January Homestead Update – Big Changes

Because of the remodel of the kitchen I haven’t posted all month.  But of course, even though farm blogging stopped, farm life continued to move forward.  The kitchen is coming along nicely and I will go into more detail with that soon.  But for now, let me catch you up on what has happened around the homestead during January.

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The barnyard animals enjoying a rare day of warmth in the sun.

We have learned so many lessons in the 21 months we have lived at the farm.  So many important lessons.  Some hard, some not as hard.  But I think there has been one overall theme/life lesson that has prevailed no matter what we are doing.  Life is a big balancing act.  Time and energy are both limited in our life.  They are precious commodities.  When we choose to spend time/energy on one thing, that means we are choosing against doing something else because we have spent that time/energy already.  We are constantly balancing and re-balancing as days, weeks, months, and seasons change to try to be sure that we are doing what we want to while not going over our time/energy allotment.  And when we do take on too much, and go over our allotment, we end up not doing well at the things we chose.  We find we cannot give 100% to everything when we have taken on more than our time/energy can handle.  I think that just about everyone in the world can say that there is much more that they would like to be able to do than what their time/energy can cover.  So we make choices…every minute, every day, every week we are choosing and prioritizing – re-choosing and re-prioritizing.

January was a big month for putting this lesson into practice at Willow Creek Farm.

Several times during the early days of January we had to choose against big things we really wanted to do because we have chosen to have a milk cow.  She by far takes the biggest chunk of our time/energy spent on farm chores each day.  We have enjoyed having her (and the cow before her) SO much.  They have not only provided our family with awesome raw milk and home-grown beef (via calves), but have built character in us by the huge commitment we had to make to own and care for them properly.  But we realized that we have reached a season in our lives where it is time to choose against spending our time/energy on a milk cow so that we can instead choose towards spending that time/energy in other ways.  We researched other options for obtaining raw milk and found that at this point the cost (financial/time/energy) to care for and milk our own cow exceeds the cost (financial/time/energy) to get the same quality of milk from another source.

So we sold Violet.  She sold almost immediately upon us getting the word out and is going to a great family.  This just confirmed for us that this decision and timing was the right thing.  It is definitely bitter-sweet though, as we are very attached to her.  But we have no doubt that as the time goes on and our time/energy re-balances in a new way we will continue to see this was the right choice.  And we are absolutely NOT ruling out the possibility of having another milk cow at some point in the future.

Bull Calf

Ferdinand has gone from an adorable little baby…

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To a young miniature bull…

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In the next couple of weeks it will be time to butcher him, and he will fill our freezer with healthy, grass-fed, homegrown beef.

Chickens

As I posted last week, the hatch went pretty well and we have 11 chicks in the brooder, and our broody hen, Banana, is raising 4 chicks as well.

The pullets have started laying and are laying well, so our egg numbers are way up, which is a huge blessing.

We have moved the hens from the breeding pen back up to the upper coop to live, and moved another group of girls down to the breeding pen with Boaz for the next hatch (IF Boaz can breed hens again…see below).

Boaz, our second-in-command rooster, has been having issues with one of his feet all month.  I wrote about it briefly, earlier in the month.  It definitely looks like it was frostbite.  The bottom half of the two toes slowly turned black, shriveled up, and fell off.  We have been treating the whole foot with my herbal salve twice a day to help prevent infection and such through the whole process.  There was a time when one toe did begin to get infected and we had to soak it, milk the infection out, and then salve it – twice a day.  It cleared up.  There was also a time during it he got depressed and was not very active and couldn’t manage to breed the hens.  At this point in the process he seems to be improving each day and is more able to use his foot with the two short toes.  We continue to wait, and hope that he can pull through it.

One of the cockerels in the upper pen has decided to be aggressive towards the kids and attacked our youngest son.  Thankfully, I was only about 5 feet away and saw the attack coming so I got to our son a second after the roo did and there were no injuries.  That cockerel will head to the freezer very soon – we don’t keep aggressive birds.

We have another hen that seems to be going broody.  It is our silkie, Eve, who was purchased specifically to serve the purpose of brood hen.  If it looks like she is seriously going to stick it out we will put some breeding eggs under her and put her in the small growing out pen to set the eggs.

Incubation #2 for the 2014 season will be starting in early February.  We are borrowing a hovabator 1588 and will run both our incubator, and that one at the same time, in the same location, with eggs from the same birds.  We are excited for this experiment to see if/how we can learn and improve our incubations to get the most success possible.  Successfully hatching at high altitude has definitely been a challenge.  But we are making a lot of progress and learning so much.  Testing these incubators against each other will be another big step to see if one out-performs the other at our altitude.

Sheep

The sheep are doing well.  I made a winter jacket for Fiona with some pre-quilted fabric bought from the store since the shearing in December left her cold.  I was going to make one for Stella too, but since her wool grows so much faster than Fiona’s (Stella is a Lincoln Longwool), she seemed to be doing quite well with just her normal jacket just a couple of weeks after the shearing.  So I didn’t make her one.

We have finished washing both of the fleeces we got off them in December.  We are hoping to buy carders very soon and move forward with going “sheep to scarf” with some of the wool.

I haven’t had much time to spin this month, because of the remodel, but I did eek out a few minutes here and there to keep working with the Merino/Angora mix I bought.  I LOVE that fiber.  It is amazing to touch and wonderful to work with.  I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Since neither sheep got pregnant this year, and we were hoping to keep a ewe lamb this year from one of them to increase our flock, we are considering buying another ewe in the next few months to increase our flock that way instead.  We will see.

Rabbits

Unfortunately, during January we had many losses in the rabbitry – pregnancies, kits, and adults.

One doe death was due to some sort of ear infection.  We are guessing it was coming on for a week or so, but she showed no signs of it at all.  She was eating, drinking, and behaving fine.  We noticed one day (while she was eating and acting normal) some blood in her ear, we took her out and examined her and quickly realized that by that time the infection was very far along, causing her so much suffering that we couldn’t even treat her ears without her screaming and writhing in pain.  It was horrible.  We have never seen anything like it in all our years of raising rabbits.  We were unable to save her and had to end her suffering.

After all the losses (which were all unrelated to each other) over a couple of weeks time we were suddenly left with a rabbitry that took us all the way back to square one as far as herd building and breeding.  So we sat down with our oldest son and daughter (who own the rabbit business) and discussed options for re-building the breeding herd.  After a lot of thought and discussion, the decision was made to not rebuild the herd and to stop the rabbit business.  We are leaving the cages and everything set up for now, because we will probably do it again in the future.  But we are not going to raise rabbits at this point in time.

Our son kept his favorite doe, Little Miss Fuzz Tail (Fuzz), and she will be moving inside to be a house pet.

Knitting

I have been learning a new knitting skill this month: two-at-a-time socks on circular needles.

I have tried this method before, years ago, but I was so frustrated with wrestling the cord that I decided it wasn’t worth it and continued to make all my socks one at a time on double-pointed needles.  But then a friend recently told me that the reason I was wrestling my cords was because I bought cheap needles, and that if I bought the nicer needles I wouldn’t have that problem.  She let me look at hers and I noticed that the cords were much better and didn’t try to stay in the wound position.  So I purchased some of the needles and have really been enjoying doing two at a time in this way.

It takes some getting used to…not only the new method but also how slow it seems to go.  I am used to making one sock at a time, which goes much faster…or SEEMS to because in the time it takes me to get to the heel in one sock, I am only half-way done with the leg on two socks.  I have to keep reminding myself I am making TWO socks not just one and that when I am done there will be TWO.  But if I continue to go this method I am sure I will quickly get used to the new way of seeing the progress.

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Nicholas continues to spend his days either being an adorable sleeping fuzz ball or a terror that attacks anything that moves.

As you can see, January has been a month full of changes and Willow Creek Farm looks a lot different than it did a few weeks ago.  We have complete peace with the changes (though some of the losses still ache a bit) and we are excited to continue forward with our little homestead in its ever-changing form.

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