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.
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.
Another thing about autumn is the coyotes. In the evenings and throughout the night you can hear them howling. Lately it sounds like it’s coming from the woods down the street, but many times it is the woods across the street from us in the state park, or in the woods behind our house. Sometimes the pack behind our house howls back and forth with the pack in the park. It’s a haunting noise and when the howls are close by the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Our little alpaca herd doesn’t seem overly concerned, but of course we are.
We went up to Maine yesterday morning to pick up our new guard llama from Nancy Durst at White Barn Meadows Farm. Nancy runs a gelding alpaca fiber farm that is picture-postcard beautiful. Senator is a well experienced, well mannered guard llama that is easily handled. He is just perfect for us.
The initial meet and greet was in a word, hysterical. Our boys all huddled around the paddock fence while we had Senator on the lead on the other side. The happy sniff fest went on for quite some time, our boys much more curious about him than he was of them. Once we led Senator into the paddock, Coty quickly instigated the others into chasing him around the paddock. The same thing happened once we opened up the pasture. Our boys ate their dinner quietly with virtually no fighting amongst themselves and then peacefully ate hay together out of the same feeder. Senator ate hay from the big feeder and then stood just outside the paddock, observing the woods.
After dinner and hay our boys weren’t quite so spunky so Senator got to check out his new home in peace. He carefully walked the fence lines and checked out the gates, sniffing and sniffing the air and I swear each inch of pasture. It was a full moon night and the whole pasture was lit up. He was very observant and alert over every little sound, dogs barking and howling, owls hooting, crickets chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, and I’m sure things that we humans can’t hear. Finally he settled down and cushed in a spot along the middle pasture fence line and its gate. Here, he has a perfect view of the barn with his new herd to protect and the entire pasture.
And Stella won't look at him either!
Our first week of raising alpacas has been basically, blessedly uneventful. They’re such quiet and peaceful animals. Not that we were expecting them to be constantly animated, but after a few hours we were saying ‘hey guys do something!’
I love to read other alpaca farms’ humorous tips and stories, and now we’ve acquired a few of our own. These are in no particular order. We will also keep this list in our “Other Stuff” section of our website and update it periodically:
~ There is always a pecking order. Our boys were in a large herd and now there’s just the 5 of them of various ages, so by default it appears Julio and Guinness, our 2 geldings and the oldest at about 6 years old each, expect to both be the alpha. We think Julio will eventually reign, but until then, there’s some spatting and occasional spitting. When the spit starts to fly get out of the way! Yesterday we both got caught in the crossfire.
~ When there is barn work to be done in the heat, humidity and rain, wear a bathing suit. I wear a tankini with men’s swim trunks. The trick is to wear a color your husband would never wear; mine are purple. As you get wet from the rain or drenched in sweat, the suit will dry quickly. And when you get hot, just hose yourself off. This has been a wonderful idea for working in the garden (my mother in law’s trick) and it works great for the barn too.
~ Keep the herd out of the barn while you arrange feed bowls. Ours have walked right into the tack room and started helping themselves, and all but attack us as we walk the bowls out to the stall. I swear I think we were being orgled too. (note to self: order panels!)
~ Alpacas love the leaves on saplings.
~ Barn poopers happen. Just accept it. And it is easier to clean up then the poop piles in the pasture in the rain.
~ Always be grateful to your Mr.-fix-it husband who can finagle electricity to the barn while you are watching a weanling to make sure it is OK after an episode of choke. Also, have a chair available for him to sit on. He knew in his heart that our little boy would be fine, but waited in the barn with me for 2 hours anyways because he was worried about me.
~ Ladies, you will almost always find hay in your bra.
~ And also, Ladies, sometimes your hubby will actually forget to remove his shoes before entering the house. Bleach (non-chlorine) will help you feel much better.
~ If you are the type of person who is always checking to see if the toaster and iron are off and unplugged, you will also constantly be checking gates and doors to be sure they are properly closed.
~ After spending thousands of dollars clearing 3 acres of land and fencing it in, your alpacas will spend the majority of their time on the 1/3 acre surrounding your barn.
~ Your dog may be mad at you for having alpacas (see my post: Oh Stella!) but your indoor cat couldn’t care less.
~ Work your poop piles from the outside in. Your shoes will definitely stay cleaner.
~ Alpaca males can and will open gates when there is an open female, surprise!
Our alpacas will start coming home to our farm soon, and now is when we realize that oops! There is so much more to do. But like any farm, or business, there is always ‘more to do’ or ‘something that needs getting done.’ All farms are a continual ‘work in process,’ and ours certainly will be no exception.
I suppose there will always be a new gate or gadget needed, an extra water bucket here, move the grain feeders there, that sort of thing. Running through all the major things we’ve done .......We’ve cleared land and improved the pastures with, oh my, lots of drainage. We’ve built the small barn with an awning. We’ve installed the hydrant for water from our well. We’ve put up fencing and adjusted gates and sealed off the low areas where rainwater has washed out underneath, allowing small critters such as the red fox access. We’ve seeded the pasture with pasture grass mix and excitedly watched as it started to grow, albeit in large splotches! Our first pieces of alpaca equipment is appropriately enough a poop scooper and large 2-wheeled wheelbarrow. Our hay feeder is on order. We’ve secured a hay source and grain/feed source. We’ve decided how to divvy up the barn stalls and which directions to put the gates and panels. We’ve purchased that very well used but sturdy horse trailer. We’ve prayed for clear, cool days and sunny skies.
So now we sit back and say, the alpacas will be here in a few short days, and we’re not ready! We have waited for this moment for almost 2 years so how could we possibly not be ready? We’ll need some grain feeders and oh yes grain, something to store the grain in, water buckets, the wire type tape to block off the area behind the barn where it’s still a bit mucky, and that tape to block off the stall where we’ll store some hay, oh yes ~ hay!, panels to divide the stalls, a scale, one of those awning things with metal supports to store our tractor in as we need the barn space for the alpacas now, where to put the pile of poop, and also............... I’m sure after they arrive, we’ll constantly be saying ‘gee we really need to get a .......’ Until then, we can improvise. Dan is very good at improvising, or as he says ‘mousing it.’
We are life long animal lovers and in that sense we are not nervous about the alpacas’ arrival. Even though we’ve never owned livestock, we are comforted by the fact that there are several alpaca farms with kind alpaca owners within a 30-45 minute drive, our vet is walking distance away, and of course Pam is always available for our multitudes of questions. Thanks Pam! Your patience and kindness to your animals, and now ours, is cherished.
(Don’t worry........ this is not an Alfred Hitchcock type entry!)
A fun thing about living here is all the birds! Ever since we’ve moved here, we’ve been focused on creating our pasture. We did move several hundred perennials over here from our former home, but otherwise have not done too much to attract birds. And they are plentiful! We’re enjoying all the usual backyard birds: robins, chickadees, goldfinches, cardinals, hummingbirds, juncos, house finches, sparrows, blue jays, mourning doves, downy and hairy woodpeckers, etc. We’re surprised and excited to see the others that have showed up: indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, evening grosbeaks and rose breasted grosbeaks, bluebirds, northern flicker woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, catbirds, bobolinks, and more. They have me running to my Peterson’s field guide so that I can identify them, when they stay in one place long enough for me to do that.
Even funner than just seeing all the birds is that some just love to nest on the criss-crosses of the log ends. So far it has just been the robins doing that, and one mourning dove pair did once too. It’s ‘normal’ for us now to walk by certain corners of the house as quietly as possible so as not to disturb momma robin and it’s great to just stand quietly and look at the 3 or 4 beaks peeking out of the nests. And, now, we even have a bird friend nesting in the rafters of our little barn! We haven’t identified her yet, probably some kind of finch, although the 4 little heads looks like juncos.
There are always tons of birds around throughout the day, singing their beautiful songs and chit-chatting. Sometimes they do all get quite squawky and we start looking frantically for the most likely cause – a hawk.
Don’t get me wrong; we absolutely love hawks. They are also gorgeous birds and we are always amazed to watch them fly and soar. BUT, we get protective over the little bird nests! We just have to stand nearby and the hawk will fly away once it notices us. The hawks have to eat, but not our baby birds!
Our fencing is the 5 foot, woven wire no-climb type, with pressure treated pounded posting. These posts are perfect for setting nesting boxes and bat houses on, which we will start doing as time allows. Oh, have I mentioned the bats? ................