Sunday Homestead Update – Gardening Season?

Could it possibly be true that gardening season is starting? It doesn’t feel possible. And yet here I am, starting my first seeds of the year indoors. At our previous farm I didn’t start seeds until mid to late March. But our new climate means a longer growing season and an earlier last-frost. And so it is true…gardening season is starting. This will take some getting used to.

Cold Frame

We have wanted to build some cold frames for many years to extend our season. But at our previous farm there was really no good location to build them so it kept getting put off. The new farm has a great location, and so we were excited to get one built to plant this spring and hope to do more this fall if it works well. We lined up bottles full of water along the back to add thermal mass. We got down to 18F one night and the cold frame only got to 30F. So that is promising. This week I planted our first spring crops in the cold frame. Seeds and plants in soil in February? Again…this will take some getting used to.


Root Cellared Veggies Update

We are still happily eating out of the root cellar. We finished up everything we had except winter squash and pumpkins. So we don’t know the exact length that the onions and garlic could have lasted given time. The potatoes were all eaten, with a few withered sprouting ones left. But the winter squash and pumpkins are still going great. We have decided to purposefully slow down our consumption of them so we can see how long they will last. But the root cellar is holding a great temp and we are really happy with it.

Cheesemaking

I am working through all the frozen sheep milk from last year that we couldn’t make into cheese due to the move. I have now made 6 gallons of it into cheese. There is still over 20 gallons left to get through before the milk sheep begin lambing in March.

We set up two repurposed refrigerator cheese caves. One is in the root cellar. It is a mini fridge and is holding perfect temp without being plugged in due to the root cellar temperatures. And a few dishes of water in the bottom of it are keeping the humidity in a good place. The second one is in a regular temperature room, so it has to be plugged in to maintain the temp we need, and, because it is a full-sized refrigerator, we are using tiny fans in the bottom to blow across the water drawers with humidifier wicks in them. That keeps the humidity up enough.

To read how we made a small refrigerator into a cheese cave, you can click here. At some point I will write up how we did it with the larger one. The main issue with the larger one that makes it different than using a small one is humidity. Especially if you live in a dry climate like we do.

Birthing Barn

The new farm we moved to is not set up for birthing out sheep and goats, especially not in the colder months. We don’t have any enclosed barns, only large and tall horse loafing sheds. We have been discussing and contemplating what to do about this issue on and off since we moved in. We have toyed with several different ideas of converting the loafing sheds, but eventually landed on building a small birthing barn and pen to be used until we eventually build a full-sized barn for all the sheep and goats to use all winter. We attached it to the poultry barn.

With our first lambs due in March, we have been working to get the birthing barn built and ready so we could move the first two ewes that are due into it. It has 2 jugs (birthing stalls) with the possibility of setting up a temporary third one as needed. It is closer to the house so we can easily keep an eye on them. And it is warm and cozy to help decrease the chance of hypothermic babies. We finished the important aspects of it and moved the first two girls in this week. When warmer weather hits we will be able to finish the trim, painting, and all the little details. But for now, we are ready for lambing and kidding season!

We always enjoy building as much as possible with free pallet wood. High lumber prices definitely brought our pallet-wood building to a whole new level with this barn build.

Heritage Arts

I am only working on one knitting projects right now (gasp!) because I just want to get it done. It has been on the needles for like 2 years and just keeps getting put off for other projects. It is an alpaca shawl with a lace border. It will be nice to finally finish it (hopefully!).

Daniel also bought me a couple of jelly rolls of fabric to make us a new quilt for our bed. I decided on a bear paw pattern and have started piecing it. I am really excited about how this will turn out, but nervous about how long it will take me to complete with everything else in life. 🙂

Feeders, or Beds?

We have had LGDs and goats using the feeders as beds lately. Cushy hay up off the cold ground on a sunny winter day…makes sense to me. The rams just go on eating right around the dog.

2021 Year-End Homestead Review

At the end of each year I like to do a homestead review post where I sum up the year and give some statistics about each area of the homestead.  It helps me see how we did, what we succeeded with, what we didn’t do as well as hoped with, etc.  Usually, it encourages me because I realize we accomplished a lot despite potentially feeling like we didn’t as I lived in the day-to-day chaos of life.

To read previous Year-End Reviews Click the following links:

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

This year is quite a bit different.  In January we started preparing our house to go on the market, and then the rest of the year was quite the whirlwind of selling, buying, moving, and settling at the new farm.  So there were pretty much no records kept about the homestead the way I usually do.  Plus, we did not have a garden, since we moved too late in the season to start it.  So this year’s update will be a little different.

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Sold or butchered the flock down to 10 standard hens and 1 standard rooster, and 5 bantam hens for the move.
  • Put 7 store-bought chicks under broody hen to raise.
  • 1 bantam hen and 1 standard hen died.
  • Ended year with 16 standard hens, 1 standard rooster, and 4 bantam hens.
  • No idea how many eggs we got this year, but enough that we didn’t have to buy any and were able to sell some.

Ducks:

  • Started the year with 1 drake and 1 hen.  Both older.
  • Butchered older drake and hen before the move.
  • Purchased 10 Muscovy ducklings and 4 Welsh Harlequin ducklings to add to the new farm.
  • Butchered 2 Muscovy drakes and 2 Welsh Harlequin drakes.
  • Ended the year with 6 Muscovy hens, 2 Muscovy drakes, and 2 Welsh Harlequin hens.
  • Not sure how many eggs we got, but the Harlequins started laying in about November and laid about 10 eggs each week between the two of them.

Guinea Fowl:

  • Purchased 8 Guinea keets.
  • Had some issues getting them free-ranging but were able to get it figured out.  They roost in their coop overnight.
  • 1 was killed by one of the LGDs.
  • Ended year with 7 free-ranging Guinea Fowl.

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 5.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the move to the new farm.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.
  • Since the new farm had more space and created two flocks instead of just one, we added another LGD to the family.  Ayla is almost 2 years old and is learning and growing into a good guardian dog.  She is Anya’s half-sister.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams.
  • 1 ram lamb and 1 ewe lamb born, both survived.
  • An unknown (because we didn’t keep track), but good amount of milk produced for cheesemaking.
  •  4 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of  24 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  •  3 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of  14 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • We weren’t able to process many of the fleece due to how busy we were with the move, so we only processed one for a total of  600 yds of yarn.
  • Did not sell any sheep this year due to the expanded size of the new farm and our desire to expand the flocks.
  • Purchased 1 East Friesian (dairy) ram lamb, 1 BFL (wool) ram lamb, and 3 BFL (wool) ewe lambs.
  • Breeding season Oct-Dec: confirmed 2 pregnant dairy ewes, don’t have confirmation on the rest yet.
  • Finished year with 5 wool ewes, 1 wool wether, 2 wool rams, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram.

Goats:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant Nubian does.
  • One doe died
  • 1 buckling born, sold at weaning.
  • Purchased fresh (milking) Nubian doe.
  • Unknown amount of milk produced, but plenty for our family through the year.
  • Re-bred 2 does in Nov.
  • Ended year with 2 pregnant does due to kid in April.

Garden

  • No garden this year, but we were blessed with a lot of produce from other people’s gardens.
  • We did bring our container herb garden with us, and expanded it.  We harvested a lot of fresh herbs as well as harvesting and drying them.
  • Brought cuttings from our Lilac bushes with us and planted those.
  • Gifted an apple tree which we planted and it survived.
  • Purchased comfrey roots and planted several of those for next year.
  • Gifted some garlic and planted it for next year.
  • Started construction on the new vegetable garden for next year.

Heritage Arts:

  • There was a lot of knitting and sewing done, but I did not keep good track this year, so I have nothing to report here.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, applesauce, pickles, and crabapple jelly.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, and squash from a barter with someone.
  • Made quite a bit of aged cheese.  Mostly from sheep milk, a few from goat’s milk.
  • Made a lot of soft cheeses and dairy products, mostly from goat’s milk, some from sheep milk.

Year Summary

January was busy with house remodel projects to prepare it to go on the market.  I did some knitting and spinning, and we made firestarters to help keep the firemaking easy as we used them to warm our house.  We wethered our infertile BFL ram, and were excited to add a new breeding ram to the farm – an American Bond.  Unfortunately, he would later prove to be infertile as well.

February started with a hard loss – our sweet goat Pansy died after a long struggle with medical issues.  We had a deep freeze with days barely in the single digits and nights well into the negative numbers.  One of our dairy ewes, Daisy, gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl.  Her milk production was even better than last year (last year was her first freshening).  We decided to just let the lambs have it as we were up to our eyeballs with getting ready to sell the farm.  I did some knitting and decided to take a break from blogging as we were closing in on listing the homestead on the market.

I didn’t blog in March or early April.  But life kept marching on (of course).  Our house sold, with the stipulation that we find a suitable place to buy.  We looked and looked, but didn’t find anything during this time.  Our 5-year-old son had more liver issues, an ER visit which led to another hospitalization and his 24th surgery.  We continued to watch for our new farm.  The market was crazy with very little inventory, very high prices, and offers being placed and accepted in less than 24 hours.  It was easy for us as sellers, but hard as buyers.

In late April our Nubian doe delivered a buckling.  And we finished shearing all the sheep.  Just a few days before the contract on our previous house was going to expire, we found our new farm and our offer was accepted.  It was official – we were leaving the Rockies we had called home for many decades and heading to the High Plains.

In May we got really sick as we scrambled to pack and prepare to move a family of 7, plus grandma, a school, a business with large machinery, and a farm full of animals.  Thankfully, we were healthy in time for closing on both places and at the very end of May we signed all the papers and started the move.  Sadly, one week before the move, our sweet 15-year-old kitty, who we had owned since he was a kitten, passed away.  In hindsight, I am glad he didn’t have to go through the stress of the move at his old age, but we still miss him very much to this day.

June was crazy.  We spent two weeks prepping the new farm for us, the animals, and the machinery, then moving everything, and trying to somewhat settle in.  We saw our first tornado, way too clearly, on the third day we were here.  We added a new LGD to the farm family and she got right to work guarding one of the flocks (now that they were split into two at the new place with more space).  We started pasturing the sheep and goats and learning the ins and outs of intensive grazing with electric netting fence.  We started putting together a container garden with what we brought from our previous farm, plus some additional containers left on the new property.  Fencing the perimeter of the property with field fence to keep dogs out and sheep, goats, and dogs in became a priority, and big project, that wouldn’t fully get finished this year.  We also spent a ton of time weeding.  Weeding, weeding, and more weeding.  The area around the house that was covered in gravel was a jungle of weeds to the point you couldn’t see the gravel at all in some places.  We got a safe play area built for our youngest son.  Through it all, we were learning the new climate, the new views, the new landscape, the new wildlife….everything was new and different!  I continued to write online for Mother Earth News through the whole year, and I was really excited when I had my first article ever to make it into the print edition of the magazine printed in the June/July issue.

In July we thought we might just die of the heat.  We had more days in the triple digits than not, and several days got up to 108/109.  It was miserable for us as we had previously lived in the cool, high-altitude Rockies and had never experienced temperatures like that before, and certainly not day after day.  We continued to do what we could with the little container garden, but the temperatures were not helping.  Plus, pest bugs started killing everything we were working so hard to keep alive.  One of our sheep bloated, and we successfully tubed him and saved him since the vet couldn’t come.  We added ducklings, some chicks, and guinea keets to the farm.  By the end of the month the ducklings were out grazing in duck tractors we had built from odds and ends around the farm.  Milking the sheep and goat in the open with the flies and wind and heat was getting miserable, so we converted an old shed into a wonderful milking parlor.  Lastly, we built a door for the hay barn in preparation to put up hay for the year.

In August we started to feel somewhat settled at the new farm.  We added another Nubian milking doe and 4 Bluefaced Leicester sheep to the farm.  We did a lot of fermenting and canning.  Now that we had a couple of months under our belts, we were reading books like crazy and doing research to try to figure out how we want to manage and build the new farm in so many different areas – livestock, gardens, etc.  We started a new school year, our first and the new farm.  Sadly, our sweet, old house-rabbit, Wilbur, passed away.

September included a lot of illness and some death among the livestock, as well as illness among the humans.  We enjoyed a drop in the very hot temperatures and found we were able to spend more time outside.  I got my antique treadle sewing machine fixed and started to learn how to use it.  We built the poultry barn and moved around all the poultry to new housing.  We started to feel a bit overwhelmed as we tried to get to everything we needed to get done before winter hit.

October was full of guinea fowl adventures as we attempted to get our guineas to free-range but stay on our property and go indoors to roost at night.  I had another article published in the October/November print edition of Mother Earth News magazine.  Our youngest son had another round of liver issues with hospitalization and surgery.  I also spent a lot of time sewing on my antique treadle machine, making a quilt and aprons for gifts.  By the end of the month I felt completely proficient on the machine and it became my go-to sewing machine for most all my projects.

In November I was excited to be able to speak at the Homesteader’s Livestock Summit.  The whole family helped with my presentation and we all really enjoyed the opportunity to share what we love and teach about raising sheep for high-quality wool production.  The Nubian does headed to the breeder’s farm to get bred, since we don’t keep a buck for breeding.  Our sheep breeding season was proving challenging and we decided to try using ram harnesses with marking crayons to help figure out what was going on.  We finished all our “before winter hits” projects in time, including a root cellar/tornado shelter.  The girls had a very successful booth at a Christmas craft fair in the area.  And we got our first dusting of snow at the new farm.

December was shockingly warm, and we enjoyed it.  We also enjoyed the slower pace from a year of crazy busy.  We stopped all “projects” and just spent time enjoying our family.  We all got sick with a nasty cold, but it helped keep us slowed down, at home, and resting for the first time in a very long year.  The ducks started laying, and the goats came home pregnant.  We made our final plans for next year’s vegetable garden, and started working towards making it a reality.

It has been a crazy year of change and so much hard work.  But it is all a blessing and we are glad for the move and all that we have gone through.  We are looking forward to 2022 being our first full year at the new farm.  We are excited to see what every season is like here.  And we are busy dreaming and planning as we build this new homestead out on the High Plains.

Sunday Homestead Update – First Snow

Well, finishing up our winter prep last weekend was just in time…we got our first real snow this last week, and we got down to the teens one night. Brrrr.

It wasn’t a significant snow, just a dusting that melted off before lunchtime. But it was snow, and it was fun to see our first snow at the new farm. This was SO much later than we are used to getting snow. Our previous homestead, up in the Rockies has already had several snows this year and much colder weather. We have been enjoying the longer fall and warmer weather here, especially as we scurried to get projects done. The long-time locals tell us this has been unseasonably warm and that this is almost a record breaking late-in-the-season date for the first snow.

Holiday Craft Fair

About 6 weeks ago, Sunshine and Little Miss were invited to participate in a holiday craft fair. It was the first time this specific craft fair was going to take place so we were unsure about how well it would go. But they decided to take the plunge and see. They spent weeks working on making items for their table. Everything turned out beautifully, and they were very excited when the day finally arrived.

It went very well and they pretty much sold out of all they had made!

It also got us all into the holiday mood, so we are pretty excited to be celebrating Thanksgiving this week, and then decorating for Christmas this next coming weekend.

Livestock

I know this post didn’t include any homestead livestock or kitchen to speak of…I will update on all that next week.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday Homestead Update – Pig Butchering

We don’t raise pigs at our farm, but we love a good barter and one of our fiber mill clients raises Mangalitza pigs. So we get two pigs each fall for our family. This last week we butchered the pigs and got all the meat put up for the winter. The hams are curing and today I will be rendering the lard. While I am not a big fan of butcher days, it is always nice to have food put up for the winter.

Goats

We don’t keep bucks at our farm, so our Nubian does go and spend time at the breeder’s farm for 4-6 weeks each year to get bred. We dropped them off this last week. We sure are going to miss having those sweet girls around, not to mention their milk! With the move and all we didn’t freeze any goat milk to get us through this time, so we will definitely be missing them.

Muscovies

The Muscovies are pretty much fully mature now and we are really enjoying the beautiful colors and markings they each have. We also have 2 Welsh Harlequins living with them.

Heritage Arts

I have started in on making Christmas presents. Since many of the people getting the presents follow the blog, I won’t get to share much with you. But Mr. Smiles is too little, so I can show you what I am making for him. I am making him another hoody. I am using the yarn Daniel made me from MacDougal’s 2020 fleece. This is the third time I have used this same pattern to make him a hoody, it is called “Latte Coat.” We love these so much that each time he outgrows one I make him another.

Speaking of MacDougal, his eye healed completely and he can see fine now. He continues to be such a sweet and friendly guy.

Homestead Livestock Summit

As you know from following our blog, we are passionate about raising food from our land, whether it is vegetables, eggs, meat, or milk. We care about how our animals are treated and raised, and what goes into them and thus ends up in our food. We are also seeing so many shortages and rising prices that being more self-sustaining by raising our own food is important to providing well for our family. It feels so good to sit down to a meal around our table that has been completely raised on our property. We are also very passionate about raising our own wool, and then using that to create all sorts of items for our family from the high-quality fiber we are raising.

We love teaching and sharing all about how we do what we do, and helping others be successful in their homesteading pursuits. That is why we have this blog and why I enjoy writing for Mother Earth News and other publications about homesteading.

Soooo, I am very excited to tell you about this FREE 3-day event!

You can learn absolutely everything you’d ever want to know about the summit over here, but as a quick overview:

  • The summit will run from November 15 through November 17
  • Each day will be packed with amazing speakers who are ready to help you raise animals for food and make the most of your harvests
  • We’ve got a pop-up Facebook group where you’ll find accountability buddies, connect with other folks raising livestock, ask the speakers questions, and whatever else we come up with!
  • You can attend the summit absolutely free, but you can choose to grab the All Access Pass at any time. The All Access Pass will give you an all-access pass to the summit (meaning you get all the videos for life), and exclusive speaker bonuses including mentorships, digital guides, and more! ***The All Access Pass is currently being offered at a special price, and it will disappear for good once the summit is over, so start thinking about now!

I am honored to be included as one of the expert speakers, and I will be speaking about raising sheep for high-quality wool on Tuesday afternoon, November 16th.

Head over to the website to learn more and grab your free ticket. More information will be sent straight to your inbox afterwards.

I will be ready to chat and answer your questions during my presentation…hope to see you there!