Monday, August 30, 2010

Cria Shearing

I don't think I posted when we had Twilight shorn. We did this a few weeks ago. We try to have our cria shorn when they are about 6 weeks old. We've done it earlier in years past, and found that it didn't get all the tui tips (tui tips are what they call the fiber that the cria are born with). I don't want to spin the tui tips into yarn because it's a little different than what grows in later on.

Here is Twilight a couple weeks after shearing:

Tonight we had Chaska and Challenger shorn. They were born within a week of each other so we waited with Chaska until Challenger was old enough. We take our cria over to Ashton Stones Alpacas, where they do a nice job shearing the cria.

Chaska before shearing:

Challenger before shearing (front then back):

By the time we got home and had a chance to get pictures, it was getting dark out. So these pictures aren't the best. We were quite happy to see all the grey on Challenger. That doesn't show up well either. We'll get more pictures in a couple weeks when we get around to trimming up their top knots and make them even more handsome.

Here are the boys, all shorn:

We are eager to see how both of these boys' fiber grows back in.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

2011 Cria Due Dates

We've been breeding and spit testing and even had two of our girls ultra sounded to confirm their pregnancy. Right now, all the breeding age girls are testing as pregnant. I went ahead and did due date tickers for each of them. Though any one of them could come open and need to be rebred, I can always revise the ticker at that point. I like watching the tickers count down to the big arrival.

The tickers are at the bottom of the blog, but here is a preview:

These are set for a due date at 350 days gestation (the average due date), but delivery can happen between day 335 and 400+.

Herd Health Day

This morning was another herd health day. We try to set aside a day about every 6 weeks for herd health. Today was the day.

This time around we:
* weighed each alpaca
* gave AD&E shots to all the cria and anyone under 2 years old
* trimmed toe nails
* trimmed top knots
* took out burrs (oh dear, what a mess some of them were!)
* put halters on everyone, giving the cria a halter training lesson

After some cooler weather this past week, today was supposed to be a hot day. We decided to start early in the morning to take advantage of the cooler morning temps. Unfortunately we do herd health on our back patio, which is in the sun. This meant that by lunch time, we were hot, very tired (did I mention I went running this morning too?), and ready to be done. We managed to get through all the cria, all the yearlings, and the 2 year olds. Tomorrow we will tackle the older girls. Being breeding girls, and all of them at various stages of pregnancy, they can be quite ornery. We will also need to go up and assess all of the boys.

I am happy to say that all the alpacas we looked at today are healthy, and growing well. We are amazed at how fast the cria are growing. Rose weighed in at 70 pounds - she's only 4 months old! This earned her a daytrip to the maiden girls shelter and pasture. We will begin day weaning. We've done weaning a variety of different ways, this is a little different than what we've done in the past. We will see how it goes.

Now I'm ready for a nap! The alpacas seem to be too, as many of them are now out there sunning themselves.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Knitting with alpaca

We make all our own yarn and products here at our house. I spin up 100% alpaca yarn. I was asked recently how I like knitting with it. I passed this question onto my husband, since he does more of the knitting. He said it's all he's ever knit with so he doesn't know how to compare it. I have knit with other yarn, and I find I prefer the alpaca. It has some stretch to it, and it seems to meld to patterns quite well.

I've read and heard different things about alpaca yarn not having memory, and that garments can stretch out. I haven't had trouble with this. I do watch what garment I make with which alpaca's fiber, and I do pick patterns with some forethought.

From what I understand, fiber from huacaya alpacas has more memory than fiber from suri alpacas. We only have huacaya alpacas on our farm. The more crimp a huacaya has, the more memory the yarn will have. So, fiber from an alpaca with little or no crimp should be knit into items that drape or hang, like a scarf or shawl. Hats or sweaters will do better with very crimpy fiber. For sweaters, I also try to use patterns with some knit designs. For example, a simple stockinette stitch is going to stretch out easier than a pattern with cables.

We enjoy our 100% alpaca yarn, and love using it. I know many people enjoy blends (ie alpaca and wool), and that is also an option, it's just not one that we've incorporated into our production plans. Many fiber artists love dying their yarn too. I decided early on that I wanted many different colored alpacas, and that I would cherish the natural colors. I did not want to branch out into dying. I personally prefer our natural colors over the dyed ones. I figure someone could always buy our white raw fiber or white yarn and dye it themselves if they really want it dyed. There are so many choices in what to do with the fiber, every farmer has to make some limits, no one person can do it all. I won't even get into using a mill or co-op or having rugs made and so forth. My vision from the start was to make our own products from our own alpaca's fiber. We are making this happen. At the start of this all, I pictured myself knitting products out of mill spun yarn, I didn't think I would want to spin the yarn myself. Almost two years ago I added spinning the yarn into our plan, and I'm so glad I did. It's even more special to have home spun yarn to make our products.

I find I am always learning more about fiber and spinning and knitting. It's a "learn as you go" sort of thing. It's amazing how little you need to know to get started. It's not hard stuff, anyone can do it. But the rewards as you go and your skill improves are tremendous. Now if I could just figure out a way to increase my yarn production so I could have more product out there for sale!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vet Visit

We decided to make an appointment at the vet for Snickers and Tehya.

Our concern with Snickers is whether or not she is pregnant, and if so, to who?. She supposedly come already bred, and when she first arrived, she was spitting of males. It does appear that she was pregnant at that point. But within a couple weeks she stopped spitting off and cushed. We've bred her a couple times now, but she is still not acting pregnant. Because she is new to our farm, we aren't 100% sure how she acts when she's open and how she acts when she's pregnant. We decided we needed to ultra sound her. It can be damaging to her if we keep re breeding her (she could get an infection) if she is already pregnant.

Since we were going to the vet for an ultra sound already, we decided to take Tehya too. Tehya is a maiden and while she acts like she's pregnant (she is spitting off the males), it's hard to know for sure with maidens. We'd rather know now, if she isn't pregnant we can rebred her right away (we wouldn't want to do that in the winter, now is the time to do it if we need to).

The vet did the ultra sound and determined that Tehya is pregnant and appears to be about three months along (which matches the ticker I have at the bottom of the blog). Snickers is also pregnant, about a month along. This means she did lose the cria from Conan, but she took with Georgio. While we are sad to have lost the Conan offspring, Georgio is also from the Conan line and should produce a nice cria with Snickers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

hay for a hot day

This time of year many farmers are starting to store up hay for the winter months. We happen to use hay all year round. Because we don't really have pasture grass, we "dry lot", and feed them hay all of the time. This means not only do we store up hay for the winter, but we are always using and needing hay.

For hay, it would be ideal to be able to grow your own. This isn't an option for us. We haven't even been able to get pastures to grow, so having a hay field isn't an option. We live way back in the woods, in fact our land butts up to a National Forest. This is where we built our house, way before we had even thought of having alpacas. Under the woods, our soil is pure beach sand, which is not conducive to growing grass. Maybe in a different economy we could sell our house and buy a farm with great pastures and a hay field, but that isn't practical for us at this point. We also could haul in soil and make a pasture (or hay field) take root. But, that would mean keeping the alpacas off that land for a long time. It's not a good use of our land to make that happen. This doesn't mean we can't have alpacas and feed them well. We do. We just do it different than some other farms.

It always seems to happen that as we run low on hay, it's also a hot spell (or in the winter, a bad snowy spell which means J is driving in terrible weather with the truck and trailer). Friday was a very humid day, and pretty hot too (not the worse we've had this year, but hot enough). This was the day J went to get hay.

I came home to this:

I may do almost all of the poop scooping on the farm, but there is no way I could have hauled all that hay by myself. I am very thankful that J is able to. Zack told me that J told him he is looking forward to the day Zack can help haul hay. I'm sure! Zack is only 8 so we have a few years to go. I still have a tough time picking up a full bale. You'd think all that poop scooping would have built up my muscles better.

Like many things with alpacas, every farmer you talk to will give you a different perspective on hay. In general, alpacas prefer grass hay (not the old yellow stalks cows will eat, but green, grassy hay). As for which grass hay is best, that is where you will get a ton of different opinions.

This hay is mostly grass hay, with some alfalfa. Alfalfa can be great for putting on weight if you have skinny alpacas. A negative would be that it can put weight on already heavy alpacas. In high quantities, it can affect their fiber by raising their micron count. That we don't want! But this is less than 10% alfalfa, so it should work fine.

Friday, August 20, 2010


A swatch is what knitters are supposed to knit up before starting a pattern to make sure their yarn and needles are the right size for the pattern. It's to test their gauge. I admit I'm one of those knitters that often skips this step.

However, J came up with a great use for swatches. J discovered that people are interested in alpaca products, but have no idea what pattern knit stitch they would like the item made out of. When they ask him to make them a scarf, he'd like to let them pick the knit pattern. A long time ago I bought a little booklet called the Beginner's Guide: Knit Stitches & Easy Projects (the title links to where I just found it on Amazon, I have no idea where I bought mine). It's a very handy little paperback booklet that shows several pattern stitches, and how to make them into a design. The back pages show how to do various stitches (including the basic knit and purl, but also the trickier ones, deciphering what PSSO and SSK and so forth means and how to do it, how to pick up stitches and all those things that you need to complete a knit item). I refer to this booklet all the time when using other patterns. J uses the booklet to give him pattern stitches to create scarves.

J decided to knit up several swatches to demonstrate some of the pattern stitch options available. He was so cleaver to use yarn from various spin offs we've entered our alpaca's fiber in. When you enter your alpaca's fiber in a spin off, the judge spins up a small skein of the fiber in order to judge it. You get this small skein back. But it's not your own spinning, and it's not big enough to make anything out of it. Using it for the swatches works great though. You only need a little bit to make this swatch. And, this way it is 100% alpaca yarn, which is what I spin, but it doesn't deplete our supply of yarn (I have plans to pump up my production).

I took pictures of his swatches, even though I know these pictures don't do them justice. The whole point of making these is so that he has something portable to show people (they can see and touch and feel them). But I'll show you what we have.

Out of the basic Stockinette Stitch, he used some yarn from Tehya's fiber:

The disadvantage of the Stockinette Stitch is that there is a clear front and back, and the ends tend to curl up. This is not ideal for a scarf. But it's a pretty basic knit and often used in hats.

Another swatch out of Tehya's fiber, J demonstrates Moss Stitch:

He made a swatch out of yarn from Tucker's fiber, this pattern stitch is called Divided Boxes. This picture does not capture this at all. This one is by far my favorite, but you really have to see it to get the texture that comes from this pattern.

Out of yarn from Lightening's fiber, J knit up the Waffle Stitch:

Another swatch out of Lightening's fiber is the Polperro Northcott stitch pattern (I know, I've never heard of this one either, but it looks neat!):

And a 3rd pattern out of Lightening's fiber, this one called Textured Stripes. This one has a clear front and back that look different, but both look good so it could be used in a scarf.



There are other stitch patterns he has made (even more he could make, once you know the basics you can do any of them), but he thought he'd start his swatches with his most popular ones. I've knit with some more lacy type knit stitches, I should do some of my own swatches to add those to our showcase. J tends to knit up thick and sturdy scarves that are both warm and practical. They really do turn out nice.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cria Update

Everyday it seems the cria grow and change a little bit. We are thankful to have been blessed with healthy and strong babies.

While Rose (Enlightenment's Rocky Rose) wasn't born on our farm, she is a 2010 cria, and the oldest cria on our farm. Rose is the mother hen of the cria gang, always watching out for all of them and making sure every one is ok. Here are a couple recent pictures of Rose:

The first cria born on our farm this year is Our Copper Canyon. While big, Copper plays well with the other smaller cria. He loves to run and chase.

Smokey's Twilight was the 2nd cria born. She is a flirt who is in love with Chaska. She has been kissing on him since the day he was born, and practically bats her eyes at him.

The next cria born was Chaska. Chaska is a big guy who seems to like receiving Twilight's affection.

Challenger was the last of our cria born this year. While in these pictures he's hiding near his dam, Victoria, he's not typically a mama's boy.

Knitting the yarn

J wasted no time putting Pocahonta's yarn into a ball to start knitting with it. He decided to use the waffle stitch (I'll post on his various stitches later this week).

It looks so nice!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Finished Yarn

I finished plying the strands of Pocahontas' fiber into yarn. While it is lumpy and bumpy, it is not only useable, but I think it will knit up into a neat textured garment. J is already making plans of what pattern stitch he will use to accent this yarn.

Here is the skein:

A little closer:

Tumbler first batch

We did a trial run with some of Pocahontas' fiber. Unfortunately, this first run didn't go as smooth as I would have hoped. There is always a learning curve to these things. J put some fiber in there, and had it tumble. Then he put in more fiber, after he read that more fiber in there works better. Unfortunately, the two separate loads mixed together and the fiber intertwined. It wasn't felted, but almost felt that way to me.

Now what to do with it? I'm not one to scrap fiber if at all possible (especially fiber off our color banner winner!). So I decided to flick the fiber and see if I could spin it up.

It didn't flick as nice because I was starting with intertwined locks. I decided I would ignore lumps and bumps and spin this fiber up thick, let it be a lumpy bumpy yarn. When knit up, it will have tons of texture that the smooth yarn could never have.

I started spinning it with some reservation that this might not work. I was happy to see this on my wheel:

It is thicker than what I typically spin. It's not even as lumpy or bumpy as I thought it would be. It actually looks like it will be a nice chunkier yarn. I'm eager to see how neat it looks after it's plyed.

Tumbler trials

My wonderful husband is always looking for ways to assist in making fiber production easier. Currently we do everything at our home, which makes it truly hand produced. But, it is time consuming. While I love spinning yarn and knitting up items, I'm not as fond of the flicking of fiber and skirting of fiber. J read about a way to make a fiber tumbler from a dryer. You only need the dryer to spin, no heat (heat will make the fiber felt). He found a dryer on Craig's list that was very cheap, because it only heated half of the time. Since we won't hook up the heat, it's perfect for us. Even more neat, it's a fairly new dryer (I was expecting an ancient dinosaur of a thing), so it's light (easy to transport home), and looks nice too. Not that it matters, it's in my fiber room:

We plugged the electric in so the dryer will run (tumble).  We did not vent it outside since it is not hooked up to heat (which for us would be propane), and because it is in a not quite finished part of our basement.  You could vent it outside and then the extra dirt and debris would go outside.  But if you do that, be sure to clean out your vent frequently.  We just let it vent into the room and I sweep it up frequently (that way there is less chance of a clogged vent).  Some of the debris goes into the lint trap, so I make sure to clean that out after every tumbling load.

To make it into a fiber tumbler, Rare Earth Magnets are glued to the end of nails (he used epoxy to attach the nails to the magnets).  Nails and epoxy were found at our local home improvement store.  The Rare Earth Magnets were the most expensive purchase for this fiber tumbler and those he had to find on-line and have mailed to us.

Epoxy is used to attach the nails to the Rare Earth Magnets and then placed inside the dryer at regular intervals:

That's it!  We load a batch of fiber in there, and tumble it for about 20 minutes.  Then it's ready to use.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I know we haven't had it as bad as much of the country, but we have had higher than usual temps. I've also noticed more higher humidity days. I can't think of a summer that we have run our air conditioning this much. Last summer we struggled to hit 80*, and here we are in the 90's (though the day I took this picture wasn't a higher humidity day):

The poor alpacas do not like hot and humid. They handle the cold better than the heat, their fiber is too insulating for this type of weather. And from what I've read, this is not weather typical to their native land.

I do wonder what effect the heat could have on them. I remember the first year we had alpacas it was a warm summer, and by the time the fall shows came around, many alpacas did not have enough fiber growth to meet the full fleece classes. The warmer temps actually slowed down the fiber growth rate (which makes sense from a nature point of view, if it's hot, they don't need the fiber for warmth). Makes me even more glad we are not going to a fall show until November. Our animals will have plenty of growth by then (they need 2 inches to qualify as full fleece). If we were going to any of the September shows, we would be quite concerned right now (I never want to show in shorn again, as I've blogged about in past posts). We also have noticed having to rebred more of our dams this summer. In the past almost all of them took on the first try. I don't know if that is due to the heat, or something else going on. But it makes sense to me, again from a nature point of view, that a pregnancy wouldn't take when conditions are rough.

To keep them cool, we have fans running in all the barns. We use the same fans we take to the shows. Here are the fans in the maiden's barn:

I hose them down a few times a day (even alpacas who in the past didn't want to be hosed down, have decided they like it after all). Here are our maiden girls with wet chests, bellies and legs from being hosed off:

They have the least amount of fiber on their bellies, and their chest is where they regulate their temperature. Cold water from the hose on those areas really cools down their entire body. Their typical routine after I hose them off is to go roll. Some of them will then go sun themselves! Others will head to the barn to cush in front of the fans.

I have a pool set up for Spot (the alpacas could use it too, but none of them are interested). Spot will get into the pool and splash around, but only on the really hot days:

A couple weeks back I ran out of DE (diatomaceous earth). I blogged about this wonderful product back in May. I had been using the DE to keep the fly population down (and other parasites). With this hot humid weather, we have had an explosion of flies. J's been on a stretch of working nights, and he has not been feeling well. I've been busier than usual at work, so neither of us have had a chance to get to the mill for more DE (it was very hard to find the DE to begin with, and the mill that does have it is a bit of a drive for us). I do have to say that the DE works amazingly, well worth the extra effort to find.

While it is hot and humid, I keep reminding myself that I dislike winter more than this weather. We live in an area that does not get much sun in the winter, I've learned to cheerish the sun. And it's a pain to put on several layers of clothing just to step outside. I really do love the sun and the warmth. I love stepping out back and seeing our cria pronk and play. Hosing them down is fun. The ladies especially love it. It's funny how their personalities show through when that hose comes out. Many of them will let me put the hose right on their belly. Some of them sniff my head while I hose them down. Some will squeal and push others away to get their turn. Rosco always jumps straight in the air when the hose water hits her, but she loves being hosed down. It's like a jump of glee.

Friday, August 13, 2010


It seems lately we've had several people we know have (or are expecting) babies. One day last week, J came home from work looking for a pair of booties and an infant hat he was sure were already made. He found the hat and one bootie. That's when I rememember that I made some booties last year, but one was bigger than the other. Then I made another one, and used that as a pair (with the one that matched it best in size), leaving one extra. This was the one he thought was a pair. He wanted to give the hat and booties to a co-worker who just had a baby.

He told me not to worry about it. He was on his stretch of working nights, and was headed to bed for the day. I had a busy day of things with the kids. J said he'd just give them the hat and that would be good enough. By the time I got the kid's issues settled, and we were back from our day's activities, it was almost 3:30p.m. J leaves for work at 6 p.m. - would I have enough time to knit up a pair of booties in that amount of time? I had yarn. But the pattern I had just found, I never know how a new to me pattern will work.

I enjoy a good challenge and decided to try. I knit both booties at the same time, since that's the best way to ensure they are the same size, and it's easier to keep to the pattern. (I've had some pairs that I knit up separate that ended up very different sizes, it can happen so easy).

I am excited to say that not only did I complete them in time, but I think they turned out cute (the cuffs can also be rolled down):

These baby booties were made out of Lightning's fiber. He has very soft, very incredible fiber, perfect for a baby. They knit up in no time and used very little yarn.

Email Hacked

It's horrible.

Our business email has been hacked into. This hacker has gotten into our business email and sent several people in our contacts list an email scamming for money. Thankfully the way it's worded and such, it is pretty clear to be a scam from the start (some of the ones I've read about seem like a genuine crisis which family and friends easily fall for, this one is pretty clear from the start to be a scam). But still, a scam email non the less.

If you are one of the family/friends/farms on our business contact list and got one of these emails, I deeply apologize.

I hate these things, and I am even more horrified that a scam is coming from our email. We are doing what we can about the situation. Hopefully it is all fixed now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blocking = washing

The last step in the knitting process is to block the item.

Not to long ago I read on a blog (link here) that blocking is really just like washing the garment. (the point was made that knitters who say they never block must block at some point because you eventually have to wash the item). I find that to be so true, that it's stuck with me. I like to block right after I finish the item because I find garments lay and fit better after they are blocked. And it really is the exact same process that is needed to wash the garment later on. (of note, the blog post I linked to, she does her blocking slightly different than I do, she blocks each piece then sews the garment together, I sew it together then block. I never thought to do it her way, I may try that next time, she made some good points to support her method. Either way will work).

After I knit up the infant sweater, I blocked it. I thought I would show the steps as a way to demonstrate how to wash these hand made products.

First I hand wash the garment. The important thing with alpaca products it to not agitate the item, or it can felt (so far I have not had anything felt on me, but supposedly this can happen easily). Using the washing machine's gentle cycle (as I often do with the store bought "hand wash only" items), would not work with alpaca products. That would very easily felt it. Instead, I use the kitchen sink. I'll break down the steps:

fill sink with a couple inches of warm water, add a little dish soap

put garment in the water, let soak for about 15 minutes

pull garment out, do not agitate or wring out

drain water

fill sink with warm water and NO soap

put garment in to soak for 10 minutes (repeat as necessary until soap is rinsed out). I find if I put a lot of water in the sink on this step, I only have to do this one time.

take garment out of the sink, drain water

using a large dry towel, lay the garment on the towel:

roll the garment into the towel, squeezing out water. I usually flip the garment over and use another towel. I do this several times in various directions. I try to get out as much of the water this way as I can.

lay the garment on a dry towel, shaping it in the shape is it supposed to be in (this will help it hold it's form), place somewhere it can sit overnight or for a couple days until fully dry


Obviously with this much involved in washing it, it's best to not wash these items that much. Thankfully hats and slipper socks (worn over regular socks) and scarves and outer wear sweaters don't have to be washed every time they are used.

Another good thing to remember is that these hand made knit items can get out of shape. Never hang them on a hanger, that will stretch them out. If they are a little stretched out, you can wash them in very warm water, shape them very well in the drying process, and it will help reshape the item back to what it is suppose to be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Baby Sweater

Just over a week ago, on Thursday afternoon, Zack suggested that I make a baby sweater to go with the baby hat I had just finished. He pointed to a pattern in a book I had, and told me how great this would be. I agreed. However, I didn't have enough of the contrasting color to start knitting it right away (of course this pattern calls for the contrasting color for the cast on), and the hat was being given away at a baby shower on Sunday, August 8th (a closer deadline than I like to start a project). This started my weekend of fiber, where I flicked fiber and spun fiber and knit it up. I finished the knitting throughout the week (by Wednesday, in plenty of time), and had it ready for the baby shower.

I started with the back of the sweater, here is the cast on:

Then the back completed:

It's a button down sweater so there are two front panels. I decided to knit them at the same time. I know to the experienced knitter this is common sense, but to a knitter who has only done this one other time, I felt like completing this part was an accomplishment.

It's tricky (to me) to keep the two balls of yarn from tangling. It also can be tricky when each side has different changes at different times in the knitted pattern. Thankfully these two front panels mirrored each other so the changes were on the same row, just opposite sides.

Then I knit up the two sleeves the same way, both at the same time.

The last part is to do the neck line, and sew everything together.

Ribbing along the neck line and down the front:

The front and back sewn together at the shoulder:

Sewing the sleeves on:

The last part was to sew on the buttons:

This was the first infant sweater that I've done. I knit a short sleeve sweater for myself a couple years back, but I've not done an infant one. I was impressed with how fast it knit up. It was fun to knit and I'm happy with how it turned out.

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