Sunday Homestead Update – Spring Feel Despite “Stay-at-Home” Order

Our state has issued a stay-at-home order (shelter-in-place) for 3 weeks.  Mtn Man is almost out of work, as no new fiber has been coming into the mill in the last few weeks, likely due to the cancellation of many fiber festivals etc.  Plus the fact that many of our customers’ farms are their secondary job, and if they lost their primary job they can’t afford to have fiber processed, so we are not sure when to expect it to pick back up again.  Mtn Man has been able to find a second job to do while he finishes up what fiber is in the mill and he can keep it into the fall if needed depending on what happens with the fiber industry over the summer.  It does not pay enough, but it is something, and for that we are grateful.  Thankfully, we are doing OK on supplies and food, with more on the way as we get into gardening season and lambing/kidding season.  The cushion that homesteading provides is going to become essential to our family this year I think.

The steadiness and routine of the farm also brings comfort to us in the chaos.  Even though up here in the high Rockies we are still at least a month from what most people would consider spring to feel like, it is indeed spring here.  Spring here still means cold and snow, but it also means certain things start happening on the farm.

Garden

We planted our first seeds indoors under the grow lights this week.  Let gardening season begin!

Sheep

We are less than a week from Autumn’s due date.  So…we will potentially have our first baby lamb(s) of the season by our next Sunday Homestead Update!  And not long after we will begin milking our first dairy sheep.

Her udder is building up nicely, though her belly seems not-too-big, so we are guessing a single lamb, or very small twins.  She had twins last year, which was her first lambing season.

Heritage Arts

I finally finished the front half of my Match Play poncho.  Knitting has taken such a back seat the last few months that I feel like my progress on any knitting projects is crawling, especially because all the projects I have on the needles are large ones.  So it was really nice to finish something, even if it is not finished, just half-finished.  And I really love it and will enjoy wearing it whenever I finally get it finished.

Sunday Homestead Update

Being stuck at home when you already spend the majority of your time at home and have a homestead doesn’t really change much in your lifestyle.  There is an endless to-do list and always something to work on to keep ourselves busy.  It actually means we have more time to spend on those things.  I really feel for all those who are being significantly negatively effected by all this.  Hang in there!

Garden

We had a few warm days this week in which we continued work on the new garden fencing.  All the fencing is up except the gate, and we have about 3/4 of the chicken wire up and buried around the entire fence.  Because the fence is made of a plastic netting material, we have to attach chicken wire to the bottom 2-feet of the fence so bunnies can’t chew in, and then the chicken wire also gets buried for about a foot out so they can’t dig in.  I would include a picture, but at the end of the week we got a nice big dumping of wet spring snow on us, so I can’t take a picture because it is buried in snow.

Cleaning, Organizing, Mending, Sewing, etc…

While the snow has been flying, we have been working on indoor projects.  Cleaning and organizing in the basement areas, finishing hanging decor in the basement (we completed the remodel a year ago but haven’t finished hanging up decorations), fixing odds and ends here and there that get ignored for more crucial things.  Plus, the girls and I have been doing a lot of sewing and mending catch up that has been piling up for months.  There was a mount Everest sized pile of jeans that needed patching (I know, holes in jeans are in style right now – but I guess we just aren’t in style and we are OK with that).

Chickens

One of our full-sized hens, Cinnamon, has decided to set.  We are happy about this because for a couple years now we have only had bantam hens willing to set, and they can’t set as many eggs – though they are great mamas.  So we set her up in the broody coop with 12 eggs.  Looking forward to seeing how she does.

We are having some trouble with our rooster situation.  We have had so many mean roosters over the years that we are constantly changing them out, until Ben came along a couple years ago.  He is a very gentle and kind rooster, both with the hens and with the humans.  Plus, he has all the features we are wanting to breed into our chickens (small comb and wattles, good body size, feathered legs, cold hardiness).

Ben the rooster front right

So we have happily kept him around for years now and enjoyed having a nice rooster.  But now our flock is starting to get too closely bred, and we don’t want to cross the line into too much inbreeding.  So last year we bought some Dark Brahma roos, hoping one could replace Ben.  Long story short, they ended up aggressive and didn’t work out.  Then we decided to buy some hens from the hatchery, but the hatchery messed up and didn’t ship them and we didn’t want to do a second brooding this year.

However, we were able to hatch out one rooster from those Dark Brahma genetic lines late last fall.  The kids call him Nilo.  Nilo joined the large flock with Ben when he was a little guy.  We have found that if we have an adult roo with the flock, and we put in a young roo and let him grow up in the flock, they generally don’t start fighting each other.  It isn’t until we separate them apart from each other that we are unable to put them back together due to fighting.  Well, a few weeks ago we noticed that Nilo was getting himself into trouble bothering the hens, which would cause fights between him and the hens, and then Ben would come running to protect his hens and break up the fight and Nilo would run away and chill out.  It looked like Ben had it under control, but then one day when we were closing them all in for the night a couple hens and Ben went after Nilo very aggressively, causing comb injury, and we had to separate them.

Since we are eager to open up the flock genetics some, after Nilo’s comb healed, we put Ben in a rooster pen alone and put Nilo with the hens to see if he can #1 be nice to the hens and get along with them, #2 continue to be nice with humans, and #3 give us some chicks to open up the genetics.  Time will tell.  If he gets aggressive with us or can’t settle the girls then he will have to go and we will put Ben back in.  At which point we will really need to bring in some more hens that aren’t related to Ben so we can continue forward.

What is a “Break in the Fleece”? — Willow Creek Fiber Mill

This shearing season we found that one of our new sheep, Maggie, had a significant break in her fleece.  It offered a good opportunity to do a post about what a break in a fleece is, how it is caused, and how to manage it and prevent it.

What is a break in a fleece?

A break in a fleece is a section of the fibers that, due to any number of different causes, is much thinner and weaker than the rest of the fiber.  You can usually see the break with the naked eye if you hold a section of the fibers up towards a light source.  It will look like a line running perpendicular to the fibers.

Upon closer inspection, you can see that the line you are seeing is actually a section of each fiber that is much thinner than the rest of it.  It is all along all the fibers in the same location because it happened to the entire fleece at the same time while it was growing.

A break in the fleece will literally break right at that spot along every fiber if there is any tension put on it.  This will potentially mess up the ability for the fleece to be processed.  As you can see in this picture, we pulled slightly on the top section of fibers and it broke right at the line.

What causes a break in a fleece?

Ultimately what causes the break is a lack of enough nutrition and energy for the sheep’s body to be able to put energy into growing a good fleece.  Any number of stressors can cause that lack: moving to a new location or changing flocks and “pecking” order, poor diet or change in diet, stressful breeding situations, pregnancy and lambing, lactation, or predator attacks.

For our sheep, Maggie, the move to our farm from her previous home, and the stresses involved, are what caused the break.  She is the bottom of the pecking order, she was really afraid of the LGD when she arrived, and she overall struggled for the first month or so after arrival to fit in and settle.  Because of the bullying and her fear of everything, she didn’t eat enough, and thus the break in the fleece.

We once had a set of fleece come in where many sheep in the flock had a break half-way through the fiber length.  When we contacted the owner of the flock we found a clear answer as to the issue.  A bear had broken into the barn and tried to attack the flock one night.  They didn’t settle for a couple of weeks after that.  It stressed the flock enough to effect their eating for long enough to cause the break on many members of the flock.  Others handled it better and didn’t have any break.

What can you do with a fleece that has a break in it already?

If you put a fleece with a break in it through the carder, all the fibers will break at that weak spot.  If it is far to one end or the other, it could leave fibers that vary a lot in their lengths.  The shorter fibers will act like second cuts and will likely pill as they move through the carder with the longer fibers.  This will give roving that has pills all through it, and if spun will be yarn with pills all through it.

If the break is near the center, thus leaving similar length fibers, it will come out as good roving.  But if the staple length of the broken parts is not long enough for the spinner, then it will not be able to spin and will have to be roving.

If the break is far enough to one end or the other, thus leaving enough length for spinning, the fleece can potentially still be made to yarn without pilling.  But it takes some extra work.  You will have to hand-break the fleece, putting the longer fibers into one batch to go to spinning (assuming the length is long enough), and the shorter ends can potentially be made into roving, or can just be skirted out.

How can you prevent a break in your fleece?

Obviously you can’t always completely prevent a break.  Situations with predators, or moving to new locations or changing flocks are often unavoidable.

The best way to prevent breaks is to be sure that you are always feeding high-quality feed in good quantities.  Also, be sure the feeding area is spread out enough to accommodate the amount of sheep you are feeding with plenty of room.  If they are crowding around feeders or piles of hay the lower sheep in the pecking order are going to get pushed out and will not get adequate nutrition.  And if possible, find ways to give the lowest sheep in the flock extra nutrition when needed.

Lambing often causes a break in the fleece, no matter how good the nutrition situation is.  That is why it is recommended that all pregnant ewes are shorn about 6 weeks before lambing.  That way, the break will be very close to the tip of the fiber, and wont effect its ability to be processed.

via What is a “Break in the Fleece”? — Willow Creek Fiber Mill

Shearing Time 2020 – Remi and Maggie

Shearing season is officially over here at Willow Creek Farm as we sheared our last 2 sheep this week.  Remi and Maggie are new to our farm and thus this is their first shearing with us.  They did not have a full year of growth – more like 10-11 months – so we expect next year’s fleeces to be a bit longer.

Sunshine did part of Maggie’s shearing, which made the 3rd sheep she has partially shorn this year.  Fun!

Since Maggie is Blue’s twin, and Remi is Daisy’s half-sib, we expected these two fleece to be very similar to those two – boy were we wrong!  These two fleece were the heaviest from all the dairy sheep.  Not so surprising for Remi, who is the largest dairy sheep, but very surprising for Maggie, who is the smallest dairy sheep.

Remi

Remi is a white, East Friesan/Lacaune mix with a tiny bit of Polypay and North County Cheviot mixed in too.  He is a yearling, so this is his “baby” fleece.

Remi had the heaviest dairy fleece this year, weighing in at 2.4 lbs raw skirted.

We found his fleece to be pretty mediocre as far as fleece go – which is not unexpected since he is a dairy sheep and thus the focus for his breeding has been dairy traits, not necessarily wool.  It had very little crimp, was not very soft, but had a good staple length at 4.25 inches.  It was nicely dense, which is a good quality.  Hopefully, as we carefully choose who to breed him to, we can improve the fleece somewhat in his offspring.

 

Because of the quality of the fleece, we wont be even trying to process it to yarn as we are with the other dairy fleece this year.  It will become roving to be used to braid rugs.

Marigold

Maggie is a dark brown, East Friesan/Cotswold mix, with a tad bit of Lacaune and North County Cheviot mixed in.  She is a yearling, so this is her baby fleece.

 

Maggie is currently the smallest sheep in the flock, and yet her fleece was the second heaviest of the dairy sheep, weighing in at 2.2 lbs raw skirted.  She is one of the new dairy sheep – but she is one of the two that already has some wool breed mixed in (as does her twin, Blue).

 

Her fleece was slightly sun-bleached, though not as badly as Autumn’s.  It had a lot of vegetable matter in it, despite our best efforts to skirt well and the fact that she was jacketed half the year.  It will be interesting to see if it lets go of it well or not.

The fleece was surprisingly heavy in the grease, and was dense, with a very organized, wavy crimp.

 

She had the longest staple length of all the dairy sheep, at 5.25 inches.

 

Overall, we are very excited about her fleece and are excited to see how it turns out and whether it makes a nice yarn or not.

However….

there is a problem with the fleece.  It has a break in it.  Which gives me a great chance to share with all of you about what a break in a fleece is, what causes it, how to avoid it, and how to manage it.  It is enough information that I would like to do a separate post on it.

Maggie was the most stressed out by the move to our farm.  She is bottom of the pecking order, the smallest sheep, and really disliked the LGD at first.  So the move was very stressful on her.  That is what caused this break.  The good news is that it is pretty far to one end, so Mtn Man has decided to try to hand-break the fleece before processing, then process the shorter ends to roving, and the longer ends to yarn.  Had it been right down the middle, we would only have been able to process to roving.  We will let you know how it goes.

Chick Growth Pictures: Hatch – 8 weeks

Many years ago, for the kids’ science, we took pictures of them holding the same chick each week as the chicks grew to see the growth that chicks do from birth to 6 weeks of age.  I posted the pics on my blog.  The kids were younger and my photography skills were not so great, but the posts have always been very popular on my blog.  Now Young Man loves photography and has agreed to help me do it again, but with even better photos.  I will update the posts each week with the next photos.

Getting the 8-week photos this week was quite hilarious.

The chickens really don’t fit in the photo box any longer.  LOL.  But we managed to coax them to squat down by holding our hands above them enough to at least (somewhat) pull off these photos.  The final photos I will do will be their adult photos, and those ones will have to be done somewhere other than the box.  It looks like the first chick turned out to be a boy, the second a girl, and the third is also a boy.

 

24 hours old

1 week old

2 weeks old

3 weeks old

4 weeks old

5 weeks old

6 weeks old

8-weeks-old

 

24 hours old

1 week old

2 weeks old

3 weeks old

4 weeks old

5 weeks old

6 weeks old

8-weeks-old

 

24 hours old

1 week old

2 weeks old

3 weeks old

4 weeks old

5 weeks old

6 weeks old

8-weeks-old