Saturday, July 24, 2010

A blog from Lucky Nickel!

Hi!  Hi hi hi!  It's meeeeeeee!  Lucky Nickel!
You've missed me...I know...the human is very busy.  She hasn't had a lot of time for blogging lately.  She said I could do it today.  Wasn't that nice of her?

Look how big I am now!  This is a picture of me with the human's foot.  She wears these really weird shoes.  I don't know why she even wears shoes.  It is much better to just be barehooved.  Well, barefooted for her.  She says these shoes are the best for being as close to barefoot as possible without stepping in chicken poop in the yard.  I never step in chicken poop because I am a dainty goat.  She has such big feet she would be bound to step in it.  Poor human.
Look also at my furriness.  The human says I am getting little curlicues from my Dad.  His name is Val and I don't think he knows who I am.  But anyway, she says she might shear me sometime because I am a pygora.  I know that is actually a kind of snake - I heard scary stories about it once from a crow that was visiting the yard.  It lives in the jungle and strangles goats.  Anyway, I don't know why the human thinks I am a snake and I don't want to insult her by telling her that I am a goat because she says she is in school and work and her brain is full right now.
See my horns too?  They are perfectly symmetrical and lovely.  I am indeed an elegant goat.  Not a py-whatsit who strangles things.
But there is a problem that I have to tell you about.  The other goats ALSO think I am a that thing.  Let me tell you about them.  Here I am approaching their pen...
This is Coffee with her daughters, Misky and Larke.  They are very high strung, like their mother.  They think everything is to be avoided.  Except food.
This is Horton with his mother Lotus, and I think Horton is really cute.  He's got big horns and a lovely furry coat and he looks so lovely that I would like to be friends with him.
The problem is, they are not very fond of me.  The human put me in the pen yesterday to try to get me used to them.  They all try to go after me with their horns.  This is who I know that they think I am a scary creature like py...thing...probably because the human said so.

Last evening, a very bad thing happened.  Here you can see it coming.
There was a dreadful storm.  In fact, there were torpedoes not far from here.  That's when a big wind comes out of the sky like a tunnel and takes you up into the clouds.  The human said there was a torpedo warning and another torpedo on the ground in another town.  The rain was awful.  It was raining humans and cows.  (that's a goat expression you know - it means really hard rain.)  So I tried to go in the shelter with the other goats, but because they think I am a pygobra...well they would not let me in.  The human came out to put the chickens away in a break in the storm and she saw me in the corner of the pasture and I was like a wet rag because they won't let me in and I was crying and wet all through.  It was good that it was warm, but you need to know that we goats hate rain and we hate to be wet and I was stuck there and the thunder was scary and the lightning was everywhere and I thought I would get sucked up by a torpedo.  So when the human came out I screamed at her with all my goat lung power and she came rushing over and made nice soft noises to me and I suddenly felt a LOT better.  She rushed into the barn with me and held me a while and said she was sorry that I was stuck out there.  I love the human.  She is very nice to me, not like those other stupid goats.  Anyway, she says she has to "sort something out" for me.

So that's all from me, because I have to go scratch my itches now.  All that rain made me itchy...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Was it enough, to know that you were loved?

You were small, but you were strong.  You had a delicate ear, attuned to the slightest sound.  Things that I would never hear, even with an amplifier, were everyday noises to you.  Maybe you had become too acclimated to some of those noises we have pushed upon you as we invade your world.

You had a sensitive nose.  You could smell things that no human nose could detect.  Constant twitching, constant sensing, another way for you to avoid danger.

You had bright eyes, watching for the dangers overhead....the dangers around you, and the dangers behind you.
Your little legs could carry you with such grace, small silent runner.  They could lift you into the air for joyful leaps and bounds, whenever you wished.  They could carry you away from danger that threatened your life.

But it was not enough.

It was not enough when the vehicle two cars ahead of me hit you and sent you flying across the road, shearing your delicate skin and fur, crushing your back legs, spilling your blood and organs, and putting terror into your heart.  You tried, so hard, as I drove forward, pulling yourself forward on little front paws, one in front of the other...just to...reach....the.....grass.

I was not enough to save you.  For that, I weep.  For each and every one of you who dies at the hand of man, I weep.

But perhaps the Goddess chose that time for you, because she knew I was there.  Perhaps, she knew that I carried the "emergency towel" in the trunk for moments like this.

She knew that I would pull over immediately, and run to pull you aside so that no more carnage would occur.  She knew I would hold you until the terror passed, and your spirit rose to meet her.  She knew I would take you home, and give you a resting place far from the madding crowd, where you would lay beneath the playground of so many of your kind who visit daily and share the bounty of my home.
She knew that in the growing darkness of the evening you would be laid to rest with flowers, and that a blessing would be said for you, and that I would tell the world that you were here.

Perhaps then, it was enough, just to know that you were loved.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How to Shear a Llama: The "Easy" Method!

Let's be honest for a minute here.  Shearing a large animal (250-400 lbs) which has a long, muscular neck, long legs with pointy hooves, and a propensity for spitting large quantities of green goo is never a particularly "easy" task.  This is confounded by the fact that llamas have a very clear sense of their "personal space" and are not particularly fond of having that space invaded without invitation.

Some llamas have been handled since they were young and are more receptive to handling, and are less likely to be upset during shearing.  It would be delightful if all llamas were that way.  Mine are not (despite moments of tolerance!)

I have six llamas:  Kahlua, Dolly, Cabernet, Hazel, Cesar, and Stormy.  As most of my regular readers will know, Stormy is only just 6 months old, so he's kind of half-a-llama.  He's also much more used to being approached by me and given little chin rubs, so he's not difficult to handle.  The rest of them might as well be stampeding elephants when it comes to shearing time.  This was a difficult lesson last year, when I was repeatedly kicked, stepped on, spat upon, shoved, and generally given a good demonstration of the ability of a llama to show its displeasure.

Earlier this year, one of my sheep magazines had a reader letter from a woman asking about the best way for a small-statured woman to shear sheep by herself.  The response came from a woman who shears full time, and she was kind enough to include in her response the description of how she shears llamas and alpacas.  I read it, re-read it, and decided it was entirely possible.  In fact, I could scarcely wait to try her method.

Yesterday was my first try!  And guess what?!  It WORKED!  So, without further ado, I present to you the best method I have learned to date for shearing llamas (unless your llamas are wonderfully obliging about allowing you to shear them).  I hope it might help somebody else out there!

First - the essentials for your llama shearing experience:

1.  Sharp shears!
No really, I mean it, sharp shears make things go faster.  I use the large hand shears for easier areas without a lot of complicated angles (such as the sides of the belly and the back) and then I use the Fiskars shears for the more complicated or detailed areas - legs, neck, head, tail.  I also have the handy Fiskars sharpener which works a treat and is so easy to use.  I bought these from "Quality Llama Products, Inc." The large shears came from Premier here in Iowa.  The Fiskars shears are much easier for me to use and I have less blisters than last year.  They are lightweight too, which is a bonus when you are dealing with multiple llamas.  If you can, splurge on a quality pair of shears.  It's worth it!

2.  Grooming tools!
I use the dog-style rubbery brush for an initial going-over of the fleece before it's sheared.  This seems to remove the majority of surface debris.  These can be purchased at most pet shops or online at pet supply stores.  The other pictured brush is also from Quality Llama Products and it is fabulous.  It's the "rotating tooth rake" and each of the metal teeth rotates in place so that when you pull the brush through the llama's fleece, it doesn't catch on things but it does remove a considerable amount of debris from under the surface.  It doesn't seem to cause problems with tangles and is very easy to use.  This tool was another first for this year and I loved using it.  The llamas weren't upset by it either.

3.  Spit mask!
Again, for me, this was an essential tool in the arsenal!  Last year I received a very voluminous spit-in-the-face from Dolly.  The colour and the smell were unforgettable.  Did I mention the smell?  OMG, it was enough to turn my stomach.  Using this handy item, I have remained slime-free this year.  Worth every penny!  It was very easy to attach to the halter.

So, here's the method to getting your llama to lay down for shearing.  Yes, it may be somewhat uncomfortable for the llama, but you will be finished much faster, and there is far less risk to both you and the llama.  Using sharp tools around an agitated animal can easily result in injury to you or the animal, and that's easily avoided using this method.

1.  Attach a sturdy lead to the harness.  Tie the llama to a sturdy tree at the head end.  Tie low down on the tree trunk because the llama will be laying down and you don't want to stress the neck.

2.  Tie a sturdy loop in the end of a strong rope.  Use a soft rope for the comfort of the animal, and for your hands.  Amuse your llama with some grain or fresh grazing, so that he/she doesn't notice you laying a rope under their belly.  Loop the rope around the belly so that you have a "lasso" around the belly of the llama with the end of the rope going through the loop at the other end.  Gently tighten the rope so that the llama cannot wiggle out of it.  Slowly work the rope loop towards the back end of the animal.  You're aiming to have the hips or upper legs cinched.  Be ready with another tree or sturdy post (or tractor) to tie off onto.

3.  As you move that hip rope backwards on the animal, gently pull on it (don't be close enough to get kicked).  DO THIS ON SOFT GROUND!  NOT CONCRETE!  You do not want to hurt the animal when it lays down.  I did it on the grass in the yard.  As you pull backward, the head lead rope will become taut and the rear rope as well.  The llama will tend to lay down or stumble a little, losing its footing, thus going down.  Once the llama is down, quickly secure the rear rope. I had the rope on a pulley on the front of the tractor, and then around a tree.
Once the llama is laying down, they can kick their legs a bit, so you still need to be careful.  It is helpful to have someone stand on the head lead rope so that they can't wildly swing their neck around. This is a picture of Cabernet once she was part way through shearing.
It is not as bad as it looks.  She was not struggling and did not whine or make a fuss.  A few times she waggled her legs around and I knew she wanted to get up, but it wasn't violent.  She is relatively secure and I was able to shear without causing her injury or visible distress.  Here I am starting on the neck, able to sit beside her without worries of being injured.  Try to choose a shady spot if it's a hot day, for your comfort and for theirs.

4.  What about the other side?!  Yes, you can only shear one side at a time.
Once you've finished as much as you can on one side, let the llama stand for a while.  Let them regain their footing and feel secure.  Maybe 10 minutes or so.  Then, repeat the procedure, and if you can, through the judicious use of sloped ground or a helper, encourage them to "fall" onto the other side.  This can take a few tries.  Be patient.  This is also an ideal time to do any hoof trimming that might be necessary.  Remember to take your time.

5.  How do they get up?  Well, once you've finished, loosen the rear rope first.  My experience was that they were not really terribly aware of the loosening of that rope.  Still, be cautious and avoid getting kicked.  Once the rear rope is loose, release the head rope from whatever tree/post you have it attached onto, and encourage the animal to rise.  My experience was that the rear loop kind of slipped down the legs and they just stepped out of it.

Here is Kahlua before shearing...
..."I'm not sure I like the looks of this..."
...and this is Kahlua on his way back to the pasture.  Funny how much smaller he looks!

A kiss for my well-behaved boy!

This is Cabernet pre-shearing...
...and post-shearing.  I call this the "lumpy-bumpy" cut, and I assure you that all the llamas really want this style of cut.  It's all the rage in the llama fashion circles.  Don't let your llama get heatstroke because you are afraid to shear it.  Give them a lumpy-bumpy cut, and they'll be cool and comfortable!  (As you can see, there's a reason I never became a hair stylist!)

Overall, I had a much easier time this year with the shearing experience.  So far, I've completed two llamas - Kahlua (my herd sire) and Cabernet.  I have a lot of beautiful fleece from them both.  Kahlua is a dark chocolate brown with milk chocolate highlights...
while Cabernet is a more grey-brown with fawn highlights.
I am really pleased with the whole experience.  The worst part was the mosquito bites that I received while shearing.  I think you can see that both Kahlua and I were pretty happy after our shearing experience.  I hope this might help someone else get to that same point!  By the way, tie-dyed pants are optional, but they may have helped hypnotize the llamas!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Raised Bed Update

If you're a regular reader, you'll probably remember that I recently blogged about installing a wonderful arrangement of raised beds when my parents visited.  Also while they visited, we planted seeds!  I thought I should give an update on the progress of the raised bed garden, because it is threatening world takeover at any moment.  I think that the hot weather and humidity that Iowa has experienced lately, along with the copious quantity of rain, is something a little vegetable seed dreams of experiencing when it grows up.  Now, those vegetable seed dreams are coming you can see in the front bed the large and possibly rampant zucchini plants, which are scarcely 2 weeks old.  Behind them, some beets.  In the rear bed are some more beets and bush beans at the very back.

Here is a bed with 4 rows of carrots (and some crabgrass that needs to be removed).  Carrots are slow growers so this is actually quite good growth for 2 weeks.
This bed is (from left to right) 2 rows of radishes, a row of tomato transplants, and "lambkin" melons.
Here a row of sweet pepper transplants are coming along.  The fence is leaning down over the side of this bed temporarily.  Under the fence is a row of arugula (seems to be a bit slow in comparison to other things but it might not like the heat), and then some Asiatic lilies towards the back.  I want to know their colour before I choose their place in the garden.
Then I have this bed with (L to R) tomato transplants, pac choi, and Brussels sprouts.  A little weeding needed here too.
Now, this show of strength is amaranth in the back (for the chickens) and mustard greens in the front.  Incredible for 2 weeks if you ask me...
The tomato transplants included some 1-gallon larger plants.  One of those plants already has my first ripening tomato on it!  Oh the excitement!!

Not to be outdone, clearly somebody administered steroids to my Echinacea plants.  Well, maybe it was the magic llama beans!  For perspective, the clematis on the trellis is over 6 feet tall.  There are some Joe-Pye Weed plants in the back, with the classic Echinacea in the front.

Here's a close up of the "Coconut Lime" Echinacea that has become one of my favourites.  I love its cool colour and bushy blooms.  Avant-garde clematis is in the background.
And finally, here are a couple of recent daylily blooms from a group of plants I purchased last year.  They came from a hybridizer who was selling off some unnamed test crosses.  I'm quite pleased with these.  Lucky Nickel ate a lot of the buds on the others so I still don't know how they will all look, but these escaped the hungry goatling!
So overall, despite having been late in the season on planting my veggie garden, I think it's looking grand, and I do hope I'll have some good harvests as the season progresses.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Basket Weaving, Saori Weaving, and Playing with Yarn

Still catching up on blogging about my parents' visit, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the lovely baskets that my mother I and learned how to make at a workshop at the Iowa Sheep & Wool Festival.  The workshop description said that we would make a "pie or wool basket" so I imagined a small basket and I figured that since it was my first time to try basketry, I would come away with a sort of charming but uneven and wobbly looking piece, sort of like my first handspun yarn!

Instead, I came away with a really lovely and useful basket, as did my mother.
We were both ever so pleased with the results of our labour and I would definitely be interested in making another one.  I made a small mistake in following the instructions, such that I had 2 rows of coloured reed instead of 1, but it really didn't make a difference.  My mother, being the older and wiser one of us, correctly followed the instructions!

The baskets have a solid wood base and would fit a very large pie or a large amount of wool.  The handles are also solid wood and very sturdy.  The weaving is done with a combination of reed and ash.  There is also a small amount of seagrass in the top edge.

That wasn't our only workshop though!  Indeed, we are a crafty pair, and we both enjoyed a second class in something called Saori Weaving.  My mother has done weaving before, and I have a loom in the basement that I haven't used yet, but which I would like to use soon!  Saori weaving is a contemporary weaving style that was founded in Japan in 1970.  It's a freestyle weaving technique without "rules" as such.  It's really more of a way to express one's creativity in a weaving activity.

There were lots of colours of threads to choose from for the weft, but the warp was already done for us.  There was also roving (prepared fleece) for us to add into our designs.  Here you can see the weaving that we did.  The technique is ideally suited to mats, table runners, but also to simple clothing designs.
My mother's is the larger piece on the left,and mine is the narrower one.  We both agreed that this was a great class and we'd do it again.  The class is being offered at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool festival this September in Jefferson, Wisconsin.  If you are going to attend that show, consider this class!

While we had a great time at the Festival, we also had a great time at home.  Remember all those bottles of dye that I put together before she arrived?  Well, we certainly put them to good use!
We had a great afternoon of dyeing both yarn and fibre.  The yarn we dyed was an East Friesian cross fleece that I had processed and handspun at High Prairie Fibers in Iowa.  It came out beautifully as a 2 ply yarn with a lot of spring and loft.  We also did some overdye on some darker grey-brown handspun.  Using the bright Jacquard dyes on the dark fleece gives a lovely subtle effect.  We also dyed some Rambouillet roving that came out well.  I still need to get some of these things listed on the Etsy site!

I think the looks on our faces show more than any words can say what a delightful time we had!  I do wish she lived just up the road so we could do this all the time!