Category Archives: alpacas

Animals off Farm

photo 1The alpacas and kitty have left the farm. A friend took two of our girls down on Sunday, and we hauled the other two down to her yesterday. This is a good move for our alpaca friends, but it was hard to say goodbye after so many kissy and derpy faced moments shared with our four-legged friends. They have gone to live with the Shetlands, which made for a fun experience watching them adjust to life with sheep neighbors.

On the way back through town, we stopped again at the farm and picked up Watson, who appeared confused about the missing alpacas in his domain. He wasn’t terribly happy about the prospect of being in the van, but he quickly snuggled into daddy’s lap and is adjusting well.

photo 4 (1)As for us, as we drove away from the alpacas, whose ears were alert and forward, watching us carefully back down the drive, I felt a pang of anxiety. It was the realization that for the first time in a very long time, we are not farming. Not really, at least. And while I know this is temporary, it was a strange realization.

We leave Sunday for New York to close on the house. And while there, we’ll be visiting a couple of farms and families we’ve met along the way. It’ll help to focus on the next step, but in these quiet few weeks before the big move, it also gives us time to really reflect on these past four years. What a strange and wondrous ride it has been. photo 4

As we walked away from the alpaca enclosure, Chris put his arm around me, leaned in
close and said, “Now, the next leg of this journey really begins.” And I am reminded of the of the following:

“But what if I fail of my purpose here? It is but to keep the nerves at strain, to dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall, and baffled, get up and begin again.” -Robert Browning

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Tender leanings

On the way out to NY last week, I stopped near Port Huron for coffee before the trek through Canada. At the counter of a Tim Horton’s (that’s right, because, well, Canada), a young man behind the counter asked about my scarf.

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The scarf is a beautifully knitted infinity scarf made by my mother-in-law, with our fiber. And amid this industry-hardened region of the thumb, an 18-year-old boy who has never seen an alpaca, leaned forward over the counter and said, “Your scarf looks so soft.”

“Do you want to touch it?”

“May I?”

Now, normally, this might feel awkward, leaning forward toward a total stranger in the middle of a chain restaurant, so that he can feel my scarf, but something told me this kid was genuinely interested in fiber.

As his thumb ran across the corded alpaca and his eyes met mine with a sparkle.

photo (2)“Is an alpaca like a llama?” The questions began. And before long, we were talking about the process of taking fiber and turning it into scarves. Leaving, I ran my own fingers across the soft fibers and thought about the process. And how the process is an ongoing story. And how that story impacts more than just the animal or the farmer. It’s the connections between, whether the winding off of the skein by the hand-spinner, or the carefully knitted scarf by the knitter, or the person inspired by the tactile beauty of the finished scarf, this process inspires conversation.

And hopefully, for at least one person in southern Michigan, it inspires something more. An opportunity to explore a world he may not have known existed. For this gal, from a tiny town in northern Michigan, it afforded a similar impact. This whole journey forward is about exploration, adventure, and expanding our world.

Special thanks to Cindy Graves for the lovely scarf!

A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation, and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

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Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place has been preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.

RealEyes Podcast on Our Farm Story

Levi at RealEyes Homestead, which is a permaculture farm adjacent to our farm at DeYoung has just started doing podcasts. They’re great! And we’re particularly fond of the second ever, the story of our farm. Please take a listen and then sign up to receive additional podcasts from RealEyes.