed is filled with new, clean, straw. The horse has been separated out from the flock in his own paddock. Everyone seems calm. If I were a sheep, I would go for it tonight. 

photo by jon katz

Last Chance for Antlerstock 2012

Only two spots left, friends. First come, first experienced.

amazing lesson today...

Progress is being made!
photo by tim bronson

help me pick a beer!

It's time to start brewing again and I thought I would ask you guys to help pick out the recipe kit I'll use for these next two batches. I prefer Northern Brewer, the twin cities based brew shop I order from online. I have all the gear I need, just the recipe kit. Click this link and you'll end up on their home page. So far I have had the Peace Coffee Porter, Sweet Stout, and Honey Brown. I'm looking for a high-summer beer and a heartier light stout. So what would you try? We can pick it out. I can make a webinar of brewing (don't worry webinar folks, they will be busting out soon! You will get your 9 more videos this summer/fall for 2012) and then first taste online. It'll be a 4-6 week process, but this is the start.

And, if you want to get into brewing with me, go for it! We can do it together. All you need is the Northern Brewer Basic Starter kit, a steel brew kettle, and a recipe kit. Don't be intimidated by the chemistry or the process. It's a lot of fun and easier than making a pie crust. I promise.

And no, NB is not a blog sponsor. I just really think these guys are best at introducing this hobby to new people, and their grains, malts, and kits are top notch for the money.

lost in service to the cause

100-year-old tools aren't going to last forever, but when they die in service to their cause I feel good about it. Here I am holding up the two broken pieces of a singletree that (pre Jasper and Merlin) decorated the side of the farmhouse when I moved in. It was just one of many weird agricultural relics the Millers found around the property and barn and used as decorations in their remodeling project of the 1860's farmhouse. Little did they know when they mounted it to the wall that some crazy lady would pry it off and use it on a cart pony...

While starting to ground drive with Jasper last summer Brett took it off the wall, set chains to it, and attached it to the pony's harness. I remember coming out of the farmhouse with a beer for each of us and asking where he found that ancient piece of horse equipment. He pointed to the wall of my side porch, where another, smaller evener was hanging right above it along with the wooden bones of a small horse collar. Oh. I grinned and felt silly. Here I was getting the first horse ready to work in probably 80 years on that farm and I didn't even realize the parts for the job were nailed to the wall. They just faded into the background, camouflaged by their inactivity.

Last weekend after the Shearing debacle, Jasper used this old evener to pull loads and loads of locust rounds out of the space that will be his and Merlin's new pasture. On on particularly heavy load Jasper pulled forward and the ol' girl just snapped. We rigged up another solution with chains to replace the weight distribution and set the old singletree in the grass to die in peace. But I went back and grabbed a hold of it. I was proud to see it move from tool to decoration and back to tool again. A good ending.

photo by melina smyres


I reinforced all the birds' coops. I set up three baited live traps. I stayed up half the night. I didn't hear or so a single raccoon. Go figure.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries
Over a Week of Milking

It's been over a week living with a dairy animal, and all my worst fears were about nothing. I realized now that my resistance to a cow or goat wasn't about the work or commitment, but about other people. It may seem on this blog that I am a ruthless decision maker, but in truth I turn things over in my mind for quite some time, driving myself crazy with the details until I finally make a choice and own it with everything I've got. But getting to that certainty is like the road to Mordor.

I wasn't worried about the 2 scoops of extra grain a day, or making the 20 minutes to milk her during my usual chores. I was nervous about the commitment. And I was nervous the goat would hinder my social life. As petty as that sounds, it is true.

Up until the point I got a dairy animal things were pretty flexible around here. I'd wake up and the only "work" was time and presence. For half an hour I amble about, pre-coffee and go about the mindless tasks of filling feeders and water containers, chucking hay over fences, walking to make sure the electricity on the sheep fence is working and usual morning dog walks. The entire farm is content in thirty minutes on an office weekday. I give Jazz and Annie some outside time and set them down with a bowl of kibble and a big cold bowl of water and they are set till I return. Gibson hops in the truck with me and we can be gone all day and the farm animals will be fine. If I need to be away longer (outside of dire weather like winter's worst and summer's hottest) the animals are fine. As long as before I go to sleep the water and feed is topped off, their morning rations are plenty for the day long as they have space, grazing, and strong fences. It is a very simple system. Nothing has mucked with it much.

A milking goat is different.

I am now a master of the word commitment. Every twelve hours that big bag on Bonita's needs to be emptied or she will feel pain, possibly get infected, and then dry out and I'm out of milk (and luck) until next spring when she kids again. No more beautiful glass bottles of fresh milk in the fridge. No more chevre ready to spread over homemade breads and bagels. No more plans for milk soaps curing in the dry high cupboards in the closet. Her gifts are mine for the taking, but my end of the deal is that twice-daily date with the stanchion. No exceptions.

So before work and after work I milk Bonita. I am now so used to the motions. I'm so used to the routine that milking is just five minutes long. If I don't want to strain and keep it—either because the fridge is full or I am running late for work or dinner plans—then I simply milk her right into one of the gallon chicken water fonts and then spin-lock on the lid and the birds have a high protein snack to add to their mash and forage diet. All the chickens love the milk. It requires no cleaning or extra sanitation, and I am literally done being a dairy maid in about 7 minutes flat. Easy as pie.

Most mornings and evenings I keep the milk though. I bring it inside in our trusty pail, shock it in a sink of ice water till chilled, drain it over a buttercloth lined steel colander into a large glass bowl, and then pour the chilled and filtered milk into glass bottles I ordered from Caprine Supply that say GOAT MILK in bold green letters. I then set it in the freezer for about and hour and then the milk is ready to set in the fridge to do what real milk does: naturally separate from cream to skim. In the mornings I like taking a dollop of the cream into my coffee. and I then pour the less thick milk into my granola. It's a healthy and fortifying start to my day.

Since tonight is the start of my weekend I decided to make some fresh soft chevre for weekend brunches and friends. So instead of chilling the warm pail, almost over-flowing, I just pour it through my homemade strainer and set it in a big steel saucepan. I add another half gallon of two-day old milk from the fridge and set the heat on medium. When it hits 86 degrees I will pour in a little packet of cultures, not unlike the yeast packets you use for bread—and mix it in. Then I turn off the heat and cover it with a lid and in the morning I will have beautiful curds so certain in their beliefs you need a butter knife to slice through them. After that, I just drain the curds in the sink and by the time I am back from my morning riding lesson with Merlin I will be scooping it into glass containers for the fridge. So far everyone who has tasted it, either at the office, here at the farm, or as a gift said it was some of the best soft chevre they ever ate! I think that's because most store-bought chevres, and even farmer's market cheeses, need to be aged a certain amount of time to be sold. Even a few days changes the taste from that soft, whipped, beautiful chevre made from the milk of a healthy doe that same night. You just can't know till it crosses your lips, and when you do, you'll experience that sensation Brad Kessler describes in his book Goat Song: it was like tasting a meadow....

So I am married to a goat. Every twelve hours my right cheek is pressed against her side as I milk and talk to her. She munches on her dairy goat ration and sweet feed and I relieve the pressure she feels. And you know what, she relieves mine. It is hard to be stressed out when milking any animal. The action itself is meditative, intimate, and focused. I can't check my smart phone or worry about bills. I can just milk. And if she gets me into a state of such beautiful peace ten minutes a day AND gives me that cheese...

This goat is worth her weight in gold.

So I am a goat convert again. The dairy thing isn't a burden, it is a blessing. People may think my twice-a-day-teat-fest is a little old school, and that's okay. But it is great having a reason you absolutely can not stay late at work. And even if people do balk when I turn down after-work drinks so I can go make some myself: that's fine too. My life is a choice, and I am happiest when I am living it.

P.S. If you are considering a dairy animal, you should probably have a plan in case you have to leave for an emergency, and can't make milking. I am very lucky that the farm I got her from is 3 miles away and if I need to leave for a conference or trip: I can take her back to be goat-sat and milked with her old herd while I am gone.

the war on raccoons

Last night raccoons attacked, half of my laying hen flock was killed and Ryan the gosling is limping badly. I found their bodies all over the yard, just their heads eaten and a few bites of breast meat. A few young meat birds were taken too. I know it was coons because when I heard the screams I ran out at 2AM with a rifle and saw one as big as a bobcat scatter off. I didn't realize the damage then, because I only saw the one dead bird.

It's on.

first lamb of 2012

photo my jon katz

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I miss having pigs around....

called in the pros!

Gave Jim McRae a call, says the New York shearing day will be soon, which is great news. By "New York" Day he means that he'll spend a day traveling around my area to several small farms with smaller flocks. Since I only have 13 sheep to shear, he can knock them out in around an hour and be on his way to another farm nearby, making his trip south to us worth it for his business. Things have cooled down from those weird 90-degree highs, so the flock is more comfortable. Still, I want some naked sheep, and soon. I have wool to mill!

photo by tim bronson

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries:
Milking Time Videos

growing pains

Merlin and I are going through a rough patch in our relationship. After 6 weeks of weight loss, conditioning, and regular care and training he is a different horse. He feels fitter, younger, and has been in trailers and on trail rides. But on Sunday he put his giant foot down and refused to get into Patty's trailer. He just wasn't having it.

Merlin is not scared of trailers. He has ridden them all over the country. He happily walked into that same trailer before, on several occasions. But this past Sunday Patty and I went to load him up for a trail ride at her farm and not only did he balk, he broke his own halter in protest backing up and ran away. (I have the rope burn scars on my arm to prove it.) He ran off any my heart stopped. I was absolutely terrified he'd run out across the fields of Washington County. Luckily, he ran right back into the barn and the people tacking up and helped by blocking all exits and escape paths. I walked up to him, tied the lead rope around his neck, and got him back into his stall. Patty and I found a loaner halter shortly after, and tried loading him again. I decided I wasn't above bribing the freaked-out horse, and got a small bucket of sweet feed from the grain room. It worked, and an hour of chaos, sore arms, and a cup of grain later...we were on the road.

At Patty's he was a jerk and I was a wuss. He didn't want to listen to a thing I said and started backing up every single time I got on him, crow hopping and throwing his head. I'm sure it felt scarier than it looked, but I am still new at this. Scared, I jumped off. Patty eyed me like a hawk. She wasn't mean, but she was firm. She told me the horse could not win, and I'd get back up on him. This was not something I wanted to do. There was no bravery in my heart. I started making excuses, balking, hell I wanted to cry. I was scared and frustrated. Never before has Merlin been so obstinate. I worried it was a mistake, taking him out after his freak out and running off. I worried I would get hurt. I just worried. It's what I do.

I ended up getting back in the saddle. The plan was not to let the horse decide what it was doing.

Today Merlin was going to:
1. Get in the trailer.
2. Get tacked up and I would ride him.
3. Get back in the trailer.

I got back on and off that horse at least four times. Each time I got more worked up, which of course made him wound up. I didn't understand what was going on in his head? Finally, when I was about to break into tears Patty got out a lunge line and attached it to his bit. Without controlling anything, she just held the emergency breaks while I rode him around her. We started in circles and then up and down the driveway. Eventually we took off the extra line Patty was holding and I walked him around. It wasn't the heroic trail ride, but he did as I asked and I didn't give up. Patty exclaimed it was a day for the books, a success. I just felt like a rookie.

Getting him back on the trailer was another big production, taking over an hour in the rain. Nothing seemed to work. He was just being stubborn. Finally I made a trail of apples and carrots between grains and he crawled in, practically on his belly. I took him back to his stall at Riding Right feeling conflicted.

Monday I wrote my trainers at the barn about the weekend, and both decided that the "pony had my number." Meaning he simply was acting out, testing me, seeing what I was made of. He knew damn well how to trailer and walk on a trail. But he also knows I'm new at this, and don't have the confidence to put my foot down and MAKE him do the things I ask.

Tonight I rode him, and he was the same. Fussy, stubborn, and unwilling to do some basic things I asked. I decided he would not win this time. IF he didn't want to walk past a gate, I turned him around in a circle and we walked somewhere else I wanted to go. If he refused to move forward, I turned him and walked around things. We weaved around the jumps, walking over ones on the ground like logs on the trail. We went through tight corners, from walks into trots. And we walked from the indoor to outdoor arena like I asked. It wasn't always pretty, but I stuck to my guns. I think Merlin learned that the girl on his back tonight wasn't the pansy on his back Sunday. I was gaining on him.

What it all comes down to is confidence. Merlin is demanding more assertion from me, more self possession and certainty. He is forcing me to step up my game, claim my authority, and do it in a way that isn't unkind. I already know whips and spurs aren't the tools he reacts too. This isn't about beating him into place. What it is about is out-stubborning him. He has no idea who he is dealing with. I have the gold, silver, and bronze metals in stubborn smelted together into a balking donkey trophy in my soul.

So we'll get there. We have trainers, friends, and resources on our side. This is just forcing me to be a stronger person. I accept the challenge, and am grateful for the opportunity to grow.

photo by jon katz

Monday, April 16, 2012

meet our new girl

i'm the happiest girl in new york!

I came home to this little ewe with her mother, the 2-year old ewe who abandoned Matt last year. Now we have another little bath matt, a freaky little curly-haired ewe lamb with a full belly, bright eyes, and with her mother in the field. Well done, Mama!

And more on the way!


Should Young Farmers Be Exempt From A National Draft?

I remember hearing a friend complaining about the Amish once at a dinner party, saying in angry tones how "they don't pay taxes or fight for their country". I raised my eyebrow at this. The Amish do, of course, pay sale and income taxes (save Social Security, and then only for self-employed Amish for religious reasons) and are pacifists. They don't accept Social Security checks or Medicare and are morally against taking human life. Also, It is our own nation's laws that allow them to be exempt, so my friend's true beef should have been with his legislators, not the plain folk. They are living their life both in accordance to the law and their faith. Their only fault is the lack of outsider approval, which frankly, they could care less about.

Unlike other pockets of the Amish in America, many of the faith in upstate New York are still farming. Land prices are cheap compared to Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the old abandoned dairy farms in the Adirondacks are being bought up and farmed by young Amish families starting new churches around the area. I wondered who this bitter complainer would expect to be growing their food in a time of serious and sacrificial war if all the young people on farms were drafted?

The average age of the American Farmer is 57+ years old, and only make up 2% of the National Census. The only reason that average age is so high and the numbers so are low is because most conventional farmers use staggering amounts of gasoline, inputs, petroleum-based fertilizers, and giant gas-gurgling machines. God forbid we ever had a draft coincide with a fuel shortage, or sky-rocketing gas prices, because this model would become laughably unsustainable and downright terrifying.

Food would become scarce, very scarce. The average town's grocery store only contains enough food to sustain their local population with three days of food. And the average citizen does not keep a full larder or grow their own food as many Americans had in the past. The older farmers could not put in the physical effort to farm traditionally without fossil fuels, and the younger able-bodied would be off fighting to lower the price at the pump. If the current model of conventional farming could not sustain us, and the backup labor was gone, could you imagine how invaluable the skills and farms of the Amish would become? How invaluable any smaller, sustainable, grass-based farm would become?

It all comes down to the disconnection so many people have with their food right now. It is simply another cheap commodity, something that is just always there. You can do nothing buy nap all day and buy a hamburger for a dollar waiting for you, hot and ready to eat. The grocery stores, take-out menus, drive-ins, all of it gets about as much reverence from the average American as the crumpled up gas receipts in their pockets.

We've become so irreverent towards food and farming that the purest and most unadulterated forms of agricultural communities are seen as irresponsible or shirking duties. We live in a country based on the freedoms of independence and religion, and the folks actually acting on them are considered cartoons in an otherwise "real" society. In an oil shortage teams of "cartoon draft horses" could save a town from starvation.

Here is my question for you, angry anti-Amish and non farming contingent. Would you be willing to grow or raise your own food in a time of National emergency such as war? Do you even know how? If the answer to either (or both!) of those questions is no, then should the younger generations of sustainable farmers be exempt from a National Draft? I can't think of a more valuable piece of our social economy than the people growing healthy food. We would desperately need farmers less dependent on the crutches of mass inputs to feed us. I understand the importance and sacrifice of the soldiers, but who is going to feed them and their families if the world changed in ways we're not currently prepared to handle? Perhaps it is time to consider keeping the people serving their country food, in their country. It is not an act of cowardice, but an act of brave sense.

*Serve Your Country Food is the slogan of The Greenhorns, a national association of young famers.

90 degrees today... Who's laughing now?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

wool and light: 468 photography's magic

Fiddle Winner!

Thank you to everyone who took part in the fiddle contest, what a blessing and a gift that was. Thanks to your help this pony will be coming home to Cold Antler in a few more months of training, evaluation, and work. I was able to cover 2/3rd the down payment, and I am very, very, very grateful to you all. A random comment was selected from that original contest post and the winner of my early 1900's fiddle is....Sue Steeves!

Sue, email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com and we will set up your shipping info!

The Milk Pail Diaries
My first Chevre

This weekend I used an inexpensive kit from New England Cheesemaking to create chevre from Bonita's amazing milk. The kit cost around twenty dollars and came with cultures for curdling the milk, rennet, butter muslin, a recipe book and 4 molds. I thought making mozzarella was simple, but chevre made that cheese look complicated as a rubik's. Here's how easy it is to make chevre from raw goats milk. I started after morning milking on Friday, and it was ready to spread and serve Saturday morning. But most of that time was draining and cheese curdlin' - only took about 5 minutes of actual work, the hardest work was waiting!

1. Heat gallon of goats milk to 86 degrees in stainless steel.
2. Add packet of chevre culture, stir well into the warm milk.
3. Take off heat and let it sit with a lid for 12-20 hours.
4. Milk sets into happy thick curds you can slice with a knife
5. Strain through cheesecloth in a colander
6. Cover and let drain 6-10 hours
7. Salt, place in containers, refrigerate up to a week.

Produces two pounds of fresh soft cheese!

In the morning I set the drained curds into a mold and let it drain even more, to firm it up to be a free-standing mini wheel of salted delight. The other curds were fluffy and beautiful in the cheese cloth. I scooped them into a mason jar and set them in the fridge as a dip or spreading soft cheese. I took a taste and closed my eyes to savor it. It wasn't anything like any commercial goat cheese I ever ate. Light, fluffy, tangy (in a good way!) and reminded me of what good slightly soured whole milk cream and cream cheese would taste like if you whipped them up together. It was amazing, light, not at all "goaty" as I am learning over and over. I spread it onto an everything bagel and it was the perfect companion of light and fluffy cream to the seasoned and seeded bread. The hot bagel and the chilled chevre did a dance in my mouth and I think it was then in my heart I decided Bonita would be here to stay.

I don't think I can go back to life without a dairy animal in the backyard. It's just too much fun, too rewarding, and too damn tasty to go on without. From walking out with the pail to placing it in the fridge is less than 20 minutes a milking, and worth every second. Life is too short to live without a goat. And you can quote me on that, darling.

photo of Bonita by 468photography.com
photo of cheese by Melina Smyres


my bargain basement amish reject

Jasper hasn't gotten a lot of play on the blog lately, but he is a part of my farm life here, has been since he arrived last spring. His story is interesting. For those new to the blog, Jasper was bought off Craigslist from a pony dealer in Belcher, near Hebron here in Washington County. The man who sold him to me (for $500) bought him at the annual Cobelskill Amish Horse Auction down state. He came out into the ring driving a cart, and was being sold as a cart pony. The previous owner said he was "too wound up" for children, and he is. You need a pony calm as cold coal to have children driving it in road traffic. Jasper was a little too spirited for the Amish and their needs, so at 9 years old he was sent to auction, bought by a local pony dealer and sold to me.

When he arrived at Cold Antler he was underweight and dirty. I didn't even know he was in bad shape, since at that time I was so new to horses and (to me) he looked like a beautiful roan stallion of childhood story books. In truth, he was a malnourished, fly-bitten mess. But a summer on pasture with regular grooming, good grass, farrier visits, and harness work and he turned out to be a wonderful (if ornery and sometimes bossy) working pony. Yesterday he pulled a half-cord of firewood out of a back pasture, up a hill, and to the splitting pile on a wooden sledge. It was in a place no truck could go, and would have taken me alone several hours of back-breaking work carrying those dense locust rounds alone on a wheelbarrow with a flat tire. Even my fancy new garden cart would have been serious lifting and pushing work.

If I had an ATV or tractor, I could have used that with a wagon, but I don't think I'll ever farm with a tractor or four-wheeler, not on this land. It is only 6.5 acres and none of it flat. I live on the side of a mountain and I am certain I would flip a tractor over in no time, I don't even have a riding mower. But I am confident walking along uneven ground with hooves and chains. It feels solid. And Jasper did the same work without the sounds of engines, or using fuel I can't make, and made the day's work pleasant and easy.

Jasper did work, and hard. We used some felt from the Scottish Blackface to pad the breastplate, and it helped. We lead him from the bridle (he is not great at taking commands from behind with long lines) but so what? So it wasn't perfect, but he sure was handy. I don't think of Jasper as a performance animal, more like my own hoofed garden tractor. He doesn't have to be perfect, just willing. He was both to me.

Jasper, you are my Amish Reject Bargain Basement Cart Pony. The horse in such bad shape people emailed me concerned when you first arrived. But now you are winter plump and sweating through solid work. You carried in wood that will farm this house next winter. You did it willingly, kindly, and didn't bolt or cry when we broke the 100-year-old single tree. You stepped over logs, rocks, and climbed up steep slopes. You tore your cheap harness from it all, and I will get you a proper collar and harness to replace it soon. You may be too small to ride and too wild to drive on these mountain roads, but you earn your keep. And you let strangers work alongside you. And you never, ever, complain. I love you, kid.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

pony of the americas

Jasper the POA earned his keep today. He pulled about 7 loads (a full cord) of locust out of the back pasture today, as well as some larger logs. We used my Christmas present from Brett, a Jasper-sized stone boat to haul the wood. The flat wooden sledges are called stone boats because they were used to haul stones out of fields in great piles. Today they moved some big rounds of a tree that was cut down to make room for the new horse pasture that will be built in June. The photos were all taken by Melina Smyres, that's her Robert working with Jasper.

You win some...

Shearing Day turned out to be a bust when it came to the wool, but a boom when it came to the wood! We got Sal sheared, but it was an uphill battle the whole road. Since my used sheep clippers literally started smoking after a few minutes of use, we switched to hand shears and dog clippers instead. It took two people an hour (with several people holding him down - turns out he's a kicker) just to get one sheep done. It was hilarious, messy, stuborn work. Tim was there and took some photos as well, and I'll look forward to sharing them.

Well folks, looks like I'll be hiring the shearer this year after all. It's just too much time without the right tools. Jim McRae charges eight dollars a sheep and does an amazing job. I spent 2 hours and needed six people to save eight dollars. There's frugality and then there's just being dumb. I will let the pros take this on, and learn from them the proper way to do it with the right tools next year...Oh well. You win some, and you lose some. I lost the shearing game, but did we ever pony up after lunch!

After the shearing of Sal was completed, we had a big kitchen potluck. And when that work was all done we decided to move pile of fallen logs Brett had cut down for the new horse pasture. Using a bit of pony power, we teamed up and used a POA-sized stone boat to haul a cord of rounds out of the forest and into the splitting pile. More photos of Jasper to follow!


A large group of folks is coming up today to help with a full-work day at the farm and end with a big ol' potluck! I'm looking forward to it. This is my first shearing I am hosting and doing by myself, a big step in the small holding shepherd's career. In a few hours there will be bags of wool and a fine group of friends laughing, eating, and working together. Days like today, Hoo!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries:
Happy Farmer, Here

good morning!

Good morning! I just wanted to check in quick and tell you that last night's Greenhorns event was wonderful, just wonderful. Great people, great farms, great food. I got to finally see the Greenhorns Movie in its entirety and it was so inspirational. It made me proud to just be sitting with my fellow stubborn agrarians in an auditorium. I read my essay in the book Write it Down, click here if you would like to read it—and after all was done CJ and his wife helped me get my new milking stanchion into the back of the pickup. It just needs a few adjustments and then I'll post a photo of us using it soon! Right now it is the most beautiful thing in the world to me.

Oh, and there is a covered gallon of goats milk and cheese culture setting on my stove to slowly turn to curds in 12-20 hours. It got a great and inexpensive chevre kit from New England Cheese making and can't wait to drain this cheese, salt it, and spread it over bagels on Shearing Day morning!

Riding lesson with Merlin in little bit, and then some unfortunate repair work on the truck. But it has to be done, turns out you need those front wheels to stay on the axles if you want to keep moving across the landscape. Makes me appreciate horses even more.

Only 4 spots left for the next season of the CSA! If you are interested contact me soon! If you join the 2013 season your wool starts growing soon as the sheep are sheared at the Potluck on Saturday! And you are welcome to come to the Shearing Day Potluck as well. It's not a workshop, there's no money exchanged, just an open farm day to work and help out with shearing and various other projects, but it will be a lot of fun and between the food and good people it'll be a big time.

Okay, I'm off to clean out the goat pen/horse stall. Enjoy your weekends!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries
Tables, Tasting and Trials

Much to update on the Goat Front. Starting with a huge thank you to reader, CJ, who bartered a wooden handmade brand-new milking stanchion for a weekend pass at Antlerstock. He already has it build and loaded up and will hand it over to me tonight at the Greenhorns Event in Williamstown! How amazing is that?! I'll post a photo of Big Bonita on it tomorrow. I'm beyond pleased about it. The set up I rigged is working, but nowhere near as ideal as a proper milking stand. I sit on the ground on clean hay, but it would be nice to sit on a stool and be certain she wouldn't be stepping off.

Thanks to everyone's advice and tips, I have started to enjoy the milk here as a substitute for all the things I used cow's milk for. In my cereal, by the glass, in my coffee. Either Bonita is special or that chilling/freezing method really works because her milk tastes no different in flavor or texture than 2% Cows Milk. No "goaty" taste at all. It's not as fatty as the whole milk in my fridge, but way more "wholesome" than a skim or fat-reduced milk. I'm really happy about that. Most goat milk I have tried has either been off local food source shelves from neighboring farms, and way too "goaty" for my taste. But I can not tell the difference between this chilled, fresh, Alpine milk and the stuff I've been drinking my whole life.

I brought a glass-bottle pint with vanilla extract and sugar into the office today, for coffee. Everyone at work treating it like the black stain of the Company Fridge. We need some goat milk education around these parts...

Early 1900's Fiddle Giveaway This Sunday!

This was a fundraiser, no purchase necessary raffle. Winner of the fiddle giveaway to support bringing Merlin home.
For details click here!
photo by tim bronson of 468photography.com

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

the life i should be leading

Tonight when I got home from work I slid into my routine of chores like you slide into a favorite sweater, more comfortable and confident then before you put it on. I came inside first to walk the dogs and set down their dinner bowls, and then did the same for the cats and the dozen chicks in the mud room brooder. Inside my house right now there are six mammals and a dozen birds and there isn't a sound but the high-nasal snores of George on the dog bed by the crackling wood stove and the background chirping of new beaks plays as softly as the stream outside does when the windows are open on summer nights.

Outside the meat bird youngin's are nearly 4 weeks old and holding their own. They now scamper all over the farm from the pasture to the well. While milking Bonita tonight a little herd of meat birds came and started bothering us so I turned the teat into a squirt gun and shot a meat bird right in the feet. He squawked and ran off, and then ran right back to drink the milk puddle in the dry dirt. Lord, do we need rain around here. Ground is hard tack with little stubble of grass.

With all the 3-month old Freedom rangers in freezer camp, the farm sure is less frantic. 27 9-pound birds running around sure did make a scene when cars rolled by. I've been enjoying them with friends, giving them as gifts and eating them here at the farm. Over at Patty's we had one for Easter Dinner and it was perfect.

The sheep are in their main paddock and I hope a few will lamb soon. It is almost that time and every day I come home from the office or an errand I listen for those mama sheep chortle throat sounds and baby bleats. Jasper in is the pasture next to them and is loving this mild weather and open spaces. right now nights are no colder than the mid thirties. He runs around the fields, eats his hay, drinks his water down and is working off that pent up stall feeling. I can't wait till he and Merlin are in their new paddock together, something I hope to have ready by my Birthday weekend in mid July.

I ordered goat cheese rennet and supplies to make some soft cheeses from Bonita's gallon and a half of milk she is giving a day. I experimented with mozzarella tonight but it was a disaster. Too much heat, too little goat milk, and too much rennet made a suitable alternative for Styrofoam. But hey, fail again better next time! And next time we'll go for a proper chèvre.

Shearing is Saturday, and you're invited. Looks like three gals from the SCA will be coming and a few readers from the blog. Should be quite the day! If you are coming bring something to eat and share and some clean clothes and shoes to change into! Tim said if the Battenkill Race (huge bike race this weekend in Cambridge. HUGE) winds up and his photo work leaves him time he'll try to make it over to get some shearing photos.

I'd call that a day, friends. I am about to tune up my fiddle and enjoy a nice Guinness as a nightcap. It feels deserved tonight, as there's a properly running farm out there producing eggs, meat, wool, milk and the starts of green vegetables. Lately I feel like I am ever more comfortable with this land and work. I am handling the challenges they offer. It's part of the journey of learning a whole new lifestyle. It excites the hell out of me. I'm growing as a farmer, and growing into it. It feels like the life I should be leading.

Not much else to crow about around here...

P.S. My arms and hands are sore!.

heathen from the city that dreams

Greenhorns Events and Screenings!

Tomorrow night I'll be at Williams College in Williamstown Mass for the Book Launch Party of the new Greenhorns Book, a collection of essays by young farmers. As a contributor to the book, myself and another contributor/local farmer Luke from Quincy Farm will be there for readings and a Q&A. I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be a fun event with many young and enthusiastic college students and new farmers of all ages. There will be good local food, a movie, speakers and the whole shindig is Free!

And if you can't make it out tomorrow night, know that on June 29th there will be a Greenhorns Screening and Book party right here in Veryork, hosted by Battenkill Books, Cold Antler, Bedlam Farm, and others! You can come and see the movie, buy a signed copy of The Greenhorns, and enjoy a day here in Upstate New York with writers and farmers. It won't be at Battenkill Books, probably at the Freight Depot (our town took a debunked railroad station and turned it into a community arts center) but I plan on being there with Gibson and I think Jon and Maria will be there as well. It'll be a downright hootenanny.

More Greenhorns Info and Events!

More Battenkill Books info and Events!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Milk Pail Diaries:
First Milking at Cold Antler Farm

Bonita arrived at 6AM, delivered in a large dog crate in the back of a pickup truck. The man who delivered her, a brother named Zyrah, at Common Sense was heading to pick up her replacement in Bellow's Falls. He helped me walk her over towards the barn and get her milked. It took two of us, since I had no way to contain her, no stanchion of any sort, and she was nervous being in a new place. We tied her collar and leash to a tree and I help a grain bucket while Zyrah milked her in about 5 minutes flat. I could not believe his speed, three times as fast and forceful as my beginner's hands. I thanked him, grateful just to get the chore done. He walked the full and foamy pail to the side deck where no one could hurt it.

I stood there with Bonita, who was gently nibbling my black sweater. I had not anticipated the importance of a stanchion, the stand that secures the goats head in a loose vice while they eat so they can't move while the milking is done. As I went about morning chores I tried to figure out an inexpensive solution. I didn't want to spend money on a trial enterprise and I didn't want to have a horrible experience either. As I racked my brain I set her inside the pasture next to the sheep. It was where Jasper spent his time when he wasn't in the stall. I figured I'd give her two acres to explore with the strange new sheep a fence away so no one could bust heads, start with the nosing and smelling first. Instead of checking out the pasture, or the sheep, or drinking her water or eating her hay she simply whirled around and in one motion tore down the woven wire fence.

Then I had this stupid moment of panic.

This was a mistake. What the crow was I thinking? I can't contain a goat here, that's why there was a goat kicked out in the first place. And what the hell where you thinking when you took on a goat without anything but a borrowed steel pail? How are you going to milk her when there isn't someone here to hold her? You really aren't capable of this....

I let my inner panic last another few minutes. I walked around the farm frantically doing chores, fuming at myself and my mistake. With one hand full of eggs I grabbed the metal milk pail off the deck by the lip and it splattered out of my clumsy, distracted hands. I wanted to cry, and I didn't care how cliche it was. I was in over my head. I didn't have the right tools or know-how. And I just ruined the first ever pail of Cold Antler Farm Milk....

I let my stupid inner anger last another 45 seconds and then snapped out of it. Why put myself down? Why be angry? You want to change your circumstances, change your attitude about them. I opened the gate and removed Bonita from the place she was destined to fail in. I tied her off at a tree and then took Jasper out into the pasture where he could both have more space to trot and run, and open up a goat-containment zone. I placed her inside the horse paddock and she simply walked out under the latch chain in one deft squeeze. I added a second chain lower down on the gate so she couldn't do that anymore and she started knocking around Jasper's woven wire fence. It had a top line of eclectic already, but that doesn't stop a goat till they've already climbed a fence to get to it. So I grabbed some more t-post insulators and a roll of wire and added a second goat-nose level of electric shock to the inner fence. Now I was cooking with gas.

I got her some fresh hay, clean water, scratched her head and went inside. And she stayed.

My day between milking was ideal, almost sounds fake when I write about it. With the goat secure and her bag empty, I had Gibson help me wrangle those chickens. We ended up taking eight to Ben Shaw in a crate in the back of the pickup with the new Chocolate Drops album blaring. I picked up their CD and the newer Sarah Jarosz album (haven't gotten to that one yet). I love that I bought both of them in Cambridge. Battenkill Books carries some killer CDs and The Village Store does too. I get the whole digital age, but I love holding LPs and CDs, looking at the artwork, setting it on a shelf. Anyway, I digress.

I sang along with "I Am a Country Girl" and dropped off the birds. Then with my crate of birds heading to their fate, and a dog tired from the work that boils in his blood, I took us both home. I put Gib in for a nap and changed into breeches and half chaps. Time to see a horse.

I had a good ride with Merlin, the arena was all ours. We had a rough trail ride on Easter Sunday, he didn't want to cross water. But this ride was great. He did all I asked and I am starting to feel comfortable and natural at a posting trot. We didn't push it, a short and productive practice. And when we were done I tussled his mane and kissed his forehead and asked him if he was getting all the love he needed? He nosed my pocket and I gave him a cookie.

The afternoon was dedicated to chores and errands. I cleaned out the meat bird chick haybale brooder/coop. I checked the bees (thriving!) and I watered the baby plants of greens, garlic, and peas popping out of the first raised beds planted just a few weeks earlier. I put off writing (shame on me) but what the hell, I was ridiculously happy. I even had a plan to make the sorriest excuse for a stanchion ever. Get this: a flag pole holder.

While picking up grain at the hardware store I saw a wall-mounted, swiveling, flag pole holder. Something clicked in my head and I bought it on the spot. It was made so you could mount it to a wall and stick a pole at any angle you wanted, basically a lever you tightened at will. I got out my cordless power drill and mounted it at goat-head height on the outside barn wall. Instead of a flag, I stuck a plunger dowel into it and tightened the screw that would hold my "flag" in place. With a grain bucket hanging in front of it I could do the same thing the fancy metal milking stands did at Common Sense.

When milking time came at 5:30 I was a little nervous. This was it. There was no one here to watch or help, and I was counting on an $8.99 aluminum flag pole holder with a toilet sucker handle on it. I washed my hands, rolled up my sleeves and grabbed the stainless steel pail. It was on.

I filled a plastic bucket with sweet grain and walked over to Bonita. Her bag was HUGE and she seemed happy to see me, all bleats and head bobs. I set the milk pail down and opened the gate. I set her in place over my rigged stanchion, her body against the wall, and I clamped it comfortably shut, using a piece of baling twine to close the top from her lifting her head out. She didn't flinch. She just went to chompsville. I set the pail under her teats (just two!) and started going to town on those suckers. Milk squirted into the pail with a happy force, and I realized I didn't have to be dainty. I went faster and harder and she just ate. It took till the pail was half full before I realized it was working. My head pressed against her side, my arms working one at a time like little pistons. In about 10 minutes the work was done. I set it aside, hugged her, and helped her out of her head lock. Mission Accomplished!

I grabbed the pail and walked it inside, we weren't home free yet. I still had to strain it, bottle it, and do the dishes. I didn't have a strainer, but I did have some gadgets I bet would work. I grabbed a small mesh metal strainer and a coffee filter from the vast collection I inherited when I bought the farmhouse. They had been sitting in a box unused, waiting for a purpose to call them by name. I set the filter paper in the strainer, slowly poured in the foaming milk, and watched as every goat hair and fleck of hay stayed out of the Pyrex bowl below it. I smiled. I could not believe I was making this happen. I poured it into a recycled bottle from Battenkill Creamery and shut the lid. I set it on the kitchen counter and gawked for a while. I just made milk happen... Me. I had never held a container of milk that I was entirely responsible for, ever before. It felt like it was worth an unspeakable sum. After a few moments of quiet revelry, I set it in the fridge. From walking outside to finishing the milking dishes it took 25 minutes. I was impressed. I always thought a milking chore would take an extra 3 hours a day, but one goat wasn't bad at all.
I guess tomorrow I'll find out what goatmilk coffee creamer tastes like...

Milk Pail Diaries:
Meet Miss Bonita

good boy

I would just like to take a moment this morning to thank my panting, filthy, exhausted, and wonderful dog, Gibson. Together we just wrangled and grabbed six frantic Freedom Rangers (and hope to catch a few more still). They were well down in the forest, hard to catch. But Gibson managed to gather and hold a few in place so I could scoop them up and put them in the crate in the back of the truck. It wasn't a pretty, but it sure was teamwork! In a little bit we'll both be driving over the mountain to Greenwich to deliver the birds to be slaughtered for the table. I took today off as a vacation day, so I have time to figure out this goat and meat bird business. So far its been a little hectic! More later!

Milk Pail Diaries Teaser: I did not cry over spilled milk.

Monday, April 9, 2012

CSA Update - New Shares Open

Shearing Day for the second year of the Wool CSA is underway on Saturday. The wool sheared will be skirted, boxed, and sent off to the mill for the people already paid and signed up for their share of wool. Folks from the very first year have been mailed their shares. Due to just three sheep and a limited number of longwools turned into skeins of yarn the first year's share turned out to offer 2 or 3 skeins of wool and 2 or three sheets of felt. Everyone who signed up has either got their packages or has them in the mail this week. It took longer than I anticipated, and for that I apologize, but not a single investor went without a return. Some farm CSAs aren't so lucky. I am am sorry the mailings took so long but am happy I have product to send. If anyone is frustrated know that I did not end up making a single dollar of profit. The wool, sheep, feed, shearing, shipping costs and milling cost three times what the shares paid. But, thanks to those shares paid I was able to buy the flock to begin with. So I consider that first year breaking even. What I lost in cash I made up for in lessons.

If you signed up for the second season of the wool CSA, your yarn is starting its journey this Saturday. If you could please email me to let me know your current mailing address and involvement in the program I would really appreciate it. I'd like to send out a postcard with some updates and dates you can expect your shares. You can expect it by late summer, and I am hoping everyone gets 2-3 skeins, felt, or roving. We may do a raffle for some extra value products like a wool rug from the pieces of blackface wool not fit for felting and such.

As tradition holds, every shearing season spots open up for the following year's CSA. If you are interested in the 2013 season of wool (meaning your shearing date is NEXT year and your wool is NEXT summer, email me for a spot). I decided to only take 12 members for 2013. My flock is too small to make 25 people content. But I can really make 12 people's year who want to both support this small farm and the entire Cold Antler Dream. It is first come, first served, so email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com if you would like a share in the warmth.

photo by 468photography.com

listen to this

The Milk Pail Diaries:
First lessons in milking goats...

I arrived at Common Sense's giant two story barn a little early. The folks assigned to tonight's milking had not arrived yet so I made myself at home with Smudge, the black and white barn kitten. I scooped her up in my arms and walked down to the goat pen where Bonita was waiting for me.

And there she was... Bonita's a French Alpine doe, 3 years old with a black face and back and a brown body. She's the largest doe in the herd giving a gallon and a half of milk a day. The farm is happy to loan her over because they are getting a new doe from the community in Bellow's Falls Vermont and want their herd more uniform in size and production. Bonita is a great producer, but also larger than they prefer as far as children and families handling her. So they are happy to let me give goat owning a test drive. So am I.

I walked right into the pen and said hello to the fine lady. She did this thing were she showed me her upper plate and bottom teeth, lips curled back. I have no idea what this means since sheep only do this right before sex and I hardly know this woman. But she didn't try any moves, she just did the weird lip thing and sauntered around. I shrugged and scratched her ears. Then I checked out her teats. Two can play at this game.

Man, where they swollen! I started to feel a little doubt rise up in me. I mean, that entire fleshy milk container was packed with 2/3rds a gallon of warm milk and its my responsibility to get it all out in a quick and gentle manner in a way that doesn't cause mastitis or Lord knows whatever other goat-milking vapors I might cause through my clumsy hands.

Soon Yesheva and her children arrived, along with some other community members I know well. I've lived three miles away from Common Sense farm for two years now, sharing equipment, meals and conversations over hot mugs of tea. They've become good friends and farm co-conspirators over the years. We've bartered livestock for hay, built my sheep shed, and their landscaping team plows my driveway and has shoveled snow off my roof.

So when they ran this goat idea not only was I excited, but felt like I was in on something special. Bonita isn't just any Alpine, but a doe from a farm that cares for its animals so well their barn is usually in better shape than my living room (WHEN I have company over) so I feel both excitement and a little fear. I don't want to do anything wrong, or cause any harm.

Before I knew what was happening, a man opened the goat pen and let two out. Bonita and her pal Iris. They both bee-lined for their milking stands with such excitement I was shocked. Then I realized they were so used to the routine, the grain in the stands, and the relief of the empty bag...why wouldn't they run? It's like one wild date night in hyper speed. They get dinner and felt up in ten minutes flat.

With Bonita locked and loaded in the metal milking stand my lessons started. I was handed a warm, wet rag that smelled like lavender. It was a castile soap they use to clean and gently massage the teats before milking. This "lets down" the milk into the teats. It was a quick massage, and then on with the drying towel. Now that Bonita's swimsuit place was cleaned (and my own hands washed) a metal pail was set under her udder. I tried to recall the woman at Byler's Farm in Slatington Pennsylvania who taught me how to milk a cow on a family outing when I was. I used my thumb and forefinger to make an okay sign around the teat's base, pinched it off, and one finger at a time closed my fist.

Milk squirted into the pail!

Holy crow! I was doing it! I kept at it, and quickly learned how little pressure I was using. In the time it took me to get an 1/8 of an inch of milk in the pail my partner at the other stand was done and onto his next doe. So I have it some moxie, and a little more gentle force, and it came out faster and thicker. Okay, okay, I'm getting the hang of it. MY arms weren't used to it though. I got tired quickly, and had to switch hands. Eventually as the pail filled up I could feel her emptying out. When nothing came out of the back left teat I focused on the back right (which had plenty left). Yesheva praised my work, even if I was slow, because I wasn't causing milk to go "back up into the bag" a bad no no. This is what causes that scary mastitis disease.

In about fifteen minutes I had done the job. The milk pail was foaming with a happy half gallon of fresh milk and I felt like I just won a game of chess. I did some complicated and timeless, something people have been doing for hundreds of years. A dance between hunger and style. And the results were right there in front of me. Checkmate.

Tomorrow Cold Antler Farm turns into a micro-dairy!

P.S. Bonita will arrive early tomorrow morning. I'll get her milked outside the barn with a pail of grain and a tie out, and then walk her into a pen where she can meet Jasper through the safety of a closed stall door. I think having them side my side for a little will be good, in a way that Jasper can't hurt her if he is anti-goat. I don't think there will be trouble but better safe than sorry. Wish us luck and drama-free equine/caprine love.