Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Employee

When we started TFA in 2000, we had a part time helper.  A few years into it, Chad went full time to make sure we were providing all the necessary care for the animals and the property.  As the herd grew, we added part-time help to at least have weekend chore coverage so Chad could have a day off.  This summer we realized we really needed to add another full time hand to the farm.  With an ad in the local paper we quickly realized just how bad the unemployment is in our area.  We had more responses than we ever imagined.  It was properly advertised as a farm labor job and we had women show up for their “interview” with Chad in high heels and guys in ties?????  In the end we hired the guy who was best for us – welcome Matt!!  He has been a true self-starter and is learning every day.  We certainly had enough cria born this fall to get him indoctrinated into newborn alpaca care.  Chad is enjoying the flexibility of focusing on the parts of alpaca farming he is best suited for…. and maybe a few more days off.

Winter Prep in the barns / new waterers

While alpacas are from the Cooolddd high altitude of the Andes and should be able to handle the weather in Illinois, there is much work that goes into preparing the farm for the long dreaded winter. 

During the warm weather, we send some of the boys to “summer camp” in a pasture far from the main barns.  They frolic there on good grass and work in public relations as people drive down the more traveled road in our “middle of nowhere” location.  For the summer they have a shed to get out of the weather and are brought fresh water and feed every day (boy can they run to the gate when they hear the Gator coming)!  When the leaves start falling, the boys move back to closer digs where their water won’t freeze.  That means several other groups of animal need to be moved to accommodate them.  This fall we extended our automatic water system to reach all of the pens near the barns.  A common question with water systems is whether to put them in the barn, or out in the pasture.  We generally put them about 15 feet outside the barn doors to encourage the animals to go outside for a drink and maybe even do some other business outside to make barn cleanup a bit easier.  While most of the animals have access to the automatic system, we still need to prepare heaters for other waterers.  We also use “curtains” in the main barn to block wind and keep the core of the barn warmer for the animals.  This fall we also added some “wind stops” to the eaves between the old barn and the lean too’s.  We’re hoping they also double as “bird stops” in the summer. 

 With the barns prepared and the animals moved… bring it on Mother Nature!!  Well maybe not too much!

Margaret Hunting

Those of you who know our farm manager, Chad, know that he is an avid deer hunter.  From setting up feed lots and cameras in summer, to bow season, to shotgun season, to driving around with blood on the tailgate of the “Chadillac”, hunting is his passion (other than alpacas of course).  Well a little over a year ago, his early high school girlfriend showed up in his life again.  Margaret now travels with us for most shows and is a huge help to TFA at shows.  Recently we planted many small evergreen trees around the farm, but there has been a deer that has been destroying them one by one.  As shotgun season approached, we jokingly suggested Chad to get the buck off the farm instead of going to his usual haunts.  Fortunately he had seen some deer in our west pasture so he spent the Saturday morning of season sitting in the wilderness area of our farm we call “walnut grove”.  But, it wasn’t just Chad…. Margaret was sitting at his side wearing an orange cap and holding her own gun!  As Chad whispered to her about the doe coming into the creek bed, she whispered back that there was a buck coming across the road as she aimed and….  Bang… killed him dead!!  For now the pines are safe and we can worry less about meniga worm…. But don’t go anywhere Chad…. There’s always next year!!

Falls shows

We typically start the fall show season with the Indiana show in Indianapolis in late September.  As the show date was approaching, we got registered but were more than a bit concerned that none of our animals would make the minimum 2” fleece length for the full fleece show and would end up on shorn classes which are 100% body composition.  Unfortunately, due to the economy and low registrations, the Indiana association had to cancel their show this year.  We hear they’re making plans again for 2012 and we will be sure to return then.  I like the show…. even though it is held in the same building where a sat for 2 ½ grueling days taking the CPA exam just a “few” years ago.

That meant our first show of the fall was the 10th Annual Northern Illinois Alpaca Extravaganza in Lake County.  We’ve exhibited or attended 9 of those years so it kinda feels like home.  This show was Championship number 9 for Right of Way.  We also got several other blue ribbons so it was a good show for us.

Next we headed to a “new to us” show which happens to be one of the oldest shows around – the Michigan International Alpacafest held in Grand Rapids.  It was in a great venue with sod for all of the pen areas.  Yes, that is expensive, but it was SOOO nice to leave on Sunday without folding up poopy mats!!!  At this show Right of Way got his 10th (and likely final) banner.  He’s been busy breeding all fall so the testosterone may have an effect on him.  His fiber at age three was a mean of 18.3 microns – quite impressive for any adult, let alone a brown!!  Several of our juveniles did well at the show.  With a little reluctance, we sold TFA Darnell and TFA Sassafrass right out of their pen at the show.  We know they are going to a good home and wish their new owners lots of luck.

To end the show season we went to the sister show of our Interstate 80 Alpacafest – the Springfield Riverside Alpacafest held at the beautiful exhibition hall of the Illinois State Fairgrounds.  It was great to be among good friends in a small relaxed environment seeing some outstanding animals.  While we didn’t have any old enough yet, this show was the debut of the first Knight Rider kids.  Irish Meadows got a first and a second with juvenile Black boys and Rock Creek got a first with a Black juvenile girl – we think Knight Rider kids will tear up the show rings in 2012 – even if he is competing against himself a bit!

Summer in Alaska

Alpaca farming doesn’t mean you can’t have some other interests!  So when it got hot in Tiskilwa we headed to Alaska to watch whales, bears, eagles, and glaciers.  The next big trip on the calendar will be another trip to Peru in Fall 2012… but the salmon in Alaska was fantastic.

Summer Project Week

Most every year, we spend the last week of June at the farm for “Project Week”.  We hire a few extra bodies and get a lot done.  Most every year includes some amount of fence building, painting, general clean up, and at least one bonfire to get rid of branches from around the farm.  This year included all of the above.  We built a one acre “annex” pasture for the girls below the dam for our upper pond.  It’s got good grass but its construction was debated long and hard because it borders on the “nature” area.  However, since the sign at the end of the driveway says “alpacas” not “nature” the girls won some new space.  We had to rig a gate system to still allow a Gator path down to the lower pond, but the girls (and cria) love their new digs. 

We don’t do things small at Tiskilwa – so when we needed to take down a dead tree in a fence row, we decided to start at the top to avoid damaging the existing fence.  Hence the need for a high lift and a talented chain saw operator.  The lift also came in handy to paint the girls barn, the machine shed and the house during the week.  By Friday everyone was exhausted, some college kid’s bank accounts were a bit fuller, and the farm looked great!


Midwest Select Alpaca Auction

We were happy to be consigners at the first annual Midwest Select Alpaca Auction in Wisconsin.  In my earlier post I told you about Cessna’s Citation and her write up that she was “Ready for Takeoff”.  Well to make the story complete, she needed proper support on the “runway”.  After several cocktails one night, Chad and I joked that he needed to be her “pilot”.  Well isn’t Google great???  With the help of an online costume website, Chad did become a pilot of a Cessna at least for a little while in May. 

We were there to sell Citation – (thank you Don and Connie Payne of Oaklawn Alpacas) – but we have trouble sitting and watching at auctions.  While we sold one, we came home with seven new girls – each ready for either Knight Rider or Right of Way.  So much for cleaning out the barn…??????

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Yes, it's been a while since I last posted

I'll fill you in on the shows soon - I haven't told you about GMAF, I-80 or Nationals, nor have I told you about the Midwest Select Auction - funny thing happens at the end of May - It's SAILING season and the blog gets forgotten!! But what you really want to know:
Here's just a few:
We're thrilled with how they look!! Watch out in show ring......
I promise to post again soon.... after all it's almost fall show season!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tax Season is over - now it's time to focus on the farm

A big sigh of relief and time to change focus. We were going to head to the farm today, but the weather was not cooperative and it was kind of nice to take care of some of the office side of the farm without a rush. The next several weeks are busy:

April 30 - Great Midwest Alpaca Festival - Madison, WI

May 7 - Interstate 80 Alpacafest - Princeton, IL and a whole lot of work since we are the founders!

May 14 - Midwest Select Alpaca Auction, Watertown, WI

May 16 - Shearing at Tiskilwa Farms

May 19 - AOBA Nationals - Denver, Colorado

All at the same time we have 8 babies due still before May 31. Knight Rider is currently in residence working with some of our girls - Right of Way will get busy as soon as the shows are over. Maybe tax season wasn't so busy afterall???

Midwest Select Alpaca Auction

We have entered our TFA Peruvian Cessna's Citation in the Midwest Select Alpaca Auction to be held May 14 at Longview Grange Alpacas in Watertown, WI.

TFA Peruvian Cessna's Citation is JET BLACK and ready for take off! She is a gorgeous young girl sired by our rose grey MFI Peruvian Maddock, but she pulls in her black from her dam's side. Her pedigree includes some of the biggest names out of Magical Farms' black breeding program including Black Mequite, Obsydian, Dom Timbo, and of course Maddock's sire, Silvino. Are your seatbelts fastened? Because Citation is bred to 15 time BLACK CHAMPION - Irish Meadows Peruvian KNIGHT RIDER (yeah, you remember his head from the shows last year!) We are certain Knight Rider will add density and fineness to the cria. Cessna's Citation is a perfect example of why we added him to the "Chiefs of Tiskilwa". It is very difficult to part with her, but we wanted to give someone the opportunity to have a truly outstanding BLACK dam with a cria due next spring. Coffee, Tea, or Cessna's Citation???

There are some outstanding animals consigned to this auction - we'll see you there!!

Our first trip up to the Minnesota Alpaca Expo

And Minnesota makes SIX for Right of Way

But the coolest thing was his Cactus Jack half brother was also the Reserve Champion!! We'd say that says something for the Cactus Jack line.

One of the reasons we signed up for Minnesota was the judge. Peter Kennedy is from Victoria Australia and his Canchones Ranch focuses exclusively on Black Alpacas. We first met him in Peru a few years ago on the Vicuna Chacu roundup and he has earned our respect as a judge here the in U.S.

Other highlights of the weekend were a FIRST PLACE for our TFA Peruvian Sharon in the Beige juvenile females - she is a lovely daughter of Highlander. Our two medium brown juvenile boys - Tiskilwa Eagle Feather and TFA Darnell were 4th and 5th of 11. As the youngest two in the class all of Peter's comments were on size. These guys are growing and will be back to impress next year!

We got Babies hitting the ground which will make it difficult to decide on a show string for next fall.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Bling added some bling for TFA

The first show of the season is always a little nerve racking - was I being barn blind? are the crias ready to show what they've got? has the competition surpassed us? Amanda is the judge - will she respect us????? We walked in to Spring Bling without any expectations but a lot of hopes - and boy were they answered!!!

Peruvian Right of Way - Brown Huacaya Male Color Champion!

Amanda loved him - and so do we!

In show order, immediately after Brown male huacayas come out of the ring the fawn female suris go in - and it was debut time for TFA Aimed and Ready (Ari) our daughter of Armed and Dangerous. Before she went in, A&D's owner reminded me that Ari was the cross she always wanted to do, but was never able to - a Cantano's Blazing Son daughter (our Golden Sunlight) bred to A&D. Well I guess the cross was good enough because Ari was the Fawn Suri Female Reserve Champion!As a huacaya guy I thought that was kind of neat, but the suri people quickly told me we had beaten some very well respected farms. We quickly made the decision to ship her to the Futurity Show with Andean Vista to see if A&D can again be recognized.

While those two were our highlights, we certainly had others represent us very well:

TFA Cahokia - 1st place brown male huacaya

Tiskilwa Urubamba - 2nd place brown female huacaya

Tiskilwa Northstarr - 2nd place medium fawn male huacaya

Tiskilwa Peace Pipe - 3rd place rose grey male huacaya

Accoyo Kama Sutra - 2nd place to the Reserve Champ white female huacaya

Peruvian Elynora - 3rd place to Kama Sutra white female huacaya

So we can hold our heads high for a few days - but the game starts all over at the next show in Minnesota in a few weeks.

Show season is always amazing - it seems that all of the farms have better animals every year. It is amazing to think back to our "Good" animals from 5-7 years ago and know they couldn't compete today.

Show season is also a great time to catch up with all of our alpaca friends and hear what they've been up to both on and off the farm. We hope everyone enjoyed the show as much as we did.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Blizzard of 2011

It had been predicted for several days, lots of snow coming with high winds followed by artic temperatures. The morning of Feb 1 Chad and I talked - it had started snowing in Tiskilwa but had not yet started in Chicago. He was prepared - all the animals were inside, the tractor was facing the door ready to begin the cleanup, he was planning to stay at the farm for the duration. As we were hanging up, I said my biggest concern was that he should lose power..... a few hours later he texted that the farm, and most of western Bureau county had, indeed, lost power. With winds already at 40 mph, this wasn't going to be good. Fortunately, within 3-4 hours, the crews had restored power and he didn't have to break ice in the animals water. He made it to the barn about 11pm wading through drifts to his waist.

The snow didn't stop until mid-day the next day, with 20" as the official count, but a 6-8 foot drift between the house and barn. It took a few hours just to get the barn doors open to check on and feed the animals. It was very late in the day when a plow finally made it down 1100 North Avenue - remember, we are the only house on the road. By that night, freezer burned corn dogs left over from summer were no longer enticing him and he made home to see his kids. The cold came the next several days, as did more snow... but the worst was behind us.
Things weren't much better in Chicago. I was on Lake Shore Drive inching along and realized the other cars weren't all wheel drive like mine and decided to get off the Drive and take surface streets - one of my best decisions of the year!! We were buried in - even our heated driveway couldn't keep up - and were running out of space to put snow. A front end loader finally made it to open the street 2 days later, yes, Chicago.... the City that Works! Go Rahm!!

So when is spring????? We need some good weather so we can install a generator!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Knight Rider's first cria

It's official, Knight Rider has his first cria on the ground! With that, many questions are answered. Our partners, Irish Meadows put him with his first girl when he was 18 months old and he knew what to do! The cria is a bay black boy with a gorgeous head, just like his daddy. He is gaining weight quickly and we can't wait for the Delaney's to put him in a show. He'll be just old enough for the Interstate 80 - maybe we can entice them to bring him along...... Now we just need to wait for two others to have a Get!

Winter doldrums mean signing up for spring shows

We had dinner with some alpaca friends last night who said they just needed to be around alpaca people to perk them up - I couldn't agree more that in the midst of winter, talking with other alpaca people about breeding decisions does seem to make spring seem closer!

So when spring finally comes Tiskilwa will be back in the show mode - and we think we have some exciting young juveniles to add to our string. Look for Aimed and Ready, Darnel, Northstarr, Peace Pipe, and others to grace the Tiskilwa lineup.

March 19-20 - Spring Bling Alpaca Show in Neenah, WI - we always like this relatively small show and we're excited to show in front of Judge Amanda Vandenbosch. Tiskilwa will also be presenting "Tax and Financial Aspects of Alpaca Ownership" to tell breeders that 2011 is the year to build a new barn financed in part by Uncle Sam.

April 2-3 - Minnesota Alpaca Expo - this is a new show for us this year - we have traditionally gone east that weekend, but we were enticed to go north when they announced Peter Kennedy was judging! He is an Austrailian who specializes in black and we have great respect for his judging style.

April 30 - May 1 - Great Midwest Alpaca Festival in Madison, WI under Judge Polly Michaelis. This is the most difficult show to get space at, but IF we get in we have again been asked to speak on taxes issues.

May 7-8 - The Interstate 80 AlpacaFest - our show in Princeton IL. We are excited to have Sharon Loner coming to judge for us. Our goal is a fun relaxed show just before shearing - please join us!