I know, I know, I haven't done a blog post in 10 months! To be honest, this year completely got away from us. I was re-reading the last post and saw all the lofty goals and visions we had for the year, most of which have most certainly not happened. We tend to fly by the seat of our pants around here, which makes for an interesting time.
One of the reasons our spring plans were altered was a pair of new arrivals that we welcomed in April. A friend of mine actually tagged me in a Facebook post of a friend of hers. This woman had run a pig rescue for many years and now, due to circumstances beyond her control, was moving and needed to find a home for the last four pigs in her care. A blind Meishan name Eyore, another large farm pig name Furnace, and two pot bellied pigs. Acting on pure impulse, and without thoroughly consulting Kyle I agreed to take on the pigs (Note to self: check with life partner before huge life altering decisions next time). I spent the next few months anticipating their arrival and planning where they were going to live.
Finally the day was upon us, I received a text message from the woman we were getting the pigs from and she informed me that only Furnace and Eyore would be coming-those were the two largest pigs. Apparently the pot bellied pigs had watched them get loaded into the trailer and refused to leave their pen. They would be staying on with the woman who was moving into the house.
They arrived by a third party delivery and when the man opened the livestock trailer I was, well, to be honest, I was slightly horrified. I don't know if you know this, but farm pigs are HUGE! Like, mythically huge, like something I could ride into battle against my enemies if I was on a quest to Mordor huge. At least that's how they seemed getting off of that truck. Furnace laboriously grunted and hefted himself down the ramp and into their temporary quarters. Eyore took a little longer, being blind he was disoriented and a little scared but eventually found the trail to follow his friend.
I texted Kyle saying "I think I made a mistake, these pigs are so big". His super helpful husband response? "Well how big did you expect a 1,000 pound pig to be?"
Kyle came home from work and found me outside the gate, simply staring at the pigs in shock, and awe. He peered over the gate and said "Oh my god, they are gigantic!" I just looked at him. And then I cried. He hugged me and told me everything would be fine, and I sniffled and then we got to work.
I'm not going to lie, the first few days were strange, the pigs, especially Furnace, seemed curious but also sad. I am sure they missed their home and were uncertain was this place held in store for them. I had bought apples because I was informed they were one of their favorite treats and I cautiously offered them through the gate. Once Furnace knew I had apple offerings, he greeted me with enthusiastic grunts when he would see me. Eventually their shed was completed and we moved them to their permanent lodging. By then we were pretty comfortable around our newest, and by far largest of residents. We enlisted the help of four friends to walk the pigs the acre or so to their new abode, we were slightly concerned- what if Furnace decided he wanted to go left when we wanted him to go right? What if Eyore couldn't figure out where he was supposed to go at all? Our fears were unfounded, with the temptation of some food, Furnace went exactly where we needed him to go, and Eyore almost convinced me he wasn't blind at all.
We have had a learning curve with the pigs, Furnace is very sweet and loves belly rubs, he is also a fully grown, boar. he is neutered which makes him much safer and more predictable to deal with. But the fact of the matter is, he is the first animal we have had on the farm who could really, truly hurt us if he felt like it. Thankfully, as I have mentioned, he is a sweetheart and has been raised as a pet. He ever so gently will take treats from my hand, and grunts in recognition of us. He has torn through two pools this summer and I am brainstorming what to do for next summer to keep him cool. Eyore is equally as sweet, although he is a little more shy due to his blindness.
All in all, the pigs have been a fun addition to our homestead, I still feel a bit unprepared with them, I've done some research to try to find out how best to care for them but most things are either geared towards pet pot bellied pigs or raising farm pigs for meat. There is not much out there on raising farm pigs as pets. We seem to be doing okay by them though. The pig shed already needs repaired and fortified and I am already stressed about keeping them warm this winter (I stay pretty anxious about most things on the farm, so that's not really a surprise).
Winter will also bring food challenges. We have been very blessed by help from so many angles when it comes to feeding the impressive beasts. Our friend and alpaca mentor sets up twice a week at local farmer's markets and she has set up a bin for donations to the pigs. Twice a week she hauls home goodies that other vendors and visitors have left for them. Fresh produce that farmers didn't want to haul home, and food from refrigerator clean outs that the customer's bring with them to drop in the bin. In addition, another alpaca friend got us in touch with a local church that often has extra food from their food pantry that they donate, most of it is bread and baked goods that we pick up every Friday. Furnace and Eyore love these treats and we only have to supplement every once in awhile with commercial pig feed. Once fall hits the produce from the farmer's market will be gone, and we will probably need to buy canned fruit to help get them through the winter. We will keep trying our best, and hopefully they will be forgiving of any mistakes we make along the way.
It's 2019, and since we took a small hiatus for the holidays, I figured it was time for the obligatory New Year's Goal post. It's not hard for us to have big goals and dreams for this year, considering we just started our homestead journey last January, and we had a few set backs and extra servings on our plate last year that diverted some of our attention. However, 2018 was still a really big year for us, moving, acquiring around 35 more animals, registering our business name, and not to mention, getting married. But, as you know with any homestead, there is still so much more to do.
Our top goal for this year is to get our water catchment system up, it was our top goal for last year too, but in May Kyle fell off of an 18 ft extension ladder, which severely crippled our summer plans (pun intended). We were unable to even get our garden started. So this year we have 3 different barrels that are intended as water catchment barrels, and if the rain this year is anything like 2018, those will come in very handy.
Our second goal, and possible our biggest is starting our own aquaponics system. Our homestead is our dream for many reasons, we love the animals, we love the country, but we also want to be as self-sufficient and prepared as possible. As you may know, an aquaponics system has many benefits, not limited to fresh vegetables, and fish. We could have leafy greens far past our normal growing season, and a freezer stocked with farm raised tilapia. We are even debating growing some citrus trees in the greenhouse. I know what you may be thinking, an aquaponics system is a huge, and marginally expensive undertaking, and you are right. I am not under any delusions that we will have it up and running by this summer, but at least we will have started building it, and be one step closer to that dream.
On the business side of things, we will be drying and marketing paca poo this spring, it is a fantastic fertilizer for the garden, and alpaca poo is considered a "cool" manure, which means you can put it directly on your plants without composting it first. You can also soak the alpaca "beans" and make a compost tea to pour directly on your garden. We will not become millionaires from this, but a little extra income and a little less poo is always welcome on the farm.
Goat Tote will be launching this February, which, if you don't know, is a monthly subscription box for goats and their keepers. It will include care items for goats and gifts for the humans who love them. I am really excited about this, as I don't think there is currently a subscription box out there for goat people. I am hoping it finds its audience and its groove and takes off enough for us to build a fun goat community around it. Plus, I love subscription boxes, so being able to launch my own is just a really exciting idea.
We will also be starting an Etsy, and possibly a FiberCrafty shop for my handspun yarns and hand woven items. I am starting to build an inventory of yarn, and I am delving into making different types and learning about weights, ply, yardage, and all the other details that go into making a good yarn. I love spinning, but as it is a new hobby for me, I want to make sure that I offer the very best product that I am able to when I do finally start to sell my wares. All of this means I will need to hone my marketing skills a lot more than they currently are.
I should also be finishing my aromatherapy certification this year, and I hope to be able to advise and help people along their healing journey. This is also an exciting endeavor, and I'm thrilled to learn how to formulate oil blends and bath and body products.
I'm sure as the year progresses, smaller projects will pop up, new ideas will churn in our heads, or perhaps we will remember old ideas and start working on them. Of course we will have animals that need tending to, and if I know anything about us, we will acquire new animals on the farm. We have been really drawn to helping out rescue animals and other animals in need, we have signed up with the South East LLama Rescue to be foster parents to alpacas and llamas in need, and we already have 2 alpacas that we have adopted from them. We have a couple other animals that have come to us when people were no longer able to care for them, and we hope to be able to help more animals in the coming year. We are expanding our apiary as well, and we are going to try our hand at catching swarms, this means we will be planting more flowers, trees and other plants that the bees enjoy.
The beginning of the year and the coming of spring is always an exciting time, but especially so on the farm. I am busier this winter than I have ever been, and yet I know that this summer will be a whirlwind of activity that makes the winter look downright lazy. Spring and summer on the farm bring farm babies, gardens, and all sorts of new activity and promise. I can't wait to see what year two brings to Ironhorse Homestead.
We currently have at least 20 dozen eggs in our fridge, now when I tell most people this, they assume we have a ton of chickens who lay very regularly for us. In truth, we only have 4 chickens, and 3 of them are small seabright bantams. None of which are currently laying, as winter is upon us and they are molting to top it off. The majority of the eggs in our fridge are duck eggs, from the 15 or so Cayuga ducks that free range our 19 acres.
Many people are unaware that you can even eat duck eggs, and just as many are skeptical to even try. We had never eaten duck eggs before we acquired ducks, but I knew that you could, in fact, eat their eggs. After trying our first duck egg, laid from one of the girls in the small flock of 6 that we started with, we were hooked. So, I'm going to share with you the benefits of duck eggs, and a little about how they differ from chicken eggs.
The first thing you will notice about a duck egg, is obviously that they are very large. Our breed of duck is not one of the larger breeds, so our eggs actually resemble the extra large chicken eggs you may buy in the grocery store. With the exception that in the beginning of their laying career, Cayuga ducks lay eggs with a gray/black shell. However after laying for a few months, they have lightened to almost white. However, many duck eggs can be almost 50% larger than jumbo chicken eggs. One of the advantages of a larger egg is that they contain more vitamins and minerals. More specifically, duck eggs are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, they contain almost twice as many milligrams as chicken eggs. Duck eggs are also higher in protein, containing 8.97 grams compared to 6.28 grams in chicken eggs. Duck eggs contain large amounts of B-12, Vitamin A, Selenium and Iron as well.
One of the most interesting things I've found about duck eggs is that because the proteins in chicken and duck eggs are slightly different, those with an allergy to chicken eggs can often eat duck eggs with no problem.
When it comes to baking, many people feel duck eggs have a richer taste than chicken eggs. Also, they contain more albumen, which will make your baked goods turn out fluffier and lighter than they would if you were cooking with chicken eggs. This is because the added albumen gives the baked goods a higher lift and more structure.
Of course nothing is without a down side, duck eggs do contain more fat, calories and cholesterol than chicken eggs because of their larger size. If you consume them in moderation this shouldn't be an issue, but you may want to be careful if you already struggle with cholesterol issues.
Even though we had never even tasted duck eggs before bringing the flock of quacking clowns to our property, we almost exclusively cook with duck eggs now. It takes a little experimenting to find the right ratio for your recipes, with the size difference you generally can't substitute one duck egg for one chicken egg but it's not usually a big issue. Duck eggs have many health benefits, and they are definitely worth a try, so next time you head to your farmer's market try giving them a try, you may just find they are an egg-stravagant treat!
The second fiber we produce on the farm and that I am gonna talk about today is alpaca fleece. Almost everyone has heard of alpaca fleece and knows how soft and warm it is. The first fleece produced by baby alpacas is the finest, softest fleece the animal will produce.
Alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in the spring, and can yield 7-10 lbs of fiber. The fleece has the luster of silk, three times the insulating capacity of wool without the weight, and its softness has been compared to cashmere. One of the differences between wool and alpaca is that alpaca fiber does not have lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic and a good choice for those who are allergic to wool. Because it lacks these oils, alpaca fiber does not need to be washed with harsh detergents and chemicals. The scales on alpaca fiber are closer to the shaft and are more rounded than scales on sheep fiber, so it does not have the prickly, itchy feel of wool.
Alpaca fiber takes dye well, and in South America, alpacas were bred mainly with white fleece. Breeders in North America breed for a wide range of natural colors, and strive for uniformity, denseness and fineness in their fleece.
Alpaca fleece wicks away moisture, is naturally windproof, stain, and flame resistant.
There are two types of Alpacas, Huacaya and Suri. Huacaya is what we raise at Ironhorse Homestead, and what many people think of when they think of alpacas, as they are about 95% of the Alpacas you will encounter. They have fluffy, crimped fiber that grows outward from their bodies. Suri Alpacas have shiny, long hair that hangs in what resembles dreadlocks, their fleece has a high lustre and very silky feel. Suri Alpacas are much more rare, and consequently, their fiber is more expensive.
Alpaca fiber is judged and measured by its micron count, similar to how mohair is judged and measured. Royal fiber has less than 20 microns, baby has 21-23, standard Alpaca fleece is 24-28, adult is 29-32 and anything above that is considered coarse to very coarse. The fibers can also be judged by fineness, crimp, and lock structure.
Our alpacas are not show animals, but there are many alpaca shows where the animal is judged on the fineness of its fiber, as well as its physical conformity. We raise ours for the fiber, but they are really more like pets. The fiber is amazing to the touch, and they are inquisitive, quiet, somewhat shy creatures. I love to watch them grazing peacefully in the fields, and looking into their big, beautiful, soulful eyes reminds me how lucky I am, and what an amazing opportunity we have to interact with these otherworldly creatures. Their fiber is an awesome by product of keeping them, but they are mean so much more to us.
As any of you who follow us on any of the social media platforms know, we are a new, growing fiber farm. We have recently expanded our herd to include angora goat. One look at these adorable, curly locked creatures, and you can tell they are raised for their fiber. But, I often get asked what type of fiber they produce, most people believe that angora goats produce angora fiber. Their name however, is misleading and confusing. Angora fiber is actually produced by Angora rabbits. Angora goats produce Mohair, a silky, warm, moisture resilient, and flame resistant fiber. Mohair is most prized for it's strength and luster, and its resistance to wear and odors. Historically, Angoras have been raised to produce beautiful white mohair. It was only in the last 30 years that breeders started to breed for natural colors. Our angora twins grow a beautiful black mohair and are registered with the CAGBA; the Colored Angora Goat Breeder's Association. You can also find Angora goats in red, chocolate, silver, grey and gold.
Mohair is prized by hand spinners for it's shine and softness, and indie dyers because it accepts color beautifully. Mohair is judged by its crimp and twist and their micron count. As with many livestock fleeces, kid hair is the most prized, sometimes measuring at less than 21 microns, and ranging upwards to 40 microns for very coarse mohair. Mohair has more sheen, is stronger, smoother, and wears better than sheep's wool. It is not as thin as Alpaca fiber.
Mohair is sorted into grades, mohair classified as "kid" has a range of 20-27 microns, "second kid" is 29-30, "yearling" is 27-30, and 36 or over is considered "adult".
I know micron counts can be unhelpful to people who are unfamiliar or new to the fiber world, honestly it is still a little abstract to me. I can tell more by feeling the fleeces than I can by numbers. The goal is to produce adults that keep a fine fleece of less than 32 microns. Mohair should in grow wavy or curly with little or no coarse outer coat.
The way the fiber grows in can determine the fineness of the fleece. Ringlets are usually finer, flat locks, coarser. Many times fleece grows in neither completely flat or ringlets. These intermediate fleeces are called web locks. There are other factors that come into consideration, including luster, handle, length and density. This is more than most people will be interested in, unless they are spinners, fiber enthusiasts, or indie dyers.
Mohair is often blended with wool or other fibers, to make blankets, clothing and rugs. Combining mohair with wool helps the fiber hold its shape, add loft, and hold together when spun into yarn. It's an amazingly soft, warm and luxurious fiber and Angora goats are sweet, gentle, wonderful additions to any farm.
I'm not sure how our twins' fleece will measure micron-wise, but it feels soft to the touch, and is growing in ringlets. Nebula's locks are dark black, while Gamora's are lighter and almost silver in color. They have been shorn once, by the farm that we acquired them from, I am excited for their second shearing, and to see how their fiber spins up. Angora's fiber grow one inch a month, and are shorn twice a year, each time the fleeces can carry up to 6 inches staple length.
Next week, for our fiber series, I will cover alpaca fleece, how it compares to wool and even mohair, and some reasons why you might be interested in working with it for a future project.
Goats!!! We FINALLY got goats! Okay, we have only lived here 8 months, so the word finally may be a tad dramatic. BUT, it feels like I have wanted goats for FOREVER. We decided that we wanted to raise nigora goats, we don't have tons of land, and we don't have endless streams of money, so the idea of a dual purpose breed seemed to fit the bill. Unfortunately, nigoras are a relatively new breed, and really, they are almost like designer dogs, the yorkie-poos and goldendoodles of the goat world if you will. Most herds still have their foundation stock of the two separate breeds and have a few successive generations from there. Since its a new breed, they were hard to find, and even when we decided that we would just make our own herd from a stock of angora does and nigerian dwarf bucks, we were having a hard time finding angora goats in our area. We finally found a breeder that still had reservations available and we made reservations on two does in early spring. Meanwhile, I still browsed facebook and other sites for available goats. I happened to stumble across someone selling off her small herd of Nigora goats. So suddenly we now find ourselves the proud owners of not two but eight goats!
Let me just say that goats are MUCH different from alpacas. I know this seems obvious, and I knew they wouldn't be quite the same, but goats are MUCH different than alpacas. Our alpacas can be found most of the time grazing peacefully in their pasture or relaxing in the barn stalls if it is too hot, cold or rainy out. When we come home they may peek their head out of the barn or look up from their grazing to give us a vaguely curious glance, the boys may even wander over to see if we have treats to offer, but upon finding us empty handed and uninteresting, they will turn their backs on us and act as if we no longer exist. They are easy to call to the barn in the evening for their grain, they have a designated area to relieve themselves in, and in our case this area happens to be outside the barn which is very convenient. They don't challenge fences, if we leave a gate open they will wander through, but mostly they are content with their quiet country life.
Goats on the other hand...well, they came in like 80's rock stars trashing a hotel room. The first night I heard crashing in the barn and walked in to Dobby on top of the dryer. They broke into the grain room through the gate, after we "goat proofed" that, they learned how to work the kennel doors that lead into the grain room. We barricaded those, and so far, they are holding. We were out working on a duck house one night when I heard Myrtle screaming like she may have been dying, after sprinting across the back pastures into the barn, we discovered her with her head stuck in the gate post. They poop on their mineral block, and in their mineral feeder, a feat I am still unable to figure out how they accomplished. The baby who we named Hermione can sneak out of the pasture, but only does so when she is interested in whatever project we are working on beyond the fence line. The Angora twins scream like they are women being murdered if they happen to lose sight of one another, and Hermione's mother head butts anyone who she thinks may be too close to her kid. And that is just the girls. Our herd sire Finn is a sweet buck with a puppy dog demeanor, except he is a buck so he pees on himself and smells absolutely awful. He is also a tad on the heavy side and goes crazy for food. If he even believes that we are giving grain to the alpacas he charges the barn with a single mindedness that is admirable. Griffin, our 4 month old buck cries constantly, and is, I'm sure, alerting every coyote within a 5 mile radius of his presence.
I am a woefully undisciplined blogger, I started this post 2 months ago, and between weddings, travel, and farm life, I am just know returning to it. I will say however, that the goats have only become more obnoxious, and simultaneously, closer to our hearts. Dobby continues to try to break out of every enclosure we make for her, the angora twins are finally coming around and Finn is just as stinky as ever. They are much different than our sweet, indifferent alpacas, but its safe to say, I am becoming a crazy goat lady day by day.
This past week at Ironhorse Homestead we have been focused on First Aid.
We had a small, but adequate first aid kit when we lived in the city. However, since moving and acquiring more animals, we realized that our First Aid supplies were in desperate need of replenishment. We consider ourselves "preppers" and homesteaders, and a major part of both of these is a focus on preparedness and self reliance. Especially now that we are now in a rural area and transportation and access to supplies and aid are much further than they were before. Upon examination, our medical supplies were woefully inadequate to sustain us if we were to have an acute medical emergency. Being in a rural area, its even more important for us now to have supplies on hand, so we re-evaluted and discussed what types of medical supplies we needed and what route we wanted to take.
To begin with, we of course wanted the basics: band aids, gauze, alcohol swabs, antibiotic ointment, and hydrogen peroxide. I also picked up pocket sized bottles of iodine for us to carry in our get home bags.
We also want to start stocking up on our homeopathic first aid essentials. I am studying aromatherapy and herbalism and I think it is equally important to have theses types of remedies on hand, not only for emergencies, but for more long term situations. For instance, if the worst case scenario happens and we don't have access to western medicine, I want to have a stock of herbal remedies on hand. Part of our plan is also growing an herb garden and learning to recognize and be able to forage for wild medicinal herbs. Being versed in these medicines provide us with a means to take care of ourselves even if the world as we know it collapses. I also like to attempt to treat our maladies with natural remedies whenever possible even during our normal day to day lives.
Our essential oil first aid basics are lavender, peppermint, helichrysum (great for wound healing), black pepper and oregano ( which are used in blends for pain, among other things) and aloe. We have many other oils that I keep around the house, but these specific oils are our basic, beginning staples for first aid and get home bags. I also keep a blend for brain aid, and one to target depression and anxiety on hand in my leg bag, as I believe these would be tremendously helpful in case of an emergency. In emergency situations people often panic, and in the event of prolonged upheaval and uncertainty; depression, anxiety and confusion can quickly set in. Having these oils on hand to combat these will be of huge help, and perhaps even more importantly, having something that is familiar to comfort and give a sense of normalcy can help to balance one's emotions.
For our animals we started our first aid kit with items such as probiotics, electrolyte powder and paste, a high calorie supplement and a tube of Nu-stock. These are a few items that will hopefully make a difference in the case of an animal showing signs of illness during times where we can't necessarily get to a vet.
This past week, I was stung twice during a hive inspection and while I didn't have an allergic reaction, I did have substantial swelling and redness that lasted a few days. This coupled with an incident a few weeks ago, in which bees got into Kyle's suit, mad us realize that we really need to keep an epi-pen for each of us around the house. When Kyle fell from the ladder, it took 30 minutes for the ambulance to reach the hospital with him. If one of us were to go into anaphylactic shock from a sting, an epi-pen could mean the difference between life and death. I think all beekeepers should probably consider keeping one on hand.
Our first aid kit is by no means complete, we have a lot of things that we want and need to acquire, but taking these first steps and acquiring the basics has given me a sense of comfort and preparedness. We will continue to build our supplies and grow in knowledge. Among our goals are learning basic sutures, taking CPR classes, adding emetics to our first aid kit for use in case of poisoning, and learning other basic first aid response skills. Medical preparedness is an ongoing journey and project, like most things in homesteading. We are always excited to learn and do more, if you have any first aid essentials or skills that you recommend please share them with us! We grow best when we learn together.
This has been a very long, stressful, exhausting week. We started Monday off with our first experience of hay baling day. We unloaded 200-300 bales of hay into our barn Monday night after work. We had some help with our friends who are also far more experienced farmers, we finished around 10:00 p.m., and it's safe to say that we will not need hay for the foreseeable future.
Our lone guinea fowl has integrated into our flock of young ducks, I harvested my first bundle of lavender, we did a hive inspection today and all our hives seem to being healthy and thriving, and all of this while working a 60 hour week on my job off the farm.
I'm sure you are now expecting me to say how accomplished and fulfilled I feel, well...I don't. I feel tired, overwhelmed, frustrated and like I am not making any progress. I feel like I am treading water, and just barely keeping myself afloat.
This is a hard way to feel while I'm supposed to be excited and "living my dream". I have been by turns: in tears, angry, sullen, sulky and despairing. However, I do believe it is normal, and to an extent, necessary. No one can go full speed forward all the time. In life, and in nature, there is always a time where things are just maintaining. If everything everywhere was always multiplying, moving forward, increasing, there would be no balance. So maybe I need to tread water for a bit, to get my bearings, perhaps I should try to appreciate this time and learn how to handle what I have. I am honestly not sure what I should be getting out of this time in my life where I feel as though I am not exactly succeeding in anything, but I know it won't last forever. I will get my feet underneath me and forward momentum will come again, and perhaps I will look back on this time fondly, when everything was new and we were building and learning. "This too shall pass", and I should not be so ready for it to pass so quickly, because even though I may feel like I'm just treading water, treading water is a survival technique for a reason, it's of course better than drowning, and I'm doing better than I could have dreamed of this time last year. And of course, in the end, there is no place I would rather be. So for now, I will tread water and try to appreciate the moment.
As I write this, we are in a doctor’s waiting room at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night. Kyle has had an MRI to check for a spinal injury he sustained from falling 18 feet off of an extension ladder while attempting to change a light bulb in our barn. He ended up with a few broken ribs, a small skull fracture, a broken nose and a spinal injury, which lead us to where we are now.