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!