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.
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.
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.
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.