Friday, August 29, 2008

You know you really live on a farm when...

a stray cat leaves kittens in your barn. This is the type of thing that never happened to me when I was growing up in a house in a neighborhood. Random creatures taking up residence? How unusual, and fun! We once had a possum that liked to live on our porch eating our cats' food and sleeping in the cats' beds. But more on that another time.

One day in late June, we found 7 kittens on a shelf in our boys' barn. We did play with them, they were irrestistible. They also had fleas and were tiny so we found a box, put towels in it, put the kittens back in the box, and left some food and water for mom. Later momma cat did come back and she stayed in the box with them for a day or so. Then she moved the kittens. My children were heartbroken. We kept an eye out for them but never saw them again. Until...

About ten days later, I was having a conversation with our farm manager and we heard a loud meowing coming from under the machine shed. Out comes this adorable and very scraggly orange kitten. One of my girls had been telling me that she was dreaming of getting an orange kitten. Poof! Like at Disney World, wishes do come true!

We have been through a lot with this little one. We've had him since he was about 4 weeks old. His mom and littermates were never found. He's a hoodlum, decidedly naughty and wild, but he's now a part of the family. He should have made a terrific barn cat. He was practically born in a barn, but after enjoying life in air conditioning, he informs us that he is strictly an inside kitty and has no intention of being content with life "out there". So much for my allergies.

Note to self: buy stock in company that makes Claritin.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gustav Brings Back That Old Feeling...

This morning I woke up with an unpleasant feeling in my stomach. It was that all too familiar feeling of being in the path of a hurricane. Since 1992, I have lived close enough to the water to be evacuating for hurricanes. We have been through all this with Hurricanes Andrew, Dennis, Ivan, and Katrina as well as some lesser known ones in South Florida. DH has about had it with the whole thing. I agree as being responsible for over 50 alpacas, 4 children, 8 dogs, 3 cats, and a rabbit is unbelievably stressful with a hurricane bearing down on you. We have had offers to help us evacuate the alpacas. THANKS so much. We will wait and see where the 3 day forecast puts Gustav. In the meantime I have to find evacuation places for the rest of the critters. The 6 Great Pyrenees are my biggest concern at this point.

To read about how we evacuated 42 alpacas and 4 Great Pyrs for Hurricane Ivan click here and go to the second half of the page. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

MagKenna Lei

Here is 4 month old MagKenna Lei. She is truly our pride and joy! Our first Magnum cria, and can you believe that she is black? I mean really black. (Magnum is fawn and her dam, Antigia, is grey) She has been shorn and it is growing in BLACK! When she was born I thought that we needed a very different name for her. I was walking through the room with a basket of laundry and heard Kelly Ripa tell Helen Hunt that she loved her daughter's name (On Regis and Kelly). My ears perked up. Her daughter's name is "McKenna Lei". She said that it meant "many flowers from Heaven". That did it, we changed it a bit to give Magnum credit for this little doll, but we got the idea from Helen Hunt.

Here's To Good Health!

"Nobody can be in good health if he does not have fresh air, sunshine, and good water."

~ Flying Hawk, Ogala Sioux Chief

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rainy Day on the Farm

Rainy Day on the Farm
Tropical Storm Fay dissipated into a Tropical Depression and just about missed us. Hooray! We are having quite a bit of rain though. Wet alpacas look kinda funny like fluffy dogs do when they get wet. Always good for a giggle.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Prepping for Tropical Storm Faye

Busy today preparing for a rainy weekend. Hubby has been tracking Faye since the beginning. Our favorite place to do this is noaa. Currently Faye has max sustained winds at 45MPH. She does seem to be leaving a lot of rain in her wake. Our ground is already saturated from a rainy summer, but we are high so I doubt we will have any bad flooding on our farm. Faye should be here this afternoon with the center of the storm coming around 4-6am.

I have gotten out the board games and am washing towels and sheets so I can let the kids help me fold later. We are all getting our computer time in early so we can unplug once the storm gets here. I have made rice krispy treats, always a huge hit at our house.

Here's the recipe:
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup clear Karo syrup
  • 1 cup peanut butter (I use Peter Pan Plus to add vitamins)
  • 6 cups rice crispies
  • 12oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • 12oz. butterscotch morsels

  • Melt butterscotch chips, then add chocolate chips. I use a double boiler for this.
  • Add sugar and Karo syrup to large saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring frequently, until it is clear and bubbles begin to form.
  • Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in peanut butter.
  • Stir in 6 cups rice crispies.
  • Grease 13x9 pan. Spoon rice crispy mixture into pan.
  • Spread the melted chocolate mixture over the rice crispies
  • Allow to cool completely and set before cutting.
  • Store covered. Enjoy!

    See ya on the other side of Tropical Storm Faye.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nothing Says Summer Like Belly Baths

Our farm is in the Deep South. Alpacas can be raised in the South, but the heat and humidity is a challenge for alpaca farmers. Alpacas can actually die of heat stress so we are serious about keeping our critters cool. Fans are a must. Alpacas cool through their bellies so we water their tummies with a hose when we are concerned about an individual or the whole herd getting too hot. We want our alpacas to be acclimated to our Southern climate so we do not water everyone's belly every day, but we do use that technique when needed. Alpacas are like people. Some are hot natured. Others never seem to break a sweat all summer. They are all so different. I used to think that the black ones would be more hot. And I do think they would if they sat out in the sun all day with their deep pigment drawing the sun to them, but they sit in front of fans in the barn most of the day. In general black alpacas are not as dense as their lighter colored friends so most of the blacks aren't terribly hot relatively speaking. Density is probably the biggest factor after individual heat tolerance. If you want to raise alpacas in the Southeast I recommend you build your herd around fineness and not try to specialize in density at least at the beginning. The more follicles of fiber, the less room for their skin to breathe.

With regards to heat, we were told by our mentor to buy alpacas from our region when we were getting started. We followed that advice to a certain degee. But after a few years in the alpaca business, with some experience under our belt, we bought a herdsire from Maine. We brought him home after the AOBA National Conference in June. The next morning after we returned home, I opened that back door to go check on our new macho.

A wall of heat and humidity hit me in the face. I thought that I must have killed this poor alpaca to bring him down here as he was used to a much cooler and less humid existence. Panicked, I ran out and found him sunbathing in the field. For the rest of his life that boy loved to sunbathe and never appeared to be affected at all by our climate. We have also had a couple of alpacas who were born and raised here that don't like the heat. So you never know. A few look at me plaintively in the summer with nostrils flaring, their eyes saying "Can't you please do something about this?" I wish I could. Summers can be miserable here. For those gals I just pray that when they sell they go to cooler climates. For more on keeping alpacas cool in summer, here's an article on Preventing Heat Stress in Alpacas. Hang in there, it's almost over!

Got comments and/or tips for keeping animals cool in summer? Share them with us!

Walmart Thought of the Day and Veggies for Kids

Max and Mitch

About a year ago a Super Walmart joined our town. It's about a mile and a half from our farm. Since it is on the way to everything we do, we go there alot. Unusual I know, to have a farm so close to such a big box store. Our town is really growing. Farmers are being slowly squeezed out of the picture. I still go to Bruno's every couple of weeks just to do my part to keep them in business. We really don't want Walmart to put the other grocery stores out of business so they can jack the prices way up.

As I was shopping at Walmart today, I noticed something odd. Only about 60% of one side of an aisle was devoted to canned vegetables. Our other local stores have at least one whole side of an aisle for these products. Walmart does have lots of fresh produce, and I know that fresh is better, but I was looking for some things for recipes (diced pimentos, quartered artichoke hearts, etc.). I was surprised to see how little they stocked in the vegetable category. It took me forever to find the canned pumpkin (it was in baking).

The updated food pyramid is loaded with fruits and vegetables at the base and topped with fats. I would say that what is available in this store is an upside down pyramid with more space devoted to selling snacks and fattier foods than fruits and veggies. Ice cream gets as much space as green canned vegetables and more space than the frozen vegetables. No wonder Americans are so chunky.

But are we as a nation obese because we are targeted by the retailers and their clever marketing? I mean, no one has ever made cabbage nearly as popular as the Keebler elves or the Pillsbury doughboy. Maybe the vegetable farmers should hire some veggie tale characters. Or is Walmart just giving the public what they want? Let's face it, ice cream tastes better to most of us than zucchini. (And if it doesn't to you, count that as a serious blessing. My youngest child adores vegetables, seeking out carrots for breakfast. Lucky child will be thin as a rail her whole life. Watch.) I'd love to hear your comments about this. What came first the fat Americans or the corporate world with their fat-making marketing and products?

Speaking of eating vegetables, Jessica Seinfeld wrote a book on how to get your kids to eat vegetables by sneaking them into their food. Has anybody read this? Any tips on getting kids to eat vegetables? I saw a recipe in a magazine that added beets and spinach to brownies. Ugh! I wondered, "Couldn't you just make them eat the brussel sprouts or lose the Nintendo?" Please let me hear your thoughts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Alpaca Registry (ARI)

Sent in the bloodcard to ARI for this little angel today. All alpaca breeding stock are registered with the Alpaca Registry. (or should I say alpaca breeding stock should be) Each alpaca is DNA bloodtyped before they are registered. This assures everyone that when we say a certain alpaca is this one's sire, that information has been verified through DNA. On our farm we do handbreeding, which means that we put a male and a female together alone in a pen and observe the breeding. This helps us know when to expect a cria (baby alpaca), and it can help alert us to any problems or unusual behavior that might need to be noted. To send in the blood we draw a little, put it on a bloodcard designed for ARI, and mail it in. We should have her completed registration in a few weeks, hopefully in time to enter her in some Fall alpaca shows.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

(Almost) Free Labor

I have always wondered about making my kids work on the farm. I didn't grow up on the farm so I don't have a first hand example to follow. The dairy farmers who have all the members of the family working long hours, and the families where children have farm chores in the hours before dawn are foreign to me. (But I am also fascinated by this) One alpaca family we know has a single mom at the helm. Her teenage boys lay around on the couch while mom slaves in the fields. That doesn't seem right. Another family requires the children to have some contact with the animals each day. That sounds pretty good, but with 4 kids, I have too many other things to keep track of.

Having a farm is an excellent opportunity for us to instill a good work ethic in our children. They should work and learn the value in it. At the same time, I can't see myself making them do all the work. I don't want them to resent the farm where they are growing up. Plus we do have a full time farm manager, and I need to keep him! (For me, over 40 alpacas required a paid employee if I was ever to be able to leave the farm, even to go to the grocery store once a week.)

One example I love is a family with twin boys who have been required to help their parents on their alpaca farm in whatever way was age appropriate since they were about 5. The father of this family and I were talking this summer and he gave me an idea. His boys were working for $5/hour so they could buy a wii and games for it. The lightbulb went off in my head, and I put my son to work for $5/hour. He usually makes $35-45/week. Quite the builder, he buys legos. (You wouldn't believe the places we find tiny legos and arms of lego stormtoopers.)

This summer my seven-year-old boy has gotten to know the majority of our alpacas. He is perfecting the art of watering tummies of hot alpacas, and learning the ropes on how we run them out to graze at night and inside to sit in front of the fans during the day. To keep him from getting bored we let him do lots of different tasks rather than having to fill up 15+ water buckets day after day. He feeds, scoops poop, and helps herd the alpacas. On the weekends, he is even instructing his 5 year-old sisters how to do some of the farmwork. He is our resident expert on how to administer electrolytes. The above picture is of him and Caesar playing one summer evening.

Those of you who were raised on a farm or who are raising kids now on a farm, please leave some comments/thoughts/suggestions! How many chores are enough or too many? Should they be forced to do work or be paid? On a related note, should allowance be given or earned? I look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

SAHM and Alpaca Breeder

One of the main reasons that the alpaca lifestyle worked for us was that it allowed mom to be home with the children and work at the same time. Being a stay at home mom (SAHM) was important to me.

When we first got the alpacas, my first child was three and I was pregnant with my second. Very pregnant. The only way that I was able to convince a vet to work with alpacas (remember this was several years ago) was because he felt sorry for me because my huge belly made me a sympathetic figure.

The fencing wasn't complete and the barn wasn't completely finished when the first 2 alpacas arrived. The couple we bought them from was nice enough to deliver them on their way to visit their daughter in TX for Thanksgiving. But we couldn't move the Thanksgiving holiday just because our barn wasn't ready. So the alpacas arrived and we put them in a stall on the end of the barn that was already finished. Problem was that we had a nice stall in the barn, and one nice fenced pasture on the other side of the property, but they weren't connected. To keep them safe from predators we wanted to put them in the barn at nigt. (We don't do this anymore.) You should have seen me eight months pregnant running, chasing, trying to herd 2 alpacas from out in the huge field into a door of the barn. Um, they weren't having it. Thanks to alpaca Joe for the advice to use ropes on t-posts to create a temporary alleyway for them to pass from pasture into barn. Alleyways are so key. Whew! That wore me out. I remember walking in and immediately popping in Marty McGee's video on handling alpacas, thinking I had so much to learn!

Why A Blog?

Many people think that raising alpacas is weird. Perhaps. I wanted to write about what it is really like "in the trenches". The day after I graduated from my doctoral program (in clinical psychology), I moved to our alpaca farm. Burned out with being a receptacle for other people's crap, I moved to a place where my next job would involve shoveling animals' crap. Hmmm.

What makes someone want to continually take on this kind of life? In psychology there is the hope of healing. Without getting too involved in self-analysis, I believe that I found my calling in life when I became a mother. My desire to be a nurturer is stronger than my desire to heal others. In the book, The Contrary Farmer, author Gene Logsdon describes farmers as nurturers. They tend the soil, the flocks, the way a mother does her babies. Farming has traditionally been a socially acceptable way for men to be professional nurturers. It makes sense that this profession calls women to it. And once we see an alpaca, with that adorably cute face....are you kidding? We are hooked. Personally, I never stood a chance.