Sweet Harmony Farm blog
It’s springtime! And with fibered animals that means it’s shearing season.
Professional shearers do extensive traveling this time of year. They’re ‘on the road’ for a few months, driving from farm to farm setting up their mats, blades, and equipment, shearing the animals, cleaning up and re-packing their equipment, and off they go to the next farm. Usually they’ll shear at more than one farm per day, and usually late into the night. This is hard, grueling, dirty work, certainly not for anyone who is lacking in energy or cannot function on a few hours’ sleep. There is no time for inefficiency. The animals must be shorn before the hot weather sets in for their health and safety. We farmers all stress over setting up for shearing day, the weather conditions prior to and on the day of shearing, getting enough helpers, and having enough supplies and snacks on hand. In reality though, our job is absolutely nothing compared to what the shearers’ job is.
Let’s hear it for our shearers!! Whhoooo - hoooooooo!!! Thank you all so much.
Our boys were sheared Tuesday. All went well as it normally does at least as far as we humans are concerned. Of course the alpacas don’t like shearing day and are stressing more than we are. For several days before shearing I close them into the barn at night and let them out late morning. Otherwise they’ll roll in the early morning dew, get wet and grind in wet dirt into their fleeces. Cannot have wet fleeces for shearing day! Then on the morning of shearing Dan and I corral them into the 2 corner stalls. That’s when the incessant fussing begins, their eyes widen and don’t blink, and their ears are folded back in obvious concern, wondering what the heck is going on. When Jay arrives you can see their concern instantly change to that fearful look of ‘oh no!’ I try to shear them by color which went right as planned this year! Thankfully I only have one real spitter, Bo, and since he is white, he also goes last. As each one is sheared we let them out of the barn and yup ~ they run right out to the pasture!! They’ll run off to meet up with their buddies and spend the next few hours sniffing each other all over, trying to figure out who each other is. It’s pretty funny to watch. Besides, they all look like aliens when they’re first sheared! Their wide alpaca eyes really stand out on their little shorn faces.
That night I was concerned that they would be cold having no fleece and with the temperature dropping down to freezing. We had returned well after dark from helping out at Val’s and I went right to the barn. Bo and Desi were cushed in the barn and Julio and Cowboy were cushed in the paddock, all chewing their cud contentedly. I walked to the corner of the barn and squinted into the dark pasture, trying to see the others and do my usual headcount. It’s actually harder to see brown alpacas in the dark than black ones. That’s when I realized the other 8 were running around, chasing each other in the dark, playing. I sing-songed a ‘hello boys’ greeting and they paused momentarily to watch me. Then Bo, Desi, Cowboy, and Julio, one by one, got up and sauntered out to the pasture to join their herdmates. They all started to run together in a large circle, in an oval, in a line, and back to a circle. Their path widened effortlessly. They ran non-stop for quite a while. There was no sound in the clear night sky except for the quiet thump-thump of the alpacas running. I leaned against the barn watching them, listening to the rhythmic sounds of their little padded feet tapping the ground as they ran by me. I swear 48 feet were all hitting the ground at the exact same time. And 48 feet were all in the air at the exact same time. They weren’t just running and playing. They were pronking. That’s what happy alpacas do; they pronk. Pronking alpacas make me smile.
One thing about alpacas, and usually all animals, is that they make me laugh every day. You just never know what silly thing they will do, silly to us humans but I’m sure just normal activity for them.
I went out to the barn last night for my usual evening check. It was dusk and most of the boys were quietly cushed outside in the paddock, relaxed, and chewing their cud. The snow has been melting, melting, melting in the sun this past week. It’s been windy here too, so the ground was pretty solid and no longer muddy. The stars were out. I’m sure the alpacas appreciate being able to sleep outside under the night sky rather than still being cooped up in the barn as they have been.
I said my usual ‘Hello Boys’ as I came in through the gate, doing a headcount to myself. 10 alpacas. Hhmmm, the other 2 should be in the barn.
I walked into the barn and turned on the light. And there they were. The two best buddies, BFF’s, my 2 geldings, Julio and Guinness were together. Lately I’ve noticed them cushed together a lot.
But last night, there they were at the poo pile together, bum to bum, tail to tail, doing their business together, at the exact same time. What are the odds of that happening? I laughed and laughed and laughed. They both looked at me like ‘What’s so funny?’ followed by ‘Where’s the hay?’
This morning I’m still amazed they didn’t pee on each other’s legs.
This past winter has been cold and somewhat snowy. For the past 2 weeks, it’s been snowing every day! Sometimes just several inches of snow, a couple times an actual snowstorm of 12 +/- inches, and most days just what’s referred to as snow squalls leaving us a good dusting. The dustings are nice. It makes all the yuckiness look so clean, like fresh vanilla frosting spread out over a just baked cake.
The alpacas have hardly left the barn. They don’t really enjoy standing or cushing in cold, wet snow. Sometimes one or two of them will come out and look around and ponder what to do, what to do, for a few minutes. Sometimes I’ll see one or two eating snow. Usually a few are just cushed in the little doorway, the rest cushed behind the tarps. The northwest corner of the barn has been blown bare of snow by the winds and most mornings Cavalier, aka Big Bear, will be cushed out there on the frozen dirt. He always seems to enjoy the solitude more than the others do.
Yesterday spring seems to have suddenly arrived! The sky is perfectly blue, barely a breeze, and the beautiful sun is so warm on my face. Reflecting off the snow, the sun almost blinds me. The sun is melting the huge piles snow. Snow is melting off the roof, pouring down like in a rainstorm, and there are large, deep muddy puddles all up and down our dirt driveway and our little road to the barn.
I walk down to the barn through mud, standing water, and crunchy snow, carefully pulling the 2-wheeler behind me which holds today’s bale of hay. I’m trying hard not to splash dirty water onto the bale. The pacas hear me at the gate. One by one they file out of the barn, casually walking up to the fenceline where the snow is still fairly clean, knowing that I’ll lay down the 2-wheeler there. The fresh bale of hay is an easy distraction. Without them in the barn, I can clean up in there quickly.
The paddock area is a disgusting mess, as it usually is during mud season. The snow is melting, melting, melting. There’s so much snow remaining that there’s no place for it to go as it melts. The large puddles in the paddock are looking like a small pond. And this pond is a dark, muddy, poop-filled, poopy-water type pond. Yuck is not the word for it! It’s really not a pretty sight. I’m just so glad that we graded the paddock well enough that the water no longer ends up in the barn. Apparently we’ll need to do more grading this summer. Spring is approaching so for now I’ll have to patiently wait as the ground thaws a little bit more each day and absorbs all this water.
I was standing in the barn today, looking over into the paddock at the poo-pond and listening to the alpacas quietly chewing hay. I stood there pondering farm life. Farming really gets you in tune with the changes of the seasons, adapting to the weather cycles, and very much aware of the habits of birds, insects, and wild animals that share your little place on this planet. Farming really makes you connected to the Earth. Being connected to the Earth is a good thing, another simple joy.
So I stood there, looking around at my muddy paddock, listening to melting snow pour off the barn roof, and watched my alpacas with very dirty knees and legs eating hay. And I thought: hhmmm, anyone considering starting a farm and saw this type of mess would most likely think twice about it, and run!
Bright Blessings to all of you for a wonderful 2013! May all your wishes come true.
Thank you all again for reading our little blog ~ much appreciation for each and every one of you.
On the twelfth day of Stitch-mas, my true love gave to me:
Twelve knitters knitting
Eleven cones a’ winding
Ten orders shipping
Nine rugs a’ hooking
Eight yarns a’ dying
Seven needles felting
Six sample cards
Five spinning wheels!!!
Four pounds of fiber
Three nuno scarves
Two socks on one needle
And a yarn store that understands me
Merry Christmas Everyone!!!
And that makes me happy!
The alpacas are spending the day in their barn, due to the strong wind-and-rain storm we're receiving. I can see them all cushed in front of the doorways, watching Mother Nature's wrath of wind blow the rain and branches all around. The wind is coming from the 'back of the barn' direction so we didn't need to tarp up the gates and close them in. The wind sounds like a train and I'm leery of trees uprooting and falling down.
It's also the Winter Solstice today. The days will start getting longer again, yeah!! More sunshine is always a good thing.
Happy Winter Solstice Everyone!
My usual routine for washing fleece has been to: pick open the fleece by hand, pull out any large bits of VM [that’s vegetable matter for you non-fiber folks, i.e. bits of hay, straw, seedheads, grass, weeds, etc.], shake that handful, stuff said handful into a sweater-sized mesh laundry bag, repeat, repeat again and again, until the laundry bag appears ‘full enough’ which is probably about 3 or 4 ounces at most. Then I step outside and shake the laundry bag again. Now mind you, while originally sorting/skirting the fleece, which I only do outside, I have shaken the living daylights out of the fleece while it’s on the sorting table. Huge clouds of dust billow out like smoke signals and I jump out of the way until it disperses. The next day my throat and sinuses are on fire but hey, the fleece in the bag is much cleaner.
And why all the shaking of the fleece? Because alpacas love to roll in the dirt. They roll in the dirt piles that we silly humans create for them, they roll in the bare earth spots under trees, and they roll in the barn in the stonedust. When they roll, you can watch really huge clouds of dust billow out from around them. Needless to say, I don’t bother to ‘dust’ the barn. Because alpacas have no lanolin like sheep do, the dust doesn’t adhere to their fleece so a lot of it can just be shaken out prior to washing it. Or so you’d think.
So, I’ve been washing these mesh laundry bags of a few ounces of alpaca fleece in a large painter’s tub in the bathtub. Washing fleece is really a matter of soaking it in hot, soapy water, removing the bag, dumping out the water, re-filling the tub with hot water and then soaking the bag in plain water to rinse the fleece. Depending on how dirty the fleece is, you may need more than one soapy and one plain water soak; usually 2 of each will suffice. You can’t agitate it or else the fleece will felt into a big blob and be unusable. All you do is soak it. As you can imagine, washing fleece just a few ounces at a time has been taking me forever and a day to do.
So encouraged by friends on Ravelry [thanks Maple! thanks Connie!], I decided to take the plunge and wash a pound in the kitchen sink. Similar process, just more fleece at a time. But before I even tried that, I instead ventured into the Ultimate Fleece-Washing Adventure: washing alpaca fleece in my washing machine, an older top-loading model.
I decided on Arlo’s blanket fleece. It’s white, with an easy-to-see dirt line, so it will be very easy to follow the cleaning process. Besides, Arlo is such a cute little guy. :) After sifting through the bag to prepare it, I put it on the scale: exactly 3 pounds. I filled the washing machine with hot water on the lowest setting, liberally squirted in the dish soap, and then gently stuffed all 3 pounds [silently telling myself: You Go Girl!] into the water until it was all submerged. Mistake # 1: probably not enough water. This just means it will need another soapy soak, which I would have done anyway.
After about 25 minutes, I flipped the dial to spin, said a quick prayer, closed the lid, and waited for the machine to do its thing. Mistake #2: definitely too much dish soap. And how did I know? Soap bubbles were popping out of the drain pipe and dripping down onto the floor. Oops.
When the machine was done spinning, I opened the lid. All the fleece was attached to the sides of the machine. It was attached so well that I think if there hadn’t been 3 pounds worth, I probably could have pulled it all out in one circular piece. It came out in a few pieces, which I gently separated into more sections, and placed into the bucket. There was sand at the bottom of the machine, but in reality not all that much, and easily cleaned out with a wet paper towel. Now, wet, white, alpaca fleece looks kind of yellow-ish and so much dirtier than when it’s dry! At least I already knew this so no panicking ensued.
I re-filled the washing machine with more hot water, this time on the medium setting, and much less dish soap. While it was filling, I started pulling out bits of VM that seem to all mysteriously appear in wet fleece. When the machine was done filling, I gently pulled the fleece apart in smaller sections as it went into the machine, also pulling apart locks that obviously still had dirt. Alpaca fiber floats! When I was done re-loading fleece, I gently pushed it all back under the water.
When this second load was done, it was all stuck to the sides of the machine again but not as tightly as the first time. It easily came out in sections as I pulled it out. This time it was noticeably cleaner. Wiped down the machine again [not as much sand this time], re-filled the machine for a third time with just a quick squirt of dish soap, added the fleece, submerged again, spun it out again, pulled out the fleece again, wiped down the machine again, etc.
Now it’s time for the rinsing. After filling up the machine for a fourth time, I added about a cup of vinegar. Vinegar re-sets the ph of the fiber so the fiber is not dry and also helps to make it sparkly clean. Added the fleece, spun it out, etc. Then I did one more plain water rinse just to be sure.
I put all the clean, wet but not dripping, fleece into the painter’s bucket and went upstairs to spread it out to dry. Mistake #3: not anticipating that 3 pounds of fleece would take up substantially more room to dry than a mere 4 ounce laundry bag full. Oops again. Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Half of it is drying on oven racks, the rest on the old screen I usually use, all spread out across our ridiculously huge bathroom. I’ll pick apart the fleece and flip it around as it dries. It was spun out in the washing machine so it’s not dripping wet, so should be all dry and looking very white in about 24 hours.
3 pounds down, a gazillion more to go ................
And here it is!
This is our farm’s new wheelbarrow, aka the Chief Poop Mover. I am happy to say it was purchased at a local family-run store, not from a big-box store. We do our best to make all our purchases locally.
We’re still getting used to the new wheelbarrow. It’s a heavier and deeper design than our last one so dumping the poo in the Big Pile O’ Poo requires a bit more upper body strength and aim. Oh well. We could all use a little more upper body strength, right??
As I sit here typing this, I swear I can hear a bugle in the distance playing ‘Taps’ ..................
Well, last evening it finally happened. Our old, very, very old wheelbarrow, carried its last ever pile o’ alpaca poo over to The Big Poo Pile.
It’s been a very loyal wheel barrow, trustworthy, always faithfully serving its purpose. For years its purpose was the usual gardening and landscaping tasks. It also helped move rocks to build stone walls as well as move many countless cords of firewood. When the alpacas arrived it took over as Chief Poop Mover, rolling effortlessly from the barn. And our trusty wheelbarrow took ever so long to rust out completely. But once that rust started it was the beginning of the end. We’ve repaired its broken handles and flat tires over the years, but rust keeps on doing its thing until the metal cracks and then there’s a teeny hole. That teeny hole slowly [or quickly as the case may be] grew and grew until the ‘poo fell through.’ There just ‘ain’t much bucket’ left, which means it’s time for Wheel Barrow Retirement.
In other words, it’s actually time for this ole wheelbarrow to go to the dump.
Dan has had this trusty wheelbarrow for 29 years. He’s actually kind of sad to see it go. Yes, Sara and Emily, it’s the Chester Wheelbarrow!
In the distance, the sound of a bugle playing ‘Taps’ continues ......
Ahhhh........ summertime......... The grass is green as are the leaves. The days are long, hot, and sticky followed by a hopefully cooler night. Thunderstorms pop up occasionally to water the earth and cool the air. The garden is sprouting with green beans and beets and carrots and budding tomatoes and zucchini. The scent of basil and oregano are in the air as I water. The daylilies are blooming. Birds and butterflies abound. Robins nest on our home’s log corners, finches nest in the bushes, barn swallows nest in the barn, killdeer nest in the pasture, bluebirds nest in the birdhouses along the pasture fence, and the hawk makes a daily appearance swooping over the pasture. Stella spends the entire day outside, lounging about in the shade. She sometimes takes herself for a casual walk around the fence perimeter, all the time keeping an eye out for a chipmunk to chase. I sit quietly outside soaking up the sunshine while I spin, weave, or knit, facing the alpacas grazing in the pasture.
Wild critters large and small quietly pass through our property at night. The other day my neighbor mentioned that a raccoon had gotten into his coop, again, and decimated his poultry flock, and that a bear had destroyed his beehive. :( Whether you have a teeny homestead or a large one, farming is not always easy or fun; Nature works on her own schedule.
Coyotes and deer still abound. We’ve been fortunate. The deer have not decimated the garden yet and the coyotes have never, ever bothered the alpacas. They do that well enough amongst themselves! 10 intact male alpacas on a hot summer day can get easily bored or irritated with each other ~ I’m guessing that’s it ~ and suddenly have to provide themselves with their own entertainment by chasing each other down .......... which means I’m having to run out to the barn to break up the ‘fight.’ ‘They say’ it’s a normal thing, a hierarchy thing, and to let the boys work it out amongst themselves but I have a hard time standing by idly when a smaller one is screeching.
And usually they do work it out amongst themselves but when it carries on and on, there I am, running. And stumbling as I run. Yes folks. 12 years of ballet as a kid and I can still manage to trip over my own feet on a daily basis.
At least it’s summertime. All I have to do is jump into my little barn shoes ........