Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is It Really Almost November??

It is hard to believe October is almost over, though yesterday it certainly felt like November.  We are having beautiful days interspersed with previews of the colder weather to come.  I took a lot of photos of the fall colors when the dogs and I took our daily hike last Friday and the next day I did a full day's horseback ride and look at my attire!  It was great fun, but it was very overcast and threatening to rain most of the day.  We were lucky and only really got rained on the last hour or so.  I was pretty happy that I was able to spend 5 1/2 hours in the saddle with no after-effects. I'm ready to go again.

Everyone is now moved to where they will spend the winter.  I moved the 4 girls who were over in the garage pasture into the main barn, so now all 17 female alpacas are in one place.  The barn seems crowded, though I have had many more than that in there before.  I am glad it is down to a more manageable number, however.  Sam and I also went out Sunday morning while it was still cold and picked up the top bar hive and moved it about 25 feet into a spot that gets more sun.  I am still feeding them a 2:1 sugar to water mix at least once a week.  Fingers are crossed they will overwinter all right.

For years I have had a sign for our farm up at the top of the hill where you turn off the blacktop county road onto the gravel township road and I had made a sign to hang on it for eggs for sale a couple years ago.  Well I had used cheapo cup hooks that I had laying around and earlier this summer they gave out and the signs fell off the farm sign.  So now that I have eggs again, I decided to upgrade my hardware and do signs for honey and syrup.  I got that done this week.  Whether or not this will help us sell our farm products, I don't know.

Tomorrow my friend Tari and I are heading north to Amish country for the day.  I have an appointment to drop off all that skirted alpaca fiber at Morningstar Fiber Mill and then we plan to hit a fabric store Tari knows of where she says there are incredible deals to be had.  I am looking for upholstery type fabric to re-upholster my dining room chairs and make a new cushion for the bench.  I have had this table and chairs for over 20 years and I recovered everything once, but it has to have been at least 10 years ago.  It is ready for a change.  Tari and I also plan to stop at a cheese factory and hopefully a bulk food store.  Regardless of where we go she and I always have a good time when we get together.

Sam and I will be making a trip to visit our sons in Portland soon.  You may remember that younger son Sam/Zac has been living at a lodge at Yosemite National Park and was evacuated in August due to the "Rim Fire" which devastated the area.  He is now moving to Portland and moving in with my other son, Ian, and his fiance, Michelle.  I spoke to Zac yesterday and he said it is just so hard to see the place he loves so destroyed.  The lodge itself and the grounds were protected thanks to the fire crews, but he said once you leave the lodge property, everything is gone.  He says the national forest which surrounds the lodge is closed until probably next September due to places where fires are still smoldering underground that can collapse into fiery pits on occasion.  Zac has lived at Evergreen Lodge for about 3 1/2 of the last 5 1/2 years and I know he and Ian both love the area.  I have been there 4 times over that period and I am glad I won't see it like it is now.  Very sad.

   As for fiber, other than my trip to the mill, I have finished the "Willow Cowl"  I was knitting out of some 100% merino wool yarn that I won.  It came out rather larger than I like, so it may become a gift.  We'll see.  I have been working on my weaving project and also on a summery sweater (in October, I know) which I hope to finish in the next few days.  Then it is on to the next Christmas present!


I am going to end with some more photos I have taken  recently on dog hikes.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Readying for Winter

I got this gorgeous shot of the boys in wonderful sunset light the other evening.  At the end of this post, you will see what was behind me when I took this.  

It has been a busy week, again.  We went to Dayton over the weekend to go to a 20th anniversary party for my brother and his wife and we spent the night at mom's.  The party was very nice.  The weather was nice enough to sit outside and chat.  Sam even went with me and we boarded the dogs overnight at a new kennel in the area.  The kennel where we used to board has shut down as the owner has moved out of state.  I was so apprehensive, as that is the only place Rowdy has been boarded since he was a puppy, and Ilaina never  kenneled him.  He stayed in the house with her and her dog, Roy, who is also an Aussie and Rowdy's best buddy.   He knows Roy's name.  He gets excited to go stay with Roy.  But things change, people move on, and Rowdy was fine at the new Plainview K9 Retreat, which is good because he is going to be there for a week soon when we visit our sons in Portland.

Yesterday I dropped off 20 pounds of fiber at the post office to ship to the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool which will magically be turned into 4 dozen pairs of wonderful alpaca socks for me.  I sell a lot of these at Christmas time.  Worth every penny of my $15 retail price.  So that is 20 pounds of skirted fiber out of my studio!  I also have 20 pounds of prime alpaca ready to deliver to Morningstar Fiber Mill next week, along with the wool fleece I purchased at the Wool Gathering.  I decided to pair it with Lightning's fleece and do a 66/34 alpaca/wool blend yarn.  I will only have about 5 or 6 pounds finished yarn from that, but I want to see how it turns out.  As I have been skirting these fleeces, I have also skirted the secondary fiber and sorted it into bags by color.  I will eventually have some spun into rug yarn and I will likely sell some on Ravelry at $2/pound like I did last year.  I have more than I can use.  Amazingly, I still have an abundance of fleeces in my studio.  

I have finished with honey extraction and have everything mostly cleaned up and stored away.  I will be feeding the top bar hive weekly most of the winter I think.  But the Orchard hive is pretty well set.  

The chickens are doing well.  We are up to 4 to 5 eggs a day now.  I will say I used some chicken stock that I made from one of my previous chickens on Monday to make chicken corn chowder (also used corn from the garden, garlic from the garden and potatoes from the garden) and it was excellent.

Tuesday I took advantage of fine weather and I cleaned out the garlic patch and planted next year's garlic.  It was a fabulous day.  I also got some knitting on the deck in.  I have been working on a cowl in some 100% Merino wool yarn that I won from a podcast I listen to.  It's in great fall colors and I should have it finished in plenty of time for our Portland trip.

I have my loom here at the office all warped and I will be weaving as soon as I finish this post.  I can't say what this is yet, but I will eventually.  Once I finish this project, I need to warp for more rugs.  Since I sold 3 at the Wool Gathering, I need to replace them.

I have been looking forward to this Saturday for several weeks because I have plans to do a full day's horseback ride.  Wouldn't you know the forecast is calling for rain?  Let's hope it is wrong and I get to go.  It'll really be a bummer if it gets cancelled.  

Here's the sky that gave me that pretty soft lighting for the photo of Rowdy and Grover.  Isn't that marvelous?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fabulous October Weather Any Way You Look At It!

Even the alpacas enjoy sunbathing on a warm fall day. These are 2 of our older girls, Chiquita (one of our very first alpacas, she has been with us over 14 years) and Tunita, who has also been here quite a while.  10 years maybe?

It was actually rather on the very warm side late last week and into the weekend.  We had bright sun and temps in the low 80's.  Then Sunday night a front came through bringing some much needed rain and also more fall-like temps with daytime highs in the low to mid 70's, which is about perfect if you ask me.                                                                                          
Here are Micki and Miracle.  These are the 2 girls who should be mamas with nursing babies right now.  I guess it was not meant to be.      
This week I decided it was time to give the alpacas a round of worming with an oral paste wormer, which I do a couple times a year.  It is a tough job as I need to do it multiple days in a row and no one really likes it.  The paste wormer comes in a big tube designed for use with cattle.  I have a gun I put the tube in and the whole thing looks like a caulking or grease gun.  There are notches on the gun and each depression of the trigger shoots out a measured amount of paste wormer, which is white and about the consistancy of toothpaste.  The size of the animal determines how many "clicks" of the paste they should get.  Alpacas need   higher doses of wormers than horses or cattle, so most of my adult alpacas get 3 clicks of the paste and I do this 3 days in a row.  So I shut everyone in the pen in the barn and in order to administer the paste, I catch each animal from its left side.  I place my right arm around its neck, pulling its head down to a level I can easily reach with the paste gun.  My right thumb goes into the corner of the animal's mouth to pry it open.  So at this point I have the alpaca's head kind of pinned to my right side with my right arm and my thumb is in its mouth.  With my left hand, I place  the tip of the paste gun as far back into the alpaca's mouth as I can and "shoot" the preferred dosage into its mouth.  Then I have to hold the alpaca's mouth closed and watch for it to swallow before releasing it or else it is likely to spit paste wormer everywhere.  The first day I do this, they really don't know what is coming.  By day 3, it is like a rodeo.  The average alpaca weighs about 150 pounds, which is a bit more than I weigh.  Fortunately most of them don't know how  much stronger than me they really are.  Some do.  Day 3 of worming, I was kicked, I was body-slammed against the barn wall and I was literally covered in paste wormer from hair to toes.  That was just the females!  If they really struggle to get away, I sometimes have to pin them up against the barn wall or back them into a corner.  This usually results in my being bounced off said barn wall. I have a bruise on my back, and my right arm is bruised from elbow to shoulder.  I'm glad I only have to do that chore a couple times a year.

Friday was so nice and warm and sunny I took full advantage.  I washed a fleece and put it on my drying rack in the sun and it was nice and dry and fluffy and ready for carding in no time. 
  I also got a good start on skirting fleeces to send off for yarn and socks.  I don't recall ever skirting in the fall before and having the maple leaves coming down into my fleece as I skirt.  I need to send 20 pounds off for 4 dozen pairs of socks and hopefully another 15 pounds or so for yarn.  
Another chore I did on Friday was my bee hives.  I fed the top bar hive by the garden, which I need to do again tomorrow and I took a whole box off the top of the hive up by the orchard.  I needed to remove that box so they would consolidate into a smaller area for the winter.  That box was mostly full of honey, so on Monday I extracted honey.  I have about another 2 gallons of honey.  I sure hope that hive survives the winter.  It is such a good producer.
         This is how my garden looks right now.  2 rows of lettuce and all my butternut and acorn squash hardening.  I have lots of clean-up to do still.  There's just never enough time.

Most of my fiber time this week was skirting and washing.  I have done some knitting, but it is still for holiday gifting, so I'm not posting any photos at this time.  Likewise my loom warping.  I'll have something to show off next week, hopefully.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

I told Rowdy to get into the tub for a much needed bath and Grover, never wanting to be left out, joined him.  You can see Rowdy is anxious about the bath by his holding a soft toy.  Grover was banished from the bathroom before the water was turned on.

This morning was kind of a rough morning.  Our second (and last) alpaca pregnant for a fall cria this year delivered sometime in the early morning hours.  This was Micki, for whom this was her 4th cria.  I paid a lot of money for Micki several years ago as an unproven maiden female.  She had great genetics, lovely fine fiber and very nice conformation.  Cria number 1 was a small white male.  He was never very thrifty and kind of faded away at about 9 months old.  Cria #2, a year later, was another small male, and he never got very large (we nicknamed him Pocket Pal) but he did well and we sold him with a couple other young males when he was about a year old.  Number 3, a year later, was a full term 9 pound female, who died within 48 hours.  I think I thought she would make it, but was never strong enough.  That was 2 years ago and I decided last fall to give Micki one more chance.  So this morning, when I found a very small white cria kushed (good sign) next to mama when I went out, I was happy, yet unsure as to where this would go.  I picked up baby to move her and her mama into the building and then I went to go get towels and iodine.  Baby was very small, white, female.  But she was up in a kush position and not flat on the ground.  She was fairly dry.  It was a warm night, only down to about 60 degrees, so I wasn't too concerned with hypothermia.  When I returned with my supplies, I noticed the cria was mouth breathing and figured maybe she had some fluid in her nostrils that needed to be cleared.  It was dim in the building, so I took her into the light for a better look.  And a second closer look.  My heart sank. At first look, this baby appeared to be normal, but upon close inspection, her little muzzle was extremely narrow and had no nostrils.  Wow, I've never seen this.  There are a couple of birth defects that this could be an extreme or less extreme case of, but I won't go into details.  Alpacas can breathe through their mouths, but they are not meant to.  Crias must be able to breathe through their noses in order to nurse properly.  So the decision to put this baby down had to me made.  In 14 years, I have had to make this decision with newborn crias 3 times now.  I hate it. Needless to say, Micki will not be bred again.

Last year, I lost 50% of my crias.  One to premature birth, one to a severe dystocia, and one at 3 months to meningeal worm (my only case in 13 years).  This year, I lost 100% of my crias.  Again, severe dystocia, the same presentation exactly as last year, and now this.  I think I may be getting a message that it is time for a change.  To what, I don't know yet.  I planned to always have alpacas around, but unless I breed and have a few new babies a year, I will no longer have good fiber production in just a couple years.  I love the fiber and I love (need) to have the outdoor time everyday.   I have some things to think about.

My new chickens are doing well.  We are up to 4 eggs a day now.  There are 3 who still look somewhat immature, but hopefully in the next couple weeks they will all be laying.  They are roaming all over the yard now in the afternoons, just like their predecessors and I love to watch their comical antics.  Check out how the chick to the right is flapping her wings as she runs so she can go faster and catch up with the rest of the group.  
The county bee inspector was out yesterday to check my hives.  I did not know he was coming so I was at work, which is a shame since I learn so much whenever I get into the hive with someone more knowledgeable than I am.  He talked to Sam after he inspected the hives and said that I could probably take another whole super, or box, of honey off the orchard hive.  I thought I was done with honey harvest after I was in that hive 2 weeks ago.  I guess tomorrow I will suit up and go back in after more honey.  I have a lot of honey for sale.

I am slowly working on winterizing the garden.  This is basil from my herb garden that I was putting in the oven to dry.  I just put it in as low as I can get the oven and leave it for 2 or 3 hours.  Then I can crumble it up and use it all winter.  My squash is hardening in the garden though I have pulled all the dead vines out and piled them up.  I still have some tomatoes ripening and we have been enjoying salads with our fall lettuce, which is doing very well, and our garden fresh tomatoes.  A treat!  In the next week I plan to plant next year's garlic crop as well.

It is definitely fall.  The days are getting shorter and the evening sunlight is golden through the trees.  Our temperatures have been very warm this week, upper 70's and the forecast for the weekend is calling for highs in the low 80's.  I will enjoy it while I can.  Fall of course means bow season for deer is in.  Sam has been out a few times and has not had a shot at a deer.  He was fortunate enough the other evening to watch a bobcat that he said was almost as big as Grover as it moved beneath the tree he was in.  I would love to see that, but I am not sure I could sit in the tree stand day after day with only the *hope* that a bobcat would come along.  I wonder if I could knit?

Sam was on his way to his tree stand a couple days ago  and he passed the 3 dogs and me coming down the hill from the pond on our walk.  He collected the camera from me in hopes he might see the bobcat again, but he did not.  
As for fibery pursuits, I started skirting my fleeces to send off for yarn.  I skirted 4 fleeces, which takes a lot of time the way I do it.  Since I pay by the pound, I want to send as little dirt and crud in the fiber as possible, and I only want to send the best parts of each fleece.  It is not my favorite chore.  It is easier though when it is not 90 degrees.

I am taking a break on my sweater to work on holiday projects that I can't really post about here.  You never know who will read this.  I will knit a small holiday project, then work on the sweater for a while, then knit another small project, etc.  You get the picture.  I am also warping up my big loom.  More holiday giving.