Sunday Homestead Update

First Snow

We had a mild cold snap this week, getting down to 25 and bringing a dusting of snow with it.  It has been fun to sit by a cozy fire, knitting and sipping hot tea.  But we were also happy when the warmer autumn days returned and we were able to continue to get outdoor projects done before real winter sets in.

Rabbits

We had two litters born last week.  Justice kindled a litter of 8, and Indi kindled her first ever litter with 5 live and 1 stillborn.  Even though it was her first time she put all the kits into the nest box like she was supposed to, so that was good.  Both litters were doing very well, until we went for morning chores 9 days later and were shocked to find Justice’s entire litter frozen to death.  The night before they had plenty of fur on them and seemed fine.  But in the morning there wasn’t much fur on them and we noticed that they were right up against the wire bottom of the nest box.  Normally there is plenty of hay, fur, and a piece of cardboard between the kits and the bottom wire.  In all the years of using the nest boxes with hardware cloth bottoms we have never had a litter freeze.  Not to mention by 9 days old they have quite a bit of fur on them.  But it was clear that somehow that is what happened – we are pretty sure it was because they didn’t have any insulation under them.  It was 35F that night.  It was very sad and especially hard because we feel responsible, even though we have never had that problem before, it is still hard not to feel guilty.  And it is always difficult to lose babies, no matter which species.

Goats

Heidi and Gretchen are integrating into the flock flerd well.  It is still kind of three sheep over here and two goats over there, but they don’t have trouble sharing space and even food when needed.  They have decided that Tundra is not going to eat them, but they still face him head on at all times when he is moving around the barnyard – ready to butt him if necessary.  Tundra couldn’t care less about them.  He just seems to view them as more animals to guard, but not something to bother sniffing or chasing.  So that is good.  Finley, however, thinks that they are fun to chase – which is NOT good.  He is just now beginning to go back outside after healing from his toe incident.  We will need to take it slow introducing him and be sure he doesn’t make a habit of chasing them.

I have been digging into our new raising goats book.  We are excited because there are a lot of wild plants and brush that grow on our property that we will be able to feed to the goats – something that we haven’t experienced with our livestock before.  Since we can’t grow hay or pasture, this is a huge plus for us as far as the goats go.  When working on the root cellar a few currant bushes had some of their branches ripped off by the tractor, so I took a few branches up to them.  They were gone within a few minutes – the goats loved them!  And the sheep helped eat them as well.  So that is good.

Root Cellar

The outside of the root cellar is completely finished!  We are VERY happy with how it turned out.  We are now going to track the temperature and humidity inside of it daily all through the fall, winter, and spring so that we can get an idea of what we can successfully store in it.  Next summer we will build shelving inside of it and then start using it next fall.

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Garden

My beets and turnips are still alive inside the pest tent, and there is celery, parsley, beets and turnips still alive outside of the tent.  We have had several frosts down to 25F already, so I am pretty excited they are still going.  I am interested to see how long they can go.  Even though they are still alive, I don’t think they are growing much because of the cold.  So I need to plant them earlier next year so they get a bit bigger before the cold weather hits.  Although I wonder if more mature plants wouldn’t handle the cold as well.  Experiments, experiments.

The tomatoes are continuing to ripen in the basement and we have been making spaghetti sauce with them this year since we still have stewed tomatoes left from last year.  It is amazing how many tomatoes it takes to make a small amount of sauce.  I am not sure sauce is the most efficient use of the tomatoes.  It might make more sense to do other things with our home-grown tomatoes and just buy sauce at the store.  We usually use at least 2 jars of spaghetti sauce a week because Friday is always homemade pizza and a movie night at our house.  It seems impossible to grow enough tomatoes for that much.

 

Now that we have finished up some of the projects we were working on (root cellar and smokehouse), we can move on to other projects – a permanent barnyard fence and gate to replace the livestock panels, and an outdoor hay and feed manger for the goats and sheep.

 

Sunday Homestead Update: Projects, Projects, Projects

We have been busy busy with our fall projects around here this week.  Such a great time of year, being productive as a family together outside in beautiful weather!

Smokehouse and Root Cellar

We are SO close to finishing the smokehouse.  Hopefully this week I will be posting the final post showing how we built the smokehouse start to finish and how it turned out.  Mtn Man and Young Man are constantly discussing the details of how they want to smoke some of their elk and deer meat later this year.  They are reading books from our own homestead library, as well and some books we got from the local public library.  We have to wait until the bears go to bed for the winter, otherwise we will draw in every bear for miles to dine at our smokehouse.

The root cellar needs a little more masonry work on the front, and we have to figure out how to secure the old recycled barn door to the house in a way that is as rodent and bear-proof as possible.

Firewood

It is that time of year again…time to put up the firewood we will need to keep us all warm and cozy through the long, cold winter.  Many hands make light work and I am always surprised as the kids get older how fast work can go when we work together as a family.  There is still more to put up, but we made a lot of progress.

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Barnyard Gate and Permanent Fence

We started a new project this week involving the barnyard.  Building fences in the Rockies can be tricky and expensive because at least 50% of the time when you try to dig a post hole you hit rock of some kind and have to tweak your plan.  This often leads to the use of cement, or the fence looking all zigzaggy, or both.  It also means more expense.  We are blessed to have a lot of livestock panels that we can use as fencing, but we do hope to put in permanent fences everywhere eventually.

We decided we wanted to separated off a section of the barnyard as a separate pen and build a little housing shed in it.  We originally called it the ram shed and pen because we are planning to at some point, in the not-so-near future, get a ram and need a place to keep him separate from the ewes.  As we discussed this pen we realized that, built properly, it could be a very useful multi-purpose shed and pen that we could use to house any number of things.  It could be used to wean lambs, calves, or goat kids from their mothers, or to house chickens or turkeys.  We put up the temporary panels for now and have been using the area to separate the animals for various reasons, but the problem is that we only have one panel that has a gate and it is already in use, so we have to scoot the panels and open them where they attach a couple times a day while we move animals around.  So we decided it was time to put in the gate.  Here are the before pictures of that area:

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And here is the new gate:

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We are hoping to do the permanent fence for that area soon.

We also decided to start in on building the shed back there.  We are attaching it to the upper coop, which is attached to the barn.  It will be built with pallets, just like the upper coop was.  We went back and forth about the pros and cons of putting a floor in the shed, and ultimately decided it was necessary to make the shed as secure as possible against digging predators, which we have plenty of.  So we built the floor first:

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We had plenty of “helpers” getting in our way during the work on these two projects, including these ladies,

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and this guy:

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I am always surprised at how very curious sheep are, especially since they are such prey-driven animals.

Rabbits

Our only breeding buck, Uncle Sam, died unexpectedly this week.  He was fine in the evening, the next morning he wouldn’t eat and by afternoon he was dead.  Unfortunately, this is often the case with rabbits.  They usually do not show signs of illness until it is too late to save them.  We don’t know what killed him, but the other rabbits seem fine so we are thankful it wasn’t contagious.

So we are down to our two breeding does, Justice and Indi.  Both are due to kindle this week, so we should have a lot of kits very soon.  We are discussing the options of what to do about the loss of the buck.

Mr. Smiles’ Surgery

Mr. Smiles has recovered from his 5th surgery and a 4-day hospital stay.  The Pediatric Hospital Pajamas I sewed for him worked beautifully and we got many comments from nurses about how convenient and wonderful they were.  He did have tubes coming out of his arms, so the ability to open and close the sleeve was essential and I was very glad to have them for him while we were there.

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We will continue on with our projects this coming week as we take advantage of the weather and time available to work on things.

Root Cellar and Smokehouse Update

Last fall we began working on two projects for the homestead, building a root cellar and a smokehouse.  You can read about them by clicking here and here.

Well, right in the middle of those two projects we were surprised by a sudden adoption placement that we were expecting to take over a year, and 3-week-old Mr. Smiles joined our family in a whirlwind 9 days.  So homestead projects screeched to a halt.

Here we are, a year later, and we are finally getting back to them!  Fall really is the best time to get outdoor projects done around the mountain homestead.

Root Cellar

We have access to a free tractor with a back-hoe again, so we have been using it to dig up dirt from some spots on the property and then put that extra dirt on top of the root cellar to finish covering it fully.

Here are pictures of how the root cellar has been since last fall, showing all four sides as I walked counter-clockwise around it starting at the back:

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And here it is currently:

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After covering it with dirt we added a layer of compost from the barnyard to help the grass grow back over it next spring.

We still need to finish closing in the front section next to the door, secure the door to make it as bear-proof as possible, and build shelves inside.  We wont be using it this year, but we want to get a thermometer/hygrometer in there so we can track the temperature and humidity in it through this fall, winter, and spring.  That will help us to know what it will be suitable for and we can plan the garden next spring to grow plenty of what we would like to put in the cellar for winter.

Smokehouse

Last year we got the smoker part of the smokehouse all set up and buried the stovepipe.  This year we have been working on building the smokehouse itself.  Mtn Man is using oak pallets because a smokehouse needs to be made of hardwood and we have access to plenty of free oak pallets.

Here is what we accomplished last fall:

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And here it is now:

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So the base framing is done, but we still need to finish the siding, door, and roof.  We are hopeful to use it this fall and winter to smoke some of the elk and deer that Mtn Man and Young Man hunt this year.

It feels good to be making some progress on these projects that have been waiting.  Hopefully we can get them done soon.

2015 Year-End Homestead Review

It is always hard to believe that yet another year has gone by, but it has!  It is time for the end of year review again.  This year the homestead stepped down the priority ladder a few rungs as we focused our resources (time, money, energy) on adopting our 5th little blessing.  And once he arrived home it has taken a few more steps down as his medical needs are taking up space now as well.

Despite the homestead being somewhat demoted in importance, we are still really happy with what we accomplished this year, and at times were surprised by the success considering our lack of attention.

If you would like to read previous years’ end-of-year reviews for Willow Creek Farm, click these links:

2013

2014

We always start with statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 16 to 53 chickens of all different ages on the farm this year
  • 3,501 eggs were laid
  • 165 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 120 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 82 eggs were set to hatch
  • 37 chicks hatched successfully
  • 19 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 24 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • No chicks were sold right after hatch this year because of the adoption
  • 3 hens died from hawk attacks

The chicken program has done pretty well this year.  It was our first time only using hens to hatch chicks, and we were a bit disappointed with our hatch percentages. But despite that we were able to hatch out enough chicks to meet our needs. And selling eggs and pullets was profitable.  We love having some livestock that more than earns its keep!

Rabbits:

In July we re-started our meat rabbit herd.  We bought 3 does and 1 buck.  2 of the does were old enough to breed right away.  One of them came to us pregnant and we were able to breed the other to a friend’s buck and start producing from the get-go.  Our buck and the third doe came into maturity at the end of the year and the buck has just recently proven himself and the doe is due to kindle this week.

  • 3 breeding does, 1 buck
  • 22 kits born
  • NO kits died at birth (yay!)
  • 1 weanling sold (traded for a stud fee)
  • 13 rabbits butchered for meat for us
  • 9 kits currently growing out

Oliver, our English Angora rabbit, continues to be a beloved pet and fiber producer.  He has had 5 shearings this year.  We have learned to shear much better and much less fiber is lost now that we know what we are doing.  And Oliver has learned the routine and lays out nice and still for all of the shearing except his face (and who would blame him for not wanting his face messed with?).

Sheep:

This year was the first year we have done all of our shearing on our own instead of hiring it out.  Husband has worked hard to learn and his shearing skills are improving.  The sheep produced 4 fleece for us this year, for a total of 12 lbs of wool after washing (we forgot to weigh it raw).

  • Started year with 3 pregnant ewes – each lambed 1 baby in April
  • 2 ewe lambs & 1 ram lamb born
  • Ram lamb died at 2 days old
  • Butchered 1 adult ewe which provided 20 lbs of meat
  • Ended year with 2 hopefully pregnant ewes and 2 ewe lambs

Garden:

This was by far our best garden year, producing 269 lbs of produce.

For the specific garden statistics, read our garden review post here.

With the help of all the animals we continue to produce rich compost for use on our garden.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 1 sweater, 4 pairs of socks, 20 baby hats, 3 baby sweaters, a dinosaur Amish puzzle ball, a baby snuggle sack, a baby dress and matching socks, a hat, a child’s dress, a child’s cardigan, and a stocking.
  • I sewed 1 child’s dress.
  • My daughters sewed 20 flannel burp clothes, knit 2 pairs of baby socks, 3 pairs of adult socks, a baby cardigan, and numerous baby hats.  They also did several embroidery and crosstitch projects.  They crocheted a few amish puzzle balls, a play tea set, and several stuffed animals.
  • I sewed a few children’s aprons and baby blankets.
  • Oldest daughter and I mended innumerable pieces of clothing.
  • I embroidered 1 gingham embroidery bread cloth.

In the Kitchen:

We canned over 124 quarts of food this year (some were pints, some half-pints, etc but we added it up to how many quarts of food it was).  I stopped keeping track after I posted the 2015 canning review, but we have done more since then.  You can read that review here.

We also froze 36 lbs of carrots from the garden.

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2015:

In January we stayed cozy by the fire while the cold weather pressed in from outdoors.  We opened our online shop selling homemade items from the homestead to raise money for our adoption.  We had two broody hens hatch eggs, one successfully and one not very successfully.  And our hearts broke when our sweet old chocolate lab, Holly, died.

February weather was quite mild compared to what it usually is.  We had another hen set on eggs and we spent a lot of time making items to add to our store.

March was exciting as we prepared ourselves for our first lambing.  We watched the ewes’ bellies swell, put together a lambing kit, and built jugs (lambing stalls) in the barn.  We also started our garden seeds indoors using a grow-light shelving unit for the first time.  We lost two hens to hawk and owl attacks and put up a fishing line web above the barnyard to deter them.  We learned that using chicken nipple waterers in the winter was increasing the frostbite on our chickens’ combs and wattles.  And we had another broody hen hatch a somewhat successful hatch.

In April we had our first lambs ever born on the farm!  Two ewe lambs and 1 ram lamb.  Sadly, despite our best efforts to save him, the ram lamb died after only two days of life.  We learned how to dock lamb tails and how to milk sheep.  Stella became a great milk sheep for us and we enjoyed the milk we got from her.

In May we celebrated our third year anniversary on the farm.  We moved seedlings out into the garden in wall-o-waters for protection.  Two more hens hatched chicks, this time much more successfully, and they even agreed to raise them all together in the same pen without fighting with each other.  We turned the lambing stalls into a creep feeder and enjoyed watching our lambs grow and play.

June brought a lot of growth, in the garden and from the lambs and chicks.  We let two more hens set eggs to finish off the breeding year and had successful hatches.  And we adopted Bella, a beagle, to be our indoor pet dog.  She also turned out to be excellent vermin patrol in the back yard.  Our farm life started to really take a backseat as we officially started our wait for an adopted baby match.

In July we brought meat rabbits back to the farm.  We bought three does and a buck.  One doe was pregnant at purchase and we were able to have our first litter born right away.  Husband built a beautiful path in the back yard made with pallet wood.  We made the hard decision to butcher one of the ewes.  And we began harvesting the garden and canning.  We had another hawk attack a chicken, despite the fishing line web above the back yard, so we improved the web even more.

August was spent harvesting and canning.  We were shocked at the large production of the garden.  Our second litter of rabbits for the year was born.  And we borrowed a back hoe and began work on some big digging projects around the farm, including a smoke house and root cellar.  Our adoption plans took a turn and we settled into the idea that it was going to take another year or two to be matched with a baby.

In September a bear tried to break into the barn.  It was a hard blow when our recently adopted dog, Bella, died unexpectedly.  We continued to harvest and the tomato harvest especially surprised us by being so huge.  We continued our big digging projects as well.  Then, very suddenly and somewhat out of nowhere, we were matched with our new baby son.  And in 8 days time we went from expecting a long wait to having a baby in our arms.  Life on the farm kind of screeched to a halt as we soaked in our newest blessing.

Oldest son filled his first ever hunting tag in October with a doe mule deer and the filling of the freezer with meat began.  He later filled his other two tags with a buck mule deer and a cow elk. We finished up the harvest and began butchering chickens and rabbits.

In November the ewes headed off to the breeder.  Because of our baby’s health issues we decided to stop the chicken breeding program and selling eggs, and cut the flock back to just what we need to provide us with eggs.  We sold several hens, butchered some older ones, and butchered a bunch of cockerels.  We decided to keep a rooster so that we can still hatch small clutches under broody hens when we want to.  The cold weather hit, and we added another Old Time Scotch Collie, Tess, to the farm to live indoors with the family.

December was a whirlwind.  We had a wonderful Christmas season and worked to juggle family life, farm life, and pediatric hospitals and doctors.

What an exciting year we have had!  We have been so surprised by what we accomplished despite putting the homestead down farther on the priority list.  We never expected to produce and accomplish what we did this year around the farm.

As we look forward to 2016 it has a lot of unknowns in it.  With the baby’s health issues we don’t feel like we can make a homestead plan like we usually do the first week of the year.  We are having to live life more on the fly and less planned out than ever before.  We have no idea what this year will bring as far as new projects, new life on the farm, expansion, or any of that.  But based on this last year we feel that even without a set-out plan we will be able to look back on the year and see that we were able to accomplish a lot more than we thought…just like this year.  We have several homestead projects in mind that we would like to do, but we are flexible on whether or not they will happen this year.

So we head into 2016 ready to do what we can, wondering what the journey will bring us, and so blessed to be doing it as a family of 7 now.

Always an adventure….Happy New Year!

A Walk Around the Fall Homestead Part 3: Projects in the Works

A Walk Around the Fall Homestead Part 3: Projects in the Works

Life is so busy for us this fall, I have really enjoyed taking you on a walk around our homestead the last few days and showing you what is happening with the animals and the gardens and harvest.  Today I want to show you the projects that we are working on right now.

Fall is the perfect time for projects around our homestead.  Winter is too cold and snowy, spring is full of garden prep, baby animals, and catching up/cleaning up from winter, and summer is much too busy to really get time to work on new projects.  So fall seems to be the time we are most able to do things around the house and homestead.

The first thing we have been working on, which is not technically a new project, but more like a yearly job, is collecting wood for the winter.  We use two wood stoves to heat our home, so firewood is a must each fall.

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First, we have been cutting down some dead trees on our own property, bucking them, and then splitting them.  Some were pretty rotten, but we will use what we can.

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Having the tractor for a few weeks has been really helpful with this as it can be used for pulling and hauling.

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Many hands make light work when it comes to stacking wood.  The pile has grown about 5 times bigger since I took this picture.

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We have someone who has given us permission to take all the beetle kill pine trees down off their property for wood.  So we will continue to work on this until we have enough to get through the winter warm and cozy.

The next project is the root cellar.  We found a place on the property where we were hopeful to dig into the hill and not hit rock too quickly.  We did hit rock sooner than we hoped, but it is our best chance of a good root cellar location on our property so we are going with it, even though it isn’t as deep as we had hoped.

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We framed the cellar, insulated it with wool skirtings to help keep the rodents out, and wrapped the top and sides in a tarp.  We back-filled with what dirt we had at the site (after the below photo was taken).  Now we just need to finish covering the mound with dirt from other areas of the property where we have done some other digging.

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Once we get the burying done we will finish the front and put the door on.  We are contemplating ways to make it as bear-proof as possible.

The last project that is currently in the works is the smokehouse.  My husband got the idea/plans for this smokehouse from the book “A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing, & Smoking Meat, Fish, & Game” by Wilbur F. Eastman Jr.

First he dug a spot for the fire pit, and then a ditch from there to the smokehouse itself.  To give himself an idea of the size of the smokehouse itself he did a quick preliminary framing with pallets of the house.

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You can see the square area for the fire pit here, with the ditch coming off the top of it.

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During the digging I remembered that someone we know had an old broken wood stove that had been sitting out behind their house for years.  We called them and they were more than happy for us to haul it off for them.  We widened the fire pit hole a bit and it fit in the spot beautifully!

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Husband hooked up the stove-pipe and elbow and supported it underneath in the ditch.

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Then we back-filled the ditch.

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The fire portion is finished!  Now he just needs to build the smokehouse itself.  He plans to use pallets for most of it.

It is so fulfilling to take stuff, whether it is 30 years old (like the wood stove), or relatively new (pallets), and re-purpose them into something new and useful.  So far we have not spent even one dime on any of the projects I have discussed on this page.  They have been made from items we and other people have lying around,  lumber saved from remodels and job sites, plus free pallets.  It is so wonderful!

That is it for the projects-in-the-works here at Willow Creek Farm.  We have a few more projects on the fall to-do list, but we haven’t started them yet.  I look forward to sharing with you how everything turns out once they are done.