Saturday, June 16, 2012

barn raising 2012

photos by seth daughton!

Friday, June 15, 2012

going up...

Today: a barn starts

This here is a $288 pile of pine boards. It was delivered yesterday by the fine folks at Windy Hill Sawmill and it is resting in this whorey, Not-Brett-Approved pile in the grass. I'm waiting for the Lumberjack to get here and show me how to build a pony shed for the horses. I bartered three ewes and Atlas the ram for his help, and when he leaves Sunday he'll have a starter flock and I'll have a pony home for Merlin and Jasper (Future BFFs).

We might even get the fence and gates up today, too, if all goes as planned. Brett's coming down from the Lake Placid area to help teach and demonstrate his chicken tractor building skills for tomorrow's Meat Bird workshop. But today isn't about chickens, it is about horses, and we are going to turn this pile of wood into a frame and rafters and tin roof. I did buy the wood but we are salvaging roofing from around the farm, from old scrap piles. I already got the site prepped with the help of the Daughton Boys who dug the post holes and helped level the stone wall and brush hog the fenceline.

I have a feeling it is going to be a long day, and it starts now with running to the post office to pick up 50 Freedom Ranger chicks with Gibson.

I used to be leaving for the office right about now, just a year ago I worked every Friday. Now I am jumping in the truck again, but to spend the day working in the sun building a few horses a condo and transporting boxes of poultry. I am happy with how things are working out.

Here's to a weekend of friends, fowl, hammers, lumber, and the occasional flying arrow or two!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Help Jerri, Mission Small Business

Friend and blog supported, Jerri Bedell, is the owner of a small business called Homesteader Supply. It's a business of love and growth towards a more sustainable life. It's the kind of online store that covers everything from milking pails to solar powered lights and certainly my type of place to shop.

Jerri had a favor to ask. She just created a specialty cheese press, one she designed herself to fit the needs of a home cheesemaker. She had so many issues and changes required of commercial presses, she decided to just go ahead and create a press herself! You can read more about it or order it by clicking here, or clicking on the image above. Here is a quote from Jerri on why she went ahead and made this beautiful thing:

"Basically, I really didn't like the cheesepresses out there, difficult to use, and some actually fall apart from the exposure to water. So I found an experienced local woodworker with large professional shop to be able make them fast and perfect each time so we won't have backorders waiting for production... together we designed ours to overcome the problems with the others."

It is so easy to use, probably will last a lifetime with care (continued oiling through the years)."

So that new cheese press, I am happy to share the news about it. And I also wanted to ask you guys to consider helping a business such as Jerri's out. You don't have to spend a dime to support her own home-based business dreams. See, Jerri is working hard to get a grant from Mission Small Business to continue following her own dream of developing and promoting new homesteading goods like her hardwood cheese press and such. If you log onto this program, and search for Homesteader's Supply, you can click a button and vote for her company to get support. It will take a few seconds and cost you nothing at all, you simply log in with your Facebook account and hit vote when Homesteader's supply comes up in the search. (You need to put the apostrophe in Homesteader's for it to show up as a search return!) If she can get 250 votes she has a chance towards this grant to grow, save, and comfort this homesteading business and I hope some of you are willing to help out with your clicks! I voted!

annie hates summer

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Support CAF, Sign up!

Last chance to sign up for any of these workshops listed below. Some only have one or two spots left. I encourage anyone out there who is considering a workshop to come on over, reserve a spot! It would be a blessing and a gift at this time! More details on any of these workshops can be found by hitting the button to the right with the crow and fiddle! To snatch these spots up, please email me at

Backyard Meat Chickens (this saturday!): 2 spots left!
Fiddle Camp: 3 spots left!
Antlerstock 2012: just two spots left!

Beekeeping 101: 8 spots
Candles & Soap: 5 spots
Farmer's Horse: 6 spots

Also, weekend farm stays, short internships, personal lessons, personal classes, and more available. Just ask and email.

my dogs jump

A lot of people teach their dogs not to jump up as a greeting. I do not. I adore it when I come home and Gibson leaps up on his back feet and wraps his front legs around my hips and holds on. It's a canine hug, and he means it. He lays his head against my chest and looks up into my eyes and his tail wags and I grab him around the ribs and hold tight. I am pro dog hugging. It makes me feel good.

I read today that dogs are the only animals, other than primates, that can read human emotions through faces and actions. Other domesticated animals will come to the people that feed and comfort them if they cry or seem despondent, but apparently the science says that only dogs and primates can look at your face and understand, make decisions about their interaction with you based on your eyes, face, laughter, tears.

I don't raise this point to argue, or to invalidate the compassion of your cat, parrot, horse or raccoons or whatever. I am sure your animals have comforted you as well. I raise it because I have spent my entire adult life in the company of dogs, always 2 or 3. Sometimes my living room has 200 pounds of dog and 25 pounds of feline all sharing the box fan and it is as serene a scene as waves hitting the shore. We all live together, and we know each other. We know our boundaries and quirks, voices and needs. We have our own routines and habits. And yesterday and this morning some anxiety and worry took over and I walked into a room, probably weighing an extra hundred pounds of radiating stress. I'm worried, folks. About a whole bunch of things. A lot of the pieces of leaving my desk job aren't falling into place. Loopholes in contracts, delays in payments, just everyday issues really. But enough to make you wake up at 3:30 AM and not fall back asleep.

Anyway, so I walked into a room, feeling all this. And Gibson simply lifted his head from his paws, stood up, and walked over to me with decision on his face. He didn't bark, or wine, or ask anything of me. He just lifted himself off the ground and wrapped his paws around me and held on. I held on to him, too. I kissed his little black head and told him he was a good boy.

I am very glad my dogs jump.


This first week has been strange. It's odd, and I'm not sure I'm doing it right yet. Honestly, it feels like a long weekend, or a vacation off. It doesn't feel like a business or a serious writer's home. I have open word docs, new chapter outlines, and design projects in progress. I am working with readers to set up workshops and fiddle camp barters. Yesterday a pack of eager college students arrived for a farm tour and talk (wasn't I just a college student?!) and today I have a web design meeting with a local artist. I am staying busy, keeping on task, the farm has never had such attention.

And yet I feel like I am pretending. Like it didn't really happen? It feels like in a few days I'll be back at my desk and back to the normal file folders and lunch breaks. But I KNOW that desk is swept clean, and I've been removed from the record sheets. There is no going back right now. I made a decision and I understand that, but I am waiting for it to sink in, or feel real.

Right now everything feels like limbo.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Movie Night in Cambridge June 29th!

There's going to be a wonderful, free, event right here in Cambridge New York at the end of the Month. It's a combination event with Battenkill Books, Hubburd Hall, Bedlam Farm, and Cold Antler Farm (among others!) to do a screening of the powerhouse documentary The Greenhorns right here in farm country.

There will be food, essayists from the documentary's companion book (I am one of said essayists), and I believe remarks and a bit of speaking from the young farmers in question. Come on down to Cambridge, say hello, watch an inspiring movie about new farmers across the country starting out and leaving their desks and colleges behind to play in the dirt. It's a revolution, baby.

Get details here! Click Clicky Click

Also, you can pre order a copy of the beautiful book of over 50 essays, stories, and songs from Connie at Battenkill books. Email her at, and she'll get your copy ready for you. It will be waiting for you when you arrive, ready for me and Luke, Severine, or whoever else is there to sign it. Every book you purchase through Battenkill Books is supporting a grand new indie shop here in my town. You can also order signed, personalized copies of Made From Scratch, Chick Days, or Barnheart. If you're not that into me, you can order signed copies of Jon Katz's books, or James Howard Kunstler's, or Megan Mayhew Bergman's. We got as many writers around these parts as dairy cows, so don't be shy now.

Okay, so who's coming?!

the new kids!

Went out this morning expecting lambs and instead found a mama Swedish Flower Hen with a clutch of new hatchlings! Beautiful and healthy little chicks are strutting about with mama, and about to get a welcome from thunderstorms, fireflies, and a pack of college students from Bloomfield University of New Jersey in a short while. Doing a tour/talk on backyard sustainability and the importance of small diversified farms today. Hopefully, also putting these kids to work bringing in a barn-full of first cut hay for the flock and ponies. Welcome to Tuesday at Cold Antler Farm! Chicks, College kids, expectant mothers, and hay rushing because storms are ahead!

P.S. Expect more and better farm photos! Jess and Riley from the wild Northland of Canada have sent down a Nikon for me to use! Not to mention a mess of handmade soaps and a sweet letter, thank you guys, see you at Antlerstock!

How to Make Goats' Milk Soap

Making Milk Soap at home is easy, but it can be intimidating at first. Here is a recipe for a very basic, small batch to get you started. You need the following things to follow this recipe:

2 pounds Olive Oil
2 pounds Coconut Oil
9.5 oz lye
2 cups milk
2 stainless steel saucepans
thermometer for oils/milk
soap mold(s)
hand blender
rubber gloves
digital scale
Makes 12-20 bars

You start out by melting all four pounds of oils together, and keeping tabs with a candy, cheese, or soap thermometer. You want them melted from solid state (coconut oil is kind of like crisco in texture) and around 100-120 degrees. Set them aside once melted. The saucepan you use to melt these in should be stainless steel, but if it isn't that's not as big of a deal as the pot you use to activate your lye in the milk. You can heat up these oils in a plastic or glass container in your microwave as well.

Now, for the tricky part. ( I do this step outdoors, by the way.) Wear long sleeves, rubber gloves, and glasses if you have them. Take your 2 cups of cold milk and set it in a STAINLESS STEEL saucepan and slowly add you 6 oz of lye as you stir with a wooden or steel spoon. It will start to turn into a bright yellow, and that's okay! As it activates it heats up and fast. After a few moments of stirring I add my steel saucepan to an ice bath in a sink or washtub outside and get it to cool down to bathwater temps (around 100 degrees) before I add my melted oils to it.

Warning: Add lye to water/milk. Do NOT add milk to lye waiting in a steel pot. The reaction is more violent.

When both oil and milk are around 100 degrees add the oils to the milk and stir them together with your spoon if that's all you go, but I suggest using an immersion or some sort of hand blender. You need these two main ingredients well mixed until it starts "tracing" Tracing means that when there's some visible lines across the surface of the soap mixture, like if you ran your spoon through it you would see where it traveled. Kind of like how you know if your kids got into the pudding? Swiped a taste with their finger? That's tracing.

You want your soap the consistency of honey or pudding. Now it is ready to pour into molds! And you can use anything from a shoe box lined with wax paper, to handmade wooden molds, to pre-made soap molds. I bought my soap supplies here in Washington County from Betterbee in Greenwich. They sell gear online, but so does Caprine Supply and many others. Soapmakers out there? Can you leave comments of your favorite soap supply online shops? Some folks may need to order lye online if it is rare in their towns, but call your hardware stores first. They may have it! Hardware, feed stores, and other work-related businesses still carry lye.

Soap needs to set in molds for 24-48 hours and then popped out of the molds, or sliced into bars, and then set on cookie sheets or racks where they can cure for up to 3 weeks. Curing is a natural hardening/evaporating process.

Want to see a video? You can go to this page to see a demo by Brent Ridge, one of the Beekman Boys, and see it all go down, as well as get a detailed recipe. Click Here for that (requires flash)

Now, don't be discouraged if you don't have olive or coconut oils on hand. You can use all sorts of fats - from lard to palm oil to make soap at home. I found this amazing web site that lets you fill in all the parameters of your own supplies, volume, and such and it tells you how much lye to use and prints out a recipe for you. Amazing, this internet thing.

My last words of advice? If the idea of working with scary stuff like lye, or measuring out exact volumes isn't possible since you don't have a digital scale, then find a local soapmaker or mentor to watch and learn from. Or sign up for a class or workshop in your area. Soapmaking isn't violently dangerous but I have watched demonstrations melt pots at Greenhorn events and I myself once DESTROYED an aluminum pot at the farm in a sordid attempt. If you are just going for it, then have fun, but play safe. Use gloves and careful planning when using lye.

Monday, June 11, 2012

soap today!

Made goats' milk soap today, infused with mint essential oils. Right now a dozen bars are curing in the farmhouse. I bought some special molds to show off Bonita's goods. It amazes me how much one gets out of a single, 150lb animal. Milk, cheese, soap, coffee creamer, milkshakes, meat, leather, and more goats. That's just skimming the surface, too. The dairy life has become my own, and it fits.

Easy milk soap recipe to follow tomorrow, and there's a soap and candle making workshop at the farm the day after the beekeeping one later in July. Come on out and see it all in person, with tips and tricks. You can also see how milking, herb drying, homemade beeswax and using essential oils works in the process to make your homestead soaps even more special. You can't buy a raw milk soap like this in your grocery store. You can buy soap that isn't even really soap, since most commercial bars are actually detergents. They don't use actual fat/lye processes and instead use petrol chemicals and artificial fragrance. You are basically lathering up in chemical waste. So try out some real soap, and feel real clean, and the real difference from the old school methods of grime removal. Support your local Real SoapMaker or give it a try yourself. All you need for the CAF recipe is:

9.5 oz of lye
2 cups milk
2 pounds coconut oil
2 pounds olive oil
A few drops of essential oil (scent)
1 stainless steel* pot (4qt at least)
1 saucepan
soap molds

so you thought lambing season was over...

first week...

It's the first Monday morning of my new job. Officially, Friday was my first day on the job but since I haven't worked Friday's in a while it felt like any normal week. But now, a Monday morning and I am self employed. Incidentally, I'm still going into an office post-chores and before 9AM. Dentist appointment... Gotta use up this Cadillac Health Plan while I still have it through the end of June. Then my higher deductible individual plan kicks in. I am trying to get the check ups, cleanings, and trips about my carpal tunnel in soon as possible. My personal copay and rates will be higher. It'll be interesting seeing what it's like not having that same coverage, and I think it will be for the better. My healthcare is now turning into preventative and not reactive care. I'm losing weight, spending more time outside, eating better and yesterday I ran a mile up my mountain road without stopping and I felt invincible. That's how I ended up in my hammock taking that video, a post-running high suspended above the ground.

After the Dentist I am running to Betterbee in Greenwich to pick up soapmaking materials and then Yesheva and her girl Emmith from Common Sense is coming over to practice making soaps with goatsmilk. It's a R&D mission for the upcoming Cold Press Soapmaking Workshop in July.

Between all this is email catch ups, paying some bills, and talking with freelance design clients. I have logos to wrap up, homepages for some e-commerce sites, and a visit to a friend of a friend tomorrow to help a local artist start a blog. Tuesday is the visit of students from Bloomfield College in New Jersey. I'm excited to have them over and talk about backyard sustainability. Barnheart is part of their ciriculum for the class! How about that?!

The rest of the week involves fishing, horses, writing, design, and possibly even the rare and elusive nap...

Here I go.

Soap & Candle Workshop - July 29!

Happy to announce I just confirmed a candle and soapmaking workshop here at the farm! Come for a full day of fellowship, gardens, goatmilk, beeswax and craft. It is the day after the Beekeeping workshop, so if you are traveling from out of town you can make a weekend of it and learn how to use your future beeswax in salves and candles. Kathy Harrison, fellow Storey author and accomplished candlemaker will be here at the farm to teach the morning candle-making portion of the day. She keeps bees and makes light from her own hive using traditional techniques. She's an accomplished homesteader of the third degree, and I'm sure open to all sorts of questions!

After Kathy's discussion and demo, I'll be teaching Cold Press Milk soapmaking with dried and ground garden herbs and milk. The afternoon will include a farm tour and time to talk about the herb garden, goats milk (and backyard dairy goats) and what ingredients and alternatives can be used. And everyone who attends will go home with a soap making kit, so you are ready to take your new skill back home with you and start churning out all sorts of soaps for your homestead and family!

5 Spots Left!

on the fly

Woke up yesterday morning with a purpose. That purpose involved a 5wt fly rod and a river just over the state line. I was going to meet my good friend Chrissy Penn for a morning on the river. We were hitting the Battenkill, a well known New England Trout stream.

Fly fishing is different than spin casting. You aren't trying to trap a fish by luring it with delicious smelling bait and then hooking it. You are instead trying to mimic nature, making that little fake fly on the end of your line land on the water the same way a Caddis or Mayfly would and get the trout to react in an instinctual way and hunt it. You need to be able to read water, know insects and hatching times, cast in gentle ways that "present" your target to an animal in a way that convinces it you are a simulacrum of a wild moment. And if you do it right you get a fish to bite, and if you got the skill you can set a hook and pull it in.

I didn't catch any fish yesterday, but I did get a few bites and it was thrilling! I found a spot to cast near where an old log and calmer water seemed to mingle and could see the flashes of native Brook Trouts and decided to use a small streamer and see if I could catch their eyes underwater instead of on it. I cast the sinking "fly" and it shimmered as it was pulled through the water and that's when I got a nip and saw the flash of an almost hooked trout fly out of the water and my heart raced with the excitement of it all.

Chrissy didn't have much luck either but that isn't why we go out there. We go to try, and because holding a fly rod gives you an excuse to start your morning standing in the middle of a big clear river. I could hear the birds, and the sound of water over rocks, and wave to passing cyclists and kayakers. It felt nice being one of 'The Outsiders' on this beautiful summer day. Just enjoying our daylight as a community in our own ways.

Can't wait to get back out there. I see a lot more time on the fly this summer....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

i think hammocks are my spirit animal

the new wheel

Here's a picture of my wheel. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I know very little. It was in a farmhouse before mine, used to spin, and sold at an estate sale. I Iooked all over it for a signature, label, or mark but it seems to have no sign of craftsman or company on it. It's a little mystery. But she spins true, has a great treadle, and is currently residing near the woodstove in the living room.

When I woke up and went downstairs I saw a Turkey poking the glass doors from the deck trying to get inside to see the new "Turkey" inside. And he strutted and fluttered about, showing off for the new wheel. I didn't have the heart to tell him the chances of him getting laid from an antique spinning wheel weren't betting odds. He danced about and hit the glass with his chest repeatedly in sordid attempts at disarming its virtue. I raised a mug of coffee to him.

"I like it, too." I said. And took a long sip.

broccoli with morning dew