Shearing day is always an exciting day on the farm! It only comes once a year, and by the time it comes, the alpacas are super-fluffy and I feel like they are looking forward to it!
In the photo above, Daisy and Marley are definitely wondering what’s up, since we never close them in the barn using that half-door.
The shearers are a 2-person man-woman team that we’ve used for a couple of years. They called while we were having breakfast to ask if they could come earlier — in half an hour instead of at 11:00 am! Ack! So we were a little rushed getting ready for them to arrive, but it actually went really smoothly. I had bought more harnesses so that we had one for everyone, and that helped too.
Most of the alpacas walked really well on their harnesses/leashes, which is amazing considering we really don’t practice with them. Alex was born last year, so it was his first time on a harness, being led and being sheared. He did the usual bucking around, but he walked okay. He did NOT like getting sheared — he cried the whole time. Poor little guy! He did seem pretty happy afterwards, however!
It was really nice to be able to see Alex’s eyes! He’s been so fuzzy, we haven’t been able to see them! The sun must seem really bright to them after having such long bangs.
I was worried that Alex was a bit small for a yearling, but the shearer said that he looks normal, or even a little big, to her! So that’s good. (Remember when he was born? What a cutie!) It could just be because he and Boeing are friends, and Boe is a big fella.
After shearing was done, everyone was tired and hungry (and happy… trust me, I can tell).
Don’t you just love how the shearers leave little legwarmers? It helps protect their legs from mosquito bites, and keeps them warm in winter.
They have to be sheared in summer so they have enough time to grow a coat before winter. Mid-June is a bit late, actually, but I’m sure these guys will be okay. They produce a LOT of fibre!
For months, I’ve been saying, “look how fluffy you are! You’re getting so BIG!” and now I am saying “look how skinny you are!”
After shearing is the only time I can see their bodies, and know if they are underweight, overweight, or just right. They all look good, except maybe Miss Uki (she looks a little skinny).
Daisy got to wear her harness a little longer than everyone else. When she was done, we just unclipped the leash and she ran away! So we had to catch her a while later and take the harness off. Luckily, alpacas can still eat and drink while wearing one. You an see her in the distance behind Fozzie below:
The reason the shearers came early was because at their first stop, the sheep were all wet! So, to give them a chance to dry, they came and did our alpacas first. Apparently, shearing wet sheep is akin to hell bent over! The boys were a little damp, so I spread the fibre out in the sun to dry. Doesn’t it look glorious? Boeing’s fleece is white, Ziggy cinnamon brown, Fozzie brown/black,and Alex dark brown with sun-bleached tips. 🙂
Alex’s fleece had a lot of straw in it, so I spent a while picking it out. It is SOOOO soft. Best time ever!
And hey, a good friend of mine featured Daisy’s first cut fleece in a video! You can watch it here:
I’ve actually been working on processing the fibre lately! There are 3 steps before I can start knitting it: de-dusting it, carding, then spinning. I could also wash it, but it isn’t absolutely necessary as long as I get the dust out. I have a mesh table that I fluff it on. My grandma gave me her drum carder and spinning wheel and I spent a day carding the fibre at home and then another day with her while she taught me how to spin. I was SO terrible at it, but apparently, that’s normal for beginners. There is no such thing as beginner’s luck in spinning! She kept teasing me, saying I was making a rope! It was way too thick. But I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it.
That’s all for now, everyone! Take care!
Here are a couple more “before” pictures to enjoy!
Spring is such a busy time of year! There are a few things that really need to be done in spring and there is a short window to to them. This year, I found myself working a lot on yard clean up, since you have to do it before the grass starts to grow too tall. I’ve been picking up old wood, random small pieces of wire and whatever else I find. I put the wood on the hugelculture (I’ll try to blog on this some day!) and the metal on a trailer where we’ve been gathering scrap to take to the metal recycling yard.
It is also time for planting! We have been working on our hay field for a WHILE. Last year, we mowed, plowed and harrowed it, and then did it all again later in the summer, to prepare for planting. It was pretty nice and smooth and ready for planting this spring! I am always aware of the weather, so I decided to plant before some rain in the forecast… perhaps it was a bit early, but at least the weeds had not started growing yet. I went to UFA and talked to one of the men there and decided on the “Stockman’s blend” — a seed blend of different grasses. I promptly went and showed my Dad to see if he thought that I picked the right kind! He said it would grow well, and he recommended a broadcast seeder for that sort of seed.
We already have one hay field; this will be our second. It’s a little over an acre, and the only seed broadcaster I had is one like this (on the right).
So, let’s just say, I walked back and forth more than a couple times! It went more quickly than I thought, actually. Some people might have moaned about not having a bigger/proper seeder, or maybe tried to buy/borrow/rent one, but I just went for it with what I had. My feet were a little sore that night!
The other big job we had to do was replace a fence. It’s been leaning more every year and it was time to build a new one. It’s in a bit of a low spot, and the frost always heaves the fence posts out. So, we decided to build a Montana-style jackleg fence.
The fence before:
You can see that farther along, it really starts leaning! So, we tore it all out in one evening (with temporary fences in place the keep the alpacas separated).
And then built a new one the following day! We had bought all the rails we needed several days before (and we already had a stack of fence posts for the A-frames).
All done! This was a really fun job, actually! It looks great, is really stable, and since it sits on top of the ground, we shouldn’t have to worry about frost heaving. We also put some old straw down to try and fill in/build up the low spot. Plus last winter, we fed the alpacas hay here many times. Over a few years, this should fill things in pretty well. We also filled the holes where the fence posts were. The only small problem we foresee is when it comes time to wean a baby alpaca — he/she could very easily put their head through to continue nursing off their momma, so we’ll have to put up some snow fence or something to prevent that!
Other projects we want to work on this summer (with the goal of completing one per week):
- Remove the west doors on the barn (seen above) and convert them into one large sliding door (put them on a backer/frame and install a overhead rail).
- Install a snow guard on the west lean-to part of the barn roof (also pictured above) so that snow doesn’t slide off into a big pile in front of the door!
- Sand and paint the main metal gate
- Install more pickets on the picket fence (and paint them)
As you can see, a lot of our work this year involves fences. Anyways, that’s all for now, everybody!
NOTE: I originally meant to post this back in May, but I was so busy! Sorry everybody!
What a year it has been! There are so many highlights I want to share with you!
The day we got Ziggy and Boeing! I can’t believe that was less than a year ago. I feel like we’ve had them forever!
We got our well fixed back in spring, on the first warm day! It was a big event, and we were so grateful when it was done and the pump wasn’t spraying water all over the inside of the pump shack any more. Darren made a fancy thermostat to control the heater in the pump shack, so it will never get below zero in there again. And we can check the temp any time, because he also made a wifi temperature sensor.
Shearing day! It’s always a big event. I got spit on by Uki, and my arm was GREEN and STINKY until I washed it. After 5 minutes.
Total Solar Eclipse – We had such an awesome trip to Idaho to see the total solar eclipse! 🙂
Cambodia – In November, I went to Cambodia for 8 days to visit a friend and be a tourist. It was amazing. I really should blog about it!
Music – I continue to play in a band once a month at the Centre for Spiritual Living, which I love. Singing and playing is so fulfilling for me, and I’ve been getting a bit more bold in my song choices. My keyboard playing is getting better too! I love it, and I play with such great people. I really feel blessed.
Writing and Publishing – I’ve been writing like a fiend this year! Just not blogging (sorry about that)! 🙂 I finished writing 4 tiny books, and just this month, I’ve finished all the layout and publishing tasks to self-publish 3 of them with lulu.com! I still need to finish the 4th one. This is another thing that I absolutely love doing! It’s so fun and fulfilling, and I can’t wait to get my books out to the world! 🙂
I feel like I’ve had such a great year! I was grateful much of the time, and was able to help some friends going through tough times and not get carried away by their grief or anger. I took a couple of self-development classes this year; I learned how to do Heart Math and I do it all the time. It’s such a helpful tool for regulating one’s emotions and creating more resiliency. In the second class, I learned more about Ernest Holmes and all that he stood for. It was also an excellent class and I enjoyed every minute of the reading and the class discussions.
I wish everyone such a happy, amazing, phenomenal 2018. May you grow in love and be surrounded by joy, peace, creative activities, and time for all the things you enjoy.
I can’t believe what a busy summer it has been! Our Miss Uki had her baby WEEKS ago, and I haven’t had a chance to blog about it!
Alpacas are so cute when the lay flat-out! They all do it from time to time — except Miss Uki. She is the momma and she doesn’t seem to rest that much!
And, of course, on a hot day, Fozzie is still loves to go in the pool!
Fozzie is Alex’s papa, and we are starting to see that perhaps personality is passed on, too! Alex LOVES to run now (since he was a day old!) and he will even pester Daisy, his older sister, to play with him. He bumps into her, interrupting her grazing, to try and get her to run with him. He is such a funny guy! Just like his papa.
I’ll try post more photos soon, but who knows!? Life is busy. Today we leave for the US to watch the eclipse on Monday! I am so excited — I can’t wait.
Hi everyone! Just wanted to show some photos and explain a little about the doghouse I made a while back for our awesome chocolate lab-mix named Gunner.
This was the ghetto-style doghouse we had rigged up before hand. Poor guy! He had to crawl in under the tarp. There’s a dog crate under there, with several blankets inside and an old sleeping bag draped over the top, but still, it’s not very warm or cozy.
I started with a regular pallet. Be sure to choose a sturdy one in good condition. I decided a half-size doghouse was big enough, so I framed that out. If you look closely, you can see I only framed the front and back walls and just added boards to join them together. I added a board under the “floor” of the dog house right at the back edge, in order to make the edge stronger and then I nailed/screwed the frame down. Then I used a staple gun to attach old feed bags (white) and some windbreaker material (black) to the outside of the frame.
The next step was to insulate. I had a huge bag of raw wool, so I fluffed it up and then filled the space in the walls.
I used a piece of fleece and stapled that to the frame and that’s all I have for interior walls. No need for drywall or wood since the wind-proof barrier and wood siding goes on the outside.
I can’t believe how well wool works as insulation! This doghouse is so warm! Search on kijiji or Craigs List or wherever for raw wool and if you can get some, use it!
Next step was to attach siding. I had lots of rough-cut planks, so I cut them to length and screwed them in using deck screws. They are layered like siding should be and overlapped a bit at the corners. In the two photos below, I was still insulating the front section.
Once I finished the front, it was time for the roof. I like a traditional peaked roof, so I made rafters and attached them using long screws. This was trickier than you might think, but worked well. It’s not trivial cutting pieces to be identical, and some of my 2×4’s were a bit twisty… which I didn’t realize until I was trying to make them all work! All the material for the doghouse was just kicking around the farm, I’m pleased to say! Some things, like the huge box of deck screws, were given to us by friends that were moving — thanks Krista!
I also rigged a board across the middle to make the ceiling. The insulation for this part was added later in the form of an old sleeping bag. Next, the roof boards.
I guess there are a few more steps. Roof boards — very tricky to install yourself! — and siding for the gable ends. One of our outdoor kitties had started crawling on top of the dog crate and sleeping there, so I made her an attic room. She snuggles in the sleeping bag that is the insulation! And how did I cut the kitty portal? I didn’t have a jig saw, so I cut two straight cuts and then just hit the wedge shape out using a hammer. And then smoothed it out with a file. Cool, eh? I’m probably related to MacGyver…
I did not overlap the siding boards on the gable ends. That was just too nutty. I just put them up against each other.
Now, how to move it? I held off on mailing on the asphalt shingles because I knew they’d add a lot of weight. I moved the otherwise-complete doghouse all on my own, by manoevering it onto a plastic sleigh/toboggan that we use to haul bales in winter. I used levers, using smaller boards, longer boards, and whatnot, to get it from the shop floor onto the sleigh on the snow. Once I had the doghouse on the sleigh, I just pushed it across the yard from the shop to the house! It was pretty heavy. This is the doghouse in transit:
And here it is in it’s place! See the kitty portal?
Gunner enjoying his new house! He had been pretty reluctant to go in it while it was under construction, but once it was at the house, he knew immediately what do to! What a guy! initially, I stuffed more raw wool into old pillow cases to make cushions, but later I bought a burlap sack to make a mattress for him.
Before we got our second dog, Jenny, I made her a doghouse too! A slightly different design — and I was really under a time crunch on this one!
This is it 90% complete.
All I had left to do was put a couple of boards on each side to close up the roof. You can see I used reflective insulation on this ceiling. I also bought recycled denim insulation instead of using wool in the walls — I just didn’t have time to fluff all that wool up! I highly recommend using a safe insulation like wool or denim, and NOT fibreglass, if you are going to build it this way. You don’t want the fibres bothering your dog, and they might leak out of the walls! You would have to install solid wood or gypsum board walls.
This style of roof is much easier, I have to say. I just screwed two taller boards to the front wall, and then decided on the roof size and cut it out. I shingled it before installing it, except the last shingles which would cover the screws that attach to the taller boards. I also bent a couple of shingles over the front edge on a warm day and nailed them on. Darren and our friends Michelle and James helped me move this one! Thanks guys!
Anyways, I just wanted to share what I made. It’s not exactly step-by-step, but if you’re reasonably handy, I think you can figure most of it out by looking at the pictures. If you have any questions, leave a comment!
Take care everybody! Go give your dog (or kitty) some love! 🙂
Other woodworking projects
Time flies by so quickly! Sorry I haven’t been blogging. I have been writing a lot, but I’ve been working on my next books instead of blogging.
So let me tell you what’s new and what hasn’t changed! We are still loving being on the farm. The work doesn’t feel like work; it feels like I get to play outside, making improvements or doing things for the well-being of our animals. We have 4 alpacas now, but instead of a baby from Uki as we were expecting, we got another yearling female from our friends at the nearby alpaca farm. We needed a buddy for Daisy when she was being weaned, so she wouldn’t be alone, and that’s when we got Marley. She’s toffee-brown and always smiling! When it was time to give her back, we realized we were pretty attached to her. So, we asked if we could keep her and they said yes! Yay!
But as often happens in life, this happy occasion followed a time of sorrow. Only 10 days after Uki had her baby, Allie, the baby died unexpectedly. We don’t know what was wrong with Allie or why she died. We simply found her very weak one morning and she passed away shortly after. It was so sad! We cried and cried! The worst part was thinking about taking her body away to bury her — would her momma understand, or would she blame us forever for taking her baby away? Argh, I tortured myself with this for a few hours, but there was no delaying her burial. Of course, Uki spit at us, but she seemed to have figured out Allie was dead and so she did not blame us (at least she did not seem to hold a grudge). It was a hard time for us, to say the least.
A month later or so, we came home to find my dad’s horse, Sassy, in distress in the bush. Splash, her faithful sidekick (who doesn’t kick, thankfully!) came and found me and led me to where Sassy was laying. We took a blanket out to her, and a tarp to keep the rain off, and through much cajoling and coaxing, we managed to get her to walk to the barn. Whew! Now she could dry out, warm up, have some water and recover! She had scrapes and bruises on both sides of her head, and unfortunately, she did not recover from them. She died overnight and again, we were faced with the task of burying one of our farm family members. Sigh. We love Sassy. What a great horse she was! My dad rode her lots over the years and he misses her too. (Sassy is the brown horse in the photo below.)
We still have Splash and I make sure I don’t underestimate her intelligence any more. She’s one smart horse! We just have to decide now how to take care of her better — get her a companion, or send her to spend the winter with her previous herdmates.
Since it’s starting to get colder out and we got a pile of snow the other day, we decided it was time to move the chickens from the outdoor “chicken tractor” or mobile home that I’d made — a coop with no floor, which we move along the grass every few days (photo at right) — to their winter kiekelbood. It has a heat lamp and a nice roost for them, so I’m sure they are happy about it. When I was getting it ready for them, Wade, the male kitten from last summer, went in there, caught a mouse in 5 seconds flat and started crunching it down! Yikes! I guess he likes mouse on the menu!
We still have lots of cats. Although we went a month without seeing the two more adventurous ones, Xena and Gabrielle, they came back yesterday! Xena had gobs of snow in her fur, so it looks like she had come a ways, maybe across the field, to come home! It was SO very nice to see them. Wade and Beautiful, the other two kittens, are buds and tend to stay around home. If I’m out working on a fence or whatever, they are often nearby.
I’ve really been noticing how smart our animals are, and that has inspired one of the books I’m working on. It’s all about intelligence. Intelligence is everywhere, in different forms for different animals. Even when people do things that seem “dumb,” they aren’t. They just have a motivation we don’t understand, or something deep-seated or subconscious is going on.
Other projects completed and accomplishments I’m rather proud of: We hooked up chains to a well-built calf shelter and dragged it a ways so that it could serve as an alpaca shelter in a corral. Then, we had to fix the corral fence. I hooked up the post-pounder, pounded 3 posts one evening after work, and nailed boards on another day. After a few other minor repairs, the corral is ready for… more alpacas! We are going to get two males so that Fozzie has some buddies. (Fozzie is the black alpaca in the photo above.) He’s separated from the girls most of the time, you know. Darn hormones! 🙂
We have quite a few rickety fences, and I used to feel overwhelmed about it all, but I have found that I really enjoy pounding posts! It’s very therapeutic. I fixed a particularly problematic fence post last week. It held the hinges for a gate that we use all the time, and the post had rotted off at the base. So the gate was very wobbly and it took a certain technique to open or close it. I started by freeing the post from the fence wires, and then unscrewed the hinges from the post. I got a new post — a nice, straight one! — and drilled holes in it to install the hinges. That was a several-step process and I’ll spare you the details! Once it was ready, I pounded it in a foot over from the old hole and reinstalled the gate! Success!
Other successes — we sold our house in High Level! Finally. It was on the market for 2 years! It is such a relief to sell it. This frees up mental space, money and the hassles having tenants. We are so grateful to our real estate agent!
So then we had a little money to play with! I found a natural gas pick up truck for sale, so on our way for vacation (which was long overdue), we went to Calgary and bought it. Since there’s a refueling station right beside my work, it’s very convenient. I’ll have to blog about this more, perhaps… it’s a pretty unique vehicle!
For our holidays, we went to BC to visit friends. We stopped in Calgary and crashed a good friend’s thanksgiving dinner, then went to Golden. We stayed there one night, unexpectedly, because the highway was closed. The next day, we saw friends in Armstrong who run a greenhouse, and the next, we connected with a friend in Vernon. So good to see him — we are kindred spirits! Then, we spent a couple of days in Kelowna visiting other friends and doing a few touristy things, including the Myra Canyon Trestle Trail. Loved that! We have my family to thank for making the holiday possible! One of my cousins, her husband and daughter did our chores for us, along with my parents — two times per day! But we knew our animals would be well-cared-for, which is so important.
When we got back, we had a minor crisis when our sewer tank was filling too quickly and we could not figure out where the water was coming from. We realized that it was ground water leaking in (like a small underground river!) because the water table is way too high this year, and there seems to be a small hole in the wall of the tank. So, I rented a pump, hauled it out behind the dugout and set it all up to pump into a creek which leads to the second dugout. Now, the water level in the main dugout is much lower and therefore the water table should drop too. Repairs will follow; hopefully it will all go smoothly.
That’s the fun of living on a farm! In the city, you never have to think about where your sewage goes! But you also have neighbours, sirens, traffic and such to deal with. We really do have space, quiet and nature all around us. Not to mention our animal friends to keep us company!
This winter, I’m going to keep working on my latest books. Rather than publish one large book and try to stitch several themes into one, I decided to write several small books on different topics. The first one is done, and I’m working on the second one and getting lots of ideas for the third! It’s been really fun writing again. I kind of had to put it on hold while I was training for my new job. The first three books will be (working titles):
– It All Belongs: The Law of Attraction and How the Universe Works
– Animal, Vegetable and Mineral: Intelligence is Everywhere
– Illness and Wellness: Attitudes That Make the Difference
So stay tuned for more on the new books when they are finished! Take care, everyone. Do something you enjoy today. Tell someone you love them. Smile at strangers! Be kind to yourself.
I felt like a bit of an astronaut a few days ago. Darren and I were doing some much-needed roofing on the main barn. When my grandpa built it in 1957 or so, they used wooden shingles. Can you imagine nailing one shingle down at a time? Over the years the wooden shingles have been drying out and getting smaller and smaller as they age, so the roof leaks. My dad started replacing the roof with tin, which is a fantastic roofing material, but he didn’t quite finish.
We have two panels 3 feet wide to do, plus three small areas that are odd shapes. Earlier in the summer, I went up and did a little work removing the last of the wooden shingles, but it’s unnerving. Because it’s so high, and so steep, it’s really hard to work. There are no good hand/foot holds, and when you constantly feel like you’re going to slip off, you can’t really do anything. Plus, with nowhere to brace yourself, you can’t really put any muscle into anything you do!
So, my safety-bear of a husband attached 2 solid anchor points by installing heavy-duty hooks from the inside of the hayloft. Once we had those, he googled how to make a rope safety harness and bought rope. So, now, we have a way to anchor ourselves so that we don’t have to worry about falling to our deaths. Don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but it would be quite a fall…
The other night we finally got the perfect night to go up there and install those last pieces, so we set about cutting them and getting everything ready. Ladder, check. Ropes, check. Extension cord, check (we were using an electric drill/screwdriver). Special grippy footwear (Vibrams), check. One at a time, we climbed the ladder with our small pieces of tin, drill and harnesses — with tool belts attached. We clicked into our safety lines, but we couldn’t just walk around up there — the roof was too slippery even with the grippy footwear, so we switched to bare feet. How odd to be safety-minded in bare feet! No steel-toed footwear here! But the sweat on our feet was the best grip-enhancer of all. So, we got to work.
We installed a small, simple piece easily enough, and then moved on to a harder one that required one of us to go onto the very top part of the roof. Darren climbed up there, checking out the 2 small patch-pieces that needed to be added, and then a thought occurred to me: we only have one ladder. What if we somehow knocked it down? We’d be stuck on the roof! Neither one of us had our phones! So, for all our planning, and safety, we had forgotten a pretty major one. So, I put my Vibrams back on and went to get a back-up ladder. It was just around the corner, leading into the hayloft. So, with the second ladder in place, we decided to try install a big piece of tin.
Unfortunately, the last piece my Dad had installed had a gash in it, so we had to take that one off and install one of our newly-cut pieces in its place. So, we’ll have to cut one more another day. I climbed down again and got the piece, which we had washed earlier to get the spruce needles and general grime off. The piece was just over 3 feet wide by 99″ long (8’3″) and although it was not overly heavy, it was awkward. I managed to carry it in one hand and go up the ladder. Once on the roof, I got to put it down while Darren positioned himself. When he was ready, I had to bring the piece over to the upper roof and lift it up about chest-high, so we could slide it into position. This sounds so easy but was in reality so hard! I needed to use both hands, and each of my feet were only gripping onto one screw of the roof I was standing on!
A few minutes later, when I was standing on the upper ladder (sorry to confuse you, there are a a lot of ladders involved!), giving direction and encouragement to Darren, it hit me: this is like spacewalking. Astronauts on a spacewalk are tethered to the vehicle they emerged from; we were tethered, too. All an astronaut’s tools are tethered to them; ours were all attached to our tool belts or tied to the roof itself. Astronauts have no friction in space, and so they have to grip with their hands or have their feet anchored in order to apply muscle; same for us. Astronauts have to plan every move carefully and work in teams; so did we.
Now, I can’t say I have a more profound thing to say than this: It was cool, for an little while on a roof, to play astronaut. In another time, another life, I might have been one… but the top of the roof will have to do for me!