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!
I wonder if Jim Henson — or whoever did the writing for the Kermit character on the Muppets — realized how popular Kermit’s line “it isn’t easy being green” would become! In particular, it resonates with those of us who’d like to have less impact on this planet we live on. I’ve been thinking of ways that I might be able to make a difference, and of course a small difference in something I do every day adds up to a big difference over time.
Take coffee, for instance. For so many of us, it’s a daily routine of brewing, or driving to get our favourite liquid addiction. I’m not even sure it’s as much about the caffeine as it is the sugar — coffee is an excellent sugar-delivery system! In any case, coffee is something we do a LOT of, so I wonder if we could do it more sustainably?
First up, paper cups. Where I work, we have ceramic cups available, but hardly anyone uses them! Why not? I think we’ve just gotten used to paper cups with plastic lids, and a paper sleeve if it’s really hot, but honestly, a reusable ceramic cup is so much better. Everyone knows that styrofoam cups are the worst (although I believe it’s now illegal to use CFCs in their production), but paper cups are lined with plastic. A true paper-only cup would be like a Dixie cup and wouldn’t hold up to coffee very well at all. So, although the cups can be composted, they don’t do it well and we may be introducing microplastic into the environment, which no one wants to do. So, I have been making an effort to use an ordinary ceramic coffee cup or my stainless steel tea thermos whenever possible. Just a tiny bit of water and they are clean and ready to go again! Think of how many times a ceramic cup can be reused. A million times!
K-cups. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed how wasteful they are! They are meant to reduce waste in brewed coffee — instead of making a pot and then pouring a bunch down the drain when no one drinks it, use a K-cup (or Tassimo, same thing)! But rather than one large container of coffee grounds, which we scooped out of, we now have many small plastic containers going into the trash! Is a little coffee down the drain really so terrible? Compared to the garbage we are producing in astronomical amounts? I mean, you can take them apart and send the plastic only to the recycling, but if you’re not at home, are you going to do this? Not likely. Although this nifty tool might help: Recycleacup.com. You can buy a reusable K-cup that you can put your own coffee into, and I think that is an excellent option!
And the company that got me thinking about all this? One Coffee!
90% biodegradable sounds more like it, and their website says they are now at 99% biodegradable! And Fair Trade, too!
And after brewing one, this is what it looks like. No mess!
I love to see companies coming up with cool solutions to problems. Here’s another one: Lafarge is burning K-cups and then using the ash in cement mix. That’s one way to keep K-cups out of the trash!
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.
It 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.)
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!
The day after I posted about getting the shearing done, and announced that our female alpaca was pregnant, she had her little one!! (It’s been so busy, sorry I didn’t get this posted until today!) Here she is, just minutes old:
She is amazing! She is so perfect, and perfectly alpaca! She’s curious and she often came right up to us to check us out. Her momma would make a little noise — like a cross between a hum and a squeak — and call her baby back.
She is incredibly fast! She runs, but sometimes her back legs try to pass her, and it is the cutest thing! She’s still learning how to use her brakes. She has gorgeous eyes, eyelashes and the sweetest little nose. Every day, she is a little taller, and she’s so alert and curious. She was born with a lot of wool, so she’s fluffy and SO soft.
So, I’m madly reading a book all about alpacas, so I can learn all the finer points of raising them, but thankfully, it’s all been common sense so far. Well, common sense for me since I grew up with sheep, and I bounce things off of Mom and Dad when I need some validation.
This is going to be a great adventure!! Twice a day, we have a little alpaca rodeo when we put them in/out of their little barn. I’ll post more about that soon, and some more pictures!
Our 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:
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.
Here’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.
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!
While 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!
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!
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!