A Pig’s Life

We got home late, so they slept in the truck bed overnight.

This weekend we harvested the first of our own pigs since 2013. Gosh I missed them.

These piglets were born in Washington, Vermont, just about 30 miles away.  They rode in a hay-lined truck to Randolph, and spent the rest of their lives rooting and snoozing and companionably sniping at each other over the food dish and the special treats I tried to spread around so no one got too much at the expense of the others.  They are Saddleback pigs; a very old breed being rebuilt by the careful efforts of our friend Matt Whalen at Vermont Heritage Farm.

Sewer pipe makes a great feed trough.

The pigs spent the winter growing, rooting, napping, finding bricks, flipping tires, and unearthing the roots of the collection of trees they sheltered in.  Did I mention rooting?

In the deep cold of winter, they dug into round hay bales and buried themselves up to the nose.  They didn’t quite hibernate (how do you get the good snacks when you sleep through?), but pigs are a lot like people.  If they don’t need to go out in the cold, why bother?  It’s nicer in here.

Pigs make snow paths between breakfast and bed.

Some people may wonder if pigs are adapted to Vermont life outside in our winters.  Prior to our recent five-year gap, we’ve raised Fall pigs for over

I gave them a fresh dry new round bale–nose!

ten years.  They do beautifully, especially when an old-style, heritage breed is used.  Pigs suffer in the heat.  They have very few sweat glands, which is why lying in a mud hole to cool off is such a preferred thing to do on a summer’s day.  In the winter they just pile, lying lined up like a row of very large black and white hot dogs.

By spring, they were two (or three or four) times the size they had been when they arrived in November.  Jiggles in all the right places.  Tree roots exposed for our selective cutting next month.  Vegetation opened up and ready for a new seeding under the thinned trees.  The sky was blue, the Spring birds back.  It was time.

Mark and Matt believe in the importance of bringing a dignified end to an animal that feeds a family.

The pigs were killed on the farm by local itinerant (on-farm) slaughters, which is a term for a craft largely forgotten.  These fellows are amazing.  The care with which they treat each animal, their quiet calm manner, and their efficiency in skinning and eviscerating are all skills built ove

Neatly skinned and split carcass, hanging from a portable tripod they travel with.

r a lifetime watching their father and grandfather (who are legends in our area). I missed them so much, too.  Mark and Matt and I talk about what we see on farms and they tell me about sugaring and Mark’s recent trip to Florida.  They arrived at 7:30 am on the dot and were packed and driving away at 9:15 (that’s even with chatting).  They had taps to check and I’m sure many other things to get on with during a busy Saturday.

We cooled the pigs in the trailer overnight and Sunday morning, Cole Ward the Master Butcher came to cut them for us.  Cole is one of my favorite humans ever, and very literally a treasure to those who know him well.  He is kind, and thoughtful, and so, SO talented at teaching butchery.  We decided this time not to do a workshop as we have some times before, but Cole can’t help it.  He loves to cut and joke and tell stories about his days working a meat counter near the CBS Studios in L.A., and all of the personalities that came to buy meat from him.  We learn so much, every time.  A real butcher, a true master butcher, is that person with every recipe conceivable for each cut. The person who can tell you how to grill this muscle but not that one, and explain why your sausage won’t bind or your ground beef has crunchy “bone chips” in it (it doesn’t, but there’s a reason why the texture is wrong).  We’ve become accustomed to cuts only available when you cut your own animal,

There are not enough words to describe how important Cole is to passing on meat education and general love of butchery.

and it’s a darned good thing he’s been teaching us, because I’m not sure we could go back.


Chris and I spent the day trading off vacuum sealing duties in the cool basement, while a small group of friends and family chatted with Cole, tried to “out joke” him, and ate sausages with mustard.

Such a wonderful way to celebrate a life, thank you!

Tonight we ate some of the best–if not THE best–pork I ever had or raised.  Sure, that might be related to the long, long wait of the past five years, but I’d like to think this was in many ways a sign of a good life, from beginning to end.  Thank you fellas.  We’ll honor and appreciate you, every bite.




Lamb Open House 2018

One of my favorite family visitors feeding a lamb in 2017.

OK, I’ll own it.  I’m a sucker for lambs.  I wait every year to see what colors they’ll be and how many each ewe will have, and how strong and amazing they’ll be (they stand in minutes and often jump around within hours…it’s awe inspiring).

Lambing season isn’t all sunshine and roses, despite the pictures that end up on Facebook.  Sometimes lambs die and sometimes they struggle.  Sometimes the moms reject them and sometimes it keeps me up at night.  Years like we’re having this year, it seems like spring will never come and the green grass is so far away.

You know what gets me through that?


Everyone loves to see the lambs and when we moved out of town to our new home, it felt like we should create a new opportunity to share happenings with friends, family and neighbors.  Thus our Lamb Open House event was born.

Come join us Saturday, May 5!  We’ll have refreshments and barbecue and activities…and lambs too!
P.S. And please register to help us plan! Thank you!


So Much to Share

New leaders at Howling Wolf Farm.

It’s been more than eighteen months at the new farm, and there is much to share.  After the emotional roller coaster of finding and making the right location happen, we spent the fall of 2016 rushing around to get ourselves and the animals settled before winter.  And then we mostly collapsed.  Most of our friends and family forgave us for the withdrawal, and even came to share a little woodstove-and-chat time.  The door is still open (and will continue to be) for all.

Times of great change happen.  I think the past several years have been times of great change for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons.  Our extended family has had tragic losses and some (one might even say, sacred) reemergence, healing and transformation.  The farm has helped us heal and grow roots–already–that we never seemed to have developed at the old place.  Maybe it’s the regular wind up here on the hill; we must develop those deep roots to stay upright. A good lesson on so many levels.

In 2017, we spent much time just experiencing the farm through seasonal changes.  There’s so much more to understand about the wildlife and the forest and the farm’s potential, but it was a good start.  I wrote a whole bunch (270 days) of haiku.  We tried a Kickstarter campaign, which was ultimately unfunded but absolutely successful in other ways.  I wrote a three-part series about our fifteen-year journey to the farm for On Pasture.

We hosted the first of our annual Lamb Open House events to meet neighbors, moved sheep every day through the grazing season, picked a ton of blueberries, cooked up barbecue for our adjacent buddies at the Jacob’s Court mobile home park, and held an end-of-season farm workshop & dinner.  And we’re finally back into raising pigs!  All along, 2017 was about testing parts of this new life to see what fits and what doesn’t.

We have many plans for 2018, including events spread from June to October that showcase different aspects of our skill sets and the farm’s offerings.  We are building a pig roasting pit and starting to develop a gathering area around the pond.  The sheep flock is expanding and we’ll be running water pipe around the pastures to increase our capacity to include cattle in the mix.  We’re documenting everything that we can.  We’re still not sure whether 2018 is Yurt Year, but our aim is to really start digging in and sharing the farm in new ways to new people.

Much to do and say and love about the changes afoot.  My recommendation: subscribe to our newsletter to keep up!







Sheep As Ambassadors

The sheep are getting a snack again.  I have a view from my office window and have been working at home a lot this Spring.  This affords me a clear view down to the sheep pen and

As I write this, a neighbor is visiting with treats. Thank you!
As I write this, a neighbor is visiting with treats. Thank you!

coincidentally a front-row seat to who’s visiting today.

There are Martha and Emily, two neighbors with short-legged, big-personality dogs.  There’s Mary who buys carrots on sale and comes in to distribute whole bags at a time.  There are the teenagers who seem to know every lamb by name and watched some births real-time this year. Lindsay and Sarah even picnicked this Spring on round bales with some friends from around the corner; spreading blankets and eating granola bars on top of the plastic-wrapped marshmallows.  Earlier today I watched some visitors put one of my lamb jackets on their dog and take its picture. I had to look twice—I thought a lamb was out of the fence!

Then there are the people walking their dogs who wave but don’t stop.  The multi-generational family from grandparents to baby who stopped to introduce themselves as new in the neighborhood.  One longtime resident brought chairs so that she and her granddaughter could watch the lambs in comfort.  There are the cars that creep by with faces looking out the window and the shy smiles and waves.  Last weekend we hosted a Girl Scout troop.  The Randolph Police cruise the neighborhood multiple times each day and a little part of me thinks they do it to check on the lambs and not just because it’s their regular sweep schedule.

The sheep have always been a sort of ambassador service for us.  I’m an introverted outgoing person (I promise this IS a thing!) and I’m not good at dropping in or going to parties where I don’t know people.  My family is even less outgoing.  What better way to meet people than talk about the sheep?  Their sweetness, their pushiness, the ability to name them after friends and family and fun inside jokes.  The sheep have created novelty and amusement for many, and a social entry point for us.

A fine picnic spot.
A fine picnic spot.

Now we have a farm under contract.  It’s not a done deal, but signs are pointing in the right direction.  This means that we’ll be moving to a new home later this summer, which is very exciting and hopeful, and a little more bittersweet than I expected it to feel.  Originally we thought we’d move in to this little rental and just be here for six or eight months before buying a new place.  Turns out, life had some other plans for us, and that’s OK.  We’ve met some lovely people and they’ve really helped this neighborhood feel like home.  There’s so much to be grateful for here.

Thank you all.  We’re only moving a mile away so even if it’s not convenient to walk the dog by us every day, hopefully you’ll still come visit from time to time.

And bring some carrots.



Mother’s Day is Coming

Since we are in Poetry Month and Mother’s Day is right around the corner, here’s a poem that I wrote about my mom after visiting her one day last spring.  She doesn’t know that I wrote this.

Mum in her natural element.  She also makes kick ass Elderberry juice.  I can get you in touch with her if you want some.
Mum in her natural element. She also makes kick ass Elderberry juice. I can get you in touch with her if you want some.

Love you, Mum.



Spring Afternoon



She picks her way

Her deliberate pace

Not the result of fragile floral stems

Or wooden cane worn smooth

Under her lined palm,



She stops,

Smiles that joyful smile

Radiance bursting through.

Pain is gone,

Shadow is gone,

Sorrow is gone.

Chased away by

Elderberry blossoms,

Ella’s daffodils,

Seven Sisters roses,

Crocuses in the lawn grass,

Japanese plums celebrating Spring’s

Lovely pervasive fragrance

Surrounded by the hum of bees

Industrious with pollination.


That pace

Embodies ecstatic celebration of

Tender life in bloom.

Persistent artistry in every

Mahogany bud revealing

Cream-colored petals,

Delicate yellow pistils, the

Elemental beauty.


She pauses to breathe it in,

Gloriously brilliant,

Nearly blinding in her

Dreamlike rapture, a

Resounding bloom.


JJC 05/10/15

Updated 4/11/16


Vaughan Had a Stroke Last Week

Poetry continues.  Not trying to bury the lead, but our aged canine fellow Vaughan recently had a stroke.  Before you read this and freak out (family), he’s OK.  We had a little “is this it?” time,

Bo and Vaughan
Bo (left) and Vaughan, our howling wolves. Believe it or not, being a Samoyed/Lab mix really *does* mean you can howl. Or at least be very talkative.

but he’s recovering well.  And wow, what an amazing dog he has been and continues to be.



Fourteen and Counting


Twelve years ago

You lost a bet with a truck

Dr. Kenney rebuilt your hip

With a floating socket technique.

Friendly games of tag and flights of stairs

Became slower and smarter,

You held your leg up and, like a tripod, hopped on. 


Ten years ago

Cold March and cancer took your mother.

You have her warm brown eyes,

Gentle way with small children and smaller dogs.

Of my Birthday mates, you most channel her

Grace, substance and dignity.


Three Octobers ago

Your sister had a heart attack

On the living room floor mid-family relocation.

You grasped our new home as your old,

Sleeping, your head on Chris’ pillow,

Coming out of our bedroom

Blinking like you craved morning coffee.


Last summer you decided

Deafness and blindness the perfect excuses,

Overseeing farm chores from the truck seat.

Weekly hay trips now revert you to joyous,

Timeless puppyhood for six whole seconds

Before cozily napping on the bench seat.


Three nights ago

With a great stumbling crash

A stroke took your balance and your bark,

But not your wag.

Yesterday you ate hotdogs

Today it was cheese and meatloaf.

You even scaled the truck seat this morning,

Though it was touch-and-go getting out.


Twelve years ago I learned

Never bet against a dog who wants to live.


JJC 4/11/16

Updated 4/17/16


April is Poetry Month

The Sugar Makers Song--learn it, spread it, sing it!
The Sugar Makers Song–learn it, spread it, sing it!

Recently, I had the opportunity to read some of my poetry at The Black Krim in Randolph along with a group of other farmer-poets.  So amazing and humbling to hear how other people see some of the things that I see and write about, and how they choose to express it.  Some of the poets clearly write words to be performed aloud (slam!) and some feel perfect to be part of a tea-and-comfy-chair-on-a-rainy-afternoon experience.  Some of my co-poets are nationally recognized and published (in this week’s New Yorker–gasp!), some are musicians (now we know the Vermont Sugar Makers Song, a nearly-lost archived song from the 1930s, which we all sang together), one was recently feted in Seven Days for being a farmer poet for hire.  Backing up the whole experience was the lovely Krim, which was full to bursting with smiling faces enjoying dinner, a cocktail and the ability to support us.

Because I do my best work at the very last minute (I try not to let it be that way, but there it is), I wrote two poems on the day of the reading.  I rewrote some bits from several earlier poems, too.  I don’t know if other people write and rewrite their poems, but I sure do.  No “one and done” for me.  That said, I also tried working away at a poem I’ve been developing for two weeks about a ewe I had to euthanize and it just wasn’t coming together.  Maybe that will become a prose story for another time.

To finish out Poetry Month, I’m going to share some of the poems written for this year–Enjoy!



"Waiting" was written about 720, who gave birth to twins less than 24 hours later. So timely.
“Waiting” was written about 720, who gave birth to twins less than 24 hours later. So timely.



Thousand-mile stare

She shifts from hoof to hoof,

Audibly creaking,

Eruptively she groans

Settling her bulk

In a shallow trench

Dug by toes and impatience.


Her belly’s mysterious contents feel like

Christmas, Birthday, Halloween, presents

Entwined together with legs and tails

Prepared to suck and leap and doze in piles of

Newborn fur and milk drunkenness.



She stands

She leans

She stares

She ruminates

She waddles

I scratch her chin

Her pregnant pause.


JJC 4/11/16

Updated 4/17/16


Has It Been Eight Months Already?

Relaxing on the lawn at the end of a successful grazing season.
Ewes and ewe lambs relaxing on the lawn at the end of a successful grazing season.

Somehow we turned around and now it’s February, 2016.  For those keeping track (and wondering what the heck we’ve been doing), we’ve been busy. Seriously, it’s looked a lot like this (and no, this is not our farm).

Since last June we’ve written our business plan twice, had a farm under contract then terminated it, applied for a land trust farm opportunity, secured a whole host of support letters, did some leased-land grazing, were featured on Vermont Public Radio, sold lamb and barbecue, and waited.  In late January, we heard that the land trust option wasn’t going to work out and several new farm choices arrived within the week.

The experience of the last ten months (starting with the Slow Money event in April) has been revealing.  We both feel that the Universe is in our corner when it comes to bringing us what we want, and its been presenting us with real variety to evaluate.  Back in 2012 we looked at a place with a great house and little land; then we progressed to enough land with an unfinished house; a terrific barn and land with a workable house but an unworkable purchase price; and a delightful turn-key operation with a fantastic grazing system already in place.

Our son has rolled his eyes at us a bit (“another farm?“), but looking back I can say that I’m glad we’ve had these experiences.  We want a finished house.  We don’t require a fabulous barn or extensive infrastructure.  We want to live near town, but feel rural.  Deep down, I want to develop my own grazing system and document the transition from fallow land to productive land. It must be affordable. These experiences have separated out the chaff.

Earlier in the process, I admit that I fell in love a lot.  Some portion of love needs to be there in order to bring what you want to you, but I mean that I really fell in love.  One farm in particular was hard to walk away from; I think I’ll always have a little ache (maybe until that ache is filled with THE farm) for that one.  My brain and my heart have now merged into what I think of as a positive pragmatism.

Today, I feel like I’m progressing more on faith that it’s going to work out.  Despite the dramatic eye rolling, it feels like we get closer and closer.  People are in our corner rooting us on.  The support letters written last fall were humbling and bring me close to tears when I think about them (thank you again, dear supporters in Vermont agriculture).  This is a little less love and a lot more tingle.  It’s coming.  Maybe it’s here.  I hope so.

No matter where we are and what happens, the sheep are due to start lambing in April.  I’m looking forward to that, wherever we are.






Third Plan’s the Charm

Have you  ever written a business plan?

Making friends with Excel is an essential part of the planning process.
Making friends with Excel is an essential part of the planning process.

Currently, I am working on the third one of my career.  The first was for my undergraduate class in Ecological Entrepreneurship.  It was fun; a plan for an edible landscaping business called The IncrEdible Yard (I dare you to use that name!).  I knew nothing about edible landscaping, mostly it was a cool exercise to collect surveys at the Vermont Garden & Flower Show, make charts, and think about the neat idea.  It wasn’t real.  Even now, I know just enough about gardening to keep tomatoes and peppers alive but not necessarily bear fruit.

The second plan was in 2005.  I took a 16-week course (now it’s 10 weeks) called Tilling the Soil of Opportunity, a business planning course specifically for agricultural businesses. That was when I first joined UVM Extension, but I took the class as a farmer because I felt that I was ready to take my farming to a new level.  I had been playing around with chickens, turkeys and pigs for about six years.  I wanted a barn, I wanted recognition.  I wanted respect as a farmer.  I did the numbers, even taking a whole week off from work to work through spreadsheets.

And the numbers said, “Don’t quit your day job“.  Actually they said, “This is a totally foolish thing, you should go back to school and make more money“. So I did.  I spent five years working on my Master’s degree part time so that I could make more money.  Along the way, I went from a person with textbook experience in Animal Science class to a person who has learned from hundreds of farms doing what I want to do.  I went from a person who loved the idea of rotational grazing to a person who now knows enough to teach it.  I realized that the old farm-ette location would never be satisfying to realize the true working farm dream.  I learned what I do, and do not, want to do.  I learned a lot about myself.

Most amazing in this transformation has been what Chris and I want together.  For a long time, there was tension between barbecue and farm; “my” thing and “his” thing, and it was almost a competition between us.  Maybe it was the transition out of the old house, maybe it’s just been this process of letting go and finding ourselves in an open future…but something between us has evolved.  Like any evolutionary process, we are something new.  Now the barbecue and the farm are not competitors, but complementary aspects of the success of our new life. We each lead enterprises of the new life, but they support each other like we do.

Here I am, writing a business plan for the next twenty years of our life.  It’s real, and it’s us.  It’s totally different than the last plan, and I can’t think of a better place to put our love, energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and faith.

Thanks for reading,




Sorting Beef

I arrived Friday morning a few minutes late.  I promised to be there at 7 am for the first deliveries, but I hit traffic and the trailers were lined up.  The first one had already been emptied and that beef producer was staying around to help unload some of the cattle coming behind.

An annual rite of spring, the spring beef sale was underway.  I look forward to it every year and mark the date on my calendar months ahead.  OK, maybe it’s not that exciting to people who work with beef cattle every day, but I don’t, and it’s been one of my greatest regular farm-related learning experiences in the past ten years.

2015-05-08 09.11.31
What breed am I? Great question.

The sale is nearly all volunteers, with a few paid Expo staff helping to set up and tear down the cattle chute, State animal health folks evaluating –um, animal health–  and a USDA grader deciding which animals would go to which pens.  We receive over 100 animals, usually from 20+ different farms.  Some are pure beef breeds like Angus or Hereford.  Some are dairy crosses like the group of Holstein-Park White cattle from this sale.  That group also had some Park White-Hereford crosses, and it was fun to guess which was which by their body types and their brown (vs. black) ears.  Others are completely mixed crosses and the game is to figure out what they actually are (breedwise).

I’ve learned a lot about handling cattle and recognizing their movements.  I can tell which ones get a wild eye and whether we should move them to an inner pen (harder to escape).  I’ve learned to watch their ears and listen to their breathing.  This is all similar to other livestock like sheep and horses, of course, but these are animals that I’ve only met five minutes ago.  And they are big. The key to keeping things calm is to anticipate their moods, because when an animal that big wants to go somewhere, they usually do.

Cattle pens.
Cattle pens.

I’ve learned a lot about how to sort single cattle from pens and how to get groups to move.  I’ve gotten the chance to practice testing that balance point on the shoulder to make them change direction, without a cattle cane or a rattle or a prod.  They’ll go…no need to stress them…but sometimes that takes learning what will make them go, and each individual can be different.  I’ve also learned when to step up on the fence rail and just let them go where they’re going.

As we work, the safety and comfort of each animal (and person) is the top priority wherever possible.  For this day, it was crazy hot and we ended up dedicating a person with a hose to each aisle of pens, just filling water tubs.  We hosed down the outside of the cows to help them stay cooler.  We kept checking with each other to make sure the humans had water, too.

Hosing down the cattle to help them keep cool.
Hosing down the cattle to help them keep cool.

That said, sometimes a cow comes in wild. Maybe she wasn’t wild at home, but the combination of new, open space, new smells, trailer ride, different humans, or some variation, causes her to lose it.  Several years ago, we had a heifer whose eyes showed nothing but whites and we couldn’t get her to stay inside a pen.  She came off the truck like that (the owner swore she was quiet as a mouse at home) and we directed her into a pen with other cows to settle down.  She crawled under the metal pen (more than once), dragging a whole series of connected panels with her and upsetting nearby groups.  Sometimes there’s a point where they can’t be reasoned with.  Temple Grandin describes this state as panic, and is often caused by separation anxiety.  In the case of this heifer, we put her back on a trailer where she calmed down in the relative quiet and dark.  We had done nothing to [knowingly] contribute to that–it was just a perfect storm for her.

Mmm.  Cool, cool water.
Mmm. Cool, cool water.

On this morning, it didn’t take long; within about half an hour we’d handled the backed-up trailers.  Cattle in their farm groups were settling in to dedicated pens. The unloading crew chatted and waited for the next delivery.  We discussed the pros and cons of different breeds, feed choices, whether prices would be up or down this year.  We stopped to check out the handling chute and see whether they were ready for another bunch to weigh and tag.  A steer got himself turned around in the chute and they had to open the side door to let him out, but then the line moved along again.

No wildness this year, and that was just fine by us.  Looking forward to next spring already.