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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Can't Believe August is Almost Over!

Buck is becoming a true Gentle Giant
Yes, I can hardly believe how fast summer has gone. Our weather has become almost perfect, warm sunny days and cool nights which necessitate a blanket on the bed.  The lighting has changed in the woods as the sun moves to the south and the plants are turning yellow along the trails.  I have to admit l love the change of seasons, whichever it is. Even winter brings welcome changes for a while.  It has a habit of overstaying its welcome eventually however!

I had a surprise on Monday.  I returned from helping a friend take her sick goat to the vet and found our first cria of the season!  I have to admit, I have been a little behind in checking my records or I would have realized this girl was far enough along to deliver.  She was at 329 days, which is just shy of the 11 month mark.  Average gestation is about 11. 5 months and I have found over 12 years of birthing that fall deliveries seem to average a good 2 weeks shorter than spring deliveries.  So 329 days is not early and baby was up and nursing when I found her and good size at just over 16 pounds.  Oh, I did mention it was a SHE right?  

Here she is with mama on birth-day and at the top of this post is Buck on day 2 checking her out.  Hard to believe he is just 9 months old!  This cria is the second from our female Kadienne and the second female she has produced.  Kadi, as we call her, has the worst temperament on our farm, in my humble opinion, and does not spare the nasty green spit if you irritate her.  So, working with her cria is interesting!  This cria's sire is a male born here on our farm who is owned by a friend of mine.  His dam died birthing him and I did not want to bottle feed, so I offered him to my friend and she took him.  He has matured to a very nice male and this is his first cria.  She has the potential to be a very nice alpaca.
The sire's name is Glacier and I think I will call this cria Glacienne, Laci for short.

So I now have 3 more crias due in the next month.  I have my very first alpaca, Chiquita, who is at day 305 today.  She is bred to the new male we acquired last fall, Lightning.  This will be his first cria.  Elli is also at day 305 and is bred to Eclipse and we have Brooklynn, a black female at day 299 and she is bred to our black male Oscuro.  I would guess all 3 of these crias should be here by the end of September.  Stay tuned for announcements!

  This photo is Margarita (Chiquita's daughter) and her cria from June, who I have yet to name!  His sire is named Mr BoJangles and I think this cria is very nice and am looking forward to seeing him mature.  I just haven't come up with a name yet.  Sometimes they come to me right away, but other times it's a struggle.  

We got in the last of our hay.  We have over 600 bales in the barn now, which is a good 4 month supply in heavy usage times.  Dec, Jan, & Feb I can count on using 5 bales a day , but the alpacas will graze even in winter if there is no snow.    Here is the last little field we did raked into windrows awaiting the baler.  Rowdy always manages to get into the post somewhere, doesn't he?

This weekend, Labor Day weekend, is always a big weekend on our farm.  The first year we lived here, all my family came to check the new place out.  I think they were all wondering how bad it really was!  The house was in need of some work, but quite liveable.  Anyway, it kind of started a tradition and now we generally have 2 housefuls of family and friends  and dogs all weekend and a party on Saturday where we invite just about anyone we know to stop by and have a burger and a beer.  It's just a lot of fun and I'm exhausted when Monday comes and the last car leaves and the quiet settles on me.  And it is so quiet with them all gone.  So know if you are reading this, you are invited!

 This photo is of the weeds that are totally covering several sections of fencing around the boys' pasture.  I think it is beautiful.  The photo cannot do it justice.    It is covered with yellow and orange flowers.  I suppose I should find out what it is calledUntil then, it is just that pretty weed on the fence.

The chickens are doing great.  They are producing anywhere from 12 to 14 eggs a day now.  They seem to be happy chickens and make themselves at home, even on my porch railing.  

They did totally devastate the impatien bed I plant every year along the front of the porch.  I think there are about 4 plants left of the flat and a half I put in back in early June.  But, I like the chickens better than the flowers anyway.  I have to say I am looking forward to letting my niece and nephews collect their own eggs. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hay, Hops, Walnuts, It's Late Summer

Rowdy is enjoying his favorite wallow on our evening walk

Last week as I was writing, Sam was home raking and baling hay.  I had to leave here and go home to help put the hay up in the barn.  Of course, prior to putting it up in the barn, it needs to be picked up out of the field.  We use our truck and flat-bed trailer to do this.  This particular hayfield is about 4 acres and is long and narrow, bordered on one side by the road and on the other side by the creek. 

 Once the hay is picked up, it needs to be put UP into the loft and stacked in such a way as to get in as many bales as possible.  This year we had the help of an electric conveyor, but I was too busy stacking hay to get any pics.  Maybe on the next field.   I should mention our neighbors Judy and Charlie were a huge help.  Charlie is our farm-sitter when we are away as well.

Sam thought we would not get much hay this year, but we got approximately 450 bales!  Who's counting, right?  I am.  I figure that will cover December, January and February when 50 alpacas will go through about 5 bales per day.  We have another field to cut yet and also have an order in for 300 more bales from a local farmer.  Another hope is that I can downsize my alpaca herd somewhat!

 This loft is stuffed full. It is hard to tell from the photos how high this is actually stacked, but I think those white doors are about 15 feet high.  I do NOT like heights!

Now the field is all nicely mown and we can walk through it on our evening walks and take Rowdy to one of his favorite swimming holes in creek again.

I may have mentioned in past posts that Sam enjoys a good pint of beer and has been brewing his own for many years.  2 years ago he planted his own hops and last year planted more.  I think he is looking at having a nice HopCrop this year, though whether it will be enough for his needs I do not know!  Hops are a fruit that grow on a vine and they are what give beer its "bitter" taste.  Sam is a big fan of "Hoppy" beer.  I am not a big beer fan, but in general I do not care for the hoppier beers,  I prefer maltier beers. 

This is one of the vines he planted last year.  He had a hard time with these as something likes to eat the hop plants, so they are not very big this year, but this one is doing fairly well.


 Here is a close up of the hops.  They are about ready to pick and Sam will either use them right away or dehydrate them for use at a later time.  The hops are grown from a root, or rhizome, and will come back every year.

We have an abundance of black walnut trees on our property as well and this year, most are just loaded with nuts.  The black walnuts are not the same as the English walnuts you buy at the grocery store for baking.  They are a more bitter nut.  They are also exceedingly hard nuts to crack!  They have an outer hull, which needs to be removed, which is not as hard as it is messy.  I have heard of everything from hammers to running over the nuts with your car to hull them.  In the past, I have used a hammer to break the hulls and peel them off.  The hulls have a very oily dark stain in them which will stain everything it touches, so gloves are recommended.   You can even soak the hulls in a bucket of water and make a natural dye for wool.  However, I have never done this as it makes a rich brown dye and I already have alpacas that color. 

Anyway, when we get the first good frost, and then the sun comes up in the morning, you can hear the walnuts dropping from the trees.  This is when you collect them and hull them.  Once they are hulled, you spread the nuts, still in their shells, on a screen in a dry place and let them dry out for a couple weeks.  Then you can attempt to crack them.  Since the nuts are so plenitful this year, I will probably try this again.  I think I will use Sam's bench vise to crack them.  There are nut crackers out there that make claims of cracking black walnuts, but I have not found one yet!

For some reason this tree, which is down along the creek, has lost most of its leaves already.  But that makes it easy to see how many nuts are on it.

I have had little time for fibery pursuits other than the Spin-Off judging, though I did finish the rugs that were on my loom except for tying the fringes on the ends.  I will be dyeing like crazy here soon, but first I must get through Labor Day weekend.  I think I have 14 people staying on the farm with us!  Yikes!

Isn't this beautiful?  This was early morning one day this week.  I just love the clouds and the lighting.  Very dramatic.

And here is a picture of Ginger, doing what she does on our walks these days:  Bringing up the rear!

If I can drag myself up over our hills when I am her age, I will feel pretty darn good, even if I am bringing up the rear!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dye Day & Makin' Hay

I planted my basil just outside the kitchen door this year so I don't have to go to the garden to get it.  It is growing very well.  I have a bundle of it hanging on the sunporch to dry.  I also have a bundle of the spearmint that grows wild all over the farm drying .  I had to pick it prior to mowing.  It always smells so good when you mow the mint.  It is quite prolific, however, and comes back in no time.

I have a lot going on right now.  How do I do this to myself?  I am working on judging a Spin-Off, but it is half the size of the one I did back in January and I have plenty of time. We also have a big fund-raiser for the local  Humane Society, with which I am very involved.  It is actually tomorrow, but we have some set up work to do today and Sam is making hay today!  After tomorrow night, I will be able to think more about other upcoming events, such as our annual Labor Day weekend party and the Wool Gathering, at which I will be a vendor.  So I need to dye roving and yarn (I am waiting for yarn to come back from the mill....they promise it will be done by Labor Day).

My spinning guild had Dye Day at the farm of JoAnn Swank this past Saturday.  It is just a fun time to get together with the group and get dye pots going and eat and socialize.  Her farm is very nice.  She has such beautiful beds of perennials all over.  I should have taken more photos.

The small building in the rear of this photo is JoAnn's cabin/studio.  She has 2 floor looms in here and lots of other fibery stuff.  It is quite a nice building with a loft and a woodburner.  She also has this big picnic pavilion sort of like the one we have at the pond, which is where we did lots of dyeing.



 Here's a shot from another angle where you can see items we have dyed drying on a rack.  Some items dyed were T-shirts (tie-dye), a scarf, yarn and roving.  I mostly socialized, but I did dye about 8 ounces of some roving I had leftover.  It is a blend of 80 % alpaca and 20% wool.  I had dyed and knit a red-cabled sweater from some of the same roving 2 years ago.  I love how the colors came out.  








It kind of reminds me of Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, whadda ya think?  Can't wait to see the finished yarn.  I am envisioning mittens.



Speaking of hay, this morning before coming to the office, I spent some time cleaning out the empty side of the loft.  I forked all the loose hay I could into the little truck to take over and put in the girls' feeder.  I had to put Rowdy's herding skills to work because the silly creatures want to get their heads  into the feeder before I am finished forking in all the hay and I am so afraid I will injure one of them with the tines of the fork.  They are NOT the brightest creatures!  So, I just tell Rowdy to move them out of the area, which he is more than happy to do.  While not formally trained to herd, he and I can communicate in our own way and he is tuning in to me much more than he used to.  He does like to use his teeth, so I try to get him to go easy.  Most of the alpacas are wise to him, though and do not give him any trouble.  They are more than happy to get out of his way.  I think Rowdy lives to hear me tell him to herd.  Instinct is incredible.  


You can see the alpacas under the overhang just waiting for me to start pitching the hay into the feeder.   It's amazing how little hay was actually in the truck.  It looked like a lot, but probably was not more than a good-sized bale worth, if that.  But it will keep the critters busy for a while.





Our chickens are producing  maximum egg output now.  With 13 hens, we have been getting just about a dozen eggs a day.  That's a lot of eggs for 2 people!  But so far, I am having little trouble getting rid of them.  My chicken house, made by my father-in-law, has next boxes that can be accessed from a hinged top from the outside of the chicken house.  There are 6 nest boxes and usually the hens do not use them all.  There will be 3 or 4 eggs in 3 or 4 of the 6 boxes.  Here is a photo of the nest boxes early this morning with one of the hens making her deposit.  As you can see, there are already several other eggs present.



I have finished my bulky lace vest, made from handspun yarn from a roving that was damaged by the processor.  I actually like the looks of the yarn and love the vest.  Maybe i will enter it in the Ohio Alpacafest this fall.  My "dummy" is a good bit slenderer than I am, so the lace pattern does not show up on her too well.  I will fill it out a bit more.  I love the Celtic style pewter pin I bought for it.  



I also have sock #1 finished and have a good start on sock #2.  I have decided I just love hand-knit socks, even if I have to hand-wash them.  I have also learned it is very difficult to take  a decent photo of a sock on one's own foot.  But there you have it.  These socks are handspun Merino wool.  Yes, I bought some dyed roving from a fellow guild member a year or so ago because l loved the colors.  There is no law that requires me to only work with my own fiber!

 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August Already? Really?


I know, it doesn't look much like the farm does it?  Well we took the week off last week and traveled to Reno, NV and on to Lake Tahoe to spend some time with our two sons, Ian and Sam/Zac/Satchmo (who I will call Zac for the purpose of this post).  Tahoe is an incredibly beautiful area.  We had been there once before in 1999 with some friends on a ski trip, but never before in summer.  It has so much to offer. 

We got a 2 bedroom 2 bath condo through my mom's time share exchange.  Incredibly, it was within a mile of our sons' condo, up at the top of "the grade", which is a road which goes from the floor of the valley on the desert side up and over a mountain and down to the lake on the lake side.  Our view was of the desert valley.  Here is was at sunrise.

 My mom went with us as she had not seen the boys in quite some time.  Ian and Zac had a   busy week planned for us and Mom kept up quite well, even on some pretty severe up hill hikes!  I think the one back up from Skunk Harbor on Friday was the toughest, though.
We drove around the lake one day, we went wine tasting in El Dorado, hiked Emerald Cove to Vikingsholm, took a paddle wheel lake cruise, went swimming in Skunk Harbor and even got some culture at the Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.  Too cool sitting in a lakeside amphitheater with the sun going down sipping wine and enjoying the Bard.



  At right are Sam, Mom, Ian  & Zac on the trail to Vikingsholm, a beautiful Nordic styled estate on the shores of Emerald Bay.


 We also had the opportunity to see our sons' band, Those That Kill, perform live at RoJo's, a bar in South Lake Tahoe.  They got together with Ryan Evans, who is on the right in the photo, when they worked together at Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite and the band's name is actually the English translation of the Indian word "Yosemite".  The drummer is a guy they met once they all moved to Tahoe together last year.  We had seen them play at Evergreen, but had never seen them with a drummer.  They definitely have a good time!

I think Sam's favorite part of the trip was visiting the Mt Tallac brewery in South Lake Tahoe.  They sell pints of beer fresh from the tap between 5 and 7 pm and it is enjoyed on their loading dock in plastic chairs and on benches made of old snowboards.  They have cornhole games set up and it is kind of like a neighborhood party where everyone knows everyone else.  Not a tourist attraction.  I think you have to know someone local who knows about it.  I wish I had taken a photo, but I did not.  We visited twice. 

And like all good times, our trip eventually came to an end and we returned home very early Sunday morning (flight delays and a 2 hour drive from the airport) and now it is time to play catch-up!  The animals all seemed to do fine, despite the heat.  We did lose 2 chickens at some point while we were gone, which I was afraid would likely happen.  Our farm sitter was letting them out of the chicken enclosure and then shutting it again at night, but not shutting the door to the coop.  If he had shut the door to the coop, he would have needed to be there too early in the morning to let them out, so we went with the twice a day plan.  

I spent a good bit of time Monday on the tractor, doing weed-control.  

I am now working on the spin-off for the alpaca show in the mid-west in October.  I can't remember the name of the show off-hand, but I hope to finish it by the end of this month.  I also have to start dyeing roving and yarn for the Wool Gathering in Yellow Springs in September.  My friend Tari and I have a vendor's booth under the name of Ridge & Hollow Fiber Folk.  Here is a link to the show's site:  http://my.voyager.net/~nfisher/

This will be my first big fiber show and I need to make sure I have plenty of product to last the weekend!  

I took my sock project along on our trip and did not have a lot of time to knit.  But I did manage to get one sock done.  Now to do the other.  I forgot to photograph it, though.  Maybe next week.

This weekend our spinning guild is having another "Dye Day" which I hope to attend.  Here is a link to the post about last year's Dye Day:  http://straightforkfarm.blogspot.com/2010/08/dye-day-hay-2nd-cutting-more.html

 And that reminds me, we will also be doing hay in the next week or so!