Sunday Homestead Update – Farm Life, Illness, and Death

It has been a week with all three – life, illness, and death.

Our family has been passing around a nasty cold this week. It is working its way through each person, no one got to skip this one. Ugh. But despite being ill, the animals still need tending, winter is still barreling towards us at a very fast rate, and life goes on. The weather has been much cooler and very pleasant and autumn-like this week. We have enjoyed that.

Chickens

Matilda the bantam cochin hen had been setting her 7 eggs beautifully. She got off the nest daily to eat and drink and relieve herself, and spent the rest of the time happily incubating her eggs. When we changed her food and water she puffed up and growled at us – just as she should. Everything was going great for a hatch later this week. She was fine Friday night at chore time. Saturday morning at chore time she was dead. Setting on her eggs with her head in a natural sleeping position. Just gone. It was shocking, we have no idea what happened. It appears she died in her sleep. At least it was peaceful, that makes it a little easier. We thought to put the eggs into the incubator, hoping maybe they were still warm from her being on top of them, but it was clear she had died early in the night – both her and the eggs were cold. A hard and confusing loss.

The “Poultry Palace,” as the kids have labeled it, is coming along. We are hoping to get the chickens moved in later this week, freeing the chicken coop up to have the ducks move from their tractors into it. At which point…I have been informed…it will become the “Quack Shack.” 🙂 I love my kids and their fun, creative minds.

Sheep

Our ewe lamb, Dixie, suffered some sort of poisoning this week. It is unclear exactly what happened. But a call to the vet revealed her symptoms to be related to either a poisonous bite, or eating something poisonous. We could not find any evidence of a rattler bite or a black widow bite on her at all. So it seems she might have eaten a toxic plant. But she didn’t have any diarrhea, which would have likely been present if she had eaten something like that. It is another mystery, we really don’t know. The vet said that there wasn’t much we could do by that time and that she would either pull through, or she wouldn’t. We watched her closely and prayed she would make it. After two days of not doing well, we were happy to see a little improvement on day 3 and each day since. She is still not totally normal, but continues to improve. We have kept the whole flock off the pasture since she got sick. We were pretty much done with pasturing for the year at this point anyway and were planning to stop soon. This just brought it on faster.

Our wether also has been dealing with health issues. He got an ulcer on one of his eyes. The vet said it was likely he got poked in the eye with something, a prickly seed or grass or something. We have given him a couple of antibiotic shots to keep an infection from happening and we have been watching and waiting. He has been slowly improving, but he is currently blind in that eye.

Lilian, one of our new BFL ewe lambs, has a funny habit of standing in the feeder. The other sheep just eat around her, but Solace, one of the goats, head butts her whenever she wants to eat in that area.

Goats

Speaking of Solace the goat, we decided to dry her off (stop milking her) until next spring when she kids. She had trouble keeping weight on with her twins nursing this year and came to us pretty underweight. We have been able to increase her weight some, but not as much as we hoped. Heading into winter with her underweight (and breeding season in November/December) doesn’t seem like the best thing for her. We have Belle giving enough milk for our basic needs, so we will dry off Solace and let her regain her condition before kidding next year. That way she will be going into kidding and milking at a good, healthy weight and will hopefully be able to be milk the full season next year.

Mother Earth News

The October/November edition of Mother Earth News has hit newsstands and mailboxes. I have another “Ask the Experts” column in this edition. Check it out!

Views From the New Farm

When we lived in the Rockies we constantly had people telling us how beautiful it was where we lived. And, it really was (is). But we have been continually amazed at the beauty we see out here on the High Plains. Especially the sky. In the mountains the sky is smaller (due to the mountains all around you). Here the sky is such a huge expanse. And the way the sun and clouds play together and create light, dark, shadows, and colors of all different shades is pretty amazing. We are really enjoying the beauty of the High Plains.

Sunday Homestead Update – “Before Winter Hits”

It seems that the arrival of autumn has us scrambling to finish SO many different things “before winter hits.” We say that term several times each day lately. Having moved to the new farm in early June, we spent summer working from sun-up to sun-down on different homesteading and construction projects. Now that we are back to school, we are all putting in nights and weekends, plus every extra second we can squeeze in when we finish school a little early. Daniel has been working full time in the mill the whole time while putting in nights and weekends on the homestead. Sometimes he will be working on the homestead and construction projects during the day because they require light and then he will be in the mill at night. There is never a shortage of things to do on a homestead, and now we are racing the calendar to get all humans and animals warm and secure housing for winter. The good news is that winter hits about a month later here than it did up in the high Rockies, so at least we have more time than our minds, after living our whole lives in the mountains, are telling us we have.

Sheep

Our new sheep have finished their quarantine. We did 21 days because that more than covers most all sheep communicable illnesses. We have settled on names for them all, even though they are very difficult to tell apart and we mostly have to look at their ear tags at this point. During quarantine, only Braveheart was caring for the sheep, and he didn’t go down to the other sheep barn at all. That way we didn’t risk any disease spread via our clothes or boots. So we haven’t gotten to spend much time with them except looking from afar. I know that as we spend more time with them, now that quarantine is done, we will get to know them better and be able to tell them apart. The ram has been named Wallace, and the ewes are Agnes, Lilian, and Bunny.

Now that quarantine is done we decided to start breeding season. We are going to breed them in three rounds this year to spread out the lambing since we have limited housing that is not really set up well for sheep yet. We don’t know what to expect from the weather here as far as lambing season goes either. So we are experimenting by doing 3 waves of breeding. We are also doing it because Nilsson was unable to get any ewes pregnant last year, but we are not sure if that had to do with him, or if it was too late in the season, or what. He is a proven ram, and he was breeding a proven ewe and an unproven ewe and we saw plenty of breeding take place, and yet no lambs. So we would like to give him another chance this year, but we don’t want to risk the ewes not getting pregnant at all, so we are giving him first go at some of them, and then we will follow him with Wallace and Orville so that if he is the reason and somehow is sterile we wont risk not having any lambs next year.

So Matilda and Freya have joined Nilsson in his pen and we will see how it goes. Breeding season has officially begun.

Chickens

Matilda (yes we have a chicken and a sheep both named Matilda), our bantam cochin hen, decided she wants to set. She has never set for us before, but our best broody hen, Eve, is starting to get older and we desperately want more hens that will set for us. Using a hen to raise chicks is so much better than doing it with an incubator and/or brooder. So, even though it is late in the season, we decided to go ahead and give her some eggs. Hopefully in 3 weeks we will have some more chicks!

We made final plans for the permanent poultry housing. It can be built in stages (a huge plus both financially and time-wise). We will be building part of it this fall, enough to safely house the chickens and keets through the winter. The ducks will move into the coop the chickens are currently living in because it is better suited for ducks. Then, at some point (maybe next spring?), we will build the second part of it and will have a very useable poultry barn with plenty of space for what we want to raise. The first step was to move the keet house we had started building to the new location as it will become part of the poultry barn. We got that moved yesterday and now can start working on what parts we need to accomplish before winter.

In the Kitchen

The garden bounty continues to come in, from other people’s gardens this year since we got here late in the season. We have been processing it all, mostly through canning. The canner is up and going at least every other day, sometimes days in a row.

We also have some apple scrap vinegar brewing from some of the apple scraps.

Heritage Arts

Surprisingly, I have had time to squeeze in some knitting lately. I am working my way down the sleeve of the sweater I am knitting for Braveheart. I haven’t finished the body yet, but I don’t know if I will have enough yarn to finish the sweater, so finishing the sleeve with confirm that one way or the other so that I don’t spend a ton of time knitting when I won’t be able to finish it.

Seven years ago, for our 15th wedding anniversary, Daniel got me a beautiful antique 1905 singer treadle machine with a beautiful table. It was in really good condition, but didn’t really work very well. We recently stumbled upon a guy who could maintenance it (thank the Lord for that not-coincidence coincidence). So we got it all fixed and in working order. I am so excited! I know some of you are thinking “Why would you want to use a treadle sewing machine when you have a perfectly good electric one?” But I also know some of you are getting me and know why I am excited. I am still grateful for my electric, but these types of old things are oh-so-fun for me.

I have been playing with it just with scrap fabric to start to get the hang of how to treadle the right speed, start and stop, etc. I have made plenty of rats-nest-thread-knots as I have been learning due to improper treadling, but I am improving and it is fun. I decided I would like to make an easy quilt with basic squares as my first project on it because it will be straight lines and a lot of starting and stopping as I piece it, which is perfect for practicing and learning.

2020 Year-End Homestead Review

Looking back over the previous year on the homestead is an excellent practice because it helps us see what worked, what didn’t, and helps us plan for the future.  It is also always very encouraging to me because even when I feel like we didn’t have a very productive year, seeing it all written out shows me all that we accomplished.  Our homestead has had to take a backseat to other parts of our life over the last few years due to our son’s serious medical issues.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.  I used to do excellent record-keeping, but as each year has been harder and harder with Mr. Smiles, each year has thus been harder and harder to do good record keeping.  I am amazed I kept records at all this year!  But here’s what we have.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 21 hens, 3 pullets, 3 cockerels (almost ready for butcher), and 1 rooster.  Plus 23 eggs in the incubator.
  • Did 1 incubation with 23 eggs.  22 were fertile, 10 chicks hatched and 10 survived.
  • Broody hen set 12 eggs, bad fertility (only 5 fertile), 3 hatched, we added 10 from the store and she accepted them, 5 from the store and 1 of hers died in the first few days, 7 survived.  Got 5 more from the store and put them under her. 4 of those survived.  So a total of 11 surviving chicks.
  • Purchased 16 more chicks to have shipped.  14 survived.
  • 2 more broody hens set, one set 10 eggs, 7 hatched and survived, the other set 14 eggs, 4 hatched, 4 survived.
  • We purchased 10 chicks and our best broody hen adopted them and raised them.  9 survived.
  • At the height of the season we had 25 adult chickens and 40 chicks –  total 65
  • Butchered 24 cockerels, 13 old hens, 1 rooster
  • Did not sell any chickens this year, but gave away 3 as a gift
  • 1 hen died of unknown causes
  • Ended year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Approximately 4,180 eggs laid (348 dozen)

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 4.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the fire evacuations.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 1 wool ewe, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram
  • 4 ewes got pregnant, due in April & May
  • 1 ram lamb and 3 ewe lambs born, all survived
  • 72 gal of milk produced
  • 2 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of 8 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • 5 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of 10.1 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • Total of 8,525 yds of various sizes and types of yarn made from all the fleece. Plus 3/4 lb of roving.
  • Sold 2 ewes and 2 ewe lambs
  • Purchased 1 BFL ram lamb, 1 Wensleydale ewe, and 1 Bond ewe (all wool breeds)
  • 1 wool ewe died unexpectedly
  • Butchered 1 ram and 1 ram lamb
  • Bred them in two separate groups, one group in September, and one group in October-December.  2 September ewes confirmed pregnant due in Feb.
  • Realized our new BFL ram was unable to breed the flock successfully Oct-Dec, quickly purchased a new Bond ram end of December and put him with the girls, hoping to get the last 3 pregnant.
  • Finished year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams

Goats:

  • Started the year with 1 Nubian doe, Pansy.  Pregnant and due to kid in April.
  • 1 doeling born, died at a couple weeks of age.
  • Pansy struggled for several months with undefinable illness.  The vet, breeder, and we tried everything to figure out what it was and tried treating for any possible thing.  The illness decreased her milk production and we ended up having to dry her off in October.
  • Due to Pansy’s struggles and drop in milk production, we added another Nubian doe to our farm in July, named Belle.
  • 75 gal of milk produced.
  • Rebred 2 does in Nov/Dec.
  • 2 does pregnant and due to kid in April.

Ducks:

  • Started the year without ducks.  Added them to the farm in July – our first ever ducks!
  • Started with 2 drakes and 2 hens
  • 1 hen set 12 fertile eggs, 5 hatched, 4 survived, all drakes
  • Butchered 5 drakes and 1 hen
  • Finished year with 1 drake and 1 hen

Garden (didn’t keep good garden records this year, but…)

  • Over 250 lbs of produce harvested
  • More seeds saved than ever before

Heritage Arts:

  • Completed knit projects: 6 hats, 2 pairs of mittens, 2 pairs of socks, 1 gator, 1 poncho, and 1 dress.
  • Completed sewing projects: 4 dresses, 5 skirts, 8 pajama pants, 3 nightgowns.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.
  • We made 12 tins, 3 half-pints, and 1 pint of herbal salve.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, green beans, and tomatoes.  Plus grape jelly.
  • Prepped and froze carrots and celery.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, and squash.
  • Made 68 lbs of aged cheese.  Mostly from sheep milk, a few from goat’s milk.
  • Made a lot of soft cheeses and dairy products, mostly from goat’s milk, some from sheep milk.

Year Summary

January was cold and dry most of the month.  We hatched out 10 chicks in the incubator, hoping to line the hatching up with chicks coming in the mail so they could brood together.  Unfortunately, the hatchery made a mistake and printed our shipping page but never shipped us the chicks.  So we decided to just raise the 10 we had hatched ourselves.  We pulled our first ever aged cheese out of the cheese cave and tried it.  It was Colby and we all liked it.  One of our younger ewes surprised us by getting bred late, bringing our total of pregnant sheep up to 5.

February made up for January’s lack of snow by snowing every few days and dropping into the negative temperatures.  We worked on indoor projects a lot, and Mtn Man finished his first-ever rectangular braided rug made from llama and alpaca fiber.  We took photos of our chicks each week as they grew and changed.  We got ourselves organized and planned out the gardens and planting schedule for the year, as well as all the livestock birthings and things we needed to prepare for related to that.  Since we kept more sheep than we originally planned to when we put up hay last summer, we had to buy some more and get it put away in the loft.

March started exactly the opposite of February, with a week of warm, dry, sunny weather.  We spent a lot of time outdoors, working on finishing the new vegetable garden in time for planting.  We got the lambing/kidding kit and vet kit re-supplied and ready for lambing season.  And we also finished the wooden barnyard fence.  Coronavirus spread over the world and we were isolated from socializing.  We were largely unaffected, until Mtn Man ran out of work in the mill and had to take an essential construction job.  Our stirred-curd cheddar cheese reached 3 months of aging, so we were able to take it out of the cheese cave and try it.  It was delicious!  We put part of it back to age more so we could see the difference.  Our hen, Cinnamon, decided to set a brood of eggs for us.  We finished shearing all the sheep and began processing their fleece, and we got excited as we neared our first lambs due on the farm for the year.

In April our first dairy lamb was born without issues.  We started milking our first dairy sheep – Autumn, and quickly realized it would go better with a milking machine.  A lot of work was done on finishing up our new veggie garden area, and improving and building new fruit garden areas.  We made progress on Mr. Smiles’ new play area too.  We were all excited when I was invited to blog monthly for Mother Earth News.  Cinnamon’s hatch had terrible fertility, and we only ended up with 3 chicks, so we bought some at the store and gave them to her to raise with hers.  Many were weak from shipping stress and died, so we bought some more.  Our wool ewe, Fiona, had a single ram lamb, in an uneventful birth that we missed seeing despite our hourly checks.  The end of the month was exhausting as we were up to the barn every two hours through the night awaiting the goats and lambs that were due to be born.  Daisy, a first-time-mom ewe, had a traumatic birth with a very stuck large single baby in her small inexperienced pelvis.  We were able to save both the ewe and lamb, but then Daisy rejected the lamb.  After working with her for a day, we decided to give up and bottle feed it.  Once they were separated and the other ewes came to visit the baby, Daisy suddenly decided she wanted to mother the lamb.  We were very relieved and did not need to bottle feed after all.

In May our stay-at-home orders were lifted, and the hospitals started performing surgeries again.  This meant that Mr. Smiles could now get the surgery he was supposed to have back in March, but it also meant that we would be gone to the Children’s Hospital during the height of our lambing/kidding season.  Thankfully, no one birthed while we were gone.  We continued to be exhausted from our nightly barn checks as Pansy the goat went well past her due date, whereas both our first-time-mom-ewes went earlier than their due dates.  Daisy was due in May, but had hers in April.  Blue went 4 days early, the day before Mr. Smiles’ surgery.  Thankfully, Blue’s birth was uneventful and we missed it despite hourly checks on her.  Finally, 9 days past her due date, Pansy gave birth.  She had ring-womb and it made for a traumatic delivery, but both mother and baby survived.  We were finally past our birthing season and could get some sleep – theoretically.  Our oldest son graduated from high school at the end of the month – our first child to graduate from homeschool.  His ceremony and party were canceled due to coronavirus, so we had a nice little celebration on our own.  And we added a new BFL ram to the flock.

June started with disease, pests, and late frosts.  It was a challenging month for sure.  Our youngest son had more trouble with his health, leading to 1 MRI under anesthesia, 4 more surgeries, 2 ER trips, and 9 days in the hospital.  Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the mice were reaching plague-like proportions, with us catching up to 35 per night in our traps, and the barn cats killing innumerable amounts, and yet they were still wreaking havoc in the gardens and barns.  We found out that our new BFL ram might have brought Orf to the entire flock, and anxiously waited the disease incubation period, hoping it wouldn’t prove to be true.  The goat and her doeling got lice, and we were busy treating them with a natural oil daily.  One of our hens hatched out 7 baby chicks, on the same day that the doeling very suddenly died of what was suspected to be enterotoxaemia.  We grew oh-so-weary with it all.  And then, during Mr. Smiles’ hospital stay and surgeries, Pansy became very ill.  We had the vet out multiple times, only to find no obvious cause and have no treatment we tried help.  As a last-ditch-effort, on our way home from the hospital we picked up a buckling to take home to see if it was emotional depression from the death of her doeling causing her physical illness.

In July we managed to avoid the pediatric hospital, but knew our time away was limited so we were super busy at the farm trying to deal with all the summer to-dos before we had to head back to Denver.  Pansy the goat was still sick for awhile, but eventually pulled through her mysterious health issue.  We traded the temporary buckling out for a new milk doe.  We weaned lambs, sold some sheep, and purchased a new breeding ram and ewe.  We also added ducks to the farm for the first time ever.  The mice and hail continued to plague the gardens, but some harvest began to come in as well.  With two goats, and the lambs not milk-sharing with us anymore, milk continued to flow in larger quantities than before, and thus we spent a lot of time making cheese and other dairy products.  We had to switch to a larger homemade refrigerator cheese cave, as the smaller one was full.  We also purchased two pigs and butchered them for our winter meat.  It was our first time ever butchering pigs as we usually have the butcher do the pigs for us but there was no butcher who could take them due to the pandemic.  It was a very busy and productive month on the homestead for sure.

August brought a lot of juggling of farm life and hospital life.  Mr. Smiles had 2 more surgeries, one scheduled and one unexpected.  Meanwhile we were trying to continue to process all the dairy products and harvest the garden.  We ate, canned, froze, pickled, fermented, and root cellared the produce as it was harvested.  We butchered some chickens, and one of our hens decided to set and hatch some chicks.  One of the new duck hens wanted to set too, so we bought some hatching eggs and put them under her.  As I continued to blog for Mother Earth News, I also had an article published in Chickens Magazine.  Our friends were evacuated due to a wildfire and their ducks and chickens came to live with us for what turned out to be several weeks.  It was kind of fun having a goose on the farm for a little while – we had never had one before and she was beautiful and fun.  We struggled with a couple of red-tailed hawks and a golden eagle who were hanging out trying to get an easy meal in our barnyard.  The chickens had to stay in their covered pen to keep them safe.

September was beautiful, except for the large amounts of smoke from the wildfires.  We worked hard harvesting and preserving the harvest from our gardens.  The pullets began laying, so we had some fun new egg colors and sizes.  We were able to can our produce, despite supply shortages, thanks to our reusable canning lids.  We got an early hard freeze along with three days of snow that surprised us and brought the garden harvest to an end quickly.  Thankfully, we got all the produce out in time.  The snow also helped suppress the wildfires, for a little while.  We tried a new breeding plan for the sheep on the farm, and bred three of the ewes during September, planning to breed the others in December to divide up our lambing season.  We also butchered the ram lamb.  The duck hen successfully hatched her ducklings and we really enjoyed the new adventure of that.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezers when Mtn Man and his father hunted elk.  Sadly, our matriarch ewe, the first ewe we ever purchased for the farm, died unexpectedly – it was heartbreaking and a very difficult loss.

October was full of fall productivity.  We worked at getting, splitting, and stacking firewood to heat the house for the winter.  We continued to work on cleaning up the gardens and putting up the seeds for next year.  We finished several heritage arts projects, and built new feed bins for the barn.  We butchered more chickens and a ram, plus a couple of ducks.  The freezers were filling up fast for winter!  We were excited to learn that one of my blog posts for Mother Earth News was chosen to be published in their e-newsletter.  The Cameron Peak wildfire moved closer and closer to us, putting us on edge and prepared for evacuation.  We had a mountain lion hang out around our property for a few days, which kept us on edge as well.  Two more wildfires started near us, and ash and smoke started making life complicated.  Then, in one days time, one of the fires grew over 100,000 acres and traveled 35 miles, closing in on our home.  We were evacuated, and had to quickly get 64 animals and 8 humans off our homestead.  We were so blessed to have friends, acquaintances, and strangers reach out to us and take in our animals and our family.  The animals were spread over 5 different farms.  After 5 days, our family was able to go home, but the fire loomed and threatened and we had to stay prepared for fast evacuation, so we did not bring the farm animals back for a few weeks.

As we headed into November we continued to watch the wildfires and wait for the OK to bring our livestock back to the farm.  We cleaned and prepared the barn, and worked on some heritage arts projects.  As the containment lines grew, we started bringing animals back.  First the sheep and LGD came home.  Then the poultry.  The goats were evacuated to the farm that they go to every November/December for breeding, so we left them there for the breeding season.  It felt great to have the animals back at the homestead!  Since the ram had to be with the ewes during the evacuation – thus starting our breeding season earlier than planned, we decided to just leave him with them and let them breed.  We added a new, Bond ewe named Matilda to the farm.  We also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning and cheesemaking.  We scrambled to get things done around the farm before winter really hit since the evacuation had put us behind on all our fall projects.  We were surprised to find out that our two hatches from September, one duck hatch and one chick hatch, that each had 4 babies survive, had all males.  Not exactly what we were planning, but more meat in the freezer.

December brought both very low temperatures (-10F) and unseasonably high temperatures (55F) to the farm.  We used the warm days to finish fixing some fences and the path out back, and spent the rest of the time cozy by the fire working on heritage arts projects for Christmas presents.  It was a pretty laid-back, low-key month and we all enjoyed the break and rest.  Then, in the last few days of the month, we realized that our new BFL ram was not getting the ewes pregnant.  We quickly purchased a new ram, a Bond, and put him with the girls, hoping we could get the last 3 ewes pregnant before their breeding cycles stopped for the season.

 

It is good to look back, but can also be hard to look back as well.  I remember that in last year’s homestead review I said that it was by far the hardest year in our lives.  Good thing I didn’t know what was to come.  This year has by far been the most challenging year of our lives.  We had so many losses in our personal lives and on our homestead.  At the homestead we battled the weather, pests, birthing complications, and illnesses in the livestock.  Our youngest son had 8 more surgeries this year, along with many hospitalizations, ER visits, and doctor’s appointments.  His last surgery was his 23rd in his 5 years of life.  It was definitely challenging.  Through it all we continue to focus on our many blessings and trust in God as He carries us through the ups and downs.

Sunday Homestead Update – Hope and Healing on the Homestead

When we first arrive back home after a stay at the pediatric hospital I am eager to hug on and talk with my older kids that couldn’t be with us during that hospital stay.  Once I have soaked them in, my next move is to the homestead.  It brings such comfort in the struggle that we have been battling for over 4 1/2 years now.  It brings stability, routine, constancy, good repetition, renewal, hope, and comfort to me.

This week, Mr. Smiles, our almost 5-year-old, went under anesthesia for the 21st time in his very short life.  The unknowns of his combination of rare liver and biliary conditions have plagued us for what feels like an eternity.  Watching him struggle with his health, and not knowing the prognosis or outcome as he has become somewhat of a “guinea pig” so-to-speak for the specialists as they try everything they can to help him survive this, has been so very hard.  It is a roller coaster of stress that you desperately want to end but it wont.  But the homestead remains a constant.  It brings comfort.  And for that I am so very grateful.

Gardens

The first place I headed with my wonderful children along with me was to the gardens.  In the few weeks before the most recent surgery, I had been neglecting the gardens as I was struggling emotionally to find the motivation to work on pretty much anything.  As soon as we got home, I knew that the gardens needed my attention first and foremost.  But also, I needed the gardens.  Working in the soil, seeing plants grow and produce, and helping them along in that is so full of hope, and I needed a good dose of hope.

We tied up vining cucumbers and squash plants that were threatening to take over all the walkways and helped their corkscrew tendrils grab on to the arches and cages and other structures that were nearby.

We harvested tender sweet peas, as well as wrinkled, dried pods full of pea seeds for next year.  Hope.

We cleared out the rotting under-leaves of the large cabbage and lettuce plants to let air circulate better and prevent fungus from gaining any ground.  We pulled out spent plants, making space to then plant new seeds for a winter cold-frame and frost tent garden.  We admired the progress of the plants – bumpy, red kuri squash in all different stages of growth alongside large bright yellow squash flowers.  Green tomatoes, pepper flowers hidden under the leaves, large onions beginning to bulge out of the soil, climbing bean vines getting higher and higher up the fences as they wrap around and around and around.  Hope for a harvest.  We harvested a big bowl of purple (green) beans and prepped them for canning to be enjoyed in the cold of winter with a hot meal.

We thinned out carrots that should have been thinned a couple of months ago but got lost in the hospital battles.  In thinning, we were able to come up with a nice little pile of fresh, tender, young carrots to enjoy with our fresh peas at lunch time.  And we pulled the last of the garlic and set them out to cure in the fresh mountain air.  It was a wonderful time of working together and healing with garden hope.

Chickens

Next, I really wanted to see how Mama Hen, Dahlia, was doing with her first ever clutch of eggs.  We had candled the 14 eggs right before we left for the hospital, and were very pleased to find that all 14 were fertile.  This could be our largest hatch ever – if it goes well.  Hope.  I peeked into the dark broody coop and saw Miss Dahlia, all huge and crouched flat over her eggs, protecting them and keeping them warm.  She looked great and I thought ahead to how fun it will be when they start hatching and we have a bunch of little fuzz balls climbing all over their mama like a jungle gym.

Ducks

Little Miss had some exciting news to share with me.  One of her new duck hens, Violet, seems to have decided she wants to be a mom as well.  Little Miss described to me her behavior of spending most of her time in the duck house on the fake eggs we had put in there to encourage the hens to where we wanted them to lay when they first arrived a few weeks ago.  Since we are new to ducks, we have never been down this road before and don’t know exactly what we are doing.  So, Little Miss and I did some research, and we are also leaning heavily on Violet’s instincts and abilities.  And we are hopeful for a hatch of ducklings in a month or so.

The Barnyard

Our sweet LGD, of course, needed some extra loving from me.

And the sheep and goats each got their fair share of petting and scratching as well.  The two lambs we kept are now 3 and 4 months old, and the ewe lamb’s size is getting closer and closer to her mother’s.  She is an exact twin of her mom, but has always been enough smaller to easily distinguish, but now she is big enough that when they are laying down it takes a good hard look to decide which is which.

Daisy on the left forefront, and her lamb, Nora, on the right forefront.

Everyone in the barnyard was lazy with the heat, laying around trying to keep cool and not expend too much energy.  Sitting on the rock in the middle of the yard, listening to them all chewing their cuds, and the chickens scratching through the compost heap looking for food, petting my sweet dog – just being, and in one of my favorite places to be, was wonderful and healing.

 

Mr. Smiles is doing excellent recovering form the latest surgery.  We continue to hope that maybe that was the last one, as we have done every time.  Maybe he won’t need any more surgeries and his liver can go it on its own from here on out.  Meanwhile, while things are good and easy, we are soaking in this time together and the wonderful homestead that we are so blessed to live on.  We are hoping for baby chicks and ducklings, and a good garden harvest to feed us through the winter, while we hope for healing and rest for our baby, and our family as a whole.

Sunday Homestead Update – New Life on the Farm

It has been an interesting couple of weeks of weather here, with warm sunny says in the high 50sF, down to cold, snowy days with several inches of snow falling and temps down to the teens at night.  Just when I start to get motivated and excited to do spring work outdoors, the snow flies again and I am trying to shift my focus indoors and stay warm by the fire.  It is an interesting situation.

Sheep

We have had a couple of sleepless nights as we have been dealing with making sure our new little ewe lamb is surviving the colder temps.  Mtn Man is such a trooper with going out to the barn in the cold and dark of night multiple times to check on her.  I am grateful that he does that part and just has me handle the alarm to get us up for each check.  Then I get to stay cozy and wait for the update from the barn.  🙂

Last night she made it fine through the night without any added heat source.  The weather is supposed to be much nicer the next several days, so it looks like we are in the clear with her.  We are definitely surprised at how she has so much less wool on her at birth than our wool lambs do.  Her mom has the most Lacaune in her lines of all our dairy sheep.  That is something we will be considering as we move forward with our selective breeding of these dairy sheep – we will want heavier wool so they can handle the climate here better.  It is going to be an interesting adventure.

Since the dairy sheep project is mostly Sunshine’s project, it made sense for her to get to name the first dairy lamb born on the farm.  She chose the name Twilight.

Twilight snuggled up for a nap right under where her mama was eating – leaving her with a nice blanket of hay.

Chickens

Cinnamon is set to hatch this week.  Since she decided to set during the rooster switch-around, the fertility was terrible on the eggs we gave her (only 5 fertile out of 12).  So we ordered some chicks to arrive this week and we will be putting them under her for her to raise with the chicks she hatches.  This is her first time hatching for us, so we are not sure how she will do with adopting chicks.  But we have successfully done it before with a couple other hens we have – so we are hopeful.  Obviously, if she rejects them we will put them in the brooder and brood them ourselves.  I will let you know how it goes.

Garden

It is feeling more and more like spring as far as gardening goes!  We harvested the first food from our garden – chives!  They are always something we can count on coming up very early and adding some flavor to our meals.

We have some other green things starting to poke out of the ground.  The strawberries are putting up leaves.

And the gooseberry bushes just barely have little leaf buds beginning.

 

The indoor garden lights have tiny seedlings coming up too.

Sewing

I think it is important that both my girls and my boys learn to use a sewing machine.  At least the basics.  The girls are both accomplished seamstresses and can use sewing machines very well.  Young Man was taught the basics when he was younger and can use one when necessary.  So now it was time for Braveheart to learn.

I like to teach them when there is something they WANT to do involving a sewing machine.  It makes the learning so much more fun and relevant, and it sticks better.  This is true for a lot of the learning in our lives, not just sewing.  Braveheart has a pair of parakeets and they make SO much mess with their downy feathers flying all over the place out of the cage.  Braveheart is responsible for cleaning up the mess a couple times a week.  So when I suggested that he sew a fabric guard for the cage that could contain the mess and keep him from having to clean so much he was totally on board.

He did a great job and learned the basics of the sewing machine, measuring, cutting, elastic, and ironing.  And he is very happy with the finished product, which is keeping the mess contained and manageable.