Sweet Harmony Farm blog

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Posted 11/30/2010 11:21am by Mona.

Coty’s mama is our beautiful Alana.  When I first saw Alana she was still a cria, and I knew I had to have her.  She has stunning rose-grey/fawn fleece that in the sunlight has a pinkish hue and is oh so soft to the touch.  Now as an adult alpaca she is very tall and statuesque and still has that stunning fleece.  Coty is a male version of her, his fleece a shade or two lighter and more a fawn color.  That fleece is heaven on your hands and against your cheek.  He is a little shy and apprehensive around humans, but stands quietly for you when held.  Around the other alpacas he is always gentle and rarely spits.  At two years old he is a very tall alpaca and all but struts when he walks.  Personally, I’d love a pasture full of Cotys. 

Last night, Coty sent me into a panic. 

We went out to the barn as we usually do in the evenings to feed the boys.  Dan has wired the outside lights of the barn so that we can also turn them on from inside the house.  As we walked into the paddock ............ you know how you ‘just know’ that something isn’t right?  The boys were all quietly standing around or eating hay.  Bo slowly approached us and as he walked past the light we noticed a little spot of blood on his side.  ‘Hhhmmm ........ thought he was all done teething’ I mused out loud.   I started scanning the rest of the boys in the shadowed paddock.  Coty started to come towards us.  My normally very quiet and calm husband exclaimed ‘LOOK at Coty!’  There under the light, the left side of Coty’s head and down his neck was just covered in blood.  ‘Coty, my Coty!’ I screeched.   It is hunting season and the worst possible scenario ran through my head.  I went into the tack room to turn on all the barn lights.  Of course now Coty looked much worse.   

I ran back to the house to get rags and warm water and the phone to call the vet.  Here’s my soapbox to have a phone in the barn with the vet’s phone number right there.  When I got back Dan had all 7 alpacas enclosed in the barn, with Coty, Arlo, and Julio in the pen.  We scooted Julio out.  Dan had inspected Coty and determined ~ thank God ~ that it was not a gunshot wound.  More likely, one of the alpacas had bit his ear and yanked out fleece along with some skin.  Which alpaca would have done that?  Hello Guinness.  It must have just happened because the blood was so fresh; none of it had dried.  Dan held him.  Coty rested his chin on the pen wall while I gently washed off his neck and side of his face with the wet rag.  Blood was basically on top of his fleece and some of it was starting to clot.  I slowly made my way over to his ear and that’s when he winced.  Poor Coty!!  Oh that must have hurt.  I held the rag with gentle pressure on his ear to stop the bleeding.  Coty was a real trooper and just stood there.  Sometime he’d rock his chin on the pen wall a bit but he never fussed.  Bo was very concerned and stood closely right on the other side of the pen wall watching and watching the entire time.  Whenever I’d turn around to wet the rag again, Bo would nose Coty and Coty would nose Bo right back.  How sweet!

After getting Coty all cleaned up we went on with our usual evening routine of refilling the hay bins and water buckets, and feeding alpaca pellets.  It was very quiet in the barn, no fussing or fighting at all. 

Tags: alpacas, barn
Posted 11/25/2010 12:51pm by Mona.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love that whole ‘harvest time’ theme.  The smell of the turkey and all those veggies cooking make the house smell oh so good.  And pie!  Lots and lots of pie! 

We are grateful for the many blessings in our lives.  As alpaca farmers sometimes these blessings are unusual things.  For instance, this morning I am grateful that Guinness didn’t spit into my hair!  When I’m in the barn, if one of the alpacas is going to be spitting, 90% of the time, it’ll be Guinness.  He’s usually defending some freshly fluffed hay, which he thinks is all for him.  Usually his cohort in spitting crime is Julio, but sometimes it’s one of the other alpacas.  They will usually turn their head when Guinness starts to fuss, then Guinness will spit at them and fuss some more, and if I’m not fast enough .........eeewww!  Spit spray will end up in my hair.  And other mornings, Guinness just quietly chews hay side by side his fellow herd mates.

This morning I am grateful for my clean hair!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 

Tags: alpacas, barn
Posted 11/20/2010 10:12am by Mona.

This is the scene now every morning.  Mornings are down right crisp but the boys come out at daybreak and start grazing.  They graze for hours, coming back up to the barn in the afternoon for long drinks of water and ‘siesta time.’  I’d love to know what they’re finding to eat!  There just doesn’t seem to be that much, but they did this last year in late fall too.  Someday ........ someday our pastures will be as green as the lawn beside it!  They usually all stay together in one group as they move through the pasture.  It’s so good to see that the 2 new boys have integrated into the herd relatively seamlessly.

Grazing on a late autumn morning

Posted 11/12/2010 1:19pm by Mona.

It’s good to see Julio being his usual self.  By his usual self, I mean spitting with Guinness over hay, threatening to spit at Bo, Coty, Arlo, and the new boys over hay, being the first to finish eating at dinnertime thereby trying to steal the others’ feed, and some mild body-slamming of the others to push them out of the way ~ just because.  And perhaps a kick if we humans are too close to his back legs.  Not that any of these traits are particularly endearing, but they are who Julio is.  It’s autumn now, cold and windy with shorter days, and he’s also resumed acting as the guard, first to check out any possibility of danger.  He is back to being our alpha!

Julio with Arlo looking on

At the beginning of summer we’d noticed him acting a bit ‘off.’  He’d stand around a lot, or cush more than usual, he’d eat his pellets slowly and sometimes not finish them, nibble at hay rather than enthusiastically chew, and ignore Guinness at the hay bins.  An alpaca that doesn’t ‘stay with the herd’ is one that is probably ill.  Then we noticed he had a small lump on one jaw.   Over a few weeks the swelling would go up and down and back up and sometimes poor Julio would even drool.  I kept in contact with our wonderful vet, Amy.  Once we noticed that he was clearly thinner, she came right out.  Our poor Julio appeared to have either a tooth or jaw abscess!  She drew up 5 injections of an antibiotic for us to give to him over 10 days.

Amy gave Julio the first shot with ease, giving us instructions on how to do an intra-muscular injection, something we haven’t done before.   Yikes!  Two days later Julio must have been feeling better.  He also must have sensed our apprehension and thought it would be a fun game to play ‘keep away from the humans.’  At dinnertime we would entice him into the pen to eat with Arlo and then we’d corner him to do his shot.  We’d catch him, but he didn’t want to stay caught!  Julio is a tall alpaca and very strong and he’d push forward against me almost knocking me down.  Dan could hold him longer than I could, but Julio would literally take him ‘for a ride’ around the pen with Dan hanging on.  I wish I’d had a video camera for that scene!  He’d kick at us and try to climb up the pen walls to get out.  Stressing him is not good, so we’d give up after about 20 minutes and just let him out to rejoin the herd in the pasture. 

Julio needed his shots.  Several days of trying went unsuccessfully, each time with Julio taking Dan for a ride in the pen.  By Saturday we were frantic.   Val came right over!  Having had alpacas for years, and having over 70 alpacas on her farm, Val is a natural. She came into the pen with us and Julio just watched.  She talked to Julio in her calm, soothing voice.  She scratched his ears and neck and showed him the needle.  Our little hoodlum just stood there.  She very gently held him.  She then instructed Dan on where to stand and exactly what motions to do with his hands.  Dan administered the injection, and Julio never even flinched.  All this couldn’t even have taken 2 minutes.

The remaining 3 injections, we caught Julio, I held him, Dan gave him the injection, then DONE.  No drama!

Yup, that’s our man Julio, the Drama Queen.

Tags: alpacas, barn
Posted 10/31/2010 11:32pm by Mona.

North and Earth in Val's van

Our little guy Henry and new friend Cowboy have not been very eager to take that ‘leap of faith’ and hop into Val’s van.  So today, only North and Earth came home to our little farm.  They were both hesitant to get out of the van, but with just a gentle pull to the leash, a quick hop out they did.  They both walked on their leashes very proudly down our little farm road to the barn.

North jumping out of Val's van

Yesterday Dan had put up some hog panels from the corner of the barn out to the fence line, creating a small pen enclosure in case our 5 boys here were a little too rambunctious towards the newcomers.   Val and her daughter Annie walked North and Earth to just inside the gate.  It’s best to introduce new alpacas to the herd over a fence.  Julio, Guinness, Bo, Coty, and Arlo were all cushed in the far pasture.  Arlo noticed the new arrivals first and suddenly all 5 came running like bats out of hell!  Julio was the first to arrive of course, and instantly all 7 boys were sniffing each other excitedly over our little temporary fencing in the paddock area.  There was no fighting or snorting of any kind.  After a couple minutes Val decided all appeared well, Dan unhooked the gates, and we brought the new boys in.  They were quite nervous at that point so Val just unhooked the leads and took off the halters.  We all watched and waited.

The Meet and Greet

Arlo greets Earth and North

Instantly, all the boys began to run!  In one big group they ran right to the back of the pasture.  Julio went through the gate and decided to watch things from the other side of the fence.  North and Earth sniffed and sniffed the trees, the grass, the fencing, just as my original 5 had when they arrived last year.  Bo, Coty, and Arlo sniffed and sniffed North and Earth!  Everyone sniffed Julio through the fence.  Guinness stayed back a bit, then lay on top of the dirt pile and watched from afar.

Coty has always been the most curious and today was no exception.  North is just about his (huge) size, so Coty’s been following North.   An instant bonding happened.  They chased each other and neck wrestled, occasionally bumping into the others to join in on the chase.  I think Bo looked relieved that Coty is no longer chasing him!  North even nipped at Julio’s heels!  Julio looked so surprised and ran and ran, with the whole gang following.  Then sometimes Julio would stop and stand in the pasture and just stare at me as if to ask “What did you do?”   Within minutes he was cushed again; he could care less!  Then Guinness joined him.  The new boys are also loving pasture to graze on, even if it’s not the longer, greener grasses of summer.  Earth is a few months younger than Arlo, and Arlo looks pleased to have both a new playmate, and someone just a bit smaller than him.  Dan and I are relieved that all the boys are getting along.  And Val is so happy to see them all running and playing, as if they’d been the same herd forever.

Ahhhh............alpacas running together ................. a simple joy.

Posted 10/31/2010 1:11pm by Mona.

Our original herd of 5, just before the new boys arrived

Left to right:  Coty, Arlo, Guinness, Julio, Bo

Posted 10/21/2010 8:58am by Mona.

Next weekend, our little farm will be growing.  Our cria from last year, Henry (Hank), will be coming home to our farm to live!  We thought it best to bring home his buddy, so another little guy named Earth, Wind, and Fire (Earth for short) is coming home too.  Since the male weanlings are all penned together, Val wants to be sure her remaining alpacas are happy as well, so she is bringing along 2 more buddies:  North Wind (North) and Cowboy.  Four alpacas are joining our five here, bringing our little herd to nine alpacas.  Nine!  It's not so little anymore.  Counting our 2 gals, Dreamer and Alana, who live at Val's, we have 11, and next year's crias will make 13. 

So I'm getting sentimental and started looking through pictures stored on the camera.  I found many wonderful shots.  Hope you all enjoy these 2, both taken right before shearing days this past spring.

Just before shearing, 2010

Dan with Henry, right before shearing, May 2010


Posted 10/18/2010 8:39am by Mona.

Every alpaca owner follows this annual cycle.  An alpaca is born on or brought home to the farm.  It is cared for by feeding hay, minerals, and usually pellets, water buckets are cleaned, emptied, scrubbed, and re-filled, given pasture to graze on, poop is scooped, toenails are clipped, vaccines and de-wormers and other medications are given when necessary, straw bedding is put down when winter is arriving, snow is shoveled away from paddocks and gates, gutters put up, and mud is cursed when spring rains come and melt the snow. 

The warmth of spring arrives and our alpacas are sheared.  For a fiber farm, that shearing day is our annual harvest!  The fleece is usually put into bags according to alpaca and divided into 3 units:  firsts (blanket), seconds (neck), and thirds (leg, belly, chest).  A lot of farms will store their fleece this way in their barns, basements, and attics, later on skirting some of the blankets for fleece shows, or for submitting to mills to be made into yarn.  Some farms have chosen not to do anything with their fleeces!  The bags are piled up for years, sometimes allowing for mice to build their nest with, sometimes just rotting away, and sometimes it just gets composted.  To hear stories of this happening to beautiful alpaca fleece saddens me.  :(

Beautiful alpaca fleece is a simple joy of life.  

From the onset of our farm, we have had our fleece sorted as well.  We have always been focused on the fiber part rather than the show aspect and learned early on that alpaca fleece is generally not uniform in micron across the entire animal.  ‘Sorting’ separates the fleece into grades (small ranges) of micron, and by length, and by color.  So now some of my bags of fleece are combinations of alpacas, if their colors are the same.  And yes, my sorted fleece has been sitting in our house in the bags!  My rationale was that we’re a small farm (we only started off with 4 alpacas) and I wanted to combine fleeces of similar grade, thereby making the yarn process much more cost effective.  I also have 2 white alpacas, Bo Jangles and his full brother Arlo, and although I love them both dearly, white just isn’t my favorite yarn color!  I was also hoping to have different colors but same grades to blend in with their white fleeces.

Yarn is the basis of all textiles.  Fleece must be carded into roving and then spun into yarn before it can be woven into fabric.  It only makes sense that the basis of your product (yarn, fabric, roving, and batts) be as uniform as possible.  To Dan and me, submitting fleece by grade for processing makes more sense than submitting fleece by individual animal’s blanket.

In April I decided we’d waited long enough, and I dropped 2 batches, i.e. several bags of fleece, to our local mini-mill, Sallie’s Fen Fibers.  Sallie Whitlow has a fabulous reputation for the beautiful yarns she spins and we are so fortunate that it is really just a short drive.   My yarns now and most likely in the future will probably always be some kind of ‘Herd Blend.’  Alpaca is said to come in 22 natural colors, which to me means when I blend grades of different colors, the outcome (color) will always be a surprise!  Sounds like a lot of fun to me!    Most people tell me ‘oh but the white fleece dyes so wonderfully.’  And they’re right!  And, guess what, the non-white alpaca fleece dyes wonderfully too!  Lots of time the (naturally) colored yarn will take on a heathered look when dyed, especially if some of the raw fleece is dyed first and then blended in with un-dyed fleece.  It’s all so lovely!  For now though, I am enjoying the natural shades and natural blends.

Last week Sallie called to tell me my yarn is ready!  I drove over Friday in a storm and was absolutely delighted with the results.  My first batch is my herd blend, ‘The Geldings’ Dark Chocolate.’  Guinness’ medium brown huacaya fleece was blended with Julio’s bay black suri fleece.  Sallie did blend in a little black merino for stability for the suri fleece, and the yarn is an awesome grade 3 in a fabulous dark chocolate color.  The other batch is my herd blend, ‘Cria Coffee Ice Cream.’  Here I blended Bo’s white cria fleece, Coty’s medium fawn cria fleece, and Arlo’s white/beige cria fleece.  Sallie spun this as a 2 ply, and then plied those again, creating a really neat cabling effect.  This cable method helps to strengthen that tender cria fleece.  I now have darling coffee ice cream-colored, super soft, grade 1, baby alpaca yarn to enjoy.

I am in yarn heaven!

Slowly but surely the remaining fleeces will be sent off to be made into yarns or my new favorite fiber process ~ felt fabric!   I can only weave so fast!

Posted 10/8/2010 8:48am by Mona.

Sometimes, a sign says it all. 

Support Your Local Farmers

We strongly believe in the 'Buy Local' movement.  Just call us locavores!  Locally grown food is by far fresher than any produce found in a grocery store, and therefore much tastier.  To me there is nothing tastier than a tomato or apple or fresh herbs that I grew right in my own backyard.  And when weather has other plans, I just head for the farmer's market.  Luckily here in New Hampshire we have plenty of those, so we can eat local 7 days a week during the gardening season.  We also prefer that our alpacas 'eat local' too so we try to buy hay only from local farms as well.

Fall has arrived!  With this cooler weather we're all getting back to our knitting and weaving and other fun fiber arts.  Locally raised fibers are also a good thing!

(Thank you to our neighbor on South Road / Route 43 for putting up this sign in his hay field.  In case you can't read the fuzzy picture, it says 'Do You Like this View?  Support your Local Farmers')

Posted 9/13/2010 9:44pm by Mona.

Spring arrived early this year, followed by an early starting and very hot and humid summer.  We are so very grateful that after several years it’s also been a very dry summer.  Continuing this new trend, it now appears that autumn is arriving early.  That’s fine with us.  We love the cooler days and crisp nights, with the daytime colors of the trees slowly turning to brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow.  The grass seems to start growing again and turns a deep green.  Against this backdrop is a perfectly bright blue sky.

Wildlife abounds this time of year.  Wildlife is always abounding when you live near a large state park as we do, but we seem to notice them more when the cool weather starts.  Furry and feathered friends are beginning their annual gathering up of their food storage for winter and pass through our property daily.  A local family of red fox took up residence under our woodshed for a couple weeks.  We haven’t seen them in a while; I imagine they grew tired of Stella chasing them out of the yard.  We see the hawks circling the yard again over the treetops, and today I heard at least 3 flocks of Canadian geese fly by overhead.  Soon the bats will be gone.  Acorns and pine cones are starting to fall from the trees, keeping all the squirrels and chipmunks busy.

Lately the alpacas have been amused by a family of wild turkeys that travel through the yard in the mornings.  The turkeys hobble along the path just outside the fencing, hop onto the stone wall along the back of pasture and walk along it, then off into the woods.  The alpacas will at first all stand up straight, ears straight up, necks outstretched.  Then staying close together, they all but tiptoe over to the fence and then will follow the turkeys along the inside of the fence line, never making a sound.  The turkeys do not appear bothered by the sheer size of the alpacas and continue their casual pace.  I sip my coffee and smile.

In the evenings we try to keep a closer eye on Stella, but while we’re in the barn that’s not always too easy.  I was arranging feed bowls one evening and had all 5 alpacas blocking the tack room door, eyes fixated on me intently.  For no particular reason, Coty, who tends to be our most curious alpaca, walked away.  Coty has grown so much this year and is now also our tallest alpaca.  He doesn’t walk; he struts.  He strutted casually around to the back of the barn.  Finding this odd, Dan followed him.  What could be more interesting than getting fed?  In the darkness I suddenly heard Dan holler sharply ‘Stella ~ come!’  Before I could ask why, I could smell why!  Luckily the skunk had bad aim because our little Stella doesn’t smell too badly.

And thankfully none of the alpacas were skunked!

Quote for Today

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

Coming soon!
Our new fiber store on Local Harvest!


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