Evening Magazine visits the Mountain Loop Hwy and Paca Pride

Discovering the Mountain Loop Hwy on Evening Magazine

Paca Pride Guest Ranch makes an appearance on TV!

http://www.king5.com/on-tv/evening-magazine/Discovering-Washington-on-the-Mountain-Loop-Highwat-133699373.html

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‘05-‘11: A New Business Springs to life! See our Retrospective!

In 2005, 17 acres of previously logged property was purchased along the Mountain Loop Hwy outside of Granite Falls, WA to start a guest ranch.  Featuring yurts, campsites, a guest room, and a Roundhouse Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch brings to life a homestead campground that is open to the public year round.  Come and enjoy the scenic beauty, hiking and outdoor attractions, and the pastoral scene of roaming alpacas and llamas. Let us be base camp for your Mountain Loop experience.

In 2011, we admit, we’re hooked on Facebook!  We just love the interaction that it gives us with friends and fans of Paca Pride Guest Ranch. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we look back, with awe, wonderment, thanks and grace, at the formative years of Paca Pride with a retrospective video and photo album.  We dedicated this to all our supporters without whose help through these first years, we could not have made it.

We invite you to check out the video on our YouTube Channel:

A Retrospective Look at the years 2005-2011

For the complete annotated photo album, we also invite you to become a fan on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/PacaPride (share and plan a “glamping” trip with your friends!)

Here’s a sneak peak at some of the photos you’ll find out on our Facebook page!

Escaped steer come to visit the yurtCleaning the logged land of debris Fully fleeced alpacas in front of Roundhouse Yurt Freshly shorn alpacas in raincoatsSunset glow on Green Mountain3.93 House construction 10-02-06 to 10-03-06 015

4.20 12-31-07 Over 3 ft of snow at the Ranch 015Deep Snow in the mountains with llamas and pasturesMount Pilchuck with MoonGuest Yurt for glampingFiber to Fashion spinning wheel displaySpring Daffodils at the Lincoln Log HomeRoundhouse Yurt installedRoundhouse Yurt with alpacas

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Highlights of a Summer Yurt Camper

Ah, once again we find ourselves at the end of another summer here at Paca Pride Guest Ranch. Where has the time gone?  The dog days of summer seem to have come to us late in the season, yet already we are preparing for winter, gathering and splitting all the firewood.  This has been a relaxing season for all the yurt campers that came to see the pastoral scene and explore the trails of the famed Mountain Loop Highway.

07-23-11 Views herd and dogs 012The herd was shorn at the end of June and we are still awaiting the return of the annual clip from the mill in the form of yarns and rovings, but Uber and Mucho were lucky enough to receive another hall pass from shearing this year. Llamas do shed and can acclimate to the heat of summer a bit easier than alpacas 07-23-11 Views herd and dogs 013with their dense coats and, honestly, Uber just looks grand with his big shaggy mane.  Kusco, one of the new alpacas to the herd, still has a distrust of Maximo, the hound dog. Thus it was endearing to watch as Uber tried to show Kusco that Maximo was in fact a cool canine.

07-23-11 Views herd and dogs 014

07-23-11 Views herd and dogs 016

 

 

 

 

07-25-11 Tomatos and cabbage in the garden 001The garden has been an adventure this year to the delight of all the yurt campers who’ve roamed through it’s paths and peaked under the mini-greenhauz panels.  We upgraded the raised beds to have A-frame style panels that provide more grow space height yet still can withstand the snow during winter when we like to overwinter certain veggies and plants with some extra protection.  It’s amazing to see 07-23-11 On the Kitchen Island 002celery and carrot flowers blooming in the second year after being overwintered in their beds; more seed to save! 09-09-11 On the Kitchen Island 003

The harvest has been a bit of a hit and miss with our tomato crop this year. However, there has been a bounty of everything else including, hold your hats, green bell peppers!  We are still letting them fully ripen and turn red on the vine to hopefully do some jarred roasted Reds this year. In the meantime, we’ve been quite distracted experimenting with making a Japanese-style pickle slaw salad that we’ve perfected.  It’s one of those salads that gets better over the course of a few days marinating in the sweet sake dressing. Of course, we’ve also got pickles brining for hot-n-spicy-n-garlicy dill pickles.

As the harvest has continued this month, we have collected over 75 pounds of potatos, 3 braids of garlic, plenty zukes and cukes to shake a stick at, 15 pounds from the very first planting of wheat (let’s turn that into more next year!) and the Amaranth flower heads are still drying and await threshing of its grain.  On the grain front, since we’ve now demonstrated that, indeed, we can grow grain in the mountains, we found a source for some ancient grains to begin trials on next season.  We’ll eventually land on a good combination of a nutritious grain that’s easy to thresh and turn into food.

08-14-11 The public visits the herd 003Our herd of alpacas and llamas were kept quite busy with their yurt camper PR program.  It is not uncommon of a sight to see families coming up to explore with fascination an animal most have never experienced up close.  You can learn a lot about people just from watching them interact with a new animal where they have no expectations developed; some can act leery and nervous at first, but it’s always the youngsters that go bounding right up to the fence, instinctively picking some grass, and 08-27-11 Barnyard scene 001holding it out with the hope of a furry snout coming to grab it.

The other activity that occurs every summer is the run of our chicken tractor.  As you’ve been reading from our previous blog entries, this handy device helps us establish a good fertilizer and harrowing program for the pastures, not to mention, fly control too!  The 20 poultry birds, raised for their meat, have all been sent to the freezer and breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings.  All that remains are the 4 turkeys, still needing to put on some weight.  They are aptly named: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Patty and Link!

08-27-11 Front path Lilies in the moring sun 001Summer at Paca Pride Guest Ranch is coming to a close soon, and it’s been a very enjoyable one!  The flowers that have bloomed for the 3rd year running are attracting pollinators and admirers alike.  As the season ends, we turn our attention to the dynamic weather of Autumn where the leaves will fall, the blustery winds gust, and our yurt campers will remain warm and cozy enjoying it all inside a heated yurt.

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Chicken Tractor Progresses!

06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 054

In our last post we discussed the role that a chicken tractor has within our homestead system.  Now, we are at 1 month in to the current chicken run06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 007 and you can begin to get a sense of just how quickly these Rock Cornish Cross chickens grow.  This mutant breed between two types of chicken produces most of the commercially grown, store-bought chickens that consumers eat.  The upside to this crossing is you get a chicken that grows very rapidly 06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 033allowing you to harvest the birds for meat within a very short period of time. (Thus, the “Young Chicken” label you see on store bought chickens.)  The downside is that they grow too fast for their bones to keep up with them and support their weight, so letting them grow for a long period of time means seeing them develop leg problems, fall over and die.  So no opportunity to keep them as your pet chicken or even a egg layer bird because by the time they reach egg laying maturity, they start having health problems related to their rapid weight gain.  06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 051The genetics resulting in these chickens from the crossing of their parent breeds would by natural selection be weaned out because of the low survival rate, but in our ever productive search for the better chicken, we actually select for this mutant variation because of the benefits for meat production.

06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 044For these birds though, they don’t live the droll ordinary caged and confined life of a bird raised in a production operation.  They’ve got plenty of forage for their main source of feed and are actually weaned down from the main diet of commercially manufactured feed once they are done brooding and have feathered out.  Instead of an all-you-can-eat free-choice commercial feed diet, they are let out of the chicken tractor during the day to hunt and peak around for their food.  They run to the clovers first; the most delectable of choices for them, followed by grasses and other native species forbs we have in our pastures.  They always make their way over to the closest llama poop pile where they rake away and grab bugs and flies.  When the evening rolls around, they get a bucket of chicken feed, enough to fill out their already full crop, and round out the day.  The token amount of feed also serves the rancher by easing the task of getting them all back into the tractor for the night.

Be sure to check out the video update to this post and see these 1 month old chickens in action:

Chicken Tractor Progresses!
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Chicken Tractor…pasture renovation and bug control

06-17-10 Chicken Tractor 001As part of our ever evolving homestead “system”, we try to approach things in tune with nature’s cycles and that includes how we care for our pastures and create tilth.  Tilth is essentially a healthy soil eco-system that enjoys the benefit of bio-diversity among the flora and the fauna that occupy it.  Out here in the lower Cascade Mountains, farms are fairly uncommon sights as most of that tilth has been washed out of the mountains and down to the lowlands where agriculture is generally found.  While that means the mountains are great for mining and gravel, and known for having really good drainage, it also means that soils are fairly depleted and run towards acidic.  So in order to cultivate a mountain meadow with a variety of grasses and forbs, and keeping it from returning to an evergreen forest, we have to manage nature’s cycles.  This includes having some grazers on hand who can forage and keep the grasses cut so that brush, like salmonberry and blackberry, don’t overtake it.  The alpacas and llamas tend to do a great job at that.  They also leave behind a highly nutritious soil supplement in the form of their manure. However, with a herd of grazers alone, we are still challenged with the results: poop piles attracts biting fly populations and other insects, the poop needs to be spread, and the herd is still selective in their eating habits (moss and old thatched grass gets passed by for more delectable items.)

05-20-11 Baby Chicks and turkeys (3)Thus enters the chicken tractor. Like a tractor which harrows a field, spreads manure, tills soils, a chicken tractor performs the same functions, albeit on a different timescale than the gas powered wonders of the modern age.  For this year’s run, which starts in May and ends between September and December, we are running twenty Rock Cornish Cross poultry meat birds and four turkeys (including a bronze).  We’ll start harvesting the poultry in September and butcher 3-4 per week leaving the turkeys to finish out in time for Thanksgiving and later ground turkey meat for the freezer.  While we are thankful for meat provided from free-ranging chickens, their primary purpose is really to help renovate the pastures.

05-31-11 Chicken Tractor 004Like most chicken endeavors, our chicken tractor is made from salvaged and recycled materials, some of which was leftover from the construction of our house.  A few carport metal tubes serve as skids and the bottom frame, and PVC pipe creates the hoop structure.  Fastened to the PVC are some leftover fence pieces and chicken wire. The two ends of the chicken tractor are leftover cedar plywood sheets with a door cut into one end. Covering about two-thirds of the entire structure is some white plastic tarp wrap that originally wrapped the wood delivered during the construction of the house.  Partly covering the tractor means there is always a shady and sunny area and the portion towards the front of the tractor which is covered helps keep the food dry during any rain.

05-31-11 Chicken Tractor 012For the first few weeks of the chicken tractor, when the baby chicks are introduced, we add another tarp to fully cover the open portion of the tractor and prevent drafts while we brood the baby chicks.  We also add a heat lamp to help them remain warm. The heat lamp limits the tractor to an area within 100’ of the barn where the electricity comes from, but that only lasts until the chicks are fully feathered out and can keep themselves warm.  They also are offered free-choice chick starter feed which they can have as much as they can manage to eat.  Once the heat lamp is removed and brooding is complete, however, we’ll begin to wean them from the commercially manufactured feed and let them forage freely in the pasture for bugs, grasses, and clovers.  We’ll only use a small portion of commercial feed at the end of the day when it’s time for them to go back into the chicken tractor for the night.  This approach saves quite a bit on the feed bill and allows for some of the best tasting chicken meat that is free-range and grass-fed with minimal additional feed.

05-31-11 Chicken Tractor 009If you try this approach for your own chicken tractor it’s important to have a well-fenced in pasture space for the birds to roam which offers enough for them to eat without over-grazing the grass down to dirt.  It’s time to move the flock to a new pasture when you notice the grass getting too short from the chickens eating it. As part of our strategy, we first let the herd of llamas and alpacas graze, followed by the slower moving chicken tractor to “clean up” after them.  The chicken tractor can stay in one of our small pasture areas for 3-8 weeks depending upon how much I choose to allow them to impact the area.

05-31-11 Chicken Tractor 006Since I do let the birds out of the tractor during the day, I wait until I move them to another pasture to perform the remaining human-based cultivation tasks.  That generally includes spreading out some more straw and raking any remaining llama poop out and adding grass and clover seed.  The pasture is then set for the season.  A heavily renovated pasture may have the llamas and alpacas mob-grazing it for week or two and the chicken tractor working it over for another 6 weeks. After that, I’m guaranteed a lusher, more sustainable pasture for next season.  If a pasture only needs a light renovation, because most of the grasses and clovers are established, I may leave the chicken tractor in pasture for a shorter duration and then return the herd back to it later in the season for another grazing.  I can also choose to limit the birds foraging for a day by keeping them within the tractor over a portion of a ground, say with lots of moss, until they’ve really dug it all up and then move them to another spot.  If I do this the chicken tractor is moving on a daily basis to assure they have enough to forage, or I’m supplementing with a little more feed until they are done with that spot. Generally, when I’m brooding the baby chicks, the chicken tractor gets located on the mossiest spots I can find since it moves less often than when the birds are more fully grown.

09-14-10 Chickens coop and turkeys 009

By the end of the chicken run season, all the poultry birds have been harvested and dispatched to the freezer.  Our birds are allowed to grow longer than the typical “young chicken” label you see in most store bought chickens.  As a result, we end up with chickens that can produce breasts which weigh 6-8 pounds; very large chicken breasts. The only occupants left to finish out the run will be the turkeys.  So as September winds down and October sees the grasses slowing their growth, the chicken tractor is moved to the front paddocks of the barn where some deep straw bedding is added and the turkeys are given finishing feed, and garden scraps for the reminder of their time.  After the last bird is harvested for meat, come Spring the deep bedding, with rich turkey manure,  will be raked out into the paddock where it will be planted with corn and beans or wheat, grasses, and clovers.  When the herd is pulled off pasture for the season, it’s these garden paddocks that they get for their final foraging before strictly feeding on their winter hay bales.  Once these paddocks go fallow again, they are ready for another garden season the next year allowing the ground to recover.

Be sure to check out the video of the chicken tractor brooding this year’s baby chicks:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjap5ym-7SE

2012 Run Notes:  We’ve made some minor adjustments in how we run our chicken tractor towards the end of the season.  Using a deep bedding option, with more closed-up time for the turkeys, created more work than was necessary.  Instead, we now finish out the turkeys by continuing them in rotation within a pasture spot. At night they are closed up, and during the day let out to roam the pasture. No more deep bedding of straw and poop to muck out; which was a messy, smelly chore. Also, since the tractor continues it’s rotation, the turkeys still get to graze a bit  and their poop is spread.  No additional straw for bedding is given either.  Sometimes, simple really is better, and learning how to keep an editing eye towards our processes and procedures allows for continuous improvement and optimization.

Read the comments for even more information.

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Paca Pride Progressing … the fight to stay alive!

03-27-11 March Spring around the Ranch 063The downturned economy means everyone is tightening their belts these days and Paca Pride is no exception.  It takes a lot to launch a small business in the world and turn it into something successful.  For many, that business could simply mean taking advantage of the internet for all their sales and thus the overhead is quite a bit lower with no store front, office space, or real estate to worry about.  For us, however, we started with 17 acres of land that was logged in 1998 by the previous owners wanting to get some timber monies, had 10 years of nature reclaiming it and covering the logging debris, and left us starting with stump piles to burn.  That’s right, no power, no well, no house, no pastures with fencing, no pastoral scene to share with the public.

03-27-11 March Spring around the Ranch 069Our story started in 2005 when we bought this parcel to make manifest the change we’d like to see in the world. Witnessing America at a crossroads, we saw that the only way to survive in corporate America was to incorporate. Putting our heads together, we wrote a business plan, moving to a rural location, with the hope of bringing future jobs to a popular tourist destination. That’s how Paca Pride Guest Ranch started offering a twist on camping with some cool structures, yurts. We decided to position ourselves as a destination that could demonstrate green principles, sustainability, homesteading, even offer farm fresh eggs from our chickens.  

03-27-11 March Spring around the Ranch 071But, all is not without its struggle through adversity. Having to carry our costs for two years without establishing a revenue stream until the county executed their 120-day process and issued our permits dwindled our cash reserves to bring further yurt accommodations on to the property. Over $50,000 went into satisfying the county’s requirements, including hiring experts and professionals to navigate the regulatory waters.   We even had to fight through a serious cancer battle, during that time, that tested our mettle.

Eventually, that had us stepping back quite a bit from the original business plan to see how we could use our remaining funds most effectively. We now struggle to determine the most effective ways to get out and market ourselves as well as how to generate further capital to invest in the business, bringing more yurts on board, followed by adding the rustic amenities.

04-22-11 Spring makes up for lost time 003But we are here! We started a small business! Our shingle is on the side of the road! We had a moderately successful summer season, in 2010, of bookings and retail sales of alpaca related products, eggs, and even a few items from our garden! We have great hope that we can take our business to the next level of growth and continue to make a deeply felt impact on the community we are now a part. The Mountain Loop community, especially within the tiny Robe Valley, has been filled with excitement and been inspired by our efforts, we hope to be able to one day hire staff from this valley and bring jobs to this rural, and very historic, area.

04-17-11 Springtime views 003Certainly, all this could never have happened without all the love and support from our friends and family.  We count our blessings everyday and choose to remain positive that others will also continue to see the value in our venture as we enter into the 2011 camping season.  Perhaps an angel investor will somehow find it within them to support our efforts?  Until then, we’ll continue our hard work to grow and mature this new attraction that continues to awe the tourists and hikers alike once they drive up the front entrance. 

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Return of the Robins! It must be Spring, hibernating hikers are eager too!

05-22-10 Robin's Nest 005The tide of snow seems to be receding up the valley towards where it will perch upon the peaks of the mountain tops as the last defense upon an encroaching Spring feel in the air.  Spring in the mountains is always a tenuous affair; sure, the lowlands have their cherry trees blossoming, and the exodus of southbound birds for the winter has turned northward again, but here on the western slopes of the North Cascades, we watch closely for the harbingers of winter’s demise, the robins.

05-22-10 Robin's Nest 004For Paca Pride Guest Ranch, the return of the robins signals an awakening on various fronts.  We know we can start growing in the garden again. We know the grass is coming out of dormancy, making for some eager alpacas that want some fresh greens in their diet.  We know the tourists are ramping up in numbers too.  Typically, what has been a shoulder season for campers seeking outdoor adventure usually has only the diehards venturing out to pitch a tent.  However, the number of day hikers are like the robins, suddenly spiking in numbers on your front lawn seeking those worms.  Indeed, at the most famous “hidden secret” of a trail, the Robe Canyon Historic Park trail, which leads down to the old Everett & Monte Cristo Railway tunnel, you can quickly lose count of the parked cars at the trailhead. 

05-22-10 Robin's Nest 001It’s always been a dilemma for outdoor enthusiasts exploring the Mountain Loop Hwy’s many hiking trails, whether to go hiking or camping.  These days it seems the two are somehow mutually exclusive, an either/or proposition.  Either you are going hiking or you are going camping.  If you go camping, you are committing yourself to a nesting in at a campsite and not wanting to leave it to do much exploring, instead enjoying the local surroundings of your campsite. You just never know how secure your campsite will be if you left it alone for a few hours to go hiking.  So, most hikers don’t camp out this way. They choose to plan a day trip hike and not camp. 

Fortunately, another tide of change is working itself on the mountain that is making camping much more accessible to those day hikers who dismiss pitching a tent as not worth the effort.  Paca Pride Guest Ranch offers a furnished guest yurt, with bed and linens, electricity and even heat. We even have a larger Roundhouse that could be used as an accommodation space. For those hikers and day-trippers out here, it’s beginning to open up so many more options. Yes, you can go on that longer trail you’ve always wanted to try, but didn’t want to get up so early in the morning for the drive out there.  Yes, you can explore several hikes over the course of the weekend and return to a cozy bed at a hosted campground.  Yes, you can even pitch a tent here and not worry too much about security knowing those same hosts are onsite. 

So, as Spring winds itself up and winter retreats into it’s own hibernation, the day-hikers of the Mountain Loop become as numerous as the robins. Like our robin family that chose to makes its nest here at Paca Pride, and return with the kids this year, hikers have the opportunity to nest in the round comfort of a yurt after a long day of adventuresome hiking.

That Robin family? Oh yes, here’s mama robin feeding her new young this past Spring. Come out in April and May and you’ll see this scene in person!
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