Sweet Harmony Farm blog
Left to right: Coty, Arlo, Guinness, Julio, Bo
Next weekend, our little farm will be growing. Our cria from last year, Henry (Hank), will be coming home to our farm to live! We thought it best to bring home his buddy, so another little guy named Earth, Wind, and Fire (Earth for short) is coming home too. Since the male weanlings are all penned together, Val wants to be sure her remaining alpacas are happy as well, so she is bringing along 2 more buddies: North Wind (North) and Cowboy. Four alpacas are joining our five here, bringing our little herd to nine alpacas. Nine! It's not so little anymore. Counting our 2 gals, Dreamer and Alana, who live at Val's, we have 11, and next year's crias will make 13.
So I'm getting sentimental and started looking through pictures stored on the camera. I found many wonderful shots. Hope you all enjoy these 2, both taken right before shearing days this past spring.
Every alpaca owner follows this annual cycle. An alpaca is born on or brought home to the farm. It is cared for by feeding hay, minerals, and usually pellets, water buckets are cleaned, emptied, scrubbed, and re-filled, given pasture to graze on, poop is scooped, toenails are clipped, vaccines and de-wormers and other medications are given when necessary, straw bedding is put down when winter is arriving, snow is shoveled away from paddocks and gates, gutters put up, and mud is cursed when spring rains come and melt the snow.
The warmth of spring arrives and our alpacas are sheared. For a fiber farm, that shearing day is our annual harvest! The fleece is usually put into bags according to alpaca and divided into 3 units: firsts (blanket), seconds (neck), and thirds (leg, belly, chest). A lot of farms will store their fleece this way in their barns, basements, and attics, later on skirting some of the blankets for fleece shows, or for submitting to mills to be made into yarn. Some farms have chosen not to do anything with their fleeces! The bags are piled up for years, sometimes allowing for mice to build their nest with, sometimes just rotting away, and sometimes it just gets composted. To hear stories of this happening to beautiful alpaca fleece saddens me. :(
Beautiful alpaca fleece is a simple joy of life.
From the onset of our farm, we have had our fleece sorted as well. We have always been focused on the fiber part rather than the show aspect and learned early on that alpaca fleece is generally not uniform in micron across the entire animal. ‘Sorting’ separates the fleece into grades (small ranges) of micron, and by length, and by color. So now some of my bags of fleece are combinations of alpacas, if their colors are the same. And yes, my sorted fleece has been sitting in our house in the bags! My rationale was that we’re a small farm (we only started off with 4 alpacas) and I wanted to combine fleeces of similar grade, thereby making the yarn process much more cost effective. I also have 2 white alpacas, Bo Jangles and his full brother Arlo, and although I love them both dearly, white just isn’t my favorite yarn color! I was also hoping to have different colors but same grades to blend in with their white fleeces.
Yarn is the basis of all textiles. Fleece must be carded into roving and then spun into yarn before it can be woven into fabric. It only makes sense that the basis of your product (yarn, fabric, roving, and batts) be as uniform as possible. To Dan and me, submitting fleece by grade for processing makes more sense than submitting fleece by individual animal’s blanket.
In April I decided we’d waited long enough, and I dropped 2 batches, i.e. several bags of fleece, to our local mini-mill, Sallie’s Fen Fibers. Sallie Whitlow has a fabulous reputation for the beautiful yarns she spins and we are so fortunate that it is really just a short drive. My yarns now and most likely in the future will probably always be some kind of ‘Herd Blend.’ Alpaca is said to come in 22 natural colors, which to me means when I blend grades of different colors, the outcome (color) will always be a surprise! Sounds like a lot of fun to me! Most people tell me ‘oh but the white fleece dyes so wonderfully.’ And they’re right! And, guess what, the non-white alpaca fleece dyes wonderfully too! Lots of time the (naturally) colored yarn will take on a heathered look when dyed, especially if some of the raw fleece is dyed first and then blended in with un-dyed fleece. It’s all so lovely! For now though, I am enjoying the natural shades and natural blends.
Last week Sallie called to tell me my yarn is ready! I drove over Friday in a storm and was absolutely delighted with the results. My first batch is my herd blend, ‘The Geldings’ Dark Chocolate.’ Guinness’ medium brown huacaya fleece was blended with Julio’s bay black suri fleece. Sallie did blend in a little black merino for stability for the suri fleece, and the yarn is an awesome grade 3 in a fabulous dark chocolate color. The other batch is my herd blend, ‘Cria Coffee Ice Cream.’ Here I blended Bo’s white cria fleece, Coty’s medium fawn cria fleece, and Arlo’s white/beige cria fleece. Sallie spun this as a 2 ply, and then plied those again, creating a really neat cabling effect. This cable method helps to strengthen that tender cria fleece. I now have darling coffee ice cream-colored, super soft, grade 1, baby alpaca yarn to enjoy.
I am in yarn heaven!
Slowly but surely the remaining fleeces will be sent off to be made into yarns or my new favorite fiber process ~ felt fabric! I can only weave so fast!
Sometimes, a sign says it all.
We strongly believe in the 'Buy Local' movement. Just call us locavores! Locally grown food is by far fresher than any produce found in a grocery store, and therefore much tastier. To me there is nothing tastier than a tomato or apple or fresh herbs that I grew right in my own backyard. And when weather has other plans, I just head for the farmer's market. Luckily here in New Hampshire we have plenty of those, so we can eat local 7 days a week during the gardening season. We also prefer that our alpacas 'eat local' too so we try to buy hay only from local farms as well.
Fall has arrived! With this cooler weather we're all getting back to our knitting and weaving and other fun fiber arts. Locally raised fibers are also a good thing!
(Thank you to our neighbor on South Road / Route 43 for putting up this sign in his hay field. In case you can't read the fuzzy picture, it says 'Do You Like this View? Support your Local Farmers')
Spring arrived early this year, followed by an early starting and very hot and humid summer. We are so very grateful that after several years it’s also been a very dry summer. Continuing this new trend, it now appears that autumn is arriving early. That’s fine with us. We love the cooler days and crisp nights, with the daytime colors of the trees slowly turning to brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. The grass seems to start growing again and turns a deep green. Against this backdrop is a perfectly bright blue sky.
Wildlife abounds this time of year. Wildlife is always abounding when you live near a large state park as we do, but we seem to notice them more when the cool weather starts. Furry and feathered friends are beginning their annual gathering up of their food storage for winter and pass through our property daily. A local family of red fox took up residence under our woodshed for a couple weeks. We haven’t seen them in a while; I imagine they grew tired of Stella chasing them out of the yard. We see the hawks circling the yard again over the treetops, and today I heard at least 3 flocks of Canadian geese fly by overhead. Soon the bats will be gone. Acorns and pine cones are starting to fall from the trees, keeping all the squirrels and chipmunks busy.
Lately the alpacas have been amused by a family of wild turkeys that travel through the yard in the mornings. The turkeys hobble along the path just outside the fencing, hop onto the stone wall along the back of pasture and walk along it, then off into the woods. The alpacas will at first all stand up straight, ears straight up, necks outstretched. Then staying close together, they all but tiptoe over to the fence and then will follow the turkeys along the inside of the fence line, never making a sound. The turkeys do not appear bothered by the sheer size of the alpacas and continue their casual pace. I sip my coffee and smile.
In the evenings we try to keep a closer eye on Stella, but while we’re in the barn that’s not always too easy. I was arranging feed bowls one evening and had all 5 alpacas blocking the tack room door, eyes fixated on me intently. For no particular reason, Coty, who tends to be our most curious alpaca, walked away. Coty has grown so much this year and is now also our tallest alpaca. He doesn’t walk; he struts. He strutted casually around to the back of the barn. Finding this odd, Dan followed him. What could be more interesting than getting fed? In the darkness I suddenly heard Dan holler sharply ‘Stella ~ come!’ Before I could ask why, I could smell why! Luckily the skunk had bad aim because our little Stella doesn’t smell too badly.
And thankfully none of the alpacas were skunked!
Dan has been working most of the summer to build a lovely set of stone walls just opposite the paddock and barn. Our land from our back yard to the barn slopes downward gently and it’s along this line that he has been creating a(nother) place for me to garden in. The top portion is flat and we’ve discovered it is a great place to make a little patio and set up a picnic table set to sit and watch the alpacas. For now, we’ve placed a folding mat and some chairs from our camping days onto the freshly leveled dirt at the top of the new wall, and sip coffee. The alpacas don’t seem to mind us watching them and go about their quiet ways.
Some mornings when I go into the barn to check on our alpacas, I start wondering ‘what goes on in here at night?’ Their fan is pushed over onto its back blowing air up to the ceiling, the hay bale feeder (i.e. heavy) is pushed several inches over sideways, the outside feeder is also pushed sideways, there’s water on the floor under the buckets, there’s fresh spit on a wall or post or someone’s neck, a post for the temporary fence is bent over, the poop-shovel-and-rake is knocked down, and their communal poop piles are well, not so communal. In the summertime we usually have all the windows in the house open and our bedroom balcony door also faces the barn; you’d think we’d hear if a ruckus was going on. Yet apparently they’ve made up because all the alpacas are cushed together!
Last evening I picked this fabulous assortment of tomatoes ~ roma, celebrity, and cherry. Also in there is one fabulous hot pepper and one fabulous bell pepper. Teamed up with my parsley, fresh salsa for sure! And look at that purple basil! The plant is huge, and along with my other basil plants and flavorful olive oil, I'll be making pesto. Yes, folks, the white-kitchen-trash-bag-tied-to-a-stake trick has successfully kept away the deer this year.
Hope your gardens are yielding you great treasures too.
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.