I was gone on military orders over SEVEN MONTHS in 2018.
I just got back in February of this year, and I’m writing this on a plane going for another couple weeks. We may have enough time to get through shearing before I have to leave again. Hopefully that’s the last one for 2019!
I am grateful to still be able to serve as an Air Force Reservist. I enjoy working with a team again to get the mission done. There is a part of my soul fulfilled by it. That, or I have split-personality disorder.
However the rest of my soul is restored and fulfilled by my family and my farm.
It has been a challenging year discovering just how much I can live in both worlds. I have a little (okay, more than a little) anxiety and excitement for the future as our family has several opportunities which may cause big changes. Some of which are outside of our control. I’m trying not to dwell on the uncertainties and just cross that bridge when we get there.
For now, one thing is for certain: I could not have been gone a fraction of that time without being blessed with amazing people taking care of the ranch. One of the top most awesome things to happen to the ranch is our new Office Manager and Communications Director: Serena. (Side note: ideas for less stuffy staff titles are totally welcome). If you have liked our social media feeds, website changes, and newsletters, it’s all thanks to this incredible woman. If you ordered something from us online, she was the one that shipped it to you. She kept the business going while my husband kept the animals alive. Her smiling face was joined by Jill and Shannon at Lexington Farmers’ Market where you wonderful people continued your support by taking home some alpaca awesomeness. We had a fantastic first intern, Gracie, that I sadly only had a couple days with before I had to leave. We opened our “PR department” with my friend Jennifer. And our longest “staff” family member, Ranch Hand and Ranch Camp Counselor extraordinaire, Anna, watched over the ranch so my family could actually enjoy a vacation together.
People used to assume I had staff (because what crazy person would do all this alpaca ranching-entrepreneur-artisan-stay-at-home mom thing all by themselves?! <insert crazy-lady laugh here>). Despite unfruitful (desperate) searching in the past for the right people to help grow the ranch, this year God not only threw me a bone, but a freakin five-star champagne dinner! I have PEOPLE! That can get in touch with YOUR PEOPLE! WHAT??!!!
Even more than the much needed help, I am so grateful these ladies believe in the purpose behind our Ranch. They also find restoration and fulfillment here. Which reaffirms that purpose in my heart as well. My husband and I created this ranch because we wanted a life with this purpose for our family. Those blessed friends that have come to help further this purpose have also become family.
So with this big dose of encouragement, we have applications open (click here to apply) for Farmers’ Market, Ranch Camp Counselor, and YOGA INSTRUCTOR (we FINALLY have 2 applicants for the last one!!! Stay tuned via the newsletter, Facebook, and Instagram for Alpaca Vinyasa dates!!!)
I am grateful to still be a part of my Air Force family. But I am super giddy to be growing our River Hill family! We still have a lot of growing to do! (Hopefully not growing up though. Totally overrated 😉
I used to think Valentine’s Day was a commercialized holiday. You shouldn’t need a special day of the year to show someone you love them. While cut flowers are nice, I preferred a potted plant I could put in the ground so its beauty would last instead of die. Gifted sweets when I just got back on the wagon from holiday binge eating was not appreciated. Plus pink and red are not my favorites.
Fast forward to my mid-life awakening, I still don’t attach expectations to Valentine’s Day, but I appreciate it.
After a couple years of ranching full time now, I have settled into full appreciation of living with the seasons. While the alpacas (goats, cats, dogs, and chickens) still need care through the cold, winter is a time to let our lives and the grass rest. February is typically the worst of winter weather, so I was not surprised to learn Valentine’s Day may have had origins in a pagan festival of fertility; this weather is good for cuddling up! It is also when we begin to look ahead to spring: buying seed for planting and planning the growing season.
But the short days remind me there is still time for rest and allow for my personal growth. I am grateful for the luxury of heated waterers and for good hay farmers that make it possible for coffee on the couch watching the bird feeder and cozy evenings sipping hot toddies in front of the fireplace. (For those who don’t know a good hot toddy, google it. Be sure to use bourbon. You’re welcome.)
My husband makes the best hot toddy. He also makes, and then brings me that coffee in bed before I even make it to the couch. I am incredibly spoiled. We just celebrated our 12th year of marriage and our lives are full of routine, laughs, stress, demands, apologies, and love. My husband is an incredible balance of strength and compassion. I too often forget to consider his feelings in my emotionally driven barrage of stressed responses to my day. As a work-at-home-mom, he is my daily adult interaction and I unfairly expect him to handle all of my emotional support. As my best friend, he is there for me through all of it.
But as my husband, some of that crap is unfairly directed at him as if it’s his fault. And I need a reminder to put my needs aside and put him at the center of my attention. So in that regard, I will take a commercially driven holiday as a welcome slap in the face to remind me to get over myself and love him. Because good men need to feel their masculinity and love appreciated. Men that support women because of our strengths and despite all our flaws need to be celebrated. I’ll take Valentine’s Day as a reminder to celebrate that love.
After being a weaver for years now, this is the first winter I wove a scarf for him. As my daughter and I worked on it together, I thought about the life my husband and I have woven together. Focusing on what is important in life is hard to do through the distractions of the day to day. But it is worth it. I am choosing this year to focus on controlling my emotional response so that I may respect and honor the man that loves me. I am focusing on responding with love.
I tell our visitors we are grass farmers and ask if they’re excited to look at my grass today…(uncomfortable laughter)…You should see their awkward faces.
You see, the alpacas are fairly easy to care for (see Alpaca Herd Management Routine). It’s the grass I have to be concerned with. Our alpacas’ health and productivity rely on the nutrients we provide them with every day of their lives. Without high quality forage, minerals, and water, our alpacas would not be able to produce low micron (read: soft) fiber, or healthy offspring.
So therefore, grass farming! Alpacas require 80% of their diet to be forage: either pasture or hay. We practice intensive rotational grazing techniques, frequently moving portable fences to fresh pasture so our herd can always have access to fresh forage. We spread compost on the fields to keep the grasses healthy and rich in nutrients. In the wintertime, we keep the alpacas fenced near the barn and allow our pastures to “rest” for next spring. During this time, we feed our alpacas hay.
Every fall, before we purchase hay from our favorite local farmers, we have the hay tested in a lab. We bring bales to our county’s Extension Office, where our super awesome Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, Brandon Sears, helps us drill a core sample from each bale. Brandon explains it is best to bring more than one hay bale from a cutting to test (3 or more are ideal) so that you can see if they are uniform throughout. Sometimes you can get a different quality of hay cut from the top of a hill than you would from the hay cut down by a ravine, which receives a different amount of sunlight and moisture. We dump the contents of the corer into separate labeled bags, and send them off for testing using SCIENCE!
Around two weeks later, I receive an email from the lab with the results. Y’all, I have to pore over these tests figuring out which is the best…then I have to pour me a beer because my head hurts. Hay is the single biggest purchase for our farm every year so I stress over getting it right.
Hay in our area that is generally best for alpacas is an Orchard grass mix or alfalfa mix (although too much alfalfa can cause some health problems such as obesity or skin problems). As an alpaca owner, it is vital for me to study and learn everything I can about the best care practices for alpacas. According to Norman Evans’ Alpaca Field Manual (an invaluable resource for any alpaca owner), the ideal hay should be dust free, mold free, green, and dry. The most important nutrients to be tested in our hay are Calcium, Phosphorus, Selenium and Zinc, as well as Vitamins A, D, and E. The ideal hay should also have a protein level of 9-12% and TDN (total digestible nutrient) of 55-58% for palatability. Yes, palatability: alpacas are picky sometimes and will turn up their nose at “stem-y” hay (usually caused by the hay being cut late in the grass’ maturity resulting in thicker seed stems). If the hay is nutritionally deficient or if it contains too much of certain vitamins or minerals, this can cause health issues.
So we grow grass & buy quality hay to allow our alpacas to thrive so they can grow the highest quality fiber. It takes hard work, time, money, research, testing and care to keep on top of these practices, but we take pride in the health of our herd so we can offer you fine products. There is so much more to alpaca farming than some fuzzy animals munching grass. The next time you hold a locally grown alpaca fiber product and feel its incredible softness on your skin, remember the hard work and dedication that went into caring for the animal that grew it. Just wait ‘till I tell you about the exciting SOIL farming we do!!! (Seriously, it is AWESOME.)
Today I’d like to showcase one of our favorite alpaca awesome items, the felted alpaca vest. The vest is eye catching to say the least, having an intricate and detailed design which was professionally printed onto a silk fabric base, and then carefully felted over with vibrantly dyed alpaca fiber. The fineness and sheerness of the super soft alpaca allows the beautiful designs to shine through.
Not only is it incredibly soft and comfortable to wear, it is one our most versatile pieces of sustainable clothing. Being completely reversible, with over ten (and counting) ways to wear this vest, the only limit is your imagination and unique expression of style. To help give our customers an idea of how to style your vest, I’ve compiled some examples for you on this blog. I hope you gain some inspiration and enjoy wearing your alpaca awesome vest!
Find our alpaca awesome vests and more sustainable alpaca products in our online shop.
Slow. A while back my amazing freelance writer friend sent me a pitch for an article on our ranch centered on the word “slow.” It was a sweet illustration of how I envisioned my country life with my family: a slow paced, purpose-filled, joyful collection of moments while growing slow clothes. It made my heart hurt and my stomach turn. The reality of running a small business, keeping a herd of livestock thriving, trying to figure out how to make stuff from our fiber harvest, and being a stay-at-home mom felt everything but slow (just scroll down and read the 2015 blog post). I told her she couldn’t pitch it. It was just a lie. I felt like a total fraud.
But this year something awesome happened: Clarity. The heavens opened and the angels sang, “This is it! This is what you’re supposed to be doing!” (I’m sure God had a face palm moment that it took me so long to get it.)
Just like anyone’s life, this journey hasn’t always made complete sense (if yours has, 1. I highly suspect you’re full of it and 2. You should write a book and make millions). I knew I wanted to be available to my kids, but build something that would give me purpose in addition to being a mom (yes, I made this decision prior to birthing my children; yes, I know how stupid that sounds). Of course the purpose of my journey got blurred by the reality that poop happens and most days feeling blessed by the mess is just effing hard. I put some wall words in my bedroom that say “Find Joy in the Journey.” Ironically they were a royal P.I.T.A. to put on straight and a corner of one of the words still flops over like a dog’s ear, mocking my inner demands for perfection (I am a Virgo, married to a Virgo…). But each illogical step has led me closer to this beautifully imperfect perfection.
Thanks to some insight gained in Accelerating Appalachia, an entrepreneur accelerator program, we shifted focus to our agritourism experiences. Thanks to my mother for setting the example years ago with her business focused on experiences for children, we decided to do just that. And Ranch Camp was born.
The first summer of Ranch Camp was the arrival of slow. Yes, we were still crazy busy and my son was still a wild toddler, but for the first time I allowed myself to live in the moment. We climbed trees, picked berries, dug in the dirt, chased butterflies, and wove wall tapestries while weaving moments of laughter and awe of God’s creation. And when my toddler starting pitching a fit, my amazing farm hand would swoop in and save me.
And God continued to encourage me through the voices of the parents when they returned the next morning: “They have not stopped talking about how much fun they’re having!”, “This is so wonderful to give them a real summer”, “Are you going to do an overnight camp?” (!!!) Umm….we’re just starting slow…
BUT, since it was so successful and fulfilling, we are doubling the number of sessions offered! We also learned a ton last year to make this year even better.
“Do you have Ranch Camp for grown-ups?!” We always offer our Alpaca Awesome Ranch Tour by appointment which can be personalized by taking on chores, making a craft with fiber, or adventuring around our beautiful rolling hills and forest.
But because y’all keep askin’ we’re expanding our calendar of experiences starting this summer! How does sunrise yoga in the pasture sound? Alpaca Grill Class? Sunday Funday Woodland Weaving? We’re also considering offering children’s experiences at the same time as our adult classes so the whole family can enjoy time out here while giving the parents a break. We’d like to hear your ideas too, so please comment below with your interest!
Which leads me to our biggest announcement: we’re giving ourselves time for slow. River Hill Ranch will be closing our gates to the public from Janurary 1st, 2018 through our Grand Re-Opening on June 1st, 2018. This will allow me time to devote to my military service, our ranch, and my family. In future years we probably won’t close for so long, but this year it’s necessary.
So that means if you’ve been thinking about coming out for a visit, there’s still time. Some of our most fun experiences are these crisp, sunny winter days when the herd is munching hay around the barn instead of out in the pasture. If you have family in town for the holidays, we invite you to bring them and enjoy some slow moments together.
If you don’t already, please sign-up for our email newsletter to receive announcements on our excited news ahead as tickets to our events will be limited. We will also continue to post pictures of the antics of our animals on Facebook and Instagram.
Thank you to all for your ongoing support. We pray you are blessed and can live a life slow.