2021 Year-End Homestead Review

At the end of each year I like to do a homestead review post where I sum up the year and give some statistics about each area of the homestead.  It helps me see how we did, what we succeeded with, what we didn’t do as well as hoped with, etc.  Usually, it encourages me because I realize we accomplished a lot despite potentially feeling like we didn’t as I lived in the day-to-day chaos of life.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

This year is quite a bit different.  In January we started preparing our house to go on the market, and then the rest of the year was quite the whirlwind of selling, buying, moving, and settling at the new farm.  So there were pretty much no records kept about the homestead the way I usually do.  Plus, we did not have a garden, since we moved too late in the season to start it.  So this year’s update will be a little different.

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Sold or butchered the flock down to 10 standard hens and 1 standard rooster, and 5 bantam hens for the move.
  • Put 7 store-bought chicks under broody hen to raise.
  • 1 bantam hen and 1 standard hen died.
  • Ended year with 16 standard hens, 1 standard rooster, and 4 bantam hens.
  • No idea how many eggs we got this year, but enough that we didn’t have to buy any and were able to sell some.

Ducks:

  • Started the year with 1 drake and 1 hen.  Both older.
  • Butchered older drake and hen before the move.
  • Purchased 10 Muscovy ducklings and 4 Welsh Harlequin ducklings to add to the new farm.
  • Butchered 2 Muscovy drakes and 2 Welsh Harlequin drakes.
  • Ended the year with 6 Muscovy hens, 2 Muscovy drakes, and 2 Welsh Harlequin hens.
  • Not sure how many eggs we got, but the Harlequins started laying in about November and laid about 10 eggs each week between the two of them.

Guinea Fowl:

  • Purchased 8 Guinea keets.
  • Had some issues getting them free-ranging but were able to get it figured out.  They roost in their coop overnight.
  • 1 was killed by one of the LGDs.
  • Ended year with 7 free-ranging Guinea Fowl.

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 5.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the move to the new farm.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.
  • Since the new farm had more space and created two flocks instead of just one, we added another LGD to the family.  Ayla is almost 2 years old and is learning and growing into a good guardian dog.  She is Anya’s half-sister.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams.
  • 1 ram lamb and 1 ewe lamb born, both survived.
  • An unknown (because we didn’t keep track), but good amount of milk produced for cheesemaking.
  •  4 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of  24 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  •  3 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of  14 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • We weren’t able to process many of the fleece due to how busy we were with the move, so we only processed one for a total of  600 yds of yarn.
  • Did not sell any sheep this year due to the expanded size of the new farm and our desire to expand the flocks.
  • Purchased 1 East Friesian (dairy) ram lamb, 1 BFL (wool) ram lamb, and 3 BFL (wool) ewe lambs.
  • Breeding season Oct-Dec: confirmed 2 pregnant dairy ewes, don’t have confirmation on the rest yet.
  • Finished year with 5 wool ewes, 1 wool wether, 2 wool rams, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram.

Goats:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant Nubian does.
  • One doe died
  • 1 buckling born, sold at weaning.
  • Purchased fresh (milking) Nubian doe.
  • Unknown amount of milk produced, but plenty for our family through the year.
  • Re-bred 2 does in Nov.
  • Ended year with 2 pregnant does due to kid in April.

Garden

  • No garden this year, but we were blessed with a lot of produce from other people’s gardens.
  • We did bring our container herb garden with us, and expanded it.  We harvested a lot of fresh herbs as well as harvesting and drying them.
  • Brought cuttings from our Lilac bushes with us and planted those.
  • Gifted an apple tree which we planted and it survived.
  • Purchased comfrey roots and planted several of those for next year.
  • Gifted some garlic and planted it for next year.
  • Started construction on the new vegetable garden for next year.

Heritage Arts:

  • There was a lot of knitting and sewing done, but I did not keep good track this year, so I have nothing to report here.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, applesauce, pickles, and crabapple jelly.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, and squash from a barter with someone.
  • Made quite a bit of aged cheese.  Mostly from sheep milk, a few from goat’s milk.
  • Made a lot of soft cheeses and dairy products, mostly from goat’s milk, some from sheep milk.

Year Summary

January was busy with house remodel projects to prepare it to go on the market.  I did some knitting and spinning, and we made firestarters to help keep the firemaking easy as we used them to warm our house.  We wethered our infertile BFL ram, and were excited to add a new breeding ram to the farm – an American Bond.  Unfortunately, he would later prove to be infertile as well.

February started with a hard loss – our sweet goat Pansy died after a long struggle with medical issues.  We had a deep freeze with days barely in the single digits and nights well into the negative numbers.  One of our dairy ewes, Daisy, gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl.  Her milk production was even better than last year (last year was her first freshening).  We decided to just let the lambs have it as we were up to our eyeballs with getting ready to sell the farm.  I did some knitting and decided to take a break from blogging as we were closing in on listing the homestead on the market.

I didn’t blog in March or early April.  But life kept marching on (of course).  Our house sold, with the stipulation that we find a suitable place to buy.  We looked and looked, but didn’t find anything during this time.  Our 5-year-old son had more liver issues, an ER visit which led to another hospitalization and his 24th surgery.  We continued to watch for our new farm.  The market was crazy with very little inventory, very high prices, and offers being placed and accepted in less than 24 hours.  It was easy for us as sellers, but hard as buyers.

In late April our Nubian doe delivered a buckling.  And we finished shearing all the sheep.  Just a few days before the contract on our previous house was going to expire, we found our new farm and our offer was accepted.  It was official – we were leaving the Rockies we had called home for many decades and heading to the High Plains.

In May we got really sick as we scrambled to pack and prepare to move a family of 7, plus grandma, a school, a business with large machinery, and a farm full of animals.  Thankfully, we were healthy in time for closing on both places and at the very end of May we signed all the papers and started the move.  Sadly, one week before the move, our sweet 15-year-old kitty, who we had owned since he was a kitten, passed away.  In hindsight, I am glad he didn’t have to go through the stress of the move at his old age, but we still miss him very much to this day.

June was crazy.  We spent two weeks prepping the new farm for us, the animals, and the machinery, then moving everything, and trying to somewhat settle in.  We saw our first tornado, way too clearly, on the third day we were here.  We added a new LGD to the farm family and she got right to work guarding one of the flocks (now that they were split into two at the new place with more space).  We started pasturing the sheep and goats and learning the ins and outs of intensive grazing with electric netting fence.  We started putting together a container garden with what we brought from our previous farm, plus some additional containers left on the new property.  Fencing the perimeter of the property with field fence to keep dogs out and sheep, goats, and dogs in became a priority, and big project, that wouldn’t fully get finished this year.  We also spent a ton of time weeding.  Weeding, weeding, and more weeding.  The area around the house that was covered in gravel was a jungle of weeds to the point you couldn’t see the gravel at all in some places.  We got a safe play area built for our youngest son.  Through it all, we were learning the new climate, the new views, the new landscape, the new wildlife….everything was new and different!  I continued to write online for Mother Earth News through the whole year, and I was really excited when I had my first article ever to make it into the print edition of the magazine printed in the June/July issue.

In July we thought we might just die of the heat.  We had more days in the triple digits than not, and several days got up to 108/109.  It was miserable for us as we had previously lived in the cool, high-altitude Rockies and had never experienced temperatures like that before, and certainly not day after day.  We continued to do what we could with the little container garden, but the temperatures were not helping.  Plus, pest bugs started killing everything we were working so hard to keep alive.  One of our sheep bloated, and we successfully tubed him and saved him since the vet couldn’t come.  We added ducklings, some chicks, and guinea keets to the farm.  By the end of the month the ducklings were out grazing in duck tractors we had built from odds and ends around the farm.  Milking the sheep and goat in the open with the flies and wind and heat was getting miserable, so we converted an old shed into a wonderful milking parlor.  Lastly, we built a door for the hay barn in preparation to put up hay for the year.

In August we started to feel somewhat settled at the new farm.  We added another Nubian milking doe and 4 Bluefaced Leicester sheep to the farm.  We did a lot of fermenting and canning.  Now that we had a couple of months under our belts, we were reading books like crazy and doing research to try to figure out how we want to manage and build the new farm in so many different areas – livestock, gardens, etc.  We started a new school year, our first and the new farm.  Sadly, our sweet, old house-rabbit, Wilbur, passed away.

September included a lot of illness and some death among the livestock, as well as illness among the humans.  We enjoyed a drop in the very hot temperatures and found we were able to spend more time outside.  I got my antique treadle sewing machine fixed and started to learn how to use it.  We built the poultry barn and moved around all the poultry to new housing.  We started to feel a bit overwhelmed as we tried to get to everything we needed to get done before winter hit.

October was full of guinea fowl adventures as we attempted to get our guineas to free-range but stay on our property and go indoors to roost at night.  I had another article published in the October/November print edition of Mother Earth News magazine.  Our youngest son had another round of liver issues with hospitalization and surgery.  I also spent a lot of time sewing on my antique treadle machine, making a quilt and aprons for gifts.  By the end of the month I felt completely proficient on the machine and it became my go-to sewing machine for most all my projects.

In November I was excited to be able to speak at the Homesteader’s Livestock Summit.  The whole family helped with my presentation and we all really enjoyed the opportunity to share what we love and teach about raising sheep for high-quality wool production.  The Nubian does headed to the breeder’s farm to get bred, since we don’t keep a buck for breeding.  Our sheep breeding season was proving challenging and we decided to try using ram harnesses with marking crayons to help figure out what was going on.  We finished all our “before winter hits” projects in time, including a root cellar/tornado shelter.  The girls had a very successful booth at a Christmas craft fair in the area.  And we got our first dusting of snow at the new farm.

December was shockingly warm, and we enjoyed it.  We also enjoyed the slower pace from a year of crazy busy.  We stopped all “projects” and just spent time enjoying our family.  We all got sick with a nasty cold, but it helped keep us slowed down, at home, and resting for the first time in a very long year.  The ducks started laying, and the goats came home pregnant.  We made our final plans for next year’s vegetable garden, and started working towards making it a reality.

It has been a crazy year of change and so much hard work.  But it is all a blessing and we are glad for the move and all that we have gone through.  We are looking forward to 2022 being our first full year at the new farm.  We are excited to see what every season is like here.  And we are busy dreaming and planning as we build this new homestead out on the High Plains.

History Repeating Itself?

Last fall we had a big frustration when we found that we had purchased an infertile ”breeding” ram for our flock. We had just recently returned to the farm after having gone through the nightmare of the largest wildfire in Colorado history and evacuating over 60 farm animals in less than two hours in clouds of dark smoke that made midday seem like midnight. We then scrambled to get a new breeding ram in to replace him before the ewes went out of season, only to find that the new ram was also infertile. These experiences might lead us to be a bit paranoid, as we lost an entire breeding season on the flock and only had one ewe give birth this year…a ewe that had been bred early in the season by an entirely different ram that we didn’t have anymore. But paranoia or not, it seems like history might be (somewhat) repeating itself (minus the fire and evacuation – thank goodness ☺️).

We brought in two new ram lambs this year: Orville, for the dairy flock, and Wallace, for the wool flock. We separated out the breeding pens back in October. We realized we couldn’t really tell what was going on due to the layout of the new farm, so in early November we got the rams into breeding harnesses with crayons to be able to track the breedings better. We have also been doing pregnancy tests through a local lab (using blood draws). Orville quickly settled his adult ewes and looks to be working on settling the one ewe lamb he has. Wallace on the other hand, can’t seem to settle anyone as the ewes keep coming back into heat over and over again…just like last year. We have been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt…he is a first-year ram afterall…but so is Orville, and they are about the same age. Maybe it is the difference in breed and Wallace is going to take longer to mature? Again, we are trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. And our vet said last year that infertile rams are rare, this would be our third in a row, seems pretty statistically impossible.
The problem is, like last year, we don’t want to run out of breeding season time and have all those ewes unbred. So while we don’t ideally want them crossed with the dairy ram, we prefer it over them not getting bred at all. So we gave Wallace as much time as we felt we could spare, and then this last week we took him out and gave Orville every single ewe, wool or dairy, to breed. He already went to work and time will tell as we wait to see if they come back into heat and we do their pregnancy testing.

Meanwhile, the question becomes, what do we do about Wallace? Hmmm, that seems like a familiar blog title…didn’t I blog that last year, except it was about MacDougal?

Sunday Homestead Update – Root Cellar/Tornado Shelter

The cold snap and snow was VERY short lived, and we are back to t-shirt and jeans weather each day, which is just crazy for this time of year. But we are enjoying it and soaking it in before we are chased indoors for a few months by winter.

Root Cellar/Tornado Shelter

When we moved to the new property we noticed right away that we didn’t have a tornado shelter. We made it a priority to get our family a shelter since we live in an area that gets a lot of tornado activity. While we were working on it we had 3 different tornadoes come within 10-15 miles of us. Too close for comfort. It is one of those things you hope you never have to use, but want to have just in case. We also needed a root cellar to store our garden produce throughout the year. So, it made sense for it to be dual-purpose.

We finally finished it and have moved our root cellar racks into it. We have also started building shelves for the home-canned goods, though we haven’t finished those yet, they will go all the way to the ceiling. With no garden this last year, we don’t have much to put down there, but there is a small amount of stuff we were given from other’s gardens (what a blessing!), as well as the small (compared to other years) amount of canning we were able to do this fall (another blessing!).

It is going to be so nice in the coming years to be able to have a safe place to go if needed, and to have a place to put our garden produce and canning for the year.

Canning

Speaking of canning, we have been doing some pressure canning lately. We did pumpkin a few weeks ago. I was going to use a fresh pumpkin for the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie this last week, but our oven decided to act up and make Thanksgiving complicated, so I used some of the home-canned pumpkin instead. It turned out delicious! I was grateful I had it available. This week we have also been pressure canning turkey stock made from the carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey. I love homemade stock so much! And it is so healthy too. We canned 18 pints already, and I would say we have at least another 12 pints worth to can up today or tomorrow. Feels good to add more to those new root cellar shelves!

Goats

The does went to the breeder a few weeks ago and have been bred now. We are just waiting to see if they come back into heat so we can confirm they are pregnant before we bring them home. Hopefully they will be coming home very soon.

Sheep

We are doing another round of pregnancy testing this week to see who got pregnant in October. We traded the ram’s crayons last week so we would know who was getting bred again. If they already had red marks on them, and then came back into heat and got bred again with the same color then we wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that they had been re-bred. So we traded the red and blue to opposite rams in the two different breeding pens. So the ones getting re-bred are now getting marked with a different color. We are going to continue doing the blood tests every few weeks throughout the season as well to help us confirm which ones have been bred and whether they took. After last year’s major issues with infertile rams we are doing our best to not take any chances of being surprised this year.

LGDs

One of our sweet Anatolian Shepherds was cuddling with the sheep the other day during what I call the sheep afternoon nap time, and I desperately wanted a photo, but of course if I approach she jumps up to greet me. So I ran right to her before she could get up and gave her some petting and tried to snap a photo. It only kind of worked. LOL.

Anatolians are such great Livestock Guardians. We love them and count on them to help protect our farm and stock. But there is one downfall – they love to dig. Up in the Rockies, at our previous farm, this wasn’t a big deal. We had some holes here and there, but never very deep and not really a problem. Well, we now live in the High Plains on sand. Sand, sand, sand. And we all know what that means – sand is SUPER easy to dig in. So the digging has taken on new, gigantic proportions.

Inevitably it is always done right along the edges of buildings. They generally are digging to make themselves a cool den in the summer, and the coolest spots are along the outside edges of the buildings in the shade, and some on the inside of the buildings along the walls too. This is causing some trouble for us as they take out the support of the buildings and also create ways to get out of the buildings. Our younger LGD is causing the most trouble at this point. We are trying all different methods and doing our best to repair what she is doing. But it is definitely causing some headaches and extra work for us. Hopefully, as she matures and as the cold weather moves in the digging will decrease a little.

Poultry

The guinea fowl are doing well. They continue to choose to hang out around the sheep pens, but thankfully we have not lost any more to the LGDs. We have noticed that there is a sad little outcast in the group. It is the smallest and ever since we let them out for the first time we notice that they keep him (or her) pushed out about 3-5 feet from the group at all times.

The chickens are doing fine. They are enjoying the compost we added to their run for them to work through. We continue to rake it into a pile every couple weeks for them and we add more as needed. They will be giving us a very nice pile of compost for the gardens next spring. We also integrated the 7 chicks from this last summer, that are now young adults, in with the main flock. We had hoped to maybe get them out on the barnyard to work on keeping the stalls maggot-free, but didn’t have time to build them a coop out there yet. So for now, they are living with the main flock and we are turning the stalls often. The cold weather has also helped get rid of the maggots. But we are hoping to have chickens on the barnyard by next summer, before maggots become an issue again.

All the adult hens are looking pretty be-draggled as they are molting.

The Welsh Harlequin ducks have started laying. We are not sure if it is just one, or both of them. But we are getting a duck egg almost every day. The Muscovies have not started yet. But all of them (Harlequins and Muscovies) were pretty late-season ducklings to expect them to lay before next spring anyway, so we are just surprised and happy by the eggs we are getting.

That’s the update from our little corner of the world!

Tracking Breeding in the Flock

It is very helpful to know which sheep were bred and when so that we have a pretty good estimate of their due date. Especially with our cold weather, keeping a close eye on ewes ready to lamb helps us to not lose lambs to hypothermia. At our previous homestead, we could easily keep an eye on the going-ons in the barnyard from several windows in the house. So we knew when each ewe was bred and whether she came back into heat or not (whether she got pregnant). It was simple to keep track of it all. At our new location…not so simple anymore.

We have 30 acres, and our barns and pens are spread apart. We cannot see the barnyards very well from the house, and thus really are having trouble keeping track of what breeding is going on, when, and which ewe. So we have been contemplating ways to help us know better what is going on, and at least narrow down the due dates to a certain period of time.

We decided to try out ram breeding harnesses. The harness has a big crayon that is positioned between the ram’s front legs. When he breeds a ewe, the crayon will leave a mark on her rump. You can get different colors of crayon if you want to use them on different rams to know which one got which ewe. Or you can use different colors each week to try to keep track of when the ewes were bred. Since ours are not out on pasture, and we deal with them at least twice a day, and we only have one ram per pen, we don’t need to deal with different colors. Once a ewe gets marked, we will notice and can mark that day on the calendar and then watch to see if she comes back into heat.

We just got the harnesses this last week, so any breeding that took place before now we are not very sure of. So, in addition to the harnesses, we are pregnancy testing the ewes. We live a lot closer to a lab now, and Daniel is getting pretty darn good at drawing blood. So we are going to do pregnancy tests monthly. We did our first two this last week – Tilly and Freya, just to for sure 100% confirm that Nielson is a dud. And yes, he is. They are not pregnant. We will test again at the end of November. That time it will be all the adult ewes.

Between the pregnancy tests, and the harnesses, we are hopeful to be able to get a pretty good idea of which ewes get pregnant and an approximate due date for each. I will let you know how it goes and whether these methods prove reliable.

Homestead Livestock Summit

As you know from following our blog, we are passionate about raising food from our land, whether it is vegetables, eggs, meat, or milk. We care about how our animals are treated and raised, and what goes into them and thus ends up in our food. We are also seeing so many shortages and rising prices that being more self-sustaining by raising our own food is important to providing well for our family. It feels so good to sit down to a meal around our table that has been completely raised on our property. We are also very passionate about raising our own wool, and then using that to create all sorts of items for our family from the high-quality fiber we are raising.

We love teaching and sharing all about how we do what we do, and helping others be successful in their homesteading pursuits. That is why we have this blog and why I enjoy writing for Mother Earth News and other publications about homesteading.

Soooo, I am very excited to tell you about this FREE 3-day event!

You can learn absolutely everything you’d ever want to know about the summit over here, but as a quick overview:

  • The summit will run from November 15 through November 17
  • Each day will be packed with amazing speakers who are ready to help you raise animals for food and make the most of your harvests
  • We’ve got a pop-up Facebook group where you’ll find accountability buddies, connect with other folks raising livestock, ask the speakers questions, and whatever else we come up with!
  • You can attend the summit absolutely free, but you can choose to grab the All Access Pass at any time. The All Access Pass will give you an all-access pass to the summit (meaning you get all the videos for life), and exclusive speaker bonuses including mentorships, digital guides, and more! ***The All Access Pass is currently being offered at a special price, and it will disappear for good once the summit is over, so start thinking about now!

I am honored to be included as one of the expert speakers, and I will be speaking about raising sheep for high-quality wool on Tuesday afternoon, November 16th.

Head over to the website to learn more and grab your free ticket. More information will be sent straight to your inbox afterwards.

I will be ready to chat and answer your questions during my presentation…hope to see you there!