Friday, September 28, 2007

oh no, Mushrooms

Unfortunately we have some mushrooms coming up in our pasture. I've done some research on them to find out how to get rid of them. Seems it's very difficult to do that because they grow by spores that are spread when you pick the mushroom, plus by picking them you leave a part of them underground that will just regrow. Digging it all out is difficult. Many sites suggested just leaving the mushroom. Mushrooms are a fungus that grows on decaying matter. There is lots of decaying matter in our pasture. About 8 years ago many trees were knocked down to create the pasture. Knocking down those trees left a lot of tree roots underground, which now is decay matter. Not to mention all matter that accumulates in a woods, like leaves and branches. It would be impossible to dig out all those decaying roots, left over leaves and other decaying plant matter. The mushrooms are actually good in that they are breaking down that decaying matter.

However, I can't confirm whether or not the mushrooms are poisionous to alpacas. Some mushrooms are, so I don't think it's a chance I want to take!

I've read that sometimes mushrooms are a result of poor drainage. I do not think that is true in our case given our soil is mostly sand. Drainage has never been an issue here. However, our frequent watering to get the grass growing likely contributed to the mushroom growth. I do think the abundance of decaying matter is the big issue, which we can't get rid of. Some sites said that acidic soils are more friendly to mushrooms, so putting down lime should help get rid of mushrooms. We did put down lime before we seeded the grass. Maybe we could put more lime down? I read that you can put down lime in the spring and fall, given the fact the soil is acidic and the mushroom problem I think we should put lime down again in the future, again in the spring and again next fall. Some sites mentioned a lack of nitrogen could encourage mushroom growth, so that is another thing to consider. One suggestion was to use baking soda to neutralize. I've also read to pour bleach on them, but I don't want to use chemicals like bleach or a pesticide since that could be harmful to the alpacas.

I think I will leave the mushrooms for now. Some sites said they bloom for only a short time (the part we see is essentially the bloom). While there the mushrooms do help the decaying matter decay, so it's part of nature. Possibly by letting nature take it's course it will take care of itself. However, I'm concerned given how much decaying matter is there, it could be a long time before the mushrooms run their course. So if there are still mushrooms around when we are ready to have alpacas in our pasture, then I will pick off what is showing. That way the alpacas would not be able to eat them. The mushrooms will reappear so I will have to watch the pasture closely and pick any new growth. But that way the mushroom underground will continue to decay the matter below the surface. Digging out all the mushrooms underground and all the decaying matter would be impossible so total elimination is not possible. I think picking off the tops and staying on top of any new growth is out best option given the situation in our pasture. I will also keep up with lime and consider the nitrogen issue to see if either of those could help slow down or prevent futher mushroom growth.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Michigan International Alpaca Fest

On Saturday we attending the alpaca fest. I was most surprised by how many alpacas were there. Someone told us there was just under 500 alpacas present. We looked at all of them. I most loved one named Bella. Generally while I do like animals, I like them from a distance. I'm not likely to touch and pet them. Animals will come near me but most not close enough to pet. Well Bella did, I could tell right away she really liked me (ok, maybe she's just friendly). I told J that alpaca was the best in the place since she came up to me and enticed me to pet her.

Not only did we look at all the alpacas but we also looked at the products made from alpaca fiber. It confirmed for me that I am able to make products that would be worthy of selling. I'm excited to get my hands on some fleece!! We also watched some of the judging, but found that difficult as we could not touch and look closely at the fiber like that judges could.

While there was put a deposit down on some alpacas from South Haven Alpacas. J was most impressed with the genetics they had, and the quality of the fiber. For now we are purchasing Kateri and Victoria, though we may also get a gelded male. It's all becoming more real!

Friday, September 21, 2007


About two weeks after planting the grass, and lots of watering, we can see definately shoots coming up. From a distance it looks really green, but up close there are still a lot of bare spots. Hoping it will fill in for a fully pasture. THe more grass the alpaca's have to eat, the less they will need of hay, plus the more grass the less dirt meaning the cleaner the alpacas will be.
Here's a picture from the front of the barn. It's hard to get a good picture that shows the size of the barn vs the size of the pasture. I also got pictures of the pasture on both sides of the barn. Again, I don't think the pictures show the true size of things.

Tomorrow we are going to our first alpaca show. Not sure what to expect! But we are excited to be going.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Knitting gets better

The second mitten was much easier to knit and went pretty fast. I made a slightly smaller size this time (since the other one turned out so big). The thumb on this one turned out right. The mitten fits great!

I think I might re-do the bigger one, they make a funny pair now.

Now I'm working on knitting a red blanket for my daughter's American Girl Doll. I'm trying to get practice at knitting, especially with different patterns and stitches.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Trying out Knitting

Here is the start of my knitting career. I think I tried knitting when I was a child. My mom use to knit a lot and I remember her teaching me. For some reason I didn't care for it, and decided to work on other crafts instead. I remember something about it getting twisted in my fingers and having a hard time working the yarn. At any rate, I didn't remember how to knit (though maybe some of it came back to me as I did it). So I got a book that showed some different stitches. I bought some cheap yarn (to practice with) and some knitting needles and set out to learn how to knit. My first project was a blanket for my son's teddy bear (he gets cold at night, you know). It's hard to see the knitting in the picture because the yarn is a very dark navy blue. I did mostly regular knitting/purl stitch (Stockinette Stitch) but I did a hem of Moss stitch. The Moss Stitch was difficult in that I couldn't tell which row I was on or which stitch I just did. I think in time these will come more easily. I noticed by the time I finished my second project that I could tell what each stitch was.

For my second project I decided to tackle mittens. I hope to make a lot of mittens out of alpaca yarn so I need to learn how to make them. I picked a variated acrylic yarn for my practice mittens. I choose to make the biggest size mitten because I have fairly big hands (I usually buy mens gloves/mittens because women's are tight). Well, I think these are plenty big!! In the first picture you can see that it looks like a mitten, though the thumb area is too big (not sure what happened there). In the second picture you can see how big it is compared to my hand. Maybe I'll wear this over another glove on the really cold winter days.

For my first attempt I think I did well. I will need lots more practice before I work with alpaca yarn. I will also need to learn how to work with the alpaca yarn. I've read that it is different to work with, but I didn't know enough about knitting at that time to fully understand what is different about it.

I do know that alpaca fleece made into yarn is reported to be warmer than wool, and not scratchy like wool because alpaca's have less guard hairs than sheep do.

Another good point is that it is organic, not something chemically made. And being that it will come from my own alpacas, I will know exactly where it has been. As we plant the pasture and figure out how to design the inside of the barn, one thing we do keep in mind is trying to limit the amount of dirt and sand the alpaca's are exposed to. The cleaner they are, the nicer their fleece will be to work with.

Now I'll off to make the other mitten for a matching pair, but this time I'm making a smaller size and I'm going to try to fix whatever happened to the thumb.

This past weekend we spent some time cleaning out the barn. It was full of mostly junk. What made it especially hard is that the stuff did not belong to me or J. It is his parents' barn. Needless to say sorting and figuring out where to put things that do not belong to you is quite challenging. We will need to decide what to do for flooring in the barn (right now it is a sand/dirt floor). And we will need to section off places in the barn, some for the alpacas and some for storing their food and a vet area to do their monthly medical care (trim nails, shots, deworm, etc). There is always work to keep us busy!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Our Barn

For our barn we will be using one that my in-laws had for a horse. This picture shows the barn from a distance plus a lot of the pasture land. It is not a huge barn but will be plenty of space for a few alpacas. Alpacas do not need a lot of barn space. They only need a three sided shelter to keep them out of the rain and wind. Alpacas have survived in very harsh climates and will do fine even with a Michigan winter. By the time winter hits their fleece has grown out enough to keep them warn (it is shaved off in the spring to cool them off over the summer). Cria (baby alpaca) sometimes need a coat if they are born near the end of summer or early fall since their fleece has not had as much time to come in. As our farm grows we likely will add on another barn. One thing to keep in mind is that male alpacas need to be kept separate from females. We plan to start with all females (maybe a gelded male but they can be with the females). We will have to face the issue of males once we start having cria. If we have a male cria, we will have six months to figure out how to manage having another pen. Another thing to think about in regards to alpacas is that they need to be kept in groups of two or more. They are herd animals and need at least two of them to feel secure. So if we have one male cria, we will need another male (gelded or otherwise) to stay in the pen with him. These are things to consider, even in the early stages of our farm since alpaca's are usually purchased while they are pregnant. By next spring we could be delivering a cria and by next year at this time we could be dealing with needing a second pen for males. At this point our pasture area is big enough we could divide it in two. However, barn space would be very limited. Which is why at some point we will be looking at building a bigger barn.

This is what the inside of the barn looks like at this point. It is storing everything from a boat to ladders etc. It is going to be a lot of work to clean this out. Then we will need to section part of it off for the alpacas, a space for their food, and a space to do veterinary care. About every month they need shots and their nails trimmed, and sometimes their teeth grinded down.

Although we need to get started on the inside of the barn, we haven't done that yet. We have the grass planted and have been watching it grow. We have some sprouts started, and are hopeful it will take. I have been spending time learning to knit. Eventually I hope to make things with our alpacas fleece, so I'm starting by learning to knit. Though at this point I'm using cheap yarn to practice on. So far I made a blanket for my son's teddy bear, and I made one mitten. The mitten was a great first attempt, but is a little big, especially the thumb part. I'll get some pictures soon to post, of the mitten and our new grass coming up.

Oak Trees

Our land is located back in a forest of oak trees. For the most part this is wonderful. It gives us a lot of shade, and provides places to go for hikes and for the kids to play. However, the area that had been cleared for a pasture several years ago, now had new oak trees coming up. These trees proved very difficult to dig up. This picture doesn't do the situation justice as it's hard to see the size of the oak trees (there are ferns and behind them small oak trees). Many of the trees were as tall as I am.

While digging up these small oak trees J broke one of our shovels. They are tough trees to get out!

Another part of clearing the land that was difficult is how hot it was while we were working on it. Temps were in the upper 80's and 90's with very high humidity.

Once the land was cleared we planted grass. On September 5, J got the grass seed down. Then we spent many days watering the pasture so that the grass will grow.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yellow Jackets

This picture shows the longer weeds and the brown of the ground. From a distance that all looks green, but up close it's just weeds and dirt. In the distance of this picture there is a hedge of ferns. There were places that were thick with ferns that we had to clear.
These longer weeds started our Yellow Jacket adventures. One evening I was out pulling weeds with the kids, when I discovered there was a yellow jacket nest in the ground of the pasture. I felt something on my leg that I thought was itchy only to realize I was being stung. At that moment I saw a yellow jacket fly up my shirt, and several swarm around me. I yelled to the kids "run!" I ended up being stung three times. Zack did run, but ran into a swarm of yellow jackets and got stung on his ear. Emma managed to escape without being stung. However, a couple days later when we were back doing some work, Emma got stung on her forhead. J got stung several times. He discovered several other nests, and was lucky he didn't get stung more. The one nest easily had fifty yellow jackets swarming around after he disturbed them when he was dragging the ground. We found three good size , that we had to take care of. Other than using spray, my father-in-law ended up pouring gasoline down one of the nests and setting it on fire.

The Pasture

In order to prepare for getting alpacas, we will need a barn and pasture.

This is a picture of our barn and pasture. At the time this picture was taken, we had started clearing the pasture area. While it looks like there is a lot of grass, there really isn't that much. Most of what is green are weeds that we need to pull up. The barn and pasture at one point belonged to a horse, but it has been about 6 years since the horse was there. A lot of plants had started to grow in that time!
We had to clear out all the weeds, wild blackberries, wild black rasberries, ferns, and small oak trees. Our time table was to get this done before early September so that we can plant grass. Grass needs to be planted in late August to early September so that it can have at least six weeks before a good frost (in the 20's). Since we tend to get frost earlier than other areas in our zone, we want to get the grass in as soon as possible.
After we cleared the land of weeds and small trees, then we could prepare the soil. First J rented a rottotillar to turn up the ground. We hope that will help destroy the roots of the weeds (especially the ferns). We hope anyway! What a difference that made, the pasture area started to look like a pasture. The next step was to sprinkle lime all over the ground because our soil is very acidic. The lime helps neutralize the soil so that the grass will grow. We also put down fertilizer. The ground does have a layer of soil, but underneath that is sand (since we live in Michigan, the soil here if very sandy) so the fertilizer will help. The next phase is called "dragging" (at least that's what J calls it). He tooks a riding lawnmower, then tied a piece of fence to the back of it, and put weights on the fence, then rode all over the pasture in this. The fence dragging behind the mower smoothed out the ground and mixed the dirt with the lime and fertilizer. Then it was time to water and let the lime and fertilizer settle in. A few days later it was time for grass seed. Then water, water and more water.

Visiting alpaca farms/ranches

We did a lot of on-line research about alpacas. We had many discussions about how we could make this happen. We decided it was time to do it. One way to get to know more about the business is to visit people who are already doing it, so we did that.

I had read that alpacas owers are some of the nicest people, which was definately our experience. I could write a post on each visit but I'll keep these brief. Our first visit was to Moonstone Ranch, LLC. We had a wonderful visit there. We learned a lot about alpaca care and got ideas on how to set up our own ranch. Then we visited Windspun . We loved the flooring they had in their barn, it really did keep their alpaca's clean. We did both those visits in the same day which proved to be too much for the kids. Although they love animals, two visits where we had many questions that they were not interested in made for a long day for them. Our next visit took place the next weekend and was at South Haven Alpacas On this visit we did not bring the kids which turned out to be a good decision because we ended up spending a good part of the day there. It was great to meet Ken and Linda and talk to them about their alpacas. The next weekend we went to the farm that is closest to our house, They had a litter of puppies that kept the kids pretty busy so we had time to talk about the alpacas. They have done a lot of things in the community with their alpacas, including having school field trips come to their farm. The kids had a chance to walk Storming Norming on a lead - the kids still talk about that!

Through these visits we were trying to figure out how we are going to make this a reality for us. We have a barn that we can use, and land. Fencing will not be that expensive, since we can put it in ourselves. Our big concern is the cost of the alpacas. We tried to get a loan through Greenstone (they give loans for farming specifically), but unfortunately there was some incorrect information on our credit report (a good reminder to check it every so often, which he had not been doing). This may take some time to get straightened out.

Meeting our first alpaca

Before we had decided to start our own alpaca ranch, we met our first alpaca in person. We attended the Newaygo County Fair on August 10, 2007, where among many different animals there were three alpacas. I only managed to get one picture of the kids with the alpacas, and unfortunately the picture isn't very good (the lighting is bad and the fence covers the alpaca's eyes). However, it is our first alpaca picture, and the alpaca is smiling for the picture:

The kids loved all the animals. Emma was especially taken in by a goat who's name is Emma too. I think Emma would make a great farmer.

On the ride home we talked about all the animals we saw. This started a more serious discussion about starting our own alpaca ranch. At one point in the discussion Zack says, "alpacas? you mean the long necks?" For awhile after that we started calling them "long necks."

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Beginning

My introduction to alpaca's started in the mid 1990's. I saw a commercial on TV about the alpaca lifestyle and how it could become a job with a nice income. I thought it looked so neat! I would love to do something like that. I've always thought I belonged in the olden days (think Little House on the Prairie). But I was single, and rented a small place in town. I didn't have the land, money or resources to do it.

I didn't think about it again until I saw another commerical in 2002. This was shortly after my second child was born. By then I owned a house, and some land. I was dreaming of a way I could work from home so that I could spend more time with my kids. I mentioned it to my husband and he loved the idea. So I looked into it. Somewhere I got information that an alpaca cost $40,000. I was picturing buying a male and a female, paying $80,000. I remember thinking, knowing my luck they will end up dying on me and I'll have a loan out for $80,000 with nothing to show for it. Financially I didn't see how I could do it, so I dropped the idea. I'm not a risk taker and we didn't have that kind of money.

Now it's 2007 and this time it was my husband who brought up the idea of own and raising alpacas. I had been looking to make a career change. In fact had started back to school (to get my 3rd degree) this time in a medical field. But I didn't get into the program I wanted to. I was going to try for my second choice program, but didn't not feel into it. I was lost, and while I was enrolled in school for the fall semester, I was having many doubts. My husband brought up starting an alpaca farm, and he had done lots of research. For instance, I was off on the cost of the alpacas (they can cost that much but they don't all cost that much, and while you need more than one, you do not need a male to begin with). And you can get insurance on them, so if they do die you are covered. He actually found that raising alpacas is not very expensive. They eat mostly grass and hay, costing close to what it is to feed a dog. There are medical costs, but with my husband being a nurse, he would have no problem giving an alpaca shots and doing a lot of the medical care. Alpacas rarely get sick, so in general there are few vet bills (though it is always possible).

After much discussion and lots of research we both came to the conclusion that raising alpacas would be a very good decision for our family. I dropped out of college (which I like to say but really when I already have 2 degrees I'm not exactly a college drop out). And we started to plan out what we needed to do.
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