After a few days of High Alert, all-night pasture checks, and constant monitoring I have yet to have another set of lambs hit the good earth here. I have one ewe camped out all day away from the flock and her udder is as big as a quaffle under her belly, but she hasn't gone into labor yet. The oldest ewe, Split Ear, is ten and I *think* holding twins. The plan is to take those right away and bottle feed them, milking out her colostrum for them. That might seem harsh to some of you, taking the babes away, but last year her poor milk production lost me a lamb and I am not willing to learn that lesson the hard way again. The other two sheep (Which Patty, whom I bought them from, emailed me to let me know are Romney and Romney/Merino) are around three years old and I am not as concerned about them knowing their lambing history, but every birth can be a new chance for something to go wrong. Fingers are crossed.
I find myself starting to enjoy this weird feeling of lambing season. It feels like finals week did in college, or how I feel at the end of a long run. It's ethereal. I'm hyper focused and super tired at the same time. In a way, the way a primate is supposed to fee, I suppose. Our ancestors hunted and gathered for food, and if they let themselves drift away from awareness of the wilderness - it would take them. A saber toothed tiger would pounce on them. A snake would lower from a hanging branch and bite. Soon as the Wild catches you not paying attention, it takes you back. That's how Lambing Season feels, five years into doing it. Like as soon as I let myself sleep in, not go out on a cold night, not pay constant attention - that's when Nature will swoop in and take those babes back. It's my job to not sleep on the job, literally and figuratively.
I have been playing more fiddle these days. A friend is coming to the farm to take lessons and teaching him is keeping me on my toes. He's got a knack for that devil stick, and I am trying to up my own fiddle game by learning from new tunes and fixing the old ones. My playing grew stagnant and lazy. Now I am working on new songs for the first time in a long time. It's a good thing to carry out into the sheep field while I watch the ewes chew cud and tell each other secrets.
I hope you are all having luck with your own lambing, kidding, calving, foaling, hatching, farrowing and kindling out there. Anyone else have baby stories to keep this farm girl company while she plays for a pony on a hill?
I feel that while this blog is public, it is insanely niche. No one is reading about this lambing season unless they are invested in this one-woman story. I feel drunk right now, and it's not on booze but on a lack of sleep. I just walked up into the field and saw Split Ear, a 10-year-old ewe with a hoo haa red a firetruck. I would not be surprised if by 6Am there was a pair of lambs in the farmhouse curled up by the wood stove. Friday is over her first heat and Gibson never got his paws on her so she doesn't need to spend the night in the crate anymore. It's okay to give it over to some babes. I have the colostrum out and ready.
I wanted to run 5 miles today to see what that felt like. I didn't. Instead Patty invited me over to soak in her hot tub and that sapped any running energy I had. But I felt better after an hour in the hot water. It was kind of like a nap. I came home, did chores, started some freelance work, and realized then it was time to check on the flock again. It is a tie between Split Ear and the Romney ewe. I have no idea which will lamb first but my alarm is set for every three hours. I am on it.
Last night the alarm went off and I hit snooze. It was 1:45 and it took until 1:75 for me to be dressed and outside. 1:75 isn't a typo. It was 1:57, actually, but for some reason I read the clock as 1:75 and that is the memory I still have with this lambing-season-lagged brain of mine. I remember laying in bed thinking about that snooze button and how warm I was next to the fire, under wool and sheepskins with my back against 55lbs of border collie. I didn't want to go outside. At all. But I had a job to do, and that meant checking on the three remaining pregnant ewes. So I told Gibson we needed to get to work and he shot out of bed taking all the covers with him like some mighty cape. I called him a horrible name and I got dressed in enough layers to pass for Mr. StayPuff.
My last check on the flock was around 11PM and I found little ray alone in an out building in the cold, away from Brick (who was snuggled next to Marnie about 20 feet away). I picked up Ray and Marnie and brought them into the sheep shed on the hill, which was lined with inches of hay and I had set up a heating light in. I wanted them out of the wind and off the frozen ground. When I headed inside the sheep shed there was Monday, just basking in the glow of the light. I "asked" him to leave (kicked him out) and he fart trotted off into the night and tried to hump Split Ear. Merlin stood there and watched. He could write one Hell of a sister wives Tell All.
All that was at 11PM. Had I not gone out there to check on them before bed as the temperatures dropped to 12 degrees, maybe Ray wouldn't have made it? Maybe he would have been fine? I didn't want to find out. So I set them both under the heat lamp and Brick joined them in the little, lit up, shed on the hill. Monday scratched his back on a post. Riveting stuff, guys.
So I was back on the hill at 1:75Am and checking all the ewes again. When I went to the lit shed I was happy to see Marnie an Ray in a pile under the light with mom. Whew. I walked around the rest of the field to check on Split Ear (who was laying down beside Monday by some brush in the moonlight) and the other two ewes, who I have not named yet. They came with names but I really didn't like them, something like Barbara or Marsha or Fluffy or something like that. They are Merino crosses, full on wool sheep, and I wonder what Monday's lambs will look like? I assume Muppets. Fluffy, horned, spotted, little Muppets.
I came inside happy to see no signs of labor and sleeping babes. I crawled back into bed with Gibson, my personal furnace, and set the alarm for 5AM. I couldn't fall back asleep until 3:30 or so. I had cracked the window over my head to hear if any of the animals cried out. I didn't get back out again until 6AM but all was well. No new lambs. It all starts again now.
Lambing Season is hard because I don't get much sleep. You can probably tell by that last video with my puffy face and eyes I'm not well rested, But I have strong coffee, good friends, and the joy of helping raise these animals on my own little bit of land. It's worth a span of days or so with caffeine as my blood type and extreme puffyness. It always is.
Cancelled all my plans last night to stay home and watch the hill. I spent the evening with a roaring fire, records, favorite shows and border collies. Every few hours I headed up the hill, including several times during the night. I am not worried about the Scotts, as I know those ewes well but the two new girls are fat as dirigibles and I want to be here to get them jugged and seen to a little closer. Tonight the low is 12 degrees. That is lamb killing weather if the mother and I are both not vigilant.
Been enjoying a lot of new music, or rather, new to me music. This morning Fool for Love had me jamming up and down the frozen sheep hill and I sang at least one chorus to Monday the ram. Monday wasn't into it, but what the hell, a woman's gotta sing to a sheep some times.
The highlight of last night was around 10PM when I scurried up that hill to check on Marnie and Ray and Brick. They were snuggled in the shed with just Monday sharing the space with them - the little family. I wanted to check that everyone was eating so I picked up Ray first and felt his little drum of a tummy, full of milk. He was warm and felt sturdy. Then I picked up Marnie, and she instantly snuggled closer to me, whimpering in her little sheepy way. She tried to nurse from my pigtails but that didn't work so she just curled up in a ball and fell asleep, Brick breathing down my neck the whole time. The snow was falling outside the sheep shed and Merlin (who isn't allowed in that shed with the sheep during lambing time) watched in protest from a window outside. He let out a sigh and a cloud of hot breath swirled around him in the snowfall and I held Marnie a little tighter and told her I'd do my best.
No new lambs today, at least not yet. I'm grateful since the farm is a mudslide, thanks to a day of nonstop rain. I'm in for the night enjoying watching the Season 5 premiere of GIRLS. While I dream of Marnie and Ray actually getting together I am piling up fresh towels into the lambing bucket and charging the flashlight. I was just out there walking up the muck and checking on the crew. So far no one else has hinted at going into labor but whose to say what'll happen in the next few minutes? I check every few hours on them, day and night, and am worried about the oldest ewe, Split Ear, since last year only one side of her udder was producing. So I plan on sweeping in if there are twins and bottle feeding them to be safe. There are few enough lambs born around here that such actions aren't so crazy.
It is good the rain has stopped and the weather is mild. There's no fear of losing a lamb from the cold, but there is a fear of its mother giving birth to it outside in the swill that is early spring and not on the nice, fresh, dry hay I have set up. They are, after all, sheep. Which is a nice way of saying let's not pretend they are perfect mothers and great planners.
For those who are curious: Brick had a boy and a girl, which I have named Marnie and Ray, right now.
Congrats to this split-lipped, brick house of a ewe who gave birth to a pair of healthy twins on this muddy, gross, warm, beautiful day! Just got them some lamb paste and tails banded, both are nursing and clean now and healthy as can be. Lamb Watch 2016 has begun!
It feels like spring around here, and it has nothing to do with the temperatures. It has to do with daylight. Mornings feel brighter and the light has more energy. It's not the tired, tuck-in, light of fall. It's that fresher get-your-ass-in-gear-glow of spring. Which is exactly what I have been doing. Little improvements to the farm, getting ready for the first order of meat bird chicks, arranging for piglets, and running around. I went out for a jog yesterday (a habit I am glad to be getting back into after a winter without much running), and the miles weren't easy but they also weren't awful. Running is supposed to hurt and be hard, that's why I do it, but somewhere between mile 2 and 3 I start to regret ever leaving the house. By mile 4 I get over it and turn up the music. By mile 5(right now) I am bored and my butt hurts from the paved roads and hills. I'll toughen up, I always do. Last summer 8 miles was my longest run. Hoping for 10 this summer being the new normal.
Last week I wasn't able to earn two mortgage payments, though I sure as hell tried. I was able to mail one though. That's a victory and I'll figure out another this week. The light, and me, are optimistic.
It's almost time to start regular riding with Merlin again. He is still covered in his mastodon fur and has a belly from a winter of not working out and mostly eating. (I can relate.) But we'll start out with just grooming and work on the long line with a flag. The kind of mental games that remind a thousand-pound animal that this little primate can make him move those feet. Whoever is moving the horse's feet is in charge, and getting him used to the idea that I'm the one making those calls on the ground is a lot wiser than jumping on his back and riding off into the woods expecting it to go as smooth as last August. By the end of this week I hope to have him in the saddle and working on the road a bit.
Lambing will happen before kidding, long before. I am starting to collect towels and gear, getting it into a bucket by the door. When a lamb is born I like to help dry it off, give it some vitamins, dock the tail with the bander, check her over, dip the cord in some iodine, and make sure she is drinking milk (and that milk is actually coming out of the ewe). This doesn't take long but it does help to have all the gear in one place. I also stock up on supplements for the moms, a heating lamp in the shed and a roughly-cobbed together jug in case anyone needs it. Four ewes are pregnant here. Hoping for some new girls, the youngest blackface ewe in my flock is now 7? Yikes.
Off to check on the crew outside and carry some more water around. Hope you are all doing well, as I'm sure you are just as tired of winter slog as I am. Maybe one more snowstorm and then I want to break ground, see grass instead of mud, and start the big job of another season of life, death, food, stories, and songs on this rock.
I smiled as the warm water came out of the tap and over my cracked hands and dishes in the sink. It had been a few days since hot water ran in this house. I had used up the last of the heating oil running the hot and cold taps in equal measure this weekend. I had planned for it, and poured extra fuel into the boiler's tank, but when a line burst and filled a room with hot water it used the last of the fuel. So I dealt with it. I now know how to turn off water when it pours feral. I knew how to troubleshoot, go through issues one at a time, and find the help I needed. I learned it from the dozen people who have helped me with these tiny tragedies over the years. Without calling for help I repaired the plumbing. I refilled the tank. I drained the furnace line and rebooted the water heater. This hot water was done by me. It felt very, very, warm.
The truck started up this morning no problem. So, I spent today driving around the countryside. I picked up the meat from the butcher and then delivered 2 shares of pork to the first buyers. Others will come and pick up theirs tomorrow. 4 More pigs to go, but it felt good to get those people their meat. It's a promise kept. It's meals provided. It's an alternative to the factory farm system. It's keeping the lights on.
I mailed one of the two mortgage payments due this week. I don't know if I'll make the second, but I am working on it. Thank you so much for the donations, the emails, the letters, the tweets, the facebook stories and more. The encouragement from this group is worth so much, it fuels me. I have some leads with logos and will announce summer archery and fiddle days this week. If I get lucky, I'll make it. If I don't? Well, then I need to start hitting Ebay hard. I have 3 hours of work ahead tonight for my off-farm-on-farm job ahead, so at least I know my Weds Night is helping in a small way. Someday, I am certain, it won't be about climbing uphill. It will be about helping grab hand about those climbing towards me. I am sure of that much. I am not there yet.
Well, a girl can't ride on her high horse forever, can she? After my Warrior Weekend of fighting arctic temps and keeping every pig ear and sheep nose frostbite-free, I woke up this morning to bursting pipes flooding the mudroom in the back of the house. Talk about a smack back to reality! I walked down stairs, turned off the water, and inspected the problem. Looked like a PVC drain snapped. It was still frozen and soon as it thaws I'll repair it. I might even avoid the plumber!
Honestly, I didn't even care. I mean, it is a pain in the ass and means time out of the day for repairs and mopping and a wet shop vac, but compared to what could have happened to this place this weekend - I skated. And I knew exactly how to turn off the water and found the problem and a plan is in place. The girl who bought this place had no idea how to shut down systems or repair pipes or any of that. To me, even this room full of an inch of water is a win - because it is a problem I know how to solve. Okay, maybe not a win - but a bar set higher for next time. Next time it won't happen.
Did you know Okay, is a saying from here in Upstate NY? It was the slang term for anyone in the Old Kinderhooks - a club from back in the time of men's lodges and social organizations. If you were part of that group, you were OK, and that meant a cool guy. It stuck. I learned that from Silver Linings Playbook - a movie you should all go watch again. Make some crabby snacks and homemades and enjoy!
I'm off to get as presentable as a woman without running water can get and head south to pick up 2 pigs worth of pork. I have the first bought-in co-owners coming to pick it up this week and a delivery to make today, but besides that my afternoon is all graphic design and office work for Orvis. At least I hope so. I can fill my day with design clients, but I am hoping to have a steady stream of tasks from the off-farm-on-farm gig as well. Hours were reduced, but sometimes work gets pushed me way and every bit helps!
I loved the Grammys last night. Watched it under covers with my dogs here on this little laptop. I couldn't get into the live stream for a long time, and when it finally clicked on there was Anna Kendrick, introducing the next performance. I laughed out loud at the kismet, then watched the pair she introduced, Kelly and Bay nail an amazing acoustic duo. That show really is the best concert of the year. I live-posted about the whole thing on Facebook and loved interacting with some of you guys late into the night. My college roommate chimed in as well and it felt like we were back in our old apartment with cocktails heckling. So much fun.
Hollywood and Homesteading aren't as distant as both sides like to think. Not at all, the furniture is just different. At heart it's two different camps of creative and unreasonable people defying convention and following idealistic dreams. For some of us that means ponies and wood stoves and stalking deer with a longbow. For others it means screenplays and red carpets and getting seen and heard by as many as possible. Everyone running on the fumes we call hope, we are the same. It's all Old Kinderhook.
This photo was taken from the top of my wood stove (which I call the Hob) looking down at the bench. The dragon is the cast iron steamer that sits on top of it, and smoke rises from its flared nostrils. It was a gift from a reader, and I adore it so much. There in the background is the cold -12 degree morning, a cup of coffee, a candle on a little altar with special jewelry, the little pignose amp for my electric fiddle, books, rifles, bows, spinning wheel, and a fake lion head. It's just a snapshot of a corner of a life. But it shows the odd mix of fire, music, fight, craft, myth and spirit in this life. I wanted to share it.
Another cold one this morning but the farm presses on. Last night the Hoffs came over for Game Night (which was postponed from Saturday night) and we ate stew and chili and enjoyed a game of Elder Sign (which we lost, but had fun losing together!) and drank a little wine and stayed warm in this house while the cold blasted outside. It is nights like this I love most. Warm and well fed and a little tipsy by firelight. Surrounded with friends and conversation and the joy of clever, nerdy, games that require us to work as a team. No one pulled out their cell phones. No one sat and stared at a TV. We sat around a table, eating, drinking, talking, and enjoying some Lovecraftian Roleplaying in a Victorian museum while we fought and old God and lost. You'll have this.
The art of asking, I am floored. Thanks to my post earlier this week I have been granted purchase of logos and pork, chickens, lamb, and workshops. In fact it is only Monday and I have earned enough to mail out the first mortgage payment of the two owed ASAP! Even with those two sent the farm isn't caught up, but a lot closer. One more and this farm hits another milestone towards solvency. I am damn grateful, for your support and encouragement. Thank you. To receive an email about ideas for the farm, or a donation, or a kind comment, or a vlog message - these things are not empty gestures. They tell me that strangers are friends, just ones I have yet to meet.
The high will be 25 degrees today. What a change from the -18 yesterday morning! 50 degrees and rain tomorrow as I travel south in my pickup to get the meat from 2 pigs for the first share outs to the co-owners. I love that feeling. I love handing the box of a promise kept and knowing that meals will be shared because of a few months of sweat and stories on this farm.
Spring preparations start soon. I have seeds to order, chicks to order, and bee hive pieces to put together. (bees are already ordered). Soon there will be earth to till, a horse to saddle and ride up a muddy hillside, and maybe even some new financial ideas like boarding a pony for a friend. Merlin could use the company, why not get paid for it?
I feel so strong this week, after this cold storm. I feel brave and proud and powerful. It makes me want to eat less, run farther, read more, smile and sing. Winter's bottom has been hit now, hard as a drum. I am still here.
Patty took this photo at her farm a few years ago, and I adore it. To me this photo is everything a Fell Pony is: tough, strong, sturdy, warm, and stubborn. He's also tall, dark, and handsome. (My kind of man.) The day this photo was taken there were barns and piles of hay and shelter from the cold but he wanted to be outside, His druthers was his own.
Do you see the frost on his back? That's a good thing. Snow on a horses back, or even ice, means that the hair is working as a living blanket. Keeping his outside hairs colder and inner body warm. Snow can rest on a thick-coated equines back and never melt if all systems are working right. He's my tough love.
Chores were all done outside around 8AM. Inside chores started at 6:30, getting the house warmed up from the 44 degrees it slipped into during the night. I know some of you cringe to read that, but it is wonderful! Oh man, to wake up with a mission and to have the power to overcome the elements, you feel like a damned superhero! Fires are lit, wool is slipped over naked, steaming, skin. Shearling covers toes. Matches strike hope. Coffee perks and its elixir fills the room with a verve more potent than any drug, at least to me. Yes, the slushy ice-coated water in the dog bowl in the kitchen was a bit of a shock but that coffee was hot, the cream was thick, the sweater heavy, and spirits high.
To wake up comfortable under a pile of wool and sheepskins and see the steam rise off your body makes me feel like a woman warrior from another time. To greet the day on fire, literally smoking, puts your mind into this primal mode of action and comfort. The trick to sleeping warm in cold weather is to always sleep naked. Even a tee shirt and shorts under that pile of wool and skins stops the body from radiating the furnace it needs. Sleep naked. It's better. We keep forgetting we are animals. I was warmer under that pile than any resort spa's sauna.
In years past mornings like this were met with fear. Not today. All the animals on this farm are now tended by a woman with nearly a decade of experience. Mistakes were made in the past, for sure, but last night not one turkey, chicken, sheep, pig, goat or horse seemed worse for wear. All had thick, warm, beds. All had wind-free shelter. All had more calories than I ate on Thanksgiving. All had been checked on during the night. They are bonnie and braw.
So were this 1860's house's pipes - which did not freeze! Now the house is up to 52 degrees and the fires are roaring. I am roaring too. I feel strong, and motivated as hell. I have a real task ahead to achieve this week and I will figure out a way to meet it. If I can keep this place running smooth at -18 degrees; I can handle a few bills. At least that is the mindset I am choosing. Half the battle in this scrappy life is deciding you already won.
I received a letter from the bank today that I have a week to compile two mortgage payments. Expect to see announcements on things the farm has to offer, as I will be selling hard! I'll post about the rest of the summer's workshops, season passes, Indie Days, and more. This month had over a grand in unexpected bills thanks to the truck and Friday's emergency visit. So I am going to grit my teeth and figure it out. I'll put up items for sale here and on Facebook as well. By this next Friday the check has to literally be in the mail. So it will be. That is all there is to say about that!
Today will be met with high winds, intense cold, and lows in the negative teens. As of 8AM this morning all is well. The animals had been checked, fed, and watered. Everyone has extra bedding, a place to get out of the wind, plenty to eat, and basically the proper motivation to sleep through this blast of winter like the horrible hangover it is. We'll get through it. I still get nervous.
This is my fifth winter on this farm, but the house and I have changed considerably. When I bought this place I depending on an oil burner with baseboard heat. There was thick carpeting in the front room. Everything was fresh paint and shiny and clean. Now it is roaring fires that keep the home warm, feed bags are stacked inside the dining room on a dirty wooden floor so they don't freeze, and there's not a carpet to be seen - save for the welcome mat. I have shearling slippers (carpets on my feet) and a broom for dog hair. Works kinda great.
I have to run into town soon for some long nails to repair a loose metal piece of the pig's wall. If the high winds predicted blow through it might be in danger of blowing off. I'll surely grab a cup of coffee and Stewart's and listen in for the weather and farm news, maybe bullshit with some of the real pros. The elder dairy farmers around here will have their own advice and predictions to share, and there are a lot of things a pony and sheep can benefit from that also keep heifers comfortable in this weather.
-15 tonight. High winds. You know what I'll be doing? I have a bird this farm raised this summer in a cast iron pot, slowly cooking with potatoes and carrots for a think chicken stew. With a pot of rice it'll be enough to feed four very hungry people, which I am expecting tonight to come after dark for Game Night. As the winds howl out there we'll be inside running our Pathfinder campaign and every few hours I'll head outside with a lantern to check on sleeping pigs in their shelter, the horse in his, the sheep in their shed, goats in their pen, and the birds in the barn.
Merlin is due for the farrier soon. I'll call Dave and set something up after Tuesday when the sun becomes civil again.
I have my truck back as of Thursday evening and made the first of three payments on the repairs. Two more Fridays of repairs ahead to earn and figure out. I am so grateful for the five of you who sent in donations this week! This blog is free, always will be, but those little gifts and the ongoing subscriptions some of you choose to patron - it really makes a difference. Every little click on that button is used to cover hay and feed, truck repairs and firewood, the lights and internet. It all helps. It makes me realize I am also not just shouting into a void but talking to people who really care about this little mountain farm. Thank you.
That cell phone piece I wrote for the Guardian has been shared 22,000 times and has nearly a thousand comments. That is insane! Celebrities are retweeting it. People are sending me emails from all over the world in congratulations and celebration. Many, many, more called me an idiot or worse. *shrugs* Well, they aren't here hammering pig walls in the high winds, stoking stoves, tending water lines, or bedding sheep sheds. These are all things I can't do with a smart phone, or any phone for that matter. I may very well be an idiot, but tonight around stove light, candles, lanterns and hot food raised on this very chunk of earth surrounded by good friends and our own feral stories - I feel like I am not missing out on anything.
But I'll raise a glass to smart phones anyway. The payment for that story will cover at least one more truck repair payment!
The phone rings: it’s my friend checking to see if I can pick her up on the way to a dinner party. I ask her where she is and as she explains, I reach as far as I can across the countertop for a pen. I scribble the address in my trusty notebook I keep in my back pocket. I tell her I’ll be at her place in about 20 minutes, give or take a few. Then I hang up. Literally.
I physically take the handset receiver away from my ear and hang it on the weight-triggered click switch that cuts off my landline’s dial tone.
I take my laptop, Google the address, add better directions to my notes and head outside to my 1989 pick-up truck (whose most recent technological feature is a cassette player) and drive over. If I get lost on the way, I’ll need to ask someone for directions. If she changes her plans, she won’t be able to tell me or cancel at a moment’s notice. If I crash on the way, I won’t be calling 911.
I’m fine with all of this. As you guessed by now, I haven’t had a cellphone for more than 18 months.
A very serious cold front is coming through along with high winds. These are the kind of weekends that turn this farm into a fort. The driest wood is stacked inside around the stove like pillars. The faucets are all running at a fast drip to discourage freezing pipes. The animals get thicker bedding, extra calories, and attention. The dogs all pile into bed with me at night and the cats keep being cats - moody and distant. We'll be okay.
When people read about homesteading they imagine weekends like this as cozy little fireside times. They are, but there is also an element of fear and wariness. Bad cold like this can kill, and I'm not talking about the livestock. I know all the animals are prepared with thick coats, good shelter, and savvy skils. What dies is morale. Because weekends like this are exactly the kind of times that trial us the most. The next three days will be a full-time, round the clock, job of keeping fires burning and the home safe.
I regular farm news my truck is in the shop being repaired. To earn the money for repairs I am running lots of logo sales, meat shares, workshop and season pass sales, and other ideas to help out with the resources and skills I have now. The last few weeks have seen a real slow down in sales of any kind but I am not discouraged. It's just after the holidays and people are tired of spending money. I am hoping with the warming temperatures folks will start bringing up ideas around the breakfast table like keeping chickens or starting to consider dairy goats and be more interested in the classes here. I am planning a summer archery day for new archers and a fiddle day in the fall. Is anyone interested in a weekend fiddle camp this fall? If so, let me know!
I'm off to check on the animals and bring in more firewood. Brick, the ewe with the bad lip, seems to be healing nicely and I picked up a new bottle of CDT shots and some syringes and needles yesterday at the feed store. Lambs are expected in about a month and I want all those meds in their systems well before so the lambs are born with the benefits as well. One lamb is already sold to a friend from the brewery! Encouraging for sure!
In other animal news, I am on the lookout for turkey hens. If anyone local wants to trade for them, you know how to reach me. Lucas and Brian need some company.
I hope all of you are staying safe and warm this weekend.
I was eating lunch with a close friend and she told me a story about a local horse farm. This is a 100% true story that just happened here in Washington County, in the year 2016.
The people who own a horse farm were inside, it being a winter day well after chores. Someone drove by and stopped to look at their horses in the field. It was around 1PM and all the horses were laying down on areas of piled up hay from round bales, on their sides, enjoying the winter sun, having a nap on the dry hay. The farmers saw the woman get out of her car and expected her to take a picture. A lot of people stop by their road and take pictures of their magnificent draft horses, so they shrugged and went back to their tasks. An hour later they looked outside and the woman was still there, watching the horses. So the farmer inside shook his head, put on a hat and coat, and walked down to greet their new voyeur.
"Can I help you?" He asked.
The woman looked at him with concern. "I'm worried about your horses. They have been lying down for a long time. I have been watching them. They might be dead." She pointed to the napping animals.
The farmer smiled and whistled, then yelled to the "dead horses" by their names. A few heads of annoyed equines looked up for a moment, blinked, and then laid back down. "See!" He told her. "They aren't dead or sick, they're just sleeping. They always sleep around this time of day after a morning of eating."
The woman crossed her arms and said, "Well, I have horses too and if I ever see one of mine lay down in the pastures I walk right over to it and get it up."
The farmer replied. "They must be exhausted."
A funny story, I suppose, if it didn't show the absolute ignorance well meaning people have about animals and their care. So many people see another species and assume if that animal, be it a chicken, deer, dog, or horse - anything! — that if it isn't living in conditions that would make a human being content it is an act of cruelty, or at the very least - incorrect. It's not.
Pigs out on pasture or in the woods spend hours and hours with their noses in the dirt and mud rooting through it, looking for bugs and acorns and other goodies you might not like to eat. Then they waddle right over to their water stations and don't even wipe the mud off their faces before they plunge in for a long drink. Unless you are at my farm for the ten seconds after the twice-daily water refills you will find muddy drinking water. It isn't abuse. It isn't neglect. Pigs root with the same part of the body that drinks.
Chickens have a pack mentality, a literal pecking order. If you go to a friend's house with cooped chickens in a pen you might see backs void of feathers, some with scabs even. This is because they peck each other for dominance in confined spaces. Roosters mount, remount, and remount some more on the same ten hens. Back feathers only exist in birds either entirely void of community or void of fencing. They are not abused, neglected, or being beaten by their owners - they are just governing themselves. The fence is to keep them safe from predators and that is a price fenced birds pay in vanity.
People with barn cats lose their cats. They die all the time. They get ran over. They get killed by coyotes and foxes and bobcats. They get sick and die alone under the stairs. They are working animals living a life outdoors and while some of us get very attached to our barn cats (in this case my "barn cats" are spayed and neutered house cats who get regular vet care and share my bed at night when they feel like it) but they go outside every day, kill vermin, climb trees, cross roads. I know they might die any day. It's not cruel or neglect to let a farm cat live the life of a farm cat. It's just the reality of living on a farm with working cats.
Goats shed in the spring and it isn't pretty. Their hair comes off in clumps and they rub against barns. In the spring Bonita looks like a homeless woman who just came out from under a bridge. Ida doesn't look much better. They are also dairy animals, who always have prominent hip bones and concave sides behind their ribs in the prime of their health. Click here to see a picture of a prize winning Alpine dairy goat. A champion goat - the picture of perfection - has jutting hip bones and a concave area behind the ribs. This is okay. The animal is not abused or starving or injured.
I was accused in the same week of Gibson being too thin and too fat. A customer at the hardware store told me I wasn't feeding him right and he was far too thin. At a sheepdog trial a trainer pinched his side and grabbed a pile of fat from the ribs and said it could slow him down or even injure him in the field. The man at the store had no idea what a working dog looked like. They are so rare these days and obese dogs are so normal, a healthy animal looks sick to us...
These are just some examples of other "dead horses". The ignorance about livestock is massive, and only matched by the arrogance and righteousness of those out there kind enough to save them from us awful farmers.
Do you guys have any dead horse stories? Let's get some education out there!
I think I am going to slide right back into the roots of this blog and share the everyday events again. It was never meant to fall off the wagon into essays and passion pieces and event notices, which isn't a bad thing at all, but I feel like the heart of the blog is just the good fight of everyday life on the farm. And the big news? The truck goes into the shop tomorrow! It'll be at Bains in Salem for two days, and cost around $750 for new leaf springs, shocks, and labor. It's a lot of money, but they are wonderful people and willing to work with me on a payment plan. So tomorrow I will carefully drive it north to their shop and Patty will pick me up there and bring me home. Luck, labor, friends, and a red pickup.
And a special thanks to those 63 of you who helped me get that truck! The Kiva Loan has been repaid on time every month. If I sell a book or come across a pile of money I will pay it off sooner. But right now I am so grateful it belongs to me in title and the loan repayments are affordable. She's a good truck, even with the string of repairs she is putting me through, but she feels amazing and right to drive and I love her. She's worth the upkeep.
Want to help with the truck?
SEASON PASS SALE! 2 for 1 plus $50 off!
You and a friend/spouse can come to any Cold Antler Farm events for a year for $200! That is 2 for one and $50 off! Sign up today! All proceeds from this sale go towards repairing the farm truck! Woo hoo! If interested, email me at email@example.com
And a special thanks as well to the folks who kicked in some donations this past week. You guys covered the call to Canine Poison Control and it was very appreciated!
I put together and album this snowy morning of the farm animals and their roles on this little homestead. Thought you folks would enjoy some pics of icy manes, happy pigs, wooly sheep, and working dogs... and what the cats do while we're all outside!
So some updates for you fine readers about recent events. Two days of ProPen G and the lip on the ewe Brick is coming around. She'll get at least 3 more days of antibiotics to stave off any infections from the tear, and all the sheep are due soon for their CDT shots, in their bloodstream a few weeks before lambing. So I'll wrangle them one by one and get them ready, feel them over, check teats and trim hooves. Basic flock care, one sheep at a time.
My string of bad luck isn't improving though. Yesterday on the way to a volunteer event a few towns over the passenger side rear leaf spring on the truck literally flew off. This is on top of my baling twine repairs and it was a pretty low point in my day - running late, picking up pieces of my truck off a side road, and trying to just keep positive. I am taking it to my mechanic today to get an idea of repairs. It needs a lot of work these days - shocks, leaf springs, and while none of the repairs are complicated or very expensive - they sure do add up. Things like this, the emergency vet visit, the butcher's bill - they just get all the normal bills behind and scare the crap out of me. So I am running a sale on logos on Facebook for March designs and working as much as I can with the part time job, but hours were reduced to a quarter of what they were. So that was another bit of bad luck. Just when I needed that income most, it was gone.
These aren't real problems, just the reality of the life I chose. I do share them here. Along with stories of horses and hawks and snowstorms and lambs. Like so many of you commented before in the Trained post a few days ago - you appreciate reading about the bad along with the good. I appreciate that you are reading, that you care, and that you commented to say so. It is so nice to hear from you guys on here.
So I am off to the mechanic. Wish me luck. Wish me sales. Wish me a ewe with a healing lip and weather luck with this snow coming this week. And wish me that constant positive slant, which has been fighting alongside me like a trusty sidekick all week. Not everything has been bad. Common Sense delivered hay here so the barn is stocked for the snowstorm. That saved me making many smaller trips with a truck unable to handle the burden on the broken springs. Yesheva came up and helped me with that ewe as well, when I first saw the bad lip. Patty and Mark invited me over to watch the Superbowl, which was nice to eat nachos and watch the game and cheer with friends. Life is pretty solid. It'll get more solid as I put my shoulder into it, earn a bit more, get through the hurdles of truck repairs and such, and just get on with it.
Not a pleasant update, I suppose. But could be worse. Fingers crossed.
Wake up at 6AM after a night with 2 hours of sleep
Farm chores: feeding pigs, chickens, geese, horse, flock of sheep, dairy goats and prep for slaughter truck.
Lay under truck and fix a rusted pipe connection with duct tape and baling twine. Spare money already spent on vet visit for puppy 2 days ago.
Help slaughter 2 pigs.
Drag 100 pounds of guts, bones, heads, and such a half mile away into the woods to a giant pile for the locals.
Go into town. Load hay and feed bags.
Come home. Get invited to a movie. Get excited about hope of Leonardo Dicaprio and popcorn.
Do a last minute run around farm to check all for water and feed. Realize your best ewe, Brick, has a tear on her lip hanging off like an Elvis impersonator.
Cancel any plans of a social life. Call friend and tell her I can't do the mobies. Call farm neighbor who is better than most vets when it comes to sheep and goats. She is coming with her med kit and 10 years experience with goats and sheep.
She is here in 10 minutes. Together we wrestle (she falls over onto the mud and I am stuck almost inverted holding the ewe with my head down).
Together we clean up, medicate, mend, evaluate the otherwise healthy and pregnant sheep right there on the muddy hillside. We high five. Her knee hurts and I have a headache from panting upside down.
My best ewe gets up and walks away, much better off. She was purchased in 2010. I am praying for a daughter out of her this year.
It is 3PM and I have not showered or even started freelance work yet. Clients can only wait so long. My night is going to be graphic design here in the farmhouse.
I still have a headache. But I also have a hard cider.
So what is all this? This is one day on a farm that lives and breathes animal life and husbandry. It is sorrow and sacrifice. It is time and sweat and a rush of blood to the head. But it is also amazing friendships that transcend the everyday. It is baby lambs in your arms, and pulled pork dinners at Game Night, and it is the promise of more life and wealth ahead if you can keep your head in the fight.
None of this list was a complaint. It's just a postcard from one farm, on one hillside, and one life being carved out of an Ash tree with a spoon. Not easy, but possible if you're stubborn enough.
When I cam home yesterday from town, I noticed that the exhaust pipe on the back of the truck was on the ground. The device that held it up had rusted loose and from the looks of it, was already makeshift repaired once. I didn't have the energy or will to get below it and start troubleshooting. I was feeling defeated. I came inside, lit a fire, and went to bed.
This morning when the butchers came to slaughter two of my six pigs, I had a cup of coffee in me and the advantage of daylight and some perspective that a shot of caffeine and vitamin D offer. I literally propped the pipe back up on it's hinge with masking tape and baling twine. I had to chuckle at that, since last month Modern Farmer magazine wanted to ask me how many uses I had for baling twine and if they could publish some of them. I told them somewhere around 300, at least. Now I can add truck repairs.
It was a bloody morning here, as slaughtering pigs always is. They are shot in the head and then their throats are slit and the ground turns red and stays red for months. Between these flashes of snowfall and bitter cold days followed by stretches of warm spells I imagine the earth itself exhaling and inhaling. Blood used to be a messy and scary thing, now it's just food for soil and very small part of a story of an animal's life. Grass will grow there in a few months, as it has over countless farms and battlefields. The earth must be fed, too.
I always check the pig's livers for spots and ask the butchers who come for their thoughts on the animals and their weight. We laid them out on the tailgate of the truck I had just expertly repaired and they were given clean bills of "that's a fine liver, eattemup". I keep the hearts, too. If I don't eat them the hawks will. The conversation around the carcasses are so casual, so everyday. I sip a mug of coffee and help carry feet or heads over to the tarps where they will be removed for composting. There was a time when I couldn't imagine laughing and enjoying hot coffee while sorting body parts. Remember, I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade.
I'm going to take this truck for a trial run into town and see if how my handywork does. After that, it's a very mild afternoon of freelance work. If the sun warms the roads up a bit I might head out for a jog just to make sure my legs remember how to move up mountains. After that the dogs are I are curling up with a movie.
Friday is just fine and never had any problems from the foam, so I am grateful that little sprite is okay. She's just 38 pounds. I never thought I'd have a dog so small. But here she is, and she is mighty.
I have been trained by enough readers of this blog not to share bad news. The only outcome is judgement. If I talk about fears involving money; I am begging for help or asking for a handout. If I talk about losing an animal; I was a bad care giver and I don't even deserve to grieve. If I share a story about a sad event; I am pathetic and looking for attention. If I talk about anything controversial - from not liking cats to national politics - I am somehow offending a stranger. One time I tweeted about about not thinking highly of adult coloring books as the new national pastime and I got a half-dozen twitter and facebook messages about my "hate speech" towards coloring books. I refused to respond to those messages. I draw the line at arguing with adults about color books.
This might be just 10% of the emails and comments I get, but that ten percent tears me apart. I have gotten to a place in my blogging life where I am scared to write anything raw anymore. Scared to post pictures of my flawed house, messy yard, or anything flawed with animals or my own highly-imperfect self and life. As a single woman it is getting downright scary to read the things men will say in an email with no name attached to it.
I read once (in a quote I don't know the author of, sorry author) that writers need to have a thin skin to create anything beautiful and a thick skin to share it with the world. I don't have a thick skin, at all. Which is why I ride draft horses, hunt with hawks, shoot a heavy bow, study martial arts, run for miles, and have a farm - because I am trying to become the strong woman all of you think I am. That I dream of being. That I am not. I'm just a broken person like everyone else. A broken person who taught herself that writing makes the bad feelings go away. Or, used to.
So I'll say this. I had a horrible day. I wanted to write here on this blog about it, but winced soon as I opened the post screen. The fall out that might come back to because of it, just the fear of it alone, made me feel like a kicked dog. That fear of going to bed expecting the trigger storm of comments and emails and blog posts and phone calls was an even worse feeling. There is nothing as sickening to me as being scolded by other adults as an adult. Because I believe every word of it alone in the dark on a cold night.
I have been trained to shut up. Tonight I am shutting up.
As I explain in this very embarrassing video, it would be the easist thing in the world not to share this story. So, please be kind. I am sharing it because the information might save a cat or dog's life. Today my young borer collie bit into a can of Women's Rogaine foam after a cat knocked it to the floor. (Shakes fist at cats!) Few people know how dangerous just the FUMES of this drug is to cats (it will kill them) and how it can slow down a dog's blood pressure to the point of dying. This is the story of what happened tonight. The dog is fine, but it was a hit to the heart and the wallet.
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