Sunday, May 20, 2012

Curious Adventures

As I was working in the garden this week, I noticed that several of the dams were looking towards the neighbors' 30-acre field: there was an animal in there, just on the other side of the fence, and not a deer. Hmmm, an alpaca... but I couldn't tell which one it was other than brown with no white on her face. (I suspected the precocious Chantica or Aymara.) As I moved quickly in that direction, I considered my options -- maybe not enough time to go up to barn to get a halter, but the herding tape would do.

So I untied the webbing tape from the post where I use it, took it down to the corner area, and found a place to climb through the barbed wire, which is what Ruana must've done since I could see no breaks in the fence. I tied the tape to a fence post and around some trees to box her in. Not quite a year old, she's a bit skittish so a halter wouldn't have worked very well with her anyway.

Ruana was staying near the herd, wanting to get back to them but still exploring the new area. And of course they were all wanting to know how She got over There, could they come, too?

I pried open the very loosest of the barbed wire with some branches and stretched an opening for her; I slowly moved behind her so she would go that way and see it. She had had enough adventure and stepped back through to the safety of her herd. Whew!

I collected the herding tape, climbed back through myself and found several more branches to weave between the wires, taking off the slack. Mike can pound some t-posts in and wire it up better, but that will keep them safe and at bay for awhile.

Killdeer nest on the ground
A friend had called just as this scene was unfolding and she stayed on the line with me while I talked through what I was doing. Afterwards, walking back among the alpacas, I heard a killdeer squawking at them. I had noticed its distinctive call the day before, too. I was close enough to see that the bird was doing her lame-wing routine, so I walked slowly in that vicinity until I spied its ground nest tucked beside a fallen branch.

When Mike called me on his break from running the counting machines at Elections, he asked how my day was going so far...

Two days later I returned to check on the nest. No squawking, and no eggs -- they had hatched, cleaned house, and run away!

Life on the farm!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sheared, Gelded, and Delivered

Shearing Day is one of the busiest and most stressful days on the farm, for both the alpacas and the humans. Being organized and prepared is key, as well as having a great team of helpers. And a great shearer, Steve Bell.

Gryffin, Sorrento and Orion still wearing their coats,
Sundancer, Navarre and Troubadour are freshly shorn.
Steve set up two shearing stations, so we were able to accommodate our herd of 49 all in one day. First we sheared the weanlings, then the pregnant dams, the rest of the females, and finally the males. Volunteers prepped each animal by calming them with essential oils while cleaning the fleece with a 'dusting' wand. Others assisted the shearer, gathered fleece into labeled bags, collected the sample to be sent off for micron testing, trimmed toenails and gave shots, and vacuumed the shearing station after each one. Next! And what's her name?

The day flowed smoothly. We took breaks as needed, lunching in shifts. Each newly sheared alpaca was checked out by the others in their group. They get a bit embarrassed, sometimes they do not recognize each other. Mostly they are quite delighted when the ordeal is over, romping into the field, kicking up their heels.

Shearing slowed a bit when we got to the adult males, checking their fighting teeth and trimming as needed. The best surprise was Troubadour whose fleece weighed in at 12.7 lbs.

We were almost finished as a storm was moving in, and even though it was not in the immediate area, suddenly there was a power outage. Three boys left to shear! Steve returned a few days later to finish.

The Blue-tail gang: Tecumseh, Schubert and Opus
Helping out at RidgeView Alpacas' shearing tipped the scales in my gelding decisions. Aragon co-owns Oso Blanco whose stunning fleece weighed 14.25 lbs! Good news for us, but bad news for two of our males who I was considering gelding. Oso cinched it, so they joined the line-up when Dr Pat came.

Gelding male alpacas (after 18 months old) who are not intended to be used for reproduction helps to keep their temperaments calm and their fleece soft throughout their life. As fleece production animals, they are also useful in the herd in a variety of other ways: companion animals to either males or females, an 'uncle' to the weanlings teach them alpaca manners, and public relations animals who are not distracted by the urgency of breeding.

After their minor surgery, the newly-gelded are kept separate from the others in order to monitor their healing. Long-lasting antibiotic wards off infection, and to minimize swelling, I gave them the homeopathic arnica montana. Their colorful tail wrap is left on for quick visual checks for the first few days.

Regalo (huacaya) and Opus (suri)
lovin' this grass!
Now with shearing and gelding behind them, Regalo and Opus were finally ready to go to their new home, A Peaceful Sanctuary. We loaded the boys into the van and drove them to Pam's where a new shelter and verdant pasture awaited. They watched the chickens who greeted the new arrivals with much chatter, and met the miniature Olivia, a rescue chihuahua. We stood back and observed them settling in as the proud new owner showed us all the things she had ready to care for them. We left knowing they are in very good hands, for we choose the new owners just as they choose their alpacas. And in this case, Opus and Regalo chose Pam, too!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Il Vino Vita

Sunshine fencing
Four rows of Pinot Gris are the starter population of our vineyard. Mike's vineyard. It's been his 40-year dream coming to fruition.

Mike intensified his research on vineyard planting these past few months: what kind of posts, at what angle; how many wire supports; best row spacing for maintenance and harvest; plant spacing to allow sun and airflow for best canopy and fruit production. We acquired the parts list — we'd never build a fence by ourselves before. Some assembly required!

onlookers Smuggler & Trinket

The vine cuttings we rooted last year must be planted while still dormant, and we only have a few more weeks of opportunity before they 'wake up.' The ground is prepared — trenches dug months ago to 'fluff' the compacted soil — and the fence and gates are finally in place, although we allowed the weanling alpacas in to keep us company.
roots uncovered in grow box

Now to plant...

The convergence of plant dormancy, reasonable weather, and days off has been the challenge.

Digging up the rootlings in the first raised bed proved to be harder than we'd thought. Most of the roots are strong, long, and tenacious! Pitchfork engaged, we loosened the dirt and wiggled or tugged each one out.

Roots and stems are pruned before planting, and a 'grow tube' collar is slipped over it, ensuring a mico-climate that promotes growth.  The tube is specially designed to enhance the sunlight while it buffers the plant from wind and drastic temperature changes.

Kelly helps us!
One day's work garnered not quite two rows of planting. Friends volunteered to come help, and by the end of the next day, and between minor onslaughts of sleet, we had four rows completed, 68 vines. Clippings from these will be rooted to fill in any gaps or to add another row.

Waiting in the wings are about 150 pinot noir vines! We will start those rows at the top of the vineyard, leaving a blank area in the middle for adding to each type without mixing them. The weather is taunting us with two days of snow, but once that melts, we're ready to go at it again.

View to a Vineyard

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spinning Camp

No, not the exercise kind of spinning that is so popular these days. Rather, the old-fashioned spinning wheel to make yarn kind of spinning. Besides small suitcases and our spinning wheels, we bring bags and baskets of fiber, roving, yarn, projects-in-progress, assorted needles, niddy-noddies, swifts, ball-winders, and books to share. Oh yeah, and an inflatable Scrabble table.

It's the annual spring retreat for the EWES group (Eugene Wednesday Evening Spinners), held again at Silver Falls State Park Conference Center. We carpool as best as we can and show up on Thursday afternoon. Cell phones and laptops barely work here, so we're can remain submerged in our common world of fiber and creativity.

There is no particular schedule other than to show up in the lodge for breakfast, lunch and dinner at prescribed times. No classes or meetings. Lots of walks in the forest, along the creeks or to the waterfalls. Naps. Lots of lively conversations, raucous laughter, catching up, whirring of wheels and clicking of needles.

Most of these spinning wheels are not so old-fashioned: there are folding portable ones, sleek and modern ones, even electric spinners (4 of them in this group) that run on batteries and require no treadling. Beautiful wooden wheels constructed of cherry, oak, ash, and myrtlewood, some lovingly handmade, some commercial.

A few of the regulars had other things going on this year, and although we miss them, there are some new faces that fit right in. A parade of life is represented by teachers, pharmacist, veterinary technician, nurse, author, computer geek, web designer, retirees, professional gardener, sheep and alpaca owners. This is my fourth year to come. Mike gets to enjoys a few days to himself, and graciously takes on all my farm chores so I can be here. The fall retreats occur during birthing time at our farm, so I can't attend them.

Spinning camp is an opportunity to try out new techniques, to get advice on color combinations, and to show off pretty, practical and wearable hand crafty art pieces.

All of this amidst set in Nature's artwork, so nurturing and inspiring.

Who knows, this lichen may make an interesting dye color? I'll take it home to try out.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How Big is BIG?

Tesoro figures it out

Orion with carrot 'cigar'
When visiting another alpaca farm recently, I was surprised to see the owner offer whole carrots as treats rather than the bite-size rounds that I slice for them. Sure enough, the animals handled the long root just fine. So tried it with our adult males, making sure no one choked. It's entertaining to watch them figure out how to get the carrot into their mouths, but I still slice carrots for visitors to feed by hand.

Hopi the llama is a member of the adult female herd. She is a good education prop, displaying the answer to What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca. Hopi weighs in at 450 lbs, while Gracie ('Amazing Grace') is 155 lbs, an average size dam in the group. Behind the stands 18-month-old Raisa, about 120 lbs and not yet full height.

Raisa, Hopi & Gracie

Striding back to the house after chores yesterday, I was just in time to see this incredibly healthy earthworm (are we sure he's from This planet??!) squiggling across the sidewalk. My boot was the handiest way to display his size. Alpaca 'gold' (manure) for sure!

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Travel Lane County, our local Visitors Information Center, uses a descriptive tag line: "See all of Oregon in Lane County." We could have a similar one for yesterday's weather: See all of Oregon weather in 24 hours! The morning dawned in a crystalline fog, making the grass crunchy underfoot and icing cobwebs into visibility. A few hours later, the sun burst forth from cloudless skies to warm the day, enticing me outdoor to do chores rather than attend to indoor ones.

Barn cats Blue (a Snowshoe Siamese) and Pangur Ban (named for a cat in an Irish poem) kept me company, catching rays instead of mice.

As predicted, the afternoon witnessed a march of clouds from the coast. Overnight, a cold front blew in. Windows rattled and trees swayed, and the rain was intense. When I peered out at first light, I could see No Alpacas beyond their shelters.

After enjoying a cup of coffee and the Farm Report, I glanced out the window to discover fat, slow snowflakes falling all around! They made a valiant try of whitening the landscape, but the ground temperature was not cold enough for snow to stick.

Mike ventured out to open gates while I started breakfast. Kelly only wanted out long enough to do her business, then return indoors.

Snow melted, further hydrating the mud. Skies cleared and reclouded alternately throughout the day.

The alpacas are pretty oblivious to all this. If sleet pelts down, they run to get under trees until it passes. During such weather patterns, they have accessibility to shelter, if they choose to use it. Most just continue grazing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Production Notes

Three-day weekends are such a boon to us, for Mike and I completely enjoy working together on a myriad of things. This past President's Day weekend we:
  • Caught up on herd health, sharing the time with a few 'students' from our recent ABC's of Alpacas class. Updated a few dams with vaccinations and trimmed some toenails and top knots. Hopi, the llama, stood so patiently for her 'spa day.'
  • Concreted in the H-brace posts for the vineyard fencing. The rain and a bit of sleet teased us, on again, off again, but we (mostly Mike!) persevered. The posts are even leveled, so mostly straight. Now to attach the cross pieces of the H, and to put in the metal T-bars and string the fencing.
  • Watched "Ingredients" a documentary-style movie about farming in general, CSA's (community supported agriculture), the sensibilities of shopping local, and some of the chefs whose culinary creations are farm-direct. Partially filmed in Oregon.
  • I attended a bi-annual Black Sheep Gathering board meeting in Salem, OR. Rode up with a friend, caught up on lots of stories of interest. What a great team of volunteers who put on this lively event each June!
  • Took Mike's motorcycle in to get a new tire, went out to breakfast at Buddy's Diner (one of our favs), then toured the Little Red Farm plant nursery (new to us) -- we'll return in the van instead of the VW, to purchase some trees.
  • Bottled the latest batch of beer, an IPA (India pale ale). Washed and scrubbed 4 dozen bottles first. While Mike filled and I capped them, we selected a name for it, based on the day we bottle: February 20 was the 5oth anniversary of John Glenn's 3-orbit flight, and the 220th anniversary of President George Washington establishing the U.S. Post Office, I found a stamp commemorating the Friendship 7 space capsule. I created the labels, yet to be affixed.
  • Oven-roasted a chicken on a rainy day, helping to warm and scent the house. An easy dinner (and leftovers!) on such busy days.
  • Observed plein air artists braving the fickle weather to capture the landscape on canvas. They are so perseverant and self-contained, their supplies all bundled in waterproof rolling totes, umbrellas clamped on expandable easels, donning rain gear as needed.
  • Performed the usual morning and evening farm chores of raking, feeding, shepherding and enjoying the alpacas.

  • Enjoyed a glass of wine with my love.
Nice that it's a short work week!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kumari Comes to Stay

One creative way to diversify our herd was to trade like-valued animals with another farm. Alpaca Country, with a majority of white alpacas, wanted to add color to their genetics. We have many brown and black animals and could use more light colored (aka, dyeable fleece) animals. So we assessed the possible candidates and selected two 14-year-old production dams to trade.

On Valentine's Day, 2005, Windancer was one of two alpacas we purchased to begin our herd. The daughter of Yupanqui, the number one pick of some of the first Peruvian imports, she is a small-framed mahogany-brown female who reliably breeds in one take and delivers unassisted on due date. A 'clock-work' dam. Windancer is not gregarious -- she prefers her independence -- yet her offspring are alert and engaging. Her daughter, Aymara, is ready to carry on the genetic line for us.

Now in her place is Kumari, a fine white female who is easy-going and friendly. She immediately found her place in the herd, self-possessed without being insistent. After just a few days, Kumari has learned the daily routine, the gates, and where the new-to-her boys are. It is fun getting to know her.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, President Lincoln!

Today marks the birth of Abraham Lincoln 203 years ago. As a nation, we have been fascinated by early stories of the 16th president of the United States studying law books by candlelight, his pivotal position as leader of a divided country during the Civil War, and his murder at age 54.

Recently we enjoyed watching Sam Waterston's portrayal of Lincoln as a real human being who faced severe challenges on personal and national levels.

Lincoln's stern-looking profile is as iconic on the copper penny as is his face on the $5 bill. Generations of Americans recognize his tall figure in black top hat, black vest and tie, and long coat. And that black coat so identified with Lincoln was made of alpaca!

"Lincoln became one of the first Republicans. The oratory of this strange, serious man seemed to inspire the hopes of the people. They looked upon him in bewilderment as they saw this giant of the woods, in a black alpaca coat, with his sleeves rolled up, hammering away at the institution [i.e., slavery] which he believed to be unjust. His appeal was always one of peace..."
(quoted from the "Portrait Life of Lincoln: Life of Abraham Lincoln, the Greatest American" by Francis Trevelyan Miller, 1910)

With this bit of history in mind, we proudly named one of our black male alpacas 'Mr. Lincoln'. And whenever we 'dress' the boys with bandanas for visitors or excursions, he always wears a red, white and blue scarf.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

And his name is....Kokopelli

When we bought Q'Inti and her nameless cria, we decided to hold a Name the Cria contest at the recent Green Home & Garden Show. From almost 100 entries, we selected Kokopelli, a playful trickster and pied piper.

Kokopelli is the youngest of the six weanlings. Yesterday, Cindy and I weighed them all and took the opportunity to assess their fleece. Our little suri boy's is gleaming white fleece up close, and very fine.

The biggest surprise of weighing was that Ruana (female) weighed in more than either of the two slightly older males. Her fleece is dense and soft, but I really thought Tondero was the heavier. Can't tell by looks! ~ the scale is an important tool for herd health.

Today we had return visitors from last week's Open Farm Day -- two girls who where completely taken with the alpacas. After doing a bit of farm chores (spreading shredded bark in muddy walkways), they broke out the bags of carrots they'd cut up to share with the alpacas. When they walked into the hay field where the dams were grazing, alert eyes and ears quickly spied the orange-colored treats in crinkly plastic zip bags, and the excited girls were practically mugged.

Another visitor, a neighbor who is an artist, came with camera in hand to take photos of Kokopelli. It was her first time to meet a suri. Her paintings are quite remarkable, capturing the personality of each of her subjects.

All of this while Mike busily dug post holes for the vineyard fence!

Friday, January 13, 2012

to Bend and Back Again

Hopi the llama has been a such good 'visual' for farm visitors to see the difference between the camelid cousins that I have wanted to get a suri to demonstrate the two types of alpacas, too. Suri fleece drapes from the animal's body in silky locks, rather than fluffing outward like the huacaya's crimpy fleece.

My good friend Cindy, of Hum Sweet Hum, and I made the trip to central Oregon (near Bend) on Thursday to pick up a suri dam and her young son. We are the proud new co-owners of Q'Inti, a multi-award winner before beginning her breeding career. Her name means "hummingbird" in Quechua (Peruvian Indian).

Although recently weaned, we rejoined dam and cria for the ride to their new home in the back of Cindy's Honda Element. To minimize stress, I have left them together for the first few days of adjustment to a new environment, new herd mates, new routines. The Kid is asking to nurse again, Q'Inti is stepping aside. No, no, no!

Soon I will reshuffle the groups so all 6 weanlings are in a pen by themselves, the Kindergarten class. Meanwhile, the Kid is getting to know Smuggler and Trinket and the others, and the dams are accepting Q'Inti. Bred to Cha'ska, another show-stopping suri, Q'Inti is due in June.

Now to come up with a suitable name for the Kid! He's our candidate for "Name the Cria" contest at ABC's upcoming booth at the Eugene Green Home & Garden Show next weekend.

Q'Inti and her current and coming offspring are all full Peruvian suris. Their fleece just shimmers. New spinning experiences await!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Around the Bend

Winter Solstice was just three weeks ago, and already we notice the difference in length of daylight. Solstice is a welcome marker to the shift in natural rhythms -- and I inwardly celebrate passing it.

Besides the inevitable season of mud, winter brings foreshortened days and I am time-challenged by solo farm chores. But now we've rounded the bend, and darkness before 5:00 p.m. has stretched to dusk at 5:15. Wow, simple pleasures! A minute per day gain may not seem like much, but the affect is noticeable and welcome.

On my iGoogle home page I have a map that displays the dark/light phases across the globe. By observing these shifts through the seasons, it helps me to feel more connected with folks I know in other parts of the world: family in Southern California and Texas, friends in Michigan and Massachusetts, and wishful travelers to Ireland or Japan.

The continuous, inevitable shifting of daylight to darkness and back again is the earth breathing in-n-n-n-n and out-t-t-t-t, yoga-like. And the moon phases to and fro, accompanying the melody.

And so the seasons flow one into another.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Avoiding Weaning Woes

Our 2011 cria arrived in May and June, their births grouped together and timed so that they would grow and develop over the summer instead of during Oregon's sun-challenged fall and winter. However, that means that weaning at six or so months of age comes in the midst of winter.

Rather than segregating the young alpacas from the main herd, I chose to take their moms out and group them with newly pregnant dams. This way, I could continue to "feed 'em up" with extra calories. And the weanlings were well supported by remaining with their buddies and aunties.

Garamond and Tondero (photo taken in Sept) were the first two to wean over Thanksgiving weekend, when Mike was on hand to help me with sorting into feeding areas until they learned the new routine. I think Murphy Brown and Gracie missed their boys more than the boys missed them, even though both are experienced dams. But they soon got over it when they realized extra food was involved.

The next set of cria were old enough for transition on Christmas weekend. I checked the weather to make sure the nights were not too cold since they wouldn't have mom to cuddle with. Two of the nursing dams are rebred, so for the mom's health, it was important to separate the cria from them. Again, I moved the dams to the other group.

The moms and weanlings could visit over the fenceline for reassurance. For the first few days it was a challenge to urge Smuggler out into the pasture with the rest of the herd -- his buddy Trinket would call to him to come along. After a week of lagging, I decided to allow his mom, Jedlicka, back into the main herd. She is not pregnant so her health is not compromised. Jedlicka's presence had a calming affect on the other weanlings, and I have not observed Smuggler nursing any more. That's an unusual bonus.

Gradually I have shifted the two female herds from "main" and "young females" to "main" and "pregnant/weaned females" -- the feed 'em up group. Plus Blackberry, our lively 19-yr old who has lost a tooth.

The weanlings continue to eat pellets in their kindergarten group at evening feeding. During their transition, I added probiotics to the bowls to alleviate any digestive stress. One of the most fun parts of my day is to spend some time in with them as they eat, and they are accustomed to my presence among them.

Trinket and Smuggler (unrelated)
are best friends, born a day apart.