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 – Root Cellar/Tornado Shelter

The cold snap and snow was VERY short lived, and we are back to t-shirt and jeans weather each day, which is just crazy for this time of year. But we are enjoying it and soaking it in before we are chased indoors for a few months by winter.

Root Cellar/Tornado Shelter

When we moved to the new property we noticed right away that we didn’t have a tornado shelter. We made it a priority to get our family a shelter since we live in an area that gets a lot of tornado activity. While we were working on it we had 3 different tornadoes come within 10-15 miles of us. Too close for comfort. It is one of those things you hope you never have to use, but want to have just in case. We also needed a root cellar to store our garden produce throughout the year. So, it made sense for it to be dual-purpose.

We finally finished it and have moved our root cellar racks into it. We have also started building shelves for the home-canned goods, though we haven’t finished those yet, they will go all the way to the ceiling. With no garden this last year, we don’t have much to put down there, but there is a small amount of stuff we were given from other’s gardens (what a blessing!), as well as the small (compared to other years) amount of canning we were able to do this fall (another blessing!).

It is going to be so nice in the coming years to be able to have a safe place to go if needed, and to have a place to put our garden produce and canning for the year.

Canning

Speaking of canning, we have been doing some pressure canning lately. We did pumpkin a few weeks ago. I was going to use a fresh pumpkin for the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie this last week, but our oven decided to act up and make Thanksgiving complicated, so I used some of the home-canned pumpkin instead. It turned out delicious! I was grateful I had it available. This week we have also been pressure canning turkey stock made from the carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey. I love homemade stock so much! And it is so healthy too. We canned 18 pints already, and I would say we have at least another 12 pints worth to can up today or tomorrow. Feels good to add more to those new root cellar shelves!

Goats

The does went to the breeder a few weeks ago and have been bred now. We are just waiting to see if they come back into heat so we can confirm they are pregnant before we bring them home. Hopefully they will be coming home very soon.

Sheep

We are doing another round of pregnancy testing this week to see who got pregnant in October. We traded the ram’s crayons last week so we would know who was getting bred again. If they already had red marks on them, and then came back into heat and got bred again with the same color then we wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that they had been re-bred. So we traded the red and blue to opposite rams in the two different breeding pens. So the ones getting re-bred are now getting marked with a different color. We are going to continue doing the blood tests every few weeks throughout the season as well to help us confirm which ones have been bred and whether they took. After last year’s major issues with infertile rams we are doing our best to not take any chances of being surprised this year.

LGDs

One of our sweet Anatolian Shepherds was cuddling with the sheep the other day during what I call the sheep afternoon nap time, and I desperately wanted a photo, but of course if I approach she jumps up to greet me. So I ran right to her before she could get up and gave her some petting and tried to snap a photo. It only kind of worked. LOL.

Anatolians are such great Livestock Guardians. We love them and count on them to help protect our farm and stock. But there is one downfall – they love to dig. Up in the Rockies, at our previous farm, this wasn’t a big deal. We had some holes here and there, but never very deep and not really a problem. Well, we now live in the High Plains on sand. Sand, sand, sand. And we all know what that means – sand is SUPER easy to dig in. So the digging has taken on new, gigantic proportions.

Inevitably it is always done right along the edges of buildings. They generally are digging to make themselves a cool den in the summer, and the coolest spots are along the outside edges of the buildings in the shade, and some on the inside of the buildings along the walls too. This is causing some trouble for us as they take out the support of the buildings and also create ways to get out of the buildings. Our younger LGD is causing the most trouble at this point. We are trying all different methods and doing our best to repair what she is doing. But it is definitely causing some headaches and extra work for us. Hopefully, as she matures and as the cold weather moves in the digging will decrease a little.

Poultry

The guinea fowl are doing well. They continue to choose to hang out around the sheep pens, but thankfully we have not lost any more to the LGDs. We have noticed that there is a sad little outcast in the group. It is the smallest and ever since we let them out for the first time we notice that they keep him (or her) pushed out about 3-5 feet from the group at all times.

The chickens are doing fine. They are enjoying the compost we added to their run for them to work through. We continue to rake it into a pile every couple weeks for them and we add more as needed. They will be giving us a very nice pile of compost for the gardens next spring. We also integrated the 7 chicks from this last summer, that are now young adults, in with the main flock. We had hoped to maybe get them out on the barnyard to work on keeping the stalls maggot-free, but didn’t have time to build them a coop out there yet. So for now, they are living with the main flock and we are turning the stalls often. The cold weather has also helped get rid of the maggots. But we are hoping to have chickens on the barnyard by next summer, before maggots become an issue again.

All the adult hens are looking pretty be-draggled as they are molting.

The Welsh Harlequin ducks have started laying. We are not sure if it is just one, or both of them. But we are getting a duck egg almost every day. The Muscovies have not started yet. But all of them (Harlequins and Muscovies) were pretty late-season ducklings to expect them to lay before next spring anyway, so we are just surprised and happy by the eggs we are getting.

That’s the update from our little corner of the world!

Sunday Homestead Update – More Adventures with Guinea Fowl

We spent last week unexpectedly in the hospital and this week with homecare stuff for our son. This was his 25th surgery – he is 6 years old and has a very rare liver disorder that causes him to get infections and sepsis. It came on very fast this time, like last time, and got life-threatening within 12 hours. He was fine one day and in emergency surgery the next. It never gets easier. It is familiar, VERY familiar, but not easier. One thing that was easier was that we live so much closer to the pediatric hospital now. That was easier and we were glad for it. We are now in recovery mode and trying to transition back into our life around the homestead as cold weather is starting to set in here.

Guinea Fowl

The guinea fowl have been the main topic of conversation around the homestead the last couple of weeks. They have been getting into trouble lately and causing us extra work. Everything was going well, as I said the last time I discussed them, and they were hanging out around the property and putting themselves to bed in the coop each night. Then one day we didn’t see them at all for the whole day. Late afternoon our neighbor pulled in to ask if we had lost some guinea fowl because they were all over at his place. We headed over and there they were – apparently in love with their turkey. The neighbor has some chickens and a duck and a turkey all living together, and the guineas had zeroed in on the turkey, and the turkey seemed happy about it too. Maybe it was the naked heads? LOL. So we herded them back over to our place and put them to bed for the night, hoping it was a one-time thing. Of course it wasn’t, and they continued to head straight over to their turkey friend every morning when we let them out. We would herd them back in the evening and put them to bed. The interesting thing was they didn’t have access to water over there, the only water they could get was in their coop, and each night they drank and drank like crazy when we brought them home. I was surprised they wouldn’t be drawn back to the water on their own out of sheer desperation. We decided to see if they would come home on their own for the water and the roost at night, so one night we didn’t herd them back. Nope, they slept over outside the house of their turkey friend. Sigh.

Our plan is to fully fence the entire perimeter of the property with field fencing to keep the predators (stray dogs, coyotes, etc) out and our sheep/goats/livestock and dogs in. We finished two of the four sides of the perimeter this summer, but haven’t finished the rest. When we herded the guineas home from the neighbor’s, they were going through a 4-wire barbed-wire fence and every time we got to it they acted like they couldn’t get through. They had no problem going through in the morning headed to their friend, but when we were trying to herd them back home at night it is apparently a solid wall to them with no way around. So we decided that if they are that silly about just a wire fence, then maybe if we put up the field fence across that neighbor’s side it would keep them home. Yes, they can fly over it, but they are kind of weird about flying over things and don’t seem to like to do it. So we were hopeful. Young man spent two days fencing that line for us, and sure enough – it worked! The guineas stopped visiting the turkey at the neighbors house.

As they were now staying on the property, they started hanging out over in the ewe barn area, where some of the sheep, goats, and the livestock guardian dog (LGD) are living right now. One day, when they came back to the poultry barn late afternoon, there were only 7 of them, instead of 8. When we went to do barn chores we found the remains of the 8th one – just feathers – in the ewe barn area. The LGD in that pen has lived with chickens for years and not killed them. We are assuming she saw the guineas as wild birds, not like the chickens she guards, because they live outside her fence and they act wild and different. So when one of them somehow got in there with her, she killed it. Sigh.

We figured that watching their guinea-friend get killed would keep them away from that area, but nope. They still head over there and hang out along the fence lines. So we have started training the LGD that they are like chickens and not to kill them. Thus far, they have stayed out of the pen, and thus far, we have not lost any more. Though I don’t think the LGD is trustworthy enough yet as far as the guineas are concerned to not kill another if they chose to go in with her. But we will continue working on it.

Heritage Arts

Adjustable hemmer foot – where have you been all my life?!?!? Have you ever heard of or seen an adjustable hemmer foot? I never had, though I desperately wish I had all these years of sewing. My antique Singer treadle machine came with a few different feet, of which I could not recognize even one. Well it turns out that one of them is super useful and now my favorite sewing tool. As I was working on the aprons for my sisters I discovered this gem. You set the measurement on it to the size of hem you want, and then you feed the fabric into it folded at the hem and as it runs through it, the foot folds the edge under just a little and sews it just perfectly along the edge. Creating a perfectly beautiful hem every time!!!

If you like to sew clothes, aprons, curtains, anything with a hem, and haven’t used one of these yet – get your hands on one! I know they make them for modern machines too, because I looked it up since I had never heard of them before. It can be tricky to figure it out at first, but after playing with it on a few scraps of fabric I got it going and it worked great.

I have finished all the aprons for my sisters and now consider myself completely adept with the treadle machine. It doesn’t feel foreign anymore – treadling just comes naturally now. I love it! It took one lap quilt and three aprons to fully get the hang of it. It was totally worth it and I am enjoying using it for most of my sewing now. There have been a few things I have brought out my modern electric machine for – button holes (and other zig-zagging), and quilting (because the antique machine can’t handle the thickness). Other than that, this machine is my go-to machine now.

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.