A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

May 12, 2009

What You Don’t Want To Happen On Shearing Day!

Braveheart sporting his half shorn look

Braveheart sporting his half shorn look

 

This past weekend our plan had been to shear a large number of alpacas.  We knew we would probably not get them all done, but felt we could make a pretty good dent in our shearing load.

We had everything ready to go, plenty of plastic bags for samples and the various grades of fleece, a shearing order printed out, the shearing area clean, supplies on hand to deal with trimming toenails, teeth and in case of any shearing cuts (we try to avoid cuts but once in a while they happen).  Our fiber sorter Troy Ogilvie and his wife Mary arrived on Friday afternoon and we had helpers lined up for Saturday – things were looking good!  Even the weather was cooperating by being a cool 70 degrees instead of the 90+ temperatures of the previous days.

 After a good breakfast (got to keep your strength up on shearing day) we all went to the shearing area and got started. Chief was first to get shorn and left the barn with his new summer do, complete with a toenail trimming and some ear tick treatment for good measure. We continued on but soon realized something was not quite right with the shears.

On Friday night Bob and Regina Dart had come out to shear some of their female alpacas who are boarded here. Bob had mentioned that the blades on the shears did not seem to be cutting right. When we started shearing on Saturday we started with a fresh set of blades and cutters thinking that perhaps the blades Bob had used on Friday were either not sharpened correctly or had been used and put back in the wrong pile. Initially the shears didn’t seem too bad although we were not getting the same smooth shear that we usually do. As time went on though we could tell something was wrong.  Ric took the shears up to his worktable and was in the process of trying to adjust them to make them run better when two pieces of the shear head flew across the room!  That was the end of the shears.

Fortunately Ric was away from all alpacas and people when those two pieces of metal came loose, they were red hot and traveling fast as the left the shears.  Imagine if that had happened when the shears were being used on one of the alpacas.

With the demise of the shears we had a dilemma, how to shear the remaining alpacas including poor Braveheart who was now only half shorn.  Several phone calls were made to various livestock supply stores both in the area and further afield but we had no joy in finding a replacement set of shears.  Fortunately though a friend of ours had his sheep shears available and we were able to collect them to use for the rest of the day.

We released Braveheart back in with the other male alpacas while we were waiting for Ric to return with the borrowed shears.  Poor Braveheart was quite the picture with his half shorn look and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of him  (see photo at the beginning of this post).

We sheared for the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday and now have 18 alpacas sheared – only 25 left to go and we will be finished. 

So this next weekend we will be shearing again, our broken shear head has been sent for repairs and in an effort to prevent our “no shears” dilemma again we have ordered another set of shears to have on hand.  Braveheart is now fully shorn and with two sets of shears in the future we hope we never have any half shorn alpacas 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

September 23, 2008

The Socks Are Done!

My First Attempt At Knitting Socks
My First Attempt At Knitting Socks

 

Thank goodness – over the weekend while Ric was away I managed the final few rows of the second sock and that project is complete.

 

The sock project started off because I had some leftover yarn that I wanted to use up.  The yarn was not the best, having been made by a mill owner in his early years of processing alpaca fiber.  Some of the skeins were over spun and had a harsh feel to them, but we made allowances for the fact that the mill owner was new to the business and was in a learning curve (and these days his yarn is vastly improved).

 

I had read in various knitting publications how fast and fun sock making was, so thought I would try my hand at knitting a pair of socks just to see how I enjoyed the experience.  Well, I didn’t!  Perhaps the fact that I was knitting plain socks with no pattern or color variation was a factor, but I found the creation of the socks quite mundane and fiddly.

 

Normally my knitting projects involve lace knitting, cables, interesting stitches or variation of color so that might be why I found the socks less than inspiring.  Still I had started the project and wanted to see it through to completion and so I persevered.

 

The socks were always intended to be used by me, the quality of the yarn was such I didn’t feel right trying to sell the end product, and after all this was my first time trying such techniques as turning a heel.  As things turned our it’s a good job I wasn’t planning on selling the socks as they are not my finest creation, but they certainly have “character” that wonderful term fiber artists use to describe areas of their work that are less than perfect!

 

You can see from the picture that the shape of the heel on the bottom sock is too elongated, the top sock is better and it was the second of the two socks that I knitted – at least I was showing improvement.  To me the cast on for the ribbing at the top of the socks is too loose, but the pattern instructions said to make sure that the cast on was loose.

 

The yarn that I used for the second sock was supposed to be the same as the yarn for the first sock, but there is a difference in both the color and weight of the yarn.  On seeing the socks Ric joked with me that I will have to alternate which foot I wear each sock on as he thinks they will wear differently over time.

The result of unsorted fiber, a fuzzy sock with protruding guard hairs

The result of unsorted fiber, a fuzzy sock with protruding guard hairs

 

When I went to photograph the socks, I realized what a beautiful example they were of fiber that was not sorted prior to being spun into yarn.  Just look at this close up of the first heel – talk about guard hair!  You can see the sock has a very fuzzy outline and some very long straight hairs protruding from it, which are guard hairs.  These protruding fibers will produce a prickle effect to the skin (not good) and over time will shed and pill.  Fiber that was properly sorted by grade, length and color would not have produced two different colored, different weight socks and there would be little to no fuzzy outline or guard hairs.

 

My sock project ended up being more of an education than I ever thought it would be, so it was not a totally wasted experience – and at the end of the day I have a pair of barn socks that will be great to wear as the cooler weather arrives!

 

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

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