Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wintery blustery weather

Overall winter is my favorite season. A glowing fire, a hot cup of tea with honey, a page turner book and my favorite alpaca sweater all invoke warm and cozy feelings. Well that is until I became an alpaca farmer. While I do enjoy farm work, I don't enjoy lugging buckets of water through 3 feet of snow. Nor do am I pleased that the gator will not efficiently move around the paddocks and barn without becoming stuck on a snow drift. Basically the gator, my friend and savior, is relegated to the barn until either the snow has melted or there is a crusty, icy top layer enabling the vehicle to cruise effortlessly in and out of paddocks.
Why do I need the gator? It is my hay carrier, poop scooper and back saver. When the gator is parked in the aisle way of the barn I become the main hauler and lugger. As of yet we do not have automatic water feeders in the paddocks. So every morning and evening I am filling up buckets and dragging in them out to each pen. On top of this I need to get hay out to everyone. I found a sled in the garage which I am "cleverly" using to haul 6-8 flakes at a time. I felt this was a flawless option. But as you can see from the pictures it is not.
While these two chores are manageable, the removable of poop is not. There is no way to get a wheel barrow to the piles of dung if I cannot get the gator there. I still have not come up with a suitable solution. If I wait until the snow is hard enough to drive on, I have a huge pile of poop. Aghh. The stuff is too heavy to put onto a sled and drag it to the compost. I just don't know. Perhaps if it would snow again the ground will be covered and everything will clean, white and crisp. Out of sight, out of mind at least until I can come up with a solution!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Farm Logo

Recently we designed a logo for the farm. The info has been added to the sides of the truck and the tailgate. This a very effective way to advertise a business. Especially if you drive hither, tither and yon as I do. However there are some downsides. I no longer can cut through traffic eradically, park in handicapped spaces, or run red lights by accident. Not that I ever did these things, but now I really am tied to the rules and regulations of driving etiquette as I represent the business and need to conduct myself in a decent manner.
It has taken a bit for me to get used this new public advertisement. The other day Noah asked me why people kept staring at us as we drove around town. I reminded him that we are a "walking" advertisement for the farm. He was not amused. I also had to remind myself not to stick out my tongue at the SUV that cut me off as I merged onto the highway. This is going to take some time...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Newly spun wool

The process of taking raw fleece and ending with a wearable item is fascinating. Alpaca fiber is a wonderful soft and luxurious medium to work with. And the end result is a warm hat or pair of cozy socks. I am limited in what I can knit (4 toothpick needles for knitting socks is terrifying to me!).
I am not sure what I will make with the spun yarn in the picture above. My spinning still lacks uniformity. Actually I prefer it this way but not sure a customer would.

For now I will continue to spin and work on my technique.

(BTW I apologize for my photography..Sam did not take this photo..obviously).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wool Preparation

Today I spent washing second cut wool in ivory soap and rinsing it 3x in warm water. Then I laid it out on a screen to dry in the tack room. I think it would nice to dye White Lace's fiber in blue or red. I also set up the wool carder on the kitchen table to experiment with making batts. I have been watching You Tube videos on drum carding and reading lots of articles on the topic. The videos make the whole process seem quite easy. So of course when I try on my own it is a mess. There are two wheels on my Louet drum carder. The first one is called the Licker wheel and takes up the fiber and, in theory, puts it onto the larger wheel. Well that is not exactly what happened. I tried several different tactics to get the fleece to cooperate. For example I teased the fiber out more before loading it. I used less fiber, or turned the wheel slower. Nothing worked. The fiber just kept working its way onto the licker wheel. I searched the internet and could not find any help. I even called the local yarn/knitting stores to no avail. Hum. I watched the 2 of the videos again to see if I was adding to much fiber in the initial feeding. No. Grr.
On a brighter note, the amount of fiber that did make it to large wheel I deftly pulled through a homemade diz and created my first bit of roving! YeeHa. The diz is in the picture with the roving. I made it from a calcium supplement lid. :)

Monday, November 16, 2009


Successful spinning takes a lot of practice and a lot more patience. I started spinning last fall by taking a course at a local yarn store with the determination to spin my alpaca roving into beautiful and perfectly uniform yarn. Ha! It is not an easy task to accomplish and I decided I did not even prefer this type of yarn. I love bulky, chunky, slubby fiber which I can knit fun and unique hats. The problem is that once the spinner has perfected fine fiber, it is difficult to create slubs. Therefore I have decided not to strive for flawless yarn. The brown hat is made from my first skein of fiber. I attached a felted alpaca ball on top. The white and dark brown are alpaca. The main part of the hat is made from sheep wool. There is not much twist to this fiber and it is quite slubby. The blue/black/gray hat is fiber from our alpaca Nightengale. The blue is dyed sheep wool. I love the feel of this roving as I spin it. It is quite soft and the wool gives some elasticity to the yarn. The stitches of the knitting slant slightly to the right because I have too much twist in the yarn. I like it and prefer its imperfections. I am still working on synchronizing my foot pedal and drawing the fiber out.
It would be nice if I had more time to practice...maybe when it snows three feet and it is too cold to be outside.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Expo

Yesterday Via Verde Farm was one of 50 booths at the Women's Expo at Forest Hills Eastern. It was great fun and quite a bit of work. We sold socks, hand knitted hats, and roving. I have posted a few photos of the booth and items that I knitted out of cria fiber and hand dyed wool fiber. The blue variegated hat is from cria fiber and the pink and brown cap is sheep's wool dyed in poke berry and walnut husks. I really like this hat. I shared the booth with Catherine who brought her beautiful murano glass beads. She has created elegant, colorful and stylish necklaces and bracelets.
She brought me mid day a chai which was much needed and appreciated!

Noah created a new business and has named it "Generation N" jewelry by Noah Attal. He received many raves for his earrings and bracelets. Several of his friends purchased items. See the photo of his creations above.
Overall we did fairly well although attendance was down by at least half probably due to the gorgeous weather outside. I don't have enough stock to attend another fair at this time but perhaps I can work on some items for the spring. I have several new ideas to add to the business and will post the pictures when I get some products made.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mystery of Missing Socks. Solved!!

Sorting clean socks from the laundry has never been a favorite job of mine. It is a thankless and perplexing task. I could swear I threw 4 pairs of matching socks into the washer. But when they are fluffy, hot and soft from the dryer, there is only one to be found of each pair. For years this has been a puzzle. Many of my own pairs have been lost into the depths of sock land. Not too long ago, Taima's favorite green plaid socks, worn only 4 or 5 times, went into the laundry and....poof! One has disappeared. The pair have never since been reunited.
It was not until today that I discovered the truth behind this enigma. As I was sorting the recycling for disposal, I noticed one of Noah's. I had not realized it was even missing. And yet, there it was among the papers and cardboard boxes.
How it got there I will never know. But I am glad to think that next time my blue ski socks have been separated I have a place to check.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Colors, glorious color

The past few weeks have been busy with collecting materials for dye baths and then dyeing wool in beautiful, natural colors. We started last weekend and spent an entire day mordanting and dyeing in large pots. We gathered black walnut husks, onion skins, and poke berries.
The picture above is the result of our work.
The yellow hues are from onion skins. The greenish yarn is onion skin with a top dye of iron.
The pink skein is poke berry. The browns are black walnut. The lighter brown is yarn that was mordanted in 10% alum and 5% tartar. The rich, darker brown yarn was left overnight in the dye bath and was mordanted in 20% alum and 10% tartar. I cannot wait to knit with these fabulous yarns.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crow Roosting

About 200 crows decided to roost on top of trees in our farm. Their behavior is fascinating to watch - playing, fighting, and doing all sort of acrobatic air-maneuvers like little black kites played by hyperactive kids. The smart part is that, after they settle in a group of trees noisily, they wait after dark then slowly and quietly move to a different bunch of trees to conceal their final roosting location.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who is dominate?

Noah has been entertaining the goats by crawling around on the ground and imitating their actions. Juliette is not at all sure what he trying to accomplish and remains reluctant to join in. Nana Ana, however, is enjoying the companionship. He and I were supposed to be working. We had been shoveling rocks and moving them via the gator to the outdoor shelters to prevent erosion around the structures during rain. He decided to take a break and since the goats were following us around and jumping up into the gator, I guess he thought it would be fun to "play" with them. Nana and Noah were head to head. Noah would push harder and Nana would back off. Then Noah mimicked rearing. After watching Noah a few times display his dominance, Nana began to rear and push Noah back. She even went so far as to try to climb on him and she tried to eat a mouthful of his hair! Juliette was having nothing to do with this and as you can see from the photo, she maintained her distance and observed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall is here

The days are turning brisk and the leaves are changing. Their psychedelic colors contrast with the remains of green pasture. The crias are sensing the changes and trot joyfully around the paddock. This evening as I filled water buckets, Floreanna led the pack of babies in a whirlwind of activity. She literally bounced as she made loops around the paddock with the boys in tow. Floreanna is by far the fastest of the crias. No matter how hard the boys ran, they were not a match for her. As Taima aptly put it "She Peppy Le Pewed it." I thought I could hear "boing, boing" as she made her way weaving among the trees and around the shed. When she halted to a stop in front of me at the water bucket, her nostrils were flared and she gazed at me confidently. She is a quite the girl.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The paint job

So I am on the porch periodically glancing at Tamara touch-painting the barn's door. She is on the ground. Next time I look, she is on a ladder. The next peer shows her dangling down from the loft's door. The cat is following her around and sniffing the white paint (may be he thinks its milk); whiskers all painted white. The door looks great now. Any excuse to be outside, any excuse!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Nightengale and the Chicken Coop

Nightengale is a beautiful silver gray alpaca. She is the matriarch of our herd and a wonderful mom. But she is obesessed with the chicken's grain. I first noticed her preoccupation when we moved the coop into the large paddock that the female alpacas graze in. It took a bit of time before we could fence off a space for the poultry. Every day when I let the alpacas out into their field she would immediately run toward the coop and stick her head into the grain feeders and greedily gorge herself. The chickens would see her coming and clear out. One day I went to the barn to find her trapped in the coop! She was pacing back and forth. (As in the above picture). Clearly she was not happy but this did not deter her from running straight for the coop every morning. Last week we finally put a gate up and now Nightengale is not able to venture into chicken territory. When I go to feed the chickens or to get the eggs she will attempt to enter through the gate but a sharp "No" from me and a wave of my hand will halt any temptation. She hangs her head and runs back to the herd.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Garden of Delights

The past few days Taima and I have been dyeing wool. We started with goldenrod and today we made a dye bath of marigold petals. We cut the flowers yesterday and soaked them overnight in steel pot. We simmered the petals today and them placed the yarn into the pale yellow mixture. Because the bath is light colored we are going to let the yarn soak for a few hours. So tomorrow we will see what awaits us.

On another note..our garden has seen better summers. With the wet, rainy and cooler temperatures the squash and tomato plants have not been very fruitful. Several of the tomato plants withered away with tomato blight. A disease that apparently was transmitted from transplant tomatoes grown in the South and brought to Michigan. With ideal temperatures and loads of rain the disease germinated and pretty much decimated most of our neighbors tomato plants. I quickly picked off all mine including the green ones which are now on the dining room table waiting to ripen. I removed the entire plant from the garden and even dumped the soil that some of our container splants reside

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wool dyeing

As fall approaches crisp apples, piles of colorful leaves and dyed wool fill our thoughts here on the farm. Each year about this time a group of my friends lug dye pots, burners, pots, etc. over to the barn and we spend an entire day creating beautiful pieces of art.
We usually forage for our dye baths. Last year we gathered pokeweed, goldenrod, onion skins and sumac. The dyes created hues of soft yellows and pale pinks. Usually our 'weeds' are dried by the time we dye the fiber. This year Taima wanted to try goldenrod in full bloom. She gathered the blooms and covered them with water in a large pot. She simmered the dye bath for 60 minutes and then placed a roving of sheep's wool that had been mordant in alum. She let the wool simmer for another hour and then let it sit for about 1 1/2 hours. The result was a beautiful lemon yellow. Now she wants to learn to spin it!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Onion makes fun

Check out this site for a laugh!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Open Barn

(photo by our friend Steve Scherbinski)

Yesterday we hosted an open barn and it was wonderful. Many of our friends attended and hopefully had a great time. It was rather hot and muggy, but thankfully not raining! The animals held up relatively well with all the activity. My mom came from Iowa and made three gallons of homemade icecream-blueberry, chocolate and blackberry. The blackberries were harvested right here on our farm. We are planning to host this event again next year in September.
As for updates on the animals...they are doing well. I discovered that we have herding goats and am quite impressed with Juliette's ability to round up the alpacas. The incident happened a few days ago when Taima and I had grained the animals. We were not able to put them out because we were having someone build outdoor shelters in their paddocks. We finished up morning chores and left to do some errands. When I returned home, Juliette was bleating at me from the moment I pulled into the driveway. I looked down to the barn and saw that the mommies and babies were quietly munching on grass around the barn. However, they should have been in barn and not wandering around. Juliette was clear about this situation and very upset.
I went down to the barn and opened a gate to a side paddock. The goats ran along beside me. As I began to encourage the alpacas to enter the open gate, Juliette started to run towards the herd and as she apporached Nightengale she lowered her head as if to butt her and skidded to a halt. Of course Nightengale turned and fled. Juliette, realizing her tactics were successful, tried it again and then again. In the end, she managed to usher all of the herd through the gate and into the paddock! I was so proud of her. Needless to say, she received a little treat.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


It has been a while since I last wrote about the farm. All is well. Although one of our crias is sick. He has an eye infection and needs medication administered every two or so hours. I am more or less grounded at home. And it is not as if I don't have anything to do around the barn!! Overall the alpacas are doing well. Tomorrow is toenail clipping day. I need my nephew, Ismaiel, to be here. The alpacas stand very quiet when he holds them for vaccinations. It is amazing. He has a magical touch!
The other crias are healthy and happy. Goyo is the youngest of our herd. He is fawn in color and has white tipped ears and tail. He is a character. He bothers everyone. He playfully jumps on the other crias and hops around as if he is a rabbit! He pushes the mommies, feeds off of any available teat and prances around carelessly. He is adorable.

The goats are another source of laughter. Juliette hasn't really warmed up to me yet. She allows me to rub her neck but only when she wants. Ana Nana follows me everywhere. She helps me weed the garden by munching on the weeds. She sniffs the plants and determines which are the tastiest. She then helps herself! I discovered liquid deer fence is a good deterrent for hungry goats. I like my prize lily in bloom not chomped off at the root.
Juliette and Ana Nana often clomp up the stairs to hay loft and tear through the bales of hay. The noise of two goats clambering around upstairs is hilarious!
Of course the cats are not too sure about all the noise. They prefer a quiet and peaceful barn.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Life on the Farm is...And in no specific order.

For today Farm life is..
Having chester or tom tom cuddle on your lap and purr like a motor.
Finding the first green beans of the season in our garden!
Finish cleaning the stalls and sitting on the front porch with a glass of iced tea.
Watching Goyo harass the other crias by jumping on them and following them around.
Observing Quito nurse from every mother but his own!
Having Nana the goat follow me around everywhere!
Watching Willy/Romeo (mini) run and play in his paddock when he is turned out.
Having the vet vaccinate a rearing and kicking Sienna while I am attempting to hold on to her.
Hanging out with Noah and Miriam a bit.
Texting Taima who is at the horse show.
Falling asleep on the loft floor while three kittens climb all over me. (It was only a ten minute nap).
Hanging out the laundry on the line.
Repairing the cria creep with a staple gun.
Vaccumming the cobwebs in the barn, but not finishing the task...until tomorrow.
Moving two logs into the goat paddock so they can have something to climb on but then realizing they don't want to climb on logs.
Chasing Nana out of the front lawn.
Spraying the flowers with liquid deer fence that fortunately works for goats too!
Helping Miriam lunge and brush up the minis.
Trying to grain the goats and horses but wearing sandles (very stupid) and getting stepped on by the goat.
Watering the pasture.
Running a few errands.
Making some phone calls.
Playing with the rabbits.
Chasing chickens out of the barn.
Making dinner.
Writing the blog.
Wanting to sleep at 8 pm!
And finally looking forward to doing it all over again tomorrow!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A lesson Learned

One thing I have realized is that even though mini horses are cute, small and dog like when they want out of their stall or they are better move. Today we had our final delivery of Willy's companion, Sienna. She is the quintessential mini. She has a long mane and forelock accented by a light brown body. She has a delicate physique and is basically adorable. The goats and Willy were thrilled to see her.
Karen dropped her off this evening. As soon as the goats saw Karen they jumped out of the fencing and ran to her truck. They stuck to her until it was time to go into the house. Juliette would not go into the stall to eat unless Karen went with her. We finally managed to get the two minis and two goats into the stall by using grain to entice them. I was trying to climb over the goats to get out of door when Juliette escaped and then Nana. Karen grabbed Juliette and Nana. I was trying to keep Sienna in the stall and the goats were trying to get out again. I squatted down to push the goats back into the stall when Sienna had had enough of this silliness and ran straight over me. I toppled backwards and landed flat on my back and my sunglass flew across the floor. The black cats scattered from fear. Karen grabbed Sienna and managed to finally get everyone in the stall. Whew! I thought I could hold Sienna back with my arms. Ha! She was like a freight train. Lesson learned. Minis need to be treated just as we would Luke or Midge (our full sized horses).
I will post a photo of Sienna, Willy and the goats later.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New Critters

The last few days have been hurly burly with the arrival of 3 new friends to the farm. Taima asked for a miniature horse that can pull a cart for her 16th birthday. We finally found a nice little boy in Allegan. His name is Willy and he is a paint. He is adorable and has a very perky personality! Taima, Miriam and Sam went to pick him up from his owner, Karen. We transported him via the van. Apparently that was quite the experience. He was a bit frightened and whinnied like a freight train. Everyone arrived safely and slightly hearing impaired home in the late evening. Willy adjusted quite well to his new surroundings. But he left his three friends behind. Karen dropped his two companion goats off a few days later. Juliette is a dwarf goat and Nana is 1/2 Nigerian and 1/2 pygmy. They are quite a pair. The goats follow Willy everywhere. Yesterday Taima put a harness on Willy and "drove" him around the barn. Juliette and Nana tagged along yaking the entire time.
Juliette is a bit cautious of us still, but Nana has come right around and made herself at home. Every time I pull out of the driveway she yells at me. She lets me know that she is staying behind and wants to come along. I think Juliette will settle and I am giving her room to do so. So far Nana has respected the fences and stayed within the borders. She does hop over the lower plank into the inner paddock where the grass is greener and fuller. Clever girl!
The rest of our crew is not so sure about the new additions. Willey stepped on Alice. She was already afraid of the horse and goats so I am sure that she will not be very friendly with them in the near future. The rest of the cats are giving Willy a wide berth. Our new friends will certainly be providing us with interesting stories. I am looking forward to tomorrow to see what antics will occur!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Back from Vacation

After a wonderful trip to Italy with Sam, I am trying to get motivated to return to hard work. The weather has been much cooler, in the upper 50's, with clouds and rain. It hasn't been too conducive for outdoor work. And it appears that 2 weeks off has totally eliminated my upper arm strength. I can hardly lift the 50 lb bags of feed! Really it is pathetic. The kids did a great job taking care of the animals and barn. I am just trying to catch up on the weeding and mulching. There hasn't been too many crazy antics from the animals but I am waiting. The week is not finished....

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I am sorry for the delay! Things on the farm have been so busy that I haven't been able to find time to sit down and write. But now that I have time I can start.
The latest of my discoveries with the alpacas is their love of water! I realized that the alpacas must be hot considering the weather has been in the high 90s so I brought out the hose to fill their water bucket. As soon as the bucket was full, all of the girls were downing the water. I brought out another bucket, filled it, and set it on the ground. Millie went up to the bucket, put her foot in it and dumped it over. Quickly she laid down in the muddy sand and sighed. I should have guess that these funny animals would love mud!! I took the hose and sprayed the ground for about 20 feet around me. As soon as the alpacas saw the water falling, they all gathered under the spray. They loved it! When I was finished they all laid in the wet sand. Now I daily spray them, and the sand to keep them cool!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eight Turkey Chicks

This Mama turkey hen had her eight chicks about three weeks ago. She was fetching food for them for the first 10 or so days by herself. Now she is more confident, she escorts them to where food is and teaches them table manners as she guards them when they eat (image above). Taima thinks that they are ugly, but I see them cute. When I tried to photograph them when they were still little, Mama turkey hid them in the tall grass (and I guess asked them to be quite too) and revealed herself to me as she walked away from the site. The farther she was from the site, the closer she would allow me to approach her. Finally, I was about a foot away from her admiring her graceful body, beautiful feathers and big eyes - it was an awesome experience (silhouette image below). She is so smart. No wonder Ben Franklin objected to the bald eagle as a choice for the US Great Seal instead of the turkey. He wrote to this daughter: "I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on." See more on Houssam

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mama Tortoise

Last week, a Box Tortoise laid her eggs in a shallow trench created by running water from the barn's roof. Tamara tried to protect the eggs by laying a wood plank over it. I found the plank away from the trench this morning; and, when I explained the purpose of it to Taima, she said: "Oh, the Alpacas role in the trench all the time". I would do if I were them, the shallow trench seems to be created perfectly to fit the shape of there body (whatever that shape is - we like to joke that Dr. Suess participated in the design process). Now, there is a hard-for-Alpacas-to-remove-chain-link covering the eggs. We all hope that they will hatch cute little tortoises. Here is a photo of Mama Box Tortoise. Houssam

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Goyo the Macho Man!

Goyo, the newest addition to our herd is still quite young and we are just starting to find his personality, and boy is he a handful! He is very very curious and is always willing to come and sniff your shoes. He is always getting into trouble because of his curiosity. Because he is the youngest, you'd think he would be skittish and follow the others everywhere. Today is the first day I've really seen Goyo on his own. When I turned out the animals he ran out first and kicked up his heels. Not long after that I was tried to get him to go to his mother in the other paddock. I must have scared him because he jumped between the fence rails right into the boy's paddock and hid behind Ben! Ben eagerly sniffed Goyo, who was just wimpering. I was scared that Ben would hurt Goyo so I jumped in and grabbed him. For a week old cria, Goyo sure can kick. I could barely hold onto him! It took everything I had to get him away from Ben. I'm sure that we are going to have many many stories to come about Goyo! Taima

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Step at a Time

Since my mom unexpectedly handed over the blog while she is vacationing, I guess I'll have to tell all of the silly things our animals do! Although I did not see this, my dad told me the story of Floreana and the water. Here in Michigan it has been pretty hot the past week or so, so we put out a bucket of water for the crias. We made sure it was low enough for them to drink and filled it to the brim, although we didn't expect much because they are all still nursing. My dad went down to the barn, and he saw Floreana checking out the water bucket. She would go up to it and cautiously look at it, trying to decided if it was scary or not. Eventually she lowered her nose into the water, but she quickly figured out that you can't breath under water! She went running to her mother, Tula, convinced the scary water was trying to kill her. Being a curious cria, she came back one more time. This time she carefully dipped her nose in the bucket and licked her lips. Her eyes lit up and you could tell she was saying "Hey! that tastes good." Now Floreana is frequently seen drinking water! Taima

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Darn Deer

Today was full of sadness. My sister in law and her two sons left this afternoon to return to their home in Abu Dhabi, UAE. They lived in Ada for nearly two years. The kids are sad and it will take some time to get used to not having them here. Besides my nephews were the best chicken catchers ever. What shall I do when the chickens misbehave??

Overall, it was a quiet day on the farm. (I know this is hard to believe). However, I was enraged to see that the deer have eaten some of my landscaping. It was bad enough that the chickens tore up everything, but to have deer eat the perennials is really too much. Two days ago I was out spraying that stinky deer off on everything. Can you imagine that the deer have eaten the lower parts of the pine trees in our yard? I am generous in spraying the plants but not zealous. My prize plant is a beautiful stargazer lily. My neighbor, Karyn, warned me that the deer would eat the blossoms. I was thinking that I had possibly averted fate because the blooms were nearly bursting open. Ha! Ha! I thought I had beaten the deer. I sprayed the entire plant--twice. This morning when I went out to fill the bird feeders I noticed that each bud was bitten off!! I nearly fainted. It rained last night and the stupid deer must have had a gourmet dinner on the stargazer as well as the coneflower and daylillies. Grr. Fine. I grabbed the deer off and began to get to work. I sprayed everything very well. I planted 4 flats of red and white petunias or 192 petunias. Yes, every single one of them got a shower. When I finished about 35 minutes later I smelled horrible. No wonder deer don't eat the treated plants. I know I did a good job because we have a flock block sitting by the bird feeders. The block is for the wild turkey and her chicks, but the chickens get into it and apparently so does the infamous deer. She approached the flock block around 6 pm. She began to nibble on it and then turned her head towards the daylilly growing nearby. She sniffed, shook her head and backed away. Victory! I hope it doesn't rain tonight. Tamara


I know I will be sadly missed but I am headed to National History Day Finals with Noah. We come back on Thursday and I leave Friday with Sam to Verona, Italy. So I am leaving the blog in the capable hands of Miss Taima. She is at a horse show, but will be returning on Sunday p.m. She does not know that I have bestowed such a high honor upon her. She will surely be surprised.

Friday, June 12, 2009

We don't need t.v.- we have chickens & Chester!!

These chickens...They are hilarious! Everyday they are into something or another. About 10 days ago I realized the chickens were gobbling down the dry beef/chicken flavored cat food. I keep it in a container that holds about 8 cups of food. When I finished chores in the morning the box was full. By 4 p.m. it was completely empty. It took me a few minutes to realize that it was not the cats munching down, but the chickens. I only realized this when one of the hens came hobbling along started pecking away. Yum. Yum. I couldn't believe they ate it all. And it gave me the creeps to think our eggs might actually be beef/chicken flavored. Surely I was capable of outsmarting the chickens. So I moved the cat's water and food up to the loft. This was successful for about 3 days. One night Miriam and I went up to close the loft door when we were startled by 4 chickens. Of course the cats followed us up. Chester went berserk. He actually does not want to eat a hen. He just wants to terrorize them. He started running towards her and she squawked and flapped her wings and ran in circles. She jumped up on a pile of hay bales, he followed. Miriam was running around trying to catch Chester. Finally she lunged and grabbed him while I chased the hens towards the loft door. I swear Chester was laughing. In the end the chickens ran towards the loft door, hesitated and jumped to the ground. I will say that they left a mighty nice stash of eggs in a neat little nest in the hay. And my solution for saving the cat food for the cats is to put a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs. The cats can slide under and the chickens are kept out. Tamara

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A new Cria!

Today at 3:00 p.m. Marla delivered her first baby. Noah found him in the paddock newly born and wet. Tamia named him Goyo, an abbreviation of William in Spanish. He is very similar to Isabella in color. Even their faces are strikingly similar. Tonight he and his mom are in a stall having some bonding time together until tomorrow when Goyo is ready to go outside. This is our fifth and last cria for this year. We are looking forward to next spring when we shall have new babies frolicking about the farm. They are really precious and we are enjoying everyday with them. I hope to post a photo of Goyo tomorrow. Tamara

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Catching up

Life on a farm is similar to having a baby. No one actually says "I am not having a baby because it is too much work." Of course there may be other reasons. The same goes for a farm. You don't really think about the back breaking work, never ending projects and lack of time for anything or anyone else. You just sort of muddle through and learn as you go along. And enjoy every minute of it. I do admit a sense of overwhelming incompetence occasionally. I don't think it is unnatural for someone as myself having grown up in a city. It must be in the genes--I have 5 generations of farmers on both sides of my family.
Apart from feeling exhausted every night, I feel blessed because everyday something new or unusual occurs. For example, Chester has discovered the bluebird house. Sam and I worked very hard to get a bluebird to nest in a house we placed near the garden. A male bluebird inspected the home and his mate accepted it as a place to lay their eggs. We have been very careful not to disturb them. Until today when I noticed Chester had climbed the post of the bird house and was sticking his nose near the entrance! He jumped off when I called his name but his favorite place to lounge now is in a bare spot under the house. I am hoping he will leave them alone. I will have to watch him.

The chickens have been behaving themselves by staying near the barn and leaving the landscaping alone. I am happy about this. And they have been laying many eggs which Noah appreciates as he is selling them to family friends. Today Sam found an egg in the alpaca stalls nestled in the hay. It was brown with flecks of white. It was beautiful. He came into the house and cooked it up! What a great way to start a Saturday morning. Tamara

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Swimming Pool

We have a swimming pool which is all fine and nice except that it drives me bananas. I love the idea of swimming. The kids enjoy swimming and it is great entertainment when we have a house full of people. It is beautiful and relaxing to see the water illuminated at night, etc. However, the mechanical aspect of pool ownership alludes me. I have had the pool company come out and walk me through all the maintenance procedures. I still don't get it. The next time I need to clean the pool or whatever I cannot remember what to do! Mind you I have written all of this down and yet it just doesn't stay in my brain. I say yes, yes, yes and then poof! I forget everything the repair person told me.
Lately we have had a few repairs, a shaft seal was broken and a timer, for I don't know what, needed to be replaced. Naturally when I was standing in the kitchen this morning and I saw a cloud of yellow smoke coming from the pool mechanicals I panicked. I ran out and turned the system off. I sniffed around and felt as if there was an "electrical" smell. I called the pool company and was told to call the electrical company that had replaced the timer. I was worried that the entire pump would blow up if I left it running. And I thought maybe several of the pipes were closed and not allowing water to flow through. Could that cause an overheated motor??

The guy came out in about 1/2 hour and knocked on the door. I told him to go ahead and I would follow when I got my shoes on. As I was rounding the corner of the garage he approached me and said he figured out what was wrong. "You won't believe this." he told me. There is a row of large pines on the border of our property just behind the pool. He told me to grab one of the branches and tug. I did. A cloud of yellow smoke wafted in the air. It was the pollen from the pine trees!! What more can I say?? We both were laughting. How ridiculous.... Tamara

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Alpacas on the Move

Part of pasture management is allowing it to rest after the animals have eaten it to the ground. We have 6 areas where the alpacas graze and hang out. I currently have 3 in rest. Yesterday I decided to move the mommies, babies and the girl to the front paddock so I can observe when the last baby is born. Marla is taking forever to deliver this cria! I let the crew out through the front of the barn. They were delighted! They ran, jumped and played as if they never get out of the barn. Even the mommies were happy. They sniffed the poop pile, checked out the hay bin, and dashed up/down the length of the paddock. The babies and White Lace were particularily excited. W.L. even jumped straight up into the air. When they finally settled down they munched on the hay I had put out for them and stuck their heads through the fence to eat the lawn. I even saw Meddlin Millie stretched out sunbathing.
On the other hand the boys were not so sure about their new placement. I put them into the largest area where the grass is rather tall. Usually hey tend to run about and irritate each other. They screetch and scream while chasing one another displaying their manhood. What a guy thing! Please. I thought this new paddock would allow them room to carry on. I was surprised that they actually didn't harass each other because they were so busy snacking on the grass. So in the end everyone was pleased especially me because I can see the to be mommy from the front porch. I am sure the minute I actually sit down in the hammock with a glass of ice tea, she will go into delivery! Tamara

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Composting as an art

When owning a farm one of the first questions to be asked must be "What to do with the manure and waste?" I read a few articles and did some online research. Basically I concluded that the whole process would not be too difficult and I could manage it. Ha!! Little did I know.

Sam built me a 3 bin compost about 15' long and 5' wide, clearly big enough to hold all the refuse. I did not plan on the horses being home and did not calculate how many wheel barrows full of yuck would be removed from the barn. Three full bins later and two windrows on either side of the structure I am still struggling with managing it. I even attended a seminar offered by MSU and had someone come by and counsel me on how better manage my piles. It all sounded so easy!

Noah and I struggled with pitchforks taking the waste out. Then we layered the compost with urea and put everything back into the bin. The piles were hot and seemed to be working. But then I forgot to turn it. So it went cold. Sam brought the tractor over and we attempted to turn the piles that way. This was a cumbersome process. I had ordered a thermometer designed to test the temps of compost piles and I began to think I knew what I was doing. I began recording the temperatures and turning the piles, yes with my pitchfork. So here I am no farther than I was a few days ago. But hopeful that the piles will continue to stay hot and eventually decompose. I would really like to move this stuff out so I have room to dump more poop in its place!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Jellicle Cats come out tonight......

My cats...I love them. I do. I cannot help it. My kids think I approaching the point of losing a screw. We got them last summer from the horse barn and aquired the third at a house offering free kittens. They are all black. We named them Chester, Alice and Jake. Chester and Alice are siblings with almond shaped green eyes. Chester is lanky and quite the hunter while Alice is round but is known to catch a mole or two. Jake, what can I say about him? He is a long haired, timid kind of fellow. He loves to race into the barn at about 6:30 p.m. as if someone lit a fire under him. He flops down on the floor and rolls because he is so glad to be home.
When I take a walk on the paths in forest, they follow me. They come when I call them, most of the time. They help keep the barn free of undesirables...mice and the like.
They are friendly with most who visit the farm and enjoy being petted and scratched. They also provide unlimited entertainment.
I recently decided that the landscaped area on the side of the house was a waste. It is full of weeds and bark. So I put up some chicken wire and stakes and plopped a few tri-colored squash and zucchini plants down. Today when Noah and I rounded the corner of the house we noticed two chickens had made a home inside the fence. They were resting from their usual clucking and pecking. I saw Chester sitting on some rocks above the garden observing. He looked innocent enough but then decided to jump down on them as they unwittingly rested in the sun. Feathers and squawking galore! Noah jumped into the fence (which only stands about 2 feet high) and grabbed Chester. He was not happy. But was appeased with a small snack of processed luncheon meat (chicken--naturally).
I don't feel too bad about the cats bothering the chickens because the chickens terrorize the lawn and garden and create alot of work for me in sweeping up after them.
I should mention that sometime ago I "rescued" three feral kittens from the compost pile. A lesson learned. But they are cute, cute. The are primarily gray. One is solid in color while the other two are striped. Beautiful eyes and gentle faces. However, not the friendliest. Taima is working on that part. She is gifted when dealing with animals and seems to know how to handle them. While I am terrified to stick my hand in their house, she delves right in. No fear there. Hopefully in a few weeks they will be as tame as the others.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Poultry Tale

Owning chickens is much more complicated than I had once thought. We first purchased a hand made coop and had it delivered. Sam found ten one year old Leghorns and we began the adventure of chicken ownership. The coop was originally located opposite the garage-for ease of collecting eggs, grain and water replenishment and keeping an eye on the critters. I never imagined that the landscaping around the front of the house would be ravaged. Everyday chickens were cavorting all about the lawn and flower beds in search of insects. There they were scratching here and there throwing bark about and digging up the myrtle. Sam thought it was best to move the coop down near the barn and let them reek havoc there. Great. We moved the coop to the backside of the barn and confined the chickens to their new home for 2 days. On the third day I let them out. They fled from the coop and ran straight towards the house and the flowerbeds!! Grr.
In the evening, Noah was very distressed because seven chickens had returned to the coop while four were missing. We began the search. Eventually they were found huddled under a storage shelf in the garage. Taima, myself, Miriam and Noah each grabbed one and returned them to the coop. I confined them again for 2 days to the coop to ensure that they would learn where they lived and return at dusk. The following morning I let them out and directed them towards the compost pile and not the house. They were satisfied for a few hours. When I looked out the window later in the morning they were scratching and pecking about the house. Forget it. They are more determined than I am. Again at dusk they began to make their way back to their house--except for two. Sam found them behind the bench on the front porch. As he attempted to catch them they squawked and flew, feathers flying about! He managed to grab one and take it down to the coop while the other spent last night out in the garden. Today Noah bought a chicken hook and practiced catching them this afternoon. They must have finally taken the hint because they all faithfully went to bed in their coop tonight!! Tamara