How to Become a Homesteader-Part 4-Thrift, Bartering, Splurge

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Finding balance is one of the things we all strive for in every aspect of our lives.  Becoming a homesteader is about living the life you want, that you dream of.  It’s about taking chances and knowing you can live on less.  It is about spending time in the gardens and with animals and friends and not giving our life to a corporation, who will have you replaced by the time you hit the parking lot, or grave.  This is about relationships; with community, with friends and family, with nature, with God.  This is about freedom.  When we are living on less, we need to know when to be thrifty, when to barter, and when to splurge.

You can find tops for empty wine bottles to turn them into lanterns at Lehman's or kitchen stores.  Just fill with lamp oil and whallah!

You can find tops for empty wine bottles to turn them into lanterns at Lehman’s or kitchen stores. Just fill with lamp oil and whallah!

Being thrifty means that we reuse a lot of things and we don’t produce a lot of waste.  This is helpful on our pocketbooks and the earth.  We find we need less.  We don’t go to an office job so we don’t need really nice clothes, nor do we worry too much about our appearance.  We use our clothes until they are torn.  Our cars have to be practically falling apart while driving before we get a “new” one.  We read books from the library and rarely purchase new.  We reuse rubber bands to fasten stems of greens together to sell.  We save all of our twist ties and use them to stake plants to trellises and tomato cages.  Wine corks can be put in the bottom of pots before filling with soil for drainage.  Boxes that are too small to put in the garden or use to store canning jars get torn up and are used as fire starters.  Wine bottles get turned into oil lamps.

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Bartering is imperative in the homesteading world.  Being able to trade for services that we cannot do ourselves helps us live on a small income and helps connect us to others.  Rod put up a screen door for us and Doug cleaned up his computer.  We are trading one of Elsa’s kids for one of Jenet’s Nubian kids.  Last year Joan and I traded canned goods so we would have a bit of variety.  We barter herbal medicines for a lot of things!

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When to splurge?  Buy good quality feed for your animals.  Buy organics for yourself if you didn’t produce them.  When buying tools, buy the best you can so you don’t have to repurchase.  Buy quality seeds.  Not everything need be cheap.  Sometimes a bargain costs much more in the end.

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Then there are other types of splurges.  We live this way to enjoy life.  My post about boxed wine gave folks a good laugh around town, I’ll tell you.  I received large boxes of wine and funny comments.  I bet knowing my affinity for good wine that you can guess that it wasn’t long before I was darn sick of boxed wine!  If it’s under $15, a bottle is worth it.  One can find a great deal of fabulous wines in that price range.  And if Doug and I aren’t running around wine bars all week like we used to, you can bet your overalls that I am going to enjoy my glass of single vineyard, estate grown wine with dinner!

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This weekend we are taking Emily, Bret, and our sweet Maryjane Rose up to Boulder to celebrate Emily’s birthday a bit early.  I bartered for the rooms at a gorgeous Bed and Breakfast.  We will splurge on great meals and make fond memories with our children.

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Enjoy the good life today folks.  Life is sweet.

How to Become a Homesteader-Part 3-Old Fashioned Items

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There was good reason for many of the items that we now view as quaint or wonder what they were for in antique shops.  There are some items that will make your life much easier in your homestead.  Some new, some not so new.

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1. Oil Lamps- Oil lamps are functional and beautiful.  In our effort to dramatically decrease our electricity use, we enjoy reading by these light sources.  We have one large one on each end table and Doug bought me two that hang on the wall, one either side of our pillows.  We have one on each table in the house and a few smaller ones that can be moved about.  Lamp oil is fairly inexpensive and the lights give a soft glow to the homestead.

There was one evening when the electricity went out in the entire neighborhood at our last house.  Doug and I did not even know until we got up and realized how dark it was outside!  We just kept on reading.

The softer light also signals the body that it is time to settle down.  Bright lights, LED lights, and blinking lights all act as stimulants for the body.  It’s no wonder there are so many sleeping issues out there!

You can pick up oil lamps at Walmart, at thrift stores, or new at Lehmans.com

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2. Aprons- I may have about thirty-two of them but I am always on the hunt for more and love receiving them as gifts.  I also make them but it is more fun to wear one that a nice great-grandma would have worn at one time.  It honors those that came before us to wear something used with love.

The reason for aprons was simple.  The girls had a only a few dresses and rather than mess them up every day and have ever more laundry (some chores never change) they wore an apron over the dress.  This kept the dress clean and it was easier to wash an apron then a long dress.  I wear my aprons out.  I wear them cooking, cleaning, doing farm chores, gardening, at farmer’s markets, and sometimes just out.  I like to keep a tissue, a bit of cash, my phone, and a pocket knife in the pocket.  I don’t have to lug around the suitcase of a purse I have!

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3. Pocket Knife- Doug and I got each other lovely turquoise knives.  But a good old fashioned Swiss would do nicely as well.  I have walked around with a steak knife in my pocket before getting a pocket knife.  A pocket knife folds up, y’all.  Just get one.  You can easily cut fresh greens, snip the twine off a bale of hay, or any number of other things that come up.  Cut open an apple, get one with a wine cork on it…instant picnic!  But really, yesterday I went to feed the goats forgetting that it was a new bale and pulling and pushing around the hay bale doesn’t get it undone.  I forgot my knife in the house.  Back in my apron pocket it goes.

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4. Work Gloves- It took us awhile but it wasn’t long before we figured out that we needed some work gloves.  We had several lying around but we keep them by the door now.  From mending fences, to digging fresh soil, from picking up a sick chicken, to bringing in firewood, gloves are imperative.

Even Maryjane has her own pair thanks to her Grandma Dawn!

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5. Cast Iron Pans- I spent a good many years buying those cheap Teflon pans in lovely colors only to get Teflon in my eggs and needing new pans.  We have a nice collection of cast iron now (always on the lookout for a new piece) and they will be passed down to our children’s children’s children!  They stay in great shape, can be whipped into shape if they have been neglected too long, can go from fire to stovetop, and are great for cooking.

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6. Cuckoo Clocks and Wind Up Clocks- Same reason as the oil lamps, should the power go out you wouldn’t even know!  We keep our clocks wound and love the gentle ticking.  The bird that appears thrills our granddaughter and visiting children (and many adults).  We don’t have any clocks with that dreadful LED light up display.  The last one was discretely placed in the giveaway pile.  I like the feel of a vacation home.  That I live in a vacation home.  Plenty of things to read and do, not a lot of electric stimulation, just gentle lighting and sounds.

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There are many nice things to have on a homestead; seeds, tools, books, board games, matches, coffee, a man…but these six things will get you started!

How to Become a Homesteader-Part 2-Skills

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We try to learn two new skills each year.  There are some skills that are imperative to the survival of a homesteader.  Actually, not just for homesteaders, anyone who is trying to live as simply and on as few funds as possibly (less work for a paycheck=more freedom to live life how you want).  It is nice to have more than one person living on a homestead (doesn’t have to be a spouse) because generally what one person can’t do, or doesn’t care to do, the other can.  And for the things that neither are very good at, bartering with someone that has that skill set is invaluable.  Here is a rough list of important skills to learn to be a homesteader.

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1. Cooking- I have been cooking since I was quite small and Doug was a bachelor for some time before we got married so we both know how to cook.  That doesn’t mean that restaurants weren’t our worst vice!  We haven’t sworn off restaurants completely and we do go out more than our other homesteading friends.  I do, however, cook the vast majority of our meals.  And if I am too tired to cook in the morning Doug will fry up a delicious hash (fried potatoes, onions, garlic, eggs, and any vegetables or fish we have).

Cooking is not only obviously important to the modest budget required in a homestead, but it is better for you as well.  You need to stay strong while doing farm chores!  It is also much more ecologically friendly.  You can decide how many pesticides to put in your body, how many miles your food travelled, and how many boxes you put in the landfill.

We rarely buy anything in a box.  We use whole ingredients and in bulk if possible.  Grains, fresh vegetables fruits, or the ones we canned or froze, fish, legumes, eggs, milk, and cheese, make up our various meals along with a lot of great spices and flavor.  It is easy to put together meals with so much selection.  And because they weren’t in boxes, but rather larger bags or serve yourself, they were cheaper too.  I can add my own flavorings without all the additives.

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2. Gardening- Being able to grow your own food is a wondrous thing.  The cost of seeds is much less than the cost of groceries with the added benefit of being in the sunshine, knowing where your food came from, having all the nutrients still available, and helping out the bees.

One can successfully garden in a plot, the front yard, in five gallon buckets on the porch, anywhere really!  I combine all of these to get enough space!

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3. Canning- After World War II, women wanted a different life.  Canning, cleaning, country living, many normal ways of life were shunned in favor of city living, jobs, packaged food, cleaning ladies, and the earlier ways of living were thought of as mundane and peasant, if you will.

Canning is a great way to survive on a fixed income.  By putting up all the produce the summer brings (even if that means buying a bushel from a nearby farm) we don’t let all that glorious produce go to waste and come winter we scarcely ever need to go to the grocery store!  Just look in the pantry!

Canning is enjoyable as well.  It is a great sound when those jars click shut.  It is particularly fun with margaritas and other women to help!

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4. Fencing- This was one of the first things Doug had to learn and quick.  Come two squirrely, runaway goat kids, we had to learn to reinforce and put up good fencing on the cheap.  We have found that T-posts and pasture fencing are affordable options and moveable if necessary.  We will easily be able to fence in a large area off of the current goat pen for the goats and new arrivals.

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5. Building and Fixing- I grew up in a home where my mom taught us girls how to do every domestic chore.  I am grateful for that.  I have never pushed a lawn mower or changed my own oil though.  My dad built their house by hand.  He can fix anything, my brother can too, but I was not taught these things.  Doug grew up in a house where if something broke, they called someone in.  So, when we first got together and something would break, I’d say, “Aren’t you going to fix that?” and he would look at me like I was crazy.  We spent a lot of money on hiring people over the years and we needed to learn how to build and fix things.  This is a skill we will work on more this year.  This is one that we barter classes or computer support for.  I traded a class for a fabulous cold frame.  We would like a better milking shed too.  Neither of us even know where to start!  That is where knowing how to barter comes in handy.  But we also need to learn for ourselves.

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6. Animal Care- Animals are an important part of a homestead.  For many they are a source of meat, but for this vegetarian farm, they are a source of food, fiber, and comedy shows.  We love our chickens and their eggs.  We love our goats, their milk, and the dairy products that we make from the milk.  We can sell their kids and milk shares to help cover costs of feed.  We are looking forward to our new sheep and their fleece as well as the new alpaca, Buddy the Cotton-headed-ninny-muggins.

We have needed to learn how to trim their feet, and how to know when they are sick, and what to give them.  How to put an animal out of its misery (still working on that one, we are getting a revolver this year), and how to house and feed them.  In my opinion, animals make the homestead.  Sharing your life with other creatures makes things more complete.

After the kindling catches, add small pieces of wood, then a larger log.  Blow into the fire to make it catch more.  Once the log has caught, close the flue.

7. Fire starting- We heat our house with wood and a propane heater.  We got the bill for the propane.  Next month we are putting in another wood stove that our friend found us so no more propane!  We have a lot of wood stacked up and Doug learned to wield an axe.  It keeps him in shape, helps him blow off steam, and keeps us in wood.  But it took us a bit to figure out how to get the fire started easily!  We weren’t scouts and we never needed to do much else but throw one of those ready to burn logs into an outdoor fireplace at a party.  We learned quick!

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8. Sewing- Being able to mend old clothes or turn too old of clothes into quilts and projects saves you from having to purchase it at the store.  Remember, anything we currently purchase at the store we want to learn to do ourselves!  I can make the baby dresses, sew a semi-decent quilt, and mend but I would like to learn this year how to sew more elaborate clothing, like men’s shirts and dresses for myself.

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9. Fiber Arts- Being able to knit a pair of warm socks is high on my list of skills I would like to master this year.  Along with animal shearing, carding, spinning, and dying yarn.

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10. Learning to Entertain Oneself- Being able to not be bored easily.  To be able to rest and entertain oneself is high in importance.  We can’t very well run off to see a stage production downtown anymore or away for a week in New Mexico.  We also don’t have a big cable package or media entertainment.  We read, write, draw, walk, have folks over, visit others, play with the baby, and sit outside in the sun.

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Being a homesteader doesn’t mean that one does less work.  Nay, you might end up doing doubled!  All of these skills take time.  Time is what you will have and it is much nicer to be doing what you would like on your own time and schedule wherever you please.  It is all good, pleasant work.  And learning to rest and play is important as well.  This is a great lifestyle.  I highly recommend it if you are thinking of living this way!  A good skill set makes it all the easier.

How To Become a Homesteader-Part 1- Finances

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Our homesteading school garners a lot of interest and folks of all walks of life are more and more interested in leaving the rat race and joining the simple life.  Most people have a romanticized view of what homesteading looks like, but the good news is, most of those images are true.  It is lovely to live so simply and to not worry as much and to have more freedom with time.

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We have a lot of people, friends and family, ask how to get to this point.  How do you achieve the homestead?  How do you get your own place, your own farmstead?  How do you leave your job?  How do you walk away from your lifestyle?

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Here is the very first thing that one has to realize, grasp, and accept before they pursue this lifestyle.  You must be prepared to give up your way of life.  You must be prepared to give up a lot of things, a lot of comforts, a lot, in order to get away with living this way.  But you get much, much more in return.

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1. Regarding Work- unless you are independently wealthy or are expecting an inheritance, you’ll need to make an income.  There are a lot of people with “regular” jobs looking to escape to this lifestyle but do not want to give up the RV payment, the car payment, the cable package, the all electric run home, the big house, et cetera.  But, a lot of times the reason that people want to become homesteaders is to get away from those rat race jobs!  To not be reliant on others to keep them employed.  To not work 40+ hours a week breaking their backs and then expect to be able to go do chores and call in to work if a sick lamb is born.  Homesteading is about being your own boss.

There are the few that enjoy homesteading on the weekends or love their corporate jobs.  This is more about those of you that want to choose what you do from day to day, who want to live closer to nature, and who want to be less reliant on the system, and have faith in their abilities to provide for themselves.

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There is a new wave of entrepreneurs coming up.  People are realizing that four year college is not the answer most of the time for our young folk.  Heading into their adult lives with debt is not a great way to start out.  Trade schools are rising in popularity and for good reason.  There are few people my age that know how to fix plumbing, who can do carpentry, or who can fix their own cars.  We all got used to hiring people and that is expensive.  But if these young people can grab some of the training and jobs out there to do these things they can work for themselves and make a fair income.  Not just young people, if you need a new career, look into trade work.  If you know how to do these things, focus your energies on these skills to make a homestead income.

I have friends that make their entire living off of farming.  One needs less bills in order to achieve that.  We make a very nice living (it may be considered poverty level, but it works for us!) making and selling herbal medicines and teaching.

If you get your bills down low enough, an enjoyable part time job might be sufficient.

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2. Bills- Do you need a cable package?  Do you need television?  Do you need internet?  Can you use free wifi somewhere?  Get your bills down as low as you can on paper and then you will see how much you need to make per month.  Forget the five year plan, the “when we get this paid off” plan, “when we retire” plan.  Life is short, life is waiting, act soon!

Take away preconceived notions.  You do not need to own a lot of land to homestead.  Find a cheap rental with a friendly landlord.

As you get involved in this lifestyle you will find that you will meet more and more likeminded people.  Homesteaders are an amazing community of people that are always willing to help with advice and expertise and who love to barter!

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3. Debt- It seems impossible to get rid of the debt we accumulated through student loans and losing our house from our previous lifestyle but we certainly aren’t adding any more to it!  We do not use credit cards.  We do not take on debt.  We highly recommend the Dave Ramsey program.  Assume that if you can’t afford it today, you can’t afford it later!  A cash based budget is easier to keep track of.

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4. Rely on Yourself- Learn how to make alternative medicines.  They are every bit as effective as pharmaceuticals.  Barter for what you need if possible.  Preserve as much food as possible.  Heat your home with wood if possible.  Make a list of where your money goes….doctors, grocery stores, clothing stores, et cetera, and see what you can do for yourself.  Break it down even further.  Crackers on your grocery list?  Learn to make them!

It is empowering and takes some stress off of you if you can do it yourself.

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5.  Learn New Skills- Can you get a book on how to make home repairs?  Can you learn to build a fence?  Can you learn to make antibiotics?  Can you learn to can?

Yes you can!

This is the first step in successfully becoming a homesteader and leaving the status quo behind.

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We get to babysit our granddaughter while our daughter is at work part time because we make our own schedules.  We have so much fun with that little munchkin.  We have time to run around with our animals and enjoy the views here.  We have few worries here.  We are in control of our life and is there anything sweeter than that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Sheepish

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The animals that I have long dreamed of for our farm have been chickens (check), ducks (April 11th), alpacas (I guess we’ll try again), donkeys (yes donkeys), and a draft horse to haul wood and for me and Maryjane to ride!  The latter two will have to wait but the last animals we have been thinking of are sheep.

Like I said before, I do tend to act hastily, even rashly, when giving things away.  I have read too many of those stupid articles that promise forever happiness if you shed all of your earthly belongings.  I figured I didn’t have alpacas, I didn’t have sheep, I couldn’t afford roving, it was high summer and I didn’t have to time to spin.  I promptly sold the spinning wheel (and I mean promptly, that sucker sold same day).  A trip down Craigslist shows a lot of ISO’s (in search of) and less wheels.  The wheels available are either chintzy or more than what I paid for initially.  Who knew they were so hot?  But, as with all things, we will put it back out there and I shall find another spinning wheel.

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We have put dibs on two not yet born infants.  They shall enter this fine world mid-March.  At five days they will come to Pumpkin Hollow Farm with their bottles in tow and will require our utmost care and attention…and snuggles, and baby talk.  We are getting sheep.

We still need to take this year’s farm plan over to the landlord’s house to get approved.  We also do not know exact costs of said farm animal menagerie I speak of.  Well, the ducks are five bucks.  But, I know that if we desire it and plan and save we will have our wish.

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Let me introduce you to the breed we are getting.  These are Finnsheep.

The breed is several hundred years old.  They are known for being able to find roughage in not so lush areas as well as be able to withstand harsh climates.  They are known for having several lambs in a litter.  They are predominantly white (they look a smidge like my Saanen goats, don’t you think?) but do come in other colors as well.  Their fleece is light but spins up very well and blends nicely with other fibers.  Well, people, it looks like my fiber mania is taking back over.

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They don’t have horns, which is nice, don’t want them to be taking out alpaca knees, or mama’s.  They don’t need their tail docked.  The rams are super friendly and will eat right out of your hand.  We like super friendly animals around here.  We will likely get two ram lambs but if they should have a female available, for obvious reasons, I would like to have one of each.

We are in our planning stages still but if all goes well, we will have quite a fun farm to visit and learn at.  I’ll keep you posted on this year’s farm plan and please feel free to comment on your favorite farm animals and the ones you hope to get this year!

 

 

Just Duckie

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I think I will just keep the farm animal ball rolling this week.  While we’re at it, let’s talk ducks.

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Last year I posted some pretty darn cute photos of our ducklings.  They were so soft and added quite a lot of smiles at the Easter dinner table when I let one run across.  Three inch high ducklings are a force to be reckoned with in the ridiculously adorable animal category.

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They were a mess.  They love to splash.  They love to get their water everywhere, in the food, in the straw, all over themselves and the patient chicks they were housed with in the bathroom. (I think those chicks thought themselves to be ducks.)  Finally at five weeks old, the whole crew was placed in the chicken coop in a portable fence so that they could get to know their roommates before running for their life from the older hens.

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Doug placed a kiddie swimming pool outside and they spent hours and hours delighting in the water and splashing enthusiastically.  Not always swimming, sometimes they would stand outside the pool with their head in the water.  As they got older we noted that three were female and we had one male.  One drake out of four straight run fowl isn’t bad.  I could have as easily had three drakes and one sole girl!  He was their protector and would only allow the three chickens that they had been raised with to be near them.

We would come home from a farmer’s market and our intern, Ethan, would casually say, “Ira had Yetta’s head in his mouth again.”

“Ira had Sophia’s head in his mouth again.”  He didn’t hurt them but we weren’t sure what the future would bring.

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Well, what it brought was a move.  A move we had been praying for and that I had been writing about for two solid years.  The move to our homestead.  More land, more opportunity.  Lots of room for animals, right?  We moved in the fall during our peak of garden production, farmer’s markets, then transplanting herbs to the new farm, and then a strenuous move.  There wasn’t time to build a separate coop for the ducks and we still didn’t know if we were going to let the chickens free range outside their enclosure due to the significant large bird population that lived nearby (owls and hawks don’t mind free chicken).  And the coyotes singing in the fields (they like a bit of chicken as well).  And Ira with a chicken in his mouth.  No, no, that would never do.  We couldn’t keep them all cooped up together any longer.  So, I sold them for a very low price (as I am so prone to do).  They went to live next door to my friend, Lisa.  I mourned their absence immediately.  I did love the ducks.

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So now spring is approaching (oh wait, it’s only January) and I have BIG plans.  Do I plan any other way?  So we (when I say we, I mean Doug) is going to build a jaunty fenced in run along the west side of the garden where the majority of grasshoppers seemed to be last fall.  The ducks will have a job!  West border bug patrol, duck manure for the compost, and fresh eggs for the cast iron skillet.  They will have their own digs, their own kiddie pool, and their own small coop.  Now, I sure hope I don’t get three drakes and one duck egg layer.  Let’s go for all four girls!

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I miss their quacking on an early summer morning.  Their humorous waddles across the grass.  The sound of water splashing and raucous playing.  A farm without farm animals is simply a garden.  I love my gardens and the farm we are creating here and I need my Noah’s Arc menagerie to make it complete.

Fiber Animals- Take 2

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Isn’t January a time of reminisce and future plans?  There isn’t much to do so we review our progress, our successes, our hopes, dreams, and ideas.  Two years ago in January we posted about alpacas.  Doug and I had been avidly attending alpaca festivals, visiting farms, yarn stores, and reading up and dreaming of the day that we would get our very own marionette-like animals.  I would while away the hours spinning on my old fashioned wheel, knitting socks from our very own fiber from our very own alpacas. *Sigh.

Look who wanted in this morning!

We adopted two alpacas, a sweet boy named Natali, and a young one named Cody.  The brown one was a Suri and the second a Huacaya.  The Huacaya was going to be our main fiber boy.  A big, fluffy white alpaca would be great for hand dying my own fiber with plant dyes.  A garden was going to be created with plants specifically for dyes.

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We bought two big bags of fiber from a friend of ours down the way to practice on.  I did not have the equipment to card the fiber and everything was so expensive to purchase.  So, we sent it to the mill.  The total cost to us was a whopping $20 a skein of yarn.  Let’s just say that was not a profitable adventure.

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I bought a beautiful spinning wheel, new, full price.  I practiced and practiced and used roving that a student of mine gave me.  My “yarn” looked lopsided, lumpy, and fell apart easily.

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The two alpacas were terrified of us.  The younger one kicked anyone that went by.  His leg cocked back was the exact height of a small child’s face.  Not good.  We had saved a lot of money (for us) to adopt these animals.  The farm folks that sold them to us had promised to help us and be a resource for us but were nowhere to be found when we had issues.  A mere four months later we had to give them away.  That’s right, gave them away for free.

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I was so upset over the whole situation that I also promptly sold my new spinning wheel for under cost.  I regret that now.  I do tend to make rash decisions rather quickly.

That was last spring when everything seemed to be going wrong.  Fast forward to a few days ago.  Knitting club at the coffee shop and we girls are talking about alpaca yarn and alpacas and my poor experience when two gals came across the room to greet one of the knitters.  They each have an alpaca ranch and we laughed at the coincidence since we were just talking about that.  We recalled my horrible experience and the alpaca ladies were horrified that that had occurred to us, especially after so many years of planning and dreaming.  We felt jipped.

One of the ladies offered me a free alpaca.  He has fabulous fleece, smaller than some, and is mentally handicapped.  Well, y’all know we are suckers for the misfit animals.  He apparently loves attention.  Of course, I don’t have her phone number but in a small town I bet we can locate it.  I had put it out of my head, not thinking Doug wanted to delve into the world of alpacas and fiber again, but yesterday he casually mentioned pasture fencing and special ed alpacas.  He loves alpacas and was every bit as disappointed as I was in our experiment.

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So, joining us on Pumpkin Hollow Farm (I need to go across the way to the owner’s house of this fine land and see if we can bring on more animals) may be a few sheep and a smiley alpaca.  Now I need to find another spinning wheel!