Sunday Homestead Update – Heat Wave! (kind of)

It was so beautifully warm this week!  After the snow early in the week it got sunny and each day was in the 50sF, which felt so wonderful in the middle of cold winter.  We took advantage of it and spent time outdoors soaking in fresh air and sunshine and getting things done.  It is awesome to be able to get some of our spring projects worked on, even though winter is far from done here in the high Rockies.

Salve

Monday, while the snow flew, the girls and I used the inside time to make a batch of salve.  Making your own herbal salve is so easy.  You just infuse olive oil with the herbs you want.

Strain it out.  Add beeswax to get the consistency you want (put a little on a plate in the freezer for a minute or two until it reaches room temp to test the consistency).

Then pour it up and let it cool.

We made 12 small tins (1.5 oz), 1 pint jar (for the barn), and 3 half-pint jars.

I did a post on making herbal salve here.

New Garden Compost/Barnyard Fence

With the warmer weather we were able to borrow a tractor/back-hoe and get the compost pile moved into the new garden boxes.  We were happy to see how far it went in filling in the boxes.  And now we know how much top soil we need to purchase to finish off filling the boxes.

This also made it so we could finish the permanent fencing on the bottom end of the barnyard, and thus gave the animals a larger barnyard again (they have been living in about 2/3 of the main barnyard since fall because we had fenced off the bottom part with the big compost heap to just let the compost sit for a few months without chickens “stirring” it).  We also used the tractor to scrape the barnyard thoroughly and thus make a new compost heap to start composting.

Here is the lower barnyard looking down from uphill before:

And here it is after:

And here it is looking up from downhill before:

And after:

So the entire permanent barnyard fence is complete except one thing – a gate at the bottom.  We want to have a large gate at the bottom so we can easily get the tractor in and out.  We didn’t have time or materials to complete that, so we just put one of our temporary panels across the bottom.  It feels so good to be so close to finally done with the permanent barnyard fence.  It has been a project that has dragged on for years now as we have waiting for the time and materials to complete it a little here and there.  We have been very grateful for the panels to use as temporary fencing while we built it.

In the winter the hay ends up covering the snow as the animals eat and it insulates the snow in one main spot in the barnyard by the feeders and in the shade.  This ends up to be about 2 feet of hard-packed ice/snow under the hay by the spring, which then slowly melts causing a deep mucky mess that can lead to leg injuries in the animals.  When Mtn Man scraped he worked hard to get a bunch of that out so we will hopefully not have such a bad mess.  Granted, we still have a lot of snow fall likely headed our way this winter before spring hits.  But any removal of it is good progress.  And the snow in the new compost heap that he scraped together will help add moisture and nitrogen to the heap, both good things.  The chickens enjoyed pecking at the snow he exposed when he scraped it away.

Sheep

We have sheared a couple more sheep.  I will post more about them specifically later this week.  The big news is that Sunshine decided she wanted to learn how to shear, so Mtn Man is teaching her and she has now sheared 2 sheep with his help.  I am so proud of her – shearing is a hard skill to learn and very physically taxing.

Sewing Clothing and Making a Cake

Little Miss and I have been sewing some clothing for her because she doesn’t fit well in store-bought, nor does any of it match her preferences of style.  We finished a nightgown, a dress, and a skirt last week, and have more to sew this week.

We also celebrated her birthday recently.  She desperately wanted me to make a cake that had her goat, Pansy, on it.  I love how my kids challenge me with their cakes each year to try to make harder and harder things.  I was skeptical about my abilities to do the goat cake, but was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.

 

Lambing/Kidding Supplies Kit

It is that time of year again – time to prepare for lambing and kidding!  I keep a kit of all the things we need to have on hand for lambing and kidding in a big lidded plastic bin.  We are 1 hour away from the closest large-animal vet, so we are careful to have anything and everything we need to deal with an emergency ready and on hand.  Our vet is great about talking me through things on the phone and telling me doses of meds when he can’t get here in time.  But if I don’t have the items and meds needed to do what he says, there is no point.  He helps us come up with a list of meds and supplies to have on hand.

The lambing kit needs to be cleaned out and inventoried each year so we are sure that we have what we need.  Last year Rose had a very dangerous birth, with twins that were both mal-positioned.  Thankfully we were able to get them safely delivered and everyone survived.  But somehow in the chaos the kit was torn all apart and then shoved back together and in the busy-ness of last summer I never got it cleaned from that.  So when I pulled it out of the barn loft this year it was a pretty gross mess.  The betadine had spilled and everything needed cleaning.  Thankfully, most of the supplies are in zip-lock plastic bags, which protected them from a lot of it.  But the bags needed replacing.

I got it cleaned and inventoried, and Mtn Man made a trip to the vet supply store to stock back up on what we needed.

I think each homesteader’s lambing/kidding/vet meds kit will look a little bit different based on their situation, but many things are probably in everyone’s kit.  Our kit is put together with our specific situation in mind, and it changes a little each year as we have more experiences and learn more.

As I said above, most items are in ziploc bags after I have cleaned the item.  And we put everything together into a big plastic tub with a lid.  We are not keeping it in the barn because we are still getting below freezing some nights.  The mud room doesn’t freeze, but is easy access to grab the kit and take it to the barn.

We are over an hour away from the closest large-animal vet, we are also over an hour away from a vet supply or ranch store that would have what we might need to buy last-minute.  So this kit is intended to cover all our bases.

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Old Towels & Paper Towels

It is pretty obvious what these are for.  Drying off the lamb/kid, clearing the mucous from the nostrils, drying and wiping hands, etc.

Lamb/Kid Pulling Ropes

In case we need to re-position or pull a lamb.

Sheep Book

Our favorite sheep book is Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep.  It has good, detailed information about lambing and different problems that might arise.  We want to have this book in reach for reference if a tough situation comes up.

Scissors

For trimming the navel if necessary, along with many other potential uses.

Notebook & Pen

For jotting things down as the process goes along.  Especially the time that different things occurred.  If there are problems, it is important to know how long the ewe/doe has been in labor and how long she has had issues.  Knowing this helps one make better decisions about intervention, and when I call the vet, he always wants to know times.

Flashlight and Headlamp with New Batteries

Barns are dark…enough said.  🙂

Navel Dip Cup

This can be any type of small containers.  They are available to buy, or you can use a baby food jar, a shot glass, etc.

Betadine Solution

For navel dipping and for cleaning our hands and the ewe/doe if we need to help re-position a lamb/kid.

Latex gloves, OB gloves, and OB Lubricant

In case we need to re-position or pull a lamb/kid.

Nutri-Drench

To help nutritionally boost a weak lamb.

Lamb Milk Replacer & Colostrum Supplement, Nipples and Bottles

In case we have a rejected or orphaned lamb that needs to be bottle fed.  Or if we have a ewe that doesn’t make enough milk for her lambs.  We try to milk out a little colostrum each year and freeze a few ice cubes of it.  Then we have it on hand if needed.  It doesn’t keep well past 1 year in the freezer.

Lamb/kid Stomach Tube

We are reluctant to use this and will only use it if it is absolutely necessary to save a lamb/kid’s life.  I have successfully tubed a horse and a cow before, but it is dangerous and we would like to avoid it at all costs if possible.  We decided to have it on hand just in case.

Syringes of different sizes

These have multiple uses, including force feeding a lamb/kid that can’t suck, and giving injections.

Elastrator & Bands

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We use the Elastrator for tail docking and castrating.  Tail docking happens the 2nd or 3rd day of life, and castration around the 10th day of life.  As suggested in the Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, we are storing our bands in a shallow jar of rubbing alcohol.  This keeps them clean and sanitized, and we can dip the Elastrator tool in it right before use to sanitize it.

Bulb Syringe

We added in one that we had from when our kids were infants.  It is very helpful for sucking gunk out of noses and throats if the lamb/kid is having trouble breathing or inhaled some fluids.

That is everything in our lambing/kidding kit.

Because we live so far away from a large animal vet, we have a very thorough vet kit as well.  A few items in the vet kit that might be necessary for lambing/kidding and afterwards are:

Syringes & Needles

For giving injections

Penicillin & Tetracyclene (antibiotics)

If we have to go into the uterus for any reason we will be giving the ewe/doe a shot of penicillin afterwards to prevent infection.

Oxytocin

Used for several different reasons, after all the babies are out to help the ewe/doe.

Ketone Strips

Ewes can suffer from pregnancy toxemia in the weeks before birth or right after birth.  It has to do with a ewe not having high enough calorie intake.  It is most common with twins and triplets because the lambs are taking so much nutrition and so much space that she can’t ingest enough feed to keep up with their needs.  Ketone dip strips are how this is diagnosed.

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Propylene Glycol

This is what we would use to treat a ewe found to have pregnancy toxemia.

CMPK

Medication needed to treat milk fever.

 

Some of these items might be over-kill for a homesteader with a vet and vet-supply store close by, especially because they expire and thus might not be used and just have to be thrown away and replaced again.  But for us, isolated from those things, we want to have all our bases covered in case of an emergency.

Sunday Homestead Update – Productivity and Preparations

Busy week on the homestead, a lot of things getting done.  Thankfully we had a couple of days that were warmer (40sF) before snow and cold hit again.

Stall cleaning

We got the stalls cleaned out and the barn tidied up.  It gets SO messy and dusty in the winter I feel like it is a losing battle, but I keep trying anyway.

We cleaned out all our freezers (two that are attached to refrigerators and 4 deep freezes) and inventoried so we know what we have and we can eat them out before it is time to fill them up again.  I hate cleaning out freezers, especially in the winter, it is such a cold job.  But man I love how nice they are once it is done.

Sheep

Shearing in prep for lambing has started.  Mtn Man sheared Autumn first.

She is our first-ever shearing of a dairy sheep.  Her fleece is definitely different than our wool sheep, but not necessarily bad or unusable.  Mtn Man is looking forward to getting it into the mill and seeing what we can do with it.  If it is too rough or too short for yarn, then we can make roving and try braiding rugs with it.

Next he sheared Fiona.  This will be our 7th fleece from Fiona.  She is the hardest in the flock to shear for a few reasons.  First, her fleece is a very dense fine-wool, so it gives the shearing blades a run for their money and they get stuck if he tries to go too fast.  Plus, she is very heavy on lanolin.  Also, she is very large, and usually overweight.  And lastly, she is generally not very cooperative.  This year, however, she was more cooperative than usual, which was nice.

I will share more info about these fleece in another post this week.

Getting their fleece off helped us view their body condition better.  Autumn is a lighter than we would like, and Fiona is, per her usual, overweight.  It can be very difficult to manage feeding with Fiona because she is a very fast eater (getting more than her share in a group), she is the dominant sheep, and she is an easy keeper.  All this leads to her being overweight.  Thankfully, she is not significantly obese, just somewhat overweight.  We transitioned Autumn over to 1/2 alfalfa 1/2 grass hay now and are starting to add in some grain to improve her condition and prepare her for lambing.

Also to prepare for lambing we cleaned out, inventoried, and re-stocked our lambing and vet kits.  I will share a more detailed post about this later this week.

Spring Prep

This is looking to be a very big year on our homestead as far as production.  Hopefully our biggest yet by-far.  We are building a second vegetable garden, which will eventually double our veggie garden production.  This year it is going to be 2/3 finished, maybe more, and thus will give us quite a bit more veggies.  Additionally, we are lined up to have more babies born on the farm than ever before, as well as have 5 milking animals (2 is the most we ever had at one time before this year).  So we will be making more dairy products than ever as well.  Big year!  A lot of planning and prep is needed to help this all go smoothly and provide as hoped.  We have been ordering supplies to prepare.

First, I got our seed order in, and it has now arrived.  I still need to get some more garden supplies ordered for the new garden – mainly hoops and fabric for our season extending hoop tents.

Little Miss’ herbs have started to sprout under the lights, just teeny seedlings, but lots of hope.

Then I ordered some dairy-making supplies in prep for all the milk we are planning to have this spring.  A couple more cheese molds, cultures, and a silicone butter mold.  We have two milk pails, and a big dump pail, plus teat dip cups.  So all I needed for the barn milking was a new strip cup and I ordered that.  Looking forward to that all arriving.

Mtn Man also got our second stanchion built so we can milk two at a time.

Lastly, I got some more weaning nose rings for the lambs and kids.  We find these to be much better than separating off the babies when it is time to fully wean.  Especially since we are limited on living space and places to separate off animals.

Firewood

Last fall we didn’t quite finish up putting up firewood for the winter and we are now running very low, so we needed to put in some time this last weekend chainsawing the logs to length and then splitting them and getting them stacked.

New Homestead Books

My sweet children got me a few new books to add to my homestead library.  I am looking forward to using them!

Kefir grains

I generally make a quart of kefir at a time, but lately we haven’t been using it fast enough so I wanted to switch it to a pint jar.  My friend taught me that I can take half of my grains out and dry them on a plate and then freeze them in a bag to preserve them.  So I was able to shrink down the kefit to the pint jar and I also now have a back-up set of grains in case I need it in the future.

Sunday Homestead Update – Bitter Cold

We have been staying warm inside, but also having to do the extra winter work to keep the critters outside healthy and warm.  It has been cold and snowy, and getting well below zero at night.

Fun Farm Kid Story

We had a fun incident happen this week that revolves around the concept of kids that grow up on a farm.  Sunshine, our 15-year-old daughter, has been cooking with me since she was tiny.  She loves cooking and by about 9-years-old she was cooking at least one dinner a week for our family on her own.  Over the years she has cooked more and more, and with us in the hospital a lot the last 4 years she has been called on to cook even more.  Thankfully she enjoys it and has found many new recipes over time that our family loves.  All that to say – she has done a lot of cooking in her life thus far.

This week we were given a store-bought turkey.  While Mtn Man and I were at the Children’s Hospital with Mr. Smiles I called her and asked her to please get the turkey in the oven because we would be later than I expected and it needed time to cook.  She said no problem, and I didn’t think twice about it because she is more than capable of handling the task.  She called me back 5 minutes later – what is this plastic thing in the turkey holding the legs together…it looks like some sort of a handle?  And why is there a bag inside the carcass?  And what is this red button thing stuck in it?

I started laughing for joy as I realized, in all her years of cooking, she has never cooked a store-bought bird!!!  What an awesome farm-kid life to make it to 15 years old and only have cooked your own chickens fresh from the farm – which don’t have any bags of organs and a neck inside them, nor plastic handles on their legs, nor a pre-stuck-in thermometer, really basically no packaging at all except the plastic around it.  I love it!!!

Root Cellar in February

We have had some trouble with our root cellar in the basement not being as cold as it was last year – the remodel of the basement might have to do with this and we are still working on options of what to do.  So our over-wintered produce has not kept as well as we hoped this year.  The garlic have all gone bad, though we were able to eat them until a few weeks ago – I am probably going to can them next year.  We have a few onions left.  We have eaten many, but have lost many to rot as well.  And we have two winter squash still looking good that we will probably enjoy this week.  No squash rotted, we have just eaten them all.

So not as long of a root cellar season as we had hoped for, but not terrible either.

Sheep & Goat

When we put up hay this summer we were planning to keep fewer sheep over the winter than we ended up keeping, so we have been running low on hay.  Thankfully, we were able to find some good quality, reasonably priced hay not too far away.  We got that put up this week and we should now have enough to make it until next haying season.

Chickens

The baby chicks are still doing well in the grow pen in the barn.  It is amazing how fast they grow and change.

We had an incident this week with Lily, one of our silkie hens.

We found her with a bleeding wound on her comb when we let them out of the coop one morning.  And then we saw two of the other hens bullying her and attacking her a little later.  We don’t know if they caused the wound, or if they just went after her because she was wounded.  Chickens can be brutal with that kind of stuff.  We didn’t want to risk trouble, so we moved her into the small broody coop in the barn so that she can heal.  Once she is healed we will likely move her in with the chicks (who will be about 7 weeks old by then).  Then she can be integrated back into the flock with them, since integrating just one chicken in alone is nearly impossible.

Coyotes

It is coyote breeding season, and every year during this time they for some reason congregate on our property and drive our LGD, Anya, crazy.

The last couple weeks we have been seeing them on the property multiple times a day at all different hours and in different group sizes.  Their footprints fill the snow all over the area.  And they have howling parties in the front yard at about 2 am most nights.  This gets Anya all worked up so that once they are done she is still barking like crazy in the barn and Mtn Man has to go out there to calm her down.  We will be grateful when this is over and they move back to their regular patterns.

Heritage Arts

We recently discovered a new place to get project bags.  Mtn Man bought me this awesome bag from Front Range Bags.  I love all the features it has, with three inside pockets on one side, and a zippered inside pocket on the other.  Plus two different yarn rings, which open so you can put the yarn through without cutting it.  And the outside has a pocket on each side as well.  But what I was most impressed with was the quality of the sewing.  As someone who has done a lot of sewing myself, and also has purchased other handmade bags, I found the sewing quality on these bags to be top notch and better than any I have ever seen.  I am loving using my new bag!

Little Miss got two bags as well.  Hers were a smaller version for socks.  They didn’t have exterior pockets, but had the other features.  And the fabric handles on hers have a snap so they can easily be attached to another bag, or a stroller, or whatever.

Hazel and Jerry

These two continue to enjoy their morning snuggles by the fire and afternoons in the sun puddles – even using each other as head pillows.

Sunday Homestead Update – Planning Time

I love the pattern of the seasons on a homestead.  Each season has its own particular work.  Winter means things outside slow down and gives us time for more indoor projects and to plan for the coming busy seasons.  It is hard to believe as we are buried in snow and cold that we need to get going on plans for spring.  But it is time!

We have a lot going on at our little homestead this spring, with 5 pregnant ewes (4 to be milked), 1 pregnant goat (to be milked), chicks, a new garden to finish building, filling with soil, fencing, and irrigating in time for planting, plus prepping the regular gardens as well, and finishing up the barnyard fencing.  It is going to be a very busy spring, summer, and fall!  I am a little nervous we might be in over our heads.  But here we go anyway.  🙂

Sheep (and Goat)

We need to start getting the lambing/kidding kit together and gather the meds we need to have on hand in case of trouble.  It is time to start shearing the first two ewes that are due, and in a few weeks we need to do vaccinations and wormings.

Mtn Man and I sat down with our calendars/planners and wrote down what needs to be done and when for birthing this year.  Normally we clump the chores together based on average due dates (ie. vaccinate all at the same time approximately the right distance from due dates), but this year the dates are so wide spread that we decided to just deal with each ewe individually as far as shearing and vaccinating goes, and then have two different clumps of animals for diet changes/management.

Our schedule for birthing includes:

Shearing – we shear approximately 6 weeks before the ewe is due so that we have the nicest fleece possible and to prevent her getting too hot during birthing.  Birthing and early lactation cause a break in the fleece (a weak spot) and we don’t want the weak spot to be in the center of the fiber, we want it to be at one end.  Also, if a ewe is in full fleece when she gives birth she may decide to go lay in a pile of snow to cool off during labor, which can lead to death in the lamb.  Lastly, it gives us a chance to assess her body condition (which is difficult with a full fleece on) so that we can plan her late pregnancy nutrition accordingly.

Vaccinations – We vaccinate the ewes with CD&T about 4 weeks before their due date.

Diet Changes – Depending on the condition of the ewe, which we can easily gauge right after shearing, we will transition her off of her just-grass-hay diet onto a combination of alfalfa, grass, and grain.  Fiona is a super easy-keeper, which is a nice way of saying that she easily gets fat, so we have to be more careful about giving her too much alfalfa and grain than we have to be with the dairy sheep who will need the alfalfa and grain in order to lactate well.  All ewes need some alfalfa within the month before delivery or they are at risk for pregnancy toxemia.  Sadly, we have seen this kill sheep on a couple farms nearby, and are thus very careful to be sure the ewes get good nutrition in the last month-6 weeks of pregnancy.  We would rather have Fiona a little overweight than have her get PT.  But, of course, obesity in the ewe can cause major lambing issues too.  It is a hard balance with Fiona, but easy with all the other ewes (and Pansy the goat).

Garden Plans

I finished up the garden plans and ordered my seeds this week.  The maps are looking great and it is fun to dream of the gardens growing full of food for us.  The lower garden is the new garden this year, and it is only about 2/3 built.  I planned for just that finished section (it still needs soil, fencing, and irrigation, but the boxes are built).  If we happen to be able to finish more of the garden before planting, I will just figure out at that point what we want to put in that section.

First, I figured out what we wanted to plant.  Then I mapped it out on the garden maps and thus figured out how much of each type and variety we wanted to plant.

Then I went through our stored seeds and inventoried what we had and what we needed.  I ordered seeds from my all-time favorite seed company Seeds Trust.  They are a small business located in Colorado and have a special collection of high-altitude cold-climate seeds that have worked wonderfully for us over the years.

Lastly, I caught up our garden journal with all the accurate dates and times to plant what we are planting so I know when to do what.  I shifted things quite a bit this year due to the very late frost we had last year that negatively effected our garden.  I am trying to go kind of in the middle to hopefully prevent too much loss again this year.

I shared more about how we use our garden journal in this post.

Little Miss is taking over the container herb garden this year.  She and I decided that we would go ahead and start the herbs now so that they can move out from under the lights to the living room window in time for me to have plenty of space under the lights for the veggie seed-starting.  She got those all planned out and freshened up their soil and planted them.

Heritage Arts

Mtn man finished an amazing braided wool rug this week that he was commissioned to make.  It is the first time he has ever made a rectangle shaped one, and it is the largest rug he has ever made (which made it tricky to get a good photo too).  The finished size is about 5f tx 8ft and it turned out so beautifully!  It was hard to get a perfect phot angle from above, it looks like one end is narrower than theother – I assure you they measure the same.  🙂

The buyer asked us to make this rug out of her llama and alpaca fiber.  We have never done a rug out of that type of fiber before and it was an interesting learning process to work with something other than wool.  The fiber definitely did not felt the same, and the rug wants to shed a lot.  I am assuming that the shedding will decrease over time and use, but we are not sure because we don’t have any experience with it.

I am continuing to knit on the dress for Little Miss…

the ribbing looks strange lying on the ground, but when she tried it on it looks really great.  She is super excited for me to finish it, which will be awhile since I am using fingering weight yarn and it is over 200 stitches around and increasing significantly as we go so that it will flare out nicely.

I am also still working on the Match Play Poncho, but the progress is not worth photographing.

Neither is moving very fast because I have been very busy helping with other things the last few weeks.  I plan to cast on Young Man’s birthday socks this coming week.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of Jerry – he continues to love his new retired indoor life and I can’t resist taking photos of him.