This week I began Part I of our Big Adventure.
This means I'll be traveling back and forth between WI and MN a lot this summer, splitting my time between our little farm in MN, and Kinney Valley Alpacas in Ontario, WI.
Because this might get confusing to readers, I will start referring to events and experiences happening at our home in MN as the "Little Farm," whereas events and experiences that occur at Kinney Valley will be referred to as the "Big Farm."
I thought about calling it the "Funny Farm," since we all laugh a lot here, but I think that would convey something entirely different than my intention.
The Big Farm covers about 170 acres and runs between 150-200 alpacas at any given time. Plus a few cows, a couple of horses, and soon, starting next week, about 100 baby chickens (more peeps!!! YAY!).
Compare this to our Little Farm, where we have two acres, three alpacas (five with the girls who are boarding at other farms), three spoiled (mostly house) cats and fifteen new laying hens.
I thought I had my hands full at our little farm. Mowing the grass has become a near daily occurrence with the rains we've had this spring. Then there's the daily chores - feeding and watering the chickens and alpacas, moving the fences for the boys to graze a new section of yard, scooping dung, moving the chicken coop daily. Oh, and those seedlings still under lights waiting to go into the garden beds (egads!).
But all of this pales in comparison to what happens at the Big Farm.
Already this week I have experienced:
Driving a skid steer (my first time) and moving about 8 or 9 round bales of hay from the field to the barn
Moving 700 pound round bales of hay around in the hay barn, by hand
Preparing 500 pounds of alpaca fiber (fleece) for shipping (this involves a vacuum cleaner, towel, and a lot of bags of fleece to tie shut)
Moving the cows, the horses and the big 100+ herd of female alpacas
Hosing down a group of hot, pregnant female alpacas
Watching a newborn cria (baby alpaca) taking its first breaths of air
In the 95+ degree heat (35 Celsius) plus humidity, even the small tasks soon sap the life out of a person. The larger tasks become grueling tests of patience and fortitude. In addition to the heat, my allergies have been acting up since I arrived here, and the gnats seem to love me, even while leaving the other folks here mostly alone. The heat has been making it difficult to sleep, and my day starts pretty darn early now that there are pregnant girls to check on and cows to move before my normal work day begins.
Despite these challenges, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself. I picked this farm as a place to spend a summer learning primarily because I love the Radloff family, some of the most welcoming, endearing, hard-working folks you'll ever have the privilege to meet.
They have been raising camelids on this farm for over 20 years, starting out with llamas, then later, hand-selecting their first alpacas from a farm in Chile (five of their original imports are still living today).
Although their son Justin now runs the business, the entire family is involved, and it's common to see three generations working side-by-side on any given day, with Justin carrying the wee-est of the bunch, his one-year old daughter, on his shoulders as he makes his rounds.
But as picturesque as this farm may sound, farm life is not always pretty. There is manure and blood and sweat (and tears), joy and heartache, birth and death. Life gets real here very quickly. The kids are not shielded from these realities.
But I can think of no better way to acquire a respect for the earth and the animals making their way upon it, than to have a direct hand in caretaking a piece of land and a pasture full of animals.
And I can think of no better way to spend a childhood, or a life, tending a farm, no matter how Big or how Little.
Here's to a new Big Adventure!