Thursday, July 31, 2014

John H Dewell's Elegant Time

There is a hike in the Smoky Mountains called Chimney Tops. It's my favorite hike in the world, one I hope to take again some time in the next few years. Named for its appear race at the summit: this hike ends at a pair of rocky outcroppings that look like little chimneys from the base of the mountain. I have made the trip several times with several close friends and a few times, solo.

I was thinking about them today while playing my fiddle.  I forgot that inside my fiddle case is a little shrine to those mountains in Tennessee. I never take them out of the case, but if you open it you'll find a vintage poster book from the 1950's and two post cards. I bought all three of these things while living in Knoxville, found at local antique shops. One of the postcards picture the famous black bears of the National Park and the other is a photograph taken at the peak of Chimney Tops.

I turned it over and read the message and address on the back. I was totally shocked, having never noticed where it was mailed to. It was addressed to Greenwich, New York. Greenwich is the town seven miles away from where I live right now. Besides being a wonderful coincidence it means that somehow this postcard found its way back to Tennessee from New York, and that makes me very happy. I'll find my way back again, too.

I left Tennessee of my own volition. I wanted to travel, see America, drive cross country and live in the Pacific Time Zone.   People don't realize just how west Idaho is, or how North. I was a five hour drive from Seattle in Sandpoint, Idaho. Our local Amtrak would take you right into the city, or Portland Oregon. If you go back to the beginning of this blog it takes place when Made From Scratch, my first book, was being written.

After Idaho I moved here to Veryork. I've been here ever since and this farm in Jackson is the longest I have slept in one bed since I left my parent's house at 18. I adore Washington County. It is the place I belong right now and have no plans to leave it. As much as I idolize the Volunteer State I will never forget the real reason I left. It was too warm in the winter. That may seem silly but to a gal raised in the wild Northeast, born around mountains and snow— an 82-degree day in October was soul sucking. Autumn to me is not just about color and pumpkins in the garden. It is about seeing your breath in September,  needing to wear sweatshirts and jeans, bundling up with blankets at football games, and smelling woodsmoke in the morning and evening. October in Tennessee was just too warm and it felt like I was in a foreign place, far from correct.

My biggest fault is my loyalty. Tennessee, I love you. I'll always love you. You are "the one" - but October had me first. He is far better than I imagined he could be and we are having an elegant time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

For Flocks Sake!

A few days ago I posted about a reader who lost her flock to some serious predators. A friend of hers told me on Facebook he was going to start a crowd funding project to help replace the birds and build a proper coop. Well he did what he promised and today I was emailed a link to this site. If you have a dollar to spare, help a person in this community get back to the good life and start over. They have already made over half their goal in just a few hours! Click Here To Help!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stones and Straw Houses

I was over at my friends Tara and Tyler's home recently helping in whatever small ways I could to get their place built. They have been working on their home for two summers now and this spring they erected the timber frame they built together. Now it has all sorts of straw and wiring, electric hookups to solar panels, a well, and even a road leading up to it. They had a piece of forest and are making it their home. I am so proud of them, so very proud. And when I was there working on their window reveals and padding holes in the straw wall I got lost listening to music. I felt this return of inspiration I didn't realize I was lacking, and as soon as it welled up in me I felt a sadness that it had been gone so long. It was a weird moment of instant nostalgia and appreciation at the same time, like I was back in college. The heady combination of peers my own age working together on one goal while lost in their separate tasks, music playing in the background. It was all of us kids just turning 21 in computer lab, or at a portfolio review, or studying late into the night for our Typography Exams. And that made me feel younger, and wilder, and best of all - possibility. College was all about possibilities to me.

I had not felt that in a while. It was good to have it back.

There's a lot of personal changes going on around here lately. Ive been writing about it over at the Clan Cold Antler blog, but to summarize a lot of scary things are going on and I realized I could put my head down and figure it out or just collapse into this place of inaction. I asked the readers of that blog to help in a small way, which was through positive thinking about me and this farm's health. I asked if they would go outside and find a small stone and hold it tight in their fists while they imagined everything here being okay, successful and safe. Then I asked they drop that stone in a glass, and set it somewhere it can get sunlight during the daytime and see the stars at night. I asked that every day for ten days they do this with me, because I believe intention can move mountains and I believe in the power of prayer. If just one person does this with me it adds such an intensity of purpose to the healing this farm. I'll ask here too: find a stone and say a prayer that things are okay, collect them in a glass by a windowsill, if you can and want to. It is a huge help.

This post must seem odd, jumping from home building to college to stones in glass jars - but it is all the same thing: community. My community here in Veryork, the people I see on a regular basis. The community that turned me into the person I am today, my past. And the community here online as well, sending me photos through Facebook of stones in wine glasses and jelly jars. Together these three groups are what keep me and this farm going. To know there are folks I can call to help at 1AM and they will arrive. To know there are people out in the world that remember me, for better or worse. And to know that there are strangers in Canada placing river stones in their palm and imagining me in a better place.... what could be more of a community effort?

I feel lucky to have these three groups.
I hope they all know they have me if they need me, too.

Monday, July 28, 2014


Here's Yeti, one of the two cats that works indoors and outdoors at Cold Antler Farm. I've lived around cats my entire life and appreciate them. I have even been caught cuddling one close, (if we're in a place safe enough to be so honest). But I don't think I'll ever be a "cat person". Any of you out there who think your cat wouldn't eat you if she weighed another two hundred pounds is kidding yourself. There's a reason Clifford was a big red dog.

A cat that size? bloodbath.

Take Aim Beside Me!

I am sharing this again to urge anyone on the fence to sign up and join the tribe this October!  If you are even on the fence or nervous, grab up this workshop because it is a life changer. Now, I'm not saying I am a life changer, I'm saying becoming an archer is. You see the world different. You walk taller, you learn a discipline and an art that holds your head higher and allows a focus and meditation few sports can match. You can lose yourself in a run, you can ride a horse for therapy, but nothing compares to the feeling of the bow. Your mind is totally open and clear when an arrow is pulled back to your lips. It is heavenly. Also, take heart in knowing everyone coming is a complete beginner, so no worries about being worst or best. This is about learning to shoot traditionally and for yourself. Who knows? It may open your world to hunting, or competition, or the SCA like it did for me. So sign up for these two amaing days this coming Holy October. Take aim beside me.

I am happy to announce a new event here at Cold Antler Farm! Hopefully this will become a tradition like Fiddle Camp. Columbus Day Weekend, 2014, I would like to host an absolute beginner's archery event called Arrows Rising: October Light. It's two days of learning the skills, techniques, and equipment needed for traditional archery. That's right, traditional is what I said. We'll be using the longbow (not compound bows) and learning instinctive shooting. There will be no training wheels or sights, instead just wood, string, arrows, eyes, and targets. The event will include a wooden, artisan-crafted long bow at a poundage and length suitable for beginners. Yup, you get a bow!

This may be the event I am most qualified to teach here, too. As a professional archery instructor, a team member of a historic archery team, and a safety marshal for the Society of Creative Anachronism I have been teaching and educating beginning archers for some time now. You'll learn not how to pull and release but how to position your entire body, mind, breath, and heartbeat for the target. You'll be among other beginner's as well so no worries, please.

Day One will include an overview of safety, gear, types of bows and arrows. You'll get to know your bow and learn the basics of care and feeding, stringing it with a bow stringer, and how to measure yourself for arrows. You'll get to learn the safe way to shoot with others at a range environment. You'll get the basic lesson of instinctive shooting as well. The day will end with target practice (supervised) and a talk about important books and resources for the new traditional archer.

Day Two will be shorter, but include a group breakfast at the Burger Den followed by a fun tournament with prizes. We'll wrap up around noon or 2PM at the latest and you'll leave not only with your own bow but the knowledge to shoot well, shoot true, and all the skills you need to practice at home or your local archery range (you may not realize you even have a local public range!).

If you want to sign up I am only accepting two more people. I encourage total beginners to traditional archery who always wanted to take up the sport to attend, you really will enjoy it. If you are already an experienced archer, I suggest letting the folks who never touched a bow before take the first slots and you are welcome to attend the tournament Sunday or come and shadow at the talks and practice on Sunday.


Arrows Rising
Oct 11th and 12th, 2014
Jackson, NY
Cost: $350 (includes bow!)
No Camping On Site

NOTICE: Workshops are not refundable, regardless of date change, weather, or any other reason, but all sales of workshops are good for credit towards other events of similar value or less long as I am hosting events and farming! Understand this before you sign up, please.

Win a Portable Grill, Support US Lamb Farmers!

The wonderful folks at Mountain States Rosen Co-op, a group of western US lamb ranches, are giving away a portable grill as part of their summer promotions, to get people excited about eating lamb again! To win you sign up over on Facebook, through this link here or the ad on the right side of the blog. It takes a second or two, and once there you can get free recipes and cooking tips as well as meet the people who comprise MSR.

I got in touch with MSR because they reminded me a lot of the Cabot Cheese folks here in Veryork. Cabot is a larger label, but it is a combination of so many neighbors' livelihoods. Hundreds of small farms and family operations, passed through generations, with the golden ticket of a place to sell their wares and distribute for them. When you buy Lava Lake Lamb you are buying grass-fed, humanley raised, food that supports folks right in this country managing to retain the job title of "Shepherd" in the 21st century.  When you find their brands at your local grocer or co-op you can make sure you are choosing an American-raised lamb over an imported one from 10,000 miles away. They have gone above and beyond labeling standards and many packages have QR codes you can scan to not only learn about the food but the farm or ranch they are raised on. This is a big deal for folks who want to shop mindfully, and something I support wholeheartedly. The video below is one of those ranchers, still driving their flocks across the mountain ranges of Montana. Watch one family keeping a tradition alive, raising meat and wool for supermarkets and soldiers alike. So CLICK HERE, to win a grill and just a visit to their site or a package of Shepherd's Pride in the freezer is a step towards better meat, better business, and happier animals. I thank them for their support of Cold Antler, where lamb will be on the menu in a few weeks!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Keep Raising Chickens

I received a message today from a reader who recently lost many of her chickens to a predator. She was deflated and frustrated, mostly because it had taken so much to get to a point in her life where she could raise chickens in the first place. To finally get to that point, build the coop, save for the birds, raise them up, and have one stroke of poor luck take them away was a huge blow. I emphasized, as I knew that plight. It's hard getting to a chicken-friendly life and even harder keeping the birds alive without a Fort-Knox level coop. She explained she didn't have the money to build a fortress or even replace the chickens. Now it's just a big let down.

To those of us who spend our days with animals or have grown up around livestock, we sometimes forget what a huge step it is to take on something like chicken care. It is a huge responsibility, and a shift in how we live with animals. Most of us understand the pseudo-parenting of cats and dogs, but chickens (to most who keep them) are not pets; They are employees. Animals you raise with care and temperance with the intention of feeding and keeping safe in return for food. With chickens it is either meat or eggs, and both of those outcomes can turn into a fox dinner without much notice.

To those of you struggling with such losses I urge you to not let it get you down. In the words of Joel Salatin, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly first!" and I am a firm believer in that. If you lose your first flock (my Siberian Huskies ate my first chicks in my Idaho kitchen) do not beat yourself up over it. There isn't a single farmer, homesteader, or chicken keeper that didn't make mistakes when they started. Anyone who is taking chances and taking on new things makes mistakes. I have made many and have lost rabbits, sheep, chickens, and turkeys to those mistakes. It is not a good feeling, you will be told you are a failure and should stop, but it is a part of this life and a part of farming. Do not listen to your inner demons or the know-it-alls on Facebook. Where there is livestock there is deadstock, as the saying goes. You, Ma' Nature, or Murphy's Law WILL make things happen and they aren't all good. You need to know that any animal you take into your life will at some point die. That is part of the story, as it ever has been. Some die to be our food, some die of old age in their sleep, some feed the fisher cats, and some simply fall over for no reason but a cold snap after a bad cold. You can be a vegan with a vegetarian housecat on vitamin B supplements and that cat will die not matter how much Reiki or acupuncture you throw at it. All living things are on a clock, and when you begin homesteading there are MORE CLOCKS. There isn't a person reading this with animals of their own that doesn't have a story to share of losing livestock or a beloved companion. So understand you are not alone, you are not a bad person, and you are now another of the nodding heads at the feed store. Crap happens.

The point is to learn from your mistakes and to always improve. If you lose your birds in one night then do some research. Find out on forums online or at your local poultry club or extension office what caused the deaths and how you could prevent them? I recently lost a lot of chicks to a rat that chewed through a plywood brooder in ther barn. Next week I am getting more turkeys. Guess what? The brooder is being cleaned out, stapled all over with hardware cloth, and blessed before I set another poult or chick in there. There are many inexpensive and clever tactics out there, from blinking Christmas lights in July to radios blasting talk radio into the night (my own birds have never missed an episode of This American Life). It can all help. Just don't give up. And don't you dare let people tell you to stop raising animals because you made a mistake. If you need more validation read "The Dirty Life" by Kristen Kimball to see what can happen in the first year of a new Animal Farm. Her story has sick pigs, gored steers, infected cattle, escaped horses, the works. But that was their first year as a full-diet CSA and now a decade later they are still at it, wiser, leaner, and better. I am just grateful Kristen wasn't blogging then. She would have an earful from all the "experts" online.

Here's the bottom line: raising livestock means you will experience loss. There is no avoiding of it. There are stories I hear in hushed tones at the auction barn or in the hardware store. Folks dealing with all sorts of problems, predators, diseases, and bad decisions. Most of them have the good sense not to write about it on the internet but they are all learning. And when I talk to folks like my Hay Man, Nelson, who is nearly 80 and knows cows the way I know my own hands... I see what the endgame is. There is a point where you figure it all out and that is worth the effort. Till then, know husbandry is not perfect. People are not perfect. Be forgiving of yourself and do not give up. And most of all, understand that patience is part of the process.

Keep raising chickens.

P.S. If you are a part of Clan Cold Antler, start reading the clan blog starting tomorrow: big news there, personal news, long journey, play-by-play.

Dream Life

This is the main doorway to Nelson Greene's barn. It's where Gibson and I get most of our hay (one of our many hay banks around the county). He never hesitates to follow wherever I go. When I leap up into a barn, he leaps behind me. I called him to me from inside the timber cathedral and he took a seat like a king looking over his kingdom. I sometimes wonder if he knows he is living a life so many dogs could only dream of. I think he does.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Lightning Fence

Surely you've heard of an electric fence but do you know about the Lightning Fence? That name fits, because this is beyond any power tucked inside boxes and wires. This is a force of nature. A line so strong, so absolutely undisputed that rams shake and lambs scatter at the sight of it, much less a touch.

The Lightning Fence is just that; an ever presence. It is like a thunderstorm hovering above a pasture. And just like a storm it knows when to strike quick or become the gentle pulse needed to control the stock. It's a thing of beauty, under utilized as rainwater and just as necessary.

Do you know about how effective it is in any weather? Come drought or snow, power outage or shaking earth - the Lightning Fence still runs! It's dependable the way a farmer needs dependability. One purchase lasts for years, works for over a decade without complaint, and can add extra warmth to your home on cold nights. It runs entirely on renewable energy, requires minimum maintenance, and makes a single shepherd as powerful as a fleet of ATVs, waving hats, and barbed wire. Sometimes us with Lightning Fences wonder how any of you are doing this fine work without one? But sadism is growing rampant in these troubling times and who are we to judge?

The Lightning Fence is not new. It has been used since time out of mind to move animals to fresh grass. Where do you want them? How long? Perhaps you need them over here, under there, across this stream or through these woods? The Lightning Fence understand you, speaks your language! It hears you and does whatever it can with a power that tears into the earth and, at times, can fly across the twilight sky.

It makes the farmer question everything he has ever been taught about the sacred. For how could holiness be found only in stone churches when such grace and force dances before their eyes? And how could words in books ever doubt the certainty of want?

I am a wielder of a Lightning Fence.
If that is all I get to be in this short and wild life, it is enough.

Goat Life

Anyone who shares their life with goats knows all too well that the reputation is well earned. In so many mythologies and traditions the goat (or goat-like attributes) have been associated with wit, joy, frivolity, pleasure, passion and naughtiness. We see horns and cloven feet and we think: you little devils, but we think it with love. Part of living with goats is accepting the fact they will constantly outsmart you, frustrate you, and challenge you - but you are better for it. My fences are better, my feeding regimen is better, and the animals have given back so much. Just two goats and I am set up for all the milk, cheese, yogurt, and soap I could ever want. I trade and barter the extra and any old milk gets poured right into the piglet's trough. And not just little pigs enjoy milk. My older pigs in my barn love it as well and stand next to the edge of their pen while I milk Bonita with happy squeals and open mouths. I can shoot right from the teat four feet into their mouths and that is a scene worth getting up early for! I can't encourage you enough to take on a goat or two if they interest you. I really can't. Once goats are a part of your life, you can't go back.

Bonita and Ida are doing well. They have slick coats, trimmed hooves, and seem happy as Pan himself. Here they are on their afternoon walkabout, realizing that there is grain in the back of the truck. Bonita is already up and investigating and Ida (bottom left) is about to jump up and join in on the ravel. They never did get the bag open but had I not herded them back into the woods they very well may have! I love their afternoon gambol around the farm. Usually it is after milking and all other chores and I just sit and read in the chair hammock while they eat things out of shrubs and trees. Ida prefers apple leaves and Bonita prefers Burdock. They play with Gibson, snort and fart, and just act...well, capricious.

If anyone out there has any goat life questions, reservations, or tips for fencing - please do share in the comments. When it comes to these guys most of us need all the help we can get, but even in our collective fray we like that we share our days with these imps. They put the party in pastoral.

Enjoy this short clip of our afternoon walkabouts. It lasts a short while until a border collie jumps up into my lap and the film cuts out! (Gibson is soooo much better now!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

INDIE DAYS! One on One Skill Sharing

Indie Days are a new thing here. The reason for them is exactly states in the title. Indie means Independent. If I want to live a life as a self-employed woman, independent and resilient, then I need to keep a roof over my head, stay on top of my bills, and slowly try to improve my own situations. Indie Days are a step in that direction

It’s the chance to come to the farm and hang out for a whole day to talk, learn, ask questions, or just see what life on a farm with this many animals is like? It’s just you and me. Or you, me, and your best friend or spouse or teenage daughter or son. Point is it’s a tiny group and just for you. You can schedule it in advance or make it an Indie Weekend. They work like this: you show up in the morning and we do a farm tour and get to know each other and then we get started on what it is you want to experience: fiddle lessons one on one? Backyard pigs? Homesteading for beginners? Building and planting raised beds? Learning to shoot a bow? Starting a blog or getting into writing? What it takes to take on the dream of a working equine? Always wanted a border collie and want to see one or two (we can ask Jon and red, he offered to share his pooch with CAF readers at times) we can do that! If it is something I can teach you, I will. If it’s something I can’t I’ll let you know.

Here’s an example of an Indie Day, and something I am also offering to anyone interested in this. Woolcentric: come to the farm and join me out in the pasture with the sheep. We’ll talk livestock, I’ll show you my system and animals, and then we’ll take some wool (either off the sheep’s back or from a stash of brown Joe wool) and learn to wash, dry, card, and spin it with a drop spindle or spinning wheel. I’ll send you home with some raw wool and GET THIS, a spinning wheel! You can also buy the Ashford Traditional Wheel I bought from Jack’s Outback Antiques downtown. It’s the wheel I learned on, and love, but I am happy to sell it to someone to help keep this farm in the black. I can always buy another spinning wheel when my money situation improves. Right now I just want to get this place back on track. And that’s the exact point of an Indie Day. You come to hang with a blogger and writer you enjoy, learn a new skill, and go home with what you need for said skill (like a spinning wheel!). Things like fiddles, bows, and dulcimers have to be purchased as well but you can task me with finding the right instrument or tool for the job and you just have to come and learn it, love it, and give it a good home. I also have a stag adorned mountain dulcimer you can buy fro Craggy Mountain Music, Taxidermy, Horse Equipment, and others.

The point of this is to give readers a chance to experience and support the farm in a special way. It’s one on one, catered to what you want to know, and at a date of your choosing. It will cost more than a workshop, but not a huge amount more and isn’t included in the Season Passes (though season pass holders can certainly do this, too). Indie Days are special.

If you are interested please email me at I'll send you all the details, pricing, and such. If you want to send an email about how you think this is ridiculous, how you are happy to see the place struggling, how I don't deserve my farm, or how I am a general horrible person you can direct all of your complaints here!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Story of a Burger

This here burger is not an expensive, gourmet, meal. It is not reserved for the rich, fancy, or social elite. This is pan-seared meat, seasoned with salt and pepper and bonded with one of my hen's eggs. It's on a quickly made sweet bun, and dressed with lettuce and regular ol' ketchup. It's a cheeseburger. But what is neat about this burger is it's life story. If you give me a minute I can share it's entire dossier.

The quarter-pound of meat comes from Mack Brook Farm, a local Angus producer here in Washington County. I bought the pound at Gardenworks, a local farmyard grocer and berry operation. It cost eight dollars, and was the most expensive part of the meal. I don't raise cows (though my heart does flirt with the idea of miniature highlanders...) and so I bought the pound.

The bread was made from cheap flour bought at Stanndard Farm Stand. They didn't used to carry flour in little pound-to-three-pound sacks but now they do because I asked them to. They obliged and the whole sack of three pounds cost me around two dollars. It is not organic. It is not fancy. It's just white flour. I made the dough with well water, a pinch of salt, some yeast from a packet and baked the five buns in a buttered skillet. Before setting them in the oven I brushed them with some local honey and butter melted together in a pan. They are, literally, honey buns.

The lettuce was planted in my garden, raised up and harvested last night. It was crisp and lovely. It was free. Well, not really. I bought a six pack of started lettuce back in early May for two bucks and this shady stuff hasn't bolted yet. It's probably five cents worth of lettuce? Perhaps two or three cents?

The slice of cheese came from the deli at Stanndard Farm. It was $2.60 cents for half a pound. I'm sure it is not local or organic, but it is from Amish country since the folks at Stannard ship up all their deli meats, jams, sodas, and such from the Lancaster area for the stand. I am not too hung up on the cheese, or the flour, because I was able to buy it from a local farm stand who has children to raise, put through college, and happens to run a shop a literal horse-cart ride away from Cold Antler.

This here burger is pretty darn local. At least it is an east-coast burger. But that isn't as important to me as the price. This burger cost me about $2.73. Most of that came from the price of the meat. The rest was divided by the price of the lettuce, flour, egg, cheese, honey, and squirt from a bottle of Heinz. That is not a bad price for a meal so rich, tasty, and filling.

What this burger did take - was time. It took time to plant the heads of lettuce. It took about fifteen minutes to mix, knead, and brush the rolls. It took five minutes to cook the meat. By historical standards this is still fast food—peasant food really, just a bit of meat and bread—but by modern standards this was not at all fast food. I did not pull up to a drive thru, I knew the cows by zip code and reputation, baked the buns,  it cost more than 99 cents, etc.

The question I pose is this: is this burger worth the time and effort to most people?  I ask this because I know some of you will like this story of a burger and get you excited to post your own Burger Stories on Facebook and Reddit. Others will balk at this and think I am preaching, being elitist, or unrealistic. What I'm more interested in is WHY people feel one way or the other? Does it come down to money? Time? Access to such food? Would this burger cost double in NY City to make in your apartment? Would it cost triple at your local cafe?  All of a sudden the story of a burger becomes the social commentary of a burger, the politics of a burger, or the guild of the burger. I added that last one because if you think I eat totally local and homemade all the time, I don't. Last night I did but some nights I am so tired and beat I don't eat at all, or I just run into town for something quick.

My intention was just to share the story of one meal and see where it goes. But also to share it tasted really good. Like, ridiculously good. And I'm curious to know if Burger Stories are something you enjoy, roll your eyes over, or would just rather have the recipe for the bun and patties?

Saturday, July 19, 2014


It is not easy taking pictures of lambs, but I did my best for now. Just wanted to share an update on little Brianna, Maude's surpirse daughter and the current Diva-in-training at Cold Antler Farm. She is quite the combination! Half wool sheep and half meat sheep, she is turnining into a sass blaster with little devil horns and a winning smile. She still comes when called, is still ignored by her mother, and has outgrown all the other ewe lambs born this year! She is a doll, and I am mighty proud of her. May she do a grand job of adding more ewes to the flock, turning hay into warm hats and scarves, and teaching future generations the meaning of adorable.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Only A Few Spots Left for Antlerstock!

Just a few spots left for Antlerstock 2014! Email me at to sign up and join the small festival of homesteading, lumberjacking, horse logging, food preserving, cider pressing, preparedness discussing, husbandry talking, goat milking, tree cutting, animal raising, horseback shooting, bow stringing, hunting storied campfire that is this October!

Summer in a Jar

Canning at home was one of the first country living skills I ever learned, and I learned it long before I ever trimmed a goat's foot (note to self: trim goat feet today) or herded sheep with my Border Collie. I learned it first because you don't need the country to do it, savor it, and reap the rewards of it. Anyone can get a hold of fresh fruit now—be it from the garden, forest, friends, farm stand or what is on sale at the grocery store—and start "putting up." And please do not forget that last mention either. I know in the homesteading community we all love to grow, barter, share and support small farmers but for some people their location or budget does not allow for the time or gas money to travel to the kind of stands and agriculture. There is nothing wrong with learning to can with store bought fruit right from the supermarket! We all know peaches, strawberries, and such taste a lot better now than they will in February and they cost half as much, too. So keep that in mind urban or new homesteaders out there; you don't need a garden, farm, or sunset looking over a mountain vista of berry fields to can.

You just need to want to can! So, you want to can?!

The fine people at Mountain Feed, a wonderful small homesteading company (and Cold Antler Sponsor, for which I thank them!) sent me the Big Daddy of all beginner canning sets. They sent me the Ball Fresh Preserving Canning Kit and some jars! I was so thrilled!  I have a canner but it has been used more for soaking chickens for de-feathering during butchering and I was pretty happy to have a new one just for preserving. And seeing that new canner and all the shiny new gear really is what inspired me to get out there and start picking those berries. It didn't take long to collect enough to start getting ready to make jam. I'm including their short intro video with this post as well because it really is a well shot and easy to understand overview of fresh preserving high acid goodies like jams, jellies, pickles and pasta sauce. Enjoy it!

Mountain Feed Learn'Ems: Water Bath Canning from Mountain Feed & Farm Supply on Vimeo.

So I spent a little time this week canning up some of this summer's harvest. I put up a large supply of berry jam and water bath canned it and I turned those three big cucumbers you saw in the produced basket a few days ago into fridge pickles. I have been enjoying both already! Since one of the can's lids didn't seal that jam went straight into the fridge. I spread some over a slice of toast and wondered why I ever bought jam before in my life? The berries on this farm are ripe and gorgeous, and when turned into a hot, red, stew over the stovetop with some added strawberry goodness it was such a delight. My little house was filled with such amazing smells

Oh? What's a fridge pickle? Well, thank you for asking. It's the world's easiest pickle recipe when you have just enough cucs to warrant five minutes of work, I highly recommend it. And if this post has you a little excited about putting up food and you are nervous about being a new canner - this is a grand way to start. Adjust the technique as you see fit (there are also many recipes online if you search for fridge pickles). As a general rule the more sweet - the more sugar, and the more vinegar - the more tart. I like a nice balance and they don't last long in my fridge. Most of these are now gone, and only the picture delayed their inevitable demise!

How to Make Easy Fridge Pickles.

1. Cut up your Cucumbers into spears or slices.
2. Place in large bowl or glass baking dish.
3. Cover all the pickles with sugar, plain sugar.
4. Pour canning vinegar over the sweet slices.
5. Add pickling spices to taste (comes in spice jar at your grocer).
6. Put in fridge for a few hours to get to know itself better.
7. Place in jar and enjoy right out of fridge!
(Good for a week or so, then get soggy like)

So What are YOU putting up where you live?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Open Letter To Angry Vegetarians

About once a week I get an email or comment from the Animal Rights contingent. It is expected and usually I do not engage. I need to remember that when I published my first book I was a vegetarian raising a few laying hens and pet rabbits. Readers who knew me as the 25-year-old girl they read about (at the time just farm-curious and toying with the idea of homesteading) meet a very differnet woman on my current blog. To read that book and then pop into a blog where just seven years later that same vegetarian is raising hogs, lambs, and poultry for meat is unsettling and shocking to some readers. And so I get these notes from what I call the Angry Vegetarians. The folks who feel personally betrayed, not just for my change of diet but my change in ideas. Yesterday I was called a murderer. I've been called that many times, and in some emails, that is the nicest part of the correspondence.

The following is a letter to that Angry Vegetarian and to any others who may feel the same way. But before you read it please understand that this letter is not directed at the vegetarian diet in general. I have no qualms with it, at all. Millions of people avoid meat for religious, health-related, or various reasons of preference. This letter is not directed at them. This is a letter for the angry folks who think not eating meat makes them morally superior to those of us who do. 

Dear A.V. Club,

I recently received your note, the one that accused me of being a murderer. I understand why you are angry and I applaud your compassion. I understand because I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade, the same breed as yourself actually. Meaning; I chose the diet because of a love for animals, passion for conservation, and concern for our diminishing global resources. Avoiding meat seemed to be a kinder, gentler, and more ecological choice. I supported PETA. I had ads in Vegan magazines for my design website. I am no longer a vegetarian and do raise animals on my small farm for the table, but we have more in common than you may realize.

It would be foolish for me to try and change your mind about eating animals, and I have no interest in doing so. The vegetarian diet is a fine diet. We live in a time of great abundance and luxury, and that means choices! Never before in the history of the human animal have so many options for feeding ourselves been presented like they are now. If you want to eat a gluten-free, dairyless, low cholestoral, and mid-range protein diet based on whey extracted from antibiotic free Jersey Cows-  you can. Your great grandparents could not. There was no almond milk at the Piggly Wiggly and ration cards kinda ruined that conga line. But now there is so much food and your diet is as much a personal a choice as your religion and sexual activity, possibly even more personal. So understand I am not writing you this open letter because you don't eat meat. I'm writing you this letter because you called me a murderer.

Murder is a legal term, meaning the unlawful and premeditated act of taking a life, usually with malevolent intent. To call me a murderer is to imply that I broke the law and there is malice intended in my actions. When animals are harvested here for food, I assure you there is none. There is only gratitude, respect, and blessed relief. I do not enjoy taking animal lives and the bulk of my supposed premeditation include looking up recipes. I am not a murderer.

But I am a killer.

You are 100% correct. I kill animals. I raise chickens and rabbits from young fluffballs in the palms of my hands and mindfully bring them to the age of harvest when they are killed and stored for food. If I don't do the killing myself I hire a professional butcher to come to my farm and harvest the pigs I raised. I am also a licensed hunter in the state of New York, where I stalk deer and wild game of all sorts. I also do this with the intention of harvest. I am a killer for my table and I fully understand the seriousness of that statement. I also understand why you are disgusted by it. You are digusted because you see me as taking sentient lives when there are alternative choices as bloodless and innocent as the down on a muscovy duckling.

I know that I do not need to eat meat to survive, but I also know now that it is impossible for me to live without killing. It is impossible for you, too. I think this is the heart of our misunderstanding. This is why PETA and the FTCLDF are not working together to be one giant powerhouse for good and ending animal suffering. Most animal rights activists do not acknowledge (or perhaps are not aware) that every meal includes death. The simplest backyard salad from your own organic garden to the fake bacon in your shopping cart — both take lives. I have simply chosen to take lives in a way that causes the least amount of suffering and causes the least amount of wasted global resources. And yes, it means there is blood on my hands now.

I know that is hard to understand. It was hard for me, too.

I was a vegetarian and animal activist before I was a farmer, but that was all about passion for me and did not include much science. The only things I read about meat and the environment were based on giant corporate farms. I did not understand anything about ecology, biology, wilderness, and the personal responsibility of eating local. But what I really didn't understand was agriculture. I mean I was totally ignorant. I did not think about anything but ingredients on the package, never questioning the methods or politics behind them or the larger picture. As long as my dinner did not include animal flesh or animal products I was content in my righteousness. I was a pro-choice vegan. To be blunt, I didn't think things through.

The truth is there is no meal we can eat without killing. None. A trip to your local grocery store for tofu and spinach may not include a single animal product but the harvesting of such food costs endless animal lives. Growing fields of soy beans for commercial clients means removing habitat from thousands of wild animals, killing them through deforestation and loss of their home. Songbirds and insects are killed by pesticides at legion. Fertilizers are made from petroleum now, and those fields of tofu seeds are literally being sprayed with oil we are fighting wars over. Deer died for that tofu. Songbirds died. Men and women in battle died. And then when the giant tofu factory harvested the beans they ran over those chemical oil fields of faux-food with combines that rip open groundhogs, mice, and rabbits. Tear apart frogs and fledgling birds. It is a messy and bloody business making tofu or any of that other non-murderous food.

What about organic tofu and vegetables? That doesn't include chemical fertilizers and the companies are mindful? Right? Well, that is correct. But if you are not using oil to fertilize your crops then you are using organic material: manure, blood, bone, fish, etc. You may be a vegetarian but your vegetables are the most voracious of all carnivores. That small farm at your local green market needed to lay down a lot of swine blood, cow bone, and horse poop freeze-dried in bags marked "ORGANIC" to grow those carrots so big and sweet. Animals are an integral part of growing food for us, as food themselves or creating the materials that feed the earth. And the earth must be fed.

And let us not forget the miles on the road these vegetarian options must travel. That oil-free organic tofu sure needs a lot of diesel to get here to New York...

You can not ignore this. You can't call a small farmer a murderer and turn a blind eye to the groundhog ripped in two, the owl without a nest, or the blood spilled for oil halfway across the globe through military force. I mean, you can ignore it, of course you can. You can also search the internet for people killing pigs and call them names, but that doesn't make you right. There is nothing you or I eat that wasn't once alive save for some minerals. Plants and mushrooms are living things, just as alive as animals. And we take their lives wholesale and without regret. In the words of Joel Salatin,

" ...By what stretch of arrogance do you think a life form that looks like you is more important than a life form that doesn't?"

Though I know you may not appreciate that quote. After all, Joel is a murderer, too.

I eat animals I raise myself because I want to eat local food that causes less animal suffering and empowers my local community. I live in upstate New York. A place where farming vegetables does not make sense. This is a far cry from southeast Asia or southern California. Our growing season is around 100 days. What we can grow here in bulk is grass, and by extension the meat that eats the grass. We can let hogs range our woods and eat grubs, vegetation, and nuts. We can buy local non-GMO feed grown by our neighbors and give our animals full lives, outdoors and on pasture! Eating meat here is eating in a way that respects our region's food shed.

We can graze our animals in ways that returns good nutrients to the soil and heal the earth. We can grow two or three harvests of those grasses and feed them to animals like sheep, cows, and goats all winter. This is what my part of the world eats if they are serious about saving the environment.  We can do this without using a lot of oil, close to home, and harvest the animals we know without driving to a store to waste gas, plastic bags, and pave another parking space. When I kill a chicken I end one life. A life I was present for, grateful for, and worked hard for. I have a hard time taking criticism seriously from someone who swipes a credit card for a bag of groceries they have convinced themselves is more righteous, having never weeded a row or hefted a bag of feed. A really hard time.

My "murdered" pigs were raised from babes, seen to several times a day, carefully tended and lived a life of ample space, porcine company, sunshine, mud puddles, and rooting their snoots in the dirt. They were raised with the help of a small village of folks who bought shares of the pigs to help pay for my livelihood. These people are counting on me to help them buy good food that isn't laced with antibiotics or factory farm atrocities. And while raising these pigs I purchased feed from neighbors raising non GMO field corn and soy, a rarity these days. I employed a small butcher and his staff to come to my farm so these pigs never have to be loaded into a truck and driven away to a slaughterhouse. They have had one bad day, one bad moment actually, and that moment surprised the hell out of them.

Eat in whatever way invokes respect and gratitude in your soul. Be grateful we live in this time of contrived and soon-to-be over luxury and abundance. But do not come to battle here, accusing those of us raising good meat of murder. Those are fighting words, unkind words, and for someone so intensely passionate about treating animals well you seem to have no issue treating human beings like crap. I'm an animal, too. I would appreciate some ethical treatment.

So, yes. I am a killer. I take lives and eat the flesh of sentient beings. I farm and fish. I hunt and stalk. I fully embrace this primal and beloved part of my person. I do this with great joy and appreciation, savoring every bite of effort, community, time, and grace those meals include. Each slice of bacon or bite of roasted chicken comes with a couple dozen faces of neighbors and friends. It comes with stories of carrying buckets in the rain, of catching escaped piglets, of never leaving for a vacation or even visiting my family for Christmas.

I am a solider for my soil, stationed here at these 6.5 acres to create mindful, healthy, food because I think it makes a better and more peaceful world. And that world is not found in the fake meat section of the grocery store, darling. Life is not a storybook where you get to ignore the fact that the Three Little Pigs boiled a wolf alive. Eating meat you raised means eating food infused with integreity, sweat, loyalty, determination, love, friendship, memories, loss, perserverance and respect.

And none of these things are ingredients you will find on a package of tofu no matter how close you look.

Greatest Farming Advice Ever!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Maude Just Wanted to Remind You....

Just letting you folks know:

There are only 2 spots left for Arrow's Rising in October.

There are only 4 spots left for Cold Antler Confidential in August.

There are only 8 spots left for ANTLERSTOCK!

For details on any of these click right here! There you will find dates, details, and even information on one-on-one lessons, season passes, and such. Email me to sign up for any of it. Workshops are first paid, first reserved so if you want to join us for learning archery, the farm starting, or the big festival - please do so right quick!

No Downside, at All!

There is no downside to the homesteading life! Living close to the land allows you to go grocery shopping in the backyard for the best, healthiest, and tastiest food in the world! Here is my little farm's morning haul: three cucumbers, goat milk, fresh berries, new potatoes, salad greens, basil, half a dozen eggs and kale!

What is in your backyard this morning to eat?! Share with the blog please! I'd love to hear more from the readers, I really would. So if you read along and garden or raise stock - let the readership know! And if you don't but really would like to some day, let us know why and ask how to get started, as a community we can all help each other out with advice and ideas. Comment away!

First Fruits!

My property is covered in berries right now! Wild berries, blackberries and raspberries, are all over this little mountainside! This is the haul from just a few minutes of picking and I plan on spending a lot of time out there today picking more while the fruit is heavy on the vine...literally. I think there may be some jam in the larder before the day is through!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Potatoes & Chainsaw Bikes

It is gently raining outside and I am very tired. It has been a long and glorious Sunday, and that tired is a very good sort of ailment. The day started here with chores and then I headed back into the pickup to head to the sheepdog trials. This time, Gibson stayed at the farm. It was a grand thing having him with me, feeling special and proud, but the club I am a member of, NEBCA (though lapsed recently, I think?)—runs on a volunteer heartbeat. So I returned without the glory of my good dog just to sit under a tent with the judge and help keep score. That was most of my day and while writing down points on outruns, fetches, drives, and shedding I learned much and had a wonderful conversation with the man, who turned out to work for Cornell University. It was fun kicking the tires with him. And while we watched the dogs compete out on the windy fields gentle rains came and left across the mountaintop farmland. Some one hired a bagpiper for the festival and the soundtrack was perfect.

When I came home I spent some time outside with the critters, doing chores and checking on beasts large and small. I weeded a small kale patch in my kitchen garden (pictured above). That little garden is doing well and providing plenty while giving the bee hive some valuable real estate. That whole front garden, long and true, is just potatoes. There are 24 plants in there and I am hoping for a harvest of sixty pounds of spuds. Sixty pounds will keep this one woman all winter, most likely. What a thing, that. It seems like a lot of potatoes, and it is, but what amazes me about growing potatoes is how much food you get for such little effort. This year it was one pass of the rototiller the Hoff family brought over. The year before: an afternoon with a shovel and hoe. Work, sure, but talk about a repayment. A third of my body weight in food! Hooo!

When the chores were done tonight I headed down to my friends' farm. The Daughton Family was helping me out with my truck, which is due for inspection by the end of the month and has several obstacles in its path to passing said test. Mostly having to do with some O2 sensor on the V8, which means I am emitting more emissions than I should. I joke around about how much I get around on a horse these days but Cathy Daughton said she doubted the state had leniency for hoofed miles. But they said they knew the part I needed and would help me install it next weekend. Cathy handed me some freshly picked gooseberries and we snacked while talking about how to get the truck road legal in three weeks. I am praying I can afford the repairs. If I can't, well, I have a horse and work from home. Worst things happen to better people every day.

The highlight of my visit to the Daughton's is Ian's invention (age 12). He has created a motor bike by rigging a chainsaw engine to a regular bicycle. It is genius. By adding a belt, a belt wheel, a starter button and some welding Ian has created gas power to his huffy. Ian is going places. I eat more gooseberries and wonder what people in the city do on Sunday nights?

The rain is starting to pick up and thunder is starting to rumble. I am thinking about the piglets. Earlier this afternoon I made sure they had a pile of bedding deep enough to sublet a rabbit warren. They had a dinner of yesterday's goat milk and some pig chow with some kitchen scraps and I am thinking of them now as I write you fine people. Out behind this farmhouse two piglets are dry and sleepy, buried in hay and listening to rain on a metal roof while they doze off with full belly. It makes me happy, as any thought of animals in comfort based on my direct actions does.

Tonight I am going to sit back and watch Babe, a favorite move with plenty of sheepdog trials and farm goodness inside it's truffle center. I have not seen it in years. I am excited. Rex is my favorite character in that story and it'll good to see him again. And on that note I say goodnight. Let us celebrate good dogs, beds of potato futures, snug piglets fat on goats' milk, and movies that keep us smiling. We're the lucky ones, us.

Her Own Society

The Soul selects her own Society — Then — shuts the Door —

Emily Dickinson c. 1862

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Back To The Start

This morning as soon as chores were done and the farm seemed to reach a baseline of homeostasis - I threw my day pack into the back of my truck and Gibson and I headed to Vermont. It was a grand day, the weekend of the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials - of which I have been attending since the very first summer I lived in Veryork, over five years ago. It was an important day. The girl (and she was a girl) who showed up at that trial years before rented a little cabin in Vermont and desperately wanted a border collie and some sheep. She showed up at Merck cow-eyed and bushy tailed. And over the next four years would go from volunteering at trials and attending beginner clinics without a dog at all to getting her first puppy and taking lessons with wonderful trainers in Massachusetts and New York. Gibson grew up to be the dog of my dreams, the dog I needed, and while we have never entered a trial and he can't even do an outrun—we work together every day on this farm. I depend on him.

A lot is going through my head tonight. Some of it is guilt. I wanted to be one of those handlers down in the trial fields so badly, and I still do, but the reality of driving three hours round trip to herding lessons, working (at the time) a full time job, and writing books and running the farm became too much. Then Merlin came along right when time for herding lessons came back and I was out on trails and with the Draft Animal Association. Basically, I dropped the ball. I felt guilty because I know Gibson could have been a dog at this trial had I put in the time and effort. I watched the handlers around me, many of which I know by name, still feeling that awe. But also feeling that if I had a tail it would be between my legs, because in my head I have let them down. The trainers who started us out, the folks in NEBCA, the readership on the blog...

Amongst all these swirling feelings of trial excitement and regret, I felt that old excitement again. The feeling of just starting out into the Society of Lamb & Wool. The thrill of being asked to help keep score with the judge. Talking with handlers, explaining to tourists how the trial worked, just being engaged. With Gibson at my feet and a morning of chores under my belt I started to feel less like a failure and more a part of this world. I was not a trial handler. But I did live with the finest border collie in the world, and at four years old maybe he still can train for the trial fields? Old dogs/new tricks and all that. Someone asked me if my dog was competing today? I pointed to a dog in the trial field. Out there a sleek, 35-pound, dog was expertly driving sheep through a gate. I said "That is a precision instrument." Then I pointed to Gibson. "This is a hammer."

On the ride home from the trials—Gibson riding shotgun as always—I thought about the blog a lot too. Had I failed the readership the same way I failed the herding community? Had losing that beginner's mind, that excitement, that thrill of learning to bake and garden, raise chickens and sheep, and all that just left like magic sucked down a drain? I went from wanting a farm so bad it hurt to finally getting one of my own, then desperately trying to hold onto that farm. And I think in the struggle I have lost sight of some of the simple joys of digging up new potatoes, cooking a simple meal I new as a seed, and the amazed wonder at reclaiming country skills. I realize now, as I am typing this out, that my guilt was not about never walking up to the post with Gibson and saying "Come By," not really. My guilt was based on becoming the woman who forgot what the girl felt on the trial grounds. So I am going to try and find her, ask for her help, and go back to the start.

This evening ended with Gibson and I back at our farm. I opened the sheep paddock up and let the flock out to graze on the new pasture on the hillside. The grass was tall and lush and that amazes me because just a few weeks ago it was mud and rock. Overgrazing had destroyed it, topsoil slid off it and pooled in the driveway. It also looked hideous. "Welcome to Cold Antler Farm! To your right, notice the giant Dirt Hill! What DREAMS are made of!" but now that mistake is fixed and the sheep all doing well. Gibson joined me, acting as the electric fence - only zapping at the sheep if they left the grazing area we had allotted. But mostly the sheep just munched, we just sat and did what shepherds have done for thousands of years: watched. And in the sunlight, on my own deeded land, with my own flock, and this fine dog I didn't feel like a failure anymore. I felt hope.

I mean, if a landslide can turn into a pasture such as this; I can grow better, too.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How To Be Taken Out To Dinner

Step One: Get a date. I found a tall, dark, and handsome British fellow with dreamy hair. He didn't even mind carrying the picnic gear for our trip up into the mountains. Note the classy touch of a sheepskin rug. Not shown: a packed lunch of very fancy Annie's Organic Mac-n-cheese in a thermos and a green apple for dessert.

Step Two: Once picnic destination is reached, halter and tie off horse to maple tree by tasty grass. Then set out your evening's entertainment on your classy blanket and your dinner. Not shown: Smiling woman who is so touched that Connie down at Battenkill Books handed me this advanced copy of The Scavengers by Michael Perry, to read for my birthday.

Step Three: Sit back with a full belly after you feed half your dessert to your date. Then enjoy a nip of bourbon while leaning back on a sheepskin - overlooking your mountain home. Read an adventure, feel blessed, and waste some serious time in style.

Piglets Have Arrived!

It was my 32nd birthday and a pig was peeing on me. At this point, it didn't really matter nor did I flinch. The pants I was wearing —the first pair of new jeans I had purchased in a year on sale at a workwear factory story—were already covered in mud and poop. An hour before a the piglet in my hands decided to add some final touches to the once beautiful jeans I was picking her out among all her brothers and sisters at a small hard scrabble farm in Fort Ann. When I knew which of the fifteen pound gilts I wanted, the breeder reached in and picked up the little gal by the back legs and handed her to me - a hock in each hand. I took them without hesitation and carried her upside down the short distance to the truck where I had a dog crate lined with hay waiting for her and her sibling to come back to Cold Antler. What I didn't expect was the amount of mud and slop all over her and as I carried her my entire front side was covered in what smelled…. like a pig pen.

Everything I know about pigs has shown me that a swine is an animal that likes options. They love mud and water, but they also like the option to stay dry. These pigs had access to a grassy pasture but apparently this muddy shed was where they wanted to be on a hot day. I couldn't blame them either. It was wicked hot and a mud bath sounded kinda great.

So I got one, thanks to the two pigs carried over to the truck. Gibson was with me and loving every second of it. He circled and smiled at the pigs, one of which was quiet and the other screaming his head off, like all pigs do when a human being dares to ruin their mud bath. I shook the man's hand and handed him the cash. I was grateful to pay it, too, because piglets are so hard to find this year. A disease had really hit the industry, at the industrial and small town, backyard level. Basically, piglets were getting bad diarrhea and dying from dehydration, usually in the first weeks of life. People who raise large hot farms had to buy in pigs wherever they could get them to make up for their losses and it was very hard to find a breeder who would sell a hog or two at a tailgate like this. But I found Patrick and I was happy to be here.

I chatted with him and his son for a bit and then brought the piglets home. I stopped at a country store on the way back to my place to get a cold drink and I'm sure I wasn't looking very presentable, but heck, this was a country store wasn't it? What is more country than a woman in a cowboy hat covered in pig crap with a border collie riding shotgun? I decided that any self esteem issued related to how I smelled were beat down by the level of verisimilitude I granted the establishment. I bought two things: a cold soda and a tall can of hard cider for later. (I'll explain that later in a bit. ) Chatting with the folks at the store the pigs in the back of the truck came up. The girl working at the desk thought piglets were adorable and wanted to see them, so I took her outside. The shop owner asked what I was going to do with them? And I explained that I raise them to around 200 or 250 pounds and then they are butchered for pork. She made a face, and I pointed out that they sold BLT's on the shop menu. She laughed and said she knew she was being a hypocrite but she just didn't like to think about it. As a woman with two piglets to raise for others folks to enjoy, I tipped my hat to her and said that was okay by me.

I got the piglets home and set them into their pen in the woods behind my barn. They had mud here too, but also a dry place to sleep with a metal roof, grass and plants to munch on, two bowls of feed (right now they are on a mix of goat milk and piglet chow) and clean drinking water. It took a few days to weed whack down the pen, rewire the electric, set up the grounding rod and run out an extension cord but I did it all in a matter of an afternoon. Last year this set up grated me nearly 600 pounds of pork and with these two little ones I was well on my way. I would get at least two more and then in the fall, two more again. Sharing pork out is an important part of this farm. And I have a respect for the porcine I never thought I would have.

later that evening when chores were done I carried out the goat milk canister to the new piglets. I poured it over their dry chow and they did this wonderful thing where they stick their whole snoot in there and blow bubbles and drink. With the rest of the animals fed and watered, and Merlin tied to the hitching post out front for grooming and tacking up (He was taking me out to dinner in a bit), I went back into the farmhouse and pulled that can out of the fridge. I poured it over a quart jar filled with ice and the pint of cider danced and swirled. Lord and Lady, that is my favorite drink! I poured a splash of bourbon in it too, and brought it out to the pigs. I watched them there for a while, taking sips of the drink and celebrating the new arrivals.

I love pigs. I never thought I would, but I do love them. This was always going to be a sheep farm with some extras like chickens and turkeys, but the pigs really shine here. They are so smart and clever, so funny and hedonistic. They are a joy to watch and as they wandered over to my side of the fence I poured a little bit of the haymason into their bowl. A small offering and bit of luck. When a new ship launches you break a wine bottle. When a pair of new pigs arrive on your birthday, you offer them a nip of cider. They snarfed it up and I toasted them. 'Welcome to the farm," I said as I raised my glass to them, "You'll do just fine. "

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Behold a Wet Horse

I was at my desk writing tonight, working on some new material and keeping an eye on my word count goal (500 words at a time between game breaks), when the sky tore open and it started into a hard rain. I said a very bad word, ran downstairs, through a light wool cloak around my body, and grabbed a lantern. I had a young turkey to save.

Whatever horrible creature devoured three turkeys and many, many chicks from my brooder has stopped visiting. A combination of a loud talk radio in the barn, all night lighting, and waving my fist at the sky has stopped this season's rampage on poultry. It is rare that I go a season without losing a bird (last year I think I only lost three or four?) but this year was bad. Every night the Antlerborns roost in the loft of the barn, safe as houses. Every night the pigs make a nest, the older hens sleep above the goats, and the rabbit hides. But without fail, those turkeys sleep right in the middle of the lawn.

I don't worry about the 30+ pound adult males, but the last little bourbon red poult is only around ten pounds and needs to be picked up and put in the barn every night. Usually my last set of night rounds means checking for horses...

I want you to know that at the point of that last ellipses I realized I had not checked on the horses at the last turkey rescue (Which I found and placed in the barn without a problem). So mid-typing I said another very bad word, put on a very wet wool cloak, and my rubber boots. I walked in the storm out the horses paddock. My light was one of my plug-in emergency flashlights, the kind you keep in a wall to charge. Well, I had used mine the night before and placed it on the windowsill instead of re-charing it and the light was fading fast. I looked, though. I really looked. Whenever the lightning lit the farm up I would scan for a black horse on a brown hill in a black world. Jasper stood out like a beacon, his coat now mostly white. I let out a half sigh, because my horses gang together. If one was in the paddock they probably both were. Why wouldn't they be in the paddock you ask? Good question!

My horses get to graze in open pasture and spend the night and non grazing days (when the pasture is regrouping and resting from horse and sheep munching). To let them into that pasture I take down the electric fencing and let them walk into the open, gated, area. Sometimes I get wrapped up in writing or chores and forget to turn the electric fence back on in the evening after they have returned to their water, shelter, and shade. Tonight I knew I was letting the solar charger charge, and had not turned it on. Which meant there was a chance my black horse walked out of the paddock and into the woods to eat delicious forbidden things.

So there I was, standing in the thunderstorm, with a dying flashlight, calling for Merlin. Jasper was beside me now and I tried to listen between thunder claps for Merlin, who might snort or stamp or lumber about. He wasn't in the pole barn. I couldn't see him anywhere. If he was in the woods it meant I would have to get grain, bribe him back, repair the fence he knocked down, and turn on the charger in a thunderstorm. At this point the fact I trapped a hawk out of the sky, brought him home, and taught him to follow me while we stalked rabbits seemed incredibly easy. The sky lit up again and still no black horse.

I was now soaking wet. I said many bad words. And in a moment of pure panic I yelled out in the storm, " Trobhad Thu Donnis Each Dubh! Tha e Fluich a noch!" Which roughly translates in Scotts to "COME HERE YOU BLACK DEMON HORSE!!!! IT'S WET TONIGHT!!!" And I said that as loud and forceful as you can imagine I did.

Silence. Just Jasper and me in the rain. I sulked and headed got get the grain bucket when I heard a snort of air and splash of hoof in mud.

I turned around the Merlin was right behind me. He was there the whole time.

I said another very bad word, and hugged the wet horse.

Antlerstock Updates, Half The Spots Gone!

Before I forget: two big Antlerstock updates! Cathy Daughton of Firecracker Farm will be attending to talk about realistic food storage and preservation. This is not just a class about canning jam. She is going to talk about the reality of putting food by - from freezing game and vegetables to buying in bulk and putting things in storage. It'll be an eye opening class for sure, and show you just how much food you can store for yourself and family, as your grandparents did using some savvy.

Also, in light of the recent discussions and interest - I will be talking about practical emergency prepping as well. This will be a talk about simple things you can do to get ready for any long term power outages, winter storms, hurricanes, or general bad luck. People hear prepping and think of Doomsday television specials or militia groups in Idaho. I'm not talking about that at all. I'm talking about not feeling scared or helpless when personal or weather-related emergencies happen. This could be an ice storm that knocks out power in your home for a week or it could be losing your job without panic.

I think I found us a yoga instructor as well, good friends from Ontario who will be making the trip with First Aid certification. If the weather is right we will start the morning early with Yoga before going into a full day of animals, farming, logging, lumberjacking, and other such and sort!

There are 12 spots left! For more information and to sign up, click here!

Jungle Pigs!

It feels like farming in a jungle out there, and I'm not sure I have ever worked outdoors in this much constant rain, humidity, and heat before. It's quite the experience, and I don't say that as a negative thing. I don't mind rain, humidity, or heat but right now it's been three days of downpours, mold, moths, and mud. And not the nice mud, the kind of mud you find in a chicken yard, which is pretty much a battleground of bacteria sludge when wet. I try to remember how strong my immune system is and smile. This farm is a beautiful place, lush as Jurassic Park on a good day, and all the animals are well but it should could use some airing out…

I spent the morning picking up hay and getting the outdoor pig housing( the "Pigoda" as I lovingly call it) ready for new piglets. It'll be a while before I get pigs out there because after about three inches of heavy rainfall yesterday, the whole pen is soaked and I need to see how it dries out. I also need to cut out a few months of weeds, re-string the electric, get a new charger out there, and plan for other fun adventures such as driving north to a pig farm to grab the first of five piglets. So there is nothing short of adventurous going on here. Nothing short, at all. And in a few moments I will head back outside with a string of electrical wire, gloves, and a bottle of water and figure out the rest of the weeds I didn't tackle this morning. If I get to the point of soaking wet on dry land, then I will be grabbing a towel and jumping into the river like any civilized animal would do - pig or human alike.

There are so many things to do around here right now. The potatoes need weeding and mounding. The kailyard needs cultivating and attention. The sheep need to be moved to graze and eat down the hillside that was once nothing but barren wasteland and is now also a jungle. I am amazed at how fast, and how well, that hill recovered from three years of hoof packing, overgrazing, and erosion. But now it is on the mend and in need of some ruminant attention. All these balls are in the air and it's humid enough that when juggled they just kinda stay there. But I am proud to say the lawn is mowed, the lights are still on, and the house has finally been power washed free of green mold and new front door painted red. Friends from Common Sense Farm power washed it with me (I rented the washer, they brought the hoses and know how) and I painted the door that Patty helped me install over the spring when a wind storm in March blew it clean off the house. When folks drive by they have no idea all the hectic joy that goes into that little white house.

Sidenote: Pigs love greens even when they get the bitter bolt. Horses, sheep and goats will spit out any lettuce with white blood but not those two pigs, Jig and Reel. They are thrilled for their daily dinner of bolted greens, day-old goats milk, cracked corn, and leftover scraps from the kitchen.

Another side note: I am going to start little prepping challenges here on the blog, things like a black out kit and three days worth of meals to start. Cheap, easy, simple stuff that will help folks get started on the back to self reliance.

Side note 3: I am on a daily writing schedule again for a new book proposal, something I am working on a little different than the farming books and it feels so good to have another goal to work towards.   Everyday this farm is a challenge, and there are phyical, financial and creative goals, and I don't know what I would do without a good fight to show up for !

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What Would You Do?

Imagine that right now, wherever you are at this very moment, the power goes out. The screen is black and the lights are off.. It doesn't matter why. Imagine any scenario that allows you to take this seriously. It could be an overuse of the power grid in peak summer, or a solar flare, or a terrorist attack. It could be that the hub of your grid came down due to an underground gas explosion from pipes no one took care of since 1934. It could be magic, it doesn't matter. I just want you to put yourself in that sudden and vulnerable position. Wherever you are, right now, the power went out.

You wait a while, not concerned. But a while turns into hours. The air conditioning does not work. Your internet isn't available and your phone just died. You have gone outside to try and start your car but it won't work either. Noone's cars or trucks work. You only have what is available around you, your two feet, whatever is in your undrivable vehicle and non-electric house. Think about the people around you. Are you with coworkers on the fifth floor off a highway? Are you doing algebra with your 12 year old homeschooled son? Are you on your bi-weekly commute to a yoga class thirty miles away?

Would you be okay?

I'm sharing this story because I think there are two reactions to it. There are the people who stop and consider what they would do in that situation, start grinding the gears and starting a plan. They mentally inventory what they have in their trunk, the walk home, the safest route off the main roads, etc. The other type just rolls their eyes and says no emergency would ever be that drastic. Yes the power might go out, but phones and cars would still work and why would you even ask such a horrible question?

I'm not asking if it was real. I am asking if you would be okay.

I do not think we should live in fear of such things, that would be a very dreadful existence. But to think such an event would never happen is just as dreadful. Because things do go wrong all the time and so many people are not even mildly prepared for them. This example of an EMP isn't very likely (I think at their peak every 11 years Solar Flares only offer a 12% chance of causing such a mass electronic disruption) but even so, there are diabetics driving forty minutes every day to work in their flip flops without any extra insulin in a cooler or cash in their wallets. If they had no power and could not get home? What would they do?

We are a society addicted to comfort and convenience, and that is a blessing, but it may also be a curse. To many people the idea of having to walk home twenty miles is unthinkable. They do not have sneakers in the trunk on their car, a first aid kit in the glove box, or any idea how to defend themselves or avoid being a victim. They do not carry cash or spare water and food when they leave home. Most of us just expect everything to be super all the time. We are addicted to everything going as planned.

The Titanic was also called unsinkable, shit happens.

Since becoming a homesteader—and since I am a single woman living a rural life—I have lost any illusion of things going as planned. I never drive anywhere without everything I need to leave my vehicle and walk home. I carry three days worth of food, water, a water filter and have a loaded backpack with a tent, sleeping bag, hiking boots, extra clothes, first aid gear, phone charging devices, lights, the works... 99.9% of the time this is overkill. But it has to be there. You break down sixteen miles from home out here in a place without cell reception or any houses you are hoofing it. You do not sit and wait. You go find a house, flag down a friendly truck, whatever it takes to get back to your farm and animals. I usually travel with a dog and a weapon, as well. Several weapons. And not because I expect the world to implode into a Mad Max chaos, but because it seems irresponsible to not be ready to get back to my farm. My farm is my whole life.

This is not at all how I lived, drove, or thought before I started homesteading. Not at all. But today it is. I think because I can't make myself forget reality anymore. And by reality I don't mean bills and blog comments - I mean things like food, shelter, water, and community. When you learn these things are what matter you guard them like a mother wolf.

And I urge you to consider such a situation where you can't rely on anyone but yourself and your good body to be safe. Would you be okay? What would you do? And if you think the idea is terrifying why is that? It's perfectly okay to be scared! What is important is you make small steps every day to be a little safer, a little more prepared. Because one day that storm may knock out power for two weeks. Would you even be able to feed your family if the pipes stopped running and the grocery stores were closed?

Maybe tonight you can throw a pair of sneakers, a bottle of water, some bandaids, and a powerbar in your car. If you do you are 90% better off than you were today. Maybe a blanket and set of jumper cables too? Perhaps it is time to start filling up the pantry with a couple jugs of drinking water, some pasta, and peanut butter. These are not freakish things to do and will not get you on a reality show on National Geographic. But they could make a bad day a lot safer.

So share your story. If RIGHT NOW the power went off and your car and phone did not work. What would you do? And if you aren't sure, write a fantasy version of what you would do if you had prepared for just such an event the night before. Because guys, this could be the night before.

I'll end with a paraphrased story I heard once:

If someone told you not to go to your town park because there was a werewolf there, would you believe them? "Of course not!" - you say - "Werewolves are not real!" Well what if two people told you there were werewolves in the park? What then? "No!" you say. Well, what if a dozen earnest people told you, without a sign of joking, that there were werewolves in the park. Would you believe then? Because, my dear fiend, the question at this point is not about the reality of werewolves.

The real question is: would you still go to the park? If any of this struck a chord - STRONGLY suggest you listen to this free podcast. It's called, "Holy Crap! I just found out everything isn't super!" If the name of the podcast, the intro sponsors, or the idea makes you uncomfortble still listen. This is not a whackjob with a tin hat. This is a guy helping people become personally responsible, get out of debt, quit miserable jobs and live a life of personal freedom. He's also one of the people who inspired me to follow my dream.

Friday, July 4, 2014

This Fine Holiday...

Take some time to soak up the sunshine!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fields Found

I was the kid that ran away into the woods at camp. I was the one at school drawing on desks. I was the one who left my cousins alone to play with my siblings and walked the neighbor's dog instead. I was an odd child. But looking back now that oddness wasn't so much odd as it was curious, mostly curious about animals and nature. To escape from the everyday just a little bit and find something new—something right under my nose—that was the biggest rush. So when I was old enough to play outside until the streetlights came on I went exploring. I hiked, biked, walked, and trespassed. It was stories like Narnia and Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher that made me look for magic in the mundane. Could this closet take me to another world? Was this rock actually a dragon's egg? I new the world was vast and magical, but it was the easter eggs in my own neighborhood that filled me with quiet thrills.

A few years ago my friend Brett came to visit the farm with his Haflinger, Dolly. We saddled up and went or a ride on the property across the road from me. I had not explored far with Merlin yet (I was still nervous as a new trail rider to venture too far from my home and the safe road), but Brett encouraged me to head up into the mountain. We rode up the big hillside you see me photograph all the time here, the one with the single birch tree and the mountains all around my little property. And just past that view was this dirt road that opened to fields up high, the ones you see pictured here. Fields Found! I will always remember following a good friend on his golden mare, seeing that sunset view of those grassy fields before us, and feeling like the little girl with Mr. Reardon's German Shepherd sneaking into wild backyard. It's a memory that will always stay with me, as exciting and brave as any plane ride to India to this rural heart.

I know the world is big, but so many fields can be found close to home. Find adventure where you are, invite a friend, and break a few rules. You'll be better for it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Old Gods

It was a long day. Let me tell you all about it.

I woke up next to Gibson, like I always do. I was under the sheet and light summer comforter with a fan blowing on me from the open window. Gibson was sleeping aside me, on his back, with all four paws akimbo and his head facing the back of mine. He is always so close. I rolled over to face him and asked him if he wanted to meet the morning. His eyes opened slowly, focused on mine, and he huffed and rolled over. For all his energy and that famous Border Collie Metabolism—Gibson likes a slow morning with a fan on his hinder parts. I reached over to pet him and noticed the light touch of underarm to comforter hurt and upon closer inspection I saw the fat, little, deer tick. I pulled the swollen tick off easily and thought nothing of it. Ticks are just a part of life around here. I made a mental note to hunt down some Doxycycline later. I kissed my dog on the back of his head and told him there were chickens waiting for us to let them out of their coop.

The morning was the usual happy chaos. Chores were done in anticipation of the weather. I check weather the way models check eyeliner: every thirty minutes. I knew it would be a humid blast and then a series of storms. Some were supposed to be very severe. So I went about the normal morning routine of feeding, watering, bedding, mucking, and general critter maintenance and headed inside for the office. Gibson has to stay inside these mornings after a brief morning relief session due to his healing paw. He stares at me from the French Doors with a strong ennui.

Then the doctor appointment happened. I thought we were just going in for a routine post-paw-surgery check up and a routine heart worn test. Finding out about this positive tick disease made my stomach turn. I was so worried, so entirely terrified. I know I have friends, amazing friends. I know I have family that loves me. I know I have a readership, and a good community, and solid neighbors and a loaded shotgun. I have all this support but there is a huge difference between knowing you have access to possible human comfort and the certainty of a good dog. If life falls apart there are people that I can drive to and share a bottle of wine, or even people that will come to me, but this is not the same as the raw access of a dedicated animal. Gibson is always there. Literally. He is always with me, or damn close. There is a broken part of me that knows that people are never a sure thing. Men do not return my feelings, family does not understand, friends move away, fall to entropy, or life changes too much to keep the threads together. But a dog is brick and mortar comfort. An animal created by man, not gods, to help us live our lives better. It is the greatest story between two species ever told. And so when I heard there was a chance Gibson could die in his prime, when I needed him most, I was crushed. All I could think of when she told me was "but he is all I've got…"

If any of you live alone with a good dog, you understand that entirely.

A storm did roll in shortly after that vet visit. I was downtown in Cambridge when the wind tore through down and all the power went off. The hardware store told me to take my feed and settle up tomorrow, so I loaded up a hundred pounds of chicken and sheep gain and headed home. My head was stormy, as well. It was a tornado of fear, mostly about Gibson. As I headed North on route 22 the thunder really made itself known. The wind moved the truck a little to the east and I tried to remember if the meat birds were situated in a place they could run for cover. Farming does this to your brain. You could find out your Aunt has three weeks to live and still worry you left a gate open and if the water levels were high enough in the troughs. Routines of care become automatic knee-jerks. It can't be helped

Patty stopped by shortly after my return from town with my unpaid feed. We visited for a while, talking of small things with the power still out. I took some Doxy with a big sip of water and she told me not to worry about Gibson, that he was in the pink of health and I believed it but didn't know that yet. I wanted the vet to call and prove it with science. I am a believer but I need proof. If that sounds contrary just here me out a while longer.

Evening chores were much like morning chores, but now with milking and turning the horses out into the pasture to clip the grass and escape the bugs. I knew I would be visiting Livingston Brook Farm that evening and I wanted the lights on in the barn and the radio blaring to deter the predator that has been pilfering poultry. Just in case I missed sunset. The storm clouds had left and the sky went into that over-saturated blue I think only exists here on this mountain sometimes. I looked up at that clear sky and said a prayer, one I remembered from my morning devotional.

In the center of the storm, there is clam.
In the center of confusion, there is peace.
In the center of exhaustion, there is rest.
…Lead me to the center.

When I got the call that Gibson's red blood cell count way beyond healthy I hugged him and cried into his black mane. I will take this extension, take it with fervent gratitude. I've said this before and I mean it more than you realize, but when I love someone it is not gentle. It's powerful—a perfect storm of hope and force. But that power is all in the part I control, my loyalty. I have no control over the ticks and weather, as they happen to us. I guess the trick to life is realizing you have no ability to control anything really, but to refuse to be a victim. Life does not get to happen to me. I happen to it.

At least that's the plan. Today I had dog hair stuck to my cheeks by dried tears. I'm a work in progress.

And so the day came on, and the sky stayed blue a while longer. I was buoyed by the good news with Gibson and was happy to spend time with friends after chores. I spent a few happy hours just talking with a good friend, sharing stories over a glass and catching up. We got to rest in the hot tub and getting into that hot water was the release I needed. I am still sore from haying on Monday (four of us humans moved 6 tons of hay in three hours, by hand) and had a welt on my arm from archery practice on Sunday. I had a thousand cuts, scrapes, and bruises from my life and in the water I looked like a leopard with a thyroid problem. I did not care, for that hot water was sweet as prayer on my sore, sore body.

When the sun was almost set, and the last bit of pink was in the sky I was ready to head home. Standing on the porch outside the kitchen I looked over the endless fields of hay, corn, barns, and forest. This shire is my home, and in that moment of dying light it was stunning. Two horses, one black and one white, grazed calmly next to the ancient threshing barn. The fireflies were out in full force. In the distance a black cloud, startlingly dark and large, started to parade across the sky. It lit up from internal burst of lightening and thunder started to roll across the waving grass and find its way into my nostrils. I could smell the electricity, see the storm. I had been told three people had died south of Cambridge today from Lightning strikes. Died. Their lives were over and their loved ones were flooded with grief and my biggest fear was the loss of my sheepdog. I felt small and lucky.

The clouds swirled and I could see the horsetails sliding around inside it, arial tornados. I shuddered. Open land like this makes me nervous. I have lived my whole life alongside or on mountains. To be in a place where weather could steal everything from me like a song dog pup steals a hen made my blood drop a few degrees. This was an exposed place, but also a beautiful one. I could never see this giant black mass of clouds, swirling and dancing just so like this, not from my mountain farm. I noticed how the cloud was moving southeast, and the front section looked just like the front of a viking ship. I could see the masthead, curled and fierce. I watched it sail across the sky with that same force and hope that runs my farm and I smiled. Of course people believed in Old Gods that ruled the skies, isn't that what I was watching right now? A power that brings life to crops and strikes men dead... What a show.

I am a very religious person, devout as all get out. When I watched those storm clouds I did see the rolling chariot of Odin, The hearthfire of Brigit, the wrath of the Old Testament, and the gateway to Other Worlds of mind and spirit. I also saw ionization, dancing atoms, and electrons doing what they do. It's all the same to me, Science and Religion. That is how I was raised and what I loved most about my childhood. My mother always told me that the more we learned about the scientific world the more we were learning about God's plan. Understanding the complex and beautiful creation as it was in reality, not in mythology, but never discounting the myths as mere parable. Truth was in science, meaning was in myth. Put them together and you got a team that can not be beat.

The last line of my favorite short story rang like a bell in my lungs:

Of course God is the sun. Everyone in the life before was cranky, I think, because they just wanted to know.

I know that is a rare stance on how things are but I hold it close. It got me this far. And watching that storm roll in I was proud that Odin and Ionization hold hands in my feral life. Grateful that I keep an altar and antibiotics and am equally dependent on both. I smiled. I said that prayer again, but now I had the proof.

I just had to stand in the center a little.