Sunday Homestead Update

There is a lot going on around Willow Creek Farm this week.

Chick Update

It has been quite a tough time with baby chicks this week.  The 40 meat chicks arrived in the mail.  5 were already dead on arrival and another 7 died within the first 24 hours.  It was very upsetting to have such a huge loss.  We expect a small amount of loss – 1 or 2 chicks, but over 25% is crazy!?!  We called the hatchery and they said sometimes the box is put in a drafty area during transport and then there is a large amount of death in the chicks.  They refunded us for the dead chicks, which we appreciated.  But it was really hard to have so many of them die, especially for the kids.  We decided that since we were set up to brood 40 (plus the 10 Silkies), and were down to 28 meat birds, we would go ahead and buy some more chicks at the feed store.  So we got some more layers – Dark Brahmas, Wyandottes, and Cochins.  They are all happily in the brooders with the meat birds.  Plus we have the 10 Silkie chicks too.

In addition to the chicks, we have been doing some remodeling of the chicken pens in the barn to manage our chickens better.

We have always kept our roosters with our hens all the time, but no matter what we do the hens end up getting torn up.  All the books and advice people give has to do with the ratio of hens to roo or the space they have.  But, no matter how many hens there are per roo, the roos always pick a few favorites that get torn up.  And no matter how much space they all have, the same happens.  We tried hen saddles, but then the hens are much more prone to lice.  And they occasionally get tangled and such as well.  And even with saddles some tearing up happens anyway.  So we have decided to keep the roosters separate from the flock except during breeding.  In order to have enough separate pens we decided to remodel the grow pen/broody coop area in the barn to use the vertical space better.

This is what it looked like before…

On the right, where you see the red glow is the broody coop where we let hens set on eggs.  It currently has the Silkie chicks in it.  And the rest of the area to the left is what we call the grow pen.  We use it for housing chickens – mama hens with chicks, growing out small groups of pullets or cockerels, or housing a sick or injured bird that needs to be isolated.  The whole space is about 3ft x 11ft (33 sqr ft).  But all that vertical space (the pen is about 8 ft tall) is just wasted.

So Mtn Man and Braveheart built Rooster pens in the upper area.  The divider is removable to make the pen bigger if needed.  Each roo has about 16.5 square feet and will get to join the hens a lot during the spring and summer for breeding.  And though it looks dark, when the barn door is open during the day a lot of light and fresh air comes in the back of the pens.  They also changed the broody coop/grow pen set up to add a door and ramp from the coop into the pen and we now access the coop from the main barn instead of by lifting the lid inside the grow pen.

We are very happy with the new set up.  It will keep the hens’ backs healthier, and we can still easily keep two roosters.  We do a breeding rotation using the roo/pullet and cockerel/hen concept so that we can breed with minimal inbreeding but not have to constantly bring in new stock.

Heritage Arts

I finished the “custom-fit toes” socks I was making for Young Man.  I used the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern for the heel, and made up the toe section on my own to fit his very steep toe increase.  He loves them and says they fit perfectly.  So I am really happy about that.  I will continue to use my new steep-toe-increase for all his socks so they will fit just right.

I am now working on a baby blanket for a friend’s baby due to arrive any day now.  It is super soft and squishy and a shade of purple that I love.  The pattern on this is Moss Stitch Diamonds Baby Blanket by Barbara Breiter and the yarn is Deborah Norville Everyday Baby.

I also did a lot of mending this week, specifically patching pants.  Little Miss helped me and we were able to patch 12 holes in 8 different pairs of pants.  We like to get creative with the girls’ patches.  For the boys we just do plain squares/rectangles of denim fabric on jeans.  But with the girls we like to do hearts, or flowers and butterflies.  And this time we had some khaki pants to patch, but didn’t have any khaki patches, so we used some pretty, flowery fabric.

Patching pants is a necessity for our frugal, single-income lifestyle.  Someday I will tell you about how I am able to provide jeans for all 5 of my kids for about $25/year.  Yup, I spend about $5/kid for a year’s worth of jeans.



We have continued our work on the garden prep, in between snow storms.  🙂  Because the garden is terraced on a rocky hillside, and much of it is sitting on bedrock with just the depth of the boxes for growing soil, we are working to add depth to each of the sections of beds.  We have one section that is much deeper than the rest and was filled mainly with compost from our barnyard.  That section grew TWICE as well as the rest of the garden where the boxes are shallower and have a combination of purchased topsoil and our compost.  We can’t increase all of them this year all at once, so we are going to work section by section, as we are able, and slowly get the whole garden deeper and full of compost from the barnyard.

Yesterday, Young Man and Sunshine built up the first three sets of boxes.  It pretty much doubled their depth.  And then they filled them with compost.  There are two more boxes that we are going to raise this year, but we are almost done!  We are excited to see how the plants do in the better raised beds.



We get to start seeds indoors this week!  I have my garden map all done and ready.  And I have my garden journal updated and ready for this gardening season.  And now we get to start seeds indoors on the light shelves we built!  Garden season has officially begun up here in the Rocky Mountains (indoors only, but it still counts).  🙂  The light shelves were easy to build and have been going strong for three years for us so far.  We are very happy with them and they make our seedlings start out so much better than just in the window.

That’s the update from here.  We are enjoying the end of winter and preparations for spring.

Sunday Homestead Update (on Monday)

Life on the farm has been laid-back winter life.  It has been sunny but cold plus some snow coming in now.  We have been working on a lot of indoor projects and heritage arts projects.


The chickens are doing well.  We had another incident with Anya and a chicken.  😦  She is still a huge puppy, at 18 months old, and unfortunately wants to play with any other animal she can.  Our tiny silkie, Esther, Squeezed under a tiny spot in the fence into Anya’s pen and Anya accidentally killed her.  It was clear she wasn’t doing it to eat her, but was just over-exuberantly licking and trying to play with her.  But for a tiny chicken, that means death with an over 100 lb dog.  😦  We were all sad at the loss, and sad that Anya still isn’t able to handle guarding the chickens yet.  The breeder we got her from says that with time and training Anatolians outgrow this behavior around 2 years old or so.  We have hope that she will grow out of this over time, and we continue to keep her in her own area next to the chicken pen.  We reinforced the fence area again so they can’t squeeze through.

Heritage Arts

I put down the English Paper Piecing Quilt so that I could work on some birthday knitting projects that need to get done.

First, I finished some flip-top mittens for Little Miss.  I have a pair and she wanted some like mine.  I combined the Basic Mitten pattern from Ann Budd with the flip top from the Flip-Flop Flip-Top pattern by J. Harris.  They fit great, even though I didn’t have her hand (I love the basic patterns in Ann Budd’s book “Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns” – they fit anyone in my family, using any yarn I want to).

I am continuing to work on a new way of doing socks for Young Man.  Young Man LOVES hand-knit socks and happily accepts them as presents from me for both Christmas and his birthday each year.  Over time I have figured out which heel type he likes best, and what kind of a fit he likes.  My most recent attempts at giving him just-the-right fit have to do with his toes.

He has a very steep toe increase and it makes it so that with a regular toe there is a lot of extra fabric in the way.

So I purposefully did a steeper increase on the outside of the toes, with barely any increasing on the inside edge.

It fits very well and he says he likes how it feels.  All I have left to finish is the leg and cuff.

I have also been making some progress on the purple cabled cardigan I am making, but didn’t get any photos of it.

Another winter week on the farm!

Sunday Homestead Update

We have spent most of the first month of the year dealing with surgeries and hospitalizations.  But things seem to be calming a bit and yesterday we were able to have a “normal homestead Saturday.”  Which for us means working on projects in the home and on the homestead.  This time it was in the home, in the basement to be exact.

Since there are 7 of us we buy a lot of food in bulk, especially our flours because we are Gluten-Free as well.  We also home-can a LOT each fall.  So in the basement we have another refrigerator/freezer, as well as a pantry area for our overflow bulk food, flours in buckets, and home-canned food.  It was previously a temporary mix of different shelves and cabinets from here or there.  But yesterday we built the real and final basement pantry.  We are very happy with how it turned out!

Normally, by this time of year we wouldn’t even be halfway through the home-canned goods.  But as you can see by all the empty jars, that is not the case this year.  That is because we didn’t can even close to as much as we usually do last fall.  Hopefully next fall it will be all full of FULL jars, not empty.


The two old hens we put in their own pen were only laying one egg a week, so we did end up butchering them this week.  We have 18 hens, 3 chicks (we are guessing 2 cockerels and 1 pullet), and 1 rooster.  We also moved all the hens into the upper coop together to consolidate our flock to make winter barn chores easier.  So now all the hens and chicks are in the upper coop and barnyard, and the rooster is in the grow pen in the barn so he doesn’t tear the girls backs up.  The lower coop and the Mama Hen Pen are currently empty.  Come spring we will rearrange again for breeding season.

The last change we made this week was to move the water trough and set it up in a way that the birds can drink from it but not fall in.  Previously it was set up so that if they did fall in they could climb out, but in freezing weather, as we learned last week, that doesn’t work because a wet chicken is a dead chicken.  It is very convenient to use the trough with its de-icer in the winter, but we didn’t want any more chick-falling-in-freezing-and-dying scenarios like last week.  So now that is fixed as well.


Here it is!  The cabled cardigan I have been working on for months.  The pattern is Let Go by Joji Locatelli.  The yarn is a special yarn Mtn Man made for me from a fleece he bought me for our anniversary.  I call it Sandstorm because that was the name of the sheep.  It is a thicker and somewhat coarse wool, so this cardigan will be perfect fall and spring outerwear.

I am really excited about this sweater and pretty happy with how it turned out.  There is only one problem…when I blocked it the length shrunk.  Probably because I was really trying to be sure the cables opened good and wide.  So I will be putting it back on the needles and lengthening it because I have plenty more yarn and if I am going to spend months making a cardigan for myself I ought to LOVE it when I am done.

I love the pattern so much that I have already cast on another one.  This one is with a much finer yarn that is a deep purple, silk/merino wool blend from Knitpicks.  It will be a much lighter, very soft, more indoor-wear cardigan.  I will have two VERY different cardigans made from one pattern.

After casting on the new sweater I noticed my pile of project bags and WIPs (works in progress) was pretty big, and that made me feel like I needed to get some of the smaller, almost finished projects done before I spend too much time on the sweater.  So I am doing a knit-WIP-down, starting with finishing my hat.

This pattern is Jason’s Cashmere Hat by Melissa Thomson.  I used 100% Alpaca yarn for the first time ever.  Mtn Man made the yarn in the mill for a customer and I liked it so much I bought a couple skeins from her (the benefits of owning your own custom fiber processing mill!).  I love, love, love the grey color with lighter and darker fibers mixed together and I am seriously considering reserving the fleece off this particular alpaca this year so that I can make a sweater.  I am just not sure how alpaca wears and washes.  Anyone know?  Does it pill easily and get worn out?  Because my life is a little too active for high-maintenance clothing right now.

Willow Creek Fiber Mill

Speaking of the benefits of owning your own custom fiber processing mill…have I ever mentioned how cool it is for a knitting-crazy gal like me to have a husband who makes custom yarn for a living?  Well it is REALLY cool.  And it is kind of funny, but also cool because he is such a burly Mtn Man that is outdoorsy and hunts and builds anything you can imagine, and yet he is really skilled at making something as soft, fine, and un-burly (new word, add it to the dictionary) as beautiful custom yarn.

As I mentioned above, one benefit is that I get to see all types and styles of yarn come through the mill, and then, when I see one I really like, I get the opportunity to buy it from the customer.  Fun, fun!

This week Mtn Man processed some of the fleece from our sheep (that we don’t own anymore, so it is nice to be able to still be using some of their fleece even though they are gone now).  This particular one is from Fiona, our white CVM/Merino, and he blended it with purple bamboo.  It is fingering weight and I am seeing socks and hats in my daydreams about this yarn.  I LOVE how it turned out and can’t wait to get it on the needles.

He only did a small part of her fleece, giving me about 900 yards of this yarn.  Now we have to decide if we want more of this, or if we want to do something else with the rest of the fleece.  I LOVE my yarn-making Mtn Man!

Sunday Homestead Update

Winter cold arrived this week, we woke up to -10 degrees one morning.  That kicked us into winter-barn-chore gear with hauling warm water for animals and hot mashing the chickens and such.  It is amazing we got to wait this long without having to do that, it usually starts in December.


We butchered the three cockerels and got them brined and then frozen.  We also put two 5-year-old hens into their own pen to see if they are still laying.  If not, they will be butchered this week.

Last week we moved Mrs. Arabel and her four 9-week-old chicks in with the flock of hens.  They had been sharing a wall of chicken wire for many weeks, so the integration went very smoothly.  But then 5 days later we found one of the chicks dead.  The weather was cold that day, in the teens F.  From what we can tell from the body, the chick fell into the water trough, got out, and then froze to death.  The chickens like to drink from the water trough so there are several big rocks in it to help them not fall in and drown.  But occasionally one will fall in and then the rocks help it get out.  In the cold weather that is a problem though if they can’t get warm.  But the chick also had been pecked at a bunch.  We are not sure if the other birds pecked it after it was dead, or if they were pecking it and knocked it into the trough and then tormenting it afterwards too.  Or if they killed it and it actually didn’t fall into the trough (but the body seemed like it had been wet and then frozen), or what exactly happened.  Either way it seems pretty sad and a traumatic way to die.  Mrs. Arabel is still mothering the chicks, so we are guessing the pecking happened after it died because she is still protecting them from the other birds and sitting on them when they are cold.

So we are contemplating this and thinking probably that last hatch was a little too late in the season.  This was our first time ever letting hens set in the fall and we weren’t sure how they would handle the winter weather.  The first hatch of fall chicks, which was 7 weeks older, has done great.  But it looks like maybe this second hatch was too young to handle the cold.  Or maybe it isn’t that at all, maybe it was an integration issue.  Or maybe we just need to not give the chickens access to the trough in winter.  We are discussing it and trying to decide.


I finished my cabled cardigan!!!  I want to show you pictures, but not until it is all blocked.  Blocking it is proving difficult with all the cables, particularly the sleeves.  Any of you ever blocked cabled sleeves before? – if so please give me advice.  🙂  Photos coming soon!

Sunday Homestead Update

We are in laid-up medical mode around here lately so not much is going on.  While the majority of America is freezing, we are somehow sitting in a balmy zone and are spending our days in the 50sF and nights in the 20-30sF, which is 15+ degrees warmer than we average this time of year.  It has been strange…but very nice!


Back in December we smoked elk rib-eye in our smokehouse.  We used a different rub recipe than previously, let it cure for 21 days, and then smoked it for 6 hours using oak and hickory wood.  Once inside we baked it for 90 min.  The results were very good.  It was more moist than our previous attempts and we all enjoyed it very much.


Small amounts of knitting getting done here and there.  I started a hat using 100% Alpaca yarn.  It is my first time ever knitting with alpaca and I am loving the squishy soft-ness of it all.  The fiber came from Talking Feather Alpacas farm and Mtn Man spun the yarn in our mill.


The first batch of fall hatchlings are closing in on butcher weight, so we will be dealing with those soon.  There are three boys out of the 5 chicks.  The girls will stay for layers for now.

The second batch of fall hatchlings are just now around 9 weeks old and we are starting to be able to tell that there is at least one cockerel in the batch of 4.