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 – 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.

Second Ever Weaving Project – Complete!

I have finished my second weaving project!  This time I used a kit from Gist Yarn.  It was the Beginner Cotton Towels Pattern by Sara Resnick, along with the yarn kit called “June” – although I felt like the kit colors are more autumn colors than summer, which is why I picked it.  All 5 towels are woven at once, then they are cut apart and hemmed.

Considering my first project was just one dish towel, this project ended up a lot longer than my previous one.

Another big difference between the projects was that this one used 8/4 yarn, instead of 8/2.  8/4 is quite a bit thicker, so the finished towels are much thicker.  I definitely like the feel of the 8/4 thickness towels than the 8/2.  So I plan to do more 8/4 in the future.

Once I got the fabric washed, it was time to cut them apart.  But I was terrified of fraying and coming unwoven on the ends, so i zigzag stitched the ends of each towel before I cut it apart.

I am glad I did, because they did try to fray at the cut places.  Then I ironed the hems into the position I wanted them and used my sewing machine, with the walking foot attachment, to hem them.  They were supposed to be hand-sewn, but I really didn’t have time for that.  The walking foot seemed to help with the bulk so it didn’t get all pushed to one end.

When opened, the towels have stripes on both sides.  The colors get washed out a bit in the photos because of the color of the floor, but I didn’t notice that until I had already uploaded the photos…so here you go.  The colors are better in real life.

When folded, you can’t see the stripes, but they still look nice.

Since I used the red as the warp, I only had a very small amount of it left for the weft.  So only one towel had a red stripe.  I decided to make that one longer, since I had some extra fabric length, and keep it for myself.  The other 4 towels are split into sets of 2 and will be Christmas presents this year.

Overall, a very successful project.  And I learned what I like and don’t like.  I like the thicker 8/4 yarn, and I don’t like hemming.  So I will stick with tassel ends on the future dish towels and make them with the thicker yarn.

I haven’t decided what my next project on the loom will be yet.  I have a lot of yarn left from the first dish towel I made.  So I will likely warp that up and make a few more towels of that color and design.

Sunday Homestead Update – Ram Safety

As the weather is getting colder, we are winding down with all of our outdoor fall projects on the homestead.  This week we finished patching the shingles on the mill roof and split and stacked more wood.  All that is left for outdoor projects is to continue with the last splitting and stacking of firewood.

Hazel and Jerry are loving the sun-puddles in the house as the weather outside gets colder.

So we have now moved indoors for winter-weather projects.  I have been doing a lot of sorting, cleaning, and organizing of closets, drawers, and cabinets.  I have gone through all of Mr. Smiles’ toys, books, and clothing and gotten rid of anything we don’t need/use/doesn’t fit.  I also went through all my own clothing and got rid of extras and unused items.  The girls and I went through the two linen closets, the main bathroom cabinets and drawers, and the whole top level of cabinets in the kitchen.  We are really making some major clean-out progress!  We have more plans to continue with that this week.  We also canned raspberry/blackberry jam this week.

The other indoor project we started this week is the remodel of our master bathroom shower.  The first time I ever took a shower in there, tiles started falling off the wall.  That was 7.5 years ago.  We have been limping it along all this time with plastic and duct tape and it went pretty well.  That is one of the troubles with buying a fixer-upper house…you have to deal with the very imminent things first and work your way through the list.  But when it is a super-duper fixer upper, many things are very imminent and yet have to be left for awhile until you can finally get to them.  Well it is finally time and we tore out the shower this week.  Not a moment too soon, in fact, because our defenses had started to fail and there was moisture in one section of the wood.  But it is torn out and gone now and we can start fresh and dry.

Ram Safety

Keeping intact male livestock has it’s benefits, for breeding obviously.  It also has its risks.  Male animals tend to be very single minded and usually at least somewhat aggressive.  It is how they were created to fulfill their purpose in life.  But it brings with it special management considerations to keep the animal and yourself safe.

For a long time we didn’t keep any male livestock except the occasional rooster.  And even with the roosters we had specific rules for the kids to follow and if a rooster was ever overly aggressive we got rid of it immediately.

We hauled our cows, ewes, and does down to be bred at other farms where the males we wanted lived.  But then our sheep breeder moved out of state, and we had a beautiful ram born, and thus started the chapter in our farm life where we are keeping our own rams.  This is our 3rd breeding season with our own ram, and our first ever breeding season with two rams.

Even when it is not breeding season we have set rules and ways of doing things to keep everyone safe around the rams.  The kids (except Young Man, who is 16) are never allowed to be in a pen that includes a ram unless they have an adult with them.  And when in a pen with a ram, whether you are an adult or a kid we have a strict rule of NEVER take your eyes off the ram(s).  NEVER trust them.  And during breeding season the kids are not allowed to go into a pen with a ram even if there is an adult with them.  We want this adventure to continue to be fun and safe, and it just makes sense to set up rules and procedures to keep everyone safe.  LOL, “procedures” sounds so corporate, but it is the only word I could think of.

Also, we don’t keep aggressive rams.  There is definitely a difference between a ram that you need to keep your eyes on because he will take a shot at you if he has an opportunity because your back is turned, but that will back off if you ask him to, versus a ram that will actively go after you no matter what you are doing nor what body language you are giving him.  Our rams both back off if we give them back-off body language.  If that were not the case we would not keep them.  And if it ever changes, we will get rid of them.  There is no way we can win against 300 lbs of muscle with a thick skull front – if he wants to actually hurt us, he will.  We have no interest in keeping (or breeding and passing on genetics of) an animal that we will constantly be dodging and fearful of, and that we can only safely handle through chutes.  That is not safe for a small homestead with kids.

So, I made a mistake this week.  Totally my fault and I feel sheepish (pun intended ha-ha) about it.  I was feeding the sheep one morning and Fergus was revved up on hormones and morning excitement.  I was doing everything “right” and safe and it was all going smoothly.  I had already fed Fergus and his ewes, but had to walk through their pen carrying hay to feed the back pen sheep.  Fergus came towards me with some attitude wanting the hay and I chased him off.  He was headed towards his food and his ladies several yards away so I thought he was done with me and then I broke the rule that I am always ingraining in my kids’ heads (NEVER take your eyes off the ram).  I turned slightly to the side, taking my eyes off him for a split second and putting my armload of hay between us because I thought he was going to keep heading away from me.  Then I saw him out of the corner of my eye coming after me and it was one of those “oh-no-I-can’t-move-in-time” moments where life kind of goes into slow motion and you know you are about to get hurt.  He rammed me on the side of my thigh/hip, throwing me about 5 feet and I landed with my opposite hand/wrist hitting the ground first in at attempt to break my fall.  I immediately jumped up, out of instinct and fear he might ram me again on the ground, which would be a lot worse.  And I went after him aggressively yelling.  He took off in fear of me (which is what I wanted because I wanted to show him that he was not boss over me even though he had the upper hand for a second there).

I feel totally stupid for taking my eyes off him, especially when I tell the kids that rule so often.  You can bet I won’t do it again.  And I came away with a sore, but not seriously hurt wrist, and a big purple/black/blue bruise from his head.  Lesson learned…the hard way.  Practice what you preach.  🙂

Chickens

Eve’s last hatch of 6 chicks are now 10-weeks-old and we are beginning to be able to tell the males from the females.  There are 3 for-sure females, 2 for-sure males, and one that we aren’t sure about.  I am really happy with the female colors, especially the blue because I want to breed more blue into the flock.  We are planning to butcher the males at 16 weeks.

Heritage Arts

I took my weaving off the loom this week.  It is one super-long piece of fabric that I will be cutting into 5 dish towels and hemming today.  I am really excited to see how they turn out.

Little Miss and Sunshine were hired by one of our mill clients to knit 10 adult hats and one baby blanket before Christmas.  So they have both been busy busy knitting away.  Little Miss finished the baby blanket this week.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – November?

Wow, it’s November.  That one really snuck up on me.

The winter storm hit us hard last week, bringing our temps down to -3F at night and single digits during the day.  The animals did great and everything went fine.  It was fun to be snuggled up indoors for a few days.

Goat

Pansy has gone to the breeder to spend time with a buck.  Little Miss is definitely missing her, as am I, surprisingly.  I didn’t realize how attached I was to that goat.  Once the breeder sees her get bred we will wait at least 21 days to be sure she doesn’t come back into heat, and then we will go get her and bring her home.  Here she is with the buck:

Sheep

Our sheep breeding season will start later this week as well.  We have decided which ram will go with which ewes and will split them up on Saturday.

Firewood

The firewood chopping and stacking continues as we prepare for keeping the house warm this winter.

Heritage Arts

I am continuing to work on my second weaving project – a set of 5 dish towels.  I am getting close to done and am excited to see them off the loom!