Sunday Homestead Update

Happy Resurrection Sunday!  We had a fun but busy Holy Week.  On Friday, the kids and I did our traditional hot cross bun baking and delivered them to friends and family that live in our area.  It is always a fun way to spend our morning, and we love bringing joy and smiles to people (along with delicious treats).

I love the wild pasque flowers we have growing in our area.  When they pop their pretty purple heads up each spring it makes me smile.

Spring Cleaning

I don’t know about you, but our barn gets so messy over the winter that come spring I am very anxious to get it cleaned out.  I think it is because of the cold weather – we don’t exactly want to spend extra time out there tidying and freezing while we work – it is more about get out there, quickly take care of the critters, and get back in by the fire to warm up.  So things don’t get put away and the floor doesn’t get swept and it just builds up and gets cluttered and super dusty.  So this last week we decided it was time to spring clean the barn.

It took me and 3 of the kids about 2.5 hours to really get it done.  But it felt oh-so-good when it was done.

Then we laid cement pavers to finish the floor in the barn.  A few years ago the barn flooded and the wood floor that was in there had to be torn out.  We were able to put cement pavers down on half the floor but couldn’t afford to buy more at the time.  Then time went by as it always does and it just was left half pavers half dirt for a couple of years.  We finally got around to buying the rest of the pavers and laying them this week.  It is so much nicer than the dirt and will help keep the dust down!  You can see in the photo the line of old pavers vs the new ones.

And while we worked this cutie pie kept peeking at us over the stall wall.

Chickens

We now have chicks that are 8 weeks old, up in the barn.  We are beginning to be able to tell some of the boys from the girls.

We also have 7 chicks that were just moved from the brooder bin up to the barn.  They are about to be 4 weeks old.  It was a little early to move them, but the bin was way overcrowded.  We gave them two of the ecoglow 20s and are hoping they will handle the change well.

In this pic you can see the younger chicks in the forefront top pen, and the older chicks on the ground in the pen in the background.  The foreground pen is cleaned and ready to move some other chickens into it in the next week or so as we organize and shift around the birds for spring.

Even though that is plenty of chicks for the year, our most successful broody mama hen has decided she wants to set.  So we gave her 8 eggs and she is happily incubating them.

Garden

There are finally some green things poking out here are there around the farm!  This is 4 weeks later than last year.  So we are very happy to finally be seeing some tiny green.

Rhubarb

Chives

Strawberries

Gooseberry Bush

Garlic

My Valerian is sprouting too, but it looks like there may be a problem.  I have two plants.  One is sprouting green leaves, and one is sprouting purple leaves.  Last year was the first time I ever grew Valerian (these are 2nd year plants) so I don’t know much about them.  But from what I can find the purple leaf one probably has a deficiency or a root disease.

The seedlings in the basement under grow lights are doing well.

Sheep and Goat Flerd

We made our first batch of goat’s milk butter for the year!  It was yummy, and I always forget how white it is when we haven’t had it in awhile.

Rose is giving us some confusing pregnancy symptoms.  She is supposed to be 6 weeks out, but she is already showing symptoms that our other sheep don’t show until 2-3 weeks out.  It is her first pregnancy, and often first-time mamas will show symptoms a bit earlier…but we have never had one show signs this much earlier.  Could we be having lambs sooner than we thought?  We are keeping a close eye on her and time will tell.

With the nicer weather this week I have taken some time to sit and watch the barnyard.  Such a peaceful relaxing way to spend some time.  It is so nice to finally have some signs of spring popping up!

Sunday Homestead Update

Another winter week on the homestead.  Thankfully, we have not been dealing with the bitter cold that everyone else has, just our regular cold winter weather.

Garden

I ordered our seeds for 2019!  We saved a lot of our own, but we also needed to order several different varieties.  We order almost all of our seeds from Seeds Trust because they have high-altitude cold-climate varieties suited for our area.

Sheep

The ewes have not come back into heat and it has been 24 days since they were bred (ewe heat cycle is 17-19 days).  So that means that either we missed the breeding season (which is unlikely because they are breeds that breed out of season) or, the more likely option is that they are both pregnant!  Yay!!!  They are due to lamb at the very end of May.

Chickens

We normally work on our chick plans in November or December, but this winter has been crazy and we didn’t get around to it.  So we finally figured out our chicken breeding and purchasing plans for 2019.  We will be doing one large incubation plus whatever broody hen-setting that naturally happens.  We will also be buying a small group of male chicks to give us new genetics for 2020 breeding.

In order to have our chicks hatch in a time that will start them laying this fall – thus keeping our egg production up while the hens are molting and through next winter, they need to hatch in February or March.  So we decided we will set the incubation to start Feb 1st, hatching out Feb 22.  We have started collecting eggs and I will get the incubators out and running early this week so they are calibrated and ready by Friday.  It will be fun to have baby chicks in a few weeks!

Another Silky died.  😦  It looked like she was egg-bound.  She was fine – eating, drinking, acting normally at morning chores.  Then she was dead on the floor of the coop at evening chores.  That leaves only 3 silky hens left from the 8 we bought as chicks last spring.  I don’t know if it is poor breeding on the hatchery’s part or what, but it is really frustrating that they keep dying for reasons that look to have nothing to do with anything we can control or change.

The rest of the chickens are doing great.  Egg laying has been very productive this winter since we timed the young pullets to start in the fall and thus lay through the winter.  They are happy to be out free-ranging with Anya guarding them.

Coyote

Speaking of Anya guarding…this week we had a coyote incident.  We heard her barking like crazy and I ran to see what was going on.  There was a huge lone coyote sitting not even 20 feet from the fence taunting her.

She had chased all the chickens into the coop and the sheep up into the stall and was at the fence growling and barking at him all hair on end.  She responded perfectly to the situation.  But he was WAY too comfortable checking her out and just hanging out and not moving along.  They normally move through the property quickly and are skittish to the human smells and the guard dog, so it not minding was very concerning.

I ran to get Young Man to kill it, since he has a license to do so.  Whenever they start getting too comfortable around our property with all the people and dog smells we hunt them and it is amazing how just taking one will keep them all away for many months.  They are pretty smart to that.  But by the time he got to where he had a safe shot the coyote had sauntered off….yes sauntered, not run.

So we will be keeping our eyes out to be sure this coyote doesn’t keep hanging around the property.  And with as big as he is I am going to be more vigilant about the kids playing outside of the fences.  It is coyote breeding season, so they act different this time of year.  Hopefully it was a one-time thing and he will move on.

Hauling Logs

We live in a Ponderosa pine forest, and most of the area around us is as well.  Last year the fierce winds we get knocked a huge tree over in our neighbors yard, splitting their shed in two and taking out the power for the area as well.  Ugh.  Thankfully it didn’t start a fire when the electric lines went down.  So they decided to take down some other trees that were threatening structures and power lines, as did our other neighbor.  We helped out and were able to keep some of the wood.  The trees were huge, so loading and hauling was not possible for us last year for various reasons.  But we have some projects in mind for this spring and summer that we need the wood for.  So this week Mtn Man and Young man loaded and hauled the trees down to the lumber mill to be cut up into lumber.  It works out well because we end up using the entire tree – nothing goes to waste.  It is cut into 4x4s, 2×6, and 1x, and we even take back the outer bark edges they cut off and use them.  Anything that isn’t useful for building is used to heat our home through the winter in our wood stoves.

In a few weeks they will be done milling and we will get to go pick up a huge load of lumber for this year’s building projects!

Knitting

I have something strange to tell you about myself – I don’t like hand-knit socks because the soles of my feet don’t like the texture of the purl bumps on the inside.  So every time I make myself socks, I end up not wearing them and instead pass them down to Sunshine.  A friend told me to try wearing my hand knit socks inside-out so that the smooth stockinette side was against my soles.  I tried it and it felt so much better on my soles!

So I decided to try to make myself a pair with inside-out soles so that I could wear them right side out and have a nice pattern showing on the top and the leg, but still have the purl bumps on the outside along my sole.  I did it and for the most part it worked!

I uses Serenity sock yarn in the color Borealis and used the Fish Lips Kiss Heel construction along with the texture pattern from Hermione’s Everyday Socks on the top of the foot and up the leg.

I did purl stitch on the sole half of the sock, with 3 knit sts on each side before the purls and I did the bottom half of the heel with the purls out and the top half with the purls in.  It worked pretty well, but I want to try again and make some changes.  Changes I will make next time will be to only have 2 knit sts on each side of the purl sole to make it a bit wider, and I will do the entire heel in purl all the way until I start the leg pattern.

I have already started the next pair to try out the changes and see how it goes.  I am just doing a basic pattern of stockinette on the foot, the FLK heel, and haven’t decided yet what I will do for the leg.

Sunday Homestead Update

What I love about our winters is that even though we will get down into the below-zero temps several times throughout the winter…we also have sunny days in the high 40s to low 50s F interspersed throughout the winter as well.  While most of the week was frigid with night temperatures below zero, yesterday was one of those warm days, which was wonderful because we were able to get out into the barn and barnyard and do some clean up and projects.

It is oh-so-wonderful to see all these creatures happily living in harmony in the barnyard now!  It brings us great joy to have the sheep back and to have Anya guarding everyone.

Anya has now made it several weeks guarding the animals without incident.  She is very content and happy doing her job and having the run of the barnyard.

The sheep have settled in and know the routine and the run of the place now.  Rose and Anya were both vying for my affection while we worked in the barnyard yesterday.

Sheep

We have been hoping the ewes would have another heat cycle yet this season, especially since they do come from breeds that breed out of season (regular sheep breeding season is Sept-Dec).  Thankfully, Rose came into heat this last week and Fergus has been breeding her.  So it looks like we will be having late May/early June lambs!  This will be very late for us, but since we didn’t get the sheep back until right before Christmas, there wasn’t much that could be done.  You never know, maybe we will like lambing later in the season…at least we wont have to worry about frigid blizzards happening at the same time as a lamb being born.  🙂  It is very exciting to know there are lambs on the way!

Due to overuse of de-wormers in sheep in America, many are now ineffective.  So the best way to handle parasites in sheep is by feeding them off the ground, and doing fecal tests yearly before using any de-wormers.

In order to feed our sheep and goats off the ground, a few years ago we made these built-in fence feeders for our outdoor feeding of hay.

And we made these quick and easy feeders for our indoor feeding of hay.

But the quick and easy feeders were somewhat short-lived.  The ones that we attached to the wall (like in the photo above) broke after several months.   Though the ones that are attached outside of our lambing jugs (three photos below) have worked great and not broken.

So we needed a new hay rack in the indoor stall so we could feed the sheep off the ground.  This weekend Mtn. Man threw together a rack for in the stall using some wood scraps and a cattle panel scrap.    He installed it on the half-wall of the stall that opens into the main barn so we can easily throw the hay over the wall and into the feeder without having to enter the stall.  We are very happy with how it turned out and it is working well.

Knitting

After knitting several large projects for Christmas presents, I am anxious to some quick small projects and get that finished satisfaction in a shorter amount of time.  And since I got this kit with 12 different colored sock yarns in it for Christmas…I am set to go on socks!

What I love about this kit is the variety of colors.  I am terrible at picking colors…for anything, not just yarn.  But with yarn I just stick with what I know and love – purples, blues, greens, dark colors, no brights.  So getting this kit really stretches my color comfort zone and helps me make some stuff with colors that are outside the box for me.

So I decided to dive right in with the bright colors and go for it.  So I am making very bold and bright striped socks using the Fibonacci number pattern of 3, 5, 8, and 13.

I have also cast on a second pair of socks.  These are just a basic sock, using a special toe pattern I do to custom fit Young Man’s feet, and I will use a Fish Lips Kiss Heel because that is currently my favorite heel pattern.  This yarn is a 3-ply sport weight yarn that Mtn Man made me in the mill using Fergus’ 2018 fleece blended with bamboo that had been dyed blue.  I don’t know if it will show on the computer screen, but the blue bamboo adds a cool subtle blue color to the dark grey of Fergus’ fleece.  I am enjoying working with it too.  Fergus has an excellent fleece, I am really glad we were able to buy him back.

Yay for knitting projects that are easy to transport and quick to finish!

Livestock Record Book

I love record keeping.  It helps me see progress, set goals, understand successes and failures, and most of all, remember everything I want to remember but can’t keep in my head.

Our homestead has 2 main binders for record keeping: the garden binder and the livestock record book.

The livestock record book has not gotten much use in 2018, with all the livestock except the chickens gone.  And I didn’t even use it as much as usual for the chickens.  All I did was keep track of what chickens we had and their parentage etc for the breeding program and how many eggs were laid.  I didn’t even keep track of the hatches we did or anything.  This is very unlike me, but it has been an overwhelming year with our baby’s health issues.

As we head into the new year, now with not only the chickens but also the sheep, I am looking forward to getting my livestock record book back on track.  So this week I have been cleaning it out, organizing it, and getting it ready to be put to work.

I wrote about this binder long long ago.  I have tweaked it here and there over the years, so let’s take a peek inside and see what I am planning to keep track of this year.

I have large main tabs with each type of livestock on them…chickens, sheep, goats, and dogs/cats.  We don’t have goats but the paperwork is still there from our previous goats and if we do decide to get another milk goat this year I want to have the sheets to remember what and how I like to track it.

There are some sheets that are the same for all the different livestock.

Costs: The costs sheet tracks what we spent on that type of livestock throughout the year.  It has columns to mark it as a start-up cost, a feed cost, or a maintenance cost.  This helps me with future planning and knowing what the money is spent on.  You can see on the Chicken sheet about halfway down I have a spot I keep track of how many chickens we have so that I can break down the costs per chicken.  I fill in the date and the number of chickens and how long we had that many.  Then when we butcher, or sell them, or if we add more, I write on the next line the date and the new amount.  Then if I want to know more specific costs I can use that info to help me break it down.

Income:  The income sheet keeps track of any income made from that type of livestock such as selling fleece, eggs, or the animals themselves.  The chicken sheet is a bit different than the sheep one because selling eggs is a weekly occurrence, whereas income from the sheep is sporadic.

Vet and Vaccination Records: This is a simple sheet where I jot down the details of what has been done and when.  Since our chickens rarely get anything, and the sheep flock is so small, I only keep one sheet for each type of livestock, as opposed to a sheet for each individual animal.

Butchering Stats:  This is another simple sheet just to keep track of how many animals we butchered and how much meat (in weight) we got from our butchering.  I keep one sheet per type of animal.

Those are all the forms that are similar across species.  Now let’s look at what specifics we have for each species.

Chickens

Behind the big chicken tab I have smaller tabs separating out their forms:

Egg Production: This tab has the egg production sheets behind it.  I sometimes keep track of eggs by color, but the last few years I just mark down totals.

Cost/Income: Behind this tab are the cost sheet, income sheet, and butchering sheet that I discussed above.

Flock Tracking: This tab is for keeping track of what chickens we own and the sheets we use to score our chickens for breeding selection.

Hatch:  Behind this tab I have clutch sheets where I can keep track of information about each hatch, whether under a hen or in the incubator.

Sheep

Behind the sheep tab I have the cost, income, butchering, and vet/vacc records that I discussed above.  There are also sheets where I jot down our hay plans and purchase amounts for each year, these are just notebook paper where I write it out.  And I have a sheep gestation table and poisonous plants list for reference.

Then each sheep we own has it’s own small tab, which include the following sheets behind them.

ID page: This tells basics about the sheep (date of birth, breed, etc), what we know of their parentage, and has a photo of them.

Ewe Lambing Record: If the sheep is a ewe it includes this record to track all their lambing.

Ram Breeding Record: If the sheep is a ram it includes this record to track their breeding history.

Sheep Shearing Record: Each sheep has a shearing record to track their fleece production and quality.

Lambing Symptoms/Notes: If the ewe has lambed before for us I jot down notes about what her symptoms are like leading up to lambing so that we can look back at them the next year to guide us as we expect lambing.

Goats/Dairy Cows

Even though we do not have a milk producing animal right now, I thought I would note what sheets I use for them.  I have the same cost, income, butchering, vet/vacc, ID, kidding or calving, and male breeding records that I keep for the sheep.  Then they also have a milk production sheet to track the amount of milk produced each day.

Dogs/Cats

I keep track of the barn cats and the LGDs vet info, vaccinations, and any pertinent information about where we got them, parentage, etc.  These are not really worksheets, just notes and paperwork from the vet etc.

 

That is a peek into our livestock record book.  It feels good to get it back updated and ready for 2019.  I am hopeful I can keep better records this year.

How do you go about record keeping for your farm?

2018 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 baby’s serious medical issues.  This year more than ever.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started year with 20 hens, 9 young pullets and cockerels, and 1 rooster
  • Purchased 10 layer chicks and 41 meat chicks
  • 18 meat chicks died first couple of weeks, 1 layer chick died – 9 layers and 23 meat chicks survived
  • Because of large loss of meat chicks decided to buy 11 layer chicks to add to the brooder
  • 5 broody hen sets with a total of 15 chicks surviving
  • 1 cross beak chick had to be culled, 1 silkie hen licked to death by LGD pup, 1 hen killed by bobcat, 1 young pullet died for unknown reasons, and 1 hen died of egg bound
  • Butchered 23 meat chickens, 10 layer cockerels, 1 aggressive rooster, and 8 hens
  • Sold 9 hens
  • Ended year with 28 hens, 1 chick, and 1 rooster
  • Approximately 3,500 eggs laid

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 2.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd, is continuing to mature and be trained to be our lead LGD.  As a pup she accidentally licked a couple of chickens to death and therefore was living adjacent to the barnyard and continuing to be trained.  In December we were very excited to move her into the main barnyard and have her be mature enough to guard without any accidental killings.
  • We have had no bear break-in attempts on the barn since she took over.  The bears used to try to break into the barn multiple times each autumn, despite our previous wonderful guard dog living in the barn (he did keep them out and alerted us so we could chase them off, but they continued to try).  I am guessing it is the size difference, our previous guard dog was 55 lbs, Anya is over 100.  I think the bears can tell the difference when they hear her bark and such and they don’t think it is worth it to grapple with a dog that big.  Not sure what else would cause the change.

Sheep:

  • Did not have sheep most of this year.  Sold the flock December of 2017 due to son’s medical issues and hospitalizations.
  • Unexpectedly bought back three of our sheep a couple weeks before the end of the year!  2 ewes and 1 ram.  They are currently living together in hopes of squeezing in last-minute breedings for this year so we can have some lambs born this summer.

Goats:

  • No goats this year due to son’s medical issues.  Contemplating plans for a dairy goat in 2019, but have not decided yet.

Garden:

  • Over 490 lbs of produce harvested
  • Spent $134 on the garden this year, average of $0.27 per lb.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the following knit projects: 2 cabled hats, 1 cabled cardigan, 1 pair of flip-top mittens, 7 pairs of socks, 2 baby blankets, 1 baby vest, 1 shawl, 1 afghan and 169 squares for my scrap sock afghan.
  • I completed one cross stitch, and sewed 4 skirts for myself, 1 dress for myself, 4 skirts for the girls, 1 dress for Sunshine, 4 bibs for Mr. Smiles, hospital PJs for Mr. Smiles, several pairs of flannel PJ pants for everyone, and 3 flannel nightgowns for Little Miss. Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.

Kitchen:

  • Canned over 350 jars of food this year.

Year Summary

January was much warmer than usual and we enjoyed the chance to get outside when we could, though the end was bitterly cold.  We spent a lot of time dealing with our son’s medical issues, with hospitals, surgery, and many doctor’s appointments.  We were able to get our garden planning and school curriculum planning done, along with building a new pantry area in the basement.

In February the girls and I spent the cold days working on my grandmother’s English paper piecing quilt, as well as a crocheted scrap afghan.  I also worked on finishing some of my crafty WIPs (works-in-progress) to get them out of storage and completed.

March brought a lot of garden prep work, building new garden areas, and remodeling older garden areas.  Our hatchery chicks arrived on the farm, including our first ever try with meat chicks.  We were very disappointed when a huge amount of the meat chicks died for unknown reasons.  It wasn’t our brooding techniques because none of the layer chicks being brooded with them died.  We also had our first hatch of the year under a mama hen.  We remodeled our bathroom, as well as a couple chicken housing areas in the barn.  And we enjoyed learning the art of dehydrating fruit.

In April we started plans for our medicinal herb garden, little green shoots started poking up their heads on our perennial plants in the garden, and our seedlings inside began taking over the house.  During the cold weather the girls and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning jam and homemade ketchup, as well as starting to work through the Little House Living recipe book.  And we spent some time sewing PJ pants for the family as well as some skirts and dresses.  At the very end of the month the swallows arrived a little early, signaling that it was time to put our first seeds in the ground outside.

In May we didn’t get the big snows that we usually get towards the end of the month, which meant that our garden got a big head start over previous years.  We worked a lot in the garden and we butchered the first round of meat chickens and found the meat to be superior to the meat from our dual-purpose birds.

June was another month extra heavy on the medical stuff with our son.  We spent time in the ER, had unexpected hospitalizations and surgery, as well as many doctor’s appointments.  Somehow we were able to keep the garden going strong, started some harvesting, and butchered the last of the chickens.  And we squeezed in some sewing of bibs too.

In July we were busy gardening, harvesting, and started our canning season.  We had another 2 hens set and hatch chicks.  And the girls and I continued our sewing spree, making more skirts, PJ pants, hospital Pjs for Mr. Smiles, and a knitting bag.  We decided to try eating one of the silkie roos we butchered and were surprised to find their meat is black (more of a purple, really, but creepy nonetheless).  We wont do that again!  Our LGD had to spend some time indoors because of the flies eating her ears, but we finally found a repellent that worked long-term, after years of trying many many different things with no success or very short-lived success.  We also finished chopping and stacking all the firewood that we needed for the winter.

August was mostly focused on more of our son’s medical stuff.  But despite that we were able to continue with the harvest and canning, make herbal medicine, and we added our first root cellar veggie storage rack to the basement.  We competed in many ways at the County Fair and brought home a lot of ribbons and prizes.  We were surprised by a very early first frost.

September was so full of homestead work that I barely had time to blog.  We kept ourselves busy with gardening, harvesting, canning. freezing, hunting, and butchering – all things related to putting food up for the winter.  We added another root cellar veggie rack to the basement and really enjoyed using both the racks to put up the produce.  We also started remodeling one of our wood stove areas and had another hen set and hatch out chicks.

October was full of a lot of canning and we bought a new kitchen gadget to make it easier.  We filled the shelves in the basement pantry and used every empty jar we owned.  We wrapped up the gardening season and were really excited when we tallied everything and found that we had our most successful garden season ever.  I did some preliminary garden planning for next year while everything was till fresh in my mind.  And we also got our first snow of the season.

In November we stayed indoors while we had unseasonably cold weather outside.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezer through successful hunting and we made a lot of firestarters and a batch of hand-dipped beeswax candles.  We did our final chicken culling and re-organizing in preparation for winter, and we decided to try growing lettuce and spinach indoors under grow-lights for the winter months.

December brought a lot of Christmas candy making, as well as Christmas present making since we home-make almost all of our Christmas presents.  We said “no” to a lot of regular events and activities to keep a nice, calm, Christmas season and were so glad that we did.  I learned how to darn socks, and was able to fix several holes we had in some of our handmade socks.  We had two very exciting events happen for the homestead.  First, our LGD, Anya, was finally mature and trained enough to guard the livestock full time on her own.  And secondly, 3 of our sheep returned to the farm after being away for a year.  We ended the year with more medical issues, emergency rooms, hospitalization, and surgery, which will be pouring over into the new year as well.

Looking back we can see that it has been another very productive year full of blessings.