Sweet Harmony Farm

  (Deerfield, New Hampshire)
Simple joys of the alpaca life ...........
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Twenty

Our little farm has grown to 20 alpacas.  This little fact now begs the question:  are we nuts??

In mid-November we brought home 2 more boys in need of a farm, Soloman and Sam.  Soloman is an all-black alpaca with a wild and curly topknot and the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen on an alpaca.  He is also rather good-natured and doesn’t mind at all when I hug him, usually.  He is papa to several of our boys: Cavalier, North, Eragon, and Copper.   Sam is a light fawn alpaca, another really nice boy, and a bit high-strung and nervous.  He is papa to still very shy Adagio.

Our girls are home!!!  Our girls have always boarded elsewhere, and at the beginning of this month, they’re finally home.  Dreamer is my older girl, full of spunk for her teeny size, with lovely light fawn fleece.  She never lets anyone get in her way and is most likely to spit.  She is mama to Guinness, Bo, and Arlo.  Then there’s Alana, who is very tall, with the loveliest medium rose-grey fleece.  I first saw her when she was a cria and knew I had to have her.  Even now, in the right sunshine, her fleece has a pinky glow.  I wish it would spin up that way!  She is mama to Coty, Henry, and Copper. 

Our girls came home with a couple of friends.  First there’s Christina, who is a medium brown gal, and mama to Desi.  Christina seems to be the lookout for the girls and often sounds the alarm call, especially when she sees Stella.  Their other friend is Shiloh, who probably has the best disposition of any alpaca, ever!  She has a dark brown blanket of fleece across her back, and the rest of her is white and brown splashes of color.  This little gal’s unique coloring stands out in any crowd.  She wears a red coat all the time because she hasn’t been feeling well [more on that in another post].  Christina and Shiloh are very well loved by their owners, who enjoy spoiling their alpacas as much as we do.

Dreamer looks incredibly small compared to the other 3 gals, who are all rather tall.

Dan refers to the four of them as ‘The Ladies.’

At first the girls were very nervous of their new surroundings.  They were definitely unsure of what to make of me and Dan.  The good thing is that they have lived together for years and are very bonded.  The four stay together and move together as a group, as a herd should.  I’d come walking into the paddock announcing ‘hello girls!’ and they’d all run into the barn and out their big door.  They’d stop and turn to stare at me wide-eyed wondering, who is this new 2-legger who’s always singing our names?  And what’s with that little dog?  The boys have always greeted me at the gate with kisses so to have alpacas actually run away from me was rather upsetting. 

Thankfully, they only took a few days to get used to me.   At first I used the universal language of alpacas:  I offered them hay.  I slowly held out hay from my hand towards their noses.  They all stared.  Dreamer, very obviously the alpha, was the first to take a teeny step towards me and sniff the hay.  Then she had a bite.  Yeah!  The others then felt safe and ate hay from my hands too, even very shy Alana.  It took me little effort to offer them minerals from the feed bowl, and then the cup.  I’ve been greeting each of them by name, staring right into their eyes.  I call their names from the back door of the house.  That has gotten them running out of the barn to look!  Now I can scratch all of them on their beautiful, long necks.  They stay in the barn while I work around them and ask to drink water from the bucket before I walk it over to the boys’ side.     

The girls also quickly adapted to our routine of being in the barn at least twice a day to put out hay and fresh water, and to rake up all the paca poo.  All of a sudden it seems like we’re raking up an extreme amount of poo, a never ending amount of paca poo.   There seems to be poo everywhere, on the boys’ side that is.  The Ladies are very, very neat, never pooing inside their barn, and only creating one, sometimes a small second, poo area.

Hey boys, are you paying attention???  Of course not; boys will be boys.

Dan and I spent all summer and early fall deciding on how best to divvy up the pasture and barn safely for the girls’ arrival.  We built gates, and more gates, dug holes for fence posts, and put up the fencing.  We built ourselves a Fort Knox system to ensure that the boys can’t wander over to the girls’ side, or vice-versa.

There is some humor to all this work.  The boys sniffed at the girls upon their arrival with the usual gusto.  They ran up and down the fence line trying to acquaint themselves with the new alpacas on the other side.  After a few days, that was it.

The boys are much more interested in me bringing them hay than in the girls on the other side of the fence.  Silly boys.

We had an unfortunate incident amongst the boys about a week or so after Soloman and Sam arrived, and Sam is no longer here on our farm.  We wish him well.  On our farm now, including our beloved Julio, are twenty.

 
 

Chasing Arlo

It’s springtime so it’s time to work on the pastures again.  Dan had done such a good job last summer, york raking up the ground to smooth it out for us to plant grass seed.  They say the best seed for alpacas is orchard grass, but we planted a horse pasture mix which includes orchard grass and many other grasses.  Alpacas are browsers while they graze, and isn’t variety the spice of life?

The grasses did come up again this spring and after a long winter of just hay, the alpacas are loving it.  Pastures are continual maintenance, and the healthier the pastures, then the healthier the alpacas.  First things first, we separated the east side of the pasture in half with a zig-zag.  We used some temporary sheep fencing, those plastic poles, and 2 strands of wide electrical tape.  There’s no need to electrify the fence as it is just temporary, to divvy up the pasture for resting and re-seeding.  We’ve also used this fencing near the main gate, separating off an area of about 10 x 20 feet, as added assurance when we enter and exit that no alpacas will suddenly decide to wander off.  It’s worked just fine.  Until now!

Last weekend it wasn’t very windy and with on again, off again showers it was perfect for adding lime.   Dan spread about 40 pounds of lime onto that separated, little pasture area.  I’m sure we could probably use a ton more on our clay soil.  Lime is great.  It helps to alkalize the soil, the first step in growing good soil and healthy grass.   In another week or two, we will re-seed, and keep the alpacas off until the new grass is in and several inches tall.  Already the grass on that side is greener.  Alpacas generally respect fencing but two things will get them to find a way to the other side:  open females, and greener grass.

Arlo is still small for his age, but he’s a brazen little dude and all personality.  One day doing barn chores I realized that he wasn’t with the herd.  A quick look around, and there he was, just on the other side of the temporary fencing.  I couldn’t figure out how he got over there.  The fencing hooks up to the barn wall with handles so I undid the handles and walked over to him.  He kept grazing.  I put my hands on him and coaxed him gently, ‘C’mon Arlo.  Let’s go back with your brothers.’  He wouldn’t budge!  I continued to coax him and with every couple of steps, he’d take another bite of grass.  We were only a few feet away from the fence line but it took me almost 5 minutes to get him back!

Coaxing Arlo out of the fenced-in side is now a daily ritual.  Although now, instead of staying up by the barn, he obstinately goes right into the middle part of the pasture.  And he’s a spunky little guy!  He does the same thing with Dan, takes a few steps, takes a bite, takes a few steps, takes a bite, and then he scoots under the lower tape, doing the limbo.  So that’s how he’s getting in!  We’ll have to put up a third strand of fencing or the new grass won’t stand a chance.        

 
 

And Yet Another Storm

Last Thursday, New Hampshire, and most of New England and New York were hit with yet another seriously strong storm.  The weather forecasters talked about it for days; you’d think the apocalypse was coming.  They’ve been pretty wrong quite a bit lately so I didn’t think too much of it.  In the afternoon the heavy rains and wind started up, the back of our cabin started to leak in odd places, and I knew that this time their forecast was correct.

In the past 3 years since we’ve started our farm, Deerfield and the surrounding towns have been hit with record rains, flooding conditions, collapsed roads, record snowfall, a tornado, a severe ice storm causing extensive statewide damage, power outages lasting weeks, a phone outage (due to flooding) lasting a month, etc. etc.  This last windstorm once again caused extensive property damage, downed power lines and trees, flooding, impassable roads, and power and phone outages for days.  This is getting all too familiar.

The power went out late Thursday night.  The winds were so loud we couldn’t sleep, the strongest winds coming about 1:00 a.m. Friday.  We were curled up on the couch all night in front of the woodstove, bleary eyed.  We heard the most god-awful noises but with no power we couldn’t turn the outside lights on and it wasn’t safe to go outside.  At first light, around 6:00 a.m. I ran out back and started calling out to the alpacas, who were all huddled behind the tarps we put up.  Within seconds they all came running out looking excited to hear my voice!  All were fine and the barn appeared intact.  We did have minor roof damage to the house, branches down all around, and trees down in the woods.  And, oh yes, no power nor phone, again.  The Governor declared a state of emergency, and told us to plan for an extended outage, again.

It’s easy to become despondent and anxiety ridden, and I was on the borderline.    As Dan and I drove around looking for somewhere to get water for the alpacas and saw all the damage around town, we quickly changed our spirits to all that we were and are thankful and grateful for.  We continue to keep thinking about all that we are grateful for.  Gratitude keeps us focused on the important things.  In the big scheme of things, nothing really bad happened to us.  We are just fine.  We have neighbors and friends and co-workers who were not as lucky as us. 

We are so happy and grateful that we were not injured, nor were any of our animals, we are grateful that our house and barn and fencing were not really damaged and that no trees fell on them, we are grateful that no windows broke, we are grateful that we had supplies and daylight to repair the roof quickly, we are grateful that our cars and trailer and tractor were also not damaged, we are grateful that the house stopped leaking (it stopped raining), we are grateful that no power lines fell on our property, we are grateful that the sump came within three inches of the top (i.e. it did not overflow!) and that the cellar stayed dry, we are grateful that we have a friend who offered us water for the alpacas, we are grateful we live in a town that has water available for livestock in emergencies (how great is that!), we are grateful that we’ve always enjoyed heating our home with a woodstove, we are grateful that the right situations fell into place and an electrician was able to come out to wire the house properly for a generator, we are grateful that we finally got said generator running, and we are grateful that the phone and internet service were up within 3 and half days. We are very grateful that we were out of power for only 48 hours this time. 

We will always get a good laugh at how the power came back on less than 5 minutes after we got the generator running!  Now that we have a properly installed generator for such emergencies, we’ll probably never lose power again! 

We are grateful in advance for that.   

 
 

What we've learned so far

Our first week of raising alpacas has been basically, blessedly uneventful.  They’re such quiet and peaceful animals.  Not that we were expecting them to be constantly animated, but after a few hours we were saying ‘hey guys do something!

I love to read other alpaca farms’ humorous tips and stories, and now we’ve acquired a few of our own.  These are in no particular order.  We will also keep this list in our "Other Stuff" section of our website and update it periodically:

 ~ There is always a pecking order.  Our boys were in a large herd and now there’s just the 5 of them of various ages, so by default it appears Julio and Guinness, our 2 geldings and the oldest at about 6 years old each, expect to both be the alpha.  We think Julio will eventually reign, but until then, there’s some spatting and occasional spitting.  When the spit starts to fly get out of the way!  Yesterday we both got caught in the crossfire.

 ~ When there is barn work to be done in the heat, humidity and rain, wear a bathing suit.  I wear a tankini with men’s swim trunks.  The trick is to wear a color your husband would never wear; mine are purple.  As you get wet from the rain or drenched in sweat, the suit will dry quickly.  And when you get hot, just hose yourself off.  This has been a wonderful idea for working in the garden (my mother in law’s trick) and it works great for the barn too.

 ~ Keep the herd out of the barn while you arrange feed bowls.  Ours have walked right into the tack room and started helping themselves, and all but attack us as we walk the bowls out to the stall.  I swear I think we were being orgled too.  (note to self:  order panels!)

 ~ Alpacas love the leaves on saplings.

 ~ Barn poopers happen.  Just accept it.  And it is easier to clean up then the poop piles in the pasture in the rain.

 ~ Always be grateful to your Mr.-fix-it husband who can finagle electricity to the barn while you are watching a weanling to make sure it is OK after an episode of choke.  Also, have a chair available for him to sit on.  He knew in his heart that our little boy would be fine, but waited in the barn with me for 2 hours anyways because he was worried about me.

 ~ Ladies, you will almost always find hay in your bra.

 ~ And also, Ladies, sometimes your hubby will actually forget to remove his shoes before entering the house.  Bleach (non-chlorine) will help you feel much better.

 ~ If you are the type of person who is always checking to see if the toaster and iron are off and unplugged, you will also constantly be checking gates and doors to be sure they are properly closed.

 ~ After spending thousands of dollars clearing 3 acres of land and fencing it in, your alpacas will spend the majority of their time on the 1/3 acre surrounding your barn.

 ~ Your dog may be mad at you for having alpacas (see my post: Oh Stella!) but your indoor cat couldn’t care less.

 ~ Work your poop piles from the outside in.  Your shoes will definitely stay cleaner.

 ~ Alpaca males can and will open gates when there is an open female, surprise!

 

 

 
 

The Birds (063009)

Don’t worry........ this is not an Alfred Hitchcock type entry!

A fun thing about living here is all the birds!  Ever since we’ve moved here, we’ve been focused on creating our pasture.  We did move several hundred perennials over here from our former home, but otherwise have not done too much to attract birds. And they are plentiful!  We’re enjoying all the usual backyard birds:  robins, chickadees, goldfinches, cardinals, hummingbirds, juncos, house finches, sparrows, blue jays, mourning doves, downy and hairy woodpeckers, etc.  We’re surprised and excited to see the others that have showed up:  indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, evening grosbeaks and rose breasted grosbeaks, bluebirds, northern flicker woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, catbirds, bobolinks, and more.  They have me running to my Peterson’s bird manual so that I can identify them, when they stay in one place long enough for me to do that.

Even funner than just seeing all the birds is that some just love to nest on the criss-crosses of the log ends.  So far it has just been the robins doing that, and one mourning dove pair did once too.  It’s ‘normal’ for us now to walk by certain corners of the house as quietly as possible so as not to disturb momma robin and it’s great to just stand quietly and look at the 3 or 4 beaks peeking out of the nests.  And, now, we even have a bird friend nesting in the rafters of our little barn!  We haven’t identified her yet, probably some kind of finch, although the 4 little heads looks like juncos.

There are always tons of birds around throughout the day, singing their beautiful songs and chit-chatting. Sometimes they do all get quite squawky and we start looking frantically for the most likely cause – a hawk.

Don’t get me wrong; we absolutely love hawks.  They are also gorgeous birds and are amazed to watch them fly and soar.  BUT, we get protective over the little bird nests!  We just have to stand nearby and the hawks will fly away once they notice us.  The hawks have to eat, but not our baby birds!   

Our fencing is the 5 foot, woven wire no-climb type, with pressure treated pounded posting.  These posts are perfect for setting nesting boxes and bat houses on, which we will start doing as time allows. Oh, have I mentioned the bats? ................

 
 
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