Monday, December 7, 2015

Big Pimpin', 2015 edition

This handsome devil is Campbell, future father of the 2016 lamb crop! He's from the same farm as the ewes (and last year's ram), and he's quite the looker! Those horns! So magnificent. And so far, he's so much calmer than Caesar was.

Just like Caesar, though, he was ready to go the instant I let him into the ewe pen after his long car ride! He was interested in Dorrie right away, and she him, so I'm going to bet right now that she's the first to lamb next spring.
Daisy was fairly interested too, and just like last year, she and Dorrie had a few dust-ups over who should get the man.
And also like Caesar, Campbell assured the ladies there was enough of him to go around. It will be interesting to see the differences in lambs next spring given the different father! I'm also really, really curious to see how Lilith and Kilda's lamb(s) will look. Especially Kilda, as her genetics are a bit more diverse than the rest of the flock. Mark your calendars--lamb watch 2016 starts the last week of April!

Meanwhile, since the lambs are still too young to breed, they're currently living with the boy alpacas (oh yeah, the boys got their own pen and paddock in November!). I think Gus is happy to be reunited with at least some of "his" ladies.
Don't they all look so happy and cozy together?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Meet the Ferals

So, this happened this weekend. Meet Will Feral (aka Sprocket) and Feral Williams (aka Smudge), the newest additions to the barn.

Silas had been starting to seem a little lonely, and he was going totally soft on the rodents in the barn. He never catches the chipmunks, which are so bold I've had several run right over my feet. And then the other night during snuggle time, a mouse hopped into Silas's food bowl while we were both sitting mere inches away, and he didn't even hop down to investigate. Total softie!

Good reasons for more kitties, yes, but if I'm super honest, it really started with FW's sweet face.

About a month ago, my bestie found a mama cat and three kittens under her shed. She texted me photos after she managed to capture them, and I was instantly drawn to FW. I kept telling myself I didn't need another cat, but I couldn't stop thinking about him for some reason. You can see where this is going.

After I claimed FW, another friend claimed the third kitty, a cute little female that looks like a mini version of our late Cleo. It was looking like maybe WF was headed for the Humane Society, so bestie asked if maybe I would take him too?

We started reading up on ferals as barn cats, and I guess they are best introduced in at least pairs, especially if there's already a resident cat (or colony). I guess one new cat is a threat, but 2 to 3 new cats is a posse that offers protection. And the ideal number of barn cats for maximum rodent control is 3 or 4.

We also read that it's best to keep the newbies in a large crate in or near the main source of action in the barn for at least 2 weeks. This lets them get used to the sights and sounds and rhythms of the barn in a safe environment. It also lets the other critters get used to their sights and smells and sounds from a distance.

So the ferals have a deluxe little condo, complete with straw and slings and a large fluffy bed (the box below was upgraded after I took these photos), litterbox, food, water, and toys. I also draped thick towels along the back and one side to protect from the coming cold. When winter fully arrives, they'll get straw bales stacked outside for extra insulation too, as I plan to put them back into their condo each night, even after their isolation period is over.
Silas was nowhere near as upset about the newbies as I feared he'd be. He hissed at them once, but only after WF hissed at him first. He's very, very curious, and will happily eat his food next to the condo or play with the same toy or piece of straw.
Time will tell if these guys are the excellent hunters their mama was, as the chippies are now in hibernation. But I haven't seen a mouse or shrew or other small rodent since the day before the kittens' arrival! I'm going to take that as a positive sign for now.

I haven't had a kitten in about 17 years, and I forgot how much energy they have! I'm having a blast watching them play and snuggle with each other.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Final Cria

Monday night when I was tucking the animals in, I had a feeling Emmy Lou was approaching labor. Her belly was enormous, and she was a bit restless. Sure enough, when I arrived for morning chores the next day, there was an adorable new face! Meet Pratchett, after the late, great author, Sir Terry Pratchett.
He looks a lot like his big brother, Mal, though he's more of a cocoa brown to Mal's reddish brown. He also has some super cute white patches on his ears, base of his tail, and the corner of each mouth. I'll be curious to see if those stay at all--Rose lost the cute white patch on her head when her horns came in.
Baby boy is very healthy and he and Charlotte seem pretty taken with each other already. Even though she's older and weighs slightly more, he's taller!
We had some minor drama with mama's teats being way too large for him to properly latch, so he wasn't getting a ton of milk at first. And of course, Emmy Lou is not at all easy to handle like Amber was. We tied her to a fence and Jon had to practically hold her off the ground so I could strip her teats and try to relieve the pressure. I only got about an ounce before we had to give up. As you can imagine, she screamed and kicked the whole time, and even spit a little. 

The next day Pratchett hadn't gained any weight and he was trying to nurse for about 15-minutes straight (normally crias suckle for only 1-2 minutes at a time), so the vet prescribed some mild sedatives for EL to try to calm her down enough for me to milk her out. But her adrenaline overrode even a double dose, so in the end I probably only caused her more stress! Fortunately Pratchett started getting more aggressive at the teat, and everything seems on track now.
So far he seems to be shyer than Charlotte, but time will tell!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Soay Fleece!

ETA: Um, wow. Less than an hour after posting this, all the regular fleeces are sold! Thank you so, so much. What a boost for this farmer, and for this very special breed! I do still have second cuts available by the ounce, so scroll to the bottom if you're interested in those.

I finally finished skirting the sheep fleeces this weekend! I've decided to keep Kilda's fleece for myself this year, and Lilith hasn't been rooed yet. So here's the breakdown:

Jasmine's fleece comes in at .7 pounds. It is very clean, but has quite a few guard hairs and shorter staples. 
SOLD, thank you!
Daisy's fleece weighs .6 pounds and is also very clean. 
SOLD, thank you!

Dorrie's fleece is .8 pounds. It has the longest staples, being two years' worth of growth, but it also has more VM that won't come out without a good wash due to the stickiness of the lanolin. Dorrie's fleece is probably not the most fun/best place to start if you're new to spinning soay.
SOLD, thank you!
Dawn has the lightest fleece, at .4 pounds. Her blanket is the most intact of all of them, but it is also the stickiest. This one may need extra soaks/washes.
SOLD, thank you! 
I also have 1.5 pounds of mixed seconds. These are the bits that weren't directly attached to anyone's blanket, belly or neck hair, bits that came off with a second pass of rooing, shorter staples, that sort of thing. It'd be great for needle-felting projects or for carding and blending with other wool. You can buy this by the ounce for $2 an ounce.

Please note that all fleeces are unwashed. They have been skirted and I've picked out as much of the VM as possible. But, my sheep live happy lives on pasture, so you will still find small bits as you spin!

I have never used these PayPal buttons before, so fingers crossed this all works out smoothly. I will refund any shipping overages if they occur.

And for the non-spinners, don't worry, I will process some of this lovely fluff into yarn at some point! The alpaca fleeces are still being skirted, but will be ready for sale in another week or so.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Preemie Pains

I went out to do chores Friday evening around 5:30 as usual. It was such a lovely evening, that I decided to sit in the pasture for a bit before scooping poops. The lambs were playing, ewes and 'pacas chomping grass. Amber was a little separate from the herd, closer to the barn, and making a grunty sort of humming noise while she grazed. It was constant, and a different sound for her. "Is she going into labor?" I wondered. I took a look around, and saw a pile of white fluff in the eastern pasture. Oh, shit.

I took off running, a lead weight in my belly and heart in my throat, absolutely fearing what I would find. A tiny, delicate cria. Covered in flies. Shit, shit, shit! I had no idea how long she had been there. I have no idea why that day, of all days, I didn't do my routine lunchtime pasture check. But no use dwelling over, I had other matters to attend to. As I bent over the limp body, she hummed a bit and tried to move her head. With shaky hands I dialed the vet's number. He told me to get her and mama to a safe space, and try to get some of mama's milk in baby. So then I quickly dialed my MIL's number. I asked her to come to the barn and bring the birthing kit.

By this time Amber had wandered back over to investigate again. Amber's previous owners told me she was always a very good mama, so I think the only reason she left baby alone was that when it was clear she couldn't get up on her own, she figured she was dead. Though alpacas are fairly large, they are still prey animals. And prey animals have an instinct not to lie down with a sick or dying animal. But thankfully, Amber wasn't too checked out and did readily follow me as I carried her little babe into the barn. I set up a quick little catch pen so they could be free of distractions and nosy critters, and I got to work.

First, a little jacket for baby, who was shivering a bit. I didn't want her to waste any energy trying to keep herself warm. But she was too tiny for the cria coats I have on hand. So I ran to the house for a dog coat. Thank goodness our smallest dog is always cold in the winter and thus we had little sweaters on hand! With a few snuggles, she was starting to revive a bit, and mama was starting to show a bit more interest.
Next up, get milk in baby. She was not strong enough to nurse on her own yet since she couldn't even stand. Nursing within the first few hours of life is critical for farm babies. Not just for the nutrition needed to grow, but mama's first milk is actually an antibody-rich substance called colostrum. Babies can only absorb this for several hours after birth. Without it, they have no passive immunity from mama to ward off parasites and disease.

So, I had to figure out how to milk an alpaca. You never realize how much the animal care books don't tell you until you need this sort of practical information. "If baby doesn't nurse, you will need to milk the mother." And that's it. No how-to, not even a tiny hint or trick. And friends, alpacas have the smallest teats ever. Smaller than my tiny sheep who weigh at least a third less than they do. Plus, I've never milked a creature in my life. There's a technique to it, almost an art. Thankfully, Amber displayed the patience of a saint while I clumsily fumbled at her udder. I filled a tiny syringe (no needle attached) with milk and squirted into baby's mouth, along with some Nursemate (a colostrum supplement). She took it pretty well, so I gave her another syringe full of mama milk. By this time, she had revived sufficiently enough for me to stand her up under mama to try to milk on her own. I had to hold her in place and guide her mouth to the teats, but she was hungry and started suckling on her own. Phew! Maybe things were going to go okay.

I took a few minutes to more closely inspect baby, and also to text my mentors at Whistling Pines Ranch. I am constantly so grateful for their assistance and patient support! Even on holiday weekends when they are in the field trying to clear 1200 bales of hay. Troopers and good egss, these guys! Anyway, baby showed every sign of being a preemie, even though Amber wasn't too far from her earliest due date. Floopy ears, lax (limp) legs, no front incisors yet, bright red mucous membranes. Since Amber has been fairly unhealthy this year, it could be that her cria's development was interrupted or stalled at some point in utero, thus presenting as a preemie even though technically probably full-term.
For the next few days, I helped baby nurse every 1-2 hours around the clock to make sure she had a fighting chance. I also closely watched her temperature and weight. Friday and Saturday night were pretty rough, setting my alarm every 90 minutes or so to slog out to the barn. Thankfully, little girl had a TON of fight in her and I didn't need to do much to encourage her to nurse. Just massage her legs and neck to get her moving, then set her on her feet under Amber. The rest she did herself.

I dubbed her Charlotte. I totally forgot a certain princess bears the name now, otherwise I would've maybe chosen something else. A friend also told me that hospitals give babies in the NICU super macho nicknames to help them fight. So Jon chose Monster. 
Sunday afternoon, our little CharMonster got up from a seated position for the very first time without my assistance. She was still pretty wobbly on those skinny little legs, but she went right over to Amber and started nursing. Such relief! By the time I went to bed Sunday, Charlotte was routinely getting up on her own and nursing, so I only had to check her twice that night.
 Monday she weighed in at 15.1 pounds—1.6 more pounds than her birth weight! This is fantastic growth and means she's getting lots of milk from mama.
Tuesday, I took her and mama outside twice for the healing touch of sunshine and fresh air. Not to mention the moral support of the rest of the herd! Charlotte did awesome. She was running full-tilt through the pasture! Unbelievable. And adorable.
The sheep have no idea what to make of this curious little creature. Charlotte has decided they're fun to chase, and so far they won't stand up to her! It's pretty funny.
I think Mal is pretty smitten with his half-sister (they share a father). He's more curious about her than the rest of the herd.
Charlotte is getting stronger and more alert every day. I'm really hopeful she'll develop into a normal alpaca. She is still pretty susceptible to nasty parasites and things like pneumonia, but every day she gets closer and closer to being okay.

Emmy Lou's cria is due any day now. Fingers and toes crossed for a normal, healthy delivery!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Stresses and Joys

Keeping livestock is undoubtedly a joy. But it can also be stressful when animals are ill. Nobody is super sick, so no worries, but I just can't seem to keep poor Amber in tip-top shape. Maybe pregnancy has made her less able to fight off the usual stuff, or maybe it's just her in general. As you know, she had meningeal worm in January. A few weeks ago, I did some fecal tests on the herd since lush spring pastures usually means a rise in parasites. Amber tested positive for nematodirus, so I had to dose her with Panacur again for a few days. And now, this:
I'm not sure exactly what this is or what happened here. It could be a laceration from a stick or something (they do love to scratch themselves on the pine trees!). Whatever it is, I'm treating it with triple antibiotic ointment twice a day. I also sprayed that leg with fly spray. I'm generally against using such strong, harsh chemicals. But I've also seen hover flies in the pasture (they are like imitation wasps--they have wasp coloring, but fly bodies and wings), and I DO NOT want anyone to get fly strike. For those who don't keep animals, fly strike is a horrible condition caused when then fly lays its eggs in an open wound. The maggots then hatch and eat the flesh in/around the wound. This is usually more of a problem in the UK and Australia and with long-tailed sheep, but it can and does happen here with any livestock. I am so mad and paranoid about those stupid flies! I never saw any last year, and it's not even peak fly season yet, so I'm concerned it's going to be an extra bad year for all the horrible biting insects.

I'm especially paranoid since Amber is due to give birth very soon (as is Emmy Lou). Fingers crossed for easy births and healthy crias!

But even when the animals are the source of some (or a lot!) anxiety (see previous post for minor sheep stresses lately!), they are such a balm to my soul. Nothing is more peaceful for me than watching happy animals grazing. Nothing makes me feel more connected to the earth, nature, the seasons. Even when the days are long and hard and the battles seem uphill, in the end it's all worth it to me for bucolic scenes like this:
Which brings me to some more joys. First, warm weather means shower time for the alpacas! (It was actually during shower time yesterday that I discovered Amber's wound). When it gets hot and humid out, the alpacas absolutely adore being hosed down. It's a fun time for me too, watching them all clamor for their turn in front of the hose. It also gives me a good excuse to really get my hands on each animal for a bit of an external health inspection. Alpacas for the most part shy away from human touch, and some are very sensitive about their legs, especially the back ones. But they don't really seem to notice my manual inspections during shower time. 

In case you don't follow the farm on Facebook or Instagram (and you should, because I not only post more often in both places, but I post mostly different content in each too!), here's a fun snippet of a recent shower time:
Some farmers put out sprinklers for their alpacas, but Emmy Lou is such a water hog that I know she'd just sit on it. Plus, I really like having my hands-on time!

In other news, the lambs are getting YOOGE! I'm kind of always doing a mental headcount when I'm in the pasture, and lately I often think "wait, there's a lamb missing," only to realize a second later that I totally glossed over Eliot, thinking she was one of the adults. Here she is with her mama:
They're also way independent now. They spend most of their time in their own little group far from mamas. They also continue to be super curious! They now readily approach me when I'm near. Eliot and Moxie are brave enough to sniff my clothing and do battle with my boots. If I'm really sneaky, I can sneak in some quick neck scratches while they do this. I'm hoping this means they will be tamer than their mamas and will eventually let me sort of cuddle them. Or at least pet them more regularly. A girl can dream!
From left to right: Olive, Moxie (Rose and Dorrie in back), Eliot, Daisy (Dawn mostly hidden behind Daisy)
Is this commentary on my fashion choices?
Watching these girls grow has definitely been the highlight of the year so far. They are such healthy, happy lambs! 

And for those who have been wondering, I do have fiber and I do plan to sell it yet this year. I also plan to write a blog post about shearing and all the fiber prep when I get around to actually skirting and weighing all the fiber! Hopefully the skirting will start this week yet. Always so much to do this time of year!

Friday, June 19, 2015

And Then There Were Ten

I added two new ewes to the flock this past weekend, bringing the total up to a nice even 10! Meet Lilith and Kilda:

Lilith is on the left, Kilda is on the right. They both come from Kathie Miller's Southern Oregon Soay Sheep Farms. You may recall that Kathie was one of the women responsible for bringing this wonderful breed to the United States. She sadly passed away in April, so her flock was dispersed to other soay breeders. I'm very happy to add to the genetic diversity of my herd, and hope I can be even half the shepherdess Kathie was!

Lilith is 3 years old, and Kilda is 4. Kilda is also an AI baby--her mama was artificially inseminated with semen imported from the UK. You can read more about the project and why it's important in conservation breeding here.

Lilith has been a firestarter from the moment I showed up at Narnia Farms to collect her (a transport brought a bunch of Kathie's sheep to Narnia for central holding/quarantine until all the WI farmers could pick them up)! To help them bond to each other and keep them as stress-free as possible, they were kept in a pen by themselves at Narnia. When Alan and I entered to grab them and stuff them in dog crates for the ride to my farm, Lilith immediately jumped over a 4+-foot wall and hightailed it out to pasture. Oh dear. We did finally get her inside and loaded, obviously, and the ride home was uneventful.

The two newbies then spent 48 hours in the catch pen in my barn, so all the ewes could see and smell each other with the safety of a mesh wall between them. Lilith seemed to calm down almost right away, though she still showed me that she has an abundance of, let's say, personality.
Hmm, I wonder if I can clear the top of this?
Tuesday I let the girls out of their catch pen. Daisy took to giving them hell almost immediately, chasing them around and headbutting them. If I had any doubt before about who was really boss, that has now been cleared up! Then a few hours later, I did a pretty stupid thing. I let everyone onto pasture at once. What I should have done was let the regular girls out, then set up a small temporary paddock just outside the door to let the newbies into. This would've maintained some safe distance and let the girls still get some air, but they still would've been easy to corral back inside a few hours later. Since Lilith and Kilda had been off pasture for about 3 weeks at this point, I had to let them have no more than a half-day on pasture to start and slowly work back up to a full day.

But like I said: should. For whatever reason, I just opened the door and let them have at it! This was dumb because 48 hours is not enough time for the newbies to bond with their new flock or with the barn. I could tell immediately I was going to have trouble getting them back into it later, and soays are not really very herdable.
Lilth and Kilda's favorite hangout their first few days
You can't see us!
After several panicked texts to my sheep mentor (thanks for being so patient with me, Kathy!), we decided to just let them be to get used to their new life. They would maybe get a bit of diarrhea from too much pasture, but better than stressing them out further by trying to chase them. They weren't eating much anyway--every time I checked on them, they were either resting under a pine tree or being chased by Daisy.

So, dusk came and it was time to shut everyone in for the night. As usual, the regular crew hightailed it straight into the barn as soon as they heard their grain pans rattling. I had hoped the new girls would just follow the herd straight in, but they didn't. They came close, but seemed reluctant to enter the barn. So I set out grain for everyone else anyway, then went into the pasture with another grain pan, hoping to chase/lure the ladies in. After a small little chase, they went for it and I ran into their pen behind them so I could close the door. Unfortunately, Dorrie and 3 of the lambs decided to run between my legs right before I slammed the door. Ugh.

Fortunately, Dorrie is pretty tame and very, very grain-motivated, so she just came right around into the alpaca pen hoping for a handout. An extremely loud cacophony of baahs from the mothers on the other side of the pen and then the lambs ensued. So I texted Jon to come out and help me real quick. Dorrie did get her handout, as a ploy so I could then grab her horns. I figured if I led her over into the sheep pen, the lambs would follow. So Jon manned the gates for me while I did this. Phew. Finally, everyone was where they belonged and safe and sound for the night.

The next night, things went a bit better. Lilith is pretty curious for being so new yet, and she actually followed me into the barn since I was shaking a grain pan, and Kilda goes everywhere Lilith goes. She is still very flighty and nervous, though. She sort of uses Lilith as a security blanket. She never strays far from her side, and prefers to lay down behind her if she can. I commonly see/hear her bahhing for Lilith, like a mama calls to her lambs. And so far, Lilith actually answers!
Integration seems to also be progressing smoothly. After about 36 hours of getting bullied by Daisy, the tables now seem to have turned, and I think Lilith is the new boss. She and Kilda still don't graze super close to everyone else yet, but they're starting to make good progress. They actually seem most at ease around the alpacas. Those loveable goofs could win anyone over!
Kilda and Mal touch noses.