Sunday Homestead Update

We woke up to -8F this morning.  Brrrrrrr.  So there will be extra barn chores today as we help make sure the animals are all handling it well.

I have previously done a thorough post on how we keep animals warm in very cold temperatures and you can read it by clicking here.  I also have done one specifically on keeping our chickens in the cold which you can read by clicking here.

Since it is so cold today, we decided to have a PJ day and work on making our hand-dipped beeswax candles.  We only have a few left from our last batch, so it was time to make some more.  What better time than a frigid winter day?  I posted how we make our candles a few years ago and you can read it by clicking here.

The woodstoves are burning, the house is cozy, there is beautiful snow outside and the farm animals are all taken care of, so now I am going to take my hot cup of tea and go help with the candle dipping project.  Have a great Sunday!

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been a hard week at the homestead.  The absence of Holly is constantly obvious since she was always with us as we went about our days on the homestead.  The pain of her absence is getting a little bit duller, but we all had a harder week because of it.

We were really excited to get our new online store up and running, and we are continuing to work on items to add to it.  You can check it out at willowcreekcabin.mollygreenshops.com

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Eve is doing well with her three little chicks.  As you can see in the photos, she is a good, protective mama.  She puffs up and puts her wings out in a protective stance when we go into the pen with her.

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And now Banana, our Buff Orpington hen, has decided she is ready to be a mama again too.  So we have moved her into the broody coop and we are collecting breeding eggs.  We are hoping to get the dummy eggs out and put the breeding eggs under her tomorrow.

I finished my sweater.  It turned out just right…until I washed it…and then it grew.  I didn’t know a wool sweater could grow after being washed.  I thought the general worry was that it would shrink.  So now it is ginormous on me.  It is super comfy, I love the color, and it is great for around the house comfy-wear.  But I don’t think I will wear it out in public  because it looks like I am wearing a knit tent or something.  Does anyone know how to get it to shrink a bit without it become child-size and felting?  It is superwash wool.

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That is the update from our little farm!  I need to get off the computer and back to work…the family is dipping beeswax candles right now and I don’t want to miss out on it.  🙂

 

2013 Review of Willow Creek Farm

It has been quite a year! There have been successes, failures, a natural disaster and subsequent evacuation, injuries, births, deaths, plenty of learning and tons of adventure. We really enjoyed writing this post and looking back at a full and somewhat crazy year at the homestead. So let’s dive in and share it with you all…

First, some statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 8-52 chickens on the farm at any given time this year
  • We had as few as 2 adult laying hens all the way up to 19 adult laying hens at once
  • All told, 1,541 eggs were laid at our farm this year
  • 56 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 72 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 20 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 14 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • We successfully hatched 25 chicks, we had quite a bit of unsuccessful incubation of eggs
  • 1 chick was lost within the first 48 hours of hatching
  • 1 bird (a pullet) was lost to frozen legs and 1 pullet was lost to cross-beak

Considering the fact that we only had 2-5 layers the first half of the year, in addition to the fact that the birds were evacuated for the flood and thus stopped laying for several weeks, and that we have no record of what they laid while evacuated, we are very happy with these numbers. The cost to us to buy the amount of eggs we ate ourselves, and the meat, would more than cover the gap between income and expenses, so we are fully expecting the chicken project to go into profit-mode next year. And we feel that the losses in the chicken project were very small compared to what they could have been, so we are thankful for that.

Rabbits:

  • We had between 3-6 adult rabbits on our farm at any given time this year
  • 44 kits were born
  • 1 adult doe was culled because of production issues and bad temperament
  • 1 adult doe died with kindling complications
  • 3 does were added to the breeding program
  • 1 buck was added to the breeding program
  • 70 lbs of meat were sold for pet consumption

This year has been quite a struggle with the rabbits. We had A LOT of pregnancies not take. We had A LOT of kit deaths and/or small litters. While there was profit, we are not very satisfied with these statistics. We know they can produce better than this – they have in the past. We are hopeful that next year will prove to be a more productive year for the rabbits.

Cows:

We did not keep milk production statistics on the cows over long periods of time this year. However, we had plenty of milk for our family’s needs, including to make cheeses, butter, sour cream, and yogurt. So we are happy with that. They produced well.

We butchered our first steer (a full bred jersey) and ended up with 110 lbs of meat for us, 34 lbs of soup bones, and 22 lbs of dog food.

Sheep:

The sheep produced 3 fleece for us this year for a total of 12 lbs of wool.

Garden:

We did not track or weigh produce this year because of the flood in the middle of the harvest season and the evacuation.  However, considering our major problems with the soil we bought, we are very happy with what we were able to get from the gardens, and are hopeful for an even more productive garden next year with the amended soil.

With the help of all the animals we have produced large amounts of very rich compost this year that we will be using on our garden (and sharing with our friends) next year. We consider that a wonderful product of the farm as well.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 4 baby hats, 1 pair of fingerless mitts, 2 pairs of kids socks, 1 boys sweater vest, 1 pair of adult socks, and a girls poncho.
  • I sewed 2 single sized bed quilts, 4 baby blankets, 2 knitting needle cases, 3 crochet hook cases, 1 DPN case, 4 pairs of pantaloons, 2 girls dresses, and 3 ladies skirts.  Not to mention mending innumerable items.
  • I crocheted 12 dish scrubbies, 4 cherry pie hot pads, and numerous granny squares for an afghan.
  • I learned to tat and tatted 3 bookmarks.
  • I learned to spin and spun about 350 yards of double-ply yarn.
  • We did our first batch of hand-dipped taper candles and ended up with 40 candles.

In the Kitchen:

I don’t have exact stats from the farm kitchen, but A LOT of dairy products and home canned food came out of there this year. Not to mention bread, daily meals, and treats too.

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2013:

In January we purchased 27 chicks.  They all survived, and one turned out to be a rooster.

February brought very cold weather.  We made firestarters for the woodstoves, and built a new rabbitry.  We banded our calf, Charlie, and began building the upper coop.  We trained the chickens to use the “chicken nipple” water spouts and moved the chicks up to the partially finished upper coop.  I finished a scrap quilt for my youngest daughter, and my grandmother passed on.

March brought us warmer days, and we used them to enjoy time outside.  Our son started his rabbit business, selling meat for pet consumption.  I learned to tat and tatted some bookmarks.  We battled scaly leg mites in the adult chickens and decided we were going to start a chicken breeding program.  I made knitting needle and crochet hook storage cases for my daughters.  I also learned to make my own condiments, including mayo, ketchup, and BBQ sauce.

In April our dairy cow, Charlotte, bloated, and thankfully survived it.  I started some garden seeds indoors.  And we had a spring blizzard.

May started with a bang, as we had a blizzard that dropped 18 inches of snow in 24 hours, and we lost electricity.  We celebrated our one-year anniversary of living at the farm.  We built a strawberry patch, onion patch, and the raised bed vegetable garden.  We tried out a compost heap pumpkin patch.  We started our first incubation with a few of our own eggs as well as some purchased hatching eggs.  We decided to sell our Jersey cow, Charlotte, and instead get a miniature cow to save on feed costs.  We canned quite a bit, and tried out re-useable canning lids.  And we built the hay lofts.

In June we butchered our first chicken for meat after our young cockerel attacked our 8-year-old daughter.  Our first hatch was a sad failure, as only one chick survived it.  We bought some chicks to brood with the sole survivor, and planned to try again.  We loaded up our lofts with hay for the year, and decided we were going to add sheep to the farm.  We realized, after planting our entire garden, that the garden dirt we bought was very poor soil and very much like clay.  We butchered our steer (that was a first for us).

In July our two sheep joined the farm, Stella and Fiona.  And our Jersey cow, Charlotte, was sold and left the farm.  Our garden made good progress, despite the soil disaster.  And, sadly, our second incubation was a failure.  We began researching high-altitude hatching, and found someone who was experienced with hatching at our altitude.  We started our third incubation with our new knowledge, but with high anxiety after already having failed twice.  We built trap nest boxes, and started free-ranging our chickens in the barnyard.  We washed our first fleece shorn from Stella.

August brought Violet, a JLow cow (miniature Jersey x Lowline) to our farm.  We dealt with her having mastitis in one quarter her first few weeks with us.  Later in the month we struggled to, but succeeded in, grafting a calf, named Ferdinand, onto Violet.  We finally had a successful hatch with 23 chicks surviving.  Our garden continued to make progress and we started harvesting and did more canning.

September started well, with our local 4H group touring the farm, and with the construction of our herb garden.  But beginning on the 11th our world was turned upside-down as flood waters tore through our community, taking lives and homes with them.  We evacuated 71 animals from our farm, in addition to our family of 6.  Our animals were spread to several different “foster” homes to live until we could bring them back home and we lived with my in-laws.  Toward the end of the month we moved ourselves, and the smaller animals, back into the home off-grid, while utility crews and disaster crews worked long hours trying to fix the destruction.  With the loving financial help from family, friends, and strangers we were able to build a water system so that we could have running hot water in large quantities (as opposed to the 5-gallon buckets we were using).

In October we felt ourselves strengthen as our farm, and our community began to overcome the disaster.  Rebuilding went forward at unexpected speeds and by the end of the month we had running town water, flushing toilets, and safer (though still scary) road access to our homestead restored.  The mild weather kept our spirits up and kept us outside focusing on moving forward with projects around the farm.  We also had our first hard frost.  We kept ourselves busy making soap, harvesting the garden and putting it to bed, canning chicken and beef stock, and I started knitting Christmas presents and finished making my son’s quilt.  While evacuated from the farm the sheep and cow were bred.

In November we were able to officially label our homestead as “mostly back to normal” when our sheep and cows finally arrived back home.  The community around us was far from “back to normal,” but it felt nice to have our homestead mostly back where it used to be.  We successfully weaned Ferdinand with the Quiet Wean device.  We built part of the barnyard fence, as well as a wall around the water system in the mud room.  After years and years of wanting to, I finally learned how to spin yarn.  We added some “refugees” from the flood to our farm for the winter, a cat and her kittens.  We ended up bottle feeding two kittens after she rejected them.  We kept one as our own pet, named him Nicholas, and our friends took the other one.

December brought a big winter storm with it.  After the snow was done we went into a deep freeze with temps not going above 9 degrees for several days and going into the negative teens each night.  We fought to keep animals safe, warm, and alive.  We struggled with frostbite on the chickens and lost one bird to the cold when her legs froze repeatedly.  I continued with knitting Christmas presents and we made a bunch of yummy treats.  The sheep were shorn.  We did blood tests on the cow and sheep to check for pregnancy, the cow came back pregnant, the sheep not.  We butchered many cockerels and did our first ever hand-dipped beeswax taper candles.

It is just amazing to look back on a year so full of activity.  We had some of the hardest days of our lives, and yet the blessings overshadow them completely.  Goodbye 2013!  Hello 2014!

Hand-Dipped Beeswax Taper Candles

We had so much fun doing our own hand-dipped beeswax tapers last Friday!

I had been collecting the necessary supplies for a few months, and the beeswax was the last thing I needed.  My sweet husband gave it to me for Christmas!

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As we began preparing we realized that we needed a rack of some sort to hang the candles on to cool during the process.  Husband headed up to his wood shop, and, as is common for him, came back with a rack that was not only functional but also beautiful.  I was very excited about it and we got started as soon as the finish on it was dry.

First, we melted the beeswax.  The tallest metal dipping vat we could find after much searching was a 7-inch deep food can.  We will try to find a deeper vat for future candles, as this only made tapers that were about  5 1/2 inches tall.

We put the dipping can inside of a pot that we didn’t care about getting wax on – our soap-making pot.  We put water in the pot up to about 2 inches of the top of the dipping can and put the beeswax in the can.  It is not good to melt wax directly on the stove, it needs to be in a double-boiler type set-up.  We also set up my small wax double boiler that I have used in the past for making candles and firestarters.  This we also put the beeswax in, and its purpose was to pour into the dipping can to refill it as the level of wax went down throughout the dipping process.

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Dipping can inside of pot for double boiling

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Smaller double boiler for extra wax

While we waited for the wax to melt we prepared our supplies.  We are trying two different types of wicks this time to see which we like better.  We cut the wicks to length, hooked them over a little cardboard holder we had made to hold the pair of candles apart from each other, and tied a washer or rivet thingy (whatever we had lying around that would serve the purpose) to the bottom of each wick.

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I must jump in at this point for a second to say…see my brown swirl textured kitchen countertop in the above picture?  And see the faux brick wall and the burnt orange oven door in the photo above that?  Say goodbye to my 70s style kitchen!  It is being ripped out this coming weekend and I am SO excited.  I will not miss it.

But I digress…

We then hung them on my pretty rack and put the rack on a lazy susan (after this pic was taken) so we could easily spin it during the process.

8Then we started dipping.  We found that the rivets were not quite heavy enough to keep the wick totally straight, so we will stick with washers and nuts next time.  We had 20 pair all together.  We would dip two pair, put them back on the rack, and by the time we got through the rest of them and back to those two pair they were dry and ready for the next layer.

3.5Once there was enough wax on them that they were holding themselves straight we cut off all of the washers and rivets.  We also smoothed the bottoms a bit after cutting them off.

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We kept dipping and dipping and dipping.  Eventually they began to get thicker and thicker.

We did realize during the process one issue with the beautiful rack husband built…the round dowels for hanging them on didn’t want to allow the cardboard to stay flat and keep the two candles from touching eachother.  So he is going to switch out those dowels for arms that are flat instead of round before we do it again.  As it was, we ended up taping some cardboard on top of the dowels to give them a flat top for the cardboard holding the wicks to sit on.

Once they were a little bit past half-way to the width I wanted I took a couple and did some pretty twisted candles.  To do that, we held them in the wax a little bit longer than normal to soften them a little extra, then I carefully twisted them together.  I had to go slow and take my time to be sure they didn’t crack or break.  I also took the bottom and shaped it to the size I needed it to fit onto the candle holder.  Once they were twisted and their bottoms were shaped I dipped them again, as a twisted pair, twice to help seal them together.

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We kept dipping the rest until they were the width we wanted.

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I then took some and put them in the log candle holder my husband made me for Christmas last year.

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And I put some in the two wall candle holders my husband made me for Christmas this year.

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They are awesome!  We are very happy with them and it was so much fun for the family to do together.  We will definitely be doing this again.

Sunday Homestead Update

We had a wonderful week and a great Christmas celebration.  My husband has not had to work since last Tuesday, so we have had a nice little mini-vacation/stay-cation.  We have done a lot of resting, playing with our new “toys,” spending time together having fun, and getting some things done around the homestead.

Preparing for Demolition

We packed away our Christmas decorations and also began packing up our school room, diningroom, and front entrance in preparation for the demolition of our kitchen next weekend.  Later this week I will pack up the kitchen.

We are doing the remodel in two phases, so really only about half of the kitchen will be demolished next weekend.  We are taking out an entire wall, which is weight-bearing and thus a big job because a temporary support wall must be built, then the weight-bearing wall torn out, then permanent support posts and beams installed, then the temporary wall can be taken down.  No small job, especially for my husband to accomplish on a weekend with a crew that includes just me and the kids.  But we will do our best and see what we can accomplish.  We are all very excited about the kitchen getting remodeled.  The current kitchen was built when the house was built, in the early 70s.  It is an area that we spend a lot of time in and it is going to be so wonderful for it to be new, clean, and more user-friendly.

Many Chicken Happenings, and a Turkey Too!

Friday we decided we had waited long enough, it was time to butcher the last 6 cockerels.  As we were sitting in the living room discussing whether to go ahead and try scalding and plucking for the first time or to just skin them like we have been, our son said he saw something in the driveway.  We looked out the window, and there was a flock of wild turkeys walking across our driveway.  Husband has a license for a wild turkey and has been hoping to get one before fall season ends Jan 15.  So he headed outside and came back with a turkey!  Yippee!  Our first wild turkey ever!

He said he absolutely wanted to try plucking so that the turkey was skin-on, so we went for it and did our first ever scalding plucking adventure with the wild turkey and the 6 cockerels.  With all 6 of us working together it actually went surprisingly fast and smoothly.  They all then went into the chest coolers in cold salt water.  We are cooking the turkey for dinner tonight and will freeze all the cockerels.

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I caught some of the ladies settling in for the night by the heat lamp. The rest of the chickens were still outside, so I think these girls were hoping for the prime spots by the heat lamp and hoping that early arrival would get them their spots.

We also started our first official incubation for our breeding program on Friday!  I was surprised that for the last ten days, while I have been collecting eggs, my breeding hens have laid very very well.  I have 5 hens in this breeding along with our younger (un-proven) rooster, Boaz.  One hen gave me 8 eggs, two hens gave 7 eggs each, and 2 hens gave 6 eggs each.  Pretty good for winter I’d say!  We had space in the bator, so we also collected a few eggs from the non-breeding hens (all of which will be breeding in the spring breeding and incubation so they are breeding quality) mixed with our rooster Pepper.  I am guessing Pepper wont have good fertility due to his horrible frostbite, but since we had space we figured we should fill it with what we could and see what happens.  Worst case they aren’t fertile and we take them out next week.  No biggie.  Worth a try.

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Let the 21 day count-down to hatching begin!!!

In addition to our indoor incubation, one of our Buff Orpingtons, Banana, has decided to go broody.  This is very exciting news for us!  We have been anxiously waiting for a broody bird for over a year now.  Most people find them a hassle, but we want to let hens raise the chicks for our breeding program, and we want to get broodiness back into our lines, so we really want this.  The timing seems less than ideal, being the middle of winter and all, but we are not going to deter her from doing what we desperately want them to do.  We figure if there are problems we can always put the eggs in the bator, or the chicks in the brooder, with the batch we are currently incubating since the timing is lining up within a couple of days of each other.  We will see how it goes!

3We will move Banana to the broody coop today and see if she keeps her broodiness even with the move.  Our other two coops are not good for brooding because the nest boxes are not on floor level, and the coops have ramps to the outside, neither of which work for new chicks.  I know Harvey Ussery moves his broody hens to a brooding nest all the time and they tolerate it fine, so I am hopeful ours will too.  Not to mention all the people who move their hens trying to break their broodiness and can’t get them to break it.

Boaz, our young Dark Brahma rooster, has something wrong with one of his feet.  The thing is, we can’t figure out what it is.  He has been limping for 3 days now and holding that foot up.  We have examined it over and over again and can’t find anything.  There is no obvious break or injury or abscess.  There is no swelling.  It moves fine.  The tip of his middle toe is the only thing that might be indicating what is wrong as it seems a bit discolored towards a grey/black color.  So we are wondering if maybe he has a little bit of frostbite on it?  It has not been terribly cold lately, and his coop has had a heat lamp since the end of November, so it seems like that couldn’t be it, but we just don’t know what else it could be.  We have slathered the whole foot in an herbal salve that is great for a myriad of “owies” twice a day and we are keeping a close eye on it and hoping it gets better soon.

Candlemaking

I have wanted to try making hand-dipped beeswax tapers for a LONG time.  We have made other types of candles, but never hand-dipped tapers.  Being truly a homestead girl at heart, I received beeswax for Christmas!  😉  So we did our first-ever candle dipping and had a ton of fun.  I love how relaxed it was.  A lot of activities have to be somewhat hurried, like canning, or candy-making.  Not the candles, just take your time and keep going.  It did take a long time, but we were having so much fun it didn’t matter.  I will post more about how we did it later.

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