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Posts Tagged ‘alpaca’

Gray skies, cooler temperatures, brisk winds … it is the season for alpaca. Time to pull out the socks, scarves, head bands and hats made from the soft, wonderful wool that keeps me warm and makes it bearable to work outside in the winter. Living on a ranch and working with livestock means I am outside every day. I often joke that the only one cold in the barn during the winter is the shepherd. The alpacas are clothed in warm fiber and hardly notice.

This is also the time of year I can share my joy of alpaca with hundreds of other people who may not have either heard of alpaca or felt this luxurious wool. During the year I spend time crocheting scarves, head bands and hats to be sold at craft fairs in surrounding communities. Packing those items, as well as yarn from our alpacas, I head off to peddle my wares. I love letting people experience this unique wool.

Scarf_20150305h

I always display the scarves so they are at a convenient place to be touched. Alpaca loves to be touched. People will reach out and feel the scarf then turn and say, “I had no idea it was so soft”. I will see them turn to the person they are with and say, “You have to feel this!” These comments always make me smile because I know how wonderful alpaca feels. I then get to share so many of the other qualities it has:

  • soft as cashmere but more durable
  • no lanolin so it does not attract dust or dander
  • lighter weight than wool yet warmer by weight
  • water repellent and flame retardant

My wool is all natural, there are over 22 different color alpacas. Colors range from white to black and everything in between. I breed for grey and my yarn display has multiple shades of grey. I let my visitors know that if they can knit or crochet they can choose their yarn and make something themselves. For those who cannot there are always my items available for them.

If you are out and about this season of the year, stop by a craft show and enjoy the handmade items of the talented people living all around you. You may be surprised what you will find.

OIW2015 (4)

Visit our Etsy shop … http://www.etsy.com/shop/MissouriAlpacas

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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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When people come to visit our alpacas, whether they are considering buying or not, I usually hear this question; is it hard to sell them? Meaning, can you really part with them? The answer is “yes” and “no”.

When you go into a business where you are breeding and raising animals, no matter what type they are, you have to decide if you are willing to sell them. Seeing an alpaca being born and watching it grow day by day forms an attachment to them. Each one has its own personality and character and they can often touch your heart in a special way. Those large eyes just draw you into their soul.

In the last 10 years we have only had to help birth one alpaca, Electra. Her head was turned back and she could not come through the birth canal. After working with her for a while she finally arrived and thrived. She gets treated a little gentler than other alpacas. Then there was Jasper who was premature and we had to make sure he was getting enough to eat so he would gain weight. He also survived those times. Even these two we are ready to release to new owners.

The thing that makes the answer to that question “no” is we have always had good, caring people become the owners of our alpacas. Some, I believe, have even gone to a better ranch then ours as they received more attention and had all the grass they could eat. I love it when the new owners have children because children and alpacas react so well with each other. Watching a child’s face light up when an alpaca moves in to say hello is wonderful. It doesn’t matter if the child is 2 or 17 the smile is the same. The alpaca learns to trust the child and the child learns to care for something that needs them.

We want to not only find good homes for our alpacas, but we want to see the alpaca industry grow and continue to expand in the states. There is a large demand for alpaca fiber and we are not currently able to meet that demand. We need more people raising and breeding these wonderful animals so we can continue to expand the product lines. The quality and fiber traits make alpaca ideal for so many items. Alpacas need very little acreage to graze on, a shelter to get out of the elements, fresh water and hay in the winter months. They are gentle and easy to care for and I think they are therapeutic. Introducing people to alpacas and the alpaca industry is one of the most satisfying reasons we raise them.

So, is it hard to sell my alpacas? Not when everything is right.

Providence&Destiny

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Have you ever gotten one of those Christmas cards showing a house surrounded by snow? The windows are lighted and you feel like you are standing in the distance looking in. You know it is cold outside where you are standing and the house looks so warm and inviting. That image comes to mind on these cold, dark winter mornings when I am out working in the barn.

My day begins before sunrise. I turn the barn lights on so I can see to clean and feed the alpacas. Before I leave them I will often take some hay out into the pastures for them to eat on during the day (providing there is no snow or rain in the forecast). As I turn to head back to the barn I see the lighted door openings; it looks so inviting. Not as warm as that Christmas home but a bit warmer then standing out in the pasture.

I sometimes stop, look up into the starry sky and think how fortunate I am. Yes, the mornings can be very cold and cleaning up muck is not glamorous, but spotting Mars, Venus or even Jupiter and a familiar constellation is remarkable. On mornings like today I even get the splash of color across the sky as the sun begins to come up, it makes the cold a little more bearable. The hum of the alpacas always reminds me that the effort is worth it. So, until spring arrives, I will bask in the warm glow of my barn.

Basking in the warm glow of the barn.

Basking in the warm glow of the barn.

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A couple of years ago I started to notice an unusual (to me) bird in our alpaca pastures. It made a lot of noise and did more running around on the ground then flying. I grabbed my Missouri bird book and discovered the Kill Deer. They have very distinct markings so they are easy to identify. I then discovered that they lay their eggs on the ground, usually amongst a small cluster of rocks. They don’t build a nest; just lay them in a hollowed section of the grouping. The eggs are almost the same color pattern as the rocks so you have to really look to find them.

The problem with laying eggs in the alpaca pastures is that the alpacas are continually moving around the pasture grazing. Usually the older alpacas will avoid the eggs but the crias (baby alpaca) haven’t figured that out yet. As the crias are exploring and romping around the pasture they sometimes get too close for momma bird’s comfort. When this happens a series of events and antics begin.

One of the birds, they usually guard the eggs as a pair; will start making a lot of noise to sound the alarm. She/he is probably screaming, “Get away from my nest!” Of course alpacas don’t speak Kill Deer so they haven’t a clue what is being said. The crias think the bird wants to play so they are more than willing to participate. The bird will try to draw the cria away by leaving the nest in hopes that she will follow. If that doesn’t work then the second diversion is started. The Kill Deer will spread out its wings and tail feathers, revealing a yellow coloring, meant to draw attention to itself. As the cria draws closer the Kill Deer will keep moving away from the eggs. The third diversion is known as the “broken wing” scenario. The Kill Deer will throw one wing out to the side and flap it as if it were broken; demonstrating that it is an easy prey. Again as the predator – cria – approaches it moves farther away.

I was taking a break from chores and noticed one of our new crias, Quibble, encountering one of these nests. Knowing what was to follow I watched the process with a grin on my face. After several minutes the cria finally lost interest and moved back to the herd. I am sure the Kill Deer was relieved and a little tired of the whole thing.

I’ll Play!

Nature has such a wonderful way of protecting itself. Sometimes it provides comic relief to the spectator as well.

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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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