Awhile back I introduced the first group of critters, now I'm finally back for round two.
This photo was taken on our ride from Alabama to Tennessee, on a rather warm June afternoon. We loaded these three large boys + myself into the back of a pickup truck and headed back to Tennessee, thus completing the founding herd of 9 alpacas.
Less than a year after beginning this journey as an alpaca shepherdess, I lost Captain Jack to Meningeal Worm and became a quickly seasoned veteran of what death on my farm feels like.
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It was a mixture of overwhelming sadness and frustration, followed quickly by a humbled heart and willingness to learn. Captain Jack taught me more in 6 months of farming than a lifetime of sitting behind my computer ever could. For that I will forever be grateful.
Death is never easy, especially when there is potential that it could have been avoided had I known what warning signs to look for. Regardless of the pain, I had to force myself to keep going and take in as much knowledge as I could moving forward. After I lost Captain Jack I had a new energy to push myself to make the farm a success, and to really take the time to get to know my herd.
Nershi's unusual markings caught my eye the first time I drove up and saw him in the pasture. He is very mild tempered and grows incredible fiber. Although I try not to have favorites, it is hard to resist his inquisitive charm and gorgeous color blend.
Dinner time, however, can be a bit interesting. Nershi tends to get pretty excited at the sound of his feed bin being filled, expressing his jubilation by spitting at everything in sight. Or maybe he's just being a complete pain in the ass, I'm not exactly sure. I have found that the trash can lid comes in pretty handy as a "spit shield" and have thus added this tactful approach into my daily routine.
Emmit has always been a bit standoffish. He usually keeps to himself and has little interest in my endeavors around the barn and pasture. It took me over a year to convince him to eat out of my hand; I will never forget the day I earned his trust.
Emmit is the trouble-maker of the group. He constantly chases and torments my lone goat, picks fights with the other boys, and (unfortunately for him) has the least desirable fiber of the entire group. About 3 years into my journey as an alpaca shepherdess, I met a fellow farmer who completely opened my eyes to the reality of sustainable farming and responsible herd management. I never thought I would be considering something of this nature until visiting her farm and having a discussion over a bowl of absolutely incredible alpaca chili.
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Soon Emmit will make his way to a local butcher with a known reputation for their humane treatment of animals throughout the entire process. He will be transformed into a source of nourishment that will be shared with my family, friends, and neighbors here in Tracy City. Three years ago I would have never considered this option, but the thought of selling Emmit to another herd is completely irresponsible, and will only result in more stress for him and the other occupants on the next farm. To freezer camp he shall go. His memory will forever be remembered through thoughtfully crafted art pieces made with the remaining bones and leather.
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I realize that I have approached a touchy subject, but I feel compelled to share the reality of responsible farming and discuss the not-so-pretty side of sustainability. The neat packaging you see on the shelf is just an illusion. Being sustainable is hard work that takes making some pretty soul-sucking decisions to be made in order to preserve the health of the herd and the integrity of your product.
Victor is the baby of the group. He was an impulse buy at the last moment, I proclaimed that I couldn't leave without him right as we were loading the trailer. He grew up in the pasture with my girls until he reached an age where he could at least have a fighting chance with the adult boys. I hand fed him for months, creating an incredible bond that we have shared as he has matured.
Victor has some of the softest fiber on the farm. It is a dream to spin. His friendly disposition and quirky personality have made him a favorite on farm tours.
No farm would be complete without at least one barn cat. Almost two years ago, Cosmo showed up one freezing cold evening in February and has stuck around ever since. He gets along great with the rest of the menagerie and has managed to keep the mice / stray bug population to a minimum.
Cosmo was most helpful in making Penelope feel welcome when she first arrived this Spring, making her transition from the chicken house to the barn a bit smoother than the alpacas would have preferred.
Penelope is the newest resident of the farm. She was given to me by a wonderful friend who is serving as a veterinarian in Alabama. She originally contacted me to let me know that they were fostering a bottle fed lamb at their office, and inquired as to whether I would be interested in adopting her. At first I hesitated and told her I would have to pass, as I had literally just moved the entire farm family to Tracy City the week before.
As fate would have it, later that day I was standing in line to buy cat food and overheard a conversation between the checkout attendant and the customer in front of me. She was ecstatic about her recent photo session with her daughter and a baby lamb, taken in honor of the Easter season. 30 seconds into my drive home from the store I called my friend back and offered to adopt Penelope the next morning.
The rest is history. Let's just say that Penelope and I had an incredible Spring, taking mini-road trips down to Chattanooga for weekend portrait sessions at the local state park. The looks on those children's faces were a delight to capture. Now grown, Penelope has forever earned her spot on the farm as my official PR Manager, welcoming guests and causing them to immediately fall in love with her charming demeanor.
Penelope and the donkeys run a close competition for Best Personality.
Every time I step out my back door I am greeted with the brays of three inquisitive miniature donkeys named Penny, Jude, and Alice.
These ladies were brought to the farm to guard and protect the alpacas. For years I have always heard that donkeys ward off coyotes and stray dogs; up until this point I have never personally witness them defend this title, but I also can't complain of any negative incidents.
If anything, they provide great entertainment and a bit of herd diversity in the pasture, eating up whatever bits of greenery the alpacas deem undesirable. They share this duty with my lone goat, Billy Bob, who I lovingly refer to simply as "Goat".
This boy came to me from Memphis, via a secondary farm that was no longer looking out for his best interest. He was a real life rescue case, and at times when I first brought him home I was worried for his health. But, this guy has an overwhelming desire to thrive and has helped me in keeping the privet population to a minimum. He has been neutered, rending him completely useless for breeding, but his peaceful nature makes him a great companion to farm visitors hiking around the property.
So here we are, 8 residing alpacas, 3 miniature donkeys, a goat, sheep, and two cats later. Each day includes interactions with a total of 15 animals, all with their own unique personality. The makeup of this diversified group allows me to manage my pastures with the varied grazing approaches of each resident species. Every member of the group contributes to the well-being of the farm in their own way, creating a symbiotic relationship between the land and the animals that inhabit it.