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Gray skies, cooler temperatures, brisk winds … it is the season for alpaca. Time to pull out the socks, scarves, head bands and hats made from the soft, wonderful wool that keeps me warm and makes it bearable to work outside in the winter. Living on a ranch and working with livestock means I am outside every day. I often joke that the only one cold in the barn during the winter is the shepherd. The alpacas are clothed in warm fiber and hardly notice.

This is also the time of year I can share my joy of alpaca with hundreds of other people who may not have either heard of alpaca or felt this luxurious wool. During the year I spend time crocheting scarves, head bands and hats to be sold at craft fairs in surrounding communities. Packing those items, as well as yarn from our alpacas, I head off to peddle my wares. I love letting people experience this unique wool.

Scarf_20150305h

I always display the scarves so they are at a convenient place to be touched. Alpaca loves to be touched. People will reach out and feel the scarf then turn and say, “I had no idea it was so soft”. I will see them turn to the person they are with and say, “You have to feel this!” These comments always make me smile because I know how wonderful alpaca feels. I then get to share so many of the other qualities it has:

  • soft as cashmere but more durable
  • no lanolin so it does not attract dust or dander
  • lighter weight than wool yet warmer by weight
  • water repellent and flame retardant

My wool is all natural, there are over 22 different color alpacas. Colors range from white to black and everything in between. I breed for grey and my yarn display has multiple shades of grey. I let my visitors know that if they can knit or crochet they can choose their yarn and make something themselves. For those who cannot there are always my items available for them.

If you are out and about this season of the year, stop by a craft show and enjoy the handmade items of the talented people living all around you. You may be surprised what you will find.

OIW2015 (4)

Visit our Etsy shop … http://www.etsy.com/shop/MissouriAlpacas

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My Color is Green

As I was driving into work this morning I heard the phrase “color your house”. Living in rural Missouri and it being summer I looked around and saw lots of green, all different shades of green. I like the color green; it symbolizes “life” to me. New growth, healthy growth, and abundance of growth; life in multi shades of green.

A few years ago Missouri was in drought conditions. It wasn’t just lack of rain in August it was a major drought. The trees were dropping their leaves, the lush pastures were burned up and brown. Acres and acres of dead grasses spread out as far as I could see. My heart ached to see things so dry. Cattle were being sold off as the hay crop had burned up and there wasn’t enough available feed for them. The drought affected states around Missouri as well. Bird hatch-lings were dying, young squirrels and raccoon and other animals were suffering. The scene was sad.

Fortunately our drought didn’t last more than throughout the year and by next spring the rains returned and the earth began to heal. Green sprouts were shooting up and smiles appeared everywhere. Green had returned to our ranch. It is amazing that green life can go dormant and just doesn’t die forever. Our fields and forests were full and lush again.

When we built our alpaca barn we trimmed it with green metal. The panels for the pen are green, the feed buckets are green … it seems my color was green even before the drought. Even my logo is based on green. I love the look of full green trees and have since I was a child. I could sit and watch the wind blow through them for hours. There is a peace that comes from sitting on my deck and viewing the national forest that surrounds my ranch. I am happiest when my world is green.

What a View

What a View!

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No matter how much planning we do or how well organized we are or how good our volunteers are, if we do not have a great shearer we are in trouble. Fortunately we have a GREAT shearer.

Eddie has been shearing our alpacas since we started raising them in 2005. Actually, Eddie is the only one who has sheared our alpacas. Besides loving his Australian accent and his wit, I appreciate the fact that he comes when he schedules, he is prepared and professional and he knows what he is doing. Eddie never fusses about us having new volunteers each year. He quickly gets them up to speed on what he needs them to do and is patient when they lose focus or get distracted. When we make a request for a show blanket to be cut or ask that he please not trim the top knots too much he just goes with the flow and gets the job done as requested. Most important, I don’t think there is anyone who is more caring of the alpacas than Eddie is. I have never had an alpaca miss treated by him no matter how rowdy or obstinate they may be. We do have a rule that the alpacas are not to spit on the shearer and most of the time the alpacas follow that rule. When the job is done we pack up, head to lunch and have a great time catching up on news over the year. On or away from the shearing mat, Eddie is the best!

We have been going through this process for over 10 years now. The first couple of years we took our alpacas to a neighboring ranch, now we do the shearing in our own barn. I pull out my list of things to do and begin the process.

  • Send out an email to gather volunteers to help. (We could not do this job without these wonderful people)
  • Assign tasks to the volunteers. (Try not to over work the help)
  • Print pen signs to identify the alpacas. (Not everyone knows them by name like I do)
  • Find the list of things we need to gather for the barn. (We try not to forget anything)
  • Prepare the food list. (Must feed the volunteers after we are done shearing)

If everything lines up correctly then we have a smooth running, fun filled event.

When shearing season comes we never dread it. We do our part to get the alpacas and ourselves ready and Eddie does his part. We appreciate and respect each other and each year it is a pleasure to meet up again. We now head into shearing season for 2015.

Thanks Eddie and to all of our volunteers who give up their time to make this job easier.

ShearingShearing Blanket Volunteers  Uh Oh

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There are so many times when I wish I could talk to and understand the animals around me. This is especially true when one has been injured. Wouldn’t it be great to get an answer to the question “how did this happen?”  It always amazes me when the vet asks me that question. I want to say, “You’re the vet, you ask him.” But I just smile and say, “He wouldn’t tell me”.

Last week I sent 3 of my female alpacas on a road trip. They were purchased by a farm out in California and a transporter stopped by on a Tuesday morning to pick them up. When he opened the trailer I noticed they would be spending part of the trip, if not all, with 2 llamas. Compared to an alpaca a llama is huge. My ladies had never seen a llama and I wondered what they thought of the sight of them. We ushered the alpacas into the pen, shut the door and off they went. The trip to California was by way of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio. I just knew they would have loads of stories to tell when they arrived at their new home. Wouldn’t I love to hear those stories!

Road Trip

Yesterday a cardinal slammed into one of the living room windows and landed on the deck. When I looked out I could see that he was alive but stunned. The temperature was in the teens and I knew the odds were good he would freeze just lying there. I found a hand towel and scooped him up. Taking him into the laundry room I placed him in a basket to see how he would fare. As he looked at me I tried to reassure him I was just trying to help but I knew he didn’t know my language. About 20 minutes later I went in to check on him. He was less stunned and turned his head to see what I was doing. I could tell he may be able to fly so I carried him to the front porch and set him there still nested in the towel. Shortly after I went to see how he was doing. As I approached he flew off. Did he share his adventure with his other feathered friends? What would he have said to me if he could?

Feathered Friends

Maybe animals don’t tell stories. I hope that is not true. I hope they have the ability to share the many things they experience in life as they interact with each other and us humans. So, until we are both in a place where we speak the same language, I will continue to talk to my animals and think about what they may be telling me. I hope they find their crazy shepherd and friend amusing. I hope I add to their list of stories.

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When people come to visit our alpacas, whether they are considering buying or not, I usually hear this question; is it hard to sell them? Meaning, can you really part with them? The answer is “yes” and “no”.

When you go into a business where you are breeding and raising animals, no matter what type they are, you have to decide if you are willing to sell them. Seeing an alpaca being born and watching it grow day by day forms an attachment to them. Each one has its own personality and character and they can often touch your heart in a special way. Those large eyes just draw you into their soul.

In the last 10 years we have only had to help birth one alpaca, Electra. Her head was turned back and she could not come through the birth canal. After working with her for a while she finally arrived and thrived. She gets treated a little gentler than other alpacas. Then there was Jasper who was premature and we had to make sure he was getting enough to eat so he would gain weight. He also survived those times. Even these two we are ready to release to new owners.

The thing that makes the answer to that question “no” is we have always had good, caring people become the owners of our alpacas. Some, I believe, have even gone to a better ranch then ours as they received more attention and had all the grass they could eat. I love it when the new owners have children because children and alpacas react so well with each other. Watching a child’s face light up when an alpaca moves in to say hello is wonderful. It doesn’t matter if the child is 2 or 17 the smile is the same. The alpaca learns to trust the child and the child learns to care for something that needs them.

We want to not only find good homes for our alpacas, but we want to see the alpaca industry grow and continue to expand in the states. There is a large demand for alpaca fiber and we are not currently able to meet that demand. We need more people raising and breeding these wonderful animals so we can continue to expand the product lines. The quality and fiber traits make alpaca ideal for so many items. Alpacas need very little acreage to graze on, a shelter to get out of the elements, fresh water and hay in the winter months. They are gentle and easy to care for and I think they are therapeutic. Introducing people to alpacas and the alpaca industry is one of the most satisfying reasons we raise them.

So, is it hard to sell my alpacas? Not when everything is right.

Providence&Destiny

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Reminiscence

I find that I miss blogging. Since I returned to a full time job off the ranch, in addition to my normal ranch and home chores, it has been difficult to spend the time putting down my thoughts. Often I will be out working with the alpacas and think, “this would be a great story”, but the words never make it to paper. As yet another year draws to a close; I thought I would post once more.

This year, as I began a new decade in my life, I find myself slowing down and lacking the energy and stamina I used to have. I still manage to get things done but I am looking forward to a little rest afterwards. It is time to think about (and work toward) downsizing. I love our alpaca herd but a few less of them would make the chores easier and would take a little less time.

When I look at the group I wonder which ones I would miss too much if they were no longer in the barn. I remember the ones who have already gone to new homes and I still miss most of them. Knowing where they are and that they are all loved and cared for makes it easier. Each alpaca has such a unique personality and each touches me differently. I find they seem to pick their new owners as much as the new owners pick them.

There are those I call my “special needs” alpacas. Jasper was a preemie and we worked so hard to help him gain weight and grow. He is 3 now and holds his own with the older boys. Gentry is nicknamed “Twitch” because his eyes and nose have twitched since he was born. It doesn’t bother him and he has no other issues. He fights his way into the feeding frenzy and will even start a fight with one of the older boys if he feels like pushing his limits. One of our ladies has a twisted foot; we think it was a shearing injury. One young girl was acting goofy jumping around and twisted a leg so, every now and then, you can see her favor it. Another always seems to get injured and we seem to be treating a poked eye or a wound of some sort. Why things always happen to him is a mystery. They would all need a special, caring heart, to make a home for them.

I guess the bottom line is I wish I could keep them all, but I know that is not practical. The oldest ones will age along with me and I am glad to have them live out their lives in my pastures. The others I will make available to others who want the wonderful experience of raising these great creatures. I have never regretted bringing them to our ranch and I know there are people who would make great alpaca shepherds.

So as I leave my barn for another day, I am thankful for all the joy, laughter, hugs and antics my alpacas have given me. Smiling, I head back to the house for a restful evening; looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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When I was a kid my grandfather would use this line to try and amuse us. It only worked once or twice but it stuck in my head. He had a resort in the Lake of the Ozark area of Missouri. Highway 5 ran past the property and it wasn’t unusual to see loads of hay go by in the summer while we were visiting. Not being a farm kid, it was always interesting but I never gave it much thought. That is until now.

Last week we cut hay. There is not a lot of planning to this event. I call the guy who is cutting and baling  to get on his list and then we wait. Where I end up on his list and the weather play a big part in when we get the hay cut. This year the weather has been very unusual. Everything from wildlife to crops are out of sync with the calendar. Hay season started 3 weeks earlier than it usually does. To make things even more interesting, the month of May was extremely dry.

Our tentative date to cut hay was the first part of June. We waited, praying for rain so the hay would not burn up in the pastures. Of course, all the places where the hay was cut and waiting to be baled they were praying for no rain. The “no rain” group was winning out; until the last week of the month. We received 2” of rain over several days that week. You could almost hear the grass sucking up the moisture. Just that small amount would help as we continued to wait our turn.

June 5 the tractors arrived and started to cut. We had 4 days of clear skies, sunshine, lower temperatures and 0% chance of rain. This was going to be a good week for haying. I called the hay crew and let them know we were baling on Thursday and they should plan on a long day. The crew arrived and consisted of 5 young guys from 13-21 years of age, and myself, a 120 pound, upper 50s, grey-haired shepherd. All the crew has to do is to keep up with me. Sound fair enough?

My weakness is having limited lifting strength over my shoulders; hence I became a stacker. The crew did keep up and we put away 1330 square bales in 12 hours. It was a long, hard day but no injuries or break downs. Lots of sore muscles but they will work out with more chores. The harvest was more than acceptable and we are set for another year of winter feed for the livestock.

It is a great feeling to see the hay barn full and to smell fresh hay. The freshly cut pastures look green and perfect. It’s now time to sit back on the deck with that glass of wine that has been waiting for me. Life on the ranch is good!

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