Monday, May 7, 2012

jazz isn't well

Jazz is my 13-year old (possibly 14, not sure since he was adopted) Siberian Husky. He isn't at death's door, but has slowed down so much from his large leg tumor and thyroid problems that a mile walk is enough to end him for the whole day. It seems like yesterday this fiery wolf was pulling me across the Idaho forests. Now he has a hard time getting up. It is hard to watch. I don't know how much time he has with me, but he may have all of it.

Today was not one of the good days.


It is not this weekend! Please note the date was changed months ago, but folks are emailing me about directions for Saturday. It is May 19th!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

the monster and the mother

The ewe who's lamb was taken away will not stop crying out, sounding the call that once brought her babe running to her. It's hard to hear. Sometimes this place makes me feel like a monster. I steal babes from loving arms, chop off heads, hang bodies to skin and gut, and rip plants from the ground. It's just part of the story, of course. Every act of violence and deceit has a reason and an opposite cause. I am hearing that wailing mother, and it is ripping me up inside. But I also nearly cried through my smile, handing over the most beautiful ewe lamb in the world to Yesheva. It would be one of their new breeding animals, raised by an entire community who would call her by name. These are my friends, that lamb was a symbol of an entire year of work. She did not cry for her mother on the ride to Common Sense, just sat in Yesh's arms next to her 17-month-old son Rhea's car seat. She looked like a fertility goddess of spring. Her farmer's glow, perfect skin, flowing hair and lamb and child side by side. I was so proud to be a part of that photograph.

This weekend I engaged in so much physical labor and sleep I lost three pounds. I've been having a hard week, too many things happening at once and none of them pleasant. Nothing worth sharing here, and nothing consequential to my health or the general goings on of the world. Just life, family, old dogs, and friends and all their particulars and sustainabilities. I will be okay. I'm turning thirty in a few weeks and I still have so much growing up to do.

I don't know anything that heals me like work, save music. Tonight, tired and sore I set a pot of tea on the stove. While it puttered and smoked off whatever remains on the burner, I grabbed my fiddle in the kitchen. The fiddle I bought in Idaho, moved to Vermont with, and brought to New York. It isn't my 1900's Fiddle, not the one I gave away. It is a cheap fiddle from ebay. It sounds fine though, at least to me. All I wanted to play was one song, a favorite Appalachian Ballad I first heard in Tennessee called Blackest Crow. I played it until my hands ached.

I learned that song so many years ago, I brought it from Tennessee in my heart, learned it in Idaho on my first fiddle, played it on countless summer nights in the hammock at the cabin in Vermont. It rang out of this farmhouse tonight like an anthem. I played it clean. I played it with drones. I played and sang at the same time. I wish I could tell every practicing therapist in the world to hand their patients a pitchfork, a pig pen, a long walk and a fiddle. If it can help me fall to sleep it can help anyone.

blackest crow

now THAT'S determination

pasture romp

the ewe and yesheva

best twenty bucks I spent all weekend

The Poultry Swap was a great success! I got two Royal Palm Toms (9 months old), an english saddle and saddle pad, tomato plants and shared my rig with Patty Wesner and Yesheva and her kids (children and goats) from Common Sense Farm. A big block party, a livestock tailgate fiasco of the greatest sort.

After the Poultry Swap we all rode back to Cold Antler and I caught the oldest ewe lamb, now a beefy twenty pounds and tail docked, to go live with the doelings at Common Sense. I was so proud to hand Yesheva that big-boned sheep. A sheep I bred right here at my own farm, from buying the ram last summer to shots and rubber bands. She's beautiful. I'll post a photo of her at her new home with her new shepherdess soon!

Saturday, May 5, 2012


I'm so very tired and everything hurts
and the moon is so beautiful.

I hope October comes fast this year.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Well folks. I did it. I filled out the entry form, paid my $27 entry fee, and next Sunday Merlin and I will be entered in out first ever USDF show. I'll have on a jacket and shirt with a fluffy collar (borrowed from a coworker keeping score and not competing), and Merlin will not have his hair braided and trimmed. We are in the most basic class, but I am still nervous. I have never competed in the dressage ring. All week we'll practice the course. Steele and Patty are entering too, in the same class. I have a feeling they'll crush team Cold Antler but that's okay by me!

photo from fell pony society

the twins

Thursday, May 3, 2012

a boy and girl

I could not fall asleep. I was exhausted, sad, and confused. I just lay there, trying to count breaths and considering Nyquil when I heard the cries of a lamb outside the window. One or two bleats isn't uncommon, that is how young sheep on the prowl holler to find their mothers when they had walked out of sight. But this sustained, bleated, cry was about something else. Something to worry about. My first thought was he had scurried under the electric fence and could not get back in. I pictured him racing outside the gates, trapped from what he wanted so badly.

I sighed and got dressed. I walked outside in the dark and could hear the young ram lamb (it was Flash) even louder. He was up in the sheep shed but his mother was nowhere to be found? I baaed to the crew, the way I do when they get grain, and 13 adult sheep and two lambs came towards me. In no time flat Flash was reunited with Mom (who was eating hay out of sight of the young ram and I). But wait? Where was number 16? I counted and recounted. Then I decided to walk up the muddy hill to where the cries of the young ram had originally come from.

Inside the sheep shed was a ewe and her twins. One ewe lamb and one ram lamb. A beautiful pair, just a few moments old. In the fading lantern light I touched their warm, new, wool. Mama had cleaned them and they were already standing, looking for milk. As my nearly-dead batteries started to flicker out, removing all light from the muddy shed—I was alone with them in the dark. I reached out, feeling their wool, heard the chortles of their mother and the cries of the new babes.

A boy and girl. How about that? Shown to me by the cries of a young ram on a night where I was so wrapped up in my own story I had forgotten how small it is to the real story out there, high on a hill. What can human drama compare to the awe of birth, or the miracle of twins on a cool night? This farm literally forced me out of bed to meet reality, shook me into my self. I sat in the mud, held the young lambs, and I sang to them as I cried in that dark.

My darling, if I make the Pearly Gates
I'll do my best to make a drawing
Of God and Lucifer
A boy and girl
And angel kissing on a sinner
a monkey and a man
a marching band
All around a frightened trapeze swinger.

Raise Your Glasses, Friends!

This Saturday is National Homebrew Day! Celebrate by brewing with me! I'll be stirring up a stout for certain Saturday night. As for you? What is bubbling in your airlocked fermenters? Share your pint story! The link below will fill you in on this wonderful little celebration!

Learn more about homebrewing for FREE here!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

a girl and her goat

A nice write up about me and Bonita over at Jon Katz's blog, Bedlam Farm. You can read about us and see more pictures on Jon's Facebook gallery online. Check it out. Thanks Jon!

photo by jon katz

The Rabbitry Library

A reader asked for suggestions on great books for new rabbit raisers. The one that comes to mind for me is that big gray book, Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits, which might be one of the most in-depth books on the subject mass produced. Other books, like Barnyard in Your Backyard and The Backyard Homestead's Guide to Farm Animals also have great rabbit "sections" but aren't complete books. And I assume the reader also is interested in cooking and eating rabbits, and for that there are a slew of great cookbooks and suggestions I'm sure!

So what do you rabbit breeders and eaters out there suggest?

What's in your Rabbitry Library?


This Sunday at the Schaghticoke Fairgrounds here in Veryork is the Annual Poultry Swap! This will be my fifth year attending this magical, messy, amazing event. The same event I wrote about in Barnheart, where I got my first goat, Finn. You can check it out, too! This Sunday, from the hours of 6AM-11AM Sunday morning the fairgrounds becomes a livestock third-world street market. Any and every kind of critter will be there for sale or barter, and the food, started vegetables, crafts, and atmosphere are worth it even if you are all set on the animal front.

For details, click here. And if you are going, best get there BEFORE 7AM. It's a literal animal house and anything worth buying will be gone by 7:15.

the sheep horse

photo by

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

the first of may

It's the first of May. To me, a holiday and the first real day of the growing season. I have so much ahead of me in the garden, so much to plan and till and plant. So far just a bed of garlic, peas, and greens is popping up. But there will be more and if I can get a rototiller over here I will plant a proper farmhouse garden, corn, pumpkin and potato patches. These are the seasons to me. Green vegetables mean spring and summer. Corn means August and pre-fall. Pumpkins mean pure fall. And potatoes mean winter. I want them all, because a potato onion soup from Cathy Daughton's recipe on a bitter winter's day tastes so much better when the onions and potatoes are your own. In fact, I would think it would be fun to grow some soup as a community. All of us plant some potatoes and onions—farm, suburb, or inner city pots on fire escapes—and harvest, store, and make soup together in December? Anyone interested?

I digress! It is the first of May and a new litter or rabbits was born, out of Meg's Salad Doe (the gray chin's name is Salad) and my Silver Fox, Gotcha. That makes three litters of rabbits! My freezer won't have room for a fall pig with all these chickens and rabbits. (Not a bad problem to have).

Tonight my head is wrapped around garden plans and new life. Inside the farm house tonight I am enjoying a heating pad and a beer and a streamed episode of Game of Thrones. My body is less sore than yesterday and I look forward to my lesson Friday at Riding Right to prepare for my first ever Dressage Test/Schooling show. I don't have all the fancy show clothes, but a coworker who will be there keeping score is willing to loan me her jacket and collar and I can use my own breeches and half chaps. I won't look posh, but just showing up in the arena and giving a show a try is a thrill. Wish us luck!

get your jamie on.... is having an Outlander Sale until Midnight tonight. You can download any book in the series for 7.95, most of them way over 20 hours on your ipod/phone. This is the series so many of us love and josh about. I'm only on book two, but will buy book three tonight in advance at that price!

Get Your Jamie Fraser On, Highlanders.

4 3 Spots Left!

I'll be hosting an introduction to meat rabbits later this summer along with Patty Wesner of Livingston Brook Farm here at Cold Antler! It will be held on August 11th. The 5 hour workshop will include an hour lunch break, (10AM-4PM) and explain the basics of setting up a small rabitry for personal use. You'll learn the basics of picking out breeding stock, setting up housing, feeding, hay, ear tattooing, pedigrees and butchering. There will also be a live demonstration of harvesting a rabbit, from cage to freezer wrapping, and I am planning to have kits for sale: a mix of the Chin, Palomino, Rex, and Silver Fox bloodlines. Patty may have rabbits for sale too (she specializes in Flemish Giants!) They will grow into hearty stock for sure, as all come from proven does and bucks.

So if you'd like to learn how to add a little homegrown protein to your garden's bounty, live in a suburban area where chickens aren't allowed, or just like the idea of clean meat close to home: come on over. There will be a campfire and cold home brew that evening if anyone wants to stick around. (Private party after workshop!) If you're own ears are perked, send me an email at, and I'll give you the details. Hope to take at least ten registrations!

Here's a great article about raising rabbits for food from the NY Times, lots of great photos!
photo from


I am so sore I can not raise my arms up over my head. Dressing and undressing is a measured task, involving gritted teeth and black and blue welts that could throw a Social Worker into fits of speculation. I don't remember how I fell off that horse but I know it involved less horse than it did fence... In the shower last night I had to take care to remove the lamb and chicken feces that had gotten onto my arms and hair from cleaning a dirty-bummed lamb and giving him his tetanus shot. While alone with my naked self, I took note of how battered my body has become. You can not set a ruler ten inches across any part of my flesh without meeting a scratch, bruise, cut, or scab.

I usually go unshod, but if I have to wear shoes I need to make sure they are wide enough to spread my toes since they have been stepped on by two different horses in one day, and while nothing is broken it smarts when they get cramped together. Everything about myself seems to be off set, a body held together by work and stubbornness. When compared to those stunning renaissance portraits of a plump woman draped in sheets, well, I make a fine Picasso stained with streaks of lamb diarrhea...

And yet when I am on my small farm, tending to all the new life and the constant work, none of these things matter. And they are starting to matter less and less outside the farm as well. I no longer see my body as an object that needs to be judged by a jury of my peers. It is a vessel that helps me follow my dreams, actually make them happen, and allows me to live this messy life I love so fiercely.

I am starting to actually live in this body, love this body. I am getting dressed these mornings and taking on the day as a moving animal, not something for display. That doesn't mean I look like a wild woman, I am kempt and focusing intensely on physical health, but I no longer care what others may think or say. To me, comfort in my own skin—healthy food and exercise are what manifest beauty—Not make up and high heels. Darling, that is either theatrics or taxidermy, trying to be something you are not or trying to hide from age and death. Trust me, as someone who has caked on makeup for years to hide blemished skin and pimples, we know or own. I am starting to wear barely any make up at all, and soon, none.

I now realize that my own beauty is not up for debate. It has nothing to do with fashion, weight, or eyelash curlers. Beauty is the physical expression of gratitude, and the unabashed joy in living your life without fear. It is taking care of yourself and those you love. It can not be bought, dressed up, or painted on. It can only be worked towards in healthy fresh foods and jogs up a mountain road. At least for me, anyway. My body is not perfect. It will never be perfect. But it is mine, and despite the chubby arms, welts, scars, and thin hair it has delivered me a magical life, surrounded by supportive friends, animals, nature, and hard work that tires the body and enlivens the soul.

I used to cringe at pictures of myself because I didn't look like the woman I wanted to be. Now I realize that the woman I wanted to be was someone who didn't cringe at pictures of herself.

That photo make me feel beautiful.

photo by

Monday, April 30, 2012

Calling all Future Pioneers!

The last general homesteading workshop I hosted here was such a hit, I want to do it again. So on July 14th, there will be a nice mid-summer mini-workshop and homesteader gathering here at Cold Antler. This is a great introduction to growing food and raising livestock in small spaces. The workshop will cover raised-bed gardens and starting fool-proof vegetables for beginners, chicken 101, rabbit 101, and also cover the basics of sheep and goats (ideas about housing, breeds, fencing, and what living with multi-stomached animals is like).

This is not an in-depth class but what you need to get started, as well as hands-on experience with things like judging breeding doe rabbit stock and milking a goat on a stanchion. Enjoy a casual but informative day that will include farm tours and an after-party. There will be plenty of things to dip your toes in and fine people to ask questions with.

Skills like basic canning, bread baking, and a brief introduction to homebrewing (a talk and supply overview, not cooking demo will be discussed. Bring along notebooks and business cards, heck, bring along your knitting projects too. This will be a great beginner's day.

This is a lowered cost, afternoon workshop. There will be no meals offered between the paying hours of 1PM-6PM, so pack snacks if you think you'll feel famished. I'll supply bottled water! When it is over you are welcome to stay for a private campfire party out behind the red barn near the bubbling brook. The fireflies should be out in full force and that will be a beautiful sight. If you have an instrument bring it along! I'll be fiddling, you can bet your best milk cow on that natural fact, Jack.

back in the saddle

After the chores were done, the goat milked, and the dogs walked I headed down to see Merlin 11 miles south of my farm at the opposite side of Cambridge. I gave him the day off yesterday (and myself) but wanted to return soon to go back into that scary outdoor arena and do some ground work and try out our brand new saddle. I was still in my work clothes (a sweater and a canvas kilt with brown suede lace-up boots) but that was okay. We were just going to groom and work on the ground. No riding tonight.

Anyway, the saddle! A reader from Kentucky named Natalie sent along a well-loved brown leather English saddle. It arrived today at my office and when I opened it up, Lord! It was the most beautiful thing in the world to me! It looked like old violins look, weathered and changed in all the handsome places. It was broken in and ready for a wide draft pony. Natalie had included a pair of black leathers and I ordered a set of stirrups, which were waiting for me at Riding Right from an online horse supply superstore, Smartpak.

Merlin was in his stall and I greeted him with cookies. We went out to the cross ties and I groomed him slowly, going over all the parts of his legs, belly, and feet. He seemed fine. After a good brushing I tacked him up in his new saddle and a borrowed girth and a woman tacking next to us showed me how to slide the irons into the stirrup leathers and attach them to the saddle. Within no time I had it all together and the bridle on.

We walked out the the arena with barely any fuss (nothing my crop couldn't nudge) and worked on a lunge line out in the same place chaos reined 48 hours earlier. I could tell he was nervous, but biddable. His eyes wide and ears back, but willing. He was being very brave in his pony way.

After he got a sweat going I called him to me and he walked forward, those heavy feathered feet and long bangs falling over the Celtic knot on his brow band. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall. Right now we were on Spring, the first season of the four-part knot. We have three more to go before I feel I will really know this animal, and he'll know me.

After a few sweet words we walked calmly together around the arena. He seemed worried so I decided to act as if this was nothing to me, the gentlest place in the world. I sang to him an old Scottish song, I Will Go, and he seemed to perk at that. When all was right with the world we walked right back up the arena and I jumped right up on him for a short ride at a walk and trot.

And I did it in my suede lace-up boots and a kilt. Quite a scene in the dressage barn, this long-maned black hill pony and his owner in a green canvas quilt riding past the leg-wrapped riders in their breeches and mane-shaved warmbloods. I felt feral. I felt like me.

On the way out of the barn I picked up an entry form for the May 13th Dressage Schooling Show. Merlin and I might just enter the beginner class. What's the worst that could happen?

Oh, right...

Photo by you know who.
P.S. Sue Steeves, your violin was shipped this week, sorry for the delay!

love this show...

new harness practice run

Sunday, April 29, 2012

pony gal

photo by p.w.

face your fears

meet francis

pssst...get a load of this broad?!

Psssst. Hey, you? You, yes you. I'm talking to you folks, the people who read Jenna's blog. It's me, Bonita. I've been running this one-goat farm pretty much by myself and then all of a sudden this Francis girl shows up? Get a load of this broad?! I was just minding my own business, basking in the sun, when a white truck pulled up and this baby gal the size of a fat beagle shows up and wants to be my roomie?

I'm okay with it, but get this, she is TERRIFIED of chickens. She saw a Swedish Flower hen and ran away like it was on fire, or going to make her eat tiny, gravied meatballs. What a riot! Anyway, she'll probably be cool. Right now all she can talk about is her registration papers and goat shows and how fancy she is. Whatever. I produce a gallon a day. It's like what the pine trees say when all the maples start budding and get all excited they are finally green again. BIRCH, please!?!


Two Spots Opened for Plan B!

Two spots just opened up for Plan B, the most exciting and best-attended workshop this farm has ever held! Experts in Peak Oil, Energy, and personal preparation will be here to talk about how to prepare your family and farm for any emergency, from ice storms to insane gas prices. There are just two slots left since a couple canceled, and you can take them if you send an email. For more information on this event, click on the Workshop Link with the crow over there on the right side.

And here is a TED Talk from one of the speaker's coming to the Farm, James Howard Kunstler. He talks about sustainability and the dangers of the end of suburbia and building communities we no longer care about. This talk entertaining and educational, check him out! And come meet him May 19th! You'll also receive a copy of his book (signed for you of course) The Long Emergency.

a day off

Good morning from Cold Antler Farm! I'm in high spirits. I'm sore from yesterday's incident and have some bruises that are smarting but I am taking it fairly easy today. The hardest physical work will include lifting the pork butt roast into the crock pot for the pulled pork sandwiches I'll be making. I have friends coming over for dinner tonight, a "planning party" of sorts. But really, all we're going to do is figure out the next steps and supply list for the horses paddock and new pole barn and try on a "real" draft work harness and collar on Jasper. Brett borrowed a small pony collar and a harness from his neck of the woods and I can test it out on Big J. Mark and Patty Wesner will come (Mark is the architect who drew that picture of Merlin's Thatch I posted a while back) and so will the Daughton Family. The boys will probably fish the bass pond and search the old dump for treasure, and us adult should enjoy a campfire or a night in. Should be fun.

The new goat, Francie, arrives this morning! She's going to have a great home here and Bonita is going to be so happy to have some caprine company. Yesterday I woke up dedicated to the New Goat Idea and even posted about it on Facebook. A few minutes on Craigslist and I found this father/son team of goat breeders who specialize in the old Swiss Alpine breed, Olberhasi. The price was right and the delivery charge (for nearly a three-hour round trip) was only twenty-five dollars. You just can't beat that.

So today is about new goats, pulled pork with cole slaw, horse harnesses, barn plans, friends, and rest. No riding today. I think I earned a day off!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

unscheduled dismount

unscheduled dismount:Un-Sked-Ooled Dis-Mow-nt. Noun.
At my barn this is when the rider either makes a mistake (or the horse she is riding makes a mistake) and due to either 's misfortune the ride is cut short by an unplanned removal of human being from saddle. Sometimes the horse bucks you off, sometimes you fall off, and sometimes the rushed job you did tacking the horse sends the loose saddle flailing and you slam into a wooden fence like I did today....

Anyway, when this happens at Riding Right Farm it is announced by either a tray of cookies or a bottle of wine, left on the table by the office door where everyone walks in and tacks up their horses. This offering is the rider's penance, and a right of passage. It makes your incidence a public display everyone can relate too, and therefore less tragic. Some months there are a few bottles of wine and bags of cookies by the office when you come in for a lesson, and you just know some people had a rough week. This is the story of one unscheduled dismount and the education of a novice rider. Your novice rider. Me.

It all started with a girth strap. I was talking with Elizabeth, a good friend I met through workshops and farm visits. She was up looking at property in Washington County from the Berkshires and stopped by to say hello. After she helped me with some barn chores she was game to come along to a riding lesson with Merlin. I was excited "show off" what I knew, and looking forward to the ride with Merlin after our great lesson Friday. Riding was becoming fun again. Less drama, problems of confidence and attitude being repaired. I was drunk on this horse, on the whole experience of it.

...Which is why I was rushing through the tacking process, something I have done countless times without a hitch. I was using a new saddle and a new girth. Instead of a dressage saddle I was using a multi-purpose English saddle which requires a different kind of girth. This was my problem: That girth strap, that thing that goes around the belly of the horse. It is what attaches the saddle to the animal. It is supposed to be tight, not clinging to ribs, but tight. I adjusted it on the same holes I would for my old saddle, and that simple mistake would cost me dearly. A lack of focus. The kind of thing that doesn't slip in instructor-approved lessons but on general riding time can.

I didn't notice it was bad at first. I got up on Merlin near our cross ties and rode him from the inside stall area to the outdoor paths. We walked calmly down a path and into the outdoor arena without a single problem. Merlin was fine. I was fine. Elizabeth was talking alongside us. We chatted. Life was good. Friends and horses, and sunshine.

I started off around the outdoor arena at a sitting trot. I like this pace. I learn to ride in a decent seat and he learns to move across the landscape comfortably. We did a few laps around and nothing seemed wrong. Then everything went wrong.

While riding Merlin near the outside fence at a faster trot things got weird. He started to speed up and I didn't know why? He was suddenly cantering and it was then I realized that my body was sliding off to the right. That girth was so loose my leg had gone from his side to almost under his belly. All he knew was pressure, and that meant faster. I was almost 90 degrees off him and gaining on the wooden fence. So in a daft move I reached out to hang on to the side rails and jump off the horse at the same time. This was not wisdom.

I did manage to get off, but my unscheduled dismount was not graceful. I slammed into a fence between the horse and ground, my soft part of my right forearm slamming into the solid wood to break my fall. Merlin dragged be a short distance and if it wasn't for the safety stirrups that had a breakable-super-rubber band sides I would have been dragged along for quite a long and dangerous ride. Instead all my fence trick did was get me hurt, and the saddle slung under him. I was down and he was gone.

So now there was a woman on the ground and an 1100 pound animal who could not understand why the saddle was on his belly and not his back. He was mad with fear, running every which way trying to flee from the metal banging into his back feet and pulling him to the ground. It was like those Discovery Channel specials where the water buffalo tries to shake off the lions clinging to his body. Merlin had gone mad. I could do nothing but watch. I was worried he might jump the fence, or brake into it. For 30 seconds I was frozen in shock, pain, and pure terror.

Elizabeth was standing in the arena, calm and unfazed, but I wanted her OUT of there. I didn't think Merlin would hurt her but I didn't want her to get caught up in the panicked animal's fray. I yelled at her to get out of the ring and she did. With her out, and the gate closed so Merlin couldn't run out, it was down to me and him. He raced all around me, not listening. I had to get his attention. I put my hands up and said "WHOOAAA" in a calming, yet firm tone. The only thing I could think of was Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer, trying to make himself look large and calm around the insane animal he rehabilitating in the movie.

I knew this much for certain. I was not going to go running for help. I was going to fix this. Merlin was my horse. The girth being too loose was my mistake. There was chaos and it was my fault and I was going to fix it or break trying. I was just grateful this was happening in a fenced arena, a sterilized area where a beginner Horse Crisis Repair Woman could learn what she and her mount were made of without him tearing off into traffic or a forest. My biggest fear, him running away, was tempered. Time to catch my boy...

I am not a horse trainer, but I know that when a dog or other animal is scared it needs a safe place. I refused to run out of the ring, or run to him. I stood and told him to whoa,and when he came at me at a run I knew he would either stop dead or run me over. I stood firm, and as he came to me he slowed, stopped, his breathing heavy his eyes white. I grabbed the reins, certain and calm, and as fast as possible undid the girth and let the saddle drop to the ground. We walked away from the pile of tack and he kept stomping, blowing hard, but I let him get it out and just walked. I talked to him like Patty talks to Steele when he is going too fast in his cart, "Eaassssy. Walk on. Easy, son..." and it took a while, but he calmed. I think I was the boss mare to him, or in some way the sense in all the panic. And now I had a choice. I could either walk him into his stall or keep the lesson going. I knew what I had to do and it was more for me than for Merlin.

I had to get back on that horse.

I am not a complete fool. I did not want to jump onto a scared and panting animal. We could work up to it. So at first all we did was calmly walk by the pile of tack. It laid in the dirt like a dead body. The saddle was dusty and scratched now, missing a stirrup and the other one broken. My right arm that broke the fall into the fence was really starting to hurt. I knew nothing was broken, but things were bruised up. I tried not to think about any of it. The whole world was now a scared horse, a saddle, and me.

So we walked around the saddle, and when his ears and body seemed calm, I picked up just the saddle pad and let him smell it. I talked calmly to him. I rubbed it near his neck. He seemed okay, still scared but not erratic. With nothing but ease and confidence I threw it up on his back and he let me. This was promising stuff. I walked him around the arena in just the pad. I kept telling him the world was okay now, and he walked with me. He seemed to believe me because I made myself believe it as well.

Over the next fifteen minutes I got the saddle on him and the girth tighter. At one point it started to slide off and he started throwing his head and backing up to panic, but I held him and told him "Whhhoooa" and I grabbed the cantle and set it right on his back again quick as a wisp of hair out of my eye. He was scared, but he trusted me enough to let me handle him. If it wasn't trust, it was herd law or some basic training from his younger days. I didn't care. I just wanted him calm and back into his normal gear.

We walked around the arena, now back to the full tack he was in when the world stopped making sense to him. He wasn't 100% so I told Elizabeth we would lunge him in the indoor arena. Let him get used to it all again. He could move in a controlled circle and see that the thing on his back would hold fast.

I lunged him for a short time. After a while he seemed his normal self again. Back in this safe place and the smells of his horse neighbors and his normal barn all around him. He eased up more. I knew he was okay, but I knew if I walked out of that arena having not gotten back up on the horse that I slammed off of—I would be quitting. I had every excuse not to do it, and a sore body and ripped breeches, but I kept thinking about us being out in the real world. What if a girth had ripped or a bee stung him on the trail and we were ten miles from camp? Would I walk him back? What then? No, we had to solve this problem together. We were going to end this lesson just like we started it. I would get back on.

I took him to the mounting block. He balked. I remained calm and just walked him around it. I moved it closer to him, and told him the same calm words. It took a bit, but eventually he let me stand on the block while I stroked his neck. He let me lean some weight into his back. He allowed me to pull down on the stirrups, like I would if I was going to set a foot into them and mount.

And then I did. See that picture? That is me on the back of a horse that I was flung off of and was freaking out like a black tornado a half-hour earlier. I was up and on him and he walked calmly. I wanted to break down and cry.

He was okay. I was okay. We were riding together, communicating, we were a team. After a short while I jumped off and called it a lesson. Then I hugged him. I hugged him the way football players hug after a championship game, the way best friends hug in foxholes when the sirens stop blaring. I grabbed that big, black, neck and pressed my cheek into it. I was so damn proud of him, proud of us both. The Jenna from just a few weeks ago would not have had the confidence to catch, calm, and get back on a horse she was ejected from. (Certainly not all in the same hour!) But this animal is changing me, forcing me to become a stronger person. Teaching me to keep following a dream even if people called me wrong and foolish. Teaching me to be calm when the world is crazy, to be brave when things are unknown, and to fall hard and get back up even harder. To take life by the reins and ride, damnit.

I'm so damn proud of that bossy, beautiful, majestic, complicated, vulnerable son of a bitch.

video announcement!

The Milk Pail Diaries:
Goat Books

If you come to this farmhouse you will find books everywhere. They are on shelves, in stacks under the coffee table, in the cupboards, the bathroom... books reign supreme. MY collection of farm books keeps growing and when I dove into dairy work, it certainly didn't stop my reading problem. I thought I'd share my new Dairy Goat Owner's Library with you. These are the books I found most helpful in getting started with an animal like Bonita.

Living With Goats:
Written by memoirist Margaret Hathaway, this book is an amazing introduction to all goats, all based on one couple's journey making goats e a part of their everyday lives. While technically a how-to book, it reads more like a conversation between the "I'm-thinking-about-goats" person and the "You-can-do-this-if-we-can" people. This is the woman who wrote "The Year of the Goat" about quest for the perfect cheese. I think this particular book is out of print but you can buy copies online through goat supply stores like Caprine Supply or get it from your library. It's amazingly photographed, full color, conversational, and you don't need to know a damn thing about goats to love every second of it. This would be my pick for anyone considering a herd or a pair, but yet to hold the kids in their arms...

The Backyard Goat:
This book suprised the hell out of me. I thought it would be more general, more of a collection of the information you find online and on blogs. Instead it might be the best purchase anyone who just bought a small dairy, pet, or meat animal could invest in. Written by Sue Weaver, it is an easy and comfortable read covering the basics in comfy strides as well as things other books don't even conciser talking about. things like the history of the goat in America, famous cross-country goat cart trips, and training your goats to pack, cart, and be a part of the family. It's a warm an engaging friend in my new dairy path.

Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats
If you buy just one book on goats, this is it. It is the Bible on caring for goats, far as I am concerned. From kidding to a disease glossary I truly believe this one book gets it all done. It's dryer—more a textbook than a light introduction or memoir—but it will be the book you grab off the shelf when you need to go in after an inverted kid, a fever breaks, or you are worried about mastitis. This book deals with the dairy side of goats alone, and does not go into the meat side of the equation (That's another Storey's Guide), but if milk is your goal, who cares? If you can only buy one book on goats and you want it to have your back along the entire caprine ride, this is your girl.

How about your suggestions? Any great beginner goat books out there? Have you learned just as much from farming memoirs or novels that talk about livestock?

Friday, April 27, 2012

snow on peonies

Snow was falling outside amongst the peony stalks while I finished up the day's chores. What a sight to behold, that. The gently falling snow through the afternoon sunlight, landing on the red shoots that look like a celery stalk left in a Bloody Mary too long. The snow fall did not last long, but it was a good reminder of what the weather forecast called for. They are calling for a night in the mid-twenties and that is a dangerous game Mother Nature is playing with us. Many of the apple trees have blossoms, and if they die to a late-spring frost it will hurt the apple harvest. It will hurt farmers who put in their greens early, egged on by 90 degree days in April and our mild winter. If the frost kills my kitchen garden I can shrug it off and plant new, but this isn't so if you're one of the hundreds of farmers in the north east tonight scrambling to cover your plants with row cloths. The greenhouse at Common Sense Farm has a running guard of people who need to stoke the woodstove all night. There are tomato plants with green fruits already on them there. They will surely die if the fire dies too. This is how I see the weather now, as chapters in the annual story. The protagonist and the villain. Part of me worries the twins will be born and lost to the cold. They are hardier than tomato plants, but I still fret. If the peonies die I lose some pink and white color in May. If the lambs die I lose the future.

good friends and good horses...

double lesson day!

Much to update you all on, things are happening fast around here. Lambing is in full swing, kits and older bunnies are hopping about, and in a few minutes I'll be in full riding apparel and on my way to Patty's farm. Instead of the usual visit where I learn to drive with her and Steele in their beautiful acres, she's got Steele loaded up in the trailer and her breeches on! She's taken the lesson slot after mine at Riding Right, and today a Fell pony and a giant draft horse will share the arena. Patty has been wanting to get back into riding lessons, and I think that is great. But what I am most excited about is seeing our two horses in the cross ties side by side, and such a big powerful horse at my dressage barn. It'll be a hoot!

P.S. Since this photo was taken in March, both horse and rider have lost weight!

photo by jon katz

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

meet flash!

the kilted shepherd

I have fallen in love with modern utility kilts. They are my go-to farm and office clothes of choice, my new jeans. A few companies make these now, and I have been getting mine off ebay. The canvas kilts are made of heavy duty fabric, the same as Carhartts or Dickies and come with big cargo pockets with places for pens, pocket knives, phones, and farm gear. Paired with a pair of muck boots my entire leg is covered, but I have more freedom of movement, more air circulation, cooler in the spring sun, and feel ready to take on anything the farm throws at me. For the office it looks like a regular skirt, paired with Chacos or sandals and a nice top. But when I get home and lace up boots, hook on a sporran full of wire cutters, electrical tape, lambing gear, and more it becomes a feral thing. A working extension of myself.

I am pro kilts. Try them, you'll like them.

make that 16 sheep...

New ram lamb born early this morning, April 25th. He's got little horns and good set of lungs on him. Showed up early this morning to a proud mother. In this video the hours-old boy decides to come and visit his new shepherd. It was a touching surprise. Magical day, this.

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 if you would like a share in the warmth.

photo by

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!