Sunday Homestead Update – Walking a Very Hard Road

We have been walking a very hard road lately.  Mr. Smiles had 4 unexpected surgeries over a 9-day period, plus 2 ER visits, and was hospitalized for 9 days.  The short version of “why?” is that he is having complications from the big surgery he had last August on his liver.  Yes, it is pretty late for complications, but Mr. Smiles always seems to go with whatever is listed as the least likely thing to happen medically.  In fact, they have only ever dealt with this specific complication 2 times in the over 100 year history of the pediatric hospital.  Sadly, it is still not fixed and he will need 1 more surgery in the near future.  But for now, he is at home trying to rest, recover, and strengthen.

For those of you that are new to Willow Creek Farm, our 4-year-old son has had major medical issues his whole life.  When you add the four surgeries we just went through, he has had 18 surgeries in his life.  Plus 2 MRIs under anesthesia, and many many hospitalizations and ER visits.  He has walked a hard road his whole life, and yet he is always so full of joy and peace – he makes anyone and everyone smile when they see him – thus his blog name “Mr. Smiles.”

The thing about difficult times and crisis is that the rest of life doesn’t just stop and wait for you to deal with the crisis.  The world keeps turning, and life on the homestead goes on full-speed ahead.  We are so blessed that the older kids are so capable around the farm and enjoy it too.  They did an amazing job “holding down the fort” while we were away.  They kept the gardens watered, weeded, and did some planting too.  The animals were all fed, watered, cared for, and milked.  The milk was either made into cheese or frozen to be made into cheese later (only sheep milk can do that).  They did great…but there was one animal on the homestead that caused a lot of drama while we were gone – Pansy the goat.

 

A few weeks ago, Mr. Smiles had some symptoms and then some lab values that showed trouble.  He had an MRI under anesthesia, and we found out the results, which led them to scheduled him for surgery two days later.  As we were packing the car to head to the hospital, the kids were doing barn chores and informed us that Pansy was not doing well.  She didn’t want to eat and her milk production had plummeted.  It had only been a week or so since Pansy’s doeling, Pearl, had died suddenly of enterotoxemia.  Pansy had been somewhat “depressed” since that incident, but now she definitely seemed to be having some medical issues.  We called, but the vet was out of town until the next day.  We were in a hurry to get going, so we gave her some CMPK, thinking it might be calcium related and knowing that wouldn’t hurt her, and we headed out – expecting to be back that evening because it was supposed to be outpatient.

Things didn’t go as planned and Mr. Smiles was admitted to the hospital to await his second unexpected surgery the next day.  The next morning, Pansy was still not doing well.  The vet headed to our homestead and the kids helped him treat Pansy.  We were in the PACU, with Mtn Man cuddling Mr. Smiles post-op, while I talked on the phone to the vet trying to understand what was going on.  She was ketotic, because she hadn’t been eating enough.  But ketosis causes lack of appetitie, which then means she doesn’t eat and thus gets more ketotic.  Viscious cycle.  He didn’t know why she was not eating to begin with – there was nothing obviously wrong, but he treated her with several different things for the ketosis and left instructions for the kids on what to do for her.  Thankfully, my friend who is an ER nurse was staying with the kids and was able to administer the injections she needed – something the kids can’t do (yet).

Two days later we were released from the hospital, only to go back a few hours later to the ER with complications from unexpected surgery #2.  They did a temp fix and sent us home to come back 24 hours later for unexpected surgery #3.  While at home, Pansy seemed to be improving and Mtn Man did her treatment.  Once we were back in the hospital, we got a call that she was doing worse again.  We still didn’t really have a cause for all this, we were treating symptoms, not the cause itself.  And it wasn’t working well.  She didn’t want to eat and was visibly losing weight.  I tried to call the vet, but he was out of town for several days.  So I called the goat breeder, who I had been talking with through all of this.  We decided that there was a chance that this wasn’t medical – that she was depressed because of the loss of her baby and cut back her eating because of that, which then caused the ketosis and the medical cycle to start.

Meanwhile, Mr. Smiles was having complications from unexpected surgery #3, and we were stuck in the hospital for another day.  We decided to have them give her a shot of antibiotics – just in case – as a last ditch effort to try to deal with whatever it was.  But the next morning she wasn’t any better.  By then, Mr. Smiles was doing well enough to go home for awhile to recover and stabalize before his next surgery.

The breeder lives an hour from the hospital, and 3 hours from our homestead, so we decided, as a very last-last ditch effort to save Pansy, that we would bring another goat home to her to see if it was behavioral.  Maybe with another goat there she would start eating again.  So on our way home from the hospital, we met the breeder along the way and she gave us a 6-month-old buckling.  She banded him (to wether him) in the parking lot as we switched him over to our vehicle and we headed home.  We chose to do a buckling (now a wether) not because we plan to keep him long-term, but because we wanted to see if the issue was behavioral or medical without potentially killing a milk doe.  The buckling is intended for meat, so if what Pansy had was medical, and contagious, then there wouldn’t be the same amount of loss as if we brought in a milk doe and she got sick from Pansy.  If the situation was indeed behavioral, then she would improve with the wether there and then we could give him back to the breeder and buy a milk doe to be her friend and a productive member of the flerd (flock of sheep, herd of goats).

Let me just pause here to say that it was pretty funny as we were driving home.  There we were – exhausted, weary, and bleary-eyed, heading home after a ridiculously hard marathon of surgeries and complications and hospital stay with our young son, emotionally shot and just barely holding on to hope that things would get better……..and we have a buckling in a crate in the back of our car.  Talk about homesteaders.  We are so dedicated to our sweet goat Pansy (and really…more importantly, to our sweet daughter who desperately loves the sweet goat), that we were stopping on our way home to get a buckling.  A very stinky buckling…in a crate in our van…with the windows all rolled down to try to make it more tolerable.  We just looked at eachother and laughed, in that somewhat delirious way that one laughs when they are so exhausted they can’t even think straight.  Only in our life would this type of thing happen.  Sigh.

Anyway, back to the story…

We knew that for if the wether was going to help it would probably take a few days to see a difference.  So we continued the prescribed treatments.  We also got a hold of the vet, and he added a few more things to try, because really at this point we were just grasping at anything and everything that might be wrong.  He said he would be available to come do bloodwork in a couple of days.

Meanwhile, just over 24 hours after coming home from the hospital, we had to head back to the ER because Mr. Smiles was still not doing well.  We were admitted, again, and the next morning they did unexpected surgery #4.  The kids and our friend continued to do Pansy’s treatments.  The next morning, as we were meeting with Mr. Smiles’ team of specialists, the vet was at the homestead with the kids collecting blood samples to do labwork on Pansy.

We are now home, with Mr. Smiles doing much better than he has been in weeks (SO hopeful that surgery #4 finally helped the issue!).  Pansy is still slowly falling behind.  We are awaiting the blood test results to see what to do next with her and still hoping that having a goat friend will help pull her out of it.

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks – to say the least.  We continue to watch and wait with both Mr. Smiles and Pansy as we walk the hard parts of the road of life and homesteading.

The Dichotomy of Farm Life

Farm life is such a roller-coaster of ups and downs.  Success and failure.  Gain and loss.  And it can change so quickly, leaving us feeling polar-opposite emotions in a very short span of time.

Yesterday we woke to the cheeping of newly hatched baby chicks.  An excellent hatch of 7 out of 9 eggs.  Eve had set on 4 of them (3 hatched) and we had 5 in the incubator (4 hatched) which we put under Eve once they were out of their eggs.  Eve was happily mothering them and we were all very excited.

By midday that excitement was gone when we found our little one-month-old goat kid, Pearl, very sick in the barnyard.  Despite our best efforts and help from the vet, by mid-afternoon Pearl was dead and we were all emotionally crushed.  The exact cause is unknown, but with the symptoms, and how quickly she died, the vet thinks it was enterotoxemia.  It is basically a shift in gut flora that causes the clostridium bacteria that are always present to turn into an out-of-hand infection.  It kills fast and whether you can save them or not is totally hit or miss.  We caught it early, but it didn’t save her.  The vet said there wasn’t anything we did to cause this specific situation.  It is usually caused with changes in feed or overeating, neither of which happened with Pearl.  She was fine at 9am, obviously sick at 11am, and dead by 3pm.  It was terrible and a very difficult experience.  We let Pansy spend some time with her after she was gone so she would know.

Farm life is not for the faint of heart.  Watching a baby goat die and not being able to do anything that helped, watching my daughter’s heart break (it was her goat), and then watching the mama goat pace the yard crying out left me crawling into bed feeling raw and defeated.  We are pulling together as a family as we process this loss.  But in farm life there isn’t much time to stop.  Life keeps going.  Animals need to be fed, milked, and you still have to get up the next day and tend those cute baby chicks that hatched yesterday.  The practical has to be dealt with, which for this situation means transitioning our schedule to milking Pansy twice-a-day and continuing to move forward while we nurse our hurting hearts.

Farming can be quite the dichotomy of experiences and emotions.

Sunday Homestead Update – Orf?

Orf?  To me, it sounds like I am asking a question in sea lion language.  But actually, Orf, also called sore mouth, is a virus that can be found in sheep and goats, and is transmittable to humans too.  We got a call this week that our new ram was potentially exposed to it for a day during his travels from Iowa to us.  The downfall of having such a small farm is that it is pretty much impossible for us to quarantine new animals coming to our farm.  Thus, we run the risk of dealing with contagious diseases.  Supposedly, orf is only spread when the animal has active sores, which the other ram did NOT have when MacDougal was with him.  MacDougal doesn’t have any active sores right now either.  The gestation of the virus is usually 7-10 days, but can be as long as 3 weeks.  We are currently 2 weeks out from the potential exposure.  So there is a very high likelihood our flock will not get it – and that is what we are desperately hoping for.  But until next week, we wont know for sure.  We are doing what we can to limit contact as much as possible between the rams and the rest of the flock, just in case, while we wait.

Gardens

The mice are eating our gardens like crazy.  As are the robins.  The robins have eaten all the bean and pea seeds we planted.  And the mice are eating pretty much every small seedling we put out, and every little sprout that tries to pop up.  This is despite all the traps set around the seedlings and sprouts…which are catching mice each night.  So the garden is a couple of weeks behind where it normally is.  Being behind might not matter a whole lot in a regular gardening situation, but when you only have a 10-week growing season frost-to-frost, being behind by a couple weeks is a problem.  We also have a frost coming this week, so we are planning out blanketing and will do what we can to not let it kill anything.  Welcome to gardening in the Rockies.

We have put up some bird netting to deal with the robin issue and re-planted the beans and peas.  We re-planted lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, and kale and put clear plastic cups over each one to hopefully let the seedling pop up and grow without getting eaten.  Obviously, they will outgrow the cups quickly, but this will hopefully give them a good start while we continue to battle the mouse wars.  No idea if it will work.  At this point, we are grasping to just try to get the seedlings going.

To continue our battle, we built a log-roll bucket trap to see if we could gain some ground on the mouse situation by catching more than just what our single use traps can handle.  But the bucket trap has yet to catch anything.  We are having a lot of sprung traps, and catching less mice each night lately.  We are hoping that doesn’t mean that our trapping has caused a natural selection and only the trap-smart mice are left and breeding.  LOL.

Ermine

In addition to the mouse issue, as well as the lice issue I talked about last week (see below for an update), we found a very concerning critter in the barn – an ermine.  Thanks to the cats, it was dead, and it is a very good thing because it could have killed all 14 of our chicks in one night, or potentially a full grown chicken or two.  Yes, they look tiny and cute, but they are savage predators and can kill a full-sized chicken!  And they definitely would enjoy dining on my little 4-week-old chicks.  Thank you barn kitties!  I am sure this guy put up quite a battle, and I am so glad the cats got him.

Chickens

Our broody hen, Eve, is hatching her eggs today.  We put 5 eggs under her, as well as 5 in the incubator to make up for loss.  Out of 10 eggs, 9 were fertile.  All were alive at lock-down on Thursday.  So it is looking to be a good hatch.  As the chicks in the incubator hatch out and strengthen, I will take them up and put them under Eve.  She can easily raise 9 chicks, even though she is too small to set on 9 full-sized eggs.

Goats & Sheep

We have continued with our natural oil herbal treatments on the goats for lice.  We are barely seeing any live lice anymore, maybe just one or two each day when we treat them.  We are continuing to treat them until we are past 22 days – the life cycle of the lice.

Marigold is supposedly due to lamb this week, but she is not showing any symptoms at all.  So we have decided that she didn’t take.  This means lambing season is officially over (and was over a month ago).

All the lambs (and the goat kid) are all doing very well; growing and playing like crazy.  The LGD is doing very well with them now, after our extra training sessions last week, and knows not to play with them.  We are getting plenty of milk each day from the sheep and goats and are really enjoying having it and making all our dairy products with it.

Family

We found out this week that our 4-year-old son, who has had 14 surgeries in his short life and faced many medical challenges, is yet again having liver issues.  After multiple smaller surgeries that were unsuccessful, he had a big surgery last fall that we were all very hopeful would fix his liver issues long-term.  At first it seemed like it had, but he is struggling again.  After an 8-month-long break (which we are so grateful to have experienced), we are back to the world of doctor’s appointments and testing while we figure out what is going on and plan the next steps.

Disease…pests, pests, and more pests…late frosts…it has been a challenging season so far.  But there is always something good to be found as well, as long as one is willing to look.  We are.

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 – a Full Homesteading Mom Life

I live a full life.  At times, it feels totally overwhelming and I have to stop myself and take a breath and just realize how blessed I am to have such a full life.  A life full of love, relationships, fun, noise, messes, craziness, (occasional) quiet moments, losses, success, failure, a never-ending list of things to do and get done, dishes, laundry, and more dishes…and so much more.  This week I actually found myself changing a diaper with one hand, while holding a baby chick in the other, and, as if that wasn’t challenge enough, my phone rang and it was an important call that I needed to take and could not ignore.  I just burst out laughing, looking at myself in this crazy situation.  Obviously there is a story there, but it is too long for me to get into why I was changing a diaper while holding a baby chick, but it was indeed a necessary situation and I didn’t have another choice in the moment.  Nonetheless, I am spending this Mother’s Day being loved on by the ones I love the most, and feeling thankful for all the crazy homesteading Mom moments that I am blessed to experience each day – even the ones that make me want to scream.  🙂

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!  I hope you can feel thankful for all the crazy mom-ing in your lives too.

Our farm is currently overflowing with animal mothers and babies.  Spring in the Rockies!

Chickens

Our batch of purchased chicks arrived this week.  These are the chicks that we originally ordered to be delivered during our hatch in January so we could brood them together.  There was a mix-up at the hatchery and they printed our shipping label, but didn’t ship our chicks.  Since we already had our own newly hatched chicks in the brooder, we decided not to have them re-ship the next week.  Instead, we waited until we were ready to do another brooding…which is this week.

There were 16 of them, and 3 died right after arrival, the rest are doing well.

Goat

Pansy was due to kid on April 27th.  She finally kidded this week, 9 days late.  It was a complicated delivery, but both mom and doeling are alive.  And the doeling, named Pearl, is oh-so-cute.  I will share more about it later this week.

Sheep

We have a barnyard full of ewes and lambs.  Blue lambed this week, leaving us with just one pregnant ewe left for this season (Maggie).  Everyone is growing well, the lambs are playing and romping together, and the mamas seem happy to not be so very huge and pregnant any longer.  Maggie is not due until mid-june, so we have a break from birthing here for awhile.

Blue’s little girl got a name, finally.  It took us awhile – I think the spring lambing/kidding season sleep-deprivation added to the delay.  But she is now known as Misty.  She is almost 1 week old now.

Daisy has continued to become more bonded to little Nora, she is turning into a good mom.  I believe that she will be a fine mother in the future, and that the traumatic birth is the cause of these issues.  We are just so glad that we didn’t have to bottle feed her.  Nora is almost 2 weeks old now.

Blizzard is a ball of energy.  He is always wanting to play and run and head butt with the other lambs.  Typical boy.  He also has decided that the LGD is his BFF, which is cute.  We constantly find them cuddled together, or if Anya is running around, Blizzard will be running right behind her.  Fiona is the attentive, but also laid-back, experienced mom of the group, and seems happy to let Anya (the LGD) babysit for her.

Blizzard is 3 1/2 weeks old now.

Twilight is the oldest lamb, and that lends itself to her being kind of a bully to the others.  She is so much bigger than the new babies and she uses it to her advantage, pushing them around when she can get away with it.  But she is a beautiful ewe lamb and nice with the humans.  She is 5 weeks old now.

We are working on weaning all the babies to a 12-hours-off, 12-hours-on milk-sharing schedule.  Twilight and Nora are already there, and we are getting the younger ones there as well in the next couple of weeks.  It is nice to have so much milk now that they are getting older and we can take a good share of it.  We are making dairy products in the kitchen and really enjoying it.

Gardens

It is crazy to me that we are already putting seeds and seedlings outside.  This week has been full of planting and gardening.  Time is flying by me this spring!