Sunday Homestead Update (on Monday)

Life on the farm has been laid-back winter life.  It has been sunny but cold plus some snow coming in now.  We have been working on a lot of indoor projects and heritage arts projects.

Chickens

The chickens are doing well.  We had another incident with Anya and a chicken.  😦  She is still a huge puppy, at 18 months old, and unfortunately wants to play with any other animal she can.  Our tiny silkie, Esther, Squeezed under a tiny spot in the fence into Anya’s pen and Anya accidentally killed her.  It was clear she wasn’t doing it to eat her, but was just over-exuberantly licking and trying to play with her.  But for a tiny chicken, that means death with an over 100 lb dog.  😦  We were all sad at the loss, and sad that Anya still isn’t able to handle guarding the chickens yet.  The breeder we got her from says that with time and training Anatolians outgrow this behavior around 2 years old or so.  We have hope that she will grow out of this over time, and we continue to keep her in her own area next to the chicken pen.  We reinforced the fence area again so they can’t squeeze through.

Heritage Arts

I put down the English Paper Piecing Quilt so that I could work on some birthday knitting projects that need to get done.

First, I finished some flip-top mittens for Little Miss.  I have a pair and she wanted some like mine.  I combined the Basic Mitten pattern from Ann Budd with the flip top from the Flip-Flop Flip-Top pattern by J. Harris.  They fit great, even though I didn’t have her hand (I love the basic patterns in Ann Budd’s book “Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns” – they fit anyone in my family, using any yarn I want to).

I am continuing to work on a new way of doing socks for Young Man.  Young Man LOVES hand-knit socks and happily accepts them as presents from me for both Christmas and his birthday each year.  Over time I have figured out which heel type he likes best, and what kind of a fit he likes.  My most recent attempts at giving him just-the-right fit have to do with his toes.

He has a very steep toe increase and it makes it so that with a regular toe there is a lot of extra fabric in the way.

So I purposefully did a steeper increase on the outside of the toes, with barely any increasing on the inside edge.

It fits very well and he says he likes how it feels.  All I have left to finish is the leg and cuff.

I have also been making some progress on the purple cabled cardigan I am making, but didn’t get any photos of it.

Another winter week on the farm!

2017 Year-End Homestead Review

It always amazes me when we do our year-end review and look back over the past 12 months how much we have accomplished.  Even in hard years it is good because we can see that we really did a lot on the homestead despite everything we struggled with.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

Statistics

Goats:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant does
  • One set of triplet doelings born, 2 sold as bottle kids, 1 sold as weanling
  • One doeling born breech, dead at birth
  • One doe sold, one butchered for dog food because she couldn’t be bred anymore and was very old
  • Purchased 2 new does in summer, fresh with milk
  • Sold does because of our need to be free from milking because of son’s continuing health issues and hospitalizations
  • 70 gallons of milk produced for our family use

Sheep:

  • Started the year with 4 pregnant ewes and 1 yearling ewe
  • 5 lambs born – 4 ewe lambs, 1 ram lamb
  • Twin ewe lambs bottle raised, sold as bottle babies
  • 1 ewe culled
  • 1 ewe butchered, 26 lbs of meat, 12 lbs dog food, plus stock bones
  • 2 fleece sheared off for a total of 11 lbs raw
  • Flock of 6 sheep sold at end of year because of son’s continuing health issues and hospitalizations

Chickens:

  • Started year with 7 hens
  • Purchased 33 chicks
  • 6 chicks died first week of life, 27 chicks survived – 20 pullets, 7 cockerels
  • Butchered 6 cockerels and 2 old hens
  • 1 pullet killed by LGD pup
  • Broody hen set on purchased hatching eggs, 3 chicks hatched and survived and sold
  • 5 pullets sold at point of lay
  • 2 different broody hens set on our fertile eggs, hatched 10, 9 survived, 3 cockerels will be butchered January, 2 pullets kept, the rest still too young to know
  • 1,858 eggs laid
  • 17 eggs set for hatching
  • 49 doz sold
  • 104 doz for our own use

Fiber Rabbit:

  • Oliver, our English Angora Rabbit, was sheared 4 times this year, produced about 8 oz of fiber this year.
  • Oliver died of complications of a wool block in October

Farm Dogs:

  • Started the year with our amazing 13-year-old farm dog, Tundra, working the barnyard alone because the OTSC dog, Finley, was clearly not going to work out as his replacement.
  • Bought a 10-month-old Anatolian Shepherd, Anya, in the spring to work with Tundra and be the future replacement LGD.
  • Tundra died of old age at the end of July.
  • Anya is continuing to mature and be trained to be our lead LGD.

Garden:

  • 314 lbs of produce harvested
  • Spent $112 on the garden this year, average of $0.36 per lb.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the following knit projects: 6 pairs of socks, 2 toddler size sweaters, 2 balaclavas, 1 hooded scarf, 3 stuffed Easter Bunnies, and a pair of hunting gloves.  And I extended the length of the Farmhouse shawl that I made last year.  I also made one felted Christmas ornament.
  • I sewed 10 skirts, 24 cloth placemats, 48 cloth napkins, 3 toddler bibs, finished 1 crosstitch bookmark, and we made one batch of coffee-ground soap.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.  I didn’t keep track of them, but I do know they sewed those 12 quilted hot pad trivets to match my placemat/napkin sets, and 80 backpacks and 232 facecloth hygiene kits for Operation Christmas Child.

Kitchen:

  • We didn’t keep canning stats this year, we were just too busy.  But we did do some canning.  Definitely less than usual.

Year Summary

In January we stayed warm and cozy inside while the snow flew and the outside temps stayed low.  We did brave the cold to work on several barn projects, remodeling and making things better suited for our needs.  We started a no-pre-processed-food challenge.  We worked on many heritage arts projects, including sewing, knitting, and soap making.  We also prepared for our first goat kids to be born.

February brought the first goat kids to the farm.  Heidi kidded adorable, colorful, tiny, triplets.  The birth was an adventure, since the first kid was breech.  But they all survived and we enjoyed the adorable antics of three babies.  And those weren’t the only babies on the farm in February, our 33 chicks also arrived and we enjoyed having them in the brooder in the house.

March had some gains and some losses.  We had a very sad and scary delivery for our goat Gretchen.  Her kid did not survive the ordeal, and we were barely able to pull Gretchen through it.  We sold two of Heidi’s kids as bottle babies and kept one doeling with her.  We began to get goat’s milk that we could use for our family, which was a huge blessing.  And our first lamb arrived earlier than we expected, but healthy and doing well.  She was the first second-generation lamb born on our farm.  We purchased her granddam, Daphne, who lambed her dam Violet for us, and then Violet lambed Daffodil.  It was a fun milestone birth.

April brought more gains and losses and was a very FULL month on the homestead.  We had twin ewe lambs born and sadly lost their mother right after birth, which left us with bottle babies.  We raised them a few weeks before selling them.  We also sold Heidi and her doeling, leaving us with one doe in milk.  We then had two more single lambs born, a ewe and a ram.  The chicks were big enough to integrate into the adult flock.  We started setting up the garden and had a ton of seedlings sprouting indoors waiting to go out.  We bought our new Livestock Guardian Dog, a 10-month-old Anatolian Shepherd puppy.  Tundra (our head LGD) helped us begin her training.  And we opened our new business – Willow Creek Fiber Mill.  Whew!  That was a super busy month!

In May I had trouble concentrating on work around the farm because the adorable antics of baby lambs in the barnyard made it hard for me to pull myself away from the fence.  Thankfully, I was able to resist the temptation enough to get some stuff done.  We got some seedlings moved into the gardens and spent a lot of time working on Anya’s training.  Mid-month we were buried in a deep, wet, spring snow.  It caused some damage to the berry bushes, but for the most part was just a fun distraction.

June weather meant that the last of the seedlings could move out into the gardens.  We were able to begin harvesting some herbs too!  We built some more fences and started battling the flies trying to eat the dogs’ ears.  We found the fly collars to be pretty effective, though short-lived.  The girls and I kept busy with sewing, knitting, and needle felting projects.  We attended some fiber festivals and enjoyed watching our fiber mill business grow.  And we had our first broody hen of the year start setting.

In July we butchered the cockerels, along with our older goat.  We got a new milk goat, which quickly turned into two new milk goats because she refused to eat from loneliness for one of her own kind.  The gardens started producing well and we were able to do some early harvesting.  We were surprised by how well our cabbages did and enjoyed an abundant harvest of them which we made into sauerkraut in our big crock, and coleslaw too. We did some more barn fixing up and remodeling.  The pullets started laying and our broody hen hatched out her chicks.  Towards the end of the month we experienced our hardest loss ever on the farm when our wonderful old lead LGD, Tundra, died.  He had been part of our family for 13 years, and was such an excellent farm dog.  It was a loss that shook us all.

Early August brought a terrible rain storm that flooded the barn.  We had to tear up all the floors and spent a lot of time digging ditches to help prevent future issues.  Our garden continued to produce well and we were busy harvesting and preserving the harvest.  We butchered one of our sheep and made broth with the soup bones, in addition to freezing a lot of great meat.  Our son’s medical issues came to the forefront and everything else was put on hold while we dealt with surgery, a hospital stay, and follow up appointments.

September was mostly focused on our son’s medical stuff.  But the coming of the first frost also necessitated a lot of garden work, harvesting, and putting up of the harvest.  We were very happy with the bountiful harvest we had this year, FAR surpassing all previous years.  We also had trouble with bears as they began their push to put on weight before hibernation.  Thankfully, none of our animals were killed by the bears.

October meant our gardening season came to a close.  But we were happily enjoying the fruits of our labors with delicious meals inside made completely from our farm.  We continued with Anya’s training (which had been going on since April).  I did a LOT of knitting and tried a new sock method.  And we had two more broody hens decide to set and hatch out chicks.  We worked on Operation Christmas Child projects and enjoyed preparing for the big box packing day in November.  Our sheep got loose and gave us an adventure, and at the end of the month we put our ram in with the ewes for breeding.

In November our sweet little Angora bunny, Oliver, died.  I continued my knitting spree and we made our first ever dog-fur yarn in the mill.  We all got very very sick with croup, strep, and pneumonia.  Somehow I found time to finish my last set of seasonal cloth placemats and napkins.

December started out unseasonably warm, with only two brief cold snaps, but ended with some bitterly cold days and nights.  We enjoyed working on homemade Christmas gifts and dealt with more medical crisis.  We made the hard decision to downsize the farm for the unforeseeable future while we continue to juggle our son’s medical issues – and thus we are down to just chickens, gardens, the guard dog, and barn cats on the farm.

It has been an exhausting but productive year.  We hope that our move towards downsizing and simplifying the homestead for 2018 will bring peace and prosperity to our family as we continue to battle the unknown of our son’s medical issues.  We look forward to another year full of adventures, productivity, and good memories.  We are blessed.

Life

It’s been a while since I posted.  Life has been overwhelming lately.  This blog focuses on our little homestead.  I generally stay away from discussing the rest of our life because I just want this to be about our homestead.  But because homesteading is a lifestyle sometimes there is no way to not bring other topics into the light.

If you have been following for long you know that our baby has struggled medically for two years now.  He has had 6 surgeries and hospitalizations in his very short life, as well as countless appointments, tests, and procedures.  All of which occurs at least 2 hours away from our home, sometimes farther.  The solidity of the homestead has been helpful through this time.  The homestead stays the same, shifting routinely as the seasons change, in a way that is comforting.  We know lambs will arrive each spring, along with chicks and higher egg production.  Shearing happens towards the end of winter.  Planting and harvesting come and go on the same cycle each year.  And those things have given us a solid footing when the rest of our life is shifting and changing almost daily.  When the prognosis for our son changes drastically before and after each surgery, the homestead is still there, staying the same.  We love homesteading.  It is so fulfilling.

But it is also a lot of work.  The homestead can’t be put on hold.  Animals must be fed, chores tended to, twice a day, every day, no matter the weather, no matter our health, it must be done.  If we need to be at the children’s hospital someone must be here to tend to things.

Our son has an extremely rare condition.  There are only 14 documented cases ever in history.  12 of those kids died.  2 are still alive because their bodies somehow healed the issue on their own.  And then there is our son, he is number 15.  And they don’t know how to fix it.  That is scary to say the least.  At first we weren’t truly able to understand what this would mean for our life, and really neither could the doctors.  We tried juggling the homestead and the medical stuff, along with regular life.  We tried downsizing this or that.  We tried changing how we did things to make them easier.  And not knowing how long this would last made us hold desperately to the dream of our solid, comforting homestead life.  Will they be able to fix it this week?  Or next month?  Or a year from now?  When will we have our stability back?  We don’t know.  We don’t know how long this will go on.  And that is very hard.

It is apparent now that our previous homesteading lifestyle is not longer a possibility and that we need to shift and accept the new situation we are in.  We cannot do all that we used to do and do it well.  We have stretched ourselves too thin over the last two years because we just didn’t know how long this would last or what it would be like.  So we needed to make decisions to help our family get back to a place of peace and thriving instead of just surviving each day.  So we made the very difficult decision to significantly downsize the homestead for the indefinite future so that we can devote all our time to our family, businesses, and to this medical stuff.  We need to simplify our life as much as possible and still find ways to enjoy each day and do the things that bring us joy.

First the milk goats were gone, milking being one of the most time-consuming aspects of the farm.  Since we had only had them a short time, that felt pretty easy.  And we can buy from the same breeder in the future.

But then it was time to sell the flock of sheep.  This was much harder.  We have been building this flock for 4 years now and selectively breeding and buying to build just the right fiber-producing flock with a perfect variety of textures and colors.  We were very attached to each individual sheep.  We are happy that they were able to go together as a group to a farm not far off.  We know they will have a good home and in the future when we re-build up the livestock on the homestead we will be able to buy sheep from their lines.  But it was a very hard day on the whole family when they left.  There were definitely tears.  But both Mtn Man and I believe that it was the right decision for where we are now and what we are facing.

More decisions need to be made.  But for now we are living with the new situation and seeing what we think of it.  We are desperate to find a way to keep our sweet LGD Anya.  We have put a lot of effort into training her and we are all very VERY attached to that sweet girl.  However, if we remove everything she guards I think she will be unhappy and bored out of her mind.  We have contemplated bringing her indoors and making her a pet, but that seems pretty unlikely to work for many reasons.  So for now we have rearranged the chickens to make them as easy as possible to care for, and she is guarding them.  We will see how this goes.  We might need to downsize the chickens to just a few in the lower coop and shut down the barn completely.  But that would mean decisions about what to do with Anya.  So for now we wait, and pray, and we will see what happens.

Meanwhile, while dealing with all these decisions and changes, and an extra dose of medical stuff lately, we are also taking time to slow down and enjoy our Advent season.  We are concentrating on remembering the promises that led up to the birth of our Savior.  We are looking forward to a nice, calm, and restful Christmas this year to rejuvenate us before another slew of medical stuff hits soon-after.

I plan to keep blogging about the homestead, but I don’t totally know exactly which direction it will take.  As our life journey shifts so does our homesteading adventure and the story of us.  I don’t know exactly which parts will make it to the blog and which wont…we are just taking it one day at a time right now.

Continuing to Train Our Livestock Guardian Dog

The training of our Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD), Anya, has been full of ups and downs, steps forward and steps backward.  We are learning a lot, and really love this sweet girl, who is such an integral part of our farm.  It has been hard this year, with the loss of our lead LGD, Tundra, this summer.  But Anya is doing a good job of stepping up to the plate and taking over the protection of the barnyard.

Bobcat looking for a chicken dinner at our farm

Living in the Rockies means predators…lots of them.  It seems not a week goes by without some sort of predator-near-the-barnyard-incident.  We have coyotes, bears, bobcats, and mountain lions that are all anxious for some lamb, or chicken.  Plus foxes, raccoons, and birds of prey that would enjoy an easy chicken dinner.  Our first defense against all predators is properly built fencing and livestock housing, and closing all animals indoors at night.  The way we have built our housing and fences pretty much takes care of the threat of coyotes, foxes, and raccoons.  We are still left with bears, bobcats, mountain lions, and aerial predators – and that is where having an LGD becomes a necessity.

 

We got Anya at 10 months of age last April.  She is an Anatolian Shepherd and had a good foundation with livestock before she came to us.  We started her living in her own pen, sharing a fence with all the livestock and watching Tundra as he did his work with the sheep, goats, and chickens.  We worked with her at least 5 days a week, for an hour or so each time, teaching her to not wrestle and play with the livestock.

We made quick progress and in May she was able to live full-time with our grumpy old nanny goat because the goat wouldn’t let her get away with roughhousing her.   That went really well.  Then we butchered that goat and didn’t really have anyone for her to live with safely yet, so she went back to living in her own pen sharing a fence with the livestock, and having her daily training sessions with the livestock.  Then in July Tundra died, and we tried to accelerate her training as much as we safely could, knowing she was now the only LGD.  We had a really good two-day time period where we were out in the barnyard almost all day long and she was with the sheep the entire time and did fine.  So we let her start living with the sheep, but not with the chickens.  The weanling lambs were about half size by then (much bigger than in this picture) so we figured she could handle them.

It all was going fine until a couple of days later we caught her holding down one of the weanling sheep, licking her like crazy.  She was not trying to kill, her, she just wanted to play, but the lamb was super stressed and went into shock.  Thankfully, the lamb pulled through fine, and doesn’t even show fear of the dog.  But after that we had to move her back to her own pen again to be safe.  A day later we had the chicken incident, where a chicken squeezed into her pen and she killed it.  We again took a step back and re-doubled our efforts at her training with chickens.

That was all back in July, and since then she has been living in her own pen, sharing fence, and we have continued daily training sessions where she goes in with the sheep and chickens and we keep an eye on her and reprimand her if she does anything wrong.  But for the last couple of months, she hasn’t done anything wrong at all during those times.  I usually just sit there reading or knitting while she hangs out with the flocks.  So we felt it was time to take another step forward.  She is about 16 months old now, so we still are not ready to trust her with chickens or young sheep (most people say not to until after 2 years old and plenty of training).  But in preparation for breeding season we put the ram in the back pen, along with the young ewe lambs who wont breed this year.  Come November we will put the ram in with the breeding ewes for breeding – we don’t want earlier breeding because it will land us lambing in Feb/March, which is too cold here for lambing.  We like to lamb April/May.  So that left the 3 older breeding ewes in the main barnyard.  We decided this was an excellent chance to try to get Anya living with livestock again in a situation that she could be successful in.

So she has been living with the three older ewes for over a week now.  At night she is separated from them, but all day she is with them.  We have been checking on them all often, to be sure she is doing well, and so far everything has gone great.  She has not been trying to wrestle them or play with them.  She has not been chasing them.  She has just been doing her thing, being the LGD.  I love seeing a dog living with the flock again (or part of it at least).  It is cool how they kind of just mesh in and become part of the flock, even though they are not sheep.

We plan to continue with this situation even after we put the ram in for breeding, of course keeping a close eye on things when we add him in.  Then if all goes well, at the end of the year we will decide if we think she can handle having the younger ewes (who by then will be 9 months old and about 3/4 to full size) added into the mix or not.

It has been a bumpy road, but we know that the time and effort we are putting in now to train Anya will pay off with years of an excellent LGD watching over everything for us.  It will definitely be worth it!

Homestead Update – We are Back

It has been over a month now, a very long, VERY long month.  But here we are, still pressing on and finding the blessings in the everyday ups and downs that are life.  Mr. Smiles is not out of the woods yet medically, but we have a reprieve from doctors and hospitals for awhile.

It is fall and I LOVE fall in the Rockies.  The weather is crisp but still warm enough for jeans and a t-shirt.  The smell is beautiful, and the views are, as always, impressive.  Even the sounds of fall are great – especially the elk bugling.

Garden

The harvest has been bountiful.  We have been harvesting, canning, and freezing consistently for the last month.  Our first frost came through, later than usual, but still it meant we had to harvest all the beans and tomatoes.  The basement has tables full of green tomatoes that will ripen for us over the next few months and we canned all the green (purple) beans.  Our experimental drying beans produced well and we are looking forward to growing more in future years.

Because we have such a short growing season (approx 10 weeks frost to frost), we have to harvest our tomatoes green right before the first frost, and let them ripen in the cool basement.  They will ripen over the next few months and still taste just as good as fresh from the garden!  The first year they all ripened within about a month of picking, but we have been purposefully breeding a long-keeping variety of tomatoes and saving the seeds from the longest keeping ones to lengthen how long they last each year.  Last year in December we were eating “fresh” tomatoes that had been harvested from the garden in September and had taken that long to ripen.  The flavor was still amazing and we are hoping to continue to extend the length of time they keep so we can eat fresh tomatoes farther and farther into the winter.  It will be interesting to see how long they last this year.

We also have enjoyed eating fried green tomatoes a few times this month as well.

The new onion patch we built in the spring really paid off.  We harvested more than 30 lbs of big beautiful onions.  We braided some of them and hung them in the basement.  Others are stored in a crate in the basement and we have been using them a lot for cooking.  We are making more changes to the new onion patch this fall and next spring to make it even better.  More on that project later.

The carrots, turnips, beets, lettuce, peas, and spinach are still going strong in the garden.

The grape harvest this year was much bigger than ever before at 2 lbs.  Still not enough for a batch of jelly, but we are hopeful now that the vine is established we will be able to get more and more.

We harvested a lot of herbs before the frost as well, and they are hung all over the house drying.  Once dry we will crush them up and store them in jars, using them through the winter to season our food.

Bears

Fall does mean bear trouble in our area as the bears start to prepare for hibernation.  Every year we have barn break-in attempts made by bears, last year was the worst with 8 attempts between Sept-Nov.  They were stopped only by the barking of our LGD, Tundra, that woke us so we could chase the bear off.  Now that Tundra is dead, our new LGD, Anya, is holding down the fort.  We have been very surprised to have no attempts at all made on the barn this year by the bears.  We are not sure what it is that is different and making them not even try…is it Anya’s larger size and larger bark?  We are not sure but we are happy about it.

Unfortunately, the bears have been breaking into cars on our property.  In our area we have multiple generations of garbage-fed bears that don’t know how to eat naturally and only know how to eat from humans.  Last year they finally implemented a law forcing people to lock up their trash, which is good, but a bit too-little-too-late.  Now the bears are so desperate for food they are breaking into homes and cars because they can’t get trash from dumpsters anymore.  If a vehicle is left unlocked they will open it up and check it out, even if there isn’t any food in it.  They can actually operate the door handles.  And even when a car is locked they will often try to open it and leave nasty scratches all over the door.  Also, a friend left their car window cracked an inch while parked on our property over night and the bear grabbed it and busted it out.

Lastly, and definitely the least of the bear troubles, was a bear that decided to try out some of our squash.  Apparently it didn’t fit his tastes as he left it on the ground after tasting it.

Chickens

All the pullets are now laying and we are enjoying bountiful fresh eggs.

One of the two roosters we kept for breeding roos is getting pretty aggressive, so we will likely be butchering him soon and just keep the one.

One of the new laying pullets, a Partridge Chantecler named Alice, decided she wanted to set right away as soon as she started laying.  So we went ahead and gave her 7 eggs since the roos were mature and we had fertile eggs.  All seven were fertile and 6 of them hatched!  One died in the first day or so, which is not uncommon, so we have 5 adorable chicks with their mama hen in the barn now.

Sheep

We have separated the ram off from the ewes until November when we want them to breed.  He hasn’t shown signs of being mature enough yet, but we are hoping that he will be ready in the next month or so and we don’t want winter lambs being born.

I caught this pic of one of the chickens “grooming” the sheep by picking seeds out of the wool.  They do that often and I love it.

More updates coming later this week…