My latest post over at Mother Earth News is up, and it is all about how we converted a used mini-fridge into a cheese cave to age our homemade cheese in. Go check it out by clicking here!
We prefer to not walk around town smelling like the barn in clothes that have holes and stains. So, long ago, before we even had a real farm, we implemented the front yard/back yard clothing system. We each have some clothes that are considered “back yard clothes,” which we wear for barn chores, working outside and getting dirty, painting, etc. Then there are the “front yard clothes,” which are for going out into public in, or for when we have guests to the house for dinner, etc. These clothes include not just clothing, but shoes/boots, and winter outerwear.
The winter outerwear and muck boots can get expensive with this large of a family. But with the whole family working with the farm animals through the long, cold, Rocky Mountain winter, it really is a necessity. So every family member has lined overalls and a hooded coat that have the heavy duty, work-wear type of outer fabric, plus a pair of muck boots. The good news is that over the years the kids outgrow them before they wear them out, so they can be hand-me-downed down the line to the next kid each year and get used by multiple children. And, while they do have more “girlie” colors available, we just always go with the beige/orange-ish color and then girls or boys can wear the same stuff. Some stuff has survived 4 kids already and is clean and hung up in the closet, waiting for Mr. Smiles to eventually be able to help out in the barn and need winter outerwear.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that we have a set of “twins.” They are not actually twins, but are virtual twins through adoption and thus have been about the same size for many years. That means we either have to have two of every size and thus have to buy another set of stuff in addition to the hand-me-down stuff, or one of them is always in something too big or too small. It depends on the year what ends up happening. They are both heading into puberty, so I expect that they wont be the same size much longer and that our son with outgrow his “twin” sister – but you never know. Since they are both growth spurting right now, this year they opted to start the winter with one of them getting the fitting jacket and the barely too-small overalls, while the other gets the barely too-small jacket and the fitting overalls. I suspect we will be buying some new stuff half-way through winter to accommodate everyone’s growth. We went through all the outerwear this week and figured out what fit who, traded stuff around to the best sized person, and figured out what new we need to buy before the cold really hits. We always find a way to make it work and are glad they can have warm clothes to wear through the cold winter on the farm.
This is our first time having a hen raise ducklings and we are very surprised at two things. #1: How fast they grow. They grow very fast compared to chickens. And #2, How slowly they feather out. They have much fewer feathers than chicks do at this age. So it is a fun new adventure as we watch them grow and mature.
This week we gave them their first “swimming pool” that they couldn’t reach the bottom of. Up until now we have been playing it safe and giving them wading pools to play in. But this week we put the regular duck pool in there and put a rock in the bottom along the edge so they could get out safely. When they first jumped in and realized they couldn’t touch the bottom, they started paddling their feet like mad, a little frantic. But very quickly they realized that they were floating naturally, and they calmed down and started having fun. Within a minute or two they were diving and playing. It was awesome to see them realize their innate skills. They don’t need to be “taught” to swim – they just can swim. Very fun.
The Never-Ending Autumn To-Do List
We continue to plug away at canning the tomatoes as they ripen in the root cellar racks. And the farm kitchen is always full of not only our daily cooking, but extra projects such as cheesemaking. Now that we have been making cheese for 6 months and thus have been able to try many of our aged-cheeses we are figuring out which we like better and I can make more of those and not make the ones we don’t like as much.
We are also continuing to work at cleaning up the garden for winter, and put the seeds away for next year. This year it seems to be a longer more drawn-out process as other, more imminent, things keep coming up and delaying our opportunities to finish those projects.
Another project that is taking a lot of our time is gathering, cutting, splitting, and stacking the firewood for winter. We source our wood by cutting down beetle-kill pine for people who need them removed from their property. They “pay” us by letting us keep the wood from the trees we take down. I think we are close having all the trees down and bucked up that we need for the year, we just need to get them all split and stacked.
We had a tree on our property that really needed to come down. It has for a few years now, but it presented some issues that we didn’t have the equipment to deal with safely. It was about 60-70 feet tall, and it was right in the middle of all of our buildings and the power lines. It was surrounded on three sides with our home and outbuildings, each of which it could reach if it fell toward them, and only had a very small space where it could be felled safely. It had been struck by lighting twice and thus was half dead and beginning to rot. Then it started leaning heavily towards the power line, which it was only about 20 feet from. This not only made it a risk to damage buildings, but made it a fire risk, especially with the very bad, dry, fire season we are having right now. It really needed to come down. We contacted the electric company and were able to get them to bring their cherry picker and get it safely down.
It is really nice to have that off our plate and to know that the electric line is safe, as are our buildings. We got to keep the tree as long as we did all the clean-up and such. So we took all the slash to the slash dump, and we bucked up part of it for firewood. The largest portions were cut into two 12-foot sections that we took to the lumber mill to be made into some lumber for projects around the farm. It is wonderful when we can put something like this tree that was a fire danger to good use as firewood and lumber.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
With all this milk being produced at the farm, we have had to come up with a schedule to be sure that nothing goes to waste and all the dairy products get made and used. Back in May, when all the sheep and goats freshened, we decided that two days a week would be our dairy days. On those days we gather all the jars of milk that have been put in the extra refrigerator since the last dairy day.
Once we have brought it all to the kitchen we assess what we have and what we need as far as dairy products and cheeses go. We decide which milk will be used for what – using the oldest first. We make the dairy products and cheeses, and freeze any extra sheep milk if necessary. Sheep milk is the only milk you can freeze and thaw and then still make cheese with. Cow and goat milk can be frozen, but once it is thawed it can only be used as-is, it can’t then be made into cheese. So we take that into consideration as we are decided what to make with what, knowing we can make stuff with the sheep milk later in the season after the sheep have been dried off and we have less milk and more time.
Then we wash all the jars, clean the dates off the lids, and put it all away to be used again.
Little Miss is my main dairy-day helper and the two of us have enjoyed spending two days each week working in the kitchen together making use of all this wonderful raw milk!
It was another really busy week with new additions to the farm, some last-minute building projects, putting up hay, and the adventure of butchering pigs for the first time. I am definitely breathing a bit easier today, now that all the busy and crazy livestock selling and buying is over and everything can just settle down for awhile. We still have a couple of rams that will not be staying, but that will be dealt with later.
We don’t raise pigs at WCF, but we enjoy buying a couple a year from small farms that raise them naturally. We butcher most of our own livestock ourselves, as well as the deer and elk we hunt. Occasionally, we will splurge and pay a butcher to do one or two for us. But pigs are somewhat different in their butchering process, plus curing the hams etc. So, thus far, we have had the farms we buy from drop the pigs we buy directly at the butcher’s and then we just go pick up the finished meat. Well, due to COVID, the butcher shops are all booked way out and swamped. So we decided to go for it and try our hand at butchering the pigs ourselves.
We normally get Yorkshire hogs, but this year we had an opportunity to barter for some Mangalitsa (Mangalica?) hogs. Have you ever seen one? They have a lot of curly hair on them. They are a heritage breed that is known as the kobe beef of pork. It will be interesting to see how we like the meat. I am rendering the leaf lard this week – another new experience.
Since we don’t have any pasture, we have to feed cut hay year round. Each summer, we put up enough for the whole year so we can buy it at the good summer prices and not have to worry about finding some for sale throughout the winter. We got half of what we need delivered this week, just as a thunderstorm rolled in. We were able to get it covered with plastic before it got wet – thankfully! But it has been raining off and on ever since, and the people in the family strong enough to move it have been busy with other things, so we are just putting up a portion of it each night, and hopefully will have it all up in the loft in the next day or so. Then we will get the next half in the next week or two.
Freya is finally starting to settle into the flock. Her previous owner said it took her time to settle in when she arrived at their farm too.
Milking her went very well, she was very docile and great in the stanchion, especially considering the fact that she had never been in one before and never been milked. Despite that, we decided to let her dry off because she isn’t producing enough to be worth it at this point. But next year when she freshens again we will milk her again.
Nora, the ewe lamb, figured out how to nurse past her nose ring.
We knew this was a possibility, though we have never had it happen before with all the different sheep, goats, and cows we have used the rings on. Since we are hoping to milk Daisy into the fall, and planning to keep Nora in the flock, and don’t have a place right now to house Nora away from Daisy, we decided to just remove the ring and go back to the 12-hour milk-sharing plan we have been doing since she was born.
Misty did not figure out how to nurse past hers, so she was weaned for a week before we sold her. Hopefully that helped with her moving stress. Blue handled the removal of her lamb very well. She barely called at all the first day after she left and has been fine ever since.
So at this point, Blue is being milked twice-a-day, and Daisy just once-a-day, and Freya not at all.
Belle has settled in with Pansy very well and they are good friends already. The stress of the move has decreased her milk, but she is giving us about 10 cups of milk each day (twice-a-day milking). It is really nice to have more goat’s milk, especially since Pansy’s production dropped a lot after her illness. Due to the higher amounts of daily goat’s milk, we have been able to make our first aged cheese from goat’s milk (we have only done it with cow’s and sheep’s milk before). It was a recipe called Goat’s Milk Cheddar, and it just went into the cave this week. We are looking forward to trying it out!
The Penderwicks are settling in nicely. This is our first experience having ducks, so it is a new and fun adventure. We have never even tried a duck egg before and can’t wait for them to settle enough to lay us an egg.
The chipmunks are stealing all our ripe gooseberries before we can get to them. So this week we decided to harvest everything that was almost ripe and put it on the counter to ripen. Yesterday we enjoyed our first gooseberry pie of the season and it was SO delicious. We love gooseberry pie and will hopefully get more this year if we can get to them before the chipmunks again.