Saturday, March 31, 2012

we did it!!!

Over four miles of roads, hillsides, horses, tractors, birds, steep inclines, walking and trotting. I was nervous about it all morning, worried how he (how WE!) would do as a pair out in the farm field wilds. Merlin did amazing. I felt amazing. He and I were a team, and our first trail ride with Patty and Steele was a total success. Merlin had four Haflingers run by him, a 4 ton tractor harrowing a field, a strange new horse, cars zipping by him on the road.... nothing phased him (not much, anyway). It was such a thrill to be moving across farmlands on your own horse. We rode to a vast overlook Patty called "top of the world" and it felt like it was. Team Cold Antler pulled it off!

Thank you Patty and Mark Wesner of Livingston Brook Farm!

dragons, dressage, and our first trail ride

I am trotting with Merlin in a circle around my instructor Andrea. If you are watching us from a distance it looks like a boring activity. All you see is a chubby gal on a chubby black pony making wobbly turns around a suggested center point of Andrea's red hair. Looking at me from above, the circles are even more convoluted. As Merlin and I trot around our teacher, the circle bends and extends, shortens and cuts across as mistake after mistake is made. My mind is trying to remember everything I have been told. I am mentally crossing off a checklist of what I should be doing, and I am managing to correct each body part or posture just long enough to forget to do something else. It's not about finishing school, it's about staying alive. A horse is a 1,000+ pounds of power and if it decides to bolt, rear, or hop a jump there is a reason my weight is back in my seat and my heals are down in my stirrups. Because this posture will keep me on a horse in nearly any situation on the ground. In a dressage saddle there isn't a lot keeping you on the horse. It is smooth and thin over his back. It is up to the rider to stop being a passenger and start being the cockpit.

English riding reminds me of how the characters in the movie Avatar rode those flying dragons. See in that picture how tight his hands are on the "reins"? How high up in his seat he is? How his entire body has to bend, flex, and adapt to the animal below? He looks exactly like a jockey in a sprint, or an eventing rider about to take on a high fence. I try to keep dragon riders in mind as my lessons with Merlin progress. Andrea is trying to get me into the right frame of body and breathe to ride well. As prim and proper as it looks from the outside this style of riding demands total commitment of mind, body, and presence with the animal below. And all my riding lessons are doing is teaching me the language to tell this horse exactly what I want to do. Merlin isn't a dragon, and I'm not a blue warrior, but you can understand this is more than a a trail ride. It's the hardest thing I ever tried to learn...

This video above is where I learn to ride, the arena (indoors and outdoor) Merlin and I take lessons in. It's called Riding Right Farm and its just 10 miles south of Cold Antler. Hollie recently published THE BOOK on the fundamentals of English riding. That's her in the video, and that is her voice too. Her and Andrea are my instructors (started with Hollie, but now am with Andrea since Hollie has off Fridays). Here's a sample of the trot, and how such a basic style of movement can be broken down and explained in various styles and uses. Amazes me.

So back to my lesson: I ride. Andrea reminds me to rest my whip near my own thigh, and I remember this wild card of a 3-foot-long metal rod in my left hand. I try to shorten my reins without dropping the whip, but in the effort to have the proper tension (conversation with his bit, as Andrea says) I start forgetting to close my fingers. Open fingers aren't just sloppy, they are dangerous. If the horse freaks you don't have a lot of time to regain control, and if you get thrown your open fingers may get wrapped up in the leather reins. Imagine a horse taking off at full blast and you being dragged by the reins with three fingers....Bad things have happened to novice English riders with loose fingers. I close my fingers. I try to concentrate.

"Shoulders!" Andrea comments, not unkindly, and I realize how tense I have become in the trot. We are working on leg yields. This means I am using my butt, legs, and heals to move the horse and not the reins. In dressage reins are a last resort, and when used they are used subtly. If I want Merlin to trot in a circle I do have a bit of tension on his inside rein, to offer the flex I need in his neck to retain both his attention and his forward direction, but that is the extent of my suggestion. With his eyes always pointing where I want him to go, my legs and butt are the real commands. Horses move away from pressure, so if I ever-so-gently suggest with my outside leg I want to make a turn inside, he gives to me. I keep doing this and the circle we are making grows tighter around our teacher. "You got it!" exclaims Andrea. But now she wants me to do the same thing with opposite parts of my body to move him out into a wider circle. Oh boy...

My shoulders are still tight. I am reminded to loosen them. I am being explained how to relax without her actually telling me to "relax", which of course, no one does when told. Merlin is a better equestrian than I am, and puts up with my clumsy attempts to communicate. But while I get the leg yield thing for a second, I need to remember 30 other things. My mind reels...Are my heals down? Is my weight balanced? Are my stirrups even? Is my diagonal right? Are the reins the right tension? Is he trotting evenly? Is my butt squeezing the right part of the saddle to match my leg on the other side? Is my whip sinking down to his shoulder? Oh, and I am trying to think all through this while staying on a 1100 pound animal who is more interested in the mule Ashley on the opposite side of the fence, so while I am trying to keep all this in mind while a pro evaluates my competence I am in a mental wrestling match with Merlin, who is far more interested in the possibility of Mule sex than listening to me tell him to turn in a circle. Merlin is bored and horny. Andrea is patience. Ashley is over it. And I am trying with all I've got.

If this sounds confusing, it is.

...But It is also why I ride English. I can't imagine an activity that devours your entire being in such a productive way outside farming. I can not think about bills or the sheep with the cut head. I can not worry about my relationships or the meanings behind texts and emails. These are luxuries of people not working on leg yields. Work does not exist. The Farm does not exist. There is me, and this horse, and this muffled and confusing infant of language between us. Every ride for me is a fight to better speak this tongue. We know such few words right now, and everything is primal. But if we keep at it, ride with teacher's fluent enough to get us to start talking it will result in such a beautiful thing.

Good English riding looks like the rider is doing the easiest thing in the world. But every single aspect, horse and human, has been developed. The saddle, the bit, all of it is minimalistic compared to Western or Driving tack. It's not because it is "better" but because the style itself is about subtly. About the horse doing exactly what you want. And when I say "exact" I mean it. The length of his stride, the curve of his head, the placement of each hoof. And the rider is supposed to be practically doing nothing, because all his chatter of asking commands is in his entire quiet body.

Watch that video above. There are no jumps, no barrels to circle, no cows to rope. There is a just man having a detailed conversation with a horse on solid ground. A conversation so complicated I can not even imagine how he is doing it. I think about how asking Merlin to make a 20-meter circle in trot (in a pace of ohis own choosing) and how damn hard it is to make it look natural and consistent. For me it requires such an effort of will. This man seems like a passenger doing nothing. He is actually asking for every single move. Now that I know what goes into it, the work to get there makes me want to cry. This is poetry.

I know cowboy hats, horned saddles, heavy bits, and woven blankets are what people expect me to be into. That may be exactly why I love this complicated dance so much, because it isn't something I should like. Everyone knows me as the girl with a dented truck, farm, and a cowboy hat but when I get to slip into breeches and high boots, a form fitting shirt and a black velvet helmet...well, I feel like a girl. I feel feminine in a natural and earthy way. and I am backed by all this history of communication and dicispline of a well-oiled machine. I like English riding. Some day I hope to pass as a rider. Right now I am a student.

Hollie, the head instructor at Riding Right here in Cambridge explained everything that is English riding in once phrase. During one of my really frustrating beginner lessons my hands were pulling on the reins like an extra in a bad battle horse movie. She explained that yanking on a rein was like shouting at a horse. "You don't need to shout, he is right there. " She said, and I started to understand her methods. "So breathe, relax, and understand that everyone starts out shouting, but after a few months you advance to talking. And as you start learning true dressage, you ask in whispers. And when you really understand this animal you will just think, and he will know what to do."


That is my M.O.

Toady is Merlin and my first trail ride. We'll be out in Patty's vast fields with her and Steele riding on this overcast and chilly afternoon. I've never ridden Merlin outside the arena so I am a little scared, but I am cautiohsly optimistic. I know this horse and how to handle him. I know how to read him. If I get worried and all we do together is walk a mile into her fields and back and he is calm and I am calm, then that's a wrap. But by this autumn we will be driving, riding, and trotting all over those highland acres, two girls and their horses.

Friday, March 30, 2012

merlin in his stall

bloody sheep

I came home bloody sheep. You can't know how unsettling that sight is. Sal's face was half covered, as if he was william wallace himself, in bright red blood. So was Maude, so were others. My heart felt like my lungs were squeezing it, stopping everything from working. I ran to the flock, panicked, and Sal walked right up to me and calmly nudged my pockets for treats. He was acting like an extra on a monster movie set, in costume, but in reality totally placid. My heart rate slowly returned to normal. He was covered in blood, but it wasn't his.

I scanned the flock and saw a Blackface ewe with more blood than the others. I got closer and saw the skin below her horn (but not the horn itself) had a wide gash in it. It looked like it got the bad side of another sheep's horn, or got slashed by a fence wire...who knows... I have no idea what happened and I never will. I did know it didn't look pleasant. So I went into farm-EMT mode and set up a comfy spot for her in the solitary confinement pen. I wanted her where she couldn't hurt herself any more or get into and more scuffles with the other sheep over grain, minerals or hay. I also wanted her where the vet could easily treat her.

If you think catching a bleeding sheep is easy, then you haven't tried it lately. And that is all I'll say about that.

She's doing better now, and the blood is off the other sheep. The vet said the wound was too old for stitches, but she should heal herself long as it gets proper cleansing, anti-toxin, and to be extra safe some antibiotics to fight infection. I think she'll pull through with one badass scar, but it sure was scary. It is getting easier though, dealing with this side of farming. It is 90% timing and 10% luck.

Has anyone experience with these open wounds on your livestock? Does nature heal well, or did you need to step in with butterfly clips and Neosporin?

April Cold Antler Events

There are quite a few events coming up, and I thought I'd share them here. If you are interested in chickens, movies, or naked sheep: read on! Workshops, Greenhorns, and shearing coming up.

April 7th Breakfast in the Backyard Workshop!
Held right here at the farm, learn the basics of chickens and raising your own flock. A full-day event starting with an egg-centric brunch of eggy breakfast foods and a visit to the brooder
(where your new chicks are waiting for you!) and then a whole afternoon of what you need to know to start them off right, raise them safe, and start collecting eggs of your own before fall!

April 12th Greenhorns Official Book Launch at Williams College!!
Come to Williams College in Williamstown, Mass for this film screening party followed up with a Q&A with the director, Severine. Free grilled cheese sandwiches from Cricket Creek Farm, get your books signed, and enjoy an afternoon of agricultural energy and creativity. Plus, the best Indian Food around at Spice Root (not related to the event but I'll be damned if I'm going to Williamstown and not leaving with some lamb masala!) If anyone is going, let me know!

Usually this is just a private event, but this year I'm making it a potluck. Come help wrangle, shear, and work the wool and bring a covered dish. Enjoy a day at the farm and in exchange for your help you can take funny pictures of me trying to turn my sheep naked. This is not a fundraiser. It is not a paid workshop. You will not learn anything, but you will get dirty. Guaranteed. Email if you want to come help out!

photo by

Thursday, March 29, 2012

skinny love

win a copy of homegrown & handmade!

Deborah Niemann and I met at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania this past autumn. She introduced herself and we shared a meal during the chaos and frenzy of all the homesteader pornography going on around us. I mean, what could be more in our element than an event where Joel Salatin is talking about pasture rotation, a girl is making smoothies with a bike-powered blender, and baby alpacas are yodeling in a tent a few feet away?

I met her there and that was our introduction. I didn't know about her book or blog, and that is no fault or shortcoming on her part. I am so behind on the farm-blogging scene it is shameful. (I only read a handful of my neighbor's blogs), but it was nice as hell to meet a fellow farm writer gal in person.

Recently she asked me if we wanted to do giveaways on each other's blogs? She gave away a copy of barnheart, and I am offering a signed copy of her great book, Homegrown and Handmade today. To enter, just leave a comment in the comment section about your own favorite niche in homesteading? Tell us both about your farm, your animals, your cheese, yarn, seedlings, veggies, or dreams? Share some of your spirit and you might be the lucky random winner to go home with some new fine readin'

Here's a excerpt from the book! On a subject we all love!


Perhaps the biggest lie that corporate advertisers sold us is that our time is too valuable to make anything from scratch, whether it is food or clothing or anything else. “You deserve a break today” was named the best jingle of the twentieth century by Advertising Age magazine. Advertisers know they are not selling the most nutritious or delicious food out there. They are selling a lifestyle. You deserve to have someone else cook for you.

Almost everyone believes their time is “too valuable” to be bothered with menial tasks without even thinking about the logic of the statement. If you don’t cook dinner, how much will someone pay you to do something else? Normally, no one is paying me to do anything in my spare time. I can’t work every waking hour of every day, but by cooking from scratch, I can save money, which ultimately leaves more money in my bank account at the end of the month.

In 2008, KFC aired a television commercial in the United States claiming that you could not make seven pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, and four biscuits for the ten dollars that they charged for the meal. They showed a mom and her two children taking the “KFC $10 Challenge,” going into a supermarket and becoming exasperated as they see the prices of various ingredients. The little girl asks about the price of fried chicken at the deli counter, which is a far cry from homemade. Finally, the mom is tapping away at her calculator and is ecstatic when the total is more than ten dollars. She and her son give each other a high five because they are going to KFC for dinner now.

After watching the ad, I did a little math and calculated that a biscuit costs about eight cents to make from scratch, even when using organic flour. A pound of mashed potatoes would cost thirty to fifty cents, depending upon whether you buy a five-pound or ten-pound bag of potatoes. If you buy a whole chicken and cut it up, you have two legs, two thighs, two breasts, two wings, plus a back and neck. Add breading, which will cost pennies, and you have a bigger meal for under five dollars. In less than an hour, you have saved five dollars as well as the gas that you would have used if you had driven to KFC. Buy an organic chicken if you can afford to spend ten dollars on dinner, and you still will have saved the cost of gas for driving to KFC, and you will have had an organic dinner.

If you look at the makeup of any grocery store, it’s obvious that most of the aisles are filled with ready-to-eat food or mixes. The interesting thing about using mixes is that in most cases they save only a minute or two of preparation time. A simple cake recipe will use eight to ten ingredients. Most cake mixes require three ingredients be added to the mix. If you are not accustomed to cooking, it may take you longer to do things initially, but like anything else you do, you will get faster with time. When I first started making biscuits from scratch, it took me exactly the same amount of time to mix them up as it did for my oven to heat up, which was fifteen minutes. Now, however, the biscuits are mixed up, rolled out, and waiting on the baking pan in half the time.

Although a lot of people look at what we do and think it is a lot of work, I have to admit that a lot of it is just plain fun. I love trying new foods from our garden and watching baby goats bouncing through the pasture. Lots of people love knitting or baking bread. When I was telling a friend about how busy I had been lately, she asked, “When do you do anything for yourself?” I laughed, and explained that everything I do is for me. We do not have to do any of the things that I write about in this book. That means that if I am doing it, I love doing it. Rather than watching television, working out at a gym, or getting season tickets to the theater, I spend my time doing things that are practical and real.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

doin' their job

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

bears out there, son

It's Tuesday night and I do not get home from riding Merlin until nearly 8PM. I have seen to the dogs and their supper (fed the cats too) before I left to ride but the majority of regular farm chores were pushed off until I returned. The ride was chilly, around thirty degrees in the arena, but okay. It was just me and one other woman tonight, a coworker at Orvis named Kathy. I can't help but compare riders to their horses and Kathy and her Warmblood Divine were an elegant pair. Divine is over 16 hands, long, and trots like a Russian ballerina if she had four legs. Merlin and I are, well, Merlin and I. But we share the arena well. I am feeling more and more comfortable with this horse, more comfortable in the saddle in general. Patty, Steele, Merlin, and I might take our first field trip this weekend for a trail ride in Washington County. I'm nervous and excited. To ride across farm fields on the back of my own horse will be a treat. I have a western saddle here, an impulse buy at the annual Poultry Swap last May that was too big for Jasper. It is perfect for Merlin and I might use it. I'm more comfortable in my English irons and simpler saddles though. I can't ever really lose my focus in it. I am a woman who needs focus.

Anyway, I got home and dove into chores. I kick off my paddock boots and half chaps and side muck boots over my breeches. I throw a beat Carhartt vest over my riding clothes. I feel like Clark Kent, swooshing into my farmhouse phone booth to turn from mild-mannered English Pony Rider into Feral Farm Girl. I want to bring my ipod to listen to my recent audiobook (on the second Huger Games book) but resist the urge. My neighbor told me about the large black bear that toppled their feeders and trash the night before. They live less than a half mile up the mountain. And if bird feed smells good to that bear, imagine what molasses soaked sweet grains and chicken grower mash must smell like? Not to mention bee hives, eggs, and compost piles. So I leave the entertainment inside. I want my wits about me. I grab a lantern and head to the barn.

I dump and refill Jasper's water bucket and hand him a flake of hay. I refill the rabbit's waterers and feeders too, and see my chunky Isbar rooster on top of the highest haybale, a few feet above me. It amazes me that the scrappy half Americuana/half Pumpkin roo that is all snow white is the man in charge now. He was born here on the farm, raised from a chick, and now he rules the whole farm. His crow is classic, could be a ringtone if the Corn Flake's box had a cell phone. But the Isbar rooster is up and quiet, like a gray wolf in wait. He stares at me like I burned his passport and he can never return to the Old Country. I wonder if the bear would be half as intimidating in lantern light as he?

I collect six eggs and set them where I can grab them, and then finish up the rest of the chores. The sheep get 160 pounds of water (4 buckets), and their grain bins filled. The fat Freedom Rangers are ready to be slaughtered and I plan on calling up the farmer who takes them this week to set up a drop off time. The 20 new Rangers are in the brooder, and will remain so for a while until the 45 laying hens arrive in a few days for the Breakfast in Your Backyard Workshop. People come from all over to learn all they need to know about a backyard flock, brooder to brunch. It's a big time and they leave with three chicks! This year it is Rhode Island Reds, Dark Brahmas, and Golden Laced Wyandottes. Not a bad trio, those.

I wrap up chores and carry the half dozen eggs into the house in lantern light. For the rest of the evening every animal in my care has dinner and (hopefully quiet and bear free) sleep ahead of them. Inside the tea kettle is hot, and I crave my evening cup of Lyons. Ever since I started running and eating healthier, I don't crave alcohol at night. I don't want a big dinner. I ate hours ago and I just want tea, a blanket, and to hear about the 75th annual Hunger Games disaster on the speakers inside the farmhouse. Soon there will be warm tea, warm dogs, and a good story.

Not bad for a Tuesday night. I even remembered to bring in the trash bins from the curb. So take that, Hungry Bear.

P.S. Book giveaway tomorrow! Homegrown and Homemade!

P.S.S. The wool worked as a seedling protector!

Monday, March 26, 2012

you can hear it in the chimney

It's as if the weather just turned around and into the wind. Last week I was lounging outside on the green grass with Gibson, looking at the first wild violets pop up and the peonies shoot fresh from the wet soil. Lettuce greens are planted in the bed outside, the garlic next to still shooting into the sun. There is a galvanized laundry tub outside and already inch-tall little lettuce sprouts are poking up, just a week or so old. I covered them with a layer of wool, raw wool draped over them gently as to not crush them. My animals might be wolves, deer, and crows but the patron saints of my garden tonight are sheep.

Inside the wood stove is lit and you can tell it is nasty out there because you can hear the wind through the wail of the chimney's draw. I was just sitting there with Gibson, feeding some chunks of wood into the little Bun Baker. I'm proud of that stove. This winter I only used 100 gallons of heating oil and 5 cords of wood (three in barter!). Since last year I used 100 gallons a month, that was quite the savings in heating costs. Wood heat is a lot more work, but feels amazing. You have to earn the comfort, and for us sadistic homesteader types, it fits.

Outside I let the flock into the baby-green pasture. If we are getting the temps they are calling for this is the last night for a bit to gorge on fresh salad. It'll take another week or so of constant sun to get it all back. It's dark out there now, but they are far from the house in the back acres near the property line and woods.

And a quick update on folks who took up the Fiddle Raffle, I am sending the first half of his down payment out Friday! I'll be lighting a candle in thanks that night. This horse is light to me, helping me in ways I haven't even realized yet. And your support has been amazingly kind. Thank you all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

the original hunger games

merlin's brow

Merlin's tack is nothing to brag about. It comes from a discount online saddlery. We don't require anything posh to learn the dance steps. But I did spurge on this one item back before I even signed any contracts. This is something I do. When I wanted sheep, I bought books on sheep before ever touching the fleece. When I wanted a house, I drew a picture of it with a black dog by my side and carried it in my pocket. And when I wanted this impossible horse, I found a bridle maker to work some magic with me.

This brow band came from England, from a leather bridle maker who stitched beautiful tack around 300GPB a set. Out of my range, but I could afford this one special piece. It was mailed across the ocean to Cold Antler. It came in the mail the same day the cheap bridle did. It is soft and supple to the touch, and white thread shines with a Celtic 4-part knot. A symbol of no-beginning, and no ending. A constant and everlasting connection between two souls. I wear a Celtic knotwork necklace of Epona riding a horse, and he wears this. In Celtic lore there is this notion of Anam Chara, it means soul partners. It doesn't mean lovers, or soul mates like modern cultures talk about them. It means an advisor and mentor, someone to learn from and grow with. People think the term started around the medieval monasteries, when young monks needed guidance and consolation from more seasoned wearers of the cloth. The term has survived to mean everything from childhood best friends to soldiers fighting side by side. I like to see it the old way, as a student and a teacher who care.

If there was ever a Anam Chara for this scrappy farm girl...

it is this horse.

urban homesteading and good company

Last night I was sitting on a sheepskin in my living room when I felt an intense pain in the back of my left knee. It felt as if someone had punched that tender crook, and I kept shifting in my seat while the conversations and homebrew wafted around with woodsmoke and plates of homemade bread and local cheese. I didn't want to make a fuss, and was soaking up the good company of late-staying workshop attendees who came back for the evening's campfire, but due to inclement weather decided to settle for the wood stove and living room instead.

Dang though, my knee hurt.

I didn't think much of it though. The combination of riding, running, and farming created a trifecta of leg pain that week. Everything hurt! Sitting down required a force of will since I spent the morning before in a light seat on the top of a trotting horse for quite some time. A light seat, or half seat, or two-point position means you ride the horse, but your but doesn't touch it. Instead of sitting on your mount you use your thighs brute force and your heals deep in your stirrups to balance yourself over the beast, leaning a bit forward. This is how jockeys and jumpers ride horses, a position for action. However, I am new to this and it smarts. But this knee ache was sharper, different.

I decided to actually look at my knee and discovered a tick enjoying dinner. I headed to the bathroom to fish him out, and when I did was thrilled it was a dog tick, and a new one, and not some well-filled deer tick. No Lyme disease tonight, baby. I cleaned the puncture up and as I was applying some antiseptic I heard Meredith yell out from the living room. An owner of two giant black labs, she knew how tricky ticks can be to wrestle with and asked if I needed help. I told her I had it under control and thanked her, but when she said that my mind relaxed, unclenched. Just being asked by another person for help with such a basic problem was not the usual order of business around here. I didn't even think of asking for help, I just yanked it out and went about basic first aid. But just being check in on reminded me that there were people here, in my house, that cared enough to ask. Being asked if I was okay was such a simple brand of kindness, and if filled me up with a golden and warm feeling. The kind of thing you didn't realize you craved and missed, and when you had it finally let you relax a little. I grabbed an icepack, another cold Honey Brown from the fridge, and rejoined the revelry.

Yesterday was an event to remember. I got up to start baking and cooking at 4, and the last guests left around 10pm! It was a long day, but not in any way that could be considered bad. This is what I love to do, what I hope to continue to do for quite some time.

The workshop was probably the busiest to date. Since the topic was Urban Homesteading, it could cover a large swath of activities. We focused on a little bit of gardening work (planted early-season heirloom seeds) and the basics of starting raised beds. We talked chickens, and rabbits (Patty brought over some different breeds like her Chins and Flemish Giants) and I explained what to look for in breeding stock and handed folks a few week-old kits to hold in their warm hands.

Inside we went through the basics of starting a traditional loaf of bread, and how to prepare for super-easy, no knead crusty breads. We made cheese, and used some just-kneaded dough and pizza sauce to slice our fresh mozzarella over pizza. The day wrapped up while snagging slices of homemade pie and pizza and talking with two women from Albany about starting a vermicompost bin in their city home. I sent her off with a bucket and some red worms. You never saw a woman so happy to find out she had 400 worms in her car on the ride home.

It was a constant motion kind of day. We stopped for lunch and a prize drawing of books, posters, and a free workshop attendance, but besides the new idle moments of eating we were all running around—inside and out—to barn or kitchen. I feel like everyone who came got demonstration and inspiration, and (as usual) people seemed most happy to just relax around fellow folks with their same disease: Barnheart. People talked about their own plans and dreams, shared stories and advice. It always gets me excited too. Excited about the farm, the house, the future ahead. These workshops feed my soul.

Bev from Virginia stuck around after everyone else left to help with the afternoon farm chores. Usually after a summer or fall workshop there is a break period between 4-7 and folks can come back to a casual campfire and music, but Bev gave up her break to help me. What a blessing that was. To have a helping hand willing to refill rabbit water bottles and chicken fonts while I poured the whey into the meat birds grain bowls was such a time saver. It was not the first time that weekend I started to realize how much more could be accomplished, and how much easier it would be, with a roommate or community around. That isn't a complaint, but an observation. I'm not pining or lonely, and I'm too damn hard to live with if I was. But I could really appreciate willing hands.

When all the animals were tucked in for the night, Bev and I headed inside the farmhouse. She asked, as we were walking through my broken-glassed front door if it was weird having strangers over like this? In my home? Helping feed chickens? While walking inside and hanging my hat on my grandfather's coat rack (now covered with an array of waxed cotton jackets, wool hats, arrow quivers, and wool hoods and shawls instead of his proper hat and jacket) I told her no. It really isn't. People who come here all have the same exact interests and dreams. They want to scruff dog's ears while planting peas. They want to hold chickens and rabbits, eat good food. I smiled then, thinking of how the hay delivery came around noon, and Rory Whitman pulled up with 30 bales on the back of his pickup. Not one person didn't help move those bales. What would have taken me well over an hour with a single farm cart took us less then ten minutes. None of the hay got rained on. It is dry in my barn as I type.

I was tired, dog tired really, by the end of the day. But when I am tired and the day's work is done it is so nice to have people and dogs circling around with good food and beer. Last night there was two women from New Jersey, another from Boston, and two from Virgina in my living room. All of them found me online, and from that cold electrical box they found their way to a wood stove's glow in upstate New York. It never ceases to amaze me, how many connections happen with keyboards on lunchbreaks and end up toting hay bales for a character in a book. My leg hurt, my whole body ached, but the barely carbonated beer was sweet and filling and I felt happy as could be. Not a bad life, up on this hill. Not bad at all.

I can't wait to share it with more of you.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

merlin's lazy lunge!

A video from last week, getting Merlin warmed up to ride. Lungeing is getting the horse to walk, trot, and canter in a circle around you. Merlin is about 100 pound overweight, so getting him started to really move is a bit of a fuss. But he is getting thinner, stronger, and two nights ago was cantering under me and dropped 6 inches in his girth! I've only lost 3 inches, but hey, we are both working on it. Time and work heal things.

preparing for the day

In a few hours this house will be filled with energetic and excited people. We'll learn to bake bread from scratch, make cheese from milk, plant seedlings and discuss chickens and rabbits with chicks and bunnies in our hands. The house is filled with the smells of bread rising and baking, meat cooking slow, and a bit of wood smoke. I lit the stove and opened the windows, giving us all a feeling of campfires glow and warmth as the sheep face the rain on the hill. It'll be a great workshop, and I can not wait to start it!

Outside there are shoots of new grass, lettuce sprouting in the containers outside the front door, and a pony full of piss and vinegar. I'm about to head out and get everyone ready for the day, fed and happy. I hope I beat the rain. And I hope the 30-bale order of green hay I made does, too!

Friday, March 23, 2012

the whale

Up here in Washington County, in the town of Hebron, there is a field. It's not different from other fields around it. It's just another place to run the tractors for haying, maybe turned over for corn if the landowner feels like renting it. This particular field is on a high spot. It sees things. It is like its brethren. Just another bit of earth turned to the good work of making food. But there's something special about this field. Something unsuspecting. Because if you walk up to that far field in Hebron you will meet a whale.

Yes. A whale in a field.

In a hayfield overlooking mountains and farms there is a life-sized whale tail made of copper. It has no signs, no explanation. It just exists. It can be seen as it always stands, in sun or snow or thunderstorms. It waves goodbye, the last thing you see before it dives back into the deep. Could you imagine discovering it on a walk? Seeing this 10-foot-tall tail cresting out of the tall grass in autumn in dappled sunlight?

I want to see it surrounded by fireflies. That would be something.

It is a memorial, a grave for the heartsick. A husband had it commissioned and set in the middle of that hillside as a tribute to his wife, who was lost at sea in 1992. Beautiful. Not the loss, that is surely tragic, but what a homage. What a beautiful way to mark a loved ones impact in your life. Powerful, surprising, tangible, and permanent.

How large is it? Well, that is my friend and driving mentor Patty on top of a 17+ hand Percheron and the tale is larger than both of them. The grass is cropped here, it is winter, but you can image it as a monolith in front of you on a warm summer night. The grass dark blue and green, waving in soft wind. Nothing around it but the moon and flicker of a firefly's passing...

You decide how magical you want life to be. You decide how you want to see your choices, your family, your friends, your heart. You decide if you want to fall apart in mourning or celebrate a love lost with something that will remain with people their whole lives. You decide.

I think that might be the most beautiful monument in New York.

water dog

Gibson loves to chase things. Throw a stick into a ball pit, sand dune, or mud pile and he will plunge into it. Pond of cold water? No problem, lady. He's a fast, fast dog with a heart full of panic and power when it comes to the chase. I can throw a stick and he sails into the office pond after it. One happy sight, that!

Tim took a bunch of photos of Gibson The Flying Dog and posted them on his website, check them out and let him know he's a heck of a picture taker. He deserves it.

arrows and antlers

If you live near my farm (and are over 18 years old) you are welcome to come to my local SCA chapter's Archery Practice this Sunday from 1-3PM here at Cold Antler. We'll be setting up targets and a range for team practice, but beginners to archery are welcome as well as people interested in the SCA. Glenn Linn, my shire, goes nearly to Albany and north to Glens Falls. We hold practice all over the county, but are trying to have some more events south so people who don't feel like driving to Queensbury can give it a shot (pun intended). Meet the two archery marshals, T'mas and Eric and give an English Longbow a try. There will be smiling people, nice weather, and a light board of snacks.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bring Merlin Home and win my 1900's Fiddle

So, I have a few weeks to figure out how to come up with the down payment for Merlin. I've so far been able to handle the stable and boarding costs, lesson and training fees, vet bills and farrier. I am confident I can make him work and find a way to get him here on Cold Antler Soil in his own paddock by July 10th, my thirtieth Birthday. Riding him, spending time with him, all of it has been a dream come true. I felt strong on him, in control, and a member of a very special club of two. We go from a walk to a fast trot now without thinking. I know him, can move him where I want to go. The growing pangs aren't over yet, but the bond is formed. I'm gaining confidence, turning into a horse person, losing weight, and learning the pride of giving so much of your time and effort to an animal so dear to your heart. It is all magical. All of it.

...But it is a dream on loan. We are on a three-month free lease where I pay the boarding and training fees, and then on June 1, 2012 - I owe a down payment to make him officially mine. I thought my tax return would cover that, but it wasn't what I was expecting. (I actually owe money to the State of New York.) As the deadline looms I realize I need to get moving.

To help with the cost of Merlin and to secure him as my own horse I'm setting up this contest to help with that large down payment. .After that is paid off I have small, manageable monthly payments. I'm already preparing however I can to make that June 1 date, but I thought I would ask the community for help. And I don't want blind donations. I think such a gift deserves a proper sacrifice. So I decided to do a donation raffle and give away something so important to me, my dearest fiddle.

If you help, you will be in the drawing to win my early 1900's Guarneri-style Fiddle. It is German made, loud, proud and it means quite a lot to me. It is the one I play here at the farm. Your donation to help buy Merlin gets you a chance. Every ten dollar donation gets you a "ticket" so if you donate ten dollars you get a chance for the fiddle, if you donate 30, you get three names in the hat. I will also throw in a signed copy of Barnheart and a thank you letter.


If you think this crass, well, that is your right. I hope there won't be any mean comments but I do expect some. If you don't wish to help out, please don't. If you can't manage to donate, well then a word of encouragement is a huge help as well. And if you can manage to toss a ticket in the bucket, then I thank you beyond words I can write here. Donate at the button below. The email address is an old one of mine I no longer use, save for paypal (Celticbonfires at yahoo dot come) but I think Celtic Bonfire are exactly what I need to make this black horse a part of the story. I give away my fiddle with an open heart, and exchange it for the possibility that I can make this due date and hand over that check to his current owner.

This is a donation-based farm gift to help with farm costs. No purchase necessary to enter to win the fiddle. If you do not want to donate, just leave a comment saying you would like to be entered as well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

lunch break

74 degrees today, and G spent his lunch break at Orvis swimming, fetching and shaking. I'm grateful as hell I can bring my dog to the office everyday. And even more grateful that there is land, ponds, and time to spend with him while I design websites and emails. Look at that boy fly.

Thanks to Tim Bronson, who took these pictures today.

just out of the pond!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

what is your dream?

If you read this blog, you are reading the constant story of one woman working towards a creative, agricultural life. If it seems like I already achieved that, I haven't. I have reached many goals but I am a far way off from waking up on a Tuesday morning and not packing up for the office. I work towards it every day and shamelessly believe I can make it happen. I appreciate you reading along, and your encouragement and shared stories and advice. But what is your dream? What are you hoping for in your own world? You know so much about me, but I want to hear more about you? There is some serious mojo in finally putting it in words.

Tell me.

photo by jon katz

Grace, I named her

I would like to start out by saying I am writing this while a clear cucumber mask fastens itself to my face through come chemistry of air and time. It's a cool, chilling feeling. Kind of like someone just gently brushed my face with toothpaste. This is a new sensation for this farm girl, but an important one. Taking time to take better care of myself is becoming a higher priority. The farm is doing better with it, too. Ever since I started jogging I have felt a new energy, and the healthier octane is helping too. I am sleeping better, stretching better, reminding myself to breathe slower. "Ground and Center." I say, about twenty times a day. I stop and close my eyes and breathe.

I rush too much. I do things too fast. Things like washing my hair in the shower, shaving my legs, and running a comb through wet locks are done too fast, borderline angry. Like I am in some sort of constant anxious rush. I am learning to see this, stop it, breathe.

Ground and Center. Ground and Center.

The first heads of lettuce seeds are poking up. The bedding that blanketed the garlic since last fall has been brushed away. Jasper spends all his time in the big pasture now, and all that room to run has him calmer and more willing to train. The new litter of kits seems robust and Grace (so I named the Cotswold who survived) has returned to the rest of the flock. I watched her run down the hill to the other sheep tonight, slightly amazed I did it. (Well, that me and Shelly VMD did it). Watching that big fluffy butt tromple* down the muddy hillside was quite the sight. Quite.

I'm getting ready for the weekend workshop and the upcoming laying hen workshop in a few weekends. I ordered 45 chicks for it, a combination of Golden Wyandottes, Road Island Reds, and Dark Brahmas. All of them are hardy Northeastern friendly birds who do well in backyards or small farms. I look forward to that class a lot. I still remember my first chicks in Idaho. I remember thinking "Here comes the rest of the story..." and smiling as I watched them for hours.

Things are good, busy, but good. I work with Merlin as often as possible. Gibson will start herding lesson and Sheep Doggin' Clinics again soon. Lambing might start in mid to late April, depending on if Atlas did the job or not. A lot of ifs and maybes, but all of it keeping me on my toes.

*I made up the word tromple right then, but people with sheep know what I mean. It's a jaunty but specific kind of sheep trot.


Urban Homesteading Workshop This Saturday!

Urban Homesteading 101 - March 24th 2012 This weekend will be a workshop for those of you in the suburbs or the city who want to take a daytrip out to the farm and learn about what can be done to be more self-sufficient in your own backyards or fire escapes. I'm exscited about it, and to have folks at the now (almost GREEN!) CAF. Folks are coming up from Virginia, Burlington, Boston, and Manchester for a day surrounded by like minds, farm critters, and inspiration. There are a few spots left if you want to join this party, and if the weather is nice feel free to stick around Saturday night for a campfire and music (BYOB -Bring Your Own Banjo - I got the homebrew covered).

We'll start the day learning to bake bread from scratch (no bread machines or kitchen aids here, folks!) and cheese making 101. The entire morning will be these two domestic basics: bread and cheese and for lunch we'll be enjoying our morning's creations! (as well as other potluck goodies). The afternoon will go over container and small-space gardening, introduction to vermi-composting, backyard chicken basics, and small-scale rabbitries. Everyone who comes along leaves with heirloom seeds ready-to-plant for early season crops and all you need to make a few pounds of mozzarella at home! There will be a drawing for a small library of urban farm books too!

Sign up for these, or any of the workshops below by emailing me at

Learn about other workshops HERE

photo by tim bronson -

bright idea

I saw this online, and I fell in love with the idea. Take your standard yellow glowstick and break it open, pour the activated contents inside a mason jar and what you have is a fairly magical looking firefly jar. They last about as long as any glowstick would and would look amazing for an outdoor dinner party, children's birthday bash, or to scare chickens with in the coop.

Directions here at Curbly

Sunday, March 18, 2012

hit the target from 40 yards!

Not the bulls eye mind you, but I hit that round target from the 40 yard line. Not bad for a first time out with a longbow in the afternoon sun. I missed many more times than that, but I learned to string, tighten, adjust, aim, shoot, and work with arrows today. Two hours of target practice here in Washington County. T'mas the Marshal, was a great teacher and so was Eric (host and other archery Marshal). Made some new friends, and Gibson got to help "find" arrows after we were done shooting. A nice day in the sun.

another 14th century day...

Things have slowed down back to a normal pace. I'm just in from morning feeding and chores. Everyone is chomping away at their breakfast and I just put a pot of coffee on the stove. I'll be whipping up some eggs for a quick chomp and then off to train with Merlin for an hour or so. We'll lunge first, then ride, and then cool down with a walk side-by-side around the arena. While he was a bit miserable Friday, he was fine yesterday. I rode him for half an hour and without a single flinch on his part. His walk and trot as steady as a 30-year-old schoolhorse. Part of me was a little scared, after he reared yesterday. But I refuse to let that get in the way of this partnership. I trust him.

Most of this is trust.

After a lazy morning of eggs, coffee, and a Fell Pony I'll be gearing up 14th-century style for my first archery practice with my shire of the SCA! I have a 6-foot long hickory long bow, three wooden arrows, and a leather quiver lined with sheepskin and decorated with two Celtic wolf heads. Items I slowly collected to take up this new sport, which I've always wanted to get better at. Besides summer archery camp as a girl scout, and looking at complicated compound bows in sporting good store: I'm a novice in this martial art. I'm interested in the target practice, contests, medals and games...but honestly, as a small land-owner I would feel far more comfortable taking a scrub doe in my garden with a bow than out hunting with a high-powered rifle. I like the idea of low-tech hunting, and a summer being trained as an archer with wooden traditional gear—it's all leading up to dinner... On the next few months I'll collect more arrows, set up a practice range at the farm, and shot at fake deer in my woods. I feel like a Daughton Boy.

I have always been drawn to the bow, but it took reading the Dies the Fire books, by S.M. Stirling, to really push me to the point to order a hickory longbow from a traditional bowyer. (Not as expensive as you think, it's a stick with a string). I got mine from, and it has "The Lord is my Shepherd" burned onto it near a leather hand grip. Juniper Mackenzie would appreciate that.

What's the SCA? It's a modern club for historical reenactors. In the SCA you pick a period (pre 1600) and a country to base your studies on. Not surprisingly: mine is 1300's Scotland. In the Society I have a Scottish peasant name, and my persona is pretty much the exact same thing I am in my mundane life: a shepherd on a hill. Only in the SCA I'm just like everyone else with a bow and a Border Collie and a pony. Just another geek not afraid to to divulge in a little fantasy to make this life a little more interesting.

(And in the case of learning to bow hunt: more delicious.)

So that is my day: livestock care, cooking, riding practice, archery, and then more cooking and livestock care, then bed. Not too different than a shepherd in 1300, no? Well, with antibiotics and a Dodge Dakota, but I'll take those.

Yup, I'm a dork. Proud to be.

psssst....and guess what's next...

photo from

Saturday, March 17, 2012

the long day: part 3

Gibson and I drove to Saratoga under the order of the vet. We needed a lot more Pro Pen G, Anti-Toxin, and I needed some other bits for the farm as well. I popped in and out of Tractor Supply, loaded up with new syringes, needles, and Penicillin but sadly they were out of Anti-toxin for Tetanus. I shrugged and decided I would call Shelly when I got home. It would cost more to get it from her clinic, but it would be worth it if Tetanus was the culprit like I thought it was.

I stopped at Starbucks next, buying the most caffeinated vanilla latte they could muster on a splurge. It's rare to get coffee that doesn't come out of a percolator or the office's machines, and never a decadent item such as that. I savored it.

Once home I felt the tiredness hit me. Always around 2pm it hits me. I drove home feeling that hollow kind of tired, too much in one day, even for me. Cripes, even the good people at the coffee joint couldn't lull me out of my torpor... But maybe a horse could?

After dropping off the supplies and the birthday hound in the house I packed up my horse gear into the truck and was about to leave when I looked up the hill again at the ewe in the sick pen. I could see her head, it was up. A good sign. I wasn't sure if she would make it or not but the fact she was looking around and no longer on her side heaving was positive to me. When I got back she'd need the second shot of Anti-toxin and another hit of antibiotics, but for now she seemed solid as could be.

I groomed, lunged, and patted Merlin. He seemed calmer after his morning freak out. I wondered (silently to myself and then allowed to other folks in the arena) if horses just have off days? Andrea, who was riding a Warmblood named Kanan laughed and said ponies certainly did. I laughed too. Merlin was starting to shine a little more in spirit and energy. I guess I'd have to be ready for him when he was feeling his oats. I patted his big black butt. Challenge accepted.

It amazes me that no matter how tired I am, or sick, or stressed out: around horses it fades into the background. You can't focus on yourself in those selfish ways around these animals. They demand the best of you, in kindness and in discipline. From the moment I take that lead rope from the pasture to the cross ties and start the gentle work of brushing out mud, combing locks, and picking hooves I am transported away from my own problems. I have tactical and practical tasks at hand and all of it a meditation in preparation for this sacred act of riding. And once you are connected to this beast through straps of leather and metal, you can't get lost in your own thoughts, you NEED to focus and connect. Maybe better riders can drift, but my novice legs and hands need to be entirely there. By the time I have dismounted and we are walking back to the cross ties I feel the way I used to feel at the monastery after an hour of meditation. Clean. New.

Take that, Starbucks.

When I returned to the farm I had the usual chores, and I have to admit I slogged through them. My horse high was memory, and I still had a sick ewe to reload with medicine, grain, sweet water and attention. I called Shelly for the medication and she left it in her mailbox for me to pick up. I did, leaving some money in its place.

When I tended to her, I realized she had moved. She was in another corner of the small shed, head up and alert but far from her water. I carried the bucket to her and she drank a lot, thirsty as Job. I snuck the needles into her, and she flinched a little. I took her fighting the needle, even that little bit as a good sign. I poured her grain in a container and asked her to walk to it. She tried to stand and collapsed. I sighed and brought it to her, feeling deep in my heart she was a goner. I loathed the idea of putting a bullet in another sheep. I handed her the grain and she ate. I said a prayer and left her to her sleep.

By the time the farm was ready for bed I was starving and in need of respite. I made a quick dinner, fed the dogs, and poured a stiff drink before lighting up the wood stove. It wasn't cold out, but cold enough to like some heat going while you sleep with the windows open. I hoped for a bit of rain, maybe a thunderstorm. It seems like ages since I heard thunder and I missed him. Very, very much.

The day was done. My dog was two. My sheep was under the grace of prayer and time. I turned on Braveheart for the pure therapy of it and I was asleep before I even took a sip of my rum.

P.S. When I walked outside the front door this morning that cotswold ewe was standing at the gate bleating for grain! She totally recovered!!!

storm in washington county, ny: grandma moses

Last Chance to Sign up for Plan B. May 19th

Last chance to sign up for this very special workshop about energy, peak oil, preparedness, and change is today. Only a few slots left. For more information on this amazing workshop held at the farm with James Howard Kunstler and Kathy Harrison Please Click Here.

3 miles, now

the long day: part 2

On the way home I stopped at the hardware store in Cambridge for some feed. They don't carry a lot, but they carry enough and will order in anything I need special. I had called in for Feed n Finish meatbird feed and wanted to pick it and some grain up for the sheep. I also needed my brooder supplies. I had to get fresh pine shavings, a new clamp light (my old one was the meat birds winter heating system) a new bulb, chick feed, and other somesuches of raising baby birds in your home.

Gibson love stopping at Hardware Stores. He gets to move to the drivers seat and stare at the dogs in trucks next to his. He never barks at a dog from inside the truck. He just stares like a ghost at them. Barking inside the truck is only for dire situations like new stuffed dolls or animals in Wayside's windows. Like I said, he has his priorities.

A few minutes after arriving back at the farm I saw Shelly's green Tacoma pull up into my muddy, puddly driveway. She drives a vet's rig, with refrigerated boxes and a large assortment of medical adventures inside. I was glad her nice truck was already mud-stained. It had been raining since last night. Everything at my place was wet, muddy, and all piles of chicken poo appear diuretic in their copper and white streams into lower places. It's gross folks. This place is heave on earth June into Fall, and passes for a winter wonderland when it snows...the rest of the time it's a war zone.

Shelly unloaded some gear and checked on the ewe. She found her looking weak as ever, unable to stand, breathing hard. Her head seemed to swivel, a sign of rabies. She adorned gloves and had a test for Ketosis done by making the ewe pee on strip of carbon paper. (To make a sheep pee you hold her nostrils shut). The test came up negative, ruling out Ketosis.

She said it looked like listeria, tetanus, or possibly rabies. I wasn't worried about rabies, but was cautious. I wear gloves to give shots, always wash my hands, and will have the animal's brain tested for rabies if it dies. But if she does have rabies, that complicates things.. I'd need shots and people who came in close contact with me would need them as well. It struck me that owning sheep could kill me, simply as shoving a tube into her mouth and getting her saliva into a cut in my hand could kill me?! If rabies is the culprit (and I pray it isn't) I'll know because there will be no uphill from here. She'll decline into a mess of neurological symptoms until she would be banging her head against the wall. I learned my lesson with this sheep, as the commentor said last post, never trust the seller's claims the animals have had their shots. I thought about how grateful I was to be alive and farming in 2012 with health insurance...

I don't think it is Rabies though. My gut says tetanus. I am making sure antitoxin is administered as directed, and in case it is listeria: lots of penicillin. I used to be scared, just last spring, of giving sheep shots. Now I am a maverick of the syringe. I know what goes where, when, and how. I hope a friend or neighbor needs to learn this someday, because I am foaming at the mouth to teach others what I learned. Keeping sheep isn't hard, but it requires moments of fortitude.

By the time Shelly left I realized I had twenty minutes to get to my riding lesson on time. Friday is my weekly lesson with Merlin, and I had not seen him since Monday night. If you think it crass to leave a sick sheep to ride a pony, keep in mind that when you make an appointment with a riding stable you best keep it. Cancelling for a non-emergency (we had done all we could for the morning - just time would tell) means the Riding business loses money, and not enough time to fill your spot. As a boarded and a student, I didn't want to start my relationship off on a bad note. I already got in trouble for trying on a driving harness in the cross ties (and rightly so. Non-driving horses were terrified as I slowly turned my horse into a robot before their eyes!) and didn't want another black stain by my name. I also was overdue. I had not been to groom or work with Merlin in three days. A shame, that. A mix of time, the office, and weather. So when I finally got changed into my breeches, paddock shoes, half chaps and a sweater and made it to the barn I had twenty minutes to groom and tack him. Whew...

When I pulled up to Riding Right Farm I saw Merlin in the front pasture as always. He was out grazing on the new shoots of grass poking through the mud. I called his name and he ignored me. Then I made some smoochy/kissing sounds and the warmblood in the paddock next to him started sprinting towards me and taking a queue, he did too. Watching him run beside a stretch of electric tape next to a warmblood is like watching Seth Rogen rush at you next to Brad Pitt. He came to me at a full run and I stood firm. I respect this 1100 pound pony, but I am not afraid of him. He stopped, nosed my palm, and let me slip his halter over his head. We walked towards the cross ties inside the riding barn as always. He acted totally normal.

Inside the barn he was fine. But I left him on the cross ties to shift in his hooves as I slipped into the tack room to get his dressage saddle (on loan from Patty), and my helmet. I grabbed his grooming bucket and went about the business of brushing off mud and such. He was fine. Fine until I started cinching down his saddle while a truck backed up outside....

The BEEP BEEP BEEEP of a backing up truck sent his head in the air, snorts out of his nose. I didn't know if I cinched his saddle too tight or if the truck scared him, but he acted wild compared to his normal zen self. I quickly got his bridle on and we headed into the arena. Both of us a little flustered.

Andrea, our current trainer, was just finishing up a lesson with an owner/rider just as fine a match as Merlin and I. This woman was tall, elegant, graceful and lean. Her horse was a dressage beauty, just as finely built and disciplined. I stood there, chunky and stout next to an animal just as chunky and stout and laughed. A Hobbit and her cart horse staring at an Elf and her war horse. I thought about all the things I wasn't. I thought about the ewe in her pen. I thought about the amount of day ahead of me yet (it was 9:54 AM) and felt very tired. I love this life, but sometimes it wears you so thin you worry you will disappear.

I tried to mount Merlin in this state of anxiety and distraction but he fussed, backed up, threw his head in the air and stomped. He never acted like this before and Andrea told me to get off. I did. And as I grabbed the reins he reared up in the air. I remember Andrea's face, and I remember that I should be scared, but I wasn't. I didn't want to ride him but I wasn't scared to grab those reins and calm him. Something was wrong. This was not his normal behavior.

Instead of riding him we checked his girth, saddle, bridle, teeth, bit, everything. We lunged him instead of a riding lesson and he seemed to start out scared and nervous and the calm into his normal self. Maybe it was the truck, or maybe it was the fact that 3 days had gone by without real work? Maybe it was me and my frantic mind...whatever the case, he was NOT interested in being ridden and I didn't feel like testing out my helmet. I decided to try again tomorrow after a good lunge warm up if there was any free time at the barn. Saturday is a lesson-heavy day. We will see. Might require getting up with the crows...

I told Andrea I would be back later that afternoon to work him again. I think it was mostly the lack of consistency in our training. A week and a half of effort and a three day break in his world was enough to get too much energy in him for a walk/trot lesson. I thought about what lay ahead on this long day. I needed to be heading over to Saratoga to buy the medical supplies I needed for the ewe (more anti-toxin and Pro Pen G), some early lambing purchases (just in case I get lucky), and feed the hardware store didn't carry. I needed to get the brooder ready, rework Merlin, and make time to buy silly things like food and laundry detergent. The TSC in Bennington was the same distance away, but the Saratoga one was parked next to a Starbucks...

I already told you I needed a bigger boat. Off to the big City...

photo by 468photography

Friday, March 16, 2012

hello, dolly!

Got an email from Brett: He said I'm a bad influence... he went ahead and got his first riding horse as well. A 14 hand Haflinger Mare named Dolly. Dolly is a 13-year old ex-carriage horse from Burlington Vermont. She rides, drives, does it all. Brett said he'd been putting off getting a horse for a while, because folks told him he should. But he saw Merlin and I, me taking the dive, and felt foolish enough to grab the reins as well. Now his Highlanders have some company, and a fine horse has a good home. They'll be riding into the sunset in no time...

the long day: part 1

I woke up, without aid of any alarm at 5:36AM. That's my internal morning, the time by body is ready to work. It amazes me every Friday, Saturday and Sunday that I don't want to sleep in. That I want to get up and stoke the fire, start the coffee, and watch the sunrise with Gibson or Jasper. Yet on the office days I curl my body around Gibson and ask him for "just ten more minutes..." I know the crazed rush ahead of us. The work of the farm, dressing presentably, packing for the day, and leaving Cold Antler for ten whole hours. It's not the office I dislike. I love that place and the people in it. But it is the having to rush to go someplace so soon after waking without the option to return till nearly dark. Hard on me, that.

I was up with a lantern and the ailing cotswold ewe moments later. I found her breathing heavy on her side, kicking her legs with a sad effort every few moments. I did as Shelly told me, propped her up on her tummy so her head was up. She let me, and raised her head to look at me. She was still there. I have seen sheep beyond "there" and she was with me. I checked her eyelids. I checked her feces (normal pellets) and I brought the white tub of honey and electrolyte water over to her and she drank, greedily. I handed her a cup of grain and she ate. I gave her more anti-toxin, penicillin and tried to remember a time in my life before syringes and viles of antibiotics filled my fridge.

When she was in an okay place, I fed the rest of the flock. I fed Jasper, the meat birds, and the laying flock. The two male geese (Cyrus and Ryan) were out and about but Saro was on her new nest. They drank the water out of Jasper's bucket and Jasper eyed them through a mouthful of hay. The rabbits were seen to last. They are always last, luck of being indoors when everyone else is out. I checked on by does and found a new fluffy nest of white hair. My Palomino doe had a healthy litter! What a nice surprise on the morning with so much ailment on my mind! I fed my two breeding does, and my buck and Megan's herd in their cages. All the rabbits were doing well. After some fresh hay, pellets, and water refills they seemed to be doing great. Even the new mama.

I called the post office. It wasn't light out yet, but Jeff answered. I asked if any chickens had arrived under the name Woginrich, and they had. I could pick them up at any time. I texted Cathy Daughton, whom I was splitting this first shipment of Freedom Rangers with. I asked her, if at all possible, if she could do me the favor of babysitting all 50 until Saturday morning? I had been up with the ewe and the vet until late, and didn't have time to prep my brooder or a bag of chick starter handy yet. She said of course, but she could come pick them up. I had enough going on with the sick ewe. I told her I wanted to drive them down. Not only did she deserve it for the babysitting, but I needed something to do until the vet arrived around 8:45. I wanted to fill up my time so I didn't pace around worrying. She obliged. and I zoomed out the door with Gibson to the Dodge.

We headed out the door and turned south onto route 22. The sun was just starting to rise. It streaked blue across the horizon and I scruffed his ears. "Welcome to Level 2, son." I said. It was his birthday. It still amazes me that the day he was born I was living in a cabin in Vermont. My life has changed so much since then.

3 miles later we were pulling into the Post Office's empty lot. As soon as I walked into the glass-fronted building I could hear the little red birds. The Freedom Rangers from Pennsylvania were all in their little box, waiting for feed and water. I thanked Jeff, and loaded them into the back of the truck. Gibson eyed the box and then returned his eyes to the road. 50 chickens in the back seat no longer bear much acknowledgment. He is after all, a proper adult farm dog as of the today. Guess he wanted to act like it.

We headed south to White Creek, but first I stopped at Stewart's for Coffee. I almost bought a sloppy breakfast sandwich, but avoided the temptation. I had lost 5 pounds and two inches around my middle since Merlin came into my life. I could run 2.5 miles and wore out a pair of running shoes...I wasn't about to show up to our riding lesson smelling like cheese and bacon when he wasn't even allowed to eat grain. I bought an energy bar instead. I won't give up coffee, though. Not for anyone. I don't care if Merlin was a friggin' unicorn. Coffee's a deal-breaker.

The 52 of us headed south again on route 22. The sun was up now. The truck warm ever since my friend James Daley kicked the right part under the dash by accident that got the fans working again. I turned on the radio and Keith Urban was singing. I sang along. Like many radio songs, you don't realize you know the lyrics. I sang to the poppy country song and sipped by coffee. Gibson hung his front paws out the window and smelled cows, mud, and morning light. I remember thinking how trucks, country music, and dogs hanging outside of windows used to all be considered foreign and other. The trucks and country music were shunned in a faux-class assumption of ass-hattery on my part. Now I can tell a Toyota Tacoma from a Ford F150 at 200 yards. The dog hanging outside the window would be considered irresponsible. Gibson has been rolled by sheep, ran full speed into fences, busted through briars, bled, muddied, and gnashed teeth. He doesn't wear a leash. He doesn't mind the risks. I let him be himself. I smile (but I still hold onto his tail).

We arrived at Firecracker Farm shortly after. The coffee was gone and Gibson leaped out to pee on some nice unsuspecting bush. I handed the box of chicks to Ian (farm manager) and soon Cathy's youngest, Seth came out. He looked like he just woke up (He had) but was game for some poultry farming.

Within a few moments the fifty birds were under a warm light in a new wooden brooder. We chatted, talked about our animals and Tim's trip to Cambodia. Papa Daugton and her eldest son, Holden, were away. It was Cathy and the boys and fifty chicks for the now.

I only stayed long enough to see her pig (beautiful yorkshire gal), and wake up her own farm for the day. Her flock of Wyandotte and Swedish Flower hands colored the lawn like ornaments. They were all fat and happy, twice the size of my birds. If anyone has a way with poultry, it's Cathy Daughton. I beamed looking at her farm. So blessed to know these people, folks I only got to know because of this love of food, animals, land, seeds, and life.

I headed back home with the birthday boy, calling Dr. Shelly on the cell phone as I pulled out of the farm's steep drive. I'd be at the house to meet her before 9AM. I still had a full list of errands, lessons, chores, plans, vets, training sessions and more ahead of me... I looked longingly at my empty coffee cup. Then at Gibson.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat."

happy cakeday, gibson!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

the vet just left...

My neighbor Shelly (farm veterinarian of immeasurable compassion) just left. We had spent the past hour out in the rain, tending to a Cotswold ewe I discovered cast on her back after my evening jog. She was fine when I headed down the mountain, but when I returned to my driveway, panting and chest heaving from the mile run uphill, I saw a pile of wool and four hooves in the air by the lower gate.

Not good.

I thought she was just stuck, so I went to her and tried to turn her upright. She just shook a bit and leaned back over. Something was wrong, but she wasn't dying. She seemed to be in great pain and I saw her swollen belly and thought it was bloat. I called the vet then, and Shelly came up the road in her vet truck in moments.

In the rain we checked her pulse, eyes, temperature and I held her while Shelly felt for broken bones. She said nothing was broken, nothing was bloated. She had okay color under her eyelids (white eyelids are signs of ketosis) and she seemed t want to eat at the hay she was presented. Shelly thought it might be tetanus or a hard blow from another sheep that sent her flailing and bruised, cast her over and shook her up. She was given anti-toxin and antibiotics (just in case) and together we carried her up to a private sheep shed on the hill. Our feet digging into the mud (me still in my running shoes!) and set her on her own dry bed of hay.

It was dark. We sat with her in the lantern light and talked in the little sheep shed. The cotswold was looking for food, alert enough to want to eat and chewing on her hay bed. My gut tells me she will be okay. She was nothing like the sick sheep I put down, or the lamb with pneumonia from the early summer. She seemed okay, just hurt or drunk. Like as if we caught her the day after a party where she twisted her ankle but was still wicked hungry.

She wasn't due until May if she was pregnant, and so Ketosis was nearly ruled out by Shelly. She thought it was a systemic kind of tetanus, or possibly a really bad blow from another sheep that knocked the wind out of her and left her ragged. Whatever it is, I will be checking on her through the night. If she doesn't make it, she'll be tested for rabies and buried out where the ones who left before her went.I am soaked. I am tired. I am proud I did all I could.

Wish this little girl luck. Wish this shepherd good luck, too.

I am heading up the hill with a bucket of honey water right now.

photo by

A Twilight Knitter's Farm Potluck! Raise a Barn!

I am officially inviting you to....A Twilight Knitter's Picnic and Potluck Farm Fundraiser! Here's what I have planned! Come to Cold Antler this June 23rd to enjoy a day dedicated to wool, sheep, wool craft, food, and the farm. There will not be a workshop involved, just an open-house day to set up your own camp in the pasture or lawn and enjoy an all day feast board of shared food, knitting projects, and animals. Bring a campsite and conversation. Talk about your farm, or farm dreams and knit until the torches are lit at dusk and the fireflies come out and dance. Everyone who comes along that afternoon can plan on bringing chairs and a blanket and a covered dish and I'll have the bbq fired up for brats and dogs and burgers, and the whole day will just be about conversation, knitting projects, farms, vitamin D, and a day spent with friends to catch some sun and enjoy good food. Wh
I'll have the drum carder and drop spindles ready to use and teach, to anyone interested in learning on the fly. There will be a bucket of soaking wool, and some yarn and books to buy from CAF sheep. Merlin may be back at the farm by this point, or not, but Jasper will be there to accept all the apples and carrots you can offer and we could do a harness demo with him.
Note that it will be an outdoor event in summer. While there will be shade, cold water, and a running stream there will not be indoor events or air conditioning. Good children are welcome, as this is a private party, but know that they can never be unattended due to large animals with hooves and electric fences.

As the day wraps up there will be a campfire and a movie. Bring your blankets to the area in front of the red barn and we'll project a movie from a projector up onto a sheet on the barn wall after dark, and let the fireflies glow. We'll watch Babe while eating pie and ice cream. Instruments and homebrew welcome for the late night revelry after the little ones are home.
This will be a fundraiser to help build the new horse paddock for Merlin and Jasper, so there will be a donation requested. This is for people who want to enjoy a day out with like minds, support CAF, and help put two horses in their new home. Email me to sign up!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Congrats Winners!

Congrats to our winners for the Ignoramus books from I saw so many comments and will be sponsoring two winners myself on top of the winners from Wayne's giveaway. The random selected winners are:

Angie @ Crazy Country Momma

contact me with your selection and address, we'll ship them out right quick!

2 miles, now

Yesterday I ran two miles. The day before I rode. Today a hay delivery is coming to the farm and between the office, farm chores, storing and loading the 20 bales, jogging, and cooking dinner I don't think an hour and a half will open up to ride Merlin. But tomorrow it will, and all through the long weekend. We have our lessons with an instructor on Friday mornings, and I am learning a lot. Not just about riding better, but about Merlin and my relationship with him. While neither of us look very different, changes are happening. Everyday excersise and a healthier diet (80% fruits and veg) has lightened my step. Last night's run wasn't anything to write home about, and was very tired and had to slow down to a walk a few times, but as a reader here has said in the comments. "You're still lapping the people on the couch" and that phrase always helps.

This weekend is the first archery practice for my local shire of the SCA. I'm a new archer, and me and my 6 foot hickory long bow, quiver, and three arrows have our first lessons and target practice today at a member's farm a few miles north. The guys who run the team will be coming to see if my place would work for a practice as well and I'd be thrilled to host them.

photo by

Monday, March 12, 2012

never feel poor

There are hundreds of tiny seeds outside in the little greenhouse, peas and lettuce, kale and spinach. I grow heirlooms because I feel like I am growing secrets. Plants only for those willing to seek them, you can't find them in stores. My Amish snaps, my Rocky Top lettuce, my Russian Kales purple as Puff the dragon. They are sleeping babes now, under warm comforters of soil and sunlight. But in a few days their will be a sea of green life. It never gets old. You never feel poor.

Warmest night in months tonight. This shoulder season has the windows open so I can hear the rain and a fire still burning. The kind of weather and circumstances that make it feel like you are camping on a weeknight. Between the pot of tea on the stove and the sore inner thighs I'm nursing with a shot of whiskey, I feel good.

I had a great ride with Merlin today. Probably because when I finally got to the barn he was warm and wet from either a day in the sunshine or a training ride with Andrea (our instructor). Either way, we groomed and tacked up and headed out for a nice couple rounds of the arena. His trot was the smoothest and most comfortable it has ever been. These past few days since he has arrived I have spent more time on horseback than ever before in my life. Having just one mount to focus on, and one rider, you learn so much. You get as comfortable with the motions and movements as you do a favorite bike or car.

Ordering chicks tomorrow for the Breakfast in your Backyard workshop, a great introduction to chickens here at the farm. We eat yummy egg-centric foods and talk brooding coops, and chicken care in general. If you are coming, please drop and email to remind me of your plans to either take home chickens or not?

As for all you cats coming to the Urban Homesteading class? Well, I hope you like Pizza because we'll be making cheese, brewing beer, and talking container vegetables and chickens for certain. Buckle up.