A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

March 20, 2008

Spring Farm Day

We are busy preparing for our Spring Open Farm Day this Saturday.  With the recent winds and dust blowing everywhere the studio, which we open to the public, needs a good cleaning. 

Today we will clean the studio and then arrange everything in readiness to display our alpaca products and informational handouts.  We have a group of ladies from a garden club coming to the Open Farm Day and so I want to make sure we have information available to them as to how beneficial alpaca poop is to the garden, how well it composts and how to use alpaca fiber to provide nourishment and help retain water around your plants.

During the recent arts and craft show that we participated in there was a lot of interest in the Open Farm Day so we are expecting a good crowd.  If the weather is warm and not windy (dare we hope for that!) I am sure many people will want to come and see the alpacas.  At the moment the forecast is for a slight chance of rain showers.  If we do get showers I doubt that anyone from the local area will be complaining, as we are so desperate for rain.

With so many of the girls being close to having their crias we will not be taking visiting groups into the girls pen.  They will be able to visit with the girls over the fence if the girls wish to do so, but we do not want to force excessive attention on the girls at this stage of their pregnancy.  By the next Open Farm Day the crias will have been born and are sure to be an attraction.

The boys will be available for visits and I am sure Asteroid our people friendly alpaca will be getting more than his share of kisses and attention.  Asteroid really is a crowd pleaser and loves to interact with visitors.

Today we are forecast for 40 mph winds all day, so we won’t be spending much time sweeping up the patios and carports, the dust will be back as fast as we sweep it away.  We will just have to leave that chore until Friday when things are supposed to be a little calmer.

If you are in the Clovis area on Saturday (March 22) then come on out and join us.  The farm will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and we would love to meet you!

Rosemary

March 1, 2008

Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns Blog!

It hardly seems possible that a year has passed since I started this blog, the time has passed quickly. The blog has brought me much pleasure, through the blog I have “met” people from around the world some who own alpacas, some who would like to own alpacas and some who just enjoy reading the blog. It has been great to exchange experiences with other alpaca breeders around the world, and also to be able to keep in touch with family and friends in many countries who like to read what we are up to at Windrush Alpacas.

As I start a new year with the blog I am looking forward to another year of life with the alpacas, new crias will start to arrive in a few months, shearing looms ahead of us and as with any business there will be the everyday challenge of keeping it running smoothly.

In a few short weeks we will have a “cria” of a different sort arriving in the world. The word “cria” is a Quechua word for baby, and baby Pienescu, the daughter of Laura and Ren will be arriving soon, making Ric and myself grandparents for the first time. I have warned Laura that while I am great with new borns that are covered with fur I am not so certain about the furless human variety!

I am sure the next year will bring us our share of surprises, hopefully all pleasant ones. As the alpaca industry develops we see more of a focus on alpaca fiber, and that has certainly been reflected in our business and is something we intend to focus on and develop further.

As a reward to myself for having created a blog entry for almost every day of the past year I intend to give myself one or two days off from blogging each week. While I usually don’t have any problem coming up with something to write about, I do wonder if my content would be fresher if I gave myself a break once in a while. I would hate for the blog to become dull and uninteresting just because I think I have to post something every day. You know how the saying goes “all work and no play makes jack a dull boy”.

I hope those reading the blog will continue to do so, feel free to pass on the blog address to those who you feel might enjoy or benefit from reading this blog . As we encounter different experiences at the farm I will share them with you. The alpaca industry is relatively new as livestock industries go and there is still much to learn. I feel that by alpaca breeders openly sharing information that the learning curve will be much easier on us all.

So Happy Birthday Blog – and may you have many more!

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

December 18, 2007

Wanted – Alpaca Fleece!

As members of the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA) we receive regular updates as to how the Coop is working and their plans for the future.

The latest update from the Coop shows that sales of Coop products have again increased dramatically this Holiday Season.  This is great news for the alpaca industry as it suggests that more people are becoming aware of alpaca and purchasing alpaca products.  For those who have worn alpaca products you know that it is so soft, warm and comfortable you can’t help but tell those you meet about how wonderful alpaca is.

Currently we have the Extreme Socks from the Coop on backorder.  The Coop thought that they were keeping up with the holiday demand but a broken sock machine put the manufacturer behind schedule and now the socks are on backorder.  It is a shame that this should happen when alpaca product sales are so strong, but it is part of the business of retail.

One concern the AFCNA Board of Directors has expressed is that should demand for alpaca products increase by the same amount next year then the biggest problem for the Co-op could be lack of alpaca fiber – yes lack of alpaca fiber, imagine that!  This possible problem does not stem from a lack of alpacas (although more alpacas would still be a good thing), but rather that alpaca producers are not sending their fiber in to the Co-op to be processed.

For many alpaca farmers deciding what to do with your years clip of fleece is nowhere near as fun as raising and showing your alpacas and what tends to happen is that fleece skirting and processing is put on the back burner.   Many alpaca farmers have stashes of fleece on their farm that need to be processed, and perhaps now is the time for them to sort and skirt those fleeces and send them in to AFCNA.  It doesn’t cost much to join AFCNA and there are many benefits of Coop membership. 

As of today the Coop is not paying dividends to farms for fleeces submitted but eventually that will happen.  Fleeces submitted now will be recorded against each producers record so that when payments are eventually made the producers will receive their fair share of the payments.  The Coop is also doing what it can to cut down on shipping costs for its members by offering various shipping discounts.

Historically the AFCNA had a rocky start in its first few years, but thankfully those times are behind us and the AFCNA is now well organized with many plans for the future.  The products the AFCNA puts out are a quality product and well liked by consumers

So for those alpaca farmers who have stashes of fiber stored on their farms, give AFCNA a call at 877-859-0172 or drop them an email via their website http://www.afcna.com/ and find out what you need to do to get your fiber on it’s way to becoming beautiful end product while supporting the growth and future of the alpaca industry.

Rosemary

November 3, 2007

So What Does An Alpaca Breeder Do On A Friday Night?

Many people in regular Monday to Friday jobs look forward to Friday night as the start of the weekend and hopefully a time when they can turn their thoughts and activities toward recreation and relaxation.  As a business owner it is often easy to forget about the traditional role of the weekend and just continue working, especially when you enjoy your job as much as I do. 

Sometimes it is difficult to think of our work as “working” although several of our friends having spent time with us will comment on how hard we work.  I guess when you are having such a good time with your work then it is difficult to think of it as a chore and something to escape from.  Still, in an effort to remain sane and somewhat normal I do try to do something non-alpaca on Friday evenings, or if not then at least one day over the weekend.

Yesterday I knew as always there was much to be done, being the beginning of the month there are always bills to be paid and different tasks requiring my attention – fleeces to be skirted, herd records to be entered in the computer, ad copy to be reviewed, contracts to update, the list goes on and on.  Despite the list of things to do demanding my attention, I thought it might be a good idea to take the night off from work and so planned to sit back and watch a movie with the dogs (Ric was out for the evening or I would have included him too!).

With chores done and dinner eaten I decided to write a quick blog entry before starting the movie.   My original plan was to write something about a recent virus outbreak that is causing concern in the alpaca community; I also wanted to include some information on biosecurity measures in my post.  I started my research and then came across the site for the Penn State Veterinary Extension and Outreach – what an interesting site that proved to be.  There I found articles on biosecurity, alpaca forages, alpaca fiber and all sorts of topics to capture an alpaca breeder’s attention.   You can view the list of articles on alpacas and llamas at http://vetextension.psu.edu/resources/ResViewer.asp?search=&author=&type=0&species=7&topic=0&Submit=Find+Resources&n_per_page=all

But don’t just stop there, in order to access the full list of resources on the site go to http://vetextension.psu.edu/resources/ResBrowse.asp

There you can pick the topics you wish to read about, or search the resources directory.  Remember sometimes the articles containing the information you need are not going to be alpaca specific so you may need to broaden your search criteria.

Before I knew it the popcorn I was going to enjoy while watching the movie was with me in the computer room (still to be shared with the dogs who, I might add, are popcorn fanatics) and I had a very enjoyable evening reading about salmonella, BVDV, disinfectants, forages and fiber.  Which all goes to prove the old adage “you can take the girl out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the girl” 

So that’s what an alpaca breeder does on a Friday night, not everyone’s cup of tea I am sure but I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Rosemary  (who did at 10 pm tear herself away from the Penn State articles and went to watch a movie!)

October 12, 2007

A Question of Static

In reponse to my blog entry of yesterday, my friend Linda posted the following comment:

“We’ve always known you were attractive Rosie – but that takes the biscuit!  On the question of static, can I ask when the finished product in the form of rugs or has been completed – is the static build up as strong?  I was just thinking ahead to when my rug is ready as I too seem to generate a great deal of static.  I am forever getting shocks from the door of my car! 

Of course when the rug is ready it will be literally be flying too – over to me in UK, but I wondered should I duck when the postman arrives at the door?”

Linda poses some good questions in her comment, so I thought in case anyone else reading the blog was concerned about static in alpaca fiber it would be good to address the questions in a follow up post.

So in answer to the question when the finished product in the form of rugs has been completed – is the static build up as strong? I would have to say no, the static build up would not be as strong.  Part of the problem we had the other day was that we were working in very dry air and tipping fleece out of plastic bags onto a plastic mesh wearing nylon trousers.  Plastic is really good for creating static as I soon found out when the piece of fleece flew across the skirting tale and hit me on the face.  The fleece bag was doing a really good job of creating a static charge and once the fleece was released from the bag the fiber, having the same charge (either positive or negative) as the bag needed to discharge by traveling to something with the opposite charge, which just happened to be me on that day.

In our years of dealing with alpaca products we have not found them to be a problem when it comes to static.  In very dry weather conditions such as ours static becomes much commonplace in everything, and you might expect to have a little static as you take off an alpaca sweater and it brushes against your hair.

Some people do tend to have more of a problem with static than others and there are a few things you can do to cut down on static.  The first thing is to get in the practice of grounding yourself by touching a solid object prior to touching anything else.  By grounding yourself there may be a little zap of electricity but it will be much reduced. You can use a humidifier in your house, as warm moist air is less likely to produce static.  Making sure you use fabric softener and a dryer sheet when you launder your clothes will help to cut down on static, or if the problem is really bad you can always buy and anti-static spray and spray yourself with it a few times every day.

In answer to Linda’s second question “should I duck when the postman arrives at the door?”   – well Linda that all depends on how nicely you have treated your postman in the past year!

Rosemary

October 11, 2007

The Fleece is Flying – Literally!

Large Skirting TableWe have been busily working on sorting and skirting fleeces this week.  We have the fleece bags sorted into piles for the different types of processing we will be using.  Some bags of special fleeces will be spun into yarn with only the fleece from a single alpaca used in that yarn batch, some fleece is going to be made into socks, another pile of fleece will be made into rugs and then a large pile of fleece will be going to the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America.  We will of course be keeping our show fleeces and then those will be available for sale to hand spinners once the shows are over.  Typically our show fleeces only stand up to 3 –4 shows and so their show life is limited, but they are our best fleeces and are beautifully clean, skirted and great for hand spinners to work with. 

We now have two skirting tables set up, one in the studio for me to skirt the show fleeces on and then our latest super sized skirting table which we are using to skirt fleeces for processing.  Ric made the latest skirting table and I specifically wanted a large size as I find it helps things go smoothly on shearing day.  With a large skirting table to work on I don’t have to worry about trying to prevent the fleece from falling off the edge of the skirting table. 

It was a little bit of a challenge to build this table, we really wanted to have metal ½” or 1” mesh on the table but could not find any that was either sturdy enough or wide enough for the table.  We ended up using a plastic mesh and still we could only get itin 3’ width and so there are a couple of areas on the skirting table where the mesh has joins in it.  The mesh is a little rough on the edges at the joins and so to prevent the fleece from catching on the mesh we have covered the joins with smooth cardboard.  Underneath each join we have a reinforcing wooden strut that makes it easy just to staple the cardboard onto the skirting table.  We contemplated for a long while what material to use to cover the joins and decided at the end of the day that good old cardboard was the best choice.  It is smooth, does not catch on the fleece and does not create static. 

 Skirting Table Join

Talking of static, it is something that is a problem for us in our dry environment.  A couple of things we have found that can help while sorting fleece and dealing with static are wiping the skirting table and your hands with a dryer sheet, or using a static preventative spray on both the skirting table and yourself.  Remember to try and wear natural fabrics when you are sorting or skirting fleece or you can build up static in your clothing.   Another tip is to mix a little hair conditioner with some water in a mister bottle and lightly spray the fleece you are working on, just make sure that the fleece is dry before you bag or box it up again. 

Skirting in very dry conditions can become quite a problem, with strands of fiber attaching themselves to you and being difficult to remove, it can get quite frustrating as you remove the strands of fiber from one hand only have them attach themselves to the other hand.  On Monday though I had my funniest fleece static incident yet.  Ric was emptying a fleece out of its clear plastic bag onto the new skirting table; he was standing about mid way of the length of the table, I was standing at the end of the table.  The fleece landed on the skirting table and Ric went to unroll it, as he did so a piece of fleece flew through the air and literally slapped me in the face!  The piece of fleece had traveled an amazing 3ft or so to get to me and had a stinging blow to it!  I’ve always had an attraction for fleece but now it seems the fleece is attracted to me!   Of course the nylon work trousers I was wearing that day and the plastic bag the fleece had been stored in may have had something to do with my fleece-attracting aura! 

Rosemary

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