Sunday Homestead Update – Back on the Homestead

It has been so nice to be back on the homestead.  Gardening, milking, making cheese, watching the animals in the barnyard, eating fresh-picked strawberries and grilled garlic scapes – this is the life!  Mr. Smiles is doing very well.  We are so happy to finally have good progress after a marathon of surgeries and surgeries to fix the surgeries.  This last one seemed to really work well and he is stable and recovering.  He needs another one in about a month to finalize everything.

Plague of Mice

The mouse plague continues.  We found that the bucket traps work great – they just take a week or so to get going.  it seems the more mice run up to it, the more others are enticed to go too.  So we have increased to 4 bucket traps, plus all the snap traps we had before.  We caught 30 mice in one night this week, and we caught 12 mice in one bucket!  We continue to get at least 10 a night, usually more.  Maybe with all these bucket traps, that have an unlimited catch amount, we can finally get ahead of the reproductive curve, because it still feels like they are reproducing faster than we can eradicate them.

Gardens

The mice have been feasting on our strawberries, as expected, but now that we have a bucket trap in that garden we have been able to harvest some for ourselves.

We also had a really nasty hail storm.  We were home, and thus able to throw some sheets over certain parts of the garden to prevent damage.  But the rhubarb, comfrey, and some of the squash and pepper plants did not get sheeted and they were pretty torn up by the hail.  They are still alive and should still produce.

We have been enjoying grilled garlic scapes for a couple weeks now.  A garlic scape is the flower shoot it sends up in the middle of its leaves.  Once the shoot curls, we cut it off.

Then we chop them into about 1-inch pieces and toss them in olive oil and salt.  Then we put them in the oven on broil until tender.

YUM!  A delicious snack or side dish.

Patching WOWs

We have been using Wall-o-Waters for about 15 years now to garden in our short-season, cold climate.  They extend our spring season by about a month, which is very important since we only have a 10-week growing season.

Over time, the plastic breaks down from the sun exposure, and they get holes chewed in them, or torn, or they just overall wear out.  We have found an easy way to patch them and get more life out of them.  If we have one that has several tubes that have holes we cut it apart into each separate tube.

You have to be careful when doing this to be sure not to accidentally cut into one side or the other.  Then we throw out the ones with holes in them and use the good ones to patch other WOWs that need patching.  We just slide the patch tube that we cut up down into the tube that has a hole, and fill the inserted tube with water.  In this photo I used a green patch tube in a red WOW so you can see it better.

So this week we patched several of our WOWs with the one I cut apart.

Sheep

Sheep have been the main topic of discussion around here lately.  The dairy sheep are Sunshine’s project, and Mtn Man and I are all about all the sheep, dairy or wool.  So the three of us have been going round and round about which ewes to keep and which to sell.  We had a plan before, but Maggie not lambing kind of changed up that plan.  In addition, we have an opportunity to buy a Wensleydale ewe that we are pondering.  So there has been a lot of discussion and planning in that department.

We made our first sheep milk ice-cream of the season this week.  It was SO good!!!

Goats

Pansy continued to waste away this week.  She was skin and bones.  The vet ran out of ideas and treatments.  We tried everything and anything and tested her for a bunch of things too.  Having the other goat here seemed to help somewhat, but not completely.  As we have been going through this I have continually been saying, “maybe it is nutritional.”  But I ran our feeding practices and mineral supplementation past both the vet and the goat breeder and they said it looked good.  We felt it looked good too.  But the nagging in the back of my head kept saying it was some sort of vitamin/mineral issue.  But I was at the pediatric hospital for most of Pansy’s sickness and thus had a lot of other things on my mind.

So, early last week, after we were home from the hospital, and after we had run out of all our other options and treatments – as we were still watching her waste away – we decided to order a powdered goat mineral supplement from Caprine Supply to sprinkle directly on her grain each day.

Because we keep sheep and goats, we have to be careful about the minerals they share because they do not have the same needs and sheep can be killed by copper toxicity if they eat minerals intended for goats, and goats can get deficiencies if kept on minerals intended for sheep.  Thus far, to manage this, we have used a multi-purpose mineral block for the sheep and goats to share, and we have supplemented the goat with extra copper through the use of boluses.  But Little Miss read somewhere that some goats don’t do well on mineral blocks and do better with loose minerals.  So, as a last last last ditch effort to save sweet Pansy, we decided to try loose minerals, specifically formulated for goats, that we would put on her grain each day.

When they arrived it was midday, so Little Miss decided to take one daily dose (1/2 ounce) out and see if she wanted it.  She gobbled it down like candy to a child.  That evening, at milking, we went ahead and gave her another daily dose on her grain while she was being milked.  The mineral was listed as being able to be used free-choice as well, but since we couldn’t give it to her free-choice due to the sheep we figured that doing more than they recommend for a daily dose wouldn’t hurt her if she chose to eat it.  She gobbled that dose down too.  The next morning we again did a full daily dose at morning milking, which she again gobbled down.  When we let her out for breakfast we were surprised by her behavior.  During her illness she has barely been eating and has been lethargic and depressed.  She had not been bullying the sheep during feeding like she usually does.  That morning, less than 24 hours after the first dose of minerals, she went right to the feeder and started pushing everyone around so she could eat.  All day long, we kept seeing her eating and nibbling on food wherever she could find it.  And in the afternoon we found her down in the lower barnyard with Inigo (the wether) sniffing around and “exploring” – again something she hasn’t done since she got sick.  We continued to offer her the minerals and she continued to eat them.  The next day, just 48 hours after we started the minerals, we saw her having a “battle” for alpha position with the matriarch sheep, Fiona.  It lasted 10 minutes!  They hadn’t “battled” since Pansy got sick.  It was amazing how perky and energetic she was!

We have continued offering the minerals and she has backed off somewhat on how much of them she eats each time.  But her health has continued to improve.  She has visibly gained weight – in less than a week.  She is acting like her usual self – eating, pushing the sheep around, making sure everyone knows she is boss (second to Fiona – LOL).  She seems fine now!

We are all SO relieved that she is better.  Early last week we really did not think she was going to make it.  But now she is doing great.  We don’t know what it was exactly…did all the other treatments finally kick in?  Did her body finally win against whatever was going on?  Was it the new goat friend?  Or was it the minerals?  I tend to think it was the minerals all along – that she was having a nutritional imbalance for some reason.  It could explain everything we have been struggling with her this spring – the ring womb, the lice, the lack of shedding her coat, the depression and lack of appetite…all of it can have nutritional origins.

Needless to say, we will be keeping her, and any goat we have, on these loose goat minerals from now on.  We are feeding them while she is in the stanchion being milked, and to keep the sheep safe, we have decided that one stanchion is only for goats and the other one is for sheep.

SO SO SO happy to have our Pansy back again!

Livestock Shuffle

This week will start a few weeks of shuffling around livestock.  We are trying to get all our weaning, selling, buying, and trading of sheep and goats done in the next few weeks before Mr. Smiles’ next surgery.  It will make life more streamlined and it will reduce the stress on all the livestock to a shorter period of time than doing it sporadically here and there over the next few months.  But it also means a lot of busy-ness going on for a little while.  I will keep you posted as we change up the flerd.

 

Using Dansha Farms Milk Machine to Milk Sheep – Part 2

You can read Part 1 by clicking here.

Back in April, when our first milk sheep, Autumn, lambed, we purchased the Dansha Farms Brute Milk Machine to use on our flock.  When we first started using it I posted Part 1, and now that we have been using it for a few months and have used it on 3 different sheep, I would like to follow up and let you know how we feel about it now.

Milk sheep udders are generally not ideal for hand-milking.  The teats are very small and they are placed on the side of the udder just barely in front of the back leg.  Some sheep have udders that are easier to hand milk, and some have ones that are harder.  We have tried both hand-milking, and machine-milking with the Brute on all three of our milk sheep this year.

The Dansha Farms Brute Milk Machine has several parts.  The teat cups are syringes and come in two sizes – the smaller size fits sheep well.  A tube comes off each cup and runs down to a lid that fits any regular-mouth canning jar.  This is very convenient because, depending on the amount, time of year, and sheep you are milking, you can use a quart or a half-gallon jar.  A tube then comes out of that same lid and runs to the pump, which plugs into an outlet (there are battery-powered options if you don’t have electricity in your barn).  That is it – it is very simple and thus easy to take care of and clean.

We keep all of our milking supplies in a tote that makes it easy to bring them back and forth to the barn for cleaning.

To use the Brute milking machine we start with the same two steps that we always start with no matter whether we are hand-milking or machine milking: washing and stripping the udder.  We wash the udder thoroughly with a terrycloth rag and some water with a dish soap in it.  Then we strip the first few squirts from each teat into a mesh strip cup to check for signs of mastitis and to clean out the orifice.

Next, we position the teat cups onto the sheep and press the button to start the suction, this is the time when it is convenient to have more than two hands – although with some careful balancing, one person can do it alone.  It is also possible to just milk one side at a time with the machine.  We examine the teat cup placement to be sure it is good once the suction starts so the ewe doesn’t get sores.  As soon as the ewe lets down (the milk starts flowing), we turn the machine off.  This is a very important step – you can seriously injury your ewe if you keep the machine going too long.

Then we massage the udder as needed while the machine milks her.  If the flow starts to slow down we turn the machine on again for a few seconds to get it going again, and then turn it off again.  It is very simple.  Once we have gotten all we can with the machine, we careful break the suction to remove the teat cups (never just pull them off), and then we strip out the last little bit by hand to be sure it is all out.

It has worked well on all three sheep we have been using it on this year and makes milking cleaner and faster than by hand.

When we are done milking, we take our tote back to the house, disconnect the jars the machine milked into and strain and cool the milk.  Then we use a bottle brush to clean the syringe teat cups out, and then use the clean syringes to squirt soapy water, and then clean rinse water through the tubes.  We use a sponge to gently clean off the lid and the outsides of the tubes with soapy water, then rinse it all and set it all out to air dry.  It is very quick and easy.

We continue to be very happy with our Dansha Farms Brute milk machine.  It works great on the sheep, is easy to maintain and clean, and was a reasonable price.  We definitely recommend it for any homesteader with a few milk sheep (or goats) that would like to use a machine for milking.

Sunday Homestead Update – Orf?

Orf?  To me, it sounds like I am asking a question in sea lion language.  But actually, Orf, also called sore mouth, is a virus that can be found in sheep and goats, and is transmittable to humans too.  We got a call this week that our new ram was potentially exposed to it for a day during his travels from Iowa to us.  The downfall of having such a small farm is that it is pretty much impossible for us to quarantine new animals coming to our farm.  Thus, we run the risk of dealing with contagious diseases.  Supposedly, orf is only spread when the animal has active sores, which the other ram did NOT have when MacDougal was with him.  MacDougal doesn’t have any active sores right now either.  The gestation of the virus is usually 7-10 days, but can be as long as 3 weeks.  We are currently 2 weeks out from the potential exposure.  So there is a very high likelihood our flock will not get it – and that is what we are desperately hoping for.  But until next week, we wont know for sure.  We are doing what we can to limit contact as much as possible between the rams and the rest of the flock, just in case, while we wait.

Gardens

The mice are eating our gardens like crazy.  As are the robins.  The robins have eaten all the bean and pea seeds we planted.  And the mice are eating pretty much every small seedling we put out, and every little sprout that tries to pop up.  This is despite all the traps set around the seedlings and sprouts…which are catching mice each night.  So the garden is a couple of weeks behind where it normally is.  Being behind might not matter a whole lot in a regular gardening situation, but when you only have a 10-week growing season frost-to-frost, being behind by a couple weeks is a problem.  We also have a frost coming this week, so we are planning out blanketing and will do what we can to not let it kill anything.  Welcome to gardening in the Rockies.

We have put up some bird netting to deal with the robin issue and re-planted the beans and peas.  We re-planted lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, and kale and put clear plastic cups over each one to hopefully let the seedling pop up and grow without getting eaten.  Obviously, they will outgrow the cups quickly, but this will hopefully give them a good start while we continue to battle the mouse wars.  No idea if it will work.  At this point, we are grasping to just try to get the seedlings going.

To continue our battle, we built a log-roll bucket trap to see if we could gain some ground on the mouse situation by catching more than just what our single use traps can handle.  But the bucket trap has yet to catch anything.  We are having a lot of sprung traps, and catching less mice each night lately.  We are hoping that doesn’t mean that our trapping has caused a natural selection and only the trap-smart mice are left and breeding.  LOL.

Ermine

In addition to the mouse issue, as well as the lice issue I talked about last week (see below for an update), we found a very concerning critter in the barn – an ermine.  Thanks to the cats, it was dead, and it is a very good thing because it could have killed all 14 of our chicks in one night, or potentially a full grown chicken or two.  Yes, they look tiny and cute, but they are savage predators and can kill a full-sized chicken!  And they definitely would enjoy dining on my little 4-week-old chicks.  Thank you barn kitties!  I am sure this guy put up quite a battle, and I am so glad the cats got him.

Chickens

Our broody hen, Eve, is hatching her eggs today.  We put 5 eggs under her, as well as 5 in the incubator to make up for loss.  Out of 10 eggs, 9 were fertile.  All were alive at lock-down on Thursday.  So it is looking to be a good hatch.  As the chicks in the incubator hatch out and strengthen, I will take them up and put them under Eve.  She can easily raise 9 chicks, even though she is too small to set on 9 full-sized eggs.

Goats & Sheep

We have continued with our natural oil herbal treatments on the goats for lice.  We are barely seeing any live lice anymore, maybe just one or two each day when we treat them.  We are continuing to treat them until we are past 22 days – the life cycle of the lice.

Marigold is supposedly due to lamb this week, but she is not showing any symptoms at all.  So we have decided that she didn’t take.  This means lambing season is officially over (and was over a month ago).

All the lambs (and the goat kid) are all doing very well; growing and playing like crazy.  The LGD is doing very well with them now, after our extra training sessions last week, and knows not to play with them.  We are getting plenty of milk each day from the sheep and goats and are really enjoying having it and making all our dairy products with it.

Family

We found out this week that our 4-year-old son, who has had 14 surgeries in his short life and faced many medical challenges, is yet again having liver issues.  After multiple smaller surgeries that were unsuccessful, he had a big surgery last fall that we were all very hopeful would fix his liver issues long-term.  At first it seemed like it had, but he is struggling again.  After an 8-month-long break (which we are so grateful to have experienced), we are back to the world of doctor’s appointments and testing while we figure out what is going on and plan the next steps.

Disease…pests, pests, and more pests…late frosts…it has been a challenging season so far.  But there is always something good to be found as well, as long as one is willing to look.  We are.

Meet the Newest Member of the Flock

The newest addition to our flock joined us from Iowa this week.  It is our new breeding ram!  He is still waiting for a name, see below to vote and help us choose.

He is a Bluefaced Leicester, born in February of this year.  BFL sheep are a long-wool breed known for having the softest wool among the long-wool breeds.  They are also known for their ability to create very nice cross-bred lambs, and were originally referred to as “the great improver” for this ability.  As you can see, they have a very distinct head shape that makes them very recognizable among the breeds.

We have processed fleece from his lines this year, and when we saw the quality, length, and softness we knew that this is where we wanted to obtain our next breeding ram.  His fleece should cross beautifully with Fiona’s and give us lambs with length but softness, just like our previous ram, Fergus, who was a “mule” with my very favorite fleece ever.  He will also cross nicely on the dairy ewes and give their lambs’ hardiness and a longer fleece length.  BFLs were used in the creation of the British Milk Sheep.  Since British Milk Sheep are not available in the US at this time, we figured we could do a little breeding of our own to work towards something similar.

Our plan for our milk sheep breeding program is to make hardier milk sheep that perform well in our cold climate, have a fleece that is good for machine-processed yarn, and still have good dairy qualities.  The first ewe lamb in our plan was born this year.  Nora is a cross between an East Friesan milk ewe and a BFL/CVM (“mule”) wool ram.  When she lambs next year and we are able to milk her, we will be able to see if we lost the milk qualities in the cross.  We can already tell that we gained good wool qualities in the cross, though until her fleece is processed next year we wont know for sure how good.  This fall, we will be crossing this BFL ram over the milk ewes as another step in the process, to create more lambs like Nora.  Plus, we know that a nice BFL ram crosses beautifully with our CVM/Merino wool ewe, Fiona, and makes lambs with really great yarn fleece.  So he will be a benefit to both our wool sheep breeding and our milk sheep breeding.  We are looking forward to seeing where this takes us.  Always an adventure!

We have a British Isles theme going with our breeding wool sheep names…Fiona, Fergus, Agnes, Duncan, Daphne, and Nora are some we have used over the years.  At this point we have narrowed it down to two options for this new ram: Macdougal (Doug for short) or Declan.  Please vote in the comments section and let us know which one you like best.

Sunday Homestead Update – Graduation and Mice

This was a big week for our family.  Our oldest son, Young Man, graduated high school this weekend.  We are very proud of him and his accomplishments.  He is a man of good character and I know he will do great things in his life.  He has been accepted to a University for this fall.  Even though his graduation didn’t look like we had planned, due to covid, it was still a fun and special time.

This is also a big milestone for Mtn Man and I, as this is our first child to graduate from homeschool.  We have homeschooled him all the way from kindergarten.  It is very cool to think back to when we decided to homeschool.  I remember being excited, but also somewhat concerned.  Now, here we are, and we can see clearly that all the concerns we had back when we started have proven to not be a problem, and in fact, everything turned out wonderfully.  We are so glad we chose this path for our family.

Our area in the Rockies is having quite a mouse infestation this spring.  Everyone we have talked to is having the same issues we are – mice, mice, and more mice.  We have two barn cats, and one indoor cat.  They have in the past had no trouble keeping our mouse problem non-existent and we usually only need one trap in the garage and a couple other areas they can’t get to, just in case, though it rarely catches much.  Not this year!  And it is not for a lack of trying either.  The indoor cat has left us little “presents” – as cats tend to do – of tails in the morning on the floor in the center of the kitchen (ick!!!).  And the kids have spotted the barn cats with mice in their mouths, and found plenty of evidence of them as they leave their parts in the alley between the barn and the mill.  One day, the kids saw one of the barn cats with three mice in his mouth at one time!  So the cats are working on it.  But there are just too many.

A few weeks ago, when we started to notice the problem, we set a bunch of traps in all the outbuildings and the garage where the cats can’t go, plus some in the gardens.  We have 16 traps set and we check them each morning.  We have been catching 8-11 mice every single day!  We have caught 2 and 3 mice in one trap at a time several times.  It is kind of freaking me out how many there are.  Then we heard them in the attic, so we set 5 traps up there and caught 12 mice over 3 days time.  We were still hearing them, so we closed the barn cats up there for one night and that took care of that.  Because we have been catching so many, and because the mice have been eating the seedlings in the lower garden, we bought another 15 traps and set them.  The first morning after setting all the new ones in addition to the others, we had caught 19 mice!  Needless to say, we are up to our ears in mice here right now.  I am anxious to “flatten the curve,” so to speak, of the mice plague and hope we see that difference soon.

Additionally, we are overrun with tiny sprouting pine trees in the gardens.  They are everywhere, and we are fine with them being everywhere – except the gardens.  Last fall, when the seeds were falling, we could see that it was a BIG pine seed year.  They coated every surface and we could hear them popping out of the cones.  We had a constant gentle falling of pine seeds with their little wings to bring them down and spread them far and wide.  Well, they really like the garden soil, so we are pulling up hundreds of them each day out of the gardens as they sprout.

Gardens

The gardens are continuing to progress along – except where the mice are eating them.  We are still getting some frosts at night, so we are watching closely and blanketing as needed.

The gooseberry bushes are covered with flowers, as is the Crandall Clove Currant.  It is looking to be a big year for berries here.  I love the Crandall flowers because they smell like clove, so there is a little cloud of clove smell whenever you walk by them.

Barnyard

The babies are all growing and changing.  Nora’s tail fell off, and Misty’s is looking very close.

Nora is the sweetest, friendliest little sheep we have ever had.  She comes to us for petting like a dog and follows us around in the barnyard.  I can’t take a photo unless I am petting her because she wont stay far enough back from me.  Such a sweetie – which is great because we are keeping her for our breeding program.

Maggie is due in 2.5 weeks.  She is starting to get some roundness to her belly, but nothing major.  Hopefully a nice, normal-sized single lamb for this first-time mom.

Pallet Walkway

5 years ago we put in this walkway, built completely of pallet wood.  You can read about it and see photos by clicking here.  And you can read a year later update on it by clicking here.

Over the last 5 years it has grayed a lot, but is still holding up very well, except in one spot.  There is one spot on the north side of the building, where water and snow just kind of sit on the walkway and it doesn’t dry out very fast.  This section had several boards break in it this last year.  So Mtn Man tore out the broken sections and replaced it with fresh pallet wood.  A free fix!

We continue to be very happy with this free walkway, it has worked great for our yard and held up very nicely.  We would like to sand it and put sealant on it again one of these days, but even without that work, it is doing very well.

Kitchen

The milk keeps flowing – both sheep and goat.  This week we made yogurt, goat’s milk mozzarella, and stirred-curd cheddar with sheep’s milk.  Fun, fun!