Sunday Homestead Update – Thanksgiving and Sheep Issues

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving (those of you in the US that celebrate it, that is).  We had a wonderful, full, white and snowy week, cozily spending our time at home together.

Before the storm hit, we wanted to get the medicinal herb garden finished for winter.  Because it is a relatively new garden space that we just built 2 years ago, the soil is still settling a lot.  It sunk 6-12 inches across the front of the garden bed.  So we hauled a bunch of compost and filled it in.  Then we planted some of the herb seeds that need to go in and freeze before they can sprout well.

We had to go to the city on Monday, and then the big storm moved in and covered us in beautiful white.  We got almost 2 feet of snow!  And the temps dropped down to -10F.

It meant extra barn chores as we needed to shovel paths through the snow from the stalls to the water trough and the gates.

Anya was loving it.  She was bounding/bouncing through the deep snow that was higher than her belly and tearing around the yard through it.  It definitely got her all frisky and riled up.

Plus, once the temp dropped, we left the livestock in the barn, so we had to haul water to them in buckets because they don’t have water in the barn.  Then it stayed cold, so it didn’t melt, and yesterday the wind blew like crazy, causing drifts everywhere.  Yup, its been kind of a mess.  But everyone survived it well, and we all enjoyed the snow.  The kids did a lot of playing in it and sledding since they didn’t have school this week.  Once the temp dropped though, outdoor play wasn’t fun anymore, and then it was indoor fun time.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and the weekend after is what we refer to as “Holiday Fun Weekend.”  We spend the time decorating and preparing for Advent and Christmas.  We get our tree, decorate, make Christmas candies, play games, watch movies, and just enjoy time together preparing for the Christmas season.  Mountain Man and the older two kids, Young man and Sunshine, go and volunteer at the Denver processing center for Operation Christmas Child one day each year, they did that this week.

Going Through & Cleaning Out

Sunshine and I finished all of our going through and cleaning out that I talked about last week.  What an awesome feeling to have the entire house sorted and organized!

Goat

Pansy was supposed to come home from the breeder this week, pregnant.  But she went back into heat.  So she has been bred again and we will wait another 3 weeks to see if she settled before we go get her.  Little Miss is really missing her goat, but we all agree we need to be 100% sure she is pregnant before she comes home, because a not-pregnant milk-goat is just a goat pet, and we don’t keep goats as pets.

Sheep

We are thinking that maybe our little farm is not big enough to manage 2 rams.  We have had two breeding seasons with just Fergus, and no issues.  This is Fergus’ 3rd breeding season, and the first time that we have had a second ram (Remi, who was born this last spring).  We are having so much trouble with Fergus now.  First of all, he has been a lot more interested in ramming us.  He backs off as long as we give him back-off body language, but it seems to be getting excessive.  Secondly, he has been doing a bunch of damage to the fence between him and Remi.  First he bent the wire all along the fence line.  It is hard to take a photo of bent wire, but where you now see the extra new piece of wood was a series of ram-head-size dents in the wire.  Some of it was broken.  So we put that wood there as a temporary fix.

After that, we got 20 inches of snow, so Remi was keeping his ewes up in the stall where Fergus can’t really see them well.  This caused Fergus to ram the gate (that is the closest he can get to the stall they were in).  Again, ram-head-size dents and breaks in the wire.  Again, Mtn Man patched  over it with wood.

But the worst part is that he is being aggressive with his ewes.  Having only three, and having two on the other side of the fence that he can’t get to, seems to be causing him a lot of frustration.  He gets very upset with them if they go anywhere near the fence line, which is a problem because the water is there.  The water trough goes under the fence and is shared by both sides.  He bites them and paws at them and grunts at them and chases them away when they want to go that direction.  Most of his aggression was focused on Daisy, though we don’t know why.  It seems like maybe he is frustrated that she is close to mature, but not fully mature and thus not in full standing heat yet.  So we had started discussion options of what to do, and then yesterday when we went for evening barn chores Daisy was limping, really badly, and he was continuing to bully her around, maybe even worse because of her gait.  So we brought her in and separated him out from everyone.  It looks to be her shoulder, there is no heat or swelling in the leg.  It could have been the deep snow, or Fergus, or most likely, a combination of both.  if he was constantly bullying her through the snow she could have easily slipped or twisted it or something.

So that left us with a problem.  We have an injured ewe.  We have a ram that is not dealing well with the situation, we still have ewes that haven’t been bred (we are not ready to be done with breeding season yet), and we have only two pens and two rams (we do have panels to potentially create another pen).

So last night Sunshine, Mtn Man, and I talked through all the many options that we have.  The dairy sheep are Sunshine’s project, that is why she was involved in the decision making too.  We first came up with some “facts” we are not wanting to bend on.  #1, Fergus has SUCH an amazing fleece that we are not willing to get rid of him yet, and we do not want to whether him either.  #2 Daisy must be isolated in a jug and stay out of the snow and away from all males until her leg heals, BUT we really don’t want her to have to be completely alone in the barn either because that causes a lot of stress to sheep.  #3 Our priority purpose with the dairy sheep is for them to be in milk, not necessarily what babies they produce.  And we really want to see how each of the 4 ewes performs as far as lambing, mothering, and standing to be milked this spring so we can reduce the flock size to the best ones.  Therefore, we really want all the ewes to get pregnant this year.  #4 After #3, the next priority with the dairy ewes is to see how well they cross with Fergus, the wool ram.  And lastly, #5 We aren’t quite ready to get rid of Remi either, because he is a really nice looking dairy ram, he has great personality, and we aren’t totally clear on our dairy breeding plans yet because we are new to this, but keeping him around for at least another breeding season would be good.

It seems like Fergus’ issues are developing from not having enough ewes, ewes being split into two pens, and another ram having some ewes next to him.  It seems like maybe he would be nicer and do better if he had all the ewes, or couldn’t see Remi, or didn’t have any ewes at all and Remi had them all (although he would be frustrated, he couldn’t take it out on the ewes).

Considering all the above things, and talking it over for quite awhile, we came tot he following plan.  First, Daisy will be in one jug, with Remi in the jug next to her.  This will accomplish several things.  First, Daisy will get her healing and not be alone, but Remi can’t bug her because there is a wire wall between them.  Second, Remi will be out of Fergus’ sight.  And third, we wont be “wasting” one of the ewes putting her with Daisy to keep her company, thus Fergus has more ewes to juggle and theoretically wont single out one for bullying.  Then we put all the ewes, including the ones that were previously Remi’s, in the big pen with Fergus.

It has only been a day, so we aren’t sure if this is really going to work, and if not, we will likely give all the girls to Remi and make Fergus be on his own.

Autumn is already pregnant to Remi (she did not come back into heat this week, proving he settled her).  The main reason we gave Remi ewes to breed this year is we wanted to prove him as a breeding ram.  Plus, those will be full-bred dairy lambs, which should be pretty easy to sell.  So we accomplished that.  And then if this plan works the rest of them will be pregnant with Fergus’ babies, giving half wool/half dairy lambs, so we can see how those lambs turn out and then potentially breed back to Remi next year to see if we can get dairy ewes that have nicer, more use-able wool.  And, most importantly, everyone will get bred so we can see how the dairy ewes lamb, mother, and milk.

Time will tell, and I will keep you posted.  This is always a huge part of the homesteading adventure – learning through trial and error.  It is part of what we enjoy with all this.  Trying out new things and learning.

Jerry and Hazel

Our newly-retired-indoors barn-cat, Jerry, is getting quite friendly with our indoor dog, Hazel.  It is so cute, and I can’t resist taking photos of them.  They are constantly cuddling with each other, either by the fire, or in the sun puddles.

This warms our hearts because Jerry grew up with our previous LGD, Tundra.  Jerry joined the farm with his brother Ben when they were 8-week-old kittens.  Tundra was only a year old at the time.  After Ben disappeared at a year old, Tundra and Jerry became very good friends and stayed that way over all the many (12) years together.  They would cuddle together through the long cold winters in the barn.  And even though Jerry had other cats to cuddle with, he often chose Tundra instead.  Tundra died a couple years ago, and last winter was very hard on Jerry without him.  So it is special to see Jerry not only enjoying a winter indoors, but also making a new doggy friend and cuddling with her.  Hazel seems to like it too.

Sunday Homestead Update – November?

Wow, it’s November.  That one really snuck up on me.

The winter storm hit us hard last week, bringing our temps down to -3F at night and single digits during the day.  The animals did great and everything went fine.  It was fun to be snuggled up indoors for a few days.

Goat

Pansy has gone to the breeder to spend time with a buck.  Little Miss is definitely missing her, as am I, surprisingly.  I didn’t realize how attached I was to that goat.  Once the breeder sees her get bred we will wait at least 21 days to be sure she doesn’t come back into heat, and then we will go get her and bring her home.  Here she is with the buck:

Sheep

Our sheep breeding season will start later this week as well.  We have decided which ram will go with which ewes and will split them up on Saturday.

Firewood

The firewood chopping and stacking continues as we prepare for keeping the house warm this winter.

Heritage Arts

I am continuing to work on my second weaving project – a set of 5 dish towels.  I am getting close to done and am excited to see them off the loom!

Sunday Homestead Update -Preparing for the Storm

We have what is predicted to be a big storm arriving today and lasting through Wednesday.  There is expected to be quite a bit of snow, and more importantly to the homestead – temperatures down to 0 (F)!  Brrrr!  This is very early in the season for us to get that cold, so we were caught of guard and have been scrambling to prepare the farm for it.

Water:

We had already put out some heated waterers and put the heater into the water trough.  But we finished up removing the un-heated waterers and getting them stored for winter, and added the last few heated waterers.  We filled all the waterers and blew out the hose.

Housing:

We cleaned out all the wet areas in the stalls and coops and added a lot of fresh bedding to give all the animals good, dry places out of the wind to bed down.

Garden:

We finished removing and storing all the trellises and cages.  As well as the last of the tents and frost fabric.

We harvested the last of the beets, radishes and celery that were still growing.  And removed the last of the dead plants that hadn’t been taken out and cleaned up.

Then we turned the top 2 inches of soil in the whole garden with a rake for pest control.  This good hard cold will help freeze and kill some of the eggs and larvae that pest bugs have left in the garden to torment us next season.  As we were raking we saw a lot of larvae and eggs.

House:

We put up some rubber door sealants around some of the doors where time and use had broken down the old stuff.  This ought to decrease the drafts around the doors.

We continued to work at chopping firewood.  We rented a splitter and worked on the piles of rounds we have.  Getting close to what we need to last all winter.

Heritage Arts:

So now that all our work is done and the snow is flying we can all have a nice relaxed Sunday by the fire.

Little Miss and Sunshine have been hired to knit some hats and a baby blanket, so they are happily working their way through those projects.

I am now weaving my second ever weaving project.  It is a set of 5 dishtowels.  I chose autumn colors – though the weather is making me feel more winter-y right now.

I started a knit-along with some friends this week too.  We are knitting the Match Play Poncho.  I am really looking forward to this.  I also cast-on some socks for Braveheart for Christmas, and a dress for Little Miss’s birthday.

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had some different things going on around here this week.  Not your run-of-the-mill SHU.  Except for these strawberries, from the strawberry patch.  🙂

Natural Weed Control

We have some driveway and stair areas that  have all sorts of grasses and weeds growing in them that we would like to keep clear.  We do not want to use herbicides on our property that could potentially be harmful to our animals and our edible plants.  Mtn Man told me about a recipe for weed spray that uses vinegar, dish soap, and salt.  So we bought a pump sprayer and I gave it a try.  It is working beautifully.  It has taken a couple applications, but we are definitely seeing results.

Wild Foraging

We enjoy learning about the edible wild plants that grow on our property so we spend a lot of time through the summer and fall with our favorite edible wild plants book, “Best-Tasting Wild Plants of Colorado and the Rockies,” by Cattail Bob Seebck, in our hands wandering the property and examining the plants we find.  Little Miss is especially interested in this aspect of our homestead.

Last week she and Mountain Man worked their way around the property and gathered us a salad for our dinner that was completely wild foraged.  It included Lamb’s Quarter, Saltbrush (my favorite), Tumble Mustard, Tansy Mustard, Mallow, and Squaw Paint.  They also found a bunch of chamomile that we are drying for tea this winter.  It was a very flavorful and delicious salad.

Wild Visitors

We found this little guy on our rock wall one day.

He was about 2.5 inches long.  The kids are now talking about building a bat house to encourage them to “hang” around our property since they eat bugs.

We have a family of coyotes denning about 200 yards from our barnyard.  Mama coyote picked that as a good place to raise a family.  We hear them multiple times each day and night as they yip and yap to each other.  Thankfully, a well-built fence and Anya, the LGD, make it so it doesn’t have to be a concern to us for our livestock.  Whenever they get to yipping Anya likes to throw in her deep throated bark and remind them she is big and she is still here and still on guard.  Thankfully, they have not chosen to come by the barnyard, nor hang out around it the way we sometimes have coyotes do.

Heritage Arts

I haven’t had much time to knit lately, but I have made some progress on my Nightshift shawl.

Guess what made its way into the living room and got dusted off and put to use!?  My spinning wheel!  I haven’t spun since our almost 4-year-old was born.  Life has been so full with his medical stuff, plus just regular busy life, that there just wasn’t time for it.  But this week I got it out and started spinning.  I love spinning, it is super therapeutic for me and emotionally recharging.  It calms me and resets me.  But it is hard on my back, so I have to take it easy and not overdo.  It was really great to spend some time spinning again, and I am hoping to get back into doing it regularly.

Another heritage art that we have not done in awhile that came back this week was wool rug braiding.  Little Miss is braiding a rug for my parents.  She was working on her braid and laying it out on one of our old rugs to decide when to change colors.  it is coming along nicely.

Cheese Making

It was a week of bringing back some old homestead activities, for sure.  We haven’t made cheese in 4-5 years, and this week Little Miss and I decided to make some cheese with Pansy’s milk.  We made a goat’s milk Paneer.

It turned out well.  We used the cheese press Mtn Man built for me several years ago when we got our first dairy cow.

Next week we plan to make Feta.

Chicken Butchering

We had saved two of the Dark Brahma cockerels to raise up one of them for a breeding rooster.  We were waiting for them to get a bit older so we could pick the best one.  They started fighting this week, so it was time to choose.  Braveheart has helped with butchering many many times, and watched Mtn Man do the killing as well, but this time he decided he wanted to do the whole process all by himself.  So he killed and butchered the cockerel all on his own for the first time ever!  We were all very happy for his accomplishment, and I am sure the meat will taste all the more delicious to him knowing he did all the work himself.

Hot City

I had to go into the big city this week (Denver) and got stuck in bad traffic.  it was 101F outside, but because of all the idling cars crammed together and inching along the hot pavement, this is what my car said it was outside:

Eeeek!  Needless to say I was oh-so-happy to get out of the hot city and back up onto the homestead in the mountains.

Farm Therapy

What is it about a homestead that is so therapeutic?  Fresh air, sunshine, livestock, edible vegetation, providing for your own food needs, baby animal cuteness…?  All of those things, and more.

As we head into our youngest son’s 12th surgery in less than 4 years my heart is heavy.  I head out to the barnyard for my farm therapy.  I sit on a rock in the barnyard and listen to the sounds, breathe in the smells, and view the sights.

My immediate companion is the LGD, Anya, looking for some love.

Followed quickly by the goat, Pansy, who thinks she is an LGD too.

After some love they clear out, well actually, the dog heads off to more interesting things and the goat continues to demand affection.  I eventually ask her to give me some space.  Then the chickens come over and peck around my feet, hoping maybe I brought food with me.

The sheep are content to lay in the shade, along with a chicken companion.

Something about the area brings peace.  It is calm, and steady.  It is natural.  I take a deep breath and take it all in.  My heart relaxes a little.  The farm cannot remove my concerns, but it has therapeutic powers – some that can be explained, and some that defy explanation.  It helps me face the next mountain.