Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Blessings

Thanksgiving Turkeys
This is how things looked at Mom's house after the turkey was consumed this year.  Somehow, Luca, Lola & Boris got the couch!  Gotta admit, those pugs are so funny looking they are cute!

We go to my mom's for Thanksgiving every year.  It is my favorite holiday and almost all my family is there.  Of course my 2 sons are usually unable to make it from California and this year my cousin and her husband didn't make it from Michigan, but they are all there in spirit, along with all those who are no longer with us.  Somehow, the conversation always comes around to how much we miss them and how they'd love to be there and how much richer our lives are for having had them while we did.  The house fills with warmth and laughter (and dogs!) and we all wonder how another year could have gone by so fast.  We realize we are blessed in so many ways and have such wonderful people in our lives and in our pasts.  For this, we are truly thankful.

I am always saying that as soon as this is over (whatever it is) things will get back to normal.  I have yet to figure out what normal is however.  Today started Ohio's gun season for deer, so 1000's of people are taking to the woods in search of that trophy buck, Sam included.  He has already shot one doe which is in the freezer, so he will be watching for the big buck.  I don't mind that he shoots one or two deer each year because we do eat it and I am even thinking of starting to make my own dog food with it.  The deer population in our area is huge and if not for hunting, I think overpopulation would lead to starvation and even more deer being hit on the roads.  So many are.

The holidays and the shelter are managing to team up to keep me busy.  We have been trying to close down the shelter for the winter since our building is inadequately insulated and heated and the location often makes it very difficult for volunteers to get there if the weather is bad.  We are down to about a dozen cats and are planning an adoption day, but now we find out a local puppy mill is being forced to turn over some dogs, so we may be taking in 10 to 15 pomeranians tomorrow.  Yikes!  Sad to say, but I think they will find our chilly shelter to be the lap of luxury. We are also trying to put together a volunteer appreciation holiday dinner for next week and we have a booth at the Woodsfield Christmas Festival this weekend and will be doing a fundraiser there.  I will also be there with my alpaca products.  So you can see, things never seem to slow down.

On the farm, life continues as it should.  Last weekend (before Thanksgiving), I spent a good part of Sunday moving alpacas around.  I moved all the spring crias to the weaning pasture from the main barn, moved Lightning and Oscuro back down the road into the male herd since breeding season is over, and moved a couple adult females in with the 4 yearling females for the winter.  This is a very stressful event for Rowdy since he has to stay on his cable tie.  His herding instinct overpowers his good senses if he is not tied up and then my attempts at being calm and assertive with him go right out the window.  The cable tie is the best solution!

Since winter is about upon us and it has been an extremely dry fall, the alpacas are pretty much eating hay now.  That means it must be moved from the lofts in the horse barn to the various buildings.  We have 4 different buildings on the farm that house alpacas, 3 of which are 3-sided sheds which have lofts across the front.  The 4th is our main alpaca barn.  Each shed can hold about 10 to 14 bales of hay, depending on the size of the building (1 is 10 X 20 and the other 2 are 8 X 16) and we can usually stack 20 bales or so in the main barn at a time.  So in other words, moving hay is pretty much a weekly job for 3 months of the year.  

We have this nifty little 4WD truck that we use for many farm chores.  Here I have loaded 15 bales of hay onto it from the horse barn in the background and my co-pilot and I are about to take this hay over to the girls' barn, which is on the other side of the creek (which is still dry....unprecedented in late November!).

Since the creek is dry, I can either go down through it or go across the bridge, but I usually lose a bale or 2 coming up the other side, so I generally take the bridge.

Once across the creek, I back the little truck up to the barn and right into the main sliding door, turn off the engine, and unload the hay.

Then I stack it on pallets in the front corner of the barn where it will be handy come feeding time.  

With the 3-sided sheds, I can back the truck into the buildings (except one) and then stand in the bed to put the bales up into the loft.  Then I have to climb up into the loft and push the bales to the far end, trying not to hit my head on the rafters because it is only crawling room up there.  Oh, and I also check for wasp and hornet nests if it is prior to first good frost!  Don't want to be up there with an angry bunch of hornets!!

Hay stacked in Girls' Barn

So, I have a festival in Woodsfield this weekend.  This is the 4th year for it and it has really grown.  They actually sell vendor spaces in the courthouse, which is where I will be set up.  I will take some hand made items and some commercially produced alpaca products and my spinning wheel to do demonstrations.  I hope to have some more rugs done by Saturday and warped up my loom last week.  Today I wove one rug and can do 2 more with this warp.  Here is the end of the one I did today.  I love the colors and can't wait to see how it will look once off the loom.  I have the next one planned out, but still have to decide on the 3rd one.  The weaving takes surprisingly little time once I get started.

I am also finishing up a pair of lacey fingerless mitts knitted from hand-spun hand-dyed yarn to sell at the festival.  I'll try to remember my camera so I can take photos!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"How Did You Get Started in Alpacas?"

I have given Apollo the Mascot Spot for this week in his honor.  Just Monday, we found out that he, too, has osteosarcoma, bone cancer, in the same leg as his littermate, Cheetah.  With truly heavy hearts, we said goodbye to this beautiful, gentle dog and he returned to the farm where he spent most of his life to spend the remainder of his days with the people and dogs he knows best.

Wow, have we had a run of bad luck with our Pyrs!  And now we have no guard dog with our herd going into the winter months.  I am working on it, though.

To move onto less depressing subjects, I thought I would write a post dealing with a question we get from almost everyone we meet once they find out we raise alpacas.  There are actually 2 questions (well 3 if you count  "can you eat them?"): the first is "How did you get started with alpacas?"  the second is "what do you do with them?"  which I think I have been covering in general with this blog.

So today, I will address Question #1.  It is a rather long story, and I will try to make it interesting.

Sam and I have been married almost 25 years (I warned you   L O N G).  When we were first married, we both worked in the restaurant business, he in management and me as a server, trainer, superviser.  My job allowed me to work and yet be home most of the time with our kids and Sam and I usually worked opposite shifts so one of us was usually home and we did not need day care.

Long story short, Sam was transferred to the Indianapolis area in 1990.  In 1991, we built a house on 6 acres of flat cornfield so I could realize my lifelong dream of horse ownership.  We always hoped to someday move back to Ohio, to the county where Sam grew up, but the job situation there was difficult to say the least and the area was economically depressed.  We hoped that we could make the move once our 2 boys graduated from high school.  In the meantime, things changed as they usually do and Sam changed companies and became a general manager for a well-known chain restaurant.  I quit the restaurant business and became a travel agent.

Sam is a very good manager and his restaurant was very profitable, but he was never a good  "corporate" guy.  He was promised a promotion twice to district manager, and both times, passed over at the last minute for the position, due to corporate politics.  He became dissatisfied and frustrated and we started to re-think our future plans.  Sam's mom had started a Real Estate company here in Monroe county in 1981, and she was thinking of retiring.  It was not a big business, but it had a good reputation and we could make it grow with both of us working at it.  

Then, suddenly in 1996, my father died of a heart attack at the age of 62.  He was 3 years short of retirement, which he had been looking forward to as he had been working for several years in a job that was less than satisfying.  Suddenly, we looked at life with new eyes.  Live for today took on a new meaning and spending time making money for someone else instead of doing what we enjoyed began to seem crazy.

We began to put the wheels in motion to sell our house, quit our jobs and move back to Ohio and take over Mary's Real Estate company.  This was in the fall of '96.  Sam began to commute to Ohio on his days off where he stayed with my mom in the Cincinnati area and took the classes he needed for his Ohio Real Estate license.  This was time consuming and he had to work the classes in around his job, but it was something he wanted to do before we sold our house and moved so he could jump right into the Real Estate business and eventually get his broker's license.

In the spring of '97, we put our house on the market.  We figured it would sell quickly as it was almost 6 acres with a newer house and barn only about 20 minutes north of Indianapolis.  However, it did not sell as we had anticipated and the holidays found us still waiting for a buyer.

Then, I came home from work one evening a couple days after the first of the year to find Sam already home and having a drink in the kitchen.  I knew right away something was wrong.  Some months before his bosses had found out our house was on the market and when they asked him what his plans were,  Sam was honest (as always) and told them we planned to move back to Ohio.  These wonderful people waited until the holidays were past (the busiest time of year in the restaurant business) and then they had come in and let Sam go.  Never mind that he had the highest profits in the company among other things.  Fortunately, they did give him a decent severance package.

So, now we were really in need of selling our house.   Sam basically moved in with his parents in Ohio and began working the Real Estate and driving the 5 hours back to Indiana once a week for 2 days at home to take care of things there.  I went back to the restaurant I had worked at for 7 years and they were more than happy to have me come back and work 3 or 4 shifts a week after my 8 to 5 day job.  Our kids were by now in 9th and 5th grades, so could stay by themselves in the evening.   This way we managed to keep our heads above water until May 1998 when our house finally sold and we packed up and moved to an old farm house on 67 acres in Monroe county.
"Loadin' up the truck and movin' to Ohio!"
We moved from a newer home with 3 bathrooms into a 100+ year old house with 1 bathroom (claw foot tub, no shower!).   My boys were just over the moon with joy, as you can imagine!  Heavy sarcasm.
Our farm shortly after purchase in 1998

Now, here we were, back in the Appalachian foothills with our 2 boys, our 2 horses, our 2 dogs and no real income!  If you know Real Estate, you know that many people simply do not make it in the business due to working on a commission basis and facing stiff competition.  Here, life is generally simpler and there is no Multiple Listing Service and there were only 2 other small Real Estate companies in the county.  Prices are low.  Most acreage is sold for recreational use or for timber instead of actual farming since it is so hilly and downright dangerous to try to use a tractor on.  As soon as I could, I went to stay with my mom, now in the Dayton area, and I took my licensing classes all at one time over a 3 week period so I could get my license and go to work as well.  Sam's mom, Mary was the broker and would stay on as long as we needed her until Sam could get his broker's license in about 2 years.  Even then, she keeps her license and helps us out when we are away.

We soon discovered that the joys of self-employment were obviously frowned upon by the government and in their desire to make everyone as unhappy as possible, they now wanted very large chunks of our hard-earned income.  Now, we had a 67 acre farm with 2 horses on it.  Said farm needed to be maintained and reclaimed from years of neglect, which takes money and expensive equipment.  IF we could turn our farm into a working farm, we could take advantage of some tax write-offs!  But, what could we do to accomplish that?

Here is where I made my now famous statement to Sam that we could raise anything he wanted as long as we did not have to kill it to make money.  As a guy who had grown up on a farm where his family had a meat-packing plant, I am sure Sam had no idea where to go from there!

Then one day my mother read an article about alpacas in USA Today.  She called us and said "hey, I think this might be just what you are looking for".

And that is basically HOW we got started.  The process of actually becoming alpaca owners is another long story that I will go into in another post.  Stayed Tuned, as they say!

We finally got some much needed rain this week, although not as much as we really need.  As I told someone, I think November finally found us.  It's grey and cold and dreary outside.  

Next week is Thanksgiving, so I will probably be late on my post.  We go to my mom's in Dayton for Thanksgiving and it is the only holiday where my entire family is together.  For Christmas, we all go to in-laws, etc.  So I love Thanksgiving.  It is by far my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving is followed by Ohio's gun season for deer.  Being in a National Forest, this means the population of our county swells to about two or three times the numbers during the rest of the year.  The testosterone is so think you can almost smell it!  

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It Was a Good Weekend!

This is one of Rowdy's favorite places to snooze, if you can believe it.  Tigger, the orphan kitten, is usually never far from Rowdy.  

As noted in my title, I think the OABA Alpacafest was a success for many.  I know I had a really good time.  My alpaca, Lightning, did not do as well as I would have liked, taking 5th in a class of 5. The competition is always very tough for white animals.  He is not as strong in the rear end as the judges like to see, but they really couldn't find anything wrong with his fleece.   But having said that, the real reason I attended the show was to participate once again in the OABA Member Market, which is a great opportunity for members of the Ohio Association to sell the products that come from their animals.  
At every show there are always lots of vendors of alpaca products.  Without exception, all of these are selling products that are made in Peru, the biggest producer of alpacas and commercial products.  The quality varies, with some extremely nice products, and some that are just ok.  Many of these vendors are trying to get alpaca breeders to open a wholesale account and stock their farm stores with their products.  I have no problem with this and have a wholesale account with one vendor myself (from which I bought some really CUTE hats to sell at the Christmas Festival in Woodsfield next month).  But, as American alpaca breeders, we need to show the American public what we can produce here.  We are still a very small industry and most American items are made by the alpaca farmers or sent to small mills.  Consequently, our prices are higher than the items from Peru.  Also, most of us do not have enough product to stock a vendor space and pay the fee.  Hence, the Member Market.  We encourage all OABA members to consign product from their alpacas and/or alpaca related items they produce to the Market, where it is displayed and show attendees can browse and purchase items from one or many breeders in one place.  We do charge a commission, some of which covers operating costs. 
I wish I had taken some photos of the Market and don't know why I didn't!  But we had lots of wonderful items from homemade fleece skirting tables, to yarn, hats, scarves, felted soaps, roving, hand made knitting needles, mittens, and Christmas ornaments.  
I took 3 pounds of dyed roving and again came home with only 1/2 pound.  I sold some of my yarn, some white roving and a couple of neck-warmers as well.  

My friend and fellow alpaca breeder, Becky attended the show with me and we had a good time together.  We even escaped the show venue and went to a nearby antique mall where I found a beautiful little painted washstand for my bathroom and also bought a Dazey butter churn.  

I also entered my beaded mystery shawl. which you may remember from last spring, and my recently finished cabled pullover in the Fiber Arts Competition.  Sadly, there was not much participation (they all knew I was coming!), but I was happy with my blue ribbon and Judge's Choice award for my shawl and my blue ribbon for my sweater.  I got such nice compliments all weekend on my shawl.   I will definitely be entering more of these in the future.

Handspun 3 ply 100% Alpaca sweater

And Rugs!  I finished weaving my first 2 rugs on Thursday, despite my loom giving me fits.  It has some kinks that need worked out, which I suppose can be expected from a piece of antique equipment.  I am anxious to get to work on some more rugs as soon as I can!  I think for a first try they came out pretty well.  Here is what they look like just off the loom before they are cut apart and have the ends hemmed.  I could also finish them with fringe on the ends, but I opted for hemmed ends on my first rugs.


The one farthest from the camera came out the best,  I made the first one a little bit too short.  Did not do my calculations right.  

Now, here is the second one (farthest from the camera in first photo) being modeled by, who else, Rowdy.  It really compliments his coat, don't you think?

And of course, Sam has his projects going on, at least when he is not sitting in a tree with his bow.    His latest project has been a roof over his sawmill.  He has been using more of those old electric poles he picked up for free a couple of years ago and has made the rafters from 2 X 4s he cut on the sawmill.  While I am at the office today he hopes to get the metal roof on and be finished with this project.  I'm not sure what his next one will be.  Maybe he will help me as I am planning to clean out my summer kitchen and turn it into a studio for myself.  

When I went out to take this photo of the sawmill this morning, the sun was just coming up over the ridge above the horse/hay barn.  I thought it looked pretty cool and no car battery had to die to get a photo!

 Breeding season is winding down.  Unfortunately, my new boy Lightning has yet to prove himself.  I am hoping that tomorrow a couple of the females he has bred will spit off for the second week in a row.  If not, I may use someone else with them as this is the last week I will do any breedings.  I want all our fall crias to arrive by the end of October at the latest and if we do any breedings later than this, we may go into November.    

My 2 sons moved from Yosemite California to Lake Tahoe Nevada last week.  Older son Ian already has a job.  His brother and their other 2 roommates are still looking.  Ian will be working retail for Heavenly ski resort, which means he gets a ski pass for the winter and he says from their condo he can actually ski to work and back once there is enough snow.  I guess life is really tough at the  moment!

Other than rug weaving, I am working on some small projects since I have a local Christmas Festival coming up in December.  Small ticket items sell better at this type of venue, so mittens and neck warmers are the thing.  The weather is supposed to be nice yet for a few days, so I am sure the housework will continue to suffer.  Tonight I have my monthly spinning guild meeting.  No worries here, I won't get bored!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Weaving, Upcoming Show, Farm Chores and More!

As a Humane Society volunteer, sometimes I bring my work home.  This is testing Rowdy's patience!

So much has been going on since my last post, which was dedicated to remembering  Cheetah, so there is a lot to blog about this week.

First, I finally got my rug loom all warped up with help from my friend Tari.    So, now I am ready to start weaving!  And of course as soon as I started, I realized that with a 60 year old loom, it is never quite "ready".

front of loom
rear of loom
 While I got most of 2 rugs woven yesterday, I was also troubleshooting and wondering if this loom was worth the trouble.  I ended up quitting when I was almost done because I broke a warp thread and decided it was a good idea to quit before I got too frustrated.  Something I have learned in my almost 50 years of life....mostly the hard way! 

First Alpaca Rug!
Having said all that, I think I will be pleased with these 2 rugs when I get them finished, which will hopefully be this afternoonI put enough warp on the loom this time for only 2 rugs.  I think I could actually put enough on for 4 or 5 at a time.  Warping is the most tedious and time-consuming part of weaving, which is why weavers rarely warp for only 1 project at a time.

I do generally love the weather this time of year.  One can work outside all day in a sweatshirt and jeans and be comfortable.  Our fall has been incredibly dry.  The pond is down 3 feet, the creek is still dry and I am having to water the stud boys from the well because the spring in their pasture has been dry for about 2 months.  I have never had to water them in November!  A huge blessing seems to be that we are not getting infested with ladybugs.  We have had terrible infestations in the house every winter for the last 8 years or so.  I have to vacuum them up constantly and they stink and leave nasty little "trails" all over the walls and windows.  I think the dry weather must have affected them.  My fingers AND toes are crossed!  Usually they move in in mid-October.

I took advantage of the fine weather this past weekend to do some much needed fence repairs.  I would say this needs some work.    So I broke out the shovel, post hole digger, hammer, wire cutters and fence staples  and new fence and went to work.  Fortunately only one post needed replaced.  I haven't used the posthole digger in a while and forgot how much work it is!  Especially as dry as the ground is!

Fence before
New Fence

In just a couple of hours, I had a nice new 50 foot stretch of fence dividing the pasture!  I must say it looks a lot better.  

This weekend is the Ohio Alpaca Breeder's Association's yearly alpaca show, Alpacafest.  This year it is in Springfield, Ohio and I have decided to go and take my new stud boy, Lightning to show.  OABA, of which I am a member, also has a Member Market, which I got started about 2 years ago.  Members who are going to the show bring their Ohio alpaca products and can put them in the Market on a consignment basis.  We had very good success the first year.  I was not involved last year, due to some health problems, but have been feverishly preparing my products to take this year.  I have a selection of hand-dyed and natural colored rovings and yarns, as well as a few hand-knitted and hand-woven items.   I am also entering my recently completed hand-spun cabled sweater and my mystery shawl in the fiber arts competition.  Wish me luck!

On a somewhat humorous note, I got stranded halfway to work one morning last week when I stopped to take some photos of the mist in the valley and the car battery died!  

Gotta admit it is beautiful, even though the photos do not do it justice!