Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spot's dog house

We had thought Spot would hang out in the barn, but it turns out, he'd rather lay in the hay bin. This was making the alpacas upset when they couldn't get to the hay. So J decided to insulate the bottom part of the kids' swing set as a dog house for Spot:

We were worried after doing all this, he might still go in the hay bin. And there have been times we've caught him in there. But more often he uses his own house. This afternoon, I found him sleeping in the sunshine, just outside his dog house:

Arctic Blast

It's been cold! The kids reported that at school this week they had the choice of a short outdoor recess, or recess inside. For a public school in Michigan, where we are used to cold, it's rare they even offer indoor recess. It's been cold, even for this area.

Last night our thermometer shows the low of -5* (which is where it was when I went out to feed the alpacas). By the time I got back inside, the sun had started to shine and it was up to a balmy -2*

In the cold there are a few things that we make sure the alpacas have so that they stay warm. For one, they need a shelter, even if they choose not to use it, they need access to somewhere out of the wind. They need warm bedding to cush in so that they can warm up if needed. And they need lots of hay, as their stomach working to digest the hay warms them up.

I made sure to bring out a lot of hay during this cold spell so that they have plenty to eat and keep warm:

Our alpacas have shelter, with lots of straw to cush down in to stay warm. I know they can all fit into this barn because I have been in there with them during a bad rain storm. There was room for all of them, plus Spot, plus me in the back corner. However, the barn stands empty:

Note our blue plug in water buckets, can't have the water freezing on them.

Instead they choose to be outside. I found most of them with frost on their backs and faces (often just around the muzzle). You can see the frost best on the darker colored alpacas.

The alpacas do ok in the cold. I'm most concerned if there is a strong bitter wind, as that can sometimes make them cold. They have that thick, warm fiber all over their body that really does keep them warm. I've put my hands into their fiber, close to their skin and can feel the warmth. They regulate their temperature through their belly/chest. As in the summer I will spray that area with cold water from a hose to cool them off; in the winter, they cush down (basically how they sit/lay) to cover that chest/belly area in the hay or straw. Cushing in the straw/hay allows that area to be out of the wind and elements and really keeps them warm. Their fiber does a great job of keeping out the elements (even rain usually only wets the outter layer, not deep towards their skin). We have some alpacas who love to cush in the barn, notibly Sancha. Other alpacas almost always cush outside, near the hay bin. We put some old stalky hay on the ground out there so that they have that to cush on. They seem to love it. Here they are later in the day, when some are eating hay out of the bin, others are cushed in the old hay, soaking up the sun:

By that time that picture was taken, it was almost 30* outside, and all the frost was gone from their faces and backs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spring Shows

We plan to attend three spring shows this year. All three shows are listed as a Level IV show. The biggest show is a Level V, so all three of these are just under the biggest level. We try to get to higher level shows, as there is more competition and, we feel, the ribbons mean that much more.

This year we had to do a lot of thinking on which alpaca to take to which show. We have three show age males: SA Peruvian Greyt Exxpectations (Greyt), Sancha's White Lightning, and OHVN The Cavalier. If we take Greyt or Lightning, because they are older, they cannot be in the same pen with any female. Cavalier is young enough to be with (and currently resides with) the girls. For girls, we have Victoria's Shelby, Kateri's Tehya, CCAP Cafe au Lait, Snow Lily by Lord Stanley (Lily), and OHVNA Pocahontas (Po). That makes 8 total show age animals. If we took all of them to every show, we would have to get three pens. That adds up to a lot of money. Also, there are transportation issues. If we take the older males, we have to put up the divider in our alpaca trailer, leaving less room for animals and supplies. We also have to consider what supplies we can fit in our truck, what needs to go in the trailer, and if we can haul everything we need. So, we had to do a lot of figuring on who to take where. Do we go to only two shows, and take everyone to those two shows? Or go to more shows, only taking those that we really want to take (most big farms have a "show string" that they take to many shows). So many decisions!

This is what we came up with:

Our first spring show is The Best of the US Alpaca Show and Auction in Columbus, Ohio, on March 12-14. At this show we plan to take five of our alpacas. We will be taking Shelby, Tehya, Lily, Po and Cavalier. This will be the first show ever for Lily, Po and Cavalier (our 2009 cria). For our 2008 cria, we will be taking Shelby and Tehya. They (along with Lightning) were at this show last year. With this number of alpacas, we will only need two pens. There will be no need to divide them, as there are no older males going.

The second show is the Indiana Alpaca Invitational in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on April 2 and 3. At this show we are taking six alpacas. We will take three girls, Tehya, Lily and Po, and three boys, Greyt, Lightning and Cavalier. That makes for two pens, one for the boys, and one for the girls. Our trailer will be most maxed on this trip, as we are taking the older boys. I will need to pack light so we can fit all we need into the truck.

The third show is The Great Midwest Alpaca Festival, in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 24 and 25. This will be our smallest show in that we are only taking three girls to this show: Tehya, Lily and Po. It is some distance away, so we scaled down who we are taking.

As you can see we are making sure to get Tehya to as many shows as possible. She will be bred this summer, so this is the last of her show career. Shelby is not listed on any show after the first one, because she is going to be in the auction. Lily and Po are also going to all three shows. We feel these girls are incredible and want to show what they can to in the show ring. Cavalier will be at two of the three shows. While he is also a great alpaca, I believe he will get better after his first shearing. I think he will do best in shows this fall and next spring. He's one to watch! Lightning and Greyt, unfortunately, have the disadvantage of being older males, that don't mix well with the other show animals. It was easiest to leave them off the show list, as that meant pens can be mixed together and no divider has to be put up in our trailer. However, Greyt already has an impressive show record. Lightning does have a show record, though we would like to add to it. He can be shown this fall and next spring (whereas Tehya will be bred by then and not showing).

Dreary part of the year

J and I were just talking about how alpaca farming gets kind of routine and blah this time of year. From about November through February, there really isn't much going on, at least in our area (places with different weather conditions will breed for fall births, and some places do have shows throughout the winter months). Here, it's snow and if you are lucky, a quick look at the sun. November and December fly by with the holidays, and the other parts of our lives are busy. But January and February are pretty low key. There are of course the daily chores. But, that really does not take much time. I have my morning feeding routine down to about 10 minutes. I spend a bit more time in the evening, but that is mostly by choice. After a busy day it's sometimes easier to spend some time in the barn puttering around, than coming inside to help the kids with school work, baths and the typical family routine. There is plenty of time after dark to attend to the kids. And I find as the kids get older, they need me less and less.

But we are on the cusp of our favorite time of year for alpaca farming. There are several things coming up:

1) First there is the Spring Show season. We love going to shows! We are planning on attending three spring shows this year (more on this in an upcoming post). Our first show of this year will be in March, then two in April.

2) After the spring shows, then we have shearing. While shearing day is a hard and busy day, I do love having new fiber to spin. I am most excited to get my hands on that rose grey fiber from Po and Greyt. It looks like this year we will shear around mid-May.

3) Then we start cria watch. I don't know what we enjoy more, the shows or seeing the new cria. We have four cria due this year, starting in May (though I suspect all will hold out until after shearing, Sancha is good at waiting as long as possible, and Maddie, being a maiden, I suspect will go longer rather than earlier). I put a ticker countdown to cria due dates on the bottom of my blog page.

4) As cria are born, we will need to re-bred the moms. This year we also have some yearlings who are coming of age to breed. This year we could have up to 8 possible breeding age females! Lots of decisions to be made on breedings. This is exciting in what possible outcomes we could have. Both J and I enjoy genetics, so we think about the possible color outcomes and what qualities each alpaca could bring to a cria.

5) After all the cria are born, and moms re-bred, then we head into fall show season.

There are lots of things to look forward to in the coming months. Now if I can just get through February! So very dreary. I do have some fiber on hand to spin, and some ideas on some knit projects to work on.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Girls and cria

I don't know why my pictures seem blurry to me. I need to check the setting on my camera, I hope that's all it is. I'd hate to think my eye sight is starting to go.

Here are the girls watching me while standing by their hay feeder:

This is Pocahontas, now that she's back from her stay at Ashton Stone Alpacas, for weaning. We picked her and Lily up last weekend. Po grew some while away, but Lily really grew!

Here is Lily:

I don't think I've gotten a picture of Cafe au Lait up yet. She came to our farm in December.

At the same time Cafe came, we also got a young boy, Golden:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Farm Land

I was home all day today and decided to take our house dogs for a walk. They were full of energy, and I figured I could use the fresh air as well. What I hadn't counted on was that while it was a sunny day, the wind was bitter cold. Even all bundled up, it was still quite cold out there. I thought I'd take some pictures since I was out there anyway.

We live on a private drive back in the woods of rural Michigan. We literally have the Manistee National Forest in our back yard. Behind our land, there are acres upon acres of state land. We've found many trails back there. During the warmer months, the kids and I go on hikes in the woods. We spent much of last summer trying to map the trails. We built our house here in 2000:

Though that picture is from today, as you can see the farm truck and trailer in the background. Back when we built the house, we had no idea we'd become alpaca farmers. If I could do it again, I'd buy an older farm house in a warm place! Ah to not have snow and freezing temps for months on end. Even if we had to stay in this area, there are so many neat older farm houses with big pastures that would suit alpaca farming better. But, the economy is what it is, and moving is not a financial option at this point. So we've made due with what we have.

Our boys are in a barn right off the main country road at the beginning of our private drive. I took this picture walking from the main road:

The smaller barn is our hay barn. The bigger barn is where the boys stay. They live in about 1/3 of the barn. The rest of the barn is for storage of supplies.

This is inside the boy's barn:

Our house is about .16 of a mile from the boy's barn, we live further in the woods, away from the main road. On days I'm home all day, I walk down at least twice during the day to check on the boys. They are fed grain once a day, and twice a day I fill water buckets and hay bins. On the days I go work (I have an out of the house paid job), those day I stop by on my way to work, and on my way back.

The boys have a mouser, Gorgie:

We also have Fluffy, who is a great mouser too. Fluffy does not like our dogs (or more to the point, Dottie does not like any cat) so she was hiding during this visit to the barn.

The girls live in our backyard:

We chose to move the girls closest to us so we can keep an eye on the pregnant moms, and so we can see the pronking cria. I can watch the ladies from my dinning room table, and in the warm months I can lay in my bed and see the cria pronk through the pastures. This time of year it gets dark so early, and the snow is deep enough that there isn't much pronking, at least not that I can see. I think the little ones are looking forward to spring as much as I am! I decided today that I am ready for spring. Unfortunately, it's not coming anytime soon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Current Fiber Projects

I spun up a strand of Shelby's fiber to ply with a strand of Tehya's fiber. These two girls are half sisters (same father) and they are the same age (born on the same day!). They are both blue ribbon winners. Their colors compliment each other well too. I love how this turned out (though it was hard to get a good picture of the yarn):

This wonderful yarn is my Christmas present to my sister. I hope it works well for her knitting project.

Upon finishing spinning up the Goldsmith girls, I started on some white yarn. I washed up Sommerfield's fiber. Here is it drying on our skirting table:

And I've started spinning it:

January Thaw

I may be one of a very few people not excited about a thaw. What isn't nice about the sun shining, warmer temps, and some of the snow melting? Well, I do love seeing the sun. It's a local secret that the sun doesn't shine in West Michigan from about November to March. Any sunny day is a miracle here. And I do like warmer temps. I don't know why I settled in such a cold climate. But, thawing snow messes up my alpaca pens.

Here is when I am going to get into a topic that makes my non-farming friends uncomfortable: poop. It's a fact of farm life, which everyone knows is there, but no one wants to hear about. I know. You can talk about it with fellow farmers, but bring it up to a non-farmer and watch them squirm. The fact is, in general, cleaning up alpaca poop is not a bad job at all. First, there is the fact that their poop does not really smell. There can be an odor to alpacas, but I've found that is usually when there is not good drainage and their urine pools. We have really good drainage because our soil is very sandy. It's nothing like dog poop (yuck!). It's nothing as bad a changing a child's diaper. It's like sweeping chocolate covered raisins into a bin. Pretty easy. The other thing I like about scooping poop is that it is a nice break in my day. As a busy mom, I actually find my poop scooping time to be the most rejuvenating. I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out. While scooping poop, no one comes to bother me. No kids fighting, no phone calls, no one asking or demanding anything. The alpacas usually keep an eye on me, they are so curious they need to know what I am doing in their area. So it's not a lonely job. But they don't bother me (occasionally one will get in the way of the wheel barrow, but in general, they don't bother me). I can ignore them if I want. It's a time my thoughts run, and I can sort out the day in my head. Scooping poop is not a bad job at all. There are other chores I dislike more (like lugging water buckets a long distance, my arms at not that strong).

I've spent the last two winters trying to figure out how to manage poop in the winter. In the warmer months my poop management is to scoop it daily. But in the winter, in our area, we get a fair amount of snow, and we have freezing temps for months on end. Just scooping everyday isn't so easy. Some days you end up scooping more snow than poop. Other days you'd have to dig poop out of the snow. Then there are times to poop is frozen solid to the ground. Plus, pushing a wheel barrow across the pasture in the snow isn't possible sometimes (unless I want to shovel a walkway for myself, which I really do not). I've read of farms who just leave the poop all winter and have a huge clean up in the spring time. You can put straw over the poop to keep it off the animals. I've read of other farms that put down rubber mats so they can scoop up all the poop all winter just as they do other times of the year (it scoops off the mats rather than freezing to the ground). And I've heard just about every variation in between, even to the point of farmers who use shovels and axes to chip away at frozen poop piles. I've tried a bunch of different things, some worked better than others. I've come to the conclusion that ones winter poop management is going to depend not only on location (amount of snow and cold), but also on soil (how much drainage, how frozen it gets, etc.).

What I've decided works best for us, is for me to scoop what I can, to level the poop pile with the height of the snow. If I dig down, which I have in years past, I create a crater, so when a thaw comes, it fills with water and this produces the most awful poop soup. If the poop is frozen to the ground, I leave it. No hacking at frozen piles. I just go over the top and take what comes easily, but leave the rest. This works fine when the weather is stable. But when a thaw comes, you end up scooping more because as the snow melts, the poop pile needs to be lowered to meet the same level as the snow line. That part doesn't bother me so much, it just means a couple more trips to clean up that day. The hardest part for me is to not dig down too deep and create that crater that ends up being poop soup. Another thing I don't like as much about a thaw is that then you can see all the poop. When the snow is falling, it covers it up and the entire pasture looks so pretty. A thaw comes and out pops all the piles. Melting snow makes everything look so ugly. It would be different if it were spring time and I could picture the grass and flowers coming up to fill in the ugly ground. It's not spring time. A thaw just means more brown and ugly ground.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I finally joined Ravelry. I had heard about it a long time ago but never got around to actually checking it out. It has been on my "to do" list for over a year now.

For those who don't know, Ravelry is a website for knitters, crocheters, and spinners. Really anyone who does anything with yarn. There are main forums and specialized groups you can join. Any type of group you can think of is there, from a broad forum such as "Yarn", to a very specific group for knitters who spin alpaca fiber and so forth. You can join the groups that match what you do. For example I joined a group for people who raise fiber animals, and a group for people who love all things alpaca, one for Michigan Spinners, knitting with handspun, and Social Workers who love yarn. There are tons to pick from, so there is sure to be several that fit what you do.

You have to set up your own account with a username. Within your account you can post pictures and updates of the projects you are working on.

I've only just begun my journey at Ravelry. And I've been lost in the depth of it for way too many hours to count. There is so much there!

If you are on Ravelry, please friend me, my username is oakhavenalpacas.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dogs in the snow

Spot does not seem bothered by the snow. His former owners told us they have seen him sleep outside in a blizzard. So we weren't too concerned about him. There is room in the barn for him, as on rainy days I have seen him in there with the alpacas.

Well, since the cold winter weather hit, Spot found a place he likes to snuggle in:

If you look close, you can see his head poking out of the top of the hay bin. That stinker!

He does still get up to greet me when I arrive :)

I also got pictures of Dottie enjoying the snow. I have never met a dog who loves snow more than Dottie. Whenever there is freshly fallen snow, Dottie will run and roll in the snow. She'll dive down, making sure to fall on her ears first to dig into the snow. Here are pictures of her doing her fresh snow dive:

Dottie is our beloved house dog, who was J's dog before I even met him. She's been apart of this family since before we were a family. The kids know no life before Dottie. She's getting old now, which is hard to see. She was hit by a car when she was 2 years old, and while she was fixed up at the time, we knew as she aged her hips would show signs of the accident. Despite her older age, she still dives into the snow with the same viggor she ever had.

Snowy Days

The alpacas do not appear to mind the snow at all. Their native habitat in Peru does include the mountains, so cold is not new to them. Their fiber keeps them warm. We have found that windy days are tough on them. I also worry when we go from rain to snow, as the damp cold is hard. Snow seems to stay on the very outside of their fiber.

On Christmas Day we had a rain/ice storm after a snow storm that left snow on the alpaca's backs, and ice cycles on the alpaca's sides:

Generally, they are ok with the weather. Even though they could hide in the barn, most of them choose to be outside. On any day, no matter the weather, at their typical feeding time, they start gathering by the gate. It's as if they have watches and know the time:

On the cold snowy days, I don't mind being out with them doing the chores. I have found the art of warm layers to keep myself warm. Sometimes getting out the door is hard, but once I'm out there, I enjoy my time with them. My favorite thing to do on a cold snowy day is to sit by the fire and spin yarn:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blue Ribbon Alpacas Since 2007

We attended J's work holiday party this past weekend. Many of his co-workers find his alpaca farming interesting, and funny. Several of them had on T-shirts they made with a picture of J and Tehya (her blue ribbon picture), and below the picture the caption said "Blue Ribbon Alpacas Since 2007". I love the tag line! It's true too, our farm started in 2007, and we have blue ribbon alpacas.

I quizzed the kids this morning to see if they knew who our blue ribbon winners are. I told them we have 3 blue ribbon winners. Half way through the discussion I realized we have four blue ribbon winners. The kids instantly knew of Tehya and Shelby's blue ribbons. It took some guesses to come up with our other two - Kateri and Sancha.

I did not have my camera on me to get pictures of the t-shirts. Hopefully someone can email us a copy. We do have a t-shirt, which I will get a picture of.

herd health

We aim to do herd health every month, though often it really only needs to be done every other month. This way, if things come up, we can skip a month here or there without compromising the alpaca's needs. We've set up to do herd health on the first weekend of the month. These pictures are from our January 1st herd health day. We coaxed Emma into helping out, as three people are even better than two.

The first thing we do on herd health day is get all the alpacas into the paddock area. This usually alerts them that something is going on. They do not like to be touched or messed with, so herd health is not a fun time for them. Here they are, all waiting to see what we are going to do to them:

The younger alpacas we halter, and lead them over to the scale to weigh them. We also give them any shots they might need. On this day we did AD&E shots. I know many farms use an AD&E paste instead. We have opted for the shot and have found it quite effective. We live in an area that has almost no sunlighth all winter, so it is very important that the young growing alpacas get the vit D from a good source.

Here J has Tehya ready to halter:

And he takes her back to the herd afterward. Spot is on guard, making sure he knows who comes and goes:

J and Emma getting Po haltered:

Here J is leading Po and Emma is behind, as the really young ones are not yet halter trained, they sometimes need a push to get moving. Alpacas are herd animals and never like leaving their herd:

During herd health we get ahold of each alpaca to give them a good once over, to check for any possible concerns. We body score each alpaca. To body score, you feel their back bone about a hands width behind their shoulder blade. The back bone into their body should feel like a V. A V that is hollowed inside is an alpaca that is too thin. A V that is bulging or even more of a U or a flat line across would be an overweight alpaca. As I've mentioned before, at first we were doing body scoring incorrectly, and actually allowed some of our animals to get too thin. We were assessing them in the wrong place. An easy mistake for beginners, but a hard lesson for us. It is very important to know where to check them, and to assess this accurately. We were happy to see that all our alpacas scored in a good range. We use a 10 point scale (you can also use a 5 point scale, all a matter of personal preference). A score of 5 (on a 10 point scale) is ideal. All of ours scored between a 4 and 5. This is a good range, especially given those that were 4 are ones that have typically been thin. A 4 for them is great! It did make us think about weaning Sancha and Kateri (which as you can see from my previous post, we decided to do this). Our pregnant girls we like to see close to a 6 (on a 10 point scale) at birthing time. This way they have extra body conditioning so that they are plenty healthy to feed the cria and tend to all mothering needs.

For the older girls, we do not weigh them, as they are no longer growing. We know their typical weight, so if we need that for medication dosage purpose, even in an emergency, we are ready. For monthly herd health, we body score them.

All alpacas get their toe nails trimmed. We also trim any top knots that may have gotten too out of control. I feel bad if their top knot blocks their sight.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


There are different views on when and how to wean. Some alpaca farmers believe in letting nature take it's course, let the mom and baby decide when and how. Some farms have a set weight that the cria has to get to when they will wean them, or a certain age. I've heard of farms that once the cria turns 6 months old, they move the cria into a pen away from their mom and wean them that way. There is not set "right" way, all farmers need to evaluate what they feel is best and works well for them.

I firmly believe mother's milk is best for a cria, and ideally I would like nature to take it's course and let the mother and child wean on their own. But, I think some of our mom's are so attentive, they will tend to their baby's needs to their own determent.

The first year we had Sancha, we were not doing body scoring correctly and we did not realize she had gotten so thin. This lead to our having to wean Lightning at a very early age. Certainly not ideal. From that experience, we learned that we really have to keep the dam's weight up prior to birth, so they can feed their cria well. This year we did a great job keeping Sancha's weight up. We did not have to worry about weaning Lily early.

Now we have seven month old Lily who is over 80 pounds! She is eating grain well and has been eating hay since she was quite young. She is past the age or weight that many farms set for weaning. We were watching Sancha to see if she would wean Lily on her own. Often Sancha was kicking Lily off, but there were other times we caught Lily feeding. She's old enough and big enough, and we know it's time to fatten Sancha up for her next delivery in a few months. So we decided we would intervene, and move Lily.

We also noticed that while Kateri was kicking Po off and not letting her feed very often, Po was pestering her mom until she would give in and let her feed. Kateri seemed annoyed by her baby's requests. Kateri isn't near as thin as Sancha, but she is on the thin side. We watch her weight closely so that it does not become a problem.

Our problem came in that we only have one pen for the girls. We have too many boys to allow these weanlings to stay there. So we were left without a place to separate Lily and Po from their moms. We asked our friends at Ashton Stone Alpacas if they would take our weanlings for a couple weeks to give their mom's enough time to dry up. So Lily and Po are on a vacation at Ashton Stone Alpacas. I've heard they are doing well. I hope this will work as a way to wean them, and give their moms time to build up for their impending births.
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