Friday, February 25, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Still Life - Leah's Fleece

Day 2 of Leah's fleece drying after being washed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Down and Dirty of Alpaca Farming

There have been some stories in the media lately (particularly Fox News) about alpacas. Stories from commentators who really don't get it and have decided that their story is about how alpaca farmers get tax breaks and "subsidies". What you see above is the down and dirty of alpaca farming. We raise fleece. And in less than 3 months, I will have over 100 pounds of fleece to process. It has to be sorted, washed, picked, carded and spun into an end product. This is what having a "productive farm animal" (that's what the IRS calls it) is all about--the end product. I'm guessing John Stossel's dining room doesn't look like this.
I must take this opportunity to clarify for any of our gentle-readers who have been subjected to the recent onslaught of alpaca stories, that alpaca farmers do not get subsidies. It would be nice, but that is just not the case. We get to handle our business in the same manner that any other business does. If we buy a water bucket, it is treated as an expense to the business. If we sell a shawl, it is income. We collect and remit sales tax. We purchase hay and grain from other farmers as well as support cooperatives in Peru who make products we cannot manufacture. Those are the facts. We just want to keep it real here, and despite all of the hype you may hear from Associated Press and Fox, this is a down and dirty farm business. And that's just the way it is, Son.

In the process of sorting the fleece, you need to pick out the dreaded "second cuts". These are little bits of fleece that are nipped away during the shearing process creating little blobs of fleece that will create nasty nubs in your yarn as it is processed. They must be picked out and discarded.
On the positive side, one can sit and sort fleece and catch up on some mindless TV. This is what I did from 11AM to 4PM today. I was able to get through Duende's fleece (4.1 lbs), Leah's fleece (3 lbs.) and Cassandra's fleece (1.4 lbs.), plus 1.6 pounds of coarse fleece that will be made into felt for tote bags. Fashion and lovely fingernails are just not happening here.
While I was hunched over bags of fleece, the Farmer was trying to untangle a warp for the next set of alpaca rugs. (Want one? Go here...

His persistence paid off.

Despite my grumbling about the bad rap alpaca farming has been getting, we wouldn't trade it for the world.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Weird sky at 7AM. This is the sky of "impending doom". Necessitating some chores involving driving around the countryside and spending money. Lord knows that if you don't get your "stuff" before the storm comes you'll be in a whole heap of trouble. Now I'm not talking milk and bread here (did that on Thursday). I'm talking about a trip to the feed mill in Fivepointville.
Fivepointville is a little hamlet in the northern part of Lancaster County that doesn't have much to it. A tiny little town with (you guessed it) five roads that come together with stop signs at each. In the unlikely event that you meet another vehicle at the "points" (car or horse and buggy) politeness prevails and everyone waits patiently until it is their turn to cross over.

The winter weather has caused much havoc at the barn. Thirteen alpacas with nothing to do but eat and s&*t. And to make matters worse, there is nowhere for them to actually "go" except in the stall on the rubber stall mats creating a swill of bodily fluids that are difficult at best to manage. Enter an amazing product...wood bedding pellets. These little buggers suck up wee-wee like no tomorrow. They are a little pricey, $11.50 for 2 bags. We went through 40 pounds in a little over a week. Then the ice storm came and then the rain came. And the water poured into the barn making a sort of pond in one of the only areas the four male alpacas can hang out. Thirty minutes and a shop vac and we were able to get up the bulk of the water, put some pellets and straw down. A total mess. But the pellets are making things manageable and it is worth the expense for at least some semblance of sanitation.

Good's Feed Mill is one of those places that time forgot. A store that has many things all in one place. Besides providing a valuable service to local farmers for feed and medical supplies, it's one of those places that you can get a Coke across from the horse liniment and a Reese's peanut butter cup next to the bird suet. How can you go wrong with a shopping experience like this.
Across the parking lot is where the feed, wood shavings and pellets live. A Plain girl at the counter asks me if I told anyone outside what I wanted. I told her no. She rang me up and a strapping young man walked in for lunch and she asked him to get me two bags of pellets. "The van?" he asks. How did he know? Maybe I look like a soccer mom or maybe it was the straw peeking out from the hatch door. Either way, he hoisted 80 pounds into the back and shut the door. Where do you get service like that?

Right around the corner from the feed mill is the shopping Mecca of Fivepointville. Weaver's Store (also known as Weaver's Dry Goods... "Dry Goods" stores are dotted all over Lancaster County and are kind of like the old corner stores I remember as a kid). Here you can get anything. Muck Boots, shoes, flannel nighties, canning jars, underwear and window shades. Seeing that Valentine's day is coming up I got the Farmer some slippers. They're lined with real sheep fleece and he says they feel like a "fuzzy hug". That's love, baby.

Be sure to watch where you park...