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.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – Happy New Year!

Hard to believe, but the start of a new year has arrived.  It has been cold here, but mostly dry, just a little dusting of snow here and there.  The cold has been very steady at about 20s at night and 30s during the day.  This is strange for our area, we usually have more ups and downs.  We have been down to 0 a few times, but for the most part it has been very steady the last month.  The snow from Thanksgiving still has not fully melted because we have had so few days warm enough to deal with it.  Also, the sun has been hiding more lately.  Anya takes advantage of every minute of sun she can soak up – they are few and far between lately.

Most every Saturday is homestead project day.  Sometimes it is big projects and sometimes it is a long list of a lot of small things.  This week it was the long-list-of-small-things Homestead Saturday.  We cleaned out the coops, added bedding to the jugs, cleaned out the back of the truck from transporting Pansy, fixed the back yard fence, started building the last section of barnyard fence with wood and wire (to replace the panels), did some mechanic work on two of the vehicles, and measured the new garden and graphed it out for garden planning.

Chickens

The incubation is coming along nicely.  We started with 23 eggs in there.  There was 1 infertile, and 2 early deaths.  We now have 20 eggs in there and we are 12 days into the 21 day incubation.

Goat

Pansy came home!

She is pregnant and due in April.  It is nice to have her back.

Sheep

Neither Blue, nor Daisy, came back into heat when they could have.  So we have two more confirmed pregnancies.  That makes 4 ewes pregnant of the 5.

Maggie still hasn’t had her first heat, and we are guessing she wont this year.  But you never know, we could have a surprise June baby.

Remi is staying in with the girls for ease of management and so he doesn’t have to be alone.  He will come out once they get close to lambing.

Cheesemaking

We tried out two new recipes from the Natural Cheesemaking book.  One was mozzarella.  I already have a good recipe for mozz, but decided to try his out.  It did not go very well, but I think that my rennet was the issue.

Then we used his recipe with a kefir culture to make Chevre.  It was a huge disaster and we ended up with a stinky, hole-filled floating mass of “cheese” that smelled terribly strong of yeast.  I don’t know what happened.  My kefir was too strong?  The mass of cheese curds were supposed to sink and they were not supposed to be filled with air pockets.  Hmmmm.  Rethinking this whole natural cheesemaking – going back to the drawing board and trying to figure out what to do.

Heritage Arts

I finished Braveheart’s socks in time for Christmas.  I used the Seeded Rib Socks pattern by Ann Bud and Knitpicks Hawthorne Fingering Kettle Dye yarn in the colorway Fawn.

I am now overwhelmed with knitting work.  I can’t show them to you yet, though, because they are all gifts except the poncho knit-a-long I am doing and falling terribly behind on.

And hoping to get the loom warped again for another weaving project soon.

Photo Books

I used to scrapbook the old-fashioned way, and loved it.  But life with a bunch of kids and little time makes that type of scrapbooking not work for me at this stage.  So I use Shutterfly to make photo books.  I like to make 12×12 size books of our family for each year.  Then I also like to do 8x8s for each child for each year, and for any vacations/trips we take too.  I generally stay pretty well caught up (like within a year or two), but I am falling more and more behind, so I have dedicated January to working on catching those up.

Shower Remodel

We finished our shower remodel and we are both so happy with how it turned out!  It is beautiful, and functional, and bigger than it used to be.  This project has needed to be done since the first day we moved in 7.5 years ago.  It is so nice to have it completed.

Jerry and Hazel

A couple weeks ago Jerry decided he liked to lay in Hazel’s crate each morning, and as predicted, Hazel has decided that it is ok to share it.

2019 Year-End Homestead Review

Looking back over the previous year on the homestead is an excellent practice because it helps us see what worked, what didn’t, and helps us plan for the future.  It is also always very encouraging to me because even when I feel like we didn’t have a very productive year, seeing it all written out shows me all that we accomplished.  Our homestead has had to take a backseat to other parts of our life over the last few years due to our baby’s serious medical issues.  This year more than ever.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.  I continue to hope to do better record-keeping, but as each year has been harder and harder with Mr. Smiles, each year has thus been harder and harder to do good record keeping.  I am amazed I kept records at all this year!  But here’s what we have.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started year with 28 hens, 1 chick, and 1 rooster
  • Purchased 7 cockerel chicks and 3 pullet chicks, all 10 survived
  • Did 1 incubation with 75 eggs.  65 were fertile,  35 chicks hatched and 34 survived
  • 1 broody hen set and quit, we finished the incubation in the incubator.  10 set, 8 fertile, 7 hatched, and 7 survived
  • At the height of the season we had 28 adult chickens and 52 chicks – 80 total – by far the most chickens we have ever had at one time before.  Too many for our farm.  Need to plan more carefully.
  • 1 broody hen set 7 eggs with a total of 3 chicks surviving, then she set again with 8 eggs and 6 survived
  • Butchered 28 birds
  • Sold 2 silky hens, six 1-year-old hens, and 15 pullets
  • 1 silky hen died from egg-bound, one chick died at week 5 for unknown reasons, 1 hen died from being bullied by the flock, 1 hen killed by a golden eagle
  • Ended year with  21 hens, 3 pullets, 3 cockerels (almost ready for butcher), and 1 rooster.  Plus 23 eggs in the incubator to hatch mid-January.
  • Approximately 3,700 eggs laid

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 3.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd, had her ups and downs.  At times she was an excellent guard dog, but she struggled a little with her first year of lambs.  When they were little, she left them alone because the mamas wouldn’t let her near them, but as they grew and the mamas weren’t so protective, she tried to wrestle and play with them and was too rambunctious.  She also had a couple times getting too rambunctious with chickens, but didn’t kill any.  So a few times she had to live in a separate pen from the flocks while we continued training with her.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 2 ewes and 1 ram.
  • Bred early in January
  • 2 ram lambs and 1 ewe lamb born, all survived
  • 3 Fleece shorn, for a total of 8.5 lbs raw, skirted wool
  • 800 yds (1.5 lbs) 3-ply worsted yarn from Fiona, 1500 yds (3 lbs) 4-ply worsted yarn from Fergus, and didn’t finish processing Rose’s yarn yet
  • Sold 1 ewe lamb, 2 ram lambs, and 1 ewe
  • Purchased 1 dairy ewe, 3 dairy ewe lambs, and 1 dairy ram lamb
  • Breeding season brought difficulties and aggression from our 2.5 year-old wool ram, ended up having to butcher him
  • 22 lbs of ground meat, 4 lbs of roasts, soup bones, and some dog food
  • Finished year with 1 wool ewe, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram
  • Bred them all in November/December. 4 ewes pregnant, due in April/May.

Goats:

  • Started the year without any goats.
  • Mid-March added a Nubian doe to the farm.  We finally had fresh milk again!
  • 43 gal of milk for our family use between March and October
  • Dried her off (stopped milking) in November at breeding time for convenience and to give her a chance to regain her body condition.
  • Pregnant and due to kid in April

Garden:

  • The stresses of life this summer did not make it possible to weigh the produce this year.  A very cold spring gave us less than average on some things, but others gave us more than average.
  • We started building a second vegetable garden that will more than double our produce production.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the 19 knit projects: 9 pairs of socks, a Hoodie for Mr. Smiles, a sock yarn scrap afghan, a lace shawl, a hat, a textured shawl, 4 dishcloths, and a cabled cardigan.
  • I made a new bag for a standing knitting bag frame and 4 pairs of flannel PJ pants.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.

Kitchen:

  • Canned quite a bit of food, not as much as last year.  Early fall stresses prevented me from keeping track of how many exactly of what we canned.
  • Made several different soft cheeses with goat’s milk.
  • Made a couple aged cheeses with store-bought cow’s milk to practice for next spring.

Year Summary

January rotated between warm sunny days in the 40sF, where we would get outside as much as possible, to bitterly cold snowy days below 0F that kept us by the fires and working to keep the livestock cared for and warm.  We spent a lot of time dealing with our son’s medical issues, with many doctor’s appointments.  We got our Livestock Record Book updated and ready for the new year, and got our school curriculum planning done as well as starting on our garden planning.  The sheep bred, giving us hopes for lambs in May/June.  The girls and I knit, crocheted, and worked on the hexagon quilt.  And we did several small fix-up projects around the farm and home, including building a new hay rack in the sheep stall and improving the gravity feeder in the lower chicken coop.  At the end of the month we collected eggs for a big incubation.

February started with us getting 75 eggs into the incubators for a hatch.  We struggled with illnesses and another hospitalization for Mr. Smiles.  We did a lot of knitting, cross stitching, and crochet by the warm fire while the bitter cold and wind settled in outside.  34 of our incubator eggs hatched and survived, and then we bought a few more chicks to add to the brooder so that we would have some new genetics for next year’s breeding program.  We also extended the hay loft in the barn to give us more hay storage space.

March was cold and wet.  We got a lot of snow and dealt with trying to keep animals dry and warm.  We finished remodeling our basement, which had been torn out after the massive floods of 2013 damaged it.  We added a new member to the farm – a Nubian milk doe named Pansy.  She was fresh and we were excited to have raw milk right from our own homestead again.  We had a hen decide to set eggs and then quit at 2 weeks, we put the eggs in the incubator and were surprised that they hatched, despite having been chilled from her abandonment.  We ended the month by finishing our dining room remodel project and I finished the scrap sock yarn afghan I had been working on for a year.

In April we started with shearing the sheep.  We also built up another section of the garden beds to be deeper for better growth of the plants and we hauled a bunch of compost from the barnyard and filled all the garden boxes with it.  Our 3-year-old had his 10th surgery and was pronounced healed from his very-rare bile duct/liver disorder that just a year ago we had been told would be fatal.  The weather continued to be cold and wet, setting our garden back more and more.  As we hit the 6-week out from lambing mark, we noticed that Rose seemed to be showing symptoms early and wondered if she was potentially due before we thought.  We changed the ewes’ diets in preparation for lambing.

In May things continued to be cold and wet.  We tried to work on the garden and get things going, but the weather continued to hamper our efforts.  We had several big snow storms.  Our 3-year-old has his first eye surgery, 11th surgery overall, and it was unsuccessful.  Eve hatched out 3 chicks, and the juggling of pens for all the many different chicks and chickens began to get complicated as they all grew.  We separated the ewes from the ram, goat, and Anya (the LGD) since it was Anya’s first lambing season and we didn’t want her to accidentally kill a newborn lamb.  Mtn Man finished spinning up the yarn from Fergus and Fiona’s 2019 fleece, and I tried my hand at dyeing Fiona’s yarn for the first time ever.  My parents moved in, with my Dad in his last few months of life.  My sister and I helped my mom care for him.  We ended the month with Fiona giving birth to her ram lamb on the 31st.

June started with Rose giving birth to huge twin lambs on June 1st.  It was a complicated delivery that I had to help with because both lambs were mal-positioned, and then their first week of life was touch and go because the ram lamb got pneumonia and Rose’s milk didn’t come in very quickly so we were supplementing them with bottles.  By three weeks of age both the ewe lamb and the ram lamb were thriving and doing well.  We continued to have cold weather, including two frosts over night that ended up killing some of our vegetable garden.  Anya integrated herself in with the lambs by breaking through the fence because she was so interested in being with the mamas and lambs.  She did great and was very safe with the lambs.  We did a lot more shuffling around of chickens, sold some pullets & hens, and butchered a lot of cockerels.  We realized the goat was copper deficient and we bolused her with a slow release copper capsule.  We found out, unfortunately, that our son’s rare bile duct/liver disorder had not been fixed back in April as we had been told and it reared it’s ugly head again, landing us back with tests, doctor appointments, and hospitals.

In July we were busy with visitors and medical appointments.  We headed in for yet another emergency surgery for Mr. Smiles, which was his 12th surgery overall and his 4th this year – but who’s counting?  The homestead brought us comfort through the hard times though, and sitting out enjoying the livestock and working in the garden is always good emotional therapy.  We still managed to be productive around the farm, butchering some more chickens, getting the chickens sorted into new pens and organized for future breeding plans, making goat cheese, braiding a wool rug, and getting out my spinning wheel for the first time in 4 years.  We saw results from the goat copper bolus, as Pansy began to gain weight and her coat condition improved immensely.   The garden continued to progress, though still behind about 3 weeks from usual due to the cold spring weather.  As the lambs grew and their moms were less protective, Anya struggled with being too rambunctious with them in play and had to be moved to the back pen with the ram.

August brought the start of school and the start of harvest.  We sold 4 sheep and purchased our first dairy sheep.  We sold our large floor loom and purchased a smaller one that fit nicely in our living room.  Mr. Smiles had his 13th surgery, the most major surgery he has had to date at 7.5 hours long, and my father, who was living with us, passed away that same day.  The surgery was an immense success and the recovery was much better than anyone had expected.  It looks like his bile duct/liver issue is now fixed (as of December 31), and though he might have more complications farther down the road, for the meantime he should be stable.

September was hard.  We were busy with Mr. Smiles’ recovery, grieving my father’s death, and planning, preparing, and hosting his funeral.  We were also trying to continue with our homestead plans and projects.  We added 4 more dairy sheep to the flock, and our best broody hen, Eve, set another clutch and hatched out 6 adorable chicks.

October was full of “normal” fall homestead work for us, which was so wonderful after such an “abnormal” and difficult summer season.  We built about 2/3 of the raised bed boxes for our second veggie garden.  We moved the kids playhouse out of the back yard and turned it into a gardening shed, and then built a retaining wall in the area where the playhouse used to be that will be Mr. Smiles new safe, flat, outdoor play area next summer.  We hauled and chopped a lot of firewood, and canned quite a bit of produce from our own property, and some purchased as well.  I began the adventure of learning how to weave, and also finished several knitting projects.  We got our first snow of 6 inches and a huge drop in temperatures.  Our old barn cat, Jerry, retired in the house and became our indoor kitty.  We found out that the eye surgery that was done in conjunction with Mr. Smiles’ bile duct/liver surgery back in August was not successful and decided to wait until spring to do another eye surgery because our family desperately needed a break from surgery and hospitalization, as did Mr. Smiles.  The bile duct/liver part of the surgery was still looking very good and successful.

In November we took our milk goat, Pansy, to the breeder and left her there to get bred.  We also started our first-ever sheep breeding season with two rams.  We separated the ewes up with the two rams and were excited to see how it went.  Unfortunately, our older ram, Fergus, had trouble with the new situation and also was coming into full maturity and thus started having aggressive behavior with humans and the ewes.  We struggled into December trying to keep everyone safe, get the ewes bred, and decide what to do with Fergus.  I continued to enjoy weaving and finished more weaving projects.  Sunshine and I did a massive go-through and clean-out of the house.  We did a lot more chopping and stacking firewood for the winter, and had quite a bit of snow and cold weather.  The weather pushed us to indoor projects and we tore out the master bathroom shower.

December brought Christmas candy making, Advent, and more work, but also relaxation and fun family time together.  We continued to struggle with the ram aggression issue and it all came to a head in one crazy dangerous interaction.  We ended up butchering our wool ram, Fergus because of his aggression.  It was hard, but the peacefulness of the barnyard afterwards re-affirmed our decision.  We used our trap nests to figure out which hens were laying and which weren’t, and did our last chicken butchering of the year.  Little Miss and I started trying our hand at learning the art of making aged cheeses and we used an old fridge to make a cheese cave.  We made huge batches of ketchup and BBQ sauce and canned them for our family use.  We continued to dig ourselves out of the snow that kept falling throughout the month.  Lastly, we finished the remodel of the master bathroom shower.

Looking back on this year is kind of hard for us.  Between Mr. Smiles having 5 surgeries this year, my father living with us for the last 3 months of his life and passing away, plus many other challenges that I didn’t share on the blog, it was by far the hardest year of our lives.  But we can also see SO many blessings, gifts, and miracles laced through it all.  God really carried us through, and leaning on Him was the only possible way I could handle it.  The homestead continued to be one of the blessings as it brought us emotional therapy and kept us busy so we didn’t have too much time to sit and stew over all the stresses.  And despite all the crazy life things we were going through separate from the homestead, we still had a pretty darn productive year providing food for our family.  For that we are very grateful.

Sunday Homestead Update – Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  We hope you all have a wonderful week of celebrating with those close to you.

This last week has been more laid-back for us than the previous very full weeks.  But still pretty full.

Shower Remodel

Mtn Man has been working hard to get the shower remodel done for us before Christmas.  He is very close, just need to grout and seal it, and then install the door.  I will share pics when it is done.

Heritage Arts

I am scrambling to finish my last Christmas present – socks for Braveheart.  Hopefully I will get them off the needles in time.

The girls finished their hat order – ten hats and one baby blanket completed and sent off.  They all turned out so great, we are going to copy some of them for our own use because we liked them so much.

Cheesemaking

Little Miss and I tried another aged cheese this week – Stirred-Curd Cheddar.  So now there are 3 cheeses in the cheese cave.  One of these days I will get around to doing a full post on what we have learned so far with our aged cheesemaking adventure.

Chickens

The chickens have all settled well since the butchering and switch around.  Everyone is happy and they have figured out their pecking order, so that is nice.

We will be starting the incubation on Christmas Eve so that the hatch will line up with our chicks arriving in January so we can brood them together.  We have collected eggs from 3 specific hens by trap nesting them.  One is our 4-year-old that we hatched here at WCF.  She is still laying 4 eggs a week, in winter, at age 4.  So we definitely want some of her genetics (plus she is blue, which is my fave color of chicken).  We are also collecting from our other blue hen, who is laying very well right now, and from our two green egg-laying hens – because they are laying well through winter and to add more color to our egg cartons and more blue feather genetics to our flock.  We currently have 20 eggs to set, there should be a few more before Tuesday.

Sheep

We are still waiting for Maggie to come into heat.  We had planned to pull the ram out Christmas Eve so that we didn’t have later lambs because Young Man is graduating this spring and we didn’t want lambing to interfere with that.  But we would really like to leave the ram with them to confirm that Daisy and Blue are pregnant. If they are in  the same pen with him we will be able to tell if they go back into heat.  If they don’t go back into heat then they are pregnant.  It will save us having to blood test, ultrasound, or not know if they took.  So we are trying to decide how we want to manage this situation.  I think we will probably just leave him with them, and if Maggie lines up with graduation then we will just close her in the jug and let her lamb on her own.  We like to be there when our lambs are born, in case they need any help (we have had to rearrange lambs and kids in-utero during labor before because they were stuck).  But a lot of sheep lamb on their own just fine and we are probably a little too involved anyway and need to relax about this some more.

Jerry and Hazel

Jerry has decided that Hazel’s crate is his new favorite place to be in the mornings.  Hazel is not too sure about this new plan.  But I fully expect, based on their previous behavior, that they will be cuddling in there together in no time.