frozen water buckets; the later six inches of gooey, boot grabbing mud.
Alpacas are native to the Andes Mountains of South America. As such, one would expect these animals to laugh at what Mother Nature can throw at them here on the relatively benign flatlands of northern Ohio. But instead of letting these hardy animals fend for themselves, we pamper them like our firstborn children. They have a nice warm barn with thick mats to sleep on; they get fed
twice a day with some type of scientifically developed grain; and they have an unlimited supply of nice fresh (and expensive) hay available around the clock.
Of course with a nice warm barn available, what alpaca in its right mind would go out into a cold pasture to heed the call of nature, so every morning we have a barn full of alpaca poop to clean. But this is nothing compared to what takes place in the paddock area. Here is where we keep the troughs carefully filled with hay, so we have sort of a perpetual pooping machine as the alpacas eat and poop around the clock. When we have a week long blast of frigid weather, this poop freezes to the ground and cannot be budged by even the most persistent hammering. This frozen poop forms itself into weird shapes as the piles get deeper and deeper. Have you ever tried to walk on frozen alpaca poop? But then the thaw cycle comes and suddenly these piles of
rock hard poop magically transform into an ocean of primordial slime. Have you ever tried to walk on melted alpaca poop? Now that I think about it I seem to spend most of the winter trying not to fall on my butt in alpaca poop.
Then there is the situation with the water buckets. Since we don’t heat our barn (shhhh – don’t let Roxanne hear about heating
the barn), H2O tends to change from its liquid to its solid state relatively quickly any time after December 1st. We have overcome this by installing expensive heated buckets (and an associated electrical wiring system) throughout the barn. However, while these buckets do an excellent job of keeping the water in them from freezing, unfortunately they do not fill themselves. So we have to transport buckets of water from our freeze-proof faucet to the various buckets. It is funny that for years my dad, who was born
and raised on a farm, talked about hauling water in buckets and I nodded in boredom. Now, a half-century later I have finally learned just how much pain is involved with this simple activity.
Roxanne and I thought we were well prepared as the days grew shorter and the nights longer. Like the hard-working ants in that old parable (do they still teach this story in today’s more “progressive” schools?) we spent weeks diligently engaged in all sorts of
activity. We had taken delivery of enough hay to maintain a good-sized cavalry troop for several years; diligently plugged all the holes in our barn where rain or snow could blow through; and packed in enough grain to withstand the next African famine.
We laughed at the first snowstorm. By the time we dug ourselves and our alpacas out from under storm number five, we weren’t laughing anymore. (It was about this time I began to secretly devise hideous tortures which I could inflict on Al Gore with his promise of winters consisting of balmy days where snow would be but a welcome oddity.) But instead of global warming, we now arrived at our farm in the early morning hours only to be greeted by a driveway filled with snow – thank goodness for four-wheel drive vehicles. We would then shovel a path to the barn and pry open the frozen doors. Finally inside the barn, we would kick our reluctant alpacas outside (the last time I checked it does snow in the Andes now and again, but you would never know it by our alpacas) and begin the job of cleaning up their poop. Of course, with two feet of snow covering everything, cleaning became just an exercise in moving the poop from one location to another.
If this weren’t enough to make a grown man cry, the idiot who laid out our farm (yep, that would be me) did not provide an easy
access for wheeled vehicles to our barn. Thus, during the winter months it is almost impossible to get a truck close to this building. This would not be a problem except for the before mentioned gourmet diet our alpacas enjoy. These meals require a
steady flow of grain, oats and various other sundries. Now the manufacturers of these products all assume your typical farmer is
six-foot-six, two-hundred and twenty pounds and 23 years old; in which case slinging a fifty pound bag over your shoulder and walking two hundred yards down two flights of stairs would not be a problem. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen 23 for almost four decades and I spent my previous life sitting behind a desk. (In fact, now that I think about it I also spent four years in college just to avoid any type of physical labor.)
But with the grace of God we survived the winter and watched in eager anticipation as the days slowly became longer and the sun a bit warmer. Then came the rains: more rain; and more rain – oh, did I happen to mention it rained. Now springtime in Ohio is
normally a wet season, but what we experienced cannot begin to be described by a benign little word like “wet.” Weeks went by without a peak of the sun. Eight hours without a drop of rain became a reason to celebrate by dancing naked in the streets. And through it all Roxanne and I watched in dismay as our pastures disappeared under a layer of water, mud and slime.
Now, alpacas may not be thrilled with snow, but they hate the rain. Let three drops of moisture fall from a cloudless sky and they
will stampede for the barn like a herd of bison with Buffalo Bill Cody in hot pursuit. (Of course, these are the same animals that will stand for hours while Roxanne hoses them down on a hot summer day with water purchased from our local county authority at highway robbery rates.) We moved our alpacas to our high pastures to wait out the monsoon season.
(Note: “high” in our part of Ohio is a relative term, where land is often so flat it looks as though God used a huge straight-edge to form it.) As I watched the gray skies dump water on our soaked pastures day after day, I again returned to my Al Gore torture fantasies. According to this “gentleman” we should now be growing dates and bananas on our baked land; instead I found myself wrapped in my winter coat and hat as I slopped through my chores in mid-May.