Sunday Homestead Update

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.

Sheep

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!

Breakfast at the fence feeder

Ducks

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.

Chickens

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.

Egg Thief

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.

Gardens

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.

The squash in the upper garden are climbing the arch, which is fun and pretty.

Cheesemaking

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!

Heritage Arts

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.

Dairy Day

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.

Each day, when we strain the milk, we put a lid on it and write the date on the lid.  Grey lids are for goat’s milk, and white for sheep.

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!

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!