Sunday Homestead Update

There is never a dull moment around our little farm.  Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways.  We had an adventure with some Golden Eagles this week that ended badly.

Thursday our Anatolian Shepherd LGD, Anya, was barking like crazy.  Her, this-is-serious-bark.  I ran out to see what was going on.  She was focused to the north of us and all the hair on her back was up.  I looked and watched and didn’t see anything.  Then I saw a very large bird fly through the forest.  I couldn’t see what it was because of the trees, but I could tell it was BIG.  Much bigger than the Red-tailed hawks we normally see around here.  I praised Anya and felt good that she was dealing so well with an aerial predator.

We have had problems with aerial predators before, specifically a Great-horned owl that over time killed 4 of our chickens.  This was back when we had our previous LGD, Tundra.  He was an excellent LGD, but he was getting old and slept a lot.  The owl would wait until he was asleep, then come down on a chicken, then Tundra would wake up and go after the owl.  The owl never got away with a bird, but they died anyway from the wounds from being hit by the owl.  We haven’t had any issues with aerial predators since Anya has been on guard.  She is very aware of them and young and always on the look-out.

Friday the kids brought me outside because they were seeing a large bird fighting with a Red-tailed hawk and they were hearing a lot of loud bird calls that were not familiar to them.  Throughout the day all of us got glimpses of the large bird but couldn’t figure out what it was.  And we heard the loud screeching all day.  Anya was on edge and barking a lot.  We kept a close eye on the barnyard and all seemed to be going well with Anya on duty.  When it would come near she would bark and all the chickens would run into the safety of their pen.

Mid-afternoon heat the activity in the sky calmed down and everything got quiet.  In the heat of the day the sheep, goat, and Anya all head into the barn to lay in the cool shade with the cross breeze blowing through.

What happened then wasn’t figured out until later in the day when we investigated everything, identified the large bird, and put all the pieces of the puzzle together in our heads.  From what we can tell, Anya was in the barn with the livestock and the chickens were in the barnyard scratching around.  A female Golden Eagle, with two fledglings to feed, waited for her opportunity patiently, and when Anya was in the barn she struck one of our Easter Eggers and started eating on it.  Anya figured out what was going on and came running out of the barn at the eagle, chasing it off.  Too late for the chicken, unfortunately.

The mom and the fledglings continue to hang out around our property, so we have kept the chickens closed in their pen until they move on to a new location.  And we are keeping our eyes on everything in the barnyard because although we don’t think she would go for a lamb, especially with the fact that Anya went after her, we are still being cautious.

I find it interesting that it was an Easter Egger, because last December when we lost a chicken to a bobcat, because Anya was in a different pen, it was an Easter Egger too.  We only have a couple in the flock of over 20 birds, so it seems too coincidental that they were both EEs that got killed.  I am guessing they don’t have as much predator instincts as the rest of the flock.  Especially because on Friday when the eagles were around we kept seeing the flock run into their pen throughout the day whenever they thought there was danger.  So I am guessing the EE didn’t run in when the rest of them did.

Putting Up Hay

Our property doesn’t have pasture, so we have to feed hay year-round.  Because hay is so seasonal in Colorado, and prices and availability change drastically based on the season, we try to fill the loft of the barn with all the hay we need for an entire year during the summer months.  We put up our first load this week.  We will probably be getting two more loads before the end of August.

Garden

Medicinal herbs can be hard to get going from seed.  This is our second year for the medicinal herb garden and things are starting to go pretty well.  We have two types of chamomile, one that we transplanted from the wild into the garden, and one that we planted.  Both are doing very well.  The yarrow is also starting to take off.  The lemon balm looks pretty good, and the echinacea are working on putting out some leaves.

Hopefully in a couple of years this is a beautifully full garden.

The celery harvest has started.

We also harvested our first 4 cabbages, for a total of 16 lbs.  We made cole slaw and started a big load of sauerkraut fermenting in the big crock.

I love fresh coleslaw in the summer!  And we will have plenty of sauerkraut for the fall and winter.

Cheesemaking

We made our first ever feta from our raw goat’s milk.  It turned out very yummy, except we over-salted it.  We are anxiously saving up milk to make another batch this week, without too much salt.

For the feta we needed a double boiler set up that could hold a gallon of milk.  Our double boiler isn’t even close to that big.  But Little Miss thought of this idea to use a big stainless steel bowl with butter knives on each side to suspend it a bit over the pot of boiling water.

Heritage Arts

I finished my Nightshift Shawl!  The pattern is by Andrea Mowry, and the yarn is Yakity Yak by Greenwood Fiberworks.  I am very happy with it.

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had some different things going on around here this week.  Not your run-of-the-mill SHU.  Except for these strawberries, from the strawberry patch.  🙂

Natural Weed Control

We have some driveway and stair areas that  have all sorts of grasses and weeds growing in them that we would like to keep clear.  We do not want to use herbicides on our property that could potentially be harmful to our animals and our edible plants.  Mtn Man told me about a recipe for weed spray that uses vinegar, dish soap, and salt.  So we bought a pump sprayer and I gave it a try.  It is working beautifully.  It has taken a couple applications, but we are definitely seeing results.

Wild Foraging

We enjoy learning about the edible wild plants that grow on our property so we spend a lot of time through the summer and fall with our favorite edible wild plants book, “Best-Tasting Wild Plants of Colorado and the Rockies,” by Cattail Bob Seebck, in our hands wandering the property and examining the plants we find.  Little Miss is especially interested in this aspect of our homestead.

Last week she and Mountain Man worked their way around the property and gathered us a salad for our dinner that was completely wild foraged.  It included Lamb’s Quarter, Saltbrush (my favorite), Tumble Mustard, Tansy Mustard, Mallow, and Squaw Paint.  They also found a bunch of chamomile that we are drying for tea this winter.  It was a very flavorful and delicious salad.

Wild Visitors

We found this little guy on our rock wall one day.

He was about 2.5 inches long.  The kids are now talking about building a bat house to encourage them to “hang” around our property since they eat bugs.

We have a family of coyotes denning about 200 yards from our barnyard.  Mama coyote picked that as a good place to raise a family.  We hear them multiple times each day and night as they yip and yap to each other.  Thankfully, a well-built fence and Anya, the LGD, make it so it doesn’t have to be a concern to us for our livestock.  Whenever they get to yipping Anya likes to throw in her deep throated bark and remind them she is big and she is still here and still on guard.  Thankfully, they have not chosen to come by the barnyard, nor hang out around it the way we sometimes have coyotes do.

Heritage Arts

I haven’t had much time to knit lately, but I have made some progress on my Nightshift shawl.

Guess what made its way into the living room and got dusted off and put to use!?  My spinning wheel!  I haven’t spun since our almost 4-year-old was born.  Life has been so full with his medical stuff, plus just regular busy life, that there just wasn’t time for it.  But this week I got it out and started spinning.  I love spinning, it is super therapeutic for me and emotionally recharging.  It calms me and resets me.  But it is hard on my back, so I have to take it easy and not overdo.  It was really great to spend some time spinning again, and I am hoping to get back into doing it regularly.

Another heritage art that we have not done in awhile that came back this week was wool rug braiding.  Little Miss is braiding a rug for my parents.  She was working on her braid and laying it out on one of our old rugs to decide when to change colors.  it is coming along nicely.

Cheese Making

It was a week of bringing back some old homestead activities, for sure.  We haven’t made cheese in 4-5 years, and this week Little Miss and I decided to make some cheese with Pansy’s milk.  We made a goat’s milk Paneer.

It turned out well.  We used the cheese press Mtn Man built for me several years ago when we got our first dairy cow.

Next week we plan to make Feta.

Chicken Butchering

We had saved two of the Dark Brahma cockerels to raise up one of them for a breeding rooster.  We were waiting for them to get a bit older so we could pick the best one.  They started fighting this week, so it was time to choose.  Braveheart has helped with butchering many many times, and watched Mtn Man do the killing as well, but this time he decided he wanted to do the whole process all by himself.  So he killed and butchered the cockerel all on his own for the first time ever!  We were all very happy for his accomplishment, and I am sure the meat will taste all the more delicious to him knowing he did all the work himself.

Hot City

I had to go into the big city this week (Denver) and got stuck in bad traffic.  it was 101F outside, but because of all the idling cars crammed together and inching along the hot pavement, this is what my car said it was outside:

Eeeek!  Needless to say I was oh-so-happy to get out of the hot city and back up onto the homestead in the mountains.

Shuffling Sheep

In my last post, I discussed how we want to be as efficient as possible with our choices for our small-acre homestead.  Our goal is to produce as much food for our family of 7 as possible.  With 3 acres of mountain terrain to work with, only about 1/2-1 acre that is use-able for livestock and housing it is important that we keep focused on our goals in order to be as productive as we can be.

Our current sheep flock is a wool flock and we aim at having a good variety of colors and textures.  We are cross breeding shorter/finer wool ewes to a longer wool ram with an aim to have fiber that has good length (4-6 inches) but is still soft.

We have long had a goal of adding dairy lines into our sheep flock.  Back in 2015, our ewe Stella had a lamb that sadly died at day 3 of life.  So we decided to milk her.  It was a very fun experience, she was excellent at it, and we all loved the milk.  Thus the start of our dream to have dairy sheep.  Unfortunately, Stella failed to successfully lamb for us after that and was traded back to the breeder for a different ewe.

We really aim to not have overcrowded living space with our livestock.  It is not good for the livestock, it damages the property and housing faster, and it makes a lot more cleaning work for us.  Because of this we are very careful how many sheep and goats we keep.  It is so easy to keep adding to the flock over and over again and keep offspring and all of sudden the farm is way overcrowded.  We have decided that we can keep 5 (6 at very most) breeding stock animals (goats and sheep).  This means for half the year we have the 5 animals, and the other half the year we have them, plus their young offspring, which can mean potentially up to 13 or so animals during the baby season.

We would like to breed our wool sheep into dairy lines to end up with sheep that have nice fleece and are pretty good milkers as well.  This can be tricky with our limited number of animals.  When trying to selectively breed animals the more animals the easier it is to achieve your goal.  With space for 5, one of which is a goat, we are going to have to be creative as we go to try to avoid inbreeding and still make progress towards our goal.

This year we planned to butcher the ram lambs for meat this winter, and sell the ewe lamb, or potentially trade her for a wool ewe that we like.  But things have changed and we have someone who wants to buy both the ram lambs and Rose as well to bring her flock of Rambouillet ewes to a smaller size and longer wool.  This could be our opportunity to make some space and have the money to add in some dairy sheep.

So we are doing research, talking it through, contacting sheep breeders and trying to decide what to do.  We want to make good choices for our 4 sheep slots to give us the best breeding outcomes and fiber variety.

It looks like this will all happen in the next 6 weeks or so.  I will keep you posted on what happens as we shuffle our flock of sheep.

 

Efficiency on the Small Backyard Farm

Today I am re-posting a previous post about how we make the most of the space on our small homestead….

Our farm is 3 acres and is located on a mountain side.  Due to the terrain and layout, we have about 1/2 acre that can be used for livestock and housing.  This limits our space and what we can do with our land as far as homesteading is concerned.  Many people have mini-farms that have similar limits on them.  It is a very different way to farm than those farms that have large barns and many outbuildings surrounded by fields and pastures.  And so, to make the most of what we have, the smaller farms need to make choices that increase their efficiency.

Multi-Purpose Livestock

When livestock housing and living space is limited it is important to choose breeds that serve more than one purpose.  Chickens can provide you with meat or eggs – OR – meat AND eggs.  Sheep can provide wool, milk, or meat – OR – two out of three – OR – all three.  See what I am saying?  Granted, by choosing multi-purpose breeds you are not getting the best at one thing, such as birds that produce the most meat possible in the shortest time.  Instead you are getting ones that do pretty well at both.  But “pretty well” at more than one purpose is more efficient and productive when you are limited on space and can’t have the best of both.

Multi-Use Housing

When building housing for a small farm it is most efficient if you build housing that can be used to house different species at different times.  The same housing that you put young chicks in at one point of the year could hold a bum lamb at another time, a barn cat with her kittens at another time, and weanling rabbits at another time – if you build the housing properly.

For example, we have a spot in the barn called the “Mama Hen Pen.”  It is called that because, for the most part, it is where we let our broody hens set their eggs and raise their chicks.  But it has also been used to house calves, sheep, goats, a recuperating cat, meat cockerels, a rooster with his breeding hens, and dogs.  It could also potentially house turkeys, a dog with pups, cat with kittens, a pony, ducks, etc.  The only things we wouldn’t use this pen to house is very large animals, because it is only 9×11 ft.  Or animals that can easily dig out, like rabbits, because the entire floor is not wired to keep them in.

From the outside, the door into this pen is a regular sliding stall door.  Behind that door we previously have had a wired insert with a small chicken-sized door.  This insert makes this pen use-able for anything small that needs to stay in and needs to be protected from barn cats (like chicks).  And the door and removable ramp make it easy for chickens to come and go from this pen into the barnyard when we want them to.photo 5 (9) photo 4 (13)20

We purposely made it so that with the removal of some screws this entire wall of wire will easily lift out of the doorway.  Then it could be stored so that the stall could be used for larger animals like calves, sheep, etc.  And then those type of animals can easily go in and out of the barn through the sliding door.

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The doorway to the right is the same stall door seen above but with the chicken wire insert removed.

On the inside of the barn you can see that this pen is like a regular stall, with 2/3 walls for air flow.  That is great for housing larger livestock.  And the stall door is big enough to bring sheep, goats, calves, and smaller horses and cows through.  But in addition to that we secured chicken wire all along the open areas.  That way we can keep small livestock inside the pen without them escaping and without the risk of barn cats attacking them (in the case of baby chicks).

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Previously, inside the stall we had nest boxes, roosts, a heat lamp, and hanging feeders/waterers for the chickens.  But all of those are easily removable for when we wanted to house other livestock inside.  You can also see that the back wall of the stall (to the right in the photo) is made of chicken wire with some wood slats along the bottom.  This wall is shared with a pen we call our “growing out pen” (another multi-use pen).  This makes it easy for us to house chickens separate but able to see each other so we can easily integrate our flock together once they have spent some time seeing each other through the wire.  It also works well for separating baby sheep or goats from their mothers at night before morning milking.

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As you can see, with a little bit of extra planning and work, you can make your housing much more efficient and able to be used in multiple ways with multiple species.

Farm Dogs for Small Acreage

I’ve seen it happen over and over again.  People with small farms really want that amazing herding breed or LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog) breed that they saw at some big farm or online looking like such a happy working dog.  Then they get said dog and the dog is miserable on their tiny farm with no space to move around and use the amazing skills that have been bred into them for centuries.  I’ve seen a huge LGD stuck in a one-acre pen with goats, miserable and barking incessantly.  I’ve seen a herding dog torment the livestock on a small farm by chasing them constantly because he is bored and wants to really do the work he is bred to do.  The dog is miserable, the owner is miserable, and the livestock is miserable.  The pretty picture they saw online is not what they are seeing in their barnyard.

Before anyone attacks me on this issue I will say that it is not ALWAYS the case.  Some owners are able to keep a herding breed or LGD happy on small acreage.  They find ways to keep them busy and exercise their brains and bodies.  And also, some individuals in the herding dog breeds and LGD breeds have personalities that make it so they can handle the small space and live very happy productive lives.

But for the most part, these dogs are bred to work all day and cover a lot of ground and they will not be satisfied with a small farm environment.

So do a lot of research before purchasing a farm dog.  Keep in mind what your space is like, what the daily routine is like, and what job exactly the dog will be doing.  Look at what the history of the breed is and what they have been selectively bred to do.  And talk to the breeders about what they are specifically selecting for in their dogs.  Then choose accordingly.  There are several good options out there for working farm dogs on the small farm.

Gardening on the Small Farm

One way to get more out of a smaller garden space is to grow as much vertically as you can.  When growing green beans you can get the bush variety or the vine variety.  Build some good sturdy trellises and get the vining variety so it can grow upwards, taking up less of your ground space.  Same with tomatoes.  Grow as much vertically as you can.

Another way to increase efficiency in the garden is to increase planting space and decrease walkway space by using a square-foot gardening layout instead of a row layout.  We built 4-foot wide gardening sections with 18-24 inch walkways between them.  We can easily reach the two feet across to the middle of the planting area from any side to plant, weed, and harvest.  When you have minimal space, don’t waste it on walkways.

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Lastly, use every extra space you have to grow edible food.  Nicely done, edible plants can make very nice outdoor decorating and landscaping.  Use containers on your deck or by your front door as decorations.  Use planters that hang on your deck railing or hanging baskets, and let grape vines grow up lattice on your patio.

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Strawberry patch on right, container herb garden on right past that.

Be creative and think outside of the basic row garden as the only place you can grow food.  Try to find every nook and cranny you can put edible plants around your home and farm.

Small farms can be extremely productive once you find some ways to make efficient use of the space you have.  I hope these tips and tricks that have worked so well for us can help you get the most from your small acreage farm!

Sunday Homestead Update

Summer is in full swing here on the homestead.  Hot days…cool mountain evenings…we are all enjoying everything summer.

As we work around the homestead we continue to come up with new ideas and plans for future projects to grow and improve the homestead.  Sunshine is dreaming of a pond…Mtn Man is eager for an orchard…Braveheart wants ducks…I am picturing the potential for more fruits and a berry garden area…Little Miss can’t wait for her goat to have kids next spring and have higher milk production…and Young Man is contemplating wind power.

But as we dream, we also are enjoying and soaking in what we already have here, and are working hard to make it as efficient and productive as possible.

Sheep

The lambs are growing and growing.  They spend a lot of time eating at the creep feeder where their mamas can’t steal all the good food.

Garden

The garden is finally starting to look like a garden after a very cold non-existent spring season.  Things are flowering and fruiting, and we are beginning to harvest more items.

I am very excited that our medicinal herb garden is really starting to get going now, after two years of trying.  It still needs more time, but I think it will eventually be beautiful and productive.

The wild raspberries that we transplanted from a local property two years ago have flowers on them!  Our experimental transplant might just work!

The strawberry harvest has started!

We have all been enjoying eating them fresh from the garden – I don’t think any have made it into the house yet.  🙂

Chickens

The Pick No More is working very well.  It has only been a few weeks and we are already seeing huge differences in the chickens.  But it has kind of worn off, so we needed to re-apply it.  We also needed to band and identify the pullets for our breeding program and clip their wings.  Mtn Man and I were busy with Mr. Smiles’ medical stuff, so the middle three children, Sunshine (14), Little Miss (12), and Braveheart (11) decided they could tackle the job on their own without us.  Afterall, they had seen us do it and helped us do it many many times.  They did an excellent job, and even more important…not one of them ended up dyed purple (from the pick no more)!  Not having my children or their clothing dyed is very helpful to this mama.  🙂  But really, they did a great job with the birds and got the project completed, which was a huge help to us.  I wrote about homesteading with our kids here, here, and here if you would like to read more about how we include them and have raised them on the homestead.

So now the chickens have a fresh application of Pick No More, and they are all banded, wings clipped, and my breeding flock ID paperwork is caught up with all the new breeding pullets’ information.