Sunday Homestead Update – New Year

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

Goals and Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 Add a few fruit trees and berry bushes.

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

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

Poultry

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

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

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

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

Garden

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

January Kitchen Project

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

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

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

2021 Year-End Homestead Review

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

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

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

Statistics

Chickens:

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

Ducks:

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

Guinea Fowl:

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

Farm Dogs:

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

Sheep:

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

Goats:

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

Garden

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

Heritage Arts:

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

Kitchen:

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

Year Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.