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.

Sunday Homestead Update – First Taste of Aged Cheese

Chickens

The chicks are all doing well and growing so fast.  Adorable!

Sheep

I got Fergus’ fleece skirted and in the mill to be made into yarn by Mtn Man.  Looking forward to this yarn!

Maggie surprised us.  She is one of the younger ewes, the only one that hadn’t come into heat and been bred this year.  We figured it was late enough in breeding season that she would not be mature in time and not get bred this year.  We were wrong.  She got bred and is due June 10.  We have quite the spread of due dates this year, which will make for a long birthing season.  Our first one is due the first week of April, with another two in April (3 total), and then two due in May, and one in June.  I am happy for all the pregnancies, but it is going to be quite spread out.

Maggie

Cheese

Our first ever aged cheese came out of the cheese cave this week!

Speaking of the cheese cave, I forgot to update you about that.  We got a 2-stage outlet thermostat and plugged the cheese cave refrigerator into it.  We couldn’t get the fridge to hold a temperature higher than 46 before, which is a little low for a cheese cave.  It was also only holding about a 75% humidity.  Now that it is plugged into the thermostat it is holding temp around 52-55 degrees, and the temp being higher helped the humidity come up and it is sitting around 85%.  So we are happy about that little gadget.  The fridge plugs into the thermostat, and then there is a cord that hangs down into the refrigerator.

Now, back to our cheeses.  The two colby rounds that we made came out this week.  They aged for 6 weeks.  The first one we made some mistakes during the making of the cheese and thus decided to make a second the next day and compare the difference.  Surprisingly, the differences were very minimal except that the first one had a much stronger flavor, and it also had some mold, whereas the second didn’t have any mold.

I think the first aged faster, thus the flavor difference.  I think it might have had to do with a mistake we made during waxing (and the mold would be explained by that mistake too).  While holding it over the double boiler to wax it we didn’t realize that the steam was hitting one side of the cheese, thus moisturizing that side thoroughly.  We waxed it anyway and I think that is what caused the mold and potentially made it age faster – because it was wetter.

Both cheeses had a softer inner texture than we expected.  The outer texture was solid and seemed right.  Not sure what would cause that.

Overall, we are very happy with the results and are very much looking forward to seeing how the cheddar we made turns out too.  But that still has several more weeks to age.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – Cheep, Cheep, Cheep

It has been an uneventful week as far as the homestead goes because we have been busy dealing with illnesses and other non-homesteading related life.  But we do have adorable chicken news…

Chickens

The chicks in the incubator started hatching a day early – on Monday.  Hatching continued into Tuesday and Wednesday.  We had 10 hatch out of the 18 eggs that were still alive on lock down.  There was a high rate of late death, I think it had to do with the incubator malfunctioning.  I am glad we got the 10 we got and that they are all alive still 5 days later.

We had lined up our hatch with the arrival of our order of 20 chicks from the hatchery.  Unfortunately, the hatchery made a mistake and somehow printed a shipping label, but never sent our chicks.  Very frustrating.  I really only wanted to do one brooding this year because we have so much else going on.  So we decided to just take a refund instead of having them ship out chicks a different week.  I guess these ten little chicks, plus whatever we can brood under hens will be it for this year, unless we find another opportunity for an incubation later this year.  For now, we are just going to raise these ten chicks.

Sunday Homestead Update – Escape!

Always an adventure when keeping a little homestead!

Sheep

We had an escape incident this week.  It was very stressful on all of us.  Thankfully, it ended well and all animals are accounted for and back home.  The entire flock of sheep, plus Anya the LGD, all got out of the barnyard and took off on an adventure into the woods.  Apparently it didn’t occur to them that the coyote pack had just been through the property that morning and it therefore might be dangerous to leave the safety of the barnyard – it was the first thing on our minds when we realized they were all gone.  We found Anya first.

She apparently does not have strong “stay-with-the-flock” instincts, probably because she has been raised with them in a confined barnyard environment, not a pasture environment.  We got her put away, which pleased Pansy very much.  Somehow in the break-out Pansy the goat was left behind in the barnyard and was feeling quite lonely.  The entire family spread out and we searched the properties around us and the immense forest behind our property for over an hour before we finally laid eyes on them.  As soon as we saw them we immediately counted – all there!  Now, how to get them home?  We had buckets and bowls of feed, plus some lead ropes and halters.  Fiona, the matriarch of the flock, who LOVES grain, was at first interested in coming towards us, and the rest of the flock followed and even started nibbling.  But then Fiona must have remembered that it was on her bucket list to live in the wild for a night and she decided to take off.  The rest of the flock followed suit, except that we were able to grab Autumn and Remi before they got away.  With two sheep with us, the rest of the flock didn’t go far and we were able to carefully herd/lure them back to the barnyard.  It took awhile, and once they were in we all collapsed in relief.  Let’s not do that again – please!  All animals stay put.

Chicks 2020

This week we start our only planned chick brooding for this year.  Our incubation is hatching and we also ordered chicks to arrive in the mail.  With the sheep flock being larger than normal and expecting more lambs than normal, and needing to separate the ram off from the flock before lambing, there isn’t housing space for raising chicks after March.  Plus we will be learning the ropes of dairy sheep this spring, so we decided that if we wanted to do chicks this year we needed to do it early.  The brooders are set up and ready for the new little fluff balls arrival (to see how we brood our chicks, click here).  Obviously, if we have any hens want to set this year we will have some more chicks hatch.  The housing for broody hens and their chicks is not effected by the sheep situation.  But other than broody hens, this is it for chicks this year.

We are having issues with our incubator.  It is a 1588 Hovabator and is 5 years old now and I have had issues with the thermostat for the last 3 incubations (last year and this year).  It says it is at 99.5, but it is actually much cooler.  Unfotunately, to learn this we had to accidentally have it kill a bunch of eggs because we didn’t realize it was too cold so they developed until about day 10 and then all died.  It was a bummer.  Always have a second thermometer in your incubator to check the first one by!!!  To get it to 99.5F I have to set it to 103, and it will say it is at 102.9, but it is really 99.5.  I also put a separate hygrometer in there and the hygrometer is off too.  The incubator says it is about 15% lower than it is.  It has been OK to use it with extra thermometers in it and set it as such, but after I did lock down this week I noticed it is having trouble keeping it at 99.5, it is a little lower, and I can’t set the thermometer any higher than the 103 that I have it at.  I am hopeful that this wont affect the hatch this week.  After this incubation Young Man and Mountain Man will take it apart and see if cleaning it out helps at all (it has quite a bit of chick dust in the motor from all the hatches it has done).  If not, we will probably buy a new lid (with the motor, thermostat, etc) before we do any more incubations.  I estimate it has done 2-3 incubations each year for the last 5 years, so I am guessing it has done about 10-15 total incubations.  I don’t know how I feel about that amount and whether it should be dying yet.  What do you think?  Should I buy a different brand, or is that a good long life for an incubator?

Heritage Arts

I am continuing with my progress on the Match Play Poncho.  I really like how it is turning out.  Closing in on finishing the first side.

I have also started a new dress for Little Miss.  She loved the last one I made her SO much (click here to see it).  Unfortunately, I tried to make the same pattern again for her for Christmas in 2018, but larger because she had outgrown the last one, and it didn’t work out.  So I had to tear it all out and then I let the yarn sit on time-out for awhile until I felt inspired again.  I found a new pattern and am tweaking it a bit but think it will turn out well.  This pattern is called Ribbed Dress for Little Miss – which is ironic since I am making it for my “Little Miss.” 🙂

I made Sunshine a new ear flap hat because she needed one for the cold.  The pattern is Very Basic Bulky Ear Flap Hat by Ann Gilmour and the yarn is Lion Brand Hometown Tweed in the colorway Key Largo Tweed.