Farm stuff

Alex the Alpaca

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Hi all,

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!

He is a real cutie! In this photo, he is only hours old (still looking a little stunned at how bright and noisy the world is)!

He knew right away where the milk was!

He would drink and rest, drink and rest that first day! We decided to name him Alex. I don’t know why — he just seemed like one!

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!

The boys are doing well, too! We have some tall grass on our land, and they sometimes to eat it or hide in it!

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.

DIY Doghouse on a Pallet

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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

Where Does the Time Go?

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MarleyTime 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! Allie and UkiThe 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! Allie and familyShe 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.
Splash, Sassy and Fozzie

imageSince 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.

Roof Walking

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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…

view from roof

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.

barn-roof

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!

the barn-2

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!

Alpaca Lovin’

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We had a little excitement the other day — hell, we had an alpaca porn show! It started when I went out after sundown to close the barn for Uki and Daisy (the momma and baby — and baby alpacas are called crias), and I thought I saw something black in the barn with them… sure enough, it was Fozzie! He had somehow gotten out of his corral and was in the barn with the two females! Little bugger! Well, little did I know, the “buggering” was just beginning!

I had to get him out again and try to wrangle him back into his corral. All the alpaca books (and breeders I’ve talked to) say that you need to keep the male out for about 2 weeks after a cria is born. So, I opened the gate to his corral and went back to try and separate him from the girls and all three got out of the barn. Hrmf. Well, no sooner were they out when Fozzie started trying to get on Uki. She did what any female alpaca in her position would do, I guess: she laid down on the ground and let him. They don’t do the wild deed stanging up, like horses or cows — they lay down. And I think I know why.

alpaca cave artIt takes forever! I had read in the alpaca book that it can last as long as 20 minutes, but I’m sure this was more like 45. Little bugger again, I said to myself! So, Daisy (the cria) and I just hung out, with the twilight fading and Fozzie sidling up and up and up onto Uki, and making the most crazy and amazing sounds! “Orgling” it’s called. It’s so strange someone had to make up a word to describe it! It’s like “oh baby, oh baby” in alpaca. Mixed in with strange gasping sounds. Apparently, it’s the combination of orgling and the male grasping the sides of the female with his front legs that makes the female ovulate. So, I think it worked! Way to go, buddy!

It was too dark to take a picture — plus, I didn’t want to leave Daisy unguarded in case any coyotes were around — so, I hope you enjoy this cave-art drawing (by me) of what it looked like. For 45 minutes. (There really should be more cave art in the world, don’t you think?)

The next day, I found the exact spot Fozzie must have jumped over the fence, little bugger. There was fresh broken wood, and Fozzie with a “what’s up?” look on his face kept visiting the spot. (I fixed it right away.)

Fozzie where he jumped

Now, we’ll know if it worked in a few more days when I let Fozzie back in again to visit Uki. If she spits at him and won’t lay down for him, it means she is pregnant. Isn’t it cool that she knows? I have never heard of an animal like that.

So, there you have it. Porn on the farm. Sex in the corral. Doin’ it, alpaca-style!

Oy, what a life I lead! 🙂

Daisy photobomb
Daisy, only a few days old
(Thank you, Patricia, for the photo!)

From Fluffy to Skinny – Shearing the Alpacas

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Fozzie and UkiOur two new alpacas are so very sweet, and even though I’m no alpaca expert, I could tell they were in need of shearing. I mean, look at how fluffy they look (especially Fozzie, the brown one)! I knew that they needed to be sheared soon so they’d still have time to grow a warm coat before winter.

I knew there was an alpaca farm nearby, so I called and introduced myself. I had a great chat with one of the owners, Leanne, who gave me the name and number for the couple who shears their flock to see if I could arrange to take ours there. She mentioned it would be “quite a drive,” but when I called and got directions, I realized it would only be about a 2 hour drive. Not far at all! A little farther from the alpacas’ perspective, perhaps. 🙂

Darren and I got up early to load the alpacas into my dad’s horse trailer. Since they aren’t exactly tame, it was easy enough to slowly chase them into the holding pen. When we get too close, they back away, and that’s how you chase an alpaca slowly! They were a little more stubborn about stepping up and into the trailer, but with some patience, we got them in. After that, I was on my own, as Darren had to go to work. So, I headed out and after a significant detour due to construction on the highway, I was surprised to see this:

landscape near Donalda

I had no idea there were badlands so close! Even though I grew up on the farm, I had never been to this part of Alberta and it was like having a little adventure!

When I got to the shearer’s farm, they wasted no time in getting started. They use a shearing table, as most alpaca shearers do. Now, animal lovers (which I am) and animal-rights people (ditto), please do not freak out over these pictures! Although the alpacas are restrained, they are not uncomfortable and not as “stretched out” as they look! This is the best way to do it, so that they can’t wiggle around, or in some cases, kick; this makes the shearing safe and efficient for both the animal and the shearer. I researched and considered the kindest way to get the wool off the alpacas, and I believe this is it.

Uki before shearingHere’s Uki in the trailer before shearing. Look how long her bangs are! Poor girl could hardly see! I tried every day, with a pair of sharp scissors in my back pocket, to sneak up to her to trim her bangs, but she would not let me close at all. Maybe she sensed I had something up my sleeve?

The first step when we arrived was to put harnesses on them. Then, they led Uki to the shearing table, which is vertical to start out. We put a series of straps under her belly and lifted her feet off the ground and then slowly tipped the table to the horizontal. Then, her head (via the harness) and legs are attached with straps to the table. Here she is what it looked like.
Uki being sheared

As the shearer, Denise, worked we chatted about Uki. At this point, we had only had the alpacas for a week, but in that time, I had noticed that Uki might be pregnant — the shearer confirmed this! She is due to give birth any time within a month — that’s all we can say. It could be tomorrow, it could be the end of July! Since the previous owner never mentioned her being pregnant, I assume that it was not mentioned at the sale either. Perhaps the seller did not know, or the info was lost at the auction, but whatever the reason, she’s going to have a baby (called a cria) soon!! Denise, even said that I might have find a cria in the trailer when I get home! I’m glad that didn’t happen, but it really could be any day!

I have to say at this point I am so excited!! This is going to be so fun! I have seen pictures of cria and they look so adorable. According to my research, alpacas usually give birth during the day and rarely need help doing it — unlike sheep who often give birth in the middle of the night and need help along the way. So, I will keep you all posted as soon as the little one comes along!

Fozzie before shearingWhile Uki was being sheared, Fozzie let us know he was not happy with the situation. He was concerned, I think, that they would be separated. Once he realized they weren’t, he settled down a little. Alpacas are herd animals, and aren’t comfortable on their own.

I am amazed how much fibre (that’s fancy-talk for alpaca wool) Fozzie had!

He settled in quite well on the shearing table and his “wool” came off in amazing, blanket-like piles. In fact, the most valuable part of the alpaca fibre is called the blanket.
Fozzie being sheared

I know, Fozzie looks a little wide-eyed in that picture! Although it looks a little crazy to us common folk, this really does seem to be the best way to shear most alpacas. If mine were exceptionally tame, I might try to shear them myself one day, standing up, but letting a professional do it means that they won’t get nicked by the shears, and also means that I won’t be stressing them out for half a day!

What do I plan to do with the bags and bags of fibre I got? Well, as some of you know I love to knit, so I plan to make it into yarn. I guess that means I have to learn how to process the fibre and spin it! This is going to be fun! I always enjoy learning a new skill, and if I can knit the end result into a gorgeous pair of mittens at the end, woo hoo! I am very excited!

Back home again, several pounds lighter, and happy to be cooler and feeling the breeze!
alpacas after shearing
It’s hard to see, but Uki is definitely a little round-of-tummy, especially compared to Fozzie. There’ll be a little one any day!

News on the Farm — We Have Alpacas!

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I just don’t know how time flies so quickly, but it does! We have been busy on the farm, but not insanely so… still, the pace of life is quick enough that May zipped by and June went by at mach-3! So, I am a couple of weeks late with our very exciting news about buying two very sweet alpacas! Fozzie and Uki Fozzie and Uki-2 Aren’t they cute?! We found them on Kijiji, and they were a very good price, so we took the leap and bought them! We have SO MUCH GRASS and the place where they were had very little pasture, so it was a match made in heaven. The lady we bought them from said they were a year old, and from two different farms. She had bought them at the Tofield auction mart exotic sale. They were fairly shy at first. The dark one is named Fozzie (yes, after the muppet — do you see all his wool?!?) and the pale one is a female named Uki (after Japanese anime). Fozzie will come up to just outside arm’s reach, but Uki won’t come close at all. Their fibre and bangs were so long, they desperately needed a trim, so the next blog post will be about taking them to be sheared! That was an adventure in itself, and we got some exciting news that day, too!