(Deerfield, New Hampshire)
Simple joys of the alpaca life ...........
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Ahhhh........ summertime......... The grass is green as are the leaves. The days are long, hot, and sticky followed by a hopefully cooler night. Thunderstorms pop up occasionally to water the earth and cool the air. The garden is sprouting with green beans and beets and carrots and budding tomatoes and zucchini. The scent of basil and oregano are in the air as I water. The daylilies are blooming. Birds and butterflies abound. Robins nest on our home’s log corners, finches nest in the bushes, barn swallows nest in the barn, killdeer nest in the pasture, bluebirds nest in the birdhouses along the pasture fence, and the hawk makes a daily appearance swooping over the pasture. Stella spends the entire day outside, lounging about in the shade. She sometimes takes herself for a casual walk around the fence perimeter, all the time keeping an eye out for a chipmunk to chase. I sit quietly outside soaking up the sunshine while I spin, weave, or knit, facing the alpacas grazing in the pasture.
Wild critters large and small quietly pass through our property at night. The other day my neighbor mentioned that a raccoon had gotten into his coop, again, and decimated his poultry flock, and that a bear had destroyed his beehive. Whether you have a teeny homestead or a large one, farming is not always easy or fun; Nature works on her own schedule.
Coyotes and deer still abound. We’ve been fortunate. The deer have not decimated the garden yet and the coyotes have never, ever bothered the alpacas. They do that well enough amongst themselves! 10 intact male alpacas on a hot summer day can get easily bored or irritated with each other ~ I’m guessing that’s it ~ and suddenly have to provide themselves with their own entertainment by chasing each other down .......... which means I’m having to run out to the barn to break up the ‘fight.’ ‘They say’ it’s a normal thing, a hierarchy thing, and to let the boys work it out amongst themselves but I have a hard time standing by idly when a smaller one is screeching.
And usually they do work it out amongst themselves but when it carries on and on, there I am, running. And stumbling as I run. Yes folks. 12 years of ballet as a kid and I can still manage to trip over my own feet on a daily basis.
At least it’s summertime. All I have to do is jump into my little barn shoes ........
Posted by Mona
@ 01:17 PM EDT
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.
Posted by Mona
@ 02:43 PM EST
I would say my life’s mission is to leave the world a better place than I found it. Our farm’s simple mission statement reflects that. A friend of mine from college used to say, ‘Of course I want to take care of the planet. It’s the only one we’ve got.’ It was true then and true now.
The celebration of Earth Day inspires me to continually ask myself, What else can I do to help the Earth?
Spaceship Earth is just a teeny speck of a planet in our giant Universe. In the here and now, and the foreseeable future, it’s probably the only place that we humans can live. And such a beautiful planet our Earth is! Why trash it?
Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.
I’m not sure when George Carlin said that, but it continues to hold true today, doesn’t it? So sad that our beautiful living space of planet Earth is slowly being transformed into a huge dumping ground. Sadder still is when humans refuse and then cease to acknowledge that. Waste is an inevitable by-product of life, but please, there’s got to be a better way to keep our planet clean and healthy.
George Carlin’s satire of our popular American song, America the Beautiful, is a reminder to me to do something, everyday, to help regain and retain the health of the Earth, which in turn helps all the living beings that inhabit it.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than by just spending time outdoors and breathing fresh air. Fortunately, I get that opportunity daily by just caring for the alpacas’ daily needs and by walking Stella. I’ll probably spend some time in the garden, pulling up debris from last year’s plantings and throwing that into the compost pile. Maybe I’ll do some Sun Salutations in between the raised beds!
How are you all celebrating Earth Day?
Posted by Mona
@ 11:38 AM EDT
I woke up this morning at daybreak and noticed that it was snowing. I’m not sure if I should end that statement with again or still. Dan was out on the tractor for almost 5 hours yesterday, clearing and widening our driveway and the path down to the barn, clearing the paddock and making paths in the pasture, and clearing snow from around the trailer where the hay is stored and our tarp-and-pallet woodshed. The snowbanks along our driveway and along our street are at least as tall as me or higher; I am 5 feet 4 inches tall.
Yup, the alpacas will hardly leave the barn. Yup, Stella gets stuck when she runs in the snow. Yup, snow is up to the porch and just under the window. Yup, we have to dig out the mailbox.
Yup, I don’t think we’ll see grass again until July.
This year’s winter is definitely for the record books!
Posted by Mona
@ 08:22 AM EST
(most of today’s post is a re-print of last year’s post)
I love New Year’s and the hope for new beginnings that it brings. On New Year’s Eve Dan and I like to sit back and reflect on our past year and create our goals for the New Year. Our reflections start with the good, i.e. all the goals we did accomplish or are completing, and then on to the setbacks. But instead of dwelling on any bad experiences that we may have had, we talk about what we’ve learned from those experiences so that it may help us in the future. And then we laugh and talk about what we are looking forward to, jot down ideas, and from there our new goals are formed.
It’s the end of the year. Every end is a new beginning.
With the alpacas physically here it is much easier for us to visualize the direction our farm is headed. I’m sure all farms sit back every year and say ‘Hhmmm, what needs to be fixed? What do we need to buy this year? What could we improve?’ Necessity and the budget usually dictate what will come first. If the alpacas could speak, I’m sure they’d like us to keep working on a better pasture, free of rocks and roots, and filled with lush, green grass!
We’ve had a wonderful 2010. 2011 can only be better.
Here’s to wonderful new beginnings!
Wishing you all a joyous, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year!
Posted by Mona
@ 08:55 AM EST
Spring arrived early this year, followed by an early starting and very hot and humid summer. We are so very grateful that after several years it’s also been a very dry summer. Continuing this new trend, it now appears that autumn is arriving early. That’s fine with us. We love the cooler days and crisp nights, with the daytime colors of the trees slowly turning to brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. The grass seems to start growing again and turns a deep green. Against this backdrop is a perfectly bright blue sky.
Wildlife abounds this time of year. Wildlife is always abounding when you live near a large state park as we do, but we seem to notice them more when the cool weather starts. Furry and feathered friends are beginning their annual gathering up of their food storage for winter and pass through our property daily. A local family of red fox took up residence under our woodshed for a couple weeks. We haven’t seen them in a while; I imagine they grew tired of Stella chasing them out of the yard. We see the hawks circling the yard again over the treetops, and today I heard at least 3 flocks of Canadian geese fly by overhead. Soon the bats will be gone. Acorns and pine cones are starting to fall from the trees, keeping all the squirrels and chipmunks busy.
Lately the alpacas have been amused by a family of wild turkeys that travel through the yard in the mornings. The turkeys hobble along the path just outside the fencing, hop onto the stone wall along the back of pasture and walk along it, then off into the woods. The alpacas will at first all stand up straight, ears straight up, necks outstretched. Then staying close together, they all but tiptoe over to the fence and then will follow the turkeys along the inside of the fence line, never making a sound. The turkeys do not appear bothered by the sheer size of the alpacas and continue their casual pace. I sip my coffee and smile.
In the evenings we try to keep a closer eye on Stella, but while we’re in the barn that’s not always too easy. I was arranging feed bowls one evening and had all 5 alpacas blocking the tack room door, eyes fixated on me intently. For no particular reason, Coty, who tends to be our most curious alpaca, walked away. Coty has grown so much this year and is now also our tallest alpaca. He doesn’t walk; he struts. He strutted casually around to the back of the barn. Finding this odd, Dan followed him. What could be more interesting than getting fed? In the darkness I suddenly heard Dan holler sharply ‘Stella ~ come!’ Before I could ask why, I could smell why! Luckily the skunk had bad aim because our little Stella doesn’t smell too badly.
And thankfully none of the alpacas were skunked!
Posted by Mona
@ 10:54 PM EDT
Dan has been working most of the summer to build a lovely set of stone walls just opposite the paddock and barn. Our land from our back yard to the barn slopes downward gently and it’s along this line that he has been creating a(nother) place for me to garden in. The top portion is flat and we’ve discovered it is a great place to make a little patio and set up a picnic table set to sit and watch the alpacas. For now, we’ve placed a folding mat and some chairs from our camping days onto the freshly leveled dirt at the top of the new wall, and sip coffee. The alpacas don’t seem to mind us watching them and go about their quiet ways.
Posted by Mona
@ 09:49 AM EDT
I would love to have all summer days just like yesterday - mid 80’s with lots of sun and a gloriously strong warm breeze. Stella has been chasing butterflies, running like a puppy on too-long legs. When she gets hot she finds a cool spot in the dirt under my car or in the grassy shade from the trailer. Daffodils and forsythias are blooming. I can see the daylilies all popping up, their tips a deep green. Birds are everywhere this time of year, singing cheerfully while they gather up supplies to build nests. This morning I could hear the familiar rubbing noises on the outside of the logs here in the den. That noise is a mama robin, building a nest on the criss-crossed corner of our log cabin, in the shade of a large maple tree. Lately we’ve been seeing a smaller bird flying in and out of the barn also carrying grass and such in its beak. This type of bird built a nest in the barn last year, up in the ceiling peak near the light. It built a smaller nest in the next light to watch over its babies’ nest, and it would often perch on the fence nearest the barn to watch Dan and me. It’s not really gray yet not really green either, but never stays still long enough for us to get a good look. Anyone have any idea what type of bird it could be?
I wouldn’t be concerned normally about the alpacas on a very warm day like yesterday but they are still in full fleece. Shearing Day isn’t for another few weeks. They must be roasting in those wool coats! My feet were definitely toasty in my Muck boots (time to get those purple clogs!) I checked in on them again at noontime and everyone looked the same as any other day so that’s good. I put out another bucket of cold water from the well pump for them. Not that I really think 5 non-breeding male alpacas would drink 10 gallons of water in an afternoon, but I felt better! I was going to put ice cubes in the water too but then I know I’d be concerned that they would swallow an ice cube whole and choke, thanks to my wild imagination, so an extra bucket of water it is.
The boys are still not too sure about their new bale feeder, except for Guinness, always except for Guinness, aka ‘Grumpy’ on our little farm. He’s never shy when it comes to being fed! Guinness will gladly munch and munch from the hay feeder, and fuss loudly and sometimes spit when another one of the boys comes over to eat too. Even Julio walked away today, too hot to fuss back. Eventually Guinness will walk away too; then the others will approach. The bale in this new feeder is going down, down, down, so I know it’s not just Guinness eating from it, even if it seems that way sometimes. This new feeder is in the barn under the awning in the shade, so I was happy to see them eating hay in the shade while the afternoon was so warm.
Posted by Mona
@ 10:34 AM EDT
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.
Posted by Mona
@ 11:06 PM EST
Merry Christmas Everyone!
And thank you for reading our little blog!
~ Mona, Dan, Stella, and the alpacas at Sweet Harmony Farm
Posted by Mona
@ 12:36 PM EST
Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.................................... Wow! Is it ever cold outside! With below zero temperatures it is quite a struggle to stay warm outside when doing barn chores or just walking Stella. Stella and our indoor kitty, Gracie, are on the couch or the rug by the woodstove all day. It got so cold so fast. Dan is already wondering if we’ll have enough wood for the entire winter even though we’ve never run out. It’s hard to imagine how livestock manages to stay warm, especially creatures that do not have a warm fleece like our alpacas have. When I put my hand down in their fleece, their bodies are warm.
It was about 15 below zero with the wind this morning when I went out to the barn to bring down jugs of warm water and check on the alpacas. They were all cushed, looking quite cozy. I smiled, relieved. Then, to my horror, the water bucket was frozen solid! Some mornings it has skimmed over and a quick poke with my finger or an alpaca nose will break through, but not this time! I apologized profusely to the boys, picked up the bucket, and all but ran up to the house. Thankfully we have another unused water bucket in the garage where we also store extra hay and straw. After a quick rinse out in the kitchen sink, I filled it halfway with warm water and back to the barn I went. I added the two jugs I had brought down originally and the alpacas just stared at me, wondering what all the fuss was about. Apparently no one was thirsty.
Even though we put up a tarp to help block some wind, the boys generally cush in front of the 2 open stalls right around the hay feeders. Last night we spread out more straw for them. It’s funny to see their bodies’ imprints in the fresh straw in the morning, so we know that they were behind the windbreak at least for a short time. We’ve been stuffing the hay feeders full, full, full, and giving the boys a little extra grain in the evening. We’re going to pick up more straw and place the bales along the edges to help keep out drafts. That almost sounds ridiculous because it’s a 3 sided shelter! We still think every little bit helps.
Julio has imposed a ‘no leaving the barn’ rule since it’s been so cold and windy. Whenever one of the alpacas wanders out to the paddock or ~gasp!~ the pasture he runs out after them and noses them until they come back in. Sometimes instead of a gentle nosing it’s more like a bullying push. It’s nice to know he’s so protective but I’d prefer they’d all get at least a few minutes of sunshine!
Posted by Mona
@ 12:03 PM EST
Another thing about autumn is the coyotes. In the evenings and throughout the night you can hear them howling. Lately it sounds like it’s coming from the woods down the street, but many times it is the woods across the street from us in the state park, or in the woods behind our house. Sometimes the pack behind our house howls back and forth with the pack in the park. It’s a haunting noise and when the howls are close by the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Our little alpaca herd doesn’t seem overly concerned, but of course we are.
We went up to Maine yesterday morning to pick up our new guard llama from Nancy Durst at White Barn Meadows Farm. Nancy runs a gelding alpaca fiber farm that is picture-postcard beautiful. Senator is a well experienced, well mannered guard llama that is easily handled. He is just perfect for us.
The initial meet and greet was in a word, hysterical. Our boys all huddled around the paddock fence while we had Senator on the lead on the other side. The happy sniff fest went on for quite some time, our boys much more curious about him than he was of them. Once we led Senator into the paddock, Coty quickly instigated the others into chasing him around the paddock. The same thing happened once we opened up the pasture. Our boys ate their dinner quietly with virtually no fighting amongst themselves and then peacefully ate hay together out of the same feeder. Senator ate hay from the big feeder and then stood just outside the paddock, observing the woods.
After dinner and hay our boys weren’t quite so spunky so Senator got to check out his new home in peace. He carefully walked the fence lines and checked out the gates, sniffing and sniffing the air and I swear each inch of pasture. It was a full moon night and the whole pasture was lit up. He was very observant and alert over every little sound, dogs barking and howling, owls hooting, crickets chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, and I’m sure things that we humans can’t hear. Finally he settled down and cushed in a spot along the middle pasture fence line and its gate. Here, he has a perfect view of the barn with his new herd to protect and the entire pasture.
And Stella won't look at him either!
Posted by Mona
@ 09:47 AM EST
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!
Posted by Mona
@ 10:16 AM EDT
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