fleece and fiber
On the twelfth day of Stitch-mas, my true love gave to me:
Twelve knitters knitting
Eleven cones a’ winding
Ten orders shipping
Nine rugs a’ hooking
Eight yarns a’ dying
Seven needles felting
Six sample cards
Five spinning wheels!!!
Four pounds of fiber
Three nuno scarves
Two socks on one needle
And a yarn store that understands me
Merry Christmas Everyone!!!
My usual routine for washing fleece has been to: pick open the fleece by hand, pull out any large bits of VM [that’s vegetable matter for you non-fiber folks, i.e. bits of hay, straw, seedheads, grass, weeds, etc.], shake that handful, stuff said handful into a sweater-sized mesh laundry bag, repeat, repeat again and again, until the laundry bag appears ‘full enough’ which is probably about 3 or 4 ounces at most. Then I step outside and shake the laundry bag again. Now mind you, while originally sorting/skirting the fleece, which I only do outside, I have shaken the living daylights out of the fleece while it’s on the sorting table. Huge clouds of dust billow out like smoke signals and I jump out of the way until it disperses. The next day my throat and sinuses are on fire but hey, the fleece in the bag is much cleaner.
And why all the shaking of the fleece? Because alpacas love to roll in the dirt. They roll in the dirt piles that we silly humans create for them, they roll in the bare earth spots under trees, and they roll in the barn in the stonedust. When they roll, you can watch really huge clouds of dust billow out from around them. Needless to say, I don’t bother to ‘dust’ the barn. Because alpacas have no lanolin like sheep do, the dust doesn’t adhere to their fleece so a lot of it can just be shaken out prior to washing it. Or so you’d think.
So, I’ve been washing these mesh laundry bags of a few ounces of alpaca fleece in a large painter’s tub in the bathtub. Washing fleece is really a matter of soaking it in hot, soapy water, removing the bag, dumping out the water, re-filling the tub with hot water and then soaking the bag in plain water to rinse the fleece. Depending on how dirty the fleece is, you may need more than one soapy and one plain water soak; usually 2 of each will suffice. You can’t agitate it or else the fleece will felt into a big blob and be unusable. All you do is soak it. As you can imagine, washing fleece just a few ounces at a time has been taking me forever and a day to do.
So encouraged by friends on Ravelry [thanks Maple! thanks Connie!], I decided to take the plunge and wash a pound in the kitchen sink. Similar process, just more fleece at a time. But before I even tried that, I instead ventured into the Ultimate Fleece-Washing Adventure: washing alpaca fleece in my washing machine, an older top-loading model.
I decided on Arlo’s blanket fleece. It’s white, with an easy-to-see dirt line, so it will be very easy to follow the cleaning process. Besides, Arlo is such a cute little guy. :) After sifting through the bag to prepare it, I put it on the scale: exactly 3 pounds. I filled the washing machine with hot water on the lowest setting, liberally squirted in the dish soap, and then gently stuffed all 3 pounds [silently telling myself: You Go Girl!] into the water until it was all submerged. Mistake # 1: probably not enough water. This just means it will need another soapy soak, which I would have done anyway.
After about 25 minutes, I flipped the dial to spin, said a quick prayer, closed the lid, and waited for the machine to do its thing. Mistake #2: definitely too much dish soap. And how did I know? Soap bubbles were popping out of the drain pipe and dripping down onto the floor. Oops.
When the machine was done spinning, I opened the lid. All the fleece was attached to the sides of the machine. It was attached so well that I think if there hadn’t been 3 pounds worth, I probably could have pulled it all out in one circular piece. It came out in a few pieces, which I gently separated into more sections, and placed into the bucket. There was sand at the bottom of the machine, but in reality not all that much, and easily cleaned out with a wet paper towel. Now, wet, white, alpaca fleece looks kind of yellow-ish and so much dirtier than when it’s dry! At least I already knew this so no panicking ensued.
I re-filled the washing machine with more hot water, this time on the medium setting, and much less dish soap. While it was filling, I started pulling out bits of VM that seem to all mysteriously appear in wet fleece. When the machine was done filling, I gently pulled the fleece apart in smaller sections as it went into the machine, also pulling apart locks that obviously still had dirt. Alpaca fiber floats! When I was done re-loading fleece, I gently pushed it all back under the water.
When this second load was done, it was all stuck to the sides of the machine again but not as tightly as the first time. It easily came out in sections as I pulled it out. This time it was noticeably cleaner. Wiped down the machine again [not as much sand this time], re-filled the machine for a third time with just a quick squirt of dish soap, added the fleece, submerged again, spun it out again, pulled out the fleece again, wiped down the machine again, etc.
Now it’s time for the rinsing. After filling up the machine for a fourth time, I added about a cup of vinegar. Vinegar re-sets the ph of the fiber so the fiber is not dry and also helps to make it sparkly clean. Added the fleece, spun it out, etc. Then I did one more plain water rinse just to be sure.
I put all the clean, wet but not dripping, fleece into the painter’s bucket and went upstairs to spread it out to dry. Mistake #3: not anticipating that 3 pounds of fleece would take up substantially more room to dry than a mere 4 ounce laundry bag full. Oops again. Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Half of it is drying on oven racks, the rest on the old screen I usually use, all spread out across our ridiculously huge bathroom. I’ll pick apart the fleece and flip it around as it dries. It was spun out in the washing machine so it’s not dripping wet, so should be all dry and looking very white in about 24 hours.
3 pounds down, a gazillion more to go ................
This winter continues to be warm and weird. Most nights are still well below freezing but the days are still rather mild for New Hampshire. We’ve hardly received any snow. It’s the middle of February and we can see the grass and weeds. Of course everything is brown and rather dreary looking, rather than bright green and colorful. We’ve been joking that the winter of 2011 – 2012 has been one very long mud season.
The alpacas are loving this weather. Usually in the winter they prefer to be snuggled into the barn in the deep straw, behind the front wall of tarps. All that hanging out in the barn makes them cranky and usually I find fresh spit on someone’s neck in the morning. This winter most of the alpacas usually sleep outside, cushed under the stars, chewing their cud and looking very content. During the day, they romp our frozen yet muddy pastures, playing and wrestling with each other. Some days that wrestling quickly turns into an all out tussle match and Stella and I run outside to try to break it up. Stella runs out barking and usually it subsides before I make it out to the barn.
Needless to say, fresh spit abounds. :)
To keep myself occupied this winter, I’ve been playing with my bags and bags of alpaca fleeces. Opening each bag, I know immediately which one of my alpacas formerly wore the fleece inside. :) I smile, thinking of them running through the pasture or greeting me in the barn with alpaca sniffs and kisses. I can feel their spirit running through my body and into my heart and embracing my soul. I am so attached to each and every one of them. I could never sell any of them. It’s hard for me to even think of selling their fleece! As I work with their fleeces ~ sorting, skirting, washing, combing, spinning ~ I smile even more. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is joy in working with an animal’s fiber that you’ve raised yourself.
We had a really, really nice summer here in our little corner of the US. Most days I was able to enjoy utilizing my outside Fiber Studio.
This is my outside Fiber Studio:
I, sitting in my backyard in my trusty little beach chair, with Stella snoozing nearby, have been spending the summer weaving, crocheting, spinning, felting, knitting, flicking, and washing and sorting fleece while watching the alpacas serenely graze. Sometimes they stop to curiously watch the passing wildlife or roll in the sand pile. They are very peaceful days filled with warm sunshine on my shoulders and soft grass under my feet.
The rains and snow and sunshine feed the soil which grows the grasses that in turn feed the alpacas who in turn grow the fleece that eventually can clothe people. What a sensation to watch this transformation happening over a year’s time. As the alpacas go about their daily job of, well, being alpacas, I stand back and just imagine what their fleeces turned into yarn will look like and what I can make with that yarn. My alpacas' different colors along with their individual personalities inspire me. Periodically I also stand in the barn and thank the alpacas for growing their lovely fleeces for me. They stare at me blankly then sniff at me for a treat.
There is something magical, meditative perhaps, most definitely purposeful, to caring for animals daily and then creating something to wear from their fleece, with your own hands. I spend a whole year watching the fleece grow as I care for the alpacas, by hand. In the spring the alpacas are shorn, by hand, and the fleece is carefully separated and then sorted by grade, by hand. Then the fleece is washed, by hand, dried in the sun, and by hand still, processed into a roving of sorts to be made into felt, by hand, or spun into yarn, by hand, and then crafted into a wearable, useable item, by hand.
Then you put this scarf or cowl or hat or shawl or sock or mitten or whatnot you've made yourself onto you and you just feel good. It’s a warming and peaceful sensation like summer sunshine on your skin after a long and snowy winter. I close my eyes and smile with gratitude for the alpaca that gave me this gift of soft, warm, comforting fleece to wear, who is living in my barn.
There are no words to describe it. Pure joy perhaps? It’s similar to the feeling of anticipation you get when you plant your garden and watch it grow, then pick the veggies from your own garden, and finally sit down to eat and oooh, it tastes so good.
Knowing where your food ~ and what’s really in it ~ comes from is very important. And joyful. And knowing where your clothing ~ and the fiber in it ~ comes from is equally important. And equally joyful. And it’s from own backyard, made with my own hands and soul.
Yesterday our little alpaca herd grew again, as 2 more alpaca boys joined us here on our farm. Val came by and dropped off Cavalier and Eragon. Both are considered modern gray in color, with Cavalier being a dark silver grey and Eragon a dark rose grey. At quick glance, well, they look black! But we fiber people get carried away with now what exactly is that color? It’ll be nice colors to blend with the other colors we already have. Cavalier is clearly taller than Eragon, and luckily for Dan, Eragon has a very telltale white spot on the front of his neck.
The meet and greet inspired a lot of expected sniffing over the paddock fence. No spitting, no drama. Val took off the harnesses and we let them into the barn and paddock area. There was more sniffing and checking each other out, and still no spitting nor drama. They didn’t do a pasture pronk, which I’m guessing is because it’s a little warm outside. Instead they just milled around, picking at the hay and occasionally sniffing each other again, while the 3 of us humans stood talking, waiting for something to happen. Nothing, just quietness. The boys all cushed after we left.
Julio was being rather aloof, but he did give me that ‘what did you do’ look again.
Later in the darkness, we could see the shadows of the entire herd out in the pasture, quietly grazing together under the stars. All except for Bo, who was cushed up in the barn, watching the herd contently while he chewed his cud. From the house, we heard absolutely no noises at all. It was a very simple integration of new alpacas into our herd.
This morning the Universe shined on us. Just as if she’d read the manual, our beautiful Alana once again had a textbook perfect delivery. And once again, that healthy little cria is a very strong baby boy cria! Yeah, another boy!
Val called us this morning to tell us that Alana was looking oddly uncomfortable, and that we’d probably have a cria today. When Val went back out to check on Alana, already there was 'nose and toes'! Minutes later our little boy cria was here on Earth and very alert. And within 15 minutes of his birth, this strong little boy was standing up and nursing! By the time we arrived, he had walked with his momma out into the back pasture. Oh my, what long legs this teeny creature has! His fleece was still damp in places, and we were having quite a time figuring out what color that soft fleece is. But even though it wasn’t sunny, that fleece was shining. His fleece is shiny, with an almost reddish tone, like a new copper penny...............
Welcome, Copper Moon!
(slight camera snaffu ~ pictures to follow)
Spring cleaning on an alpaca farm is when we clean out the barn and paddock areas in preparation for shearing day. We want the barn as clean as possible (well, it is a barn after all) so that the alpacas’ fleece stay as clean as possible. Shearing Day is a fiber farmer’s Harvest Day, and it’s very important to us to get the most out of our harvest.
Dan has spent the previous week or so raking out each pen of the straw bedding that has accumulated over the winter. This used bedding is added to the ever-growing-poop-pile to compost down into lovely dirt. Eventually we will be spreading out this compost onto the pastures, fertilizing our heavy clay soil, creating rich, nutrient-filled soil, and then beautiful grass will grow.
It’s great to dream.
Our first priority was to get the alpacas OUT of the barn and out of the way. So we dragged the 2 hay bale feeders out and stuffed them with fresh hay. I made a point of parading through the barn with a fresh bale and the boys all followed me outside like I was the pied piper.
We’ve spent this afternoon digging out the poop areas in the barn. The alpacas have 3 defined, communal poop spots in their barn. After we dug out the area, we’d sprinkle quite a bit of limestone down which helps to neutralize the smell. Then Dan brought in a tractor-bucket full of fresh stonedust to fill in the spot. We’d rake it out till it was somewhat level, I’d step all over to mush it down, and then we’d dump some more stonedust and rake again, until the spot was firm and all the limestone was well covered.
Of course just bringing the tractor into the paddock excites the alpacas to no end! We had to work around them carefully. They all followed Dan riding in on the tractor and when the tractor stopped, they rolled and rolled in front of and all around the tractor. We were trying to work quickly because the sunny sky had clouded over. The last thing we need are wet, muddy alpacas on shearing day. Whether it’s snow, dirt, stonedust, or mud, alpacas just love to roll when they’re happy, and they get really happy when the tractor arrives. So we just paused to watch and enjoy them.
Watching happy alpacas rolling is a simply joy.
It had started to rain softly so as soon as we were done we had to hustle them back into the barn, this time with Dan shaking a bowl of pellets. That was quick! I closed all the gates behind our fleece-y friends. Dan made sure each eager nose got a few mouthfuls and then got back on the tractor. I took down one more of the tarps; just one is left. I emptied and refilled the water buckets and the alpacas just stood there staring at me, and mindlessly stared outside the gates at Dan working in the paddock. They hummed and hummed, loudly, not too happy with us to be locked into the barn. Sorry boys! All your fleeces need to be dry, dry, dry for shearing day.
Dan then raked out the paddock of the rest of the mashed down, wet straw with the york rake on the tractor. He filled up the bucket and dumped it all into The Big Poop Pile.
He figured he’d turn the poop piles while he was there. The older pile is now looking like the glorious dirt we’re hoping for. It’s a deep dark brown and full of earth worms. Yeah!
The newer pile was steaming off heat on one side! Hoorah! And the other side ........... the other side still had some snow in it!
A few days ago was Dan’s birthday so I baked him his favorite birthday cake: chocolate cake with thick chocolate buttercream frosting. Yes I made it from scratch! Always! There’s nothing like an imperfect looking, but fabulous tasting, homemade and handmade cake. No two cakes I’ve ever made have come out looking the same.
Chocolate cake for Dan’s birthday is tradition for us. Once, many, many years ago, I experimented a bit and made it a chocolate-raspberry cake with chocolate-raspberry frosting. The cake part was easy enough; I just added some raspberry extract along with the vanilla. For the frosting I melted chocolate-raspberry chips. I’m sure there was plenty of melted butter too along with plenty of sugar. I spread all this yummy goo over the cake and let it cool.
Well, melted chocolate chips with melted butter and sugar that cools turned into a frosting that hardened like fudge! I’m pretty sure we had to cut this cake with a serrated bread knife to get through the frosting. You could eat the cake and the frosting would just stay standing up intact on your plate like a taco shell. So, we ate the frosting as if it were a piece of fudge. To this day, it still is Dan’s favorite cake.
No, the alpacas won’t be eating chocolate cake. They’re much too busy growing fabulous alpaca fiber for me! This wonderful fiber will be made into yarns or roving or felt and then hand made into scarves or hats or rugs or something else wonderful. One reason I love the small batches of mini-mill spun farm yarns is that every year the outcome is different and unique, complimentary to the changes in the alpacas’ fiber. Each year’s harvest of fleece-turned-into-yarns is unique.
When something is hand made it is always one of a kind. You can follow the same pattern or instructions 10 times and all 10 times it will be a little different. I love that!
While you’re making something handmade you can share your spirit of love and good wishes into the item you’re working on.
A handmade item can be tweaked so that the intended recipient feels extra special.
Handmade items are usually never perfect either, and these little flaws add to its uniqueness. The uniqueness of something handmade is its beauty.
Handmade is a simply joy of life.
Let’s share the handmade love!
I had a wonderful end to last year / start to the New Year on Friday morning ~ I went to Sallie’s Fen Fibers to pick up another batch of my yarn! I had this yarn done in a twist. There’s a ply of white yarn, courtesy of Bo Jangles, and a ply of medium fawn yarn, courtesy of Coty and his mama Alana. It’s a perfect rag-wool style yarn! I think I’ll just call it ‘The Twist.’ Funny, Bo and Coty are always wrangling, wrestling, playing ‘Twister’ with each other, so a twist yarn from their fleeces is just perfect. There was actually more fawn than white (yeah!) so I also have a small cone of just fawn.
Yummmm........ Yes, yes, pictures will come.
Wishing you all a joyous, peaceful, healthful, and prosperous New Year!
On the twelfth day of Stitch-mas, my true love gave to me:
Twelve knitters knitting
Eleven cones a’ winding
Ten orders shipping
Nine rugs a’ hooking
Eight yarns a’ dyeing
Seven needles felting
Six sample cards
Five spinning wheels!!!
Four pounds of fiber
Three nuno scarves
Two socks on one needle
And a yarn store that understands me
(I'd love to take credit for this great twist on the popular Christmas song, but I found it on the Halcyon Yarn Store website.)
Next weekend, our little farm will be growing. Our cria from last year, Henry (Hank), will be coming home to our farm to live! We thought it best to bring home his buddy, so another little guy named Earth, Wind, and Fire (Earth for short) is coming home too. Since the male weanlings are all penned together, Val wants to be sure her remaining alpacas are happy as well, so she is bringing along 2 more buddies: North Wind (North) and Cowboy. Four alpacas are joining our five here, bringing our little herd to nine alpacas. Nine! It's not so little anymore. Counting our 2 gals, Dreamer and Alana, who live at Val's, we have 11, and next year's crias will make 13.
So I'm getting sentimental and started looking through pictures stored on the camera. I found many wonderful shots. Hope you all enjoy these 2, both taken right before shearing days this past spring.
Every alpaca owner follows this annual cycle. An alpaca is born on or brought home to the farm. It is cared for by feeding hay, minerals, and usually pellets, water buckets are cleaned, emptied, scrubbed, and re-filled, given pasture to graze on, poop is scooped, toenails are clipped, vaccines and de-wormers and other medications are given when necessary, straw bedding is put down when winter is arriving, snow is shoveled away from paddocks and gates, gutters put up, and mud is cursed when spring rains come and melt the snow.
The warmth of spring arrives and our alpacas are sheared. For a fiber farm, that shearing day is our annual harvest! The fleece is usually put into bags according to alpaca and divided into 3 units: firsts (blanket), seconds (neck), and thirds (leg, belly, chest). A lot of farms will store their fleece this way in their barns, basements, and attics, later on skirting some of the blankets for fleece shows, or for submitting to mills to be made into yarn. Some farms have chosen not to do anything with their fleeces! The bags are piled up for years, sometimes allowing for mice to build their nest with, sometimes just rotting away, and sometimes it just gets composted. To hear stories of this happening to beautiful alpaca fleece saddens me. :(
Beautiful alpaca fleece is a simple joy of life.
From the onset of our farm, we have had our fleece sorted as well. We have always been focused on the fiber part rather than the show aspect and learned early on that alpaca fleece is generally not uniform in micron across the entire animal. ‘Sorting’ separates the fleece into grades (small ranges) of micron, and by length, and by color. So now some of my bags of fleece are combinations of alpacas, if their colors are the same. And yes, my sorted fleece has been sitting in our house in the bags! My rationale was that we’re a small farm (we only started off with 4 alpacas) and I wanted to combine fleeces of similar grade, thereby making the yarn process much more cost effective. I also have 2 white alpacas, Bo Jangles and his full brother Arlo, and although I love them both dearly, white just isn’t my favorite yarn color! I was also hoping to have different colors but same grades to blend in with their white fleeces.
Yarn is the basis of all textiles. Fleece must be carded into roving and then spun into yarn before it can be woven into fabric. It only makes sense that the basis of your product (yarn, fabric, roving, and batts) be as uniform as possible. To Dan and me, submitting fleece by grade for processing makes more sense than submitting fleece by individual animal’s blanket.
In April I decided we’d waited long enough, and I dropped 2 batches, i.e. several bags of fleece, to our local mini-mill, Sallie’s Fen Fibers. Sallie Whitlow has a fabulous reputation for the beautiful yarns she spins and we are so fortunate that it is really just a short drive. My yarns now and most likely in the future will probably always be some kind of ‘Herd Blend.’ Alpaca is said to come in 22 natural colors, which to me means when I blend grades of different colors, the outcome (color) will always be a surprise! Sounds like a lot of fun to me! Most people tell me ‘oh but the white fleece dyes so wonderfully.’ And they’re right! And, guess what, the non-white alpaca fleece dyes wonderfully too! Lots of time the (naturally) colored yarn will take on a heathered look when dyed, especially if some of the raw fleece is dyed first and then blended in with un-dyed fleece. It’s all so lovely! For now though, I am enjoying the natural shades and natural blends.
Last week Sallie called to tell me my yarn is ready! I drove over Friday in a storm and was absolutely delighted with the results. My first batch is my herd blend, ‘The Geldings’ Dark Chocolate.’ Guinness’ medium brown huacaya fleece was blended with Julio’s bay black suri fleece. Sallie did blend in a little black merino for stability for the suri fleece, and the yarn is an awesome grade 3 in a fabulous dark chocolate color. The other batch is my herd blend, ‘Cria Coffee Ice Cream.’ Here I blended Bo’s white cria fleece, Coty’s medium fawn cria fleece, and Arlo’s white/beige cria fleece. Sallie spun this as a 2 ply, and then plied those again, creating a really neat cabling effect. This cable method helps to strengthen that tender cria fleece. I now have darling coffee ice cream-colored, super soft, grade 1, baby alpaca yarn to enjoy.
I am in yarn heaven!
Slowly but surely the remaining fleeces will be sent off to be made into yarns or my new favorite fiber process ~ felt fabric! I can only weave so fast!
Sometimes, a sign says it all.
We strongly believe in the 'Buy Local' movement. Just call us locavores! Locally grown food is by far fresher than any produce found in a grocery store, and therefore much tastier. To me there is nothing tastier than a tomato or apple or fresh herbs that I grew right in my own backyard. And when weather has other plans, I just head for the farmer's market. Luckily here in New Hampshire we have plenty of those, so we can eat local 7 days a week during the gardening season. We also prefer that our alpacas 'eat local' too so we try to buy hay only from local farms as well.
Fall has arrived! With this cooler weather we're all getting back to our knitting and weaving and other fun fiber arts. Locally raised fibers are also a good thing!
(Thank you to our neighbor on South Road / Route 43 for putting up this sign in his hay field. In case you can't read the fuzzy picture, it says 'Do You Like this View? Support your Local Farmers')
This past Thursday was our first shearing day here on our little farm. We have agisted our alpacas for about 2 years so we are familiar with the whole shearing process, and our shearer has sheared our alpacas in the past, but everything is different when it’s being done on your farm for the first time! This is still our first year having the alpacas here, so everything is a new experience.
Everything went surprisingly well. On Monday the weather forecast was calling for rain for a few days, so late that night we had to lock the alpacas into the barn. With a run in shed, that means putting up tarps! Dan had just finished making a gate which we’d thankfully hung up on Sunday; now we had a way to enter and exit the barn easily. So one stall had the gate and the other three had tarps. Even though my 5 boys had 6 stalls and are wimpy about rain, they really dislike being locked in the barn for days! I got spit on more than once (thanks Guinness). But my reward for green slime on my face and in my hair was dry animals on shearing day. Dry, clean fleece is imperative for shearing a usable product.
I had enticed the boys into the pen with pellets before everyone arrived. Funny how they fall for this every time! They were all humming quite loudly watching us while we set up mats and extension cords, bags for gathering and separating the fleeces, and flattened cardboard boxes to kneel on.
We decided to shear our boys from darkest to lightest in color, because our fussiest boys are the darkest. Our shearer is extraordinarily kind to the alpacas; we wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, I’m sure the alpacas are a bit frightened even though it’s ‘all over with’ quickly. Julio, being bay black, was the first. Our tough alpha male screeched like the dickens the entire time! When he was done we scooted him out to the pasture, where he stood up on the dirt pile near the fence to watch his herd mates. Guinness, then Coty, then Arlo, were next and all accepted their fate quietly, albeit reluctantly. Bo Jangles was last, and we went through several rags cleaning up his mouth from all the spit.
The alpacas sniffed each other for hours afterwards, as if they were all different alpacas. And they stayed out in the far pasture all day. It was a sunny, cool day with a strong wind and I know they were cold. When they saw us in the evening they did come running in to the barn without being called. They all ate their pellets in record time, and dashed off back into the pasture. Yikes boys! We weren’t going to lock you up in the barn again! A few minutes later, in the dusk and growing darkness, all the boys began to pronk around the pasture, led by little Arlo. It was a glorious sight.
My fluffy, teddy bear-like alpacas now look like Dr. Seuss characters, or aliens!
Well this is certainly not my nor Dan's favorite picture of ourselves, but look at Bo Jangles! Doesn't he look fantastic!
I would have loved to have presented a 'before' picture, but as you can imagine Bo Jangles was not exactly in the mood for posing after hearing his fellow herdmates screeching. I'm surprised he willingly stood for this one. As soon as Dan released him, he ran out of the barn to join his buddies in the pasture.
I'll post about our experience during our first shearing day soon.
I would love to have all summer days just like today - mid 80’s with lots of sun and a gloriously strong warm breeze. Stella has been chasing butterflies, running like a puppy on too-long legs. When she gets hot she finds a cool spot in the dirt under my car or in the grassy shade from the trailer. Daffodils and forsythias are blooming. I can see the daylilies all popping up, their tips a deep green. Birds are everywhere this time of year, singing cheerfully while they gather up supplies to build nests. This morning I could hear the familiar rubbing noises on the outside of the logs here in the den. That noise is a mama robin, building a nest on the criss-crossed corner of our log cabin, in the shade of a large maple tree. Lately we’ve been seeing a smaller bird flying in and out of the barn also carrying grass and such in its beak. This type of bird built a nest in the barn last year, up in the ceiling peak near the light. It built a smaller nest in the next light to watch over its babies’ nest, and it would often perch on the fence nearest the barn to watch Dan and me. It’s not really gray yet not really green either, but never stays still long enough for us to get a good look. Anyone have any idea what type of bird it could be?
I wouldn’t be concerned normally about the alpacas on a very warm day like today but they are still in full fleece. Shearing Day isn’t for another few weeks. They must be roasting in those wool coats! My feet were definitely toasty today in my Muck boots (time to get those purple clogs!) I checked in on them again at noontime and everyone looked the same as any other day so that’s good. I put out another bucket of cold water from the well pump for them. Not that I really think 5 non-breeding male alpacas would drink 10 gallons of water in an afternoon, but I felt better! I was going to put ice cubes in the water too but then I know I’d be concerned that they would swallow an ice cube whole and choke, thanks to my wild imagination, so an extra bucket of water it is.
The boys are still not too sure about their new bale feeder, except for Guinness, always except for Guinness, aka ‘Grumpy’ on our little farm. He’s never shy when it comes to being fed! Guinness will gladly munch and munch from the hay feeder, and fuss loudly and sometimes spit when another one of the boys comes over to eat too. Even Julio walked away today, too hot to fuss back. Eventually Guinness will walk away too; then the others will approach. The bale in this new feeder is going down, down, down, so I know it’s not just Guinness eating from it, even if it seems that way sometimes. This new feeder is in the barn under the awning in the shade, so I’m happy to see them eating hay in the shade while the afternoon is so warm.
Jenna Woginrich blogs on the Mother Earth News as the Happy Homesteader. She recently posted a fabulous entry she entitled ‘Yearning to be a Farmer.’ Many readers have commented that her term ‘Barnheart’ will be this year’s ‘locavore.’ I’d have to agree. I am relieved to hear that many people share my affliction. If you have a chance you can read her blog post here and on her personal blog site here.
Barnheart is essentially the heartfelt, intense longing for the outdoors, of growing our own food, building our own shelters, and raising our own livestock for food and clothing. It’s our longing for self-sufficiency and breathing fresh air while we live our conventional lives, working in our windowless, stuffy office cubicles. It’s that calling we feel while discussing average percentages and quarterly reports with co-workers. That longing for a quiet and peaceful life based on simplicity and nature is what wakes people with Barnheart up at night.
I have had Barnheart all my life and now it has a name! I grew up in suburbia with its developments, soccer games, traffic lights with congestion and honking, and strip malls. On paper my hometown had a wonderful school system and safe neighborhoods. During and after college I continued to live in suburbia for years. But I longed for large open fields of lush grasses and wildflowers. I longed for large expanses of land that beckoned to be hiked in solitude from crowds. I longed for that smell of fresh air. I longed for hearing nothing but birds singing and the wind rustling grass and leaves. I longed for that life where joy is found in pulling up that first unperfect carrot grown from the soil you created and rainwater, baking bread from grain you grew, upon finding that first egg in your coop in the springtime, vases filled with flowering weeds, attending to animals in an old barn, and running your hands through freshly sheared wool. I longed for wearing wool from animals I raise and care for. I longed for working my land, for having dirty hands and knees and unbrushed hair and for that to be my fashion statement. I longed for starry nights that can be seen from my porch, my land, my homestead.
I longed so much and for so long and now joy is here with my little farm. The longing never really goes away, yet with each step forward one’s smile becomes wider. For all of you with Barnheart too, may you find your joy soon and may that joy bring you peace.
My name is Mona and I have Barnheart.
Oh what a gorgeous spring like day today!
Yesterday’s storm was rainy and yucky but not at all as horrible as predicted. The little road to the barn is very muddy this morning but most of the ice is gone so I could walk down quickly, not inch along like I’ve had to do. The pathway in the paddock is still pretty icy and the mud is slippery but at least it’s just a short path to the tack room. It’s warm enough today that I didn’t have to lug jugs of hot tap water. I just used the water pump in the barn, wow!
And the alpacas are enjoying this burst of warmth too. Dan had put some straw down on one end of the paddock for the boys to cush on a few weeks ago and the sunshine today has dried it up nicely. Straw from the barn has also blown out, so now there’s a really large cushing area for them. They seem to be basking in shifts. This morning Guinness, Bo, and Coty were all out for hours, and now it’s Julio and Arlo. Last night their fleeces were all wet and muddy with hay and straw stuck all over them. Today they all look so much cleaner.
The rest of the paddock is an absolute muddy mess and this is where they’ve now decided is their poop pile of choice, all of it! Better than inside the barn. Last year when figuring out how to deal with the mud (i.e. drainage), it was suggested to us that the paddock area be considered a ‘sacrifice area.’ A sacrifice area is where no grass is grown and instead just stonedust or cement blocks, etc. is used. It sounded like a great idea and clearly worked for that farm. So what did we do? We brought in loam and planted grass! Once spring is really here we will move all that loam and bring in stonedust.
There’s so much still to learn! But having a great time ..............
We have had gentle snowfall for 6 days now. We’ve probably picked up close to another foot of snow. At least it’s come in small increments so it makes it easier for us to clear the driveway and pathways around the house and down to the barn and over to the big poop pile. Dan hooked up something called ‘skid shoes’ to the bottom of the ‘blade’ attachment on the tractor and has a fairly easy time ‘plowing’ all these paths out. It’s much, much faster than using the snowblower even if he has to be turned around plowing backwards the whole time. He used the tractor bucket as well as the blade a few weeks ago to clear a path in the pasture for the alpacas to run around on. They all followed him and pronked behind the tractor while he worked. Guinness was so excited he was pouncing around the tractor and then laid down in front of it and rolled and rolled and rolled. When Dan was done, they all had races up and down the paths sometimes tripping over Guinness when he decided to roll again. They continually find endless ways to amuse us. Now when they see Dan coming down the path to the barn on the tractor they get excited, thinking he’s going to clear another path in the pasture for them.
The strong winds continue and I’m constantly re-shoveling the drifts that keep accumulating on the paddock walkway. Today the sun is shining brightly and I wish I could find a way to get the boys out of the barn. Julio is a good guard keeping the others in the barn out of the wind but the sunshine is so refreshing! Alpacas, with their wonderfully dense fleece can withstand the cold easily but it’s the wind that creates havoc with their health. Wind blew snow up and over the tarp and onto the straw we’ve put down. A few days ago I was actually shoveling snow off the straw in the awning area of the barn. The boys must be heartier than I keep planning for as most days I find them cushed on the stonedust in the 2 stalls where we did not put straw down. Usually at least one is cushed in front of the hay feeder entirely in the wind. Arlo enjoys the thick straw in the pen the most although I wonder if the reason he likes cushing in the pen is because that’s where we feed him his grain!
We’d been visiting our alpacas in the winter up at Pam’s during the 2 years they’d been there but this is our first winter to watch them ‘grow into their fleece’ on a daily basis. Wow! What a show! The more their fleece grows the more gorgeous of an animal alpacas are. It is so soft to the touch and with gloveless hands my fingers are instantly warm. Their fleece right now is as long as my fingers are or longer. When I touch all the way down to their bodies, their bodies are warm. Yeah! Sometimes it’s necessary to put a coat on the younger alpacas or the older or sick ones. With this wind I’m tempted to make little ear warmers and booties for them although I’m sure none of my boys would wear them!
Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.................................... Wow! Is it ever cold outside! With below zero temperatures it is quite a struggle to stay warm outside when doing barn chores or just walking Stella. Stella and our indoor kitty, Gracie, are on the couch or the rug by the woodstove all day. It got so cold so fast. Dan is already wondering if we’ll have enough wood for the entire winter even though we’ve never run out. It’s hard to imagine how livestock manages to stay warm, especially creatures that do not have a warm fleece like our alpacas have. When I put my hand down in their fleece, their bodies are warm.
It was about 15 below zero with the wind this morning when I went out to the barn to bring down jugs of warm water and check on the alpacas. They were all cushed, looking quite cozy. I smiled, relieved. Then, to my horror, the water bucket was frozen solid! Some mornings it has skimmed over and a quick poke with my finger or an alpaca nose will break through, but not this time! I apologized profusely to the boys, picked up the bucket, and all but ran up to the house. Thankfully we have another unused water bucket in the garage where we also store extra hay and straw. After a quick rinse out in the kitchen sink, I filled it halfway with warm water and back to the barn I went. I added the two jugs I had brought down originally and the alpacas just stared at me, wondering what all the fuss was about. Apparently no one was thirsty.
Even though we put up a tarp to help block some wind, the boys generally cush in front of the 2 open stalls right around the hay feeders. Last night we spread out more straw for them. It’s funny to see their bodies’ imprints in the fresh straw in the morning, so we know that they were behind the windbreak at least for a short time. We’ve been stuffing the hay feeders full, full, full, and giving the boys a little extra grain in the evening. We’re going to pick up more straw and place the bales along the edges to help keep out drafts. That almost sounds ridiculous because it’s a 3 sided shelter! We still think every little bit helps.
Julio has imposed a ‘no leaving the barn’ rule since it’s been so cold and windy. Whenever one of the alpacas wanders out to the paddock or ~gasp!~ the pasture he runs out after them and noses them until they come back in. Sometimes instead of a gentle nosing it’s more like a bullying push. It’s nice to know he’s so protective but I’d prefer they’d all get at least a few minutes of sunshine!
We love autumn and October in New Hampshire is especially beautiful. The maple trees’ leaves slowly turn to glorious hues of reds and orange, making the sky look so blue and the grass and fields so green. The air is wonderfully crisp and dry and there’s always a great breeze. It’s perfect weather for hiking. This is such a fabulous corner of the country to live in, and autumn our favorite season.
This is the time of year I switch to drinking more tea as coffee really doesn’t keep one warm, we go apple picking, we split and stack large piles of wood, we rake huge amounts of leaves, we cut down the perennials, we pull up the veggie garden and till back in large amounts of compost. I go back to cooking soups and casseroles and baking bread. As the days get shorter we lament ‘oh no soon it will be snowing once again’ but we wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else but here, where we have 4 distinct seasons.
It went from normal autumn chilly to downright cold just like that this week which of course now makes me concerned that the alpacas are cold. Yes they are livestock with super thick fleece so by nature are just fine in the cold weather. Yet here we are in the house, all of us ~ me, Dan, Stella, and our indoor kitty Gracie ~ all snuggled up near the woodstove so it’s hard not to want to bring the alpacas inside!
Dan is concerned too, so the other day he came home with some straw to put down for bedding for them. We have found out that hay that is on the ground will wick up moisture and not dry if it’s been rained on, so yeah, the alpacas would get cold. The straw is hollow and does not absorb moisture, so it’s perfect for them to snuggle on. We spread out a bale and it didn’t take long for them to all cush on it. Smart alpacas! We will continue to add straw on top of what’s there, layer upon layer, to keep them dry and warm over the fall and through winter. Apparently, if done correctly, there is a composting effect, therefore creating heat which does help to keep the alpacas warm.
Off to make soup!
Why do we all raise alpacas? Why, the fleece of course!
This year, 2009, has been named by the United Nations as the International Year of Natural Fibers. Alpaca fleece is a natural fiber! You can read about the United Nations’ overview of alpaca fleece at http://www.naturalfibres2009.org/en/fibres/alpaca.html. There has also been a non-profit organization established, in cooperation with Heifer International, to celebrate this United Nations declaration, called http://www.keepthefleece.org/. Their goal is to build the largest fiber flock in the world. What a goal!
We are so happy to be part of this growing community of alpaca fiber producers. We have lots and lots of bags of many, many pounds of fleece (well, for us it’s quite a lot!) and are still deciding on which fleeces to be processed where. Someday I will learn to spin, but for now we will send it out for processing. Some will be sent to our wonderful, local mini-mill, Sallie's Fen Fibers, to be made into yarn, some will be made into yarn through our preferred co-op, NAAFP, and still some will be made into wonderful rugs. Because this is still such a new venture for us, we prefer to get our own fleece/yarn back, which will also serve our ‘locally grown’ clientele well. But also as a business which supports a growing industry (alpaca textile), we realize that joining a co-op is a sound decision. The NAAFP co-op’s regional collection facility as well as their commercial mill is here in New Hampshire! So not only will the co-op’s yarns have our fleece in it, the co-op’s yarn is locally made in regards to our farm! We’re thrilled.
And how could we not be thrilled? Alpaca is the absolute best fiber there is!
Even though it is now October, it is still not too late to join in the celebration of the International Year of Natural Fibers. Whether you knit, crochet or weave, you’ll enjoy working with alpaca!