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…??????