Sunday, December 31, 2017

Day Five of The Bottom

You have to decide what attitude you're going to have about a bad situation. You just have to. Because if you let your emotions take the reins you'll end up pulling out all your remaining hair or screaming as you run naked into a dark forest. Or worse, commenting on someone's Facebook page with a correction. So when I was standing in my mudroom earlier today—watching the pooling water slosh around my feet—I chose to be very happy that I owned my very own indoor spring. Because during the night groundwater had erupted below the dirt floor behind my washing machine and there was nothing I could do about it save pump it out if it got too deep.

And so with that level of gratitude I started lighting the fire again in the wood stove, feeling my rubber boots splash about on the fairly new indoor/outdoor carpet I was folding clean laundry on a few days ago. I got the fire going, hoping it would help dry out the joint or possibly stop something horrific from happening to the system of tubes, pipes, and valves going into the new-to-me washing machine. Let's just put a pin in that sad little hope for now.

My truck still isn't running but that doesn't mean the farm doesn't need provisions - so I arranged for feed and hay deliveries and a friend drove me into the town of Shushan to get some heating oil for the furnace (which keeps the water heater happy). When I got home with the heating oil I saw 200lbs of feed in the back of the truck along with a 40lb bag of performance dog chow. I was grateful for Ron Decker and his local feed delivery service, and that I could just tape a check to the front door. A yellow hand-written receipt was in its place.

I was in my basement restarting the furnace when I heard the cascading water start to pour above me. It was more confusing than anything else and I ran up the concrete steps from the basement to see what was happening. It wasn't the spring of trickling groundwater at all. It was the washing machine (which was turned off by the way) shaking and when I opened the lid I saw it was nearly filled to the brim with water?! I turned off the water to the machine. Thank the gods it instantly stopped. Why is my water haunted?!

Thanks to the fine people of Twitter it was suggested that the valve froze open or was pushed open by other pipes that froze sending pressure through? I have no idea what caused it to happen but I was very grateful that I got there before my kiddie pool became a cistern. Now on top of all the other chores and stresses I had a washing machine to bail out and a room to heat up enough so it wouldn't freeze. I took a few deep breaths. I could hear the furnace heating the water and knew that problem was solved. I did that. Jenna from a decade ago could not do that. And the same gal who restarted a dead furnace could stop a water ghost.

So I bailed out my washing machine and cursed a lot. I felt better.

It was soon after that fresh hell that hay was delivered. While stacking the bales the farmer said in a nonchalant tone, "Hey, You wouldn't want a baby goat by chance, would you?" And without giving it any thought at all I said yes. So they drove back to their farm in town and returned with a week-old Nubian buckling that was dumped at their farm this morning by a local who pity-bought him at the Auction and wasn't allowed to keep him. I figured with everything going wrong I better accept the homeless goat of New Year's Eve the Universe was throwing at me. I needed the karma, if nothing else. He is all black save for white ears and nose, a reverse panda.

So as I type I have a flooded mudroom, a possibly-ruined washing machine, a 56° house, a -13° night ahead, a dead truck, am low on firewood (thanks to extreme cold and two stoves running at once), AND Friday is in heat.

But you know what? I have never felt more calm and capable with the problems being thrown at me.  My animals are well. I have plenty of feed and hay. I have a living room that feels like a movie set with all the cages, baby chicks, perches, dogs, cats, and now goatling and I'm okay.

This is my 8th winter on this farm.  I know how to solve these things (or at least deal with them) and I know who to call if I don't. I have locals who know me and care about, friends a phone call away, and professionals who can repair the truck on a payment plan, deliver feed, get hay, or unload goats. And I am smiling right now knowing that soon as I post this I'll be sitting back with a goat in my lap drinking from a bottle and firelight keeping us warm enough to pass for comfort.

It'll be okay. And if it won't be - at least there are baby goats.

8AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -3° F
Tonight's Low: -11° F
Indoor Temp: 52° F
Truck: Still won't start
Pipes: Refroze again
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid so far

6PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 2° F
Tonight's Low: -13° F
Indoor Temp: 56° F
Truck: Still won't start
Pipes: Refroze again plus ground water eruption
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid so far

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Day Four of the Bottom

This started off cold here. The house was around 49 degrees, and both fires were out with cold ash. The winds were high last night it drew the flues so strong that the house actually wailed. If you were snow shoeing in the full moonlight on this mountain you think that down in Antler Hollow there was a Yeti having an orgasm. Which, I assure you, wasn't the case.

I am getting ready for company (Friends are coming for Game Night) and trying to figure out hay and feed delivery from local services while my truck still won't start. I think the severe cold straight up killed the battery and I need a new one. Me and friends (two local falconers were just here trying to jump the Ford) have tried over and over but it is plain dead.

But that means getting a ride to NAPA and back, which I hope I can manage by Monday. I don't mind staying put on the farm but having zero mobility is a little scary in case of an emergency. And as hay and feed starts to get lower my anxiety swells up. We are okay for a few days, but I would feel better being okay for a few weeks. Who wouldn't?

I am grateful for the friends coming by tonight and for today's weather being in the double digits. I can not wait for April, if you can believe it. I still can't.

8AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -5° F (Snowing)
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 49° F
Truck: Won't start
Pipes: One Refroze
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid

4PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 13° F (Snowing)
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 60° F
Truck: Still Won't start
Pipes: Thawed again
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid

And if you want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support you can do so at: If you don't, that's fine too. I'll be updating here through the worst of this winter weather daily.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Day Three of The Bottom

The farm is getting the hang of this level of discomfort, or rather most of us are. One exception is my oldest rooster, Chase. He's been spending the past few nights indoors. Two nights ago I found him roosting on top of the Silkie's Eglu, covered in snow. I picked him up and set him by the fireside to regain some feeling in his gizzard. In the morning I set him back outside (crowing indoors is jarringly loud). Then yesterday at dusk I stepped outside to get more firewood and nearly stepped on him. He was right on the front stoop. I scooped him up (he screamed the whole time) and set him into the mudroom where he spend the night on the two little steps descending into it. Every single time I walked past him to feed the mudroom stove he screamed more, but didn't move. Farming is magic.

I have managed to thaw out the bathroom pipes and the toilet that wouldn't flush yesterday, now does. It took high-level space heaters hitting the air-exposed pipes under the floor. My dream is later on the truck starts and I can take it into town for some basic human provisions. If it doesn't work look like sponge baths and strong tea. I could do worse.

Tomorrow is supposed to be nicer out, maybe as high as 13°F if we're lucky. That should be enough to jump the truck. If not I want to hunt the hawk on the mountain via snowshoes and enjoy the sunshine on my face.

7AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -6° F
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 52° F
Truck: Didn't try her yet
Pipes: Only one pipe left to thaw!
Toilet Bowl Water: Liquid & FLUSHING!

1:45 PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 4° F
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 59° F
Truck: Tried to Start! (needs more juice/less cold)
Pipes: THAWED!!!!!
Toilet Bowl Water: FINE!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Day Two of The Bottom

The day started out as I reported earlier; with frozen pipes and a dead truck. I had fallen asleep too early the night before (11:30PM) and let the fires die out. That choice turned my 60-degree living room to a chilly mid-forties by 7AM. I was curled up under a pile of blankets and collies. I stayed under the covers for a few stolen moments pretending everything was fine. Then Friday jumped onto my chest and started licking my face and the day began proper.

The work of the farm is heavier with the frigid-weather chores. Extra feed, bedding, and water carried to make up for the energy the animals use to stay warm. There's about a half foot of snow out there, and ice below it - which makes for some really solid agility tests. So far I only fell down once.

Several attempts of restarting the truck failed. (I've added extra coolant and have a trickle charger on the battery.) Some of the house pipes are thawed (kitchen, not bathroom). But even with the  encouragement I was gaining in degrees in the farmhouse I was feeling beaten down. This doesn't really bode well for day two the The Bottom. I tried to snap out of it. Coffee was hot and ready. I had lined up the day's work indoors and out and made my list of little goals. I was okay. The problems I had I was trying to fix and had fixed before. Chins up!

Then I nearly burned the house down...

I was over zealous with my heating and nearly started a fire this afternoon by letting too much air stream through the mud room stove. I came inside from hooking up the truck's charger and smelled that battery-acid stench of burning stove paint. It tastes like rust and chemicals in your mouth, makes you feel sick all over. I shut the flue and clamped the stove's air supply down much as possible and checked the attic and outdoor chimney areas - all seems safe but I'm gun shy now to leave the farm even if the stove is fine. It was scary.

And all it took was dry wood in an overworked stove I neglected for twenty minutes of outside work. Imagine if I had left the farm or was doing an extended outdoor chore like digging out the pigs' fencing?! I have chills just thinking about it. I need to have both the chimneys and stoves cleaned and inspected.

In lighter news the incubator I borrowed from a friend hatched a chick this morning! Out of the dozen or so eggs in there only one that hatched but I hope for more. Hearing those peeps from the Styrofoam box was so unexpected and joyful to hear. I was filling soap orders and focusing on adding fats to milk when the sound hit me like a record scratch. Babies! New chicks on the coldest day of the year so far!

The house now smells more of mint and crockpot goodness again. There's a loaded crock pot of Silkie Bantam Stew and egg noodles and I have been hydrating with warm mugs of water with lemon juice in them. It's soothing just to have the warmth inside. I feel a little better that the house didn't burn down. It's been here since 1860 and I hope very very hard I'm not the end of the story for it.

Tonight will be colder than last. I am hoping I can get the pipes cleared and running and the truck started. More updates often over on Twitter @coldantlerfarm

Current Stats:

Outdoor Temp: 3° F
Tonight's Low: -9° F
Indoor Temp: 59° F
Truck: Turns now! (still won't start completely)
Pipes: Kitchen thawed/Bathroom frozen
Toilet Bowl Water: Liquid
Also: Friday got her period & hates her diaper

And if you want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support you can do so at: If you don't, that's fine too. I'll be updating here through the worst of this winter weather daily.

Here We Go...

The AM stats are as follows.

Outdoor Temp: -8° F
Tonight's Low: -9° F
Indoor Temp: 46° F
Truck: Not Starting
Pipes: Frozen
Toilet Bowl Water: Icy

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Day One of The Bottom

The farm is in good shape for Day One of The Bottom. I spent the morning with the usual chores and work, focusing on illustration and firewood. When the house seemed okay enough to leave for short errands, I got gussied up for town. With my hair braided in pigtails under an over-sized beret and a semi-clean fleece jacket I felt presentable enough for civilization.

The sun was out so several thin layers and the jacket were enough to keep the 3° weather from biting. I picked up hay and provisions from Livingston Brook Farm. Then came home to check the fires. Once stoked I headed out again to mail soap, books, and artwork at the post office. I'm so glad the truck is roaring proud. She runs!

I bought extra calories in the form of sweet feed for the livestock. I emailed my firewood provider. I got the pigs bedded deep, the horses and sheep eating extra hay, and the goats set up with the loaned water defroster. For the first day of this stretch things have been okay.

When I was coming home from town I saw my neighbor and his team of Percheron Mares. His family owns a woodlot next to my property so he drove his team (named Belle and Bright) into my driveway to chat. I told him if he was ever in a pinch I had harness, hames, leather, chains, single trees and other horse-working gear right on hand so feel free to knock on the front door if he needs something. There was a moment of local pride with that. Most of us working horses and other draft animals (I have friends that plow with donkeys, ox, and ponies) are younger - in our thirties and twenties. It's nice knowing neighboring farms once again keep horse working gear on hand.

I'll be up into the night feeding fires and continuing my Gilmore Girls binge. It's such a comforting show that I can't not relax. Every episode is around 45 minutes and between them I check stoves, get a snack, bring in wood, check pipes. I fall asleep around midnight and by morning the hard work of making it to 65° and is cashed in for four hours of straight sleep on the daybed with the same crew as the night before. Wish us luck out here.

The PM stats are as follows.

Outdoor Temp: 11° F
Tonight's Low: -7° F
Indoor Temp: 58° F
Truck: Ran hay and errands today!
Pipes: Dripping/thawed
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid

Winter's Bottom

Tara Alan
I can not stress enough how impactful it is to general morale of a homestead to have the dishes done and the coffee prepped the night before. When I woke up in the living room—in the center of a pile of dogs, one brave cat, and a hawk perched above us all—I was so elated that there was no coffee pot to wash out and load or dishes to deal with, because if the pipes froze there would be a longer process of heating up water collected on the stove the night before in pans. (After that was used up - collecting, boiling, and preparing mountain stream water for indoor use.) But the sink was dripping smartly onto the thawed black body of Japanese Silkie Rooster the butcher had prepared for me weeks earlier. I had taken it from the freezer the night before. After I finish the morning update here I'll be setting it into the crock pot whole - surrounded with chicken stock, stored potatoes, onions, and some carrots from the fridge. A little olive oil and herbs and the lid clamps shut. In a few hours meat will be falling off the bone and a stew will be prepared to serve over some Amish egg noodles from the larder. I feel ready for the day.

This morning is the beginning of Winter's Bottom. The stretch of cold that usually hits this area in mid to late January but has chosen to arrive here in Washington County early. The following ten days will go from slightly negative numbers (like right now) to well into the double digits. Locals are saying we could be looking at -20° this weekend if it's like it was back in the nineties when the cold came and stayed this long.

This might be standard fare for some of you, but here that is colder than usual and the animals, the house, the chores, the insulation, the pipes... all of it isn't ready for this much cold lasting this long. Sure we get hit hard a day or two - but two weeks of never nearing the temperature water freezes isn't normal. And when you raise animals it is all about what they are used to - not you. Swings 30 degrees are hard on all of us. It's my job to get it ready and to see the farm through till it the weather breaks.

As of right now the AM chores are done and all the animals seem fine.The dogs did not want to stay out long. They went out, peed, and then were waiting by the living room glass doors to be let right back in. I didn't blame them!

The fires have been cleaned of last night's ash and restarted. The coffee pot is taunting me and I'll get a fat cup of it between writing this and rereading it before posting.

The hawk will go back outdoors when the temperatures are in the positive (an hour or so) and be fed a warm meal. She won't come back indoors until after dark. She's inside now because she's at her hunting weight and I'd rather be safe than sorry. Plenty of young red tails out in the wild won't survive this spell.

The horses and sheep have their water tank defroster sending light steam into the air.  They are eating hay like proud beasts and the jungle fowl birds spend most of their time on the sheep's backs. (Chickens are not stupid.) The goat's water was frozen solid but I cracked the rubber tub and refilled it (same with the pigs).

Today the new animal work is setting the goats up with a heated bucket I'm borrowing from a friend and getting the pigs 2 bales worth of bedding in their pigoda. They will bury themselves deep in it to create a heat igloo of porky goodness in their home. The chickens - they are all in the barn being fed and watered there. I'll be loading and stacking hay in the cold, driving the truyck around the county, mailing soaps, and getting the regular work done indoors as well. I'll be up late, sleeping less, and worried more.

More updates in the evening. I need to pick up that hay and arrange for more firewood.

The AM stats are as follows.

Outdoor Temp: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 50° F
Truck: Started up! - needs extra coolant.
Pipes: Dripping/thawed
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


The next two weeks are going to be scary. Temperatures are dipping well below zero for the longest stretch of days ever since I have lived here in New York. I am worried sick about this tonight. Worried about the animals, the dogs, the hawk, the truck, the wood supply, and on and on. All I can do is dedicate myself to staying here to stoke fires, keep the animals comfortable, and soldier through but nights this cold have never lasted this long before.

Cold like this means changing everything. It means keeping the fires at hot-coal status all day which means devouring wood like a maw compared to the yuletide log blaze you picture when you imagine a fire. It means plugging in every water heater, defroster, space heater, etc I have. It means frozen or exploding pipes. It means livestock needing up to double the calories to stay warm. It means old hens or sheep might die. It means the hawk at hunting weight in indoors at the coldest times. It means horse blankets, ice chipping, faulty electric fences, and ordering extra firewood. It means not sleeping through the night for days on end. It means enough general anxiety to make cocaine seem like a mediation supplement. It means I'm scared.

I'll be writing about it all here. Please keep an eye on the farm through the blog. And follow along on twitter where I post every hour or more on the state of life, love, politics and pop culture if you're interested in hearing exactly when the pipes burst or the toilet water freezes.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas From Cold Antler Farm!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cave Fires

For three days the truck wouldn't start. Today the weather was dry enough to get it charged and hope for the best. A friend came to pick me up for errands in town so we left a trickle charger on the battery and a prayer on the hood. Later in the day she did start and ran, but promptly turned off as if the engine was a light switch. It's frustrating and a little scary. But the starting up was progress and I'll take the tiredest hope. The truck is my only vehicle. I want her to be okay.

The Ford's antics were nothing new. It's been acting like this (not starting in damp weather) for years and several attempts at repairing this issue have failed. I took the concern for the truck and slipped it into the back pocket of my well-worn, flannel-lined carhartts. They are  too big for me now but I wear red suspenders and keep them going. That's the motto this winter and every winter before it - keep going.

It's the home stretch into the Holidays. I make myself stop thinking about the truck. The last thing my heart needs is another thing to raise its pulse. I dread the days leading up to the 25th. It's hard to sleep. Hard to focus. Hard to do anything.

As the day started to sink so did my mood. I grabbed Aya from the mews and brought her inside for weighing/feeding. Then I did the normal evening rounds of firewood hauling and livestock feeding. I'm grateful for the work this place demands. My farm fights sadness and anxiety with decision, horns, and talons. If I give into the fear too much, if I decide giving into sadness is more important than stove wood and carrying hay - pipes freeze and animals die. There's no wallowing. Wallowing is for smarter people who have thermostats, landlords, spouses and a pair of cats. A life that could care less if they napped four hours straight. Here the work is constant, demanding, cold, and honest. Around Christmas I'd hate it if I didn't need it.

I went and got Mabel's blue blanket. The temperatures would drop to the single digits tonight, even though the day was bright and sunny. Walking into the pasture with the folds of fabric and flashes of reflective bands caused the sheep to scuttle and the mare to pin back her ears. She stands for the b;blanketing but I'm always cautious.  One side step, kick, or fall and I could hurt myself enough to lose the farm. I don't have health insurance yet but I did sign up for the ACA this past week. Soon as I can set aside the first premium I can start being covered. That's a goal of 2018. 

Most of the year I feel nothing but a fighting spirit and joy for this life and farm, but right now I feel like a kicked dog. The reasons are private but the result is a heavy loneliness. Not the kind of loneliness remedied by a night with friends or even the kind the excitement a first date can squash. No, it's something older and bigger; a cave fire that's gone out so the monsters can walk in.

Be kinder to people this week. You have no idea what the Holidays do to them. It might be really hard for them to be sitting at their desks, or shopping for groceries, or pretending your favorite holiday movie makes them laugh, too. There's nothing for it, but there is a gentler way we could all treat each other this week. Allow more patience to those you suspect have it harder right now (we need that social berth more than a hug or second helping of spiked nog). Don't take distance personally. Let us Irish Goodbye at your party or dinner. Allow us to use an excuse to go home to our dogs. We'll restart the truck engines and cave fires in good time, but right now just be kind.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Hot Coal Wealthy

After morning chores were done and the fires were considering turning from flames into rolling coals; I was just starting my first cup of coffee. As I poured it from the well-worn metal percolator on the stove top I was reminded of the wisdom of buying winter supplies ahead of time. My income is volatile, at best, so to have a winter's worth of food stored feels like money in the bank. With some large bills just paid (and two more due, plus the truck needing new brake lines) it leaves no wiggle room for spontaneous provision acquisition. I have at least seven more pounds of coffee in the larder, five pounds of sugar, and a couple jars pf powdered creamer. Not the most high-brow cup of coffee but between that and the wood piled high outside the house - there's a certainty of warmth and caffeine that grants me a long exhale. Hot coal wealthy.

Snow started to fall a few hours ago and I started to go through the usual Monday morning routine of work indoors. It was interrupted by the sound of a large truck pulling into the driveway - Othniel of Common Sense Farm was here to deliver hay. I was so grateful for that delivery, as my supply was low and the truck isn't running today. And while we unloaded the bales into the barn another vehicle pulled in -  this time it was my friend Dona McAdams of Northern Spy Farm. She wanted photos of Merlin in the snow and had some beautiful host guests of her farm's cheese and a potted Hyacinth in a glass dome to apologize for the drop in. We ended up talking for a good while, catching up on our lives and stories. And now with the guests gone I am back to the work of words, drawings, designs, and promotion of classes and lessons here at the farm.

Life is good here, if nothing out of the usual. I traded security and certainty for hay deliveries and afternoon visitors and potted plants. The house is finally over 60° and I am heading out to check the mailbox. Thank you all who sent holiday cards to the farm!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Stay Warm

Cold's come to the farm and has overstayed his welcome for a few days now. Nights were in the single digits and days below freezing but the farm came through the worst of it last night just fine. This morning the pigs were bouncing down the hill for their grain. The horses were frost-bearded but bright eyed. The goats were chipper and welcomed me in the 4° sunshine with bleats and songs.

As tough as it is some days to bundle up and head outdoors, there is a real mood boost in the work. When you have others depending on you  - you can't not have worth, can't not be needed. Even something as simple as grain in a bucket, or defrosted water on a blue morning - these things depend on me. To come inside from this work to a sated farm of content animals means that before I had my first cup of coffee I was of use. It feels good. Never stops feeling that way, a decade later.

Things are busy and good here. This whole week was mostly illustration work and soap making, meetings with my agent about the new project, and a Holiday party for friends yesterday. I had a great first date, too. Today as the sun heats up the snow a bit I plan on spending it gathering hay for the farm from one of my neighbor's, tending fires, and keeping hawk, home, and horse happy as the weather exhales towards better climate.

Stay warm, friends. Find your light and smile.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Soft Snow

A storm is on the way. The afternoon was dedicated to preparing for it. Right now as the world outside waits for snowfall I am inside feeling proud of the Silkies, who all managed to find their home tonight and are accounted for in their roost. The pigs have extra bedding. The mare has her blanket. The firewood is stacked. The homestead smells of pasta and mint soap - which is curing on the kitchen counter to mail to readers all over America and Canada. The entire morning (before storm prep) was spent working on illustrations for clients, I am trying to get everything in the mail - soap and art - out by the 15th. I think I am almost out of milk for soap (at least from this farm's goats) but I have been pushing art and logo sales on twitter. I am so close to making a mortgage payment I can taste it. Falling behind creates the anxiety that fuels good writing and a decent hustle - but is bad for my heart. What else is there to do but promote, work, and try? So tomorrow when the animals are set and the roof raked I will draw, draw, draw. The coffee pot is already set. I hope the storm is gentle for us all.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Missing Storm Hen

Yesterday was special here, the first real snowfall of the season was coming to Cold Antler and I was ready. I had spent the morning stacking and covering the last of the firewood delivery. (Happy to say I am wealthy in firewood right now!) I had doubled-down on the pigs' bedding, the goats' grain and comforts, and made sure all the sheep and chickens were fat and ready to sleep the snow away in their respected barns. Mabel had her winter blanket fastened and Merlin had his prehistoric coat donned. Before I had left the farm to go hunting I filled the indoor firewood stack to the brim, did the dishes, and prepped the coffee maker. Baby, I was ready.

What I didn't anticipate was a trio of white hens who had never seen snow before losing their minds.

When I returned home from my hunt the roads were bad. The seven miles took half an hour, the roads became sheets of ice and sleet so fast I had to count my breaths to stay calm. I was so relieved to pull into the dark driveway I went straight into the house and hugged my dogs. I re-stoked the fires that had faded to coals while I was not-shooting deer. I let out the dogs, did a quick head count of the sheep and horses, and then headed inside for a quick dinner of chicken and angel-hair pasta from my winter food stores and started a movie to watch while I ate. Maybe watching a movie while eating is low class but I live alone. I like the company of a story.

After my meal was done I set the dishes on the counter in the kitchen and did what I do every night around this time - Night Rounds on the farm. It's just a walk to make sure everything with hoofs, tails, claws, paws, and talons are safe and settled in for the night. I bring a flashlight and the dogs and we make sure Aya is on her perch, the chickens in their coops/barn, and the sheep settled in from the now raging snowstorm! two inches had covered the ground in the hour I was home and eating. And it was during this nightly routine that I realized there was only one Silkie Bantam chicken in the Space Coop (the Eglu) - Falkor the Rooster. His three hens were all gone.

Sidenote: there were Five Silkies but I had the second rooster without a name butchered with the meat birds a few weeks back. Too much testosterone in a small coop.

Where had his hens gone?

I realized then that this was the first time these spring chickens had ever been around a true snowfall. It had started in the daylight and covered the farm before the sun set. That meant what was a familiar world turned into a foreign moonscape to the three hens. So it was time to find them, as I was certain a night out in the snow for birds used to the comfortable, wind-proof, Eglu was a death sentence. the dogs and I began our search.

I found two of the hens quickly, and by listening more than looking. Chickens aren't always easy to see but most chirp or coo if a person comes close. The pair of hens I found were covered in half an inch of fresh snow, in the snow, next to a truck of an old tree. They were nowhere near their coop. I picked them up and felt the ice on their feathers and instantly brought them inside to the brooder. The living room brooder has a trio of just-hatched chicks on one side and a spare room, so to speak, on the other. It doesn't have a heat lamp but it is dry hay ten feet from a woodstove.

One to go.

The dogs and I searched two more times for her. There was no sign. We checked the pasture and every white lump on the ground. We checked the barn and around the coop. We checked the woods, the trees, every dry spot from the nook below a wheelbarrow to the back of the woodshed. No bird. I figured she was picked up by a lucky owl, or had been unlucky enough to stray from the other hens and laid down to die in this hellscape. With a heavy heart I accepted the loss.

I took the hens back to Falkor before bed. They had a meal inside, water, and were dry. While out I checked again, all the spaces and places a bird might be. No luck. This was not a year for venison or white hens. I tucked into bed with the dogs accepting I was now down to three silkies.

Then came the morning light!

Alas, no hen. I didn't see her. All I saw was a farm glowing with the radiance of sunrise and fresh snow. I went about the usual chores, looking for her. No sign, none at all. The goats, pigs, sheep, horses—everyone else—seemed fine with the new snowfall. This last hen was still gone.

So I gave up on her. It's sad when this happens. Sometimes you fail your animals. Sometimes you just can't be everything to everyone on a farm - regardless of the size. The health of the entire farm comes first, always. It mattered more to me that all that prep of bedding, feeding, stacking, fires, food and water came before the mad hunt for the snow hen. I could have spent the night looking for her and then came inside to a cold farmhouse late and slept until 9AM missing the morning appointment to feed the animals on time - but why? The care and import of the majority always rules. So I went to bed normal time the night before. I gave up.

 ... But luck was on my side. The hen made it! She had found a roost deep inside a honeysuckle. The snow covered it, creating an igloo of sorts, and she was okay. It wasn't until later in the day I found her. I was happy and glad she was okay but didn't regret the choice I made to give up the hunt the night before. The farm is a big, moving, hungry animal. You stop to stare at a toenail too long and you miss the beautiful gait as it trots by.

Here's to snowfall, lucky birds, luckier deer, and a warm night ahead!

Hunting Season For Deer is Over

So, I'm back to posting more. Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Supper Club

Sir Benjamin Thompson is not a name many people know, but all winter long when I walked into keep of Livingston Brook Farm I mouth "thank you Sir Ben" and raise a glass to the fireplace if I have one in hand. Also known as Count Rumford, in the late 1700's Sir Ben did "investigations into heat" and created the large, wide, shallow fireplaces designed to actually heat a home and not just look pretty in the corner. Rumford Fireplaces are rarely built these days, but if you ever get the chance to build a home or purchase a very old one, remember that name. The farmhouse at Livingston Brook Farm has a 1700's original Rumford Fireplace and it is so large it has a build in iron cooking station, a bread oven, and is large enough to roast a shoat in. I am very jealous of this fireplace. Count Rumford, Thank you.

And that was part of the warmth that slammed into me soon as I walked into the kitchen door last night. The other part was Mark, who instantly handed me a tray of just-seared venison loin off the skillet. "You've GOT TO TRY THIS!" He said. I did. Dear lord, it was perfect. The meat was creamy, melting into my mouth and bursting with flavor. Think of the best cut of filet mignon you ever had and give it the Academy Award for trying to be fresh venison. The hunter who had taken the deer was a few feet away and I tipped my hat to him. He had also provided smoked salmon. An entire neck roast was whistling in the pressure cooker with onions and gravy. Garden potatoes were mashed, salad greens tossed, and I brought the loaf of braided bread I had baked. This would be a meal to remember.

Everyone at the Game Dinner was friends and most of us hunters or married to them. It was myself, Patty and Mark (hosts), their neighbor Ken (Venison Lord!), and Tyler and Tara (hunter and baker). This Supper Club was the entire reason I hunt and the hope of everyone worth their license who tries - to share a meal you knew as a wild prayer, a primal action, and amazing story.

We sat around the table passing plates and bowls and enjoying the food hunted, grown, baked, and (in the case of the boiled cider pie) alchemized and whipped! We shared stories of hunts - and laughed at the many more stories of going home empty. Everyone had a heavy wine glass, a full crop, and when we retired to the fireplace I sat on the stones with Harley the bird dog right by the Rumford. It was so warm and I was so full Thanksgiving felt like a juice cleanse. Not because we were gluttons but because everyone was just so wrapped up in the warmth. Outside a wicked fog, wind, and pouring winter rain made the fireside even more inviting. Within ten minutes Harley and I were both on low bake. Sir Benjamin knows his stuff.

This is what I was thinking of, fondly, as I sat in the high reeds this afternoon hidden in a hand-me-down duck hunter's camo jacket. I laughed because the wetland patter of tall, tan, grass was perfect for my position near this stream. This was the kismet that leads to future meals like last night's. Rifle Season is almost over, just a few days left, and despite trying so hard this season I haven't had the perfect combination of luck and circumstance to take a deer. I even won a doe tag in the state's hunter lottery and could take any adult deer legally, but even so the chances were few and shots fired, missed. I was no Ken. He has been hunting for 60 years. This was my 6th. I still have yet to shoot a deer.

I sighed and sat, looking down so my brown beret hid the moon-white face among the reeds.  I was hoping after some meditation time I would look up and see him. A young buck that shoots out of the forest's edge into this area, dances around, chases ladies, and then disappears right away again. I named him Mr. AllofaSudden because of how you can look one way, then turn your head back and he's there - trotting in the soon-to-be-dusk fog. He is the Armie Hammer of white tails.

He was who I wanted a shot at today but instead a trio of deer came out of a higher piece of ground. I watched with that excitement you see at the end of a cat's tail when her eyes are on a bird at the feeder. It didn't take long to realize that it was a mother with two younger fawns, weaned but small. I raised my gun with the safety on to use the scope to view them. Everyone looked healthy and all had made it this far into the fray of the season. I wasn't going to shoot at her, at any of them. I didn't want my neck roast dinners to come with a side of guilt. I had lamb, pork, and chicken in my freezer and I didn't have to commit cervine matricide to add some ego venison on top of it. I sighed, lowered my father's gun, and started to head back to the truck.

I hope all three are tucked in together and warm tonight. May they make a windless, dry, hidden place among the thickest cover a Rumford of their own.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Holiday Soap!

So proud of these new soaps! Made from my own pair of hand-milked goats and infused with essential oil and wild mint gathered and dried on this farm! These heavy bars are perfect for Yuletide Giving! I have a few more sets available to order! Guaranteed Holiday Delivery! (Dec 21 or sooner) Email me at if interested!