A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

October 18, 2017

Unexpected Treasures

Sunflowersblog1

Sometimes we can try so hard to make things happen, yet our plans don’t work out as expected. Then at other times we discover acts of serendipity, when things just happen without any effort on our part.

Our gardening efforts at the farm have been historically hit and miss. A shortage of water on the farm, dry desert heat and drying winds, lack of time to dedicate to care of the plants, and a distinct lack of green fingers on my part have meant that any crop production has been low.

So imagine my surprise when I recently discovered a bumper crop of pumpkins and sunflowers in the area where we compost the alpaca poop! I’ve tried for years to grow sunflowers on the farm but experienced total failure, pumpkins had never really crossed my mind as I knew that they needed quite a bit of water. Yet here they were happily growing side by side, and in the case of the pumpkins very happily growing.

So had did this bounty happen? Well every fall we ask people to bring us their leftover pumpkins to feed to the alpacas. We feed the pumpkins to the alpacas and the alpacas are very happy. Every day we feed black oil sunflower seeds to the alpacas and the alpacas enjoy eating the seeds. As part of the feeding process some of the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are left on the ground and get raked up when we are raking up the poop piles and off they go to the compost area. In addition to this process last year we had a whole bag of sunflower seeds that got moisture in the bag and molded, so off they went to the compost pile as well.

Maya Eating Pumpkin

The seeds have been sitting there for a while, the alpaca poop has been breaking down into what alpaca breeders like to refer to as black gold, then this year we have been blessed with some rain and poof! Low and behold our bountiful crop appeared!

How cool is that! That Mother Nature did her own thing and created a much better result than all my efforts could produce!

Pumpkinsharvested

The pumpkins are about ready to harvest. To start with we will use some to decorate the farm. Once their decoration duties are done we will use some of them to feed to the alpacas, llamas, chickens and guineas. Some of the pumpkins appear to be sugar pumpkins so will be cooked and used for pumpkin pies and cookies, with some cooked pumpkin being reserved in case we need it for a sick animal (pumpkin is an excellent soother of the digestive tract). I was hoping to be able to harvest some sunflower seeds from our sunflowers but our horses Savannah and Saber decided to eat the heads off most of the sunflowers. No wonder their coats are looking so glossy! Hopefully they will leave me at least a few sunflower heads to harvest for next year.

Sunflowersblog2

So where do we go from here. Well my plan for next year, provided we have a chance of rain, is to take a random assortment of vegetable seeds, toss them on the alpaca compost area and let them grow if they wish to. Why toil for vegetables when they apparently do better without me? (Although I probably should consider a horse fence!).

Until next time,

Rosemary

March 9, 2009

Thoughts of Diversification

Our First Crop of Shiitake Mushrooms

Our First Crop of Shiitake Mushrooms

 

Our farm consists of 25 acres of dry land.  No irrigation wells and very little natural rain make it a challenge to grow anything on the land.    We have utilized about five acres of our land for the alpacas, more if you count the areas outside of the pasture where we grow dry land winter wheat for the alpacas to graze on when we let them out for the day.  Even taking that into consideration we are only using maybe 7 – 8 acres of our land at the most.  Our horses have a five acre pasture, which is plenty for the two of them, we do have to rotate them to different areas from time to time as horses are hard on the land and will decimate a pasture in a short time.

 

Even with the alpacas and the horses we still have a considerable amount of land that is not being used.  We recently applied for a government conservation program on a portion of the remaining land.  If we are accepted for the program we will receive funding toward the cost of planting an area of our land to native grasses.  For the first year of the program we will not be able to use the land except for planting the grasses, but after the first year we will be permitted to graze the land which will be great news for the alpacas.  In reality it might take a little longer than a year before the alpacas will be able to graze the native grass, native grasses can take a while to establish and we don’t want the alpacas to eat all the grass before it gets a good hold on the land.  We would also need to put up more fencing, which of course requires time and additional funds, but still at the end of the day we would have some grass for the alpacas to graze on and we would be helping to conserve the land by preventing soil erosion.

 

Most livestock and arable farms usually have more than one crop that they grow, alpaca farms though often tend to only raise alpacas.  Part of the reason for this might be that many alpaca farms only have a few acres of land, with all of that area dedicated to alpacas.  Many alpaca farmers also hold full time jobs off the farm, juggling their time to fulfill the needs of their full time job and their alpaca business.

 

With our having land that is not being utilized I have begun to debate what possibilities are available for us to put the unused land to good use.  Growing a crop such as wheat or corn is out due to our lack of irrigation, but there are other crops that could be grown on a smaller scale.  Herbs might be a possibility; we use some herbs with our alpacas so it might be good to have a fresh supply.  To date my best success with herbs has been with Oregano (which grows like a weed) and Rosemary (now there’s a coincidence!).  Lavender does not seem to like our soil and fails every year, Cilantro struggles but Basil does quite well but it tends to be an annual plant requiring reseeding every year.  Of course it is one thing to grow herbs and another thing to sell them.

 

Of course we have another ready made crop that could be marketed – alpaca poop.  Whether sold as raw beans or composted there is potential there.  It was while I was contemplating our alpaca poop compost pile and the possibilities it held another crop sprung to mind – mushrooms!  For a while I was quite excited about the mushroom idea, after all don’t you grow them in manure, something we have plenty of.  Some quick research revealed that there is actually a demand for mushroom growers and I was getting more excited by the minute until I learned that for commercial mushroom growth there are strict requirements about the matter that the mushrooms are grown in.

 

So the mushroom project is on the back burner – although not quite, for in the process of researching mushrooms I discovered shiitake mushrooms, which are grown on logs and decided to try one organic shiitake log to see how I got on.  My first crop of two mushrooms has grown and they are now ready for eating.  Not enough for a commercial venture by any means and there was a little bit of work involved in getting the mushrooms to grow, but as you can see from the picture at the top of the blog they look pretty good.

 

I think for now I will stick to alpacas, alpaca products and working on marketing the alpaca poop in it’s various forms, but you never know the shiitake mushroom project could develop and there are a lot of health benefits to eating shiitake’s – as Ric and I will soon discover when we take a taste of that first shiitake mushroom crop!

 

Rosemary

January 31, 2009

When Not To Make Black Bean Soup

 

Living on a farm you get used to seeing odd things in all sorts of places, pockets tend to be good places to store things such as baling twine, a found alpaca tooth, syringes etc.  Ric once had a moment of relief after driving away from a random security check on the local air force base, as he felt his shirt pocket he realized he had a hypodermic needle and syringe in his pocket.  That may have needed a little explanation had the security guards found it.

 

Fridges and freezers are other likely storage places for odd things.  My friend Regina Dart of Llano Soleado Alpacas and I joke about a game for alpaca owners called “What’s in your freezer” You just have to be prepared to cope with some of the answers!  Currently my freezer contents are not too outrageous unless you consider the alpaca milk and six frozen placentas a little odd (the frozen placentas are being stored for use in a neonatal clinic, and who knows when one might need some alpaca milk for a cria).

 

After being in the alpaca business for 10 years Ric has learned to expect the unexpected from me.   This was illustrated the other day when I was preparing to run some fecal checks on the alpacas.

 

I was going to see a friend for afternoon tea that day, so having collected the poop samples from the alpaca pastures during morning chores I needed to store them until I could run the tests later that day.  I double bagged and sealed each sample and then wrapped them all in a larger bag and stored them in a section of our refrigerator that holds alpaca medicines and supplies.  As I was leaving Ric was coming into the house and so I warned him that the bag I had just placed in the fridge did not contain any tasty snacks, but rather contained poop samples.

 

We run our own alpaca fecal tests on a regular basis.  As part of the process I have to smash up the alpaca poop in a heavy sugar water solution, which results in a soupy mess of alpaca poop.

 

That evening was a cold one and I decided to make a pot of black bean soup for dinner.  The recipe calls for some of the black beans to be pureed and others to be left whole and stirred into the soup.

 

Ric went out that evening and when he came home I was working in the office.  When he came into the house he headed for the kitchen and shortly afterward came to the office with a worried expression on his face.  “What have you been cooking in the kitchen?” he asked.  I told him I had made black bean soup and that it was very tasty, he started to look a little relieved and I asked him if there was a problem with the soup.  He then told me that he had taken a look at the pot of black bean soup on the stove and had a horrible suspicion that it had something to do with the fecal tests I was running – well I guess the soup did bear a bit of a resemblance to the prepared alpaca poop samples, but even I don’t use our kitchen utensils for anything to do with fecal samples!  We actually have a separate kitchen where I do all of the alpaca related kitchen chores, and all things used from that kitchen receive a good cleaning with beach once I am finished.  Still the situation gave me a chuckle and even funnier still is that Ric refuses to eat any of that black bean soup!

 

(On a side note running your own alpaca fecal tests is quite a simple process, it does require a little bit of an investment in equipment such as a microscope and a centrifuge and it is best to work with your vet to learn how to identify the various parasite eggs.  I did come across a very informative web page on alpaca parasites the other day at the website of The Alpaca Hacienda just click on http://www.thealpacahacienda.com/journal/alpaca_parasites.html and you will be taken to that page)

 

Rosemary

March 25, 2008

Planting with Pacas

Gerri from Australia had posted a comment to the blog the other day expressing an interest in learning more about the use of alpaca poop as fertilizer and using alpaca fiber as mulch.  With spring here and the warm weather trying to make a return I thought it a good time to write a little about using alpaca by-products in the garden.

Alpaca poop can be used almost like a slow release fertilizer.  If the poop is not composted it takes a while to break down, but that can be used to your advantage if you are looking for a fertilizer that will release over time.  When using uncomposted alpaca poop we make sure that it is covered over by dirt so as not to attract flies.  We also try to get the poop that does not have too much vegetable matter in it so that we don’t inadvertently grow something undesirable such as burrs.

The composition of alpaca poop is usually similar to this:

Organic matter  70.8 %
Nitrogen 1.49 %
Phosphorus 0.23 %
Potassium 1.6 %
Calcium 0.91 %
Magnesium 0.45 %
Sodium 0.12 %
Total Salts 2.54 %

Of course this composition could vary, depending on what you feed your alpacas, but those figures will give you a basic idea of what alpaca poop can contribute to your garden.

I am told that alpaca poop does not burn the garden like horse manure and so far that has been my experience.  I have not had any problem with the plants where I have used alpaca poop as a fertilizer, although I must say by the time we clean up the poop in the morning most of the urine has dried off it.  If the poop you intend to use is heavily soaked in urine you might want to allow it to dry off for a little while as the urine could scald your plants.

Even better than straight alpaca poop is composted alpaca poop.  There are various ways to compost it ranging from a specifically designed compost barrel to digging trenches in the ground and putting your compost material in the trenches.  The trench method was explained to me by another alpaca breeder from California who has the same type of sandy soil that we have, and also a lack of moisture and high winds like ours.  By building your compost pile in a trench you can prevent the wind from sucking all the moisture out of the compost pile and also easily collect any moisture you do receive.  That same breeder also uses concrete horse troughs to create compost in.  She layers old straw and alpaca poop in the horse troughs and leaves it over winter, by spring it is ready to plant in and she reports she gets great results from it.  Now for any composting to happen there has to be some moisture involved so if you are going through a dry spell you will need to add water to your compost pile.  Don’t forget you can also add all sorts of other goodies to your compost pile to help it compost such as egg shells, shredded uncoated paper, dried bread, old fruit and vegetables, burn pile ashes, garden clippings, even dryer lint!  Remember too to turn your compost pile periodically.

I will readily admit that I am not the worlds authority on gardening, but when even I can successfully grow plants using alpaca poop and composted alpaca poop it has to say something for the great qualities of the alpaca poop.

Tomorrow I will write about using alpaca fiber as mulch, something I tried for the first time last year and which was so successful that I will be using more this year.

Rosemary

March 20, 2008

Spring Farm Day

We are busy preparing for our Spring Open Farm Day this Saturday.  With the recent winds and dust blowing everywhere the studio, which we open to the public, needs a good cleaning. 

Today we will clean the studio and then arrange everything in readiness to display our alpaca products and informational handouts.  We have a group of ladies from a garden club coming to the Open Farm Day and so I want to make sure we have information available to them as to how beneficial alpaca poop is to the garden, how well it composts and how to use alpaca fiber to provide nourishment and help retain water around your plants.

During the recent arts and craft show that we participated in there was a lot of interest in the Open Farm Day so we are expecting a good crowd.  If the weather is warm and not windy (dare we hope for that!) I am sure many people will want to come and see the alpacas.  At the moment the forecast is for a slight chance of rain showers.  If we do get showers I doubt that anyone from the local area will be complaining, as we are so desperate for rain.

With so many of the girls being close to having their crias we will not be taking visiting groups into the girls pen.  They will be able to visit with the girls over the fence if the girls wish to do so, but we do not want to force excessive attention on the girls at this stage of their pregnancy.  By the next Open Farm Day the crias will have been born and are sure to be an attraction.

The boys will be available for visits and I am sure Asteroid our people friendly alpaca will be getting more than his share of kisses and attention.  Asteroid really is a crowd pleaser and loves to interact with visitors.

Today we are forecast for 40 mph winds all day, so we won’t be spending much time sweeping up the patios and carports, the dust will be back as fast as we sweep it away.  We will just have to leave that chore until Friday when things are supposed to be a little calmer.

If you are in the Clovis area on Saturday (March 22) then come on out and join us.  The farm will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and we would love to meet you!

Rosemary

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