Sunday Homestead Update – Snowy Spring

It has been awhile since I took a break from blogging…so what have we been up to?

Our 5-year-old son had another ER visit, hospitalization, and surgery (his 24th). It continues to be a hard road with his medical issues. This round came on fast and strong and was pretty scary. But he is doing better now and we are thankful for that and hopeful to have a nice long break from the pediatric hospital.

We have had a wet, snowy spring. We had one big spring snow that buried us for a few days.  We played board games and stayed in our pjs, as well as bundling up to play outside and dig paths for the livestock to make it to the water trough.  And then we have had several weeks where we had snow off and on for days. The moisture is good, especially after last year’s bad fire season.

The big snow we had was deep and didn’t even begin to melt for over a week. During that time the predators started getting desperate and we had a mountain lion and a bobcat both looking to eat our livestock in broad daylight on two different days. Between our Livestock Guardian Dog and us humans we were able to keep them away and nothing bad happened.

Sheep

We got all the sheep sheared and are starting to process all the wool into roving and yarn in the mill.

Daisy’s twin lambs have thrived and grown so much! They are doing very well.

We have not been milking Daisy due to things going on in our life that are keeping us too busy right now. We might start milking her after the goat has her kids in the next few weeks since we will be milking the goat anyway. The rest of the ewes are due to lamb at the end of May and into June.

Goat

Belle is due to kid this week. She is looking very wide and we are expecting twins. It will be nice to have fresh goat’s milk again, not to mention the adorable kids bouncing around!

Chickens

We had a very cool visitor to the chicken pen the other night. It was a windy night and we didn’t latch the exterior pen (the chickens were all closed into the coop). The door must have blown open, allowing the visitor entrance, and then blown closed, trapping the visitor inside. When we came out in the morning we were pretty excited to get a close-up view of this beautiful Northern Saw-Whet owl. It was so tiny and seeing it from a few feet away was amazing! We looked at him/her and took photos for a couple of minutes and then opened the door. He/she flew off with no issues, glad to be free again.

Garden

In between snow storms we have prepared the garden soil and laid out drip lines for this year. We have also started seeds indoors and they are all sprouting like crazy. Hard to believe another garden season is starting soon – especially with all this snow.

Heritage Arts

I finished the sweater I was making for Mtn Man. We both love how it turned out and he has been enjoying wearing it through this snowy spring! I used yarn he made from a fleece from our ram, Fergus. It was a 4-ply worsted weight from his 2018 fleece.

This was my first time using my newly purchased book “The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Top-Down Sweaters” by Ann Budd. I have many of her books and love them all and this one did not disappoint. It is already one of my favorites and I know I will use it over and over again for years to come. I love the books she has written that make it so you can use any yarn and make any size because they have charts for all different gauges and sizes. Perfect for a family of 7 that I love to knit items for. And perfect for all the different gauges of yarn we make from our sheep fleece.

Writing

I have done some more writing for Mother Earth News and will share links and info as it becomes available. Watch for my article in the June/July print issue “Ask the Experts” column!

Sunday Homestead Update – Time for a Break

This will be my last post for a while.  We have a lot of things going on in our life right now, and I am finding that I need a break from blogging for a bit.  So I am hitting the pause button.  But don’t worry…I will be back soon, and I will have a lot to share as we enjoy spring on the farm.  Before I go, one final Sunday Homestead Update catching you up on each aspect of the winter homestead…

Sheep

Daisy and her lambs, Dusty and Dixie, are doing well.  She is producing LOADS of milk.  Much more than last year – which was her first freshening.  We have decided to just let her lambs have it all for the first 3 weeks or so before we start milking her.  But I am looking forward to seeing how her production compares to last year.  The lambs are so active that it is difficult to get photos in the little jug.  It has been too cold to let them out yet, but this week is supposed to be beautifully warm, so they are going to see the outside world for the first time tomorrow.

Freya either did not get pregnant, or she miscarried during the wildfire evacuations.  So there will be no lambs from her at this point.  We can hope that maybe she was bred by Nilsson in December or January and is due this summer.  Time will tell.  But for now, there are no more lambs due for our farm until the end of May.

Several sheep are desperately in need of shearing.  We have had some crazy busy-ness going on, not to mention bitter cold temps that make us not want to shear.  We will be shearing several of them within the next few weeks as it warms up.

Goats

Belle is continuing to do very well with the loss of Pansy.  She seems to be fitting in fine with the sheep and is kind of making friends with the wether, MacDougal.  Not to mention the bond she has always had with Anya, the LGD.

We are drying Belle off (gradually ceasing to milk her and stop her milk production) this week in preparation for her kidding coming in April.

Chickens

The chickens have done an excellent job of laying through this cold winter, especially considering the stress the wildfire evacuation put on them back in October/November.  All is well with them and there is not much to report.

Ducks

Our first winter with ducks has gone better than expected.  We had planned to just give them a chicken waterer and no pond throughout the winter.  But we have found that with a trough heater in the bottom of their pool, it stays thawed and they really enjoy swimming in it and they don’t seem negatively effected by the cold.  We do not let them have it when the temperature is below about 15F.

Heritage Arts

I am about halfway down the length of the sweater I am making for Mtn Man.  He tried it on and it looks like it will fit great.  I am very excited and hope to get this done before it is too warm for him to wear it this winter season.

I finished the first side of my summer poncho.  I started the second side, but I am trying to work less on this as it can wait to be worn until summer, and focus more on Mtn Man’s sweater.

Sunshine recently took a colorwork knitting class and learned the basics of colorwork through making this hat.  There were many ups and downs for her, as it is pretty difficult to learn the right tension for colorwork.  But I think the hat looks amazing!

Hazel and Jerry

I can’t leave, even for a short break, without giving you all some pics of Hazel and Jerry.  Every day they are cuddled together in a new, cute position.  Love these two!

Daisy’s Lambing 2021

Daisy has certainly taken us on a long ride this year.  She has had all the “imminent” lambing symptoms for over 2 weeks, and combined with the bitter cold that has meant nightly checks on her every 1-2 hours for over 2 weeks.  We are tired.  But she finally lambed last night!

We checked her at 10pm and she was relaxed and chewing her cud.  Mtn Man was planning to check her again at midnight (2 hours), but felt like he needed to check again at 11 instead (1 hour).  When he got up there, both lambs were born already.  She snuck them out on us in a very short amount of time!  But she successfully birthed them both on her own, which is such a relief after her dramatic birth last year.

It was quickly clear that one lamb was having issues.  It appeared that Daisy had birthed the ram lamb first, and began licking him/drying him/cleaning him.  Then she stopped half-way through drying him off to birth the ewe lamb.  Then she went to work on the ewe lamb, cleaning her off and drying her and didn’t get back to the ram.  It was 19F inside the barn (and much colder and windier outside the barn).  The ram lamb was hypothermic because he hadn’t been dried off fast enough.  The ewe lamb was nursing and doing well, but the little guy was droopy, inside his mouth was cold, and he was gasping for breath.

We brought him down to the house and got the woodstove stoked up nice and hot.  We cuddled him on our laps in front of the fire and used a hair dryer to warm him up (you have to be careful if you do this, don’t heat them too fast, or too hot).  His initial temp was 98, and it took about an hour and half to get him up to the appropriate 102.5.  Once he was up to temp we started syringe feeding him some milk we had milked off Daisy.  It took about 1/2 hour to get 2.5 ounces into him (be careful doing this as well, you don’t want to cause them to aspirate and get pneumonia – especially if they are already having trouble breathing they can have issues swallowing properly), but through that time he definitely started perking up and his breathing returned to normal.  It is amazing what a warm tummy and some good nutrients and sugars can do for a struggling lamb.  His ears perked up (they were drooping down), and he started calling for his mama and trying to stand up and walk (he had been pretty lethargic and limp before).  So we took him to his mom and he nursed and started to really stabilize.

The kids have named them Dusty and Dixie and they are currently doing very well, though Dusty is still a bit behind Dixie.

They are huge babies.  Milk sheep generally have lambs around 7 lbs.  Her single lamb that got stuck last year was 10.5 lbs.  These babies are just plain huge!  The ewe lamb was 11.2 lbs and the ram lamb was 11.8.  We continue to have very large lambs are our farm.  We have discussed it with the vet as well as seasoned shepherds that have more experience than us.  There are two main camps on this, one is that it has to do with the ram, but we have used several different rams of different sizes over the years.  The other camp is that it has to do with overfeeding in the last two weeks of pregnancy, but we are feeding less than the recommended amounts and less or the same as all the other shepherds we talk to.  We don’t want to cut back any more because then we would risk pregnancy toxemia.  So we don’t really know what to make of these large babies.  This particular pair seem like they were overdue, and that could be it.  Mtn Man jokes that it is the fresh mountain air that causes our sheep to have large lambs.  LOL.

This morning we let the flock and the LGD come meet them through the wire.  They were all very curious about the newest members of the flock.

We are still getting very cold temps here, especially at night, so we will be keeping a close eye on these two over the next week or so as they get used to life outside the womb and they wont be joining the flock in the outside world for quite a while.

Sunday Homestead Update – Death and New Life

No one said homesteading was easy.  It is much easier to go buy a neatly packaged pile of meat from the store and not think about the fact that the meat used to have fur or feathers.  It is much easier to buy a carton of eggs and not think about the fact that some had poop on them originally.  It is much easier to get nicely bundled veggies than to think about the fact that 3/4 of the crop was lost to frost and pests.  And it is much easier to not have to deal with the inevitable unexpected death that comes with raising animals.  But….you miss out on so many amazing and good things as well.

As hard as it is sometimes, I would never trade this lifestyle.

As we awaited the birth of Daisy’s lambs, Monday brought us unexpected sorrow.  Our goat, Pansy, died.

We bought Pansy two years ago as a birthday present for Little Miss.  She had wanted a dairy goat of her own SO badly, and we decided she was ready.  She immediately bonded to Pansy and they became good friends.  Pansy quickly ascended from livestock to more of a pet status on the farm.  Last year, Pansy had a very difficult delivery.  She had ring womb – where the cervix doesn’t dilate during delivery.  We were able to save her and the doeling, but she was never really the same.  Her doeling died a few weeks later and Pansy’s health quickly declined.  We had the vet out over and over again.  We talked to goat experts.  We ran tons of tests and tried anything and everything that “might” fix the unknown illness.  Over the last several months she has had periods where she seemed fine and like whatever it was had resolved, and then she had periods where she would start to decline again.  We wrestled with the decision of whether to breed her or not.  During November and December she was doing really well, so we went ahead and bred her.  The last couple of weeks she had started to decline again.  By Monday she was suffering.  The vet said it was time, and we made the very hard decision to end her suffering.  Little Miss is heartbroken.  We all are.  She was a wonderful dairy goat, and pet, and we will all miss her very much.

We were very concerned about how our other dairy goat, Belle, would handle the loss.  We have found that generally one goat living with our flock of sheep is rarely happy – they usually need a goat-friend to keep them happy.  But, surprisingly, Belle has done fine.  It was strange, it was almost like she knew that it was best for Pansy.  I know that sounds weird, but it feels true.  They were very close friends and Belle would call for Pansy any time Pansy was out of her sight.  And yet Belle didn’t even call once after Pansy died.  It is a blessing that we don’t have to rush to find a friend for Belle and can just work through our loss for now.

Meanwhile, Daisy did not lamb yet.  Last year, she had her lamb within a few hours of her milk coming in.  Typically, milk coming in means the ewe will lamb in about 12-48 hours.  We have had a couple of ewes that went 3-4 days after their milk came in.  But that has been rare in our flock.  Well…just when we think we know what to expect from this homesteading life…we are proven wrong.  Daisy has been in milk for 8 days now.  She is hugely pregnant and groans when she moves, she has continued to have all the symptoms of imminent delivery…and yet…she is still pregnant.  So we continue to watch and wait.

We never saw her bred, so we don’t have an exact date, but we saw her and the ram being very friendly one day and guessed that as her date, which is the 19th.  But when she got her milk in we decided we must have been wrong.  You never know, maybe our previously thought due date is indeed the right one and we still have over a week – LOL!

Homesteading life has constant ups and downs.

Sunday Homestead Update – Lambing Season

It looks like lambing season will be starting sooner than planned, which is also sooner than normal for our farm.  We normally lamb in April/May due to the climate here in the high Rocky Mountains.  But this last breeding season things were different and we made some different plans.  We decided we wanted to get a few more babies from our dairy ram, Remi, before he was butchered last fall.  So we let him cover Freya and Daisy in September, leading to February lambing.  We expect it will take extra work with the cold, and are prepared with heat lamps, a cot, and a super warm sleeping bag, just in case.  The rest of the ewes were planned to be bred for April/May lambings, but due to our ram’s infertility issues, they are due in June.

We never saw Daisy get bred, but we did see her and Remi being very affectionate with one another for a whole day, so we put that down as her due date.  We actually saw Freya get bred and put that as her due date.  So we were expecting them both to lamb about 2-2.5 weeks from now.

We were very surprised when Daisy’s udder had grown significantly overnight on Friday night.  Then, at barn chores last night, her udder was tight and had milk in it.  For those of you unfamiliar with animal’s imminent birthing symptoms…tight udder with milk coming out means you are generally 12-24 hours (or less) from birth.  Obviously we didn’t get the breeding date right.

So last night started the every-hour lambing checks.  Last year Daisy almost died giving birth to her first lamb.  It was a huge single lamb and she got stuck in Daisy’s small inexperienced pelvis.  It was a traumatic situation, but thankfully they both survived.  Due to that, and the fact that it is very cold outside right now, we really don’t want to miss this lambing and risk losing mama or babies.  I went to bed early and Mtn Man did the first chunk of night checks.  Then, around 4 am, I took over the checking while he got some uninterrupted sleep.

There is something special about stepping out into the cold winter night to go check on a mama sheep.  I know most people are probably saying “Not for me!  I would rather be cozy under the warm covers in my bed.”  While I do enjoy a warm bed too, I still also find it special and exciting to do those night checks.  We had an almost full moon and it was clear and bright.  The air was fresh and crisp on my face as I headed up to the barn to check on Daisy.  There is a sense of anticipation as I walk the very familiar path.  I wonder, will I open the door to the baby cries of a newborn lamb?  Or will I find mama on the ground pushing new life out?  Or, will I find her laying uncomfortably, chewing her cud?

I step out of the cold night air and into the warmer barn, greeted with the smell of hay and animals.  I shine my flashlight over to the birthing stall Daisy is in, her eyes flash, glowing back at me.  She is laying there, looking about as wide as a table.  Her head, neck and shoulders look way too small to be attached to her very wide body spread out on the floor.  With some effort, she shifts position and groans with discomfort – there is no comfortable way to lay down when you are this pregnant, even if you have a deeply bedded stall.  “I know exactly how you feel sweet girl.  I have been in this same position a few times in my life too.”  She chews her cud and looks at me with a big sigh.  I smile, and head back to the house and the warm fire for another hour of sleep.

An hour later and the dawn is breaking as I head out.  The sky is showing a pale blue color as light begins to arrive for the day.  Daisy is up and pacing around.  She grunts as she lays down.  Still no pushing.  Just an uncomfortable pregnant ewe with a full udder dripping milk.  “Soon. It will be soon.”  She looks at me and reaches out her head for me to give her some rubbing.  I wonder how many babies are inside there.  I have been fooled too many times before to even try to guess.  We have had ewes who were huge and looked to be carrying twins just have one big single, and we had a goat that barely looked pregnant give birth to small triplets.  There is no way to know.  I hope Daisy has twins, because that generally means smaller babies (though we have had a ewe break that rule too) which would mean easier birthing for her.  I don’t want a repeat of her traumatic birth last year.  And she looks pretty huge.  So if it is just one, it looks to be a big one.

We are continuing to keep a close eye on her.  It shouldn’t be long now.