This Place is Growing Up!
For most of us we start out with these animals as original, bought-in, stock. We buy a trio of rabbits from a local breeder, we order a package of bees from an apiary, we buy chicks from a hatchery or feed store. This is how we all get started, and how you should! But now a few years (nearly 5!) into building Cold Antler Farm here in Jackson I have realized very few stock is bought in anymore. The systems are now set to produce and for the most part have been very successful! I wanted to fill you in on what to expect this spring here at Cold Antler Farm.
Dairy & Soap
What started with a used goat bought from a local farm has turned into the farm's greatest livestock success story (well, second-greatest to Merlin!). Bonita was bought as a 5 year old doe, in milk, and the very first morning she arrived she was producing. I started making soap and cheese that year and the following year she produced her first kids, a set of twins in which I kept one to raise myself. Now that same goat is outside the farmhouse wither her (now grown and gorgeous!) daughter Ida Red. They are shacking up with a buck named Saturn and should be due to kid in May. The kids will be sold to whomever wants purebred French Alpines (email me if interested) and there could be up to four kids here for the Soap/Goat workshops! This will be Ida's first year kidding and Bonita's (third?!) year kidding here. I am darn proud of those kids, both their beauty and the fact that they are all in good homes or were raised for healthy meat for friends families. And this year with double the production I hope to have milk for barter and make A LOT more soap since this is a fun and easy project that sells great at workshops and events, making them not just a grocer but income earners for this farm.
Lamb & Wool
The flock that once numbered over a dozen is now a humble six. I have Sal the old whether (wool), two breeding Scottish Blackface ewes (Brick and Splitear), Last year's ewe lamb Devi, Joseph the black sheep (wool), and Monday the ram. Monday was born and raised here and is a GORGEOUS ram now with a thick build and a double curl to his horn. The sheep should lamb in March and I so look forward to Brick's babies! She is named that because she is built like a Brick Shithouse and her ram lamb (remember Wallace?!) from last year was so amazing. He was so braw and bold and it was a shame to see him sold to another farm. But this year if she produces a ewe that nice, oh man... There will be Scotties here for years to come!
Meat has been the main focus of sheep here now, and this past summer I had the first ever farm-raised sheep butchered for the freezer. He was small, but tasty. If I do get more ram lambs this year I will castrate them and raise them for food if none is interested in buying a ram for their own farm. I no longer produce wool unless I produce it all at the farm, by hand. I may again in the future but right now the skill I want to hone is taking the raw product and making clothing with it, right here, using the tools of hand-cards, wheel, and knitting needles. This year I plan to take Joseph's brown wool from sheep, to washed, to carded, to spun and then knit all by hand. I'll share the process too!
Three local families went in on a small poultry project this year. I am raising broilers on pasture with electric netting and/or portable tractors that are self contained. I have the land, love chicken, and so look forward to raising these birds (Freedom Rangers) right here and having Ben Shaw process them for the three pickup dates. These birds will be bought-in from the hatchery, but the layers seem to be something I will not have to order for a while. (Fingers crossed for Fisher Cats and other demons).
I started raising pigs a few years ago, with just one in the barn. Now I raise 8-10 a year and have a professional butcher come to the farm and dispatch and prepare the meat for me and the folks who co-own the pigs. While I do not breed pigs, I AM considering it for a future project when I get the old collapsed barn I inherited with this property cleaned out and made into a proper large pen. I would love to raise pigs and that is a goal for certain! Right now there are four out in the woods in a paddock/shelter area near the horse pole barn. I was out in the snow this morning (before coffee!) digging out their fence and bringing in fresh bedding and feed. They are a jolly lot. They aren't due to be butchered for another 6-8 weeks though, and probably will be done 2 at a time.
There are a breeding pair of heritage birds, a Bronze Tom and a Bourbon Red hen. I am really hoping that this is the year they set up to breed and brood their own clutch. I am a little wary of this, but if it happens I will let the mama do all the work. It will mean having a totally predator safe coop for them at night and that means repairs in the floor of the old chicken coop no one uses anymore since the geese sleep in the barn, the turkeys roost on the barn roof, and the Antlerborns all roost up in the rafters of the barn or trees.
Got a pregnant rabbit outside the farmhouse right now! She's from Livingston Brook Farm and is a Giant Chin who was bred with a Flemish Giant. Hoping to raise a brand new crop of meat rabbits this spring! Though, being her first litter it may not take or she may not have the mothering thing down pat. But she is one handsome rabbit for sure.
Last year was a BUMPER CROP and honey was available for trade and barter at my farm. I have to get a new package of bees this year, and will order it from Better Bee for the spring. I hope to expand to two hives soon! And onward from there!
Oh yes, there will be kale. There will be kale and an expanded vegetable garden and potato patch. Gardening is not my passion but I sure do crave it soon as March comes around the corner and gets day up into the high 50s. This year the focus is on hearty, storage, winterizing food. It'll be a working garden with kale, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, squash, garlic, kale, salad greens, more potatoes, pumpkins and MORE KALE.
Let us not forget the Fell! Merlin is here and such a wonderful gelding. He is right now the only equine here but I am on the lookout for another small draft or spunky pony to be a second saddle and driving horse. No leads yet but there will be more horseflesh here or certain. I had to sell the meadow brook on Christmas Eve but I will find another small cart for Merlin and we'll hit the road again for sure, but in the meantime it is riding that I love most and miss it dearly. This mountain is too darn icy and steep for safe winter riding, and the safe trails I could go on are being used by local snowmobilers. I can't complain, since it is private property I am allowed to ride on all the other seasons!
Wow. I just stopped to look over that list. That is a lot for a little piece of land to produce, and not just for myself either like it used to be. Now neighbors and friends can split shares of pigs, chickens, or trade for eggs and soap. There are lambs and kids for sale, honey in jars, and a freezer with meat and vegetables. There is fiber and firewood, stories and songs, and workshops with friends new and old. It's a damn wealthy little plot of backwoods, innit?
Time to celebrate all that with another cup of coffee.
(Don't tell the pigs, though)