New Year’s Resolutions – Farm Style

It’s time to look ahead. As you stand knee-deep in snow, shivering during one of Canada’s deepest, coldest winters, the horizon that lies ahead at the end of the coming year seems far, far away. Those miles are filled with opportunities to do more, or do better than the years that lie in the rear view mirror. Oh, what possibilities!

We are resolved to anticipate and be present for more cria births.

We are resolved to anticipate and be present for more cria births.

I never make New Year’s resolutions. Life is a resolution. Each day is a new opportunity and most days I can’t wait to leap out of bed and see how I can make this day better than the last. It’s true. I see the opportunities and possibilities everywhere.

I never make New Year’s resolutions. At least I thought I didn’t.

As I read the last issue of Camelid Quarterly, and in particular Nancy Carr’s article on predicting time of birth (The Hip Dip, Dec 2013), I found myself wanting to watch more carefully, read the signs, be better prepared and be present for the 4 expected births on our farm this season.

Call that New Year’s resolution #1.

One of the things I have really loved about farming for the last 5 years is that in subtle and not so subtle ways, the farm challenges us to do a little better, produce a little more and improve the quality of what we produce year after year. The over achiever in me loves that! Bring on a challenge.

Like it or not, the result is a series of New Year’s resolutions that creep their way into our family psyche. We sit at the breakfast table and talk about dozens of ways we are going to make this year better than the last. Even together, as a family, we are making resolutions.

So what does a farm-style resolution look like?

A treat of sprouted barley fodder on a snowy winter day.

A treat of sprouted barley fodder on a snowy winter day.

Once you take on a herd, be it big or small, an awesome sense of responsibility washes over you. Their health and well being is in your hands. So it goes without saying that each year begins with a renewed resolve to improve herd health and nutrition. In year’s past my resolutions have included improving our herd records so we could better monitor nutrition and herd health. That was paired with a resolution to document our health protocols in simple fashion so as our herd grew, it became much easier to ensure that every alpaca was on an optimal health care regime.

Fodder low resI have resolved to better monitor body condition of the alpacas, rather than to nurture them with generous rations, resulting in healthier animals and improved fleeces. Last year we resolved to find the optimal feed to ensure optimal nutrition and were rewarded with results.

In an effort to maintain a sustainable farm operation with natural health protocols being used where and when possible, we introduced a more natural parasite protocol, focussing on the use of diatomaceous earth, or “red earth” resulting in clean fecals and decreased use of medications.

Mother Nature can be your friend or foe in caring for the herd. We mere mortals can make a difference though, and we do. That is what farming is all about. You don’t just watch the grass grow anymore, you monitor, fertilize, seed, and rotate your pastures. It sounds overwhelming, but each small resolution we make builds on the last one. And this year is no different. While 3 feet of snow lies on the ground we are discussing ways to improve pasture conditions.

And in true farm spirit you never quit moving the earth. My husband is determined to tackle drainage challenges and solve them. My daughter wants to top that off with some landscaping around the barn. And when we couldn’t sink our hands directly into the soil during these freezing months, we started a small fodder sprouting project in the basement to supplement dry hay in the winter with green barley sprouts year round. For more on that adventure, follow our Twitter feed (ohalpacas).

AO Show low resNo day goes by in our house, even before the new year arrives, that the subject of the Spring Show doesn’t come up. Our daughter is more than resolved to improve our performance at each show of the season. It begins with a commitment to present better stock, achieved through both strategic breeding decisions and strategic purchases of animals. And she seems to wake up New Years day talking about starting her training earlier and earlier each year, with new approaches to training and more clearly defined training goals for each alpaca.

Ribbons low resRight after the subject of showing is comes up, it is followed by a detailed analysis of our breeding options for the coming season. There is a new resolve this year to make very detailed and informed breeding decisions for each of our girls. The 345 day wait for that cria to arrive has impressed on us all the importance of each choice we make. To that end, each year we resolve to learn more and more about genetics.

With the arrival of the tractor another resolution was kept.

With the arrival of the tractor another resolution was kept.

And no farmer worth his or her salt would wake up New Year’s day thinking about anything but the new equipment they want to introduce to the farm before year’s end. Past years have had us dreaming about an ATV, tractor or new truck. This year we are imagining the ideal mini manure spreader, platform scale or something as simple as cria coats to keep those babies warm.

We are always breeding for better and better fleeces.

We are always breeding for better and better fleeces.

As we toast the new year I am thinking about the end product of our year’s adventure – the fleece. This year I promise myself that I will get that fleece skirted a little earlier in the year, get it sold, or get some off to the mill. With a little greater resolve each year, we have been successful in getting all of our fleece skirted, sorted, marketed and sold. In fact this year we held back some prime fleeces and sent them to the mill for the first time in large part to experience the mill process which has resulted in a better understanding of the fleece we produce and what we are working toward.

Resolution: get that fleece sorted sooner and off to the mill!

Resolution: get that fleece sorted sooner and off to the mill!

The result of keeping that resolution was even greater than having a “mill experience”. The yarns and felts produced at the mill for our farm have help us to tick another resolution off our list. When the first yarns arrived early in January my mother’s skilled hands got to work. She began knitting and the first piece in our new limited line of baby clothes was created. Show me an alpaca farm that does not yearn to produce a value-added product from their fleece. A resolution to produce value-added products became a reality before January came to a close.

Resolutions are so often about doing something a little better than we did it before. And that is no different on the farm. My daughter has resolved to keep our herd management software up to date and put extraordinary effort into that. I am determined to have a more smooth-running shearing day, for both the alpacas and our shearing team. Haying is another busy time of year, and each year we try to find the best hay and bring it in the most efficient way with the least help possible. And each year, after we have moved past these big jobs and relax to enjoy the herd, I resolve to find new ways to thank the incredible friends and family who help us to make it all a success.

Each year we commit to introducing newcomers to alpacas - sometimes inspiring art!

Each year we commit to introducing newcomers to alpacas – sometimes inspiring art!

So five years have passed. Oak Hills Alpacas is now a thriving alpaca farm with a healthy, quality herd, a presence at the shows, and products to sell. So, naturally, the next step is to do a better job this year of telling folks about it, or improving our marketing. This will be the year we take more photos, better photos, and we will edit and post videos on the web. We will produce a farm banner to tell people who we are. This will be the year that we hold a farm open house. This will be the year we improve our website – and by date of publication the new www.ohalpacas.com will be launched and sailing. This will be the year we Tweet just a little more. And much to the delight of my kind editor, this will be the year I begin writing and submitting my articles well in advance of deadline!

Who knows where we will end up when 2014 comes to its inevitable close. I do know this. Without fail, over the past 5 years we have crept and leapt forward in various ways, improved our herd, welcomed more & more visitors, and loved every minute of it. Who knew five years of farming could make a family resolved to many, many more.

What’s your New Year’s resolution?

A trailer to transport alpacas was equipment we resolved to own as each new year rolled round.

A trailer to transport alpacas was equipment we resolved to own as each new year rolled round.

Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Camelid Quarterly.  A special thanks to the editors for their permission to reprint.