Rule #2 – Know where the feed goes

From the first day I visited Rene and Bob’s farm, I’ve been perplexed at how they make it work. The fact is, they don’t. And they don’t care.

Every farmer who raises any kind of livestock has to be aware of who eats what, how much they eat in a day and where future supplies of feed will come from.

Rene and Bob give their alpacas hay on an arbitrary schedule that seems to fall on whatever day no one is readily available to feed the hay. Rene “works” at the shop Monday – Saturday from 1100 to 1800, therefore she is not available to feed her own animals on those days. It takes roughly 20 minutes to drive from the ranch to the shop, a distance of approximately 13 miles.

What? If she doesn’t need to leave for the shop until 1030, what is she doing until then? Can’t she feed the animals before she leaves for work? Nope. She claims to be a farmer, but her actions prove she is not a farmer of any kind.

Real Farmers feed their animals in the morning, often before they eat themselves. Real Farmers understand that livestock of all kinds, but especially those who chew their cud, like to eat early in the day, before it gets hot, and then lay down in the afternoon/early evening to chew their cud before nightfall. No Real Farmers I’ve ever known have fed their livestock after dark, as sometimes happens on this particular alpaca “ranch.”

Bob is not a morning person. He is a Vietnam vet with PTSD and shrapnel in his back. He is medicated to control his mood swings, manage his pain and help him sleep. According to both Bob and Rene, Bob does not sleep much, but what sleep he does get is in the early daylight hours. Of course, he doesn’t even try to get to sleep before midnight, so what can he expect?

I don’t know what Bob’s issues might be, but it seems to me that if a person gets, at best, four hours of sleep and they live on a farm, it would be helpful to tailor one’s sleep for the hours of darkness and get out of bed at daybreak in order to get a start on the chores before it gets hot outside. Maybe that’s just me?

But back to the subject at hand, livestock feed.

Every Real Farmer knows how much each animal eats on an ordinary day. If an animal hasn’t eaten their daily ration, said Real Farmer knows that something is amiss and will watch that animal closely to determine the cause. Often it’s nothing, but it could be a sign of intestinal distress, the onset of illness or bullying by another animal, to name a few causes. The Real Farmer knows his animals and how much they normally eat and drink on any given day.

If you feed your animals hay and they scatter it around on the ground, they are not hungry. It follows that you are feeding too much hay. Hay on the ground is money wasted – animals will soil it and then it’s ruined. You might as well shred dollar bills and toss them into the pens – you’ll go broke quicker, the bank will foreclose and the animals will end up being a problem for someone else, saving everyone time and the animals some heartbreaking interval of starvation.

Any Real Farmer understands that his animals should be eager for breakfast. They should come eagerly up to the gate for their daily ration – any other behavior is cause for concern. A Real Farmer will not waste resources.

Every Real Farmer is intimately familiar with their feed stores and supply lines. Be a Real Farmer and know where your feed comes from and where it goes!

Rule #3 – If they don’t eat it, remove it!

Here we see Amber peacefully laying in a patch of daisies –

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAPretty, no? Sadly, these flowers cover fully 2/3 of the pasture and the alpacas won’t go near them. The pasture has been overrun with Anthemis cotula, also known as Stinking Chamomile, a common pasture weed that takes over very quickly if not pulled up at the first sign. The whole plant smells terrible and pulling them without wearing gloves will leave welts on your hands and arms.

One basic rule of keeping grazing animals is to remove anything in the pastures that your livestock doesn’t eat or that is dangerous or toxic to yourself or your animals.

Clearly, Rene and Bob have not gotten the memo. Every pasture has a collection of noxious or poisonous plants growing in it because Rene can’t be bothered to go outside and pull weeds and Bob is too busy running around like a chicken with his head cut off doing chores she dictates from her chair in front of the television.

From Wikipedia:

Anthemis cotula is regarded as toxic to dogs, cats, horses, and guinea pigs. Clinical signs include contact dermatitis, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, allergic reactions. Long term use can lead to bleeding tendencies.

Did I mention that Bob is a hemophiliac? He was out there last week, pulling up a few of these “daisies” and developed a rash on his arms and hands because he believes that “only pussies wear gloves.” Yeah.

This particular weed pulls up easily and should have been removed months ago when it first came up. It fully infests at least half of the alpaca pastures. Thankfully, they don’t touch it, but they do walk through it and lay on it. I wonder if what Rene is calling “mites” is really contact dermatitis.

Besides the “dog-fennel” there are huge patches of thistle, tansy*, and Scotch Broom. The pastures are in terrible shape, but they can’t be arsed to do a little bit of hard labor for the benefit of their animals, nor can they afford to hire someone to come in and at least beat back the weeds enough to be able to keep up with it.

They have, however, begun irrigating the fields. During the hottest part of the day. With a water cannon-like device that shreds the shelter roofs.

* As an added bit of Crazy, Rene insists that the tansy be allowed to grow to support the tansy moth, an insect introduced to combat the tansy problem here in Oregon. She stopped Madison from cutting one down the other day, saying, “I’ll come right out and cut the flowers off. We have to support the moths!” Yeah…Right. If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you know good and well that she did not go back outside to cut the flowers off and will soon have an ever-expanding patch of tansy on the property.

Holiday Weekend

Friday was Independence Day here in America and I was busy doing what many of us do whenever there’s a long weekend – home improvement projects. Sorry, they’re documented on another blog and aren’t really relevant here anyway.

Friday I spent several hours with Madison, working on installing a new bath sink. She fretted the entire time about having to go down to the farm to feed hay after we were done, and the day was getting hotter by the minute. We had to run to town for a part, but the installation went well – no leaks, no breakage and the water was turned on and running in the sink in good time.

I was feeling pretty good, but I could tell that Madison was losing her shit. Her knees have been bothering her and she’s narrowed down the causes to the way Rene insists on feeding the hay. It’s absurd, really – all of the animals are overweight (okay, there are a few exceptions) and they are feeding bales of hay at a time, twice or three times a week for as many as 10 alpacas. True, there isn’t anything edible in some of the pastures, but the amount of hay is unreasonable and the schedule is erratic and arbitrary.

Madison was down at the farm until after dark, feeding hay, following orders and she was fit to be tied on Saturday, which was spent at the yarn shop on a sun dyeing project for Rene. I ended up driving the entire project, going in early to prepare materials, running the show, pushing people along until we lost the direct light at 4 PM. Now, I thought it was a cool idea and volunteered to get it going, so I’m not blaming Rene for anything except being absent the whole time. That’s a different blog post 🙂

Madison was visibly in pain, her knees no better. Rene did not even ask why she was limping. After the dyeing was over, we motored over to the local Lan-dro-mat where we indulged in a long re-hash of just what was wrong with the dye project and out at the farm.

Madison is convinced that the hay cart is a large part of her body woes and we went back to the studio to fabricate a hay bag that she will be able to manage by herself instead of using the hay cart. It’s a simple, elegant solution. We don’t know yet how it will be received by Rene and Bob. Updates later…

Today (Sunday) I went out at 0900* to help give 10 alpacas their follow-up shots for mites. 0900 is earlier than either Rene or Bob wants to be up and about (!!!) and I apologized for the early hour with, “I know it’s early, but it’s only going to get hotter. Let’s get this job done!” Because, really, what farmer sleeps in until 1100 in July? If I hadn’t reminded them that it needed to be done and made a point of pushing for it, this project would not have been done at all.

Rene had the name tags in a paper sack in the barn when I went in to get a halter (why they weren’t prepared for my arrival I no longer even question) and I said, “Oh, we should put tags on the alpacas we give shots to so we can easily see where we need to go back next week!” and began to paw through the bag. Rene had written down the names of the animals she’d given shots to while they were on the shearing table (my surprise knew no bounds!) so I knew what tags to look for. No surprise that three of the animals we were to deal with had no tags. Sigh.

I looked to Bob to direct us as to what pastures we were to visit (Rene still doesn’t know what animal is where on any given day) and we formed a plan of attack. Name tags around my arm, halter in hand, we set off, Bob in the lead with a little dish of crunchies, Rene in her water-filled cool-down vest** with the shots in her pants pockets, sunglasses firmly on, bad mood written all over her. Whatever.

In the first pasture, we found Daisy & Amber. While we opened the gate, I took a long look around. I saw no grass. Daisies cover 2/3 of the field, raising their jaunty flowers two feet into the air. Daisies are pure poison for most livestock and should not be in the pasture at all, but that’s another post.

Bob and I cornered Daisy and pushed her up against the fence so Rene could give the shot. I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s 5cc and she did not have the syringe prepared. Bob and I stood there, holding onto a very vocal Daisy, while Rene drew up the syringe, laboriously put the large vial away, tapped the air bubbles and on and on until I wanted to scream, before she was ready to step up and find a spot of loose skin to give the sub-Q shot. I probably don’t need to say again that I find pointless inefficiencies maddening. I find dramatic gestures and control tactics repugnant, especially when aimed at someone who has volunteered to assist with a project that has no tangible reward.

Anyway. She has been giving these shots sideways and/or from the top down. I asked her why she was administering the shot from an angle that won’t allow it to drain if it becomes infected, and she insisted that it was the only way because, “the medicine will run right out if I do it with the hole on the bottom.” Granted, my experience has only been with cats, dogs and horses, but in all cases the shots can cause an abscess that will not drain if the hole is at the top. Simple physics, really, and I thought everyone knew how it works.

::Aside – she refuses to wear her glasses to give shots. She can’t actually SEE what she’s doing, evidenced by totally missing and/or putting the needle in with the bevel facing the wrong way. She only wore her glasses for giving shots on ONE DAY during shearing, and she was putting them on and taking them off constantly. Vanity? Plausible deniability?::

Daisy and Amber were soon done, name tags on and we proceeded in this fashion to do four more hembras (female alpacas.) At the third pasture, one of them led us a merry dance, refusing to be caught, playing with us really – you could see the joy at the diversion all over her cute little face. Rene said we should give up. She was hot and didn’t want to go on. We had been in that pasture for maybe five minutes and I might not have been hiding my irritation all that well.

“Everyone on the list gets a shot today!” I declared. “We’ll have her in a minute. We can’t give up – this second stage is already way overdue!”***

She was not happy, but soon we had the alpaca captured, the shot was administered and we were off to the next.

Rockefeller is a handsome macho (male alpaca) pastured next to the pregnant hembras. He makes beautiful babies and is always eager for girlfriends. He tends to pace up and down his pasture, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of any girls who might be coming into the barn for his attentions. Consequently, he is not overweight. He looks pretty good, actually, very bright-eyed and alert, body hard and fit. Rene, of course, started lamenting that he was “skin and bones” and blah, blah, blah.

She was extra cautious, declaring “he kicks!” several times. Bob handles the animals with confidence, if not grace, holding them, soothing them and showing that he’s comfortable restraining them. Even after ten years, Rene is awkward, scared, and surprisingly incautious with the animals. It baffles me and intrigues at the same time. What’s the psychology at work here?

After Rocko, we went across the street for the last two machos on the list. Blackjack went off without a hitch (he’s a personal favorite of mine, coal black and just handsome as can be.) Fred, on the other hand, had some problems. He did not want to be caught, and as soon as we had him I saw why – he had a very large abscess on the back of his off side rear leg***. It was obvious where he’d gotten his shot at shearing time.

Rene made an exclamation of disgust and said she would not give him a shot today. She was ready to walk away and call it done.

“That needs to be lanced,” I said. “We could have a big problem here if we don’t lance it.”

“But he’s kicking! Look at him! I can’t get near him!” she began to protest.

I was watching his behavior and saw a solution that would get her out of the way. “Let Bob lean over him from the front and lance the abscess at the bottom – you stay out of the way, I’ll hold Fred’s head and no one will get kicked.”

She was not happy about my idea at all. I asked if she had a spare needle to lance with, thinking she would hand me the business end and step back. Nope. She laboriously emptied the syringe back into the bottle, capped it and handed Bob the syringe, standing right in Fred’s kick zone*****. I told her to stand back (again!) held onto Fred’s head, and Bob lanced the abscess, which began to drain immediately. Thinking back on it now, I should have left further instructions because they will go out there and spray Blu-Kote on it which will cause it to close up and fester. Shit. Or, they’ll ignore poor ol’ Fred entirely and maybe he’ll be okay. I’ll be out there again on Tuesday and will report back.

At this point I’d been on the property 1.5 hours, which was all the time I’d budgeted for this project. There was an empty pasture over with the boys and Rene said we should move Rocko over there so he could have some grass.

“We’re heading for some shade now,” I said as I walked back to my water bottle. “Shall we move Rocko while we’re out here?” I asked Bob.

“Yeah. We should do it while it’s Rene’s idea…” was his reply. I’m beginning to see which way the wind blows on this ranch.

Rocko was moved without incident. He and his closest neighbor, Dukie, were posturing over the fence, which got Rene all upset. It was nothing, and I said (several times) that neither one of them was serious and they would calm down in a minute. I think it really pisses her off when I’m right – both boys were doing their own thing within five minutes. No one got hurt. No one escaped.

It was a very long morning. Bob is coming along with the tumbler – more on that in a future post.

Nothing has been done about the clutter all over outside. Madison was still pretty upset about the hay feeding and what’s going to happen with her arrangement out there.

She asked me not to say anything about her knees or how inefficient things are run.

“Fair warning, I’m feeling savage today,” was my reply, and if they’d said one stupid thing about how she does her job I might have come unglued. I held my tongue, pushed the job through, and tried to keep a smile on my face.

This little project is getting more complicated by the day. They really need someone out there full time who knows what they’re doing. A Gentleman Farmer is a fine thing to be, but you only get to be one by hiring competent people to do the day-to-day grind. Rene and Bob don’t have the funds to hire anyone and even if they did, I don’t think they’re ready to admit they aren’t All Knowing about alpaca ranching.

It’s a good lesson for anyone – be conscious of your incompetence. Understand that you don’t know everything and take the advice of people who know what you don’t know. There’s no shame in it – we can’t all be experts at everything – it would make us all boring, now, wouldn’t it 🙂

* As a contrast, Madison had already cleaned house, dumped and rinsed her black water tank, tidied up outside, had breakfast & tea and a couple of other things I forget before I arrived. She had only to change into boots before heading down to the barn.

** Rene can’t function in the heat and wears a special vest to keep her cool if the temps are over 70* F. Why a person who is so sensitive to heat would live in an area that has a Summer, I don’t understand. When they left California, they could have gone anywhere, but they chose to move here.

*** According to Rene, one shot is administered, with two more at one week intervals to combat mites. We gave the first shot when the animals were on the shearing table, at least two of them in the earliest days of shearing, so they were ALL way overdue for the second course of treatment. More Bad Farming Practices in action.

**** Instead of giving the shots in an area where the muscle will naturally work the injection site (for horses this is half-way down the rear leg, the shoulder or the chest, with the needle going in from below so any abscess can drain easily) she insists on giving the shot at the joining of the hip and belly (no strain at all when an animal is walking) or on the back of the rear leg – not over a muscle area at all. I asked why and was not given a satisfactory answer.

***** Even after ten years of living with alpacas, she seems to have no notion of where to stand to avoid getting kicked. I’ve told her a few times to stand close enough to touch the animal or out of range – close so if they try to kick she’s pushed away and the kick has no strength, or out of range completely. She insists on standing where she could get the worst of it. Every. Damned. Time.

Sun Dyeing at the Shop

A few weeks ago, Rene found a new dye product online. She spends a lot of her time online – if there are no customers in the shop, she can be found researching something obscure online.

Anyway, we’ve been discussing ways to get the Shop logo onto stuff she can sell, but she has no funds to hire someone to design a logo, nor does she have money to buy products to put said logo on. This has been an ongoing discussion and I’ve been more than happy to offer suggestions – I’m nothing if not Scotch and believe in doing whatever I can myself, keeping all my money and much of my time for myself.

The “new” dye product works with sunlight. Pretty cool, actually. I suggested we get some cheap T-shirts, make up a logo and have a Dye Day where everyone who was interested could come to the shop and we’d dye them a shirt to wear to Fiber Events.

I tossed the idea out at Knit Night and was met with many questions. It was decided that everyone who was interested would bring their own shirt and we’d add the logo at the next First Saturday, an event at the Shop on the first Saturday of every month.

Keeping up so far? Good.

Bear in mind that all of this took weeks to iron out – Rene refused to commit to anything, simply nodding like a bobble-head doll at any and all suggestions, whether from myself or the shop regulars – we all have an interest in keeping the shop open so we’re not likely to torpedo her, are we? Sigh.

In the end, everyone who was interested brought a T-shirt to the shop today and I was in charge of the Dye Operation. Rene did not bring any of the supplies I asked for but she was able to order a boat-load of dye that we did not need. I wonder how much that cost? She did not participate in the dyeing at all, sitting at her desk near the door, surfing the web.

When we finally lost the direct sunlight that gives the best results (about 4:00 PM) I had put in 8 hours on the project and (again) got nothing in return, not even a Thank You. Oh, the other ladies thanked me for organizing and taking charge of the project, but Rene only went through the motions to keep up appearances – it was not at all sincere and I could feel her resentment towards me.

What’s the deal here? Does she want help? She’s asked for help and advice (many times) and I thought she was serious about making the shop a success. I rent Studio space upstairs, so when she talks about needing money or being afraid she’ll have to close the shop I have a very real interest in seeing that she gets money coming in – if the shop closes I will have a very hard time finding another space and moving. Long story.

Am I being too sensitive? Am I asking too much in return for stuff I volunteer to do? Is it unreasonable to think that a person might take your advice if they’ve asked for it and clearly don’t know what they don’t know? Is offering up information and/or advice ever a good idea?

Shearing Done!

The final four alpacas were sheared tonight! Rene and Bob “saved” these last four girls, telling stories about how awful they were last year, how they spit and pee on the table and are just generally nasty to deal with.

Yet more lies – Rene could not have been more wrong about this particular group of hembras. Maybe it was because we know what we’re doing now, but everything went smoothly and we were cleaning up before 9:00 PM.

Then came the awkward moment. The Epic Project is done and this is where the (unpaid) workers are thanked, offered fleece, congratulated on a job well done, offered a cold drink or the promise of a barbeque, or something, right?

Nope. Madison and I were tired, sweaty and covered in dirt and all Rene said was, “bye! see you at the shop tomorrow…” as she walked to the house.

Anticlimactic doesn’t begin to describe it. Bob had the good graces to look sheepish, but he walked off, too. Madison headed off to fill up water barrels and I stomped off in a bit of a rage.

I mean, I didn’t expect a ticker-tape parade, but a heartfelt Thank You would have been nice. I was promised my choice of fleece at the beginning of this project and I told Rene which two I wanted (doesn’t pay to be greedy, right?) and those two fleeces were nowhere to be seen. Some sort of recognition would have only been polite, but Rene wasn’t even telling people at the shop who was helping out – I had to hear from two different people that “some ladies” were helping with the shearing. Neither Madison nor I were mentioned by name.

I’m hurt and angry and wondering what I ever thought I could do for these people. It’s a waste of my time and energy.


A Day Off

Yesterday I drove Rene to the Black Sheep Gathering, the largest event of its kind here in Oregon. I tried to get a group of us from the regular Wednesday Night Knit Group to meet up at the festival and do something together, but there was not much enthusiasm.

I had intended to go alone because I would have the dog with me – the perfect excuse to leave early and not get too overwhelmed by all the people. Have I mentioned that I’m naturally an introvert? Yeah. I am very capable of motivating people, but I also need time alone to recharge and dispel the negative energy the extroverts project. It sounds strange to those of you who like to be around large groups of people, but you other introverts will understand. More about that in another post.

Rene had never been to a Fiber Event and wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

:: Who raises animals strictly for their fleece but doesn’t understand who their customer is? Why have fiber animals if you’re just going to stack the fiber in boxes until you can’t move in your house? That fiber has zero value sitting in your house! ::

Uh. Huh. I suspect she doesn’t see well enough to drive safely and refuses to wear anything but her fashionable sunglasses when out-of-doors. She was going to ride with Madison, but Maddy asked me to take her instead because she wanted to spend the day with renowned wool judge Judith MacKenzie McCuin, watching the sheep fleeces being evaluated and she didn’t want to have to babysit Rene. I agreed because it would only be for a few hours and I was going anyway.

The ride down was uneventful. Rene didn’t repeat herself too often, nor did she say anything idiotic that I can recall at the moment.

We arrived with an agenda – I was to make contact with a fiber vendor who lives close by and is looking for teachers in her new shop, and Rene was to talk to a fiber processor and talk about prices for getting her alpaca fleece processed. Both missions were accomplished and we toured the vendors.

Rene said some truly upsetting things, the biggest of which was, “I had no idea about this side of things!” She had no idea where people sell their fleece! She had no idea of packaging, pricing, or anything else related to this business she’s in. I was (once again) dumbfounded.

Lemme just say that Rene is constantly bragging about the bloodlines of her animals, how fine their fiber is (she had it tested for micron count) how their grandsires are from such-and-such lines, and on and on. The thing is, her information is outdated (she brags about the micron count of an hembra who is now 9 years old – the supposed best fleece ever is now 8-years-old and still in her basement!) and/or irrelevant – the micron count of the granddam of such-and-such alpaca has absolutely no bearing on the animal in question. The more I listen to her, the more her ignorance shows.

And her misuse of the English language makes me crazy! When speaking of livestock, one says, “this alpaca is by Rocko, out of Iris by Jaspar,” which means that Rocko is the dad, Iris is the mom and Iris’ dad is Jaspar. This is standard throughout the livestock industry as far as I know, but she continues to say, “Moonshine is out of Rocko.” Every. Single. Time. Her ads on the big alpaca website read the same way so it’s no wonder no one is buying her animals – if she can’t get the most basic language right, why buy from her? She just can’t understand why she’s not getting any calls about the 13 animals she has listed, but that’s another post. Suffice to say that this woman also brags about her English Degree. Yeah…

I dropped Rene off before I choked her and headed home for a little break before shearing began today.

With only 20 alpacas left to shear, I wanted to get half of them done today. The weather has been heating up and a long heat wave is expected next week. If they don’t get sheared, there will be some heat stroke victims on the ranch next week.

It went okay – we have a routine now and everyone is willing to move a little faster than a crawl with minimal flogging from me. It’s still a drag, but knowing it will all be over next week spurs me on.

We’ve been talking a lot about how to bring money in without spending any first. Rene’s solution to any problem is to throw money at it, provided said money can be transmitted via credit card. They have no ready cash on hand, so hiring actual people is out of the question.

Before the alpaca fleece is made into yarn or fiber for spinning, it must first be washed (carding and spinning equipment is more delicate than you might think and processors will not put your fiber through their machines if there’s a chance it will clog up the works or perhaps destroy the machine.) Alpacas love to roll in the dirt, so the majority of undesirable stuff in their fleece is dirt. A simple tumbling machine is the solution to get out the worst of the dirt and grit. They don’t come cheap, though, so Bob decided to build one for the farm.

Great! He’s a handy guy and there is a plentiful supply of materials laying around. If it works, perhaps they can rent it out and make a few bucks during shearing season. We’ll see – I set a schedule, after shearing is done next week, Madison and I will be taking a week off. Bob needs to get the tumbler built so we can start testing it on the thirds that we sheared the following week.

I have high hopes that something will go right out here!