Sunday Homestead Update – First Taste of Aged Cheese

Chickens

The chicks are all doing well and growing so fast.  Adorable!

Sheep

I got Fergus’ fleece skirted and in the mill to be made into yarn by Mtn Man.  Looking forward to this yarn!

Maggie surprised us.  She is one of the younger ewes, the only one that hadn’t come into heat and been bred this year.  We figured it was late enough in breeding season that she would not be mature in time and not get bred this year.  We were wrong.  She got bred and is due June 10.  We have quite the spread of due dates this year, which will make for a long birthing season.  Our first one is due the first week of April, with another two in April (3 total), and then two due in May, and one in June.  I am happy for all the pregnancies, but it is going to be quite spread out.

Maggie

Cheese

Our first ever aged cheese came out of the cheese cave this week!

Speaking of the cheese cave, I forgot to update you about that.  We got a 2-stage outlet thermostat and plugged the cheese cave refrigerator into it.  We couldn’t get the fridge to hold a temperature higher than 46 before, which is a little low for a cheese cave.  It was also only holding about a 75% humidity.  Now that it is plugged into the thermostat it is holding temp around 52-55 degrees, and the temp being higher helped the humidity come up and it is sitting around 85%.  So we are happy about that little gadget.  The fridge plugs into the thermostat, and then there is a cord that hangs down into the refrigerator.

Now, back to our cheeses.  The two colby rounds that we made came out this week.  They aged for 6 weeks.  The first one we made some mistakes during the making of the cheese and thus decided to make a second the next day and compare the difference.  Surprisingly, the differences were very minimal except that the first one had a much stronger flavor, and it also had some mold, whereas the second didn’t have any mold.

I think the first aged faster, thus the flavor difference.  I think it might have had to do with a mistake we made during waxing (and the mold would be explained by that mistake too).  While holding it over the double boiler to wax it we didn’t realize that the steam was hitting one side of the cheese, thus moisturizing that side thoroughly.  We waxed it anyway and I think that is what caused the mold and potentially made it age faster – because it was wetter.

Both cheeses had a softer inner texture than we expected.  The outer texture was solid and seemed right.  Not sure what would cause that.

Overall, we are very happy with the results and are very much looking forward to seeing how the cheddar we made turns out too.  But that still has several more weeks to age.

 

Shearing Time 2020 – Fergus

We haven’t quite started shearing season yet, but since we had to kill Fergus early, and we sheared him before we butchered him to save his fleece, we are ready to share about that fleece already.

He was only at 8 months of growth, instead of his usual 12 months, so the fleece was shorter, and weighed less than last year because of that.  Nonetheless, it was a beautiful fleece with good length for spinning to yarn in the mill.  The shearing went really smoothly, because he was already deceased at the time, so there were not many second cuts and I had very little skirting work ahead of me.

His fleece was a lot cleaner this year, since he was jacketed the full growth of it.  That also helped my skirting job be so much easier this year than last.  The colors seemed to contrast each other more this year too – the dark grey seemed a lot darker and the silver a lot lighter.  I think this has to do with being jacketed as well, his fleece at skirting last year was dirtier and thus the silver didn’t look as light until after washing.

Fergus was a Merino x BFL with a tiny bit of CVM.  His fleece has a mix of dark, medium, and light shades of grey.  It is a very soft, medium to long fleece with very organized crimp.  It is also light on grease, which makes it easier to get clean.

Generally, long wool fleece grow a lot faster and are thus longer, but are usually a rougher texture and not suitable for clothing items that are directly on your skin because of the itch factor.  Short wool fleece are generally finer and softer, making them not have the itch factor.  But they grow slower and so the staple length is shorter and can make it a lot harder to spin them into yarn.  And they can be very heavy with grease, making them take more effort to clean.  So we have been cross-breeding our sheep long wool to short wool to try to get a nice length but still have the fine softness as well.  Fergus was a perfect example of what we are trying for.  His fleece turned out just how we were hoping when we bred his mom, Fiona, who is a Merino with a little bit of CVM (short wool breeds) with a BFL (longwool breed) ram.

This year, Fergus’ raw skirted fleece weighed 3.9 lbs.

Being that this will be our last ever Fergus fleece, Mtn Man and I are feeling some pressure about making the yarn just perfect.  I LOVE using Fergus’ yarn, and never sell it because I want to use it myself.  I will share with you once we have decided and have finished his yarn.

Another beautiful fleece, sadly the last from Fergus.

Sunday Homestead Update – Escape!

Always an adventure when keeping a little homestead!

Sheep

We had an escape incident this week.  It was very stressful on all of us.  Thankfully, it ended well and all animals are accounted for and back home.  The entire flock of sheep, plus Anya the LGD, all got out of the barnyard and took off on an adventure into the woods.  Apparently it didn’t occur to them that the coyote pack had just been through the property that morning and it therefore might be dangerous to leave the safety of the barnyard – it was the first thing on our minds when we realized they were all gone.  We found Anya first.

She apparently does not have strong “stay-with-the-flock” instincts, probably because she has been raised with them in a confined barnyard environment, not a pasture environment.  We got her put away, which pleased Pansy very much.  Somehow in the break-out Pansy the goat was left behind in the barnyard and was feeling quite lonely.  The entire family spread out and we searched the properties around us and the immense forest behind our property for over an hour before we finally laid eyes on them.  As soon as we saw them we immediately counted – all there!  Now, how to get them home?  We had buckets and bowls of feed, plus some lead ropes and halters.  Fiona, the matriarch of the flock, who LOVES grain, was at first interested in coming towards us, and the rest of the flock followed and even started nibbling.  But then Fiona must have remembered that it was on her bucket list to live in the wild for a night and she decided to take off.  The rest of the flock followed suit, except that we were able to grab Autumn and Remi before they got away.  With two sheep with us, the rest of the flock didn’t go far and we were able to carefully herd/lure them back to the barnyard.  It took awhile, and once they were in we all collapsed in relief.  Let’s not do that again – please!  All animals stay put.

Chicks 2020

This week we start our only planned chick brooding for this year.  Our incubation is hatching and we also ordered chicks to arrive in the mail.  With the sheep flock being larger than normal and expecting more lambs than normal, and needing to separate the ram off from the flock before lambing, there isn’t housing space for raising chicks after March.  Plus we will be learning the ropes of dairy sheep this spring, so we decided that if we wanted to do chicks this year we needed to do it early.  The brooders are set up and ready for the new little fluff balls arrival (to see how we brood our chicks, click here).  Obviously, if we have any hens want to set this year we will have some more chicks hatch.  The housing for broody hens and their chicks is not effected by the sheep situation.  But other than broody hens, this is it for chicks this year.

We are having issues with our incubator.  It is a 1588 Hovabator and is 5 years old now and I have had issues with the thermostat for the last 3 incubations (last year and this year).  It says it is at 99.5, but it is actually much cooler.  Unfotunately, to learn this we had to accidentally have it kill a bunch of eggs because we didn’t realize it was too cold so they developed until about day 10 and then all died.  It was a bummer.  Always have a second thermometer in your incubator to check the first one by!!!  To get it to 99.5F I have to set it to 103, and it will say it is at 102.9, but it is really 99.5.  I also put a separate hygrometer in there and the hygrometer is off too.  The incubator says it is about 15% lower than it is.  It has been OK to use it with extra thermometers in it and set it as such, but after I did lock down this week I noticed it is having trouble keeping it at 99.5, it is a little lower, and I can’t set the thermometer any higher than the 103 that I have it at.  I am hopeful that this wont affect the hatch this week.  After this incubation Young Man and Mountain Man will take it apart and see if cleaning it out helps at all (it has quite a bit of chick dust in the motor from all the hatches it has done).  If not, we will probably buy a new lid (with the motor, thermostat, etc) before we do any more incubations.  I estimate it has done 2-3 incubations each year for the last 5 years, so I am guessing it has done about 10-15 total incubations.  I don’t know how I feel about that amount and whether it should be dying yet.  What do you think?  Should I buy a different brand, or is that a good long life for an incubator?

Heritage Arts

I am continuing with my progress on the Match Play Poncho.  I really like how it is turning out.  Closing in on finishing the first side.

I have also started a new dress for Little Miss.  She loved the last one I made her SO much (click here to see it).  Unfortunately, I tried to make the same pattern again for her for Christmas in 2018, but larger because she had outgrown the last one, and it didn’t work out.  So I had to tear it all out and then I let the yarn sit on time-out for awhile until I felt inspired again.  I found a new pattern and am tweaking it a bit but think it will turn out well.  This pattern is called Ribbed Dress for Little Miss – which is ironic since I am making it for my “Little Miss.” 🙂

I made Sunshine a new ear flap hat because she needed one for the cold.  The pattern is Very Basic Bulky Ear Flap Hat by Ann Gilmour and the yarn is Lion Brand Hometown Tweed in the colorway Key Largo Tweed.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – Happy New Year!

Hard to believe, but the start of a new year has arrived.  It has been cold here, but mostly dry, just a little dusting of snow here and there.  The cold has been very steady at about 20s at night and 30s during the day.  This is strange for our area, we usually have more ups and downs.  We have been down to 0 a few times, but for the most part it has been very steady the last month.  The snow from Thanksgiving still has not fully melted because we have had so few days warm enough to deal with it.  Also, the sun has been hiding more lately.  Anya takes advantage of every minute of sun she can soak up – they are few and far between lately.

Most every Saturday is homestead project day.  Sometimes it is big projects and sometimes it is a long list of a lot of small things.  This week it was the long-list-of-small-things Homestead Saturday.  We cleaned out the coops, added bedding to the jugs, cleaned out the back of the truck from transporting Pansy, fixed the back yard fence, started building the last section of barnyard fence with wood and wire (to replace the panels), did some mechanic work on two of the vehicles, and measured the new garden and graphed it out for garden planning.

Chickens

The incubation is coming along nicely.  We started with 23 eggs in there.  There was 1 infertile, and 2 early deaths.  We now have 20 eggs in there and we are 12 days into the 21 day incubation.

Goat

Pansy came home!

She is pregnant and due in April.  It is nice to have her back.

Sheep

Neither Blue, nor Daisy, came back into heat when they could have.  So we have two more confirmed pregnancies.  That makes 4 ewes pregnant of the 5.

Maggie still hasn’t had her first heat, and we are guessing she wont this year.  But you never know, we could have a surprise June baby.

Remi is staying in with the girls for ease of management and so he doesn’t have to be alone.  He will come out once they get close to lambing.

Cheesemaking

We tried out two new recipes from the Natural Cheesemaking book.  One was mozzarella.  I already have a good recipe for mozz, but decided to try his out.  It did not go very well, but I think that my rennet was the issue.

Then we used his recipe with a kefir culture to make Chevre.  It was a huge disaster and we ended up with a stinky, hole-filled floating mass of “cheese” that smelled terribly strong of yeast.  I don’t know what happened.  My kefir was too strong?  The mass of cheese curds were supposed to sink and they were not supposed to be filled with air pockets.  Hmmmm.  Rethinking this whole natural cheesemaking – going back to the drawing board and trying to figure out what to do.

Heritage Arts

I finished Braveheart’s socks in time for Christmas.  I used the Seeded Rib Socks pattern by Ann Bud and Knitpicks Hawthorne Fingering Kettle Dye yarn in the colorway Fawn.

I am now overwhelmed with knitting work.  I can’t show them to you yet, though, because they are all gifts except the poncho knit-a-long I am doing and falling terribly behind on.

And hoping to get the loom warped again for another weaving project soon.

Photo Books

I used to scrapbook the old-fashioned way, and loved it.  But life with a bunch of kids and little time makes that type of scrapbooking not work for me at this stage.  So I use Shutterfly to make photo books.  I like to make 12×12 size books of our family for each year.  Then I also like to do 8x8s for each child for each year, and for any vacations/trips we take too.  I generally stay pretty well caught up (like within a year or two), but I am falling more and more behind, so I have dedicated January to working on catching those up.

Shower Remodel

We finished our shower remodel and we are both so happy with how it turned out!  It is beautiful, and functional, and bigger than it used to be.  This project has needed to be done since the first day we moved in 7.5 years ago.  It is so nice to have it completed.

Jerry and Hazel

A couple weeks ago Jerry decided he liked to lay in Hazel’s crate each morning, and as predicted, Hazel has decided that it is ok to share it.

2019 Year-End Homestead Review

Looking back over the previous year on the homestead is an excellent practice because it helps us see what worked, what didn’t, and helps us plan for the future.  It is also always very encouraging to me because even when I feel like we didn’t have a very productive year, seeing it all written out shows me all that we accomplished.  Our homestead has had to take a backseat to other parts of our life over the last few years due to our baby’s serious medical issues.  This year more than ever.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.  I continue to hope to do better record-keeping, but as each year has been harder and harder with Mr. Smiles, each year has thus been harder and harder to do good record keeping.  I am amazed I kept records at all this year!  But here’s what we have.

To read previous Year-End Reviews Click the following links:

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started year with 28 hens, 1 chick, and 1 rooster
  • Purchased 7 cockerel chicks and 3 pullet chicks, all 10 survived
  • Did 1 incubation with 75 eggs.  65 were fertile,  35 chicks hatched and 34 survived
  • 1 broody hen set and quit, we finished the incubation in the incubator.  10 set, 8 fertile, 7 hatched, and 7 survived
  • At the height of the season we had 28 adult chickens and 52 chicks – 80 total – by far the most chickens we have ever had at one time before.  Too many for our farm.  Need to plan more carefully.
  • 1 broody hen set 7 eggs with a total of 3 chicks surviving, then she set again with 8 eggs and 6 survived
  • Butchered 28 birds
  • Sold 2 silky hens, six 1-year-old hens, and 15 pullets
  • 1 silky hen died from egg-bound, one chick died at week 5 for unknown reasons, 1 hen died from being bullied by the flock, 1 hen killed by a golden eagle
  • Ended year with  21 hens, 3 pullets, 3 cockerels (almost ready for butcher), and 1 rooster.  Plus 23 eggs in the incubator to hatch mid-January.
  • Approximately 3,700 eggs laid

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 3.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd, had her ups and downs.  At times she was an excellent guard dog, but she struggled a little with her first year of lambs.  When they were little, she left them alone because the mamas wouldn’t let her near them, but as they grew and the mamas weren’t so protective, she tried to wrestle and play with them and was too rambunctious.  She also had a couple times getting too rambunctious with chickens, but didn’t kill any.  So a few times she had to live in a separate pen from the flocks while we continued training with her.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 2 ewes and 1 ram.
  • Bred early in January
  • 2 ram lambs and 1 ewe lamb born, all survived
  • 3 Fleece shorn, for a total of 8.5 lbs raw, skirted wool
  • 800 yds (1.5 lbs) 3-ply worsted yarn from Fiona, 1500 yds (3 lbs) 4-ply worsted yarn from Fergus, and didn’t finish processing Rose’s yarn yet
  • Sold 1 ewe lamb, 2 ram lambs, and 1 ewe
  • Purchased 1 dairy ewe, 3 dairy ewe lambs, and 1 dairy ram lamb
  • Breeding season brought difficulties and aggression from our 2.5 year-old wool ram, ended up having to butcher him
  • 22 lbs of ground meat, 4 lbs of roasts, soup bones, and some dog food
  • Finished year with 1 wool ewe, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram
  • Bred them all in November/December. 4 ewes pregnant, due in April/May.

Goats:

  • Started the year without any goats.
  • Mid-March added a Nubian doe to the farm.  We finally had fresh milk again!
  • 43 gal of milk for our family use between March and October
  • Dried her off (stopped milking) in November at breeding time for convenience and to give her a chance to regain her body condition.
  • Pregnant and due to kid in April

Garden:

  • The stresses of life this summer did not make it possible to weigh the produce this year.  A very cold spring gave us less than average on some things, but others gave us more than average.
  • We started building a second vegetable garden that will more than double our produce production.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the 19 knit projects: 9 pairs of socks, a Hoodie for Mr. Smiles, a sock yarn scrap afghan, a lace shawl, a hat, a textured shawl, 4 dishcloths, and a cabled cardigan.
  • I made a new bag for a standing knitting bag frame and 4 pairs of flannel PJ pants.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.

Kitchen:

  • Canned quite a bit of food, not as much as last year.  Early fall stresses prevented me from keeping track of how many exactly of what we canned.
  • Made several different soft cheeses with goat’s milk.
  • Made a couple aged cheeses with store-bought cow’s milk to practice for next spring.

Year Summary

January rotated between warm sunny days in the 40sF, where we would get outside as much as possible, to bitterly cold snowy days below 0F that kept us by the fires and working to keep the livestock cared for and warm.  We spent a lot of time dealing with our son’s medical issues, with many doctor’s appointments.  We got our Livestock Record Book updated and ready for the new year, and got our school curriculum planning done as well as starting on our garden planning.  The sheep bred, giving us hopes for lambs in May/June.  The girls and I knit, crocheted, and worked on the hexagon quilt.  And we did several small fix-up projects around the farm and home, including building a new hay rack in the sheep stall and improving the gravity feeder in the lower chicken coop.  At the end of the month we collected eggs for a big incubation.

February started with us getting 75 eggs into the incubators for a hatch.  We struggled with illnesses and another hospitalization for Mr. Smiles.  We did a lot of knitting, cross stitching, and crochet by the warm fire while the bitter cold and wind settled in outside.  34 of our incubator eggs hatched and survived, and then we bought a few more chicks to add to the brooder so that we would have some new genetics for next year’s breeding program.  We also extended the hay loft in the barn to give us more hay storage space.

March was cold and wet.  We got a lot of snow and dealt with trying to keep animals dry and warm.  We finished remodeling our basement, which had been torn out after the massive floods of 2013 damaged it.  We added a new member to the farm – a Nubian milk doe named Pansy.  She was fresh and we were excited to have raw milk right from our own homestead again.  We had a hen decide to set eggs and then quit at 2 weeks, we put the eggs in the incubator and were surprised that they hatched, despite having been chilled from her abandonment.  We ended the month by finishing our dining room remodel project and I finished the scrap sock yarn afghan I had been working on for a year.

In April we started with shearing the sheep.  We also built up another section of the garden beds to be deeper for better growth of the plants and we hauled a bunch of compost from the barnyard and filled all the garden boxes with it.  Our 3-year-old had his 10th surgery and was pronounced healed from his very-rare bile duct/liver disorder that just a year ago we had been told would be fatal.  The weather continued to be cold and wet, setting our garden back more and more.  As we hit the 6-week out from lambing mark, we noticed that Rose seemed to be showing symptoms early and wondered if she was potentially due before we thought.  We changed the ewes’ diets in preparation for lambing.

In May things continued to be cold and wet.  We tried to work on the garden and get things going, but the weather continued to hamper our efforts.  We had several big snow storms.  Our 3-year-old has his first eye surgery, 11th surgery overall, and it was unsuccessful.  Eve hatched out 3 chicks, and the juggling of pens for all the many different chicks and chickens began to get complicated as they all grew.  We separated the ewes from the ram, goat, and Anya (the LGD) since it was Anya’s first lambing season and we didn’t want her to accidentally kill a newborn lamb.  Mtn Man finished spinning up the yarn from Fergus and Fiona’s 2019 fleece, and I tried my hand at dyeing Fiona’s yarn for the first time ever.  My parents moved in, with my Dad in his last few months of life.  My sister and I helped my mom care for him.  We ended the month with Fiona giving birth to her ram lamb on the 31st.

June started with Rose giving birth to huge twin lambs on June 1st.  It was a complicated delivery that I had to help with because both lambs were mal-positioned, and then their first week of life was touch and go because the ram lamb got pneumonia and Rose’s milk didn’t come in very quickly so we were supplementing them with bottles.  By three weeks of age both the ewe lamb and the ram lamb were thriving and doing well.  We continued to have cold weather, including two frosts over night that ended up killing some of our vegetable garden.  Anya integrated herself in with the lambs by breaking through the fence because she was so interested in being with the mamas and lambs.  She did great and was very safe with the lambs.  We did a lot more shuffling around of chickens, sold some pullets & hens, and butchered a lot of cockerels.  We realized the goat was copper deficient and we bolused her with a slow release copper capsule.  We found out, unfortunately, that our son’s rare bile duct/liver disorder had not been fixed back in April as we had been told and it reared it’s ugly head again, landing us back with tests, doctor appointments, and hospitals.

In July we were busy with visitors and medical appointments.  We headed in for yet another emergency surgery for Mr. Smiles, which was his 12th surgery overall and his 4th this year – but who’s counting?  The homestead brought us comfort through the hard times though, and sitting out enjoying the livestock and working in the garden is always good emotional therapy.  We still managed to be productive around the farm, butchering some more chickens, getting the chickens sorted into new pens and organized for future breeding plans, making goat cheese, braiding a wool rug, and getting out my spinning wheel for the first time in 4 years.  We saw results from the goat copper bolus, as Pansy began to gain weight and her coat condition improved immensely.   The garden continued to progress, though still behind about 3 weeks from usual due to the cold spring weather.  As the lambs grew and their moms were less protective, Anya struggled with being too rambunctious with them in play and had to be moved to the back pen with the ram.

August brought the start of school and the start of harvest.  We sold 4 sheep and purchased our first dairy sheep.  We sold our large floor loom and purchased a smaller one that fit nicely in our living room.  Mr. Smiles had his 13th surgery, the most major surgery he has had to date at 7.5 hours long, and my father, who was living with us, passed away that same day.  The surgery was an immense success and the recovery was much better than anyone had expected.  It looks like his bile duct/liver issue is now fixed (as of December 31), and though he might have more complications farther down the road, for the meantime he should be stable.

September was hard.  We were busy with Mr. Smiles’ recovery, grieving my father’s death, and planning, preparing, and hosting his funeral.  We were also trying to continue with our homestead plans and projects.  We added 4 more dairy sheep to the flock, and our best broody hen, Eve, set another clutch and hatched out 6 adorable chicks.

October was full of “normal” fall homestead work for us, which was so wonderful after such an “abnormal” and difficult summer season.  We built about 2/3 of the raised bed boxes for our second veggie garden.  We moved the kids playhouse out of the back yard and turned it into a gardening shed, and then built a retaining wall in the area where the playhouse used to be that will be Mr. Smiles new safe, flat, outdoor play area next summer.  We hauled and chopped a lot of firewood, and canned quite a bit of produce from our own property, and some purchased as well.  I began the adventure of learning how to weave, and also finished several knitting projects.  We got our first snow of 6 inches and a huge drop in temperatures.  Our old barn cat, Jerry, retired in the house and became our indoor kitty.  We found out that the eye surgery that was done in conjunction with Mr. Smiles’ bile duct/liver surgery back in August was not successful and decided to wait until spring to do another eye surgery because our family desperately needed a break from surgery and hospitalization, as did Mr. Smiles.  The bile duct/liver part of the surgery was still looking very good and successful.

In November we took our milk goat, Pansy, to the breeder and left her there to get bred.  We also started our first-ever sheep breeding season with two rams.  We separated the ewes up with the two rams and were excited to see how it went.  Unfortunately, our older ram, Fergus, had trouble with the new situation and also was coming into full maturity and thus started having aggressive behavior with humans and the ewes.  We struggled into December trying to keep everyone safe, get the ewes bred, and decide what to do with Fergus.  I continued to enjoy weaving and finished more weaving projects.  Sunshine and I did a massive go-through and clean-out of the house.  We did a lot more chopping and stacking firewood for the winter, and had quite a bit of snow and cold weather.  The weather pushed us to indoor projects and we tore out the master bathroom shower.

December brought Christmas candy making, Advent, and more work, but also relaxation and fun family time together.  We continued to struggle with the ram aggression issue and it all came to a head in one crazy dangerous interaction.  We ended up butchering our wool ram, Fergus because of his aggression.  It was hard, but the peacefulness of the barnyard afterwards re-affirmed our decision.  We used our trap nests to figure out which hens were laying and which weren’t, and did our last chicken butchering of the year.  Little Miss and I started trying our hand at learning the art of making aged cheeses and we used an old fridge to make a cheese cave.  We made huge batches of ketchup and BBQ sauce and canned them for our family use.  We continued to dig ourselves out of the snow that kept falling throughout the month.  Lastly, we finished the remodel of the master bathroom shower.

Looking back on this year is kind of hard for us.  Between Mr. Smiles having 5 surgeries this year, my father living with us for the last 3 months of his life and passing away, plus many other challenges that I didn’t share on the blog, it was by far the hardest year of our lives.  But we can also see SO many blessings, gifts, and miracles laced through it all.  God really carried us through, and leaning on Him was the only possible way I could handle it.  The homestead continued to be one of the blessings as it brought us emotional therapy and kept us busy so we didn’t have too much time to sit and stew over all the stresses.  And despite all the crazy life things we were going through separate from the homestead, we still had a pretty darn productive year providing food for our family.  For that we are very grateful.