Sunday Homestead Update

There is never a dull moment around our little farm.  Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways.  We had an adventure with some Golden Eagles this week that ended badly.

Thursday our Anatolian Shepherd LGD, Anya, was barking like crazy.  Her, this-is-serious-bark.  I ran out to see what was going on.  She was focused to the north of us and all the hair on her back was up.  I looked and watched and didn’t see anything.  Then I saw a very large bird fly through the forest.  I couldn’t see what it was because of the trees, but I could tell it was BIG.  Much bigger than the Red-tailed hawks we normally see around here.  I praised Anya and felt good that she was dealing so well with an aerial predator.

We have had problems with aerial predators before, specifically a Great-horned owl that over time killed 4 of our chickens.  This was back when we had our previous LGD, Tundra.  He was an excellent LGD, but he was getting old and slept a lot.  The owl would wait until he was asleep, then come down on a chicken, then Tundra would wake up and go after the owl.  The owl never got away with a bird, but they died anyway from the wounds from being hit by the owl.  We haven’t had any issues with aerial predators since Anya has been on guard.  She is very aware of them and young and always on the look-out.

Friday the kids brought me outside because they were seeing a large bird fighting with a Red-tailed hawk and they were hearing a lot of loud bird calls that were not familiar to them.  Throughout the day all of us got glimpses of the large bird but couldn’t figure out what it was.  And we heard the loud screeching all day.  Anya was on edge and barking a lot.  We kept a close eye on the barnyard and all seemed to be going well with Anya on duty.  When it would come near she would bark and all the chickens would run into the safety of their pen.

Mid-afternoon heat the activity in the sky calmed down and everything got quiet.  In the heat of the day the sheep, goat, and Anya all head into the barn to lay in the cool shade with the cross breeze blowing through.

What happened then wasn’t figured out until later in the day when we investigated everything, identified the large bird, and put all the pieces of the puzzle together in our heads.  From what we can tell, Anya was in the barn with the livestock and the chickens were in the barnyard scratching around.  A female Golden Eagle, with two fledglings to feed, waited for her opportunity patiently, and when Anya was in the barn she struck one of our Easter Eggers and started eating on it.  Anya figured out what was going on and came running out of the barn at the eagle, chasing it off.  Too late for the chicken, unfortunately.

The mom and the fledglings continue to hang out around our property, so we have kept the chickens closed in their pen until they move on to a new location.  And we are keeping our eyes on everything in the barnyard because although we don’t think she would go for a lamb, especially with the fact that Anya went after her, we are still being cautious.

I find it interesting that it was an Easter Egger, because last December when we lost a chicken to a bobcat, because Anya was in a different pen, it was an Easter Egger too.  We only have a couple in the flock of over 20 birds, so it seems too coincidental that they were both EEs that got killed.  I am guessing they don’t have as much predator instincts as the rest of the flock.  Especially because on Friday when the eagles were around we kept seeing the flock run into their pen throughout the day whenever they thought there was danger.  So I am guessing the EE didn’t run in when the rest of them did.

Putting Up Hay

Our property doesn’t have pasture, so we have to feed hay year-round.  Because hay is so seasonal in Colorado, and prices and availability change drastically based on the season, we try to fill the loft of the barn with all the hay we need for an entire year during the summer months.  We put up our first load this week.  We will probably be getting two more loads before the end of August.

Garden

Medicinal herbs can be hard to get going from seed.  This is our second year for the medicinal herb garden and things are starting to go pretty well.  We have two types of chamomile, one that we transplanted from the wild into the garden, and one that we planted.  Both are doing very well.  The yarrow is also starting to take off.  The lemon balm looks pretty good, and the echinacea are working on putting out some leaves.

Hopefully in a couple of years this is a beautifully full garden.

The celery harvest has started.

We also harvested our first 4 cabbages, for a total of 16 lbs.  We made cole slaw and started a big load of sauerkraut fermenting in the big crock.

I love fresh coleslaw in the summer!  And we will have plenty of sauerkraut for the fall and winter.

Cheesemaking

We made our first ever feta from our raw goat’s milk.  It turned out very yummy, except we over-salted it.  We are anxiously saving up milk to make another batch this week, without too much salt.

For the feta we needed a double boiler set up that could hold a gallon of milk.  Our double boiler isn’t even close to that big.  But Little Miss thought of this idea to use a big stainless steel bowl with butter knives on each side to suspend it a bit over the pot of boiling water.

Heritage Arts

I finished my Nightshift Shawl!  The pattern is by Andrea Mowry, and the yarn is Yakity Yak by Greenwood Fiberworks.  I am very happy with it.

Sunday Homestead Update

First Snow!

Feels more like winter than fall this week.  We have had snow off and on all week – our first of the season.  It has been fun to have it, though I am hoping for some more of the warmer fall weather and I am hopeful that winter isn’t here early this year.  We still have some things to get done before winter sets in.

Our Anatolian Shepherd, Anya, loves the snow.

 

Canning

Our canning season is winding down.  We have finished everything except the tomatoes.  They are continuing to ripen in the basement.  As they ripen we will can them into marinara sauce.

We got the apples done into apples in honey syrup, applesauce, and apple butter.  We haven’t done apple butter in many years, so that was fun to bring back.

We also did the peaches in honey syrup, and then decided to try something new – peach butter!  We weren’t sure how the new sauce maker would handle it, but we decided to just pit and quarter the peaches, leaving the skin on, then boil them a little until soft, and then put them through the sauce maker.  It worked beautifully!  We ended up with a nice peach puree and the warm skins were given to the chickens, which made them happy in the cold snow.

So far, we have canned over 300 jars this canning season.  By far our largest amount in one season ever!

Garden

The garden is done for the year, and we are cleaning it up and putting it to bed.  This year we are planting fall garlic, which is one of the reasons I am hoping it will warm up a bit.  The garlic places ship mid-October, which is a bit late for our climate.  But I am hopeful it will still work out well and from now on we can plant our own in late September each year instead of waiting for the shipment.  It is supposed to arrive this week, so we will get it in asap once it arrives.  We added some compost to the area to prepare for planting it.

We are also putting straw over some of the newer perennials to help them through the winter.  And we are planting medicinal herb seeds and covering them with straw.  We learned this spring that many of the medicinal herbs grow better when the seeds are put in the ground in the fall.  Hopefully this will help our new medicinal herb garden really get going next year.

Chickens

Most of the older hens are finishing their molt, with just a few still at it, but their egg laying is still pretty non-existent.  The young silkie pullets are laying like crazy though, so we are overflowing with tiny eggs.

We even decided to try out pickling some.  We have never done this before and don’t know if we will like them, so we only did 3 jars.  We will open them up and try them in a month or so, once the full flavor can set into them.

Knitting

I am working mostly on Christmas present knitting right now, so I can’t show much because I want to keep them a surprise.  But since Mr. Smiles’ doesn’t read the blog yet, at 3 years old, I can show his present.  It is a blankie that I made using the Plymouth Yarn Hot Cakes in Denim Mix.   It turned out nicely, with a good amount of cozy squish to it.

 

Wood Stove Remodel Project

We got the antique wood cook stove hooked up to heat the dining room.  The remodel still isn’t finished, but it is complete enough that we can use the stove for heat now, which is good because we have definitely needed it this week.  We are learning the ins and outs of this particular stove and how to make it do what we want heat-wise.  There is always a learning curve with a new wood stove.  But overall it seems like it will heat wonderfully with the added bonus that it looks beautiful in and I could cook on it if I wanted.  Plus, it doesn’t back puff, which is why we did this remodel in the first place – because the last stove had to have 2 elbows in the pipe and thus back puffed terribly.

Sunday Homestead Update

We had a beautiful, sunny, warm week.  We had snow one day, but the rest were clear!

Garden

We got our first seeds in the ground outside this week.  Whoooohooo!  We put in some lettuce, spinach, kale, onions, carrots, and peas.  We also were excited to start some seeds in our NEW medicinal herb garden.  We planted yarrow and red clover in that garden.

The Vegetable Garden – looks bare right now – but there is hope planted in that soil.

We also got a temporary retaining wall up between the onion patch and the main garden because it was time to plant the onions but we weren’t ready to buy the wood for the real retaining wall.  We just used some plywood scraps and it is ugly, but it works for now.

Once that was up we were able to finish prepping the soil, stretch out the drip hoses, and plant the onions.

We also moved a bunch of seedlings up to the living room window from the grow lights downstairs.  This is the first step in hardening them off in preparation for them moving outside.

Sewing

The girls and I shifted from the kitchen (where we have been doing projects the last few weeks) to the sewing room.  We sewed flannel PJs for everyone, and made some skirts and dresses as well.  We need to make more in the coming weeks as we find time.

We also spent time sewing on a project we are doing for Operation Christmas Child.  I will show that in a future post.

Knitting

I started a new scrap knitting project.  I am making an afghan of squares made with sock yarn scraps.  I am doing a simple mitered square pattern with 40 stitches to start (20 each side).

Chickens

The Red Ranger meat chicks…

…are very big compared to the layer chicks…

It is interesting having the comparison.  That second picture also has the Silkie chicks in it and the Frizzle that I got as a last minute addition.  You can see the Frizzle is the small black one in the front – and it is not at all Frizzle-y.  I don’t know anything about Frizzles and how many of them in a batch don’t actually Frizzle, but clearly this one didn’t.

The meat chicks are aggressive and constantly fighting each other.  They only have 4 weeks left before butcher day, thank goodness.  We switched them to finisher ration today.

We had a hen that wanted to brood so we put our older rooster, Abraham, in with the hens to start working on some fertilized eggs for the broody hen.

He has been getting more and more aggressive in the last couple months and after only two days out with the girls he attacked me quite viciously.  I fought him off without any injury, but since our kids are heavily involved around the farm we do not keep roosters that attack humans.  In our experience they attack based on size, so if they will attack the adult-sized human then they are even more apt to go for the smaller humans.

So he was butchered today which was a bummer because he was a really beautiful Buff Chantecler.  But thankfully, we have one of his sons and he is also very nicely built and has an even smaller comb and wattles – which we really want in our roos because of our cold winters.  So we put the younger rooster in with the hens.

We also have an egg eating hen, and one of the hens is laying super thin-shelled eggs.  The egg eater is only targeting those eggs, not regular eggs.  It could be the same bird, two different birds, or multiple birds.  We are working to figure out what the answer is.  We found one sitting on the broken egg with yolk on her beak.  She did not lay it, because we know she lays green eggs and the eaten egg was light brown.  So that hen is the eater, but not the layer.  We pulled her from the group and put her in her own cage for now while we watch and see if there are any others eating them and try to figure out who is laying the super thin shells.

4-5 times a year we go through the entire flock, check each bird over carefully for lice and any other issues, make sure they still have their leg band on, clip wings on the ones who have grown back in, and update all our flock tracking paperwork.  We did that this weekend and moved some of them around to different pens and such as well.  We have had a really bad time with lice this winter.  I don’t know if that is because it was such a mild winter, or maybe because we didn’t let them free-range as much, but it has been more prevalent than previous years.  So we dusted them all.  It feels good to be all caught up on those regular chicken maintenance chores.

And that is the update from our little farm in the mountains!

Medicinal Herb Garden

We have been growing kitchen herbs for years now, both in the main veggie garden, and in a container herb garden.  It is one of my favorite parts of gardening.  I love how the herb plants put off delicious smells as I brush past them in the garden.  And harvesting them is an amazing aroma-therapy experience for me.  We use a lot fresh throughout the summer, and then dry the extra for use throughout the winter.  I love to see bunches of herbs hanging to dry.

I have also been using herbal medicine on my family for many years now.  But for the most part I haven’t grown those herbs, I have purchased them dried and then made them into teas, tinctures, poultices, steams, soaks, and salves.  The reason I haven’t grown them much is that not many of the ones I am familiar with will grow in our climate.  I do wild forage for a few medicinal herbs that grow here, which is nice.  But for the most part I purchase them.

In an effort to be more self-sustaining, and more frugal, I decided to change that.  It is high-time I learn what medicinal herbs grow in this climate, and which ones I can cultivate too.  I started by getting some books through inter-library loan.  I am already learning a lot, and also still have oh-so-much to learn.

The first thing I found fascinating is an explanation for the reason there isn’t a lot of literature about the medicinal herbs that grow in the Rockies (and the west).  According to Michael Moore, in his book Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, at the same time westward expansion was happening, medicine was turning away from herbs and pharmaceuticals were gaining popularity with doctors.  Because of this, there wasn’t as much research done into medicinal herbs that grew in the west and at high altitudes, and few people sought out the Native American’s knowledge on the subject.  So there is a lot more information out there about medicinal herbs that grow in the eastern third of the US.

But, thankfully, I have found a few good books on the subject.  And I bought a kit of seeds that is put out by Seeds Trust that are considered High Altitude Friendly.  So I am starting my own medicinal herb garden, as well as learning about how to forage more wild medicinal herbs in our area.

I decided to use the new gardening space I will have where the old onion/garlic patch was.  Since we are putting apple trees there we will be fencing the area in and thus it is giving me more deer and elk proof gardening space.  It is near the front driveway, and since many medicinal herbs put on very pretty flowers I thought it would not only be useful, but also a nice decorative touch to that area.

We will be starting with the 7 herbs that came in my seed pack from Seeds Trust: Echinacea, Desert Parsley, Mountain Mint, Red Clover, Yarrow, Pennyroyal, and Valerian.  The Echinacea and the Desert Parsley both need a cold stratification time, so they are currently in soil in the refrigerator.  And most of the others will be started indoors in the coming weeks.  Apparently many of the medicinal herbs can be a bit finicky to get going – but once established they will come back year after year.  So I expect this to be an interesting adventure full of successes and failures and tons of learning – I am looking forward to it.