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Archive for May, 2012

A couple of years ago I started to notice an unusual (to me) bird in our alpaca pastures. It made a lot of noise and did more running around on the ground then flying. I grabbed my Missouri bird book and discovered the Kill Deer. They have very distinct markings so they are easy to identify. I then discovered that they lay their eggs on the ground, usually amongst a small cluster of rocks. They don’t build a nest; just lay them in a hollowed section of the grouping. The eggs are almost the same color pattern as the rocks so you have to really look to find them.

The problem with laying eggs in the alpaca pastures is that the alpacas are continually moving around the pasture grazing. Usually the older alpacas will avoid the eggs but the crias (baby alpaca) haven’t figured that out yet. As the crias are exploring and romping around the pasture they sometimes get too close for momma bird’s comfort. When this happens a series of events and antics begin.

One of the birds, they usually guard the eggs as a pair; will start making a lot of noise to sound the alarm. She/he is probably screaming, “Get away from my nest!” Of course alpacas don’t speak Kill Deer so they haven’t a clue what is being said. The crias think the bird wants to play so they are more than willing to participate. The bird will try to draw the cria away by leaving the nest in hopes that she will follow. If that doesn’t work then the second diversion is started. The Kill Deer will spread out its wings and tail feathers, revealing a yellow coloring, meant to draw attention to itself. As the cria draws closer the Kill Deer will keep moving away from the eggs. The third diversion is known as the “broken wing” scenario. The Kill Deer will throw one wing out to the side and flap it as if it were broken; demonstrating that it is an easy prey. Again as the predator – cria – approaches it moves farther away.

I was taking a break from chores and noticed one of our new crias, Quibble, encountering one of these nests. Knowing what was to follow I watched the process with a grin on my face. After several minutes the cria finally lost interest and moved back to the herd. I am sure the Kill Deer was relieved and a little tired of the whole thing.

I’ll Play!

Nature has such a wonderful way of protecting itself. Sometimes it provides comic relief to the spectator as well.

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I attended my first fiber show of the 2012 season. Before I started raising alpacas, I didn’t realize how much fiber is produced in the United States. Quite a bit of it comes from small farms. Attending the show were owners of sheep, goats, rabbits, llamas and alpacas. The sheep market alone has many varieties. Owners come to fairs all across the nation to display and sell their wool. It can be bought in raw form, (right from shearing) roving (carded and ready to spin) or yarn. It can be natural or dyed. There is no limit to the colors and choices.

In this environment you will discover crafts and arts, that some may think have passed away, but are very much alive. Spinners are in abundance; using both the drop spindle and the spinning wheel. Tatting, lace making, embroidery, weaving, knitting and crocheting are all still perpetuated by those who love the craft and love creating beautiful pieces of art from scratch. The crafters cover many generations with ages in the single digit to those in their nineties. There are no age, gender or color barriers with this group.

Alpaca fiber is called “the fiber of the gods”. It is told that the harvested alpaca fiber of the finest quality could only be worn by the Incan royalty. Alpaca is stronger than mohair, finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton. It has the ability to provide great warmth without the weight of wool. It has no lanolin which helps it to stay clean and provides and alternative for those who are allergic to wool. Over 22 natural colors are created by the alpacas, and because it is a natural fiber, it can also be dyed.

Natural Colors

I have the pleasure of raising a herd of alpacas, and each year we harvest this wonderful fiber. I send most of our fiber to a mini-mill in Kansas for processing. I like using the mill because I get my own fiber back. Part of our fiber is made into yarns and part into roving. I try to get an assortment of both for my customers and of course myself. Quality is always my priority. I want the person who uses my alpaca fiber to be pleased and return for more.

Missouri Alpaca Herd

At the fiber fair I bring in my selections to compliment all the other fiber being shown and sold. I usually take my spinning wheel or crochet to work with while I am there. I love, not only meeting other fiber artists, but learning new things from them. What a wealth of knowledge is out there. I get to talk with so many interesting people. I am pleasantly surprised when I find someone who spins or knits, though they don’t look the part. I met a man knitting socks once. I shouldn’t pre-judge but I just didn’t expect it.

So, the next time you wrap up in your favorite shawl or scarf, put on that special hat, or pull out your afghan or lap throw, consider the hands that may create it. Nestled away in your city, town and neighborhood are extraordinary people, living a simpler life in an over technological world. I am so thankful for them and their skills and to be a part of this community. May they continue to pass on their art and our heritage.

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I was listening to my local public radio station this morning. We have a special feature called “The Backyard Birder”. He gives insight into what is happening with the birds in our area; migration, nesting, hatching, feed and feeders, etc. This morning he mentioned that everything, concerning the birds, is about 3 weeks ahead of schedule. The bird migration and their nesting have all been affected by the crazy Spring weather we have been experiencing. I am sure the fruit crop and berries will be affected as well.

The odd thing is my alpacas may be affected too, but in the opposite direction. I have 3 pregnant females, all due in the Spring. Normally the gestation period for an alpaca is 344 days.

Still Pregnant

That alone is a long time to be pregnant. Two of our ladies were due to deliver in April. April came and went and they were still pregnant. That actually became our response after checking on them; “still pregnant”.

A couple of summers past we had very high temperatures. Everyone was miserable, especially the pregnant alpacas. The gestation time started to increase. We thought it was a result of the heat and we did our best to keep the moms as cool as possible. Our barn record that year was 376 days!

Our first mom, Okura, passed her due date and we headed to shearing. Being 10 days past due we still had to shear her and it didn’t seem to matter a bit. Temperatures were unseasonably warm and we were even wearing shorts. We then had a reprieve and the temperature dropped back to more normal levels. Now she will deliver, we thought. Another week passed and still no delivery. Now the second mom was due. We were approaching the end of April with no crias on the ground yet. Our April crias were now becoming our May crias.

As I counted up the days, we were approaching our barn record. Flying by the 376 mark I was starting to get a little anxious. Visitors were scheduled for the weekend. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could see a newborn? Not much I could do but wait and pray for a healthy, live cria.

Friday was day 380! We officially would have a new ranch record. As I finished my breakfast I noticed Okura was more uncomfortable than usual. I decided to check her again in about an hour. Going to the barn I found her lying on her side, and in labor. Delivery was beginning and it went like a text-book example.

Okura & Quibble

After some serious pushing, Okura delivered a beautiful female weighing 15 pounds (an average birth weight for an alpaca). It was standing and nursing within 90 minutes. I was relieved and excited. It was a champagne day on the ranch. The visitors were thrilled to see the new arrival.

Our second mom hit day 365 today. This is an experienced mom and she has never had this long of a gestation. She still is giving no signs of being ready to deliver. Our third mom is due in 8 days. So here I am, still counting the days and waiting.

Now I don’t know if this is weather related, but it sure seems like a wild coincidence. What I do know is waiting is not an easy task. The shepherd is growing greyer with each passing day.

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