Monday, July 9, 2012

run dogs, run!

There are few things as beautiful as watching Siberian Huskies, even old ones, run free and off leash through the woods. They become wolves within minutes, but happy ones. Tails high in the air they shuck and jive, dart and bark. I watched them with nothing short of bliss in my heart. I swear Jazz can smile, and as he trotted past his eyes caught mine with a huge grin on his face.

We were out in the pasture that was nearly ready for tomorrow's arrival of Merlin. I finished the fencing, cleaned out the rusty metal and old nails, and the three-mile charger had been collecting sunshine for three cloudless days. Since it was a big, wooded, area with a strong fence (the electric was off) I let the three dogs run around in it while I checked the poly rope lines and sang out loud.

better late than never

This is my last day of my twenties. Tomorrow I turn thirty and to celebrate, Merlin is moving home to the new paddock here at Cold Antler. It took three decades but I finally got a pony for my birthday.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

found this guy hiding in my garden...

new additions!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

last day for questions!

If you have a question about me, the farm, homesteading, livestock or the future of backyard farming in general, ask me a question and I will do my level best to reply right here in the comments!

Rabbit Q&A with Samantha Johnson!

I have been getting requests via email and blog comments for more information and advice on raising rabbits. I saw some comments in a fairly recent post about them from this author, Samantha Johnson, and asked her if she would agree to do an interview here on the blog. I hope this helps answer some of your rabbit questions, and please feel free to ask more questions in the comments section. Hopefully Samantha will take care of your concerns there, and if not, I'll do my best. There's a big rabbit workshop here at the farm in August, and if you are hankering for some hands on time with the buns, that will be the day to come! Enjoy this interview!

1. Why should people consider raising backyard rabbits along with their chickens and veggie gardens? 
 In my opinion, one of the most compelling things about raising rabbits is that they are suitable for rural and urban areas alike. Having raised rabbits since childhood, I can attest to the fact that rabbits are one of the easiest types of livestock to maintain; requiring minimal time and space. At the same time, raising rabbits is a rewarding endeavor, regardless of whether the rabbits are raised for meat, wool, or fancy (show) purposes.
2. For beginners, total beginners, what can they expect to spend to get started? How many rabbits should they buy?
It’s a lot less expensive to get started with rabbits than it is to get started with many other types of livestock! The actual investment will vary, depending on the type of equipment (will you create your own hutches or will you buy cage kits?) and the breed of rabbit that you choose. The small fancy breeds are often more expensive than some of the larger breeds, although this doesn’t always hold true. I always suggest starting with just a few rabbits. Get a trio (one buck and two does of the same breed), and introduce yourself to the world of rabbit keeping without overwhelming yourself with too many rabbits. It’s easy to increase your rabbit population, so it’s safe to start small. I would say that you could easily get started with a trio of rabbits for under $300 (including equipment), and possibly much less. Another option is to choose a few (three or four) rabbits of varying breeds and sizes; this way you can acquaint yourself with a variety of breeds and then evaluate which breed best suits your needs and preferences.
3. What breeds do you suggest?
That will vary depending on your situation and your plans for the rabbits. I have dabbled in a number of breeds over the years from Rex to Jersey Wooly, but I currently focus on Holland Lops and Mini Rex, mainly because I love their size, which is small and easy to handle. I’m also very fond of Dutch rabbits. For anyone with an interest in raising breeding stock or showing at ARBA shows, then a popular breed (Netherland Dwarf, Mini Rex, or Holland Lop) can be a great and rewarding choice. If you are looking to raise meat rabbits, then Californian, Florida White, and New Zealand Whites are commonly chosen and have proven themselves without question. For fiber endeavors, you will need one of the Angora breeds (check out my article on this topic here []). If you want a top-notch, family-friendly breed, the Dutch is a fantastic choice. And if you strictly want an endearing companion with personality plus, you can’t go wrong with a Holland Lop. They are incredibly entertaining.
4. Can you describe the time period from breeding your doe and buck to rabbit stew? How long does it take to raise meat rabbits?
It’s generally a pretty quick process in comparison to other types of livestock. The average gestation for a doe is 28 to 33 days, averaging at 31 days. The length of time from birth until “stew” will vary from breed to breed, but 8 to 12 weeks is common. (Admittedly, this isn’t my area of personal expertise; I keep fancy rabbits.J)
5. What are some of the advantages to rabbit meat or rabbit wool over a backyard egg business?
 A backyard rabbit business can be less labor-intensive than a backyard egg business, which can be a definite benefit.
The rabbit manure is undoubtedly another benefit—in terms of organic fertilizer for your garden, it’s hard to top the quality of rabbit manure. Some gardeners go so far as to say that it’s the best fertilizer you can find. Rabbit manure is extremely high in nitrogen and phosphorus, and while many other types of manure are also high in nitrogen, not all are good sources of phosphorus.
6. Why are Americans generally so squeamish about eating rabbits?
 I think a big part of it is simply that rabbit meat is just not as common. Chicken, beef, and pork abound, and they have achieved mainstream normalcy. Rabbit meat has just not achieved that same level. Or maybe it’s the popularity of characters like the Easter Bunny, Bugs Bunny, and Peter Rabbit. From an early age, we subconsciously learn that bunnies are sweet and fluffy and lovable, and it’s sometimes hard to reconcile that image with meat on a dinner plate.
7. Any last advice? Words of wisdom?
 Do your best to select healthy rabbits of high quality. This will ensure that you start your rabbitry off on the right foot and can save you a lot of trouble and anxiety down the road. Don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions before purchasing, and avoid making hasty decisions. Avoid any rabbits with runny noses or eyes, and look for rabbits that are in good body condition with alert expressions and healthy coats.
And most of all: enjoy your rabbits! Raising rabbits is a rewarding and enjoyable pursuit—they are pleasant to care for and never fail to bring smiles. There are thousands of rabbit enthusiasts across America, why not join the fun?
About Samantha
Samantha Johnson is an award-winning writer and the author of several non-fiction books, including How to Raise Rabbits, The Field Guide to Rabbits, and The Rabbit Book. Her articles also appear regularly in national magazines, including American Profile, Hobby Farms, Hobby Farm Home, Urban Farm, American Gardener, Grow-Cook-Eat, Homemade Bread, Illinois Farm Bureau Partners, Out Here, and Rabbits USA. Her work also appears regularly online, including,,,, and others. Samantha is a horse show judge and is certified with the Wisconsin State Horse Council and the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America, and she has judged horse shows across the United States.

Samantha resides on a former dairy farm in northern Wisconsin, where she raises purebred Welsh Mountain Ponies and keeps Holland Lop, Dutch, and Mini Rex rabbits. Her hobbies include heirloom vegetable gardening, genealogy, animal color genetics and pedigrees, and politics. You can follow Samantha on Twitter:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

one of my many regrets

Spent the day shopping for and installing the electric element to the horse pasture. Since the horses will have an area that was once (twenty years ago) a tractor shed, there are parts I will need to dig out and clean up of metal and holes, but for now, will fence off with electric polyrope. I bought a 3-mile solar charger and 400 meters of the rope today, along with step-in posts and some other bits like t-post toppers for neither of the beasts cut or impale themselves on the metal jagged tops. It was a few hours out there, repairing, nailing, slamming in new t-posts, and running the poly rope. I'm still not done but the majority of the work is finished and I feel a lot better putting the horses in an area that is as safe as I can make it with some electricity to keep them inside it.

Got some sun, that's for sure. Sunburn and enough deer fly bites to start a moonscape across this working body. Part of being a range animal, I suppose. I have scars and bruises, cuts and bites, tan lines and sweat pimples. But at the end of the day I either jump in the River or get a cool shower and then come home and change into my Thai fishing pants in a clean cotton, and a muslim chemise top and between the castile herbal soap and the loose fitting natural clothes I feel like a field worker from another place and time, the same tired feelings, and the same relief at works end and a clean body. A bit of ale, a dinner to please, a hammock, a fiddle or banjo and a lamb asleep on my chest.

I can't believe I waited so long to quit that job.

groundhog hate reason #4,587

sky flowers

There was no chance I was going to be able to stay up for any fireworks display last night. Not if you bribed me with a pair of Percherons in harness. I was beat. The day had started around 4AM and sang on until just past dusk, when the fireflies danced around the barn and the crows stopped their conversations. Ajay told me earlier in the day that a movie he liked called fireworks Sky Flowers. I like that.

I think the main reason I was sacked was because my day started at 4AM, a bit earlier than usual. Othniel and Ajay, down at Common Sense Farm needed a truck to take to the Albany Wholesale Produce Market at 6AM. Othniel buys food from local farmers he doesn't grow at his farm stand like watermelons, and also gets wholesale orders of food for the 70+ member households at Common Sense's Commune. As you can imagine, we got a lot of food. 150 pounds of new potatoes, 2 large boxes of bananas, 50 pounds of onions, melons, berries and more. It was quite the haul.

By the time I got them home to their day jobs, it was time to get back to mine. Holidays aren't as important to dairy goats with full udders and chickens waiting for feed. I did the usual morning chores, fed Monday, and lead the hoofstock in pasture to the new horse paddock to concentrate their eating where I needed it. If the sheep eat down the high grasses in that confined spot I can see the ground and woodchuck holes even better so I can fill them all in before Merlin arrives in a few days.

Soon as the work was done, I fell into a short but beloved power-nap, about 30 minutes of hard sleep that I meant, really meant. I needed it. A three hour round-trip and a morning's work takes it out of you. Soon as I woke up I took out the dogs for a short walk, fed Monday again, and packed my swimsuit and towels for a Fourth of July celebration over at Livingston Brook Farm.

Mark and Patty are one of six landowners on a 25-acre lake a half mile behind their house. We paddled a canoe loaded with floaties and adult beverages and spent over an hour swimming in the clean, deep lake water by a floating dock. Neighbors joined us and it was a magical time out there on this private island of floating wood in the middle of a tiny wilderness. Great herons and red tailed hawks flew around us or fished on the sides of the water. We talked, laughed, and worked on our farmers tans. If my skin color was an ice cream flavor, I was going from a twist to Neapolitan that day. All my skin was bright white or dark brown. I was hoping for a little strawberry on my pasty legs that sunny day...

I left their farm around 5:30, and drove straight down route 22 into the town of Cambridge. Just past the single traffic light in my town is the Common Sense Farm stand and Ajay was out sitting in a chair hammock with Navid. I knew Navid from his help cleaning out the goat pen the day before with Ajay and decided to stop by. I ended up spending an hour on their wooden farm stand's porch, playing my banjo and lost in conversation. Ajay looked tired too, but already fitter, tanner and happier than I have ever seen him. He was all smiles. So was I.

I got home around 7, milked and chored, and came inside for a quick dinner and a cold drink. It was a holiday to remember, even without the sky flowers.

P.S. My new fiddle arrives today! Not as old or fancy as the one I gave away on the blog, but it is an acoustic/electric combo instrument from Silver Creek and I am excited to have a fiddle again!

learning this on the banjo today

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

independence day

I live in a country where a little girl can grow up to be anything she wants to be. I know this to be true.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

king george's reign

I have mad respect for George. From the first day King George waddled into my house along with his 25 pounds of fat cattitude he has acted like he owns the place. He is proof positive what confidence can grant you. And think about what that means? He lives in a house with three dogs, all over 50 pounds and three times his size. That would be like you and me living with dire wolves the size of an F-150 and sharp teeth the size of our hands...

George isn't intimidated. You want to mess with him, go ahead. He'll just smack you in the eye till you see red and tuck tail and run. He put all the dogs in their places the moment he moved in. I was told if I owned huskies I could never have a cat. They didn't know about George....

have a wonderful holiday, friends...

Homemade Pantry: Alana Chernila

I loved this book. It's perfect for those of us who have started raising an eye at those boxes of pop tarts in the grocery store and don't work on the weekend. We all know how many preservatives, chemicals, fillers, corn and soy by-products and other stuff not meant for consumption by the human animal is in our foods. But that doesn't mean we don't like pop tarts, butter in wrapped bars, cheese, graham crackers and juice in plastic containers? Well, this lady shows you how to make all those things you used to waste money and calories on. Things like salsa, crackers, tortillas, pasta, fruit roll ups, baking mixes, jams, the works. All of it step-by-step and pretty as a picture. You can't ask for more.

It is written in a clear and easy, conversational tone. The photography is stunning. the first chapter (called so cleverly aisles, in this book) is about dairy at home and shows a young girl leaving a gate with a glass bottle of milk while a herd of milk cows watch on and I melted. And the whole, beautiful, book is like that.

Alana is a semi-local, she lives an hour away or so in Western Mass and is going to be doing an event at Battenkill Books. If you want a signed copy of your own, you can email Connie Brooks and she will happily set you up. I bought my copy in the store today, and it has been a long time since I was that content leaving a bookstore with a cookbook!

Homemade Pantry costs something like 24 bucks and I that will buy you about 6 boxes of Poptarts. If that isn't enough to convince you to consider this book I don't know what is.


Monday, July 2, 2012

four steps to paradise

Today after the horses were back in their keeps and the sun rose up high, I came home and swapped out my jeans and boots for a favorite old sun dress. I kicked off my shoes, fixed my straw hat over my eyes, and went out into the garden barefoot with my border collie at my heels. Not far away from him was Monday, bleating for more milk.

We walked across the farm to the small herb garden at the back of the house. It was in need of weeding and some harvesting. Just like all of you gardeners warned, that mint was spreading like a crow's wing in flight. I cut off big chunks with my boline knife, curved like a little hand sickle, and then passed them in my left hand to hold until I could brig them inside to tie up and hang upside down to dry. I grabbed some chamomile and chocolate mint for tea as well. The flowers of the blooming echinaceas were enchanting. The lemon verbena made me want to roll in it. Paradise can be built in a 4x4 herb bed, among other places if you are in the mindset to find it.

We were a happy trio, us farmers. After the herb garden was weeded and watered, I stepped out and headed over to the vegetable patches. Monday followed, still wanting his bottle. He could eat until he exploded. Gibson stuck around the herbivore activity of messing with plants long enough to watch Monday tuck in his legs for a nap amongst the kale, while I went about the work of weeding and pulling out bolted lettuce and rocket. This particular bed was spent. It was just housing bitter greens, and I decided today they would go feed the goats and I would turn and replant the soil with fresh seeds of kale, mesclun mix, and arugula.

The garden bed needs to be fed. Since the soil already brought such beautiful plants into the world I will add some of the black vermicompost from my worm bin and a diluted watering of compost tea. It is powerful stuff, that. A few treatments and the leaves will thrive.

It felt so sweet out there, my bare feet in the cool earth, worms between my toes and a lamb sleeping in the sunlight. My dress would kick up with the occasional wind and just a few yards away Jasper watched with mild interest. Within an hour what was once a festering jungle of elder greens was naked and brown and ready for rebirth. I watered it and felt that new feeling a fresh garden bed grants you, that dirty honest hope. Monday sighed and I gripped my toes deep into the soil, as if holding on with my feet would brand the memory.

I love being on the back of my horse. I love putting on that harness, and driving him down a country road with friends on a sunny day. But there is something to be said for summer afternoons barefoot in paradise. And before I head out to my hammock with a book and a glass of something cold, I leave you with the best advice you will get all day. Follow these four steps to paradise, my dear friends.

1. Lean back in your chair.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Smile and let out a deep sigh.
4. Keep smiling.

like a GLOVE!

Look at that beautiful cart. A new coat of paint, some tires, and a few parts ordered from a working horse catalog and Merlin's $5 auction cart is road worthy! You hear that world, this girl is clamoring for an orange triangle!

sheep medic: update

Looks like I did the job! Tess is standing, baaing, and in better shape than she was before. It was tetanus for certain, and you can read all about it and see photos of Maria,Tess, and jon's dog red if you click here!

happy monday!

As a birthday present Patty hired Milt to join me today in a drive with Merlin, me doing the lion's share of the actual driving. I was the one harnessing, fixing the bridle and bit, putting on the collar, adjusting hames and all the usual grunt work of preparing for the road. Patty was doing the same with Steele, taking her boy out in her large fancy meadowbrook cart while we used the forecart. It was a beautiful ride through the back roads and fields of Maple Lane farm. I got to hold those lines and work with my horse in a whole new way. It feels so great behind a horse in a cart, like how things are supposed to be. Made me want to write up another chapter of Birchthorn, get back in Anna and Lara's heads and Cambridge in 1918...

Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

sheep medic

Just back from Bedlam Farm, where I was helping Jon and Maria with their ewe, Tess. Tess was wobbly and weak, having trouble standing. When Jon explained the symptoms on the phone it reminded me a lot of the Cotswold ewe I turned around from Tetanus a few months ago. I called up Yesheva at Common Sense to double check my diagnose and we both agreed on anti-toxin and penicillin for a few days, with some extra sugar in the water for a kick.

Tess will pull out of it just fine, but to cover all my bases I handed Maria a green candle with a sheep I drew on it. I suggested she burn it for Tess, and between some old fashioned antibiotics and prayer we got our backs covered.

Tess will be just fine. Gibson and I are off to swim in the river now!

photo by jon katz

merlin's five-dollar auction cart!

mountain fiddles for all

I am so excited about Fiddle Camp, coming up in August. The response to the two-day event here at the farm has been overwhelming at times. and a mix of brand new faces and familiar ones will arrive.

What is Fiddle Camp? It's a two-day workshop here at the farm. Folks are welcome to literally camp in the yard, or get a local room at an Inn. They'll arrive with a fiddle waiting for them, tuned and ready to play. Everyone will have a copy of Wayne Erbsens amazing beginner's book and we'll go sit outside under the big maple for talks, demos, and teaching the basics of playing that box of wood, metal, and horse hair. The goal of the workshop is to take people with absolutely no musical background or experience and have them leave the farm as fiddlers. If this sounds like a tall order, well, then you have been hoodwinked into thinking the violin is a hard instrument to play. It isn't.

The fiddle is just four strings held by tension over a wooden box with some holes in it. There are just four basic finger positions to learn to get started, and those same finger positions are the same on every string. In about an hour people will know the entire basic map of the fiddle. By noon the first day, we will be starting our first songs. They will come to know the fiddle as I teach it, like a new dog. It take a little while to get used to, there is some adjustment, but in a few months you won't be able to imagine your life without it. You'll strap it over your back with baling twine to take it out to campfires and friend's bbqs. And when you start a raucous round of Old Joe Clark everyone will be shocked you had it in you, but you won't be. It's a natural outcome of practice and love. No different then letting your water-loving dog off leash and a dock and seeing it dive in.

Musical instruments are just like gardens. They really are. Just like anyone who can follow basic instructions, access sunlight, soil, and seeds can grow a patch of lettuce greens—anyone with a tuned fiddle and some determined effort can grow a song. It just takes learning new moves, understanding a new animal. And like gardens you can be as simple or complicated as you want to be.

Cold Antler Farm isn't Juliard. If you are looking for a professional certification or someone to perfectly place your hands over your bow: that's not happening. This isn't for orchestra, this is for the outback. My fiddle camp is about getting comfortable and making homebrewed music because you just love the sound, mystery, and romance of the fiddle and want some of it for your own.

People aren't coming here expecting to leave playing The Devil Went Down to Georgia. they will leave playing music though. Like a new gardener can hold a seedling in her palm, new fiddlers can saw out simple Old Time mountain tunes with ease after they learn now to hold the dang thing right and use a bow. And we will start that basic of a level. We'll learn how to hold things comfortably, the parts and names of the pieces, how to rosin a bow, how to make music from that rosined bow, and how to care and feed for the new instrument.

It'll be a fun two days. I found a couple who want to come and camp, and they run a screen printing business. They are trading the camp t-shirts for lessons. Another couple of friends are driving over from Ohio, another good friend is coming up from Philly. I have a few last spots left if you want to join in. And if you have a fiddle and want to come for just the saturday intro course from 10-2pm, you can do that too for a lower fee.

I'll make sure to take videos! Now, the rest of you, grab your instruments and play today! The world can use some more music, more goodness. And if someone gives you the hairy eyeball for not sounding like a pro, just play louder, they love that.

jasper's new digs!

Here's Jasper in the front section of the new horse paddock. It's about a 1/4 acre of hillside, brush, woods, and open grass like you see here. There's a main gate leading out, and a smaller gate leading to the sheep sections. I did a sweep of all the old wood and metal and wire and checked for holes before letting Jasper in to try it out. He's a footsure pony, and he has been loving the new grazing! Soon Merlin and him will both be at the gate waiting for fly spray and cookies.

P.S. Got a used driving harness on eBay for a steal, and Patty found a red cart at an auction with shafts long enough for Merlin! It just needs new bike wheels and a scrape and paint job! It was made my a local farmer for his cart horse, farm style, out of old bike frames and wood. I'll post a picture soon! Before you know it I'll be driving up and down this mountain. None of the neighbors will be shocked, but should be happy!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

i know what these kids will want some day...

fences up!

My alarm went off at 4:34 AM and no part of me wanted to get out of bed. I was just tired, not resistant or ungrateful, just plain tired. The last two weeks of heat and labor have whipped me into a kind of pace I am getting used to, but just. I'm getting used to it the way a doggie-paddling labrador chasing a college crew team down river gets better. If 12-hour days of summer farm labor are elegant rowing, I am hell at doggie paddling.

I was getting up early because the night before Brett Arrived from New Hampshire (on the way home from his graduate program, he lives up near Lake Placid) for the Greenhorns screening and panel discussion, and offered to help spend some free time of his putting up Merlin and Jasper's new fence around their new pole barn. the catch: his free hours were 5-8AM and if you think I am turning down help from two grown men to put up rolls of field fence, well, I'm not.

The second grown man was Ajay, of course. I called him from bed, at 4:45 AM and our conversation went something like this:

oh, Hey...

Ughmm huh?

youstillwannacomegiddupfences? membbe?

uhhh huhhh MMmhuh

5:05 - 5:15. ish. i bethere

yupyup ugh huh..



Ajay was at the front steps of Common Sense's main house, a huge mansion three miles of the farm in downtown Cambridge. We stopped at Stewart's and got coffee and breakfast sandwiches for all of us, and I told him Brett was already bracing the fence posts we put in last week and getting the site prepped.

We arrived and slammed into the work. It was a fast-paced, buggy, three hours of pounding in t-posts, stretching fence wire, rolling 300+ feet at a time, installing gates, and cleaning out old metal and wire trash. Brett was a machine out there, a farming workaholic. Watching him with a roll of fencing over his shoulder or nailing in fence staples on an old locust tree is like watching some sort of animal in his natural habitat. British voiceovers could narrate his actions with a telestrator. "And here, we can see a native Lumberjackitus Adirondackus maneuvering his way through the timber. Notice his intent. Stunning." I once told Brett on an earlier work day that if people could be categorized as animals, we would be Dire Wolf people. Out dated, stocky, feral, and carnivorous. That or Badgers, but if I was a Badger People I would be wearing a Dire Wolf tee shirt and really mean it.

And this Badger can howl, son.

Ajay has lost at least 10 pounds since he arrived from his new lifestyle up here and has quit smoking cold turkey. He glows when he works now. It's another person. The combination of intense physical labor outdoors, clean lungs, and organic food from the farm has turned his body so fast into a machine of work. He loves the life in the Community there, the buzz of a big house full of people, non-stop interaction. He craves community the way I crave my quiet.

Both the gents at the farm were friendly and goofy, both know me well, and it was a treat to spend the morning working beside them. By 8:15 we had the job done, and Brett was off to Livingston Brook Farm to work on Patty and Mark's barn floor. Ajay had an ultimate Frisbee game back at Common Sense, and I had an archery tournament an hour north at War Camp. We all hugged and parted ways. I could not thank them enough.

Tomorrow when I head down to see Merlin it will be the last time I hand over a boarding check. Within the next two week's he'll be living here at the farm full time. Him and Jasper will be paddock-mates, and I must admit it is a nice spread. A full 1/2 acre of woods and hillside and pasture, attached with a gate to even more pasture. And I stood out there, looking over it tonight in earnest awe. Just four months ago Merlin was a pipe dream and internet argument, now he's the horse I know better than any other, my own. He's going to be on my farm in a brand new barn and paddock and the Sheriff across the street agreed to let us use his ATV trails in the morning to trail ride on. He owns nearly 100 acres of woods and pasture and it is literally 100 feet from my farmhouse front door. All I had to do was knock on the door and ask.

Do you know what this means? By October I will be able to start my mornings, even weekday mornings, here at the farm stoking the woodstove to fight off the morning chill, and then pulling my favorite flannel or wool sweater on and tacking up my Fell for a quiet morning ride through the forest? By then my current manuscript will be completed and turned in, and my new work will be planning Antlerstock and fiddle camps and figuring out the next adventure.

Fences up. Friends at arm's reach. Farm is thriving.

Life is good.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Attn: Fiddle Camp Folks!

Hey All! If you are coming to Fiddle Camp, I need your t-shirt size and if you paid for a fiddle, I need to know if you want an adult sized instrument (4/4) or a 3/4 sized one (for smaller hands and smaller bodies)? Please let me know soon as possible either in the comments section or via email!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

meet me in montauk

Here is some news! Monday has been sold to a couple in Montauk. They will drive up from Long Island to pick him up and he'll be castrated and kept as a pet with their Shetland ewes. How about that? Monday gets the life of few male sheep, perhaps he'll be their Sal?

francis, too

goat walks

My goats don't have a pasture. They live in a pen with an indoor/outdoor combo run with fences. But goats are browsers, natural herbivores and to them Washington COunty is a large buffet when it is this green. So my goats go on walks up and down the county road, to eat the apple trees and weeds along the sidelines. Bonita is a fan of these walks, and Francis is learning a collar and lead aren't a noose one shrub at a time...

The Need Fire

There’s an ancient tradition in the Scottish Highlands called Tein'-éigin (Tine-Aye-Gan), In English: The Need Fire. Whenever a group of farmers or clansmen felt a particularly bad patch of luck had hit their cattle or community, all the home’s hearth fires were put out and a new fire was started for all. This fire was special, incredibly so. It was a fire for the commons, started not with a match or fuel, but by friction. You needed to light embers with the traditional methods of rope against wood because it was a blaze to be earned. Once it got started in earnest it burned high and wet wood was added to create smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Farmers would run their cattle or horses through it, a baptism and cleansing, a prayer on the ashy hoof. The smoke was supposed to heal, and all it touched would aid those in need.

After the fire was smoldering, prayers sent up to the likes of Brigit (Saint or Goddess, depending on personal leanings or time period)—everyone grabbed coals and burning logs from the common fire, and took it home to start anew. They lit their own hearths again from that ritual, knowing that the whole clan was there together in whatever happened. They’d deal with the cattle, the limping horses, the bad crops—they were a community and they had the embers to prove it.

I have yet to gather my own clan up here for a Tein'-éigin, but I can assure you this much, they would all come. Everyone will have different ideas about religion, some will have no faith at all, but the Need Fire isn’t necessarily about deity, it is about each person’s trust in the larger community. That as a group we are more and capable of support and the healing of each other than any household or farm alone is. If my farm hosted a Need Fire I’d know Jesus, Buddah, St. Brigit, and Gaia would be present in the hearts of the attendees. Each religion would walk us separately to our bonfire. All those beautiful internal fires of belief just add to its strength. Like different woods create different sparks and slow burns, they come as one under the heat of the moment, the need.

And whether your friends and family actually create a smoky fire in a state park or just meet for coffee, the point and spirit of the Tein'-éigin lives on. It’s about coming together to work through pain. We see examples of it every day: Town Meeting Night over in Vermont, Personal interventions with addicts, prayer groups in church basements, Rotary Club and Girl Scout meetings alike. These are all examples of common hearts and minds coming together in support and change for something bigger than themselves, something better. Perhaps it is the farmer in me, or the romantic, but I can’t see a difference in any of these examples. I see the same hope swirling from the smoke of a 1356 Bonfire in the Highlands and the steam coming off a coffee cup in a church basement’s AA meeting. Strength comes from community support, so does change for the better.

So, dear friends, who would light a Need Fire with you? Who are the members of your clan? If there is something you ache for, or wish to heal, why not gather the support of your people? It took moving to a farming community for me to fully understand the idiocy of self-suffiency. Either in survival or spirit, community is what has the ability to thrive.

You don't have to be a religious person to let the Tein'-éigin burn in your heart. You just need to believe that a better life is something worth believing in. May your clan light the way.

-Excerpt from my upcoming book, Days of Grace.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

merlin won't be going to war...

This weekend is Northern Region War Camp, up here in the shire of Glenn Linn. That's the region of the SCA I belong to, and am an archer in good standing (number 182) with my fellow historical reenactors and craftsman in the Society. I will be at War Camp Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday, but Merlin won't be coming along. No trailer (and lack of practice driving and loading the horse alone) is just a fool's cry for trouble. Maybe next year.

I found this photo of a Fell at an SCA event if you want to see what I mean. Yes, I would totally ride Merlin in a corset. In fact, Fells are popular at such events since they are actually period animals from the area of my persona and time. So not only would he match the time line, he'd match my quiver!

Click here for details on NRWC, bring out the family for classes and demos! The SCA is a great way to learn skills of the past in your area of the country, free. Here is what is being taught at War Camp

photo from flickr, see more from pahz's site here

cowboy up

friend spoken here

I came across this old hobo symbol in a book today. It was painted or carved outside friendly places were ideas and stories were taught and then sent out into the world to be shared. Within twenty minutes of finding that page in the book it was painted on the front walk near the door with a goose feather. Friendship is spoken here, as is friend. Paint it near your own front door if you feel the same way. We know our own, by and by.

This symbol does not apply to groundhogs.

Come one, Come all!

take home monday?

Looking out my kitchen window I can see Monday asleep by the garden. He had a bottle of warm (fresh from the udder to the bottle!) goats milk and then chewed on some grass till life got tiring again. Sun is hitting his wooly back, and the vitamin D is soaking in. Before I leave for town I'll put him back into the large, hay-lined, dog crate in the barn. When I am away he is there, and when I am here he is out in the yard. In a few week's he will be large enough to not slip through the fencing at will and then join his flock. I'll miss seeing that fat belly out in the sunshine, though.

I have been thinking about Monday. He's a bottlefed, socialized, and intact purebred Scottish Blackface. He may be worth more to the farm being sold as a breeding animal than turned into Holiday Feasts. Does anyone have any interest in buying this boy for your own farm or flock? I would be asking $175 and he does not have papers. If you are interested in coming up to CAF to pick him up, let me know. He comes from New England Lines, the sheep of Barb Armata (New York) and Denise Leonard (Mass). Both women are active farmers and sheepdog trainers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Workshop Giveaway Winners Are....

..Lesa and Kelsey!

still love this

watch your feet, dropping updates!

Monday the ram lamb is scamping along. He's on that bottle, but already nibbling grass and enjoying fresh water too. He's doing great, and becoming the farm's unofficial mascot. I think I'll bring him to the event at Hubburd Hall this Friday. I hope some of you will make it, a free screening of the incredibly important documentary The Greenhorns, right here in Cambridge.

Francis, the new yearling doe with a buckling name (that is how she rolls) had a weird limp last week. Soon as I noticed it I went in with hoof trimmers and inspected the foot. Besides a little growth in the hoof on all of her feet nothing seemed weird or off. She limped another day and I decided to check again and give her a bit of Penicillin as a Just In Case. I cleaned her foot with soapy water to get an even better look. Nothing was wrong, not in touch or smell or anything? The next day it was still there and I called Yesheva to check it out, my goat mentor from Common Sense Farm. She saw the same thing I did (nothing at all) and agreed with the Pro-Pen G shot. It lasted two days and then she stopped limping. I can only guess it was a sore or pulled muscle or a light sprain. Maybe Bonita butted her? Maybe she got it stuck on a fence wire? Maybe she took up Salsa dancing and this was the inevitable fallout due to the fact she's a goat. The world will never know, but my goat is healed. Glory Be!

Bonita is kicking out a little less than a gallon a day. When the Daugton's came by this morning for a pre-slaughter road trip brunch (we both had trucks with livestock to deliver to local harvester Ben Shaw after breakfast) those boys lit up like firecrackers at the offer of cold chocolate goat milk. They used it to wash down their egg and goat milk quiche filled with kale and spinach from the garden. It was a hit. Ian was proud to tell me about the successful mating of his meat rabbits, animals from my farm and Meg Paska's Brooklyn Homestead litter. He has his calendar marked for nest boxes and kindling. He's a natural farmer, that kid. He shouldn't be in 4-H, he should run it.

On the way home from Ben Shaw's farm, I stopped at Tractor Supply and got all the t-posts, field fence, t-post toppers and somesuch for the big fencing day Friday. If anyone wants to come build fences let me know, it'll be an early morning (starting around 5:30 AM), but both Brett and I welcome the help! And when the fences, gate, and ground is cleared of holes and debris I will be ready for the arrival of Merlin. An event so important to me, to bring him home and have him outside my window every day. He belongs here, and will be ridden as often as possible, worked too. I am going to ask my neighbors across the street if I can ride their ATV trails early before they would ever use them, perhaps I will have a nice trail just a few feet from my front door? A girl can hope, eh?

Jasper is a spitfire and being worked twice a week. He's willing in harness, but channels Dennis Leary in every other aspect of life and work.

Ajay was dropped off at Common Sense Farm around lunch and was thrilled with the mansion, the people, the work, and the farm. They were ready for him early and so I took him there and stuck around for a meal with my friends. I'll check in on him all the time, and hope to see him at the movie Friday, too. Brett will be here soon to talk fencing and horse paddocks. I'm trying to get him to get another horse, a matched Haflinger named Milt I have been watching on Craigslist for him.

Jazz is mostly solid. His coat and eyes are failing him, but he is generally active and smiling. Annie is the same as ever, smiling and food lovin' - Gibson starts herding lessons again soon and I bought an Aled Owen video for farm dog training as well. Progress comes as it comes. G and I are in no race to learn. I can say he may not be any trial dog, but every day he works on this farm. He brings sheep, helps me capture chickens, protects Monday, and terrorized Thor the rooster, whom I despise and worry I may eat out of spite.

Also, Expect a webinar (woolcentric) and more Birchthorn soon!

haters gonna hate

"What truly horrifies me is that so many find this book wonderful, and insightful, and think by reading it that they are closer to understanding the animals in their lives and in the world around them. I can't help but wonder if they are blinded by the author's name....writing about a field that she so obviously knows very little about, she has ventured far outside her sphere of knowledge and experience; and threatens to take gullible and unsuspecting readers with her as well."

"She says she loves animals...but fully upholds the human right to own, control, manipulate, mutilate, buy, sell, inseminate, incarcerate, and slaughter animals..."

"I cannot recommend this book to anyone -- although it contains some interesting facts about handling livestock, in other areas it has too many un-scientific personal assumptions, which could in my opinion, cause more harm to innocent beings, the animals."

"Her outlook is sadly insulting to anyone who truly loves animals, and who shows that love daily by doing the least harm possible, including not forcing them to die for us."

"...disingenuous and unfair."

-Amazon reviews of Temple Grandin

Haters gonna hate. There's nothing for it. You'll find just as angry reviews on Joel Salatin, Jon Katz, and my own reviews pages and across the internet. Anyone who deals with people passionate about animals will be accused of such offenses. I have learned to trust myself, and my farm, and walk around with people here who share in the workshops and events and let my life and words speak for themselves. I use the delete button, too. It feels great. I hope Temple does the same.

Ajay's Moved to Common Sense Farm

Thank you for all of your help here as a short-term intern, you worked hard, did amazing things around here. I wish you all the best at Common Sense Farm! And now Brett (Official Lumberjack of Cold Antler) Will be staying for a bit to do fencing and hard work as well. Let's hear it for the boys!

Monday, June 25, 2012

understanding the whole machine

As much as I love riding Merlin, it was driving him that felt the most comfortable. As if it was what we were meant to do together. Sitting in that forecart with the lines, asking Merlin up into a trot felt no different than changing lanes in my pickup. Unlike the automobiles I drive, I understand exactly how I am moving across the landscape. I know the animal, the harness, the way the cart is put together. If any single thing breaks down myself or someone close to me can repair it. I have no idea how to repair the microchips in my truck's computer. Travel may be slower. It feels right, though.

Why have we been taught to want to leave home?

ho, hey!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

farm dispatch: by ajay

So if any of you were wondering about the differences between the city life and the farm life, allow me to shed some light on that subject; there aren't many. How can that be you say? Well in my old life I had to deal with ornery cab drivers. They rarely spoke a dialect of english that I could understand and if I tried to reason with them in any kind of civil way about the route I wanted them to take I would have to listen to a ten minute discourse on why I shouldn't tell them how to do their job, which may or may not end up with me getting booted from his cab. On the farm this happens to be a lot like dealing with Thor the rooster. He speaks a dialect of dinosaur which I completely do not understand, he assures me on a daily basis that I have no Idea how to do my job or anyone else's for that matter and boots me out of his rooster barn for even making eye contact. At least I don't have to defend myself from the cab driver using a steel trash can lid.

In the corporate world I needed an ID card to enter the building where I worked. On the farm my ID card is knowing which wire fences are electrified, spoiler alert: they all are. In my old life I needed an alarm clock to get up and its the same thing here on the farm except that my alarm clock is a border collie named Gibson and all I have to do to hit the snooze button is tell him to get "his" sheep. The sheep themselves are a lot like my former co-workers, it doesn't matter that they're huddled around  a pile of hay instead of bag of bagels in the company kitchenette. The sheep and my former co-workers speak exactly the same dialect.

There's really only a one main difference from the city to the country and it's this. . . you're work is entirely rewarding. It's like taking the sticky plastic cover off of your aunt's Mabell's couch and sitting on it for the first time. It's real. You're hands touch the rich soil and the sun lights up your world like no florescent light ever could. It does take a level of sacrifice to exchange one life for another, even if for just a short period of time. But it's worth it.

Yerba Mate. Google it.

change your story

I was watching Patty, Steele, and Ajay walk up the Livingston Brook Farm driveway, and couldn't stop smiling. Ajay was on Steele's back, his first time on a horse since the few minutes he experienced it when he was eight. He looked comfortable, proud, and under the watchful eye and advice of Patty, confident. Mark, Patty's husband, walked up aside me next to the trailer Merlin was in. He had been in the garden and handed me a fresh radish, "Take a bite of that!" he said, and I did. The crispy tartness filled up my senses and I nodded to him. He pointed to the pile in the driveway harvested that day. It was enough radishes to fill a commercial gumball machine.

Mark looked at the horse and new rider and said so matter of factly, "You know, this changes his whole story?" And I looked at him, expected more of an explanation. Mark continued, "His story with horses. He said his only experience with horses was riding a pony as a kid for a few minutes. He had no experience, at least nothing substantial. But he can't say that now." And I got it. Mark was right. Ajay, even though he was nervous and as green as it gets when it comes to country living—got up on that draft horse. He did it even though he was scared, and now that he realized there wasn't a landmine in the saddle and was actually controlling the reins enough to make Steele circle, back up, turn, and stop, he looked ten feet tall.

He can't believe he's only been here since Wednesday night. Because our work starts so early (4:45 on a weekday), and lasts till dark, the days stretch out into a dance of sweat, food, meals, and more sweat. Breaks are few and cherished in swimming holes or hot tubs at friend's houses. In a few more days he'll move on to a new farm and start work there. I'm grateful for the help while I have it. I hope he sticks around to do some more riding, hard work, and falls in love with Washington County and our way of life up here. It's sure been wonderful seeing a good friend so happy and tired. <

He is changing his story.

the boys of CAF

Monday seems to go everywhere with us. He's 100% on the bottle so every few hours he eats from a goat's-milk-filled stubby beer bottle with a plastic nipple from the feed store. Yesterday I brought him along to Maria and Jon's Art Show at Bedlam Farm and he walked around wagging his tail and being held and pet by visitors from all over the US and Canada. Jon brings in the crowds, that is for sure. I talked to people from New Jersey and then the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the same random circle of strangers. They all seemed to soak up Washington County and its beautiful rolling hills. Yesterday Ajay said it reminded him of the Shire in the Lord of the Rings books. I told him it feels like home to me too. I can't imagine living somewhere else. Not anymore.

After Jon's we went out to the Wesners' for dinner (Ajay's first time eating rabbit, which he LOVED) and, of  course, Monday came with us. Gibson did too. It was like brining along the baby sitter. Gibson kept an eye  on that lamb like it was the only thing in the world to him. He even ignored Patty and Mark's rabbit cages (Gibson stares at rabbits for hours so this is a HUGE deal). He watched and herded that little boy right around us. Gentle, never biting, just circling with that beautiful stalking crouch and dead-set eyes. I was so proud of him.

I'm proud of Ajay too. He is doing so great up here. He's working like a dog, no doubt, but in love with Washington County. He agreed to write a post about what it is like and his observations on it all. It'll be a treat, for certain. He's no writing slouch. He's an inspiring novelist and lover of story and song. I'll post a video of him on his git box later, tearing it up for the dogs in the living room.

Ajay's taken up an interest in horses and riding too. He wants to learn, a combination of being around horses and riders so much,  but also watching things like Game of Thrones and other horse-centric bits of entertainment that got him jonesing for saddle time. He's nervous about it, since he hasn't been on a horse since "three minutes when I was eight" he says, but today he will get his first informal lesson. Patty and I will show him how to tack up, and the equipment and parts of the sport. The he'll get up on Steele under the watchful eyes of Patty and learn some basics of communication and steering. I think he will love it. I can't wait for him to get up on that 17-hand beauty and feel what it is like to see the world, my world, from horseback.

Enjoy your Sunday, Friends.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

monday in bedlam

Enter A Big Ol' CAF Giveaway!

An anonymous donor gave the gift of a workshop payment to the farm. So I decided to group a day at Cold Antler (workshop of your choice) and some other prizes as a giveaway! To enter for the chance of a Full day regular workshop, a signed copy of Barnheart, and a copy of the Backyard Homestead. (So that's two books and a day here at the farm) leave a comment in this post. A random comment will be picked to win! All you need to do to enter is help spread the word about the farm.

Help the readership grow by telling someone who doesn't read the blog about it, who you think might like it? Please do so with a person starting today. If you told your sister last month, please tell a new person to enter. All sorts of ways to do this, all easy! Put a post-it note on your coworkers monitor with on it. Or tell your Facebook friends. Or email your sister in Toledo. Whatever you do to share CAF with a non-reader, post it here and you are entered. Enter as many times as you like! And the winner will be announced Monday night!

Driving Merlin!


Having Ajay here has turned my life (and his) into Farming Army. With another strong back things I couldn't do myself are possible, and to take advantage of the gift, we work from 4:45AM until sundown on chores. It's why you haven't heard from me much (that and a heatwave that sent us to the Battenkill to swim every free chance in our work day). It's also why I think more work got done around here in 48 hours than all of last week!

Ajay and I did usual chores but we also trained Jasper in harness, put up 300 bales of hay at the Wesner's Farm, set locust posts for the pony gates, bought used gates from another farm, went to the hardware store, toured Common Sense Farm, cooked all our meals, visited neighbors, and more. On top of all this new work in a new world, Ajay has decided to quit smoking. He's really putting change into action, and so far with surprising grace. I mean, this is the same guy who's nickname in high school was "Struggle"

Besides Ajay there is a lot going on here at the farm. Monday the new lamb is a 100% bottle fed babe, and small enough to slide through the woven wire fence squares. Whenever he sees us outside doing chores he just walks out and follows us around like a pup. It's quite the sight seeing this circus now. Last night Ajay was watering the garden (he's so green I had to explain where the raised bed gardens started and lawn ended) walking around with watering cans and buckets, I was holding a bottle of goat milk between my knees while sitting on the stanchion to milk Bonita. Three tasks done at once, and necessary due to our appointments and chore lists. It is GO GO GO all day but I have to say, I feel great. I feel free.

Oh, and here is some big news: Merlin and I went for our first cart ride yesterday! He did amazingly! Milt (the trainer) said to Patty as he got off the forecart after our first outing, "You got some competition, Patty." And we both smiled ear to ear. Videos and photos soon!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

too tired to write...

The day started at 4:45 AM with coffee and a horse in harness, then loped into six people moving 300 bales into an 1800's barn, and then a heatwave day of outdoor work, river swimming, and cooking grass-fed burgers on the grill.

I think Ajay's first day here was a tough one, but he's smiling.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Summer, Folks!

It's the Solstice today! First day of summer. In a few hours I'll head to Albany to pick up Ajay at the train station. He'll be coming by way of Philly. Ajay will be living in Washington County for a while, starting at my farm while he finds his feet. He's an old friend of the family, somewhat adopted by my parents as the feral kid who showed up for some holidays and then got postcards from Arizona from. We are close friends and went to highschool together. He just turned thirty and is eager to get out of the city and learn about farming. He'll be WWOOFing over at Common Sense Farm after a few weeks here. I'm excited to see him again, and excited to have someone to go over the day's chores and plans, hold the lines while I fix Jasper's harness, and chop firewood from the locust pile under the side porch.

But here's the thing. Ajay is brand new to this entire world. He has no idea about haying or livestock auctions, couldn't tell a lamb from a kid at 30 yards. He's a total beginner, but has a strong mind and back. It'll be interesting to see what is new to him, what he tends to like the most, and how he fits into this eccentric and artsy ag town. I mean, this is a place where a Christian Farming Commune lives four blocks from a community theatre group that put on a live performance of The Lottery last summer and all the kids handed out rocks by the bucketfull to the audience before it started. You can buy deer butchering gear at the IGA. Horses ride downtown. It is a far cry from the city and I can't wait to see how he does. I already bought him a straw cowboy hat. Let's see if he blushes before putting it on.

Barn Raising: Part 2

We started the barn with a bucket of tar and some serious heavy lifting. Cathy Daughton and I moved most of the wood from the front driveway, up past the pasture and garden fences, over to the area in the woods that would be the horse barn for Jasper and Merlin. "Barn" is not the goal of the day though. Today was about setting corner posts, bracing them, and putting on a roof with rafters and scrap tin we found on the farm.

When the wood was delivered, in order of priority, we saw the magic of the day start to happen. Brett picked up the 16ft post as if it was a friend's golden retriever (some effort but not uncomfortable) and then dipped the end in the bucket of tar. The boys lit up at this act. I had to admit, it was impressive. You don't get to see lumberjacks hoist lumber every day, do you?

Once it was dipped in the tar, the younger Daughton boys took turns painting the bottom four feet of each main post a thick, black, sticky gobber. This tar wasn't pretty, but it did the job. A serious sealant between dirt, moisture, and rot on those in-ground pieces.

One at a time posts were tarred, set, and tempered into the ground with a thick, flat-bottomed piece of cherry cut down at last Antlerstock. Soon as all four were up the bracing pieces went up and suddenly the quadrant of totems turned into the ghost of a building.

We broke for a lunch down in the grove behind the barn. It is circled by tiki torches burning citronella oil and no bug dared bother our kabob grill. Pieces of stew meat marinated in balsamic dressing and peppercorns skewered with crisp onions, pepper, and squash sizzled as we drank lemonade. There would be an icecream break too, a little later. It was so hot, and the work so constant, the food felt more like fuel than a meal.

Here is where Holden, Cathy's 16-year-old son took on the world. He took that giant 6x6x16 beam and climbed up the stone wall and helped set it into place. Then he scrambled up top of the frame and helped nail in rafters one at a time until we now had an honest-to-summer building framed up. Neither Brett or I planned on having such a help from the kid and it was a blessing. He worked like a dog, up there in the sun on metal roofing, with only hand tools like a hammer and nail. The work between the two men became a dance. They'd throw nails and hammers to each other and never miss. By 5PM the entire plan for the day (posts, roof, and frame) was up and ready to protect two ponies from rain. It would be a few weeks before the fences, gate, siding, and water system was worked out, but it would be worked out.

I am so grateful for these people, and for the day. What started as an idea and a plank set of boards turned into a real, tangible, thing in just a few hours. I want to especially thank Brett for his tools, skill, and time. Right now the poor man is hiking through the Adirondacks looking for a lost Highlander breeding cow and has been consumed by this search for days. Good thoughts on finding her way back to your pasture, friend. Stranger things have happened on Midsummer's day.

Right now the structure is sitting at the end of the path in the woods. This Friday I plan on spending a lot of the day working on some fences and gates with the intern (more on him in a bit) and getting as much work done as possible. If you are free and want to help out, please email me! I can't pay you, but I can offer you some awesome kabobs and my sincere gratitude.

For more images and detailed photos of the day, visit Firecracker Farm's website and see the images posted by Cathy Daughton. That photo of us was taken by you son, Seth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Still a favorite. Makes me crow hop in the kitchen.

ian and the new lamb

talking with a farmer

I went outside after reading some blog comments, and found a farmer in the driveway waiting to talk to me. He wanted to discuss meat rabbits. He was lanky, but certain looking. No way a frail man at all. He had on camo pants, rubber boots, and a serious farmers tan peaking through his t-shirt sleeves.

He had noticed the little lamb up in the sheep paddock and we got to talking about raising meat animals and sheep. I knew this guy had serious experience with many critters, and his methods were much like mine: animals raised humanely and under grass farming principals. Both our homes knew Joel Salatin as a household name.

I told him how some readers were put off at the idea of naming a lamb and then eating him down the line. At this the farmer smiled, scoffed out a happy laugh and said. "What other way is there?!" and then added, "Just this last fall I sold beef from a steer I bought as a calf, bottle fed, named, and raised." I nodded. I knew that cow, had bought a hundred dollars of his beef and enjoyed every bite of it. He didn't see a problem or disconnection with caring lovingly for an animal he would himself slaughter or aid in the slaughter of. This was normal to him. It was how he had been raised, how he understood the world. He didn't seem too interested in the conversation beyond that point though. He was a busy man, with work to do. He was already fumbling with his pocket knife and ready to get going. We made plans to talk rabbits tomorrow afternoon at his farm.

The farmer was Ian Daughton. He is eleven.

cantering towards life!

Yesterday morning I met Patty at her farm early. We had carted with Steele the day before, and today was all about hitting the trail with our horses. The entire day was a magazine shoot of perfection, and I can't thank Patty enough for her encouragement, trailering, and time.

We picked up Merlin and getting him on the trailer was easier than ever before. The training with Milt, and on our own, has created a new experience for Merlin. He gets on with little fuss, sometimes ahead of me. It's so satisfying to see that money and time and effort spent fixing a problem, well, fixed. I am hoping to get a trailer soon, as I need it to take Merlin up to War Camp on the 30th. I'll find one in safe condition, certainly. I will barter or buy one used, whatever comes first!

Here's a video of the first part of our ride. Right before I hit record we had trotted up a steep climb out of a wooded path along a brook. The feeling of walking gently through the forest on a horse you love and trust, and then breaking into a bit of changed pace and bursting into open land and light felt like a movie script. Here we are on the half mile pasture walk to the lake. And yes, we got wet...

We walked out of the pasture and into the woods. Tree branches grazed my head. This is not something a woman of 5'3" feels often. I touched maple leaves and felt like a giraffe.

Steele headed down into the lake and here is where I got nervous. Merlin isn't a fan of water, and getting him to walk through puddles is sometimes hard. But when Steele started heading into the lake, Merlin did too! And suddenly the two of us were on top of splashing and stomping happy horses, drnking and dipping their snouts in lake water and using their front hoof to dig and splash. Merlin and Steele were having a ball. I was still a little nervous (Merlin slipped once getting out and I didn't fall in) but we did it. Woods to pasture, pasture to lake, and now were were off to walk hedgerows, dirt roads and other fields. We walked and trotted mostly. The sun was out, but not hot. the flies weren't bothering the boys much at all. Merlin was coated with fly spray and ear Swat, and Steele (who gets bothered by flies more) was in a mask.

What you see here is Merlin's road pack. It's a saddle bag that sets on his saddle's cantle. It has a pouch large enough to hold things like a poncho, pocket knife, snacks, first aid kit and your phone and straps to tie on a wool sweater. It also carries two quarts of water for the rider. I'm a fan of it. As trail riding takes up more of my summer, I am looking forward to packing snacks and gear.

Back to the ride: we moved across the farmscape, taking in the new corn shoots, and rolling hillsides. Merlin now felt as natural below me, as calm, as my own Dodge pickup. I was feeling a little cocky and would give him heel to trot alongside Steele's large walking stride. Patty and I talked. She and I are people who focus on gratitude and positive things. No talk of war, politics, ill-intended gossip, or fear on those trails. We took in the sunlight, the smell of cut hayfields and horse, and made statements about the beautiful weather, swapped horse tips, talked about the men in our lives and families. It was textbook delightful. There is enough anger, suffering, and fear in the world without us having to surrender to it. If you want to hear about it, "be informed" then turn on the news or pick up a paper. Invite a scared person over for dinner and listen to how horrible the world is. I am losing my tolerance of intentional negativity. Every day, every minute, you choose how to life your life and see the world. If you are kind, compassionate, and honest about your feelings those kind of people and experiences wrap themselves around you. To this I am a living testament, this blog certified proof. A happier life means choosing to be a happier person. It doesn't mean running away from reality. It means having the guts to create your own.

Whew. Anyway, I was so wrapped up in the conversation I didn't even think about it when Steele started to canter up a steep slope. I just gave Merlin a bit of leg and he loped up right after his big brother. I rode that canter as if I had been born to it. All those months of riding lessons, trotting in circles, had taught me enough of seat and leg to remain calm and communicate. It felt amazing, to be on a galloping horse, MY horse, out in a feral trail ride where only our whims told us where to go.

And all of this, the horses, the ride, the lake and that unexpected burst of cantering. All of it was happening on a Monday morning. To someone who spent the last 8 years of her life surrendering every single Monday to Paid Time Off or someone's company: it felt so much deeper, that freedom of the day. I WAS in my office, on the back of a running black gelding in the place I call home.

When we trotted back to her driveway I hugged that horse for a long time. He's worth every penny, every drop of sweat, and every board carried to make him a barn and pasture fence. He's magic to me.

And to those of you reading about this at home, those of you who wish with all your heart You had a horse to ride? You can ride too. I promise that if it is something you want it is yours to have. I don't care if you live in the middle of Boston and don't have a car or a spare twenty dollars to your name. You are online now, aren't you? Well, search for stables, trail rides, and lessons in your area. Look for places you can can get too (or close too) by foot, bus, or car. ASK through email and phone calls if you can exchange hard work (muck stalls all morning?) for a half hour lesson or a trail ride with a group already paying with horses set aside. Ask that cousin in the country you visit to show you how to put on a bridle and pick feet. Walk to your neigbors with horses and tell them you think they are wonderful, and would love to get a barn tour. Go to the county fair and ask the girl with he draft team about her local club. Do you see what I am getting at? If you want something, you need to start dialing numbers, asking friends and family, and putting time ad sweat into it. I have no doubt that anyone who wants to ride will.

I know a woman at the stables who gave up her cable and cell phone to take a lesson a week and is saving for a horse and fencing of her own on her small acre homestead. She'll make it happen.

I'm not lecturing, I am making that promise. You can have your farm, your horse, your goats, your chickens. You can have it as soon as this weekend (in some form) if you start making emails and phone calls now. Live around here? Call or email ME! You already have a resource! One couple new to farming is trading a bin of pumpkins and possibly a pig to come to the Farmer's Horse workshop here in the fall. Another couple who owns a t-shirt comapny is printig up the fiddle camp shirts in exhange for coming to camp. This farm is how I make my living, but it is also dedicated to you, the readers. I want anyone who wants what I have to have it, too. I will do whatever I can to get you there through words, encouragement, workshops, and stories.

Go get your own canter started right now, and don't let a single person tell you it isn't yours to have. You won't hear anything to the contrary here. I know it is yours, just go ask for it and receive it with gratitude. It is yours.

Brigit's Fire, it is.

general update

The new ram lamb is doing well! I was worried the ewe was going to reject him, but the little guy had a tight stomach when I picked him up and gave him some vitamin paste. Just in case the mother was slacking with the milk business, I offered him a bottle of warm goats milk and he sucked it down like a little piston. I think I'll keep him to raise for the Holidays. A tradition started last year, but certainly worth keeping up. Leg of Lamb served with cream sauce while the Yule log burns is a nice way to start the year, no? Any suggestions for names?

Updates to come for you about the Barn Raising (part 2!), the TWO new pony carts, my first canter with Merlin up a farm field hill, a new workshop for you fiber folk, entering the Washington County Fair, and (drumroll) a NEW INTERN is moving in tomorrow. All of this just happened and I have a book to write so blog updates will come in on breaks from writing.

So much is happening! All of it good!

Monday, June 18, 2012

sunflowers in the cabinet

I found a packet of Flash Blend sunflower seeds in my cabinet. I got them back in early spring, but forgot about them. Tomorrow I will plant them and see where they end up.

good morning from cold antler farm!

not even 7 AM....

...and I already have afterbirth all over my hands.

Hello Monday.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

join us for a sunday drive

the distant future, the year 2000

What's that a picture of? Why it's aerial firefighters with bat wings putting out a blaze in the year 2000 of course. Folks, you need to check out this link. It contains photos by a French illustrator in 1910 and what he felt the year 2000 would hold for society. I find ideas about our future and technology so fascinating as a modern homesteader? How progress meant lack of effort to people then, or versions of that ease. Life was hard, I know this. But sometimes their pipe dreams are laughable. Others are spot on. Which of these made you laugh or tilt your head at the screen? Do you think the future we have now is all 1910 cracked it up to be? (I personally love the flying water bat people, but click here to see more.)

P.S. Ten points if you started singing Flight of the Conchords when you saw this post title. Robots!

accidental juggler

Last night Brett and I were having dinner over at Jon and Maria's and Brett started a conversation about academic writing and said something like, "Well, the two of you are writers and you understand..." and Jon just nodded and kept a steady trot alongside Brett and Maria in conversation, and I am sure I did as well, but that moment kinda stopped me. I am a writer. I know this. I write here nearly every day. I have books with my name on the spine. I write articles for magazines and online news media blogs for two countries but when I hear or see someone point to me and say "writer" it still seems kind of odd. Like as if someone handed me three balls and I kept them in the air long enough they called me Juggler.

I understand if anyone out there desires to be a writer, I sound like a total dick right now. That is not my intention.

I am honestly being incredulous. I never meant to be a writer. I never took writing courses, or went to writing workshops or events. I never opened a single copy of Writer's Journal or anything like that. In high-school I was invited to go to the Pennsylvania "Governor's School" summer session for writing, but I turned it down because I was 16 and had a boyfriend and I wanted to hang out with him and watch Buffy and travel to South Dakota for a few weeks. I didn't want to sit in a college and write.

My first book was picked up by a publisher because one night on the phone with my friend Raven (an Idaho to Maryland conversation) she told me I should write a book about backyard homesteading as a renter. So that weekend I googled "How to publish a non-fiction book" and got the news I needed to submit a proposal with a writing sample. Okay. Check. I went to a book store and saw books about homesteading and farming and wrote down their names, went to those publisher's websites, and Storey happened to list exactly what they wanted in a book proposal. So I followed that, designed it pretty, and sent it in. I got an email back in five days from the woman who would become my future editor.

It happened because I asked. Things only happen if you ask.

So here I am, a few years down the pipe and I'm now a full-time writer. I love writing. I can't imagine going a day without it. I find I am always writing, or wanting to share stories and feelings and ideas. It's become such a focus in my life it constantly surprises me. I find myself taking notes for blog posts on my hands in black pen ink, or writing first sentences on my iPhone's notepad so I can remember it. It's a craft I feel stalked me from the bushes and jumped me. Writing has made me its bitch and I'm now branded as a steer's rump with my occupation. Happily so.

And so on Jon's porch I was a writer last night, and I think I finally believed it when I heard it. No one slammed their hand on the table and called me on it. Not even me, and that was the first time. How about that?

my new truck

Barn Raising Tales: Part 1

The last two days have seen so much activity. I woke up Friday morning at dawn to start preparing for the tasks ahead. A workshop was being hosted here on Saturday and between then and there was a large order of chickens to pick up and set up in the outdoor brooder, a large farm lawn to mow, regular chores to be accomplished, a house to clean, food to cook, and a barn and chicken tractor to build.

Brett arrived at 9:30AM towing a red two-horse trailer and his big Ford truck. The trailer didn't hold a horse, though. It was going to carry Atlas, Ashe, and two Cotswold ewes instead. The four sheep were part of a large livestock barter for the help and expertise building Jasper and Merlin's new home. Brett would also end up leaving with a cage of laying hens (adults), ten Freedom Ranger chicks, and the frozen body of the chicken he slaughtered at the demonstration. In exchange (with the help of the Daughton Boys) a pole barn frame would be hoisted up with rafters and a tin roof.

I remember looking at that pile of wood in the driveway, and wondering how we were going to move 16 ft beams and 12 foot rafters by hand? How could we possibly get it all done? I had forgot to specify that the posts be pressure treated, and that was not a slight omission. How would they not rot in the ground and send the structure toppling over in 4 years? Between the gravity of these concerns and the childlike understanding of the amount of work ahead, I didn't think too much. I decided just to go with the flow, sign the checks, and do as I was told. Brett knew what the barn and wood needed. He knew how to fix and mend mistakes. And I decided if I just trusted the guy there might be a four-posted barn without siding in my woods by sundown. So we got to work.

As we loaded up into my Dakota Brett mentioned, off hand as all get out, that there was something for me in the back of his truck. I didn't think anything of it really. I was grateful but surprises between us have been fairly common. I'd hand him a turkey, he'd hand me a bag of bacon and ham steaks next visit from his pigs. We don't keep score, it's as natural a system as tributaries.

 First up was a trip to the work site. I showed him the four post-holes the Daughton Boys had dug, and the stone wall behind the old foundation taken down with a sledge hammer to grade. Then There was the area brush hogged to put in fences. He seemed pretty okay with these best-laid plans and the next step was a trip to the hardware store in Cambridge to buy the nails, screws, hardware, and random supplies that would turn that previously mentioned stack of boards into a home for 1600 pounds of horse flesh. He bought a bucket of roofing tar, a big bucket, and decided that would be our weather-proofing method for the 3 feet of post going into the ground. After the hardware store and grocery store (gotta feed this work crew) I had sunk somewhere around $485 in the barn. (In the world of large outbuilding construction, that is quite a small amount.) And only possible because of the help of Brett and a very-brave 16-year-old boy in the rafters nailing down tin roof about twice his age. More on that bit later... When Brett and I got back from our errands it was already 11AM and the Daughton boys and their mother, Cathy, were already there finishing up last touches on their post holes and brush hogging the fence line. That mixture of boys talking, the mower's roar, and the engine turning off on the Dodge were music to my ears. I took the groceries inside and Brett started walking tools and the bucket-o-pitch to the work site. We were going to build a barn, folks. This was actually happening.

As I headed up the hillside to join everyone in the work of the day, I decided to take a peak in the back of Brett's pickup truck. I was curious. I couldn't help myself. Inside the F250's bed was a vintage pony cart, red as a cherry with a wooden seat and floor. No foolin.

This would be a day to remember, and it had barely started...

photo by jon katz

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!