Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Heat Wave Continues

2 Goofy Dogs!
Yes, this is the usual sight that greets me each time I go to the barn.  Buck, the Pyr, is the one on the left and Star is on the right.    They have been very good about learning that the barn door is their boundary, although they will venture out, given the chance to do so.  Like Monday, when I was moving hay to the girls barn from the horse barn and decided to take a second load over.  I neglected to close the door after unloading and heading back across the creek for load #2 (the alpacas are behind an inner gate and cannot get out) and suddenly while loading the truck at the horse barn, I saw a large white dog come around the corner!  I chased them both back across the dry creekbed and into the barn and put the gate across.  They really did not give me any problem, just went back where they know they belong.  I worry that Buck will eventually get the desire to roam, as many Pyrs do, and start excavating routes of egress from the pastures.  He is 8 months old now and it is time for him to visit the vet to be neutered.  That might curb that urge a little, but it is in the Pyr's DNA to cover large areas, so I will have to be watchful of him as he is now hitting what I consider to be dog adolescence.  Star is now a year old and I am not too worried about her going off on her own.  She does not seem to have a lot of the independence that I so love in the Pyrs.  She is a much more timid dog and really not what I was expecting.  If she is representative of the Maremma breed, I would not be quick to advise anyone to get one.  I have been disappointed in her.  But, she does bark a lot and I think she is a good deterrent to local wildlife.  In fact, she barks so much that I don't believe I have ever heard Buck bark.  

Last week I mentioned that Sam was off tractor shopping.  Well, he finally found what he was looking for.  It will arrive here this evening.  Lee, one of the neighbors I have mentioned before, is picking it up for us.  He lives closer to it than we do, but also has a farm right next to ours adjoining his grandfather's place.  Here is the big green machine.

 This one is much larger than our Kubota.  It is a Deutz Allis diesel and has all the features Sam wanted.  He tells me he doesn't think there is room for Rowdy to sit though, while I am operating the tractor.  That was the feature I wanted!  While this tractor is green, it is a different shade of green than those really expensive tractors, so didn't cost nearly as much.

I neglected to mention in last week's post the loss of a 4 -footed family member who had been with us a long time.  Our only house cat, Lucky, died at the age of almost 16.  She was diagnosed 15 months ago with chronic renal failure resulting in weight loss, vomiting, constant drinking and peeing and just general lethargy.  She stopped grooming herself and her coat became matted.  The vomiting got much worse in the last few weeks, despite the special diet she was on and I decided it was time to make the dreaded decision and I took her in to the vet.  She was the last of the animals who came with us from Indiana, except Apache, my horse who is also a senior, and so I buried her close to our 2 dogs, Shane and Max, who were with us when we got Lucky.  I do not plan to have any cats in the house again.  I love my barn cats, though.

Lucky in her healthier days

 We still have 4 or 5 cats.  There is BamBam (my son named her for a hockey player), also known as the Mamacat because she once had a litter of kittens, who has been with us since the first summer we were here.  She is now 13She has always attached herself to one of the other farm animals.  For a while we had a pot-bellied pig and the Mamacat would actually stay in the little pig hut with the pig.  I remember once an alpaca breeder visiting the farm and asking as we went over to the barn what lived in the little pen with the hut in it.  I replied that we had a pig who lived in there and as I said that, the Mamacat came out of the little building.  I was sure my visitor thought I was crazy!

BamBam or Mamacat
Once the pig was gone, she spent a short time with Apache, our horse and then she fell in love with Cheetah, the gentle giant Great Pyrenees and stayed with him, even eating out of his bowl until he died last fall.  I think she was kind of lost then for a while, but soon I noticed that she had moved from the alpaca barn to our front porch, where Ginger spends a lot of time.  So now she has become a porch cat and hangs around on the deck and porch and eats out of Ginger's food dish.  By the way, 13 is a very long life for a barn cat. 

We have another senior barn cat, a tabby named Stubby.  That became his name a few years ago when something grabbed him by the tail and I had to take him in and have part of his tail removed.  He was given to me at least 6 years ago by the friends I got Cheetah from and he was at least 5 years old then.  He came from the home of a person who died who had had 7 cats.  I took in 2, but we lost 1 after only a year or so.  Stubby is still with us.  

Then I have 2 big healthy, handsome young guys who came to live here when we just got overrun with cats at the shelter last summer.  There is Grayson, a solid gray, who knows he can outrun Rowdy any time he wants to and so lives somewhat dangerously.  Rowdy WILL chase a running cat.  He pays no attention to the Mamacat.  She doesn't run from him.   And there is Chuck, a black and white tuxedoed boy, who is not so good at outrunning Rowdy, so he stays a little closer to the safety of the horse barn.


  I also found a starving stray female cart last spring, Cami, who I know lives in the barn loft part of the time, but I rarely see her.  She is friendly and likes to be petted, but very independent.  I was able to trap her a month or so ago and get her in and get her spayed so we will not be having kittens.  I believe very strongly in spaying and neutering.  There are way too many unwanted cats and dogs out there.  Did you know that 1 pair of cats can turn into 420,000 cats in a 7 year period if none of them are spayed/neutered?  That is a staggering number of cats!!

We had a cookout at the pond Saturday and invited the neighbors to it.  Wouldn't you know it actually rained?!  But we still had fun.  Food, drink and someone had a deck of cards.  

This week I decided I needed to get some travel knitting together, so I got out a sock I had knitted a few months back which I wanted to re-do on smaller needles since it came out too loose.  It is actually wool, not alpaca, but it is handspun.  I bought the roving from another guild member because I loved the colors.  I really, really like hand knit socks in the winter, so I make a couple pair a year.  So, I am actually unraveling one sock as I knit it again on smaller needles.  

The new sock is on the left and the original sock is on the right.  

Otherwise, I have not done much fibery stuff except weaving 2 rugs.  I have enough warp on the loom to weave one more.  It has been way too hot to be outside skirting fleeces, which I really need to get to.  I also got 58 spin-off entries in the mail last week that I need to work on in August.  That is something I can sit in air-conditioning and do!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

hot, Hot, HOT!! Well, it IS July.

A smart dog hangs out at the pond in 90 degree heat!

The whole eastern half of the US is experiencing an incredible heat wave this week.  Our high temps are forecast in the mid-90's and our lows only in the upper 70's.  We can usually count on it cooling down at night here in our "hollow", but with this heat, we are running the A/C 24 hours a day.  The fans are on "high" in the alpaca barn and the 'pacas do not move around any more than necessary these days. This of course means more work for me since the barn becomes a giant toilet and I have to try to keep it clean.


On Saturday, Sam and I installed the "John Pacey Memorial Float" back in the pond.  John procured this trampoline float for us last year and then he died in a tragic accident this past December.  The float will always make me think of him.  Anyway, it had a leak in it last year and we had to disassemble it, which involved removing the heavy nylon cover from the inner tube, inflating the tube to find the leak and patching it.  That job done, into the pond it went.  So, we now have the diving board, zip-line and trampoline.  We would be really cool grandparents, wouldn't we?

It's kind of hard to see the zip line but it goes from the left hand corner of the pavilion across the pond between the dock and the float.  We really need to do something with the hill between the pavilion and pond.  It's bare of topsoil, so no weeds are even growing, but it is dry and rocky.  No good for bare feet.


 The chickens continue to be a source of amusement.  They have dug chicken sized holes at the base of a tree next to the creek and they spend lots of time in those holes rolling around and kicking the loose dirt up over their backs and under their wings.  I have to admit, I really did not know they would be so interesting.  Even Rowdy finds them worth watching.  Maybe he is dreaming of chicken dinners, I don't know.

 They are now producing 5 to 6 eggs a day, which is really plenty.  I am sure we will get to the point where we are getting closer to a dozen a day. 

As this photo shows, one whole side of the barn loft is empty.  In another month, it will be time to fill the lofts with second cutting.  Our neighbors purchased a new hay mower, so today Sam is out looking at tractors as the new mower really requires a tractor with more horsepower than either of us have right now.  Sam tried to give the guys half the cost of the mower and the hay elevator (which is the thing you see across the 2 lofts in the photo), but they agreed to just let us buy the tractor.  Sam has been wanting a bigger tractor anyway.  He's looking for one that is "just right", though.  We do not need the type of tractor they have for working 1000 acre places.  Maybe next week I will have a photo of a new-to-us tractor.

As hot as it is I have spent some time just sitting and knitting or spinning and yesterday I got a whole rug woven here at the office.  Will likely do another today.  I can answer phone calls and weave at the same time.  Last week I went to my spinning guild and I spun up a couple ounces of the Blue-face Leicester/alpaca roving I had processed.  So today when I came into the office I took a few minutes to ply it into a 2-ply yarn.  Most times, I have 2 bobbins of yarn and I ply the 2 together, but since this is a small amount and is on one bobbin, I wind it into a center pull ball, which means one end is coming from the center of the ball, and I ply from each end.  So I am using the end from the center and the other end which is on the outside of the ball.  

 I tried to get a good photo, but the yarn is in my right hand, so I have to operate the camera completely with my left hand and of course cannot use the view-finder at this angle.   Very awkward! I put my thumb through the center of the ball of yarn to keep it from collapsing (the ball not my thumb) and thereby hopefully preventing a huge yarn tangle.

 And here is the bobbin with the plied yarn

 Since I will be selling this roving at the Wool Gathering in September, it is nice to have a sample of the roving either spun or knitted up for people to feel.  Fiber festivals are very tactile. 

Speaking of that, I also sent off almost 10 pounds more of prime white alpaca to be made into roving.  August is going to be a dyeing month!

I have almost completed my bulky lace vest.  I think maybe I said that last week as well.  I am going to finish off the armholes a little more and then it will be done.  I will post a photo of me wearing it when it is all done, but here it is for now.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Fun on the Farm

Star, Buck & Rowdy
Don't they look like they are in prison?  I left Rowdy shut in the barn with the big dogs while I went to fetch the camera from the house.   He is not usually left in the barn without human supervision.  You will see why soon.

Summer is in full swing.  We continue to have some rain, though it is now coming in the form of somewhat severe storms which move through quickly in late afternoon and have the nice effect of cooling things off, but as we experienced this past Monday, they can also turn off the power.  For 44 hours.  Fortunately we have a whole house generator which runs off the natural gas from our wells and it kicks on automatically when the power has been out for more than 30 seconds or so.  We don't have the whole house on it, but it runs most things, like the refrigerator, chest freezer, water pump, etc.  Our a/c and furnace are not on it, however.  I think we got the generator before we added on the mud room and installed the furnace and a/c. If the power is out in winter, we use the woodstove and a gas heater in the dining room.  We don't use our a/c every day in summer anyway, and it would be a big drain on the generator.  But we can take showers and there is water for the animals and we don't run the risk of our food thawing.  I think our longest power outage here was 9 days and that was the week we moved into our house.  July 1998.  Our first purchase was a gasoline generator!

I got to try out the zip line!  It is great fun.  We need to tweak the pulley system a bit to get it to go faster, but other than that it works pretty well.  It goes from the corner of the pavilion to a tree on the far side of the pond...right across the center.  

The line pretty much stops about dead center of the pond, so you can't go too far.  The worst part is going from the dock, where you get out of the water, back up to the pavilion.  If you come to visit and want to zip-line, I recommend water shoes.  $7 at that mega store we all can't seem to live without......

The rain has kept the pastures looking fairly nice, which of course means more mowing.  I am still having to feed hay to the girls since their fields are just not big enough for the number of animals on them.  Need to downsize!

I alluded to Rowdy's not being trusted in the barn without human supervision. I really don't think he would do anything except sit by the door and wait   *hope*  for me to return to let him out.  But I shot a series of photos of him attacking poor "little" Buck the other day and wanted to share a couple of the pics which show a typical herding dog move.  As you will see,  Rowdy has lost the size advantage to Buck, but he is still much more agile.  Poor Buck looks like he doesn't know what hit him.

Rowdy going for the leg

All you can see of Rowdy's eye in this photo is the white.

Leg chomp
Buck tries to avoid

Notice how the whole time this is happening, which was only a couple of seconds, Star just sat out of the way a watched.  

This is typical herding dog play behavior.  I have noticed that dogs which are not herding dogs generally do not  appreciate this type of play and it will sometimes result in a fight.  This is not aggression on the herding dog's part, it is his instinct.  Unless trained, he will even treat children this way if he has a high desire to herd.  It is similar to how a retriever wants to do little more than retrieve.  It is in their DNA.  This is why it is so important for people to do some research before getting a dog.  Or get a mixed breed which may have a little bit of this and a little bit of that mixed in.  And yes, Rowdy will do this to the alpacas if he gets a chance.  

 The chickens are doing well.  We are up to about 5 eggs a day now.  Still have 16 hens.  I did hear a commotion from the chickens yesterday afternoon (they are usually pretty quiet) and went out to find a strange dog in the fenced area!  In 13 years, I have seen very few unknown dogs in our yard and so this was a surprise.  The dog has a pit-bull type look to it and did not look hungry.  I hope it was not dumped off and I also hope I do not see it again.  I had to chase it off 3 times.  It did not get any of the chickens, but it scared them all off into the thick underbrush and up the hill.  But once it was gone, they all eventually came back.  

I have slowly been working on warping my loom for more rugs.  Almost finished with my bulky lace vest I am knitting, so should have a photo of that for next week.  I have spinning guild tonight, so I will actually get to do some spinning.  I don't usually sit down in the evening until well after 9 pm these days, so unless I take some time during the day, I just don't get much spinning time (or knitting time) in.  And if I DO take time during the day, I feel guilty that I am not doing housework or something outside that needs to be done.  Have I ever mentioned that I hate housework?  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Here A Chick, There A Chick, Everywhere A Chick,Chick

Our rhododendron always blooms so late

Last Friday was the big day.  I opened the gate to the chicken yard to let them "free-range".  My biggest concern of course was Rowdy.  He has such a strong instinct and desire to herd and I am not trained properly to help him control those urges, so I was worried how he would react to chickens on the loose.  

Backyard Chickens

We did lose one hen the first night the chickens were here.  They were in the chicken yard and I was trying to herd them into the coop for the night.  I would get all but 4 into the coop and then while I was rounding up those 4, 6 more would exit the coop.  I am sure it would have been amusing to watch, but would have required an R rating for  "adult language" (what does that mean anyway?).  So Sam came into the chicken yard to help and he did not latch the gate behind him and Rowdy was not tied up since we were in the yard.  Well durned if one of those hens didn't push against that gate and out she went, right into the waiting jaws of Rowdy.  He got a mouthful of feathers and said hen took off up the hill and out of sight, never to be seen again.  I am sure a coyote had a nice chicken dinner that night.  So now here I am letting 17 silly birds loose to roam our yard.  I have been pleasantly surprised.  While Rowdy will grab one if they walk up to him (and this HAS happened), they don't squeak, so he lets them go... with my help.  They also don't really run or fly away from him, so he will walk past them without his prey drive going into high gear.  I did have to rescue one hen from the big dogs in the alpaca pasture the first or second day and then one got in there that I did not rescue and she came to a bad end.  So we are down to 16.  As of yesterday, we are getting 3 eggs a day.  And some have double yolks!

Chickens by the studio
 The chickens are making themselves at home and are all over the place during the day.  By dusk, they have made their way back to the chicken yard and shortly before dark, I go out and close the door to the coop as they are all in and roosting for the night.  They are quite amusing to watch as they chase bugs and scratch them up.  I have come to realize that the reason there are no wild chickens is they are just not smart enough to survive on their own.  They will walk right into danger and they lay their eggs and desert them.  They are friendly and don't seem to mind being picked up.  Their feathers are extremely soft and hide the fact that there is not much bird under there.  So far, I am enjoying having them.

The creek is dry
 It is truly summer.  The creek has dried up, so I am having to fill a water trough for Apache.  He seems to be doing all right with the supplement I have been giving him for his hips and joints.  I have not seen him laying down unable to get up in some time.  He is looking good, his weight is great.  I think the Purina Equine Senior I have him on has even improved his coat. 

Feeling his oats!

In other news around the farm,  the guys all got 
together  Saturday and installed a zip line across the pond.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a photo yet because it really needs to be an action photo and the opportunity has not yet arisen to take such a photo.  Hopefully by next week's post I will be able to get someone up to the pond with me who will either ride the zip line or man the camera while I take a turn.  Sam did test it out a couple times on Saturday, but it was about dark and I had not thought to take my camera.  What was wrong with me?

I've had a little time to knit on my lace vest.  I sat outside one evening and enjoyed a glass of wine and an audio book and knit.  What decadent behavior!  I should have been working in the garden.  Ah well, one needs time to unwind once in a while.  And the work needing done in the garden will likely still be there when I get around to it.