Thursday, December 31, 2009

Alpaca Marketing in Michigan Seminar

Sponsored by MI-Alpaca

When

Saturday, January 30, 2010

8am -4pm

Where

MSU Veterinary Medical Center, Room A213

Lansing, MI

What

A two part seminar on how to market your alpaca farm in Michigan.

Diversify Your Farm and Farm Branding

Diversify Your Farm

The seminar will be presented by Evelyn Brumwell of YB Normal Farms, Small Suri Breeder of 2007 and Jan O'Neill of Clare Limerick Alpaca Ranch, Author of the "Annabelle Alpaca" children's books. This seminar will show you how to diversify your farm from only animal sales to a multitude of income possibilities. Instruction about conducting farm tours, children's fleece projects, how to start an alpaca clothing store, carding, felting, spinning and weaving demonstrations will be given. Each participant will receive a seminar notebook full of resources and projects. If there is time participants will have a chance to make hands-on projects designed for children’s tour groups. Each person will leave with a wealth of knowledge on ways to bring more income into their alpaca farm.

Farm Branding

Sandy Morden of Pine River Alpacas also operates RAMP - Realistic Alpaca Marketing Projects. RAMP focuses on seamless marketing and branding of alpaca farms and ranches. Most alpaca breeders know they need to market their product but don't know where to begin. Sandy, a former educator in both the public and private sector, has transformed her individual style of teaching into an alpaca marketing seminar. She has developed exciting ways to convey complicated marketing techniques in easy to understand and easier to carry-out methods. Sandy looks forward to sharing her knowledge and ideas for your personal marketing solutions. Feel free to contact Sandy at info@ramp-projects.com any time before and after the seminar.

Pricing

MI-ALPACA members $30 - each additional person from the same farm $25

Non-members $60 - each additional person from the same farm $55

Lunch will be provided.

All reservations must be paid in advance to

MI-Alpaca

c/o Mark Dayrell

13600 W. Eaton Hwy

Grand Ledge, MI 48837-1873

Ph. 517 627 4769

Parking

Parking on campus can be confusing--please plan to use either Lot # 27 on the South side of the veterinary complex, or the Wharton Center parking ramp across the street on the North side. Parking spaces marked "Faculty/Staff Only Monday - Friday" will be available for use on weekends. Do not park in the gated lot in front of the Small Animal Clinic--this lot is for emergency clients ONLY.

Please enter the building using the Small Animal Clinic door.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

MI-ALPACA

Noah and I recently joined the Michigan Alpaca Livestock Product and Commerce Association (MI-ALPACA). We first learned of the organization last spring at the show in Davisburg and then again when we started attending SWMAA (Southwest Michigan Alpaca Association meetings-these meetings started with a couple of farms informally meeting in the southwest part of Michigan, and now over a year later, more and more farms have been attending these meeting that move from farm to farm on a monthly basis. There were close to 25 or so farms represented at the last meeting we attended and a few from our area. It is just an informal meeting to discuss alpacas, share resources, and they have guest speakers who attend to talk about different alpaca related subjects. It is a great networking and educational opportunity). Anyway, this is where we again heard about MI-ALPACA and decided that we wanted to be involved with the new organization. While Michigan is included in the AOBA affiliate of the Great Lakes Alpaca Association, so are 7 other states surrounding the Great Lakes. The MI-ALPACA group is meant to be an AOBA affiliate that represents just Michigan.

The mission of the Michigan Alpaca Livestock Product and Commerce Association is to advance the alpaca industry in the State of Michigan through the joint effort of alpaca breeders, fiber processors, and commercial producers/sellers of alpaca finished products, Michigan educational institutions and alpaca research organizations for the benefit of the Alpacas and all those involved with their care and their fiber products.

The goals of the Michigan Alpaca Livestock Products and Commerce Association are to:

  • Promote the continuance of a dynamic, growing and profitable alpaca industry in Michigan.
  • Encourage the breeding of the highest quality alpacas.
  • Provide training and education to its members on alpaca management, health and other alpaca husbandry practices.
  • Provide marketing and growth opportunities for the Michigan alpaca industry through shows, public relations events, youth programs, and collaboration with state and local governments and civic organizations.
  • Promote, conduct and/or sponsor programs to educate and inform the public about alpacas and alpaca products.
  • Promote research of alpacas and alpaca fiber at Michigan Universities.
  • Help establish and support a South American Camelid Department within the School of Agriculture at Michigan State University
  • Promote the development of products made of Alpaca fiber.
  • Encourage social interaction of members.
The MI-ALPACA is going to hold it's first Board Member elections in January of 2010 to elect 7 board members. They will also be asking their members to vote to make a change in the by-laws so that AOBA will finally approve MI-ALPACA as an AOBA affiliate. Noah and I both decided to run for the board. We believe in the mission and goals of the organization and we see this as an opportunity to advance the alpaca industry in Michigan. We also love the idea of promoting a camelid program at MSU and of bringing an alpaca show to the west side of the state as both Michigan shows are currently held on the east side of the state. Even if we don't get elected to the board, we plan to sit on one of the association's committees which include:

Member Education
Public Awareness and Education
Election/Membership
Events
Fiber
Fundraising
Marketing
Website
Medical
Industry Networking
Legislation
Michigan Resources

We are excited about MI-ALPACA and encourage you to check the association out for yourself by following this link:

MI-ALPACA

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Herd Health

Yesterday, I had the day off of work and Noah worked a half day, so we headed out to the barn for some long overdue herd health and barn cleaning. We have been so busy with the holidays and traveling recently that we haven't had a whole lot of time for cleaning and herd health. So yesterday, Noah completely mucked out the alpaca stall and we put new straw down for the alpacas to nestle down in now that the cold weather is upon us. We attempted to make a "litter pan" for the alpacas. We cornered off an area with large beams and placed their poo in there to try and encourage them to use one place for pooing as they tend to instinctively poo in piles. It has worked for us in the past when our herd was much smaller, but now with so many alpacas, half of them seem to enjoy making their own poo piles all over the place. Anyway, enough about poo (my dad always comments on how my blogs always revolve around alpaca beans).

In addition to cleaning out the barn and stall, we did some health checks on the alpacas. Every one's toenails were good and did not need trimming. We also did not have to give any shots as we choose to not give them ivomec in the winter. We did however body score everyone. This is where you feel each alpacas' backbone near their shoulder blades. You want to feel a nice up-side-down "V"-like shape. If the "V" is too narrow, they may be too skinny and need extra food. If the "V" is more like an up-side-down "U" or even flat like a table top, they are overweight or obese. For the most part, every one's body scores were good. Bellesa is on the skinny side, probably because she is smaller to begin with, pregnant and an older girl. We feed her extra grain and have a blanket on her at all times (although we have a heck of a time trying to keep it on straight and keep it from riding up). Our other grey girl Silver Sox is a little overweight, but I haven't cut back on her grain since it is winter and a little extra insulation on her is good as she is from Southern Indiana where she hasn't seen as much snow and cold as we get up here is Michigan. Noah and I are so amazed with Maree Sol's body score. Ever since we have had her, she has been overweight. She is a very long and tall girl, but has always been obese as well. Her body score used to feel like a table top and she had a gob of fat and flesh that hung on her chest and between her front legs. She is difficult to get on the scale, but the last time we had her on there, she weighed 236 lbs (and that was NOT pregnant!) Our other girls weigh around 150 lbs or less, so you can imagine how large she was. Anyway, now that she had been nursing d'Artagnan for 5 months (and he is a monster of a cria like his Mama) she has lost a lot of weight and has a normal body score! Imagine going from a table top back to a perfect "V!" Because she has lost so much weight in nursing, her skin hangs off her now, especially on her sides and on her chest where the most fat seemed to collect. Now we don't have to put Maree Sol in fat camp in the spring.

While we were out in the barn, we also behavior tested all the girls as they are all over 90 days bred as of Christmas Eve. All eight of the girls spit, ran with their ears back, kicked, and screeched at Smokey (much to his disappointment). This is a good sign and means that most likely, they are all pregnant and will hold their pregnancies now that they over 90 days. We are contemplating having the vet out to do ultrasounds this month. I am very excited to have so many new little cria on our farm next year. Everyone is due between the end of April and the beginning of September.

While doing herd health, we also weighed each cria and checked out how their fiber is coming in. This is the first year we have had more than one cria born on our farm, so it is fun to not only watch them play and interact with one another, but also fun comparing them to one another.

Our little white guy out of Lady is 7 months old now. He weighed in at 63 lbs. Although he is the oldest cria, he weighs less than all the other crias. This could be due to the fact that he had a rough start at life and was bottle fed. Also, his dam is medium in size and his sire is smaller, so he may just be a smaller alpaca. He is very compact, has nice fiber coverage and has the most density in fiber of any of our cria.

Our next oldest is our little...or should I say monster....d'Artagnan out of Maree Sol. He is 5 months old now and weighed in at a whopping 85 lbs. We will probably start weaning him very soon. d'Artagnan is the friendliest of our cria. He is very easy to work with and very curious. He has the best staple length of any of our cria and decent crimp. It is difficult to tell whether he is going to turn out fawn or rose grey. His base color is fawn, but he definitely has white fiber mixed in all over the place. I am just wondering if the white in his fiber is consistent enough to be considered rose grey in the show ring. From what we are told, his sire Smokey was dark brown when he was born and turned grey with time. I guess time will tell for d'Artagnan.

Our next oldest is Jolie Rouge out of Snowflake. She is 4 1/2 months old and weighed in at 64 lbs. She has nice fiber coverage and decent density and crimp. On the outside, her fiber is faded to a dark golden color, but on the inside she is a rich dark brown or possibly bay black color. It is very difficult to tell. I imagine her sire Smokey looked much like her when he was a cria.

Our youngest cria is Little Miss Rosco out of Cinderella. She is 4 months old and weighed in at 65lbs. She reminds me so much of her mother Cinderella. She seems to be smaller boned and petite like Cindy and her fiber is amazingly soft like Cinderella's. She also has Cinderella's head and face shape. She is her spitting image of her grey mom in black. Rosco is the most high strung and most spunky cria of the bunch. She is always jumping straight up in the air and racing around. Her fiber is a beautiful, non-fading midnight black and very fine.

So that's an update on our herd management. We can't wait to get our 2009 cria in the show ring starting in the spring. We plan to work on weaning and halter training this winter. We also can't wait for all the new cria to arrive in 2010!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Barn Fire

So, one of the reasons that I have been so behind on blogging is that we had a barn fire on November 2, 2009. As I look back at the date on my calendar, I ironically laugh to myself as I realize that Nov. 2nd is the "Day of the Dead," which is a holiday celebrated in Mexico. I suppose it is an appropriate day to have a fire and experience so much loss. I am uncertain where to start the story, so let me begin by saying this is what our hay barn did look like before the fire. We had put more work into this barn than any of our others since moving in 2 years ago. It had a large loft above it, where we stored our hay. On this particular day, we had 200 bales of our own beautiful 2nd cut up there. We also used the barn to house our herdsire Smokey, our 20 or so chickens and we stored misc. farm supplies like water buckets and tools in the barn. We also occasionally put our dogs in the dog run or our female alpacas in the barn when their barn got too soggy.

I suppose I will begin the story at the beginning. On November 2nd, I was feeling particularly inspired by a blog my cousin wrote about running and preparing for a marathon. It got me motivated and when I got home, I asked Noah if he wanted to go running. Noah ran track back in high school and has been wanting to get back into running, so of course he agreed. We put on our running shoes, put Lola in her crate and brought our older dane Roz with us running. We ran on a dirt road near our house, where we usually walk the dogs. It is a very peaceful road with only one house on it and winds through the woods and fields. We got about 2 miles from home and turned around to go back. As we turned around, we noticed black smoke in the air coming from the direction of our farm. As their are not really any houses around us, we were immediately alarmed. Neither of us had brought our cell phones and didn't have a clear view of where the smoke was coming from. Noah jogged ahead and got a clearer shot across a corn field. I will never forget the words he said or how he said them; I feel as though that moment will be ingrained in my head forever. I heard him say, "Oh my God the house!" and he left Roz with me and took off sprinting. I don't think I have ever experienced so much shock, pain, fear, and helplessness in my life. I had no idea what to do and my brain felt like mush. I just started running with Roz. It felt like the longest moments of my life running down that road. Somehow I kept up with Roz. I was just crying and screaming hysterically "Oh my God, what do I do?" The fear and helplessness were taking over. I could see the flames high in the air surrounded by black smoke! All I could think of was Lola burning to death in her crate and of all my pictures (a week earlier, I had brought 20 or so albums of my childhood pictures from my mom's house to scan into the computer, so they wouldn't be lost). It is so strange what is really important to us when we think we have lost everything! I didn't care about the house or anything in it. All I could think of was Lola and my pictures...the two things that I could never replace! Then a new fear settled in; Noah was much faster than I was and I began to worry that he would run into the burning house to save Lola and he would be hurt or killed himself, in the chaos! I continued to run and cry and pray out loud, "dear God, where are the sirens!" It wasn't until I had made it to the end of the dirt road that I started seeing sirens going by. Although the run down the road felt endless, I looked up and realized I had run the whole thing in a blur and a car was pulling up to me. There was a young couple in the front seat and the man rolled down his window and said...."IT"S NOT YOUR HOUSE! IT'S THE HAY BARN!" I cannot tell you what it felt like to hear those words! Waves of relief washed over me. I cried tears of happiness and joy. Although I was sad to lose our barn and hay, I was immensely relieved to learn that Lola and our home were okay! I feel like there are not even words to describe the fear and then happiness I felt. The young couple offered Roz and I a ride the rest of the way home. I later learned, that Noah had flagged down this couple and they had driven him home and let him use their cell phone to call 911 (who told him, the fire had already been called in). Noah asked the couple to go back and pick his wife up and to tell me that it was not the house, but the barn on fire. I struggled to get Roz in the back seat of their small car. She was obviously upset and scared at my hysterical behavior. The couple dropped us off and I ran up the driveway as fire trucks began to pull up. When I arrived, the hay barn was completely engulfed in flames, but was still standing. The fire fighters were getting their hoses ready and Noah cut the power to the barns and some good Samaritans were hosing down our other two barns with our garden hose from the garage. The flames were getting severely close to the other barns and I was terrified the other barns would catch fire. I put Roz in the house, and ran out to check on the alpacas. The whole herd was huddled together out in the pasture, the furthest they could get from the flames and smoke. Smokey's pasture was half demolished from the fire, but he stood in the far corner of his pasture, far from the flames. After a few minutes the barn fell down and the firefighters started putting the flames out. I stopped crying and calmed down a little and called my parents to let them know what was going on. I also got my camera out snapped a few pictures (for the blog of course). It was already dark, so there weren't many good shots.

The two good Samaritans stopped to talk with us before they left. They said they were driving by and say the flames and thought the fire looked a little big to be purposeful and noticed no one was outside. They called 911, let what chickens were left out of the barn/pen, and started hosing down our other barns. I am so thankful to these two men, but was so flustered at the time, I didn't think to ask who they were or where they were from. I wish I knew so I could thank them properly. So, THANK YOU for everything! A half dozen fire engines showed up from the Grant Fire Department and the Newaygo Fire Department. Although the barn and everything in it is a complete loss, I am thankful to the firefighter who helped to put the fire out and save our other barns from catching fire. The fire chief even stopped to play with Roz and Lola before he left as he has great danes of his own. Here is what the barn looked like the next day.

Although it is possible for hay to spontaneously combust if it is stored when it is wet or damp, the fire fighters believe this fire was electrical. The barn was old and had old electrical running through it. It looked as though the fire started below the loft as much of the hay above was not completely burned and now is just a huge heaping mess in the yard. Of course it is all ruined though because of the smoke, water, and chemicals put on the fire. After the firefighters put the flames out, the heap continued to smoke. They put a foam over it to try and suffocate the embers. They told us to watch the heap and as soon as the foam wears off, put a sprinkler on it to keep it damp. They told us to watch for flames and call them back if it flared up again. Of course, with these instructions, I could not sleep the rest of the night.
After the fire fighter's left, Noah and I caught Smokey and put him in another pasture for the night. I looked around for the chickens, as I thought they had all escaped and survived. We decided we would look more and do some clean up and rearranging in the morning as it had been a physically draining and emotional night. Of course, I didn't get much sleep for the before mentioned reason.

You can see in these pictures the water pump sticking up above the piles of rubble. It of course no longer works. Luckily Noah is handy and put one in our larger barn so we could use it this winter.
The next day, I realized we had lost 11 chickens in the fire and the surviving chickens were singed black here and there, but otherwise were okay. We put up panels to close off the catch pen as it was destroyed in the fire. We also put panels up to make a stall in the girls barn for Smokey; he doesn't seem to mind at all being closer to his ladies!

Noah took a pitch fork and went through the smoking heap and tried to put out the hot spots with the hose. In doing so, he found a few of our chickens. It was very sad; they looked like cooked rotisserie chickens. The heap continued to smolder and smoke for 4 days after the fire. We had the sprinkler running on it for days.

The barn, chickens, and hay were such a loss, but can all be replaced and pales in comparison to my fears of the house and Lola burning. I am also so thankful that all the alpacas are okay! We are so thankful to everyone for their support! We had an outpouring of thoughts, prayers, phone calls, emails, and people stopping by to offer help and support. Apparently word travels very quickly in a small town and local farmers, neighbors, other alpaca farms and even the vets office had heard and offered the support and condolences within a day. In addition to prayers, people offered hay, and storage space in their barns, and a temporary home for the alpacas if we needed it. Thank you to those who adopted our burn victim chickens as they were now homeless. Thank you to everyone for your support! We are so blessed to have you in our lives!
I hope this tree survives as it is one of my favorites! We will see how it looks next spring. We have been working with our insurance company and luckily had our barns insured. We plan to clean up and rebuild by next spring. Although we didn't have time to clean up the mess before the snow hit, Noah did install the water pump and ran electrical out the girls barn so we were set for winter. We look forward to starting over in the spring!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Finally...Cement in the Barn!

Since we moved into the house and started renovating the barns for the alpacas, Noah and I have discussed cementing in the floors of the horse stalls that we turned into the alpaca shelter area in our large barn. While the floors in the rest of that barn and the other barns were cemented already, the horse stalls where we house the alpacas were not. When we moved in, they hadn't used the barn for horses in a few years, but there was about 2 feet of old horse manure and straw in the 4 horse stalls. Since moving in almost 2 years ago, we have mucked the stalls out until it was just dirt and we took 2 stall walls out to make one large stall for the female alpacas instead of 3 horse stalls. Clean up last winter was a mess with the dirt floor. A couple times, when things would thaw out, we would have to move our alpacas into the hay barn temporarily because the stalls would become flooded with melted snow and ice from outside. Also, the alpacas' poo piles became messy holes dug into the dirt. As we tried to clean up poo and pee, we kept digging further and further into the ground, making a very uneven floor. We decided this year that we would take the money we made from our alpaca farm open house for National Alpaca Farm Days and pay to cement in the floors. So on Halloween day we had a cement truck deliver a few tons of cement and we got to work (I know...I am about a month and a half late in writing this, but things have been very busy!). The original plan was to drive the cement truck right up to the barn and run the funnel thing into the stall and poor the cement. Noah had already prepped the stalls by evening out the holes in the floor and sloping it towards the door so water and pee would run out the door. He also made forms to hold all the cement in. Well, the day before Halloween, we got lots and lots of rain. We told the cement truck driver about our concerns of the ground being very mushy and fear that he may get stuck. He said he would be fine and proceeded across our lawn with his big truck. Well, just as we predicted, he got stuck about halfway to the barn! He was unable to get unstuck and his funnel thing was not long enough to run to the barn. He thought that he might be able to move the truck once he got some of the weight of the cement out. So, Noah began the labor intensive task of pushing wheel barrows of cement from the middle of our yard into the barn. After moving several tons of cement himself, the truck was still not able to budge and was putting big muddy gouges in our lawn! The driver ended up having to call another cement truck driver and waiting several hours before the other driver could come pull him out with his cement truck. In the meantime, Noah and I worked to smooth out the cement with a 2 x 4 and some tools we had rented. The cement job really turned out much better than I had anticipated! The yard didn't fair as well. Here are some pictures.

wet cement

The picture below is when the other cement truck arrived and was getting ready to pull the stuck truck out.
As I watched from the window, I cringed as the first cement truck barely missed our well!

Here was the "artwork" left behind!

And a little "artwork" of our own!

We had originally wanted to put the dogs paw prints in the cement as well, but decided against it as we imagined the dogs getting loose from us and running through the newly laid wet cement!

Well, the alpacas seem to like the new cemented in stall. No more muddy mess! I was so excited when none of the alpacas attempted to poo or pee in the barn for the first 4 weeks after cementing it in! Unfortunately, when the snow hit, they alpacas refused to go outside to relieve themselves and started a big ol' pile right in the center of the stall. Fortunately, clean up has been much easier than the dirt floor! All in all, I am happy we did it and I hope that our grass returns in the mud trenches next spring!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Holidays from our Farm to You!


Love,
Noah and Jillian Schwander
AND
Lola, Rozalyn, the Alpaca Herd and all the other Creatures here at
Ashton Stone Alpaca Farm!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mountain Lions, Coyotes, and Bald Eagles...Oh My!

It has recently come to my attention that we have lots of predators lurking around our farm and community. In addition to occasional black bear sightings, we have recently run into a few more predators.

Yesterday, as I pulled out of the driveway for work, a large low flying bird was flying towards me down the road. Although there were a few flurries, I could see the distinct white head and tail and brown body and wings. It was a Bald Eagle! Although I have seen many a sad looking Bald Eagle in zoos, and seen them on television and possibly at a distance in the wild, this was the closest I have ever been to a wild Bald Eagle...right in my own yard! It was beautiful and definitely looked majestic flying amidst the snowflakes. Although Bald Eagles have been known to prey on small fawns, their diet consists mainly of scavenged food, fish, other birds, small reptiles and rodents. We only live 2 miles from the Muskegon River and our surroundings are teeming with prey, so I am not too worried about a Bald Eagle carrying one of our farm animals off. No worries about the alpacas and great danes, and now that it is winter, our chickens, ducks and kitty tend to hang out in the barn, far from the watchful eye of the Eagle. I look forward to seeing more Bald Eagles near our home; hopefully I will be able to snap a picture! Although I didn't get a picture this time, it looked something like this flying towards me.

On to the next predator that has been lurking around our farm. Two nights ago, Noah and I were out in the barn with another couple who were visiting, checking out our farm and alpacas. It was about 6pm and already completely dark outside. While we were standing in the barn talking, we heard intense yipping in the corn field directly behind our alpaca pastures. As it was dark, we were not able to see the coyotes, but they were definitely making a fuss. Our herdsire Smokey and his mother Lady, our alpha female, ran out towards the sound and stood on alert until the raucous stopped. Although coyotes have been known to hunt in packs and bring down livestock and prey as large as elk, their diet mainly consists of small mammals, rodents, reptiles, ground nesting birds and insects. Coyotes are presently the most abundant livestock predator in Western North America causing the majority of sheep, goat, and cattle losses. Despite these statistics, I am more worried that the coyotes would prey on our chickens, duck or barn cat than the alpacas. Our alpaca fence is 5 foot tall, no climb, horse fence and unless they dig under the fence, they can't get through it. Also, when our alpacas have been faced with dogs, they tend to huddle together and move together in a large mob stomping, kicking and snorting. They also give out warning calls when they sense any signs of danger, which alerts us and can scare off predators. Also, our two large great danes tend to keep anything unwanted out of our yard. Although I was not able to get any pics of the coyotes, I imagine they looked much like the picture below.

While Noah and I were away on vacation in Texas, we got a call from Noah's brother saying that a Mountain Lion was caught on video by hunters a 1/2 mile east of M-37 in Grant (we live 1/2 mile west of M-37 in Grant...Yikes!). I quickly went to WZZM13's website to check it out. Here is the link:

Newaygo County Hunters Say they Spotted a Cougar

On further investigation on WZZM13's website, I found another video shot in December 2008 of a possible cougar in Kent City. Here is that link:

Cougar spotted in Kent City?

While I have heard rumors of Mountain Lions returning to Michigan, I hadn't realized they were so close to home! Now I think of all the times in the last two years that I have gone walking alone in the woods with Rozalyn. I am sure Roz would have scared the big cat off, but I can't imagine what I would do if I came across it! Anyway, I am more worried about Mountain Lions attacking our alpacas than attacks from black bear, bald eagles, or coyotes. Although Noah assures me that there are a very low number of cougars running around our neck of the woods and they have plenty of deer and other prey to snack on, I still worry about it. Cougars can become quite large and range in length from 5-9 feet and weigh anywhere between 65 and 250 lbs. They tend to feed on ungulates, like white tail deer as well as smaller prey. They will usually only kill one large ungulate every two weeks. They are ambush predators and tend to stalk their prey. Fortunately for me, they are reclusive and tend to avoid any contact with humans. Upon a little further research, I found that when faced with a cougar, experts suggest exaggerating the threat to the animal through intense eye contact, loud but calm shouting, and any other action to appear larger and more menacing, may make the animal retreat. Fighting back with sticks and rocks, or even bare hands, is often effective in persuading an attacking cougar to disengage. As with many predators, a cougar may attack if cornered, if a fleeing human stimulates their instinct to chase, or if a person "plays dead." I will keep these tips in mind from now on while walking. As beautiful as these creatures are, I just hope that neither I nor the alpacas or any of our other pets are ever faced by this.


Friday, December 4, 2009

African Safari, Cavern Exploration, Bull Riding and Mountain Climbing

So it has been a month since I really blogged last. I don't like to go that long without an update, especially when some crazy things have been happening on our farm, but we have been extremely busy. It all started about 4 or 5 weeks ago when our hay barn burned down. This is a long story and I promise to blog about it very soon. After dealing with the loss of our barn, hay, and chickens, we left our farm in the capable hands of farm sitters and went out of town for nearly 4 weeks. First, Noah and I flew to the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area to visit my father. After visiting my father, we went to the Riverwalk in San Antonio for a few days for the National Runaway and Homeless Youth Conference that I attended for work. We returned home for 3 days, re-packed and then headed to the Bryson City, NC with the great danes in tow. We spent a week in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains with family and friends for Thanksgiving. Then, we made the 14 hour drive back, I was home for 1 day and then went to Lansing for the rest of the week for a training for work. I am extremely happy to say that we are finally home! I plan to stay put until we leave to visit family in Indianapolis Christmas weekend.

Because we have been gone for so long, there is a lot to catch up on around the farm, especially now that it is a winter wonderland outside. I spent the morning cleaning piles of paca poo in the barn and putting fresh stray down for the alpacas to nestle down in. We still have lots of winterizing to do yet this weekend, but before I get too ahead of myself, I'd like to share some pictures of a few highlights from our travels (although they are not really alpaca related... some very animal related).

Okay, so we didn't really go to Africa for a safari, but we did get to go on an awesome African animal safari in Glen Rose, Texas at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. At Fossil Rim, you see animals living in their near natural environment. The 1700 acres of open spaces lets you see and interact with deer, gazelle, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, emu, cheetahs, wildebeest, oryx and other wildlife. You drive your own vehicle through the 9 1⁄2 mile tour and feed the animals right out your car window. You see long distance views of savannah-like pastures, forested areas and hillsides for the animals to roam. Fossil Rim gives you nature at its best: beautiful vistas and wildlife living in the open. It was definitely an unforgettable and amazing experience. My absolute favorite were the giraffes...I wish I could add a herd of giraffes to our farm!

The bird pictures above were taken at the San Antonio Zoo.

We also got the opportunity to go on a tour of the Natural Bridge Caverns, which is the largest cave system in Texas. It was a breathtaking to be in a 350 foot long cavern that was 220 feet below the surface of the Earth!

We also went to the Billy Bob's, the world's largest honky tonk. They even have live bull riding in the bar. We thought we would give it a try! Billy Bob's is located in the Historic Stockyards of Fort Worth where they have cattle drives through the street twice a day. I got an authentic pair of cowboy boots and hat and Noah got a new leather belt and cowboy belt buckle. I even got to see an antique spinning wheel at the cowboy museum. It was fun playing cowboy for a day!

We also toured The Alamo in San Antonio which is picture above.

While we didn't really go mountain climbing, we did do a lot of hiking on Baines Mountain in North Carolina. We also did a lot of eating, relaxing, reading, playing board games, decorating cookies and having fun with friends and family for Thanksgiving.

While in North Carolina, we toured the Biltmore Estate, the largest home in America which is pictured above. It was beautifully decorated for Christmas!

Well the last few weeks have been an amazing adventure, but noow its back to farm chores.