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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
Audible.com 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!
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 email@example.com, and I'll give you the details. Hope to take at least ten registrations!
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.
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.
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?
Photo by you know who. P.S. Sue Steeves, your violin was shipped this week, sorry for the delay!
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 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.
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!
Enjoy the story of a young writer living in Washington County with her fancy dogs, sheep, lots of chickens, fiber & meat rabbits, geese, ducks, turkeys, a hive and a garden. Expect to hear a lot about mountain music, the civil war, local food, and my friends along the way. It's a big time folks.
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs