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."

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Happy Fourth-ish!

I know this is a day late but I want so share with you one of my favorite quotes. This one by Jack Kerouac, from On The Road, always comes to mind on the Fourth of July.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes, "Awww!"

This time of year always brings out that kind of madness in all of us here in Ohio, I think. The weather is finally warm, school is out, it's time for many of us to go on vacation or just sit out on our own decks, enjoying nature. In short, I want to enjoy every new experience that comes my way; every old familiar experience, too, for that matter. Sometimes that enjoyment comes in the form of travel and sometimes it means just sitting  on my own deck with a good book.

The alpacas are reveling in this moderate sunny weather. I look out the back door and often see them lazing in the pasture, sprawled out on their sides rolling in the dust and basking in the sun.

Another reason that I love this time of year is...Jam Time! 

I had already made one batch of strawberry jam by myself before my assistant and granddaughter, Olivia, came up to help with the second one. This year we added a new trainee to the jam kitchen. My niece's daughter, Riley, (that makes me a great-aunt, but I prefer to think of myself as a Great Aunt) worked in the kitchen making her first ever strawberry jam.

Olivia, who is driving now and has her own car, brought Riley up. Riley was staying the week; Olivia stayed the day. I consider myself a very fortunate g-ma since my almost seventeen-year-old granddaughter still wants to visit and make jam with me. The two girls picked strawberries and we cleaned them and made another batch of jam. You can never have too much strawberry jam.

After the jam, and before supper time, just to stave off boredom, Olivia and Riley made fresh strawberry muffins. After a supper of homemade macaroni and cheese with smoked sausage, Olivia set off for home and Riley, Rich and I settled in for the evening with our books and newspapers.

Riley, a city girl, spent the week with us here on the Buckeye Star Alpaca farm. When I wasn't teaching her to knit or making her help with gardening chores like dead heading the iris plants, she spent a lot of time outside playing ball with Callie. The poor dog was completely worn out each evening and has never slept better in her life.

I think the activity that Riley enjoyed most of all was walking the alpacas. Rich and I  harnessed them up two at a time and walked them around the yard. We took this opportunity to snap current pictures of the animals and after the picture taking, Riley got to walk an alpaca for the very first time. She was thrilled. At the end of the week when I asked her what she might want to be when she grows up, without hesitation she replied, "An alpaca farmer!"

Thursday, June 4, 2015

New Yarns and Spring Time!

Since my last post on May 1, the rest of the month just flew by and blogging got lost in the craziness. Brutus and Asterius left us to go live in a new home and from what I've seen on Face Book, they are adjusting very well to their new pasture. We still miss them because they were always so entertaining as only young alpacas can be. But now they are neck wrestling and chest butting and entertaining their new family. I feel confident that we sold them to the right person.

Earlier this month I was so privileged to be able to visit my daughter and grandkids in Columbus, (their dad was out of town) on the weekend that Olivia went to her first prom. Watching her get her hair and make-up done as she prepped for her date was so reminiscent of the days when her mom, Amy, and her Aunt Susie went to dances. As a proud grandma and admittedly biased, I've got to say that Olivia was absolutely beautiful. You be the judge...

After that event it seemed that we were spending so much time working on getting the lawn and garden in shape in between cold and/or windy days. It looks pretty good right now. Then later in the month we attended my grandson, Max's, confirmation party. Again, biased, but he is as handsome as his sister is beautiful. When did that cranky little boy turn into such a genial, sociable teenager? He's the one in the middle between us and his Colorado grandparents.

This past weekend I received my 2015 yarns from Morning Star Fiber Mill where I have had the fleeces processed the past two years. They are absolutely beautiful! This year I had everything processed into either worsted weight or rug yarns. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon working out in my shop/weaving studio pricing the yarn and re-working the yarn display.

I had the mill combine the fleece from the white animals: Took, Mango and Nikko, and then divide it and combine with some pre-dyed merino for some lovely colors. Half was combined with rose quartz and garnet merino to make our Heathered Mulberry worsted yarn. The other half was combined with turquoise and emerald merino to make our Heathered Sea Spray. Both are lovely.

 Brutus and Leezza, our dark brown animals, were combined and a touch of the turquoise merino was added to make what I have called Baltic Brown/Blue. It is perhaps my favorite and I knitted up a swatch the day I received the yarn. It is a lovely deep brown with unexpected flecks of turquoise. It reminded me of the moody hues of an angry, winter ocean.

The fourth worsted yarn is a super soft 100% baby alpaca Heathered Gray. I had baby Mocha's fleece combined with Asterius (he was sheared before he left our farm) for an exceptionally soft  yarn that will be suitable for baby clothing or anything worn next to the skin. It's a lovely dark heather gray color and I want to knit something with this one. Who am I kidding? I want to knit something with every one of my yarns. Rich is constantly reminding me that the purpose of having these yarns made is to SELL them and not to try to see if I can knit them all myself. They are all for sale in our actual store out here on the farm and in our Etsy store.

Our rug yarn this year is a combination of all of our animals and is variegated black-to-brown-to-white, and should work up into lovely woven throw rugs. There are only four 150 yard bumps so they should sell out fast like last year's rug yarn.

Spring finally seems to be here to stay and the animals are all enjoying the sunshine and new grass in the pasture. I often look out there to see them stretched out on their sides basking in the sun. I remember the first time I saw Took do that and how still she was. I was afraid that she had died! I went rushing out to check her and she slowly lifted just her head and looked at me over her shoulder. She seemed almost resentful that I had disturbed her sleep!

Little Mocha is growing like a weed and has finally learned to take the apple flavored treats from Rich's hand. They are shaped like an apple slice, are solid like a dog biscuit and a bit large for his little mouth. We break them in half so they fit in his mouth. Now that he has acquired a taste for them he often pushes to the head of the line to get his treat first!

Today the doors and windows are open and I can hear the birds singing outside. Now that I have finished with all of the busy work of managing the herd and the Etsy store I think that I will go out to the store this afternoon and weave some rugs or maybe just sit on the porch and read a good book. Don't 'cha just love springtime?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bitter and Sweet

Asterius and Brutus, our two star attractions when visitors come to the farm, will be leaving us tomorrow. Although I knew someday this would happen, I get tears in my eyes when I think about it. They were our first born-on-the-farm crias and have been a big hit with everyone. These two little guys rush to the fence every time a vehicle turns into the driveway and always have a "nose kiss" ready for anyone willing to lean over and receive it from them

Asterius was born on August 8, 2013 to Our Peruvian Took, otherwise known as Tookie, one of the first alpacas that we purchased to begin our herd. His arrival came as a surprise to Rich and I because we didn't really expect him for a couple of more weeks. After a Sunday excursion with two of Rich's brothers and their wives, we returned home to see our three females surrounding a tiny mound of wet, white cria in their pasture!

Asterius was such a scrawny, leggy little thing that it is difficult to match that up with the sturdy, ultra-fluffy guy he is now. The first week after his birth we had to bottle feed him because his mama, Took, had a minor clog in her plumbing. Rich would hold Asterius on his lap while I fed him the bottle and his mama stood nearby making that particular clicking noise in her throat that helps the cria identify  their parent.

He was so tiny that even I could pick him up in my arms.

Brutus was born barely a month later on September 5, 2013, to another of our foundation herd members, Firenze. Firenze, a beautiful black and very regal animal, was a slightly older animal with a history of being a good mama. The day Brutus was born I had returned from teaching a class at a nearby university as usual. Knowing that Firenze was due any time, I checked out the pasture behind the house where we had our mamas before going inside to change and grab some lunch. Firenze wasn't showing any signs of labor and seemed to be grazing calmly in the pasture. When I came back out on the deck about 45 minutes later she was still calmly grazing only there was what looked like a little brown pile of rags beside her!

Since this cria was born in Ohio at the beginning of football season, Rich felt that it was only logical to name him Brutus. Firenze, true to her reputation, was a good mama who was always nearby as her baby learned to navigate the pasture and stand up to the one month older and bigger, Asterius.

We noticed that Brutus began grazing in the grass and eating hay at the age of two months, while Asterius was still relying solely on his mother for his nutrition. We didn't think that this was strange because Brutus still nursed regularly, too. Firenze was still very thin but her health records showed that she always had trouble putting on weight after giving birth. Then one very cold January night when Brutus was only four months old, I found Firenze "down" in the barn. Even though the vet came out and administered a couple of shots out of desperation (ours) our beautiful, queen of the herd, Firenze died during the night. A necropsy showed that she had been sick for a very long time and the vet said that he was surprised that she even got pregnant, let alone carried a healthy baby full term. His nursing was probably just a comfort thing because Firenze's milk had clearly dried up. Firenze managed to stay alive until she was confident that Brutus could survive without her. Although small for his age, Brutus has no health problems and has thrived through it all.

So these two pasture mates who are, unfortunately related to all of our herd females and cannot be bred to them, had to be sold. I knew it was a part of being an alpaca owner and breeder and that selling them is the responsible thing to do. I've watched these two pasture buddies chase each other around the pasture, chest butting and neck wrestling. I've seen each spitting warnings at the other when they get irritated and want to be left alone. For the past 19 months they have entertained each other and entertained Rich and I and our visitors. They live just steps from my back door and I can see them when I look out of any of my back windows. When I return home and pull into my driveway they come to the fence to greet me. To say that I'm going to miss them is a massive understatement.

I've spoken to the new owner, Jennifer, who is an animal lover and excited to be adding them to her menagerie. She already has a few alpacas, a cow and other animals. I get a sense that she will love Asterius and Brutus as much as we do. She has promised to post pictures of them on her Facebook page so that I can be reassured that they are doing well. Even so, when we hand them over tomorrow morning I can't promise that I won't cry.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shearing Time Again

Rich and I looked forward to shearing day this year. Like last year we carted our animals in two separate loads, girls and Mocha first and boys second, down to Grass Run Alpacas where the shearing station was set up. Rhonda and Myron, owners of Grass Run, create a festive atmosphere for a long day of work. Their 4-H club members, who have animals at the farm, assist in the process where ever they are needed and Rhonda hosts a pot luck at the house for the workers and animal owners. This year, it also happened to fall on Rhonda's birthday which made it even more of a celebration.

Mary Jane Fox was doing the shearing this year and she is such a perfectionist that each animal came out looking as if they had spent a day at the spa. I prefer the rounded top-knot on their heads instead of the completely bald or Mohawk strip between their ears. Mary Jane not only sheared perfect little Afros, she also hand clipped with scissors in order to make sure that there were no stray locks sticking out!

Brutus getting his new hair-do!
The alpacas always look so naked after losing their winter fleece. It's difficult to tell Took from Mango, and Brutus from Asterius when they have lost their fleece. You wouldn't think that hair would give each one such a distinctive look but it does. After the process we are able to make a truer assessment of each alpaca's body score: for example, all winter long we suspected that Took was a little on the heavy side and that Mango was a bit thin. Now they they are virtually hairless, Mango looks lean but not too much so, and Took still looks chubby. Someone has been keeping the others away from the feeder until she gets more than her share!

Before shearing, each animal was given something to help them relax, making the whole process less stressful for them and for us. Mango, who was such a screecher and spitter last year, was so much more calm this year.  Little Mocha got his haircut first and Mango followed. She walked calmly to the shearing table and once her legs were tethered, she lay there quietly during her treatment.

Mango waiting her turn on the table. That's Mocha's sire in the background.

Rhonda takes over head holding duties while I snap pictures.

Rich helps the shearer lift each animal on to the table and maneuvers them as needed to reach each section to be sheared, while I hold the head and neck. Rhonda or someone else in the area takes over head holding duties while I take pictures or noodle the blanket fleece. Everyone in and around the barn pitches in and helps with all of the animals and the whole process went smoothly. 

The large plastic buckets, lined with trash bags, under the shearing table are color coded to hold different  sections of fleece as they come off of the animals. The blanket fleece is the part across their back from shoulder to tail. It's the best part of the fleece for yarn making because it is longer, finer and cleaner than any other part. That's the part that I "noodle" instead of collecting in a bucket. This entails shoving a plastic drop cloth under the side of the animal from shoulder to backside. As the shearer shaves it off, I gently lower the fleece as a single blanket onto the tarp. I then fold the plastic over the blanket and roll it up from the end like a sleeping bag. This makes it so easy for me to spread out on the floor when I get home and to further pick out any impurities that might be in it, thus reducing the amount of cleaning that the fleece has to go through at the mill. The shorter and dirtier cuts of fleece are used for making rug yarn or felting. That really dirty, matted stuff on their lower legs is discarded or sometimes used for compost.

One of the pictorial highlights of this visit to Grass Run Alpacas was that little Mocha man got to meet his papa, Black Night. Before shearing, Mocha appeared to be more brown than black in his body. Mary Jane told us that the brown tips were caused by the placental fluid and that his actual color at the roots was bay black. Once he lost that baby fleece and was walked to the fence near his papa, it was apparent that he is truly a bay black animal and looks very much like Black Night.

Mocha meeting his papa for the first time.

Asterius was the most chilled out of all of the herd when he was on the table. His head lolled back and he looked up to us out of eyes that looked like Kermit the Frog! I haven't weighed it yet, but it looked like he also won the prize for the most blanket fleece. His fleece was 6-8 inches long across his back. All I have left to do before I take the bags of fleece to the mill next week is to weigh each fleece and pull test samples from each blanket to do a rough estimation of the density, crimp and micron count (fine-ness) and record it in my files. I'll compare to last year's samples later when I have time to take a breath. Right now I am looking forward to the lovely new yarns and rovings that will be made for me at Morning Star Fiber Mill in Apple Creek.

Just chillin' out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Daffodils and The Queen

For a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that the Queen and I share a birthday, April is my favorite month. I love the milder temperatures and the smell of spring flowers and newly mowed lawns in the air. I can even deal with days like today which started out at 60 degrees and dropped suddenly with the high winds that blew rain in from the west. Out here in the country the farmers are already beginning to work the land in the drier pastures and my gardener friends have planted their cold weather crops like spinach, peas, onions and such. When I look out my front windows I can see the cheerful bobbing of the yellow daffodils that have finally blossomed. These sturdy flowers were already poking up through the last of the snow in March and don't seem to wither with the fluctuating temperatures of April.

This past weekend on Saturday I taught another basket making class over at The Art Junction in New Haven. We made a bread basket which is an intermediate skill level and of my four students only one had made a basket before. The students ranged in age from a fourth grader to a woman "of a certain age" like me and included one of my former 7th graders who is now a freshman. It was a diverse age group and we got along famously. I really enjoyed this class. 

Each one of their projects, made from the same pattern, resulted in a basket that was totally unique to each individual. Every time I teach a basket making class I am amazed at the resulting projects. Every basket maker puts her (or his) own special spin on the project making it a work of art. All four of my class members left with a bread basket that they were proud of and eager to take home and show their family members.

Shearing day is this Friday and the temperature is supposed to drop low enough later this week that we have overnight frost warnings from Wednesday through Sunday. The daytime highs will be warm enough for them but we may have to put a coat on little Mocha man. Though he doesn't look it with his full fleece, underneath it all he is still pretty small. I will post before and after pictures of all of the alpacas on Saturday. We are also opened on Saturday mornings for drop-in visitors if anyone wants to come out and see the "naked" animals. 

Each year when we bring them back from the shearing station and turn the alpacas loose into their pastures, they all go romping and pronking out into the grass and I'm sure it's because they feel so much lighter after all of that fleece is removed. Lately, our yearlings, Brutus and Asterius, have been feeling their oats and have been engaging in bouts of "neck wrestling" in their pasture. Once they are relieved of their heavy fleece, the two of them should be really feisty. I'm always amused by their antics. They run and pronk, chest butting each other as they pass by and circle around the pasture for another Pepe-le-Pew like pronk. If you want to see exactly what this behavior looks like just go to You.Tube and search for pronking alpacas. It always makes me laugh.

We took each of the animals for a walk one day last week when it was sunny. I always get a kick out of the double takes of people driving by when they see a fuzzy, Peruvian animal walking on a leash. Brutus, in particular, loves to walk on the lead. He's a cutie and perhaps my favorite of all the alpacas, mainly because, although he's mild mannered and very biddable, he is such a survivor, having lost his mama when he was only four months old. 

We walked Mocha for the first time, too. Rich took his mama, Mango, and walked her on the lead. She's an old hand at this and followed Rich right out of the gate without balking. Mocha, however, hung back and was very reluctant to leave the safety of the barnyard, understandable since it was his first time. Once he realized that Mango was leaving him he gave in and followed me out of the gate. Mocha kept "maa-ing," crying for his mama the whole time we were walking. Although he was clearly befuddled he kept following Rich and Mango all around the yard and back to the pasture. 

I don't expect that we will have any trouble getting him into the trailer this Friday when we take them for shearing. We take them in two loads, first Nikko, Asterius and Brutus and when they have been sheared we come back and take the girls and Mocha. Last year it went pretty smoothly and I'm looking forward to it again. Rich and I pitch in and help with our own animals and any others who need help. It's a long and arduous task but fun and very rewarding.

Just a reminder, we are gearing up for our spring open house on May 16th and 17th from 10-4 each day. See you then!