Sunday Homestead Update

Feels like summer around here!  Beautiful sunny days, early afternoon showers, and cool, fresh evenings.  We are enjoying all our regular summer activities – gardening, animals, popsicles, sprinklers, hiking, crafts, farm projects, reading, visitors, outings….etc.

Garden

June is the time of year for hail in the Rockies.  Knowing this, I have left my WOWs on the tomato and squash plants longer than necessary just to try to protect them from the hail as long as possible.  This week we had a doozie of a storm, and thankfully there was very little garden damage because of the WOWs, plus the pest control fabric over the cabbage, lettuce, spinach, turnips, and beets.  We were home when it happened, so we ran outside and threw sheets over the strawberry patch, the few tomatoes that were unprotected, and the celery.  So almost everything was spared from the storm.  The rhubarb and beans did sustain a lot of damage, as well as many of the herb seedlings we had just put out into the garden.  Thankfully we still have several herb seedlings indoors under the grow lights.  We will put them out in a few weeks when the major hail danger has passed.

Thankfully, somehow the grapevines didn’t get hurt.  I think the angle of the hail was slanted enough that the patio roof protected them.  The older vine is doing SO well this year.  It has about 50 flower clusters on it.  Hopefully, some of those will turn into grapes for us.  Our goal for the younger vine is just for it to grow and spread this year, it is still very small and not doing as well as the older one.

I love the purple chive flowers each year – so pretty!

The cabbage are all very happy in their tent tunnels.  The fabric and arches for the tunnels have been quite an annoyance and need constant upkeep, but they seem to be helping thus far and they definitely protected them from the hail damage.

Heritage Arts

The girls and I decided to clean out and organize the craft room.  In the process we found several half-finished projects and a lot of mending.  So we set to work on all of it.  I am teaching Little Miss how to use the sewing machine, and she wanted to make curtains for her playhouse, so we did that.  We mended several pairs of pants and a couple of shirts.  We finished the last of the Spring/Easter cloth placemat and napkin set.  And now we are left with two bigger projects that we are working on.

First, we are making some cloth bibs for Mr. Smiles.  I will post more about that this week.

The second project has to do with some leftover scraps from the cloth placemats we made.  When we cut the corners off the placemats we were left with a lot of fabric triangles.  We didn’t want to just throw them away so we have been piecing them together and have been putting together different pattern ideas to make them into hot pads/trivets to go on the table under hot dishes.  It will be nice because they will match the placemat/napkin sets for each season.

Hopefully we will get those done this week.

In addition, we have found a new hobby (like we needed another hobby!) – Needle Felting.  Sunshine was the first one to have interest in it, but now Little Miss, Braveheart, and I have joined in the fun.  I bought this kit from the Felted Dog and made this cute Christmas ornament.

Chickens

The cockerels are 17 weeks this weekend, which is usually when we butcher them.  But we decided to wait another week because a couple of the ones we need to butcher are a little smaller than we hoped.  We did assess them all (there are 8) and begin the process of deciding which will become the future breeding rooster for the flock.

LGDs

Anya has now accomplished the next step in her training – she has been allowed to meet the chickens off-leash and spend time with them in the barnyard.  We still wont leave her alone with them for awhile since she is only a year old and still has some puppy behavior, but so far she has shown no signs of wanting to hurt them and has done very well hanging out with them.

Tundra’s Defy the Fly collar is definitely losing its potency already.  It has only been a week and the flies are beginning to get at his ears again.  They have also added his nose to the menu since it is farther away from the deterrent collar.  We still have the collar on him and have also been rubbing some human spray bug repellent on him to boost the fly control.  The flies are just terrible this year already, much worse than normal for our area.  They are bothering the goat and even the sheep.  We have never had the flies go after the sheep before.

The Fiber Mill

The Mill has been getting very busy, which is such a wonderful blessing.  Mtn Man is making all sorts of amazing yarns and fun blends.  He has been working with Navajo Churro and several other types of wool, Alpaca, and Goat Mohair.  Some of the blends include silk, bison, and merino into a few of the Alpaca and Mohair yarns.  So many options…so much fun!

 

Sunday Homestead Update

Wow, it has been 4 weeks since I did a Sunday Homestead Update!  Life is just a bit crazy around here with warmer weather, gardening, animals, tying up the end of school, the fiber mill getting busy, attending and preparing for fiber festivals, family coming to town to visit…the list goes on and on.  I am so busy living the homestead life that it is hard finding time to document it in photos and blog posts.

Gardening

The garden is going well.  Since the update I posted a couple days ago we have gotten the new pole bean arch built and up and planted the seedlings by it.

Mtn Man made this out of part of a cattle panel.

The last of the seeds and seedlings are all in the ground, so the main part of planting season is officially over.  I will still plant succession lettuce and spinach, and I also will plant a few things later for fall crops.

Fiber Mill

The fiber mill is starting to get busy, which is so wonderful!  Mtn Man attended the FiberTrain Festival in Idaho to promote our mill.  He took Young Man with him and they met a lot of great people in the fiber industry.  They also were sweet enough to bring me back something pretty:

I am beginning to dream of what to make with them.

Heritage Arts

I have just finished up the front of Mr. Smiles’ sweater.  I am now starting on the sleeves.  I am really happy with this pattern so far and think it will be adorable when finished.

Sheep and LGDs

The lambs are growing fast.  Fergus especially.  He is now as big as the ewe lamb that is a month older than him, and is getting close to as big as Tundra.  Tundra is about 55 lbs.

Tundra and Anya continue to do their job well now that the bears are out of hibernation.  We have had a couple of bear visits.  Anya’s bark seems to have a better effect on the bears than Tundra’s has – they have high tailed it out of here faster than usual.  It also might have to do with two dogs barking as opposed to just one.  But Anya does have a very deep, very BIG dog bark that would send me high-tailing it out of here too if I was the one she was barking at.

Chickens

We integrated the older hens in with the young pullets in the upper coop and are letting them free range in the barnyard while Anya gets used to them.  We also moved the cockerels down into the lower coop.

Farm Projects

We got some work done on some of our farm projects this weekend too.

We finished the ram shed, which is a three sided shelter in the ram pen that we framed with pallets, stuffed with raw wool skirtings, and sided with rough sawn board and batten from the tree we took down last fall.  Eventually, the ram will live in the back barnyard during the day and this shed will be his shelter.  At night he will be closed in his own stall in the barn for safety from predators.

The second project we did was put in the permanent fence to separate the front barnyard from the back barnyard.

It was previously separated by horse panels with wire attached.

Before:

After:

Before:

After:

Before:

After:

Sorry for the light difference in the photos, one was the early morning light before we started, and the other is the early evening light when we finished.

We built in a section of the fence to be a feeder similar to our other fence feeders, we just didn’t finish it yet.  We also built in a section where the water trough can be under the fence and thus shared by both barnyards.

Sorting Chickens

Our chicks are now 10 weeks old and we are getting ready to integrate the females in with our older hens and separate out the cockerels into their own coop/pen.  Since we are selectively breeding our chickens, we keep close track and records of each of the birds.  So in preparation for the integration we banded each of the chicks and added them to the flock tracking sheet.

My favorite type of bands are these colored and numbered ones from Strombergs.  I use the color to indicate which generation they are, and the number is for the individual bird.  They stay on quite well, though we do occasionally find one off.  And they come in a good variety of sizes.

10-week-old Silkie

We also clipped the left wing on every bird because we will be free-ranging them in the barnyard and we do that to keep them from flying up and over the fences.

We decided to use an alphabetical naming system this time around, since we are just getting back into breeding.  So all the first generation birds are names that start with “A” – second generation will start with “B” – and so on.  So the kids had fun coming up with “A” names for all the chicks.

10-week-old Salmon Faverolles Pullet

10-week-old Partridge Chantecler Pullet

We ended up with 27 surviving chicks – 7 cockerels, 19 pullets, and 1 unknown.  The cockerels are all Buff Chantecler.  We will pick the best one or two and keep them as breeding roosters, the rest will be butchered once they are big enough.  There are 4 Buff Chantecler, 4 Partridge Chantecler, 1 Red Chantecler, 5 Easter Egger, and 5 Salmon Faverolles pullets.  The last chick is a beautiful Splash Silkie.  We are not sure yet if it is a male or female.

L to R: Buff Chantecler, Partridge Chantecler, Salmon Faverolles

The New Chicken Plan

I hesitate to use the word “plan” because we have learned that in homesteading, as in life, plans never stick for long and it is important to be flexible.  But it is also good to have a goal to work towards and a jumping off point.  So with that in mind, I will use the word “plan.”

We have been working on the new chicken plan for our homestead for a few months now.  We started with plan A, then B, then C….and now I think we are probably on about plan V by now because it has changed so many times.  But we have finally landed on a plan we feel good about.  Of course, as with everything in homesteading life, it will be tweaked a bit here and there as we go – but at least we have a starting point now.

For those who haven’t been following long, here’s the background info:  We were previously selectively breeding a few different breeds of chickens to each other to produce a dual-purpose breed of chicken that thrived well in our high altitude, cold climate.  We made it three generations in with good progress, but then our baby had several surgeries and hospitalizations and I just didn’t have time to deal with caring for, much less breeding, chickens.  So we shrunk the flock down to just my 6 favorite breeding hens, and our 1 best broody mama hen and called it good.

Now that Mr. Smiles’ health is stabilizing, we are hoping to increase the flock again early 2017, start selling eggs again in the summer/fall, and get back into breeding and selling chicks, pullets, and hens in 2018.

In my research of trying to decide what direction I wanted to go with which breed, I found a breed that seems to have almost all the traits we are looking for – the Buff Chantecler.  It is a dual-purpose breed originating in Canada, smaller than the original White Chanteclers, but still a good size for meat, that lays about 4 eggs a week.  They have extremely small combs and wattles, including the roos.  They are friendly, calm, and docile.  They are extremely cold tolerant, lay through the winter, and do go broody.  These are all things we are looking for.  The only additional thing for us to add to our breeding stock through selective breeding is high-altitude hatchability, which we can select for over time.  As well as being sure to select for excellent conformation and functionality – being sure to keep the characteristics true to the Chantecler breed.

I also really like to have different colored birds in my flock so we will include partridge and red Chanteclers for my own viewing pleasure.  The only “accepted” colors are the white and the partridge – the buff and red are not yet.  In addition, I am contemplating breeding into my stock the color blue, which will also give be black and splash because that is what the blue gene carries.  I will just be doing that for the fun of it and for the challenge, it isn’t something we are aiming for to make them better birds, obviously.  And it will take at least 5 generations to get there if all goes well.

And because I like variety in my flock, we will also be adding some Blue Laced Red Wyandottes, Easter Eggers, and Salmon Faverolles hens just for laying, not for breeding.

The chicks arrive in February, right around when the goats are due to kid (let’s just pile all the work on at once – lol!).  We will be back into selling eggs by the end of summer, and come 2018 we will be breeding Chanteclers and have them for sale as well.  Fun, Fun!

Sunday Homestead Update

As we close in on celebrating Thanksgiving, the weather has finally turned cold here in the Rockies.  This is unheard of for our area.  The autumn has been so warm compared to what it usually is.  We have enjoyed every extra moment of good weather and accomplished so many outdoor projects – it has been great.  And now we happily welcome the colder weather and snow.  We feel much more prepared for winter than we usually do, and that is comforting.

Goat Escape

The goats are gate bullies – specifically Gretchen goat.  We have warned the children about this fact, but sometimes it is easy to forget things when you are 9 and love the goats.  Little Miss was sent out to give the goats some fruit scraps.  It was assumed she would throw them over the fence, but Little Miss has really fallen in love with the goats.  She loves to spend time in the barnyard petting them – and they love her attention.  So she decided that opening the gate and going into the yard with them to pet them while they ate the fruit would be much more fun than just throwing it over the fence.  The ever-bossy Gretchen saw her opportunity and plowed through the gate and Little Miss with Heidi goat timidly following her.

Little Miss, being the scrappy and yet petite thing she is, grabbed onto Gretchen’s neck and tried to wrangle her with all her might.  Gretchen, outweighing the wee one by about 3 times as much, plowed on without even noticing the little girl attached to her neck, digging her heels in, and frantically screaming at the top of her lungs.  Heidi continued to follow behind timidly.

Meanwhile, in the house, I began to wonder what was taking so long, and sent Young Man out to see.  I heard a yell from the door – “THE GOATS ARE OUT” and instantly we were all headed full blast out the back door.  With Young Man a full 5 strides ahead of me, I look up the hill to see Little Miss dragging along beside Gretchen, holding on for dear life and screaming for help while Gretchen plowed her way up the hill determined to go somewhere – anywhere.  Heidi, seeing us all coming, realized that they were busted and stopped just as Young Man got to her and grabbed her.  I weaved around them, yelling to Little Miss “Don’t let go!” because despite the fact that she couldn’t stop the determined Gretchen, she was at least somewhat slowing her down.  I finally got a hold of Gretchen and began wrangling her back to the barnyard, past the placidly waiting Heidi with Young Man.  As I got her to the gate she really dug in and gave me quite a wrestling match as she did NOT want to go back in.  Finally got her in, and Heidi nicely walked back in, looking at Gretchen like “I TOLD you we weren’t supposed to go out!”

And by the way…where was our hero farm dog, Tundra, while all of this was happening?  That dog has made it into so many excellent farm stories where he is the superdog who saves the day.  But not this story.  He chose to sit in the barnyard and watch us all attempt to keep the goats from taking off to the woods to be eaten by any number of predators.  I expect he was yelling out advice – “That’s not how you herd a goat!  Bite her!  Be more aggressive!  Who is the dominant species here!?  Have I taught you people nothing!?”

And what of the fruit scraps?  Apparently freedom is more important to Gretchen than fruit scraps.  She was not interested in coming back into the barnyard for anything, and once in she let Heidi have all the scraps.

As the gate closed behind the escapees, Little Miss and I crumpled into an exhausted heap and started laughing so hard we cried.  I can’t imagine what the entire thing looked like to a fly on the wall, but I’m guessing it was pretty hilarious.  Hooray for my scrappy Little Miss, a farm girl at heart who will take on an animal three times her size and not let go.  And yes, she learned her lesson about not opening the gate – dragging behind an escaped goat is an excellent way to learn a lesson for good.  😀

In other goat news – the vet came this week and both does were confirmed pregnant.  Yay for that!  First kids due Feb 15, second round due early March.

Sheep

The sheep are still at the breeder, but this weekend was shearing time, so Mtn Man and Young Man went down to help with the process.  Our girls were included with about 75 other sheep shorn at the breeder, which means all hands on deck to help move them around and deal with the fleece.  It was a fun day for them and it was good for them to see our ewes.  The breeder decided Toffee is still too small to breed – she is quite a petite girl – and we don’t want to risk her health.  So only Violet and Fiona will be expecting in the spring.  However, some other things in life have shifted, and we are trying to be flexible and bend our plans accordingly.  So, in line with that, we will likely be bringing home 1-2 other pregnant ewes when we bring our girls home from the breeder.  From those ewes we will hopefully get a ram lamb that we can raise up to be our own breeding ram.  So we are lined up to have quite a few more babies around the farm in 2017 than we previously expected – first because of the addition of the two pregnant goats, and now with 1-2 more pregnant ewes.  We could potentially have 15 babies born between the goats and sheep!  It will more likely be closer to 10, but that is far more than our previous 2 in one year.  That will make for an exciting and adventurous start to our new year!

Chickens

Because of all the changes in sheep and goat plans we decided that the chicken breeding program will have to wait another year to really get up and going.  We will be getting some female chicks early in 2017 to build up our laying flock again for eggs, and potentially a male or two so that if we have a broody hen she can have some fertile eggs to set on.  But overall no major start back into selective breeding of chickens yet.  We can’t do it all!