Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Yarn for Sale!

I finally finished dyeing nearly 100 skeins of yarn, so I've put them up for sale on our farm website. The yarn was spun by a local fiber mill, and is SO much softer than the last batch. I think I've finally found a mill that's going to work. Here's the link to my shopping cart:

I had so much fun with colors this year, but as usual, naming the yarns stumped me. So I asked for help on Facebook. 

Andrea gave me Mesa Blues for this yarn:

Becky came up with Tutti Fruitti:

Lauren suggested Polar Vortex for a different yarn, but I thought it belonged with this yarn, after the winter we've had!

Cory, my friend from college, came up with Clownfetti, but I didn't have a yarn to match the name. So I made one!

If you make something from my yarn, I'd love to see a photo, or hear about how it went.  Happy Knitting!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The End of the Llama Saga

So, how do you bury a 350-pound llama in the middle of a MN winter?

Sounds like the start to a bad joke, doesn't it? Luckily, our senses of humor remain intact, so we can chuckle about this.  But when our beloved llama Chachi died two weeks ago, the question became very relevant.

When Zipper died a few months ago, the weather was still warm enough that Melissa could deal with him the way we deal with all our dead animals. (Not that there are that many....)  We used to put carcasses in a pit in the ground, but over the years this small pit filled up, in large part because we let a friend put her dead donkey there.

Melissa decided composting was a better way to go, so she built a pile of soil and straw behind the barn. Any sheep or lamb that died was buried at the bottom of the pile, safe from coyotes and turkey vultures. Every once and awhile a skull would surface, but mostly the carcasses composted as they should. Zipper joined this pile.

But here we were with Chachi, in the middle of the coldest winter we've seen in over thirty years. The compost pile was frozen. There was no way Melissa could cover Chachi. We certainly couldn't dig a hole, since the frost extended four feet down. And we didn't want to just leave him exposed to be chewed on by scavengers.

Melissa's original plan was to take him up to the U of M for an autopsy. It would be good to know what had weakened him, but as the time neared to do this, I was seized with a strong emotion:  I didn't want Chachi to leave the farm. Once finished with the autopsy, the U of M would dispose of Chachi's body. I wanted him here with us, on the farm. I thought he deserved that.

Melissa agreed. But now what? For two weeks we'd passed his body in the barn while doing chores, both of us saying "Hi," and often bending down to pat his frozen neck. There's no way around it: farmers can be weird. But Chachi had to move, for it's going to warm up eventually (at least that's what they tell us...)

Farming isn't about chores or physical labor or the love of the land. It's about solving problems. We put our heads together. If we could move him out of the barn and next to the compost pile, then the local excavation guys could deliver a yard of sand. $5 for the sand, $55 for the delivery. We put the plan in motion.

Did I mention Chachi was over 350 pounds? Melissa and I managed to get him onto a wooden ladder, and drag the ladder to the back of the barn.

Then Monday morning two teenaged boys, Colin and Kyle, came to help. Melissa and the boys dragged the ladder out the back door and through the snow to the electric fence, which I'd turned off. It was very hard work, since Chachi was so heavy. Here's the trail to the fence, with bits of hay dragged from the barn:

I held the fence open and they dragged Chachi into the driveway and over to the base of the compost pile. They covered him with straw.

Then 30 minutes later the guys came with the sand. They backed down the field driveway, which Melissa had cleared of snow with the tractor the day before, and dumped a huge load of sand onto Chachi's body.

The sand should freeze, keeping Chachi safe from scavengers until the spring, when Melissa can incorporate him into the compost pile.

I don't know how the boys felt about wrestling the frozen carcass of a dead llama to his final resting place, but they put their backs into it and made it happen. We couldn't have done it without them.

So, what's next? I don't know. I could use a little warm weather, perhaps in the 20s. But until then, a friend sent us this card of a llama cavorting in the spring flowers... a lovely image to hold on to until the real flowers arrive...!

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Downside

Many people have expressed envy that we spend our lives in the country with animals. Most of the time we do feel blessed to be living where we are. 

And then we had this last weekend. I thought I'd share with you the downside of farm life in Minnesota.

Saturday dawned cold, below zero. When Melissa went up to the barn to do chores, she found our beloved llama, Chachi, down. When a llama goes down, it's rare that he gets up, yet we'd pulled Chachi back from the edge so many times we thought this was just another one of those times. Melissa called me for help.

By the time I got there, she'd gotten Chachi sitting up and leaning against her. We couldn't get him to stand. I finally lured him to his feet with a bit of grain. He was wobbly for awhile, but eventually was able to move around okay. Melissa and I looked at each other. This llama was old and weak and so, so tired. This weekend was going to be horribly cold. Chachi was already weak from some sort of neurological disorder that kept him leaning to the left. To move to the right, he needed to circle around to the left until he reached his destination. 

There's no cure for old age. We'd worried about him for months, but it was clear our dear boy was done. We didn't want him to suffer any more than he had to.

Saturday the wind blew and blew. Nasty stuff. Sunday morning Melissa went up to do chores. Chachi was down again. This time she couldn't get him up on his side. She brought him food and water, but he wasn't interested. When an animal is on its way out, there are periods of blankness, as if they've stepped out of their body for awhile. Chachi was starting to blank out. We called our friend Ann, one of our vets, and left a message on her cell.

The snow had blown so hard that Melissa had to shovel a path for the sheep to their hay. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because I do chores 4 days a week and Melissa does them 3, but she had a really hard three days.

Blowing, blowing snow. We left mid-afternoon for the neighbors' 1/2 mile down our road to play games and eat pizza and homemade coconut cake. (Mmmmm!) It was dark when we headed home. The road was fine but our driveway was full of snow. Melissa got the 4-wheel drive pickup half way down the driveway then we hit a wall of hard-packed snow and got stuck.

That was the farthest 400 feet I've ever had to walk. Dark, snow over our knees, howling wind, bitter cold. 

It doesn't look that far now, but it felt that way! See the pickup all the way down there?

Monday morning it was -18.  Chachi was still alive, but on his way out. Ann, the vet, couldn't come until Melissa plowed the field drive to the barn, and until the county plowed out our dead end road---the entrance to the road had blown shut during the night. No one was getting in or out. 

It took Melissa nearly an hour to plow up to the pick-up.  

Then she hooked up the chain to the tractor and I got into the truck to steer.

No good. The truck wouldn't budge. I trudged back to the shed for shovels. It was -10. When I returned, our sweet new neighbor Jared was there. He'd tried to plow out our driveway and had gotten stuck. He shoveled around the pickup, then Melissa pulled it free. Jared shoveled himself free and went on his way. I have to say, as we muddle through our 50s, it's wonderful to have a helpful neighbor in his 20s! After an hour outside I was unable to feel my toes or my nose, so had to trust they were all still there as I walked back to the house.

Melissa plowed the driveway and the field road. Back to the house, where I made her drink hot chocolate and eat leftover stir-fry, then Ann the vet came. I stayed in the house and thought about Chachi while Ann and Melissa put him out of his misery. No more awful nights in the cold for this elderly guy. He came to us when he was two, in 1999, and worked tirelessly to protect all the sheep in his care. He has been a part of this farm nearly as long as the farm has been here.  Here's a photo of gentle Chachi greeting a new lamb, barely visible in the grass.

Melissa came back inside. We had a good cry over Chachi, then I planted her in a sunny rocking chair with her feet sandwiched between two hot water bottles, a wool blanket wrapped around her, and her hands warming on another mug of hot chocolate. She'd been out in that weather for nearly 5 hours. 

As I write this, Monday night, both the sun and the temperature are dropping. But all the roads and driveways are cleared. Animals fed, watered, and with access to barns. Chachi gone. Fire going in the wood stove. I'm sipping my own mug of hot chocolate, cleverly fortified with 1 1/2 shots of coconut rum.

These last three days have clearly illustrated the downside to living on a farm in Minnesota. 

Tomorrow I'll do chores. It's still likely to be well below zero, but the steers will bellow at me and sniff my scarf with their big, wet noses. The sheep will gather around and ask me to stir up their hay so there are new and tasty bits to reach.  

The animals are a welcome reminder that there are upsides to this life...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Marshmallow Jesus?

About ten years ago I worked at a distribution warehouse for a major importer of holiday decorations. (I only lasted 6 weeks, but that's another story.) During a break I was flipping through the company's catalog and came across something that made my jaw drop. Are you kidding me? 

This crazy item was one of the S'more decorations. I'm sure it started innocently enough:

A s'more, if you don't know, is a graham cracker "sandwich" of a piece of Hershey's chocolate and two toasted marshmallows. Squish the graham crackers together and the hot marshmallows melt the chocolate and ooze out the sides of the 'sandwich.' It's so good you want... some more... S'mores.

But then the company went a little crazy. The S'mores were so popular they added themed S'mores:

You get the idea. But then they went a little TOO crazy. They made a S'more Nativity Set, complete with a S'more Joseph, a S'more Mary, and a S'more Baby Jesus. 

Gaak! I'm not a religious person, yet I see nativity sets as beautiful, mini works of art. But Baby Jesus as a marshmallow?  Oy and uffda. Tacky! 

I, of course, had to have one. But the item was Out of Stock. Darn it! Darn it!

Instead, I ordered a set of glass bears at winter play:

Every year when I set up the glass bears, I think of the S'more Nativity Set. It certainly would have been a discussion-starter. I've since found them online for between $15 and $26, so I suppose I could buy one. 

But I would spend so much time fuming about a marshmallow Jesus that I wouldn't enjoy the holidays. Besides, I love my bears. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Snip, snip!

Fact: We love our three barn cats, Emmett, Pumpkin, and Maisie. 

Fact: Two feral cats have been living with them, Brody for two years, Little Guy for less than a year. This hasn't bothered us until now.

Brody hasn't been a problem, but now that Little Guy has matured, Emmett has begun showing up with bloody ears. 

Not okay! Emmett is my baby. Time to catch the cats and have them fixed. I despaired of this ever working.

Melissa loves a challenge. We caught our three cats and put them in this massive dog kennel.  Poor babies. I wanted to let them out every day, but Melissa held firm. 

Melissa set a live trap for Little Guy, and caught him! Little Guy had taken the tuna bait. 

Melissa called the vet (I was in the Twin Cities helping make a double batch of limoncello---another story). Ann the vet came right over. She gave Little Guy a shot and they waited until he seemed drugged enough. But when they opened the trap, the cat/oppossum shot out and was gone.


Meanwhile our patient cats remained in the kennel, looking at us with confusion. Melissa set the trap again. The next morning, there  was Little Guy again. (He's cute, but not terribly bright.)

The vet came and de-balled Little Guy. One down, one to go.

Our cats were free for a few days, then Melissa imprisoned them again. One and half days later, Brody took the bait. Here's Emmett reassuring him that all will be well.

Now both feral cats are fixed. Yipee!

There will be some adjustments. Today mild-mannered Pumpkin nearly chased Little Guy all the way off the farm. Hope they can all learn to get along, since it's freakin' cold here, and I don't want anyone out on their own.

What a relief. Now the only real testosterone is our new ram, as yet unnamed. So many things to do...