Saturday, August 31, 2013


This last week of August has been very hectic beginning with a fleece sorting class last Saturday and Sunday. I signed up months ago for this class and was eagerly looking forward to it. It was a bit of a hassle since I had to get up early and drive over an hour to get to Magical Farms where the class was held. Ruth Elvestad, of Olds College in Canada was the instructor. She has had 35 years of experience judging, handling and teaching about fiber and fleece. I came away from the two-day class with so much information and a lot more confidence when I look at and talk about fleece. Someday I want to take the next step up and become a certified fleece sorter.

I also met a group of talented, (knitters, weavers, spinners, etc.) like-minded women at the class. I so enjoyed talking with all of them. My two tablemates, Susan and Kathy, and I shared personal experiences and many laughs as we learned. One of the group members is collecting e-mail addresses and other information to compile a contact list for us. I look forward to receiving that so that I can follow up on the activities of some of the women and their farms.

On Monday of this week I began teaching a class at a local, small, private university. I am teaching a freshman level rhetoric and composition class and after only two days in class it has been an eye opener. So far, most of the young men and women in the class seem eager to learn. In spite of a few minor glitches, e.g. a computer that won't seem to connect with the overhead projector and students who misunderstood the syllabus, I think that the experience will be a positive one.

And now to the reason for the title, "Oops!"  After a month and upon closer inspection, it seems that the little girl cria, Asteri, is actually Asterius! Rich was working in the pasture earlier, filling water buckets, checking on our very pregnant Firenze, etc. He always likes to get up close and personal with the animals. Here he is having an up close and personal conversation the the females, Firenze, Mango, Took, and Leezza, and our little one.

Today he checked out Firenze and she is showing definite signs of the impending birth. However, according to all of the "experts" these signs could mean that she will give birth today, tomorrow or anytime in the next two weeks or so. Any of us who has ever been pregnant herself, understands this. Rich doesn't. Anyway, a short while ago, as we were sitting in our living room watching the Ohio State football game, Go Buckeyes!, Rich asked me if we were certain that Asteri was a girl. Huh? As the picture above shows, most of the time Asteri is right in your face because she is so curious. Today Rich got a little closer to her rear end than she usually allows and he saw what he thought might be the development of two very little essential male parts.

Curiosity got the better of me and I went out into the pasture to investigate for myself, an easy task this time since all of the girls were in their condo in front of the fan. As luck would have it, Mango and Leezza were in front and left immediately. Firenze was next in line and actually let me touch her side. Whatever is in there is very active. She left the building and Took and Asteri remained laying in front of the fan. Took reluctantly got up and sauntered outside leaving me with the little one. I cornered the baby and grabbed her around the neck with my left arm and lifted her tail with my right. Sure enough it seemed that the baby was developing two little noogies! I pulled her right leg aside to look closer underneath. I even had to run my hand along her undercarriage before I found the "other" nubbin. We had looked under her on the day of her birth and the umbilicus was "bloody" obvious but we hadn't seen or felt anything else. I guess we were so excited to have our first cria born on the farm that we just weren't as careful as we should have been and since then we just operated on the assumption that it was a she. Rich had picked the baby up frequently to weigh it but hadn't tipped it upside down to check closer. The cria was nursing and growing steadily and was nearly impossible to catch in the pasture. So it seems that Mango has a little brother. Asteri is  now Asterius, ruler of the stars.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Together Again

First, let me just say that I have been a monumental procrastinator this week when it comes to updating the blog. I had a deadline looming closer and closer as I prepared for a college class that I will be teaching for the first time and that seemed to consume all of my thoughts. I finally finished the prep yesterday and fired off a copy of my syllabus to the dean for inclusion into the files. So now I can concentrate on this.

Early Saturday afternoon, Rich and I went to the fair and spent several hours there talking to spectators and friends. We saw some of his work colleagues and many, many of my former students. I cannot count the number of times I heard my name shrieked across the fairgrounds or the number of hugs I handed out and received. It was so good to see the kids and I told Rich it was probably the last time I will ever be this popular! If any of them read this I want them to know that I expect great things out of them this year because I know they can.

By the time we left the fairgrounds on Saturday evening I think even Rich was filled to the brim with fair food and was satisfied until next year. We picked up Leezza and Mango early Sunday morning to bring them home. Since they had been gone, we had released Took and little Asteri into the west pasture to keep Firenze company. That's where we released Leezza and Mango when we got home.

They paused briefly at the sight of the tall grass that they had been missing at the fair and then rushed out into the midst of it and began grazing and rolling in it.

It didn't take long before  they realized that they were back home with their mama and little sister, Asteri. Leezza, Mango and Asteri have the same father; although Leezza has a different mother. So that makes them sisters. Mango was very curious about her little sister, Asteri, who has taken her  place with mama Took. They seem to have bonded and I often see Asteri following close behind Mango as she grazes.

All of the girls seem to have fallen into their old roles in the pasture. Firenze is still the uncontested queen of the pasture. Took is the patient, serene mama, looking after her little one. Mango is the curious one and Asteri seems to be following her example. Leezza is still the petite little ballerina, dancing through the pasture. One thing I have noticed is that all of the big girls are very protective of the little cria. At sundown, when Asteri ventures out into the pasture for her evening running and pronking session, if mama Took isn't with her, then Leezza or Mango is standing patiently by, watching over her. They all gather around her whenever the dog or strangers are at the fence.
The female members of the herd don't completely ignore our Nikko, though. Mango is still often drawn to his side of the fence to graze with him and every morning when we look outside upon waking, all of the girls are sleeping peacefully by the fence with Nikko on the opposite side. Then in the evening at sundown, when Asteri is frolicking, he joins her by running alongside when she is near the border fence of the two pastures. 

Firenze's belly is growing steadily and within the next three weeks or so we will have another addition to the herd. Rich and I are anxiously awaiting the new arrival.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fair Fun!

Rich and I skipped Tuesday and then went to the fair on Wednesday just to stand around and talk to passers by. We had such a good time talking to fair goers talking about our girls. Rich spent his time talking mostly to adults and left the little kids to me. The young children are fascinated with the strange, cuddly looking alpacas. Many of the kids were curious enough to offer sweet feed treats to Mango and Leezza from their hands and got all giggly when the girls breath and lips touched their hands. Some were just content with putting their nose to the fence for a closer look, like this cute little boy. Mango stared curiously back!

Most of the time Leezza and Mango lay contentedly in the sod covering the floor of the barn and chewed their cud.

I was so lucky to see many of my students from the past couple of years and some of my former colleagues. It's always satisfying for me to see how the "big kids" that I taught have grown and matured. So many of my students are 4-H'ers and were showing animals or other projects at the fair. One thing I like about the members of 4-H clubs is that they are always up for a challenge. Each year as they choose to work on new and different projects they learn skills that we cannot teach them in school. They also learn patience, persistence, focus and other qualities that will help them navigate through life.

Yesterday, after returning from an all day excursion to Amish country with my girlfriends I sat on the deck watching baby Asteri, Took, Firenze and Nikko as they grazed and played in the pasture. It was an idyllic end to a very pleasant day with the WINOS. (Women In Need Of Spirits)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pressley + Leezza = Success!

Last evening, after 24 hours of nervous anticipation; wondering whether Leezza and Mango were coping well at the fair, and hoping that Leezza wouldn't balk when Pressley put her through her paces during the judging, all of our anxiety was put to rest. Pressley, who is a seasoned veteran when it comes to 4-H competitions, competently led Leezza through the obstacle course and achieved a very high score for a first time alpaca competitor! With her mom, grandparents, aunts, cousins and Rich and I looking on, Pressley shut out all the noise and distractions of the surrounding fair grounds and won two trophies, one for the obstacle course and the other for showmanship.

Pressley was the only 4-H'er entered in the alpaca competition and you'd think that would be an automatic win. Not so. The judging is done using a point system where each element of the obstacle course is worth a number of points and the outcome is based upon the total number of points. The showmanship component points are earned based upon questioning by the judge about the technical aspects of caring for alpacas. Pressley excelled in both categories and Kevin, the judge,  praised her performance as, "exceptional for a first timer." He also felt that it would have been a good experience for her to have other 4-H'ers to compete against and that she still would have been a stand out in the field.

Rich and I felt that this entire experience was a great success and we both learned as much if not more than Pressley. The judges comments to the audience after the competition was finished gave us some valuable information about each of our animals. We learned that Leezza has an exceptional head configuration and a beautiful tail. We learned that although Mango's first fleece is very crimpy, Leezza's second fleece is finer.

As Rich and I talked over a dinner of "fair food" we both agreed that our anxiety had been unfounded and that this had been a valuable experience. Pressley is a great little show woman and has a knack for dealing with unpredictable animals like our alpacas. We would be honored  to work with her again in the future.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Take Me To The Fair!

Thanks to my brother, Jim, for making the awesome banner.

With a goal of leaving the farm at 7:30 this morning, Rich and I strode confidently to the pasture where he had the truck and horse trailer lined up at the gate. We've loaded the animals into the trailer before with no problem and were sure we wouldn't have any problems today. We easily cornered Leezza and Mango and haltered them up and led them to the gate. Mango has been a little difficult lately, kushing during training sessions when she didn't want to walk up the ramp or jump over the low bar. We've learned not to pull on the lead but to lure her with a scoop full of sweet feed. So today we were prepared with a scoop in hand and had every reason to believe that the process would go smoothly.

If there's one thing we've learned since the girls came to live with us in October, it's to expect the unexpected and today was no exception.  First, both Leezza and Mango refused to walk out of the gate. With a little coaxing and sweet talking, Leezza did walk hesitantly through the gate. I led her in a small circle through the familiar area where her practice course had been set up and then to the rear of the trailer. I would like to report that she hopped right in but that was not the case. She stopped short, her shins touching the rim of the trailer and refused to go any farther. I got into the trailer and tried to persuade her to follow. No such luck.

Meanwhile, Rich had lured Mango through the gate and up to the trailer beside Leezza. Mango, following Leezza's lead, also stopped short of jumping in. Both animals turned their heads and looked at each other nose to nose.

It was as if Mango was asking, "Are you going to get in there?"
Leezza seemed to reply, "No way!"
And I'm sure Mango said, "Me neither."

So there we were at 7:20 in a deadlock with two stubborn animals. Rich took Leezza and tried circling the area again. Approaching the trailer at a run, he hopped in and again, Leezza stopped short. All the while, I had been trying to lure Mango in with the scoop of sweet feed an inch from her reach. I'd let her have a mouthful and then slowly pull back the scoop, hoping to fool her into the trailer with me. At one point she even had one foot on the edge as if to come on in. But she didn't.

After 30 minutes, Rich, who was getting a bit impatient, to put it mildly, asked me to hold both leads. I did. He got out of the trailer and grasping Leezza around her chest behind her front legs, he hoisted her up into the trailer. Before she could react he grabbed her hind quarters and lifted them up and followed her into the cavity of the trailer. Success! We hooked Leezza to an anchor in the side wall. Rich quickly jumped out, grabbed Mango with his arms entirely around her body and before she knew what happened he had lifted her bodily into the trailer, slammed the back door and locked it, and then came to the side door to help me out. At 7:45 we were on our way.

We had no problems at the other end of the line and they are now happily ensconced in their pen in the turkey barn. They are the only alpacas to be shown at the fair this year and I would like to think that they are the reigning princesses. The evoked a lot of curiosity from several little children at the fair and both Mango and Leezza are just as curious about all the new sights and sounds around them.

We will be going up to the fair several evenings this week  but for now, Pressley is in charge and I know she will be taking very good care of our girls.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Wednesday was the first really nice day without rain in a long time so Rich decided that we would turn Took and little Asteri (officially Asteri Athena, named by grandson, Max) out into the "nursery" pasture. Followed closely by her mother, Asteri took her first tentative steps out into the sunshine and lush green grass.
She looked around curiously and timidly took a few more steps, when suddenly she seemed to sense the freedom and attempted her first official pronk. This is a maneuver in which the animal suddenly leaps up with all four feet off the ground. Upon landing she wobbled a bit, steadied herself and took off at a trot to explore the remote corners of the new environment. Of course she was so fast and I was so enthralled watching her that I did not get a good picture of this dash for freedom. For this first venture out into the world of the pasture her mama followed closely behind.
The rest of out little herd gathered at the adjoining fence to watch the new little girl as she explored the pasture. They have repeated this behavior every day since and seem to be very interested in all of her actions.
Her big sister, Mango, is probably the most curious of all the animals. I'm sure she wonders about this little one who is keeping her separated from mama.

Thursday we woke up to a pretty dense fog which gave the pasture a veiled look. I found myself in the early morning hours, standing out in the barnyard in my pj's snapping dreamy pictures of Asteri and Took. During the first minutes after waking Asteri and Took relieve themselves in the pasture and then all the little one is really interested in is breakfast!


Of course, over the last week I have taken over a hundred pictures of little Asteri to record her progress. Since the vet pronounced her a perfectly, formed and healthy little cria last Sunday, she has put on approximately a pound a day, which is what the experts in our books and on the websites say  is to be expected. Today when we weighed her, she was 21 pounds. She gets stronger every day and is particularly fond of running and pronking through the pasture. Asteri randomly pronks and runs through the pasture and after an extended spurt of energetic playing we often find her napping in the sunshine. Of course, mama Took is always grazing or napping close by.

Rich and I have spent a lot of time in the pasture lately; only some of it working on chores and projects. It is so fascinating to see how the herd members are reacting to the new addition; and of course, Asteri is growing and learning so rapidly that we don't want to miss a minute of her development. Soon we will have another little one join Asteri and Took in the nursery pasture since our beautiful black Firenze is due in September. It should be really fun to watch two little crias pronking together in the pasture this fall!

We have also enjoyed having Pressley around to work with Leezza and Mango in preparation for the fair. That will be coming to an end with this morning's work out session since the fair begins Monday. Rich and I will deliver the two animals to the fairgrounds tomorrow morning and will also be on hand to watch the show Monday night. We also plan on attending the fair at least twice more during the week before we pick them up a week from Sunday. I will miss Pressley. It has been as much fun being her "alpaca" teacher as it was being her English teacher!
Rich and I have also enjoyed having so many of our friends stop over this week to see our new little addition to the herd. It's always fun to watch the awed and amused looks on their faces when they see our curious little Asteri, who often pokes her face right up in the camera when it's down on her level.

And I like that our friends take pictures and forward the good ones to me. I will end today's blog with another picture from my friend, Rosalie.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

The First Little Star

It's been 30 years since I've had to get up at intervals through the night with a baby and let me tell you, as difficult as it is to lose sleep when you're 23 it's waaaaay worse when you're a grandma. At 10:30 p.m. Rich set the alarm for 2:30 a.m. and he went promptly to sleep as usual. Men! I was still so keyed up that I stayed up for another hour. I performed my usual nighttime beauty routine and then tried to settle down. First, the blog. I was dying to share the news with the rest of my circle of friends, so many of whom had requested me to notify them as soon as we had a baby. After that, I was so worried about  Took and her new cria that I felt compelled to fire off an e-mail to Amy, our mentor at Amy J's HomesteadAlpacas , to tell her about the birth and to ask her advice. Of course I had my "to do" list of tasks to be performed after the birth of a baby. But Rich and I were more than a little worried that Took hadn't passed the placenta and didn't seem to have any milk yet.

When that alarm went off at 2:30 I seriously didn't know where I was for the first few minutes after waking. I stumbled into my clothes, sprayed Off on my ankles and neck; then washed up and made a batch of colostrum to feed the baby. Rich and I headed out into the dark, silent, starry summer night. In the barn we found Took lying close to her baby. Rich held the little one while I pried her lips apart and put the bottle into her mouth. We managed to feed her a couple of ounces as Took looked protectively on, humming her concern.

We left Took and the little one sleeping in the barn as the two of us took a minute outside to gaze at the stars in wonder, both of us overcome by the awesomeness of the circle of life.

At 7 a.m. when we returned to the barn we found a considerably fluffier baby dozing beside mama Took. We also found a portion of the placenta, which I cleaned up while Rich fed and watered the other animals. Took got an extra portion of sweet feed along side her breakfast. It seemed like she deserved it for presenting us with such a beautiful cria. This time when we woke them up we waited and watched as the little girl tried to find the source of her breakfast. It didn't take her long; but again, she didn't seem to be getting any milk and gave up easily. Rich gently picked up the baby and sat in the old deck chair that he had left in the barn the night before. Tookie watched our every move up close and personal as we fed the little one a few more ounces of colostrum formula. In the early morning quiet of the chilly barn the feeding time was a very moving experience for all four of us.

Took was still straining and moaning quietly whenever I touched her so we called the vet who came out around noon. He removed the tissue that she was straining to expel, gave her a couple of shots designed to help her produce milk, and actually milked some colostrum into a cup for us to feed to the baby later if needed. At this point both Took and the little one were exhausted so we left them alone to relax and let nature take its course, so to speak.

When we checked back an hour or so later, baby was nursing eagerly at mama Took's side. This was a sight as beautiful to us as any painting of Madonna and child by one of the old masters.

Through out the evening last night and all day today Took's pasture mates, Leezza and Firenze, and her elder daughter, Mango, kept tabs on the situation by peering occasionally through the window to check out the situation.

Rich and I were discussing the events of the past 24 hours and we both agreed that sharing our home and our life with these gentle, fascinating creatures was a good decision. They have brought  a challenging learning experience along with  a peace and contentment that we never expected. And today we have a new little star in the herd for we decided to name her Asteri, the Greek word for star. She is the first little star to be born at Buckeye Star Alpaca Farm.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

It's A Girl!

This evening at approximately 7pm our Took gave birth to a beautiful, delicate little girl. We haven't weighed her yet because we were surprised and more than a little flustered. We had been gone all day on an excursion on the Cuyahoga Valley Railway with two of Rich's brothers and their wives. We arrived home at a little before 8pm to see the girls huddled together outside their condo. They were transfixed by something on the ground between them. I notice this curious little scene as Rich was pulling into the garage and I ordered him to back up. That's when I saw the little, white cria. He parked and he rushed to the pasture and I hustled Callie into the house, grabbed the camera, threw on a long sleeved shirt (mosquitoes) and ran back out. This is the little girl's first picture.

Rich gently lifted the baby and carried her into the barn as mama Took followed closely beside him, humming with concern. The other three girls trailed curiously along behind. The cria was still wet and had a bit of placental tissue hanging around her neck that I removed as soon as Rich put her down in the barn. I rubbed her vigorously with a clean towel and left her to her mother.

The little sweetie pie tried several times to nurse and seemed to have difficulty finding the right spot. When she finally found a teat she latched on and sucked away but none of her efforts lasted long and they seemed to exhaust her. The cria settled down in the hay and Took hovered nearby. Rich and I went inside to leave them to their own devices, hoping that natural instincts would take over.

When we checked her an hour later she hadn't moved from the spot and seemed really tired so we mixed up a bottle of colostrum formula and Rich held her as I fed her. She was ravenous and obviously hadn't gotten anything from Took. After eating her fill she wandered around the barn checking out every corner, Took following closely behind. She settled down in the straw and seemed tired after her efforts so Rich and I turned out the lights and came back into the house. We will be checking on them every few hours overnight to make sure that the little one is eating enough and hopefully, Took will take over and feed her. More tomorrow.