Happy and healthy new year to all of our followers! I’d been on writing-hiatus since mid-December. I fully intended to keep up my daily journal online, but my priority of family first will never change, and the minutes to sit on the computer to post an update were less important to me at the end of the day than was to sit with my family for games, puzzles, tree decorating, and meals together. I spent a lot of time cooking and baking.
Here now, though, so many things have happened in just a few weeks, that I realize I can’t possibly catch it all up online and make it readable. Too much. Good and bad. The farm is joyous and also tragic, and every day is like a year-in-a-day with the things that go on. I have had a chance, though, to consider how to go forward with this blog that has been such a pleasure for me.
- Chalkboard: More updates on what is happening at the farm and what is upcoming. Always so many fun, cool things.
- Mucking: Fewer long, sad songs about the losses. I will try to spend more time sharing the memories of the loved animals we have had to say goodbye to and less time reacting to/grieving. Personally, it has felt to me rather that I am exploiting when I share the stories of our losses. I feel that grief is so hard for one to go through privately and when I am writing, part of it, admittedly, is therapeutic for me. In which case I think it is taking advantage of the readers, of you, when I write as such. No, I never intend for it to be that way, but upon reflection, overall you are responding with such compassion and love and I feel like I am taking. I feel like I need to give more this year, take less. So once a month, I’ll muck through it all and let you know what the struggles are, but not more than that.
- Kodachrome: Fewer poorly formatted photos! I am having a dickens of a time because I photograph with my phone all of the time and there’s some silly thing that takes too long to troubleshoot when I try to share the photos to the blog. I will try to use a few good photos that you won’t have to turn your head on it’s ear to see. Or sometimes there will be blog posts with no photos. It takes a long time for my computer to upload them.
On our blog, we’ll share quips and tales, but save the ballads for the book.
Also, do you know how many wonderful children’s stories are happening inside and outside on this farm every single day? SO many!
For now, a rundown to share all that is new and newsy:
Northeast Organic Faming Association of Vermont (NOFA) – I am participating in a “Farmer Correspondence Program” in which I will write to two classrooms in Southern Vermont for the next 4 months to educate about life and work on our farm. I’m so excited! I write a letter to classes that I have been matched up with and entertain their correspondence with information and questions, pictures, drawings and etc.. I’ll share with you the letters that I write to them, and their responses back. Isn’t this the berries?
Workshop Announcements – My friend Meleen and I are co-hosting Sonya Philip and her friend Ellen Mason from San Francisco, and from New Hampshire, on Memorial Day Weekend for a “Wardrobe in a Weekend” workshop. So very jazzed about this maker-gathering here. Meleen has lovely farmhouse accommodations at her side-by-side homes nearby, and she cooks, rolls out the red carpet, and makes you feel warm and welcome like no other. Here at the farm we’ll be set up with sewing machines, ironing and cutting boards, all things textile & fiber related, while Sonya & Ellen teach the particpants the ins and outs of putting together a homemade wardrobe, embracing the slow fashion movement, making garments mindfully. And also, here at the farm, there’ll be the occasional recess to cuddle the new lambs, gaze into the alpacas dreamy eyes, snuggle with a pony. Picnics for lunchtime, giant farmhouse table dinners, roosters crowing during morning coffee. More details will come soon.
Yarn, Knitting, Fiber Arts – In late November, Michael Hampton, of Hampton Fiber Mill, designed a beautiful hat pattern and sold enough to us that we could sell the Wing & A Prayer Farm Hat Kit. We sold quite a few and have loved seeing the results. The warmth of our own wool in a perfectly fitted and traditional, classical pattern has me feeling like a million bucks this winter. There are a few kits left in our online shops. It has been like seeing grandchildren when someone send me a photo or stops by to model their hat.
Our yarn is now for sale in real, live shops! In the past we have sold it at the Farmers’ Markets, at Festivals or online, or through online retailers. But now it is also available at three beautiful brick and mortar stores: Creative Fiber Design in Brandon and nido in Burlington, Vermont and at The Store at Five Corners in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Both Vermont shops are serious makers’ shops that stock everything for homemade, handmade apparel, accessories, furnishings and more. The Williamstown, MA store is a gorgeous coffee shop/country store with furnishings, arts and apparel. It is such a delight to be represented in such fine establishments.
Additionally, I’m trying like heck to get the hang of Shopify and bring it up to speed with the inventory that we have here. I have roving which is wanting me to photograph it and add it to the shop, I have mohair and cotswold locks that want the same treatment. There is still more yarn to add to the online shop, and then there are things like wool batting and soon to come, wool pillows. My friend Debbie, that was the original goatherder of my first Angora goats, is making more thrummed mittens for the shop out of our wool and mohair. Those mittens that are like putting a cloud on your hands.
In the spring we will have more yarn. Alpaca/wool blends that Mary Jeanne at Battenkill Fiber Mill is spinning into a nice aran or fingering weight. Hampton Fiber Mills is also processing our Shetland wool and mohair from the Muppets into more of the best yarn in the Northeast(critics are saying.)
Regarding fleeces and fiber – the fine wools, Peter Pan(our new Cormo ram), Martha, Bonnie, Laurel, Lilac and Mister K, have all got new coats to wear! This week our shearer is coming to help us shear Peter Pan so he can start afresh. We were waiting for the coats to arrive before shearing him as there was no sense in coating him before. He arrived this past fall in pretty sad shape, fleece-wise, but his former owner advised me to shear him after the breeding season. And the breeding season is complete for him. So he will have a skinnier profile and a fancy new coat by Friday afternoon, meanwhile he is staying dry in the paddock and stalls at night with the Cotswolds and his buddies, Mister K & Angus. The snowy weather is not good for shearing. I’m not sure what we’ll be able to do with his fleece. It’s pretty riddled with thistles and burrs and it looks like it even has some breaking down of the fibers where it was wet and did not dry. Likely it is all going to the barn cats’ beds.
Thimble, the Angora goat kid -Thimble has been fighting a meningeal parasite infection and she’s only 6 months old. She is fighting the good fight, though, and is winning. The paralysis that occurred within her spine leaves her with a sloping right hind, giving the appearance of a weak hip, and she gimps around the pasture and paddock on her two good front legs. Her left hind leg is strong, but her weak right hip makes it difficult to keep up with everyone else. She doesn’t have any pain, though, and has a great appetite. She is gaining. The Muppets had a fundraiser for her in the fall (it was a fun way to sell Thimble’s mohair, and raise awareness about animal health, and celebrate community!) and folks that bought her ounces of mohair were also contributing to her vet bills from the fall when we’d had to have the vet out twice to assess and get her on the path to wellness. Wonderful people from all over supported in so many ways. Some lovely folk started their own fundraisers and supported her, and some folk sent donations. It was generous and heartwarming, and Thimble is managing and flourishing in her way. I think she will be fine, and hopefully she will outgrow some of the lameness issues. Cold and wet weather is especially difficult for her, so we take care to keep her in when the weather is inclement.
Lambs & kids – The 2016 breeding season is complete for the ewes but is only halfway complete for the does. The ewes are all due in mid-to-the-end of April. The does will deliver at the end of May and in early June. The Angora goats do not do well during the colder temps, their kids are a bit more fragile in our experience here. And so I withheld the does to be bred with our buck, Night, until the beginning of this month. There are 6 does in with him. There are currently 8 pregnant ewes, one of them, Iris, showing signs of summer love. The other night when we were bringing them in for dinner, I thought she moved so lethargically that I put her on watch. We checked her undercarriage out and sure enough, she appears to be bagging up. So I called our shearer, Fred, and he came down on Sunday to “crutch” her. We decided, now that we have a clear window on her udder development/vulva, that she is probably a couple/three weeks away. I gave her a CD&T vaccination, and we treated Latte the same. Latte & Iris were both observed with Custer, our Shetland ram, late last August/September and I made a mental note to check them for late January lambing. And it looks like at least Iris is due. I pray that girl will be o.k., as she is a cruise ship for sure. Have you seen a cruise ship give birth? It might not be pretty. Will hope for the best.
Mini Donkeys – WHAT?! It’s true. Holly Henderson, of Wayfaring Farm, brought her beloved two, Kalinka & Silver, here last week. Holly has a full house of little kids and her hands are full, full at this time so I told her I would take her little mini donkeys until things are easier for her. They are perfect with our Boy Band, the wethers & rams. At first they were a little apprehensive. The farm they were raised on(they’re only a little over a year old) had only 4 sheep and they were ewes. So this was quite a change for them. Also, they did not know dogs. Here they are amongst 20 wild and rambunctious boy sheep and see 3 dogs that run around like nuts outside of their pasture. They are doing so well. They hee haw softly when they see us coming to them, they hee haw loudly when they know that it is meal time. It’s just adorable. We have been working with them on a lead to get them accustomed to be handled and led outside of the pasture. It would be wonderful to train them to drive and I am currently investigating some help with that. They seem to love to move together, run and walk, in tandem. They are hoped to be guard animals with the sheep and if that proves true, I can move my flocks to new fields without worrying (as much) about the predators that might bother them otherwise.
Alpaca news -It has been such a hard year for the alpacas here. In a nutshell, Char just helped me finish another round of dewormer with the herd and so hopefully with this cold snap, snow covered ground, we are done with dealing with meningeal parasites for this past season. We had to put Indy to sleep after treating him in October and watching him recover and then take a fast dive down at the beginning of December. Then about a week and a half ago, I had to put Poncho down. I observed Poncho with a slight limp three days prior. I have everything that the vet had used to help Indy recover and am accustomed to vaccinating my own animals, so I administered all of the same medications. Poncho very rapidly deteriorated. He went from being slightly, hardly noticeably lame on one day to much more crippled the next. Knowing that it takes more than 24 hours for the dewormer and the meds to make a big difference in the host, I thought that by the third day we would see a significant improvement. By the third day, Poncho couldn’t walk on his hind legs at all. The lesson I’d learned from Indy was that it was so much more suffering than we can even imagine. I couldn’t see Poncho, our big beautiful cinnamon colored alpaca be in such a state. We called the vet that afternoon and he arrived early evening. Jim had dug a grave next to Indy’s with our neighbor’s backhoe and Charlotte put an evergreen wreath to rest with him. He was not afraid. We were all with him, the vet was so gentle and helpful. It was so sad. Damn it.
I told Jim how I’d read about how at alpaca farms, to keep the white tail deer out, they will put up tall fences. Like chain link-type fences. And then they will lay several feet of gravel all along the perimeter. The tall fences keep the white tail deer from jumping into the pastures, the gravel helps discourage/keep the snail/slugs down to a minimum that would ordinarily pass into the pasture. The snails and slugs that have traversed across the manure of the White Tail Deer are the ones that pass the meningeal parasite larvae on to the alpacas, sheep and goats. So aside from monthly dewormer plans, reducing or removing White Tail Deer from the pastured areas is the other solution to try to keep meningeal parasite infections to a minimum.
Our vet mentioned that the past couple of months have seen a high number of tick-borne illnesses in horses and meningeal parasite infections in alpacas because of the mild temperatures and lack of snow and frozen ground. Seasonal weather helps to minimize exposure and we’ve just not had it. It was some comfort that we had been fighting against unusual circumstances.
It was so helpful that Char was home from her college break for the past few weeks to help me with the alpacas. Catching them and dosing them and checking them regularly is so much easier with two people. I’m so grateful to have such an awesome family.