Saturday, April 7, 2012

chickens in the road

I've been paying attention to Suzanne McMinn's Chickens In the Road blog lately, its quite the website. Not just a blog but features, recipes, the works. She recently got a horse and boy oh boy, I wanted to walk down to her farm, sit on the porch, and talk manes and tails. I confess I am not up and up on the farm blog scene but it is enjoyable to find someone that resonates with you. Suzanne seems to have achieved the life I strive for, a self-employed family farmer in this new farm economy. She makes a living sharing her passion and her family with other new and determined farmers, and what could be more fulfilling than that?


Yes, I'm looking for an immersion blender, a tabletop espresso machine, and a chicken coop, thanks.

Friday, April 6, 2012

it's fancy time, people

I have no idea what kind of chicken that is. It's one of Tamine's crazy cross breeds from his jungle fowl stock. That hen with the blue face and white feathers sure is a looker. It's fancy time, people. Look at that bird and treat yourself to something nice. She would.

I can't rest the night before a workshop. I'm so excited. I baked a giant cast-iron pan of apple pie from New York's finest, and a braided egg bread with butter and sugar crust the size of a basket ball. Tomorrow is all about chickens here at Cold Antler. The meals are chicken (eggy breakfast of bread, quiche, and pie) and a lunch of chicken tacos. There are 45 little chicks awaiting their future homes in the brooder and a houseful of new chicken owners coming to meet them. Jazz and Annie will camp out in the bedroom upstairs. They "like" chicken.

By like I mean eat.

...if it all went away?

I loved reading everyone's responses to the technology post, what we require for daily sanity (and in some cases, survival) all over the world. But today I have a new question, and it is something I think about fairly often: What would you do if it all went away?

What do I think? Well, I'm walking a thin line. I don't think we're going to see the world change quickly and harshly, like some do. But I do think rising gas prices and a shifty economy will make our future far more local and less energy dependant. I would be lying if I said my interest in equine transportation, food storage, clean water, backyard chickens, seed safes, etc was about prepping for the end of the world. I just like this lifestyle. It makes me feel safe and useful. I am not creating a fort against the Zombie Hordes.

I do think our current lifestyle will go from being cheap and normal to very expensive and abnormal, and in the next few years. It is foolish to think otherwise. I don't think we'll run out of oil or electricity, but I do think if we don't make strides towards more energy independence we are looking at serious trouble. (And I don't mean as a nation, I mean as individuals.)

The best protection against rising food and gas prices is a safe source of food at home, and a strong community ready for anything. I am for every American learning to use less energy in their homes, driving less in their cars, and producing a substantial amount of food at home. I'm for it not because I'm afraid of the future, but because it seems sensible. I want pantries and larders to be as normal again as walk-in closets. (Come to think of it, walk in closets can hold a lot of food!) I want my readers to have enough set by that if anything scary ever did happen: from ice storms that take down the grid over night to $9-a-gallon gas price spikes: you are all okay. I think expecting everything you need to be at a store and an outside source to home to your rescue is both irresponsible and dangerous. I don't think this is about fear, but about sense.

On May 19th the most well-attended workshop in this farm's history is going down. It's called Plan B, and it's a full day entirely dedicated to the future of energy, peak oil, and preparing your family and farm for uncertain times ahead. It is not a tin-foil hat meeting of conspiracy theorists, but a group of concerned homesteaders and citizens talking with three authors. It will be quite the event. Featured speakers are:

Myself - Homesteader working towards a transitional farm
Kathy Harrison - Community organizer and disaster prep expert
James Howard Kunstler - Peak oil lecturer on the future of energy.

The workshop is mainly about two things: Preparation and education. It will start with getting ready now for any sort of disaster, pandemic, food shortage or economic collapse. Kathy Harrison will talk about her communities efforts to create a place ready for whatever the future throws at them. (She's well known for this subject, too. National Geographic did a spot on their new show Doomsday Preppers. about them!) And the second part is about larger national and global issues, focused around a conversation with JHK (I also got him to bring his fiddle, which will be a treat) about what is actually going on out there. What to expect. He lives just over the mountain in the next town and is a good friend.

No event at this farm has gotten such a response, people are flying in and staying at local hotels to talk with myself, Kathy and James. Two couples are staying here at the farm, one from Philly and another from Canada. Others are traveling from around the Northeast. Young couples are making the trip, so is a group of five seniors! All of them coming to learn and discuss. Kathy will be teaching us how to use a pressure canner and food dehydrator to store a garden's bounty. Others are more interested in hearing JHK's views on what is ahead. Everyone is very engaged and excited, which makes me think there are a lot of people thinking about this? Are you?

Do you think change is in our future? Are people talking about it being negative and foolish? Do you agree, and are taking steps toward a more sustainable life? Or is it all too scary to even think about?

most boring herding job, ever

everyday, regular, totally normal excitement

I just got back from delivering a truckload of chickens to Ben Shaw's farm. I must admit, it was a wonderful drive. Gibson and I in the front seat watching the sun welcome our county to the day. Near my thigh was a happy little cup holder hugging a hot cup of coffee. It wafted waves of delicious mist in the chilly morning air. Behind us, in various ramshackle cages, covered with an old blanket for wind protection, were nearly twenty fat chickens. I easily caught them by dumping a pound of feed at the parked truck's tailgate and one at a time lifted them like tubby tabbies into the back of the truck. There was no rush, no stress. I just picked them up from the buffet one at a time. All of a sudden a bird would be eating next to his buddy and then I would gently scoop him up. He'd be gone, like an alien spaceship teleported him to his next incarnation with nary a fuss. His buddy, still eating, would look to his left for a second and cock his head "Hey? Anyone see Mitch?" and then go back to eating the feed with gusto. (Chickens do not mourn their MIA friends when there is food to be eaten.) The sheep watch all this and bitch the entire time. They assume anything in a Blue Seal bag is for them, and since I dared to empty its contents into another animal's maw, I was a heathen monster to be heckled at. And boy, did they heckle.

"Gibson, Sheep." I say, and the dog who was circling the flock of BBQ wings shot up to the sheep gate and everyone scattered or shut up right quick. Well, everyone save Joseph, who thinks Gibson is as harmless as a tuft of quackgrass. I think the only way Gib and I will ever move Joseph is if Gibson crouches behind him and I push him over. Oh well. Some times the sheep wins.

Today is a busy day. I have to clean and cook for the workshop tomorrow, but I also have a farrier appointment with Merlin (his feet are overdue) down at his stables, an oil change for the truck in town, and I have to pick up those same birds and write Ben a check late afternoon. I think about how busy I am these days, and how my "days off" are a hundred times more full and thriving than my days in. That's a good feeling and I'm sure many of you can relate to it, too. Certainly is you're as crazy as I am, running a farm and a day job at the same time.

I'm looking forward to sharing my riches with friends today. Steve and Molly's (who are on vacation) will go in the chest freezer. Some will go in my fridge for tomorrow's workshop lunch (chicken burritos anyone?) and the rest will be delivered by the Poultry Fairy (read: me) today to Livingston Brook Farm, Shelly my Vet, and others. I asked Jon and Maria if they wanted one but since they are coming over to pick up living chickens tomorrow, they may not be interested in bringing home one of their dead roommates. Or maybe they'll surprise me?

Excited up here in at Cold Antler Farm. Much ahead, and much exciting news to come. I just need to arrange an equine pedicure and do a lot of Window washing first!

photo by

Thursday, April 5, 2012

happy feet meat

I look outside and see two Freedom Rangers in the side yard, scratching in the new spring grass, puttering about in the sunlight. They seem content in their chickenhood. Tomorrow a bunch of them will be rounded up, caged, loaded in the pickup, and delivered to Garden of Spices Farm in Greenwich. That's Ben Shaw's small farm where they will be processed for my freezer for $3.00 a piece. They will feed me, workshops, and my friends. The original trial thirty from Mr. Fox (I love that my chicken stock farmer's name is Fox) did so well I have another twenty chicks in that haybale barn right now. I donated thirty to Firecracker farm. I'm just so dang happy with them. In three months they went from chirping fluff to eight-plus pounds of happy meat. They are thriving, and I am proud of both their size and the meals they will create. Steve and Molly get the lion's share, but I get a few, and I will share some with friends. For the most part, these birds will wait in Freezer Camp to be called to dinner as I see fit. It's a a good and safe feeling. The chicken tastes amazing, too.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

technology and the farmer

I have been thinking about technology a lot lately. My relationship to it, and the amount a person needs in their life to be happy. In contrast to the home I was brought up in, my lifestyle is very low tech. I don't have the TV and movie playing devices (in their earlier incarnations or current) and there are no video games here either. I ditched my microwave in the kitchen, and I am fine with not repairing or replacing the dryer. There are no auto-drip coffee makers, Kitchen Aids, blenders, or toasters. There is no cable, no air conditioning, and the conventional heat system has reverted to a backup barely ever used. I do not use my broken dishwasher.

I do not I do not miss these things. I do not feel I need them.

What do I use? My ten-year old computers, my iPhone, my electric stovetop and oven. I watch documentaries and the Daily Show on Hulu to unwind. I run this website and fledgling business of workshops and writing through the internet and my home. I am not, as I have said before, anti technology. I just don't want to use the parts that get in the way of my own goals and well being. A cable television in my house and a stack of video games and DVDs mean I would not be writing into the night. I don't have an important and busy life with three kids or an executive job that requires me to save as much time as possible in the kitchen. I love to cook, do dishes, and ponder while I listen to audiobooks and putter. Again, I have no qualms with technology, efficiency, or convenience. But I use them all as tools. The life I chose requires a kind of utilitarian presence, and I want to give it my full attention.

I understand my choices may seem contrary, and I understand they won't work for everyone. I am sure there are plenty of people who think a smartphone is the Devil's hands but would wear armor into battle for their dishwashers. Everyone has their vices and favorites. I am curious what things for you are must-haves and what you would like to give up? Do people in your family demand television even if you want to give it the boot? Would you rather go to prison than live without AC? I suppose geography, abilities, and family all tie into this. What is your relationship to technology? What would you do if the power grid broke down? Or if all those machines and distractions didn't work?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

lilly the (not so) brave

Every night I spend some time with Lilly, the shy Maine Coon that is slowly learning me and this house. George, her brother, made himself at home that same day and pretty much runs the show around here now. Lilly stayed hiding, making a realm of the crawl space under the farm's kitchen you get to from her magical wardrobe. (Okay, it's just the space behind the washing machine.) She is sweet, and gentle, and seems to enjoy human contact but is afraid to go out into the big bad house and seek it. So I make time for her, and hope she grows some stronger heartbeats.

In other (slightly related) news: my dryer died. Good riddance. I now have clotheslines outside. They work in all seasons and when they are loaded it feels like a stream of prayer flags, waving from a little electrical independence. As it turns out you can air dry, heat dry, wind dry, or freeze dry clothes.

i made a decision

Today is about making decisions. I made some very serious ones since breakfast, and one of them was made just now. I have made the decision to no longer argue on this blog. I will not be responding to people looking for arguments or demanding answers to personal information. This blog is one woman's personal story, to work towards a creative and independent life. It will constantly be in a state of change and personal growth. It will go through periods of struggle, success, fear, joy, and goals hard set.

I welcome advice, conversation, helpful comments and criticisms. I even welcome all out anger if the comment or email comes from a person willing to share their email address and real name with the world as the person they are judging has. But I am not going to join in the fray anymore. It makes me sad, and tired, and makes me lose focus on my real goals.

This blog is watching one person trying to life the life she desires. I hope to do so honestly, and to encourage those people who share in similar dreams. That is all it is. I choose to stop arguing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Just recently watched this beautiful documentary, one of the few new ones, about the Amish. A year of seasons, church, tragedy, and family issues in three states. It is so beautifully done, and the tone very even (some pro and very anti-Amish opinions) but worth every second of watching. These people intrigue the hell out of me.

You can see it here on PBS's website.

thank you, friends

Thank you to everyone who helped me make the down payment towards Merlin! I sent a check on Friday, it was for well over half of what I owed by June 1st. People donated from all over the country to help make this fine boy mine, and I do not take it for granted for a second. It is the community here that is making him possible, and as a thank you I will auction off my early 1900's fiddle as a thank you for that to the folks who were a part of the story. Some people said they wouldn't take it, but I hope the winner does. I don't want Merlin to be a gift, I want him to be a combination of sacrifices, sweat, work, friends, and hope.

You can read the conversation and controversy here, and of course the event goes on until I pick a winner on the Sunday after Shearing Day, April 15th. Stay tuned, and thank you again for all you do for this farm girl. I will write as long as you read.

(Merlin thanks you, too)

my full attention

Someone recently posted this online, and their comment struck a chord with me. There are no cell phones, iPads, smartphones, bottled water, blackberries, or ear pieces. Just ashtrays and a carafe of water.

I am not anti-technology, but I do loathe my addiction to my smartphone. It has become my annoying personal assistant carrying my bag of meth around. It is my alarm clock, camera, notepad, and map. I am constantly checking email, weather, reddit, blog comments, facebook, etc. If there is a down minute where someone steps out of a meeting, or before a movie starts I see myself and everyone else sink into their devices. We are all alone together.

I understand the value of this tool. I understand my abuse of it doesn't make it a bad thing for anyone else. But for me it has gone too far. Starting today, my phone is just a phone. IF I need to check email, I will do what I would do if I need to make a call - excuse myself and go somewhere private. I'll be 100% at attention for the world around me today. The cats on reddit don't need me. The weather isn't going to change in 15 minutes, and my business can be attended to at my choice of time.

I don't want to miss the big show anymore.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

merlin and me: one month into training

This house is chicken free for 72 hours!

I just moved the twenty young Freedom Ranger chicks out to their big cousin's straw bale barn. The big ones still sleep in there, but mostly it is empty while the Rangers, well, range. It is nice, having a house without poultry for a while. I love chickens—I can't imagine a home without them—but it is nice to let them become part of the outdoor farm chores and share the big birds water and space. They still get the right feed for their quickly growing bodies, but besides the heat and feed they are regular ol' farm birds like everyone else. No more indoor pampering. You grow up quick around here, kids.

But there is no rest for the wicked, as 45 new laying hen chicks will be in the mail later this week. The brooder will get fired up in no time. But at least now I have a few days to clean it, bleach it out, and refill it with clean pine shavings and feeders.

There are also six healthy Silver Fox cross kits in Big Momma's Pen, which is what I started calling my best breeding doe. A doe that was born at the old cabin in Vermont and was brought here to Jackson in her kindling nest. She grew up, started having kits 8 months later, and has bred the healthiest litters in the group.

Easter is next weekend and this farm is pretty darn well suited up. Chicks, bunnies, if I only had some lambs. And you know what? I might just. There are some pretty low hanging udders out there under the Scotties wool. I don't know if they are all pregnant, but some may be. That would be a grand thing, and would make me feel a lot better about the whole Atlas debacle.

Here's hoping!

let freedom (rangers!) ring

meat birds and convertibles

There's a lot to do this week, it's going to be a busy one. I have a lot of big food production plans to get started, and they involve chickens and a greenhouse.

I was asked why I am taking my birds to be processed by another farmer? Don't I butcher them myself? The answer is yes. I do butcher chickens myself, but without the fancy pluckers and outdoor propane burners, it isn't practical to do more than 2 at a time alone. It takes about half an hour a bird to do it proper, and it costs 3.00 a bird to take it to Ben Shaw in Greenwich. There I can deliver a crate of live birds on a Tuesday morning and pick up a cooler of plastic wrap, weighed, and ready-to-freeze or barter birds for 3 bucks a pop. It costs 30.00 to have ten birds done in what would take me fifteen hours of bloody work. So it makes a lot of sense. While I still work a full-time job, that 15 hours is a big deal. But I do plan on doing one in today possibly. It can rest in the fridge over night and be an amazing Monday Night Roast that will last me all week in reincarnations like salads, sandwiches, soups, and taco filler.

I could not be happier with the Freedom Rangers. They grew into beautiful, LARGE, birds. They didn't have issues with fighting, disease, or so much as a sneeze of a bug and they were raised in winter! A very abnormal winter, but still. They did amazing and I bet they will taste amazing. I am a convert from the Cornish Cross. Long as Kendal Fox will keep going, I'll keep buying his birds. My only complaint is they are eating me out of house and home right now! So it is time to see our friend Ben and write one check for the freezer instead of several to the feed store!

I also have an amazing new greenhouse to install! It's not huge, it's not even free standing, but it will make such a difference in year-long greens production at this farm. It's from a company called Convertible Greenhouses and its a model called the South Sider. You buy this kit and it attaches to the side of your house, making a solarium of sorts. Then you can fold down the plastic walls like the back of a convertible for times of full sun and summer heat. Come fall, winter, and early spring you have a heat-saving and veggie growing hot house right next to the building you are already paying to heat anyway. Might as well use some of that heat to feed into a greenhouse attached to your living area and grow some kale and spinach all winter long.

This morning I am meeting Tim at the Barn for more photos with Merlin, to mark our progress as a team working towards better riding and fitness together. Then the afternoon will be dedicated to archery, house chores, errands, and finishing up the latest webinar on wool working. It's a full day, lots of plans, and good things ahead.

Hope your weekends are going well!