Sweet Harmony Farm

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

As you may already know, last December we had alpaca ladies join our farm. 

We had spent months trying to figure out how we could inexpensively build a new barn and pasture area for them.  We talked to other farms who house both males and females for tips on how to keep them separated the hardest task of all.  Knowing well that farming is much more difficult during the winter, we devised a plan of how to get them shoveled out relatively easily so that we’d be able to get them water and hay. 

In the end, the quickest, easiest, and most efficient method was just to divvy up the barn by moving one of the gates to block off the pens next to the tack room, run a line of fencing from the back corner of the barn to the back pasture fenceline, and then run fencing down the paddock with 2 handmade gates on either end.  Done.

The girls, or rather The Ladies as Dan calls them, have the smaller side next to the tack room.  The boys have the rest of the barn, the bigger side.  It’s not that much bigger!  I swear it was much cozier this winter for them.  With a smaller space and a few more alpacas, all that extra body heat must have helped. 

As it turns out, after the initial Meet and Greet, the boys just couldn’t care less about having girls on the other side!  They are always, always, much more interested in me bringing them hay than who’s on ‘the other side.’  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

The Sling - Part 1

I really don’t need to explain to anyone that it’s been a brutally cold winter this season. Temps have often been near zero and with the wind it’s well below zero. The tips of my fingers go numb within a minute or less of scooping up frozen beans. It’s a nauseating feeling. I run into the tack room to get out of the wind, take off my gloves, and shake my hands wildly to get the feeling back. If I’m on the boys’ side, I usually run to Guinness or Arlo to put my fingers into their fleeces. This time of year the alpacas’ fleece is usually about 3+ inches long and it’s toasty warm down by their skin. Guinness will usually grunt and look up at me quickly, surprised by the sudden cold. I wish they’d stay still long enough for my fingertips to get as warm as their skin, but usually it’s just long enough to get the feeling back.  

On the plus side, we haven’t had as much snow as we’ve usually had the past several winters. On those odd days where the wind is calm, the sun is out, and it’s over 20 degrees, I am able to open up the ‘big door’ for the boys. They love it! It’s so dark in the barn with all the tarps up along the front opening. Plus, it gives me another way to get into and out of the barn to scoop all the paca poo.    

Over on the girls’ side it’s a bit different. We’ve been keeping the tarped gate closed and their ‘big door’ closed most of the time, trying to keep poor Shiloh warm. Shiloh stays cushed in the pen, on piles of warm straw, and wears a lovely coat. She can wiggle around fairly well using her front legs but doesn’t leave the pen on her own.    

Shiloh came to us somewhat mobile. She’d been injured back in October at the farm she’d been living at and went down, and then spent a week recuperating at the vet. For the next month she needed assistance getting up and overall seemed to be improving. When she first arrived here at the beginning of December, she just needed a boost to get up but could do a wobbly walk. After several days, Shiloh was getting up on her own! We were thrilled and thought she was basically recovered. NOT. The intense cold came on suddenly and within days she needed a boost to get up again, and just as quickly needed help just to stand. And then, she couldn’t even stand. Her front legs work just fine, but her back legs do not. It is incredibly sad for us to see her so helpless.  

Shiloh is considered a ‘down’ alpaca. In the mornings and mid-day, I massage and rub her legs as best as I can to get some feeling into them. I do reiki on the part of her lower spine where her actual injury appears to be. Her wonderful owners have provided her with all kinds of homeopathic remedies, vitamins, banamine [a livestock medicine to reduce pain and inflammation], etc. In the evening, Dan lifts her by her hips and she stands. He sits on the hay feeder with her hips in his lap and her back legs somewhat dangle. We then rub and massage and stretch out her legs and feet trying to work the muscles.  

Shiloh is one very co-operative alpaca. It is amazing how she just lets us ‘do what we have to do’ with really no complaints. She has the best disposition of any alpaca ever! The downfall is this: she is a rather large-framed alpaca. She is not fat, in fact even after all this she still body scores very well, but she is much too heavy for us to lift her easily; in fact I cannot lift her at all if she isn’t assisting and quickly trying to stand on her own. This makes therapy rather difficult and is certainly slowing down her healing process.  

It’s time for us to make a sling. Dan has put something together and we did a successful test run with a hay bale last night. It will still require both of us to get her into the sling and lift her. Once she’s in the sling and Dan doesn’t have to hold her up, we will both be able to work her legs much better.   Her muscle tone in those weak back legs will improve. She will soon be able to start standing on all 4 legs with the sling helping her to keep her balance. And then, she will be able to run again on her own.   That’s the plan, anyway.  

We refer to Shiloh’s condition as an injury, but it’s actually the affects of the dreaded meningeal worm.

 
 

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.

 
 

Changes

Oh my.  The past few weeks, we have been experiencing the best autumn weather, ever!! 

The dew is usually dried off the grass by late morning.  I’ve been wheeling down a bale of hay around noontime.  Everyday, several alpaca noses greet me at the gate while I wheel the bale in and follow me excitedly as I plunk it down alongside the paddock fencing.  The boys love to cush around the bale and mindlessly munch in the sun all afternoon.  In the evening I pick up what’s left and put it into their feeders, fluffing it up as much as I can.  By then they’re usually pronking about in the pasture.

Daji,Copper,Falcon Aug2013

Changes have been coming to our little farm.  Our little farm is growing, growing. 

Several weeks ago, I blogged that our adorable little CopperMoon had come home.  He arrived with his little shy friend Adagio, which we are calling Daji, and another friend, Falcon.  Copper and Daji are average sized alpacas and a bit cautious of their new surroundings.  Falcon is a smaller sized alpaca, calm and quiet, but he definitely can take care of himself.  The usual meet-and-greet over the fence with our herd went well.  We let the newcomers into the small blocked off area to the side of the barn so they could further acclimate themselves.  After a couple hours, we opened up the gates.

That was a mistake.  Within minutes a horrifying scene emerged while Desi, Coty, and North all insisted on asserting their dominance all at once over the 3 new arrivals, namely shy little Daji.  Dan and I managed to separate the 3 offenders rather quickly.  I scolded them and lectured them on manners.  I know that others will laugh and tell me that this is normal behavior for livestock.  I still see it as a nightmare scenario.

I knew my lecture would do no good.  Dan and I sectioned off the barn and secured a small pasture area.  I knew we had a problem that wouldn’t right itself on its own.  We phoned our vet immediately.  Luckily she was able to come to our farm a few days later.  On a beautiful sunny morning, my 3 ‘big boys’ were gelded.  All is calm and quiet again on our little farm, well, for the most part.

We now refer to Desi, Coty, and North as ‘The Sisters.’    :) 

In a few weeks our girls, Dreamer (momma to Guinness, Bo and Arlo) and Alana, (momma to Coty, Henry, and Copper) will be home!  More fun on our little farm is sure to happen.

 
 

Quietness

It’s been a long month since Julio left us.  Thank you all for your compassion and kind words.  Dan and I and the alpacas have all been getting into the new routine, the new normal.  

The alpacas have been very quiet.  They’re certainly not loud animals but they have seemed strangely quiet around me.  I’ve watched them to see who the new alpha will be.  Sometimes at night, for the first several days, we would hear fighting out in the pasture as the herd goes about the task to re-organize itself.  With very little fanfare, I’d say it’s Cavalier, who we call Bear, who is the new leader.  He’s the strong, silent type, with a very watchful eye.  Guinness of course will help out.  Nobody ever bothers Cavalier nor Guinness.

I’ve also been quiet.  I quietly go through the daily routines in the barn, scooping poo, re-filling water buckets, fluffing and putting out fresh hay, and opening or closing the big barn door and windows depending on the weather.  The alpacas all quietly mill around me as I work.  Slowly I’m getting back to my usual chit-chat with them.

A few days after Julio’s passing, I was doing a headcount.  I counted and counted, walked around to the back of the barn a few times to double and triple check, re-counted in the barn, and kept coming up with 11 alpacas.  I was almost in a panic when I realized ...... when I remembered why there wasn’t 12.  I collapsed onto the hay bale feeder in tears.  A few paca noses sniffed at my head and face; I wish I knew who it was.

The alpacas mourned too.  I’d often find Guinness cushed in the straw, exactly where his buddy had been cushed.  He’s always let me scratch and hug him and seems to enjoy it more now.  I can generally scratch and hug any of my alpacas, yes some more than others, but lately all of them are letting me scratch them without a fuss.  There’s solace in that.  They would hang out quietly around the barn and paddock and wouldn’t go near the other pasture for at least a week.  All except Guinness.  He’d come over to the spot where the dirt is still fresh and cush for a while near his friend.

My garden is close by to the fence line where Julio rests.  As I’ve been planting and watering seedlings the alpacas have slowly come back to that pasture to see what I’m doing and to keep me company while I work.  The other morning several of them were already grazing nearby.  As I approached the garden, Coty and Henry came right up to the fence and greeted me with upright ears.  Slowly the others did too.  Good morning boys!  After sniffing me, Guinness walked over to the dirt patch and cushed, and rolled.  Coty saw him and joined him, then Henry.  The three of them banged into each other and kept rolling.  Then the others all pig-piled and joined in, cushing and rolling and bumping into each other.  Bo ran over from the barn to cush and roll too.  The alpacas all seemed to be having so much fun.  Huge clouds of dust emerged.  After a few minutes they all jumped up, shook off the dust, and ran off to find some nice grass to eat.  All except Guinness.  He stayed cushed for awhile, near his friend.

 
 

February

This winter continues to be warm and weird.  Most nights are still well below freezing but the days are still rather mild for New Hampshire.   We’ve hardly received any snow.   It’s the middle of February and we can see the grass and weeds.  Of course everything is brown and rather dreary looking, rather than bright green and colorful.  We’ve been joking that the winter of 2011 – 2012 has been one very long mud season.

fresh bale of hay

The alpacas are loving this weather.  Usually in the winter they prefer to be snuggled into the barn in the deep straw, behind the front wall of tarps.  All that hanging out in the barn makes them cranky and usually I find fresh spit on someone’s neck in the morning.  This winter most of the alpacas usually sleep outside, cushed under the stars, chewing their cud and looking very content.  During the day, they romp our frozen yet muddy pastures, playing and wrestling with each other.  Some days that wrestling quickly turns into an all out tussle match and Stella and I run outside to try to break it up.  Stella runs out barking and usually it subsides before I make it out to the barn. 

Needless to say, fresh spit abounds.   :)  

To keep myself occupied this winter, I’ve been playing with my bags and bags of alpaca fleeces.  Opening each bag, I know immediately which one of my alpacas formerly wore the fleece inside. :)  I smile, thinking of them running through the pasture or greeting me in the barn with alpaca sniffs and kisses.  I can feel their spirit running through my body and into my heart and embracing my soul.  I am so attached to each and every one of them.  I could never sell any of them.   It’s hard for me to even think of selling their fleece!  As I work with their fleeces ~ sorting, skirting, washing, combing, spinning ~ I smile even more.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  There is joy in working with an animal’s fiber that you’ve raised yourself.

 
 

Back Online

Needless to say, last weekend we received well over a foot of snow and lost power for several days.............

Our shearer had come by early Saturday morning to help us trim the alpacas’ toenails.  Dan held them and Jay trimmed.  Thank goodness for Jay, because our little herd would not be so accommodating if it were only Dan and me.  The dark and ominous clouds rolled in rather quickly.   After Jay left, we scrambled to get things ready while it was still daylight ~ close up the big barn door on the awning, shut the windows, put up tarps over the gate, find the straw amongst the many bales of hay in the garage, spread straw out in the barn, overstuff the hay feeders with hay, fill up the water buckets, bring in wood and more wood for our woodstove, then off to find a gas station to fill up the gas cans for the generator.  It wasn’t too long after the storm started that the power went out. 

So now I need to update my last post by saying this storm was the most snow I’ve ever seen in October in my lifetime.  And it’s the only time that Halloween Trick or Treating had to be postponed due to a snowstorm..... LOL.

The sun came out Sunday morning and we spent all day shoveling snow, plowing snow, and trying to find our woodpile buried under the snow covered tarps.  Dan plowed a path for the alpacas in the pasture and they spent the afternoon running laps in the brisk air and sunshine.  Silly alpacas.  They’re so easy to please.  :)  As is Stella, who is just as happy to romp through the snow as she is to roll in the grass.  :) 

This week we’ve been blessed by sunshine and more sunshine and the snow is melting, melting, melting.  It’s finally gone in the pasture and lo and behold, there’s green grass growing again.  The boys can still graze and cush outside of the barn, so maybe the early snow is a good thing?  NOT!  There’s still quite a bit of snow around the house and yard as it’s rather shaded from all the trees, but at least the mud is drying up. 

 
 

Early Autumn Snow

Late yesterday afternoon, I thought that Mother Nature was playing a trick on us.  The cold rain that had been falling all day quickly turned to heavy, wet snowflakes.  Our beautiful maple trees, leaves still ablaze with autumn reds and oranges, were quickly transformed to white.  New England is certainly well-known for its unpredictable weather, but in my lifetime I don't think I've ever seen [this much] snow in October.

maple tree covered with early autumn snow

We really weren't expecting snow.  We scrambled to close up the barn the best we could by shutting the big awning door and all the windows.  Luckily, there was no wind and the temperature hovered just below 30 degrees.  The alpacas stayed cushed inside overnight, and were out first thing in the morning, as soon as the sun started shining and had melted enough snow to show the green grass in the pasture. 

barn in the morning after early autumn snow

trailer after early autumn snow

Mother Nature, we're still enjoying the fall weather.  It's just way too early for snow!

 
 

The Jealous Alpaca

Any guesses who?

We’ve had an interesting week on our farm.  After having fresh, green, second cut hay delivered a week before we had planned, the alpacas have refused to go out to graze.  Instead they’ve been hanging around the barn and paddock, chomping on hay and all but licking the hay bins clean.  Hey guys, I’m so happy you’re enjoying the hay, but we’ve got to make it last through winter!

Last week we added a new member to our herd, a solidly built, thick top-notted, white-fleeced boy named Desidario, Desi for short.  He’s a Triumph son so he has 3 half- brothers here on our farm which he met for the first time:  Bo, Coty, and Arlo.  These 3, along with Guinness and Julio, greeted him with the usual sniff fest over the paddock fencing.  As expected, all went well so we took off his halter and he willingly walked into the paddock, and as expected got a very thorough, all-body sniff fest.  Then whoosh ~ all the boys ran off into the pasture for a pronk fest greeting run in the evening light, joined by the rest of the herd.  What a wonderful sight to see the newbie getting accepted so easily! 

And just as quickly, we realized what was happening........ Coty thought Desi was a girl alpaca.  ‘Coty!  No! He’s a boy!’  I always wonder what the neighbors are thinking when they hear me hollering that.  When alpacas are thundering past you it really isn’t advisable to step out in front of them!  So we had to just stand up against the barn and watch.  We did manage to separate everyone shortly after that, and then there they all were, eating hay as if nothing had happened, including a new alpaca joining the herd.

If it were only that simple...........

Whenever I enter the paddock area and barn I greet the alpacas all by name, and I am constantly talking.  I want the alpacas to know my voice.  I also slowly lean forward and look them right in the eye, close to their face while talking quietly.  This is usually intimidating for an alpaca at first, but over time it has built trust.  They get to sniff the top of my head and know that I am a ‘safe’ human, their caretaker.  If they allow me, I will do a quick neck scratch.  Bonding with animals is such a wonderful feeling, and a simple joy.

Desi is new to my routine so in true alpaca style, is a bit apprehensive.  So being new, he watches me intently as I go about my routine of greeting everyone, scooping the poo, fluffing hay and filling water buckets, and talking, always talking.  Desi is a very mild mannered alpaca, and surprisingly calm around humans.  On only my second trip out, Desi greeted me at the paddock gate, sniffing my head and face while I cheerfully said hello and offered neck scratches. 

That’s when both of us got hit in the head with spit.

Julio.  My personality-plus, headstrong, and apparently very jealous alpha alpaca had been watching.  I stepped toward him to let him know that wasn’t very nice, and he walked right past me, following Desi into the barn, spitting at him the entire time.  Such has been my week.  Whenever I enter the barn, Julio starts following Desi and for no apparent reason, spits at him.  Why is that?  After a few days of pondering this, the only thing that came to mind was that Julio is jealous.  Well that certainly would explain a lot of Julio’s behavior.  A silly thought though, isn’t it?  An alpaca is jealous for a human’s attention!

So now when I walk down to the barn and at the gate I call out Julio’s name.  When I enter the paddock, again I greet Julio by name first.  As I continue to greet the others, I say hello to Julio again, and again.  I make sure he knows I’m paying attention to him. 

Surprise! No spitting!   

 
 

Irene

I am happy to say our little farm is very fortunate and weathered tropical storm Irene just fine.  The winds did bring down some branches as well as some older trees at the back of our property.  A few power lines were down on our street, but amazingly no flooding occurred in the local area.   On our farm, all the rains flowed down our swales and berms orderly.  Our sump filled up quickly but also quickly drained back out.  Power was restored last evening.  We were only out for 3 days and had the blessings of a working generator. I have never been so excited to do laundry.

The weather has been just perfect since the storm left New England, sunny and dry air.  I am soooooo grateful that there are no frozen pipes to worry about, no repairs to make, no snow to shovel, and no ice on the roads.   

To prepare for the storm we had tightened down the kwanza hut and woodshed, filled up the generator and gotten more gas for it.  In the event that the generator wouldn’t work, our town allows farmers to get water for livestock from the outside spicket at the town office building.  How good is that?  We closed up the awning doors of the barn, shut the barn windows, dragged the large hay feeder into the barn, and tarped up the gates, leaving the usual 2 gates open.  We knew the alpacas wouldn’t venture out during the storm, but it’s important that they don’t feel closed in. 

The alpacas spent most of the time cushed in the openings watching the storm, calmly chewing their cud.  They ate hay without so much as a fuss at their herdmates.  Clearly I was more stressed about them than they were!  Sunday afternoon, with the winds still blowing strongly but only a gentle rain, my usually wimpy alpacas all went out to graze.  When we saw that we knew the worst was over and that all was well.    

 
 

Guinness and the Alpaca Dance

Guinness

Guinness scared the daylights out of me the other day.

It has been sooooooooo hot!  I realize it’s July, and that we’d had a very long winter, but temps hovering around 100 are just a bit much!

We’ve been hosing down the alpacas every day in an effort to be sure they do not overheat.  I’ve been refilling the water buckets several times a day.  The alpacas like the cool water on a hot day, just like we humans do.  We’ve kept the fans running at high speed 24/7 and an alpaca or two or three is usually cushed in front of at least one of the fans.  Fortunately, even with this very humid heat spell, there has always been a decent breeze.

The boys generally like to run out in the mornings to graze.   I’m thankful that there is always something for them to find to munch on.  There are plenty of clumps of tall grasses here and there, as they just don’t eat everything.  The pasture on the barn side is pretty well eaten down, but there are still plenty of choices on the other side, just no shade, and that’s where they usually are lately when they go out to graze.

I went out mid-morning to do my usual barn chores.  I fluffed the hay and said good morning to my companions who were lounging about in the shade of the barn ~ Julio, Bo, Coty, and Arlo.  I emptied and re-filled the water buckets.  I absently looked out at the gang grazing out in the far pasture.  I walked out behind the barn and looked around.  That’s when I realized, I am only counting 10 alpacas.  We have 11 boys here on our little farm.

My heart dropped.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  I ran down the little hill out of the paddock and onto the alpacas’ dirt pile by the pasture fence line.  ‘Hey boys!’ I called out loudly, waving my arms.  6 alpaca heads popped up from grazing ~ North, Earth, Henry, Peanut (aka Cowboy), Cavalier, and Eragon.  But not Guinness.

I started waving my arms and frantically called out for Guinness.  From my slightly higher vantage point, I had a good view of the entire pasture.  The boys all watched me curiously, very intently; being on top of their dirt mound secured me as alpha.  ‘C’mon guys, where’s Guinness?’  All my hollering, and I still could not see him.  By now, North had come over to me and was eyeing me, talking to me in alpaca language.  I asked him to show me where Guinness was.  He started to walk down the little path they’d made in the tall grass over to the far pasture.

I followed North and kept frantically looking through the grass.  North began grazing near the pasture fence line.  The others watched me for a moment and resumed grazing.  I walked across the pasture over to the far gate, and still, no sign of Guinness.  All the gates were securely latched, but we don’t lock them.  He was nowhere to be found.  I got the chills.  Could someone have come in and stolen my Guinness? 

I started to head back towards the pasture fencing, not sure of what to do first.  And then, to my horror, in the one clump of remaining tall grasses at the back end of the barn side pasture, in this awful heat, there was a dark brown lump.

‘GUINNESS!!!!!’  I kept screaming his name in a panic while I ran up to the pasture gate.  Oh no, this really couldn’t be happening.  As I ran through the pasture gate and back down the barn side pasture towards him, Guinness suddenly lifted up his head.  Huge sigh of relief!!!  I greeted him with a so very happy to see you neck scratch, restraining my urge to hug him, and he greeted me with his usual Guinness snort.  Apparently I’d woken him up from a good nap.

I laughed and he jumped up.  He was watching his herd mates.  The 4 in the barn were now at the top of the hill by the paddock, watching, and the 6 from the other pasture had run over to the gate and were also watching.  I walked with Guinness back towards the barn and then he ran towards his herd. 

As we approached the hill, the other 10 all came running towards us.  The herd pronked around us in a big circle.   Guinness quickly joined them, and for a few blissful moments I just stood there smiling with happy tears, watching my happy alpaca herd pronking around me in a circle. 

It’s very rare for a human to be given such a happy alpaca dance. 

 
 

Name that weed!

In the front part of our pasture, right by the tack room end of the barn, there is growing a rather odd looking weed.  The soil is very poor there, pretty much all clay, so not too much grass has grown, and there are always plenty of small rocks.  The alpacas come up here occasionally and do find something to eat, but they've never touched this weed.  So I'm guessing they know it's either bitter tasting and/or poisonous to them.  Guesses anyone?

Name that weed!

Yes, folks, I realize the picture is sideways!  It was the best way to get the entire plant in the picture.  It's about to flower some little yellow flowers.  This plant really is pretty but I need to pull it out soon before it goes to seed, just in case it really shouldn't be in an alpaca pasture.  And yes, that's grass you see around it.  This is right near an area that the alpacas have designated   a(nother) poop pile.  Now that I think of it, perhaps it was some sort of seed in their hay; maybe that's how it's gotten here.  It's the only one we've seen around our entire property.

If you know what it could be, please comment to let me know!  I'll be very grateful!  Thanks everyone!

 
 

And then there were eleven .............

Yesterday our little alpaca herd grew again, as 2 more alpaca boys joined us here on our farm.  Val came by and dropped off Cavalier and Eragon.  Both are considered modern gray in color, with Cavalier being a dark silver grey and Eragon a dark rose grey.  At quick glance, well, they look black!  But we fiber people get carried away with now what exactly is that color?  It’ll be nice colors to blend with the other colors we already have.  Cavalier is clearly taller than Eragon, and luckily for Dan, Eragon has a very telltale white spot on the front of his neck.

 

Eragon and Cavalier, the meet and greet

The meet and greet inspired a lot of expected sniffing over the paddock fence.  No spitting, no drama.  Val took off the harnesses and we let them into the barn and paddock area.  There was more sniffing and checking each other out, and still no spitting nor drama.  They didn’t do a pasture pronk, which I’m guessing is because it’s a little warm outside.  Instead they just milled around, picking at the hay and occasionally sniffing each other again, while the 3 of us humans stood talking, waiting for something to happen.  Nothing, just quietness.  The boys all cushed after we left.

Julio was being rather aloof, but he did give me that ‘what did you do’ look again.

Later in the darkness, we could see the shadows of the entire herd out in the pasture, quietly grazing together under the stars.  All except for Bo, who was cushed up in the barn, watching the herd contently while he chewed his cud.  From the house, we heard absolutely no noises at all.  It was a very simple integration of new alpacas into our herd.

 
 

Spring Cleaning

(slight camera snaffu ~ pictures to follow)

Spring cleaning on an alpaca farm is when we clean out the barn and paddock areas in preparation for shearing day.  We want the barn as clean as possible (well, it is a barn after all) so that the alpacas’ fleece stay as clean as possible.  Shearing Day is a fiber farmer’s Harvest Day, and it’s very important to us to get the most out of our harvest. 

Dan has spent the previous week or so raking out each pen of the straw bedding that has accumulated over the winter.  This used bedding is added to the ever- growing-poop-pile to compost down into lovely dirt.  Eventually we will be spreading out this compost onto the pastures, fertilizing our heavy clay soil, creating rich, nutrient-filled soil, and then beautiful grass will grow.   

It’s great to dream.

Our first priority was to get the alpacas OUT of the barn and out of the way.  So we dragged the 2 hay bale feeders out and stuffed them with fresh hay.  I made a point of parading through the barn with a fresh bale and the boys all followed me outside like I was the pied piper. 

We’ve spent this afternoon digging out the poop areas in the barn.  The alpacas have 3 defined, communal poop spots in their barn.  After we dug out the area, we’d sprinkle quite a bit of limestone down which helps to neutralize the smell.  Then Dan brought in a tractor-bucket full of fresh stonedust to fill in the spot.  We’d rake it out till it was somewhat level, I’d step all over to mush it down, and then we’d dump some more stonedust and rake again, until the spot was firm and all the limestone was well covered.

Of course just bringing the tractor into the paddock excites the alpacas to no end!  We had to work around them carefully.  They all followed Dan riding in on the tractor and when the tractor stopped, they rolled and rolled in front of and all around the tractor.  We were trying to work quickly because the sunny sky had clouded over.  The last thing we need are wet, muddy alpacas on shearing day.  Whether it’s snow, dirt, stonedust, or mud, alpacas just love to roll when they’re happy, and they get really happy when the tractor arrives.  So we just paused to watch and enjoy them. 

Watching happy alpacas rolling is a simply joy.

It had started to rain softly so as soon as we were done we had to hustle them back into the barn, this time with Dan shaking a bowl of pellets.  That was quick!  I closed all the gates behind our fleece-y friends.  Dan made sure each eager nose got a few mouthfuls and then got back on the tractor.  I took down one more of the tarps; just one is left.  I emptied and refilled the water buckets and the alpacas just stood there staring at me, and mindlessly stared outside the gates at Dan working in the paddock.  They hummed and hummed, loudly, not too happy with us to be locked into the barn.  Sorry boys!  All your fleeces need to be dry, dry, dry for shearing day. 

Dan then raked out the paddock of the rest of the mashed down, wet straw with the york rake on the tractor.  He filled up the bucket and dumped it all into The Big Poop Pile.

He figured he’d turn the poop piles while he was there.  The older pile is now looking like the glorious dirt we’re hoping for.  It’s a deep dark brown and full of earth worms.  Yeah!

The newer pile was steaming off heat on one side!  Hoorah!  And the other side ........... the other side still had some snow in it! 

 
 

Really? Again!

We woke up this morning to the Winter That Just Won’t End.

April 23 snow

Good thing I didn’t plant anything yesterday on Earth Day.

 
 

Really?

The past few weeks have been mostly sunny days.  Most of the snow is gone.  Evenings are still below freezing so the ground is wet yet somewhat solid. 

The alpacas have been running around the pasture, so happy not to be cooped up in the barn.  The chase each other and pronk about in big circles.  They cush out in the fields and take naps, usually in an adorable huddle.  Sometimes late at night we’ve seen them sleeping out in the paddock in the moonlight under the starry nighttime sky.  They’re even grazing.  I have absolutely no idea what they could be grazing on.  There’s only brownish grasses left over from last fall.  It’s been way too cold and still early in the spring for grass to sprout, but they’re finding something yummy. 

When I walk into the paddock to start chores they come running!  They all greet me with muddy knees and feet and sniff my nose and head.  They’re a bit less cranky at feeding time.  Once done, they all run out of the barn and begin pronking about the pasture again.  I love to watch them, all in full fleece and about as cute as alpacas can be.

I have no idea how to tell them tonight that we’re getting 14 inches of snow tomorrow, on April Fool’s Day.  Really.     

 
 

Sunny Days of Winter

For several days now, we haven’t had any snow.  Some days are still rather cold, but things have been warming up a little bit.  And sunshine!  Even on cold and windy days the sun is melting snow.  Water is pouring down off the roofs and turning the driveway and pathway to the barn to mud.  It refreezes overnight to a thick sheet of ice, and now we inch our way carefully walking down to the barn.  The paddock has become a yucky-mud and ice-poopy mess of late winter thawing.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to that!  Over fields of white snow, the sun can be blinding for a few moments, but most certainly a welcome sight.  Oh please, Mother Nature, send Springtime soon.

Since the arrival of Henry and Cowboy in December, it brings our total number of alpacas here to nine.  And lugging hot tap water for 9 alpacas is quite a bit more work than for just 5 alpacas, so we decided to hang up 2 five gallon heated water buckets.  At first I wouldn’t; I was terrified of fire but have since learned they are very safe.   Now the alpacas have warm water all the time, and we don’t have to worry about their water freezing.  The funny thing is, the boys will drink one bucket until it’s dry, and hardly touch the other one!  Silly alpacas.

With all this sunshine, the alpacas have been coming out of the barn more and more.  At first they’ll be squinting, look around, and casually stroll across the paddock, and down the little path into the pasture.  They’ll stroll around a bit, sometimes play a bit, and sometimes cush in the sun and nap.  Almost always the first one to venture out is Julio, or North or Coty, and lots of times it’s Henry.  Henry is always accompanied by Earth.  They’re buddies and are inseparable.   Once one or two are out, the other seven follow. 

Yeah, now I can look out my window and see my little herd of alpaca boys.  And what do they do when they come out?  They eat snow.  They’ve never done this before.  Yet now that there are heated water buckets with nice warm water that never freezes, they’re eating snow.  They’re all lined up in the paddock and down the path, eating snow like they’re grazing on grass.  Every last one of them.

Silly, silly alpacas.

 
 

Cabin Fever

Although, perhaps with the alpacas we should refer to this as ‘Barn Fever.’   It’s the dead of winter, lots of snow on the ground, the days are barely above zero, and any slight breeze is simply bone-chilling.  Usually people just remain inside their homes, snuggled up near woodstoves and curled up on the couch with blankets, sipping tea and hot chocolate and knitting away. 

After a while, we all go crazy being inside so much and just feel a need to get out.  Sometimes Dan and I will slip on the snowshoes and walk around the pasture and into the woods.  Stella runs along beside us, leaping through the snow.  If the roads are clear and down to pavement, then we’ll just take a little walk.  Activity always helps to warm us up.

Alpacas in the paddock

The alpacas don’t care for the deep snow and have been staying in the barn, cushed on their straw bedding and munching away at hay.  The tarps keep most of the wind out but it’s so dark in there even during the day.  I keep reminding them to come outside, get some fresh air and sunshine, but they just look at me with an ‘are you kidding me?’ look.  Dan cleared out the paddock after Wednesday’s snowstorm, but still they’ve hardly come out.  Being inside the barn so much is making them really cranky.  I find fresh spit on the posts and barn walls whenever I go in. 

But Dan on the tractor gets them out!  The boys will all greet him at the gate as he rides in.  Yesterday Dan plowed paths for them around the pasture, and the boys just loved it.   They’d follow behind him as he plowed, pronking and all but dancing.  They ran and ran, as one beautiful herd of alpacas.  Such a sight!  As they come up to the barn, you can hear the pounding of their feet like a small train coming in.  They stand in the paddock for a minute catching their breaths.  Then one of them will walk quickly down the little hill and look over their shoulder as if to say ‘C’mon guys!’ and suddenly all of them are running, around the paths and sometimes into the snow, leaping and pronking and chasing each other, having a great time.

the alpacas love our tractor

alpacas following Dan on the tractor

alpacas running in the snow

 
 

December

We’ve been transitioning to our winter routine.  We can’t leave the house until we’re ‘loaded up’:  winter muck boots, heavy coats and gloves, hat/headband, and lots of layers.  Barn chores take much longer this time of year.  We’re trying to remember what we did last year for snow removal around the gates, what worked and didn’t work so well.  We’re so not ready for snow just yet.  We’re lucky that so far it’s just been cold and windy.  What little snow we’ve had is gone within a day or two.

It seems as if the alpacas have grown their own winter coats overnight.  Suddenly they’re all so very fluffy looking.  Those fluffy cheeks are beginning to look like teddy bear faces.  We’ve been putting down straw for them to bed down on but in the morning light we see that they’re all cushed outside!  Apparently they’re a lot warmer than we are. 

There’s hardly anything left to graze on in the pastures so we’re starting to go through more hay.  That’s normal this time of year.  I try to keep all the feeders really full and well fluffed.  We’ve been feeding them a little more pellets in the evenings too.  The boys never say no to extra pellets.

The past several days it hasn’t even reached 32 degrees so the water buckets are frozen over mornings and evenings.  So it’s back to hauling down gallons and gallons of hot tap water!  Arlo used to always greet me last winter but now it’s North.  Once he realized I’m bringing down morning and evening ‘tea,’ he runs right up to me.  I can barely get the buckets down on the floor of the barn and he’s drinking and drinking .......... he’ll drink a whole gallon of warm water at once.  Silly alpaca.

The other thing with cold weather returning is that it’s harder to rake up the alpaca poo.  I wait till mid morning to do this, hoping that with the sun up over the barn, the beans won’t be frozen to the ground so much.  When you try using the rake to scoop frozen-to-the-ground-beans, the beans develop a life of their own and sail across the paddock.  So now it’s ice pick time.  The ice pick breaks up the frozen beans easier, but it also makes it easier for the beans to sail faster and more unpredictably.  Ever have this conversation with a co-worker?  “Well I had to get out the ice pick to shovel manure this morning and whoa!  The beans went straight up!  Only had a half dozen or so in my hair.  Thank god my mouth wasn’t open.”  I don’t recommend it.  Unless they have livestock, they just won’t understand.  They’ll look absolutely horrified, possibly more so than when describing how your favorite alpaca spit in your hair.

Alpacas’ cute personalities and fabulous fiber (!) outweigh all these ..... these ..... winter oddities.

I wouldn’t trade my alpacas for any other livestock in the world!

 
 

Poor Coty

I went out to the barn this morning to do my usual morning chores.  It’s sunny today after a day of foggy, wind swept rain, and all the alpacas were out in the pasture.  North and Earth came into the barn while I was scooping alpaca poo.  I pushed the wheelbarrow out to the Big Pile to dump it and when I came back into the paddock the rest of the alpacas ran up too.  I greeted them all by name as I usually do.

Coty was standing near the outside hay bin.  I casually asked him how his wound was doing this morning and walked into the barn to begin refilling the hay bins.   Here I am fluffing hay when Coty sauntered in, bleeding all over again!  Yikes!  Quickly I went into ‘vet’ mode and shut the barn panel, herded Coty and North into the pen, turned on the inside barn lights, and got paper towels to clean him up again.  He must have rubbed his head on something and pulled off the scab.  At least it wasn’t a new wound!  He winced strongly when I first applied pressure against his gash, such tender ears alpacas have, and then stood calmly while I waited there for the blood to stop.  North was a good companion and didn’t leave his side.  Earth fussed from just outside the pen door.

I did a quick couple of wipes down Coty’s neck.  It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the other night and I know that this blood on top of his fleece will eventually wash off on its own.  I let him and North out of the pen and opened up the barn again.  Bo and Arlo came in quickly to check out the new hay.  I finished adding and fluffing hay to the other bins and re-filled water buckets.

And that’s when I realized that Coty had managed to bleed on just about everyone else.

Welcome to our farm!  We have a small herd of red-spotted alpacas!

 
 
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