Sunday Homestead Update: A Little Bit of Normal

This week definitely felt a little bit more “normal” than our life has felt for many months now. We are getting back into some of our normal activities and farm/homestead related projects. It was nice!

Back in the Kitchen

Canning…fermenting…dairy products….

During the packing, moving, and unpacking, kitchen time was kind of just for survival. We didn’t do anything that would be considered “extra” and above and beyond preparing 3 meals and day and snacks. But things have started to settle and we are getting back into the kitchen. This week we made goat’s milk mozzarella cheese, goat’s milk yogurt, and our first homemade goat’s milk ice cream of the season! I still think sheep’s milk ice cream is far superior to any other ice cream…but we had gotten behind on using our goat’s milk and it was building up so it needed to be used. We all really enjoyed the nice cold treat in the hot weather.

Mine had already melted some in the heat before I got to take a photo of it. But it was still cold and delicious!

We also got some fermenting going again. We filled the crock with sauerkraut and look forward to enjoying it in about 4 weeks.

Lastly, we were given an abundance of cucumbers from someone’s garden, and even though they are not technically pickling cucumbers, we made pickles. There was no way we could eat them all, and a cucumber is a cucumber…they all make pickles even if some are better suited.

Feels good to be back in the homestead kitchen!

Hay

It was time to put up hay for the year again. This year is a bit tricky, since we are increasing our flock size as well as the fact that we are unsure exactly how pasturing will effect the hay consumption. So picking our hay amounts was a bit of a guessing game. We guessed higher than expected, we can always use it next year if there is leftover and with droughts and shortages it is just wise to be careful. So we got about 1/3 of our hay purchased and stored for the year. We will keep plugging away at getting that job finished over the next week or two.

We also built a wall and a big sliding door on the front of the hay barn. It previously had a tarp over it. It is really nice to have a working door now and a solid wall.

Another Duck Tractor

We built another “use-what-you-have” duck tractor using up the sheet metal scraps, PVC pipe, wire, hinges, latches, and plywood we had around. All we had to buy was the wood for the base framing and 4 more wheel “axles.” Both trailers can share the same 4 wheels since we can just hook them on and off and they don’t have to be on both at the same time. We did a little different of a design for this one, putting the end door on the end that has the roof, making it more closed in. Not sure which we like better yet.

So with the addition of the second tractor, we have moved the 10 Muscovys out of the brooder and in one tractor, and the 4 Welsh Harlequins are still in the other one. They are both surrounded by the electric netting chicken fence to keep predators out at night, which is a good thing because we have had a fox coming through every night, and I am sure it would be happy to dine on the ducks.

Guineas?

It was good timing that the Muscovy ducklings moved out of the brooder, because we were surprised with 8 guinea keets this week, which went right into the newly-vacated brooder.

We originally planned to take it slow with livestock additions at the new farm, but situations keep falling in our lap and so we are just going with it. We have never raised guineas before and are interested to see how they do helping with the bug problem, and with snakes. Now a guinea roosting house is on the list to build in the next few weeks.

Milking Parlor

Anyone who has milked an animal in the heat of summer knows how very VERY awful it can be with the flies. We have been milking in one of the stalls of the ewe barn and it is wide open to the world and all the flies. We had several fly traps situated around the area, but despite the fact that they were full, they were not making even a dent in the numbers. After 4 days in a row of the goat kicking the milk bucket over during milking, and thus no milk for us, we decided it was time to do something.

There is an old shed out by the ewe barn. It was used for hay storage. It has two old, broken front doors…

And one big back door that is screwed in place with no hinges and no latch.

And it is located just a few feet from the fence line of the pasture transition pen out by the ewe barn.

Perfectly set to make it a milking parlor!

So we screwed the broken doors shut and put a piece of plywood over them on the inside, sealing that mess off. We will replace them someday, but for now we just wanted to hurry up and get the milking parlor set up. So, sealing that end off was the best idea. Then we put hinges and a latch on the big door, and we opened up the fence line and attached it on each side of the shed. And in about half a day’s work – we had a milking parlor!

It has about 3 flies in it at any given time, and it is making milking SO much more pleasant for both the animals and the humans involved. Over time, we plan to fix it up even more with electricity and better doors and such. But this is such a great start!

LGD

Our new LGD has found her favorite place to lay…a nice soft bed of hay.

She also dug herself a den underneath the feeder for the worst of the heat, you can kind of see the entrance in the photo. She is doing great with the rams and has proven to be a good guard thus far. She is also growing a lot even in just the month of being here.

Sunday Homestead Update – Use What You Have

Another scorcher of a week at the new property. But I think we are all beginning to acclimate and we still got a lot done.

Use What You Have

We have long wanted to be able to use a poultry tractor to graze our poultry, but it was unrealistic at our previous farm. The new farm is the perfect place to graze our poultry, and so building our first tractor was high on the priority list this summer. We ended up with an opportunity to get some ducks last week and jumped on it, so this week we got to work getting the tractor built.

There are so many designs for tractors (or any livestock housing for that matter). Our favorite way to do these things is to go online and look in books for all different ideas, tuck those in our heads, and then walk around the property looking at what we have as far as leftover supplies and “junk.” Then we build what we can with what we have.

That is exactly how we went about building this duck tractor. Steel scraps from the re-roofing of the house a couple years ago, PVC pipe, a roll of chicken wire, some plywood from a previous project, and leftover wheels from a wagon……we bought a few supplies to be able to make what we wanted, the rest were things we had around the farm.

The wheels are removeable so the tractor sits on the ground when not being moved.

Then we put electric chicken netting fence around the tractor to keep predators away at night. We can move the tractor twice before we have to move the fence, and we are finding it all goes quite quick and easy.

This is housing just to be used during the warm weather when we want them grazing and foraging. We will be building permanent housing to be used for winter. For now, the 4 Welsh Harlequins are in the tractor, since they are a bit older and have feathers. The Muscovy’s are still in the brooder until they get more feathers. We are working the tractor around the area we hope to make into the veggie garden for next year. They are grazing on the weeds and grass and eating the bugs, plus adding in their fertilizer. We have LONG wanted to try this out, so this is fun and exciting to see in action. Another tractor is already in the works to hold the Muscovy’s when they are ready, and to use for chickens in the future too.

Chickens

Our 8-year-old, excellent, broody mama-hen, Eve, wanted to set eggs again. This time, instead of giving her our fertile eggs, we gave her fake eggs and then purchased some chicks and put them under her after a couple of weeks. She accepted them beautifully, and now we have 8 chicks being raised by her.

Sheep and Goats

Seeing the sheep and goat on pasture just makes me smile. It is so satisfying. We always wanted to pasture our livestock, but it was not possible at our last farm. So it is a dream a long time coming to watch them eat their way around the property. The electric net fencing is working great. We move it every 4 days or so. They are getting “free” nutrition, and they are improving the soil in the pastures as they go. Win-win.

Heritage Arts

Summer generally is not a big heritage arts time for our family because we are outside so much. But with this super-hot weather, I am finding myself stuck inside more and thus have gotten back into my knitting and crochet projects. I finished the Shimmering Nights Poncho this week and I am very happy with it.

I used the yarn that Daniel made from Freya’s fleece. It is a 2-ply sport weight, and 100% Wensleydale wool. I love how Freya’s yarn keeps the same character that her beautiful locks have when they are on her. It is very drape-y and still looks a little curly.

It felt good to complete a project that has been in the works for awhile due to being set aside during the move.

Garden

Up in the high Rockies we did not deal with many garden pests. The High Plains is a completely different story. We have immense amounts of bugs all wanting to eat our garden. We used some hoop covers to protect some of our container garden, but this week we found that bugs killed our Red Kuri squash.

We found them on the Golden Nugget squash and the cucumber too. So we have covered all of them and are picking the bugs off twice a day in hopes that we can keep it under control and not have them die. We have also left the Red Kuri squash for now, in hopes it might be able to pull through and survive. Time will tell. But finding the bugs on the outside of the tents and finding less and less inside each day is promising. So hopefully the cucumber and Golden Nugget will make it, even if it is too late for the Red Kuri.

All this experience is keeping our minds going as we think and plan for our big veggie garden build for next spring. We are learning what it will take to be successful here, which is good so that we can really plan the garden more carefully and not have to make as many changes later. I am so glad we did some amount of gardening this year, despite the move, so we could see and experience what it is like while we plan the big garden. With the amount of bad bugs we are dealing with, I expect our garden will include a lot of pest control tents, which will also help with the bad hail storms we get out here. But managing them with the wind will be tricky.

The never-ending puzzle and adventure of homesteading! We love it!

Sunday Homestead Update: Plans

Life on a farm is always an adventure. You never know what is going to happen. You can plan well, do everything “right,” and still have things go “wrong.” Successes and failures are all a part of homesteading.

I try to keep these quotes in mind when things happen that don’t go the way we planned or hoped:

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or one’s ‘real’ life. The truth is, of course, that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s real life is a phantom of one’s imagination.” – C.S. Lewis

So we continue to make plans and move forward and adjust as needed when things don’t go how we thought they would. Our wool sheep flock is the current thing on the farm that has not been going how we planned and hoped.

Sheep

Last year we brought in a BFL ram to be our new breeding ram for the wool flock. We were especially excited to cross him over our CVM/Merino ewe, Fiona, because we have really loved the fleece results in the past when we have crossed BFL on fine-wool breeds. While Fiona was the one we were most excited about, we were also looking forward to him covering our other ewes as well. Then, in September, Fiona died suddenly. We were very upset by the loss, but pressed on and decided to bring a Bond ewe into the flock and cross her with the BFL for similar results. She is older and has never lambed before, so it was important to get her bred that season because the risk of complications increases as a ewe ages and hasn’t had her first lambing. After 3 heat cycles, we found out that our breeding ram was sterile. The vet told us it is very rare for rams to be sterile. His fleece was so excellent we decided to keep him as a wether.

We rushed to find another ram while the ewes were still in heat and before breeding season ended and we ended up with a Bond ram that was a proven breeding ram. We were very excited to be pure-breeding the Bond ewe, and crossing the other ewes (dairy and dairy/wool-cross ewes) with the Bond ram, and we were looking forward to what kind of fleece combinations we would get. From all we could tell he settled the ewes.

Fast forward 6+ months…due dates have come and gone and we have had no lambs born. He did not settle even one ewe. Sigh. Two sterile rams in a row…it feels impossible but it is true. And the Bond ram had bred successfully before, as had some of the ewes he was covering. It makes no sense.

Time to re-think and make some new plans. The dairy flock has a new ram for this breeding season, so we are set for that (assuming he is not sterile too – chuckle). As for the wool flock, we are re-setting, thinking about what exactly we would like our wool flock to be, seeing what options are available, and making plans to continue forward. God-willing, there will be changes coming to the wool flock in the next couple of months.

Bloat

We had a bloat scare this week. Our ram lamb, Dusty, bloated Thursday.

We started by treating him with an oil/water/baking soda combination through a syringe into his mouth. Then we used a stick in his mouth (like a horse bit) to get him chewing to try to help him burb. We got a few burbs, but it wasn’t helping enough and he was getting more and more uncomfortable. So, we tubed him. We were able to get quite a bit of air off with the tube. He started to improve a bit at that point and then I was able to dig around in the boxes we still haven’t unpacked and find the vet kit. Once I found the vet kit we gave him some therabloat for good measure. By then he was doing quite a bit better. By morning he seemed fine. What a relief!

Ducks

We got rid of our ducks before the move. We only had 3 and it just made sense to try to simplify the move as much as possible. There was no housing here for them and the list of things to do and build right away was already too long. We were planning to wait until at least fall to get more, but a couple of opportunities have presented themselves for us to get ducklings sooner and we have decided to jump in. So we now have 10 Muscovy ducklings and 4 Welsh Harlequins. We will be building them a tractor soon, and when they are feathered we will move them out to it and start using them to help amend our soil and work on pest control and foraging the pastures.

Heat Wave – Again

The heat continues to pound on us this summer. We got up to 106 in the shade and 109 in the sun! That is hot even for people used to living in the high plains, but for us accustomed to the mountain climate and new to the plains…whew! We are melting. SO grateful for AC.

Sunday Homestead Update: Weeds and Landscaping

Happy Independence Day! We are celebrating our first holiday since we settled in at the new farm. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were both consumed by the selling-the-house and moving stress, so this is really our first one settled. We are having fun making new memories in our new location.

Landscaping

Our current project continues to be weeding and landscaping the areas around the house.

The gravel areas have been neglected for years and thus there is a lot of weeding to do. We are trying to get it all done before they go to seed and dry out, which will just multiply our work in the future. One of the most troublesome weeds we are dealing with is what I think are referred to by a lot of people as “goat heads.” They are weeds that create these very prominent thorn seeds that get stuck in the bottom of your shoes, tires, and dogs’ feet (poor dogs!). So we are really wanting to remove all of those around the buildings so we can all walk in peace.

We have also done some pruning of the few trees we have. They are all more bushy than tree, but we are happy for whatever shade we can get and we are adding more and more trees. The ones that were here when we got here are, I believe, cottonwoods. They have a lot of dead branches and trunks mixed in with the live parts. And they have a lot of suckers at the base. We have been cutting out all the dead stuff.

Garden

Even though we don’t have time to get our big veggie garden up and going this year, we are still anxious to grow some food for ourselves. It has been such a part of our lives for so many years that it is hard to think about going without it. So we have continued adding on to the container garden as we find more containers in the junk around the farm and add them to the containers we already had growing and planted.

Each container has been planted, is sprouting, or has a growing plant in it. We have two types of squash, a tomato, a pepper, chives, valerian, comfrey, peas, strawberries, spinach, lilac, rhubarb, basil, rosemary, savory, cilantro, and thyme growing. We have also planted oregano, sage, lettuce, carrots, and some flowers. Next, I want to add nice gravel around the containers to clean up the area and keep the weeds down, and add a drip system to water it all.