Sunday Homestead Update

Slow Spring and Sleepless Nights

Spring has been slow coming to us.  It has been colder overall than usual, though we have had some warmer days here and there.  The perennial plants haven’t started poking green out yet, and last year they were poking out the second week of March.  So it has been slow.  But we are preparing so that when it finally arrives we will be ready.

Despite the slow-to-come spring, the bears are awake and hungry.  They have been causing us sleepless nights because they keep trying to get into the dumpster and that causes Anya to bark (good dog!) which wakes us up and Mtn Man goes out and chases them off.  Thankfully they are just trying at the dumpster, not at the barn, or cars, or house, like they are doing in other places in our area.  We are so grateful to have Anya in the barn to keep them away from it and to alert us when they are on the property causing mischief.  And thankfully the replacement bear-proof dumpster we got a few weeks ago after a bear broke the last bear-proof dumpster is holding up against all their attempts.

Garden Prep Work

Most of the ground in the main veggie garden is thawed, so we spent Saturday working on preparing it for the upcoming garden season.  We did not do a good job of cleaning it up last fall.  Sometimes we do a really great job, other times…notsomuch.  This was a notsomuch year.  So there were a lot of leftover stalks and stems from last year, some weeds and moss that had grown during the fall, plus hard-packed, settled, and cracking soil, and the bean trellis needed to come down.

So we got all of that cleaned out.  Then we built up the newest deeper section.  Each year we are building one section of the raised beds up 7 inches higher because we found deeper boxes grow much better.  Here it is before and after the build up.

Once we built it up we filled it with compost from the barnyard.  We then added compost to the rest of the garden as well and got everything raked and loosened up and then smoothed out and ready for planting.

The metal stuff you are seeing in the boxes is our way of keeping the barn cats from using the fresh new garden soil as a litter box.  Once we plant and it is getting watered and such they leave it alone.  But when it is just sitting there and no one is out there working in the garden they tend to sneak in there.

All that is left now is to do some maintenance on the water drip system and get it ready for the season, but we can’t do that until May because there are still going to be a lot of below-freezing nights.

We also got the chicken wire around the base of the fence to the Apple Garden.  A bunny chewed a hole in the plastic mesh fence earlier this winter because we hadn’t gotten around to adding the wire yet.  It is in place now and will protect the medicinal herbs from the rabbits.

Dairy Goat

Pansy has settled in a lot more this week.  She is eating really well now and her milk production is going back up because of it.  She can often be seen laying with the flock of sheep chewing her cud, or running around with the dog (she is very dog-like in her personality and has bonded with Anya).  She still roams around looking for her goat friends some each day.  I am hopeful over time she will completely settle and wont do that anymore.

Sheep

As you saw in previous posts this week we have been shearing the sheep and skirting the fleece.  The skirted fleece are headed for the wash and I am really excited to see what kind of yarn Mtn Man makes with them.

We still need to shear Rose, and that will happen this week.

The sheep that got shorn look very different now, they went from big puff balls to seemingly scrawny looking things comparatively.

Knitting and Crochet

I finished the afghan I have been working on for almost a year now with sock yarn scraps!  I am very happy with how it turned out and have been enjoying cuddling under it on the chilly days this last week.

It was a fun use of scraps.  I still have a lot of scraps left and I am considering starting a different scrap afghan to use them up.

I spent the last two weeks crocheting to finish that and it left me very much burnt out on crochet and desperate to get knitting again.  I have two projects that have been sitting on the needles for over a year now, being worked on here and there put set aside when other projects came up.  I decided I really want to finish those two.  So that is what I am working on.  One is the swallowtail lace shawl:

The yarn is Greenwood Fiberworks Cashmere Delight and it is oh-so-soft and lovely to work with and have moving through my hands.

The second is the Let Go cardigan.  This is my second time using this pattern and I am doing it with a very different yarn than last time.  I am using KnitPicks Gloss DK yarn and it is also very soft and fun to work with.

I am really enjoying being back into knitting again.

Shearing Time 2019 – Fiona

I discussed Fergus’ shearing in this previous post.  The second sheep that Mtn Man sheared was Fiona.

Fiona is a 3/4 Merino x 1/4 CVM, which are both fine wool breeds.  She is white and has a medium-fine, soft, short fleece with a lot of elasticity.  She has a medium amount of grease, less than an average Merino, which is nice.  Her fleece is really good for blending with other fibers and other fleece because the elasticity lends itself to helping “hold” other slick-er fibers together into yarn when they don’t hold together well on their own.  We often use her fleece for blending.  But this year her fleece is better than it has ever been, it looks to be her prime year.  It is longer, stronger, softer feel, and has more luster than it ever has.  So we will likely run it on it’s own this year.

Since she was not jacketed during the first half of her fleece growth it got terribly dirty and muddy.  That will all come out in the wash.

It did not have much VM in it at all, so skirting went very quickly.  This year, Fiona’s raw skirted fleece weighed 4.1 lbs.  Fergus’ fleece was much bigger to start with but because it was so dirty with VM his was only .3 lbs more than hers once skirted.  This is why jacketing is so important to us.  We lost a lot of Fergus’ fleece to VM this year.

I am really excited to see what type of wonderful yarn Mtn Man makes with Fiona’s fleece this year.  Like I said he likely wont blend it at all this time.  Last year he mixed it with some purple dyed bamboo fiber and made some Sport-weight yarn.  I sold some of the skeins and kept a few for myself but haven’t used them yet.  I am thinking cozy, thick, winter socks…

He also used some of Fiona’s fleece from last year to blend with Toffee’s fleece and silk to make a shimmery sport-weight yarn.

I still haven’t used those skeins either…I better get knitting because we are about to have a lot more yarn and I haven’t even used up last year’s yet!

We have one more shearing…Rose.  I will share about her fleece next.

Shearing Time 2019 – Fergus

Spring is the time for shearing here at WCF.  We shear our ewes 6-8 weeks before lambing, and the ram gets done then as well just because it is convenient.  Because we are in a somewhat isolated area that is not ag based it is really hard and costly to get a professional shearer to come to our place for only 3 sheep.  So Mountain Man does our shearing.

He is definitely not a professional, but I think he does a pretty good job for someone with no training who only does it once a year on a handful of sheep.  A professional takes about 5 minutes for a sheep, he takes 30-45.  And he can’t do more than one in a day because it kills his back (those professional shearers have some seriously strong backs!).  We have to deal with skirting out a lot more second cuts than with most professionals, but it is not terrible and the fleece is absolutely in good enough shape to use almost all of it.  A second cut is a place where after going over a spot once with the shears they go over it again, cutting off a very short section that can’t be used with the fleece but is mixed in with the long fiber.

So this year he started with our ram, Fergus.  Fergus is a Merino x BFL with a tiny bit of CVM.  He is a mix of dark, medium, and light shades of grey.  He has a very soft, medium to long fleece with very organized crimp.  He is also light on grease, which makes it easier to get clean.

Generally, long wool fleece grow a lot faster and are thus longer, but are usually a rougher texture and not suitable for clothing items that are directly on your skin because of the itch factor.  Short wool fleece are generally finer and softer, making them not have the itch factor.  But they grow slower and so the staple length is shorter and can make it a lot harder to spin them into yarn.  And they can be very heavy with grease, making them take more effort to clean.  So we have been cross-breeding our sheep long wool to short wool to try to get a nice length but still have the fine softness as well.  Fergus is a perfect example of what we are trying for.  His fleece turned out just how we were hoping when we bred his mom, Fiona, who is a Merino with a little bit of CVM (short wool breeds) with a BFL (longwool breed) ram.  Even if we ever decide not to use him as a ram anymore, I expect we would whether him and keep him his entire life because we love his fleece so much.

Since we only shear a few sheep each year I don’t have a big skirting table, so I just put a sheet on our dining room table and skirt there.

His fleece this year is very dirty because he was not jacketed until we got him back to our farm in December.  So the first half of his fleece growth wasn’t protected from gathering vegetable matter (VM) and from sun bleaching and staining on the tips.  So we had quite a lot of work ahead of us skirting out the bad stuff.

I pull off a chunk of fleece, usually about the size of two big handfuls, and I hand pick out the second cuts and larger VM.  Then I open it up and pull it apart and shake it really well to let the smaller stuff fall out.  I repeat until it is clean and then put it in a bag.  Slowly, working short periods of time throughout the day, I am able to get it skirted.  Good thing I only have 3 fleece to deal with this year, since they are so dirty.

This year, Fergus’ raw skirted fleece weighed 4.4 lbs.

I am really excited to see what type of wonderful yarn Mtn Man makes with Fergus’ fleece this year.  Last year he made part of it into a soft worsted weight that I used to make Mr. Smiles a sweater.

The rest he made into a fingering weight yarn, that has a tighter twist on it and thus was not quite as soft.  I made Young Man some socks from that, and still have quite a bit left.

I love raising wool sheep!  More about Fiona and Rose’s shearings and fleece will be coming soon.

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had another full week on the farm.  Spring is trying to squeeze its way in with some days in the 50sF.  But we are also still getting snow and cold as well.  Nothing green is starting to peek out of the ground outside yet, whereas last year at this time we had quite a bit of green starting up.

Garden

We started our first seedlings inside…gardening season has officially begun!

More Chicks

Last week a setting hen abandoned her eggs that were 2/3 of the way to hatch.  We took the eggs and put them in the incubator, not sure if they would survive or not since they had been chilled.  Well, they survived and hatched this week.  There were ten eggs under the hen, two of which were found to be infertile when we brought them indoors.  The other 8 were looking good.  The hatch started on Thursday morning (day 20 – one day early) and by Friday morning we had 5 chicks hatched and 2 of the 3 remaining eggs pipped.  Those two chicks hatched, the third egg did not.  But 7 out of 8 is a great high-altitude hatch percentage.

Our bird numbers are higher than they have ever been.  Thankfully we have a lot of space for them all, so they are not overcrowded, but they would be if they all were full size adults.  But the numbers will be significantly decreased by then.  No more hatching until those numbers get more reasonable after some butchering and sales.  Of course I say that, and then one of my reliable broodies will probably decide to set this week.

Goat

Pansy has had some trouble settling in.  It seems she does not want to live with sheep.  But we really do not have the space, nor the desire for more than one goat.  Thankfully, she never stopped eating completely, like what happened to us a couple years ago when we tried to introduce one goat to the sheep flock.  By day 5 she finally started to relax a little and eat better.  She is still somewhat antsy and not completely relaxed, but we are seeing a lot of progress and expect her to settle fully over time.  Interestingly, she seems to be bonding to Anya, the LGD, more than any other animal in the barnyard.

We are still milking her twice a day while we wait for her to settle in.  We are going to move her to once a day milkings, but don’t want to risk a huge decrease in production because of the stress she is still feeling.  Once she seems more settled we will shift her over.

Pansy is Little Miss’ homestead project.  She loves goats, loves milking, and loves making dairy products.  She was the one pushing to get another dairy goat.  Mtn Man and I, of course, oversee the care of all the animals and would never leave a child 100% in charge of an animal.  But Pansy is her project and she does all the work related to her, with our guidance.  She has been doing all the milking, with Mtn Man’s help while she built up her muscles.  She was really excited when, at only day 5 of having the goat, she was able to milk her out all by herself without any help.

She has also been managing all the milk and was carefully saving up the cream all week so that she could make us all goat’s milk ice cream on Friday to go with out homemade pizza for movie night.  It was delicious!

We are all really enjoying having a dairy animal again and the fresh milk that gives the family.  And Little Miss is beyond ecstatic to be the “milk maid and dairy queen” again.

Heritage Arts

I know how to both knit and crochet.  But for me crochet is more a destination hobby – in that I do it for the finished product.  I only crochet when I want a specific item that is best crocheted.  Whereas knitting is more of a journey hobby – in that I do it because I enjoy the process of knitting as well as the finished product.  I always have at least one knitting project going.  I knit almost every day if I can.

A year ago I started an afghan using scraps of sock yarn I had leftover from all the socks I have made over the years.  I knit the squares (192 of them) over the last year and then this last few weeks have been working on the hooking-together of more than half of the afghan.  I found the best way to hook it together was to sew 4 of the squares together.  Then crochet a border around the edge of the 4 squares.

Then I hook those squares to each other with a single crochet from just one side, alternating back and forth left and right.

Once I have a whole row of them (which for my afghan was 6) I hook that row onto the afghan with the same method.

So I have been doing a lot of crochet the past two weeks and haven’t really knit at all.  I am getting burnt out on it and can’t wait to get back to some knitting projects.  BUT I am really excited about finishing this afghan and so I press on.

I have finished all the hooking together now.  All I have left to do is put a nice border all the way around the outside edge of the afghan and a year-long project will be complete!

Remodeling

We have a lot of house remodeling we are hoping to accomplish this year.  We have finished the basement, which is wonderful.  It had been torn apart during the flooding of 2013 and hadn’t been finished since.  It is now a super functional space that we are all enjoying.

This week we have been focusing on the dining room finish-work.  Last fall we replaced our wood stove that was inserted into a fireplace in a rock wall with a beautiful antique wood cookstove with no fireplace and no rock wall.  The old wood stove had two elbows in the stovepipe which caused it to not draft well and to back-puff often.  We really wanted a stove with a straight pipe that didn’t back-puff, and we wanted to get rid of the rock wall, and we wanted to find a way to incorporate the beautiful antique wood cookstove that has been sitting in our garage for years.  So we did!  The cookstove does an excellent job of heating that area of the house and looks so pretty too.  Plus, if we want to we can cook on it and bake in the oven.

But as is usual for us, once the major work was complete and it was use-able we got busy with other things and didn’t finish up the trim work and details that make things really look great.  So this week we finished all of that and we are really happy to have it complete and not only functional but also looking nice as well.

Here is the dining room before:

And here it is now:

I haven’t fully settled on mantle and wall decorations yet, but that will come with time.  I need to live with it for awhile to decide that.

Feels so good to be checking things off the list, and enjoying a nicer house each time we do!

Sunday Homestead Update: The Flock is a Flerd Again

A lot of fun on the farm over the last couple of weeks, so this is a pretty full post.

In my last Sunday homestead update I shared that we had new livestock coming to the farm.  Gardeningwithalex’s guess in the comments was right…

Look who joined the farm!

This is Pansy.  She is a 4-year-old Nubian doe.  She is currently fresh and filling our fridge with healthy, delicious, raw milk!

When she first saw the sheep I’m pretty sure she thought they were aliens – she freaked out.  But we spread out some hay across the barnyard to lighten things up and they slowly got to know one another.  She actually came from the same farm where we got our LGD, Anya.  So she and Anya are doing fine with each other because she is used to Anatolians.  And she and the chickens are fine with each other as well.  Over time we expect her to settle into the sheep flock and be fine with them as well.

It is SO wonderful to have fresh milk again.  It has been 18 months since we last had a dairy animal on the farm and we missed it.

We have had goats and sheep together in the past at our farm.  A group of sheep is a flock, and a group of goats is a herd.  So when we have them living together, we like to call it a flerd.

Welcome to the flerd, Pansy!

Spring Snow

We had a big wet spring snow.  We got about 18 inches of very wet snow and the kids had a lot of fun playing in it.  We had snow forts and snowball fights, and sledding going on for 3 days in a row.

It is mostly melted at this point.  That is the difference between Colorado snow and snow in most other cold states – we have SO many days of sunshine each year that our snow does not stick around.  It falls, melts, falls, melts, etc.  There is occasionally some build-up of snow on the north side of buildings, but nothing compared to what other states experience.

The Bears Are Awake

Despite the big snow, we have had some warmer days in the 40sF this week.  We started saying to each other…I bet the bears will be out soon.  And sure enough, we had a bear visit.

This one obviously had a very big appetite because he broke the bear-proof dumpster and made a big mess.  The bent piece of metal in this pic:

is supposed to be straight like the one in this pic.

So we had quite a mess to clean up.  But a new bear-proof dumpster is in place and we should be fine for the rest of the season.  They rarely are able to break them.

Coyotes

Speaking of predators at the homestead…we are still having issues with the coyotes and bobcats this year.  We haven’t had many problems the last few years, they mostly just move through the property occasionally and don’t cause trouble.  But this year they are continuing to hang around the property and not move through.

Friday I heard Anya barking and went to look out the window.  I saw a coyote running north of the barnyard and around the back of the barn.  I ran out to see what was going on and chase it off.  I found our barn cat, Midnight, up in a tree with his fur puffed up bigger than I’ve ever seen.  The coyote had treed him.  It took off when I got there and I stayed for awhile to be sure it didn’t come back.

And the latest snow showed us footprints that show that there is a bobcat spending time here and hanging out in the large pile of boulders just 30 feet from our barnyard fence.  A bobcat got one of our chickens in early December, when Anya was in a separate pen from the chickens.  Thankfully, she is now living with the chickens, so we hopefully wont have any problems.

I don’t know why the coyotes and bobcats are hanging out.  It makes me wonder if it has been a lean winter for them.  Maybe the rabbit population is down or something, although we have seen plenty of sign of rabbits around.  Hopefully as spring comes they will move on.

Chickens

The chicks are now 4 weeks old and have moved up into the barn.  It is SO wonderful to not have them in my mud room anymore making impossibly thick layers of dust on everything.  This is why I only wanted to do one incubation and brooding this year…because I really dislike the dust mess of brooding.  I would much rather have the hens set their own eggs and raise the chicks in the barn – SO much lower maintenance.

So two weeks ago when our hen Betsy decided she wanted to set I was totally on board.  We put her in the broody coop, 10 eggs went under her, and she settled in beautifully.

She is a first-time setter and did great…until a couple days ago when she decided she was done.  We found her off the eggs and desperate to get out of the broody coop.  The nest she had built was right under the heat lamp (only 100 watt), so I was hopeful that the eggs might not be dead yet.  I quickly collected them up and took them to the house.  The kids held them against their tummies keeping them warm while I quickly set up the incubator and got it warming and hydrated.  Then I quickly candled them because I had not yet candled for fertility.  2 were infertile, but the other 8 were looking great and I even saw some movement, indicating they were alive at that point.  We put them in the incubator and time will tell if they survive.

I don’t know how long she had been off the nest, but it was awhile.  They may survive to hatch, they may not, but I had to try.  I do not want to have to do another brooding, but I just couldn’t let them die when I have the incubator and therefore have the means to give them a chance to live.  So, this Friday is their theoretic hatch day, although with being chilled they might take a little longer…or not hatch at all.  We shall see.  And Betsy is definitely off the list of broody hens and wont be allowed to try again unless I have another hen setting at the same time to adopt the eggs should she quit again.

Knitting

I have been focusing on finishing my scrap sock yarn afghan which I started last spring.  I have finished all the squares now and all that is left is to finish hooking them together.  The picture is dark, but I will get better ones when it is done.  I am very happy how it is turning out.