Sunday Homestead Update – Graduation and Mice

This was a big week for our family.  Our oldest son, Young Man, graduated high school this weekend.  We are very proud of him and his accomplishments.  He is a man of good character and I know he will do great things in his life.  He has been accepted to a University for this fall.  Even though his graduation didn’t look like we had planned, due to covid, it was still a fun and special time.

This is also a big milestone for Mtn Man and I, as this is our first child to graduate from homeschool.  We have homeschooled him all the way from kindergarten.  It is very cool to think back to when we decided to homeschool.  I remember being excited, but also somewhat concerned.  Now, here we are, and we can see clearly that all the concerns we had back when we started have proven to not be a problem, and in fact, everything turned out wonderfully.  We are so glad we chose this path for our family.

Our area in the Rockies is having quite a mouse infestation this spring.  Everyone we have talked to is having the same issues we are – mice, mice, and more mice.  We have two barn cats, and one indoor cat.  They have in the past had no trouble keeping our mouse problem non-existent and we usually only need one trap in the garage and a couple other areas they can’t get to, just in case, though it rarely catches much.  Not this year!  And it is not for a lack of trying either.  The indoor cat has left us little “presents” – as cats tend to do – of tails in the morning on the floor in the center of the kitchen (ick!!!).  And the kids have spotted the barn cats with mice in their mouths, and found plenty of evidence of them as they leave their parts in the alley between the barn and the mill.  One day, the kids saw one of the barn cats with three mice in his mouth at one time!  So the cats are working on it.  But there are just too many.

A few weeks ago, when we started to notice the problem, we set a bunch of traps in all the outbuildings and the garage where the cats can’t go, plus some in the gardens.  We have 16 traps set and we check them each morning.  We have been catching 8-11 mice every single day!  We have caught 2 and 3 mice in one trap at a time several times.  It is kind of freaking me out how many there are.  Then we heard them in the attic, so we set 5 traps up there and caught 12 mice over 3 days time.  We were still hearing them, so we closed the barn cats up there for one night and that took care of that.  Because we have been catching so many, and because the mice have been eating the seedlings in the lower garden, we bought another 15 traps and set them.  The first morning after setting all the new ones in addition to the others, we had caught 19 mice!  Needless to say, we are up to our ears in mice here right now.  I am anxious to “flatten the curve,” so to speak, of the mice plague and hope we see that difference soon.

Additionally, we are overrun with tiny sprouting pine trees in the gardens.  They are everywhere, and we are fine with them being everywhere – except the gardens.  Last fall, when the seeds were falling, we could see that it was a BIG pine seed year.  They coated every surface and we could hear them popping out of the cones.  We had a constant gentle falling of pine seeds with their little wings to bring them down and spread them far and wide.  Well, they really like the garden soil, so we are pulling up hundreds of them each day out of the gardens as they sprout.

Gardens

The gardens are continuing to progress along – except where the mice are eating them.  We are still getting some frosts at night, so we are watching closely and blanketing as needed.

The gooseberry bushes are covered with flowers, as is the Crandall Clove Currant.  It is looking to be a big year for berries here.  I love the Crandall flowers because they smell like clove, so there is a little cloud of clove smell whenever you walk by them.

Barnyard

The babies are all growing and changing.  Nora’s tail fell off, and Misty’s is looking very close.

Nora is the sweetest, friendliest little sheep we have ever had.  She comes to us for petting like a dog and follows us around in the barnyard.  I can’t take a photo unless I am petting her because she wont stay far enough back from me.  Such a sweetie – which is great because we are keeping her for our breeding program.

Maggie is due in 2.5 weeks.  She is starting to get some roundness to her belly, but nothing major.  Hopefully a nice, normal-sized single lamb for this first-time mom.

Pallet Walkway

5 years ago we put in this walkway, built completely of pallet wood.  You can read about it and see photos by clicking here.  And you can read a year later update on it by clicking here.

Over the last 5 years it has grayed a lot, but is still holding up very well, except in one spot.  There is one spot on the north side of the building, where water and snow just kind of sit on the walkway and it doesn’t dry out very fast.  This section had several boards break in it this last year.  So Mtn Man tore out the broken sections and replaced it with fresh pallet wood.  A free fix!

We continue to be very happy with this free walkway, it has worked great for our yard and held up very nicely.  We would like to sand it and put sealant on it again one of these days, but even without that work, it is doing very well.

Kitchen

The milk keeps flowing – both sheep and goat.  This week we made yogurt, goat’s milk mozzarella, and stirred-curd cheddar with sheep’s milk.  Fun, fun!

Sunday Homestead Update – Spring Busy, But Calm

It has been a nice, calm, uneventful week here at WCF.  Just what we needed after several weeks of crazy.  We got some warm days and some rain – both good for our gardens full of new seeds and seedlings.

Garden Progress Update

We have done a lot of planting, hardening off of plants, transplanting, filling wall-o-waters, and general gardening this week.

Medicinal Herb Garden- The medicinal herbs are the last things to come up here, due to the cold climate.  So not much is happening in this garden.  The chives are up, as is the rhubarb.  The yarrow is just starting up.  The apple trees and the lilac bush are just barely starting to form leaf buds.

Garlic/Onion Patch- This year this is actually the garlic/potato patch, and I have spread the onions here and there and everywhere in my other gardens for pest control.  The Northern White garlic are up and going strong, the Spanish Roja are sparse and a bit behind, but this is what happened last year too and the Spanish Roja produced fine by the end of the season.  The potatoes are in the ground.

Upper Vegetable Garden- We have the tents and the Wall-O-Waters up to extend our season and get some plants in the ground early.  Our last frost of the season is still a ways away, and these make it so we can actually grow something in our short, 10-week frost to frost season.

We have tomatoes, squash, and peppers in the WOWs.  And there are cabbage seedlings in the tents, along with lettuce, spinach, kale, radish, and beet seeds in the ground.  The carrots and pea seeds are also in the ground.  We should have some tiny sprouts coming up all over very soon.

Strawberry Patch and Strawberry Terrace- The old strawberry patch is coming up nicely.  We finished the strawberry terrace and were only planting one level this year because we only had enough compost and soil for one level.  We were unable to find much in the way of plants at the garden centers around our area (coronavirus has everyone planting gardens), so I couldn’t find any new strawberries to put in that one level.  Then I decided to change the landscaping of the front edge of the existing patch.  It previously had a little wire decorative fence and some 2-inch thick bricks between it and the path.  This caused the strawberries to spill out onto the path, and the little fence was faded an breaking after only a couple of years of use.  I decided to use thicker bricks to hold it back better.  In the process of changing out, there were many strawberry plants crowded up at the front of the patch that needed to come out.  Most years I try to cut all the runners, but a few times in the last few years I was too busy in the fall with Mr. Smiles’ surgeries and hospitalizations to get around to cutting runners.  So the strawberries had run rampant and were overcrowded all along the front edge.  As I worked to take out the crowded berry plants I was shocked to find that after only being 1/4 of the way across the front I had filled the one terrace box I wanted to fill.  So then I put compost and dirt into the second terrace, and by halfway across the front of the patch I had filled the second terrace box.

The third terrace still needs more construction on it, so Little Miss and Braveheart found an area around the chicken coop where they wanted to make their own strawberry patch.  So they built that with some decorative bricks, and by 3/4 of the way across the patch I had filled their patch with berry plants.  I had no idea that my strawberries had gotten SO crowded!!!

The last 1/4 of the front edge gave me 15 plants, and I was out of space, so I was able to share that with a friend who gardens as well.  What a blessing!  Here I was trying to buy new plants, when I had plenty at my disposal.  Technically, the books suggest you don’t do what I did due to pests and disease, but thankfully, here in the high Rockies, pests and disease are not as big of an issue as other places due to our dry climate, and the fact that we get so very cold in the winter.  I think this will work fine and the strawberries will produce much better now that they have more space.  Now I just need to thin out the rest of the patch a little bit.  The front was definitely the worst, because it gets more sun, so they were reaching for it.  But the rest of the patch could use some help too.

Berry Bushes and Grape Vines- The grape vines are always late to get going due to the cold, so nothing is happening with them yet.  But the Gooseberry bushes and the Currant bushes are covered with leaves.  One Gooseberry bush has some flowers on it too.  We planted the new Gooseberry bush that was eaten by worms, and it looks like it is going to recover pretty well.  We also planted the Black Currant bush that surprised us earlier this year.  It has not been as happy with its transplant as the Gooseberry is, and we decided to put a Wall-o-water around it to help boost it along.

Lower Vegetable Garden- It is fun to begin to use our new vegetable garden, even if it is only 2/3 built.  Next year we will have the whole thing finished.  We have tomatoes in the WOWs, as well as lettuce, spinach, kale, radish, and beet seeds in the tents.  And carrot and pea seeds are in the ground as well.  Watching for the little seedlings to pop up!

Home Dairy

This week our aged cheddar was 5 months old.  We at half of it at 3 months, and then put the other half back in the cheese cave to try again at 5 months and 7 months.  This week we tried the 1/4 that has been aging for 5 months.

The flavor was excellent!  Better than the 3 month for sure.  So I think we will try to age all our cheddar to at least 5 months.  We will see in a couple of months what 7 months tastes like.

Now that we are getting plenty of raw milk, we have started making more and more of our homemade dairy products again.  Twice a week I am making a quart of sheep’s milk yogurt.  I am really enjoying how much easier my instant pot is for yogurt-making.  This week we also made some Paneer.  Paneer is an Indian cheese, and Sunshine has been trying out all sorts of Indian recipes lately and requested that we make her some.  I am planning to make some aged cheese this coming week, as well as Chevre now that we can drink the goat’s milk (because we had to assist with her birth she had to have an antibiotic shot, so we had to wait a week before we could drink the milk).

Sheep/Goats/Chickens

All the mothers and babies are doing well.  We are all enjoying the cuteness of the lambs and kid playing together – who needs TV when you have a barnyard full of fun?  The chickens are still not very thrilled with the new additions, especially Misty, who chases them constantly.  But they are settling in to the new situation.

We were gifted an old feeder that we are trying out for the sheep and goats, it seems like it is going to work very well.  As you can see, Pansy the goat can be quite pushy and in this photo has a whole side to herself, but Fiona the sheep is dominant over her, so Fiona keeps everyone moving around the feeder and makes her share.

We have been making a lot of breeding program decisions this week, now that all but one sheep have lambed.  Autumn and Twilight have been sold and left for their new home.  Remi has also been sold and will go to the same place as them, but not for a few more weeks.  Daisy and Misty will likely be for sale, and we have some people interested in them already, but we will not be making those final decisions until Maggie gives birth and we are closer to weaning all the lambs.  We did buy a new ram from out of state, and he will be arriving next week.  Fiona, Blue, and Nora are all guaranteed to stay here for breeding.  Time will tell who else will stay.

The two sets of baby chicks are growing well.  Our old broody hen, Eve, has decided to set again, so we gave her hatching eggs this morning and should have some more chicks in a few weeks.

Busy spring on the farm!

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.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – Productivity and Preparations

Busy week on the homestead, a lot of things getting done.  Thankfully we had a couple of days that were warmer (40sF) before snow and cold hit again.

Stall cleaning

We got the stalls cleaned out and the barn tidied up.  It gets SO messy and dusty in the winter I feel like it is a losing battle, but I keep trying anyway.

We cleaned out all our freezers (two that are attached to refrigerators and 4 deep freezes) and inventoried so we know what we have and we can eat them out before it is time to fill them up again.  I hate cleaning out freezers, especially in the winter, it is such a cold job.  But man I love how nice they are once it is done.

Sheep

Shearing in prep for lambing has started.  Mtn Man sheared Autumn first.

She is our first-ever shearing of a dairy sheep.  Her fleece is definitely different than our wool sheep, but not necessarily bad or unusable.  Mtn Man is looking forward to getting it into the mill and seeing what we can do with it.  If it is too rough or too short for yarn, then we can make roving and try braiding rugs with it.

Next he sheared Fiona.  This will be our 7th fleece from Fiona.  She is the hardest in the flock to shear for a few reasons.  First, her fleece is a very dense fine-wool, so it gives the shearing blades a run for their money and they get stuck if he tries to go too fast.  Plus, she is very heavy on lanolin.  Also, she is very large, and usually overweight.  And lastly, she is generally not very cooperative.  This year, however, she was more cooperative than usual, which was nice.

I will share more info about these fleece in another post this week.

Getting their fleece off helped us view their body condition better.  Autumn is a lighter than we would like, and Fiona is, per her usual, overweight.  It can be very difficult to manage feeding with Fiona because she is a very fast eater (getting more than her share in a group), she is the dominant sheep, and she is an easy keeper.  All this leads to her being overweight.  Thankfully, she is not significantly obese, just somewhat overweight.  We transitioned Autumn over to 1/2 alfalfa 1/2 grass hay now and are starting to add in some grain to improve her condition and prepare her for lambing.

Also to prepare for lambing we cleaned out, inventoried, and re-stocked our lambing and vet kits.  I will share a more detailed post about this later this week.

Spring Prep

This is looking to be a very big year on our homestead as far as production.  Hopefully our biggest yet by-far.  We are building a second vegetable garden, which will eventually double our veggie garden production.  This year it is going to be 2/3 finished, maybe more, and thus will give us quite a bit more veggies.  Additionally, we are lined up to have more babies born on the farm than ever before, as well as have 5 milking animals (2 is the most we ever had at one time before this year).  So we will be making more dairy products than ever as well.  Big year!  A lot of planning and prep is needed to help this all go smoothly and provide as hoped.  We have been ordering supplies to prepare.

First, I got our seed order in, and it has now arrived.  I still need to get some more garden supplies ordered for the new garden – mainly hoops and fabric for our season extending hoop tents.

Little Miss’ herbs have started to sprout under the lights, just teeny seedlings, but lots of hope.

Then I ordered some dairy-making supplies in prep for all the milk we are planning to have this spring.  A couple more cheese molds, cultures, and a silicone butter mold.  We have two milk pails, and a big dump pail, plus teat dip cups.  So all I needed for the barn milking was a new strip cup and I ordered that.  Looking forward to that all arriving.

Mtn Man also got our second stanchion built so we can milk two at a time.

Lastly, I got some more weaning nose rings for the lambs and kids.  We find these to be much better than separating off the babies when it is time to fully wean.  Especially since we are limited on living space and places to separate off animals.

Firewood

Last fall we didn’t quite finish up putting up firewood for the winter and we are now running very low, so we needed to put in some time this last weekend chainsawing the logs to length and then splitting them and getting them stacked.

New Homestead Books

My sweet children got me a few new books to add to my homestead library.  I am looking forward to using them!

Kefir grains

I generally make a quart of kefir at a time, but lately we haven’t been using it fast enough so I wanted to switch it to a pint jar.  My friend taught me that I can take half of my grains out and dry them on a plate and then freeze them in a bag to preserve them.  So I was able to shrink down the kefit to the pint jar and I also now have a back-up set of grains in case I need it in the future.

Sunday Homestead Update – First Taste of Aged Cheese

Chickens

The chicks are all doing well and growing so fast.  Adorable!

Sheep

I got Fergus’ fleece skirted and in the mill to be made into yarn by Mtn Man.  Looking forward to this yarn!

Maggie surprised us.  She is one of the younger ewes, the only one that hadn’t come into heat and been bred this year.  We figured it was late enough in breeding season that she would not be mature in time and not get bred this year.  We were wrong.  She got bred and is due June 10.  We have quite the spread of due dates this year, which will make for a long birthing season.  Our first one is due the first week of April, with another two in April (3 total), and then two due in May, and one in June.  I am happy for all the pregnancies, but it is going to be quite spread out.

Maggie

Cheese

Our first ever aged cheese came out of the cheese cave this week!

Speaking of the cheese cave, I forgot to update you about that.  We got a 2-stage outlet thermostat and plugged the cheese cave refrigerator into it.  We couldn’t get the fridge to hold a temperature higher than 46 before, which is a little low for a cheese cave.  It was also only holding about a 75% humidity.  Now that it is plugged into the thermostat it is holding temp around 52-55 degrees, and the temp being higher helped the humidity come up and it is sitting around 85%.  So we are happy about that little gadget.  The fridge plugs into the thermostat, and then there is a cord that hangs down into the refrigerator.

Now, back to our cheeses.  The two colby rounds that we made came out this week.  They aged for 6 weeks.  The first one we made some mistakes during the making of the cheese and thus decided to make a second the next day and compare the difference.  Surprisingly, the differences were very minimal except that the first one had a much stronger flavor, and it also had some mold, whereas the second didn’t have any mold.

I think the first aged faster, thus the flavor difference.  I think it might have had to do with a mistake we made during waxing (and the mold would be explained by that mistake too).  While holding it over the double boiler to wax it we didn’t realize that the steam was hitting one side of the cheese, thus moisturizing that side thoroughly.  We waxed it anyway and I think that is what caused the mold and potentially made it age faster – because it was wetter.

Both cheeses had a softer inner texture than we expected.  The outer texture was solid and seemed right.  Not sure what would cause that.

Overall, we are very happy with the results and are very much looking forward to seeing how the cheddar we made turns out too.  But that still has several more weeks to age.