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.
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.
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!
Any guesses who?
We’ve had an interesting week on our farm. After having fresh, green, second cut hay delivered a week before we had planned, the alpacas have refused to go out to graze. Instead they’ve been hanging around the barn and paddock, chomping on hay and all but licking the hay bins clean. Hey guys, I’m so happy you’re enjoying the hay, but we’ve got to make it last through winter!
Last week we added a new member to our herd, a solidly built, thick top-notted, white-fleeced boy named Desidario, Desi for short. He’s a Triumph son so he has 3 half- brothers here on our farm which he met for the first time: Bo, Coty, and Arlo. These 3, along with Guinness and Julio, greeted him with the usual sniff fest over the paddock fencing. As expected, all went well so we took off his halter and he willingly walked into the paddock, and as expected got a very thorough, all-body sniff fest. Then whoosh ~ all the boys ran off into the pasture for a pronk fest greeting run in the evening light, joined by the rest of the herd. What a wonderful sight to see the newbie getting accepted so easily!
And just as quickly, we realized what was happening........ Coty thought Desi was a girl alpaca. ‘Coty! No! He’s a boy!’ I always wonder what the neighbors are thinking when they hear me hollering that. When alpacas are thundering past you it really isn’t advisable to step out in front of them! So we had to just stand up against the barn and watch. We did manage to separate everyone shortly after that, and then there they all were, eating hay as if nothing had happened, including a new alpaca joining the herd.
If it were only that simple...........
Whenever I enter the paddock area and barn I greet the alpacas all by name, and I am constantly talking. I want the alpacas to know my voice. I also slowly lean forward and look them right in the eye, close to their face while talking quietly. This is usually intimidating for an alpaca at first, but over time it has built trust. They get to sniff the top of my head and know that I am a ‘safe’ human, their caretaker. If they allow me, I will do a quick neck scratch. Bonding with animals is such a wonderful feeling, and a simple joy.
Desi is new to my routine so in true alpaca style, is a bit apprehensive. So being new, he watches me intently as I go about my routine of greeting everyone, scooping the poo, fluffing hay and filling water buckets, and talking, always talking. Desi is a very mild mannered alpaca, and surprisingly calm around humans. On only my second trip out, Desi greeted me at the paddock gate, sniffing my head and face while I cheerfully said hello and offered neck scratches.
That’s when both of us got hit in the head with spit.
Julio. My personality-plus, headstrong, and apparently very jealous alpha alpaca had been watching. I stepped toward him to let him know that wasn’t very nice, and he walked right past me, following Desi into the barn, spitting at him the entire time. Such has been my week. Whenever I enter the barn, Julio starts following Desi and for no apparent reason, spits at him. Why is that? After a few days of pondering this, the only thing that came to mind was that Julio is jealous. Well that certainly would explain a lot of Julio’s behavior. A silly thought though, isn’t it? An alpaca is jealous for a human’s attention!
So now when I walk down to the barn and at the gate I call out Julio’s name. When I enter the paddock, again I greet Julio by name first. As I continue to greet the others, I say hello to Julio again, and again. I make sure he knows I’m paying attention to him.
Surprise! No spitting!
We had a really, really nice summer here in our little corner of the US. Most days I was able to enjoy utilizing my outside Fiber Studio.
This is my outside Fiber Studio:
I, sitting in my backyard in my trusty little beach chair, with Stella snoozing nearby, have been spending the summer weaving, crocheting, spinning, felting, knitting, flicking, and washing and sorting fleece while watching the alpacas serenely graze. Sometimes they stop to curiously watch the passing wildlife or roll in the sand pile. They are very peaceful days filled with warm sunshine on my shoulders and soft grass under my feet.
The rains and snow and sunshine feed the soil which grows the grasses that in turn feed the alpacas who in turn grow the fleece that eventually can clothe people. What a sensation to watch this transformation happening over a year’s time. As the alpacas go about their daily job of, well, being alpacas, I stand back and just imagine what their fleeces turned into yarn will look like and what I can make with that yarn. My alpacas' different colors along with their individual personalities inspire me. Periodically I also stand in the barn and thank the alpacas for growing their lovely fleeces for me. They stare at me blankly then sniff at me for a treat.
There is something magical, meditative perhaps, most definitely purposeful, to caring for animals daily and then creating something to wear from their fleece, with your own hands. I spend a whole year watching the fleece grow as I care for the alpacas, by hand. In the spring the alpacas are shorn, by hand, and the fleece is carefully separated and then sorted by grade, by hand. Then the fleece is washed, by hand, dried in the sun, and by hand still, processed into a roving of sorts to be made into felt, by hand, or spun into yarn, by hand, and then crafted into a wearable, useable item, by hand.
Then you put this scarf or cowl or hat or shawl or sock or mitten or whatnot you've made yourself onto you and you just feel good. It’s a warming and peaceful sensation like summer sunshine on your skin after a long and snowy winter. I close my eyes and smile with gratitude for the alpaca that gave me this gift of soft, warm, comforting fleece to wear, who is living in my barn.
There are no words to describe it. Pure joy perhaps? It’s similar to the feeling of anticipation you get when you plant your garden and watch it grow, then pick the veggies from your own garden, and finally sit down to eat and oooh, it tastes so good.
Knowing where your food ~ and what’s really in it ~ comes from is very important. And joyful. And knowing where your clothing ~ and the fiber in it ~ comes from is equally important. And equally joyful. And it’s from own backyard, made with my own hands and soul.
I am happy to say our little farm is very fortunate and weathered tropical storm Irene just fine. The winds did bring down some branches as well as some older trees at the back of our property. A few power lines were down on our street, but amazingly no flooding occurred in the local area. On our farm, all the rains flowed down our swales and berms orderly. Our sump filled up quickly but also quickly drained back out. Power was restored last evening. We were only out for 3 days and had the blessings of a working generator. I have never been so excited to do laundry.
The weather has been just perfect since the storm left New England, sunny and dry air. I am soooooo grateful that there are no frozen pipes to worry about, no repairs to make, no snow to shovel, and no ice on the roads.
To prepare for the storm we had tightened down the kwanza hut and woodshed, filled up the generator and gotten more gas for it. In the event that the generator wouldn’t work, our town allows farmers to get water for livestock from the outside spicket at the town office building. How good is that? We closed up the awning doors of the barn, shut the barn windows, dragged the large hay feeder into the barn, and tarped up the gates, leaving the usual 2 gates open. We knew the alpacas wouldn’t venture out during the storm, but it’s important that they don’t feel closed in.
The alpacas spent most of the time cushed in the openings watching the storm, calmly chewing their cud. They ate hay without so much as a fuss at their herdmates. Clearly I was more stressed about them than they were! Sunday afternoon, with the winds still blowing strongly but only a gentle rain, my usually wimpy alpacas all went out to graze. When we saw that we knew the worst was over and that all was well.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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!
This is the scene now every morning. Mornings are down right crisp but the boys come out at daybreak and start grazing. They graze for hours, coming back up to the barn in the afternoon for long drinks of water and ‘siesta time.’ I’d love to know what they’re finding to eat! There just doesn’t seem to be that much, but they did this last year in late fall too. Someday ........ someday our pastures will be as green as the lawn beside it! They usually all stay together in one group as they move through the pasture. It’s so good to see that the 2 new boys have integrated into the herd relatively seamlessly.
Our little guy Henry and new friend Cowboy have not been very eager to take that ‘leap of faith’ and hop into Val’s van. So today, only North and Earth came home to our little farm. They were both hesitant to get out of the van, but with just a gentle pull to the leash, a quick hop out they did. They both walked on their leashes very proudly down our little farm road to the barn.
Yesterday Dan had put up some hog panels from the corner of the barn out to the fence line, creating a small pen enclosure in case our 5 boys here were a little too rambunctious towards the newcomers. Val and her daughter Annie walked North and Earth to just inside the gate. It’s best to introduce new alpacas to the herd over a fence. Julio, Guinness, Bo, Coty, and Arlo were all cushed in the far pasture. Arlo noticed the new arrivals first and suddenly all 5 came running like bats out of hell! Julio was the first to arrive of course, and instantly all 7 boys were sniffing each other excitedly over our little temporary fencing in the paddock area. There was no fighting or snorting of any kind. After a couple minutes Val decided all appeared well, Dan unhooked the gates, and we brought the new boys in. They were quite nervous at that point so Val just unhooked the leads and took off the halters. We all watched and waited.
Instantly, all the boys began to run! In one big group they ran right to the back of the pasture. Julio went through the gate and decided to watch things from the other side of the fence. North and Earth sniffed and sniffed the trees, the grass, the fencing, just as my original 5 had when they arrived last year. Bo, Coty, and Arlo sniffed and sniffed North and Earth! Everyone sniffed Julio through the fence. Guinness stayed back a bit, then lay on top of the dirt pile and watched from afar.
Coty has always been the most curious and today was no exception. North is just about his (huge) size, so Coty’s been following North. An instant bonding happened. They chased each other and neck wrestled, occasionally bumping into the others to join in on the chase. I think Bo looked relieved that Coty is no longer chasing him! North even nipped at Julio’s heels! Julio looked so surprised and ran and ran, with the whole gang following. Then sometimes Julio would stop and stand in the pasture and just stare at me as if to ask “What did you do?” Within minutes he was cushed again; he could care less! Then Guinness joined him. The new boys are also loving pasture to graze on, even if it’s not the longer, greener grasses of summer. Earth is a few months younger than Arlo, and Arlo looks pleased to have both a new playmate, and someone just a bit smaller than him. Dan and I are relieved that all the boys are getting along. And Val is so happy to see them all running and playing, as if they’d been the same herd forever.
Ahhhh............alpacas running together ................. a simple joy.
Left to right: Coty, Arlo, Guinness, Julio, Bo
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.
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.
Today's post is written by my friend Val of Crown Point Alpacas. Thanks Val!
There in the field was a little treasure. Adorning the green, green grass of spring, was this beautiful bright blue birds' nest. It had fallen from its lofty throne, sometime during the winter months when the last of the winds blew the last leaf off the bare branches, leaving only silhouettes of trees. I thought about that little nest as I picked it up. It was so beautiful. It had been carefully and thoughtfully constructed by a master at the art of recycling! The main part of this blue nest was an old tarp that had been covering some wood. This little bird had used the blue tarp as her main weaving material. And then there was a fishing string found from a nearby brook. And then I saw the ribbon; it was the ribbon from a child’s balloon. I imagined that perhaps it was a child who'd had a special day. The balloon had floated away as the child watched, soothed by loved ones with gentle words, and a hug that the balloon would find a happy home.
Little did they know that the ribbon would weave a home, safe from winds and storms and give a family a chance to soar. As I held this tiny little nest in my hands, I then looked into the nest, and there inside the nest was a thickly felted layer of alpaca fleece! Soft, and felted to perfection! I imagined how the nest was at first lined with fluffy fiber which swaddled the tiny eggs, and kept the little bird warm while she warmed her eggs. Then as the eggs hatched and the tiny little bird feet started to pitter and patter when mama brought them their food, they felted the nest! Teeny, tiny baby bird feet felting away!! This little nest had been a wonderful home, protected them from harm and kept them warm and safe till they were ready to fly.
This nest is a lot like our lives; we weave it together. Our relationships, some like the old tarp, some the fishing string, some the ribbons, and our families, they are like the felt. We keep them close to us. Sometimes things change, sometimes our lives take turns, but the stuff we are made of, and what we choose to weave into our lives, gives us all the chance to “soar.”
The other night Dan and I went out to the barn, excitedly chatting about the day’s events. As we entered the barn, the alpacas all ran up from the pasture, knowing full well that it’s dinner time. I opened up the tack room door and reached inside to turn on the lights. As I turned around, Arlo was walking into the pen. And out of the corner of my eye I saw a rather large mouse, a very large mouse, crawl up and over the pen wall and run back down.
I screamed so loud that I’m sure our neighbors up in Canada heard me.
I’ve always been a lover of all animals. But to be totally honest, rodents just aren’t at the top of my list. This is especially true with rodents that could be categorized as very large mice. I’m usually a sensible 40-something woman, but at the sudden unexpected sight of a very large mouse I lost all control, screamed bloody murder, and shut myself into the tack room.
Dan is normally calm, but my screeching really irks him. I was all but hyperventilating trying to explain to him what I saw. He kept reassuring me that it was indeed just a very large mouse, harmless, it’s gone, so it’s OK to come out, and please stop screaming. Good idea, as my throat was now hoarse. I slowly opened the tack room door and stepped out. Dan looked rather annoyed. The alpacas hadn’t moved and were staring at me with that ‘Where’s our dinner?’ look. Even the barn swallow that’s been living in our barn hadn’t left its nest. I had only scared away the very large mouse.
Now in the evening Dan always enters the barn first, waving the flashlight around all the edges, tells me the coast is clear, and turns on the lights. I peer in slowly checking all the edges myself, before I come in. For several days there were no new signs until one morning when there was a very large hole dug against the tack room wall, right next to the water spicket, which seemingly went under the tack room into the abyss. I was good and didn’t scream, but had to run back up to the house to get Dan to inspect it. He thought I was panicking again and reluctantly agreed to come out; then he saw the size of the hole. He quietly said, ‘Hhhmmmm, I guess you did see a very large mouse the other night. I’ll get the traps.’ He returned with mouse traps large enough to catch a small squirrel. I figured it was best not to ask why. He set both on either side of the tack room and now we wait. It’s been several days and no signs yet that the very large mouse has returned.
A barn cat is looking better and better, after the barn swallow is done nesting.
I’ll keep all of you posted, loudly I’m sure.
Warning: Pardon me for stating the obvious, but please be sure your alpacas or any of your livestock cannot access mouse traps!! And please, no poisons!!!
Alpacas are curious and they certainly will inspect a mouse trap. One trap is set in the pen which is attached to the tack room, and we’ve secured the pen door shut. The other is set under the tack room from outside, with rocks around the opening and I pulled out the few blades of grass nearby. This side of the tack room is also in the area that had been sectioned off.
It’s springtime so it’s time to work on the pastures again. Dan had done such a good job last summer, york raking up the ground to smooth it out for us to plant grass seed. They say the best seed for alpacas is orchard grass, but we planted a horse pasture mix which includes orchard grass and many other grasses. Alpacas are browsers while they graze, and isn’t variety the spice of life?
The grasses did come up again this spring and after a long winter of just hay, the alpacas are loving it. Pastures are continual maintenance, and the healthier the pastures, then the healthier the alpacas. First things first, we separated the east side of the pasture in half with a zig-zag. We used some temporary sheep fencing, those plastic poles, and 2 strands of wide electrical tape. There’s no need to electrify the fence as it is just temporary, to divvy up the pasture for resting and re-seeding. We’ve also used this fencing near the main gate, separating off an area of about 10 x 20 feet, as added assurance when we enter and exit that no alpacas will suddenly decide to wander off. It’s worked just fine. Until now!
Last weekend it wasn’t very windy and with on again, off again showers it was perfect for adding lime. Dan spread about 40 pounds of lime onto that separated, little pasture area. I’m sure we could probably use a ton more on our clay soil. Lime is great. It helps to alkalize the soil, the first step in growing good soil and healthy grass. In another week or two, we will re-seed, and keep the alpacas off until the new grass is in and several inches tall. Already the grass on that side is greener. Alpacas generally respect fencing but two things will get them to find a way to the other side: open females, and greener grass.
Arlo is still small for his age, but he’s a brazen little dude and all personality. One day doing barn chores I realized that he wasn’t with the herd. A quick look around, and there he was, just on the other side of the temporary fencing. I couldn’t figure out how he got over there. The fencing hooks up to the barn wall with handles so I undid the handles and walked over to him. He kept grazing. I put my hands on him and coaxed him gently, ‘C’mon Arlo. Let’s go back with your brothers.’ He wouldn’t budge! I continued to coax him and with every couple of steps, he’d take another bite of grass. We were only a few feet away from the fence line but it took me almost 5 minutes to get him back!
Coaxing Arlo out of the fenced-in side is now a daily ritual. Although now, instead of staying up by the barn, he obstinately goes right into the middle part of the pasture. And he’s a spunky little guy! He does the same thing with Dan, takes a few steps, takes a bite, takes a few steps, takes a bite, and then he scoots under the lower tape, doing the limbo. So that’s how he’s getting in! We’ll have to put up a third strand of fencing or the new grass won’t stand a chance.
The weather has been good to us lately. Sunny cool days and crisp nights with little frost, and only gentle rains rather than fierce storms. It’s still a bit early to plant most of the garden, but it’s good weather for weeding. As I weed, I can see the side of the barn and most of the east side of the pasture. I’ve purchased a few plants in peat pots from a local organic farmer and they’re set out on the porch at night and under the shade of a maple tree during the day. We’re going to move our garden sometime this year to a sunnier spot right in the back yard, in front of the pasture fencing. We’d planted the garden way over in the side yard when we first moved here so that it wouldn’t be disturbed while we cleared land, and at the time it was sunnier there. Turns out, not sunny enough!
The oregano and garlic chive plants are huge already. Every garden I’ve ever had has surprised me in the spring with something that has self-sowed from the year before. So far this year I’ve found green onions (scallions) and lettuce plants. I was happily surprised to find a few teeny carrots had survived last summer’s ‘deer attacks.’ As I continued weeding, there are a lot of carrots, and not all of them are teeny. They’re all bright orange and solid, as a carrot should be. I also found several small beets. Here I am expecting to be getting the garden ready for planting, and I’m harvesting carrots and beets! I can’t wait to roast them in olive oil with fresh oregano and garlic. Maybe I'll save a couple carrots for snacks for the alpacas.
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.
Today is pleasantly warm with a soft breeze and the sun is shining brightly! It is so wonderful to see no clouds in a gloriously blue sky! We’ve seen robins here and there, and daffodil tips are peeking up along the foundation to the house, sure signs that spring is on its way.
The alpacas had been romping around the pasture early this morning. There’s still some snow covering most of the ground and with all this quick melting there’s also plenty of deep puddles and mud. Thankfully my boys hate to get their feet wet so they hop over the puddles and quickly walk through the mud. The sun has dried the straw that we’ve put out in the paddock for them to cush on. They’ve been basking in sunshine for hours.
Arlo greeted me at the gate as he usually does although today he’s totally covered in straw. Apparently, he’s been rolling! They’re so funny when they roll. First they sniff out an area like a dog would, probably to be sure it’s ‘clean.’ Then slowly they will cush, and suddenly they kick out their feet as they roll onto their side, and kick and kick while they slither on the ground. Then they’ll go back to a cush, spring up, and shake.
As I went about my chores, Coty came into the barn and started sniffing the one stall with no straw, just the stonedust. Next thing I knew, he was dropping and rolling! After rolling in stonedust, Coty’s rosy-fawn fleece looks kind of gray. Guinness had been cushed near the hay feeder so he just flopped over on his side and rolled away. He too was covered in straw as he sauntered over to the water bucket. I turned around to see Julio coming into the barn from the tack room side, sniffed at the straw, and he too dropped and rolled. During all this rolling, Bo had been quietly eating some of the fresh hay that I’d just put into the wheelbarrow. He only had straw on his legs from cushing. I let him know that I had seen him rolling out in the paddock from the window this morning.
I guess all the alpacas have spring fever too!
I just love to go barefoot. In the warm weather, the sun on my toes and the feel of grass or beach sand beneath my feet is such a relaxing sensation. I’ve always hated to have anything on my feet except for wool socks in the winter when I’m in the house and my feet are cold. I only put slippers on to run down cellar or going onto the porch for wood. When I come into the house, whatever is on my feet I quickly kick off. Dan even has a family friend who does go barefoot in the winter, even outside! (Hi Jeff) My mom often reminds me of the Easter day when I was 2 years old and cried all day. That evening when she took off my new little shoes, my feet were covered in blisters, and I stopped crying. I imagine I’ve hated wearing shoes since then.
I do have to have something on my feet to drive or walk or get around so in the warm weather you’ll usually find me in something like Teva sandals or Birkenstocks. I can easily take them off before I start driving. If I’m hiking in the woods I will wear proper hiking boots to protect my feet. I wear the hiking boots for getting around in the winter too. And somewhere I do have men’s type work boots for safety when we cut and stack wood, move rocks, and other yard chores. And now we have livestock, so another boot beckons. It just wouldn’t be healthy for me to be barefoot in the barn and pastures! Dan on the other hand, has no shoe issues and always prefers to wear something on his feet.
So what’s a barefoot loving girl to do? She wears boots from a company appropriately named The Muck Boot Company! We are lucky enough that the feed store here in town carries them. We were looking for a boot that would keep our feet warm while doing barn chores in the snow and wind and we tried on their ‘Artic’ boot style. Oh my! The sole is quite cushy but also has arch support and while walking around the store, my feet were actually comfortable! They come up almost to my knees which keep out deep snow, but they also fold down so I can easily tuck my pants in, and then roll them back up. How great is that! They are rated to keep your feet warm to 40 degrees below zero. And may I dare say, my feet have never been cold while I’m out in the barn!
During those weeks of below zero temperatures and fierce winds, all I could think of was Elaine on a Seinfeld episode when she was writing for Peterman’s catalog: “Thank goodness I was wearing my Muck Boot company’s Artic zone boots!”
Last weekend at the feed store Dan was showing me some clog style boots for spring and summer. Lucy, the owner, quickly opened the catalog to show me that they also come in purple. Purple! How can I resist a boot that comes in my favorite color! Come summer folks, you will probably find me about the farm not barefoot, but in my purple clog-style farm boots.
Oh what a gorgeous spring like day today!
Yesterday’s storm was rainy and yucky but not at all as horrible as predicted. The little road to the barn is very muddy this morning but most of the ice is gone so I could walk down quickly, not inch along like I’ve had to do. The pathway in the paddock is still pretty icy and the mud is slippery but at least it’s just a short path to the tack room. It’s warm enough today that I didn’t have to lug jugs of hot tap water. I just used the water pump in the barn, wow!
And the alpacas are enjoying this burst of warmth too. Dan had put some straw down on one end of the paddock for the boys to cush on a few weeks ago and the sunshine today has dried it up nicely. Straw from the barn has also blown out, so now there’s a really large cushing area for them. They seem to be basking in shifts. This morning Guinness, Bo, and Coty were all out for hours, and now it’s Julio and Arlo. Last night their fleeces were all wet and muddy with hay and straw stuck all over them. Today they all look so much cleaner.
The rest of the paddock is an absolute muddy mess and this is where they’ve now decided is their poop pile of choice, all of it! Better than inside the barn. Last year when figuring out how to deal with the mud (i.e. drainage), it was suggested to us that the paddock area be considered a ‘sacrifice area.’ A sacrifice area is where no grass is grown and instead just stonedust or cement blocks, etc. is used. It sounded like a great idea and clearly worked for that farm. So what did we do? We brought in loam and planted grass! Once spring is really here we will move all that loam and bring in stonedust.
There’s so much still to learn! But having a great time ..............
Oh what an absolutely beautiful day today! The sun has been shining and not a cloud in the sky. The sky is so blue, blue, blue making this weeks’ additional 1 foot+ snowfall look so white, white, white. Best of all it’s been just above freezing this afternoon, about 34 degrees, and the snow is really melting, running down off the roof like a stream. It feels like Spring!
We thought it would be a good idea this weekend to clear out a lot of the snow from around the barn and the house in preparation for the upcoming rainstorm headed our way on Monday. It’s supposed to be a little warmer with ‘significant’ rainfall. We want to be sure the rain and melting snow are directed away from the barn and pasture and our cabin. A warm and rainy Spring in New Hampshire, and especially Spring-like weather in January, could easily mean flooding due to all that fast melting snow. The weather people are probably doing the usual ‘doom and gloom’ forecast, but this is our first experience with our little alpaca farm and rain with melting snow and we just don’t want to take any chances.
Our tractor has been good to us for working on our pastures. We’ve moved rocks and roots and stumps, and leveled the loam for seeding it. We’ve dug swales and made berms for drainage. Now we have come to realize that it is an invaluable tool for moving snow! Having the bucket in the front and the blade in the back allows us to move snow much, much more quickly than using just a snowblower would. Watching Dan play (oops I really mean work) with the tractor today, I am so happy we purchased it while setting up our farm. We’re using it more now in the winter than we did in the summer.
Dan cleared out the entire paddock (again) and made long paths through the pasture (again) for the alpacas to pronk. And pronk they did! They romped around the tractor. They all ran up and down the paths. Coty wrestled with Arlo for the first time! Bo managed to find green grass in the paths to graze on. Guinness did his signature ‘rolling’ in front of the tractor. When he finally walked away, Arlo laid down and rolled too. Copycat! And such a cute copycat he is. We’re so happy that he’s finally grown enough to ‘play with the big boys.’ It was great to see them out in the sun after days and days of staying in the barn with snowstorm after snowstorm. When they tired of pronking, they all went into the barn for a good hay fest on the fresh hay I’d just put out to distract them so Dan could work. Julio instead stood near the hayfeeder, eyes glued on Dan working. The path out of the paddock leads over to the main swale through the pasture, so runoff is directed right to it. There’s a bit of an indent in the snow where the swale runs down the pasture to the back fence. We’ve created huge snowbanks in the front corner where the fences from the 2 pastures meet and the swale begins.
When Dan was done with the paddock, he cleared an area alongside the tack room end of the barn. This will now direct runoff from the path to the barn, past the tackroom and over to a narrow swale under the snow. This swale runs on a diagonal away from the back of the barn, under the fencing, and into the woods.
Phew! We’ve had so much snow already that we’re running out of room to put more. Wouldn’t it be nice if we’re done with snowstorms for this winter!!
We have had gentle snowfall for 6 days now. We’ve probably picked up close to another foot of snow. At least it’s come in small increments so it makes it easier for us to clear the driveway and pathways around the house and down to the barn and over to the big poop pile. Dan hooked up something called ‘skid shoes’ to the bottom of the ‘blade’ attachment on the tractor and has a fairly easy time ‘plowing’ all these paths out. It’s much, much faster than using the snowblower even if he has to be turned around plowing backwards the whole time. He used the tractor bucket as well as the blade a few weeks ago to clear a path in the pasture for the alpacas to run around on. They all followed him and pronked behind the tractor while he worked. Guinness was so excited he was pouncing around the tractor and then laid down in front of it and rolled and rolled and rolled. When Dan was done, they all had races up and down the paths sometimes tripping over Guinness when he decided to roll again. They continually find endless ways to amuse us. Now when they see Dan coming down the path to the barn on the tractor they get excited, thinking he’s going to clear another path in the pasture for them.
The strong winds continue and I’m constantly re-shoveling the drifts that keep accumulating on the paddock walkway. Today the sun is shining brightly and I wish I could find a way to get the boys out of the barn. Julio is a good guard keeping the others in the barn out of the wind but the sunshine is so refreshing! Alpacas, with their wonderfully dense fleece can withstand the cold easily but it’s the wind that creates havoc with their health. Wind blew snow up and over the tarp and onto the straw we’ve put down. A few days ago I was actually shoveling snow off the straw in the awning area of the barn. The boys must be heartier than I keep planning for as most days I find them cushed on the stonedust in the 2 stalls where we did not put straw down. Usually at least one is cushed in front of the hay feeder entirely in the wind. Arlo enjoys the thick straw in the pen the most although I wonder if the reason he likes cushing in the pen is because that’s where we feed him his grain!
We’d been visiting our alpacas in the winter up at Pam’s during the 2 years they’d been there but this is our first winter to watch them ‘grow into their fleece’ on a daily basis. Wow! What a show! The more their fleece grows the more gorgeous of an animal alpacas are. It is so soft to the touch and with gloveless hands my fingers are instantly warm. Their fleece right now is as long as my fingers are or longer. When I touch all the way down to their bodies, their bodies are warm. Yeah! Sometimes it’s necessary to put a coat on the younger alpacas or the older or sick ones. With this wind I’m tempted to make little ear warmers and booties for them although I’m sure none of my boys would wear them!
I hope all of you had a better Christmas weekend than I did. I spent most of the time on the couch, sick with some sort of mild flu. I only left the house in the evenings to go out to the barn with Dan to feed our happy little herd. Standing among the alpacas, they radiate such joy and good energy it’s hard to feel sick.
I love New Year’s and the hope for new beginnings that it brings. On New Year’s Eve Dan and I like to sit back and reflect on our past year and create our goals for the New Year. Our reflections start with the good, i.e. all the goals we did accomplish or are completing, and then on to the setbacks. But instead of dwelling on any bad experiences that we may have had, we talk about what we’ve learned from those experiences so that it may help us in the future. And then we laugh and talk about what we are looking forward to, jot down ideas, and from there our new goals are formed. It's the end of the year. Every end is a new beginning.
With the alpacas physically here it will be much easier for us to visualize the direction our farm is headed. I’m sure all farms sit back every year and say ‘Hhmmm, what needs to be fixed? What do we need to buy this year? What could we improve?’ Necessity and the budget usually dictate what will come first. If the alpacas could speak, I’m sure they’d like us to keep working on a better pasture, free of rocks and roots, and filled with lush, green grass!
As I type, big, fluffy snowflakes are falling covering all the tree limbs, fence posts, birdhouses, and all the mud left by yesterday’s rain, once again transforming our cabin, yard, barn, pasture and woods into a Norman Rockwell-esque painting. I love a fresh snowfall. Everything looks so peaceful and new.
Here’s to wonderful new beginnings!
Wishing you all a joyous, healthy, and prosperous New Year!
Well, all alpaca owners experience it; I already have several times. It’s been happening at least a couple times a week to me. Dan, on the other hand, has not experienced it. But on Sunday night, he did experience it for the first time.....What am I talking about? Dan was showered in the face and hair with alpaca spit.
On Sunday we also had another snowstorm. We are far enough north that we were lucky to only get another 2 inches of powdery snow that makes the pasture look like we just spread white frosting all across it. Everything looks fresh and clean. The alpacas like to cush near the openings of the stalls. The winds blow in snow and cover the edges of the straw in little drifts, and decorate the backs and necks of the alpacas. They have no idea that they’re covered in snow; their fleece has gotten so thick and long. Guinness easily won the “Most Snowy Alpaca” award. The sparkly white snow on his dark brown fleece looked like vanilla icing on chocolate cake. Of course I left the snow on him.
Julio is still imposing his ‘no leaving the barn while it’s cold and windy’ rule and the boys are getting quite cranky and stir crazy. Bo and Coty wrestle with each other right there in the barn, sometimes over the poop pile. Arlo keeps trying to join in but he’s still too little. But it’s Julio and Guinness who get the others all riled up at feeding time. They get jumpy and spit at each other, and then start chasing the others around the barn when we bring out the feed bowls. Last night was quite a circus trying to get them to settle down to eat! No one was in their usual place but after a couple minutes every nose had its own bowl and the steady munching started. When they’d finished they all started eating hay and another spit fest started. Dan was right there watching them and whoa!!! All of a sudden he was showered in spit and I laughed for about 5 minutes straight. I was still in the pen with Arlo and instead of spit, I got an alpaca kiss.
Today it is the first official day of winter and it is sunny and frigid cold again. The fierce winds are blowing the snow around sometimes making little ‘tornadoes’ dance across the pasture. Surprisingly though it is above zero even with the winds. The alpacas still won’t leave the barn. I love the winter solstice. The days start to get longer again!
The water in the bucket was frozen again when I went out to the barn this morning. And once again they weren’t concerned, just I was. The past several days I put about 2 gallons of hot tap water in the bucket and carry it down along with the gallon jugs of hot water. I am putting all hot tap water in the bucket and it’s still freezing up, hopefully not as fast. Julio likes to drink the hot water and Guinness also seems to, but the others will put their noses in and look up quickly at me “What! What happened!” After a few minutes, once it has cooled a bit, then they come back and drink. I guess the alpacas don’t like tea as much as I do. Hmmmm, perhaps I should be putting a tea bag in the water bucket ....
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!
There are several horse farms and horse owners here in our town. In fact there are at least 6 horse farms/owners here on our street, plus the vet. Our farm is also within 7 miles +/- of three different feed stores, each selling 1 of the 3 major brands of alpaca grain/pellets (Poulin, Blue Seal, and Mazuri), all which also sell hay, so our alpacas will never go hungry. Because the overwhelming majority of livestock in our area is horses, the hay is usually 1st cut Timothy hay. There is certainly nothing wrong with 1st cut, especially when it’s still very green, but it does tend to be coarser and ‘stemmy.’ Alpacas will usually pull out the stems and not eat it, leading to quite a large amount of waste. Alpacas’ digestive systems requires a higher protein value than horses or cattle, so the hunt for green, grassy, 2nd cut hay for the fall and winter is on.
We purchased some 1st cut hay from our neighbor when our alpacas first came home. It was pretty green. The alpacas seemed to like it although they have definitely been pulling out the stems, and as a bonus they also seemed to enjoy grazing on what little grass we have growing in the pastures. Next spring we will have our soil tested so that we can fertilize the pastures properly. But right now it’s autumn and it’s getting cold outside, and our vet would prefer they put on some weight before winter. It will be easier to maintain their weight from then on, rather than trying to have them put some on during the cold weather.
We went over to a friend’s house yesterday to pick up a couple dozen bales of 2nd cut hay from his fields. Beautifully green, fabulous ‘just cut’ smell, and much softer to the touch! I pulled out the other hay from the feeder and re-filled it with the new hay. When the alpacas see me, they generally all come running (yes, it’s a nice feeling!) and run they did! They took a few good sniffs of the new hay, a few bites, then turned around and walked back out to the pasture. Silly, silly boys!! All except our littlest guy, Arlo, who happily eats hay from my hand. I’m guessing that because we’ve had some light rain occasionally the past few weeks, there must be new growth on the field that they like. Right now as I type, they’ve just come back from the pasture and are chowing hay! I guess they like it after all.
We’re having such a great time with the alpacas. They do have their individual personalities and over the past month, we’ve begun to decipher them. As I’ve mentioned, Julio is the self-appointed guard and leader. When he heads out into the pasture, the others all follow within minutes. When he heads back up to the barn, here they all come. In the evening after sunset, he stands by the paddock entrance and seems to scan the woods. When he hears something, his ears perk up and his body stiffens. We’ll sometimes shine the flashlight to see if we can see anything, but we never have. Sometimes we’ll hear a neighbor’s (it’s the country; neighbors aren’t exactly ‘nearby’) dog in the distance, but usually we don’t see anything. Then he’ll slowly walk off into the pasture, look around again, and start grazing. One by one, the others follow, and graze under the stars. They’re all such a friendly little group together.
But alas, that changes somewhat when food is involved! Fighting over food is normal in the livestock world as well in the wild. We try to make things as fair as possible, like one would with their own children. Some evenings they pleasantly eat their grain and then go back to the paddock and cush. Some nights the spit is flying! The usual instigator is Guinness, who for some reason seems to think that all the bowls are for him. Dan will try to move him from the others’ bowls, then everyone rearranges themselves; what a riot! We always put Arlo, our littlest and shyest guy, separate from the others or else he’d never get to eat, and I ‘stand guard’ by him until he is done.
And then there is the hay feeder. Usually all is fine, with everyone quietly munching. Then they see me getting more hay to add, and I’m usually bombarded by alpaca mouths. That’s fine as I can still easily add that flake or two into the feeder. Once again, Guinness seems to think the hay is all for him. His first victim is usually Julio who when it comes to fresh hay, always fights back. Yesterday the two went at it, spitting and screeching at each other for a good solid 5 minutes. The others were eating on the other side of the feeder but when the spitting started, they stood back with me out of the line of fire to watch the spit fight. What a riot my 2 geldings are!
But what we love the most is in the evening when the alpacas play. Either Coty will head butt Bo Jangles or vice-versa, the other returns the favor, and off they go. They’ll run gracefully together side by side around the pasture, stop for some head butting, wrangle their longs necks together, and roll all over each other. They make gentle snorting sounds as they wrestle and off they go again running. Sometimes they’ll head butt the others gently to join in the race around the pastures. It’s so beautiful and peaceful to watch, under just the moonlight and stars.
In a previous post, I had mentioned how our alpacas had easily adapted to their new home here on our farm, and that because they’ve been so calm, we’re kinda irked that they haven’t done something. Well, now they have!
They were all hanging out by the awning and hay feeder, cushed and chewing their cud, when suddenly they all leaped up, instantly alert, and Julio ran to the back of the pasture. He was intent on something past the stone wall. The others cautiously came to the end of the paddock and one by one they stepped out slowly into the pasture in a line, but never quite reaching Julio; Coty first and then Guinness, followed by Bo with Arlo bringing up the rear. Oddly enough, they were in a line from tallest to smallest. I called out to Dan who was in the garage and he ran out back along the east fence line. I got the binoculars and went out down the west fence line. Julio was definitely eyeing something, and the others were cautiously standing still and watching, with Bo constantly looking over his shoulder at Arlo as if to say “Don’t move! Stay right there!” When Dan got to the middle of the stone wall that follows the back of our pasture, Julio turned around sharply and ran up to the barn, nipping at everyone’s back end to hurry along. It was quite the sight to see them all running together as the herd that they are.
The fuss? Apparently there was a red fox sitting on the stone wall watching them. It started to run off when Julio approached, and Dan saw it run off into the woods. When Dan got to the stone wall where the fox had been, that’s when Julio called the gang back up to the barn. It’s good to know that our alpacas can distinguish between Stella and our neighbors’ dogs (no threat) and with a wild animal (big threat). Julio, being the tallest and heaviest, is the undeclared leader and guard.
Good boy Julio!
Our first week of raising alpacas has been basically, blessedly uneventful. They’re such quiet and peaceful animals. Not that we were expecting them to be constantly animated, but after a few hours we were saying ‘hey guys do something!’
I love to read other alpaca farms’ humorous tips and stories, and now we’ve acquired a few of our own. These are in no particular order. We will also keep this list in our “Other Stuff” section of our website and update it periodically:
~ There is always a pecking order. Our boys were in a large herd and now there’s just the 5 of them of various ages, so by default it appears Julio and Guinness, our 2 geldings and the oldest at about 6 years old each, expect to both be the alpha. We think Julio will eventually reign, but until then, there’s some spatting and occasional spitting. When the spit starts to fly get out of the way! Yesterday we both got caught in the crossfire.
~ When there is barn work to be done in the heat, humidity and rain, wear a bathing suit. I wear a tankini with men’s swim trunks. The trick is to wear a color your husband would never wear; mine are purple. As you get wet from the rain or drenched in sweat, the suit will dry quickly. And when you get hot, just hose yourself off. This has been a wonderful idea for working in the garden (my mother in law’s trick) and it works great for the barn too.
~ Keep the herd out of the barn while you arrange feed bowls. Ours have walked right into the tack room and started helping themselves, and all but attack us as we walk the bowls out to the stall. I swear I think we were being orgled too. (note to self: order panels!)
~ Alpacas love the leaves on saplings.
~ Barn poopers happen. Just accept it. And it is easier to clean up then the poop piles in the pasture in the rain.
~ Always be grateful to your Mr.-fix-it husband who can finagle electricity to the barn while you are watching a weanling to make sure it is OK after an episode of choke. Also, have a chair available for him to sit on. He knew in his heart that our little boy would be fine, but waited in the barn with me for 2 hours anyways because he was worried about me.
~ Ladies, you will almost always find hay in your bra.
~ And also, Ladies, sometimes your hubby will actually forget to remove his shoes before entering the house. Bleach (non-chlorine) will help you feel much better.
~ If you are the type of person who is always checking to see if the toaster and iron are off and unplugged, you will also constantly be checking gates and doors to be sure they are properly closed.
~ After spending thousands of dollars clearing 3 acres of land and fencing it in, your alpacas will spend the majority of their time on the 1/3 acre surrounding your barn.
~ Your dog may be mad at you for having alpacas (see my post: Oh Stella!) but your indoor cat couldn’t care less.
~ Work your poop piles from the outside in. Your shoes will definitely stay cleaner.
~ Alpaca males can and will open gates when there is an open female, surprise!
I got up bright and early at 5:30 a.m., nuked up some coffee and starting checking email, the weather, and the news. Suddenly, poof! The power went out. A bright and sunny summer morning, no wonder the power went out; this is rural New Hampshire after all. Dan was listening to the radio (back up battery) and apparently a squirrel had gotten into a substation and ............ which knocked out power for several towns! While I feel terribly for the squirrel, we found it to be a rather amusing story, and what a way to start our day, the day ‘the alpacas come home.’
The dragonflies are at it again this morning, flying around the yard and pasture gracefully. We’ve been playing phone tag with our neighbor for a few days now. Our first order of business is to swing over there and pick up some hay. Our beautiful new wooden feeder will be ready in a few days, so for now, our yellow muck-wheelbarrow, new and still clean, will serve as the hay feeder. It makes for some interesting pictures! Their grain and minerals were on order and due in some time today, so we’ll run to the feed store later this afternoon.
Our little crew arrived at lunchtime with Pam beaming ear to ear. Yeah, she loves our place! The boys were a little confused getting out of the trailer but we easily got them into the barn. We put out water and hay, and they all drank and started munching away. We stood and watched them for a while, while they investigated their new barn and pasture. They’re even enjoying what little grass we’ve got growing. All in all, it seemed to be a simple, stress-free transfer for them. What a wonderful way to start our transition to alpaca farming.
Welcome home, Julio, Guinness, Bo Jangles, Coty, and Arlo!
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.
I headed out to the garden earlier to pick some more cherry tomatoes. Isn’t this wonderful? Weeks and weeks of heavy rain and cool temperatures, yet I’ve been picking cherry tomatoes! So tasty right off the vine, it’s amazing I can walk back to the house and still have a couple for my salad. The plum tomatoes and sandwich size tomatoes are still green, but there are plenty of them! The zucchini plants are getting huge, but have still to give me anything to pick. The beets, spinach, kale, and carrots have grown and there are lots and lots of buds on the green bean plants .......... and weren’t there more leaves yesterday??? I’m in a daze, probably because of the shockingly sunny day, and then I noticed the hoof prints again. Only a few leaves were missing, but in the next box ........... all the leaves off the sunflowers were gone! Bummer!! I just love sunflowers in a garden. The deer are beautiful creatures, but I’d rather have them in our garden than the alpaca pastures!
All the work that Dan has done to help with drainage seems to be paying off. We are continuing to have excessive rain, but as time goes by, more and more of the pasture area is usable, i.e., you can walk without sinking halfway to your knees! Our little ‘farm road,’ which is the road that’s been created from the driveway down to the pasture is now relatively solid, despite all the rain, as is also the yard area around it. The main gate to our pasture, near the barn, stays dry as well. Parts of this pasture and the swale itself still get quite mucky and slippery, but they too are drying out sooner and sooner.
So with this relative good luck, this past weekend we decided to seed the pasture. There are shoots of green grass sprouting up here and there, but we need to speed up this process pronto. Dan lightly rototilled on one side of the swale, and lightly tilled with the york rake on the other side of the swale. This is to test which method will seed faster! We’ve never been much into building lawns; we’ve always prefer to just rototill up the grass and plant more perennials. So it’s rather ironic for us to be out there with our teeny little lawn seed spreader, walking back and forth spreading seed. Much alpaca information will say that brome grass is best. We decided on a simple ‘horse pasture blend’ of grasses. This blend was closer to the native grasses that grow here naturally. Once the pasture is well grassed, we plan to regularly overseed with brome grass in spring and/or fall. After we seeded, that night we found ourselves in the unlikely position of actually hoping for a light rain! And it did rain, lightly, just perfectly! We then spread out mulch hay to protect the seed from hot sun and keep the moisture in. There is also a perfect forecast for the next several days: sunny, warm but not hot, dry air, and no rain.
An added benefit to the mulch hay is that there are plenty of grass seeds in it. One tack supplier we recently spoke with said that all she did was spread out mulch hay – no seed – and her pasture came in beautifully! We have our fingers crossed for the same good luck.
(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? ................
Here in the Northeast it has been raining for the past week and it seems like it’s getting to be time for us to build the ark. I’ve been reading a rather funny thread on alpacanation about all rain we’ve been getting here in New Hampshire, Maine, and the entire Northeast. I say funny only because I just thought it was a funny topic to start a thread on. But, here in the Northeast excessive rain is certainly a real concern for us alpaca farmers. The rain brings out the slugs, gross little creatures, which bring along the meningeal worm, hosted by our cute wildlife, the white-tailed deer. M-worm is of particular concern for alpaca farmers as it is a deadly disease, and here in the Northeast we routinely de-worm as part of our prevention program. (Note to self: get chickens, sooner rather than later.) And of course, any of us with new pastures from recently disturbed soil, as well as anyone with clay soil, is having additional problems with mud, mud, and yes, more mud!!
Not to mention all that standing puddle water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and all the yucky diseases they carry.
So times like these make me appreciate the dry Southwest more and more, and like I already mentioned, make me start thinking about building that ark.
Or perhaps at least I should remind myself of the good things about rain........ The most obvious benefit is it waters, usually evenly, our lawns and gardens. In a previous post I mentioned that I had planted seeds and transplants for our little vegetable garden. I’ve only had to water once, the day I planted! Most of the seeds are sprouting, but by now, they could certainly use some sun! ............ A related benefit is that I don’t have to be out there watering morning and night, and subsequently feeding the mosquitoes while I stand there.......... Another benefit is that is replenishes our wells.......Rain runoff from our roofs fills up our rain barrels, to water the gardens............ The birds have plenty to drink naturally, rather than me filling up birdbaths. Water attracts birds to your yards, and birds eat many, many, bugs; no need for pesticides! ....... And as my friend Deb says, "At least we're not shoveling it!"
But we’ve had many, many inches of rain and we’re more than ready for sunshine! Those of you who practice yoga, please join me daily in spirit for a Salute to the Sun!!!!
Late last summer we had a local logger and his crew clear about 3 acres of woods and brushy overgrowth. It was done ‘rough grade’ as Dan wanted to do the finish work himself. What a wonderful job they did! There were many, many large rocks that they carefully placed on the property lines creating a boulder style stone wall. The stumps were all buried alongside the rocks so as to be outside and around the pasture area, a farm road of sorts. It looked fabulous and then, the rains came! First a tropical storm bringing about 5 inches, and several smaller storms, and anyone who lives in New England remembers the rain and resulting ice storm in early December! All that rainfall saturated our new pasture, with ‘sink to your knees mud,’ washing out a lot of the topsoil, creating ruts and little streams, and rendering it impossible to work in it. Clearly we had a drainage problem, unknown to us before due to the thick woods. Disappointed, we knew we had to wait until spring for things to dry out before the alpacas could come home.
And dry out it did! We’ve had a pleasantly sunny and warm spring. Another local contractor has come by a few times giving us ideas on how to divert runoff and rain. We’ve seen swales before but never knew the correct term. Dan is in his glory on the tractor, digging and moving dirt and making one heck of a swale diagonally down the pasture. He’s also been making several diagonal berms down the ‘farm road’ from our driveway to the barn gate and alongside the fencing. 'Berm' is our new favorite word. We have huge piles of dirt now in the pasture, beautiful dark brown dirt! After we sift it, and add in a little compost, this loam will be wonderful for gardening perennials. Now to continue on picking up rocks and roots and york raking the whole area smooth.......And the rocks... oh my! There are more huge boulder-sized rocks, all the way down to baseball sized and pebbles. Dan will be busy making decorative stone walls for years.
We’ve been told that actually all that rain was a very good thing(!) It helps to pack down the freshly disturbed land so the grass can grow. The grass will then hold everything together. So far, this does seem to be happening! There are plenty of green shoots sprouting up all over. We are very happy and grateful for that. And soon the alpacas will be here, grazing and pronking....................