It’s spring in Virginia and we have calves, spring lambs, a goat kid, and baby quail. So much is going on. This is true of every spring. After a sleepy winter, spring brings rapid growth and renewed life.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
We love our place here. The dream we started nearly 17 years ago just keeps going growing toward our ever-changing vision.
Sheep and Spring Lambs
Spring lambs have sprung. Just yesterday, Cinco de mayo, we had a brand new baby ram lamb born. He is strong and healthy, weighing in at 6 lbs 6 oz. His mom is the youngest ewe out there. She is just now one year old. There are 6 more ewes still to deliver. A couple of them look like they are about to burst. Sheep usually have a single in their first year and twins in their second year. We have had quite a few along our journey that even have triplets on a regular basis. On the very rare occasions this breed of sheep will have quadruplets. We have not seen that. And I have to say that I am glad of that. Four lambs is a lot to keep up with out there.
The sheep are no longer right outside my living room window. We ran out of grass in the pasture there so I’m making a bit of a longer trek to check on them a couple of times a day. Concern for their health and the health of the pasture drove that decision. Sure, it was much more convenient for me to be able to look out the window and easily check on them. But their health and the pasture health is much more important than my convenience.
If the grass gets too short, it has trouble growing back. Especially if we have any kind of drought. We learned that lesson quite a few years back. Good pasture management is essential for our grass-based operation. The health of the sheep is greatly impacted by short grass as well. Domesticated sheep and goats around the world have issues with parasitic worms. We have worked long and hard on our flock to alleviate this issue. We lost a lot of lambs in the beginning – and we even lost a couple of ewes to parasites.
The long and the short of it is that these worms are pooped out onto the grass. In the warmth and wet of spring is the perfect medium for them to re-infect their host sheep. They crawl up the grass and get eaten by the sheep eating very short grass. They can only crawl up so high and then the dryness will kill them. They need moisture. The solution to this deadly issue is regular pasture rotation. Just about the time the eggs would hatch, the sheep get moved to another clean section of grass. The worms are left behind and most die off without a host in which to lay their eggs. And if some do hatch and begin to crawl up the grass, as long as the grass is tall enough, the worms are left behind having only climbed a short way up the grass stem.
In the beginning we were forced to chemical worming solutions to keep our livestock alive. Now we rarely need to worm them. We still keep an eye on them and worm as needed. So far this year, no worming has been needed. The goats, too, have not had to have any wormer.
Speaking of goats, have I mentioned that it is almost impossible to keep goats inside a fence. Scott put lots of effort into creating a fencing system that would hold them. And I must say that the perimeter fence does a pretty good job. Inside the perimeter they pretty much go wherever they want.
We have 14 separate paddocks that we use to rotate stock so they are not too long on one part of the pasture for reasons I just stated. Four of these paddocks are on the front part of the property. Five are in what I would call in the mid-point of our land. In the back field there are five more. The front, middle and back are each separated by a driveway. The goats don’t generally go across that divide. But within the middle and back sections, they pretty much move at will between the five paddocks. The sheep, donkeys and cows stay where we put them. But not the goats.
Now as I said, they generally stay inside the perimeter and only go between the internal paddock fences. But there is this one goat. She goes in and out of any fence, anywhere, anytime. This is a full-grown goat and somehow she goes right through the fence. She’s like Houdini. Why is this important?
We decided not to breed our goats anymore. Gradually, the cashmere goats will be phased out and replaced with a meat goat breed. We keep goats for pasture maintenance. Originally, I wanted the cashmere goats because I had dreams of using cashmere yarn for my knitting projects. I think I mentioned this in the last podcast. When you start out on a homestead, you want to do everything. Then reality sets in and you realize you have to scale back. There is only so much time in the day. You simply can’t do it all. And so it is with the cashmere. I simply do not have time to keep up with the cashmere, much less get it processed and spun into yarn. I have knitting projects in progress at this time that I have been working on for over a year.
Back to Houdini goat. About a week ago, I was out bringing in the cows from the field for their morning milking. And low and behold, there was a goat kid out there. It didn’t take me long to figure out how that happened. Houdini went to visit the boys at some point. As I said, she goes wherever she wants, whenever she wants. She had a really cute kid and I’m happy to have him. There is a part of me that wants to hurry up the switcheroo so we can have goat kids again. But I’ll stick with the plan. It will be a couple more years before we switch over to the meat goats. This will likely be the last kid born here on the homestead until the switch is completed.
The cows are doing great. We are still waiting on a calf or two to be born. I talked with the vet about Buttercup to get some advice about what to look for if she were to have another problem like she had a couple of years ago. According to the vet, we are still in good shape and I know what to look for in regards to identifying she is having an issue.
Cloud is having a problem though that we have not been able to resolve. She has overgrown hooves on both rear feet. One of them is quite significant and may be causing her some pain. She is very sensitive and jumpy when we get near her rear legs. Scott has gotten kicked quite a few times. I think I talked about the kick that injured the thumb on his right hand. He has had to slow down on some of the construction because he can’t grip with that injured hand. It’s getting better but still has a way to go before he has full function with that hand.
Violet and Claire are cruising right along. I am still unsure whether Butter is actually going to have a calf. She doesn’t really look preggers to me. Scott say yes. We shall see over the next month or so if there is any indication she is ready to deliver us a beautiful calf.
We have 33 baby quail in brooders. That is an intermediate place between the incubator and living outside. We use large plastic storage containers with a piece of woven wire inserted into the lid. On top of that is a heat lamp. They have a deep bedding of wood shavings. That keeps them warm and safe while they grow their permanent feathers. In an unbelievably short while – 2 weeks or so – they will be completely feathered out. We are nearing that date at this point. Once they are fully feathered, we gradually remove the heat lamp and then transfer them to the cages outside. At 8 weeks of age, they are fully grown. Today I will start collecting eggs for the next batch to go in the incubator. We are getting 10 to 13 eggs per day. That means likely over 70 eggs will get incubated this time.
Scott worked very hard on getting the garden ready for planting. It is too late for peas, but I have lots and lots of beans, tomatoes, onions and culinary herbs ready to go. I’ll be getting into that over the next week or two. I love planting in the garden. Watching the plants come up from those seeds, sprouting and growing rapidly, reaching toward the sun. This year I expect to have to weed much less. Scott spent a good bit of time putting down a landscaping ground cover, then cutting holes for the seeds and plants to be put in the ground. I’m excited to see how this works for us this year. Weeds are always a problem and the least fun part of gardening. A few weeds are fun to work with, but an overgrowth is just hard work. Our garden is quite large which is the perfect setting to allow weeds to grow faster than I can get them under control. I have my fingers crossed that this year, the landscape cover is going to do the trick in keeping the weeds to a minimum.
The first room in the creamery is nearing completion – well near completion. The tile floors will have to be installed later and the electrical connection is temporary, but it will be functional enough for me to use it to store and age cheese. We have a freezer set up with a special temperature control that keeps the temperature near 55 degrees. That is our current aging environment. We are talking very limited space in there with no control of the humidity. The new aging room is going to be an incredible asset. It is very spacious and I will be able to put in a humidifier to keep the cheese from drying and cracking. I am so excited about the prospects of making more cheese and aging it more effectively.
I am having such a great time making cheese. I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but making cheese is a very peaceful endeavor. I have a couple of podcasts on basic cheesemaking and the process involved. In a nutshell, the milk gets heated, cultures are added, then a coagulant to make one great big curd. The curd gets cut into small pieces and from there several different branches can happen that I won’t describe here today. I’ll do that again another time. But once the curd is cooked – I say cooked but it never gets above 100 to 122 degrees depending on the cheese. Once the curd is deemed done, the whey gets drained and the curds are put into cheese molds or forms. It’s a long day but a wonderful experience. I can take my mind off of anything that may be bothering me, using the cheesemaking almost like a meditation. Anyone interested in cheesemaking classes? We can start with something really easy. Drop me an email (say email address) and let me know your thoughts on that.
I’ve opened up a larger number of herd shares at this point. Lots and lots of folks are looking for raw milk and raw milk products. This is one my favorite parts of what we are doing with our homestead right now. I get to know my herd share owners a little bit more every week. These are some great people that are doing great things. I hope to attract some attention from Winston-Salem, NC. If you know anyone in that area looking for raw milk, let them know about us. They will need to come to the farm to pick up as we are in Virginia and can’t deliver across state lines. We’ll give them a tour and the kids love petting the donkeys.
That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed walking along with me as we toured the homestead and said hello to the spring lambs. Maybe later this summer we can invite you to a physical tour. Those lambs are going to be cute over the next few months.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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