Sunday Homestead Update – Lots of Garden and Aerial Predators

Harvest season is upon us and that means a lot of garden and kitchen going on.  This week we had to spend some time at the pediatric hospital with Mr. Smiles, but when we were home the focus was garden, kitchen, and school.

Garden

We are harvesting a lot of different veggies at this point…squash, onions, peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbages, celery, cucumbers, carrots, and kitchen herbs.  Here is what we brought in on one of our harvest days:

Everything heads into the kitchen for processing.  Squash and onions down to the root cellar, carrots and celery processed and frozen.  Kitchen herbs hung to dry.  Beans canned.

Cucumbers pickled.  And the peas and tomatoes are pretty much eaten fresh as we are working and never make it to storage of any type.  The green tomatoes get put in the root cellar to ripen.  It isn’t really time for tomatoes yet, we just had a couple ripe ones this week, and the others came from a broken branch.  It will be a few more weeks until the real tomato harvest kicks into gear.

Considering all the pests we are fighting in the garden, I feel like the harvest has been pretty good.  We continue to battle the mouse plague and chipmunks.  Now we have an added foe that has moved into both the upper veggie garden and the lower one – pocket gophers.  They are destroying the beans and squash in the lower garden, and the beans and potatoes in the upper garden.  They definitely seem to like beans best.

Chickens

Dahlia hatched her eggs.  It was a pretty low hatch rate, we are not sure why.  We had 14 fertile eggs and only 5 hatched.  She didn’t seem to have any troubles covering them all.  None of them were out from under her that we ever saw and they were in a single layer.  But maybe there were too many?  Or maybe it was inexperience…this is her first hatch?  Not sure, but happy to have the 4 chicks that are alive and doing well (one of the five died within the first 24 hours).

Now that the LGD isn’t squeezing through the tiny chicken doors and stealing eggs, and the egg eating chicken is gone…we are getting quite a lot each day!

After Dahlia had just finished her hatching, Eve decided she wanted to set again.  We are going to try something new with her – it is a bit risky, but if any hen can do it, Eve can.  She is our best broody hen and has set 1-3 clutches for us every year for 7 years now.  We have adopted chicks to her from other hens and from incubators and from stores, but it has always been done after she set a full 21 days and had some chicks hatch under her.  This time we are going to try to just have her set on fake eggs for 14 days, and then we will put chicks from a hatchery under her and see if she will go with it.  If not, we will obviously be doing some brooding.  But we are hopeful and I think the chances are high she will take them.  We will know pretty soon!

Aerial Predators

Last year we had a golden eagle and her two fledglings move onto our property for several weeks in hopes of eating from our barnyard chickens.  It made it so we had to keep our chickens closed into their exterior covered pen and couldn’t let them free-range for several weeks.  She also injured one and killed another before we realized she was around and a danger.

Well…she is back.  Or really, a golden eagle is here – whether it is her or one of her offspring from last year, or a completely different one – we obviously can’t know.  But there is a golden eagle hanging out, and there is also a large red-tailed hawk.  They seem to be arguing with each other over something – territory?  Either way, it has meant trouble for the chickens again.

We first heard the golden eagle on Thursday while we were eating dinner, and then we looked out the window and saw the hawk flying from tree to tree agitated (golden eagle chasing it).  Then Friday around dinner the LGD was going crazy barking and it was at the golden eagle near the barnyard.  At that point it seemed like they were keeping their distance because of the LGD, and since we don’t like keeping our birds confined if we don’t have to, we continued to let them out and let the LGD guard them.

Then yesterday, we were sitting in the back yard (not even 50 yds from the barnyard) and the LGD seemed agitated, but we thought it was because of the neighbor’s kids hanging out nearby.  Then we heard a large thump, the LGD went berserk, and the huge male red-tailed hawk came flying up out of the barnyard, with the LGD in close pursuit.  He had struck the ground in the barnyard, and then fled because of the LGD.  We ran to the barnyard, looking for his victim, but couldn’t find any dead chickens, nor any that were acting weird or injured.  They were all hiding in the exterior pen and were very riled up, but none looked to be injured.  So we left them to calm down for a bit – closed in the safety of the covered pen.

Later, we examined each chicken carefully, because last year a hawk hit one and we didn’t even know it until several days later when we were picking them all up for a different reason and we found the wound under her wing.  All the chickens are fine, none got hit.  So it must have missed its mark.  But if it was willing to drop into the barnyard with the LGD AND us right there, it is too risky to leave the birds out until these two aerial predators decide that we are not good hunting grounds and move on.  So the chickens are staying closed in to their covered pen for the time being.

The ducks don’t have a covered pen yet, though we planned to do that in the future.  But their outdoor enclosure is small and is under a thick pine tree, which offers some amount of protection from above.  It would be tricky to get in and out of there quickly and easily from above and we are hopeful that is enough of a deterrent to keep the ducks safe until we can build a cover for them.

Our bantam pullets started laying this week.  The bantam Easter Egger lays teeny tiny green eggs.  Fun!

Sunday Homestead Update

There is so much going on around the homestead this time of year that it makes it hard to fit it all in an update post.  Better get right into it.

Sheep

Oh my goodness, Freya is settled now and she is SUCH a big teddy bear!  She loves being pet and scratched.  Each morning, when we throw the food, she doesn’t go down to eat with everyone until she has had her morning loving.  She first gets Mtn Man to pet and scratch her, then she goes over to find Braveheart as he is leaving the chicken pen and gets him to pet her, then she heads down to eat breakfast.  She is so so sweet!

Breakfast at the fence feeder

Ducks

The ducks started laying last Monday!  Little Miss ate the first duck egg, since they are her project.  She asked me to make her an egg-in-a-frame (egg fried in the center of toast), which is her favorite way to have eggs.  She loved it!  I took a taste and liked it as well.  Some people say duck eggs can taste pond-y, but we didn’t think it did.

Chickens

The chickens haven’t gotten much press lately on the blog.  We have 3 different age groups of chicks that are still in the growing stages.  This week we did a shuffle around of the chickens, integrating the 16-week-olds and 13-week-olds in with the main flock.  Eve has some 8-week-olds that are not ready to integrate into the big flock yet, but they moved away from their mom (in the bantam pen) up to one of the grow pens to grow out.

We have been butchering cockerels as-needed over the last few months as the different groups have grown up.  We also did a trap nesting week this week to find out who is laying well, but also to catch an egg-eating culprit.  We have two zero-tolerance policies for chickens at WCF that will get them a one-way ticket to the stew pot: #1 aggressive roosters and #2 egg-eating hens.  We caught the hen and now we don’t have to worry about her teaching the habit to others.

One of the younger hens, Dahlia, has decided to set.  Since we were planning to butcher our rooster this week, we decided to collect eggs for her while we were trap nesting and let her set so we can get one last batch of chicks out of that rooster.  She is a first-time broody hen, so we are hopeful she will stick it out and prove herself to be a good mama.  So far, so good.

It has been a very productive chicken year thus far, which is funny because last fall/winter we had said we were focusing on the new dairy sheep and the new garden this year and were not going to do a lot with the chickens.  But then Braveheart took over the chickens and he has done very well with managing them, and they have been VERY productive this year – a lot of meat in the freezer and plenty of eggs.

Egg Thief

Besides the egg-eating chicken, we caught a different egg thief this week as well.  Can you believe that this innocent face had anything to do with it?

Keeping a mixed-livestock barnyard, which includes hoof stock, chickens, and a Livestock Guardian Dog all living together lends itself to the fact that at some point the LGD will get to eat some eggs.  We expect it and are not upset about it.  Occasionally, a hen will not go to the nest boxes to lay, but will instead find a corner somewhere in the barnyard or sheep stalls to lay an egg.  When that happens, our Anatolian Shepherd, finds the egg and eats it.  No biggie.

However, we were surprised to learn this week that apparently our 100 lb LGD is a contortionist that can fit through a hole that is 9 x 13 inches.  Last spring, we found her able to get through a 12×12 inch hole in the fence and were shocked by that.  But this hole is 3 inches narrower!  While we were trap nesting, and thus going up to the coop about every 30-60 minutes to check the traps, we caught her INSIDE the coop!  She squeezed through TWO tiny chicken doors that are only 9×13 inches.  We are pretty shocked.  this is a very large dog, but apparently she can twist and bend herself in surprising ways to get through the door.

Mtn Man narrowed the more exterior door with small strips of wood, and hopefully she can’t get through it now but the chickens all can.

Gardens

The gardens are really hitting their stride now and are full of green.  We are still battling rodent pests, but overall they are doing well.  The new veggie garden is doing pretty well at keeping up with the old garden, even though it doesn’t have as nice of soil.

The squash in the upper garden are climbing the arch, which is fun and pretty.

Cheesemaking

We finally got the large refrigerator made into a cheese cave.  We had to be quite creative to get the humidity up, but it is up now and I have plenty of space to make more and more cheese.  I looked at my records and so far I have made 23 lbs of aged sheep cheese, and 2 lbs of aged goat cheese.  Plus all the many soft cheeses and dairy products we are making each week as well.  Yippee for raw milk on the farm!

Heritage Arts

Summertime doesn’t lend itself to much time for heritage arts.  But Little Miss was growing faster than I have been knitting on her dress and I knew I better get the thing done so she could wear it before she outgrew it.  So I finally finished it this week.  It looks so lovely on her, and she loves it!

The pattern is Ribbed Dress for Little Miss (so funny because I made it for my “Little Miss”) by Raimonda Bagdoniene.  The yarn is Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in the colorway Deep Waters.

Since that project is all I have allowed myself to work on for the last couple of months because I wanted to get it done before she outgrew it, getting it off the needles made me excited to cast on some new projects.  This week I cast on a hat and some socks, plus I already had the crochet sock yarn scrap afghan and the poncho – both of which have been in progress for a long time but have been ignored so I could finish the dress.

Sunday Homestead Update – First, Mice…Now, Lice!

Last week I discussed our current infestation of mice, and now, this week, we found that our goats have lice.  Sigh.  How did our goats get lice?  We have not brought in any new goats (these lice are species-specific).  The only time they left the farm was in November when Pansy went to get bred.  I have contacted the breeder and she says none of hers have lice.  Strange.  Little Miss spends large amounts of time brushing and grooming and petting and loving on her goat, and definitely would have known if the goat had lice before now.  A few days after the doeling was born, Little Miss found one bug on her.  We checked her and mama over thoroughly and didn’t find anything else, so we didn’t think much of it.  Last week, Little Miss didn’t have time to brush and love on Pansy and baby Pearl much, so several days went by without the normal grooming.  Then, early this week, she went back to her grooming routine and found them both totally infested with lice.  Eeeeek!  and ICK!  Maybe Pansy had a low-grade infestation all along but the grooming kept it under control?  Maybe they got them from the wild deer and elk in the area? (the vet said that is not possible).  I just don’t get it, and that is frustrating because if we don’t know how they got them, how do we prevent it from happening again?

Pansy, wet from her lice treatment

Anyway…I did some research on the internet about goat lice, and man-oh-man this is one of those topics that everyone has their own opinion on and no one seems to agree and I feel like I can’t trust anything I am reading because everyone is so differing in their opinions.  So I decided to try something altogether different, but that my gut was telling me to do.  We have a natural spray that I have used for bug repellent before.  It is an off-label use.  The main ingredient is tea tree oil and our friend uses the spray as an udder wash on her dairy goats, as well as a bug spray for them, and has never had any issues with it.  It is safe for them, even though this use is definitely off-label.  I felt like I should try it out before we went to the usual vet treatments.  Little Miss and I sprayed both of them down and rubbed it well into their fur down to the skin (with a rubber glove on).  We did it at about 10am and we saw millions of lice.  That evening, at barn chore time, we examined them (in the dark of the barn) and could only find 1 moving lice.  The next morning, we sprayed them down and worked it to the skin again.  When we were doing that, we saw that there was a huge decrease in lice, exponentially less.  We are conitnuing the treatments every day or two.  The life cycle is 22 days, so we will just continue this way for awhile and hope that it works.

As far as the mouse infestation goes…we continue to catch 12-15 mice daily.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I find this crazy and don’t know how to get ahead of this issue.  It seems they are multiplying faster than we can catch them.  We will press on and hope that the numbers start decreasing soon.  One benefit of the mouse overpopulation is that the barn cats are so busy with the mice that they haven’t had the time or energy to bother the swallows.

Gardens

We had a couple of hard frosts this last week.  All but the newest 2 of the Gooseberry and Currant bushes had put on flowers.  So we blanketed the flowering ones to help keep the flowers alive and increase our harvest.

It worked well and everything survived.

That was likely our last frost, but we are still being careful with putting frost protection on anything we put out because last year we had a surprise frost June 9th.  We have continued to plant and transplant new veggies this week.  We have also been harvesting and using the rhubarb, chives, and asparagus.

The robin population is booming and they are eating our newly planted bean and pea seeds, as well as digging up the Medicinal Herb Garden in search of worms.  The Medicinal Herb Garden doesn’t start really sprouting until mid-June, and all those seeds went in in the fall.  So I am concerned all this robin digging is messing them all up and they wont sprout.  So we put bird netting over that garden.  The robins are none too pleased with the new scenario.  But hopefully we will have some herbs start sprouting in there soon.

Speaking of the Medicinal Herb Garden…that is where our apple trees are planted.  We planted two apple trees in there 2 years ago.  After the first winter, one had died down to the root stock, but started sending up branches from there.  We decided to let it do that.  This last winter was their second winter.  The one that had survived the first winter died down to the root stock, and the other one died BACK down to the root stock again.  It seems these varieties, even though they are supposedly able to survive our cold climate, can’t survive here.  And we have had two very mild winters in a row – so if they can’t handle that, they definitely won’t make it long-term.  So we are re-thinking the apple tree plans now.

Sheep

Votes are in and it was pretty clear what our new ram’s name is…MacDougal.  MacDougal is settling in very well.  He and Remi are living in the bachelor pen together.

Our Livestock Guardian Dog is struggling again this year with the lambs, like she did last year.  She is just about to turn 4-years-old and I think it continues to be a maturity thing.  When the lambs are tiny, and stay close to their moms, and the moms are very protective, she is fine with them.  In fact, she is excellent with them.  She will belly crawl over submissively to sniff them and check them out and respects the ewes.  But as they get bigger, and start to run and play, and the ewes are not very protective anymore, then she starts to get into trouble.  She can’t resist the running, bouncing, playing lambs (who could!?) and wants to run and play with them (heck, I want to run and play with them too!).  The problem is that she is 110 lbs of dog, and wants to play like a dog, and they are much smaller lambs, who play like lambs.  The main issue is that she grabs one of their back legs and holds it, while they run along.  She is gentle and doesn’t break the skin or anything, but this has led to some limping lambs, both last year and this year.  The limp goes away after a couple of days, but it is still not good.  So we have been spending extra time training with her this week and teaching her this is not OK.  And she has also had to spend some extra time living in the back pen with the males when we can’t be keeping an eye on the situation.  Overall, she is an amazing LGD, and we fully expect her to grow out of this and not have this issue every year.  The training this week has shut it down…for now…but we will keep an eye on things.

Is Marigold pregnant?  Or not?  We are not sure.  She is supposedly 10 days from her due date, but we are not seeing very clear signs to support this.  We are wondering if she didn’t take, or if she didn’t take and then got bred at a later date than we thought.  We are keeping an eye on her, and we have her on the end-of-pregnancy diet just in case.  But I am guessing we are done lambing for the season.  Time will tell…she might surprise us.

Chickens

Our very awesome, sweet, friendly rooster, Ben, had moved into the bachelor pen because we can’t use him for breeding anymore since we kept him so long and now would be doing some major inbreeding if we kept using him.  But he is so great and gentle that it seemed a waste to eat him.  So we decided to separate him out for now, and let our new roo, Nilo, do a year or two of breeding and then bring Ben back once we had less of his daughters and grand-daughters in the flock.  Well, some friends came by to drop off fiber at the mill and look at our sheep and they saw Ben and heard his story.  They have a flock of free-ranging hens and would like to have a rooster to protect them, but have had trouble with mean roosters and didn’t want to deal with that.  So Ben has now moved on to live with them.  He seems happy to have a flock to look after again, and it will be a very nice home for him.

Ben the rooster, with the flock last year

The oldest hen on our farm, a Silkie named Eve, has been setting eggs and raising chicks for us for many years now.  She is 7 years old and still lays 4 eggs a week when she is not brooding.  She raises anywhere from 1-3 clutches of chicks for us every year.  What a great hen!  Well, she is at it again, setting on 6 eggs.  I put another 5 in the incubator because she can raise more chicks than the amount of eggs she can fit on (she is a bantam), and it will make up for any loss we have too so she is raising a full clutch.  All 5 eggs in the incubator are fertile (good job, Nilo!) but I haven’t gotten around to candling the ones under Eve yet.  I expect they are all fertile too.  They will hatch out next week.

Eve

In the Farm Kitchen

We have continued making dairy products with all this fresh goat and sheep milk.  This week we made more yogurt, mozzarella, and our first batch of chevre.

I have also been making some herbal medicines this week.  I made an Arnica/Comfrey salve, and a liver cleanse tincture.

Sunday Homestead Update – a Full Homesteading Mom Life

I live a full life.  At times, it feels totally overwhelming and I have to stop myself and take a breath and just realize how blessed I am to have such a full life.  A life full of love, relationships, fun, noise, messes, craziness, (occasional) quiet moments, losses, success, failure, a never-ending list of things to do and get done, dishes, laundry, and more dishes…and so much more.  This week I actually found myself changing a diaper with one hand, while holding a baby chick in the other, and, as if that wasn’t challenge enough, my phone rang and it was an important call that I needed to take and could not ignore.  I just burst out laughing, looking at myself in this crazy situation.  Obviously there is a story there, but it is too long for me to get into why I was changing a diaper while holding a baby chick, but it was indeed a necessary situation and I didn’t have another choice in the moment.  Nonetheless, I am spending this Mother’s Day being loved on by the ones I love the most, and feeling thankful for all the crazy homesteading Mom moments that I am blessed to experience each day – even the ones that make me want to scream.  🙂

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!  I hope you can feel thankful for all the crazy mom-ing in your lives too.

Our farm is currently overflowing with animal mothers and babies.  Spring in the Rockies!

Chickens

Our batch of purchased chicks arrived this week.  These are the chicks that we originally ordered to be delivered during our hatch in January so we could brood them together.  There was a mix-up at the hatchery and they printed our shipping label, but didn’t ship our chicks.  Since we already had our own newly hatched chicks in the brooder, we decided not to have them re-ship the next week.  Instead, we waited until we were ready to do another brooding…which is this week.

There were 16 of them, and 3 died right after arrival, the rest are doing well.

Goat

Pansy was due to kid on April 27th.  She finally kidded this week, 9 days late.  It was a complicated delivery, but both mom and doeling are alive.  And the doeling, named Pearl, is oh-so-cute.  I will share more about it later this week.

Sheep

We have a barnyard full of ewes and lambs.  Blue lambed this week, leaving us with just one pregnant ewe left for this season (Maggie).  Everyone is growing well, the lambs are playing and romping together, and the mamas seem happy to not be so very huge and pregnant any longer.  Maggie is not due until mid-june, so we have a break from birthing here for awhile.

Blue’s little girl got a name, finally.  It took us awhile – I think the spring lambing/kidding season sleep-deprivation added to the delay.  But she is now known as Misty.  She is almost 1 week old now.

Daisy has continued to become more bonded to little Nora, she is turning into a good mom.  I believe that she will be a fine mother in the future, and that the traumatic birth is the cause of these issues.  We are just so glad that we didn’t have to bottle feed her.  Nora is almost 2 weeks old now.

Blizzard is a ball of energy.  He is always wanting to play and run and head butt with the other lambs.  Typical boy.  He also has decided that the LGD is his BFF, which is cute.  We constantly find them cuddled together, or if Anya is running around, Blizzard will be running right behind her.  Fiona is the attentive, but also laid-back, experienced mom of the group, and seems happy to let Anya (the LGD) babysit for her.

Blizzard is 3 1/2 weeks old now.

Twilight is the oldest lamb, and that lends itself to her being kind of a bully to the others.  She is so much bigger than the new babies and she uses it to her advantage, pushing them around when she can get away with it.  But she is a beautiful ewe lamb and nice with the humans.  She is 5 weeks old now.

We are working on weaning all the babies to a 12-hours-off, 12-hours-on milk-sharing schedule.  Twilight and Nora are already there, and we are getting the younger ones there as well in the next couple of weeks.  It is nice to have so much milk now that they are getting older and we can take a good share of it.  We are making dairy products in the kitchen and really enjoying it.

Gardens

It is crazy to me that we are already putting seeds and seedlings outside.  This week has been full of planting and gardening.  Time is flying by me this spring!

Sunday Homestead Update

We have continued to have (mostly) warm weather in the 40sF with sun, and have worked outdoors on the homestead as much as we can, but have also been busy off the homestead this week and thus could not get done as much as we hoped.

Sheep

Autumn’s stanchion training has gone great and she is ready to be milked once she lambs.

Her udder is beginning to build now.

We are about 3 weeks from her due date and the start of lambing season.  Very exciting!

Chickens

A year or two ago we decided that the lower coop would permanently be the bantam coop.  Our roosters are generally very large, and we were worried about them in their interactions with the bantam hens.  We are not keeping the bantams for breeding, they are actually for setting, they are our broody girls.  So we don’t need them to be in with the roosters.  Making the small lower coop their home worked out well.

But there was a benefit that we would get from that decision that we didn’t see until more recently.  The bantam hens are very kind and gentle with new arrivals to their coop.  We have been able to put several hens in there over the last year or so that were injured by aerial predators, or were outcasts in the upper coop being bullied and picked on and the bantam hens accepted them with open arms (…er, uh, wings?).  Additionally, we can put the young pullets in with them to grow until they are big enough to join the regular flock and they are all very nice to them.

So this week we moved over our latest bunch of young pullets.  They are about 8 weeks old now, and wont be able to join the big flock until they are at least 14 weeks of age.  The bantam hens were fine with their new roommates and accepted them without incident.  Of the 10 chicks we hatched in January, we are guessing at this point that 5 are pullets and 5 are cockerels based on feather coloring, size, and comb color.  Right around 9 weeks the males combs are much pinker than the females.  So we left the (suspected) cockerels in the grow pen in the barn, and brought the (suspected) pullets down into the bantam hen coop.

Five, 8-week-old pullets with our Bantam Cochin hen, Willow, in the front.

Garden

We got the entire compost pile moved over to the new garden last weekend.  Then we were able to purchase soil to finish filling the boxes for this year.  There will be a lot of settling and we will need to add more next year, but this is what we will work with for now.

We also got the posts up for the new garden fence, and took some branches off the tree that is hanging over the garden.  We went back and forth about whether to just remove the whole tree, or whether we should just branch it.  We decided to branch it and see if that is enough.  Hoping to get the rest of the fence up this week before the snow flies again.

Cheesemaking

It has been 3 months since our stirred-curd cheddar went into the cheese cave!  We brought it out and tried it.  It was VERY good!

How exciting to get to try our first-ever cheddar after waiting 3-months and find it to have been a success.  We put two quarters of it back into the cave (after waxing over the cut sections) to try the flavor at 5 mos, and then 7 mos.  The flavor was definitely a mild cheddar, and we are interested to see how it tastes after some more aging.

LGD

Anya has found that the new compost heap we made by cleaning out the stalls and scraping the barnyard with the tractor is a nice warm place to lay in the sun.

While I was taking the photo, one of the barn mouser cats, Midnight, was doing everything he could to get my attention.  He also got Anya’s attention, though he didn’t want it.