The Latest Scoop
18 January 2011 – We awoke today to a beautiful, but treacherous, scene. Several inches of snow had fallen overnight, but now a fine rain was falling and coating everything with ice. So lovely to look at – but potentially dangerous. As you can see here, no one is leaving their stalls to venture out.
This is my big boys’ first winter away from the barn. They have a field shelter which is actually an 8 x 8 storage shed. I had been concerned about how they would do, once bad weather set in. My herd has always preferred to sleep inside at night but with the smallness of the field shelter, the two boys had been playing “lord of the manor” earlier this year. One would stake a claim to the entire shed and the other would have to sleep outside. With the onset of snowy weather, I have been pleased to see that both are now sharing their space. The shelter is partially insulated, has rubber mat flooring and a deep bed of straw – so it is quite cozy inside. In the mornings, they are not to be seen until they hear the clank of the gate as I let our horse out of his paddock. This morning they were especially late to venture out. Here is Acer, finally rousing himself to meet the day.
When I arrived at their paddock with buckets of warm water, I saw that they had returned to their shelter – however, hearing me come through the gate, they rushed over to their mineral feeder which was empty. “Sorry boys” I told them – “no minerals today”. Having trudged through the snow and ice, carrying 2 buckets of water, I was not about to make a repeat trip to get their minerals. However, Acer looked so cute with his topknot matted down with icicles that I ended up going back down to the barn to get my camera so I did bring them their minerals after all.
Here is Acer at the mineral feeder – notice his frozen top knot.
I then followed a holdover from my days with horses. I spread small pieces of hay around so that they would “graze” – walk about and get some exercise and fresh air as they munched on the hay.
While I do have a backup plan to set up a pen for them in the barn in case of really severe weather, I am pleased to see that my boys of winter are faring well for now in their cozy little quarters.
1 January 2011 – New Year’s Greetings to all!
As we head into the coldest days of winter, I like that we are more or less ready for almost everything that the season can throw at us. After several weeks of cold weather, we have had a few relatively mild days with temps in the 40’s during the day – conducive to finishing up several projects.
We made a hay run and now are set until early summer when our hay needs will be minimal. It is always a good feeling to have a shed full of hay but especially in the winter, when travelling for a hay pick up can be treacherous. Tom finished the wind blocks on the girls’ side of the barn. This side is exposed to the prevailing northwest winds which can be really bitter this time of year. The barn porches on that side were already partially enclosed with canvas tarps. We added additional wind blocks to this area, using 2 x 4 frames covered with heavy plastic. I prefer this to the canvas as it lets light in. Tom also put the finishing touches on our farm store. Our first two sales occurred before we were fully set up – I see this as a good omen!
One project we have not completed. We have not finished insulating our big boys’ field shelter. However the bottom half is done and the insulation really makes a difference. Their shelter is at the highest point on our property and gets a strong wind. Insulating the roof can wait until warmer weather. Also, still to be decided - and not to be implemented until spring - is how to run electricity to the shelter. So - I will be hauling hot water all winter but have received some great suggestions as to how to best use solar warming to keep that water from freezing so quickly. This will be our next project.
So --- our hay storage shed is full - we have a winter’s supply of straw for bedding -the wind blocks are up - a new electric tea kettle in the barn makes fixing buckets of warn electrolyte water a breeze – the alpacas love this on a cold day. Santa brought me a new loom and I have a winter’s worth of yarn and rovings for knitting, weaving and spinning. And with a season pass for our local ski area, I am set for the cold. Bring on the winter weather.
And bring on the best that 2011 can offer. May we all experience a healthy, happy and prosperous new year.
21 December 2010 - The only thing more awesome than the huge harvest moon tonight was the sight of my girls, lined up and staring at it. It had never occurred to me that they might be aware of changes in the night sky.
I have always considered that our animals are tuned in to the rhythm of the daylight hours. In the mornings, shortly after sunrise, I look out my window and see the alpacas slowly arousing themselves for the day. They take turns visiting the poop pile, nibble on whatever hay is left from the night before, and settle down outside to wait for their morning grain.
Then in the evening, as the sun falls behind the trees, they head down towards the barn for their evening grain. In these short days of early winter, our old llama Ella is settled into her spot in the warmest part of her stall by 5:30 PM at the latest.
Today marks the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. This is a time of festivity for many religions and grew out of the ancient peoples’ celebrations of longer days returning after weeks of ever-shortening daylight, during which time they feared that the sun would disappear and leave them in permanent darkness.
The range of traditions which occur during the December celebrations is not only interesting to note but is also significant because the variety of customs is evidence of religious diversity and the many ways in which people are inspired to lead more ethical lives.
One tradition that I especially like is the custom of giving the stable animals an extra portion of grain on Christmas Eve and so it will be for the inhabitants of our barn at Shadowberry Farm Alpacas.
9 December 2010 - When I was at my knitting group this week, I noticed that two women – both of whom have been knitting for many years – were carrying on an animated conversation – they never broke eye contact and they were knitting the entire time! My mouth was literally agape! I have to watch each and every stitch that goes on my needle. If I could knit that fast without having to watch what I was doing, I could certainly get a lot done.
I have been pleased that my craft show sales have been going well. However, my inventory – not large to begin with – is very low. And, in response to many people who have been asking if they can buy my products at my farm, we have been busy setting up a small farm store. So I have been knitting and weaving like crazy.
These are some of the items that I have made for sale:
These felted derby hats are hand knit and wet felted in a variety of colors. I wish I had a photo of one of my purple hats but they sell as fast as I make them.
I spent an entire afternoon with my laptop, You Tube, and a crochet needle, learning to do the flowers on my baby caps. At the end of the afternoon, I had memorized the pattern. The boy caps are made with a tiny teddy bear button instead of the flower.
This is my version of “the Republic hat”, so called because it is a copy of a cap featured in a Banana Republic catalog several years ago.
I weave these scarves in an alpaca/silk blend lace weight yarn. They come in 9 different colors, appropriate for all seasons as they are very light in texture.
I started making teddy bears to use up bits and pieces of left over yarn – and for a while was hooked on making knit toys. Credit for the pattern goes to Barbara Prime, (fuzzymitten.com).
We will also carry a limited number of items imported from Peru. We only deal with those importers who are involved in social action projects in Peru and who practice fair trade policies. We are supporters of the Nunoa Project, a public charity dedicated to helping the people and the camelids of the Peruvian altiplano. The economy in Nunoa, Peru depends largely on alpacas and alpaca products and we are pleased to be able to sell products which have been made in Nunoa for export to the U.S.
Our Barn Boutique will be open by appointment only at this time. We will be also setting up our online store on this web site. Check back for updates on our progress.
5 December 2010 -In our kitchen hangs a print of a well-known work by the Scottish artist Joseph Farquharson titled “The Shortening Winter’s Day”. It shows a flock of sheep heading in as the sun sets on a snowy winter day. It always reminds me of our little herd who, in the winter, tend to head down toward the barn as the sun begins to set. As the winter solstice approaches, I wonder if, in their alpaca minds, they are aware of the increasing shortening of light and warmth from the sun.
Another sign of approaching winter was present this morning---frozen beans. As I scooped away and the frozen manure clinked on my shovel, I reflected on what remains to be done to prepare for our winter routine.
The various dry lot areas are set up where they will spend much of their days in order to save wear and tear on the diminishing grass in the pastures.
Frozen water this morning reminds me that I need to get out our heated buckets and clean and store the plain buckets.
The moms and babies already have deep straw bedding in their stall. They like to sleep inside at night but as they tend to use their stall as a bathroom whenever it’s too windy or wet to venture out to the poop pile, I tend to follow a modified deep litter system in the winter. I don’t just keep piling on straw, as with a true deep litter system, but rather do a superficial clean up and sprinkle the area with diatomaceous earth to kill any lurking parasites before adding more straw.
In the summer I lock them out of their stall, making them sleep on the porch, whenever they soil the inside. But I hate to lock them out at night when it’s cold. Our old llama Ella has her special spot in the stall, back in the corner where the straw tends to bank against the wall. Every night when I do bedtime rounds, Ella is in “her” place.
The one thing I still need to do is decide how to handle water to my older males who will be spending their first winter outside the barn. They have a field shelter but no electricity to it. We have a plan for setting up a temporary stall area in the barn in case of severe weather, but I need a simple (i.e. cheap) solution for their water at the field shelter.
I really do not want to run an extension cord the 300 or so feet from the barn to their shelter. If there is anyone reading this who has experience with providing water to field shelters in the winter, please email me!! Right now, the only thing I can think to do is the old horseman’s trick of setting their buckets into stacked tires which are filled with rocks to absorb heat from the sun during the day. It seems to be that would prevent freezing for a few hours at best and then there remains the problem of overcast days.
30 November 2010 – Yesterday I spent the day at The Mannings attending a class on spinning with llama and alpaca. I always enjoy time spent here. The facility is a wonderful resource for spinners and weavers and it’s great to meet other fiber people. As usual for a class at The Mannings, attendees were from out of state as well as from parts of Pennsylvania.
We spent part of the day learning various ways to prepare fiber for spinning. After giving the different methods a try, I decided that I would opt for a set of English combs which I have on order.
These things are wicked! Each comb has 5 rows of nail-like spikes, ranging in length from about 2 to 5 inches. This will not be an activity to undertake when I am tired, angry, rushed, inpatient or on a deadline to complete a project!
The combs produce a light, airy roving which is very easy to spin. It will be good to be able to prepare some of my fleece myself as there is such a long wait for the mini mills to process fiber. I’m sure that it will be a slow and tedious process at first but I look forward to getting started.
16 November 2010 – This past weekend we attended our last alpaca show of the season. This was the Maryland Classic and was a great show. This was a fun, relaxing time and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves as the fall show season ended for this part of the country.
Bixa got a first place ribbon, Briza got a third place and Belle did not place in her large white class. Belle does not show well in the very competitive white classes---and while Bixa and Briza both have blue ribbons to their credit, it is Belle’s fleece that is the most valuable to me because I can do so much with it. Plus, with a long staple length, she has a lot more of it than my other animals.
Now I am busy getting ready for my next fiber festival where I will be a vendor. I’m knitting like crazy for now but after this event I will have time to explore some new projects and things that I want to try. As usual, while at the show I gravitated towards the fiber people---breeders who are doing great things with their fiber---and picked up some new ideas and techniques that I can’t wait to try.
1 November 2010 – Our babies are ages 4, 5, and 6 months---time for weaning of the oldest, Cosmos. There are various approaches to weaning. Some feel it is better go to “cold turkey” with the cria being taken out of sight of his dam and abruptly weaned. Others wean abruptly, but the cria is within sight of the dam. This can go either way in terms of anxiety. Some are reassured by being able to see each other and others become more anxious. There are those who wean by taking the 6 or 7 month old to a show. In this type of situation, the cria is not only abruptly taken from his dam but is also thrust into unfamiliar surroundings.
We opt to follow what we consider a “kinder, gentler approach” by day weaning. We separate the babies during the day and return them to their moms at night over a period of a couple of weeks before making the separation permanent. During this time dependence on the mothers is lessened and the final separation is less of a jolt. Also, we do not have a creep feeder. As soon as they show interest in grain we bring our crias into the center aisle of the barn twice a day for feeding while their dams have their grain in their stall. So for a period of 30 – 45 minutes, twice a day while I do barn chores, the crias are separated from, but within sight of,their moms and they explore our (cria proofed) barn on their own. Thus, our crias are accustomed to being apart from their dams for frequent short intervals.
This year presents a special problem as we have only one male cria. While waiting for his weaning companion to arrive, we decided to put one of the girl crias in with him during the day. Jack, our boys’ llama, would also go with them. However, our kinder and gentler approach is going a little less smoothly this year with some less than happy alpacas.
Begin with Jack. He was purchased two years ago to be a companion to our 2 male weanlings. As last year we had no males born and thus no male weanlings, Jack remained with our boys. Having been with our boys for 2 years now, Jack is not happy with the change in his routine. When he is anxious, he twitches his upper lips. So Jack sits, pouts and twitches his upper lips. I keep telling him that he is supposed to earn his keep by being a guard llama to the babies but he's not listening.
Cosmo - After the first 4 hour separation, dam Barbi was done. End of nursing, finis, milk bar closed. Cosmo cut off completely. Abruptly promoted from nursing cria to weanling.
Cynara – At 4 months, she is too young for weaning but she is very attached to Cosmo and wanted to go into the weaning pasture with him. She was perfectly happy to do this and her mom M-O-Lee did not appear to miss her but as M-O-Lee was slow to allow Cynara to nurse at the end of the day, I stopped letting Cynara go along after the first few days. She does not like being left behind but she is too young for me to take the chance of M-O-Lee cutting her off.
Calla – That left Calla to go into the weaning pasture to keep Cosmo company. At 5 months old she was the logical one to begin with but Calla is a mama’s girl and dam China is a helicopter parent. After some initial reluctance, Calla is happy to go off on her own during the day and China does not appear to be anxious with the separation. They are so happy to be reunited at the end of the day and Calla nurses eagerly.
China and M-O-Lee – I’m not sure of the dynamics here but China and M-O-Lee have had some horrible spats since this weaning started. Fighting like the boys do with neck wrestling and pinning one another down to the ground. These 2 have been together their entire lives and while they do not appear to be best buddies, they have always gotten along---mostly due to shy China deferring to M-O-Lee’s status as Barn Queen.
Ella – Our female llama is happy. She goes along with the weanlings when she indicates that she wants to. At first I thought she wanted to be with Jack but the two llamas have no apparent interest in each other. He’s gelded and she’s too old. Ella likes the fact that the weanling pasture is the highest point on our property. She likes to kush at the top of the hill and be able to see quite a distance all around her.
So I am re-thinking our “kinder and gentler” approach here. Like many alpaca owners I tend to anthropomorphize my animals---I do try not to do so. But last night on my late night barn rounds, I saw Cynara and Calla snuggled next to their dams. Barbi was sleeping on one side of the paddock in what I think of as a totally relaxed alpaca position---kushed with her head and neck sticking straight out. Cosmo was also sleeping but he was curled up in a ball on the other side of the paddock. It was sad to see and hard not to view this as the little guy feeling totally dejected.
19 October 2010 – Last weekend the yearling girls and I headed to Lexington, VA, 4 hours south of here, for the VAOBA Show. (Virginia Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association). This was the largest and most competitive show that we have attended, so I was pleased that all my girls placed---with Briza and Bixa getting 5th place ribbons and Belle a 6th place.
While most alpaca people do not like the venue---the Virginia Horse Center---I do. They don’t like the fact that their alpacas are housed in closed-in horse stalls and that they have to walk outside to get from the barns to the arena. I am familiar with this facility from my horse show days and the two times that I have attended alpaca shows here I requested stalls facing outside and brought panels along to make pens under the overhang. My alpacas like this setup and they can watch all the activity from their pen. They only went into their stall to eat and for bathroom breaks. I had great barn neighbors---from Georgia and from Virginia---and we all pitched in and helped each other. People could be seen taking their alpacas on strolls around the park all day long and I think it was relaxing for those alpacas to get out and about in the sunshine.
Bixa tried to kiss the judge! The judge thought it was because she (the judge) had a mint in her mouth but she didn't know that Bixa tries to kiss everyone that comes within a certain distance. I was concerned that this might happen when the judge went to look at Bixa’s teeth. But we didn't "get the gate" so I guess the judge was not offended by Bixa's attempt to "kiss up".
Next year, this show will be held in a more traditional setting for alpaca shows and will be near Richmond. The pens will cost 2-3 times as much and there will be fewer animals allowed per pen. I, for one, will be sorry to see this change.
14 October 2010 - Now my girl M-O-Lee is not the most maternal of alpacas. When her last cria Cynara was born, M-O-Lee ignored her for 20 minutes or so and ate heartily from the lush pasture where she had been put to give birth.
And in the summer she will sit in front of the fan for hours on end while her current cria is out in the pasture with China, who is very maternal. She will occasionally hoist herself up and stroll over to the stall door to look out and check on the cria’s whereabouts but she does not appeared concerned if the baby is some distance away.
So, she does not appear to be the most maternal of alpacas. But she comes through where it counts. The milk bar is always open. Yesterday when I turned out the moms and babies into their pasture, Cynara was nursing. M-O-Lee stood patiently while the other alpacas pranced up the hill to their pasture. The pasture they are in this month is the most distant girls’ pasture from the barn---a good 100 yards up the lane---and I could tell that M-O-Lee was anxious to be with them but she stood quietly until her cria had finished nursing, then took off running.
Again this morning, Cynara chose an inopportune time to nurse. I was doling out grain into the feed pans when I noticed that M-O-Lee, usually the first in at feeding time, was not in the barn. She was standing patiently outside, chewing her cud, while Cynara was nursing. M-O-Lee’s job as a breeding female is to maintain a trouble-free pregnancy, to give birth without difficulty, to deliver a healthy cria who requires minimal intervention after birth and as a young cria, and to nourish that cria through to weaning without supplemental milk being required. M-O-Lee fills the bill on all counts, producing babies who are outgoing and less herd bound than most alpacas.
Thus, while M-O-Lee appears to have a casual attitude toward cria-rearing, I often have the occasion to say to her "You are such a good mom!"