A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

June 1, 2009

All Done!

The Alpacas Enjoying Their Cooler Shorn Look

The Alpacas Enjoying Their Cooler Shorn Look

Time for celebration as the alpacas are now all shorn!  We do still have the three llamas to shear and one cria (whose owner wants us to wait a little longer so he can show her fleece), but all of the alpacas are done.  What a great feeling.

Things went smoothly this year, the first shearing session on April 25 was probably the slowest as we got back into a pattern of preparing the alpacas, stretching them out for shearing, trimming toenails, treating ears for ear ticks, having bags ready for fleece, bagging the fleece and recording weights on both fleece and alpaca.  Still within a short time we were back into the swing of things and each shearing session started to flow smoothly.

Ric’s shearing featured fewer second cuts this year (whoopee!) and our teenage helper Bethany proved to be invaluable as usual doing an excellent job of catching alpacas, helping us get them stretched out and being an excellent head holder, maneuvering the alpacas heads and necks as needed to keep them secure while allowing Ric to follow his shearing pattern.

Some of the fleece has already gone off to the Regional Collection Facility for NAAFP, the rest now needs to be sorted into which fleece goes where, but if we can steel ourselves to continue until that job is done there will only be the show fleeces to store for the upcoming year – now that’s a result!

It’s great to know that shearing is done for another year, now we can get back to our regular daily routine – well at least until the first cria arrives, when things will become a little distracted again!

Rosemary

April 27, 2009

It’s a Start

Geraint - nicely shorn for the summer

Geraint - nicely shorn for the summer

 

Saturday found us making a start on shearing.  We didn’t plan on doing the majority of the herd, we just wanted to do a few to help Ric get back into shearing mode and make sure that our set up was good for when we do a larger shearing day.

 

Things went well, the pace was not a fast one and neither had we intended it to be.  One of the advantages of shearing your own alpacas is that you can set your own pace.  In past years when we have contracted a shearer to shear the herd, the pace of shearing was dictated by the need to get all the alpacas shorn before the shearer stopped at the end of the day.  Granted professional shearers are much faster at shearing than Ric is (they’ve had a lot more practice over the years), but we still had to keep things moving at a pretty good pace to get all the shearing done by the end of the day.  On Saturday we took our time and at the end of the day we still had calm alpacas and calm humans.

 

The pace of our next shearing will be a little faster, but we would rather take our time and do a good job than rush things and make a mess.  Believe me you can really make a mess with a novice shearer and a pair of electric shears.

 

Rascal, Echo, Zeus, Geraint and Orchid now sport their new sleek summer look.   We could feel how warm they were when we sheared them and I am sure that they are enjoying being cooler.

 

Surprisingly our fleeces were not as sand laden as we thought they might be.  The wind has been blowing frequently and hard for several months now and we were sure that out fine red dirt would have found its way into the fleeces but that was not the case.  There was some dirt, but nothing like a couple of years ago when little piles of sand accumulated on the shearing mats from each alpaca we sheared.  We did vacuum out our alpacas before shearing this year, so maybe that helped some.  Whatever the reason the lack of dirt helped our blades on our shears to keep going longer and made for cleaner fleeces to be sent to processing.

 

The majority of our fleeces I will have sorted by Troy Ogilvie of Timber Lodge Alpacas, who is a client of ours and also an apprentice fiber sorter.  The fleeces from Saturday’s shearing will have to be sorted from the bag when Troy arrives for our next shearing day, but those fleeces that are shorn on our next shearing day will be sorted and graded as they come off the alpacas and then the various grades will be ready to go to the Regional Collection Facility for the North American Alpaca Fiber (NAAFP) Co-op.  Sheared, sorted and shipped – that’s the way to deal with your fleeces!

 

While the majority of our fleeces will go to the NAAFP Co-op, we will also be sending some fleece to the Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA), the Alpaca Blanket Project, the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool (NEAFP) and then of course there will be some fleeces kept for showing and for my own fiber projects.

 

We still have close to fifty alpacas left to shear, but at least we have made a start and have put ourselves in a shearing frame of mind.

 

Rosemary

February 21, 2009

Alpaca Fiber – Today, Tomorrow and Beyond

That’s the theme for the Alpaca Fiber Symposium, which will be held April 3, 4 and 5 at Gaston College Textile Center in Belmont, North Carolina.

 

I love the theme for this Symposium as it expresses how far we have come with the focus on the fiber side of the alpaca industry.   When the alpaca industry was first established in the US the focus was definitely on breeding stock with little to no attention being given to the fiber side of the industry.  At that time alpaca breeders were interested in growing and improving the national herd.

 

Over the years we have witnessed the gradual change of focus within the alpaca industry.  The focus on improving and development of the national herd is still there, but now as the numbers of both alpaca breeders and alpacas in the US swells more attention has been given to the fiber side of the industry, and quite rightly so.

 

We are often asked by people researching the alpaca industry if it is going to follow the direction of the llama, emu and ostrich industries, all of which eventually collapsed causing the pricing of llama, emu and ostrich to bottom out.

 

My answer to that question is that the alpaca industry has studied what happened in the llama, emu and ostrich industries, learned from their mistakes and taken steps to ensure that the alpaca industry does not follow suit.  One of the biggest steps that has been taken is the development of the alpaca fiber industry. 

 

In any livestock business you have to have a purpose and an end product to market and sell.  While alpacas themselves could be considered an end product, the real end product of the alpaca industry lies in the beautiful fleece our alpacas produce year after year.

 

It’s not been an easy path, there have been mistakes along the way, no doubt there will be more mistakes in the future, but gradually the alpaca industry has put more attention on the fiber side of the business, developing product, improving processing techniques and educating consumers in the wonders of alpaca products and the availability of alpaca products made from North American alpaca fiber.

 

The Alpaca Fiber Symposium has a variety presenters including the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA), The Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North American (AFCNA), The Alpaca Blanket Project, North American Alpaca Fiber Producers (NAAFP) and more.  Keynote speakers will be Dean Godfrey of North Carolina University’s College of Textiles and John Anderson, the Director of the Textile Center at Gaston College, Belmont, North Carolina.

 

To me this is an exciting time in the world of alpacas, there are many things going on behind the scenes to develop and promote North American alpaca fiber and the products that can be made from alpaca fiber.  Where once it was said that there was not enough alpaca fiber in the US to run commercial mills, we now have commercial mills producing runs of product made of alpaca fiber and that, to me, is a significant step for the alpaca fiber industry. 

 

Many of the people involved in this development have devoted numerous hours of their time to ensure the future success of the alpaca fiber industry, a subject that they are passionate about.  Several of those “alpaca fiber pioneers” will be at or represented at the Alpaca Fiber Symposium where they will get the chance to share news of their efforts with attendees.

 

The Alpaca Fiber Symposium promises to be an interesting event, not only for alpaca breeders new and old but also for those contemplating purchasing alpacas who want a more in depth explanation of the history of the development of the alpaca fiber industry and where the future lies for the alpaca fiber industry.

 

Rosemary

August 3, 2008

Clearing the Fleece From The Barn – Another Option

 

As we continue to work to get all of our fleece out of our barn and processed into product I am continually looking for new ideas and resources to help us make a profit from our fleece.  

 

This year we will sending fleece to the North American Alpaca Fiber Producers (NAAFP) Cooperative, the Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA) and the leg and belly fleece will be processed into the beautiful rugs and energy mats that have been such good sellers during the past year.  Some special fleeces will be sent to a mill for putting into roving so that I can hand spin some of our own fleeces for special projects.  With close to 60 alpacas on the farm we have plenty of fleece to disburse!

 

I was recently made aware of a project that is interesting and that could be helpful to some alpaca breeders looking for a use for their alpaca fleece.

 

Peter and Carol Lundberg of Elderberry Creek Alpacas, Stayton, Oregon have started the Alpaca Blanket Project and are looking for alpaca fleece to keep their project moving forward.

 

The Alpaca Blanket Project has evolved from collaboration with Pendleton Woolen Mills, Pendleton Woolen Mills has a world-wide reputation for creating beautiful blankets, throws and clothing and has been a family owned business for 140 years.  The Lundberg’s have worked with Pendleton Woolen Mills to develop a Pendleton Blanket made from alpaca fiber.

 

The alpaca fiber used for the project will be graded and sorted prior to being sent to the mill.  Peter and Carol will be doing most of the grading and sorting.  The mill requires at least two sorts of 400-500 pounds of fiber in the same grade, but different colors, for each run of blankets (throws), meaning that Peter and Carol are going to have their hands full – literally.  Once the alpaca fiber has been graded and sorted Pendleton Woolen Mills will do the carding, spinning and weaving.

The throws will be approximately 60” by 70” and the Lundberg’s goal is to have the throws completed in time for the 2008 holiday season,

 

While initially those sending fiber to the project will not be paid for their fiber, it is hoped that if enough blankets are produced those donating 10 lbs or more of fiber will be given the opportunity to purchase one of the blankets at a wholesale price.  It is anticipated that in the future there will be payment for fiber sent to the Alpaca Blanket Project.  Those donating fiber to the project will be taking part in a project that will increase public awareness of the wonders of alpaca fleece, something that benefits the alpaca industry overall.  They will also be helping a project get off the ground that will eventually be another resource for alpaca breeders to make income from their alpaca fleece.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the Alpaca Blanket Project there is plenty of information available on the Lundberg’s website www.elderberrycreekalpacas.com.  The blog of the Elderberry Creek Alpacas site contains more information and updates on the project’s progress so don’t forget to check that out while you are on the site.

 

Rosemary

March 22, 2008

Yarn Glorious Yarn

Skeins of NAAFP Worsted Yarn

I have received another shipment of yarn from the North American Fiber Producers (NAAFP) Co-op, just in time for Open Farm Day.  This time the yarn was some lopi yarn, a single strand yarn that has a looser twist to it and is a blend of alpaca and wool.  I have two white skeins, one grey skein and one rose grey skein.  All of them are beautiful and have more of a handspun character to them than the other woolen and worsted yarns I have received so far.  I didn’t have time to snap a picture or two of the lopi yarn but will post some pictures to the blog when I get a chance.  The lopi yarn will be priced at $5.oo an ounce and we expect it to sell well.

So far all the product that I have received back from the NAAFP has been of an excellent standard.   The Certified Sorting process that is being used on the alpaca fleece prior to processing is making a marked difference in the end product.  I have spoken to other NAAFP Co-op members who have received other products from the Co-op such as throws and duvets and they too are thrilled with the end result.  Looks like we are onto a winner!

The previous shipment of yarn I received contained some Superfine Luxury Alpaca Blend which is made of 90% Huacaya Alpaca, 6 % Suri Alpaca and 4% Angora.  It has a lovely loft and a dreamy soft hand.  Also in that shipment were some skeins that were more of a worsted yarn and I must admit they have been my favorites so far.  The white worsted skein has 90% Huacaya Alpaca and 10% Suri Alpaca, the fawn skeins have 66% Huacaya Alpaca, 26% Suri Alpaca and 8% Tencel and the Rose Gray skein has 65% Huacaya Alpaca, 17% Suri Alpaca and 24% Tencel.  The skeins are large 7 oz skeins and the blends used create a lovely silky hand and soft shimmer to the yarn.  These truly are luxury yarns which will be appreciated by those who love fiber arts and fashion.

The trouble with being a fiber producer and someone who enjoys using fiber is that when you receive your shipments of yarn and they contain something special you have to force yourself to put them out on the For Sale rack!  Really you want to keep them all for your own personal stash of yarn, but I suppose if that happened every time I would have more yarn than I would have time to work with (ask Ric and he probably would tell you that is the case already).

The good part of being a fiber producer is that there is always more fleece being sent in for processing and before long another box of glorious yarn will be delivered.  The boxes don’t get to sit here long before they are opened and admired.  It would be a shame not to let others have the joy of working with this wonderful yarn, so out onto display the yarn goes and if it hasn’t sold by the time I come to do my next project (which is unlikely) I can always steal it back – can’t I?

Rosemary

February 25, 2008

Fingers in the Fleece

Geraint - Summer 2007We are back to the task of sorting through the fleeces in the fleece room.  I am determined to reduce the pile before we get to this year’s shearing!

The deadline for submission of clip to the Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA) is February 29 and so I am trying to get as many fleeces as I can shipped off to them today in order that the fleeces are received by the deadline date.

To me sorting through fleeces is an enjoyable task, it gives me the opportunity to reassess the alpaca whose fleece I am working on and consider any breeding decisions I need to make for that particular alpaca.  For some of the boys there is no breeding decision to be made, for one reason or another they will not be used for breeding, but as I look at their fleece it is a good reminder of what the pairing of the parents produced.

There were a couple of fleeces in my stash yesterday that I decided to hold back for show.  We sheared a lot of show fleeces last year and I haven’t had the opportunity to show them all and as I looked at them on the skirting table I decided that it really would be worth entering them in a show.  There is a good-sized fleece show coming up in May in Denver and so I plan on entering the fleeces in that show.

One fleece that did make me smile was that of Geraint who is pictured above.  Geraint is the only surviving offspring of Primera who is a research female we have at the farm.  Primera was donated to our vet, as her crias had never survived.  We became involved in working with our vet to see if we could get one of Primera’s crias to survive and Geraint is the result.  As alpacas go Geraint is hardly the example of an award winning alpaca, but his fleece is actually not too bad.  As I worked on Geraint’s fleece on the skirting table I could feel it’s fineness and lovely soft handle and he even has some crimp definition and brightness to his fleece.  I took a little sample of it to Ric (who is still recovering from the flu) and asked him to guess whose fleece it was, he was unable to guess correctly whose fleece and was impressed when I told him that it was Geraint’s. 

This year things will be a little different at shearing time as we are going to have some of our fleeces sorted by a fleece sorter as they come off the alpaca on shearing day.  Our friend and client Troy Ogilvie of Timber Lodge Alpacas has completed his fleece sorting class and needs to work his apprenticeship by sorting a certain amount of fleeces and so will be coming to our farm to sort for us.  Those fleeces will then be sent to the North American Alpaca Fiber Producers (NAAFP) Cooperative to be processed into high quality yarn and products.  The great thing about having our fleeces sorted on shearing day is that at the end of the day all I will need to do is package up the various bags of fleece and ship them off to the Regional Collection Facility – no storing them in the fleece room or having to prepare them for the processor at a later date.  It will be done on shearing day and off the fleeces will go!  I will even get a report on my fleeces, which I will be able to use to help me with my breeding decisions.

That doesn’t mean to say I won’t get a chance to get my hands on some of my fleeces as I know there will be some we will hold back to show.   Those fleeces I will need to prepare for showing prior to sending them in and so I will get my fleece fix from working on those.  Fingers in the fleece – you just can’t beat it!

Rosemary

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