2016 Year-End Homestead Review

Despite the struggles, life is always full of blessings, and as we finish off another blessed year on the farm we are happy to look back and see what happened on the homestead.

To read previous Year-End Reviews, click the following links:

2015

2014

2013

Statistics

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 7-21 chickens this year
  • We don’t have complete records of how many total eggs were laid, we are estimating from what records we did keep that the total was around 1,500
  • We kept approximately 78 dozen eggs
  • We sold approximately 47 dozen eggs
  • 7 eggs were set by our broody hen
  • 3 eggs hatched successfully
  • No chickens were sold
  • 14 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • 1 hen died from being egg-bound and 1 hen was attacked by a hawk but survived

Rabbits:

  • 32 kits born live
  • 6 stillborn kits
  • 8 kits froze at a few days old
  • 17 rabbits butchered and sold for pet food
  • 7 rabbits butchered and canned for our own meat
  • 3 adult rabbits butchered for our dog food
  • 2 adult rabbits died
  • Angora rabbit sheared 5 times

Sheep:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant ewes and 2 yearling ewe lambs
  • Twin ewe lambs born successfully
  • Second ewe miscarried and was replaced with a ewe lamb
  • Sold twin ewe lambs
  • Butchered one yearling – 20 lbs of meat
  • 6 fleece shorn this year – approx 18 lbs of wool after cleaning
  • Purchased 2 new bred ewes
  • Ended year with 4 pregnant ewes and 1 yearling ewe lamb

Goats:

  • Purchased 2 pregnant Nubian goats in the fall

Garden:

  • Between our vegetable garden and our berries we harvested 220 lbs of produce this year
  • We spent $80 on the garden this year, thus averaging $0.36/lb

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 3 balaclavas, 1 ribby neckwarmer, 2 hats, 1 shawl, 1 infinity scarf, 1 hooded sweater (baby size), 4 pairs of socks, and 1 pair of reading mitts
  • The kids sewed 100 bandana backpacks for Operation Christmas Child
  • I altered 2 pairs of pajamas for Mr. Smiles to wear during his hospitalization and surgery
  • I sewed 24 placemats and 48 cloth napkins
  • Sunshine and Little Miss continue to be amazingly productive with heritage arts projects.  I was unable to keep track of them this year, but they sewed, knitted, crocheted, crosstitched, and embroidered MANY MANY items.

Kitchen:

We canned over 118 qts of food this year –

  • 20 Qts Green Beans
  • 9 Pts Pear Sauce
  • 5 Qts Pears in Honey Syrup
  • 9 Qts Applesauce
  • 18 Qts Apples in Honey Syrup
  • 4 Qts Plum Syrup
  • 8 Qts Plum Jelly
  • 22 Qts Nectarines in Honey Syrup
  • 28 Qts of broth (some chicken, some lamb, and some beef)

We froze 28 lbs of carrots.

We made several pints of syrup from our gooseberry and currant bushes.

Highlights

January through June our life revolved around surgeries, hospitalizations, and specialist visits, for our baby, hours from our home.  Life continued on the farm, and the routine and rhythms of the farm was a healing balm to us during a trying time.

June brought a terrible hail storm to shred our young, newly growing garden plants.  I also finished our first set of seasonal placemats and cloth napkins.  We had some visits from bears, and one chicken was attacked by a hawk, but survived.  We sold our twin ewe lambs, and replaced one of our breeding ewes with a new breeding ewe lamb.

July included unseasonably warm weather, and the start of the harvest from our garden and berry bushes.  We painted the exterior of all the buildings on the property, and we had another bear incident.

In August we enjoyed participating at County Fair and bringing home many ribbons and prizes.  The garden harvest continued, and canning season started.  We continued to have bear struggles, including a break-in to our camper.

September brought another surgery and hospitalization for Mr. Smiles.  The Pediatric PJs I sewed him worked wonderfully to allow all the tubes and wires to be accessible.  Despite the time away from the farm, we were still able to have a very productive month with harvesting, seed saving, canning, freezing, and working on starting to build the ram shed, and building the root cellar, a new gate, and the smokehouse.  The adventure was never-ending when our farm dog partially amputated his toe, and we continued to have bear problems – our worst year ever for bear issues by far.

In October we added two milk goats to the farm and did a bunch of winter prep and building projects.  We put the garden to bed, and filled the freezers by both butchering livestock and hunting.  We finished the smokehouse and root cellar.

November included a lot of building projects, including new hay racks indoors and out for the sheep and goats.  We took down a few trees and we finished the new retaining wall on the onion/garlic patch.  The sheep went to the breeder and we smoked our first meat in the smokehouse.  And Little Miss took quite a ride when the goats broke out of the yard!

December was filled with working on homemade Christmas presents and making Christmas treats while we celebrated advent and awaited the chance to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We purchased two new breeding ewes which are pregnant to provide us with our future flock sire ram and we prepared for the upcoming births of anywhere from 11-14 lambs and kids this coming winter and spring.  I got my livestock record book in order and ready to keep better records in 2017 and we planned for more chicks this spring as well.  We finished phase 1 of the barn remodel, and were shocked to still be enjoying fresh tomatoes from our harvest in September!

 

What an amazing year we have had here at Willow Creek Farm!

 

 

Sunday Homestead Update

We Can’t Do It All

This fall has been awesomely productive around the homestead, especially after taking last year off because of Mr. Smile’s health issues and then the year before that being way cut back because of the adoption process.  It has felt SO good to make such great progress on some of these projects that seem to have been sitting around waiting forever.   The smokehouse and root cellar are done, we have more of the permanent fencing put up in the barnyard, plus two permanent gates and the built-in manger, we have indoor hay racks that help minimize hay waste, the onion & garlic patch is rebuilt (see below), there is a beautiful log-style baby gate at the top of the stairs, and we are oh-so-close to finished with the kitchen remodel (post coming on that once we finally finish).

We also have several projects we still need to finish in the next couple of months: the remodel of the barn with two lambing/kidding stalls and a new goat milking stanchion, and some fixing up on the upper chicken coop while it is empty – fixing the screen window, adding new roosts, moving the nest boxes to make them more accessible, and removing the bear-damaged chicken wire on the exterior pen and replacing it with wood.

We have goat kids due in mid-February and early-March, and lambs hopefully due in April and May.

In addition, we have our regular life outside of homesteading.  Mtn Man is starting up a new business venture that will be taking a lot of our resources.  And while Mr. Smile’s health is currently stable and he is doing well, we have learned the last year that it can change instantly and we can suddenly be back in the children’s hospital without any heads up at all.

So…now we are contemplating where we want to go with the chickens in the upcoming year.  Because of all the events of the last year we are pared down to just 7 laying hens living in the lower coop.  We really really enjoyed our selective chicken breeding program and would like to get back into that in the future, but when?  We have been discussing the many different options this last week, all the way from starting to build up the breeding flock starting with new chicks next week and continuing to add more between now and spring, to just sticking with a few laying hens and waiting another year, and every option in between those two ends of the spectrum.

It comes down to the fact that we have all these things we want to do.  And all these dreams we want to fulfill.  But we can’t to it all…at least not all at the same time.  Sometimes it works out to go for it and it really adds to the lifestyle we live, and sometimes it doesn’t and we end up having to pull back.  Life is a constant plate spinning balancing act.  It can be hard to know when to add another plate and when to remove one.  And it’s always a bummer when one or more come crashing down because we were trying to spin and balance too many at once.  So we are prayerfully considering as a family what to do about chickens in the next year or so.

Onion & Garlic Patch

The onion and garlic patch has been a challenge since we moved to the farm 4 1/2 years ago.  The soil in it is very dense and clay-like.  And the roots of the trees surrounding it are quite shallow in places.  We have tried a few different things to add soil and increase the height of the retaining wall, but they haven’t worked well and our resulting garlic and onion harvests from this area have been terrible.  We decided it needed a new, higher retaining wall and then a good deep layer of compost and topsoil added.

First, we needed to take down one of the trees.  It was a twin tree and was threatening to fall on the garden as well as causing more shade than I wanted on the garden, and constantly dropping needles into the garden.  While we were at it (at taking down trees) we decided to go ahead and fell a massive tree in our front yard that has been threatening the house every windy day since we moved in.  We get meg-wind here in the mountains during the winter (regular gusts up to 75 mph, and occasionally as strong as 110) and we would watch this huge tree sway towards the house each windy day.  We are so glad we took it down because once it was down we found that the core was all rotten and it likely would have blown down on its own in the next couple of years.

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Both of the trees we took down will be taken to the mill to get as much lumber as we can out of them for the building projects around here.  The unuseable parts will be chopped into firewood.

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Once the twin tree was down we were able to tear down the old rock retaining wall and build up a new, wood one.  We ran out of wood before we got it as high as we wanted – we still need 2-3 more layers and then we will add the new soil and plant our garlic before the ground freezes.  We are really happy with how it is looking thus far and it will be a huge improvement over what it has been.

Before:

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After:

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Smokehouse

We used the smokehouse for the first time this week!  I am planning a post for this week with details about how it went.

Fencing

We finished another section of permanent fencing.  It included a gate and the new goat/sheep feeder.

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We put in a wider gate – 3 1/2 feet – which will make it easier to get the wheelbarrow and such in and out.img_2949 img_2982

Livestock Versus Pet

On a farm there are livestock animals – animals that need to be productive and earn their keep and are often used for food, and there are pet animals – animals that don’t necessarily have to earn their keep and will be kept whether productive or not and are never eaten for food.  Some pets are very productive like livestock and earn their keep, but keeping unproductive livestock like pets is a good way to run a farm into the ground by wasting resources.  It is a very rare thing to have an animal cross the line between the two and switch their status.  The story of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is an example of the rare occasion where a livestock animal becomes a pet.

Well, the story of Wilbur played itself out here on Willow Creek Farm last week when Sunshine played the part of Fern, and Mtn Man was the soft-hearted father, and Wilbur is a meat rabbit instead of a pig.  Mtn Man was preparing to butcher our last litter of kits since the buck died.  Sunshine really wanted to keep one as a pet, even though she already has a hamster and an indoor cat as pets.  Both Mtn Man and I insisted that it didn’t make sense and that she already had enough pets, even though she is very responsible and takes excellent care of her pets.  Then, when Mtn Man went to butcher the kits, the one she wanted to keep (a beautiful chocolate agouti colored one), walked right to the front of the cage and bumped his head against Mtn Man’s hand asking for petting – while the rest of the litter acted like meat kits usually do, running around the cage like crazy trying to get away from him.  He picked the sweet little guy up and pet it and he just couldn’t do it.  It is hard enough to butcher your own young livestock, but to have one that walks right to the slaughter wanting to be pet and loved on makes it nearly impossible.  And so, he came into the house with Sunshine’s new pet rabbit…Wilbur.  She got so excited and set right to work setting up a cage for him and she has been loving on him ever since.

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Getting Started with Meat Rabbits: Weaning and Growing Out

We have made it to the last post in our “Getting Started with Meat Rabbits” Series.  To view other posts in the series, click the following links:

Housing

Feeding and Watering

Buying Breeding Stock

Breeding

Pregnancy and Kindling

Birth to Weaning

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Weaning is the process of removing the kits from the mother rabbit so they are not nursing anymore and the mother rabbit’s milk production can dry up.  The kits will now eat hay, feed, and water like an adult rabbit, and the mom is now free to have another litter of kits.

The most important aspects of weaning are to keep the kits healthy and growing without nourishment from the mother and to prevent mastitis in the mother.

Timing the weaning to when the kits are eating and drinking enough to sustain themselves without nursing is key to keeping them healthy through weaning.  We wean our kits at 6 weeks of age.  Some people wean as early as 4 weeks or as late as 8.  We find 6 to be an excellent middle ground.  The mother is usually starting to wean them on her own by 6 weeks, so it follows the natural pattern.  Our kits have never had a problem continuing to grow and be healthy when weaned at 6 weeks.

We re-breed the mother at 5 weeks (as long as she is at a healthy weight and body condition) – so that gives her only one week of nursing and pregnancy at the same time.  We do not suggest you make her overlap nursing with early pregnancy for any longer than one week at the most.  It can cause issues with the pregnancy and the upcoming kits.

How you handle the weaning process is very important to keep the mother from getting mastitis.  Mastitis is an infection in the mammary glands that occurs when too much milk builds up and isn’t expressed.  Sudden stopping of nursing can cause it, so it is important to gradually remove the kits so her milk production can decrease gradually.

We wean gradually over a 4 day period.  We find this has made it so we never have a doe get mastitis, and it gives the smaller kits time to catch up with the larger ones.  The litter size will control how many are weaned each day.  But we always wean at least two on the first day so no kits are living alone in a cage because after being with a litter and mother it can be very stressful for a kit to live alone.  The stress could cause trouble with their growth or cause illness.

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So, to give an example, lets say we have a litter of 6 kits.  We would wean the largest two on the first day, then the next largest one on the second day, the next largest one on the third day, and the smallest two on the fourth day.  We find that by the fourth day the two kits that were the smallest when we started weaning are now comparable in size to their larger siblings because they have been given more time with mom and have had access to more milk with no bullying.  So if there were 7 kits it would be 3, 2, 2, 2.  8 kits it would be 2, 2, 2, 2.  If there were 10 kits we would do 3, 2, 3, 2.  You get the point.

If there are less than 5 kits we do it over less time than 4 days.  If there was 4 kits we would do it in 3 days by doing 2, 1, 1.  If there were only 3 kits it would only be 2 days with 2 and then 1.  Again, we never put one kit all by itself in a cage.  If somehow you had a litter of only 2 kits, we would suggest just weaning both of them the same day.  That way they don’t have to live alone and stressed, and with the mother only feeding two her milk production is probably not very high anyway.

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During the weaning process and once all the kits are gone we check the mother daily for signs of mastitis until she is completely dried up.  To do this we just gently palpate each mammary gland with our hands.  They should not feel hard or hard and hot – that would indicate mastitis.  The first few days after the kits are gone it will feel like there is some extra tissue hanging down under her, this is fine as long as it isn’t hard.  It should shrink back up within a week or less.

Once the kits are all out of the mother’s cage we decide how to feed her based on her body condition and status.  As we discussed in the feeding and watering post in this series, she will always have unlimited hay and unlimited water.  The pellet amounts are what will fluctuate.  If she is overweight and pregnant we would go back to rationed pellet feedings until the last week of pregnancy and then go to unlimited pellets.  If she is overweight and not pregnant we would do rationed feeding until we got her to a good weight.  If she is in good condition and pregnant we would continue with unlimited pellets.  If she is in good condition and not pregnant we would put her back on the adult rationed pellets.  If she is underweight then she should not be pregnant because we wouldn’t have bred her while she was underweight – but if this is somehow your situation she would absolutely stay on unlimited pellets.  If she is underweight and not pregnant we would continue unlimited pellets until she was a good weight for breeding.  You can read more details about rationed adult feeding in the Feeding and Watering post.

103_0061 The weaned kits receive unlimited pellets, unlimited hay, and unlimited water all the way through their growing out.  Depending on how many kits are in a cage, we find towards the end of growing out we have to fill pellet feeders three times a day instead of two, and put two water bottles on a cage instead of just one.

It is fine to put weanlings of different ages (from different litters) in cages together.  But be careful if there is a large difference in size or age because the larger older weanlings might bully the younger smaller ones and cause them stress and growth problems.

Do not overcrowd your weanling/growing out cages.  Your kits will not grow as fast and as well if they are crowded and stressed.  However, do try to keep them with at least one other kit, never alone.  Young animals eat and grow better when they have another young animal with them.  You may start with 8 new weanlings in one 30×36 inch cage, but as they get bigger you would split them into two cages with four rabbits in each to be sure they have enough space.7

We butcher our kits at about 11 weeks of age.  Sometimes they are at weight at 10 weeks, and sometimes not until 13 weeks.  But basic fryer butchering age is between 11-12 weeks.

If we are keeping a kit to grow-out into a breeding animal they either move into their own cage when the rest of the litter is butchered, or we keep them with a same-sex sibling if we are keeping more than one.  They can live with a same-sex sibling until they are bred – once it is time to breed them they need their own cage.  We feed them unlimited pellets, hay, and water, until they reach a healthy adult size.

We have now covered everything one would need to know to get started raising meat rabbits.  We hope the series has been helpful – please feel free to ask any questions in the comments sections of any of the posts in the series and we will do our best to help you.

 

Sunday Homestead Update

Sorry for the silence!  We have been so busy with fall projects and life around here that I haven’t even been on the computer in a couple of weeks now.  It has been a wonderful season of accomplishing things around the property and farm, and enjoying the beautifully warm autumn weather we have been having.

So here is a peek at some of the things going on around the homestead…

The Flerd – Sheep and Goats

The three ewes have been taken to the breeder, where they will stay until mid December enjoying time with the ram and hopefully come back pregnant.  It is very strange with them gone.  The barn seems empty and chores are a little too easy.  🙂

The goats were a bit upset when the sheep left, but have settled in without the sheep around.  They are both doing well and we are looking forward to their upcoming ultrasounds.  Neither has come back into heat since they arrived, so they are most likely both pregnant.

Now that the sheep stall is vacant we can begin some of the barn remodeling we plan to do.  I will keep you posted on all of that.  The changes include some new feeders, two permanent lambing/kidding stalls, and a new milking stanchion.

Rabbits

Our last litter of rabbits from the buck that died is now at the adorable stage.  Unfortunately, mama bunny is super protective and aggressive about her kits, so we can only admire from afar.  She even attacked and bit Mtn Man while he was trying to put some hay in her cage.

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Hunting

Mtn Man and Young man each successfully hunted a buck mule deer – adding two more animals worth of meat to our freezers.  The only tag we have left is Mtn Man’s for a cow elk.  He has until January to fill it, so he will hopefully be successful and we will be set for our red meat needs for the next year.

Mtn Man has some of the deer meat brining right now in preparation to go into the smokehouse.  It will be our first smokehouse experiment!  We are a bit nervous because with the warm weather the bears are still out and about.  We had one in the front yard one morning last week.  We will have to guard the smokehouse carefully during smoking next week when the meat is ready to go in.

He made some corned venison (like corned beef) by brining and then cooking some of the deer ribeye.  It turned out delicious!  We will definitely be doing that again with our game meat.

Poor Kitty!

Our indoor kitty, Mo, somehow forgot about the concept of the wood stove while it wasn’t going all summer.  As we have started having fires in it this fall, we figured he knew from last year that it was hot.  Unfortunately, he jumped up on top of it while it was hot and burned his paws.  Poor kitty.  He was not feeling well for a few days but they are healed now and looking good.

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Baby Gate

Mr. Smiles is getting around the house now – it was time for a baby gate at the top of the stairs.  Mtn Man made a beautiful gate that matched the banister he made last year, and it will keep our little man safe from falling down the stairs.

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Operation Christmas Child

The 4 older kids wanted to help out with Operation Christmas Child.  Our church packs boxes each year to donate.  The kids decided to sew and assemble 100 drawstring backpacks to put in the boxes.  They worked so hard on the project, from raising money for the supplies to the actual making of all the backpacks.  They finished them this week and are very excited about giving them to needy kids in other countries.

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We have a lot of farm-project finishing coming up in the next few weeks, it will be fun to share them with you as we complete each item.

Sunday Homestead Update

First Snow

We had a mild cold snap this week, getting down to 25 and bringing a dusting of snow with it.  It has been fun to sit by a cozy fire, knitting and sipping hot tea.  But we were also happy when the warmer autumn days returned and we were able to continue to get outdoor projects done before real winter sets in.

Rabbits

We had two litters born last week.  Justice kindled a litter of 8, and Indi kindled her first ever litter with 5 live and 1 stillborn.  Even though it was her first time she put all the kits into the nest box like she was supposed to, so that was good.  Both litters were doing very well, until we went for morning chores 9 days later and were shocked to find Justice’s entire litter frozen to death.  The night before they had plenty of fur on them and seemed fine.  But in the morning there wasn’t much fur on them and we noticed that they were right up against the wire bottom of the nest box.  Normally there is plenty of hay, fur, and a piece of cardboard between the kits and the bottom wire.  In all the years of using the nest boxes with hardware cloth bottoms we have never had a litter freeze.  Not to mention by 9 days old they have quite a bit of fur on them.  But it was clear that somehow that is what happened – we are pretty sure it was because they didn’t have any insulation under them.  It was 35F that night.  It was very sad and especially hard because we feel responsible, even though we have never had that problem before, it is still hard not to feel guilty.  And it is always difficult to lose babies, no matter which species.

Goats

Heidi and Gretchen are integrating into the flock flerd well.  It is still kind of three sheep over here and two goats over there, but they don’t have trouble sharing space and even food when needed.  They have decided that Tundra is not going to eat them, but they still face him head on at all times when he is moving around the barnyard – ready to butt him if necessary.  Tundra couldn’t care less about them.  He just seems to view them as more animals to guard, but not something to bother sniffing or chasing.  So that is good.  Finley, however, thinks that they are fun to chase – which is NOT good.  He is just now beginning to go back outside after healing from his toe incident.  We will need to take it slow introducing him and be sure he doesn’t make a habit of chasing them.

I have been digging into our new raising goats book.  We are excited because there are a lot of wild plants and brush that grow on our property that we will be able to feed to the goats – something that we haven’t experienced with our livestock before.  Since we can’t grow hay or pasture, this is a huge plus for us as far as the goats go.  When working on the root cellar a few currant bushes had some of their branches ripped off by the tractor, so I took a few branches up to them.  They were gone within a few minutes – the goats loved them!  And the sheep helped eat them as well.  So that is good.

Root Cellar

The outside of the root cellar is completely finished!  We are VERY happy with how it turned out.  We are now going to track the temperature and humidity inside of it daily all through the fall, winter, and spring so that we can get an idea of what we can successfully store in it.  Next summer we will build shelving inside of it and then start using it next fall.

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Garden

My beets and turnips are still alive inside the pest tent, and there is celery, parsley, beets and turnips still alive outside of the tent.  We have had several frosts down to 25F already, so I am pretty excited they are still going.  I am interested to see how long they can go.  Even though they are still alive, I don’t think they are growing much because of the cold.  So I need to plant them earlier next year so they get a bit bigger before the cold weather hits.  Although I wonder if more mature plants wouldn’t handle the cold as well.  Experiments, experiments.

The tomatoes are continuing to ripen in the basement and we have been making spaghetti sauce with them this year since we still have stewed tomatoes left from last year.  It is amazing how many tomatoes it takes to make a small amount of sauce.  I am not sure sauce is the most efficient use of the tomatoes.  It might make more sense to do other things with our home-grown tomatoes and just buy sauce at the store.  We usually use at least 2 jars of spaghetti sauce a week because Friday is always homemade pizza and a movie night at our house.  It seems impossible to grow enough tomatoes for that much.

 

Now that we have finished up some of the projects we were working on (root cellar and smokehouse), we can move on to other projects – a permanent barnyard fence and gate to replace the livestock panels, and an outdoor hay and feed manger for the goats and sheep.