Sunday Homestead Update

As autumn barrels towards us, and the first frost is threatening to arrive any night, we are rushing to harvest the garden and trying to predict the weather enough to do what we can to frost protect the veggies when the frost arrives. The weather apps are notoriously inaccurate about our area as far as frosts go. I cant even count how many times now, spring and fall, we have had two different apps say the low would be 41 and we wake up to find we got to 32 and we have garden damage. I complain so much about them that the kids hung up a “Weather Rock” for me on the porch.

If the rock is wet, its raining.

If the rock is white, its snowing.

If the rock is swinging, its windy.

While I do love my weather rock, and smile when I see it, it is not exactly helpful to determine when it will frost. So we are doing our best to keep an eye on the weather apps, in conjunction with our own senses as we go do evening chores, to try to guess when the frost will come and protect the plants as much as possible.

Garden

We continue to struggle to grow potatoes. We have tried year after year. We have tried several different methods. We still are not very successful. We just harvested this year’s and again it was a small harvest.

But a lot of the other veggies are doing great. We harvested and canned 7 quarts of purple beans, plus another 10, 2-cup bags went to the freezer.

The bell pepper plants are producing great this year. Much more than last year. As are the peas. We have been enjoying them fresh and have frozen a lot of peas too.

Sheep

It was a hard goodbye yesterday as 2/3 of our flock departed to their new home. The person who bought them is very excited to add their genetics to their breeding flock though, so we are happy for that.

And on his way home from taking them to their new home, Mtn Man picked up the first of our new dairy sheep!

We are still working on a name for her.  She is an almost 2-year-old ewe, who has already lambed once.  She is 70% East Friesan and 30% Lacaune.

This is a very exciting new project for us.  We will be adding some more dairy sheep to the flock in September.

Chickens

Eves is now setting on fertile eggs. The first bunch of eggs we put under her was from the adult hens. Not one was fertile, proving the cockerel is not yet breeding the hens. But then we put a bunch of pullet eggs for setting, and it is clear he is doing his job with the younger pullets.  Out of 12 eggs, 9 were fertile and we had one early death.  So she is setting on 8 now.  In a couple of weeks we will have some chicks.

The Outcasts

Our current chicken flock is not very welcoming of everyone. This is the first year we have had the flock kill one of their own, and attempt to kill a second. We don’t like it, we don’t know why they are like this, and we don’t know what to do about it. We do a lot of integrating and switching around of pens and breeding groups and our methods have always been successful, for all these years, until this year. This year the flock will accept some birds, but not others.

This has left us with some outcasts. We didn’t know what to do with the outcasts besides butcher them. At least it would be better for them than the flock pecking them to death. But then I thought of the bantam flock in the lower coop. Maybe they would accept the outcasts into their little flock. It was worth a try. And it was successful! Over time they have now gathered three standard-size hen outcasts into their flock.

The most recent was Carrot, the hen that got attacked by the Golden Eagle. She has had a pretty miraculous recovery in the grow pen in the barn. But now it was time to try to figure out how to get her back with other chickens. Since she is still very thin, and needs more recuperation, I did not think it was a good idea to risk putting her with the big flock considering their behavior this year. So we moved her in with the bantams and the other outcasts. She has settled in nicely and seems happy to be in a bigger space with other chicken friends.

Heritage Arts

Little Miss wanted to try her hand at making a braided wool rug all on her own.  She has made them with Mtn Man before, but never by herself.  She finished it this week and it looks beautiful.

I am almost done with my cabled cardigan.  I just need to do the front bands and collar, plus finishing weaving in ends and it will be done.  I am really looking forward to having this done because it has been on the needles for over 18 months now and kept getting set aside for other projects.

Sunday Homestead Update

Fall is closing in on us quickly here in the mountains.  The evening air the last few nights has had quite a chill on it.  The elk are looking handsome in their velvet antlers.  We have already heard a few of them bugling, which signals the beginning of their breeding season, and hunting season starts soon as well so we will be working to secure our red meat for the year and get it all processed and into the freezer.

Butterflies

A few weeks ago we found these Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars on our garden dill.

We put them in a container and fed them more dill.  A few days later they went into their chrysalis.

Only 12 days later, they emerged as butterflies.

So amazing.

Chickens

The mama Golden Eagle has moved on.  She is done raising her two fledglings, it is time for them to make it on their own.  And they currently want to continue making it on their own at our property.  Sigh.  The chickens have been closed in for three weeks now and it is just too long.  The amount of chickens we keep is based on the fact that they spend all day free ranging in the barnyard.  Their enclosed exterior pen is big enough for them short-term, but I feel like it is overcrowded when they are living in there for weeks.  Plus, the cost of feed when they are not free-ranging is through the roof.  So, if we plan to keep them closed in we need to decrease our numbers.  But we don’t want to plan to keep them in – we like our free-ranging, compost turning, happy, healthy, helpful chickens.

So we are doing an experiment.  The Eagle killed the chicken while Anya was napping in the barn cool and shade of the afternoon.  But there is plenty of shade in the barnyard, albeit maybe not as cool as the barn with the breeze blowing through.  So we are letting the chickens free-range with Anya guarding them, and we have closed the barn so that she can’t go in there.  If it rains we open up the barn of course to let them in out of the weather.  We started this plan on Tuesday, so we have now made it 5 days with no loss.  We are hopeful this is an answer to our dilemma until the eagles finally move on.

Last week we gave Eve 6 eggs to set and we put 6 in the incubator to make up for any infertility troubles since our young un-proven cockerel is the one breeding right now.  Well, every single egg was infertile.  Sigh.  We have seen him breeding young pullets, but all the eggs I put for hatch were from the adult hens.  So apparently he has not started breeding the adult hens yet.  So we grabbed 6 young pullet eggs and put them under Eve and 6 more to put in the incubator.  Hopefully, there will be some good fertility with these.  If not, then Eve will not be setting eggs at this point and will have to go back to the lower coop.

Garden

We have been harvesting a lot from the garden and either eating it or putting it up for winter.

The first batch of sauerkraut from our cabbages is done and in jars in the refrigerator.  We have more cabbages ready to harvest is will probably start another load this week.  We have been harvesting, cleaning, chopping, portioning, and freezing celery, peas, and carrots.  The purple beans harvest has now started too and we will be canning those.  The garlic is out and curing.

And we have had two gooseberry pies this week.  Yumm!

Sheep

Three of the sheep have been sold and are leaving the farm this week.  Rose, the moorit ewe, and the ram lambs, Tornado and Avalanche.  They will be used as breeding stock on another farm.

Rose

Tornado

Avalanche

We will still have Fiona and Fergus.

Fiona

Fergus

We haven’t decided yet what to do with Stormy, the ewe lamb.  She was going to be sold but it fell through.  We will likely try to sell her, but might decide to keep her.

Stormy

Though we are sad to see them go, this will open up an opportunity that we have been dreaming about for a few years now…the chance to raise dairy sheep!  In September we will be bringing in some dairy sheep to add to the flock, breed, and raise here at Willow Creek Farm.  We are all very excited about this new project.  We have wanted to have dairy sheep since 2014 when we milked one of our wool sheep because her lamb had died.  We loved the sheep milk and have wanted to do this project ever since.  Now we have our chance!  I am looking forward to introducing them to you next month.

Shuffling Sheep

In my last post, I discussed how we want to be as efficient as possible with our choices for our small-acre homestead.  Our goal is to produce as much food for our family of 7 as possible.  With 3 acres of mountain terrain to work with, only about 1/2-1 acre that is use-able for livestock and housing it is important that we keep focused on our goals in order to be as productive as we can be.

Our current sheep flock is a wool flock and we aim at having a good variety of colors and textures.  We are cross breeding shorter/finer wool ewes to a longer wool ram with an aim to have fiber that has good length (4-6 inches) but is still soft.

We have long had a goal of adding dairy lines into our sheep flock.  Back in 2015, our ewe Stella had a lamb that sadly died at day 3 of life.  So we decided to milk her.  It was a very fun experience, she was excellent at it, and we all loved the milk.  Thus the start of our dream to have dairy sheep.  Unfortunately, Stella failed to successfully lamb for us after that and was traded back to the breeder for a different ewe.

We really aim to not have overcrowded living space with our livestock.  It is not good for the livestock, it damages the property and housing faster, and it makes a lot more cleaning work for us.  Because of this we are very careful how many sheep and goats we keep.  It is so easy to keep adding to the flock over and over again and keep offspring and all of sudden the farm is way overcrowded.  We have decided that we can keep 5 (6 at very most) breeding stock animals (goats and sheep).  This means for half the year we have the 5 animals, and the other half the year we have them, plus their young offspring, which can mean potentially up to 13 or so animals during the baby season.

We would like to breed our wool sheep into dairy lines to end up with sheep that have nice fleece and are pretty good milkers as well.  This can be tricky with our limited number of animals.  When trying to selectively breed animals the more animals the easier it is to achieve your goal.  With space for 5, one of which is a goat, we are going to have to be creative as we go to try to avoid inbreeding and still make progress towards our goal.

This year we planned to butcher the ram lambs for meat this winter, and sell the ewe lamb, or potentially trade her for a wool ewe that we like.  But things have changed and we have someone who wants to buy both the ram lambs and Rose as well to bring her flock of Rambouillet ewes to a smaller size and longer wool.  This could be our opportunity to make some space and have the money to add in some dairy sheep.

So we are doing research, talking it through, contacting sheep breeders and trying to decide what to do.  We want to make good choices for our 4 sheep slots to give us the best breeding outcomes and fiber variety.

It looks like this will all happen in the next 6 weeks or so.  I will keep you posted on what happens as we shuffle our flock of sheep.

 

Sunday Homestead Update

Summer is in full swing here on the homestead.  Hot days…cool mountain evenings…we are all enjoying everything summer.

As we work around the homestead we continue to come up with new ideas and plans for future projects to grow and improve the homestead.  Sunshine is dreaming of a pond…Mtn Man is eager for an orchard…Braveheart wants ducks…I am picturing the potential for more fruits and a berry garden area…Little Miss can’t wait for her goat to have kids next spring and have higher milk production…and Young Man is contemplating wind power.

But as we dream, we also are enjoying and soaking in what we already have here, and are working hard to make it as efficient and productive as possible.

Sheep

The lambs are growing and growing.  They spend a lot of time eating at the creep feeder where their mamas can’t steal all the good food.

Garden

The garden is finally starting to look like a garden after a very cold non-existent spring season.  Things are flowering and fruiting, and we are beginning to harvest more items.

I am very excited that our medicinal herb garden is really starting to get going now, after two years of trying.  It still needs more time, but I think it will eventually be beautiful and productive.

The wild raspberries that we transplanted from a local property two years ago have flowers on them!  Our experimental transplant might just work!

The strawberry harvest has started!

We have all been enjoying eating them fresh from the garden – I don’t think any have made it into the house yet.  🙂

Chickens

The Pick No More is working very well.  It has only been a few weeks and we are already seeing huge differences in the chickens.  But it has kind of worn off, so we needed to re-apply it.  We also needed to band and identify the pullets for our breeding program and clip their wings.  Mtn Man and I were busy with Mr. Smiles’ medical stuff, so the middle three children, Sunshine (14), Little Miss (12), and Braveheart (11) decided they could tackle the job on their own without us.  Afterall, they had seen us do it and helped us do it many many times.  They did an excellent job, and even more important…not one of them ended up dyed purple (from the pick no more)!  Not having my children or their clothing dyed is very helpful to this mama.  🙂  But really, they did a great job with the birds and got the project completed, which was a huge help to us.  I wrote about homesteading with our kids here, here, and here if you would like to read more about how we include them and have raised them on the homestead.

So now the chickens have a fresh application of Pick No More, and they are all banded, wings clipped, and my breeding flock ID paperwork is caught up with all the new breeding pullets’ information.

Farm Therapy

What is it about a homestead that is so therapeutic?  Fresh air, sunshine, livestock, edible vegetation, providing for your own food needs, baby animal cuteness…?  All of those things, and more.

As we head into our youngest son’s 12th surgery in less than 4 years my heart is heavy.  I head out to the barnyard for my farm therapy.  I sit on a rock in the barnyard and listen to the sounds, breathe in the smells, and view the sights.

My immediate companion is the LGD, Anya, looking for some love.

Followed quickly by the goat, Pansy, who thinks she is an LGD too.

After some love they clear out, well actually, the dog heads off to more interesting things and the goat continues to demand affection.  I eventually ask her to give me some space.  Then the chickens come over and peck around my feet, hoping maybe I brought food with me.

The sheep are content to lay in the shade, along with a chicken companion.

Something about the area brings peace.  It is calm, and steady.  It is natural.  I take a deep breath and take it all in.  My heart relaxes a little.  The farm cannot remove my concerns, but it has therapeutic powers – some that can be explained, and some that defy explanation.  It helps me face the next mountain.