The New Chicken Plan

I hesitate to use the word “plan” because we have learned that in homesteading, as in life, plans never stick for long and it is important to be flexible.  But it is also good to have a goal to work towards and a jumping off point.  So with that in mind, I will use the word “plan.”

We have been working on the new chicken plan for our homestead for a few months now.  We started with plan A, then B, then C….and now I think we are probably on about plan V by now because it has changed so many times.  But we have finally landed on a plan we feel good about.  Of course, as with everything in homesteading life, it will be tweaked a bit here and there as we go – but at least we have a starting point now.

For those who haven’t been following long, here’s the background info:  We were previously selectively breeding a few different breeds of chickens to each other to produce a dual-purpose breed of chicken that thrived well in our high altitude, cold climate.  We made it three generations in with good progress, but then our baby had several surgeries and hospitalizations and I just didn’t have time to deal with caring for, much less breeding, chickens.  So we shrunk the flock down to just my 6 favorite breeding hens, and our 1 best broody mama hen and called it good.

Now that Mr. Smiles’ health is stabilizing, we are hoping to increase the flock again early 2017, start selling eggs again in the summer/fall, and get back into breeding and selling chicks, pullets, and hens in 2018.

In my research of trying to decide what direction I wanted to go with which breed, I found a breed that seems to have almost all the traits we are looking for – the Buff Chantecler.  It is a dual-purpose breed originating in Canada, smaller than the original White Chanteclers, but still a good size for meat, that lays about 4 eggs a week.  They have extremely small combs and wattles, including the roos.  They are friendly, calm, and docile.  They are extremely cold tolerant, lay through the winter, and do go broody.  These are all things we are looking for.  The only additional thing for us to add to our breeding stock through selective breeding is high-altitude hatchability, which we can select for over time.  As well as being sure to select for excellent conformation and functionality – being sure to keep the characteristics true to the Chantecler breed.

I also really like to have different colored birds in my flock so we will include partridge and red Chanteclers for my own viewing pleasure.  The only “accepted” colors are the white and the partridge – the buff and red are not yet.  In addition, I am contemplating breeding into my stock the color blue, which will also give be black and splash because that is what the blue gene carries.  I will just be doing that for the fun of it and for the challenge, it isn’t something we are aiming for to make them better birds, obviously.  And it will take at least 5 generations to get there if all goes well.

And because I like variety in my flock, we will also be adding some Blue Laced Red Wyandottes, Easter Eggers, and Salmon Faverolles hens just for laying, not for breeding.

The chicks arrive in February, right around when the goats are due to kid (let’s just pile all the work on at once – lol!).  We will be back into selling eggs by the end of summer, and come 2018 we will be breeding Chanteclers and have them for sale as well.  Fun, Fun!

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had a nice week.  We have been preparing for the return of the ewes from the breeder’s this coming week.

Barn Remodel – Part 1

We finished part 1 of the barn remodel.  We wanted to get it done while the ewes were gone so they weren’t in their big stall and thus in our way during the remodel.  As you see in the photo, previously we had one big sheep stall (left) and a big dairy parlor with a stanchion that we used to use to milk the cow (right).  (The stall the goats use is to the far right of this photo).

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We also had two small multipurpose pens (left) that were already half torn out in the photo below.

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Now that we have sheep and goats and no cows, the large dairy parlor and stanchion were a waste of space.  So we decided to add two permanent lambing/kidding stalls in that space instead.  Previously, we would build temporary lambing stalls with pallets inside the big stall each spring and take them down each summer.  The new stalls are permanent and will be very convenient for lambing and kidding, as well as closing the kids away from the does at night so we can milk in the morning.  Plus an number of other uses.  There are two, they are about 5ft x 5 ft, and they open into the big stall.

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The barn cats all used to eat up on a shelf that was on top of the old cow stanchion.  We did this so the farm dogs couldn’t steal their food.  Also, there is a screened window opening up there that is open during the summer and the cats love sitting in it.  So when husband tore down the stanchion the kitty area was gone too.  He build a new one, with little catwalks (hehe) to each of the hay lofts where the cats sleep and stay warm all winter.  Plus a ladder for the cats to climb up and for us humans to climb to feed them and climb into the right hay loft.

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There are still more little details to deal with, but the stalls are ready for use and we are ready for the ewes to come home now.

Tomatoes

We harvested all of our tomatoes at the first frost the first week of September this year.  Most were green and we put them on a table in our basement storage room to ripen (this is how we deal with tomatoes in our cold climate with a 10-12 week frost to frost growing season).  That room holds a temperature around 60-65F at all times.  Within a week we were beginning to eat and can the ripening tomatoes.  That continued for the rest of September and October as they all ripened.  By the beginning of November all that were left were the Long Keeper variety.  They have been ripening and keeping very nicely down there this whole time.  Here we are, the beginning of December, and we are still eating fresh tomatoes from our garden!  We still have about 5 lbs of them left.  Considering our climate and the fact that the tomatoes were all harvested the first week of September, this seems amazingly wonderful to us.  I have saved seeds from some of these longest keeping tomatoes so we can continue to grow this variety and have tomatoes from the garden into the early winter months.

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How to Process Wool: Carding with a Drum Carder

This will be the last post in our series on How to Process Wool.  You can read previous posts by clicking the following links:

Sheep to Spinning Wheel

Washing

Picking

Once your wool is fluffed up, clean, and picked – free from any lanolin, vegetable matter, and short second cuts – you are ready to put it through the carder.

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We have the Elite Convertible Drum Carder from Clemes and Clemes.  It is a hand crank with optional electric addition that can handle about 1 oz of wool at a time depending on what we are doing with it.

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We begin feeding the wool in, small amounts at a time, being sure to load evenly on both sides and the center.  The goal is to have a nice even batt of fiber all around the entire drum.  As we feed it in the first time, some fiber is going one direction, some is going another.  That is fine because it will help the carder do a little bit of picking as well – spitting out some of the VM that might be left in the wool.  We use the burnishing brush as we crank to help pack the wool onto the carder and brush it all in the right direction.

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Once the drum is full we find the metal strip on the drum and insert the doffer under the fiber and use it to break the batt so we can remove it from the drum.

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Next, we attach the batt lifter and carefully roll the batt off of the drum.

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We now have a batt.  Usually after only one round through the carder the wool isn’t carded enough and it needs to be run through again.

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We run it through again in the same way, except we feed it in tips first for worsted.  It isn’t going in all directions like the first time through.

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When we remove it from the carder the second time we can spin right from the bat, or if we want roving we put it back through.

To feed it back through for roving we again feed it by the tips, not perpendicular.  And we pack it with the packing brush instead of the burnishing brush.

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Then we use the doffer to break off just about 1 inch of the batt along the edge at the metal strip.

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Using a crochet hook we insert that into the diz.

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The next step has taken some practice to master.  We pull the fiber through the diz while working our way around the carder in a spiral fashion from one edge towards the other by going around and around.

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Then we have our roving!  We wrap it into a “nest” and it is ready for spinning.

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When we are done for the day, or ready to switch to a different fiber, we use the flicker to clean off the drums.  We brush it is short strokes opposite the direction of the carder combs.

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We have now shown you the very basics of processing wool with our drum carder.  There are many different things you can do with how you feed the wool in and how you pack it to effect your finished product.  But this is the basic way to do it for worsted yarn.

We really enjoy processing our wool by hand from our sheep all the way to roving (for braided rugs) or yarn (for knitting and crochet).  While it is a very tedious process, it is also very satisfying in a unique way that I have not found in many other areas of life.

Sunday Homestead Update

I hope all my American readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving, celebrating with family and friends.  We have a nice four-day holiday weekend and spent a lot of time enjoying good food and good fellowship.

The Molt is Over!

For several weeks we were only getting eggs from two of our 7 laying hens because the rest were molting.  Then those two quit and we were getting no eggs at all for about 2 weeks.  But finally the molt is over for 5 of the 7 hens and we are getting 3-5 eggs a day from them.  It is wonderful to have fresh eggs aplenty again!  We survived the molt without buying any eggs, since there was only about 2 weeks with none, but eggs were very sparse when there were only two laying.

Wood

We still needed to finish dealing with the trees we took down two weeks ago.  So this week we got around to that.  The twin trees were very long and straight, with no rot.  So those will be hauled to the mill to be made into lumber for future building projects in the barn.

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The huge one, however, had rot in the core 50% or more.  So it wouldn’t be good for lumber.  Instead, we got it all cut into rounds and stacked to dry for a year.  Next fall, this tree will be split into firewood.  This one tree will provide almost enough wood to heat our house for the entire winter next year!

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It was quite a job getting those cut and then rolling them and stacking them.  The large ones weighed about 120 lbs, the smaller ones about 60 lbs.  The kids and I did a lot of the rolling, and then Mtn Man stacked them because we couldn’t lift them.

One reason we waiting until fall to cut down this specific tree was because it had a Northern Flicker nesting in it.  We wanted to wait until she was done.  It was fun for the kids to see the hole and the nest.

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We are continuing to work on the barn remodel in preparation for the return of the ewes.  That will be our focus around the farm this next coming week.

 

 

Update on Goat and Sheep Manger Built into the Fence

Our indoor goat and sheep hay feeders were working so well we felt the design of the fence one would be just as good. img_2751 img_2752

But we noticed right away that the goats were not able to get all the hay.  We found almost full leaves of hay still in it when they were done eating.

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At first it seemed the problem was that their Nubian noses couldn’t fit through the holes far enough to reach the hay.  So, using his angle grinding tool, Mtn Man cut out some of the wire to make bigger holes and sanded the cut edges smooth.

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This helped a little, but they were still having trouble.  The hay wasn’t sliding down as easily against the wood back as it did against the plastic back of the indoor ones.  Mtn Man decided that the support slats were too close together and that we needed to remove every-other one to help the hay slide down better.  He started by just removing one to see if it would work.  Sure enough, the next day after they ate there were only crumbs left.

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So then he removed the others, and made some more of the bigger holes in the wire.  The combination of the two made the manger work much better and now they are eating happily.

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Efficiency on the Small Backyard Farm

Our farm is only 3 acres and is located on a mountain side.  This really limits our space and what we can do with our land as far as livestock and gardening are concerned.  Many people have mini-farms that have similar limits on them.  It is a very different way to farm than those farms that have large barns and many outbuildings surrounded by fields and pastures.  And so, to make the most of what we have, the smaller farms need to make choices that increase their efficiency.

Multi-Purpose Livestock

When livestock housing and living space is limited it is important to choose breeds that serve more than one purpose.  Chickens can provide you with meat or eggs – OR – meat AND eggs.  Sheep can provide wool, milk, or meat – OR – two out of three – OR – all three.  See what I am saying?  Granted, by choosing multi-purpose breeds you are not getting the best at one thing, such as birds that produce the most meat possible in the shortest time.  Instead you are getting ones that do pretty well at both.  But “pretty well” at more than one purpose is more efficient and productive when you are limited on space and can’t have the best of both.

Multi-Use Housing

When building housing for a small farm it is most efficient if you build housing that can be used to house different species at different times.  The same housing that you put young chicks in at one point of the year could hold a bum lamb at another time, a barn cat with her kittens at another time, and weanling rabbits at another time – if you build the housing properly.

For example, we have a spot in the barn called the “Mama Hen Pen.”  It is called that because, for the most part, it is where we let our broody hens set their eggs and raise their chicks.  But it has also been used to house calves, sheep, goats, a recuperating cat, meat cockerels, a rooster with his breeding hens, and dogs.  It could also potentially house turkeys, a dog with pups, cat with kittens, a pony, ducks, etc.  The only things we wouldn’t use this pen to house is very large animals, because it is only 9×11 ft.  Or animals that can easily dig out, like rabbits, because the entire floor is not wired to keep them in.

From the outside, the door into this pen is a regular sliding stall door.  Behind that door we previously have had a wired insert with a small chicken-sized door.  This insert makes this pen use-able for anything small that needs to stay in and needs to be protected from barn cats (like chicks).  And the door and removable ramp make it easy for chickens to come and go from this pen into the barnyard when we want them to.photo 5 (9) photo 4 (13)20

We purposely made it so that with the removal of some screws this entire wall of wire will easily lift out of the doorway.  Then it could be stored so that the stall could be used for larger animals like calves, sheep, etc.  And then those type of animals can easily go in and out of the barn through the sliding door.

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The doorway to the right is the same stall door seen above but with the chicken wire insert removed.

On the inside of the barn you can see that this pen is like a regular stall, with 2/3 walls for air flow.  That is great for housing larger livestock.  And the stall door is big enough to bring sheep, goats, calves, and smaller horses and cows through.  But in addition to that we secured chicken wire all along the open areas.  That way we can keep small livestock inside the pen without them escaping and without the risk of barn cats attacking them (in the case of baby chicks).

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Previously, inside the stall we had nest boxes, roosts, a heat lamp, and hanging feeders/waterers for the chickens.  But all of those are easily removable for when we wanted to house other livestock inside.  You can also see that the back wall of the stall (to the right in the photo) is made of chicken wire with some wood slats along the bottom.  This wall is shared with a pen we call our “growing out pen” (another multi-use pen).  This makes it easy for us to house chickens separate but able to see each other so we can easily integrate our flock together once they have spent some time seeing each other through the wire.  It also works well for separating baby sheep or goats from their mothers at night before morning milking.

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As you can see, with a little bit of extra planning and work, you can make your housing much more efficient and able to be used in multiple ways with multiple species.

Farm Dogs for Small Acreage

I’ve seen it happen over and over again.  People with small farms really want that amazing herding breed or LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog) breed that they saw at some big farm or online looking like such a happy working dog.  Then they get said dog and the dog is miserable on their tiny farm with no space to move around and use the amazing skills that have been bred into them for centuries.  I’ve seen a huge LGD stuck in a one-acre pen with goats, miserable and barking incessantly.  I’ve seen a herding dog torment the livestock on a small farm by chasing them constantly because he is bored and wants to really do the work he is bred to do.  The dog is miserable, the owner is miserable, and the livestock is miserable.  The pretty picture they saw online is not what they are seeing in their barnyard.

Before anyone attacks me on this issue I will say that it is not ALWAYS the case.  Some owners are able to keep a herding breed or LGD happy on small acreage.  They find ways to keep them busy and exercise their brains and bodies.  And also, some individuals in the herding dog breeds and LGD breeds have personalities that make it so they can handle the small space and live very happy productive lives.

But for the most part, these dogs are bred to work all day and cover a lot of ground and they will not be satisfied with a small farm environment.

So do a lot of research before purchasing a farm dog.  Keep in mind what your space is like, what the daily routine is like, and what job exactly the dog will be doing.  Look at what the history of the breed is and what they have been selectively bred to do.  And talk to the breeders about what they are specifically selecting for in their dogs.  Then choose accordingly.  There are several good options out there for working farm dogs on the small farm.

Gardening on the Small Farm

One way to get more out of a smaller garden space is to grow as much vertically as you can.  When growing green beans you can get the bush variety or the vine variety.  Build some good sturdy trellises and get the vining variety so it can grow upwards, taking up less of your ground space.  Same with tomatoes.  Grow as much vertically as you can.

Another way to increase efficiency in the garden is to increase planting space and decrease walkway space by using a square-foot gardening layout instead of a row layout.  We built 4-foot wide gardening sections with 18-24 inch walkways between them.  We can easily reach the two feet across to the middle of the planting area from any side to plant, weed, and harvest.  When you have minimal space, don’t waste it on walkways.

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Lastly, use every extra space you have to grow edible food.  Nicely done, edible plants can make very nice outdoor decorating and landscaping.  Use containers on your deck or by your front door as decorations.  Use planters that hang on your deck railing or hanging baskets, and let grape vines grow up lattice on your patio.

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Strawberry patch on right, container herb garden on right past that.

Be creative and think outside of the basic row garden as the only place you can grow food.  Try to find every nook and cranny you can put edible plants around your home and farm.

 

Small farms can be extremely productive once you find some ways to make efficient use of the space you have.  I hope these tips and tricks that have worked so well for us can help you get the most from your small acreage farm!

Sunday Homestead Update

As we close in on celebrating Thanksgiving, the weather has finally turned cold here in the Rockies.  This is unheard of for our area.  The autumn has been so warm compared to what it usually is.  We have enjoyed every extra moment of good weather and accomplished so many outdoor projects – it has been great.  And now we happily welcome the colder weather and snow.  We feel much more prepared for winter than we usually do, and that is comforting.

Goat Escape

The goats are gate bullies – specifically Gretchen goat.  We have warned the children about this fact, but sometimes it is easy to forget things when you are 9 and love the goats.  Little Miss was sent out to give the goats some fruit scraps.  It was assumed she would throw them over the fence, but Little Miss has really fallen in love with the goats.  She loves to spend time in the barnyard petting them – and they love her attention.  So she decided that opening the gate and going into the yard with them to pet them while they ate the fruit would be much more fun than just throwing it over the fence.  The ever-bossy Gretchen saw her opportunity and plowed through the gate and Little Miss with Heidi goat timidly following her.

Little Miss, being the scrappy and yet petite thing she is, grabbed onto Gretchen’s neck and tried to wrangle her with all her might.  Gretchen, outweighing the wee one by about 3 times as much, plowed on without even noticing the little girl attached to her neck, digging her heels in, and frantically screaming at the top of her lungs.  Heidi continued to follow behind timidly.

Meanwhile, in the house, I began to wonder what was taking so long, and sent Young Man out to see.  I heard a yell from the door – “THE GOATS ARE OUT” and instantly we were all headed full blast out the back door.  With Young Man a full 5 strides ahead of me, I look up the hill to see Little Miss dragging along beside Gretchen, holding on for dear life and screaming for help while Gretchen plowed her way up the hill determined to go somewhere – anywhere.  Heidi, seeing us all coming, realized that they were busted and stopped just as Young Man got to her and grabbed her.  I weaved around them, yelling to Little Miss “Don’t let go!” because despite the fact that she couldn’t stop the determined Gretchen, she was at least somewhat slowing her down.  I finally got a hold of Gretchen and began wrangling her back to the barnyard, past the placidly waiting Heidi with Young Man.  As I got her to the gate she really dug in and gave me quite a wrestling match as she did NOT want to go back in.  Finally got her in, and Heidi nicely walked back in, looking at Gretchen like “I TOLD you we weren’t supposed to go out!”

And by the way…where was our hero farm dog, Tundra, while all of this was happening?  That dog has made it into so many excellent farm stories where he is the superdog who saves the day.  But not this story.  He chose to sit in the barnyard and watch us all attempt to keep the goats from taking off to the woods to be eaten by any number of predators.  I expect he was yelling out advice – “That’s not how you herd a goat!  Bite her!  Be more aggressive!  Who is the dominant species here!?  Have I taught you people nothing!?”

And what of the fruit scraps?  Apparently freedom is more important to Gretchen than fruit scraps.  She was not interested in coming back into the barnyard for anything, and once in she let Heidi have all the scraps.

As the gate closed behind the escapees, Little Miss and I crumpled into an exhausted heap and started laughing so hard we cried.  I can’t imagine what the entire thing looked like to a fly on the wall, but I’m guessing it was pretty hilarious.  Hooray for my scrappy Little Miss, a farm girl at heart who will take on an animal three times her size and not let go.  And yes, she learned her lesson about not opening the gate – dragging behind an escaped goat is an excellent way to learn a lesson for good.  :-D

In other goat news – the vet came this week and both does were confirmed pregnant.  Yay for that!  First kids due Feb 15, second round due early March.

Sheep

The sheep are still at the breeder, but this weekend was shearing time, so Mtn Man and Young Man went down to help with the process.  Our girls were included with about 75 other sheep shorn at the breeder, which means all hands on deck to help move them around and deal with the fleece.  It was a fun day for them and it was good for them to see our ewes.  The breeder decided Toffee is still too small to breed – she is quite a petite girl – and we don’t want to risk her health.  So only Violet and Fiona will be expecting in the spring.  However, some other things in life have shifted, and we are trying to be flexible and bend our plans accordingly.  So, in line with that, we will likely be bringing home 1-2 other pregnant ewes when we bring our girls home from the breeder.  From those ewes we will hopefully get a ram lamb that we can raise up to be our own breeding ram.  So we are lined up to have quite a few more babies around the farm in 2017 than we previously expected – first because of the addition of the two pregnant goats, and now with 1-2 more pregnant ewes.  We could potentially have 15 babies born between the goats and sheep!  It will more likely be closer to 10, but that is far more than our previous 2 in one year.  That will make for an exciting and adventurous start to our new year!

Chickens

Because of all the changes in sheep and goat plans we decided that the chicken breeding program will have to wait another year to really get up and going.  We will be getting some female chicks early in 2017 to build up our laying flock again for eggs, and potentially a male or two so that if we have a broody hen she can have some fertile eggs to set on.  But overall no major start back into selective breeding of chickens yet.  We can’t do it all!