Monday, June 30, 2014

The Heat is On!

The Blessed Event has arrived! Summer has finally swaggered into town! A week near 90 degrees is ahead with all the drama and delight of a real summer in our deciduous rainforest that is Washington County, New York! Days of sweat, work, haying, chores, and exhaustion are ahead—and I know that can be trying on the body—but in all honesty this body needs to be tried. I welcome the humidity and heat, the sweat and chaff, the weight loss, and all the glory that comes with days like this. Because as hot and unpleasant as it will be - I refuse to think of this weather as anything but a delight. Because with this humble heatwave comes fireflies and thunderstorms, mossy rocks in slick streams, canopies of oaks and locusts alive with all the life winter kept fallow. There are songbirds and fawns in the thick. My fishing gear and chair is waiting for me at my pond, ready at a moment's notice. The hammock is hung under the King Maple right outside the farmhouse for swaying by torchlight. This is what summer is all about!

I get excited. I really do. I love this weather. I love humidity and sweat and the wonderful discomfort of heat, and I love them for the same reasons I love this farm. I love them because the work of getting through it can be hard on body and mind—but the rewards far outweigh being uncomfortable.

I love summer. I missed her so much. I feel like a free woman. Anyone out there complaining about the heat didn't spend a winter alone in a farmhouse with a single, hungry, wood stove. I don't care for this attitiude we have in modern society where being uncomfortable is equated to suffering. Being uncomfortable is great because it pushes you to seek out greater comforts (i.e. cold rivers and cold beer), solve problems, and appreciate the simple blessing of warm light.

My cooling units here are fans, mint soap and cold showers, and the Battenkill River. I live just a few miles from two wonderful swimming holes in clean river. Being in the 'kill changes the entire world when you dive in it. It could be 90 degrees with 120% humidity and eggs could be frying on sidewalks but you jump in that river and sit wet and dripping on cold stones and suddenly nature herself has turned down the volume. You sit there grinning and can't remember life being anything but pleasant.

Winter was so long, and so cold. But I am so grateful I don't have to tend temperatures via splitting firewood or defrost water troughs. I don't have to worry about walking outdoors and breaking my ankle. I don't have to do anything but wake up, pray, eat breakfast, feed my critters, work inside by my old Westing House fan from the forties (Best fan I ever owned) and sip cold juicy mate´....

Well, most days. Today I am loading my friend Patty's Barn with a couple hundred square bales. I will be a disgusting mess afterwards, probably 7 pounds thinner from sweat and effort alone, but after all that we are jumping in the lake or river in the sly decadence of a week day. Wednesday brings us serious storms to cool us off, and I look forward to them too. I am as excited as a little girl before her first dance recital. I know this routine. I prepared for it for months. I am ready.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

This Is Where My Day Ends

Thursday, June 26, 2014


I lost many chicks this week to a rat or weasel that gnawed into a brooder. This morning I found a new clutch of Antlerborns dancing in the dappled sunlight. This is all a cycle, a story that never ends. Animals come, animals go. Including all of us.

...rare and pure and perfect

Sitting on the cold, sanitized, floor of the veterinary office I whispered a song to Gibson. My Gaelic is very limited but I know a few tunes and that is what I sang as I stroked his neck in my lap. The lights were off, we were alone, and I was trying to get him to relax as the sedative he was given slowly brought him down to sleep. The anesthetic was necessary, even though it made me nervous. That deep sleep was just too close to death, the breathing too slow, the body too weak. But both myself and the doctor agreed it was the only way we could properly see to his wound. It was too tender for his waking mind to deal with two humans poking, prodding, cleaning, and patching up.

The farmer cut his paw open on something sharp, Brigit knows what, out in the woods. For several hundred—and a dozen generations of owners—this piece of land has seen a lot of living. Every year new glass, pottery, metal and nails spring from the good earth like a dreaded hangover. Gibson has been scratched and bruised before from his day job but never like this. This was an awful wound and I couldn't fix it myself. So after a week of too-slow healing and a limping dog I decided to have a professional look into Gibson's paw.

The Doctor said it wasn't infected but it wasn't healing either. The toe pad was in half, swelling, and he could not place weight on it. She thought something was embedded deep into the half-inch cut. Gibson was in a lot of pain and wouldn't let us pry it open, irrigate and remove any possible shards with forceps — so I agreed to have him medicated to allow the healing work to begin. It was a fifteen minute wait for him to drift off and here I was on a cold floor singing in a dead language to a dog I loved more than I should.

Outside there was a thunderstorm of large anger. It sounded like the cloven air was frozen and smashed open with a maul. The water poured so hard there was no rhythm to be heard, just volume. Gibson will square off with a horned beast three or four times his size but he is terrified of thunderstorms. The drug seemed to take it off his mind and some part of me worried about the newly free-ranged Cornish Cross back at the farm. Would the young broilers know to look for cover in a sudden storm? Would the hail, rain, and wind just tear them apart? I only half worried about them. I was with Gibson who matters most of all. We need each other and right now as he slid away the rest of the farm did not exist. Burn the whole place to the ground as long as I still have my dog.

Gibson was not in any real danger. I knew this but being alone in the dark without distraction brought up a lot of emotion. It was a meditation on love.

I wasn't sad or worried, just full of love for this animal. No other living thing has spent as much time with me in my life. None. Gibson and I have never been physically apart for more than four hours, not even in sleep. With gratitude and absolute love I sang and told him he would be okay and running again soon. My practical brain worried about the money of the vet visit, the fact I would miss another house payment, the stress of both of us being range animals without much of a net...but my animal brain - the wild and real part of me - didn't regret a thing. Beside this dog is where I belong. His feet were his entire being and they would be healed. Nothing else was an option.

Have you ever read Dave Egger's short story After I Was Thrown into the River and Before I Drowned? Read it.

We spent an hour and a half at the vet that day. When he came to he was too groggy to walk so I carried him to the truck, placed him in the front pasenger seat, and kissed his forehead. When we drove home I carried him to a cushion on the floor and brought him a bowl of kibble. It was not until he was content that I went outside to see if a dozen dead birds scattered the yard. (They did not, all birds were safe and dry in the barn). Then I came back into the farm house and lay on the floor next to him. I scratched his black and white mane around his tired smile and told him he would always have all the love he needed.

I know that sounds silly, saying such things to a dog, but I meant it the way that the storm meant it. I love him. And when I love someone it is never, ever, ever, a gentle rain. It tears open the sky and stops all rhythm. Love matters more to me than all other things and my loyalty is foolish and brash. It is my favorite and least favorite part of myself. This is why you don't read about boyfriends or bars on this blog. They do not happen. I do not understand this world of partial commitments and casual sex. It's a path to a mostly lonely life in a modern world where fluid is swapped as flippantly as playing cards. I don't mind being alone. I don't mind waiting a lifetime for substance. Direwolves mate for life, can wait a life.

I hope you do not think I am comparing my love of my dog to romantic human love.  But at its root all love is the same thing - that tribal feeling of belonging, fiercely protected when had and savagely guarded from those who might abuse it.

Anyway, Patrick Rothfuss said it better than I possibly could in his novel, The Wise Man's Fear:

“We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That's as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Murphy The Weasel and Other Jerks

It is Murphy's Law that the day after I write about sanctuary to predators the farm gets hit with a triple threat of marauding animals. Since Sunday evening there has been a large black bear on the farm, ripping open feed sacks from pushed-over metal garbage cans. A weasel chewed right into the brooder in the barn, right through the plywood and took meat bird chicks. He left the tell-tale toothmarks and limp bodies, happy to have his vampire feast of blood and left the carcasses to rot. And last night something took my oldest hen, Zombie Chicken, and I saw the feather mess this morning. This all hit within a 30-hour period! Holy Crow, some times this ride needs seat belts.

So what to do?

Well the first thing I am doing is setting up some havahart traps around the barn, where I am fairly certain the culprit of Mr. Raccoon or Mr. Fisher Cat will appear. All the chicks in the brooder have been removed to greener pastures (literally) and are now outside in chicken tractors away from the scene of the crime. I set a baited trap inside the brooder as well, hoping that a repeat performance will occur and I'll find my critters.

Besides that, there isn't much else to be done. I find that once a year a wave like this happens. As a rule I always purchase a third more poultry than I need, expecting to lose some to the inevitable ariel and woodland predators that come with an entirely free range life. Some birds end up feeding the wildlife, but not many. These chicks and this hen are the first of this year. I had lost birds in that same brooder before but that was inside the house with a rat who came from under the porch and chewed into another (patched) spot in the wood and dragged the chicks out so in the morning there was no evidence of the crime in the form of body count. Just a handful of chicks where forty had been the night before.

Farming in the forest is a lot like playing chess. My move now.

This has been going around, at least around here. Friends with farms have lost as many as a dozen birds in a night (raccoons). A gal I sold a half dozen birds to last spring lost four in one rough night because they flew over the four-foot electric fencing and roosted in low branches instead of the coop. At the feed store the other day I bought the last large havahart trap in stock, the clerk told me they were also almost out of poison as well. Yikes…. we are under attack!

So, those of you also raising chickens, chicks, geese, ducks, and rabbits. All of you with small livestock out there. Do you expect to lose a few animals to predators? Have you lost any this year?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Turkey Gangs & Songdog Pups

Here is Lucas and the two young turks. They are always together. Turkeys are like that, very much a flock animal but more like gang members. Chickens scatter like pool balls, shot from the coop every morning as if the sunlight itself was the eight ball. But Turkeys do not act like buckshot. They are always a few feet away from each other. At least these three are. The two adult females seem more interested in sitting on nests and thinking about their life choices. It takes all kinds.

Last night when I got back to the farm, about a third of a mile up the road was a trio of floppy coyote puppies in the road. I melted at the sight of them. Like stretched out foxes, all sandy and sly. I was so glad to see them and thanked them. Songdogs never bother my farm, ever. But their little cousins, the fox, will steal chickens one or two at a time till all of a sudden you walk outside one morning and realize half the flock is missing. Songdogs are not so brave to walk up to a human yard in broad daylight and with the forest so rich with young animal life not desperate enough to try. But coyotes will not share a territory with foxes and if they are hear breeding and singing into the night then that explains why I haven't had a single bird bogarted this spring. Songdogs are like my community watch program. I'd sooner kick Gibson than aim my .22 at them.

I know coyotes can be a problem in other areas of the country, but be careful about shooting them. Biologists have confirmed that these animals do not react to snipers the way wolves, bobcats, or cougars do. When you shoot any coyote that is part of a pack (and nearly all songdogs are part of packs) all the females in the pack react to the loss of a member by making more coyotes. Instead of just the alpha pair in the group breeding (keeping the young that season to a handful of pups) EVERYONE gets in the family way, including younger females, and so killing one coyote with a rifle means around twenty or thirty more being born to replace it. Which is why in an America where wolves, lions, lynxes and such are becoming ghosts there are coyotes in nearly every rural, suburban, and even urban corner of our world. We tried to thwart them, and our efforts made them stronger. You just can't troll songdogs, folks. Be grateful they keep away the foxes.

P.S. So you want to get rid of your coyote problem? I suggest building a good secure coop and installing something like Nite Guard.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


My folks are in town, visiting me for the first time in years up here in Washington County. We had a wonderful day together complete with horse-drawn cart rides, good meals, hawks, hounds, and book stores. It was wonderful seeing them and introducing them to my good friends and extended community up here. Lucas, the Turkey, was especially happy to see my mom's red blouse. He didn't stop puffing out and displaying his feathers the entire time my parents walked around the farmyard. I consider it a high compliment. Lucas doesn't show off his stuff for just anyone.

The day of sight seeing and catching yp ended back over at Livingston Brook Farm, watching the fireflies come out around 10pm as the sun finally started to set for good.I had to keep checking the time because even though I know the days are so long come late June, I need proof. Winter was dark, cold, and sunlight was rare. This weather today felt too good to believe.

When it was time to leave, I hugged everyone goodnight (my parents are renting a place near Patty's place) and drove back to the farmhouse. My road home was along all western-facing roads and I could watch the sun finally set for this last best night of Summer. I know to many people this is the "first day" of summer, but not to those of us keeping the old Calander. This is the first whispered promise of fall. Every night will slowly get a little longer from here on out. Every candle lit or bonfire blazing will be one of hope instead of celebration. Before tonight winter was over and the sun celebrated in hours of warmed skin and green earth, baby animals and fireflied nights. But come the next few weeks the summer will change from the lust of July and August into the slow swagger of early Autumn.

It's the longest day of the year. Bless it.

I feel like I came a long way. Winter was so hard. It was hard mentally, physically, and financially (welcome to every farm story). I remember being scared of Christmas's approach because I still had to figure out how to pay Octobers mortgage. Somehow the farm found a way. With the help of a good wood stove, saving, planning and a few thousand miracles I got those house payments in. I am still behind, and I am still worried, but at least I know now that worries from the winter solstice were mended and I got through it. Now, months later having made it from the darkest nights to the longest days I feel comforted. The sun did a full dance, and the worry is still there, but at least I know my stress is fresh. That sounds silly but it matters. I may be behind but October is in the black. I figured it out then and I'll figure it out now.

I am grateful for the challenge and stress Cold Antler gives me. It offers meaning. People live their whole lives wishing for something more real than fear or pain. I have that here in measured daylight and farm chores. Together they make up this holy bit of land carved into a mountain. I'm so grateful for the horny turkeys, the long setting sun, and the challenge of keeping my home and a creative life. I may be constantly scared but at least I am on a mission. At least I feel alive.

I welcome you June. Thank you for this light.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Drop Some Science

Meet Quark, the new rooster here at Cold Antler. Quark is half Rhode Island Red and half Swedish Flower Hen. He's a gentlemen as well. Some roosters are agrressive from their first crowing but this fine sir is more interested in dating than fighting. He was named by my friend Dave (a nuclear engineer) who felt the farm needed a little more atomic energy. So, I give you Quark!

Thursday, June 19, 2014


So plans for Antlerstock have been building, swirling, and coming into fruition. Professor McLeod and I have been talking and it looks like this October is going to be one to remember. For those of you who do not know what Antlerstock is, it is a small, private homesteading Festival held here at Cold Antler Farm for two days. Each morning of the weekend starts at 9AM and the activities go until 5PM. Several instructors are present, with many activities going on all over the property. Inside the farmhouse I might be talking about starting the cycle of fertility on your farm with compost and gardens, a warm conversation by the fireside with coffee or hot cider for those not ready to head outside into the crisp autumn air. Outside there might be a tent with someone explaining how to create sourdough bread starter, answering questions with notepads of eager listeners writing away. Back in the forest trails Brett might have two volunteers with a crosscut saw taking down a tree and teaching safe backyard forestry, the old fashioned way. And so forth, and so onward. The day is humming with as much activity as a beehive in June.

Classes last about an hour or two tops, and are meant to build on each other as the weekend progresses. So for example: Let's say some new lumberjacks take down a tree in the forest. Then we'll come back and learn to harness a horse for logging, and ground drive it back to the woods where we will pull logs thanks to Merlin. Then another class on safe wood splitting and axe handling will be taught by Brett. For those not as interested there will be soap making, spinning wool by hand, and other domestic arts being taught. And so it goes all weekend! Most of the arts and crafts are on Saturday and Sunday is all about animals and food.

Saturday Night there is a big campfire with music. Bring your instruments and singing voice! It's a BYOB potluck and considered an "after party" of sorts, but that fireside will still include a lot of farm talk, stories, things we can't blog about, and side conversations. Part of me feels this is the heart of the event! Because this night

Brett is offering to bring back some of his usual events this year, and I'll be adding more. Here is a sampling of what will be covered at Antlerstock 2014:

Backyard Lumberjacking: Learn how to use traditional woodsman's tools to harvest firewood.

Archery 101: Safety, technique, and the love of the bow! Target practice as well.

Sourdough Bread: Learn to make starter and bake this American Favorite!

Wool to Yarn: Watch wool cut off the back of a sheep get washed, carded, and spun into yarn! Learn to do this with just some dish soap, dog brushes, and a drop spindle!

Cider Pressing: Brett will bring his cider press and apples from trees right here on the farm will be shaken, pressed, and turned into cider!

Pumpkin Carving: Pumpkins will be set at station to carve all day when you have a moment, so we will have a lit path to the campfire Saturday Night!

Herbalism 101: Learn how plants can heal!

Prepping & Food Storage: An introduction to this misunderstood but important lifestyle. It could save your life in an emergency and help ready you for worse times.

Sheep, Chicken, & Pigs: A homesteader's trio - why these animals work so well on a small farm! What it costs to house and feed them and why you should get three lambs and two pigs next year!

Mountain Music: Try out a few instruments, bow a fiddle, learn basic dulcimer 101. Instruments will be for sale and a used instrument tag sale as well!

Barter Fair: Bring your old or well loved homesteading books, tools, crafts or wares and set them out on your barter blanket. Enjoy trading your stuff for others under the autumn sky! it's a BYOblanket event so we'll have a section of pasture just set aside for bartering and a time and place set to hold forth!

The Farmer's Horse: Learn what horses can do to make your farm, and life, better!

Goats & Soapmaking: Want to get your goat? Learn to make soap in a quick demonstration and talk about why milk soap, goats, and life on the caprine side is a little more fun.

AND MORE! I'll be getting guest speakers from the community, local writers, and experts to come and talk. Events will be added, possibly spilling over into Friday Night.

How to Sign up:

The main way is to pay for your spot via paypal to reserve it. It costs $200 a person for the whole weekend, and ALL PROCEEDS go to catching up the farm on its mortgage and preparing for winter: mostly fuel and firewood costs. Your attendance and fee is what literally keeps a roof over my head and my house warm. There are 20 spots and they go FIRST PAID - FIRST SERVED. If they sell out this weekend, then there are no spots left!


I am still offering Season Passes for a sale price of $300 a person. I offered five at this price, so if you wanted to buy one or a pair of the four remaining passes they would INCLUDE ANTLERSTOCK, and you would be welcome at any other workshop for an entire year. This includes Fiddle Camp, Arrows Rising, and anything else that is a big or small event here. Once these four remaining passes are up, season passes will no longer include Antlerstock since I depend on it so much for revenue and can't offer that kind of deal anymore.

Some notes to consider:

Antlerstock is for Adults only. No children, sorry.

No smoking except pipe tobacco (legal in NY kind)

No meals provided, but breaks for lunch in town.

No pets are welcome for animal and human safety.

No camping on site, but plenty of lodging in the area found here.

Want to come for FREE? I am looking for an EMT/Nurse/First Aid Expert to stay on site all weekend, and a yoga instructor for people who want to come at 8AM for a morning workout in the pasture. I can't house you but I will happily offer you a free pass in exchange for your help if needed and 2 hou-long yoga morning classes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

You Can Get That Here

This is a place where you can get things and that fills me with no end of pride. I'm sure many of you out there with chickens in the backyard, a thriving garden, or a freezer full of pork chops know what I am talking about. Friends who stop by this scrappy homestead get their fill of farm life but, but they also can "get things" here. You out there with the muddy jeans, electric fence testers, and oyster shell in bulk know this is a brag we all excuse. We work pretty hard to turn our homes into grocery stores.

Why run to the store for milk? I have it right here in the fridge! Need a dozen eggs? I have that, too. Want some fresh salad greens? How about some cucumbers we can turn into pickles? Or maybe some berries we can turn into jam? Fancy a pound of bacon? Maybe some assorted sundries like wool, honey, or a big fat 5-week old broiler you could raise up on kitchen scraps and turn into a meal amazing enough to write sagas about and then MORE kitchen scraps someday?! HOOOO! This, my dear friends, is a place you can GET THINGS!

To begin to homestead turns you into a producer instead of just a consumer. However humble, it matters. Three eggs a day and a salad garden on your windowsill means there are two groceries you no longer need to buy, and sometimes you may even have a little extra to give, trade, or sell. This changes a person. Providing for yourself is an ancient part of the human animal. We still feel joy in our bones digging into a meal our hands once knew.

I'm curious to know what the readers of this blog are producing? I bet some of you have a steer in the backyard or maybe some goat tacos on the grill? Are you a baker with a wood-fired oven you made or a gardener who wins the salsa prize at the county fair? Maybe you are brand new to this world of backyard supermarkets and just started with a potted tomato plant in the window and dreams of chickens and Nigerian Dwarfs….. Share that! I want to hear about what can people get at your place?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Farmer down

Gibson stepped onto something sharp while racing around the farm today and sliced open his paw. So he is stuck wearing a bandage and not allowed to do the usual shenanigans he is used to. No activity plus a tender foot makes Gibson somewhat bummed out. He doesn't bounce off the walls when he is hurt, he doesn't jump at windows to "try to work". He does this. He looks pathetic and mopes around like a teenager who just started reading about Nihilism and listening to The Smiths at the same time.

He'll be okay. If he needs stitching we'll go to the vet and I'll figure out how to budget it. But I don't run to the vet right away anymore, certainly not when it comes to wear and tear. This tear probably just needs time, regular cleaning out, and has the side effect of a bum dog. But I'd rather have a bum dog than an infected one. Send Gibby your well wishes! I'll let him know through ear scratches and an extra egg in his kibble tonight.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Soap & Goats!

There are a lot of stereotypes about people who live in rural areas. I know because I used to believe them. The notion that people with acreage are under-educated, close-minded, overly dogmatized bigots is proven over and over on television and partisan politics. But the longer I live around here the more I am realizing that out here people are as (if not more) varied in their demeanor and beliefs as any city. And that was proven this weekend when me and an entire workshop-load of guests went to a Messianic Jewish Commune to learn about goats…

I've written about Common Sense Farm a lot on this blog. They are part of the Twelve Tribes, and international organization of Messianic Jewish folks. I'm not Messianic or Jewish, but I like the cut of their jib. They are living together on a gorgeous 200+ acre organic farm and all the people running the WWOOFers, and interns are folks my age: early thirties. So to have people the same age, three miles away, also dealing with kidding, weeds, haying, and frozen water fonts is a kinship that overrides faith. When you raise farm animals you're all the same religion.

So me, the crew, and the one very special member of Common Sense got together this past Sunday. I have mentioned her many times, but Yesheva, my goat mentor, was our introduction to dairy goats.

Here is what you need to know about Yesh. She is a grace personified. I hope to someday share her level of self possession, gentleness, and confidence. She is a mother of four, wife to the hardest working farmer in Washington County (and that is saying something) and one of my closest friends. She lives on a commune and wears funny pants. I live at Cold Antler and wear kilts. It's works. She is simply a better person.

And she did an amazing job showing us her farm, Goat 101 basics, and dairying. That day folks who came to CAF learned the basics of making milk-based soap at the farm, but in the afternoon we went to Yesh's place to hear about conformation, hood care, udder evaluation, weight tape, grain, hay, injections, home vet care, freshening, and everyone who wanted to try to milk got a hand on a teat. I have been raising goats for three years now but every time I listen to Yesh I learn something more, something new. This past workshop I learned more about Selenium, and that it is safe to give supplements of the good stuff more than just before kidding.

The day ended with 11, 3.5 oz bars of goats milk soap, eight guests with newfound confidence, and my love for a doe named Opal. She is the doe you see Yesh presenting onto the stanchion in the photo above. She was darling, a perfect goat. Healthy, in milk, a good mother, and let everyone touch, pet, and try milking. Opal is for sale from Common Sense Farm now, so if you want a low maintenance Apline doe at your farm with milk on tap, let me know and I'll put you in touch with the goddess, herself.

In conclusion: it was a grand weekend. I got to meet some new friends, new Season Pass wielders, and share my corner of the world with friends. We made soap, we met kids. We shared stories, a meal, and got to swap emails and cell numbers. It was a workshop in every sense of the word but I must say, the best part, was sharing Common Sense and Cold Antler's friendship with others. We are proof positive that religion, politics, and personal history don't put up walls between women who are grabbing life by the horns. Literally.

So I thank all who attended, and Yesh, and all the goats and folks at Common Sense! And anyone who attended who wants a bar of soap - just holler! 24 -hours later the stuff has cured to the point of safe mailing!

Friday, June 13, 2014


I'm happy to announce the random winners of the previous few giveaways! If you are the person listed below, email me at and I'll put your information in touch with the vendors. Congratulation to the winners and there are more giveaways ahead this summer, soon! Enjoy your new stuff! Puppy Gibson photo proves we are all winners, no matter what. Look at that wee donnis!

Earthway Cultivator:
The Schatz Family

Taproot Subscription:

Hoegger Cheese Making Kit:
Robin Follette

Game Changers - 50 New Chickens!

Yesterday fifty Freedom Ranger chicks came from the Freedom Ranger Hatchery! I was expecting them this morning, and not yesterday afternoon so my schedule had to do some acrobatics, but I am happy to say all are doing well. It does take some adjusting, since that one little box from the post office basically doubled the animals in my care at the farm, but it is a happy adjustment. No part of me is nervous by addition.

I am also happy to share that the laying hens are now fully free ranging at 6 weeks. They are out in the hedges, chasing bugs and learning the way of the farm. The meat birds that were in the brooder in the barn are now in the small tractors on grass at the age of four weeks. The fifty new meaties are in the brooder, chirping away and enjoying their heatlamps and feed. I wanted to share this picture of Cornish Cross birds halfway to harvest and out on grass! It's a rare and special sight in these modern times! These are the same birds raised in commercial chicken houses.

I won't be keeping all of the Freedom Rangers. Ten are going to a neighbors farm, twenty are staying here, the other twenty will be bartered as a finished, fresh birds. Regardless of all their futures it is a really good feeling have so much happy and healthy food outside my front door. Chickens are so much more than grain-converters. They add their own energy to a homestead, turning backyards into living farms. They give you the courage to get those meat rabbits, try milking a goat, or buying that deep chest freezer. They are game changers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Now in Book Stores Everywhere!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


My thanks to the fine people at Earthway, the folks who sent me the cultivator and seeder I use in the kailyard, who support this farm through their ad buy, and who have been kind enough to offer this beauty to my readership. It is a 6500 High Wheel Cultivator, and it could be yours! These wheel tools take the bending over and constant hoeing out of weeding. They keep earth aerated, rows tidy, and are easy to assemble out of the box. You will need a screwdriver and a wrench, or a friend with a screwdriver or a wrench, but that's about it.

If you want to have this fine piece of human-powered farm equipment mailed to your door, leave a comment in the blog. One comment per entry please, BUT you can double your chances by sharing the contest with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc and coming back and reporting that you "CULTIVATED THE CONTEST ON "_______". Tell folks about this contest by sharing a link to CAF. No purchase needed to enter! Winner will be picked on Friday.

Now, get gardening! Oh, and recheck the Taproot post below, as Amanda and the crew at the zine are giving away a subscription!

This Issue of Taproot!

Honored and proud to be part of Taproot Magazine's newest issue SEED. Taproot is our kind of magazine, centered on living close to home. It's a piece of artwork full of stories, essays, recipes, projects, poetry and prose with a very homesteadcentric feel. I've been reading this book for a while now and can't bring myself to ever recycle them. They sit on my bookshelf as a reminder of this weird and wonderful life some of us folks can't help but embrace. A life that to some seems eccentric, to others idealistic, but to those of us milking goats, raising kids (any kind of kid!), and taking time to bake some bread or plant a garden it is inspirational and reaffirming.

Thank you, Amanda!

UPDATE: Amanda and her fine crew are giving away a subscription (1-year) for Cold Antler Readers! Just leave a comment to enter!

Monday, June 9, 2014

We Signed Over 60 Books!

Thank you to everyone who preordered books from Battenkill Books! Today, the day before our Launch Party at the store—it's tomorrow, June 10th, at 7pm—Gibson and I signed all the books folks like yourselves took the time to order. I loved doing this, and seeing peoples' names I knew from visits to the farm, workshops, emails, and comments. I thank you so much for supporting me, the farm, and this good shop. Amazon is convenient and your local store is great, but this little shop/writer combination makes a big difference around here and lets me scribble my name, dip the dog's paw in ink, and share encouragement and drawings from time to time. It's an honor. Again, thank you.

Gibson changed up his signing style and laid on his back with four feet in the air and signed things upside down. That was delightful. But the real tickle for me was the fact that in this little store in farm country, I was signing books while the Braveheart soundtrack randomly came up on the store's pandora station. If that was kismet in the present look at the posters in the store's front window. Luck and chance that Sam and I are sharing billing.

Thank you! Come to the launch party! Sign things upside down! Goodnight!

Want to order a copy from Battenkill with Gibson and my prints? CLICK HERE!

Hive Minded

Recently I spend some time with the locals. Specifically, the 3,000 new honeybees working hard outside my office window. I am a firm believer in letting the colony be a colony and not fussing with the hive too much, but no beekeeper can let a hive go feral and expect it to thrive. I guess that's why it's called bee keeping and not bee having. So I suited up, lit the smoker, and dove in to check for brood and comb-building progress.

My visit to the hive was mutually beneficial. Since their installation in mid May they have been living in a single deep hive body. Think of it as the same size one drawer of a standard filing cabinet. A box, square and stout, and lined with frames. One the bees and queen were introduced to their new home they got started that very week establishing the CAF honey futures. The queen started laying eggs, the workers started capping brood and collecting pollen, and I watched in awe.

Sometimes I sit outside with my coffee in the morning (the hive faces east) and watch the flow. I can sit right in front of the hive, I am not a threat, and they swirl around me and dive past my mug with heavy legs full of that golden goodness.

Makes you feel rich.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Spinach is Thriving!

Zero Balloon Sightings

I was on Merlin, riding up a hillside at a steady trot when I heard the sound of a text message in my headphones. My audiobook (story and saddle are a great way to start the morning) was interrupted but I let it go without checking it. I'm trying not to treat my phone as a walkie talkie, something you need to instantly react to. I was on a horse, after all. Whoever it was would surely understand the dangers of texting and driving. So I let it go. Merlin saw the land rise before him and started to canter. My camera was strapped tight around my chest like a slingback and it clanked against as as we made our way to the highest spot on the hillside. That was our goal, the overlook. It's the same place I have shown you many times on this blog, with the single birch tree. Merlin knows the routine and I let the reins go and grabbed my camera to take a photo. I was hoping on this gorgeous, blue-sky morning that I would see a few of the hot air balloons from the festival happening in town. Zero balloons but a view so lush and green Tolkien would wobble at the knees, take off his shoes, light a pipe and go full Hobbit. I smiled. The horse workshop for the day was rescheduled. The folks coming were unable to make it so I offered them an Indie Day instead at a later date. This happened last night and I realized I had the day free. I wanted it to start with hot coffee, a black horse, and a camera. My phone buzzed again. This time I checked it. It was a text from Livingston Brooke Farm needing help loading hay. Crap.

Crap, crap, crap, crap, CRAP. I instantly felt a gut punch of impulse and obligation and turned my horse back down the hill. Asking for help haying is pretty much the farmers' version of the bat call in Gotham City. You see that shining symbol in the night sky of your heart (a sickle and horse I imagine instead of a bat) and you come a running. There is no notice. There is no planning. Farmers put up hay when they can and in this case I had exactly twenty minutes to get in the truck and get over to Patty and Mark's place. I texted back that I was on a horse and my guest was still asleep in the farmhouse. I would be able to get there in about 45 minutes.

I rode home, untacked the horse, and ran around the farm fast as possible topping off water for the day and moving chicken tractors. By this time my guest was up (friend from High school, a physicist) and explained that help was needed at a friends farm and did he want to? This guy ran cross country, was fighting' lean, and seemed game until he was explained exactly what "putting up hay" meant. At this he politely declined and headed back home early. No fault of his, of course. Not everyone is into this farm stuff and he didn't study nuclear engineering to buck bales. I saw him off and started closing up the house. This was the point that I noticed the screen door was open and Annie was gone.

Annie is a 15-year-old Siberian Husky. She is not very fast, but she is a husky. They are not a breed known for their farm dog appeal. Annie likes to kill chickens, chase turkeys, roll in horse dung, and basically take off for the forest to chase deer. That last one is an offense punishable by death in New York State. Dogs that "run down" whitetails are considered a nuisance or threat and therefore shot. So I was worried. Annie was gone, my guest was leaving earlier than planned, and Patty and Mark were loading hay bales alone. Crap just upgrade to Shit.

I tried to call, scream, holler and bribe Annie back but to no luck. In a panic I grabbed a leash and some treats and jumped into the truck to run up and down the road. I looked in the woods and worried that my gray and white wolf dog would be shot on sight if seen from the road. We were a mile from a highway. No sign of her anywhere. I needed a bat symbol of my own. I texted Patty to explain that Annie had ran away. She didn't reply. I imagined her covered in sweat, working without much help, and loading the hay my horses, goats, and sheep eat three seasons of the year. I should be there.

I drove home after a few circles around the neighborhood and realized I was nearly an hour-past the hay invitation. I turned off the car, sat down, and tried to breathe a little deeper. Annie was 14. She was not interested in running 16 miles in 80-degree heat. She was probably in the woods close by, eating a laying hen, and enjoying the shade. I leaned back against the door and looked up at the sheep. Half their new mineral block was eaten away. I knew they needed three more trips with buckets to top off their water for the day. I was almost out of grain. I felt that surge of overwhelming emotion the gentler sex is known for and that I usually just punch, kick, or work through and started to cry. At this point Annie came trotting up to me from the stream across the road. Her face was covered in egg yoke and goose shit. I didn't ask questions. I just hugged her.

It took another few minutes to clean her up, get the dogs watered and settled in, and then finally jump into the car to head over to haying. I was in a kilt, paddock boots, half chaps, and cowboy hat. I was not dressed for it but had long since passed the MMMMmmfuckit point and was just happy to finally answer the Horse and Sickle. I was literally a hundred yards down the road heading for the hay work when my phone buzzed again.

"Don't Worry, We're Done!"

Welcome to farm life: epic views, pure joy, beautiful moments, friends in need, chores, different people, chaos, guilt, and disappointment all within one hour of living. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Some Nights, You Gotta Just Eat Out

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Young Turks!

Meet the two new additions to the farm! A young Narragansett and Bourbon Red tuyrkey! They came out of a barter deal struck while haying earlier this week. My friend Joanna and I were stacking bales in Patty's barn when the conversation of birds came up. She lost most of her laying flock to a fox. My female turkey hen is laying on eggs that will never hatch (bless her heart). And so a place of need met another and we made a deal! Joanna and her husband Greg have 42 of these birds they raised from poults and I am rasing a couple dozen young laying hens and meat birds. I traded four hens for two young turks. Not a bad deal!

These two have upgraded my little flock of gobblers to half a dozen. I'm not sure of their gender, but I find they taste the same regardless. I've been proud to provide Thanksgiving Dinner's main course for the past few years and I don't take the responsibility lightly. It's become an unofficial tradition to slaughter on Tuesday by the headlights of my truck, plucking and preparing with two good days of fridge rest for the fresh bird to settle in. That's the way to do it!

Birds here are raised along with chickens, geese, and the occasional ducks with complete free range on the wetlands, streams, woods, and hillsides of Cold Antler. I like them. They add a Snuffelupigus flavor to this place, that slow and kind manner. They are curious, approachable, and when the males hit their prime: stunning. Just ask Lucas, the Big Feather Honcho around here. Here's a picture taken this past winter, he kinda steals the spotlight!

I Like The Way They Work It

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2 Spots already gone!

October 18th-19th 2014! Two days of homesteading fellowship, workshops, conversations, campfires, animals, horses in harness, axes, crosscut sawing, logging with horses, herbalism, sourdough bread starting, chickens, sheep,  and MORE! Come see gorgeous Washington County New York (home state of the legend of sleepyhollow) in OCTOBER!

For those of you not familiar with this event, every October for the past few years (save last year) I have hosted a weekend-long small homesteading festival here at the farm. It has activities that go all day and is ran by myself and my friend, Brett. Brett is a farmer, builder, blacksmith, lumberjack, horse man, pork raiser, gardener, author, and college professor. Between the two of us there is always something going on, along with many side speakers and classes explaining areas outside my expertise (such as herbalism, home brewing, etc). Every day starts early at 9Am and goes into the late afternoon. Saturday night there is a campfire, lit by pumpkins we carved during the day.

Only 18 Spots Left, $200 a person, once sold out the spots are gone! Ask questions if you have any. I can share that this is not an event for children, and you can't bring your pets. But there are a lot of local lodging options, good small-town restaurants, and other comfy accommodations. If you are interested, please email me for more details and how to sign up! I personally plan on teaching about chickens, traditional archery, life with a dairy animal, and I will look to see if any local general or master falconers will talk about falconry (I can not do educational events as an apprentice). Brett covers forest management, traditional tools of that trade, ax throwing, orchard keeping, cider pressing (we take apples right out of the trees and press them!) and I bet I could get him to talk about his pork tractors. I already got the confirmation about herbalism and Sourdough bread baking! It is shaping up!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Whispers of Antlerstock 2014?!

There is always something going on here, always! This coming weekend is a horse workshop, for the people who always dreamed of riding since they were kids. The week after that we are making soap from milk, lye, herbs, and oil and then visiting my goat mentor and a dairy that helps to feeds over 80 people. July is open for Indie Days, and music lessons. Come August into early fall there is Fiddle Camp, Dulcimer Day Camp, Inspirational Farm-Getting Talks, Meat Raising, and More. To encourage those of you who attend workshops to attend more often, and to possibly get some of you down in the city to escape for a weekend here and there - Season Passes are on sale for $300. That means for an entire year from date of purchase you can sign up for workshops. The cost of a weekend workshop is usually $100 and a weekend event like Fiddle Camp or Arrows Rising is $250. Attending two events covers the entire year, but most importanly - helps keep this farm going.

The $300 discount will also include Antlerstock 2014 (a weekendlong celebration of homesteading in the fall, cohosted by Brett the Lumberjack) for the first five passes I sell started today. After that is sold out, no new season passes will include Antlerstock since it is going to hopefully be the winter fundraiser for the farm.

If you are interested in supporting the farm through a workshop, or buying a pass for someone else please let me know! You can email me at


Haymaking & Heat!

Hot weather has arrived, at least for a couple of days. And, of course, the first day that hit 85 degrees was celebrated by putting up bales. If you are among the uninitiated, let me explain. Putting up bales means taking fifty-pound hay bales and moving them into a barn. It literally takes a village and there is always the ticking clock of weather, the hay maker's time, and the farmer's own schedule. So yesterday five of us put up 254 bales into Livingston Brook's barn. We took turns climbing up into the hay wagon, chucking bales, setting them onto the hay elevator, and inside the barn stacking and throwing. It only takes a few hours with good workers and decent machinery but there is no denying the heat, sweat, and chaff. I don't mind heat and sweat but the thousand razor-sharp cuts of chaff drive me nuts. So I always wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and a bandana. I sneeze out hay flakes the rest of the week.

Today the heat will end with an intense thunderstorm, of which I am very excited about. Thuder is just starting to rumble. I already did my garden work, weeding, milking, and regular chores. I planted the rest of my potatoes with some Adirondack Blues (purple mashed potatoes!) and Gibson helped me herd up some stray ewes. Annie spent most of the day indoors, panting with a fan in front of her face. She is not into intense heat at all, but she was born and raised in Tennessee and knows the secret to being uncomfortable—that it isn't deadly 99% of the time.

A lesson for us all, no?

Goats being Goats

My two Alpine Dairy goats are named Bonita and Ida, and here they are sharing their landscaping talents for free. Every day I let them out for a while of their pen and they run around and kick and snort, eat, steal chicken feed, and follow me back into the woods. Bonita is still being milked but only once a day at this point, and her production is at a solid half gallon or more a day. That's half of what she was producing but as the weather heats up her biological clock tells her to produce less. I mean, if you raised a kid that ate green things and green things were everywhere, you'd get tired of nursing too! I think folks like seeing goats being goats, so here is a snapshot.

Notice Gibson is keeping close watch on the chick tractors. Very important.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Horses and Hot Air Balloons!

That title is very relevant here next weekend. This coming weekend here in Cambridge New York is the annual Balloon Fest! Every year hot air ballooning enthusiasts gather for a weekend liftoff. The sky is filled with airships of a sort, many landing right in backyards, fields, and even here near Cold Antler. The morning sounds of chickens and sheep are interrupted by blasts of fire and air as balloons fly overhead and land. It is a magical weekend, complete with concerts, crafts, vendors, and fair food. If you are anywhere around the area or want an adventure out of the city for a few days - come to my little down and buy a ride over the countryside.

Or, consider the first step to getting your dream of owning a horse or starting to ride. Saturday the 7th is a workshop I teach called The Farmers Horse. But you don't need to be a farmer, nor have a horse to attend. In fact, this is for people who aren't farmers or horse owners at all. It is for dreamers, people who wish they had a Haflinger in the backyard and a cart to ride to town with. People like me whose favorite part of Lord of the Rings is when Gandalf shows up into the shire with a pony cart and fireworks. It's for the people who think they can't afford to have horses be a part of their lives. It is for apartment dwellers, cat owners, and men tired of watching actors on Game of Thrones ride into the sunset when there are plenty of sunsets on their own land. The Farmer's Horse is for you.

Click Here for workshop details, but that is the gist. It's a day of hands-on experience learning about how to get into equines. Myself and Patty will be there, talking about how one horse (Steele for her, Merlin for me) changed our lives. It'll be an inspiration but also talk about the reality of costs, farriers, hay and the vet. We will also talk options for the landless. Things like leasing horses, lesson barns, boarding, and getting into riding for little or no cost if you are willing to work in exchange for lessons. I strongly believe if you want horses in your life you can make it happen!

This workshop is a place to ask any questions, learn to tack and groom, see horses in harness working, practice ground driving, pet, kiss, and learn what it is to have a horse, pony, or working draft animal in your life. Only two folks are signed up so far and I would be willing to make this a morning or half day event for folks who want to come for half price  and then go watch balloons fly about! I urge you strongly to see the beauty that is Washington County, feel some reins in your hands, tussle a mane, and maybe take off for the skies. There is a lot happening around here. Join us!


Morning Phases

Morning chores happen here in phases. The entire cycle in June takes around two hours, but the first half hour outside - taser is on stun. It's not about getting everything done and perfect, it is about giving the animals their first meals and getting a basic headcount and overview of the farm that morning.

This morning, for example, started by being woken up my a horse. Merlin is quiet in the blue dawn but when he feels real sunlight on his dark back he starts questioning why he isn't masticating and the human isn't outside yet. He lets out a bellow that sounds nothing like the audio soundbites of horses you hear in movies and television. It is deep, prehistoric, and loooonnnng. It's not the sound that makes for great neighboring and soon after I hear it I am up, kilted, and outside with Gibson. hay is handed out to all beings with hooves and everyone's water level is checked and updated. In the case of pigs, coats, and chicks it is dumped and replaced with fresh water. In the case of troughs for sheep and horses they are topped off.

This early in the morning the goat wants to be milked and the pigs BEG for a splash of goats milk on their morning ration of pig feed. Jig and Reel are not impressed when all they get is some fresh bedding and some kibble and clean water. They are smart enough to know when the steel milk canister is out and what it means. They are starting to LUNGE towards it and it makes me nervous. A lunging and desperate piglet is adorable. A lunging and desperate swine is a small monster with teeth. I decide to keep the milk pail away and add any excess milk to their feed instead. While it is cute to see them lap and drink the white gold as it pours into their pan and covers their kibble like a giant bowl of Kix — I like my fingers, a lot.

Chick tractors are moved onto fresh grass, as well. There on fresh grass I offer them chicken food right on the grass - not in a pan. I want them to learn that the good ground is where food comes from and since they are being raised in an orphanage and not under a mama hen I find this a lesson I can manage.

I don't check for eggs at this hour since all of yesterdays have been collected and my gals don't lay until the hours of 10Am-2PM. Any time in the late afternoon you can duck your head into the coop or hunt around the barn and find roughly a half dozen eggs a day. They feed me. They feed neighbors. They feed friends visiting from far away. It is a joy to share such good food from hens who know how to catch frogs in streams and sunbath properly!

The goat is not milked until the next phase, since she is starting to wind down in production and the udder isn't even at 80% tightness until noon these days. I usually milk her after morning emails and office work. It's the same phase that includes putting Italics out into his weathering area for breakfast and a sun bath. That is the time for tearing down fences (or repairing them), mowing, weeding, planting, and other more non-animal related chores. It is usually several hours long and split into two more phases. The first being milking/dairywork and weeding (daily chores) and the second being any projects or errands in town.

That is the morning routine right now. It is a dance of necessity, that first round. It's checking off the boxes on the second and third. But that first round is the real morning ritual that never changes. When it is over I come inside for coffee and head upstairs to start the morning work that keeps these animals fed and the roof over my head. Some days that office work is really successful, most days it is not. That is another dance I need to learn, and it is a dance of balance. And I am off at this very moment to work on the projects, ad sales, pitches, contests, freelance, and partnerships that will make another check go to the bank. I am behind on the mortgage and I am scared. Really scared. But I read once that the key to self employment is waking up every single day scared. So far, so good.

This life is nuts, dirty, stressful and not for everyone, I know that. But it is an adventure and a good fight. It gives my life meaning, my soul room to stretch, and I don't know any other way to live. So wish me luck as I figure out if I can pull off another Antlerstock with Brett the Lumberjack, sell some season passes, get some more freelance gigs (Orvis gig dried up…) and celebrate the little victories of self promotion such as articles about the farm in Taproot Magazine and Hudson Valley Living - coming out soon.

This post is all over the place, forgive me. I have only completed phase one and still on my first mug of morning fuel. Time to take on the day!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

King of Ace Hardware

I love my local hardware store: Noble Ace in Cambridge NY. So does Gibson, who decided on his own to jump up on the counter for the cold feeling while I was buying a sack of sheep feed. In some places this would cause a series of angry conversations. Here all the folks just laughed, scratched ears, and an older woman with a sheltie and I started a conversation about dogs. Gibson was handed a biscuit and I left with a bag of Blue Seal.

Come to think of it, Gibson goes into a lot of stores. I don't ask if it is okay, either. I just take him in. The only places I don't take him are placed selling plants or food (for obvious reasons). But Gibson and I walk into Tractor Supply, the Bank, Hardware, Book, and General stores all the time together. This is not done in an act of social defiance, I'm just so used to huim always being beside me. Sometimes we are asked to leave (always national chains) and I explain I will after I pay, but nearly every independant shop around here has pile of bones behind the counter and happy clerks ready to meet a customer they already know they will like: a dog.

I know some dog owners feel this is irresponsible to the public since certain people fear dogs, are allergic, or whatever. For that reason I don't bring Annie, who looks like a wolf and will shake and cover a store with dog hair. Some folks just like to complain and point at Gibson and say "That isn't right!" but I have a zero-tolerance policy for the recreationally offended. I'm also not a very sensitive person when it comes to folks who dislike dogs. I understand them about as much as I understand folks who throw up when they are hugged. They gross me out.

Do you guys bring dogs into local stores? Is it common where you live as well?

Vacationland a saddle with a packed lunch. All set.

Keep on Keeping On

Yesterday Zan Asha of Beyond Vagabond came to the farm to teach Beginner Beekeeping Workshop here at the farmhouse. I have been keeping a hive for years but don't have anywhere near this third generation beekeeper's knowledge of the hive and its many parts, so it was an honor and delight to host her. She was a great speaker and a real inspiration, sharing stories from the front lines of the hive. That was what really made the day different from other workshops I think, the stories of her relatives and grandparents in Hungry and how they kept bees, the legends and the rites of the whole heady dance that is convincing 10,000 strangers to move in with you.

Zan told us all about the queen, drones, and workers but also about the folklore, tales, gods, and traditions surrounding our historic relationship with bees. Of all the little anecdotes shared through the day I think hearing about the pre-industrial bee farms that suited up working teams of horses in bee suits to protect them were my favorite! Can you imagine these animals, dressed up in bee suits, keeping the honey train going?! You don't have to imagine it, actually, because there are still people suiting up draft animals to collect honey. Check out this video of a news report on a man, his ass, and his sweet sweet loot! Skip to 4:15 to see the big show.

Guys, you can't get this information just anywhere.

I also learned about Warre hives for the first time ever. The Warre hive is a combination of the traditional box hive and the recently-popular top bar hives. It combines the free combs and bee-friendly environment of the top bars with the accesibility and upward growth/expansion of the langstroth hive we all know so well (the one pictured above). I thought these were fascinating and found at later that day that we have one right in town at one of the several Common Sense beehive posts hidden around town. I love that about this place in the world. You can casually mention an extrenely rare model of insect housing in small talk and someone in a commune will say "Oh yeah, we have one a mile from here!" Oh, Cambridge. I adore you.