I have been avoiding making this blog entry as though, somehow, if I don't write about it, I won't have to face up to it. We delivered our last 2 alpacas this past Sunday and are now, no longer alpaca breeders. Ouch. That hurt. Above are the last two boys, Pendragon and Beowulf on their last day at the Mount Airy Alpaca Company. My sister Krissy and I fed them and fussed over them for the last time. Krissy has always insisted on "fluffing" the alpacas' hay whenever she comes over because she feels that they don't enjoy it as much if it is not fluffy! Irrational behavior but, I fear, genetically inherited. My mom used to argue that, if one horse in a field has a blanket in winter, they really should all have blankets or they may feel upset. So the boys had one last batch of very fluffy hay with maybe a tear or two mixed in, mine and my sister's.
Even Blair the dog seemed sad to have his friends go. Ok, the truth is that the alpacas don't really like Blair that much but in Blair's weak, little doggy mind, they are his friends because they like to chase him and he loves to be chased. This is Blair's last attempt to sneak under the stock gate to hang out with his alpaca friends.
Cassandra was doing last minute homework so Tom, Nick and I loaded the boys into the livestock trailer.
Nick performed his usual job of going inside with the alpacas to unhook their lead ropes while Tom kept them from jumping back out.
Then he climbed up on the trailer for one last look at the boys.
All too soon, we arrived at Sara's pretty place in Ellicot City and now it was time for the boys to jump back out of the trailer.
Sara and one of her sons took the lead ropes of their new alpacas and led them over to their new barn.
Tom started right in giving advice about how to arrange the barn, store the hay etc. He'll run your whole life for you if you let him. What a cute barn though! It cheered me up to imaging the boys in this cozy little home.
So Pendragon and Beowulf venture out into their new pasture to check things out.
The pasture looked very good, not weedy or patchy at all. While the guys got used to their new surroundings, I tried to creep closer to a hawk that I had spotted on the far side of the pasture and see if I could get a good photo of it. We have many hawks at our place but I have never managed to get a good photo of one. This time wasn't any different. Hmmm.... maybe Santa should buy me a new digital camera with a telephoto lens.
Sara was so excited about her new guys that I had to feel happy for her. I know she'll take good care of them and that means a lot to us. She was at our place a few weeks ago to practice giving the worming shots and trimming toenails and to pick up some hay. In my opinion, this is a historic moment in any new farmers' life and should always be recorded for posterity. You are not a farmer until you've bought hay and transported it.
Here is one last look at our boys, Beowulf and Pendragon. Bye guys.
What a great adventure this has been! Our lives have been so much richer for it. Today, as I write this, I feel like the years have passed so quickly and I'm glad that I wrote a lot of this down so that I won't forget our thrilling lives as alpaca breeders. Here is an excerpt from my journal from 1999. It feels right somehow to end todays entry with a look back at the beginning.
Sunday, June 06, 1999
Left the kids at my sister Krissy's house at 7:00 AM to drive to Lanark’s Llamas and Alpacas in Charlottesville, VA. We had met the owner, Antoinette Brewster, at the Eastern Alpaca Jubilee in New Jersey and really liked the look of her animals. So we made the plan to visit and headed down south.
As you approach Lanark’s, you can't help but notice that you’re traveling back in time to the Old Colonial Virginia of yesteryear. First we passed the Historic Michie Tavern where the former presidents went to hang with the other gentry and drink. Then we passed Monticello itself, home of Thomas Jefferson. Next comes Ashlawn Highlands, the former home of John Adams, then on past the Jefferson vineyards to the home of John Kluge, once the richest man in America. Just past the hand built stone fences of the Kluge estate lays Lanark Farm. This is the Old Dominion Virginia.
The long, gravel driveway cuts through fields for miles around. Some have grass, but many are red clay dirt, which blows about and hangs in the air. It is the summer of the worst drought on record in Maryland and Virginia and almost every farm is covered in dust of one color or another. On the right side of the driveway are several fields full of alpacas. There are about one hundred and fifty in all. Some are black, some gray or dark brown, but most look peach colored because the red clay dust coats their fur completely. It is just past 10 am but the temperature is already in the 80s. It will reach the mid 90s by lunchtime.
By the barn we meet Milt, the farm manager, and Amanda, the herd manager. He is the perfect Hollywood cowboy movie extra, not tall but all wiry muscles with a calm direct manner. He wears jeans and a white woven cowboy hat. He learned his animal skills on a cattle farm in Vermont back when he was a Yankee. He's had his arm inside many a cow's privates and isn't afraid to talk about it but doesn't brag either. The first time I hear him casually mention "her vagina" (the cow's) I have to freeze my face so I won't look shocked. I can't remember ever hearing any man say that word once much less over and over the way this guy does.
Milt washing the red-clay-colored alpaca babies
If Amanda were a character in a movie, she would be played by Debra Winger. She is a size 6 at most but with well-cut little arm muscles. She wears a tight white T-shirt and jeans. On the back of her neck, under her upswept, wavy black hair is a small blue tattoo of Sagittarius the archer. Her eyes are blue. She talks to the alpacas in a high breathy baby voice and calls the little ones "my peas" but she sure looks tough when she’s slinging a bale of hay around. She knows each one of the many, many alpacas by name! She sneaks a cigarette here and there as she does her farm chores. I like her instantly.
Antoinette shows up a fashionable 15 minutes late. All attention rivets on her immediately as she is larger than life. She is quite good looking, resembling an older Michelle Pfeiffer. Men must have followed her like pathetic little dogs when she was young but she is not all “Southern Girl” and coquettish. She stands close to me and her voice is a little loud so that I have to fight the urge to back up, but she also has some serious charisma. That can’t hurt if your job is to sell animals.
I’m shocked to realize that Amanda and Milt call her “Mrs. Brewster" instead of her given name! She has on a red and white checked shirt that is some fashion designer’s idea of a farm outfit but you can tell it’s not from Southern States or the tractor store. I appreciate her directness though. She is very professional and she doesn’t tell us any fairytales or offer any heartwarming stories. She assumes we are there to buy. She hands us a list of all of the bred females currently on sale along with their prices, dams, sires and birth dates and the tour begins.
A couple of hours later I am lost in a fog of half remembered animals, the teeth on this one, the color of that one. Which one had the good crimp? Which had the strange legs? I have taken notes furiously, but am not sure they are even correct. It is too much to look at so many animals and the added strain of trying to remember the sire and dam of each one makes the whole task impossible. I need a scorecard with photos, genealogical trees and pertinent footnotes on it, but no owner is going to remind you that the pretty one who’s fleece you love is also the one with the bad bite. I’m panicking!
We break for lunch beside the pool next to Antoinette's house. The pool has men's and women's bathrooms and a kitchen area with a sink and a patio with tables on it. There are statues of animals along the edge of the pool. For a second I forget why I'm there and wish desperately that I had a camera with me and that everyone else would momentarily disappear. I would kill if only my mother, who has never been rich, but is yet a faithful reader of "Town and County", could see this setup.
Antoinette leaves us discreetly alone to compare notes and not a moment too soon. I am dying to see what animals Tom has fixed on and turn to him eagerly demanding that we trade lists. That is when it hits me. He HAS NO LIST! We have been tramping around in dusty hot fields for hours staring at this animal and that and trying to decide which animal, if any, we will pay a small fortune for and Tom has NOT TAKEN NOTES! I briefly consider drowning him in the nearby pool but realize it cannot go unnoticed so I refrain. This explains why Antoinette all but ignored Tom while we tramped around and talked at me; SHE KNEW HE WOULD HAVE NO LIST! When I confront him Tom's defense consists of the lame comment, "I thought you were doing a really good job of deciding."
We head back out to the fields after a very good lunch at which Tom pigged out as usual. But Antoinette seems to find this behavior endearing and starts to like him. She smoothly asks which animals we want to look at again. I am sweating bullets but finally decide on Latte and Primrose. Latte is a lovely dark brown color, almost maroon, with a white face. Her sire is Pizarro. I disapprove of this name for its bad Karma but he is a beautiful guy. Latte radiates intelligence and self confidence and so, sticks out in a herd of merely pretty faces. Her mother, Marguerita, is one of the animals I initially liked but she is older than I wanted. Primrose, I pick because I love her face and her fleece. Antoinette has the fleeces of each animal bagged up for prospective buyers to look at. Primrose's famous sire, Drambuie is now in Australia. I have seen him in an ad in "Alpacas" magazine and he is gorgeous. Her mother, MA Krystal, is still at Lanark.
Finally, having picked, I feel I can relax but Antoinette surprises us. She offers to throw in 2 pet quality males and I must choose again. This is easier, because they are free, so I pick 2 boys just because I like them. Polo, because he is so friendly and has a crazy white afro and Lindt because he is cute and little and the color of a caramel candy.
For a big farm like Lanark these not-quite-herd-sire males might be just another mouth to feed. The big money is in selling breeding stock, not pets. But it is nice for Antoinette to offer them AFTER we have made the deal. For us, the boys will be invaluable. They are P.R. machines that can go to fairs shows and we don't have to worry that the stress will make them abort. And I am secretly thrilled because I am one of those nuts who can never have enough cute little animals to take care of. Four alpacas feels like a real start to our farm. It is almost 4:30 when we leave and I feel exhausted and anxious but incredibly excited too. We are now alpaca owners!
newly washed alpacas ( "little peas") at Lanark Farm - drying in the sun
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