Sunday Homestead Update

It has been another busy autumn week on the farm.

Another Loss

First, we will get the bad news over with and out-of-the-way.  Our sweet little beagle, that we adopted this summer, died this week.  It was very hard on everyone.  Back in January our wonderful Chocolate Lab, Holly, died at the ripe old age of 12, after having been my constant companion for 7 years.  So losing our new dog so soon was definitely a shock and very sad.

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This, yet again, leaves a hole in our house.  We have always had at least one house dog at any given time in our 16 years of marriage.

Flood Anniversary

This week marks two years since the floods ripped through Colorado and evacuated us from our homestead along with 70+ animals.  There is still a lot of rebuilding going on around us and in the surrounding areas.  It continues to surprise me how long it takes to recover and rebuild from a natural disaster.

Rabbits

The baby bunnies from Indi’s litter are 3 weeks old now.  That is the very cutest stage for baby bunnies.  So we have been bringing them inside and playing with them a lot this week.  It is helping to comfort us a bit from our loss.

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Knitting

I finished blocking the Antler hat and I am very happy with how it turned out.  I still have quite a bit of yarn left and I am contemplating the options of what to make with it to go with the hat.  Mittens?  Scarf?  We shall see.

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Tomatoes

We had several light frosts this week, so that means the end of the tomato growing season.  We cut all the green tomatoes and have put them in the basement to ripen.  We were amazed to find that we harvested 183 lbs of tomatoes!!!  I will be doing a full post later this week on how we successfully grow tomatoes in our cold, high-altitude climate without a greenhouse.

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One Year Since the Flood

This morning you will find us lazing about.  The first snow of the year is sitting in a light dusting outside the windows while the wood stoves are blazing, giving a cozy feel and smell to the house.  Youngest daughter lounges next to me on the couch, absorbed in a book while she pets a purring barn cat who made his way inside this morning to get away from the chill.  Oldest son is enjoying diligently watching the fires and keeping us all warm, while youngest son plays on the floor near my feet.  Oldest daughter is in the kitchen, baking up something sweet for our family to enjoy.  I am knitting away at my sweater and thinking back on this day a year ago when flood waters tore through Colorado, leaving loss and destruction everywhere they went.  If you weren’t with Willow Creek Farm a year ago, you can read about the flood by clicking on Colorado Flooding 2013 on the sidebar in the categories box.

It is hard to believe it has been a year.  There has been a lot of progress, and yet there are still a lot of scars on the landscape, continually reminding us of the power of large amounts of running water.  Most all of the roads are use-able, though many still have patches of bumpy dirt where asphalt should be, and plans to fix them are still a year out from now.  There are still severely damaged houses that haven’t been torn down yet.  But there are also quite a few new houses going up to replace ones that have been torn out already.  There are still some people who don’t have driveway access to their homes.  Many people still haven’t been able to move back to their previous homes or businesses.  Construction is ongoing on the major roads.  The temporary utility lines run last year are still in process of being replaced with a new permanent system.  Some riverbeds have been fixed up, but some still look just like they did when the waters receded, except they now have some greenery trying to grow in the silt and sand.

Willow Creek Farm is largely unaffected at this point.  We are still on some temporary utilities, but that will soon be changed.  When we leave our property we deal with road damage, but it is minor.  Our basement still hasn’t had new flooring put back in, but that doesn’t bother us.  It is more a fact of we have a new normal; a new landscape around us down by the creek and out on the road.  Time will change it.  But I have been amazed to see how long the aftermath of a natural disaster lives on.  Before this flooding we had only seen disasters in the media.  After the media coverage was over, we tended to forget about it and didn’t really realize that a year or more later people were still dealing with it.  We now know all too well about natural disasters.

We are very blessed to have had so many people help us through it.  The outpouring of love from friends, family, and even strangers has left permanent marks on our hearts.  We will never forget how it felt to have people gather around us and carry us through.  And we hope that someday we can pay that forward.

Ultimately, when we reflect back on the flood, we have a few memories of the fear and stress, but mostly we just remember the love and community.  And that is a wonderful thing.

6 Months Since the Flood

It has now been 6 months since flood waters ripped through the mountains and foothills of northern Colorado, killing several people and causing millions of dollars in damage.

So where are things as far as recovery?

Well, for us, we are pretty much back to normal.  The temporary utilities have done great even in the freezing temperatures.  The temporary roads are the only thing that affects us much, in that we have to take alternate routes than normal in our area as well as to get to our home.  And we have to drive slower because the road to our home is still a damaged road.  The views all around us are still quite different as well, since winter halted any sort of re-building or digging out of things.  As things warm up and the snow starts melting and spring arrives we are facing some troubles here at the farm, which I talk about at the end of this post.

Now, on to the report on the area as a whole.  Most condemned houses are still standing, since winter has held off a lot of clean-up and rebuilding.  The main work has been to maintain the temporary roads as much as possible and to clean up the debris from the river and creek beds.  The debris includes bushes, trees, etc, but also pieces and parts of houses that were washed away and anything from inside of houses.  They are just now starting to finish up the debris clean-up and are beginning to focus on the big problem at hand…spring run-off.

Spring run-off is the time in the mountains when it starts to warm up and all the snow that has piled up in the tops of the mountains and not melted all winter begins to melt and work its way down the mountains and into the streams and rivers.  The farther down you go the more water is present.  Spring also means the time of year when natural springs pop up from underground.  In a normal year in our area spring run-off usually means sandbags along certain low-lying bridges and properties to keep the river where it is supposed to be for a couple of weeks.  And occasionally it means a spring comes up under someone’s driveway or house that wasn’t there before and they have to deal with it.  We are all used to it and used to dealing with it.  However, this year is a completely COMPLETELY different story.  First of all, they are reporting that snow pack is at 200% of normal.  This means twice as much snow is waiting up in the mountains to melt than what we usually get.  Without the flood damage that would mean we are headed for a year with some minor flooding and major sandbagging.  But because of the flood damage the river beds are all messed up, the paths of the streams and rivers are all different than they used to be, and the large amounts of silt that were brought by the flood and deposited in many different locations have made the river bed very shallow and spread out – so there is no appropriate place for the spring run-off waters to go.  And secondly, the underground water table was completely changed and shifted so that springs are appearing everywhere and causing more damage already and it isn’t even officially the time of year that they pop up yet.  So it can be expected that there will be much more flooding in houses, and potentially collapsing of roads because of springs coming up under them.

So at this point everyone (“everyone” means the towns, counties, and state workers and people living along the rivers and creeks) is scrambling to get the river and creek paths dug out enough to give the run-off waters an appropriate path to follow, and building dams and walls with boulders and dirt to protect the homes and properties that are still standing but will be flooded by the run-off because of the river paths being out of whack.  This is a huge undertaking and they are rushing against the clock and the weather.  It is hard to dig when the ground is totally frozen and covered with snow and ice, but at the same time they can’t wait for it to warm too much or the run-off will be here.

It almost feels like we (“we” meaning our town and area, not us specifically) are preparing ourselves for another flood – which in a way we are.  We are hoping and praying that everything is done and that we have a mild spring so that the run-off is spread over a longer amount of time and thus isn’t so much water at once.  Hopefully we can save the houses and bridges that are left from yet another round of damage.

As far as us specifically preparing – the melting snow is already having an effect on our back yard and because the flood shifted the underground water tables everything is different and we have standing water in the back yard.  During the flood the standing water in the back yard soaked down and flooded our basement.  So we are trying to keep an eye on it and might set up a sump pump as the weather warms up to try to keep the water out of our basement.  Also, a spring has come up under the back corner of the barn (because the underground water table was changed by the flood).  It is currently just firm mud, but if it continues to soften and fill up with water we will have to tear up the barn floor and deal with a way to drain it.

So, as winter begins to give way to spring (which in our area doesn’t really start till May, but looks like it might come a bit early), the victims of the flood are faced with a whole new onslaught of issues.  It seems that if we can all survive the spring run-off and subsequent springs and such showing up in yards and under roads and such, then we will be able to move on to the actual re-building of permanent utilities, roads, and structures.

2013 Review of Willow Creek Farm

It has been quite a year! There have been successes, failures, a natural disaster and subsequent evacuation, injuries, births, deaths, plenty of learning and tons of adventure. We really enjoyed writing this post and looking back at a full and somewhat crazy year at the homestead. So let’s dive in and share it with you all…

First, some statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 8-52 chickens on the farm at any given time this year
  • We had as few as 2 adult laying hens all the way up to 19 adult laying hens at once
  • All told, 1,541 eggs were laid at our farm this year
  • 56 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 72 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 20 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 14 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • We successfully hatched 25 chicks, we had quite a bit of unsuccessful incubation of eggs
  • 1 chick was lost within the first 48 hours of hatching
  • 1 bird (a pullet) was lost to frozen legs and 1 pullet was lost to cross-beak

Considering the fact that we only had 2-5 layers the first half of the year, in addition to the fact that the birds were evacuated for the flood and thus stopped laying for several weeks, and that we have no record of what they laid while evacuated, we are very happy with these numbers. The cost to us to buy the amount of eggs we ate ourselves, and the meat, would more than cover the gap between income and expenses, so we are fully expecting the chicken project to go into profit-mode next year. And we feel that the losses in the chicken project were very small compared to what they could have been, so we are thankful for that.

Rabbits:

  • We had between 3-6 adult rabbits on our farm at any given time this year
  • 44 kits were born
  • 1 adult doe was culled because of production issues and bad temperament
  • 1 adult doe died with kindling complications
  • 3 does were added to the breeding program
  • 1 buck was added to the breeding program
  • 70 lbs of meat were sold for pet consumption

This year has been quite a struggle with the rabbits. We had A LOT of pregnancies not take. We had A LOT of kit deaths and/or small litters. While there was profit, we are not very satisfied with these statistics. We know they can produce better than this – they have in the past. We are hopeful that next year will prove to be a more productive year for the rabbits.

Cows:

We did not keep milk production statistics on the cows over long periods of time this year. However, we had plenty of milk for our family’s needs, including to make cheeses, butter, sour cream, and yogurt. So we are happy with that. They produced well.

We butchered our first steer (a full bred jersey) and ended up with 110 lbs of meat for us, 34 lbs of soup bones, and 22 lbs of dog food.

Sheep:

The sheep produced 3 fleece for us this year for a total of 12 lbs of wool.

Garden:

We did not track or weigh produce this year because of the flood in the middle of the harvest season and the evacuation.  However, considering our major problems with the soil we bought, we are very happy with what we were able to get from the gardens, and are hopeful for an even more productive garden next year with the amended soil.

With the help of all the animals we have produced large amounts of very rich compost this year that we will be using on our garden (and sharing with our friends) next year. We consider that a wonderful product of the farm as well.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 4 baby hats, 1 pair of fingerless mitts, 2 pairs of kids socks, 1 boys sweater vest, 1 pair of adult socks, and a girls poncho.
  • I sewed 2 single sized bed quilts, 4 baby blankets, 2 knitting needle cases, 3 crochet hook cases, 1 DPN case, 4 pairs of pantaloons, 2 girls dresses, and 3 ladies skirts.  Not to mention mending innumerable items.
  • I crocheted 12 dish scrubbies, 4 cherry pie hot pads, and numerous granny squares for an afghan.
  • I learned to tat and tatted 3 bookmarks.
  • I learned to spin and spun about 350 yards of double-ply yarn.
  • We did our first batch of hand-dipped taper candles and ended up with 40 candles.

In the Kitchen:

I don’t have exact stats from the farm kitchen, but A LOT of dairy products and home canned food came out of there this year. Not to mention bread, daily meals, and treats too.

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2013:

In January we purchased 27 chicks.  They all survived, and one turned out to be a rooster.

February brought very cold weather.  We made firestarters for the woodstoves, and built a new rabbitry.  We banded our calf, Charlie, and began building the upper coop.  We trained the chickens to use the “chicken nipple” water spouts and moved the chicks up to the partially finished upper coop.  I finished a scrap quilt for my youngest daughter, and my grandmother passed on.

March brought us warmer days, and we used them to enjoy time outside.  Our son started his rabbit business, selling meat for pet consumption.  I learned to tat and tatted some bookmarks.  We battled scaly leg mites in the adult chickens and decided we were going to start a chicken breeding program.  I made knitting needle and crochet hook storage cases for my daughters.  I also learned to make my own condiments, including mayo, ketchup, and BBQ sauce.

In April our dairy cow, Charlotte, bloated, and thankfully survived it.  I started some garden seeds indoors.  And we had a spring blizzard.

May started with a bang, as we had a blizzard that dropped 18 inches of snow in 24 hours, and we lost electricity.  We celebrated our one-year anniversary of living at the farm.  We built a strawberry patch, onion patch, and the raised bed vegetable garden.  We tried out a compost heap pumpkin patch.  We started our first incubation with a few of our own eggs as well as some purchased hatching eggs.  We decided to sell our Jersey cow, Charlotte, and instead get a miniature cow to save on feed costs.  We canned quite a bit, and tried out re-useable canning lids.  And we built the hay lofts.

In June we butchered our first chicken for meat after our young cockerel attacked our 8-year-old daughter.  Our first hatch was a sad failure, as only one chick survived it.  We bought some chicks to brood with the sole survivor, and planned to try again.  We loaded up our lofts with hay for the year, and decided we were going to add sheep to the farm.  We realized, after planting our entire garden, that the garden dirt we bought was very poor soil and very much like clay.  We butchered our steer (that was a first for us).

In July our two sheep joined the farm, Stella and Fiona.  And our Jersey cow, Charlotte, was sold and left the farm.  Our garden made good progress, despite the soil disaster.  And, sadly, our second incubation was a failure.  We began researching high-altitude hatching, and found someone who was experienced with hatching at our altitude.  We started our third incubation with our new knowledge, but with high anxiety after already having failed twice.  We built trap nest boxes, and started free-ranging our chickens in the barnyard.  We washed our first fleece shorn from Stella.

August brought Violet, a JLow cow (miniature Jersey x Lowline) to our farm.  We dealt with her having mastitis in one quarter her first few weeks with us.  Later in the month we struggled to, but succeeded in, grafting a calf, named Ferdinand, onto Violet.  We finally had a successful hatch with 23 chicks surviving.  Our garden continued to make progress and we started harvesting and did more canning.

September started well, with our local 4H group touring the farm, and with the construction of our herb garden.  But beginning on the 11th our world was turned upside-down as flood waters tore through our community, taking lives and homes with them.  We evacuated 71 animals from our farm, in addition to our family of 6.  Our animals were spread to several different “foster” homes to live until we could bring them back home and we lived with my in-laws.  Toward the end of the month we moved ourselves, and the smaller animals, back into the home off-grid, while utility crews and disaster crews worked long hours trying to fix the destruction.  With the loving financial help from family, friends, and strangers we were able to build a water system so that we could have running hot water in large quantities (as opposed to the 5-gallon buckets we were using).

In October we felt ourselves strengthen as our farm, and our community began to overcome the disaster.  Rebuilding went forward at unexpected speeds and by the end of the month we had running town water, flushing toilets, and safer (though still scary) road access to our homestead restored.  The mild weather kept our spirits up and kept us outside focusing on moving forward with projects around the farm.  We also had our first hard frost.  We kept ourselves busy making soap, harvesting the garden and putting it to bed, canning chicken and beef stock, and I started knitting Christmas presents and finished making my son’s quilt.  While evacuated from the farm the sheep and cow were bred.

In November we were able to officially label our homestead as “mostly back to normal” when our sheep and cows finally arrived back home.  The community around us was far from “back to normal,” but it felt nice to have our homestead mostly back where it used to be.  We successfully weaned Ferdinand with the Quiet Wean device.  We built part of the barnyard fence, as well as a wall around the water system in the mud room.  After years and years of wanting to, I finally learned how to spin yarn.  We added some “refugees” from the flood to our farm for the winter, a cat and her kittens.  We ended up bottle feeding two kittens after she rejected them.  We kept one as our own pet, named him Nicholas, and our friends took the other one.

December brought a big winter storm with it.  After the snow was done we went into a deep freeze with temps not going above 9 degrees for several days and going into the negative teens each night.  We fought to keep animals safe, warm, and alive.  We struggled with frostbite on the chickens and lost one bird to the cold when her legs froze repeatedly.  I continued with knitting Christmas presents and we made a bunch of yummy treats.  The sheep were shorn.  We did blood tests on the cow and sheep to check for pregnancy, the cow came back pregnant, the sheep not.  We butchered many cockerels and did our first ever hand-dipped beeswax taper candles.

It is just amazing to look back on a year so full of activity.  We had some of the hardest days of our lives, and yet the blessings overshadow them completely.  Goodbye 2013!  Hello 2014!