Sunday Homestead Update – Spring Feel Despite “Stay-at-Home” Order

Our state has issued a stay-at-home order (shelter-in-place) for 3 weeks.  Mtn Man is almost out of work, as no new fiber has been coming into the mill in the last few weeks, likely due to the cancellation of many fiber festivals etc.  Plus the fact that many of our customers’ farms are their secondary job, and if they lost their primary job they can’t afford to have fiber processed, so we are not sure when to expect it to pick back up again.  Mtn Man has been able to find a second job to do while he finishes up what fiber is in the mill and he can keep it into the fall if needed depending on what happens with the fiber industry over the summer.  It does not pay enough, but it is something, and for that we are grateful.  Thankfully, we are doing OK on supplies and food, with more on the way as we get into gardening season and lambing/kidding season.  The cushion that homesteading provides is going to become essential to our family this year I think.

The steadiness and routine of the farm also brings comfort to us in the chaos.  Even though up here in the high Rockies we are still at least a month from what most people would consider spring to feel like, it is indeed spring here.  Spring here still means cold and snow, but it also means certain things start happening on the farm.

Garden

We planted our first seeds indoors under the grow lights this week.  Let gardening season begin!

Sheep

We are less than a week from Autumn’s due date.  So…we will potentially have our first baby lamb(s) of the season by our next Sunday Homestead Update!  And not long after we will begin milking our first dairy sheep.

Her udder is building up nicely, though her belly seems not-too-big, so we are guessing a single lamb, or very small twins.  She had twins last year, which was her first lambing season.

Heritage Arts

I finally finished the front half of my Match Play poncho.  Knitting has taken such a back seat the last few months that I feel like my progress on any knitting projects is crawling, especially because all the projects I have on the needles are large ones.  So it was really nice to finish something, even if it is not finished, just half-finished.  And I really love it and will enjoy wearing it whenever I finally get it finished.

Sunday Homestead Update

Being stuck at home when you already spend the majority of your time at home and have a homestead doesn’t really change much in your lifestyle.  There is an endless to-do list and always something to work on to keep ourselves busy.  It actually means we have more time to spend on those things.  I really feel for all those who are being significantly negatively effected by all this.  Hang in there!

Garden

We had a few warm days this week in which we continued work on the new garden fencing.  All the fencing is up except the gate, and we have about 3/4 of the chicken wire up and buried around the entire fence.  Because the fence is made of a plastic netting material, we have to attach chicken wire to the bottom 2-feet of the fence so bunnies can’t chew in, and then the chicken wire also gets buried for about a foot out so they can’t dig in.  I would include a picture, but at the end of the week we got a nice big dumping of wet spring snow on us, so I can’t take a picture because it is buried in snow.

Cleaning, Organizing, Mending, Sewing, etc…

While the snow has been flying, we have been working on indoor projects.  Cleaning and organizing in the basement areas, finishing hanging decor in the basement (we completed the remodel a year ago but haven’t finished hanging up decorations), fixing odds and ends here and there that get ignored for more crucial things.  Plus, the girls and I have been doing a lot of sewing and mending catch up that has been piling up for months.  There was a mount Everest sized pile of jeans that needed patching (I know, holes in jeans are in style right now – but I guess we just aren’t in style and we are OK with that).

Chickens

One of our full-sized hens, Cinnamon, has decided to set.  We are happy about this because for a couple years now we have only had bantam hens willing to set, and they can’t set as many eggs – though they are great mamas.  So we set her up in the broody coop with 12 eggs.  Looking forward to seeing how she does.

We are having some trouble with our rooster situation.  We have had so many mean roosters over the years that we are constantly changing them out, until Ben came along a couple years ago.  He is a very gentle and kind rooster, both with the hens and with the humans.  Plus, he has all the features we are wanting to breed into our chickens (small comb and wattles, good body size, feathered legs, cold hardiness).

Ben the rooster front right

So we have happily kept him around for years now and enjoyed having a nice rooster.  But now our flock is starting to get too closely bred, and we don’t want to cross the line into too much inbreeding.  So last year we bought some Dark Brahma roos, hoping one could replace Ben.  Long story short, they ended up aggressive and didn’t work out.  Then we decided to buy some hens from the hatchery, but the hatchery messed up and didn’t ship them and we didn’t want to do a second brooding this year.

However, we were able to hatch out one rooster from those Dark Brahma genetic lines late last fall.  The kids call him Nilo.  Nilo joined the large flock with Ben when he was a little guy.  We have found that if we have an adult roo with the flock, and we put in a young roo and let him grow up in the flock, they generally don’t start fighting each other.  It isn’t until we separate them apart from each other that we are unable to put them back together due to fighting.  Well, a few weeks ago we noticed that Nilo was getting himself into trouble bothering the hens, which would cause fights between him and the hens, and then Ben would come running to protect his hens and break up the fight and Nilo would run away and chill out.  It looked like Ben had it under control, but then one day when we were closing them all in for the night a couple hens and Ben went after Nilo very aggressively, causing comb injury, and we had to separate them.

Since we are eager to open up the flock genetics some, after Nilo’s comb healed, we put Ben in a rooster pen alone and put Nilo with the hens to see if he can #1 be nice to the hens and get along with them, #2 continue to be nice with humans, and #3 give us some chicks to open up the genetics.  Time will tell.  If he gets aggressive with us or can’t settle the girls then he will have to go and we will put Ben back in.  At which point we will really need to bring in some more hens that aren’t related to Ben so we can continue forward.

Sunday Homestead Update

We have continued to have (mostly) warm weather in the 40sF with sun, and have worked outdoors on the homestead as much as we can, but have also been busy off the homestead this week and thus could not get done as much as we hoped.

Sheep

Autumn’s stanchion training has gone great and she is ready to be milked once she lambs.

Her udder is beginning to build now.

We are about 3 weeks from her due date and the start of lambing season.  Very exciting!

Chickens

A year or two ago we decided that the lower coop would permanently be the bantam coop.  Our roosters are generally very large, and we were worried about them in their interactions with the bantam hens.  We are not keeping the bantams for breeding, they are actually for setting, they are our broody girls.  So we don’t need them to be in with the roosters.  Making the small lower coop their home worked out well.

But there was a benefit that we would get from that decision that we didn’t see until more recently.  The bantam hens are very kind and gentle with new arrivals to their coop.  We have been able to put several hens in there over the last year or so that were injured by aerial predators, or were outcasts in the upper coop being bullied and picked on and the bantam hens accepted them with open arms (…er, uh, wings?).  Additionally, we can put the young pullets in with them to grow until they are big enough to join the regular flock and they are all very nice to them.

So this week we moved over our latest bunch of young pullets.  They are about 8 weeks old now, and wont be able to join the big flock until they are at least 14 weeks of age.  The bantam hens were fine with their new roommates and accepted them without incident.  Of the 10 chicks we hatched in January, we are guessing at this point that 5 are pullets and 5 are cockerels based on feather coloring, size, and comb color.  Right around 9 weeks the males combs are much pinker than the females.  So we left the (suspected) cockerels in the grow pen in the barn, and brought the (suspected) pullets down into the bantam hen coop.

Five, 8-week-old pullets with our Bantam Cochin hen, Willow, in the front.

Garden

We got the entire compost pile moved over to the new garden last weekend.  Then we were able to purchase soil to finish filling the boxes for this year.  There will be a lot of settling and we will need to add more next year, but this is what we will work with for now.

We also got the posts up for the new garden fence, and took some branches off the tree that is hanging over the garden.  We went back and forth about whether to just remove the whole tree, or whether we should just branch it.  We decided to branch it and see if that is enough.  Hoping to get the rest of the fence up this week before the snow flies again.

Cheesemaking

It has been 3 months since our stirred-curd cheddar went into the cheese cave!  We brought it out and tried it.  It was VERY good!

How exciting to get to try our first-ever cheddar after waiting 3-months and find it to have been a success.  We put two quarters of it back into the cave (after waxing over the cut sections) to try the flavor at 5 mos, and then 7 mos.  The flavor was definitely a mild cheddar, and we are interested to see how it tastes after some more aging.

LGD

Anya has found that the new compost heap we made by cleaning out the stalls and scraping the barnyard with the tractor is a nice warm place to lay in the sun.

While I was taking the photo, one of the barn mouser cats, Midnight, was doing everything he could to get my attention.  He also got Anya’s attention, though he didn’t want it.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – Heat Wave! (kind of)

It was so beautifully warm this week!  After the snow early in the week it got sunny and each day was in the 50sF, which felt so wonderful in the middle of cold winter.  We took advantage of it and spent time outdoors soaking in fresh air and sunshine and getting things done.  It is awesome to be able to get some of our spring projects worked on, even though winter is far from done here in the high Rockies.

Salve

Monday, while the snow flew, the girls and I used the inside time to make a batch of salve.  Making your own herbal salve is so easy.  You just infuse olive oil with the herbs you want.

Strain it out.  Add beeswax to get the consistency you want (put a little on a plate in the freezer for a minute or two until it reaches room temp to test the consistency).

Then pour it up and let it cool.

We made 12 small tins (1.5 oz), 1 pint jar (for the barn), and 3 half-pint jars.

I did a post on making herbal salve here.

New Garden Compost/Barnyard Fence

With the warmer weather we were able to borrow a tractor/back-hoe and get the compost pile moved into the new garden boxes.  We were happy to see how far it went in filling in the boxes.  And now we know how much top soil we need to purchase to finish off filling the boxes.

This also made it so we could finish the permanent fencing on the bottom end of the barnyard, and thus gave the animals a larger barnyard again (they have been living in about 2/3 of the main barnyard since fall because we had fenced off the bottom part with the big compost heap to just let the compost sit for a few months without chickens “stirring” it).  We also used the tractor to scrape the barnyard thoroughly and thus make a new compost heap to start composting.

Here is the lower barnyard looking down from uphill before:

And here it is after:

And here it is looking up from downhill before:

And after:

So the entire permanent barnyard fence is complete except one thing – a gate at the bottom.  We want to have a large gate at the bottom so we can easily get the tractor in and out.  We didn’t have time or materials to complete that, so we just put one of our temporary panels across the bottom.  It feels so good to be so close to finally done with the permanent barnyard fence.  It has been a project that has dragged on for years now as we have waiting for the time and materials to complete it a little here and there.  We have been very grateful for the panels to use as temporary fencing while we built it.

In the winter the hay ends up covering the snow as the animals eat and it insulates the snow in one main spot in the barnyard by the feeders and in the shade.  This ends up to be about 2 feet of hard-packed ice/snow under the hay by the spring, which then slowly melts causing a deep mucky mess that can lead to leg injuries in the animals.  When Mtn Man scraped he worked hard to get a bunch of that out so we will hopefully not have such a bad mess.  Granted, we still have a lot of snow fall likely headed our way this winter before spring hits.  But any removal of it is good progress.  And the snow in the new compost heap that he scraped together will help add moisture and nitrogen to the heap, both good things.  The chickens enjoyed pecking at the snow he exposed when he scraped it away.

Sheep

We have sheared a couple more sheep.  I will post more about them specifically later this week.  The big news is that Sunshine decided she wanted to learn how to shear, so Mtn Man is teaching her and she has now sheared 2 sheep with his help.  I am so proud of her – shearing is a hard skill to learn and very physically taxing.

Sewing Clothing and Making a Cake

Little Miss and I have been sewing some clothing for her because she doesn’t fit well in store-bought, nor does any of it match her preferences of style.  We finished a nightgown, a dress, and a skirt last week, and have more to sew this week.

We also celebrated her birthday recently.  She desperately wanted me to make a cake that had her goat, Pansy, on it.  I love how my kids challenge me with their cakes each year to try to make harder and harder things.  I was skeptical about my abilities to do the goat cake, but was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – Productivity and Preparations

Busy week on the homestead, a lot of things getting done.  Thankfully we had a couple of days that were warmer (40sF) before snow and cold hit again.

Stall cleaning

We got the stalls cleaned out and the barn tidied up.  It gets SO messy and dusty in the winter I feel like it is a losing battle, but I keep trying anyway.

We cleaned out all our freezers (two that are attached to refrigerators and 4 deep freezes) and inventoried so we know what we have and we can eat them out before it is time to fill them up again.  I hate cleaning out freezers, especially in the winter, it is such a cold job.  But man I love how nice they are once it is done.

Sheep

Shearing in prep for lambing has started.  Mtn Man sheared Autumn first.

She is our first-ever shearing of a dairy sheep.  Her fleece is definitely different than our wool sheep, but not necessarily bad or unusable.  Mtn Man is looking forward to getting it into the mill and seeing what we can do with it.  If it is too rough or too short for yarn, then we can make roving and try braiding rugs with it.

Next he sheared Fiona.  This will be our 7th fleece from Fiona.  She is the hardest in the flock to shear for a few reasons.  First, her fleece is a very dense fine-wool, so it gives the shearing blades a run for their money and they get stuck if he tries to go too fast.  Plus, she is very heavy on lanolin.  Also, she is very large, and usually overweight.  And lastly, she is generally not very cooperative.  This year, however, she was more cooperative than usual, which was nice.

I will share more info about these fleece in another post this week.

Getting their fleece off helped us view their body condition better.  Autumn is a lighter than we would like, and Fiona is, per her usual, overweight.  It can be very difficult to manage feeding with Fiona because she is a very fast eater (getting more than her share in a group), she is the dominant sheep, and she is an easy keeper.  All this leads to her being overweight.  Thankfully, she is not significantly obese, just somewhat overweight.  We transitioned Autumn over to 1/2 alfalfa 1/2 grass hay now and are starting to add in some grain to improve her condition and prepare her for lambing.

Also to prepare for lambing we cleaned out, inventoried, and re-stocked our lambing and vet kits.  I will share a more detailed post about this later this week.

Spring Prep

This is looking to be a very big year on our homestead as far as production.  Hopefully our biggest yet by-far.  We are building a second vegetable garden, which will eventually double our veggie garden production.  This year it is going to be 2/3 finished, maybe more, and thus will give us quite a bit more veggies.  Additionally, we are lined up to have more babies born on the farm than ever before, as well as have 5 milking animals (2 is the most we ever had at one time before this year).  So we will be making more dairy products than ever as well.  Big year!  A lot of planning and prep is needed to help this all go smoothly and provide as hoped.  We have been ordering supplies to prepare.

First, I got our seed order in, and it has now arrived.  I still need to get some more garden supplies ordered for the new garden – mainly hoops and fabric for our season extending hoop tents.

Little Miss’ herbs have started to sprout under the lights, just teeny seedlings, but lots of hope.

Then I ordered some dairy-making supplies in prep for all the milk we are planning to have this spring.  A couple more cheese molds, cultures, and a silicone butter mold.  We have two milk pails, and a big dump pail, plus teat dip cups.  So all I needed for the barn milking was a new strip cup and I ordered that.  Looking forward to that all arriving.

Mtn Man also got our second stanchion built so we can milk two at a time.

Lastly, I got some more weaning nose rings for the lambs and kids.  We find these to be much better than separating off the babies when it is time to fully wean.  Especially since we are limited on living space and places to separate off animals.

Firewood

Last fall we didn’t quite finish up putting up firewood for the winter and we are now running very low, so we needed to put in some time this last weekend chainsawing the logs to length and then splitting them and getting them stacked.

New Homestead Books

My sweet children got me a few new books to add to my homestead library.  I am looking forward to using them!

Kefir grains

I generally make a quart of kefir at a time, but lately we haven’t been using it fast enough so I wanted to switch it to a pint jar.  My friend taught me that I can take half of my grains out and dry them on a plate and then freeze them in a bag to preserve them.  So I was able to shrink down the kefit to the pint jar and I also now have a back-up set of grains in case I need it in the future.