Sunday Homestead Update

Fall has officially arrived in the Rockies. We can hear elk bugling now, which signals the start of their mating season. The male elk bugle to attract females and tell other males they are big and bad. You can see and hear elk bugling by searching “elk bugling rmnp.” It is the sound that fills our fall days and nights here at Willow Creek Farm, and we love it.

Fall means putting up the harvest from our gardens, hunting and butchering to put up meat in our freezers, and getting everything prepared for winter.  It is also a great time to work on outdoor building projects around the farm because the weather is ideal.  It is a beautiful and productive time of year and my very favorite season in the Rockies.

We are continuing with our harvesting of the beans and carrots and canning/freezing them.  As our first frost closes in we are preparing to harvest all the tomatoes.  And we have been working on finishing the smokehouse and root cellar this last week as well (more on that later this week).

Bear Visit

We had a bear visit the barnyard this week.  It was about 3:30 am and we heard our farm dog, Finley, alarm barking from inside the sheep stall in the barn.  Mtn Man headed out with his flashlight and thankfully, as soon as he stepped out the door, the bear high-tailed it over the barnyard fence and off into the woods.  From the tracks and fur we found the next morning it seems he had been drinking out of the water trough and there was some minimal damage to the barn, on the sliding stall door that goes into the Mama Hen Pen, which was empty at the time.  Thankfully, Finley’s barking deterred him from trying to mess with the sheep stall door.  But the chicken coop is on the other end of the barn, and that is where we have previously had trouble with bears trying to break in.

Ollie

I haven’t updated on Oliver in awhile.  For those who don’t know, Oliver is my English Angora rabbit.  He lives inside the house.  He is a fiber-producing livestock animal for us, but he is also a beloved pet.

In my opinion, he is currently in the cutest stage of hair growth between being fully sheared and full length fiber.  He is about 3/4 of the way to his next shearing and I just love this length.  So adorable!

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I have been collecting his fiber for two years now.  Now that we have our own wool processing equipment, I have been able to start working with his wool and learning to mix it with the sheep’s wool to make soft, but strong yarn.

Looking forward to another beautiful autumn week on the farm.

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been a long week, but we have come through it and are hanging on.  The baby’s surgery went perfectly and he recovered SO well.  This was definitely his fastest recovery out of the four surgeries he has had thus far.  Now we have a two-month break before we have to head back into the surgery room.  We are going to soak in that time as much as we can and just enjoy life on the farm.

Rabbits

Justice kindled last Sunday afternoon.  10 healthy kits all in the nest!!!  Good mama!  There is a mix of colors (as always when we breed Justice x Uncle Sam) with some whites, browns, greys, and blacks.  It looks like the majority of them are black.  She is taking good care of them.

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Corn “Field”

The corn experiment is doing well.  The tallest plants are about 12 inches now, the shortest just a few inches.  The sheep broke into the field this week and cropped the tops of some of them and crushed some with their feet, but Finley, our young farm collie, herded them out of there.  We have never taught him that, he is just smart enough to see that we had fenced off that area and he just seems to know that they aren’t allowed there.  He is turning into such an excellent farm dog.  Tundra, our lead farm dog, was fenced in a different area at the time.

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Chickens

We butchered this year’s cockerels and a few of the older hens that had stopped laying, so our freezer is stocked back up with chicken.  We now have 6 hens living in the lower coop and 6 in the upper coop.  Come fall we plan to keep the 6 best layers of the group and the rest will go.  That way we can have a very simplified chicken care situation with just the lower coop through the winter.  We are hopeful by spring the baby’s health will be much better and we can build up the flock again.

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2015 Year-End Homestead Review

It is always hard to believe that yet another year has gone by, but it has!  It is time for the end of year review again.  This year the homestead stepped down the priority ladder a few rungs as we focused our resources (time, money, energy) on adopting our 5th little blessing.  And once he arrived home it has taken a few more steps down as his medical needs are taking up space now as well.

Despite the homestead being somewhat demoted in importance, we are still really happy with what we accomplished this year, and at times were surprised by the success considering our lack of attention.

If you would like to read previous years’ end-of-year reviews for Willow Creek Farm, click these links:

2013

2014

We always start with statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 16 to 53 chickens of all different ages on the farm this year
  • 3,501 eggs were laid
  • 165 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 120 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 82 eggs were set to hatch
  • 37 chicks hatched successfully
  • 19 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 24 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • No chicks were sold right after hatch this year because of the adoption
  • 3 hens died from hawk attacks

The chicken program has done pretty well this year.  It was our first time only using hens to hatch chicks, and we were a bit disappointed with our hatch percentages. But despite that we were able to hatch out enough chicks to meet our needs. And selling eggs and pullets was profitable.  We love having some livestock that more than earns its keep!

Rabbits:

In July we re-started our meat rabbit herd.  We bought 3 does and 1 buck.  2 of the does were old enough to breed right away.  One of them came to us pregnant and we were able to breed the other to a friend’s buck and start producing from the get-go.  Our buck and the third doe came into maturity at the end of the year and the buck has just recently proven himself and the doe is due to kindle this week.

  • 3 breeding does, 1 buck
  • 22 kits born
  • NO kits died at birth (yay!)
  • 1 weanling sold (traded for a stud fee)
  • 13 rabbits butchered for meat for us
  • 9 kits currently growing out

Oliver, our English Angora rabbit, continues to be a beloved pet and fiber producer.  He has had 5 shearings this year.  We have learned to shear much better and much less fiber is lost now that we know what we are doing.  And Oliver has learned the routine and lays out nice and still for all of the shearing except his face (and who would blame him for not wanting his face messed with?).

Sheep:

This year was the first year we have done all of our shearing on our own instead of hiring it out.  Husband has worked hard to learn and his shearing skills are improving.  The sheep produced 4 fleece for us this year, for a total of 12 lbs of wool after washing (we forgot to weigh it raw).

  • Started year with 3 pregnant ewes – each lambed 1 baby in April
  • 2 ewe lambs & 1 ram lamb born
  • Ram lamb died at 2 days old
  • Butchered 1 adult ewe which provided 20 lbs of meat
  • Ended year with 2 hopefully pregnant ewes and 2 ewe lambs

Garden:

This was by far our best garden year, producing 269 lbs of produce.

For the specific garden statistics, read our garden review post here.

With the help of all the animals we continue to produce rich compost for use on our garden.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 1 sweater, 4 pairs of socks, 20 baby hats, 3 baby sweaters, a dinosaur Amish puzzle ball, a baby snuggle sack, a baby dress and matching socks, a hat, a child’s dress, a child’s cardigan, and a stocking.
  • I sewed 1 child’s dress.
  • My daughters sewed 20 flannel burp clothes, knit 2 pairs of baby socks, 3 pairs of adult socks, a baby cardigan, and numerous baby hats.  They also did several embroidery and crosstitch projects.  They crocheted a few amish puzzle balls, a play tea set, and several stuffed animals.
  • I sewed a few children’s aprons and baby blankets.
  • Oldest daughter and I mended innumerable pieces of clothing.
  • I embroidered 1 gingham embroidery bread cloth.

In the Kitchen:

We canned over 124 quarts of food this year (some were pints, some half-pints, etc but we added it up to how many quarts of food it was).  I stopped keeping track after I posted the 2015 canning review, but we have done more since then.  You can read that review here.

We also froze 36 lbs of carrots from the garden.

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2015:

In January we stayed cozy by the fire while the cold weather pressed in from outdoors.  We opened our online shop selling homemade items from the homestead to raise money for our adoption.  We had two broody hens hatch eggs, one successfully and one not very successfully.  And our hearts broke when our sweet old chocolate lab, Holly, died.

February weather was quite mild compared to what it usually is.  We had another hen set on eggs and we spent a lot of time making items to add to our store.

March was exciting as we prepared ourselves for our first lambing.  We watched the ewes’ bellies swell, put together a lambing kit, and built jugs (lambing stalls) in the barn.  We also started our garden seeds indoors using a grow-light shelving unit for the first time.  We lost two hens to hawk and owl attacks and put up a fishing line web above the barnyard to deter them.  We learned that using chicken nipple waterers in the winter was increasing the frostbite on our chickens’ combs and wattles.  And we had another broody hen hatch a somewhat successful hatch.

In April we had our first lambs ever born on the farm!  Two ewe lambs and 1 ram lamb.  Sadly, despite our best efforts to save him, the ram lamb died after only two days of life.  We learned how to dock lamb tails and how to milk sheep.  Stella became a great milk sheep for us and we enjoyed the milk we got from her.

In May we celebrated our third year anniversary on the farm.  We moved seedlings out into the garden in wall-o-waters for protection.  Two more hens hatched chicks, this time much more successfully, and they even agreed to raise them all together in the same pen without fighting with each other.  We turned the lambing stalls into a creep feeder and enjoyed watching our lambs grow and play.

June brought a lot of growth, in the garden and from the lambs and chicks.  We let two more hens set eggs to finish off the breeding year and had successful hatches.  And we adopted Bella, a beagle, to be our indoor pet dog.  She also turned out to be excellent vermin patrol in the back yard.  Our farm life started to really take a backseat as we officially started our wait for an adopted baby match.

In July we brought meat rabbits back to the farm.  We bought three does and a buck.  One doe was pregnant at purchase and we were able to have our first litter born right away.  Husband built a beautiful path in the back yard made with pallet wood.  We made the hard decision to butcher one of the ewes.  And we began harvesting the garden and canning.  We had another hawk attack a chicken, despite the fishing line web above the back yard, so we improved the web even more.

August was spent harvesting and canning.  We were shocked at the large production of the garden.  Our second litter of rabbits for the year was born.  And we borrowed a back hoe and began work on some big digging projects around the farm, including a smoke house and root cellar.  Our adoption plans took a turn and we settled into the idea that it was going to take another year or two to be matched with a baby.

In September a bear tried to break into the barn.  It was a hard blow when our recently adopted dog, Bella, died unexpectedly.  We continued to harvest and the tomato harvest especially surprised us by being so huge.  We continued our big digging projects as well.  Then, very suddenly and somewhat out of nowhere, we were matched with our new baby son.  And in 8 days time we went from expecting a long wait to having a baby in our arms.  Life on the farm kind of screeched to a halt as we soaked in our newest blessing.

Oldest son filled his first ever hunting tag in October with a doe mule deer and the filling of the freezer with meat began.  He later filled his other two tags with a buck mule deer and a cow elk. We finished up the harvest and began butchering chickens and rabbits.

In November the ewes headed off to the breeder.  Because of our baby’s health issues we decided to stop the chicken breeding program and selling eggs, and cut the flock back to just what we need to provide us with eggs.  We sold several hens, butchered some older ones, and butchered a bunch of cockerels.  We decided to keep a rooster so that we can still hatch small clutches under broody hens when we want to.  The cold weather hit, and we added another Old Time Scotch Collie, Tess, to the farm to live indoors with the family.

December was a whirlwind.  We had a wonderful Christmas season and worked to juggle family life, farm life, and pediatric hospitals and doctors.

What an exciting year we have had!  We have been so surprised by what we accomplished despite putting the homestead down farther on the priority list.  We never expected to produce and accomplish what we did this year around the farm.

As we look forward to 2016 it has a lot of unknowns in it.  With the baby’s health issues we don’t feel like we can make a homestead plan like we usually do the first week of the year.  We are having to live life more on the fly and less planned out than ever before.  We have no idea what this year will bring as far as new projects, new life on the farm, expansion, or any of that.  But based on this last year we feel that even without a set-out plan we will be able to look back on the year and see that we were able to accomplish a lot more than we thought…just like this year.  We have several homestead projects in mind that we would like to do, but we are flexible on whether or not they will happen this year.

So we head into 2016 ready to do what we can, wondering what the journey will bring us, and so blessed to be doing it as a family of 7 now.

Always an adventure….Happy New Year!

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had snow, wind, and animal visitors this week.

Our first visitor was before the cold weather hit.  A buck mule deer came to the porch to enjoy one of our pumpkins.

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Then, as the temperatures dropped and the snow began to fall we had a visitor beckoning us from the door.  Begging to be let in to the warm house.  It was our barn cat, Midnight.

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As you can see, he wasted no time getting comfortable in puddles of sunshine, or on his back, or next to me while I was knitting on Baby’s Christmas stocking.

We have also had a large herd (200+) of elk coming through the property each day.  One day they even ran through at full stampede, which was amazing to watch.  I don’t know what got them so upset and running.

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We got a good 6-8 inches or so of wet snow, which thoroughly stuck to the fishing line “web” above the barnyard, as well as the deer-proof back yard fencing.

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With the winter weather settling in, we have been prepping the animals by getting the heated waterers set up and making sure everyone has good deep bedding.  We are rotating rabbit water bottles inside to thaw each morning.  Our winter routine is beginning to set in.  We have also been working on knitting, crafting, and organizing projects inside, as well as planning for the holidays.  We are also all enjoying getting to know our new farm addition, Tess.

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Another storm is moving in this week, we are glad to be warm and cozy by the fire.

Tess

Summer of 2014 we started researching to figure out what kind of dog we should get to be our future farm dog.  Our current farm dog, Tundra, was 9 at the time, and we wanted to get a puppy while Tundra was still young enough to help raise and train the pup to be as good of a farm dog as he has been.  But Tundra was just a “mutt” we had adopted and he just happened to turn out to be an excellent working farm dog.  We didn’t want to take our chances with whether or not that would work again, and thus wanted to pick a breed that already had the genetics to become what we were looking for.  As I researched different breeds I found many that wouldn’t work for such a small farm as ours, such as many of the herding breeds and LGDs.  Then I came upon a description of a working dog that’s personality sounded EXACTLY like Tundra.  We were immediately sold, and pursued finding ourselves an Old-Time Scotch Collie.  You can read more about this awesome breed at www.scotchcollie.org, and www.oldtimefarmshepherd.org.

Finley joined the farm late last fall and began his life here at Willow Creek Farm.

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He has done wonderful with his training, both from humans and from Tundra.  And he is becoming quite a wonderful working farm dog.

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The Scotch Collie is a heritage breed, and sadly the numbers have been decimated over time.  In the last 20 years, people are realizing what a loss that is, and are trying to restore this great breed.  When we bought Finley, we decided that if he turned out as great as we hoped he would, we would get a female Scotch Collie to be our indoor family dog and we would breed them.  At the time we already had an indoor family dog, our sweet Holly, and we figured we would wait a few years until she died before we brought in a female collie.  Sadly, we didn’t realize how short of a time Holly had left, and she passed away last January.

Finley has lived up to all our hopes and expectations….so we decided it was time to get him a “wife” …….. enter Tess, or as the kids like to refer to her when they are joking around…”Mrs. Finley.”

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photo copyright 4jacres.wordpress.com

We are all excited about this start of a new adventure for our farm, as well as the addition of an indoor family dog for our family to love.  As you know we just adopted a baby boy and are trying to get the farm balanced.  So why, oh WHY, would we take on a puppy now?  Well….the puppy plans were made and deposit sent when we were told our infant adoption would probably take at least another year…and then boom,2 weeks later, our baby suddenly entered our lives – isn’t that how life always seems to go?  We discussed options, including losing our deposit and not taking the pup, but ultimately decided oldest son will be handling the daily work of raising and training Tess with me overseeing and teaching him.  He is really excited and we feel like the experience will be a great chance for him to learn how to properly raise and train a dog.
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So welcome Tess to the family, and the farm!!!