I have a new article up on Mother Earth News about how to grow tomatoes in a short-season, cold-climate garden. Go check it out here.
It has been awhile since I took a break from blogging…so what have we been up to?
Our 5-year-old son had another ER visit, hospitalization, and surgery (his 24th). It continues to be a hard road with his medical issues. This round came on fast and strong and was pretty scary. But he is doing better now and we are thankful for that and hopeful to have a nice long break from the pediatric hospital.
We have had a wet, snowy spring. We had one big spring snow that buried us for a few days. We played board games and stayed in our pjs, as well as bundling up to play outside and dig paths for the livestock to make it to the water trough. And then we have had several weeks where we had snow off and on for days. The moisture is good, especially after last year’s bad fire season.
The big snow we had was deep and didn’t even begin to melt for over a week. During that time the predators started getting desperate and we had a mountain lion and a bobcat both looking to eat our livestock in broad daylight on two different days. Between our Livestock Guardian Dog and us humans we were able to keep them away and nothing bad happened.
We got all the sheep sheared and are starting to process all the wool into roving and yarn in the mill.
Daisy’s twin lambs have thrived and grown so much! They are doing very well.
We have not been milking Daisy due to things going on in our life that are keeping us too busy right now. We might start milking her after the goat has her kids in the next few weeks since we will be milking the goat anyway. The rest of the ewes are due to lamb at the end of May and into June.
Belle is due to kid this week. She is looking very wide and we are expecting twins. It will be nice to have fresh goat’s milk again, not to mention the adorable kids bouncing around!
We had a very cool visitor to the chicken pen the other night. It was a windy night and we didn’t latch the exterior pen (the chickens were all closed into the coop). The door must have blown open, allowing the visitor entrance, and then blown closed, trapping the visitor inside. When we came out in the morning we were pretty excited to get a close-up view of this beautiful Northern Saw-Whet owl. It was so tiny and seeing it from a few feet away was amazing! We looked at him/her and took photos for a couple of minutes and then opened the door. He/she flew off with no issues, glad to be free again.
In between snow storms we have prepared the garden soil and laid out drip lines for this year. We have also started seeds indoors and they are all sprouting like crazy. Hard to believe another garden season is starting soon – especially with all this snow.
I finished the sweater I was making for Mtn Man. We both love how it turned out and he has been enjoying wearing it through this snowy spring! I used yarn he made from a fleece from our ram, Fergus. It was a 4-ply worsted weight from his 2018 fleece.
This was my first time using my newly purchased book “The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Top-Down Sweaters” by Ann Budd. I have many of her books and love them all and this one did not disappoint. It is already one of my favorites and I know I will use it over and over again for years to come. I love the books she has written that make it so you can use any yarn and make any size because they have charts for all different gauges and sizes. Perfect for a family of 7 that I love to knit items for. And perfect for all the different gauges of yarn we make from our sheep fleece.
I have done some more writing for Mother Earth News and will share links and info as it becomes available. Watch for my article in the June/July print issue “Ask the Experts” column!
We have been very busy lately. Usually, winter is a time of rest and planning – a slowing down of life for a few months. Like these two:
Not so for us this year. I have been so busy with other stuff that I still haven’t gotten around to the garden and curriculum planning I usually do in January, nor the sewing projects to get our clothing caught up. I have barely made any progress on any of my heritage arts projects. Oh well, just keep doing the next thing on the list. I will get to it all eventually.
A big chunk of our time has been spent on house remodel projects. But around the farm, this is what we have been doing…
Lambing season is fast approaching for our homestead. Our breedings this year were all very different timing than we usually do, for many reasons. Our first two ewes are due mid-February. They are starting to build their udders, and both are looking round. We had recently sheared Freya because she is a long wool. So, since she was shorn already, she didn’t need our typical 6-weeks-before-due-date shearing. And because these lambs are due so early in the year, and thus it is still very cold, we decided we didn’t want to fully shear Daisy yet, due to the stress it could cause her in the cold. So we just “crotched” her, which means we sheared around her back end, and around her udder. This will help keep her from having birthing mess all stuck in her back-end wool which could potentially cause her skin issues. It will also make sure the lamb(s) can easily find her udder and don’t end up sucking on wool tags and such.
At six weeks out we also start slowly increasing their feed intake – transitioning them over to alfalfa from grass hay, and eventually, as we get closer to lambing, giving them some grain too. So we started that process. This week was 4 weeks out, so they each got their dose of CD&T vaccine.
Since we aren’t 100% sure on the due dates, just to be safe, we moved the ram to the back pen and moved Daisy and Freya up front so we can see them easily and so they can sleep in the birthing jugs. This will also make it easier to feed them their end-of-pregnancy rations while the rest of the ewes get regular rations. Moving the ram officially ends our breeding season. We are not sure if the youngest ewe, Nora, got pregnant or not. But the rest did.
It is hard to believe we are less than 4 weeks from our first lambs of the year! There are still things that need to be done to prepare, and we will get to those in the coming weeks.
One thing I want to get more done on before lambing is using the frozen sheep milk from last year for cheesemaking.
I have been working through the freezer the last several weeks, and have about 5 more batches of cheese I can make. I would like to get at least 3 of them done before the ewes lamb, because we are planning to milk both ewes, so once they lamb we will have more milk to work with, and I don’t want the frozen amounts to get out of control.
I am finally really starting to get the hang of the ins and outs of sheep cheese. A lot of the cheese I made in the beginning was good flavor, but very dry. It is understandable, since sheep milk is so different from other milks, that it would take time to work out the exact recipes. This last batch we just opened up was just right and not too dry at all. So I am happy about that. I will continue to learn the art, and science, of making good sheep cheese.
It is also time to prune the berry bushes and grape vines. Mtn Man has been working on that this week.
Always plenty to do!
I better get back to work…or maybe I will just curl up with this guy…
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 son’s serious medical issues. But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy. I used to do excellent record-keeping, but as each year has been harder and harder with Mr. Smiles, each year has thus been harder and harder to do good record keeping. I am amazed I kept records at all this year! But here’s what we have.
To read previous Year-End Reviews Click the following links:
- Started the year with 21 hens, 3 pullets, 3 cockerels (almost ready for butcher), and 1 rooster. Plus 23 eggs in the incubator.
- Did 1 incubation with 23 eggs. 22 were fertile, 10 chicks hatched and 10 survived.
- Broody hen set 12 eggs, bad fertility (only 5 fertile), 3 hatched, we added 10 from the store and she accepted them, 5 from the store and 1 of hers died in the first few days, 7 survived. Got 5 more from the store and put them under her. 4 of those survived. So a total of 11 surviving chicks.
- Purchased 16 more chicks to have shipped. 14 survived.
- 2 more broody hens set, one set 10 eggs, 7 hatched and survived, the other set 14 eggs, 4 hatched, 4 survived.
- We purchased 10 chicks and our best broody hen adopted them and raised them. 9 survived.
- At the height of the season we had 25 adult chickens and 40 chicks – total 65
- Butchered 24 cockerels, 13 old hens, 1 rooster
- Did not sell any chickens this year, but gave away 3 as a gift
- 1 hen died of unknown causes
- Ended year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
- Approximately 4,180 eggs laid (348 dozen)
- Anya, our 4.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the fire evacuations. She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.
- Started year with 1 wool ewe, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram
- 4 ewes got pregnant, due in April & May
- 1 ram lamb and 3 ewe lambs born, all survived
- 72 gal of milk produced
- 2 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of 8 lbs raw, skirted wool.
- 5 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of 10.1 lbs raw, skirted wool.
- Total of 8,525 yds of various sizes and types of yarn made from all the fleece. Plus 3/4 lb of roving.
- Sold 2 ewes and 2 ewe lambs
- Purchased 1 BFL ram lamb, 1 Wensleydale ewe, and 1 Bond ewe (all wool breeds)
- 1 wool ewe died unexpectedly
- Butchered 1 ram and 1 ram lamb
- Bred them in two separate groups, one group in September, and one group in October-December. 2 September ewes confirmed pregnant due in Feb.
- Realized our new BFL ram was unable to breed the flock successfully Oct-Dec, quickly purchased a new Bond ram end of December and put him with the girls, hoping to get the last 3 pregnant.
- Finished year with 2 wool ewes, 2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams
- Started the year with 1 Nubian doe, Pansy. Pregnant and due to kid in April.
- 1 doeling born, died at a couple weeks of age.
- Pansy struggled for several months with undefinable illness. The vet, breeder, and we tried everything to figure out what it was and tried treating for any possible thing. The illness decreased her milk production and we ended up having to dry her off in October.
- Due to Pansy’s struggles and drop in milk production, we added another Nubian doe to our farm in July, named Belle.
- 75 gal of milk produced.
- Rebred 2 does in Nov/Dec.
- 2 does pregnant and due to kid in April.
- Started the year without ducks. Added them to the farm in July – our first ever ducks!
- Started with 2 drakes and 2 hens
- 1 hen set 12 fertile eggs, 5 hatched, 4 survived, all drakes
- Butchered 5 drakes and 1 hen
- Finished year with 1 drake and 1 hen
Garden (didn’t keep good garden records this year, but…)
- Over 250 lbs of produce harvested
- More seeds saved than ever before
- Completed knit projects: 6 hats, 2 pairs of mittens, 2 pairs of socks, 1 gator, 1 poncho, and 1 dress.
- Completed sewing projects: 4 dresses, 5 skirts, 8 pajama pants, 3 nightgowns. Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
- The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.
- We made 12 tins, 3 half-pints, and 1 pint of herbal salve.
- Canned apples in honey syrup, green beans, and tomatoes. Plus grape jelly.
- Prepped and froze carrots and celery.
- Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, and squash.
- Made 68 lbs of aged cheese. Mostly from sheep milk, a few from goat’s milk.
- Made a lot of soft cheeses and dairy products, mostly from goat’s milk, some from sheep milk.
January was cold and dry most of the month. We hatched out 10 chicks in the incubator, hoping to line the hatching up with chicks coming in the mail so they could brood together. Unfortunately, the hatchery made a mistake and printed our shipping page but never shipped us the chicks. So we decided to just raise the 10 we had hatched ourselves. We pulled our first ever aged cheese out of the cheese cave and tried it. It was Colby and we all liked it. One of our younger ewes surprised us by getting bred late, bringing our total of pregnant sheep up to 5.
February made up for January’s lack of snow by snowing every few days and dropping into the negative temperatures. We worked on indoor projects a lot, and Mtn Man finished his first-ever rectangular braided rug made from llama and alpaca fiber. We took photos of our chicks each week as they grew and changed. We got ourselves organized and planned out the gardens and planting schedule for the year, as well as all the livestock birthings and things we needed to prepare for related to that. Since we kept more sheep than we originally planned to when we put up hay last summer, we had to buy some more and get it put away in the loft.
March started exactly the opposite of February, with a week of warm, dry, sunny weather. We spent a lot of time outdoors, working on finishing the new vegetable garden in time for planting. We got the lambing/kidding kit and vet kit re-supplied and ready for lambing season. And we also finished the wooden barnyard fence. Coronavirus spread over the world and we were isolated from socializing. We were largely unaffected, until Mtn Man ran out of work in the mill and had to take an essential construction job. Our stirred-curd cheddar cheese reached 3 months of aging, so we were able to take it out of the cheese cave and try it. It was delicious! We put part of it back to age more so we could see the difference. Our hen, Cinnamon, decided to set a brood of eggs for us. We finished shearing all the sheep and began processing their fleece, and we got excited as we neared our first lambs due on the farm for the year.
In April our first dairy lamb was born without issues. We started milking our first dairy sheep – Autumn, and quickly realized it would go better with a milking machine. A lot of work was done on finishing up our new veggie garden area, and improving and building new fruit garden areas. We made progress on Mr. Smiles’ new play area too. We were all excited when I was invited to blog monthly for Mother Earth News. Cinnamon’s hatch had terrible fertility, and we only ended up with 3 chicks, so we bought some at the store and gave them to her to raise with hers. Many were weak from shipping stress and died, so we bought some more. Our wool ewe, Fiona, had a single ram lamb, in an uneventful birth that we missed seeing despite our hourly checks. The end of the month was exhausting as we were up to the barn every two hours through the night awaiting the goats and lambs that were due to be born. Daisy, a first-time-mom ewe, had a traumatic birth with a very stuck large single baby in her small inexperienced pelvis. We were able to save both the ewe and lamb, but then Daisy rejected the lamb. After working with her for a day, we decided to give up and bottle feed it. Once they were separated and the other ewes came to visit the baby, Daisy suddenly decided she wanted to mother the lamb. We were very relieved and did not need to bottle feed after all.
In May our stay-at-home orders were lifted, and the hospitals started performing surgeries again. This meant that Mr. Smiles could now get the surgery he was supposed to have back in March, but it also meant that we would be gone to the Children’s Hospital during the height of our lambing/kidding season. Thankfully, no one birthed while we were gone. We continued to be exhausted from our nightly barn checks as Pansy the goat went well past her due date, whereas both our first-time-mom-ewes went earlier than their due dates. Daisy was due in May, but had hers in April. Blue went 4 days early, the day before Mr. Smiles’ surgery. Thankfully, Blue’s birth was uneventful and we missed it despite hourly checks on her. Finally, 9 days past her due date, Pansy gave birth. She had ring-womb and it made for a traumatic delivery, but both mother and baby survived. We were finally past our birthing season and could get some sleep – theoretically. Our oldest son graduated from high school at the end of the month – our first child to graduate from homeschool. His ceremony and party were canceled due to coronavirus, so we had a nice little celebration on our own. And we added a new BFL ram to the flock.
June started with disease, pests, and late frosts. It was a challenging month for sure. Our youngest son had more trouble with his health, leading to 1 MRI under anesthesia, 4 more surgeries, 2 ER trips, and 9 days in the hospital. Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the mice were reaching plague-like proportions, with us catching up to 35 per night in our traps, and the barn cats killing innumerable amounts, and yet they were still wreaking havoc in the gardens and barns. We found out that our new BFL ram might have brought Orf to the entire flock, and anxiously waited the disease incubation period, hoping it wouldn’t prove to be true. The goat and her doeling got lice, and we were busy treating them with a natural oil daily. One of our hens hatched out 7 baby chicks, on the same day that the doeling very suddenly died of what was suspected to be enterotoxaemia. We grew oh-so-weary with it all. And then, during Mr. Smiles’ hospital stay and surgeries, Pansy became very ill. We had the vet out multiple times, only to find no obvious cause and have no treatment we tried help. As a last-ditch-effort, on our way home from the hospital we picked up a buckling to take home to see if it was emotional depression from the death of her doeling causing her physical illness.
In July we managed to avoid the pediatric hospital, but knew our time away was limited so we were super busy at the farm trying to deal with all the summer to-dos before we had to head back to Denver. Pansy the goat was still sick for awhile, but eventually pulled through her mysterious health issue. We traded the temporary buckling out for a new milk doe. We weaned lambs, sold some sheep, and purchased a new breeding ram and ewe. We also added ducks to the farm for the first time ever. The mice and hail continued to plague the gardens, but some harvest began to come in as well. With two goats, and the lambs not milk-sharing with us anymore, milk continued to flow in larger quantities than before, and thus we spent a lot of time making cheese and other dairy products. We had to switch to a larger homemade refrigerator cheese cave, as the smaller one was full. We also purchased two pigs and butchered them for our winter meat. It was our first time ever butchering pigs as we usually have the butcher do the pigs for us but there was no butcher who could take them due to the pandemic. It was a very busy and productive month on the homestead for sure.
August brought a lot of juggling of farm life and hospital life. Mr. Smiles had 2 more surgeries, one scheduled and one unexpected. Meanwhile we were trying to continue to process all the dairy products and harvest the garden. We ate, canned, froze, pickled, fermented, and root cellared the produce as it was harvested. We butchered some chickens, and one of our hens decided to set and hatch some chicks. One of the new duck hens wanted to set too, so we bought some hatching eggs and put them under her. As I continued to blog for Mother Earth News, I also had an article published in Chickens Magazine. Our friends were evacuated due to a wildfire and their ducks and chickens came to live with us for what turned out to be several weeks. It was kind of fun having a goose on the farm for a little while – we had never had one before and she was beautiful and fun. We struggled with a couple of red-tailed hawks and a golden eagle who were hanging out trying to get an easy meal in our barnyard. The chickens had to stay in their covered pen to keep them safe.
September was beautiful, except for the large amounts of smoke from the wildfires. We worked hard harvesting and preserving the harvest from our gardens. The pullets began laying, so we had some fun new egg colors and sizes. We were able to can our produce, despite supply shortages, thanks to our reusable canning lids. We got an early hard freeze along with three days of snow that surprised us and brought the garden harvest to an end quickly. Thankfully, we got all the produce out in time. The snow also helped suppress the wildfires, for a little while. We tried a new breeding plan for the sheep on the farm, and bred three of the ewes during September, planning to breed the others in December to divide up our lambing season. We also butchered the ram lamb. The duck hen successfully hatched her ducklings and we really enjoyed the new adventure of that. We were able to put some more meat in the freezers when Mtn Man and his father hunted elk. Sadly, our matriarch ewe, the first ewe we ever purchased for the farm, died unexpectedly – it was heartbreaking and a very difficult loss.
October was full of fall productivity. We worked at getting, splitting, and stacking firewood to heat the house for the winter. We continued to work on cleaning up the gardens and putting up the seeds for next year. We finished several heritage arts projects, and built new feed bins for the barn. We butchered more chickens and a ram, plus a couple of ducks. The freezers were filling up fast for winter! We were excited to learn that one of my blog posts for Mother Earth News was chosen to be published in their e-newsletter. The Cameron Peak wildfire moved closer and closer to us, putting us on edge and prepared for evacuation. We had a mountain lion hang out around our property for a few days, which kept us on edge as well. Two more wildfires started near us, and ash and smoke started making life complicated. Then, in one days time, one of the fires grew over 100,000 acres and traveled 35 miles, closing in on our home. We were evacuated, and had to quickly get 64 animals and 8 humans off our homestead. We were so blessed to have friends, acquaintances, and strangers reach out to us and take in our animals and our family. The animals were spread over 5 different farms. After 5 days, our family was able to go home, but the fire loomed and threatened and we had to stay prepared for fast evacuation, so we did not bring the farm animals back for a few weeks.
As we headed into November we continued to watch the wildfires and wait for the OK to bring our livestock back to the farm. We cleaned and prepared the barn, and worked on some heritage arts projects. As the containment lines grew, we started bringing animals back. First the sheep and LGD came home. Then the poultry. The goats were evacuated to the farm that they go to every November/December for breeding, so we left them there for the breeding season. It felt great to have the animals back at the homestead! Since the ram had to be with the ewes during the evacuation – thus starting our breeding season earlier than planned, we decided to just leave him with them and let them breed. We added a new, Bond ewe named Matilda to the farm. We also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning and cheesemaking. We scrambled to get things done around the farm before winter really hit since the evacuation had put us behind on all our fall projects. We were surprised to find out that our two hatches from September, one duck hatch and one chick hatch, that each had 4 babies survive, had all males. Not exactly what we were planning, but more meat in the freezer.
December brought both very low temperatures (-10F) and unseasonably high temperatures (55F) to the farm. We used the warm days to finish fixing some fences and the path out back, and spent the rest of the time cozy by the fire working on heritage arts projects for Christmas presents. It was a pretty laid-back, low-key month and we all enjoyed the break and rest. Then, in the last few days of the month, we realized that our new BFL ram was not getting the ewes pregnant. We quickly purchased a new ram, a Bond, and put him with the girls, hoping we could get the last 3 ewes pregnant before their breeding cycles stopped for the season.
It is good to look back, but can also be hard to look back as well. I remember that in last year’s homestead review I said that it was by far the hardest year in our lives. Good thing I didn’t know what was to come. This year has by far been the most challenging year of our lives. We had so many losses in our personal lives and on our homestead. At the homestead we battled the weather, pests, birthing complications, and illnesses in the livestock. Our youngest son had 8 more surgeries this year, along with many hospitalizations, ER visits, and doctor’s appointments. His last surgery was his 23rd in his 5 years of life. It was definitely challenging. Through it all we continue to focus on our many blessings and trust in God as He carries us through the ups and downs.
Time change again already? AND November!? Those seriously snuck up on us this year. The wildfire has consumed all our attention and we didn’t see it coming. Yeesh. Where has fall gone?
The wildfire update is constantly changing – daily, sometimes hourly. Just when we think we know what is going on, something changes. It has made for quite the emotional rollercoaster over the last 10 days, and it isn’t over yet. As of now, the snow is melting and almost gone and we are watching and waiting to see what the fire does. It is still burning, but they don’t expect it to move for a few days. There is definitely potential that later this week, or next week, it could move again and we would be evacuated again. We are anxious to get our animals back home, but we don’t want to bring them back and then have to remove them again. It is a strange limbo to be living in, at home trying to somewhat live normal life, with no animals to care for, while the fire kind of hangs over our heads and we need to be prepared to leave at any moment. An emotional rollercoaster of waiting and watching.
When we got home, our very old and leaky windows all had ashes all over the window sills from the fire.
This reminded me that it is time to seal the windows for the winter using that plastic that you heat with a hair dryer. We got half of them done this week, and will finish the rest soon. Someday, we really need to replace these super inefficient old windows. Just think how much cold is coming in if that much ash can come in!?
We decided to get the barn and coops all cleaned out and ready for animals to come home – whenever that may be. They were due for a cleaning, and then the rush of getting everyone out in such a hurry caused a lot of mess too. It is now all clean and just awaiting the day we can bring our critters home to it.
It was interesting cleaning without them there. We have never done that before. On one hand, it was kind of nice to clean without them underfoot and in the way. But stronger than that was the sadness and empty feeling of not having them there. We stop to pet them and love on them while we clean usually, and their absence was very obvious as we worked. We miss them so much. We are blessed that they are all well taken care of in the places they are staying. We got this photo from where the goats and the LGD are staying. It was nice to see them, even if it is just in a photo.
Our property is pretty well fire-mitigated, but there is always a little extra here or there that can be done. And when a wildfire is headed for you, it brings to mind all the little things you can do extra. So we decided to use yesterday to do some more fire mitigation around the buildings, making sure everything was as safe as we could make it. We moved the firewood splitting area and firewood pile farther away from the structures. We took down one of a few trees that are probably too close to our house and are contemplating the other three. We made sure that all the trees within 100 feet of the structures are limbed up 10 feet on their trunks (or 1/3 of the way for smaller trees). All this in hopes that if a fire does come through, our home and structures might be able to survive it. Apparently, if you can keep the fire from going up the trees, having it stay down on the ground level in grasses etc, then you have a much better chance of your buildings surviving.
Our garden season is long over. However…we have an accidental pepper plant indoors that has ripening peppers on it. In the spring, we start many of our plants under grow lights since our growing season outdoors is oh-so-short. Then we move them outdoors when it is safe. Somehow, this pepper plant stayed inside. I don’t know if it wasn’t mature enough, or if we didn’t have space, or probably both…but it stayed indoors. I didn’t even know it existed, but the kids have been keeping it under the grow light and watering it. And here we are with a mature pepper plant. The first pepper to ripen was very small, but a beautiful chocolate-colored sweet pepper.
Mtn Man finished another rug order. This was a first for him in two ways: #1 it was his first circle, and #2 it was his first time dyeing roving and using color (other than natural fleece colors) in a rug. It is a 5-foot diameter, alpaca fiber rug. It turned out great! He was glad the customer wanted color and a circle because it challenged him to try new things and see the results.
I finally finished the poncho I have been working on for over a year now. It has been set aside over and over again for other knitting projects. Well, it is done now and I love it. The pattern is called Match Play Poncho and the yarn is Haiku Sueno.