Sunday Homestead Update – Time for a Break

This will be my last post for a while.  We have a lot of things going on in our life right now, and I am finding that I need a break from blogging for a bit.  So I am hitting the pause button.  But don’t worry…I will be back soon, and I will have a lot to share as we enjoy spring on the farm.  Before I go, one final Sunday Homestead Update catching you up on each aspect of the winter homestead…

Sheep

Daisy and her lambs, Dusty and Dixie, are doing well.  She is producing LOADS of milk.  Much more than last year – which was her first freshening.  We have decided to just let her lambs have it all for the first 3 weeks or so before we start milking her.  But I am looking forward to seeing how her production compares to last year.  The lambs are so active that it is difficult to get photos in the little jug.  It has been too cold to let them out yet, but this week is supposed to be beautifully warm, so they are going to see the outside world for the first time tomorrow.

Freya either did not get pregnant, or she miscarried during the wildfire evacuations.  So there will be no lambs from her at this point.  We can hope that maybe she was bred by Nilsson in December or January and is due this summer.  Time will tell.  But for now, there are no more lambs due for our farm until the end of May.

Several sheep are desperately in need of shearing.  We have had some crazy busy-ness going on, not to mention bitter cold temps that make us not want to shear.  We will be shearing several of them within the next few weeks as it warms up.

Goats

Belle is continuing to do very well with the loss of Pansy.  She seems to be fitting in fine with the sheep and is kind of making friends with the wether, MacDougal.  Not to mention the bond she has always had with Anya, the LGD.

We are drying Belle off (gradually ceasing to milk her and stop her milk production) this week in preparation for her kidding coming in April.

Chickens

The chickens have done an excellent job of laying through this cold winter, especially considering the stress the wildfire evacuation put on them back in October/November.  All is well with them and there is not much to report.

Ducks

Our first winter with ducks has gone better than expected.  We had planned to just give them a chicken waterer and no pond throughout the winter.  But we have found that with a trough heater in the bottom of their pool, it stays thawed and they really enjoy swimming in it and they don’t seem negatively effected by the cold.  We do not let them have it when the temperature is below about 15F.

Heritage Arts

I am about halfway down the length of the sweater I am making for Mtn Man.  He tried it on and it looks like it will fit great.  I am very excited and hope to get this done before it is too warm for him to wear it this winter season.

I finished the first side of my summer poncho.  I started the second side, but I am trying to work less on this as it can wait to be worn until summer, and focus more on Mtn Man’s sweater.

Sunshine recently took a colorwork knitting class and learned the basics of colorwork through making this hat.  There were many ups and downs for her, as it is pretty difficult to learn the right tension for colorwork.  But I think the hat looks amazing!

Hazel and Jerry

I can’t leave, even for a short break, without giving you all some pics of Hazel and Jerry.  Every day they are cuddled together in a new, cute position.  Love these two!

2020 Year-End Homestead Review

Looking back over the previous year on the homestead is an excellent practice because it helps us see what worked, what didn’t, and helps us plan for the future.  It is also always very encouraging to me because even when I feel like we didn’t have a very productive year, seeing it all written out shows me all that we accomplished.  Our homestead has had to take a backseat to other parts of our life over the last few years due to our son’s serious medical issues.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.  I used to do excellent record-keeping, but as each year has been harder and harder with Mr. Smiles, each year has thus been harder and harder to do good record keeping.  I am amazed I kept records at all this year!  But here’s what we have.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 21 hens, 3 pullets, 3 cockerels (almost ready for butcher), and 1 rooster.  Plus 23 eggs in the incubator.
  • Did 1 incubation with 23 eggs.  22 were fertile, 10 chicks hatched and 10 survived.
  • Broody hen set 12 eggs, bad fertility (only 5 fertile), 3 hatched, we added 10 from the store and she accepted them, 5 from the store and 1 of hers died in the first few days, 7 survived.  Got 5 more from the store and put them under her. 4 of those survived.  So a total of 11 surviving chicks.
  • Purchased 16 more chicks to have shipped.  14 survived.
  • 2 more broody hens set, one set 10 eggs, 7 hatched and survived, the other set 14 eggs, 4 hatched, 4 survived.
  • We purchased 10 chicks and our best broody hen adopted them and raised them.  9 survived.
  • At the height of the season we had 25 adult chickens and 40 chicks –  total 65
  • Butchered 24 cockerels, 13 old hens, 1 rooster
  • Did not sell any chickens this year, but gave away 3 as a gift
  • 1 hen died of unknown causes
  • Ended year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Approximately 4,180 eggs laid (348 dozen)

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 4.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the fire evacuations.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 1 wool ewe, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram
  • 4 ewes got pregnant, due in April & May
  • 1 ram lamb and 3 ewe lambs born, all survived
  • 72 gal of milk produced
  • 2 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of 8 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • 5 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of 10.1 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • Total of 8,525 yds of various sizes and types of yarn made from all the fleece. Plus 3/4 lb of roving.
  • Sold 2 ewes and 2 ewe lambs
  • Purchased 1 BFL ram lamb, 1 Wensleydale ewe, and 1 Bond ewe (all wool breeds)
  • 1 wool ewe died unexpectedly
  • Butchered 1 ram and 1 ram lamb
  • Bred them in two separate groups, one group in September, and one group in October-December.  2 September ewes confirmed pregnant due in Feb.
  • Realized our new BFL ram was unable to breed the flock successfully Oct-Dec, quickly purchased a new Bond ram end of December and put him with the girls, hoping to get the last 3 pregnant.
  • Finished year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams

Goats:

  • Started the year with 1 Nubian doe, Pansy.  Pregnant and due to kid in April.
  • 1 doeling born, died at a couple weeks of age.
  • Pansy struggled for several months with undefinable illness.  The vet, breeder, and we tried everything to figure out what it was and tried treating for any possible thing.  The illness decreased her milk production and we ended up having to dry her off in October.
  • Due to Pansy’s struggles and drop in milk production, we added another Nubian doe to our farm in July, named Belle.
  • 75 gal of milk produced.
  • Rebred 2 does in Nov/Dec.
  • 2 does pregnant and due to kid in April.

Ducks:

  • Started the year without ducks.  Added them to the farm in July – our first ever ducks!
  • Started with 2 drakes and 2 hens
  • 1 hen set 12 fertile eggs, 5 hatched, 4 survived, all drakes
  • Butchered 5 drakes and 1 hen
  • Finished year with 1 drake and 1 hen

Garden (didn’t keep good garden records this year, but…)

  • Over 250 lbs of produce harvested
  • More seeds saved than ever before

Heritage Arts:

  • Completed knit projects: 6 hats, 2 pairs of mittens, 2 pairs of socks, 1 gator, 1 poncho, and 1 dress.
  • Completed sewing projects: 4 dresses, 5 skirts, 8 pajama pants, 3 nightgowns.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.
  • We made 12 tins, 3 half-pints, and 1 pint of herbal salve.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, green beans, and tomatoes.  Plus grape jelly.
  • Prepped and froze carrots and celery.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, and squash.
  • Made 68 lbs 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 cold and dry most of the month.  We hatched out 10 chicks in the incubator, hoping to line the hatching up with chicks coming in the mail so they could brood together.  Unfortunately, the hatchery made a mistake and printed our shipping page but never shipped us the chicks.  So we decided to just raise the 10 we had hatched ourselves.  We pulled our first ever aged cheese out of the cheese cave and tried it.  It was Colby and we all liked it.  One of our younger ewes surprised us by getting bred late, bringing our total of pregnant sheep up to 5.

February made up for January’s lack of snow by snowing every few days and dropping into the negative temperatures.  We worked on indoor projects a lot, and Mtn Man finished his first-ever rectangular braided rug made from llama and alpaca fiber.  We took photos of our chicks each week as they grew and changed.  We got ourselves organized and planned out the gardens and planting schedule for the year, as well as all the livestock birthings and things we needed to prepare for related to that.  Since we kept more sheep than we originally planned to when we put up hay last summer, we had to buy some more and get it put away in the loft.

March started exactly the opposite of February, with a week of warm, dry, sunny weather.  We spent a lot of time outdoors, working on finishing the new vegetable garden in time for planting.  We got the lambing/kidding kit and vet kit re-supplied and ready for lambing season.  And we also finished the wooden barnyard fence.  Coronavirus spread over the world and we were isolated from socializing.  We were largely unaffected, until Mtn Man ran out of work in the mill and had to take an essential construction job.  Our stirred-curd cheddar cheese reached 3 months of aging, so we were able to take it out of the cheese cave and try it.  It was delicious!  We put part of it back to age more so we could see the difference.  Our hen, Cinnamon, decided to set a brood of eggs for us.  We finished shearing all the sheep and began processing their fleece, and we got excited as we neared our first lambs due on the farm for the year.

In April our first dairy lamb was born without issues.  We started milking our first dairy sheep – Autumn, and quickly realized it would go better with a milking machine.  A lot of work was done on finishing up our new veggie garden area, and improving and building new fruit garden areas.  We made progress on Mr. Smiles’ new play area too.  We were all excited when I was invited to blog monthly for Mother Earth News.  Cinnamon’s hatch had terrible fertility, and we only ended up with 3 chicks, so we bought some at the store and gave them to her to raise with hers.  Many were weak from shipping stress and died, so we bought some more.  Our wool ewe, Fiona, had a single ram lamb, in an uneventful birth that we missed seeing despite our hourly checks.  The end of the month was exhausting as we were up to the barn every two hours through the night awaiting the goats and lambs that were due to be born.  Daisy, a first-time-mom ewe, had a traumatic birth with a very stuck large single baby in her small inexperienced pelvis.  We were able to save both the ewe and lamb, but then Daisy rejected the lamb.  After working with her for a day, we decided to give up and bottle feed it.  Once they were separated and the other ewes came to visit the baby, Daisy suddenly decided she wanted to mother the lamb.  We were very relieved and did not need to bottle feed after all.

In May our stay-at-home orders were lifted, and the hospitals started performing surgeries again.  This meant that Mr. Smiles could now get the surgery he was supposed to have back in March, but it also meant that we would be gone to the Children’s Hospital during the height of our lambing/kidding season.  Thankfully, no one birthed while we were gone.  We continued to be exhausted from our nightly barn checks as Pansy the goat went well past her due date, whereas both our first-time-mom-ewes went earlier than their due dates.  Daisy was due in May, but had hers in April.  Blue went 4 days early, the day before Mr. Smiles’ surgery.  Thankfully, Blue’s birth was uneventful and we missed it despite hourly checks on her.  Finally, 9 days past her due date, Pansy gave birth.  She had ring-womb and it made for a traumatic delivery, but both mother and baby survived.  We were finally past our birthing season and could get some sleep – theoretically.  Our oldest son graduated from high school at the end of the month – our first child to graduate from homeschool.  His ceremony and party were canceled due to coronavirus, so we had a nice little celebration on our own.  And we added a new BFL ram to the flock.

June started with disease, pests, and late frosts.  It was a challenging month for sure.  Our youngest son had more trouble with his health, leading to 1 MRI under anesthesia, 4 more surgeries, 2 ER trips, and 9 days in the hospital.  Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the mice were reaching plague-like proportions, with us catching up to 35 per night in our traps, and the barn cats killing innumerable amounts, and yet they were still wreaking havoc in the gardens and barns.  We found out that our new BFL ram might have brought Orf to the entire flock, and anxiously waited the disease incubation period, hoping it wouldn’t prove to be true.  The goat and her doeling got lice, and we were busy treating them with a natural oil daily.  One of our hens hatched out 7 baby chicks, on the same day that the doeling very suddenly died of what was suspected to be enterotoxaemia.  We grew oh-so-weary with it all.  And then, during Mr. Smiles’ hospital stay and surgeries, Pansy became very ill.  We had the vet out multiple times, only to find no obvious cause and have no treatment we tried help.  As a last-ditch-effort, on our way home from the hospital we picked up a buckling to take home to see if it was emotional depression from the death of her doeling causing her physical illness.

In July we managed to avoid the pediatric hospital, but knew our time away was limited so we were super busy at the farm trying to deal with all the summer to-dos before we had to head back to Denver.  Pansy the goat was still sick for awhile, but eventually pulled through her mysterious health issue.  We traded the temporary buckling out for a new milk doe.  We weaned lambs, sold some sheep, and purchased a new breeding ram and ewe.  We also added ducks to the farm for the first time ever.  The mice and hail continued to plague the gardens, but some harvest began to come in as well.  With two goats, and the lambs not milk-sharing with us anymore, milk continued to flow in larger quantities than before, and thus we spent a lot of time making cheese and other dairy products.  We had to switch to a larger homemade refrigerator cheese cave, as the smaller one was full.  We also purchased two pigs and butchered them for our winter meat.  It was our first time ever butchering pigs as we usually have the butcher do the pigs for us but there was no butcher who could take them due to the pandemic.  It was a very busy and productive month on the homestead for sure.

August brought a lot of juggling of farm life and hospital life.  Mr. Smiles had 2 more surgeries, one scheduled and one unexpected.  Meanwhile we were trying to continue to process all the dairy products and harvest the garden.  We ate, canned, froze, pickled, fermented, and root cellared the produce as it was harvested.  We butchered some chickens, and one of our hens decided to set and hatch some chicks.  One of the new duck hens wanted to set too, so we bought some hatching eggs and put them under her.  As I continued to blog for Mother Earth News, I also had an article published in Chickens Magazine.  Our friends were evacuated due to a wildfire and their ducks and chickens came to live with us for what turned out to be several weeks.  It was kind of fun having a goose on the farm for a little while – we had never had one before and she was beautiful and fun.  We struggled with a couple of red-tailed hawks and a golden eagle who were hanging out trying to get an easy meal in our barnyard.  The chickens had to stay in their covered pen to keep them safe.

September was beautiful, except for the large amounts of smoke from the wildfires.  We worked hard harvesting and preserving the harvest from our gardens.  The pullets began laying, so we had some fun new egg colors and sizes.  We were able to can our produce, despite supply shortages, thanks to our reusable canning lids.  We got an early hard freeze along with three days of snow that surprised us and brought the garden harvest to an end quickly.  Thankfully, we got all the produce out in time.  The snow also helped suppress the wildfires, for a little while.  We tried a new breeding plan for the sheep on the farm, and bred three of the ewes during September, planning to breed the others in December to divide up our lambing season.  We also butchered the ram lamb.  The duck hen successfully hatched her ducklings and we really enjoyed the new adventure of that.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezers when Mtn Man and his father hunted elk.  Sadly, our matriarch ewe, the first ewe we ever purchased for the farm, died unexpectedly – it was heartbreaking and a very difficult loss.

October was full of fall productivity.  We worked at getting, splitting, and stacking firewood to heat the house for the winter.  We continued to work on cleaning up the gardens and putting up the seeds for next year.  We finished several heritage arts projects, and built new feed bins for the barn.  We butchered more chickens and a ram, plus a couple of ducks.  The freezers were filling up fast for winter!  We were excited to learn that one of my blog posts for Mother Earth News was chosen to be published in their e-newsletter.  The Cameron Peak wildfire moved closer and closer to us, putting us on edge and prepared for evacuation.  We had a mountain lion hang out around our property for a few days, which kept us on edge as well.  Two more wildfires started near us, and ash and smoke started making life complicated.  Then, in one days time, one of the fires grew over 100,000 acres and traveled 35 miles, closing in on our home.  We were evacuated, and had to quickly get 64 animals and 8 humans off our homestead.  We were so blessed to have friends, acquaintances, and strangers reach out to us and take in our animals and our family.  The animals were spread over 5 different farms.  After 5 days, our family was able to go home, but the fire loomed and threatened and we had to stay prepared for fast evacuation, so we did not bring the farm animals back for a few weeks.

As we headed into November we continued to watch the wildfires and wait for the OK to bring our livestock back to the farm.  We cleaned and prepared the barn, and worked on some heritage arts projects.  As the containment lines grew, we started bringing animals back.  First the sheep and LGD came home.  Then the poultry.  The goats were evacuated to the farm that they go to every November/December for breeding, so we left them there for the breeding season.  It felt great to have the animals back at the homestead!  Since the ram had to be with the ewes during the evacuation – thus starting our breeding season earlier than planned, we decided to just leave him with them and let them breed.  We added a new, Bond ewe named Matilda to the farm.  We also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning and cheesemaking.  We scrambled to get things done around the farm before winter really hit since the evacuation had put us behind on all our fall projects.  We were surprised to find out that our two hatches from September, one duck hatch and one chick hatch, that each had 4 babies survive, had all males.  Not exactly what we were planning, but more meat in the freezer.

December brought both very low temperatures (-10F) and unseasonably high temperatures (55F) to the farm.  We used the warm days to finish fixing some fences and the path out back, and spent the rest of the time cozy by the fire working on heritage arts projects for Christmas presents.  It was a pretty laid-back, low-key month and we all enjoyed the break and rest.  Then, in the last few days of the month, we realized that our new BFL ram was not getting the ewes pregnant.  We quickly purchased a new ram, a Bond, and put him with the girls, hoping we could get the last 3 ewes pregnant before their breeding cycles stopped for the season.

 

It is good to look back, but can also be hard to look back as well.  I remember that in last year’s homestead review I said that it was by far the hardest year in our lives.  Good thing I didn’t know what was to come.  This year has by far been the most challenging year of our lives.  We had so many losses in our personal lives and on our homestead.  At the homestead we battled the weather, pests, birthing complications, and illnesses in the livestock.  Our youngest son had 8 more surgeries this year, along with many hospitalizations, ER visits, and doctor’s appointments.  His last surgery was his 23rd in his 5 years of life.  It was definitely challenging.  Through it all we continue to focus on our many blessings and trust in God as He carries us through the ups and downs.

Sunday Homestead Update – Mending Fences

The main focus this week was mending fences…and not in the relational sense – in the physical sense.  We still have snow on the ground from before Thanksgiving, and it is not great working-outside weather – pretty darn cold.  But we saw a 5-day break in the weather where we would be in the 40s-50s F and we knew we needed to take the opportunity to get some stuff done.

Fences

Last year, when our ram, Fergus, went totally crazy due to testosterone rage, he did quite a bit of damage to the barnyard (not to mention to me and the ram lamb).  He bent a lot of the wire on the fencing, as well as breaking a 4×4 post, and a couple of 2×6 rails.  The original fence was a 2-rail wood fence with 2x4inch welded-wire sandwiched between the rails and post and stapled to the rails.

After the incident, we used some scrap wood and did our best to patch up the fence “good enough” to hold temporarily.  It meant adding 2 more “rails” to the bottom sections to try to hold the bent and mangled wire in place.  The fence was holding up the broken 4×4 and the non-broken 4x4s were helping hold up the fence.  It worked, but needed to be fixed.  Over time, the gnarly wire from his head ramming and bending it has broken in some spots, leaving sharp wires sticking out.  It was time to take care of it, before someone got hurt.

It is somewhat hard to see in the photos, but the extra rails are pieced together and not cut to length.  The wire is stretched and broken, and there are a lot of gnarly broken wires sticking out – along the bottom especially.  You can’t “see” that a 4×4 is broken, but one of the posts in the photo is broken and just being held up by everything else.

We originally were hopeful we could mend it without completely re-building it.  But as we really started looking at it, there was no way.  The wire was way too damaged, and to replace the wire the whole fence had to come apart.  So we took it all apart, saving the good wood pieces to re-use, and replaced the broken 4×4 post.

Then we got new wire and re-built the wire and rails.  We decided to go with 4 rails instead of just 2, the bottom 3 rails being closer together down at sheep head height, like the way we had temporarily secured it.  And we decided to add in the vertical supports between posts permanently as well.  We had previously just done that to hold it all together until we could fix it, but it really adds a lot of strength.  This fence is the ram pen, and we wanted it to be as “ram tough” as we could get it.  It looks SO much better now and we are very happy we re-did it.  It is safer and more secure to be our ram pen long-term.

In addition to fixing the ram-pen fencing, we had an issue with some bulging wire on the main barnyard fence because Freya, our very large Wensleydale ewe, decided it was a good spot to scratch her back on the rail, thus bulging the wire.

We put a third rail in the two sections where she did that to support the wire and prevent the stretching.

Sheep

Speaking of Freya, it was time to shear her this week.

Wensleydales are generally shorn twice a year because their fleece grows so quickly.  Our mill equipment can’t handle a staple length longer than about 10 inches, and she was already at 6 inches.  Looking ahead to winter and her lambs being due in February, and us not wanting to shear her in the dead of winter, we decided now was the best time.  We saw a 5-day period with warmer weather and so we did her shearing right at the beginning of that to try to limit the stress on her from the cold.

Matilda is settled in very well with the flock now.  She is still not sure about us humans, because she came from a flock that was much larger than ours and she isn’t used to humans petting her and such.  But we are hopeful she will warm up to us more and more as she watches the rest of them always come to us for scratches and petting.

It was interesting to see how the flock reacted as we were doing all the demo and re-building of the fence.  They are so used to our loud construction project noises and such that they didn’t even care.  They were laying about 10 feet from where we were working and didn’t even get up at the sound of the chainsaw.  And during the project they were often in our way and sniffing everything.

Ducks & Chickens

As I shared previously, all 4 ducklings were drakes.  This week it was time to butcher them.  We kept one as a possible breeding drake, and the other three will feed us this winter.

So we only have one more butchering left this year.  The 4 cockerels that Dahlia hatched and raised will be ready next week.  Then we will hopefully have a nice long break from butchering.

Shearing…butchering…fences…busy homestead week!

Sunday Homestead Update – Almost Back to Normal

I can’t get my photos to upload…so sorry – no photos this week.

Wildfires

The wildfires have calmed way down and are much more contained now.  There are a couple of hot spots that could be concerning, but we are supposed to get precipitation and cold temps this week, which will hopefully put an end to it all.  Meanwhile, we are trying to get back to normal as much as possible around the homestead, while still having it kind of hang over us that there is an active wildfire within striking distance.

Sheep

The sheep came back to the farm last Tuesday.  When we evacuated them, the place where they stayed couldn’t keep the ram separate from the ewes.  So our breeding season started a month early this year.  That will mean March lambs, which will mean cold, snowy weather.  Such is life.  We will deal with it when it happens.  Since they were together already for two weeks, we decided to just leave them together since we are only a week or so out from our planned start to breeding season.  So they are all living together, which means easier barn chores with one less pen, so that is nice.

Chickens and Ducks

Now that the fire containment lines have stood the test of winds, we brought back the chickens and ducks.  It feels so great to have the farm animals all back! (Except the goats…see below)

It was very funny – when we first put the chickens back into the barnyard the sheep acted like they have never seen them before and were kind of scared of them.  LOL!  A little over two weeks of being separate, after being together for over a year, and all of a sudden they are strange aliens.  Silly sheep!

The bantam chicks have grown and changed a lot.  They are almost completely feathered – but still look like teenage chickens.  The ducklings, on the other hand, all look like fully-grown, fully-feathered adult ducks.  The change was shocking!  While they were away they also got old enough for us to be able to tell what sex they were.  When we got them home, we checked, and ALL four are males!  That is statistically pretty startling.  But we did it by the book, both with the voice and the vent, and they all came up as male.

Goats

Pansy and Belle did not come home from evacuation because they were evacuated to the farm that they usually go to for breeding in November.  So they will be staying there for several weeks to be bred.  We look forward to having them come home around Christmas time – pregnant.

Canning

We have been canning some this last week.  We got the last of our garden tomatoes canned, plus some more apples in honey syrup.  We are going to continue with more apples this coming week.  Feels good to be putting up for winter.

Sunday Homestead Update – Front Yard/Back Yard

We prefer to not walk around town smelling like the barn in clothes that have holes and stains.  So, long ago, before we even had a real farm, we implemented the front yard/back yard clothing system.  We each have some clothes that are considered “back yard clothes,” which we wear for barn chores, working outside and getting dirty, painting, etc.  Then there are the “front yard clothes,” which are for going out into public in, or for when we have guests to the house for dinner, etc.  These clothes include not just clothing, but shoes/boots, and winter outerwear.

The winter outerwear and muck boots can get expensive with this large of a family.  But with the whole family working with the farm animals through the long, cold, Rocky Mountain winter, it really is a necessity.  So every family member has lined overalls and a hooded coat that have the heavy duty, work-wear type of outer fabric, plus a pair of muck boots.  The good news is that over the years the kids outgrow them before they wear them out, so they can be hand-me-downed down the line to the next kid each year and get used by multiple children.  And, while they do have more “girlie” colors available, we just always go with the beige/orange-ish color and then girls or boys can wear the same stuff.  Some stuff has survived 4 kids already and is clean and hung up in the closet, waiting for Mr. Smiles to eventually be able to help out in the barn and need winter outerwear.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that we have a set of “twins.”  They are not actually twins, but are virtual twins through adoption and thus have been about the same size for many years.  That means we either have to have two of every size and thus have to buy another set of stuff in addition to the hand-me-down stuff, or one of them is always in something too big or too small.  It depends on the year what ends up happening.  They are both heading into puberty, so I expect that they wont be the same size much longer and that our son with outgrow his “twin” sister – but you never know.  Since they are both growth spurting right now, this year they opted to start the winter with one of them getting the fitting jacket and the barely too-small overalls, while the other gets the barely too-small jacket and the fitting overalls.  I suspect we will be buying some new stuff half-way through winter to accommodate everyone’s growth.  We went through all the outerwear this week and figured out what fit who, traded stuff around to the best sized person, and figured out what new we need to buy before the cold really hits.  We always find a way to make it work and are glad they can have warm clothes to wear through the cold winter on the farm.

Ducklings

This is our first time having a hen raise ducklings and we are very surprised at two things.  #1: How fast they grow.  They grow very fast compared to chickens.  And #2, How slowly they feather out.  They have much fewer feathers than chicks do at this age.  So it is a fun new adventure as we watch them grow and mature.

This week we gave them their first “swimming pool” that they couldn’t reach the bottom of.  Up until now we have been playing it safe and giving them wading pools to play in.  But this week we put the regular duck pool in there and put a rock in the bottom along the edge so they could get out safely.  When they first jumped in and realized they couldn’t touch the bottom, they started paddling their feet like mad, a little frantic.  But very quickly they realized that they were floating naturally, and they calmed down and started having fun.  Within a minute or two they were diving and playing.  It was awesome to see them realize their innate skills.  They don’t need to be “taught” to swim – they just can swim.  Very fun.

The Never-Ending Autumn To-Do List 

We continue to plug away at canning the tomatoes as they ripen in the root cellar racks.  And the farm kitchen is always full of not only our daily cooking, but extra projects such as cheesemaking.  Now that we have been making cheese for 6 months and thus have been able to try many of our aged-cheeses we are figuring out which we like better and I can make more of those and not make the ones we don’t like as much.

We are also continuing to work at cleaning up the garden for winter, and put the seeds away for next year.  This year it seems to be a longer more drawn-out process as other, more imminent, things keep coming up and delaying our opportunities to finish those projects.

Another project that is taking a lot of our time is gathering, cutting, splitting, and stacking the firewood for winter.  We source our wood by cutting down beetle-kill pine for people who need them removed from their property.  They “pay” us by letting us keep the wood from the trees we take down.  I think we are close having all the trees down and bucked up that we need for the year, we just need to get them all split and stacked.

We had a tree on our property that really needed to come down.  It has for a few years now, but it presented some issues that we didn’t have the equipment to deal with safely.  It was about 60-70 feet tall, and it was right in the middle of all of our buildings and the power lines.  It was surrounded on three sides with our home and outbuildings, each of which it could reach if it fell toward them, and only had a very small space where it could be felled safely.  It had been struck by lighting twice and thus was half dead and beginning to rot.  Then it started leaning heavily towards the power line, which it was only about 20 feet from.  This not only made it a risk to damage buildings, but made it a fire risk, especially with the very bad, dry, fire season we are having right now.  It really needed to come down.  We contacted the electric company and were able to get them to bring their cherry picker and get it safely down.

It is really nice to have that off our plate and to know that the electric line is safe, as are our buildings.  We got to keep the tree as long as we did all the clean-up and such.  So we took all the slash to the slash dump, and we bucked up part of it for firewood.  The largest portions were cut into two 12-foot sections that we took to the lumber mill to be made into some lumber for projects around the farm.  It is wonderful when we can put something like this tree that was a fire danger to good use as firewood and lumber.