Sunday Homestead Update: A Little Bit of Normal

This week definitely felt a little bit more “normal” than our life has felt for many months now. We are getting back into some of our normal activities and farm/homestead related projects. It was nice!

Back in the Kitchen

Canning…fermenting…dairy products….

During the packing, moving, and unpacking, kitchen time was kind of just for survival. We didn’t do anything that would be considered “extra” and above and beyond preparing 3 meals and day and snacks. But things have started to settle and we are getting back into the kitchen. This week we made goat’s milk mozzarella cheese, goat’s milk yogurt, and our first homemade goat’s milk ice cream of the season! I still think sheep’s milk ice cream is far superior to any other ice cream…but we had gotten behind on using our goat’s milk and it was building up so it needed to be used. We all really enjoyed the nice cold treat in the hot weather.

Mine had already melted some in the heat before I got to take a photo of it. But it was still cold and delicious!

We also got some fermenting going again. We filled the crock with sauerkraut and look forward to enjoying it in about 4 weeks.

Lastly, we were given an abundance of cucumbers from someone’s garden, and even though they are not technically pickling cucumbers, we made pickles. There was no way we could eat them all, and a cucumber is a cucumber…they all make pickles even if some are better suited.

Feels good to be back in the homestead kitchen!

Hay

It was time to put up hay for the year again. This year is a bit tricky, since we are increasing our flock size as well as the fact that we are unsure exactly how pasturing will effect the hay consumption. So picking our hay amounts was a bit of a guessing game. We guessed higher than expected, we can always use it next year if there is leftover and with droughts and shortages it is just wise to be careful. So we got about 1/3 of our hay purchased and stored for the year. We will keep plugging away at getting that job finished over the next week or two.

We also built a wall and a big sliding door on the front of the hay barn. It previously had a tarp over it. It is really nice to have a working door now and a solid wall.

Another Duck Tractor

We built another “use-what-you-have” duck tractor using up the sheet metal scraps, PVC pipe, wire, hinges, latches, and plywood we had around. All we had to buy was the wood for the base framing and 4 more wheel “axles.” Both trailers can share the same 4 wheels since we can just hook them on and off and they don’t have to be on both at the same time. We did a little different of a design for this one, putting the end door on the end that has the roof, making it more closed in. Not sure which we like better yet.

So with the addition of the second tractor, we have moved the 10 Muscovys out of the brooder and in one tractor, and the 4 Welsh Harlequins are still in the other one. They are both surrounded by the electric netting chicken fence to keep predators out at night, which is a good thing because we have had a fox coming through every night, and I am sure it would be happy to dine on the ducks.

Guineas?

It was good timing that the Muscovy ducklings moved out of the brooder, because we were surprised with 8 guinea keets this week, which went right into the newly-vacated brooder.

We originally planned to take it slow with livestock additions at the new farm, but situations keep falling in our lap and so we are just going with it. We have never raised guineas before and are interested to see how they do helping with the bug problem, and with snakes. Now a guinea roosting house is on the list to build in the next few weeks.

Milking Parlor

Anyone who has milked an animal in the heat of summer knows how very VERY awful it can be with the flies. We have been milking in one of the stalls of the ewe barn and it is wide open to the world and all the flies. We had several fly traps situated around the area, but despite the fact that they were full, they were not making even a dent in the numbers. After 4 days in a row of the goat kicking the milk bucket over during milking, and thus no milk for us, we decided it was time to do something.

There is an old shed out by the ewe barn. It was used for hay storage. It has two old, broken front doors…

And one big back door that is screwed in place with no hinges and no latch.

And it is located just a few feet from the fence line of the pasture transition pen out by the ewe barn.

Perfectly set to make it a milking parlor!

So we screwed the broken doors shut and put a piece of plywood over them on the inside, sealing that mess off. We will replace them someday, but for now we just wanted to hurry up and get the milking parlor set up. So, sealing that end off was the best idea. Then we put hinges and a latch on the big door, and we opened up the fence line and attached it on each side of the shed. And in about half a day’s work – we had a milking parlor!

It has about 3 flies in it at any given time, and it is making milking SO much more pleasant for both the animals and the humans involved. Over time, we plan to fix it up even more with electricity and better doors and such. But this is such a great start!

LGD

Our new LGD has found her favorite place to lay…a nice soft bed of hay.

She also dug herself a den underneath the feeder for the worst of the heat, you can kind of see the entrance in the photo. She is doing great with the rams and has proven to be a good guard thus far. She is also growing a lot even in just the month of being here.

Belated Sunday Homestead Update: A New Threat…or Maybe Not.

Our Livestock Guardian Dog, Anya, is an amazing protector of the flock. She has protected them from bears, coyotes, mountains lions, bobcats, and aerial predators over the years she has been with us. Being at the new farm, she has been eager to discover what new predators will be coming after her precious flock so that she can do her job and keep them safe.

This week she has zeroed in on a new threat to her flock. It sneaks slowly and quietly into the barnyard or pasture, but, being the amazing LGD she is she finds it quickly and then barks viscously with her hackles up, all the while keeping the sheep and goats away from the danger. All the previous predators she has done this to have high-tailed it out of the area, so she is really confused when this new threat doesn’t run for it’s life, but instead just pulls itself into it’s shell and stays completely still giving her the evil eye.

Yup, the new “predators” that are wreaking havoc on her flock are box turtles. LOL. It is so funny. And she can’t stand it that they don’t run away from her. She barks and barks and tries to look menacing and jumps at them. To no avail. They just pull into their shell and wait it out. So the kids have become experts at getting the turtles and taking them out of the barnyard or pasture to another pasture.

Speaking of LGDs, our new dog arrived this week. She has a wonderful personality, just like her half-sister (Anya), and is settling in nicely with the rams.

Our farm dog, Finley, has also found something interesting to investigate. Except he doesn’t bark at them, he just sniffs and sniffs them.

So many new things to explore on the new farm!

Sheep

We got the sheep out on pasture. It is not ideal timing, since the majority is cheat grass and it is already brown…we came to the farm later than ideal for pasturing, but better to at least try and see how it goes. They have been eating the pasture pretty well, and since we are milking and have lambs due we are also still supplementing with some alfalfa in the evenings, and grain when they get milked.

We are using electronet type fencing (in the back of the photo) to cut across the pastures, forcing them to more intensively graze one area before we move them over since they are such a small flock.

Garden

We won’t have a garden until next year since we came so late in the season and still need to build it and fence it. BUT, we did bring some plants with us in containers, and found some containers around the property and have planted some seeds in them as well.

I am happy to have something growing at least. We have the rhubarb, comfrey, valerian, and chives that have been growing in containers at the other farm for years and we brought them with us. I had also planted some peas earlier this spring in the tub with the chives. Then we bought a few strawberry plants and planted them, and planted some lettuce and spinach as well. We brought a tomato, a couple squash, and several kitchen herbs in pots with us. Some of those are still in pots and some have been moved to other containers. Due to the grasshoppers we have covered the ones we think they will like to eat with garden tents to protect them. We will see if it works. I would like to spread gravel in that area around the containers to make it look nicer…we have a lot of landscaping to do around here, but it is not imminent enough to be high on the list just yet. We will get to making it look nicer at some point. For now, it just feels nice to have some gardening going on.

We also bought a few little baby trees and planted them. We have very few trees on this property and are anxious not only to put in an orchard, but first to get some shade growing around the main areas and house. So these four are for shade and will hopefully be providing at least a little bit of shade by next year.

Lastly, we bought a grape vine and a gooseberry bush (we were shopping the sale area, thus the kind of random assortment). We plan to do a lot more fruit trees and vines and bushes in the future, but this was just a fun, let’s-get-started-with-something shopping. Again, it feels nice to have planted some things and have them growing.

Play Area

We have also almost finished setting up a safe play area for our youngest. He needs his play area to meet certain requirements due to his special needs so he can successfully play. We had just built him an area at the old house last summer, and we were able to bring the supplies with us to make it work here too. Hoping to fully finish it this week.

Beauty

We are really enjoying the amazing sunsets that God paints for us each evening over the mountains. The sky here is so “big” compared to what we are used to and we are really loving the beauty. The clouds and sun make pretty skies and we can see so far. Of course, my camera never gets it like we see it with our eyes. But it is worth a try.

Sunday Homestead Update: New Challenges

Our first Sunday Homestead Update from the new farm!

Whew! Moving has been a crazy, stressful, rollercoaster with many bumps and crashes along the way. But we are here, and we are beginning to settle in.

We are quickly learning that new location doesn’t mean less challenges, it means different challenges. I figured that homesteading in the high-altitude Rockies had more challenges than the high plains…but I think I was wrong. We are quickly learning about all the challenges we will be facing here on the plains.

  • Sand. Our soil is not soil, it is sand. Like a beach. Very very sandy. Good thing we learned so much about amending soil and using raised beds when we lived on the side of a rocky mountain! We will need those skills here too. In addition to bringing in compost and doing raised beds for the gardens, and amending the soil around where we plant fruit trees and bushes, we will also need to figure out how to bring some life to the pastures and amend their sand. The previous owners did some manure spreading on the pastures, but there is still a lot of work to do. Cheat grass and some weeds are currently growing in the pastures. We are researching and learning about intensive pasture grazing and plan to get that started with the sheep asap to help the soil.
  • Hail. Like big and bad and damaging hail. The roofs on our buildings have been replaced twice in the last 10 years due to hail. So that is some pretty bad hail. We will need to figure out ways to protect the plants. We are working on plans for dealing with this issue.
  • Salty well water. Our water source is a well and the water has pretty high levels of sodium. They are not too high for animals to drink. And us humans are using a reverse osmosis system under the sink. But plants don’t do well with water that has sodium in it. The salt gets up into their roots and binds them up so they can’t absorb water. It dehydrates and kills them. We are learning about using gypsum on the soil before watering to help this issue.
  • Grasshoppers. In very large amounts, that eat all the plants you worked so hard to grow. Plans for this problem are in the works.

Those are just a few of the challenges we have recognized thus far. I am sure that as we go we will continue to find things we need to overcome. But, we are perseverant and worked very hard to build our homestead in the Rockies. We can do it here as well.

Besides unpacking and trying to settle, we have begun some homestead projects.

New “Toy”

First, every farm needs a tractor. So we purchased our first ever tractor! We have borrowed tractors as-needed for our little homestead in the mountains. But with 30 acres and a lot of projects in mind, a tractor was a necessity here. And now we own one. We have named him “Sven.”

Garden

We are planning to build our big veggie garden and berry garden this fall, for planting next spring. But we love gardening too much to just give it up completely for a full season. So we are figuring out what we can do this year, even though it is late in the season. We are starting to build a container garden. We brought my claw-foot tub planter with us, with chives and peas already growing in it. We also brought the washtub planter with established comfrey in it. And the wheelbarrow container with rhubarb in it. Then we brought several pots of herbs, a couple of squash in pots, a tomato in a pot, and some lilac bushes in pots. It is fun to bring some of the plants from our previous homestead to the new one to get started. So we are working on arranging those all in a container garden area, and have found a few old “containers” around the new farm that we are filling with compost and planting in too. There are several troughs and broken wheelbarrows.

BUT, before we can water anything we brought, and before we can plant new stuff, we need to mitigate the salt damage our water will do to the plants. I will be posting more details about that later.

We also bought a few trees, some strawberry plants, a grape vine, and a berry bush all on end-of-season sale and are working to get them all planted and settled in.

Sheep

The sheep are settling in well, though we are definitely wondering what this sand will do to their fleece. We keep going back and forth about whether jacketing them would help or hinder the situation. Time will tell and we will be learning through experience.

We have a new addition to the breeding flock, a dairy ram we have named Orville. I will share more about him when I can. The farm has two livestock housing areas, we are calling them the Ewe Barn and the Ram Barn. Over in the Ram Barn we currently have Nilsson, our adult breeding ram, as well as the two weanling ram lambs, Dusty (from our milk ewe Daisy), and Orville the future dairy breeding ram.

Over in the ewe barn we have Freya (Wensleydale ewe), Matilda (Bond ewe), Blue (milk ewe, due to lamb soon), Daisy (milk ewe, lambed twins in Feb), Nora (yearling milk/wool cross ewe), and MacDougal (BFL wether). Plus the goats (see below). We are milking Daisy once-a-day, while milk-sharing with her ewe lamb Dixie. Daisy is giving about 1/2 gallon of milk a day, while still feeding her 4-month-old ewe lamb. That is twice as much as she gave last year as a first freshener, so we are very happy with that production. We are freezing the milk until we have more time to make cheese. Freya miscarried her lamb(s) during the fire evacuation last fall, and Nora and Matilda didn’t get pregnant. That would make this breeding season our worst ever as far as ewes not lambing. Hoping for better numbers next year.

We are working to get the sheep out on pasture later this week. This will be our first experience pasturing livestock, so it is all a learning experience and I am sure the learning curve could be steep. But we can’t learn anything if we don’t just jump in and give it a try. So we are reading, talking to people, and then jumping in.

Goats

We currently have Belle (Nubian doe) and her buckling Briar. We are milk-sharing with Briar and milking Belle once-a-day and getting about 6 cups of milk. Briar will be leaving to go back to Belle’s breeder this weekend to be sold. We have purchased another Nubian doe, Solace, and she will be joining the farm, fresh in milk, at the end of the summer.

Chickens

We brought the smaller coop from our previous home with us along with 5 bantam hens to live in it. During the move one of the hens get heat stroke, it was touch and go for awhile, but we were able to revive her. Very glad she is doing fine now.

We also turned a shed on the property into a coop for the standard size chickens and built an exterior pen for them attached to it. We covered the pen with netting to protect them from aerial predators since they are not living with the LGD for protection. We brought 10 hens and our rooster. They are all settling in pretty well, though the heat is challenging for them, they are not accustomed to it at all coming from the mountains.

Ducks

We did not bring any ducks with us. However, a friend just had a hatch of ducklings and we plan to add them to the farm in a month or two. So we will be building housing for them before they arrive.

Livestock Guardian Dogs

Anya is living with the ewes and doe and settling well. We decided with all this space and two flocks we wanted another LGD. So this weekend we are adding a new LGD to the farm. She is a 1-year-old Anatolian/Great Pyrenees cross. She is half-sister to Anya and we are looking forward to getting her finished off with her training and having another great LGD.

Cats

I am very sad to report that our 15-year-old cat, Jerry, passed away right before the move. I am glad for the timing, in that he did not have to endure the stress of a move at such an old age. But it was a very hard loss for the whole family. He had been part of our family since he was a kitten, and thus most of the kids don’t even remember life without him. He was older than 3 of the kids. So it was hard. He was also very close friends with our dog, Hazel, and she misses him too.

It still hurts and probably will for quite awhile.

Our two barn cats came with us and we kept them in an outbuilding for several days before we started to let them out. Thus far they are doing well. There are a few stray or roaming cats that are frequenting the property. So far they all seem to be getting along ok and we haven’t heard or seen any evidence of them fighting with our cats.

So that is the short update of everything here. We are putting in long hard days to get the mill up and running and get started on making this homestead what we want it to be.

Sunday Homestead Update – Snowy Spring

It has been awhile since I took a break from blogging…so what have we been up to?

Our 5-year-old son had another ER visit, hospitalization, and surgery (his 24th). It continues to be a hard road with his medical issues. This round came on fast and strong and was pretty scary. But he is doing better now and we are thankful for that and hopeful to have a nice long break from the pediatric hospital.

We have had a wet, snowy spring. We had one big spring snow that buried us for a few days.  We played board games and stayed in our pjs, as well as bundling up to play outside and dig paths for the livestock to make it to the water trough.  And then we have had several weeks where we had snow off and on for days. The moisture is good, especially after last year’s bad fire season.

The big snow we had was deep and didn’t even begin to melt for over a week. During that time the predators started getting desperate and we had a mountain lion and a bobcat both looking to eat our livestock in broad daylight on two different days. Between our Livestock Guardian Dog and us humans we were able to keep them away and nothing bad happened.

Sheep

We got all the sheep sheared and are starting to process all the wool into roving and yarn in the mill.

Daisy’s twin lambs have thrived and grown so much! They are doing very well.

We have not been milking Daisy due to things going on in our life that are keeping us too busy right now. We might start milking her after the goat has her kids in the next few weeks since we will be milking the goat anyway. The rest of the ewes are due to lamb at the end of May and into June.

Goat

Belle is due to kid this week. She is looking very wide and we are expecting twins. It will be nice to have fresh goat’s milk again, not to mention the adorable kids bouncing around!

Chickens

We had a very cool visitor to the chicken pen the other night. It was a windy night and we didn’t latch the exterior pen (the chickens were all closed into the coop). The door must have blown open, allowing the visitor entrance, and then blown closed, trapping the visitor inside. When we came out in the morning we were pretty excited to get a close-up view of this beautiful Northern Saw-Whet owl. It was so tiny and seeing it from a few feet away was amazing! We looked at him/her and took photos for a couple of minutes and then opened the door. He/she flew off with no issues, glad to be free again.

Garden

In between snow storms we have prepared the garden soil and laid out drip lines for this year. We have also started seeds indoors and they are all sprouting like crazy. Hard to believe another garden season is starting soon – especially with all this snow.

Heritage Arts

I finished the sweater I was making for Mtn Man. We both love how it turned out and he has been enjoying wearing it through this snowy spring! I used yarn he made from a fleece from our ram, Fergus. It was a 4-ply worsted weight from his 2018 fleece.

This was my first time using my newly purchased book “The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Top-Down Sweaters” by Ann Budd. I have many of her books and love them all and this one did not disappoint. It is already one of my favorites and I know I will use it over and over again for years to come. I love the books she has written that make it so you can use any yarn and make any size because they have charts for all different gauges and sizes. Perfect for a family of 7 that I love to knit items for. And perfect for all the different gauges of yarn we make from our sheep fleece.

Writing

I have done some more writing for Mother Earth News and will share links and info as it becomes available. Watch for my article in the June/July print issue “Ask the Experts” column!

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.