Monday, April 27, 2009

Surprise shearing

It's been hot around here. Absurdly hot for late April. That's why we agreed to go ahead and shear the alpacas yesterday. Devi and the alpacas that live on the farm where I board her all got sheared yesterday, rather than the scheduled shearing day of May 9th. Devi did very well, aside from refusing to follow on the halter. She had to be carried to the shearing mat, but she didn't scream or spit during shearing. She struggled against the ties a couple of times, but that was it. Maybe she realized how much better she felt once all that hot fiber came off. I got to reap the benefits. I don't know the shearing weight, but her fiber is a lovely bay black with a nice staple length and wonderful fineness. I can't wait to spin it! There is also plenty of seconds and thirds to be sent off and turned into a rug or something. Alpacas look so funny after shearing, like little aliens with skinny little necks. It's very cute. I'm looking forward to watching her fleece grow out again over the next year.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

CT Sheep and Wool Festival

CT Sheep and Wool Festival is an annual event where fiber enthusiasts from throughout our state and the surrounding area come together to sell their products, spin, knit, crochet and do whatever fibery things they love to do. Some vendors even bring animals. There were alpacas, llamas, angora rabbits, and of course, sheep.

I got to watch a sheep shearing (the first I've seen in person), and I must say, I was a bit startled by the process. First of all, it was amazing that the young woman doing the shearing could get a 250 lb sheep on the ground and then sitting up right on it's bottom so she could shear it. There was definitely something mesmerizing about watching the fiber come away from the animal, but I was a bit surprised at how nicked and cut the sheep were afterward. They were shorn almost to the skin, and many had cuts and razor burn afterward. Thank goodness alpaca shearers are much more careful and leave a bit of fiber (I think about 1/4 - 1/2 inch). Alpacas also get tied down during shearing, but these sheep were not tied. They were sat down, and moved this way and that. Some tried to struggle a bit, but gave up. I felt a bit bad for the sheep, but I did take advantage of the shearing by purchasing 2.5 lbs of raw Romney fiber. I have processed raw alpaca, but not sheep fiber, so I decided I would give it a shot.

Romney fiber

I also got to watch the sheep dog trials. I thought it was amazing. The dogs were so intent on their jobs. I'm a firm believer that all dogs need a job, and need to have their energy drained in a positive way, so watching herding dogs being used for what they are bred for was even more awesome for me.

Meanwhile...back at the apartment....
Remember this alpaca? I received her fiber from my mentor farm.

I dyed it and carded the dyed fiber into rolags. Half of that fiber has now become the 250 yards of 2-ply yarn shown below. The other half is in the process of being carded. I dyed it red, orange and yellow, and I'm blending with the hand carders like I did for the yarn below. I'm going to spin this new color blend as worsted weight singles. I dyed all of the fiber using regular food coloring found in the grocery store. I had to blend red and blue to get the purple, but the blue and green are not blended.

Oh, remember when I was wondering about why wool carders aren't the best to use on alpaca fiber? Well, I learned the hard way that cotton carders are the best bet. I found that the alpaca fiber carded on wool carders was breaky and knotted, while the fiber I carded on the proper hand cards (the fiber pictured above) was lovely to spin with. I tried the wool cards on some chocolate brown cria fiber (pictured in a previous post). It still spun up nicely, and is now becoming a lace tam. Moral of the story: Do your research. I got my own set of Strauch cotton hand carders at the festival today. Coincidentally, they are exactly the same as the set lent to me by my mentor farm.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Moving day!

Sunday was the big day, and it went very well. Devi is now living at her new home - an alpaca farm much closer to where I live. She rode in a mini van for about an hour without much fuss, although she had to be lifted into it. She arrived at her new home around noon, and was in with her new herd mates within a few minutes. She hummed a bit when she got out of the van, but settled quickly once the halter was removed. She met a young male alpaca, Jollimon, who is close to her age, and way too excited about having another weanling around. He was following her around and getting a bit too close for Devi's comfort. She let him know the rules with a couple of good kicks (her kicks hurt. Ask me how I know), and a couple of spits too. I've never seen her spit before. Within half an hour she was grazing with her herd mates. Her ears were down occasionally, but when the girls in the adjoining paddock approached the fence she showed interest, greeting them with alert ears and a submissive lift of the tail. It's amazing how adaptable alpacas are. They really are remarkable creatures. I don't think things could have turned out better. Devi is adjusting nicely, and I get to see her much more often. The family who owns the farm are my alpaca angels. Without them I either wouldn't have alpacas or my alpacas would be very far away. Alpaca, singular, I should say. I've decided to get a second animal soon, but it will be a pet quality fiber animal. I'm going to focus large amounts of dollars on saving for land, but I do want a second animal so I can have the fiber, and so both of my animals will be bonded as herd mates already when I finally do get a property (sometime in the next eleventy billion years or so).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Charter Oak Alpacas Fiber Studio!

I haven't posted in quite a while, but things have been busy. However, Charter Oak Alpacas (yup, that's my farm name) Fiber Studio has been running in full swing. I finished spinning up that bay black cria fiber and got about 350 yards of nice light fingering two ply that will be a tam soon. (Pics to be posted.) I finished washing the beige fiber I was given by my mentor farm. I divided and dyed it into six different colors using food coloring and my dye pot. It was too much fun. It was at it after work each night for a few days, and got some nice results. The purple, green, and blue were blended using hand cards into rolags that are spinning up into a nice sea green with blue and purple highlights. I plan to ply the singles so the colors can accent each other more. I think I'll call it seaweed. The red, yellow, and orange are being blended with hand cards too. I plan to spin those rolags into dk weight singles after I'm done with the seaweed yarn. They look like fire in rolag form, so I think that yarn will be called forest fire.

Meanwhile, Devi will be moving to her new home on Sunday. She's weaned now and doing great, although apparently it was a bit stressful for my mentor farmers. They have been awesome. I went up there last weekend to try to work with her in the catch pen. I failed, but she was great. She calmed down more quickly. I just kept getting nervous. I need to work on that Dog Whisperer-esque calm-assertive energy. I discovered she has a major food motivation though, so I think I'm going to try clicker training her like I do with my cats.