Sweet Harmony Farm blog

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Posted 12/21/2012 12:21pm by Mona.

And that makes me happy! 

The alpacas are spending the day in their barn, due to the strong wind-and-rain storm we're receiving.  I can see them all cushed in front of the doorways, watching Mother Nature's wrath of wind blow the rain and branches all around.  The wind is coming from the 'back of the barn' direction so we didn't need to tarp up the gates and close them in.  The wind sounds like a train and I'm leery of trees uprooting and falling down.

It's also the Winter Solstice today.  The days will start getting longer again, yeah!!  More sunshine is always a good thing.

Happy Winter Solstice Everyone!

Tags: alpacas, barn
Posted 10/25/2012 11:52am by Mona.

My usual routine for washing fleece has been to:  pick open the fleece by hand, pull out any large bits of VM [that’s vegetable matter for you non-fiber folks, i.e. bits of hay, straw, seedheads, grass, weeds, etc.], shake that handful, stuff said handful into a sweater-sized mesh laundry bag, repeat, repeat again and again, until the laundry bag appears ‘full enough’ which is probably about 3 or 4 ounces at most.  Then I step outside and shake the laundry bag again.  Now mind you, while originally sorting/skirting the fleece, which I only do outside, I have shaken the living daylights out of the fleece while it’s on the sorting table.  Huge clouds of dust billow out like smoke signals and I jump out of the way until it disperses.  The next day my throat and sinuses are on fire but hey, the fleece in the bag is much cleaner.

And why all the shaking of the fleece?  Because alpacas love to roll in the dirt.  They roll in the dirt piles that we silly humans create for them, they roll in the bare earth spots under trees, and they roll in the barn in the stonedust.  When they roll, you can watch really huge clouds of dust billow out from around them.  Needless to say, I don’t bother to ‘dust’ the barn.  Because alpacas have no lanolin like sheep do, the dust doesn’t adhere to their fleece so a lot of it can just be shaken out prior to washing it.   Or so you’d think.

So, I’ve been washing these mesh laundry bags of a few ounces of alpaca fleece in a large painter’s tub in the bathtub.  Washing fleece is really a matter of soaking it in hot, soapy water, removing the bag, dumping out the water, re-filling the tub with hot water and then soaking the bag in plain water to rinse the fleece.  Depending on how dirty the fleece is, you may need more than one soapy and one plain water soak; usually 2 of each will suffice.  You can’t agitate it or else the fleece will felt into a big blob and be unusable.  All you do is soak it.  As you can imagine, washing fleece just a few ounces at a time has been taking me forever and a day to do.

So encouraged by friends on Ravelry [thanks Maple! thanks Connie!], I decided to take the plunge and wash a pound in the kitchen sink.  Similar process, just more fleece at a time.   But before I even tried that, I instead ventured into the Ultimate Fleece-Washing Adventure:  washing alpaca fleece in my washing machine, an older top-loading model.

I decided on Arlo’s blanket fleece.  It’s white, with an easy-to-see dirt line, so it will be very easy to follow the cleaning process.  Besides, Arlo is such a cute little guy.  :)  After sifting through the bag to prepare it, I put it on the scale: exactly 3 pounds.  I filled the washing machine with hot water on the lowest setting, liberally squirted in the dish soap, and then gently stuffed all 3 pounds [silently telling myself:  You Go Girl!]  into the water until it was all submerged.  Mistake # 1:  probably not enough water.  This just means it will need another soapy soak, which I would have done anyway.

After about 25 minutes, I flipped the dial to spin, said a quick prayer, closed the lid, and waited for the machine to do its thing.  Mistake #2:  definitely too much dish soap.  And how did I know?  Soap bubbles were popping out of the drain pipe and dripping down onto the floor.  Oops.

When the machine was done spinning, I opened the lid.  All the fleece was attached to the sides of the machine.  It was attached so well that I think if there hadn’t been 3 pounds worth, I probably could have pulled it all out in one circular piece.  It came out in a few pieces, which I gently separated into more sections, and placed into the bucket.  There was sand at the bottom of the machine, but in reality not all that much, and easily cleaned out with a wet paper towel.  Now, wet, white, alpaca fleece looks kind of yellow-ish and so much dirtier than when it’s dry!  At least I already knew this so no panicking ensued. 

I re-filled the washing machine with more hot water, this time on the medium setting, and much less dish soap.  While it was filling, I started pulling out bits of VM that seem to all mysteriously appear in wet fleece.  When the machine was done filling, I gently pulled the fleece apart in smaller sections as it went into the machine, also pulling apart locks that obviously still had dirt.  Alpaca fiber floats!  When I was done re-loading fleece, I gently pushed it all back under the water.  

When this second load was done, it was all stuck to the sides of the machine again but not as tightly as the first time.  It easily came out in sections as I pulled it out.  This time it was noticeably cleaner.  Wiped down the machine again [not as much sand this time], re-filled the machine for a third time with just a quick squirt of dish soap, added the fleece, submerged again, spun it out again, pulled out the fleece again, wiped down the machine again, etc.

Now it’s time for the rinsing.  After filling up the machine for a fourth time, I added about a cup of vinegar.  Vinegar re-sets the ph of the fiber so the fiber is not dry and also helps to make it sparkly clean.   Added the fleece, spun it out, etc.  Then I did one more plain water rinse just to be sure.

I put all the clean, wet but not dripping, fleece into the painter’s bucket and went upstairs to spread it out to dry.  Mistake #3:  not anticipating that 3 pounds of fleece would take up substantially more room to dry than a mere 4 ounce laundry bag full.  Oops again.  Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way!  Half of it is drying on oven racks, the rest on the old screen I usually use, all spread out across our ridiculously huge bathroom.  I’ll pick apart the fleece and flip it around as it dries.  It was spun out in the washing machine so it’s not dripping wet, so should be all dry and looking very white in about 24 hours.

3 pounds down, a gazillion more to go ................

Posted 9/24/2012 11:55am by Mona.

And here it is! 

the new wheelbarrow 

This is our farm’s new wheelbarrow, aka the Chief Poop Mover.  I am happy to say it was purchased at a local family-run store, not from a big-box store.  We do our best to make all our purchases locally.

We’re still getting used to the new wheelbarrow.  It’s a heavier and deeper design than our last one so dumping the poo in the Big Pile O’ Poo requires a bit more upper body strength and aim.   Oh well.  We could all use a little more upper body strength, right??

Posted 8/17/2012 12:13pm by Mona.

As I sit here typing this, I swear I can hear a bugle in the distance playing ‘Taps’ ..................

the ole red wheelbarrow

Well, last evening it finally happened.  Our old, very, very old wheelbarrow, carried its last ever pile o’ alpaca poo over to The Big Poo Pile. 

It’s been a very loyal wheel barrow, trustworthy, always faithfully serving its purpose.  For years its purpose was the usual gardening and landscaping tasks.  It also helped move rocks to build stone walls as well as move many countless cords of firewood.  When the alpacas arrived it took over as Chief Poop Mover, rolling effortlessly from the barn.  And our trusty wheelbarrow took ever so long to rust out completely.  But once that rust started it was the beginning of the end.  We’ve repaired its broken handles and flat tires over the years, but rust keeps on doing its thing until the metal cracks and then there’s a teeny hole.  That teeny hole slowly [or quickly as the case may be] grew and grew until the ‘poo fell through.’  There just ‘ain’t much bucket’ left, which means it’s time for Wheel Barrow Retirement.

In other words, it’s actually time for this ole wheelbarrow to go to the dump.

Dan has had this trusty wheelbarrow for 29 years.  He’s actually kind of sad to see it go.  Yes, Sara and Emily, it’s the Chester Wheelbarrow!

In the distance, the sound of a bugle playing ‘Taps’ continues ......

Tags: alpacas, barn
Posted 7/6/2012 11:34am by Mona.

Ahhhh........ summertime.........  The grass is green as are the leaves.  The days are long, hot, and sticky followed by a hopefully cooler night.  Thunderstorms pop up occasionally to water the earth and cool the air.  The garden is sprouting with green beans and beets and carrots and budding tomatoes and zucchini.  The scent of basil and oregano are in the air as I water.  The daylilies are blooming.  Birds and butterflies abound.  Robins nest on our home’s log corners, finches nest in the bushes, barn swallows nest in the barn, killdeer nest in the pasture, bluebirds nest in the birdhouses along the pasture fence, and the hawk makes a daily appearance swooping over the pasture.  Stella spends the entire day outside, lounging about in the shade.  She sometimes takes herself for a casual walk around the fence perimeter, all the time keeping an eye out for a chipmunk to chase.  I sit quietly outside soaking up the sunshine while I spin, weave, or knit, facing the alpacas grazing in the pasture. 

Wild critters large and small quietly pass through our property at night.  The other day my neighbor mentioned that a raccoon had gotten into his coop, again, and decimated his poultry flock, and that a bear had destroyed his beehive.  :(  Whether you have a teeny homestead or a large one, farming is not always easy or fun; Nature works on her own schedule.

Coyotes and deer still abound.  We’ve been fortunate.  The deer have not decimated the garden yet and the coyotes have never, ever bothered the alpacas.  They do that well enough amongst themselves!  10 intact male alpacas on a hot summer day can get easily bored or irritated with each other ~ I’m guessing that’s it ~ and suddenly have to provide themselves with their own entertainment by chasing each other down .......... which means I’m having to run out to the barn to break up the ‘fight.’  ‘They say’ it’s a normal thing, a hierarchy thing, and to let the boys work it out amongst themselves but I have a hard time standing by idly when a smaller one is screeching. 

And usually they do work it out amongst themselves but when it carries on and on, there I am, running.  And stumbling as I run.  Yes folks.  12 years of ballet as a kid and I can still manage to trip over my own feet on a daily basis.

At least it’s summertime.  All I have to do is jump into my little barn shoes ........

Posted 2/27/2012 3:20pm by Mona.

This winter continues to be warm and weird.  Most nights are still well below freezing but the days are still rather mild for New Hampshire.   We’ve hardly received any snow.   It’s the middle of February and we can see the grass and weeds.  Of course everything is brown and rather dreary looking, rather than bright green and colorful.  We’ve been joking that the winter of 2011 – 2012 has been one very long mud season.

fresh bale of hay

The alpacas are loving this weather.  Usually in the winter they prefer to be snuggled into the barn in the deep straw, behind the front wall of tarps.  All that hanging out in the barn makes them cranky and usually I find fresh spit on someone’s neck in the morning.  This winter most of the alpacas usually sleep outside, cushed under the stars, chewing their cud and looking very content.  During the day, they romp our frozen yet muddy pastures, playing and wrestling with each other.  Some days that wrestling quickly turns into an all out tussle match and Stella and I run outside to try to break it up.  Stella runs out barking and usually it subsides before I make it out to the barn. 

Needless to say, fresh spit abounds.   :)  

To keep myself occupied this winter, I’ve been playing with my bags and bags of alpaca fleeces.  Opening each bag, I know immediately which one of my alpacas formerly wore the fleece inside. :)  I smile, thinking of them running through the pasture or greeting me in the barn with alpaca sniffs and kisses.  I can feel their spirit running through my body and into my heart and embracing my soul.  I am so attached to each and every one of them.  I could never sell any of them.   It’s hard for me to even think of selling their fleece!  As I work with their fleeces ~ sorting, skirting, washing, combing, spinning ~ I smile even more.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  There is joy in working with an animal’s fiber that you’ve raised yourself. 

Posted 1/12/2012 2:34pm by Mona.

This morning I headed down to the barn like I normally do.  So strange, this winter.  It’s been warm, many days into the high 40’s.  Aside from the freak October snowstorm, we really haven’t gotten any snow.  The ground is generally hard from being frozen overnight with not enough daylight to really thaw it out, unless we’d had some rain.  But even so, not that much rain either.  So weird, but since we’ve had several years of record-breaking snowfall filled winter, hey, I’m not complaining about this one.  :)

When I wake up some of the alpacas are cushed in the paddock, still sleeping.  It’s been so warm that we haven’t even had to tarp over the upper half of the barn.  We did put the tarps on the gates, but unless it’s windy, most nights we haven’t even had to shut them.  Those nights, the boys are all cushed together in the deep straw, staying close to each other for warmth.  There’s no snow, so as the sun rises the boys stroll out to the pasture and nibble on the stubby grasses. 

A few of the alpacas were cushed out in the paddock.  We’d put down some old hay and straw near the entrance fence, and Julio and Bo were cushed there, chewing their cud.  I said hello to Bo as I walked by him to check out Julio.  His lump has not gotten any better since we started the antibiotics.  In fact it’s been looking worse, like he ate a golf ball and is holding it along his lower jaw.  He’s been eating, spitting, and acting like his spunky, normal self though!  We suspect he may be purposely stuffing hay there, to get more sympathy from us, so we’ll give him more pellets as treats.  Julio, my Drama Queen.  He knows I’m a softie.

Lately, we’ve been finding small holes dug, in the pen, up against the tack room wall.  Dan and I fill them back in with stonedust and I’ve even put large rocks over them.  A few days later another hole will appear, next to the rock.  Damn!  Over the weekend we thought we’d be clever and put the hose down the hole and turned on the water.  The water poured out from under the back of the barn, and nothing else.  Yeah.

I turned on the lights to the barn and walked into the pen.  Yeah, no new holes!  I stepped on the straw, just to double check against the back wall.  Out of the corner of my eye, from behind the straw bale, something small with a long tail darted by along the wall and instantly disappeared into the teeny space next to the rock.

Right on cue, I screeched, loudly.  EEwwww, yuuuuuuuuck!!

And also right on cue, I heard the alpacas all run across the paddock in a group.   

For some reason when I express the urge to screech, I also simultaneously seem to close my eyes and stamp my feet.   When I re-opened my eyes and turned around, the boys had walked back and were all standing there in front of the pen, wide-eyed, staring at me.  All except Coty, who apparently is no longer bothered by my outbursts.  He was still cushed by the outside hay feeder chewing his cud, never missing a beat.  I choked out an apology.  ‘Sorry boys, but you know those things gross me out.’ 

Earth walked over and gave my nose a long sniff ~ alpaca kisses.  Ahh, much better.

p.s. This happened a couple days ago and apparently I’ve jinxed myself.  Today, it’s snowing!  But ......... no new holes in the pen!

Tags: alpacas, barn
Posted 12/31/2011 6:27pm by Mona.

It’s New Year’s Eve!

Well 2011 isn’t ending so wonderfully.  Julio’s jaw abscess has returned, thankfully not too badly, and this week I’ve had a sore throat/earache thing going on which is leaving me totally exhausted.  Perhaps Julio and I are just having sympathy pangs for each other?  Animals are so in tuned to their caretakers and alpacas are no exception.

On New Year’s Eve I am always excited to look forward to the new beginnings of a new year.  I blogged about that last year.

So today I’m just reflecting about this past year.  2011 has been a wonderful year!  My big goal was to teach myself to process fleece myself and yup, I succeeded.  I learned how to sort the fleece [yes, yes, actually that was at the end of 2010], and how to wash it, flick it, comb it, card it, and my favorite ~ spin it!  I can spin on both a spindle and a spinning wheel!

Here’s my new spinning wheel, an Ashford Country Spinner:

my new spinning wheel!

And here are the first 2 skeins I spun ~ the blue one is Border LeicesterX  wool with a little alpaca, and the red one is Border LeicesterX wool with a little mohair:

first 2 handspun skeins from my wheel

I love, love, love, bulky, funky, art yarns and my heavy Turkish spindle and the Country Spinner are both perfect for this.  These bulky yarns are perfect for weaving on my frame looms. 

I hope you all had a wonderful 2011.

Here’s to 2012!  May you have an even more wonderful year!

Thank you all for reading our little blog!  It means a lot to us.

Bright Blessings to all of you!!

Mona   

Posted 12/25/2011 1:50pm by Mona.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

christmas snowmen on table

 

 

 

Posted 11/27/2011 2:51pm by Mona.

When Dan or I bring down a bale of hay on the 2-wheeler, we usually hardly make it into the paddock past the gate and this happens:

Hay ~ it's what's for dinner

Hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving weekend!

Tags: alpacas
Quote for Today

Never let the odds keep you from doing
what you know in your heart
you were meant to do. 

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Our new fiber store on Local Harvest!

 

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