Monday, June 14, 2010

it all starts

Some days small things happen that create the whole that is a farm, and some other days very big things happen. Yesterday was a big day. I stood in a fog-soaked field with a flock of Scottish sheep and their lambs. The only thing stopping them from charging away was a 35-pound Border Collie named Jess. There I stood and selected the breeding animals that would be delivered later this fall, right before the snow fall. I made a deposit on the future lambs of Cold Antler Farm.

I had loaded up the truck that morning. Just Gibson and I were braving the three-hour round-trip. While we rolled southwest of Washington County, I was listening to a cd I recently picked up. It was Bushes and Briars by Susan McKeown. It's dark, semi-traditional, Irish music. A damn fitting soundtrack. Yesterday's rain left a blanket of fog so thick over upstate New York that it was hard to see cars a hundred yards ahead of the Ford on the thruway. As I left the civility of the highway system for the back roads of Esperance, the fog grew thicker still. McKeown's Irish bagpipes matched the entire weather pattern. Gibson's head rested on my lap, his body sprawled on the passenger seat. We were about to step onto an 85-acre sheep farm and pick out our future charges. Scottish Blackface ewes which would be delivered bred. A slight panic filled me. Buying sheep meant I would be in need of fences and a small pole barn shelter by Halloween. Feeling like a girl who jumped without knowing what was below her, my stomach clinched up a bit. But this wasn’t the feeling of stress or panic like the fox, dead rabbits, and food poisoning gave me. This was roller-coaster panic. The good kind. Gibson, sleeping quietly, had no idea what was in store for him.

I haven't been to Barb's farm since I returned Sarah two years ago. We've chatted over email now and then, and spoke at trials, but having no dog to train I simply fell out of touch with the trainer. When I emailed her out of the blue to ask if she'd sell me any of her breeding ewes now that I had the space for them at my own farm—I was thrilled with her response. She said sure, just later in the year. She wasn't going to sell any breeding stock till after the trial in August they hosted was over. However I could come down and select my animals anytime and make a deposit. Here I was.

When I arrived at Taravale Farm I was directed by Bernie (Barb's husband) to head up through the pastures to where Barb and Joyce were. They were finishing up a lesson and I was told I could walk right up.

Gibson was on a leash. The last thing either of us needed was to have a renegade pup tearing after sheep with no training, and then getting rammed to the point of such force he'd grow up fearful of the wool. So as we padded across the dewy pasture and into the fog I kept Gibson close. He looked at them like they were giant pieces of rawhide, puling towards them as we speed-walked across the grass. The sheep stayed 20 yards away from us near a fence. Occasionally one would stamp her hoof and we quickened pace. I felt protective. I felt glad. We made it through the first pasture without incident.

We walked into the lesson field. By now my jeans and waterproof boots were soaked. Everyone else had the sense to wear wellies, and looked like proper shepherds. I was in Hi-techs, ripped jeans, and a cotton dress with a leather jacket. I felt poorly dressed, and over-dressed. This was quickly forgotten in a minute of chaos. Gibson jumped in the air and barked. There a small flock of four sheep being herded right toward us by a dog named Molly.

Barb was coaching the owner Joyce on when to speak up and correct her, to make her circles wider and not crowd the sheep. I stood my ground. trusting Barb and her valiant dog, Jill. Gibson barked and lunged at his leash. When they were about thirty feet away Molly cut them off and turned them back towards her handler. I let out a quiet sigh of relief and told Gibson to lie down. So far the only animal he's show any intense interest of force is sheep. For me, that's a subtle joy. I told him “that'll do” and had him sit beside me for the lesson.

When the lesson was over Barb came over and gave Gibson a scratch on the head. “How old is he?” She asked. “12 weeks!” I exclaimed. Barb smiled and shook her head, “He’s going to be huge…” In the North East Club most sheepdogs were around 40 pounds. Gibson’s west coast girth was rare. A fifty pound rough-coated shepherd was big for New England. Compared to my 70-pound huskies, he felt petite to me.

The ewes with lambs I would be choosing from were over half a mile away, in a pasture Barb had just recently fenced. It was so foggy that the animals in the distance looked less like sheep and more like ghosts, almost transparent. That moment standing in dense fog, on a sheep farm, surrounded by high grass and trained sheepdogs felt like I had shifted into a past life of sorts. Barb spoke (not yelled) “Away to me, Jill” and sent her tiny dog around a hedgerow to the stray sheep. We didn’t see her for five minutes. Then the flock burst like a landmine erupted below them and came towards us. My heart beat faster. Moments like this make the whole world feel like October.

Jill Held them for us against a fence and Barb asked me to tell her which ones I liked. I pointed and she read off the information that matched the number on the tag. Gibson sat beside me while we looked on at the sheep that would teach him to herd, teach us both. There was respect there, even if it was in my head. Gibson was silent and sat as we talked. He watched the flock the whole time, like a statue.

I ended up with five ewes. All of them full-blood Scotts. They would live here till they were bred and then be delivered to Cold Antler when I was ready for them. A major step was made and I bought some time as well. I sucked in the wet air and let out a happy sigh.

I will always keep a few chickens. I will always plant a garden. I will always can, and raise a few turkeys, and maybe keep the rabbitry alive. But there is no doubt that the focus of Cold Antler will be Lamb and Wool. And this spring, the first lambs will drop in Jackson

P.S. Folks have asked if Jazz and Annie are being ignored with the new pup around. My answer is: of course not. I write about Gibson because he's a sheep dog, and this is a sheep farm. He's my partner in crime, peer in sheep 101, and friggin' adorable. So his stories and photos are posted often. But J & A are —like all family members—still a huge and well loved part of my life even if they don't appear on the blog as often. My dad rarely appears on here either, and I would trade in all the sheep farms in the world for him! Plus, huskies eat sheep. So you know, they don't hang out on shearing day.


Blogger Misha said...

Yeah Jenna! HUGE step. SO excited for you. Can't wait to hear how things progress!

June 14, 2010 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

Oh how I miss those foggy mornings in the mountains!

Congratulations Jenna, on making yet another dream come true!


June 14, 2010 at 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I can only imagine how excited you and Gibson must be, and can't wait to hear more about the new flock.

June 14, 2010 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger Plant City Homestead said...

Great post, Jenna. I was walking that wet grass right with you.

I look forward to seeing the lambs on your land come spring.

June 14, 2010 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Sounds like an awesome day!

When will the ewes be due? Will someone be around to help you when the lambs come? Do you have to get Gibson trained before the sheep come or do you and he and the sheep all train together? Are you going back to Barb's for training?

Looks like you need to have a pole barn raising this summer! I sure wish you'd decided to move from Idaho to Oregon instead of in the other direction!

June 14, 2010 at 8:33 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

They'll be bread late, and not due to lamb till April. It's just five sheep and all are pasture-lambers and super hearty. Barb said she rarely had to go in after one but I will be vigilant and get help if and when I need it.

Gibson starts training at 6/7 months. Not before. But we will start going to clinics and trials all summer, starting next weekend for a puppy class near Rutland.

June 14, 2010 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I saw a sheep dog demonstration yesterday that had a young pup a wee bit bigger than Gibson out there herding sheep, or at least following his Dad around herding sheep. It was great to see. He was keeping right in step!

It made me think of Gibson. I can't wait to hear of his success and your pride in seeing him read his flock!

June 14, 2010 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

It sounds like you had a great day, drivin, music, fog, yer dog and SHEEP. I can't get much better.

June 14, 2010 at 10:49 PM  
Blogger Sense of Home Kitchen said...

I was thrilled just reading about your day, I can only imagine how exciting it was for you.

Your dream is coming true, enjoy every minute.


June 14, 2010 at 11:26 PM  
Blogger Evelyn in Canada said...

I loved your little postscript. I knew exactly why you were writing about Gibson and was just thinking how appropriate it was that you were taking your sheep dog with you to choose your sheep.

June 15, 2010 at 1:06 AM  
Blogger Norma from Misty Haven Alpacas said...

Wow! I was excited just reading this blog entry. You must have been swallowing your heart the whole time. Congrats on your new flock.

June 15, 2010 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Is Finn coming home soon? I am a little bummed to see you making plans for new animals when Finn is still not home.

June 15, 2010 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger Robbie Knight said...

Heck, I'm already drooling over the roving you'll be selling on Etsy! Next spring? :)

June 15, 2010 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Robbie Knight said...

And, big congratulations! I'm excited for you!

June 15, 2010 at 10:31 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...


Finn is 4 hours away in Syracuse at another farm. I am not set up for goat-proof electric fencing and can't keep him with the sheep until I am or he will run away.

Buying sheep that will be delivered half a year from now does not mean Finn won't come back. But I can't spend 3 grand (which i don't have yet) for a permanent electric fence system for one goat. He will come back soon as I am ready for all my hoofstock.

Plus, he will come back when it's suitable to his current home's life too. I can't demand they make an 8-hour roundtrip and with my job and responsibilities here, I can't make it myself till the Subaru is fixed.

be patient please. Finn is my pet and will be returned, but the sheep are the future of the farm.

June 15, 2010 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger bookjunky said...

Those are cool sheep. What is the twinning rate? I have Shetlands and this year every single ewe gave me twins. (Unfortunately 10 were rams but..)

June 15, 2010 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Montero said...

I'm waiting for my own in-lamb ewes to arrive soon, so I share your excitement.

If you get behind on the pole barn thing you can improvise a pretty sturdy shelter with four tall posts, hay bales as walls, and stake a sheet of tin on the top. Hey presto - instant sheep barn for inclement weather and lambing. Don't forget your light source (like I did!)

June 15, 2010 at 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just love that photo! Can't wait to see a picture of those new sheep standing in the fog of Cold Antler Farm. :) YEAH!

June 15, 2010 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger SmitoniusAndSonata said...

It's lovely to hear how it's all falling into place for you ! It all sounds really exciting .

June 15, 2010 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Holly U said...

I love that CD! Susan's voice is simply amazing. Since you like that CD, you'd probably like "Lowlands" too. She collaborated with The Klezmatics on a CD of Woody Guthrie songs which he never recorded--I think it's called "Wonder Wheel"--which is also a great showcase for her amazing voice.

June 15, 2010 at 4:49 PM  
Blogger HotFlashHomestead said...

Jen, you are not alone in thinking of Finn and wondering how he's doing, but as Jenna said the future of her farm is sheep and I'm guessing if she needs a $3,000 system to keep a goat there safely, he is probably in a better place right now, hopefully with a family who loves him and lots of barnyard friends! Perhaps someday he'll be back, perhaps not. But as long as she's ensured he has a loving home, that's the most important thing.

June 15, 2010 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Diane, I agree and I hope Finn is loved and cared for. Did we ever hear where he went after Abbie's? I just can't help but find it kind of sad and ironic that Finn is the reason Jenna made the leap of getting the farm and he's not even there now. I keep expecting to the next post to say "Finn's home!" and have been disappointed to read that it's this new animal or that, or she's making expensive/time consuming commitments that frankly don't look good for Finn ever coming home.

But that's cool, this is Jenna's deal and I hope she feels free to say that things have changed if that's the case.

June 15, 2010 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger bookjunky said...

Jennifer M, great animal shelter idea. I may use that for my buck, when I get one. I will need to keep him separated and my husband is balking at building yet more shelters.

June 15, 2010 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

The reason I got a farm was because I needed a home! Finn needed one too, but the choice to buy a place was always about moving forward and not about one cervine. I never intended to make it appear that I bought a house for a goat to live with me.

I adore Finn, but he is with a herd of goats and doing well. At a farm secured to house them. If I brought him back today just to make me happy, he would have to be alone in a 6x10' dog run because a chain link cage is all that could contain him. He would be alone, and the idea of buying a second goat (just to keep him company) in a tiny cage like that seems awful.

Finn will return soon as I can afford the right set up. At the old place, I had the small area with the sheep and it would cost about 250 bucks to electrify on what I built. Here everything is starting from scratch and the land and pasture is huge. Spending 500-1,000 to bring Finn home, just to bring him home a few months earlier, is foolish when 3 k could house my whole flock and finn in a few months.

Finn will come back when it's practical. Or maybe Bobbie will want to keep him, or maybe he'll get bloat tomorrow, or maybe i'll celebrate his seventh birthday here in the pasture. I just can't plan the entire future of Cold Antler around him. The farm, and life, moves forward and sheep are the heart of it.

Finn is healthy, happy, among other goats, and well cared for. I want him back too but I need to take my time and prepare this farm with the proper tools for all the stock coming.

Things haven't changed. Change just doesn't happen the next day. Not if done right.

June 15, 2010 at 6:56 PM  
Blogger Tess said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog for about 6 mos and finally bought your book. Wonderful! Am a farmgirl on her way back as soon as DH and I can get our dream place. Our goal is 3 yrs. Meantime, we garden and preserve. I admire your fire and your honesty. What you're doing isn't easy, and sharing your experiences, good and bad, is so appreciated. Your grace and perseverance are unshakeable. You go girl!

June 15, 2010 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger 兆以 said...

hello~nice artile..................................................

June 16, 2010 at 1:21 AM  
Blogger bookjunky said...

Caprine. Finn is a caprine. :)

Be cool. Sheep are more important to the heart of CAF.

I love my goats but I would feel like the soul went out of the farm without my sheep.

June 16, 2010 at 1:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


June 16, 2010 at 2:38 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

bookjunky, you're right. Finn's caprine, deer are cervine? right?

June 16, 2010 at 5:56 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

What a lovely surprise to find one of my favorite singers on one of my favorite blogs!

Susan McKeown is a phenomenal singer and a dear friend - you can get any of her CDs on her website at and check out her touring schedule. You can also find some of her music on iTunes. But buy direct if you can. :-)

She's in the studio now putting the finishing touches on a new album and I'm going to get to hear a preview next week!

It's great to follow the building of CAF and vicariously experience the ups and downs.

June 16, 2010 at 1:48 PM  

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