Dear Farm Diary 8/11/17

Dear Farm Diary,

I am currently sitting in my hot van outside of my kids karate class…I decided that in order to catch up with myself I need to better schedule my time.  Now, karate time is errands and computer related “stuff”.

I feel overwhelmed today. The day went by fast as it always does, yet I got NOTHING done that I really had in my mind to do. I did take some of my Suri fiber to the mill (Painted Sky Fiber Mill), and I paid the deposit on what I dropped off a couple weeks ago. Yes, I am THAT overwhelmed that I am now sending some of my fiber to be processed. (It is a tough pill to swallow, but I am only one person.) The best part is they were doing some work and I was able to see some of their amazing machines up and running. Linda (one of the owners) is a pleasure to speak with and really takes her time to get to know her clients and their farms.

I did get the opportunity to visit a local yarn/fibery goodness store. Talk about overwhelming.

Yarn

Just ONE shelf of yarn for sale at Vulcan’s Rest

The store is huge and FULL of shelves upon shelves of luscious yarn…yak yarn, alpaca yarn, organic yarn, cotton yarn, bamboo yarn, yarn blends…there are books upon books and spinning wheels and looms and basket weaving equipment…overwhelming. I was able to speak to the owner and it is always nice to talk to someone else that understands fiber and yarn!

I returned home to find one of our Kids (goat not human) had her head stuck in the fence…AGAIN. This is why I don’t leave home for long! I was able to work on some of my fiber that I am using for an animal to yarn post I plan on doing. The more I talk to people the more I realize that it is great education.

Time to wrap up. Till we meet again.

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Dear Farm Diary 8/10/17

Welcome to my farm diary…

Dear Farm Diary,

It is already August…the weather has cooled off at night, for which I am grateful, but it is still hateful hot during the day…I have always been a summer person, but this year I find myself longing for shorter days that are cooler and less chaotic. I know that in December I will long for green grass and leaves on trees and extra sunlight, but for now, I reserve the right to wish for lazy days.

Today we had visitors on the farm from another alpaca farm. Alpaca farmers in general, in my experience, are a wealth of knowledge, and are extremely willing to share both successes and failures. It was very nice to be caught working on my fiber when other fiber farmers showed up. I definitely felt ‘legit’.

I have set a goal for myself. I currently have nearly three years of fiber on the sun porch that is just taking up space. Winter is a great time to play with fiber, but not the best time to skirt it, wash it, and dry it. I hope to, by the end of the month, have it all skirted, washed, and dried…then I can pack it away again and work on spinning it over the long winter days.

Until I have time to write again,
One hot and tired fiber farmer

How to litter box train your alpacas

Awe, bless your heart. That is called click bait…Tee Hee.

I am an optimistic person. It is a hard and exhausting cross to bear too, we live in such a pessimistic society and lets face it, it takes a lot less energy to be negative.

What does this have to do with litter box training alpacas? I promise, it does.

Today it started out relatively cool and not quite so humid, a perfect day to finish cleaning out the girls run in. They have been hanging out in there around the fan and even though they have PLENTY of places to go to the bathroom OUTSIDE, they choose to poop and pee right where they eat and sleep. I try hard to keep it clean, but I cannot be out there all day…pee on a stall mat is disgusting, because they lay in it, and oh the fiber…I’m trying to harvest that stuff!

I pulled the mats, scrapped and scrubbed and washed and rinsed…have you ever tried moving a stall mat? They are made of heavy one inch thick rubber, did I mention heavy? Well, I happened upon these awesome mat movers, it is the BEST $17.99 you’ll spend.

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I shoveled out the gross limestone dust I put in earlier this year…yes, earlier this year I did this same song and dance…Order truck load of limestone dust, shovel and rake, scrape, move, wash, move, level, shovel…

There are several alpaca farms that use “litter boxes” in their barns and say they work. I have tried it before (thus the whole ‘I’m an optimist’ remark or perhaps we should be leaning more towards insanity because isn’t the very definition of insanity? Doing something over and over again expecting a different result? Maybe that is just the urban dictionary definition) to no avail, but I am going to try it again!

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We have a lot of scrap 2×4’s from a framing project, so I just screwed 4 together and put my stall pellets in the middle and then creepily waited for someone to use the bathroom…FYI, that was not deposited there…that I collected while Sunset was going outside…yep, I put the scoop right up under her and transferred it to my nice clean “litter box”…I mentioned creepily right? Alpacas are like women, one can’t simply go to the bathroom alone, and there is nothing to make one go than another one going, or smelling and finding one has recently gone…or a freshly cleaned communal pile is also a good way to get them to go.

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Sera taking a break and making sure my work is sufficient.

I’ll keep you posted on how big of a waste of time this project turned out to be.

*In case you are wondering, last time I had the 2×4’s laying on their flat sides and not sticking up as tall. Chickens are always in the run in pecking around and scattering the pellets everywhere, so I figured I would try it this way. The measurements are 4′ by 3′ and I think I will go get a half stall mat to put across the front…not that it matters, but I am going to be optimistic.

How I built a jump gate

I realize from time to time that I have super powers…I would REALLY like the super power of teleportation, but sadly that is NOT the one I have. I have the power to make a relatively quick and easy project take a REALLY long time.

I might have mentioned that we got another livestock guardian dog in June. The intention was to fence in the whole area back by the alpaca girls, goats, and pigs, then install jump gates for him to access any pasture with ease. Security, (that is his name by the way, it started as a joke and stuck) is a fence climber, so there has been no containing him. He happily goes into both the alpaca pastures and lays around wherever the mood strikes, but lately he has taken a great interest in hanging out in one of our goat pastures that currently houses our two boer goats, two “teenager” ND kids, and 4 roosters. Security grew up with goats so he is quite at home with them and they tolerate him.

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Meet “Security”

Security and Celia

This is Security with Celia, our first LGD. They are both Maremma Sheepdogs. Rosie, our German Shepherd is sulking on the other side of the fence.

Onto the jump gate and my super power…
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Last weekend we did a project that included framing up walls, so we had a lot of scrap 2×4’s. The jump gates I have seen online are approximately 21″ on all sides, and these scraps were just perfect.

I built this part in minutes. You need two of these frames, they attach together with screws and then you cut out the fence. Seemed like it was going to be smooth sailing at this point, but no.

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Belle inspecting my “work”

I temporarily hung the frame on the goat side using zip ties. Zip ties and wood are irresistible to goats and MUST be tasted and chewed. You’ll notice that the way I currently have it the top and bottom are not flush against the fence. I had to take both frames apart and re-assemble them so the frame would fit flushly, and I could screw them together (using 3″ deck screws).

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Now Raja has come to inspect my handiwork and look for food, which I had none, but apparently my fingers looked tasty.

Somehow, even though I had two EXACT frames when I put them up on the fence they weren’t the same. Witchcraft I tell you. I unscrewed the bottom screws so I could re-align them.

It was very nerve wracking to cut the fence because…well, goats. Seriously they are escape artists WITHOUT a gaping hole, but I have been assured that because of the mechanics of how a dog moves and the lack of those same mechanics in a goat, they cannot maneuver this gaping hole. Time will tell.

You might notice the smaller piece of 2×4 that I added on the left? Well, I added another one (at this point, more on that later) on the right side to secure the fence to the frame more securely.

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From this angle (notice the lack of inspectors in this photo…apparently I was taking FOREVER and it was nap time), you can see the two pieces I added, but there is still a gap. I added two more scrap 2×4’s, I don’t know if they serve a purpose, though I think it made it look better. I should point out that each time I added more wood, I had to walk from the goat yard to the pole barn, which is probably the length of a football field…I’m not good at distance, but I am guessing that is a fair assessment. I got my exercise.

 

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The finished product…I say “finished” but I am thinking I can’t leave it like this. I think I am going to paint it and put the dogs names on it because I can =)

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Seriously though, it is only a matter of time before Clare figures this out…those devilish horns…

FYI, if you got this far and love goats and have some spare time, you can click here and view our 24/7 goat cam.

Saga of the chicken coop door

The property we are on has been in my husband’s family for over 100 years. I have tried to keep things as original as possible. I have made a few changes inside, but not many. Outside we have done quite a bit and tried to keep things “functional” rather than “pretty”. We did invest in a “real” fence for our main two pastures, but otherwise, most things we have learned to do ourselves.

*IF you are a professional or fancy yourself a professional builder’ish person, you might want to stop reading here. You have been warned.

Our chicken coop is approximately 16 x 20…give or take some feet. The door has always been a struggle, but in the grand scheme of things, it could be “fixed” temporarily while more important things were tended too.20170610_170626_resized

It was a hot mess…and if it rained, it was EXTREMELY difficult to get the door open as water would come in and the pine shavings from the floor and mud would block the opening.

I was asked to get a friend of ours to make a door…HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I typically weigh the cost with “if I could do it” and God bless Youtube…I found a video that showed how to make a farm house door. Easy enough. I went to Lowes and tape measure in hand (One should note that 2 x 4’s aren’t REALLY 2 x 4…Length is pretty correct, but the rest is not. IF you read the label AND keep a tape measure handy {I wasn’t the ONLY person there with my OWN tape measure} you can be assured you will get what you need.) I needed a door that was 36″ x 80″. One would think I would need 6-6″ boards…NOPE.

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I had to add a 2″ furring strip in the middle to make it 36″.20170609_150347_resized

I was able to use our new (to us) saw…I love tools. Honest to goodness…Lowes is just about my favorite store…the smell of fresh lumber is like perfume. AHHH!

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After I laid out my 36″ x 80″ boards, I used wood glue on 1″ x 4″ boards down each side.

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Then I put a board across the bottom, top, and middle, with wood glue and screws.

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Then came “math”…it was hot, and it was the end of the day, and I was tired, and I am running out of excuses…

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There was “supposed” to be an “X” in both the top and the bottom AND they were “SUPPOSED” to be equal…Okay, so here is what I was thinking…Oh who am I kidding, I don’t know what the heck I was thinking…It looks “country” okay? I MEANT to do that.

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Next step, fill in the screw holes with wood putty.

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Next step…SAND, SAND, SAND. Thank God for my little hand sander. PS-I didn’t sink all the screws all the way, so there. I added to the “countryness” of this door!

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Next step…add a couple layers of paint. Paint is nature’s “make up”…Paint covers up your zits, or blemishes, or whatever you call them!

Here I am thinking this door is going to look all jacked up, not to mention HEAVY as all get out-the video said nothing about how heavy this door would be, nor did it mention that it would be a GREAT idea to use clamps…thus the gaps, but hey, country, and it doesn’t NEED to be air tight)thumbnail_20170626_084441

This past weekend we put the door up. Thank God for my very patient husband because despite my measuring MULTIPLE times, the door was ever so slightly too wide…if we installed it once, we installed that bad boy two dozen times. I am not EVEN exaggerating. There was a lot of sanding and sawing…and my very precise paint job got very jacked up…but COUNTRY…and distressed…it’s in. If it isn’t, it should be.

The door no longer needs a “knob” as it has that cool handle. Brian is BRILLIANT, just don’t tell him I said so =) No, seriously, he should get all kinds of kudos because the handle takes away from my failure to math, (and to think I home school) and it locks by this cool barrel system. Now when I go to let the chickens out, I don’t have to struggle with the door. I am even going to make a trip to the dump (even though I JUST went last week!) so I can get rid of the old door!

 

 

 

Pasture Management

When we brought home our alpaca herd, we had five boys and eight girls. We were under the impression that we only needed two pastures since you have to keep them separated.  Alpacas are induced ovulators, meaning they don’t cycle like most animals. Alpacas ovulate to an external derived stimulus, typically by the male orgling. This post isn’t  about breeding though, so if you want to learn more about it, I’ll leave you here. Apparently you can learn just about anything on Wikipedia…part 2 especially cracked me up, but again, this isn’t about that…we’ll do a post on that later as I plan on diving into my spring breeding this weekend.

One of the “perks” mentioned with buying alpacas is how “green” they are, easy on the land…I call malarkey. I remember sending a picture of our beautiful green pasture with happy alpacas on it to the farm we got them from and the response was “I bet they are loving that green grass”. Hmm…of course they are, but didn’t you have green grass? <–insert thought bubble there. Okay, so they don’t dig holes or otherwise destroy everything in sight, BUT they will and do eat just about anything green, right down to bare dirt given you don’t have good pasture management.

We learned quickly that we needed to fence in more pasture and overseed with various grasses to keep the alpacas in green grass and money in our pockets, as hay isn’t cheap. We watched Youtube videos, bought a John Deere tractor with the proper implements, and we were an instant Fence Installation Team. Our fences are not especially beautiful, and they may be crooked, but so far they have kept everyone in and bad stuff out, so we are doing okay.

We made the grave mistake of paying a guy in “pasture management” to come and overseed for us the first year. I am pretty sure he spread more “air” than seed and tried to get a thousand dollars from us for future upkeep. HA! This guy did not know me too well. Off we were to do more internet research and we figured out how to do it ourselves.

I had no plan to make this a post, but yesterday as I was rotating the girls off a pasture I thought to myself, “this is a blog post, this is a learning opportunity for someone”.

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The left side has had a couple days of growth, whereas the right side had the girls on it for 2 days. (I don’t usually keep them on a side for 2 days but it had been so hot they hardly left the barn)

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2 more pastures in the back behind “barren wasteland”…

We now have the main pasture and two turn out pastures for our boys, with there being only five of them that is plenty of grass; however, we are now up to twelve girls with three more coming, so we have our dry lot plus four turn out pastures. I should have a schedule as to when they go into each pasture, but I use my eyes instead, they are given access to whichever pasture looks the best on any given day. We do have one boys pasture that butts up to the girls so we have to be careful and have an empty pasture between them.

In the late fall/early winter we take everyone off the turn out pastures and keep them on the dry lot with hay until spring. We over seed when we take them off. We are still learning, but are definitely getting better at this whole farming business.

 

Hay! How do you feed it? And an Easy Peasy Hay Feeder for Dummies tutorial.

Over the winter we feed a lot of hay…A. LOT. OF. HAY. (at least for us) I decided to switch over to round bales for the alpacas to save time and money. They go through their hay fast enough that I am not overly concerned with the hay and the weather. The girls can go through a round bale in just over a week. (They are pigs!)

Girls Feeder

I finally put chicken wire around the bottom as most of the hay ended up outside the feeder, and they thought they had the most AMAZING hay bed. Not only that, they also would climb IN the feeder and sleep 😡 I stopped closing it all the way because they would get “stuck” and I spent a lot of time rescuing fare maidens from the hay fortress…where you can apparently check in any time you like, but you can never leave. (You’re welcome in advance for getting that song stuck in your head)

I have been spending a lot of the spring cleaning up hay and I am not even close to being done.

Cleaning up the hayI do get to play on the tractor and spend time outside (and have a valid excuse for not doing housework) and the spent hay is used to mulch our hop yard and garden, so there IS a silver lining.

I scored the boys a hay feeder a few weeks ago at Tractor Supply Co. The best part is it was 70% off the online retail AND it is a John Deere hay feeder =) Now, you should know that just like people have strong feelings about Chevy and Ford, the same goes for tractors. When we were shopping for tractors I reminded my husband that they don’t write songs about “other” tractors =) so, we are a John Deere family. (Okay, maybe ONE song)

I have digressed.

How the boys used to eat hay

This is how the boys USED to eat their hay…this is the end of a round bale.

John Deere Hay feeder

Now they eat in John Deere style, see the lack of hay on the ground? Hercules doesn’t approve of my desire to photograph something besides him!

Then the time came to find the best way to provide nice, clean, and dry hay to the goats…that was a challenge. We have 3 pastures of goats, and I didn’t want to pay a lot of money or spend a lot of time to build something. I started looking around and saw a cool and simple idea on Pinterest.

Pinterest is hit or miss around here, I either come out the hero or crash and burn! I once tried to make this really awesome lemon cake to take to my in-laws for some occasion…

Pinterest failAgain, I digress.

Back to the goats and the hay dilemma, I found this amazingly SIMPLE idea that I thought even couldn’t mess up. Here is a video demonstration from our YouTube channel: *The demonstration of the buck apron is purely a video perk.

There is a video from another farm that uses a half barrel, which is a really cool idea, but my plate is rather full of “to-do’s” at the moment…I imagine I will get tired of refilling the boxes and opt for the larger plastic barrel before too long.

I hope if hay is a pain in the butt for you, this idea will be the hero moment for you that it was for me!

Back in the saddle

It has been a while!  Life got busy, and blogging became an afterthought. I am going to try very hard to get back into the routine of keeping up with our blog, as my farm Facebook updates tend to get a little long! Instead of a lengthy “what we’ve been up to” I am just going to dive into today, and we’ll catch up along the way.

In late April I noticed one of our Nigerian Dwarf goats, Daisy was getting an udder, and seemed rounder than normal. I took her to the vet, and sure enough she is expecting. Back in late April early May, the vet thought she was pretty far along…fast forward to today, we are STILL waiting on Daisy to kid. (that is what it is called in the goat world, I’m not “kidding”. )

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Daisy’s ‘udder’

I have been awake since 3:30 am thinking about building a bigger structure for the impending “hostages” (Yet another term used by goat people when waiting for their does to kid) to be released. In my mind I am creating a blue print, and counting 2×4’s, and sheets of plywood, because…why not? Sleep is overrated.

I went out to check on Daisy around 6:30 am. All the goats were snuggled up in the last shelter I built for them, except for my former indoor bottle baby, Clare; Clare was snuggled up in the igloo all by herself. It was all I had to walk away and not bring her back inside, but I knew if I did, I’d be haulin’ butt back to the goat yard in 10 minutes, Clare in tow, because a goat in the house is not for those who want to enjoy their morning coffee! Notice how pretty my goat house “used” to be, all trimmed out and painted.  (I gave up on painting the roof)

Now we can all be on Daisy watch! There will be plenty of pictures, so be sure to head over to our farm page and give us a “like” and check often to see when Daisy finally gives up her hostage situation.

Proud to be a Marylander *finally

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**If anyone knows who to credit this awesome meme with, please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due!**
You may be aware that Maryland is the first state to pass legislation to ban residential use of harmful pesticides that are known to kill our precious honey bees. The bill known as the “Pollinator Protection Act” is currently awaiting the signature of our governor Larry Hogan.

Our bee hives last spring, we were removing the entrance reducers. Eucalyptus and Lavender mulched with straw and black gold, a.k.a. alpaca poop, nothing but the best for our girls and drones!

Personally, I am all for fewer restrictions and laws and allowing people to be free-we are the “free state” after all, but this is legislation I can get behind. Consumers have been misdirected by big business for so long that legislation was needed to protect those that could not protect themselves. (the bees)

How did we get to this point?

There once was a time when people planted gardens and shared their bounty with their neighbor; now people depend on huge farm operations to provide their meals and large farms depend on a successful crop, successful crops need to be bug free, so…and there it goes. It is the nature of the beast. Farmers are educated in how to use chemicals, Joe Schmoe is not.

Wondering how to buy bee safe products?
Here is a list of neonicotinoids:
• Acetamiprid
• Clothianidin
• Dinotefuran
• Imidacloprid
• Nitenpyram
• Thiacloprid
• Thiamethoxam

Lowes and Home Depot are both known to sell flowers and plants treated with these chemicals, but also claim to be “bee friendly”. If there is nothing to indicate if they are safe, ask the nursery manager if neonics (the abbreviated name) were used in the seed, soil, or sprayed on the plant and if they have or they don’t know, it is best to stay away. There are plenty of smaller nursery’s that would gladly accept your business and it’s always nice to support the little guy.
So, go out and hug a bee…okay, don’t hug a bee, but plant something(neonic free) for the bees!

How we farm

A few days ago I shared an article on our Facebook page from Modern Farmer entitled, Voting One Way, Eating Another, (Anderson, 2013). The premise of the article is that while the consumer desires to eat food that has been humanely farmed, they are not necessarily willing or able to pay for it. The article was extremely well written and shared my ideals on the type of farming we do here at Patriot Acres.
I have always been a lover of animals, there are photos of me sharing my bottle with a fawn when I was toddling around. I have almost always had a pet of some type. I could always see myself living on a farm surrounded by critters. That love and respect has never changed. alpaca butts
Here on the farm we are working on our “plan”. We chose to farm alpacas for their fiber, gentle nature, and ease of care. We also chose to farm eggs and meat chickens. Our eggs are 100% pasture raised, they have no boundaries as to where they may forage for food. Our meat chickens, while not “free” to roam are raised on fresh pasture daily. We aren’t going to become millionaires, but we are doing something we love, it isn’t a job to us. We anticipate adding pigs and goats, perhaps even a cow in the future. I won’t lie though, the thought of butchering a chicken or pig or cow that I have fed, watered, worried over, and cared for, is a difficult concept.  I take comfort in knowing that they were treated with respect and lived a comfortable natural life.


My longwinded point (you didn’t realize I had one, I know…) is that there seems to be an us vs. them mentality when it comes to farming. I don’t claim to be an expert, I grew up around “small, backyard farming” I don’t pretend to know what it is like to depend on farming as my livelihood, BUT, what I do know is that there is a need for the big commercial conglomerates, the thousands of acres of corn, soybeans, wheat…the chicken houses full of chickens. I also know that there is a need for people like us to provide peace of mind, and an ease on one’s conscience. Personally, I don’t like that big farms use gallons of Round Up on their fields, it is killing the bees, but I also know that they need to put out a crop; their year, their livelihood depends on farming crops of edible food, not acres of weeds. I respect that every crop planted is a gamble. I respect that while huge chicken houses and tractor trailers full of chickens are sad to see, not everyone is able to pay for a true pasture raised chicken, and honestly, I don’t know if that is even a viable concept.
At the end of the day, it is all about respect. Respect for the big guy, respect for the little guy, and accepting that there is a market for both. Here on our farm, we are going to do our best to grow in a manner that comforts our hearts and souls, respects the animals and land, and meets the needs of the people who believe as we do.