Monday, August 30, 2010

Missing Alpaca

Every morning as I grain the alpacas I count them and look them over. I see if they have anything unusual about them such as their gait or dull expression in their eyes. Yesterday I fed the girls and went over my routine mental check list. All was well. I carried the boy's grain to their paddock and as I placed the buckets on the fence I counted each one. 6 total. Huh? I should have 7 boys. I counted again. Then again. I took a deep breath and scanned the paddock. I walked the fence line to see in their shelter. Who was missing? I rechecked. Quito. My first born alpaca. He is a fawn and a little over a year old. I frantically searched the edges of the fence line. No Quito. I am thinking "Great. Someone has an alpaca on their lawn." I ran over to the girl's paddock and counted. Eight. Good. I searched their paddock and shelter. No Quito. I thought he might have escaped and ran over to this paddock to be with his mom.
O.K. Now I am panicking. Is he alone in the woods that surround our farm? Did he wander off and head down the road? I didn't know what to do so I called Sam. As I am explaining, calmly, that our alpaca is gone. I glance to a tree beyond the fence line and lo and behold there he is-Quito standing in the shade craning his neck to reach a leaf from the oak tree. I felt my stomach fall. Whew. I didn't see him there because he was in the shade where it is quite dark. I should have expected that he would not wander off. I guess I wasn't thinking clearly. Thankfully he is safe and back with his buddies Delphine and Goyo.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Owning Alpacas on a farm in Michigan

When I first brought my 6 new alpacas home I was inundated with questions from friends and family. Mostly I heard...What did you buy?? Then I was asked "Are you sure it is not too cold for them in Michigan?" " Or too hot?" "Or too seasonal?" "Or too...Or too?" No they are actually just fine in Michigan. They do well in cold weather. This must be due to the fabulous fiber they cart around 364 days a year. In early summer they are shorn so they stay cooler in the hot, humid, yuck weather. We have three sided houses in their pastures for them to seek shade. I actually think they are a well adapted animal to our Michigan climate. They seem to enjoy the 4 days of 90+ and then the sudden the drop to 72F for a few days. They don't even mind a beautiful sunny blue sky day and then blam! thunderstorm! In fact, I think they do better than we do. Overall alpacas are an even tempered, gentle spirit. They are contented to eat grass, roam around in their pasture, seek shelter when needed and spit when grain is delivered.
I love their serenity. I love to sit on my front porch and watch them graze or to see the crias prong about. Now that the we have owned alpacas for several years we are more apt to get questions like "When is the next cria coming?" or "Can I come and help shear?" or "Do you have any more of that rose gray fiber?"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Plying alpaca with cotton thread

I was really excited to spin my new roving that I had processed at Morning Sun Fiber Barn in Iowa. The rovings I received were blended from several of my animals (White Lace, Blazing Ben and Emmy). I decided to spin up a skein of the latte colored fiber. Spinning it was pure joy! It is so soft and smooth. I love the natural colors of alpaca, but decided to give this skein some color. I picked a blue cotton thread to ply with the two bobbins. I figured out each of my bobbins hold about 3 oz of pre-spun roving. This calculation helped me a lot as I was always having extra yarn on the bobbin. I had just enough cotton to complete the project. This skein is 110 yards.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Friday Fiber Arts Dyeing wool with Virginia Creeper

I have been wanting to dye alpaca fiber in virginia creeper for quite some time. Last week as I was walking a friend's dog along the road I found large vines of the native plant. I gathered a small plastic bag full and brought it home to test out.
Viriginia Creeper is a woody vine native to North America. It is a five leafed plant with toothed edges. It shouldn't be confused with poison ivy which has 3 leaves and smooth leaf edges. In the fall the foliage becomes red and purple berries emerge. The berries are poisonous to humans. The vine is prolific in Michigan and I easily found it right here in Ada. I have been waiting to dye with this plant for some time. I gathered only the leaves and chopped them into 3" pieces. The entire plant can be used, but I just used leaves this time. I had premordanted my alpaca fiber from White Lace in alum and the assistant cream of tartar. I placed the leaves in a big pot and filled it with cold water. I let the contents come to a simmer on low heat and remain at that temperature for 2 hours. I let the dye liquor come to room temperature. I strained the dye bath and pitched the leaves. I then wetted my alpaca roving in water the temperature of the dye bath and added the roving to the pot. I heated the bath/fiber to simmer and let it do a magical transformation for 1 1/2 hours. I turned off the heat and let the dye bath cool and sit for about 24 hours. I was going to leave it longer, but someone pulled the car into the garage and knocked the pot over! I then rinsed the roving in room temperature water and then a vinegar rinse to set the dye. I draped my beautiful salmon-pink alpaca roving over a hanger and let it drip dry in the laundry room. I didn't dye enough fiber to spin any large amounts of yarn, but I think I can make some wool balls or run some pieces through my homemade hackle with rose gray alpaca. Yum.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Chickens

We have been waiting patiently for our chickens to start laying eggs. I guess I didn't realize that 20 weeks in chicken age meant middle to late August for eggs. We started this summer off by purchasing 5 Bantams the first week of May. Unfortunately 2 passed away while Sam and I were in India. We ended up with 2 hens and one rooster. I wish we had recorded his crow as he stammered through learning how to be manly in the early weeks of his "teenage years." Now he crows quite well and quite often. He is a small rooster and does his best to control all the hens. The rest of the brood are comprised of Black Australorps and Rhode Island Reds. They are equally beautiful birds. They are larger than than the Bantams but that doesn't seem to deter Mr. Rooster.
In general BA and RIR are friendly chickens. Ours, however, are not because we did not spend time holding them or working with them when they were young.
We house the chickens next to the alpacas and have their own coop and pen that they roam around in. I give them kitchen scraps which they love. They enjoy fruit peel the most. Both Reds and Australorps are excellent layers with good dispositions. They both lay large brown I said we are waiting patiently.