What the heck are they?

"What the heck are they?"  That's the question I've gotten more times than I can count since we decided to add Alpacas to the farm.  When they first arrived, passersby would slow to a stop trying to figure out what they were seeing.   One lady asked if I had camels in my pasture.  I resisted the urge to tell her that, "Yes, they are minature, hump-less camels imported from South America". 

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After folks figure out what they are, the next question is usually, "Why do ya want them?"  Here are a few of the reasons I think they are such a good fit for our farm:

1.  The most obvious reason...     

2.   They're pretty easy keepers. 

In other words, they are relatively easy to maintain.  Pasture and a small amount of grain keep them happy during the warmer months.  In the winter they require hay.

Their feet are padded, not hooved so they don't destroy the pasture.  It takes very little land to keep them---You can keep up to 8 on an acre of ground. 

They require shearing only once a year, in the spring.  At that time they also recieve vaccinations and have their toenails clipped.

 

3.   They offer income potential.

While we are hobby farmers, our goal is to make our land productive and profitable.  When I was researching alpacas I discovered that not only is their fiber very valuable when sheared, but their manure is highly sought after by plant lovers. 

Like other manures it improves the water holding capacity of soil and adds much needed nutrients.  But unlike other manures, Alpaca poo doesn't neeed to be composted before use.  This means it won’t burn plants.  It is also less likely to contain strains of harmful bacteria, like E-coli, found in other manures.  This makes it perfect for vegetables, house plants and medicinal plants.

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We have been collecting, drying and pulverizing the alpaca manure here on the farm and are now offering 1 pound bags for sale.  This is a wonderful soil condtioner to add to potted plants.  It's also great when starting seedlings.  Or you can add it to your vegetable plants, or flower beds. 

 

 

 

We also offer Alpaca Tea Bags. 

These are cute little biodegradable burlap bags filled with dried "paca poo."  You fill a 1 gallon container with warm water and place the tea bag in it.  Let it sit in the sun and "steep" for 6-8 hours until it turns a rich carmel color.  Then pour over your plants.

Each bag will make 2-3 gallons of liquid nutrients for your plants.

 

 

 

 

 Both of these products can be purchased here.

Cut it, Pile it, Burn it

Two weeks ago we were coming home from church when we saw smoke rising from a neighbor’s hillside.  Fire department and Division of Forestry vehicles and personnel were everywhere.  We later learned that the homeowner had decided to burn an old couch rather than hauling it to the landfill.  Bad move.  The fire jumped from a grassy area and took off up the mountain.  I’m certain the landfill fee would have been much less than the fine incurred.

As we’ve cleared our land we’ve had to burn many, MANY piles of woody debris.  Thankfully, we haven’t had any issues.  This isn’t by accident however.  We take burning very seriously and so should you.  The following are some things to consider before you light that pile…

Know the Law

One key factor to consider before lighting any debris pile is your state’s burning laws.  In West Virginia, for example, our Division of Forestry (DOF) mandates burning brush in the spring (March 1st thru May 31st) and fall (October 1st thru December 31st) is only allowed between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m.  The WV DOF requires a ten foot buffer around all piles and that the person burning is present until the fire is out.  There are hefty fines for failing to obey these fire laws (www.wvforestry.com ).  You should check with the Division of Forestry or equivalent agency in your state for your specific burning laws.

Be Prepared

It kinda goes without saying that burning brush piles get HOT.  You should remember this when determining where you plan to burn your piles.  If the pile is too close to trees, structures, overhead wires, etc. there could be significant damage.  Give yourself plenty of space before you lay down the first branch.

We’ve learned that the key to removing piles of woody debris is patience.  The temptation is to pile the brush and limbs and try to get rid of it immediately.  The reality is that dry, seasoned material burns much better than green material.  One way to ensure you are working with dry material is to cover your brush pile with a tarpaulin (tarp).   

Be Safe!

Rule #1- Conditions must be perfect or don’t even consider burning!  The perfect day to burn a pile of woody debris is a winter day with snow cover and no wind.  This is where the patients comes in handy again.  We would rather wait a few months and know without a doubt our fire is going to stay put.  When we asked our friend Doug Pickens, a retired fireman, about backyard fires turning into brush fires he said wind was the number one cause.

Rule #2- Use a rake and/or leaf blower to clear out a leaf-free buffer zone around the pile.  You want to get down to the bare dirt.

Rule #3- Make sure you have access to plenty of water in case things get out of hand.

Rule #4- Use paper, cardboard, etc. sparingly to start the fire as they tend to smolder and float away.  And whatever you do…DON’T use gasoline or other fuels to light a brush pile!

When it is time to get things going, make sure you have eye protection, leather gloves, a leaf or garden rake and a pitchfork.

You should keep in mind that once you light a pile you are committed.  We’ve had large chunks of hardwood smolder and burn for three or four days.  You can’t light up then take off.

Discourage wildlife

Brush piles are magnets for wildlife.  There are countless online resources with information on how to construct piles to attract wildlife to your property.  The problem is, animals don’t seem to understand that the majority of our brush piles aren’t intended for occupation.  Over the years we’ve seen birds, mice, chipmunks, lizards, turtles and rabbits evacuating as we prepared to burn piles.  We always kick piles to scare any stragglers away but some animals, like the turtles, tend to stand their ground.  The best way to avoid injuring wildlife while removing the piles is to study the construction of wildlife friendly piles then do just the opposite when building burn piles.

The National Wildlife Federation’s “Wildlife Brush Shelters” (nwf.org) suggests using stones, pieces of pipe, larger pieces of wood, etc. to create a base for wildlife piles and covering them with smaller branches.  The larger materials create space the animals need for escape and shelter while the smaller materials provide cover and protection.  If the animals prefer space then burn piles should have as little space as possible.  Begin your burn piles with small branches then stack on larger pieces of wood.  The larger, heavier pieces smash the pile, reducing the free space under the pile.  Animals still loaf around the brush but we’ve seen fewer of them scurrying away once the pile is burning.

 

We hope this info helps you with your land clearing chores.  Clearing land is hot, sweaty work... but we love every minute of it!

Recycling Around the Farm

One of the best things about living along a sparsely traveled, country road is the seclusion.  However, with this seclusion comes the opportunity for illegal dumping.  Over the last few years we have had a few old tires thrown out on our farm in areas not visible from the house.

While the DEP has been good about picking them up when called, Justin came up with a great little DIY up-cycling project for a few of them.  On one end of our garden is a slope which too steep for the tractor to till.  His idea was to use some of these cast off tires as raised beds there.

He started by arranging the tires to give plants plenty of space to spread out and marked the outlines on the grass.  With a shovel he removed the sod and placed it to the side.  Where the center of the tire would sit he dug down several inches and added some sandy soil from the creek bank to allow for drainage.

Then placing the tire on the flat, sod-free surface, he filled the inside ring of the tire with dirt.  After depositing some seeds and seedlings inside, it was just a waiting game.

Fast-forward two months and the tire beds are overflowing with healthy, happy squash plants.  Cucumbers and cantaloupes are also coming along nicely.

This idea has allowed us to accomplish a few things:

-Utilize tires which would have otherwise ended up in a land fill

-Take advantage of a hilly section of our property

-Save space in our garden for vertical growth plants

At some point I wanna paint the tires some bright colors to add beauty to the garden.

Considering my love for all things junk, I'm sure this will be just one of many ways we will be able to use cast off items to add to the function of our fledgling farm.  I encourage you to be on the lookout for projects that give you the opportunity to breathe new life into old materials.