Monday, May 25, 2009


Who needs a gym membership or workout equipment at home? Not when you have a farm. There are always big chores to do that will work you out like no workout can. This weekend has given me a workout like no other.

This weekend our big project was starting our garden. We had already ordered seeds and seedlings that we had started in pots. When we put up the fence in our backyard, we sectioned off a big part for a garden. We are new to gardens, so it will be an adventure how this turns out.

We are growing: several kinds of tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cucumber, summer squash, cantaloupe, pumpkin, beans, snow peas, sweet corn, and herbs (garlic, chives, coriander, sweet basil, rosemary). J also got some concord grapes but I fear they did not make the transplant.

Our weekend chores started with J raking and mowing the garden section. Because I'm not fond of machines, I did the poop moving. Alpaca poop is the best fertilizer. I've heard people rave about it, and we've seen the miracles it can do. We've managed to grow grass on pure sand soil. Put down alpaca poop and work it into the ground a bit, add some grass seeds, cover with straw, water everyday = grass. We decided we needed this miracle fertilizer for our garden. One problem, it's in a pile about .12 miles away. A little far to walk it in a wheel barrow, but not quite far enough to justify renting a front loader. Last year (I know I blogged about this), Emma and I took buckets and filled the back of the truck with the poop and moved it back by our house. It worked, but was a lot of hard labor. J suggested this year we use the trailer and he set up a ramp so that I could wheel a wheel barrow right into the trailer. No reaching up dumping buckets, though, still quite a bit of intense labor.

On Saturday we got a late start and I had to get other chores done, so I only managed to get 1 load of poop (I think about 8 wheelbarrows full). On Sunday I did 2 trips, each with 9 or 10 wheelbarrows full of poop. I collected the poop up at the poop pile, hauled it back to our place in the trailer, and then put it in a wheelbarrow again and spread it on our garden.

Now some might hear this and be a bit grossed out. I know, it is poop. But, of the poop that I've run across, alpaca poop is the least offensive. Bunny poop is a very close second. The benefit being that alpacas (and rabbits) only eat veggies, no meat. Their poop has little to no scent. If there is a scent, it's usually because it's fresh and urine is mixed in, or it is composting and there are scents to various stages of composting. Another nice thing about alpaca poop is that it's in little beans, sort of likeraisins , small and compact, easy to work with. Since they are this awesome fertilizer, I like to call them composting alpaca miracle beans. That sounds so much better than poop.

Other issues with poop are around spreading infection/germs. I'm not a scientist but my understanding is that this is not a risk to us from alpaca poop. Especially poop that has been sitting and composting for a couple (or more) months. Also, some animal poop is so strong that it can burn plants if it doesn't have time to compost. This is not a problem with alpaca poop. It can be used fresh from the poop piles in the pasture (we have done it).

While I was moving miracle beans, J not only mowed down what was growing, but then rented a rototiller to till up the ground. We live on very sandy soil. If you peel back the layer of woods on top, you have pure beach sand. So we are going to put a very big layer of composting alpaca miracle beans onto our garden area. J spread and worked these miracle beans into the soil.

It's Monday and we got about 1/2 of the garden covered in miracle beans. It's enough we can plant what we absolutely have to plant. But I foresee more miracle bean moving in our future.

Fiber Update

First, we have new bags of fiber from this years shearing. Since we still have last years and some from the year before, we have plenty to sell. I'd offer to skirt it, but I'm terrible at skirting, though I will do my best and will wash it. Our cria fleeces (the softest fleece) come in white (Lightning), fading fawn (Tehya) and brown (Shelby's). Other fleeces we have: white, various shades of brown (from a reddish brown to a golden brown), black and gray (light silver gray). Email us if you are interested in fleeces. It can be spun from raw or sent to the mill to be made into rovings or yarn.

I've started a "fiber room" in our basement, where the new fleeces are now residing. I still need to sort the fleeces from years previous and get them in there too. I have a *new* to me sewing machine (ok, it's a 1963 model, but it was given extra care by my grandma until it came to our house). And all my spinning gadgets are in there - with the exception of my spinning wheel which continues to be kept on top of the TV (so no dog can decide to do something to it) and where I can get it easily when I have some time to spin.

I'm almost done spinning Tucker's fiber from last year (our silver gray alpaca). I alternated between spinning the fiber and knitting. There are times I can't spin (like sitting at a child's baseball practice) when I would knit. But I managed to find enough time to spin to supply enough yarn to keep up with my knitting. I am over half way done with my sweater out of Tucker's fiber. I have the back of it complete and am almost done with the front left side. It's my first spun yarn and it's my first sweater so it will definitely have an artist look, but I'm excited to have a product from our own animals.

My next project is going to be a handbag. I promised one to my mom (past present). She picked brown for the color, so now for me to decide which shade - reddish brown of Victoria or the golden brown of Kateri? I've never made a handbag before so this is also new teritory.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Birth Day Pictures

Our newborn Snow Lily and her mom, Sancha. J found Snow Lily already walking and drinking off mom. We missed the birth, though it appears it was not a difficult one. Welcome to our farm, Snow Lily!

Mom and baby out walking around, Lily already can run! Notice our other two moms not to far away (both are brown):

Here are pictures of just Lily (though mom can be seen lingering in the background).

Sancha is a good dotting mom. When Lightning Bugs was born, we had to assist due to a dystocia. Sancha let us help and let us tend to him after the birth. This time, she did it all on her own and does not want us near her baby. When we weighed her, she stood by screaming the entire time. Baby and mom appear to have a good bond.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Beautiful Baby Girl

Today we came home to a beautiful newborn cria! Sancha finally had her baby, a white girl, named Snow Lily.

I was at work today. J was home, fed the alpacas their morning grain. He had a feeling Sancha was going to deliver (but then there have been other days he thought so too). He said she barely ate and was humming a lot. He decided to go golfing, because of course, if he stays home she won't have that baby. When he arrived home, he found a baby girl, already feeding on Sancha.

It appears this delivery went smoothly. Sancha did it all on her own. J found the baby eating and the placenta in one piece in the pasture. Lily is alert and we cannot believe how well she is walking around already! All looks well.

I'll try to get pictures up on Thursday. Sorry for the delay (a technical difficulty with our computer and camer set up).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shearing Day 2009

For shearing this year we took all our alpacas over to Ashton Stone alpacas, where the shearer came to shear all of our alpacas. On Friday night we made 2 trips, first brought over the girls, then the boys. We could have fit everyone in on one trip, but decided it best to keep boys and girls separate. Ashton Stone has a nice big barn and could fit everyone. We were worried because rain was predicted for Friday night, but we got everyone in the barn fine. Of course, then it didn't rain.

Sancha was due with her cria on shearing day, and we had hoped shearing might induce her. No baby yet. Ashton Stone had one due a couple weeks before shearing day, and she also did not deliver (though she may be doing so today - I hope!).

This shearer has a rope set up that lays on the ground. Last year we used a table so this was a different set up. I thought the ground would be worse but we found it to be even better. It was much less strain on our backs and it seemed to hold the alpacas better (no fear of them slipping since they were already on the ground). It was a huge help to have Ashton Stone there too, so there were more adults around to help (last year we counted a lot on the kids and our nieces, who were a great help but not quite like having other adults there).

Everything went well and everyone got shorn. I got some pictures of Shelby strapped up and in process of shearing:

During shearing one person holds the alpacas head. All legs are pulled in ropes so that they cannot move. Some alpacas really hate this and scream the entire time. We had a couple who spit (a sock over their mouth prevents spit from getting all over everyone who is there to help). Other alpacas lay there and just let us do the shearing without a sound. The alpaca does need to be flipped over so that all sides of them can be shorn. If they are very pregnant, like the 2 who were due on or before shearing day, you have to be careful flipping them so it does not create uterine torsion. For the girls who are less far along in their pregnancy it doesn't matter. Some alpacas need more holding, the squirmers do. Others are fine with just one person holding their head. Other helpers pull the rope and loosen the ropes as needed, and there are people gathering the fiber and putting it in bags.

We decided to weigh our alpacas before and after shearing so that we could get a total weight of what was shorn. We also weighed their prime fleece to find out how much blanket weight they have. You can trim their nails and teeth while they are strapped down (might as well do all those things you can). We had the fighting teeth on both Tucker and Apollo trimmed. You can also give shots, and any other herd health thing you desire.

Here are all the alpacas outside after being shorn:

Pregnant Ladies - before and after shearing

Victoria Full Fleece:

Victoria Shorn:

Kateri Full Fleece:

Kateri Shorn (after she laid in the leaves):

Sancha Full Fleece:

Sancha Shorn (it doesn't seem like their narrow neck should be able to support their big heads):

Maiden girls - before and after shearing

Our four maiden girls in their full fleece:

Shelby full fleece (I love all that face coverage):

Shelby Shorn:

Tehya Full Fleece:

Tehya Shorn (her mouth is hanging funny because she was just spitting, we call this "spit lip". When they spit, they bring up stomach acid that burns in their mouth):

Sommerfield Full Fleece:

Sommerfield Shorn:

Maddie Full Fleece:

Maddie Shorn:

Boys - before and after

Lightning Bugs Full Fleece:

Bugs Shorn

Tucker Full Fleece

Tucker Shorn

Apollo Full Fleece

Apollo Shorn

Snowstorm Full Fleece

Snowstorm Shorn

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shearing Day

Shearing Day is this Saturday. I plan to do before and after pictures like last year, so stay tuned.

Cria Watch Continues

no baby, yet. Everyday we take a good long look at Sancha. And it seems everyday she does something that seems like it *could* be impending birth. No baby yet. She has 4 days until she's due and last year she went over that by 6 days so I'm thinking we have about 10 days to go ;)

The votes are in on the baby. Emma says it will be a white girl, Zack says a white boy who looks just like Sancha, I say a fawn boy and J says a fawn girl. We all agree it will be big. Lightning bugs was 21 pounds and I'm guessing this one will be close to that.

On that note, Kateri, who isn't due for about 2 months, looks huge! I mean, huge! This is only our second year with cria, so I don't have a lot of experience, but she seems like she is carrying a really big baby this time. I think Tehya was 15 pounds, so there is room for a little bigger. It also could be that Kateri is carrying it very differently this time. I say that means we are getting a boy from her. We'll see.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Spot is our guardian dog. His job is to keep any other animals out of the alpaca's area. In our location the biggest threat to alpacas is loose dogs. A bark from Spot will send just about any dog running. We've found he also hates birds. If a bird lands in the pasture he will bark and run.

Zack loves to go out and play with Spot, they are good buddies.

This is Spot's favorite spot to lay down, right by the fence near our patio and dinning room. He uses his sad eyes to entice us to let him in the house. Nice try, Spot. He's a working dog, not a house/pet dog. But we do give him attention as he needs that too, we go out there to him though.

Here is Emma giving Spot some attention. He loves it when the kids come and play with him. The kids say their favorite thing to play with Spot is "follow." This is where they walk around and Spot follows them everywhere. I find he does this to me when I'm out there doing chores.

It has been interesting to watch the alpacas accept Spot. Initially when the alpacas came back here Spot was an outcast. Slowly, I've seen him sleep closer and closer to them. This past week we had a lot of rain and they even let him in the barn with them. It's as if he's one of the group. We've also found that when there is a danger issue (Spot barking at something) the alpacas let him deal with it and they do not appear nervous like we use to notice before Spot came here.

We have been very happy with our guardian dog. He's a big help on the farm and he's fun to have around when I'm working on my chores alone.

New Alpaca Area

Last summer we started working on the new shelter and pasture land right in our own backyard. Early this spring, we finally had it all set for the pregnant girls to come back here. It's so nice to see them right outside our windows. Being on cria watch is easy when all you have to do is glance out the window.

This picture shows the pasture land (minus the snow). The first enclosure is our immediate backyard which is fenced in for Quinn (our family pet, American Eskimo). Beyond the first fence is where the alpaca's land starts (including the kids swing set as seen in the 2nd picture - the alpacas don't mind it at all but they do tend to watch the kids when they are out there playing).

The shelter is the steel tool shed in the distance. While not fancy, it's an inexpensive way to house the alpacas. Sure a barn is ideal, but they only require a 3 sided shelter with a roof. Alpacas are inexpensive to house and feed in comparison to other animals. This last picture was taken from inside my dinning room.

Ohio Show Pictures

Here is our stall all set up with fans and our farm signs. We usually hang their ARI certificate on the stall also (show's their name and their dam/sire). We have a shelf with our sales book and business cards set out.

This picture shows better how much room they have (that first picture made them looked cramped but they really aren't). Also you can see our chair, which we never seemed ot have time to sit in anyway.

This is a picture of J standing in line before Tehya showed. They have you line up so that when the class ahead is done, the next class can come in.

This is near the end of judging Tehya's class, note she's in the 2nd place spot. Next the judge gave out the ribbons.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cria Watch

We start cria watch about a month before their due date of 350 days. There are different ways of deciding when to start cria watch, but for us, this is what we have decided on. Some farms set the due date at 335 days, and watch from that day on. There are as many different ways to do this as their are farms out there. However, no matter when you start your watch, everything seems like a sign of impending birth.

Sancha is on cria watch (see that ticker at the bottom of the page moving closer and closer to due date). The ticker due date is set at day 350, but full term could be a month before or even after that (yes, after!). Lightning was born on day 356, and I like to believe moms tend to have their babies near the same gestation day (though I have no stats to back up that theory). There are many theories out there, like spring babies go to a longer gestational day than fall babies. This fits in my mind with survival, you want the spring ones to stay inside until it's warmer out. For fall, you want the babies up and moving before the really cold weather hits. So I'll buy into this theory also. I've heard the mom won't eat on the day they deliver (this we can strike out as false, all our girls ate the day they delivered last year). I've heard they cush more near delivery. But the big thing is that the baby will come when it's ready, signs or no signs.

So what happens during cria watch? Not much. It amounts to the alpaca owners watching and waiting and insisting anything that mom does must be a sign of impending birth. Last weekend Sancha stayed in the barn more than she has typically so we thought that might be a sign. This morning Kateri and Victoria were walking and grazing while Sacha was cushed down - that's a sign, right? Any unusual behavior must mean the mom is in labor or preparing to be in labor, or so cria watchers believe. This morning Sancha ate her grain while in a cushed position. Now that is something I have never seen before! I've seen dogs do this, but never an alpaca. Is this a sign of impending birth? Or just that she's extremely pregnant and large and that felt right to her this morning and birth is still a few weeks off. When you witness these "odd" or "atypical" behaviors you think this has to mean she's in labor. But, then hours later you realize, no, she's just a very pregnant mom doing what she wants when she wants.

So cria watch continues. Last year we found once we gave up on reading the signs, then Lightning bugs made his appearance. I also found once our last cria of the year was born, it was a let down that cria watch for the year was over. After all those "signs" we watched for, then there was nothing to watch for. So I'm trying to enjoy cria watch, but really, it's still a matter of waiting and wanting to see those new little babies.
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