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

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.