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.

Sunday Homestead Update – Planning Time

I love the pattern of the seasons on a homestead.  Each season has its own particular work.  Winter means things outside slow down and gives us time for more indoor projects and to plan for the coming busy seasons.  It is hard to believe as we are buried in snow and cold that we need to get going on plans for spring.  But it is time!

We have a lot going on at our little homestead this spring, with 5 pregnant ewes (4 to be milked), 1 pregnant goat (to be milked), chicks, a new garden to finish building, filling with soil, fencing, and irrigating in time for planting, plus prepping the regular gardens as well, and finishing up the barnyard fencing.  It is going to be a very busy spring, summer, and fall!  I am a little nervous we might be in over our heads.  But here we go anyway.  🙂

Sheep (and Goat)

We need to start getting the lambing/kidding kit together and gather the meds we need to have on hand in case of trouble.  It is time to start shearing the first two ewes that are due, and in a few weeks we need to do vaccinations and wormings.

Mtn Man and I sat down with our calendars/planners and wrote down what needs to be done and when for birthing this year.  Normally we clump the chores together based on average due dates (ie. vaccinate all at the same time approximately the right distance from due dates), but this year the dates are so wide spread that we decided to just deal with each ewe individually as far as shearing and vaccinating goes, and then have two different clumps of animals for diet changes/management.

Our schedule for birthing includes:

Shearing – we shear approximately 6 weeks before the ewe is due so that we have the nicest fleece possible and to prevent her getting too hot during birthing.  Birthing and early lactation cause a break in the fleece (a weak spot) and we don’t want the weak spot to be in the center of the fiber, we want it to be at one end.  Also, if a ewe is in full fleece when she gives birth she may decide to go lay in a pile of snow to cool off during labor, which can lead to death in the lamb.  Lastly, it gives us a chance to assess her body condition (which is difficult with a full fleece on) so that we can plan her late pregnancy nutrition accordingly.

Vaccinations – We vaccinate the ewes with CD&T about 4 weeks before their due date.

Diet Changes – Depending on the condition of the ewe, which we can easily gauge right after shearing, we will transition her off of her just-grass-hay diet onto a combination of alfalfa, grass, and grain.  Fiona is a super easy-keeper, which is a nice way of saying that she easily gets fat, so we have to be more careful about giving her too much alfalfa and grain than we have to be with the dairy sheep who will need the alfalfa and grain in order to lactate well.  All ewes need some alfalfa within the month before delivery or they are at risk for pregnancy toxemia.  Sadly, we have seen this kill sheep on a couple farms nearby, and are thus very careful to be sure the ewes get good nutrition in the last month-6 weeks of pregnancy.  We would rather have Fiona a little overweight than have her get PT.  But, of course, obesity in the ewe can cause major lambing issues too.  It is a hard balance with Fiona, but easy with all the other ewes (and Pansy the goat).

Garden Plans

I finished up the garden plans and ordered my seeds this week.  The maps are looking great and it is fun to dream of the gardens growing full of food for us.  The lower garden is the new garden this year, and it is only about 2/3 built.  I planned for just that finished section (it still needs soil, fencing, and irrigation, but the boxes are built).  If we happen to be able to finish more of the garden before planting, I will just figure out at that point what we want to put in that section.

First, I figured out what we wanted to plant.  Then I mapped it out on the garden maps and thus figured out how much of each type and variety we wanted to plant.

Then I went through our stored seeds and inventoried what we had and what we needed.  I ordered seeds from my all-time favorite seed company Seeds Trust.  They are a small business located in Colorado and have a special collection of high-altitude cold-climate seeds that have worked wonderfully for us over the years.

Lastly, I caught up our garden journal with all the accurate dates and times to plant what we are planting so I know when to do what.  I shifted things quite a bit this year due to the very late frost we had last year that negatively effected our garden.  I am trying to go kind of in the middle to hopefully prevent too much loss again this year.

I shared more about how we use our garden journal in this post.

Little Miss is taking over the container herb garden this year.  She and I decided that we would go ahead and start the herbs now so that they can move out from under the lights to the living room window in time for me to have plenty of space under the lights for the veggie seed-starting.  She got those all planned out and freshened up their soil and planted them.

Heritage Arts

Mtn man finished an amazing braided wool rug this week that he was commissioned to make.  It is the first time he has ever made a rectangle shaped one, and it is the largest rug he has ever made (which made it tricky to get a good photo too).  The finished size is about 5f tx 8ft and it turned out so beautifully!  It was hard to get a perfect phot angle from above, it looks like one end is narrower than theother – I assure you they measure the same.  🙂

The buyer asked us to make this rug out of her llama and alpaca fiber.  We have never done a rug out of that type of fiber before and it was an interesting learning process to work with something other than wool.  The fiber definitely did not felt the same, and the rug wants to shed a lot.  I am assuming that the shedding will decrease over time and use, but we are not sure because we don’t have any experience with it.

I am continuing to knit on the dress for Little Miss…

the ribbing looks strange lying on the ground, but when she tried it on it looks really great.  She is super excited for me to finish it, which will be awhile since I am using fingering weight yarn and it is over 200 stitches around and increasing significantly as we go so that it will flare out nicely.

I am also still working on the Match Play Poncho, but the progress is not worth photographing.

Neither is moving very fast because I have been very busy helping with other things the last few weeks.  I plan to cast on Young Man’s birthday socks this coming week.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of Jerry – he continues to love his new retired indoor life and I can’t resist taking photos of him.

Sunday Homestead Update – Escape!

Always an adventure when keeping a little homestead!

Sheep

We had an escape incident this week.  It was very stressful on all of us.  Thankfully, it ended well and all animals are accounted for and back home.  The entire flock of sheep, plus Anya the LGD, all got out of the barnyard and took off on an adventure into the woods.  Apparently it didn’t occur to them that the coyote pack had just been through the property that morning and it therefore might be dangerous to leave the safety of the barnyard – it was the first thing on our minds when we realized they were all gone.  We found Anya first.

She apparently does not have strong “stay-with-the-flock” instincts, probably because she has been raised with them in a confined barnyard environment, not a pasture environment.  We got her put away, which pleased Pansy very much.  Somehow in the break-out Pansy the goat was left behind in the barnyard and was feeling quite lonely.  The entire family spread out and we searched the properties around us and the immense forest behind our property for over an hour before we finally laid eyes on them.  As soon as we saw them we immediately counted – all there!  Now, how to get them home?  We had buckets and bowls of feed, plus some lead ropes and halters.  Fiona, the matriarch of the flock, who LOVES grain, was at first interested in coming towards us, and the rest of the flock followed and even started nibbling.  But then Fiona must have remembered that it was on her bucket list to live in the wild for a night and she decided to take off.  The rest of the flock followed suit, except that we were able to grab Autumn and Remi before they got away.  With two sheep with us, the rest of the flock didn’t go far and we were able to carefully herd/lure them back to the barnyard.  It took awhile, and once they were in we all collapsed in relief.  Let’s not do that again – please!  All animals stay put.

Chicks 2020

This week we start our only planned chick brooding for this year.  Our incubation is hatching and we also ordered chicks to arrive in the mail.  With the sheep flock being larger than normal and expecting more lambs than normal, and needing to separate the ram off from the flock before lambing, there isn’t housing space for raising chicks after March.  Plus we will be learning the ropes of dairy sheep this spring, so we decided that if we wanted to do chicks this year we needed to do it early.  The brooders are set up and ready for the new little fluff balls arrival (to see how we brood our chicks, click here).  Obviously, if we have any hens want to set this year we will have some more chicks hatch.  The housing for broody hens and their chicks is not effected by the sheep situation.  But other than broody hens, this is it for chicks this year.

We are having issues with our incubator.  It is a 1588 Hovabator and is 5 years old now and I have had issues with the thermostat for the last 3 incubations (last year and this year).  It says it is at 99.5, but it is actually much cooler.  Unfotunately, to learn this we had to accidentally have it kill a bunch of eggs because we didn’t realize it was too cold so they developed until about day 10 and then all died.  It was a bummer.  Always have a second thermometer in your incubator to check the first one by!!!  To get it to 99.5F I have to set it to 103, and it will say it is at 102.9, but it is really 99.5.  I also put a separate hygrometer in there and the hygrometer is off too.  The incubator says it is about 15% lower than it is.  It has been OK to use it with extra thermometers in it and set it as such, but after I did lock down this week I noticed it is having trouble keeping it at 99.5, it is a little lower, and I can’t set the thermometer any higher than the 103 that I have it at.  I am hopeful that this wont affect the hatch this week.  After this incubation Young Man and Mountain Man will take it apart and see if cleaning it out helps at all (it has quite a bit of chick dust in the motor from all the hatches it has done).  If not, we will probably buy a new lid (with the motor, thermostat, etc) before we do any more incubations.  I estimate it has done 2-3 incubations each year for the last 5 years, so I am guessing it has done about 10-15 total incubations.  I don’t know how I feel about that amount and whether it should be dying yet.  What do you think?  Should I buy a different brand, or is that a good long life for an incubator?

Heritage Arts

I am continuing with my progress on the Match Play Poncho.  I really like how it is turning out.  Closing in on finishing the first side.

I have also started a new dress for Little Miss.  She loved the last one I made her SO much (click here to see it).  Unfortunately, I tried to make the same pattern again for her for Christmas in 2018, but larger because she had outgrown the last one, and it didn’t work out.  So I had to tear it all out and then I let the yarn sit on time-out for awhile until I felt inspired again.  I found a new pattern and am tweaking it a bit but think it will turn out well.  This pattern is called Ribbed Dress for Little Miss – which is ironic since I am making it for my “Little Miss.” 🙂

I made Sunshine a new ear flap hat because she needed one for the cold.  The pattern is Very Basic Bulky Ear Flap Hat by Ann Gilmour and the yarn is Lion Brand Hometown Tweed in the colorway Key Largo Tweed.