Sheep Care on Small Farms and Homesteads

 

sheep care on small farms and homesteadsIs sheep care part of your future? Can you raise sheep in a large backyard? In some cases the answer is yes. Sheep are adaptable and can be cared for in a paddock or small field if their needs are met. It may be a little more labor intensive and take a bit more effort and management to raise our sheep this way. Here on the farm we raise a little bit of everything. Well not really everything. But we do have quite a variety of animals. We have successfully raised goats for many years, a small herd of beef cattle and my sweet little herd of sheep.

Did you think that you have to have a large pasture of grassy grazing land in order to raise sheep? We don’t have any grazing other than the grass surrounding the different areas of the farm.  We have successfully raised a small flock of sheep for the past six years. Here’s what we have learned about sheep care and how we do it.

Have a Shelter

Sheep care

The shelter for sheep can be simple.  They will do quite well with a three sides open shed, sometimes called a run in shed.  Our small flock of four sheep actually have access to a stall in the barn but prefer to spend most of their time outside in the pen area.

Fenced Area

When keeping sheep on a small homestead, make sure you have adequate fencing to keep the sheep from getting into the roads or the neighbor’s gardens.   We are using board fencing, but actually a wire fence will work for sheep, too.  

Some people have success raising sheep using the netting type fences. When we first tried netting fences with our flock, they kept getting tangled up in the netting. I still think it can be a viable option, as many shepherds use this type of fence.

Feeding

Raising care

Sheep are grazing animals.  If you had a large pasture, they would eat grass all day long, stopping only to rest and allow the rumen to process the grass.  This is called chewing the cud.  Since our sheep spend a large part of their time in a pen, they are fed a grass hay.  They react pretty much the same to the hay as they would to grass.  They eat, then rest and ruminate.  We do feed a small amount of grain to make sure they are getting enough nutrition and vitamins.  

It is important to feed hay with grain so that the rumen does not become inflamed.  When choosing hay for non-lactating sheep, choose a grass hay and not an alfalfa.  Alfalfa has a high percentage of protein, and since it is not needed, can lead to urinary tract problems.  It can be easy to want to over feed grain.  Sheep will insist that they are still very hungry!  Look at the condition of your sheep.  If they are nicely filled out they are getting enough to eat.  The majority of their diet should be grasses and hay. 

Cleaning the Sheep Pen

Since we do not have pastures for rotational grazing, we do need to clean up after them in the pen.  Old hay is raked up and removed along with feces and any wet moist spots.  Replace the bedding in the stall or shed as needed to keep it clean and free of insects.  Smelly, wet, dirty bedding is a breeding ground for insects, parasites, worms and disease. 

Free Grazing Time

When we are on the farm we give the sheep time to leave their pen and roam freely.  They can browse and graze on grass and various forage.  One of our large grassy fields is available now that we are no longer raising cattle. Since there is a large open cattle shed in the field, the sheep can spend all day lounging around and grazing as they wish. We do still bring them back to the barn at night, although with some fencing improvements, they would be fine staying in the field at night, too.

 

Water

Make sure the sheep have access to fresh water in buckets or a low water trough at all times.  Try to keep some water in a shady location so it can stay cooler during the hot weather.

 

sheep

 Worming

  Keeping the sheep in a smaller area can lead to an abundance of parasites.  Instead of worming on a schedule, we have switched to worming when there is a problem.  Good management of your flock includes observing and checking them individually on a regular basis.  Look for paleness in gums and lower eyelids for indication of a parasite problem.  Some shepherds will choose to worm on a routine basis as part of their sheep care plan. Since we have such a small flock, we prefer to worm when necessary and avoid increasing the resistance to some worming products. 

Grooming – an Important Part of Sheep Care

Sheep care

With sheep care for a small herd there are some jobs you will probably want to just do yourself, rather than hire someone.  Trimming hooves, checking for teeth problems,  checking overall condition are some things to keep in mind.  Starting at an early age, train your sheep to be comfortable being handled.  Hold their feet even if no trimming is needed.  Inspect for stones or any softness or problems in the hoof.  Check eye lids or gums regularly for healthy pink color. 

Shearing Time is Part of Sheep Care

Most sheep being raised for wool will require a once a year shearing.  In some cases, with a heavy fiber producer you may be able to shear twice.  Even with a small flock, doing  the shearing yourself can be backbreaking.  We did all of our own shearing of our fiber goats and sheep for many years.  Then we hired a professional one year and I will never go back to doing it myself!  Our sheep shearer does the job in much less time and yields better fleeces.  I am glad to know that I can shear if I have to. It’s an important part of sheep care. But knowing a professional and getting on their schedule will make your life with sheep much more enjoyable.  If you choose to do it yourself, consider attending a sheep shearing school to learn the tricks of the trade. 

sheep care

 You can check out our available yarns here. 

sheep care for small farms and homesteads

or on our Etsy shop

Why We Keep Sheep

We raise our fiber goats and sheep for the beautiful fleece.  After shearing, I will pick through the fleece to remove any badly matted parts or debris. This is called “skirting”, and is a very important first step. I ship or drop the fleece off with a fiber processor to have it made into yarn. Some shepherds will want to do the entire process themselves, including skirting, picking, washing, combing, drafting and spinning.  Someday I hope to learn more of the steps but for right now I am doing what I can. 

With a little more thought and adjusting the management style, it can be possible to learn sheep care and keep a small number of sheep on a small homestead. If you want to learn more about how we raise fiber animals for our yarn business, read this post. Let me know how you have raised sheep and learned to do sheep care on small farms and homesteads.

 

 Sheep care

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Sheep care on small farms and homesteads




Honey Cinnamon Applesauce in the Crockpot

honey cinnamon applesauceHoney cinnamon applesauce in the crockpot was on the to-do list. Honestly, what was on the to-do list was “get the apples processed!” They were everywhere in the kitchen since I felt the need to bring home a couple bushels of apples from the orchard. And in my own haphazard style, I ended up mixing up the tart apples I bought for eating and canning with the apples bought for pie filling and applesauce. Now I had a large crockpot of the the most tart applesauce ever made. 

Sugar would have been my first solution a few years ago. Since that time we have begun using honey more often as a sweetener of choice, here at home. It’s definitely worth a try. Most batches of applesauce are sweet naturally because I don’t choose the tart crunchy apples. Experimentation leads to new culinary delights! So I set to work making this batch of applesauce more palette pleasing.

After scouring the internet for some idea of how much honey to add, I decided to start with a quarter of a cup of honey and a teaspoon of cinnamon. You can always add more honey to taste. If you are starting fresh and adding the honey at the beginning of the cooking process, add a  four tablespoons of honey, to start with. You can always add more later. 

honey cinnamon applesauce

Honey Cinnamon Applesauce 

14 apples

1/4 cup of raw honey

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract

Cut apples and remove the core. I usually slice the apples into four to six pieces and toss into the crockpot.  When all the apples are cut and cored, fill the crockpot with water and three tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir to coat all the apples and let sit for 15 minutes. Lemon juice prevents some of the browning, although you can see this batch came out quite dark.

Drain the water from the apples. Add the honey, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Set the crockpot to cook on low for four hours. Check your apples while they are cooking because each crockpot cooks differently. Your batch of apples might cook more quickly. 

Using a stick blender (immersion blender) Blend the cooked honey cinnamon applesauce to the consistency you prefer. 

Return the crockpot to cook down the mixture for another hour or two. The honey cinnamon applesauce will thicken as it cooks. 

honey cinnamon applesauce

Serve a dish of this delicious applesauce alongside one of these low sugar muffins for a healthy start to the day. 

Looking for more ideas on using apples? 

Skillet Apple Pie

Spiced Apple Jelly – No Pectin

Apple Jack- Is it Legal and Safe?

Pear-Apple Jam 

Caramel Applesauce

 

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honey cinnamon applesauce

 

 

 




Winter Herb Plant Care What to do Now

winter herb plant careWinter herb plant care begins long before winter arrives. A few weeks ago I was tending the herbs. Another year of growing beautiful, useful medicinal and culinary herbs.  I picked off leaves that had fallen from the trees and checked to see if they needed water. I don’t plan to leave them outside to wither and die for the year.  Some are perennials and others are annuals. Even the annuals were still so healthy.  I will re-pot at least a portion of each plant and care for the perennial herbs through the winter. This has been my method for the last few years. It gives my herb garden a jump start in the spring, as many plants are already forming new growth. And, it gives me a ready source of fresh herbs over the winter. 

The large lavender bushes in one garden stay outside, as does the well established sage bush. I trim them down low, cover with leaves and let them rest. Clustering some of your perennial potted herbs and covering with leaves or even an old sheet, will help them remain hardy throughout the winter. 

I also left some of the hardy mint plants in the garden.  It’s hard to kill mint, although I have done it before. I brought in some cuttings from the chocolate mint, the spearmint and the peppermint to enjoy fresh mint all winter long. The mint will return in the spring as the ground warms. All the plants get a good haircut!

winter herb plant care

 

 

When to bring them inside

When we bring plants out in the spring, we practice what is called hardening off. Gradually acclimating the plant to the outside temperatures by choosing warm spring days with good weather, in a sheltered area. The same is true of winter herb plant care for the cold weather. Before cold weather is even an issue, I make decisions on which potted plants will come back inside. The others will be trimmed down and covered with leaf mulch, allowing them to rest for the winter. 

Winter Herb Plant Care

The potted herbs that will over winter in the glass enclosed porch, are gathered closer to the house. They are trimmed, and inspected for insects. You don’t want to bring ants or other crawly life into your home! As the weather begins to grow chilly, the pots are placed on the back porch. They can still get plenty of sun, but they are protected from any colder winds and heavy rains. 

winter herb plant care

Before any serious frost, the potted herbs move once more, to their winter home. If we didn’t have this glass enclosed porch, I would place them in a  sunny window area. Our porch does not protect them from the very coldest of temperatures. But most of the winter the plants do very well and receive plenty of sunlight.

When our outside temperatures drop to the teens and lower, I do need to give the herbs a little more care. Last year, during any extreme cold spells (for our area) I covered the plants with sheets of newspaper and placed more newspaper between the plants and the window. This worked to keep frost damage from occurring. If you try this, take the newspaper off during the warmer daytime. The newspaper might become damp from condensation. In that case, replace it with dry newspaper.

 

How much to water indoor herbs

Herbs like a drink. They do not like to have soggy feet. When carrying out winter herb plant care, make sure the top of the soil feels completely dry. Water the plant but do not soak it deeply. Keep in mind that the plants are in a resting phase, although still alive and possibly showing some growth. Over watering will kill the plant.  I checked weekly but did not water weekly. 

winter herb plant care

 

Should you still cut from the plants?

It is fine to use the plants as needed for cooking or other needs. I doubt you will see enough growth to actually harvest a large amount. But using the herbs fresh, as you need them, is perfectly fine.

Grow from seeds to transplant later

If you didn’t grow herbs outside this summer, fall is a good time to start an indoor herb garden from seeds. For a new indoor garden, keep the pots inside the warmer area of the house, water carefully as needed. 

Herbs that Over Winter Easily Indoors

Even though many of these would do fine staying outside, bringing in a small pot of these gives me a ready source of fresh herbs during the winter, for cooking and medicine making. Sage, mint, lemon balm, lavender and chives would return in the spring if left outdoors. 

Sage

Mint 

Basil

Lemon Balm

Rosemary

Oregano

Thyme

Marjoram

Chives

Lavender

winter herb plant care

What to do for Perennial Herbs Left Outside

Some of my larger perennial herb plants have grown past the point of coming indoors for winter. If we are going to have extremely cold weather I sometimes move the containers closer to the back door or simply cover the pots with a tarp. I don’t know if this is even necessary because these few large perennials seem to flourish no matter what I do. The lavender, sage, lemon balm, lemon grass, and mint are trimmed down to just a few inches above ground level. Each year they greet me in the spring with new growth. After a few years in the same container, my large sage and largest lemon balm are going to need to be repotted next spring. For me, winter herb plant care is just part of my whole plan for growing delicious, healthy herbs.  In the meantime, sleep well herbs. 

winter herb plant care

 

The Herbal Starter Kit by the Herbal Academy

 




Pear Blueberry Kompot Beverage

Pear Blueberry Kompot Refreshing non-alcoholic fruit beverageOther beverages will pale in comparison to a Pear Blueberry Kompot. Before the day began, I had no idea that I would be googling “What to do with pear peels” and going down a rabbit hole learning the history of kompots. The pears were getting past the point of no return. I planned to preserve them canned in water but ended up making a batch of pear butter and pear blueberry kompot.  

That’s life when you don’t want to waste any of the harvest goodness. I have a hard time looking at the peels and cores from soft fruits and tossing it all to the compost bin. I am glad that I learned to make tomato sauce from the scrap pile. And so, as I started cooking the pear butter, I looked at the bowl of pear peels and decided their must be a way to turn those into attractive food. 

The first hurdle to overcome was confusing the term kompot or compot with compote. A kompot is a European non-alcoholic beverage similar to a fruit juice. You can serve pear blueberry kompot both hot and cold. I found references and recipes for kompot on many Eastern European cooking blogs, Ukranian recipe blogs and Russian Websites. On the other hand, a compote is a dessert sauce prepared from fruit and drizzled over cake or other sweet food. 

Pear Blueberry Kompot

While the pear butter simmered, I had time to start the pear blueberry kompot.  I tossed together 2 quarts of water and the pear peels from a dozen pears. I added a cup of blueberries, one cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and a half teaspoon of cinnamon. 

Bring the mixture to a boil and continue  on a low boil for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit and cool. 

When the liquid has cooled, strain out the solids. I used a strainer lined with cheese cloth to make sure my juice beverage was clear. You could also line a strainer with a basket style coffee filter. Of course I could not find these when I needed them. 

Pour into quart canning jars, and store in the refrigerator.  But first, I had to try a serving of this beautiful fruit juice drink. It was refreshing and delicious. I can also see that it would be amazing served warm on a chilly day, like hot cider.

Pear Blueberry Kompot and a Bonus from the Scraps

The pear butter was still bubbling and the kompot was complete, but there was still a problem. I still had a pile  of boiled fruit that was rather large and still looked wasteful to me.  This reminded me of the tomato sauce I made from scraps. Why not do the same with the boiled fruit? I began pressing the boiled fruit from the pear blueberry kompot through the fine mesh strainer. You could also use a food mill for this. I press with the back of a large spoon, pushing and scraping the fruit. Occasionally, scrape the fruit puree from the bottom of the sieve.

pear blueberry kompot

pear blueberry kompot

After I extracted all the puree from the boiled fruit, I gained two cups of fruit puree! This can  be used like applesauce in recipes or eaten as is. I plan to use it in baked goods, in place of some of the oil. You could also use the puree in this recipe for breakfast muffins in place of the fruit. Final production – one jar of pear butter, two quarts of pear blueberry kompot and two cups of pear blueberry puree. Oh and one totally messy kitchen!

Pear Blueberry Kompot

Ingredients 

2 to 3 cups of pear peels

1 cup of bluberries

1 cup of sugar

2 quarts of water

2 Tablespoons of lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool completely. 

Strain out the solids using cheesecloth and a fine mesh strainer.  

Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.

For other ideas on using fruit for beverages look into making a shrub!  Or try this recipe for making mead.  Looking for a more adult beverage? Check out this Shrub recipe from Lovely Greens.

pear blueberry kompot refreshing non-alcoholic fruit beverage

 

 

 




What Causes Weak Egg Yolk Membranes

weak egg yolkHow do you correct weak egg yolk membranes and get perfect sunny-side up eggs? When you cook the egg does it run all over the pan? This was a question I received recently from a reader. It’s fairly well known that a firm, strong egg shell requires plenty of free choice calcium for the hen to indulge in. But what about yolks that break apart as soon as the shell is cracked. The egg hits the pan and poof, there goes the yolk, spreading all across the pan. 

The reader who contacted me had done some experimenting of her own. It didn’t seem to matter which eggs she tried. The yolks still broke easily. She tried refrigerating eggs, not refrigerating, fresh, not as fresh, new hens, old hens….. you see the picture. 

I was intrigued by the question of what causes a weak egg yolk and did some research of my own. The results were all across the board! Some thought the eggs being stored in the refrigerator caused this. While others swore it was from keeping the eggs at room temperature. Even the storing in the carton was brought under the microscope, as in should they be pointy end up or down, in the carton. (the correct way is pointy end down)

weak egg yolk

How is Egg Quality Determined?

Eggs are graded for external and internal quality. The external qualities of the egg are the cleanliness, texture and shape of the egg shell. It’s not uncommon to find occasional odd eggs in the nest box.

The internal grading looks at the albumin’s cleanliness and viscosity. The other factors of internal quality are size of the air cell, yolk shape and yolk strength.

weak egg yolk

Possible Causes of Weak Egg Yolk

After weeding through many other research articles, forums and posts, it seems there is no definitive answer to the question of what causes a weak egg yolk. However there are some areas of possibility.

Protein

Low protein diet. A low protein diet can affect the egg yolk and cause weak egg yolk membranes because the membranes are formed from protein. The entire internal quality of the egg is affected by the protein available in the hen’s diet. A low quality feed may appear to be the budget conscious choice, but if the protein is not of good quality, the chicken’s body may not be absorbing enough of the protein. Feed with a heavy percentage of corn can have an adverse effect on protein availability in a feed.

weak egg yolk

Stress

Stress. Both environmental and physical stress factors can cause a hen to lay an egg with a weak egg yolk. Molting can be a stress factor in weak egg yolk. Increasing protein in the diet should help eliminate the problem. Weather can also affect the hens and possibly cause stress to their system. Extreme heat would be more likely the cause than too cold. 

Frequency of Egg Collecting

Frequent collection of fresh eggs, and proper storage in room temperature area for the short term storage is advised. This is especially important during heat waves. Longer storage times leads to decreased internal quality. When an egg is freshly laid, the yolk is round and firm. The vitelline  membrane holds the yolk in place. As the egg ages, the yolk absorbs water from the egg white. The yolk increases in size and causes a weakening of the vitelline  membrane. The yolk becomes flatter and weaker. Any factor that hastens the aging of a fresh egg is going to have an effect on the quality of the egg.

weak egg yolk

Illness in the Flock

Prior illness in the flock or individual hens can cause weak egg yolk. Also, older hens tend to lay eggs with the weak egg yolk issue more than the younger hens.

Handling of Eggs

Rough handling during collection, can lead to a weakening of the internal membranes. 

Breaking refrigerated, cold eggs, into a hot pan can cause the yolks to break upon contact. This is easily remedied by allowing the eggs to reach room temperature before cooking.

How to Correct the Problem of Weak Egg Yolk

The main reasons found for weak egg yolk issues are the age of the egg, storage temperature, water absorption, and handling practices. In addition, disease in the flock, protein in the diet, and age of the hen come into play. If you are finding weak egg yolks in your fresh eggs, assess the list given here as a starting point to determining the cause in your flock.

weak egg yolk

My first thought would be to increase the good quality protein in the hen’s diet. Adding meal worms is one tasty way to entice your flock to eat more protein. Black oil sunflower seeds are another tasty protein treat for chickens.

weak egg yolk

Consider any external stress that may be present in the environment. If heat is a factor, consider adding a fan to the coop to increase air flow and cool the coop down. Add cooling herbs such as mint and lavender to the area so the hens can peck at the herbs. Parsley, Marjoram, Fennel, and Borage are good to add when egg problems exist. As a result, the hens will be more comfortable while providing delicious strong, high quality eggs. In any event, adding more quality ingredients to your hen’s diet can only help them build stronger immunity and live healthier lives.