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.

Adventures in Cheese Making

Seven years ago, when we had our first dairy animal come fresh (a Jersey cow), we started to learn how to make all sorts of dairy products.  Butter, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and mozzarella were all made regularly in our house over the years from our fresh, raw, cow’s milk and goat’s milk.

This spring we will be embarking on our new adventure with dairy sheep coming fresh.  We are so excited to have fresh, raw sheep’s milk on the farm.  We will still have raw goat’s milk from Pansy too!  Depending on how it all goes, we could have up to 2 gallons of milk coming from the sheep and goat each day.  This is all just guessing, of course, because each animals production will be different and it will also depend on whether we leave lambs and kids on, or take them off, or bottle feed, or share with them….time will tell.  But nonetheless, we will have plenty of milk for our fresh use, quick dairy products, and soft cheeses.  So we decided it was time to try our hand at aged cheeses.

In order to get the hang of the process before spring comes with all our wonderful raw milk, we decided to practice this winter with store-bought milk.  We got a bunch of books from inter-library loan and started learning.

We ordered the ingredients and supplies we needed (we already had some of it), and made our first aged cheese, a colby recipe.

We felt like we had made several mistakes and decided to make the exact same recipe the next day to really do it right and carefully.  Then we got our “cheese cave” set up.  We wanted to get this set up the week before and get it regulated ahead of time, but life got in the way and it was set up right when the cheese needed to go in.

Over the next couple of weeks we tried different things to get the cheese cave to the right temperature and humidity.  We live in a very dry climate, so humidity can be hard.  At first I couldn’t get it above 65% (you want it to be 85-90%).  Then I found some tips online and used a cup of salt and a wet rag with its tip in a bowl of water and I was able to bring it up and keep it at 75%.  I think that might be the highest we are going to be able to get it.  But from what I have been reading, it looks like if you wax or seal your cheese, humidity is not as much of an issue.  Time will tell if 75% will work for us or not.

That is one of the difficulties in making hard cheeses – the time factor.  You have to age most cheeses for at LEAST 2 months, and many go all the way to 6 months or more, so learning can be hard.  How can you learn from your mistakes if you don’t know you made a mistake for several months?  It is a steep learning curve.

Then we decided to try our hand at cheddar, and went with the easier and faster “stirred-curd” cheddaring technique.  So we now had three cheeses under our belts and in the cave.

The cave is staying at about 46 degrees.  That is a little lower than we want, and will slow down the cheese aging process a bit.  Most books say 50-55F is what you want, although I have found two that say 45-55.  So I think we are within range of it working, though maybe not ideal.  But that is as high as the fridge will go.  So Mtn Man ordered a plug and play device that has a thermometer that goes into the fridge and then the device turns the fridge on and off to keep it at the right temp.  It arrives today in the mail, so we will see how that works out and if we can bring the temp to a more ideal range.

After making three blocks of cheese we felt like we understood the basic methods and could just wait until spring to start up again with cheese making with our own fresh milk.  But then something else came along.

I have a very old fashioned brain, so as we were learning all this and doing all this cheese making my brain kept going back to the question, “How did they do this in the old days when they couldn’t buy freeze-dried cultures?”  I know how to get rennet from a calf, kid, or lamb stomach, so that question wasn’t bothering me.  But the question of cultures was.  I was working my way through my inter-library loan cheese making books and after we finished our 3rd cheese I got around to reading this one:

This book addressed exactly what I was wondering and discusses the natural (old fashioned) ways to make cheese and how cheese has been made for thousands of years.  I was really excited about this concept.  He uses kefir grains and whey cultures to culture the milk for his cheeses.  They are sustainable and you don’t have to keep buying from the store.  I have been using kefir grains for a few years now to make us kefir to drink and add to our smoothies, so the concept that I could use it to make cheese is very intriguing to me.  But will it actually work?  I went online looking for reviews and discussions from people who were actually using this method successfully to make cheese and unfortunately, I didn’t find much.  The negative reviews I found were from people who had actually tried it and it didn’t work.  The positive reviews were people who had read the book, agreed with the concepts, but hadn’t actually tried it yet.  Not very helpful, and definitely leans towards the fact that it might be tricky to make good cheeses this way.

So we have decided to try it out and see how it goes.  More cheese making to do.  I will update you on the natural methods versus the modern methods and our experiences with it.  Until then…on with the cheese making adventure!

Sunday Homestead Update – Sheep Breeding Season

The update around here this week revolves around the start of sheep breeding season.  Breeding season is a fun time full of hope.  It feels kind of like planting season to me, we get the seeds in the ground and then dream and hope about what will come in the fall.  In this case we put the sheep together and dream and hope about the lambs in the spring.  This is our first ever season with more than one breeding ram, so we were able to discuss and plan which ewes would go with which ram.

Fergus

Our proven breeding ram is Fergus.  He is a BFL/Merino/CVM cross that has an amazing fleece.  His is by far our favorite fleece of all the wool sheep we have ever owned.  It is both long and soft.

Ewes to breed with Fergus this year:

Fiona

Fiona is our matriarch and also a wool ewe.  She is a CVM/Merino and has a soft fleece with tons of crimp.  The one downfall of her fleece is that it tends to be a little bit shorter than we would like.  She is also Fergus’ mother.  We have bred them to each other twice now and they make AMAZING offspring with excellent conformation and beautiful fleece.  You have to be careful with line breeding/inbreeding like this (mother/son, father/daughter, or half siblings) and you should never go closer than this genetically.  The first year we tried it we were a bit anxious and figured if it didn’t go well we would just not do it again.  But both times have produced great offspring.  So we are going again for a third time.

Daisy

Daisy is one of our young dairy ewes.  She comes from lines with excellent dairy qualities and production.  This will be her first breeding year, so she may or may not take.  She is half-siblings with our dairy ram Remi, and since we are not very well educated on their lines we decided not to breed them because of the potential for problems from close line breeding/inbreeding like that.  (I know, I know, the opposite of what I just said about Fiona above…but we know Fiona and Fergus’ lines and knew it had a high likelihood of going well).  Also, she has the shortest fleece of all the dairy ewes and we think Fergus’ length of fleece could mix nicely with hers.  We want to see if we can add in some good wool qualities without messing up the dairy qualities.  Might work.  Might not.  Worth a try.

Maggie:

Maggie is another of the young dairy ewes.  This will be her first breeding.  She is twins with Blue (see below) so we thought it would be fun to try one of them with each ram to see what they produce.  So Maggie will be going to Fergus.  We also wanted Fergus to have more ewes than Remi since he is proven and thus a better bet for a successful breeding.  She has one of the longest, softest fleece of the dairy flock, so we are interested to see how Fergus’ fleece goes with that, and whether we lose dairy qualities by crossing them.  She comes from lines with excellent dairy qualities.

 

 

Remi

Remi is our young, unproven breeding ram.  He is a dairy ram with a short, somewhat soft fleece.  He comes from lines with good dairy qualities.

Ewes to breed with Remi this year:

Blue

As I said above, Blue is Maggie’s twin (although they don’t match in color).  They have very similar longer fleece and amazing dairy qualities run in their lines.  She is a young ewe, so she may or may not take this year.  We wanted to have at least a couple full-bred dairy lambs born this year, so this will be one of those breedings.

Autumn

Autumn is our adult dairy ewe.  She has lambed once before and has good dairy qualities.  Since we aren’t sure whether the young ewes will take or not, we wanted at least one full dairy breeding that we could count on.  Since she is already proven she should take this year and that would also get Remi proven.  If she doesn’t, that could show a problem with Remi, which would be good to know too.  Also, she is the same color as Maggie, so we thought it would be nice to have one of those two go to each ram to mix it up.

 

So this week we separated out the breeding groups.  Fergus and his gals are in the front pen, Remi and his are in the back pen.  There has been a lot of chasing and fighting as they settle in with their new flocks.  We are excited to see how this year goes and what quality of lambs each of these breedings produce.

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had beautiful, cool, breezy, sunny fall weather up here in the mountains this week.  It has been wonderful.

Sheep

Jacketing our sheep is high maintenance, but worth it for us.  The jackets keep the wool from getting full of VM (vegetable matter), sun bleaching, and staining.  It adds value to the wool when it comes time to sell it or process it into yarn.  As the owners of a custom fiber processing mill, we can tell you it REALLY makes a difference in the finished product.  However, jacketing is not ideal and safe in all living situations.  You need to take into consideration the safety of the sheep first and foremost.  Fencing, weather, and pasture conditions all effect whether jacketing is a good option.  For our dry-lot barnyard, close to the house with wooden/welded wire fencing, and in a cool climate, jacketing works well.  We can keep a close eye on the flock and help if there are any jacket issues.

This week it was time to go ahead and get jackets on the new dairy ewe lambs.  We have been giving them time to settle in.  With all the pecking order battles and running around, we didn’t want the jackets impeding them at all or getting tangled.  But everyone had settled now and they have jackets.  While we were doing that, we checked all the other sheep jackets.  It is important to check them visually daily, but actually catch the sheep and put your hands on them to check fit and such once a month or so.  Fergus’s jacket has a couple big popped seam areas, so it came off, got washed, and was re-sewn and patched up.  Fiona’s was too small, so she went into a larger one.  If you leave a jacket on that is too small you can injure the sheep’s legs where the jacket rubs on them.  You will also felt the wool on the sheep if the jacket is too tight, ruining it and thus completely undoing the purpose of the jacket.

One thing I don’t like about jackets is that I can’t see my beautiful sheep and all their different colors.  So I enjoyed the few days that Fergus didn’t have his jacket and I got to see his handsome, pewter fleece.  He has matured into a very large, beautiful breeding ram.  I am surprised at how much growing and filling out he did from the age of 2 to now at just over 2.5 years.

The barnyard is so peaceful and balanced right now.  When we brought in the new sheep there was obviously some shuffling of pecking order and such.  Plus, Anya has been too rambunctious with the new sheep and the chickens due to all the stress of having a lot of different people coming and going from the farm the last 5 weeks with my father’s death.  Now that everything has settled and it is just our family here at the farm again Anya has completely calmed down and is happily living in the front barnyard with all the ewes, the goat, and the chickens.  And the two rams are happily in the back barnyard.  All is well in the barnyard and everyone is where they should be and peaceful.

Garden

Fall garden chores continue as we harvest and clean out the gardens and put them to bed for winter.

We harvested all the onions and let them cure in the sun a few days before putting them in the root cellar.

We planted the garlic.  I love the look of freshly turned and prepared garden beds…

We added new compost, made the rows, planted, and then covered them with waste hay and some metal trellises to hold the straw down through our very windy winter.

The tomatoes in the root cellar are ripening quickly now.  So we have been canning tomatoes.

The light frost that the plants got before we harvested them have caused a lot of them to rot.  So I pulled those out and composted them.  It is also causing some to only partially ripen, leaving green areas even though the rest is fully ripe.  We really need to be careful to not let them ever frost, we were just so overwhelmed and busy this year with things off the homestead that we accidentally let them get a light frost this year.  The effects do leave them looking pretty cool though – like tie-dye or something.

Last spring a friend gifted me some seeds for a variety called Purple Russian.  So we tried a new variety this year for the first time in many years.  You can see them in the closer bowl in the picture below.  They are a purplish red and are shaped kind of like eggplants.

The plants did very well with the cold climate and short season, and we are really happy with the flavor of these tomatoes.  They are not quite as acidic as a regular tomato, giving them a milder flavor.  They are delicious.  I saved seeds from a few of the best ones.

Speaking of seed saving, we are way lacking on seed saving this year.  I am saving from tomatoes and a cucumber, but that is pretty much it.  We usually save from beans and peas too, but that just didn’t happen.  I have some lettuce still in the garden going to seed, but I don’t know if it will make it in time before it gets too many hard frosts.  I have put the frost tent over them to protect them.  Time will tell.

To save tomato seeds I set aside the best tomatoes of each variety and let them get very ripe.  Then I squeeze the seeds out of them into a cup, add a little water, and let them sit for several days to ferment.  Then I rinse them thoroughly and smear them on a paper towel to dry.  I always label the paper towels just to be safe – seeds all look the same!  Once they are dry I put them in an envelope labeled with variety and year and any important notes about that year’s growing situation (like this year I will put that the tomatoes I am saving from survived a frost).  All my seeds are stored in their envelopes, in sealed plastic containers, in the extra refrigerator down in the basement.

Speaking of the extra refrigerator down in the basement…last year we built it into the new root cellar room.  But now that we are in our first fall with the enclosed root cellar (before it was just in a corner of the open unfinished basement, now it is an enclosed room in the basement) the refrigerator is making too much heat and warming the room too much to be a good root cellar.  So we pulled it out.  It left a big space, and this week we started filling that space with more shelves for storage. It can probably fit three more shelves and we will get to that when we can.  And yes, that is a heater on the bottom of the wall – it is disconnected to keep the room cool.

Heritage Arts

I finished another pair of socks.  This is the Epitome of Me pattern from Megan Williams with the Fish Lips Kiss Heel by Sox Therapist and the yarn is Knit Picks Hawthorne Fingering Kettle Dye in the colorways Wisp and Delphinium.

I am slowly but surely starting to learn the loom and am really excited about that new adventure!

I have cast on two more pairs of socks, Christmas presents for Young Man and Mr. Smiles.  I now have a new knitting cuddle-buddy.

In the last two years both of our indoor cats died suddenly and unexpectedly (one this last summer and one summer of 2018).  We decided this week we were ready for another indoor cat, so we were planning to go adopt one from the humane society.  But then I was outside and our barn cat, Jerry, came over and while I was petting him I started thinking.  He is the grandpa of the farm – the oldest animal on the whole homestead at 13.5 years.  We have had him since he was an 8-week-old kitten.  He is a sweet old man and has been an excellent mouser and barn kitty all these years.  Ever since our LGD, Tundra died, he has struggled through the winters.  Tundra and him were best friends. We got Tundra as a pup just a year before Jerry joined the family so they grew up together and really loved each other.  They often cuddled together.  Last winter seemed particularly hard on the old man, so I thought, “maybe he would like to retire indoors.”  We tried this with him a few years ago and he did NOT want to be inside, so we put him back out.  But this time has been different.  We brought him in and he seems pretty darn happy to just cuddle in the warm and softness of everything indoors.  So he is our new indoor kitty.  Midnight and Minley can handle the barn on their own from now on.