2018 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.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started year with 20 hens, 9 young pullets and cockerels, and 1 rooster
  • Purchased 10 layer chicks and 41 meat chicks
  • 18 meat chicks died first couple of weeks, 1 layer chick died – 9 layers and 23 meat chicks survived
  • Because of large loss of meat chicks decided to buy 11 layer chicks to add to the brooder
  • 5 broody hen sets with a total of 15 chicks surviving
  • 1 cross beak chick had to be culled, 1 silkie hen licked to death by LGD pup, 1 hen killed by bobcat, 1 young pullet died for unknown reasons, and 1 hen died of egg bound
  • Butchered 23 meat chickens, 10 layer cockerels, 1 aggressive rooster, and 8 hens
  • Sold 9 hens
  • Ended year with 28 hens, 1 chick, and 1 rooster
  • Approximately 3,500 eggs laid

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 2.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd, is continuing to mature and be trained to be our lead LGD.  As a pup she accidentally licked a couple of chickens to death and therefore was living adjacent to the barnyard and continuing to be trained.  In December we were very excited to move her into the main barnyard and have her be mature enough to guard without any accidental killings.
  • We have had no bear break-in attempts on the barn since she took over.  The bears used to try to break into the barn multiple times each autumn, despite our previous wonderful guard dog living in the barn (he did keep them out and alerted us so we could chase them off, but they continued to try).  I am guessing it is the size difference, our previous guard dog was 55 lbs, Anya is over 100.  I think the bears can tell the difference when they hear her bark and such and they don’t think it is worth it to grapple with a dog that big.  Not sure what else would cause the change.

Sheep:

  • Did not have sheep most of this year.  Sold the flock December of 2017 due to son’s medical issues and hospitalizations.
  • Unexpectedly bought back three of our sheep a couple weeks before the end of the year!  2 ewes and 1 ram.  They are currently living together in hopes of squeezing in last-minute breedings for this year so we can have some lambs born this summer.

Goats:

  • No goats this year due to son’s medical issues.  Contemplating plans for a dairy goat in 2019, but have not decided yet.

Garden:

  • Over 490 lbs of produce harvested
  • Spent $134 on the garden this year, average of $0.27 per lb.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the following knit projects: 2 cabled hats, 1 cabled cardigan, 1 pair of flip-top mittens, 7 pairs of socks, 2 baby blankets, 1 baby vest, 1 shawl, 1 afghan and 169 squares for my scrap sock afghan.
  • I completed one cross stitch, and sewed 4 skirts for myself, 1 dress for myself, 4 skirts for the girls, 1 dress for Sunshine, 4 bibs for Mr. Smiles, hospital PJs for Mr. Smiles, several pairs of flannel PJ pants for everyone, and 3 flannel nightgowns for Little Miss. 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 over 350 jars of food this year.

Year Summary

January was much warmer than usual and we enjoyed the chance to get outside when we could, though the end was bitterly cold.  We spent a lot of time dealing with our son’s medical issues, with hospitals, surgery, and many doctor’s appointments.  We were able to get our garden planning and school curriculum planning done, along with building a new pantry area in the basement.

In February the girls and I spent the cold days working on my grandmother’s English paper piecing quilt, as well as a crocheted scrap afghan.  I also worked on finishing some of my crafty WIPs (works-in-progress) to get them out of storage and completed.

March brought a lot of garden prep work, building new garden areas, and remodeling older garden areas.  Our hatchery chicks arrived on the farm, including our first ever try with meat chicks.  We were very disappointed when a huge amount of the meat chicks died for unknown reasons.  It wasn’t our brooding techniques because none of the layer chicks being brooded with them died.  We also had our first hatch of the year under a mama hen.  We remodeled our bathroom, as well as a couple chicken housing areas in the barn.  And we enjoyed learning the art of dehydrating fruit.

In April we started plans for our medicinal herb garden, little green shoots started poking up their heads on our perennial plants in the garden, and our seedlings inside began taking over the house.  During the cold weather the girls and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning jam and homemade ketchup, as well as starting to work through the Little House Living recipe book.  And we spent some time sewing PJ pants for the family as well as some skirts and dresses.  At the very end of the month the swallows arrived a little early, signaling that it was time to put our first seeds in the ground outside.

In May we didn’t get the big snows that we usually get towards the end of the month, which meant that our garden got a big head start over previous years.  We worked a lot in the garden and we butchered the first round of meat chickens and found the meat to be superior to the meat from our dual-purpose birds.

June was another month extra heavy on the medical stuff with our son.  We spent time in the ER, had unexpected hospitalizations and surgery, as well as many doctor’s appointments.  Somehow we were able to keep the garden going strong, started some harvesting, and butchered the last of the chickens.  And we squeezed in some sewing of bibs too.

In July we were busy gardening, harvesting, and started our canning season.  We had another 2 hens set and hatch chicks.  And the girls and I continued our sewing spree, making more skirts, PJ pants, hospital Pjs for Mr. Smiles, and a knitting bag.  We decided to try eating one of the silkie roos we butchered and were surprised to find their meat is black (more of a purple, really, but creepy nonetheless).  We wont do that again!  Our LGD had to spend some time indoors because of the flies eating her ears, but we finally found a repellent that worked long-term, after years of trying many many different things with no success or very short-lived success.  We also finished chopping and stacking all the firewood that we needed for the winter.

August was mostly focused on more of our son’s medical stuff.  But despite that we were able to continue with the harvest and canning, make herbal medicine, and we added our first root cellar veggie storage rack to the basement.  We competed in many ways at the County Fair and brought home a lot of ribbons and prizes.  We were surprised by a very early first frost.

September was so full of homestead work that I barely had time to blog.  We kept ourselves busy with gardening, harvesting, canning. freezing, hunting, and butchering – all things related to putting food up for the winter.  We added another root cellar veggie rack to the basement and really enjoyed using both the racks to put up the produce.  We also started remodeling one of our wood stove areas and had another hen set and hatch out chicks.

October was full of a lot of canning and we bought a new kitchen gadget to make it easier.  We filled the shelves in the basement pantry and used every empty jar we owned.  We wrapped up the gardening season and were really excited when we tallied everything and found that we had our most successful garden season ever.  I did some preliminary garden planning for next year while everything was till fresh in my mind.  And we also got our first snow of the season.

In November we stayed indoors while we had unseasonably cold weather outside.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezer through successful hunting and we made a lot of firestarters and a batch of hand-dipped beeswax candles.  We did our final chicken culling and re-organizing in preparation for winter, and we decided to try growing lettuce and spinach indoors under grow-lights for the winter months.

December brought a lot of Christmas candy making, as well as Christmas present making since we home-make almost all of our Christmas presents.  We said “no” to a lot of regular events and activities to keep a nice, calm, Christmas season and were so glad that we did.  I learned how to darn socks, and was able to fix several holes we had in some of our handmade socks.  We had two very exciting events happen for the homestead.  First, our LGD, Anya, was finally mature and trained enough to guard the livestock full time on her own.  And secondly, 3 of our sheep returned to the farm after being away for a year.  We ended the year with more medical issues, emergency rooms, hospitalization, and surgery, which will be pouring over into the new year as well.

Looking back we can see that it has been another very productive year full of blessings.

How to Make Sheep’s Milk Yogurt

How to Make Sheep’s Milk Yogurt

Back when we were milking the sheep we used the fresh milk for drinking and on cereal, and we also made butter with it.  Both were delicious!  We were surprised because it was our first time ever milking sheep.

102_2306

102_2305

The milk was surprisingly sweet, especially from our Lincoln Longwool, Stella.  We found that we liked sheep’s milk better than goat’s milk, and even a little bit better than cow’s milk.  I wanted to try making yogurt with it, but didn’t have the time, so we froze some so I could try it later.

This week I decided it was high time to get to that and so I took it out of the freezer, thawed it, and made it into yogurt.

I decided to use the same recipe that I use for cow’s milk.  We like our yogurt thick and custard-style, so we add some gelatin to it to achieve that texture.  It is optional and if you like it thinner then you just skip that step.

IMG_2366

Gather your supplies.  You will need:

  • A pot big enough for the amount of milk you have
  • Sheep’s milk
  • Unflavored gelatin (optional)
  • Plain yogurt with live cultures (can be from your last homemade batch, doesn’t have to be store-bought)
  • Thermometer
  • Spoon & whisk
  • Jars for the yogurt
  • Boiling water (I use an electric kettle)
  • A small cooler

IMG_2364

First, pour your milk into the pot and whisk in your gelatin if you are using it.  Then, start it heating gently over medium or medium/low heat, stirring occasionally.  While you are waiting for it to heat, preheat your cooler by pouring about 1/2 gallon of boiling water into it.  Set your jars in there to preheat too.  I do not submerge my jars in the water, my cooler is small enough that if I put 6 pints in there they hold each other up on top of the water.  Close the cooler.

IMG_2367

Heat to 180F degrees and then remove from the heat and let sit and cool to 110-115F degrees.  I stir it occasionally while it is cooling because a crust forms on the top if I don’t.  And if I am in a hurry for it to cool, I set the pot in a dish of ice water and stir the milk gently, refilling the ice water as needed to keep it cooling.

IMG_2370

Once the milk is at 110-115F, stir in your live yogurt.  Then pour into warmed jars and put lids on loosely.

IMG_2371

Pour the preheating water out of the cooler and put the warm, filled jars of milk into the cooler.  Then pour boiling water into the cooler until it is about half to 3/4 of the way up the side of the jars.

IMG_2372

Close the cooler and wrap it in towels.  Keep it in a warm spot, undisturbed for 6 hours.

IMG_2374

After 6 hours, remove one of the jars and check the consistency and flavor.  Because it is still warm, it will not be as thick as the final product will be after it is cooled.  If you want it to be stronger flavored, put it back in the warmth for another few hours.

IMG_2376

Now it is done!  Tighten the lids and put it in the refrigerator to cool.

We enjoy it with our favorite fruit/s, granola, or oatmeal.  We also like to sometimes add vanilla extract and a little sugar for flavoring.

2015 Year-End Homestead Review

It is always hard to believe that yet another year has gone by, but it has!  It is time for the end of year review again.  This year the homestead stepped down the priority ladder a few rungs as we focused our resources (time, money, energy) on adopting our 5th little blessing.  And once he arrived home it has taken a few more steps down as his medical needs are taking up space now as well.

Despite the homestead being somewhat demoted in importance, we are still really happy with what we accomplished this year, and at times were surprised by the success considering our lack of attention.

If you would like to read previous years’ end-of-year reviews for Willow Creek Farm, click these links:

2013

2014

We always start with statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 16 to 53 chickens of all different ages on the farm this year
  • 3,501 eggs were laid
  • 165 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 120 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 82 eggs were set to hatch
  • 37 chicks hatched successfully
  • 19 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 24 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • No chicks were sold right after hatch this year because of the adoption
  • 3 hens died from hawk attacks

The chicken program has done pretty well this year.  It was our first time only using hens to hatch chicks, and we were a bit disappointed with our hatch percentages. But despite that we were able to hatch out enough chicks to meet our needs. And selling eggs and pullets was profitable.  We love having some livestock that more than earns its keep!

Rabbits:

In July we re-started our meat rabbit herd.  We bought 3 does and 1 buck.  2 of the does were old enough to breed right away.  One of them came to us pregnant and we were able to breed the other to a friend’s buck and start producing from the get-go.  Our buck and the third doe came into maturity at the end of the year and the buck has just recently proven himself and the doe is due to kindle this week.

  • 3 breeding does, 1 buck
  • 22 kits born
  • NO kits died at birth (yay!)
  • 1 weanling sold (traded for a stud fee)
  • 13 rabbits butchered for meat for us
  • 9 kits currently growing out

Oliver, our English Angora rabbit, continues to be a beloved pet and fiber producer.  He has had 5 shearings this year.  We have learned to shear much better and much less fiber is lost now that we know what we are doing.  And Oliver has learned the routine and lays out nice and still for all of the shearing except his face (and who would blame him for not wanting his face messed with?).

Sheep:

This year was the first year we have done all of our shearing on our own instead of hiring it out.  Husband has worked hard to learn and his shearing skills are improving.  The sheep produced 4 fleece for us this year, for a total of 12 lbs of wool after washing (we forgot to weigh it raw).

  • Started year with 3 pregnant ewes – each lambed 1 baby in April
  • 2 ewe lambs & 1 ram lamb born
  • Ram lamb died at 2 days old
  • Butchered 1 adult ewe which provided 20 lbs of meat
  • Ended year with 2 hopefully pregnant ewes and 2 ewe lambs

Garden:

This was by far our best garden year, producing 269 lbs of produce.

For the specific garden statistics, read our garden review post here.

With the help of all the animals we continue to produce rich compost for use on our garden.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 1 sweater, 4 pairs of socks, 20 baby hats, 3 baby sweaters, a dinosaur Amish puzzle ball, a baby snuggle sack, a baby dress and matching socks, a hat, a child’s dress, a child’s cardigan, and a stocking.
  • I sewed 1 child’s dress.
  • My daughters sewed 20 flannel burp clothes, knit 2 pairs of baby socks, 3 pairs of adult socks, a baby cardigan, and numerous baby hats.  They also did several embroidery and crosstitch projects.  They crocheted a few amish puzzle balls, a play tea set, and several stuffed animals.
  • I sewed a few children’s aprons and baby blankets.
  • Oldest daughter and I mended innumerable pieces of clothing.
  • I embroidered 1 gingham embroidery bread cloth.

In the Kitchen:

We canned over 124 quarts of food this year (some were pints, some half-pints, etc but we added it up to how many quarts of food it was).  I stopped keeping track after I posted the 2015 canning review, but we have done more since then.  You can read that review here.

We also froze 36 lbs of carrots from the garden.

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2015:

In January we stayed cozy by the fire while the cold weather pressed in from outdoors.  We opened our online shop selling homemade items from the homestead to raise money for our adoption.  We had two broody hens hatch eggs, one successfully and one not very successfully.  And our hearts broke when our sweet old chocolate lab, Holly, died.

February weather was quite mild compared to what it usually is.  We had another hen set on eggs and we spent a lot of time making items to add to our store.

March was exciting as we prepared ourselves for our first lambing.  We watched the ewes’ bellies swell, put together a lambing kit, and built jugs (lambing stalls) in the barn.  We also started our garden seeds indoors using a grow-light shelving unit for the first time.  We lost two hens to hawk and owl attacks and put up a fishing line web above the barnyard to deter them.  We learned that using chicken nipple waterers in the winter was increasing the frostbite on our chickens’ combs and wattles.  And we had another broody hen hatch a somewhat successful hatch.

In April we had our first lambs ever born on the farm!  Two ewe lambs and 1 ram lamb.  Sadly, despite our best efforts to save him, the ram lamb died after only two days of life.  We learned how to dock lamb tails and how to milk sheep.  Stella became a great milk sheep for us and we enjoyed the milk we got from her.

In May we celebrated our third year anniversary on the farm.  We moved seedlings out into the garden in wall-o-waters for protection.  Two more hens hatched chicks, this time much more successfully, and they even agreed to raise them all together in the same pen without fighting with each other.  We turned the lambing stalls into a creep feeder and enjoyed watching our lambs grow and play.

June brought a lot of growth, in the garden and from the lambs and chicks.  We let two more hens set eggs to finish off the breeding year and had successful hatches.  And we adopted Bella, a beagle, to be our indoor pet dog.  She also turned out to be excellent vermin patrol in the back yard.  Our farm life started to really take a backseat as we officially started our wait for an adopted baby match.

In July we brought meat rabbits back to the farm.  We bought three does and a buck.  One doe was pregnant at purchase and we were able to have our first litter born right away.  Husband built a beautiful path in the back yard made with pallet wood.  We made the hard decision to butcher one of the ewes.  And we began harvesting the garden and canning.  We had another hawk attack a chicken, despite the fishing line web above the back yard, so we improved the web even more.

August was spent harvesting and canning.  We were shocked at the large production of the garden.  Our second litter of rabbits for the year was born.  And we borrowed a back hoe and began work on some big digging projects around the farm, including a smoke house and root cellar.  Our adoption plans took a turn and we settled into the idea that it was going to take another year or two to be matched with a baby.

In September a bear tried to break into the barn.  It was a hard blow when our recently adopted dog, Bella, died unexpectedly.  We continued to harvest and the tomato harvest especially surprised us by being so huge.  We continued our big digging projects as well.  Then, very suddenly and somewhat out of nowhere, we were matched with our new baby son.  And in 8 days time we went from expecting a long wait to having a baby in our arms.  Life on the farm kind of screeched to a halt as we soaked in our newest blessing.

Oldest son filled his first ever hunting tag in October with a doe mule deer and the filling of the freezer with meat began.  He later filled his other two tags with a buck mule deer and a cow elk. We finished up the harvest and began butchering chickens and rabbits.

In November the ewes headed off to the breeder.  Because of our baby’s health issues we decided to stop the chicken breeding program and selling eggs, and cut the flock back to just what we need to provide us with eggs.  We sold several hens, butchered some older ones, and butchered a bunch of cockerels.  We decided to keep a rooster so that we can still hatch small clutches under broody hens when we want to.  The cold weather hit, and we added another Old Time Scotch Collie, Tess, to the farm to live indoors with the family.

December was a whirlwind.  We had a wonderful Christmas season and worked to juggle family life, farm life, and pediatric hospitals and doctors.

What an exciting year we have had!  We have been so surprised by what we accomplished despite putting the homestead down farther on the priority list.  We never expected to produce and accomplish what we did this year around the farm.

As we look forward to 2016 it has a lot of unknowns in it.  With the baby’s health issues we don’t feel like we can make a homestead plan like we usually do the first week of the year.  We are having to live life more on the fly and less planned out than ever before.  We have no idea what this year will bring as far as new projects, new life on the farm, expansion, or any of that.  But based on this last year we feel that even without a set-out plan we will be able to look back on the year and see that we were able to accomplish a lot more than we thought…just like this year.  We have several homestead projects in mind that we would like to do, but we are flexible on whether or not they will happen this year.

So we head into 2016 ready to do what we can, wondering what the journey will bring us, and so blessed to be doing it as a family of 7 now.

Always an adventure….Happy New Year!

Sunday Homestead Update

We have all been very ill for over a week now.  Some sort of nasty flu virus.  It has put us way behind on the homestead.  Spring is not a time when there is wiggle room for being sick for days on end.  We will be scrambling to catch up the next few weeks.

But despite our illness, basic life goes on around the farm.

Sheep

The lambs are doing very well.  Lily’s tail fell off, exactly 21 days after being banded.

102_2348

 

20150428_142408

The elastrator band worked great, we will continue to use that method in the future.

Stella continues to be an amazing milking sheep for us.  She is now standing still for milking without even having a halter on.  She is just loose in the stall and stands for milking.  Such an unexpected blessing!

With our illness I haven’t been able to work with the sheep milk, so we are freezing it so I can make stuff with it when I have more time.

Chickens

Eve and Lacy and their chicks are doing very well.  All ten survived their first week of life, so that is great.

20150428_154710-1 20150428_154746 20150428_154901

 

After much discussion and thought, we have decided to end our chicken breeding season this year without an additional incubation.  We are in the thick of several huge life changes outside of our little homestead and really don’t have time to juggle raising a brood of chicks at this point.  So we are finishing the year with only 17 chicks hatched for the breeding program.  Not ideal, but it is what it is.  We plan to hit the breeding program hard again in 2016 and catch up from this slower year.

We decided that the rooster that will be kept for next season is Frodo, so Rusty will be headed to the stew pot in the next few weeks.

20150429_124729 20150429_124743

He is a beautiful bird, but Frodo out-scores him in many of the things we are selecting for in our breeding birds.

Garden

The garden has been put way behind schedule because of the spring blizzard two weeks ago, and then our illness this last week.  We are working hard to catch it up and I will do a garden update post later this week.

We are hopeful that by next week’s update we will be back on our feet again and enjoying all the fun that there is during spring on a farm!

 

Dairy Sheep

Just about a week after we started milking her, Stella, our purebred Lincoln Longwool, has really hit her stride with the milking process.  It seems this girl was made to be a milk sheep – despite the fact that her breed says otherwise.  Lincoln Longwools are a wool sheep, known for their dense and strong fleeces.  Their wool is excellent on its own for outer garments and rugs, or blended with other wools for weaving.

When we originally looked into milking sheep, we found out that dairy ewes are very expensive and not within our reach for the next several years at least.  But then we found out that, while they don’t make as much milk, and can often be harder to milk, non-dairy breeds can be milked too.  So we started considering the ewes we already owned for potential milk ewes.  When we discussed milking our wool ewes, we weren’t even considering Stella at first.  She has extra, non-functional teats.  This happens a lot on livestock, and generally doesn’t cause a problem, but it isn’t ideal for the udder of an animal used for milking because they can get in the way.  Little did we know when we were first planning and examining udders that Stella would end up having such a prolific udder that is actually quite well suited to hand milking.

102_2305

 

When husband gets to the barn for milking he puts her halter on and gives her feed, and before he even gets her udder washed, she is already letting down her milk.  He easily milks out over a pint within about 5 minutes, doing one side at a time while holding the jar…and it’s done.  So with a little more than ten minutes of effort we are getting over a quart of sheep’s milk a day by hand!  From what I have read, the serious dairy breed ewes can produce twice that amount, but a quart a day from a wool-breed ewe is an excellent amount and we are very happy with it.

We are very surprised with the ease of milking Stella.  Based on our research, we expected it to be harder to get her to let down and relax, and we expected more fussing and fighting from her.  In many ways she is actually easier to milk that our last cow was – as far as temperament goes.  We had many a kick from that cow, and plenty of dancing around and fussing pretty regularly.  Stella has not kicked, jumped, or been aggressive at all.  In the beginning she danced a little bit as she was getting used to it, but now, with only a week’s experience with milking, she is standing totally still like a champ.

Our inexperience leads us to wonder if Stella is just an exception to the rule, or if milking non-dairy breeds can actually be quite a successful option for a backyard farmer.  As hard as it was to lose little Goober, we are glad that some good has come from it.  We are very excited about this new adventure on our little backyard farm – milking sheep!