Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring is a Busy Time!

Everything is so green! The photo above is one of the paths that we hike/run on through the woods on our farm. It really IS that color this time of year. Just incredible. Soon, though, summer will be here with its heat and the tender spring foliage will dry out. But that just brings other beauty to the woods.

I finished up my Spin-Off entries. I judged 71 black,
grey and brown entries. The photo here is of my work area while I am judging: I have lettered the items and will explain the use of each. A (Zip-Loc bag in center left): is the actual entry as I receive it. It is a minimum of 2 oz.
B: white poster board onto which I spread out the entered fiber to judge. Anything that comes out of that baggie goes back in. You can see some dirt and little bits of fiber, which are called second cuts. That will all go back into the entry bag (and hopefully not on my floor).
C: Scorecard where I give or take away points and make comments.

D: Hand carders which are used to prepare the fiber for spinning
E: Rolag (brown curved object far right): this is what the fiber looks like once I have carded it and it is ready to spin.
F: Ball winder: Once I have spun the rolags, I need to make a 2-ply yarn, so I wind a center-pull ball which has an end coming from the center and one from the outside. I take both ends and twist them together into a 2-ply yarn on the spinning wheel.
G: Spun samples in skeins ready to be washed.
H: water-proof tags with entry numbers on them to identify each skein for washing.

This is a messy process and I get fiber everywhere. It is also very du
sty. Times like this I wish I had a basement so I could have a permanent work area set up. But I just make do.

Last spring we put in an asparagus bed and it has been exciting to s
ee the new stalks coming up. Hard not to pick and eat them, but we have to let it get established. Unfortunately, we have had frost the last 2 nights and have covered the beds as best we can, but some taller stalks have succumbed to the frost. In all, though, I think it will be fine.

Sam has also put in 14 more hop plants. Last year he put in 2 and ended up with about 2 oz of dried hops to put in his beer. Here are the ones he planted last year.
They are a climbing plant and like sunny locations. I'll post the new ones once they look like something. Might take a while.

Haven't done much more in the garden. It's getting to be time, though. Hopefully this was our last real cold snap.

Our first crias are expected any day now. It could be another 3 weeks or more though. Alpacas are not very exact in gestational times. They can go from 11 months to over a year. It is a watching and waiting game. I hope to be able to photograph a birth this spring to post on this blog. Timing will be everything. It does help that most births occur between 9 am and 3 pm. This is an adaptation that New World Camelids made to living in a high mountainous environment. If their young are born at night, they are liable to freeze to death, so they birth early in the day so the baby has time to dry before the cold nights set in.

We haven't started shearing yet. I'm glad. It was too cold the last couple of nights. But we need to get on it!

I'm still working on my mystery shawl. I'm now on clue 6 of 7. The last clue will be adding beads. It will be time-consuming and interesting. Here is a photo of part of the shawl up through clue 5:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Meet Cheetah!

Meet Cheetah, our livestock guard dog, or LGD. Cheetah is a Great Pyreness, a breed of dog which has been specifically bred to guard livestock. A lot of times when we think of a guard dog, we think of a somewhat aggressive breed like a Rotweiller or Doberman Pinscher. Or when we think of a livestock dog, we think of a herding dog, such as a Border Collie or Australian Shepherd. However, the Great Pyrenees (or Pyr) and several other breeds of dogs have been selectively bred to bond with their livestock charges and stay with them and protect them from predators.

All dogs are basically predators, having been domesticated from wild ancestors. They are all
hunters at heart. Herding dogs have a strong "prey drive", which, along with directions from the shepherd, they use to move flocks of sheep. If you have never seen a Border Collie working sheep, you are missing something! They crouch and give the sheep the Border Collie "eye", which I am sure is very intimidating to the sheep, which are prey animals. LGDs have had the prey drive bred out of them. They have no desire to chase and hunt. They are very protective of their flock or herd. They move with the herd as it grazes and are always vigilant for predators.

Cheetah is 120 pounds. His greatest wish is to be a lap dog in his next life. He loves people. He has never been in a house. He lives with the alpaca herd in the barn. He sleeps most of the day and patrols at night, barking and making his presence known. In my opinion, any coyotes in the area are smart enough to know that there is plenty for them to eat without coming near that large bark!

We have had Cheetah since he was abo
ut a year old. He will be 6 this fall. He has not always been an only LGD. We had one Pyr when we got Cheetah. His name was Dash and he was 140 pounds. He was a big sweet guy, but he died 3 years ago of a twisted stomach (if you've read Marley and Me, Marley suffered from the same condition), which was rough on Cheetah. They were great friends. We then got another puppy, who took to digging under our fences at about a year old and got out one day and met with an unfortunate end at only 13 months old.

Here is an example of a livestock guard dog doing his job. Almost 3 years ago, I was away fo
r the day in August. We had no alpaca babies due for at least another month, so I was not concerned at all. When I came home and went out to do the feeding in the evening, all the alpacas were in the back field grazing. When I went into the barn, I realized Cheetah was in the barn and there was something laying next to him on the floor. It was a cria, or newborn baby alpaca. It was a month premature and it was its mother's first cria and she had evidently delivered it and then gone out with the rest of the herd. The cria was still alive and Cheetah was guarding it. We found the mother and put her in with the cria and since the cria was so early, I spent most of the night milking the mother and feeding the cria with a dropper. She was trying very hard to make it, but by morning was not doing well, so I loaded up mom and baby and took them to Ohio State University's vet hospital, where they stayed for 2 weeks. The cria managed to pull through, although the vet's said she should have died. "Miracle" is now almost 3 and due to have her first cria in May.

We have had many school groups come t
o our farm, from pre-schoolers, to 8th graders and Cheetah is always a hit. The pre-schoolers are eye to eye with him and I have yet to have one be afraid of him. He is truly a gentle giant.

Did I mention he loves to give kisses?

Spring is in full swing. The redbuds are in bloom and the wild apple trees have blossoms on them. The woods are beautiful this time of year. The trees have a faint haze of color as the leaves prepare to open up. There are tiny wild flowers everywhere I look. The days are warm and the nights are cool.

I am still working on the Spin-off and also knitting on my mystery shawl. I am on clue 5. Clue 6 comes out in 8 days. There are 7 clues, so we are getting to the end. The last clue will be the big one, I think, since we will be adding beads!

It is about time to seriously think about shearing. Watch for that soon!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Playing Possum Really Does Work!

Yes, another sign of spring is that the critters start moving around. Rowdy has caught possums in the yard 4 times, at least 2 different possums and 2 in the same day! As you can see from the photo, they curl up in a little ball and don't move. When Rowdy pokes them with his nose and they don't squeak, he loses interest and leaves them alone. I have even picked them up by the tail without them moving. They also "grin" and show all their teeth, which are impressive, but do not offer to bite. About 1/2 an hour after I took this photo, this guy got up and continued on with his business.

One of my favorite jokes of all time:

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"
"To show the possum it could be done!"

I know, it's stupid, but I love it.

This past week or 2 has been busy. Once again all the alpacas needed their wormer shots, so I did that. Saturday morning, I separated the rest of the fall crias from their mamas and moved them all to a new pasture where they are adjusting well. 2 of them are leaving for their new home in Georgia this weekend, so they need to go to the vet for health papers tomorrow. Hope I can catch them!

I have also been busy with spinning. I am judging a "Hand-Crafter's Spin-off" for the Alpaca Owners and Breeder's Assoc National show and conference. I have done this several times. Basically, breeders send in a 2 oz sample of their alpaca's fleece and they are put into classes of same color and age and sent to me and a couple other judges. We judge each sample on several criteria, spin up a portion of the fiber and score each sample. A class may have 3 entries or 15. The possible total points is 100. It is interesting because I get to spin some very nice fleeces and also some poor fleeces. I think it is educational for breeders who are not fiber-savvy. What is really hard sometimes is trying to be positive about a terrible sample. I remember once I got one that smelled so bad I hated to touch it, but the rule book says I can't DQ a sample for that, so I had to judge it. I can only DQ if the sample is insect infested (haven't had one of those yet, thankfully) or too short to spin. I have had those. I do get paid for this, but not really enough for the time that is involved. But it does help finance my fiber passion (should pay for that spinning wheel I just bought!).

I have also been doing some work outside. The garden is tilled and I have planted lettuce, spinach and beets. We have tomatoes, peas, peppers, and basil started in little pots to put out soon. Also have some onion sets to put out. Sam says our asparagus, which we put in last year is coming up, yipee! Hopefully we will get to eat some this year. We'll see. Can't wait for a fresh baby lettuce salad! Yum.

I'm still plugging away on my mystery shawl knit-along. Tomorrow the 5th clue comes out and I have 2 rows to knit on clue. It was 24 rows of 560 stitches, so time consuming and with the nice weather it is hard to justify sitting and knitting!

Next week I hope to start introducing some of the other animals on the farm, but I need to get current photos of them. Watch for Cheetah, the livestock guard dog soon!