Fall Edition and thoughts from the barnby Jane Levene on 11/25/13
Its almost Thanksgiving, and rarely a break in the action here! We've had such a busy summer and fall. In mid-September, when the floods devastated the northern front range of Colorado, our good friends Ann and Richard Phillips lost all of their fencing, suffered major damage to the home and barns as well as pastures and hay losses. When they called, there was no question that we'd be there to help out. They quickly began moving the animals out of the flood waters- females and crias to the Denver farm and we moved their male herd down to Salida. Their fencing is repaired and now its' just the hard work of picking up all of the debris left on their pastures as the water receded. We've been a bit crowded, but with our barn configurations, we could accommodate nearly 60 extra females and crias in Denver, and over 20 males down in Salida. I didn't even do a real count (didn't want to know, ha!) but we just made sure their herd was all microchipped and we kept them separate from our herd. They've begun to move animals home slowly, giving them time to adjust to changes at the farm. We were happy to do this for them, as their other option would have been to have their animals scattered over many farms, which is unbelievably stressful for both animals and owners!
Our fiber events have all be very successful, with the paco-vicuna fiber taking center stage and getting rave reviews. We've succeeded in educating people about just how nice and how unique the PV fiber is, and the rovings and yarns back from the mill in Utah are nothing short of spectacular! Our herd is getting very refined fiber statistics, with so many coming in under 19 microns at mature ages. The Paco-Vicuna Association has signed the contract with Colorado State University for our EPD program and the data upload and analysis has begun, yay!! Our aim is to be the most fully documented herd in the US. So, after the Second Annual Fiber Festival in Salida Colorado, we went on to events at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, in Golden Colorado and most importantly we attended SOAR in Chicago for our second year as a vendor. Our products received great attention, and sales went well beyond our expectations for just our second year. Once a spinner has worked with such fine, silky fiber, its' kind of hard to go back to other fibers! Now we are scheduled to attend the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet show in March. With trunk showings and events at yarn shops, I really need to set my year in advance, so things aren't such a scramble for me. And we are finally getting around to making some long-overdue changes to our barns both here and in Salida. In Salida, we are replacing heavy wooden dividers with plexiglass panels to allow more light into the barns. These wooden dividers were put up as windbreaks, and always bothered me as they blocked so much light from getting into the barns. So time for a change! We are doing this for both the male and female barns. The animals are spending more time out on pasture, and as a result are getting a bit chubby. We are calling in a long time expert and friend, LaRue Johnson, DVM, former head vet at CSU to come and walk the pastures and help us figure out a better division of time between barns and fields for good weight control and to combat boredom and/or food fights in the barns. The PVs and alpacas are like all intelligent animals, a little stimulation each day is a good thing to keep everyone more peaceful. Brittany Singleterry and Tom Iamonico are doing a fantastic job in Salida, and have become a great team. Animals are lots happier and we have fewer issues to deal with. The key to our success is simply good communication between all parties. Easy, right? But oh, so hard to get sometimes. Now on to our barn modifications! I've heard many talks about barn structures and layouts. Some people love a really small structure, with low roofs, but more commonly barns are pretty large buildings. The efficiency of the barn should be the goal. Larger barns are good for a few reasons, the primary one is for flexibility! Large, airy barn structures allow for better ventilation, key in avoiding respiratory illnesses during the colder seasons. A small, more tightly closed up barn can be a recipe for disaster in terms of poor ventilation. Pneumonias are a difficult bug to treat in animals, and can progress very rapidly at onset, giving the farmer little time to react and treat adequately. The PVs and alpacas that we raise, don't like to be enclosed in a barn- good visibility and lines of sight are their primary defense. And they hate dark corners! They simply refuse to use some of the inner areas, far too confining for them, and don't allow for the safe quick exit they like to have. The main dark northwest corner of the barn was never used by the animals so we converted that stall to an office and treatment area. So we leave our barn doors open, at all times except for the worst blizzards, and have stall configurations that can be easily joined or reconfigured, and most often are left open. And farm animals really only need shelter from wind and wet, cold is not the problem. Hello! They have fleeces! Summer cooling is a much bigger issue we deal with, so by having very open structures with good ventilation and natural air movement the herd can easily get out of the heat, and the ventilation keeps flying pests moving such as flies and mosquitos. Our second reason for a larger barn is for the ability to accommodate a variety of livestock. I think more long range- maybe I won't always be the owner of the farm, and the next person may have horses, or cattle, or just want good outbuildings for RVs or farm equipment. So I tried to design our barns for all possible purposes. I felt this was the best use of the resources, and in the future we won't need to make many changes. The Salida barns were built for this multi-purpose use of equipment and livestock. A large shop building was added, with a woodworking shop that now isn't needed. So the shop building has become the ideal shearing space, and I long to use it to sort and grade fiber! We've taken the woodworking shop and converted it into a nice, warm breakroom for the helpers. Now, people are the ones that need the heated spaces, not animals! But the area outside the breakroom will multifunction as a warm room for a sick or special needs animals. So the flow of animals is simple, and more importantly, accommodates the way the animals think so we can easily move groups around. In Denver, I've posted a photo of our latest change. We began with a normal 30'x30' pole barn, then added a large overhang area that quickly became the primary area used by the alpacas. One more addition to the west, and now we've bumped out a half wall to add more areas for feeders and extended the roofline a bit. Its' not a "cozy" and small space, but by far their favorite due to the openness but provides good windbreak and shade. 20 years of watching how the animals actually used their spaces have allowed me to make the best modifications to the barn. The animals want good light, great visibility and lines of sight, and multiple avenues of "escape". they love nothing more than to do an extended romp through all the open stalls and gates. And the flow between male and female barns, as well as out to pasture will be improved when we move our chickens away from the male barn and take over my mothers little greenhouse for our new chicken coop. I know everyone will love the changes. So Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, specially to all the hard working family cooks! Enjoy the holiday, and remember to support the small businesses and family farms as you start your holiday shopping. Take care, Jane