Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring at last!

Here we are in mid April and even though we've had a few spring teasers, it still feels like winter most days - that would be the days it's not raining cats and dogs.  Around the farm, mud is a spring thing that just can't be avoided, but this year it's beyond what anyone should have to endure.  Spring is a busy time in so many ways.

So regardless of what the thermometer says, we are seeing more green grass, spring flowers and are getting prepared for all the outside work that late spring requires.  Gardens have been plowed and lettuce is planted - ironically on one of the deceivingly warm spring days that was followed by a coating of snow the next day.

Our pacas are full of fleece.  We have our first shearing day scheduled for next weekend.  For us, shearing isn't a one day event.  Most of the weekend in May are taken up by shearing.  This year we are having our first annual public shearing event on May 14th.  Anyone who wants to see how it's done is invited to join us and even lend a hand if they want.   We just hope that the temperature warms up by then.

Bebe checking out the chicken house - for the last time
Earlier in the month we got our first chicks here at the farm.  We have a lovely chicken house that was renovated by a previous owner and we are finally putting it to good use. 
27 chicks arrived early in April with another 25 coming early in May.  We are hoping to have lots of fresh eggs by early fall.  Our local farmer who sold eggs got rid of his chickens last fall, so we are anxious to have farm fresh eggs again. At least the chicks give me something other than the mud to look forward to.

Soon, we will be having our spring crias as well.  Last spring the breedings were spread out much more than I would have liked with our first baby arriving by the beginning of May and our last sometime last in June. 

The fall crias are all being trained by our wonderful 4H members.  Each week they come to visit and work with their animals.  All the babies are halter trained to lead and some are even doing obstacles like jumping jumps, passing through hula-hoops and walking over tarps and other scary things.  

The last thing I want to do is wish away the spring because before we know it it will be hot as blazes and we'll all be wishing for the cooler weather of fall.  Lets enjoy all the seasons as they come to us.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ready, Set, SHOW!

Spring is a great time of year for just about everyone.  The brown grass is turning green, the birds are chirping when you wake up and if you are lucky enough to live in the country, you might even hear the peepers at dusk.  On an alpaca farm, it’s an amazingly busy time of year.  Months before it’s time, we start thinking about shearing the animals.  The more animals you have, the longer it takes and when you do it like us (by ourselves) it takes even longer.  

But before the shearing, come the shows.  Alpacas are shown in several events.  The main event is the Halter Class.  In halter, the animal is judged on both conformation and fleece.  There are also Showmanship classes which judge the handler and how well they show their animal.  For fun, there is an Obstacle Course which shows the willingness of the animal to do things that maybe alpacas don’t normally do like walk up steps, go over a teeter totter or pass through a hula-hoop.  If you don’t want to take your animal to the show, you can show the fleece that was shorn the previous year.  The fleece is carefully sorted so that only the best or blanket remains.  It is judged on it’s uniformity, fineness, crimp & luster or sheen.

This weekend we are gearing up for our first show of the season, The VA Classic in Charlottesville, VA.  This is a fun show, not only are there alpacas, but also llamas.  It’s interesting to see how the cousins to the alpacas are shown, the interesting costumes they wear and how they can pull a cart.  

Virginia is only the first of the spring shows.  Next comes the grand-daddy of all alpaca shows, MAPACA.  In it’s 15th year, MAPACA is the country’s largest alpaca show and it’s held in our back yard!  The PA Farm Show Complex makes an excellent show site for over 1,000 alpacas and over 200 farms. 
I’m excited and honored to have been asked to judge the Fiber Arts and Skein Competition this year.  In a Fiber Arts competition, artisans submit handmade items which can be knit, crocheted, woven or felted.  Each is judged with like items and each grouping is broken down based on the experience the artisan has.  There is also a Skein Competition in which hand spinners submit their own hand-spun skeins of yarn.  Mills are also able to submit the finest examples of their work as well.

Finishing up the Spring Show Season (at least for us) is the PAOBA show in York PA at the Toyota Center.  It’s a thrill to be involved in such a great show.  I’ve served on the show committee for the past several years and it’s wonderful to be able to help host the event in my own home town.  We also have the halter, showmanship and obstacle courses as well as fiber arts and fleece.  We have also had a Fleece to Shawl exposition in which 2 or more teams create a shawl from raw fleece in an afternoon.  The shawls are then auctioned off for hundreds if not thousands of dollars and the funds are used for charitable contributions.

So the trailer is packed, the alpacas are as clean as they can be with all the rain we’ve been having and we are ready to go.

Wish us luck!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The yarn is here, the yarn is here!

You would think that with all the yarn I work with on a daily basis, I wouldn't get so excited about having some new yarn arrive from the mill.  This year it has been especially exciting because I committed myself to sorting through all of my fleece and getting it processed.  Too many bags of great fleece in the past have sat in the barn too long and acquired unwanted moths or in the basement and gotten damp and moldy.  

Fanci with her baby Fiona
I've been receiving batches all fall, just one or two at a time, but this week, I received the last 4 batches of yarn from the fiber of 2010.  We blended several fleeces for each batch and got some very beautiful mixes this time around.  The first was all our dark brown animals which let's face it, can be boring.  So I added in some white and now we have a tweedy, masculine yarn.  Our second batch was created with a base of Fanci, our girl with every color in her.  Because her base is gray, with some hints of brown, I felt it was safe to add Felippe's black fleece and some of Tootie's pretty light gray fleece.  Again, it looks like a very tweedy dark gray.

My biggest challenge is the medium fawn/light brown group.  There are a lot of animals of that color and I just don't love that much TAN.  So when I saw a huge bag of angelina at the mill, I was all about throwing some of that in.  So it is still tan, but there is a little sparkle in it.  While it's not easy to dye darker colors, you can obtain some of the prettiest results.  So taking this dark fawn yarn, I dyed it in dark blues, greens and purples and the results were fantastic!  While the pictures don't do the glitz justice, it looks great!

Take a closer look at all the yarns that we've had processed this year on our Etsy site, or better yet, take a drive out to the country to see them for yourself!