Sunday Homestead Update

As autumn barrels towards us, and the first frost is threatening to arrive any night, we are rushing to harvest the garden and trying to predict the weather enough to do what we can to frost protect the veggies when the frost arrives. The weather apps are notoriously inaccurate about our area as far as frosts go. I cant even count how many times now, spring and fall, we have had two different apps say the low would be 41 and we wake up to find we got to 32 and we have garden damage. I complain so much about them that the kids hung up a “Weather Rock” for me on the porch.

If the rock is wet, its raining.

If the rock is white, its snowing.

If the rock is swinging, its windy.

While I do love my weather rock, and smile when I see it, it is not exactly helpful to determine when it will frost. So we are doing our best to keep an eye on the weather apps, in conjunction with our own senses as we go do evening chores, to try to guess when the frost will come and protect the plants as much as possible.

Garden

We continue to struggle to grow potatoes. We have tried year after year. We have tried several different methods. We still are not very successful. We just harvested this year’s and again it was a small harvest.

But a lot of the other veggies are doing great. We harvested and canned 7 quarts of purple beans, plus another 10, 2-cup bags went to the freezer.

The bell pepper plants are producing great this year. Much more than last year. As are the peas. We have been enjoying them fresh and have frozen a lot of peas too.

Sheep

It was a hard goodbye yesterday as 2/3 of our flock departed to their new home. The person who bought them is very excited to add their genetics to their breeding flock though, so we are happy for that.

And on his way home from taking them to their new home, Mtn Man picked up the first of our new dairy sheep!

We are still working on a name for her.  She is an almost 2-year-old ewe, who has already lambed once.  She is 70% East Friesan and 30% Lacaune.

This is a very exciting new project for us.  We will be adding some more dairy sheep to the flock in September.

Chickens

Eves is now setting on fertile eggs. The first bunch of eggs we put under her was from the adult hens. Not one was fertile, proving the cockerel is not yet breeding the hens. But then we put a bunch of pullet eggs for setting, and it is clear he is doing his job with the younger pullets.  Out of 12 eggs, 9 were fertile and we had one early death.  So she is setting on 8 now.  In a couple of weeks we will have some chicks.

The Outcasts

Our current chicken flock is not very welcoming of everyone. This is the first year we have had the flock kill one of their own, and attempt to kill a second. We don’t like it, we don’t know why they are like this, and we don’t know what to do about it. We do a lot of integrating and switching around of pens and breeding groups and our methods have always been successful, for all these years, until this year. This year the flock will accept some birds, but not others.

This has left us with some outcasts. We didn’t know what to do with the outcasts besides butcher them. At least it would be better for them than the flock pecking them to death. But then I thought of the bantam flock in the lower coop. Maybe they would accept the outcasts into their little flock. It was worth a try. And it was successful! Over time they have now gathered three standard-size hen outcasts into their flock.

The most recent was Carrot, the hen that got attacked by the Golden Eagle. She has had a pretty miraculous recovery in the grow pen in the barn. But now it was time to try to figure out how to get her back with other chickens. Since she is still very thin, and needs more recuperation, I did not think it was a good idea to risk putting her with the big flock considering their behavior this year. So we moved her in with the bantams and the other outcasts. She has settled in nicely and seems happy to be in a bigger space with other chicken friends.

Heritage Arts

Little Miss wanted to try her hand at making a braided wool rug all on her own.  She has made them with Mtn Man before, but never by herself.  She finished it this week and it looks beautiful.

I am almost done with my cabled cardigan.  I just need to do the front bands and collar, plus finishing weaving in ends and it will be done.  I am really looking forward to having this done because it has been on the needles for over 18 months now and kept getting set aside for other projects.

Sunday Homestead Update

Fall is closing in on us quickly here in the mountains.  The evening air the last few nights has had quite a chill on it.  The elk are looking handsome in their velvet antlers.  We have already heard a few of them bugling, which signals the beginning of their breeding season, and hunting season starts soon as well so we will be working to secure our red meat for the year and get it all processed and into the freezer.

Butterflies

A few weeks ago we found these Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars on our garden dill.

We put them in a container and fed them more dill.  A few days later they went into their chrysalis.

Only 12 days later, they emerged as butterflies.

So amazing.

Chickens

The mama Golden Eagle has moved on.  She is done raising her two fledglings, it is time for them to make it on their own.  And they currently want to continue making it on their own at our property.  Sigh.  The chickens have been closed in for three weeks now and it is just too long.  The amount of chickens we keep is based on the fact that they spend all day free ranging in the barnyard.  Their enclosed exterior pen is big enough for them short-term, but I feel like it is overcrowded when they are living in there for weeks.  Plus, the cost of feed when they are not free-ranging is through the roof.  So, if we plan to keep them closed in we need to decrease our numbers.  But we don’t want to plan to keep them in – we like our free-ranging, compost turning, happy, healthy, helpful chickens.

So we are doing an experiment.  The Eagle killed the chicken while Anya was napping in the barn cool and shade of the afternoon.  But there is plenty of shade in the barnyard, albeit maybe not as cool as the barn with the breeze blowing through.  So we are letting the chickens free-range with Anya guarding them, and we have closed the barn so that she can’t go in there.  If it rains we open up the barn of course to let them in out of the weather.  We started this plan on Tuesday, so we have now made it 5 days with no loss.  We are hopeful this is an answer to our dilemma until the eagles finally move on.

Last week we gave Eve 6 eggs to set and we put 6 in the incubator to make up for any infertility troubles since our young un-proven cockerel is the one breeding right now.  Well, every single egg was infertile.  Sigh.  We have seen him breeding young pullets, but all the eggs I put for hatch were from the adult hens.  So apparently he has not started breeding the adult hens yet.  So we grabbed 6 young pullet eggs and put them under Eve and 6 more to put in the incubator.  Hopefully, there will be some good fertility with these.  If not, then Eve will not be setting eggs at this point and will have to go back to the lower coop.

Garden

We have been harvesting a lot from the garden and either eating it or putting it up for winter.

The first batch of sauerkraut from our cabbages is done and in jars in the refrigerator.  We have more cabbages ready to harvest is will probably start another load this week.  We have been harvesting, cleaning, chopping, portioning, and freezing celery, peas, and carrots.  The purple beans harvest has now started too and we will be canning those.  The garlic is out and curing.

And we have had two gooseberry pies this week.  Yumm!

Sheep

Three of the sheep have been sold and are leaving the farm this week.  Rose, the moorit ewe, and the ram lambs, Tornado and Avalanche.  They will be used as breeding stock on another farm.

Rose

Tornado

Avalanche

We will still have Fiona and Fergus.

Fiona

Fergus

We haven’t decided yet what to do with Stormy, the ewe lamb.  She was going to be sold but it fell through.  We will likely try to sell her, but might decide to keep her.

Stormy

Though we are sad to see them go, this will open up an opportunity that we have been dreaming about for a few years now…the chance to raise dairy sheep!  In September we will be bringing in some dairy sheep to add to the flock, breed, and raise here at Willow Creek Farm.  We are all very excited about this new project.  We have wanted to have dairy sheep since 2014 when we milked one of our wool sheep because her lamb had died.  We loved the sheep milk and have wanted to do this project ever since.  Now we have our chance!  I am looking forward to introducing them to you next month.

Sunday Homestead Update

Bears, Coyotes, and Golden Eagles…Still!

The wildlife around here is causing us some issues lately.  The bear continues to visit nightly, thankfully it hasn’t gotten into my garden again.  But it has been prowling the barn, which makes the LGD bark like crazy, which gets us up and out of bed to investigate, which has meant a lack of sleep.  In addition, the coyote family that is denning 200 yds from our barn has been on the property yipping and yapping and making a lot of noise each night for over a week now.  Again…lack of sleep.  Add to that the fact that Mr. Smiles has been struggling with his medical issues and thus waking a lot during the night and you have two very tired adults on this little farm.

The eagles still haven’t moved on.  So we continue with only letting the chickens out when a human can be there to guard them.  I am not sure what we will do if they don’t move along soon.  I read that they can have a home range of 70 square miles.  Why are they hanging out here?  They have not had a (fully) successful meal in our barnyard, so I wish they would move on.

Garden

We have done a lot of harvesting this week.  Peas, beets, carrots, cabbage, kitchen herbs, medicinal herbs, and wild foraging of herbs as well.  I am always amazed at the colors and scents of fresh-picked produce.  The camera doesn’t do justice to it, like in the below photo, the rich, bright orange color is not captured as it is by my eyes.  I love looking at the beautiful color of fresh-picked carrots.

It has been fun to be bringing in so much food and either eating it, or putting it up for winter use.

There are all kinds of herbs hanging and drying all over the house, like the yarrow above.  I love hvaing hanging herbs “decorating” the house!

Chickens

The hen who was attacked by the Eagle, Carrot, is healing up and improving each day.  I am really excited that she has survived, I really didn’t think she would.  She is also becoming quite friendly and very talkative with us since she is in the barn and gets extra attention.

Our broody silkie, Eve, has decided to set again.  She is our most successful broody hen and has set many many clutches for us over the 6 years she has been here.

So we moved her to the broody coop and later today will give her 7 eggs (she is on wooden ones while we finish collecting enough).  I will also put some eggs in the incubator to make up for any fertility problem we might have since our new young cockerel, Boaz, is the one breeding the flock right now and we don’t know how successful he is.  I will candle later this week and move over the fertiles to Eve.

Then our other broody silkie, Lily, decided to set as well.  She is not as experienced nor as reliable.  But we have moved her to the grow pen and given her some wooden eggs.  If she settles then we will give her real ones too.

Trees, Firewood, Lumber

Winter will be here before we know it (hard to believe, but true).  It is time for us to start working towards putting up all the firewood we need to heat the house this winter.  We were asked to take down a couple of huge, dead, beetle-kill, Ponderosa pine trees on someone’s property in exchange for the wood.  So yesterday we got the two ginormous trees down safely (PtL!) and did load after load after load of hauling slash and firewood rounds back to our property.  We also cut the largest parts of the trunks into 8-foot lengths and will haul them to the lumber mill to make some lumber for projects we would like to do around the property this fall.  It was a long, hard day, but we are a lot closer to being able to build our projects, and have firewood for the winter as well.  We will need to take down some more trees to have enough firewood for the winter since most of these two is going for lumber, but we have several other dead, beetle-kill trees that people want us to take down.  So we will continue to work on procuring our firewood on and off through the fall.

Sunday Homestead Update

County Fair Week!….all across the country people are flocking to county fairs to watch and participate in all the fun opportunities.  We went to two different county fairs this week and participated in one.  Many wonderful ribbons were earned and we all had a lot of fun.

Since our summer is so short, County Fair Week kind of marks the beginning of the end of summer for us.  We will be starting school soon and we are only a few weeks out from our average first frost…and then it is fall.  Amazing how fast time flies by, especially in summer it seems.

Bear in the Garden

We have had bears try to get into the trash, the barn, the coops, and successfully get into the camper and one truck.  But this is a first…a bear in the garden.  He tried to get into the trash first, was unsuccessful, and then decided that a salad would be a healthier option.

He broke down the fence at the corner, which also took down the medicinal herb garden fence, then squashed the celery and some peas as he lumbered over to the seed lettuce where he took several large bites from the lettuce heads.  Thankfully, that was all he ate and the only damage.

We fixed the fence and Finley has been sleeping in his crate on the back patio to help deter another visit.  This is the start of bear season, their intense drive for food, food, and more food starts now and will continue until they all head into hibernation in November.

Caterpillars

While working in the garden we found two huge fat caterpillars.

At first we were worried they were some sort of destructive garden worm.  So we put them into a container and went inside to investigate in our bug books.  We found that they are Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars.  They like carrot tops, dill, and parsley.  We happened to find ours on the dill.  From what we read it was clear that these big fat guys (or ladies) were getting very close to their chrysalis phase.  So we decided to watch them go through their metamorphosis.  We got them set up in a safe container, added a bunch of dill since that seemed to be their food of choice, and some wet cotton balls to drink from, a stick to hang from when they were ready, and then we waited.  Sure enough, a few days later they hooked themselves to the stick with two teeny tiny silk threads, and went into Chrysalis phase.

In 10-20 days they will be butterflies and we will release them.

Hay

We put up another trailer load of hay.  Only one more and we will be set for the year.

The Pullets are Laying!

We are now collecting regular hen eggs as well as small pullet eggs each day.  Perfect timing since the hens will be heading into molt in the next month or so, so we wont have too much of a lull in egg production during that time.

Golden Eagle Issues

We are continuing to have issues with the mother Golden Eagle and her two fledglings.  Last week I told you that we had lost a hen to a very cunning Golden Eagle mama who was feeding her fledglings and had carefully watched and waited for Anya to go into the barn for an afternoon nap in the cool with the sheep and goat.  It happened on Friday and right after it happened we counted the chickens and looked over the flock (without picking anyone up) and they all looked normal.  On Saturday and Sunday we kept them in their enclosed pen so they would be safe and we did another visual scan and everyone looked to be acting normal and fine.  But not having them out loose in the barnyard, it was somewhat hard to notice that anything was amiss.  Early Sunday afternoon when we went to check on everything Mtn man noticed one of the chickens, Carrot, was acting strange.  He picked her up and was upset to find that she had some pretty major wounds under one of her wings going all along her side and leg.  It was clearly talon wounds from the Eagle, but because they weren’t fresh and had started scabbing over we couldn’t tell if they went all the way into her abdominal cavity or not.  We have had one hen survive an aerial predator attack because the wounds didn’t go all the way in.  So we were trying to determine how bad the damage was without opening the wounds back up.  We decided that since she had survived two days already, there probably was not internal damage.  So we put her in her own pen with food and water and waited to see if she could recover.  It has been a week now and she is improving each day.  We don’t know if the eagle attacked two different times (Carrot, and Batina – the one that died), or if Carrot and Batina were standing right next to each other when the attack happened and Batina got the brunt of it and Carrot just got part.  Because Carrot is clearly just one side and it isn’t a full strong hit like what we have seen on the other chickens that have been hit by aerial predators.  We are hopeful she will make a full recovery.

Meanwhile, all the chickens have had to stay in their enclosed pen because the eagle and her juveniles are still hanging around.  But man-oh-man they are going through their feed like crazy.  They normally go through one bag of feed in about 10 days.  But they almost decimated a full bag within the first 4 days of their confinement!  Eeeek!  Free ranging really helps with the feed bill!  So we have been trying to make sure they get out for 30 minute free-ranging breaks a few times each day with a human protecting them.  We take turns and take a book or knitting or whatever to keep us busy while we watch over them.  Braveheart loves guarding the chickens and watching them and learning their different personalities and behaviors, so he has been doing the guarding more and more as the week progressed.  We are hopeful the eagles will move on soon so we can go back to letting them out each day with Anya watching them.  Of course, once the weather starts cooling the sheep and goat and Anya will take their afternoon nap in the barnyard instead of in the barn – then we wont have to worry as much either… theoretically.

Sunday Homestead Update

There is never a dull moment around our little farm.  Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways.  We had an adventure with some Golden Eagles this week that ended badly.

Thursday our Anatolian Shepherd LGD, Anya, was barking like crazy.  Her, this-is-serious-bark.  I ran out to see what was going on.  She was focused to the north of us and all the hair on her back was up.  I looked and watched and didn’t see anything.  Then I saw a very large bird fly through the forest.  I couldn’t see what it was because of the trees, but I could tell it was BIG.  Much bigger than the Red-tailed hawks we normally see around here.  I praised Anya and felt good that she was dealing so well with an aerial predator.

We have had problems with aerial predators before, specifically a Great-horned owl that over time killed 4 of our chickens.  This was back when we had our previous LGD, Tundra.  He was an excellent LGD, but he was getting old and slept a lot.  The owl would wait until he was asleep, then come down on a chicken, then Tundra would wake up and go after the owl.  The owl never got away with a bird, but they died anyway from the wounds from being hit by the owl.  We haven’t had any issues with aerial predators since Anya has been on guard.  She is very aware of them and young and always on the look-out.

Friday the kids brought me outside because they were seeing a large bird fighting with a Red-tailed hawk and they were hearing a lot of loud bird calls that were not familiar to them.  Throughout the day all of us got glimpses of the large bird but couldn’t figure out what it was.  And we heard the loud screeching all day.  Anya was on edge and barking a lot.  We kept a close eye on the barnyard and all seemed to be going well with Anya on duty.  When it would come near she would bark and all the chickens would run into the safety of their pen.

Mid-afternoon heat the activity in the sky calmed down and everything got quiet.  In the heat of the day the sheep, goat, and Anya all head into the barn to lay in the cool shade with the cross breeze blowing through.

What happened then wasn’t figured out until later in the day when we investigated everything, identified the large bird, and put all the pieces of the puzzle together in our heads.  From what we can tell, Anya was in the barn with the livestock and the chickens were in the barnyard scratching around.  A female Golden Eagle, with two fledglings to feed, waited for her opportunity patiently, and when Anya was in the barn she struck one of our Easter Eggers and started eating on it.  Anya figured out what was going on and came running out of the barn at the eagle, chasing it off.  Too late for the chicken, unfortunately.

The mom and the fledglings continue to hang out around our property, so we have kept the chickens closed in their pen until they move on to a new location.  And we are keeping our eyes on everything in the barnyard because although we don’t think she would go for a lamb, especially with the fact that Anya went after her, we are still being cautious.

I find it interesting that it was an Easter Egger, because last December when we lost a chicken to a bobcat, because Anya was in a different pen, it was an Easter Egger too.  We only have a couple in the flock of over 20 birds, so it seems too coincidental that they were both EEs that got killed.  I am guessing they don’t have as much predator instincts as the rest of the flock.  Especially because on Friday when the eagles were around we kept seeing the flock run into their pen throughout the day whenever they thought there was danger.  So I am guessing the EE didn’t run in when the rest of them did.

Putting Up Hay

Our property doesn’t have pasture, so we have to feed hay year-round.  Because hay is so seasonal in Colorado, and prices and availability change drastically based on the season, we try to fill the loft of the barn with all the hay we need for an entire year during the summer months.  We put up our first load this week.  We will probably be getting two more loads before the end of August.

Garden

Medicinal herbs can be hard to get going from seed.  This is our second year for the medicinal herb garden and things are starting to go pretty well.  We have two types of chamomile, one that we transplanted from the wild into the garden, and one that we planted.  Both are doing very well.  The yarrow is also starting to take off.  The lemon balm looks pretty good, and the echinacea are working on putting out some leaves.

Hopefully in a couple of years this is a beautifully full garden.

The celery harvest has started.

We also harvested our first 4 cabbages, for a total of 16 lbs.  We made cole slaw and started a big load of sauerkraut fermenting in the big crock.

I love fresh coleslaw in the summer!  And we will have plenty of sauerkraut for the fall and winter.

Cheesemaking

We made our first ever feta from our raw goat’s milk.  It turned out very yummy, except we over-salted it.  We are anxiously saving up milk to make another batch this week, without too much salt.

For the feta we needed a double boiler set up that could hold a gallon of milk.  Our double boiler isn’t even close to that big.  But Little Miss thought of this idea to use a big stainless steel bowl with butter knives on each side to suspend it a bit over the pot of boiling water.

Heritage Arts

I finished my Nightshift Shawl!  The pattern is by Andrea Mowry, and the yarn is Yakity Yak by Greenwood Fiberworks.  I am very happy with it.