Friday, May 30, 2014

A Fair Warning

Humankind is not a fan of change. We don't like it historically, personally, or even on the most insignificant scale. I know I don't. I am very happy in my world of animals and the outdoors, incredibly so. I wouldn't want that to change, but that is an extreme example. Most of us aren't happy if the deli is out of mayonnaise and offers mustard instead. We are habitual to a fault. We can't help it. That's because change is usually an unwelcome shake of awareness. It forces us to wake up and no one likes ending a good nap.

If you have Barnheart and it can't be helped you can expect a lot of changes. Choosing to make homesteading a part of your life when it previously wasn't is one hell of a nap shake. Most of us either were raised in (or currently reside in) homes without a grocery store in the backyard. I didn't grow up keeping bees, milking goats, collecting eggs and butchering hogs. Making that my new normal was a 10 on the Richter Scale. Over the next few weeks I'll be writing about the changes I experienced personally, but I'm willing to bet my kailyard that many of you have experienced them as well.

To summarize the essays ahead: farming and rural life changes you. It doesn't just change your clothes, car, and address, it changes everything. It changes how you talk and the words you use—entirely new language and terminology is thrown about as nonchalantly as yesterday's jeans. It changes how you see time and make appointments—2PM on a Tuesday afternoon is free for a nap but you can't travel home for Christmas because a barn roof might collapse or the wood stove needs to be stoked. Clothing becomes a tool—good boots matter more to your healthcare plan than dental insurance. And most of all it changes how other people see you. Leaving what is considered a conventional life for the other side nervous can be seen as reckless, stupid, or insane.

You lose people. Not all people and not the folks who love you, but to those folks who get anxious about stepping in mud at work - acquaintances - you lose them.  You lose them because you go from being this person with a lifestyle they understand and relate to into this other being. You turn from something civilized and comfortable into something wild. What seems like a natural progression towards a dream and a lifestyle you envy is viewed by some as downright crazy. Seemingly overnight you become an unfamiliar creature, pacing the edges of security and conformity. It makes them nervous. Your behavior becomes erratic but your focus turns pin-point sharp. You start to change how you eat. You start talking at dinner parties about butchering pet chickens someday. You stop buying trendy clothes, bars, eating out and being "normal" and find yourself spending weekends at workshops and internships pulling weeds and getting tanner than your coworkers. People get worried about you. They ask you questions but your speech is too confusion now. All you know is you are unable to be content until you are out there. You crave sweat, bonfires, blood, sunlight, sore muscles, and fireflies. You claw to spend time outdoors among animals, other animals, a thought that is slowly starting to keep you up at night...

You're a werewolf, darling. And that is a wondeful monster to be!

Not literally, of course. But to people who knew you before goats milk found its way into your lunchpail feel that way. You don't see it because it is happening to you and you like it. You got a taste of something free, powerful, and raw. No wonder you make those people nervous! And now here you are trying to find your pack among all these sheep. It's hard to see the others wolves through all that wool but we're out there. I promise we are.

And I hope you don't take that metaphor the wrong way. I do not mean you are a mindless horror avatar. I mean that you change. You really do. And you change into something powerful and home in nature so I went with my favorite fictional character. I do realize not everyone likes being compared to such beasts so insert happy creature here.

Anyway - change! That is what this series of posts about how farming has changed me will go. Letters to you, my fellow agricultural lycanthropes. Folks who are expecting the change to take them over and spin their lives on their heads, and it will. I'm going to start by talking about a fitting subject for this introduction: meat. I'm an ex-vegetarian and vegan who went nearly a decade without eating meat for animal rights/spiritual/and ecological reasons and now I butcher my own backyard livestock.

To get started I'd like you to ask me questions about that change. What do you want to know? What are you struggling with, excited about, or stressed out about when it comes to turning animals into food? Does that sentence make you cringe? Why? All respectful comments welcomed and will make the essay better and perhaps start an important conversation. So please, ask.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Early Garden!

Spinach, lettuce, kale, onions, and more are planted and heading towards harvest. The Kailyard got extra lettuce, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower planted as well. I also planted ALL of my seed potatoes, over 50, today in two different gardens. 24 went into the patch below (that dirt strip you see) and another 25+ were planted in what used to be the sheeps' winter pen with years of bedding hay piled into a dark soil compost. I am excited about using what was once just covered-up rot and poop turning into hashbrowns next winter. So it goes! What do you have planted where you are?

Livingston Brook Lambs

Yesterday Gibson and I did some herding work with Patty's three feeder lambs. The little guys stuck together and did well and Gibson was able to keep them balanced after a few minutes of initial energy bursts from the trio. When He had them in a calmer zone Patty brought out her Old English Sheepdog Darla to do a little herding work as well. Darla comes from a long line of droving dogs, used to push and guard livestock. She is calm and is learning to keep the sheep between her and Patty. It was a nice morning in the cloudy light with a friend and good dogs and I think Patty and I will make this a regular training date. I wanted to share this picture of Gibson getting the "business end" of the sheep while he waited for me to tell him what to do next. Nothing like sheep fluff butts in the morning.

Now for that second cup of coffee...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Waiting on the Locusts

When the sun and humidity levels are up it really feels like summer is here. The solstice is a few weeks away (as is the true heat and storms) but I got a taste of it this holiday weekend. All the trees are in full bloom, hell, everything is in full bloom. A walk down the road is a scene from Jurassic Park. There isn't a stone without moss, a corner without sweaty mushrooms, and all the flies are hatching and bees buzzing. Cranes and red tails alike are coming off their nests and fluffy Canada Goslings are waddling behind their fussy parents. The only thing not pregnant with pre-summer is the locust trees. They are always last to show up t the party.

The three-day weekend still has a hold on me. I try not to stress or work to much during weekends everyone else is on vacation as well. So I attended some work parties and did a lot of farm repairs but I stayed away from the computer. It was wonderfully humid here for a few days and I lapped it up. I honestly think the only reason people dislike humidity is because they are fighting it. You have to if you are any sort of professional. You can't show up to the office drenched in pit stains and frizzy hair. But since I have no one to present myself too but the staff at the hardware store I just let the heat have its way with me.

This weekend the weather howled. That humid always brings short-tempered storms and this weekend brought big growls. A tornado ripped apart a home south of Albany and caused serious damage to surrounding property. There was a hail storm that destroyed Nelson Greene's corn crop. And the same time some farms and homeowner are struggling others are dancing. Cold Antler got through the weekend with nothing but smiles and fat hawks. The Stannard Farm Stand down the road had their best weekend of all time. That's the crapshoot that is agriculture. One farm just a few miles south of another thrives while the other looses thousands in the same three days. Some times it seems like if you're into any sort of financial security you're better off buying lottery tickets…

But if you are into actual security, as in shelter, water, food, and human flourishing than farming has that in spades. That dopey photo up there shows a lawn with some birds and hutches to most people. But what I see is a barn that has provided a half-ton of pork, countless eggs, hundreds of gallons of milk, rabbit, chicken, and livestock sales. I see a lawn with egg and meat futures, Thanksgiving Dinners, a forest full of game, and can hear the bubbling stream around me. On paper this place is a loss and the mortgage is always behind. In reality I am one of the wealthiest people in Cambridge. That's a humble brag for sure but I'm fine with the accusation.

P.S. To those asking about the kailyard fence - so far I am lucky. It's in the middle of the woods and the wire has kept out chickens and geese. But if deer came by it wouldn't stand a chance. Thinking about running electric around it but right now I just sprayed some liquid fence (AKA coyote piss) around it. I'm hoping its proximity to the barn and all the ruckus of the house keeps the deer at bay since a lush forest is all around it. Hope being the key word.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Cold Antler Farm by Jenna Woginrich from Roost Books on Vimeo.

Battenkill Books and I are teaming up again to offer first-edition, signed, and personalized copies. If you buy through Battenkill Books you get something special. You are not only getting a copy of the book with a note from the author, herself but supporting an independent book store. Sometimes folks email me to say they prefer to order the book through their own indie stores and that is fine, too. But Battenkill is the only store offering copies signed by myself with notes and a postage stamp from Veryork (and if you request it in your order - Gibson's paw print). I'll be promoting the heck out of this book and doing local events, signing copies in stores, readings, interviews, and shouting from mountain tops if I have to. I'm proud of this honest and scrappy book. It is grittier than the ones in the past, but kept pace through the good and bad through my spirituality and the seasons. Expect a lot of what you know in spirit from this blog, but new essays and material.

This is my first title with my new publisher, Roost, and the team from Cambridge, Massachusetts has created an amazing contest with Battenkill Books! They are giving away a LIBRARY of almost twenty titles in hardcover or paperback! For everyone who orders their  copy of CAF through my local bookstore they are entered to win one of 18 authentic living/homesteading books from Roost! You can see all the details, titles, and contest rules there, but just to list a few of the titles...

To order through the Battenkill Books you can use the following information. You can call and speak to Connie herself. Talk to a real person raising her son Henry with chickens in the backyard and a new Labrador puppy. Not into this internet thing? Order on the phone and mail in a check. We're old school around here as well. And if you're new school, that link below takes you to a page that lets your order online! Either way supports me, the farm, Indie Book Stores, and my little town some of you have even driven over to see.

Battenkill Books
15 East Main St.
Cambridge, NY 12816
(518) 677-2515

Also! My Launch Party for Cold Antler Farm (reading, talk, and signing!) will be on June 10th at 7PM at the store! But don't wait until then to grab your first copy! Get in on this contest action!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Inches Game

"It's an inches game," was what Tim Daughton said to me as we walked from his front lawn back to the small army of volunteers behind his house, "..not miles." It was a working day at Firecracker Farm. He finished his thought with a smile. Inches, not miles. The longview. He was right, of course. He made the comment as we crested the hill towards the dozen friends working on their five-acres of vegetables and pastured chickens. I had just told him how I made humble progress of my sheep fencing issue and was in the process of ripping out and replacing four years of mistakes to the land and the equipment. I explained that I was only repairing and replacing around twenty feet of fence a day and I just broadcast the new pasture seed that morning. I wanted to do more, faster, but didn't get it done. That is when he replied with the aphorism. I smiled when he said it. He was right. Farming is a game set and matched for eternity. Why rush?

That was the attitude at Firecracker. They focus more on vegetables than I do so I was excited to get my hands dirty. I already loaded up my truck with my wheel hoe, seeder, and two good paws to help with their volunteer planting day at their farm. I got down on my hands and knees and set kale into the ground. I watched chickens dance over freshly-tilled earth. I shook hands with good people from their church who drove up from the city of Albany and surrounding urban areas to spend their holiday weekend sweating, tilling, planting and eating smoked ribs around a bonfire afterwards. This is a wonderful way to spend a holiday, at least around here.

I'll close by sharing a few wins and a photo I am ganking from Jon Katz's wonderful blog. I didn't attend the Cambridge Parade Today, but he and Maria did. They took this photo of a gal with her team of oxen in training. I know this girl. She and her family are members of the Washington County Draft Animal Association. She's a proud trainer and it amazes me that in the same state people are boycotting carriage horses in Central Park and parading oxen at the same time. I'm guessing the folks against working draft animals have never worn a pair of muck boots and clean out stalls a day in their lives. If they have, they certainly don't depend on animal power to earn their paychecks and assume humankind never will again. Around here oxen aren't just characters in Oregon Trail reboots. They are engines. We need them to eat food. New York City and New York State are entirely different worlds.

I expanded the kailyard today, doubled it to be accurate. I didn't have a rototiller and did it all with the Earthway Kentucky Wheel Hoe. It had a plow attachment and a harrow and it slit trough the young earth like butter. It took 25% longer than the rototiller but didn't involve noise, gas, muscle strain, or renting outside equipment. I'm darn happy about it. Open to suggestions for partial sun crops besides kale. What would you plant here? Tell me!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend! I hope you got your hands dirty, bellies full, and felt the sting of sun, nettles, or bugs! Summer is here! Raise your cider glasses and take in the glow of fireflies and distance lightning. The celebration has begun!

photo of oxen by Jon Katz of

Sunday, May 25, 2014

April to May!

Three Things

I'm checking in to share the story of my day, though it will be a bit short. I'm tired, bleeding, and extremely happy. The tired comes from a day of ripping out old, worthless, fencing in the sheep paddock and creating a new fence that no longer gives the flock access to the hillside that has turned to dirt and rocks since they ate it bare years ago. That hurt bit of land is now being harrowed, seeded, and will grow new grass and heal up. I originally wanted to rip out all the old fencing, entirely replace the old paddock with new fencing, add electricity to it, and harrow and seed today but the reality of the Holiday Weekend made that a death march and not a work party since only I was here to do the work. Originally a bunch of folks signed up but they had other obligations over the holiday and it was down to just two of us able to do the work. I told the last volunteer to enjoy her vacation day and I lowered my expectations to Jenna Scale. It took a few hours but I got my small part of the bigger plan done. I'll chip away at it every day I can and in a few months all there will be is an entirely new paddock, healthy grass (or at least erosion-stopping turf) and the entrance to my house won't look like the cover of a Stephen King novel. I'll take the wins where I can get them.

So that is why I am tired, physical work in the sun. The pounding of posts, the uphill carrying of water and hay, the usual bits. But believe it or not I didn't get hurt in all the posts and wire work. I am bleeding (well, was) because after the work was done I popped a chicken in the oven from last weekend's meat bird workshop and promptly forgot about it while saddling up Merlin. I wanted to just ride up the mountain, lose my head a bit, relax. Merlin wanted to run. When he gets into these moods you just hang on and he was pumping hard through a forest trail when I realized I was about to get taken out by a dead pine tree branch. I ducked just in time, my head down as low against Merlin's strong neck as it would go, but the soft fleshy parts of my arms got ripped up good. When he slowed to a trot and walk at an open field on top of the mountain I looked down at my scratched arms and knew it was worth it. He ran fast enough to make my hair fly back on a windless afternoon. I'll take scars any day for that.

And the extremely happy? I'm that because chores are done, my belly is full of kale and chicken, and I am about to head out to my hammock and welcome the fireflies back to the mountain. Saw my first one a few nights ago. It was like lighting a firework in my bloodstream. So glad they are back, you just can't know.

Sweat. Blood. Fireflies.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Goats & Soap Workshop! 2 Spots Left!

Come to Cold Antler for a day dedicated to dairy goats and homemade soap. It'll be a multi-farm adventure - visiting both Common Sense Farm (just three miles down the road) and CAF. Come to learn the basics from the experts at CSF on getting into home dairy. Learn about the breeds, the people who raise them, and what goes into keeping an animal that makes you milkshakes, cheese, and amazing soap.

In the early afternoon we will make a batch of soap, a dairy based recipe of near-frozen goats milk and natural essential oils. Learn how the chemistry and process works as well as how to mix it up with additions like oatmeal, home-brewing extracts, or herbs from the garden. This will be a day of happy barns and happy hands. Come meet the scene and go home with a bar of the day's spoils (if it hardens up in time)!

Price $100
Sunday June 15th 2014
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY

P.S. If you are thinking about a workshop, or perhaps more than one workshop, Season Passes to a YEAR of classes at the farm cost roughly the price of three workshops. This INCLUDES things like Fiddle Camp, Arrows Rising, and such. You can actually buy a Season pass for less than the price of Arrows Rising, reserve your archery spot in the fall, and then come to any goat, horse, writing, or music workshop you wish to attend. You get a discount on Indie Days, and I'll throw in a Clan Membership, too! The only catch is things like instruments and bows are not included in the price of the Season Pass, but they are not much more and you can wait till closer to the workshop to pay for those things. Anyway, EMAIL ME, if you are interested!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kailyard Progress!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Goose Bite

So I couldn't wait to set up the Kailyard. Yesterday I stopped at Stannard Farms and bought three dozen kale starts (you can get 8 six-packs of veggies there for $18 bucks) and two packs of Broccoli. I set up some quick fencing with rabbit guard bottoms and got out my hoe. By the end of the day I had what felt like a real crop of kale and was already planning my next rental of a tiller. I got it bad, guys.

It took less than an hour to turn up the soft earth behind the barn and now I just want to do it again. I have plans to expand the little Kailyard to two more sections. This is extremely exciting because for the first time ever I'll be ordering seeds in "bulk". I used quotations there because by bulk I mean not-in-a-single-packet-you-coul-use-as-a-bookmark". I'll probably just order a few pounds of kale, taters, onions and fall garlic. And while this is a small step towards more intense backyard production it still feels wonderful. It feels the way ordering those first chicks in the mail did, or baking that first loaf of bread. This little backyard in the mountains is a place you can get things to eat. That makes me mighty happy.

I'm writing you with a black and blue mark on my right thigh the size of an angry strawberry. It's from a goose bite, I kid you not. I got too close to the nesting gals and my gander, Cyrus, got me right under the kilt. In five years of goose ownership this has never happened in such a way and I'm hoping it's because there are goslings on the way soon.

The pigs (who are far less confrontational) are doing well and I am on a hunt for a third if I can get it. Pigs are hard to come by this year due to some issues producers are having with a disease wiping out farrows. It's not a good story, but once the pigs get to shoat size they are free and clear. I am not aware of any local cases, and that is a relief for sure. Have any of you guys had a problem finding feeder hogs?

I need to admit that the smell of the first farm-harvested bird of the year is filling the house with the best smell I know ovens can create. I'm following the method of Hugh's River Cottage Meat Book (the best book anyone eating farm-raised meat could buy) and it is making me so happy that I skipped meals earlier today. Hunger is the best sauce, as Juniper Mackenzie would say.

On that note this short check in will wrap up, but I wanted to add that there are two spots now open for Goats & Soap workshop and two more left for Beekeeping with Zan Asha in two weeks! Also plenty of room at the horse workshop, so join the crew to learn about that dream pony. I'd love to meet you fine people!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Kailyard isn't a word you hear very often these days, but it's an often spoke term around here. It's an old Scottish term for cottage garden (Kail was a general term for green vegetables). But Kailyard doesn't just mean a small, rural, garden. It was also the term for a genre of romantic, Scottish, literature in the late 19th century about rural life. The term literally means kitchen garden, Scotland, and the romance of writing about rural life. I, Jenna Woginrich, am not planting a garden. I am planting a kailyard. And thanks to my good friends the Hoffs, I was able to break ground yesterday.

In a barter of farm-raised chicken for the use of a roto-tiller I was able to tear up a 15x15' area of sunny forest behind the barn. Being the contrary farmer I am, I am very happy to break that much sod with some borrowed power and write about it on this fancy internet - but there ends the amped technology. The kailyard will be cultivated, weeded, seeded and tended by hand tools. But not just the usually hoes and shovels. I have graduated to Varsity. I have a Kentucky Wheel Cultivator, and Precision Seeder from Earthway. I contacted the company about sponsorship and not only did they happily jump on board but sent along these tools of the trade. It's a big step up in backyard vegetable production for me. These are smart, simple, human-powered push tools that take the back bending and time loss to on-hands-and-knees weeding out of the equation. This 225 square feet of growing space will have a fence, rows, and a more sophisticated system of work and reward.

After we tilled up the ground Cathy, Tim, and their son Joe helped me assemble the Wheel Cultivator and it took us about ten minutes. When it was set up I stood behind it and felt three inches taller. I walked behind the big metal wheel with its shiny new paint and let the teeth grind into the dirt driveway. Hoo! It'll be doing much the same work as we cultivate and reseed the hill I am moving the sheep off of as well as in the kailyard rows. Today I'll assemble the seeder. I'll be using it to grow the kale that fuels me and this farm, my favorite vegetable.

Get it now, KALEyard.
I'll be here all week!

I gotta say guys, this farm is getting me excited all over again. I am downright twitterpated. There's all this new engergy and life now, and I'm not exactly sure where it is coming from? But there are pigs in the barn, milk flowing from goats, a brooder full of laying hens, packs of Antlerborn chicks running behind their mama's, geese sitting on eggs, turkeys strutting, kitchen gardens planted, kailyards tilled, hawk's molting, seeders being assembled, wheel hoes rolling, fences being repairs, horses being saddled, trails explored, lambs leaping, and I am about to get in an order of 50 meat birds and on May 31st ALL THE PEOPLE who came to the meat bird workshop this past sunday are returning to make our own chicken tractors! It was a hell of a workshop, that. Not only did everyone help, learn, and take part in backyard butchering but we decided that day that we would do it. Every single person put in money for birds, got out a supply list, and we are getting back together to build our tractors and raise our backyard broilers for our own safe and healthy chicken supplies. I'm so proud of these folks. And I'm excited about all the things ahead. So excited I tuned my banjo this morning. I still got it, folks. Still got it.

I did tell you guys to buckle up, didn't I? It's going to be one wild ride this summer. I'd write more but I need to go milk a goat and then load up the truck for a hay pickup. The radio will be turned up, the windows down, my dog hanging out the passenger side. I'll be singing and smiling because I am one happy gal these days. I'm busy, tired, and happy. Good food, healthy animals, sunshine, green trees, and hawk feathers swirl around my heart. My dance card is never empty at this place and I'm off to to go waltz!

Naught But The Sap

Then an old man, a keeper of an inn, said, "Speak to us of Eating and Drinking." And he said: Would that you could live on the fragerance of the earth, and like an air plant be sustained by the light. But since you must kill to eat, and rob the young of its mother's milk to quench your thirst, let it then be an act of worship, And let your board stand an altar on which the pure and the innocent of forest and plain are sacrificed for that which is purer and still more innocent in many. When you kill a beast say to him in your heart, "By the same power that slays you, I to am slain; and I too shall be consumed. For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand. Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven."

-Kahlil Gibran

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Cinnamon Challenge

Let me tell you a story about sheep, bees, and cinnamon. Buckle up.

Saturday I had a package of bees and a just-cleaned hive waiting for them. Cleaning out the hive wasn't an arduous task by any stretch, but it did take bit and included a lot of scraping, detoxing, sunshine and wiping things down. When it was done I set the hive in its new location in the garden on the cinder blocks that were holding it up off the ground. And here is where the mistake was made: I didn't clean the cinderblocks. I just moved them.

So after a full day of farm chores, hosting a workshop, and then driving to my friend's house to get the bees she so kindly picked up for me that morning I was finally ready to install the new hive in the clean super and get the gals started on the right path towards colonial life. I opened the lid of the hive to remove the two center frames and I was surprised to see thousands of small ants. This was not good. Ants in few numbers are no problem to bees, but as you can imagine, there is no such thing as a lone wolf ant. I lifted out the frames and they were everywhere. A young hive like mine with no brood or comb wouldn't stick around a hive already occupied by the sweet eaters. So I did what any sensible homesteader does: I checked with Farmer Internet.

And there I was, looking up ant-removal tips while my package hummed. I remembered something about cinnamon and checked a few sites to confirm it. Then I went inside the house, got all the cinnamon I had, and came back outside in full beekeeping apparel while I laid the hive out in the sun on the lawn and sprinkled, shook, cursed, and bitched. I saw the majority of the ants were coming from the cinder blocks and made a mental face palm while I used the rest of the cinnamon on the blocks. I was busy with my spicy endeavor when I heard the sound of clattering wood and wire and hard horn.


One of the blackface ewes (Split Ear) had backed up and hit the gas at full speed. Using pure force smashed the old piece of plywood used to repairing a hole in the old fence. Within moments the flock was loose and on their way up to my neighbors' gorgeous lawn. I call their lawn Narnia. It is a magical place sheep get to by transporting themselves through wooden objects that hold wool.

So there I am. Standing in my white bee keeping pants (okay, my karate pants) and white jacket with white bee keeping gloves in a haze of cinnamon as my sheep trot away. I say adult phrases I will not repeat here, grab some grain, and walk up the road looking like I work at a power plant and smelling like Christmas.

I get the sheep back in minutes (Grain is mightier than Narnia) and in my hassle did not move the bee gear from the lawn. The sheep ignore the cinnamon and the frames and ants and trot through, pushing and breaking a few of the pieces of old hive wood I refused to replace because the older I get the more frugal I get and bees are never on HGTV so who cares if the inner lid has a crack on it? Well, Split Ear and Brick cared enough to comment via hoofmarks and I now have a broken inner hive lid. Everyone is a friggin' critic.

With the sheep back in the paddock. The fence repaired (time 3,2245) and the ants removed from the equipment I knock off the majority of the cinnamon and start reassembling the hive. I don't remove the cinnamon from the cinderblocks or the ground around them. I open the package of bees, insert the released queen box between a few frames, and dump the new bees into the spicy hive. I realize at this point I didn't check to see if bees liked cinnamon and didn't have the heart to check with Farmer internet. I closed the lid and stepped back. Bees were everywhere. I let out a long sigh while sheep complained close by.


It's been two nights and the bees are doing great. They have happily settled in the hive. The ants are gone. And the only real challenge was the thing I didn't anticipate: weather. It was 34 degrees here the last two nights and a new hive just here from Georgia wasn't acclimated to the harsh first night in a new hive. I did lose a hundred or so worker bees that didn't get into that hive the first night and found their frozen bodies around the hive, dusted with cinnamon. But the majority were inside around the queen box, warm and humming. So despite the drama all is generally well in BeeTown.

And I'm sharing this story because of something I'll never forget hearing from Joel Salatin. He has said many times to new farmers that anything worth doing right is worth doing wrong first. Mistakes are important. Cinderblocks are important. Fences repair is important. Four years into this place I still make mistakes and am still figuring out how to do things right, but I am doing them. I think this is important. It's important to learn as you go, to accept that mistakes will be made, cinnamon will fly, sheep will travel to Narnia and at the end of the day even the worst of your problems are blessings. Even if I am worried about book critics, the mortgage, and budgeting the farrier and the sheep shearing in the same week I am only able to be worried because I asked to be an author, a home owner, and a farmer. These are wonderful problems to have in my book. And over the years I have learned to ignore the critics and focus on the people who show up with crock pots and rototillers. They are the ones whose advice and critiques I care about.

I am rambling. In few months this farm's sheep escapes will be a silly memory. New fencing built with friends and a dirt hill cultivated and seeded will heal. The pasture will have time to rest, the new electric portable fences will replace the old ones, and one project at at time the joint will become a better farm. It takes time, and the willingness, forgiveness, and a lot of doing things wrong first. But in five years this place will be a happy machine where you will rarely hear about goofy mistakes in the older skills.

P.S. The sheep have only escaped 2 times since. I can't wait till next Sunday when we finally rip out all that old fence, repair it, replace the bad sections, and install the electric wiring. If you want to come to the farm for a potluck/work party come on by. It'll start around 9AM and go to 1PM. I have four folks coming already and that alone makes it a quicker job. Unrelated: Jasper is still for sale but no takers and I don't expect there will be any. He will remain here and I'll figure that out too. 

P.P.S. Sometimes folks write me to say they expect better grammar and spelling on here since I am a published author. I usually tell them that my books have a professional editor. I have a Border Collie. And while he is pretty savvy he still refuses to use Oxford Commas and that alone has made a divide in our relationship. I kid. But seriously, you can pick two of these three options and I will oblige.

A. A heartfelt, personal blog.
B. An often-updated blog.
C. A well-edited blog.

P.P.P.S. Also, Look Up.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hey Antlers?

Do any of you out there raising food ever experience concern or doubt (or maybe even disgust?) from friends or family about eating what you produce? For example: people who are scared of raw milk, blue eggs, non-bleached lettuce or backyard pork? Has anyone ever turned down your food because it wasn't store bought? I'm curious if any of you have been balked at when offering homegrown to folks who are used to bar codes on everything they chew on?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bees Coming Tomorrow!

While my hive doesn't look very pretty it is in great shape for Saturday's bees! After a summer without them (well, without them in the hive. The farm has plenty of honeybees living in the rafters of the old barn) I will finally be back in the honey business. To prepare for them the old abandoned hive needed to be cleaned out. I scraped away the mice nests and any signs of other infestation. A simple mix of water and peroxide was sprayed lightly on the interior of the wood and then it sat in the sun a few days for some old fashioned detox. Now the hive is ready for the package of bees my friend Patty is kind enough to pick up for me since I am hosting a chicken 101 workshop that morning. But by sunday on Saturday night there will be a hive at the farm, and the promise of at least a few golden jars by summer's end. I never harvest a lot that first year, but I do harvest a frame or two of the two supers. Hope tastes sweet, what can I say?

Man, what a life. For a woman with a dairy goat offering nearly a gallon a day and honeybees just hours from their welcome party, a gal can't help but feel a little blessed. For thousands of years people have searched for he land of Milk and Honey. Who knew it could be in your own backyard?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Shearing Day!

Shearing Day is a bonefide Holiday here at Cold Antler Farm. It's one of the annual events that shape my year, a new and beloved tradition that takes place every late spring. And even though it's a fairly new kind of holiday, it is already starting to rack up wonderful stories and memories. It all went down this past Monday in a balmy 80 degrees. That's warmer weather than usual for a day of ewe-flipping and ram-wrangling but I was game and had good help on hand. My good friends Miriam and Keenan came to take photos and help pen and handle sheep and a trio of interns came along with the crew from Common Sense Farm as well. That comes to eight adults and seven sheep. I was feeling good about the odds. I leaned next to one of the interns who looked a little nervous and said in a conspiratorial tone "Don't worry. I think we can take 'em" and winked. She didn't look so sure. Sheep seem placid enough eating grass on a hill but when you have seven 150+ pound animals in a pen wanting to get out and not sure why you are grabbing them and pulling them into strangers hands with metal, whirring, objects..... Well, it can get a bit dodgy. The intern gulped. The shearer set up shop. And I got ready to take on the blessed event.

We had quite the audience.Besides us grown ups there was a small gaggle of homeschool kids who were excited to see the shearing take place. They watched from outside the fence (with Gibson, who is too excited around sheep to not get in the way during haircuts). And did a wonderful play-by-play commentary on all the events taking place. I wish they had a telestrator, because I was imagining them drawing circles and lines all around a mock ESPNesque screen. "Looks like Woginrich let that lamb SLIDE right on by! Ooooohhh, Connelly seems to be on it though. He's an up-and-commer but has the chops! Too bad no one is watching for that ram, Monday! BAMM! Can that pole barn handle 180 pounds of thrust brought on by skull and horn. BAM! Ouch! Looks like it back to the bench for that plank!"

I am kidding, of course. It wasn't that rough. I was in good hands. Jim McRae is my shearer and he always does an amazing and gentle job. He had an apprentice with him named Tom and together they did in moments what would take me hours. I can say that with certainty because I have tried it. Poor Sal let me and Patty Wesner work on him for nearly an hour with hand shears and two pairs of sheep trimmers (one shorted out and the other was made for dogs and couldn't handle the lanolin and sheer mass of wool). We did it. But Sal looked more like a sheep that walked through an automated car wash post lightning strike than a shorn beast of beauty. So, I hire Jim.'

Jim charges $25 to come to your farm and $6.50 a sheep (or 8.50 if he trims hooves too). I splurged for the $8.50 charge and it didn't take long for all seven of the woolies (I don't sheer the hoggets) to be as naked as whippets. Now everyone will tell me I have nice goats, since no one expects a shorn scottish blackface ewe to be anything but a goat. The kids laughed, Keenan held his own, and the interns did not get rammed, gorged, or even need a bandaid. One did show up in flip flops, and I gave her a hard time about that, but that was the worst crime committed that day. Within an hour of set up the flock was bare, the wool gathered in a tarp, the check handed over and hands shook. Now it was time to hit another farm and another flock.

Since Common Sense has five Scottish Blackfaces that originated from breeding stock they bartered from me. We usually share the shearer. First shearing is done here and then I head down there to help with theirs. It's a nice day of teamwork, sweat, wool and shared moments. I got to make up for my earlier foibles by managing to catch a lamb mid-air as it tried to jump over my crouching frame. It was a big show down at Common Sense, too - with a different group of their own homeschool kids watching the masters work their charges. I have watched Jim shear my sheep for over five years now and every time I am amazed at his skill. At one point he held down a just-shorn critter and had the children come and feel the lanolin in their hands. He then showed the kids his own hands, smooth as can be, and explained that lanolin is why a sheep shearer's hands never crack in the spring. This warmed my heart, the hands-on lesson. I thought how lucky these kids are to see an ancient craft, touch it, smell it, and know it.

When the sheep were all set, The trimmers put away, the hot sun high, and the lambs panting behind their odd new mama's I retired to the greenhouse with my friends from the Community. We picked spinach, caught up with each other's lives, and talked quietly under the sail rattle of plastic greenhouse covering. It had been a long day of two farms, two flocks, many friends, and new faces. But together we got the job done and in a few weeks some of these same folks will be back to help with other farm projects, as I will continue to help them whenever I can. That is how it works around here. No steader in Veryork is an island. Which is really for the best because I can't think of anything more miserable than naked sheep needing constant applications of SPF-80.

Thanks to all who made Shearing Day a success. And thank you for reading all about it! Please feel free to leave any questions or comments about sheep, share such posts on Facebook or twitter if you like 'em, and help spread the word about the new book if you feel so inspired. If not, that's okay too. I'll be here writing either way.

Lamb in a Hammock!

Little Haikus

I got to spend a little time in the greenhouse at Common Sense Farm this week, and I can;t tell you how much being around toddlers and green plants makes me smile. My friend's little ones are mostly under six and they are true farm kids. They helped their mom and I collect spinach after sheep shearing and watching a three-year-old carefully cut spinach leaves and place them in a basket was a splendid haiku. Sometimes I think my love of homesteading, of growing food in general, is more about the little moments that happen around the chicken coops and potting sheds than it is about the recipes and peace of mind. The people drawn to this life are solid folk. I'm proud and blessed to have such wonderful neighbors. And I gotta say, the spinach was perfection with some balsamic dressing and a fresh crumble of goat cheese!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Maude's Daughter & Fixed Fence Day!

I'm not sure how other homesteader's tackle raising a bottle lamb, but around here it's a mix between a third dog and a diapered baby. Brianna is such a normal part of my life now that I don't even notice when she is alseep at my feet in my office or following me around outside while I plant cucumber starts. She is just always there. She is eating grass, hay, and grain and forages for herself between bottles. At night or when I leave the property she comes inside to hang with the dogs. Annie and Gibson largely ignore her. Since my floors are linoleum and she is so small a bit of urine or a few pellets of lamb poo (think pez dispenser not dog dump) are rare and not much of a hassle when they occur. She knows her name, my voice, and runs around the farm following Gibson like a puppy.

My favorite little quirk she has picked up from spending time around dogs is that before she lies down to sleep in front of the wood stove or below the daybed she "paws" at the ground and then circles before curling into a small ball. It's so canine it is comical. Maybe this is something all sheep do but I have never noticed it with such doggy grace on any other sheep.

Happy to share that I have planted cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, and enough greens to start a small lettuce co-op among friends and/or survive one sheep breakout. I'm praying for the former. As for the latter, I am hoping to announce a workday here where folks come with gloves and good attitudes and together we repair and re-wire the sheep fence and re-seed the eroded pasture. It's the first step in healing this place from over grazing and better management. I am thinking sooner is better but not sure when are free, possibly the 25th? It's a Sunday but with five people what would take me a week would take us a morning. I am hoping some of you are game?!

P.S. More on Shearing Day soon!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Horses and Bows! Two Wonderful Workshops! Special Offer!

This is a workshop for anyone thinking about adding an equine to their life, and I do mean thinking. While it is wonderful if you already have the acreage, barn, and hay loft waiting for a horse to call it home - this is not a workshop meant for people going out to buy a horse the next day. It is for those who are enchanted, excited, and curious about what it is like to share your life with a versatile farm horse: one for riding, work, and as another form of transportation.

Merlin is my favorite way to get around. He's a 14 hand, thousand pound, British Fell Pony. He was born in Northumbria, England and comes from a farm called Hardendale. I didn't have him shipped across the ocean, but bought him thirty minutes from Cold Antler at age 16 and I am his fourth or fifth owner. I will be his last. I love him. And over the years readers of this blog have followed our relationship from Love at First Sight to the working animal I ride and drive as much as possible.

I was a new horse owner just a few years ago, but I dove in head first and now belong to a few clubs and have spent countless hours behind the driving lines and in the saddle. It didn't take as much money as I thought. It wasn't as scary as I thought. Hay isn't expensive around here and my farrier/trainer might be one of the most amazing horsemen this world has ever met.

I now have the skill set, tools, and gumption to gallop up a mountainside, shoot arrows from the saddle, drive on traffic roads to the local farm stand for groceries, and haul logs for firewood on my land. Horses have enriched my life, my farm, and my soul. They make things possible. They are entirely worth the effort if you have this particular strain of Barnheart. I'd love to help you get started!

So this workshop: This is a day for the curious - be you an apartment dweller or retired teacher looking for a long-overdue dream. I will have other horse folk with me, folks who ride and drive farm horses as well. Patty from Livingston Brook Farm will most likely be there (though I haven't asked her yet!) and some folks from my Draft Club will also be invited. More folks who know hoof and mane besides myself will be there for sure. It will begin as a conversation and Q&A where we will discuss what a backyard horse entails. We will discuss food, shelter, vets, farriers, time and money. We will evaluate hay samples, talk about nutrition, and what a decent horse costs and how to find them.

Then we will step outside and meet Merlin. We will learn about tack, how to put it on the horse safety and correctly, and how it should fit and what it does. We will do the same with a harness and cart, going over the pieces and parts as well. We may take a short field trip to LBF or Common Sense to see other working equines such as Steele the Percheron or the cultivating donkeys at the Commune! By the end of the day you should have a notebook full of sketches and numbers, stories, and know a girth from a hames and a collar from a bridle. This will be a hands-on experience for sure, and give you a better idea of what it really takes to take the reins in your own hands!

The Farmer's Horse
June 7th 2014
Cost: $100

Arrows Rising: October Light!

SPECIAL OFFER: Sign up for October's ARROWS RISING with a friend or spouse at a $200 discount (or $100 off each camp, still includs the bow) if you pay at the same time. Just put "Two For October" in the subject line! Get the full details! Good through Sunday!

This is a second session in October for Arrows Rising, the beginner's traditional archery weekend! Beltane weekend is already sold out, but I decided to host a fall version over the Columbus Day Weekend! If you have been watching folks load up their bows and arrows and in the movies and television, or in your favorite novels or history books - and felt that twinge of envy - stop. Stop thinking about taking up archery and join us! This is a weekend for people who never touched a bow or arrow and want to learn about equipment, fitting, draw strength, tools, aim, and practice. Come knowing nothing and leave with a skill and a beautiful bow of you're very own. If you would like to learn more about this class (which comes with a traditional longbow!) more details about the workshop can be found here!

Arrows Rising: October Light!
October 11th - 12th 2014
Cost: $350


SPECIAL OFFER: Sign up for October's ARROWS RISING with a friend or spouse at a $200 discount (or $100 off each camp, still includs the bow) if you pay at the same time. Just put "Two For October" in the subject line! Get the full details! Good through Sunday!

photo by Miriam Romais


Brigit's FIRE! It is shearing day 2014! In a few hours this farm will have about a dozen people (friends and Common Sense Farm interns) here trapping, catching, wranglin and helping master shearing Jim McRae with the flock. I am always excited about Shearing Day, one of my new holidays of Cold Antler Farm. And all the wool will be shipped off to the mill by the end of May so folks waiting on their knitting can get started with those purls. Well, wherever you are, enjoy the sun! 80 degrees here after a long winter is nothing short of a blessing. Brigit's Fire, indeed!

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Veryork has been granted a break from the rain this weekend, and two days of warm weather, flirting thunderstorms, and green buds on the trees have me a little giddy. It was a weekend and I acted like it. I didn't do any of my design sub-contracting or even mop the floors. It was a weekend of needed vegetation, and it included: vegetation. Fancy that?

I planted a raised bed of lettuce, another of spinach, and another of kale. All cold crops but good greens all the same. I have learned to plant pretty much just greens (mostly kale), tomatoes, onions, garlic and potatoes. These are my top-five purchased vegetables and most used in the kitchen. I know garden catalogs have hundreds of cool varieties and I used to plant a lot of them - but these days I need to plant for budget, winter storage, the recipes I know and love, and winter storage. I'll also have some extras like basil and peppers here and there - but honestly, this is all about the kale.

If I can get a hold of a tiller I will put in a proper kailyard. And my kailyard will be just that, a kale yard. It's my favorite veggie and I eat it all the time - from pizza to soups to roasted under chickens. It's a humble goal but an important one. It comes second to reseeding the hill by the house and fixing the sheep fences but a gal can have her kale dreams. Can't she?

I got some quality time in with Merlin, enjoying our mountain trails. We know them so well, so very well now. Yesterday all he wanted to do was run so I let him. He had go in him and I leaned in, dodging branches in my face, my head low against his mane. At one point there were so many things flying at us, branches and dead leaves and flying grouse scared by the sounds of us - that I broke out into laughter. I couldn't help myself. Merlin is 18 now, nearly 19. He is no spring gelding, but he can run like the wind. It inspires me. I ran two miles today and walked the dogs another two. I started an old lifting and cardio video again and I'm proud to say I am sore as hell. It's a great feeling.

I hope all you Mama's out there had a good Mother's Day. I got a call in to my mom from the sheep paddock. I had just gathered the escapees again, and tomorrow is sheep shearing with Jim McRae. the pigs are sleeping in the barn, the 45 chicks are doing well, and the month of May keeps moving on. More updates all this week on the animals, events, mess and merriment of this scrappy place. Stay tuned. I'm counting on you to listen to this crazy story.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Join Us Next Weekend!

Looking for more people for next weekend's chicken workshop! Two days of learning all you need to get started in keeping backyard chickens for eggs and meat. Saturday is all about laying hens and Sunday is all about backyard meat birds and includes a butchering demonstration. It's not for the faint of heart but for those interested in taking back a little more of the skills and effort that go into feeding oneself well!

Email me at if you would like to attend! I can provide details, discounted prices, and there will be chicks here to take home as well! Looking for three or four more people!

If you want to come and can't afford the workshop fees or simply can't budget for them, we can also work out a barter for this or any workshop. I am always in need to dry-split, firewood, hay, fencing materials, or help around the farm for larger projects.

Meet Jig & Reel!

Friday, May 9, 2014


Every once in a while I post a Roll Call, and that means a list of all the animals on this little 6.5 acre farm. (I would love it if you would post your own roll calls in the comments.) As for right now, here are all the animals at Cold Antler Farm in Jackson, New York!

1 Human
1 Hawk
1 Rabbit
2 Dogs
2 Horses
2 Dairy Goats
2 Cats
2 Pigs
3 Geese
4 Turkeys
5 Roosters
10 Sheep
12 Layers
14 Free Range AntlerBorn Chicks
45 Brooder Laying Hen Chicks

What does that total to? A lot.

Coming Soon:
2 More Rabbits
4 More Pigs
Hatched Goose Eggs
Hatched Turkey Eggs
Hatched Antlerborns
3,000 Honey Bees and Their Queen

Whew. How about you?

White Pants & Chicken Heads

I had been waiting for the Stannard Farm Stand to open for quite some time. It's the place that feeds me all the provisions I can't grow or gather on my own from June-November when the grocery store is no longer needed but I still want honey, chocolate, amish canned goods, or sundries of other sorts. If they supplied toilet paper and flour I could avoid other home-goods commerce all together. This is the place I ride in my horse cart to, the place I chat, the place that I get chicken, beef, and other happy meats for bargain prices when I haven't grown my own or ran out. It's as mine as someone else's business can be and I say that with sincere fondness. This farm stand is located right on rt. 22, a rural two-lane highway a few miles north of Cambridge. It's the kind of place the neighborhood gathers and folks like me can stop in and grouse or guffaw. I adore it.

So you can imagine my happy reunion with the place upon its seasonal reopening. And you can also imagine my quiet shock when a very sophisticated-looking woman in white pants and giant sunglasses with initials in temples turned around the corner with a tray of pansies and cut off my entrance to the double doors. I was downright shocked. Not by her actions, but by her pants. I had not seen a human being in white pants in what feels like years. My people don't wear white pants, it's just not done. One sit in my truck, one rub against a black horse, hell, one step inside my own house and those pants would be destroyed in minutes. I stared. I really did. I was glad her back was to me because I am sure I was making a scene. White Pants! How my life has changed, how strange it seemed. She could have walked inside with a fox pelt draped over her shoulder, carrying a plastic orca doll, with a glass bottle of moonshine on her hip, sporting a mohawk and it would have been less rattling. Blimey. White pants. The mind reels that two people can shop at the same store and live on different planets.

Anyway, WhitePants had her son with her, a lad around the age of eight (I am guessing), and they walked in ahead of me communicating the way all exasperated parents do for which you can hardly blame them. The kid, a tow-haired, future sports star, announced "THIS PLACE SMELLS BAD!". It smelled like gingerbread and dirt. I shrugged and entered. At the front desk the owner smiled at her and gestured for her to come forth and pay for her flowers. Then saw me walk into the door. Mrs. Stannard waved and then pointed a smiling (but accusatory) finger at me. "Jenna, Do NOT LEAVE here without your chicken heads! We have them in the freezer for you!"

Oh yeah! I remembered that last Thanksgiving, right before the stand closed for the winter I was asked if I wanted them to save the heads from their last butchering of the year for my hawk? I said yes and thank you but our schedules got messed up and I forgot the heads in a garbage bag in the freezer. I had not thought of those beheaded critters for some time and was happy to realize so much good food was laying in wait for my molting raptor. I lit up at the sentence and beamed.

The white-panted woman seemed somewhat taken aback. I don't blame her. She seemed like a totally reasonable human being who had not once in her life been offered a trash bag of decapitated chicken fruits. I thanked the store owner and muttering something to WhitePants about how they weren't for me, but for an animal. To her credit, WhitePants didn't seem all that phased but wasn't interested in sticking around much longer either. She headed outside the door with her style and loud kid. It reminded me that even in the same zip code you can say: "They aren't from around here, are they?" and smile.

On the ride back to Cold Antler I came across a recently (as in the truck ahead of me nailed it) smote squirrel. I pulled over and was pleased to see its instant death was by impact and throw, and not squashing. I put it in the back of my truck, happy to have such a natural and local food source for Italics to add to the farm raised variety. I jumped back into the driver's seat and muttered something to Gibson about how lucky we were that day. And it wasn't until we were pulling into my dirt driveway that I realized I went from working in a television studio in a large city to being thrilled about roadkill and a garbage bag full of chicken heads in the back of a dented pickup. I burst out into laughter right there in the driveway. Life is pretty neat.

To top off this little tale of a Weekday From The Edge, let me share this little visual postcard. When the laughter had passed I looked up into the sheep paddock and realized no one was there. I sighed (I am used to sheep escapes at this point) and looked up and across the road to my neighbor Tucker's vast, gorgeous, lawn. Yup. My sheep were there munching in the dappled sunlight while Tucker's wife rode around them on a riding mower. Sal stood like a little propane tank while she circled him, neither seemed to mind the other's presence. I said a prayer out loud in gratitude for such understanding neighbors who let their crazy neighbor ride her pony on their property and tolerated sheep loitering. Then I grabbed a bucket of grain and called out to Gibson. Food and teeth can't move mountains but they can move Maude.

Gibson and I wrangled back the sheep, I repaired the newest weak spot in the fence, and went inside. Soon my friends Tara and Tyler would be coming over to catch up on Game of Thrones on my 2005 iMac in my living room. I don't own a television but I have the internet and that is a fine way to catch up with my beloved Lannisters. I lit a fire (more for coziness than need of heat) and prepared the milking gear for Bonita. It was nearly 6PM and I had an appointment I could not miss. I headed back outside with my steel canister and hummed a bit. The sheep were pacing by their paddock fence, planning their next escape and I was just happy that come dusk they would resign themselves to escape another day.

I milked Bonita, called Brianna the bottle lamb, and slumped into the hammock chair hanging from the King Maple. Brianna sucked down her warm winner while I took a few long breaths. I looked back on the day and how many changes had happened to me in just a few years. When did white pants start to cause pause? Probably around the time white goat milk became normal? I can't keep track. I am glad that I don't own any white pants though. I respect the lifestyle choice but they might as well be shackles at this point. I'm broke and scared most of the time these days but I'm getting used to it. That's as big of an accomplishment as paying the mortgage these days, accepting my new normal. Not just the normal of goats milk, road kill and sheep wranglin' but the normal of a wonderful life with zero security. Well, at least I'm not going to fire myself. There's a little security in that, I suppose.

That night ended with a fire, friends, and a little lamb asleep in my lap while we watched stories on the computer. I did this thing I have done before in my life, this thing where I make myself remember a moment. I took in the sounds, colors, feelings, textures and light. I touched the babe's wooly head and inhaled that lamb smell of earth, grass, and new lanolin. I had $52 in the bank account, no idea what was in store tomorrow, a good plan to get ahead, and pigs to pick up the next day. I was in the company of friends, dry, warm, and sated. I had a lamb in my lap, a dog at my feet, and for the rest of the evening there was nothing else I could do to change my world, so I just accepted it. And with that came peace. I will never forget that moment.

A creative life, a fulfilling life, a dream - It is worth fighting for. It's also worth being stubborn for. It may have taken me from television sets to cheering over dead squirrels, but what can I say? Life's a ride. And for this gal, I'm feeling blessed these days just to hold on.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Shoat it Out!

The boys are here! A pair of Tamworth/Old Spot crosses. It's been hard finding pigs this spring but farming friends Ejay and Kim got a hold of a whole farrowing and saved two for me. We met at a fairgrounds between both our farms yesterday and did the hand off. They had a big van and I had my truck. It didn't take long to swap the shoats from the two vehicles and we had a few minutes of catching up before they were on their way to help a friend get in her spring planting and I was back home to prepare for the 45 chicks arriving the next day. All of a sudden this place is exploding with animals! Pigs, chickens, and a goose about to hatch a clutch of goslings (I hope). The ride home was good and steady. Gibson was rolling shotgun and bluegrass on the radio. Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday afternoon.

I'm off to get those chicks from the post office and get them set up in the barn. Enjoy your Thursday, friends! And if you want to join in on the fun, over on my facebook page we are having a naming contest. Throw in your ideas!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Piglets Today!

This afternoon I am heading to meet farm friends Ejay and Kim to pick up two piglets they scored for me! I'm very excited to have pigs back on the farm, and animal I am learning to appreciate more and more. When pigs aren't here there seems to be a hole in the farm that unsettles me. Hogs are comforting, they really are. It's security in every sens. They do their part on this farm and I have learned so many ways to cook and enjoy pork, ham, and bacon since having a constant rotating supply. So this is certainly a reason to celebrate!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Arrows Rising 2014 Was A HIT!

People traveled to this muddy, chilly, and not-yet-green corner of the world this past weekend for the first ever Arrows Rising Event. Folks traveled from Nova Scotia, North Carolina, and New York City to see Cold Antler and feel a bow in their grasp. And as much fun as it was doing some demonstrations and shooting arrows on the farm - the real excitement of the weekend was seeing new archers fall in love.

I'm incredibly proud of this event. Everyone who attended got a comprehensive introduction to the sport and a taste of my community. Saturday was co-taught by Kathy of WindWomen Farm. She is a very talented archer and a leader in her local sporting club. She's a traditional archery fanatic and has beautiful bows and equipment, which she not only brought to show but shared with the guests. Together we started the workshop by explaining the bows, history, our stories and going over equipment and safety. Before we broke for lunch we had everyone outside to shoot their first targets and while some did find a rocky start to it everyone was hitting the mark by end of the day.

I was very grateful and lucky to have Kathy there all day, but she wasn't the only friend to drop by and add color to the workshop. Neighbor and mentor, Patty Wesner dropped by after picking up her first ever trio of lambs (I named one Trevor) and was glowing with joy over her new little ones. She has been excited about sheep for years now and finally had a small start up flock in the back of her Toyota SUV. I helped her out by docking the tails for her right then and there and everyone seemed okay with the short break to see the gorgeous lambs and the proud new shepherd!

We broke for lunch and when we returned from it we headed to the copse of woods behind my little red barn and shot targets. Most of the afternoon was spent refining and correcting folks stances, aim, and technique. By the end of the day everyone was more familiar with their new bows and could string and unstring them on their own without fail. We ended Saturday grateful we missed the rain and with slightly sore shoulders and arms.


An hour before the workshop picked up again, my friend Erik walked into my house with a hand carved bow and a jug of home brew. It wasn't any bow, either. It was a hand carved and painted 60-pound longbow of dragon scales. Each scale hand carved and painted on the bow stave. I was beyond impressed and realized how much I had missed my winter away from the SCA. He and Tomas Apple—the two men who run our local historical archery club—invigorated my Society Spirit. T'mas did a wonderful introduction talk to what the SCA is and how it can expand their archery practice for little or no cost. Few people realize that there is a group out there holding traditional archery practice weekly in nearly every part of North America. So T'mas shared some information on getting started in the Society and Erik talked about bows and the boyar's craft. He brought a half dozen handmade bows and passed them around. When the educational morning indoors was over (we were hoping to beat the rain and 40-degree high temperature) we all headed back outside to shoot under the tent that the gals from Coyote Crow Farm brought along.

After they got a few rounds in on the targets with the one-on-one assistance of T'mas and Erik, I headed over to grab Merlin and tack him up. I wanted to show them a short demonstration of mounted archery and where Merlin and I are in our training in that regard. It was that cold, rainy, day I wrote about just recently but I think riding Merlin from the front of my house to the back woods with a bow in one hand and reins in the other might have been the highlight of the weekend, personally. We shot a few arrows and Merlin was a perfect gentlemen. He didn't even care about the new tent in his woods or the dozen people petting him. The demonstration was short and I answered some questions about it but everyone was eager to get back to the forest shooting.

Next and last was a forest shoot through the woods at 3D targets Erik made. They looked like derpy dragons and you couldn't help but laugh at them before you took aim. We walked through the narrow path of young forest and as you turned a corner BAM! DRAGON! And then in pairs we shot them down. It was a whimsical part of the day but a lot of fun. The rain couldn't dampen our spirits, not after that.

Erik ended up selling some of his bows as well, folks were already getting the archery bug. He makes wooden quivers that stick in the ground as well as latch onto a belt for field and tournament. I got to shoot one of the dragon bows and it shot amazingly well. I wish the guys who sourced stuff for Game of Thrones knew who Erik was, because it felt like a prop for someone far better at archery and cooler than I am!

All in all the weekend was a hit, and I mean that in all its clever implications. Women and gents who had not touched a bow since scouting years of their childhood left with the tools and instruments to keep shooting at home and shoot well. We covered so much, thanks to the guest instructors and the questions of the archers in attendance. Folks who arrived knowing nothing left able to talk shop with boyers, fit arrows to their arm and bow, find local clubs and resources and half left with a second handmade bow! Not a single person was injured besides a few string slaps on the arm, and everyone made the bulleyes at least once. Smiles were infectious and the rain was just a taunt, daring us to try and not be thrilled. It lost that dare. I'm sure of it.

And you know what? The whole time I was thinking, "Man, if it is this great of a success on a wet, cold, day in mud season just wait till the October version comes along! I suspect after reading this the last 3 spots for Columbus Day Weekend will be scooped up, but as of now there are still a few open. Based on what the folks learned here on the initial weekend in rough weather, that day can only get better!

Thank you again to all who were a part of the weekend event! Thank you for braving the wet and cold, pulling back those bow strings, and letting the grey geese fly!

Monday, May 5, 2014


I left the cannister alone for three minutes while I took hay to the horses...


Beginner Beekeeping Class with Zan Asha!
5 Spots Left!

I am thrilled to announce that Cold Antler Farm will be hosting a stop on Zan Asha's tour! Come and meet the gyspy herself while learning about beekeeping in all its modern and folk traditions. The workshop will be here at Cold Antler and take place Saturday, May 30th. Here is a desciprtion of what will be covered from 10AM - 4PM here at the farm! There will be an hour break for a packed lunch and I'll be happy to show you around Cold Antler, my own hive of bees, and perhaps you can see this amazing vagabond with Merlin. Zan is a woman who belongs beside a horse. I can surely relate.

Organic Ways Beekeeping 101 (Beginning Beekeeping):
Zan Asha is a third generation beekeeping who practices the same chemical free, behavor-based beekeeping as her grandfather in WWII era Hungary. The practice of watching the very specific behaviors and structures of the bees, and caring for them during the seasons will be discussed, along with the basic principles, equipment, disease prevention, and bee society will be discussed. You will leave with a working knowledge of how to set up your bees and what to expect the first year of beekeeping. Old stories on European beekeeping will be touched on.

Folk Ways Beekeeping:
 Old style beekeeping (from ancient history to WWII), equipment, and techniques will be discussed, with old pictures and books dissected. You will learn how the old masters worked their bees and how you can apply it to your beekeeping. This class is more for the antique scholar or beekeeper who is fascinated by old history and focuses more on that than a hands on beekeeping compendium.

To SIGN UP please email me at for details. Price is $100. First come, first served!

Zan's Bio

Zan Asha is a dreamer, just like you. After earning a degree at NYU's Tisch School of the arts, and running an ethnic dance and theater troupe for 5 years in New York City, she changed her focus to sustainability after the recession of 2008.

In 2010 She organized a congress of online farmers and sustainability advocates to offer advice and stories of self-reliant skills; The Renegade Farmer was named one of the top 50 Farm Blogs by Seaman's. She also began teaching her grandfather's WWII era natural beekeeping beekeeping in alliance with her landlady, a well known city environmentalist. The chemical free, behavioral-based European style beekeeping has been featured in the film "Queen Of The Sun" and the urban rooftop aspect (she kept 9 hives in the Bronx) was featured in GRIT magazine and MaryJane's Farm Magazine.

By request, she slowly began teaching this sought after bee-and-farm knowledge throughout New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas.

In the meantime—ever the artist—she focused on her childhood love of painting and fables and creates one of a kind wooden creations and art dolls, which have been featured in PRIMS magazine (2011 and 2012). as well as creating a line of organic, herbal soaps and beauty care products.

Her traveling continues, and you can find her adventures currently documented at with an upcoming book in the works. Overall, Zan advocates extraordinary living for all individuals.

You can also see a compilation of her two year journey here.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Three Things

I'm 31-years old and there is nothing I have yet to experience in this messy world quite as wonderful as the feeling of riding a horse in a cold, steady, rain. Whitesand beaches and coral reefs are beautiful things, but like that ol' trope goes I wouldn't want to live there. I am sure those places are lovely and the people are kind. But to me heaven is a place you only can reach on the back of a wet horse on a miserable day. We are who we are.

I am mounted on my gelding and bundled up in a wool cloak that soaks up the rain but still holds heat against my body. we walk up the narrow trails pass naked trees and smell the woodsmoke from the fire I lit an hour earlier. I am close to home again. The cloak hugs my skin the way only wet wool can. If I move it off my bare arm I see steam rise. This makes me shiver with quiet thrills. Just like those first cold walks to school did when I realized I could see my breath and the world was changing. When I was a child weather happened to me. I am a woman now. I happen to it.

I find it hard to ride in pants now. It feels like I'm wearing hobbles. I ride in a kilt, boots, and halfchaps. This way I can swing on and off as free as if I am doing karate kicks. But this kilt is old and falling apart. Most of my clothes are shabby these days. The boots were bought (used) four years ago. The halfchaps are dusty enough to look grey instead of their original black. I remember when I was showing Merlin in dressage (can you call it "showing" if you only entered once?) and wore the new half chaps over my black paddock boots (also used) because actual riding boots cost around $200. At least if you buy them for women with calf muscles. Yet I never felt quite so proper and fancy as I did in that horse show. There I was: the dumpy slovak girl feeling like a low-rent Dutchess in a pair of breeches, black shoes, and the clean chaps. It gave the illusion of a social class higher than my own and I won't lie, I liked it then. A coworker leant me her shirt and show jacket and we won third place out of seven entries. I was as proud as a gander.

But on my mountain we look nothing like that. I am in those same chaps and smile, remembering that feeling. But I feel even more pride in my newest achievement: inner thigh callousing. From the inside of my knees up to halfway up my soft thigh I have a new layer of tougher skin. My body is creating those same patches you see in the same places on riding breeches. They aren't ugly, not in the slightest. I admire them like early-June fireflies. I wonder how many generations it has been since this once Scottish-dominated part of New York had people riding horses in kilts on the mountains. People who had the same types of happy scars inside their legs? I have never been tattooed or pierced in anyway but it feels like I am marked. This is my tribe, and those callouses are our secret handshake across lifetimes. They rode in cold rain, too.

Merlin and I don't ride far. The point isn't sadism, it's that blessed discomfort returning home. Runners know this. Backpackers know this. Cyclists know this, too. Those of us who put ourselves outdoors to cross the landscape without a roof above us or a combustion engine under us: we all know it. We ride, or hike, or pedal or paddle and do it until muscles ache and minds reel. We push ourselves in cold or rain, some of us anyway, because we know that we are safe animals. We aren't on the run from anything but our inner demons and when we get back to our homes hot showers, favorite-oversized sweaters, and warm drinks wait us. I feel extra lucky to have all these things as well as a woodstove. And that is what I am thinking of as Merlin's wet tail swishes behind him as he slides down a muddy bank a few inches. My body corrects itself above him, used to unsteady ground on an unusually steady horse. I try to remember a time when my body didn't know this animal. I can't. All I know is that she was a scared girl. She let weather happen to her all the time, her.

The rain comes and goes, sliding in and out of little bursts. We reach the top of our mountain overlook and the white birch is there. A single tree, still naked, the Guardian of the Mountain. In Druid lore the Birch (Beith) was the first tree. It was the beginning tree. You planted it where stories started, forests were to grow, new farms broke ground. It was a tree of purification, you see. And I love that this tree stands alone in this field where the weather must deal with me. Must look a woman and her horse in the eye and see decision. We stand and I take in deep lungfulls of air. I long lost the prefernce to be comfortable. If I am cold I don't allow myself to care. We stand there a while with Beith. Just a little while. And then more rain and wind comes and I turn my horse's head south and we head home. We do not rush. The rain and sweat make my legs hurt, there is a rough chafing now, not the pleasant roughness I am used to. I like it. It's a pain I expected and it only means my mark with my tribe goes deeper. I realize this means some part of me is broken.

Of all the things that have changed in me over the years it is my lack of patience for comfort. It's too high a price to pay. I'm not talking about regret and dreams, I mean this literally, i.e. heating and air conditioning. I do not like the feeling of a body trying to escape weather. I heat my home with wood, but it never reaches more than 63 degrees and I don't want it to. When I walk into places heated any higher I start to squirm and feel like one of those rotisserie chickens under a heat lamp at the grocery store. I can seek warmth if I want it. I can get naked under heavy wool blankets and know what a jungle chrysalis feels like. But I want my home to match more of what the outdoors feel like. That is where I spend most of my time. My body is used to what the outdoor temperatures are and that is where it wants to be, so the same goes for my truck. I am a natural thermostat happy to shiver or sweat depending on the season. I do not air condition either. I can find cold when I want it, too. When you work outside all day in 90% humidity that cold river feels exactly like tonight's warm fire. So this comfort with being uncomfortable all the time has become the single biggest change. I find myself listening to people complain about the heat or cold with a cocked head. I don't understand why they just can't stop preferring to be comfortable? It's so much easier.

I suppose because they are sensible. I am not good at sense. I'm a fucking romantic.

Oh, this wet horse! If I had ten miles to travel I would be concerned. I'd use my kilt to cover my inner thigh and find shelter and warmth quickly for me and my mount. Wet tack can cause serious sores on any horse, as it was on my own body after just a few miles of slow travel. In another time I would need to find shelter and make a fire and let the tack dry, the horse dry, and my red knee meat dry too. But I'm not going ten miles. I am but a half mile from home and my heart beats fast as a new lover's at the idea of arriving at my farmhouse door at a good trot, taking off his take and grooming him,tTurning him into his paddock with Jasper to eat good hay, and bringing saddle and self indoors to warm up by the fire. See, it is not the ride in the rain that you savor - but the aftermath. Fires are nice but you can only enjoy them so much as at a resting heart rate. Those who seek them as sanctuary are able to savor.

I'm warm now. Soon I will find wool blankets, clean sheets, and a dog I love more than anything else in the entire world. And I will curl up with him and fall asleep hard. The kind of sleep you can not gain from drugs or drink. I'll drift off hugging that black fur, my nose in his ruff. The last things I will hear before morning will be the crackle of fire and the sound of that wonderful cold rain next to an open window. I don't care about money. I don't care about men. After a long ride in a cold rain all I can feel is hard-won comfort which I revel in with shameless abandon. This is all I need from the world. There are plenty of things I want, sure, but this is all I need. My house is 58 degrees. My dog smells wet because he is. I smell like horse, sweat, and feral petrichor.

Some times I think I was born to do three things:
Ride a horse in a cold rain, come home to a warm fire, and write about it.