Sunday Homestead Update

We have continued to have (mostly) warm weather in the 40sF with sun, and have worked outdoors on the homestead as much as we can, but have also been busy off the homestead this week and thus could not get done as much as we hoped.

Sheep

Autumn’s stanchion training has gone great and she is ready to be milked once she lambs.

Her udder is beginning to build now.

We are about 3 weeks from her due date and the start of lambing season.  Very exciting!

Chickens

A year or two ago we decided that the lower coop would permanently be the bantam coop.  Our roosters are generally very large, and we were worried about them in their interactions with the bantam hens.  We are not keeping the bantams for breeding, they are actually for setting, they are our broody girls.  So we don’t need them to be in with the roosters.  Making the small lower coop their home worked out well.

But there was a benefit that we would get from that decision that we didn’t see until more recently.  The bantam hens are very kind and gentle with new arrivals to their coop.  We have been able to put several hens in there over the last year or so that were injured by aerial predators, or were outcasts in the upper coop being bullied and picked on and the bantam hens accepted them with open arms (…er, uh, wings?).  Additionally, we can put the young pullets in with them to grow until they are big enough to join the regular flock and they are all very nice to them.

So this week we moved over our latest bunch of young pullets.  They are about 8 weeks old now, and wont be able to join the big flock until they are at least 14 weeks of age.  The bantam hens were fine with their new roommates and accepted them without incident.  Of the 10 chicks we hatched in January, we are guessing at this point that 5 are pullets and 5 are cockerels based on feather coloring, size, and comb color.  Right around 9 weeks the males combs are much pinker than the females.  So we left the (suspected) cockerels in the grow pen in the barn, and brought the (suspected) pullets down into the bantam hen coop.

Five, 8-week-old pullets with our Bantam Cochin hen, Willow, in the front.

Garden

We got the entire compost pile moved over to the new garden last weekend.  Then we were able to purchase soil to finish filling the boxes for this year.  There will be a lot of settling and we will need to add more next year, but this is what we will work with for now.

We also got the posts up for the new garden fence, and took some branches off the tree that is hanging over the garden.  We went back and forth about whether to just remove the whole tree, or whether we should just branch it.  We decided to branch it and see if that is enough.  Hoping to get the rest of the fence up this week before the snow flies again.

Cheesemaking

It has been 3 months since our stirred-curd cheddar went into the cheese cave!  We brought it out and tried it.  It was VERY good!

How exciting to get to try our first-ever cheddar after waiting 3-months and find it to have been a success.  We put two quarters of it back into the cave (after waxing over the cut sections) to try the flavor at 5 mos, and then 7 mos.  The flavor was definitely a mild cheddar, and we are interested to see how it tastes after some more aging.

LGD

Anya has found that the new compost heap we made by cleaning out the stalls and scraping the barnyard with the tractor is a nice warm place to lay in the sun.

While I was taking the photo, one of the barn mouser cats, Midnight, was doing everything he could to get my attention.  He also got Anya’s attention, though he didn’t want it.

 

Shearing Time 2020 – Daisy and Blue

Two more sheep have been shorn for the year.  Daisy and Blue are both new to our farm and thus this is their first shearing with us.  They did not have a full year of growth – more like 10-11 months – so we expect next year’s fleeces to be longer.

These shearings were exciting because Sunshine has decided she wanted to learn to shear the sheep.  So Mtn Man and her did these two together, with Sunshine learning.  She enjoyed it and did an awfully good job for her first ever time.  Not to mention, Sunshine is petite – small but mighty – but I am sure her size effected her ability to wrestle the sheep into position and hold them there.  Thankfully, these are two of our smallest sheep, which is why we used them for her training.

Daisy

Daisy is a white, East Friesan/Lacaune mix with a tiny bit of Polypay and North County Cheviot mixed in too.  She is a yearling, so this is her baby fleece.

Since she is one of the new dairy sheep, we were not sure what to expect of her fleece.  It was heavier than the other dairy sheep fleece, weighing in at 2.1 lbs raw skirted.  But still a lot smaller than our wool sheep fleece.

It is very lofty and has a very squishy feel.  It was VERY dense, it might be even denser than Fiona’s fleece, which is the most dense in our flock.  It has a pretty organized crimp and is surprisingly soft.

The staple length was 3.5 inches.  We expect a little more length off her next year.

I am interested to see what this fleece is like once it is processed.  Sometimes they surprise us and something that seemed soft is actually quite scratchy yarn, and vice versa.  It is in the mill being washed now – can’t wait to see!

Bluebell

Blue is a white, East Friesan/Cotswold mix, with a tad bit of Lacaune and North County Cheviot mixed in.  She is a yearling, so this is her baby fleece.

She is one of the new dairy sheep – but she is one of the two that already has some wool breed mixed in (as does her twin, Maggie).  Her fleece is quite a bit different than Daisy’s.  It weighed in at 1.9 lbs raw skirted.

It has more curl than crimp, and is soft with a mild sheen, reminiscent of BFL wool.

The staple length was longer than the other dairy ewes we have sheared thus far, at 4.25 inches.

As with all the dairy sheep this year, we are interested to see which, if any, can be made into a nice yarn that is not too scratchy or too short of a staple length.  Whatever doesn’t make yarn that we like will be made into roving for braiding rugs.

I am really looking forward to sharing the finished products with you on all the shearings this year once they get processed.  Hurry up, Mtn Man!  Oh, wait, you have to process stuff for our customers too?…OK, fine, I will be patient.  🙂

We still have 2 sheep left to shear, the ram, Remi, who is half-sib to Daisy.  And then Maggie, who is Blue’s twin.  So we expect their two fleece to be similar to these last two.

Sunday Homestead Update – Heat Wave! (kind of)

It was so beautifully warm this week!  After the snow early in the week it got sunny and each day was in the 50sF, which felt so wonderful in the middle of cold winter.  We took advantage of it and spent time outdoors soaking in fresh air and sunshine and getting things done.  It is awesome to be able to get some of our spring projects worked on, even though winter is far from done here in the high Rockies.

Salve

Monday, while the snow flew, the girls and I used the inside time to make a batch of salve.  Making your own herbal salve is so easy.  You just infuse olive oil with the herbs you want.

Strain it out.  Add beeswax to get the consistency you want (put a little on a plate in the freezer for a minute or two until it reaches room temp to test the consistency).

Then pour it up and let it cool.

We made 12 small tins (1.5 oz), 1 pint jar (for the barn), and 3 half-pint jars.

I did a post on making herbal salve here.

New Garden Compost/Barnyard Fence

With the warmer weather we were able to borrow a tractor/back-hoe and get the compost pile moved into the new garden boxes.  We were happy to see how far it went in filling in the boxes.  And now we know how much top soil we need to purchase to finish off filling the boxes.

This also made it so we could finish the permanent fencing on the bottom end of the barnyard, and thus gave the animals a larger barnyard again (they have been living in about 2/3 of the main barnyard since fall because we had fenced off the bottom part with the big compost heap to just let the compost sit for a few months without chickens “stirring” it).  We also used the tractor to scrape the barnyard thoroughly and thus make a new compost heap to start composting.

Here is the lower barnyard looking down from uphill before:

And here it is after:

And here it is looking up from downhill before:

And after:

So the entire permanent barnyard fence is complete except one thing – a gate at the bottom.  We want to have a large gate at the bottom so we can easily get the tractor in and out.  We didn’t have time or materials to complete that, so we just put one of our temporary panels across the bottom.  It feels so good to be so close to finally done with the permanent barnyard fence.  It has been a project that has dragged on for years now as we have waiting for the time and materials to complete it a little here and there.  We have been very grateful for the panels to use as temporary fencing while we built it.

In the winter the hay ends up covering the snow as the animals eat and it insulates the snow in one main spot in the barnyard by the feeders and in the shade.  This ends up to be about 2 feet of hard-packed ice/snow under the hay by the spring, which then slowly melts causing a deep mucky mess that can lead to leg injuries in the animals.  When Mtn Man scraped he worked hard to get a bunch of that out so we will hopefully not have such a bad mess.  Granted, we still have a lot of snow fall likely headed our way this winter before spring hits.  But any removal of it is good progress.  And the snow in the new compost heap that he scraped together will help add moisture and nitrogen to the heap, both good things.  The chickens enjoyed pecking at the snow he exposed when he scraped it away.

Sheep

We have sheared a couple more sheep.  I will post more about them specifically later this week.  The big news is that Sunshine decided she wanted to learn how to shear, so Mtn Man is teaching her and she has now sheared 2 sheep with his help.  I am so proud of her – shearing is a hard skill to learn and very physically taxing.

Sewing Clothing and Making a Cake

Little Miss and I have been sewing some clothing for her because she doesn’t fit well in store-bought, nor does any of it match her preferences of style.  We finished a nightgown, a dress, and a skirt last week, and have more to sew this week.

We also celebrated her birthday recently.  She desperately wanted me to make a cake that had her goat, Pansy, on it.  I love how my kids challenge me with their cakes each year to try to make harder and harder things.  I was skeptical about my abilities to do the goat cake, but was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.

 

Shearing Time 2020 – Autumn & Fiona

Autumn and Fiona were the first two ewes to be shorn this year.

Autumn

Autumn is one of our new dairy sheep and this was our first time shearing her.  She is an East Friesan/Lacaune mix and is 2 years old.  We are having a hard time telling if her fleece is dark brown or truly black, and will know better once it is washed.

Since dairy sheep are not generally bred for good wool, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect.  Her fleece weighed in at 1.5 lbs raw skirted.  That is a very light fleece compared to what we are used to with our wool sheep!

The tips were very sun bleached because she spent half the year on pasture without a jacket before we bought her.  The fleece has more curl than crimp, but a lot of memory.  It is surprisingly softer than we expected.  It is very light on grease (lanolin).  It is reminiscent of a BFL, though much much shorter.

The average staple length was about 3.5, but she only had 8 months growth.

We are really interested to see what it will be like next year after she has a full year of growth, jacketed.  We are not sure if it will be long enough, or soft enough, to spin to yarn.  But if it is not, we will make it into roving and try braiding a rug with it.

Fiona

This is our 7th fleece from our flock matriarch Fiona.  She is 7 years old this year, and she was the first sheep we ever owned.  She is a white, fine-wool CVM/Merino cross.

Her fleece this year weighed in at 4 lbs raw skirted, with an average staple length of 5 inches (her longest ever!).

The fleece is heavy in the grease (a lot of lanolin, normal for merino).  It has a lot less crimp and elasticity than her usual, which likely has to do with her age.  But it has great sheen for a fine-wool, and is super soft.

I am really looking forward to the yarn this year.  I need to decide if I want to blend it with anything or not.  It is so fine that it tends to run a bit uneven when it is run pure.  We will see.

Mtn Man has both the fleece in the mill and I am looking forward to what he makes with them.  I will update you once they are processed.

Lambing/Kidding Supplies Kit

It is that time of year again – time to prepare for lambing and kidding!  I keep a kit of all the things we need to have on hand for lambing and kidding in a big lidded plastic bin.  We are 1 hour away from the closest large-animal vet, so we are careful to have anything and everything we need to deal with an emergency ready and on hand.  Our vet is great about talking me through things on the phone and telling me doses of meds when he can’t get here in time.  But if I don’t have the items and meds needed to do what he says, there is no point.  He helps us come up with a list of meds and supplies to have on hand.

The lambing kit needs to be cleaned out and inventoried each year so we are sure that we have what we need.  Last year Rose had a very dangerous birth, with twins that were both mal-positioned.  Thankfully we were able to get them safely delivered and everyone survived.  But somehow in the chaos the kit was torn all apart and then shoved back together and in the busy-ness of last summer I never got it cleaned from that.  So when I pulled it out of the barn loft this year it was a pretty gross mess.  The betadine had spilled and everything needed cleaning.  Thankfully, most of the supplies are in zip-lock plastic bags, which protected them from a lot of it.  But the bags needed replacing.

I got it cleaned and inventoried, and Mtn Man made a trip to the vet supply store to stock back up on what we needed.

I think each homesteader’s lambing/kidding/vet meds kit will look a little bit different based on their situation, but many things are probably in everyone’s kit.  Our kit is put together with our specific situation in mind, and it changes a little each year as we have more experiences and learn more.

As I said above, most items are in ziploc bags after I have cleaned the item.  And we put everything together into a big plastic tub with a lid.  We are not keeping it in the barn because we are still getting below freezing some nights.  The mud room doesn’t freeze, but is easy access to grab the kit and take it to the barn.

We are over an hour away from the closest large-animal vet, we are also over an hour away from a vet supply or ranch store that would have what we might need to buy last-minute.  So this kit is intended to cover all our bases.

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Old Towels & Paper Towels

It is pretty obvious what these are for.  Drying off the lamb/kid, clearing the mucous from the nostrils, drying and wiping hands, etc.

Lamb/Kid Pulling Ropes

In case we need to re-position or pull a lamb.

Sheep Book

Our favorite sheep book is Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep.  It has good, detailed information about lambing and different problems that might arise.  We want to have this book in reach for reference if a tough situation comes up.

Scissors

For trimming the navel if necessary, along with many other potential uses.

Notebook & Pen

For jotting things down as the process goes along.  Especially the time that different things occurred.  If there are problems, it is important to know how long the ewe/doe has been in labor and how long she has had issues.  Knowing this helps one make better decisions about intervention, and when I call the vet, he always wants to know times.

Flashlight and Headlamp with New Batteries

Barns are dark…enough said.  🙂

Navel Dip Cup

This can be any type of small containers.  They are available to buy, or you can use a baby food jar, a shot glass, etc.

Betadine Solution

For navel dipping and for cleaning our hands and the ewe/doe if we need to help re-position a lamb/kid.

Latex gloves, OB gloves, and OB Lubricant

In case we need to re-position or pull a lamb/kid.

Nutri-Drench

To help nutritionally boost a weak lamb.

Lamb Milk Replacer & Colostrum Supplement, Nipples and Bottles

In case we have a rejected or orphaned lamb that needs to be bottle fed.  Or if we have a ewe that doesn’t make enough milk for her lambs.  We try to milk out a little colostrum each year and freeze a few ice cubes of it.  Then we have it on hand if needed.  It doesn’t keep well past 1 year in the freezer.

Lamb/kid Stomach Tube

We are reluctant to use this and will only use it if it is absolutely necessary to save a lamb/kid’s life.  I have successfully tubed a horse and a cow before, but it is dangerous and we would like to avoid it at all costs if possible.  We decided to have it on hand just in case.

Syringes of different sizes

These have multiple uses, including force feeding a lamb/kid that can’t suck, and giving injections.

Elastrator & Bands

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We use the Elastrator for tail docking and castrating.  Tail docking happens the 2nd or 3rd day of life, and castration around the 10th day of life.  As suggested in the Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, we are storing our bands in a shallow jar of rubbing alcohol.  This keeps them clean and sanitized, and we can dip the Elastrator tool in it right before use to sanitize it.

Bulb Syringe

We added in one that we had from when our kids were infants.  It is very helpful for sucking gunk out of noses and throats if the lamb/kid is having trouble breathing or inhaled some fluids.

That is everything in our lambing/kidding kit.

Because we live so far away from a large animal vet, we have a very thorough vet kit as well.  A few items in the vet kit that might be necessary for lambing/kidding and afterwards are:

Syringes & Needles

For giving injections

Penicillin & Tetracyclene (antibiotics)

If we have to go into the uterus for any reason we will be giving the ewe/doe a shot of penicillin afterwards to prevent infection.

Oxytocin

Used for several different reasons, after all the babies are out to help the ewe/doe.

Ketone Strips

Ewes can suffer from pregnancy toxemia in the weeks before birth or right after birth.  It has to do with a ewe not having high enough calorie intake.  It is most common with twins and triplets because the lambs are taking so much nutrition and so much space that she can’t ingest enough feed to keep up with their needs.  Ketone dip strips are how this is diagnosed.

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Propylene Glycol

This is what we would use to treat a ewe found to have pregnancy toxemia.

CMPK

Medication needed to treat milk fever.

 

Some of these items might be over-kill for a homesteader with a vet and vet-supply store close by, especially because they expire and thus might not be used and just have to be thrown away and replaced again.  But for us, isolated from those things, we want to have all our bases covered in case of an emergency.