ONE YEAR!!!

I was going to find some crazy, funny photo but with Memorial Day weekend happening, I wanted to first tell you how proud I am to be the big sister of Sergeant Anthony Clayton (cover photo, right). He is currently serving and doing his duty for his country in the Marine Corps. He’s pretty amazing. Have a safe one and take a moment to thank a serviceman or servicewoman. We are certainly not perfect but it’s because of our active and veteran military members that we are the land of the free and home of the brave.

 

This is a long one, mostly because I combined two posts into one. The first is quick and reviews our first year plus “that heifer”. The second is all alpaca talk. Literally. 

Wow. We made it! One year on the K/F Ranch and we actually are thriving! So, what did we do?

Well, we added alpacas (I’ll get to that). And cows (keep reading for a chuckle). And bulls. And a new dog. And cats. And a betta fish. And raised a lot (and lost a few) chickens. And Guineas. I get fresh eggs everyday while both the rabbit and insect populations are down.

I downgraded my closet space and gained a metal shipping container to hold all the crap I don’t want in the house.

My husband finally gets to spend time with his family. That’s probably the best part of this year. No more 60 hour work weeks. We still work hard but now we work together. Funny enough, we sorta miss the city but we relish the open air and making our own schedules.

I’m working on perfecting homemade bread. And cakes. I tried a pumpkin cake with mascarpone frosting for Mother’s Day. It was really good, just looked ugly. I wonder if there’s an “Ugly Cake” competition? I could win that.

As a result of the cakes, I’m still teaching a few fitness classes in town. I love seeing the changes and improvements my members have made. We are headed out to do our first 5K together and I couldn’t be more proud of them!

We survived a late spring blizzard, a hailstorm a few days later, a wet summer last year, a crazy heifer, and a spoiled pony.

Speaking of crazy heifers…

After the blizzard (but before the hail) that Mother Nature threw at us on the last freaking days of April, we were having lunch. I saw a random cow walking down the county road. Nothing odd about that except she wasn’t ours. She walked straight to our pens (that’s where we gather and brand/vaccinate if needed/load our cattle) and laid down. No problem there; after all, the storm was a doozie. 50mph winds and a few inches of snow. The blizzard shut down highways, stranded travelers, and killed a lot of cattle that had yet to adjust to the grasslands of New Mexico. Sick cattle tend to distance themselves from the herd so we figured this one was lost, tired, and ready to go to greener pastures. An hour or so later, we decided to go check on this loner. I walk in the pens, thinking I’m about to walk up to a carcass. Her head whips up. Oh crap. She stands. Hi cow, nice cow? She charges! I scream. Luckily I am all about exercise because it didn’t take long for me to push her sideways and then climb over the fence to safety. If there were a track and field event for fence vaulting I would get the gold. Turns out, sick and stressed cattle can be a little crazy! I threw a snowball at her on the safe side of the fence, she charged again, I went back to the car. Even with a water source and hay, the cow didn’t make it. Actually, she was a heifer. One crazy heifer. I had some wine after that encounter. (FYI: our wine is on sale right now till the 31st of May. Go get some!)

I wish I could say that it was super easy for us to transition but poor Nacho had the worst of luck last week. He got bitten by a rattlesnake and had to be on antibiotics. Poor guy got bitten on his leg and of course it’s the one that makes him limp anyway; it’s a congenital defect common with Cocker Spaniels. But, he’s better and hates snakes now so hopefully we won’t have an issue again.

Nacho Made It!
Nacho Lives!!! 

Then there are the alpacas. Oh, the alpacas.

I like to think of them as the angry uncles to the calves. The uncle that sits outside with a water hose and yells at the local kids to get off his lawn even though they’re across the street. You know exactly who I’m talking about because you probably had one growing up. Anyway, the main reason they were so cranky is because they needed to be sheared.

We just got back from Santa Fe and Que Sera Alpacas. Y’all need to meet this great group of people. I’ve already asked to come back for next year’s shearing. The owner, Anne Stallcup, is a treasure trove of info and the people who work with her are true New Mexico. They make life here special. Here’s the Facebook page, too. They love these camelids and it shows in their care and their handling. Not only did I get my alpacas sheared, I got to volunteer the whole day and see just how things should run. The shearers, the employees, the volunteers, the grounds…I was there and it was awesome! The crias (baby alpacas) are adorable. Some of the fiber from Anne’s alpacas were kept for competition. Did you know there’s competitions for them? Seriously, it’s a thing and it’s serious business. Now not only do I want a competition but I want competition alpaca fiber. And more alpacas. (Don’t tell the husband).

This is what fiber looks like after a year of growth on a competition level alpaca. (obviously not mine) It’s GORGEOUS and sooooooo soft! It’s sheared off and carefully packaged, weighed, and recorded. The main body part of the fiber is called the blanket. This blanket is amazing. One day, it can be turned into yarn and spun into a scarf, a throw, even a purse.

Competition Fiber

So how did my boys do with the shearing? Well….I mean, they finally got some well deserved (and long overdue) TLC. They just didn’t know at the time that they wanted it. Normally an alpaca is sheared every year. I mean, it’s hot in New Mexico. Alpacas are found in mountainous regions of Peru. They need to get that stuff off! Since I got my alpacas too late last year to shear, they’ve had to carry that fiber all winter, not to mention the years before they came to live on the ranch. We guesstimate that it was about 3 years of growth. How hot is that? Well, imagine putting a down coat on in the summer and stand outside. Now, add on your sweatpants, some gloves, a hat, and at least 4 of your heaviest sweaters and maybe some leggings. Get the picture? This is what they looked like before:

Popcorn (the white one) and Ludicrous (aka Luda) were the last two to be sheared out of 103 total alpacas over two days. This was done so that we could get a good look at their fiber, take time checking them over for health concerns, and getting them used to the sounds and environment. It’s a 3 hour trip to Santa Fe from our house so calm was necessary. When it was time, here’s how we got them from the stall to the shearing area.

Carline

Cars. Lots of cars. Their stall is only about 50 feet away but the last thing we wanted was a loose alpaca. So we made a wall of cars! I baited them with feed and the crew circled behind them to make a human chain of sorts. We eventually pushed them into the barn and set them up in a paddock. Popcorn was first. Yikes. He’s my spastic nervous one. In order to do this safely, the alpaca is lifted up by 2-3 people. Then another 2-3 people get his feet in loops that are connected by a pulley system. You pull the pulley and stretch out the alpaca so that it can lay down. Doesn’t hurt, just stretches them out so the shearer can safely work on them without getting dragged off. Popcorn spat and made the “I hate this a lot!” sound. You can hear a sample of an angry alpaca (and watch it get sheared) by clicking here for a YouTube video.  Popcorn sounds the same. Before you get all upset, just know that they hate this part but it’s necessary maintenance. They aren’t in pain and they aren’t being hurt. They’re just like outside dogs getting a bath after a skunk attack; it’s terrible but has to be done. Ludicrous, on the other hand, was calm and quiet and probably smiling because he knew he was about to get his winter coats taken off.

Here’s the fun part: after both were done we weighed the fiber. Now, I think the most fiber that was collected by a show alpaca was about 8lbs total. TOTAL. Popcorn came in at TWENTY POUNDS. 2-0 pounds of fluff came off! Luda wasn’t far behind at about TWELVE pounds. That’s a lot!!! But the best part is they aren’t all fluff. Popcorn is strong! We are pretty sure that they were both trained to walk on a halter and that’s great news. It means that I can work with them and possibly have well behaved pets. It might take years, but hey, I’ve got time. Plus, they were both quite healthy. Phew!!! I was convinced we’d find skin and bones and an occasional cornstalk but that wasn’t the case. Instead, they are happily grazing New Mexico native grass and look good. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do with the sheared fiber because it was so matted, so we tossed it. BUT, Luda’s fiber is black (and gorgeous!!!) and Popcorn’s was this brilliant white, so next year we will return and see just what kind of fiber we’ve got. I guess that means I better learn how to knit or something. For now, I have to work on getting them to trust me again. They’re both extremely comfortable and happy to be home but they’re still pissed at me for hauling them 3 hours and not letting them make “friends” with the female alpacas. I have sweet feed, they’ll come around. Until then, they’ll just look kinda goofy and walk away every time I get close. This is what their fiber looked like while shearing (their necks are top left and you’re seeing the blanket of fiber they sheared off. Fluffy white and black!) and what they look like now. Try not to laugh too hard. But feel free to laugh because I still do!

 

One more thing: while I was there, I had the pleasure of wearing custom earrings by Coco & Gigi, made by my talented friend Maria Melendez. Her info is in the photo below. Do yourself a favor and order some awesome jewelry from her! Let her know Red Lips ‘n Cow Chips sent ya.

CocoGigi

 

 

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V is for Victory, of course!

Y’all. I got to visit the Victory Ranch. Ok, great, Andrea. You went somewhere and probably already told me about it on Facebook. But wait! Lemme tell ya about this little gem of a place. I bet you can’t guess what’s there. Here’s a hint: not chickens. No friends, the Victory Ranch is not a chicken place. It’s about alpacas! Lots of alpacas. 200 alpacas, a few horses, and big dogs. Did I geek out? Of course.

You know how some people are put in your path at the right time? Well, that’s how I feel about Carol Weisner. She’s the owner of Victory Ranch and, with her two amazing staff members (alpaca wranglers? alpranglers? wranglepacas?) run the 1,000 acre ranch providing tours to the public every Friday through Monday.  Not only that, Carol invited my family to the ranch on their day off. I’m not that popular but I’d like to think it helped. Just kidding, it didn’t.

Let me start from the beginning…

Remember when I got those alpacas and had no idea what to do with them besides what the books said? Well, I realized I needed in-person help and wasn’t afraid to ask for it. I found Victory Ranch online and sent a quick email. Boy, am I glad she answered! After a few quick conversations on the phone, it was settled. We could come down on a Tuesday and check out what alpacas “should” look like. See, my boys are cute and cuddly but they need their nails trimmed, their teeth ground down, and next spring will be in dire need of a shearing.

So Carol invited us with open arms and we took the invite with open minds! Within an hour, I made 3 new friends, my daughter fell in love with Rosie the Great Pyrenees, and I got some amazingly soft socks and gloves. I also learned stuff, too. Like how alpaca fiber (it’s not wool, it’s fiber) doesn’t contain lanolin; that lanolin can be an irritant for people with sensitive skin. No worries with alpaca fiber because they don’t have lanolin! It’s not itchy.  And it’s warm. Sooooooo warm. I saw what raw fiber looks like, what finished products look and feel like, what alpacas look like after a shearing. I saw healthy nails, ground teeth, happy alpacas look like! We got to feed some and halter one. They’re just freaking cool.

And then there’s the shop. O to the M to the G. So many beautiful things to touch and buy! I ended up with some dryer balls. Ya know how everyone is going the green route? Well, out here we still don’t have recycling but I at least don’t have to use dryer sheets or fabric softener. So far, so good. Not good. Fantastic. It’s one less thing I have to spend money on and dryer balls can last for at least a year or more. Plus, no chemicals, no worries you’ll run out. And they reduce energy consumption. Go get some.

I’m gonna plug the hell out of this place because it’s that amazing. When Carol and her husband opened up this farm 25 years ago, it was because they wanted to live out their dreams. While her husband has since passed, she continues to dream big. You can’t help but respect and love her for that. Seriously, if you aren’t near the Mora/Las Vegas, New Mexico area, you need to find an alpaca farm close by and check it out. Alpaca Farm Days are coming up and a lot of places will be open next weekend for the event. It’s a cool little day trip, you’re around cute fluffiness, so why not? Plus, you might make new friends along the way.

Something else to consider: buy something while you’re there. Supporting these small farms and small ranchers (like us!) means you support a local business and a family investment. You know I’m all about helping out my friends. A lot of small places like this only survive when you, the visitor, bust out your wallet. They don’t have big name supporters or sponsors. There isn’t a government subsidy that will bail them out if things get tough (and they are!). They have you. If you can, get something for yourself and a gift for a friend. Sure, it might be a little out of your budget but it might mean they get to dream big another day.

Here’s another plug for ya. Just down the road from Victory Ranch is the Salman Raspberry Farm. It’s recently been sold but things will hopefully stay the same. You can pick your own raspberries or buy some prepackaged in the store. Have a quick lunch at the cafe and enjoy the scenery. It’s really gorgeous and I have to admit, I’ve never been back there but always wondered where that road next to the big red barn on I-25 would take me. Turns out, it took me to a happy place.

Here’s a list of links you should check out:

Victory Ranch Facebook Page – like and follow their page. If you are thinking about adding alpacas to your place, they have some for sale!

Shop the Victory Ranch store online here!!! PS – there’s a gorgeous orange coat in the far back of the shop. My birthday is December 27. Just sayin’….

Salman Raspberry Ranch – I got a wildflower seed mix that I can’t wait to sow!

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Ranch Life is Busy!

PS – The image above is Lacey. Girlfriend can ride, y’all!!!

Seriously, I’ve been busy. Ya see, when we go all out we go ALL. OUT.

So where do I start? Well, we’ve had the greenest August in a long time. That’s great for replenishing the pasture, the cattle have more than enough to graze, great for fire threats, terrible for mosquitoes and weeds. Our old mower needed replacement about 3 years ago but my father-in-law kept fixing it just enough to keep it going. However, it’s on its last leg for real this time…so we got a new one! It’s literally the first time in my life that I’ve owned a new vehicle. Corona (the new dog) is growing like a weed and Nacho is finally good with sleeping in the dog house. Taco is a gang leader and brings all the other cats to the house to play and catch moths at night. The chickens are still laying and the rooster is making a very nice mature crow. Granted it happens at 6am, 10am, 3pm, and a few evening squawks, I’m just proud of him for trying!

For the past month, really since August 20, we’ve packed up and gone camping on 3 separate occasions. We actually just got home Monday from our latest adventure. And every trip was amazing!!! Friends, food, laughs, mountain air, cool breezes, lots of s’mores…the good stuff that makes up a summer. I think we’re taking a break from camping at least until October, when we get to head to Albuquerque for the International Balloon Fiesta!  Not only do I LOVE the balloon fiesta, it’s also baby girl’s birthday party. All the more reason to celebrate!

Then there’s the family visits. Our extended family is a tad bit complicated but whose isn’t? We had an antelope hunter who got here and shot his antelope within 3 hours of driving up to the ranch. We had one of my favorite people here the next day who just happens to love pie – she got apple, pumpkin, and a berry cobbler because I love her. Then we had our family of 6 come out for the holiday weekend and the kids had a blast. I still miss the big city but there’s nothing like coming “out to the country” to reset your soul. I like to think of it as all the kids going home for Thanksgiving, but without the drama.

Oh, and did I mention the fitness classes are going well? So well, I’m moving to a new building in town to accommodate knee tuck jumps and burpees. Oh yes, the exercises people love to hate! More on that next week. It’s gonna be a good one.

Then there’s the new residents of the ranch. Ok…before I delve into this one, let me just say that it’s about a 2 week interval of adding animals to the ranch. Started with my dog Nacho and 3 chickens. Wait 2 weeks, add 5 more chickens. Wait 2 weeks, add Taco the cat. 2 weeks, add more cats. A few days and the keets came. I think we got in 3 weeks before the arrival of Corona. The ironic part is that we have yet to add our own cattle but that’s coming together, too. Alright, buckle down, grab a drink (alcohol or otherwise) and get ready for this newest addition. I’ll wait.

So, it all started months ago when I thought I should learn everything there was about ranching. Remember Ranchucation 101? Yeah, didn’t think I’d use half those books but I’ve used every single one. Just in case you’ve forgotten what books I mean, there’s a picture here.

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Ranchucation 101, anyone?

I figured the ones on the right would pretty much be put into use immediately. And they have been indispensable! The Guinea Hen guide that is on my Kindle helped me raise 12 Guinea hens and they’re still alive and thriving. I already had cats and dogs in Las Cruces, so that didn’t need much of an explanation. But The Camelid Companion and Alpaca Keeping? A few months ago, that was just a nice dream. How funny would it be to pull up to a cattle ranch and see these furry creatures hanging out? Ha. Ha. Ha. I had decided that, in the middle of doing something or other, I just HAD to check out a Facebook page I rarely visit. There they were…2 alpacas who needed a home because the owner was moving and animals weren’t allowed. Shut the front door. What I like most about alpacas is that they are tad bit nicer than llamas and not as tall. I’m short, I like to stay close to the ground. They’re short, too, so obviously we need each other.

I talked it over with my husband because (a) they’re alpacas, (b) I don’t know how to load the trailer yet, and (c) they’re alpacas. I seriously expected him to laugh and say no. But he didn’t. He said yes. I mean, really, he was kind of excited in his I’m-not-excited way to have alpacas. Two days later, we hitched up the trailer and, after about 45 minutes of trying to get them out of the pen, I got alpacas. I own alpacas. I have two freaking alpacas and my poor husband only shakes his head but he can’t help but smile because they’re kinda funny looking. He did take all the dirt roads to miss going through town or the highway, though. Heaven forbid someone see this nice trailer with alpacas in it….

I have alpacas. There, I said it. And they’re crazy soft. And actually kinda crazy. They don’t trust me yet, but it’s been about 11 days. At least they now let me go in the pens with them and ate hay out of my hands yesterday. It’s slow but it’s progress!!! They fit right in with this crazy lifestyle and I love them.

As with anything in life, the learning continues. In the process of understanding shearing, teeth, nails, behavior, training, and studying like I’ve got a final exam in Med School, I’ve met some of the most amazing people. Did you know there’s an Alpaca Breeders Association for almost every state? Did you know that there’s even a national registry that tracks DNA samples of alpacas and llamas? Did you know that you can spell llama with only one L? Mind. Blown. There’s even an Alpaca Farm Days where you can get your alpaca fix. You bet your wool I’ll be there.

Now you know where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to and why you haven’t seen mi vida loca for two weeks. I am learning about how to care for alpacas and train them to trust me so that I can care for them. They’re in rough shape and need a day at the spa. Luckily, I’m not alone in the alpaca world of New Mexico. There’s a few people with alpaca farms (seriously!) I’ve reached out to that are more than helpful. I never thought I’d have alpacas. Or chickens. Or cats. Or more than one dog. But here I am, going full force country. And I love it!!! Did I mention my mother-in-law wants to buy the horse?  I don’t have an Equine Keeping book yet, but there’s always time to learn!!!

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My first “new” new vehicle.
guineas-and-grass
Guineas and Grass!
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Too cute!
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Woman. I’m an Alpaca.