Sunday Homestead Update – Back on the Homestead

It has been so nice to be back on the homestead.  Gardening, milking, making cheese, watching the animals in the barnyard, eating fresh-picked strawberries and grilled garlic scapes – this is the life!  Mr. Smiles is doing very well.  We are so happy to finally have good progress after a marathon of surgeries and surgeries to fix the surgeries.  This last one seemed to really work well and he is stable and recovering.  He needs another one in about a month to finalize everything.

Plague of Mice

The mouse plague continues.  We found that the bucket traps work great – they just take a week or so to get going.  it seems the more mice run up to it, the more others are enticed to go too.  So we have increased to 4 bucket traps, plus all the snap traps we had before.  We caught 30 mice in one night this week, and we caught 12 mice in one bucket!  We continue to get at least 10 a night, usually more.  Maybe with all these bucket traps, that have an unlimited catch amount, we can finally get ahead of the reproductive curve, because it still feels like they are reproducing faster than we can eradicate them.

Gardens

The mice have been feasting on our strawberries, as expected, but now that we have a bucket trap in that garden we have been able to harvest some for ourselves.

We also had a really nasty hail storm.  We were home, and thus able to throw some sheets over certain parts of the garden to prevent damage.  But the rhubarb, comfrey, and some of the squash and pepper plants did not get sheeted and they were pretty torn up by the hail.  They are still alive and should still produce.

We have been enjoying grilled garlic scapes for a couple weeks now.  A garlic scape is the flower shoot it sends up in the middle of its leaves.  Once the shoot curls, we cut it off.

Then we chop them into about 1-inch pieces and toss them in olive oil and salt.  Then we put them in the oven on broil until tender.

YUM!  A delicious snack or side dish.

Patching WOWs

We have been using Wall-o-Waters for about 15 years now to garden in our short-season, cold climate.  They extend our spring season by about a month, which is very important since we only have a 10-week growing season.

Over time, the plastic breaks down from the sun exposure, and they get holes chewed in them, or torn, or they just overall wear out.  We have found an easy way to patch them and get more life out of them.  If we have one that has several tubes that have holes we cut it apart into each separate tube.

You have to be careful when doing this to be sure not to accidentally cut into one side or the other.  Then we throw out the ones with holes in them and use the good ones to patch other WOWs that need patching.  We just slide the patch tube that we cut up down into the tube that has a hole, and fill the inserted tube with water.  In this photo I used a green patch tube in a red WOW so you can see it better.

So this week we patched several of our WOWs with the one I cut apart.

Sheep

Sheep have been the main topic of discussion around here lately.  The dairy sheep are Sunshine’s project, and Mtn Man and I are all about all the sheep, dairy or wool.  So the three of us have been going round and round about which ewes to keep and which to sell.  We had a plan before, but Maggie not lambing kind of changed up that plan.  In addition, we have an opportunity to buy a Wensleydale ewe that we are pondering.  So there has been a lot of discussion and planning in that department.

We made our first sheep milk ice-cream of the season this week.  It was SO good!!!

Goats

Pansy continued to waste away this week.  She was skin and bones.  The vet ran out of ideas and treatments.  We tried everything and anything and tested her for a bunch of things too.  Having the other goat here seemed to help somewhat, but not completely.  As we have been going through this I have continually been saying, “maybe it is nutritional.”  But I ran our feeding practices and mineral supplementation past both the vet and the goat breeder and they said it looked good.  We felt it looked good too.  But the nagging in the back of my head kept saying it was some sort of vitamin/mineral issue.  But I was at the pediatric hospital for most of Pansy’s sickness and thus had a lot of other things on my mind.

So, early last week, after we were home from the hospital, and after we had run out of all our other options and treatments – as we were still watching her waste away – we decided to order a powdered goat mineral supplement from Caprine Supply to sprinkle directly on her grain each day.

Because we keep sheep and goats, we have to be careful about the minerals they share because they do not have the same needs and sheep can be killed by copper toxicity if they eat minerals intended for goats, and goats can get deficiencies if kept on minerals intended for sheep.  Thus far, to manage this, we have used a multi-purpose mineral block for the sheep and goats to share, and we have supplemented the goat with extra copper through the use of boluses.  But Little Miss read somewhere that some goats don’t do well on mineral blocks and do better with loose minerals.  So, as a last last last ditch effort to save sweet Pansy, we decided to try loose minerals, specifically formulated for goats, that we would put on her grain each day.

When they arrived it was midday, so Little Miss decided to take one daily dose (1/2 ounce) out and see if she wanted it.  She gobbled it down like candy to a child.  That evening, at milking, we went ahead and gave her another daily dose on her grain while she was being milked.  The mineral was listed as being able to be used free-choice as well, but since we couldn’t give it to her free-choice due to the sheep we figured that doing more than they recommend for a daily dose wouldn’t hurt her if she chose to eat it.  She gobbled that dose down too.  The next morning we again did a full daily dose at morning milking, which she again gobbled down.  When we let her out for breakfast we were surprised by her behavior.  During her illness she has barely been eating and has been lethargic and depressed.  She had not been bullying the sheep during feeding like she usually does.  That morning, less than 24 hours after the first dose of minerals, she went right to the feeder and started pushing everyone around so she could eat.  All day long, we kept seeing her eating and nibbling on food wherever she could find it.  And in the afternoon we found her down in the lower barnyard with Inigo (the wether) sniffing around and “exploring” – again something she hasn’t done since she got sick.  We continued to offer her the minerals and she continued to eat them.  The next day, just 48 hours after we started the minerals, we saw her having a “battle” for alpha position with the matriarch sheep, Fiona.  It lasted 10 minutes!  They hadn’t “battled” since Pansy got sick.  It was amazing how perky and energetic she was!

We have continued offering the minerals and she has backed off somewhat on how much of them she eats each time.  But her health has continued to improve.  She has visibly gained weight – in less than a week.  She is acting like her usual self – eating, pushing the sheep around, making sure everyone knows she is boss (second to Fiona – LOL).  She seems fine now!

We are all SO relieved that she is better.  Early last week we really did not think she was going to make it.  But now she is doing great.  We don’t know what it was exactly…did all the other treatments finally kick in?  Did her body finally win against whatever was going on?  Was it the new goat friend?  Or was it the minerals?  I tend to think it was the minerals all along – that she was having a nutritional imbalance for some reason.  It could explain everything we have been struggling with her this spring – the ring womb, the lice, the lack of shedding her coat, the depression and lack of appetite…all of it can have nutritional origins.

Needless to say, we will be keeping her, and any goat we have, on these loose goat minerals from now on.  We are feeding them while she is in the stanchion being milked, and to keep the sheep safe, we have decided that one stanchion is only for goats and the other one is for sheep.

SO SO SO happy to have our Pansy back again!

Livestock Shuffle

This week will start a few weeks of shuffling around livestock.  We are trying to get all our weaning, selling, buying, and trading of sheep and goats done in the next few weeks before Mr. Smiles’ next surgery.  It will make life more streamlined and it will reduce the stress on all the livestock to a shorter period of time than doing it sporadically here and there over the next few months.  But it also means a lot of busy-ness going on for a little while.  I will keep you posted as we change up the flerd.

 

Using Dansha Farms Milk Machine to Milk Sheep – Part 2

You can read Part 1 by clicking here.

Back in April, when our first milk sheep, Autumn, lambed, we purchased the Dansha Farms Brute Milk Machine to use on our flock.  When we first started using it I posted Part 1, and now that we have been using it for a few months and have used it on 3 different sheep, I would like to follow up and let you know how we feel about it now.

Milk sheep udders are generally not ideal for hand-milking.  The teats are very small and they are placed on the side of the udder just barely in front of the back leg.  Some sheep have udders that are easier to hand milk, and some have ones that are harder.  We have tried both hand-milking, and machine-milking with the Brute on all three of our milk sheep this year.

The Dansha Farms Brute Milk Machine has several parts.  The teat cups are syringes and come in two sizes – the smaller size fits sheep well.  A tube comes off each cup and runs down to a lid that fits any regular-mouth canning jar.  This is very convenient because, depending on the amount, time of year, and sheep you are milking, you can use a quart or a half-gallon jar.  A tube then comes out of that same lid and runs to the pump, which plugs into an outlet (there are battery-powered options if you don’t have electricity in your barn).  That is it – it is very simple and thus easy to take care of and clean.

We keep all of our milking supplies in a tote that makes it easy to bring them back and forth to the barn for cleaning.

To use the Brute milking machine we start with the same two steps that we always start with no matter whether we are hand-milking or machine milking: washing and stripping the udder.  We wash the udder thoroughly with a terrycloth rag and some water with a dish soap in it.  Then we strip the first few squirts from each teat into a mesh strip cup to check for signs of mastitis and to clean out the orifice.

Next, we position the teat cups onto the sheep and press the button to start the suction, this is the time when it is convenient to have more than two hands – although with some careful balancing, one person can do it alone.  It is also possible to just milk one side at a time with the machine.  We examine the teat cup placement to be sure it is good once the suction starts so the ewe doesn’t get sores.  As soon as the ewe lets down (the milk starts flowing), we turn the machine off.  This is a very important step – you can seriously injury your ewe if you keep the machine going too long.

Then we massage the udder as needed while the machine milks her.  If the flow starts to slow down we turn the machine on again for a few seconds to get it going again, and then turn it off again.  It is very simple.  Once we have gotten all we can with the machine, we careful break the suction to remove the teat cups (never just pull them off), and then we strip out the last little bit by hand to be sure it is all out.

It has worked well on all three sheep we have been using it on this year and makes milking cleaner and faster than by hand.

When we are done milking, we take our tote back to the house, disconnect the jars the machine milked into and strain and cool the milk.  Then we use a bottle brush to clean the syringe teat cups out, and then use the clean syringes to squirt soapy water, and then clean rinse water through the tubes.  We use a sponge to gently clean off the lid and the outsides of the tubes with soapy water, then rinse it all and set it all out to air dry.  It is very quick and easy.

We continue to be very happy with our Dansha Farms Brute milk machine.  It works great on the sheep, is easy to maintain and clean, and was a reasonable price.  We definitely recommend it for any homesteader with a few milk sheep (or goats) that would like to use a machine for milking.

Sunday Homestead Update

This week was a busy medical week for Mr. Smiles, so, around the farm, life was limited to holding down the fort.  Everyone got their food, water, milking, shelter, and the gardens got watered.  Not much else happened, just the necessities.

The mice population seems to finally be decreasing.  We are only catching 7-10 per night, instead of 15, which is nice.  The bucket trap started working and is catching 2-3 mice each night.  We are going to set up another one today.

Gardens

We are finally gaining some ground in the gardens.  With the mouse population more under control, the beans and peas have sprouted and not been eaten in the upper garden.  The lower garden is still having more of a struggle, but there are some surviving sprouts there too.  Most of our seedlings are out in the gardens now, even without WOWs on them.  And we removed the WOWs from the plants that had outgrown them.  We had a frost this week, but it should be our last (famous last words – right?).

It is always amazing to me to think how jungle-like this photo of the garden will be in a couple of months.

Pea Sprouts

The strawberry flowers are starting to fall off, leaving little green berries behind.  It is looking to be a very large strawberry harvest this year (as long as the rodents leave it alone).  The gooseberries and grapes are also covered with berries and are looking to give a bumper crop this year.  Very exciting!

The chives are flowering.  These are my favorite flower on the homestead.  So pretty!

Chickens

Eve had a very successful hatch last Sunday/Monday.  She had 5 eggs under her, 4 were fertile and 3 hatched.  I put 5 eggs in the incubator (to make up for loss), 5 were fertile, 4 hatched.  So we hatched 7 out of 9 fertile.  Eve is happy to be raising her 7 adorable chicks.  She is such a good mama.  She is very experienced, as she has brooded many many clutches for us in her seven years of life.  She has done anywhere from 1-3 clutches every year since she started laying, so we must be closing in on 15, if not passed.

Goats

The death of Pearl earlier this week was very traumatic and hard on everyone, including Pansy.  We are all doing better now, including Pansy.  She is starting to get the hang of the new routine (twice-a-day milking) and figure out her place in the flock of sheep again.  When she had her baby with her she was very aggressive and quite a bully.  That seems to have stopped now.

Her lice seem to be completely gone at this point.  We did a thorough exam today and could not find any at all.  Glad that is over!

Sheep

It looks like we dodged the Orf (sore mouth disease).  We will be past the 3-week gestation period tomorrow and there are no signs of lesions on any of the sheep.  Very grateful for that!

Each morning, while we are milking, the lambs try to jump out of their stall to get to the ewes to steal breakfast before we milk.  It is pretty cute to see them peeking over the edge.

Sunday Homestead Update – Orf?

Orf?  To me, it sounds like I am asking a question in sea lion language.  But actually, Orf, also called sore mouth, is a virus that can be found in sheep and goats, and is transmittable to humans too.  We got a call this week that our new ram was potentially exposed to it for a day during his travels from Iowa to us.  The downfall of having such a small farm is that it is pretty much impossible for us to quarantine new animals coming to our farm.  Thus, we run the risk of dealing with contagious diseases.  Supposedly, orf is only spread when the animal has active sores, which the other ram did NOT have when MacDougal was with him.  MacDougal doesn’t have any active sores right now either.  The gestation of the virus is usually 7-10 days, but can be as long as 3 weeks.  We are currently 2 weeks out from the potential exposure.  So there is a very high likelihood our flock will not get it – and that is what we are desperately hoping for.  But until next week, we wont know for sure.  We are doing what we can to limit contact as much as possible between the rams and the rest of the flock, just in case, while we wait.

Gardens

The mice are eating our gardens like crazy.  As are the robins.  The robins have eaten all the bean and pea seeds we planted.  And the mice are eating pretty much every small seedling we put out, and every little sprout that tries to pop up.  This is despite all the traps set around the seedlings and sprouts…which are catching mice each night.  So the garden is a couple of weeks behind where it normally is.  Being behind might not matter a whole lot in a regular gardening situation, but when you only have a 10-week growing season frost-to-frost, being behind by a couple weeks is a problem.  We also have a frost coming this week, so we are planning out blanketing and will do what we can to not let it kill anything.  Welcome to gardening in the Rockies.

We have put up some bird netting to deal with the robin issue and re-planted the beans and peas.  We re-planted lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, and kale and put clear plastic cups over each one to hopefully let the seedling pop up and grow without getting eaten.  Obviously, they will outgrow the cups quickly, but this will hopefully give them a good start while we continue to battle the mouse wars.  No idea if it will work.  At this point, we are grasping to just try to get the seedlings going.

To continue our battle, we built a log-roll bucket trap to see if we could gain some ground on the mouse situation by catching more than just what our single use traps can handle.  But the bucket trap has yet to catch anything.  We are having a lot of sprung traps, and catching less mice each night lately.  We are hoping that doesn’t mean that our trapping has caused a natural selection and only the trap-smart mice are left and breeding.  LOL.

Ermine

In addition to the mouse issue, as well as the lice issue I talked about last week (see below for an update), we found a very concerning critter in the barn – an ermine.  Thanks to the cats, it was dead, and it is a very good thing because it could have killed all 14 of our chicks in one night, or potentially a full grown chicken or two.  Yes, they look tiny and cute, but they are savage predators and can kill a full-sized chicken!  And they definitely would enjoy dining on my little 4-week-old chicks.  Thank you barn kitties!  I am sure this guy put up quite a battle, and I am so glad the cats got him.

Chickens

Our broody hen, Eve, is hatching her eggs today.  We put 5 eggs under her, as well as 5 in the incubator to make up for loss.  Out of 10 eggs, 9 were fertile.  All were alive at lock-down on Thursday.  So it is looking to be a good hatch.  As the chicks in the incubator hatch out and strengthen, I will take them up and put them under Eve.  She can easily raise 9 chicks, even though she is too small to set on 9 full-sized eggs.

Goats & Sheep

We have continued with our natural oil herbal treatments on the goats for lice.  We are barely seeing any live lice anymore, maybe just one or two each day when we treat them.  We are continuing to treat them until we are past 22 days – the life cycle of the lice.

Marigold is supposedly due to lamb this week, but she is not showing any symptoms at all.  So we have decided that she didn’t take.  This means lambing season is officially over (and was over a month ago).

All the lambs (and the goat kid) are all doing very well; growing and playing like crazy.  The LGD is doing very well with them now, after our extra training sessions last week, and knows not to play with them.  We are getting plenty of milk each day from the sheep and goats and are really enjoying having it and making all our dairy products with it.

Family

We found out this week that our 4-year-old son, who has had 14 surgeries in his short life and faced many medical challenges, is yet again having liver issues.  After multiple smaller surgeries that were unsuccessful, he had a big surgery last fall that we were all very hopeful would fix his liver issues long-term.  At first it seemed like it had, but he is struggling again.  After an 8-month-long break (which we are so grateful to have experienced), we are back to the world of doctor’s appointments and testing while we figure out what is going on and plan the next steps.

Disease…pests, pests, and more pests…late frosts…it has been a challenging season so far.  But there is always something good to be found as well, as long as one is willing to look.  We are.

Sunday Homestead Update – First, Mice…Now, Lice!

Last week I discussed our current infestation of mice, and now, this week, we found that our goats have lice.  Sigh.  How did our goats get lice?  We have not brought in any new goats (these lice are species-specific).  The only time they left the farm was in November when Pansy went to get bred.  I have contacted the breeder and she says none of hers have lice.  Strange.  Little Miss spends large amounts of time brushing and grooming and petting and loving on her goat, and definitely would have known if the goat had lice before now.  A few days after the doeling was born, Little Miss found one bug on her.  We checked her and mama over thoroughly and didn’t find anything else, so we didn’t think much of it.  Last week, Little Miss didn’t have time to brush and love on Pansy and baby Pearl much, so several days went by without the normal grooming.  Then, early this week, she went back to her grooming routine and found them both totally infested with lice.  Eeeeek!  and ICK!  Maybe Pansy had a low-grade infestation all along but the grooming kept it under control?  Maybe they got them from the wild deer and elk in the area? (the vet said that is not possible).  I just don’t get it, and that is frustrating because if we don’t know how they got them, how do we prevent it from happening again?

Pansy, wet from her lice treatment

Anyway…I did some research on the internet about goat lice, and man-oh-man this is one of those topics that everyone has their own opinion on and no one seems to agree and I feel like I can’t trust anything I am reading because everyone is so differing in their opinions.  So I decided to try something altogether different, but that my gut was telling me to do.  We have a natural spray that I have used for bug repellent before.  It is an off-label use.  The main ingredient is tea tree oil and our friend uses the spray as an udder wash on her dairy goats, as well as a bug spray for them, and has never had any issues with it.  It is safe for them, even though this use is definitely off-label.  I felt like I should try it out before we went to the usual vet treatments.  Little Miss and I sprayed both of them down and rubbed it well into their fur down to the skin (with a rubber glove on).  We did it at about 10am and we saw millions of lice.  That evening, at barn chore time, we examined them (in the dark of the barn) and could only find 1 moving lice.  The next morning, we sprayed them down and worked it to the skin again.  When we were doing that, we saw that there was a huge decrease in lice, exponentially less.  We are conitnuing the treatments every day or two.  The life cycle is 22 days, so we will just continue this way for awhile and hope that it works.

As far as the mouse infestation goes…we continue to catch 12-15 mice daily.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I find this crazy and don’t know how to get ahead of this issue.  It seems they are multiplying faster than we can catch them.  We will press on and hope that the numbers start decreasing soon.  One benefit of the mouse overpopulation is that the barn cats are so busy with the mice that they haven’t had the time or energy to bother the swallows.

Gardens

We had a couple of hard frosts this last week.  All but the newest 2 of the Gooseberry and Currant bushes had put on flowers.  So we blanketed the flowering ones to help keep the flowers alive and increase our harvest.

It worked well and everything survived.

That was likely our last frost, but we are still being careful with putting frost protection on anything we put out because last year we had a surprise frost June 9th.  We have continued to plant and transplant new veggies this week.  We have also been harvesting and using the rhubarb, chives, and asparagus.

The robin population is booming and they are eating our newly planted bean and pea seeds, as well as digging up the Medicinal Herb Garden in search of worms.  The Medicinal Herb Garden doesn’t start really sprouting until mid-June, and all those seeds went in in the fall.  So I am concerned all this robin digging is messing them all up and they wont sprout.  So we put bird netting over that garden.  The robins are none too pleased with the new scenario.  But hopefully we will have some herbs start sprouting in there soon.

Speaking of the Medicinal Herb Garden…that is where our apple trees are planted.  We planted two apple trees in there 2 years ago.  After the first winter, one had died down to the root stock, but started sending up branches from there.  We decided to let it do that.  This last winter was their second winter.  The one that had survived the first winter died down to the root stock, and the other one died BACK down to the root stock again.  It seems these varieties, even though they are supposedly able to survive our cold climate, can’t survive here.  And we have had two very mild winters in a row – so if they can’t handle that, they definitely won’t make it long-term.  So we are re-thinking the apple tree plans now.

Sheep

Votes are in and it was pretty clear what our new ram’s name is…MacDougal.  MacDougal is settling in very well.  He and Remi are living in the bachelor pen together.

Our Livestock Guardian Dog is struggling again this year with the lambs, like she did last year.  She is just about to turn 4-years-old and I think it continues to be a maturity thing.  When the lambs are tiny, and stay close to their moms, and the moms are very protective, she is fine with them.  In fact, she is excellent with them.  She will belly crawl over submissively to sniff them and check them out and respects the ewes.  But as they get bigger, and start to run and play, and the ewes are not very protective anymore, then she starts to get into trouble.  She can’t resist the running, bouncing, playing lambs (who could!?) and wants to run and play with them (heck, I want to run and play with them too!).  The problem is that she is 110 lbs of dog, and wants to play like a dog, and they are much smaller lambs, who play like lambs.  The main issue is that she grabs one of their back legs and holds it, while they run along.  She is gentle and doesn’t break the skin or anything, but this has led to some limping lambs, both last year and this year.  The limp goes away after a couple of days, but it is still not good.  So we have been spending extra time training with her this week and teaching her this is not OK.  And she has also had to spend some extra time living in the back pen with the males when we can’t be keeping an eye on the situation.  Overall, she is an amazing LGD, and we fully expect her to grow out of this and not have this issue every year.  The training this week has shut it down…for now…but we will keep an eye on things.

Is Marigold pregnant?  Or not?  We are not sure.  She is supposedly 10 days from her due date, but we are not seeing very clear signs to support this.  We are wondering if she didn’t take, or if she didn’t take and then got bred at a later date than we thought.  We are keeping an eye on her, and we have her on the end-of-pregnancy diet just in case.  But I am guessing we are done lambing for the season.  Time will tell…she might surprise us.

Chickens

Our very awesome, sweet, friendly rooster, Ben, had moved into the bachelor pen because we can’t use him for breeding anymore since we kept him so long and now would be doing some major inbreeding if we kept using him.  But he is so great and gentle that it seemed a waste to eat him.  So we decided to separate him out for now, and let our new roo, Nilo, do a year or two of breeding and then bring Ben back once we had less of his daughters and grand-daughters in the flock.  Well, some friends came by to drop off fiber at the mill and look at our sheep and they saw Ben and heard his story.  They have a flock of free-ranging hens and would like to have a rooster to protect them, but have had trouble with mean roosters and didn’t want to deal with that.  So Ben has now moved on to live with them.  He seems happy to have a flock to look after again, and it will be a very nice home for him.

Ben the rooster, with the flock last year

The oldest hen on our farm, a Silkie named Eve, has been setting eggs and raising chicks for us for many years now.  She is 7 years old and still lays 4 eggs a week when she is not brooding.  She raises anywhere from 1-3 clutches of chicks for us every year.  What a great hen!  Well, she is at it again, setting on 6 eggs.  I put another 5 in the incubator because she can raise more chicks than the amount of eggs she can fit on (she is a bantam), and it will make up for any loss we have too so she is raising a full clutch.  All 5 eggs in the incubator are fertile (good job, Nilo!) but I haven’t gotten around to candling the ones under Eve yet.  I expect they are all fertile too.  They will hatch out next week.

Eve

In the Farm Kitchen

We have continued making dairy products with all this fresh goat and sheep milk.  This week we made more yogurt, mozzarella, and our first batch of chevre.

I have also been making some herbal medicines this week.  I made an Arnica/Comfrey salve, and a liver cleanse tincture.