Sunday Homestead Update – Back on the Homestead

It has been so nice to be back on the homestead.  Gardening, milking, making cheese, watching the animals in the barnyard, eating fresh-picked strawberries and grilled garlic scapes – this is the life!  Mr. Smiles is doing very well.  We are so happy to finally have good progress after a marathon of surgeries and surgeries to fix the surgeries.  This last one seemed to really work well and he is stable and recovering.  He needs another one in about a month to finalize everything.

Plague of Mice

The mouse plague continues.  We found that the bucket traps work great – they just take a week or so to get going.  it seems the more mice run up to it, the more others are enticed to go too.  So we have increased to 4 bucket traps, plus all the snap traps we had before.  We caught 30 mice in one night this week, and we caught 12 mice in one bucket!  We continue to get at least 10 a night, usually more.  Maybe with all these bucket traps, that have an unlimited catch amount, we can finally get ahead of the reproductive curve, because it still feels like they are reproducing faster than we can eradicate them.

Gardens

The mice have been feasting on our strawberries, as expected, but now that we have a bucket trap in that garden we have been able to harvest some for ourselves.

We also had a really nasty hail storm.  We were home, and thus able to throw some sheets over certain parts of the garden to prevent damage.  But the rhubarb, comfrey, and some of the squash and pepper plants did not get sheeted and they were pretty torn up by the hail.  They are still alive and should still produce.

We have been enjoying grilled garlic scapes for a couple weeks now.  A garlic scape is the flower shoot it sends up in the middle of its leaves.  Once the shoot curls, we cut it off.

Then we chop them into about 1-inch pieces and toss them in olive oil and salt.  Then we put them in the oven on broil until tender.

YUM!  A delicious snack or side dish.

Patching WOWs

We have been using Wall-o-Waters for about 15 years now to garden in our short-season, cold climate.  They extend our spring season by about a month, which is very important since we only have a 10-week growing season.

Over time, the plastic breaks down from the sun exposure, and they get holes chewed in them, or torn, or they just overall wear out.  We have found an easy way to patch them and get more life out of them.  If we have one that has several tubes that have holes we cut it apart into each separate tube.

You have to be careful when doing this to be sure not to accidentally cut into one side or the other.  Then we throw out the ones with holes in them and use the good ones to patch other WOWs that need patching.  We just slide the patch tube that we cut up down into the tube that has a hole, and fill the inserted tube with water.  In this photo I used a green patch tube in a red WOW so you can see it better.

So this week we patched several of our WOWs with the one I cut apart.

Sheep

Sheep have been the main topic of discussion around here lately.  The dairy sheep are Sunshine’s project, and Mtn Man and I are all about all the sheep, dairy or wool.  So the three of us have been going round and round about which ewes to keep and which to sell.  We had a plan before, but Maggie not lambing kind of changed up that plan.  In addition, we have an opportunity to buy a Wensleydale ewe that we are pondering.  So there has been a lot of discussion and planning in that department.

We made our first sheep milk ice-cream of the season this week.  It was SO good!!!

Goats

Pansy continued to waste away this week.  She was skin and bones.  The vet ran out of ideas and treatments.  We tried everything and anything and tested her for a bunch of things too.  Having the other goat here seemed to help somewhat, but not completely.  As we have been going through this I have continually been saying, “maybe it is nutritional.”  But I ran our feeding practices and mineral supplementation past both the vet and the goat breeder and they said it looked good.  We felt it looked good too.  But the nagging in the back of my head kept saying it was some sort of vitamin/mineral issue.  But I was at the pediatric hospital for most of Pansy’s sickness and thus had a lot of other things on my mind.

So, early last week, after we were home from the hospital, and after we had run out of all our other options and treatments – as we were still watching her waste away – we decided to order a powdered goat mineral supplement from Caprine Supply to sprinkle directly on her grain each day.

Because we keep sheep and goats, we have to be careful about the minerals they share because they do not have the same needs and sheep can be killed by copper toxicity if they eat minerals intended for goats, and goats can get deficiencies if kept on minerals intended for sheep.  Thus far, to manage this, we have used a multi-purpose mineral block for the sheep and goats to share, and we have supplemented the goat with extra copper through the use of boluses.  But Little Miss read somewhere that some goats don’t do well on mineral blocks and do better with loose minerals.  So, as a last last last ditch effort to save sweet Pansy, we decided to try loose minerals, specifically formulated for goats, that we would put on her grain each day.

When they arrived it was midday, so Little Miss decided to take one daily dose (1/2 ounce) out and see if she wanted it.  She gobbled it down like candy to a child.  That evening, at milking, we went ahead and gave her another daily dose on her grain while she was being milked.  The mineral was listed as being able to be used free-choice as well, but since we couldn’t give it to her free-choice due to the sheep we figured that doing more than they recommend for a daily dose wouldn’t hurt her if she chose to eat it.  She gobbled that dose down too.  The next morning we again did a full daily dose at morning milking, which she again gobbled down.  When we let her out for breakfast we were surprised by her behavior.  During her illness she has barely been eating and has been lethargic and depressed.  She had not been bullying the sheep during feeding like she usually does.  That morning, less than 24 hours after the first dose of minerals, she went right to the feeder and started pushing everyone around so she could eat.  All day long, we kept seeing her eating and nibbling on food wherever she could find it.  And in the afternoon we found her down in the lower barnyard with Inigo (the wether) sniffing around and “exploring” – again something she hasn’t done since she got sick.  We continued to offer her the minerals and she continued to eat them.  The next day, just 48 hours after we started the minerals, we saw her having a “battle” for alpha position with the matriarch sheep, Fiona.  It lasted 10 minutes!  They hadn’t “battled” since Pansy got sick.  It was amazing how perky and energetic she was!

We have continued offering the minerals and she has backed off somewhat on how much of them she eats each time.  But her health has continued to improve.  She has visibly gained weight – in less than a week.  She is acting like her usual self – eating, pushing the sheep around, making sure everyone knows she is boss (second to Fiona – LOL).  She seems fine now!

We are all SO relieved that she is better.  Early last week we really did not think she was going to make it.  But now she is doing great.  We don’t know what it was exactly…did all the other treatments finally kick in?  Did her body finally win against whatever was going on?  Was it the new goat friend?  Or was it the minerals?  I tend to think it was the minerals all along – that she was having a nutritional imbalance for some reason.  It could explain everything we have been struggling with her this spring – the ring womb, the lice, the lack of shedding her coat, the depression and lack of appetite…all of it can have nutritional origins.

Needless to say, we will be keeping her, and any goat we have, on these loose goat minerals from now on.  We are feeding them while she is in the stanchion being milked, and to keep the sheep safe, we have decided that one stanchion is only for goats and the other one is for sheep.

SO SO SO happy to have our Pansy back again!

Livestock Shuffle

This week will start a few weeks of shuffling around livestock.  We are trying to get all our weaning, selling, buying, and trading of sheep and goats done in the next few weeks before Mr. Smiles’ next surgery.  It will make life more streamlined and it will reduce the stress on all the livestock to a shorter period of time than doing it sporadically here and there over the next few months.  But it also means a lot of busy-ness going on for a little while.  I will keep you posted as we change up the flerd.

 

Using Dansha Farms Milk Machine to Milk Sheep – Part 2

You can read Part 1 by clicking here.

Back in April, when our first milk sheep, Autumn, lambed, we purchased the Dansha Farms Brute Milk Machine to use on our flock.  When we first started using it I posted Part 1, and now that we have been using it for a few months and have used it on 3 different sheep, I would like to follow up and let you know how we feel about it now.

Milk sheep udders are generally not ideal for hand-milking.  The teats are very small and they are placed on the side of the udder just barely in front of the back leg.  Some sheep have udders that are easier to hand milk, and some have ones that are harder.  We have tried both hand-milking, and machine-milking with the Brute on all three of our milk sheep this year.

The Dansha Farms Brute Milk Machine has several parts.  The teat cups are syringes and come in two sizes – the smaller size fits sheep well.  A tube comes off each cup and runs down to a lid that fits any regular-mouth canning jar.  This is very convenient because, depending on the amount, time of year, and sheep you are milking, you can use a quart or a half-gallon jar.  A tube then comes out of that same lid and runs to the pump, which plugs into an outlet (there are battery-powered options if you don’t have electricity in your barn).  That is it – it is very simple and thus easy to take care of and clean.

We keep all of our milking supplies in a tote that makes it easy to bring them back and forth to the barn for cleaning.

To use the Brute milking machine we start with the same two steps that we always start with no matter whether we are hand-milking or machine milking: washing and stripping the udder.  We wash the udder thoroughly with a terrycloth rag and some water with a dish soap in it.  Then we strip the first few squirts from each teat into a mesh strip cup to check for signs of mastitis and to clean out the orifice.

Next, we position the teat cups onto the sheep and press the button to start the suction, this is the time when it is convenient to have more than two hands – although with some careful balancing, one person can do it alone.  It is also possible to just milk one side at a time with the machine.  We examine the teat cup placement to be sure it is good once the suction starts so the ewe doesn’t get sores.  As soon as the ewe lets down (the milk starts flowing), we turn the machine off.  This is a very important step – you can seriously injury your ewe if you keep the machine going too long.

Then we massage the udder as needed while the machine milks her.  If the flow starts to slow down we turn the machine on again for a few seconds to get it going again, and then turn it off again.  It is very simple.  Once we have gotten all we can with the machine, we careful break the suction to remove the teat cups (never just pull them off), and then we strip out the last little bit by hand to be sure it is all out.

It has worked well on all three sheep we have been using it on this year and makes milking cleaner and faster than by hand.

When we are done milking, we take our tote back to the house, disconnect the jars the machine milked into and strain and cool the milk.  Then we use a bottle brush to clean the syringe teat cups out, and then use the clean syringes to squirt soapy water, and then clean rinse water through the tubes.  We use a sponge to gently clean off the lid and the outsides of the tubes with soapy water, then rinse it all and set it all out to air dry.  It is very quick and easy.

We continue to be very happy with our Dansha Farms Brute milk machine.  It works great on the sheep, is easy to maintain and clean, and was a reasonable price.  We definitely recommend it for any homesteader with a few milk sheep (or goats) that would like to use a machine for milking.

Sunday Homestead Update – Walking a Very Hard Road

We have been walking a very hard road lately.  Mr. Smiles had 4 unexpected surgeries over a 9-day period, plus 2 ER visits, and was hospitalized for 9 days.  The short version of “why?” is that he is having complications from the big surgery he had last August on his liver.  Yes, it is pretty late for complications, but Mr. Smiles always seems to go with whatever is listed as the least likely thing to happen medically.  In fact, they have only ever dealt with this specific complication 2 times in the over 100 year history of the pediatric hospital.  Sadly, it is still not fixed and he will need 1 more surgery in the near future.  But for now, he is at home trying to rest, recover, and strengthen.

For those of you that are new to Willow Creek Farm, our 4-year-old son has had major medical issues his whole life.  When you add the four surgeries we just went through, he has had 18 surgeries in his life.  Plus 2 MRIs under anesthesia, and many many hospitalizations and ER visits.  He has walked a hard road his whole life, and yet he is always so full of joy and peace – he makes anyone and everyone smile when they see him – thus his blog name “Mr. Smiles.”

The thing about difficult times and crisis is that the rest of life doesn’t just stop and wait for you to deal with the crisis.  The world keeps turning, and life on the homestead goes on full-speed ahead.  We are so blessed that the older kids are so capable around the farm and enjoy it too.  They did an amazing job “holding down the fort” while we were away.  They kept the gardens watered, weeded, and did some planting too.  The animals were all fed, watered, cared for, and milked.  The milk was either made into cheese or frozen to be made into cheese later (only sheep milk can do that).  They did great…but there was one animal on the homestead that caused a lot of drama while we were gone – Pansy the goat.

 

A few weeks ago, Mr. Smiles had some symptoms and then some lab values that showed trouble.  He had an MRI under anesthesia, and we found out the results, which led them to scheduled him for surgery two days later.  As we were packing the car to head to the hospital, the kids were doing barn chores and informed us that Pansy was not doing well.  She didn’t want to eat and her milk production had plummeted.  It had only been a week or so since Pansy’s doeling, Pearl, had died suddenly of enterotoxemia.  Pansy had been somewhat “depressed” since that incident, but now she definitely seemed to be having some medical issues.  We called, but the vet was out of town until the next day.  We were in a hurry to get going, so we gave her some CMPK, thinking it might be calcium related and knowing that wouldn’t hurt her, and we headed out – expecting to be back that evening because it was supposed to be outpatient.

Things didn’t go as planned and Mr. Smiles was admitted to the hospital to await his second unexpected surgery the next day.  The next morning, Pansy was still not doing well.  The vet headed to our homestead and the kids helped him treat Pansy.  We were in the PACU, with Mtn Man cuddling Mr. Smiles post-op, while I talked on the phone to the vet trying to understand what was going on.  She was ketotic, because she hadn’t been eating enough.  But ketosis causes lack of appetitie, which then means she doesn’t eat and thus gets more ketotic.  Viscious cycle.  He didn’t know why she was not eating to begin with – there was nothing obviously wrong, but he treated her with several different things for the ketosis and left instructions for the kids on what to do for her.  Thankfully, my friend who is an ER nurse was staying with the kids and was able to administer the injections she needed – something the kids can’t do (yet).

Two days later we were released from the hospital, only to go back a few hours later to the ER with complications from unexpected surgery #2.  They did a temp fix and sent us home to come back 24 hours later for unexpected surgery #3.  While at home, Pansy seemed to be improving and Mtn Man did her treatment.  Once we were back in the hospital, we got a call that she was doing worse again.  We still didn’t really have a cause for all this, we were treating symptoms, not the cause itself.  And it wasn’t working well.  She didn’t want to eat and was visibly losing weight.  I tried to call the vet, but he was out of town for several days.  So I called the goat breeder, who I had been talking with through all of this.  We decided that there was a chance that this wasn’t medical – that she was depressed because of the loss of her baby and cut back her eating because of that, which then caused the ketosis and the medical cycle to start.

Meanwhile, Mr. Smiles was having complications from unexpected surgery #3, and we were stuck in the hospital for another day.  We decided to have them give her a shot of antibiotics – just in case – as a last ditch effort to try to deal with whatever it was.  But the next morning she wasn’t any better.  By then, Mr. Smiles was doing well enough to go home for awhile to recover and stabalize before his next surgery.

The breeder lives an hour from the hospital, and 3 hours from our homestead, so we decided, as a very last-last ditch effort to save Pansy, that we would bring another goat home to her to see if it was behavioral.  Maybe with another goat there she would start eating again.  So on our way home from the hospital, we met the breeder along the way and she gave us a 6-month-old buckling.  She banded him (to wether him) in the parking lot as we switched him over to our vehicle and we headed home.  We chose to do a buckling (now a wether) not because we plan to keep him long-term, but because we wanted to see if the issue was behavioral or medical without potentially killing a milk doe.  The buckling is intended for meat, so if what Pansy had was medical, and contagious, then there wouldn’t be the same amount of loss as if we brought in a milk doe and she got sick from Pansy.  If the situation was indeed behavioral, then she would improve with the wether there and then we could give him back to the breeder and buy a milk doe to be her friend and a productive member of the flerd (flock of sheep, herd of goats).

Let me just pause here to say that it was pretty funny as we were driving home.  There we were – exhausted, weary, and bleary-eyed, heading home after a ridiculously hard marathon of surgeries and complications and hospital stay with our young son, emotionally shot and just barely holding on to hope that things would get better……..and we have a buckling in a crate in the back of our car.  Talk about homesteaders.  We are so dedicated to our sweet goat Pansy (and really…more importantly, to our sweet daughter who desperately loves the sweet goat), that we were stopping on our way home to get a buckling.  A very stinky buckling…in a crate in our van…with the windows all rolled down to try to make it more tolerable.  We just looked at eachother and laughed, in that somewhat delirious way that one laughs when they are so exhausted they can’t even think straight.  Only in our life would this type of thing happen.  Sigh.

Anyway, back to the story…

We knew that for if the wether was going to help it would probably take a few days to see a difference.  So we continued the prescribed treatments.  We also got a hold of the vet, and he added a few more things to try, because really at this point we were just grasping at anything and everything that might be wrong.  He said he would be available to come do bloodwork in a couple of days.

Meanwhile, just over 24 hours after coming home from the hospital, we had to head back to the ER because Mr. Smiles was still not doing well.  We were admitted, again, and the next morning they did unexpected surgery #4.  The kids and our friend continued to do Pansy’s treatments.  The next morning, as we were meeting with Mr. Smiles’ team of specialists, the vet was at the homestead with the kids collecting blood samples to do labwork on Pansy.

We are now home, with Mr. Smiles doing much better than he has been in weeks (SO hopeful that surgery #4 finally helped the issue!).  Pansy is still slowly falling behind.  We are awaiting the blood test results to see what to do next with her and still hoping that having a goat friend will help pull her out of it.

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks – to say the least.  We continue to watch and wait with both Mr. Smiles and Pansy as we walk the hard parts of the road of life and homesteading.

Sunday Homestead Update

This week was a busy medical week for Mr. Smiles, so, around the farm, life was limited to holding down the fort.  Everyone got their food, water, milking, shelter, and the gardens got watered.  Not much else happened, just the necessities.

The mice population seems to finally be decreasing.  We are only catching 7-10 per night, instead of 15, which is nice.  The bucket trap started working and is catching 2-3 mice each night.  We are going to set up another one today.

Gardens

We are finally gaining some ground in the gardens.  With the mouse population more under control, the beans and peas have sprouted and not been eaten in the upper garden.  The lower garden is still having more of a struggle, but there are some surviving sprouts there too.  Most of our seedlings are out in the gardens now, even without WOWs on them.  And we removed the WOWs from the plants that had outgrown them.  We had a frost this week, but it should be our last (famous last words – right?).

It is always amazing to me to think how jungle-like this photo of the garden will be in a couple of months.

Pea Sprouts

The strawberry flowers are starting to fall off, leaving little green berries behind.  It is looking to be a very large strawberry harvest this year (as long as the rodents leave it alone).  The gooseberries and grapes are also covered with berries and are looking to give a bumper crop this year.  Very exciting!

The chives are flowering.  These are my favorite flower on the homestead.  So pretty!

Chickens

Eve had a very successful hatch last Sunday/Monday.  She had 5 eggs under her, 4 were fertile and 3 hatched.  I put 5 eggs in the incubator (to make up for loss), 5 were fertile, 4 hatched.  So we hatched 7 out of 9 fertile.  Eve is happy to be raising her 7 adorable chicks.  She is such a good mama.  She is very experienced, as she has brooded many many clutches for us in her seven years of life.  She has done anywhere from 1-3 clutches every year since she started laying, so we must be closing in on 15, if not passed.

Goats

The death of Pearl earlier this week was very traumatic and hard on everyone, including Pansy.  We are all doing better now, including Pansy.  She is starting to get the hang of the new routine (twice-a-day milking) and figure out her place in the flock of sheep again.  When she had her baby with her she was very aggressive and quite a bully.  That seems to have stopped now.

Her lice seem to be completely gone at this point.  We did a thorough exam today and could not find any at all.  Glad that is over!

Sheep

It looks like we dodged the Orf (sore mouth disease).  We will be past the 3-week gestation period tomorrow and there are no signs of lesions on any of the sheep.  Very grateful for that!

Each morning, while we are milking, the lambs try to jump out of their stall to get to the ewes to steal breakfast before we milk.  It is pretty cute to see them peeking over the edge.