Sunday, February 14, 2010

Life lessons

Chantica has finally joined our herd. She was the last of our agisted (boarded) alpacas, remaining down south until she'd weaned her cria and been rebred for a spring birth. She's the daughter of our Sheba, and half-sister to Jedlicka (f) and 4-month-old Sarek (m). Sheba greeted her daughter quickly, then returned to grazing. It's been two years since they'd seen each other.

Hopi takes her new guardian duties seriously -- when she met Chantica, she chased her. I stepped between them, held my hand wide in front of Hopi's face, and told her "Stop! -- she's OK, she's one of us now, too."

The other dams and cria came to check out the new girl as Chantica surveyed the landscape. For the first few days, I kept her in small groups so she could become accustomed to her new home and learn the daily routines. At feeding time, Hopi tried to segregate her once more, but again I firmly told her No, and she backed away.

Chantica is in with the weanlings, maiden females, and a couple of dams with cria, including Sheba and her crew -- here the 'little family' is seen sharing the hay bin. I selected a range of ages and sizes to be in this mini-herd so the separated babies won't feel so alone.

It's been a full week now, and all is well. Chantica and Black Sable are both due mid-May, the first births of 2010 here at Aragon Alpacas.

On Friday I spent awhile mucking out a couple of barn areas where the weanlings and companions are penned at night. It rained most of the morning, and the dams chose to remain out in the hay field, obliviously grazing. Their fleece is so long and thick that only the top gets wet, they're still dry at the skin.

Getting ready for a trip to the feed store, I looked out the window and noticed Blackberry had come back up toward the barn and was all by herself, cushed or laying on the ground. At 18, she is our eldest, and her fleece is shorter because of her age. I recognize that she gets tired now more easily, too, and lately she sometimes cushes to eat. With a halter and some pellet treats, I went out to check on her.

Blackberry stood to eat from my hand and I haltered her easily, led her back to the barn where I toweled her off, put on a jacket, took her temperature (it was low), and gave her more food. Before leaving for the feed store, I put another alpaca in with her, as companion -- they stress when left alone.

Mulling all of this over as I drove down Dillard Rd, I glanced over at a pasture of sheep and goats. Down away from their house I saw a white animal laying on the ground, head in an awkward position, and thought, "Oh no, another animal in trouble. I hope they do not come out to discover a dead one."

That concern hovered in my thoughts as I did my errands. Driving back, I looked in the pasture again to see if anyone had noticed the downed animal. To my great surprise and delight, there was a white goat standing with two little bright, shiny white kids nursing! It wasn't a death, as I'd feared, but Life!

Blackberry was fine. I took off her jacket so the afternoon sun could continue to warm and dry her, then unloaded bags of supplies, and went to check on the weanlings. The clever girls discovered that I hand not quite closed a partition in the barn, and next I saw Blackberry and Jedlicka in the gated driveway, headed toward the pasture.

This time when I tried to get Blackberry back to the barn, she steadfastly refused to go. It's always preferable to their well-being that they're not stressed, so I took the cues from her. Since she really wanted to be back out there with her herd, I let them out and both girls ran down to rejoin them.

Blackberry's boy Toledo is one of the weanlings, and now all of her resources can be solely for her. For the first week I day-wean, allowing the pairs back together at night. This way they are not quite so frantic, and the moms' milk can begin slacken off. Then it's 24/7.

Since we have so many cria of similar color and size, I put bandannas on the weanlings for simpler sorting. The three girls who generally stayed near their moms have had less trouble adjusting than the two free-lance boys who are now whining and crying until distracted by food.

And Hopi the llama just observes all of this, not quite understanding what all of the activity is about or why her herd is in different sections now.

We are preparing to plant our spring garden. First of all, deer fencing is going up. Mike has designed a gate with an arbor above it, yet to be built. We're researching roto-tillers, trying to decide if we really need one, and if so, which brand and style? Laying out a bit more cardboard (from a neighbor's new stove), lasagna-gardening style; and marking pages in the Territorial Seed Catalog. This will be quite grand in size, since I've only gardened in a small backyard plot until now.

Lastly, we have finally installed the walls on the back of Galileo's shed, and painted on the primer coat before the weekend rains. He seems quite pleased with it! A sliding door is next, so we can store hay and supplies for him there instead of bringing feed up from the boys' barn each evening.

Slowly, our plans continue to take shape!

Much like a website, a farm is never 'done.'