Two months since my last post and I’m so happy to be writing again. I really enjoy using this blog as a journal and an outlet to share what’s going on at the farm and in our lives! Things have gotten a little (ok, a lot) more hectic around here lately with the addition to our family, but I’m determined to be a mommy of two and still make time for the other things I’m passionate about. I know many moms who do it (e.g. my favorite blogger Shaye Elliott at The Elliott Homestead, who has more children than I do) and that’s what drives me to try harder. It’s exhausting and as I type this (11:35 PM), I remind myself that staying up after the boys’ bedtime helps me regain a little of my sanity at the end of the day. And it’s worth it. So with that in mind, here’s what’s been going on here lately:
Note: There are quite a few external links in this post. As much as I would love to say that I get paid to recommend these products or websites, please know that I do not (maybe some day?!). When I choose to add a link, I simply support whatever it is I’m talking about! I promise to update you if my opinion changes.
Preparation for Winter
As the end of October fast approaches, our stacks of firewood are getting taller and fatter. At the barn, it’s time to turn off the stall fan and keep the doors closed at night. This will be our first winter with Iroquois and Tribute and we’re getting ready for a cold one. Last year it was very mild here in central Ohio, but we can’t expect the same this year. Temps have dropped into the 30s several nights already and soon we’ll be laying out straw in the stall for bedding. We’ll use six bales, which should be plenty according to our mentors. Not long ago we also brought home two trailers worth of hay (it should last us a year or more). Sixty bales of this year’s second cutting orchard grass from Garrabrant Farms in Johnstown. A few months ago, we upgraded our compact car to a SUV with towing hitch and our neighbor Bob has been so kind as to let us use his 10′ trailer whenever we need it. We’re storing all the hay in our barn aisle and also in one of the stalls, on top of pallets and covered with tarps.
The boys are currently still eating out of the horse hay feeder mounted under the overhang, which isn’t ideal because there seems to be a lot of waste from hay falling out of it onto the ground. We plan to build a new hay feeder before bad weather arrives so that the boys can eat inside the stall and also so that we won’t have to refill it as often. There are a bunch of 2x4s laying around the barn and garage and I’ve gotten a lot of good ideas from my alpaca groups. I just need to see exactly what wood we have at our disposal and sketch out a design. It’s also necessary in the winter to keep our boys’ water from freezing. I noticed the water buckets we’re using now have electric cords coiled up underneath them so that they easily be converted to a heated bucket when it’s below freezing (we found them in the barn when we moved in, yay). We’ll need to test those out soon to make sure they’re in working order. There is also a heating cable wrapped around our barn water pump to prevent water inside it from freezing. Someone mentioned that it isn’t necessary, since the pump should automatically drain back into the ground when not in use, but we’ll probably leave it plugged in over the winter just in case. Water is essential and we refill the buckets daily, so we don’t want anything to freeze up. Also, since winter is the only time we’ve seen coyotes around, we’ll be doing a very thorough check of all our fencing and gates soon to be sure there are no weaknesses or large gaps.
The Fiber Boys
Around this time last year, we had just finished putting up our interior fencing (see Pasture & Dry Lot Setup). It was the first of many farm setup tasks. Fast forward to today and we are a happy family of four (our second son Dalton joined us on 8/20, a week past his due date, weighing in at almost 11 pounds) and our alpacas have been here almost five months already! As I mentioned in an earlier post, Tribute “Boo” had been making herd health quite the chore for us, really acting up during his shot those last few months I was pregnant. He must have sensed my anxiety about the whole thing and really ran with it, literally coming up into the air with his front legs like a wild stallion while we were attempting to inject his monthly dose of ivermectin. Needless to say, I don’t recommend learning to handle alpacas while 8 / 9 months pregnant. When upset, alpacas only spit and kick (we haven’t experienced either so far, thankfully) and they don’t have hard hooves so there isn’t really much that can go wrong, but any animal throwing it’s weight around when there is a needle involved can be scary. Our mentors ended up coming over to handle the shots for us in June and July – What a relief! So, end-of-August herd health was my first month back to my (almost) normal self. We held Boo with his halter on and the lead rope wrapped loosely around a plant of the stall door so that he couldn’t jump up. Everything went as smooth as butter. Last month, though, we failed on the first attempt at his shot and the syringe ended up on the stall floor (I’m getting used to running back inside to fill a new syringe for him at this point). On the second attempt, I felt a little shaky and some of the anxiety came back. I had to remind myself that he probably only weighs a little more than me and there are two of us and only one of him. The next time, we both scooped him up against the wall with our legs from underneath, me in front and my husband in back, and we managed to get it done.
September was our first time trimming nails and Iroquois just wanted to cush the whole time (cush means he folded his legs underneath his body and sat down). That wasn’t the ideal position for trimming nails and made the task more of a challenge than anticipated, but I managed to clip all eight (and I thought cutting newborn nails was nerve-racking)! One toe bled a little, which I felt really bad about. I’ll be more careful when cutting around the quick next time and hopefully Iroquois will do me a favor and remain standing. Next herd health day should be fun if Tribute (our rowdy boy) needs to have his nails trimmed too *sarcasm*. If he puts up a fight with that, it’ll just be something else we’ll need to work on with him. Even though it isn’t my favorite part of alpaca ownership, it’s important that we do these things to keep our boys happy and healthy. As October herd health approaches, I’m wondering if it’ll start to get easier again soon. We lost a little ground in working with our two alpaca boys when I was “with child” and now our hope is to regain our confidence in handling them as the months progress.
These are the Burgon & Ball shears we found in our barn, which we used for the toenail trimming. They worked pretty well for the job, but will probably need sharpened soon.
Over the course of several months, we’ve noticed that Iroquois’ seems to have lost a little weight. Without a scale it’s hard to verify, so we rely on checking “body score” to detect any problems. After deciding that he had probably lost some weight, I called Dr. Walker at Camelid Care Veterinary Services in Grove City and dropped off a fecal sample for testing. The test came back that he was carrying a small parasite load (5 eggs per gram of strongyle type), but she believed it wasn’t enough to cause weight loss. I explained to her that the boys just moved here in May and she mentioned that sometimes a change in environment can be upsetting and possibly cause a drop in weight. At that point, I decided to reach back out to the sellers to let them know the situation. They recommended adding alfalfa pellets to Iroquois’ grain and feeding this year’s hay since it’s fresher and probably has more protein content. We were just finishing off the last of last year’s hay, so we immediately changed both of these things. We’ll be checking his body score during herd health again next weekend and if he hasn’t seemed to gain any weight back, we’ll go ahead and deworm him to see if that helps. Overall, he has no other symptoms and his famacha is good (inner eyelids were dark pink), so we’ll just keep an eye on him until things improve.
Last weekend I started skirting Iroquois’ fiber from his shearing this May. The fleece blanket was rolled in large pieces of paper by our shearers to make it easier to lay out on the skirting table. Unfortunately, I’m ignorant of whatever technique is used to lay it out in one piece and I ended up with what reminded me of a large fried egg that ends up getting stuck folded back onto itself when I try to flip it. Wait, you don’t have that problem? Ok, bad analogy then. Anyway, I finally managed to get it laid out with at least the edges where they should be. By the way, my first time (skirting, that is) was amazing! Skirting is simply a fancy way of saying you’re taking everything out of the prime fleece that doesn’t belong there, such as: vegetable matter (aka “vm”), coarse hair (sometimes called guard hairs), shorter pieces and tags (manure & sweat locks – fortunately for me, I didn’t see either of these). I say the experience was amazing because what else can running your hands through alpaca fiber for several hours be?
Thanks to my husband for finally pushing me to get outside, set up the table and just dive in. I’m not sure why I ever hesitated, except that maybe right now I feel slightly hindered by the fact that our baby boy (now two months old) doesn’t care to take a bottle. It’s been hard to get work done in short spurts, but I’m adjusting and as I see progress being made, it’s given me confidence. After skirting the fleece for awhile last week, I decided to call it quits when some wind and rain started to move in. It’s really nice that the table, which was constructed by my mentors, folds in half so that I was able to easily bring the fleece inside to store it until I’m able to finish. I’m pretty excited that there is a date on the calendar to do that! This coming Saturday will be dedicated to skirting and washing/drying Iroquois’ fiber. I’d love to get to Tribute’s as well before the weather turns bad, but one thing at a time. Once I’ve processed this year’s fiber (skirted, washed, carded and maybe spun), it’s my goal to write up a more detailed post about each step for anyone interested in knowing more.
My handmade skirting table (empty):
Skirting table with Iroquois’ unskirted light fawn fiber on it (the folding blue sawhorse legs are pretty awesome and you can find those here):
Skirting table folded with the fiber inside:
Hanging mesh drying racks I’ll be using to dry the fiber:
Neat little drain protector I got to use for when I wash the fiber in our tub:
I have so many post drafts saved that I hope to get up on the blog soon (you’ll probably see a few backdated posts popping up here and there), but until then, here’s a quick summary of a few other things going on around here:
Either this fall or in the spring (since it isn’t urgent), I’ll be adding some 1 x 6 boards to the fence and sectioning off the area around our compost pile. The area we have set up now will continue to be used for dumping manure until we are ready to let it cure and then we’ll most likely section of another area and switch to using it instead. The compost pile doesn’t really need to have “walls” per se, but I think it’ll look a little nicer. We already have the wood and design for that project. I probably need to cut back some of the growth too, as you can see!
I’m also itching to get out and clean up our barn aisle and stalls and to get some of the weeds out of the dry lot. Pretty sure though that neither of those things will be happening until spring.
Our big project on the house right now (or whenever we can actually find time and get help with the boys) is tearing up and replacing some old decking that seems to have collapsed due to too much moisture and bad design. There are so many projects around here. I’m hoping this is one that Tom and I can tackle on our own. I don’t see why not. After stretching our own field fence and birthing an 11 pound baby, we can do anything, right?!
We just got three more dead ash trees by the house cut down, hoping to avoid damage to our home. Another one was taken down this past spring. We’re surrounded by such beauty, living by the woods (almost in the woods), but hearing trees come down around us is no joke. Two ashes fell during a bad wind only a few days after the crew at Basic Tree Care in Newark had come out. They weren’t close to the house though. Still scary!
Tom has had to mow the pastures once or twice this season since our boys aren’t able to eat down the two 1/4 acre paddocks fast enough to keep up with the growth. Another option would be adding more alpacas, but seeing as we have our hands full already, that most likely won’t happen for awhile still.
In other news, I harvested last of the pokeberries a few days ago. It was my first time checking on them since our son was born. Most that were left on the plant unpicked had dried up, but the largest plant growing by our pond drainage area, still had quite a few ripe and ready for picking. This year I filled half of a gallon freezer bag (berries alone, no stalk). I’m happy with that and plan to add them to next year’s berries to make some natural dye! For now, they’re being stored in the freezer (Yes, I’ve heard they’re poisonous. Don’t worry. No one goes into the freezer except me. Also, my husband doesn’t care much for berries anyway?! – still trying to figure that one out)
I’m also about to start knitting hats and gloves for the whole family for Christmas…… Hahahahaaaa. I would love that, but of course I’m kidding. I can barely find time to eat and shower. For now, it’s all about focusing on what I need to learn for the business. Which means, whenever I have spare time this winter (basically nap time & bed time), I’ll be trying my hand at carding and spinning. These are the hand carders and spindles that I received last Christmas, as well as a bottom whorl spindle I selected for myself based on reviews of that type of spindle being the easiest to start with:
A couple weeks ago, we bought our first whole chicken from new egg and poultry farm, Everyday Acres, who happen to be our good friends and neighbors here in Granville. They raise a heritage breed chicken called the Dorking and ours cooked up nicely in my Dutch oven with some butter, garlic cloves and quartered onions. Delicious! Nothing like knowing how your meat was raised.
Last, but not least, I just heard an alpaca alarm call for the first time!! I was out doing barn chores, when I heard this noise (see video below). Iroquois’ had spotted some whitetail deer on the hill. Pretty cool sounding, isn’t it?
Until next time!