Friday, July 11, 2014

Our Little Boys Meet Some Cool Human Boys

 I was thrilled when a dear friend, Marilyn...also a retired teacher, contacted me the other day and wanted to bring her grandsons out sometime this week to visit the alpacas. We scheduled a farm visit for this morning and since it was a perfect 70 degree, very low humidity kind of summer day I decided to take Brigid, my spinning wheel, out to the front porch of our little store/studio to await their arrival. I am doing a spinning demonstration on Sunday afternoon for the 4-H alpaca group at the Crawford County Fair in Bucyrus, so I needed a little practice on the roving that was made from our little brown Brutus's first year fleece. It is so fine and soft, and it handles differently than the llama/merino blend that I have been working on.

After a half hour I had gotten a good feel for how the roving was going to spin up, when Marilyn and her husband, Greg, and their grandsons pulled up. Fortunately, everyone in the group were animal lovers because, Callie can be overwhelming when she is acting in her capacity as our formal greeter. Ethan, the younger brother, really took to Callie and showered her with lots of affection. Callie would have gone home with him if we had let her.

After a brief meeting with the females of the herd and a little background information about alpacas, we left the barn and went out to the little boy's pasture. The girls, Took, Leezza and Mango are a little backward with new visitors and tend to lag back. Mango's pregnancy is starting to show and she is more uncomfortable and tending to lay around more than usual. She is due in early September. Leezza should be due about two to three weeks later and is not showing yet. Asterius and Brutus, on the other hand, are always up for visitors especially those with handfuls of their favorite treat, sweet feed. Marilyn, Ethan, Jackson, the elder brother, and I all went into the pasture with the boys while Greg looked on. 

Without much hesitation, our little boys trotted up to the human boys to check them out.

The minute they realized that Jackson and Ethan had sweet feed to offer both Asterius and Brutus were eager to be friends.

Ethan got an alpaca "kiss" on the forehead from Asterius.

Asterius was apparently in a kissing kind of mood today because he also graced Jackson and Marilyn with kisses.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about owning these gentle, curious animals is the new friendships that we have made and the old friendships that have been strengthened by the farm visits. It's not an exaggeration when I say that I really love having people visit the farm to become acquainted with our little herd. I am so lucky to be able to hang out in the pasture and the shop with my guests and our alpacas.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Pasture Water Park!

With the temperatures in the high 80s and the humidity levels right up there with the temperatures, Rich and I decided that it was time to break out the sprinkler and the wading pool. Usually the pool is for Callie, the dog, but this year, since she spends most of her time inside with  me on super hot days, we transferred it to the pasture with the little boys, Asterius and Brutus. Since they were born in the fall last year they had not experienced the pasture "water park" features and it took them quite a while before they put their tootsies into the water. They spend several hours poking their noses into the sparkling, cool water.

They were using it as a giant water bowl! Though we sat out on the deck for a while watching them, they never dipped their feet in. They must have eventually discovered what to do because this morning the water level was down by half; there was dirt in the bottom; and there were little foot prints in the mud  around the outside of the pool!

Nikko got the sprinkler on his side of the fence first. As soon as Rich turned it on, Nikko had his nose in the spout of water, checking it out.

He pawed at the hose and sprinkler for a bit. At one point, he even flipped it over. Rich righted the sprinkler and Nikko quickly figured out that the water was very refreshing. He "bellied up" to the sprinkler and kushed down with his chest right over it. Callie, who had been sniffing around the pasture while Rich checked out the hay situation, hustled up to Nikko and stood there, nose to nose, both animals checking each other out.

Luckily I had the camera ready because this sort of situation doesn't last long. Callie cannot resist the urge to either bark or jump at the alpacas which sends them flying across the pasture. After just a few seconds of this, Callie lunged slightly and that was enough to send Nikko to the other side of the pasture until I ordered Callie out! Neither Callie nor the alpacas seem to be afraid of each other so I think that this has become some sort of game for them.

Rich switched the sprinkler to the girls side of the pasture to give them a turn in the water before we had to turn it off for the evening. Right away, Mango, who is pretty far along in her pregnancy, settled down over the sprinkler forcing her mama, Took, and her bff, Leezza, to watch on.

When Mango had cooled off sufficiently Took hovered around the sprinkler cooling off her feet. Took prefers to splash in the puddles that accumulate near the sprinkler than to lay down in it.

Leezza's turn was last. She splashed in the puddles, put her face in the fountain of water and then just stood cooling her toes off in the mud.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Sudden and Sad Ending

Our beautiful Marianna had to be put down this evening after trying valiantly for the past two days to deliver a cria with no success. The vet came out to examine her and determined that she had a torsion, or twisting, of the uterus. When he made contact with the cria there was no reaction from the baby. Because she was an older girl, thirteen, it was determined that it would be kindest not to put Marianna through a long trip to OSU Veterinary Hospital in Columbus and an emergency c-section. She is buried under the old maple tree out at the sawmill next to our beautiful Firenze's grave.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A New Member of the Herd and Some Possible Excitement!

I anticipated an exciting day yesterday, but today promises to be even more exciting...maybe. Earlier in the week Rich and I had made a little trip over to New Haven to visit Patrick at Glengary Alpaca Farm just to "take a look" at a pregnant black female that he wanted to sell to a good home. When Patrick and Robin had made an earlier visit to our farm to help us assess the quality of a few of our animals and advise us on the direction and goals of our operation, Patrick told us about this particular female, Marianna. We were politely interested and after much discussion, Rich and I thought we would just consider the purchase. Of course, once Rich saw her he fell in love with her much the same as he had with our dear departed, Firenze. That "hippy hair" topknot and the beautiful black fleece seems to be one of Rich's weaknesses. So yesterday morning we drove over to pick her up. 

Marianna, is about 12 years old and has beautiful, shiny, soft, and true black fleece. She has huge, sparkly, black eyes and a petite triangular face. Patrick was uncertain of her actual due date since he obtained her from another breeder who is downsizing; but based upon what facts he actually knew and an examination of her by a vet and his own extensive experience, Patrick felt that she would be due in late July. As we already have found out they can sometimes come earlier than their due date.Needless to say, Rich and I are excited to be expecting three crias in the late summer and early fall.

She was a bit reluctant to leave Glengary Alpaca Farm and balked at the gate when she saw the open trailer on the other side. Patrick, Rich and I naturally assumed that the hesitation was due to fear and we eventually coaxed and prodded her into the trailer.

At one point, Marianna even kushed in the field just short of the final gate...

We finally arrived at her new home and released her into the pasture, observing to see how the others would accept her into the herd. Of course Nikko was sooo happy to have a new girlfriend to add to his harem that he excitedly hopped his front legs onto the fence for a better look. Marianna quickly reacted with an air puff spit warning into his face and he backed off. The others gathered around for a closer look.

After the initial introduction the herd apparently decided that Marianna was ok and they all wandered out into the pasture to graze happily in the sunshine.

We also moved the two little boys, Asterius and Brutus, into their own pasture after they had gotten a chance to welcome Marianna. Asterius seems to be quite content there but little Brutus kept looking over the fence to the female pasture and making a little hummy whine. I think he misses his big sister, Mango, with whom he seems to have bonded with in recent weeks. This morning he is not so vocal and I think he will be over his loneliness soon. 

Last evening we hosted our friends, Karen and Dan, for a cookout and wine tasting on the deck. It was one of those perfectly sunny, just-right-temperature evenings that we get often enough in Ohio to make us love the place and forget the totally horrible winter that just passed. We always enjoy their company and we always enjoy introducing friends to our herd. We served simple hamburgers from the grill and lots of strawberries fresh-picked from the garden just that afternoon. A little cheese, a little wine, and chocolate covered strawberries for dessert. What could be better?

This would seem to be a perfect time to end my journal entry for the day. Just a wish for a happy Father's Day would be a perfect finish. However, an hour ago when Rich and I came out, intending to run into town to pick up lunch at KFC to take to his dad on Father's Day, I took my camera over to the pasture fence to snap a few pictures of Marianna, who was alone in the field at the time. As I observed her I noticed some odd behaviors. She was straining at the "poo pile" with no results and walking away with an odd stiffness in her back legs. She walked awkwardly over to the dust hole with her tail poked stiffly out behind her and I noticed that her female parts were greatly swollen. She pawed the dust pile and dropped down on her side and rolled then sat up with her rear legs to the side instead of kushed under. Overall she seemed very uncomfortable and for the last hour she keeps repeating this same strange behavior. I sent Rich off with my best wishes for his dad and decided to stay and observe Marianna because she is showing clear signs of labor and impending birth of a cria!

The poor girl keeps returning to the pile and nothing happens. She grazes a bit then rolls in the dust and lays down half on her side, occasionally giving a low distressed hum. Since our only two crias were born last fall with no visible advanced signs of labor, which sometimes happens, we have not ever been able to observe first hand the actual birth. Her health records show that Marianna is an afternoon birther, having delivered all past crias in the early afternoon. I am not going to miss this one so here I am, sitting in the shade on the deck, watching alpacas graze and blogging. 

P.S. I have also read that, like pregnant human females, alpaca females can exhibit signs of labor for hours then stop and not deliver for a couple of more weeks. Eh! Who knows.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Alpaca Kisses!

Last evening, just as Rich and I had settled in for the day, I heard tires crunching on the driveway. Rich got up to check it out and lo and behold, it was my friend, Nancy! She and her husband, Wade, had picked up their granddaughter, Haley, south of here and were headed up to their place at Lake Erie. She figured since they were passing so close to our house they would drop by to show Haley the alpacas. It was such a nice surprise!

Hayley is a lovely young lady who is even more beautiful in person than in her pictures which Nancy shares with our monthly gathering of girlfriends (WINOS: women in need of spirits). She had never seen alpacas up close and personal so last night she got the chance. I led her into the pasture and Rich got a scoop full of sweet feed for her to lure the animals closer; always a successful ploy. As Hayley held out a handful of sweetfeed the two little boys, Asterius and Brutus, were the first in line to nibble the sweet treat out of her hand.



The others weren't far behind.

Mango approaches and Nikko looks on from his pasture

They spent a happy half hour before they had to hit the road up to the lake and right before they left Hayley got a good bye kiss from always curious, Asterius.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The First Berries of the Season!

Callie and I took a short stroll out to the strawberry patch a few minutes ago, just to check out the situation.

Last week when we checked out the patch it was filled with thousands (hundreds?) of little green, rock hard, nuggets that seemed a long time away from becoming juicy ripe berries. After several days of sunshine and one or two of rain, like magic, this afternoon there was some red showing through the foliage.

The first few plants that I shoved aside revealed only half ripe berries. Hopeful but a little disappointing. I methodically worked my way through the patch from north to south, parting the leaves only to find more green nuggets and a few red and green bi-colored berries. My efforts were rewarded however, when I finally reached the few straggler plants at the south end of the patch. Bingo! Five big, shiny, red, juicy berries. Of course I had to snap a picture as proof because they weren't going to be around for long. I also texted a picture to Rich who is in a meeting today, because, like I said...proof. I may save him one or two but a strawberry lover like me can't  resist the first berries of the season.

As a city girl transplanted into the country I never cease to be amazed at the magic combination of a few seeds, some soil, rain and sunlight. It seems that the faeries must have something to do with turning these simple elements overnight into such perfect juicy treats. Strawberries have been my favorite things from my earliest memory.  My wonderful Greek, Grandpa Jimmy took me into the strawberry patch almost as soon as I could walk and let me pick and eat them straight from the garden.

Yep, that's me in the over-sized sunbonnet, eating strawberries with my papaw. And ever since that time, my favorite food has been strawberries and my favorite color has been red.

The only bitter sweet thing about the first crop of berries this year is that my beautiful granddaughter, Olivia, who usually makes strawberry jam with me, is in Germany having a big adventure. If you remember one of my posts from last June, you'll remember this picture of our "jam session." So, Olivia, if you read this, I will be freezing some of the berries so that we can make jam when you return.

And if there's any doubt in your mine that magical creatures like faeries and leprechauns had something to do with my five, lovely, ripe berries today, take a look at the beautiful rainbow that was in the sky over the garden last night!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Just Start Writing!"

"Just start writing! Say anything." The quotations marks are intentional because for almost 20 years that's what I told seventh graders almost every day when they whined that they didn't know what to write. That's how writers combat writer's block and that's what I have had for the past two weeks. So today, I write.

The weather has been so lovely after the unusually severe winter and late spring that we in Ohio (and almost everyone in the country) have experienced this year. When we released the alpaca mamas and little boys
from their confinement in the barnyard and out into the bigger grassy pasture they were almost ecstatic. They paused only slightly, gazing in wonder at green expanse before them and then set forth into the pasture proceeding to do what they do best, eating! It made me smile to see them so obviously happy.

Rich has been working on a short fence line to divide this larger pasture into two sections. This will enable us to move them from one side to another in order to allow the grass to recover a bit. It prevents "overgrazing" which can ruin a pasture for the season. He enjoys being out in the sunny pasture about as much as the animals do, even though it means physical labor. Rich is a bit of a workaholic (understatement) and has difficulty just sitting in the sun, like I do,  in order to enjoy it. I used to feel a bit guilty watching him work so hard until I realized that he enjoys it. So now, I just sit back and photograph him working while the animals play. It's always interesting, however, to see just what a "fashion icon" my husband can be when he is working...

At least his hat and shirt match and none of the colors clash. Not exactly sexy, but manly.

Last evening we were able to sit on the deck and sip some wine for the first time this season. Not exactly the most exciting way to spend a Friday night but certainly very relaxing; this is one of my guilty pleasures in life.

Rich, Callie, our dog, and I can frequently be found relaxing out there on summer evenings and his brother, Dan, often joins us when he has nothing else on his schedule. For some reason, watching alpacas play and graze in the field has a calming influence and just makes me smile.

Last week, the yarn from last year's fleece harvest was finally returned from the mill. I sent this to a mill, that shall remain nameless, because it was recommended by an alpaca breeder we met at a show last year. Her yarns looked lovely so on that basis I chose this particular mill. It took over nine months to receive our product. This year I decided to take my fleece to Morning Star Fiber Mill and did so on May 5th. Dave, from Morning Star e-mailed me with an invoice last week and when I talked to him on the phone he promised to have my yarns by the second week in June! Both are small, family-run businesses of the kind that we like to support whenever possible. I am so pleased with the service and frequent communications from Morning Star and am looking forward to picking up my yarns. It is worth a day trip to their mill store just to see the lovely types and colors of yarns, rovings and dyes that they have for sale. I am planning on dragging my friends along with me again since it also offers an opportunity to have lunch with my bff's and talk about solving all of the problems in the world today!

Lovely rug yarn made from Took and Firenze's second cuts.

Creamy, white and super soft, sport weight yarn made from Mango's baby fleece.

Super fine and silky soft, natural dark brown DK weight made from Leezza's second year fleece.

I have the yarns priced out and photographed. All that remains is to write the descriptions and post the yarns on my Etsy store, Buckeye Star Alpacas in order to begin making sales. All that's holding me back is that darn writer's block.