Sunday Homestead Update – A New Year

It is hard to believe it, but another year has arrived.  As the weather gets colder and windy-er, we move indoors and work on projects needing to be done inside.

Bathroom Remodel

This week we demo-ed our master bathroom.  At the end of 2019, we remodeled the shower in there, but couldn’t afford to do any more of it.  We have been saving and now are able to do the rest of the bathroom.  The house was built in the 1970s, with all the typical features that were “in style” at that point:  turquoise shag carpet, hideous wallpaper, countertops with flecks of gold in them, burnt orange colored kitchen appliances….etc.  During the almost 9 years we have been at this home, we have remodeled almost the entire main house.  All that is left is two bathrooms, the stairs, and a little bit of work in the mud room and everything will be completely changed.  So the next thing on the list was the master bathroom.

Heritage Arts

Another thing about cold weather is that we have more time for heritage arts projects.  I cast on, and hooked on, two new projects.  First, a sweater using a new book I got for Christmas.  This is for Mtn Man and I am using the yarn from our ram Fergus’ 2018 fleece.

I hooked on a crochet poncho using the beautiful yarn that Sunshine and Mtn Man made me from Freya’s fall 2020 fleece.

I have been contemplating what to do with Fiona’s final fleece.  She died suddenly in September and it was a very hard loss because she was the first sheep we ever purchased and had been with us a long time and had become my “pet.”  I decided to have Mtn Man make me roving in the mill, and then hand spin it myself.  I haven’t had my spinning wheel out in about 5 years due to Mr. Smiles’ frequent trips to the hospital and surgeries.  But I decided it was time to get it out and do some spinning.  And spinning my favorite ewe’s final fleece seemed like the perfect reason to get it back out.

At this point I am just playing around a bit with it while I remind myself what I am doing.  But it has been enjoyable.

Sheep Jacket Mending/Cleaning/Organizing

Sunshine took on a project for me that really needed to be done.  She got all our sheep jackets cleaned, patched, and organized.  Now we know exactly what sizes we have, and they are all fixed up and clean and ready to go on the sheep as needed.

Firestarters

Each fall we make wax firestarters to use through the winter as we make fires in the woodstoves to heat the house.  We have been behind on all our projects this year, but I finally got these made.  There are two types we make, pinecones ones (prettier) and egg carton ones (not as pretty, but just as useful).  This year, due to my hurry, and since I had a ton of egg cartons available, I made egg carton ones.

Once the wax cools and solidifies in the cartons, we cut each little cavity apart individually.  Then we use one cavity each time we start a fire by lighting the edge of the cardboard.  You can read more about how we make pinecone firestarters by clicking here.

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

We have had some different things going on around here this week.  Not your run-of-the-mill SHU.  Except for these strawberries, from the strawberry patch.  🙂

Natural Weed Control

We have some driveway and stair areas that  have all sorts of grasses and weeds growing in them that we would like to keep clear.  We do not want to use herbicides on our property that could potentially be harmful to our animals and our edible plants.  Mtn Man told me about a recipe for weed spray that uses vinegar, dish soap, and salt.  So we bought a pump sprayer and I gave it a try.  It is working beautifully.  It has taken a couple applications, but we are definitely seeing results.

Wild Foraging

We enjoy learning about the edible wild plants that grow on our property so we spend a lot of time through the summer and fall with our favorite edible wild plants book, “Best-Tasting Wild Plants of Colorado and the Rockies,” by Cattail Bob Seebck, in our hands wandering the property and examining the plants we find.  Little Miss is especially interested in this aspect of our homestead.

Last week she and Mountain Man worked their way around the property and gathered us a salad for our dinner that was completely wild foraged.  It included Lamb’s Quarter, Saltbrush (my favorite), Tumble Mustard, Tansy Mustard, Mallow, and Squaw Paint.  They also found a bunch of chamomile that we are drying for tea this winter.  It was a very flavorful and delicious salad.

Wild Visitors

We found this little guy on our rock wall one day.

He was about 2.5 inches long.  The kids are now talking about building a bat house to encourage them to “hang” around our property since they eat bugs.

We have a family of coyotes denning about 200 yards from our barnyard.  Mama coyote picked that as a good place to raise a family.  We hear them multiple times each day and night as they yip and yap to each other.  Thankfully, a well-built fence and Anya, the LGD, make it so it doesn’t have to be a concern to us for our livestock.  Whenever they get to yipping Anya likes to throw in her deep throated bark and remind them she is big and she is still here and still on guard.  Thankfully, they have not chosen to come by the barnyard, nor hang out around it the way we sometimes have coyotes do.

Heritage Arts

I haven’t had much time to knit lately, but I have made some progress on my Nightshift shawl.

Guess what made its way into the living room and got dusted off and put to use!?  My spinning wheel!  I haven’t spun since our almost 4-year-old was born.  Life has been so full with his medical stuff, plus just regular busy life, that there just wasn’t time for it.  But this week I got it out and started spinning.  I love spinning, it is super therapeutic for me and emotionally recharging.  It calms me and resets me.  But it is hard on my back, so I have to take it easy and not overdo.  It was really great to spend some time spinning again, and I am hoping to get back into doing it regularly.

Another heritage art that we have not done in awhile that came back this week was wool rug braiding.  Little Miss is braiding a rug for my parents.  She was working on her braid and laying it out on one of our old rugs to decide when to change colors.  it is coming along nicely.

Cheese Making

It was a week of bringing back some old homestead activities, for sure.  We haven’t made cheese in 4-5 years, and this week Little Miss and I decided to make some cheese with Pansy’s milk.  We made a goat’s milk Paneer.

It turned out well.  We used the cheese press Mtn Man built for me several years ago when we got our first dairy cow.

Next week we plan to make Feta.

Chicken Butchering

We had saved two of the Dark Brahma cockerels to raise up one of them for a breeding rooster.  We were waiting for them to get a bit older so we could pick the best one.  They started fighting this week, so it was time to choose.  Braveheart has helped with butchering many many times, and watched Mtn Man do the killing as well, but this time he decided he wanted to do the whole process all by himself.  So he killed and butchered the cockerel all on his own for the first time ever!  We were all very happy for his accomplishment, and I am sure the meat will taste all the more delicious to him knowing he did all the work himself.

Hot City

I had to go into the big city this week (Denver) and got stuck in bad traffic.  it was 101F outside, but because of all the idling cars crammed together and inching along the hot pavement, this is what my car said it was outside:

Eeeek!  Needless to say I was oh-so-happy to get out of the hot city and back up onto the homestead in the mountains.

New Additions to the Farm

We have had three new additions to the farm in the last few weeks.  All are sheep and wool production related additions.

First, we got a wool picker.  This will make it so we can easily take our washed wool fleece and remove all the leftover bits of VM (vegetable matter), and open it up to prepare it to be carded.  This is the Oak wool picker made and sold by Kaydessa.

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AND, even more exciting…we finally got a drum carder!  We have been wanting/needing one for a few years now so that we can process our own wool.  Up until now we have used a mill to process our wool, except a little bit we processed with the hand cards on our own.

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We chose the Elite Convertible hand-crank drum carder from Clemes & Clemes.  That way, while I have lots of helpful little hands we can have a nice quiet hand-crank, and later when my nest is empty I can buy the motor and have an electric if I want.

Now, with the wool picker and especially the drum carder we can do anything and everything we want to with the wool.  We can card it into bats, or roving.  We can blend our angora rabbit wool in with our sheep wool and then make bats or roving too.

We have been really enjoying playing with our new tools!

We have already made bats of our white CVM/Merino wool and also silver Lincoln Longwool, and roving from the Lincoln as well.  We have also made bats of our English Angora rabbit wool.

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We have found it quite easy to learn how to use these tools and the more we work with them the better our skills are becoming.  I can’t wait to share with you as we process our own wool.  What a great addition to our farm tools!

The other new addition to the farm is our newest sheep – Toffee!

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She is a light Moorit colored CVM/Merino weanling ewe lamb.  Her wool gets darker as it goes closer to her skin.  It will change shade during her first year of life.

She is replacing our previous breeding ewe, Stella, because Stella wasn’t able to breed successfully for us.  So we now have Toffee, Fiona (a white, 3-year-old, CVM/Merino), and Violet (a black, 1-year-old, CVM/Wensleydale) as our breeding ewes.  Toffee may or may not be able to breed this fall, it depends on how quickly she grows and matures, but we are hopeful by November she will be ready.  We have always wanted to have the moorit color in our flock and are very excited to have her!

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Sunday Homestead Update

It’s been COLD here lately.  Most mornings this last week we woke up to temps in the area of -10F to -18F.  Makes for some cold barn chores.  When it is that cold we leave the animals inside the barn and coops.  We hot mash them all (except the sheep, but they get a luke-warm bucket of water to drink).  And we can usually let them out by noon when it warms up a bit.  Our daily temps have been in the 20s.  All the animals have been holding up well to the cold.  And this week we are supposed to warm up to the high 30s during the day and teens at night…rocky mountain heat wave!

Rabbits

Justice was due for her first kindling this week.  She was due Wednesday.  Monday she began to build an elaborate nest with hay and fur pulled from her belly.  She continued to make it bigger and refine it through Wednesday…still no babies.  By Thursday night when there was still no kits and yet she was nesting like crazy we knew there was trouble, we have had this happen before.  Sure enough, Friday night she kindled 5 dead kits.  She did a wonderful job of putting them in the nest and covering them up, but they were all born dead.  We have had this happen one time before where a doe’s labor dragged on and on and by the time they were born they were dead because the labor took too long.  We aren’t sure if the cold temps made her body hold on to them too long, or if the first kit got stuck for awhile, or what.  It was a bummer.

We are glad she is now a proven doe, and has shown that she knows how to kindle and tuck them into the nest.  We will re-breed her in the next few weeks once her lactation dries up and she seems healed from the delivery.  Meanwhile, we will check her mammary glands twice a day for mastitis as she dries up and keep a close eye on her for any complications from the delivery.

Indy’s kits are a week old now and doing great.  Growing and thriving.  There turned out to be 9 of them.  She is such a great producer…our best doe at this point.  She is a great mother as well.

We wanted to breed our third doe, Liberty, this last week.  But she was not receptive to the buck at all, probably because of the cold weather.  We will try again this week during our spurt of warmer weather.

Sheep

Fiona and Stella have returned from the breeder.  We are discussing option for preg-checking them.  If the price is reasonable we might go ahead and have them ultra-sounded because it gives us a much better time frame of when they are due (within a week or two) and will tell us how many lambs they are carrying.  But if it is too expensive we will just do a blood test, which will tell us whether or not they are pregnant.  In that case we will have a 45-day window of when they could be due, starting the second week of April.  It is fun to think about spring lambs again this year!

Lily and Violet seemed very happy to have their mamas home, and we like looking out and seeing a flock of 4, instead of just 2.

In the Farm House

We have been enjoying a lot of wool-related activities inside this week.  The girls are enjoying their new loom, we are spinning both with a spinning wheel and the hand spindles, plus there are knitting and crochet projects going on.  I am close to done with 3 different projects – looking forward to posting pics as soon as I finish.