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.

The Dichotomy of Farm Life

Farm life is such a roller-coaster of ups and downs.  Success and failure.  Gain and loss.  And it can change so quickly, leaving us feeling polar-opposite emotions in a very short span of time.

Yesterday we woke to the cheeping of newly hatched baby chicks.  An excellent hatch of 7 out of 9 eggs.  Eve had set on 4 of them (3 hatched) and we had 5 in the incubator (4 hatched) which we put under Eve once they were out of their eggs.  Eve was happily mothering them and we were all very excited.

By midday that excitement was gone when we found our little one-month-old goat kid, Pearl, very sick in the barnyard.  Despite our best efforts and help from the vet, by mid-afternoon Pearl was dead and we were all emotionally crushed.  The exact cause is unknown, but with the symptoms, and how quickly she died, the vet thinks it was enterotoxemia.  It is basically a shift in gut flora that causes the clostridium bacteria that are always present to turn into an out-of-hand infection.  It kills fast and whether you can save them or not is totally hit or miss.  We caught it early, but it didn’t save her.  The vet said there wasn’t anything we did to cause this specific situation.  It is usually caused with changes in feed or overeating, neither of which happened with Pearl.  She was fine at 9am, obviously sick at 11am, and dead by 3pm.  It was terrible and a very difficult experience.  We let Pansy spend some time with her after she was gone so she would know.

Farm life is not for the faint of heart.  Watching a baby goat die and not being able to do anything that helped, watching my daughter’s heart break (it was her goat), and then watching the mama goat pace the yard crying out left me crawling into bed feeling raw and defeated.  We are pulling together as a family as we process this loss.  But in farm life there isn’t much time to stop.  Life keeps going.  Animals need to be fed, milked, and you still have to get up the next day and tend those cute baby chicks that hatched yesterday.  The practical has to be dealt with, which for this situation means transitioning our schedule to milking Pansy twice-a-day and continuing to move forward while we nurse our hurting hearts.

Farming can be quite the dichotomy of experiences and emotions.

Sunday Homestead Update – Orf?

Orf?  To me, it sounds like I am asking a question in sea lion language.  But actually, Orf, also called sore mouth, is a virus that can be found in sheep and goats, and is transmittable to humans too.  We got a call this week that our new ram was potentially exposed to it for a day during his travels from Iowa to us.  The downfall of having such a small farm is that it is pretty much impossible for us to quarantine new animals coming to our farm.  Thus, we run the risk of dealing with contagious diseases.  Supposedly, orf is only spread when the animal has active sores, which the other ram did NOT have when MacDougal was with him.  MacDougal doesn’t have any active sores right now either.  The gestation of the virus is usually 7-10 days, but can be as long as 3 weeks.  We are currently 2 weeks out from the potential exposure.  So there is a very high likelihood our flock will not get it – and that is what we are desperately hoping for.  But until next week, we wont know for sure.  We are doing what we can to limit contact as much as possible between the rams and the rest of the flock, just in case, while we wait.

Gardens

The mice are eating our gardens like crazy.  As are the robins.  The robins have eaten all the bean and pea seeds we planted.  And the mice are eating pretty much every small seedling we put out, and every little sprout that tries to pop up.  This is despite all the traps set around the seedlings and sprouts…which are catching mice each night.  So the garden is a couple of weeks behind where it normally is.  Being behind might not matter a whole lot in a regular gardening situation, but when you only have a 10-week growing season frost-to-frost, being behind by a couple weeks is a problem.  We also have a frost coming this week, so we are planning out blanketing and will do what we can to not let it kill anything.  Welcome to gardening in the Rockies.

We have put up some bird netting to deal with the robin issue and re-planted the beans and peas.  We re-planted lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, and kale and put clear plastic cups over each one to hopefully let the seedling pop up and grow without getting eaten.  Obviously, they will outgrow the cups quickly, but this will hopefully give them a good start while we continue to battle the mouse wars.  No idea if it will work.  At this point, we are grasping to just try to get the seedlings going.

To continue our battle, we built a log-roll bucket trap to see if we could gain some ground on the mouse situation by catching more than just what our single use traps can handle.  But the bucket trap has yet to catch anything.  We are having a lot of sprung traps, and catching less mice each night lately.  We are hoping that doesn’t mean that our trapping has caused a natural selection and only the trap-smart mice are left and breeding.  LOL.

Ermine

In addition to the mouse issue, as well as the lice issue I talked about last week (see below for an update), we found a very concerning critter in the barn – an ermine.  Thanks to the cats, it was dead, and it is a very good thing because it could have killed all 14 of our chicks in one night, or potentially a full grown chicken or two.  Yes, they look tiny and cute, but they are savage predators and can kill a full-sized chicken!  And they definitely would enjoy dining on my little 4-week-old chicks.  Thank you barn kitties!  I am sure this guy put up quite a battle, and I am so glad the cats got him.

Chickens

Our broody hen, Eve, is hatching her eggs today.  We put 5 eggs under her, as well as 5 in the incubator to make up for loss.  Out of 10 eggs, 9 were fertile.  All were alive at lock-down on Thursday.  So it is looking to be a good hatch.  As the chicks in the incubator hatch out and strengthen, I will take them up and put them under Eve.  She can easily raise 9 chicks, even though she is too small to set on 9 full-sized eggs.

Goats & Sheep

We have continued with our natural oil herbal treatments on the goats for lice.  We are barely seeing any live lice anymore, maybe just one or two each day when we treat them.  We are continuing to treat them until we are past 22 days – the life cycle of the lice.

Marigold is supposedly due to lamb this week, but she is not showing any symptoms at all.  So we have decided that she didn’t take.  This means lambing season is officially over (and was over a month ago).

All the lambs (and the goat kid) are all doing very well; growing and playing like crazy.  The LGD is doing very well with them now, after our extra training sessions last week, and knows not to play with them.  We are getting plenty of milk each day from the sheep and goats and are really enjoying having it and making all our dairy products with it.

Family

We found out this week that our 4-year-old son, who has had 14 surgeries in his short life and faced many medical challenges, is yet again having liver issues.  After multiple smaller surgeries that were unsuccessful, he had a big surgery last fall that we were all very hopeful would fix his liver issues long-term.  At first it seemed like it had, but he is struggling again.  After an 8-month-long break (which we are so grateful to have experienced), we are back to the world of doctor’s appointments and testing while we figure out what is going on and plan the next steps.

Disease…pests, pests, and more pests…late frosts…it has been a challenging season so far.  But there is always something good to be found as well, as long as one is willing to look.  We are.

Sunday Homestead Update – First, Mice…Now, Lice!

Last week I discussed our current infestation of mice, and now, this week, we found that our goats have lice.  Sigh.  How did our goats get lice?  We have not brought in any new goats (these lice are species-specific).  The only time they left the farm was in November when Pansy went to get bred.  I have contacted the breeder and she says none of hers have lice.  Strange.  Little Miss spends large amounts of time brushing and grooming and petting and loving on her goat, and definitely would have known if the goat had lice before now.  A few days after the doeling was born, Little Miss found one bug on her.  We checked her and mama over thoroughly and didn’t find anything else, so we didn’t think much of it.  Last week, Little Miss didn’t have time to brush and love on Pansy and baby Pearl much, so several days went by without the normal grooming.  Then, early this week, she went back to her grooming routine and found them both totally infested with lice.  Eeeeek!  and ICK!  Maybe Pansy had a low-grade infestation all along but the grooming kept it under control?  Maybe they got them from the wild deer and elk in the area? (the vet said that is not possible).  I just don’t get it, and that is frustrating because if we don’t know how they got them, how do we prevent it from happening again?

Pansy, wet from her lice treatment

Anyway…I did some research on the internet about goat lice, and man-oh-man this is one of those topics that everyone has their own opinion on and no one seems to agree and I feel like I can’t trust anything I am reading because everyone is so differing in their opinions.  So I decided to try something altogether different, but that my gut was telling me to do.  We have a natural spray that I have used for bug repellent before.  It is an off-label use.  The main ingredient is tea tree oil and our friend uses the spray as an udder wash on her dairy goats, as well as a bug spray for them, and has never had any issues with it.  It is safe for them, even though this use is definitely off-label.  I felt like I should try it out before we went to the usual vet treatments.  Little Miss and I sprayed both of them down and rubbed it well into their fur down to the skin (with a rubber glove on).  We did it at about 10am and we saw millions of lice.  That evening, at barn chore time, we examined them (in the dark of the barn) and could only find 1 moving lice.  The next morning, we sprayed them down and worked it to the skin again.  When we were doing that, we saw that there was a huge decrease in lice, exponentially less.  We are conitnuing the treatments every day or two.  The life cycle is 22 days, so we will just continue this way for awhile and hope that it works.

As far as the mouse infestation goes…we continue to catch 12-15 mice daily.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I find this crazy and don’t know how to get ahead of this issue.  It seems they are multiplying faster than we can catch them.  We will press on and hope that the numbers start decreasing soon.  One benefit of the mouse overpopulation is that the barn cats are so busy with the mice that they haven’t had the time or energy to bother the swallows.

Gardens

We had a couple of hard frosts this last week.  All but the newest 2 of the Gooseberry and Currant bushes had put on flowers.  So we blanketed the flowering ones to help keep the flowers alive and increase our harvest.

It worked well and everything survived.

That was likely our last frost, but we are still being careful with putting frost protection on anything we put out because last year we had a surprise frost June 9th.  We have continued to plant and transplant new veggies this week.  We have also been harvesting and using the rhubarb, chives, and asparagus.

The robin population is booming and they are eating our newly planted bean and pea seeds, as well as digging up the Medicinal Herb Garden in search of worms.  The Medicinal Herb Garden doesn’t start really sprouting until mid-June, and all those seeds went in in the fall.  So I am concerned all this robin digging is messing them all up and they wont sprout.  So we put bird netting over that garden.  The robins are none too pleased with the new scenario.  But hopefully we will have some herbs start sprouting in there soon.

Speaking of the Medicinal Herb Garden…that is where our apple trees are planted.  We planted two apple trees in there 2 years ago.  After the first winter, one had died down to the root stock, but started sending up branches from there.  We decided to let it do that.  This last winter was their second winter.  The one that had survived the first winter died down to the root stock, and the other one died BACK down to the root stock again.  It seems these varieties, even though they are supposedly able to survive our cold climate, can’t survive here.  And we have had two very mild winters in a row – so if they can’t handle that, they definitely won’t make it long-term.  So we are re-thinking the apple tree plans now.

Sheep

Votes are in and it was pretty clear what our new ram’s name is…MacDougal.  MacDougal is settling in very well.  He and Remi are living in the bachelor pen together.

Our Livestock Guardian Dog is struggling again this year with the lambs, like she did last year.  She is just about to turn 4-years-old and I think it continues to be a maturity thing.  When the lambs are tiny, and stay close to their moms, and the moms are very protective, she is fine with them.  In fact, she is excellent with them.  She will belly crawl over submissively to sniff them and check them out and respects the ewes.  But as they get bigger, and start to run and play, and the ewes are not very protective anymore, then she starts to get into trouble.  She can’t resist the running, bouncing, playing lambs (who could!?) and wants to run and play with them (heck, I want to run and play with them too!).  The problem is that she is 110 lbs of dog, and wants to play like a dog, and they are much smaller lambs, who play like lambs.  The main issue is that she grabs one of their back legs and holds it, while they run along.  She is gentle and doesn’t break the skin or anything, but this has led to some limping lambs, both last year and this year.  The limp goes away after a couple of days, but it is still not good.  So we have been spending extra time training with her this week and teaching her this is not OK.  And she has also had to spend some extra time living in the back pen with the males when we can’t be keeping an eye on the situation.  Overall, she is an amazing LGD, and we fully expect her to grow out of this and not have this issue every year.  The training this week has shut it down…for now…but we will keep an eye on things.

Is Marigold pregnant?  Or not?  We are not sure.  She is supposedly 10 days from her due date, but we are not seeing very clear signs to support this.  We are wondering if she didn’t take, or if she didn’t take and then got bred at a later date than we thought.  We are keeping an eye on her, and we have her on the end-of-pregnancy diet just in case.  But I am guessing we are done lambing for the season.  Time will tell…she might surprise us.

Chickens

Our very awesome, sweet, friendly rooster, Ben, had moved into the bachelor pen because we can’t use him for breeding anymore since we kept him so long and now would be doing some major inbreeding if we kept using him.  But he is so great and gentle that it seemed a waste to eat him.  So we decided to separate him out for now, and let our new roo, Nilo, do a year or two of breeding and then bring Ben back once we had less of his daughters and grand-daughters in the flock.  Well, some friends came by to drop off fiber at the mill and look at our sheep and they saw Ben and heard his story.  They have a flock of free-ranging hens and would like to have a rooster to protect them, but have had trouble with mean roosters and didn’t want to deal with that.  So Ben has now moved on to live with them.  He seems happy to have a flock to look after again, and it will be a very nice home for him.

Ben the rooster, with the flock last year

The oldest hen on our farm, a Silkie named Eve, has been setting eggs and raising chicks for us for many years now.  She is 7 years old and still lays 4 eggs a week when she is not brooding.  She raises anywhere from 1-3 clutches of chicks for us every year.  What a great hen!  Well, she is at it again, setting on 6 eggs.  I put another 5 in the incubator because she can raise more chicks than the amount of eggs she can fit on (she is a bantam), and it will make up for any loss we have too so she is raising a full clutch.  All 5 eggs in the incubator are fertile (good job, Nilo!) but I haven’t gotten around to candling the ones under Eve yet.  I expect they are all fertile too.  They will hatch out next week.

Eve

In the Farm Kitchen

We have continued making dairy products with all this fresh goat and sheep milk.  This week we made more yogurt, mozzarella, and our first batch of chevre.

I have also been making some herbal medicines this week.  I made an Arnica/Comfrey salve, and a liver cleanse tincture.

Sunday Homestead Update – Spring Busy, But Calm

It has been a nice, calm, uneventful week here at WCF.  Just what we needed after several weeks of crazy.  We got some warm days and some rain – both good for our gardens full of new seeds and seedlings.

Garden Progress Update

We have done a lot of planting, hardening off of plants, transplanting, filling wall-o-waters, and general gardening this week.

Medicinal Herb Garden- The medicinal herbs are the last things to come up here, due to the cold climate.  So not much is happening in this garden.  The chives are up, as is the rhubarb.  The yarrow is just starting up.  The apple trees and the lilac bush are just barely starting to form leaf buds.

Garlic/Onion Patch- This year this is actually the garlic/potato patch, and I have spread the onions here and there and everywhere in my other gardens for pest control.  The Northern White garlic are up and going strong, the Spanish Roja are sparse and a bit behind, but this is what happened last year too and the Spanish Roja produced fine by the end of the season.  The potatoes are in the ground.

Upper Vegetable Garden- We have the tents and the Wall-O-Waters up to extend our season and get some plants in the ground early.  Our last frost of the season is still a ways away, and these make it so we can actually grow something in our short, 10-week frost to frost season.

We have tomatoes, squash, and peppers in the WOWs.  And there are cabbage seedlings in the tents, along with lettuce, spinach, kale, radish, and beet seeds in the ground.  The carrots and pea seeds are also in the ground.  We should have some tiny sprouts coming up all over very soon.

Strawberry Patch and Strawberry Terrace- The old strawberry patch is coming up nicely.  We finished the strawberry terrace and were only planting one level this year because we only had enough compost and soil for one level.  We were unable to find much in the way of plants at the garden centers around our area (coronavirus has everyone planting gardens), so I couldn’t find any new strawberries to put in that one level.  Then I decided to change the landscaping of the front edge of the existing patch.  It previously had a little wire decorative fence and some 2-inch thick bricks between it and the path.  This caused the strawberries to spill out onto the path, and the little fence was faded an breaking after only a couple of years of use.  I decided to use thicker bricks to hold it back better.  In the process of changing out, there were many strawberry plants crowded up at the front of the patch that needed to come out.  Most years I try to cut all the runners, but a few times in the last few years I was too busy in the fall with Mr. Smiles’ surgeries and hospitalizations to get around to cutting runners.  So the strawberries had run rampant and were overcrowded all along the front edge.  As I worked to take out the crowded berry plants I was shocked to find that after only being 1/4 of the way across the front I had filled the one terrace box I wanted to fill.  So then I put compost and dirt into the second terrace, and by halfway across the front of the patch I had filled the second terrace box.

The third terrace still needs more construction on it, so Little Miss and Braveheart found an area around the chicken coop where they wanted to make their own strawberry patch.  So they built that with some decorative bricks, and by 3/4 of the way across the patch I had filled their patch with berry plants.  I had no idea that my strawberries had gotten SO crowded!!!

The last 1/4 of the front edge gave me 15 plants, and I was out of space, so I was able to share that with a friend who gardens as well.  What a blessing!  Here I was trying to buy new plants, when I had plenty at my disposal.  Technically, the books suggest you don’t do what I did due to pests and disease, but thankfully, here in the high Rockies, pests and disease are not as big of an issue as other places due to our dry climate, and the fact that we get so very cold in the winter.  I think this will work fine and the strawberries will produce much better now that they have more space.  Now I just need to thin out the rest of the patch a little bit.  The front was definitely the worst, because it gets more sun, so they were reaching for it.  But the rest of the patch could use some help too.

Berry Bushes and Grape Vines- The grape vines are always late to get going due to the cold, so nothing is happening with them yet.  But the Gooseberry bushes and the Currant bushes are covered with leaves.  One Gooseberry bush has some flowers on it too.  We planted the new Gooseberry bush that was eaten by worms, and it looks like it is going to recover pretty well.  We also planted the Black Currant bush that surprised us earlier this year.  It has not been as happy with its transplant as the Gooseberry is, and we decided to put a Wall-o-water around it to help boost it along.

Lower Vegetable Garden- It is fun to begin to use our new vegetable garden, even if it is only 2/3 built.  Next year we will have the whole thing finished.  We have tomatoes in the WOWs, as well as lettuce, spinach, kale, radish, and beet seeds in the tents.  And carrot and pea seeds are in the ground as well.  Watching for the little seedlings to pop up!

Home Dairy

This week our aged cheddar was 5 months old.  We at half of it at 3 months, and then put the other half back in the cheese cave to try again at 5 months and 7 months.  This week we tried the 1/4 that has been aging for 5 months.

The flavor was excellent!  Better than the 3 month for sure.  So I think we will try to age all our cheddar to at least 5 months.  We will see in a couple of months what 7 months tastes like.

Now that we are getting plenty of raw milk, we have started making more and more of our homemade dairy products again.  Twice a week I am making a quart of sheep’s milk yogurt.  I am really enjoying how much easier my instant pot is for yogurt-making.  This week we also made some Paneer.  Paneer is an Indian cheese, and Sunshine has been trying out all sorts of Indian recipes lately and requested that we make her some.  I am planning to make some aged cheese this coming week, as well as Chevre now that we can drink the goat’s milk (because we had to assist with her birth she had to have an antibiotic shot, so we had to wait a week before we could drink the milk).

Sheep/Goats/Chickens

All the mothers and babies are doing well.  We are all enjoying the cuteness of the lambs and kid playing together – who needs TV when you have a barnyard full of fun?  The chickens are still not very thrilled with the new additions, especially Misty, who chases them constantly.  But they are settling in to the new situation.

We were gifted an old feeder that we are trying out for the sheep and goats, it seems like it is going to work very well.  As you can see, Pansy the goat can be quite pushy and in this photo has a whole side to herself, but Fiona the sheep is dominant over her, so Fiona keeps everyone moving around the feeder and makes her share.

We have been making a lot of breeding program decisions this week, now that all but one sheep have lambed.  Autumn and Twilight have been sold and left for their new home.  Remi has also been sold and will go to the same place as them, but not for a few more weeks.  Daisy and Misty will likely be for sale, and we have some people interested in them already, but we will not be making those final decisions until Maggie gives birth and we are closer to weaning all the lambs.  We did buy a new ram from out of state, and he will be arriving next week.  Fiona, Blue, and Nora are all guaranteed to stay here for breeding.  Time will tell who else will stay.

The two sets of baby chicks are growing well.  Our old broody hen, Eve, has decided to set again, so we gave her hatching eggs this morning and should have some more chicks in a few weeks.

Busy spring on the farm!