Wednesday, June 13, 2012
When I was a kid my grandfather would use this line to try and amuse us. It only worked once or twice but it stuck in my head. He had a resort in the Lake of the Ozark area of Missouri. Highway 5 ran past the property and it wasn’t unusual to see loads of hay go by in the summer while we were visiting. Not being a farm kid, it was always interesting but I never gave it much thought. That is until now.
Last week we cut hay. There is not a lot of planning to this event. I call the guy who is cutting and baling to get on his list and then we wait. Where I end up on his list and the weather play a big part in when we get the hay cut. This year the weather has been very unusual. Everything from wildlife to crops are out of sync with the calendar. Hay season started 3 weeks earlier than it usually does. To make things even more interesting, the month of May was extremely dry.
Our tentative date to cut hay was the first part of June. We waited, praying for rain so the hay would not burn up in the pastures. Of course, all the places where the hay was cut and waiting to be baled they were praying for no rain. The “no rain” group was winning out; until the last week of the month. We received 2” of rain over several days that week. You could almost hear the grass sucking up the moisture. Just that small amount would help as we continued to wait our turn.
June 5 the tractors arrived and started to cut. We had 4 days of clear skies, sunshine, lower temperatures and 0% chance of rain. This was going to be a good week for haying. I called the hay crew and let them know we were baling on Thursday and they should plan on a long day. The crew arrived and consisted of 5 young guys from 13-21 years of age, and myself, a 120 pound, upper 50s, grey-haired shepherd. All the crew has to do is to keep up with me. Sound fair enough?
My weakness is having limited lifting strength over my shoulders; hence I became a stacker. The crew did keep up and we put away 1330 square bales in 12 hours. It was a long, hard day but no injuries or break downs. Lots of sore muscles but they will work out with more chores. The harvest was more than acceptable and we are set for another year of winter feed for the livestock.
It is a great feeling to see the hay barn full and to smell fresh hay. The freshly cut pastures look green and perfect. It’s now time to sit back on the deck with that glass of wine that has been waiting for me. Life on the ranch is good!
Thursday, May 31, 2012
A couple of years ago I started to notice and unusual (to me) bird in our alpaca pastures. They made a lot of noise and did more running around on the ground then flying. I grabbed my Missouri bird book and discovered the Kill Deer. They have very distinct markings so they are easy to identify. I then discovered that they lay their eggs on the ground, usually amongst a small cluster of rocks. They don’t build a nest; just lay them in a hollowed section of the grouping. The eggs are almost the same color pattern as the rocks so you have to really look to find them.
The problem with laying eggs in the alpaca pastures is that the alpacas are continually moving around the pasture grazing. Usually the older alpacas will avoid the eggs but the crias (baby alpaca) haven’t figured that out yet. As the crias are exploring and romping around the pasture they sometimes get too close for momma bird’s comfort. When this happens a scenario of events and antics begin.
One of the birds, they usually guard the eggs as a pair; will start making a lot of noise to sound the alarm. She/he is probably screaming, “Get away from my nest!” Of course alpacas don’t speak Kill Deer so they haven’t a clue what is being said. The crias think the bird wants to play so they are more than willing to participate. The bird will try to draw the cria away by leaving the nest in hopes that she will follow. If that doesn’t work then the second diversion is started. The Kill Deer will spread out its wings and tail feathers, revealing a yellow coloring, meant to draw attention to itself. As the cria draws closer the Kill Deer will keep moving away from the eggs. The third diversion is known as the “broken wing” scenario. The Kill Deer will throw one wing out to the side and flap it as if it were broken; demonstrating that it is an easy prey. Again as the predator – cria – approaches it moves farther away.
I was taking a break from chores and noticed one of our new crias, Quibble, encountering one of these nests. Knowing what was to follow I watched the process with a grin on my face. After several minutes the cria finally lost interest and moved back to the herd. I am sure the Kill Deer was relieved and a little tired of the whole thing.
Nature has such a wonderful way of protecting itself. Sometimes it provides comic relief to the viewer as well.
I want to play!
Friday, May 25, 2012
I attended my first fiber show of the 2012 season. Before I started raising alpacas, I didn’t realize how much fiber is produced in the United States. Quite a bit of it comes from small farms. Attending the show were owners of sheep, goats, rabbits, llamas and alpacas. The sheep market alone has many different varieties. Owners come to fairs all across the nation to display and sell their wool. It can be bought in raw form, (right from shearing) roving (carded and ready to spin) or yarn. It can be natural or dyed. There is no limit to the colors and choices.
In this environment you will discover crafts and arts, that some may think have passed away, but are very much alive. Spinners are in abundance; using both the drop spindle and the spinning wheel. Tatting, lace making, embroidery, weaving, knitting and crocheting are all still perpetuated by those who love the craft and love creating beautiful pieces of art from scratch. The crafters cover many generations with ages in the single digit to those in their nineties. There are no age, gender or color barriers with this group.
Alpaca fiber is called “the fiber of the gods”. It is told that the harvested alpaca fiber of the finest quality could only be worn by the Incan royalty. Alpaca is stronger than mohair, finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton. It has the ability to provide great warmth without the weight of wool. It has no lanolin which helps it to stay clean and provides and alternative for those who are allergic to wool. Over 22 natural colors are created by the alpacas, and because it is a natural fiber, it can also be dyed.
I have the pleasure of raising a herd of alpacas, and each year we harvest this wonderful fiber. I send most of our fiber to a mini-mill in Kansas for processing. I like using the mill because I get my own product back. Part of our fiber is made into yarns and part into roving. I try to get an assortment of both for my customers and of course myself. Quality is always my priority. I want the person who uses my alpaca fiber to be pleased and return for more.
At the fiber fair I bring in my selections to compliment all the other fiber being shown and sold. I usually take my spinning wheel or crochet to work with while I am there. I love, not only meeting other fiber artists, but learning new things from them. What a wealth of knowledge is out there. I get to talk with so many interesting people. I am pleasantly surprised when I find someone who spins or knits, though they don’t look the part. I met a man knitting socks once. I shouldn’t pre-judge but I just didn’t expect it.
So, the next time you wrap up in your favorite shawl or scarf, put on that special hat, or pull out your afghan or lap throw, consider the hands that may create it. Nestled away in your city, town and neighborhood are extraordinary people, living a simpler life in an over technological world. I am so thankful for them and their skills and to be a part of this community. May they continue to pass on their art and our heritage.
Monday, May 14, 2012
I was listening to my local public radio station this morning. We have a special feature called “The Backyard Birder”. He gives insight into what is happening with the birds in our area; migration, nesting, hatching, feed and feeders, etc. This morning he mentioned that everything, concerning the birds, is about 3 weeks ahead of schedule. The bird migration and their nesting have all been affected by the crazy Spring weather we have been experiencing. I am sure the fruit crop and berries will be affected as well.
The odd thing is my alpacas may be affected too, but in the opposite direction. I have 3 pregnant females, all due in the Spring. Normally the gestation period for an alpaca is 344 days. That alone is a long time to be pregnant. Two of our ladies were due to deliver in April. April came and went and they were still pregnant. That actually became our response after checking on them; “still pregnant”.
A couple of summers past we had very high temperatures. Everyone was miserable, especially the pregnant alpacas. The gestation time started to increase. We thought it was a result of the heat and we did our best to keep the moms as cool as possible. Our barn record that year was 376 days!
Our first mom, Okura, passed her due date and we headed to shearing. Being 10 days past due we still had to shear her and it didn’t seem to matter a bit. Temperatures were unseasonably warm and we were even wearing shorts. We then had a reprieve and the temperature dropped back to more normal levels. Now she will deliver, we thought. Another week passed and still no delivery. Now the second mom was due. We were approaching the end of April with no crias on the ground yet. Our April crias were now becoming our May crias.
As I counted up the days, we were approaching our barn record. Flying by the 376 mark I was starting to get a little anxious. Visitors were scheduled for the weekend. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could see a newborn? Not much I could do but wait and pray for a healthy, live cria.
Friday was day 380! We officially would have a new ranch record. As I finished my breakfast I noticed Okura was more uncomfortable than usual. I decided to check her again in about an hour. Going to the barn I found her lying on her side, and in labor. Delivery was beginning and it went like a text-book example. After some serious pushing, Okura delivered a beautiful female weighing 15 pounds (an average birth weight for an alpaca). It was standing and nursing within 90 minutes. I was relieved and excited. It was a champagne day on the ranch.
Our second mom hit day 365 today. This is an experienced mom and she has never had this long of a gestation. She still is giving no signs of being ready to deliver. Our third mom is due in 8 days. So here I am, still counting the days and waiting.
Now I don’t know if this is weather related but it sure seems like a wild coincidence. What I do know is waiting is not an easy task. The shepherd is growing greyer with each passing day.
380 Day Gestation
Quibble - Worth waiting for!
Thursday, April 12, 2012
I live in a beautiful place; 80 acres of rolling pastures surrounded by Mark Twain National Forest. Occasionally you will hear road noise, especially when the weather is nice and the motor cyclists are out cruising, but mostly it is the sounds of nature filling the air. Birds of all species, coyotes, tree frogs and bull frogs and a full assortment of singing insects serenade us. The trees are mostly oak but hickory, redbud, walnut, cedars and native pines are mixed among them. The sky is expansive and usually a gorgeous blue or filled with white clouds.
When we get visitors at the ranch, the first thing we hear is “what a great view you have”. They just stand and look over the place and remark “how peaceful” it is. Normally this is how our ranch is; until an A10 jet screams by overhead. Then we hear, “what was that?!”.
Our ranch sits only 3 miles, as the crow flies, to an Air Force practice range. It is not uncommon for A10 Warthog jets, C130 Hercules cargo planes, military Apache helicopters or even the Stealth bomber to fly over our ranch. (Sure hope this isn’t a Homeland Security Secret) This has been going on since we have lived here and we hardly notice them. It is just part of our environment and we have learned to tune the noise out. The livestock and pets don’t even flinch when they buzz by, except when they fly really low.
For most people this is a surreal experience; a peaceful setting in the National Forest with jets, gun fire and bombs exploding in the distance. Last week we had 10 – yes, I said 10 – C130s flying in a random formation over the ranch for about an hour. Now that was a new experience for us and we enjoyed watching them. Not sure what it was all about but loved the show. One couple was thrilled to see the jets zoom by. They had wanted to get to the Air Force range for some time and never made it. Here, when visiting, they were able to see them for several passes.
The aircrafts don’t fly every day, so if you come for a visit we cannot guarantee an air show. We can guarantee a beautiful view and a visit to our alpaca herd, where you can relax to their humming. So why not take a road trip and leave your worries behind.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
For over a year I have been trying to get a photo of Santa Fe’s face. You would think this could not be that difficult. I suppose I could have put a halter and lead on her and staged the shot, but what would be the fun in that? I wanted a natural pose in a natural environment. So what was the problem?
The Elusive Face
Santa Fe, like her mother, likes to eat. She is always grazing, which means her head is always down. When she would finally come up for air, she was turned away from me or heading in the opposite direction. I would patiently (or not so patiently) sit in the pasture waiting for my elusive shot. In the mean time I would capture plenty of photos of the other alpacas. It wasn’t a wasted effort but I was not accomplishing the task at hand.
So on Sunday, I again grabbed the camera and headed to the pasture. The sun was shining, the alpacas were all outside and I had nowhere else to be. I even had a plan; I would take our new dog Linus with me to get her attention. That was a good plan except that Linus is a little intimidated by the alpacas and would not respond to my coaxing him into the pasture with me. Plan B: I would be on the pasture side of the fence and Linus would be on the non-pasture side of the fence. This could still work. There I sat with Linus right behind me. The alpacas were curious about what he was up to. I was finally going to get my opportunity! All I had to do was get all the other alpacas out of the photo, make sure the lighting was good, be ready when her head finally came up and hope my battery did not go dead.
Click! Click, Click! Not Santa Fe but great shots of the little ones. Still waiting for the right moment. Patience; wait for it. Now! I captured Santa Fe!
All right, she does have a mouth full of hay, but her ears are up and the lighting is good, and her eyes are open, and I did wait a year for this photo. At least I finally captured the shot I have been trying for. Maybe I could get another one. Would that be pressing my luck? What have I got to lose?
A second shot! This one is better than the first. The coloring is actually more accurate. Must have been that cloud blocking the sun. Yes, I know, she still has hay in her mouth but this is who she is, and doesn’t that just give her more character? Please say “yes”, I did wait a year for this face.
Well, I am off to update her page on our website and find out what other shots I may be in need of. Hopefully my next prospect won’t be so elusive.
Smile for the camera, pacas!
Looking the WRONG Way
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
I am a sunshine lady. Two or three days of clouds, overcast skies, or rain and I am starting to slide into a slump. Just let a hole break in the clouds which shows a patch of blue and I perk right up. I will find whatever excuse I can to get out into the sunshine, including cleaning up pastures. I don’t want to lie out and “sun bathe”, I just want to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the brightness it gives to everything around. I suppose I am most appreciative in the cooler months than in the heat of summer.
Living in Missouri has the advantage of lots of sunshine. We get a good amount of rain but after it is finished watering our fields, the sun re-appears and smiles on us. After a winter snow the sky will turn a beautiful blue and the whole snow covered landscape takes on a look of splendor. When we get that bit of ice our place sparkles and shimmers as the sun starts its trek across the sky.
I think my alpacas are sunshine happy too. It is not uncommon to find “alpaca rugs” lying in our pastures as they spread out on their sides and soak up the warmth of the sun. Sometimes I wonder if they are alive as they lay so still in their comfort. I have one large male who will even turn his head up as if to catch the sun’s rays on this extended neck. On a warm Spring or Fall day you are apt to find me sitting out there with them, enjoying their company and the shared sunshine.
Sometimes it is good to just stop and sit and take in everything around you. I become too fixed on the next chore that needs to be done, or the next item on my schedule, or the next errand I have to complete and I miss the wonderful things around me. I watch the dust fly through the air as the alpacas roll in the spot they made; a mother and her cria nose to nose giving kisses; a dragonfly landing on the sleeve of my shirt; a hawk calling out from the top of a tree; a blue heron looking for lunch in the pond.
Maybe the sunshine is just a reminder to look around and appreciate the day.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
One of our 2011 crias (a baby alpaca) was born deaf. It only took a day or two to determine she could not hear. I came into the barn and she was lying next to her mom, sound asleep. My arrival at the barn in the morning means it is feeding time and the alpacas all start letting me know they are ready to eat. This little girl, Shelby, slept through all the excitement. She didn’t wake up until I touched her.
I still talk to Shelby all the time, but I knew I would need to do something extra to communicate with her and let her know what I needed her to do. I began using hand gestures. When I would walk by, or into, her pasture I would wave to her and make eye contact. When I wanted her to go in or out of her pen I would gesture like a door man, pointing the way for her. I made sure to touch her gently in passing by so as not to startle her. To let her know she was doing well, I would massage her shoulder. Shelby is very bright and figures things out quickly.
My newest challenge was to lead train Shelby. I had been putting a halter on her for 20 minutes or so a few times a week for her to get used to the feel of it. Now came the big test; could I get her to understand walking on the lead. My normal words of encouragement and commands were not going to work. So again, I thought of the gestures I could use. The same procedure I use would work if I could get what I wanted across to her.
I gently pulled on the lead and when she moved her feet I would give her slack. Another pull, more slack. It took the length of the barn but she was getting the idea. Drawing her close to me I massaged her shoulder to let her know she was doing what I needed her to. We headed the other direction at the same pace. Now I am not going to say Shelby was exceptional and after 10 minutes was lead trained; but she did get the concept and our first session was over. A few more times and I know she will be all right with it.
An alpaca that is born deaf doesn’t know it is deaf. It thinks that the world is, as it perceives it. There are not sounds to distract it or alert it, so it has to rely on visual cues to stay safe and to learn what it needs. Shelby is just like all the other crias. She runs and plays, follows the herd, looks for mom to nurse, wrestles and spits at the other crias. Shelby doesn’t know she is deaf and I am glad she doesn’t. Her world is just as full and she is just as happy. It is the shepherd that has to adjust.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
We had snow this week; about 4”. It has been a very mild winter so this is only the second snowfall we have had. There was sleet and ice pellets mixed with it so the alpacas mostly stayed in the barn. The exception was our Chica Gris. Chica is the mother of our preemie alpaca, Jasper. She loves being outside, no matter what the weather is. Of course this means that Jasper is outside too. Of all the alpacas in my barn who don’t need to be out in the elements, Jasper is the one. When I went to feed and clean up around noon, there they sat, covered in snow.
The great characteristic of alpaca fiber is that it provides warmth while wicking the moisture away. The snow setting on top of their fiber just sits there. Their body heat never melts it. Their coat is just like a coat; sheltering them from the elements. Even so, I did bring Chica and Jasper in out of the snow.
Jasper was born August 4, 2011. He was 20 days early. For an alpaca, that is pretty early. He had a low birth weight but was up and nursing and he had a good chance of survival. I weigh my new crias (baby alpaca) daily to be sure they are getting enough to eat. Jasper was not gaining weight. The good news was he was not losing weight, but all he was doing was maintaining. I tried to bottle feed him to supplement mom but he wouldn’t have it. I gave him some vitamin/mineral paste, again to supplement mom. After a few weeks I even tried to get him to start eating grain which I softened to a paste state. He would try it for a few days and then stop taking it. He seemed a little weak but where ever mom went, Jasper followed; slowly but he followed.
A month went by with no change, except that he would gain a pound every now and then. A cria should gain 3-4 pounds a week. All I could do was monitor his progress and try different ideas to get him to eat more. Several times I thought we were going to lose him. We had visitors coming to our ranch one weekend and I even had a plan on what to do with him if he looked like he was fading away. Jasper just kept plugging along. He would even graze lying down.
I bring my crias into the center of the barn during morning feeding. Here they get used to eating grain out of a feed bucket and learn to eat hay. The have a chance to play together, wrestle and share feed. The older crias teach the younger ones how it works. Jasper was one of the older crias but he always keeps to himself. I noticed he was eating hay so I started putting some of the grain on top of the hay bale to trick him into eating it. It worked! He not only started eating it, but he would come look at me when it was gone. He actually wanted more! Of course, the other crias figured it out too and he had to fight a little for his share if I did not intervene on his behalf. I at least saw him eat and hoped he would keep getting stronger.
Now Jasper is 6 months old. He should be ready to leave mom and should weigh about 60 pounds. He weighs 27 pounds and we are delighted he has achieved that. I kiddingly say he may never get weaned from mom. Each day we are grateful for his life. He may never be all the alpaca he should be, but he will always be a very special alpaca to me. AND, he has the most beautiful rose-grey fiber and an adorable face.
So Jasper, keep on plugging along. The barn wouldn’t be the same without you.
Trying to Graze
A Gorgeous Face!
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Sometimes I feel that people, in general, think that nothing really happens on the ranch. Let me be the first to tell you, that is not the case.
Yesterday began as any other day; feed the pets and let them out, have some coffee, Bible study, check overnight emails, dress for the day. I then headed to the barn for normal chores. Everything was going as it should. Just as I was finishing up with the alpacas my husband arrived at the barn to take the gator. He had decided to take some heifers to the cattle auction this morning. And by the way, we captured another skunk in the live trap.
Yes, just a “nothing happening” day on the ranch.
After checking all my gates, doors and lights, I left the barn to help with the loading of the heifers. I short hike from one barn to the other. Two were already in the trailer so the job was half done – or was it? One of the two in the trailer was a bull and not a heifer. I climbed to the other side of the trailer, opened the front door to let the bull out; being sure to get out of his way. Closing the door, we were ready to continue. Number 2 was not in and the mid panel closed. Number 3 made it into the chute. Number 4 was left with another bull by her side so we kept them circling until she made her way into the chute. Open the gates and they were in the trailer. Off to the auction they went.
Just a “nothing happening” day on the ranch.
Remember that skunk? Off we head to the alpaca barn to get the caged skunk loaded into the truck to re-locate her/him. I had been doing some research since my last skunk blog and I found that the skunk will face its enemy first and if that doesn’t work it will turn to spray. SLOWLY I inched my way toward the cage with the tarp between us. When the skunk started to turn I stopped until it faced me again. A few more steps; stop and wait. Now I was close enough to cover the cage and I DIDN’T GET SPRAYED!! Skunk was loaded in the back of the pickup and we were off to the re-location site. Another mission accomplished.
Just a “nothing happening” day on the ranch.
Two days earlier we had agreed to foster a dog from the local shelter. It was time to take her out and acclimate her to the ranch property. After a short walk, on and off the leash, we were ready for a coffee break. Time to run monthly reports and do the mail; and it is only 10:00.
I am sure glad nothing happens on the ranch.