Dearest ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed a distinct lack of posts in the last – ahem – year or so. I’ve been a wee bit busy and I let the blog drop. We haven’t even put in a garden this year! Here I hang my head in shame and offer apologies to you all. I can’t promise to be as regular as I was at first, but I’m picking back up and starting to get the rest of my life back in order and that includes this blog. It’s definitely time to update you on everything going on.
So what riveting activities have stolen me away from regular blogging? I’m so glad you asked! We have animals on the farm! Yes, we had the chickens (and they are still doing well – actually have a broody hen sitting eggs right now. Woohoo!) and they technically count as animals, but they were sorta “backyard” and not “livestock” in my head. Now we have sheep, alpacas, and a llama!
We started out wanting something to help keep down the grass, while also improving the soil. I also wanted animals that could help out in other ways – food, work, or fiber. While I knew that, like the chickens, we weren’t planning to sell any meat or other products. But, if we did ever need to do so I wanted animals that produced multiple products. I started looking at livestock that are good for homesteaders. Cows were high on the list, as were goats. I also had alpacas in the back of my head – we have a wonderful lady nearby who breeds champion alpacas and she’s an absolute dear, and who doesn’t love an alpaca?
We first looked at goats. There are a lot of upsides to goats – they can give milk and meat, are relatively hardy, and are cute as the Dickens. However, there are a lot of downsides, too. They are hard on the land, they eat *everything*, and they are master escape artists. I decided I’d see if I liked the products they could offer. I found some goat’s milk and goat’s meat and I’m sorry to say I really didn’t care for either of them. So, it was not to be goats.
Cows are something that’s still on the list, but for right now we’re not ready. I did a LOT of research on them first, found a couple breeds that will likely work for us, but ultimately decided that a cow is just too much work for everything else we have going on. I especially cannot commit to being out for milking at the exact same time twice a day, every day. So, for now, they were out, too.
We then looked at sheep – and here’s where we started checking all the right boxes. Sheep are easy keepers (some breeds, anyway). They can be raised on grass, which is free, and they provide meat and fiber. (Hello, my name is Wellie and I’m a fiber addict.) We began to drill down on breeds and I discovered Shetlands. They are a “primitive” or “unimproved” breed – small, hardy, good mothers, and can be raised on grass alone. Then I saw my first Shetlands at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I was In. Love. They’re adorable! Plus, their fiber is amazing to knit with. We have a breeding flock of five ewes, two rams, and a wether (neutered male) to keep the rams company. We plan to raise lambs to sell as breeding stock, eat, and for fleece.
The alpacas are really all about the fiber (ok, and the cute factor). Although they are used for meat in their native South America, we’re not going to be doing so. We got four wethered fiber males. They’re slightly expensive hay burners, but they’re so worth it. They’re charming, funny, and their fiber is drool-worthy. The llama is theoretically a guard animal, but I’m not sure she’s quite as aggressive as I’d hoped. She is great at alerting when something’s weird or not supposed to be in the field, so that’s a plus.
There was a boat-load of work to do to get ready for the animals. First was the research. I only got halfway through all the books I need to read on the subject of the sheep. I still need to read all the books on camelids (alpacas and llamas are camelids). We’ve watched YouTube videos, attended fiber festivals and breed shows, visited farms, and read so many books. There is so much to learn as I’ve never had livestock and Mr. WPW didn’t raise any of these types of animals on the farm when he was a kid. We’re still learning and adding/changing as we learn more.
Then there was the infrastructure. This was NOT cheap or easy. We put in the fencing we need to keep the animals safe. We fenced in about four acres for the main paddock and about another acre that will be the ram field. First we had a surveyor come in and mark the property lines. We got quotes from several local firms, check references, sort out the placement of the fence, get financing sorted out, and finally actually have it installed. This took several months to get in place, but we finished about a week before the first sheep touched hoof to our land.
Next we cleaned and set up the barn. Mr. WPW is super clever! He built a divider between the “human” side of the barn, where I store medicines, food, etc., and the “animal” side of the barn. We found sources for feed and hay and all the many and varied things we needed for animal care.
It was a LOT of work and everything took a back seat from blogging to running to social engagements. It’s still a lot of work and takes time every day, so I’m trying to figure out how to get everything going again (like my Fitprepper workouts) while also holding down a full-time job.
To be continued…
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little update. My next couple posts are going to be about all the tools I’ve been acquiring to process the fiber and best use the fiber I have. Hopefully your eyes won’t glaze over as I go into detail on cleaning wool, carding and combing it, then spinning it. Don’t worry – there will be more posts on Hearthkeeping and regular prepping coming later. Just have to get this all out of my system. Haha!