Sunday Homestead Update – So Much to Talk About

Sometimes there is so much going on at the farm that the weekly post gets very long and full – this is one of those weeks.  So settle in with some coffee or tea – we have some interesting stories.

Gardening

There really never is a dull moment around here.  Life is a constant adventure.  And just when we think we might be about to have a dull moment, something happens.

A couple of weeks ago, Mtn Man bought our new strawberry and raspberry plants, and another gooseberry bush.  Since we are still pretty far out from planting them outdoors, we set the gooseberry bush in the dining room next to the black currant that I talked about last week.  They were both doing well in the sunshine from the glass door.  Then one morning (just when I thought we might have a dull moment), I walked by and noticed that there was a big mess all over the floor under the gooseberry bush.  It was sitting on a white plastic trash bag, and the bag was covered with what looked like dirt.  I moved closer to inspect the issue and was horrified to see that the bush, the pot, and the floor around it was covered with hundreds of little green worms, and the “dirt” I thought I was seeing was their droppings.  ~insert horror flick scream~  There were some worms starting to try to climb up on the black currant bush too.  And almost all the leaves on the gooseberry were gone – totally destroyed and eaten.  It seems the worms had hatched on the gooseberry bush a day or so ago, had eaten until there was nothing left to eat, and pooped all over the place, and they were now jumping ship and heading out to find more food.

I called for the kids and we all immediately jumped into action.  Little Miss, who is the most squeamish about these things, decided to help by taking Mr. Smiles to another room to play, since his presence would have been less than helpful – and really, her presence would have been as well as she would have been squirming and squealing every few seconds.  Young Man took the plants outside and sprayed them thoroughly with neem oil.  Braveheart, Sunshine, and I proceeded to painstakingly clean up every single worm by sweeping and picking them up with tweezers and putting them into a little plastic container.

It was so gross.  They were everywhere.  They were climbing up the legs of the dining room table and chairs.  They were under the hutch, they were all over the floor and in the door jam and every nook and cranny that could be found.  We had to take all the dishes out of the hutch and move it so we could get under it.  And it seemed the more we cleaned up, the more there were.  Some were so tiny you couldn’t barely see them with the naked eye.  Others were more obvious.  The kids stopped counting after we got to 350.  After an hour of cleaning we had gotten the majority of them.  We continued to find them randomly here and there for the next few days (eeek, gross!)  After we cleaned up we looked online to try to figure out what they were.  They were Imported Currant Worms.  Our bush came from the store thoroughly infested with them.

Braveheart was pretty happy when were finished, not only because we were finished, but because he was excited to take the container of worms out to feed to his chickens.  They got a nice meal from our misery.

Unfortunately, the neem oil did not seem to have any effect.  We knew we would have to bring the bushes in before dark or they would freeze outside.  But they were still covered with worms.  So I decided the best place for them would be in the bathtub.  That way, any mess that was made could be washed down, and if any worms came off them, they couldn’t climb the smooth walls.  So we brought them back in and checked on them every so often to be sure no worms were “escaping.”  Sunshine took it upon herself to battle the worms – every couple hours she would go in and use tweezers to pick the worms off one at a time until she was bored of it.  She did an excellent job and by the end of the day none of us could find any more.  But we knew there was no way we had gotten them all, so we left them in the tub.  After a few days of finding and removing the few stragglers, we moved them back to the dining room.

The once fully-leafed gooseberry is now almost bald from the invasion.  It will need a lot of recuperating.

Goat

Pansy is about ready to pop.  Yesterday was her due date, though her previous owner told us she generally goes late.  She dropped significantly Wednesday and has been miserably uncomfortable ever since.  I feel ya, girl.  I know exactly what that feels like.  LOL.  By her size I am guessing it has got to be twins.  Any day now.

Unlikely Roommates

We have an interesting living situation going on right now.  Normally, the ram lives in the back pen during the day and the smaller stall at night.  The ewes, lambs, chickens, and Anya (the LGD) live in the big barnyard during the day and the large stall and jugs at night.  Because the large stall is getting more crowded lately, Anya has been living in the big barnyard with the ewes, lambs, and chickens during the day, but then sleeping in the ram’s stall with him at night.  When we have an extra rooster we have one rooster living with the flock in the big barnyard and coop, and then one rooster living in one of chicken pens in the barn.  We generally only have two roosters for shorter amounts of time because I don’t like keeping any animals in tight quarters.  So I don’t want either rooster stuck in the indoor pen for longer than a few weeks at a time.  It is plenty of space, technically, but we like our livestock to have plenty of space, sun, and fresh air.

Right now we are having some rooster issues and need to make decisions.  But until we get around to that, Ben has been stuck inside and will be for who-knows-how-long.  So Sunshine suggested we try letting him live with the ram: in the back pen during the day, and then in the ram stall at night.  We moved him and he seems very happy.  The ram seems to like having a companion too.  It’s kind of funny – like a “bachelor” pen – ram and rooster.  And at night, the two of them, plus Anya in one stall is kind of funny too.  They each make their own little “nest” and bed down in the hay near each other.  The rooster has the option of sleeping on a roost, but for some reason he prefers to just cuddle down in the bedding.

Unlikely roommates, but everyone seems happy, and I am happy the roo isn’t closed in the small chicken pen all alone.

Sheep

Twilight has reached the age now where she is closed off from Autumn at night for milk-sharing.  That, plus the fact that we are now using an electric milker, have made it so we are getting enough milk from Autumn to start making yogurt.

It has been years since we had sheep’s milk yogurt and we were all very excited to make some.  We did it differently than we used to in several ways.  First, we used a culture powder from New England Cheesemaking Supply Co.  We chose the “Sweet” one.  Secondly, I was borrowing an Instant Pot from a friend, so we used it to make it instead of a pot on the stove and a cooler (more on that below).

It turned out SO good.  So creamy, and just super delicious.  We set aside 2T of the fresh yogurt to use to make the next batch.  You can take 2T out of each batch and use it to culture the next batch for about 8-10 times before you need to use the powder culture again.  I keep it in a small jar in the fridge.

Blizzard and Twilight are both growing like crazy and doing very well.  It is so fun to sit by the barnyard on the warm afternoons and watch them play.  There are SO many adorable pictures I can’t barely narrow it down of what to share with you all.

We have been busy training Daisy and Blue to the stanchions.  Daisy has now earned the name “Lazy Daisy” because she absolutely refuses to jump up on the stanchion, and even once she has been lifted up she lays down.  But we are making progress.

Daisy is the next sheep due, and she is due this week.  She has quite a belly going.  Looking forward to finding out how many are in there.  She will be giving birth to the last lambs ever from our favorite ram, Fergus.  So this is a pretty important birth for us.

Multi-Cooker

My slow cooker stopped functioning properly.  As I was looking to replace it, I remembered that my friend had recently been telling me about multi-cookers and that I should consider getting one.  So I started doing some research on them and found that they are supposed to be able to pressure cook, rice cook, slow cook, and make yogurt.  We have always had a rice cooker and a slow cooker.  I have previously made my yogurt on the stove and fermented it in a pre-heated cooler set in hot water.  And while I have a large pressure canner that I use, I have never pressure cooked anything.  But I had heard that pressure cooking is a great way to cook a tough old hen or rooster – which we have often around here.  So it seemed like the ideal thing to buy to replace what I already had, as well as adding more.  And since my slow cooker just broke, it was a good time to do it.  But I was reluctant because I was a bit skeptical that it could do all those things well.  So my friend let me borrow hers for a few days.

I started with pressure cooking a tough old hen we had in the freezer.  It turned out wonderfully!  The texture was better than most of the other ways I have cooked them before.  Then I put in a pork loin and BBQ sauce and slow cooked it.  Again, great results.  Then I tried the sheep’s milk yogurt, and as I said above it was much less work for me and turned out great.  The next thing I tried was the rice cooker function.  The rice turned out less-soft than we prefer, but it seemed to me that the water/grain ratio was the problem.  They suggested in the directions a 1:1 ratio, and that was just too dry.  So I think the machine would work great for rice cooking once I had the right ratio.  The last thing we made in it was a meatloaf on the slow cooker setting.  Again, wonderful results.

So I guess I will be getting one of these amazing contraptions!

Chickens

Mama hen, Cinnamon, is doing well with her chicks.  It has been kind of an interesting situation that resembles a crazy math problem.  Cinnamon started with 12 eggs, but due to a rooster issue we had at the time only 5 were fertile.  3 hatched, and then we purchased 10 more and gave them to her to raise.  She happily accepted them, but due to shipping stress 5 of the purchased ones died, plus one of her original 3 died as well.  The store gave us 5 more to replace the ones that died since they knew that they were weak when they sold them to us.  Then one of those died.  So now she has 11 chicks that are doing well.  12-8=5-2=3+10=13-6=7+5=12-1=11.  We are used to infant mortality, having a farm means you have to be used to it.  But this has been quite a chick roller-coaster.  Hopefully it is done and the rest will survive.

For some reason this batch of chicks really loves being on their mama hen’s back, which is just adorable.  But mama’s aggressive protectiveness makes it difficult to get good photos.

Homestead Projects

Because we are in the early stages of our dairy sheep breeding program, we are currently keeping more sheep than we usually do so that we can select the best ones for our purposes and sell the others.  Since we have more sheep than we are used to housing, we needed another feeder in the big stall to help spread out the eating and be sure the sheep lower in the pecking order still get enough food.  Mtn Man and Braveheart built it pretty much the same as our last one, just on the other side of the stall.

It turned out great and the sheep were happy to check it out.

Then Anya, since she is part of the flock and might think she is a sheep, had to check it out too.  🙂

Heritage Arts

I finally grew overwhelmed and bored with my two knitting projects on the needles because they are both so big and so far from done.  I desperately needed something new to work on, and something that would give me the satisfaction of finishing something.  Mtn Man had requested a simple ribbed hat made from the yarn he made from Autumn’s 2020 fleece.  So I whipped that up for him in a couple of days.

I felt better, but still needed something new.  So I cast on (and hooked on) two new projects.  One is the Windswept Shawl, by Paulina Popeolic, made with some oh-so-soft and drape-y alpaca yarn Mtn Man made me.

And the second is a crocheted sock scrap yarn afghan.  I love the afghan I made last year from my sock scraps.  But I still have a ton of scrap sock yarn.  I decided to go with a wave crochet pattern for this one.

Work continues on the dress for Little Miss, and the Match Play Poncho as well.  But I definitely needed a little break from them.  The dress is now 418 stitches in one round, and continuing to increase fast, so it takes forever to do one round.  And I have a LONG way to go on it because she wants it calf-length.

I finished the front of the Match Play Poncho, and have just barely started the back.

Sunday Homestead Update – New Life on the Farm

It has been an interesting couple of weeks of weather here, with warm sunny says in the high 50sF, down to cold, snowy days with several inches of snow falling and temps down to the teens at night.  Just when I start to get motivated and excited to do spring work outdoors, the snow flies again and I am trying to shift my focus indoors and stay warm by the fire.  It is an interesting situation.

Sheep

We have had a couple of sleepless nights as we have been dealing with making sure our new little ewe lamb is surviving the colder temps.  Mtn Man is such a trooper with going out to the barn in the cold and dark of night multiple times to check on her.  I am grateful that he does that part and just has me handle the alarm to get us up for each check.  Then I get to stay cozy and wait for the update from the barn.  🙂

Last night she made it fine through the night without any added heat source.  The weather is supposed to be much nicer the next several days, so it looks like we are in the clear with her.  We are definitely surprised at how she has so much less wool on her at birth than our wool lambs do.  Her mom has the most Lacaune in her lines of all our dairy sheep.  That is something we will be considering as we move forward with our selective breeding of these dairy sheep – we will want heavier wool so they can handle the climate here better.  It is going to be an interesting adventure.

Since the dairy sheep project is mostly Sunshine’s project, it made sense for her to get to name the first dairy lamb born on the farm.  She chose the name Twilight.

Twilight snuggled up for a nap right under where her mama was eating – leaving her with a nice blanket of hay.

Chickens

Cinnamon is set to hatch this week.  Since she decided to set during the rooster switch-around, the fertility was terrible on the eggs we gave her (only 5 fertile out of 12).  So we ordered some chicks to arrive this week and we will be putting them under her for her to raise with the chicks she hatches.  This is her first time hatching for us, so we are not sure how she will do with adopting chicks.  But we have successfully done it before with a couple other hens we have – so we are hopeful.  Obviously, if she rejects them we will put them in the brooder and brood them ourselves.  I will let you know how it goes.

Garden

It is feeling more and more like spring as far as gardening goes!  We harvested the first food from our garden – chives!  They are always something we can count on coming up very early and adding some flavor to our meals.

We have some other green things starting to poke out of the ground.  The strawberries are putting up leaves.

And the gooseberry bushes just barely have little leaf buds beginning.

 

The indoor garden lights have tiny seedlings coming up too.

Sewing

I think it is important that both my girls and my boys learn to use a sewing machine.  At least the basics.  The girls are both accomplished seamstresses and can use sewing machines very well.  Young Man was taught the basics when he was younger and can use one when necessary.  So now it was time for Braveheart to learn.

I like to teach them when there is something they WANT to do involving a sewing machine.  It makes the learning so much more fun and relevant, and it sticks better.  This is true for a lot of the learning in our lives, not just sewing.  Braveheart has a pair of parakeets and they make SO much mess with their downy feathers flying all over the place out of the cage.  Braveheart is responsible for cleaning up the mess a couple times a week.  So when I suggested that he sew a fabric guard for the cage that could contain the mess and keep him from having to clean so much he was totally on board.

He did a great job and learned the basics of the sewing machine, measuring, cutting, elastic, and ironing.  And he is very happy with the finished product, which is keeping the mess contained and manageable.

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 – 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 – Bitter Cold

We have been staying warm inside, but also having to do the extra winter work to keep the critters outside healthy and warm.  It has been cold and snowy, and getting well below zero at night.

Fun Farm Kid Story

We had a fun incident happen this week that revolves around the concept of kids that grow up on a farm.  Sunshine, our 15-year-old daughter, has been cooking with me since she was tiny.  She loves cooking and by about 9-years-old she was cooking at least one dinner a week for our family on her own.  Over the years she has cooked more and more, and with us in the hospital a lot the last 4 years she has been called on to cook even more.  Thankfully she enjoys it and has found many new recipes over time that our family loves.  All that to say – she has done a lot of cooking in her life thus far.

This week we were given a store-bought turkey.  While Mtn Man and I were at the Children’s Hospital with Mr. Smiles I called her and asked her to please get the turkey in the oven because we would be later than I expected and it needed time to cook.  She said no problem, and I didn’t think twice about it because she is more than capable of handling the task.  She called me back 5 minutes later – what is this plastic thing in the turkey holding the legs together…it looks like some sort of a handle?  And why is there a bag inside the carcass?  And what is this red button thing stuck in it?

I started laughing for joy as I realized, in all her years of cooking, she has never cooked a store-bought bird!!!  What an awesome farm-kid life to make it to 15 years old and only have cooked your own chickens fresh from the farm – which don’t have any bags of organs and a neck inside them, nor plastic handles on their legs, nor a pre-stuck-in thermometer, really basically no packaging at all except the plastic around it.  I love it!!!

Root Cellar in February

We have had some trouble with our root cellar in the basement not being as cold as it was last year – the remodel of the basement might have to do with this and we are still working on options of what to do.  So our over-wintered produce has not kept as well as we hoped this year.  The garlic have all gone bad, though we were able to eat them until a few weeks ago – I am probably going to can them next year.  We have a few onions left.  We have eaten many, but have lost many to rot as well.  And we have two winter squash still looking good that we will probably enjoy this week.  No squash rotted, we have just eaten them all.

So not as long of a root cellar season as we had hoped for, but not terrible either.

Sheep & Goat

When we put up hay this summer we were planning to keep fewer sheep over the winter than we ended up keeping, so we have been running low on hay.  Thankfully, we were able to find some good quality, reasonably priced hay not too far away.  We got that put up this week and we should now have enough to make it until next haying season.

Chickens

The baby chicks are still doing well in the grow pen in the barn.  It is amazing how fast they grow and change.

We had an incident this week with Lily, one of our silkie hens.

We found her with a bleeding wound on her comb when we let them out of the coop one morning.  And then we saw two of the other hens bullying her and attacking her a little later.  We don’t know if they caused the wound, or if they just went after her because she was wounded.  Chickens can be brutal with that kind of stuff.  We didn’t want to risk trouble, so we moved her into the small broody coop in the barn so that she can heal.  Once she is healed we will likely move her in with the chicks (who will be about 7 weeks old by then).  Then she can be integrated back into the flock with them, since integrating just one chicken in alone is nearly impossible.

Coyotes

It is coyote breeding season, and every year during this time they for some reason congregate on our property and drive our LGD, Anya, crazy.

The last couple weeks we have been seeing them on the property multiple times a day at all different hours and in different group sizes.  Their footprints fill the snow all over the area.  And they have howling parties in the front yard at about 2 am most nights.  This gets Anya all worked up so that once they are done she is still barking like crazy in the barn and Mtn Man has to go out there to calm her down.  We will be grateful when this is over and they move back to their regular patterns.

Heritage Arts

We recently discovered a new place to get project bags.  Mtn Man bought me this awesome bag from Front Range Bags.  I love all the features it has, with three inside pockets on one side, and a zippered inside pocket on the other.  Plus two different yarn rings, which open so you can put the yarn through without cutting it.  And the outside has a pocket on each side as well.  But what I was most impressed with was the quality of the sewing.  As someone who has done a lot of sewing myself, and also has purchased other handmade bags, I found the sewing quality on these bags to be top notch and better than any I have ever seen.  I am loving using my new bag!

Little Miss got two bags as well.  Hers were a smaller version for socks.  They didn’t have exterior pockets, but had the other features.  And the fabric handles on hers have a snap so they can easily be attached to another bag, or a stroller, or whatever.

Hazel and Jerry

These two continue to enjoy their morning snuggles by the fire and afternoons in the sun puddles – even using each other as head pillows.