Monday, November 23, 2015

A Thanksgiving Wish

I was gently reminded by one of my regular readers at a party recently that I had not written anything for quite a while. I had intended to sit down the next day and write something. The next day when I opened the blog to write I sat staring at the blank screen as if in a coma. No, I didn't have writer's block to blame. I wish I did. It would have been preferable to the depressing paralysis that I have been going through since the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, that fairy-tale-like city that young girls dream of visiting to find romance. "April in Paris," An American In Paris, Evening in Paris...songs, movies and even perfumes named after the iconic City of Lights. People aren't supposed to be murdered as they socialize with friends in a local cafe, cheer on their favorite soccer team or rock band. I'm not a philosopher or even a social commentator; just a city girl transplanted to an alpaca farm in the country. Like most of you I have had a lot of trouble processing this awful time. Then about the time I decided to just turn off the news, along came another attack; this one in a hotel in Mali. I don't know how to process all of this violence and hatred. I wish I could offer some sage advice on how to deal with it. I can't. I've gotten over my first fearful reaction and have decided to choose to live my life just as I always have. I'll go to malls, travel, go to a show if I feel like it. I'll try not to look suspiciously at anyone who may look or sound differently than I do. I'll do my best to be happy and to do what I can to help those around me be happy, too. We all learned to deal with the changes since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. We'll learn to deal with this new type of terrorism, too. But wouldn't it be so much nicer if we all just got along? I wish, I wish...

I'll leave you with a more serene image. One that I'm am so lucky to have in my own back yard.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Diagnosis

When I received the promised call from Dr. Sabrina late this morning we decided that she should come on out and do a more extensive exam of Took. Rich and I were so sure that Took had a baby in there since she had not only spent a couple of days last month showing signs of  pre-labor stress, but she also violently reacted to Nikko when we put her into his pen a couple of weeks ago. Spit tests are usually accurate in about 80% of cases and have, in the past, been accurate for Took in particular. We watched our Took closely since last Thursday when the vet injected her with a medication that would induce labor and cause her to expel what we suspected to be a dead cria. When she didn't we were worried that she may have a torsion of her uterus which would require expensive and delicate surgery.

Dr. Sabrina, who is a very competent young veterinarian I might add, came out this afternoon and gave Took a mild sedation. Dr. S. set up her ultra sound machine while we waited for the drugs to take effect. Took was absolutely comical, staggering slowly around the barn where I had confined her. Her eyes glazed over and she swayed slightly with each step. She looked like she had been on a bit of a bender!

I held Took, bracing her between the feed trough and myself while Dr. Sabrina shaved a small spot of fleece off of Took's underside in order to provide a clearer picture on the ultra sound. Left side first, then right. Nothing unusual. The vet did a very thorough internal ultra sound next, zeroing in on the uterus and ovaries.

After the ultra sound Dr. Sabrina rolled up one sleeve of her shirt and pulled on the longest latex glove I have ever seen. I knew that what came next would not be pleasant. And it wasn't. Because of the sedative, Took had been extremely cooperative throughout the exam. She exacted a quiet revenge at this point in the exam. Luckily alpaca poo is in the form of "beans" and not the consistency of cow poo.

Dr. S. was able to feel a normal, compact uterus. The final diagnosis is that Took is not pregnant; is perfectly healthy, if a bit overweight; and is ready to be bred again.

Before she left, Dr. Sabrina helped me catch both Dio and Mocha in order to draw a blood sample for each of them. This is required by the ARI in order to register our animals. I'll send the blood cards off tomorrow.

I kept Took confined to the barn until after dinner this evening just to be sure that the sedative had worn off completely. When we released her she joined Mango and little Dio in the pasture where all three turned their backs to us in what I could have sworn was a show of disdain. An alpaca mooning, if you will.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Waiting (not so) Patiently.

Our Took has been pregnant for one year and eleven days as of today. I have been increasingly more worried about her even though she hasn't shown any signs of distress and when we put her in with Nikko last week she violently rejected him, indicating that she is still pregnant. I had called the vet on Monday and she advised me to wait until the end of the week. I haven't seen any signs of activity by the cria in almost two weeks so the vet came out this morning around 10 a.m.

I harnessed up Took and held her while Dr. Sabrina checked her temperature and did an exterior ultrasound. The imaging showed a fetus in there but it was difficult to determine if there was a heartbeat. After some deliberation in which Dr. Sabrina put forth my options I made the decision to go ahead and try to induce labor, with the understanding that we may have a stillborn cria. At this point I just don't want to have to put another mama down because the cria inside has gone toxic and infected her.

Dr. S said to give it 24 hours and then to call if nothing has happened by tomorrow morning. I have been checking Took every hour on the hour since then and four-and-a-half hours later  she is still peacefully munching hay in the barn or hanging out in the barnyard. She doesn't seem to be distressed in any way. I wish I could say the same for me.

Our friends Lisa and Darren were down after school yesterday to visit little Dionysus. The little guy is growing like a bad weed. When Darren, a high school freshman, who is much younger and stronger than I, is handy I have him pick up little Dio and step on the scale with him. As of yesterday afternoon, Dio is 45.5 pounds! The little man is still nursing frequently in addition to grazing in the pasture and chomping hay in the barn. The frisky little guy is always jumping on his mama, Mango, and grandma Took. Mango is a patient mother but Took air spits and air kicks at him to warn him off. As pregnant as she is it's no wonder that Took is a bit testy.

I'm still taking pictures with my cell phone since no one has found the camera that I lost at the Garlo Octoberfest. I guess it's about time to start checking out new cameras.

Check back her or on our Buckeye Star Alpacas Facebook page for updates on Took.

Friday, September 25, 2015

It's Open House Time Again!

Mango's new little guy found out early that he could run and has been working on improving his speed each day. I managed to catch him in the act this afternoon. After several missed attempts to get an action shot while he was circling the pasture, I figured out that if I aimed my camera at the corner where he had to slow down a bit to make the turn, then I could snap him in the air. He runs, leaps and pronks from the barn to the pasture, around it and back again. He repeats this route until he tires of the game and then goes over to his mama for a little sustenance and then a nap afterward.

I can only hope he repeats this performance for our guests at the Open House this weekend. Remember to pile in your car and vans or hop on your Harleys (you know who I mean) and get on out here Saturday or Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. We are also having three or maybe four beautiful young assistants to help with activities for the kids this year. Our lovely granddaughter, Olivia, her BFF and "other" granddaughter, Savannah, and a couple of her other besties (Kelley, Libby, Kristina; I'm not sure which) are coming up to assist. We have a few activities scheduled for the little ones. We also have cider and donuts for everyone and alpaca cookies for the little kids. As usual, Nikko will be giving out free kisses!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mango Did It Again!

And by it I mean, she not only had another boy, but she also had him a mere 30 minutes after I had checked on her and found her peacefully grazing. I was only on the other side of the barn in the store working on a painting project, too! Darn. I still haven't seen an actual birth.

While the odds were in our favor to have a girl, since the other three babies born on the farm have been boys, we are still thrilled to have a lively, healthy little boy. This one has the longest legs that I have ever seen on a cria, which probably explains why Mango stuck out so far on each side of her belly. This new little guy began nursing just minutes after I had picked him up to determine his gender and dip his naval in some iodine to prevent infection. I no sooner put him back down than he ducked under his anxiously waiting mama to begin nursing.

Mango tolerated this for a while but as soon as he let go she began grazing herself. The poor girl seems to be starving. A bit later I will go out and give her a special treat as a reward for her good work.

This is just another added attraction for our fall open house during National Alpaca Farm Days on September 26th and 27th. Be sure to come on out and see this new little one. We will be open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Yesterday I made a road trip with my friend, Rhonda, down to a new fiber mill in Somerville, Ohio. America's Natural Fiberworks. Carrie and Robbie, who also own a herd of alpacas and some sheep, were so helpful and showed us around their operations. They are going to turn some fleece that was given to me by another herd owner into lovely alpaca rug yarn and lopi. I have completely sold out of my 2014 and 2015 rug yarn and last years lopi bulky. The samples of their yarns and felt sheets were so lovely. I can hardly wait until mine is done. I have already booked a  spot for next year's fleece crop since they are so busy.

I have been wanting to try my hand at dying some of the white yarn that I have in stock. Last year I had an abundance of white worsted so I pulled five 250 yard skeins from my stock and brought them in. My plan was to dye them a light orange but after reading the dye instructions I was afraid that I had too much yarn in the pot for the amount of dye called for. So, of course, I dumped a bit more in the mix. It soon became apparent that I had perhaps overdone. The yarn just kept getting darker and darker. When the process was finally done I ended up with a flaming red-orange yarn. It's not the light orange that I had planned on but since it perfectly matches my crop of fresh tomatoes and the salsa I made from them....

I'm debating about whether to call the yarn "Summer Tomato" or maybe "Salsa." What do you think?

Another reminder, come on out to see us during National Alpaca Farm Days, on September 26th and 27th.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pregnant Alpacas and Tomatoes Everywhere!

Where, oh, where did that lovely temperate weather of last week go? I loved it when it was in the high 70's with low humidity and blue, blue skies. I should have known that when the kids went back to school the hot, humid, summer weather would return. The great thing for my old colleagues this year is that the new school has finally opened and it is air conditioned. I'm happy for them.

Out here on the farm I feel awful for our pregnant girls. Mango and Took are hugely pregnant and suffering in this heat. They spend most of their days in the shade of the barn, sprawled out in front of the large barn fan, and I don't blame them. They just don't feel appearing in the pasture for my entertainment! Leezza, who is due three weeks after them is not as big and I'm starting to fear that she may have lost her baby. If she did then this will be the second year in a row that we thought she was pregnant and were disappointed. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

We turn on the sprinklers in the evening close to sundown and the animals seek relief by splashing around and laying right down on them. When Mango lays down on a sprinkler you can see her belly spreading around her. She and Took jockey for the prime spot where the sprinkler will hit their chest and under carriage.

Next week I will need to cancel any of my activities that would normally take me away from home and begin my "baby watch." Alpacas are pregnant for 11 1/2 months, give or take a week or two, and Mango, especially, looks like she should pop any time now.

I have finally finished the lovely, creamy, white, over sized scarf that I was making for myself out of the DK yarn from Mango's baby fleece.  I used the Misti Diagonal Rib Shawl, pattern by Sue Conway from and added a picot edging. It is so soft and warm and I really am looking forward to cooler weather so that I can try it out. Most of my knitting projects are made for other people so it's nice to have one for myself.

The other day I began and am now over half finished with a lovely cowl Christmas gift project that will keep someone's neck warm when the January winds start to blow. This project is knitted up in the Heathered Mulberry worsted weight yarn that I had made from some of the white fleece from this year's shearing. Morning Star blended it for me with some pre-dyed merino fleece in a mix of garnet and rose quartz. This is one of the best selling yarns at the Tiffin Farmer's Market where we have had a stand this summer. I also bring along my wheel and do spinning demonstrations. Be sure to come on out to the farmer's market to visit with us and buy your produce. The next one is on Saturday, September 12th.

We are also participating in National Alpaca Farm Days on September 26 and 27. The farm will be open to all visitors from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. those days. If you visit on those days the store will be open and visitors will be able to enter the pasture and have an up close and personal experience with the alpacas. If we are lucky, there should be a new cria or two to entertain the kids. Check our Buckeye Star Alpacas Facebook page for more information in the coming weeks.

Now that we have alpaca pastures, Rich no longer has a large garden. He just doesn't have the time for that type of gardening. So in addition to the strawberry patch out where the old sawmill used to be we just put in a couple of cabbage plants and a few tomato plants. This year we had taken out some really old shrubbery behind our deck and instead of replacing it, I suggested to Rich that "we" (meaning Rich) should put the tomato plants in there. It was a perfect spot for a raised bed. We had two early cabbages before the tomatoes took over the space.

We planted one Roma plant and four Better Boys. About a week ago they slowly started to ripen.

Then a few days ago I started to find myself inundated with tomatoes. I have roasted and frozen several bags of Romas and frozen several bags of whole, cored Better Boys to use in soups and stews this winter. I search every day for new ideas for tomato dishes to serve with dinner. We have had rustic tomato tarte, tomato margharita pizza, corn-black bean-tomato salad; and the list goes on. Today I took a stab at canned tomato salsa. I just threw chopped tomatoes, roasted anaheim chilis, chopped onions and a bunch of other "stuff" into the pot and then followed the instructions in the Ball cook book for canning tomatoes. It's not too bad for a first try and it's a pretty color.

I've even been using a bowl of plump, shiny tomatoes as a centerpiece on the kitchen table!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Crowded Pasture and One Un-Lucky Nikko!

Back on June first when it seemed like summer stretched endlessly before me, I felt like I had so much time to do all of the nice weather activities that I had planned. Then all of a sudden the back-to-school ads started appearing in the papers and on television and then today I got a catalog with Halloween decorations! As much as I love fall, I am not ready to leave summer behind.

On the plus side, I have completed quite a few warm weather tasks. I got much of the indoor painting completed and have done my second annual spinning demonstration at the Crawford County Fair alpaca show. That's a job that's not really a job. I love seeing so many 4-H girls and boys who are so enthused and dedicated to raising and showing alpacas. So many of them enjoy watching me turn the fleece into yarn; and I like to be able to show them that the beautiful fleece goes on to become something warm to wear.

The kids and alpacas parading into the show ring

Rich and I  also joined the local produce farmers at the Tiffin Farmers' Market on Saturday, July 25th. We had only signed up to do one Saturday just to test the waters and see whether our farm products would sell. We had such a great time and sold so much of our yarn and small wood products that Rich is going to be there again this Saturday! This market on August 8th is a big one because the Tiffin Art Guild has it's annual show on the old courthouse lawn at the same time. The hours have been extended to 9-4 because of the art show. Be sure to stop by and visit our booth and say, "Hi," to Rich.

Testing the layout of our booth in the woodshop

Yesterday, I hosted a group of women from the Findlay International Womens' Group, their children and my granddaughter, Olivia, and a few of her friends. In all, there were about 20 guests visiting the alpacas. My friend, Athena, had organized the event and had turned it into a pot luck. What an extraordinarily  yummy pot luck it was, too! We had everything from caprese salad, with tomatoes and fresh basil from Athena's garden, to home made sushi rolls that Yasuko made for us. There was a home made queso dip, chinese noodle salad, lamb meat loaf with Indian spices, American mac 'n cheese and potato salad, snickerdoodle cookies and ice cream. I have definitely got to get those recipes. Everyone left some of the leftovers for me so I didn't have to cook dinner for Rich and he got a gourmet meal anyway!

Crowded Pasture

The children had such a wonderful time with the alpacas and gave them so many alpaca treats that the animals eventually quit eating them. Alpacas, unlike humans, know when they have had enough! Nikko was very free with his alpaca kisses and gave as many as were asked for. He's always willing to spread the love around.




I did a quick weaving demonstration for my guests and they were able to see how I turn rags or alpaca rug yarn into lovely, useful throw rugs.

I had put out the corn hole game, sidewalk chalk, bubble blowing equipment and squirt guns for the kids to play with when they got bored with adult company. After lunch the littlest ones made good use of the squirt guns and bubble stuff. It was perfect weather for outdoor fun and great pictures.

Olivia has plans to bring her girlfriends back in a couple of months after the new babies are born and one of the girls asked to bring her grandparents up to see the herd. Of course, Rich and I love hosting visitors to the farm and are looking forward to their visit.

I have mentioned before that alpacas are pregnant for 11-1/2 months, give or take a week or two. They don't even look pregnant until the very end of their term. Well, our girls are looking really big in the past week or two. Took is due on September 20th and I have actually seen some pushing and pulsing in her belly area. One has to sit on the ground nearby and focus on the rear part of  her underbelly in order to be lucky enough to see anything...I know, picture this, right? But one evening I was leaning over to pick up something from the ground and thought I saw a motion. So I plopped down on the ground and stared for a few minutes and sure enough, "punch, poke, kick!" Tookie kicked with a back leg in the direction of the motion, clearly irritated with whatever it is in there that had interrupted her peaceful grazing.

Mango is due on September 29th and is beginning to be uncomfortable enough that she kushes with her back legs to the side instead of directly underneath her. She twists and turns those back legs constantly when she is kushing in the pasture. Both Mango and Took jostle each other trying to be the first one in the sprinkler in the evenings when Rich puts it in the pasture for them. In the picture, Took seems to be asking Mango, "When do I get a turn?"

We have moved Leezza into a separate pasture with Mango's baby, Mocha, in order to help him separate from his mama. He had self weaned several months ago but was still clinging to Mango's side too often. Since he hung out with Leezza when Mango wasn't near it seemed logical to pair the two of them in a pasture. I hated moving him but we had to break that bond before she gives birth to the new cria. Now we have some decisions to make about Mocha. He can't stay with Leezza indefinitely because she is due on October 9th. He is related to all of our females and Nikko isn't about to share a pasture with him or any other male. This means we need to sell or neuter Mocha or find pasture space for him to be alone. Is there anyone out there who would like to buy a beautiful, bay black yearling? It would be a shame to neuter him because he is a show quality animal. What a dilemma.

You know how I said that Nikko loves to spread the love around? Well last week our friends from Grass Run Alpacas, Myron and Rhonda, brought Lucky Charm, a lovely black alpaca with a cute white face up for a "date" with Nikko. He was eager to show her a good time and tried to "welcome" her to his barnyard. Poor Nikko! It turned out to be the date from...well, you know. Lucky Charm was having no part of it and she ran from him and spit in his face whenever he got near to her. It wasn't just a warning spit either. This was more than the "air spit" or the "grassy mouth spit." This was what I call the Category 3 spit that comes from the ruminant chamber of the alpaca gut, and boy is it stinky. She got him right in the face several times and he backed off to the opposite side of the pasture and wouldn't go near her.

Myron and Rhonda left Lucky Charm with us for a couple of days so that we could try to pair the two animals off again. No luck! On the second try when we put Nikko into the barnyard with her, he took one look at her and cowered at the opposite side of the yard. She spit anyway! When we opened his pasture gate he didn't waste any time going home. In short, Nikko "didn't get Lucky."