Think Like a Farmer

Posted on

I grew up on a small, mixed farm in western Canada. My mom and dad raised beef cows, chickens, sheep, and we even had 2 dairy cows for a while and a horse. My dad grew all the feed for the livestock he raised. At harvest time, there was hay to make, grain to combine, baling to be done and all the other complications of trying to bring in a crop before winter sets in.

If you didn’t grow up on a farm, you probably have no idea what “other complications” I am talking about. And so you might think it would be fun to get some land and raise some animals. Alpacas seem popular, they’re adorable, so why not get a pet alpaca?! Since that’s what we primarily raise on our small farm, let me give you a little insight into what you are getting yourself into.

Before I jump in, can I give you some idea of what we’ve been through in the last 7 years? We’ve had 6 cria born on our farm, the first about a month after getting our alpacas. We more-or-less rescued them from some people who did not have enough room or the resources for them. We had to scramble a bit before that baby came, but the infrastructure was all in place, since my dad had farmed for all those years. Everything went amazingly well for that first one, Daisy. One year later, our cria died at ten days old, in part because of our lack of experience. It hurts to admit that, and we will never know the true cause, but I definitely feel like we could have done more. We had to bottle feed one little fella for 8 weeks — multiple times a day we made up bottles, warmed them up, and took them out to him. After 8 weeks, he learned to nurse! We had one cria born out of season (in October, way too late for Canada) because our farm-sitter made a mistake. Our elderly female passed away last year and it was so difficult. So I do know what I’m talking about and I’d like to enlighten you a little bit on what it means to raise livestock, because make no mistake — alpacas are livestock, not pets. And if you have never done this, you’ll need to make some changes to your life and your thinking.

Frankie quickly got the hang of drinking from a bottle!

First of all, to think like a farmer you need to put your animals’ welfare first. If it is 2 AM and you need to get up to check on them, you do it. Without hesitating. If you need to learn how to give needles to your animals, you do it. If you need to clean out a stinky barn, you do it. You no longer get to behave selfishly and you can’t complain if something is dirty/stinky/yucky/uncomfortable/difficult. (You CAN complain about the weather if you like. That’s a thing farmers do! 🙂 Raising animals is not something to do on a whim. It’s not always fun. It is rewarding, but it is bleepin’ hard work.

You’ll need to learn many new things; be prepared for that. Be prepared to feel foolish, out-of-your-element, and overwhelmed. Be prepared to make those hard decisions, like whether a minor injury is something you can manage yourself, or whether you need to call the vet. Sometimes, you’ll need to make these decisions fast, drop all your other plans and go.

Your animals will need you to care for them 365 days a year. You can’t take off on a whim or go on vacation whenever you want. You’ll have to spend some time training a reliable, responsible person to look after your animals for you. We’ve only been off the farm for an overnight period twice in seven years. (We do love it and don’t find this a hardship.)

Be prepared to spend money. If you have to buy feed, really be prepared. Their health depends on you feeding them well. Think about it — if you were someone’s captive with a limited area/ability to get your own food, wouldn’t you want something healthy and good-tasting given to you? You can’t just feed moldy hay because you are lazy or can’t afford better. You have to find a way to get something better. That’s part of the reason we make our own hay, but that is a whole other ball of trouble some years! Be prepared to spend money on a vet, and don’t complain about it. Again, you are their caretaker. If they need a doctor, get them one. Buy a horse trailer if you have to — and a vehicle big enough to pull it — so that you have that independence. If you can’t get your own horse trailer, find a good neighbour who can lend you one (which is not as good, since you’ll have to rely on them). Some vets will do house calls but it is better to have your own transportation. Save up a pot of emergency vet money (a thousand dollars might be enough) so that you don’t have to deny them the care they need because you are broke. You can save money on some things by being resourceful — like making your own alpaca coats or hay feeders instead of buying them — but don’t skimp on feed or medical care.

Making hay

One more note on feed and land: make sure you have enough. In most areas, one acre is not enough for 3 or 4 alpacas (a starter herd). They need grass to graze, so if you are somewhere arid, reconsider raising livestock as a hobby. If you are somewhere very hot and humid, alpacas may not be your best choice. That’s a far cry from their original habitat of cool and dry mountain plateaus. Check with local farms to see if the amount of land you are planning to get will be enough. And ask what type of fences they have, because you will need those too.

Raising livestock of any kind requires a cool head and big heart. You are probably going to fall in love with your animals. And then one day, they might be too sick to save and you’ll have to say good bye. You can’t not make the decision. Your cool head must prevail and you can cry later.

You’re going to have to be fairly organized, in general. You’ll have to know how much feed you have and buy more before you run out. In the case of alpacas, you can’t change their feed too quickly, so if you can’t get what you used to feed, you need to know that early enough that you can blend their food to make it a gradual change.

You can’t have any crippling vices like alcoholism, a gambling addiction or a disabling, chronic illness. You need a second person/team of people to help when you are occasionally sick — because animal care and feeding cannot be paused for you to get better. It is infinitely rewarding to take care of animals, raise them and watch them grow, but there will be personal sacrifices.

A few specifics for alpacas: I suggest you get a few females to start out. Three or four is ideal. Make sure you have their shelter/barn, water, feed and vet care all worked out before you get them. Keep them for a couple of years before you decide if you are ready to breed them. Learn everything you can about breeding before you start that journey. If you prefer to get only males, you may need to get some or all of them castrated. Find a vet who can do this. Males need much more room than females, because they’ll chase each other more.

Animals are smart and alpacas are some of the smartest. You’ll have the fun job of trying to figure out what they are trying to tell you, or what their behaviour means. Once you get to know them, by spending time with them and watching them, you can usually figure out what’s going on and why they are acting the way they are!

I’m sorry if I sound like a know-it-all. I don’t know it all. Some of the advice I’m giving we learned the hard way, ourselves. Thankfully, we had a nearby alpaca farm that helped us when we didn’t know what to do. I hope you can find one too — you can try Facebook or Openherd.org.

To summarize — Raising livestock is a fantastic adventure and huge opportunity for personal growth. Model yourself after successful farmers and be resourceful, smart, calm, independent, patient, curious, open-minded, hard-working, grateful, always do your best and don’t complain. I promise you, the hard moments will be mixed with plenty of beautiful ones.


All the alpaca posts

Following

Posted on Updated on

The other night, I was driving home from work in the snow, on a highway in the country, carefully watching the road and following the tracks of the vehicles that had gone before me. The roads weren’t great, with a slippery layer covered in snow and not very many people had ventured out yet. Everything was going fine until I noticed the tracks I was following go right into the ditch. The vehicle had been pulled out already and I drove on.

The same can happen in life, when we choose to follow someone. We follow people on Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other social media sites, but we also follow brands, fashions, religions, philosophies and society. Most of the time, it goes well; we keep up to date with the latest news and feel like we’re in-the-know.

The problem arises when you follow someone/something or a set of ideas blindly. If I had followed the tracks of that vehicle that had hit the ditch, I would have ended up there too. Luckily, I could also see the edge of the road, other vehicle tracks and occasionally, signs and reflectors that mark intersections. In a split second, I compared the tracks veering off to the right with all the other inputs I had and steered my car to stay on the road.

If you adopt an idea, become a passionate follower of a certain person, or take one side of an argument without ever looking around at the other sides, the environment around you, or other signs of the times, you are very likely to follow that idea or person right into the ditch. Following blindly is dangerous, no matter what the situation. You have to look up to notice that the tracks you’re following are veering toward danger. You have to compare those tracks to the road to see that soon they won’t be on it.

Now maybe, the road you’re on isn’t one you want to stay on. Maybe you want to be in the ditch. That’s great, if you make a conscious decision that the way of the masses is no longer for you. Just don’t follow someone or something down a narrow path without making that decision.

Following in the fog

When I walked across Baffin Island, one of the days was very foggy. It was ice fog, which is similar to regular fog, but the air is so cold, the water droplets are frozen.

One morning, we awoke to ice fog and snow. It was cold and the sky was white. We could barely see the mountains we were camped beside, and could not see even a hint of the far side of the valley.

We started walking out into the valley, away from the mountain range. It was a whiteout. I was somewhere in the middle of the group, snowshoeing single file as if in a giant snow globe. As we walked, I could see that our line was curving. We weren’t going straight, and pretty soon, we would be walking back UP the valley the way we had come.

I caught up to one of our guides and mentioned this. She called the group to a stop and went to talk to the leader. He had not noticed the curve in our track, because there were no reference points in the fog and since he was at the front, he didn’t see the curving line of everyone following. He assumed his track was perfectly straight.

He called our Inuit guides on the radio and asked them to lead the way, and they did so expertly without hesitating. They knew this landscape even in the fog. We followed their snowmobile track the rest of the day.

When you can’t find your way, ask an expert for help. Why expend energy and time going in circles — or the wrong direction entirely — when an expert can help so easily? Why beat yourself up for not knowing something you never learned? Why struggle to cope when an expert can give you tools to help you figure it out?

When you are the one leading, remember that you can’t see the line of people you are leading unless you stop and check on their progress.

Following a cat

Sometimes, I go for walks on the trails in the bush behind my house. Most of the time, my dogs and one cat, Sammy, like to tag along. It’s fun to go exploring, especially if you’re a dog! Sammy is unusual — I’ve never had a cat that liked to come on walks, but he does. He sometimes struggles in the snow, but he is such a little trooper. One time, I could see it was really hard for him and it was also quite cold out, so I turned around and led him back to the house so I could let him in. What a guy.

Lots of times on the trail, I’ll pause to look around and appreciate nature and Sammy will pass me on the trail. That makes him the new leader, since my trails are too narrow to walk side-by-side. Sometimes Brown Dog is the leader, and he is great, although he does walk pretty fast and it can be a challenge to keep up! But when Sammy is leading, he’s the worst. He’ll stop to scratch his cheek on a branch. He’ll stop when he hears a noise. He walks really slowly. He’ll stop for no reason at all. I love Sammy, but he makes a terrible leader.

This can happen with people too. They can be lovely, wonderful people but not the best leaders. They can be intelligent, interesting or revolutionary, but not good leaders. They could be rocking the status quo, but is it in a good way? Just because someone gets media attention or is elected by a population does not make them a good leader. Just because an idea is spreading like wildfire doesn’t make it a good one. And if you realize it, you don’t have to keep following.

When you are leading a cat or anyone who is struggling, stop and give them time to catch up. If you can see they won’t make it, do whatever you can to help. When you are leading, you are responsible for them. When you are the one following, you can always decide to stop. And you’ll have to stop plenty if you are following a cat.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! It’s somewhat in the style of my Tiny Books on Big Ideas. You may want to check my books out. 🙂

O Holy Night — Merry Christmas

Posted on Updated on

The last several years, I’ve been been blessed to sing in a Christmas Eve service/event. Some of the early years were stressful as I had to learn new songs, new harmony parts and so on, but it was also quite a bit of fun. In years past, we’ve had a proper band — a professional pianist, drummer, guitarist, and bass player. That is also fun but stressful, since I am not used to running a rehearsal with a full band and a time crunch. I’d love it if rehearsals could just go as long as necessary, but there is usually a deadline.-+

Let me share with you a special song that I always sing. It is my version of O Holy Night, with lyrics rewritten to reflect on my time living in the Northwest Territories. I have nothing against the original version per se, but this was my experience with a holy night, serene, powerful and life-changing.

O Holy Night

(Lyrics by Teresa Griffith)

O holy night. The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of my spirit’s rebirth.
Out in the woods, the river running by me,
The northern lights stole my breath, sang my worth.
A thrill of hope, my weary soul rejoices
For overhead, a mystery unfolds.

A-mong the trees, I hear the angel voices.
O night divine, O night of northern lights.
O night divine, O night, O night divine.

O holy night, O how the lights are dancing.
In awe I stand, barely able to breathe.
Awesome to see, somehow they speak of glory,
and love and infinite possibilities.
How can it be? Phenomenal pure beauty,
For in my heart, a mystery unfolds.

A-mong the trees, I hear the angel voices.
O night divine, O night of northern lights.
O night divine, O night, O night divine.

What are my rights as a donor?

Posted on

I think we can all agree that times have been hard since covid hit. I’ve been pretty lucky; my income hasn’t changed dramatically and my job appears to be secure. That probably places me in a very small group of people who don’t have to worry about money.

A few months after covid was underway, I used Facebook to touch base with a friend in Cambodia. He was my tour guide when I saw the famous ruins there — which are amazing. If you haven’t been to Angkor Wat and surrounding area, consider going when the world “opens up” again. My friend — let’s call him Mike — said he had zero income as all tourism had stopped. I wasn’t sure where he was going to get food from. I offered to send him some money using an international money transfer service. I remembered that I hadn’t tipped him after his lovey days with me and I had always felt badly about that. I had simply forgotten (and been a little clueless… you know me)!

So I asked him how much money he made from that 2-day tour I had booked and tipped him accordingly. Next month, he asked if I could possibly send him some more to help him pay for food and drink. So, of course I did. Here I am, living in one of the most abundant countries in the world. I’m pretty close to the top 5% of the richest in the world, probably, and he is in relative poverty. I agreed to send him some money every month until the pandemic was over.

I checked in on my Canadian friend who was living in Cambodia to see how he was doing. He was alright. He and his wife still had jobs and he agreed that poverty was around. I asked what he thought of the situation with my friend Mike and he suggested that if I wanted to give, I should donate to a charity that helps the kids who live at the dump. I remembered hearing about that when I was there. The charity did some pretty amazing work with young people who came from a terrible situation.

I continued sending money monthly to Mike, however. He would always thank me and sometimes go a little overboard, saying I was a god, but since English is definitely not his first language, I’m sure he just meant lifesaver.

After several months, small doubts began to creep in, like why did he have to buy food and drink? I hope he just means juice! Well, then I remembered that in Cambodia, you usually can’t drink the tap water, so you have to buy bottled water or other drinks. Then one day, I saw a post on Facebook where many people were commenting on how handsome Mike looked. He had just had his teeth cleaned. This threw me for a loop — if one was really in poverty, would one be able to get one’s teeth cleaned?

I thought about that situation a lot. Perhaps I was missing some cultural aspect, like the fact that you can’t drink the tap water in Cambodia. Perhaps teeth cleaning and dental work was much cheaper in Cambodia, the way that doctors are far cheaper in Mexico. I didn’t say anything to Mike about it at the time, but now I wish I had. The longer I waited, the more awkward it got.

Things went smoothly for a while. After each money transfer, I would get a text saying thank you and a photo of the receipt for the money. Then things started to go downhill and Mike had quite a spell of bad luck. His daughter got sick (dengue fever). His wife left him but then came back right away. Then I got a text saying that Mike needed help paying his mortgage. This was a much bigger ask of me and I wondered what to do. I wish I was completely altruistic and generous, but I have to admit I hesitated. He sent paperwork for the mortgage, I guess to show it was real, and I was shocked to see how big it was! Over $700 a month! That’s a fortune in Cambodia! How had he been paying it up until now!? I certainly wasn’t sending him that much. The bank had been allowing him to delay paying and now they wanted the money.

He said that the bank would take his home and land. I wondered how big his house/lot was. I searched online to see what homes were worth in Siem Reap. The mortgage papers said the total amount, so I could do some rough comparing. I started to feel like a bad person for doubting him so much. I told him that in Canada, if a person could not afford to keep their house, they would sell it and buy something smaller, but I wondered if this was like telling a homeless person to just “get a house already.” There might not be anyone with any income to buy a home such as his. I wondered how much of his income his mortgage had been, so I asked. He said that his income when tourism was good was $1000/month, which makes his mortgage a whopping 75% of his income. But perhaps I’m clueless to apply North American financial principles to a more-or-less third-world country. But banks are banks, right? They will always want their money. I also realized with that wage, he was very well-paid by Cambodian standards.

Over the months, some of the requests, such as to pay or help with 6 months’ worth of his mortgage, were a bit extreme. He said that his sister had sold an old motorcycle to help out, and various other details, but I just couldn’t send that much money to him. How could I really know how he was spending it? I wondered IF I could talk to his bank and pay his mortgage directly, would the bankers speak much English? And could I trust that they would apply a money transfer to the right mortgage and not just pocket the money? There is so much corruption in Cambodia.

Things were getting complicated and occasionally, I felt like I was being played. His daughters had health problems, and so did he at times. But maybe it was all true. I’ve been sick a few times in the last year and a half. Then he wanted $50 to buy a bicycle for his daughters because they were so bored in lockdown. I believe my reply was something along the lines of ”you’ll have to tell your kids they can’t get everything they want as soon as they want it.” One time, Mike said he owed $2600 for his mortgage, and could I help? Soon after, he said some friends helped him and he only needed $400. The next day, only $200. Was he fishing to see when I’d bite? A couple of times I gave in, telling myself that I was so abundant, how could I be so cheap? He did this twice, with the asks getting progressively smaller with various explanations.

So many times, I felt like asking for more details. Like could he sell his house and move? How much did his groceries cost these days? Or was I being insensitive? I wondered if he had other Facebook friends helping him. How else did he pay that big mortgage? I suggested he approach FB friends from well-off countries. I got to thinking that I might not have a clue what his life was like. I had questions, but what right did I really have to ask? How much detail did I deserve, as the rich person sending him money? I have to admit, I defaulted to the standard worldwide belief that the rich are on a higher plane and they deserve more. It’s just not true.

Sure, I was sending money that I had to spare. This doesn’t give me more rights, such as the right to ask personal questions. It doesn’t take away Mike’s right to privacy. I have no place acting like (or pretending) I’m superior. I was just lucky enough to be born in Canada. Anyone with lots of money has precisely the same worth as the poorest of the poor. I cringe when I see my online banking dashboard page that says ”Net Worth.” I like that one bank’s tagline, ”you’re richer than you think,” because we all are! Other bank taglines are atrocious, but I won’t start that rant right now.

I continued waffling for months, not sending more than I had originally planned. I was tempted to give excuses. I stopped sending US money and switched to Riels, the Cambodian currency. I was growing tired of how the US dollar seems to be the currency standard and how much it is used in Cambodia (despite it being a communist country). I noticed far fewer thank yous after I had sent the money, and started to wonder if Mike would be happy to return to work when he was able to.

Recently, Mike told me he needed money to renew his tourist guide certificate. I just sent him his usual monthly amount. He did not ask again, which I found weird if he really needed it to work — if ever tourism restarted. Then he sent the series of messages that made up my mind.

He said he had hurt his knee, and it was swelling and even hurt when he took “a lot of pills.” I sent some general sympathies. Then a couple of days later, he sent this:

“Hi my friend ! My knee was getting worse , I went to meet the doctor and made a blood test , they told me I have a gastric problem with a virus , so I have been in the hospital three days till now for curing and they also gave me a medical prescription to buy medicine for two more weeks , so I pay a lot of money now around 250$ to 300$ .
With the help from my friends and my sibbling living here , I got 160$ from them to pay for it but still not enough money to pay to the doctor , so I need around 90$ more to complete.
Are you available to help me some money to pay for this if you don’t mind ? You could send me less money in next month or the month after , whatever you could help ! Up to you my friend ! Best regards Thanks“

It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel down. I have been dealing with and helping a friend with terminal cancer and I told him so… and that his story made no sense and I would not send any money.

He did not seem upset and just apologized for asking. He might not yet realize that I’m not sending any more money. His story was finally too weak to believe. And it was his pattern to say a big amount, that some friends had helped, but he just needed a little bit more.

Maybe I have become jaded. Maybe I don’t trust people any more! That cannot be the case, because I still trust and care deeply for my true friends. I am happy to help someone or a charity that needs help, but I learned a few years ago that when someone doesn’t really need the help, it’s best to listen to my intuition and stop helping!

If I’m going to give, I want to do so freely. I don’t want to have any reservations. I don’t want to give under obligation, manipulation or pressure. I want to give because it’s fun to do so, such as in the case of a recent fundrive for a community radio station, or because I’m in a unique position to help in a special moment in time. I want giving to feel good, feel right, and be meaningful. And I won’t pretend I’m anything special because I happen to have more than someone else, because that’s ridiculous.

What is all the fascination with skulls about?

Posted on

I should probably tell you right up front — Halloween is my least favourite holiday of the year. Valentine’s is not far behind, due to the ridiculous materialism attached to that day. (No, diamonds are NOT a girl’s best friend. Dogs are!) I’ve looked and I just can’t find very many redeeming qualities for Halloween. Don’t even get me started on what all that Halloween candy does to you!

I will admit that dressing up in a costume can be fun. I can see that. I am getting rather tired of the trampy, attempting-to-be-sexy costumes out there, and in general, I’m tired of the pressure women are under to show off our bodies. It seems like every holiday, there’s a chance for the men to view some free porn. So please, if you are dressing up this year, find a costume that is funny and clever and doesn’t give the creepy old guys a free show.

Yikes, where did that rant come from? Sorry everyone. I guess I’ve been holding that in for a while!

I was wondering if anyone can enlighten me on the popular fascination with skulls. Why do people love them so much? I wonder if at the very shallowest level, it is just a trendy shape. I mean, a person kind of grows out of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns, right? So skulls and skeletons are a much more adult thing instead. But if you’re getting a tattoo of a skull, it must be something more than just a shape.

Are skull-tattooed people actually morbidly thinking about death? I’ve seen face masks, often worn by bikers, that look like fairly realistic skulls and I can’t help but think those who wear them are suicidal. Please, if you are, tell someone. Seek help. Or perhaps the bikers just get a kick out of scaring old ladies at stop lights! That’s a hoot, right?!?

Is that it? Have I found it? People enjoy skulls for the creepy, anti-social, anti-conventional factor? Just to freak other people out? To buck the clean-cut Christian culture? Could be. I think that might ring true for bikers.

Is there a chance that people are fascinated by Halloween’s — and life’s — darker side because they never look at it any other time of year? We all will die. It’s a certainty. But in modern society, we sure don’t like to think about it.

Our days here are numbered. I prefer to use this thought to remember to use them wisely. Especially to use the minutes wisely, because they add up to hours and an hour lost to Facebook or Instagram is one I can’t get back! I’d rather be outside playing with my dogs or exploring on my farm… but I fall prey to FB and IG sometimes, too. But I can tell you for certain, I won’t be on Facebook anytime during my final hour on Earth.

No one talks about death much. According to some websites, 4.9 million people have died worldwide during this pandemic — over 740,000 in the US alone and 29,000 in Canada, as of this writing. Those are huge numbers. Think of all the people who are mourning the loss of a loved one. There must be millions. Now think of all the concerts, festivals and entertainment that is starting back up. My head and heart hurt when I face this, but I am not allowing myself to look away.

Many, many people have died. Many are mourning, are lonely and hurting. And many others feel the need to celebrate. We need kindness more than ever. And then there are the skulls.

Enjoy cartoon skulls at this time of year, if you like. But may I ask you to keep the gore out of it? Have you seen the photos of the Halloween lawn decorations that are so realistic, the police have been called on numerous occasions? Why do this? To give people nightmares? Because I’m sure that’s what it’s doing. It’s gruesome and unnecessary. And not funny.

Have I mentioned that I stopped watching violence as entertainment about three years ago? I decided I didn’t find it fun to watch people get maimed and die. It shouldn’t be considered entertainment, IMO. I will watch a little Star Trek or Star Wars, with their phasers and light sabres. I find it isn’t gruesome and I can handle the violence there. My least favourite movie from this genre is Rogue One. It’s a bit too much like an actual war for me. I’m sure a veteran would say it is a pale approximation, but when the rebels are advancing on the sandy ground and guys are being shot down, it’s too much for my heart.

I want to have a soft heart. I don’t want it hardened by violence. I don’t want it scared by horror movies. You do your thing, as an adult reading this, but please protect the kids around you and their soft hearts from things they are too young to see. We can’t expect our world to be less violent if we keep promoting, viewing and watching violence. It doesn’t make sense.

If you are someone fascinated by skulls, leave a comment so I can get a little insight into what you like about them so much! I’d love that. Take care, everybody. ❤

More Farm Adventures – Making Hay, 2021 Edition

Posted on Updated on

Every summer, I try not to stress out about making hay. After going through hay seasons waiting… and waiting… for hay to dry and then baling it before it was perfectly dry and making bricks instead of bales, I’m nervous. Remember last year? Our bales were heating up because they were, essentially, fermenting/burning inside. We had to open them all up, spread them out in a barn and fluff them up twice a day until they were dry! We have about two acres of good hay field and should be able to make enough hay to feed all the alpacas, if all goes well. If.

People say that farmers complain about the weather a lot. I try not to complain, but it’s hard when the weather just won’t cooperate and my animals need food for the winter. This year, I decided to start a bit earlier, with the hope that we can make two cuts of hay.

For those without any farming experience, let me briefly explain what “making hay” means. It means making bales of hay for the purpose of feeding to animals later, and the first step is cutting the hay. Once it is dry, it is baled and the bales are hauled off the field. Sometimes, an extra step needs to be added in order to help the hay to dry – raking or flipping the hay. So, making hay should be a simple, 4-step process:

1. Cut hay.
2. Wait for hay to dry.
3. Bale hay.
4. Haul bales in.

Sometimes the hay doesn’t dry well, if it has been rained on or if the weather isn’t hot and dry enough. so, in that case:
1. Cut hay.
2. Wait for hay to dry.
3. Rake hay (which flips it over).
4. Wait for hay to dry some more.
5. Bale hay.
6. Haul bales in.

Baling on the original hay field, with the horse pasture in the background

So far, we had more than our share of speed bumps in making hay! Back in May, our tractor had gone to the mechanic to get a new clutch put in, so we were anxiously waiting for it to be ready. Once it came back, we had to put the loader mount back on. It consists of two large metal pieces that get bolted on either side of the tractor to hold the front end loader, which we haven’t been using. We worked together to get the heavy pieces lined up with the holes on the tractor. One side was giving us trouble and we got my dad to help. He is the resident expert on this tractor, since he owned it for decades! In the end, we just couldn’t get one hole to line up so we made the hole on the loader mount slightly bigger. That’s why as a farmer, you need metal files!

We decided to cut the hay using a ditch mower, which just pulls behind the tractor. It isn’t elegant or fancy, but it gets the job done. The only down side is that it isn’t very wide, so it takes more trips across/around the field. We also have a 16-foot wide swather (windrower, technically) that takes less trips across the field, but if you remember from this post from last year, it can be a bit of a beast to run. Hay cut with the mower lies randomly all over the field, so we have to rake it into swaths for the baler to pick up.

After the tractor came back from the mechanic, we found that the battery was weak and it was not starting very well at all. The battery would hold a charge okay after being connected to the charger, but the need to charge for 20-30 minutes every time we started the tractor was getting annoying. We managed to cut the hay alright, but when I was raking it into swaths, I stalled the tractor twice — remember I said we got a new clutch!?! — and in order to start it up again in the field, we had to drive our pick up truck to the tractor, hook up the booster cables, and let the battery charge for awhile. Then it would generally start. Did I mention that this was all happening during the heat wave where the temperatures got up to 37 degrees C?! My dad, the tractor expert, said “that tractor never really liked to work in the heat. It might be overheated and that’s why it won’t restart.” Argh.

Not long after starting raking, I noticed that the rake wasn’t turning any more. I stopped and unclogged the teeth in case that was why. Nope. It still wouldn’t turn. I did it again, more thoroughly. Nope. It was ridiculously hot that day and breezy and I was really trying to figure out why it stopped turning before I melted in the heat. I traced the connections and found it — a crucial pin was broken. It’s the pin that holds the rod that connects the wheel axle to the rake mechanism and ultimately drives the motion of the rake. No pin, no raking. I found a bolt in the tractor’s tool box that fit and put it in. Considering how important that one bolt was, I decided to go back to the yard and look for a better bolt. We got it installed, boosted the tractor and finished raking.

As I was driving back to the yard, I felt like the tractor was sort of klunking as it rolled along. After I parked, I saw the problem: one of the front tires was completely trashed — so flat I had been driving on the rim! Our new hay field is pretty bumpy, so I hadn’t noticed. That field was a horse pasture for a couple of years and a cow pasture before that. I had cleared the fallen trees from it, but there were plenty of ant hills and mole hills and maybe even some tree stumps. I probably wrecked the tire by driving over one of those, or maybe in one of my sharp left turns, trying not to hit the fence!

So we needed a new tire for the tractor before we could move it another inch. We needed a new battery and perhaps there was something wrong with the alternator as well. I was pretty discouraged and then I remembered that we had a pile of spare tires for that tractor. Sure enough, we had three spares and one of them was even ON A RIM!! Thank goodness. We took the tires to a tire shop that does tractor tires and they said it would be done on Monday, in 6 days’ time. Sigh. And they couldn’t use the tire that was on the rim because it had a crack in the sidewall, but at least they could get us a new tire and use the rim we had. So it was a good-news-bad-news story. To our surprise, they called late on the day before Canada Day to say the tire was ready for pickup, but they close in half an hour and would be closed for an extra-long weekend. Let’s just say some speed limits were broken on the way there but we made it in half an hour!

So we had a new tire and we picked up a new battery. The incredibly hot weather had dried our hay to a crisp and it was ready for baling. We pulled the baler out and in the course of checking it over, I noticed that we were low on baler twine on one side. No worries, we have a spare roll in my dad’s shed. Hmmm… couldn’t find it. I called my dad and he said that it was round baler twine and he had given it to the guy who bought his round baler. Crap. So, baling would be delayed until we could run to the farm store and buy twine. The only good part was the forecast was still all-hot with no rain in the foreseeable future.

The only twine the farm store seemed to have left was round baler twine. The guy who worked there managed to find a half a pack of twine for a small square baler like ours which he sold to us for 50 percent off! Whew! That would get us through. Note to self: find a store with twine NOW and buy it so we have extra on hand for next year. We put the new twine in and I sent Darren instructions for how to tie a tight, small knot so that it would go through the baler’s tying mechanism okay. He got it all set up and finally went baling while I went to sleep — I was on midnight shifts that week. A little while later, he sheepishly came and woke me up. “The baler’s not tying the bales!” I dragged my tired self out of bed and went out into the heat and the sun to see if I could help. The new twine wasn’t even involved yet — it was still using the original roll and it had gotten all wrapped around the knotter mechanism.

The knot to start the new roll of twine

I helped Darren clear out the twine that had gotten tangled. We fed loose hay into the baler again and watched… and it was tying. Thank goodness! The first couple of bales were a little loose, but better loose than not tied at all.

We finally had a wee bit of rain in the forecast so we took the bales off the field the next day. They were SO dry and so light. They should be some good eatin’ in January for alpacas! Because of the heat and lack of rain, we only got 45 bales. We should have gotten closer to 80 or 90, especially since we added in that horse pasture as a new hay field. So when farmers complain about the weather, keep in mind that they might be thinking of their animals going hungry or needing to buy hay at whatever the asking price is, perhaps from a farmer far away or in another province where they had a good hay crop.

So to recap, making hay is an easy 9-step process:
1. Cut hay.
2. Wait for hay to dry.
3. Rake hay into swaths.
4. Fix rake when it breaks.
5. Boost tractor every time it needs starting.
6. Buy new battery for tractor and get new front tire.
7. Buy more twine for baler and fix knotters if they are jammed.
8. Bale hay.
9. Haul bales in.

The new hay field, drying nicely

So far, the process has been a little smoother for our new hay field. We had left it to grow a bit longer but decided to cut it one day last week. My dad helped us hook up the disc bine — a piece of equipment that boasts turtles with blades that spin at a terrifying speed to cut the hay. It cuts really well (but is terrifying)! So, our new hay field has been drying well, with the hot days we’ve had, but now today, the day we had planned to bale it, it’s positively dreary. I mean, it’s muggy, foggy and not very warm. And the air is a little cruddy from forest fire smoke.

So.
We wait again for better weather and hope it doesn’t rain on our dry hay too much.

Wish us luck, smooth baling, and good weather for the rest of the summer so our alpacas will have enough to eat this winter! Take care everybody!

The Alpaca That Started it All

Posted on Updated on

When we moved back to the farm I grew up on, we started looking at the grass. We had a lot of it, and we started to dread mowing it. I thought it might be fun to get some sheep to help us mow it. My parents raised sheep when I was growing up and I had good memories from those years. Somehow, researching sheep breeds led to alpacas, and before long, I found two alpacas for sale on kijiji. They weren’t far from our place, so we went to look at them.

They were adorable, of course, and we fell in love with their big eyes, long eyelashes and fluffy bodies. The male was named Fozzie after the muppet whose colour he was (sort of) and the female was names Uki after a Japanese anime character whose bangs she had.

Uki on her way to be sheared

Before a month had passed, Uki gave birth — with no help from us AT ALL. In fact, we were at work when it happened and a friend who was staying with us at the time found the newborn being chased around the corral by Bunner, our dog!! We named this sweet little Uki-look-alike Daisy. She was deer-like, with her long legs and thin neck, and absolutely adorable. Little ones have no fear, so we melted from cuteness overload whenever she would walk right up to us, curious about who we are.

Uki and Daisy

Miss Uki was a very protective mama. She was always watching and prepared to intervene if she detected any danger. The first evening Daisy was in the world, she was settled in the grass of the main corral, looking about ready for a nap, when we had to pick her up to move her into the barn for the night. Miss Uki spit at me at close range ALL the way into the barn! Luckily for me, they were air-spits — a definite threat, but I was uninjured on the whole.

Miss Uki gave birth to three other cria over the years — Allie (who died young), Alex, and Pigpen. We thought she was pregnant again and due in the middle of June, however, I did not notice a very big belly on her and I was starting to wonder.

Uki just after birthing Pigpen!

The other day, Darren went out to do chores in the evening and he found her leaning up against a fence, shaking. She looked like she had parkinson’s — she was shaking continuously and leaning heavily on the fence to keep herself up. Darren called a vet and he came out to take a look.

We discovered that she wasn’t actually pregnant after all. That was sort of a relief, in that we didn’t have to worry about a premature cria — we only had to worry about Uki. The vet suggested that some thiamine might help, but it was hard to get because of shortages. He managed to take blood so that we could try to figure out what was wrong with her. The only problem was the timing — it was the Friday evening of a long weekend, so lab results would not come in for probably three days.

We managed to get her into the barn but she just would not stop shaking. She spent most of the night leaning against the walls of the barn. I slept on the couch and checked the alpaca cam frequently throughout the night (we have a security camera in the barn, thanks to wifi). Much later in the night, she laid down and got some rest, we think. I tried not to fear the worst.

The next morning, she was uninterested in kibble and did not quite seem to be herself. She wandered around the corral, as if looking for something. It almost seemed as if she was absent minded. Occasionally, she would walk up to me and stop quite close to me, which was utterly out of character for her. She disliked people and always stayed exactly one arm’s length away… far enough away that she couldn’t be petted… at least not easily. So it was very strange for her to stop up close to us.

After walking with her and watching her in the corral, I wondered if she could see okay. I noticed that if I walked up to her from her right side, she did not seem to see me coming and I could pet her. She seemed to be able to see better on the left. I watched her walk around, not eating or drinking and I started to worry. How long can an alpaca go without food?

We were able to get some thiamine from alpaca-farmer friends later that day, which helped some. She was able to lie down and rest that night, and she was shaking less. However, she was completely uninterested in eating and seemed to be completely blind. Sunday morning, I sat with her a long time in the barn, and took a close up photo of her. We had to help her stand up in the barn so she could go outside.

After helping her up, she walked outside, and right into a fence. And then a building. She couldn’t see at all, but was intent on walking around the corral. So, Darren and I followed her around, gently directing her path so she wouldn’t hit anything. From time to time, she would have a shaking spell, so we would hold her head and help her stay up. When the spell had passed, she’d start walking around again. The other alpacas definitely knew something was wrong and they watched at times to see how she was.

The whole gang (except Uki): Daisy and Marley in the foreground, and all the boys lined up along the fence. They were a little worried about Uki.

That afternoon, she started shaking even more and the good periods between her shaky spells got shorter and shorter. We called the vet again and asked him to bring the medicine to euthanize her.

We didn’t know what was wrong with her — specifically, what was causing the thiamine deficiency and preventing her from gaining weight — and she wasn’t eating and the seizures were getting worse. Poor girl. The vet agreed that the best thing to do was end her suffering.

We watched the chemical stop her twitching, and then her breathing. Sigh. Our girl was gone.

We dug the biggest deepest grave we’d ever dug and buried her on the edge of the hay field. We let Daisy and Marley in the field while we were digging, and they ran around in the tall grass. They knew what we were doing.

Thank you Uki for gracing us with your presence. You were such a good mama. We loved you greatly and will really miss you.

Give your pets and loved ones an extra hug today. You never know how long they will be with you.

Uki and Pigpen
Pigpen following his mama around!
One of the last pictures we took of her
Uki leaning on Darren during one of her seizures.

Want to Write and Self-Publish a Book?

Posted on Updated on

I’ve been working on some aspects of my writing and getting my books out to the world more. This equals marketing, which is not something I’m naturally attracted to doing. I could say I have found myself procrastinating on this, but I don’t like labels! 🙂

I thought it might be helpful to those of you who are interested in self-publishing to share some resources I have found lately. For those new to this blog, I should say I’ve self-published 8 non-fiction books to date! But I am always looking to learn more about the process. 🙂

The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn is a MONSTER in self-publishing! She has written countless books, both fiction and non-fiction, and is really interested in helping others. She has a website full of resources and a podcast I’ve also been enjoying. Everything else I’m going to mention in this blog post came from her suggestions! I really enjoyed the episode about “Going Wide for the Win” which talks about publishing in as many places and ways as possible. After listening to this episode, I no longer feel paralyzed and overwhelmed; I am so much more inspired and empowered to get my books out on more platforms. After all, I wrote them for others to read!

E-books – Draft 2 Digital

I’ve made it a personal goal to get ALL my books into ebook format before the end of March. I have been working on it since January and it’s coming along. There are several services that take care of ebook creation and distribution, and I have settled on Draft 2 Digital. They even have a print option, although they do not have as many different book sizes available as other print-on-demand printers, such as lulu.com, which is the printer I have been using. I find lulu.com has some pretty hefty fees, however, so I am looking at my options. For ebooks, I think Draft 2 Digital is great, but by all means, do your own research.

By the way, getting your own ISBN is VERY easy in Canada! Go to this page in Library and Archives Canada, start an account and then start requesting ISBNs. It isn’t hard and it’s totally free. If you have created a publishing company, great. If not, you can publish under your own name too. You need to request a unique ISBN for every format of every book. For example, my latest book Forging Sisterhood in the Frozen North will eventually have 4 ISBNs – one for the paperback (which is already out), one for the large print version, one for the ebook, and one for the audiobook.

http://teresagriffith.ca/books#FSFN

Audio Books – Find a Way Voices

Audio books are crazy popular. There used to be only one way to distribute them (Audible.com), but thanks to Find a Way Voices, there are now other options. I am not a fan of monopolies, so I was glad to learn about Find a Way Voices! If you think you might ever create an audio book, be sure to check them out. Can you believe I recorded myself reading Love Your Skeletons years ago, and I still haven’t done anything with it!?! It’s embarrassing. Like I said, I was procrastinating and feeling unsure of how to start.

Need some motivation?

If you are serious about writing a book and want someone to check in with you on your progress, I would love to do this for you. Having an accountability partner who checks in with you is a great way to actually finish something you have started. Please contact me and we’ll make it happen. 🙂

Quick 5-Ingredient Scones

Posted on

I just have to share this recipe that comes from the giant cookbook/textbook The Joy of Cooking. I’ll include my tweaks that make these scones extra-delicious! And soooo fast to make. They also happen to be dairy-free and vegan and only require 5 ingredients! The scones I made today (photo below) have fruit added, but these scones are delicious with just the 5 ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 + 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (NOT soda!)
  • 1 or less teaspoon sugar (organic, if you have)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1+1/4 cups thick coconut cream

The coconut cream should be almost as thick as butter. It replaces the butter and eggs in the original recipe. I scoop it out of canned coconut milk and that works great. The only problem is that the amount of thick cream varies between cans. It’s best if you have two 14-oz (400 ml) cans to scoop the thickest coconut cream from. Pro-tip: don’t shake the cans! The thickest cream rises to the top, so just open them and start scooping!

I increased the amount of baking powder in the original recipe because, let’s face it, most of the baking powder on our shelves is probably a little old and has lost some of its potency.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 F. Get a baking stone or cookie sheet ready. Baking stones work great for these! Combine all dry ingredients and make a well in the middle. Measure out and add the coconut cream. If you like, you can add 1/2 cup dried fruit such as blueberries, cranberries, chopped apricots or candied ginger. Whatever you add should TOTAL 1/2 cup, and don’t use wet fruit like frozen blueberries. You would have to plan ahead to thaw them and dry them out a bit. These scones are still delicious without any add-ins!
Mix the minimum amount to combine everything.

Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of flour on a clean counter or large cutting board. Dump dough onto that and shape into a circle 3/4 inch (about 2 cm) thick. You don’t even really need to use a rolling pin. Cut with a knife into 6 or 8 wedge shapes. Transfer the wedges onto the baking stone. Take a little more coconut oil/milk (the thinner stuff) and brush it on each wedge. Sprinkle a tiny pinch of sugar on each. Without the glaze, the scones will be a bit dry and won’t brown up as nicely as they bake.

Bake in the oven about 15 minutes, until golden. Let them cool slightly before moving them. Eat WARM with a little butter or coconut oil. Yum!

Refurbishing an Old Board Game

Posted on Updated on

Does anyone else here like to play the board game Aggravation? It’s a game where you have to move your marbles around the board to get from “home” to “safe.” Along the way, you can take shortcuts, or take out your friends and send them back to the beginning. It looks like this:

I love this game! It’s so fun. So, when I saw a crappy old one for $1 at a garage sale, I bought it. But it didn’t have enough holes drilled in it. It only had holes around the outside (see photo below). That isn’t very fun! You need a center hole to be a short cut, and some way to get into the middle. So, I decided to add more holes!

I tried to make the curves smooth, and by putting masking tape on, I could erase them and adjust them before drilling them.

Initially, I used a drill stand which holds the hand drill at whatever angle you set. I set it for 90 degrees, or perpendicular. It worked alright, but on a couple of the holes, the device moved a little and the hole did not end up where I had wanted it. Then, we found a drill press on kijiji! So, I set the depth and that was better… for the holes it could reach. It couldn’t reach the holes closes to the centre, or the curved parts. So in the end, I used a combination of the hand-held drill and stand and the drill press. I think I may have drilled the center hole a bit too deep! Once I had all the holes drilled, I took the masking tape off.

Now, I had to do something about that rather awful finish. There were some pretty big gouges too, where the wood had broken away when the original maker drilled their holes. I filled those with wood filler and then went at it with the sander! The wood filler shows up as light grey in the photo below. Isn’t that a nice piece of wood, though!?! Without that orange stain?!?

I had to redrill one hole because the stand had slipped and the hole was too close to its neighbour. I put down lots of wood filler, then very carefully drilled into all that wood filler to move the hole over. It worked! in the photo above, the new hole is pretty close to 12 o’clock.

Next, I slowly and carefully painted all the holes with dark brown enamel that I’ve had around here for ages. Looks nice, doesn’t it!?! Sure beats that orange-brown wood! You can see old holes, new holes and painted holes below.

The new holes needed 2 coats because some enamel absorbed into the wood. Then, I had to decide what to do for the colours. Did you notice this game is a hexagon? There are home bases for 6 people to play. I thought about getting marbles in 6 colours and painting the home bases and safe bases in those colours, but then I remembered I had some large wooden beads… I used the beads and went through my craft supplies at home to find 6 different colours of enamel/paint that I already had! (Yes, some of it was nail polish! I also borrowed some yellow from my mom… Thanks, Mom!)

I am so pleased with the result!

I did kind of a minimalist painting scheme on the home bases, just connecting the holes with lines. Overall, this was a really fun project, and it would be equally fun to make from scratch! I’ve seen aggravation games with 4 home bases or 8, but 6 was good too.

How To Play

Your marbles (or in this case, beads) start at your home, which is on the outside edge of the board. My family plays by rolling a dice, but some people play with cards — that lets you plan your moves. You need to roll a 1 or a 6 to get out of the home base and start playing — that just gets your marble onto that first hole outside your home base. Then, you move around clockwise according to how you roll until you get back to your safe — the part inside the curved areas on my board. In the photo above, you can see there are 2 orange marbles still at home and 2 out and about on the playing board. The copper-coloured player has one in his safe already and one in the shortcut… he or she is probably waiting for a 1 to get out! 🙂 As you go around, if you land on someone else’s marble you get to send them home. You can have all your marbles in play at one time, or just focus on one.

If you want to try your luck on the shortcut, you have to jump into the middle from a special dot. On my game, it is painted sparkly! On other games, it might be painted red or with a yellow circle around it. Can you see the sparkly holes at the top of each arc? You need to roll a 1 to get out, and you can come out onto any sparkly dot you choose… but you’ll probably want the one just before your safe base!

The first person to get all their marbles into their safe wins! At the end, sometimes I get stuck waiting for a small number like a 2 so I can get in the door! 🙂

I hope this inspires you to get a piece of plywood (at least a half inch thick) and start drilling some holes! 🙂 Take care, everybody.

More refurbishing: An Old Drum Carder