Tuesday, May 30, 2017


It's been a beautiful and rainy morning on this farm! I woke up to see that a litter of piglets was born to the black sow, and all the babies and the mom are doing well. This morning she let me come right into the pen and deliver her breakfast of pig chow and goat's milk and I snapped this photo of two of the littles while mom ate. The delivery happened in the night and seems to have gone off without a hitch. I made sure to scratch the boar on the head and congratulate him, "You're a dad, buddy! Good job." And he seemed more concerned about his Seamless delivery than he did about the news.

This is a first for Cold Antler Farm. I have been raising pigs here for years but never had them born on my own land. It's a proud moment but also a little daunting, since that beginner's panic is laid out. My reading and preparation (and advice from pig-breeding neighbors) has been helpful. Some reading says to expect up to 25% loss of piglets in open pen environments. My sow isn't in a confined pen not allowing her to roll over or move freely. I spent an hour or so with her watching her move and for a new mother, she seemed hyper aware of where every piglet was. She lay slowly, grunted softly, and let me watch them nurse. When I saw all the piglets were suckling I left her alone with them.

Soon after the piglets were checked on there was the rest of morning chores to see to, hay to pick up at another farm, a few packages of soap to mail to readers in Oregon and Georgia, and the regular work here at home. I mailed out a house payment, too. It should be postmarked with enough time to keep the wolves pacing outside the yard and not inside it. This is all good news. This scrappy little mountain farm has new life, a payment sent, packages shipped across the continent of my words and work, and much excitement for coming projects of new books and publishing adventures.

Sometimes it is all a little overwhelming, but if you turn up the music and dance in the barn a little it's hard not to get back to work with more joy in your heart than fear. That's the race we are all running. Can we be more excited about tomorrow than afraid of it? If the answer to that is yes you're on my team.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Pins! Get Yours!

A few months ago I backed a project of an artist I follow on Twitter, Nicole Dornsife. It was a teal coyote pin, simple and beautiful in enamel and brass. I was struck by how perfectly she made something so iconic - the jacket pin - into something so personal. It was her art and her design and she could put it on her jean jacket, bag, or save as a keepsake. As a collector of these pins I happily bought one. It arrived beautiful as described with a custom package backing and a number of the limited run. Nicole knows pins and animals. That is certain.

So a few weeks ago I asked her if she could design a pin based on my ram, Monday? I sent her some pictures and told her about Cold Antler Farm and its luck pieces. I explained the lucky sign of two crows and the Scottish Blackface sheep. She noticed that Monday's head marking looked somewhat like a heart. We worked back and forth and recently she showed me the image you see above. A beautiful, one-of-a-kind Cold Antler Farm pin of Monday the ram with two raven feathers.

Pins are $12 for a single. You can buy them in sets. The Kickstarter, artwork, and profits are entirely hers. This is not a Cold Antler Farm project but it is another artist's work inspired by the animals and story of this farm. I am proud to have Monday immortalized on a pin I can have near my heart for the rest of my scrappy life. Sheep jewelry isn't super common, you know! The pins are a limited run and if you would like to order one or a flock's worth, you can click this link below to back Nicole's project.

Get a Monday Pin! 


Friday, May 26, 2017

My Next Project

No Rainchecks

When mornings here are nothing but rain and mud, and I know the sun isn't coming out to cast my tiny piece of this world in saturated glow - it really helps having a farm. The work of knowing animals need feeding, that weeds need pulling, and udders need milking removes any sense of malaise. When you are needed there is a direction in your day and contentment in your heart. There are no rain delays in farming. Not unless it's a hurricane you prepared for. Everyday drizzle is no excuse to curl under the covers and just can't. There is no just can't.

To some people I think this is enough to not get into raising livestock, at least not alone. It's understandable. The idea of having to do something when you are sick, scared, or the weather is miserable isn't popular. But knowing that there is no alternative plans for the next morning gives me this quiet superpower. I know that I will be there, carrying milk pails in the rain like this morning. Watching the ducklings waddle past and the floofy Silkie Bantams turn into monsters in the damp. (Instat Skeksis: Just Add Water!). I like seeing the animals in my care warm, happy, and dry in the wake of my rounds. And to start your first cup of coffee having accomplished all that makes the check list of logos and illustrations more manageable. Start the day roaring and you don't want to pull a cat and curl into a ball and pretend the day doesn't exist.

I like that farming requires constant persistence. It's gotten me this far.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Argument for Small Goats?

Hey there readers, this isn't so much a post as it is a question? What is the argument for dwarf breeds of goats? I know that sounds aggressive, but please do not take it as a challenge. I want to know the advantages of Nigerian or Pygmy goats vs full sized goats? I understand Nigerians have a higher butterfat concentration and take up less space. I know some people just want a pet goat. But as someone who has kept a breeding pair of full-sized Alpines for years I can't imagine being all set up goat, dairy, and breeding work for a third of the milk? Just this morning I got a gallon and a half from my girls. I kept a pail for the house (strain and chill for soap making and drinking) and the rest want to pour over the pig chow and add fat and flavor to their meal. I'll milk again later and get roughly 2/3rd that amount of milk and maybe make some cheese? That adds up to a lot of payback from just two animals. From what I understand Nigerians offer very little milk and have very small teats? So unlike the comfy full-hand fast milking of a large goat you have to have a dog grooming table and three fingers to milk them?

So small goat people, explain yourselves. Drop some knowledge!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Just Hatched

Heaven is a Place on Earth

The first thing I thought about this morning was bread. Warm, steaming, richly-flavored sourdough bread. This is my favorite kind of wheat miracle and yet eludes me in how to create it. Hand me a bridle, a hawk, a dog, or a newborn lamb and I know what to do. But when it comes to the detail-oriented nature of baking, math, carpentry, etc - I am floundering.

So I play to my strengths. For example - I am pretty good at raising chickens. (Good enough to publish a book about it) and the small flock I now tend keeps me in eggs for eating, baking (my humble attempts) and barter. Which brings me back to my thoughts about sourdough, because as the sunlight streamed through my bedroom window. I had struck a deal with my neighbor Linda to trade a freshly-baked loaf of her bread for some eggs. Today was the day she would be baking and it was enough to set the tone for the entire day.

"GIBSON," I whisper-yelled as I grabbed the dog sleeping on his back beside me. "GIBSON IT IS SOURDOUGH DAY!!!" Gibson didn't care much but my sudden alertness did cause him to stretch his front paws high into the air towards the ceiling and then roll over, get up, downward dog, and shake. He was off the bed and at the window in moments. Friday was already there. Bread day had started.

I got dressed and grabbed my trusty, tech-ancient iPod Nano. I turned on some music (this morning, Belinda Carlisle, Heaven is a Place on Earth) and headed outside into the sunlight. This was planned alchemy, a spell I cast on myself. The parts of this spell included making sure the downstairs was cleaned up before bed, the dishes done, and my coffee pot locked and loaded so groggy-morning me could just turn on a burner for the promise of caffeine.

I can not stress how much of a mood-lifter it is to have the dishes done and coffee ready the night before. You wake up feeling like you have your shit together. The music in my ears wouldn't allow me not to smile. Friday circled my legs and I sang to her, "Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth?!" and we headed outside. It's Bread Day, bitches.

Sunlight, dew-soaked gardens, loping dogs, healthy animals, music in my ears. Living alone on the side of a mountain means you can sing as loud as you want as you go about carrying hay to sheep and a scruffy pony. My thinking brain knows that this is all planned - the chores, the music, the coffee and I don't care. After childhood the work of being content in this world is actual work. It's a choice you make to not seek out anger, fear, and despair (at least not first thing in the morning). If I start my day with some joy it sticks and set the rest of the day in a positive direction. And I don't know anyone who needs to focus on the positive as much as farmers.

The ducks I had searched for late last night with a flashlight (they were under the Silkie Bantam hutch) and were carried into the barn for safety were released as I opened the red door. They came out waddling towards their breakfast. The dogs circled. The dew soaked my ankles. Belinda rocked on. Milking, water-hauling, pig feeding - all got done with a soundtrack. When we came inside there were two fed dogs and a day of work ahead of me creating art, design, homemade soaps and sharing my story. Bread Day is powerful stuff.

Being excited about your life is a choice. I won't travel more than 8 miles from this farm today. My biggest event involves trading eggs for a loaf of bread and a small hay delivery to unload into my barn. There is plenty to worry about and all the anticipatory anxiety I can handle - but a hot cup of coffee, a clean home, happy dogs, warm bread, and good music... These are things I can truly say I am thrilled to experience today. And when dinner comes and I am biting into that warm slice of bread paid for by honest barter - Heaven is the correct word.

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Welcome Scratch and Peck!

So happy to announce the new blog sponsor, Scratch and Peck Feeds. This company is bringing you organic, GMO-free, soy-free awesome feed to your flocks. With backyard chickens on the rise and more and more people caring about what we consume - this company is making a difference in quality feed for small producers like me. I am currently testing out some samples - both here at the farm and with some other local flock-keepers - and will let you know what I think of their feed. So far these chicks I picked up Sunday from Common Sense Farm seem to love it! And since these birds are living indoors with me - I can say one big advantage to a non-soy feed is the smell of the poop. It doesn't stink the way soy feed does. I appreciate that, being a few feet from the pictured brooder right now as I type! For more info on these guys or to order their chicken/livestock feed click the link in this post.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pony/Donkey Harness For Sale

Hey there folks, if you are interested in a like-new pony breast-harness (just in need of some dusting) - I have one here cheap. Email me If you have a donkey or 10-13h pony - put it to work! It's a black heather and comes with a padded saddle, crupper for tail, leather tugs, and bridle and lines. You add pony and bit. I can ship it as well. Have pics if interested.

Warm Eggs

I walked back towards the farmhouse from the barn, an empty 5-gallon bucket in my left hand and a full milk pail in my right. Somehow I managed to use my middle finger as a hook for the pail, and in that same palm were three warm eggs. Morning chores were wrapping up and my payment for the work was everything I needed to make a goat cheese omelette. Not bad compensation.

Warm eggs haven’t gotten old yet. I have been raising chickens for a decade and carrying warm eggs back into the house is still one of the most primal, comforting, feelings I have had the joy to experience. It’s the honesty of the exchange. We promise to raise these small dinosaurs, feed them, give them a rooftree and some land to scratch at and in exchange they keep laying these little protein vessels. Such a perfect food and right here in my own backyard. The milk will be turned into soap and cheese. Whey is fed back to the pigs. The chickens, goats, sheep, & pigs’ old bedding and paddock muck gets composted back into rich soil for the kailyard and garden. Everyone and everything has everyone elses' back.

How lucky to feel safe in a place? How lucky to have a small corner of the world that feeds you? If the farm wasn’t here at all there would still be the bubbling stream and fish pond. There would still be game in the forest and foragable mushrooms and plants. This mountain is not some wild corner of Alaska, but still vibrant with howling and growling beasts like lumbering bears and laughing coyotes. There are flashes of red from the sly foxes and stories of the elusive fisher cats that run through the forest like giant ferrets. It is a wild place for sure, but cushioned near a town and domesticated by this small experiment in agriculture.

The farm right now feels better than it has ever been. The endurance test of the past seven years in this place has taught me things I didn’t ask for or expect. I am as grateful for the mistakes as I am the victories. In the past few weeks so much has been planted, chickens moved outside, new chicks inside, more babies on the way, a stubborn horse trained, fences repaired, pens built, and all these things done with pride of home instead the of the panic of survival. That feeling means the world to me. It’s why I am still here and working to keep the lights on and bank wolves at pacing distance.

I think of all this walking inside to strain milk. I didn’t know much about farming when I got my first chickens. Hell, I didn’t know anything. But the girl who started without fear and blind luck is now the woman fighting to keep torches burning. This place changed me, made me, is me. And as much as I have writhed and celebrated - I am still smiling at the feeling of warm eggs in a palm. Who knew they would lead me so far?

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Much Planted!

The gardens here are doing well and in three sections around the homestead. There is the Kailyard in the back forest, near the pigs and behind the barn. That is where cold crops grow in the shade of the tall locust trees. Next to the farmhouse is the kitchen garden. That is where tomatoes, onions, squash, and basil grow. And last, the potato patch. The patch is in old sheep paddock with loose, dark, soil. I hope to plant corn soon, if I can work up the gusto!

Black Out

Thursday night a storm came through the Battenkill Valley that shook the whole region. The sky was red and the clouds rolled in like angry, dark, sea foam. It reminded me of the first time I looked up at storm clouds and felt fear. I remember playing in my grandmother's side yard as a little girl and looking at a brown and black swirl of clouds and knowing in my gut how serious it was. Growing up in Pennsylvania we didn't see tornadoes or hurricanes often, and that type of sky reminded me more of special effects in Ghostbusters than it did anything I ever saw in real life. That same movie sky hit the farm Thursday evening.

I usually adore storms. I was expecting the usual kind of thunder and rain, but nothing drastic. I had a glass of wine poured and was under the big maple tree, hoping to watch the sky light up and take in the big show. But a few moments into that reverie that sky went from a cautious dark to that same childhood fear swirl; the difference between watching a scary movie and being in one. 

I ran around getting the ducklings in the barn instead of under a locust tree. I carried all the chicks inside the farmhouse to the safety of the brooder instead of their tractors. I placed all the silkie bantams sleeping under their hutch, up and into it. The wind started to roar and the rain started to pelt. I made a quick set of rounds. The pig black pregnant pig was tucked safety in the pigoda.  The runaway pig was in his pen in the barn (that story happened on twitter) the sheep were all in their shed. Merlin was under his pole barn. I was the only idiot still outside in the fray. I came inside to join the dogs. Thunder had just started and Gibson was shaking. I lit some candles, got oil in the lamps, and gave Gib a hug while the storm roared into the farm. Within minutes of the first CRACK the power went out.

I turned on my Kindle Fire, which plays any audio books I have downloaded to it on a small speaker. The speakers aren't anything great, but in a house silent of all electricity - it seems loud as a bullhorn. Wil Wheaton read us Ready Player One and I held the shaking Gibson. We stayed up until the storm passed and went to bed.

In the morning when I woke up Ready Player One was still going strong, but the power wasn't back. I got through chores and then loaded up the truck for town. I wanted to see if the power situation was just my mountain or the rest of the area. In town none of the streetlights were flashing, every home was dark. The local Stewart's (our chain of gas stations/convenience store) was PACKED. I went in to get a cup of coffee and discovered the whole town was dark, ice was sold out, and no idea if it would be hours or days.

I wasn't worried. I had plenty of food, water, and ways to prepare meals for myself and the farm. I had ice in the freezers to act as a giant cooler. The spring that runs off from the well works even if the electric pump into the house doesn't. None of us at Cold Antler were in any trouble a few days without power, especially in summertime. But without the internet this place goes from a shared adventure to very, very, lonely. Not being able to write, tweet, check in on news and friends - I decided to head over to Livingston Brook Farm and check in.

So I headed over there hopped up on cheap coffee. Patty and Mark were up, and had no problem with power but their internet wasn't working. I got a truck load of hay out of her barn and checked one item off my to-do list. I was feeling anxious. Without the internet I also can't earn any money. I make my sales in freelance, writing, design, and illustration all from the web. Things I sell off farm - are also advertised online. I was financially hobbled by the black out. This was the most distressing part of it all. But I got hay, and that was something. To distract myself I ended up weeding the kailyard, kitchen garden, and potato patch at the farm. I started planning out a spot for sweet corn, too.

I ended up returning to her farm later that day. There was nothing else to do at my own farm with the animals and plants' needs met. I couldn't do any design work. I couldn't go for a run since I stepped on a sharp stick in crocs (never again, crocs). So I helped Patty set up electric fencing  for her lambs in her farm's front field and checked email/twitter at her place on my Kindle. Feeling connected to people and the web felt better.

At home I made a campfire and cooked some hotdogs over it. I listened to audiobooks with the dogs out there and let go of the stress I had been carrying for the past few days. Something about the crackling fire, the ease of the collies, the soft tones of Neil, and the familiar myths eased my heart.

The power came on again last night. It feels like a Friday morning, and not a Saturday morning. I lost a day in there. So I am at my desk working, designing, soliciting, tweeting, hoping, and working that farm hustle needed to keep the lights on - literally.

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. It's also much needed between books. Thank you.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stay Cool

Sweat was dripping off my face and onto my hands as I planted the Cherokee Purples in the kitchen garden. The heat came fast, overnight, and was taking no prisoners. In a few hours a thunderstorm will canter through here, covering the newly planted vegetable starts with a good shower. I hope to be outside for the first clouds and rumbles, in the hammock, under the king maple that has watched over me and my home for seven years now.

The only things left for me to plant are butternut squash and basil. I have my gardening efforts down to the things I eat the most, and nothing else. So my kailyard in the woods is lettuce and spinach, kale and broccoli, rocket and arugula, and other colder shady crops. By the farmhouse are the nightshades like tomatoes and potatoes. And I also plant my standbys I like to grow and store like the butternuts, onions, and garlic in the fall. Besides that the farm isn’t much of a vegetable producer. But even that small amount of options makes endlessly good meals all year long. It is worth the work, especially on hot days like today where the big event is a cold drink swaying above a tingling earth, pre rain.

I think one of the pigs is pregnant, a first for this little farm. Pigs have never been born here, just bought. I am excited and a little nervous. I am still waiting on a ewe to lamb, but all the goat kids have been born and sold. Morning milking is back into my daily chore list and the milk is setting off my own grocery costs and helping feed the summer pigs, too.

Yesterday I tried to take some photos with Aya Cash, my redtail. She’s molting right now and at a heavy off season weight, so she wasn’t interested. That photo above is from a hawk outtake, a nice wing in the ear. I was taking photos with her while I had her out of the mews for her daily weighing and feather check. She seems to be doing really well and I’m proud to carry her into the next hunting season together this fall.

I am a little sore from yesterday, as I have started a weekly workout goal I call Skadi Day. Skadi was a warrior goddess of long ago, a huntress and archer. So on Skadi days I set goals in distance running, working out, archery and riding. After the morning design work is done I get into a long run, do some sit ups and push ups, and then set an arrow number to shoot and end it all with a trail ride with Merlin. This is fitting because after yesterday’s 12k run, 125 push ups, 125 sit ups, 125 arrows, and a farm to manage I was ready to be carried. Merlin is also just getting back into shape and was huffing and puffing as he ran up the mountain. It still feels like home on that back of that horse. He is the best mistake I ever made.

So things are okay. Working like mad to promote design, illustrations, and classes on twitter. I have three people signed up for archery days this summer and hoping to get more people to come to the farm for that or fiddling. The farm isn’t in dire straights, but like most of us out there working for ourselves, I’m always right up against it. It’s a fight worth staying in the ring for. Seven years, and it’s still my home.

Stay cool out there. Be nice to each other. More soon.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friday's Big Saturday!

Yesterday morning there was a sheep breakout and they headed down the road towards the neighbor’s fields. Gibson saw this from inside the farmhouse and barked a proper warning bark. Then he came running to me whining. Seven years of teaming up with this dog and I instantly knew what had happened. We know our language. I started putting on my boots.

Friday watched from her spot on the easy chair, splayed out for a mid-morning nap while Gibson was at window duty. She seemed interested, but not vocal. She trotted up to see what all the fuss was about as Gibson paced, but she wasn't overly concerned about the breakout. Then I said the magic words, “Let’s go!” they both lit up like salt lamps and raced to the door.

Once the sheep saw the dogs eyeing them up they split into two groups, ewes and lambs. Gibson went after the ewes and had them back in their pen in moments. But the lambs had taken off up a small ravine, and then crossed a neighbor’s utility road on the mountain. Friday raced after them. Raced so fast and so far she was out of sight in a minute, over the crest of the hill.

I was worried since she is about to turn two and save for running behind Gibson when he works, she hasn’t shown much interest in sheep or herding. Border Collies aren’t all insta-herders. Breeding from proven working stock ups your chances, but every dog has its own mind. Some simply prefer chasing sticks or squirrels instead of 200lbs sheep with mounted defense units on their skulls.

So I assumed Friday was up there just chasing sheep. Just running because she’s a dog and loves to run and hey look at them go! By this point Gibson was back beside me, panting and looking up the hill at where Friday and lambs had gone. I told him to stay beside me. Let’s wait a minute?

And then I heard, "baaa bbbaaaaa BAAAAAA!!!!!"

I looked and out of the woods, side by side, were the missing lambs racing towards the pen and the rest of the flock. About 100 yards behind them was Friday, weaving and sliding back down the forested hillside like Artemis in canine form. The lambs sped past me and Gibson rallied, delivering them back to their mates. Now on the solid ground of our road, Friday came loping towards me with the biggest dog smile I had ever seen. She leapt up into my arms and kissed my face. I hugged her the way people hug loved ones back from war. Holy crap I was so proud of that little punk.

My Girl Friday might be a boss bitch after all!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

6 years ago!

I forgot about this video about the first year at Cold Antler Farm in Jackson. It's before archery, falconry, and Merlin were a part of my life and I was just learning what it took to manage a breeding flock of sheep and begin raising pigs. Now this farm produces lamb, pork, fleeces, eggs, honey, veg, and more. I rewatched it, thinking of how much I have changed since signing the mortgage papers and how grateful I am to still be here. If you want to jump back to 2011 - here you are!

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Run, Shoot, Ride

The sun came bursting out today and I spent it like a holiday, doing the three summer things I adore: running, archery, and trail riding. After chores I went for a run up this mountain and got a nice workout in. Later I had a meeting with my falconry sponsor to check in on the molt and my bird. After that I digested a yummy lunch throwing axes and shooting my bow. I followed all that up with a ride on the mountain with Merlin (more pics from that trip on twitter). I've spend the last five days of rain just busting through freelance work and staring at screens - this was a needed day off. I hope you felt some sunshine wherever you are!

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Need to Light a Fire

I stood in the burbling stream, cleaning the caked mud off my leather riding boots with a hard-bristled old horse brush. The stream is near my farm and winds through it to my small pond full of sunfish and bass. As the green of spring writhes back to life, it's harder to see the pond than it was in winter when I ran across this frozen water chasing rabbits with my hawk. Now it is alive again. From where I stood in the clear water and smooth stones I could barely make out the pond. That comforted me. It was a very long winter here.

As the debris fell away I winced looking at the cracks in the leather. Tonight I would oil them down and let them cure-soak by the fire. It’s May here in upstate New York, but snow is in the forecast tonight and temperatures are dropping near freezing. That is why I spent the last hour carrying and chopping firewood to bring indoors. It’s an odd thing to worry about snowfall in May, but at least the quiet night and fire would give me the excuse to oil thirsty boots.

When I lived another life and worked a full-time office job I bought cheaper boots. I thought this made me savvy and stylish, having options and not spending a lot of money on them. When those boots started to fall apart I threw them away. These riding boots aren’t hand-stitched in some Italian cobbler shop, but they are better quality than those in my past. These boots I am now rinsing off are designed for riding horses, farm mud, and forest trails. They cost over $200 and I buy one pair a year. To make them last that long means regular care and feeding, which I had to learn. Now boot oil and salve is a part of my life as much as toothpaste.

Gibson is watching me scrub the boots with his left front paw slightly lifted. Yesterday while herding sheep he injured it in a too-bold move involving an angry ram and heavy hoof. Had it not been so muddy he might have gotten truly hurt, but I saw his paw sink joint-deep in the mud as it happened. He got dirty, but nothing was broken or even scratched. I asked him to see it and he gently offered the paw. I prodded and poked at the limb while he looked at me. No yelps or hollering, just watching me talk. He would be okay. The boot's cracks would fill. I would be warm tonight. The work of choosing to focus on the present, on what I need to make happen to experience it in the future - that is where my mind is now at 34. Distractions of politics and arguments aren't real as ram hooves & frost warnings. If I let my body and mind do what it wanted all the time - which is worry instead of act - nothing would get done. I am so grateful this farm demands work that picks up this burden of anxiety and replaces it with necessity. You can spend the day worried about anticipated threats (real or imagined) or you can chop wood, herd sheep, scrub boots, and hold paws.

Gibson and I head inside for tea. He isn't limping. In thanks I nod to the giant King Maple in the front lawn where I make regular little offerings of flowers, honey, goat milk, and alcohol to the Wights of the farm and in memory of my ancestors. I think of Anna Jumbar, who sailed to America alone at 18 as an immigrant from what was then Czechoslovakia. If she can board a ship to the New World alone I can light a fire and figure out the mortgage. The flowers at the base of the tree are for her.

Yesterday Friday helped with the sheep instead of Gibson and that was… interesting. She doesn’t have his drive or interest in livestock, but can fake it well enough to pass as a working dog. It only takes a slight stare or run at the sheep for a few lopes to get them moving. They know their pen and the routine of dog and shepherd. She succeeded in getting the sheep in their pen and didn’t get stepped on by an angry ovine - so perhaps she isn’t as bad at this as I thought.

The logical side of me says I should take a nap. Smart farmers are napping after lunch. I had been up since dawn. I had seen to farm chores, milking, pet breakfasts, and several design and illustration clients. By 11AM I was preparing wood for the night’s fire and stacking it by the Hob inside, mentally reminding myself to fill the humidifier on top with fresh water. I had the sheep grazing in field and forest back into their pen and filled their barn with fresh hay for bedding in case it was very cold or snowy tonight. Marnie’s lamb is due any day and I wanted the newcomers on clean, warm bedding if the weather got angry. The pigs had also got extra bedding and were still napping off their breakfast of chow soaked in goats milk and whey when I offered it to them.

I should take a nap, but all I am thinking about is the archery target in front of the barn and the axe throwing target behind it. Every day I want to shoot and throw now. The feeling of sore arms and a stronger back are intoxicating. I have never been a weight lifter, and know nothing about gym equipment, but I know I like feeling strong. I like knowing my eyes, mind, and body can hit a mark and I feel powerful getting a large axe to soar through the air. I beam as it sails head over handle in several rotations,and then THWACK into the locust target! If running is meditation and discipline, it’s these martial skills that are repetition and power. Combined with the work of farming (carrying water buckets and hay bales, hoeing gardens, milking goats, and riding horses) I have developed a very odd sort of body. I’m short, stout, but dense. For years this body made me feel shame for not being thin and boyish like the women on magazines. Now I feel so at home in muscle, curve, and my wolfish femme physique. The boots I now have drying by the front door prefer they belonged to the first woman, though.

It’ll be cold tonight and if I want to be warm I need to light a fire. That simplest of acts is the end of a long line of choices I made. Whenever something I write about seems foreign to you, or idealistic, or something out of a side quest in a video game - remember it’s just choices.

When I was 25 I chose to leave the city and take a job in Idaho. That one choice lead to a rented homestead. At that farm I worked all day 9-5 but had evenings and weekends to keep chickens, rabbits, gardens, and bees. Loving that meant when I lost that job to the 2008 Great Recession my next job would also be rural. And so on. And now those thousand large and small choices mean I am at the end of a long winter tired of making fires to stay warm.

I am grateful it is HOW I stay warm. I like that a living fire roars inside my house, as dangerous as a caged lion. I like that I can sleep beside it on a bed of sheep skins. I like that I can do this while watching Netflix on my tablet. I like the contrarian, ridiculous, old-fashioned, technological life I lead. I like my choices.

I hope you like your choices out there. The good news is, you can always make different ones if you don’t. Sharing my life online for a decade has shown me the best and worst of the internet. A post as bland as this, about scrubbing boots and preparing for a cold night, will insight sighs of envy and contentment from some and emails of rage or pity from others.

What I have learned is the reactions people have to my life have nothing to do with my choices at all. It has to do with the emotions and filters in the readers. It has to do with who has or has not taken mood stabilizing medications. Who is scared they don’t have time to change. Who is inspired. Who is lonely. Who is smug. Who is cheer leading. Who is there. Really all I care about is getting a reaction at all. I want to know I am heard, because when you live alone on the side of a mountain with the urge to write after cleaning muddy boots - all that matters is the listening. My fear isn't threats or bullies online, it's that they stop reading.

I'm personally dealing with a lot of doubt right now as an author. I don't know if writing is something I should keep doing, or pursuing. When I get really worried I don't write here for days. With me, writing has to come from the compulsion to need to be heard, but also that I have something worth saying. I get the tangible, daily, sense of creation and reward from the work of this farm - but the entire point of Cold Antler Farm is to share it. I can't tell if I am on the edge of lighting a bonfire with my writing career or smoldering to ash.

Good Gods, I am going to go outside and shoot my bow. This whole post started with the importance of the present and the avoidance of falling into the pits of anticipatory anxiety. Here I am scared, typing in a house without a fire, worried about the Butcher's bill.

What I do know is the fire is mine to light or put out. This isn't 1985, it's 2017. There are options for publishing outside traditional houses and audiences changing as much as the trends and tastes of our culture. I want someone to hand me a torch and pay me to write a book. Maybe I need to light a fire of my own.

Luceo Non Uro

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. It's also much needed between books. Thank you.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Shearing Day

Shearing Day was last Saturday, and after nearly a decade of keeping sheep I can say Cold Antler finally has this down. The whole process went smoothly, with mostly just myself and Tom the Shearer available. Together we penned, gated, and pulled out the sheep one at a time for the sole shearer. The eight adult sheep that were in need of haircuts were all done within the hour and as the fleeces piled up I hung them on the fence. That photo of Monday the ram is his beside what was the fleece he was carrying. Streaking is now permitted on this farm.

There is nothing new to say about shearing as an annual chore, only that I am grateful to live in a time and place where traveling sheep shearers still exist. The travel fee is $25 to come to your farm. Every sheep sheared after that is $8, done professionally with the least amount of discomfort to the sheep. I have tried to do this myself and it took over an hour to do one sheep with hand shears. The set of electric shears I had were second-hand and burnt out ten minutes into the job. I have learned the $8 a sheep and gas money for a professional is money well spent.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Forensic Friends!

I do most of my writing here, where content has room to breathe and stretch. But over on twitter I have been posting several times a day with updates about all the animals, horse training, gardens, and work as it happens. If you want to see what is happening in real time - follow me there @coldantlerfarm. I am no longer on Facebook.

Today I just wanted to share with you the friendship I made with Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist and author. We have very different lives, but love reading about each other's stories and experiences. When she saw I made soap on the farm she asked me if I could make skull soap? I wasn't sure, but said if she sent a mold I would try and mail her the soap! The deal was struck and she sent along this gem of a small mold. I gotta say, it looks really, really, good!

So this sheep farmer in NY will be mailing skull soaps to a doctor across the nation performing autopsies with the same pruning shears I use on my apple trees. It's a wild world, people.

Blood & Blossoms

This morning I woke up an hour earlier than usual. It wasn't even 7AM when the chores were done, the baby goat bottle fed, the kailyard seen to, and the dairy goats nibbling their hay, post milking. Perhaps a new spring record for me. It's a small victory to have the sheep grazing in the field and little chicks quiet with their feed before I even started sipping coffee. Take your smiles where you can get them. Gods know, they aren't being handed out.

I'm getting back my summer energy levels and it feels good. Last night around 6PM I headed out for a short 4-mile run and instead of feeling a chore it was delightful. Getting to the point where running is more pleasure than pain takes a while. It's a boon for the heart and body. And this morning, as the farm was sated and my body a little tired and ethereal (pre-caffeine) I took a moment to remember it is May Day.

On the apple trees where thousands of white blossoms coming out. What a beautiful promise of good things to come. I made sure to snap a picture. Starting my day having done good by my farm and taking a moment to revel in its beauty - that never is bad for the spirit. My agricultural to-do list on this day is the usual shepherding and checking on Marnie for her lambs (the only other sheep here who is pregnant, bad luck, so I need to buy in more for fleece and meat) - is to plant potatoes. The kailyard got in kale, broc, cauliflower and spinach. Peas are climbing up a container on the porch. But now is a time to plant spuds. A little chore like this every day adds up.

Happy May, everyone.

It's a world of difference from Friday. Friday morning there were no blossoms, just buds, and I walked out to the pigs’ pen feeling that hollowness of Harvest Day. I am used to seeing these beasts die but not comfortable with it. I pray I am never comfortable with it. Out of the five pigs that wintered here two were large enough to be slaughtered for the co-owners and I. The other three have a bit to go, but will be harvested as well. Soon the abattoir truck would arrive and men who know me from years of traveling-butcher work here will share pleasantries and catch up on stories before the bloody work starts. And then two cracks of a .22 will ring on the mountain, throats will be slit, blood will cover the hay below the large bodies, and the work of skinning, gutting, and halving will begin.

But at that morning visit the pigs were just happy to see their breakfast and I checked their bodies, ears, eyes and condition like I had every morning. Like I have for years of raising pork here. I felt that hollow feeling inside me. To the uninitiated, it might seem like guilt. It isn't. There isn't a drop of regret or doubt in the taking of lives raised on this mountain for food. It is the hallow, really. Not the emptiness of loss but the reverence of sacrifice. These are lives being taken in gratitude. These are lives being taken to feed myself, my friends, and to keep the farm moving forward. Hallow is the correct term. It still isn't comfortable.

That was just a few days ago, and now ravens gruk and swirl among the locust tree branches enjoying the discarded pieces, pelts, tails, and bones dumped far into the woods. I hear the coyotes and fishers at night. I know raccoons are running back across the creek with full bellies. I don't know if they understand the gift of the pigs like I do, but they aren't passing up the meal.

The days go on. The blossoms arrived. Summer is coming. May this day bring only luck.

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. It's also much needed between books. Very much.