Sunday Homestead Update – Snowy Spring

It has been awhile since I took a break from blogging…so what have we been up to?

Our 5-year-old son had another ER visit, hospitalization, and surgery (his 24th). It continues to be a hard road with his medical issues. This round came on fast and strong and was pretty scary. But he is doing better now and we are thankful for that and hopeful to have a nice long break from the pediatric hospital.

We have had a wet, snowy spring. We had one big spring snow that buried us for a few days.  We played board games and stayed in our pjs, as well as bundling up to play outside and dig paths for the livestock to make it to the water trough.  And then we have had several weeks where we had snow off and on for days. The moisture is good, especially after last year’s bad fire season.

The big snow we had was deep and didn’t even begin to melt for over a week. During that time the predators started getting desperate and we had a mountain lion and a bobcat both looking to eat our livestock in broad daylight on two different days. Between our Livestock Guardian Dog and us humans we were able to keep them away and nothing bad happened.

Sheep

We got all the sheep sheared and are starting to process all the wool into roving and yarn in the mill.

Daisy’s twin lambs have thrived and grown so much! They are doing very well.

We have not been milking Daisy due to things going on in our life that are keeping us too busy right now. We might start milking her after the goat has her kids in the next few weeks since we will be milking the goat anyway. The rest of the ewes are due to lamb at the end of May and into June.

Goat

Belle is due to kid this week. She is looking very wide and we are expecting twins. It will be nice to have fresh goat’s milk again, not to mention the adorable kids bouncing around!

Chickens

We had a very cool visitor to the chicken pen the other night. It was a windy night and we didn’t latch the exterior pen (the chickens were all closed into the coop). The door must have blown open, allowing the visitor entrance, and then blown closed, trapping the visitor inside. When we came out in the morning we were pretty excited to get a close-up view of this beautiful Northern Saw-Whet owl. It was so tiny and seeing it from a few feet away was amazing! We looked at him/her and took photos for a couple of minutes and then opened the door. He/she flew off with no issues, glad to be free again.

Garden

In between snow storms we have prepared the garden soil and laid out drip lines for this year. We have also started seeds indoors and they are all sprouting like crazy. Hard to believe another garden season is starting soon – especially with all this snow.

Heritage Arts

I finished the sweater I was making for Mtn Man. We both love how it turned out and he has been enjoying wearing it through this snowy spring! I used yarn he made from a fleece from our ram, Fergus. It was a 4-ply worsted weight from his 2018 fleece.

This was my first time using my newly purchased book “The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Top-Down Sweaters” by Ann Budd. I have many of her books and love them all and this one did not disappoint. It is already one of my favorites and I know I will use it over and over again for years to come. I love the books she has written that make it so you can use any yarn and make any size because they have charts for all different gauges and sizes. Perfect for a family of 7 that I love to knit items for. And perfect for all the different gauges of yarn we make from our sheep fleece.

Writing

I have done some more writing for Mother Earth News and will share links and info as it becomes available. Watch for my article in the June/July print issue “Ask the Experts” column!

2020 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 son’s serious medical issues.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.  I used to do excellent record-keeping, but as each year has been harder and harder with Mr. Smiles, each year has thus been harder and harder to do good record keeping.  I am amazed I kept records at all this year!  But here’s what we have.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 21 hens, 3 pullets, 3 cockerels (almost ready for butcher), and 1 rooster.  Plus 23 eggs in the incubator.
  • Did 1 incubation with 23 eggs.  22 were fertile, 10 chicks hatched and 10 survived.
  • Broody hen set 12 eggs, bad fertility (only 5 fertile), 3 hatched, we added 10 from the store and she accepted them, 5 from the store and 1 of hers died in the first few days, 7 survived.  Got 5 more from the store and put them under her. 4 of those survived.  So a total of 11 surviving chicks.
  • Purchased 16 more chicks to have shipped.  14 survived.
  • 2 more broody hens set, one set 10 eggs, 7 hatched and survived, the other set 14 eggs, 4 hatched, 4 survived.
  • We purchased 10 chicks and our best broody hen adopted them and raised them.  9 survived.
  • At the height of the season we had 25 adult chickens and 40 chicks –  total 65
  • Butchered 24 cockerels, 13 old hens, 1 rooster
  • Did not sell any chickens this year, but gave away 3 as a gift
  • 1 hen died of unknown causes
  • Ended year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Approximately 4,180 eggs laid (348 dozen)

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 4.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the fire evacuations.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 1 wool ewe, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram
  • 4 ewes got pregnant, due in April & May
  • 1 ram lamb and 3 ewe lambs born, all survived
  • 72 gal of milk produced
  • 2 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of 8 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • 5 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of 10.1 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • Total of 8,525 yds of various sizes and types of yarn made from all the fleece. Plus 3/4 lb of roving.
  • Sold 2 ewes and 2 ewe lambs
  • Purchased 1 BFL ram lamb, 1 Wensleydale ewe, and 1 Bond ewe (all wool breeds)
  • 1 wool ewe died unexpectedly
  • Butchered 1 ram and 1 ram lamb
  • Bred them in two separate groups, one group in September, and one group in October-December.  2 September ewes confirmed pregnant due in Feb.
  • Realized our new BFL ram was unable to breed the flock successfully Oct-Dec, quickly purchased a new Bond ram end of December and put him with the girls, hoping to get the last 3 pregnant.
  • Finished year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams

Goats:

  • Started the year with 1 Nubian doe, Pansy.  Pregnant and due to kid in April.
  • 1 doeling born, died at a couple weeks of age.
  • Pansy struggled for several months with undefinable illness.  The vet, breeder, and we tried everything to figure out what it was and tried treating for any possible thing.  The illness decreased her milk production and we ended up having to dry her off in October.
  • Due to Pansy’s struggles and drop in milk production, we added another Nubian doe to our farm in July, named Belle.
  • 75 gal of milk produced.
  • Rebred 2 does in Nov/Dec.
  • 2 does pregnant and due to kid in April.

Ducks:

  • Started the year without ducks.  Added them to the farm in July – our first ever ducks!
  • Started with 2 drakes and 2 hens
  • 1 hen set 12 fertile eggs, 5 hatched, 4 survived, all drakes
  • Butchered 5 drakes and 1 hen
  • Finished year with 1 drake and 1 hen

Garden (didn’t keep good garden records this year, but…)

  • Over 250 lbs of produce harvested
  • More seeds saved than ever before

Heritage Arts:

  • Completed knit projects: 6 hats, 2 pairs of mittens, 2 pairs of socks, 1 gator, 1 poncho, and 1 dress.
  • Completed sewing projects: 4 dresses, 5 skirts, 8 pajama pants, 3 nightgowns.  Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.
  • We made 12 tins, 3 half-pints, and 1 pint of herbal salve.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, green beans, and tomatoes.  Plus grape jelly.
  • Prepped and froze carrots and celery.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, and squash.
  • Made 68 lbs 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 cold and dry most of the month.  We hatched out 10 chicks in the incubator, hoping to line the hatching up with chicks coming in the mail so they could brood together.  Unfortunately, the hatchery made a mistake and printed our shipping page but never shipped us the chicks.  So we decided to just raise the 10 we had hatched ourselves.  We pulled our first ever aged cheese out of the cheese cave and tried it.  It was Colby and we all liked it.  One of our younger ewes surprised us by getting bred late, bringing our total of pregnant sheep up to 5.

February made up for January’s lack of snow by snowing every few days and dropping into the negative temperatures.  We worked on indoor projects a lot, and Mtn Man finished his first-ever rectangular braided rug made from llama and alpaca fiber.  We took photos of our chicks each week as they grew and changed.  We got ourselves organized and planned out the gardens and planting schedule for the year, as well as all the livestock birthings and things we needed to prepare for related to that.  Since we kept more sheep than we originally planned to when we put up hay last summer, we had to buy some more and get it put away in the loft.

March started exactly the opposite of February, with a week of warm, dry, sunny weather.  We spent a lot of time outdoors, working on finishing the new vegetable garden in time for planting.  We got the lambing/kidding kit and vet kit re-supplied and ready for lambing season.  And we also finished the wooden barnyard fence.  Coronavirus spread over the world and we were isolated from socializing.  We were largely unaffected, until Mtn Man ran out of work in the mill and had to take an essential construction job.  Our stirred-curd cheddar cheese reached 3 months of aging, so we were able to take it out of the cheese cave and try it.  It was delicious!  We put part of it back to age more so we could see the difference.  Our hen, Cinnamon, decided to set a brood of eggs for us.  We finished shearing all the sheep and began processing their fleece, and we got excited as we neared our first lambs due on the farm for the year.

In April our first dairy lamb was born without issues.  We started milking our first dairy sheep – Autumn, and quickly realized it would go better with a milking machine.  A lot of work was done on finishing up our new veggie garden area, and improving and building new fruit garden areas.  We made progress on Mr. Smiles’ new play area too.  We were all excited when I was invited to blog monthly for Mother Earth News.  Cinnamon’s hatch had terrible fertility, and we only ended up with 3 chicks, so we bought some at the store and gave them to her to raise with hers.  Many were weak from shipping stress and died, so we bought some more.  Our wool ewe, Fiona, had a single ram lamb, in an uneventful birth that we missed seeing despite our hourly checks.  The end of the month was exhausting as we were up to the barn every two hours through the night awaiting the goats and lambs that were due to be born.  Daisy, a first-time-mom ewe, had a traumatic birth with a very stuck large single baby in her small inexperienced pelvis.  We were able to save both the ewe and lamb, but then Daisy rejected the lamb.  After working with her for a day, we decided to give up and bottle feed it.  Once they were separated and the other ewes came to visit the baby, Daisy suddenly decided she wanted to mother the lamb.  We were very relieved and did not need to bottle feed after all.

In May our stay-at-home orders were lifted, and the hospitals started performing surgeries again.  This meant that Mr. Smiles could now get the surgery he was supposed to have back in March, but it also meant that we would be gone to the Children’s Hospital during the height of our lambing/kidding season.  Thankfully, no one birthed while we were gone.  We continued to be exhausted from our nightly barn checks as Pansy the goat went well past her due date, whereas both our first-time-mom-ewes went earlier than their due dates.  Daisy was due in May, but had hers in April.  Blue went 4 days early, the day before Mr. Smiles’ surgery.  Thankfully, Blue’s birth was uneventful and we missed it despite hourly checks on her.  Finally, 9 days past her due date, Pansy gave birth.  She had ring-womb and it made for a traumatic delivery, but both mother and baby survived.  We were finally past our birthing season and could get some sleep – theoretically.  Our oldest son graduated from high school at the end of the month – our first child to graduate from homeschool.  His ceremony and party were canceled due to coronavirus, so we had a nice little celebration on our own.  And we added a new BFL ram to the flock.

June started with disease, pests, and late frosts.  It was a challenging month for sure.  Our youngest son had more trouble with his health, leading to 1 MRI under anesthesia, 4 more surgeries, 2 ER trips, and 9 days in the hospital.  Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the mice were reaching plague-like proportions, with us catching up to 35 per night in our traps, and the barn cats killing innumerable amounts, and yet they were still wreaking havoc in the gardens and barns.  We found out that our new BFL ram might have brought Orf to the entire flock, and anxiously waited the disease incubation period, hoping it wouldn’t prove to be true.  The goat and her doeling got lice, and we were busy treating them with a natural oil daily.  One of our hens hatched out 7 baby chicks, on the same day that the doeling very suddenly died of what was suspected to be enterotoxaemia.  We grew oh-so-weary with it all.  And then, during Mr. Smiles’ hospital stay and surgeries, Pansy became very ill.  We had the vet out multiple times, only to find no obvious cause and have no treatment we tried help.  As a last-ditch-effort, on our way home from the hospital we picked up a buckling to take home to see if it was emotional depression from the death of her doeling causing her physical illness.

In July we managed to avoid the pediatric hospital, but knew our time away was limited so we were super busy at the farm trying to deal with all the summer to-dos before we had to head back to Denver.  Pansy the goat was still sick for awhile, but eventually pulled through her mysterious health issue.  We traded the temporary buckling out for a new milk doe.  We weaned lambs, sold some sheep, and purchased a new breeding ram and ewe.  We also added ducks to the farm for the first time ever.  The mice and hail continued to plague the gardens, but some harvest began to come in as well.  With two goats, and the lambs not milk-sharing with us anymore, milk continued to flow in larger quantities than before, and thus we spent a lot of time making cheese and other dairy products.  We had to switch to a larger homemade refrigerator cheese cave, as the smaller one was full.  We also purchased two pigs and butchered them for our winter meat.  It was our first time ever butchering pigs as we usually have the butcher do the pigs for us but there was no butcher who could take them due to the pandemic.  It was a very busy and productive month on the homestead for sure.

August brought a lot of juggling of farm life and hospital life.  Mr. Smiles had 2 more surgeries, one scheduled and one unexpected.  Meanwhile we were trying to continue to process all the dairy products and harvest the garden.  We ate, canned, froze, pickled, fermented, and root cellared the produce as it was harvested.  We butchered some chickens, and one of our hens decided to set and hatch some chicks.  One of the new duck hens wanted to set too, so we bought some hatching eggs and put them under her.  As I continued to blog for Mother Earth News, I also had an article published in Chickens Magazine.  Our friends were evacuated due to a wildfire and their ducks and chickens came to live with us for what turned out to be several weeks.  It was kind of fun having a goose on the farm for a little while – we had never had one before and she was beautiful and fun.  We struggled with a couple of red-tailed hawks and a golden eagle who were hanging out trying to get an easy meal in our barnyard.  The chickens had to stay in their covered pen to keep them safe.

September was beautiful, except for the large amounts of smoke from the wildfires.  We worked hard harvesting and preserving the harvest from our gardens.  The pullets began laying, so we had some fun new egg colors and sizes.  We were able to can our produce, despite supply shortages, thanks to our reusable canning lids.  We got an early hard freeze along with three days of snow that surprised us and brought the garden harvest to an end quickly.  Thankfully, we got all the produce out in time.  The snow also helped suppress the wildfires, for a little while.  We tried a new breeding plan for the sheep on the farm, and bred three of the ewes during September, planning to breed the others in December to divide up our lambing season.  We also butchered the ram lamb.  The duck hen successfully hatched her ducklings and we really enjoyed the new adventure of that.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezers when Mtn Man and his father hunted elk.  Sadly, our matriarch ewe, the first ewe we ever purchased for the farm, died unexpectedly – it was heartbreaking and a very difficult loss.

October was full of fall productivity.  We worked at getting, splitting, and stacking firewood to heat the house for the winter.  We continued to work on cleaning up the gardens and putting up the seeds for next year.  We finished several heritage arts projects, and built new feed bins for the barn.  We butchered more chickens and a ram, plus a couple of ducks.  The freezers were filling up fast for winter!  We were excited to learn that one of my blog posts for Mother Earth News was chosen to be published in their e-newsletter.  The Cameron Peak wildfire moved closer and closer to us, putting us on edge and prepared for evacuation.  We had a mountain lion hang out around our property for a few days, which kept us on edge as well.  Two more wildfires started near us, and ash and smoke started making life complicated.  Then, in one days time, one of the fires grew over 100,000 acres and traveled 35 miles, closing in on our home.  We were evacuated, and had to quickly get 64 animals and 8 humans off our homestead.  We were so blessed to have friends, acquaintances, and strangers reach out to us and take in our animals and our family.  The animals were spread over 5 different farms.  After 5 days, our family was able to go home, but the fire loomed and threatened and we had to stay prepared for fast evacuation, so we did not bring the farm animals back for a few weeks.

As we headed into November we continued to watch the wildfires and wait for the OK to bring our livestock back to the farm.  We cleaned and prepared the barn, and worked on some heritage arts projects.  As the containment lines grew, we started bringing animals back.  First the sheep and LGD came home.  Then the poultry.  The goats were evacuated to the farm that they go to every November/December for breeding, so we left them there for the breeding season.  It felt great to have the animals back at the homestead!  Since the ram had to be with the ewes during the evacuation – thus starting our breeding season earlier than planned, we decided to just leave him with them and let them breed.  We added a new, Bond ewe named Matilda to the farm.  We also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning and cheesemaking.  We scrambled to get things done around the farm before winter really hit since the evacuation had put us behind on all our fall projects.  We were surprised to find out that our two hatches from September, one duck hatch and one chick hatch, that each had 4 babies survive, had all males.  Not exactly what we were planning, but more meat in the freezer.

December brought both very low temperatures (-10F) and unseasonably high temperatures (55F) to the farm.  We used the warm days to finish fixing some fences and the path out back, and spent the rest of the time cozy by the fire working on heritage arts projects for Christmas presents.  It was a pretty laid-back, low-key month and we all enjoyed the break and rest.  Then, in the last few days of the month, we realized that our new BFL ram was not getting the ewes pregnant.  We quickly purchased a new ram, a Bond, and put him with the girls, hoping we could get the last 3 ewes pregnant before their breeding cycles stopped for the season.

 

It is good to look back, but can also be hard to look back as well.  I remember that in last year’s homestead review I said that it was by far the hardest year in our lives.  Good thing I didn’t know what was to come.  This year has by far been the most challenging year of our lives.  We had so many losses in our personal lives and on our homestead.  At the homestead we battled the weather, pests, birthing complications, and illnesses in the livestock.  Our youngest son had 8 more surgeries this year, along with many hospitalizations, ER visits, and doctor’s appointments.  His last surgery was his 23rd in his 5 years of life.  It was definitely challenging.  Through it all we continue to focus on our many blessings and trust in God as He carries us through the ups and downs.

2020 Willow Creek Farm Yarn – Milk Sheep Flock

You can read about the yarn we made this year from our wool-bred sheep by clicking here.

This was somewhat of an experimental year for fiber processing for our sheep this year.  With the addition of 5 milk sheep last fall, we were unsure what to expect from their fleece.  So this shearing and processing we are just “playing” with the new fiber to figure out what it is like and what it should become.  Our goal was to make each fleece into yarn, unless for some reason it couldn’t be or shouldn’t be.  Then we could determine if it made a nice yarn or was more suited to roving for rugs next year.

All the fleece were heavy on the vegetable matter (VM) because they were not jacketed until they came to us last fall.  So they had half a year’s growth without a jacket.  We expect next year to be a lot cleaner.  In addition, our 15-year-old daughter, Sunshine, wanted to learn how to shear this year.  So we let her shear the three smallest sheep.  This led to uneven shearing and fleece, which leads to uneven yarn with flubs.  We are fine with that because we want her to have the opportunity to learn, and since this was just an experimental year anyway, with a lot of VM, we are not expecting to get high-quality product from the dairy fleece this year anyway.  We also had a higher than average percentage of loss on the fiber, due to the second cuts (shearing) and the VM.

Autumn

Autumn is a 2-year-old East Friesian/Lacuane with a dark brown fleece.  Her tips were very sun-bleached this year because she wasn’t jacketed before we got her, so her finished yarn was a lighter shade of brown that it would be if it wasn’t bleached.  This year her fleece weighed in at 1.5 lbs and had a staple length of 3.5 inches.  It was more curl than crimp, but still had good memory to it.  Memory in a fleece means it “bounces back” to it’s original position well, as-in it is firmer hold, not floppy.  Her yarn reflected that.

Her fleece produced 12 ounces of 3-ply DK-weight (10 wpi) yarn.  There is 375 yards of it, in two skeins.  The yarn has a lot of memory, and is surprisingly soft.  There is a tiny bit of itch-factor, but not enough to make it not work as a hat.  It is a beautiful shade of dark brown.

Mtn Man loved this yarn and wanted me to make him a simple, ribbed hat with it.  The hat turned out very nice and he absolutely loves it and wears it often.

Daisy

Daisy is a white, yearling East Friesian/Lacaune.  Her fleece this year weighed in at 2.1 lbs raw, and had a staple length of 3.5 inches.  It was very lofty and had a very squishy feel.  It was VERY dense, and had a pretty organized crimp.  We found it to be surprisingly soft as a raw fleece, which did not turn out to be true with the yarn.

Her yarn was, in fact, very itchy.  To the point that it will be used as rug yarn.  The yarn it made was also very uneven, with a lot of flubs – this is because Sunshine sheared Daisy as her first-ever shearing experience.  So the fleece had drastically different lengths to the fiber throughout due to uneven shearing.  This causes uneven yarn and flubs.

The fleece produced 25 ounces of 3-ply DK-weight (12 wpi) yarn.  We ended up with 900 yards.

Blue

Blue is a yearling East Friesian/Cotswold with a white fleece.  Her raw fleece was 1.9 lbs and had a 4.25 inch staple length.  It had more curl than crimp, and was soft with a mild sheen, reminiscent of BFL wool.

Blue’s fleece produced 19 ounces of 3-ply fingering-weight (17 wpi) yarn.  We got 1000 yards from it.  We were very happy with the yarn, it is soft with no itchiness.  It has a slight sheen to it, and is floppy with very little memory.

It did run unevenly, due to Sunshine shearing Blue as well.  It did not let go of the vegetable matter very well either, and it will have to be picked out as I knit with it.  But both of those issues can be avoided next year by having a better shearing, and being jacketed all year to help prevent VM.  This fleece puts Blue in an important position for our breeding program, as we are trying to have sheep that milk well but also produce a nice fleece.

Maggie

Maggie is a yearling East Friesian/Cotswold mix with a dark brown fleece.  She is Blue’s twin sister, though their fleece are very different.  She had a very nice fleece this year that we were very excited about processing.  It was the heaviest of the dairy ewe fleeces, at 2.2 lbs raw, despite her being the smallest sheep in the flock.  Her staple length was also the longest at 5.25 inches.  Her fleece was very dense and soft, with a very organized, wavy crimp.  It was by far the nicest of the dairy sheep fleece, and could be in the category of a wool-bred sheep fleece.  The problem came when we realized it had a break in it.  You can learn about what a break is by clicking here.

To deal with the break and attempt to salvage the fleece, Mtn Man decided to hand break it and use the longer parts for yarn, and the shorter ones for roving.  It worked beautifully!

The longer part of the break produced 16.7 ounces of a 3-ply fingering-weight (16 wpi) yarn.  We got 750 yards from it.  The yarn is very soft, no itch-factor, and has good memory.  I am so excited to use this beautiful chocolate brown yarn to knit up something wonderful.  I am thinking a sweater or hoodie for Mr. Smiles.

The shorter parts of the fleece gave us 3/4 lb of roving that we will use for rug braiding.

Overall, Maggie’s fleece was excellent and we are very happy with the results.  Between the nice length and the softness, her fleece is exactly what we are breeding for here at WCF.  She will be an important part of our breeding program in our attempts to have sheep that have nice fleece as well as being good dairy producers and hardy for the high-altitude climate.

Remi

Remi is a yearling East Friesian/Lacaune ram with a white fleece.  His fleece weighed 2.4 lbs raw, and had a staple length of 4.25 inches.  At first look, Remi’s fleece was more of what we were expecting the dairy fleece to be like:  kind of mediocre for wool, with not much crimp and not soft.  It was dense, but that was about all we thought it had going for it….until we started processing it.

Upon washing, it suddenly had quite a lot of crimp and felt very soft.  Strange, we have never had that happen before.  Did we not examine it well enough beforehand?  When it got through the machines to roving, we had a beautiful, very soft roving.  I was so excited to see it spun up.

Remi’s fleece gave us 26.9 ounces of 3-ply sport-weight (14 wpi) yarn.  There are 1,175 yards and Mtn Man blended it with bamboo, so it is 85% wool 15% bamboo.  The bamboo was pre-dyed navy blue, and when mixed with the white it is a nice speckled color.

 

Overall, it was a very good learning year for the milk sheep fleece.  I have a ton of yarn that I need to start using, and we know better what to expect from their fleece.  This will also help us in our decision-making as we are trying to selectively breed our milk sheep to have both nice fleece and good milk production.

That finishes our yarn production from our flock for 2020.  Overall, we ended up with 7,025 yards of all different colors and weights of yarn from our wool and milk sheep.  I better get knitting!

2020 Willow Creek Farm Yarn – Wool Sheep Flock

This was a different year for us as far as fleece and fiber processing goes.  Last summer and fall we sold most of our wool sheep and added several dairy sheep to the flock.  Leaving us with only 2 wool sheep fleece this year.  They are sheep we have had a long time, Fiona and Fergus, and thus we are very familiar with their fleece and what we like to do with them.

Fergus

Fergus was a 3-year-old CVM/Merino x BFL ram.  He has always had my favorite fleece of our flock each year.  Since we had to cull him back in December, this was our last fleece from him.  It was shorter than usual, since he didn’t have a full year’s growth.  But it was just as wonderful as it always is.  It weighed in at 3.9 lbs raw.

Since this was our last year with Fergus’ fleece, Mtn Man decided to try something different with the processing.  Fergus had quite a range of grey color, from very light, to medium, to very dark.

So Mtn Man separated the light section from the darker sections and ran them separately.  Then he put them together at the pin drafter.  This made for a more heathered appearance to the yarn, instead of his usual medium-grey.  He also mixed in bamboo at the pin drafter, which is my favorite thing to do with Fergus fleece.  The bamboo adds strength, and just a tad of color, and makes for excellent, warm socks, which is mainly what I think I will do with this yarn.

His fleece produced 62.4 oz of 3-ply, DK-weight (11 wpi) yarn.  The yarn is 15% bamboo, which was pre-dyed a forest green.  There are 1,250 yards of it.  The yarn feels great.  It has loft and memory and is soft enough to be used against the skin.  It was very difficult to get a photo that showed the true color and heathering of the yarn.  But the bamboo fiber that was blended in was a dark forest green.  So it is a dark, heathered grey with a touch of the dark forest green.  I am very happy with it and looking forward to making it into some wonderful knit items for my family.

Fiona

Fiona was our first-ever sheep at Willow Creek Farm, and she is the flock matriarch.  She is 7 years old, and this was the first year we began to see her age in her fleece.  Generally between 6-8 years old the fleece quality begins to go downhill.  Fiona had less crimp than usual, but her fleece was still very soft and wonderful, with a nice crimp and some light luster.  It weighed in at 4.1 lbs and had a nice, long staple length.

Fiona’s fleece never runs evenly when machine-processed.  I don’t know what it is about it, probably how very fine it is, but it never runs even.  So I have learned to embrace it as somewhat of a novelty yarn each year.  Mtn Man added in 15% bamboo on her fleece this year, in a pre-dyed turqouise, so the yarn is speckled with color.  I am really enjoying the bamboo/wool blend yarns and was very happy with this decision.

There is 37.5 oz and 1,575 yards of 3-ply sport-weight (13 wpi) yarn.  The yarn is very soft and squishy, with a pretty good amount of memory.  I am trying to decide what to do with it.  It matches nicely with a purple bamboo blend Fiona yarn that I have from a few years ago.  I only have a little of that one left, but think maybe the two would look nice together.  With all the year’s fleece done into yarn now, I have a lot of knitting projects ahead of me!

I will share our milk sheep yarn for the year in the next post.

Sunday Homestead Update

We had a cold, wet week of snow and rain.  It is looking to be warmer this week, which we are looking forward to.  There is so much to get done outside, it is hard to be held back by weather and watch the to-do list pile up.

Garden

We got a bunch of snow this week, so our garden plans were pushed back a bit.  Hopefully we will be able to get the seedlings out this week on a sunny day under their tents and wall-o-waters for protection.  We got the wall-o-waters full and they are waiting for the plants to be ready.  I am putting the plants out a little bit each day to harden them off.  They should be ready by mid-week to move if the weather holds.

Chickens

The search for the thin-shelled egg layer (which is causing egg eating because it breaks) continues.  We have narrowed it down to 3 birds and are working at figuring out exactly who it is.  Of course, two of those three are my favorite birds – why is that always the case?  Sigh.  During the process we also figured out which hen is pecking at everyone’s backs and balding them, and which hens are eating the thin-shelled eggs.  Once we have all the information we will decide what to do next.

Knitting

I haven’t wanted to work on anything special lately, just mindless knitting with quick results.  So I have continued on the mitered squares for the scrap afghan.  Here are the 15 from last week.  I have 5 more done now as well.

School

We are almost done with our school year, which is fun and exciting.  I have been working on some plans for next school year.  It is nice to get preliminary planning done now, while the successes and failures of this year are fresh, so that I can remember the changes I want to make.  Then a couple weeks before we start again I will pull out the plans I made and do the final prep and planning.  I have also solidified our summer plans.  We do much better when we keep somewhat of a routine in summer, but with more free time and flexibility.  If we have no plan and no routine we all end up bored and grouchy.  So I have that ready for the summer and we are all looking forward to it.

Willow Creek Fiber Mill

The mill has really taken off the last few weeks and we have gone from a 6-week wait time to a 6-month wait time.  The fiber is pouring in like crazy and it is very fun and exciting.  We sorted through over 100 bags of fleece that arrived this weekend and did all the intake paperwork for them and put them up.

And the beautiful yarn pouring out is even more fun and exciting.  I love seeing what Mtn Man creates and all the different yarns.  Each fleece is truly unique and thus so is each batch of yarn.

Mtn Man only has a few weeks left running multiple businesses and then we will be living our dream of him milling full time!  What a blessing!