2018 Year-End Homestead Review

Looking back over the previous year on the homestead is an excellent practice because it helps us see what worked, what didn’t, and helps us plan for the future.  It is also always very encouraging to me because even when I feel like we didn’t have a very productive year, seeing it all written out shows me all that we accomplished.  Our homestead has had to take a backseat to other parts of our life over the last few years due to our baby’s serious medical issues.  This year more than ever.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.

To read previous Year-End Reviews Click the following links:

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started year with 20 hens, 9 young pullets and cockerels, and 1 rooster
  • Purchased 10 layer chicks and 41 meat chicks
  • 18 meat chicks died first couple of weeks, 1 layer chick died – 9 layers and 23 meat chicks survived
  • Because of large loss of meat chicks decided to buy 11 layer chicks to add to the brooder
  • 5 broody hen sets with a total of 15 chicks surviving
  • 1 cross beak chick had to be culled, 1 silkie hen licked to death by LGD pup, 1 hen killed by bobcat, 1 young pullet died for unknown reasons, and 1 hen died of egg bound
  • Butchered 23 meat chickens, 10 layer cockerels, 1 aggressive rooster, and 8 hens
  • Sold 9 hens
  • Ended year with 28 hens, 1 chick, and 1 rooster
  • Approximately 3,500 eggs laid

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 2.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd, is continuing to mature and be trained to be our lead LGD.  As a pup she accidentally licked a couple of chickens to death and therefore was living adjacent to the barnyard and continuing to be trained.  In December we were very excited to move her into the main barnyard and have her be mature enough to guard without any accidental killings.
  • We have had no bear break-in attempts on the barn since she took over.  The bears used to try to break into the barn multiple times each autumn, despite our previous wonderful guard dog living in the barn (he did keep them out and alerted us so we could chase them off, but they continued to try).  I am guessing it is the size difference, our previous guard dog was 55 lbs, Anya is over 100.  I think the bears can tell the difference when they hear her bark and such and they don’t think it is worth it to grapple with a dog that big.  Not sure what else would cause the change.

Sheep:

  • Did not have sheep most of this year.  Sold the flock December of 2017 due to son’s medical issues and hospitalizations.
  • Unexpectedly bought back three of our sheep a couple weeks before the end of the year!  2 ewes and 1 ram.  They are currently living together in hopes of squeezing in last-minute breedings for this year so we can have some lambs born this summer.

Goats:

  • No goats this year due to son’s medical issues.  Contemplating plans for a dairy goat in 2019, but have not decided yet.

Garden:

  • Over 490 lbs of produce harvested
  • Spent $134 on the garden this year, average of $0.27 per lb.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the following knit projects: 2 cabled hats, 1 cabled cardigan, 1 pair of flip-top mittens, 7 pairs of socks, 2 baby blankets, 1 baby vest, 1 shawl, 1 afghan and 169 squares for my scrap sock afghan.
  • I completed one cross stitch, and sewed 4 skirts for myself, 1 dress for myself, 4 skirts for the girls, 1 dress for Sunshine, 4 bibs for Mr. Smiles, hospital PJs for Mr. Smiles, several pairs of flannel PJ pants for everyone, and 3 flannel nightgowns for Little Miss. Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.

Kitchen:

  • Canned over 350 jars of food this year.

Year Summary

January was much warmer than usual and we enjoyed the chance to get outside when we could, though the end was bitterly cold.  We spent a lot of time dealing with our son’s medical issues, with hospitals, surgery, and many doctor’s appointments.  We were able to get our garden planning and school curriculum planning done, along with building a new pantry area in the basement.

In February the girls and I spent the cold days working on my grandmother’s English paper piecing quilt, as well as a crocheted scrap afghan.  I also worked on finishing some of my crafty WIPs (works-in-progress) to get them out of storage and completed.

March brought a lot of garden prep work, building new garden areas, and remodeling older garden areas.  Our hatchery chicks arrived on the farm, including our first ever try with meat chicks.  We were very disappointed when a huge amount of the meat chicks died for unknown reasons.  It wasn’t our brooding techniques because none of the layer chicks being brooded with them died.  We also had our first hatch of the year under a mama hen.  We remodeled our bathroom, as well as a couple chicken housing areas in the barn.  And we enjoyed learning the art of dehydrating fruit.

In April we started plans for our medicinal herb garden, little green shoots started poking up their heads on our perennial plants in the garden, and our seedlings inside began taking over the house.  During the cold weather the girls and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning jam and homemade ketchup, as well as starting to work through the Little House Living recipe book.  And we spent some time sewing PJ pants for the family as well as some skirts and dresses.  At the very end of the month the swallows arrived a little early, signaling that it was time to put our first seeds in the ground outside.

In May we didn’t get the big snows that we usually get towards the end of the month, which meant that our garden got a big head start over previous years.  We worked a lot in the garden and we butchered the first round of meat chickens and found the meat to be superior to the meat from our dual-purpose birds.

June was another month extra heavy on the medical stuff with our son.  We spent time in the ER, had unexpected hospitalizations and surgery, as well as many doctor’s appointments.  Somehow we were able to keep the garden going strong, started some harvesting, and butchered the last of the chickens.  And we squeezed in some sewing of bibs too.

In July we were busy gardening, harvesting, and started our canning season.  We had another 2 hens set and hatch chicks.  And the girls and I continued our sewing spree, making more skirts, PJ pants, hospital Pjs for Mr. Smiles, and a knitting bag.  We decided to try eating one of the silkie roos we butchered and were surprised to find their meat is black (more of a purple, really, but creepy nonetheless).  We wont do that again!  Our LGD had to spend some time indoors because of the flies eating her ears, but we finally found a repellent that worked long-term, after years of trying many many different things with no success or very short-lived success.  We also finished chopping and stacking all the firewood that we needed for the winter.

August was mostly focused on more of our son’s medical stuff.  But despite that we were able to continue with the harvest and canning, make herbal medicine, and we added our first root cellar veggie storage rack to the basement.  We competed in many ways at the County Fair and brought home a lot of ribbons and prizes.  We were surprised by a very early first frost.

September was so full of homestead work that I barely had time to blog.  We kept ourselves busy with gardening, harvesting, canning. freezing, hunting, and butchering – all things related to putting food up for the winter.  We added another root cellar veggie rack to the basement and really enjoyed using both the racks to put up the produce.  We also started remodeling one of our wood stove areas and had another hen set and hatch out chicks.

October was full of a lot of canning and we bought a new kitchen gadget to make it easier.  We filled the shelves in the basement pantry and used every empty jar we owned.  We wrapped up the gardening season and were really excited when we tallied everything and found that we had our most successful garden season ever.  I did some preliminary garden planning for next year while everything was till fresh in my mind.  And we also got our first snow of the season.

In November we stayed indoors while we had unseasonably cold weather outside.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezer through successful hunting and we made a lot of firestarters and a batch of hand-dipped beeswax candles.  We did our final chicken culling and re-organizing in preparation for winter, and we decided to try growing lettuce and spinach indoors under grow-lights for the winter months.

December brought a lot of Christmas candy making, as well as Christmas present making since we home-make almost all of our Christmas presents.  We said “no” to a lot of regular events and activities to keep a nice, calm, Christmas season and were so glad that we did.  I learned how to darn socks, and was able to fix several holes we had in some of our handmade socks.  We had two very exciting events happen for the homestead.  First, our LGD, Anya, was finally mature and trained enough to guard the livestock full time on her own.  And secondly, 3 of our sheep returned to the farm after being away for a year.  We ended the year with more medical issues, emergency rooms, hospitalization, and surgery, which will be pouring over into the new year as well.

Looking back we can see that it has been another very productive year full of blessings.

Sunday Homestead Update

A frigid winter week on the farm meant checking on critters often and spending a lot of time by the fire working on Christmas presents.

Knitting And Sewing

I finished all the Christmas Eve flannel PJs!  4 pairs of flannel pants and one nightgown.  I purchased Mr. Smiles’ PJs because he still isn’t quite big enough for the flannel PJ pants to work for him.  So all that is left is PJs for me.  Hopefully I will get to that in the upcoming weeks.  Sorry, I don’t have any pics because they all got wrapped before I could photograph them because I didn’t want anyone to accidentally see them.

But mostly I have been knitting, knitting, knitting like crazy trying to finish the on-second-thought-maybe-I’m-in-over-my-head projects I chose to make for Christmas presents this year.  The good news is that I finished one, which leave only two more to complete.

I asked Mtn Man to delete this post from his email and not read it so I could show you his present, which is the one I finished this week.

It is an afghan that I partially designed by taking the pattern Stag Head Pullover by Nora Gaughan and making it into an afghan (instead of a sweater) and rearranging the antlers to make them look more like the mule deer in our area.  I used “Everything Yarn” that Mtn Man made in the mill.  I am SUPER happy with how it turned out and cannot wait to give it to him.  I think he will love it.

So now I just need to finish the dress for Little Miss and socks for Young Man.  I am hopeful no one will have to get their Christmas presents still on the knitting needles, but I am accepting that it might happen that way.  Time will tell…for now, I need to get back to my knitting.  🙂

Homesteading with Kids – Part 1 – Babies and Toddlers

I often get asked how we do all the homesteading we do, while raising and homeschooling 5 kids.  Families with kids go perfectly together with homesteading!  I thought I would share some of the tips and tricks for how we accomplish it all and get the kids involved.

First, we will focus on the youngest ages, birth to about 6 years old.  This can be the most challenging and time-consuming age range.  But I look at it as an opportunity to teach them and build a relationship foundation in them that will lead to them being capable helpers and enjoy involvement when they get older.

Many people feel like they can only work in the house, garden, and barn when their toddler/young child is sitting in front of a TV or other screen, or otherwise distracted or sleeping.  There are some things that are just too hard for me to accomplish with a toddler in tow and those things I wait until nap time to do.  But for the most part, baby/toddler/young child is always by my side as I go about my day.  We do not have TV and we do not expose our younger children to screens in any form.

So how do I go about all the tasks with the little ones with me?

Newborn-6 weeks

I plan carefully before a baby is due to arrive.  I make sure to make everything about life as easy as possible because I think it is important that I am resting and soaking in all the time I can with the newest member of the family.  I make plenty of freezer meals and make sure that we don’t plan butchering or other big projects during that time.  If things come up that absolutely HAVE to be dealt with I do them when the infant is sleeping (which happens a lot throughout a day) or I wear them in a front sling-type carrier (my absolute favorite is the Mobi Wrap).  But for the most part I lay low during the first 6 weeks and by planning ahead I am able to take a lot of time to just cuddle my newborn and rest.

6 weeks – able to walk (about 1 year)

At this age I use a wrap/sling carrier and have them strapped to me.  When they are smaller they are strapped in front, and as they get bigger they move to the back.  I can often be found in the garden or barn with a baby strapped on my back as I work.  I have had some back problems in the last few years because of an injury so I can’t do it for as long at a time as previously, but I have found that if I use a back support/brace that is elastic and velcros around my my back from very low to about mid back it really helps me to wear the baby longer.

Once the baby can sit, another option when I can’t wear them is Blanket Time.

I have a specific floor blanket that is about 4 ft by 4 ft, and I set aside some specific “blanket time” toys that the baby can only play with while on the blanket.  Then I teach them to stay on the blanket and not get off during blanket time.  To do this I set them in the center, say in a happy voice “it’s blanket time!” and give them the special toy.  Then I pretend to ignore them and be working on something a couple feet away.  If they try to get off I quickly put them back on the blanket and say firmly “no, stay on the blanket.”  They usually try to get off many times in the beginning, and I expect that so I don’t get myself exasperated constantly putting them back.  I don’t end a session unless the child is staying on it, even if they are only staying for a few seconds.  The first session lasts only about 5 minutes, and I slowly increase the time over a week or two until they can happily play on the blanket for thirty minutes.  All my children will try to get off occasionally, even after they are really good at staying on, but I just be careful to be 100% consistent with putting them back and never ending without them staying on of their own accord.

Once they have learned to stay on the blanket it is a very convenient skill to use when I can’t be wearing them.  I never leave them alone on the blanket, I am always working a few feet away.  So we still have that side-by-side interaction of keeping the baby with me, but I have freedom to not be wearing them and not have them right in the middle of what I am doing.  For example, if I am working in the kitchen, I set out the blanket and work while the baby plays.  Or even working somewhere outside, I can set the blanket on a flat spot and work within a few feet of the baby while they play (outside takes some extra practice since it is a new environment and they want to get off and explore).  I have also used blanket time at church and Bible study.

A similar option would be to use a pack-n-play if I really need them to be confined.  And I do use that is special situations, but usually I like to use the blanket because I think that learning to control themselves and stay in one area is a good skill for a child to have.

I also use a stroller sometimes when I am out and about around the homestead working and can’t be wearing the baby.  They are strapped in the stroller right next to me while I work.  I am talking to them constantly and teaching them as we go.  It is amazing how much little ones can understand when you just talk to them as if they do understand from a very young age.  As we work in the garden I am showing baby the carrots and saying “this is a carrot, it is orange,” and other such things.  Learning colors, identifying objects, identifying animals and their sounds, and counting can all start right around the home and farm just by keeping a conversation going with your little one while you work with them with you.

Able to walk – 4 years

I will warn you, these can be the very challenging years.  This is when a little “helper” is not very helpful at all.  But it is important to keep them involved and give them opportunities to help so that they will see that they are an important part of the family and farm and will want to continue helping as they grow.  This stage involves a lot of messes and mistakes.

I keep my little one that can walk next to me and let them “help” with whatever I am doing.  They can reach up and open a smaller gate or door, hand me things, pour the feed into dishes and feeders, use the hose to fill waters, water plants with a little child-size watering can, pick weeds with guidance (some non-weeds will be picked as well), harvest veggies from the garden (some stuff I don’t want harvested gets harvested sometimes too), sit on a kitchen counter and stir things in a bowl, add ingredients, wipe a table, help mop a floor, help fold laundry and deliver it to drawers and closets….the list is endless.  This is all done right next to me – not on their own.  They just do my day with me.  And yes, it makes the jobs harder and take longer, but it is putting in time building a relationship that will matter long-term.  I know this from experience because my first couple of little ones that were constantly with me are now teenagers who I have great relationships with, and can help around the homestead all one their own and really enjoy it too.  Of course not every kid will grow into a teenager or adult that loves homesteading just because they were raised this way, but even if they don’t love homesteading nor plan to have a homestead when they grow up, they still love the family unity and the time spent helping with something for the whole family.

4 – 6 years

This is where some independence comes into the picture.  They are still going through my day with me, but they can be sent to do things as well.  Like we fold the laundry together and then they can take the piles to the different drawers and closets on their own and then come back to me.  Depending on the child they can also be trusted to water the garden without me right there, or harvest a certain area.  For example I show them the carrots and tell them to pull up all the ones that they can see the top of the orange part of the carrot and then I go to a different part of the garden and harvest something else.  I am still close by, but not right next to them overseeing everything.  Sure they might pick some that aren’t supposed to be picked, but the sense of accomplishment they get as they are left to do it “on their own” is very important to their development and character.  When I come back and see what they did I don’t point out the ones that were too small to harvest, I just praise them for their good work and talk about how wonderful it will be to eat what they have picked.

These are the ways I am able to homestead and keep my baby-6 year old right by my side, learning, helping, and having fun.  Next time we will discuss ages 7-11.

Sunday Homestead Update

We woke up to -8F this morning.  Brrrrrrr.  So there will be extra barn chores today as we help make sure the animals are all handling it well.

I have previously done a thorough post on how we keep animals warm in very cold temperatures and you can read it by clicking here.  I also have done one specifically on keeping our chickens in the cold which you can read by clicking here.

Since it is so cold today, we decided to have a PJ day and work on making our hand-dipped beeswax candles.  We only have a few left from our last batch, so it was time to make some more.  What better time than a frigid winter day?  I posted how we make our candles a few years ago and you can read it by clicking here.

The woodstoves are burning, the house is cozy, there is beautiful snow outside and the farm animals are all taken care of, so now I am going to take my hot cup of tea and go help with the candle dipping project.  Have a great Sunday!

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been cold here lately, highs in the 30sF and lows in the teens and single digits.  Winter is setting in and taking hold.  These two know the best spot to be on the cold winter days…

We have continued to be productive around the homestead despite the cold.

Firestarters

We heat our home with two wood-burning stoves, one in the living room and one in the dining room that also heats the kitchen and school room.  Most days from the late fall through to the early spring we light fires in each one twice a day because we let them go out midday when the sun is warming us through the windows.  On the coldest days in winter the fires are kept going all throughout the day.  So that adds up to a lot of starting fires.  We love to have firestarters to help make it go quickly and easily.

We make two types of firestarters, one type is made with a pine cone placed in wax in a cupcake liner.  You can read how we make those in this post from 5 years ago.

We also make them using egg cartons.  People often give us their used egg cartons because they know we have chickens – and thus we end up with a lot of extras.  To make them with egg cartons we simply pour the melted wax into each cavity and let cool.

Once hard we cut the carton apart and use each individual cavity.  It is easy to light the parts of the carton that stick up on the edges and that gets it going nicely.

So this week Braveheart and I made a bunch of them and got ourselves stocked up for the next few months.  It is so nice the have them available again!  It makes it much easier.

Chickens

Yesterday was the last flock cut-back day for this year.  We cut back our flock to lower numbers in the winter for a few reasons.

First, they spend more time in the coop over the winter and thus it is more crowded.  I am a stickler when it comes to over-crowded animal housing.  It is not healthy for the animals and it causes more frequent cleaning and thus is more expensive.

Secondly, they aren’t as able to forage through the winter months so they eat more of the store-bought feed.  Lower numbers saves us money because we aren’t feeding so many through the winter.

Lastly, it is good for our breeding program to cull regularly to keep our breeding stock cut down to only the best of what we are selecting for.  It can be easy to just slowly begin collecting chickens and keeping “just this one” over and over until our breeding stock is peppered with birds that are not as good quality for what we are breeding for.  Aggressive and frequent culling leads to good breeding stock, and thus great next generations.

So we gathered our nail clippers, scissors for clipping wings, lice dust, leg bands, and my flock tracking paperwork and headed to the coops.  We handled every single bird on the farm.  We trimmed their nails, made sure they still had one well-clipped wing, gave them a new leg band if they had lost theirs, and checked for lice – treating if necessary.  They we evaluated them for the breeding program.  There are certain characteristics we are selecting for in our chickens and we graded each bird based on those selective criteria.  Then we sorted them out into keep, butcher, and sell.

Our final over-wintering numbers include 19 hens, 5 pullets, and 1 rooster in the big upper coop, and 5 silkies in the small lower coop.  We also decided to keep one young cockerel in with the silkies temporarily because I think I want to do a mix breeding with the silkies and him this winter in the incubator just for the fun of it.

It feels good to have yet another thing taken care of as we close in on winter.

Hypothermic Chicken

We had a chicken incident this week.  When the chickens were closed into the coop for the night, somehow one of the hens was missed and stayed outside overnight in 15F temperatures.  When the kids found her in the morning she was huddled in the corner by the coop door and not moving.  They picked her and up and she didn’t fight or move, but was alive.

It was Young Man and Little Miss doing chores that morning and they immediately did exactly the right thing, without even coming to get help from Mtn Man or I.  They took her into the barn and put her in the broody coop (a 3ftx3ft, 2ft-tall enclosed nesting area with a fully installed heat lamp in it that we use for setting hens), turned on the heat lamp in there, and gave her food, water, and some hot mash.  She drank a bit, ate a little hot mash, and then cuddled up under the heat light and put her head under her wing.  They finished the rest of the chores and then came in to tell us what had happened.  I was so proud that they figured out what to do and did it immediately without help.

We have never had a hypothermic chicken before.  They have never been told what to do with a hypothermic chicken.  But our kids have been working beside us on the homestead since they could walk (and before that they were strapped to our backs) and they have seen many medical incidents with our animals and watched and helped us deal with them – learning right alongside us.  And because of that, they are able to figure out a situation like this on their own and help an animal that needs medical attention.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to live life with your kids right next to you, watching and helping.  It builds strong bonds, family unity, and teaches them so much.  It gives them self-esteem that is rooted in actually doing something to be proud of.  It gives them confidence to handle things on their own and make decisions.  They find pleasure in their successes and learn from their failures – just like we do.  I think too many kids these days are left to screens while the parents do the projects and jobs that interest them.  And the results of this type of raising are seen in the news and research studies every day, and it’s not good at all.

We are so blessed that we were led to raise our kids this way early on, and now we are able to reap the beautiful benefits of it as they grow and mature and are so eager to help and be involved and continue to work alongside us, but also be able to do it on their own when necessary.  Our kids may never have their own homestead or go into an industry that involves the specific skills they are learning, but the broader character traits they are building, the confidence, and the basic concepts and skills involved in keeping a homestead will serve them no matter what they do or where they go.  If I could give one piece of advice to a new parent it would be to keep your kids by your side and involved in what you are doing-whether it is homesteading or something else completely doesn’t matter, what matters is doing it together.

As for the hen, she is still isolated and is improving, thanks to the quick action of the kids.  We are hopeful to get her back with the flock once she recovers, and we are all being more careful to be sure all the birds get put away each night.

Indoor Winter Garden

We are trying something new this winter – we are planting lettuce and spinach under the grow-lights in the basement in hopes of having fresh salad through the winter.  We have been very disappointed with the greens at the store the last year or so, and we have the grow-light shelving unit that we use to start our seedlings each spring, so we thought – why not?  I planted the first round of seeds this week.  I plan to succession plant one tray each week for 4 weeks in a row and see how it goes.

Knitting

I have focused all my knitting attention on three Christmas presents.  I can’t show two of them because the receivers read the blog.  But I can show you the progress on what I am making for Little Miss.  Three years ago I made her this dress and she wore it at least once a week (usually more) for the last three years until it was so ridiculously small I had to tell her it was time for it to go.

But since she loved it so very much I agreed to make her another one for Christmas this year.  I love this pattern and the dress turns out beautifully.  But it is knit with fingering weight yarn and when you knit an item this large with such small yarn it is A LOT of stitches and takes a lot of work.  So I am doing my best to finish it in time, but I know she will happily accept it on the needles if I can’t get it done.  So here is my progress so far…

I am in the super-boring thousands of stockinette stitches part, so I have committed to knitting 7 rows on it a day, which takes almost an hour because each row has over 200 stitches, in hopes that by doing that I will get it done in time.  It helps me when I give myself set daily amounts like that.  I know she will love it, so it makes it easier to put in all the work.  🙂