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!

Sunday Homestead Update – Need. Sleep. Please.

It has been a loooong week.  We are so exhausted.  The first few days of the week Mr. Smiles was having some medical issues and was waking up multiple times a night, crying, plus the every 3-hour birthing checks out to the barn.  Of course, the birthing check times did not line up with when Mr. Smiles was up, which resulted in very little sleep at all for a few days.  Then Daisy had her traumatic birth experience and the lamb rejection, so we didn’t really sleep at all that night.  Then we were back to 3-hour birthing checks every night since Blue and Pansy are both showing signs of birthing any minute, and especially since Blue is a first-time-mom we don’t want to risk another Daisy scenario.  We are so tired.  But we still love this homestead life!  Birthing season is just an exhausting time.

In addition to no sleep and all the birthings going on, we have had a VERY productive week with projects around the homestead and gardening.  Young Man goes back to work next week, but finished school last week.  So this week was a perfect opportunity to utilize his help with a lot of projects around here that Mtn Man doesn’t have time to get to, but that I need some extra muscles for.  So all the kids and I worked on stuff each day, and Mtn Man joined us all in the evenings after dinner while we still had some light.  One of our family’s favorite things to do is work on homestead project together, so it was a nice time of family togetherness all week.

Gardens

The new Lower Veggie Garden is done – we finished the gate, and it now has a functioning irrigation system.  The pea trellises are up and the hoop tents as well.  The Upper Veggie Garden has the irrigation system all set up for the year and we tested it.  We had to fix a couple burst pipe elbows – they always seem to keep some water in them and get frozen.  We got the pea trellises and the hoop tents up in that garden as well.  The Medicinal Herb Garden got new irrigation hoses all set up in it and tested out.  Then we planted our first seeds out in those gardens.  Peas, lettuce, spinach, and kale are all now in the ground!

The garlic is coming up, so we took the over-wintering straw off of it, got the irrigation lines laid out, and watered it.  And then planted the onions as well.

The Strawberry Patch has green leaves appearing all over, so we raked it out and cleaned out the dead stuff from last year.

We finished building the new Strawberry Terrace.  We will only be planting one level of it this year, and we will start hardening off and getting the strawberries planted this week.  The other two levels will be filled and planted next year.

 

The plants that over-winter in the ground are all starting to peek their heads up.  The chives are going strong and we have been using them a lot, and the rhubarb is getting almost ready for first harvest.  There is sage, oregano, and parsley that I didn’t bed-over for the winter and yet they survived and are all starting to get some green leaves on.  And the comfrey is just starting to put out some leaves.

Chickens

It was a big week for chicken butchering and shuffling.  We trap-nested and figured out how the adult hens were doing as far as laying goes.  A few were older and haven’t been laying at all through both of our last trap nestings, so they were butchered.  Plus we had the 4 cockerels from the January hatch to butcher as well.  I used my new Instant Pot to make broth from all the carcasses.  It turned out great!

Then we moved the pullets from the January hatch up and integrated them with the adult flock.

One of our very old hens, Clover, who had become a pet hen over the years, died this week from old age.  Since most of our chickens are livestock, not pets, this was the first time we had a bird die of old age.  We will miss her, she was a very pretty splash hen with a muff/beard and was always very sweet and friendly.

Sheep

The sheep are doing well.  We are continuing to work on integrating Daisy and Nora back into the flock, since Daisy is not protecting Nora and Autumn is being very aggressive.  Hopefully they will all settle in together soon.

The babies continue to give us hours of adorable play to watch.  Who needs TV when you are homesteading?

Nora is obsessed with the chickens.  The feeling is not mutual.

Blue is due late this week, though her ligaments have softened and she is looking like she will go early, like Daisy did.

Goat

Poor Pansy is now a week overdue.  Not sure what is going on.  Messed up dates?  We continue to wait and hope the babies come soon and healthy.  Pansy seems very miserably uncomfortable.

Between Blue and Pansy it is lining up to be a busy birthing week this week.  Can’t wait to see what they have!