Thursday, May 20, 2010

May has been busy!

Life may be busy, but sometimes you just have to stop and smell the flowers, right Rowdy?!

We had a nice visit from our older son, Ian, and his girlfriend, Michelle, the first week of May. They live in California at a lodge just outside Yosemite National Park. They both work at the lodge, as does our younger son, Sam. We don't get to see them very often, so it was a great time and the weather was about perfect! Michelle had never been here, but she has lived in Alaska and Oregon and California, so I am sure Ohio was a bit tame.

We have finally been able to start shearing our alpaca herd. The cool rainy weather we have been experiencing here has got us a bit behind schedule, but we'll get it done eventually. Hopefully for my next blog post I will have photos and can do a shearing tutorial for those who may be interested in what shearing alpacas entails.

Meanwhile, we have had one more cria born, a little black female, belonging to one of our boarders. Both she and the little boy from the last post are doing well. We still expect 4 more.

The garden is coming along. We have been having salads as I thin the lettuce and spinach. Beets, peas, onions, and squash are all coming up and I have planted some pepper and tomato pla
nts. The asparagus bed is doing well, although we had a couple of late frosts and some stalks were killed off. I think by next year we should be able to enjoy the fruits (or veggies) of that labor!

Since I don't yet have shearing photos to write about, I thought I'd post some aerial farm photos we had taken a few years back and describe our farm layout. We are located in the foothills of the Appalachians, so there is very little flat land in our area and our farm is no exception. Our house and buildings are located in a "holler" or "creek bottom" and so to get just about anywhere, we must go uphill. It can be a challenge in winter, so we do have a couple of 4 WD vehicles.

This first photo is of the main house and buildings. From the upper part of the photo is the poly shelter, which houses the tractor, mowers, trailers and other large equipment. To the right of that (across the creek) is the "Girl's Barn" where our female alpacas live. Cheetah lives here with them. You can see the runway to the back pastures and you may be able to see the alpacas themselves if the photo is large enough on your screen. The red-roofed building below the poly-shelter is call the horse barn. This is where my old horse lives. He has a huge run-in stall and is not ever shut in. We also have hay lofts in this building and here is where our hay is kept. Just below this barn, partially hidden by the huge pine trees are an old corn crib (soon to be chicken house) and storage building. Then there is our house and small summer kitchen and then the garage/workshop. There is another alpaca field just below the garage which has a small 3 -sided shed in it. If you look in the lower left hand corner of this photo, you can see one of the gas/oil wells on our property, which is way up above the house.

In the photo to the left, I have tried to outline our property in white. You can see our main house and buildings top center, then the neighbor's house and at the bottom is our guest house and 2 more alpaca fields, each with a 3 -sided shed, one across the road from the house and one behind the house. There is also an older barn at the very bottom of the photo.

This final photo is a larger view of the whole neighborhood. It may be a little easier to get some of the scope of the hills an woods from this one.

I am still working on my mystery shawl, but am onto the beaded border, so it won't be long now. I will post a photo of the finished shawl when it is done.

I really need to concentrate on skirting some fleeces now. In a little over a week I will be attending the Great Lakes Fiber Festival in Wooster Ohio and hope to drop off about 60 pounds of fiber to be made into rug yarn. Then it will be time to get my loom going and make some awesome rugs!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cria Birth, Graphic Photos

Our first cria of the year arrived Friday, April 30. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day, perfect for a new arrival. As promised, I took some photos and will describe the birth of a baby alpaca.

The mother alpaca, or dam, is Miracle. You may remember she is the cria I found Cheetah guarding in the barn almost 3 years ago,
who almost died and spent some time at Ohio State's vet hospital. Well, we have now come full circle and Miracle is mother to her first baby and it was a perfect birthing.

The first signs of impending birth are often very subtle, but I have come to be pretty familiar with them. The expectant mother may roll frequently, or get up and down and act agitated. She may stand at the poop pile for extended periods of time without actually going. She may hum continuously, she may not come in for her morning feed. Each one is different and may exhibit any or all of these signs. Here, Miracle is standing at the poop pile. Her tail is wrapped to keep the hair out of the way so I can see what is going on easier.

Miracle's labor was fairly quiet and slow. When she got close to Stage 2
of labor, which is actually pushing the cria out, she became very much more agitated and got up and down constantly, humming all the time. I keep a close eye for contractions, because once I see her actually pushing, I want to see a sign that baby is coming out very soon. And what I want to see is nose and toes. The cria should present like it is diving into a pool, with its front legs first and its head and neck stretched out along the legs. I generally breathe a sigh of relief when I see a nose and 2 feet because not much can go wrong once those come out.

Soon, the head and the legs up to the knees come along, and often the dam takes a little rest at this point to prepare for passing the shoulders, which are the biggest part of the cria. Now the cria usually starts to shake its little head and snort attempting to clear its nasal passages of fluids and of course it starts to breathe on its own. Often, this surprises new dams and if they are on their feet, they may spin in circles to try to see what that is making that noise on their backside. Miracle, however was laying down and tired.

This is a point where I can help if the dam is tired or the cria is large and I did help Miracle a little. As she strains with contractions, I can gently pull on the legs to help her hasten things along. It is a slippery job.

Once the shoulders are out, the rest follows along quite easily. And this is when we can check to see if we have a girl or a boy. It's a BOY!

You may notice the cria looks shiny. They are born with a shiny membrane that covers their entire body and which I start to peel off as soon as baby is born. I also check to make sure the cria is not bleeding from the unbilical cord stump, which I then dip in iodine to prevent bacterial infection. I dip the cord 3 times in the first 24 hours. Otherwise, at this point, we just let mama take over. Here I have placed the new cria in front of Miracle so she can sniff him and hum to him and start to bond with him.
This is very important because if she does not accept him as hers, she will refuse to nurse him and I will be stuck with a bottle baby for the next several months, which may seem fun at first, but gets old quickly. We have had dozens of births here over the last 10 years and I am always amazed at the natural instinct the mothers have to mother their crias. And the crias are amazing in that they have such a strong instinct to FIND THE FOOD SOURCE! It can be comical watching them stagger in circles around the dam with their little tongues sticking out in the sucking mode trying to find the udder. Sometimes I give them a little help and point them in the right general direction.

Since it was such a nice day and it was now after 3 pm, I took Miracle's cria out into the sunshine to dry off and have some more bonding time with mom. Mother alpacas do not lick their crias dry as most other mammals do, so I love it when crias are born on nice warm sunny days. If it is cold and damp, I use a hair dryer to get the cria as dry as possible and then put a coat on it. As you can see in this photo, he is less than an hour old and already attempting to stand up.

The 3rd stage of labor is the passing of the placenta, which usually happens within a couple of hours after the cria's birth.

So, from 9 am, when I noticed signs of labor, it was 6 hours until the cria was born and he was up nursing and running within 2 hours. Most likely, Miracle's next labor will be much shorter. Sometimes, I miss the whole thing if I run to the house for towels or the camera, which is fine with me because that means all has gone well!