Shearing day is always an exciting day on the farm! It only comes once a year, and by the time it comes, the alpacas are super-fluffy and I feel like they are looking forward to it!
In the photo above, Daisy and Marley are definitely wondering what’s up, since we never close them in the barn using that half-door.
The shearers are a 2-person man-woman team that we’ve used for a couple of years. They called while we were having breakfast to ask if they could come earlier — in half an hour instead of at 11:00 am! Ack! So we were a little rushed getting ready for them to arrive, but it actually went really smoothly. I had bought more harnesses so that we had one for everyone, and that helped too.
Most of the alpacas walked really well on their harnesses/leashes, which is amazing considering we really don’t practice with them. Alex was born last year, so it was his first time on a harness, being led and being sheared. He did the usual bucking around, but he walked okay. He did NOT like getting sheared — he cried the whole time. Poor little guy! He did seem pretty happy afterwards, however!
It was really nice to be able to see Alex’s eyes! He’s been so fuzzy, we haven’t been able to see them! The sun must seem really bright to them after having such long bangs.
I was worried that Alex was a bit small for a yearling, but the shearer said that he looks normal, or even a little big, to her! So that’s good. (Remember when he was born? What a cutie!) It could just be because he and Boeing are friends, and Boe is a big fella.
After shearing was done, everyone was tired and hungry (and happy… trust me, I can tell).
Don’t you just love how the shearers leave little legwarmers? It helps protect their legs from mosquito bites, and keeps them warm in winter.
They have to be sheared in summer so they have enough time to grow a coat before winter. Mid-June is a bit late, actually, but I’m sure these guys will be okay. They produce a LOT of fibre!
For months, I’ve been saying, “look how fluffy you are! You’re getting so BIG!” and now I am saying “look how skinny you are!”
After shearing is the only time I can see their bodies, and know if they are underweight, overweight, or just right. They all look good, except maybe Miss Uki (she looks a little skinny).
Daisy got to wear her harness a little longer than everyone else. When she was done, we just unclipped the leash and she ran away! So we had to catch her a while later and take the harness off. Luckily, alpacas can still eat and drink while wearing one. You an see her in the distance behind Fozzie below:
The reason the shearers came early was because at their first stop, the sheep were all wet! So, to give them a chance to dry, they came and did our alpacas first. Apparently, shearing wet sheep is akin to hell bent over! The boys were a little damp, so I spread the fibre out in the sun to dry. Doesn’t it look glorious? Boeing’s fleece is white, Ziggy cinnamon brown, Fozzie brown/black,and Alex dark brown with sun-bleached tips. 🙂
Alex’s fleece had a lot of straw in it, so I spent a while picking it out. It is SOOOO soft. Best time ever!
And hey, a good friend of mine featured Daisy’s first cut fleece in a video! You can watch it here:
I’ve actually been working on processing the fibre lately! There are 3 steps before I can start knitting it: de-dusting it, carding, then spinning. I could also wash it, but it isn’t absolutely necessary as long as I get the dust out. I have a mesh table that I fluff it on. My grandma gave me her drum carder and spinning wheel and I spent a day carding the fibre at home and then another day with her while she taught me how to spin. I was SO terrible at it, but apparently, that’s normal for beginners. There is no such thing as beginner’s luck in spinning! She kept teasing me, saying I was making a rope! It was way too thick. But I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it.
That’s all for now, everyone! Take care!
Here are a couple more “before” pictures to enjoy!
Spring is such a busy time of year! There are a few things that really need to be done in spring and there is a short window to to them. This year, I found myself working a lot on yard clean up, since you have to do it before the grass starts to grow too tall. I’ve been picking up old wood, random small pieces of wire and whatever else I find. I put the wood on the hugelculture (I’ll try to blog on this some day!) and the metal on a trailer where we’ve been gathering scrap to take to the metal recycling yard.
It is also time for planting! We have been working on our hay field for a WHILE. Last year, we mowed, plowed and harrowed it, and then did it all again later in the summer, to prepare for planting. It was pretty nice and smooth and ready for planting this spring! I am always aware of the weather, so I decided to plant before some rain in the forecast… perhaps it was a bit early, but at least the weeds had not started growing yet. I went to UFA and talked to one of the men there and decided on the “Stockman’s blend” — a seed blend of different grasses. I promptly went and showed my Dad to see if he thought that I picked the right kind! He said it would grow well, and he recommended a broadcast seeder for that sort of seed.
We already have one hay field; this will be our second. It’s a little over an acre, and the only seed broadcaster I had is one like this (on the right).
So, let’s just say, I walked back and forth more than a couple times! It went more quickly than I thought, actually. Some people might have moaned about not having a bigger/proper seeder, or maybe tried to buy/borrow/rent one, but I just went for it with what I had. My feet were a little sore that night!
The other big job we had to do was replace a fence. It’s been leaning more every year and it was time to build a new one. It’s in a bit of a low spot, and the frost always heaves the fence posts out. So, we decided to build a Montana-style jackleg fence.
The fence before:
You can see that farther along, it really starts leaning! So, we tore it all out in one evening (with temporary fences in place the keep the alpacas separated).
And then built a new one the following day! We had bought all the rails we needed several days before (and we already had a stack of fence posts for the A-frames).
All done! This was a really fun job, actually! It looks great, is really stable, and since it sits on top of the ground, we shouldn’t have to worry about frost heaving. We also put some old straw down to try and fill in/build up the low spot. Plus last winter, we fed the alpacas hay here many times. Over a few years, this should fill things in pretty well. We also filled the holes where the fence posts were. The only small problem we foresee is when it comes time to wean a baby alpaca — he/she could very easily put their head through to continue nursing off their momma, so we’ll have to put up some snow fence or something to prevent that!
Other projects we want to work on this summer (with the goal of completing one per week):
- Remove the west doors on the barn (seen above) and convert them into one large sliding door (put them on a backer/frame and install a overhead rail).
- Install a snow guard on the west lean-to part of the barn roof (also pictured above) so that snow doesn’t slide off into a big pile in front of the door!
- Sand and paint the main metal gate
- Install more pickets on the picket fence (and paint them)
As you can see, a lot of our work this year involves fences. Anyways, that’s all for now, everybody!
NOTE: I originally meant to post this back in May, but I was so busy! Sorry everybody!
Time flies by so quickly! Sorry I haven’t been blogging. I have been writing a lot, but I’ve been working on my next books instead of blogging.
So let me tell you what’s new and what hasn’t changed! We are still loving being on the farm. The work doesn’t feel like work; it feels like I get to play outside, making improvements or doing things for the well-being of our animals. We have 4 alpacas now, but instead of a baby from Uki as we were expecting, we got another yearling female from our friends at the nearby alpaca farm. We needed a buddy for Daisy when she was being weaned, so she wouldn’t be alone, and that’s when we got Marley. She’s toffee-brown and always smiling! When it was time to give her back, we realized we were pretty attached to her. So, we asked if we could keep her and they said yes! Yay!
But as often happens in life, this happy occasion followed a time of sorrow. Only 10 days after Uki had her baby, Allie, the baby died unexpectedly. We don’t know what was wrong with Allie or why she died. We simply found her very weak one morning and she passed away shortly after. It was so sad! We cried and cried! The worst part was thinking about taking her body away to bury her — would her momma understand, or would she blame us forever for taking her baby away? Argh, I tortured myself with this for a few hours, but there was no delaying her burial. Of course, Uki spit at us, but she seemed to have figured out Allie was dead and so she did not blame us (at least she did not seem to hold a grudge). It was a hard time for us, to say the least.
A month later or so, we came home to find my dad’s horse, Sassy, in distress in the bush. Splash, her faithful sidekick (who doesn’t kick, thankfully!) came and found me and led me to where Sassy was laying. We took a blanket out to her, and a tarp to keep the rain off, and through much cajoling and coaxing, we managed to get her to walk to the barn. Whew! Now she could dry out, warm up, have some water and recover! She had scrapes and bruises on both sides of her head, and unfortunately, she did not recover from them. She died overnight and again, we were faced with the task of burying one of our farm family members. Sigh. We love Sassy. What a great horse she was! My dad rode her lots over the years and he misses her too. (Sassy is the brown horse in the photo below.)
We still have Splash and I make sure I don’t underestimate her intelligence any more. She’s one smart horse! We just have to decide now how to take care of her better — get her a companion, or send her to spend the winter with her previous herdmates.
Since it’s starting to get colder out and we got a pile of snow the other day, we decided it was time to move the chickens from the outdoor “chicken tractor” or mobile home that I’d made — a coop with no floor, which we move along the grass every few days (photo at right) — to their winter kiekelbood. It has a heat lamp and a nice roost for them, so I’m sure they are happy about it. When I was getting it ready for them, Wade, the male kitten from last summer, went in there, caught a mouse in 5 seconds flat and started crunching it down! Yikes! I guess he likes mouse on the menu!
We still have lots of cats. Although we went a month without seeing the two more adventurous ones, Xena and Gabrielle, they came back yesterday! Xena had gobs of snow in her fur, so it looks like she had come a ways, maybe across the field, to come home! It was SO very nice to see them. Wade and Beautiful, the other two kittens, are buds and tend to stay around home. If I’m out working on a fence or whatever, they are often nearby.
I’ve really been noticing how smart our animals are, and that has inspired one of the books I’m working on. It’s all about intelligence. Intelligence is everywhere, in different forms for different animals. Even when people do things that seem “dumb,” they aren’t. They just have a motivation we don’t understand, or something deep-seated or subconscious is going on.
Other projects completed and accomplishments I’m rather proud of: We hooked up chains to a well-built calf shelter and dragged it a ways so that it could serve as an alpaca shelter in a corral. Then, we had to fix the corral fence. I hooked up the post-pounder, pounded 3 posts one evening after work, and nailed boards on another day. After a few other minor repairs, the corral is ready for… more alpacas! We are going to get two males so that Fozzie has some buddies. (Fozzie is the black alpaca in the photo above.) He’s separated from the girls most of the time, you know. Darn hormones! 🙂
We have quite a few rickety fences, and I used to feel overwhelmed about it all, but I have found that I really enjoy pounding posts! It’s very therapeutic. I fixed a particularly problematic fence post last week. It held the hinges for a gate that we use all the time, and the post had rotted off at the base. So the gate was very wobbly and it took a certain technique to open or close it. I started by freeing the post from the fence wires, and then unscrewed the hinges from the post. I got a new post — a nice, straight one! — and drilled holes in it to install the hinges. That was a several-step process and I’ll spare you the details! Once it was ready, I pounded it in a foot over from the old hole and reinstalled the gate! Success!
Other successes — we sold our house in High Level! Finally. It was on the market for 2 years! It is such a relief to sell it. This frees up mental space, money and the hassles having tenants. We are so grateful to our real estate agent!
So then we had a little money to play with! I found a natural gas pick up truck for sale, so on our way for vacation (which was long overdue), we went to Calgary and bought it. Since there’s a refueling station right beside my work, it’s very convenient. I’ll have to blog about this more, perhaps… it’s a pretty unique vehicle!
For our holidays, we went to BC to visit friends. We stopped in Calgary and crashed a good friend’s thanksgiving dinner, then went to Golden. We stayed there one night, unexpectedly, because the highway was closed. The next day, we saw friends in Armstrong who run a greenhouse, and the next, we connected with a friend in Vernon. So good to see him — we are kindred spirits! Then, we spent a couple of days in Kelowna visiting other friends and doing a few touristy things, including the Myra Canyon Trestle Trail. Loved that! We have my family to thank for making the holiday possible! One of my cousins, her husband and daughter did our chores for us, along with my parents — two times per day! But we knew our animals would be well-cared-for, which is so important.
When we got back, we had a minor crisis when our sewer tank was filling too quickly and we could not figure out where the water was coming from. We realized that it was ground water leaking in (like a small underground river!) because the water table is way too high this year, and there seems to be a small hole in the wall of the tank. So, I rented a pump, hauled it out behind the dugout and set it all up to pump into a creek which leads to the second dugout. Now, the water level in the main dugout is much lower and therefore the water table should drop too. Repairs will follow; hopefully it will all go smoothly.
That’s the fun of living on a farm! In the city, you never have to think about where your sewage goes! But you also have neighbours, sirens, traffic and such to deal with. We really do have space, quiet and nature all around us. Not to mention our animal friends to keep us company!
This winter, I’m going to keep working on my latest books. Rather than publish one large book and try to stitch several themes into one, I decided to write several small books on different topics. The first one is done, and I’m working on the second one and getting lots of ideas for the third! It’s been really fun writing again. I kind of had to put it on hold while I was training for my new job. The first three books will be (working titles):
– It All Belongs: The Law of Attraction and How the Universe Works
– Animal, Vegetable and Mineral: Intelligence is Everywhere
– Illness and Wellness: Attitudes That Make the Difference
So stay tuned for more on the new books when they are finished! Take care, everyone. Do something you enjoy today. Tell someone you love them. Smile at strangers! Be kind to yourself.
I felt like a bit of an astronaut a few days ago. Darren and I were doing some much-needed roofing on the main barn. When my grandpa built it in 1957 or so, they used wooden shingles. Can you imagine nailing one shingle down at a time? Over the years the wooden shingles have been drying out and getting smaller and smaller as they age, so the roof leaks. My dad started replacing the roof with tin, which is a fantastic roofing material, but he didn’t quite finish.
We have two panels 3 feet wide to do, plus three small areas that are odd shapes. Earlier in the summer, I went up and did a little work removing the last of the wooden shingles, but it’s unnerving. Because it’s so high, and so steep, it’s really hard to work. There are no good hand/foot holds, and when you constantly feel like you’re going to slip off, you can’t really do anything. Plus, with nowhere to brace yourself, you can’t really put any muscle into anything you do!
So, my safety-bear of a husband attached 2 solid anchor points by installing heavy-duty hooks from the inside of the hayloft. Once we had those, he googled how to make a rope safety harness and bought rope. So, now, we have a way to anchor ourselves so that we don’t have to worry about falling to our deaths. Don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but it would be quite a fall…
The other night we finally got the perfect night to go up there and install those last pieces, so we set about cutting them and getting everything ready. Ladder, check. Ropes, check. Extension cord, check (we were using an electric drill/screwdriver). Special grippy footwear (Vibrams), check. One at a time, we climbed the ladder with our small pieces of tin, drill and harnesses — with tool belts attached. We clicked into our safety lines, but we couldn’t just walk around up there — the roof was too slippery even with the grippy footwear, so we switched to bare feet. How odd to be safety-minded in bare feet! No steel-toed footwear here! But the sweat on our feet was the best grip-enhancer of all. So, we got to work.
We installed a small, simple piece easily enough, and then moved on to a harder one that required one of us to go onto the very top part of the roof. Darren climbed up there, checking out the 2 small patch-pieces that needed to be added, and then a thought occurred to me: we only have one ladder. What if we somehow knocked it down? We’d be stuck on the roof! Neither one of us had our phones! So, for all our planning, and safety, we had forgotten a pretty major one. So, I put my Vibrams back on and went to get a back-up ladder. It was just around the corner, leading into the hayloft. So, with the second ladder in place, we decided to try install a big piece of tin.
Unfortunately, the last piece my Dad had installed had a gash in it, so we had to take that one off and install one of our newly-cut pieces in its place. So, we’ll have to cut one more another day. I climbed down again and got the piece, which we had washed earlier to get the spruce needles and general grime off. The piece was just over 3 feet wide by 99″ long (8’3″) and although it was not overly heavy, it was awkward. I managed to carry it in one hand and go up the ladder. Once on the roof, I got to put it down while Darren positioned himself. When he was ready, I had to bring the piece over to the upper roof and lift it up about chest-high, so we could slide it into position. This sounds so easy but was in reality so hard! I needed to use both hands, and each of my feet were only gripping onto one screw of the roof I was standing on!
A few minutes later, when I was standing on the upper ladder (sorry to confuse you, there are a a lot of ladders involved!), giving direction and encouragement to Darren, it hit me: this is like spacewalking. Astronauts on a spacewalk are tethered to the vehicle they emerged from; we were tethered, too. All an astronaut’s tools are tethered to them; ours were all attached to our tool belts or tied to the roof itself. Astronauts have no friction in space, and so they have to grip with their hands or have their feet anchored in order to apply muscle; same for us. Astronauts have to plan every move carefully and work in teams; so did we.
Now, I can’t say I have a more profound thing to say than this: It was cool, for an little while on a roof, to play astronaut. In another time, another life, I might have been one… but the top of the roof will have to do for me!
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!
So, I’m finally going to update you, my lovely readers, on what is going on with me and my husband on the farm! Thanks for your patience!
This year, my parents decided to move off the farm and into town to officially retire. This is a huge step for them — they’ve lived in this one place for all their married life, which is over 40 years. My dad didn’t want to be one of those old farmers who just doesn’t know when to quit, so he has been downsizing for a few years and this year, they were ready to make the big move.
So, my husband and I decided to take over. Although I love the North, moving back to the farm I grew up had such appeal to me, I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
So, we did it! We packed up all our possessions, loaded them into the biggest truck that UHAUL rents, and moved south. What an insane week that was! It took two trips, seven days (with one rest day in the middle) and I think we logged something like 3200 km on that UHAUL!!
We put our house on the market — our real estate agent came by to take photos WHILE we were starting to pack! She did an amazing job staging our home! For as long as this link works, you can see our listing here.
I don’t know how we accumulated so much stuff. It’s crazy. And we don’t need most of it, by far. I am seriously wanting to declutter and so as we unpacked, I started making up boxes of things to give away — I know, it seems like we did it in reverse, but my parents were anxious to move and not have the house on the farm empty for more than a couple of days. So, we moved in haste! Not the recommended way to move! On the first trip, we got away a bit later than planned — those last few things always take longer to load than you think — so we drove all night to get to our new home. We figured we might as well just git ‘er done!
Has living on the farm affected me yet, other than the pleasant rural slang? I don’t think so. I went through a frustrating stage where I couldn’t find anything. I went through an overjoyed stage, where I was like a kid playing on the yard! So glad for some time off, some sunshine (October was so lovely!), and so glad to be with my honey again!
Things have settled in a bit, and although I am still very grateful to be here, regular doses of reality keep me grounded. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have dreams! I have SO many ideas for things we can do on the farm! I want to convert one (or 2?) of the buildings here into a greenhouse, and fix fences and get some sheep to “mow” the grass, and maybe get some ducks and some more chickens (I only have two at the moment)… 🙂 There is a main barn, several graineries and other small buildings, and a milk house, garage, and large shop space all with wood stoves, and corrals and fences all over the place. I could go in a hundred different directions, but here’s what I think is the biggest, best idea:
I want to turn the farm into a “care farm.”
I want to have animals and a greenhouse that people can visit when they are not feeling well and they need to reconnect with nature. They might be fighting an illness or facing death, or recovering from a stressful incident. The farm will be a place they can go for a walk, see the sheep, cows, and chickens — maybe even rabbits!! — and enjoy the outdoors. Although this is the dream, I don’t have a detailed plan, so I’m really excited to see how it all unfolds!
Contact me if you’re interested in finding out more, or if you have an idea or a desire to help!
(Click for larger version of photos below.)