Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My boys didn't have long to settle into their new place and enjoy the last of the incredible fall weather we were having. Sunday the weather turned into rain, then rain/wind/cold even some snowflakes this morning. They have chosen to remain out in the fields, forsaking the barn. Even though they know where it is and I have seen them walk through it. Even though it is out of the wind, rain, has fresh hay and even apple chunks on occassion. Even then they'd prefer to do this. What can you do? You can lead an alpaca to the barn, but you can't keep him in there. Cheers -

Friday, October 22, 2010

As of 5:00pm yesterday, we officially became alpaca farmers. Justin of Kinney Valley Alpacas rolled into my driveway around 5:00pm last night and unloaded these two handsome fellows from his alpaca trailer. The Boys The gorgeous guy on the left is Honeywiese, half-brother to KV Valiant, who sired Brigid's baby Grace. So, I guess that would make this guy some sort of uncle to Grace. If alpacas had uncles. Do they? Anyway, that's not important. What's important is he now resides in my pastures, along with his little white buddy, KV10. KV10? What kind of a name is that? Well, it's not really a name, it's his ear tag number. Justin had kind of knick-named him 10-er (tenor?). But we're still looking for a name for him. Feel free to leave a comment with your suggestions. White Rascal? When they arrived, we loaded them into a catch pen (a small enclosure about 9'x9' made with lightweight corral panels) so I could get a look at them, while I pumped Justin for information about them. A little while later, I opened the gate and let them explore the pasture. They immediately headed for the worst corner of the entire acre - the brushy/weedy corner behind the gigantic manure pile. Hmm... Murphy's Law? I had considered cordoning off that section entirely until we could disk and harrow it. But we didn't have enough t-posts to get it done before their arrival, and we have to wait until it rains to go buy some from our neighbors who are busy harvesting corn while the sun shines. Kind of like "Make hay while the sun shines." But cornier. They have used posts to sell us. But not until it rains. Justin walked through the pasture with me and assured me his boys had been in far worse pastures and were none the worse for wear. I felt a little relieved, kind of like the mom who gives her kids sugar but justifies it that they don't get it very often. We pretty much let them be the rest of the night. We did walk out there after dark to see where they were bedded down (we call it "cushed" in alpaca-slang). They were in the far corner of the back pasture, over by the neighbor's yard. As far away from the barn as alpacaly possible. Honeywiese was invisible but we caught KV10 (Blanco? Marshmallow? White Rascal?) in the beam of our flashlight. They seemed pretty content. At first light (which really isn't that early anymore, like 7:30am) I peeked out the curtains on the second floor window to see if I could see them. I couldn't, but the barn obscures part of my view. I had a sudden fear that their water buckets would be frozen. Not frozen solid probably, but just a skim of ice - enough to keep them from drinking any. And I was pretty sure I had forgotten to plug in the heated one by the barn. So I had fears of dehydrating alpacas on my brain. Which makes for very odd dreams, let me just say. who you lookin' at? So just in case the bucket was frozen over, I heated a pot of water in my electric kettle and toted it out there in my vintage thermos. I needn't have worried, the big bucket by the barn that I had forgotten to plug in wasn't even frosty. But the morning before, the garden hose attached to the water spigot/hydrant had been frozen, thus my concern. I hung around the pair for awhile. They regarded me with curiosity but not enough to approach within arm's distance. KV10 is definitely more skittish than Honeywiese. He pulls his ears back every time I'm near (just like Brigid used to do). He also hums a lot, even while he's grazing. But he's so darn cute - I hope he acclimates to his new place OK. I'll start working with them in a few days. Don't want to overly stress them out after just moving them here by starting too soon. Several times throughout the day today I headed outside to go and say "hi." They always approached the fence as I came close, but stayed their distance. Honeywiese did give me one nose greeting however - which happens when I lean in and he leans forward and sniffs my forehead. It was cool. I felt relieved that he trusted me even that little bit. Progress?! This evening I was in the pasture cleaning up a little. Pulling some weeds, raking a bunch of corn leaves that had blown in from the neighboring field. Again they regarded me with curiosity but not too closely. sunset over harvested cornfield The sun was setting over the vacant cornfield. The temperature was quite warm still, in the 60's. After watching the sun go down I turned towards the east and saw a beautiful full moon rising over the trees. My heart, along with my pastures, was now completely full.

Blessings -

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Bobcat came today! After waiting a week for them to come, they were finally able to fit us in around their harvesting schedule. Brian called yesterday to set up an 8:00am arrival and arrived promptly at 7:40am - while we were still scrambling into our work clothes, just out of bed.

He quickly had the entire area around the barn which had been built up about 2' in hay and manure, moved over into a large pile for composting. Then he leveled off the remaining areas and was done within an hour. Since we had all that muscle on hand, we also had him pull up this fence post which had broken off and was a hazard in the field, and a couple of t-posts we need to relocate. He used some of it the drier poo to fill in some of the lower areas in the front pasture.

All the poo I mucked out of the barn was also moved away from the barn. Sing it with me, "I can see clearly now the poo is gone!" Sorry. Couldn't help myself there.

We now have all of our "poop-in-a-group." And the pasture is ready to harrow and come spring, seed. Well except for the corner with the brush pile and big pile 'o weeds... but one step at a time, eh? Can you see me in the pic below? I'm near the fence, to the right of the manure pile. That's one big pile 'o poo! The new garden beds we're building are going to love this stuff. We're going to layer it with leaves and kitchen scraps and compost it (little by little). And next spring I'll plant my seeldings into the rich dirt and remember the back-breaking work I did mucking out the barn. And it will, as they say, be well worth it. Blessings!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What’s been happening at the farm, you ask? Oh, you don’t? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. No, we don’t have our alpacas here yet. And soon you’ll understand why. There were just a few little details we needed to take care of before the place would be ‘paca-ready. Such as… MANURE REMOVAL: The 16’x10’ horse shelter/barn floor was completely covered in 3’ of compacted horse manure. That’s 480 cubic feet of rock solid manure. None of the barn doors could be opened or closed, they were completely encased. I mucked it out with a pitchfork, one small chunk at a time. This task alone probably took over six hours. I broke it up over a couple of weeks to save wear on my back, but still managed to strain a muscle which hurt for three weeks.

Have pitchfork, will muck! After that experience I decided we needed to hire a Bobcat to come and move the manure away from the barn. Where I chucked it out the north door, there now stands a heap about 4’ high. And in the front pen where the horses were fed and corralled close to the barn, the entire paddock is built up about 2’ with hay and manure. The Bobcat is coming this week. I can’t wait! Big Pile O' MOUSE REMOVAL: In the very last corner I mucked out of the barn, where the manure wasn’t so solid and was mixed with old hay, just as the sun was setting and I was losing all light in the barn, I discovered a nest of mice. They were itty bitty things, I could barely feel them when I picked them up (with leather gloves on). I grabbed one in each hand and marched them down the driveway, across the busy highway, and tossed them into the cornfield. I went back two more times, finding four total. I doubt they were big enough to survive. But I just couldn’t bring myself to squash them. Minnie? I found this full-sized mouse hanging out in the tack room of the barn a few days earlier. It wasn’t the least bit concerned about my presence, even posing while I snapped several photos. I brought Zoey & Kali out to the tack room but the mouse escaped before they could catch it. I suspect it was related to the clutch I found in the barn. TACK ROOM CLEANOUT: Like most things around the property, the tack room needed work. I hauled out the horse trough, wooden pallets, rotting bales of hay and all of the gear that was left behind, then took a shovel and scooped out the sand and dirt that had piled in on top of the cement floor. Within that 2” mixture of dirt and sand on the floor I found: • Two screwdrivers • A rusty hammer • A tool for cleaning horse hooves • Numerous rusty horseshoe nails • Numerous rusty horseshoes • Dozens upon dozens of hay bale twine strands • Nails from the plastic insulator clips for the electric fence • Two blue tarps almost completely covered in dirt • Pieces of broken window It is now ready to be used for hay storage and tack again. HORSE TROUGH: There was a full-sized horse trough near the barn with about 2-4” of slimy green water in the bottom of it. The drain plug was rusted shut, I don’t think it had been drained all summer. Or maybe, ever. The trough was too heavy to push over to drain, so I got out my shovel and dug a trench along the front, moving the manure away from the front edge, then went around to the other side and using my shovel again, levered it up enough that I could then push it over and dump out the remaining water, which pooled around in divots of horse manure making a wonderfully slimy mess for me to walk around while yanking the now empty trough out of the paddock.

hay trough? summer bathtub?

It now rests beside the barn, on its side, and when I rinsed it out today, I saw at least a couple of tiny holes in its rusty bottom. Therefore, I might use it as a hay feeder instead. There is a much smaller horse trough and heated water bucket that I should be able to put to use for water that will be much easier to move around and clean. WEED REMOVAL/PASTURE REFURBISH: I have pulled a lot of weeds in my life. I love to garden actually. But I have never seen so many weeds. Ever. Anywhere. In my life. I decided I could pull the majority of the big ones along the electric ribbon fence line (see the white electric ribbon below? Oh, you don’t? That’s because the weeds are SIX FEET TALL), but for the brushy areas of the northwest corner, we’re going to have to rent a brush mower. Or some goats.

After the Bobcat comes to move the manure and spread some of it around the front pasture, we plan on renting a harrow to break up the compacted mud/dirt/manure and then reseeding, but perhaps not until spring, since it's late to be reseeding. We'll "seed" how it goes. Along with the weeds, several errant tree saplings had been left to grow in very undesirable places. Like next to the house. In various garden beds. In the dog kennel. Another back-breaking chore, getting those things out. They don’t just pull out nicely like the weeds in the pasture. It takes a shovel and a lot of jumping up and down. I have not yet finished weeding her garden beds on the west side of the house, which, for all intents and purposes looks like a field of grass. But that won’t deter the alpacas, so we let it be for now. FENCE REPAIR: The fence was in various stages of disrepair like most of the rest of the property. I secured a quantity of used 1”x6” boards that we repurposed for fixing fence rails that were broken or missing altogether. In some spots the owner had tied twine across the gaps, I guess to trick the horses into thinking the fence still existed. In many areas the boards had warped and pulled out of their posts completely. After repairing what was loose or missing, I was able to get the front of the fence (facing Highway 7) primed and painted in a nice new coat of white. What a difference that made! white split rail fence Now whenever I am driving home I smile as I am greeted by a complete fence (no gaps!) all in a nice shiny white. There are many many strings of white Christmas lights wrapping the front and driveway side of the fence. I had to remove them to paint, and we tested the strings and replaced the bad bulbs and are putting them all back up again so we can light up the fence for special occasions (like our upcoming Fall Festival/Open House Bonfire on Sat. Oct. 23). insulators and polywire In addition to fixing the rails of the fence, we also felt we needed to add electric fencing below the lowest rail, which at some parts was a good 24” above ground level - high enough for a curious alpaca seeking greener grass to crawl right under.

We spent a couple of weekends visiting area farm supply stores pricing out the various types of insulators and electric fencing supplies, finally settling on lightweight polywire. We hammered in over 200 plastic insulator clips in 2 lines below the lowest rail, and ran two lines of polywire around the entire perimeter. We are going to add another line of polywire between the bottom and second rail also. It’s not dog-proof, that’s for sure, but hopefully it will convince a critter there are easier targets elsewhere. I have spoken to several farmers in the area that raise sheep and alpacas – none have ever had a coyote in their pasture. But there is always a chance. We have a bright light on the garage all night long, and will consider getting a dog &/or llama if circumstances require it. I may also have to learn how to shoot with Pappa Bear’s 22. PANELS: In addition to fixing up the rail fence, we decided to purchase a quantity of 5’x9’ light livestock corral panels. These come in handy in so many ways. We can use them to build pens inside the barn, we can use them as “catch pens” to funnel animals into when we need to work with them, we can make a large corral along the fenceline to keep 'pacas in when we have farm visitors, and we can build temporary corrals to graze the animals around the yard… no gasoline or electric cord required! (Plus, extra fertilizer for the lawn!). lightweight corral panels We don’t yet have a pickup truck here in MN (PB’s 1962 Int’l 3/4 ton pickup is still in WY) so we did what any inventive soul would do – used what we had available to move the panels home. That’s 6 panels and a 16’ hog panel tied onto the roof racks of my ’95 Geo Prizm. I would call it my “redneck pickup” but my sister reminded me most rednecks drive real pickup trucks so I guess it’s my ghetto pickup. Or pseudo pickup? I still like redneck pickup personally. '95 Prizm Pickup Like anyone who owns property (even though we don’t), the list of little (and big) jobs is a long one. So yes, we’ve been staying busy these days, although it might be hard to notice the progress we’ve made so far. And yes, I miss my girls, and Monet, desperately. We may not move the girls here this fall, but our hopes are to move Monet here for sure, along with some more fiber boys as buddies. I dream of one day very soon, looking out the windows in the morning as the sun is rising over the pastures, and seeing, rather than weeds and manure piles, grass growing and my boys grazing happily. Until then, I pull weeds, repair fences, price out feed and supplies, and count my many blessings. Cheers –

After much deliberation, Pappa Bear and I have decided we needed a tractor. We can’t always be hiring Bobcats to move poop and weed piles, or hiring somebody to harrow or brush mow our little acreage, at this place or the next one. Alas, tractors are pretty expensive, even used. So we settled on this multi-purpose tool – a 300cc Honda ATV 4x4, 2000 model.

My Tractor The young fellow who delivered this afternoon (Josh, who looked to be no older than C-baby) drove a new looking big white pickup truck pulling a very long trailer, with only our little bitty ATV on it. For a minute I wished we had purchased the big red Arctic Cat 650 behind me in the picture above. For a minute I wished we had a big pickup truck and a long trailer. But I got over that when Josh drove our machine off the trailer and into my driveway. He was handing over the paperwork and keys, and I was smiling like a Cheshire cat, nearly giddy at our first major farm purchase other than Brigid, when he asked if I wanted to drive it before he left. Um… no? I’ve never driven an ATV before. Josh assured me it was very easy, he’d explain it all to me. I still didn’t really want to, but I didn’t want to lose face in front of a kid half my age, either. Besides, if I can move 480 cubic feet of manure all by myself, I should be able to move an ATV from one end of the driveway to the other. So I agreed, with some trepidation. Josh started explaining everything – “Push the shifter down for Neutral. Push in the red button and pull back the lever to put it into reverse. You will pull up with your foot to shift up into each gear – there are five gears.” Easy for you to say there Josh – you’ve probably been riding one of these since before you could walk. We managed to get it into reverse (and by “we” I mean Josh) and I backed very very slowly up the driveway. Then he showed me again how to shift it into gear. I was really confused between the handbrakes, foot brake, and shifter, but somehow I managed to drive it forward around and up the other side of the driveway without running into anything, like his very large pickup and trailer filling my driveway. Once again we practiced ‘reverse’ and I backed it up to the garage. That was about all of the lesson I could handle at this point, and I asked him how to turn it off.

To his credit, he was exceedingly polite the entire time. I didn’t once catch him snickering at my driving inadequacies. Once again he reassured me if we had any questions or problems help was only a phone call away. Then he left. I thought about firing it up again, before I forgot everything, but I had a pressing phone call to make for work, so I left it until this evening, when I got out there and tried it again. It took a few tries to get it started, but then I got it going and into gear and drove it into the pasture, over the manure and hay piles, and around the front where it's just dried mud and manure. I even shifted into first gear! I drove it back to the garage (without having to put it into reverse) and chalked up another new life (and farm) experience.

So now we have our first farm equipment. I can't wait to check out the farm implement auctions around here. Anyone got an ATV-sized snowplow blade, brush mower and harrow they’d like to sell me? Or possibly a manure spreader, aerator or seeder? Happy Trails –

Sunday, October 3, 2010

IF... this 1967 Ford 250 wasn't just a 2-wheel drive... and IF it wasn't $10,900... I would totally buy it. Wouldn't it just look cool pulling my 'paca trailer (which of course I don't own yet), or this 1966 Coachmen Travel Trailer? IF Pappa Bear didn't just barely hit his head inside this camper, I'd buy it, too. On second thought, wouldn't this camper be perfect being pulled by Pappa Bear's 1962 International 3/4 ton 4WD pickup? It's like they were made for each other. This camper, and this truck. IF... this truck weren't still in Sheridan, WY. Anyone wanna pull it home for us?
An ultra-early work related wake up time for Pappa Bear prompted me to get up and take advantage of the opportunity by getting my kayak loaded onto my car and visiting Lake Auburn in Carver Park Reserve for a sunrise paddle. It was still very dark when I left the house at 6:00am. Stars were twinkling. A chill was in the air that I hoped I would be able to shake once I was on the water. I was the only car in the parking lot at the boat launch when I arrived. I positioned my old Prizm so that her headlights shone down on the boat ramp and dock while I unloaded. The sky was just beginning to lighten as I slipped into the kayak off the dock (no wet feet entry for me!). The water was like glass and my ultralight boat responded to the slightest signals from the paddle. I was still chilly, but unwilling to paddle too fast, as my intention was to absorb as many of the sights and sounds as I could on this journey. I stopped mid-way around the small bay I was paddling when I heard a beaver smack its tail on the water. I turned my boat around and looked for the telltail sign of its presence - a small object moving along the water leaving a v-wake behind. I sat still for a long time watching the beaver collecting aquatic plants and munching them - at least one of us was getting breakfast! This lake is divided into two sections, connected by a small break in the cattails. The section I was on was easily paddled in less than 30 minutes, just in time to arrive back near the dock when the sun was just peeping over the trees. I sat there in awe, soaking up the sun and its warmth, grateful for neoprene gloves and socks and wishing for a mug of hot chocolate to warm me from the inside. After tearing my eyes away from the newly risen sun, I looked around and watched the light kiss the colorful trees on the shoreline. Putting the boat away was a much easier task in the daylight, especially when surrounded by trees like this. The next time sleep eludes you in the early morning hours, skip the TV morning shows. Put on your long underwear and warm wool jacket and mittens, and head over to the nearest lake. I guarantee the show God puts on for you will far surpass anything that the Today Show has to offer. Blessings -

Friday, October 1, 2010

Grace Kelly and I got a chance to visit Miss Grace and all of the other babies (and mamas) at Spirit Song last weekend. This it the first chance I've had to post pics. Amazing how much time pulling weeds and mucking the barn have been taking lately.

a Grazing Grace Here's the newest little guy, who we had not met before - a little male out of Calista who has not yet been named. He appears to be fawn but has a very interesting color and fleece style, and also a grey smudge on his face. His sire is grey. Calista's cria We think he's quite beautiful. And he came right up to me and greeted me, too. ain't I a cutie? And then there is the group of look-alikes, all beige or very light fawn. The little one in the middle is a baby girl, as yet unnamed, out of Brussaria. we match! hello! Here's Calista's little guy again. watchin' the world So much cuteness in one little package. I'm cute On Sunday, since it was National Alpaca Farm Days, we stopped by one of our neighboring farms, Litte Gidding Farm Suris and fell in love with this little guy, Joe. Perhaps we need a suri in our field of huacayas?? We love the light fawn color, in both suris and huacayas! baby Joe

A delightful weekend all around, and gorgeous weather. I can only hope the weather holds out a bit longer until our barn is mucked and the pastures tilled... but alas, you never can depend on the weather in MN this time of the year. Just enjoy it while it lasts.

Cheers -

Follow Gypsy Farmgirl on Instagram Follow Gypsy Farmgirl on Twitter Follow Gypsy Farmgirl on Flikr Follow Gypsy Farmgirl on Pinterest