Farm stuff

Making a Parka for an Alpaca

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I should probably apologize right now, as this is going to be another of those oddly-specific posts that you are going to either get VERY excited about, because it’s exactly what you need, or it’s not relevant to your life at all. This post is about making coats for alpacas! 🙂

These coats lay across the animal’s back and attach under the belly with a strap and fasten across the front of their chest with overlapping panels and either straps or velcro. Let’s start with the basic shape. I found this pattern image online and used it as a guideline. I would love to give credit to the originator, but all I have is this google drive link.

The U-shaped part at the top is where the alpaca’s neck will go, and the chest straps will connect across the alpaca’s chest and the belly straps will connect under the belly. You will need 2 measurements for the alpaca you are making the coat for: around-the-belly circumference and length of back (from neck to tail).

My first venture into making coats was last fall, when we knew we had a baby on the way and it would be due in October. What a heck of a time of year to be born! So I made two coats — a lightweight one and a warmer one. I used measurements off the internet for the sizes of coats that were for sale. I was so glad I did. That little guy really needed his coat! He was basically born shivering and after I dried him off, I put it on him and he perked up a lot!

Look how pink his ears and nose are!

The next day, I made him a neckwarmer and put that on him too.

As he got bigger and winter got colder, we put his thicker coat on him. This one was insulated with alpaca fibre from his mama!

Isn’t he adorable!?! He grew up really well and is still very gentle and likes to come nose-to-nose with me. I think he knows we will take care of him no matter what!

Okay, we are in danger of getting sentimental, so let’s get down to business and look at how I made these coats! 🙂

I guess I didn’t take many pictures of the construction of the first coat, but here it is all finished, waiting for the little one to be born! My mom supplied the light blue fabric and wide velcro — thanks Mom!
Making the second coat: The pattern piece overlaid on fuzzy cloth.
To add an insulating layer, I hand-carded alpaca fibre and made it into mini-batts which I laid out inside the coat, overlapping a little.
I machine quilted the coat and added a windproof layer — the dark blue fabric (thanks again, Mom). It puckered quite a bit, but at least the alpaca fleece layer would be anchored well.
I underestimated how big Pigpen was getting, so it didn’t even fit him! I had to make the coat bigger… or the straps longer!

I felt pretty good about how that went! We used the light blue coat for Rupert for a few days when he was born this summer too!

I think he likes it!

If you just can’t get enough of these little ones, check out my posts here.

One cold evening last year, I noticed our elderly female, Uki, shivering. I felt so bad for her! She was still nursing little Pigpen and earlier in the year, she had been putting a lot of energy into growing him and not her coat.

The proud mama, not long after Pigpen was born! (He had just stood up!) Yes, that’s a washcloth on his back. I had to run back in the house for his coat!

So, I quickly made up a three-layer coat to help her keep warm. This year, with more time to work on it, I made some alpaca fibre into batts and added a quilted layer! I used the existing coat as a pattern and cut out the cloth from an old but very soft sheet.

Here is the coat laid out on the floor. The batts are different colours because it is fibre from different alpacas!

Using full-size batts was far better than hand-carded fibre, and I only anchored it every 3-4 inches.

I quilted the coat by hand with thread, tying small knots. I seem to love projects that take a lot of time!

I machine quilted the section at the chest, so that it isn’t quite as puffy. I figured out how to do it without the cloth puckering (thank you, internet). I then stitched it to the windproof layer in ten or so places. We put it on her tonight, even though it isn’t forecast to be too cold. She is pregnant again, with her cria due in June, so I think she might just wear this coat all winter!

An alpaca in a parka!

Last year, the coat was a bit too loose and would sometimes creep forward and end up bunched up around her neck. Hopefully now that it’s a puffy coat, it will stay put better. I did it up as tightly as I could.

I should make another one in case Daisy needs it! She is still nursing little Rupert, but at least she is not pregnant too. What a toll that must take on a body!

Now I have friends asking if I can make coats for dogs! I’m not sure I want to get into that racket… but then I hate to see an animal cold! 🙂

Take care, everybody! Stay warm!

Rupert and the Gang

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I thought it was high time for some new photos of the alpacas and their antics!

Rupert is growing quite well, and he is officially 2 months old now! Here’s a cute one from when he was only a few days old, wearing a coat. I put it on him when there was rain in the forecast and I knew his momma would want to graze outside. He didn’t wear the coat for very many days and when it got sunny again, I took it off him — probably the day I took this photo!

What a guy! This is Pigpen’s coat because he really needed it last winter!

I will never tire of little cria! 🙂

And here’s a more recent photo… Doesn’t he look bigger and older? And BLONDER!

Have you seen Fozzie and his gang, hanging around the pool on a hot summer day?

From left to right, Alex, Frankie, Fozzie (in the pool), Boeing and Ziggy

And then other times, they just graze! It is actually pretty hard to get a photo of them all together, because they love to spread out all over the yard.

And for those who are wondering, haying is generally going well! We did lots of loose hay and then put the baler in service, after some adjustments, and made some small bales. So far, so good! We have just cut some more and if the forecast holds true, we should be able to make some more bales.

Take care, everyone! Hope you are getting enough time outdoors these days!

Making Hay, 2020 Edition!

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Every year, we attempt to make hay from our two small hay fields, and when I say small, I mean small. They are only about 1 acre each. Because the soil is so good, from many years of manure being spreaded and cows/horses/sheep living in those fields, the grass is amazingly dense and beautiful. Our goal each summer is to make as much hay as we can: cut this grass, let it dry in the sun, bale it with our small square baler and bring it indoors to store it.

Some years are more successful than others! Last summer was so rainy, it was difficult to get a forecast with had more than two days of sun in a row. It can’t be raining when we cut it, and we need about 5 days of hot, sunny weather for the hay to dry fully. We like to cut it in July so that it has time to regrow and then we can cut it again it August or September — two crops in one year! At one point last July the forecast looked pretty good, so I cut the main hay field, but then it rained so many times — you know how forecasts can be wrong?!? — and all the beautiful hay I had cut just moulded right there in the field. The grass kept growing all the while, so when I went to make a second cut in September, the icky, glommy stuff from the first cut was mixed in. When it was time to bale this hay, I thought it was dry enough — I estimated it was 90-95% dry — but it was not. We spread the bales out in the bale barn and breathed a sigh of relief — the haying was done for year. A day later or so, I was in the barn admiring it when I noticed in the evening sunlight that the bales seemed to be two colours. Some seemed brownish and some were grey-green. I realized in a flash — the brownish ones were moulding inside and they were not going to be good to feed. My heart fell when I realized that two-thirds of them were brownish. We ended up buying hay to get our alpacas through the winter.

This year, let me tell you how it is going so far! June was very rainy and although the grass was growing like dynamite, as every year, it was too wet to consider cutting. Last years’ rain had filled all the underground aquifers, dugouts and low spots and there was nowhere for more moisture to go. At the end of June, we had over 40 mm of rain in a few days! There were puddles forming in odd places on the yard and the creek which normally only flows in spring from snow melting starting running. It was epic. All the farmers around here were going to be in big trouble! July’s weather improved a little. There was less volume of rain but it was not really warm or sunny much. The usual thunderstorms would go by and dump showers on us and the land never really had a chance to dry up. My dad said that in all his 40 years of farming, he had never seen it that wet. There were puddles everywhere, and water standing in the grass of our yard. Finally, at the end of July, we had a forecast for some really hot weather. We were supposed to get over 25 C for about 4 days in a row (that’s hot for us), and a few days were going to get close to the 30 C. It was time to make hay!

This year, I had the idea to use an old swather* that was in the machine shed, so I asked Dad if it ran. He said it should; that old machinery was built to run and not give problems. He charged the battery and worked on it a bit and sure enough, he got it running. So, with the forecast looking so good, I decided to go out and cut the “high part” of the main hay field. There are some lower parts that had almost become a creek of their own this year so I decided to give them a little more time to dry out. After the 4 hot days, they might be worth cutting.

I had driven this swather back in when I was teenager. One time when I was probably 16 or so, I cut the hay and my dad followed behind with the round baler. I remember it being a challenging experience! I had a very hard time going straight and I was forever mowing the tops of molehills, then raising the cutting deck to avoid that, then lowering it again and puff — dirt! Molehill! Up down, left right, I remember Dad laughing at me a bit for how crooked the swaths were! The swather steers like those two-lever lawn mowers – by slowing down or stopping one wheel, the thing turns.

So, this year, it was time to do a bit better than that. After all, I have 7 hours of helicopter training in my log book, plus 30-ish years of life and driving experience. That’s got to make it easier!

When Dad started it the first time, he noticed the whole cutting mechanism trying to engage right away, which of course, puts a big load on the engine. So, he had to loosen some belts to overcome that, which he tightened back up again later. Well, now when the swather starts, it wants to start moving right away! Even with the clutch pushed in, it starts to roll… but it doesn’t engage both wheels. It only engages the left, so when I put in the clutch thinking it will slow down and stop, it doesn’t. It veers right. So, it starts a “ground loop” in the yard as soon as you press the start button. This is more than a little unsettling! This first time I started it I thought what the hell is this thing doing? It kind of seems possessed! On my way out to cut the field, I wanted to stop to lower the cutting deck and engage the cutting mechanisms, so of course I hit the clutch… and immediately hit some hay feeders that were parked nearby! I pulled hard on the levers and managed to back up and then I did a full right-turn ground loop. Damn. I gathered my bearings in that 360 degrees and just got the mowing blades engaged on the fly… which is not easy, because it is a very stiff lever to the left of the seat. The big “beater bars” that rotate way out in front still turned, so I was grateful that I hadn’t wrecked them when I hit the feeders. I decided to lower the cutting head right before I needed them.

I had memorized which way to mash down on the foot pedals to raise and lower the mowing deck. As a teenager, I could never remember and I was always lifting when I wanted to lower and vice verse. So, when the moment was right and I was entering the hay field, I pressed down on the pedal and lowered that deck. Dad had said that lower would cut better, so I dropped it a little more… and ground to a halt. Only I didn’t know why I wasn’t moving and so I sat there, baffled and trying to think my way out of the problem as to why the machine had stopped! I tried to back up and then in my desperation, I raised the deck a bit and started moving immediately! Whew. Silly me, I had been grinding my cutting teeth into the dirt. Dad said it had a stopper and would only lower so low, but… perhaps that wasn’t working quite right!

I managed to line the swather up and cut some hay. I had planned to go around the field clockwise, so that my turns would all be to the right, since that’s the side that it preferred to turn anyway. I did a round and then Darren noticed that it wasn’t cutting any more. He had been following me around and offering suggestions and observations and he made that universal hand signal for stop, so I did. I was figuring out that to stop and NOT ground-loop, I had to press the clutch and the brake, and pull on the levers a bit. Whew, standstill! He said it was not cutting and sure enough, when I looked back, you could just see my tire marks. Well, damn, what could be wrong now? And that’s when we noticed that the engine was steaming!

I was very reluctant to call it quits. I mean, if my cutting blades were still moving, why wasn’t it cutting? There was no explanation, but with the steam coming out, it was time to shut it down. I turned it off and we waited for it to cool down. The temperature gauge said HOT but I had never looked at it before, so I didn’t even know if it really worked. We gave it 10 minutes of cooling down — in the nearly-30-degree heat of noon on the prairies! I started it up, drove it without the mowing engaged back across the hay field to the yard.

We couldn’t let this hot weather go to waste. Today was the day to cut that hay! So, I went to work my day-job and Darren mowed it all with the ditch mower — a low deck mower that we pull behind our main tractor.

Fast forward 2 days of gorgeous, hot dry weather during which Darren cleaned the swather’s radiator and we topped it up with water and antifreeze. I walked out to the hay field to see how it was doing. The hay was tinder-dry! Of course, it was a little damp underneath but I thought that if we raked it and left it to dry in the amazing heat of the day, we could probably bale it that evening. The rake we have is a pull-behind contraption that picks up and flips the hay as you roll along. As long as you go fast enough, it works pretty good! I had never raked before; all my knowledge was from chatting with my dad or watching videos on the internet. One guy who had a rake that looked very similar to mine did a bang-up job of raking his thin-looking hay into swaths for baling. Mine looked much thicker, but it had to work.

It went okay! The rake sort of rolled/threw the hay to the left, making a swath that looked pretty good. I went around and around and piled all the randomly-cut hay the ditch-mower had cut into swaths we could bale. The wetter stuff was definitely on top now, and the hot sun should dry it out nicely. It was about 3 pm when I finished — and I bet it only took an hour — so baling time was set at 8 pm. That is a bit later than optimal, but you never get all your variables optimal when making hay, but you still have to try.

Last year, when we were finishing baling part of our second cut in late September, I think it was, the baler broke down. The PTO was spinning like mad from the tractor to the first part of the baler, but the pick-up was not turning. Nothing else on the baler was moving. So, we had to quit baling after only 8 bales, but with all that sweet hay in the field, we had to do something. We did not want it to go to waste! So, we got two pitchforks and hauled it to the hay barn in the back of the pickup truck, loose. We just kept piling it high, shoving it over and piling it some more. It was the best hay we had ever made… so far. The alpacas loved it. We just carried big armfuls for them and that hay got us through into January.

Back in May, my dad helped us get the parts we needed to fix the baler and then we installed them. We greased a few essential spots on the baler — there are probably 20 grease nipples on it, but many of them don’t need grease every year, since we aren’t making hundreds of bales. Still in the yard, Darren suggested I engage the PTO and see if the baler worked. It didn’t! The PTO was spinning but the new clutch plates we had installed were slipping. So, we got the wrenches we needed and tightened the 6 bolts some more. They slipped two more times in the field, when baling and I quickly stopped the PTO and we tightened the clutch plates some more until they stopped slipping. I think they were probably too clean when we installed them and they needed some hay dust between them to work properly! Luckily, that was the only trouble we had with the baler and it chugged along well… although I admit, I do baby it and make sure not to stuff the hay in there too fast.

Our friend Mary helped by driving our pick up truck so that we could bring the bales in right away. It is optimal to leave them out in the field to sit/dry for a day or two, but there was 10 mm of rain in the forecast for overnight. Darn forecast. As I bale, Darren always checks the string tension on the bales and adjusts it. After several bales, he walked up to the baler and asked me to stop so he could talk to me (using hand signals, of course). He had bad news; the bales were VERY heavy. Like bricks. That is not a good sign. That means the hay was not fully dry and they will probably mold again.

What to do? I still had hay fever! If we didn’t bale it, it would get rained on and potentially ruined. If we did bale it, the bales would probably be no good. We decided to keep baling. Maybe they wouldn’t all be that heavy.

They were. They were awful. Mary and Darren spread them out in the hay barn and we all crashed for the night.

The next day, I talked to Dad and he reminded me of wrapping bales. It was something I was just learning about, and I heard that you can stop the mould process and the bales will be perfectly preserved as you baled them. If they are a little damp, they’ll be a little damp, but they won’t go bad. If they are too wet, you might end up with a soft, partially fermented hay product they call “baleage,” similar to silage, which is fed to cows but not alpacas. So, Darren bought a roll of plastic and we cooked up a plan — MacGyver would have been proud — to hold the heavy roll of plastic on a part of the canoe trailer and suspend a bale from the roof of the bale barn so we could wrap it. It did not go as smoothly as we thought it would, but in 20 minutes or so, we got one bale done. Of course, you an buy a fancy contraption to wrap bales, but this was just an experiment that we wanted to try. The very next bale we went to wrap was HOT. The bale was already going bad! And so was the next one, and then next one, and so on for nearly very bale. They were very hot and we needed to do something immediately, or they would all be ruined and we would have no good feed for winter.

We decided to open them, fluff them and get the hay to finish drying. We got right to it, and Mary helped too. Several bales were hot enough that they would have burned bare hands, but we were all wearing gloves. It was not a very good scene. We worked as quickly as we could in the evening heat — It was probably still around 20 C and with the steam coming off those bales, well over 25 degrees or more in the bale barn. We kept the hottest parts away from the walls of the barn as a precaution. It’s not unheard-of for hay barns to burn down when filled with wet bales that start heating up.

It’s similar to the process of composting, even though I’ve been saying they are moulding. For good compost, you need four things: some dry “brown” material, some moist “green” material, moisture and air. A bale that is only partially dry has all those things. So, you can cut out the air (by wrapping it) or get the wet parts dry, which is what we were doing. We had a few bales we just didn’t have room to spread out in the hay barn, so we spread them out in the main corral, where the alpacas keep the grass very short. We spread these bales nice and thin for the next warm days to dry out.

The forecast was still quite good — only 30% chances of rain in a couple of places in the long range forecast. Like I said, you can’t expect everything to be optimal for making hay, but that forecast looked pretty good. So I also wanted to cut the “higher part” of our new hay field. I had gone scouting for what areas were dry and mowed the outside round with the ditch mower. This would let the air circulate a bit better and then when I went out with the swather again, I could cut a partial width. Rather that using the whole 12-foot mowing deck, I could make slightly smaller swaths (closer together) that would hopefully dry better and not clog the baler.

This time I knew what I was dealing with. Start with the brake firmly pushed in and the levers pulled back a little to avoid the ground loop. If I needed to turn more than 90 degrees, I would go right. It was faster and smoother. I would go clockwise around the field so I could make most of my turns right. Going clockwise also meant, I would be overlapping on the left with the part already cut and the right side of the mowing deck would be doing all the work. I was only part way down the first line when Darren flagged me to stop. I hate stopping when I’m underway in general, but this beastie was so hard to stop! It took 2 legs and 2 arms to keep it still! It wanted to CUT! Anyways, I got it stopped, crookedly, and he told me it wasn’t mowing well again! This time I was much more careful setting the height on the deck, so I knew that should not be a factor. Darren suggested I turn around and try cutting with the left side of the swather doing all the work and the right overlapping with the part already cut.

It worked. I turned a 180 degree turn (to the right, of course) to reverse the direction I was going. The left side of the mowing deck worked so much better! I watched as it mowed down tall, thick areas without a glitch. This thing loved to cut! It worked so smoothly, I was almost mesmerized watching the grasses get cut and then fall and then move into the centre and go under the device I was riding. When it was cutting, it actually went remarkably straight and I could take a short break. At the ends of the rows, after a couple times back and forth, I decided I could try lifting the deck as I turned the corners and then lower it again. This is the proper way to swath a field, but I had been cheating a bit by leaving the deck down on the corners. Time to try doing it right! By watching the overlap side carefully, I would lower it to the point where it just shaved a little off the stubble from the last round, and that way I could keep it consistent.

Whew! I was in the swathing groove! Up, turn hard, line it up for the next swath, lower it quickly, double check that it was the right height, check my steering and then cruise to the end of the row. Helicopter flying had definitely helped prepare me for this! It was a bit like flying a circuit, now that I think of it. I glanced at my temperature gauge after a couple of rows — it read “cool.”

The hay-making status right now? Main hayfield, higher parts: cut, raked, baled, hauled in and unbaled. Fluffed three times so far. We stopped the chain reaction before anything caught on fire and the hay is drying nicely, if a bit messy. New hayfield: Higher part, which amounts to about half, cut and currently drying. A quick thunderstorm went by this morning, but I don’t think there was too much rain in it. The forecast is good now until Monday with 30% chance and then 60% chance of rain Monday night. Let’s hope those big swaths dry well by Monday! 🙂

*It’s an International Harvester 230, made in 1972 in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s actually a “windrower” but swather is the term I grew up with. 🙂

Welcome Rupert!! Our New Cria

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We have a new cria!

Last July, Ziggy had a few minutes with Daisy and look who got born 11-and-a-half months later!! When the shearer was here, he noticed that Daisy was pregnant and expecting soon (there are ways to tell!) so I checked my little farm notebook and sure enough — Daisy was expecting ANY DAY!! Two days after shearing, little Rupert came into our world.

Although he is the 6th alpaca to be born on the farm, this is the first time we got to watch it happen! All the other times, we were not home when the little ones were born. This time, I was checking Daisy every hour and we got to see it ALL! IT WAS AMAZING!!

Rupert was trying to get up within a minute of being born, and he seemed very energetic! After many tries — his balance was so off and his legs were so wobbly! — he stood up! Within a short time, he found his mama’s milk — something we are always nervous about — and he nursed. He rested some too but seemed to be perfectly healthy and vibrant. My heart smiles!

We are so pleased with how he and Daisy are doing! She is a good mama and he seems to be thriving! You might want to follow me on Instagram at Teresas_alpaca_cam on Instagram where I try to post photos as often as I can! Of course, usually when the ‘pacas are being extra-cute, I don’t have my phone or camera with me! 😛

Alpaca Fleeces for Sale!

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I’ve been hoarding all my alpaca fleeces, but I’ve decided it’s time to sell some! This fibre is a spinner’s dream. It is great quality and I will skirt it for you (shake the dust out and pick out most second cuts and vegetable matter). They generally have 3” staple lengths or so (see photo with ruler).

If you are interested in buying some beautiful alpaca fibre from our fuzzy family, please send me an email! 🙂

The boys:

Boeing, our big white guy has excellent fibre (he won second in a contest) with lots of crimp. It’s a very dense fleece and pure white once cleaned, so you can dye it any colour! 🙂 He has a big fleece and a long staple length. Asking $25/pound.

One Boeing fleece, skirted, is a bag and a half! All other fleeces fill one bag!

Ziggy is a little guy but he also won second place in a fibre competition. His fibre is a beautiful cinnamon brown, excellent quality and spinning it might impart some of Ziggy’s zen attitude to you! Asking $20/pound (generally about 2 pounds per fleece).

Frankie is Ziggy’s boy (also cinnamon brown) and they are very hard to tell apart! Right now we only have 2 of his fleeces (because he only 2 yrs old)! His fleece is also excellent quality and nice and soft, and we’re willing to part with one. $20/pound.

Fozzie is our only black alpaca, but you’ll notice the tips of his fibre do bleach out a bit from the sun. His fibre is soft and crimpy. $20/pound.

Alex is Fozzie’s son and his fibre is really soft! It’s a touch lighter so I’m calling it brown/black and the tips really lighten in the sun. Asking $20/pound.

The girls:

Marley is a big girl — she’s like a linebacker! — and she grows a very nice cinnamon brown fleece too. Asking $20/pound.

Daisy is a lovely light fawn colour and she has grown some beautiful fleeces. I gave one to a friend and she spun it and weaved it into a gorgeous tapestry! It’s soft and has a good staple length, and it’s light enough, you could probably dye it other colours. $20/pound.

Miss Uki is Daisy’s mama and we have no idea how old she is! She was one of our original alpacas, so we have several of her light fawn fleeces! Sometimes, the staple length and quality suffers a little due to her being pregnant or nursing. She’s had 4 cria for us in 5 years (she’s a good mama)! $15/pound.

If you would like it cleaned, contact us to discuss a price. If you would like it carded, we could talk about a price for that, too! We also have quite a bit of second-grade fibre (mainly from their necks) that can be used for pillow stuffing (in batts), or needle felting. It is not really suitable for spinning. It certainly is not as soft or fine, and it has some guard hairs in it from the chest area (visible in Marley’s photo). Contact me to discuss getting some of this second-grade fibre.

Please leave a comment or email me if you are interested in buying some Fozzie, Boeing, Ziggy, Frankie, Alex, Daisy, Uki or Marley!

🙂

Forest Labyrinth

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I love labyrinths. Walking through a labyrinth is so meditative. So, I decided that I needed a labyrinth in the forest behind my house. It’s a large enough area, and the bush is not too dense. I now know why labyrinths are always made in open fields! It’s bleepin’ hard to make one in a forest! Here is a photo of my labyrinth so far:

Can’t you see it? Ya, I know, you can’t see the labyrinth for the trees! 😛 Here’s another photo, a MUCH better photo! 😛

Sorry I’m so cheeky! I should say right now, this blog post is not meant to be a tutorial or any sort of helpful instructions! 🙂 I have been out several times stomping in the snow — winter is slow to go this year — trying to make my curved paths between trees, around fallen trees and in the deep snow. It’s hard to really see where the middle of the area is. I can’t very easily see where my other paths are, and they all need to be made relative to each other. Let me explain.

I looked at several labyrinth designs and considering that I already have some curving paths, I settled on a round one. The photo at the beginning of this post is a replica of the Chartes cathedral labyrinth (at the Centre for Spiritual Living in Edmonton, Alberta). It has 11 circuits (count the rings from the outside to the inside).

I found a simplified one with only 5 circuits:

I knew even 5 circuits would be too many, so I went with 3. At first it was a sketch, but I did up a proper drawing for this blog post:

And, on my second or third time out, I took a GPS tracker out so I could see my awesome labyrinth! It’s amazing! My sketch is on the left and you can CLEARLY see how perfect my labyrinth is.
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It looks like a squashed turtle! Subsequent GPS tracks did not come out better. If anything, they were worse. Apparently, GPS tracking is not very accurate in this part of the world. Or I walk too fast. Or there are too many tress. [shrugs]
It was clear that some legs of the path were not long enough, so I edited the labyrinth. This makes it interesting every time I go to walk it. I have to try remember what parts to use and what parts were the old route. Here’s another photo, this time of the outside track on the right:


That’s Sammy out with me! He loves to go exploring. Sometimes he climbs trees!

So, last time I went out, I flagged some trees to help even this crazy thing out. I marked the major turnarounds in orange tape and the mid-points of the labyrinth area, to the best of my estimation, with blue tape. I also decided to expand the area, so that it would go all the way to the neighbour’s fence, which is currently covered by a 5-foot-high snow drift! No kidding! It’s epic! As I was working in the SE quadrant, I realized that I had done it wrong! I had an extra turn! Did you notice that on the first drawing? So, here is the correct path:

Let me just say I am quite pleased with my work! In the end, no one will ever know if this thing is asymmetrical (which I suspect it always will be) because GPS tracking will be strictly prohibited while walking meditatively on the forest labyrinth. It’s kind of neat walking among the trees, where you can’t see the whole labyrinth at once. You don’t know the path is going to fold back on itself, until you get there.

Once the snow melts, I will put down wood chips to mark the path and try to keep the flagging tape or signs to a minimum. I plan to preserve every tree (although some smaller shrubs may get squashed). Wish me luck! This thing isn’t finished yet.

If you have an open area, I encourage you to look at labyrinths you can make with rope or stones to mark the path. But if you have a treed area, GOOD LUCK! 😀

DIY Reusable Humidifier Filter

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Hi everyone! I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but I’ve so been busy! I wanted to share a simple practical thing that I made.
We always run our humidifier in winter to make the air more tolerable. The replacement filters used to work great, but we’ve noticed the last few we bought are really poor quality. We used to be able to rinse and reuse them easily, but now they disintegrate. It’s like they used to be made with plastic and now they use cardboard, which degrades when wet. So, with my knitting prowess :), I decided to knit a reusable cotton filter!
This is our humidfier. It’s a Honeywell (model HCM-6013IC), and we have no complaints about it except the filters. But if you have a different model, I bet you can adapt my filter to work with yours!
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First, I decided to make a wooden frame for the filter to hang on.

The filter is round, so I cut two half circles and joined them, then added posts to stand on. If I did it again, I would be a little more careful about how I joined the two half-circles. I did not drill large enough pilot holes, so when I put the second screw in, the wood cracked. 😦 Next, I knitted the filter! Here I am trying out the filter (knitting needles still attached).

A little detail for the knitters out there: I used ordinary worsted-weight cotton,the exact same yarn you would make washcloths out of. I used 8 mm needles for knitting in the round, which makes a very holey fabric. Whatever you use needs to wick water well (say that three times fast!) and have lots of holes for air to move through. I think I cast on about 95 stitches, but since everyone’s gauge is different, you ought to knit a swatch, measure your filter/humdifier and cast-on accordingly. 🙂 Message me if you need help with this step — I’d be happy to help!

The filter works great! We soaked it thoroughly and hung it over the frame with the ends dangling in the water tray. It works great and should be almost infinitely reusable! This is the filter about two months later. Still going strong, and I’m so glad we don’t have to buy those disposable ones anymore!

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If you have a similar humidifier, you have GOT to make something similar and leave a comment when you do!

Welcome Pigpen! Our New Cria

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Most baby alpacas, or cria as they are called, are born in summer, but last fall we went on a holiday and our farm-sitter accidentally left a gate unlatched one day, and so one of our female alpacas get pregnant. Eleven-and-a-half months later, we waited with great anticipation for this little guy to be born! 😀 Here he is, less than a half hour old!

He was born at 4 pm and temperature was zero degrees Celcius, with a slight breeze! What a time to be born! I had come home and saw Miss Uki acting a little strange and by the time I went to the house, had a quick bite to eat and got back out again, he was born!

He was all wet and started shivering, so I went to the house and got some clean cloths to dry him off. I put a facecloth on his back temporarily to keep him warm!

Even though he is our 5th cria, it’s the first time I’ve been there right after birth. His instinct to nurse was immediate. It’s amazing! He was making sucking faces and looking up. He was shivering so I helped him stand up. He started looking around for where he could get something to eat. They have the instinct to look for somewhere dark, and out in a sunny field, their momma’s underside is the only dark place. So he started looking there! I stood back and watched but he didn’t seem to be really finding her teats and latching on.

I decided I should try to help, but every time I got close, his momma would turn and face me and if I got too close, she’d spit at me! She’s so protective! The other two girls, Daisy and Marley, were coming in to check him out too, and Miss Uki spit on them too. They were interfering with the little guy’s ability to nurse, since Miss Uki kept moving & spitting!! So I tried to separate them out, but it’s pretty hard for one person to move two alpacas who have no desire to be separated from their friends!!

I decided that at least I could move the cria over to the barn to get out of the breeze. Of course, everyone followed! Isn’t he adorable?

I had done some research and prepared for this day by putting extra straw in the barn and making him a little coat. I found the rough shape of a pattern online and the measurements from a store that sells cria coats. I had some thick polyester fleece, some thin quilted fabric, and my mom gave me some fabric to use as the windproof, water-repellent outer layer. I put the coat on a small heater to warm it up. He perked up so much after we put it on him!

The first couple of hours are so critical for a new one to get a good drink from his momma. Her milk has essential nutrients and immune factors that the cria needs. Miss Uki is an ornery alpaca, and VERY protective, so every time I tried to point him in the right direction to get some milk, she would turn and face me and spit. I tried repeatedly but I realized I might not be helping! So, I had to let him find it on his own. I was pretty nervous since last year, our cria Frankie could not find his momma’s milk and we ended up bottle feeding him for 7 weeks! Yikes, that’s a lot of work! And he was not as vibrant as he would have been if he’d been nursing. So, this cria born in fall REALLY needed his momma’s milk for all the energy to stay warm and grow!

Luckily, as long as I stayed far enough away, Miss Uki stood still and eventually it looked like the little fella found the milk! His head was at a good angle… he seemed to be suckling… he was under there a long time… he is nursing! Yay!

That first night it went down to -12 C! I got up at 1 am to check on him, to make sure he wasn’t shivering or getting hypothermia. He was pretty warm, and since I disturbed the alpacas and Miss Uki stood up, the little guy went straight to her for a drink! Double yay!

On day two, he had lots of energy, and after a few days, he even started tasting grass!

We always wait a few days before we give a cria a name. He is pure white like his papa, Boeing, and on his second day in the world, he was already finding ways to get dirty, like his papa! So we named him Pigpen, after the character in the Charlie Brown cartoons who was always a mess!

Boeing was very interested in how his offspring was doing. I’ve never seen a papa as interested as this. He often stands by the gate or fence closest to wherever the girls are.

It’s been over a month, and now we have lots of snow. Pigpen outgrew his first coat so I made him another one! I used alpaca fibre I have on hand, sheared from his momma, to insulate the coat. 😊

I just can’t believe how hardy and amazing crias are. He is exploring the world, running around and tasting new things. The cold does not seem to bother him so far. On day 2, we gave him a pink neckwarmer to help prevent heat loss. He’s so spunky, still tries to get away when we have to adjust his coat. He leaped all over when we gave him the new coat yesterday! But he also still comes nose-to-nose with me every day, and gives me a sniff. We even have a game we play where he follows/chases me, then he runs away. Then I turn around and chase him, not that I could catch him!! Then I run away, as fast as my ankle will allow (I sprained it this summer). And so on for 4 or 5 times. It is, undoubtedly, the highlight of my day! 😄

Thanks for reading! I will be blogging more now that winter is here, and I’ll let you know how Pigpen does! 😀

Miracles do Happen! Our Frankie-Daisy Double Miracle

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I have to tell you about two miracles on the farm! If you read the last post, you met Frankie, our baby alpaca. He’s very sweet, and for some unknown reason, when he was born, he could not find his momma’s milk. So, he was not nursing, and he would have died if we had not intervened. So, we started feeding him bottles with goat’s milk, half-and-half cream, and even with a tiny bit of plain yogurt mixed in. Later we switched to milk replacement (formulated for lambs and cria) and we’ve gradually increased from feeding him every 3-4 hours (6-7 times per day) to feeding him every 5-6 hours.

Here’s miracle #1: The first clue something was up came one morning when we were watching Frankie run around the yard, full of energy and joy. It was awesome! That was around 9 am.

He was clearly having the best day ever! On the right, there’s a little hill that the alpacas like to climb and play “king of the hill” on. He was doing that with his momma and running around the yard like never before. What a guy! Well, at 3 pm when I went to give him his bottle, HE WAS NURSING off his MOMMA, Daisy! I was stunned! I think he had just started that very day! I watched, and when he was done, he walked over to me with the cutest milk-mustache I’d ever seen! Somehow — here’s where the miracle comes in — he had finally figured out where the milk was!

Miracle #2 is related. How did Daisy still have any milk? In Frankie’s first 2 weeks, we had tried and tried to show him where the milk was, and we had been milking Daisy a couple of times a day (no easy task). We finally had to stop because Daisy had dried up. It’s normal for a momma to stop producing milk if there’s no baby nursing. So HOW was Daisy producing milk SIX weeks later!?!? It’s a miracle! I have no idea. But she is gradually increasing her milk production to feed Frankie. While bottle-feeding, he had maxed out at 49 ounces per day! Since he started nursing, we’ve been offering him bottles every 5 hours or so, just in case he needs some, and he sometimes has a little, but he is barely interested in the bottle. Daisy’s milk is better!

A screen shot from the alpaca cam in the barn — proof he’s nursing!

We thought that once a cria was a bottle baby, that was permanent. We did not think there was any chance he would start nursing! I used to check, frequently, when he was a newborn, but he never did nurse then. So, we had to take a deep breath, and take on the commitment of bottle feeding him several times a day for what we thought would be at least 8 weeks. I’ve juggled my schedule and rushed home from work more times than I can count. I’ve asked my mom, dad, and cousin’s daughter to help with feedings. I have to give credit to my husband who took the lead on bottle feeding, in order to save Frankie’s life. Obviously, I was on board immediately, but it was his idea first that we buy goat’s milk and baby bottles. He had found a page on the internet that gave us hope.

Now, our hope has been rewarded in the most amazing way! So unexpectedly! And I just bought the BIG bag of milk replacer. 🙂

I think our double-miracle might be related to the Power of 8 group we were in this summer. These are groups that pray – in a particular way – for healing for others. It’s more like setting a very clear intention and then focusing on it together. We met in the group for 10 weeks, and we’ve heard that people who participate often experience miracles of their own in their lives. So, I think our Frankie-Daisy double miracle must be related. 😀

Take care, everyone! If you are struggling with something, or hoping for a miracle, don’t give up! Miracles DO happen. 🙂

Shearing Day!

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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!

Daisy and Marley the morning of shearing.

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!

That’s Alex in the foreground and Ziggy behind.

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.

Sometimes you’ve just gotta scratch!

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.

Boeing is our gentle giant, the white fella. He and Alex are clearly buddies.

After shearing was done, everyone was tired and hungry (and happy… trust me, I can tell).

Marley having a nap in the sun

 

Fozzie in the foreground, and although he is laying down, he’s also eating.

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.

Check out those legwarmers!

 

Ziggy, just chillin’

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).

MIss Uki after shearing

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:

Fozzie with the girls (Daisy on the left) behind him.

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!

Alex before shearing

Boeing… after a dirt bath! No longer a white alpaca!