The Dichotomy of Farm Life

Farm life is such a roller-coaster of ups and downs.  Success and failure.  Gain and loss.  And it can change so quickly, leaving us feeling polar-opposite emotions in a very short span of time.

Yesterday we woke to the cheeping of newly hatched baby chicks.  An excellent hatch of 7 out of 9 eggs.  Eve had set on 4 of them (3 hatched) and we had 5 in the incubator (4 hatched) which we put under Eve once they were out of their eggs.  Eve was happily mothering them and we were all very excited.

By midday that excitement was gone when we found our little one-month-old goat kid, Pearl, very sick in the barnyard.  Despite our best efforts and help from the vet, by mid-afternoon Pearl was dead and we were all emotionally crushed.  The exact cause is unknown, but with the symptoms, and how quickly she died, the vet thinks it was enterotoxemia.  It is basically a shift in gut flora that causes the clostridium bacteria that are always present to turn into an out-of-hand infection.  It kills fast and whether you can save them or not is totally hit or miss.  We caught it early, but it didn’t save her.  The vet said there wasn’t anything we did to cause this specific situation.  It is usually caused with changes in feed or overeating, neither of which happened with Pearl.  She was fine at 9am, obviously sick at 11am, and dead by 3pm.  It was terrible and a very difficult experience.  We let Pansy spend some time with her after she was gone so she would know.

Farm life is not for the faint of heart.  Watching a baby goat die and not being able to do anything that helped, watching my daughter’s heart break (it was her goat), and then watching the mama goat pace the yard crying out left me crawling into bed feeling raw and defeated.  We are pulling together as a family as we process this loss.  But in farm life there isn’t much time to stop.  Life keeps going.  Animals need to be fed, milked, and you still have to get up the next day and tend those cute baby chicks that hatched yesterday.  The practical has to be dealt with, which for this situation means transitioning our schedule to milking Pansy twice-a-day and continuing to move forward while we nurse our hurting hearts.

Farming can be quite the dichotomy of experiences and emotions.

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.

Sunday Homestead Update – First, Mice…Now, Lice!

Last week I discussed our current infestation of mice, and now, this week, we found that our goats have lice.  Sigh.  How did our goats get lice?  We have not brought in any new goats (these lice are species-specific).  The only time they left the farm was in November when Pansy went to get bred.  I have contacted the breeder and she says none of hers have lice.  Strange.  Little Miss spends large amounts of time brushing and grooming and petting and loving on her goat, and definitely would have known if the goat had lice before now.  A few days after the doeling was born, Little Miss found one bug on her.  We checked her and mama over thoroughly and didn’t find anything else, so we didn’t think much of it.  Last week, Little Miss didn’t have time to brush and love on Pansy and baby Pearl much, so several days went by without the normal grooming.  Then, early this week, she went back to her grooming routine and found them both totally infested with lice.  Eeeeek!  and ICK!  Maybe Pansy had a low-grade infestation all along but the grooming kept it under control?  Maybe they got them from the wild deer and elk in the area? (the vet said that is not possible).  I just don’t get it, and that is frustrating because if we don’t know how they got them, how do we prevent it from happening again?

Pansy, wet from her lice treatment

Anyway…I did some research on the internet about goat lice, and man-oh-man this is one of those topics that everyone has their own opinion on and no one seems to agree and I feel like I can’t trust anything I am reading because everyone is so differing in their opinions.  So I decided to try something altogether different, but that my gut was telling me to do.  We have a natural spray that I have used for bug repellent before.  It is an off-label use.  The main ingredient is tea tree oil and our friend uses the spray as an udder wash on her dairy goats, as well as a bug spray for them, and has never had any issues with it.  It is safe for them, even though this use is definitely off-label.  I felt like I should try it out before we went to the usual vet treatments.  Little Miss and I sprayed both of them down and rubbed it well into their fur down to the skin (with a rubber glove on).  We did it at about 10am and we saw millions of lice.  That evening, at barn chore time, we examined them (in the dark of the barn) and could only find 1 moving lice.  The next morning, we sprayed them down and worked it to the skin again.  When we were doing that, we saw that there was a huge decrease in lice, exponentially less.  We are conitnuing the treatments every day or two.  The life cycle is 22 days, so we will just continue this way for awhile and hope that it works.

As far as the mouse infestation goes…we continue to catch 12-15 mice daily.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I find this crazy and don’t know how to get ahead of this issue.  It seems they are multiplying faster than we can catch them.  We will press on and hope that the numbers start decreasing soon.  One benefit of the mouse overpopulation is that the barn cats are so busy with the mice that they haven’t had the time or energy to bother the swallows.

Gardens

We had a couple of hard frosts this last week.  All but the newest 2 of the Gooseberry and Currant bushes had put on flowers.  So we blanketed the flowering ones to help keep the flowers alive and increase our harvest.

It worked well and everything survived.

That was likely our last frost, but we are still being careful with putting frost protection on anything we put out because last year we had a surprise frost June 9th.  We have continued to plant and transplant new veggies this week.  We have also been harvesting and using the rhubarb, chives, and asparagus.

The robin population is booming and they are eating our newly planted bean and pea seeds, as well as digging up the Medicinal Herb Garden in search of worms.  The Medicinal Herb Garden doesn’t start really sprouting until mid-June, and all those seeds went in in the fall.  So I am concerned all this robin digging is messing them all up and they wont sprout.  So we put bird netting over that garden.  The robins are none too pleased with the new scenario.  But hopefully we will have some herbs start sprouting in there soon.

Speaking of the Medicinal Herb Garden…that is where our apple trees are planted.  We planted two apple trees in there 2 years ago.  After the first winter, one had died down to the root stock, but started sending up branches from there.  We decided to let it do that.  This last winter was their second winter.  The one that had survived the first winter died down to the root stock, and the other one died BACK down to the root stock again.  It seems these varieties, even though they are supposedly able to survive our cold climate, can’t survive here.  And we have had two very mild winters in a row – so if they can’t handle that, they definitely won’t make it long-term.  So we are re-thinking the apple tree plans now.

Sheep

Votes are in and it was pretty clear what our new ram’s name is…MacDougal.  MacDougal is settling in very well.  He and Remi are living in the bachelor pen together.

Our Livestock Guardian Dog is struggling again this year with the lambs, like she did last year.  She is just about to turn 4-years-old and I think it continues to be a maturity thing.  When the lambs are tiny, and stay close to their moms, and the moms are very protective, she is fine with them.  In fact, she is excellent with them.  She will belly crawl over submissively to sniff them and check them out and respects the ewes.  But as they get bigger, and start to run and play, and the ewes are not very protective anymore, then she starts to get into trouble.  She can’t resist the running, bouncing, playing lambs (who could!?) and wants to run and play with them (heck, I want to run and play with them too!).  The problem is that she is 110 lbs of dog, and wants to play like a dog, and they are much smaller lambs, who play like lambs.  The main issue is that she grabs one of their back legs and holds it, while they run along.  She is gentle and doesn’t break the skin or anything, but this has led to some limping lambs, both last year and this year.  The limp goes away after a couple of days, but it is still not good.  So we have been spending extra time training with her this week and teaching her this is not OK.  And she has also had to spend some extra time living in the back pen with the males when we can’t be keeping an eye on the situation.  Overall, she is an amazing LGD, and we fully expect her to grow out of this and not have this issue every year.  The training this week has shut it down…for now…but we will keep an eye on things.

Is Marigold pregnant?  Or not?  We are not sure.  She is supposedly 10 days from her due date, but we are not seeing very clear signs to support this.  We are wondering if she didn’t take, or if she didn’t take and then got bred at a later date than we thought.  We are keeping an eye on her, and we have her on the end-of-pregnancy diet just in case.  But I am guessing we are done lambing for the season.  Time will tell…she might surprise us.

Chickens

Our very awesome, sweet, friendly rooster, Ben, had moved into the bachelor pen because we can’t use him for breeding anymore since we kept him so long and now would be doing some major inbreeding if we kept using him.  But he is so great and gentle that it seemed a waste to eat him.  So we decided to separate him out for now, and let our new roo, Nilo, do a year or two of breeding and then bring Ben back once we had less of his daughters and grand-daughters in the flock.  Well, some friends came by to drop off fiber at the mill and look at our sheep and they saw Ben and heard his story.  They have a flock of free-ranging hens and would like to have a rooster to protect them, but have had trouble with mean roosters and didn’t want to deal with that.  So Ben has now moved on to live with them.  He seems happy to have a flock to look after again, and it will be a very nice home for him.

Ben the rooster, with the flock last year

The oldest hen on our farm, a Silkie named Eve, has been setting eggs and raising chicks for us for many years now.  She is 7 years old and still lays 4 eggs a week when she is not brooding.  She raises anywhere from 1-3 clutches of chicks for us every year.  What a great hen!  Well, she is at it again, setting on 6 eggs.  I put another 5 in the incubator because she can raise more chicks than the amount of eggs she can fit on (she is a bantam), and it will make up for any loss we have too so she is raising a full clutch.  All 5 eggs in the incubator are fertile (good job, Nilo!) but I haven’t gotten around to candling the ones under Eve yet.  I expect they are all fertile too.  They will hatch out next week.

Eve

In the Farm Kitchen

We have continued making dairy products with all this fresh goat and sheep milk.  This week we made more yogurt, mozzarella, and our first batch of chevre.

I have also been making some herbal medicines this week.  I made an Arnica/Comfrey salve, and a liver cleanse tincture.

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!