Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Goodbye to a Good Dog

RIP Cheetah
12-2003  to 10-20-10
We know when we get a dog that they will only be part of our lives for a fraction of our time here on earth, and yet we cannot help allowing them into our homes and our hearts.  They teach us things we cannot learn from other people.  Their needs are simple, food, shelter and hopefully, love.  I think that is something every dog needs and deserves.  I know this simply from my experiences with dogs during my lifetime. 

Only a little more than a month after being diagnosed with osteo-sarcoma, Cheetah, guard dog to orphaned alpacas, lover of children, 120 pound lap dog, was ready to leave the pain behind.  I had the vet make a farm call so he could spend his last hour in the place he knew with his charges only yards away.  I took a package of hot dogs and Rowdy and I went out and just sat with him and I fed him hot dogs.  I let him sit on my lap one last timeI held his huge head as he went to sleep for the last time.  
Cheetah (left) & Dash 2005
The vet tech, Joe, placed Cheetah in the grave on the hillside just where Cheetah used to sit and watch over his herd.  When they left, I went into the house and brought out the ashes of our first Pyrenees, Dash, who was Cheetah's best buddy for 2 1/2 years until he died of a twisted stomach 3 years ago.  I sprinkled Dash's ashes in with Cheetah and there they will both rest.

Now for some fond memories of Cheetah..... You've already read about the cria Miracle, who he refused to abandon in the barn.  Cheetah also loved children.  Maybe it was because they stood eye to eye with him.  Every couple of years, I get a phone call from the local Head Start program asking if they can bring the kids out for a field trip.  A week or so after the very first group came out, I got a folder full of drawings from the class.  They had been asked by their teacher to draw a picture of their favorite part of their field trip to the alpaca farm.  95% of those drawings were of Cheetah!  I wish I knew where those were today. 
Cheetah also had a special relationship with my younger son, Sam, who was still in high school when Cheetah came along.

I can usually tell when one of the alpacas is ill or in labor because Cheetah is right there, watching over whichever animal is not acting "right" to him.  I had one female alpaca who also guarded over other females in labor and guarded one female from Cheetah!  She was due herself within a few days when I got this photo of her chasing Cheetah away.

 We go to my mom's on the other side of Ohio for Thanksgiving every year.  We leave on Thanksgiving day and return 2 days later, on Saturday, and have someone come in Friday and feed the animals.  We take the Aussies with us.   One Thanksgiving, when Dash was still alive, we came home on Saturday afternoon and started to listen to the 7 messages on our answering machine.  The first one came in shortly after we left on Thursday and it was a neighbor just up the hill from us, telling us that 2 big white dogs had just passed their place, heading uphill,  The next several messages were similar, each one a little later in the day and from a neighbor farther away, the last one was that night and was from about 5 miles away.  Of course, I got panicky and went running out to the barn right away, only to find the 2 culprits lounging outside the barn, waiting to be let back in where the food was!  I was SO happy to see them. That was their second and last  trip abroad!  We fixed some fences and they never strayed again.

And of course, Cheetah and Rowdy were buddies.  In this photo, Cheetah is relaxing on a hay bale (we had to buy HUGE bales that year, it was a bad hay year locally) and Rowdy, who is only a pup, is trying to get him to play.

My 4 year old nephew visited us twice this past summer, and I will always hear him saying in a loud voice "I want to go see the Cheetah!"   

Apollo has some big pawprints to fill!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October Happenings

Rowdy is graciously allowing Ginger to be this week's cover-girl.  Notice how nicely she blends in with the fallen leaves. 

As of today, Sam has been gone for 8 days.  Every other year, he and his brother, Tim, head out to Colorado to go elk hunting.  They load up our big 4-wheel drive pick up and take off.  They drive straight through, about 24 hours, to Rifle Colorado where they exit I-70, spend the night and head up onto a mountain the next morning.  They go with the same group of local guys and I'm not exactly sure of where they go, but it is north of I-70, not far from Steamboat Springs.  Sam says the worst part of the trip is once they put the chains on the truck and leave the road to head about a mile and half up the mountain.  He does not like this part as the "road" is very rough and steep and has a drop off on one side.  This last part takes 2 to 3 hours.  Then they set up camp and have male bonding time for the next 5 or 6 days and hopefully get to shoot an elk.  He and Tim are on their way home today and unfortunately neither one got an elk this year.  First time for that.  I will be very glad to see Sam tomorrow when he gets home.  I miss him and it has been a rough week since he left.  I have been handling the farm and the business and of course there have been problems at the shelter to deal with.

Right before Sam left, we went out into our woods and spent some time marking Maple trees.  This is the easiest time of year to do so since they have beautiful yellow leaves which are easy to spot.  I think we marked 30 or so trees with blue tape.  This will give us plenty of options when tapping time comes in February.  We only had 10 taps this year and we produced 2 gallons of syrup.  We plan to set 25 to 30 taps next year and many of the trees will support more than one tap. 

In September in western Ohio there is a fiber festival called A Wool Gathering.  I have attended it in the past just for fun and to shop.  It is held at Young's Dairy, a dairy farm which makes yummy ice cream.  It is a nice festival, growing in popularity every year.  My friend Tari and I have decided to go together and have a booth at this festival next year and have sent in our entry form.  Their vendor spaces sell out every year, usually by December, they told me, so I wanted to get it in early.  Tari lives in Monroe County also.  She and her husband, Dave, have a small farm where they raise sheep and dairy goats and have chickens and put in a huge garden every year.  Tari has border collies and she trains them to herd her sheep.  She helped me learn to spin when I first met her 10 years ago.  Tari and I actually grew up in the same county in western Ohio at about the same time and we both moved here in the late 1990's  from Indiana.  So our lives have kind of paralleled each other but we never met until 2000.  We enjoy getting together to spin and talk about dogs and fiber and knitting.  We decided since we were doing a booth together that we needed a name that reflected our Appalachian foothills location.  We came up with Ridge and Hollow Fiber Folk.  So, we have almost an entire year to spin and dye and weave and shear and knit to get ready for this festival. It will be MUCH larger than the one I went to in WV last month!

It's October, so that means it is breeding season on our farm.  Alpacas have an average gestation of 11 1/2 months.  They are also induced ovulators and can be bred any time of year.  We choose to breed for late spring and early fall crias.  So the goal is to have everyone bred by mid-June for spring and by mid-November for fall crias.  We do what we call pen-breeding here.  That means that I bring a male into the main barn and place him in a pen with a chosen female and leave them together for breeding.  Since alpacas are induced ovulators, they do not go into heat like many other mammals do.  Instead, a follicle will ripen on the female's ovary and when it gets to a certain size, it will be ready to produce an egg.  If the female is placed with a male when this follicle is ready, her hormones will tell her to be receptive to the male's advances and she will sit or "kush" for the male to breed her.  The male and female will then breed in this position.  The act of breeding causes hormone changes in the female, resulting in the follicle on the ovary releasing an egg.  If the female is not bred during this time, the follicle will just recede and another will start to form and the whole thing will happen again in about 2 weeks.  Now you may notice in the photo that Peg does not look too excited about the whole process.  The males will breed the females anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes and the whole time they are breeding, they are "orgling" which is a sound I have never heard another animal make.  Imagine if you gargled and hummed at the same time.  That's sort of what it sounds like.  And some can be very loud!  You may also notice another female sitting patiently waiting her turn.  Hormones are very powerful!

So, now the female and male have bred.  In about 1 week, I need to check and see if indeed the female did ovulate.  In order to do this, I need to bring the male back to the barn.  Ovulation causes the female to start to produce progesterone, a hormone which maintains pregnancy.  Hormones again.  If the female is producing progesterone, she will be non-receptive to the male.  That is a nice way of saying she wants absolutely nothing to do with him.  Usually to get her point across she runs away from him and kicks at him and spits at him.  This is what I am looking for at this point.  This is called "behavior-testing".  Now I must wade in and separate amorous male from spitting kicking female before someone gets hurt.  Big fun, but this is the reaction I want.  But it's not over yet.  Fast forward another week.  Time to put the 2 together again for behavior-testing.  It is possible that a female will ovulate and yet the egg will not get fertilized.  In that case, 12 to 14 days after the initial breeding, the female is no longer  producing progesterone (no pregnancy) and she will once again be receptive to the male.  In this case, the whole process starts again.  If the female "spits off" (technical terminology) at 14 days, she is likely pregnant.  I generally continue to behavior-test about once a week for 30 days and then I may choose to have the vet out for ultrasounding.  So, that's kind of a crash course in alpaca breeding.  I do a lot of laundry this time of year : )

I am about to start warping my loom for my first rugs!  Here is the loom with my couted out warp ready to start.  Hopefully the next time you see a photo of this loom it will be all warped up!

I also finished my cabled sweater!  I have decided to enter it in the Fiber Arts competition at the alpaca show I am attending in Springfield Ohio in a couple weeks. 

And here are the purple mittens I wrote about last week.  They will be for sale at the Member Market at the same show.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Last Crias are Here, Cats, A Trade is Made, Among Other Happenings

Rowdy is back as the blog mascot.  He hopes you didn't miss him too much.

Yes, the last 2 crias of 2010 arrived within 24 hours of each other.  First, a beautiful curly crimpy white female from Dazzle, who is owned by my brother-in-law, on Oct 1.  This is Dazzle's first cria and she has proven to be a wonderful mother. 

Then on Saturday, our Chiquita delivered her 11th cria since she's been here.  Another male, but he's a cutie.  Chiquita's record has been 8 males, 3 females.  I sure would have liked another little girl from her since she's getting up there in age, but I have kept her last female cria, Margarita, who will be having her first cria in the spring.

In my last post, I alluded to taking a truckload of cats to Wheeling West Virginia.  Well it ended up being only 1/2 a truckload (14).  As a volunteer for our Humane Society (ok I am a co-director), we got a good deal on spay/neuter cost of cats if we took in several to the "Spay Day" held by a large vet clinic in Wheeling, about an hour away.  So we arranged to have people meet me in town with their cats, boxed and labeled, and I delivered the cats to the clinic.  Another volunteer picked them up later.  All went smoothly and there will be 14 less local cats adding to the overpopulation problem here in the county.  We will be doing it again next month.  Please, please,  spay and neuter your pets.  A real statistic is that 1 pair of cats can turn into 420,000 cats in a 7 year period if left to their own devices and not spayed and neutered.  That's a LOT of cats!

I recently decided one way to improve my alpaca herd was to find a new male who was unrelated to any of my females.  I offered a trade on Alpacanation, a large marketing and social website for alpaca breeders.  I offered 2 females in trade for one excellent quality white or light fawn male who was at least a year old.  I had several offers and fell in love with the fleece from one particular male, Sancha's White Lightning, who was from Oak Haven Farm in Michigan.  Long story short, we worked out our trade and Lightning arrived late on Friday Oct 1.  He is a very nice male and we have already put him to work with some of our females.
Lightning has several show ribbons  already and once I got him I decided that since I have not shown in about 2 years, I ought to get back into the show scene a little bit, so I decided to enter the Ohio Alpaca Breeder's Assoc. Alpacafest, which is Nov 5-7.    It is being held in Springfield, Ohio, a new venue for this show which has been held in Columbus the last several years at the fairgrounds.  I will get to see lots of people I have not seen in a while and it should be a good time. 

Our weather has been up and down the last week.  We had several days of just plain cold damp weather last week and then by the weekend, we were up into the 80's with bright October sunshine.  I was glad I had not taken my fans out of the alpaca barn for the winter.  80's is quite hot especially for alpacas who have 5 months of fleece growth on them.  It would be like us wearing a wool sweater in July.  It has been so dry, our pond is down about 2 feet and the trees just haven't put on the customary brilliant colors we so hope to see every year.  Many of the leaves are already off due to the dry weather.  But we still have some colors out there.

I have still not gotten my loom all ready to warp up (warp is the threads that are strung on the loom that you weave the yarn through).  I needed to replace a piece on it called the front apron and I now have all the parts I need, I just have to get out my sewing machine and stitch it up.  Need to find the time!  I will be at our real estate office a lot this week since Sam is away (more on that later), so hopefully I can get things rolling with the loom.  I really want to start weaving!

I finished up a pair of mittens knit in handspun, hand-dyed alpaca last week and have almost finished the second sleeve on my cabled 100% alpaca sweater.  Need to take some photos!  I haven't needed the sweater yet, so it's not a problem that it isn't quite done.  I hope to finish it by the end of the weekend.  I think I have some work to do on the neck and sew on the sleeves before it is complete. 

I have more to write about, but will save it for another post later this week.