Have I mentioned that knitting is my favorite winter activity? Things have slowed down and I can have some time to catch up on my knitting projects. The garden has been put to bed. I’m still making cheese, butter and yogurt, but canning is done for the season. I have even gotten all the frozen fruit out of the freezer from this past spring and made the promised cherry and blueberry jams. For the first time, I made brandied figs. This and so much more coming up in this podcast episode. But first . . .
Welcome to all the new listeners and a hearty holiday season welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I appreciate you all so much. Let’s get on with some homestead updates.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Let’s talk about the animals first. We love all of our animals. What would our homestead be without our animals? Pretty boring, don’t you think?
Finally, we have good news on the bovine front. We believe that all of the cows are now bred. Glory Be to God. Natural breeding is superior by far. We have one calf scheduled for birth on March 5th 2023. Then the next two will be around the 16th of July. Then the bull comes along and we have six that will give birth between August 4th and September 4th. Here is the run down.
Princess is a lovely purebred A2A2 Jersey heifer, soon to be cow, giving birth to that first calf around the 5th of March. We used sexed AI semen for her so her calf will be 50% Jersey and 50% Normande and likely a girl, a heifer. She looks great and we are anticipating great genetics in her calf.
She is small and so is her mom. Not quite miniature Jerseys, but close. Rosie is her mom and in her first lactation cycle she was giving us about three gallons of milk per day. We will expect a similar amount from Princess. We plan on selling her in the future as we move to a 100% registered Normande herd. Keep your ears open about when she comes up for sale as she will make a fantastic milk cow for some lucky family.
Speaking of Rosie, she is in the second group of two giving birth in near the middle of July. Rosie is also a registered A2A2 Jersey. She was bred via AI to the bull Fullblood French bull Jacaranda. The semen was unsexed so the gender of her calf will be a surprise. This calf will also be 50% Jersey and 50% Normande. We will be keeping heifer calves that are 50% Normande, but like her daughter, Rosie will come up for sale sometime in the near future.
Ginger is the second animal giving birth in mid-July. She is 75% percent Normande. That means she is not recognized as purebred, but her offspring will be as their percentage will be high enough to meet the minimum standard. The sire is also the Fullblood French bull Jacaranda.
The last group of six are all bred via Ferdinand. You will recall that he is the Guernsey bull that we purchased a couple of months ago. He did his job well. In one month, two hormonal cycles, he has impregnated all of our remaining cows and heifers. At least it appears so as of this recording.
I’m not sure if we will be able to registered his offspring as 50% Normande. I’ll have to check on that. Violet, Virginia and Wanda are all purebred Normandes but it may not be enough for proper registration. We shall see.
Butter is a registered A2A2 Jersey. And the last two, Molly and Cookie are mostly but not registered Jersey cows. Though they are also A2A2. We will be keeping Molly as she does have 25% Normande genetics, but Butter and Cookie will also be moving on to another family.
In the end, four of our cows will be up for sale in the next year or two. They are all great animals, but again, we are building a 100% Normande herd. Each year we will probably move out a couple more as we slowly inch toward our preferred genetic goals.
We have Nickel waiting in the wings to get big enough to be our breeding bull. Ferdinand will have one more round of breeding our cows and then we will also sell him. As you can tell, he is a great bull and will be a wonderful addition to someone’s herd. After that, Nickel will be our herd bull for a couple of years. And we will continue using AI as we can to improve the herd genetics. Scott is coming on board as our primary AI technician.
Scott’s AI Training
This is a really great piece of news that I have to share. I mentioned in the last podcst that the idea was for Scott to be able attend an AI workshop and learn to do the procedure himself. Hallelujah, he was able to attend an AI tech training session just a couple of weeks ago. It was literally only an hour away and we made it happen so he could attend. He now knows the basics of how it is done and what challenges he may face. And we have lots of cows for him to practice on as he builds his skill.
The first day he came home a little frustrated with his lack of skill. According to him, it is much harder than it looks from the outside. On the second day of the training session, he got the hang of it and all that is left now is for him to practice.
The very next time that any of our cows get bred, Scott will be trying out his new skills. That is months and months from now but we are both excited about the prospects of being able to use AI much more effectively. We will share how that goes when we get there. The timing of this training session was truly a Blessing from God.
Mack, Finn and Charlotte
Now on to the livestock guardian dogs. There is not much to say here. I am still feeling so blessed that Finn returned after six months of roaming the countryside. We are still treating an infection in his left eye. It is a stubborn infection. Sometimes his eye is clear and then it will cloud up again. Just today we aggressively upped the amount of antibiotic cream we are using in that eye to see if we can knock out that infection once and for all. Otherwise, he is putting on weight and is very happy to be home. There was an early escape and one a day or so ago that was my fault for letting him loose with an open gate, but he is still with us.
Charlotte is going along just fine. Sometimes she tolerates me petting her and sometimes still she won’t let me near her. I just go along and pet her when I can. She is a great dog and I love her so much.
Both Finn and Charlotte are currently with the sheep and the goat doelings. There are a couple of calves in there as well. I forgot to talk about Jill and Penny. Jill is currently up for sale if you know of anyone looking for a young heifer calf. We will be keeping Penny. She is 50% Jersey and 50% Normande. All is well in that pasture for the moment.
Mack is with the cows. They don’t really need him, but what else are we going to do with him. At some point, I would like to see all of the dogs and animals together. I’m not sure that will ever happen. We will always have heifer calves that need to be kept away from the bull and/or vise versa, but bull is kept away from the cows/heifer calves. And then there are ewe lambs and doelings that need to be kept away from the breeding ram and buck. I’m pretty sure we will always have two groups of animals. The best I can hope for is that all the of animals and dogs will eventually become interchangeable. At the moment I don’t trust the large animals with Finn and Charlotte and I don’t trust the small animals with Mack. So, there you have it. This may be our standard operating procedure going forward. I’ll keep you posted.
Now for a little update on the goats. Things are going fairly well in that area. I have managed to tame all of the goats a fair bit. They will follow me anywhere if they think there might be a treat at the end of the road. All are growing nicely. It will be another two months before the girls can meet up with the boy.
Lian and Amys are with the sheep and Rhuarc is right next door in the lower garden with a ram lamb as a companion. As soon as the girls are old enough, these two boys will be able to join the main group of sheep and goat girls.
Several ewes are looking quite plump. I expect that we will have lambs in January or February. Not the best time of year, but I have found that these Katahdin sheep are really good moms and the lambs are generally hardy even in winter. If the weather is particularly bad, we can take them to shelter. Otherwise, this breed is very used to giving birth out in the pasture, even in the winter.
I have heard of several breeders that specifically breed for birthing in January and February as they are looking for their lambs to reach market size by the time November rolls around and the various religious groups are looking for lamb and goat for their feasts. We may look at that market as well. Otherwise, we like to keep ours all the way up to the 12th month of growth. I’ll keep you posted, but the sheep have dogs protecting them at the moment and I expect that we will actually have lambs soon and that we will be able to raise them to market weight without predators running off with them. At least that is the current expectation.
The last animals to discuss are the chickens. Last time I mentioned that Mack had made mincemeat of one of the hens. We still have all of the rest of the hens and roosters. Just a few days ago, we added six new hens to the flock. One of our herd share members had more chickens than she wanted and she gifted us these hens. We are not sure whether they are Cinnamon queens or Rhode Island reds. Either way, they are providing us a couple more eggs a day.
Of the eleven others that we have, we were getting 2 or 3 eggs per day. We added half as many hens but doubled our egg production. Now we are getting 5 or 6 eggs per day. Go figure. I don’t know if I mentioned that I am looking at perhaps changing my mind of what breed of chickens that we raise. There are always good logical reasons for the breeds we choose for any given animal. However, the literature seems to be flawed on the chicken breeds I chose. I expected way more eggs from the American Bresse and Black Copper Marans. And it seems that the traditional Rhode Island reds are just better at producing eggs. I’ll have to look it up. It may be that they are primarily egg producers and not a dual breed chicken.
In the end, I may just give up on the whole dual breed idea for chickens. I’m really in it for the eggs. We just don’t eat that much chicken so the meat is not a really big deal. That’s for another day. In the spring we will do some incubations and hatch out some birds and see where we go from there. In the end, we may just have mutt chickens and forget about trying to raise specific breeds. Right now, as long as they lay lots of eggs, I don’t really care.
Let’s move on that huge creamery project. Where do we stand with that? All of the floors are complete. As I mentioned in the last podcast, Scott was racing the clock to get that done. The temperature-sensitive nature of the glue and grout were driving that carriage. He made it. There were a few cold days where he had to wait, but in the end, he got it done.
There are a few details he is working on for the pull box covers, but other than that, the floors are complete. Next up is the electrical. And of course, the plumbing. That is still looming large in my mind. I don’t know how he will do it, but I do know that he will make it happen. It’s just who he is as a person.
At the moment he is moving his attention to fixing fences in the back fields. There is a good bit of standing hay back there but trees on the fences need to be cleared and those fences repaired. Another task on his calendar is gathering up pine wood for the wood stove this winter. For the past two winters we have not used the wood stove as other priorities and factors interfered with the collecting of wood. This year should be the time that we get back on track with using wood for fuel in the winter and getting that electric bill back down to a reasonable cost. Especially at this time in our economy when prices are rising.
These tasks will take away from the time he has in the creamery. But I’m pretty sure we are still on track for USDA certification sometime in the spring or summer.
Knitting, Cheesemaking, and Other Milk Products
I want to talk a little bit about cheesemaking and other milk products before getting into my knitting projects.
Because we have had so much problem getting cows pregnant, we are currently planning to milk the cows as long as we can before drying them up for birthing their calves. Normally, that would be about a one-year cycle. This time, it’s going to be nearly a year-and-a-half. Their milk production will continue to decline over time. And the cold of winter will also decrease milk production. These are additional days of learning and having new trials of which we have yet to have.
Currently, the cows are still producing enough for herd share milk and for me to make cheese. I’m perfecting my techniques in cheesemaking and trying a couple of new ideas to improve flavor. We shall see in a few months if my efforts have paid off.
Additionally, I’m still making yogurt a couple of times per week and butter every other week or so. It’s a bit of a different winter experience to still be dealing with milk after the end of November, but it seems to be working out great for both Scott and myself. So far. I’m happy to continue the creative art of dealing with dairy products.
My favorite winter pastime is knitting. In the summer it’s all about the garden – planting, weeding, harvesting, canning and so on. But in the winter, things slow down and I get to take a break. What do I do with all that free time? Well, to be honest, there isn’t that much free time. I just do a lot of stuff that was put off because I was in the garden and in the kitchen for every hour of every day in the summer.
It’s so funny that I have these knitting projects that sit for months on end without any progress whatsoever. Then winter comes and I can work on them. Do I get them finished? I guess it depends on the project.
Victorian Newborn Set Knitting Pattern
The one I’m going to talk about today is a really beautiful baby layette. It has a blanket, bonnet, booties and sweater. I’ve been working on the blanket for some time. It is a Victorian themed pattern. Lacy edges and cream or off-white base color. The contrast color is burgundy. I’ll put a picture on the Locals platform and maybe I can work one in on the website. Perhaps I’ll make it the featured photo on this podcast. Yeah, that could work.
I started working on this at least two years ago. It is the most difficult project that I have ever done. First it was all about getting the pattern correct. I must have started over at least four times. That was the first year.
The second year (and when I speak of years, remember that it is a few months in the winter) – The second year, it was all about starting the lacy edge. I have taken out that part at least six times. It was late last winter when I discovered that the pattern I was trying to use was flawed.
Recreating the Pattern
Here’s that little story. As I get older, it is harder for me to read small print. And the pattern that I was using was already a year or more old and the pages stuck together and the print was mangled. So, what did I do? Well, I searched on line to try and find a “clean” copy of that pattern. I did find one. It was great for the “rosebud pattern”. It is the main theme in all of the pieces. But when it came to putting the rest of the pieces together, that pattern was a disaster.
So, what do I do now? On the evening that I made the discovery that it was the pattern that was flawed and not my knitting skills, I set out to recreate the pattern from the original. And so I did. I spent about an hour in Microsoft Word. (Okay, it may have been more than an hour. At this point, I have no idea. I just know I needed the pattern to work.) I typed out every single instruction, every detail. Then I proof-read what I had typed. It all seemed to make sense. I still have the original just in case I made a mistake. I can go back with my magnifying glass and see if I can decipher what the actual instruction is supposed to be. However, I am pretty confident that I got it right. There is a pattern to patterns and I could see it clearly. After all, I had created it over and over again, incorrectly. So when I saw the correct instruction it made perfect sense.
My Greatest Achievement
Now to my greatest achievement so far. I’ve never been successful in making joins look natural. My work has always looked sloppy. But not this time. As I got started once again on this new adventure, I could clearly see the pattern this time. I could clearly see that it was working. I finished the first end of the blanket using a stitch I had never done before. But the instructions were clear and it worked the very first time. Yippee!!
That’s not the greatest achievement. No the greatest achievement was picking up the stitches on the starting edge of that blanket. YouTube helped me out. I watched a couple of videos on how it is done. In the past I just did the best I could with the instructions which read “pick up and knit X number of stitches. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that there was an actual method to make it work smoothly. So, I watched these videos and gave their suggestions a try. Lo and behold, I created a seam that looks unbelievable. The top is just a continuation of the knitting. The bottom has to be created as if it is a continuation.
Finishing the First Piece of the Project
I never knew I could do such good work. I can’t wait to start up the sides. I’ve already watched that video and I will watch it again before I start on the sides. First, I have to finish the bottom. And I have every confidence that I will make it look just as awesome as the top. Take a look at the picture to see what I am creating. This will be the most awesome knitting project I have ever done.
Did I mention it was the hardest thing I have ever attempted? It is going to give me confidence to make the other really complicated pieces. That sweater, hat and booties are waiting in the wings.
Now, in closing, I must mention that once I finish these difficult pieces that I already have in progress, I’m going to switch to making hat, scarf, mitten sets to give to the homeless. It’s going to be my new mission for quite some time. These are simpler projects, but with a great deal more purpose. I have all of this yarn and patterns for Afghans and such that I have collected over the years. If you are a knitter, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Large Afghans are a lot of work and, when finished, I can only give it to one person. For the same amount of time and yarn, I can make something useful for those in need, several somethings in fact. I don’t really know how many hats, mittens and scarves will come out of the vast amount of yarn in my closet. But I’m going to find out.
There you have it and that is the end of my knitting story for this podcast. Take a look at the pictures of my current project on our Locals platform. That’s peaceful heart farm DOT locals DOT com.
Well, that concludes this podcast. There is always something going on the with animals and I love sharing our stories with you. I hope you have your own dreams going and adventures going on. It may be the trials and tribulations of your children, your career or your family. Please share with us on our Locals platform. We’d love to hear from you.
I hope you enjoyed my knitting story. I’m so excited to be getting back into the groove and feeding that creative impulse. What do you like to create? Let me know.
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Thank you so much for stopping by our homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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