Sunday Homestead Update – Moving Poultry

We continue to recover from our bout of illness in the family. For the most part it was a routine week of school, work, and homestead. Routine is always nice.

Poultry

This week we pulled off the big poultry juggling act and got all the poultry into their winter housing. We finished the chicken housing out at the poultry barn and moved the standard chickens from the coop out there. Then we moved the ducks out of the moveable tractors into what used to be the chicken coop and is now the duck house. Moving those Muscovies is no joke – there was blood loss by every helper. We even had long sleeves and gloves on and we still all lost at least a little blood. Those claws…whew. But it is done now and we are glad. The Welsh Harlequin hens are going to take some time to integrate with the whole group – but at least when they were in their tractors we had them butted up against each other so they all have interacted through the wire and are not complete strangers.

It also meant that we were able to dump the first load of compost into the chicken pen. We are happy to get our chickens back to work on making compost for us. We haven’t been able to do that since we moved to the new farm. As soon as we dumped it they immediately ran over and went to town scratching through it. They spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working on it. We need to add a lot more for them to work on. But this is a start.

That leaves just one more thing to accomplish before the cold really hits as far as livestock housing is concerned, we need to get the exterior pen finished for the guineas so they can go outdoors. They are still living inside their coop only. We plan to free-range them at some point, but in order to get them accustomed to “home” being their coop so that they will come back to roost at night and stay close around our property, we have decided to give them a temporary exterior pen for the time being and we will let them free-range at some point in the future – probably next spring.

There is also a ton of little details that need dealing with on both the poultry barn and the duck housing – wire buried along the exterior pens, trim work on the buildings, and a complete revamp of the duck exterior pen. But all those things can wait, at least now they are all safe and can live in their new places long term.

Heritage Arts

I finished the cozy winter sweater for Braveheart! I am glad to have gotten it done before the cold weather hit. Now he can enjoy it all winter. One thing I really love about hand-making clothes, whether by knitting or sewing, is that you can make them specific to fit the person just right. Braveheart is growing and is in a stage where his arms are very long right now. In order to buy him a sweater that fits the length of his arms, it is much to big around and looks like a tent on him. But if we buy him one that fits his body right, the sleeves are way too short. With hand-knitting his sweater, I was able to make it fit his body AND his arm length. It looks great and he is very happy with it.

The pattern was the Basic Set-In Sleeve pattern from the book Top Down Sweaters by Ann Budd. The yarn I used was from our ram Fergus’ 2020 fleece. Daniel made the yarn for me in the mill. It is a DK weight 3-ply with 15% bamboo blended in. The bamboo was pre-dyed a dark green. Fergus’ fleece was dark grey. The two blended together look really great, with a subtle green shimmer to the dark heathered grey. Plus, Fergus had a very nice, soft fleece. So it is soft, with the added strength of the bamboo. Very happy with this project.

I have really been having fun with my 1905 treadle Singer sewing machine. I think that sewing a basic square quilt was a perfect way to really learn to control the treadle. Starting and stopping over and over, literally hundreds of times as I sew each 4.5 square to the next has really helped ingrain in my head how to use the treadle well. I have finished piecing the top, and now will move on to quilting it – again, using the treadle machine. I am going to do a simple stitch-in-the-ditch to quilt it, so that shouldn’t be too hard. But managing the size of the quilt in the machine and all the layers will be a new experience from the piecing, so it will build my skills too.

Sunday Homestead Update – Autumn

We had one day this last week that felt and smelled like autumn. It was wonderful! It was cool, with a nice breeze, but bright sunshine. The girls and I were able to spend some of the afternoon out on the back patio knitting and drinking hot tea – mmmm, yes – Autumn! It was nice to take a break from the busy-ness of farm life for a few hours and just enjoy time with each other. According to the weather reports, we should have even more days like that this coming week. So I guess autumn is officially here, just in time.

It definitely makes working on all the many things we are scrambling to get done a lot more comfortable when the weather is in the 70s, instead of the triple digits! We continue to plug away at the many many projects to get done before winter hits.

Poultry Barn

Phase one of the poultry barn build is underway. The barn will eventually have three indoor sections and several exterior pens. But for this first phase, to get us through this winter with the poultry we have now, we are just doing two sections and 2 exterior pens. This winter it will house the guineas and standard size chickens. The ducks will go in the house/pen that the chickens are currently occupying, and the bantam chickens will stay in their coop which we brought with us from our previous homestead.

Garden

We have started to build the garden for next year. We had planned to put it out near the poultry barn, but after watching the heat and sun cook all the plants in our container garden this summer, we decided the garden would fare better with some shade throughout the day. So we are putting it behind the mill. This will not only give it some afternoon shade, it will also mean less fences we need to build, and thus less money. The mill wall will be one side of it, and an existing wood privacy fence will be the other side. So we will only have to build two fences. At this point in our building-a-new-homestead-journey, anything that will save time and money is a huge plus. And we think the location will be better overall. The bantam chicken coop will also hook to the garden fence, making it so we can easily let the bantam hens out to work the soil in the garden when it is not growing.

We have been clearing the area of all the junk that was there, and leveling the surface since years of downspouts flooding it have left it a mess. Hoping to get part of the fence up this week after we finish leveling it.

Canning

The bounty of garden-fresh produce continues to come in from generous gardeners we have met that have too much to use themselves. What a blessing! I figured we would be completely skipping canning/preserving season this year since we didn’t have a garden, and yet here we are, canning and dehydrating and freezing like crazy. It is keeping us very busy, and we are very excited to have this blessing.

Quilting

I decided the best first-project for learning to use my treadle sewing machine would be a simple quilt with 4-inch squares. It will give me hundreds of start/stop opportunities on the machine, but still be nice simple straight lines, no backstitching, etc. I cut the fabric (a bunch of scraps) this last week and got started sewing it. I am already seeing a ton of improvement in my ability to use the machine and I am only about 1/4 of the way into the piecing process for this quilt. I am really enjoying using the machine and mastering the skills. Fun!

Sink Hole

A small sink hole showed up in our yard. It is about 4 ft. by 3 ft. and about 3 feet deep at its deepest spot. It is under the sidewalk. Strange. We think it has to do with an old tree that was by the sidewalk and was cut down before we moved in. It seems maybe the roots rotted and caused this? Not sure. But we have filled it in.

The smoke has cleared a lot with the shift in the weather and thus we have been able to see our beautiful mountain view a lot more the past few days. It has been wonderful! The sunsets over the mountains are breathtaking. My camera never catches it right, and definitely doesn’t show the true awesome-ness of it, but I still continue to try to photograph them.

Sunday Homestead Update – “Before Winter Hits”

It seems that the arrival of autumn has us scrambling to finish SO many different things “before winter hits.” We say that term several times each day lately. Having moved to the new farm in early June, we spent summer working from sun-up to sun-down on different homesteading and construction projects. Now that we are back to school, we are all putting in nights and weekends, plus every extra second we can squeeze in when we finish school a little early. Daniel has been working full time in the mill the whole time while putting in nights and weekends on the homestead. Sometimes he will be working on the homestead and construction projects during the day because they require light and then he will be in the mill at night. There is never a shortage of things to do on a homestead, and now we are racing the calendar to get all humans and animals warm and secure housing for winter. The good news is that winter hits about a month later here than it did up in the high Rockies, so at least we have more time than our minds, after living our whole lives in the mountains, are telling us we have.

Sheep

Our new sheep have finished their quarantine. We did 21 days because that more than covers most all sheep communicable illnesses. We have settled on names for them all, even though they are very difficult to tell apart and we mostly have to look at their ear tags at this point. During quarantine, only Braveheart was caring for the sheep, and he didn’t go down to the other sheep barn at all. That way we didn’t risk any disease spread via our clothes or boots. So we haven’t gotten to spend much time with them except looking from afar. I know that as we spend more time with them, now that quarantine is done, we will get to know them better and be able to tell them apart. The ram has been named Wallace, and the ewes are Agnes, Lilian, and Bunny.

Now that quarantine is done we decided to start breeding season. We are going to breed them in three rounds this year to spread out the lambing since we have limited housing that is not really set up well for sheep yet. We don’t know what to expect from the weather here as far as lambing season goes either. So we are experimenting by doing 3 waves of breeding. We are also doing it because Nilsson was unable to get any ewes pregnant last year, but we are not sure if that had to do with him, or if it was too late in the season, or what. He is a proven ram, and he was breeding a proven ewe and an unproven ewe and we saw plenty of breeding take place, and yet no lambs. So we would like to give him another chance this year, but we don’t want to risk the ewes not getting pregnant at all, so we are giving him first go at some of them, and then we will follow him with Wallace and Orville so that if he is the reason and somehow is sterile we wont risk not having any lambs next year.

So Matilda and Freya have joined Nilsson in his pen and we will see how it goes. Breeding season has officially begun.

Chickens

Matilda (yes we have a chicken and a sheep both named Matilda), our bantam cochin hen, decided she wants to set. She has never set for us before, but our best broody hen, Eve, is starting to get older and we desperately want more hens that will set for us. Using a hen to raise chicks is so much better than doing it with an incubator and/or brooder. So, even though it is late in the season, we decided to go ahead and give her some eggs. Hopefully in 3 weeks we will have some more chicks!

We made final plans for the permanent poultry housing. It can be built in stages (a huge plus both financially and time-wise). We will be building part of it this fall, enough to safely house the chickens and keets through the winter. The ducks will move into the coop the chickens are currently living in because it is better suited for ducks. Then, at some point (maybe next spring?), we will build the second part of it and will have a very useable poultry barn with plenty of space for what we want to raise. The first step was to move the keet house we had started building to the new location as it will become part of the poultry barn. We got that moved yesterday and now can start working on what parts we need to accomplish before winter.

In the Kitchen

The garden bounty continues to come in, from other people’s gardens this year since we got here late in the season. We have been processing it all, mostly through canning. The canner is up and going at least every other day, sometimes days in a row.

We also have some apple scrap vinegar brewing from some of the apple scraps.

Heritage Arts

Surprisingly, I have had time to squeeze in some knitting lately. I am working my way down the sleeve of the sweater I am knitting for Braveheart. I haven’t finished the body yet, but I don’t know if I will have enough yarn to finish the sweater, so finishing the sleeve with confirm that one way or the other so that I don’t spend a ton of time knitting when I won’t be able to finish it.

Seven years ago, for our 15th wedding anniversary, Daniel got me a beautiful antique 1905 singer treadle machine with a beautiful table. It was in really good condition, but didn’t really work very well. We recently stumbled upon a guy who could maintenance it (thank the Lord for that not-coincidence coincidence). So we got it all fixed and in working order. I am so excited! I know some of you are thinking “Why would you want to use a treadle sewing machine when you have a perfectly good electric one?” But I also know some of you are getting me and know why I am excited. I am still grateful for my electric, but these types of old things are oh-so-fun for me.

I have been playing with it just with scrap fabric to start to get the hang of how to treadle the right speed, start and stop, etc. I have made plenty of rats-nest-thread-knots as I have been learning due to improper treadling, but I am improving and it is fun. I decided I would like to make an easy quilt with basic squares as my first project on it because it will be straight lines and a lot of starting and stopping as I piece it, which is perfect for practicing and learning.

Sunday Homestead Update

We are definitely settled in at the new farm and while there is still craziness and busy-ness…it is the type that we always have, not the kind related to the move.

Goats

Our new Nubian doe arrived. She is taking some time to settle in, but overall is doing well.

She waits her turn while Belle is being milked, eating some grain while she waits. She is under-weight, so the extra grain ought to help get her back up to a healthy weight.

We are really enjoying having the new milking parlor. No flies, no kicked buckets, easy to keep clean, just the right space for our two stanchions…love it!

Heritage Arts

Little Miss has been growing like crazy during this whole move and we haven’t had a chance to make her any new skirts. We finally got around to it, and while we were at it we made a new one each for Sunshine and I too. It felt really nice to be at the sewing machine again!

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.