Sunday Homestead Update – Poultry

It seems all the updates involve poultry today. A lot going on with the birds around here.

Duck Dilemma

As I said a few weeks ago, we are having issues with the duck area because it won’t drain and has become a huge ice slick of water and duck droppings. The permanent fix will have to wait until spring when everything is thawed. But for now, we figured out a solution and were able to get it cleaned up temporarily. We waited for a somewhat warm day (40F), and we ran a hose from the commercial water heater we use in the mill out to the duck pen. We spent quite a bit of time using the very hot water to melt all the ice and frozen droppings, while also creating a way for all that hot water and melted gunk to drain out and away from the pen. Once it was all melted and running away, we did kind of a ”power wash” with the hose to remove all the droppings from the gravel and drain it all away too. We were left with a nice clean pen and 95% of the water dried or drained before evening when it froze again, leaving only a couple slick spots. We will repeat this procedure as needed this winter until we can fix the pen next spring/summer to make it work better for the ducks in the winter.

It feels a lot better to have them living in clean outdoor conditions (their indoor conditions were always clean).

Mystery Egg

We found a mystery egg. It was outside of the chicken and duck pens and thus could only have been laid by a free-ranging bird or a wild bird. The guineas free range, but from what I have read they are very seasonal in their laying and shouldn’t start up until March. We have never seen a guinea egg before because they weren’t mature enough to lay last year, but they supposedly have brown speckles, which this does not have. But the egg is way too big to be a wild bird – we have never seen any wild ground-dwelling birds on the property. And it is definitely tucked away like a ground-nesting bird. So it must be the guineas? Whose egg is this? We might never know.

The guineas have been staying close to their coop with all the cold and snow. Although the egg was laid on one of the warmer days, and they did go farther from home that day.

Here they are tucking in due to the wind. Poor Dino, the outcast, is, as always, on the outskirts of the group. The kids have noticed Dino doing some things that lead them to believe he (or she) might be mentally impaired. Maybe that is why they keep him out of the group. I guess we are lucky they haven’t killed him and instead just keep him three feet away at all times. I feel so bad for him though.

The guineas are having some issues with their feet. We caught them and examined them the other night in the coop because as they were free ranging we saw one limping and noticed a couple others whose feet looked different. Three of them had what looked like healing wounds But it was unclear what the wounds are. Frostbite? Goat heads? We have a ton of goat heads all over the property (puncture vine). The guineas can’t go three steps without getting one in their feet unless they stay on the roads and pathways, which they don’t. We constantly see them stopping to pull them out. We are wondering if the injuries are long-term exposure to constantly getting goat heads in their feet? There is really nothing to be done about it. None of their feet looked infected. And only one foot on one of the guineas seemed sore. So we will keep and eye on the situation and see what happens.

Chickens at Work

We did some cleaning this last week. We took a bunch of the compost the chickens have been working through for us out of their pen, and then cleaned out one of the deep bedded sheep stalls and gave them some more stuff to work through. We noticed quite a lot of fly eggs in it, so it will be good to let them take care of that. Letting them work our compost for us works so well. They create the black gold we are looking for much faster than we do when we just pile it up and maintain it ourselves.

The guineas seemed a bit jealous that the chickens got the good stuff. Although we did see the guineas working on the big compost heap earlier that day.

Sky Paintings and Mountains

The sky and mountains have been showing off a lot lately. My camera never does the real thing justice, but it is a start. We really love the views we get here.

Clean Duck Water for Winter

Since we drained the duck pond for the winter, we have been looking for solutions for how to give the ducks enough clean water that they can dunk their heads and can drink, but can’t climb into it and make it a huge mess trying to use it as a pond. Also, we needed something they couldn’t spill over. And something that was either heated, or small enough we could easily refill it 1-2 times a day as needed before it froze solid. A tall order. We didn’t find anything that looked promising during our search on the net. But as we were working in the ewe barn we came up with a plan that is working great.

We use these hanging feeders for our sheep jugs (small birthing stalls) to hold water, hooked to the fence, when the sheep are living in the jug with their lambs. We realized that if we could hook this low enough in the duck pen it would be the perfect solution to the duck water issue. It is deep enough they can dunk their heads, but not so tall that they can’t reach in. And it is too narrow for them to try to get into it to swim. And with it hooked to the wall, they can’t tip it over.

Daniel simply used a few pieces of scrap wood to make a holder we can slip the hooks over.

It has been working great! We have been able to refill it time a day without major freezing issues. And the ducks are getting the water they need.

We are very happy to have found a workable, clean option for winter duck water.

Sunday Homestead Update – Problem Solving and An Old Friend Returns

Homesteading involves a lot of problem solving. This week we are faced with a duck-related problem solving dilemma. The area that we made into the duck coop and pen used to just be a shed with an area behind it full of gravel and weeds. We fenced in the area to make it a pen, planning to expand it in the future when we had time. The weeds were eaten, leaving a gravel area with sand underneath. We figured this would drain fine (ducks are very messy with their pond water) and it would not be an issue. We were wrong. Not only is it not draining, but the build-up of duck waste is creating a kind of seal that is letting it drain less and less. Due to the gravel, we can’t shovel out the duck waste. With the cold weather we can’t hose it away. AND, it is now freezing, melting, refreezing and becoming quite a huge wreck of water, ice, and duck poo. We are not using the “pond” anymore, just giving them a dish of water. But it is still such a mess out there. It is not a good, healthy living situation for them.

Granted, they can get inside a plenty-large coop that is bedded with nice dry shavings and cleaned regularly. But still, we don’t like our animals living in their own waste, frozen or not, indoor clean option or not. So we need an answer.

We have not come up with one yet. We will probably try some things this week and see if we can make any progress. Any of you dealt with this type of issue before? Ideas are welcome in the comment section.

An Old Friend

We have lived in a lot of different homes in our 22 years of marriage. And every single one of them had wood heat via either a fireplace, an insert, or a free-standing wood stove. There is something wonderful about heating with wood. And with the fact that Daniel has always had requests to cut down pine-beetle diseased trees for friends and family, we have never lacked for firewood. And wood heat is available no matter if the power goes out, or the furnace breaks down, etc.

When we moved to the new farm in the High Plains the house just had forced air. We knew we wanted to add a wood stove at some point, but it took some time to figure out where to put it and such. Our furnace has not been doing a good job of heating the house as this cold weather hit. It is the wrong type of furnace for our house, and is undersized, so on the really cold nights it is running constantly and the house is still cold. It also broke down twice already, leaving us without heat for one night the first time and three nights the second time. Time to figure out that wood stove situation!

I was gifted a beautiful, antique, 1907 Majestic wood cook stove many years ago, and we had installed it in our previous home and used it to heat the house. I absolutely love it and when we decided to sell there was no way I would sell it with the house. You can’t find one of these just anywhere – it is pretty much irreplaceable. So, we brought it with us. We installed it this weekend and we are all SO excited to have it back in the house again. It is like having an old friend from our past come back and join us at the new farm. Lots of smiles over this one.

There is still some trim work and such to do in this area. And I need to unpack all my wood stove accessories and get them set up. But it is heating the house now and we are super happy about it.

Sunday Homestead Update – New Year

Our year started with our first snow and very cold weather. We got about 3 inches of snow and temps down to -12F, with our high yesterday only in the teens. Brrrrr, a cold start to the new year, but it felt very past due with how warm and dry it has been this fall and winter.

Goals and Planning

We are getting back into routine life after the holidays. We like routine, although we enjoyed the time away from it as well. Our minds have shifted into planning mode as we face a new year at the new farm. We have so many visions and dreams for the place. There are so many things we want to do. We are working to prioritize and break it down so we don’t bite off too big of a piece. We need to be realistic about what we can handle and use our resources wisely. It can be hard to say that certain things will just have to wait, but if we spread ourselves too thin we won’t accomplish anything well and will end up with a bunch of half done projects.

So we have focused our plans on a few certain things for this year:

#1 Do well at managing what we already have. Keep working at our selective breeding, and keep all the animals healthy and productive. Continue to use the animals to feed our family with eggs, milk, and meat from our own farm.

#2 Continue to work at the intensive grazing and restorative agriculture plans with the hoofstock and poultry to improve the pastures.

#3 Make improvements to the animal housing, fencing, and human housing. We have a specific list of what projects we are taking on this year as far as this goes.

#4 Get the first vegetable garden built, planted, and producing (spring) and the second one fenced and start building it (fall).

#5 Add a few fruit trees and berry bushes.

#6 If possible after doing the above list, add heritage turkeys.

We were really hoping to add bees to the farm this spring, as well as raise a flock of meat-breed sheep from weaning to butcher, but those were a few of the things that had to be cut from the list and put on hold.

Poultry

This was the first snow and major cold for the guinea fowl and ducks. The guineas were very much not impressed. They decided to spend their day in the coop, warm and snug. Except first they kicked out the outcast.

As I have said before, there is one outcast guinea that is constantly a few feet from the flock. They won’t allow him (not sure if it is a girl or boy) to be with them. We don’t know enough about guinea behavior to know why. But since he is the only one we can tell apart from the others, due to the fact that he is constantly outside the group, we gave him a name. We call him Dino because he looks a little like a dinosaur because the feathers on his back are always ruffled up kind of like spikes. It seems to be because of the body posture he constantly keeps, as the outcast.

Anyway, they kicked Dino out of the coop. So Dino flew up on top of the coop and roosted there. By noon it was still only 10F, and Dino was still alone on the metal roof. So we decided to chase him in and close them all in for the day because we were worried Dino would freeze and die out in the elements alone. As we learned back when we first started free ranging the guineas…the only thing harder to herd than a group of guineas is a single guinea. A half hour later, and four freezing and frustrated humans finally got him in and closed the door. I guess we will learn from this and just keep the guineas indoors in inclement weather.

The ducks are also less than impressed with the weather. They came out, drank from their pond (we had a de-icer in it) and promptly went in to spend the rest rest of the day cozy inside.

Garden

We finished the year off by getting started on construction of the new garden. We got all the fence posts in, thanks to our neighbor bringing his tractor auger over for us. We wanted to get those done before the ground froze and made it impossible.

January Kitchen Project

Before we moved into the house, back in May, the girls and I gave the whole place a good scrub down. But we found that trying to clean the cabinets in the kitchen was nearly impossible. They had that build-up of greasy dust gunk that happens in a kitchen. You know, the stuff you find on top of your fridge if you don’t wipe it regularly. Plus just basic yucky dirt build-up around the handles etc. We tried a couple different cleaners, but it seemed that whatever we tried just made it sticky-er. We needed a major de-greaser to get the job done. But we were limited on time and couldn’t do it before the move. Then life went crazy busy. So, while it has been clean enough to be useable, it has been in the back of my head that I needed to really scrub and de-grease the cabinets and drawer fronts at some point.

The time has now come and I am making it my goal to do all of the kitchen by the end of January. I am doing it in small chunks so as not to overwhelm myself and so I can continue to focus on homeschooling and basic life (cooking, cleaning, etc). Daniel is taking the doors off for me, a couple at a time, in the morning before he leaves for work. When I have time during the day (or over a couple of days), I remove the handles and hinges, then give them a major scrubbing with degreaser (being careful not to overdo it and accidentally remove the finish on the cabinet), and then once they are dry they go back up.

I have been shocked to see the difference it makes. The small section I did last week looks almost brand new! It will be a tedious project, but will definitely pay-off in the end.

2021 Year-End Homestead Review

At the end of each year I like to do a homestead review post where I sum up the year and give some statistics about each area of the homestead.  It helps me see how we did, what we succeeded with, what we didn’t do as well as hoped with, etc.  Usually, it encourages me because I realize we accomplished a lot despite potentially feeling like we didn’t as I lived in the day-to-day chaos of life.

To read previous Year-End Reviews Click the following links:

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

This year is quite a bit different.  In January we started preparing our house to go on the market, and then the rest of the year was quite the whirlwind of selling, buying, moving, and settling at the new farm.  So there were pretty much no records kept about the homestead the way I usually do.  Plus, we did not have a garden, since we moved too late in the season to start it.  So this year’s update will be a little different.

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Sold or butchered the flock down to 10 standard hens and 1 standard rooster, and 5 bantam hens for the move.
  • Put 7 store-bought chicks under broody hen to raise.
  • 1 bantam hen and 1 standard hen died.
  • Ended year with 16 standard hens, 1 standard rooster, and 4 bantam hens.
  • No idea how many eggs we got this year, but enough that we didn’t have to buy any and were able to sell some.

Ducks:

  • Started the year with 1 drake and 1 hen.  Both older.
  • Butchered older drake and hen before the move.
  • Purchased 10 Muscovy ducklings and 4 Welsh Harlequin ducklings to add to the new farm.
  • Butchered 2 Muscovy drakes and 2 Welsh Harlequin drakes.
  • Ended the year with 6 Muscovy hens, 2 Muscovy drakes, and 2 Welsh Harlequin hens.
  • Not sure how many eggs we got, but the Harlequins started laying in about November and laid about 10 eggs each week between the two of them.

Guinea Fowl:

  • Purchased 8 Guinea keets.
  • Had some issues getting them free-ranging but were able to get it figured out.  They roost in their coop overnight.
  • 1 was killed by one of the LGDs.
  • Ended year with 7 free-ranging Guinea Fowl.

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 5.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the move to the new farm.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.
  • Since the new farm had more space and created two flocks instead of just one, we added another LGD to the family.  Ayla is almost 2 years old and is learning and growing into a good guardian dog.  She is Anya’s half-sister.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams.
  • 1 ram lamb and 1 ewe lamb born, both survived.
  • An unknown (because we didn’t keep track), but good amount of milk produced for cheesemaking.
  •  4 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of  24 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  •  3 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of  14 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • We weren’t able to process many of the fleece due to how busy we were with the move, so we only processed one for a total of  600 yds of yarn.
  • Did not sell any sheep this year due to the expanded size of the new farm and our desire to expand the flocks.
  • Purchased 1 East Friesian (dairy) ram lamb, 1 BFL (wool) ram lamb, and 3 BFL (wool) ewe lambs.
  • Breeding season Oct-Dec: confirmed 2 pregnant dairy ewes, don’t have confirmation on the rest yet.
  • Finished year with 5 wool ewes, 1 wool wether, 2 wool rams, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram.

Goats:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant Nubian does.
  • One doe died
  • 1 buckling born, sold at weaning.
  • Purchased fresh (milking) Nubian doe.
  • Unknown amount of milk produced, but plenty for our family through the year.
  • Re-bred 2 does in Nov.
  • Ended year with 2 pregnant does due to kid in April.

Garden

  • No garden this year, but we were blessed with a lot of produce from other people’s gardens.
  • We did bring our container herb garden with us, and expanded it.  We harvested a lot of fresh herbs as well as harvesting and drying them.
  • Brought cuttings from our Lilac bushes with us and planted those.
  • Gifted an apple tree which we planted and it survived.
  • Purchased comfrey roots and planted several of those for next year.
  • Gifted some garlic and planted it for next year.
  • Started construction on the new vegetable garden for next year.

Heritage Arts:

  • There was a lot of knitting and sewing done, but I did not keep good track this year, so I have nothing to report here.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, applesauce, pickles, and crabapple jelly.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, and squash from a barter with someone.
  • Made quite a bit of aged cheese.  Mostly from sheep milk, a few from goat’s milk.
  • Made a lot of soft cheeses and dairy products, mostly from goat’s milk, some from sheep milk.

Year Summary

January was busy with house remodel projects to prepare it to go on the market.  I did some knitting and spinning, and we made firestarters to help keep the firemaking easy as we used them to warm our house.  We wethered our infertile BFL ram, and were excited to add a new breeding ram to the farm – an American Bond.  Unfortunately, he would later prove to be infertile as well.

February started with a hard loss – our sweet goat Pansy died after a long struggle with medical issues.  We had a deep freeze with days barely in the single digits and nights well into the negative numbers.  One of our dairy ewes, Daisy, gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl.  Her milk production was even better than last year (last year was her first freshening).  We decided to just let the lambs have it as we were up to our eyeballs with getting ready to sell the farm.  I did some knitting and decided to take a break from blogging as we were closing in on listing the homestead on the market.

I didn’t blog in March or early April.  But life kept marching on (of course).  Our house sold, with the stipulation that we find a suitable place to buy.  We looked and looked, but didn’t find anything during this time.  Our 5-year-old son had more liver issues, an ER visit which led to another hospitalization and his 24th surgery.  We continued to watch for our new farm.  The market was crazy with very little inventory, very high prices, and offers being placed and accepted in less than 24 hours.  It was easy for us as sellers, but hard as buyers.

In late April our Nubian doe delivered a buckling.  And we finished shearing all the sheep.  Just a few days before the contract on our previous house was going to expire, we found our new farm and our offer was accepted.  It was official – we were leaving the Rockies we had called home for many decades and heading to the High Plains.

In May we got really sick as we scrambled to pack and prepare to move a family of 7, plus grandma, a school, a business with large machinery, and a farm full of animals.  Thankfully, we were healthy in time for closing on both places and at the very end of May we signed all the papers and started the move.  Sadly, one week before the move, our sweet 15-year-old kitty, who we had owned since he was a kitten, passed away.  In hindsight, I am glad he didn’t have to go through the stress of the move at his old age, but we still miss him very much to this day.

June was crazy.  We spent two weeks prepping the new farm for us, the animals, and the machinery, then moving everything, and trying to somewhat settle in.  We saw our first tornado, way too clearly, on the third day we were here.  We added a new LGD to the farm family and she got right to work guarding one of the flocks (now that they were split into two at the new place with more space).  We started pasturing the sheep and goats and learning the ins and outs of intensive grazing with electric netting fence.  We started putting together a container garden with what we brought from our previous farm, plus some additional containers left on the new property.  Fencing the perimeter of the property with field fence to keep dogs out and sheep, goats, and dogs in became a priority, and big project, that wouldn’t fully get finished this year.  We also spent a ton of time weeding.  Weeding, weeding, and more weeding.  The area around the house that was covered in gravel was a jungle of weeds to the point you couldn’t see the gravel at all in some places.  We got a safe play area built for our youngest son.  Through it all, we were learning the new climate, the new views, the new landscape, the new wildlife….everything was new and different!  I continued to write online for Mother Earth News through the whole year, and I was really excited when I had my first article ever to make it into the print edition of the magazine printed in the June/July issue.

In July we thought we might just die of the heat.  We had more days in the triple digits than not, and several days got up to 108/109.  It was miserable for us as we had previously lived in the cool, high-altitude Rockies and had never experienced temperatures like that before, and certainly not day after day.  We continued to do what we could with the little container garden, but the temperatures were not helping.  Plus, pest bugs started killing everything we were working so hard to keep alive.  One of our sheep bloated, and we successfully tubed him and saved him since the vet couldn’t come.  We added ducklings, some chicks, and guinea keets to the farm.  By the end of the month the ducklings were out grazing in duck tractors we had built from odds and ends around the farm.  Milking the sheep and goat in the open with the flies and wind and heat was getting miserable, so we converted an old shed into a wonderful milking parlor.  Lastly, we built a door for the hay barn in preparation to put up hay for the year.

In August we started to feel somewhat settled at the new farm.  We added another Nubian milking doe and 4 Bluefaced Leicester sheep to the farm.  We did a lot of fermenting and canning.  Now that we had a couple of months under our belts, we were reading books like crazy and doing research to try to figure out how we want to manage and build the new farm in so many different areas – livestock, gardens, etc.  We started a new school year, our first and the new farm.  Sadly, our sweet, old house-rabbit, Wilbur, passed away.

September included a lot of illness and some death among the livestock, as well as illness among the humans.  We enjoyed a drop in the very hot temperatures and found we were able to spend more time outside.  I got my antique treadle sewing machine fixed and started to learn how to use it.  We built the poultry barn and moved around all the poultry to new housing.  We started to feel a bit overwhelmed as we tried to get to everything we needed to get done before winter hit.

October was full of guinea fowl adventures as we attempted to get our guineas to free-range but stay on our property and go indoors to roost at night.  I had another article published in the October/November print edition of Mother Earth News magazine.  Our youngest son had another round of liver issues with hospitalization and surgery.  I also spent a lot of time sewing on my antique treadle machine, making a quilt and aprons for gifts.  By the end of the month I felt completely proficient on the machine and it became my go-to sewing machine for most all my projects.

In November I was excited to be able to speak at the Homesteader’s Livestock Summit.  The whole family helped with my presentation and we all really enjoyed the opportunity to share what we love and teach about raising sheep for high-quality wool production.  The Nubian does headed to the breeder’s farm to get bred, since we don’t keep a buck for breeding.  Our sheep breeding season was proving challenging and we decided to try using ram harnesses with marking crayons to help figure out what was going on.  We finished all our “before winter hits” projects in time, including a root cellar/tornado shelter.  The girls had a very successful booth at a Christmas craft fair in the area.  And we got our first dusting of snow at the new farm.

December was shockingly warm, and we enjoyed it.  We also enjoyed the slower pace from a year of crazy busy.  We stopped all “projects” and just spent time enjoying our family.  We all got sick with a nasty cold, but it helped keep us slowed down, at home, and resting for the first time in a very long year.  The ducks started laying, and the goats came home pregnant.  We made our final plans for next year’s vegetable garden, and started working towards making it a reality.

It has been a crazy year of change and so much hard work.  But it is all a blessing and we are glad for the move and all that we have gone through.  We are looking forward to 2022 being our first full year at the new farm.  We are excited to see what every season is like here.  And we are busy dreaming and planning as we build this new homestead out on the High Plains.