Saturday was a big work day here at the farm. Kathy, Mary, Tyler and Tara arrived with tools and scrap lumber and by nightfall we had built what we have nicknamed the Pig Pagoda! It's a rough backyard farm job for certain. But the great news is it didn't cost me a dime. All the lumber, roofing, and equipment was either donated, found on the farm, or brought by those amazing people. We called it quits around 3 or 4 PM and I hugged and thanked everyone as they drove away, but I stuck with the little project until nightdall. It was nearly dark when I had finished setting up the ground wire of electric fencing and latched the gate, which was once my old coworker Chrissy's dog gate. When they moved to a new place and didn't need the gate and t-posts they asked if I wanted them? Those posts and that chain link gate laid behind my barn for a long time, but here they are again, housing critters once more. I am now ready for the little porkers, which will be delivered here soon as Tom can load them up and bring them to CAF. It was a big, messy, sweaty project but the pig pagoda and outdoor woodlot is ready for them and by late November there will be so much pork coming out of this farm I may suffocate under the packages of bacon. I can think of worse ways to go...
Yesterday was a bad day. It was also a very good day. I removed the last post, (which was basically blind panic) and want to address what I am doing to change things. For those who are confused about what I am talking about, here is a quick recap: I returned home from work to find a business card stuck in my front door. It was from a repo man, who had come to take away my truck. This shocked and confused me, since I my last truck payment was just four weeks ago. I freaked out, called the bank, and found out that I was always making payments, but I had not caught up enough in back payments to take the truck out of collections. A giant corporate bank just sees the days in collection on the computer and sets a repossession date from there. I made a deal with my lender and the truck is still in my driveway, but it shook me to my core.
Which is why it was good. It was a wake up call. The problem wasn't my payment schedule it was the fact I could not catch up. Not catching up makes getting out of debt nearly impossible. I had been living a fantasy here, and it's not the one you are thinking. Riding horses and building a hawk mews may be weird, seem exotic, or expensive but the fantasy wasn't in them - it was in how I was dealing with money. I was thinking that as long as I was paying something I would placate the banks until I had the money to pay them off. Not the case, as that business card on the door proved to me. I want to thank all of you for your response, good and bad. I needed to hear both. I want to thank everyone who donated, creating a little cushion of breathing room that may be what literally saved this farm. You have no idea how grateful I am.
So what I am doing now is stopping to breathe, be calm, be rational, and figure out what happens next. I have sat down all last night with calculators, bills, lists, and plans. There are things need to prioritize, and things that need to go. I emailed my Taekwondo school and told them I would not be attending again until things turned around, and thanked them for all they taught and supported me. I figured out which animals I can sell, and which can stay. I realize all eating out, even a three dollar sandwich grabbed at Subway, is a luxury at this point.
I am not selling Merlin. I may have to sell Jasper, his cart, and harness. I am waiting to see. Merlin is simply worth more in many ways, as he has not only become a reason I wake up in the morning but alternative transportation. If I did lose my truck, he could take me places I needed to go like town, neighbors, and do farm work like pull logs for firewood and haul wagons. I would just be publicly flogging myself if I gave him up, and the farm would not be better for it. But Jasper is hardly used, and realistically he may need to go. I am figuring out the numbers.
I know many of you are confused about Falconry. What could seem more unnecessary? But there isn't actually any expense to it, not anymore at least. I did have to buy $124 dollars worth of equipment and pay a $40 test fee back in April, but that's it. I now have all the equipment and the materials for the mews are here, which were birthday presents. My friends are helping me build it, Ed Hepp is mentoring gratis, and the red tail hawk is free from nature. What falconry costs is time, and a sport done during the winter when I have it. Getting my apprentice license actually creates job opportunities too, since I work at a Falconry School who is losing it's partner in a few months. I could double my part-time income if I have that license, not to mention the book deal I could gain from my plans to write about it (something that is being discussed with publishers and magazines). When it comes to my particular, eccentric life, a red tail hawk makes financial sense and things like little ponies and martial arts do not. To most readers these all fall into the same category: hobby - and therefore it seems I should scrap them all. But certain things here like Archery and Hawks have become my part time jobs that make a serious postivive financial impacts. Things like karate tournaments, extra cart horses, extra sheep, are not. Giving up hawking would be financially detrimental, and a public punishment. I can't afford symbolic acts right now.
As for other expenses, some of your advice was amazingly helpful. Some of you just wrote to tell me you were going through the same thing, and knowing I'm not alone and that all types of people in all types of financial and occupational situations are going through the same "come to jesus" moments. I am refinancing my mortgage, which will lower payments in a few months. I am negotiating with my student loans to either defer or change the payment amount to keep them solvent. I am taking care of all my credit card debt, which is nearly paid off. I have not had a credit card in five years, and so far paid off 3 of my 5. I gave up grocery stores, since nearly 90% of my food now comes from my backyard or friends farms. Things like pigs and chickens turn out to be wildly successful and so those operations are growing. Things like turkeys and milk goats aren't, so these things will remain just for personal use (read one milk goat and a trio of turkeys to feed myself and friends. No herds of goats or flocks of turkeys). Buying things for fun, like boardgames or fashion-related new clothes is out. I'd rather go to goodwill and eat out of my backyard than give up Merlin. He's as important to me as Gibson. Family.
So there is light at the end of this tunnel. It just means taking stock, changing how I live, being honest, being realistic, and being tough about what can and can't be a part of my life. I can't do it all. I can't have it all. I can't afford it all. Lessons I needed to learn when I was feeling nearly indestructible for months after quitting that office job, and which spiraled me into fear and depression these last few months. But all sorts of healing is on the way. I refuse to give up Cold Antler, and I refuse to give in, and I refuse to be buried in the ditch I was digging. Things will get better. I promise.
Last night Merlin, Gibson, and I hit the trail together. It was a two-mile walk at magic hour when the light turns saturated and you feel nostalgic about present moments. My two black crows and I, weaving through wood and stream, running up forest paths, and taking in the view from this mountain after a long day of editing and worrying. I wanted to share some video postcards from last night. This one taken during the ride and one taken after. It's a little sappy, but I'm a sappy gal.
I have six local friends coming to help build pig city! Big work day today for sure!
I just learned this yesterday: if you want a less caffeinated cup of coffee, got for the darkest brew you can get. It's half the buzz of light or medium brews. Reason being the longer the bean is roasted the more it goes from raw to cooked, and loses the chemical potency of caffeine. I always though darker coffee meant more kick, but nope. The darker the bean, the less the caffeine.
I just took of my boots. It’s (what time is it?) It’s 9:30. Those rubber numbers went on sometime around 6:30Am and just now my tired dogs have gone unshod. Under the calf-length black hunter Wellies was a green pair of home knit wool socks from my personal knitting hero, Meredith. Meredith has been my one sock provider for a whole year now, sending along around a dozen pairs as she knits them up. I can not tell you how grateful I am for those thick, chunky, amazing, sweat-wicking, foot protecting, warm as sin’s fire, wool socks. When I pulled those off my feet were printed with the rows of knitting she made by hand and I literally said out loud in this farmhouse, “I LOVE YOU MEREDITH” as I finally sat down. It is a holy moment, taking off those boots. The action itself an acceptance that this day is and its work is done.
So these boots, let me tell you their story. I woke up and went outside with Gibson to do the normal chores. Miracle of Miracles, the sheep were all inside the rickety fencing, not one escaped during the night. That made for a smug woman, and I handed out flakes of hay to the baaing masses with aplomb. When I headed over to call Jasper and Merlin for their breakfast rations, I did a double take. There were no horses. They weren’t in the pole barn, or on the hill, or behind the trees. They were gone. Humility restored I called out to Jasper, who rarely fails to come when called. I yelled his name and eventually a gray, dapple head popped out of the bushes. He was just beyond the fence they had trampled during the night. Possible because the electric charge had been diffused by a downed piece of wire. Great.
I grabbed some grain and calmly walked to the horses, who were happily munching on the forest just outside their paddock. I shook the sweet feed and both stepped over into their homeland. It took about half an hour to repair what was broken but I got it done. While I was tying fistfuls of baling twine and rewiring the broken connection my phone rang, it was Patty asking if I wanted to join her for a morning drive with Steele. Oh, did I ever. The weather was almost like early fall, in the high forties and a sweet respite from the heat wave the week before. But I had less then an hour to get chores done and be at Wood’s Automotive in town for a brake repair on the Dodge. I sadly declined the kind offer and went back to work. I was consoled by the fact my cart horses were present and accounted for.
The truck got repaired, nearly half a grand and a hard hit to the farm. But what can you do? Brakes are pretty important, and more important than an on-time truck payment. Chris down at Wood’s did a great job and sent me and my now totally inspected and legal vehicle out into the world for another year. Knock on wood brakes and new tires are all it needs replaced before fall.
I got home from the garage with just enough time to gather my things for work at the Falconry School in Manchester. I had three lessons today scheduled, folks from L.A, NY, and Delaware on vacation learned some instinctive shooting and were doing wonderful out on the range. The weather was lovely, the sky blue, Harris hawks behind us being held on the arms of happy students. By the time I left and finished errands in Arlington it was past dinnertime and I realized all I had to eat today was a slice of bread with jam on it at 6AM. My belly rumbled. I thought about dinner the whole ride home.
I came home to chores and a lot of writing to do. I am on a deadline to finish edits on this manuscript for Roost Books. I did my evening chores in sections, writing at the breaks. I got in stories about hay and baby lambs learning to chew grass between water bucket trips and more fence repairs. I got a text from Tom about delivering four pigs Sunday. I have two days to build a woodland pig pen. Whew…
I stopped writing for books a bit ago and now I’m writing to you. My boots are off, my dogs are fed, my farm animals contained, and I earned maybe fifty bucks out there shooting bows and arrows this afternoon. A few more days on the field and I can put a dent into those brake repairs. I feel like I should be tired, or despondent, but I’m not. I feel energized and excited. I may be in a scrappy place right now but I am doing it. I am living the life I want, at great cost, but still living it. The farm is keeping me well stocked in the grocery department. I haven’t been inside a grocery store in a month and a half now, and I wonder if I will go back? All my grain, cheese, and other needs can be picked up a the co-op in town and that monthly bill is something around forty bucks? So I may be working like a dog, but I am eating like a king. I think that was the last phrase in the Greenhorn’s Documentary. I like it. It’s an exchange that feels honest. Sore, sweaty, feet and all.
Tomorrow I’ll mail a horse payment and gather some new workshop support. I have a handful of folks interested in Indie Days and perhaps some of them will show up and share this world. I hope so. I do this less and less for myself and more and more to get other people excited about horses, gardens, chickens and homemade yarn. My life here is taking a lot out of me, but soaking up a lot of empty places. Like Meredith’s socks, those are some serious shoes to fill.
I’m ready for bed, but more importantly I am excited about tomorrow. I think that is what success really is, at least to me. To go to sleep happy and tired and excited about nothing in particular but the possibility ahead. Some folks never get to feel that, or gave it up long ago. I’m still on that horse. It’s worth it.
P.S. Anyone want to come build a pig pen? It's happening Saturday and entirely out of found items on this farm. Consider it a treasure hunt. I know I will.
Yesterday was dedicated, almost in its entirety, to starting construction on the mews. Before I can even mail in my Apprentice Falconer's application to the state I need to have a facility built and inspected by a master falconer and a state game warden. My goal is to have it built and inspected before August. Thanks for the birthday presents of lumber and my friends's free labor and power tools so far the Mews has cost me next to nothing. I can't tell you how grateful I am to have folks like th Daughtons, Hoffs and Patty in my life! I'll post pictures as it comes along!
This weekend was a wild one. Since I last updated there has been a workshop, archery, falconry, horseback rides, and river swims - but here's what makes all that different than normal: I've been hosting an old college friend, showing her my world. Taylor lives in Nashville and is a Senior Designer at an International Design Form, but was born and raised in the northeast. She's here for a few days of adventure while on a sabbatical and so it's been a lovely reunion. I thought I'd fill you in on what's been going on while she's still in bed and it's raining outside. You know how it is with company? It's hard to slip away and write while hosting guests. That's no slight to Taylor, mind you. I'm just letting you know why the blog might be a bit sporadic this week.
So, this weekend so far!
I hosted a Meat Rabbit workshop on Saturday, taking people from my farm to Patty Wesner's and talking critters and recipes. It was a full day of education, conversation, animals and food. I hosted a maximum attendance of readers, all of which were kind and excited to learn more about rabbits and growing food. Those who came learned about judging stock and buying animals for their first small herd. We went over everything from ear size and heat tolerance to setting up nesting boxes in colony pens. It was in-depth as all get out, folks eager with questions and ideas. When the morning talk outside the farmhouse was over we had covered purchasing, breeders, feed, shelter, kindling, and more and all that pretty much wrapped up the living rabbit section of the day. We took a lunch break and then drove a caravan over the back roads of my mountain to Livingston Brook Farm where we watched an expert slaughter and butchering demo, huddled around Patty's homemade abattoir and kitchen counter alike. She was wonderful, helpful, and took any question that flew her way. And the best part was people who came got to see the entire experience, on more than one farm, and how possible it was to do at home.
And some of those homes were not close! People came from as far away Virginia and New Jersey and as close as two towns over and that fact makes me grin from ear to ear. It's one thing to share some information that gets people from kitchens just a few miles away to drive over, but another honor altogether to be worth a road trip. I hope everyone who came had as good a time as I did.
After everyone left Saturday night my friend Taylor's Honda Civic pulled into the driveway. She came out of the front seat smiling and more beautiful and bright than I ever saw her before. She had just come from Burlington Vermont, where she stopped for a quick tour on her way here from Montreal. She was enjoying all while on her five-week vacation from her adopted city. She wasn't here long before we were sitting around Patty's outdoor table, eating an Indian rabbit dish she had made from the fellow we harvested that afternoon. It was so good both of us cleaned our plates, and that's a testament since Taylor had never eaten rabbit before! We sat out there watching the sunset over her beautiful barns, her horses tossing their manes in the fields below. It was a heck of a scene to drive into, I thought. Taylor was getting a heck of a welcome to Washington County!
The next morning Taylor was ready for some serious adventures. Even with her hairline fracture on her foot (technically, broken by her Doctor's estimation) she was game for some new sports. She agreed to come along with me to work at the British School of Falconry in Manchester where she shot arrows on my field and later, after my lessons were over, was taken out by one of the school falconers to meet the staff. Taylor enjoyed the shooting but she lit up with excitement learning to fly a hawk. She got to send it off to perch in a tree and raise her gauntleted hand and watch the Harris Hawk glide down to land in it. She was working with Haggis, a swell little guy. I snapped this prom photo of them together, look at that girl's smile!
We visited Northshire, ate lunch, and came home to a farm tour (finally) and a bit of a rest. We watched a documentary and just caught up on family and life in general, the kind of stuff old friends do. But even as tired as we were from the morning at my office she was eager to experience some other Cold Antler adventures. But what could she do with a broken foot? I asked if she could sit in a saddle and she said she sure could. So I tacked up Merlin, put some cold cider and some leftover birthday cake in his saddle bags (thank you Cathy Hoff!), and tied a wool blanket to that little shelf over his rump. Taylor hopped up and I lead him into the trails and stream-lined paths I know so well. When we finally got to the big hillside view of the Cambridge Valley, mountains in the distance and deer leaping in the fields below Taylor gasped. She literally gasped and said something that made me want to break down and cry right there. She said, "Everything you do, all the work you do, is worth it." That is exactly how I feel, but to hear it validated like that from someone who knew me before I ever owned a chicken was the highlight of my weekend.
We haltered and tied Merlin to an apple tree and set up our picnic. We took in the view and snacks and I tried to reflect on the last two days. It was an overwhelming amount of activity but none of it bad. I loved the workshop and meeting faces only known from emails and comments. And I loved sharing my world with Taylor, who was savoring the homemade cream cheese icing on a berry-filled yellow cake. There wasn't a lot of bad here. I had a few low points during the weekend too (like a Fed Ex man interrupting the rabbit workshop to have me sign a letter from my bank about the mortgage - talk about a rattling event during a classroom setting) but the good strongly outweighs the bad. And even though things are scary here right now in that sense, they are also so damn beautiful….
I am going to focus on the beautiful, and talk about that for a good while. It will be an effort of will, but I like I said earlier on this thing I can't keep focusing on my fears about this place. It has been eating me up, making me sick. But when you look at sunsets from horseback, hawks in flight, and baby chicks following their mother to the feeder you realize the power of a place, and the power in myself. I got this far and I'll keep this home. I know it.
Okay, time to get back to chores and get ready for the Daughton's. They are coming up with lumber, tools, and love in spades. We are starting construction on my Mews today! Thanks to Patty's and the Hoff's birthday present of paying for the lumber I am thinking it will be made for less money than I ever dreamed. Between bartered labor and gifted wood I am one lucky girl. This falconry thing might just stick…
P.S. the part two of that river tubing story is this: we were driven back to our trucks by locals who made a lot of fun of us and were still very kind. I'd write more if I could steal the time but I just didn't want to leave you hanging!
A few weeks ago the farm was getting assaulted by a predator, a raccoon. That little bandit was clever enough to open wire cages, snatch eggs, and eat over 25 chicks and chickens over a 2 week period. I finally caught him, relocated him, and haven't had an issue since but it still burns losing that much livestock. Farming is always playing a game of chess with Nature. Sometimes you get a few moves ahead and start to feel smug and then SMACK! you learn who is really holding the final checkmate.
But yesterday a whole clutch of eggs hatched and a big Barred Rock hen brought at least 7 new babies into the world. I set her up in the coop and she should be able to raise the lot of them herself. I'll try and sneak in to get some photos soon of the hen and her home-brewed chicks but right now they are still hatching out! I guess it was my turn on the chess board, and a bunch of new little laying hens are a serious win!
This Saturday at 10AM is the Rabbit Workshop, and it is happening rain or shine. However it looks like heavy rain is headed this way and we may be doing a lot of it indoors, which will make for hot, close, quarters! I have fans but no air conditioning. So come prepared and dress accordingly. Bring an umbrella or rain gear for the outside sections of the workshop, and proper footwear. We will do the first part of the workshop at Cold Antler and the second part at Livingston Brook Farm, in Patty's garage.
Also remember to bring a packed lunch or a little spending money for a local cafe!
It was just after 1pm when I found myself back in the river. No one was at the swimming hole but Gibson and I— the last mini-van of waders having just packed up and left—and I was savoring the solitude. I needed a moment of quiet. I had just come back from unloading a truckload of hay bales into my little barn and before that, helping the crew at Livingston Brook Farm put up just shy of 300 bales in Patty's giant threshing barn. I can run for miles in a heatwave, spend hours in a martial arts class, and hike across two towns in a day but NONE of those things is as hot and hard as loading fifty-pound bales by hand into a barn. Now, suspending in cold clear water all that work of the morning seemed like something from a memory of a television show or passage in a novel. Did it really happen to us? It was a world apart from the young trout swirling under my toes as I walked to shore and called my dog. Damn if I don't love that river, even if it scared the crap out of me last night.
I mentioned yesterday that Tara, Tyler, and I would be going tubing, remember? We did. Around 4 in the afternoon we arrived at the Georgi (a local art museum/park near the river in Shushan). This would be our launching point. We were armed with 3 big tractor tire tubes we had rented from a boer goat farm up the road and had parked another truck a few miles downstream. The plan was simple. Get in, float to truck 2, return tubes. Easy, right?
Well, let's just say I don't have a great sense of direction. At least not when it comes to something as wild and winding as a river on a summer day. Hiking or on horseback I am practically Sacajawea, but in a sun-kissed river with forests and cliff edges on both sides I am as much a foreigner as a "local" can be….
After three hours of happy floating, talking, and laughing the sky was starting to darken and storm clouds were gathering behind us. I realized (feeling it in the pit of my stomach) that I had not seen another tuber, canoe, or kayak in miles) and was starting to wonder why the short trip was taking so long. Eventually we floated past a campsite where a man was building a cook fire for his daughters and himself to enjoy the setting sun. I hollered out. "How far are we from 313?" and the guy just gaped a while before responding back, "You are HOURS away from 313!" and then I took my turn gaping back. Inconceivable! We had left my truck near the swimming area a few miles from my house and drove nearly twenty minutes southeast to our launch area. Rivers don't just change direction. How could we be so far from home?
"What town are we in?!" I yelled back from my soggy black tire.
"Salem! The next bridge you come to is the Rexleigh!"
And then it hit me. What a stupid mistake I had made! See, dear friends, just because a river flows east to west doesn't mean it follows the same path as the road you took to get to it. Thanks to a dramatic 90 degree turn that sent the river north into a horseshoe I had actually managed to get my launch point and end point reversed, geographically speaking. The roads I drove went in a logical direction but the river circumnavigated around it all, and I had not looked at a map of the river before jollying along two good friends. Now we were 14 miles away from our trucks and it would be dark in an hour. Tyler was barefoot. We had no phones, no watches, we were just three chumps with tires on a summer day.
So I think my body has adapted to summer, it really has. My skin is a darker shade, no longer being burned or reddened as much as bronzed over. The heat doesn't bother me much at all, nor the humidity. I'm not saying that I enjoy it or that I'm not a sweaty, disgusting, pile of wet rags when I finally come indoors but the discomfort doesn't make me lightheaded or slow me down. I am drinking a lot more water. I'm also taking a dip in the river nearly every day. Right now the water is perfect, somewhere in the high sixties and the shock of jumping in after you lost five pounds of water weight in sweat is a near religious experience. It changes everything and that never stops amazing me. One minute you are a hot mess and in one big jump later (what's the point of slowly getting into cold water?!) you are reborn into a new reality. I wish I could explain this better, but when I am floating down the Battenkill on my back, looking up at birds and tree tops, I feel like that 95 degree scorcher was instantly domesticated. Everything gets turned down a few notches to a volume you can handle without effort. I sure am grateful for that river…
There is no air conditioning at Cold Antler, as I have said before. In the beginning of the heat that can seem hard, specially when you visit friends houses with the colder air or spend time in stores that feel it is a question of human rights to have it's clientele in the same conditions as a morgue. But now a night that dips to 75 degrees has me reaching for blankets and any shade is all the conditioning I need. The river is just icing on the cake, absolute decadence. Sometimes if I am really grimy from chores or moving firewood I grab a bottle of biodegradable mint soap and before jumping into the river run it through my hair. It's such a wonder to go from smelling like a Thru Hiker to being a minty, cold, ball of summer energy. After I get my office work done, in the late afternoon (hottest part of the day here) I think I'm going Tubing with Tyler and Tara. I've never gone tubing before, only swimming. Around here it seems to demand an extra tube-per-person to carry the cooler of beer and sunscreen. Anyway, we are going for an hour float from Sushan to Jackson and I am excited. It is definitely the river rat time of the year.
I need a break, quite frankly, and I'll take it in the form of tubes and water. I've never felt so careworn and keeping the farm running has never been so hard. You can probably tell that by the posts about items for sale and workshops. I think worrying about money is only making my problems worst. Kicking a dead horse is not the recipe for resurrection, now is it? So I'm going to focus on the work, not the worry, of this place from here on out. And before the river calls my name I have a pile of pages to edit, a rabbit ear to medicate, a goat's hooves to trim, and firewood to move so starting Monday we can get the beginnings of the mews built. Start thinking of names for a red tail hawk, guys. I am not letting my stress get in the way of outstretched wings and a safe October. No sir, I am not.
One thing I love that I rarely write about here is martial arts. It's been a part of my life since I was thirteen and I've competed and trained in three states, nearly making it to black belt twice before I had to move and leave the school. But now at age 31, I am training again, every day here at the farm. It's mostly on my own and mostly an uphill battle but I am on my way to a black belt once again. Maybe that's why Susan Schorn's book mattered to me so much? It is written by a female martial artist, but I don't think it was her karate life that kept me reading: it was her message:
You don't have to be afraid.
Powerful stuff in here. It's not a self help book, but it is helping me with my own anxiety and fear. It's a take on how to see things differently and how to be safer in our world. Yes, there is talk about karate and self defense but also about marriage, moving away from home, a sister's experience with cancer, raising children and so forth. It's the story of a woman in today's world who deals with all the fights and fears of everyday life. Reading it made me sigh deep and feel stronger. Check it out if you get a chance.
Saturday, July 20th will be a day totally dedicated to starting a backyard rabbitry as a homegrown source of honest, delicious, meat. This will take place at two farms, mine and Patty Wesners', who has been breeding rabbits for the table for years and has quite the successful Flemish Giant operation at her place. Come learn about what it takes in space, money, and time to turn a bit of your land or garage into a source of healthy food.
LAST THREE SLOTS ARE ON SALE, HALF PRICE or $125 for TWO PEOPLE! GRAB THEM!
This workshop will open with introductions and personal stories, including my own about changing from fiber to meat rabbits and why. After that we'll head out the my little breeding operation and meet the pregnant American Silver Foxes. We will discuss how to pick out healthy stock and what rabbits are best for you. We'll also cover care, feeding, breeding, kindling, as well as how to harvest the animals. There will be a live demonstration on slaughter and butchering for the freezer (so this is not a workshop for the faint of heart). Also, hopefully heritage breed kits for sale at both farms!
Date: July 20th 2013
At: CAF and LBF
Lunch: Bring a sack!
Cost: $125 (now on sale!)
Spots Left: 3 (ten already sold!)
I have a year old ram lamb, named Monday who would be a great addition to any meat flock and a male wether named Knoxville who is now 2 years old. He would make a fine mower, companion animal for a dairy goat or horse, or be more than a fair share of mutton. Both are Purebred Scottish Blackface. I need to reduce the flocks numbers and am starting with the boys. I also have a pair of purebred young (2 or 3 years old) cotswold ewes who would be a fine start to any backyard fiber flock. I am sad to sell them but need the cash and it means less hay in the winter. Right now frugality is the key.
I'm staying in this weekend, working. I have a lot of editing to do and planning for next weekend's meat rabbit workshop. There's an archery event an hour or so away but after spending that cash on Annie's vet visit joy rides seemed like a luxury. Part of living on a budget means pulling back on the reins even when you know you could still *probably* swing it and acting conservatively instead. I could run down to shoot and laugh with my friends, but I can also shoot here right in the backyard. And staying in means I can make some time to solicit ad sales, get back to emails, do laundry, clean up and just keep this place running. I am even considering an affair with a 5-string banjo later on under the maple tree… Intrigued? More on that later.
I have one pork share left and a piglets on the way! I need to build their pen lickety split and clear the firewood stacking area for the Mews construction. I am trying not to think about costs right now of things like lumber and butchering 4 pigs at once (the cost of butchering the last two was $480!) I figure everything is one step at a time. If I thought about money I would have never even adopted Jazz and Annie, much less decided to buy a farm. Money figures itself out, at least at a pace that keeps things legally mine, if not comfortably mine. It's a small victory every time I mail in a mortgage payment or send a letter to Merlin's previous owner with a check and update.
So the news here is this: piglets and mews construction on the way! We had a short break in the heat the last day or so but back to days int he 90's and lots of outdoor work ahead. The garden is already watered (30 gallons this morning!) and the sheep, horses, and goats are in the shade. I plan on following their lead after some more work is done outside and I've been kissed by the Battenkill.
(An Taigh is Gaelic for at home, pronouce Anne Tie(g)
I placed the three quarts of goat milk in the freezer. I had just strained the morning's output into a large half gallon jar and as it filled I divvied it out into the smaller quart containers. Usually when I come inside from morning milking I just strain into the half gallon jars and set them in the prepared tub of ice water in the steel sink. That's the way to do it. I milk Bonita, come right inside the house, strain through the small jar-top filter and then place the white dirigibles to plash and float among ice cubes and blue cooler packs from the drug store. The milk chills fast that way, down to 40 degrees in about half an hour. Then the chilled milk goes into the freezer for a "cold pasteurization" of another hour or two. This shock attack of cold temperature to the raw milk keeps it at cow milk flavor, without any tang of goat whatsoever. the only goats milk I drink is fresh, cold, and any unaware person would drink it in their coffee or cereal never thinking for a moment that it wasn't from some random carton of Holstein squirts. That's the usual drill, but today I just strained and set the three jars in the freezer for a shock and awe campaign instead of the usually bath soak. I had slept in and wasn't on my game. All it meant was it would start to turn "goaty" about twelve hours sooner than had it been chilled faster. You sleep in and you pay the price in milk flavor. So goes the world.
I'm okay with this. Right now this little homestead is bursting with productivity. The garden has been offering lettuces, peas, and kale already and the first green tomatoes are showing up on the vine. Yesterday I pulled out a zucchini, the onions are ready whenever I want them. I have those deep forest green vines of yellow squash and field pumpkins swirling around and hopes for a few decent gourds. I had plans to get a plow and set up a proper pumpkin patch with Merlin but that never came to fruition, due to my lack of follow through on getting a plow and having the land cleared to plant. The funds for brush hogging and land moving needed to clear that area, as well as the funds to buy a plow, had to be allocated to other areas. You can't have it all. But I can still have a small pumpkin patch and I have big hopes for it. A few orange orbs with smiling jack faces makes this baling-twine-coated heart soar.
So there is milk on tap, a patch of happy veg, eggs upon eggs, and a freezer full of pork, rabbit, and some leftover lamb from a share I bought last winter. I have a bread machine pumping away right now (I know, I know, but my oven is busted and I can only use the range top so the breadmaker has been a blessing). I have not been to a grocery store in weeks. Things I don't grow and still need like flour, salt, sugar, and coffee are all for sale at the farm stands and co-op in town. If I want more kale or want to buy a rope of garlic for the kitchen I just head down to Common Sense farm where barter is alive and well. I just traded my old single tree for some hay for the hooves here, a good trade since they make hay down at CSF but aren't up and up on draft animal equipment. They just acquired a pair of donkeys and will be using them for field work, carting, and as livestock guardians. I am excited to help them get the girls started in harness.
There are fifty meat birds on the way soon, another barter. I haven't had a single farm-raised chicken dinner yet and I sure do miss that. I would have been enjoying one of those special American Bresse but that raccoon beat me to them, but there are still 8 Bresse chicks doing well by the side deck of the house, chirping away in their safety pen. Every coo and cluck out of them is a recipe on the tip of my tongue. I look forward to their flavor by autumn!
I find this reality incredibly comforting. Money, as I said before, is make believe. It is something we all decided as a society has a certain worth. But at the end of the day it is paper and electronic transfers, not something you can turn into soft cheese and spread on a slice of bread. You can buy a goat for money but what it is really worth is priceless. Food and safety and the knowledge to appreciate and sustain both is riches beyond compare. To know there is this abundance of food, a stream of cold mountain water, a protective mountain, a fish-filled river, a forest of game and foraging all around me makes me feel like I landed in paradise. I really have. Wealth isn't money, it's living in abundance. This place may be an uphill battle right now but the work certainly is paying off in real returns, and to have landed in a community where horse equipment can be traded for hay and neighbors with maple syrup or vet services are a short horseback ride away is a kind of economy and society nearly lost in modern America. But it is here, alive and well in Washington County. The Daughton family—who are helping me build the Mews—were given Francis the goat and one of this year's kids as payment in advance for their time and power tools. Everything around here works like this, at least for the people who seek it out.
Last night I was helping wrap 300 slow-cooked muskovy duck, Chinese cabbage, carrot, and onion spring rolls at Common Sense Farm. Friday Night Meal is the start of their sabbath, and is a open to the entire community. Having shared plenty of these meals I thought it was time to help cook and serve. I was one of several people preparing food for nearly a hundred people. Mostly community members, since most people in the town are put off by the religious group and feel they can't join in since they don't share the same faith. But a good number of people in town do show up for the live music, dancing, and awesome food. I was sweating in the kitchen, even with the windows open and fan blowing in on us. Someone asked if I had come in from Air Conditioning and I explained I didn't use it. "You're in the fire with us" was Othniel's smiled reply. He was talking about our shared lack of freon but I took it to mean a lot more. We may be different faiths, live different lives, and have different politics and ideals but anyone out there working with gardens, livestock, draft power, and in the maw of nature is in the fire together. It's choosing to live a life with a lot more labor, time, and effort put into tasks like eating and income but the results were clear. All of us had just spent a friday in our fields, holding hoes, riding horses, milking goats, building a life we feel is correct. We are certainly in the fire together. Some people think we are eccentric, or odd, or escapists because we all left our office jobs, health insurance, and microwaves in the dust. But once you learn that other people's opinions is just a synonym for happiness suicide you stop caring about raised eyebrows in Stewarts because you showed up in a straw hat and a kilt.
Yup. I'm in the fire. There is no place I would rather be.
Picked this little zucchini out of the garden this morning and set it on a stump by my coffee mug and a tin of saddle soap. I liked the kismet of colors and objects and took a snapshot to share here. They say horse, garden, and home to me.
It was well past dark when I walked back to the farmhouse, flashlight in one hand and a trio of chickens in the other. I had the last three surviving American Bresse inverted in my left hand my fingers between their feet like scaly chopsticks. I had come to a decision as night fell on the farm; they would be spending the night inside with me and the dogs. I had a woman driving two and a half hours to pick them up the next morning and I was not going to disappoint her. I came inside with the silent trio and placed them in the dog crate in the living room. Annie was sitting in front of the fan and didn't even attempt to snatch them. She's dealing with heat and a big hotspot on her face that makes her look like an extra in the Walking Dead. I am medicating it but it doesn't look good. She sniffed at the dog crate a while and then went back to the fan. A half-decade of chickens can really take the drive out of an old dog. Air at high speeds was far more interesting.
I was worried Annie might feel a little more vigorous later in the night, or the cats might start moonlighting as part-time chicken terrorists so I made up the daybed in the living room with sheets and some pillows, turned on the Fellowship of the Ring on DVD, and decided to have a living room chicken sleepover. I fell asleep to the sounds of cooing and woke up to the scents of chickens living in a cage for 8 hours….
Yes, today I turned 31. I woke up to the smell of chicken poo and dog slobber. Outside, in the morning rain, my present was waiting for me in a cage by the chicken coop. A raccoon stuck in a havahart trap. You know, the kind of special something every woman dreams of waking up to some day...
This was probably the critter who killed 24+ of my poultry over the past few weeks. Most likely he and his friends had been feasting live thieves of the worst sort. Hundreds of dollars of imported European rare breed heritage fowl down his stinking maw. I went inside to get the .22 and loaded it as I walked back to the cage. I took a long breath, aimed it right at his brown-eyed sad looking face, and put my finger to the trigger.
I couldn't do it. I know it was foolish, but I couldn't. I threw the trap in the back of the truck, drove away from the farm and released him. I didn't want to start my birthday shooting an animal, and certainly not a caged one. It's one thing to take a shot at a free fox leaping through the forest with a chicken in his teeth but a coon in a cage might be the saddest looking animal in the world. I am a chump.
The rest of the day went smoothly. The Bresse were picked up by a cheery and kind looking woman who took them home to New hampshire. I went to work at my part time job in Manchester, teaching a group of people from a corporation in a team-building event how to shoot recurves at 10-yard targets. A mighty thunderstorm came through the valley and I got caught in it. I hid from the worst of it in a Mews/weathering area outside the main barn and office at the Falconry School. I watched the rain come into the world in waves, beautiful and angry. To hear thunder on my birthday is always a gift. Before I left my boss Rob asked me, just politely, "So what are you doing tonight for your birthday!" I told him I didn't have any plans, and you could hear a pin drop in that room. "So you're going to be alone?" a coworker asked. I said yes, not thinking being home alone on a weeknight that odd, but I guess it sounded kind of pathetic. If I wanted to run over to Mark and Patty's or set up a dinner with friends in Saratoga or here at the farm it could have happened. I avoided it though. This birthday is a hard one, and I'm not exactly sure why. I didn't want to celebrate. I just wanted to take care of things and be needed. I wanted my farm. I wanted the goats asking for dinner, Merlin's big whinny for hay. I wanted to saddle him and run up the mountain. I wanted to hug Gibson and ask him for the ten thousandth time if he was getting all the love he needed? That's what I wanted: Cold Antler. For better or for worse I didn't want to think about the people who are supposed to spend birthdays, our selfish little holidays with us, people like spouses, boyfriends, or family. Those are not things I have up I here. So I wanted what I did have, these 6.5 acres and the work that comes with it. All anyone wants in this life is to matter to the people she cares about. And I didn't realize how much I mattered until I got home...
I returned home to Annie, looking sadder and sorer than ever. What had been just red marks and falling out hair had turned to scabs and pus in a few hours. These hot spots were beyond my home-care routine of washing and creams. I called the vet (a mile from my house) and asked if we could come down. They squeezed us right in and I spent my birthday evening with a sedated, overweight, siberian husky in a dark room. I was to pet her until she zonked out so they could shave her sore body down and treat her wounds. For two hours they took care of her and I helped. I went home with a pile of meds and instructions and a drunk dog. I had totally missed evening chores and went about the work of them. I'm inside now. Annie is asleep. I still have office work to do and some other odds and ends but the day is old now and mostly behind me. Early start tomorrow, around 4:30 to get extra work done before my editor arrives to talk about the next book.
This long-handled Cobrahead Cultivator is the first hoe I have ever used that I can not destroy. I love it. It was suggested to me by a reader and when I went to their site I asked if they would consider sponsoring the blog. They did! Their ad is on the right side of this website, so go check them out. If you want to buy a hoe, cultivator, hand weeder, or any other sort of steel fingers to take care of that horrible burdock, this be the one. Welcome to the farm Cobrahead!
In the past week I have lost 24 birds to a predator, the worst series of sneak attacks the farm has ever experienced. I am used to the spring and late fall fox pickings but this mid-summer murder fest is coming from a whole new animal. I think it's either raccoons or opossums, possibly a fisher cat. It may be a fox too, because whatever it is is is killing silently and avoiding baited traps. I lost 7 American Bresse, 4 Austrolorps, 3 Copper Marans, 4 Light Brahmas, 3 Speckled Sussex, 2 home-brewed birds and a duck. I am not happy about this and hoping I either capture, shoot, or otherwise get this predator to leave this property. I know this is part of farm life, and I know this is a the dangerous part of a keeping a free-range flock. But it's still a hard loss. I had high hopes for those Bresses. I wanted to start a breeding program here. I still have 8 Bresse chicks, in a protected tractor close to the house, but they may be kibble too soon if this reign of terror doesn't end soon.
Also, still hot and rainy here. Too much of both to ride a horse or spend time fishing. All this indoors time is making me a little bummed out. Or maybe it's turning 31. I didn't mind turning thirty at all, but 31 seems like a whole different gut punch...
The good news: there are more meat birds on the way later this month, a batch of Freedom Rangers. There's also a barred rock hen sitting on a nest of eggs. So this farm has not seen its last chicken. I'm just frustrated, feeling helpless to nature the same way chicken keepers have since the first omelet hit the pan. Today I'm hoping for a little more sunshine and a little less carnage. How about it Ma' Nature? Consider it a birthday present?
I was tired today, a combination of the heat and the weekend. The farm is doing well, plans and progress are in the works, but I just had one of those moments where REST was in all capital letters. I wanted nothing more than to sit under the maple in the hammock and read. I just started the first Earthsea book, and was looking forward to a little escape. I find that shade, summer days, a book and my favorite mixed drink make for an afternoon few appetites can refuse. My signature drink is called the Haymason. You serve it in a mason jar but that isn't why it's called that. Last summer when I was pitching bales over at the Ackland's Maple Lane Farm into a wagon, Mark, who was driving the tractor exclaimed: "Your body was built for this work! Look at you go! You are built like a STONE MASON!" Which instantly made the younger guys around us laugh because they all knew what I knew, which was no woman (regardless of her body type) dreams of the day a gentlemen tells her she has a body like a stone mason. I laughed. It reminded me of what some of the guys called me in high school. I remember being the outdoorsy, artsy, weird hippie kid. My sister was the tall blonde teenager. One day a boy in my class told me that the nickname for my sister and I was Beauty and the Beast. When he saw my expression, he added, "But a friendly Beast!"
That's me. The friendly beast. Watch your husbands ladies.
Anyway, the name haymason stuck from that conversation, which was nothing but a compliment from Mark and I took it as such. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'm a dire wolf. There is nothing delicate or timid about me. I'm strong, loyal, loud, tough, and my ears are even a little pointy. I stick close to my pack, plan to mate for life, and prefer a time and place long gone from this world. Which is why my idea of a good time is throwing bales into a wagon, riding a horse, or learning to be a falconer. It's what dire wolves do. Some of you are dire wolves too. I know because I met you.
So what is a Haymason? A hay mason is a pint mason jar filled with ice. Then you pour into it hard cider until it is 3/4 full and top off the happy glass with Kentucky bourbon. It's strong, sweet, and can get any tired hay worker or dire wolf back on her dancing feet. I have been known to run five miles in the heat and come back to my farm only to kick off my sneakers and collapse unshod into my chair hammock and dream of a cold shower with mint soap and a long pull from a jar of Haymason. Now that, dear friends, is summer.
Luxury needs to be earned around here, that's a fact. I wanted to do nothing and read Earthsea but it was too damn hot to sit under a tree and read. I needed to turn on the Cold Antler Farm Air Conditioning so I could relax. CAF AC means changing into workout clothes and going for a 3-5 mile run in the intense heat. When you come home to a cold shower and Dr. Bronners mint soap your body goes from so hot it might melt to a shock of chill. Suddenly that weather you thought was heat becomes a resting temperature of splendor. It's all about perspective folks. If it's too hot to read make your body so hot it prays for the comforts you ran from. It's the dire wolf way.
So I did run. I went three miles and came home to that shower. Right now there is a thunderstorm starting and Gibson is hiding in his crate, panting a mile a minute. Annie is in front of the fan, sprawled out. I am at my computer with a jar of Haymason, having earned it after my little jaunt and a cold splash. It is no longer too hot to read. Nor is it too hot to write. This friendly beast is about to tuck into a good book and enjoy the rain that deserves to fall. The fireflies will pop out afterwards and hopefully the fox that has been picking off my chickens will get struck blind by lightening.
Recently I hosted my first ever Indie Day, an idea I came up with to make the farm available to guests for a one-on-one experience. Indie Days are private lessons in everything from chicken husbandry to Fiddle lessons, just you and me, learning country skills or talking about the Whole Hog. After I announced the idea two people signed up. One was Brandi, a fiber fan, who will spend a day going through the process of sheep-to-yarn and leaving with her own spinning wheel (I am selling her my Ashford). The other taker was a family of four from Pasadena. My little 6.5 acres became a part of their vacation. Talk about kismet, as it all worked out that they could visit me and tour around New York on the one rainless day we had this June. It was a working vacation of sorts, since they are considering leaving Hollywood (the father of the family is an actor) for life in Washington County.
Guys, I don't know about you but when people are crossing a continent to visit me I get a little anxious. I was excited to meet them but worried the trip wouldn't be all they expected. They didn't have a particular animal focus or lesson in mind, just wanted to see the farm and my world. Since Barbara (who had set up the day) was also a fan of Jon Katz I would try to make this a Jackson Author Day. I contacted Jon to see if he was game and he was, bless him.
When the car arrived I was on the front stoop with Gibson. Four very tan and attractive people walked out of their rental car and I shook hands and gave hugs. We had a day all planned and it started with a farm tour. I showed them all around Cold Antler and introduced them to the animals and small garden. We picked some carrots for some very special friends we were about to visit: donkeys! We hopped in our vehicles and headed over to Bedlam Farm where Jon kindly introduced them to his donks and did a herding demonstration with Red, his Irish border collie. We stood in his pasture and watched as the dog wove around people and donkeys and got the sheep to do his bidding. I was in silent awe. Gibson has the power of a rocket and energy to spare but our own herding skills haven't hit this mark. I was very proud to watch Jon and Red work together. They make a great team.
After the tour and herding demo we all heading into Cambridge for a trip to Battenkill Books and lunch at the new cafe. The Roundhouse Bakery has been built into a brick building that used to be a bank. You can eat an Asian fusion salad in the shadow of a happy vault, and the smells of their bakery and lemon cookies made me a little weak in the knees. I got a chai (love their chai) and a salad and baguette. Delicious!
Jon was working as Recommender in Chief at Battenkill Books, helping folks find the right story for their day. While we were there people called him from all over the country, saying hello to the author who they've read and followed in his adventures moving and living here. Listening to him talk, and watching the Californians peruse, it felt like watching two different pieces of one story: change. Jon had started out as a new person in this weird little town and was now a part of the fabric of it. This is his bookstore, his Tai Chi instructor served us lunch, his dog is welcomed in nearly every store. And these new faces are just thinking about taking on that story for themselves. Surely it will be different, everyone's is, but they may be getting lunch from their Tai Chi instructor someday too. Something like that. You get what I'm saying.
We ended the day with a cart ride with Merlin. Everyone helped harness and enjoyed the ride. I was so happy to share him with them, as I now feel confident and cool with the driving lines in my hands and a horse collar slung over my shoulder. That in itself was a long road to gain, but his family only need to hang on to the sides of the cart and enjoy the ride. When some folks felt more adventurous I got Merlin up into a full canter and to feel the wind in your face behind a horse cart is a sensation I hope they take with them. It's certainly why I'm here, and what keeps me here.
I can't call the first Indie Day anything but a success. They only signed up for a half day but they certainly got a load of local writers, food, farms, and experiences. They fed donkeys carrots, watched a border collie herd sheep, rode in a horse cart, ate our county's amazing food and saw a little of our heart and soul in places like Connie's store and the streets of Cambridge. I hope they move here, and I hope to see them again. Not for an Indie Day, but for dinner or apple picking or just a cookout on the lawn. This place could use a little more flair.
Before they left the farm I asked what they were going to do that night? They said they planned on taking a walk around dusk to see if they could watch the fireflies, something missing from the west coast. I hope they saw them. Cold Antler Farm is what it is, but fireflies are worth the trip. Always.
It is hot and humid here. The whole world outside is wet. The amount of rain and heat seems downright tropical. Here is the northeast we are used to hot summer days and high humidity but it feels as if Ma Nature has cranked the amp up to ten. It has been a blessing for the garden, that's for sure. Between the weather and the lack of snacking vermin this year (the paddock I put in for Merlin must have displaced several groundhog lairs) I have some beautiful veg out there. I am looking at it from my office window right now, listening to a rooster crow from the tailgate of my pickup. I can't blame him for his positioning. I think it's the only dry spot in the yard!
It's Saturday morning and I'm at my desk for most of it. There's a lot of work to do indoors. I sometimes think the blog gives the impression that all I do around here is play with animals, practice and pursue my hobbies, and write this blog. In truth those trail rides and morning chores are just small parts of my day and since they are the most exciting parts they get all the blog glory. I really don't want to write a series of posts about web marketing, design, and ad sales. I don't want to write about paper cuts and agent phone calls. I want to write about what gets my blood pumping and heart racing, and that is all romance and hope to me. So you read about fast arrows, heavy horses, chicken dinners, fresh bread, fireflies, and wishful thinking. Stories that are literally lifted on hawk wings. And if you aren't reading that you are my therapists. I write about my fears, stresses, loneliness, and angst. To those who don't know me outside this blog you are left with a bi-polar soup of broke and manic farm slop. Makes for great daily reading but I fear gives you a false impression.
The truth is Cold Antler Farm is a desk job.
It really is. The only way I can work here is to keep my but firmly planted on this claw-foot piano stool and write at this hand-me-down iMac. But just because I don't write about the office stuff doesn't mean that isn't the bulk of my day. I spend most of my daylight here at this desk. I do write on this blog, of course, but I also have to spend time every day writing and editing books, pitching new projects, responding and writing to work-related emails, trying to catch up with non-work-related emails from you guys, selling ads, working out deals, hunting new jobs, designing freelance logos, and hitting my daily word count and page edit goals. I do this between my archery instruction gig at the Equinox (which takes a few days a week now) and the for-profit ventures here at the farm. By that I mean things like expanding the pastured pork, teaching individual classes, selling breeding stock, getting wool skirted and sent to the mill, and the usual local work and trade barters all the local farms around here do.
I am grateful and happy to have this desk job. It never stops, and I am finally my own boss most of the time. I make a salary comparable to any office job I ever had, the reason things are struggling now is my business model is built on agriculture, even if it is mostly done at a desk. And like any farm some years are good and some years are bad. Last year was better. This year the income stream keeps dropping. Folks aren't clicking on ads or attending workshops like before. I haven't been paid out advances yet, and my bi-annual royalty checks are less than a truck payment for six months of sales. And If I went out and got an office job again I would actually make less money, since having the time to market, sell, write, and network all day is what makes it possible to keep this place running. I would have health insurance, but that seems like a bad tradeoff right now for a life lived the way I feel makes me happy and keeps me healthy.
So I am keeping my desk job at Cold Antler, and I do apologize for the recent posts being a little dark or stressful. It will pass. I have no plans to lose this farm, none at all. The more people tell me I am going to lose it the hungrier I am to keep it. Yes, things are scrappy right now and yes I am scared. But being scared isn't the same as being defeated. You've watched me cross the nation, start a Vermont homestead, buy my own NY land, quit my job, and now you are going to see me keep this place. I promise you that much. I will keep it going and I will get it to turn into something comfortable and profitable. And you will know when I have hit that happy plateau because suddenly there won't be any fuss or second guessing in my writing. There won't be constant reminders of pork shares and workshops. There will be just straight out grateful joy that I am still among the living. I will be a woman on her horse, a hawk on her fist, a black and white hound trailing behind in the tall grass, and a thrilling October sunrise. Human, hawk, hound and horse. Who knew it would take 30 years for me to join 4-H?
Thank you for your encouragement, patience, and understanding.
I swear I get more of a workout doing the usual morning chores here than from any three or four mile run. A run is steady, hot, but only lasts around an hour and I can regulate my pace as I go. But farm chores are more like a boot camp obstacle course that never stops changing. The tasks may start as simply as feeding a horse some hay for breakfast but then quickly turn into much more. Here's an example of an average hot and sweaty summer morning routine if you were in my shoes. Enjoy the ride!
You give the horses hay and realize water level is low and murky in their trough. Uh oh, that won't do. You promptly go to the well (across the yard, about 40 yards, not far at all) to grab two five-gallon buckets. While carrying the first two of six buckets to the horses you realize that aphids are eating your pumpkin leaves and they need a spray of some soapy water. Shoot. So you pour in the first two buckets for the horses and then run inside to mix up a spray bottle of earthy-soap aphid smiting. You walk outside to spray and realize the sheep need water too. Now you are up to six double bucket trips, and you can taste the flavor of your eyebrow sweat. By the time you have moved 480 pounds of liquid by hand you start to feel it in your arms and hands, and realize you are late by thirty minutes for milking the goat. So you milk a goat! And realize they also need new water and fresh bedding inside their barn stall. All this rain has made it a musty icky place. So you haul extra hay in and make a clean bedding area before carrying the milk pail back inside the farmhouse. You set the milk pail on the grass and a young pullet starts to inspect it so you scare her off. It doesn't take long to lay out the new bedding and get the new water to the goat duo, but by the time that's done you see the pullet has created a roosting spot on your milk pail and you say a silent prayer for lids on metal milk canisters. Inside the farmhouse you go with the milk and chug enough water to drown a rat in. Then you filter the fresh raw into two quart jars and set them in the kitchen sink with big ice packs and a pile of ice. As they chill, you head back outside to take on the weeds. The new Cobra Head tool you got is a godsend. I use it to break sod, cultivate, weed, and everything else. The long handled magical staff takes out all the weeds between the garden rows and the sheep watch. Now you realize the garden is dry, it didn't rain last night, and you want to be out all day at an off-farm event. So now you need to carry four more buckets to the garden and water with your trusty metal watering can. You think, perhaps for the 600th time that week, that you need an outdoor faucet and hose but know you can't swing it. Even if the job cost $50 bucks that had to go towards late bills, the mortgage, or something else more important than your arm's preferences. So you water the garden and as you do the sheep are all baaing at you. You realize they need hay, too. Having not done the simple bale toss you usually do after feeding the horses because you were distracted by the watering and milking. So you walk to the barn and carry a bale, uphill, to the hollering sheep. They get fed, fresh water delivered, and now you are left with the chickens and rabbits. The rabbits in outdoor tractors need to be moved to fresh grass. So does the little chick tractor with eight chirping baby American Bresse. When chick and rabbit pens are moved and all given new water and feed it is time to get the other rabbits their water and pellets. You make sure everyone in a hutch or cage has ample feed and shade, and then head to the chicken feed bucket. At this point chickens and turkeys and ducks a like have figured out you are about to refill the feeder and they line up around you like the breakfast buffet line at a Hallmark Express during a football training camp. Pouring fifty-pound bags of feed, laying down some fresh bedding straw over the muddy or moldy bits of wet hay around the coop, and wiping sweat off your brow. At this point you may either feel inclined to pitchfork the old pig pen out, or at least get started on it, but then you realize you have friends coming to help plan out the hawk mews (which you have no idea how you will pay for yet) and are about to recieve guests smelling and looking worse than any of your livestock. It is 9AM. You have been outside for two hours. Your iphone has overheated and the audiobook is dead. You apologize to company for the state of the yard and the smell of roadkill wafting across the lawn and get hugs anyway because they just came from chores at their own farm. You look for your dog and see him hiding under a muddy garden cart. It's three hours to lunch and nearly ninety degrees and rising. You have an air conditioning in some closet but aren't going to pump up the already overdue electric bill. You mentally plan to dump both yourself and the dogs in the river later today and perhaps getting in a run decent enough to make a 90 degree day without jogging seem divinely comfortable.
That would be your morning here. It's intensely physical, hot, and sordid. But it is also amazingly rewarding and wonderful. Sometime around mid morning every animal falls silent, all their needs met and resting in the shade with cool water at their lips. The garden has been tended and sated, your skin goes from glistening to dripping, and your forget any sense of PMS or bad news. All you feel is relief and work done. Now you can decide what is exciting enough to cook up for the midday meal. How about batter frying that first little zucchini you picked? Maybe a chocolate goat-milk shake? The work is heavy but the rewards are divine. Inside the house it smells like fresh bread, just finished baking. There is a cold bottle of lemonade in the fridge. You have writing and emails ahead of you, workshops to plan and figure out, and are still trying to pay the May mortgage, which is starting to scare the hell out of you and make the hot nights even more sleepless.
That's your morning here. It's as dirty as it is lovely. It's as rewarding as it is terrifying. It's as necessary as it is humbling. It's a dream on rocky ground. It's a workshift paid out in milk, eggs, meat, and vegetables. It's who you are. It's impossible to go back now. It'll be okay.
There are a million reasons not to do something. When it comes to Falconry and me, I can think of about 4 million reasons why I shouldn't be pursuing it right now. Some are valid points, but mostly challenges to overcome. At first I thought the Mews and Weathering Pen would cost me nearly a grand to build. Now I think I will construct both for under $200. The most expensive parts will be the gravel and paint. It's mostly sweat equity at this point, that and a lot of phone calls and paperwork. Oh, and training. When Ed was here he was telling me about training birds to perch on your arm, how they won't do it at first with jesses on their feet. I tried this with a hen, first without anything on her legs. I put her on my arm and she perched just fine for about thirty seconds. When I slipped on the jesses she went limp, feeling trapped she collapsed on my gauntlet. Ed says the best way to train a hawk to perch in jesses is to find a quiet, dark, place like a basement or dogless/catless living room at night and just walk slowly across the room propping the bird up when it goes limp. Eventually it realizes the leather thongs around its legs aren't traps at all but instead just extensions of its feathers and body. I decided to try this with the a barred rock. I don't know, I figure a bird is a bird, right? And if I can train a chicken to perch then I deserve that apprentice license! Here Here!
I have decided to expand the pig operation here at the farm. I want to move the pigs I raise out of the barn and into the woodlot behind the farmhouse, at least for the next set of piglets being delivered later this month. It will involve some work to set up their little piggy palace out there under the locusts and maples, but it will be worth it. A bit of fencing and some snout-level electric wire and I should be in business. I have been talking with several different pork raisers around the area and toured many different pig pens but the ideas that seem the most important are:
1. Elevation change: Make sure your pigs always have the choice to be high and dry, so build your pen on a slope with the shelter on the highest point. It keeps everyone happier to know their home isn't flooded or muddy.
2. Switch to free-feeding instead of filling rubber bowls twice a day, the hogs will grow faster and it saves you from hauling a lot of buckets. Make sure diet is supplemented with garden and kitchen scraps, goat milk, and the occasional fresh egg!
3. Market live shares much as possible. I can't do any of this until the quarter and half shares of pigs are sold to co-owners of the animals. I don't sell pork to anyone, but I do raise pigs for a small group of private owners who pay for the animals, housing, and feed up front. But like any CSA venture you can't get a show on the road without the capital so Facebook better get used to hearing me tout piggies!
4. Stick with Berkshire/Yorkshire/Old Spot crosses. In other words - mostly black or spotted pigs. They seem to do the best here. Tamworth's always dig A LOT (read escape a lot) and grow slower. Pink Yorkshires get sunburned and tend to be wormy.
So an outdoor pig pen is the next goal! It should come along just fine, even if it ends up being a little scrappy. But I've learned pigs don't mind scrappy at all. So hopefully some forest piglet photos will be shared by the end of this month. I am excited to expand this way, and encouraged by the friends and neighbors who came to the farm last night to pick up boxes of pork. They all paid the money to support my farm and be a part of the process of piglet to pork chop. They watched Whiskey and Rye grow up, grow big, and now they'll get top appreciate them in a whole new way. Driving home from the butcher shop yesterday afternoon was so amazing, so very wealthy feeling. Over 200 pounds of hams, bacon, sausage, porchops ribs and loin were in frozen boxes in the back seat of the Dodge. Gibson and I were sitting up front, me drinking an iced coffee and he hanging his head out the window into the wind. Like my house, my truck isn't air conditioned, but we make due. And even if the drive home happened in a dented pickup without creature comforts it sure made me feel a long way from ungrateful. The pig show is a big show, and such part of this farm at this point. And as the saying goes, the show must go on!
Whenever things get overwhelming I just tell myself to keep going. I have always figured it out, and I will do my best to continue that practice. When things get scary and I doubt my choice to live the way I do I just keep going. I can either be scared of what's ahead or excited for the challenges I have yet to overcome. I'd rather live in anticipation than fear.
Yesterday morning Ed Hepp, my mentor, came to the farm to help me plan a location for the Mews. What's a Mews? It's a small aviary for a trained bird of prey, also called a Hawk House. The federal regulations for falconers says that every bird must have an 8x8' space to perch, spread it's wings, bath, and have proper airflow through ventilated windows . It also needs a door for its handler to come and go, clean and feed. Ed and I walked all around my property but decided at last to build the Mews right next to the farmhouse. I have a month to buy the materials and put it together with the help of some friends and neighbors. I also need to put together a "weathering area" which is kind of like a chicken run for a hawk, and gather the rest of the supplies the state demands I have on hand before I apply to trap a bird this fall. It seems like I should have more time, but I don't. By August first I will need to have a Mews, weathering area, gear, and then a New York Game Warden come and inspect it so all is legal. Whew. I'm a little overwhelmed just thinking about it!
After the site was designated Ed and I just talked. We talked about training, hooding, trapping and the modern history of the sport. You can tell how much Ed loves Falconry, something he has been doing for over sixty years. He caught his first bird when he was thirteen, learning from books written in the 1400's a librarian found for him. I feel so lucky to have him as my mentor, honored really. Ed has so much to teach me and his descriptions of the first few weeks of training my Red Tail felt a little daunting, but I know I can do this. I have this image in my head of Me, Merlin, and the hawk heading out along a mountain trail to hunt together. It feels like something that is supposed to happen. Ed told me yesterday that "Falconers are born, not made" a quote from long ago by a famous falconer in the 1800s. Sixty years into the sport he has seen a lot of people come and go, some more reputable than others, but the people who are truly skilled at this and honestly love these amazing raptors are the ones who are the most successful.
I feel very fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time with local Falconers and different species of trained birds. Ed has a goshawk, pictured above. It's a hybrid Siberian, part African (I think?). At the British School of Falconry, where I work as an archery instructor, there are Harris Hawks and eagles and while I'm not qualified to handle them, I do get to learn about them through the instructors there. It's a dream job for me, to be around all these archers and falconers and get paid to do it. And even if I only get to ask the occasional question about feeding, housing, or training with Rob and Dawn I still get to ask it. That never happened in my other office.
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Where pop culture meets agriculture! Here she writes about her adventures following her feral life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, music, running far, and eating animals.
On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs