Sunday Homestead Update (a day late)

Not much going on around the homestead this week.  Tried to lay low and get caught up on basic life.  Animals are all doing well, weather has rotated between nice sunny 40sF to -10F and snow…typical winter in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Garden

Mountain Man and I went around and pruned the berry bushes in preparation for next year.  We need to do some more studying up on this process, but we understand the basic concept and do our best each year and it seems to work well.

While we were out and about around the gardens we found a small problem.

We use a 8-foot tall deer proof fencing around our gardens to keep the deer out.  It is made of plastic mesh, which is nice because it doesn’t block the view the way other fences do.  We use chicken wire on the bottom 2 feet of the fence, and bury it out a foot under the ground along the outside of the fence to keep out rabbits and digging critters.

Last year we built the new Apple Garden, which includes our two apple trees and the new medicinal herb garden.  We didn’t get around to reinforcing the bottom of the deer fence, and thankfully it didn’t matter through last summer.  But it seems a bunny has discovered the lack of defense and chewed a hole through the fence into the Apple Garden.  We will need to get the bottom reinforced before spring when there will actually be something in there for the bunnies to damage.

Knitting

I finished the very bright Fibonacci stripe pattern socks!  I am happy with how they turned out.  This sock yarn from knitpicks was a different texture than any sock yarn I have used before, so it will be interesting to see how they wear.

Due to all the big projects I knit for Christmas and thus the desire for smaller, fast-to-finish, portable projects – plus the fact that I got a ton of new sock yarn for Christmas – my sock knitting spree has continued.  The ones made from the Fergus/Bamboo yarn are coming along as are a new pair I cast on.

These use Serenity Sock yarn in the colorway Borealis and I am doing a combo of the construction of the Fish Lips Kiss pattern mixed with the textured pattern from Hermoine’s Everyday Socks pattern.

 

Sunday Homestead Update

What I love about our winters is that even though we will get down into the below-zero temps several times throughout the winter…we also have sunny days in the high 40s to low 50s F interspersed throughout the winter as well.  While most of the week was frigid with night temperatures below zero, yesterday was one of those warm days, which was wonderful because we were able to get out into the barn and barnyard and do some clean up and projects.

It is oh-so-wonderful to see all these creatures happily living in harmony in the barnyard now!  It brings us great joy to have the sheep back and to have Anya guarding everyone.

Anya has now made it several weeks guarding the animals without incident.  She is very content and happy doing her job and having the run of the barnyard.

The sheep have settled in and know the routine and the run of the place now.  Rose and Anya were both vying for my affection while we worked in the barnyard yesterday.

Sheep

We have been hoping the ewes would have another heat cycle yet this season, especially since they do come from breeds that breed out of season (regular sheep breeding season is Sept-Dec).  Thankfully, Rose came into heat this last week and Fergus has been breeding her.  So it looks like we will be having late May/early June lambs!  This will be very late for us, but since we didn’t get the sheep back until right before Christmas, there wasn’t much that could be done.  You never know, maybe we will like lambing later in the season…at least we wont have to worry about frigid blizzards happening at the same time as a lamb being born.  🙂  It is very exciting to know there are lambs on the way!

Due to overuse of de-wormers in sheep in America, many are now ineffective.  So the best way to handle parasites in sheep is by feeding them off the ground, and doing fecal tests yearly before using any de-wormers.

In order to feed our sheep and goats off the ground, a few years ago we made these built-in fence feeders for our outdoor feeding of hay.

And we made these quick and easy feeders for our indoor feeding of hay.

But the quick and easy feeders were somewhat short-lived.  The ones that we attached to the wall (like in the photo above) broke after several months.   Though the ones that are attached outside of our lambing jugs (three photos below) have worked great and not broken.

So we needed a new hay rack in the indoor stall so we could feed the sheep off the ground.  This weekend Mtn. Man threw together a rack for in the stall using some wood scraps and a cattle panel scrap.    He installed it on the half-wall of the stall that opens into the main barn so we can easily throw the hay over the wall and into the feeder without having to enter the stall.  We are very happy with how it turned out and it is working well.

Knitting

After knitting several large projects for Christmas presents, I am anxious to some quick small projects and get that finished satisfaction in a shorter amount of time.  And since I got this kit with 12 different colored sock yarns in it for Christmas…I am set to go on socks!

What I love about this kit is the variety of colors.  I am terrible at picking colors…for anything, not just yarn.  But with yarn I just stick with what I know and love – purples, blues, greens, dark colors, no brights.  So getting this kit really stretches my color comfort zone and helps me make some stuff with colors that are outside the box for me.

So I decided to dive right in with the bright colors and go for it.  So I am making very bold and bright striped socks using the Fibonacci number pattern of 3, 5, 8, and 13.

I have also cast on a second pair of socks.  These are just a basic sock, using a special toe pattern I do to custom fit Young Man’s feet, and I will use a Fish Lips Kiss Heel because that is currently my favorite heel pattern.  This yarn is a 3-ply sport weight yarn that Mtn Man made me in the mill using Fergus’ 2018 fleece blended with bamboo that had been dyed blue.  I don’t know if it will show on the computer screen, but the blue bamboo adds a cool subtle blue color to the dark grey of Fergus’ fleece.  I am enjoying working with it too.  Fergus has an excellent fleece, I am really glad we were able to buy him back.

Yay for knitting projects that are easy to transport and quick to finish!

Sunday Homestead Update

A frigid winter week on the farm meant checking on critters often and spending a lot of time by the fire working on Christmas presents.

Knitting And Sewing

I finished all the Christmas Eve flannel PJs!  4 pairs of flannel pants and one nightgown.  I purchased Mr. Smiles’ PJs because he still isn’t quite big enough for the flannel PJ pants to work for him.  So all that is left is PJs for me.  Hopefully I will get to that in the upcoming weeks.  Sorry, I don’t have any pics because they all got wrapped before I could photograph them because I didn’t want anyone to accidentally see them.

But mostly I have been knitting, knitting, knitting like crazy trying to finish the on-second-thought-maybe-I’m-in-over-my-head projects I chose to make for Christmas presents this year.  The good news is that I finished one, which leave only two more to complete.

I asked Mtn Man to delete this post from his email and not read it so I could show you his present, which is the one I finished this week.

It is an afghan that I partially designed by taking the pattern Stag Head Pullover by Nora Gaughan and making it into an afghan (instead of a sweater) and rearranging the antlers to make them look more like the mule deer in our area.  I used “Everything Yarn” that Mtn Man made in the mill.  I am SUPER happy with how it turned out and cannot wait to give it to him.  I think he will love it.

So now I just need to finish the dress for Little Miss and socks for Young Man.  I am hopeful no one will have to get their Christmas presents still on the knitting needles, but I am accepting that it might happen that way.  Time will tell…for now, I need to get back to my knitting.  🙂

Sunday Homestead Update

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We really had a great one.  Delicious food, nice fellowship, and thankful spirits.  We have found that a thankful spirit and attitude is the key to peace and joy in life, so we don’t just focus on thankfulness on one holiday a year – we make a constant practice of it every day.  We have a chalkboard up in our living room that is our “Counting Every Blessing” board.  Whenever someone thinks of something to be thankful for they go and write it on the board.  Once it is jam packed full we erase and start over.  It has really helped us keep good perspectives on life, especially through the hard times.

Christmas Candies

As is our tradition, we made Christmas candies the weekend after Thanksgiving while we decorated the house for Christmas.  Caramels, Old-Fashioned Hard Candy, Fudge (butterscotch and eggnog), and peppermint bark.  We will continue to make more throughout December and give it to friends and family and take it to Christmas gatherings that we attend.

Caramels

Old Fashion Hard Candy

Peppermint Bark

Eggnog Fudge

Butterscotch Fudge

Basement Garden

The lettuce and spinach in the basement garden under grow lights have sprouted.  We planted another tray so we can have succession plantings.  We are hoping for fresh salad through the winter from this basement garden since we have been very disappointed in the quality of greens we are finding for sale at the stores.

Advent

Advent starts today.  It is a way that we acknowledge and celebrate the promise that God gave to send a savior, and the time of waiting before His arrival.  Mtn Man made us a pretty log advent wreath many years ago that we love.  Each night we light a certain amount of candles and do a Bible reading and short study on different aspects of the promises about the messiah.  My favorite is Christmas Eve when we light all the candles – it is so pretty and meaningful!  Here is a pic when it is all lit:

Knitting and Sewing

I am still busy knitting Christmas gifts, hoping to complete them all in time.  But I made a goal for myself back in the spring to complete 15 squares on my scrappy afghan each month.  So I took a short break from the Christmas knitting this week to complete the 15 squares for November.  I am not hooking them on, just getting them knit up.  I now have 150 of the 192 squares I need.  If I keep up with my goal I should complete the squares in February, and then hopefully get it all hooked together and complete by March.

I figured out how to darn socks this week.  I have been putting it off because I had no one to teach me, but it got to the point that it had to be done.  Hand knit socks get holes just like other socks and it is much easier to darn them than knit a new one.  I do find that by reinforcing the socks I knit we have minimal holes, but they still occasionally happen – especially when one steps on the transitions strip between carpet and wood flooring and the screw tops snag the sock.

So I decided to go for it.  I knew the basic principal – weave a patch so there aren’t any lumps and bumps to be uncomfortable on the foot.  I got out my darning egg – I inherited this one from my great-grandmother in her sewing basket.

I put the sock on there and then cleaned up the edges of the hole a bit.  This was before I cleaned up the edges.

First I wove in vertically.

Then I wove across those horizontally.

 

I am not sure if that is the right way, or how long it will last…but it felt good on his foot and looks fine, so I am hopeful.

Every year I make the kids flannel pajamas and they give them to them on Christmas Eve.  I purchased all the needed flannel this week and am starting to cut them out and sew them now.  I am also sewing myself a special winter skirt that I will share more about later.

Fun and productive start to winter on the farm!

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been cold here lately, highs in the 30sF and lows in the teens and single digits.  Winter is setting in and taking hold.  These two know the best spot to be on the cold winter days…

We have continued to be productive around the homestead despite the cold.

Firestarters

We heat our home with two wood-burning stoves, one in the living room and one in the dining room that also heats the kitchen and school room.  Most days from the late fall through to the early spring we light fires in each one twice a day because we let them go out midday when the sun is warming us through the windows.  On the coldest days in winter the fires are kept going all throughout the day.  So that adds up to a lot of starting fires.  We love to have firestarters to help make it go quickly and easily.

We make two types of firestarters, one type is made with a pine cone placed in wax in a cupcake liner.  You can read how we make those in this post from 5 years ago.

We also make them using egg cartons.  People often give us their used egg cartons because they know we have chickens – and thus we end up with a lot of extras.  To make them with egg cartons we simply pour the melted wax into each cavity and let cool.

Once hard we cut the carton apart and use each individual cavity.  It is easy to light the parts of the carton that stick up on the edges and that gets it going nicely.

So this week Braveheart and I made a bunch of them and got ourselves stocked up for the next few months.  It is so nice the have them available again!  It makes it much easier.

Chickens

Yesterday was the last flock cut-back day for this year.  We cut back our flock to lower numbers in the winter for a few reasons.

First, they spend more time in the coop over the winter and thus it is more crowded.  I am a stickler when it comes to over-crowded animal housing.  It is not healthy for the animals and it causes more frequent cleaning and thus is more expensive.

Secondly, they aren’t as able to forage through the winter months so they eat more of the store-bought feed.  Lower numbers saves us money because we aren’t feeding so many through the winter.

Lastly, it is good for our breeding program to cull regularly to keep our breeding stock cut down to only the best of what we are selecting for.  It can be easy to just slowly begin collecting chickens and keeping “just this one” over and over until our breeding stock is peppered with birds that are not as good quality for what we are breeding for.  Aggressive and frequent culling leads to good breeding stock, and thus great next generations.

So we gathered our nail clippers, scissors for clipping wings, lice dust, leg bands, and my flock tracking paperwork and headed to the coops.  We handled every single bird on the farm.  We trimmed their nails, made sure they still had one well-clipped wing, gave them a new leg band if they had lost theirs, and checked for lice – treating if necessary.  They we evaluated them for the breeding program.  There are certain characteristics we are selecting for in our chickens and we graded each bird based on those selective criteria.  Then we sorted them out into keep, butcher, and sell.

Our final over-wintering numbers include 19 hens, 5 pullets, and 1 rooster in the big upper coop, and 5 silkies in the small lower coop.  We also decided to keep one young cockerel in with the silkies temporarily because I think I want to do a mix breeding with the silkies and him this winter in the incubator just for the fun of it.

It feels good to have yet another thing taken care of as we close in on winter.

Hypothermic Chicken

We had a chicken incident this week.  When the chickens were closed into the coop for the night, somehow one of the hens was missed and stayed outside overnight in 15F temperatures.  When the kids found her in the morning she was huddled in the corner by the coop door and not moving.  They picked her and up and she didn’t fight or move, but was alive.

It was Young Man and Little Miss doing chores that morning and they immediately did exactly the right thing, without even coming to get help from Mtn Man or I.  They took her into the barn and put her in the broody coop (a 3ftx3ft, 2ft-tall enclosed nesting area with a fully installed heat lamp in it that we use for setting hens), turned on the heat lamp in there, and gave her food, water, and some hot mash.  She drank a bit, ate a little hot mash, and then cuddled up under the heat light and put her head under her wing.  They finished the rest of the chores and then came in to tell us what had happened.  I was so proud that they figured out what to do and did it immediately without help.

We have never had a hypothermic chicken before.  They have never been told what to do with a hypothermic chicken.  But our kids have been working beside us on the homestead since they could walk (and before that they were strapped to our backs) and they have seen many medical incidents with our animals and watched and helped us deal with them – learning right alongside us.  And because of that, they are able to figure out a situation like this on their own and help an animal that needs medical attention.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to live life with your kids right next to you, watching and helping.  It builds strong bonds, family unity, and teaches them so much.  It gives them self-esteem that is rooted in actually doing something to be proud of.  It gives them confidence to handle things on their own and make decisions.  They find pleasure in their successes and learn from their failures – just like we do.  I think too many kids these days are left to screens while the parents do the projects and jobs that interest them.  And the results of this type of raising are seen in the news and research studies every day, and it’s not good at all.

We are so blessed that we were led to raise our kids this way early on, and now we are able to reap the beautiful benefits of it as they grow and mature and are so eager to help and be involved and continue to work alongside us, but also be able to do it on their own when necessary.  Our kids may never have their own homestead or go into an industry that involves the specific skills they are learning, but the broader character traits they are building, the confidence, and the basic concepts and skills involved in keeping a homestead will serve them no matter what they do or where they go.  If I could give one piece of advice to a new parent it would be to keep your kids by your side and involved in what you are doing-whether it is homesteading or something else completely doesn’t matter, what matters is doing it together.

As for the hen, she is still isolated and is improving, thanks to the quick action of the kids.  We are hopeful to get her back with the flock once she recovers, and we are all being more careful to be sure all the birds get put away each night.

Indoor Winter Garden

We are trying something new this winter – we are planting lettuce and spinach under the grow-lights in the basement in hopes of having fresh salad through the winter.  We have been very disappointed with the greens at the store the last year or so, and we have the grow-light shelving unit that we use to start our seedlings each spring, so we thought – why not?  I planted the first round of seeds this week.  I plan to succession plant one tray each week for 4 weeks in a row and see how it goes.

Knitting

I have focused all my knitting attention on three Christmas presents.  I can’t show two of them because the receivers read the blog.  But I can show you the progress on what I am making for Little Miss.  Three years ago I made her this dress and she wore it at least once a week (usually more) for the last three years until it was so ridiculously small I had to tell her it was time for it to go.

But since she loved it so very much I agreed to make her another one for Christmas this year.  I love this pattern and the dress turns out beautifully.  But it is knit with fingering weight yarn and when you knit an item this large with such small yarn it is A LOT of stitches and takes a lot of work.  So I am doing my best to finish it in time, but I know she will happily accept it on the needles if I can’t get it done.  So here is my progress so far…

I am in the super-boring thousands of stockinette stitches part, so I have committed to knitting 7 rows on it a day, which takes almost an hour because each row has over 200 stitches, in hopes that by doing that I will get it done in time.  It helps me when I give myself set daily amounts like that.  I know she will love it, so it makes it easier to put in all the work.  🙂