Winter Flip Flop

I don’t remember when we last had such a cold winter. It started in December and continued through January. Temps have been in the single digits or below zero numerous times, without going up much during the day. I know during the first few years we had cold like that, but not recently. Some weather man on the local Portland TV station said we were having the coldest winter since 2013.

I always worry about the alpacas, but they seem to do fine in the cold. On a couple of mornings we saw a couple of them shivering, but once they started eating, things started to get better. Our shearer was very late this year, so their fiber isn’t grown out as much as I would like. The old guy Phoenix, who is twenty years old, wears a coat, but still shivers from time to time. Luckily, he gets morning sun in his little pen, so after he eats his special grain breakfast, he lays down in the sun. Even in single digit temperatures, the sun seems to warm him up.

The dogs, on the other hand, don’t seem to know it is cold. Luna, our collie, is going on thirteen years old, so doesn’t get around as well as she used to. But she still wants to go for walks and hang out in the snow. She has a hard time getting up now, so laying in the snow doesn’t help that at all. Shelton can stay out all day without ever seeming to be cold. He often lays on the front step in the sun. If he does want to come in, he barks. But usually he does that around lunchtime when he knows potato chips might be coming out. He has a thing for chips, brought on by Dick dropping one by mistake one day and then giving pieces of chip to Shelton to see if he could catch them. Shelton catches the little mini dog biscuits, but isn’t so good with the potato chip bits.

February has come around now, and the weather has warmed up a bit for a few days, only to drop like a rock right after. We’re going through one of those periods right now. It was in the high 40’s yesterday and today, and all the snow is melting. But tonight temps are supposed to drop like a rock, and the wind will start bringing back the Canadian air. Sunday and Monday nights are supposed to even bring back zero to below zero temperatures. I just don’t think that could be good for the critters! And that includes me. I have finally been able to get out of my layers doing chores and now have to get back to putting them all back on. The hand warmers have been sitting for a few days in their airless plastic sandwich bag, so I hope they will still work tomorrow morning. Even ski mittens aren’t enough while your holding cold tools on those frigid mornings, cleaning barns.

Oh well, March is coming, and the forecast is for temps to go back to the 40’s later in the week. Yay!

Leroy & Phoenix sitting in the sun
Luna cooling her face in the snow
Shelton with one ear up

The Harvest is In!

The shearer and his team came last week, right in the nick of time before the heat. We harvested bags and bags of fiber from the herd, and the bags are safely stored in our fleece room, also known as Dick’s ‘equipment room’. Dual purpose with the focus on protecting the contents from Ragdoll cats.

Bags of fleece. Ribbons are mostly from cat shows.

The difference in how the alpacas look is always amazing, no matter how many years go by. Those necks are so skinny!! The shearing gang has a very smooth operation where two stations are set up in our big main barn. The young assistants get the alpacas and lay them on the mat, trim toenails and teeth if necessary, so the shearer just moves from one station to the other and just shears. Since I gather the fleece and bag it, I follow him back and forth. It takes him less than ten minutes to shear the whole animal. Dick supervises operations and helps the crew when it comes to fetching the boys who live down in the small barn. Our old boy Phoenix lives down there, and at a month short of twenty years old, he’s quite frail. The whole shearing crew was so careful with him and even offered to carry him back down the driveway when he was done, if needed. But the old boy, once they got him into a cush position after shearing, got right up and tottered off on his own.

Gunny, in full fleece
Gunny, after shearing, showing his little tongue

Shortly after the shearing, the temperatures rocketed up into the nineties, with oppressive humidity. The alpacas were very happy to be shorn and even went out to pasture in the heat.

A few days after shearing, a box of yarn arrived from the mill in Aroostook, Maine. That yarn was from part of the harvest from 2020. Since we hadn’t been able to go to Fairs or have open farm days due to the pandemic, I had been in no hurry to process the fiber for yarn. I finally got around to it in May and the day before I planned on taking it down to my usual mini-mill in Barrington NH, the mill burnt down. We saw it on the morning news and I was horrified. The woman who ran the mill lived in an apartment within the mill building. Fortunately, she woke up and got herself and her dogs out. But the building and all the equipment and her apartment were a total loss. The good news is that she is rebuilding. But I had to find a mill to do the fiber I had sitting, all ready, on our porch. I found the one in northern Maine and off it went. We take our shop vac and suck out all the air in the bags to shrink it all down, and then pack it into big Chewy boxes for mailing. (We love Chewy for a lot of reasons!) Six lots of fiber got to Aroostook in about five days. He sent the yarn back last week and I’m now in the process of washing it all.

Two lots drying after being washed. The dark yarn is actually dark silver grey from Judy Blue Eyes.
The box of yarn. The brown and gray skeins have not been washed while the fawn yarn has been. Washing fluffs it all up and gets out the spinning oils.

When the yarn arrives, it feels quite tacky due to the spinning oils added to the fiber. Alpaca fiber is dry compared to sheep wool, which has natural lanolin, and the static can be an issue with the machinery. The mills add spinning oils to help lubricate it during processing. I wash it with Pantene shampoo, in the washer (no agitating) and then spin out the water, rinse, spin and then hang to dry. Once the skeins are dry, they can be labelled and put into inventory.

Of course, I have bags of fleece upstairs from this year’s harvest that will need to go to the mill, but since I am ‘flush with yarn’ at the moment, I’m not in a rush to skirt and send anything out any time soon.

Meanwhile, the alpacas are probably wishing they had their fleece back this weekend. We’ve not gotten out of the 50’s for three days. But boy did we need the rain!

The Hay Ball

In March we had a few days into the sixties and the alpacas were ready to go to pasture. Of course, there was still snow on it. Green grass is a favorite food for alpacas. However, in northern New England it is only around for a few short months. The rest of the time, they are stuck with hay.

No grass yet

Twenty years ago, when we first got our alpacas, we were told that they liked ‘second cut hay’. We weren’t sure what that actually meant. I don’t remember how we found out, but we learned a lot about hay when it came time to buy it. We also learned, by trial and error, how to find a good hay supplier.

Grass starts growing like mad in late April or early May in our neck of the woods. Farmers who grow hay find it long enough to cut in late May and June. This is the first cutting of hay. It’s good and many types of livestock do fine with it. Even alpacas will eat it, but they don’t like the harder stalks within the bale so won’t eat those. Nobody wants to pay for bales and then have a good part of them wasted. Just like your lawn, after the first cutting, the grass continues to grow. But it doesn’t grow as fast in the hotter, dryer months of summer. In late August and September, it is long enough to cut again. This second cutting is softer and generally has no stalks, so the alpacas eat it well.

Now we come to the part where we find out what ‘flavors’ of hay their majesties will eat best. We read that Orchard Grass Hay was the best for them. They did not read that. We planted it in the pasture and found it was the last grass they would eat and mostly they made poop piles on it. Our latest hay guy brought us a load of that a couple of years ago, and they just wouldn’t touch it. He was a champ about it and for a modest fee, came back and took all the hay he’d just stacked and returned it to his barns. He then brought us ‘grass hay’, which they liked much better. ‘Grass hay’ is just a mixture of different types of grasses and includes some clover and, well, weed bits, that the alpacas love.

This past summer was very dry, which always causes us anxiety, which I’m sure the hay farmers feel as well. By early August our pastures were dried up and we were feeding all hay, which was getting low. We contacted our hay guy to see if he had any leftover second cut from the prior year. He had some early second cut he’d gotten from Rumford, Maine, so he brought us some. The alpacas scarfed it up, so we had him bring over 200 bales, which is a bit less than a third of what we need to get us through winter. It was a tad stalky, which made me wonder if it was really first cut, but when you are desperate, you don’t fuss. The grass hay the alpacas liked the best came from Chatham, New Hampshire, which didn’t get cut until mid-September. The drought had made the cutting thin, so the bales we got were loose and light. The alpacas loved the Chatham hay, but still ate the Rumford stuff once they’d finished their Chatham allotment.

Jumpin Jack Flash eating Rumford hay

By late December, it seemed as if we were using up the Chatham bales at an alarming rate. We know that we need to have enough hay to get through the summer. Even though the alpacas would be on pasture starting at some point in May, they still would get some hay. (May brings black flies, which forces the poor things into the barn to get away from them.) So we contacted our hay guy, using my usual method of posting via Messenger. Thank goodness for Facebook Marketplace and, specifically, the New England Hay for Sale site where we found him. He did not have any square bales left except for Orchard Grass, but he did have round bales of grass hay from New York state.

Now round bales are huge. You see them at a lot of cattle farms, sometimes wrapped in white plastic. Hay farmers love them as they are much easier and quicker to process than square bales. But folks like us, who have hay lofts for storage, and compact tractors, cannot store them. Our intrepid hay guy suggested he bring just one huge round bale and drop it inside the front part of our barn. He would then put aside a couple more in case we needed them later.

The big beast of a bale, that we soon started calling ‘the hay ball’, arrived on a snowy evening and hay guy and friend, both young, rolled the thing as best they could to a spot a bit away from the front barn door. That door faces east, northeast, and nor’easter storms lets snow come in under the door to drift for a few feet. Moving, even at a roll, is not easy when the thing weighs a ton – literally.

Round hay bales are like jelly rolls. The hay wraps around and around. A green netting is wrapped around them to keep them from falling apart. Once the netting is cut away, we can pull the hay out for feeding. The first time we did that, we thought the hay was wet. It was limp and smelled, well, boozy. But there was no mold and the alpacas loved it. It had the best of grass hay, with the timothy heads, clover and leafy bits of weeds and weed flowers. But the alcohol smell was fairly strong. No worry, said our hay guy. If they are ruminants (i.e. chew their cud) they will be fine if a little fermentation has occurred. The white plastic-wrapped bales ferment a lot, he said, and cattle, with their multiple stomachs, have no problem with it. Alpacas are modified ruminants so can tolerate the boozy stuff in the less fermented netted bales. Okay, so we worry that they love the hay ball too much, but they are thriving on it and now the Chatham and Rumford hay bales are second and third choice.

Half a hay ball

We are now trying to figure out how we’ll break it to the herd that come next Fall, they will have to be all on square bales, which don’t get infused with the lovely ‘boozy’ smell. Oh well, maybe a summer on grass will help them forget….

Things Have Changed (but not that much)

A lot around the farm has changed in the past five years. But we are still here, with alpacas, Ragdolls and dogs. However, some of the crew are different now. Here’s a few of the changes.

The alpacas are aging and our herd is now down to twenty. That does seem like a lot, but we did get up to thirty-two or so, a few years back. The oldest, Phoenix, is over nineteen years old and the youngest is six years old. They don’t all live to Phoenix’s advanced age, and generally we don’t know what causes their deaths. Alpaca veterinarians are rare and the knowledge base is meager in a lot of places, including where we live. But they are still producing fleece for yarn and the fiber pool, and we are still selling alpaca products to pay for their keep.

Troubadour, still going strong at 11 years old

As for dogs, we still have two. Teddy Bear, our big boy from Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, had a shocking interaction with a porcupine. A rare situation occurred where a quill went into Teddy’s chest and got into his lungs. The surgery to retrieve it is risky and not guaranteed and the recovery is painful. We opted not to put him through it. He was about 9 or 10 years old, which is elderly for a Great Pyrenees.

Luna, our faithful rough collie, was lonesome without Teddy (though she wasn’t always that nice to him), so we went back to Big Fluffy Dog Rescue and adopted what we thought was a Great Pyrenees/Collie mix. His name was Shelton, presumably taken from the singer Blake Shelton, and Dick immediately started calling him ‘Sheldon’, as in Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory. Shelton is far more like the singer than the character in the sit-com. But he answers to both names, so all is well.

Shelton, Dick and Luna on Foss Mountain Rd (where it isn’t plowed)

Shelton does not look, to me anyway, like a Great Pyrenees, except that he is BIG. But when I watched him move, his back leg movement reminded me of a German Shepherd Dog. His coloring is similar to a sable collie, but that is where the collie similarity ends. We decided to do the dna test for him like we’d done for Teddy Bear. I have a good eye. It came back 40% German Shepherd Dog, 40% Great Pyrenees and the rest ‘herding dog’. Okay, so I don’t have a good eye for the Pyr part.

Shelton in his hunter orange

There has also been changes to the Ragdoll crew. Keziah retired and went to a wonderful new home. She just didn’t like living in a multi-cat household and showed it by using the whole house as a litter box. She went to her new home as an only cat, with the understanding that she would come back if her behavior didn’t change. And once in a home with no other cats, she became the perfect pet. (Yay!!) The female breeding set is now Cassadee and Jolene; both named after country singers/songs, as are all of them. Cowboy Casanova remains as our daddy cat. Shakira will soon retire at seven years old. It’s hard to retire a stunning girl like her, who has the most awesome kittens. All of them are poster children for the Ragdoll breed. She doesn’t mind living with all the other cats, so will remain with me as a pet after she is spayed.


I know that some folks wonder why we continue doing this at our age. Dick is 75 and I am soon to be 70. In fact, I think Dick wonders why I ever did the cat thing in the first place, him being more of a dog person. But it keeps us active and we both still love looking out over the pastures and seeing the alpacas peacefully grazing. And I still love sharing the beautiful Ragdoll kittens with cat-loving people.


Grazing around the asparagus and flox garden

The Mystery of Teddy Bear

When you get a rescue dog, I think most people are curious about what the dog’s story is.  Sometimes, if the dog was surrendered, you have some information.  But for us, there was no story about his origins.

I started looking for a new dog in 2011, after our Great Pyrenees, Princess, had passed.  I had the idea that I wanted to rescue a dog, but being an alpaca farmer, I had to be careful what breeds I looked at.  The most dangerous predator for alpacas in our area is the domestic dog.  Because of that, I only felt safe looking for dogs that had livestock guardian breeds or herding breeds in their background.  Bred to live with livestock, they would not be as prone to see alpacas as prey.  They also had to live with cats and kittens.  I found Big Fluffy Dog Rescue on the Internet.  Based in Tennessee, they rescue the heavy-coated dogs that are in shelters and are at risk for euthanasia.  There was a picture online of a big yellow Fluffy with a huge bear-like head.  I inquired about him and after sending in an application, we got him.

This was the first picture I saw of 'Fred'.

This was the first picture I saw of ‘Fred’.

He had been sent up to New England in early 2011 and placed with a couple in Quincy, Ma., but they worked all day, and the dog had not taken to being alone.  I think they said he tried to go out a window in their apartment building, so the people sadly brought him back to Big Fluffy Dogs.  The Rescue had called him ‘Rhett’ and the couple had called him ‘Fred’.  We changed his name to Teddy Bear, figuring calling him ‘Ted’ would be close to ‘Fred’.  When we got his paperwork we found that he’d been picked up as a stray from a shelter in Murfreesborow, TN, around November 2010.  He was very underweight at that point.  I was told he weighed around 46 pounds when he was found.  He got veterinary care, was neutered and then went to Big Fluffy Dog Rescue and was sent north.  In January his first adopters took him to the vet and he weighed 67.2 pounds.  The vet said on the paperwork, ‘Fred is severely emaciated and is in extremely poor condition.  He has a mass on his left hip and enlarged lymph nodes in his neck’.  This dog was billed by the rescue as a Great Pyrenees/Golden Retriever cross, but looked like a Great Pyrenees with gold fur.  Pyrs usually weigh between 80 and 100 lbs – especially the males.  He got the care he needed, but was still underweight when we got him in the summer of 2011.

I had hoped that the Golden Retriever in his background would help make him more obedient than the average Great Pyrenees.  Princess, who was a very sweet girl, was not inclined to do what you wanted her to do.  This is common to the breed, as they were bred to work alone with herds of sheep and to make their own decisions.  But Teddy Bear was all Pyr in his temperment, and I could find nothing to use for reward-based training.  Treats did not work, nor did toys, nor did praise.  He only wanted to do what he wanted to do.  But I knew that Great Pyrenees didn’t come in that golden color.  Something else was in there.  And upon closer examination, it didn’t seem to be Golden Retriever.  He had a white collar and little ears that lay back.  His ears didn’t look exactly like a Pyr’s ears, as they were smaller, and definitely not like a Golden’s.  Could he have collie in him???  But collies don’t come in that color gold.  Would a light sable rough collie somewhere in the background have made Teddy’s white ruff and little ears???

Teddy playing with our collie Luna.  They both have white ruffs!

Teddy playing with our collie Luna. They both have white ruffs!

Teddy snoozing, showing his little ears laid back on his neck.

Teddy snoozing, showing his little ears laid back on his neck.

I decided to get his DNA checked to see what would come out.  I chose Mars Veterinary product ‘Wisdom Panel’ which, although not perfect, is scientific and has a ton of breeds that it checks against.  I did the cheek swabs and sent them off.  Keep in mind that all they have is two cheek swabs.  They have my name and address and Teddy’s name, but no pictures and no breed(s) specified to look for.  The results came back and they show a graph to help people understand the results.  It shows three generations and the breeds that were the most likely combination.  The Great-Grandparents are four dogs on each side of his family, for a total of eight dogs.  Six were Great Pyrenees.  On one side, all four were Great Pyrenees, which meant his grandparents on that side and a parent on that side were Great Pyrenees.  On the other side, two of his Great-Grandparents were Pyrs, which meant one Grandparent on that side was Pyr and that the parent on that side would be half Great Pyrenees.

Ok, that all made sense.  His DNA was almost 88% matching to the markers for Great Pyrenees.  But what was the other small match, which obviously would have contributed to his coloring and those little ears.  The Wisdom Panel said ‘Borzoi’.  I was shocked at that.  No sable rough collie?  No collie/golden cross?  No mutt anywhere?  I emailed them to see if they were sure about the results or if maybe the Borzoi markers could have been close enough to another breed to have come up false.  They were wonderful and reviewed the results.  They even ran an analysis of Ted’s profile to that of a Golden, but it did not group at all near the Golden’s genetic profile.  They asked for pictures of Teddy Bear, so they could try to explain the traits we see. After the review, they sent me a very long email with a great explanation of how they go through the process, plus they listed Teddy’s traits that could have been influenced by dominant genes in both the Pyr and Borzoi.  They confirmed that his DNA had showed no markers for any breeds, including mixed breeds, other than Great Pyrenees and Borzoi.

While waiting for the results of their review, I had done my own research on Borzoi dogs.  Although rare, there were quite a few breeder websites out there, and more than a few in Tennessee.  Who knew?  They also can come in Teddy’s color and carry the white spotting gene that gives them a pattern they call ‘gold Irish marked’.

A picture of Junot, an Irish marked Borzoi from C'lestial Borzois

A picture of Junot, an Irish marked Borzoi from C’lestial Borzois

Teddy's coat color, with his 'Irish Marked' trimmings.

Teddy’s coat color, with his ‘Irish Marked’ trimmings.

I have to say, I can see the possibility.  All Great Pyrenees with a smidge of Borzoi.  And if the test failed in that last little bit, and there is a collie back in the generations, the test did include checking for the MDR1 mutation which causes collies to have sensitivity to certain drugs.  Ted is Normal/Normal which is great, so no need to worry about that!

I still don’t know why a beautiful dog like Teddy Bear was found wandering and starved.  He has perfect house manners and is very loving.  Somebody socialized him well.  I can wonder about why a person breeding Great Pyrenees would breed out to another breed, and then take that mix and breed back to the Pyr.  Who knows.  I’m glad that someone found him, and that Big Fluffy Dogs sent him North.  They missed with the first adoption, but the second was just what a Great Pyrenees needs – a farm and people who understand the Pyr mind.  We appreciate his barking at night, warning off predators, and his diffident way with the alpacas.  Now when people visiting the farm see him and ask, ‘What kind of dog is he?’, I can smile and say, ‘He’s 88% Great Pyrenees, with a little of something that made him gold.’

Family Planning

When people think of family planning, they usually think of the politically charged Planned Parenthood or of birth control pills or something to do with people having babies.  But many people practice family planning on a regular basis when they spay or neuter their dogs.  Responsible breeders and shelters spay and neuter before they place their dogs or cats, which is the epitomy of family planning for someone else.

Here at Foss Mountain Farm we are practicing family planning on a daily basis!  With the Ragdoll cats, it is a simple matter of keeping the one intact male, Blaze, away from any of the intact females that I don’t want bred.  Might be a simple matter, but it isn’t as simple to execute. He wants his girlfriends and they want him (when in heat).  Lots of unhappy crying when they are kept apart.


Blaze lounging on the rug.

With the alpacas, the procedure is similar.  The boys are kept separately from the girls.  One male herd has their own barn and double rows of fencing and a driveway between them and the female herd.  The other male herd is closer, and very sturdy fences and gates separate those guys from the girls, as they share the same barn.  Unlike with other livestock, like cattle and horses, male alpacas are easy to manage if left intact, so we don’t geld them unless they are fighters.  We have one gelding boarder, and he lives in with the girls.  In summer, we are vigilant about the electric pasture fencing being on and working correctly.  In winter the gates are the weak point, as we go in and out of them and have to always remember to latch, latch, latch!

But the latch wasn’t the cause of the serious breach in family planning that happened in January of 2014.  The gate in the center of our big barn that separates the boys from the girls was securely latched.  But some overzealous male put his head through the rails and lifted up.  The gate was hung so that it could be removed easily, so the gate lifted up and then fell over, hanging on one end by the latch.  All eight of the boys eventually figured out they could jump over the half-fallen gate.  I’m not saying Axel, shown below, could have been the gate-lifter, but I wouldn’t put it past him.


Axel, one of the more ‘randy’ boys.

We discovered that the boys and girls were together when we went out to do chores.  We figured they had been there for a couple of hours, at least.  Both of us panicked, as we did not want any more crias.  Our numbers were where they needed to be for a fiber farm and both the barns and pastures were at capacity.  Four males were breeding when we got there and boys were in the girls’ section and girls were in the boys’ section.  Just ripping boys off of girls wouldn’t help.  We had to sort them out, which was a bit of logistics nightmare.  I had to stop panicking long enough to figure out how to make a secure place (without girls) to put boys, and then how to get the girls back to their own section.  Alpacas need to be herded.  You just can’t open a gate and say, ‘Come on in here’.  After awhile, and with much swearing and hauling by the neck, we had the boys secured.  We then opened the back slider barn door and called to the girls, who were in the boys section still.  God love them, they came.  They were probably desperate to get back ‘home’.

Of the sixteen girls, twelve had marks on the fleece of their backs, to indicate they’d been bred.  Dick was horrified.  I tried to calm him by telling him about some drug I’d heard about that could end an early pregnancy.  Sort of like a morning after pill…  Thank goodness for the internet!  After some research and a call to the vet, we got the injectable estrumate that would terminate any pregnancies that occurred.  To find out who got pregnant we had to bring a willing male to each of the twelve girls.  If she rejected him, she could be pregnant.  If she was glad to see him and cushed for breeding, then she wasn’t pregnant.  (Poor guy gets pulled away, quite frustrated.) On the first test, a week after the break-in, five of the girls were receptive for breedings, so by that, we determined they hadn’t taken.  The seven remaining were tested again a week later.  Four more were receptive for breeding, so we determined those also had not gotten pregnant.  There were three that still ran from the male.  They were Susannah, Tupelo Honey and Queenie.  We gave Susannah and Tupelo the injection but did not give it to Queenie.  We had caught Troubadour with her the prior summer and I thought she might have become pregnant from that breeding, though we didn’t really think she’d been with him long enough.  But I didn’t want to chance using the Estrumate if she was into her seventh month of gestation.  The following week we checked on Susannah and Tupelo Honey, and they were receptive to the male.  Yay!!


Susannah, no baby for you!

Summer came and went and Queenie never got round and never delivered a baby from Troubadour.  By September I was starting to think of how we could handle a mid-winter birth.  And who was the Daddy?  Of the boys who broke in, two were her uncles and one was a half-brother.  Now line breeding is somewhat acceptable in livestock breeding, but I preferred the parents be less related than that!  Winter is a terrible time to have crias born, especially here in New Hampshire.  Sigh…  Should have given her the Estrumate.

So we knew the date of the break in, so knew she would be due between December 25 and January 25.  The temperatures were up and down, but we knew that January usually had lots of days in the teens, with nights going below zero.  We decided she had to come into the cellar to give birth, or the cria might freeze.  Dick’s workshop, which opens out to our cat pen, was converted to a big stall.  We covered the shelves and a bureau with sheets to keep out nosy alpacas.  We put show mats on the floor and covered them with straw.  Dick fixed a gate up so the Ragdolls would still have space to cross to get out to their pen through the cat door.  We brought in Queenie and her mother Cherry Bomb.  The Bomb was not happy.


Queenie looks at cat peeking in from the other part of the cellar, while Cherry Bomb looks unhappy to be inside.

A couple of weeks after coming in, Queenie delivered her cria.  It was a beautiful white female with a brown nose and a couple of brown spots on the ears and back.  Yayyy!!  I now knew the father!  Our intrepid appaloosa Troubadour had gotten to Queenie again during the break in.  We had bred Queenie to him a couple of years back and they had a beautiful appaloosa daughter, Pennies from Heaven.

Troubadour, The Man

Troubadour, The Man

She, Pennies, on that very day of the birth, was acting very ‘off’ out in the barn.  She wasn’t eating and kept laying down.  She’d been acting that way for a couple of days, so we decided to bring her to her mother and take Cherry Bomb out.  It worked out wonderfully!  Cherry Bomb was thrilled to get back to the herd and Pennies was totally happy to get with her mother and new sister, who we named Athena.

Athena meets Pennies.  Both have the brown nose and spots.

Athena meets Pennies. Both have the brown nose and spots.

All’s well that ends well.  Due to a frigid winter, the girls remained in the cellar for two months.  Angel Baby, the cat, had a great time hanging out around them.  She and Blaze made nests out of straw and generally messed up the whole cellar with it.  The cria stayed warm and mother, sister and baby were totally contented.

Maybe I should have titled this ‘Failed Family Planning’.

Lessons learned…

When you have a lot of animals you are continually learning.  This Fall has been full of new ‘lessons’, which translates to lots of money spent and lots of anxiety.  I’ll start with the most recent ‘lesson’.

Dorie Jo had a litter of four female kittens.  At around nine weeks old, the little blue colorpoint girl, Noelle, started being very lethargic.  She still ate well, but slept all the time.  The vet found no temperature, but she had little muscle tone and her white blood cell count was high.  She was tested for about eight different illnesses but came back negative on all.  Her fecal was fine.  Dr. Rachael suspected toxoplasmosis, even though the test had been negative, so prescribed clindamycin, a broad-based antibiotic that treats a number of things, including toxo.  It was a tiny half a pill that was to be given with food.

Now I know that antibiotics can be hard on the stomach sometimes and often cause diarrhea.  So when it said ‘give twice a day with food’, I thought giving it after she ate would work, as she would have a full stomach.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  After a day or two on the pills, Noelle was feeling better and was playing and eating well.  But after about a week, she started having trouble swallowing.  She got so she couldn’t eat the crunchy food and even had trouble with the bits of food in the canned with gravy varieties.  She choked on them and sometimes threw them up. The vet suspected some type of ulceration in her esophagus caused by the clindamycin.  Ulcerations  like this can lead to ‘strictures’.  I’d never heard of such a thing.  I looked ‘strictures’ up on Google, of course, and found that people get them, as well as dogs and cats.  In some of the literature, I found that cat strictures are rare, but the cause is often clindamycin.  (Now ya tell me!)  Strictures are scar tissue that narrows the esophagus and can cause the cat to be unable to swallow food at all, to regurgitate food into the lungs and cause pneumonia.  They can lead to death if untreated.  As this kitten was getting worse, the solution was to go to a board-certified specialist to have an endoscopy, which would see if there was a stricture and if so, destroy it.  Of course the destruction of this scar tissue can result in more scar tissue which has to be removed.  Holy crap, that means two procedures or more???  (These procedures ain’t cheap, as you can imagine.)  The hope is that the second stricture is smaller than the first and can be more easily removed and when it heals, it doesn’t narrow the esophagus much.  Hope, hope, hope and crossed fingers.

Noelle_favorite toy

Noelle went down to Scarborough, Maine and had the endoscopy.  Luckily her stricture was small and easily removed.  We will cross our fingers that in a week she is still eating well and has no sign of another one forming.  If so, back to the specialist she goes.  As of right now, she is lively and eating her soft canned food well.

The hard lesson learned is this.  If you have a cat who is given clindamycin as an antibiotic, you MUST give food immediately after you pill her to make sure the pill clears the esophagus.  In fact, it would be a good idea to do this with any pill you give a cat.  Studies showed that dry pilling sometimes delays the pill from getting to the stomach for over thirty minutes.  It just sits in the esophagus.  A little tuna juice, a favorite treat, a bit of favorite canned food, given right after the pilling, will make it go down.

I learned a very expensive lesson here.  And it may get even more expensive.  Noelle, thank goodness, is doing well and enjoys her canned food.  She came through her procedures well and being a Ragdoll, did not stress much over being in the hospital overnight.  But we won’t know for awhile if the throat will heal now, without another stricture.

But that wasn’t my only lesson this Fall.

Before the kitten issue, came a problem with my sweet collie Luna.  She seemed to be very itchy and her coat was getting cruddy.  She sheds in late summer and early Fall and usually I find it easy to groom out her gray undercoat.  But this year was different.  I blamed the itching on her food.  After she’d gained too much weight over the winter, I’d switched her to a weight management kibble and weight management canned food, using the same brand as she’d been on.  She also had diet biscuits.  I figured she was on such a low fat diet that she was getting dry skin.  So I added in some fish oil and started to alternate the diet canned food with the regular food.  Still itchy and with poor coat.  She had lost a little weight though. (yay)

Luna by flowers

Luna by flowers with normal coat

Her itching eventually caused her ears to become red and hot looking, plus I’d found a scab behind her elbow where she itched a lot too.  I thought it was from an old tick bite.  So off to the vet’s we went.

After an exam, Dr Lindsey did a skin scraping of the edge of Luna’s ear, which was pretty raw.  By then the hair was coming off the ear too.  I was still thinking it was the food…

They called me out back to look into the microscope.  Damned if there wasn’t a freaking MITE in the viewfinder!  I know what mites look like because alpacas get a type of them and I’d seen pictures.  Luna had sarcoptic mites.  Vets see the mites in only 20% of the slides done on infected dogs, so we got lucky.  How did Luna get them?  She isn’t around other dogs, she doesn’t go to a kennel.  The alpacas get a different kind of mite.  The vets’ best guess was that she had gotten them from the foxes who live around our farm.  We have both red and gray foxes.  Somehow Luna had gotten into their poop or their sleeping spots or something, while out on a walk through the woods.  She is always sticking her long collie nose into holes in the woods, so maybe one of them was a foxhole.  The treatment was antibiotics for her poor scratched ears, Revolution spot-on to kill the mites, and after one ear developed a haematoma, prednisone for that.  Ka-ching, ka-ching, goes the cash register at the vet’s office.

Luna is getting better.  It will take a couple of months for her hair to return to normal, but her ears have already cleared up, though the edges still look dry and scaly.  She gets Revolution every two weeks and then goes to monthly treatment.  Revolution is also a heartworm preventative, safe for collies.

I never thought that a pet dog could get mites, also called ‘scabies’.  I never knew that Revolution kills sarcoptic mites.  We always used Frontline Spray on the alpacas.  Sigh.  It has been an expensive Fall.


And the living is easy.  Or so it is for our alpacas.  They just love the summer because it means they go out to the pastures to graze.

Grazing in the back field

Grazing in the back field

We have two barns, a large one and a small one.  They both have overhangs and paddocks in the front.  During winter, the alpacas stay in the barn and paddocks and don’t go to the pastures.  They don’t particularly like snow and here in New Hampshire we have a lot.  But when Spring comes they start humming to go out.

The big barn holds our large female herd and a small herd of males we call the ‘young boys’.  The girls have the largest areas in the barn, and the boys are kept separate in their own stall and section of overhang.  They are not all young anymore, but are younger than our other male herd (known as ‘the big boys’) who live in the smaller barn.

Big barn and front paddock.

Big barn and front paddock.

Small barn looking from their pasture.

Small barn looking from their pasture.

Both barns have access to pasture behind them.  The girls and younger boys access their fields by going up a rather steep aisle-way that takes them up to the grass.  The young boys’ aisle-way parallels the girls and those young boys will not go to pasture until the girls do.  The older boys in the small barn next to our house, go downhill a bit to their field and though they can see the girls go out in the distance, they don’t depend on the girls to tell them when to graze!  When we are cleaning stalls in the morning, we watch the girls as they stare at the back sliding door and hum anxiously.  It is open, but for some strange and unknown reason, they don’t go out automatically.  Dick thinks that it is one female, MoonDance, who ultimately makes the decision to go.  One or another of the other females, who are lower down on the hierarchy, may attempt to go out.  She’ll go into the aisle-way, but when nobody else follows, will come running back in.  Finally, MoonDance will start off and the whole group leaves the barn.  The young males see them start up and they run to their aisle-way and go up too.  Once and a while I get impatient with the constant humming and indecision and will clap my hands and shout, “OK! Let’s GO!”.  It does work on occasion.  Sometimes if I just walk out the door after saying that, they will follow me up the aisle-way and into what ever section of the field we’ve rotated them to.

MoonDance, the fearless leader of the girls

MoonDance, the fearless leader of the girls

Summertime may be easy for the alpacas, but it is not easy for Dick.  He spends a great deal of time tending to the pastures.  Because we practice rotational grazing, he is always moving temporary electric netting around to funnel the animals into different sections of the fields.  It became obvious to us that we didn’t have enough pasture for the girls.  But we had a back field that wasn’t fenced and was growing some nice grass once Dick started mowing it regularly.  We had long been storing manure there for it to age, and once spread on the other fields, good grass was growing where the piles had stood.  So this summer we decided to try to graze the girls in that back field.  Three sides of it were bordered by woods and ancient stone walls and the fourth side had an existing perimeter fence for what we call ‘the hidden pasture’.  (Before we cleared our land of new growth trees, the hidden pasture was surrounded by woods.  The woods are gone, but the name stuck.)  The only real large opening to the back field was below our vegetable garden where we had access to that field.  Dick put up the electric netting to that opening, blocked a couple of other little places with field fence and we let the girls out there through the hidden pasture gate.  It worked great, except that I fretted that the ancient stone walls couldn’t protect them from predators when they went out at night.  To make myself feel better, I take the dogs out there frequently in hopes they leave dog smell around.

Girls gawk at Teddy in the hidden pasture.

Girls gawk at Teddy in the hidden pasture.

Alpacas leaving the back field through the hidden pasture gate.

Alpacas leaving the back field through the hidden pasture gate.

We have plans to have the whole back field fenced with the six strand high tensile electric wire, but in the meantime I’m hoping the dogs are a deterrent.

Girls grazing in back field. Netting keeps them out of the garden.

Girls grazing in back field. Netting keeps them out of the garden.

The not so ‘hidden pasture’ and the back field have become the girls favorite places.  The back field has an added benefit of having some undergrowth where they can scratch.  Seeing as New Hampshire has a lot of bugs in summer, the underbrush gives them a place to rub at the itchiness.  The young boys also have a grove of trees where they scratch.  On hot days, that is their place to hang out.

They've worn out all the underbrush!

They’ve worn out all the underbrush!

It is now August and the grass has slowed it’s growth so we supplement the pasture with hay.  Since the hay is now almost a year old, the alpacas prefer their grass, but being the chow hounds they are, they eat the hay too.  As Fall approaches, we know they will have to be closed off of the pastures once the grass stops growing.  By then, we’ll have all new second cutting hay to give them.  But they will still hum at the back door for a month or so.  And by then, there can be no, “OK! Let’s go!”.  Alas, winter is not so easy…


My Kitten-less Summer

My last kitten left for his new home yesterday.  Normally I am a little sad, but this litter was the last one from my boy Rusty which makes it more poignant.  Poor Rusty was such an easy keeper that I kept him breeding until he was eleven years old!!  As many of you know, intact male cats have this nasty habit of spraying, so they have to be kept separated if you want your house to smell good.  Though Rusty loved his ‘job’, he deserved to have part of his life as a pet, with the freedom to roam the house.  He is now in his new home with a friend of mine and is an ‘only cat’ who gets lots of attention.


Randal at six weeks old. He was the last to leave.

This most recent litter was also the last one from my girl Delilah.  She is seven years old today and for a female that is about as old as you want them to get for breeding.  She will be spayed next week and remain here as my pet.  (Yeah, yeah, I’m not good at parting with my retired cats.  Rusty couldn’t stop himself from mounting girls after he was neutered or from intimidating my other boys, or else he would still be here too.)

At three weeks they are so adorable!

At three weeks they are so adorable!

Usually when a litter is gone, I have another planned soon, but this time there are no litters coming.  My new boy Blaze hadn’t yet matured enough when Susie Q and Angel Baby came in heat last month.  So now we wait for them to cycle around again, which I hope is soon.  So I am trying to look on the bright side of being without kittens for a few months.  The reasons to be happy about it are as follows:

Not so much litter box cleaning!  We have oodles of cat boxes in our house.  I even have three hidden in my living room.  Now there are way more than the recommended number for the eight adult cats that live here.

The toy basket is fun to lay in.

The toy basket is fun to lay in.

The cellar door can be left ajar!  We have a fenced in enclosure that the cats get to via a cat door in the cellar.  Kittens are NOT allowed in the cellar or in the cat pen.  I spend my days opening and shutting that door for the adult cats.  Unlike dogs, they don’t scratch to go in or out.  They just sit their looking put upon…  Ok, so Beyonce does scratch like mad to come in, but the others are martyrs.

The living room rug is uncluttered!  The kittens love to spread their toys around everywhere and they themselves are often draped around on the rug.  So now the living room rug will look nice.  Well, until the next time our golden Pyrenees Teddy Bear comes in from the peeper pond and dumps his drying mud flakes all over it.

Annie (and toys) on the rug.

Annie (and toys) on the rug.

We can get a good night’s sleep without worrying about kitten teeth on our toes!  When the kittens are getting close to the three month point, they discover what fun it is to climb up on the bed and attack those big bumps under the covers that move from time to time.  Nothing like being shocked out of a deep sleep by an attacking tiny feline.  Hard to tell your sleeping self to keep those feet still!

The resident cats are very happy!  It is not like they hate kittens, as many of them are very good to them.  But with no kittens around, they get more attention from me, the cellar door is open and they don’t have to fend off the greedy kittens from their canned food bowls.

Ok, so why am I still feeling lonesome for those adorable faces, and the thunder of kitten hooves (yes, they sound like little horses) racing down the hallway from the living room through the kitchen to the family room?

Maybe I’ll get used to the silence…

Alpaca for dinner?

I just read a couple of articles in Alpaca Culture Magazine on using alpacas for meat.  One article contained reasons why it wasn’t a good idea and the other stated reasons why it was a valid course of action.  Both articles had good points.  It made me think, so I decided I’d express myself here on the subject.

The ‘meat’ subject is very controversial in the alpaca industry.  People on both sides of the issue have strong opinions.  My reaction when I first heard about it was horror.  Eat these adorable, soft creatures when you could use their fleece and let them live long, happy lives??  But over time I came to see the reasoning behind using some of them for consumption.  It is, bottom line, a personal decision for each farmer to make.

When I was in my horror stage, Dick did not feel that way.  “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”  But when I asked if he would eat Leroy Brown, one of his favorite fiber boys, he said he really wouldn’t want to.  Ok, so there’s nothing wrong with other people doing it, but he doesn’t really want to do it.  That’s where I am at now.

Bad Bad Leroy Brown

Bad Bad Leroy Brown

Since we started in the alpaca business, I have been breeding for fine fiber that can be worn against the skin.  When I see an alpaca, I see the yarn that can come from it.  We never bred alpacas to show them.  Yes, we do show fleeces and attend one halter show a year, but that was never the goal.  So maybe that is why I had such a first strong reaction to the idea of using them for meat.  I still get a gut reaction when I think of the animals that Cas Cad Nac culls.  I’m sure I’d just love the yarn from those animals!  But there aren’t enough fiber farms to support the breeders’ excess alpacas.  My thought is that it is the lack of the establishment of a good fiber market that has led us to the meat market.  It is a viable option for farms that need to cut expenses and who want to continue to have new crias every year.

Cracklin' Rosie's blue ribbon fleece

Cracklin’ Rosie’s blue ribbon fleece

We aren’t breeding anymore and have morphed into a fiber farm.  We use our fleeces to bring in revenue, but don’t depend on our alpacas to support us.  If we were younger, we would probably continue to breed, especially since we are losing alpacas now to old age and illness.  But we, like many older alpaca farmers, want to downsize.  But not enough to eat them…

We do have fun with the dye pot too

We do have fun with the dye pot too

We lost two alpacas this Spring, and both have fiber out at the mill being processed into yarn.  Caraz was eighteen at her last shearing and her yarn, blended with our fine girl MoonDance, is very nice.  Those import guys knew good alpacas when they screened Caraz.  Gambler, who was only nine when he died, had strong primaries that caused the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool to downgrade his fleece.  But it felt so soft when I skirted it, that I sent his fiber to Sallies Fen Fiber Mill and the bulky yarn was wonderful.  I’m not sure what happened to the primaries, because there was none visible in the yarn.  I knit a cowl from his yarn and was very pleased that it didn’t itch at all!  (I’m so glad I have that cowl, now that he’s gone.)  Are all of our alpacas soft enough for good yarn?  No, of course some of them are coarser than others.  But the Pool has uses for their fleeces, so we send them there.  For us, using the fleece is what we want to do with our alpacas.  Each farmer decides for themselves what they want from their animals.  We all should be accepting of each others’ choices.

Leroy, you can rest easy.  No dinner plate for you…