Embarking on a New Journey

Life is interesting. It changes while you are not looking. If you had asked me a few years back if I ever thought we would leave our beautiful little backyard homestead in the high Rockies, I would have said no. And yet here we are, embarking on a new journey.

This little farm has served our family well over the last 9 years. We have improved it and built it into exactly what we wanted. It has brought us such joy and we have counted ourselves very blessed to be able to live here. But our life has shifted in many ways over the years that we have been here. We have three acres, and really are only able to homestead one of those acres due to the terrain. Our homesteading dreams have long outgrown this little space. But more than that, our youngest child has extremely rare, life-threatening medical issues. The pediatric hospital is 2 hours away. For the first few years of his life, the doctors were hopeful they could fix his issues and that he would eventually not need the hospital except for once-a-year check-ups with his specialists. It has become clear that that is not what is going to happen and he will continue to need the pediatric hospital and his specialists often.

It was time for a change. We need to be closer to the hospital, and we need more space to expand this homesteading life that brings us joy through the trials. And so, we are moving. We are trading in our 5-foot deep spring snows and cool mountain air for hail and 100-degree days in August. We are trading in pack rats and black bears for prairie dogs and rattlesnakes.

This is going to be a huge shift for us. We have been “High-Altitude Homesteaders” for a very long time. Our farm has been an efficiently set up, 1-acre, backyard farm in the mountains. And now…..we are going to have a 30-acre farm out on the open prairies! Many things will be easier…longer growing season…less predators…warmer climate…pastures for the livestock….etc. And yet, it will be very different and there is going to be SO much for us to learn.

We are very excited for this new adventure! We want to learn new ways of homesteading. We want to increase all our homestead production and feed our family off the land more than we can here. AND…we will only be 45 minutes from the pediatric hospital – which will make hospital life much easier. Now we will view the high Rockies, that we have called home for so long, from afar.

We plan to take you all on this new adventure with us. But for now, even though I just got back from a blogging hiatus, I need to be off the computer and working on getting our entire family, school, farm, and business moved and settled in a new location. So I will say good-bye for now…but I will be back again soon with an entirely new journey to share.

Willow Creek Farm Shearing – 2021

We finished shearing all the sheep that are shorn annually (Freya, the Wensleydale is shorn twice a year). We are happy with the variety and quality we got this year, and looking forward to all the yarn and roving we will get from them.

Our flock is changing and improving and has taken some interesting turns in the last couple of years. We now have a dairy flock, which we are breeding for milk qualities, but also crossing to try to improve the wool. And we still have our wool flock. Our wool flock has become better and better through the years as we have been able, through the fiber mill we own, to really find the best of the best when it comes to fleece quality. A lot of different fleece come through the mill and when we find a breeder that has consistently good fiber that really shows the best of the breed, we have bought sheep from them to add to our flock. So we are getting more and more excited about the fleece we are producing.

Daisy

Daisy is a 2-year-old dairy sheep – an East Friesian/Lacaune. Her fleece tends to be too rough and scratchy for yarn, but we like to make it into roving to use in our braided rugs. Daisy’s fleece this year weighed in at 4.4 lbs raw skirted. It had a 3.5 inch staple length and was heavy in grease. It is lofty with a squishy handle and crimp. Just like last year, it is very dense.

Blue

Blue is also a 2-year-old dairy sheep – East Friesian/Cotswold. Her fleece this year weighed 5.3 lbs raw skirted. Her fleece is drape-y and somewhat soft, reminiscent of a fine Romney wool sheep. It has moderate crimp. It has some sheen and the staple length this year was a nice, long 5.5 inches. We like to make Blue’s fleece into yarn and this year we plan to dye it.

Nora

Nora is a wool/dairy mix sheep. Her mother is Daisy (above) and her father was a BFL/CVM wool ram. She is a 1-year-old East Friesian/BFL/CVM ewe. We crossed her mother to our wool ram to see if we could improve the softness on her mother’s fleece, while still keeping dairy qualities. She has yet to lamb, so we don’t know about the dairy qualities yet, but the fleece seems to fall exactly in between her mother’s and father’s fleece for qualities. It is definitely softer and finer than Daisy’s, but just as dense. It has an organized crimp and no sheen, but and is just slightly longer than her mother’s at 4.25-inch staple. Her fleece this year weighed in at 4.1 lbs raw skirted. We plan to try it as yarn and see how much itch-factor it has.

Matilda

Matilda is new to our flock and we are very excited about her fleece. She is a Bond ewe (wool breed) and is 5 years old. Her fleece is a beautiful example of a Bond with very organized crimp and nice luster. It is very soft and fine. Her staple length this year was about 4.25 inches and her fleece weighed 6.3 lbs raw skirted. We will definitely be making this to yarn.

MacDougal

MacDougal is a yearling Blue-Faced Leicester (BFL) wether. He was purchased to be our breeding ram last year, but turned out to be sterile. But his fleece is so great (and he is so friendly) that we decided to wether him and keep him for his fleece. This is our first fleece from him. His fleece this year weighed in at 3.8 lbs raw skirted with a 6.5 inch staple length. It is a beautiful example of BFL, with a very interesting crimp/curl. His locks (which aren’t quite locks, but also not quite NOT locks) are lustrous and soft. We are looking forward to the yarn that this fleece will make.

Nilsson

I forgot to take a photo of Nilsson before shearing this year without his jacket on! Sigh. Next year I will get one.

Nilsson is a 6-year-old Bond ram. He is our new breeding ram and we are very excited about the quality of his fleece. It has won Champion ribbons in fleece shows over the years and his genetics will add a lot to our flock. His fleece weighed in at 8 lbs raw skirted this year and had a 4.5 inch staple length. It has a very organized crimp with great, squishy handle. It is very soft and has nice mild luster. It is a beautiful example of a Bond fleece and we are so excited to make yarn with it.

Meet Briar

We welcomed a new little addition to the farm this last week. Belle had herself an adorable buckling that we named Briar.

He is growing daily, sometimes it feels like hourly, and getting stronger and more active. And he is SO cute. We are very happy for a safe delivery of this little guy and are looking forward to fresh milk for our family in the next week or so.

Sunday Homestead Update – Snowy Spring

It has been awhile since I took a break from blogging…so what have we been up to?

Our 5-year-old son had another ER visit, hospitalization, and surgery (his 24th). It continues to be a hard road with his medical issues. This round came on fast and strong and was pretty scary. But he is doing better now and we are thankful for that and hopeful to have a nice long break from the pediatric hospital.

We have had a wet, snowy spring. We had one big spring snow that buried us for a few days.  We played board games and stayed in our pjs, as well as bundling up to play outside and dig paths for the livestock to make it to the water trough.  And then we have had several weeks where we had snow off and on for days. The moisture is good, especially after last year’s bad fire season.

The big snow we had was deep and didn’t even begin to melt for over a week. During that time the predators started getting desperate and we had a mountain lion and a bobcat both looking to eat our livestock in broad daylight on two different days. Between our Livestock Guardian Dog and us humans we were able to keep them away and nothing bad happened.

Sheep

We got all the sheep sheared and are starting to process all the wool into roving and yarn in the mill.

Daisy’s twin lambs have thrived and grown so much! They are doing very well.

We have not been milking Daisy due to things going on in our life that are keeping us too busy right now. We might start milking her after the goat has her kids in the next few weeks since we will be milking the goat anyway. The rest of the ewes are due to lamb at the end of May and into June.

Goat

Belle is due to kid this week. She is looking very wide and we are expecting twins. It will be nice to have fresh goat’s milk again, not to mention the adorable kids bouncing around!

Chickens

We had a very cool visitor to the chicken pen the other night. It was a windy night and we didn’t latch the exterior pen (the chickens were all closed into the coop). The door must have blown open, allowing the visitor entrance, and then blown closed, trapping the visitor inside. When we came out in the morning we were pretty excited to get a close-up view of this beautiful Northern Saw-Whet owl. It was so tiny and seeing it from a few feet away was amazing! We looked at him/her and took photos for a couple of minutes and then opened the door. He/she flew off with no issues, glad to be free again.

Garden

In between snow storms we have prepared the garden soil and laid out drip lines for this year. We have also started seeds indoors and they are all sprouting like crazy. Hard to believe another garden season is starting soon – especially with all this snow.

Heritage Arts

I finished the sweater I was making for Mtn Man. We both love how it turned out and he has been enjoying wearing it through this snowy spring! I used yarn he made from a fleece from our ram, Fergus. It was a 4-ply worsted weight from his 2018 fleece.

This was my first time using my newly purchased book “The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Top-Down Sweaters” by Ann Budd. I have many of her books and love them all and this one did not disappoint. It is already one of my favorites and I know I will use it over and over again for years to come. I love the books she has written that make it so you can use any yarn and make any size because they have charts for all different gauges and sizes. Perfect for a family of 7 that I love to knit items for. And perfect for all the different gauges of yarn we make from our sheep fleece.

Writing

I have done some more writing for Mother Earth News and will share links and info as it becomes available. Watch for my article in the June/July print issue “Ask the Experts” column!