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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.