Saving the world, one alpaca at a time

Today was makeover day here at the farm! I spent the entire last week making phone calls to find a shearer for Shy, and his new stylist came over this morning. She needed help holding him during the haircut, so I had to wake poor Gene up at the crack of dawn to manhandle the alpaca, since I’m fairly useless in the holding on to stuff department. Shy spent the early morning hours perusing the fashion magazines, and finally decided to go with a completely shorn look. Since he has a brand new, happy place to live, he wanted a brand new look to go with it. The whole grooming process took about an hour, since Shy had three years worth of wool, toe nails, and teeth to get rid of. Alpacas have similar teeth to horses, in that they keep growing. Poor Shy’s teeth had never been taken care of, so he couldn’t eat right or move his mouth properly, and his nails were so long in back he walked funny. The clasp on his collar had actually rusted shut, and it was so matted into his coat that we would have had to cut it off anyway, even if the buckle worked. The people that we rescued him from insisted that we return the collar, so I’m going to mail them the pieces of it, along with a photo of me hugging a happy, content, taken-care-of Shy and flipping off the camera. Gene picked out a brand new, wide purple collar for him to wear, and I think Shy actually tries to show it off, he’s so proud of wearing something new.

Even though I couldn’t help with the shearing, it was still a fascinating process to watch. The shearer tied ropes around his front and back legs, then stretched the ropes between a tree and a post while Shy lay down. He didn’t seem to mind it overly much, since lying down is the alpaca’s go-to stance when confronted by a threat. Gene held his head while she cut off enough wool to make it look like a woolly mammoth spontaneously molted in the backyard. Shy being our first alpaca, I was totally unfamiliar with their anatomy, especially when it’s uncovered by three years worth of fuzz. As soon as he stood back up, it became readily apparent that he is still intact. His equipment, as it were, looks disconcertingly human in both size and appearance. He also has a distinctly separated butt, topped with a disturbingly rat-like tail. Seriously, looking at him from behind is unnerving. The shearer said most people leave the wool on the tail, and now I know why. I’m considering sewing him a pair of pants.

At any rate, Shy is a completely different alpaca after his beauty treatments. The goats and sheep barely recognized him when he went back into the pasture, and he walks and eats normally again. He seems much, much happier.

In other farm news, you can definitely tell at a glance that fall is already upon us. Summer’s scattered watermelon rinds have been replaced by pumpkin husks, a treat which the chickens love. Watching them shove their entire heads inside to pick out the seeds is endlessly amusing, at least to me. Even the latest crop of young chickens flock to the pumpkins Gene chucks off the deck for them.

Since the weather is starting to turn, Gene finished building the new woodshed, which is really cool. Today I finished relocating the wood pile from the side of the house to inside the shed, a task which took forever, both because I had to do it one-handed and because I had chicken helpers. The only reason Gene let me anywhere near that particular project is because the wood is so dry each piece weighs about as much as balsa wood, although the merrily tunneling bugs added some heft. Each time I lifted a piece off the ground, the area was immediately filled with at least 15 questing, hungry beaks. I suspected that woodpiles were home to things other than wood, but wow. That was like an Old Country Buffet for the chickens. They have an amazing ability to twist their beaks into tiny openings and mine out the termites, or whatever delicacy dwells within. It gave me a great idea for a chicken exterminating business – I could just slap some diapers on the hungriest birds and let them loose in a bug-infested house.

And speaking of bug infested, I complain about this every year, but with fall comes the spiders. The hundreds and hundreds of yard spiders. I’m not sure if it was the drought, or the temperatures, or what, but this season spawned some monsters. I let them be, mostly because they have turned Battle Fly increasingly in my favor. Most of them have names, as they tend to pick a spot and stay there, just getting bigger and bigger. I’ve found naming them makes them slightly less terrifying. Juan lives on one of the side gates, Henrietta dangles from the lamp illuminating the duck pond, and Michael is the reason I no longer, under any circumstances, go inside the chicken’s winter enclosure.

None of them can hold a candle to Nugget, though. Abigail chose that name for her because she resembles a chicken nugget in girth and coloration, and for this reason I’ll never eat a McNugget again. Nugget has made her home underneath the goat’s porch area, and spends her day clinging to the side of the window. I don’t think her web will support her weight, or she’s so lazy that she just waits for bugs to come to her. And she must catch a lot of them, because she’s like National-Enquirer-should-know-about-this huge. Every time I go out there I expect to see her snacking on a bird. I took her picture (you’re welcome, Bess Bess), but it doesn’t do her justice. I thought about asking Gene to hold up a dollar coin next to her, because her body is about that circumference, but I figured she’d just snatch the coin, throw it back at him, then demand his wallet. And if I were Gene, I’d give it to her, cuz damn.

He’s free, you say?

What an amazing week it’s been here on the farm! Abigail learned of an alpaca who needed a new home, so we all piled into a car to go for a visit.  When we met Shiner (named for the black patch of fur surrounding his right eye), he seemed unhappy and lonely. From what I could gather, he had free range of about 5 acres of land, but no one ever paid attention to him. The worst part was he had no herd buddies, and alpacas hate to be alone. The closest I could get to him there was about ten feet away. His owners said he was really antisocial, but we could tell he was just depressed. He was way overgrown, and looked like he hadn’t been shorn in at least three years. Anyone who is at all familiar with me and my inability to say no to rescue animals already knows where this story is headed….right into our backyard.

It took us a day to line up a method of transport for him, after Gene wisely cancelled the U-Haul trailer reservation I had made. Abigail made some calls and was able to borrow a proper horse trailer. Shiner was surprisingly eager to load up, and when Gene led him into the backyard, it was almost magical watching his disposition change as soon as he saw all our critters. We’ve had him for one day, and he’s already eating orchard grass out of my hand. I’m still not used to looking out the window and seeing Shy sitting out in the pasture. He looks, and walks, like a huge woolly mammoth. If we taped a long trunk to his face, he would look exactly like Snuffleupagus. It took a few hours for the goats and sheep to get used to Shy, but they all sleep next to each other now.

But Shy wasn’t the only critter that got rescued this week. Two days ago we transferred Abigail’s 12 chickens from the garage brooding facility to her coop. Early the next morning, one of her goats opened the coop door and chased all the new chickens out. One of them ran under the fencing and disappeared into the woods. She called me for chicken wrangling help, and we ended up tromping through the woods with huge fishing nets, thinking that would be the easiest way to catch a tiny chicken hiding in the brambles. It took us three hours and lots of bush whacking, but Abigail was finally able to yard the chicken out from its hiding spot inside a rotting tree trunk.  Our eight chicks were also evicted from the garage brooding facility and relocated to the big coop. They are quite a bit braver than the last generation of chickens – these guys went exploring on the first day I put them out there. I bet it’s only a matter of a week or two before they start joining the flock at the base of the deck at treat time.

In farm news, we are just about done with the canning season. It’s a good thing we started early, because I’m in another cast now, and canning one handed is quite difficult. On the plus side, Bess Bess is here for a visit so Gene can teach her how to do it. My favorite thing that we’ve canned so far is watermelon jelly. It tastes exactly like a Jolly Rancher, and is amazing on toast. The only thing left to can is another batch of plums, and probably some more apple butter. Then Gene needs to build another few bookcases to store it all!

I can’t believe it’s almost October!

Fall is rapidly encroaching here on the farm. Gene helped me plant flowers in the pots on the back deck, just to help maintain the illusion of summer, but there’s no denying the low-40s temperatures at night. I’ve been frantically trying to get all my autumn chores done before I’m back to being a one-handed farmer next week; my “to do” list is so long that basically all I’ve gotten accomplished is sitting out in the backyard with my camera, thinking that I should probably start on it.  Canning is the one thing we’ve definitely kept up with – blackberry and raspberry jelly, tons of pickles, peach and apple butter, salsa, and dehydrated apple rings all grace the storeroom shelves. This weekend we’ll finish up with the apple butter, and try doing some pickled carrots. Hopefully they’ll be some carrots left for the jars, because they somehow keep ending up in the Bunny Ranch.


Even though it fusses me mightily when Harvey goes on his adventures (he’s now up to two-day romps, and has earned the nickname Bender Bunny), I can’t imagine denying him his taste of freedom. I would love to somehow tag him with a GPS tracker, just to see where he spends his time when he’s not in his bedroom. I have a feeling that come spring, the indigenous wild bunny population is going to increase in both numbers and in bulk. I’ve gone outside several times at midnight with a flashlight, calling him in the hopes that he’ll come hopping home. It works most of the time, and then I find myself picking carrots by the light of the moon, assuming he’ll want a snack before retiring for the evening. He came home one night with two ticks attached just below his left eye, which I guess is better than an “I heart mom” tattoo. Pulling them off was surprisingly easy, since I just had to distract him with a carrot long enough to yank them off with a tweezer. At first, I thought he had somehow gotten a seed pod of some sort embedded in his face, since the bigger tick was gray and bullet shaped and I don’t spend time theorizing about what a tick would look like should I run into one. When I pulled it out and took a closer look, I have no shame in admitting that I screamed and threw it, tweezer and all, as far as I could. I was not expecting the seed pod to be capable of waving tiny little legs in my face when I went in for a closer look. Speaking of waving things in my face, it actually had a face. I was not prepared for that. Then I went inside and changed clothes, just in case the tick fell off onto my clothes when I was winding up for the tweezer toss. I almost dropped trou right there in the Bunny Ranch, but at the last minute decided that if I did that, a neighbor would certainly pick that time to drop by to borrow a cup of sugar.


In non-vermin related news, three incubator eggs hatched! Out of the 24 I put in there, I candled them all and unfortunately only three were actually fertile. But if you separate the fertile ones from the non-fertile ones, that’s a 100% hatch rate! The chicks are super cute, but all three have the same disconcertingly large eyes that Broody Mama’s earlier chicks had. Broody Mama, who has just a few days left until her clutch is scheduled to hatch, was joined in the shed by Broody Mama Too, who is likewise sitting on a clutch of eggs. They both have between 12 and 15 eggs crammed underneath them, so with a 1/4 fertility rate, I’m anticipating a total of maybe 6 eggs actually hatching. (Don’t bother checking that math, because I pulled those numbers from a region somewhat south of my brain. Nerds.) Gene is running out of time to build the nursery addition to the new coop, because the brooding box in the garage is at maximum capacity with the three new chicks in one section, and the twenty month-old chicks in the other.  He also has yet to put the second story I’ve been requesting on the Duck Mansion, since those five ducklings are growing at a startling rate.


Wesley and Leia, the baby goats, are starting to lose their “kidness” and look like proper, albeit miniature, goats. Their horns are starting to come in, and they perfect their headbutting technique constantly. Oddly enough, Woolimina and Wesley seem to have bonded. I’ll look out the window to see Wesley rubbing his head up and down Woolimina’s nose. It’s the cutest thing ever. Woolimina being loving and social is kind of like trying to photograph Bigfoot, though – you never see it when you actually have a camera. Wesley loves pets, and comes bounding up to anyone who walks into the pasture. Leia is more like her mama, Buttercup, and only consents to cuddles after you’ve chased her around the pasture and scooped her up. I’m trying to change that behavior with my usual barrage of treats. Watermelon bites were the golden ticket with Woolimina – she comes running up to me and nuzzles my hand every time I go into the pasture, and only runs away once she’s eaten whatever I brought her. The one time I went in there without any treat, she backed up a few paces and lowered her head like she was about to gore me with her “special” horn – the one that’s broken off and sticks straight out, rather than curving gracefully back over her head like the other one. I like to think she wouldn’t actually impale me over lack of treat dispensation, but I’d to hate to be wrong.

Season’s changing…

It’s been a week of relative peace here on the farm, thank goodness. No predator sightings, no major disasters, just frolicking baby goats as far as the eye can see. Wesley and Leia have fallen in love with the ramp Gene built two years ago; they spend hours jumping up on it, then sliding back down. The two babies have actually started playing together, at least when their mamas aren’t looking. Buttercup and Ariel have decided for some reason that the other goat’s baby is a terrible influence on their precious little one, so if one gets too close to the other, headbutts ensue from all directions. Everyone else has adapted well to the pitter patter of little feet; Christmas makes her trademark grumpy turkey sound whenever one gets too close to her, but I have yet to see Wesley or Leia dangling from her beak. The kids pretty much steer clear of the ducks, which is odd considering Wesley’s favorite sport is sideways hopping right at any chicken who wanders across his path.


Wesley and Leia aren’t the only wee ones in residence right now; two days ago I found a guy on craigslist selling what he advertised as “one to two month old” ducks. Since I need to re-establish my laying population, since ducks eggs are one of my best sellers, I figured two-month-old ducks would be perfect, since they start laying at four months. Obviously getting four-month-old ducks would be ideal, but I’m not made out of money. Nor, apparently, are mink attacks covered by home owners insurance. Anyway, so I convince Gene to drive me all the way out to Seabeck to pick up these five ducks.


I’ve noticed a trend with some of the folks I’ve dealt with on craigslist – most seem to lack basic knowledge about what they’re selling. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people have been wonderful, and have even started following my blog. This guy, not so much. What he described as months old ducks were in fact not more than five days to a week old, tops. We’re talking fuzzy headed, size of a half-dollar, still in the “peep peep” months away from laying anything stage ducklings. That didn’t stop me from taking them home, though.  I have to say this for the craigslist guy, though, neither one of us can bear the sight of mama duck’s reaction to her ducklings being hauled away in a big fishing net, so I came home with mama duck too. All six have fit right into the crazy farm life, but I did have to add some more swim rocks to the pool so the tiniest duckling can get out.


I did have a bit of a scare last night, though. After finishing my evening chores and plugging in the night light for the ducks, I noticed that Harvey hadn’t put himself to bed yet. He usually heads back to the Bunny Ranch before dark, so I started to get uneasy when I saw his bedroom was empty. Come midnight with still no Harvey, I put on my headlamp and set about to tromp through the woodline to find him. Have you ever worn a headlamp in the woods? For some reason, the beam of light illuminating at that particular angle turns everything familiar into creepy, Friday the 13th, vampires hiding behind every tree sort of woods. It also has the most unfortunate side effect of magnifying the size of all the orb spiders that have apparently taken up residence around our house. I quickly settled for bawling, “Harvey, come home!” in the general direction of the woods from the relative safety of the deck. On the plus side, I learned that the eyes of white moths shine fluorescent pink when you shine a flashlight at them. How cool is that? Harvey stumbled in sometime this morning, presumably after last call at the clubs. I found him nursing a hangover underneath the deck steps. I gave him a cucumber treat to try and rehydrate him, but he asked for it in Bloody Mary form, and added that I probably didn’t need to talk so loudly. Shortly after Sean Paul and Marley began crowing in his vicinity, he grumpily (and unsteadily) wandered off to bed.


In chicken news, I have decided that those little pink leg bands should be pulled from the market. I check in with the chicks numerous times throughout the day, so imagine my horror when I realized the legs of three chicks had started to swell around the bands. They are supposed to grow with the leg, but for some reason that didn’t happen. Gene was able to cut the band off, and we used Neosporin to help calm the swelling. They all seem fine now, but I felt like a horrible chicken mama. To compensate for the lack of identifying markers on them, Abigail came down and together we dyed the left foot of each of her chicks purple with food coloring. I figure if the food coloring wears off, then Abigail can just get new chicks, and I’ll keep all those.