Alpaca Farmgirl

  (Fairhope, Alabama)
Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm
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Alpaca Bunny Smackdown

Napster alpacaIt started as a friendly competition among online Twitter buddies Kathryn and Lynn. They got to talking about whose fiber was finer (& perhaps better), Lynn’s adorable angora rabbits’ or Kathryn’s beloved alpacas’?

They decided that they would settle the matter once and for all by having an impartial judge, a master spinner, spin a sample of both fibers. Each participant sent a sample to "celebrity judge" Chris, who blogs here) for him to spin. They also sent samples to each other so they could spin the others’ fiber and comment on it. Chris has spun the fiber and knitted a sample square from each. The results will be posted this week on Fiber Arts Friday on the Alpaca Farmgirl Blog.

EnglishangoraRead Kathryn’s take on the smackdown here and Lynn’s here. We are awaiting our Celebrity Judge Chris’ results and his account of the Alpaca Bunny Smackdown this Friday. I admit to stalking him contacting him in order to get inside scoop. He’s not talking so bugging him to death asking him about it won’t work.

This week on AlpacaFarmgirl we are celebrating both alpacas and bunnies, the animals and their fiber. We are hearing from both the rabbit camp and the alpaca camp. We’re giving away fiber, yarn and more so check with us each day this week. Tune in Friday for the unveiling of the judges results on the Fiber Arts Friday Blog Carnival, where you can also link your own fiber-related blog posts.

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Alpaca Shearing Day

mark

We shear the alpacas once a year. Since we do a large number (77 this year), it works best for us to have a professional shearer come in and to do it all in one day. Our shearer is Mark Loffhagen who lives in Colorado. Mark and his team travel around the USA and shear over 7,000 alpacas a year. Each year he brings a “head man”. This year it was Jason from Wisconsin. The head man is Mark’s right hand man and moves the alpaca into the different positions as Mark shears. Jason also trimmed teeth and worked some ropes.

stevecaesar

I thought I’d walk you through what happens here at Fairhope Alpacas on shearing day. We start with white animals, then light fawn (pictured above), darker fawns, browns, greys, and blacks are last. This keeps the fleeces from getting contaminated by darker colored fibers.

This year we used a blower to blow all the excess dust off the fleece before we brought the alpacas inside for shearing. We did NOT blow the fleeces that we intend to show as that would disturb the natural architecture of the fleece. However, I want to utilize the rest of my fleeces for my fiber biz this year so I decided to try getting the dust out before we sheared. (We will also process last year’s show fleeces this year.) To begin, the animals are walked in, by color (above).

shearingbig-picture

Our shearer uses ropes to stretch out each alpaca. This restraint keeps the animal still, which helps to prevent them from getting cut during the shearing process. When we started shearing over 50, we began to use two stations. Notice in the background there is another station where another alpaca will be shorn. After the shearer is finished with one alpaca, he can quickly move to the next station to shear another one without having to wait for us to move that one, clean up, and bring him another one. This makes the process run more smoothly and enables us to shear up to 100 alpacas in a day. Though today we only had 77 to do.

macropes
The ropes are put above their feet, and the rope man pulls them to the proper amount of tightness so that the animal is comfortable, yet cannot flop around and injure itself. Above is Mac, working the ropes. (Mac is the greatest - be sure to stop by his blog)

steverp

Steve snuggles up with Rose Point as she awaits her turn.

Andy trims toenails

Above, Andy trims toenails.

While the alpacas are restrained we take care of other herd health measure such as administering any shots that need to be given and we trim the teeth and toenails on those alpacas that need it.

bagtableThe bags we will be putting the fleeces into are labeled prior to shearing day.  We owe a huge thank-you to Jodi for doing this! Clear plastic bags are preferable, often we purchase shredder bags from an office supply store. Each alpaca has a bag for it’s prime or blanket fleece. This is their best grade of fleece and is what is used for next-to-skin products. Then we have a bag for their seconds, usually neck fiber. It is usually a bit shorter and can be a bit more coarse than the blanket. Last is the thirds which is the belly, lower legs, and the rest of the fibers. This fiber is usually the most coarse and can be used in rugs and other products that don’t have to be very soft.

Each alpaca also has its own ziploc bag where we put a 2" x 2" sample that comes from the mid-side of the blanket fleece. We send this sample to Yocom McColl for testing. The test results will tell us how fine the fiber is, how uniform it is, and how much variation there is in the sample. In the picture above, don’t miss the weeds flowers the kids brought me during shearing. They’re sweeties.
shearingpcycloneHere Pink Cyclone is being shorn. The lovely ladies in the picture are the fiber crew (left to right: Jodi, Carmie, and Sarah of Sierra Echo Accoyo Alpacas.) They help pick up the fiber as it comes off the animal and put it into bags. Merci Beaucoup!

marystation

Then the bags were handed to Mary for weighing. Mary is a wonderful spinner who is always helpful to us on the farm! During many of our Farm Events,  she and Mac can be found conducting spinning demonstrations and even giving spinning lessons. The white bundles on the table (pictured above) are our show fleeces.

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Fiber Arts Friday

felted alpaca

Welcome to Fiber Arts Friday!

If you have a blog post or a webpage that highlights your Fiber Artwork, we want to see it! All you have to do is post your link in the Mr.Linky widget here. Then visit the other sites listed and leave comments on their blogs.

The goals of the Fiber Arts Carnival are to promote Fiber Arts, showcase your work, increase your web traffic, and inspire others! Please join us every Friday for this fun blog carnival.

 If you have any questions, contact Katy at katy-AT-alpacafarmgirl.com

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International Year of Natural Fibers 2009

alpaca fiber

The United Nations designates International Years to draw attention to major issues and to encourage international action to address concerns.  The objectives of the International Year of Natural Fibres 2009 include:

1.    Raising awareness and stimulating demand for natural fibers and improving  the lives of those growing natural fibers.

2.    Encouraging innovations in natural fibers and they way they are used.

3.    Fostering an effective and enduring international partnership among the various natural fibers industries.

4.    Promoting the efficiency and sustainability of all the natural fibers industries.

The UN defines natural fibers as “those renewable fibers from plants or animals which can be easily transformed into a yarn for textiles”.  Since the 1960s, the use of synthetic fibers has increased, and natural fibers have lost a lot of their market share. The main objective of the International Year of Natural Fibers is to raise the profile of these fibers, to emphasize their value to consumers while helping to sustain the incomes of the farmers.

Natural fibers contribute to a greener planet. They are healthful, comfortable, renewable, high-tech, and most importantly, NATURAL.

In a letter to AFCNA members, Dianna Jordan, President of AFCNA (The Alpaca Fiber Co-0p of North America) writes, “These are exciting time for alpaca fiber producers.  The alpaca industry is beginning to experience a shift in focus from strictly breeding and selling to exploring new ways, and expanding existing ways, to grow the fiber industry.  Current economic conditions have shown to be an incentive for many breeders to take a closer look at the fiber end of the business.  There appears to be an increased interest in utilizing fiber production as a means to offset expenses.  More and more alpaca breeders are discovering what AFCNA members already know…the future is in the fiber.”

For more like this visit AlpacaFarmgirl!

 
 

Interview with Maine Alpaca Farmgirl Cindy Lavan

Cindy and Time Lavan with alpaca, corgi, and son

Once a month Alpaca Farmgirl will feature an interview with an interesting Alpaca Farmgirl. Visit this site to read about a variety of inspirational women in the alpaca industry.This month our interview is with alpaca breeder Cindy Lavan who lives in Bowdoin, Maine. Cindy and her husband, Tim, have been raising alpacas for 15 years. They have two sons who have grown up with their alpacas. As a Southern girl, I am in awe of a woman so tough that she could raise livestock in Maine! Cindy and her family do almost all the farm work. In this interview we will learn what it’s like to care for alpacas through Maine winters, how she and Tim have invested for their sons’ financial futures through alpacas, her thoughts on how the economy will affect the alpaca industry, the large role alpaca fiber plays on their farm, and more!

Q. Whose idea was it to raise alpacas, you or Tim? And how did you hear about them?

A. It was actually Tim’s idea initially. He was reading an article in the USA Today newspaper during lunch and brought home the article. I was taking graduate classes and working at a local university. I was consumed with finals and work so he contacted AOBA (the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association) to learn more. Remember this was before the Internet so we had to talk to people over the phone. We never really saw the alpacas themselves in person for quite some time. This was while we were working in Washington, D.C. and lived on Capitol Hill. Not really the perfect habitat for these lovely creatures. While D.C. is a great place to live, it’s not where we wanted to raise a family, let alone run a farm and business.

Q. A few years ago when my twins were young and I was struggling, I asked you, “How do I do all the farm chores, watch the kids, and keep the house all at the same time?” You told me to “Forget the house.” That advice has saved my sanity many days. Any other shortcuts or advice on “the daily stuff” that you can share with us?

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