Roosters. Noisy, bossy and sometimes aggressive. But without them, you can't have chicks.
We have 3 broody hens - Amelia, the silkie, and one New Hampshire and an Ameracauna x. Beatrice, the cochin that lives at the barn, is also broody.
We met at John's at 8. The shearer, Karen, was already set up and so without ceremony we were off.
Michele and I had spent the day before getting ready for shearing, based on what we had seen at Sharon's. We had bags and tags and pins and ID pouches. The first cut is the "blanket". It is the most valuable of the fleece. It goes into a bag with the animal's name on it. The "seconds" go into a separate bag - those are the other parts of the fleece that aren't quite as good for wool. Each bag must be clearly identified so that if fleece testing is done, it is done for the correct animal.
The process is intense, and there is no time for picture taking. The alpaca is brought from the holding pen and 3 people help get it onto the table. Legs are gently strapped to the table and so it begins. The shearer is shearing the whole body while 2 others hold the legs. Then the owner / owner's delegates trim the legs and the top knot. It is important to get out of the shearer's way! Someone else collects the fleece and bags it. Then the teeth are checked, and if necessary trimmed down. This is also the time that nails are trimmed and shots can be given. The whole process at Alpacas at Mud and Eighth took about 10 minutes. We were averaging about 12. I was so grateful that we had been to the open house and so knew basically what to do. We weren't an embarrassment, anyway. We had brought another competent woman, Jamie, to learn the ropes with us in hopes that next year she'll help us again. Between the 3 of us we managed to make the legs and topknots look modestly presentable.
Once the shearing is done, the alpaca is lowered to the ground and escorted away - they seem so happy to be free of the fleece that they drop to the ground and roll.
This is Karen, the shearer, with Johnny. It was his first shearing - he is only 11 months.
After the shearing, the whole group has lunch together and Karen and her gang are off to their next appointment.
She has a great facebook page - she is Shearing Ontario.
Our herd done, I had to go back to work. It was a relief to have it over with - I had been pretty nervous about it. But now we can make plans for how to do a good job at our farm next year.
We were fortunate to go to Sharon and John's open house. We didn't end up helping with the shearing - they have kids and friends and relatives that come every year and help. Their setup is amazing - so well thought-out and organized. Their 4H'ers also come to help, and they put on a demonstration for the visitors as well. We ended up watching the shearing for a long while, trying to figure out the dance that the shearer, her assistants and the helpers do. Karen Childs, from Shearing Ontario, is doing our shearing also. Thank goodness Michele has experience shearing sheep - I think Monday is going to be hard work.
We also got to take a tour of the fibre mill at Alpacas at Mud and Eighth, and to learn about the process of turning fleece into yarn or roving. It brought everything much closer to home. It's almost our turn.
We moved the chicks out of the brooder and into a stall. They are thrilled beyond belief. They are running around and flying up onto the roost we erected and generally just playing with each other. It's so exciting to watch them.
This weekend is the open house at Alpacas at Mud and Eighth. We are going and hoping that we'll learn a lot - our shearing day is Monday.
I had PeeWee sleeping in his box in the spare bedroom with me. I got up on the hour to feed him, still using the syringe. And while he sucked really hard, his mouth was getting cold and his breathing was laboured. Poor PeeWee passed away around 5am.
PeeWee had a pretty good day! Michele took him into the kennel with her, and when she was done work she took him up to the house where he slept next to Cinder (the senior Jack Russell) in the kitchen.
Once I got home from work we took him over to a neighbour who raises goats, and she helped us tube feed him. While we were there, she offered us some Muscovy ducklings which of course I couldn't resist (especially when she told me about the survival rate for the ducklings raised on pasture .... darn hawks). We took them home with us, all crammed into PeeWee's cardboard "pram". They were far more active than I had anticipated - they were almost out of that box before we had started the truck. They moved into a brooder in the barn and weren't too happy about it - it was obvious they missed the outdoors. But I squashed my guilt by reminding myself that survival counted more than sort term confinement.
PeeWee didn't seem to pay them any mind on the way home - he was really full from his feeding and so pretty sleepy.
Around 1 pm, Daphne delivered a ram lamb. Since the previous owner of the flock couldn't tell us when the ewes were bred, we were just guessing at the approximate delivery date. This was way early. He was born with very little wool, and his skin was really dehydrated.
We got colostrum from the mom and started feeding him every hour since he was too weak to stand up to his mom. At the suggestion of our go-to vet Dr. Chris Crombie, we started adding in honey. I ended up sleeping in the van overnight and got up each hour to feed him with a syringe. After midnight I thought for sure he wouldn't make it, but somehow he made it through the night.
On the upside, the chicks are 13 days old and are flying!
Cass and Nelson came to work. Well, visit actually. But we put them to work. Thanks to their help we got all the potatoes in, and a jump on the tomatoes. There was a potluck dinner, a campfire with fireworks and camping out in the field (well, Nelson slept inside).
It made me realize why so many farms turn to agri-tourism. Both sides benefit. People without land or animals to tend to but who crave some immersion in country life get to dig in the dirt and feed livestock. And the benefit to the farmer is, of course, the most valuable of all gifts: an extra set of hands or two.
These are the precautions you have to take when you have chickens. We ended up wrapping all the raised beds with chicken wire to keep them out once the beds were planted.
The spring has been so wet and cold, that planting is really behind. We didn't want to risk putting the plants in the ground and having the rot in the soggy wet soil. So now that it's warming up, the push is on.
We picked out the 6 lambs we're getting - 3 Romney ewe lambs and 3 Icelandic ewe lambs. We picked an assortment of colours so that we could have some variety in our future wools. We really also wanted colours that would compliment the alpaca fleece.
The larger Rommey lamb at the front is a single lamb (ie she wasn't born as a twin) and she is so much bigger than the other Romneys, who were multiples.
We're getting them at Willow Farm, and Josslyn wants to wean them and then keep them for an additional month to ensure they are thriving. We set the pickup date for July. It seems so far away.
A sheep farmer meets an urban gardener. Fleece ensues.
The Reading List
*Animal, Vegetable, Miracle