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.

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.