It is so hard to believe that we’ve been living at LUF for one year! When I reflect back on the events over the past year, I am astonished, humbled, and overwhelmed at what we have experienced, learned and accomplished. Without a doubt, this has been one of the most life-changing years of our lives.
Before I share some highlights of our past year, I should remind you all how Lucky Us Farm came to be. It was in the most unexpected way, and nothing similar to anybody else’s story that I have heard, regarding how they became camelid (alpaca and llama) farmers. It all started on a trip that I took to Colorado in March of 2017. It was there that I attended a unique wellness workshop regarding finding purpose and meaning in our lives. It struck me so timely and so clearly that I felt the workshop had been designed specifically for me. Out of nowhere I strongly felt that the time was right for Kevin and me to make a change in our lives, where we felt more enriched and where life had more purpose than our daily grind. I didn’t know what this would look like, or where it would land us, but within 24 hours of touching down in PA, I announced to Kevin, “I think that we should move. And I think that we should find a lifestyle that is more suitable to us.” In case you don’t know us well, I tend to make decisions at the speed of lightening. Kevin makes big decisions at the speed of grass growing in winter. So in theory this should have been a really tough sell. But to my amazement, Kevin agreed to start looking at properties the very next week. The timing must have been right for him too. The problem was we had no idea what we were looking for. We knew that we wanted something that was ‘dog friendly’. Something that would allow us to have more disposable income so that we could travel. Something low maintenance to free us up to do the things that we wanted to do (1 out of 3 isn’t bad, right?). In addition to our 3 dogs, I knew that I wanted to bring Rocket and Ranger from the shelter, where they would have lived the rest of their lives. We wanted to be able to commute to our jobs, but we were open to a large geographical area. We looked at a few properties and even put an offer on one, but nothing really felt right. We decided to be patient (a very relative term for me) and let ‘our best life’ find us. It wasn’t a month later, when we were waiting for Hannah to march down the aisle at her college graduation, that Kevin leaned over to me with a cell phone pic and said, “check out this farm that I found in York Springs. It used to be an alpaca farm.” I thought it had potential and we agreed to check it out. Three days later we pulled up the driveway to a farm about 15 minutes away from our current home. The biggest draw for me was 12+ fenced acres…perfect for my dogs. And a perfect place to rescue more dogs. I’ll never forget the owner of the farm greeting us and saying, “There are 8 alpacas here. They are owned by a woman out of state. She would like to continue boarding them here and she’ll pay you to do so. But she will move them if you don’t want to.” Those were the sentences that changed our lives. My brain couldn’t begin to wrap itself around those words. Alpacas? Pay us to board them? But I wanted to fill this farm with dogs? I’ve never even seen an alpaca before in my life! I’m not sure what my expression was, but I declared, “Ok, show us the alpacas!” And let me tell you, it was love at first sight. These mystical, curious, adorable, animated, interactive, cartoon-like creatures under my care….what a glorious thought. They appealed to Kevin too, but of course not to the extent that they did me. But Kevin loved the thought of having land, and space, and a workshop, and privacy…so we were both on board. Of course we had no idea what we were doing. We had no idea how to care for these animals. No idea how to run a farm, buy hay, analyze soil, rotate pastures, process fleece, write a manure plan, drive a rider mower (me), drive a tractor, haul an animal, give an animal an injection, diagnose a parasite, call a vet to the farm, breed an animal, schedule a shearer, etc. But with much time, effort and determination, we began to figure it out. The learning curve has been extremely steep, full of joys, challenges, frustrations, and even sorrow. But one year later, I look back at the whirlwind and am so very grateful that we took this tremendous plunge. A life unrecognizable from the one we used to lead. A huge risk into the unknown. Without much thought and without much research or planning. And thank goodness for that because I’m quite certain that we would have been too afraid to do it had we taken the time to do our homework. And that is how we became camelid farmers.
We own a llama? It’s pretty funny how we realized that we actually owned a llama. We had been living on the farm about a month when the topic of GinGin, the guard llama came up. We always assumed that she belonged to Judy, who owned the original 8 alpacas. Nobody had told us otherwise, or if they did, we didn’t pick up on it. In a conversation with Judy the topic came up and she clarified that we actually owned GinGin. What?? We own a llama!? “Kevin, we own a llama!” And that is how we found out that we had bought a llama. By the end of the year we bought 3 more alpacas and 4 more llamas.
When I think back to a year ago today, it is hard to comprehend what has transpired. As most of you know, moving is quite an endeavor in itself (understatement). A ‘new’ house full of boxes and chaos and a place that we wanted to change to our own style. No cable or internet. But then add a 12+ acre farm of pastures filling up with poop, whose grass was behind schedule to be mowed. Nine camelids that we had no idea how to care for. Our ‘other’ house, which was still on the market and had to be maintained for several more months. Fences that had to be installed in our back yard for the dogs. My moving Rocket and Ranger in during the first month (that was a huge adjustment for everybody). Our dogs disorientation. My scheduling 3 alpaca yoga classes in the first couple of weeks, even though I barely knew these animals. And Kevin and I were still both working full time. Everybody and everything was demanding our attention. Even by my standards, it was a bit much. But we just plugged away. Day by day, step by step…we just kept moving forward. In addition to taking care of the necessary business, within the first 4 months we visited about 8 alpaca farms, an alpaca show, and a llama conference. I read every manual that I could regarding alpaca care. I joined alpaca facebook groups. We joined 3 different alpaca and llama associations. I got established with our large animal vet, whose first words to me were, “Calm down”, lol. And the more I learned, the more I realized how much there was to learn!
A big challenge was the pressure that we put on ourselves to figure out what our grand plan was for the farm. A business plan of sorts. We thought that we needed to know the long term goal in order to make short term decisions. But we only knew what we had been exposed to, which was primarily alpaca shows, alpaca breeding, and onsite alpaca gift shops. But none of this really floated my boat. So we weren’t sure what direction we wanted to head with it all, but knew that we wanted to do more than just scoop poop and feed animals. Over the past year, we continued to visit farms, shows, and fiber events. I took classes on knitting, crocheting, felting, spinning and weaving. I fell in love with fiber and fiber arts. I am drawn to the creativity of farm life, the opportunities to learn, discover, create, dream, and connect with people and animals. Hence the vision of the farm is starting to become more clear for me. It is still a bit fuzzy, but it is taking shape. I have set some short term goals which include writing a children’s book, learning to spin on a Great Wheel, and competing in an obstacle course with one of my llamas. I have a strong desire to make a lot of fiber-related items that I’m hoping that I’ll be able to sell one day. I have a desire to get involved with 4H, pack with my llamas and even do a camping trip with them. I hope to certify at least one camelid as a therapy animal. I have an interest in using the farm as a venue for events and photos and even taking the animals to weddings and parades. Maybe create a wellness center. The options truly are endless and I only wish that there were more hours in the day and years to my life. It’s amazing to reflect over the past year and there are so many things to share, but I’ll summarize it with my Top 10 life lessons that I learned this past year:
1. There’s nobody that I’d rather be a camelid farmer with, and share this life with, than Kevin. I romantically thought that we’d spend every day together playing with the animals and driving around on the tractor. Well that lasted about a week before we realized that we have to divide and conquer. So now we just give each other high fives as he heads off to repair something and I brush a llama. We each found our niche. He is the skilled builder and fixer. I am the animal caretaker, plan maker, and mower. But we find time each day to share our stories, give support, and we are both on board for the big picture. It just works.
2. It doesn’t feel like work when you love what you are doing. Sure, most people would consider what we do a lot of work. Kevin and I are both hard working busy bees. But for whatever reason, I absolutely love it. I feel true joy when I am taking care of animals. There is a peace and a flow to the rhythm and the routines of the farm. I feel a calmness when I climb on the mower. I feel total satisfaction when the fields are scooped and the barn is swept. And it doesn’t feel like work at all. It feels like happiness.
3. It takes a village. We get visitors every week. I love to see people’s reactions when they meet the herd for the first time. It’s a gleeful childlike reaction. I have met many really amazing people over the last year: visitors, mentors, and friends. But I am especially grateful for the ‘staples’ who have been tried and true supporters: 1) My Mom and sister have completely embraced my new farm life. Stephanie proudly tells her friends that her sister is an ‘alpaca and llama farmer’, which still sounds funny. They never tire of my endless stories and have attended many camelid farm and fiber events with me. It is really fun to share this experience with them. 2) Jen is my rock. I can always count on her for anything that I need, even at the last minute. She is my voice of reason and my shoulder to cry on. 3) Joyce has become my camelid companion. She has no experience, but has become quite comfortable with the animals. She comes weekly to do ‘whatever’ with me. We brush the llamas, walk the alpacas, get weights, give shots. It’s really fun to have a farm playmate and I look forward to her weekly visits. 4) Amy is my creative partner in crime. And she has the talent to back it up. She is game for anything and fosters my creative instincts. She created our logo, our farm sign, directs our paint parties, and totally runs with every crazy idea I have. 5) Connie is completely dedicated to Rocket and Ranger. She comes every single Saturday and Sunday to spend hours with them. They love her and I am so grateful for both her friendship and the time that she frees up for me. I am so thankful for these people in my life, who make everything easier and more fun!
4. It isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. I have felt more joy, peace, and satisfaction on the farm than I can remember at any time in my life. But I have also felt more sorrow and anxiety. It is a huge responsibility taking care of a herd of camelids and a pack of dogs. It’s getting much better now, but I have been known to work myself into a lather worrying about everything that can go wrong. I lose sleep thinking that we are one injury, one medical diagnosis, one gate left open, one predator in the field away from disaster. Oh how my mind can play tricks on me. But I am training myself to stay calm. It’s a process for sure! And having a year under our belt with no disasters gives me the confidence that we can repeat the success.
5. I’ll get through it. This past April was a particularly low point for me. I had lost a cousin, an aunt and an uncle in the fall, and then my sister, Joan, died of cancer the week before Thanksgiving. The cold weather and dreary skies felt endless and we were trying to figure out so many challenges regarding our first winter on the farm with the animals. The final straw was the unexpected loss of my beloved dog, Diesel, which really tipped my scales. That was followed by a very sick alpaca that we almost lost, and a ridiculously cold and rainy spring. It was a really tough time for me and I honestly questioned what the heck we got ourselves into. It all felt so hard. And never ending. But we hung in there, and the sun began to shine, and everything became a whole lot better. And the summer healed all of my wounds. I am happy to say that I am on top of my game again. It’s amazing what we can get through simply because we have no choice, but we are stronger than we know and there are good people and many resources available to help us on the path.
6. Summers feel longer when you spend them outside. I have heard so many people say, “Summer goes by so fast!” Remember how long the summer seemed when we were kids? Amazingly, that is how it feels on the farm. I’m sure that it is because I am outside all day every day until dark. And it makes it feel like the summers I loved from my childhood.
7. It feels really good to earn a shower. I used to take showers ‘just because’. Now I have to take them because I have a constant layer of dirt, grass, poop, sweat, sun tan lotion, bug bites and poison ivy on me every day. It ain’t pretty. It’s hard earned and well deserved.
8. Become a lifelong learner. I never realized how much I had stopped learning. Sure, I picked up some new skills at work, learned to sew, studied the history of Gettysburg. But to really find something that I was passionate about and to delve into a whole new world that I didn’t even know it existed. It is energizing beyond words.
9. Change the expectation. I am someone who wants to do it all. And I want it all done yesterday. And I want it to be perfect. But it can’t be that way. There’s just too much, and too much beyond my control. I am forced to learn patience and acceptance. And I have to admit, there is a lot of peace to be found there.
10. I can’t save them all. I am learning to respect the ways of nature. I was shocked at the number of dead baby birds I found on my barn floor this spring. I mourned each one. I tried to save the living ones. I’d bury the dead ones. But I realized that I just couldn’t put so much energy into each one. Eventually I would just scoop them up and toss them on the poop pile with a quick, “God rest your soul” blessing over them. Nature has its ways and not every animal (and person) lives to a ripe old age. I was wearing myself out physically and emotionally by trying to outsmart and outwit the process. I am envious of people who grow up on farms and have a respect for the lives of animals, but who are very accepting of the laws of nature. I’m glad that I can start to learn this lesson with the birds and frogs before I have to apply it to the larger animals. But it is inevitable. And I am trying to prepare my mind and heart to accept, to grieve, and to move on.
So believe it or not, that’s the nutshell version of my year. I can’t even imagine what the next year will bring. Hopefully 2 healthy llama babies and a trip to Peru to hike over the Andes with a llama pack. And hopefully a lot more joys, friends, and challenges that we’ll overcome. Schedule a visit so that I can share the fun with you. Lucky Us.