Tuesday, April 29, 2014


This is what alpacas look like underneath the thick coat of fleece that they accumulate all winter long:

Brutus after shearing.

Formerly fluffy Asterius.

Late Sunday morning, Rich and I loaded up the three girls first and drove 15 minutes south to Grass Run Alpacas where the shearing session was taking place. Owners, Myron and Rhonda Campbell, very warm and friendly people, opened their farm as a shearing center for us and other alpaca owners. Rhonda's 4-H group even put on a lunch for volunteers who helped at the shearing. 

After assisting with the animals that were in the queue ahead of us we led our girls in for their turn. Our beautiful Leezza quietly and calmly submitted to shearing much the same as she had last year. She is such a gentle, sweet animal and once she is harnessed up is so easy to handle. She was our "showgirl" last year at the Huron County Fair where she won high praise from the judges for her fiber and configuration.

Took screeched through the whole process just like she does whenever we clip her nails or do any health related procedure on her. She behaves well when we simply take her out for a leisurely stroll. It's just the beauty and health procedures that she objects to! Mango, on the other hand, spit violently and shrieked so loudly and continually that she drew a crowd of gawkers. Nearly everyone who was on the farm, and there were many people there, was drawn to the barn where the shearing was taking place to see what could possibly be causing such a noise. Even though Rich gently held her head and talked calmly to her, Mango was downright embarrassing in her protests. She has been a different animal since she was bred and Rhonda advised that this often happens and they return to their normal self after delivery. We can only hope so!

Mango gave us an exceptionally fine, lustrous, dense, crimpy fleece and I anticipate have quite a bit of yarn made from it. I will be delivering  it to the mill myself on Monday so that I can get the advice of the pros on what type of yarn to order. I cannot wait to get it back and to start a knitting project with it. Oh yes, I also plan to sell some of it in my Etsy store and in the store on our farm.

After the girls were done we loaded them up and returned home to repeat the process with the boys. The girls were happy to be back in their own pasture and we gave them an extra treat of sweet feed as a welcome home. Then we loaded up our herd sire, Nikko, into the trailer and the two little ones, Brutus and Asterius, willingly followed him into the vehicle. This was the first time the little boys had ever been away from home and they traveled well. 

When we arrived back at Grass Run there was another group ahead of us so Rich and I joined in and helped in the shearing process. After their first animal was completed the next one in line, a large brown female, balked and pulled away from the little boy holding her. He and a couple of others kids charged toward the animal attempting to catch her. They had apparently not learned Rule #1: Never, never, never run at an alpaca head on. They are prey animals and their instinct is to use their speed to escape capture. She took off down the sloping yard and out into the corn stubble of an adjoining field with several children in pursuit. Rich and another man who had been assisting, joined the parade, both shouting at the children to stop chasing. What ensued was a wild 20 minutes of a very confused and frightened alpaca outrunning all of the children and two grown men trying to circle out around the animal in order to herd her back to the farm. Several times she was cornered and Rich thought she would be caught but one child or another would come up on her other side and off she'd go out into the field again. Eventually, the other man and Rich got her into a corner and captured her. She was led back to her inevitable fate.

Meanwhile, back at the barnyard, Brutus had been led from the trailer by myself and one of the 4-H girls who had experience with showing alpacas. He was calmly walking around the yard and sniffing at the Grass Run girls through the fence...

and making a new friend of a 4-H member named Nick.

Brutus behaved much the same as Leezza during his time on the table. He lay there calmly during the shearing, surely confused since it was his first time. While he did not spit, his tummy rejected some of what he had eaten before he left home and he "dribbled" a little of its contents out on to the table. As soon as he was finished and released from the table he recovered quickly.

Nikko, like Mango, brayed loudly the whole time he was on the table. Unfortunately, the shearer's clippers quit working early in the process and needed to be tweaked back to life. This meant that Nikko was strapped down longer than usual and continued to protest the whole time. He could not be consoled or cajoled into accepting his fate quietly no matter how hard Rich tried. In the end, Nikko also gave us several pounds of crimpy, dense fleece that has a beautiful luster to it. No wonder he is such a handsome fellow when he is in full fleece!

Asterius was our last animal to be shorn. He protested weakly, whining all the way, but didn't struggle like the bigger animals had. Though Rich held him and reassured him calmly that it wouldn't last long and that he would be so much more comfortable this summer, I don't think Asterius was buying it. 

It was over quickly and in the end, Asterius was a much lighter, smaller animal. It's so hard to believe that these are the same fluffy alpacas that have romped in the snow this past winter. They look totally different without their fleece; much smaller and way more vulnerable.

Yesterday the vet came out to do an ultrasound on Leezza  and Mango since they are seven and six months pregnant respectively. Leezza was first and the exterior ultrasound was inconclusive like last year's results on Took and Firenze. On the vet's advice, I decided against the interior procedure and we did not even attempt one on Mango. I assisted as Dr. Bob McClung drew blood from the two little boys so that I could register their DNA with Alpaca Registry. Together we had to remove Brutus and Asterius from the boy pasture and put them into the girl pasture. With the onset of spring and the loss of his fleece, Nikko has suddenly discovered that he is a mature male. He has become so randy that he was jumping on top of, biting and generally bullying the two little boys in an effort to show his dominance. Dr. Bob and I were afraid that he might seriously hurt the little ones. Asterius and Brutus seemed relieved to be back in the safety of the nursery. We'll keep them there until the danger has passed or until they have grown quite a bit so that they can fight back!

Friday, April 25, 2014

One Last Look Before Shearing


Asterius and Brutus




Take a good look at this lovely "floofy" herd because they are about to lose their winter coats. On Sunday afternoon we are taking them down to Grass Run Alpaca farm in Crawford County where they will be relieved of their coats for the warmer months. The shearers will set up on Saturday morning and breeders and 4-H kids from miles around will gather to have their animals shorn on a first come first served basis. We are tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. The next pictures on this blog will be drastically slimmer animals. I am always amazed at how little animal is hidden under the volume of fleece. Their behavior changes temporarily once they are released back into their pastures. Even the mature animals seem to frolic about a bit because they must feel so much lighter. I'll write more about shearing day after the fact.

We are also planning to have Mango and Leezza ultrasounded after shearing to verify their pregnancies, although that is not always a reliable indicator as we found out last year  when Firenze and Took were pronounced "not pregnant" and a few months later  they each delivered darling little crias. But it's worth it to have a herd health inspection after the long winter.

Rich and I traveled down to Columbus to spend Easter Sunday with the kids and had a lovely time. Son-in-law, Steve, had been up since 2 a.m. preparing a lovely smoked brisket in his "Big Green Egg." It was possibly the best brisket I have ever tasted. Amy made popovers and roasted carrots to go with it...love popovers. Olivia made her new famous peanut butter cup mini cheese cakes...yum! Since my birthday was the day after it was a combined celebration. And because it was 70 degrees and sunny outside we were able to spend much of the time on the patio. All in all, a wonderful day.

I'll close with a final picture of Rich up close and personal with the "boys." Yes, Asterius is giving Rich a sniffy kiss. More next week after shearing.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Greatest Generation: Warren Schieser, 1917-2014

One by one the members of what Tom Brokaw calls "the Greatest Generation" are passing away. My own father, Harry Andrews, a veteran of the WWII European front, died many years ago at the young age of 52. His best friend, George Ours, an air force veteran, died just last year. This morning, my brother-in-law's dad, Warren Schieser, a Pearl Harbor survivor died just a month after his lovely wife, Jane. Warren was a unique and fascinating man who was always curious to learn about anything new and different. Soon the veterans of  WWII and their spouses who remember that era will all be gone. If you are fortunate enough to have a relative who can remember this era, talk to them. Listen to their stories before its too late. You'll know then why they are "the Greatest Generation."

Warren Schieser

Monday, April 7, 2014

Farm Visits and Spinning at the Nature Preschool

Before I retired I worried that I might be bored. The fear was unfounded; I have been busier than I could ever have imagined. Last week I stayed with my two teen-aged grandchildren, Max and Olivia, while their parents were out of town on business and pleasure. I necessarily assumed my daughter, Amy's, schedule and I haven't been in a car so much since my own girls were teens. From 2:30 p.m. each day until almost 9 p.m. each evening I was picking up kids and dropping off kids and picking up kids again. By bedtime I was exhausted. I had forgotten how much running and waiting in parking lots I had done back in those days before the first kid could drive. Olivia has her learner's permit and is doing quite well but it means that her passenger, me, has to be on the alert and coaching all the while she drives. She drove most of the way home to Dublin from our house on Sunday.

The kids came up for the weekend when their parents left town. Rich and I had a great time making wood fired pizzas in the old wood stove with them on Friday night. Then on Saturday, Olivia wanted to attempt making macaron cookies with me. It was an involved process but we turned out a yummy lemon macaron with lemon buttercream filling.

Max spent much of the time in front of the TV watching the "March Madness" basketball play offs; which apparently last until April since the last game is tonight. He slept in and just ate the rest of the time. I think he was resting up from his hectic week day schedule of two practices a day; one for track and the other for AAU basketball. Then on Sunday we returned to their home in Dublin. I had a lovely week with the grandkids and being able to stay with them is definitely a benefit of retirement.

When I got home I received a phone call with a request for another farm visit. This was a result of Yolanda's visit a couple of weeks ago. Tiffany Kimmet, a professional photographer and friend of Yolanda's, wanted to come out to take a few pictures of our animals. It was our herd health day where we harness up the animals and walk them, clip toenails, and administer any booster shots that they might need. A perfect time for visitors.

Leezza and Mango

My brother-in-law, Danny, Rich and I walked the girls out and around the property which also gave me an opportunity to snap some good pictures of them. Rich walked Nikko, our young herd sire, out and around the property while Danny and I worked with the little guys, Asterius and Brutus, in the pasture since they are only just beginning their halter training. It was a very successful training and health day.







Tiffany, whose website is www.subtleverse.com  , snapped many, many pictures while her two children asked many, many questions about the alpacas. The kids went into the pen with us where the animals ate sweet feed from their hands. I enjoyed answering their questions and teaching them about alpacas. Clearly one can retire from formal teaching and still be a teacher. I'm loving it. Tiffany was kind enough to send me a few of her photos with permission to use them on my site. 

Mango, Leezza and Took


Took w/Mango and Leezza in back

Clearly Tiffany's photos were much more professional than mine taken with my little pocket Nikon Camera. The alpacas seemed to cooperate with her and pose, whereas, they usually try to get away from me! Maybe it's because they know that I'm the one who gives shots and helps to clip toenails.

Today I had another fun experience. I took my little spinning wheel that I call Brigid and went around the corner to our local Garlough Nature Preserve where there is a pre-school with a nature based curriculum. I had met their teacher, Linda Rose, who invited me to do a spinning demonstration in conjunction with a field trip that the kids made to a local sheep farm. I made a simple poster with pictures of alpacas so that I could explain the differences and similarities between sheep and alpacas. The kids enthusiastically asked questions and made comments to let me know what they remembered about sheep. Then I showed them how to spin yarn. After I was done spinning and talking I allowed those who were interested, to come up and try to make the wheel spin. Young Joseph, whose parents own the sheep farm and who I remembered from the Oktoberfest came up first. He had been enthralled with the spinning last October and was really interested in how the wheel worked. He only reluctantly ceded the wheel to the next child in line. In all, I think it was a pretty successful demo since I was able to hold the attention of most of the 3, 4, and 5 year-olds for almost twenty minutes! I would love to go back sometime and take a couple of the alpacas with me. Rich and I will try to arrange it.