Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Path

It was just a few years ago that I ran across an ad on Craigslist for a Fell Pony.  I was at work in an office (back then I was a graphic designer for an outdoor retailer) and trying to fight a spell of Barnheart by randomly searching for my dream breed on Craig's local Farm and Garden sections. I did this all the time, but nothing ever came up in the search results. Fell Ponies are not as rare as they used to be here in the States but they aren't exactly common. It was more or less an act of boredom fighting and wanting than shopping.

Then one day while sitting at my desk chair a result came up. I gasped. This NEVER happened. But there he was, just half an hour away. He was a gelding already trained to ride, drive, and had trail and farm experience. His name was Merlin. I instantly posted the ad on my Facebook and said something along the lines of how awesome but impossible the horse would be to have. And one person made this comment:

"Email the owner. The horse market isn't what it used to be. They might come way down on price for the right home."

So I did. Right then and there I opened up my email program and pretended to be writing an office email, but instead was pouring my heart out to a stranger.  It was an act of passion, but I wasn't so twitterpated I was delusional. He was too expensive and buying him was totally unrealistic. I had just bought a house the year before and keeping it up was a second job in itself. I had no paddock or shelter for a horse. I had no way to store hay. Oh, and I had very little riding experience.

My only history as an equestrian was  in the walk/trot class in my college's equestrian team (one beginner's lesson a week) for 2 springs — And that was nearly a decade ago.  Recently I had gotten the horse bug again as a young professional and had started taking a lessons with a school barn near Cold Antler. But I knew my riding skills were barely enough to fill a thin pamphlet. Honestly, I had just enough experience and confidence to be truly dangerous. When you learn how to sit, use reins, use your legs and direct a horse but have never been hurt or scared by one - you are a ticking time bomb. And my fuse was burning for that dark horse on the computer screen to slap some knowledge on me.

It happened. I got the horse.

Merlin was acquired through a negotiation of a kind and willing owner. She came down thousands on the price and was okay with a contract sale. What does that mean? It means that I was allowed a three-month free lease to try him out at that barn I was taking riding lessons at. If I wanted him after the three-month trial a downpayment would be made and then monthly installments for two years would follow. That was the only way I could afford him while also taking on the projects of building a pole barn for him, getting hay and storage, and finding a farrier, vet, etc. I was far too excited to be daunted.

This was where my entire tax return went that year - into three months of boarding a horse I didn't own. The plan was to take one lesson a week with him and have the trainers at Riding Right Farm evaluate him as well. When you board a horse you also have full access to the school's arena's, trails, and tack so I could go every day after work and ride him in the safety of indoor rings and fellow experienced riders. I didn't use the trails though, since Merlin wasn't interested in being bossed around by the beginner on his back and would simply stop at creeks, turn around, and do what he wanted. I'd come back to the barn defeated and explain to the trainers, who would smile and say -

"He's got your number, Jenna."

What they meant was he had me figured out. He didn't respect me as someone above him in his herd mentality and I didn't have the experience, miles in the saddle, or tools to attain that holy math that handed numbers across species. I would still be in that space if it wasn't for friends, farmers, and farriers who wanted to show me what owning a horse could be if I was a little braver.

Enter Patty. Patty had her Percheron Steele and to me he was a beast out of ancient Myth. He weighed a ton. A literal ton. He was 17 hands tall, white as a ghost, and had crimped hair, dark eyes, and a long tail. He was the unicorn on our childhood posters from Scholastic. I had a rental pony who thought I was an ass. And to watch Patty ride that horse in open country and harness him to drive a cart on public roads.... it was like meeting someone who understood the common tongue in a foreign land. Patty spoke horse. I barely could flip through the phrase book without insulting one.

Patty had this saying about barns like the one Merlin was being boarded at. She said that some people just bought things for their horses and some rode them, and I wasn't going to be one of those woman who just bought things. So she would hook up her trailer and pick Merlin up at the boarding stables and take him back to her farm. We were going to ride in open country beside her and Steele. I still remember that first real trail ride with Patty and how scared I was. I was near shaking up until the point I got on his back and we headed down the dirt driveway. I wasn't nervous on Merlin because  it was too late for fear. I was on a horse, outside in the big world, and whatever happened would happen. My job was to stay on.

I'd like to say I spent the first real trail ride on a cloud, but I was far from that. I was scared the entire time. You don't get comfortable using a horse to get across the landscape any other way than using a horse to get across the landscape. I spent that ride stiff, making nervous chatter, and never moving faster than a trot. Patty never pushed me to do more than I was comfortable with and she even dressed up in English breeches and a helmet to match what I was comfortable with already. Looking back it was incredibly kind. We came home and I didn't fall off or get hurt. And much like the feeling of finishing a long jog I was more happy having done it than I was actually doing it. The insta-nostalgia was sweeter, and I got a taste of what a fearless ride could be.

So I kept riding.

That first year with Merlin was all about over confidence and inexperience - the story of my life. I fell off. I got hurt. The horse scared me. I made mistakes as simple as not tightening a girth enough to as complex as riding him alone past a fence with mares in heat. There were times I cried just getting in the saddle. There were moments I told the owner I couldn't afford the payments and was scared she would take him away. But there were also highs so amazing that it makes me shake as I write. Yes, the learning curve was treacherous but within two years of riding regularly I had an animal I knew. I mean, knew.  I knew his moods, his tricks, his footing, his eyes, his whole self. I knew what was a snobby crow jump or a true skitter of fear. And all of that knowledge came from choosing to get on that horse and keep riding, even when I was scared and the numbers were against me.

And then the great days of the horse came. I got to a point where I could lead him to the hitching post in front of my house and groom, tack, and pack saddle bags for hours together exploring this mountain. I would pack meals, drink, and books. I would roll a wool blanket or fleece behind the cantle and turn him towards the steep mountain trails and race up them at a full gallop. So many trails to explore, thanks to a neighbor who allowed us to ride on the fallow snow mobile paths. So many new friends made in the local horse scene - from clubs to cowboys. And it was these mindless rides on sunny afternoons with Merlin grazing while I read Tolkien in dappled sunlight I think of when sI tell someone, "I ride."

And now this horse, THIS HORSE, is something I can not fathom being without. The journey of going from strangers to teammates has been humbling as it has been joyous. While owning this horse I changed so much. I quit that job I hated. I wrote four books. I slowly gained back self esteem and forgiveness I had no idea were so lacking. I went from a naive girl to a strong, hard, woman. And I am certain all of this happened because of what trailridng alone asks of rider and horse. We are not wrapping legs and prancing in an arena followed by braiding manes - We are jumping fallen logs, shooting arrows, exploring new places, driving carts past school buses and scouting hunts. The woman I am today is so much more thanks to the smallest choices of courage in the face of fear and pain, the friendship and experience of my community, and my stubborn streak -which is both my spinach and my kryptonite. Lately I can not stop seeing how far I have come thanks to Merlin. He's the next book I want to write. The next story I need to tell. He's changed me so much. I am grateful beyond breath and paper. We will ride today.

He was the path.



Monday, April 27, 2015

Last Chances!

Today is your last chance to sign up for Fiddle Day Camp this Saturday! Comes with fiddle (or bring your own for lesser cost). One spot is open. There are also just 2 spots left for Goats & Soap this summer! Grab them!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Meet Breagha!

This little lady is the newest addition to the farm. I named her Breagha (Bree-ya), Scottish for beautiful. She's a little thing, about 2 pounds and seven months old. She came from a local small rescue already spayed and is settling in well here with the wolves and Boghadair in the farmhouse.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Big Week

Some weeks are a blur. A span of days where things just happen, one after another, that were once just notes scribbled on a calendar. In the past few days so many spring rituals of the farm have taken place. The four large pigs that were slaughtered a few weeks ago were picked up at the butcher shop. I drove from Hoosick to Cambridge with a truck bed full of pork! 774lbs hanging weight between them all, and that is something to be proud of. Hanging weight is not the weight of the pigs (or the meat) but just the weight of the skinned, gutted, and headless halves of the pigs. But that means the average weight of the live pigs was closer to 220-300lbs! Not bad for a winter on a little farm in New York! Greg (the butcher) said they were the nicest pigs he ever saw out of my farm and I think I stood an inch taller all week because of it. Now that pork is in the freezers and frying pans of friends all around this little mountain. I am grateful for their support and grateful for the pork

The very next day Jim McRae, my sheep shearer came and the flock was shorn. Jim has been shearing my sheep since I got my first trio back in Vermont. Sal, my oldest (and favorite) has only ever been shorn by Jim at my home. Now all six of my adult sheep are ready for the heat of summer. Pork and wool, that was the bulk of my week. And that is why the blog has been skint, but there is much to update on soon. I have the entire process of starting the chick-to-roaster shared venture happening soon, and some little news...

I got a kitten.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

New Vlog: Starting Chicks in a Brooder

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Gibson, Ticks, and Gardens.

Gibson seems so much better. He is back to doing some of our daily chore work. He can walk, trot about, even run without a single problem or flinch of pain but he still is very hesitant to place his front paws up on anything like before. This means no more jumping up into the truck. Instead I lift him. He doesn't jump into bed, either. He puts his front paws and all his weight on the bed and slides forward to me until I scoop up his hind end. I don't know if this is a memory of the shock of pain he felt before or if he is actually unable to make the leaps? So he will have to go back to the vet for some more X-rays to really see what is going on. I talked to the vet about this and I was told to wait a little and monitor him and keep him at a lower activity level. So that is what I am doing. If he still seems scared to jump in (or out) of trucks, beds, etc in another two weeks then back to the doctor we go.

In other news! I spent the morning at the Doctor, myself. I had a bad reaction to a tick bite and it caused a large rash on my neck. So I sucked it up and headed to Cambridge Urgent Care. I don't have health insurance so any trip for healthcare is a big deal. But living here in the Northeast there are too many Lyme horror stories not to pony up the couple hundred bucks it costs for antibiotics and blood work as a preventive course of action. That's my personal health care tree, at least. This morning was a lot of waiting (reading the same old issue of Outdoor Life cover to cover), but in the end I got myself 28 days of Doxy and a booster tetanus shot. The tetanus shot wasn't related to the tick bite but it had been seven years since my last shot and I err on the side of caution with those. I know they say every ten years but I slice myself open on rusty stuff on this farm (and other old farms) all the time. It's not the kind of thing I want to let slip. Have you updated yours lately?

I wrote about the Doctor visit briefly over on Facebook. Now that's the true Greek Chorus these days when it comes to personal decision making. Some people thought I was overreacting and wasting money. Others thought it was good I got the care and felt it was responsible. Some messaged me to say the meds were worse for my body than Lyme Disease was for my brain. Another basically said to just rub it with Oregano. I don't know about that. When it comes to diseases that can effect my nervous system - I don't just rub leaves on it until after the Zombie come and Urgent Care is out of antibiotics. I like my brain, lots.

In lighter news: my kailyard is alive and well with some hoops of peas and lettuce seeds and some six packs I bought at a local nursery in Greenwich. I have some broccoli starts and Bibb lettuce in as well and it makes all the difference seeing that amazing GREEN out there in the rich dirt and compost. And last night there was a thunderstorm! Between the warmer weather, the trail rides with Merlin, rain storms, green leaves in the garden, and kits and kids coming any day now this farm is humming with spring's energy and songs! I guess that means things like lifting dogs into trucks and tick bites in the lyrics as well. That is okay. A farm - even a little farm like mine - rolls with the punches.

...Speaking of punches, Tetanus shots smart after a few hours!

Learn the Fiddle May 2nd!

Due to a last minute cancellation there is one spot open for Fiddle Day Camp May 2nd. It comes with a fiddle, too! And the only prerequisites for coming is you know you want to play the fiddle. You dream of playing the fiddle. You desire playing the fiddle by a fire or on your front porch. You need to know absolutely nothing about playing music, reading music, and need zero experience with other instruments. You WILL leave knowing how to play your first song and teach yourself more! Email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com to sign up!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Half The Spots Gone! Antlerstock 2015!

I wanted to announce that Antlerstock will beheld once again, this October, Columbus Day Weekend 2015! For those of you new to the blog, Antlerstock is a private Homesteading Festival held right here at CAF.  It is a Celebration of like minds, music, stories and skills. It's a taste of everything from draft horses to small livestock butchering.  Last year there was a blacksmith demonstration with Living Iron Forge , traditional timber farming and harvesting with Brett McLeod, Draft horse demo from Livingston Brook Farm, backyard livestock classes (me), Herbalism 101 with Elizabeth McCarty, Sourdough Bread Baking with WindWomen Farm, and more! There were timber sports, archery for beginners, and soap making - just to name a few events. As the spring and summer continues more events will be added but right now for certain there will be:

Draft Horse Harnessing and Demonstrations
Traditional Horse Logging 101
Small Holding Livestock Classes
Soapmaking with lye and fat
Archery 101
Prepping 101
Mountain Music Demos/classes
Barter Blankets
Cider Making (hard)
Campfire Potluck & jam
And More!!!

The cost to attend this two day, all day-long, event is $200 a person if purchased after July 2015. It is $150 a person if purchased before. However, if you sign up now the first five people who sign up can attend for $250 a couple. AND I will include an Indie Day with that price. So, you could come for Sat and Sun and stay for Monday to cover anything else in detail. Or come this summer as a couple, and return for Antlerstock in the fall. Email me at jenna@itsfarwalk.com to sign up

Come in, sit down.

Welcome new readers and old friends, I often post this: Come in,  Sit Down, which means introduce yourself here on the blog by your name and location, and maybe share a little more about yourself as far as homesteading dreams or goals are? If you don't feel comfortable giving your name online, you could always just leave your location and perhaps a suggestion for the blog. It's a way for me to see who I am writing to and say hello. It makes the place a little more friendly on this side, as you know so much about me, but I know so little about you. A simple introduction makes it feel like I'm talking with a group rather than writing to the sky. If you never comment this post is an exception worth making. You might even make a friend or two...

It's also a way for you guys out there to connect with other folks with like interests. If you're sitting in your Sausalito apartment dreaming of mini angus bloodlines and rototillers you might just see another name from Sausalito a few comments down dreaming about coop plans and explaining his container gardens.... and before you know if you've made a farming friend. The internet is great—you'll never hear me say otherwise—but it keeps us inside a little too much. It should be a tool to network and learn from, not a replacement for three dimensional conversations and relationships. (I am talking for myself right now as much as anyone) and by saying hello here you might just spark book clubs and dinner potlucks, meetups and work parties, farm visits and advice, or just someone to grab coffee with in the Philadelphia Barnes & Noble and pour over the new issue of Hobby Farms together while chatting about why your husbands think chickens are ridiculous.

So come on inside, pull up a chair, and say hello.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fiddle Day Campers?!

Hey there! If you signed up for the Fiddle Day Camp on May 2nd, please email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to check in? Some I have not heard from in a few months and want to confirm I am prepared for all attending? Or if you have changed plans - let me know so someone else can take the spot?

Bourbon Red Eggs


Merlin doesn't like limitations...

Remember that newly electrified paddock I put Merlin into last night? Well, this morning I was out in the rain repairing the part he burst through so he could just stand under his favorite apple tree. Seems like a good balance to yesterday's love letter, no? As wet and frustrating as it was I had to appreciate the poetry. And it's mornings like this that make days like the one's I caught this week so creamy and good. How about you guys? Ever have a "perfect" homesteading moment and then something go textbook WRONG the next day?! I bet you guys have some stories to tell. Share them! I'll even mail a signed copy of one of my books (your choice) to the best story out there!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Seeds in the Ground!

This morning was bursting with chilly sunlight, yet the farmhouse was warm. Warm in the way that only mugs of coffee and red coals can keep promises. They offer us this; "You do the work of brewing beans and kindling fires and in return we will offer quicker wits and and warmer bodies." I took them both up on their promises and started this day with my daily mug of hot coffee with heavy cream and little heat.

Chores were done with the efficiency you gain as the days get warmer. I go about the normal rounds and then realize slowly the chores have been growing. There are pregnant does of both rabbit and goat kind waiting to give birth (probably both around Beltane) and the chickens are once again laying eggs. I find eggs everywhere. They are in the back of the pickup truck, among the sheep, and hidden in the barn in an old bucket. They are green and white and blue right now. The dozen chicks I am brooding are doing well. Thety are Buff Orpingtons and Golden Wyandottes. Now at a week old they jump clear out of their first brooder. I had to upgrade them to a stock tank. Hot dang, those gals have some gams.

Like all weekday mornings I spent this one in my living room working on logos for design clients. I am pretty happy with this recent completion, a berry farm that needed some good marketing. The farm is called Knock Knock, after the sounds ravens make when they are using their beaks to call each other. It was fun to work on and I was grateful for the opportunity to add a little more to this farm's fund. I have four pigs to pick up next week and am hoping to do that, make a mortgage payment, and keep up with other obligations to truck, friends, and farm. So far I have been keeping my head above water. So I design and play records and drink my thick coffee and have to wear sweaters because I am not moving. Even with the sun shining outside my sweat is dry from the work of hauling morning water in buckets and throwing bales of hay. I know soon there will be goats and dairy chores added to the morning mix and so I make a mental note to download some new audiobooks for that rough first week. Getting my arms used to milking will require a good story.

After design work was done it was early afternoon and I went back outside. I jogged a few miles and did my workout routine. That got me warm again so I got bow and quiver and shot 30 arrows into an old thatch circular target. I am up to 30 heavy arrows from 20 last week. My arm needs to get used to the 50lb draw of my hunting bow. I was shooting 50 arrows at 30lbs easily and realized I was ready to size up. I need more practice at that draw but I only broke two arrows today, not bad for a spring's beginning.

After all that business I checked on the turkey hen's nest and found another speckled odd-looking egg. So far four have been collected for the incubator in an attempt to raise Thanksgiving dinner from the womb itself. My turkeys are always caught in the "act" so I am pretty sure they are fertilized. I guess time will tell. I'll bring more to Patty's farm soon to set into her incubator of goose eggs. She hosts Thanksgiving but the deal is I always am the one who brings the bird. This year it could be a Bourbon Red hatched, raised, and slaughtered right here between both our farms. If that isn't an exercise in proper gratitude I don't know what is.

My big achievement of the day was the Kailyard. I got out there and repaired the perimeter fence. I used hoe and pitchfork and turned year-old goat manure. pig bloodied hay, horse poop and rabbit turds into the food to feed it. Isn't it funny how carnivorous vegetables are?  They love to eat the blood, bones, manure and compost of living beasts that usually eat them. I planted snap peas, spinach, and two types of heirloom lettuce (Nevada and Deer Tongue) I set up the four-foot row poles and covered the freshly planted earth with cover cloths that let in rain and sun and protect the baby seedlings from cold, high wind and curious birds. It felt so good to plant a seed, work earth, and add the fertility that comes of keeping a small farm. On days like this you can see the whole dance from the balcony.

As the afternoon light started to gently kiss my mountain I decided to take Merlin out for some groundwork and a ride. He was not as good as last ride, but nowhere near as bad as a few weeks ago. Miles in the saddle all make a better horse, so I rode him up int the mountains on a new trail. The first time we ventured to that part of our usual summer loop. He was a little nervous but it was also new ground covered so I considered it a fine ride. It felt so good to be on that black horse, with saddle bags and our old tack. I was in bare legs and my usual riding clothes of tall socks, paddock boots, half chaps and kilt. I wear riding breeches under the kilt that I cut off above the knee so there's no rubbing or chaffing all day and I can ride in comfort. I am starting to feel like my summer self. It was mighty fine. I picked off a few ticks. Those buggers are the worst.

After the ride I moved Merlin from his winter paddock to his summer one. It is smaller (half an acre instead of 2) but that pasture needs to come back and I plan on expanding the kitchen garden in the spot he spent the whole winter waiting for hay and pooping. I need to look into some good pasture seed. Before turning in for the evening chores I walked his paddock fence and made sure the electric was on and all was well. It was, and so now it is the field's turn to do the work of growing.

The day is coming to a close and my night consists of dinner, the new episode of Outlander, and a well-earned restful evening. I had taken care of a farm, planted seeds, trained a horse, rode up a mountain trail, bottle fed a lamb, seen to young poultry, and now it was time to enjoy a night in with Jamie and Claire and know there set of a rainy day ahead. Tomorrow will be a good day to work on more design clients and plan workshops and other such indoor activities. I adore these days of growing physical efforts but my arms are sore from arrows, my legs sore from jogging and saddle, my back a little bent from the gardening and I think it is time to kick back and be grateful for another wonderful day at this little mountain farm.

Into the Kailyard!

I am so enjoying these warmer days. So very much. Today I am going to tackle the kale yard and move some year-old goat manure and hay into the now thaw soil. It is early but I am planting snow peas and lettuce under some hoops with garden cloth. I'll be posting photos later and some details on this simple hoe, pole, and cloth planting for early crops!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chicken 101 Vlog Series!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hail Spring!

I could barely believe the forecast when I saw it, sunny and 75 degrees! That is what I saw before tucking into bed last night and that what was on my mind when I woke up this morning. It was a glorious day here at Cold Antler and I want to tell you all about it!

Morning chores were done in a tee shirt. A tee shirt! I carried buckets to horse, sheep and goats and refilled rabbit feeders and crocks. I walked flakes of hay around and threw the sheep their hearty half bale. The last bit of morning chorus is the graining of the flock and pregnant goats. It was happy work and done with Gibson back and my side and little Victory romping around us. Before I headed indoors for coffee I checked in on the chicks in their brooder. They were doing well and chirping away. Once they had fresh cold water and their feeder topped off I headed inside. I was already working up a sweat and I couldn’t be happier. I had not sweat in a tee shirt in lifetimes. Hail spring!

I wish I could say I spent the rest of that morning playing fiddle in the sun or fishing for early trout in the Battenkill, but I didn’t. I spent it working on several design clients and answering emails. When the office work was done it was around 1:30 and I was ready to get outside!

Oh, how wonderful and warm it was! I got in a good jog up and down the mountain and worked on my forms and techniques for my black belt test. Afterward I grabbed my quiver and bow and shot 50 arrows in the target before my arm was too sore to continue. Running and Archery are two of the three pieces of a perfect day and I had one left to accomplish...

I slipped on half chaps and breeches and got Merlin out of his paddock. Boy, was he covered in mud! It was dried and caked on his flank and he seemed happy as a pig all dirty and hair blowing in the gentle wind. It’s no trouble getting him in halter and leading him from his pasture. We did our ground work and then headed up the mountain for a mile trail ride, a bit longer than yesterday’s adventure. For the first time this spring we were able to reach the top of the mountain and overlook the old Birch tree and the view of Cambridge and Salem. Merlin was so great. No attitude, not fuss. I barely used my hands at all and the trip was as joyous as any ride in memory. It ended with him splashing his snout and hooves in a fast-moving little mountain creek and making me laugh. I hugged his neck.

I came home and groomed him like the prince he is. It is fantastically mindless work, brushing a horse. I felt like an old friend had moved back into place in my heart. When he was back in his pasture with hay and cold well water I repeated the morning chores and then headed out the door to visit Mark and Patty. Their farm is large and faces the west and sunsets are gourmet there. I wanted to end this day right.

And so I did. This amazing day of lambs and light, arrows and ariats, work and weather - it ended with raised glasses and good friends. I checked out Patty’s four new Romney lambs in the barn and congratulated her on the amazing new additions! She had spent the day with her husband using their 1948 tractor to move firewood from field to woodshed. She was glowing with pride in repairing and using that little beast. I was proud of her, too.

Winter seemed so long and spring is finally here. Today was downright magic and a day to be so very proud of. After so much cold and dark I am seeing so much light. May the blessing leak all over the place.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

So Much Better!

So if you watch my videos then you already know about the last ride with Merlin. A week ago (It rained here all week) Merlin and I had quite the disagreement about how horses should be enjoyed. He felt they should do whatever they want, buck, crow hop and bitch. I felt they should walk quietly in a straight line. And the reason it went so poorly was I thought I could skip the ten-to-fifteen minutes of ground work I learned from Natural Horsemanship Trainer (and farrier!) Dave. Today I didn't skip it. We worked for twenty minutes or so and I felt and saw the change in his attitude. Then he was groomed, tacked, and worked again in his tack. I wanted to do this to see if it was the gear he was wearing that caused his attitude change. It wasn't! So we went for a short 1/2 mile muddy trail ride and there were very few problems. There was no tugging or hollering. There was no circling or fear. That time on the ground made all the difference. I also wore a helmet for the ride (to relax a little) and all went so well. I even snapped a selfie afterward!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Conclusions

How sad is it that when I came home from my 2-hour talk about Raising Chickens at Merck Forest I saw the barn door swinging open and felt a pang of panic. I could not remember the door being opened and the barn right now isn't being used for anything but goat shelter from the rain, and even then - just one corner. The rest of the barn needs to be cleaned out and readied for milking space. The pig pen need to be mucked, emptied from 6 months without use and chickens just pecking and molting feathers in there. I went about evening chores and I was worried the whole time because someone who wanted to ruin my life and livliehood could take pictures of this weird block of time on an early spring afternoon and draw all sorts of foolish conclusions. Sounds paranoid, right? Well it is happening all over America.

The horse had spent the afternoon rolling in the mud and knocked over his water rubber tub (10-gallons) and someone could say he was neglected and filthy and denied water intentionally. They wouldn't see his body condition, just-trimmed hoofs, or the fact he has 2 acres of field to run and enjoy. They would just see a horse that looks like a mess. The rabbits had not been fed since morning and their water crocks needed refilling, so they must never be fed or watered, right? The dogs were inside, the sheep's water had run low, the place needs to be raked and woodpiles restocked. You get the picture?

And that person could break the law and trespass on my property and snap photos. They could accuse me of neglect, and slander me online and the whole time they'd holler I had no anti-tresspassing signs on the front lawn and their constitutional right of free speech meant they could say whatever they wanted. All this based on one afternoon in early spring.

I just finished evening chores and if someone walked around now I'd get a friggin award for their care and condition. A gorgeous horse just brushed with perfect feet, great hay, and water overflowing. They'd see the romping free range space for a flock of birds and healthy lambs running in the field as their mothers chew on a pile of second cut goodness. They'd see happy, pregnant goats with trimmed hooves eating minerals and grain with their red bucket filled to the brim. They'd see new chicks in the brooder with paste-free butts. Why? Because at this moment everything is perfect. Twice a day this place is perfect, morning and evening chores. The rest of the time it is a farm.

A farm - like your kitchens, changes all day in appearance and usage and performance. If someone broke in from child services and you hadn't gone grocery shopping yet and there was dirty dishes in the sink and pizza take-out boxes by the door they could snap photos of your private property and say you had failed as a parent. You failed to ensure proper care and nutrition of your household and child. Didn't you know that mold could grow on those dishes, and the toilet wasn't flushed and had urine in it, and there was nothing planned for dinner and the floor had mud on it...You must be a filthy, horrible person. They could type that up, take photos and show evidence of poor planning and slander you and take away your children. But we all know that if that happened thousands of families would be outraged and rally and say that this was is insane and idiotic.Yet, if you raise animals in 2015 and the place doesn't look like a County Fair exhibit 24/7 you're a deadbeat, animal abusing, criminal.

I hate that that fear filled me. I hate that this is all true and neighbors right in this state are dealing with criminal charges because a dog bowl froze in February. I hate that this is what it is like to have animals and be a public person in this modern world of iPhones, anonymous comments, and ignorance of livestock and their care. Most of all, I hate that I felt I had to write this in case some crazy person snuck into my barn when I was teaching strangers about brooder temperatures and flock health.