2020 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 son’s serious medical issues.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.  I used to do excellent 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

2019

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 21 hens, 3 pullets, 3 cockerels (almost ready for butcher), and 1 rooster.  Plus 23 eggs in the incubator.
  • Did 1 incubation with 23 eggs.  22 were fertile, 10 chicks hatched and 10 survived.
  • Broody hen set 12 eggs, bad fertility (only 5 fertile), 3 hatched, we added 10 from the store and she accepted them, 5 from the store and 1 of hers died in the first few days, 7 survived.  Got 5 more from the store and put them under her. 4 of those survived.  So a total of 11 surviving chicks.
  • Purchased 16 more chicks to have shipped.  14 survived.
  • 2 more broody hens set, one set 10 eggs, 7 hatched and survived, the other set 14 eggs, 4 hatched, 4 survived.
  • We purchased 10 chicks and our best broody hen adopted them and raised them.  9 survived.
  • At the height of the season we had 25 adult chickens and 40 chicks –  total 65
  • Butchered 24 cockerels, 13 old hens, 1 rooster
  • Did not sell any chickens this year, but gave away 3 as a gift
  • 1 hen died of unknown causes
  • Ended year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Approximately 4,180 eggs laid (348 dozen)

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 4.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the fire evacuations.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 1 wool ewe, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram
  • 4 ewes got pregnant, due in April & May
  • 1 ram lamb and 3 ewe lambs born, all survived
  • 72 gal of milk produced
  • 2 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of 8 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • 5 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of 10.1 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • Total of 8,525 yds of various sizes and types of yarn made from all the fleece. Plus 3/4 lb of roving.
  • Sold 2 ewes and 2 ewe lambs
  • Purchased 1 BFL ram lamb, 1 Wensleydale ewe, and 1 Bond ewe (all wool breeds)
  • 1 wool ewe died unexpectedly
  • Butchered 1 ram and 1 ram lamb
  • Bred them in two separate groups, one group in September, and one group in October-December.  2 September ewes confirmed pregnant due in Feb.
  • Realized our new BFL ram was unable to breed the flock successfully Oct-Dec, quickly purchased a new Bond ram end of December and put him with the girls, hoping to get the last 3 pregnant.
  • Finished year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams

Goats:

  • Started the year with 1 Nubian doe, Pansy.  Pregnant and due to kid in April.
  • 1 doeling born, died at a couple weeks of age.
  • Pansy struggled for several months with undefinable illness.  The vet, breeder, and we tried everything to figure out what it was and tried treating for any possible thing.  The illness decreased her milk production and we ended up having to dry her off in October.
  • Due to Pansy’s struggles and drop in milk production, we added another Nubian doe to our farm in July, named Belle.
  • 75 gal of milk produced.
  • Rebred 2 does in Nov/Dec.
  • 2 does pregnant and due to kid in April.

Ducks:

  • Started the year without ducks.  Added them to the farm in July – our first ever ducks!
  • Started with 2 drakes and 2 hens
  • 1 hen set 12 fertile eggs, 5 hatched, 4 survived, all drakes
  • Butchered 5 drakes and 1 hen
  • Finished year with 1 drake and 1 hen

Garden (didn’t keep good garden records this year, but…)

  • Over 250 lbs of produce harvested
  • More seeds saved than ever before

Heritage Arts:

  • Completed knit projects: 6 hats, 2 pairs of mittens, 2 pairs of socks, 1 gator, 1 poncho, and 1 dress.
  • Completed sewing projects: 4 dresses, 5 skirts, 8 pajama pants, 3 nightgowns.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.
  • We made 12 tins, 3 half-pints, and 1 pint of herbal salve.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, green beans, and tomatoes.  Plus grape jelly.
  • Prepped and froze carrots and celery.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, and squash.
  • Made 68 lbs of aged cheese.  Mostly from sheep milk, a few from goat’s milk.
  • Made a lot of soft cheeses and dairy products, mostly from goat’s milk, some from sheep milk.

Year Summary

January was cold and dry most of the month.  We hatched out 10 chicks in the incubator, hoping to line the hatching up with chicks coming in the mail so they could brood together.  Unfortunately, the hatchery made a mistake and printed our shipping page but never shipped us the chicks.  So we decided to just raise the 10 we had hatched ourselves.  We pulled our first ever aged cheese out of the cheese cave and tried it.  It was Colby and we all liked it.  One of our younger ewes surprised us by getting bred late, bringing our total of pregnant sheep up to 5.

February made up for January’s lack of snow by snowing every few days and dropping into the negative temperatures.  We worked on indoor projects a lot, and Mtn Man finished his first-ever rectangular braided rug made from llama and alpaca fiber.  We took photos of our chicks each week as they grew and changed.  We got ourselves organized and planned out the gardens and planting schedule for the year, as well as all the livestock birthings and things we needed to prepare for related to that.  Since we kept more sheep than we originally planned to when we put up hay last summer, we had to buy some more and get it put away in the loft.

March started exactly the opposite of February, with a week of warm, dry, sunny weather.  We spent a lot of time outdoors, working on finishing the new vegetable garden in time for planting.  We got the lambing/kidding kit and vet kit re-supplied and ready for lambing season.  And we also finished the wooden barnyard fence.  Coronavirus spread over the world and we were isolated from socializing.  We were largely unaffected, until Mtn Man ran out of work in the mill and had to take an essential construction job.  Our stirred-curd cheddar cheese reached 3 months of aging, so we were able to take it out of the cheese cave and try it.  It was delicious!  We put part of it back to age more so we could see the difference.  Our hen, Cinnamon, decided to set a brood of eggs for us.  We finished shearing all the sheep and began processing their fleece, and we got excited as we neared our first lambs due on the farm for the year.

In April our first dairy lamb was born without issues.  We started milking our first dairy sheep – Autumn, and quickly realized it would go better with a milking machine.  A lot of work was done on finishing up our new veggie garden area, and improving and building new fruit garden areas.  We made progress on Mr. Smiles’ new play area too.  We were all excited when I was invited to blog monthly for Mother Earth News.  Cinnamon’s hatch had terrible fertility, and we only ended up with 3 chicks, so we bought some at the store and gave them to her to raise with hers.  Many were weak from shipping stress and died, so we bought some more.  Our wool ewe, Fiona, had a single ram lamb, in an uneventful birth that we missed seeing despite our hourly checks.  The end of the month was exhausting as we were up to the barn every two hours through the night awaiting the goats and lambs that were due to be born.  Daisy, a first-time-mom ewe, had a traumatic birth with a very stuck large single baby in her small inexperienced pelvis.  We were able to save both the ewe and lamb, but then Daisy rejected the lamb.  After working with her for a day, we decided to give up and bottle feed it.  Once they were separated and the other ewes came to visit the baby, Daisy suddenly decided she wanted to mother the lamb.  We were very relieved and did not need to bottle feed after all.

In May our stay-at-home orders were lifted, and the hospitals started performing surgeries again.  This meant that Mr. Smiles could now get the surgery he was supposed to have back in March, but it also meant that we would be gone to the Children’s Hospital during the height of our lambing/kidding season.  Thankfully, no one birthed while we were gone.  We continued to be exhausted from our nightly barn checks as Pansy the goat went well past her due date, whereas both our first-time-mom-ewes went earlier than their due dates.  Daisy was due in May, but had hers in April.  Blue went 4 days early, the day before Mr. Smiles’ surgery.  Thankfully, Blue’s birth was uneventful and we missed it despite hourly checks on her.  Finally, 9 days past her due date, Pansy gave birth.  She had ring-womb and it made for a traumatic delivery, but both mother and baby survived.  We were finally past our birthing season and could get some sleep – theoretically.  Our oldest son graduated from high school at the end of the month – our first child to graduate from homeschool.  His ceremony and party were canceled due to coronavirus, so we had a nice little celebration on our own.  And we added a new BFL ram to the flock.

June started with disease, pests, and late frosts.  It was a challenging month for sure.  Our youngest son had more trouble with his health, leading to 1 MRI under anesthesia, 4 more surgeries, 2 ER trips, and 9 days in the hospital.  Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the mice were reaching plague-like proportions, with us catching up to 35 per night in our traps, and the barn cats killing innumerable amounts, and yet they were still wreaking havoc in the gardens and barns.  We found out that our new BFL ram might have brought Orf to the entire flock, and anxiously waited the disease incubation period, hoping it wouldn’t prove to be true.  The goat and her doeling got lice, and we were busy treating them with a natural oil daily.  One of our hens hatched out 7 baby chicks, on the same day that the doeling very suddenly died of what was suspected to be enterotoxaemia.  We grew oh-so-weary with it all.  And then, during Mr. Smiles’ hospital stay and surgeries, Pansy became very ill.  We had the vet out multiple times, only to find no obvious cause and have no treatment we tried help.  As a last-ditch-effort, on our way home from the hospital we picked up a buckling to take home to see if it was emotional depression from the death of her doeling causing her physical illness.

In July we managed to avoid the pediatric hospital, but knew our time away was limited so we were super busy at the farm trying to deal with all the summer to-dos before we had to head back to Denver.  Pansy the goat was still sick for awhile, but eventually pulled through her mysterious health issue.  We traded the temporary buckling out for a new milk doe.  We weaned lambs, sold some sheep, and purchased a new breeding ram and ewe.  We also added ducks to the farm for the first time ever.  The mice and hail continued to plague the gardens, but some harvest began to come in as well.  With two goats, and the lambs not milk-sharing with us anymore, milk continued to flow in larger quantities than before, and thus we spent a lot of time making cheese and other dairy products.  We had to switch to a larger homemade refrigerator cheese cave, as the smaller one was full.  We also purchased two pigs and butchered them for our winter meat.  It was our first time ever butchering pigs as we usually have the butcher do the pigs for us but there was no butcher who could take them due to the pandemic.  It was a very busy and productive month on the homestead for sure.

August brought a lot of juggling of farm life and hospital life.  Mr. Smiles had 2 more surgeries, one scheduled and one unexpected.  Meanwhile we were trying to continue to process all the dairy products and harvest the garden.  We ate, canned, froze, pickled, fermented, and root cellared the produce as it was harvested.  We butchered some chickens, and one of our hens decided to set and hatch some chicks.  One of the new duck hens wanted to set too, so we bought some hatching eggs and put them under her.  As I continued to blog for Mother Earth News, I also had an article published in Chickens Magazine.  Our friends were evacuated due to a wildfire and their ducks and chickens came to live with us for what turned out to be several weeks.  It was kind of fun having a goose on the farm for a little while – we had never had one before and she was beautiful and fun.  We struggled with a couple of red-tailed hawks and a golden eagle who were hanging out trying to get an easy meal in our barnyard.  The chickens had to stay in their covered pen to keep them safe.

September was beautiful, except for the large amounts of smoke from the wildfires.  We worked hard harvesting and preserving the harvest from our gardens.  The pullets began laying, so we had some fun new egg colors and sizes.  We were able to can our produce, despite supply shortages, thanks to our reusable canning lids.  We got an early hard freeze along with three days of snow that surprised us and brought the garden harvest to an end quickly.  Thankfully, we got all the produce out in time.  The snow also helped suppress the wildfires, for a little while.  We tried a new breeding plan for the sheep on the farm, and bred three of the ewes during September, planning to breed the others in December to divide up our lambing season.  We also butchered the ram lamb.  The duck hen successfully hatched her ducklings and we really enjoyed the new adventure of that.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezers when Mtn Man and his father hunted elk.  Sadly, our matriarch ewe, the first ewe we ever purchased for the farm, died unexpectedly – it was heartbreaking and a very difficult loss.

October was full of fall productivity.  We worked at getting, splitting, and stacking firewood to heat the house for the winter.  We continued to work on cleaning up the gardens and putting up the seeds for next year.  We finished several heritage arts projects, and built new feed bins for the barn.  We butchered more chickens and a ram, plus a couple of ducks.  The freezers were filling up fast for winter!  We were excited to learn that one of my blog posts for Mother Earth News was chosen to be published in their e-newsletter.  The Cameron Peak wildfire moved closer and closer to us, putting us on edge and prepared for evacuation.  We had a mountain lion hang out around our property for a few days, which kept us on edge as well.  Two more wildfires started near us, and ash and smoke started making life complicated.  Then, in one days time, one of the fires grew over 100,000 acres and traveled 35 miles, closing in on our home.  We were evacuated, and had to quickly get 64 animals and 8 humans off our homestead.  We were so blessed to have friends, acquaintances, and strangers reach out to us and take in our animals and our family.  The animals were spread over 5 different farms.  After 5 days, our family was able to go home, but the fire loomed and threatened and we had to stay prepared for fast evacuation, so we did not bring the farm animals back for a few weeks.

As we headed into November we continued to watch the wildfires and wait for the OK to bring our livestock back to the farm.  We cleaned and prepared the barn, and worked on some heritage arts projects.  As the containment lines grew, we started bringing animals back.  First the sheep and LGD came home.  Then the poultry.  The goats were evacuated to the farm that they go to every November/December for breeding, so we left them there for the breeding season.  It felt great to have the animals back at the homestead!  Since the ram had to be with the ewes during the evacuation – thus starting our breeding season earlier than planned, we decided to just leave him with them and let them breed.  We added a new, Bond ewe named Matilda to the farm.  We also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning and cheesemaking.  We scrambled to get things done around the farm before winter really hit since the evacuation had put us behind on all our fall projects.  We were surprised to find out that our two hatches from September, one duck hatch and one chick hatch, that each had 4 babies survive, had all males.  Not exactly what we were planning, but more meat in the freezer.

December brought both very low temperatures (-10F) and unseasonably high temperatures (55F) to the farm.  We used the warm days to finish fixing some fences and the path out back, and spent the rest of the time cozy by the fire working on heritage arts projects for Christmas presents.  It was a pretty laid-back, low-key month and we all enjoyed the break and rest.  Then, in the last few days of the month, we realized that our new BFL ram was not getting the ewes pregnant.  We quickly purchased a new ram, a Bond, and put him with the girls, hoping we could get the last 3 ewes pregnant before their breeding cycles stopped for the season.

 

It is good to look back, but can also be hard to look back as well.  I remember that in last year’s homestead review I said that it was by far the hardest year in our lives.  Good thing I didn’t know what was to come.  This year has by far been the most challenging year of our lives.  We had so many losses in our personal lives and on our homestead.  At the homestead we battled the weather, pests, birthing complications, and illnesses in the livestock.  Our youngest son had 8 more surgeries this year, along with many hospitalizations, ER visits, and doctor’s appointments.  His last surgery was his 23rd in his 5 years of life.  It was definitely challenging.  Through it all we continue to focus on our many blessings and trust in God as He carries us through the ups and downs.

Sunday Homestead Update

We had a lovely and relaxing “vacation” week this week.  We took the week off from school and just hung out and had fun together.  Thanksgiving was delicious, and we enjoyed decorating and preparing for Advent and Christmas this weekend.

Thanksgiving

It is really fun when some (or all) of your Thanksgiving spread comes from your own farm.  My favorite item this year was a Red Kuri Squash Pie.  It tastes very similar to a pumpkin pie, but even better!  Yes, I realize the pie is in an apple-shaped pie pan – hehe.  We had some break this year and that is the only one I have left.  So an apple shaped squash pie is what we had.

Cheesemaking

I am continuing to work through the sheep milk we have frozen from the summer and make it into cheese.

I am trying different things, tweaking procedures and ingredients to try to make it less dry.  All the sheep cheese we have made thus far has been delicious and the flavor was spot on, but it has all been a little too dry.  We enjoy it and eat it, no problem, but I do want to perfect it and make it go from good cheese to amazing cheese.  🙂

Fencing

The goats have always been somewhat hard on the fencing, whereas the sheep, for the most part, have not been.  The exception would be when our ram went crazy with testosterone rage and broke a fence in several place, and a gate.  Our new ewe, Freya, is a very big girl.  She is a beautiful Wensleydale and oh-so-sweet.  But she likes to use the wood rail of the fence to scratch her back, and her size is starting to damage the fence by bending the wire out.

We are making plans to spend some time soon doing some fence repair and reinforcement in various places around the barnyard both to fix this bending damage, and to do some better permanent repairs on the fence the ram broke that we just temporarily repaired.

OCC – Belated

I forgot to post earlier in November that we did our Operation Christmas Child boxes again this year.  We really enjoy supporting this ministry and packing shoe boxes with goodies each year.  If you have never heard of it, go check it out by clicking here.

Heritage Arts

Heritage arts projects are in full swing around here with the colder weather’s arrival and the fact that Christmas is coming.  I have been knitting hats, mittens, and gators for the kids per their specific requests.  I finished this hat for Mr. Smiles this week, made from Maggie’s 2020 lamb fleece.  It is SO soft and comfy.  I now have made 2 pairs of mittens (for Braveheart and Little Miss) and 2 hats (for Braveheart and Mr. Smiles) from that fleece, and there is still quite a bit more left!  I think what is left will become a pair of mittens for Mr. Smiles, and maybe a couple more hats.

I also made Mtn Man another hat from Autumn’s 2020 fleece.  It was a less soft fleece with more itch-factor, but Mtn Man loves the hat I had made him last spring.  He liked it so much he wanted a second one so he could have one for barnyard and dirty work and one for going places.  There is about one hat’s worth of yarn left from that fleece, we will see what I end up doing with it.  I am trying to work through all the yarn I have stashed from our farm before we make more with next spring’s shearings.

I have also been sewing skirts for the girls and I, and flannel PJ pants and nightgowns for everyone.

Little Miss has taken out the special, 5-generation, hand-sewn hexagon quilt and has been making progress on it.

Mtn Man has been braiding rugs and Sunshine has been crocheting kitchen scrubbies and dishcloths for gifts.  A lot of indoor projects being worked on!  Meanwhile, I will leave you with a cute picture of what our dog and cat spend their time doing while we are busy with our homestead…

…sun puddle cuddles.

Sunday Homestead Update – Sleeping Wildfire

Time change again already?  AND November!?  Those seriously snuck up on us this year.  The wildfire has consumed all our attention and we didn’t see it coming.  Yeesh.  Where has fall gone?

Wildfires

The wildfire update is constantly changing – daily, sometimes hourly.  Just when we think we know what is going on, something changes.  It has made for quite the emotional rollercoaster over the last 10 days, and it isn’t over yet.  As of now, the snow is melting and almost gone and we are watching and waiting to see what the fire does.  It is still burning, but they don’t expect it to move for a few days.  There is definitely potential that later this week, or next week, it could move again and we would be evacuated again.  We are anxious to get our animals back home, but we don’t want to bring them back and then have to remove them again.  It is a strange limbo to be living in, at home trying to somewhat live normal life, with no animals to care for, while the fire kind of hangs over our heads and we need to be prepared to leave at any moment.  An emotional rollercoaster of waiting and watching.

When we got home, our very old and leaky windows all had ashes all over the window sills from the fire.

This reminded me that it is time to seal the windows for the winter using that plastic that you heat with a hair dryer.  We got half of them done this week, and will finish the rest soon.  Someday, we really need to replace these super inefficient old windows.  Just think how much cold is coming in if that much ash can come in!?

We decided to get the barn and coops all cleaned out and ready for animals to come home – whenever that may be.  They were due for a cleaning, and then the rush of getting everyone out in such a hurry caused a lot of mess too.  It is now all clean and just awaiting the day we can bring our critters home to it.

It was interesting cleaning without them there.  We have never done that before.  On one hand, it was kind of nice to clean without them underfoot and in the way.  But stronger than that was the sadness and empty feeling of not having them there.  We stop to pet them and love on them while we clean usually, and their absence was very obvious as we worked.  We miss them so much.  We are blessed that they are all well taken care of in the places they are staying.  We got this photo from where the goats and the LGD are staying.  It was nice to see them, even if it is just in a photo.

Fire Mitigation

Our property is pretty well fire-mitigated, but there is always a little extra here or there that can be done.  And when a wildfire is headed for you, it brings to mind all the little things you can do extra.  So we decided to use yesterday to do some more fire mitigation around the buildings, making sure everything was as safe as we could make it.  We moved the firewood splitting area and firewood pile farther away from the structures.  We took down one of a few trees that are probably too close to our house and are contemplating the other three.  We made sure that all the trees within 100 feet of the structures are limbed up 10 feet on their trunks (or 1/3 of the way for smaller trees).  All this in hopes that if a fire does come through, our home and structures might be able to survive it.  Apparently, if you can keep the fire from going up the trees, having it stay down on the ground level in grasses etc, then you have a much better chance of your buildings surviving.

Garden?

Our garden season is long over.  However…we have an accidental pepper plant indoors that has ripening peppers on it.  In the spring, we start many of our plants under grow lights since our growing season outdoors is oh-so-short.  Then we move them outdoors when it is safe.  Somehow, this pepper plant stayed inside.  I don’t know if it wasn’t mature enough, or if we didn’t have space, or probably both…but it stayed indoors.  I didn’t even know it existed, but the kids have been keeping it under the grow light and watering it.  And here we are with a mature pepper plant.  The first pepper to ripen was very small, but a beautiful chocolate-colored sweet pepper.

Heritage Arts

Mtn Man finished another rug order.  This was a first for him in two ways: #1 it was his first circle, and #2 it was his first time dyeing roving and using color (other than natural fleece colors) in a rug.  It is a 5-foot diameter, alpaca fiber rug.  It turned out great!  He was glad the customer wanted color and a circle because it challenged him to try new things and see the results.

I finally finished the poncho I have been working on for over a year now.  It has been set aside over and over again for other knitting projects.  Well, it is done now and I love it.  The pattern is called Match Play Poncho and the yarn is Haiku Sueno.

Sunday Homestead Update – Mountain Lion and New Feed Bins

We are so blessed to have a good, working, Livestock Guardian Dog.  She is an Anatolian Shepherd.  We have learned over the years that we can completely trust her instincts – she never barks for no reason.  One time, I was sitting out by the barnyard and she was napping on the compost heap.  It was quiet and peaceful.  All of a sudden she jumped up and started barking, not two seconds later, an eagle swooped over the barnyard looking for an easy chicken dinner.  I hadn’t heard or seen it at all at the point she jumped up.  Animal instincts and senses are amazing.

Another time she was barking and barking, very upset.  I didn’t see anything to be worried about and left her to it.  Once inside, I went over to the opposite side of the house and looked out the window.  Two coyotes were working their way across our property.  She couldn’t even see them because the house was between her and them, but she could hear them/smell them/sense them.  We have numerous stories like this and always can trust her to let us know when there is trouble.  We have learned her different barks as well.  She has a human bark, a bear/coyote/aerial predator bark, and a the-barn-cats-caught (or are stalking)-a-chipmunk-and-I-want-it bark.

Then there is the most concerning bark, which isn’t actually a bark.  This last week, Sunshine came in and said that Anya was pacing the barnyard nervously, all her hair standing on end, growling loudly and deeply.  Uh-oh.  That means mountain lion.  Sunshine sat out there a bit and didn’t see anything, but she said it felt creepy and made the hair stand up on the back of her neck.  Sure enough, later, when Mtn Man came home he informed us he had seen a mountain lion on the property right next to us, about 300 yds from the barnyard.  And it was daytime too.  Scary.  We are obviously on the alert and being extra careful around the property and farm, and hoping it moves on soon and without incident.  I wish there was snow on the ground so we could know its comings and goings better by tracking its footprints in the snow.

Wildfire

The wildfire continues to burn near us, but hasn’t threatened to come our direction for a few weeks.  We continue to have amazing sunset and skies, caused by the smoke in the air.  Some days the smoke is really bad and irritating and it is hard to be outside, others it is high enough it doesn’t really effect us.  My camera never truly captures how red the sun is.

We also have ash falling on everything.

Seed Saving

I continue to plug away at getting the saving seeds dried and put up.  This week I got all tomatoes, except the Long Keeper variety dried and put away.  I wait and save seeds from the longest keeping of the long keeper variety, since that is the point of that variety.  So those will be saved later this year.  I also got all the peas done, and there were a LOT of those.  More than we have ever saved before.  Plus some cilantro (corriander), parsley, and marigold seeds.

I still have all the drying beans on the racks in the root cellar drying in their pods.  I am guessing they are all dry now, and I will get to them when I have time.

Garden Cleaning and Garlic

We are trying to squeeze in garden clean-up between all our other busy-ness of fall.  It has been slow progress, but it will get done.  Meanwhile, we needed to get the garlic in the ground for next year.  So we worked the soil in that section and prepped it and got the garlic down.  We insulated it with some old dried hay from the barn stalls.  We have purchased straw before for the purpose, but the straw always ends up adding a bunch of seeds to the bed and we spend all summer pulling them up.  The hay from the stalls never does that.  We have been using both a Spanish Roja variety and Premium Northern White.  Each year the Roja does much worse than the White, and this year it did so much worse that there really wasn’t any worth using to start next year’s.  So we are switching to just doing all White.  So the garlic is in the ground and ready for next year.

Livestock Feed Bins

We have long used plastic tubs to hold the animal feed in the barn.  They keep the mice out, keep the mess consolidated, and in the case of a flood (which we have had happen in the barn before), they keep the feed dry.  The downfalls of these bins include the fact that the lids are not super secure and thus the sheep and goats can get them open when they determine to.  Since the animals occasionally break into the barn feed area, this can be a really big danger to them.  Also, the bins aren’t an efficient use of space because you can’t stack them on each other since you need to access them through the top.

We have been discussing building something else for awhile, and this week we finally got to it.  Here is what the area looked like before:

And here it is now:

The bins are deep enough for 2 bags of feed, which will make it easier to keep larger amounts without as many bags everywhere.  But they are not too tall to be able to reach all the way in them to the bottom.  And the animals cannot open them because of how he made the lid and the trim in front of the lid.  We used some random hardware we had laying around, and elk antler for handles.  Plus, Mtn Man cut up an old marker board I wasn’t using and put them on the lids so we can easily label what is in them.  We are all really happy with these new bins.  They will make feeding easier and storage of food better and more efficient.  He also put a shelf above them (and there is space for more shelves above that at some point).  I love using vertical space!

Heritage Arts

As the weather starts to cool off a bit, we have been thinking forward to winter and beginning preparations.  The kids have put in several requests for hand-knit winter outerwear items.  The ones they had have either been outgrown, or worn out, or both.  So I put down the never-ending poncho project that continues to be put to the side for other things, and cast on winterwear for the kids.

Young Man wanted a new gator.  I used the yarn Mtn Man made from Fergus’ 2020 fleece.  It is 80% wool from our pewter colored ram, Fergus, who was a BFL/Merino/CVM, blended with 20% bamboo.  The bamboo was dyed a forest green.  Of course the camera never seems to pick up yarn color accurately, but I was actually able to get the correct color by photographing the ball of yarn.  So the picture of the gator shows the project itself, and the ball of yarn shows the accurate color and luster from the yarn.  The pattern is just a simple k2p2 rib.  He is very happy with it and I am sure it will keep him nice and warm when he is working outside this winter.  And I am very happy with the yarn, it turned out beautifully and feels amazing.

Next I made Little Miss some new flip-top mittens.  I used the basic mitten pattern from Ann Budd and then just figured out the flip-top part myself.  Mtn Man made the yarn is from Maggie’s 2020 fleece and it is 100% wool.  I held the yarn double to give them a nice thickness that will keep her hands super-cozy this winter.

Braveheart also wanted some mittens, but he doesn’t like flip-top.  So I used the yarn from Maggie’s 2020 fleece again, held double, and made him mittens using Ann Budd’s basic mitten pattern.

Using yarn from our own sheep fleece on useful things for the kids to wear always feels SO SO SO good.  Such a satisfying farm experience to see it all come full circle.  There are more projects to come, but it felt good to get those on and off the needles so quickly this week.

Little Miss has started a weaving project, it is a dish towel.  She has just barely gotten going, and we are excited to see how it progresses.

Mtn Man finished a big rug order this week.  The rug turned out really beautifully and is huge.  It measures 8ft by 10ft.  The customer is very happy with it.

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.