Monday, May 21, 2012

an invocation for beginnings

I adore Ze Frank. I don't know him, of course. But I used to watch/read and follow his site and projects and videos. He stopped doing his bit for a while and now he is back. I found his message just as inspiring to me, as a new full-time writer, as it could be to anyone. Enjoy it. Enjoy it and get started.

the goat dance

When it comes to goats, fences are everything. The same fence that can keep back a team of Percherons, a flock of sheep, and hundred alpaca (alpaci?) is nothing but scoff-fodder for your average goats. Goats climb, tear down, and crawl under wire field fencing. They laugh at t-posts. If your wire isn't hot, even for a few hours, they will know and clamber over it like drunk hunting horses out after a fox. This is the goat dance. The escape, capture, and evading that makes up the reality of adding caprines to your life.

The only way I have found to keep a goat in a pen is to either use panels (read solid) made for sheep and goats with well-spaced metal or wooden fence posts, or electric netting or wire. At my own farm I learned this the hard way. My first goat, Finn, was not happy as the lone goat amongst a flock of sheep and would not stay inside the woven wire fences. He got out and into the road, into poisonous plants, and all other sorts of trouble and made sure the sheep got out too. I didn't have the pen I have now (originally built for a horse!) to contain goats, and so he went to live on another farm.

Now my set up is goat-proof. Inside the barn are large 1x8 inch boards strong and sturdy, three high with about 12 inches between each board. They have woven wire stapled to them in case little Francis wanted to crawl though. Outside a large metal horsegate (also reinforced with woven wire to prevent crawl-throughs) is strong enough to handle any goat arms. And, the fencing all around the outside area is electric. So my goat pen is more of a goat jail, but that's what it takes in small spaces. If I had a 7-acre field it would be a different story, they could roam a little more and be as interested in escaping (at first!), but here at Cold Antler goats have to be smartly contained.

My advice to anyone considering goats, go for it. But consider your fences and barn first. Get an experienced goat farmer, homesteader or Extension agent to check your set up or help you prepare. As someone who learned the hard way, I can not stress enough how much having people with goat experience in my life with Bonita and Francis has improved things. Goats are dear friends and treasures here now, not a hassle. Not something all farmers can say and it took some hard lessons to get there. But you got to start somewhere, right?

book giveaway!

I thought a book giveaway would be a nice way to start off the week. I had a few extra titles after this weekend's workshop and decided to also throw in a copy of Barnheart (signed) and of The Greenhorns (also signed at my essay). To enter just leave a comment! Say hello, say what's growing in your garden, or share a plan for this week on your own farm or home. A random winner will be picked tomorrow morning, this is a shortsale folks! Comment and enjoy four titles to add to your own library or give as gifts.

Now, off to the office!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

onward to archer

Archery practice today. I had my first ever series of Royal Rounds this time. Royal Rounds are official marksmanship tests hosted by the SCA. There's a 20, 30, and 40 yard 6-arrow target shoot and then a timed 30-second firestorm where you shoot as many as you can to scramble for points. My scores, beginner level. But I am really enjoying getting to know my longbow, the goose feather arrows, and the culture and tools of the archer.

If I complete two more rounds, on two separate days, I will be recorded in the SCA records as a bonefide Archer of Record. I'll be awards a hand-forged, metal medal with a pair of black arrows crossed over a circle to show others I'm a student and beginner archer at Society events. As my skill increases, so will my status. It's a fun way to work towards something. And something as useful as archery is welcome around here. For hunting and recreation, it'll be nothing I regret.

Onward to Archer, is how my Sunday ends.

Plan B was AMAZING!

Yesterday in the cool shade of a giant maple tree my farm turned into an amphitheater. Twenty of us sat on the hillside and standing at the base, in front of a row peony bushes and a parade of Geese, James Howard Kunstler talked to us about the future of energy, oil, climate and economies around the world. To some of you, that may sound like a contradiction. This man talking about doom and gloom amongst flowers waiting to bloom on a sunny day, but that isn't Jim's message at all. Jim is all about paying attention, realizing what is actually going on in the world and accepting changes with logic, grace, and a sense of humor.

We laughed, asked questions, engaged with him and Kathy Harrison outside on the freshly mowed lawn. Jim brought a cooler of beer! When I asked why his response was, "I thought people would get thirsty!?" Can't argue with that.

His talk was the post-lunch break event. The whole morning was spent inside and out with the energy and positivity of Kathy, who introduced us into the practicality and ease of being ready for everything from ice storms to economic fall outs. She made us all laugh, shared her own story and her gadgets. She brought along samples of everything from crank radios to dehydrated asparagus and potatoes (which when re-hydrated taste exactly like any other potato. Her whole anthem was about being able to take care of yourself in any scenario, and to understand that no one can do this alone. She wanted us to understand the importance of knowing your neighbors, making connections with people in your community, and actually knowing what is going on in local government and politics. She thinks our selectman and school boards will be a lot more important to us than we can feasibly understand in the next few years. I think she's right.

Everyone left with full stomachs, with signed copies of books by the visiting authors, and smiles on their faces. I think the crew that made it out to the farm yesterday was happy they made the trip. That's something I am quite proud of. Any time anyone goes out of their way to support, visit, or share in this little 7-acres of heaven I am on cloud nine, even when the day's whole concetration was on the uncertain future, I feel pretty darn good on my pile of dirt.

bonita gives a wink...

photo by

Friday, May 18, 2012

Announcing Cold Antler Farm Fiddle Camp!

Come to Cold Antler for a weekend-long event, August 25th and 26th. You are welcome to join me for two days of the farm, campfire, and fiddles. This is a camp for people with absolutely no experience with the fiddle at all—never held one, can't read music, think they are hopeless case—but really want to learn. All you need to do is sign up and I'll take it from there. The fee for the weekend will also include an entire beginner fiddle package. Everyone who signs up will get a quality student fiddle, case, and bow with rosin to boot. The only requirements for supplies on your end is to purchase the book "Old Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus" by Wayne Erbsen and a standard electric guitar tuner. We'll be learning by feel, by ear, and by a system of music notation called tablature. This means you won't need how to read notes to play, just be able to read and count to 4.

The weekend will start off with an early morning introduction, how to string, tune, and hold your fiddle and bow. We'll then go into the basic bowing motion and finger positioning on the D-scale. We'll brake for lunch and then spend the afternoon learning your first tune, Ida Red. There will be plenty of time for practice, too. Find a place in the pasture with Sal to work out your D-scale. See if you can balance a chicken on your bow while you drone? (I'm kidding about that last part). Saturday night will include a campfire with live music. I'll have local musicians and friends come and you are welcome to bring your own guitar, banjo, or whatever else you'd like to play.

Sunday is a day dedicated to learning more songs, droning and shuffling techniques, and plenty of practice time between one-on-one sessions. Enjoy the farm in its late-summer splendor, taking in the sounds and sights of the animals and gardens. I personally guarantee that anyone who signs up and WANTS to play will leave my farm a fiddler. This is not a hard instrument, and the building blocks you'll find here will be all you need to go home and learn every single song in Wayne's book. This would be a great gift, couples weekend, or graduation present.

Fiddle Camp is a full Saturday and Sunday, 9AM - 5PM
Each workshopper gets a student fiddle package
Each student gets a CAF fiddle Camp T-shirt!
Camping on the farm is an option (it will be August)
Cost will be $350 or $200 (sans fiddle) a person.
Limited to 15 people or 8 couples.
12 Spots Left!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

June 8th 2012

I can finally share my Big News, since now all the pieces have fallen into place. I do apologize for being a blatant tease but the pay off is worth it. This is the big one folks, everything I have been working for on paper, books, workshops, and sweat and tears:

I have resigned from my position at the office and will be a full-time author and farmer from here on out. I'll be making a living through my own words, choices, and actions as a self-employed business owner here in Washington County. I'll be writing and hosting workshops and events to cover the mortgage and growing my own food and livestock to cover the groceries. For eight years I have been working towards this one thing, and my last day at work is June 7th. Time to jump.

I have made all the preparations. There's a humble, but survivable, nest of savings set aside and I am arranging alternative health insurance through my local chamber of commerce. I have projects lined up and much work and writing ahead of me, not to mention the workshops and events here at the farm. I am not asking for any help from the readers, and won't. This is my choice and my life and I can't spend any more time of it behind a desk working for somebody else. I have to make this step or I'll never be able to respect myself. I am thrilled and somber about it. Making this decision is a step I have been hesitating over out of nothing but fear. Fear isn't welcome here anymore. Ever.

I am so happy about this, so terrified about this, and so very ready for this.

June 8th is the first day of the rest of my life.

Plan B!

2 spots left for Plan B on May 19th, 2012!
Any last-minute takers! Workshop is tomorrow at 10AM!

can't wait!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

before a storm

I sat outside under the big, leafy, maple tree as the wind picked up and the sky went from gray to angry. I had shoved off of work an hour early, after explaining plainly to my boss that I was not going to milk a dairy goat in a thunderstorm. My timing was impeccable. I had just finished the milk chores, grained the pony and sheep, checked the fences, fed the rabbits, and chickens for the evening when the first rumbles whispered in from the west. Inside the house dinner was already in the oven. I could smell it if I got too close to the kitchen windows while filling up buckets at the rain barrel. I made me salivate like a dog. It's one of this winter's meat birds now crisping in the keep, bathed in olive oil and spices. That bird and a pot of wild rice, gravy, and a spring salad from the garden would be my evening meal. It's consort, a hard cider. I look forward to this the way a person who has walked a great distance and can finally see her campsite looks forward to a fire and rest.

So I sit outside under the big sugar maple and feel the wind. I'm wearing a canvas kilt, one of those snazzy tank tops with the bra built in, and a wool hat my mother gave me for Christmas two years ago. It's a big brimmed, floppy, brown wool hat. Not a cowboy hat, but something like a lady's sun hat if it was left to sheep to build. I used to dislike it and now I love it. I only disliked it because I was a chump who cared more about what people thought of the hat than its direct purpose. I now know this is happiness (and comfort's) suicide. It is the perfect shield from rain, snow, and sun. I put it on and let it plop about like a character from before. Like one of those people who garden in black and white photos from Appalachia. It is shapeless and thrifty. I feel timeless.

The thunder starts to speed up and rain hits the brim. I take off my rubber chore boots and let my bare feet feel new grass just kissed by rain. The coolness of it is a blessing. The comfort in knowing every animal in my keep has been made comfortable and full in the belly before I would retire to a house of fiddles and roasting bird makes me feel so wealthy I want to write checks to strangers. All I did was cut out of work early, feed livestock, and sit in the grass unshod but these things change seretonin levels in my body. A perfect combination of respite and toil, hope and force, and the knowledge that I too will tuck in with smacking lips and cool cider, it over takes me. The rain is starting to fall but I don't want to go inside. I want to just sit out here and hope, and pray, and thank everyone and everything that got me to this small piece of land on a mountainside. It has become my whole world.

For better or for worse, it is.

the photo is tim's


In the weeks since I announced I would be moderating comments I have only had to delete one angry, anonymous (of course) jab about Merlin. I am amazed at how just sharing that I would read things before they were posted has changed the entire tone of the audience. And another neat thing is happening, people use the comments section as a quick way to send me a note. I'll get a comment announcement and when I open it it'll say "Hey, don't post this but I just wanted to tell you about..." and share some advice, or an email address to sign up for a workshop, or just a message for me. It's all wonderful. I'm so grateful for the kinder tones and secret messages and just wanted to thank you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

it's show time, baby

The morning of the show started earlier than usual. I was up at 4AM, so that chores, feeding, and milking could be done in enough time to shower and preen for the ring. I had a borrowed blue jacket, a crisp white shirt, a fancy tucked-in collar. I had washed my half-chaps and paddock boots with a scrubber brush and everything was looking as good as it possibly could. I had to be at the barn around 7:00. That would give me enough time to get Merlin out of his stall (all horses in the show were kept in stalls for morning grooming instead of being turned out into the muddy paddocks) and have him brushed, washed up, and braided if I saw fit. I would slip on my jacket, place his number on his bridle's brow band, and start warming up for the ring by 9:00. Everything was planned out.

expecting a new, pudgy, Fell Pony to be suiting up for the dressage ring. Even at a schooling show in a rural part of upstate New York there are some fancy horses in that show. Warmbloods, high-stepping agile beasts who cost more than what I owe on my Dodge Dakota. Who would think the new girl who showed up with a bossy pony 13 weeks ago would be entered in the Dressage Show? I walked out into the pasture and placed his halter over his head. Both his feathered feet and my previously scrubbed paddock boots and half-chaps were covered in mud. That'll teach me not to pack my muck boots...

The morning was a frenzy. It started out slow, washing feet and combing out dry mud. I picked out pieces of pine shavings from his stall piece by piece from his long mane and tail. When he was suitably groomed, passing for clean, I decided not to braid his mane. Who was I kidding, really? He's a Fell and will remain one in his truest form for the judge. She could take us or leave us. With Merlin in his stall I walked over to where the trailers were parked and Patty and Steele were working to braid his long mane. Patty was on a stepladder as Steele munched from a bag of hay. He looked beautiful, cleaner than I have ever seen him. I was almost in shock at the site of him. I adore my Merlin, would not want any other riding horse in the world, but by Epona herself Steele looked like a giant marble statue of a horse. A life-sized Breyer in perfectly molded contours. Makes a woman weep, that kind of beauty on the hoof.

Percherons and Fell Ponies are not the usual dressage breeds, but we weren't the only outcasts. Haflingers, Spotted Drafts, Paints—all sorts of horse flesh was about. We fit in just as much as anyone else trying their hands at the USDF tests. It works like this: You enter the ring with your horse and trot around the outside of the arena. Then, when a bell rings you have 45 seconds to start your test. The "test" is really a memorized routine. I would be expected to trot into the ring with Merlin, a straight line at the judge. Then I'd hustle and jive through walks, circles, crossing the arena on diagonals, free walks, and so on. Whatever the test pattern is, you do it, and you do it the best you can. When it is done you halt your horse and bow your head in salute to the sport, the judge, the whole damn event. Then you exit the arena and wait to see how you did on your score sheet. The only person you are competing against is yourself, you create your score. The placement is simply high to low scores. Amazing how simple something so gut-wrenchingly nerve racking can be, huh? Merlin, Steele, Patty and I were warming up by 9 in the indoor arena. We walked, trotted, and circled in practice. By the time my name was called I walked down to the area where we were supposed to enter. A young boy, around 6, saw me on my mount and whispered to his mother "Mom, what is THAT? Identity issues from children aside, I thought everything was going well. I mean, the horse was clean, right? I was dressed properly, right? We had our number on his brow band, the right time....So what could go wrong?

Lots, actually.

Merlin remembered the outdoor arena. He remembered how fun it was to be in there and have the girth spin the saddle under him. He remembered the panic and the stress of it, and started backing up. Hollie, my guardian angel, saw this and told me to "get that pony in there!" and as if she could read horses the way pilots land a plane explained exactly what to do to get him inside the arena. "Pressure from your outside leg, loosen the reins, crop!" and so on. I just did what she said, gave some heel, and he entered at a fast walk. Okay, so we were in the dressage ring. We walked around the outside of the arena (we were not allowed inside until the judge rang the bell) and then I realized how much Merlin hates being trailered. The judge was sitting inside a trailer, a house from sun and rain. Merlin trotted by it and bucked a little kick, right in front of the judge... "He's got some spirit, huh?" I heard in a murmur.

He kept acting up, trotting in place, not wanting to go forward. The judge could see it all but until we started our test she couldn't start marking that score sheet. I got him down to where the official arena started and waited for the bell. The bell rang and the test started. here we go... Merlin and I entered the arena at a trot, right at the judges. We spent the next five minutes going through the routine I had lasered into my brain. We slowed to walks, made tight corners, picked up trots again at specific points. We did fairly-round 20-meter circles. And when it was all over we stopped on a dime and I saluted to the judge. People clapped and I finally let out the breath I was holding the whole time. The judge left me with some kind remarks and I exited the arena.

We did it. Merlin and I passed, if not placed. We didn't get one objection or correction announcement. It means that even if it wasn't pretty, it was competent. And to even enter a dressage show with a horse I had once only dreamed of, had only known a few months...was magical to me. If I got a big fat green ribbon that said 'Participant' I would frame it. It wasn't about winning, it was about showing up and trying. An event and day that marked a right of passage. I trained, I signed up, I tested, and I survived. Turns out I got third place. A ten-year-old on a white welsh pony beat us. Steele and Patty were right behind us in fourth place, by LESS THAN a point! Amazing when you know she entered her first dressage show with her cart horse after THREE LESSONS! Amazing, those two.

When you walk in my home the ribbon is hanging right on a mounted photo of Merlin. There is nothing humble about it and in this case, that is fine by me. That horse is a blessing, a lesson, and a teacher. He's coming home to the farm in a few weeks and I can't wait to wake up to that shaggy face every day, ride him around the farm and across neighbors' fields. We have plenty of adventures ahead and by Antlerstock I hope those of you coming out will get to meet him, feed him a carrot, and tussle those locks. Just don't mention anything about girths or trailers, he doesn't like to talk about them.


Monday, May 14, 2012

back tomorrow

These last three days have been so unbelievably busy, and I have not been home much beyond basic farm chores and errands. Just 5 hours ago I was walking back to Brett's truck 2 miles from the Canadian Border at an Amish Harness shop as locals ran by in buggies and waved. Just minutes ago I lured and re-caught 13 escaped sheep who I first found out had escaped while eating a burger in Lake Placid. And just seconds ago I realized how tired I am and yet how much I want to write.

All of it tomorrow, and big news as soon as I can share it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

photos from the big day

Today started milking a goat at 4:30 AM and ended with a slice of rhubarb pie and red wine in a hot tub. A big, long, post coming up soon about my first show, but to hold you over I thought I'd share photos from the day. I have a bunch Mark Wesner took to post tomorrow, but for the now, check out what Mike McNeil took of the show. Merlin and I on here and Patty and Steele are right after us!

And a Happy Mother's Day to you all!

Photos Here!

out of seven!

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I am so nervous about tomorrow's dressage show...

two old men sleeping in the sun

a day for the garden

There are big plans for the garden this year, starting with the small row of raised beds I have along the horse fence by the house. A small kitchen garden, but a happy place already full of new lettuce, kale, pea shoots, and garlic. Today I'll plant a heap of stuff I picked up as six-packs from the Stannard Farm greenhouse a half mile down the road on route 22. I also decided to turn the south side of the house into two herb gardens. There is already a beautiful sage bush I inherited with the house and a bit of hoe work, anti-poultry fencing, and some topsoil is all I need make that dream come true. As important as it is to feed yourself, it is also important to know how to heal yourself.

I want to grow herbs for stress-relief, sore muscles, colds and flu. I'm not anti-modern medicine by any means but there is wisdom to the folk remedies. Most common illnesses can be cured with the right care of the body and help with rest, meditation, herbs and positive thinking. That's my experience at least. This year the plan is to grow things for teas and tinctures. I would like to start an echinacea patch and various mints, chamomile, rose hips for vitamin C.

Do any of you grow medicinal or tea gardens and herbs?

spoon garden markers from this etsy shop!

Friday, May 11, 2012

morning kits

Every morning the little, bottomless, meat rabbit hutches get moved around. They still get feed pellets and water bottles, but eat the grass down to nubs. Usually twice a day it gets scuttled about, leaving a neat square with little brown turds. It's a tight little mowing operation, that.

I like raising my kits this way, out in the sunlight, on the green grass. It's a fun task, too. Moving that small crate and watching them hop along. In a few weeks they'll be in the freezer or bartered off to other farmers, but today is grass and sunshine. They eat and soak up the rays. They watch the chickens, put up wit Gibson's stares, and sleep in a pile in the little sheltered section. They don't know what's ahead tomorrow, neither do we, but at least the rabbits take it all in stride. Focus on the grass. Feel the sun. Stretch like you mean it. Eat till you're full. Always be ready to move.

We all just have today. Live it like meat rabbit.

turkey wrangling: level 600!

so starts the work

It's Friday morning and the farm is alive. The goat's been milked and the dogs have been fed and walked. Right now a half gallon of fresh milk is chilling in an ice bath in the sink and tonight after evening milking I'll make cheese from the day's full gallon plus. In a bit I'll go outside and see to all the birds and rabbits, sheep and Jasper. No sign of the turkey's since they wandered back into the woods last night, but I'm not worried. They spent a week here at the house, where water and feed flowed. They are fairly easy to herd where you want them to go.

When chores are done I'll get changed out of kilt and sweater into breeches and half chaps. Friday is our lesson day down at Riding Right, and by "we" I don't just mean Merlin and I. Patty and Steele have their lesson right after mine so always spend the morning with our horses, learning and working on our dressage tests for Sunday's show. We always stop at Central House in Salem afterwards, Patty's long horse trailer right out front with Steele waiting patiently while we enjoy our salads and paninis. It's become a happy ritual.

Merlin will be back here at the Farm by my birthday in July. Brett and Patty and Mark are certain we can get a proper horse paddock ready for him by then. Since the land is cleared and the wood hauled out it is more a matter of slapping together a quick run in shed, some fences, and gates. It'll happen. I know it will.

I'm excited about the interest in the Fiddle Camp! So far three are signed up and a few more emailing interested. I'll start designing t-shirts and we can all vote on the winner here.

Okay! I need to get off this old computer and head outside. So starts the work!

P.S. Ryan Gosling healed up great!

photo by jon katz

Thursday, May 10, 2012

my favorite photo of me and jasper

photo by

rough morning

A lamb just died in my arms. One of the twins, a little ram. When I called in the sheep from the back pasture 14 sheep and two lambs came running out to greet me. I looked around the black and white feet, but the third lamb was nowhere to be found. I grabbed my crook and I walked around the sheds and feeders. He was nowhere to be seen.

Then I walked out to the farthest pasture. I could see the small white clump in the grass. I ran over and found him wet, dirty, but still alive. I carried him inside the farmhouse and wrapped him in a towel, set him next to the small electric heater in my bathroom. While he warmed up I put milk on the stove to warm and got a bottle ready. He took to it and my heart soared. If he was interested in food it was a good sign. He suckled and when I took the bottle away he baaed. "That a boy!" I yelled. Then he convulsed, cried out, and went limp. His heart stopped beating next to my own. He was dead.

And now I need to go milk a goat, and get a shower, and go into the office late. I'll go into that office and spend a day inside an building pumped with heat that doesn't come from fire, light that doesn't come from sunshine, and cool air that doesn't come from wind. A place with windows that do not open. I will sit in my desk chair and start working on email marketing and spreadsheets. I'll think about the dead lamb, and listen to people talk about our job as if it was some how a part of the real world. As if anything that entertains itself beyond the gates where blood and shit, dirt and compost, sex and birth, and shaking death was real? It isn't.

Reality is out where the lambs die.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

look at that boy STRUT!

herding lessons starting again soon!

The Milk Pail Diaries:
A Month of Milking

It has been a full month of living with a dairy animal as a single woman with a full-time job. I thought I'd check in and let you know my thoughts now that milking a goat has gone from novelty to a regular chore around here. I have now milked Bonita, my large alpine doe, over sixty times! She has produced over 45 gallons of fresh milk! All of it done by one gal, by hand, over the course of thirty days. And now I can not imagine having to buy milk from the store. Just like eggs, veggies (in summer), and most of my meat, milk has wandered from the realm of things I was just a consumer of and am now a producer.

This little dairy is chuggin' along.

I have totally converted to goats milk in my house. I use it in my cereal, oatmeal, coffee, iced coffees, chocolate milks, milk shakes, baking and cooking. I learned to make cheese, watching the curds transform overnight and drain right here in my kitchen sink. Chevre is my new favorite bagel spread. And the time I spend with Bonita has helped grow our bond in a way you just don't get from sheep. It's closer akin to horses, only instead of riding and working, you're milking. It's a quiet skill. I like milking. With one goat it takes minutes, and I have my post-milking chores down to a science. I ice the steel sink first, half filling it with cold water and ice cubes. It cools while I milk outside in my little stainless steel flat-sided pail while Bonita eats her grain and minerals. When milking is done I feed the goats their hay and then soak the milk till it is cold in the sink (about 15 minutes to half an hour). After that it is strained, poured into half-gallon or quart glass containers and set in the freezer for two hours. It comes out pipin' cold and slightly frozen, but really does remove any possibility of "goaty" flavor for a few days.

I appreciate what it is doing for my body. My forearms are the most toned they have ever been. I have dedicated myself to months of regular yoga practice and Downward Dog's got nothing on Descending Udder. It's made my fiddling easier too, since I am using my gripping hand muscles so much more than before. I feel stronger a month into goat ownership. And that fact that only three escapes happened mean my fencing skills are stronger too!

I did say that milking has gone from novelty to chore, but that isn't accurate. Milking is different than pouring grain into a chicken feeder and moving bales of hay. It requires an attention all of its own. It's become a mix between meditation and conversation, never one or the other. It's a mindless action in some senses, letting my head wander a bit, but then a back hoof starts to wriggle or there's a loud fart or something that reminds you to be reacting to the animal your head is pressed against as you empty those teats. So it's neither delicate or brash, just what it is. Just like farming.

BIG changes coming....

photo by 468photography

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

rainy morning updates

Another morning of milking a goat in the rain. Not anywhere near as bad as it sounds. The rain was more of a mist, gentle and making your clothes cling to you. I like this kind of dampness, where precipitation and perspiration mix. On a long day outside it can grow weary, but this morning a hot shower and a steaming bowl of oatmeal were month a half hour away. It is easy to sing through chores, wet and smelling like goat, if those promises are kept.

The rain grew harder but Jasper and the sheep (and their three lambs) weren't deterred from their morning meal. They are eating what's left of winter hay while the pastures heal and grow. Four days of rain means a lot of new green. I welcome it.

Yesterday while walking Jazz and Annie on our slow mile jaunt, I told Jazz about all your well wishes. He has trouble on the walk sometimes so we go slow. Allowing him time to throw up if he has too, walk at his pace. We stop at the stream and he and Annie adore wading through it, lapping up water, feeling cold stones on their heavy paws. As we were just leaving the stream and heading home I saw the green Tacoma I know so well rolling up the mountain. It was Othniel and his son, ShimShoan. They had a lawn mower in the back bed. Othniel said out the window, "We heard your mower was broken! We've come to mow your lawn!" and I beamed. I knew the rain was coming and four days would mean knee-high grass. I was trying to keep up with it with my reel mower, but its old and needs sharpening, so this was a blessing. I walked the dogs home and ordered Jay's Pizzeria's largest pie with extra cheese for us. They weren't leaving hungry.

So the lawn looks beautiful, Jazz is still plugging along, and the lambs are well. Goats get milked, even in a downpour and the new turkeys are making themselves right at home. One is for me and my Thanksgiving Dinner here at the farm and the other I bought for Jon and Maria. They'll pay me to raise it and have it harvested for their own table. I'm proud and honored to do it.

I have been practicing with Merlin. I'm excited and nervous about this Sunday's show. Anyone who wants to come and watch is welcome, we ride at 9:30 on the dot and Patty and Steele ride right after at 9:36. Come up to South Cambridge and enjoy a day of pretty horses and jittery people. The weather will be divine.

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!?!