Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Have Eggs! & Happy Bees.....

This is how a hard-working dog ends his day......

Summer is upon us and so far it has been great.  Not TOO hot, but still quite rainy.  We know that once it stops raining, we are not liable to get more rain for months.  It's too bad it can't be evenly spaced out.

It has been almost 2 weeks now since our chickens arrived.  On Saturday, we got our first egg!  It was very small, as I was told the first ones would be,  and since then, we have gotten 3 more.  Quite  EGGciting.  All 4 eggs have been laid in the same nest box and all at least a day apart, so we think maybe it is the same hen who has laid all 4.  Maybe I need a live "chicken-cam"  so I can see what's going on in the chicken house!

Here are our first 3 eggs in a carton with some commercial eggs.  The brown speckled one in the center was the very first one.  The subsequent eggs have not had the speckles.  As you can see, these are quite small.  I was told I could expect small funny-looking eggs to begin with.  

Tomorrow I plan to let the chickens out of the chicken yard.  They should now know where "home" is and should go back to the chicken house at dusk so we plan to let them free-range as long as they don't become a nuisance.  My biggest worry is Rowdy.  I will have some work to do with him.  I talked to my friend, Tari, this morning.  She is a herding dog trainer and she gave me some tips.  Basically, I need to get Rowdy to not focus on the chickens because he will become somewhat entranced by them and will not heed outside influence (like me screaming my head off at him).  Tune in next week to see what happens.   And yes, I do sometimes scream my head off at Rowdy.  Calm, assertive behavior sometimes just flies out the window.  Sorry Cesar.  Hmmm, maybe I can get Cesar to come help me!

There is a local beekeeper's group and Monday they held a meeting at the farm of a local family and we had some very experienced beekeepers open up some hives and show us how to maintain the hives and show us things like capped honey, capped brood, and drone bees.  Very interesting and informative.  I need to learn so much.  These hives are standard hives like most beekeepers use, not the top bar hive like we have, so there are some differences.  In this hive, the bees build their comb on foundation on a frame.  Here is a photo of one of the experienced guys holding a frame which is full of capped honey.  The bees cap the honey with wax and they also cap their "brood" or growing offspring.  The honey is capped with white wax and the brood is capped with yellow.  I need to ask what the difference is.  If I were to guess, I would say that the yellow may be pollen or something that is a nutrient for the young bees growing in the cells.

You may note this guy (sorry I do not know everyone's names) is wearing no protective clothing at all.  He did get stung once
but I don't think it was from holding this frame.  
I was wearing my bee jacket, of course.  I am not yet that confident.  I have not been stung yet, but I am sure it will happen someday.  I have contacted my doctor's office about getting an epi-pen to keep on hand in case of an emergency.  I am not allergic to bee stings that I know of.  I get stung every year by wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, but have not been stung by a honey bee in years.  

While at the meeting, the beekeeper who was doing the presentation pointed to a weed about to bloom with orange flowers and asked me if I knew what is was and I said that no, I did not know what it was but I always just called it a "pretty orange weed".  He said it was orange butterfly weed and that butterflies and bees love it.  I replied that that was great because we have a lot of it on the farm.  Last night I was up in the field near the beehive and it was all starting to bloom.  You have to admit that it is very pretty.

And there was at least one honeybee on each flower!  Often more like 2 or 3.  So I went back to the house and grabbed my camera to get some shots of happy bees.

Can you see the happy bees on these bright orange blooms?   I told Sam to be sure NOT to mow this field until the butterfly weed is finished blooming.

We attended an estate auction a few weeks ago where the accumulation of a couple's lifetime was being sold off by their family.  They had lots of cool stuff and lots of junk as well.  Sam scored big this time.  He has been wanting a natural gas refrigerator for sometime now, but they are expensive and hard to find in good shape.  He got this one for only $50!

 It is in great shape and it is out in his workshop and as you can see is full of beer.  Those are some of his homebrews on the top shelf.  Sam is a bit of a beer snob (pay no attention to the Miller and Busch Lites on the "lower" shelves) and enjoys brewing his own beers.  He also loves having people over who don't mind taste-testing several different beers.

The fridge needed a little bit of work to get going but I was surprised at how  quickly Sam got it up and running.  I still have a hard time with the concept of a natural gas flame keeping things cold........But it works!

I took 2 more rugs off my loom this week.  I am very pleased with them.  

Still slogging away on fleece skirting.  I have sold several fleeces and am planning to send some more to the processors,  I got back my light fawn alpaca that I sent to be blended with the white wool fleece I bought at the Fiber Festival.  I can't believe how quickly I got it back!  It seems quite nice, so I will be sending more to that processor for sure.  It is Stonehedge Fiber Mill in Michigan.  I have used them before, but it was several years ago and I had kind of forgotten about them. 

Other than the holiday weekend this weekend, there is nothing exciting on the horizon.  I am doing a booth for the Humane Society at the 4th of July "doin's" in town this Saturday.  Always trying to raise money to help the animals.    Happy 4th of July everyone!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Chickens are Here, the Bees are Busy, and a Walk in the Woods

Huge Oak Tree Which Came Down in a Storm
As usual, we have been keeping busy on the farm.  Sam has been spending numerous hours on the tractor keeping things mowed, which in summer is an endless job.  Once it is done, he can pretty much turn around and start over again.  But it is necessary to keep the weeds and woods from taking over.

On Friday, a friend and I drove up to Amish country  and picked up a truckload of chickens.  It was quite the adventure, helping an old Amish guy and his 3 cute little granddaughters catch and box up 75 chickens.  My friend, Ilaina, now has most of those chickens, and I have 18, oops make that 17.  Rowdy needs to learn that chickens are NOT squeaky toys.  We are figuring this out together.  The chickens are easier to get into the coop every night and soon hopefully they will begin to lay eggs.  I was told it would be about 2 weeks.  

Sunday Sam and I went up and checked on the bees.  They have been busy.  They have made a lot of comb and seem to be thriving.  This coming Monday I am going to a beekeeper's meeting at a local farm and we are going to get into their hives.  I hope to learn a lot about what I am actually looking at as far as what is in each comb.  

A view inside the hive

I am surprised at how non-aggressive the bees are when I open up the hive.   Surprised and pleased, I should say.  In the next photo, I am actually lifting out the comb that is foremost in the photo to the left.  My photographer was standing rather far away.  He did not have a bee suit on.

Lifting a section of comb to admire the bees' work
I thought this week I would let you tag along on one of the walks the dogs and I (and often Sam) take daily.  We have 2 routes, each about 2 miles long.  We started walking every day when Rowdy was about 4 months old to try to wear him out and we just kept at it.  Now I feel like I have missed something important in my daily routine if I do not go.  

Last night, we did the "up over the hill" walk, which goes across part of Wayne National Forest.  First, however, we must go UP the hill.  Our first 1/2 mile, we will gain about 300 feet in elevation, but it is broken into 2 parts, divided by what used to be a hayfield.

The tree Rowdy is posing on at the top of this page actually came down into this field in a recent storm.  It was a truly impressive oak that looked as if 2 trees had grown together at the bottom for many, many years, and then this storm split them apart.  A shame.  I hate to see a beautiful tree that has taken so long to grow come to such an end.  I am sure Sam will find a use for the wood, however.

This photo shows the base of the tree(s) and how each section fell in a different direction.  The scale is hard to depict, but you can see in the photo with Rowdy that this was a big tree.

Once we cross the field, we duck under the barb-wire fence and onto Wayne National.  Here, the path is unmowed and wooded.  We must shortly climb the second hill, which is quite steep.  Then we come to  the ridgetop.  Part of this path is mowed.  I'll never say who did it, as motorized vehicles are banned on the WNF.  

The raspberries are almost ripe.  Looks like there will be a lot in a few days. Sam picks them and I make homemade jam and pies.  Maybe some raspberry wine is in order for this year.

After we cross the ridge top and start a gradual descent, the path is no longer mown.  Too steep in places and trees too close together to accommodate a tractor.  And this time of year with all the rain, the underbrush can be quite thick.

I hike with an aluminum trekking pole which is helpful in pushing multiflora roses and other briars out of the way and sometimes I use it to whack them down.  On some of the steeper places, it also helps me to keep my footing sometimes as well.

Once we come down off the ridge, we cross the old overgrown hayfields and pass the remains of what was once a nice house and several outbuildings.  It is a shame how the government purchases these properties and lets them fall to ruin.  

Then we are out onto the gravel road for the last 3/4 mile.  But first we must stop at the swimming hole where we keep a good-sized stick next to the road for Rowdy to fetch.  Sometimes the water can be flowing quite fast through here.  Other times, it is barely a trickle.  Rowdy does not care.

It's all about getting wet to him.

After the swimming hole, we head off for home in the lengthening shadows.


Along the way we can stop to admire the wild tiger lillies which are in bloom everywhere and especially along the creek banks.

There are also elderberry flowers in bloom along the creek, whose small tart berries will be ripe around Labor Day.  Those are the white flowers in the photo below.  These also grow wild.

This brings us back into the yard and the next step is a nice cold drink on the deck!  

I have done nothing this week as far as knitting or spinning.  I have skirted some fleeces.  We were busy all week with preparations for house guests for the family reunion and picking up the chickens and I also ran my second 5K on Saturday.  I was thrilled to beat my previous time by a minute and 15 seconds on a more difficult course, doing it in 29:55.  

I played with the camera in the dark last night trying to get a photo of the lightning bugs which are everywhere this time of year.  Look closely and you can see them!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Done With Shearing & Some of My "Stash"

Yes, shearing is done for another year!  Such a good feeling and so nice to see all those freshly shorn alpacas in the pastures. Here are most of the crias with their summer haircuts.  We just do a "barrel" cut on them to remove the damaged tips of their fleece so they will have a nicer fleece next year.  Otherwise, the tips are like a thousand split ends and everything sticks to it, making what would be a lovely fleece full of VM, which stands for vegetable matter, a processor's bane.

2 weeks ago I attended the fiber festival at Wooster.  I mentioned doing some shopping and believe it or not, some of the items I purchased were fiber.  Now, that may seem crazy since we just sheared almost 50 alpacas, but of course, there is always justification.  First, I purchased a lovely wool fleece with the intention of blending it with one of my alpaca fleeces and having a roving made.  Since I will be a vendor myself at a large fiber show this coming September, I need to have a nice selection of fibers for sale.  So, I will have 100% alpaca roving in natural colors as well as dyed.  I will have blends with alpaca and I will have yarns.  

Some of the fibers I have that I have blended with alpaca in the past and will blend with alpaca in the future are in my "stash".  Most fiber enthusiasts and quilters and probably other hobbyists have a stash.  These are fibers or fabrics or yarns that you have squirreled away with some future purpose in mind, or else it was something you saw and just HAD to have and a use will come along someday.

angora bunny
angora bunny

I have  Angora bunny in 2 colors:  white and grey.  SO soft and fluffy.  

shiny silk!
I have silk.  I made a gorgeous sweater out of a hand spun 50/50 alpaca and silk yarn that I then dyed.

I have  Camel.  Yup, camel.  Just a small amount that was given to me in a fiber exchange. 


I have grey mohair, which comes from an angora goat (not to be confused with angora bunny)
Grey mohair

I have dyed mohair (I purchased it this way and actually blended it with a grey alpaca and made a beautiful yarn):

Dyed Mohair

And I also have different types of wool:
Jacob wool (brown and white spots)

Shetland wool

Somewhere at home I also have a small amount of cashmere, but I must have put it away because I cannot find it!

This is only a part of the wonderful things I have hidden away in my "stash"!

I also purchased some wool roving at the festival, just because it was pretty and it caught my eye.  I have spun up about 1/2 of it and here is how it looks so far on my wheel.

Once I spin the other half, I will ply it into a 2-ply yarn and then spend some time admiring it and wondering what it will become at some point in the future.  I love the colors.

In other news around the farm, I pick up my chickens tomorrow.  So I spent most of Monday (the weather was incredibly wonderful) putting up a fence around the chicken coop.  We plan to let them free range but at first they need to learn where home is and it will be good to be able to keep them penned if necessary.  

We also have house guests coming in for the weekend to attend a reunion of Sam's mother's side of the family which will be Saturday.  To Sam, these are cousin's kids and their kids.  We have never met.  I hope they don't mind spending the weekend on the alpaca farm. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What to Write About This Week.....Ah, Yes, Baler Twine!

This morning, while I was  feeding in the Girls' Barn, the oil truck came to pick up our oil.  I had to send Rowdy to his cable tie so he would not run  over and scare the driver.  Often, I do not even have to clip the cable to Rowdy's collar, I just say "go to your cable, Rowdy" and he goes and sits as if it is clipped to his collar.  You can see the cable attached to the gate.  He is not clipped.

We have been waiting for the oil truck to collect our oil.  Our production is so small comparatively that they do not rush right over to pick up our oil when we call.  They usually wait until they can fit ours in with someone else's.  We get paid whatever the barrel price is the day they pick it up.  The tanks are behind the truck and both are full.  Just in time.

My week has been incredibly busy.  As usual.  It started off badly last Friday morning with the loss of our latest cria, Bit-O-Honey.  You may remember she was extremely small and  weak despite being a long gestation cria.  I really thought she would be ok since she was up and nursing, so I was somewhat (tho not entirely) surprised to find her dead when I went out first thing in the morning.  It is a hard loss, as her dam has yet to produce a good healthy cria for us.  All of her crias have had very low birth weights. I think I need to make some changes for her.  Unfortunately, life on the farm includes death from time to time.  Sad, but true.

I need to lighten things up a bit.  As I walked to the barn at 7:30 this morning, I felt like a kid in school who has a big paper due and has not yet started on it.  I had no idea what I was going to "blog" about this week and the thought of just not doing a post was not appealing.  This is what I saw as I approached the barn

 I put a gate panel across the door opening in the summer to encourage air movement through the barn and Buck and Star sit eagerly and await feeding time.  Can you guess which is which?  Remember that cute fuzzy puppy of just a couple months ago?  Buck is the one on the right!  He is 6 months old now and at least as big as Star.  He is losing his fuzzy puppy coat.  I think he will be a big bruiser.

Once in the barn, I put the feed out for the alpacas.  We have plastic gutters attached to the walls of the barn which work quite well as feeders.  I put about 1/2 cup of feed every 2 feet or so in the gutters and the frenzy begins.

While the girls eat, I generally put out hay and then start on the barn clean-up, which you can see has not been done in this photo.

All the while, I am wondering what topic of farm life to write about.  And then it hits me.  When I posted about indispensable things around the farm, I forgot one thing that comes in handy almost every day and that I handle just about every day:  Baling Twine.

Hay balers wrap each bale of hay in two loops of twine, each tied with a knot. These two loops hold the hay in place and also provide a way for us to pick the bales up and move them around.

I do not cut the twine when I remove it from the bale, I simply "bend" the bale and pull the twine off.  When feeding 3 or more bales of hay a day, these loops of twine have a tendency to pile up.  We hang them on a nail in the barn, or with the smaller 3-sided sheds, on a fence post.  There is always plenty of twine on hand.

Baling twine in the barn

So, when something needs to be attached to something else, what do I do?  Grab a handful of twine!  

It is great to hold gate panels together, or as in the photo below, it is keeping a board in place between a gate and a post where the gap is just too large, probably due to the post moving.  This is a gate between 2 pastures, not a perimeter gate, so this will work for now.

Here I have 2 gate panels which do not match which are being used to close off a pasture and yet still allow the alpacas to make use of the space under the overhang.
There is a bit of twine still attached to the lighter panel where I had it tied to the front of a gate to keep the dogs from getting into the maternity pasture when the crias where tiny.  Yes, those dogs will squeeze between the horizontal bars of the gates!


The same gate panels are attached to the barn pole for added security.  The twine can also be used to patch fence temporarily or to tie up a naughty dog or even as a makeshift lead rope for an alpaca.  It can be used to hang water buckets from gates.  I also use it when I recycle as a stringer for plastic containers that have handles.  It can tie tomato plants to stakes and you can string several loops together to make a fairly sturdy length of rope.  Yet, despite its usefulness, we always have way too much of it left over and have to either throw it out or burn it.  I have often wished there was a good way to re-use it, but there isn't, not in great quantities.    

My rug loom is warped up and ready to go.  I just need to decide on some kind of color pattern.  I have removed the 2 table runners from my smaller loom and I think they look nice.  They were both done with the same orange and yellow warp and one was done in yellow and brown weft and the other in brown weft.  2 different patterns.  I am doing knotted fringe on the ends and both are about 4' X 1'.  I still need to do some finishing work on them, but am pleased at how they came out.  I can use them on my sales display or sell them.

I will list them for sale on my Alpacanation page (link at top of blog).  I like the yellow one the best.

I'll leave off today with a photo of some of our crias playing.  I do love to watch them play.  In this photo the black one is the first cria of the year born, a female who belongs to one of my boarders, followed by Miracle's boy and Margarita's little boy is in the background.  The boys are already chasing the girls.  Go figure!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Crias are All Here! AND, There's More Than One Way to Move an Alpaca!

Ah, first cutting hay is done!  Our neighbors cut and round bale the first cutting from our big hayfield since we don't use it.  I was amazed that Rowdy had no trouble scaling this 5' bale.  Here is is surveying his kingdom.

I love how the field looks with the scattered bales
I know I always say things have been busy, but honestly, it has been crazy-busy this week.

Friday, we started off with the birth of our 5th cria of the year and our first female.  She was unfortunately born pre-dawn in a fine drizzle and was out in it at least 1to 2 hours before I found her.  She was weak and hypo-thermic and so she got off to a slow start.  She was the first cria for her dam, B'Nita which was another worry, but B'Nita stepped into the motherhood role perfectly.  She had plenty of milk and was very attentive.  Baby is doing fine today, active, gaining weight and is beautiful.  She was sired by a multiple champion male owned by a farm in Pennsylvania, and she does look gorgeous.  
B'Nita's cria 2 days old
 She and Margarita's cria have become fast friends.  I had to remove Tunita's cria from the pasture the day this cria was born because he was stealing milk from B'Nita, and it is really important that the new baby gets that first milk, or colostrum, from her mother.  

B'Nita's & Margarita's crias
So last Friday was a stressful day since I was trying to make sure this cria survived AND I was getting all my fiber ready to take to the Great Lakes Fiber Show the next day.  I was able to get everything together and weighed and labeled and loaded into the back of my car.  63 pounds of skirted fiber for rug yarn and another 11 pounds for knitting yarn.
That makes for a car load!
The fiber festival is about a 2 1/2 hour drive and I wanted to be back in time to go to a cook out at our neighbor's so I left around 7:30 am.  Mission accomplished, the fiber was dropped off, I enjoyed a lamb sandwich and greasy fries and did some shopping and socializing.  It was a beautiful day and the festival was busy.  It is held at a fairgrounds and there are 4 barns of fiber vendors, lots of outside vendors with animals and a sheep show is going on across the way.  Someone even had border collie puppies for sale!  I did NOT buy one!

 Sunday, my friend Becky, who is also an alpaca owner, came over and helped us get another 13 alpacas shorn.  Another friend and neighbor, Viktorija stopped by just in time to take some photos of us trying to move a particularly stubborn alpaca from the garage pasture to to the main barn for shearing.  So what do you do when an alpaca absolutely refuses to walk on a lead rope?  

he's not moving

I think Sam has been wanting to do this for a long time..

Sam has suggested using the loader on the tractor before, but I really did not think it would work..........

 The creek was the scary part.   That alpaca sat completely still the whole way.  No alpacas were harmed in the taking of these photos.

This alpaca is Yosemite Sam, the yearling we had gelded about 10 days prior to this.  Once we got him to the barn, we proceeded to get him on the shearing table 

 And off came the fleece


And then he was loaded into the trailer to move to the pasture across the road from the guest house. He did not want to walk to the trailer, either, but it was just outside the barn.


A big thank you to Becky for her help and to Viktorija for her photographic skills!

I forgot to mention that once the rain stopped on Friday, the mercury started to rise and by Monday, we were in the 90's.  My boys are posting photos on Facebook of the deck of their Lake Tahoe condo which is covered with a dusting of snow.  But summer has definitely arrived in SE Ohio.

Tuesday night we sheared another 3 alpacas, so I think we are down to 9 adults, 4 juvvies, and 6 crias to shear.

The fleeces are once again stacking up in my studio.  This year I am determined to get them all skirted and sold or sent out in a timely fashion.  Check back on that later
: )

Speaking of crias, the very last one of the season arrived yesterday, June 1st at exactly 365 days gestation.  This cria is from Micki and our male, Eclipse.  This is Micki's 3rd cria and all 3 have been very small.  I was hoping this one would be bigger, but Micki was not very big.  The cria is extremely small at only 9 pounds, but SHE (yes, it's a girl) seems to be a fighter.  All her ligaments are loose and her joints seem to bend the wrong way.  Strangely enough, this is fairly common with very long term pregnancies.  We call this DYSmature as opposed to early babies which are PREmature.  The dysmature babies can often have problems similar to premature babies.  Micki, the dam, is white from 2 white parents, and Eclipse, the sire, is very light fawn, from 2 white parents, and this cria is a medium fawn all over, not fading, like Margarita's cria.  I have already named her.  Bit-O-Honey seemed appropriate for such a tiny thing.

Bit-O-Honey at 4 hours old.
 I have had little time for fibery things other than sorting fleece this week.  I am also preparing for a big fund-raiser for our Humane Society this coming Saturday.  We are doing the food concession at a large estate auction and it is a first time for us to do something this size, so we have been very busy planning that.  I think 400 to 500 people are expected.  Yikes!  That's a lot of hot dogs.