Monday, September 15, 2014

The New Kid in the Pasture, Mocha!

Early Saturday morning there was a low band of fog hanging over the corn and soy bean fields that surround our home and pastures. The light fog gave an ethereal quality to the scenery and I couldn't resist trying to take some pictures with my little Nikon. 
The view from the front porch.

And the view from the back porch.
The animals were still sleeping in the pasture and the morning moisture was clinging to the tips of their fleeces. All except for our new little guy, Mocha; we had put a coat on him the night before because the temperatures were predicted to dip to near 40 degrees overnight. His fleece was still damp in spots from his entry into the world and we didn't want him shivering through the night. Alpaca moms don't cuddle their offspring like some animals. They just lay nearby as you can see from the little purple coated Mocha in the center of the picture.

Our granddaughter, Zaidee, who lives out in Portland, Oregon had the naming rights to the next little baby born on the farm. She relayed a wide selection of names through her mother but the one that seemed to fit was a compromise. One of her suggestions was Latte, which I countered with Mocha Latte. That one pleased both of us and seemed to fit. Mocha has black ears, face, tail and lower legs. The rest of him is a very dark, coffee bean brown. He curiously explores the pasture during his waking hours when he is not nursing. He has made friends with Brutus and Asterius, both of whom run alongside their fence line when Mocha is circling his side of the pasture. 

His mama, Mango, keeps a close eye on him at all times and when she clucks her "come here" sound he returns to her side obediently. 

This kind of morning  has always meant autumn to me and so it was that Rich and I planned to do our fall outside decorating. A couple of weeks ago we ran down to the Amish farm on Rt. 13 and bought a variety of chrysanthemum plants in red, white and yellow. On Friday evening after dinner we ran over to the farm where we bought our pumpkins last year and loaded up the truck. We were all set to decorate. I'll post pictures of our fall display tomorrow when I have finished the final touches.

On Sunday I received a call from a former 7th grade student who is now a senior. Irene wanted to stop out for a visit and to see the animals. I hadn't seen her for a few years and was so pleased to have this chance to catch up with her. She and her boyfriend, Devin, stayed for about an hour and half and we had a nice chat. She told me about her plans for college and the future. As a teacher, it is always good to see that former students are headed toward success. Irene had been in my knitting group after school. It was one of the nicest group of kids ever. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Wait is Over! It's a Boy!

Remember how, for the past two weeks, I have been afraid to leave home for any length of time during the daylight hours because that's when alpacas generally have their babies? And remember how Mango just kept getting bigger and bigger and showing imminent signs of labor; kushing with her legs to the side, eating constantly, and just generally lolling around. Two days ago she was even foaming at the mouth a bit as if she was in distress. One of the websites I read says that this means labor could happen "today, tomorrow or two weeks from now." This  lulled me into a false sense of security, so that today I ventured out to buy groceries. Mango was grazing with the rest of the girls and seemed to be acting normal. The pantry and fridge were getting low on stock and I thought I'd be safe runing out for an hour or so. Wrong!

As I pulled into the driveway upon my return this is the sight that met my eyes:

Mango was grazing calmly beside a wet, little, black cria while Leezza sniffed curiously at the new arrival. I rushed my groceries inside, changed my shoes, threw on one of Rich's big sweatshirts and loaded the pockets with my camera, cell phone and the keys to the shop where I have the cria kit stored. I unlocked the shop and shoved Callie inside, grabbed the clean towel and rushed out to the pasture.

The little guy was still partially covered with the birth membrane and was shivering. Since Mango had not yet passed the placenta I figured that the birth must have occurred within minutes of my arrival. I rubbed him down good and picked him up in my arms. After my mistake with Asterius last year, I immediately up ended the baby to check the sex. Another boy! Though we had hoped for a girl, its impossible to be disappointed when you're holding a curly, warm, fresh cria in your arms and he is lustily "maaa-ing" for his first meal.

I set him back down near Mango where he attempted to stand on his own. After a couple of prat falls and nose dives, he got the feeling in his legs and began to wander around exploring the pasture! This feisty little guy had not even eaten his first meal yet before his curiosity got the better of him and he felt the need to look around. He wandered to the fence to make friends with Nikko, and then to the other side to make friends with Brutus and Asterius.

His Aunt Leezza seems to be the most interested in her little nephew. She constantly sniffs and prods at him with her snout. Mama Mango is always nearby making the throaty, clucking sound that they use to communicate with their new baby to let them know that mama is at hand.

After much prodding and poking about beneath his mother, the little guy began nursing heartily enjoying his first lunch tucked under his mama.

Little guy was born at 11:20 am today and by the time he was two hours old he had already had three visitors. Once I was satisfied that everything in the pasture was ok, I made a couple of phone calls to friends who had demanded that I let them know as soon as Mango delivered. My brother-in-law, Danny, who lives down the road stopped by, as he has done nearly every day for the past two weeks. He was surprised to see the new addition. Shortly after he left,  Myron and Rhonda, who own the little guy's father, Black Night, came up after lunch to see him. While they were still there, my friend, Liz, pulled into the driveway. Myron picked the little guy up and the three of us women coo-ed and patted the adorable little guy.

I texted Rich a picture right away, of course. He'll be home from work shortly, excited to meet the new member of our farm family. 

Be sure to check back each day for progress updates. They grow and change so quickly the first few weeks.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Still Waiting and Watching!

This morning, I went out to feed the herd as usual. The little boys waited for me inside the barn, with their characteristic "hunger" humming. They tend to whine a bit in the morning when they are ravenous (even though they have free access to the pasture and hay). Nikko poked his head in through the barn window to let me know that he was ready for breakfast, too. He knows that his trough gets filled next after Brutus and Asterius.

Finally, I picked up the bucket of feed for the ladies and let myself in through the gate where they were waiting for me, Took in front, followed by Leezza and mother-to-be, Mango. When I got closer to Mango I noticed something strange; she was foaming slightly from the mouth. This wasn't mouth breathing like they do after they have spit at each other. It was definitely foam. I had seen this on other animals in the past when they had eaten a weed or plant that didn't agree with them. Something as simple as clover, which they love, can cause foaming when they eat too much of it. But Rich had eradicated the clover from the pasture where they are currently living. This pasture is pretty much free of weeds and such. Mango ran inside the condo with the others as soon as I filled their feed troughs. Her appetite seemed normal as did her behavior. The next thing that occurred to me was that maybe this might be the day that she delivered her baby! Since it's her first its reasonable to think that she might be a bit stressed by the new feelings of the contractions and pressure.

I prepared some the last of the tomatoes (I pulled out the vines yesterday) and popped them into the oven to roast. Then I got my camera and my book and settled down in the air chair on the back deck to observe Mango for the next hour. With Callie resting in the sun nearby, I read a few chapters and waited. Nothing. Mango happily grazed in the pasture, rolled in the dust and just generally enjoyed the sunny, cool fall morning.

Callie and I gave up and went back inside to finish the chores that I had on my daily agenda. Though I kept looking out of the window toward the pasture, hoping for a new cria, Mango wasn't going to deliver today.

Yesterday, my friend, Rhonda from Grass Run Alpacas just south of here called and stopped by with a couple of friends. She brought along another alpaca owner who I had met on shearing day down at Rhonda and Myron's farm, and the little boy she babysits. This adorable little blond guy is two-years-old and totally fearless when it comes to alpacas. Hayden trotted right into the barn and pasture as soon as I opened the gate and boldly walked up to our Brutus. The amazing thing is that neither Brutus nor Asterius shied away from Hayden. They  seemed curious about the glowing mane of blond hair on the strange little "animal" that was Hayden.

I  brought out a small bucket of their favorite treat, sweet feed, and Hayden repeatedly dipped into it, grabbing tiny handfuls to feed to the boys. He would hold up his little fist full of feed and say, "Alpaca," and the boys would nibble away.

Hayden alone is an adorable child; add in two young alpaca boys and I could have watched their interaction all day. It was a delightful visit and Hayden can come back anytime!

Meanwhile, we are still watching and waiting; and Mango is growing bigger and bigger.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Labor Day Weekend...Summer's Officially Over

The past few weeks have just flown by and Labor Day has suddenly jumped up to surprise me! Like every summer, this one just seemed to fly by and so many of my good intentions went undone. I intended to paint the master bedroom. Not done. I intended to weave more rugs and retie the warp colors on the rug loom. Not done. If I continue listing the undone tasks on my list I will just become depressed. Fortunately my list of accomplishments is much longer than the other list, so I try to focus on those. I suspect that I am not so very different from everyone else who reads this blog.

Last week I was so lucky to be able to stay with grandchildren, Olivia and Max, while my daughter, Amy, and son-in-law, Steve, went to San Francisco and Napa Valley for a little business and a little break. Although the kids were already back at school, we had time for a little fun. I got to see Max play in his first 8th grade scrimmage game. I am the proud g-ma of Weaver Middle School's ace quarterback. Olivia and I love to cook together so this visit gave us ample time to create new recipes. She had made a lasagne using zucchini strips as the noodles which we had for dinner one night. Yummy! Olivia has become an accomplished cook at the tender age of 16. Another night we made home made flour tortillas from my old friend, Juanita's, recipe and had tacos for dinner. Max, hungry after football practice, chowed down on three of them! Olivia and I also had a chance to make roasted red pepper/three cheese ravioli, using the pasta making kit I got her for her birthday. Rich joined us on Saturday night for take out pizza night.
Max and Olivia clowning around on their trip to Paris this summer.
I always have such a good time staying with the kids. The only thing missing is my youngest granddaughter, Zaidee, who is out in Portland so far away.

I awoke on Sunday morning, the day that Amy and Steve were to be returning, turned on the morning news and heard that there had been a destructive, 6.something earthquake in Napa where they had been staying! I immediately texted Amy asking if they were ok. For the next two hours I worried and watched the TV waiting to hear from them. When Amy finally replied, she informed me that they had moved to a hotel that was closer to the airport the night before. Whew! What a relief. Even so, she told me, the quake woke them up at 3:20 a.m. but there was no destruction in their area. 

I returned home on Sunday evening and spent the next day washing, ironing, cleaning, and generally catching up on work that I had neglected while I was gone. I was able to freeze some green beans from my in-laws' garden; and roast and freeze some Roma tomatoes from our garden. The four Roma plants and one Better Boy that were the only things in the garden this year, are still yielding about 1/2 peck a day of fruit that I am freezing.

As a matter of fact, I roasted more tomatoes yesterday and have a couple of trays of tomatoes in the oven today. It's so much easier than juicing or saucing and then freezing tomatoes, like I used to do before my doctor Amy, an avid gardener and gourmet cook, told me about this easy trick. All you do is halve the tomatoes, sprinkle with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, and pop them into a 375 degree oven for about an hour or until they start to caramelize. Then cool them to room temperature, bag them in freezer bags and freeze. All winter long I have roasted tomatoes for making marinara sauce or for using in soups and stews. Easy peasy!

Now and for the next two or three weeks, I am staying pretty much close to home, since our Mango is due to have her first cria. If you remember, Mango, named by our granddaughter, Olivia, came to us as a six month old cria with her mother, Took, a couple of years ago. Last September she took a short journey south to be bred to Grass Run Alpaca's Black Night. Their female, Lacy, who had also been mated with Black Night a little earlier, had a beautiful brown, female cria last month just before the Crawford County fair. We have high hopes for Mango's little one. 

Mango's sides have been noticeably swelling for the past month. Since alpacas are pregnant for 11-1/2 months (give or take a week or so) they don't really show much until the end of the term. This week her bag has been slightly swelling with milk and her sides are twitching with the movement of the cria. Mango is also laying around more than she usually does and often lays with her back legs to one side to alleviate the pressure a bit. I check her regularly when I am home, peeking out the back windows that overlook the pasture and often walking out there just to have a little talk with her about how much we want a little girl. Mango is serenely unconcerned with my requests and just keeps munching on the green grass. Who knows? Maybe my next post will have a picture of the newest member of our herd family.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Two days, two visits!

Every Sunday I check my calendar for the week to see what appointments or engagements I have lined up. This past Sunday morning my week looked wide open and frankly pretty dull. It's funny how quickly things can change. Sunday evening I got a message from my dear friend, Athena, that she would be having grand children on Monday and would I mind if she brought them over to see the alpacas. I was so pleased to hear from her and, of course, I love to have the opportunity to show off the animals to little kids. So late Monday morning, Athena, pulled into the driveway loaded down with three kids and a large bag of produce from her garden.

Athena's grandson, Joel, and her granddaughters, Caroline and Molly, are such sweet  and well behaved children. All three were curious about our little shop and the animals. Of course, the two little alpaca boys did  not disappoint. They always put on a good show. Caroline, the middle child, immediately took to the animals and was very comfortable around them. Little Molly, the youngest, liked the alpacas but with a two-year-old's attention span, didn't focus long on any single animal, but was curiously wandering all over the barn yard.

Joel freely admitted that he preferred cats to larger animals and was a bit hesitant to feed Brutus and Asterius. Once he became a bit more comfortable around the alpacas we did convince him to extend a hand to feed Brutus long enough for me to get a picture!

Athena took far better pictures than I and has them posted on Facebook. Since she tagged me in them you can view most of them on my page.

The only problem with our visit is the same one we always have. Our visits are infrequent and don't ever seem to last long enough. (Yes, I know you are reading this, Athena!) But when it's nearing lunch time and you have three kids clamoring for lunch at McDonald's adult conversation, of necessity, gets put off for a later time. I so enjoyed our time together and I am also enjoying the fresh produce. The banana peppers got sliced into pickling brine that same afternoon.

This afternoon I was working in the store, painting an "Alpacas for Sale" sign and applying price tags to the last batch of yarn, when I got a phone call from one of my favorite former students, Austin. He and his friend, Maddy, another favorite of mine, wanted to stop out for a visit. I must confess I was so pleased to hear from these two and have been hoping to see them again soon. 

They got to see the alpacas for the first time.

I showed them around our little store and then we sat out on the front porch of the store to catch up on all that they have been doing for the past three years. I had them in my class for seventh grade and of course saw them every day for the following year when they were in the same school as eighth graders. Other than following them on Facebook, I hadn't had the opportunity to sit down and talk for the past two years. Both have matured so much in the interim and are just ready to begin their junior year. We chatted outside for an hour and had to move to the house when the wind picked up. It has been raining off and on for the past two days and looked like it might begin again.

Inside, our conversation moved on to other kids in their class that I knew and have taught. We talked about current events and the fact that Robin Williams had died yesterday. That prompted them to recall the last day of school, after I had shown the movie, Dead Poet's Society, when they all stood on their desks as a final salute to me. One of the few times that students have moved me to tears. From there we discussed their summer reading program and other literature that we had read. They recommended two books to me which I have put on my Nook "wish list" and will read later. It was such a pleasure to hear their points of view on life and literature. The kids and the discussions are what I miss most about teaching.

They departed after a two hour visit with an open invitation to return any time and bring some of the old gang along. This was a group of kids that I remember fondly and have been keeping tabs on from afar because I know that many of them will go out into the world and do good things.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ahhh! August!

When I was a city girl I used to dread the approach of August each year. Those who know me well, know that, unlike my two remaining siblings, I am not a fan of hot weather. August in the city meant extreme heat, high humidity and dust. Lots of dust. The heat waves were visible as they radiated from the streets and parking lots. I really, really, really didn't have much use for August. So, last weekend it was an unusual occurrence when Rich and I drove down to attend the Dublin Irish Festival with our daughter, Amy, son-in-law, Steve and granddaughter, Olivia. (Grandson, Max had a more important party to attend.) It turned out to be a great way to kick off August; with good food, drinks and lots of Irish music and dancing!

I learned to appreciate the beauties of August only after I had lived in the country for a few years. We still have heat and humidity and lots of dust. It's just that it seems softer somehow, because of the miles and miles of green surrounding us. In the country, August is one lane roads, winding like corridors between high green walls of cornstalks. August is lush, verdant fields carpeted with perfectly even crops of soybeans. August is Queen Anne's Lace ruffling the ditches alongside the roads and cheerful, golden clumps of Black Eyed Susans in nearly every one's yard.

August is colorful banners of laundry, hung out in the breeze to dry. August is the local buzzard colony soaring high above as the normally ugly birds are transformed by their graceful dance on the thermal air currents. August is the first juicy, ripe red tomatoes plucked from the vine and sliced onto a BLT or into a salad for dinner on the same evening. August is fresh produce from the garden or the local farmer's market turned into some new recipe or steaming up the kitchen as it is frozen or canned to serve later on a cold winter night. August is plump red and purple berries and fuzzy peaches to eat fresh or make into jam. August is a fridge full of over sized zucchinis, gifts from friends (you never have to plant it yourself!).

I've learned to appreciate August in my almost fourteen years of living in the middle of northern Ohio farm country. It's still hot and really dusty sometimes but that's the trade off one makes for being surrounded by all of this natural and serene beauty.

August here on Buckeye Star Alpaca Farm is amusing and unique as well as beautiful. Each day I am so lucky to be able to observe our herd family basking in the sun, kushing in front of the barn fans and dipping their feet into the tubs of cool water that we put out for them on hot days. Since we breed our animals in late summer or early fall, and they are pregnant for 11-1/2 months or so, I can also begin to observe vague signs of the impending birth as our girls' bellies increase almost imperceptibly. Any alpaca breeder can tell you that these mamas hardly show until maybe the last month. Our Mango is due to have her first cria in mid-September. Because it is her first, her belly actually looks a bit larger and sometimes, if you look closely at her left side, you can see jerky, irregular movements that are definitely not her breathing. Our lovely brown Leezza, if she is pregnant, won't show until late October as she was bred in November last year. Pregnant 'pacas make late summer on the farm a bit more exciting as we look forward to the adorable new crias they're expecting.

Friday, July 25, 2014

July in Ohio!

Just a week ago the temperatures hit 90 degrees with the humidity numbers right up there, too. This is typical for July in Ohio. Rich put out the tub of cool water in the girl's pasture and they immediately jockeyed for position to be the first to take a dip.

Leezza won the rights to the first dip, and stepped her front quarters into the tub. But our old mama Took soon let Leezza know that age comes before youth. Leezza quickly ceded her place to Took. Mango, in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was content to lay in the mud puddle outside the tub.

Then on the very hottest day, my friend Rosalie brought her two darling granddaughters out for a farm visit. They came out in the evening after dinner in the hope that it would be a bit cooler. Not so much. Even so, the alpacas put on a good show for the girls. Our little "boys," Asterius and Brutus rarely disappoint our visitors because their curiosity overrides their innate timidity. Once the boys realized that these charming children held out handfuls of sweet feed the alpacas threw out all caution.

Rosalie was also delighted when  Brutus and Asterius realized that she had the container of sweet feed and they decided to be her best friend, too.

Ultimately both of the human kids earned the trust of the alpaca kids and were rewarded with "kisses."

As their visit came to an end I suggested that they visit our local soft serve ice cream place to cool off. I warned them that, unless they have a voracious appetite for ice cream, they should order a small cone. Bloomville for Ice Cream as this little place is called, is known for their giant servings which often surprise the unsuspecting newbie. Later, Rosalie sent me this picture of the girls with their medium sized cones.

Almost as big as the girls themselves!

In an earlier post when the strawberries were ripe and I was making jam, I mentioned that my jammin' partner, Olivia, was traveling in Europe this year and would miss the season. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to freeze several quarts of berries for use at a later date. When Olivia returned I got a text from her wanting to know when we could make jam. The following weekend she came up to stay and we made a batch of strawberry jam and another of raspberry. All is right with the world and g-ma is happy when she makes jam with Olivia.

Olivia having a little fun with Asterius and Brutus

Remember when I said that the temperatures for Rosalie's farm visit topped off in the low 90s? Well, that was the last really hot day. The very next day a cold front went through and the temps dropped to the 70s. This morning when I got up the thermometer reading was 50 degrees! In July! Normally the hottest month of the year in these parts. The skies are blue and there's a gentle breeze. Perfect weather for a heat intolerant person like me. Also perfect weather for jam making, and that's what I did. I made a batch of the best blueberry jam in the world, if I do say so myself. And now, I think I'll treat myself to a piece of toast with warm blueberry jam.