Category Archives: The Livestock

Dream a little (big) dream

photo 2I’ve started my new job in New York, from Michigan, which makes for a nice transition to a new house in a new community within a new state. We leave at the end of the following week for closing on the house and we’ll make a few trips out prior to the big move with the kids in June.

This whole process was kicked off by a series of events in the deep of winter early in 2015 with a serious evaluation of our long-term goals.

Chris and I have similar goals across the board, save for the one about opening a burger joint (though the food would be fantastic, I can attest), which made the envisioning process easier. Some things were immediately clear: 1) We were not living the life we dreamed of in the way we hoped to live it, 2) We could not alter the situation without a change in location, and 3) We have two kids quickly approaching college-age and one not far behind those two.

It was early February of 2015 when Chris showed me a farm for sale in Western Massachusetts. I said, “There’s no way I’m leaving Michigan.” And he said, “I think you’d really like it out there.” The rest is history. Eastern NY is very similar to Western Mass. And the land is affordable, the soil profiles are outstanding, and the people are straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

After five trips out East, we finally located the right property in line with our five-year plan, right in the middle of the Schoharie, with an agricultural college just minutes from the front door, and universities scattered within a three hour radius in every direction. It isn’t a farm, but there’s enough land to grow food and a large field adjacent to the property, so who knows. We will keep chickens and bees, tend the Shiawassee Beauties, and continue gardening, while growing our savings to accommodate dreams of opening a fiber mill in Upstate NY.

Moreover, I hope the girls can finally feel the satisfaction of being part of a community, rather than living in the outskirts. Apart from college, there is so much to experience in New England, from the history around every corner, to the natural features of this old, old land, to the simple joy of riding your bike to the movie theatre on a summer afternoon.

And you bet, I’ll still be processing and spinning fiber. It likely won’t be local Michigan fiber, if you can forgive me, but I can promise some local Schoharie Valley fiber to keep our friends in beautiful northern Michigan warm.

This is succession.

Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me.  I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming, despite the daily regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

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Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture. Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently. The soil in the valleys appears good and the prospect of a fiber mill feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region, a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:

A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation, and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

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Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place has been preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.

Herding Cats

photo 1 (12)Life as a barn cat must be pretty strange, especially for the barn cat surrounded by Suri alpacas, the muppets of the animal kingdom. Though size-wise, they are quite different, cats have more in common with alpacas than nearly any other animal.

Alpacas and cats are both naturally curious, they do not like to be handled, except on their terms, they appreciate companionship, and they each think we humans exist to provide a steady stream of adoration and praise (I think they’re right).  photo 1 (11)

According to esteemed alpaca whisperer (and author of the wonderful book, Camelid Dynamics), Marty McGee, cats are the animals most similar to alpacas and relationships between the feline and camelid are often forged. In the photo at left, you are seeing the beginning of a daily pattern in which Bree (she’s in charge) approaches Watson, our cat. They get close enough to touch noses. Bree then retreats back to allow the next alpaca to come forth for a similar friendly initiation of sorts.

After this happens (usually when Watson emerges from his resting perch in the morning or after a nap in the afternoon), there is a period of “follow the cat,” which sometimes turns into, “follow the alpacas,” in which it is clear Watson has joined the herd to some degree and is paying attention to the locality of the alpacas.

photo 2 (13)McGee (Camelid Dynamics) describes that by watching this exchange, we can better understand how to approach our alpacas the way they wish to be approached. It was one of the most helpful aspects of reading her book and has altered our perspective in a way that has made handling the alpacas safer and gentler for all involved.
As for Watson, like any cat, I think he enjoys the attention (at least when no one is watching).

Super wash

photo (16)I washed Ebony’s fleece way back in the early spring without realizing that just because alpacas lack lanolin, they do have an oil in their fiber that is removed only at a certain temperature wash. Her fiber gave off a light odor, so I decided last week to rewash the entire carded fleece. Unfortunately, I left the fleece out to dry and then went to town for errands. My husband was kind enough to save the fleece from a sudden rainstorm. When I returned home, I promptly returned the fleece to the drying rack (the rain had subsided), where it sat beneath an unanticipated evening storm.

In the days that followed, I left the fleece, only to see the clouds roll in while away from home, knowing that fiber was getting yet another rinse. Today, in the warm sun and gentle breeze, I have finished another wash, to prevent any mildew, and brought the rack up on the deck for easy access. Decided to put the fan on it.

I’d like to think I’ve learned something. That my feedback loop shrunk from the experience of having to wash a fleece multiple times. And maybe, yes farm family, just maybe it’s the universe answering Chris’s call for retribution for my innocent thievery of Chris’s short hoses for my wash tubs… Maybe.