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.

2020 Year-End Homestead Review

Looking back over the previous year on the homestead is an excellent practice because it helps us see what worked, what didn’t, and helps us plan for the future.  It is also always very encouraging to me because even when I feel like we didn’t have a very productive year, seeing it all written out shows me all that we accomplished.  Our homestead has had to take a backseat to other parts of our life over the last few years due to our son’s serious medical issues.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.  I used to do excellent record-keeping, but as each year has been harder and harder with Mr. Smiles, each year has thus been harder and harder to do good record keeping.  I am amazed I kept records at all this year!  But here’s what we have.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 21 hens, 3 pullets, 3 cockerels (almost ready for butcher), and 1 rooster.  Plus 23 eggs in the incubator.
  • Did 1 incubation with 23 eggs.  22 were fertile, 10 chicks hatched and 10 survived.
  • Broody hen set 12 eggs, bad fertility (only 5 fertile), 3 hatched, we added 10 from the store and she accepted them, 5 from the store and 1 of hers died in the first few days, 7 survived.  Got 5 more from the store and put them under her. 4 of those survived.  So a total of 11 surviving chicks.
  • Purchased 16 more chicks to have shipped.  14 survived.
  • 2 more broody hens set, one set 10 eggs, 7 hatched and survived, the other set 14 eggs, 4 hatched, 4 survived.
  • We purchased 10 chicks and our best broody hen adopted them and raised them.  9 survived.
  • At the height of the season we had 25 adult chickens and 40 chicks –  total 65
  • Butchered 24 cockerels, 13 old hens, 1 rooster
  • Did not sell any chickens this year, but gave away 3 as a gift
  • 1 hen died of unknown causes
  • Ended year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Approximately 4,180 eggs laid (348 dozen)

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 4.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the fire evacuations.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 1 wool ewe, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram
  • 4 ewes got pregnant, due in April & May
  • 1 ram lamb and 3 ewe lambs born, all survived
  • 72 gal of milk produced
  • 2 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of 8 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • 5 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of 10.1 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • Total of 8,525 yds of various sizes and types of yarn made from all the fleece. Plus 3/4 lb of roving.
  • Sold 2 ewes and 2 ewe lambs
  • Purchased 1 BFL ram lamb, 1 Wensleydale ewe, and 1 Bond ewe (all wool breeds)
  • 1 wool ewe died unexpectedly
  • Butchered 1 ram and 1 ram lamb
  • Bred them in two separate groups, one group in September, and one group in October-December.  2 September ewes confirmed pregnant due in Feb.
  • Realized our new BFL ram was unable to breed the flock successfully Oct-Dec, quickly purchased a new Bond ram end of December and put him with the girls, hoping to get the last 3 pregnant.
  • Finished year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams

Goats:

  • Started the year with 1 Nubian doe, Pansy.  Pregnant and due to kid in April.
  • 1 doeling born, died at a couple weeks of age.
  • Pansy struggled for several months with undefinable illness.  The vet, breeder, and we tried everything to figure out what it was and tried treating for any possible thing.  The illness decreased her milk production and we ended up having to dry her off in October.
  • Due to Pansy’s struggles and drop in milk production, we added another Nubian doe to our farm in July, named Belle.
  • 75 gal of milk produced.
  • Rebred 2 does in Nov/Dec.
  • 2 does pregnant and due to kid in April.

Ducks:

  • Started the year without ducks.  Added them to the farm in July – our first ever ducks!
  • Started with 2 drakes and 2 hens
  • 1 hen set 12 fertile eggs, 5 hatched, 4 survived, all drakes
  • Butchered 5 drakes and 1 hen
  • Finished year with 1 drake and 1 hen

Garden (didn’t keep good garden records this year, but…)

  • Over 250 lbs of produce harvested
  • More seeds saved than ever before

Heritage Arts:

  • Completed knit projects: 6 hats, 2 pairs of mittens, 2 pairs of socks, 1 gator, 1 poncho, and 1 dress.
  • Completed sewing projects: 4 dresses, 5 skirts, 8 pajama pants, 3 nightgowns.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.
  • We made 12 tins, 3 half-pints, and 1 pint of herbal salve.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, green beans, and tomatoes.  Plus grape jelly.
  • Prepped and froze carrots and celery.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, and squash.
  • Made 68 lbs of aged cheese.  Mostly from sheep milk, a few from goat’s milk.
  • Made a lot of soft cheeses and dairy products, mostly from goat’s milk, some from sheep milk.

Year Summary

January was cold and dry most of the month.  We hatched out 10 chicks in the incubator, hoping to line the hatching up with chicks coming in the mail so they could brood together.  Unfortunately, the hatchery made a mistake and printed our shipping page but never shipped us the chicks.  So we decided to just raise the 10 we had hatched ourselves.  We pulled our first ever aged cheese out of the cheese cave and tried it.  It was Colby and we all liked it.  One of our younger ewes surprised us by getting bred late, bringing our total of pregnant sheep up to 5.

February made up for January’s lack of snow by snowing every few days and dropping into the negative temperatures.  We worked on indoor projects a lot, and Mtn Man finished his first-ever rectangular braided rug made from llama and alpaca fiber.  We took photos of our chicks each week as they grew and changed.  We got ourselves organized and planned out the gardens and planting schedule for the year, as well as all the livestock birthings and things we needed to prepare for related to that.  Since we kept more sheep than we originally planned to when we put up hay last summer, we had to buy some more and get it put away in the loft.

March started exactly the opposite of February, with a week of warm, dry, sunny weather.  We spent a lot of time outdoors, working on finishing the new vegetable garden in time for planting.  We got the lambing/kidding kit and vet kit re-supplied and ready for lambing season.  And we also finished the wooden barnyard fence.  Coronavirus spread over the world and we were isolated from socializing.  We were largely unaffected, until Mtn Man ran out of work in the mill and had to take an essential construction job.  Our stirred-curd cheddar cheese reached 3 months of aging, so we were able to take it out of the cheese cave and try it.  It was delicious!  We put part of it back to age more so we could see the difference.  Our hen, Cinnamon, decided to set a brood of eggs for us.  We finished shearing all the sheep and began processing their fleece, and we got excited as we neared our first lambs due on the farm for the year.

In April our first dairy lamb was born without issues.  We started milking our first dairy sheep – Autumn, and quickly realized it would go better with a milking machine.  A lot of work was done on finishing up our new veggie garden area, and improving and building new fruit garden areas.  We made progress on Mr. Smiles’ new play area too.  We were all excited when I was invited to blog monthly for Mother Earth News.  Cinnamon’s hatch had terrible fertility, and we only ended up with 3 chicks, so we bought some at the store and gave them to her to raise with hers.  Many were weak from shipping stress and died, so we bought some more.  Our wool ewe, Fiona, had a single ram lamb, in an uneventful birth that we missed seeing despite our hourly checks.  The end of the month was exhausting as we were up to the barn every two hours through the night awaiting the goats and lambs that were due to be born.  Daisy, a first-time-mom ewe, had a traumatic birth with a very stuck large single baby in her small inexperienced pelvis.  We were able to save both the ewe and lamb, but then Daisy rejected the lamb.  After working with her for a day, we decided to give up and bottle feed it.  Once they were separated and the other ewes came to visit the baby, Daisy suddenly decided she wanted to mother the lamb.  We were very relieved and did not need to bottle feed after all.

In May our stay-at-home orders were lifted, and the hospitals started performing surgeries again.  This meant that Mr. Smiles could now get the surgery he was supposed to have back in March, but it also meant that we would be gone to the Children’s Hospital during the height of our lambing/kidding season.  Thankfully, no one birthed while we were gone.  We continued to be exhausted from our nightly barn checks as Pansy the goat went well past her due date, whereas both our first-time-mom-ewes went earlier than their due dates.  Daisy was due in May, but had hers in April.  Blue went 4 days early, the day before Mr. Smiles’ surgery.  Thankfully, Blue’s birth was uneventful and we missed it despite hourly checks on her.  Finally, 9 days past her due date, Pansy gave birth.  She had ring-womb and it made for a traumatic delivery, but both mother and baby survived.  We were finally past our birthing season and could get some sleep – theoretically.  Our oldest son graduated from high school at the end of the month – our first child to graduate from homeschool.  His ceremony and party were canceled due to coronavirus, so we had a nice little celebration on our own.  And we added a new BFL ram to the flock.

June started with disease, pests, and late frosts.  It was a challenging month for sure.  Our youngest son had more trouble with his health, leading to 1 MRI under anesthesia, 4 more surgeries, 2 ER trips, and 9 days in the hospital.  Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the mice were reaching plague-like proportions, with us catching up to 35 per night in our traps, and the barn cats killing innumerable amounts, and yet they were still wreaking havoc in the gardens and barns.  We found out that our new BFL ram might have brought Orf to the entire flock, and anxiously waited the disease incubation period, hoping it wouldn’t prove to be true.  The goat and her doeling got lice, and we were busy treating them with a natural oil daily.  One of our hens hatched out 7 baby chicks, on the same day that the doeling very suddenly died of what was suspected to be enterotoxaemia.  We grew oh-so-weary with it all.  And then, during Mr. Smiles’ hospital stay and surgeries, Pansy became very ill.  We had the vet out multiple times, only to find no obvious cause and have no treatment we tried help.  As a last-ditch-effort, on our way home from the hospital we picked up a buckling to take home to see if it was emotional depression from the death of her doeling causing her physical illness.

In July we managed to avoid the pediatric hospital, but knew our time away was limited so we were super busy at the farm trying to deal with all the summer to-dos before we had to head back to Denver.  Pansy the goat was still sick for awhile, but eventually pulled through her mysterious health issue.  We traded the temporary buckling out for a new milk doe.  We weaned lambs, sold some sheep, and purchased a new breeding ram and ewe.  We also added ducks to the farm for the first time ever.  The mice and hail continued to plague the gardens, but some harvest began to come in as well.  With two goats, and the lambs not milk-sharing with us anymore, milk continued to flow in larger quantities than before, and thus we spent a lot of time making cheese and other dairy products.  We had to switch to a larger homemade refrigerator cheese cave, as the smaller one was full.  We also purchased two pigs and butchered them for our winter meat.  It was our first time ever butchering pigs as we usually have the butcher do the pigs for us but there was no butcher who could take them due to the pandemic.  It was a very busy and productive month on the homestead for sure.

August brought a lot of juggling of farm life and hospital life.  Mr. Smiles had 2 more surgeries, one scheduled and one unexpected.  Meanwhile we were trying to continue to process all the dairy products and harvest the garden.  We ate, canned, froze, pickled, fermented, and root cellared the produce as it was harvested.  We butchered some chickens, and one of our hens decided to set and hatch some chicks.  One of the new duck hens wanted to set too, so we bought some hatching eggs and put them under her.  As I continued to blog for Mother Earth News, I also had an article published in Chickens Magazine.  Our friends were evacuated due to a wildfire and their ducks and chickens came to live with us for what turned out to be several weeks.  It was kind of fun having a goose on the farm for a little while – we had never had one before and she was beautiful and fun.  We struggled with a couple of red-tailed hawks and a golden eagle who were hanging out trying to get an easy meal in our barnyard.  The chickens had to stay in their covered pen to keep them safe.

September was beautiful, except for the large amounts of smoke from the wildfires.  We worked hard harvesting and preserving the harvest from our gardens.  The pullets began laying, so we had some fun new egg colors and sizes.  We were able to can our produce, despite supply shortages, thanks to our reusable canning lids.  We got an early hard freeze along with three days of snow that surprised us and brought the garden harvest to an end quickly.  Thankfully, we got all the produce out in time.  The snow also helped suppress the wildfires, for a little while.  We tried a new breeding plan for the sheep on the farm, and bred three of the ewes during September, planning to breed the others in December to divide up our lambing season.  We also butchered the ram lamb.  The duck hen successfully hatched her ducklings and we really enjoyed the new adventure of that.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezers when Mtn Man and his father hunted elk.  Sadly, our matriarch ewe, the first ewe we ever purchased for the farm, died unexpectedly – it was heartbreaking and a very difficult loss.

October was full of fall productivity.  We worked at getting, splitting, and stacking firewood to heat the house for the winter.  We continued to work on cleaning up the gardens and putting up the seeds for next year.  We finished several heritage arts projects, and built new feed bins for the barn.  We butchered more chickens and a ram, plus a couple of ducks.  The freezers were filling up fast for winter!  We were excited to learn that one of my blog posts for Mother Earth News was chosen to be published in their e-newsletter.  The Cameron Peak wildfire moved closer and closer to us, putting us on edge and prepared for evacuation.  We had a mountain lion hang out around our property for a few days, which kept us on edge as well.  Two more wildfires started near us, and ash and smoke started making life complicated.  Then, in one days time, one of the fires grew over 100,000 acres and traveled 35 miles, closing in on our home.  We were evacuated, and had to quickly get 64 animals and 8 humans off our homestead.  We were so blessed to have friends, acquaintances, and strangers reach out to us and take in our animals and our family.  The animals were spread over 5 different farms.  After 5 days, our family was able to go home, but the fire loomed and threatened and we had to stay prepared for fast evacuation, so we did not bring the farm animals back for a few weeks.

As we headed into November we continued to watch the wildfires and wait for the OK to bring our livestock back to the farm.  We cleaned and prepared the barn, and worked on some heritage arts projects.  As the containment lines grew, we started bringing animals back.  First the sheep and LGD came home.  Then the poultry.  The goats were evacuated to the farm that they go to every November/December for breeding, so we left them there for the breeding season.  It felt great to have the animals back at the homestead!  Since the ram had to be with the ewes during the evacuation – thus starting our breeding season earlier than planned, we decided to just leave him with them and let them breed.  We added a new, Bond ewe named Matilda to the farm.  We also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning and cheesemaking.  We scrambled to get things done around the farm before winter really hit since the evacuation had put us behind on all our fall projects.  We were surprised to find out that our two hatches from September, one duck hatch and one chick hatch, that each had 4 babies survive, had all males.  Not exactly what we were planning, but more meat in the freezer.

December brought both very low temperatures (-10F) and unseasonably high temperatures (55F) to the farm.  We used the warm days to finish fixing some fences and the path out back, and spent the rest of the time cozy by the fire working on heritage arts projects for Christmas presents.  It was a pretty laid-back, low-key month and we all enjoyed the break and rest.  Then, in the last few days of the month, we realized that our new BFL ram was not getting the ewes pregnant.  We quickly purchased a new ram, a Bond, and put him with the girls, hoping we could get the last 3 ewes pregnant before their breeding cycles stopped for the season.

 

It is good to look back, but can also be hard to look back as well.  I remember that in last year’s homestead review I said that it was by far the hardest year in our lives.  Good thing I didn’t know what was to come.  This year has by far been the most challenging year of our lives.  We had so many losses in our personal lives and on our homestead.  At the homestead we battled the weather, pests, birthing complications, and illnesses in the livestock.  Our youngest son had 8 more surgeries this year, along with many hospitalizations, ER visits, and doctor’s appointments.  His last surgery was his 23rd in his 5 years of life.  It was definitely challenging.  Through it all we continue to focus on our many blessings and trust in God as He carries us through the ups and downs.

Look Who’s Home!

As the containment lines on the fires grow each day, we are starting to bring back our livestock to the farm.  First to come were the sheep and the Livestock Guardian Dog, yesterday.  Happy dance!

If we need to evacuate again, this group of animals can be quickly loaded and removed along with us humans and the few pets we have home.  We are waiting for more containment, and/or a wind event that tests the containment, before we bring back more livestock.

It feels so good to have some life on the farm again!  They all got a lot of petting and back scratching when they got home.  We all missed them so much.

Sunday Homestead Update – Mountain Lion and New Feed Bins

We are so blessed to have a good, working, Livestock Guardian Dog.  She is an Anatolian Shepherd.  We have learned over the years that we can completely trust her instincts – she never barks for no reason.  One time, I was sitting out by the barnyard and she was napping on the compost heap.  It was quiet and peaceful.  All of a sudden she jumped up and started barking, not two seconds later, an eagle swooped over the barnyard looking for an easy chicken dinner.  I hadn’t heard or seen it at all at the point she jumped up.  Animal instincts and senses are amazing.

Another time she was barking and barking, very upset.  I didn’t see anything to be worried about and left her to it.  Once inside, I went over to the opposite side of the house and looked out the window.  Two coyotes were working their way across our property.  She couldn’t even see them because the house was between her and them, but she could hear them/smell them/sense them.  We have numerous stories like this and always can trust her to let us know when there is trouble.  We have learned her different barks as well.  She has a human bark, a bear/coyote/aerial predator bark, and a the-barn-cats-caught (or are stalking)-a-chipmunk-and-I-want-it bark.

Then there is the most concerning bark, which isn’t actually a bark.  This last week, Sunshine came in and said that Anya was pacing the barnyard nervously, all her hair standing on end, growling loudly and deeply.  Uh-oh.  That means mountain lion.  Sunshine sat out there a bit and didn’t see anything, but she said it felt creepy and made the hair stand up on the back of her neck.  Sure enough, later, when Mtn Man came home he informed us he had seen a mountain lion on the property right next to us, about 300 yds from the barnyard.  And it was daytime too.  Scary.  We are obviously on the alert and being extra careful around the property and farm, and hoping it moves on soon and without incident.  I wish there was snow on the ground so we could know its comings and goings better by tracking its footprints in the snow.

Wildfire

The wildfire continues to burn near us, but hasn’t threatened to come our direction for a few weeks.  We continue to have amazing sunset and skies, caused by the smoke in the air.  Some days the smoke is really bad and irritating and it is hard to be outside, others it is high enough it doesn’t really effect us.  My camera never truly captures how red the sun is.

We also have ash falling on everything.

Seed Saving

I continue to plug away at getting the saving seeds dried and put up.  This week I got all tomatoes, except the Long Keeper variety dried and put away.  I wait and save seeds from the longest keeping of the long keeper variety, since that is the point of that variety.  So those will be saved later this year.  I also got all the peas done, and there were a LOT of those.  More than we have ever saved before.  Plus some cilantro (corriander), parsley, and marigold seeds.

I still have all the drying beans on the racks in the root cellar drying in their pods.  I am guessing they are all dry now, and I will get to them when I have time.

Garden Cleaning and Garlic

We are trying to squeeze in garden clean-up between all our other busy-ness of fall.  It has been slow progress, but it will get done.  Meanwhile, we needed to get the garlic in the ground for next year.  So we worked the soil in that section and prepped it and got the garlic down.  We insulated it with some old dried hay from the barn stalls.  We have purchased straw before for the purpose, but the straw always ends up adding a bunch of seeds to the bed and we spend all summer pulling them up.  The hay from the stalls never does that.  We have been using both a Spanish Roja variety and Premium Northern White.  Each year the Roja does much worse than the White, and this year it did so much worse that there really wasn’t any worth using to start next year’s.  So we are switching to just doing all White.  So the garlic is in the ground and ready for next year.

Livestock Feed Bins

We have long used plastic tubs to hold the animal feed in the barn.  They keep the mice out, keep the mess consolidated, and in the case of a flood (which we have had happen in the barn before), they keep the feed dry.  The downfalls of these bins include the fact that the lids are not super secure and thus the sheep and goats can get them open when they determine to.  Since the animals occasionally break into the barn feed area, this can be a really big danger to them.  Also, the bins aren’t an efficient use of space because you can’t stack them on each other since you need to access them through the top.

We have been discussing building something else for awhile, and this week we finally got to it.  Here is what the area looked like before:

And here it is now:

The bins are deep enough for 2 bags of feed, which will make it easier to keep larger amounts without as many bags everywhere.  But they are not too tall to be able to reach all the way in them to the bottom.  And the animals cannot open them because of how he made the lid and the trim in front of the lid.  We used some random hardware we had laying around, and elk antler for handles.  Plus, Mtn Man cut up an old marker board I wasn’t using and put them on the lids so we can easily label what is in them.  We are all really happy with these new bins.  They will make feeding easier and storage of food better and more efficient.  He also put a shelf above them (and there is space for more shelves above that at some point).  I love using vertical space!

Heritage Arts

As the weather starts to cool off a bit, we have been thinking forward to winter and beginning preparations.  The kids have put in several requests for hand-knit winter outerwear items.  The ones they had have either been outgrown, or worn out, or both.  So I put down the never-ending poncho project that continues to be put to the side for other things, and cast on winterwear for the kids.

Young Man wanted a new gator.  I used the yarn Mtn Man made from Fergus’ 2020 fleece.  It is 80% wool from our pewter colored ram, Fergus, who was a BFL/Merino/CVM, blended with 20% bamboo.  The bamboo was dyed a forest green.  Of course the camera never seems to pick up yarn color accurately, but I was actually able to get the correct color by photographing the ball of yarn.  So the picture of the gator shows the project itself, and the ball of yarn shows the accurate color and luster from the yarn.  The pattern is just a simple k2p2 rib.  He is very happy with it and I am sure it will keep him nice and warm when he is working outside this winter.  And I am very happy with the yarn, it turned out beautifully and feels amazing.

Next I made Little Miss some new flip-top mittens.  I used the basic mitten pattern from Ann Budd and then just figured out the flip-top part myself.  Mtn Man made the yarn is from Maggie’s 2020 fleece and it is 100% wool.  I held the yarn double to give them a nice thickness that will keep her hands super-cozy this winter.

Braveheart also wanted some mittens, but he doesn’t like flip-top.  So I used the yarn from Maggie’s 2020 fleece again, held double, and made him mittens using Ann Budd’s basic mitten pattern.

Using yarn from our own sheep fleece on useful things for the kids to wear always feels SO SO SO good.  Such a satisfying farm experience to see it all come full circle.  There are more projects to come, but it felt good to get those on and off the needles so quickly this week.

Little Miss has started a weaving project, it is a dish towel.  She has just barely gotten going, and we are excited to see how it progresses.

Mtn Man finished a big rug order this week.  The rug turned out really beautifully and is huge.  It measures 8ft by 10ft.  The customer is very happy with it.