Thursday, March 29, 2012

This Chicken Hawk is No Laughing Matter

Snoozin' in the wood shop while mom builds bee frames
Things are moving right along here on the farm.  There is a lot to do now that spring is here.  Not so much with the alpacas yet, it is the standard feed them and clean up after them for now.  Though they are getting a little grass time in addition to their hay, which makes them very happy.  This past weekend was also worming time once again, so that is done until the end of April.  Wow, April!

We had a bit of a chicken crisis on Friday afternoon.  Our chickens are definitely  free range and are generally all over the farm, at least within sight of the barns.  They can be found scratching in the leaf litter in the ditches and on the hillsides and under the multiflora roses, or along the creek bank.  One generally hears them before seeing them.  Their scratching and scuffling is accompanied by a constant verbal "burble" as I call it.  It is just a soft noise they make as they forage and I think it helps them to keep in touch with each other.  

So, when the dogs and I arrived home around 4 pm from our walk on Friday afternoon  the first thing we noticed was a large hawk who flew from one of the big oaks across the road from the pasture and screamed at us as he circled back and landed in another tree not far from where he had been.  That worried me.  But not as much as the fact that as I got closer to the house, there was not a chicken in sight.  Nowhere.  I searched in the garage and looked in the chicken house and the horse barn and the alpaca building by the garage.  And even odder was I heard nothing.  No scratching, no burbling.  I did not want to call the chickens because the hawk was still in the tree and I did not want them to come out of hiding, so I went into the house and worked on making some noodles.  After an hour or so I went out and  4 of the chickens came out of hiding in the granary near the road and came running and flapping across the yard to me.  I went out to the horse barn again and called to the chickens and 5 more came out from under the hay baler in the poly-shelter and one came out of the horse barn.  Now I had looked in all these places and those chickens had been so quiet I could not even tell they were there.

Anyway, at dusk when I shut the chicks in the hen house, there were only 10.  The 11th was found early Saturday morning.  I had walked right by her several times, but had been scanning the sky for the hawk and not looking in the ditch for a hen.  The hawk had come back after dark and fed on her and scattered feathers everywhere, making it easy to find her. 

 Sunday morning, the hawk was back and but the chickens were still in hiding.  Did not see him again until yesterday morning.  The chicks are sticking close to shelter.  Hopefully the hawk will find easier feeding elsewhere.  

And speaking of birds, Sam turned the car around the other day on the way home from work and took a photo of this guy.  This is not a usual sight in Monroe County.  It would be cool if it were.

I have been working on getting my frames put together for my new bee hive.  I ordered 50 of them and need 20 to get started by the time the bees arrive in 2 weeks.  They have to be assembled from all these pieces

into these wooden frames that will hang in the bee boxes that Sam is building.  There will be 10 to a box

Once the wooden frames are glued and nailed together, wire is strung for added strength and then the beeswax foundation that the bees will draw out into comb is added and the frames are ready.  The first frame took forever, but I have 20 nailed together and 10 wired.  I will finish wiring this weekend and then put in the wax.  Hopefully I will have boxes to paint by then.

I dyed another pound of my alpaca/wool roving this week.  The color in this photo is not real good.  It is actually more blue than grey.  I need to dye at least a pound of roving or yarn every week for the next several weeks to get ready for the Upper Valley Fiber Festival in Troy Ohio in May. 


I have almost finished a  quick knit shawl out of some yarn I purchased because it was just so cool.  It is called Colorshift Yarn from a dyer on  and no, it is not alpaca!  But I just had to have some.  The dyer sends you 8 skeins of yarn that shift from one color to a totally different color.  Wow!  My plan is to finish the shawl today and block it so you can see how gorgeous it is next week.  It is hard to see on the needles.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March Heat Wave

This wallow is about 8/10ths of a mile from the house where we leave the road and cut back into the woods.  A perfect spot for a hot dog on a very warm March day.  And boy, has it been warm.  I think we have had several days of record temperatures this month.  It feels more like June than March.  The bad part is, the leaves are not out on the trees yet, so there is little shade.  I got new cushions for my deck swing and it is too hot to use it!  

I don't think the alpacas are enjoying the heat wave.  It is too early to start shearing because I just don't believe we won't have some more cold weather.  I could be wrong, but it's just too soon to think the hot weather is here to stay.  

Whether the hot weather is here to stay or not, the landscape is starting to look like spring.  Most of the flowering trees are in bloom and the undergrowth in the woods is all turning green.  There are lots of signs of life in the pond.  There are so many fish hanging out near the surface every time I go up there.  This is just a few.  I have seen  schools numbering a dozen or more.  

I have also started to see the little amphibians I call salamanders.  I am not sure if that is what they are.  They swim like tiny  crocodiles.  

Last year they feasted on clusters of eggs that were near the shore.  Not sure if they were frog or fish eggs, but they are not there yet this year.


And of course the hot weather means Rowdy is up for a swim in the pond.  His idea of a swim is fetching a stick.  You can see the stick out near the end of the dock as Rowdy launches himself off the bank.

 And here is the splashdown.   I think the water has got to be pretty cold.  Rowdy only fetches the stick 4 or 5 times and he is ready to head for home.

 Sam is working on a spring chore today.  He is spreading a year's worth of poop on the hayfields.  Having the second tractor he bought last year makes the job a lot easier.  

But it still requires several trips down the road and so will take most of the day.   And the alpacas are already making more.....  The chickens will certainly enjoy all the overturned dirt and poop.  Many bugs and worms today!

Yesterday on my way in to the office I got held up in a traffic jam.  It didn't make me too late.

 On the fiber front, I am delighted to say I finally finished spinning the alpaca /bamboo blend I started back in January.  I am so pleased with how it turned out.  Out of 8 oz, I got 1740 yards of 2 ply yarn.  That is over 200 yards per ounce.  I also did the math and realized that I was only 20 yards short of one mile of 2 ply yarn!  That means I spun almost 2 miles of singles.  Now I need to come up with a pattern that is epic enough for this yarn I worked so long and hard to produce!  I think I will enter a small skein of it in a skein competition they are having at the fiber festival I am vending at in western Ohio in May.  

I took my latest weaving project off the loom, but I still have to hem the ends and I will post a photo after I finish it and after I have gifted it to the recipient.  I will hopefully be putting new warp for more rugs on the loom soon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring is in the Air!

Isn't Buck Looking Regal?

Yes, it certainly feels and sounds like spring out there.  Last night the peeper frogs were incredibly loud as I was shutting the chickens in and feeding the alpacas just after dusk.  I do love that sound.  There are signs of spring all over.  My neighbor's daffodils are already in full bloom.  My tulips are up about 6".  Really too early for all this.  We have garlic and hops coming up.  Apache is shedding gobs of white hair.  I had to block off the water hydrant outside the alpaca barn because he uses it as a scratching post and I fear he will break off the water line one of these days and we will be out of water and wondering why.  Rowdy is also "blowing out" his undercoat and I spent some time using the undercoat rake on him outside on Sunday.  He looks smaller.  I am sure I should get the rake out for Buck and Star as well.  Buck will like that.  Star, I am not so sure about.   She is rather flighty and silly.  We shall see.

 We did our last 2 batches of syrup this week.  Sam did one last Thursday and I did a small one on Monday.  The temps are just too warm at night now and the sap is not running.  I pulled all the taps and brought most of the buckets down and now I have clean up to finish.  I will bleach and put everything away for next year.

I also got into the bee hive on Friday as it was a nice day.  I had made them some "candy" from a recipe I got at the last bee meeting and I put some of it in their hive to tide them over until the nectar and pollen starts.  They seem to be healthy and were not real happy with me bothering them.  But no stings.  I will likely check tomorrow to see if they have consumed all the candy and I have more to give them.  

I got my big order of bee supplies the other day for my second hive.  So I have frames to put together and Sam has boxes to build before the bees arrive on April 16th.  Hopefully I will get started on that project this week sometime.  It will be hard though, if the weather is nice.

I have been letting the alpacas out onto the pastures about every third day.  Our pastures are in bad shape and I don't want them to ruin them right away.  So this morning, this is how it looked when I let them out.  There is some green starting to show and they are quite happy to get out there.

And then there is Chiquita Margarita, who did not realize I was opening the pasture gate because she was cleaning up all the grain in the barn.

No one wants to be last to the grass!  Chiquita was one of the first 3 alpacas we acquired back in 1999.  She was less than a year old and has had many crias for us, one every year.  She will not be having a cria this year.  I don't know if that will bother her or if she is ok with it.  She will be 14 in the fall.  She is one of my favorites and will live out her days here.

On Monday, I actually finished spinning the alpaca/bamboo singles!!  I now have 2 bobbins ready to twist together into a 2-ply yarn.  Even though I weighed out the batts prior to spinning, it looks as though there is more on one bobbin than on the other.  I won't know for sure until I finish plying.  Plying won't take anywhere near as long as the spinning has taken.  I need some good TV time and that is getting scarce as the hours of evening daylight increase.  Who has time to sit down while the sun shines?

I also finished tying the fringes on my latest rug.  I love how it came out.   it is 25" X 37" without the fringe.  I think I will weave more similar to this in the future. 

That's about all for now.  Oh, Rowdy wanted me to mention that he enjoyed his first swim of the year in the pond last night.  I am sure the water was rather cold, but he is always hot anyway and it was quite warm here yesterday.  He made some spectacular jumps after a medium sized stick, but was ready to shake the water out of his coat and head for home after about 5 retrievals.  Here he has 2 of his favorite things:  a stick and his Flippy Flopper.  He is a happy dog.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

It's Been a Quiet Week on the Farm

My Co-Pilot
It has been pretty quiet......although Mom was here for a couple days picking up her dog, Luca, who stayed with us while she was in Florida.  He is a year older than Rowdy and is a Springer Spaniel and they used to play together really well when they were younger, but they each have a different agenda when playing:  Rowdy wants to herd and Luca wants to retrieve.  So often, when playing outside, they end up fighting because Luca is trying to retrieve and Rowdy is trying to herd Luca.  It is very annoying to Luca, which I understand.    However, once in a while in the house they still play what I call the "teeth game" where they just stand face to face and kind of clash their bared teeth together.  I managed to a get a few photos of this the day before Luca left.


My what big teeth you have!

But it's all friendly in the end.

The sap is still running, though very sporadically.  I did a small batch up on Tuesday, the first batch in a week.  Only about 5.5 buckets for a little over 3 pints of syrup.  It warmed up nicely on Tuesday afternoon and then the temps dropped overnight into Wednesday and it was clear and sunny Wednesday, so Sam said he got 7 buckets on Wednesday!  He is doing up a batch today.  This is his first time to cook sap this year.  Hopefully we will get a half gallon or so from this run.  

My mom's friend, Tom, sent us a very nice photo album from our swamp tromp as well as a disc with all the photos he took, so here are a couple with me in them.  Photos of me are so rare as I am usually behind the camera!

This was about the deepest water we were in in the swamp.  I think this is where Bill (left) told us there was a 'gator hole about 50 feet away that was home to a 9' 'gator and that the 'gator "knew we were there the moment we stepped into the water".  All I could think of was that that gave him plenty of time to prepare!  But he never showed up.  Thankfully.

I never did get around to fringing the end on my rug.  I will make myself do it tomorrow or Saturday!

I am on the last 1 oz batt of my alpaca/bamboo hand-dyed, hand-carded blend I am spinning.  I hope to have it all done and plied by this time next week.  Plying will be much quicker than spinning, but it will still take some time.  I hope to get at least 1000 yards out of this 8 oz of fiber.  Once I ply it, I will measure it and see.  

So we had a quiet week this past week and I expect another quiet week upcoming.  Actually, it's kind of nice.  I think the end of this month I will have a visit from my mother, my sister-in-law and my niece and 2 nephews.  That will shatter the quiet for sure!  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Know It's Still Winter, But We're in the Home Stretch!

This is what Rowdy does when he gets tired of watching me cook down sap.

Last week I wrote about fixing fences to keep Buck in where he belongs.  I wanted to show you how he moves from field to field inside the perimeter fences.  All my Pyrs have been able to do this with very little effort and have figured it out on their own.  Even Dash, my first Pyr who was 140 pounds.  Buck is a mere 110.  Star is clueless.  I think it is a Pyrenees thing.  This is my first ever attempt at posting a video, and I wasn't even sure how to edit it, so bear with me.  

Yes, March has arrived!  We had 2 weeks of nice (dry) weather, and then yesterday we had a real gully-washer, toad-strangler rain with thunder and lightning and all.  Must have been in honor of Leap Day.  

I cooked down sap on Sunday, 6 buckets-full resulting in about 3 pints of finished syrup and then we had a decent run of sap into Monday, so I cooked again Tuesday, 8 buckets.  I got about 2.5 finished quarts.  Now it has been so warm that I don't know what we will get from here on out.  Time will tell.

 Tuesday  was a beautiful day to be outside all day, though it started off rather cold, which is good for the sap runI got started fairly early.  Here is what I had to start off.  The white buckets and the milk can are full of sap waiting for enough water to boil off to be added to the pans.

Here I have all 3 pans full of clear sap.  As evaporation progresses, I will ladle sap from the 2 outside pans into the center pan, which is where the more concentrated syrup will be. It will get darker and darker as it gets more concentrated.  I will eventually end up with about 2 inches of almost finished syrup in that center pan and will have water in the other 2 pans to keep them from burning.  At that point, I take the syrup to the house to finish on the stove where it can be more closely monitored.  I started at 9:30 Tuesday and had the almost finished syrup in the house by 4:30.

This is most of the finished production from Sunday and Tuesday.  Yum!

While I was feeding pine wood into the fire under my sap pans, I put together my "bee order".  All the things I need to buy to start a second hive this year.  I am going with the standard Langstroth hive, which is what I have been learning the most about.  Sam will build me the boxes, but I will have to put together frames which will go into the boxes and the bees will draw out the wax on these frames for the queen to lay eggs in and the worker bees to make honey in.  More on all that once I get my order.

I also worked on Shelley's mittens some more.  One is pretty much complete and I have started the other.   I love it when I can sit in the sun and knit and listen to an audio book.  I am listening to "A Game of Thrones" right now, which I understand is an HBO series.  I need to see if I can find it on DVD at the library.  Maybe not yet.

I took my rugs off the loom and have decided to rip one out.  I miscalculated my warp length and the rug came out way too short and the pattern was not balanced.  It just won't do.  The other one came out fine and I have it almost finished, just need to twist the fringes on one end and then I will take a photo.  I really like how it came out.

Still crankin' away on my lace weight alpaca/bamboo batts on my Reeves wheel.  I have one 4 oz bobbin complete as you may recall and I have almost 2 oz of the remaining 4 done.  I am diligently working on it, but it is very time consuming spinning this fine.  I can hardly wait to see how it looks once it is plied, but I think it will be a couple more weeks for that gratification.  I WILL get there!