Vanessa's Tattoo

Finally, Vanessa got her tattoo. Probably most don't know, but she has wanted one for a few years now. What has held her back is not really knowing what tattoo, although she has always known she wanted her own design. At first it was going to be a stambecco in Italian or an alpine ibex in English, a beautiful animal that lives in the Alps and is an excellent rock climber. The reason for the stambecco/alpine ibex is because I love mountains, I love to hike/climb, and I especially love to trail run through mountains with lots or rocks where you kind of have to leap around.

Then it was going to be a newt to catch the meaning of Nature and its potential fragility from our own human hands since amphibians are very susceptible to pollution and loss of habitat.

Years went by, but it was always going to be an animal because I love animals, I find them fascinating, special, almost (or totally) spiritual and able to provide humans with a connection back to Nature... where after all we come from -- even if accounting for God there is Nature between God and us.

Then for just over a year or so, I have been reading about the fact that my interests and feelings of a spiritual connection with Nature might be well founded (i.e. not just typical Vanessa's craziness) and are very ancient; this brought me to neolithic Celtic culture or older, another interest and spiritual connection of mine. This in turn and brought me again to more realizations: the ancient Celtic origins of where I come from (i.e. Gallia Cisalpina), which I actually studied in school and guess what... managed to forget with my powerful ability to remember – not!

In any case, after an iteration of personal/spiritual growth/search, I have arrived to making my own design! The design does capture what I wanted: animals, specifically deers, for which I have always had even more special awe, the number 3, which carries many important meanings in ancient and Celtic cultures as well as in my life, and the circle or wheel, which again is a spiritual symbol throughout many ancient cultures.

So here's what I came up with... yes that is my leg or calf to be more precise.

I must explain the reason for the location: at first, at the time of the stambecco/alpine ibex I actually wanted to tattoo on my leg, but it was going to be the thigh; then at the time of the newt it was going to be exactly the same, the calf; then while creating my latest design it was going to be my lower arm. What changed you might ask? I guess you can call it something not very spiritual, but purely practical and related to today's world: work. Yes like everybody else I got to eat and have a roof over my head... so I got to work and make money and since the path I have chosen does not usually allow for tattoos to be visible the arm was not going to work; no way I am wearing long sleeves throughout the summer!

A Little Pictorial Catch-Up

Well, i had tis grand idea that each week i would create a new blog with a "catch-up" topic to summarize what has been happing at Stark Hollow Farm. But too much keeps happening and/or there is never enough time... or i am just lazy and/or cannot look at a computer in my "free" time off the paying job! In any case, i have given-in and that grand idea is not going to work. So below are a few photos to summarize the major highlights of what has been going on in the last few months.

D (built by me w/ fallen wood from our land, left over PVC, and a tarp)

THE SHEEP HAY FEEDER (built by me w/ fallen wood from our land and scrap plywood/sheet metal)

with lid opened


(not 100%, but good enough to use for now)

Please note that i am leaving for future posts my Mom's visit and the winter sheep shed.

Doggie Sitting

During the Thanksgiving holiday we have welcome again in our home Gorgeous, the brindle dog we looked after last year for a nice month or so. Gorgeous is approximately the same age as Oakley and as Oakley she's of the "Heinz 57 sauce" breed... a.k.a. a pure mutt. The best kind of domesticated wolf! Gorgeous and Oakley seem to like each other, they eat, play, eat, sleep, eat, snooze, eat, run around, eat, beg for human food, eat, play, and -- almost forgot -- eat together nicely. At first there is always a little jealousy on the part of Oakley, but it last less than 24-hrs and then it's all good... best partners in crime.

Gorgeous is well behaved like Oakley; she may venture around through the woods and hills, but does not usually strays far and comes right away when called. The other day as i was cleaning up around the sheep quarters in the wooded top pasture (i.e. it will become pasture), i called onto Gorgeous as i usually do when she's not under my eyesight, but this time she did not come back. Then i called again, then again, then again. Then i moved to the barn area and called onto Gorgeous again, then again, and again.... nothing still. Darn dog where could she have possibly gone!?! She's such a good beast... doesn't make sense, back to calling and calling.... nothing. Try howling, then howling more, then again howling... nothing. I almost lost my voice, but gave it another change calling the dog again and again... nothing. Then i gave up. Then right before the vet came by to check up on the sheep (they're all well and healthy) Gorgeous miraculously shows up; it's all good. I see Gorgeous in the distance playing with something, possibly a stick of wood or something like that. But the vet has just arrived and Gorgeous seem to be doing fine. The vet and i go to the sheep and the dogs remain outside the fence doing their own thing. When done with the sheep as the vet and I discuss billing, we both notice that Gorgeous' toy consists of some bone-like object with dangling pieces of meat and tendons -- i noted that we do not have bones kicking around on the homestead and she must have found something around. But looking at the fun Gorgeous was having trashing around bones, tendons, and meat, we couldn't resist and had to go take a look. Sure enough it was a deer leg... or whatever remained of it, which actually was a nice remainder sample with 3 full bones, meat, tendons, skin, hairs, and hoof even. Poor deer... at the very least it was already dead thanks to a hunter as we're in the thick of hunting season. In any case here's a photo taken after Gorgeous had already decimated half of the booty!

Pooty Tat Claws

Micio (pronounced meecho) joined Stark Hollow Farm as the resident barn cat employed to keep the mouse population at bay. So far he is doing a cat fabulous job. Unfortunately, the song bird population is suffering too!

He is gorgeous and very friendly. He hangs out around the house and woods and barn all day. He comes in the house sometimes for a short visit, but likes to be outdoors. He and Oakley chase each other around and play together...we think Oakley thinks he is a dog! She growls at him if he gets too close to her bowl.

Catching Up: July, August, and September 2008

Well, let's see where to start... it is November 1st and i got to keep my readers, if any*, informed. So let's start, we got chickens again, after the winter tragedy, or the way i prefer to look at it, natural food chain series of events. We got them in the middle/late summer, 8 full grown-up layers that already lay eggs, which is nice (i.e. not sure if all of you know, but it takes a bit, a few months really, for chickens to start laying eggs). So the day we got them, can't believe i actually remember this, was threatening rain all day and then, about 30 min to an hour after we got home, it poured hard and all night. Now i must update anyone of you that does not leave near us: this summer we apparently reached historical records for most precipitation since data have been taken, which is not super long, but i believe it at least goes back to the 1800s. In any case, this summer just kept raining, raining, and raining; soils were soaked, driveway was soaked, i was soaked, i think only the plants loved it! Although, i loved the fact that my pasture loved the rain because it sure showed :-). So anyway, the chickens... we got home and placed them in the electric poultry net i had set-up for them just prior to picking them up. Birds seemed happy checking out the new grass, or lack there of, and their new surroundings. We gave them water, pellets, and a bit of scratch; they put their heads and beaks down and began doing their thing: pecking and scratching.

So that was all good, but i had to put finishing touches on the portable coop, which after the food chain natural series of events last winter i had decided to rebuild -- this time they get 2 coops: a small portable one (but secured w/ no holes >0.25") and a permanent one behind the barn for the colder/non-grazing season. So i put my head down and began doing my thing: building stuff for the farm. Laura had to go to meet some friends and thought she might be back late, but i just had the roof to finish so no worries there... all was good. Then it began poring, but the birds seemed not to mind, i was working under the barn roof and all was still good. Then i found out i had less roofing material then needed, it got dark, but i had extra very small pieces, i had a head-lamp, and the bird seemed ok; it was still all somewhat good. Then it was thundering, i was having hell with the very small pieces of roofing material, the birds were all huddled-up together in the pouring rain; but i brought down the large card-board box and 2 old windows to create a small tent for them while i was finishing the coop; all was not good, but not too bad either. Then, i found out i ran out of good screws and rubber washers to secure the darn roof, Laura was missing in action (or chatting more likely), and the windows had collapsed onto the now soaked cardboard box that was supposed to protect the chickens; all was now not good. Then i gave in and decided that i would just temporarily close off the roof in some fashion and the next day go to the store and buy supplies so that i could build a normal/secure roof, Laura came back, and the birds seemed ok and happy for the coop, although a bit sleepy; all was good again.

[[* Hopefully there are still readers out there that have not gotten completely annoyed after checking and re-checking for new posts that never seem to occur.]]

Well that was a long story. At least i do not seem to have such hart-pounding adventures for the sheep; for some reason they seem well and happy with no drama. Must be thanks to my better preparation with gates, feeders, and portable housing.

But the good news is that the chickens are getting and mansion for a cold/non-grazing season coop, which i have begun building... it's so well structured i could relocate my office in there!

Before & After

This is a short entry, as the photos really do speak a thousands words.

We have rotated the sheep through the so called power line pasture -- additional free pasture land that because of the power line we must keep free of brush and trees; or in other words and from a shepard's perspective... looking like a pasture. The area was actually quite overgrown and the sheep had a ball... or a leaf or too! They would get quite excited every time they were about to enter a new paddock, baaing away and making a lot of baaa noise.

In any case the photos below really do show what i mean and how much they loved it!

Overgrown Pasture At Start of Rotation

Overgrown (well Formerly Overgrown) Pasture about 36 Hours Later

Pearl the Baby Escaped

The other day the sheep had too much grass to finish up eating in the morning and so i decided to keep them in the same paddock through mid-day; i would rotate them (i.e. move them to a new paddock) between my regular job.... doesn't take too long usually anyway and they are next to the road, which means it is nice and easy to go back and forth should i forget something or need some tools/supplies -- which pretty much, no strike, i almost always do (i.e. actually i think so far it's been every time that i forget something and have to go back to the barn).

In any case, that was the plan... a nice small break from a busy day at work. So, i go down ,start setting up the netting for the new paddock right next to the existing paddock. But to do so, as i have previously done, i have to kind of move over the existing netting so that the 2 don't touch each other and i do not lose precious grass for the sheep.

(For those of you who might not be as familiar with electric fences, an electric net is a net made of plastic, poly-wire, and very small conductive metal filaments, which carry electricity, if connected to an energizer, throughout the netting. There are also plastic stakes which are set into the ground so that the net can stand on its own.)

OK, lessons aside, i was saying that here i was doing the usual thing of setting a new net adjacent to the old one and picking up some of the stakes from the old one to make room for the new stakes... and then: as i lifted the net maybe 12" from the ground, being VERY conservative, and snap! Pearl is out... went under the net within seconds and is now looking around and eating every leaf she can.

Meantime ,the other 2 are like... ooh sweet how did she get out, let's go join her since we have no more decent chow in here... especially Pearl's mother Mara who is such a stubborn driven sheep when she's hungry -- well that would be all the time since she's always hungry.

All this happening in about 2 minutes... now Pearl has figured out that she's all alone out there and her flock is inside the fence... that's not looking good: she has food, but no flock, and now she has me trying to get her, gently, but intently, by the horns and to send her back. So what's next? Before guessing, remember Pearl is young and inexperienced... Anyway, she runs top speed into the old netting; straight on into 3' of netting, not even trying to jump it!

Thank God, the energizer was off and no electricity flowing because within the same 2 minutes i just mentioned, Pearl is completely caught and tangled in the fence: horns, legs, etc. She's falls to the ground and is struggling and gets herself even more tangled. Meantime, while i go over trying to free her up without scaring her even more, the other 2 are looking at a net down to the ground and easily passable. But fortunately the leader of the pack, oops flock and Pearl's mother, Mara is a bit worry about her daughter and hesitates. Because you must know where Mara, goes everybody follows. Now, Mara is essentially weaning Pearl and has placed much of her energy lately into getting food and more food, but mother instinct must have called on strong and that hesitation gave me just enough seconds to grapple and free her baby and get the net back up.... all sheep in and all fences working! Phew...

The end of the story: for 3 days Pearl was petrified of me; somehow i was responsible for sending her into the netting. However, being her mother's daughter, that did not last because i am the one who provides food, new leaf, and yeah candy too in the shape of grains once in a while! She does do her own thing now though when i rotate them and set up new paddocks! A moment in a day on Stark Hollow Farm.

Icelandic Sheep arrive at Stark Hollow

After years of dreaming...the sheep are finally here. We have spent years talking about, planning and preparing for this moment. The whole thing started back when we lived in Oakland and decided that we wanted to live a more sustainable lifestyle that was more connected to nature and the land. We began discussing where we might live and it was an easy decision for us to come to Vermont. Vermont is where I (Laura) was born and raised and Vanessa had visited many times over the years. We both agreed that we loved Vermont and it would put us close to family and give us back our four seasons which we had been missing during the many years we lived in CA. Then we began discussing what we wanted to do in VT. We agreed to start with a small homestead farm where we would keep sheep and chickens and grow vegetables. From there we conducted extensive research into the breeds discussing exactly what we would do with the sheep. We agreed on a combination of wool, cheese and meat and found the Icelandics to be conducive to this type of mixed use. We are very excited by the arrival of Mara, baby Pearl, and Poppy, the first of what we hope to be many sheep who call Stark Hollow Farm home. See more pictures here:

Vamos a Mexico!

We took a much needed vacation to to the southern most reaches of the "Mayan Riviera". We stayed at a fabulous ecoresort called Ecotulum in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. We swam, snorkeled, biked, hiked to the Mayan ruins and just laid in the sun with a good book.

Tragedy Has Struck the Stark Hollow

Last week while Vanessa was traveling for work, we lost our chickens! First, Laura came home to find Yellow Foot dead in the woods. She could not find any prints or other markings. But because she had seen our large resident owl that morning and so she eventually came to believe that the owl must have killed the poor bird, tried to lift it away, but ended up dropping it due to its wait. That seemed reasonable...

The next day, first thing in the morning when Laura went to feed the birds and collect the eggs, she found the rest of the 3 birds w/ their throats slashed inside the pen! It did not take much to figure that this was no work of an owl, but probably a weasel. Later discussions by Laura w/ her Dad and research by Vanessa (who, because of growing up in Italy where most wild animals are dead and had thought that a weasel would be at least the size of a cat), pretty much led to a very reasonable assumption that the culprit was in fact a weasel. Weasels are described in a book we own as a mammal "shaped like a pipe cleaner [...] with teeth for efficient butchery"! Yeah, huh.

Yesterday, Vanessa saw the darn weasel next to the deck coming out of the former chipmunk's burrow. Lot's of thing began to fit even more: the resident weasel is very small (that's a 2" diameter pipe cleaner, which was about the size of the non-screened vent on the coop); it looks very light in weight explaining why no print were found on the icy snow; has a white coat so that we have not even notice it around in the winter. Also, additional research provided more confirmations: weasels take over nest/burrows of their victims (i.e. the chipmunks in the rock wall); weasels often turn to chickens when they run out of their favorite prey: rodents (i.e. lately we have noticed that all the squirrels, including the red one that has destroyed the screened-in porch, and chipmunks seem to have disappeared); weasels' instinct is to kill if more prey if available, such as in a coop, because of their high metabolic needs (apparently 40% of their body weight per day); weasels bite their victims necks and suck their blood (i.e. chickens' throats were slashed).

Well... it's sad, but then it's nature's course. In fact, I find it kind of cool how nature balances itself -- just when Laura had enough of the grey squirrels taking the birds' seeds, I was losing my patience with the defiance of the red squirrel, and chipmunks had taken over the rock walls and lawn, another critter came along and took care of it. Honestly, I'd rather have wildlife around and nature working properly, than living where wild animals are found only in museums, zoos, books, etc. Yes, even if I have to rebuild the coop!

Skiing @ Bolton Valley

Look out ski patrol! You gotta love winter sports to live in Vermont. This is a shot at the top of Timberline lift at Bolton Valley, VT. Left to right: Cindy (Director of Sales for BV), Betsy C., Jude, Laura, Amanda and Vanessa. It was a great day...lots of powder.


It was a fabulous game....the fans were divided evenly 4 to 4, with the Giant's fan out shouting the Pat's fans with their sheer exuberance over the excitement of what was originally thought to be a no brainer for the Pats. As a Giant fan since I was a kid, I was so thrilled to see them play the game they played. Colorful Mardi Gras beads flew through the air and the food was fabulous. We all had a great time. ~ Birdie

V's First Kombucha

Today I, Vanessa, finally started my very first batch of kombucha tea. For whom does not know much about this, it's an ancient (apparently ~250 BC) culture of yeast and bacteria that is used to make kombucha tea, a very good and health promoting drink. Here is also a link to a funny and informative short article about kombucha

First you'll ask why on the planet would I want to make this myself when I can run to any organic store and buy myself as much kombucha as I’d care to drink? Well here we go: no. 1 reason - a single serving bottle of kombucha runs between $4-$5; no. 2 reason – I find fascinating making a drink out of live critters (granted not visible to the naked eye, but still visible when they grow and reproduce). I have always wanted to make beer for the same reason (e.g. the critters), but I think kombucha is even better as it is good for you (e.g. although I have heard that one glass of beer -- or wine -- a day is also good for you, but lots of people don’t stop at one glass with beer or wine), it taste even better (i.e. at least I think), and it seems a lot easier to make (i.e. with continuous brewing).

My mail-ordered mother culture came in on Thursday and yesterday evening I began the process of getting it going as you have to wait 8-14 days for proper fermentation before you can start drinking it. However, it got late and I had to leave my tea + sugar chow for the critters near the wood-stove to keep it at comfortable room-temperature (e.g. 70-80 degrees F or 21-27 degrees C). By the way, I refuse to call my culture “mushroom” because it is not a mushroom and I cannot understand why anybody would call it that if it isn’t. FYI, it seems the correct name is symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or in short SCOBY. I like the correct name as well the more affectionate names that some brewers use of “mother” and “baby” to refer to the starting culture and the new culture produced in a new kombucha batch respectively! I really like the fact of getting a culture of bacteria and yeast, feeding it well (w/ sugar), housing it nicely (at room temperature), and then getting the culture to propagate by forming a new one -- it’s really neat! I do like this stuff; that is why I wrote my only published article on other critters (i.e. clean up of groundwater and soil contamination by microbes). Side note -- I really should have studied at least more biology!

Well, my first kombucha batch is now near the wood-stove (see photos) and we’ll see what happens in a week or so. Hopefully, I won’t kill the mother and will manage to get a baby for my next batch and/or a back-up for the future. Sweet… or better yet sweet, sour, and fizzy as kombucha is!

Deer Me!

Sunday morning at Stark Hollow...5 degrees above zero...very cold, but wonderfully sunny. We are working on our project list when four beautiful deer came to visit our bird feeders. Two doe with their babies. They stayed for about 1/2 hour and what a joy to watch them. One of the fawns decided she didn't want to share with a grey squirrel and kept stomping her hoof at him.

These are the mornings we love.

Introducing...Our Four Feathered Ladies..

For those of you who don't know we have 4 Black Star type chicken layers. Their names are Messy, Yellow Foot, Brown, and Baby. Here's a brief description of how each girl got her name:
  • Messy got her name because she's a messy eater. She manages to launch all her pellets, corn, or whatever else, all over, then picks the little that is left, and then looks up at you wondering where all the food has gone!
  • Yellow Foot really has yellow legs, but "foot" sounds better. Also, foot is appropriate as she's quick footed: she is very good at running into places where she shouldn't be going (e.g. the garage, under the deck, etc.). The other day, I went out to put the birds to bed; 3 of them were in their pen, but Yellow Foot was nowhere to be found. Finally after Pupper, our doggie, and I looked all over the woods, we heard Yellow Foot clucking loudly... she was under the deck in front of the main home entrance making holes!
  • Brown is simply named such because she has the most brown feathers around the neck. Also, she is Vanessa's buddy and Vanessa loves brown! Brown has come to be Vanessa's buddy first because she always comes out first in the morning, but also because she loves to remove Vanessa's hat or headlamp (and the headlamp ain't too light with batteries in it, but she's is always successful).
  • Last, but not least, is Baby who is the smallest, and we think, the youngest. She's very sweet and the first to submit, but as a result gets very nicely treated, even when it's late and Vanessa needs to go around the woods to herd the birds in their pen (I guess the birds must know the sheep will be coming as they seem to want Vanessa to practice her herding skill).
As you may know, the girls were not laying before we left for Italy, but now they all do -- 4 nice organic eggs each day. As a matter of fact, once of them lays almost daily a double yoke egg! Oh did I mention, Vanessa readjusted the winter location of the chicken pen and the wood pallets (photos are upcoming).

Well, enough about the birds; since we've gotten back Vanessa has being doing wood -- her 3.5' cross-cut saw has been wonderful... no gas, no machine, no noise, just muscle, the smell of fresh cut wood, and the sound of trees and ice (yeah well we're in VT, but i love winter). Laura has been snowboarding/skiing and "strategically"planning our farm -- she indicated last summer we need a strategic plan to determine financial needs, accounting, production, marketing, permits, etc. (well you know we're serious when we get an idea in our Leo's heads).

Welcome to Stark Hollow Farm

Greetings from Laura & Vanessa, owners of Stark Hollow Farm. We have created this blog to explore the joys and challenges of creating a small, natural and sustainable farm in the small hamlet of Starksboro, Vermont. We welcome your comments and questions as you share our journey.