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