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 – 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 – So Much to Talk About

Sometimes there is so much going on at the farm that the weekly post gets very long and full – this is one of those weeks.  So settle in with some coffee or tea – we have some interesting stories.

Gardening

There really never is a dull moment around here.  Life is a constant adventure.  And just when we think we might be about to have a dull moment, something happens.

A couple of weeks ago, Mtn Man bought our new strawberry and raspberry plants, and another gooseberry bush.  Since we are still pretty far out from planting them outdoors, we set the gooseberry bush in the dining room next to the black currant that I talked about last week.  They were both doing well in the sunshine from the glass door.  Then one morning (just when I thought we might have a dull moment), I walked by and noticed that there was a big mess all over the floor under the gooseberry bush.  It was sitting on a white plastic trash bag, and the bag was covered with what looked like dirt.  I moved closer to inspect the issue and was horrified to see that the bush, the pot, and the floor around it was covered with hundreds of little green worms, and the “dirt” I thought I was seeing was their droppings.  ~insert horror flick scream~  There were some worms starting to try to climb up on the black currant bush too.  And almost all the leaves on the gooseberry were gone – totally destroyed and eaten.  It seems the worms had hatched on the gooseberry bush a day or so ago, had eaten until there was nothing left to eat, and pooped all over the place, and they were now jumping ship and heading out to find more food.

I called for the kids and we all immediately jumped into action.  Little Miss, who is the most squeamish about these things, decided to help by taking Mr. Smiles to another room to play, since his presence would have been less than helpful – and really, her presence would have been as well as she would have been squirming and squealing every few seconds.  Young Man took the plants outside and sprayed them thoroughly with neem oil.  Braveheart, Sunshine, and I proceeded to painstakingly clean up every single worm by sweeping and picking them up with tweezers and putting them into a little plastic container.

It was so gross.  They were everywhere.  They were climbing up the legs of the dining room table and chairs.  They were under the hutch, they were all over the floor and in the door jam and every nook and cranny that could be found.  We had to take all the dishes out of the hutch and move it so we could get under it.  And it seemed the more we cleaned up, the more there were.  Some were so tiny you couldn’t barely see them with the naked eye.  Others were more obvious.  The kids stopped counting after we got to 350.  After an hour of cleaning we had gotten the majority of them.  We continued to find them randomly here and there for the next few days (eeek, gross!)  After we cleaned up we looked online to try to figure out what they were.  They were Imported Currant Worms.  Our bush came from the store thoroughly infested with them.

Braveheart was pretty happy when were finished, not only because we were finished, but because he was excited to take the container of worms out to feed to his chickens.  They got a nice meal from our misery.

Unfortunately, the neem oil did not seem to have any effect.  We knew we would have to bring the bushes in before dark or they would freeze outside.  But they were still covered with worms.  So I decided the best place for them would be in the bathtub.  That way, any mess that was made could be washed down, and if any worms came off them, they couldn’t climb the smooth walls.  So we brought them back in and checked on them every so often to be sure no worms were “escaping.”  Sunshine took it upon herself to battle the worms – every couple hours she would go in and use tweezers to pick the worms off one at a time until she was bored of it.  She did an excellent job and by the end of the day none of us could find any more.  But we knew there was no way we had gotten them all, so we left them in the tub.  After a few days of finding and removing the few stragglers, we moved them back to the dining room.

The once fully-leafed gooseberry is now almost bald from the invasion.  It will need a lot of recuperating.

Goat

Pansy is about ready to pop.  Yesterday was her due date, though her previous owner told us she generally goes late.  She dropped significantly Wednesday and has been miserably uncomfortable ever since.  I feel ya, girl.  I know exactly what that feels like.  LOL.  By her size I am guessing it has got to be twins.  Any day now.

Unlikely Roommates

We have an interesting living situation going on right now.  Normally, the ram lives in the back pen during the day and the smaller stall at night.  The ewes, lambs, chickens, and Anya (the LGD) live in the big barnyard during the day and the large stall and jugs at night.  Because the large stall is getting more crowded lately, Anya has been living in the big barnyard with the ewes, lambs, and chickens during the day, but then sleeping in the ram’s stall with him at night.  When we have an extra rooster we have one rooster living with the flock in the big barnyard and coop, and then one rooster living in one of chicken pens in the barn.  We generally only have two roosters for shorter amounts of time because I don’t like keeping any animals in tight quarters.  So I don’t want either rooster stuck in the indoor pen for longer than a few weeks at a time.  It is plenty of space, technically, but we like our livestock to have plenty of space, sun, and fresh air.

Right now we are having some rooster issues and need to make decisions.  But until we get around to that, Ben has been stuck inside and will be for who-knows-how-long.  So Sunshine suggested we try letting him live with the ram: in the back pen during the day, and then in the ram stall at night.  We moved him and he seems very happy.  The ram seems to like having a companion too.  It’s kind of funny – like a “bachelor” pen – ram and rooster.  And at night, the two of them, plus Anya in one stall is kind of funny too.  They each make their own little “nest” and bed down in the hay near each other.  The rooster has the option of sleeping on a roost, but for some reason he prefers to just cuddle down in the bedding.

Unlikely roommates, but everyone seems happy, and I am happy the roo isn’t closed in the small chicken pen all alone.

Sheep

Twilight has reached the age now where she is closed off from Autumn at night for milk-sharing.  That, plus the fact that we are now using an electric milker, have made it so we are getting enough milk from Autumn to start making yogurt.

It has been years since we had sheep’s milk yogurt and we were all very excited to make some.  We did it differently than we used to in several ways.  First, we used a culture powder from New England Cheesemaking Supply Co.  We chose the “Sweet” one.  Secondly, I was borrowing an Instant Pot from a friend, so we used it to make it instead of a pot on the stove and a cooler (more on that below).

It turned out SO good.  So creamy, and just super delicious.  We set aside 2T of the fresh yogurt to use to make the next batch.  You can take 2T out of each batch and use it to culture the next batch for about 8-10 times before you need to use the powder culture again.  I keep it in a small jar in the fridge.

Blizzard and Twilight are both growing like crazy and doing very well.  It is so fun to sit by the barnyard on the warm afternoons and watch them play.  There are SO many adorable pictures I can’t barely narrow it down of what to share with you all.

We have been busy training Daisy and Blue to the stanchions.  Daisy has now earned the name “Lazy Daisy” because she absolutely refuses to jump up on the stanchion, and even once she has been lifted up she lays down.  But we are making progress.

Daisy is the next sheep due, and she is due this week.  She has quite a belly going.  Looking forward to finding out how many are in there.  She will be giving birth to the last lambs ever from our favorite ram, Fergus.  So this is a pretty important birth for us.

Multi-Cooker

My slow cooker stopped functioning properly.  As I was looking to replace it, I remembered that my friend had recently been telling me about multi-cookers and that I should consider getting one.  So I started doing some research on them and found that they are supposed to be able to pressure cook, rice cook, slow cook, and make yogurt.  We have always had a rice cooker and a slow cooker.  I have previously made my yogurt on the stove and fermented it in a pre-heated cooler set in hot water.  And while I have a large pressure canner that I use, I have never pressure cooked anything.  But I had heard that pressure cooking is a great way to cook a tough old hen or rooster – which we have often around here.  So it seemed like the ideal thing to buy to replace what I already had, as well as adding more.  And since my slow cooker just broke, it was a good time to do it.  But I was reluctant because I was a bit skeptical that it could do all those things well.  So my friend let me borrow hers for a few days.

I started with pressure cooking a tough old hen we had in the freezer.  It turned out wonderfully!  The texture was better than most of the other ways I have cooked them before.  Then I put in a pork loin and BBQ sauce and slow cooked it.  Again, great results.  Then I tried the sheep’s milk yogurt, and as I said above it was much less work for me and turned out great.  The next thing I tried was the rice cooker function.  The rice turned out less-soft than we prefer, but it seemed to me that the water/grain ratio was the problem.  They suggested in the directions a 1:1 ratio, and that was just too dry.  So I think the machine would work great for rice cooking once I had the right ratio.  The last thing we made in it was a meatloaf on the slow cooker setting.  Again, wonderful results.

So I guess I will be getting one of these amazing contraptions!

Chickens

Mama hen, Cinnamon, is doing well with her chicks.  It has been kind of an interesting situation that resembles a crazy math problem.  Cinnamon started with 12 eggs, but due to a rooster issue we had at the time only 5 were fertile.  3 hatched, and then we purchased 10 more and gave them to her to raise.  She happily accepted them, but due to shipping stress 5 of the purchased ones died, plus one of her original 3 died as well.  The store gave us 5 more to replace the ones that died since they knew that they were weak when they sold them to us.  Then one of those died.  So now she has 11 chicks that are doing well.  12-8=5-2=3+10=13-6=7+5=12-1=11.  We are used to infant mortality, having a farm means you have to be used to it.  But this has been quite a chick roller-coaster.  Hopefully it is done and the rest will survive.

For some reason this batch of chicks really loves being on their mama hen’s back, which is just adorable.  But mama’s aggressive protectiveness makes it difficult to get good photos.

Homestead Projects

Because we are in the early stages of our dairy sheep breeding program, we are currently keeping more sheep than we usually do so that we can select the best ones for our purposes and sell the others.  Since we have more sheep than we are used to housing, we needed another feeder in the big stall to help spread out the eating and be sure the sheep lower in the pecking order still get enough food.  Mtn Man and Braveheart built it pretty much the same as our last one, just on the other side of the stall.

It turned out great and the sheep were happy to check it out.

Then Anya, since she is part of the flock and might think she is a sheep, had to check it out too.  🙂

Heritage Arts

I finally grew overwhelmed and bored with my two knitting projects on the needles because they are both so big and so far from done.  I desperately needed something new to work on, and something that would give me the satisfaction of finishing something.  Mtn Man had requested a simple ribbed hat made from the yarn he made from Autumn’s 2020 fleece.  So I whipped that up for him in a couple of days.

I felt better, but still needed something new.  So I cast on (and hooked on) two new projects.  One is the Windswept Shawl, by Paulina Popeolic, made with some oh-so-soft and drape-y alpaca yarn Mtn Man made me.

And the second is a crocheted sock scrap yarn afghan.  I love the afghan I made last year from my sock scraps.  But I still have a ton of scrap sock yarn.  I decided to go with a wave crochet pattern for this one.

Work continues on the dress for Little Miss, and the Match Play Poncho as well.  But I definitely needed a little break from them.  The dress is now 418 stitches in one round, and continuing to increase fast, so it takes forever to do one round.  And I have a LONG way to go on it because she wants it calf-length.

I finished the front of the Match Play Poncho, and have just barely started the back.

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.