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.

New Dairy Flock at WCF

We have dreamed of having dairy sheep for several years now, and we are excited that the dream is finally coming true.

A few weeks ago we added Autumn, an 18-month-old East Friesian/Lacaune Mix ewe.  She lambed this year, so next year will be her second year to lamb.

Then this week we added 4 more dairy sheep to the flock.  They are all 5-month-old lambs.

Remi is a white East Friesian/Lacaune/Polypay mix ram.  He is very sweet and friendly.

Daisy is a white East Friesian/Lacaune/Polypay mix ewe.  She is shy but not skittish.

Bluebell is a white East Friesian/Cotswold mix ewe.  She is the twin sister of Marigold.  She is curious and friendly.  Definitely the matriarch of the group of lambs.

Marigold is a black East Friesian/Cotswold mix ewe; the twin sister of Bluebell.  She is very skittish and has a lot of spunk.

They are working on settling into the flock.  The rams are living together in the back pen until breeding.  Fergus seems very happy to have a new friend, since he had been living alone since April.

The ewe lambs are not used to having an LGD, and Anya has been a bit rambunctious with them, which we are working on fixing.  So they keep a close eye on her, as in these pictures.

They also have not seen chickens or cats before, they are very curious about the small creatures living with them.

We are working on getting to know them and making them more friendly.  Come spring we will begin lambing out and milking these pretty girls.  That will be a fun adventure!

Sunday Homestead Update

Busy, busy here on the homestead.

Sheep

We decided to name the new dairy sheep Autumn.  Here is a cute pic from when I was sitting in the barnyard for farm therapy the other day.  Fiona and Autumn were blocking the chickens’ door to get into their coop.  The chickens were crowding around them trying to figure out how to get in and the rooster decided to stand on Fiona’s back to see if he could somehow get in the door that way.

We had more sheep excitement this week as we added more dairy sheep to our flock. I will introduce them in a post later this week.  Settling them in has been rough so far.  There are some issues with Autumn and Pansy bullying them.  Fiona is doing great with them.  Anya is being too rambunctious with them, since they are only 5-month-old lambs and thus smaller and not good at standing up for themselves with her, which is also a problem.  So we are having to keep everyone somewhat separated and under watchful eyes.  Hoping everything settles soon.

Garden

We have been very busy harvesting the garden and putting up the harvest.

We had a very very light frost on Aug 28 that did a tiny bit of damage to the bean plants, but since then there hasn’t been a frost yet and it doesn’t look like one is coming for another week at least. This is looking to be a late fall, which will be wonderful since we had such a cold spring, the plants need the extra growth time.

The first tomatoes have started ripening.  It looks like it will be a pretty good harvest despite the late frost and cool weather set-backs we had. I pruned the tomato plants a bunch to help keep their energy focused on the fruit already on them as opposed to flowers and tiny fruit that don’t have a chance of making it this year.

The pepper harvest has been much better than last year, and we are bringing in Red Kuri and Golden Nugget squash now as well.

The green beans are coming in well and we are canning them and lining the root cellar shelves with jars of them for winter.

The carrot and pea harvest are done for the year. They produced well but a massive aphid infestation cut them short.

While we were picking up the new Dairy Sheep from the western slope of Colorado, we grabbed two bushels of peaches.  They are huge and beautiful and we are enjoying eating them and canning them for winter.

Heritage Arts

I was able to get some knitting done while we were in the hospital with Mr Smiles.  I finished the cabled cardigan that has been on the needles for 18 months and kept getting ignored because of other projects, it feels SO good to have it done.

The pattern is Let Go by Joji Locatelli.  The yarn was Knit Picks Gloss DK in the colorway Blackberry.  I absolutely love how this turned out.  It fits me perfectly and it is so soft and warm.  I cannot wait for the weather to cool a bit so I can wear it regularly.

I have also been making progress on two different pairs of socks I am working on.

We got a new toy…I mean tool…for the homestead. We used to have a large 42-inch floor loom for weaving. But it was just too big and rarely got used because we didn’t have a good place to set it up. So this summer we sold it and bought a smaller loom. It is the Wolf Pup LT from Schat Spindle Co.

We love it! It fits nicely in the corner of the living room and is big enough to make any of the types of things we want to weave. Little Miss is currently weaving a practice/learning project on it.

 

Sunday Homestead Update

As autumn barrels towards us, and the first frost is threatening to arrive any night, we are rushing to harvest the garden and trying to predict the weather enough to do what we can to frost protect the veggies when the frost arrives. The weather apps are notoriously inaccurate about our area as far as frosts go. I cant even count how many times now, spring and fall, we have had two different apps say the low would be 41 and we wake up to find we got to 32 and we have garden damage. I complain so much about them that the kids hung up a “Weather Rock” for me on the porch.

If the rock is wet, its raining.

If the rock is white, its snowing.

If the rock is swinging, its windy.

While I do love my weather rock, and smile when I see it, it is not exactly helpful to determine when it will frost. So we are doing our best to keep an eye on the weather apps, in conjunction with our own senses as we go do evening chores, to try to guess when the frost will come and protect the plants as much as possible.

Garden

We continue to struggle to grow potatoes. We have tried year after year. We have tried several different methods. We still are not very successful. We just harvested this year’s and again it was a small harvest.

But a lot of the other veggies are doing great. We harvested and canned 7 quarts of purple beans, plus another 10, 2-cup bags went to the freezer.

The bell pepper plants are producing great this year. Much more than last year. As are the peas. We have been enjoying them fresh and have frozen a lot of peas too.

Sheep

It was a hard goodbye yesterday as 2/3 of our flock departed to their new home. The person who bought them is very excited to add their genetics to their breeding flock though, so we are happy for that.

And on his way home from taking them to their new home, Mtn Man picked up the first of our new dairy sheep!

We are still working on a name for her.  She is an almost 2-year-old ewe, who has already lambed once.  She is 70% East Friesan and 30% Lacaune.

This is a very exciting new project for us.  We will be adding some more dairy sheep to the flock in September.

Chickens

Eves is now setting on fertile eggs. The first bunch of eggs we put under her was from the adult hens. Not one was fertile, proving the cockerel is not yet breeding the hens. But then we put a bunch of pullet eggs for setting, and it is clear he is doing his job with the younger pullets.  Out of 12 eggs, 9 were fertile and we had one early death.  So she is setting on 8 now.  In a couple of weeks we will have some chicks.

The Outcasts

Our current chicken flock is not very welcoming of everyone. This is the first year we have had the flock kill one of their own, and attempt to kill a second. We don’t like it, we don’t know why they are like this, and we don’t know what to do about it. We do a lot of integrating and switching around of pens and breeding groups and our methods have always been successful, for all these years, until this year. This year the flock will accept some birds, but not others.

This has left us with some outcasts. We didn’t know what to do with the outcasts besides butcher them. At least it would be better for them than the flock pecking them to death. But then I thought of the bantam flock in the lower coop. Maybe they would accept the outcasts into their little flock. It was worth a try. And it was successful! Over time they have now gathered three standard-size hen outcasts into their flock.

The most recent was Carrot, the hen that got attacked by the Golden Eagle. She has had a pretty miraculous recovery in the grow pen in the barn. But now it was time to try to figure out how to get her back with other chickens. Since she is still very thin, and needs more recuperation, I did not think it was a good idea to risk putting her with the big flock considering their behavior this year. So we moved her in with the bantams and the other outcasts. She has settled in nicely and seems happy to be in a bigger space with other chicken friends.

Heritage Arts

Little Miss wanted to try her hand at making a braided wool rug all on her own.  She has made them with Mtn Man before, but never by herself.  She finished it this week and it looks beautiful.

I am almost done with my cabled cardigan.  I just need to do the front bands and collar, plus finishing weaving in ends and it will be done.  I am really looking forward to having this done because it has been on the needles for over 18 months now and kept getting set aside for other projects.