It's been almost a year since the last blog post. I'm not sure exactly how to sum up 2019 in a family friendly format, so I'll just go with the generic and vague, "It was a difficult year -- to say the least."
Howling Hill Farm is still here, though, and, although we suffered some setbacks in 2019, we are pushing on with our breeding programs. The most active at the moment just happens to be our Harlequin/spotted Babydoll sheep program. While we took a rather large hit in 2019 in the form of a coyote attack, our top spotted Babydoll ram, Ike, lives on through his offspring. Check out these two cuties who are being retained for our program: this little back daughter of Poppy, who is as yet unnamed, and the great Steve, a stellar example of a Harleydoll sheep -- a pure spotted Babydoll/Harlequin cross. His dam is one of my all time favorite sheep, a white Harlequin named Lily with stunning fleece.
As the future herdsire of our breeding program, Steve has some pretty big shoes to fill, but so far he seems up to the task with that little bit of extra bravado and moxie that says, "I wanna grow up to be a stud!"
We've also been working on a new project -- Teddywidder rabbits (photos to come). This is a sort of "side project," if you will -- not a cornerstone of the Howling Hill pantheon of critters -- but it's fun and exciting so far to see so many cute fluffy rabbits hopping around.
We still have alpacas, of course, though our numbers have decreased dramatically. Our focus remains on producing a truly elite Harlequin Appaloosa, though we are still working with Tuxedo Grey as well. Expect big things to come from our top herdsire, Red Granite's Pinctus, who is the DENSEST alpaca yet biopsied in the USA, period, and who begins his breeding career in 2020.
All in all, 2019 could be easily said to be our roughest year yet, but in the end, we survived, and Howling Hill Farm lives on. Keep an eye out for more updates as we continue to forge ahead -- onward and upward!
Okay. So I've already expressed the fact that this 'blog gets used only sporadically, and for missives that are sort of random. I try to keep the writing here geared towards a more general audience -- the really industry-specific alpaca stuff tends to get shunted more towards my Facebook page, where alpaca folks have tended to congregate.
That leaves this 'blog open for things of a more general sort. I just got done cropping two sets of photographs, both of male animals that are new to the Farm; one is an alpaca, and one is a cat.
Wait. A cat?
... Yup. A cat. And not a barn cat like little old Ozwald, either. This boy is a very fancy cat ... A very fancy cat indeed.
Remember Yoda from like, two or three 'blog posts ago? ... Well, Yoda is an Exotic Shorthair, a breed that I've been fascinated with for years, but never quite managed to come into possession of -- until last year, when I found Yoda for sale up in Maine. On a whim, I decided to jump on him -- I already had a new kitten in the house, a British Shorthair named Logo, but I thought, what the heck? Logo could use a friend, right?
Well, yes. The two did indeed become very good friends (after an initial introductory period in which it was established that yes, Yoda exists, and no, Logo, he isn't going to put up with any s*** even though he is a tiny kitten -- Yoda is a very alpha cat). More than that, though, I fell absurdly in love with Yoda. He was the apotheosis of all kittens, to me: Adorable beyond words, soft, cuddly, and unbelievably affectionate, calm, and playful.
I realized that I needed more of him in my life. This was no minor creature. Yoda was incredible.
Thus, began my journey into the world of purebred cat breeding. It's been rocky ... Mainly because of the (human) personalities involved, and not so much the cats. Purebred cats are a hot commodity now, and sadly, where there's money, there's dishonesty. Frustrating, but true.
I've persevered, though, and my first litter of kittens entered the world two weeks ago today. They'll surely get their own 'blog post soon (probably on my cattery website that does not, technically, exist yet), but for now, I'm focused on my latest feline acquisition, and Next Big Thing: Meteor.
This is Meteor, and Meteor is Magnificent.
Meteor made a journey halfway across the world, all the way from Ukraine. He is a lilac (probably tabby) Exotic Shorthair, lilac being an incredibly rare color for cats, and especially for Exotic Shorthairs. There is only one other bloodline that I know of in the United States, and, in a stroke of absolutely unbelievable luck and coincidence (which I do not believe in), Yoda carries the lilac gene from that bloodline.
Meteor is more than just a rare color, however. He is possibly the most incredible cat I have ever seen or owned (I mean, they are all sort of the most incredible cat I have ever seen or owned, but ...). He is not just a big kitty, he is MASSIVE, weighing in at 15 lb at just under a year of age. He's a well-nourished kitty, but not obese; his bone structure is simply enormous, like nothing I have ever seen before on a domestic cat. Better than that, his coat is like nothing I've ever felt on a cat before. He is so plushy and soft, he feels like a Rex rabbit. Better than THAT, he is a giant loverbug. It took him a little bit of time to adapt after his long journey, but now that he's settled in the USA, he has made it his primary goal in life to get hugs and pets as much as possible -- EXACTLY the temperament I am breeding for.
So, I was cropping the pictures of Meteor, and then went on to Pinctus. Pinctus is not a cat. Pinctus is an alpaca. Pinctus is the Next Big Thing. I've been looking for the Next Big Thing for a couple of years now. By that I mean: A Harlequin Appaloosa alpaca that is uncompromisingly, unquestionably elite. Not just a Good one, a Great one.
Basically, I was looking for the BEST Harlequin Appaloosa in the USA. And I found him.
This is Pinctus, and he is incredible.
Pinctus has a fleece that redefines "elite," for me. He has a combination of fineness and density that is, I do believe, the most extraordinary I've ever felt before. He is possessed of my absolute favorite crimp style, which I've only seen on one other animal: Super super super super super tiny high-frequency crimp that belies that fineness and density of epic magnitude. One might associate it with Merino sheep, as a matter of fact, or possibly an organized Vicuna.
He's also got the bone substance. And the fiber coverage. And OMG look at that FACE. And ...
And he is a SWEETHEART. He runs up to greet me when he sees me, and eats grain from my hand.
As I was cropping his fleece pictures (this fleece style is hard to photograph):
... It occurred to me that Pinctus is kinda the same color as Meteor: Lilac, or Lavender.
I've sorta been on a Lilac/Lavender kick recently. I don't know what it means. But the other day I realized that not only is my Exotic Shorthair cat program going to focus, largely, on Lilac coloring, but my super-top-secret Silly Bunny Project (Teddywidders! In the USA! Yes!) has produced my favorite USA Teddywidder so far -- and he is a Lavender color as well. Then, I picked up a breeding group of Lavender Orpington chicks, because, why the heck not?
So, these two boys are both Lavender (Lilac). Also, it occurred to me that, while here I've been thinking of Pinctus as the Next Big Thing ('cos he is), Meteor is a Next Big Thing as well. So, they've got that in common, too.
So I decided, rather than making Pinctus's big public announcement debut thingy on Facebook today, to write this 'blog post instead. It's sort of stream-of-consciousness, but hey! There you have it.
The Next Big Thing. Apparently, it's Lavender. (Or Lilac. I'm not positive which.)
A HUGE thanks to Lesia Motsna at Venetian Mask Cattery and Mark and Sharon Milligen at Red Granite Ranch for entrusting me with these awesome boys.
Not sad about this.
This boy was expected, yet a little unexpected. His dam was actually "due" -- based on a 340 day gestation length -- RIGHT on 4/7/19, which is today.
The alpaca gestation length is so variable, however, that females almost never give birth right on their "due date," and spring cria typically aren't born until day 355 or even 360+ of gestation. Hence, though I knew that his mama Honey Bun *could* be due any day, I wasn't really *expecting* it, and thus, I wasn't keeping as close an eye out as I do for dams that I think are really close. I would check her in the morning, which is when my dams typically go, and then kinda leave her be.
I wouldn't even have found him except that I happened to be outside in the evening, wondering exactly what I was doing outside, except that the sunset was too nice to ignore. Then, I saw this guy.
... Then I ran back to the house yelling happy exclamations to get my camera phone. Brought them inside for the night, just to make sure he was warm and nursing. He was, and is (nursing), like a champ.
... Thank goodness for that sunset.
Ahem. Sooo ...
It's April 1st ... And this is the first 'blog post of 2019. Oops.
I think I've mentioned this before, but it gets really, really challenging to juggle three different farm pages (this one, the farm Facebook page, and my Instagram). Each one serves a slightly different purpose, so it isn't just cross-posting between the three (for the most part), but it's easy to neglect one or another of them. My Instagram (@kittathowlinghill) gets the most use, because it's the simplest, but it's pretty much just for fun.
The Facebook page is the page that I primarily use for major alpaca-related announcements and alpaca promotion, such as new herdsires, new cria, pretty fiber shots, etc., etc.. It gets a TON of traffic, and, although I confess to a complete and total loathing of the medium, it's where a majority of people get their news nowadays and so it's the best way for me to keep in touch with the Alpaca World and keep up our presence there.
... That leaves this poor lil' ol' 'blog.
A BIG chunk of the reason I don't post here often is that the interface is slow, clunky, and REALLY really glitchy. I've lost many a long post to bugs in Weebly's system, and frankly, I hate that.
The other thing, though, is that it's a kind of a challenge sometimes for me to choose what to post here. The 'blog feels a lot more permanent than the Facebook pages or my Instagram feed (even though I'm not sure that it really is); it's also indexed in search engines, whereas I don't think those sites really are. So I tend to want to make the 'blog posts really count.
Plus, I get to write more, and I like that.
The last and final reason this 'blog got neglected, though, is that whole "life stuff" thing cropped up again this winter -- this time, hitting me. I'm better now, but suffice it to say, if I can avoid the inside of a hospital for awhile, I'll be a whole lot happier. (Luckily, humans only have one appendix, as far as I know.)
All of that is over now, though, and spring is here, and my camera broke last week so I got a shiny brand new one. So, what better way to christen it than with some super cute lamb pictures?
We had an awesome lambing season this year -- totally making up for our basically nonexistent lambing season last year. I was a little worried about lambing so early, but it worked out overall -- just bring 'em inside! We got more spots this year than ever before. I'm happy.
Enough blather. Cute lambs!
Yoda is good.
... Stay tuned.
Our final cria of the year landed last week, wrapping up one of our most mixed cria crops yet. ... By "mixed," I don't so much mean color-wise -- it is that, of course, but they usually are that. I mean "mixed" as in "mixed blessing."
First, the negative: Due to a combination of factors that I won't go into here, we wound up with fewer cria on the ground this year than in 2016 or 2017. We also had the WORST luck this year with our Harlequin Appaloosa program, producing one, and only one, live Appaloosa cria, who is a cutie, but who may not make the grade for breeder. Since we're pretty well known for Harlequin Appaloosas over here, and can't quite manage to make enough to satisfy demand -- that really kind of stinks.
But, now for the positive: We also have a robust Tuxedo Grey breeding program at Howling Hill Farm, and this was a record year for that. We had eight Tuxedo cria born this year, more than in any year prior. Incredibly, every single one of those cria has a different sire. There are a couple of pet boys in that bunch, but there are some seriously good ones, too, such as this gal, a silver Tuxedo out of one of my best producers, Glacier Rock's Allison, and our .38 Special son, Harmony:
... Plus Starr's incredible girl from the last 'blog post, plus another Tux boy, the last of the season, who is going to get his own 'blog post once he decides to pose nicely enough for a 'blog-worthy photograph.
Then, too, we can't forget about this gal, as well as her 1/2 sister, a similarly blue-eyed beauty who is, I believe, going to be a darker version of this (she is currently masquerading as a black, but I think I know better). I honestly can't really pick whether I'm more in love with Dark and Stormy Daniels, or Starr's girl. Luckily, I get to keep them both. (Don't worry; I'll be releasing some of these genetics sooner or later ... I just need a solid foundation of THIS first!)
So, all in all, despite adversity, it wasn't a bad year. It didn't have that many spots in it, but that's totally fine with me -- grey is what I'm really after, and this, undoubtedly, was our Grey Year.
She might be. She just might be.
It's going to be hard to beat Dark and Stormy Daniels. That cria will be at the top of my list for a long, LONG time.
But ... This girl is pretty amazing, too, for more reasons than one.
First things first: Just look at her. I mean ... Look at her!
This girl has it ALL: the conformation, coverage, gorgeous head, huge substance of bone, and, oh yeah, superlative fleece already -- in the most perfect solid slate gray coloring. She also has the cutest darned ears.
The next thing that makes her exciting is that she is a granddaughter of the great Sparky, our farm ambassador and Harlequin Appaloosa poster child. As a reminder, she looks like this:
As Starr is Sparky's only daughter thus far, and this baby is Starr's first viable cria thus far, this makes this baby only the second female descendent of Sparky. So that, too, makes her pretty freaking special.
That isn't all, though. Starr, the baby's mama, is this girl here.
I had previously written about Starr way back in this 'blog post, in which I stated that I believe Starr to be a solid silver Harlequin.
I'd previously observed that this solid silver coloring very often appears to be associated with a Tuxedo Grey parent. However, I don't believe I ever quite went so far as to hypothesize, publicly, that it could be the result of a combination of the two genotypes. I had supposed that it was just another cool manifestation of the extremely variable Harlequin Appaloosa gene. Starr's sire is a Tuxedo Grey, but, because her dam is the Classic Harlequin Sparky, and she started life light fawn, I had no reason to believe that Tuxedo had anything to do with her coloration.
Last year, Starr gave birth to a male. He startled me, because he was clearly a TUXEDO Rose Grey -- and according to my records, she had only ever been bred to Riddler, our solid fawn blue-eyed rock star, who clearly is not a Tuxedo. However, I had a vague recollection of breeding her to Vivanno, who IS a Tuxedo Rose Grey, and loves to make Tuxedo Rose Grey, and, frankly, last year's cria REALLY didn't look like a Riddler baby. It looked just like a Vivanno. Riddler stamps a very specific headstyle, and that cria just didn't have it. I try to keep good records, but one never does know -- and we never would know, because the cria did not make it past a few days of age (I believe it was a very difficult birth). I filed the information in the back of my mind, and, in 2017, I kept much better records.
I also only bred Starr to one male, and that is this guy. This guy is also NOT a Tuxedo.
That boy is ASPN Royal Cobalt, a Pinto male (and also, apparently, a rock star producer -- he's going to be meeting a few more ladies in the future, thanks to this gal). No Tuxedo. Soooo ...
The third reason this cria is such a big deal is that she gives me information. I am now pretty darned sure that Starr carries, and expresses, both the Tuxedo Grey and Harlequin Appaloosa genes. This is a huge deal, because most alpacas that carry both genes only express the Tuxedo. I also hypothesize that it is the interplay of these genes that gives Starr her solid Platinum coloring. I think it possible that this baby might -- emphasis on might -- also carry both, and that this is why she is so uniform in color.
What do we do with this information? ... Not sure yet ... But I have some ideas. Regardless, it's exciting to have. Knowledge is always a big deal.
Soooo, my inevitable "first baby of the year!" post is a bit ... Belated ... To say the least. There are a few reasons for this. One is less-than-pleasant, but it's the reality of farming: our first couple of cria this year didn't quite make it (one I believe was overcooked, another one under, both likely due to the extreme and horrible winter we had this year).
The other reason is, inevitably, that we have been freaking busy.
... But! ... We have had some cria. We are now up to four (all in the same paddock, for some odd reason). One is black and one is white and both are lovely, but not likely to make the 'blog, because, well -- if you're looking for alpaca at Howling Hill Farm, chances are, you're looking for some more unique colors than just black and white.
Luckily, we have those, too.
The first -- first healthy cria of the year, and first cria by his sire, our Harlequin boy Sparks Fly -- is an Appaloosa. So far, he's looking pretty darned good.
The second is ... Well, she's the one standing behind him in the picture. (They were born one day apart, and are pretty much inseparable.)
So ... She's stunning, right? ... But what exactly ... Is she?
Every time I pair up two alpacas, I have a very good, very specific idea of what I am breeding for. This includes not only the qualities I am looking for -- breed type, conformation, fleece -- but also coloring -- because we are a color program, in the end.
Generally, I'm happy if I get something fairly close to what I was breeding for.
Sometimes, I get EXACTLY that ... And then some.
Oh, wow, is this girl the "and then some."
I've always wanted a solid grey alpaca, since before I even got into alpacas in late 2013. I saw a picture of a male named Patagonia's Neruda, and I thought, "Okay, yes. I want THAT."
Nearly five years later, I still hadn't found THAT. Turns out THAT is pretty rare.
When this one was born, I realized: my "on a hunch" breeding decision paid off, and I had finally managed to MAKE "that." She also has the full leg coverage and bone substance that we are breeding for, THE BEST head I have produced yet, and what looks to be an absolutely phenomenal fleece so far. Added bonus: she is the first of her sire's offspring to have inherited his ice blue eyes. I have never seen eyes like that on any other solid grey, so I believe she may be the only one of her kind in the world.
This girl represents even more than a step forward in our breeding program, though; she is even more than the result of a breeding choice that paid off. I believe that she represents another key to a genetic puzzle that I've been -- so far only casually -- exploring for a few years now. A full 'blog post on this is coming soon (well .. Soon-ish), but suffice it to say, my so-far "experimental only" Roan Grey alpaca program may just be getting revisited soon.
So yes. 2018 does have some cria in it so far. The rock star gal is the only one who has a name as of yet: Howling Hill Dark and Stormy McDaniels. (Special thanks to Farmer Colleen for that one.)
It's true! It's totally true! He's actually the densest dark alpaca that has been biopsied by Ian Watt (that's a pretty big deal), and the 4th-densest, period ...
... But he also finds himself in some extremely silly pictures.
So, I've been kind of remiss on updating this 'blog lately. Three shearing days, plus a fiber festival (NH Sheep and Wool), plus a whole bunch of other things have been keeping us right busy, and there's only so much social media that I can keep up with -- most of my posts lately have been on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HowlingHillFarm) as well as my shiny new(ish) Instagram account (@Kittathowlinghill), which I've become instantly fairly addicted to.
Plus, the real meat of the blog -- cute baby animals -- have yet to arrive. As a matter of fact, this may be the latest start to Baby Season so far.
Regardless, that's no excuse for a total lack of posts -- we do still have cute alpacas, after all. And now, they're naked! So, without further ado, here are a bunch of shearing pictures, for your viewing pleasure.
And, one more classic Harlequin Appaloosa transformation ...
... He looks a little shy now that he's naked, but don't worry -- that confidence will grow back. (Not the fawn coloring, though -- he's going to get greyer and greyer ..!)
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.