Sunday Homestead Update

Time for another update on the happenings around the homestead.

Chickens

Mrs. Arabel is happily setting on her eggs.  She still has one more week until hatch day.  Of the ten eggs under her 9 were fertile, and 2 died early in the process.  So she now has 7 live eggs under her.  Alice and her 5 chicks are doing great in the lower coop.  It is pretty fun to have chicks at this odd time of year.  We have never had chicks in the fall before.

The aggressive rooster is actually doing better lately.  We are hopeful that the aggression was just an overreaction to being the new head roo and that now that he has settled into his position a bit it wont return.  We found that squaring our shoulders to him and stomping our muck boots when he started challenging us causes him to back down.  Although we still haven’t let the kids in with him yet.

More Beautiful Yarn

I just had to share with you some of the beautiful yarn coming out of the mill this last week!  I wish the computer had a feature where you could reach through a feel the squishy softness of this yarn.

The first batch is a merino wool/silk blend.  It is the softest yarn I have ever felt.  Silky smooth, soft and squishy.

The next batch is CVM wool.  Obviously not as silky and soft as the silk blend, but soft in its own way and also squishy.  Plus, I absolutely love the color and luster, though the picture doesn’t do it justice.

Knitting

I am making some more Fish Lips Kiss Heel socks using the cardboard foot cut-outs.  I am experimenting with different toe increases and overall enjoying the method.

I have also made a lot of progress on my Let Go cardigan with my Sandstorm yarn that Mtn Man made me for our anniversary.  I am really excited about this cardigan – I love the cables.

I really need to get sewing on the Christmas/Winter placemat and napkin sets I am making, but it seems lately all I want to do is knit.  🙂

Sheep

Sheep breeding season has officially begun at Willow Creek Farm.  We had said November 1st, but decided to just do the moving around of pens this weekend.  So Fergus is in with the ewes and we are hopeful that we will have a successful breeding season despite his young age.

Fall Projects

We are continuing to try to get all our fall projects done before winter hits.  We had more snow this week already, and cold temps, but we have been able to continue to get stuff done.

The chicken coop got a good cleaning and re-bedding.  It is always nice to have a freshly cleaned coop.  We also did some stall cleaning along with the shuffling of the sheep into different pens for breeding.

Wildlife

The wildlife are very actively through our property each day this time of year.  We are regularly seeing deer, elk, and the flock of turkeys.  We also see coyotes and bears occasionally.  And rarely, a bobcat.  It is such a blessing to be able to live in these beautiful mountains surrounded by all this wildlife.

Have a great week!

Escape!

With a family of 7, juggling two businesses, a homestead, homeschooling, 4H, and many other outside activities, things can sometimes get overlooked, and accidents happen.

This week the barnyard gate was accidentally left unlatched.  Closed, but not latched.  At some point the wind blew it open enough that the sheep saw their opportunity for a little get-away.  They headed out into the world, which around here means forest and mountains, as well as roads and neighbors.  Somehow the gate closed before little Daffodil could follow the flock, and Fergus was in his own pen so he couldn’t follow either.  Both of them started bleating desperately for the rest of the flock.  Anya was also closed in her own pen, so she couldn’t do anything but bark like crazy.

Meanwhile, I was busy juggling life in the house, kids, school, etc.  I heard the barking but couldn’t stop right away to go see what was up.  Sunshine loaded up Mr. Smiles into his stroller to go for a walk and as she headed out the door she saw the flock on the opposite side of our property.  When they saw her they ran back towards the barn (thank goodness!).  She ran inside, yelling for help, and the older kids and I headed out.

Lately we have seen both bears and coyotes on our property during daylight hours, so the first thing I was worried about was predators.  They were headed up the mountain behind the property, so there wasn’t currently risk of the road.  I ran straight to the barn and got a bucket of grain.  The sheep haven’t had grain since spring – we only feed it during pregnancy and lactation.  So when I headed up the hill behind the barn toward the flock, shaking the bucket, at first they were not at all interested.  They were clearly riled up, and they were all just following Fiona, the head ewe, wherever she went.

Fiona looked at me as I was shaking the bucket, with no interest at all and went back to nibbling on a currant bush.  Then, like in a cartoon, a lightbulb went on above her head as she remembered what grain is, and she suddenly turned and ran full speed straight for me.  The rest of the flock followed, and, with a few sheep heads jammed into the bucket of grain, I lured them back into the barn and then into the barnyard.

Whew, situation handled, crisis averted.

Always an adventure!

 

Sheep Breeding Season

It is almost breeding season for the sheep!  Traditional breeding season for sheep starts in August/September and can go through December, however, because of our high-altitude, cold climate we generally try to breed November and December.  This gives the ewes two heat cycles with the ram, and it gives us lambing in April and May, which is much better weather for the lambs to be born (and for us too!).

This year is a new experience for us as far as breeding the sheep goes.  For the past few years we have not owned our own ram.  We have limited space, and keeping male animals can be tricky with kids running around the farm.  So we would take our ewes down and leave them at the farm we originally bought them from to be bred by the ram.  November and December meant empty quiet-ness on the farm because most of the livestock was gone for those two months.

But our breeder moved out of state this year, so that option was not available.  We discussed our options and decided to keep our own ram.  Last December, we bought two pregnant ewes that were unrelated to all of our ewes, with the hopes that one of them would give birth to a ram that could be our future breeding ram.  They were both due to lamb earlier in the year than we normally lamb, but the benefit of that was that the ram would be mature enough to hopefully breed for us this fall.  They had both given birth several times in the past, always to twins, so we assumed that the odds were we would have 4 lambs and at least ONE of them would be a ram.  Chuckle.  Sigh.  Ah, the best laid plans…. 🙂

Twin ewe lambs, Daisy and Black-Eyed Susan

Fast forward to spring, we got twin ewe lambs from one and a single ewe lamb from the other.  Sigh.  In fact, out of 9 babies born this spring on our farm (both sheep and goats) we got 8 girls, and just one boy!

Single ewe lambs (different mothers), Daffodil and Rose.

The ram that was born in our flock was born in late April, and he was born to our best ewe.  His mother is a CVM/Merino ewe, which are both very fine wool breeds.  She has amazing fiber that is super-fine and has tight crimp, but it grows slower than other breeds.  His father was a Blue-Faced Leicester, with a faster growing wool.  The wool is not as fine and doesn’t have as much crimp.  We find that crossing the finer wool breeds with the long wool breeds gives lambs with wool that grows faster (like the long wool) but it is still fine and has good crimp (like the fine wool).  Perfect for hand-spinners and makes a nice soft yarn in the mill too.  This little ram lamb had just that – the hybrid-vigor from the cross-breeding.  He is beautiful, with a silver body, black points, and white face markings (ironically, both parents were white).  He has great confirmation and excellent wool – a perfect breeding ram.  We named him Fergus.  But…there were two problems.  First, he was born so late in the year that it is unclear if he will be mature enough to breed this year.  And second, he is related to our best ewe, who we do not want to sell, so if we use him he will be breeding his mom.

Ram lamb, Fergus, and his mother, Fiona

So we decided to buy a breeding ram and either sell Fergus as a breeding ram, or wether him and keep him for his excellent wool.  We went through the process of searching for the right ram for us at different farms.  We found one we really liked (who, by the way, was very similar to Fergus in many ways), and paid the $150 to have him blood tested for all the contagious illnesses that we didn’t want to bring to our flock.  He, unfortunately, came up positive with one of those (glad we tested!).  But we were now out $150 plus the time we spent searching and had no new leads for a ram.   Again…the best laid plans… 🙂

Side-note: if there is one thing we have learned in our years of homesteading, it is that you have to be flexible and expect plans to fall through, because they often do, and you can’t let it ruin everything when they do.  Things rarely go as “planned” on a homestead.

Back to the story…

So we called our vet.  We discussed with him inbreeding and line-breeding in sheep and whether it would be ok to breed this ram to his mom.  Apparently, mother/son and father/daughter breeding is very common in the meat sheep industry and the lambs turn out fine.  Granted, these are wool sheep…but still.  There is, of course, a risk, but he felt it was worth a try.  If it doesn’t go well we could just not do it in the future, but he felt it most likely will work.

Ram lamb, Fergus

So we decided to go ahead and keep Fergus as our breeding ram.  We will breed him to the older three ewes this fall and see how it goes.  There is still a chance he wont be mature enough for breeding in time, but we are going to give it a try.

We moved Fergus into his own pen, just in case, back in September.  Come November 1st we will move him in with the girls and see how it goes.

Homestead Update – We are Back

It has been over a month now, a very long, VERY long month.  But here we are, still pressing on and finding the blessings in the everyday ups and downs that are life.  Mr. Smiles is not out of the woods yet medically, but we have a reprieve from doctors and hospitals for awhile.

It is fall and I LOVE fall in the Rockies.  The weather is crisp but still warm enough for jeans and a t-shirt.  The smell is beautiful, and the views are, as always, impressive.  Even the sounds of fall are great – especially the elk bugling.

Garden

The harvest has been bountiful.  We have been harvesting, canning, and freezing consistently for the last month.  Our first frost came through, later than usual, but still it meant we had to harvest all the beans and tomatoes.  The basement has tables full of green tomatoes that will ripen for us over the next few months and we canned all the green (purple) beans.  Our experimental drying beans produced well and we are looking forward to growing more in future years.

Because we have such a short growing season (approx 10 weeks frost to frost), we have to harvest our tomatoes green right before the first frost, and let them ripen in the cool basement.  They will ripen over the next few months and still taste just as good as fresh from the garden!  The first year they all ripened within about a month of picking, but we have been purposefully breeding a long-keeping variety of tomatoes and saving the seeds from the longest keeping ones to lengthen how long they last each year.  Last year in December we were eating “fresh” tomatoes that had been harvested from the garden in September and had taken that long to ripen.  The flavor was still amazing and we are hoping to continue to extend the length of time they keep so we can eat fresh tomatoes farther and farther into the winter.  It will be interesting to see how long they last this year.

We also have enjoyed eating fried green tomatoes a few times this month as well.

The new onion patch we built in the spring really paid off.  We harvested more than 30 lbs of big beautiful onions.  We braided some of them and hung them in the basement.  Others are stored in a crate in the basement and we have been using them a lot for cooking.  We are making more changes to the new onion patch this fall and next spring to make it even better.  More on that project later.

The carrots, turnips, beets, lettuce, peas, and spinach are still going strong in the garden.

The grape harvest this year was much bigger than ever before at 2 lbs.  Still not enough for a batch of jelly, but we are hopeful now that the vine is established we will be able to get more and more.

We harvested a lot of herbs before the frost as well, and they are hung all over the house drying.  Once dry we will crush them up and store them in jars, using them through the winter to season our food.

Bears

Fall does mean bear trouble in our area as the bears start to prepare for hibernation.  Every year we have barn break-in attempts made by bears, last year was the worst with 8 attempts between Sept-Nov.  They were stopped only by the barking of our LGD, Tundra, that woke us so we could chase the bear off.  Now that Tundra is dead, our new LGD, Anya, is holding down the fort.  We have been very surprised to have no attempts at all made on the barn this year by the bears.  We are not sure what it is that is different and making them not even try…is it Anya’s larger size and larger bark?  We are not sure but we are happy about it.

Unfortunately, the bears have been breaking into cars on our property.  In our area we have multiple generations of garbage-fed bears that don’t know how to eat naturally and only know how to eat from humans.  Last year they finally implemented a law forcing people to lock up their trash, which is good, but a bit too-little-too-late.  Now the bears are so desperate for food they are breaking into homes and cars because they can’t get trash from dumpsters anymore.  If a vehicle is left unlocked they will open it up and check it out, even if there isn’t any food in it.  They can actually operate the door handles.  And even when a car is locked they will often try to open it and leave nasty scratches all over the door.  Also, a friend left their car window cracked an inch while parked on our property over night and the bear grabbed it and busted it out.

Lastly, and definitely the least of the bear troubles, was a bear that decided to try out some of our squash.  Apparently it didn’t fit his tastes as he left it on the ground after tasting it.

Chickens

All the pullets are now laying and we are enjoying bountiful fresh eggs.

One of the two roosters we kept for breeding roos is getting pretty aggressive, so we will likely be butchering him soon and just keep the one.

One of the new laying pullets, a Partridge Chantecler named Alice, decided she wanted to set right away as soon as she started laying.  So we went ahead and gave her 7 eggs since the roos were mature and we had fertile eggs.  All seven were fertile and 6 of them hatched!  One died in the first day or so, which is not uncommon, so we have 5 adorable chicks with their mama hen in the barn now.

Sheep

We have separated the ram off from the ewes until November when we want them to breed.  He hasn’t shown signs of being mature enough yet, but we are hoping that he will be ready in the next month or so and we don’t want winter lambs being born.

I caught this pic of one of the chickens “grooming” the sheep by picking seeds out of the wool.  They do that often and I love it.

More updates coming later this week…

Sunday Homestead Update

This will be our last update for awhile.  Mr. Smiles is having another surgery and hospital stay, so farm life will be heading to the back burner for awhile while we spend our time caring for our family through this hard time.

We have been scrambling to get things in order around here so that everything will be as low-maintenance as possible during this.  Our friends and family are stepping in to help us with everything, which is such a blessing.

Barn Flood Aftermath

It has continued to rain quite a bit, but thankfully no more flood damage.  We have dug several new ditches around the property to try to force the water away from buildings and down the mountainside.

We also decided to re-do the barn floor with cement pavers.  We bought the first load and have started setting them.  We have been putting a few in here and there as we find time in all the busy-ness right now.

Goats

Our friends took the goats and are boarding them for us until this hospital stuff is all over.  They will milk them for us, which will take a huge load off of the chores around the farm.

Sheep

We had two sheep we were planning to butcher later this fall, but we decided to go ahead and get one butchered now so that there were less animals to care for, and we didn’t have to try to squeeze it in later if things get rougher.  We got 26 lbs of meat, 12 lbs of dog food, and stock bones.  We started making the stock yesterday and will can it soon.

Making stock is really easy and it is so delicious and nutritious.  We put the bones on a broiling pan and brown them in the oven for about half and hour.

Then we add some veggies: carrots, onions, and celery – these were fresh from the garden!

We put it back in the oven until the veggies are brown.  Then we put all the bones and veggies, plus the drippings, and some herbs (some of those were fresh from the garden too!)

into a big pot with some water and simmer it for several hours.  Strain it and cool it, then skim the fat and pressure-can the stock.  It will be nice to have some more lamb stock in the pantry for this winter.  And it is exciting that the only things in it not from our homestead are the peppercorns and the bay leaf.

Chickens

The chickens are in two separate pens, but there isn’t anything we can do about it at this point.  We have the upper coop and pen, which has all the hens and pullets, plus the two roosters in it.  Those chickens also have access to free range in the barnyard.

Eve and her three chicks are still in the grow-out pen in the barn.  It will be a few more weeks before she is done raising them and we can figure out the plan for what to do then.  For now, to make it easier to care for everyone, we are training them (or having Eve, their mama hen train them) on a drip waterer.  It is much cleaner and doesn’t have to be filled as often.  The other pen of chickens is already on a drip waterer, the chicks just hadn’t learned to use one yet.

That will make chicken care as low-maintenance as possible.

Garden

We have been harvesting and putting-up all that is ready to harvest in the garden.

Celery, beet greens, beets, cabbage sprouts, lettuce, spinach, and carrots.  We ate a lot fresh, and then froze the extra carrots and celery for soups and stews this winter.

We also got green beans and canned them.

Our first frost is likely to happen during all this craziness, but there isn’t much we can do except take it as it comes.  Hopefully we, or our friends who are helping us around the farm, will be around to quickly harvest all the green tomatoes and the last of the beans right before the frost hits so we don’t lose that part of the harvest.

Knitting

I have been, surprisingly, getting a lot of knitting done during this busy time.  When I am anxious it makes me feel better to put my hands to some knitting.  So whenever I sit down to rest for a few minutes, or am waiting in the waiting room at yet-another doctor’s appointment, or am on the long drive to the specialists’ offices, I have been knitting.  I have a pair of socks, a shawl, and a hooded scarf all on the needles right now.

 

Please keep our family in your prayers.  This is Mr. Smiles’ 6th surgery in his very short 2 years of life.  Every time we have to do a surgery and hospital stay it is very difficult on him, as well as our whole family.  Our experience thus far does make it a little easier to prepare ourselves, and the homestead, to try to make it as easy as possible to get through.  But it is still quite a trial for all of us.

I hope to be back to posting later this fall with all things autumn-in-the-Rockies…my favorite time of year!