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.
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 ................
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 ........
This winter continues to be warm and weird. Most nights are still well below freezing but the days are still rather mild for New Hampshire. We’ve hardly received any snow. It’s the middle of February and we can see the grass and weeds. Of course everything is brown and rather dreary looking, rather than bright green and colorful. We’ve been joking that the winter of 2011 – 2012 has been one very long mud season.
The alpacas are loving this weather. Usually in the winter they prefer to be snuggled into the barn in the deep straw, behind the front wall of tarps. All that hanging out in the barn makes them cranky and usually I find fresh spit on someone’s neck in the morning. This winter most of the alpacas usually sleep outside, cushed under the stars, chewing their cud and looking very content. During the day, they romp our frozen yet muddy pastures, playing and wrestling with each other. Some days that wrestling quickly turns into an all out tussle match and Stella and I run outside to try to break it up. Stella runs out barking and usually it subsides before I make it out to the barn.
Needless to say, fresh spit abounds. :)
To keep myself occupied this winter, I’ve been playing with my bags and bags of alpaca fleeces. Opening each bag, I know immediately which one of my alpacas formerly wore the fleece inside. :) I smile, thinking of them running through the pasture or greeting me in the barn with alpaca sniffs and kisses. I can feel their spirit running through my body and into my heart and embracing my soul. I am so attached to each and every one of them. I could never sell any of them. It’s hard for me to even think of selling their fleece! As I work with their fleeces ~ sorting, skirting, washing, combing, spinning ~ I smile even more. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is joy in working with an animal’s fiber that you’ve raised yourself.
This morning I headed down to the barn like I normally do. So strange, this winter. It’s been warm, many days into the high 40’s. Aside from the freak October snowstorm, we really haven’t gotten any snow. The ground is generally hard from being frozen overnight with not enough daylight to really thaw it out, unless we’d had some rain. But even so, not that much rain either. So weird, but since we’ve had several years of record-breaking snowfall filled winter, hey, I’m not complaining about this one. :)
When I wake up some of the alpacas are cushed in the paddock, still sleeping. It’s been so warm that we haven’t even had to tarp over the upper half of the barn. We did put the tarps on the gates, but unless it’s windy, most nights we haven’t even had to shut them. Those nights, the boys are all cushed together in the deep straw, staying close to each other for warmth. There’s no snow, so as the sun rises the boys stroll out to the pasture and nibble on the stubby grasses.
A few of the alpacas were cushed out in the paddock. We’d put down some old hay and straw near the entrance fence, and Julio and Bo were cushed there, chewing their cud. I said hello to Bo as I walked by him to check out Julio. His lump has not gotten any better since we started the antibiotics. In fact it’s been looking worse, like he ate a golf ball and is holding it along his lower jaw. He’s been eating, spitting, and acting like his spunky, normal self though! We suspect he may be purposely stuffing hay there, to get more sympathy from us, so we’ll give him more pellets as treats. Julio, my Drama Queen. He knows I’m a softie.
Lately, we’ve been finding small holes dug, in the pen, up against the tack room wall. Dan and I fill them back in with stonedust and I’ve even put large rocks over them. A few days later another hole will appear, next to the rock. Damn! Over the weekend we thought we’d be clever and put the hose down the hole and turned on the water. The water poured out from under the back of the barn, and nothing else. Yeah.
I turned on the lights to the barn and walked into the pen. Yeah, no new holes! I stepped on the straw, just to double check against the back wall. Out of the corner of my eye, from behind the straw bale, something small with a long tail darted by along the wall and instantly disappeared into the teeny space next to the rock.
Right on cue, I screeched, loudly. EEwwww, yuuuuuuuuck!!
And also right on cue, I heard the alpacas all run across the paddock in a group.
For some reason when I express the urge to screech, I also simultaneously seem to close my eyes and stamp my feet. When I re-opened my eyes and turned around, the boys had walked back and were all standing there in front of the pen, wide-eyed, staring at me. All except Coty, who apparently is no longer bothered by my outbursts. He was still cushed by the outside hay feeder chewing his cud, never missing a beat. I choked out an apology. ‘Sorry boys, but you know those things gross me out.’
Earth walked over and gave my nose a long sniff ~ alpaca kisses. Ahh, much better.
p.s. This happened a couple days ago and apparently I’ve jinxed myself. Today, it’s snowing! But ......... no new holes in the pen!
It’s New Year’s Eve!
Well 2011 isn’t ending so wonderfully. Julio’s jaw abscess has returned, thankfully not too badly, and this week I’ve had a sore throat/earache thing going on which is leaving me totally exhausted. Perhaps Julio and I are just having sympathy pangs for each other? Animals are so in tuned to their caretakers and alpacas are no exception.
On New Year’s Eve I am always excited to look forward to the new beginnings of a new year. I blogged about that last year.
So today I’m just reflecting about this past year. 2011 has been a wonderful year! My big goal was to teach myself to process fleece myself and yup, I succeeded. I learned how to sort the fleece [yes, yes, actually that was at the end of 2010], and how to wash it, flick it, comb it, card it, and my favorite ~ spin it! I can spin on both a spindle and a spinning wheel!
Here’s my new spinning wheel, an Ashford Country Spinner:
And here are the first 2 skeins I spun ~ the blue one is Border LeicesterX wool with a little alpaca, and the red one is Border LeicesterX wool with a little mohair:
I love, love, love, bulky, funky, art yarns and my heavy Turkish spindle and the Country Spinner are both perfect for this. These bulky yarns are perfect for weaving on my frame looms.
I hope you all had a wonderful 2011.
Here’s to 2012! May you have an even more wonderful year!
Thank you all for reading our little blog! It means a lot to us.
Bright Blessings to all of you!!
Merry Christmas Everyone!!
When Dan or I bring down a bale of hay on the 2-wheeler, we usually hardly make it into the paddock past the gate and this happens:
Hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving weekend!
Gratitude is such an important word. In November here in the U.S., many people ponder what they’re grateful for ~ it’s Thanksgiving time after all. Dan and I like to remind ourselves daily of the things we’re grateful for. When you’re feeling down and out, one way to make you feel better is take a deep breath, and think of the happy and good things in your life.
We are fortunate enough to say we can care for our alpacas. I know not all people can, usually through circumstances beyond their control. The stories are many and they are all sad. These stories will continue, I’m afraid to say. Yes I realize it’s not limited to the alpaca world.
Every time I hear of another alpaca farm in need of assistance, my heart sinks for the animals. But my spirits are lifted when I remind myself of the kind souls out there who work so tirelessly to aid these animals, which in turn helps their human caretakers.
Let us not forget the people who do this necessary work ~ taking in these alpacas, assess them for medical issues, keeping them warm and fed, until they may possibly be re-homed. These people, made up of individual farms and large organizations, are truly angels on earth in my eyes.
One such individual is Linda Lachanski, home of Pic-A-Paca Dreams Farm and Alpaca911 rescue, located in upstate New York. She has started up and coordinates a coast to coast network of alpaca farms willing to help out. And how can you help? You can sign up in the database! List your name and location, and how you can help. Any type of help is appreciated. Perhaps you can offer to trailer alpacas a short distance, or provide gas money for those trailering, or donate a few bales of hay or a bag of pellets. Perhaps you can take in a few alpacas or know of someone who can, even if for only a short time. If you are listed on the database, Linda will know whom to contact for assistance. What is needed the most are foster homes and permanent homes. Monetary donations are always graciously accepted if one cannot donate time or already has a full barn. Our country is large, the need is great and continuous, and certainly just one person cannot do it all.
Linda needs your help everyone! Let’s pass along good karma! Please visit the Alpaca911 group:
Needless to say, last weekend we received well over a foot of snow and lost power for several days.............
Our shearer had come by early Saturday morning to help us trim the alpacas’ toenails. Dan held them and Jay trimmed. Thank goodness for Jay, because our little herd would not be so accommodating if it were only Dan and me. The dark and ominous clouds rolled in rather quickly. After Jay left, we scrambled to get things ready while it was still daylight ~ close up the big barn door on the awning, shut the windows, put up tarps over the gate, find the straw amongst the many bales of hay in the garage, spread straw out in the barn, overstuff the hay feeders with hay, fill up the water buckets, bring in wood and more wood for our woodstove, then off to find a gas station to fill up the gas cans for the generator. It wasn’t too long after the storm started that the power went out.
So now I need to update my last post by saying this storm was the most snow I’ve ever seen in October in my lifetime. And it’s the only time that Halloween Trick or Treating had to be postponed due to a snowstorm..... LOL.
The sun came out Sunday morning and we spent all day shoveling snow, plowing snow, and trying to find our woodpile buried under the snow covered tarps. Dan plowed a path for the alpacas in the pasture and they spent the afternoon running laps in the brisk air and sunshine. Silly alpacas. They’re so easy to please. :) As is Stella, who is just as happy to romp through the snow as she is to roll in the grass. :)
This week we’ve been blessed by sunshine and more sunshine and the snow is melting, melting, melting. It’s finally gone in the pasture and lo and behold, there’s green grass growing again. The boys can still graze and cush outside of the barn, so maybe the early snow is a good thing? NOT! There’s still quite a bit of snow around the house and yard as it’s rather shaded from all the trees, but at least the mud is drying up.
Late yesterday afternoon, I thought that Mother Nature was playing a trick on us. The cold rain that had been falling all day quickly turned to heavy, wet snowflakes. Our beautiful maple trees, leaves still ablaze with autumn reds and oranges, were quickly transformed to white. New England is certainly well-known for its unpredictable weather, but in my lifetime I don't think I've ever seen [this much] snow in October.
We really weren't expecting snow. We scrambled to close up the barn the best we could by shutting the big awning door and all the windows. Luckily, there was no wind and the temperature hovered just below 30 degrees. The alpacas stayed cushed inside overnight, and were out first thing in the morning, as soon as the sun started shining and had melted enough snow to show the green grass in the pasture.
Mother Nature, we're still enjoying the fall weather. It's just way too early for snow!
Mornings in the barn usually start off like this:
Enjoy your day everyone!
I love it when everyone is getting along. :)
Any guesses who?
We’ve had an interesting week on our farm. After having fresh, green, second cut hay delivered a week before we had planned, the alpacas have refused to go out to graze. Instead they’ve been hanging around the barn and paddock, chomping on hay and all but licking the hay bins clean. Hey guys, I’m so happy you’re enjoying the hay, but we’ve got to make it last through winter!
Last week we added a new member to our herd, a solidly built, thick top-notted, white-fleeced boy named Desidario, Desi for short. He’s a Triumph son so he has 3 half- brothers here on our farm which he met for the first time: Bo, Coty, and Arlo. These 3, along with Guinness and Julio, greeted him with the usual sniff fest over the paddock fencing. As expected, all went well so we took off his halter and he willingly walked into the paddock, and as expected got a very thorough, all-body sniff fest. Then whoosh ~ all the boys ran off into the pasture for a pronk fest greeting run in the evening light, joined by the rest of the herd. What a wonderful sight to see the newbie getting accepted so easily!
And just as quickly, we realized what was happening........ Coty thought Desi was a girl alpaca. ‘Coty! No! He’s a boy!’ I always wonder what the neighbors are thinking when they hear me hollering that. When alpacas are thundering past you it really isn’t advisable to step out in front of them! So we had to just stand up against the barn and watch. We did manage to separate everyone shortly after that, and then there they all were, eating hay as if nothing had happened, including a new alpaca joining the herd.
If it were only that simple...........
Whenever I enter the paddock area and barn I greet the alpacas all by name, and I am constantly talking. I want the alpacas to know my voice. I also slowly lean forward and look them right in the eye, close to their face while talking quietly. This is usually intimidating for an alpaca at first, but over time it has built trust. They get to sniff the top of my head and know that I am a ‘safe’ human, their caretaker. If they allow me, I will do a quick neck scratch. Bonding with animals is such a wonderful feeling, and a simple joy.
Desi is new to my routine so in true alpaca style, is a bit apprehensive. So being new, he watches me intently as I go about my routine of greeting everyone, scooping the poo, fluffing hay and filling water buckets, and talking, always talking. Desi is a very mild mannered alpaca, and surprisingly calm around humans. On only my second trip out, Desi greeted me at the paddock gate, sniffing my head and face while I cheerfully said hello and offered neck scratches.
That’s when both of us got hit in the head with spit.
Julio. My personality-plus, headstrong, and apparently very jealous alpha alpaca had been watching. I stepped toward him to let him know that wasn’t very nice, and he walked right past me, following Desi into the barn, spitting at him the entire time. Such has been my week. Whenever I enter the barn, Julio starts following Desi and for no apparent reason, spits at him. Why is that? After a few days of pondering this, the only thing that came to mind was that Julio is jealous. Well that certainly would explain a lot of Julio’s behavior. A silly thought though, isn’t it? An alpaca is jealous for a human’s attention!
So now when I walk down to the barn and at the gate I call out Julio’s name. When I enter the paddock, again I greet Julio by name first. As I continue to greet the others, I say hello to Julio again, and again. I make sure he knows I’m paying attention to him.
Surprise! No spitting!
We had a really, really nice summer here in our little corner of the US. Most days I was able to enjoy utilizing my outside Fiber Studio.
This is my outside Fiber Studio:
I, sitting in my backyard in my trusty little beach chair, with Stella snoozing nearby, have been spending the summer weaving, crocheting, spinning, felting, knitting, flicking, and washing and sorting fleece while watching the alpacas serenely graze. Sometimes they stop to curiously watch the passing wildlife or roll in the sand pile. They are very peaceful days filled with warm sunshine on my shoulders and soft grass under my feet.
The rains and snow and sunshine feed the soil which grows the grasses that in turn feed the alpacas who in turn grow the fleece that eventually can clothe people. What a sensation to watch this transformation happening over a year’s time. As the alpacas go about their daily job of, well, being alpacas, I stand back and just imagine what their fleeces turned into yarn will look like and what I can make with that yarn. My alpacas' different colors along with their individual personalities inspire me. Periodically I also stand in the barn and thank the alpacas for growing their lovely fleeces for me. They stare at me blankly then sniff at me for a treat.
There is something magical, meditative perhaps, most definitely purposeful, to caring for animals daily and then creating something to wear from their fleece, with your own hands. I spend a whole year watching the fleece grow as I care for the alpacas, by hand. In the spring the alpacas are shorn, by hand, and the fleece is carefully separated and then sorted by grade, by hand. Then the fleece is washed, by hand, dried in the sun, and by hand still, processed into a roving of sorts to be made into felt, by hand, or spun into yarn, by hand, and then crafted into a wearable, useable item, by hand.
Then you put this scarf or cowl or hat or shawl or sock or mitten or whatnot you've made yourself onto you and you just feel good. It’s a warming and peaceful sensation like summer sunshine on your skin after a long and snowy winter. I close my eyes and smile with gratitude for the alpaca that gave me this gift of soft, warm, comforting fleece to wear, who is living in my barn.
There are no words to describe it. Pure joy perhaps? It’s similar to the feeling of anticipation you get when you plant your garden and watch it grow, then pick the veggies from your own garden, and finally sit down to eat and oooh, it tastes so good.
Knowing where your food ~ and what’s really in it ~ comes from is very important. And joyful. And knowing where your clothing ~ and the fiber in it ~ comes from is equally important. And equally joyful. And it’s from own backyard, made with my own hands and soul.
I am happy to say our little farm is very fortunate and weathered tropical storm Irene just fine. The winds did bring down some branches as well as some older trees at the back of our property. A few power lines were down on our street, but amazingly no flooding occurred in the local area. On our farm, all the rains flowed down our swales and berms orderly. Our sump filled up quickly but also quickly drained back out. Power was restored last evening. We were only out for 3 days and had the blessings of a working generator. I have never been so excited to do laundry.
The weather has been just perfect since the storm left New England, sunny and dry air. I am soooooo grateful that there are no frozen pipes to worry about, no repairs to make, no snow to shovel, and no ice on the roads.
To prepare for the storm we had tightened down the kwanza hut and woodshed, filled up the generator and gotten more gas for it. In the event that the generator wouldn’t work, our town allows farmers to get water for livestock from the outside spicket at the town office building. How good is that? We closed up the awning doors of the barn, shut the barn windows, dragged the large hay feeder into the barn, and tarped up the gates, leaving the usual 2 gates open. We knew the alpacas wouldn’t venture out during the storm, but it’s important that they don’t feel closed in.
The alpacas spent most of the time cushed in the openings watching the storm, calmly chewing their cud. They ate hay without so much as a fuss at their herdmates. Clearly I was more stressed about them than they were! Sunday afternoon, with the winds still blowing strongly but only a gentle rain, my usually wimpy alpacas all went out to graze. When we saw that we knew the worst was over and that all was well.
On these hot summer days, Dan sometimes drags out the kiddie pool for the alpacas. First he'll hose down their legs and bellies. Then he'll fill up the pool a little bit. The past 2 summers, the boys weren't all that interested in the pool. This summer, with many more alpacas in the herd, some routines have been a bit different.
Julio, as usual, is the first to check out a new situation:
Cavalier quickly joined him while the others looked on.
And Cavalier is the first one to go swimming!
Hope you are all finding ways to stay cool!
Guinness scared the daylights out of me the other day.
It has been sooooooooo hot! I realize it’s July, and that we’d had a very long winter, but temps hovering around 100 are just a bit much!
We’ve been hosing down the alpacas every day in an effort to be sure they do not overheat. I’ve been refilling the water buckets several times a day. The alpacas like the cool water on a hot day, just like we humans do. We’ve kept the fans running at high speed 24/7 and an alpaca or two or three is usually cushed in front of at least one of the fans. Fortunately, even with this very humid heat spell, there has always been a decent breeze.
The boys generally like to run out in the mornings to graze. I’m thankful that there is always something for them to find to munch on. There are plenty of clumps of tall grasses here and there, as they just don’t eat everything. The pasture on the barn side is pretty well eaten down, but there are still plenty of choices on the other side, just no shade, and that’s where they usually are lately when they go out to graze.
I went out mid-morning to do my usual barn chores. I fluffed the hay and said good morning to my companions who were lounging about in the shade of the barn ~ Julio, Bo, Coty, and Arlo. I emptied and re-filled the water buckets. I absently looked out at the gang grazing out in the far pasture. I walked out behind the barn and looked around. That’s when I realized, I am only counting 10 alpacas. We have 11 boys here on our little farm.
My heart dropped. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I ran down the little hill out of the paddock and onto the alpacas’ dirt pile by the pasture fence line. ‘Hey boys!’ I called out loudly, waving my arms. 6 alpaca heads popped up from grazing ~ North, Earth, Henry, Peanut (aka Cowboy), Cavalier, and Eragon. But not Guinness.
I started waving my arms and frantically called out for Guinness. From my slightly higher vantage point, I had a good view of the entire pasture. The boys all watched me curiously, very intently; being on top of their dirt mound secured me as alpha. ‘C’mon guys, where’s Guinness?’ All my hollering, and I still could not see him. By now, North had come over to me and was eyeing me, talking to me in alpaca language. I asked him to show me where Guinness was. He started to walk down the little path they’d made in the tall grass over to the far pasture.
I followed North and kept frantically looking through the grass. North began grazing near the pasture fence line. The others watched me for a moment and resumed grazing. I walked across the pasture over to the far gate, and still, no sign of Guinness. All the gates were securely latched, but we don’t lock them. He was nowhere to be found. I got the chills. Could someone have come in and stolen my Guinness?
I started to head back towards the pasture fencing, not sure of what to do first. And then, to my horror, in the one clump of remaining tall grasses at the back end of the barn side pasture, in this awful heat, there was a dark brown lump.
‘GUINNESS!!!!!’ I kept screaming his name in a panic while I ran up to the pasture gate. Oh no, this really couldn’t be happening. As I ran through the pasture gate and back down the barn side pasture towards him, Guinness suddenly lifted up his head. Huge sigh of relief!!! I greeted him with a so very happy to see you neck scratch, restraining my urge to hug him, and he greeted me with his usual Guinness snort. Apparently I’d woken him up from a good nap.
I laughed and he jumped up. He was watching his herd mates. The 4 in the barn were now at the top of the hill by the paddock, watching, and the 6 from the other pasture had run over to the gate and were also watching. I walked with Guinness back towards the barn and then he ran towards his herd.
As we approached the hill, the other 10 all came running towards us. The herd pronked around us in a big circle. Guinness quickly joined them, and for a few blissful moments I just stood there smiling with happy tears, watching my happy alpaca herd pronking around me in a circle.
It’s very rare for a human to be given such a happy alpaca dance.
In the front part of our pasture, right by the tack room end of the barn, there is growing a rather odd looking weed. The soil is very poor there, pretty much all clay, so not too much grass has grown, and there are always plenty of small rocks. The alpacas come up here occasionally and do find something to eat, but they've never touched this weed. So I'm guessing they know it's either bitter tasting and/or poisonous to them. Guesses anyone?
Yes, folks, I realize the picture is sideways! It was the best way to get the entire plant in the picture. It's about to flower some little yellow flowers. This plant really is pretty but I need to pull it out soon before it goes to seed, just in case it really shouldn't be in an alpaca pasture. And yes, that's grass you see around it. This is right near an area that the alpacas have designated a(nother) poop pile. Now that I think of it, perhaps it was some sort of seed in their hay; maybe that's how it's gotten here. It's the only one we've seen around our entire property.
If you know what it could be, please comment to let me know! I'll be very grateful! Thanks everyone!
On Sunday we went over to Val's to visit our female alpacas, Alana and Dreamer, and our newest little cria, Copper Moon. The female herd was mostly in the barn or just outside, cushed amongst the shade of the trees. Alana is a very attentive and protective momma, and will not allow the humans near her little one. When she saw us, she didn't run away, but very deliberately walked Copper to the next pasture.
Yesterday our little alpaca herd grew again, as 2 more alpaca boys joined us here on our farm. Val came by and dropped off Cavalier and Eragon. Both are considered modern gray in color, with Cavalier being a dark silver grey and Eragon a dark rose grey. At quick glance, well, they look black! But we fiber people get carried away with now what exactly is that color? It’ll be nice colors to blend with the other colors we already have. Cavalier is clearly taller than Eragon, and luckily for Dan, Eragon has a very telltale white spot on the front of his neck.
The meet and greet inspired a lot of expected sniffing over the paddock fence. No spitting, no drama. Val took off the harnesses and we let them into the barn and paddock area. There was more sniffing and checking each other out, and still no spitting nor drama. They didn’t do a pasture pronk, which I’m guessing is because it’s a little warm outside. Instead they just milled around, picking at the hay and occasionally sniffing each other again, while the 3 of us humans stood talking, waiting for something to happen. Nothing, just quietness. The boys all cushed after we left.
Julio was being rather aloof, but he did give me that ‘what did you do’ look again.
Later in the darkness, we could see the shadows of the entire herd out in the pasture, quietly grazing together under the stars. All except for Bo, who was cushed up in the barn, watching the herd contently while he chewed his cud. From the house, we heard absolutely no noises at all. It was a very simple integration of new alpacas into our herd.
And already our little cria weighs 30 pounds! Look at that smile on his little face!
p.s. thanks to Val for this fabulous picture!
This morning the Universe shined on us. Just as if she’d read the manual, our beautiful Alana once again had a textbook perfect delivery. And once again, that healthy little cria is a very strong baby boy cria! Yeah, another boy!
Val called us this morning to tell us that Alana was looking oddly uncomfortable, and that we’d probably have a cria today. When Val went back out to check on Alana, already there was 'nose and toes'! Minutes later our little boy cria was here on Earth and very alert. And within 15 minutes of his birth, this strong little boy was standing up and nursing! By the time we arrived, he had walked with his momma out into the back pasture. Oh my, what long legs this teeny creature has! His fleece was still damp in places, and we were having quite a time figuring out what color that soft fleece is. But even though it wasn’t sunny, that fleece was shining. His fleece is shiny, with an almost reddish tone, like a new copper penny...............
Welcome, Copper Moon!
Camera snaffu is finally corrected! [aka, I'm not all that fast at figuring out computer stuff]
Here's a small pictorial from our Spring Cleaning Day.
Poo Pile composting in progress [yes that's actually snow in there on May 8th!]:
And a year's worth of alpaca poo transforms to this fabulous dirt pile:
(slight camera snaffu ~ pictures to follow)
Spring cleaning on an alpaca farm is when we clean out the barn and paddock areas in preparation for shearing day. We want the barn as clean as possible (well, it is a barn after all) so that the alpacas’ fleece stay as clean as possible. Shearing Day is a fiber farmer’s Harvest Day, and it’s very important to us to get the most out of our harvest.
Dan has spent the previous week or so raking out each pen of the straw bedding that has accumulated over the winter. This used bedding is added to the ever-growing-poop-pile to compost down into lovely dirt. Eventually we will be spreading out this compost onto the pastures, fertilizing our heavy clay soil, creating rich, nutrient-filled soil, and then beautiful grass will grow.
It’s great to dream.
Our first priority was to get the alpacas OUT of the barn and out of the way. So we dragged the 2 hay bale feeders out and stuffed them with fresh hay. I made a point of parading through the barn with a fresh bale and the boys all followed me outside like I was the pied piper.
We’ve spent this afternoon digging out the poop areas in the barn. The alpacas have 3 defined, communal poop spots in their barn. After we dug out the area, we’d sprinkle quite a bit of limestone down which helps to neutralize the smell. Then Dan brought in a tractor-bucket full of fresh stonedust to fill in the spot. We’d rake it out till it was somewhat level, I’d step all over to mush it down, and then we’d dump some more stonedust and rake again, until the spot was firm and all the limestone was well covered.
Of course just bringing the tractor into the paddock excites the alpacas to no end! We had to work around them carefully. They all followed Dan riding in on the tractor and when the tractor stopped, they rolled and rolled in front of and all around the tractor. We were trying to work quickly because the sunny sky had clouded over. The last thing we need are wet, muddy alpacas on shearing day. Whether it’s snow, dirt, stonedust, or mud, alpacas just love to roll when they’re happy, and they get really happy when the tractor arrives. So we just paused to watch and enjoy them.
Watching happy alpacas rolling is a simply joy.
It had started to rain softly so as soon as we were done we had to hustle them back into the barn, this time with Dan shaking a bowl of pellets. That was quick! I closed all the gates behind our fleece-y friends. Dan made sure each eager nose got a few mouthfuls and then got back on the tractor. I took down one more of the tarps; just one is left. I emptied and refilled the water buckets and the alpacas just stood there staring at me, and mindlessly stared outside the gates at Dan working in the paddock. They hummed and hummed, loudly, not too happy with us to be locked into the barn. Sorry boys! All your fleeces need to be dry, dry, dry for shearing day.
Dan then raked out the paddock of the rest of the mashed down, wet straw with the york rake on the tractor. He filled up the bucket and dumped it all into The Big Poop Pile.
He figured he’d turn the poop piles while he was there. The older pile is now looking like the glorious dirt we’re hoping for. It’s a deep dark brown and full of earth worms. Yeah!
The newer pile was steaming off heat on one side! Hoorah! And the other side ........... the other side still had some snow in it!
We woke up this morning to the Winter That Just Won’t End.
Good thing I didn’t plant anything yesterday on Earth Day.
I would say my life’s mission is to leave the world a better place than I found it. Our farm’s simple mission statement reflects that. A friend of mine from college used to say, ‘Of course I want to take care of the planet. It’s the only one we’ve got.’ It was true then and true now.
The celebration of Earth Day inspires me to continually ask myself, What else can I do to help the Earth?
Spaceship Earth is just a teeny speck of a planet in our giant Universe. In the here and now, and the foreseeable future, it’s probably the only place that we humans can live. And such a beautiful planet our Earth is! Why trash it?
Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.
I’m not sure when George Carlin said that, but it continues to hold true today, doesn’t it? So sad that our beautiful living space of planet Earth is slowly being transformed into a huge dumping ground. Sadder still is when humans refuse and then cease to acknowledge that. Waste is an inevitable by-product of life, but please, there’s got to be a better way to keep our planet clean and healthy.
George Carlin’s satire of our popular American song, America the Beautiful, is a reminder to me to do something, everyday, to help regain and retain the health of the Earth, which in turn helps all the living beings that inhabit it.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than by just spending time outdoors and breathing fresh air. Fortunately, I get that opportunity daily by just caring for the alpacas’ daily needs and by walking Stella. I’ll probably spend some time in the garden, pulling up debris from last year’s plantings and throwing that into the compost pile. Maybe I’ll do some Sun Salutations in between the raised beds!
How are you all celebrating Earth Day?
The snow is finally all melted and spring has arrived! We've taken down most of the tarps and dragged the stand up hay feeder outside. It's great to see the alpacas outside in the sunshine, grazing on the new growth, running, or cushed around the feeder. It's great to be able to wear less layers. It's great to see the early flowers popping up here and there and blooming.
The past few weeks have been mostly sunny days. Most of the snow is gone. Evenings are still below freezing so the ground is wet yet somewhat solid.
The alpacas have been running around the pasture, so happy not to be cooped up in the barn. The chase each other and pronk about in big circles. They cush out in the fields and take naps, usually in an adorable huddle. Sometimes late at night we’ve seen them sleeping out in the paddock in the moonlight under the starry nighttime sky. They’re even grazing. I have absolutely no idea what they could be grazing on. There’s only brownish grasses left over from last fall. It’s been way too cold and still early in the spring for grass to sprout, but they’re finding something yummy.
When I walk into the paddock to start chores they come running! They all greet me with muddy knees and feet and sniff my nose and head. They’re a bit less cranky at feeding time. Once done, they all run out of the barn and begin pronking about the pasture again. I love to watch them, all in full fleece and about as cute as alpacas can be.
I have no idea how to tell them tonight that we’re getting 14 inches of snow tomorrow, on April Fool’s Day. Really.
A few days ago was Dan’s birthday so I baked him his favorite birthday cake: chocolate cake with thick chocolate buttercream frosting. Yes I made it from scratch! Always! There’s nothing like an imperfect looking, but fabulous tasting, homemade and handmade cake. No two cakes I’ve ever made have come out looking the same.
Chocolate cake for Dan’s birthday is tradition for us. Once, many, many years ago, I experimented a bit and made it a chocolate-raspberry cake with chocolate-raspberry frosting. The cake part was easy enough; I just added some raspberry extract along with the vanilla. For the frosting I melted chocolate-raspberry chips. I’m sure there was plenty of melted butter too along with plenty of sugar. I spread all this yummy goo over the cake and let it cool.
Well, melted chocolate chips with melted butter and sugar that cools turned into a frosting that hardened like fudge! I’m pretty sure we had to cut this cake with a serrated bread knife to get through the frosting. You could eat the cake and the frosting would just stay standing up intact on your plate like a taco shell. So, we ate the frosting as if it were a piece of fudge. To this day, it still is Dan’s favorite cake.
No, the alpacas won’t be eating chocolate cake. They’re much too busy growing fabulous alpaca fiber for me! This wonderful fiber will be made into yarns or roving or felt and then hand made into scarves or hats or rugs or something else wonderful. One reason I love the small batches of mini-mill spun farm yarns is that every year the outcome is different and unique, complimentary to the changes in the alpacas’ fiber. Each year’s harvest of fleece-turned-into-yarns is unique.
When something is hand made it is always one of a kind. You can follow the same pattern or instructions 10 times and all 10 times it will be a little different. I love that!
While you’re making something handmade you can share your spirit of love and good wishes into the item you’re working on.
A handmade item can be tweaked so that the intended recipient feels extra special.
Handmade items are usually never perfect either, and these little flaws add to its uniqueness. The uniqueness of something handmade is its beauty.
Handmade is a simply joy of life.
Let’s share the handmade love!
It was foggy and drizzly when we walked down to the barn last night. No stars were out. The path to the barn is mud and large puddles. The snow banks are really going down but there’s still plenty of snow. The paddock is mud, mud, and more mud, with puddles everywhere in the shape of cute little alpaca feet. With the rain and the snow melting it’s hard to tell the mud from the alpaca poo especially at night. At least it’s not iced over; spring is on its way. Thankfully the new gutter is doing its job to keep the barn dry.
The alpacas were fairly quiet even after I turned on the barn lights. I fluffed up the hay feeders and brought out another bale and they promptly starting eating. Dan scooped what little poo there was in the barn and got started on the paddock. I emptied and re-filled one of the water buckets and put in the apple electrolytes the boys love. Then I went over to the other water bucket and unplugged it to empty it too. I noticed that something much larger than a piece of straw was floating in the bucket.
Q: What is worse than finding a very large mouse running through your barn?
A: Finding a very large mouse floating belly up in the water bucket!
I started to shake. I looked in the bucket again and oh yeah, it wasn’t straw. I shook some more and put the bucket down on the ground. I didn’t exactly scream, but instead let out a very long and loud, very girlie-ish squeal.
The alpacas ran out of the barn.
So there I am again, a usually-sensible-forty-something-woman trying hard to keep my composure. Instead I was squealing, speechless, and almost cried. Dan stomped over to me. ‘What, what is it? Speak!’ So I told him. He walked over to the bucket and looked in. As he was leaving the barn to go dump out the bucket, he reminded me that this was a farm and that I need to get used to these things.
When he came back he assured me that it was only a small mouse, not a very large mouse. He always knows the right thing to say!
There is a fifth season that is never mentioned scientifically, but it’s definitely talked about extensively here in New England. It’s Mud season. Mud season is that transition time during the melting snows of late winter and the not yet totally thawed ground of early spring. Complicate that with heavy rainfall and Mother Nature creates a very messy, muddy situation.
Dan and I joke around a lot about how our pasture and surrounding yard looks like a ‘weird science experiment’ with all the swales and berms we’ve made to create proper drainage. With the arrival of mud season which sometimes brings nearby flooding, we’re always eager to see if our experiments have worked. We need to be certain that the alpacas are safe. Alpacas are a sure-footed animal, yet deep mud while they’re pronking and not expecting it could easily break a leg or foot.
So far, so good.
Over the weekend Dan put up a gutter along the front roof of the barn. Melting snow with nowhere to go (ground is still not thawed) was slowly flowing back into the barn, creating a small pond near the opening, right where one of the alpacas’ poo piles is. Can you say ‘oh yuck?’ Of course the boys were hesitant to even walk around it. We would rake over some straw bedding to help absorb and re-direct the water. This does work but it takes several hours and we’d much prefer the straw is used for the alpacas’ bedding, to stay warm and dry. It only took about an hour to hook up the gutter and it had started to rain. Yes, Sara and Emily, your dad was looking quite fashionable in his ‘hat-from-a-grocery-store-bag.’ His hair stayed dry!
And the barn has stayed dry now too!
Back in October, I picked up our farm’s first yarns made from our alpacas’ fleeces. I had decided then that my first project would be made with the Geldings’ yarn and that it would be something for Dan. Julio and Guinness’ fleeces made a deep, dark brown yarn (nice manly color) in a rugged enough grade 3. I love grade 3 yarn. It’s very durable, but still soft enough to be worn close to the skin.
At first I was going to make Dan a hat. Then my new 7 foot adjustable rectangle loom arrived from the Hillcreek Fiber Studio, so needless to say, I decided I’d make him a scarf instead. I love scarves.
Lucky for me, Dan is agreeable to these things. LOL.
This nifty loom can be set up to make 21 different sized rectangles ~ oh the possibilities! Right now it is set at about 11” by about 64”. Once it’s off the loom it will ‘settle’ a bit, and again when I wash/full it, so it will still be a good manly sized scarf. After setting up the loom on Sunday, I got about a third of the scarf done.
I’ve even managed to figure out Ravelry a bit more. I will try to remember to post updates there too. You can find me on Ravelry as: harmonyhandwovens.
For several days now, we haven’t had any snow. Some days are still rather cold, but things have been warming up a little bit. And sunshine! Even on cold and windy days the sun is melting snow. Water is pouring down off the roofs and turning the driveway and pathway to the barn to mud. It refreezes overnight to a thick sheet of ice, and now we inch our way carefully walking down to the barn. The paddock has become a yucky-mud and ice-poopy mess of late winter thawing. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to that! Over fields of white snow, the sun can be blinding for a few moments, but most certainly a welcome sight. Oh please, Mother Nature, send Springtime soon.
Since the arrival of Henry and Cowboy in December, it brings our total number of alpacas here to nine. And lugging hot tap water for 9 alpacas is quite a bit more work than for just 5 alpacas, so we decided to hang up 2 five gallon heated water buckets. At first I wouldn’t; I was terrified of fire but have since learned they are very safe. Now the alpacas have warm water all the time, and we don’t have to worry about their water freezing. The funny thing is, the boys will drink one bucket until it’s dry, and hardly touch the other one! Silly alpacas.
With all this sunshine, the alpacas have been coming out of the barn more and more. At first they’ll be squinting, look around, and casually stroll across the paddock, and down the little path into the pasture. They’ll stroll around a bit, sometimes play a bit, and sometimes cush in the sun and nap. Almost always the first one to venture out is Julio, or North or Coty, and lots of times it’s Henry. Henry is always accompanied by Earth. They’re buddies and are inseparable. Once one or two are out, the other seven follow.
Yeah, now I can look out my window and see my little herd of alpaca boys. And what do they do when they come out? They eat snow. They’ve never done this before. Yet now that there are heated water buckets with nice warm water that never freezes, they’re eating snow. They’re all lined up in the paddock and down the path, eating snow like they’re grazing on grass. Every last one of them.
Silly, silly alpacas.
I woke up this morning at daybreak and noticed that it was snowing. I’m not sure if I should end that statement with again or still. Dan was out on the tractor for almost 5 hours yesterday, clearing and widening our driveway and the path down to the barn, clearing the paddock and making paths in the pasture, and clearing snow from around the trailer where the hay is stored and our tarp-and-pallet woodshed. The snowbanks along our driveway and along our street are at least as tall as me or higher; I am 5 feet 4 inches tall.
Yup, the alpacas will hardly leave the barn. Yup, Stella gets stuck when she runs in the snow. Yup, snow is up to the porch and just under the window. Yup, we have to dig out the mailbox.
Yup, I don’t think we’ll see grass again until July.
This year’s winter is definitely for the record books!
Alpacas most definitely have their own little personalities. Some may be quite timid with people, some may be much more vocal than their herdmates, some are more dominant over issues such as hay or spaces in the barn, and some tend to be very quiet and submissive, and so on.
One thing about a males only farm is that they can be very, very silly more often than not. Their only job is to grow fabulous fiber. And boys just love to play!
Silly, silly alpacas are a simple joy.
Last night the boys were still cranky. Another day of snow and cold wind, and they’re just tired of being in the barn cooped up with each other. They can go out, but generally don’t. If they do wander out, it’s not for very long. Dan will need to plow out paths for them again this weekend. It’ll be cold again, but thankfully sunny.
Snow started up again overnight so I didn’t venture out to the barn till it stopped around noontime. Let’s hear it for heated water buckets! As I walked up to the barn pushing the wheelbarrow, I could see everyone cushed quietly inside on their thick layer of straw. At least no one’s spitting was my first thought. I greeted them with my usual sing-song-y, cheerful ‘Hello boys!’ and turned on the lights. I usually quietly do a head count when I first come out and for some reason I started counting out loud. ‘1, 2, 3, ......... 7, 8, 9!’ I was still speaking in that sing-song-y voice.
The boys were all eyeing me very intently. Ears started to go up. Julio was the first to stand, then North, then the others. As each stood up, I said ‘Oh good boy! There’s 1! Oh good boy! There’s 2! .........’ Within seconds all 9 alpacas were standing, all with ears straight up, huge eyes following me. No one had moved from their spot, but apparently they were finding me entertaining.
It’s not very often a human can have the undivided attention of their alpacas, especially all at the same time.
So I continued sing-song-ing. ‘Yeah, all the alpacas are up! Yeah!’ I even jumped and down and clapped a few times. Yes folks, there I was, a 40-something woman, in my barn jumping up and down, clapping my hands, and cheering ‘yeah!’ 9 alpaca heads bobbed up and down as I did. 9 sets of alpaca ears were standing up straight. 9 sets of alpaca eyes were watching me. 9 alpacas made me burst out laughing in joy.
9 alpacas were probably thinking ‘Silly, silly, human!’
Although, perhaps with the alpacas we should refer to this as ‘Barn Fever.’ It’s the dead of winter, lots of snow on the ground, the days are barely above zero, and any slight breeze is simply bone-chilling. Usually people just remain inside their homes, snuggled up near woodstoves and curled up on the couch with blankets, sipping tea and hot chocolate and knitting away.
After a while, we all go crazy being inside so much and just feel a need to get out. Sometimes Dan and I will slip on the snowshoes and walk around the pasture and into the woods. Stella runs along beside us, leaping through the snow. If the roads are clear and down to pavement, then we’ll just take a little walk. Activity always helps to warm us up.
The alpacas don’t care for the deep snow and have been staying in the barn, cushed on their straw bedding and munching away at hay. The tarps keep most of the wind out but it’s so dark in there even during the day. I keep reminding them to come outside, get some fresh air and sunshine, but they just look at me with an ‘are you kidding me?’ look. Dan cleared out the paddock after Wednesday’s snowstorm, but still they’ve hardly come out. Being inside the barn so much is making them really cranky. I find fresh spit on the posts and barn walls whenever I go in.
But Dan on the tractor gets them out! The boys will all greet him at the gate as he rides in. Yesterday Dan plowed paths for them around the pasture, and the boys just loved it. They’d follow behind him as he plowed, pronking and all but dancing. They ran and ran, as one beautiful herd of alpacas. Such a sight! As they come up to the barn, you can hear the pounding of their feet like a small train coming in. They stand in the paddock for a minute catching their breaths. Then one of them will walk quickly down the little hill and look over their shoulder as if to say ‘C’mon guys!’ and suddenly all of them are running, around the paths and sometimes into the snow, leaping and pronking and chasing each other, having a great time.
I had a wonderful end to last year / start to the New Year on Friday morning ~ I went to Sallie’s Fen Fibers to pick up another batch of my yarn! I had this yarn done in a twist. There’s a ply of white yarn, courtesy of Bo Jangles, and a ply of medium fawn yarn, courtesy of Coty and his mama Alana. It’s a perfect rag-wool style yarn! I think I’ll just call it ‘The Twist.’ Funny, Bo and Coty are always wrangling, wrestling, playing ‘Twister’ with each other, so a twist yarn from their fleeces is just perfect. There was actually more fawn than white (yeah!) so I also have a small cone of just fawn.
Yummmm........ Yes, yes, pictures will come.
Wishing you all a joyous, peaceful, healthful, and prosperous New Year!
(most of today’s post is a re-print of last year’s post)
I love New Year’s and the hope for new beginnings that it brings. On New Year’s Eve Dan and I like to sit back and reflect on our past year and create our goals for the New Year. Our reflections start with the good, i.e. all the goals we did accomplish or are completing, and then on to the setbacks. But instead of dwelling on any bad experiences that we may have had, we talk about what we’ve learned from those experiences so that it may help us in the future. And then we laugh and talk about what we are looking forward to, jot down ideas, and from there our new goals are formed.
It’s the end of the year. Every end is a new beginning.
With the alpacas physically here it is much easier for us to visualize the direction our farm is headed. I’m sure all farms sit back every year and say ‘Hhmmm, what needs to be fixed? What do we need to buy this year? What could we improve?’ Necessity and the budget usually dictate what will come first. If the alpacas could speak, I’m sure they’d like us to keep working on a better pasture, free of rocks and roots, and filled with lush, green grass!
We’ve had a wonderful 2010. 2011 can only be better.
Here’s to wonderful new beginnings!
Wishing you all a joyous, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year!
Looks like 2010 is going to end with quite the bang up here in New Hampshire. We usually refer to these huge snowstorms as ‘Nor’easters’ but the weathermen are all calling it a blizzard, probably because of the strong winds. They keep ‘upping’ the forecast and this evening it now looks like we’ll get 14 – 21 inches of snow by the time the storm is over tomorrow evening. No matter what you call it, that’s a lot of snow for one storm.
Alpacas don’t like to be closed in, and we’d never sleep knowing they didn’t have a way to ‘get out’ should something happen to the barn. But all this wind will definitely blow snow into our open barn, so this afternoon we spent a few hours with tarps, scraps of plywood, a staple gun, and a cordless screwdriver. First Dan dragged in their outside hay feeder and then we set out to block the openings of the barn. We covered over three of them and half of the fourth one, leaving about a 6 foot wide opening. We wanted it wide enough so that if something startled them, they could all run out pretty much at once. Their small hay feeder is positioned right in front of this opening, so we moved that against the side of the pen wall. We spread out a bale of fresh straw in this protected section of 4 pens, put out 2 buckets of hot tap water, filled and fluffed the 3 hay feeders, told them to stay cushed together for warmth, and be nice to each other. I doubt any of them will venture outside tonight! It’s awfully dark in there now so we’ve left the back porch light on as a bit of a nightlight for them.
Stay safe, my alpaca friends.
We’ve been transitioning to our winter routine. We can’t leave the house until we’re ‘loaded up’: winter muck boots, heavy coats and gloves, hat/headband, and lots of layers. Barn chores take much longer this time of year. We’re trying to remember what we did last year for snow removal around the gates, what worked and didn’t work so well. We’re so not ready for snow just yet. We’re lucky that so far it’s just been cold and windy. What little snow we’ve had is gone within a day or two.
It seems as if the alpacas have grown their own winter coats overnight. Suddenly they’re all so very fluffy looking. Those fluffy cheeks are beginning to look like teddy bear faces. We’ve been putting down straw for them to bed down on but in the morning light we see that they’re all cushed outside! Apparently they’re a lot warmer than we are.
There’s hardly anything left to graze on in the pastures so we’re starting to go through more hay. That’s normal this time of year. I try to keep all the feeders really full and well fluffed. We’ve been feeding them a little more pellets in the evenings too. The boys never say no to extra pellets.
The past several days it hasn’t even reached 32 degrees so the water buckets are frozen over mornings and evenings. So it’s back to hauling down gallons and gallons of hot tap water! Arlo used to always greet me last winter but now it’s North. Once he realized I’m bringing down morning and evening ‘tea,’ he runs right up to me. I can barely get the buckets down on the floor of the barn and he’s drinking and drinking .......... he’ll drink a whole gallon of warm water at once. Silly alpaca.
The other thing with cold weather returning is that it’s harder to rake up the alpaca poo. I wait till mid morning to do this, hoping that with the sun up over the barn, the beans won’t be frozen to the ground so much. When you try using the rake to scoop frozen-to-the-ground-beans, the beans develop a life of their own and sail across the paddock. So now it’s ice pick time. The ice pick breaks up the frozen beans easier, but it also makes it easier for the beans to sail faster and more unpredictably. Ever have this conversation with a co-worker? “Well I had to get out the ice pick to shovel manure this morning and whoa! The beans went straight up! Only had a half dozen or so in my hair. Thank god my mouth wasn’t open.” I don’t recommend it. Unless they have livestock, they just won’t understand. They’ll look absolutely horrified, possibly more so than when describing how your favorite alpaca spit in your hair.
Alpacas’ cute personalities and fabulous fiber (!) outweigh all these ..... these ..... winter oddities.
I wouldn’t trade my alpacas for any other livestock in the world!
I went out to the barn this morning to do my usual morning chores. It’s sunny today after a day of foggy, wind swept rain, and all the alpacas were out in the pasture. North and Earth came into the barn while I was scooping alpaca poo. I pushed the wheelbarrow out to the Big Pile to dump it and when I came back into the paddock the rest of the alpacas ran up too. I greeted them all by name as I usually do.
Coty was standing near the outside hay bin. I casually asked him how his wound was doing this morning and walked into the barn to begin refilling the hay bins. Here I am fluffing hay when Coty sauntered in, bleeding all over again! Yikes! Quickly I went into ‘vet’ mode and shut the barn panel, herded Coty and North into the pen, turned on the inside barn lights, and got paper towels to clean him up again. He must have rubbed his head on something and pulled off the scab. At least it wasn’t a new wound! He winced strongly when I first applied pressure against his gash, such tender ears alpacas have, and then stood calmly while I waited there for the blood to stop. North was a good companion and didn’t leave his side. Earth fussed from just outside the pen door.
I did a quick couple of wipes down Coty’s neck. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the other night and I know that this blood on top of his fleece will eventually wash off on its own. I let him and North out of the pen and opened up the barn again. Bo and Arlo came in quickly to check out the new hay. I finished adding and fluffing hay to the other bins and re-filled water buckets.
And that’s when I realized that Coty had managed to bleed on just about everyone else.
Welcome to our farm! We have a small herd of red-spotted alpacas!
Coty’s mama is our beautiful Alana. When I first saw Alana she was still a cria, and I knew I had to have her. She has stunning rose-grey/fawn fleece that in the sunlight has a pinkish hue and is oh so soft to the touch. Now as an adult alpaca she is very tall and statuesque and still has that stunning fleece. Coty is a male version of her, his fleece a shade or two lighter and more a fawn color. That fleece is heaven on your hands and against your cheek. He is a little shy and apprehensive around humans, but stands quietly for you when held. Around the other alpacas he is always gentle and rarely spits. At two years old he is a very tall alpaca and all but struts when he walks. Personally, I’d love a pasture full of Cotys.
Last night, Coty sent me into a panic.
We went out to the barn as we usually do in the evenings to feed the boys. Dan has wired the outside lights of the barn so that we can also turn them on from inside the house. As we walked into the paddock ............ you know how you ‘just know’ that something isn’t right? The boys were all quietly standing around or eating hay. Bo slowly approached us and as he walked past the light we noticed a little spot of blood on his side. ‘Hhhmmm ........ thought he was all done teething’ I mused out loud. I started scanning the rest of the boys in the shadowed paddock. Coty started to come towards us. My normally very quiet and calm husband exclaimed ‘LOOK at Coty!’ There under the light, the left side of Coty’s head and down his neck was just covered in blood. ‘Coty, my Coty!’ I screeched. It is hunting season and the worst possible scenario ran through my head. I went into the tack room to turn on all the barn lights. Of course now Coty looked much worse.
I ran back to the house to get rags and warm water and the phone to call the vet. Here’s my soapbox to have a phone in the barn with the vet’s phone number right there. When I got back Dan had all 7 alpacas enclosed in the barn, with Coty, Arlo, and Julio in the pen. We scooted Julio out. Dan had inspected Coty and determined ~ thank God ~ that it was not a gunshot wound. More likely, one of the alpacas had bit his ear and yanked out fleece along with some skin. Which alpaca would have done that? Hello Guinness. It must have just happened because the blood was so fresh; none of it had dried. Dan held him. Coty rested his chin on the pen wall while I gently washed off his neck and side of his face with the wet rag. Blood was basically on top of his fleece and some of it was starting to clot. I slowly made my way over to his ear and that’s when he winced. Poor Coty!! Oh that must have hurt. I held the rag with gentle pressure on his ear to stop the bleeding. Coty was a real trooper and just stood there. Sometime he’d rock his chin on the pen wall a bit but he never fussed. Bo was very concerned and stood closely right on the other side of the pen wall watching and watching the entire time. Whenever I’d turn around to wet the rag again, Bo would nose Coty and Coty would nose Bo right back. How sweet!
After getting Coty all cleaned up we went on with our usual evening routine of refilling the hay bins and water buckets, and feeding alpaca pellets. It was very quiet in the barn, no fussing or fighting at all.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that whole ‘harvest time’ theme. The smell of the turkey and all those veggies cooking make the house smell oh so good. And pie! Lots and lots of pie!
We are grateful for the many blessings in our lives. As alpaca farmers sometimes these blessings are unusual things. For instance, this morning I am grateful that Guinness didn’t spit into my hair! When I’m in the barn, if one of the alpacas is going to be spitting, 90% of the time, it’ll be Guinness. He’s usually defending some freshly fluffed hay, which he thinks is all for him. Usually his cohort in spitting crime is Julio, but sometimes it’s one of the other alpacas. They will usually turn their head when Guinness starts to fuss, then Guinness will spit at them and fuss some more, and if I’m not fast enough .........eeewww! Spit spray will end up in my hair. And other mornings, Guinness just quietly chews hay side by side his fellow herd mates.
This morning I am grateful for my clean hair!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
This is the scene now every morning. Mornings are down right crisp but the boys come out at daybreak and start grazing. They graze for hours, coming back up to the barn in the afternoon for long drinks of water and ‘siesta time.’ I’d love to know what they’re finding to eat! There just doesn’t seem to be that much, but they did this last year in late fall too. Someday ........ someday our pastures will be as green as the lawn beside it! They usually all stay together in one group as they move through the pasture. It’s so good to see that the 2 new boys have integrated into the herd relatively seamlessly.
It’s good to see Julio being his usual self. By his usual self, I mean spitting with Guinness over hay, threatening to spit at Bo, Coty, Arlo, and the new boys over hay, being the first to finish eating at dinnertime thereby trying to steal the others’ feed, and some mild body-slamming of the others to push them out of the way ~ just because. And perhaps a kick if we humans are too close to his back legs. Not that any of these traits are particularly endearing, but they are who Julio is. It’s autumn now, cold and windy with shorter days, and he’s also resumed acting as the guard, first to check out any possibility of danger. He is back to being our alpha!
At the beginning of summer we’d noticed him acting a bit ‘off.’ He’d stand around a lot, or cush more than usual, he’d eat his pellets slowly and sometimes not finish them, nibble at hay rather than enthusiastically chew, and ignore Guinness at the hay bins. An alpaca that doesn’t ‘stay with the herd’ is one that is probably ill. Then we noticed he had a small lump on one jaw. Over a few weeks the swelling would go up and down and back up and sometimes poor Julio would even drool. I kept in contact with our wonderful vet, Amy. Once we noticed that he was clearly thinner, she came right out. Our poor Julio appeared to have either a tooth or jaw abscess! She drew up 5 injections of an antibiotic for us to give to him over 10 days.
Amy gave Julio the first shot with ease, giving us instructions on how to do an intra-muscular injection, something we haven’t done before. Yikes! Two days later Julio must have been feeling better. He also must have sensed our apprehension and thought it would be a fun game to play ‘keep away from the humans.’ At dinnertime we would entice him into the pen to eat with Arlo and then we’d corner him to do his shot. We’d catch him, but he didn’t want to stay caught! Julio is a tall alpaca and very strong and he’d push forward against me almost knocking me down. Dan could hold him longer than I could, but Julio would literally take him ‘for a ride’ around the pen with Dan hanging on. I wish I’d had a video camera for that scene! He’d kick at us and try to climb up the pen walls to get out. Stressing him is not good, so we’d give up after about 20 minutes and just let him out to rejoin the herd in the pasture.
Julio needed his shots. Several days of trying went unsuccessfully, each time with Julio taking Dan for a ride in the pen. By Saturday we were frantic. Val came right over! Having had alpacas for years, and having over 70 alpacas on her farm, Val is a natural. She came into the pen with us and Julio just watched. She talked to Julio in her calm, soothing voice. She scratched his ears and neck and showed him the needle. Our little hoodlum just stood there. She very gently held him. She then instructed Dan on where to stand and exactly what motions to do with his hands. Dan administered the injection, and Julio never even flinched. All this couldn’t even have taken 2 minutes.
The remaining 3 injections, we caught Julio, I held him, Dan gave him the injection, then DONE. No drama!
Yup, that’s our man Julio, the Drama Queen.
Our little guy Henry and new friend Cowboy have not been very eager to take that ‘leap of faith’ and hop into Val’s van. So today, only North and Earth came home to our little farm. They were both hesitant to get out of the van, but with just a gentle pull to the leash, a quick hop out they did. They both walked on their leashes very proudly down our little farm road to the barn.
Yesterday Dan had put up some hog panels from the corner of the barn out to the fence line, creating a small pen enclosure in case our 5 boys here were a little too rambunctious towards the newcomers. Val and her daughter Annie walked North and Earth to just inside the gate. It’s best to introduce new alpacas to the herd over a fence. Julio, Guinness, Bo, Coty, and Arlo were all cushed in the far pasture. Arlo noticed the new arrivals first and suddenly all 5 came running like bats out of hell! Julio was the first to arrive of course, and instantly all 7 boys were sniffing each other excitedly over our little temporary fencing in the paddock area. There was no fighting or snorting of any kind. After a couple minutes Val decided all appeared well, Dan unhooked the gates, and we brought the new boys in. They were quite nervous at that point so Val just unhooked the leads and took off the halters. We all watched and waited.
Instantly, all the boys began to run! In one big group they ran right to the back of the pasture. Julio went through the gate and decided to watch things from the other side of the fence. North and Earth sniffed and sniffed the trees, the grass, the fencing, just as my original 5 had when they arrived last year. Bo, Coty, and Arlo sniffed and sniffed North and Earth! Everyone sniffed Julio through the fence. Guinness stayed back a bit, then lay on top of the dirt pile and watched from afar.
Coty has always been the most curious and today was no exception. North is just about his (huge) size, so Coty’s been following North. An instant bonding happened. They chased each other and neck wrestled, occasionally bumping into the others to join in on the chase. I think Bo looked relieved that Coty is no longer chasing him! North even nipped at Julio’s heels! Julio looked so surprised and ran and ran, with the whole gang following. Then sometimes Julio would stop and stand in the pasture and just stare at me as if to ask “What did you do?” Within minutes he was cushed again; he could care less! Then Guinness joined him. The new boys are also loving pasture to graze on, even if it’s not the longer, greener grasses of summer. Earth is a few months younger than Arlo, and Arlo looks pleased to have both a new playmate, and someone just a bit smaller than him. Dan and I are relieved that all the boys are getting along. And Val is so happy to see them all running and playing, as if they’d been the same herd forever.
Ahhhh............alpacas running together ................. a simple joy.
Left to right: Coty, Arlo, Guinness, Julio, Bo
Next weekend, our little farm will be growing. Our cria from last year, Henry (Hank), will be coming home to our farm to live! We thought it best to bring home his buddy, so another little guy named Earth, Wind, and Fire (Earth for short) is coming home too. Since the male weanlings are all penned together, Val wants to be sure her remaining alpacas are happy as well, so she is bringing along 2 more buddies: North Wind (North) and Cowboy. Four alpacas are joining our five here, bringing our little herd to nine alpacas. Nine! It's not so little anymore. Counting our 2 gals, Dreamer and Alana, who live at Val's, we have 11, and next year's crias will make 13.
So I'm getting sentimental and started looking through pictures stored on the camera. I found many wonderful shots. Hope you all enjoy these 2, both taken right before shearing days this past spring.
Every alpaca owner follows this annual cycle. An alpaca is born on or brought home to the farm. It is cared for by feeding hay, minerals, and usually pellets, water buckets are cleaned, emptied, scrubbed, and re-filled, given pasture to graze on, poop is scooped, toenails are clipped, vaccines and de-wormers and other medications are given when necessary, straw bedding is put down when winter is arriving, snow is shoveled away from paddocks and gates, gutters put up, and mud is cursed when spring rains come and melt the snow.
The warmth of spring arrives and our alpacas are sheared. For a fiber farm, that shearing day is our annual harvest! The fleece is usually put into bags according to alpaca and divided into 3 units: firsts (blanket), seconds (neck), and thirds (leg, belly, chest). A lot of farms will store their fleece this way in their barns, basements, and attics, later on skirting some of the blankets for fleece shows, or for submitting to mills to be made into yarn. Some farms have chosen not to do anything with their fleeces! The bags are piled up for years, sometimes allowing for mice to build their nest with, sometimes just rotting away, and sometimes it just gets composted. To hear stories of this happening to beautiful alpaca fleece saddens me. :(
Beautiful alpaca fleece is a simple joy of life.
From the onset of our farm, we have had our fleece sorted as well. We have always been focused on the fiber part rather than the show aspect and learned early on that alpaca fleece is generally not uniform in micron across the entire animal. ‘Sorting’ separates the fleece into grades (small ranges) of micron, and by length, and by color. So now some of my bags of fleece are combinations of alpacas, if their colors are the same. And yes, my sorted fleece has been sitting in our house in the bags! My rationale was that we’re a small farm (we only started off with 4 alpacas) and I wanted to combine fleeces of similar grade, thereby making the yarn process much more cost effective. I also have 2 white alpacas, Bo Jangles and his full brother Arlo, and although I love them both dearly, white just isn’t my favorite yarn color! I was also hoping to have different colors but same grades to blend in with their white fleeces.
Yarn is the basis of all textiles. Fleece must be carded into roving and then spun into yarn before it can be woven into fabric. It only makes sense that the basis of your product (yarn, fabric, roving, and batts) be as uniform as possible. To Dan and me, submitting fleece by grade for processing makes more sense than submitting fleece by individual animal’s blanket.
In April I decided we’d waited long enough, and I dropped 2 batches, i.e. several bags of fleece, to our local mini-mill, Sallie’s Fen Fibers. Sallie Whitlow has a fabulous reputation for the beautiful yarns she spins and we are so fortunate that it is really just a short drive. My yarns now and most likely in the future will probably always be some kind of ‘Herd Blend.’ Alpaca is said to come in 22 natural colors, which to me means when I blend grades of different colors, the outcome (color) will always be a surprise! Sounds like a lot of fun to me! Most people tell me ‘oh but the white fleece dyes so wonderfully.’ And they’re right! And, guess what, the non-white alpaca fleece dyes wonderfully too! Lots of time the (naturally) colored yarn will take on a heathered look when dyed, especially if some of the raw fleece is dyed first and then blended in with un-dyed fleece. It’s all so lovely! For now though, I am enjoying the natural shades and natural blends.
Last week Sallie called to tell me my yarn is ready! I drove over Friday in a storm and was absolutely delighted with the results. My first batch is my herd blend, ‘The Geldings’ Dark Chocolate.’ Guinness’ medium brown huacaya fleece was blended with Julio’s bay black suri fleece. Sallie did blend in a little black merino for stability for the suri fleece, and the yarn is an awesome grade 3 in a fabulous dark chocolate color. The other batch is my herd blend, ‘Cria Coffee Ice Cream.’ Here I blended Bo’s white cria fleece, Coty’s medium fawn cria fleece, and Arlo’s white/beige cria fleece. Sallie spun this as a 2 ply, and then plied those again, creating a really neat cabling effect. This cable method helps to strengthen that tender cria fleece. I now have darling coffee ice cream-colored, super soft, grade 1, baby alpaca yarn to enjoy.
I am in yarn heaven!
Slowly but surely the remaining fleeces will be sent off to be made into yarns or my new favorite fiber process ~ felt fabric! I can only weave so fast!
Sometimes, a sign says it all.
We strongly believe in the 'Buy Local' movement. Just call us locavores! Locally grown food is by far fresher than any produce found in a grocery store, and therefore much tastier. To me there is nothing tastier than a tomato or apple or fresh herbs that I grew right in my own backyard. And when weather has other plans, I just head for the farmer's market. Luckily here in New Hampshire we have plenty of those, so we can eat local 7 days a week during the gardening season. We also prefer that our alpacas 'eat local' too so we try to buy hay only from local farms as well.
Fall has arrived! With this cooler weather we're all getting back to our knitting and weaving and other fun fiber arts. Locally raised fibers are also a good thing!
(Thank you to our neighbor on South Road / Route 43 for putting up this sign in his hay field. In case you can't read the fuzzy picture, it says 'Do You Like this View? Support your Local Farmers')
Spring arrived early this year, followed by an early starting and very hot and humid summer. We are so very grateful that after several years it’s also been a very dry summer. Continuing this new trend, it now appears that autumn is arriving early. That’s fine with us. We love the cooler days and crisp nights, with the daytime colors of the trees slowly turning to brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. The grass seems to start growing again and turns a deep green. Against this backdrop is a perfectly bright blue sky.
Wildlife abounds this time of year. Wildlife is always abounding when you live near a large state park as we do, but we seem to notice them more when the cool weather starts. Furry and feathered friends are beginning their annual gathering up of their food storage for winter and pass through our property daily. A local family of red fox took up residence under our woodshed for a couple weeks. We haven’t seen them in a while; I imagine they grew tired of Stella chasing them out of the yard. We see the hawks circling the yard again over the treetops, and today I heard at least 3 flocks of Canadian geese fly by overhead. Soon the bats will be gone. Acorns and pine cones are starting to fall from the trees, keeping all the squirrels and chipmunks busy.
Lately the alpacas have been amused by a family of wild turkeys that travel through the yard in the mornings. The turkeys hobble along the path just outside the fencing, hop onto the stone wall along the back of pasture and walk along it, then off into the woods. The alpacas will at first all stand up straight, ears straight up, necks outstretched. Then staying close together, they all but tiptoe over to the fence and then will follow the turkeys along the inside of the fence line, never making a sound. The turkeys do not appear bothered by the sheer size of the alpacas and continue their casual pace. I sip my coffee and smile.
In the evenings we try to keep a closer eye on Stella, but while we’re in the barn that’s not always too easy. I was arranging feed bowls one evening and had all 5 alpacas blocking the tack room door, eyes fixated on me intently. For no particular reason, Coty, who tends to be our most curious alpaca, walked away. Coty has grown so much this year and is now also our tallest alpaca. He doesn’t walk; he struts. He strutted casually around to the back of the barn. Finding this odd, Dan followed him. What could be more interesting than getting fed? In the darkness I suddenly heard Dan holler sharply ‘Stella ~ come!’ Before I could ask why, I could smell why! Luckily the skunk had bad aim because our little Stella doesn’t smell too badly.
And thankfully none of the alpacas were skunked!
Dan has been working most of the summer to build a lovely set of stone walls just opposite the paddock and barn. Our land from our back yard to the barn slopes downward gently and it’s along this line that he has been creating a(nother) place for me to garden in. The top portion is flat and we’ve discovered it is a great place to make a little patio and set up a picnic table set to sit and watch the alpacas. For now, we’ve placed a folding mat and some chairs from our camping days onto the freshly leveled dirt at the top of the new wall, and sip coffee. The alpacas don’t seem to mind us watching them and go about their quiet ways.
Some mornings when I go into the barn to check on our alpacas, I start wondering ‘what goes on in here at night?’ Their fan is pushed over onto its back blowing air up to the ceiling, the hay bale feeder (i.e. heavy) is pushed several inches over sideways, the outside feeder is also pushed sideways, there’s water on the floor under the buckets, there’s fresh spit on a wall or post or someone’s neck, a post for the temporary fence is bent over, the poop-shovel-and-rake is knocked down, and their communal poop piles are well, not so communal. In the summertime we usually have all the windows in the house open and our bedroom balcony door also faces the barn; you’d think we’d hear if a ruckus was going on. Yet apparently they’ve made up because all the alpacas are cushed together!
Another wonderful thing about having male alpacas, especially the younger ones, is they play a lot! They chase each other, climb all over each other, roll around together, nibble each other’s ears and toes, and other general good-natured wrestling. It’s always fun to watch, another simple joy of alpaca life. They usually play in the pasture but sometimes in the paddock or barn. Like most other alpaca activities, it’s pretty darn quiet out there.
As they mature this playtime occasionally turns into a bit of actual fighting. We’ve had our lovely little herd here for just about a year now and up until recently it’s all play. Julio and Guinness, our geldings, are both 7 this year and watch the goings-on between Bo, Coty, and Arlo in bored amusement, if they watch at all. Bo is a year older than Arlo and Coty and is now starting to define his place in the herd. His intentions are usually directed at Coty, who is one very tall alpaca. I’ll hear the scuffling and heavy breathing associated with playing and go to the window to watch. Suddenly, it gets serious with loud squawking and grunts and serious rough-housing, complete with pushing and shoving and real biting. Then, in true alpaca form, some serious spit starts to fly.
Oh my god, my alpacas are fighting! I holler out the window “Hey boys ~ play nice!” They’re alpacas and therefore ignore the crazy, hollering human. I run outside with Stella underfoot, put on my barn boots, and in my hurry usually trip over Stella or my own feet (happens every time!). As I’m running down the path to the barn I continue to call out to them “Bo ..... Coty ..... No fighting! Stop that!” By the time I get to the fence they’ve usually stopped. I go in anyway to give them a stern stare and remind them that this is a nice farm; we only play nice here. Thankfully I’ve never had to physically pry them apart and the fighting has only happened a few times. Coty will look at me like “what did I do?” and casually start eating grass or hay. Bo will stand there with his lower lip down, drooling green slime and unable to move his mouth for a few minutes; it’s the camelid reaction to spitting. It’s not pretty. I remind him that he could be eating hay too if he just stopped being mean to Coty, and that he looks silly and undignified with his lower lip hanging down like that.
Other alpaca people have told me not to interfere, that it’s normal behavior and the boys need to work it out amongst themselves. And there I am running outside at the first sound of a possible fight hoping to nip it in the bud. Oh well!
It’s August, and those lazy, hazy days of summer are upon us. Humidity and afternoon showers and thundershowers are here. Considering the past few years, I feel a bit odd saying this ..........we could use some rain! Not a lot, but the gentle showers we’ve been getting are refreshing and most of the rain is happening overnight, creating a picturesque early morning fog. Things are starting to green up again in the pastures and all the boys are out grazing in the cooler mornings and evenings. The hot afternoons are what we now call ‘siesta time’ where the boys cush in the barn and paddock areas in the shade and take long naps.
We set up our farm so that we could see into the barn and pastures from the back windows of our house. It’s such a beautiful and peaceful sight for us, watching our gentle alpacas graze the fields as the seasons change.
This is the view from our kitchen on this foggy morning:
And this is what we see when we stand on the balcony off our second floor bedroom. The fog clears up quickly as the sun comes up.
Look at the beautiful stone wall Dan has been building near the fence line! Our veggie garden is just to the left of this picture. It’s still hard to imagine that this new stone wall and all the pasture area, and most of the side yard up from the barn, was covered in thick woods just 2 years ago.
Some days, during the quiet times of farm life, we like to reflect on the wonderful things and the simple joys that have happened and continue to happen to us. We sit back with a big smile and thank God and the Universe for all of our abundance.
Being thankful is a simple joy. Being thankful is good karma.
To some, we seem to have so much; to others, we seem to have so little. To us, we are just grateful, and continue dreaming of a wonderful future full of simple joys and that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
This is the usual scene in the barn in the evenings when we arrive to do chores. The tack room door is in the upper right corner of this picture, and the fan is to the right of the door, just a few feet away. And there's the gang all cushed in front of the fan! The fan not only helps to cool them down, but it also keeps away those nasty mosquitoes and horseflies, making their lives much more comfortable. Happy alpacas = healthy alpacas.
Last summer we had just one day where the temperature reached 90 degrees. I heard it’s been about 8 years since it’s been 100 degrees. Well, this summer we’ve had several days of 90+ degrees weather, and yesterday, it was 101 degrees here in New Hampshire!! Yes, folks, it was record heat. The weather people are saying it will be just pretty darn hot for several more days.
Our alpacas’ barn is really a 3 sided run-in style shed with an awning that doubles the space. The awning has really neat walls/doors that fold back but we’ve been keeping them closed to provide as much shade as possible. And with windows across the back wall, there is plenty of cross-ventilation. The boys have remained in the barn most of the day, but sometimes they’re silly and still go out to graze and sunbathe. Yes, wooly alpacas lie in the sun and sunbathe! In the afternoons, they all cush in front of the fan which we have running 24/7.
Yesterday was so darn miserable that in the morning we decided to try hosing them down. The alpacas saw Dan coming across the yard with the hose, all ears went up and in a somewhat single leap, they all greeted Dan in the paddock. They know what the hose is for! Dan sprayed and sprayed alpaca bellies and Guinness and Bo eagerly turned around so Dan could spray under their tails as well. Guinness and Julio cushed in the mud puddles. Arlo was trying to drink from the hose at first while Dan sprayed his belly, and then realized that getting sprayed under the tail is a wonderful thing. Each was trying hard to push in front of the others to get sprayed again, although Coty was a bit unsure, until Dan got him good in the belly and then he was the last to walk away.
They were so obviously happy and we couldn’t stop laughing at their antics. I tried to take pictures of the whole gang but Arlo was the only one willing to pose.
We’re really late this year planting the garden. Usually I like to have everything planted right after Memorial Day weekend, but this year we’ve moved the garden to the back yard, near the corner of the pasture fencing, and behind the old shed that was here when we bought the property. A garden near the garden shed sounds logical! And now the hose will reach every part of the garden easily, and I can see it from the house. Dan built 4 more 4 X 12 garden boxes, and we’ve moved 3 of the 4 from the old garden in the side yard. The last box has some rogue lettuces and scallions that sprang up on their own (I love when that happens!), my huge garlic chive plant, and my really, really, huge oregano plant. I’m waiting for the lettuces to bolt and the scallions to be ready to be picked, and then I’ll figure out how to best move the oregano plant and then we’ll move that last raised bed. The oregano plant is more like an oregano bush, and I want it to continue to do well.
We filled up the new boxes with compost from the local nursery, and I’ve been busy planting and planting. I’m hoping that because I’ve planted a few weeks late, and during the week of the summer solstice, that the bugs will be few and far between this growing season. Dan put in several stakes around this new garden area, and tied white plastic trash bags to them. This is my neighbor's trick to keep away the deer; hopefully it will work for us too! What a beautiful week we’ve had, these longest days of the year, warm and breezy and perfect for planting.
Now I have 8 large raised bed boxes, arranged somewhat in a square, with a four foot path going down the middle both ways, sort of like 4 small squares with 2 raised beds in each. I wanted the paths to be wide enough to accommodate the garden cart. The north side of the garden is the side closest to the pasture fence, and Dan will probably build me a long, narrow garden box, and eventually I’ll grow vining veggies there, like sweet peas or maybe pole beans, with some morning glories mixed in. Around my veggie plants I’ve always planted marigolds and petunias, both for bug control as well as color. Bright red tomatoes are great, but we won’t see them until late August!
The little garden shed that is here was surprisingly painted purple (!). It’s in need of some repair, mostly to the roof, but basically serves its purpose. Dan even thinks he may be able to build a small chicken coop right off the back. Fresh eggs!
The best part is that I’m really close to the alpacas now. Coty and Arlo love to graze together at this far end of the pasture. I can see right into the barn and watch the others cushed in front the fan, my ‘vampire’ alpacas that they are on these hot days. I call out to them easily, and they all look up at the sound of my voice. They watch me curiously, as I work in the garden, Stella sleeping in the cool grass under the maple tree nearby.
Like so many of you, the growing disaster of the oil spill in our country’s beautiful Gulf Coast region is continuously on my mind. If you are new to reading my blog (and thank you) and are curious as to what the oil spill has to do with alpacas, please read my prior blog post here. Today, I simply want to vent.
I love our beautiful planet Earth with all its magnificent treasures. In an average human’s lifetime, there would probably never be enough time to see, hear, feel, touch, taste, or otherwise experience all there is on planet Earth. I’ve always felt it is important to appreciate nature and how it intertwines with all life. I’ve always felt it to be very important to take care of the Earth and do all that is possible to keep our planet safe and healthy, which in turn keeps all of us safe and healthy. Why wouldn’t we want to take care of our planet? This is the only place we can live.
The Gulf Coast oil spill is shaping up to be worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. There is no shortage of depressing broadcasts and video. I am a happy American, and I do believe in democracy, capitalism, personal wealth, philanthropy, and a free society. I believe that these ideals are worth continually striving for, that they create a better life for all. This disaster is heartbreaking, yes mostly for the residents in the Gulf Coast region, but also for the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants, human and otherwise. WE WILL ALL BE AFFECTED AT SOME POINT.
The blame game is going on now and who is to blame? And is there just one answer? Is it BP, and/or the companies they worked in conjunction with? Is it our elected government and/or its appointees? Is it us, the American citizens, with our insatiable lifestyle? And right now, who is going to clean up the spill? Oil is gushing out daily by the thousands of gallons, ruining more and more of the Gulf Coast region, and spreading out of the region. It seems like everything is working in slow motion while oil is spreading out polluting the ocean at the speed of light.
I think of all this while I quietly take Stella for a walk, plant and weed in the gardens, pick lettuce and herbs for dinner, hang out laundry, skirt fleece, weave and knit, watch Dan work the pastures and build gates and hay bins, and take care of the alpacas. In my lifetime I have tried to only drive fuel-efficient vehicles, car pool, turn off lights, turn down the thermostat, open windows and use fans instead of air conditioning, shut off the water when brushing my teeth, use lukewarm water for washing clothes, hang out my laundry, grow a lot of my own veggies, plant perennials which attract pollinators, garden without pesticides or herbicides, buy organically grown food and products, compost and recycle everything I can, promote solar and wind power and renewal energy, etc. I always wonder if I’m doing enough, or too much, or if it really makes a difference in the big scheme of things, whenever I see a large environmental disaster unfold. I am trying so hard to remain optimistic as well as realistic, and I will continue to do what I’ve done with a better focus, and continue to find new ways to keep our planet safe and healthy.
The best way to clean up the Gulf Coast Oil spill, and to prevent future tragedy, is a positive outlook and a 'we can do it' spirit.
One of my favorite environmental protection groups is the Natural Resources Defense Council, www.nrdc.org. I’ve always found them to be very effective. Their blog is continually being updated regarding the spill ~ http://switchboard.nrdc.org/gulfspill.php. One of their writers also writes her own blog and has this post on a similar theme as to what I’ve just written today ~ http://www.nrdc.org/thisgreenlife/default.asp.
Thank you all for listening.
The other night Dan and I went out to the barn, excitedly chatting about the day’s events. As we entered the barn, the alpacas all ran up from the pasture, knowing full well that it’s dinner time. I opened up the tack room door and reached inside to turn on the lights. As I turned around, Arlo was walking into the pen. And out of the corner of my eye I saw a rather large mouse, a very large mouse, crawl up and over the pen wall and run back down.
I screamed so loud that I’m sure our neighbors up in Canada heard me.
I’ve always been a lover of all animals. But to be totally honest, rodents just aren’t at the top of my list. This is especially true with rodents that could be categorized as very large mice. I’m usually a sensible 40-something woman, but at the sudden unexpected sight of a very large mouse I lost all control, screamed bloody murder, and shut myself into the tack room.
Dan is normally calm, but my screeching really irks him. I was all but hyperventilating trying to explain to him what I saw. He kept reassuring me that it was indeed just a very large mouse, harmless, it’s gone, so it’s OK to come out, and please stop screaming. Good idea, as my throat was now hoarse. I slowly opened the tack room door and stepped out. Dan looked rather annoyed. The alpacas hadn’t moved and were staring at me with that ‘Where’s our dinner?’ look. Even the barn swallow that’s been living in our barn hadn’t left its nest. I had only scared away the very large mouse.
Now in the evening Dan always enters the barn first, waving the flashlight around all the edges, tells me the coast is clear, and turns on the lights. I peer in slowly checking all the edges myself, before I come in. For several days there were no new signs until one morning when there was a very large hole dug against the tack room wall, right next to the water spicket, which seemingly went under the tack room into the abyss. I was good and didn’t scream, but had to run back up to the house to get Dan to inspect it. He thought I was panicking again and reluctantly agreed to come out; then he saw the size of the hole. He quietly said, ‘Hhhmmmm, I guess you did see a very large mouse the other night. I’ll get the traps.’ He returned with mouse traps large enough to catch a small squirrel. I figured it was best not to ask why. He set both on either side of the tack room and now we wait. It’s been several days and no signs yet that the very large mouse has returned.
A barn cat is looking better and better, after the barn swallow is done nesting.
I’ll keep all of you posted, loudly I’m sure.
Warning: Pardon me for stating the obvious, but please be sure your alpacas or any of your livestock cannot access mouse traps!! And please, no poisons!!!
Alpacas are curious and they certainly will inspect a mouse trap. One trap is set in the pen which is attached to the tack room, and we’ve secured the pen door shut. The other is set under the tack room from outside, with rocks around the opening and I pulled out the few blades of grass nearby. This side of the tack room is also in the area that had been sectioned off.
It’s springtime so it’s time to work on the pastures again. Dan had done such a good job last summer, york raking up the ground to smooth it out for us to plant grass seed. They say the best seed for alpacas is orchard grass, but we planted a horse pasture mix which includes orchard grass and many other grasses. Alpacas are browsers while they graze, and isn’t variety the spice of life?
The grasses did come up again this spring and after a long winter of just hay, the alpacas are loving it. Pastures are continual maintenance, and the healthier the pastures, then the healthier the alpacas. First things first, we separated the east side of the pasture in half with a zig-zag. We used some temporary sheep fencing, those plastic poles, and 2 strands of wide electrical tape. There’s no need to electrify the fence as it is just temporary, to divvy up the pasture for resting and re-seeding. We’ve also used this fencing near the main gate, separating off an area of about 10 x 20 feet, as added assurance when we enter and exit that no alpacas will suddenly decide to wander off. It’s worked just fine. Until now!
Last weekend it wasn’t very windy and with on again, off again showers it was perfect for adding lime. Dan spread about 40 pounds of lime onto that separated, little pasture area. I’m sure we could probably use a ton more on our clay soil. Lime is great. It helps to alkalize the soil, the first step in growing good soil and healthy grass. In another week or two, we will re-seed, and keep the alpacas off until the new grass is in and several inches tall. Already the grass on that side is greener. Alpacas generally respect fencing but two things will get them to find a way to the other side: open females, and greener grass.
Arlo is still small for his age, but he’s a brazen little dude and all personality. One day doing barn chores I realized that he wasn’t with the herd. A quick look around, and there he was, just on the other side of the temporary fencing. I couldn’t figure out how he got over there. The fencing hooks up to the barn wall with handles so I undid the handles and walked over to him. He kept grazing. I put my hands on him and coaxed him gently, ‘C’mon Arlo. Let’s go back with your brothers.’ He wouldn’t budge! I continued to coax him and with every couple of steps, he’d take another bite of grass. We were only a few feet away from the fence line but it took me almost 5 minutes to get him back!
Coaxing Arlo out of the fenced-in side is now a daily ritual. Although now, instead of staying up by the barn, he obstinately goes right into the middle part of the pasture. And he’s a spunky little guy! He does the same thing with Dan, takes a few steps, takes a bite, takes a few steps, takes a bite, and then he scoots under the lower tape, doing the limbo. So that’s how he’s getting in! We’ll have to put up a third strand of fencing or the new grass won’t stand a chance.
The weather has been good to us lately. Sunny cool days and crisp nights with little frost, and only gentle rains rather than fierce storms. It’s still a bit early to plant most of the garden, but it’s good weather for weeding. As I weed, I can see the side of the barn and most of the east side of the pasture. I’ve purchased a few plants in peat pots from a local organic farmer and they’re set out on the porch at night and under the shade of a maple tree during the day. We’re going to move our garden sometime this year to a sunnier spot right in the back yard, in front of the pasture fencing. We’d planted the garden way over in the side yard when we first moved here so that it wouldn’t be disturbed while we cleared land, and at the time it was sunnier there. Turns out, not sunny enough!
The oregano and garlic chive plants are huge already. Every garden I’ve ever had has surprised me in the spring with something that has self-sowed from the year before. So far this year I’ve found green onions (scallions) and lettuce plants. I was happily surprised to find a few teeny carrots had survived last summer’s ‘deer attacks.’ As I continued weeding, there are a lot of carrots, and not all of them are teeny. They’re all bright orange and solid, as a carrot should be. I also found several small beets. Here I am expecting to be getting the garden ready for planting, and I’m harvesting carrots and beets! I can’t wait to roast them in olive oil with fresh oregano and garlic. Maybe I'll save a couple carrots for snacks for the alpacas.
Back in March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska and dumped approximately 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the sea of this pristine and remote location. The incomprehensible, devastating damage done to the sea life, shoreline, and local communities and economies was insurmountable and continues until this day. Exxon has denied responsibility continually and has appealed every verdict regarding this issue. At the time, the environmental activist in me joined the millions of others as we all went into full activist mode, writing letters, calling elected officials, signing petitions, donating money to cleanup efforts through environmental organizations, and my personal favorite: mailing little baggies of oil to Exxon’s headquarters. The legal wrangling has spanned 20 years, and so has my complete refusal to buy gasoline from an Exxon station. I choose to run out of gas first. One of the saddest outcomes of this tragedy is the fact that our legal system has done literally next to nothing to get the spill really cleaned up properly, nor to compensate and assist the communities that were affected. And to top it off, hardly anything has been done to switch our country over to clean, safe energy.
Here it is now, 21 years later, and another devastating oil spill is happening in our beautiful Gulf Coast waters. I cannot believe that once again I will be working in some capacity to clean up yet another major oil spill. This time, an explosion occurred on April 20th at a deep sea oil rig owned by BP. As well as major environmental devastation again, many lives were lost due to the explosion. I pray for those families. It is now 19 days later and oil is still gushing out. BP is denying responsibility and says they’re not accountable. Supposedly our government is doing ‘all it can.’ Is it? When will this leak stop and who will clean it up? And what does all this have to do with alpacas?
Alpacas are ‘green,’ very green. Their fiber can literally absorb oil and allow clean water to pass through! As history does tend to repeat itself, it will be we concerned citizens that initiate clean up efforts before the ‘officials’ step in. The alpaca forums are already buzzing about a group that has been mobilizing. Alpaca farms are banding together to mail alpaca thirds and unused alpaca fiber to collection sites. Booms are being made with alpaca fiber stuffed into nylons as well as felted alpaca mats. Once the oil is absorbed, oyster mushrooms are applied to break up the oiled booms and mats, and then earthworms finish up the job, turning a harmful substance into glorious dirt. Please visit this wonderful organization’s website, www.matteroftrust.org to learn all the details of this ingenious oil spill clean up method. And fellow alpaca farmers, send in your unused fiber! Recycle those empty grain bags!
If we citizens don’t take action to take care of our environment, who will? And where would we all live?
Here I am, all these years, writing letter after letter to my elected officials, begging them to think of the environment first and pass appropriate legislation. Who would've thought my love for animals and natural fibers, being outside, and gardening organically, would have brought me to a place in my life where I'm raising livestock that is not only ‘light on the earth’ but also is instrumental in cleaning up an environmental disaster. What a feeling!
Today is Mother’s Day. Hi Mom! And while we’re all thanking our Moms please, please remember to do something thankful for everyone’s ~ human, animal, bird, fish and sea creature, reptile, insect, and plant ~ mom, Mother Earth.
This past Thursday was our first shearing day here on our little farm. We have agisted our alpacas for about 2 years so we are familiar with the whole shearing process, and our shearer has sheared our alpacas in the past, but everything is different when it’s being done on your farm for the first time! This is still our first year having the alpacas here, so everything is a new experience.
Everything went surprisingly well. On Monday the weather forecast was calling for rain for a few days, so late that night we had to lock the alpacas into the barn. With a run in shed, that means putting up tarps! Dan had just finished making a gate which we’d thankfully hung up on Sunday; now we had a way to enter and exit the barn easily. So one stall had the gate and the other three had tarps. Even though my 5 boys had 6 stalls and are wimpy about rain, they really dislike being locked in the barn for days! I got spit on more than once (thanks Guinness). But my reward for green slime on my face and in my hair was dry animals on shearing day. Dry, clean fleece is imperative for shearing a usable product.
I had enticed the boys into the pen with pellets before everyone arrived. Funny how they fall for this every time! They were all humming quite loudly watching us while we set up mats and extension cords, bags for gathering and separating the fleeces, and flattened cardboard boxes to kneel on.
We decided to shear our boys from darkest to lightest in color, because our fussiest boys are the darkest. Our shearer is extraordinarily kind to the alpacas; we wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, I’m sure the alpacas are a bit frightened even though it’s ‘all over with’ quickly. Julio, being bay black, was the first. Our tough alpha male screeched like the dickens the entire time! When he was done we scooted him out to the pasture, where he stood up on the dirt pile near the fence to watch his herd mates. Guinness, then Coty, then Arlo, were next and all accepted their fate quietly, albeit reluctantly. Bo Jangles was last, and we went through several rags cleaning up his mouth from all the spit.
The alpacas sniffed each other for hours afterwards, as if they were all different alpacas. And they stayed out in the far pasture all day. It was a sunny, cool day with a strong wind and I know they were cold. When they saw us in the evening they did come running in to the barn without being called. They all ate their pellets in record time, and dashed off back into the pasture. Yikes boys! We weren’t going to lock you up in the barn again! A few minutes later, in the dusk and growing darkness, all the boys began to pronk around the pasture, led by little Arlo. It was a glorious sight.
My fluffy, teddy bear-like alpacas now look like Dr. Seuss characters, or aliens!
Well this is certainly not my nor Dan's favorite picture of ourselves, but look at Bo Jangles! Doesn't he look fantastic!
I would have loved to have presented a 'before' picture, but as you can imagine Bo Jangles was not exactly in the mood for posing after hearing his fellow herdmates screeching. I'm surprised he willingly stood for this one. As soon as Dan released him, he ran out of the barn to join his buddies in the pasture.
I'll post about our experience during our first shearing day soon.
Sometimes, a picture says it all!
I’m back! For the past couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of serving as a juror for the US District Court. It was a wonderful experience, but it’s nice to be back to the routine of our daily life.
I had to be out of the house first thing in the morning, so Dan was tending to the alpacas. Cell phones are not permitted in the Federal Building so I’d leave mine in the car in the parking garage, a few blocks away. I had to wait until the end of the day before I could quickly walk to my car to call Dan and bombard him with questions: Did Arlo greet you at the gate? Did Julio sniff your head? Did Guinness let you scratch his neck? Were Bo and Coty so excited to see you that they started neck wrestling? Anyone give you alpaca kisses? These are all regular morning happenings for me and I was surprised that Dan responded with “Uhhhh ....... nope” for each question. Ditto after Day 2. By the third day I barely got to say hello before Dan said ‘Mo, I think the alpacas just like you better.’ I don’t want him to feel bad, so I told him I think it’s just that they see me more often.
Dan is still concerned, so now he fills his pockets with Ziploc baggies of baby carrots when we go out to the barn in the evenings. This is probably Julio’s and Guinness’ favorite snack. Those great sniffers know there are carrots somewhere, so they follow Dan around as we do the nightly chores and sniff at his pockets. Dan makes them wait until they eat all of their pellets before he gives them their carrot dessert. Julio will at least chew his carrots, but Guinness can eat a whole carrot in one big snort. The other alpacas, the ‘little boys,’ are curious as to what’s happening and watch this scene intently. They too sniff at Dan but when offered a carrot they turn their heads. For some reason our three younger alpacas have never liked carrots, so I put a little extra pellets in my hands to distract them. Wet alpaca tongues tickle my hand as they cheerfully eat the pellets, and sniff at me for more. The two geldings stand around Dan, poking at him with those long noses and sniffing him until they’re certain that all the carrots are gone. Dan laughs as they sniff the top of his head over and over. After a few minutes Guinness or Julio notice the little ones getting pellets for a treat and they quickly stomp over to me for their treat too. Within seconds I am showered again by the geldings in alpaca sniffs and kisses.
So nice to be back to the simple joys of our alpaca life......
I would love to have all summer days just like today - mid 80’s with lots of sun and a gloriously strong warm breeze. Stella has been chasing butterflies, running like a puppy on too-long legs. When she gets hot she finds a cool spot in the dirt under my car or in the grassy shade from the trailer. Daffodils and forsythias are blooming. I can see the daylilies all popping up, their tips a deep green. Birds are everywhere this time of year, singing cheerfully while they gather up supplies to build nests. This morning I could hear the familiar rubbing noises on the outside of the logs here in the den. That noise is a mama robin, building a nest on the criss-crossed corner of our log cabin, in the shade of a large maple tree. Lately we’ve been seeing a smaller bird flying in and out of the barn also carrying grass and such in its beak. This type of bird built a nest in the barn last year, up in the ceiling peak near the light. It built a smaller nest in the next light to watch over its babies’ nest, and it would often perch on the fence nearest the barn to watch Dan and me. It’s not really gray yet not really green either, but never stays still long enough for us to get a good look. Anyone have any idea what type of bird it could be?
I wouldn’t be concerned normally about the alpacas on a very warm day like today but they are still in full fleece. Shearing Day isn’t for another few weeks. They must be roasting in those wool coats! My feet were definitely toasty today in my Muck boots (time to get those purple clogs!) I checked in on them again at noontime and everyone looked the same as any other day so that’s good. I put out another bucket of cold water from the well pump for them. Not that I really think 5 non-breeding male alpacas would drink 10 gallons of water in an afternoon, but I felt better! I was going to put ice cubes in the water too but then I know I’d be concerned that they would swallow an ice cube whole and choke, thanks to my wild imagination, so an extra bucket of water it is.
The boys are still not too sure about their new bale feeder, except for Guinness, always except for Guinness, aka ‘Grumpy’ on our little farm. He’s never shy when it comes to being fed! Guinness will gladly munch and munch from the hay feeder, and fuss loudly and sometimes spit when another one of the boys comes over to eat too. Even Julio walked away today, too hot to fuss back. Eventually Guinness will walk away too; then the others will approach. The bale in this new feeder is going down, down, down, so I know it’s not just Guinness eating from it, even if it seems that way sometimes. This new feeder is in the barn under the awning in the shade, so I’m happy to see them eating hay in the shade while the afternoon is so warm.
One of the many fun things with having a farm is that you get to utilize those hobbies of yours. For Dan, my very crafty husband, he gets to use all of his woodworking tools and skills. He just made this beautiful hay feeder for the alpacas which holds an entire bale of hay! The feeder sits along the ground so the alpacas are able to eat their hay as they naturally do, right at ground level. No one is pulling hay out overhead, so no hay will fall into beautiful alpaca topknots belonging to the shorter creatures, i.e. Arlo. The top frame is made up of smooth wooden dowels so no alpaca noses will be injured. The frame rests on the bale and drops down with the bale as the alpacas eat. The doweled frame keeps the hay in the feeder; otherwise my fleeced friends would at times be able to pull out a large section of a flake and race around the barn. Don’t laugh ~ sometimes as I’m carrying a couple flakes of hay the boys will come up and eat from the flake, and yes they’ve taken it away and ran! Silly, silly alpacas, they’re always finding a way to make us laugh.
Of course introducing the new feeder is a different story. Alpacas are very curious creatures, and rather cautious about anything new. To their horror, we wheeled away their bright yellow wheelbarrow. They eyed us intently. And then we walked in the new feeder. They eyed us intently still, but no one moved. Even after we ceremoniously brought over an entire bale of hay and plunked it in, no one moved. I pulled up some hay through the dowels to entice them. Nothing. We stepped back towards the tack room, and waited. We watched and waited while they stretched their necks, sniffing loudly, and we watched and waited some more. Finally, a brave alpaca soul approached. And who was the first alpaca, the bravest alpaca, to try it out? Guinness of course!
For morning chores, I usually don’t go out to the barn until at least mid to late morning. From all the rooms in the back of the house, we can see straight out into the barn and pastures. I can clearly see the hay feeder and can easily tell how full or not full it is. Now that the snow is melted, the alpacas usually spend the early morning as the sun is rising wandering about the pastures, casually grazing on whatever is starting to sprout. We don’t have any pregnant females or newborn crias to worry about. Nor do any of our boys have any ongoing health issue. The nights have been above freezing so I know the water bucket is not frozen. Since we just have ‘non-working’ males here on our farm, I can usually drink my coffee and do my computer work before heading out to the barn for morning chores.
The first thing I do when I head out is check the water bucket, empty it and re-fill it with the water pump in the barn. I only bring down jugs of hot tap water in the evenings now. The boys were all cushed here and there and Arlo as always got right up to greet me. As I walked across the barn over the straw to the middle post where the bucket is, something looked strange to me. Very strange. Julio was cushed by the wheelbarrow, chewing his cud, watching me. Ditto with Guinness over by the hay feeder. Well that wasn’t strange; that’s normal of them. I literally turned around slowly in a circle, looking around, very confused, trying to figure out what it was that was different.
Then it hit me. AHA!!! For the very first time since the alpacas have come home to our farm, 7 whole months ago, overnight nobody had pooped in the barn! It was a pleasant surprise indeed.
“Oh what good, good boys!” I kept on telling them, while I changed the water in the bucket and filled up the hay feeder. I took a quick look out into the pasture and saw a beautiful green haze of grass sprouting up. I walked back into the barn where everyone was loudly munching hay and said again “Oh what good, good boys!” And Guinness promptly walked over to the middle stall, and un-surprised me.
Like most people, Saturday mornings are usually reserved for household errands, such as going to the bank, post office, grocery shopping, and a dump run. Now every month or so, we fill our Saturday with farm errands as well. On those mornings we sometimes also say ‘well, what the hay!’ and go out for breakfast as well.
Farm errands generally involve going to our local feed store and simply picking up a bag of alpaca pellets. Sometimes we’re also running low on other necessities like electrolytes for their water or minerals, and sometimes we’re in need of another pair of gloves or tube of a de-wormer. I always eye the boot selection. Usually, though, we like to just walk around and check things out and talk with the wonderful owners. This couple loves animals and is always interested in what our alpacas are up to. We happily oblige and try not to babble on incessantly. With every conversation we’ve had with them, we learn a little something.
From there we head out to another fairly local feed store to pick up straw, when our local feed store is sold out. This store has the same, but different, stuff stocked and is also a hardware store (gotta love small New Hampshire towns!) so we poke around there too. This particular store is also really into feeding outdoor birds and I’ve always enjoyed looking at all the different feeders on display, located right next to bags of dog food. When our prior dog had gotten older and developed sensitivities, this particular brand of dog food was the only one that would make her feel better. I always think of my beloved Critter when we come in here. Soon they will have starter chicks and ducks hatching, set up in metal boxes like tall structures with lights, resembling stacked trays and grow lights for starting seedling plants. I know that’s the way it’s supposed to be done but it has always looked so odd to me. They usually have a good selection of dog toys and treats so we always pick up a little something for Stella too, who is usually waiting patiently in the truck.
Some Saturdays we also need to pick up hay. Our little tack room probably could not store a year’s worth of hay so we pick up hay every month or two. We also need space in our tack room for the metal trash cans which store the alpaca pellets, wall room to hang halters and leads and the feed bins, and the small ‘work table’ in the corner. We put these things along one half of the tack room and the 30 or so hay bales along the other. The rest of any hay we purchase is stored in our garage and we wheel it down with a dolly as needed. We put the few bales of straw we purchase in the corner of the pen, although lately the alpacas have discovered that rolling in an opened bale of straw is lots of fun!
Today is pleasantly warm with a soft breeze and the sun is shining brightly! It is so wonderful to see no clouds in a gloriously blue sky! We’ve seen robins here and there, and daffodil tips are peeking up along the foundation to the house, sure signs that spring is on its way.
The alpacas had been romping around the pasture early this morning. There’s still some snow covering most of the ground and with all this quick melting there’s also plenty of deep puddles and mud. Thankfully my boys hate to get their feet wet so they hop over the puddles and quickly walk through the mud. The sun has dried the straw that we’ve put out in the paddock for them to cush on. They’ve been basking in sunshine for hours.
Arlo greeted me at the gate as he usually does although today he’s totally covered in straw. Apparently, he’s been rolling! They’re so funny when they roll. First they sniff out an area like a dog would, probably to be sure it’s ‘clean.’ Then slowly they will cush, and suddenly they kick out their feet as they roll onto their side, and kick and kick while they slither on the ground. Then they’ll go back to a cush, spring up, and shake.
As I went about my chores, Coty came into the barn and started sniffing the one stall with no straw, just the stonedust. Next thing I knew, he was dropping and rolling! After rolling in stonedust, Coty’s rosy-fawn fleece looks kind of gray. Guinness had been cushed near the hay feeder so he just flopped over on his side and rolled away. He too was covered in straw as he sauntered over to the water bucket. I turned around to see Julio coming into the barn from the tack room side, sniffed at the straw, and he too dropped and rolled. During all this rolling, Bo had been quietly eating some of the fresh hay that I’d just put into the wheelbarrow. He only had straw on his legs from cushing. I let him know that I had seen him rolling out in the paddock from the window this morning.
I guess all the alpacas have spring fever too!
Last Thursday, New Hampshire, and most of New England and New York were hit with yet another seriously strong storm. The weather forecasters talked about it for days; you’d think the apocalypse was coming. They’ve been pretty wrong quite a bit lately so I didn’t think too much of it. In the afternoon the heavy rains and wind started up, the back of our cabin started to leak in odd places, and I knew that this time their forecast was correct.
In the past 3 years since we’ve started our farm, Deerfield and the surrounding towns have been hit with record rains, flooding conditions, collapsed roads, record snowfall, a tornado, a severe ice storm causing extensive statewide damage, power outages lasting weeks, a phone outage (due to flooding) lasting a month, etc. etc. This last windstorm once again caused extensive property damage, downed power lines and trees, flooding, impassable roads, and power and phone outages for days. This is getting all too familiar.
The power went out late Thursday night. The winds were so loud we couldn’t sleep, the strongest winds coming about 1:00 a.m. Friday. We were curled up on the couch all night in front of the woodstove, bleary eyed. We heard the most god-awful noises but with no power we couldn’t turn the outside lights on and it wasn’t safe to go outside. At first light, around 6:00 a.m. I ran out back and started calling out to the alpacas, who were all huddled behind the tarps we put up. Within seconds they all came running out looking excited to hear my voice! All were fine and the barn appeared intact. We did have minor roof damage to the house, branches down all around, and trees down in the woods. And, oh yes, no power nor phone, again. The Governor declared a state of emergency, and told us to plan for an extended outage, again.
It’s easy to become despondent and anxiety ridden, and I was on the borderline. As Dan and I drove around looking for somewhere to get water for the alpacas and saw all the damage around town, we quickly changed our spirits to all that we were and are thankful and grateful for. We continue to keep thinking about all that we are grateful for. Gratitude keeps us focused on the important things. In the big scheme of things, nothing really bad happened to us. We are just fine. We have neighbors and friends and co-workers who were not as lucky as us.
We are so happy and grateful that we were not injured, nor were any of our animals, we are grateful that our house and barn and fencing were not really damaged and that no trees fell on them, we are grateful that no windows broke, we are grateful that we had supplies and daylight to repair the roof quickly, we are grateful that our cars and trailer and tractor were also not damaged, we are grateful that the house stopped leaking (it stopped raining), we are grateful that no power lines fell on our property, we are grateful that the sump came within three inches of the top (i.e. it did not overflow!) and that the cellar stayed dry, we are grateful that we have a friend who offered us water for the alpacas, we are grateful we live in a town that has water available for livestock in emergencies (how great is that!), we are grateful that we’ve always enjoyed heating our home with a woodstove, we are grateful that the right situations fell into place and an electrician was able to come out to wire the house properly for a generator, we are grateful that we finally got said generator running, and we are grateful that the phone and internet service were up within 3 and half days. We are very grateful that we were out of power for only 48 hours this time.
We will always get a good laugh at how the power came back on less than 5 minutes after we got the generator running! Now that we have a properly installed generator for such emergencies, we’ll probably never lose power again!
We are grateful in advance for that.
I just love to go barefoot. In the warm weather, the sun on my toes and the feel of grass or beach sand beneath my feet is such a relaxing sensation. I’ve always hated to have anything on my feet except for wool socks in the winter when I’m in the house and my feet are cold. I only put slippers on to run down cellar or going onto the porch for wood. When I come into the house, whatever is on my feet I quickly kick off. Dan even has a family friend who does go barefoot in the winter, even outside! (Hi Jeff) My mom often reminds me of the Easter day when I was 2 years old and cried all day. That evening when she took off my new little shoes, my feet were covered in blisters, and I stopped crying. I imagine I’ve hated wearing shoes since then.
I do have to have something on my feet to drive or walk or get around so in the warm weather you’ll usually find me in something like Teva sandals or Birkenstocks. I can easily take them off before I start driving. If I’m hiking in the woods I will wear proper hiking boots to protect my feet. I wear the hiking boots for getting around in the winter too. And somewhere I do have men’s type work boots for safety when we cut and stack wood, move rocks, and other yard chores. And now we have livestock, so another boot beckons. It just wouldn’t be healthy for me to be barefoot in the barn and pastures! Dan on the other hand, has no shoe issues and always prefers to wear something on his feet.
So what’s a barefoot loving girl to do? She wears boots from a company appropriately named The Muck Boot Company! We are lucky enough that the feed store here in town carries them. We were looking for a boot that would keep our feet warm while doing barn chores in the snow and wind and we tried on their ‘Artic’ boot style. Oh my! The sole is quite cushy but also has arch support and while walking around the store, my feet were actually comfortable! They come up almost to my knees which keep out deep snow, but they also fold down so I can easily tuck my pants in, and then roll them back up. How great is that! They are rated to keep your feet warm to 40 degrees below zero. And may I dare say, my feet have never been cold while I’m out in the barn!
During those weeks of below zero temperatures and fierce winds, all I could think of was Elaine on a Seinfeld episode when she was writing for Peterman’s catalog: “Thank goodness I was wearing my Muck Boot company’s Artic zone boots!”
Last weekend at the feed store Dan was showing me some clog style boots for spring and summer. Lucy, the owner, quickly opened the catalog to show me that they also come in purple. Purple! How can I resist a boot that comes in my favorite color! Come summer folks, you will probably find me about the farm not barefoot, but in my purple clog-style farm boots.
Coty loves to hay-dive. He’ll stand at the wheelbarrow picking through the hay, chewing and sniffing. Then suddenly he’ll thrust his head down to the bottom of the wheelbarrow. His head is completely covered in hay. He’s eating all the delicious bits of grassy things that fall to the bottom. Sometimes he stands in one place. Sometimes he’ll reach over under the hay as far as his long neck will stretch. The hay on top of him jumps around. The other alpacas don’t mind him doing this. Usually they’ll just continue eating the hay that’s covering his neck and head. Sometimes they join him. After a while, swoosh! Coty’s head pops up. He’ll stand there chewing a mouthful of hay, with long, grassy, green hay hanging down on both sides of his head. I laugh and tell him how adorable he is wearing his ‘hay hat.’ If you’ve never watched an alpaca hay dive, you’re missing out on one of the funniest things in life.
Jenna Woginrich blogs on the Mother Earth News as the Happy Homesteader. She recently posted a fabulous entry she entitled ‘Yearning to be a Farmer.’ Many readers have commented that her term ‘Barnheart’ will be this year’s ‘locavore.’ I’d have to agree. I am relieved to hear that many people share my affliction. If you have a chance you can read her blog post here and on her personal blog site here.
Barnheart is essentially the heartfelt, intense longing for the outdoors, of growing our own food, building our own shelters, and raising our own livestock for food and clothing. It’s our longing for self-sufficiency and breathing fresh air while we live our conventional lives, working in our windowless, stuffy office cubicles. It’s that calling we feel while discussing average percentages and quarterly reports with co-workers. That longing for a quiet and peaceful life based on simplicity and nature is what wakes people with Barnheart up at night.
I have had Barnheart all my life and now it has a name! I grew up in suburbia with its developments, soccer games, traffic lights with congestion and honking, and strip malls. On paper my hometown had a wonderful school system and safe neighborhoods. During and after college I continued to live in suburbia for years. But I longed for large open fields of lush grasses and wildflowers. I longed for large expanses of land that beckoned to be hiked in solitude from crowds. I longed for that smell of fresh air. I longed for hearing nothing but birds singing and the wind rustling grass and leaves. I longed for that life where joy is found in pulling up that first unperfect carrot grown from the soil you created and rainwater, baking bread from grain you grew, upon finding that first egg in your coop in the springtime, vases filled with flowering weeds, attending to animals in an old barn, and running your hands through freshly sheared wool. I longed for wearing wool from animals I raise and care for. I longed for working my land, for having dirty hands and knees and unbrushed hair and for that to be my fashion statement. I longed for starry nights that can be seen from my porch, my land, my homestead.
I longed so much and for so long and now joy is here with my little farm. The longing never really goes away, yet with each step forward one’s smile becomes wider. For all of you with Barnheart too, may you find your joy soon and may that joy bring you peace.
My name is Mona and I have Barnheart.
Oh what a gorgeous spring like day today!
Yesterday’s storm was rainy and yucky but not at all as horrible as predicted. The little road to the barn is very muddy this morning but most of the ice is gone so I could walk down quickly, not inch along like I’ve had to do. The pathway in the paddock is still pretty icy and the mud is slippery but at least it’s just a short path to the tack room. It’s warm enough today that I didn’t have to lug jugs of hot tap water. I just used the water pump in the barn, wow!
And the alpacas are enjoying this burst of warmth too. Dan had put some straw down on one end of the paddock for the boys to cush on a few weeks ago and the sunshine today has dried it up nicely. Straw from the barn has also blown out, so now there’s a really large cushing area for them. They seem to be basking in shifts. This morning Guinness, Bo, and Coty were all out for hours, and now it’s Julio and Arlo. Last night their fleeces were all wet and muddy with hay and straw stuck all over them. Today they all look so much cleaner.
The rest of the paddock is an absolute muddy mess and this is where they’ve now decided is their poop pile of choice, all of it! Better than inside the barn. Last year when figuring out how to deal with the mud (i.e. drainage), it was suggested to us that the paddock area be considered a ‘sacrifice area.’ A sacrifice area is where no grass is grown and instead just stonedust or cement blocks, etc. is used. It sounded like a great idea and clearly worked for that farm. So what did we do? We brought in loam and planted grass! Once spring is really here we will move all that loam and bring in stonedust.
There’s so much still to learn! But having a great time ..............
Oh what an absolutely beautiful day today! The sun has been shining and not a cloud in the sky. The sky is so blue, blue, blue making this weeks’ additional 1 foot+ snowfall look so white, white, white. Best of all it’s been just above freezing this afternoon, about 34 degrees, and the snow is really melting, running down off the roof like a stream. It feels like Spring!
We thought it would be a good idea this weekend to clear out a lot of the snow from around the barn and the house in preparation for the upcoming rainstorm headed our way on Monday. It’s supposed to be a little warmer with ‘significant’ rainfall. We want to be sure the rain and melting snow are directed away from the barn and pasture and our cabin. A warm and rainy Spring in New Hampshire, and especially Spring-like weather in January, could easily mean flooding due to all that fast melting snow. The weather people are probably doing the usual ‘doom and gloom’ forecast, but this is our first experience with our little alpaca farm and rain with melting snow and we just don’t want to take any chances.
Our tractor has been good to us for working on our pastures. We’ve moved rocks and roots and stumps, and leveled the loam for seeding it. We’ve dug swales and made berms for drainage. Now we have come to realize that it is an invaluable tool for moving snow! Having the bucket in the front and the blade in the back allows us to move snow much, much more quickly than using just a snowblower would. Watching Dan play (oops I really mean work) with the tractor today, I am so happy we purchased it while setting up our farm. We’re using it more now in the winter than we did in the summer.
Dan cleared out the entire paddock (again) and made long paths through the pasture (again) for the alpacas to pronk. And pronk they did! They romped around the tractor. They all ran up and down the paths. Coty wrestled with Arlo for the first time! Bo managed to find green grass in the paths to graze on. Guinness did his signature ‘rolling’ in front of the tractor. When he finally walked away, Arlo laid down and rolled too. Copycat! And such a cute copycat he is. We’re so happy that he’s finally grown enough to ‘play with the big boys.’ It was great to see them out in the sun after days and days of staying in the barn with snowstorm after snowstorm. When they tired of pronking, they all went into the barn for a good hay fest on the fresh hay I’d just put out to distract them so Dan could work. Julio instead stood near the hayfeeder, eyes glued on Dan working. The path out of the paddock leads over to the main swale through the pasture, so runoff is directed right to it. There’s a bit of an indent in the snow where the swale runs down the pasture to the back fence. We’ve created huge snowbanks in the front corner where the fences from the 2 pastures meet and the swale begins.
When Dan was done with the paddock, he cleared an area alongside the tack room end of the barn. This will now direct runoff from the path to the barn, past the tackroom and over to a narrow swale under the snow. This swale runs on a diagonal away from the back of the barn, under the fencing, and into the woods.
Phew! We’ve had so much snow already that we’re running out of room to put more. Wouldn’t it be nice if we’re done with snowstorms for this winter!!
I still suffer from ‘new alpaca owner syndrome.’ Anytime anything, and I mean anything, out of the ordinary (and when you have a new farm what’s ordinary?) happens, I have a quick panic attack until I realize everything is just fine. I say ‘phew!’ and have yet another good laugh. Alpacas are curious creatures and also very smart creatures, each with their own personalities. I’m beginning to think that now they are teasing me for their own amusement.
When we go out to the barn in the evenings it is already well past dark. Sometimes the boys are eating hay but usually everyone is cushed and cozy. We were pretty darn hungry ourselves last night when we came home from work so we ate our dinner first before going out to feed the alpacas. Our footsteps make a crunching noise in the snow. The entrance gate squeaks and the bottom of the gate scrapes against the snow and then clang! The gate rattles in the latch as we close it behind us. We approach the barn saying hello to each of the boys but in the dark and behind the tarp we can’t see them just yet. Dan turned around to go back and get the wheelbarrow for poop cleanup. The barn has three light switches: one for the outside perimeter, one for the little tack room, and one for the stalls. I turn them on in that order and inspect our little herd. Guinness had gotten up, Bo was blinking from the lights trying to wake up, and Coty and Arlo were cushed, chewing their cud. Arlo always looks so happy to see me!
And then there was Julio. He was cushed in the straw too with his head stretched out, chin on the ground. My heart dropped to my stomach. Normally he’s the first one up and he hears everything. I approached him slowly, calling his name softly. All he did was flick his ears a bit and his chin turned a little, this way and that. I called his name, again and again. Nothing. Dan walked into the barn then with the squeaky wheelbarrow and still no response. I showed Dan Julio lying there so oddly and instead of being quietly cautious, my ever-so-calm-husband just walked right over to him and loudly said “Hey, JULIO!” Up came Julio’s head like a rocket. Being a suri, his topknot covers his eyes but we could see them blinking at us like “What! What!” He stretched out one front leg and then the other, put his chin up towards the ceiling and s-t-rech-e-d that long neck. Then he hopped up, shook, and walked over to the feeder and started eating hay. He looked over at me like ‘Hey, everything’s fine.’
Dan calmly said, ‘Mona, he was just sleeping.’ ‘Phew!’ I answered and had yet another good laugh.
We have had gentle snowfall for 6 days now. We’ve probably picked up close to another foot of snow. At least it’s come in small increments so it makes it easier for us to clear the driveway and pathways around the house and down to the barn and over to the big poop pile. Dan hooked up something called ‘skid shoes’ to the bottom of the ‘blade’ attachment on the tractor and has a fairly easy time ‘plowing’ all these paths out. It’s much, much faster than using the snowblower even if he has to be turned around plowing backwards the whole time. He used the tractor bucket as well as the blade a few weeks ago to clear a path in the pasture for the alpacas to run around on. They all followed him and pronked behind the tractor while he worked. Guinness was so excited he was pouncing around the tractor and then laid down in front of it and rolled and rolled and rolled. When Dan was done, they all had races up and down the paths sometimes tripping over Guinness when he decided to roll again. They continually find endless ways to amuse us. Now when they see Dan coming down the path to the barn on the tractor they get excited, thinking he’s going to clear another path in the pasture for them.
The strong winds continue and I’m constantly re-shoveling the drifts that keep accumulating on the paddock walkway. Today the sun is shining brightly and I wish I could find a way to get the boys out of the barn. Julio is a good guard keeping the others in the barn out of the wind but the sunshine is so refreshing! Alpacas, with their wonderfully dense fleece can withstand the cold easily but it’s the wind that creates havoc with their health. Wind blew snow up and over the tarp and onto the straw we’ve put down. A few days ago I was actually shoveling snow off the straw in the awning area of the barn. The boys must be heartier than I keep planning for as most days I find them cushed on the stonedust in the 2 stalls where we did not put straw down. Usually at least one is cushed in front of the hay feeder entirely in the wind. Arlo enjoys the thick straw in the pen the most although I wonder if the reason he likes cushing in the pen is because that’s where we feed him his grain!
We’d been visiting our alpacas in the winter up at Pam’s during the 2 years they’d been there but this is our first winter to watch them ‘grow into their fleece’ on a daily basis. Wow! What a show! The more their fleece grows the more gorgeous of an animal alpacas are. It is so soft to the touch and with gloveless hands my fingers are instantly warm. Their fleece right now is as long as my fingers are or longer. When I touch all the way down to their bodies, their bodies are warm. Yeah! Sometimes it’s necessary to put a coat on the younger alpacas or the older or sick ones. With this wind I’m tempted to make little ear warmers and booties for them although I’m sure none of my boys would wear them!
I hope all of you had a better Christmas weekend than I did. I spent most of the time on the couch, sick with some sort of mild flu. I only left the house in the evenings to go out to the barn with Dan to feed our happy little herd. Standing among the alpacas, they radiate such joy and good energy it’s hard to feel sick.
I love New Year’s and the hope for new beginnings that it brings. On New Year’s Eve Dan and I like to sit back and reflect on our past year and create our goals for the New Year. Our reflections start with the good, i.e. all the goals we did accomplish or are completing, and then on to the setbacks. But instead of dwelling on any bad experiences that we may have had, we talk about what we’ve learned from those experiences so that it may help us in the future. And then we laugh and talk about what we are looking forward to, jot down ideas, and from there our new goals are formed. It's the end of the year. Every end is a new beginning.
With the alpacas physically here it will be much easier for us to visualize the direction our farm is headed. I’m sure all farms sit back every year and say ‘Hhmmm, what needs to be fixed? What do we need to buy this year? What could we improve?’ Necessity and the budget usually dictate what will come first. If the alpacas could speak, I’m sure they’d like us to keep working on a better pasture, free of rocks and roots, and filled with lush, green grass!
As I type, big, fluffy snowflakes are falling covering all the tree limbs, fence posts, birdhouses, and all the mud left by yesterday’s rain, once again transforming our cabin, yard, barn, pasture and woods into a Norman Rockwell-esque painting. I love a fresh snowfall. Everything looks so peaceful and new.
Here’s to wonderful new beginnings!
Wishing you all a joyous, healthy, and prosperous New Year!
Merry Christmas Everyone!
And thank you for reading our little blog!
~ Mona, Dan, Stella, and the alpacas at Sweet Harmony Farm
Well, all alpaca owners experience it; I already have several times. It’s been happening at least a couple times a week to me. Dan, on the other hand, has not experienced it. But on Sunday night, he did experience it for the first time.....What am I talking about? Dan was showered in the face and hair with alpaca spit.
On Sunday we also had another snowstorm. We are far enough north that we were lucky to only get another 2 inches of powdery snow that makes the pasture look like we just spread white frosting all across it. Everything looks fresh and clean. The alpacas like to cush near the openings of the stalls. The winds blow in snow and cover the edges of the straw in little drifts, and decorate the backs and necks of the alpacas. They have no idea that they’re covered in snow; their fleece has gotten so thick and long. Guinness easily won the “Most Snowy Alpaca” award. The sparkly white snow on his dark brown fleece looked like vanilla icing on chocolate cake. Of course I left the snow on him.
Julio is still imposing his ‘no leaving the barn while it’s cold and windy’ rule and the boys are getting quite cranky and stir crazy. Bo and Coty wrestle with each other right there in the barn, sometimes over the poop pile. Arlo keeps trying to join in but he’s still too little. But it’s Julio and Guinness who get the others all riled up at feeding time. They get jumpy and spit at each other, and then start chasing the others around the barn when we bring out the feed bowls. Last night was quite a circus trying to get them to settle down to eat! No one was in their usual place but after a couple minutes every nose had its own bowl and the steady munching started. When they’d finished they all started eating hay and another spit fest started. Dan was right there watching them and whoa!!! All of a sudden he was showered in spit and I laughed for about 5 minutes straight. I was still in the pen with Arlo and instead of spit, I got an alpaca kiss.
Today it is the first official day of winter and it is sunny and frigid cold again. The fierce winds are blowing the snow around sometimes making little ‘tornadoes’ dance across the pasture. Surprisingly though it is above zero even with the winds. The alpacas still won’t leave the barn. I love the winter solstice. The days start to get longer again!
The water in the bucket was frozen again when I went out to the barn this morning. And once again they weren’t concerned, just I was. The past several days I put about 2 gallons of hot tap water in the bucket and carry it down along with the gallon jugs of hot water. I am putting all hot tap water in the bucket and it’s still freezing up, hopefully not as fast. Julio likes to drink the hot water and Guinness also seems to, but the others will put their noses in and look up quickly at me “What! What happened!” After a few minutes, once it has cooled a bit, then they come back and drink. I guess the alpacas don’t like tea as much as I do. Hmmmm, perhaps I should be putting a tea bag in the water bucket ....
Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.................................... Wow! Is it ever cold outside! With below zero temperatures it is quite a struggle to stay warm outside when doing barn chores or just walking Stella. Stella and our indoor kitty, Gracie, are on the couch or the rug by the woodstove all day. It got so cold so fast. Dan is already wondering if we’ll have enough wood for the entire winter even though we’ve never run out. It’s hard to imagine how livestock manages to stay warm, especially creatures that do not have a warm fleece like our alpacas have. When I put my hand down in their fleece, their bodies are warm.
It was about 15 below zero with the wind this morning when I went out to the barn to bring down jugs of warm water and check on the alpacas. They were all cushed, looking quite cozy. I smiled, relieved. Then, to my horror, the water bucket was frozen solid! Some mornings it has skimmed over and a quick poke with my finger or an alpaca nose will break through, but not this time! I apologized profusely to the boys, picked up the bucket, and all but ran up to the house. Thankfully we have another unused water bucket in the garage where we also store extra hay and straw. After a quick rinse out in the kitchen sink, I filled it halfway with warm water and back to the barn I went. I added the two jugs I had brought down originally and the alpacas just stared at me, wondering what all the fuss was about. Apparently no one was thirsty.
Even though we put up a tarp to help block some wind, the boys generally cush in front of the 2 open stalls right around the hay feeders. Last night we spread out more straw for them. It’s funny to see their bodies’ imprints in the fresh straw in the morning, so we know that they were behind the windbreak at least for a short time. We’ve been stuffing the hay feeders full, full, full, and giving the boys a little extra grain in the evening. We’re going to pick up more straw and place the bales along the edges to help keep out drafts. That almost sounds ridiculous because it’s a 3 sided shelter! We still think every little bit helps.
Julio has imposed a ‘no leaving the barn’ rule since it’s been so cold and windy. Whenever one of the alpacas wanders out to the paddock or ~gasp!~ the pasture he runs out after them and noses them until they come back in. Sometimes instead of a gentle nosing it’s more like a bullying push. It’s nice to know he’s so protective but I’d prefer they’d all get at least a few minutes of sunshine!
Last week I posted about our unseasonable 65 degree weather in December. On Saturday we had our first snow for the season, an easy to clear, 3 inch snowstorm. My wimpy alpaca boys wouldn’t leave the awning and a grumpy crew they were in the evening at feeding time. We only have the one pen set up, so the barn/awning is basically all open. We moved the feeder inside under the awning for the winter so that the hay doesn’t get wet with snow but the boys still have 4 open stalls, 5 if you include the space in front of the tack room, and the pen. One whole stall per alpaca is quite a lot of room! We have no panels for stalls set up yet, so there’s plenty of space to pronk indoors! We’ve been concerned about their water bucket freezing so lately I’ve been bringing out a gallon jug of hot tap water to add to it. The nights it’s been windy I’ve added 2 jugs. My mixture is about 2 gallons hot water to 3 gallons water from the pump. It makes the water almost lukewarm and the alpacas just love it. We put the bucket on the ground in the corner by the middle post and the pen wall and surrounded it with straw to help insulate it. We’ve put plenty of straw down in the pen and 2 stalls for them to snuggle into to keep warm. We’ll have to keep adding straw over the winter.
On Monday Julio finally got brave and ventured out past the paddock, sniffing the snow on his way to the pasture gate. He was in the other pasture for a good 10 minutes before the others slowly decided to play ‘follow the leader.’ First Coty and then Bo, followed by Arlo with Guinness bringing up the rear. They all managed to find something to graze on but within a short time Bo skedaddled back up to the barn and so did the others. Yesterday they played follow the leader again in the morning. With the sunshine things melted a bit so they were able to graze for over an hour and play for awhile before heading back up to the barn.
Afterwards, they were still being wimpy and hid out under the awning for the rest of the day. Last night they watched us intently as we put up a tarp over one of the awning openings for a windbreak. We covered just one stall so the boys wouldn't be too confused. Then for our added amusement Bo, Coty, and Arlo played 'Ring around the tarp' for awhile. We will probably put up another one tonight or tomorrow. I can't see into the barn from the house as well now with the tarp up, but of course it's more important that the boys be dry and warm enough!
Today, today, we have a real New England storm: it’s noontime, there’s more than 6 inches of snow on the ground, and it’s still coming down fast and furious. Looking outside my den’s window, everything is covered in bright white fluff. Snow is blowing around in the strong winds. The alpacas were all in good spirits this morning while I worked in the barn, and very curious about Stella barking from the entrance gate. They all peered out from under the awning long enough to get their beautiful topknots covered in snow. All except Arlo, who was much more interested in me filling up the hay feeder. True to form, Arlo’s topknot is covered in hay. No one has left the barn again today, but Coty has been happily cushed right between the wall and the hay feeder for hours, with a perfect view of the snowy outside world.
It is December in New Hampshire and today it is sunny and 65 degrees! If you’re from another part of the country ......... yes this is very much unseasonably warm!
Here we are preparing for winter, in fact on Saturday we’re supposed to get snow, but today, I feel like gardening.
We really don’t mind our home being surrounded by green, growing grass but we also don’t follow the American obsession with perfect looking, golf course style lawns. We mow, albeit not regularly, rake when necessary, but that’s about it. I’ve read that American households use way, way, too much fertilizer and pesticides on their lawns, much more by square foot than is used in commercial agriculture. This creates a ‘chemically dependent’ lawn, the runoff pollutes groundwater, the pollution kills beneficial bugs and birds and other species ....... and the horrid cycle continues.
Dan and I, we welcome the natural world and its micro-ecosystems. Nature does know best; why mess with it? We don’t want Stella rolling on pesticide laden grass, nor do we want to walk on it. We welcome the dandelions and clover and other weeds, and we don’t fret over yellow grass due to grubs. The grubs feed the robins, blue jays, woodpeckers and other birds, which in turn eat bugs that would invade our gardens. The skunks also eat the grubs and frankly I’d prefer they not hang around because of the alpacas! But oh well.
So folks, dig up your lawns! Plant a garden! I realize we’re all starting winter, but here’s a couple of links for you all to start planning gardens for next year:
In the mornings I go out to the barn to check on the alpacas. They’re always fine, quietly munching on hay or cushed chewing their cud. Sometimes they’re out in the pasture grazing. I can’t imagine what’s out there this time of year to graze on! Our pasture areas are far from perfect and still need a considerable amount of work but they always seem to find something. We got some wonderful 2nd cut hay from a friend but if it’s sunny out, they’d rather be grazing on all the little nubs of grass. I fluff up the hay and fill the feeder anyways just to be sure they don’t run out of hay while I’m at work or running errands. Out in the pasture they all love to roll around in the dirt piles. It’s so funny to watch and then they spring up quickly and shake and dust goes everywhere.
In the evening we go out again to check on the boys, and now it’s grain time. My boys love their grain! When they see me they all come running up to the barn. In their excitement they all visit the dung pile too.
As we enter the paddock we greet all the alpacas by name, then Dan and I begin our quiet routine. He starts to ‘scoop the poop’ while I turn on all the lights. I fill up the hay feeders again and dump the water buckets and refill them. All the time we are eyeing the boys to be sure they’re all A-OK. Sometime they will eat hay, sometimes they might cush while we work, but they all watch me. When I’m done with the water buckets I pick up the grain bowls, and they all eagerly follow me to the tack room. I usually get visitors at the tack room door sticking their heads in to eat hay while I fill the feed bowls, all except for Coty, who usually comes all the way in to the tack room and eats hay right next to me from a bale. The spit fest starts between Julio and Guinness if I’m not fast enough.
When the bowls are ready, Dan and I will grab 4 of them and hold them up over our heads as we walk out. The alpacas get excited again and do the 10 yard dash to the stall where we feed them. Commotion erupts for a few seconds while everyone arranges themselves to their particular spots..... Guinness is on one end, Julio the other, and Bo and Coty in between. Arlo walks up to the non-occupied bowl and starts eating while I run back to the tack room to get his bowl and call him into the pen to eat. Most nights all is quiet except for the sounds of munching alpaca mouths. Dan stands with the big boys in case anyone gets a little fresh and tries to eat someone else’s dinner.
Arlo eats so very slowly and I wait with him so he’s not alone. When the big boys are done, Julio patiently waits on one side of the pen and Bo by the other, both hoping Arlo won’t finish. Julio will look over the top of the pen wall, his eyes looking out from under his long topknot. Bo is not quite as tall, so he rests his chin on the top of the pen wall and just stares. Sometimes Dan or I will offer them a small handful of grain which they nibble up in a quick snort. They sniff our noses often, alpaca kisses (!), and sometimes we’re able to scratch them behind the ears. By then Coty will have come over too, but he’s still too shy to eat from our hands. Arlo won’t eat from my hand either, but he loves a good ear scratch and noses me too. They’re just very sweet and so funny. Then there’s Guinness, our little piglet. He’s never too shy when it comes to food! He squeals until we give him a little extra grain too.
When Arlo is done I open up the pen door and he trots off. Julio and Bo will rush in, sometimes Coty and Guinness too, and they all go after Arlo’s bowl, whether there’s anything left in there or not. Arlo has the cleanest bowl on our farm! I go back to the tack room to put things away and shut off the lights. Arlo sometimes like to eat hay by the tack room, so if he’s right there waiting for me, I’ll put out a small handful for him. The others by now are eating hay at the feeders or cushed chewing their cud, and Julio is usually cushed by the paddock entrance, ever watchful.
Nighty-night, my boys.
We have been blessed by many glorious days of Indian summer lately. It gives us extra time to cut, split, and stack the four cords of wood we burn over the winter. There are still some beets and carrots in the garden which I’ve left in on purpose to give them some extra time to grow since they were so stunted by the deer grazing through. The leaves have all fallen yet we are in no hurry to rake them up, even though they make great compost for gardening. Instead we are putting up one of those ‘tarp and metal frame’ type sheds to store the tractor and its attachments.
Pam is at full capacity now at her farm so this week she brought our girls, Dreamer and Alana, and Alana’s newest cria, Hank, to New Hampshire for us. They will now agist over at Val and Gary Newell’s Crown Point Alpaca Farm, where they will be in very experienced hands with plenty of fellow alpacas for company. Val and Gary have quickly grown their herd to over 40 alpacas, they agist for many farms, and have started other pastures to grow their farm even more. They have an amusing assortment of other farm animals ~ chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and goats. And they have other projects in the works too, including a nature trail and my personal favorite, a yurt in the woods to rent out. And like us, they focus on sustainability and the natural world, hence their name ‘The Green Alpaca.’ Our girls and crias will continue to be well taken care of and now that they are only about 35 minutes away, we can visit them more often. Val does fabulous photography and hopefully I can figure out how to get my pictures out of our camera soon.
Apparently it’s been an easy transition for our girls who are already being themselves. Dreamer is often at the fence line shared with the boys, spitting at them, and then trotting off doing a little jig. Alana likes to run back and forth through the pasture from one end to the other. And little Hank has already made friends with the other crias, climbing hills and pronking around with them.
This is a wonderful new beginning for us.
Another thing about autumn is the coyotes. In the evenings and throughout the night you can hear them howling. Lately it sounds like it’s coming from the woods down the street, but many times it is the woods across the street from us in the state park, or in the woods behind our house. Sometimes the pack behind our house howls back and forth with the pack in the park. It’s a haunting noise and when the howls are close by the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Our little alpaca herd doesn’t seem overly concerned, but of course we are.
We went up to Maine yesterday morning to pick up our new guard llama from Nancy Durst at White Barn Meadows Farm. Nancy runs a gelding alpaca fiber farm that is picture-postcard beautiful. Senator is a well experienced, well mannered guard llama that is easily handled. He is just perfect for us.
The initial meet and greet was in a word, hysterical. Our boys all huddled around the paddock fence while we had Senator on the lead on the other side. The happy sniff fest went on for quite some time, our boys much more curious about him than he was of them. Once we led Senator into the paddock, Coty quickly instigated the others into chasing him around the paddock. The same thing happened once we opened up the pasture. Our boys ate their dinner quietly with virtually no fighting amongst themselves and then peacefully ate hay together out of the same feeder. Senator ate hay from the big feeder and then stood just outside the paddock, observing the woods.
After dinner and hay our boys weren’t quite so spunky so Senator got to check out his new home in peace. He carefully walked the fence lines and checked out the gates, sniffing and sniffing the air and I swear each inch of pasture. It was a full moon night and the whole pasture was lit up. He was very observant and alert over every little sound, dogs barking and howling, owls hooting, crickets chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, and I’m sure things that we humans can’t hear. Finally he settled down and cushed in a spot along the middle pasture fence line and its gate. Here, he has a perfect view of the barn with his new herd to protect and the entire pasture.
And Stella won't look at him either!
We love autumn and October in New Hampshire is especially beautiful. The maple trees’ leaves slowly turn to glorious hues of reds and orange, making the sky look so blue and the grass and fields so green. The air is wonderfully crisp and dry and there’s always a great breeze. It’s perfect weather for hiking. This is such a fabulous corner of the country to live in, and autumn our favorite season.
This is the time of year I switch to drinking more tea as coffee really doesn’t keep one warm, we go apple picking, we split and stack large piles of wood, we rake huge amounts of leaves, we cut down the perennials, we pull up the veggie garden and till back in large amounts of compost. I go back to cooking soups and casseroles and baking bread. As the days get shorter we lament ‘oh no soon it will be snowing once again’ but we wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else but here, where we have 4 distinct seasons.
It went from normal autumn chilly to downright cold just like that this week which of course now makes me concerned that the alpacas are cold. Yes they are livestock with super thick fleece so by nature are just fine in the cold weather. Yet here we are in the house, all of us ~ me, Dan, Stella, and our indoor kitty Gracie ~ all snuggled up near the woodstove so it’s hard not to want to bring the alpacas inside!
Dan is concerned too, so the other day he came home with some straw to put down for bedding for them. We have found out that hay that is on the ground will wick up moisture and not dry if it’s been rained on, so yeah, the alpacas would get cold. The straw is hollow and does not absorb moisture, so it’s perfect for them to snuggle on. We spread out a bale and it didn’t take long for them to all cush on it. Smart alpacas! We will continue to add straw on top of what’s there, layer upon layer, to keep them dry and warm over the fall and through winter. Apparently, if done correctly, there is a composting effect, therefore creating heat which does help to keep the alpacas warm.
Off to make soup!
Why do we all raise alpacas? Why, the fleece of course!
This year, 2009, has been named by the United Nations as the International Year of Natural Fibers. Alpaca fleece is a natural fiber! You can read about the United Nations’ overview of alpaca fleece at http://www.naturalfibres2009.org/en/fibres/alpaca.html. There has also been a non-profit organization established, in cooperation with Heifer International, to celebrate this United Nations declaration, called http://www.keepthefleece.org/. Their goal is to build the largest fiber flock in the world. What a goal!
We are so happy to be part of this growing community of alpaca fiber producers. We have lots and lots of bags of many, many pounds of fleece (well, for us it’s quite a lot!) and are still deciding on which fleeces to be processed where. Someday I will learn to spin, but for now we will send it out for processing. Some will be sent to our wonderful, local mini-mill, Sallie's Fen Fibers, to be made into yarn, some will be made into yarn through our preferred co-op, NAAFP, and still some will be made into wonderful rugs. Because this is still such a new venture for us, we prefer to get our own fleece/yarn back, which will also serve our ‘locally grown’ clientele well. But also as a business which supports a growing industry (alpaca textile), we realize that joining a co-op is a sound decision. The NAAFP co-op’s regional collection facility as well as their commercial mill is here in New Hampshire! So not only will the co-op’s yarns have our fleece in it, the co-op’s yarn is locally made in regards to our farm! We’re thrilled.
And how could we not be thrilled? Alpaca is the absolute best fiber there is!
Even though it is now October, it is still not too late to join in the celebration of the International Year of Natural Fibers. Whether you knit, crochet or weave, you’ll enjoy working with alpaca!
There are several horse farms and horse owners here in our town. In fact there are at least 6 horse farms/owners here on our street, plus the vet. Our farm is also within 7 miles +/- of three different feed stores, each selling 1 of the 3 major brands of alpaca grain/pellets (Poulin, Blue Seal, and Mazuri), all which also sell hay, so our alpacas will never go hungry. Because the overwhelming majority of livestock in our area is horses, the hay is usually 1st cut Timothy hay. There is certainly nothing wrong with 1st cut, especially when it’s still very green, but it does tend to be coarser and ‘stemmy.’ Alpacas will usually pull out the stems and not eat it, leading to quite a large amount of waste. Alpacas’ digestive systems requires a higher protein value than horses or cattle, so the hunt for green, grassy, 2nd cut hay for the fall and winter is on.
We purchased some 1st cut hay from our neighbor when our alpacas first came home. It was pretty green. The alpacas seemed to like it although they have definitely been pulling out the stems, and as a bonus they also seemed to enjoy grazing on what little grass we have growing in the pastures. Next spring we will have our soil tested so that we can fertilize the pastures properly. But right now it’s autumn and it’s getting cold outside, and our vet would prefer they put on some weight before winter. It will be easier to maintain their weight from then on, rather than trying to have them put some on during the cold weather.
We went over to a friend’s house yesterday to pick up a couple dozen bales of 2nd cut hay from his fields. Beautifully green, fabulous ‘just cut’ smell, and much softer to the touch! I pulled out the other hay from the feeder and re-filled it with the new hay. When the alpacas see me, they generally all come running (yes, it’s a nice feeling!) and run they did! They took a few good sniffs of the new hay, a few bites, then turned around and walked back out to the pasture. Silly, silly boys!! All except our littlest guy, Arlo, who happily eats hay from my hand. I’m guessing that because we’ve had some light rain occasionally the past few weeks, there must be new growth on the field that they like. Right now as I type, they’ve just come back from the pasture and are chowing hay! I guess they like it after all.
When I think of farms that have livestock, barn cats always come to mind. Because of all the feeds and grain that are stored, mice, rats, and other rodents would become rather prolific without the assistance of a good cat or two. I have always been the type of person who has indoor kitties, thinking that indoors is the safest place for a cat to be. I am also realistic and know that someday it will be necessary to have an outdoor cat now that we have alpacas.
We’ve taken precautions but also know that our current mouse-free situation is temporary for the short-term at best. We built the tack room with a solid floor, store the grain in metal trash bins in the tack room, store the hay in the tack room also, and sealed off cracks between the boards. We are currently deciding on where to put a ‘cat door’ for entrance into the tack room, as this will be the main place for a barn cat to get out of the weather. I am also researching the many wonderful rescue organizations that place feral cats into a barn home situation, stray and ‘street-wise’ cats that would be inappropriate for an indoor home.
That being said, Stella just loves to chase squirrels and chipmunks. They all always out run her, either hiding in a hole in the stone wall or running up a tall oak tree. I suppose you all know where this story is now going .......
We have lots of rocks, large boulders down to softball sized, piles of them here and there left to us after the loggers cleared. Dan loves to build stonewalls and he has plenty of rocks now to keep him busy for years. Stella hears the chipmunks squeaking, and she hangs around the rock pile for hours, fussing and whining, occasionally digging a little, and pouncing at every noise. She’s always done this, and we just let her be. The other day when we called her, she gleefully came trotting over to us, tail hanging from her mouth, and promptly deposited a mouse at Dan’s feet, just like a good kitty would. But she’s a Sheltie-mix dog!
So now we have a new nickname for her: “Stella, the Mighty Hunter!”
We’re having such a great time with the alpacas. They do have their individual personalities and over the past month, we’ve begun to decipher them. As I’ve mentioned, Julio is the self-appointed guard and leader. When he heads out into the pasture, the others all follow within minutes. When he heads back up to the barn, here they all come. In the evening after sunset, he stands by the paddock entrance and seems to scan the woods. When he hears something, his ears perk up and his body stiffens. We’ll sometimes shine the flashlight to see if we can see anything, but we never have. Sometimes we’ll hear a neighbor’s (it’s the country; neighbors aren’t exactly ‘nearby’) dog in the distance, but usually we don’t see anything. Then he’ll slowly walk off into the pasture, look around again, and start grazing. One by one, the others follow, and graze under the stars. They’re all such a friendly little group together.
But alas, that changes somewhat when food is involved! Fighting over food is normal in the livestock world as well in the wild. We try to make things as fair as possible, like one would with their own children. Some evenings they pleasantly eat their grain and then go back to the paddock and cush. Some nights the spit is flying! The usual instigator is Guinness, who for some reason seems to think that all the bowls are for him. Dan will try to move him from the others’ bowls, then everyone rearranges themselves; what a riot! We always put Arlo, our littlest and shyest guy, separate from the others or else he’d never get to eat, and I ‘stand guard’ by him until he is done.
And then there is the hay feeder. Usually all is fine, with everyone quietly munching. Then they see me getting more hay to add, and I’m usually bombarded by alpaca mouths. That’s fine as I can still easily add that flake or two into the feeder. Once again, Guinness seems to think the hay is all for him. His first victim is usually Julio who when it comes to fresh hay, always fights back. Yesterday the two went at it, spitting and screeching at each other for a good solid 5 minutes. The others were eating on the other side of the feeder but when the spitting started, they stood back with me out of the line of fire to watch the spit fight. What a riot my 2 geldings are!
But what we love the most is in the evening when the alpacas play. Either Coty will head butt Bo Jangles or vice-versa, the other returns the favor, and off they go. They’ll run gracefully together side by side around the pasture, stop for some head butting, wrangle their longs necks together, and roll all over each other. They make gentle snorting sounds as they wrestle and off they go again running. Sometimes they’ll head butt the others gently to join in the race around the pastures. It’s so beautiful and peaceful to watch, under just the moonlight and stars.
In a previous post, I had mentioned how our alpacas had easily adapted to their new home here on our farm, and that because they’ve been so calm, we’re kinda irked that they haven’t done something. Well, now they have!
They were all hanging out by the awning and hay feeder, cushed and chewing their cud, when suddenly they all leaped up, instantly alert, and Julio ran to the back of the pasture. He was intent on something past the stone wall. The others cautiously came to the end of the paddock and one by one they stepped out slowly into the pasture in a line, but never quite reaching Julio; Coty first and then Guinness, followed by Bo with Arlo bringing up the rear. Oddly enough, they were in a line from tallest to smallest. I called out to Dan who was in the garage and he ran out back along the east fence line. I got the binoculars and went out down the west fence line. Julio was definitely eyeing something, and the others were cautiously standing still and watching, with Bo constantly looking over his shoulder at Arlo as if to say “Don’t move! Stay right there!” When Dan got to the middle of the stone wall that follows the back of our pasture, Julio turned around sharply and ran up to the barn, nipping at everyone’s back end to hurry along. It was quite the sight to see them all running together as the herd that they are.
The fuss? Apparently there was a red fox sitting on the stone wall watching them. It started to run off when Julio approached, and Dan saw it run off into the woods. When Dan got to the stone wall where the fox had been, that’s when Julio called the gang back up to the barn. It’s good to know that our alpacas can distinguish between Stella and our neighbors’ dogs (no threat) and with a wild animal (big threat). Julio, being the tallest and heaviest, is the undeclared leader and guard.
Good boy Julio!
Our first week of raising alpacas has been basically, blessedly uneventful. They’re such quiet and peaceful animals. Not that we were expecting them to be constantly animated, but after a few hours we were saying ‘hey guys do something!’
I love to read other alpaca farms’ humorous tips and stories, and now we’ve acquired a few of our own. These are in no particular order. We will also keep this list in our “Other Stuff” section of our website and update it periodically:
~ There is always a pecking order. Our boys were in a large herd and now there’s just the 5 of them of various ages, so by default it appears Julio and Guinness, our 2 geldings and the oldest at about 6 years old each, expect to both be the alpha. We think Julio will eventually reign, but until then, there’s some spatting and occasional spitting. When the spit starts to fly get out of the way! Yesterday we both got caught in the crossfire.
~ When there is barn work to be done in the heat, humidity and rain, wear a bathing suit. I wear a tankini with men’s swim trunks. The trick is to wear a color your husband would never wear; mine are purple. As you get wet from the rain or drenched in sweat, the suit will dry quickly. And when you get hot, just hose yourself off. This has been a wonderful idea for working in the garden (my mother in law’s trick) and it works great for the barn too.
~ Keep the herd out of the barn while you arrange feed bowls. Ours have walked right into the tack room and started helping themselves, and all but attack us as we walk the bowls out to the stall. I swear I think we were being orgled too. (note to self: order panels!)
~ Alpacas love the leaves on saplings.
~ Barn poopers happen. Just accept it. And it is easier to clean up then the poop piles in the pasture in the rain.
~ Always be grateful to your Mr.-fix-it husband who can finagle electricity to the barn while you are watching a weanling to make sure it is OK after an episode of choke. Also, have a chair available for him to sit on. He knew in his heart that our little boy would be fine, but waited in the barn with me for 2 hours anyways because he was worried about me.
~ Ladies, you will almost always find hay in your bra.
~ And also, Ladies, sometimes your hubby will actually forget to remove his shoes before entering the house. Bleach (non-chlorine) will help you feel much better.
~ If you are the type of person who is always checking to see if the toaster and iron are off and unplugged, you will also constantly be checking gates and doors to be sure they are properly closed.
~ After spending thousands of dollars clearing 3 acres of land and fencing it in, your alpacas will spend the majority of their time on the 1/3 acre surrounding your barn.
~ Your dog may be mad at you for having alpacas (see my post: Oh Stella!) but your indoor cat couldn’t care less.
~ Work your poop piles from the outside in. Your shoes will definitely stay cleaner.
~ Alpaca males can and will open gates when there is an open female, surprise!
Our dog is just wonderful and we’ve done an excellent job at spoiling her. She just loves the attention and is happy all the time. But now that the alpacas have arrived, suddenly she is sullen, clearly jealous, and not too thrilled with us!! First thing every morning for months now, Dan gets up and takes Stella for a walk around the outside of the fencing. She is always excited for this, and trots along checking everything out, sometimes darting off into the woods. Not that first morning!! She wouldn’t go anywhere near the fence. Dan had to actually put the leash on her and pull her along till she finally started to walk on her own. She would hardly look at me either when I put down her morning crunchers. As dog lovers (and lovers of all animals) we personally are just crushed!! We’re sure she’ll come around soon, but until then, we’ll just feel terrible.
Hmm, I guess this means we’ll just have to shower our wonderful little dog with even more and more attention, which we’ve been doing. More walks and frisbee tossing, scratches and pats, sometimes hand feeding her, and always more snacks. Thank goodness she likes veggies, tofu, and rice.
The other morning I was at the fence line taking pictures and Stella woofed at me jealously from the yard. She happily came over to me when I called her, wagging all over, but stood with her butt to the fence, refusing to look at the alpacas. Dan has gotten her to willingly walk around the fence line with him, but again she just will not look into the pasture.
But she is coming around; it’s just going to take a little longer than we had hoped. Such personalities our dog friends have!
I got up bright and early at 5:30 a.m., nuked up some coffee and starting checking email, the weather, and the news. Suddenly, poof! The power went out. A bright and sunny summer morning, no wonder the power went out; this is rural New Hampshire after all. Dan was listening to the radio (back up battery) and apparently a squirrel had gotten into a substation and ............ which knocked out power for several towns! While I feel terribly for the squirrel, we found it to be a rather amusing story, and what a way to start our day, the day ‘the alpacas come home.’
The dragonflies are at it again this morning, flying around the yard and pasture gracefully. We’ve been playing phone tag with our neighbor for a few days now. Our first order of business is to swing over there and pick up some hay. Our beautiful new wooden feeder will be ready in a few days, so for now, our yellow muck-wheelbarrow, new and still clean, will serve as the hay feeder. It makes for some interesting pictures! Their grain and minerals were on order and due in some time today, so we’ll run to the feed store later this afternoon.
Our little crew arrived at lunchtime with Pam beaming ear to ear. Yeah, she loves our place! The boys were a little confused getting out of the trailer but we easily got them into the barn. We put out water and hay, and they all drank and started munching away. We stood and watched them for a while, while they investigated their new barn and pasture. They’re even enjoying what little grass we’ve got growing. All in all, it seemed to be a simple, stress-free transfer for them. What a wonderful way to start our transition to alpaca farming.
Welcome home, Julio, Guinness, Bo Jangles, Coty, and Arlo!
We’ve finally had another stretch of hot, sunny days so it feels like summer. I’ve actually had to water the vegetable garden for the first time since I planted it. Our mid-summer flower gardens are blooming with many brightly-colored hybrid daylilies, purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans, liatris, and hostas. All the nearby fields are filled with bloomers too, goldenrod and queen’s anne lace, wild black-eyed susans, ragweed, and many others of which I haven’t got a clue. In the late-day summer sun, our yard and pastures are teeming with hundreds of beautiful dragonflies. Walking by the nearby fields there are clouds of them, hovering and swooping, their presence so magical and uplifting. Sometimes one will land on us while we’re floating in the canoe or in the gardens. We love to sit and admire them close up, such a fascinating little bug.
We love to see the dragonflies and have planted many of the flowers that attract them. Dragonflies are harmless to people and animals, and because they eat so many mosquitoes it only makes sense to have plantings that attract them. These same plants also attract many insect-eating birds too, another bonus. And when it comes to eating mosquitoes, we don’t argue with the bats that show up at night either! Attracting dragonflies and birds (and bats), not having standing water, and fans in the barn are our top choices for keeping mosquitoes, flies, and other disease-spreading insects away from the alpacas. We know there will always be some bugs, and sometimes plenty of them, in our humid climate, so every little bit helps.
Our alpacas will start coming home to our farm soon, and now is when we realize that oops! There is so much more to do. But like any farm, or business, there is always ‘more to do’ or ‘something that needs getting done.’ All farms are a continual ‘work in process,’ and ours certainly will be no exception.
I suppose there will always be a new gate or gadget needed, an extra water bucket here, move the grain feeders there, that sort of thing. Running through all the major things we’ve done .......We’ve cleared land and improved the pastures with, oh my, lots of drainage. We’ve built the small barn with an awning. We’ve installed the hydrant for water from our well. We’ve put up fencing and adjusted gates and sealed off the low areas where rainwater has washed out underneath, allowing small critters such as the red fox access. We’ve seeded the pasture with pasture grass mix and excitedly watched as it started to grow, albeit in large splotches! Our first pieces of alpaca equipment is appropriately enough a poop scooper and large 2-wheeled wheelbarrow. Our hay feeder is on order. We’ve secured a hay source and grain/feed source. We’ve decided how to divvy up the barn stalls and which directions to put the gates and panels. We’ve purchased that very well used but sturdy horse trailer. We’ve prayed for clear, cool days and sunny skies.
So now we sit back and say, the alpacas will be here in a few short days, and we’re not ready! We have waited for this moment for almost 2 years so how could we possibly not be ready? We’ll need some grain feeders and oh yes grain, something to store the grain in, water buckets, the wire type tape to block off the area behind the barn where it’s still a bit mucky, and that tape to block off the stall where we’ll store some hay, oh yes ~ hay!, panels to divide the stalls, a scale, one of those awning things with metal supports to store our tractor in as we need the barn space for the alpacas now, where to put the pile of poop, and also............... I’m sure after they arrive, we’ll constantly be saying ‘gee we really need to get a .......’ Until then, we can improvise. Dan is very good at improvising, or as he says ‘mousing it.’
We are life long animal lovers and in that sense we are not nervous about the alpacas’ arrival. Even though we’ve never owned livestock, we are comforted by the fact that there are several alpaca farms with kind alpaca owners within a 30-45 minute drive, our vet is walking distance away, and of course Pam is always available for our multitudes of questions. Thanks Pam! Your patience and kindness to your animals, and now ours, is cherished.
We are first and foremost an alpaca farm, and we are always excited when we can blog about the alpacas. Yesterday we drove up to Longwoods Alpacas in Maine to welcome our newest cria, Sweet Harmony’s Henry, whom we will call Hank. On our farm we love ‘the boys’ and little Hank is no exception.
Hank is our second cria from our beautiful girl Longwood’s Caitlin’s Alana. He was sired by the Upper Farm’s stunning Milo Rawhide. Hank weighed in at a sturdy 17.5 pounds, very straight legs and bite, and perfect conformation. His fleece is shiny and soft, dark brown in color with black points, with a teeny white spot on his front fetlock. He appears to have both his parent’s density. Just lovely! We are so thrilled with what this match has produced that we shall be breeding them again for a 2010 cria.
Pam went out to her back pasture about noontime and saw this wonderful surprise pronking around gleefully, nursing easily, and happily playing with her other crias born recently. Such a happy and well adjusted little fellow, and we can’t wait to have him pronking around here in our pastures.
I headed out to the garden earlier to pick some more cherry tomatoes. Isn’t this wonderful? Weeks and weeks of heavy rain and cool temperatures, yet I’ve been picking cherry tomatoes! So tasty right off the vine, it’s amazing I can walk back to the house and still have a couple for my salad. The plum tomatoes and sandwich size tomatoes are still green, but there are plenty of them! The zucchini plants are getting huge, but have still to give me anything to pick. The beets, spinach, kale, and carrots have grown and there are lots and lots of buds on the green bean plants .......... and weren’t there more leaves yesterday??? I’m in a daze, probably because of the shockingly sunny day, and then I noticed the hoof prints again. Only a few leaves were missing, but in the next box ........... all the leaves off the sunflowers were gone! Bummer!! I just love sunflowers in a garden. The deer are beautiful creatures, but I’d rather have them in our garden than the alpaca pastures!
All the work that Dan has done to help with drainage seems to be paying off. We are continuing to have excessive rain, but as time goes by, more and more of the pasture area is usable, i.e., you can walk without sinking halfway to your knees! Our little ‘farm road,’ which is the road that’s been created from the driveway down to the pasture is now relatively solid, despite all the rain, as is also the yard area around it. The main gate to our pasture, near the barn, stays dry as well. Parts of this pasture and the swale itself still get quite mucky and slippery, but they too are drying out sooner and sooner.
So with this relative good luck, this past weekend we decided to seed the pasture. There are shoots of green grass sprouting up here and there, but we need to speed up this process pronto. Dan lightly rototilled on one side of the swale, and lightly tilled with the york rake on the other side of the swale. This is to test which method will seed faster! We’ve never been much into building lawns; we’ve always prefer to just rototill up the grass and plant more perennials. So it’s rather ironic for us to be out there with our teeny little lawn seed spreader, walking back and forth spreading seed. Much alpaca information will say that brome grass is best. We decided on a simple ‘horse pasture blend’ of grasses. This blend was closer to the native grasses that grow here naturally. Once the pasture is well grassed, we plan to regularly overseed with brome grass in spring and/or fall. After we seeded, that night we found ourselves in the unlikely position of actually hoping for a light rain! And it did rain, lightly, just perfectly! We then spread out mulch hay to protect the seed from hot sun and keep the moisture in. There is also a perfect forecast for the next several days: sunny, warm but not hot, dry air, and no rain.
An added benefit to the mulch hay is that there are plenty of grass seeds in it. One tack supplier we recently spoke with said that all she did was spread out mulch hay – no seed – and her pasture came in beautifully! We have our fingers crossed for the same good luck.
Here in the Northeast it has been raining for the past week and it seems like it’s getting to be time for us to build the ark. I’ve been reading a rather funny thread on alpacanation about all rain we’ve been getting here in New Hampshire, Maine, and the entire Northeast. I say funny only because I just thought it was a funny topic to start a thread on. But, here in the Northeast excessive rain is certainly a real concern for us alpaca farmers. The rain brings out the slugs, gross little creatures, which bring along the meningeal worm, hosted by our cute wildlife, the white-tailed deer. M-worm is of particular concern for alpaca farmers as it is a deadly disease, and here in the Northeast we routinely de-worm as part of our prevention program. (Note to self: get chickens, sooner rather than later.) And of course, any of us with new pastures from recently disturbed soil, as well as anyone with clay soil, is having additional problems with mud, mud, and yes, more mud!!
Not to mention all that standing puddle water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and all the yucky diseases they carry.
So times like these make me appreciate the dry Southwest more and more, and like I already mentioned, make me start thinking about building that ark.
Or perhaps at least I should remind myself of the good things about rain........ The most obvious benefit is it waters, usually evenly, our lawns and gardens. In a previous post I mentioned that I had planted seeds and transplants for our little vegetable garden. I’ve only had to water once, the day I planted! Most of the seeds are sprouting, but by now, they could certainly use some sun! ............ A related benefit is that I don’t have to be out there watering morning and night, and subsequently feeding the mosquitoes while I stand there.......... Another benefit is that is replenishes our wells.......Rain runoff from our roofs fills up our rain barrels, to water the gardens............ The birds have plenty to drink naturally, rather than me filling up birdbaths. Water attracts birds to your yards, and birds eat many, many, bugs; no need for pesticides! ....... And as my friend Deb says, "At least we're not shoveling it!"
But we’ve had many, many inches of rain and we’re more than ready for sunshine! Those of you who practice yoga, please join me daily in spirit for a Salute to the Sun!!!!
Late last summer we had a local logger and his crew clear about 3 acres of woods and brushy overgrowth. It was done ‘rough grade’ as Dan wanted to do the finish work himself. What a wonderful job they did! There were many, many large rocks that they carefully placed on the property lines creating a boulder style stone wall. The stumps were all buried alongside the rocks so as to be outside and around the pasture area, a farm road of sorts. It looked fabulous and then, the rains came! First a tropical storm bringing about 5 inches, and several smaller storms, and anyone who lives in New England remembers the rain and resulting ice storm in early December! All that rainfall saturated our new pasture, with ‘sink to your knees mud,’ washing out a lot of the topsoil, creating ruts and little streams, and rendering it impossible to work in it. Clearly we had a drainage problem, unknown to us before due to the thick woods. Disappointed, we knew we had to wait until spring for things to dry out before the alpacas could come home.
And dry out it did! We’ve had a pleasantly sunny and warm spring. Another local contractor has come by a few times giving us ideas on how to divert runoff and rain. We’ve seen swales before but never knew the correct term. Dan is in his glory on the tractor, digging and moving dirt and making one heck of a swale diagonally down the pasture. He’s also been making several diagonal berms down the ‘farm road’ from our driveway to the barn gate and alongside the fencing. 'Berm' is our new favorite word. We have huge piles of dirt now in the pasture, beautiful dark brown dirt! After we sift it, and add in a little compost, this loam will be wonderful for gardening perennials. Now to continue on picking up rocks and roots and york raking the whole area smooth.......And the rocks... oh my! There are more huge boulder-sized rocks, all the way down to baseball sized and pebbles. Dan will be busy making decorative stone walls for years.
We’ve been told that actually all that rain was a very good thing(!) It helps to pack down the freshly disturbed land so the grass can grow. The grass will then hold everything together. So far, this does seem to be happening! There are plenty of green shoots sprouting up all over. We are very happy and grateful for that. And soon the alpacas will be here, grazing and pronking....................