Lambing Season is Here

Our first ewe lamb of last year, Cotton, kicked off lambing season this year with a ram lamb of her own.  Ryan walked out to the winter pen to feed the sheep one evening and discovered a newborn lamb resting by the barn!  He knew it belonged to Cotton, as he had been monitoring the ewes and knew she was closest to delivery.  Sure enough, Cotton kept running back over to where she had left her lamb to check on him.wp_20170125_19_54_30_pro

We decided to get all the ewes into the barn, and separated from the ram, so the kids could play safely with the new lambs.  (Ever since the ram knocked me over, I trust him about as far as I can throw him!)

A few days later, we awoke to find that Poppy, our largest ewe, had twin ram lambs in the night.  Both mom and babies were doing well and nursing by the time we entered the barn.   wp_20170130_14_02_21_pro1

Lyla, who we were confident would deliver twins, disappointed us when she delivered a singleton.  This combined with the fact that she had trouble shedding out her winter coat last summer (a major fault in hair sheep), has us questioning if we want her genetics in our flock.  So far, Lyla is the only mama who has delivered a ewe lamb this year.wp_20170130_19_02_43_pro1

Statistically, we should get about 50% rams and 50% ewes.  The “girl” team has some catching up to do!

We are getting pretty accurate at predicting when a ewe is about to deliver, and I think we’ll have the third member of our original ewe trio, Olive, deliver shortly. Her udder looks huge and full, a good sign that lambing is imminent.  We are expecting twins from her, as well.  Olive gave us such a nice ram lamb last year, and we’d be delighted if she could produce a nice ewe or two for us to add to our flock.wp_20170130_18_55_36_pro2  Olive always looks healthy and strong, plus she shed her hair quickly last spring, an indicator of good genetics and health in hair sheep.

All the new lambs are doing well and we are enjoying stealing a few snuggles from them when we can.  They are so cute and playful!wp_20170125_21_15_34_pro1

The weather has been so nice and mild for a Minnesota winter that it makes spending time out in the barn with new lambs much more enjoyable.wp_20170130_19_02_00_pro1

I get a few questions from people wondering why in the world our lambs are arriving in January.  Admittedly, nature’s way is for new babies to arrive in spring, when there is plenty of new grass and sunshine.  The simple answer is because that is what the farmer who owned the sheep before us did, so that is what the sheep are accustomed to.  We never separated our ram (we didn’t have a good place to put him last year) so we simply left it all up to the flock, and we aren’t surprised they stuck to their old pattern.

Since our farm came with a handy barn and horse stalls, we have decided that winter lambing isn’t too bad.  The lambs are never in danger of freezing or becoming a hungry predator’s lunch while safely tucked inside the barn.  Also, since these are meat sheep, it gives the lambs a few more months of growth before the fall slaughter.wp_20170130_19_02_30_pro1

The arrival of new lambs is always a much-anticipated event on the farm.  They grow so quickly!  In just a few short months, they’ll be grazing right alongside mom on green pastures.

Becca

Cool Honey Bee Facts

Lately, our free time has been “abuzz” with honey bee talk. We need to order our bees very soon to reserve them for spring. We’ve been reading books and researching on the internet to help us decide which supplier to purchase bees from and which hive design to use.hives

We’ve been learning some amazing things about honey bees. Have you noticed that people who keep bees tend to get a bit obsessive? The reason? Honey bees are fascinating! Read through some of the facts we’ve discovered about them and see for yourself.

  1. Do you think honey bees always die after they sting something?  Actually, they can sting insects over and over again to protect their hive. A honey bee stinger only gets stuck inside mammalian skin, causing it to tear from the bee’s body, killing the bee.  Honey bees are usually calm and gentle, only stinging to defend their hive or themselves.building-hive
  2. A honey bee hive is a very clean environment. The worker bees value cleanliness and rid the hive of any dead bees, carrying them far away so disease cannot spread. If a small rodent enters the hive and gets stung to death, the bees encase it in propolis, a brown, sticky substance collected from trees with antibacterial qualities. This mummifies the corpse which eliminates any threat of it spreading disease in the hive.      gathering-nectar
  3. A healthy hive consists of about 60,000 honey bees. The vast majority of these are the “worker bees.” All worker bees are female, sisters to one another, and daughters of the queen. This is why many beekeepers adoringly refer to their bees as “the girls.”worker-bees
  4. There is only one queen and she is the only female with fully developed ovaries in the hive. As she was developing, she was fed only royal jelly, which causes her abdomen to elongate. Had her diet been changed to honey and pollen as a young larva, she would have developed into a regular worker bee.

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    The queen has been marked for easy spotting.
  5. A new queen mates in the air with drones (male honey bees). She mates with multiple drones over the course of a few days, then retreats into a hive to begin laying eggs. She will not mate again in her lifetime. The drones’ sperm is stored inside the queen’s abdomen and is kept alive for as long as she is producing eggs, which could be several years!
  6. The queen can lay 1,500 eggs a day. She can lay an egg every 30 seconds. This is her only job in the hive. The worker bees build cells for the queen to lay eggs in. They build small cells for a worker bee egg and larger cells for a drone egg. The queen knows which egg to lay based on the size of the cell! This way, the drone population of the hive is managed appropriately, as only a couple hundred drones are needed for the hive.
  7. Drone eggs are unfertilized eggs from the queen. Drones have no father! They have half the chromosomes of a female bee.
    drone
    Drone

     

  8. A drone’s main purpose in the hive is to breed with a new queen from a different colony. They have no stinger to defend the hive, nor a pollen basket for foraging. They must be fed and cared for by the worker bees. That may sound unfair, but as the hive prepares for winter, the worker bees throw all drones out of the hive, where they surely meet their end. The girls know the extra mouths to feed during winter could mean the death of the whole colony.
  9. Perhaps a drone is to be pitied altogether. His reproductive anatomy is designed similarly to a stinger, with barbs. Once it enters the queen, it gets stuck and rips from his body. Having fulfilled his purpose in life, he falls to the ground, dead.
  10. To make one pound of honey, honey bees must visit about 2 million flowers and fly about 55,000 miles.honey-bee
  11. Worker bees feed each developing larva about 1,300 times a day!
  12. As soon as a worker bee emerges from her cell, she feasts on honey and then gets right to work, cleaning out her cell. As she ages, she rotates through a schedule of imperative tasks and duties inside the hive. At about 3 weeks of age, approximately half her life, she finally enters into the role she’s most known for, gathering pollen and nectar as a field bee. She will continue this role until the day she dies. No retirement for honey bees.

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There are so many other amazing things about honey bees. My list could go on and will certainly grow as we continue to learn more about these amazing, complex, tiny creatures. I’m not typically a bug person, even butterflies can creep me out (How do people go inside those gardens and let butterflies crawl all over them?!), but I have to say, there may be a chance I could turn into a crazy beekeeper, obsessing over “the girls” and the miraculous world inside a honey bee hive.

Becca

Changes for 2017

One year ago we purchased and moved to our little farm.  I remember feeling very unsure that day of what lie ahead for us, but we both clung to faith that this was where we were being led.  Looking back over the past months, I can attest that only good was in store for us, even amongst the hard work and bumps we’ve experienced along the way.  Our ideas of needs and wants have been challenged, humbled and sifted.  True priorities and simple blessings have emerged.  We changed and grew right along with this farm and we look forward to another exciting year.

Rabbits

Raising rabbits for meat was something we started when we were on a city lot in a neighborhood that restricted all livestock.  We were determined to begin taking control of our own food production so we began a small garden and brought home a pair of rabbits.  When we moved to the farm, we were suddenly able to raise traditional livestock so we no longer had a need for rabbits. wp_20160712_14_07_07_pro

Our bunnies were the cutest thing on the farm and we enjoyed them thoroughly, but when the time came to butcher them, nobody wanted to mess with it.  We had our schedule full with projects and chores involving other animals so we made the decision to sell the rabbits and no longer raise them on our farm.  We were thankful for the extra time this created for us to focus on other livestock.  I still highly recommend raising meat rabbits to someone wanting to gain control over their food on a city lot.

Honeybees

This year we plan to add honeybees to our farm.  This will be a whole new world for us, one we’ll navigate as we go.  We’d like to begin with two hives, which must be ordered this month, and set up sometime in spring.  We would like to raise our bees as naturally as possible.  While we do have some crops within our future bees’ expected flight range, we are also blessed to have an abundance of natural areas.  In the spring we see numerous wild crab apples blooming throughout the countryside and all summer long we enjoy the ever-changing color display of wildflowers scattered around the farm. This is in addition to our own garden and fruit trees.wp_20160504_14_41_51_pro

Our hope is this will give the bees plenty of natural, pesticide-free sources of nectar.  With the health of bee colonies declining and the rise of systemic pesticides (pesticides that are engineered to exist inside seeds and the resulting plant cells), we want to ensure our bees will be safe and the honey we ultimately feed to our family be free of harmful chemicals.

A New Calf

This past summer we brought our Dexter heifer, Pearl, to a farm to spend a couple of months with a proven, purebred Dexter bull.  Getting her loaded into the trailer was one of the most stressful things we have done on our farm so far.  We tried luring her in with hay with no luck. She was very skeptical of that trailer and wouldn’t be led astray by her belly.  We ended up having to muscle her big body in, despite her best resistance.  I thought somebody was going to get a hoof to the face or possibly trampled.  Thankfully, nobody was hurt and she was transported safely to the farm for her “summer vacation.”pearl

She’s back at home now – safe, sound, and assumedly “with calf.”  Come June, we should have a newborn calf on our farm.  If all goes well, it’s sure to be a highlight of our year.

Farmhouse Projects

We have a few farmhouse projects slated for this year, but I’m very excited about one in particular.  We plan to convert our useless, unwelcoming, uninsulated side porch into a well-insulated, functional winter storage pantry.  This will be in lieu of our previous idea of digging a root cellar.  It was so frustrating bringing in the harvest last year and working to preserve our produce only to realize we had nowhere to put it.  The side porch will be gutted and rebuilt with lots of insulation to ensure the temperature stays above freezing, with shelving to hold all my canning equipment and those priceless jars filled with garden goodness. wp_20170105_14_02_57_pro

Underneath the shelves, on the floor, will be built-in bins to contain produce like potatoes, pumpkins, squash and apples. wp_20170105_14_03_25_pro

The winter pantry will be such a great use of the currently dysfunctional and messy space. I plan to put in a frosted glass pantry door that I can open and close to help control the temperature of the pantry, if needed.  There won’t be any windows as the produce keeps best in the dark.  Because this room is located right off the kitchen, it will be much more convenient and accessible, not to mention more affordable, than a new root cellar.  As the shelves and bins empty over the winter, I will have temporary space to house the piles of summer produce as well, keeping my kitchen island clear and retaining its original intended function.

The Poultry Flock

We’ll be making some changes to our poultry flock this year.wp_20170105_14_07_41_pro

We’ll be thinning our flock a bit to reduce our hen population, keeping the most efficient layers.  We’ve also been discussing trading in our heritage breed ducks for the larger, meatier Pekin ducks.

Pekin ducks are ready to butcher at about 8 weeks of age, meaning we won’t keep a year-round duck flock for eggs.  The main reason for this change is because how dirty the ducks make the pond water.  The chickens and turkeys use the pond for their drinking water so we’d like the pond to be clean.  With ducks, it’s very tiring to keep clean what they insist on dirtying.  What’s more, without the ducks, we could purchase a pond filter to clean the water for us, eliminating the task of bucketing it out on a weekly basis.  Pond filters don’t work with ducks because they will clog it up and cause it to break down.  Focusing on the Pekin ducks will allow us to still enjoy ducks on our farm for a couple months (before we send them off to freezer camp!) without having the year-long issue of filthy water and a labor-intensive pond.

We’ve learned a lot during our first year on the farm.  Through trial and error, we’re discovering what we enjoy, what works with our current set-up, how we can increase the functionality of our homestead and what’s simply a drain on our time.  I expect nothing less for year two.

Thank you for reading our updates and following along through our first year on the farm.  We enjoy recording our experiences and feel so blessed by those who’ve taken the time to tell us they are enjoying our story.  Whatever is happening on the farm is made that much more enjoyable for us by being able to share it with you.

Becca

Winter Water Solution

Winter is my least favorite season of the year.  We’ve already experienced periods of severe arctic temperatures (-27 degrees!) and time spent outside has been reduced only to what is necessary to complete basic animal chores.  I prefer to spend the bitter-cold months of January and February under a blanket with a mug of hot tea in my hands.  For the animals, though, having access to clean, fresh water in liquid form can be a real struggle in winter.wp_20170105_14_08_55_pro

Having the pond makes the water solution for our bird flock pretty simple during winter months, as long as the pond is kept from freezing. We purchased an electric de-icer to place in the pond to prevent the water from freezing.

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To keep the ducks from dirtying the water over winter, Ryan placed a cattle panel over the pond to keep them out, while still allowing access to drink. 

We are no longer using the typical chicken waterers for our flock, which eliminates time spent filling them in sub-zero temperatures.wp_20170105_14_07_49_pro1

 

We also purchased a de-icer for the water tank in the sheep and cow pen.  Last year we had to break up the ice that formed on their water each day with a 2×4. Then, we’d pour very hot water into their tank to melt the remaining ice and keep their water in a liquid state for as long as possible. The de-icers have gone a long way in making animal chores easier this winter.  wp_20170105_14_08_36_pro

We are still experiencing one problem: we have to refill the animals’ water daily and we don’t have access to an outdoor water source in winter as the spigot and hose are frozen. Ryan is forced to bring two 5-gallon buckets into our house, fill them with water from our bathtub, then haul them out to fill the pond and water tank. He usually has to repeat this several times until everything is replenished. In case you are unsure, he can confirm this task is not enjoyable, while I can confirm it usually disrupts the kids’ bath time schedule.wp_20170103_18_55_20_pro1

The simple solution to this problem is to dig a well near the barn with a hand-pump that will allow us to fill buckets outside, saving the hassle of an icy trek to and fro with heavy buckets.

Digging a well will be an added expense for our tight budget, but we’d like to explore the possibility of completing the project this year. We’ll begin this spring with getting some estimates. I will love having a hand-pump well not only as a solution to the winter water problem, but year-round as a back-up water source. Currently, we are dependent upon electricity to power the well that supplies water to our home. We had the power go out last fall for several hours and we couldn’t flush a toilet or wash our hands. (We ended up traveling into town and eating our dinner at a restaurant, partly because I wasn’t able to finish cooking it in my electric oven, and partly so we could have access to a bathroom!) I will feel very relieved and comforted with the addition of a new well on our farm, knowing we will always have access to fresh, clean water, independent of the power supply.

Becca