Sunday Homestead Update – First, Mice…Now, Lice!

Last week I discussed our current infestation of mice, and now, this week, we found that our goats have lice.  Sigh.  How did our goats get lice?  We have not brought in any new goats (these lice are species-specific).  The only time they left the farm was in November when Pansy went to get bred.  I have contacted the breeder and she says none of hers have lice.  Strange.  Little Miss spends large amounts of time brushing and grooming and petting and loving on her goat, and definitely would have known if the goat had lice before now.  A few days after the doeling was born, Little Miss found one bug on her.  We checked her and mama over thoroughly and didn’t find anything else, so we didn’t think much of it.  Last week, Little Miss didn’t have time to brush and love on Pansy and baby Pearl much, so several days went by without the normal grooming.  Then, early this week, she went back to her grooming routine and found them both totally infested with lice.  Eeeeek!  and ICK!  Maybe Pansy had a low-grade infestation all along but the grooming kept it under control?  Maybe they got them from the wild deer and elk in the area? (the vet said that is not possible).  I just don’t get it, and that is frustrating because if we don’t know how they got them, how do we prevent it from happening again?

Pansy, wet from her lice treatment

Anyway…I did some research on the internet about goat lice, and man-oh-man this is one of those topics that everyone has their own opinion on and no one seems to agree and I feel like I can’t trust anything I am reading because everyone is so differing in their opinions.  So I decided to try something altogether different, but that my gut was telling me to do.  We have a natural spray that I have used for bug repellent before.  It is an off-label use.  The main ingredient is tea tree oil and our friend uses the spray as an udder wash on her dairy goats, as well as a bug spray for them, and has never had any issues with it.  It is safe for them, even though this use is definitely off-label.  I felt like I should try it out before we went to the usual vet treatments.  Little Miss and I sprayed both of them down and rubbed it well into their fur down to the skin (with a rubber glove on).  We did it at about 10am and we saw millions of lice.  That evening, at barn chore time, we examined them (in the dark of the barn) and could only find 1 moving lice.  The next morning, we sprayed them down and worked it to the skin again.  When we were doing that, we saw that there was a huge decrease in lice, exponentially less.  We are conitnuing the treatments every day or two.  The life cycle is 22 days, so we will just continue this way for awhile and hope that it works.

As far as the mouse infestation goes…we continue to catch 12-15 mice daily.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I find this crazy and don’t know how to get ahead of this issue.  It seems they are multiplying faster than we can catch them.  We will press on and hope that the numbers start decreasing soon.  One benefit of the mouse overpopulation is that the barn cats are so busy with the mice that they haven’t had the time or energy to bother the swallows.

Gardens

We had a couple of hard frosts this last week.  All but the newest 2 of the Gooseberry and Currant bushes had put on flowers.  So we blanketed the flowering ones to help keep the flowers alive and increase our harvest.

It worked well and everything survived.

That was likely our last frost, but we are still being careful with putting frost protection on anything we put out because last year we had a surprise frost June 9th.  We have continued to plant and transplant new veggies this week.  We have also been harvesting and using the rhubarb, chives, and asparagus.

The robin population is booming and they are eating our newly planted bean and pea seeds, as well as digging up the Medicinal Herb Garden in search of worms.  The Medicinal Herb Garden doesn’t start really sprouting until mid-June, and all those seeds went in in the fall.  So I am concerned all this robin digging is messing them all up and they wont sprout.  So we put bird netting over that garden.  The robins are none too pleased with the new scenario.  But hopefully we will have some herbs start sprouting in there soon.

Speaking of the Medicinal Herb Garden…that is where our apple trees are planted.  We planted two apple trees in there 2 years ago.  After the first winter, one had died down to the root stock, but started sending up branches from there.  We decided to let it do that.  This last winter was their second winter.  The one that had survived the first winter died down to the root stock, and the other one died BACK down to the root stock again.  It seems these varieties, even though they are supposedly able to survive our cold climate, can’t survive here.  And we have had two very mild winters in a row – so if they can’t handle that, they definitely won’t make it long-term.  So we are re-thinking the apple tree plans now.

Sheep

Votes are in and it was pretty clear what our new ram’s name is…MacDougal.  MacDougal is settling in very well.  He and Remi are living in the bachelor pen together.

Our Livestock Guardian Dog is struggling again this year with the lambs, like she did last year.  She is just about to turn 4-years-old and I think it continues to be a maturity thing.  When the lambs are tiny, and stay close to their moms, and the moms are very protective, she is fine with them.  In fact, she is excellent with them.  She will belly crawl over submissively to sniff them and check them out and respects the ewes.  But as they get bigger, and start to run and play, and the ewes are not very protective anymore, then she starts to get into trouble.  She can’t resist the running, bouncing, playing lambs (who could!?) and wants to run and play with them (heck, I want to run and play with them too!).  The problem is that she is 110 lbs of dog, and wants to play like a dog, and they are much smaller lambs, who play like lambs.  The main issue is that she grabs one of their back legs and holds it, while they run along.  She is gentle and doesn’t break the skin or anything, but this has led to some limping lambs, both last year and this year.  The limp goes away after a couple of days, but it is still not good.  So we have been spending extra time training with her this week and teaching her this is not OK.  And she has also had to spend some extra time living in the back pen with the males when we can’t be keeping an eye on the situation.  Overall, she is an amazing LGD, and we fully expect her to grow out of this and not have this issue every year.  The training this week has shut it down…for now…but we will keep an eye on things.

Is Marigold pregnant?  Or not?  We are not sure.  She is supposedly 10 days from her due date, but we are not seeing very clear signs to support this.  We are wondering if she didn’t take, or if she didn’t take and then got bred at a later date than we thought.  We are keeping an eye on her, and we have her on the end-of-pregnancy diet just in case.  But I am guessing we are done lambing for the season.  Time will tell…she might surprise us.

Chickens

Our very awesome, sweet, friendly rooster, Ben, had moved into the bachelor pen because we can’t use him for breeding anymore since we kept him so long and now would be doing some major inbreeding if we kept using him.  But he is so great and gentle that it seemed a waste to eat him.  So we decided to separate him out for now, and let our new roo, Nilo, do a year or two of breeding and then bring Ben back once we had less of his daughters and grand-daughters in the flock.  Well, some friends came by to drop off fiber at the mill and look at our sheep and they saw Ben and heard his story.  They have a flock of free-ranging hens and would like to have a rooster to protect them, but have had trouble with mean roosters and didn’t want to deal with that.  So Ben has now moved on to live with them.  He seems happy to have a flock to look after again, and it will be a very nice home for him.

Ben the rooster, with the flock last year

The oldest hen on our farm, a Silkie named Eve, has been setting eggs and raising chicks for us for many years now.  She is 7 years old and still lays 4 eggs a week when she is not brooding.  She raises anywhere from 1-3 clutches of chicks for us every year.  What a great hen!  Well, she is at it again, setting on 6 eggs.  I put another 5 in the incubator because she can raise more chicks than the amount of eggs she can fit on (she is a bantam), and it will make up for any loss we have too so she is raising a full clutch.  All 5 eggs in the incubator are fertile (good job, Nilo!) but I haven’t gotten around to candling the ones under Eve yet.  I expect they are all fertile too.  They will hatch out next week.

Eve

In the Farm Kitchen

We have continued making dairy products with all this fresh goat and sheep milk.  This week we made more yogurt, mozzarella, and our first batch of chevre.

I have also been making some herbal medicines this week.  I made an Arnica/Comfrey salve, and a liver cleanse tincture.

Meet the Newest Member of the Flock

The newest addition to our flock joined us from Iowa this week.  It is our new breeding ram!  He is still waiting for a name, see below to vote and help us choose.

He is a Bluefaced Leicester, born in February of this year.  BFL sheep are a long-wool breed known for having the softest wool among the long-wool breeds.  They are also known for their ability to create very nice cross-bred lambs, and were originally referred to as “the great improver” for this ability.  As you can see, they have a very distinct head shape that makes them very recognizable among the breeds.

We have processed fleece from his lines this year, and when we saw the quality, length, and softness we knew that this is where we wanted to obtain our next breeding ram.  His fleece should cross beautifully with Fiona’s and give us lambs with length but softness, just like our previous ram, Fergus, who was a “mule” with my very favorite fleece ever.  He will also cross nicely on the dairy ewes and give their lambs’ hardiness and a longer fleece length.  BFLs were used in the creation of the British Milk Sheep.  Since British Milk Sheep are not available in the US at this time, we figured we could do a little breeding of our own to work towards something similar.

Our plan for our milk sheep breeding program is to make hardier milk sheep that perform well in our cold climate, have a fleece that is good for machine-processed yarn, and still have good dairy qualities.  The first ewe lamb in our plan was born this year.  Nora is a cross between an East Friesan milk ewe and a BFL/CVM (“mule”) wool ram.  When she lambs next year and we are able to milk her, we will be able to see if we lost the milk qualities in the cross.  We can already tell that we gained good wool qualities in the cross, though until her fleece is processed next year we wont know for sure how good.  This fall, we will be crossing this BFL ram over the milk ewes as another step in the process, to create more lambs like Nora.  Plus, we know that a nice BFL ram crosses beautifully with our CVM/Merino wool ewe, Fiona, and makes lambs with really great yarn fleece.  So he will be a benefit to both our wool sheep breeding and our milk sheep breeding.  We are looking forward to seeing where this takes us.  Always an adventure!

We have a British Isles theme going with our breeding wool sheep names…Fiona, Fergus, Agnes, Duncan, Daphne, and Nora are some we have used over the years.  At this point we have narrowed it down to two options for this new ram: Macdougal (Doug for short) or Declan.  Please vote in the comments section and let us know which one you like best.

Sunday Homestead Update – Graduation and Mice

This was a big week for our family.  Our oldest son, Young Man, graduated high school this weekend.  We are very proud of him and his accomplishments.  He is a man of good character and I know he will do great things in his life.  He has been accepted to a University for this fall.  Even though his graduation didn’t look like we had planned, due to covid, it was still a fun and special time.

This is also a big milestone for Mtn Man and I, as this is our first child to graduate from homeschool.  We have homeschooled him all the way from kindergarten.  It is very cool to think back to when we decided to homeschool.  I remember being excited, but also somewhat concerned.  Now, here we are, and we can see clearly that all the concerns we had back when we started have proven to not be a problem, and in fact, everything turned out wonderfully.  We are so glad we chose this path for our family.

Our area in the Rockies is having quite a mouse infestation this spring.  Everyone we have talked to is having the same issues we are – mice, mice, and more mice.  We have two barn cats, and one indoor cat.  They have in the past had no trouble keeping our mouse problem non-existent and we usually only need one trap in the garage and a couple other areas they can’t get to, just in case, though it rarely catches much.  Not this year!  And it is not for a lack of trying either.  The indoor cat has left us little “presents” – as cats tend to do – of tails in the morning on the floor in the center of the kitchen (ick!!!).  And the kids have spotted the barn cats with mice in their mouths, and found plenty of evidence of them as they leave their parts in the alley between the barn and the mill.  One day, the kids saw one of the barn cats with three mice in his mouth at one time!  So the cats are working on it.  But there are just too many.

A few weeks ago, when we started to notice the problem, we set a bunch of traps in all the outbuildings and the garage where the cats can’t go, plus some in the gardens.  We have 16 traps set and we check them each morning.  We have been catching 8-11 mice every single day!  We have caught 2 and 3 mice in one trap at a time several times.  It is kind of freaking me out how many there are.  Then we heard them in the attic, so we set 5 traps up there and caught 12 mice over 3 days time.  We were still hearing them, so we closed the barn cats up there for one night and that took care of that.  Because we have been catching so many, and because the mice have been eating the seedlings in the lower garden, we bought another 15 traps and set them.  The first morning after setting all the new ones in addition to the others, we had caught 19 mice!  Needless to say, we are up to our ears in mice here right now.  I am anxious to “flatten the curve,” so to speak, of the mice plague and hope we see that difference soon.

Additionally, we are overrun with tiny sprouting pine trees in the gardens.  They are everywhere, and we are fine with them being everywhere – except the gardens.  Last fall, when the seeds were falling, we could see that it was a BIG pine seed year.  They coated every surface and we could hear them popping out of the cones.  We had a constant gentle falling of pine seeds with their little wings to bring them down and spread them far and wide.  Well, they really like the garden soil, so we are pulling up hundreds of them each day out of the gardens as they sprout.

Gardens

The gardens are continuing to progress along – except where the mice are eating them.  We are still getting some frosts at night, so we are watching closely and blanketing as needed.

The gooseberry bushes are covered with flowers, as is the Crandall Clove Currant.  It is looking to be a big year for berries here.  I love the Crandall flowers because they smell like clove, so there is a little cloud of clove smell whenever you walk by them.

Barnyard

The babies are all growing and changing.  Nora’s tail fell off, and Misty’s is looking very close.

Nora is the sweetest, friendliest little sheep we have ever had.  She comes to us for petting like a dog and follows us around in the barnyard.  I can’t take a photo unless I am petting her because she wont stay far enough back from me.  Such a sweetie – which is great because we are keeping her for our breeding program.

Maggie is due in 2.5 weeks.  She is starting to get some roundness to her belly, but nothing major.  Hopefully a nice, normal-sized single lamb for this first-time mom.

Pallet Walkway

5 years ago we put in this walkway, built completely of pallet wood.  You can read about it and see photos by clicking here.  And you can read a year later update on it by clicking here.

Over the last 5 years it has grayed a lot, but is still holding up very well, except in one spot.  There is one spot on the north side of the building, where water and snow just kind of sit on the walkway and it doesn’t dry out very fast.  This section had several boards break in it this last year.  So Mtn Man tore out the broken sections and replaced it with fresh pallet wood.  A free fix!

We continue to be very happy with this free walkway, it has worked great for our yard and held up very nicely.  We would like to sand it and put sealant on it again one of these days, but even without that work, it is doing very well.

Kitchen

The milk keeps flowing – both sheep and goat.  This week we made yogurt, goat’s milk mozzarella, and stirred-curd cheddar with sheep’s milk.  Fun, fun!

2020 Willow Creek Farm Yarn – Milk Sheep Flock

You can read about the yarn we made this year from our wool-bred sheep by clicking here.

This was somewhat of an experimental year for fiber processing for our sheep this year.  With the addition of 5 milk sheep last fall, we were unsure what to expect from their fleece.  So this shearing and processing we are just “playing” with the new fiber to figure out what it is like and what it should become.  Our goal was to make each fleece into yarn, unless for some reason it couldn’t be or shouldn’t be.  Then we could determine if it made a nice yarn or was more suited to roving for rugs next year.

All the fleece were heavy on the vegetable matter (VM) because they were not jacketed until they came to us last fall.  So they had half a year’s growth without a jacket.  We expect next year to be a lot cleaner.  In addition, our 15-year-old daughter, Sunshine, wanted to learn how to shear this year.  So we let her shear the three smallest sheep.  This led to uneven shearing and fleece, which leads to uneven yarn with flubs.  We are fine with that because we want her to have the opportunity to learn, and since this was just an experimental year anyway, with a lot of VM, we are not expecting to get high-quality product from the dairy fleece this year anyway.  We also had a higher than average percentage of loss on the fiber, due to the second cuts (shearing) and the VM.

Autumn

Autumn is a 2-year-old East Friesian/Lacuane with a dark brown fleece.  Her tips were very sun-bleached this year because she wasn’t jacketed before we got her, so her finished yarn was a lighter shade of brown that it would be if it wasn’t bleached.  This year her fleece weighed in at 1.5 lbs and had a staple length of 3.5 inches.  It was more curl than crimp, but still had good memory to it.  Memory in a fleece means it “bounces back” to it’s original position well, as-in it is firmer hold, not floppy.  Her yarn reflected that.

Her fleece produced 12 ounces of 3-ply DK-weight (10 wpi) yarn.  There is 375 yards of it, in two skeins.  The yarn has a lot of memory, and is surprisingly soft.  There is a tiny bit of itch-factor, but not enough to make it not work as a hat.  It is a beautiful shade of dark brown.

Mtn Man loved this yarn and wanted me to make him a simple, ribbed hat with it.  The hat turned out very nice and he absolutely loves it and wears it often.

Daisy

Daisy is a white, yearling East Friesian/Lacaune.  Her fleece this year weighed in at 2.1 lbs raw, and had a staple length of 3.5 inches.  It was very lofty and had a very squishy feel.  It was VERY dense, and had a pretty organized crimp.  We found it to be surprisingly soft as a raw fleece, which did not turn out to be true with the yarn.

Her yarn was, in fact, very itchy.  To the point that it will be used as rug yarn.  The yarn it made was also very uneven, with a lot of flubs – this is because Sunshine sheared Daisy as her first-ever shearing experience.  So the fleece had drastically different lengths to the fiber throughout due to uneven shearing.  This causes uneven yarn and flubs.

The fleece produced 25 ounces of 3-ply DK-weight (12 wpi) yarn.  We ended up with 900 yards.

Blue

Blue is a yearling East Friesian/Cotswold with a white fleece.  Her raw fleece was 1.9 lbs and had a 4.25 inch staple length.  It had more curl than crimp, and was soft with a mild sheen, reminiscent of BFL wool.

Blue’s fleece produced 19 ounces of 3-ply fingering-weight (17 wpi) yarn.  We got 1000 yards from it.  We were very happy with the yarn, it is soft with no itchiness.  It has a slight sheen to it, and is floppy with very little memory.

It did run unevenly, due to Sunshine shearing Blue as well.  It did not let go of the vegetable matter very well either, and it will have to be picked out as I knit with it.  But both of those issues can be avoided next year by having a better shearing, and being jacketed all year to help prevent VM.  This fleece puts Blue in an important position for our breeding program, as we are trying to have sheep that milk well but also produce a nice fleece.

Maggie

Maggie is a yearling East Friesian/Cotswold mix with a dark brown fleece.  She is Blue’s twin sister, though their fleece are very different.  She had a very nice fleece this year that we were very excited about processing.  It was the heaviest of the dairy ewe fleeces, at 2.2 lbs raw, despite her being the smallest sheep in the flock.  Her staple length was also the longest at 5.25 inches.  Her fleece was very dense and soft, with a very organized, wavy crimp.  It was by far the nicest of the dairy sheep fleece, and could be in the category of a wool-bred sheep fleece.  The problem came when we realized it had a break in it.  You can learn about what a break is by clicking here.

To deal with the break and attempt to salvage the fleece, Mtn Man decided to hand break it and use the longer parts for yarn, and the shorter ones for roving.  It worked beautifully!

The longer part of the break produced 16.7 ounces of a 3-ply fingering-weight (16 wpi) yarn.  We got 750 yards from it.  The yarn is very soft, no itch-factor, and has good memory.  I am so excited to use this beautiful chocolate brown yarn to knit up something wonderful.  I am thinking a sweater or hoodie for Mr. Smiles.

The shorter parts of the fleece gave us 3/4 lb of roving that we will use for rug braiding.

Overall, Maggie’s fleece was excellent and we are very happy with the results.  Between the nice length and the softness, her fleece is exactly what we are breeding for here at WCF.  She will be an important part of our breeding program in our attempts to have sheep that have nice fleece as well as being good dairy producers and hardy for the high-altitude climate.

Remi

Remi is a yearling East Friesian/Lacaune ram with a white fleece.  His fleece weighed 2.4 lbs raw, and had a staple length of 4.25 inches.  At first look, Remi’s fleece was more of what we were expecting the dairy fleece to be like:  kind of mediocre for wool, with not much crimp and not soft.  It was dense, but that was about all we thought it had going for it….until we started processing it.

Upon washing, it suddenly had quite a lot of crimp and felt very soft.  Strange, we have never had that happen before.  Did we not examine it well enough beforehand?  When it got through the machines to roving, we had a beautiful, very soft roving.  I was so excited to see it spun up.

Remi’s fleece gave us 26.9 ounces of 3-ply sport-weight (14 wpi) yarn.  There are 1,175 yards and Mtn Man blended it with bamboo, so it is 85% wool 15% bamboo.  The bamboo was pre-dyed navy blue, and when mixed with the white it is a nice speckled color.

 

Overall, it was a very good learning year for the milk sheep fleece.  I have a ton of yarn that I need to start using, and we know better what to expect from their fleece.  This will also help us in our decision-making as we are trying to selectively breed our milk sheep to have both nice fleece and good milk production.

That finishes our yarn production from our flock for 2020.  Overall, we ended up with 7,025 yards of all different colors and weights of yarn from our wool and milk sheep.  I better get knitting!

2020 Willow Creek Farm Yarn – Wool Sheep Flock

This was a different year for us as far as fleece and fiber processing goes.  Last summer and fall we sold most of our wool sheep and added several dairy sheep to the flock.  Leaving us with only 2 wool sheep fleece this year.  They are sheep we have had a long time, Fiona and Fergus, and thus we are very familiar with their fleece and what we like to do with them.

Fergus

Fergus was a 3-year-old CVM/Merino x BFL ram.  He has always had my favorite fleece of our flock each year.  Since we had to cull him back in December, this was our last fleece from him.  It was shorter than usual, since he didn’t have a full year’s growth.  But it was just as wonderful as it always is.  It weighed in at 3.9 lbs raw.

Since this was our last year with Fergus’ fleece, Mtn Man decided to try something different with the processing.  Fergus had quite a range of grey color, from very light, to medium, to very dark.

So Mtn Man separated the light section from the darker sections and ran them separately.  Then he put them together at the pin drafter.  This made for a more heathered appearance to the yarn, instead of his usual medium-grey.  He also mixed in bamboo at the pin drafter, which is my favorite thing to do with Fergus fleece.  The bamboo adds strength, and just a tad of color, and makes for excellent, warm socks, which is mainly what I think I will do with this yarn.

His fleece produced 62.4 oz of 3-ply, DK-weight (11 wpi) yarn.  The yarn is 15% bamboo, which was pre-dyed a forest green.  There are 1,250 yards of it.  The yarn feels great.  It has loft and memory and is soft enough to be used against the skin.  It was very difficult to get a photo that showed the true color and heathering of the yarn.  But the bamboo fiber that was blended in was a dark forest green.  So it is a dark, heathered grey with a touch of the dark forest green.  I am very happy with it and looking forward to making it into some wonderful knit items for my family.

Fiona

Fiona was our first-ever sheep at Willow Creek Farm, and she is the flock matriarch.  She is 7 years old, and this was the first year we began to see her age in her fleece.  Generally between 6-8 years old the fleece quality begins to go downhill.  Fiona had less crimp than usual, but her fleece was still very soft and wonderful, with a nice crimp and some light luster.  It weighed in at 4.1 lbs and had a nice, long staple length.

Fiona’s fleece never runs evenly when machine-processed.  I don’t know what it is about it, probably how very fine it is, but it never runs even.  So I have learned to embrace it as somewhat of a novelty yarn each year.  Mtn Man added in 15% bamboo on her fleece this year, in a pre-dyed turqouise, so the yarn is speckled with color.  I am really enjoying the bamboo/wool blend yarns and was very happy with this decision.

There is 37.5 oz and 1,575 yards of 3-ply sport-weight (13 wpi) yarn.  The yarn is very soft and squishy, with a pretty good amount of memory.  I am trying to decide what to do with it.  It matches nicely with a purple bamboo blend Fiona yarn that I have from a few years ago.  I only have a little of that one left, but think maybe the two would look nice together.  With all the year’s fleece done into yarn now, I have a lot of knitting projects ahead of me!

I will share our milk sheep yarn for the year in the next post.