Sunday Homestead Update

It is COLD!  Our highs this week have been in the low 40s, and a couple of times didn’t get above 22F.  Our lows at night have been in the single digits.  And a couple of times our wind chill brought it all down to -4F.  Brrr.  We have also received several inches of snow.  Feels like winter!

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Despite the cold and snow we have needed to deal with some extra outdoor things with animals (besides rotating out frozen water bottles, and all the normal extra chores that come with cold weather).  So we bundled up and did what needed to be done.

Snowy Integration

It was time to integrate the flocks.  The young ones are 14 weeks old now, and we wanted the two selected breeding cockerels to be put with our adult roo before they hit adolescence so that there would be less fighting amongst the males.  So we moved those two cockerels, plus all the pullets (no need to select them yet for breeding since there is only 7 – we sold two of the original 9 pullets because of clear defects) in with the adult flock.  The integration went VERY smoothly.  We think that maybe the fact that most of these young birds have been living in the growing out pen, which shares a wire wall with the sheep stall where the adult birds hang out, really helped with the integration because they have all been living near each other, with only a chicken wire separating them, for many weeks now.  We are glad it worked out so well and expect that to continue as we use the growing-out pen from now on.

We then also put all the young cockerels growing for butcher into the indoor growing-out pen together (now being referred to as…ahem…death row).

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We also decided to go ahead and do a breeding and incubation, despite it being the wrong season for it.  The hens we want to breed are laying very well right now (which is something we are selecting for – laying well through cold weather), and Boaz, the Dark Brahma roo has reached full maturity, so we would like to give him a try to see how he does.  We realize that if there is poor fertility it might just be the cold, not him.  But even if it doesn’t go well, we will likely end up with at least SOME chicks that we can select from and the rest will feed us.  So we are going to go for it.  We took the chosen hens and Boaz and put them all together in the lower coop.  In a couple of weeks we will start collecting eggs for the incubator.

Feather Sexing – We Have NO CLUE

If you remember, we tried our hand at feather sexing with our first successful incubation (third incubation overall).  Those are the chicks that are now 14 weeks old and we can tell who is what.  Ummmmmm….we have NO CLUE what we are doing with feather sexing.  We got 11 right and 12 wrong.  It seems like we could have gotten those odds if we had just randomly assigned them each a sex.

We are competent people, and we looked at many photos and videos about the topic, so we are pretty shocked at our results.  But we are not to be deterred.  We will try again next round, after watching the videos and looking at the photos again, and we will see if we can improve.

Weaning Ferdinand

Ferdinand has begun to break out of his night stall and drain Violet before we get there in the morning.  This also happened with our last calf, Charlie, right about this same age (5-6 months).  And that is when we decided it was time to wean Charlie, and we have decided the same about Ferdi.

When we weaned Charlie, we didn’t have sheep and thus were able to put him over in that stall.  We also used the fence panels to give him his own section of the barnyard.  But now we have the sheep, who could share their stall with him, but wouldn’t be very happy about it.  And separating the barnyard causes a bunch of annoyance because of the chickens and the dog not being able to move between sections, and the fact that we have to all-around-the mulberry-bush in order to get to the chicken pen to let them out and care for them since the panels splitting the barnyard don’t have a gate in them.

The woman who kept Vi and Ferdi during the evacuation knew about our set-up and when she brought them home she handed me this little plastic thing and told me that it was to put in the calf’s nose to wean him while still being able to keep him with his mama.  It prevents him from being able to nurse, but he can still eat, drink, and breathe with no issues.  What!?  How cool is that!?  We had never heard of it before.  We googled it and learned that it is actually made to be used in a two-step process for weaning calves in big industry farms.  But it could also work very well for us to use to be able to wean the calf and keep him with his mama until he is ready to butcher.

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So we put the thing in his nose this weekend, and we are watching to see how it goes.  I will do a full post on it in the coming weeks so I can share how it worked and whether it really is a good item to use for small backyard farms like ours.

Sunday Homestead Update

Whew, we are very busy around here.  Our hands have been so full with living the homestead life, that I haven’t felt like I have any time to blog about homestead life.  I have shocked myself even with the fact that I haven’t touched my computer in several days, and have only had occasional quick moments online via my smart phone.  This is unlike me, but at the same time makes me smile, because what’s better than being so happily busy living the homestead life that you don’t even have time to look at a computer?

Spinning

I have continued to spend time sitting at my spinning wheel, massively enjoying the calming effect it has over me.  I have been working on a hand-dyed Blue Faced Leicester wool.  It has been really fun to do my first-ever spinning of something with color (as opposed to the natural white and grey).  I researched spinning variegated roving and then just dove right in.  I will be sharing it all with you in a post when I finish off all the spinning of that specific roving and knit up a swatch to see how the variegation turned out with plying and all.  I am very happy with how it has turned out thus far, I hope that continues through the finished product.

Christmas Presents

I have continued to force myself away from the spinning wheel to work on my Christmas knitting and am making good progress.  The girls have helped motivate me by working on their own Christmas knitting and embroidery.  When I see them working, it reminds me that I need to be working on that, not spinning constantly…bad time of year to fall in love with a new heritage art.  Unfortunately, even though there is good progress being made, I don’t have any more finished projects to show yet, maybe by next Sunday Update?

Husband and sons have been out in the wood shop a bunch this week.  They are VERY happy to have the wood stove hooked up so they can be warm while they work.  They have also made a lot of progress on their Christmas projects, but also no finished projects to show yet.

Mud Room

As the cold weather has settled in, we have moved our focus to working on fixing up the inside of the house.  It is so nice to have gotten to a point where the animals are all safely housed and there is no more outdoor farm work and building to do at this time, so we can work on our own housing.

This weekend we focused on enclosing the new water system into a room.  And then also fixing up the mud room with hooks and a bench and such so that it is finally nice and organized.  Everything now has a place, so when we all come in we can put our coats, hats, muck boots, shoes, etc away neatly.  I am so excited about the beautiful bench husband made for us to sit on and put our shoes under.  It also has cubbies with canvas bins for hats, mittens, etc.

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Behind this wall is the water room.  This area is for our barnyard coats, bib overalls, boots, gloves etc.  We can hang stuff on the antlers and use the shelves for the non-hanging things.

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We also did a lot of planning this week about what we want to accomplish in the house this winter.  We have decided to dive in and do the biggest remodel on the house thus far – the kitchen.  We hope to start the project in January.

Kittens

The kittens continue to be an adorable distraction.  We are having so much fun raising them.  We are working to spread out their feedings from 3 hours apart to 4-5 hours apart.  They are going through the whole night now from 10pm to 6 am without a feeding.  We are also moving them from the bottle to lapping a gruel consisting of the formula and wet cat food from a shallow dish.  This makes for very messy kittens, but is an important step, so we have had to clean them up quite a bit the last few days after feedings.

Cows

The cows are fully settled back into living at home and the routine around here.  We are not getting enough milk at this point for me to make any milk products for the family.  We close Ferdinand off from Violet every night for about 10 hours, but it isn’t making enough of a difference.  So we are probably going to begin weaning him this week.  He is 5 1/2 months old now and eating plenty of hay, so it is an acceptable time.

Because of our limited space, weaning the calf means setting up panels and dividing the barnyard and having the calf live with the sheep in half the barnyard and in their stall at night.  This is not ideal.  So this time around we are going to try this interesting weaning device that goes in the calf’s nose.  We didn’t even know they existed until the person who took care of our cows during the flood gave us one and told us about it.  We don’t even know what it is called.  But we will do some more research and let you know how it works out.

Sheep

The sheep are coming home this week!  We can’t wait to have them back…and hopefully pregnant!  It is a good thing to be able to look forward to.

Sunday Homestead Update

It is a wonderful Sunday update as we are even closer to having everything back to normal from the flood.  Violet and Ferdinand are home now, and we are so so very happy to have them back.  It just didn’t feel like the farm without a milk cow here.  Tundra is glad to have them back too, and to have more animals to protect and watch over.  He seemed to be bored with just the chickens all this time. 20Hens

More hens are laying now, and it has become clear that some of them are definitely in a full-blown molt as they are looking pretty strange as they lose and replace their feathers.  It has been nice to have more eggs available, and we have been able to begin selling to one customer.  AND one or two of the pullets from the Brahma group have started laying now.  We are positive one of them is the Buff Brahma, Rachel, and the CochinX, Ruth, may or may not be laying.  But it is very exciting to have some of them starting to lay.  I expect the Dark Brahma hens to follow in the next few weeks.  Then we will definitely be getting enough eggs to sell again.

Chicks

The chicks from our first ever successful hatch are 12 weeks old now.  We can now tell which are pullets and which are cockerels.  We have been keeping an eye on them all, and we rated them at 8 weeks and then again this week.  After this week’s ratings we made preliminary decisions of which are keepers and which are not.  We are selling 3 of the pullets to a friend, they have obvious defects that keep them from going into the breeding program (split wing and crooked keel).  And I have a list of the cockerels that are for sure being butchered.  Ideally, we would like to integrate the pullets and the 2 cockerels we choose for the breeding program into the large flock of adults at about 14 weeks.  We hope that by introducing the cockerels to the roo before they mature it will help keep the fights to a minimum (it worked with our last cockerel roo integration, and Pepper and Boaz are still happily living together).  But it is hard to know for sure which cockerels we want to use for breeding at such a young age.  We have it narrowed down to 4 right now, and are hopeful that in the next few weeks we can get that down to two and integrate them with the big flock.  We will keep the other cockerels in the growing out pen until they are ready to be butchered at about 16 weeks. 14Rabbits

Fuzz was supposed to kindle this week and didn’t.  She is an experienced, proven doe, and was bred with Homer, our experienced and proven buck.  But we bred them right after we moved them back home.  So maybe the stress of the evacuation and then coming back home had something to do with it?  We don’t know.

So we bred both Fuzz and Ebony this weekend.

Garden

The garden is officially finished and put to bed for the winter.  We put straw over the asparagus and strawberries.  Our area is so very windy that just using straw does not work.  So we put bird netting over the straw and held it down with a mixture of ground staples, rocks, and some extra boards.  This ought to make it last.

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Now we wait and dream about next year’s garden.  🙂  And while I am waiting, I have a new garden book to look over.  It is called “Good Bug, Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically” by Jessica Walliser.  It looks like a great resource book, and very easy to use.  So I am excited to use it and learn more about what pests might plague our garden and how to deal with them.

Look Who’s Home!

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Violet and Ferdinand are home now!!!  And boy oh boy has he grown!  He looks like a little bull instead of a calf.

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Let me remind you what he looked like before they left:

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Hard to believe he has changed so much in two months.  But he has.

We are so happy to have them back and are looking forward to having fresh milk tomorrow!!!

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Sunday Homestead Update

Kindling

We checked and counted Maple’s litter Friday after she had settled a bit.  There are 4 kits.  3 are dark colored and 1 is light colored.  We are definitely disappointed in the litter size.  This is the second litter ever from our buck Peter, and the last one he sired was only 5 kits from a doe who usually has 9-10 kits with our other buck.  Maple has never been bred before, so it could be her, but with Peter still not giving us a big litter I am beginning to think it might be him.  We will breed him to our other doe, Fuzz, who routinely gives 7-8 kits when bred with our other buck, and if that litter is small too it will be the final proof we need that he gives small litters.  If so, he will be replaced with another buck.

Despite the small litter size, we are very happy that Maple did so well and put all her kits in the nest and has been feeding them.  We are also excited to see what colors they all turn out.  This is our first ever (in 6 years of having rabbits) multi-colored litter.  So that is fun!

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Ebony, Maple’s sister, is pulling fur and building a nest this morning.   We expect kits by noon.  She was also bred to Peter and this is also her first litter.  It will be interesting to see how many she has, and whether they are different colors or not.

Sheep Stall

We finished insulating and doing the board and batten on the interior walls of the sheep stall this weekend.  It looks great!

You can see what the walls used to look like in the background of this silly picture of a chicken on the sheep:

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And here is what they look like now:

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So much nicer.  And warmer.  And just in time too, because both sheep have spent two heat cycles with a ram during the evacuation, so we are very excited to say that we are expecting out first ever lambs somewhere between Febuary 24-April 9 of 2014!!!  We had originally planned to not breed them until November/December so we would end up with April/May lambs and not be in the coldest part of winter for lambing.  We routinely go below 0 degrees F in Jan-March.  But since they were evacuated because of the flood, and ended up at the farm where the ram we wanted to breed to was, it only made sense to go ahead and put them in with him while they were there.  So we did.  But we feel good about this stall and it’s insulated walls.  With proper bedding, and getting the lambs dried off quickly, we shouldn’t have any problems.

Both these sheep are first-time breeders.  And they are still a bit young, especially Stella, since Longwools mature later, so there is a chance one or both didn’t take.  But we are hopeful!  And the breeder thinks that Fiona at least did.

The sheep will be coming home mid-November.  I can’t wait to get the last of our “refugees” back home where they belong!

Speaking of which, Violet and Ferdinand (the cow and calf), will also be coming home mid-November.  And Violet has also spent two heat cycles with a bull.  So we are getting her back pregnant as well (hopefully).  Her due date is somewhere between July 4-Aug 24 of 2014.

Once the sheep and cows are back, all the evacuated animals will be home again!  We will be back to “normal.”  And what a blessing that they all got bred while they were gone!

Construction

We also did the board and batten on the exterior of the upper chicken coop this weekend.  While we were working on it we calculated and realized we have built an $1800 coop for about $100!  I will be posting this week more details about how we managed to do that.

Christmas Presents

I am continuing to knit away at Christmas presents.  I just haven’t finished anything and thus don’t have any pictures yet.  I hope to finish another one this week and will post pictures when I do.