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The blueberries are ripening. Some are already ripe. We also have strawberries ripening. The varieties that we have are all everbearing, meaning they will bear fruit all summer long. That story and much more is coming right up.
As always, I want to take a minute to welcome all the new listeners and welcome back the veteran homestead-loving regulars. I appreciate you all so much. Your presence is appreciated. Let me know if there is something in particular you would like to hear me talk about. Is there a particular animal you want to know about? What about cheesemaking? Or are you only interested in eating these great cheeses. Let me know.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
The new cheese cave is operating wonderfully. I put another couple of wheels of our Peaceful Heart Gold in there just a few days ago. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to open that door and feel the nice cool air come rushing out. Rather than an upright freezer space it is an entire room dedicated to housing our cheeses.
The cheeses are stored on wooden shelves. This is keeping with traditional aging techniques. We turn the various cheeses regularly to keep the interior moisture balanced. Right now, each cheese has its own shelf (we have four varieties) and only one side of the cheese cave is being used. I can’t tell you how freeing it feels to have that many shelves to fill up and no worries about running out of space.
We use an apparatus called a Cool Bot to keep the room at the proper temperature. It fools the air conditioner into believing it needs to keep running. Normally, an AC compressor is going to stop when the temperature gets down near 60 degrees. However, for cheese we need it to be 52 to 55 degrees for most cheeses. The Cool Bot fools the air conditioner and the compressor keeps running until the lower temperature is reached. It even has a Wi-Fi connection and an app that offers a graph of the temperature over time. It’s a great invention. The cost of a commercial cooling unit would be impossible for us to justify.
Today the humidifier was added. I’ll need to get an electronic and remote humidity monitoring set up in there, I think. As I said, we have one with the Cool Bot for the temperature, but I’m going to look into something to monitor the humidity as well.
The roof over the milking parlor is really moving along nicely. I can see how it is going to look now. Sometimes Scott explains to me how one thing or another is going to be done and I really don’t have any kind of visual in my mind about what all those words mean. Now I can see it and it is amazing.
Between Saturday, Sunday and Monday 52 quail chicks hatched out. We were amazed. Normally it is expected that about 70% of the incubating eggs will hatch. That’s a good hatch rate. Sometimes it is much less. But 52 out of 64? That far exceeded our expectations. We did lose one yesterday, so now we have 51. I’m so excited about this great hatch.
They are currently in the brooder where they will remain for the next two weeks. In the first week to 10 days they will fully feather out and at least quadruple in size. It is unbelievable how quickly they grow.
It’s so exciting. These little birds are fantastic to raise. We have set up a cycle and every six weeks we will hatch another batch. This plan will go throughout the summer and into the early fall. We will have lots and lots of quail in the freezer by the end of fall. Since we do not raise chickens yet, this will be our poultry supply for the winter.
Sheep, Lambs, Goats, and Kids
Yesterday we brought the lambs and their moms up for their 2nd spring health check. Spring time is when the internal parasites really take off. We have to keep a closer eye on them during this time. Everyone passed with lying colors. It’s so good to see this. I can’t tell you how good it is to see this.
Homesteading has many challenges, and for us, learning about this cycle was a hard lesson. We do our best to raise our animals as close to nature as possible. Their health is of paramount importance to us. In 2010, when we began, we were completely unaware of how vicious and fatal these internal parasites can be for our sheep and lambs. We watched in horror as a perfectly healthy lamb would succumb to them within days if we weren’t watching closely.
At one point, we were taking poop samples regularly to try and get a handle on the problem. Basically, we looked at their poop under a microscope and counted the number of eggs. That gave us an idea about the number of parasites they carried. There is also another test where we look inside the lids of their eyes. Here we are looking for dark pink tissue. The lighter it is, the less blood they have and the closer they are to imminent death. For the adults it is dangerous when the eyelids are pale. For the lambs and goat kids it is often a death sentence.
This is all pretty morbid so let me get to the good part. We did begin to use a chemical wormer. And in the beginning, we used it often. Three to four times per year. That is the standard for commercial operations. But we were determined to use better animal husbandry practices to bring this under control. And when I say “bring this under control” that is the mentality of most commercial sheep operations. They want to keep it under control. For us, we wanted to gain control and then, using better pasturing techniques, we wanted the problem to be a small one if not completely eliminated. I can’t say I will ever be comfortable saying it is completely eliminated. We keep a check on them.
Today, we check them twice in the spring, once in late summer and once in winter. And I cannot remember the last time we had to use a chemical wormer. I know it has been over a year. And when we do have to use a chemical, it is only on the select few who might need it.
How did we accomplish this? Good pasture rotations was key for us. One of the problems we ran into that cost us a lot of lambs and even a goat or two was a drought that reduced our pasture grass. The grass was far too short. Again, this was the early days. We were uneducated novices. As the animals grazed, they were clipping that grass way too close to the ground where the hatched larva didn’t have to climb very far up the grass to be eaten.
Today, Scott manages this very, very well. He knows exactly how high the grass needs to be before we let any of the animals graze in a particular pasture. And he knows when it is time to move them to the next paddock. The result is a health check like we had yesterday. And the health check we had a couple of months ago just prior to the first lamb arriving. Everyone was doing well. No issues with parasites.
Missing Goat Kid
One small side note on this health check. Along with the sheep and their lambs, we brought up the one renegade goat and her kid. Because we do not want any more mistakes with unauthorized goat breeding, this goat kid needed to be banded. It is a relatively simple procedure that causes the blood circulation to be cut off to his testicles.
We tended to him first and that went off without a hitch. Then Scott picked up each lamb and we checked their health and banded the three boys in that group also. Next, all of the big girls were checked. All done. Let’s get them all back into the field. Only one problem. Sometime during all of the hubbub, the goat kid disappeared. He was just gone. But you know, I’ve said this before. Goat. There is no keeping a goat in when they don’t want to be kept in.
We looked and looked and could not find him. I followed his mom all the way back to the pasture in which they were currently residing. I followed her all the way to the back of that pasture until I lost her in the woods. He never showed up. I walked all the way back to the corral area. I checked the other two adjacent pastures. No sign of him. Those goat kids are sneaky and can hide most effectively.
I had exhausted myself walking up and down those hills, likely over a mile. And it was hot. I gave up. He is three months old and can make it on his own if need be. He is old enough to be weaned after all. So, I let it be for the night. Sure enough, this morning when Scott went out to get the cows, there he was, back with his mom. All’s well that ends well. But he really took me for a ride.
Cows and Calves
I have just a short note on the cows and calves. The cows are still doing their thing. That means they eat, drink and sleep. Occasionally, they will offer up a couple of moos. Mostly they eat and then lay around chewing their cud.
The calves managed to get into the travel lane and all the way up to the milking shed. We still don’t know if the gate was accidentally left ajar or if they worked it loose. No matter, they are back in their corner of our world, happily grazing and running around in the grass. Well, Wendell runs around a lot. Luna, not so much. Wendell is only a couple of months old. He still has lots of vim and vigor going.
The blackberries are in full bloom. It will be another month before we reap that harvest. The mulberry trees are blooming. That fruit will not be ready until much later in the year, closer to fall. I haven’t seen any kiwis, but the vines are doing very well. We have a few peaches coming along, but I didn’t see any pears or apples. That is not to say they are not there. I did not look at every single tree. I looked at them in passing as I went to the blueberry patch.
As I said, the blueberries are ripening. We have a couple of rows of blueberry bushes. There are several different varieties. Most of them still need to ripen, but one variety was ready to go. I went out there with a basket of course, just in case. However, my basket was not big enough. There were so many of the early variety that were ripe, I quickly filled that little basket. It held more than a pint but less than a quart. You see? I wasn’t really expecting there to be very many blueberries. So, I was pleasantly surprised.
I carried the little basket filled with blue jewels back up to the milking shed where Scott was still milking the cows. He was pleasantly surprised and grabbed a bunch of them and proceeded to enjoy their sweet loveliness. Not only did he enjoy them, but Daisy got a turn too.
Donkeys Are Fun
Daisy is our eldest miniature donkey. She came up for her usual scratches and hugs. After I provided those, I offered her a blueberry. It took her a minute to figure out that it was a treat. She had never had them before. She has had carrots and apples, but never blueberries. It didn’t take her long to come looking for more – and more, and more, and more.
Her daughter, Cocoa, also came forward. But she was not catching on to the treat I was offering her. Plus, because Daisy had caught on, she kept pushing her muzzle into my hand and stealing the berries I was offering Cocoa. After a while I gave up on Cocoa and gave a few more to Daisy. She loved them.
On my way back to the house, still having a nearly full basket of blueberries, I stopped by the garden to check on the strawberries. Why not? Sure enough, I brought in a handful of those as well. I put some of the blueberries in my yogurt. What a treat. Later, or perhaps the next day it was, I put some of the strawberries in a dish and poured fresh raw milk cream over them. That was an even better treat. Yum, yum.
The garden is doing fantastic. I still have some plants to get out there. But the ones already planted are just catching on and steadily branching out. I noticed a small sweet banana pepper already. It was about 2 inches long. And the others are blooming up a storm. The bees are having a time out there.
We have about 100 square feet of potatoes planted and they are getting really big. Potatoes was the first thing we planted. I was not sure that any plants would come up. I was using potatoes we had grown last year as seed potatoes. So they did come up and I’m happy about that. The next big hurdle there will be whether they are healthy all the way through to harvest. The problem with replanting your potatoes is they are subject to all kinds of destructive molds. We shall see. We shall see. Our soil is really good. Scott put fresh, clean compost in all of the beds. Fingers crossed.
As far as the cicadas, what began as a novelty that happens only once every 17 years has now become mostly an annoyance. Night and day. Day and night. They go on and on and on. Sometimes it is so loud, I can hear it clearly through my earbuds even though they are tightly fitted into my ears. Not only that, but the life cycle for many of the adults has reached its end. They are dozens and dozens lying dead all over the place. The birds and the cat are loving that, but I don’t find it quite so attractive. In another week or two it will all be over, not to be seen or heard again until 2037.
I love my life here and wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s hard work. It’s sweaty work. Sometimes it’s frustrating and heartbreaking. Many, many times it’s peace and tranquility – except for those cicadas. I’m so done with them. The fresh fruit is coming in and soon the vegetables will be arriving. Cheesemaking is progressing. I’m getting better and better with my methods. The creamery that rose out of the ground over three years ago is getting closer and closer to completion. I couldn’t ask for more in my life.
I’m so happy you came along for the ride around the homestead. I look forward to bringing you more stories next time.
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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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