Thursday, April 11, 2013

Life and Death on the Farm

Overlook by our animal cemetery

Spring is bursting with new life, from each swelling bud to the baby creatures that arrive during this "ideal" time of the year.  We like to have our alpaca babies born in the spring, too, (though we've had them every month of the year), when there is plenty of fresh green grass and mild temperatures.

Last year was as problem-free with our alpaca births as we have ever had... We had trimmed our numbers down quite a bit which always makes things easier, but we never had a single issue with birthing or babies.  Almost all of our spring-bred girls are due in May this year, but the recent short heat wave had me a little worried since the alpacas are in their fullest fleece (our alpaca shearers are coming next week) and 85 degrees with a fur coat on is HOT, even IF we pamper them with fans and such.

Today we moved the girls due in May to our "birthing" barn, and it wasn't much more than an hour later that a new cria was found, 3-4 weeks premature.  Uh oh.....  Premie alpacas can survive with lots of help and we have pulled some through, but they take full-on, intensive care from the start- I knew that even if we had chosen to take her to Ohio State or University of Tennessee, she wouldn't make the trip without intervention first.  Often they are too weak to nurse, so it's important to substitute the dam's all-important colostrum (first milk, full of antibodies, etc.) for colostrum and/or plasma from another dam.  In this case, we had both.
Mom encouraging weak, premature cria

This was a beautiful, 11 pound white girl, very weak and floppy, so we burst into quick action.  Our helper started drying and warming the baby, which seemed cold from the start when I put my finger in her mouth to test her warmness and suck reflex.  She was floppy like a dishrag, breathing slowly, and unable to lift her head.

I quickly thawed some frozen colostrum and plasma to give to the cria.  Alpaca babies are born slightly dehydrated and with low blood sugar, and this one needed all the help she could get since she wouldn't be able to stand to nurse.  She was unable to suck from a bottle, so I tube-fed her while we continued to try warming her on a large heating pad made for piglets.

We also gave her oxygen supplementation, my only regret is that I didn't think of this sooner, otherwise I know that we did EVERYTHING possible for this baby.  I guess she was just not meant for this world, and she died about 2 hours after birth....  We let her mom stay with her for a few minutes alone so that she would understand that her baby was gone, but a while later when she was back with her herdmates she still seemed to be asking us what we had done with her...

As I took the baby's tiny little soft body to a remote area at the back of our farm where we sometimes lay out creatures that have died, I reflected on how far I have come from being a city girl to living on a farm for over 23 years.... how I used to be devastated by a cria's death... and how now I was sad but quietly accepting it.  I comprehend now that one animal's death is sometimes another's food (the vultures, foxes, possums and coyotes normally strip a dead animal clean within a few days), and that each and every baby isn't necessarily meant to survive.  And sometimes there are unseen problems in a cria that won't allow them to live a healthy, quality life.

I know that when we lose a cria, there are usually others to look forward to.  I realize that there are tragedies and challenges WAY more serious than losing a baby alpaca (even an especially valuable one), as I remember friends that are struggling with cancer, the unexpected death of a family member, hungry and orphaned children in remote places, and my own life challenges.
Rest in peace, innocent one

Yes, I am sad... but I also feel so very fortunate to have been able to be close to this natural cycle of life and death on our farm.  Faith and perspective, living on the farm has taught me about these things and so much more.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Country Mice and City Mice

As much as I LOVE and appreciate our farm, it's nice to get away sometimes and go to the big city.  In this case, our daughter and I went with her good friend and her parents to one of our favorite places, Chicago, during spring break.  Wow, did we ever pack a lot into our time there!

SkyDeck on the 103rd Floor of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower, tallest building in the Western Hemisphere!
One of my new favorite places EVER, the Art Institute of Chicago.  I will never again visit Chicago without going back there.  It makes me giddy just to remember the inspiration of it, SO many wonderful impressionist pieces (TONS of Monet's, and this favorite Seurat, above).
  The Picasso exhibit was happening, I highly recommend a trip to Chicago just for that.  Even if you don't think you "like" Picasso, the exhibit was fascinating and highlighted his prolific artistic life.  He created up to 3 paintings per day at times, and took up ceramic sculpture in his 80's and 90's.  

The modern art there was awe-inspiring as well (Diego Rivera and Georgia O'Keefe and Jackson Pollack to name a few!), and I want to return for more of the modern wing and also to visit Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. 
This was an interesting 3-dimensional piece that "spoke" to me, I had to learn more about it's creator, Lee Bontecou, and am eager to devour the books about her and Picasso that I just received.
My girl loves to travel, I am so lucky to have an adventurous daughter like her to keep me young!  We loved going to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the Hancock Building to watch the sunset.

On top of these highlights, we also went to the Shedd Aquarium (very crowded but the girls LOVED it!), Lincoln Park Zoo, Chinatown, sightseeing on The Magnificent Mile, dinners at Giordano's, Cheesecake Factory, and Bubba Gump at the Navy Pier.  We walked through Millenium Park, enjoying the beautiful giant reflective sculpture, "The Bean" and had great shopping at Crate and Barrel, Watertower Place, and more!

And now, spring has arrived back at the farm and there is nowhere else I'd rather be, right here, right now, with memories of this wonderful trip floating through my imagination!  Watch for spring farm photos in the coming days, and check out some of my photography and fiber art on my new website, 

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Harvest Time... for wool, that is!

I had long anticipated getting the fleeces off our seven sheep, as I have really come to love working with their locks in my felting and their fiber was looking wonderful.  It's nice to let their wool grow as long as possible, but if we wait too long, there's a greater likelihood of them getting messed up with excess hay and other vegetable matter.

Our daughter and her friend took them out for a good walk the night before shearing, which they truly seem to enjoy! I swear they even think it's fun jumping over logs!
Look at that form, lol!

I took the sheep to my friend Dianne's for shearing, and helped with skirting fleeces from her sheep.  I think I oohed and ahhed over just about every fleece that was set on the wide table for us to skirt (pick out and trash the dirty or coarse parts).
Dianne and her husband Mike looking over Jeffrey's fleece.

The two shearers were fantastic and very experienced, leaving very few "second cuts" for us to pick out.  (Here, they're trimming a ewe's feet).
Here I am with one of my favorite fleeces... and I've already washed a little bit of it, dyed it, spun some and put it to work as fringe on a new nuno felted shawl!

Yep, nothing like a spring harvest!

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Winter Fiber Fun

Donna, myself and Cheryl with our finished fitted felt pieces

My Cleveland friends and I had our 3rd annual fiber retreat a few weeks ago, and I have to say it was the best yet!  January has become, surprisingly, one of my favorite months since there are few obligations, plenty of studio time, and the retreat to anticipate and enjoy.  I don't even mind winter weather, as I'm pretty content to stay inside (by late February and March, I'll be changing my tune!)
Madeline rust-dyeing

At the retreat, we always teach each other what we've learned over the year, and this time Cheryl and Donna were eager to try out the a fitted jacket/tunic/dress using the technique they had just learned at a demonstration clinic.  The math involved in calculating measurements and shrinkage was not nearly as daunting as I thought it might be, and all three of us had successful projects!
Me with a rust-dyed scarf

Other friends of theirs spent smaller amounts of time coming and going, and we did some experimenting/playing with rust dyeing, eco-dyeing, and snow dyeing!  SO. MUCH.  FUN.  I've continued doing some of these dyeing activities at home and even took along supplies to do snow dyeing with my parents on a recent weekend visit.  They had a blast!

 Donna with a rust-dyed scarf

 Cheryl and Donna with a snow-dyed silk piece

A silk scarf with combined eco-print and rust dyeing

Snow-dyeing with my parents, drying the silk by the fireplace

I've been felting, too, and have been creating more "art"pieces since the weather in Kentucky turns some people off wool wearables, even the lightweight nuno felt.  Here is a piece that my parents "commissioned"for their home.
The wall piece I made for my parent's home

 Another recent wall piece that will be available at The Collective

I've been doing a LOT of photography, too, watch for some of that to come in the next few days. I am completely addicted to Instagram, a photo-sharing social network for mobile photography- have you checked it out yet?  

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Farewell, 2012!

The last sunset of 2012 at Siesta Key, Florida

Happy New Year!  I don't think that I'm alone in saying good riddance to 2012, it seems that many people had a wealth of challenges last year.  The new year is filled with such promise and hope, a clean slate and a time for quiet after the bustle of the holidays, and I am especially happy that it is now 2013.

And yet, it seems ungrateful to not reflect on those many good things that have happened this past year.....

My mom's complete recovery from a serious illness last spring
The continued health of our family and many birthdays (and anniversaries) celebrated
The births of two precious new souls in our family- our darling first grandchild, Hudson and   precious great-nephew, Michael
Valued friendships... special dinners, riding with friends, fiber retreats in Ohio and at Shakertown Inspired creations, with new emphasis on photography and a special new gallery to be a part of (The Collective)
Some great trips- The Smokies and Siesta Key with family and a felting workship/art retreat to New York for me
A smooth and fruitful year of births and sales on the farm, with many healthy crias and lambs
May 2013 be one of peace, good health and prosperity for you and your family!!!
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