Sunday Homestead Update – Planning

I am such a planner.  I love calendars, lists, spreadsheets, and everything like that.  I love to make goals and plans and then go for them and tweak things along the way and really it doesn’t matter as much whether it was a success or failure but that I enjoyed the planning of it.  So the start of a new year, and the beginning of winter, is always a fun time for me because it is a great excuse to do all sorts of planning!

Garden Plans

I pulled out the colorful seed catalogs, and my garden binder, and started the garden planning for this next season.  We are trying some new stuff, sticking with old reliable stuff, and everything in between.  One of the things I am most excited about will be the addition of the two apple trees.  We have been tweaking, rebuilding, and preparing the Onion/Garlic patch for a few years now, and last fall we removed the pine trees there that were causing too much shade and way too many pine needles and cones on the gardens.  We will be replacing them with apple trees that will provide leaf mulch for the gardens, apples for us, and just the right amount of shade on certain parts of the gardens.

I am bummed we didn’t get to plant garlic last fall in the newly fixed Onion/Garlic patch, but we will fill it with onions this season, and get the garlic in next fall.  The deeper soil, awesome compost from the barnyard, and lack of pine trees should really make this area super-productive this year.

Not much will change in the main veggie garden, except we will be making a few boxes deeper and adding some compost because of our “miracle box” situation last year.  I have planned out the crop rotation for this year, as well as the varieties we will be planting.  We are also going to build another bean trellis archway, like the one we made last year from a cattle panel.  It worked great and looked nice too, so I want another one.

Last year we got our rain barrels set up with hoses that I could easily run to the berry bushes.  This year we will get a drip system hooked up to the berry bushes, the strawberry patch, and the container herb garden that will be fed from the rain barrels.  This will make for less work and more thorough watering of those areas, and we wont be using purchased water, which is awesome.

Lastly, with no sheep in the barnyard this year, we are planning to fence off the bottom half and plant a corn “field” again.  We tried this two years ago and it was mildly successful, but because we didn’t irrigate it well enough, and because the sheep broke into the area and destroyed everything, it didn’t really work.  We would like to run water from one of the rain barrels down there and without the sheep breaking in maybe we can grow some grains on our little farm!

Previous attempts at a corn field – before it got ruined.

 

School Curriculum Plans

This is also the time of year I sit down and work on our school curriculum plans for next year.  Summer is way too busy for me to do any school planning, and by January we have done enough of the current year for me to be able to see where we will end up, what is working, and what is not working.  So I sit down and plan out curriculum for each kid and then we usually purchase it in the spring.  Then it only takes me a week or so at the end of the summer to go through everything that I already planned and get us up and going for a new year.

Going along with our plans of simplifying our life for 2018, I am switching curriculum for next year.  We have used the same one for 5 years now, and we love it, but it is definitely more time consuming and teaching intense than some of the other ones.  With 4 kids in school, plus a special needs toddler, we all need something a little simpler that requires less time and intensity.  So I have found what I will be using with each of the kids, and we are all looking forward to a bit of a change and a simplified school year.

I have also made some changes and tweaks to this year to make the second half more simple and fun than the first half has been.  We have already implemented it and it is going well.

Chicken Breeding Plans

The kids have completely taken over the care of the chickens now, so I decided that it is their choice if, when, and how they want to breed them.  They are working together to formulate a breeding plan for the year and they will get to keep all the money they make from any sales of chicks and pullets.  I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

It is fun to look ahead at a fresh new year and make some goals and plans for what we hope to accomplish!

Sunday Homestead Update

We are in laid-up medical mode around here lately so not much is going on.  While the majority of America is freezing, we are somehow sitting in a balmy zone and are spending our days in the 50sF and nights in the 20-30sF, which is 15+ degrees warmer than we average this time of year.  It has been strange…but very nice!

Smokehouse

Back in December we smoked elk rib-eye in our smokehouse.  We used a different rub recipe than previously, let it cure for 21 days, and then smoked it for 6 hours using oak and hickory wood.  Once inside we baked it for 90 min.  The results were very good.  It was more moist than our previous attempts and we all enjoyed it very much.

Knitting

Small amounts of knitting getting done here and there.  I started a hat using 100% Alpaca yarn.  It is my first time ever knitting with alpaca and I am loving the squishy soft-ness of it all.  The fiber came from Talking Feather Alpacas farm and Mtn Man spun the yarn in our mill.

Chickens

The first batch of fall hatchlings are closing in on butcher weight, so we will be dealing with those soon.  There are three boys out of the 5 chicks.  The girls will stay for layers for now.

The second batch of fall hatchlings are just now around 9 weeks old and we are starting to be able to tell that there is at least one cockerel in the batch of 4.

2017 Year-End Homestead Review

It always amazes me when we do our year-end review and look back over the past 12 months how much we have accomplished.  Even in hard years it is good because we can see that we really did a lot on the homestead despite everything we struggled with.

To read previous Year-End Reviews Click the following links:

2013

2014

2015

2016

Statistics

Goats:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant does
  • One set of triplet doelings born, 2 sold as bottle kids, 1 sold as weanling
  • One doeling born breech, dead at birth
  • One doe sold, one butchered for dog food because she couldn’t be bred anymore and was very old
  • Purchased 2 new does in summer, fresh with milk
  • Sold does because of our need to be free from milking because of son’s continuing health issues and hospitalizations
  • 70 gallons of milk produced for our family use

Sheep:

  • Started the year with 4 pregnant ewes and 1 yearling ewe
  • 5 lambs born – 4 ewe lambs, 1 ram lamb
  • Twin ewe lambs bottle raised, sold as bottle babies
  • 1 ewe culled
  • 1 ewe butchered, 26 lbs of meat, 12 lbs dog food, plus stock bones
  • 2 fleece sheared off for a total of 11 lbs raw
  • Flock of 6 sheep sold at end of year because of son’s continuing health issues and hospitalizations

Chickens:

  • Started year with 7 hens
  • Purchased 33 chicks
  • 6 chicks died first week of life, 27 chicks survived – 20 pullets, 7 cockerels
  • Butchered 6 cockerels and 2 old hens
  • 1 pullet killed by LGD pup
  • Broody hen set on purchased hatching eggs, 3 chicks hatched and survived and sold
  • 5 pullets sold at point of lay
  • 2 different broody hens set on our fertile eggs, hatched 10, 9 survived, 3 cockerels will be butchered January, 2 pullets kept, the rest still too young to know
  • 1,858 eggs laid
  • 17 eggs set for hatching
  • 49 doz sold
  • 104 doz for our own use

Fiber Rabbit:

  • Oliver, our English Angora Rabbit, was sheared 4 times this year, produced about 8 oz of fiber this year.
  • Oliver died of complications of a wool block in October

Farm Dogs:

  • Started the year with our amazing 13-year-old farm dog, Tundra, working the barnyard alone because the OTSC dog, Finley, was clearly not going to work out as his replacement.
  • Bought a 10-month-old Anatolian Shepherd, Anya, in the spring to work with Tundra and be the future replacement LGD.
  • Tundra died of old age at the end of July.
  • Anya is continuing to mature and be trained to be our lead LGD.

Garden:

  • 314 lbs of produce harvested
  • Spent $112 on the garden this year, average of $0.36 per lb.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the following knit projects: 6 pairs of socks, 2 toddler size sweaters, 2 balaclavas, 1 hooded scarf, 3 stuffed Easter Bunnies, and a pair of hunting gloves.  And I extended the length of the Farmhouse shawl that I made last year.  I also made one felted Christmas ornament.
  • I sewed 10 skirts, 24 cloth placemats, 48 cloth napkins, 3 toddler bibs, finished 1 crosstitch bookmark, and we made one batch of coffee-ground soap.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.  I didn’t keep track of them, but I do know they sewed those 12 quilted hot pad trivets to match my placemat/napkin sets, and 80 backpacks and 232 facecloth hygiene kits for Operation Christmas Child.

Kitchen:

  • We didn’t keep canning stats this year, we were just too busy.  But we did do some canning.  Definitely less than usual.

Year Summary

In January we stayed warm and cozy inside while the snow flew and the outside temps stayed low.  We did brave the cold to work on several barn projects, remodeling and making things better suited for our needs.  We started a no-pre-processed-food challenge.  We worked on many heritage arts projects, including sewing, knitting, and soap making.  We also prepared for our first goat kids to be born.

February brought the first goat kids to the farm.  Heidi kidded adorable, colorful, tiny, triplets.  The birth was an adventure, since the first kid was breech.  But they all survived and we enjoyed the adorable antics of three babies.  And those weren’t the only babies on the farm in February, our 33 chicks also arrived and we enjoyed having them in the brooder in the house.

March had some gains and some losses.  We had a very sad and scary delivery for our goat Gretchen.  Her kid did not survive the ordeal, and we were barely able to pull Gretchen through it.  We sold two of Heidi’s kids as bottle babies and kept one doeling with her.  We began to get goat’s milk that we could use for our family, which was a huge blessing.  And our first lamb arrived earlier than we expected, but healthy and doing well.  She was the first second-generation lamb born on our farm.  We purchased her granddam, Daphne, who lambed her dam Violet for us, and then Violet lambed Daffodil.  It was a fun milestone birth.

April brought more gains and losses and was a very FULL month on the homestead.  We had twin ewe lambs born and sadly lost their mother right after birth, which left us with bottle babies.  We raised them a few weeks before selling them.  We also sold Heidi and her doeling, leaving us with one doe in milk.  We then had two more single lambs born, a ewe and a ram.  The chicks were big enough to integrate into the adult flock.  We started setting up the garden and had a ton of seedlings sprouting indoors waiting to go out.  We bought our new Livestock Guardian Dog, a 10-month-old Anatolian Shepherd puppy.  Tundra (our head LGD) helped us begin her training.  And we opened our new business – Willow Creek Fiber Mill.  Whew!  That was a super busy month!

In May I had trouble concentrating on work around the farm because the adorable antics of baby lambs in the barnyard made it hard for me to pull myself away from the fence.  Thankfully, I was able to resist the temptation enough to get some stuff done.  We got some seedlings moved into the gardens and spent a lot of time working on Anya’s training.  Mid-month we were buried in a deep, wet, spring snow.  It caused some damage to the berry bushes, but for the most part was just a fun distraction.

June weather meant that the last of the seedlings could move out into the gardens.  We were able to begin harvesting some herbs too!  We built some more fences and started battling the flies trying to eat the dogs’ ears.  We found the fly collars to be pretty effective, though short-lived.  The girls and I kept busy with sewing, knitting, and needle felting projects.  We attended some fiber festivals and enjoyed watching our fiber mill business grow.  And we had our first broody hen of the year start setting.

In July we butchered the cockerels, along with our older goat.  We got a new milk goat, which quickly turned into two new milk goats because she refused to eat from loneliness for one of her own kind.  The gardens started producing well and we were able to do some early harvesting.  We were surprised by how well our cabbages did and enjoyed an abundant harvest of them which we made into sauerkraut in our big crock, and coleslaw too. We did some more barn fixing up and remodeling.  The pullets started laying and our broody hen hatched out her chicks.  Towards the end of the month we experienced our hardest loss ever on the farm when our wonderful old lead LGD, Tundra, died.  He had been part of our family for 13 years, and was such an excellent farm dog.  It was a loss that shook us all.

Early August brought a terrible rain storm that flooded the barn.  We had to tear up all the floors and spent a lot of time digging ditches to help prevent future issues.  Our garden continued to produce well and we were busy harvesting and preserving the harvest.  We butchered one of our sheep and made broth with the soup bones, in addition to freezing a lot of great meat.  Our son’s medical issues came to the forefront and everything else was put on hold while we dealt with surgery, a hospital stay, and follow up appointments.

September was mostly focused on our son’s medical stuff.  But the coming of the first frost also necessitated a lot of garden work, harvesting, and putting up of the harvest.  We were very happy with the bountiful harvest we had this year, FAR surpassing all previous years.  We also had trouble with bears as they began their push to put on weight before hibernation.  Thankfully, none of our animals were killed by the bears.

October meant our gardening season came to a close.  But we were happily enjoying the fruits of our labors with delicious meals inside made completely from our farm.  We continued with Anya’s training (which had been going on since April).  I did a LOT of knitting and tried a new sock method.  And we had two more broody hens decide to set and hatch out chicks.  We worked on Operation Christmas Child projects and enjoyed preparing for the big box packing day in November.  Our sheep got loose and gave us an adventure, and at the end of the month we put our ram in with the ewes for breeding.

In November our sweet little Angora bunny, Oliver, died.  I continued my knitting spree and we made our first ever dog-fur yarn in the mill.  We all got very very sick with croup, strep, and pneumonia.  Somehow I found time to finish my last set of seasonal cloth placemats and napkins.

December started out unseasonably warm, with only two brief cold snaps, but ended with some bitterly cold days and nights.  We enjoyed working on homemade Christmas gifts and dealt with more medical crisis.  We made the hard decision to downsize the farm for the unforeseeable future while we continue to juggle our son’s medical issues – and thus we are down to just chickens, gardens, the guard dog, and barn cats on the farm.

It has been an exhausting but productive year.  We hope that our move towards downsizing and simplifying the homestead for 2018 will bring peace and prosperity to our family as we continue to battle the unknown of our son’s medical issues.  We look forward to another year full of adventures, productivity, and good memories.  We are blessed.

Life

It’s been a while since I posted.  Life has been overwhelming lately.  This blog focuses on our little homestead.  I generally stay away from discussing the rest of our life because I just want this to be about our homestead.  But because homesteading is a lifestyle sometimes there is no way to not bring other topics into the light.

If you have been following for long you know that our baby has struggled medically for two years now.  He has had 6 surgeries and hospitalizations in his very short life, as well as countless appointments, tests, and procedures.  All of which occurs at least 2 hours away from our home, sometimes farther.  The solidity of the homestead has been helpful through this time.  The homestead stays the same, shifting routinely as the seasons change, in a way that is comforting.  We know lambs will arrive each spring, along with chicks and higher egg production.  Shearing happens towards the end of winter.  Planting and harvesting come and go on the same cycle each year.  And those things have given us a solid footing when the rest of our life is shifting and changing almost daily.  When the prognosis for our son changes drastically before and after each surgery, the homestead is still there, staying the same.  We love homesteading.  It is so fulfilling.

But it is also a lot of work.  The homestead can’t be put on hold.  Animals must be fed, chores tended to, twice a day, every day, no matter the weather, no matter our health, it must be done.  If we need to be at the children’s hospital someone must be here to tend to things.

Our son has an extremely rare condition.  There are only 14 documented cases ever in history.  12 of those kids died.  2 are still alive because their bodies somehow healed the issue on their own.  And then there is our son, he is number 15.  And they don’t know how to fix it.  That is scary to say the least.  At first we weren’t truly able to understand what this would mean for our life, and really neither could the doctors.  We tried juggling the homestead and the medical stuff, along with regular life.  We tried downsizing this or that.  We tried changing how we did things to make them easier.  And not knowing how long this would last made us hold desperately to the dream of our solid, comforting homestead life.  Will they be able to fix it this week?  Or next month?  Or a year from now?  When will we have our stability back?  We don’t know.  We don’t know how long this will go on.  And that is very hard.

It is apparent now that our previous homesteading lifestyle is not longer a possibility and that we need to shift and accept the new situation we are in.  We cannot do all that we used to do and do it well.  We have stretched ourselves too thin over the last two years because we just didn’t know how long this would last or what it would be like.  So we needed to make decisions to help our family get back to a place of peace and thriving instead of just surviving each day.  So we made the very difficult decision to significantly downsize the homestead for the indefinite future so that we can devote all our time to our family, businesses, and to this medical stuff.  We need to simplify our life as much as possible and still find ways to enjoy each day and do the things that bring us joy.

First the milk goats were gone, milking being one of the most time-consuming aspects of the farm.  Since we had only had them a short time, that felt pretty easy.  And we can buy from the same breeder in the future.

But then it was time to sell the flock of sheep.  This was much harder.  We have been building this flock for 4 years now and selectively breeding and buying to build just the right fiber-producing flock with a perfect variety of textures and colors.  We were very attached to each individual sheep.  We are happy that they were able to go together as a group to a farm not far off.  We know they will have a good home and in the future when we re-build up the livestock on the homestead we will be able to buy sheep from their lines.  But it was a very hard day on the whole family when they left.  There were definitely tears.  But both Mtn Man and I believe that it was the right decision for where we are now and what we are facing.

More decisions need to be made.  But for now we are living with the new situation and seeing what we think of it.  We are desperate to find a way to keep our sweet LGD Anya.  We have put a lot of effort into training her and we are all very VERY attached to that sweet girl.  However, if we remove everything she guards I think she will be unhappy and bored out of her mind.  We have contemplated bringing her indoors and making her a pet, but that seems pretty unlikely to work for many reasons.  So for now we have rearranged the chickens to make them as easy as possible to care for, and she is guarding them.  We will see how this goes.  We might need to downsize the chickens to just a few in the lower coop and shut down the barn completely.  But that would mean decisions about what to do with Anya.  So for now we wait, and pray, and we will see what happens.

Meanwhile, while dealing with all these decisions and changes, and an extra dose of medical stuff lately, we are also taking time to slow down and enjoy our Advent season.  We are concentrating on remembering the promises that led up to the birth of our Savior.  We are looking forward to a nice, calm, and restful Christmas this year to rejuvenate us before another slew of medical stuff hits soon-after.

I plan to keep blogging about the homestead, but I don’t totally know exactly which direction it will take.  As our life journey shifts so does our homesteading adventure and the story of us.  I don’t know exactly which parts will make it to the blog and which wont…we are just taking it one day at a time right now.

Sunday Homestead Update

Happy Thanksgiving to my readers from the US.  I hope you all had a nice day with your loved ones.  We had a wonderful day with great food and great fellowship.  We follow Thanksgiving day with a tradition we call “Holiday Fun Weekend” where we decorate for Christmas, make Christmas candies, play games, watch movies, start our advent celebration, and just have a laid-back fun time together as a family.  We decided not to put up the tree quite yet this year, and since Advent doesn’t start until next weekend we held off on most of the Christmas decorating.  But we did put up a few things.  And we made some yummy candies and enjoyed games and time together.

It was our first time trying maple sugar candy.  We didn’t have any molds to pour into, so we poured into cupcake liners and then broke it into chunks.  Not as pretty, but still delicious!

We also made our traditional Old Fashioned Christmas Candy, and some eggnog fudge.

Raspberry Flavored Old-Fashioned hard candy

Root Beer Flavored Old-Fahsioned Hard Candy

Eggnog Fudge

Garden

The last of the tomatoes have ripened and been canned this week.  Last year my longest keeping variety lasted until Christmas, but this year they didn’t keep quite as long.  I have been saving seeds from my Long Keeper variety for a few years now – saving from the ones that lasted the longest each year.  But it is clear that they cross pollinated last year, because they are supposed to be a red tomato, and as you can see, they are not.

That might have added to why they didn’t keep as long.  So I need to see if I still have seeds from two years ago, before they crossed, and I can start again with those.  Or I could keep going with this variety – the color is pretty cool with the yellow and blush stripes – but I think I really want to keep going with more pure strain that keeps longer.  I am saving seeds from these anyway, but I am going to mark them as a cross-breed.

Knitting

I am chugging along on my cardigan.  Almost done with the body, then on to the neck and front band, and then the sleeves.  I am really happy with it thus far, and I know it will look much better when it is blocked.  Can’t wait to finish it!

Chickens

Mrs. Arabel and her 4 chicks are doing well.  We finally got some pictures of them.  Two are looking to end up white and one brown and one buff.  They are oh-so-cute.

I know this is a terrible picture because it is through the wire, however, the chicks are so cute when they poke their heads out from under their mom and they never do it when the door is open so the only way to see it is through the wire.  Can you find all three?

Sheep

Well, the sheep breeding adventure is definitely turning out to be an interesting learning experience.  As I discussed in this previous post, this is our first year using our own ram for breeding, and our ram is just on the edge of being old enough to breed, so we didn’t really know how it would go.

We have been keeping a close eye on the barnyard and the sheep for five weeks now since we put the ram in with the ewes.  The first 12 days or so were very uneventful.  Then we saw that Agnes was in standing heat.  Fergus was trying to breed her, but we didn’t see anything we considered successful breeding.  I noted it on the calendar and marked the date she should come back into heat if she wasn’t pregnant.  Then we went a couple of weeks with nothing happening at all.  Then we saw Toffee in standing heat and saw him again attempting, but it didn’t look successful.  We marked it down and marked when her next heat should be.  Meanwhile, the last mature ewe, Fiona, at no point showed any signs of heat, despite the fact that we had put the ram in with her for over 4 weeks and a ewe’s heat cycle is approximately 17 days.  The two younger ewes shouldn’t be mature enough to breed yet, but we did see him attempting to breed Daffodil, though she wouldn’t stand for him, so I guess we just don’t know.

Last weekend we arrived at what should have been Agnes’ second heat cycle, but she never went back into heat.  That was surprising.  So it seems that the only thing we can guess from that is that she did get pregnant, even though it didn’t seem like it was successful.  We will continue to watch Toffee to see if she comes back into heat or not, she is due to come back in the 3rd.  And we are continuing to try to figure out why Fiona hasn’t shown any signs of heat at all.

Hopefully all of them are getting pregnant.  Time will tell.  We will preg test them all in the next couple of months.

Homesteading is a constant learning process and a constant adventure.  🙂