Thursday, October 24, 2013

Orgle! Orgle! Orgle!

I have learned that when breeding alpacas there are a couple of pretty reliable ways to tell if the breeding has been successful. One of them is to wait several months and then pay a vet to do an ultrasound of the animal. This is sometimes inconclusive since the gestation period for an alpaca is 11-1/2 months, plus or minus, making the fetus very small until the end of the pregnancy. The other way is what is sometimes referred to as a behavior test or more commonly called a spit test. This is where, after a couple of weeks, you take the female back to the male to which she was bred (actually any male will do) and put her in the pen with him. If the female is pregnant, she will not kush (lie down) for the male to try again. Not only will she not cooperate but she will run away from him, kick him, spit at him and do anything possible to discourage him.

Tonight we saw that first hand when we took Mango back to visit her boyfriend, Black Night, at Grass Run Alpaca farm. If you remember from an earlier post, we had taken her there on October 7th for their first "date." That was a Learning Experience for both of us. This evening, after supper, we loaded Mango in the trailer and set off. When we arrived at Grass Run a glance out of the car window showed that Black Night remembered Mango and was anxious to see her again.

Rich unloaded Mango from the trailer and Myron opened the gate to Black Night's pasture. That's the point at which all heck broke loose. As Black Night ran out of the gate to meet with Mango my heart leaped into my throat and visions of chasing alpacas out onto Route 19 flashed through my mind. Myron was calmly standing by the gate, probably because he knew from experience that his animal would follow Mango, who was on a lead, anywhere! And he did. As soon as the animals were in the barnyard and the gate was shut, Black Night began orgling and attempting to jump upon Mango. Rich could hardly contain Mango long enough to remove the lead when she tore off circling around the barnyard with Black Night in hot pursuit. Myron had rushed to the far corner of the yard to open the pasture gate. Rich had stepped back into a corner and I was up against the fence as the two animals completed their first lap and were headed straight for me, with Mango in the lead. She saw me and veered away from me at the last minute and avoided hitting me. Black Night, intent on the business at hand, was blind to my presence. He grazed my side as he pursued Mango, knocking me to my knees in my awkward attempt to back into the fence for support. I picked myself up and assessed my injuries. My jeans weren't torn and nothing seemed broken. The only thing that seemed to suffer any damage was my dignity.

Mango headed for the open gate into the pasture with Black Night following, orgling all the way, determined to mate with her again. She is one fast young lady! When he caught up with her she kicked and ran some more. As she ran, she turned her head back over her shoulder spitting furiously at the poor guy. All the while the Grass Run females peered through the fence from the adjoining pasture, enjoying the show and cheering her on.

Rich and Myron worked together to herd the two young animals back into the barnyard and then into the barn so that they could be separated and the lead snapped back onto Mango's halter. With Myron restraining Black Night, Rich pulled Mango  quickly out of the barn and I slammed the gate shut. We loaded our girl back into the trailer; exchanged a few pleasant words about the weather and the corn harvest, thanked Myron, and were on our way.

Back home I helped Rich unload Mango and release her back into the winter pasture with her friends. While he unhooked the trailer and put it away for the winter, I went inside, changed into my jammies, took two Advil and made a cup of tea. I am pretty sure that I will be sore in the morning but for tonight it's just a relief to know that we can expect a new cria from Mango next fall.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mid Term

Since today, when I would normally be in class in the morning, is part of the mid-term break I decided that I would spend my normal class time grading the mid-term essays. That amounts to an hour and a half. I started at 9 a.m. and graded until I had all of the papers graded at 3 p.m. I took an all too short ten minute break at 11:30 to grab a bite of lunch (leftover baked potato from Saturday night dinner out). It was exhausting and nerve wracking. Many of the papers pleased me no end since I could detect that the writers had made progress since the beginning of the semester. Many more of them distressed me and indicated that I need to do a lot more work with the writers. I figured the mid-term grades and when I attempted to enter them into the system I could not log in. I entered and re-entered my user name and password and nothing. Frustration!

At this point I gave up and I really, really, really craved ice cream or a glass of wine. But I resisted and since it is such a beautiful fall day; sunny, breezy and invigorating, I took the dog out for a walk. Callie is always eager to oblige me on those occasions when I feel the need for exercising my legs and lungs. We walked back down the lane between the recently harvested soybean fields and back to the woods.

This is one of those times when I am so glad that I have been transplanted from the city to the farm. I find the whole process of harvesting fascinating. My children and grandchildren, city kids all, think that life up here in farm country is boring. Little do they know. It's quiet most of the time but during planting and harvest the place is bustling. I find the huge combine, the tractor thing-a-ma-jig, that combines the picking of corn or beans with the separating of the grain from the stalk or pod to be riveting. I wonder at the engineering mind that created such a machine that can strip a field bare in a few passes.  I stare in awe at the "waterfall" effect of the golden grain streaming from the combine, through the chute and into the waiting wagon.

For a few short weeks in the fall, when the weather is dry and the air is crisp, the activity in the fields puts a period on the growing season and alerts us to prepare for the winter to come. But before the cold and snow arrive it's a joy to be outside. So, when Callie and I returned from our walk, I sat outside...on the deck...celebrating mid-term and harvest...with a glass of wine!  Cheers!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Really Unexpected Learning Experience!

When we set out on this crazy journey a year ago I expected it to be a learning experience and I haven't been disappointed one bit. Rich and I have developed so much confidence as we mastered each new task. Some of you readers have been with us from the beginning so you know about our early, rather humorous and failed attempt at rounding up alpacas and herding them into the barn. Since then we have both become pretty proficient at rounding up the animals together and alone. We feel confident loading them up into the trailer and hauling them anywhere we need to go and then unloading on the other end. I feel comfortable giving shots and Rich is able to snip the toenails of even the most reluctant animal. We've assisted at shearing time and I attended three days of intense training in how to sort and classify fleeces. More recently, we have given postnatal care to two of the most adorable crias; one of which I mis-identified as a female at birth. A month later Rich made the correction when he noticed a new development under the little lad's tail.

Last night, though, both Rich and I took part in lesson that left us both with so many conflicting feelings that it is difficult to describe the experience. After consultation with the vet who cleared Mango for breeding, Rich and I made the decision to visit Grass Run Alpacas just south of here and pick out a new boyfriend for her. We had been there to visit a year ago and remembered a handsome young black stud that we felt would make a perfect mate. Last week the arrangements were made to bring her down there for a "drive by" breeding. If it didn't take the first time, no problem, because Grass Run is so close that it wouldn't be difficult to return for another try. So after supper last evening we loaded her up and set off for Mango's date.

Mango's new boyfriend is a handsome, true black stud named Black Night. He curiously peered over the fence as we pulled into the driveway and when Rich backed the trailer up to the gate, Black Night started pacing back and forth along the fence. Myron and Rhonda, owners of Grass Run, came out to meet us and lend a hand as we unloaded Mango and walked her into the barnyard where Black Night waited. The minute we unsnapped the lead and backed away, Black Night went to work. He was ready. Really ready.

Mango, on the other hand, was more curious than ready, so rather than kush down immediately like a more experienced female would have done, she walked over to the fence separating Black Night's yard from that of the females. Unfortunately for the poor stud, Mango was curious and wanted to socialize. She walked around sniffing the other females and all the while Black Night was hopping along behind her  on his back legs, hanging on for dear life, and making the mating sound known as "orgling."  The two of them continued in this manner, making a lap of the pasture until they got back to the gate area where the three humans waited. Myron stepped in front of Mango and held her, pushing her down into a kush. Then Myron had to assist on her other end, holding her tail out of the way to allow Black Night full access as Rich and I looked on helplessly and more than a little uncomfortably. All the while, Black Night orgled, orgled and orgled! There is no way to describe the noise he made. Orgle says it all. Onomatopoeia: a word that sounds like the sound it is describing. Orgle.

This went on for almost half an hour. Before it was all over, I think Rich was feeling sorry for the young stud and I felt bad for Mango as she looked up with her big, dark eyes, as if to say, "Please, take me home." We won't know for about two weeks if the episode produced the results we want, a pregnancy for Mango. Either way, this was a decidedly out of the ordinary learning experience for Mango, Rich and myself!

Sunday, October 6, 2013


All week the forecasters had predicting drenching rains for all day Sunday, (today), when Rich and I were planning on taking mama Took and her son Asterius to the Oktoberfest at nearby Garlo Nature Preserve. I did a spinning demonstration there last year on the front porch of the first log cabin that was reconstructed there. I had so much fun that I volunteered again this year and even joined the Friends of Seneca County Parks. Taking the alpacas along seemed like a great idea to go along with the whole spinning, knitting, weaving thing. Rich even made a special, portable, deluxe pen for the animals. We were both excited to share our animals with everyone.

Then the rain was predicted. Not just rain but thunderstorms, too. All day. One of the first things we learned about alpaca fleece is that it doesn't contain the lanolin that sheep fleece has and tends to absorb water. The general practice is to only provide low sprinklers during the hottest weather. Only their legs and undercarriage should get wet. If the blanket (back) fleece were to get soaked it not only weighs them down, on a warm day such as this it acts as a sauna and could cause heat stroke. So we decided against taking them. 

Bridget, my wheel, and I went and I did the spinning demo. We spun and spun from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. I had a great time just like last year. I met some interesting knitters and some people interested in possibly owning alpacas. But the little kids were so much fun. So many of them were really fascinated by the spinning and asked many questions about the process. They liked to feel the raw fleece, the roving and the finished yarn. One little boy even asked if he could take my wheel home with him! He is clearly a future spinner.

We trusted the weather forecasters. All three of the Toledo stations said the same thing. You know how that goes. It rained all right. About an hour after the whole event was over!