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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Almost Summer!

Yes, it must be almost Memorial Day Weekend because the hay is ready to be cut.  If the forecast ever stops calling for rain, the air will be filled with the sweet smell of new-mown hay.  

It will also help us to get on with our shearing.  We have managed to shear about 1/4 of our herd between rainstorms and trips out of town.  I also went to a friend's farm nearby and assisted them with shearing their herd this past Monday.  It's always fun to get together with friends and get dirty!  Somehow, the shearer and I were the only ones to get spit on.  I think I will invite said friends to come help US shear this weekend!

I will be attending the Great Lakes Fiber Show http://www.greatlakesfibershow.com/LR/   in Wooster Ohio this Saturday.  I am not a vendor, just going to shop and drop.  By drop, I mean I am taking a car load of fiber to be processed into yarn.  The processors will be there to pick up fiber and it eliminates paying shipping one way.  By shopping, I mean, well, shopping.  There will be yarn and fleeces and weaving, knitting, and spinning supplies galore.  They will fill several barns at the fairgrounds.  It is a fiber-holic's paradise.  There will also be fuzzy and fluffy animals like sheep, goats, bunnies and yes, alpacas there.  I look forward to this event every year as it is the closest good-sized fiber festival to me.  All my spinning guild friends will be there and I will likely run into other alpaca breeders I've known for years.  

Last week when I was writing my post I mentioned that I thought one of our females, Tunita, was in labor.  Well she wasn't.  She actually had her cria yesterday.  Another male, which makes us 3 for 3 this spring.  2 more to go.  Tunita has never had a cria in the spring before and her gestation was a good 2 weeks longer than her previous longest gestation at 356 days.  This cria is big and strong and hit the ground running.  Sam said he was trying to stand up within minutes of birth.  He is sired by our own Straightfork Synchronicity, his first ever cria.  

3 hours old
When weighed this morning, he and Margarita's cria, who was born on the 14th, are exactly the same weight, 17.2 pounds.  Of course, this guy was "in the oven" for 34 more days!


3 hours old and 11 days old









We still have Micki who is at 359 days today and B'Nita (Tunita's daughter) who is at 349 days today to go. 



Mother's milk!












Last Friday before I went out of town for a friend's memorial service, I suited up and went to check our behive.  When I opened the end of the hive, I saw the most beautiful comb being made!  The weather was sunny and warm, so most of the bees were out and about gathering nectar and I did not feel at all threatened by them.  I was able to take a photo or 2 before closing the hive back up.  it is so exciting!

comb being built!
 As a new beekeeper, it is gratifying to open the hive and see that things are going as they should be.  If something was wrong and there was no queen in the hive, it would be chaos.  Instead, it looks very orderly.  On the other end of the hive, there was much more going on and I did not want to leave it open long enough to take  picture at this time.  I suspect that this is where the queen is laying her eggs and the workers are taking care of the brood and the queen.  They will be much more protective of this end of the hive at this time. Very cool.

 As a modern day farmer, I have some things at my disposal which make my life easier on a daily basis and I just thought I'd mention some of them.  First, is what we call our "little truck"

 it is a Japanese 4WD vehicle which was actually imported used from Japan.  It has right hand drive and a manual transmission.  It has been fitted with off-road tires and a hydraulic dump bed.  We use (and abuse) the heck out of this vehicle.  I think Sam said we have put 3K kilometers on it since we have had it and that is just here on the farm.  It is great for hauling hay, firewood and even people on occasion.  Rowdy LOVES to be my co-pilot.  Here is yet another use for it:  http://straightforkfarm.blogspot.com/2010_06_01_archive.html  

Of course, our 4WD Kubota tractor is something it would be hard to do without.  It is necessary to brush hog the fields and pastures to control weeds. Without it, the hay baler would be nothing but an ugly lawn ornament.  The front end loader is more than handy.  When the snow is too deep for the little truck, I can load 4 bales of hay into the loader and take it to the alpacas.  It can move snowIt can scoop up a week's worth of poop at a time and dump it into the manure spreader.  It has too many uses to name.  We also have a back hoe attachment for the tractor which comes in handy when Sam needs to dig a trench for a water line or a gas line or to re-route the water running down our tractor roads into ditches on the side.  It is also useful for the sad times we need to dig a big hole, which does happen on a farm.

 My automatic waterer in the main alpaca barn is an incredible thing!  It is placed between 2 pens so that usually it is available to all the alpacas (and dogs) in the barn.  The stainless steel bowl holds about 2 quarts of water and is on a balance so that when the bowl gets low, it tips and the water flows into the bowl and refills it.  It is also heated in the winter and rarely does it get cold enough to actually freeze the water in the bowl.  It comes apart for easy cleaning and I have found it is much harder to keep clean now that I have 2 dogs drinking out of it as well as 30 alpacas.  Dog slobber!

 Another can't (means don't want to) do without item is a frost-free hydrant.  I have 5 of these on the farm, one at each alpaca building and one at the horse barn.  These are hooked right into the wells and are made so that all the water drains back out of them when they are shut off so that they never freeze (well, until a washer wears out).  Since each alpaca will drink about a gallon of water a day, having one of these spigots at each building eliminates hauling water from the house.  I can also attach a hose to them in the summer for hose parties for the alpacas:  http://straightforkfarm.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html  They LOVE being hosed off when it is hot.  Unfortunately, my horse has been using this hydrant as a scratching post and I am afraid he may break it off, which will be a mess.  So right now I have a saw horse and my poop wagon creating a barrier around it.  You can still see white horse hair on top of the hydrant  and the hoof prints around the bottom!


My last useful item for this week is a small compressor.  It seems we are always needing to inflate a tire on something!  The gravel roads are rough on tires and there are always sharp objects finding their way into our car, truck and 4-wheeler tires.  Probably the oddest thing that Sam ever had to remove from a tire was a shed deer antler.  He did not see it in the woods and a tine embedded itself in the tire when he ran it over.  It left quite a large hole as you may imagine!  So this little compressor sits in the garage and is used on a regular basis.  I wish it did not have to be, but tires are expensive!

I have not had much time for fibery pursuits this past week, but I will be working on more rugs shortly.  

I will close with a photo of me running in the Rails to Trails 5K in Barnesville Ohio on the 14th.  This is right at the 1 mile mark and I was being passed by a walker!  To be fair, I think he was the winning walker.

I did not realize until I viewed the results online that I came in second in my age category for women.  I am pleased and now need to pick up my plaque!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Rainy Weather Continues

Rowdy likes nothing better than a nice swim in the creek or pond between rain showers, of which we have had a lot lately.  It is hard to get anything done outside like shearing or planting the garden or mowing the lawn.  I was supposed to go to the farm of some friends to help shear this past Monday, but I ended up just going over to socialize, as their alpacas were too wet to shear.  We have still been unable to start our own shearing between the rain and our schedules.

I ran my first 5K this past Saturday.  Last year, Rowdy and I entered as a "canine team" and we had to walk, but this year I left Rowdy home and ran.  I had a respectable time (to me ) of 31:09 and was pleased.  Rowdy is just not comfortable in crowds and I did not think the venue was set up in a very dog-friendly way last year, as there was no place for the dogs to "hang out" after the race while waiting for prizes and awards and eating.  Obviously many participants from last year felt the same as there were only 9 dog teams entered this year and last year there were many.  I hope to enter some more 5Ks in the future and need to work to better my time!

Last week, I wrote about alpaca gestation lengths and mentioned that you just never know when a female will give birth.  Well, on Saturday, while I was at the 5K, Margarita gave birth to her cria.  She was the LAST one bred last June, a good 2 weeks after anyone else.  Her cria came at only 322 days, which is a bit earlier than I like, but HE is doing well. 
Margarita and first cria born 5-14-11

 


This is Margarita's first cria and he was quite small at only 13.2 pounds.  He is a lovely "vicuna" color, which is a fawn fading to almost white on underbelly and legs.  



The Vicuna is a wild cousin of the alpaca which lives in the Andes mountains and has not been domesticated.  They are rounded up about every 2 years in South America and shorn and then turned loose again.  Their fiber is extremely fine and very valuable.

Wild Vicuna
 This cria was from an outside breeding, where we send our female off to be bred to a male we do not own.  His name is Mr. Bojangles and he is a brown male with white on his legs.  I was hoping for a fawn offspring from Margarita and him and that's what I got.

So we still have 3 births to go this spring and I was fairly sure this morning that Tunita, who was bred on June 4th, was going to have her cria today, but no news from Sam so far.  She was showing classic signs of impending birth which include not coming in to eat, staying off by herself, rolling and spending longer than usual at the poop pile.  We'll see.

Since there is not a lot going on due to the rain this week I thought I'd share a little bit about my morning routine on the farm.  Morning is when I do the most as far as "chores" go.  After my morning coffee, Rowdy and generally head out to do the feeding and poop-scooping.  Alpacas are nice in that they tend to use communal poop piles, which makes clean-up much easier.  Of course, they usually have more than 1 poop pile per pasture, but for the most part, they keep it all together.  

  
Poop pile with my tools of trade
 
We have 4 separate housing/pasture areas for the alpacas.  In each pasture, I have a "poop wagon" (see photo above), a rake and a shovel.  A fork also comes in handy. I always start at the "garage pasture" so called due to its being next to the garage.  Here is where we usually have weanlings.   There are never more than about 6 to 8 alpacas in this pasture, so clean-up and  feeding are quick.  From there, I go to the main barn, or "girls barn" as we call it.  We have about 30 alpacas here most of the time.  All our pregnant females and females with crias at side.  This is the most work.  I scoop inside the barn, put out up to 3 bales of hay per day in the winter and scoop outside, weather permitting.  I also spread sawdust in the barn on the floor once I have scooped.  This helps to absorb urine and reduces odor.   Since the crias are in this barn, I may weigh them at this time and I may spend time watching the females in the maternity pasture for signs of labor. This is where the dogs live also, so I feed them once I have finished my clean up and am ready to move on.

My next stop is the horse barn, where Apache gets his grain (hay as well in winter) with a joint supplement.  There are also several barn cats living here and they get fed as well.

From there, we walk about a quarter mile down the road to our other 2 pastures.  One is across the road from our guest house and one is behind the guest house.  Across the road right now we have 5 unbred adult  females housed in a 3 sided shed.

The girls "down the road" across from the guest house
 This is also an easy area to clean up, especially since I put new lime screenings on the floor in the shed almost 2 years ago and no one has dirtied it yet!  That is a miracle in itself. In other words, no matter how inclement the weather, these girls leave the shelter of their building and go outside to "go".  It will only take one, one day, to decide not to go outside in the pouring rain, and the building will become a new poop pile.  That's why I had to put new screenings down.

The boys waiting for me with the feed bucket
After this pasture, I go back behind the house to the "boy's field".  Here is where our adult males live together.  There are 8 right now, which is about the maximum the field and building will accommodate.  They are not as tidy as the girls and I re-did the lime screenings in their building at the same time as the girls'.  They, however, re-started the poop pile inside their building within hours of the new flooring going down and have been using it daily.     With only 8 here and 5 across the road, I spend about 1/2 an hour, which includes my walk down the road and back.  This pretty much ends my morning routine.  I often have to move hay or feed as well, but not every day, just once a week or so.

I have become an avid audio book listener.  Having a good book plugged into my ears makes the work go more quickly.  I found before I got an MP3 player that I always had one song stuck in my head playing over and over every day, so I started with music and moved on to audio books.   I always listen to music while walking or running, but I love the audio books for chore time, housework, knitting, etc.  


Speaking of knitting, etc, I took the first 2 rugs off my "new" loom a week ago.  I still  have to finish  them (stitch the end bindings) but am pleased with them.  The first is a 2' X 6' runner




And the second is a 2' X 3' in grey with black and white accents.  I LOVE this one!




 On my knitting needles I have the first 12" or so of the bulky lace vest from the hand-spun alpaca/cormoX roving.  I love how it is coming out so far.  The pattern is nice and it goes quickly on big needles.


Hoping to get started shearing this weekend!  I think there is a dry day in the forecast!!





 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

All's Quiet...

This is a perfect example of my greeting from Rowdy whenever I arrive home:  he always has to have something in his mouth.  In this case, it was extreme.  If you look closely, he has a tennis ball, a toy raccoon AND a pair of my socks (hot pink).  I wish I had seen him scooping up all these items.

Believe it or not, things have been rather quiet around the farm.  No more crias have been born.  It is definitely a watch and wait situation at this point.  For example, we had 3 females bred on the same date last year, June 1st.  2 have delivered, 1 on April 30th and 1 on May 4th.  It is now the 12th and the 3rd female bred on June 1 could go another 2 weeks before she delivers.  It is just a fact with alpacas.  I also have 2 others who were bred June 10th and June 24th.  They could also deliver any day now, or wait until mid-June.  It's always interesting to see who will hang in there the longest.  I believe our longest gestation to date was 370 days.  Or maybe 372, I'm not sure.  Maybe by next week, I will have new cria photos to post.

Here is a nice photo I took of our beehive with the male alpacas in the background.  We have not done anything else with the hive since last week except open up one additional entry hole for the bees.  We monitor the activity up at the hive by watching the bees come and go.  I guess we were too close too long the other day and Rowdy got stung, even though he was further from the hive than I was.  Maybe he looks more threatening than I do to the bees.  Poor guy.

We have yet to start shearing.  It has been so cool and rainy, except for the last 2 or 3 days and we were too busy those days to get started.  Soon, though, very soon.  I am going to a friend's farm on Monday to help them with shearing and just to be social.  

Sunday was Mother's Day and my sons called me from Lake Tahoe.  It was so nice to hear from them!  That's all the present I needed for Mother's Day.  We did have Sam's Mom and Dad over for dinner and enjoyed a nice afternoon on the deck with them.  I made chicken Marsala with some of those morels Sam had picked and gave Mary, my mother-in-law that purple shawl I have been working on.  That's the reason I have not said much about it in this blog, I wanted it to be a surprise for her and I know she reads this!  Here is the shawl being blocked and also a close up.

shawl being blocked (shaped)


 It came out very nice and I hope she gets a chance to wear it.  She's a Red-Hatter and I know red and purple are Red-Hat colors!  Hence the purple alpaca shawl.


close up of lace detail
 I just love knitting lace.  You have to pay attention to what you are doing and the end product is gorgeous, in my opinion.





I've actually had a surprising amount of time to work on fibery stuff.  I have spun up several skeins of the alpaca/cormo roving I wrote about in the last post.  Yesterday, I took advantage of the very warm weather to wash the skeins and hang them outside to dry









Getting fiber back from the fiber mill is sometimes like opening a Christmas present.  This week I received back some fiber I had sent in to the mill I use most often for roving.  I tried something new and took Eclipse's fleeces from 2010 and 2009 and dyed some of it and left part of it undyed.  I dyed it in 2 colors, so I had 3 colors, natural (very light fawn), teal and lilac and had the mill do a "3-way swirl".  It came out so cool!  I can't wait to spin some of it up to see how it looks as yarn.  

 I have been working on my rugs when at the office between showings and phone calls and have a 2' X 6' runner and a 2' X 3' rug almost done.  These are the first on my "new' loom.  It is working out well.

I also set up my smaller loom in my studio this week and warped it for a couple table runners with  some yarn I purchased a few years ago.  Warping for a 12" project seems like a piece of cake after warping for rugs!  These runners will be about 12" X 48" and will be fall colors, since that is what I had.  They are 100% alpaca.  

 I am doing a 5K this Saturday, and have been trying to train for that between rainstorms.  I think I am about ready.  I've had 3 good 3 mile runs this week.  

I have also gotten some tomatoes and peppers planted in the garden.  Need to get some beets and squash in next.  The lettuce is coming up.  The asparagus has not been producing much.  I need to do a little internet research and see if this is normal or if we are doing something wrong.  It has been in for 2 years now and I was expecting more from the bed this year.  

Lookin' out my back door this week from a different angle we see the lilacs over by the creek in full bloom, and of course Rowdy just had to get into the photo!  The lilacs smell So good.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bees! Crias! Soon....Chickens!

Rowdy is checking out the new chicken coop.  Kinda like the fox in the hen house!

Last week was just so hectic, something had to give and it was the blog.  This is actually rather time-consuming, though I do enjoy it.  So, now after a brief trip to Boston with my mother for the weekend, I am back and life is getting back to "normal".

We had our third group of Head Start kids out last Thursday morning.  One group had to cancel and have not yet re-scheduled.  But here is the group from Sardis Head Start:

This was a bigger class and more adults accompanied them.  Buck got rather unruly and had to be penned up so he wouldn't lick anyone too much.  I think the kids enjoyed the field trip.

The day prior to that, I drove up to northern Ohio and picked up our 3# box of bees.  It was a somewhat stormy day, but the bees had traveled all the way from California and we needed to get them into the hive as soon as possible, so when Sam came home, I suited up and hived the bees.  Kind of scary the first time.
The bees come in a screen box and there is a queen who is inside a smaller screen cage in the box.  She must be removed from the larger box and inserted, cage and all, into the hive before dumping in the rest of the bees.  Her cage has a small cork in one end and you remove that and replace it with a marshmallow, which the worker bees will eat through to free her from the cage.  As long as she stays in the hive, the rest of the bees will not leave. 

Shaking the rest of the bees into the hive
After installing the queen cage and dumping in the rest of the bees, I close the hive up and leave them alone for a week.  We will need to check inside the hive to make sure the queen is still there and remove the (empty) cage.  This we did yesterday.  The weather has been quite cool and rainy, so we have not seen much activity around the hive and we were concerned wondering if the bees were still there.  Here is what we found:  due to the cool weather, the bees

 are "clumping" togetherits hard to see, but there is a bit of yellow comb showing at the bottom of the clump!  They are not only still there, but are making comb.  While we were unable to see the queen (she will be at the center of the clump), we know if she were not present, the bees would not be here either.

brushing the clump of bees off the cage from which the queen has escaped
So I removed the queen cage from where it was hung and removed  a jar feeder I had placed in hive to supplement the bees at first and put the top back on.  All the while the bees are buzzing around me.  No stings yet.  I am sure it will 
eventually happen.






Queen cage















Of course, other exciting things have been going on around the farm.  While I was away in Boston, the first cria of the year came along.  Sam was out turkey hunting Saturday morning and came home to find that Carolina, one of our boarded alpacas, had had a bay black baby girl.  This is Carolina's first cria and things are going great.  Mom is grey and daddy is brown.  

Carolina & female cria born 4-30-11



Yesterday, while I was at work, Miracle had a fawn baby boy.  You may remember I did a series of photos last year of Miracle's first cria's birth.  Here is the link to that post:
http://straightforkfarm.blogspot.com/2010/05/cria-birth-graphic-photos.html 

Her cria last year was a male also.

Miracle and male cria born 5-4-11







We still have 4 crias due in the next month or so.  I'll keep ya posted.

Spring is also morel season around here.  I am not a fan, but Sam loves them, so he spends a good bit of time hunting for them.  He has found quite a few this year.  The weather really makes a big difference in whether there will be lots of morels or not.   He usually dries them in the dehydrator as they seem to keep best that way.  Then I can put them in pasta or chicken marsala, which is one of Sam's favorite dishes.

One day's find







I came home from Boston to find a chicken coop in the yard!  My father-in-law made it for me.  He knows I am getting some chickens next month, so he went ahead and built it.  I guess he and my mother-in-law will be getting some eggs!  It is a very cute chicken coop and looks more like a playhouse.  I am sure my niece and nephews will love to collect eggs for me when they come.

Since my shawl is finished except for blocking, I have started spinning for a new project.  The fiber is a blend of really fine wool and alpaca which I had processed.  The processor damaged the wool, however, so it is more of a textured yarn than I had planned.  I am spinning it bulky to make a vest from.  It is actually coming out quite nice, despite the damage to the wool fibers, which causes lumps and bumps in the yarn.



And finally, lookin' out my back door between thunder storms a few days ago in the evening.  I hate when the sky turns all yellow, but it makes for nice contrast with the green of everything else!