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Posts Tagged ‘alpaca fiber’

It is breeding season at the ranch. As we select the ladies to breed the guys line up at the pen gate hoping they get the opportunity to enhance the herd with their genetics. At Missouri Alpacas we breed for quality grey fiber which means we try to choose a dam and sire that will have the best possible chance of producing grey crias (baby alpacas).

When you introduce a male to a female alpaca she will either cush, letting the male know she is ready to breed, or she will run, kick and spit. The latter is a definite “I don’t want to have anything to do with you!” Depending on the time of day it is, you could see a frustrated male covered in green spit. Not a pretty sight.

We use a blood test to check our females for pregnancy; some ranches use a “spit test”. A pregnant female will “spit off” the male and not allow him to breed her. Not completely accurate but a good indication that a cria is on its way. Spit is a defense mechanism for the alpaca and signals that something is happening they do not agree with.

So when someone asks me “Do alpacas spit?” I say “Yes, but not usually at people.” An alpaca will spit at another alpaca for various reasons other than breeding: you are too close to their feed bucket, in their space or they just have a bad attitude right now. Most of the time if I get spit on it is because I am in the cross fire of the event. Once I opened the side barn door just in time to get the effect of one alpaca mad at another alpaca – wrong place at the wrong time.

Now don’t get me wrong, if I make an alpaca mad, by trying to get it to do something it does not want to do, I could get spit on. I have one alpaca that will wait until I am finished with the chore (usually trimming nails) then will turn around and try to spit at me after I take the halter off. I know the deal so I try to stay out of the way. I have to give her credit for her effort. She definitely tries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have a sign hanging in the barn, Spit Happens, because sometimes it just does.

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No matter how much planning we do or how well organized we are or how good our volunteers are, if we do not have a great shearer we are in trouble. Fortunately we have a GREAT shearer.

Eddie has been shearing our alpacas since we started raising them in 2005. Actually, Eddie is the only one who has sheared our alpacas. Besides loving his Australian accent and his wit, I appreciate the fact that he comes when he schedules, he is prepared and professional and he knows what he is doing. Eddie never fusses about us having new volunteers each year. He quickly gets them up to speed on what he needs them to do and is patient when they lose focus or get distracted. When we make a request for a show blanket to be cut or ask that he please not trim the top knots too much he just goes with the flow and gets the job done as requested. Most important, I don’t think there is anyone who is more caring of the alpacas than Eddie is. I have never had an alpaca miss treated by him no matter how rowdy or obstinate they may be. We do have a rule that the alpacas are not to spit on the shearer and most of the time the alpacas follow that rule. When the job is done we pack up, head to lunch and have a great time catching up on news over the year. On or away from the shearing mat, Eddie is the best!

We have been going through this process for over 10 years now. The first couple of years we took our alpacas to a neighboring ranch, now we do the shearing in our own barn. I pull out my list of things to do and begin the process.

  • Send out an email to gather volunteers to help. (We could not do this job without these wonderful people)
  • Assign tasks to the volunteers. (Try not to over work the help)
  • Print pen signs to identify the alpacas. (Not everyone knows them by name like I do)
  • Find the list of things we need to gather for the barn. (We try not to forget anything)
  • Prepare the food list. (Must feed the volunteers after we are done shearing)

If everything lines up correctly then we have a smooth running, fun filled event.

When shearing season comes we never dread it. We do our part to get the alpacas and ourselves ready and Eddie does his part. We appreciate and respect each other and each year it is a pleasure to meet up again. We now head into shearing season for 2015.

Thanks Eddie and to all of our volunteers who give up their time to make this job easier.

ShearingShearing Blanket Volunteers  Uh Oh

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I attended my first fiber show of the 2012 season. Before I started raising alpacas, I didn’t realize how much fiber is produced in the United States. Quite a bit of it comes from small farms. Attending the show were owners of sheep, goats, rabbits, llamas and alpacas. The sheep market alone has many varieties. Owners come to fairs all across the nation to display and sell their wool. It can be bought in raw form, (right from shearing) roving (carded and ready to spin) or yarn. It can be natural or dyed. There is no limit to the colors and choices.

In this environment you will discover crafts and arts, that some may think have passed away, but are very much alive. Spinners are in abundance; using both the drop spindle and the spinning wheel. Tatting, lace making, embroidery, weaving, knitting and crocheting are all still perpetuated by those who love the craft and love creating beautiful pieces of art from scratch. The crafters cover many generations with ages in the single digit to those in their nineties. There are no age, gender or color barriers with this group.

Alpaca fiber is called “the fiber of the gods”. It is told that the harvested alpaca fiber of the finest quality could only be worn by the Incan royalty. Alpaca is stronger than mohair, finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton. It has the ability to provide great warmth without the weight of wool. It has no lanolin which helps it to stay clean and provides and alternative for those who are allergic to wool. Over 22 natural colors are created by the alpacas, and because it is a natural fiber, it can also be dyed.

Natural Colors

I have the pleasure of raising a herd of alpacas, and each year we harvest this wonderful fiber. I send most of our fiber to a mini-mill in Kansas for processing. I like using the mill because I get my own fiber back. Part of our fiber is made into yarns and part into roving. I try to get an assortment of both for my customers and of course myself. Quality is always my priority. I want the person who uses my alpaca fiber to be pleased and return for more.

Missouri Alpaca Herd

At the fiber fair I bring in my selections to compliment all the other fiber being shown and sold. I usually take my spinning wheel or crochet to work with while I am there. I love, not only meeting other fiber artists, but learning new things from them. What a wealth of knowledge is out there. I get to talk with so many interesting people. I am pleasantly surprised when I find someone who spins or knits, though they don’t look the part. I met a man knitting socks once. I shouldn’t pre-judge but I just didn’t expect it.

So, the next time you wrap up in your favorite shawl or scarf, put on that special hat, or pull out your afghan or lap throw, consider the hands that may create it. Nestled away in your city, town and neighborhood are extraordinary people, living a simpler life in an over technological world. I am so thankful for them and their skills and to be a part of this community. May they continue to pass on their art and our heritage.

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