Another milestone this month. I finally took a spinning class. It was hard, but I got a taste of what it feels like and I want to continue. I don't have my own wheel; I'd read that it is better to try out a few wheels before purchasing. I found the class through a new yarn shop, The Irish Ewe, that opened up in our small town. I certainly hope the shop can last. Ours is a downtown that, once booming, now struggles to stay afloat.
She started by showing us how to card and to use a drop spindle. I was disappointed at first to not get right into using the wheel but it was a good education to understand the process better. She had sheep's wool for us to learn on. The fleece was unwashed and full of lanolin which felt great on my hands. Alpaca doesn't have the lanolin so it was a very different experience. I understand it is a bit more challenging to spin alpaca so it is good to learn on sheep's wool.
I was able to make a continuous thread, if you could call it that. But it was full of lumps and bumps. I kept having trouble with the tension and the wheel kept reversing. I am hoping I will get better the next time but I don't think I can do too many more classes as I start my teaching on Thursday nights and being out more than one night a week might be too much. My friend Dee Farr, who has far more time that she can devote to learning, tells me that she will continue with the class and teach me.
The wheels we used were Louette and Ashford. Our instructor Debbie Woolsey (can you believe her last name) says that she prefers Ashford because they are not quite as sensitive, but the Louettes are very popular.
Debbie bought Skye's cria fleece. I was glad, She is interested in more and I might be able to work something out with her for selling the fleece or finished yarn in the shop. There is an appeal to people to buy locally. The only alpaca yarn she has is from Peru. I could include a picture of the animal with the product. I started to weigh my fleeces over the holiday but didn't have a good scale for it so that needs to be my next purchase.
Anyway, I am thrilled to have finally located a class and I'll report back on progress. Ultimately it may not be for me but at least I will understand better what hand spinnning is all about.
January 23, 2006
Another milestone in this alpaca farming journey. We finally got our fleeces tested for the standard measurements from Yocum-McColl Testing Laboratory. One of the first things that surprised me was how quickly they sent us the results. I believe I sent them the samples from here on January 16. I received the results via email PDF files today!
The biggest pleasure was to confirm that Puella at the age of five has an Average Fiber Diameter (AFD) of 24.7. Her standard deviation, (SD) and co-efficient of variation (CV) are less than desirable, 5.8 and 23.5 respectively and 13.2 % greater than 30 microns. All of which means that she is relatively fine for a female with four crias (now five) but not very consistent.
What is also interesting is that last Spring when I asked Dawn Brooker of Fiber Fields Alpaca Farm to evaluate Echo, she estimated that his AFD was 22 microns. The histogram showed him at 21.8. Can't get much closer than that. Some day I hope to be that good at evaluating fiber.
Someone suggested creating a board to compare fiber diameters. I would keep a sample from the sample I send out, and paste it on the board. Then when I get the results back I can compare it to the one on the board and each other. Eventually, I would get better at being able to eye-ball it myself. I forgot that good advice when I sent these samples out. Oh well, there is always next year's shearing time.
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Welcome to our new website design. My son Charles is responsible for the layout and design work. We are lucky to have his talent!
We are busy planning our shearing day. In the past we have helped at Mt. Brook and used one table. It went well but we decided to invest in our own table, see if we can assemble a larger crew and get two tables going this year.
Dolores, who we purchased in November, is due May 1. In "cria watch" terms that means that it could be any day now. Hers will be the second cria out of Coyo Destini now that Marcia Macdonald owns him. As always, we are excited to see the results
A few changes on the herd scene. Echo is officially gelded. The more we learned, the more we saw, the less we thought he would be a good herdsire. One of the statistics batted around in the industry is "10% of males are potential herdsires." That's not many and Echo was definitely not one of them. Too much guard hair mainly. We decided to trade Angie for Andromeda. Angie opened up again this winter. Andromeda is due to Evander in September.
We were very pleased with Marcia Macdonald's success with Sugar Ray's first cria, Sugarcane. He just took first place at North American 2006. Puella is bred to Sugar Ray for a fall 2006 cria.
Sugar Cane and his fleece
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Shearing days were a great success. We assembled a team of five (and sometimes 4) and got 48 animals done in two short days and one long day. We are not sure how that stacks up against professional shearers but it felt pretty good to us.
We purchased an MSA Shearing Table from Jay Ward at Ward Lumber & Light LIvestock Equipment. Jay was great to work with, always quick to return emails and answer questions. This is the same table the Mingles use at Mt. Brook so it worked well.
We had two tables going at all times. While one animal was on the table being shorn, another was receiving procedures: toenails, shots and teeth. One person was holding the animal's head and helping with turning over, another was pulling off fleece and another was preparing shots or getting the next animal ready. It went quite smoothly. One of the keys was to have plenty of oil and extra blades sharpened and ready.
We have eight alpacas all together and a few that do not work on the halter well at all. Mingles loaned us their trailer but we still weren't sure how we would get the reluctant ones on. Dan showed us how to back the trailer up to their stall area, then using a panel, keep narrowing their space until the trailer is their only option. I never thought I would see Puella, our Peruvian import, jump right in, especially on the way home. It worked like a charm.
We are patiently waiting for Delores to have her cria. She was 335 days on May 1. Though we are anxious for her to have it, the weather has been cold and rainy for almost a week now. I'd rather wait until this wet, cold spell is over.
Skye's fleece is looking good! As one person said, "if you were a girl you would sell in a second!." The color is a soft caramel that just glistens. Great consistency and character as well. When Mystique's fleece came off, we felt like we needed sunglasses. Underneath all that cria fluff was a fleece of beautiful sheen.
We are still waiting for that May 1 cria. Dolores is at day 357 now. We had one go 361 days.
I wanted to share an experience I had with loss of hair on Echo's leg. We were referred by someone to read up on Mike Safely's "Witches Brew" and Norm Evans also has a formula for it. Hair loss can be attributed to possible mites or a fungus (along with zinc deficiency). Apparently, the "Brew" or "Camelid Skin Mix" has a little bit of everything in it--The hard part is looking at that intimidating list of ingredients and figuring out where to get them. Here is the formula according to Dr. Evans along with notes on what each thing is and where to get it.
10 cc Ivomec or Dectomec (Dewormer, available from Vet supply stores, we use Jeffers Livestock Supply.) [treats mites]
1000 mg Gentocin (available from Veterinarian. We got a solution of 100 mg per cc. Use 10 cc to get the 100 mg.) [antibiotic corticosteroid for infections that might result from the bites of the mites]
20 cc 1% Clotrimazole (this is "jock itch cream, available over-the-counter) in a drugstore [anit-fungal, not in Safely's Witches Brew but included in Evans' formula)
50 cc 90% DMSO Available at our feed store, Paris Farmer's Union. Comes in liquiid or cream. We used the cream but it think you could use either one. WEAR GLOVES. [helps the Ivermectrin penetrate the skin.]
90 cc Mineral Oil Available also in a drug store or even supermarket.
We actually used only 1/2 the recipe, used syringes to measure out the amounts and and used a wide-mouth glass jar to mix it up. Shaking didn't mix in the Clotrimazole but we used a 1" paint brush with the bristles cut short , to mush the Clotrimazlole and to paint it on. Echo kushed as we were putting it on but it didn't seem to hurt him or I would think that he would have jumped up. Half the recipe made plenty for several applications. Evans recommends every 48 hours for five applications.
We are also treating with double-dose (4 cc) of Ivermectrin, once a week for five weeks.
We'll let you know if it does the trick. His foot looks so ugly without the hair. Hopefully, it is not as bad as it looks. So far, after four weeks, he is the only one we noticed who got it.
UPDATE: 6/10/2006 Hair is growing back in but we noticed some hair loss on his front leg as well so we began treating it.
Cria Update, May 25, 2006 First Girl!
Finally on day 360, Dolores' cria decided to make an appearance. It was my theory that she was waiting for the wet and cold weather to be over--just a theory, no basis in fact. We had no warning; Dolores ate breakfast that morning as usual, did not spend inordinate amount of time over the poop pile or water bucket, had no visible lengthening of the vulva or other indications that we could see. About 12:15, Chuck looked out and there she was.
We are delighted to have a girl. This is the first girl and second cria of Coyo Destini now that he is owned by Marcia MacDonald.
She was a text-book birth, walking around in 15 minute, nursing within a 1/2 hour, running around within an hour. What a blessing! Dolores passed the placenta within an hour--right over to the poop pile and there it was. She is a wonderful mother, very attentive and the cria even had a milk moustache.
We will take her to the vet this morning for an IgG blood draw, registration blood and BVD. Hopefully we will take Mystique and Thunder as well since we hope to show them in the fall and will need it.
Ideas for names anyone?
Breeding, Spring 2006
This is the first time that I was able to be present for breeding. Marcia brought Sugar Ray to visit Dolores. It was a bit comical to see that he had not dressed at all for the occasion. For anyone who has followed the weather here in Maine this Spring, it has been rain and more rain. Sugar Ray was not looking his best.
At first in an open area (with Sugar Ray on a lead) , Dolores was not interested. She spit mildly. After a few minutes, we put her in a smaller area and she stopped running away quite so much. She stayed still long enough for Sugar to jump up on her and within in another few seconds she went down. I have taken pictures of the sequence below. He seemed to be able to manage to situate himself just fine. What surprised me is that even after 15 or so minutes of breeding, when he was done and got up, she went down and he mounted a few more times. None seemed as productive so we eventually just pulled him out of the pen. It took me awhile to understand alpacas and how they could breed for so long, but the male actually dribbles the ejaculate over a period of time--unlike a few other species.
We tried behavior testing with Skye to see if Dolores was bred, but he just didn't seem interested enough to know what to do so we determined the test "inconclusive." Marcia is bringing Sugar Ray back on Saturday to try again.
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Planning Open Farm Farm Day, July, 2006
We are participating in Open Farm Day for the first time this year. It is sponsored by the state and held July 23. They will list participating farms on their web page and in the newspaper. We have no idea how many people will visit. My friend Dee Farr will be spinning some of our fleece and our friends Bill and Darcy Winslow of High View Farm Belgiums will be giving wagon rides with our old draft horse Red. It will be so good to see him here again on the farm. Bill graciously offered to take care of Red after the fire and then after we got back in the house, we decided he should keep him. He uses him for plowing, wagon rides and other farm chores and here he just sat and looked very pretty!
One of the things not often discussed in beginning to market alpacas is the importance of upgrading your insurance policy to include liability insurance for the public being on the farm. Your homeowners policy will not cover commercial visits like farm visits and Open Farm Day. We signed up with Farm Family which is the company that many other alpaca owners use. They come well recommended.
One of the things I did over vacation that was tremendously satisfying was to buy my own hand cards. Now I know it must sound very tedious to hand card fleece but I found it the perfect activity for hanging out over the 4th of July, visiting with friends. In fact, it was a bit like Tom Sawyer painting the fence. When others saw me doing it, they wanted to try and before I knew it, we had a shopping bag of fleece all carded. I have continued to card in batches when I have a few minutes. It goes quickly and is much easier than I thought it would be. My friend Dee is spinning it for me. Though I took lessons, it required more concentration at the time than I was ready for and I didn't catch on right away. I still want to give it a try but not without having a wheel to bring home and work on.
So come visit and see the farm. Hope to have the fence painted by then!
Maine Open Farm Days, July 23, 2006
Open Farm Day has now come and gone and it was a success--a small one-- but one I enjoyed very much. As many other folks have said who decide to participate, it is a great way to get things done that you wouldn't do otherwise. The pasture got cleared of the last of the rubble, the fence got painted, the dirt mound flattened, the front porch cleaned off, the dooryard porch partially painted but enough to obscure the soot, even the old dog house my father built got a fresh coat of paint.
We hosted about 25 people, mostly local, all friendly, and several who hung around for a long time. We sold Thunder's "neck and legs" which someone told me I should never call that because it is softer than many blankets! One person raises sheep, both she and her two daughters spin and she works at an alpaca mini-mill so obviously she has access to lots of alpaca fiber--but she wanted some of Thunder's. I was quite flattered.
We had wagon rides with our old draft horse, Red. It was so good to see Darcy and Bill Winslow of High View Farm Belgiums. They seemed to enjoy the day as much as we did and it added a little something for visitors to do. They have a ride business and a beautiful farm to give wagon and sleigh rides year round. If you want a bonfire, they offer that too. Red looked great; and as much as I love the alpaca's big brown eyes, there is nothing like the eyes of that ol' guy to bring tears to my eyes. The family had lots of fun with him at one time.
We had a tent set up with my friend Dee Farr spinning and selling yarn, bracelets and hand-stamped cards. She makes beautiful creations! People were mesmerized watching her spin and her husband Kevin did some carding. We had Skye and Thunder on the lawn in a paneled pen which didn't thrill them but made it so people could get close to them. We had brownies and water for sale but we didn't sell much. One of the delights was seeing a friend I used to work with and to finally meet his wife. Steve had been so helpful after the fire.
So for next year here is what I would do differently: 1) get the directions proofread before I send them in [could have been why we didn't have as many visitors 2) Make the signs much bigger so that they attract attention, not just send someone the right way if they are looking 3) Get a scale that weighs in ounces. I was totally unprepared for selling fleece. The only fleece I had sold in the past they bought the whole thing. In this case, they only wanted about 1/2 a pound and I didn't have a scale that would register under a pound. We improvised by pre-loading the bag and then adding the fiber. Thank you Kevin! Another technique is to have it pre-bagged for ease.
But those things are minor and everyone was very good natured. So for those of you who were here and are reading this, thanks for coming. And for the rest of you, either visit a farm or host an Open Farm Day next year. It was a nice experience. And if you have questions or want to know what is involved, please call or visit. Now it is on to Maine Alpaca Open Farm Days October 28 and 29.
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September, 2006 Our first Win
I kept receiving notices about the Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA) fleece show. I had never sent fleece to a show before because it had all seemed too complicated. But during shearing, my friend encouraged me to submit Skye's fleece so I felt encouraged. The forms seemed pretty complicated, and it costs money but I was determined that afternoon to figure it out and get it done. I finally did. One of the complications was figuring out how to get the fleece back to me. I called the person whose name was the contact and he explained how it works with FedEx. We happen to have an account with them for our Shaker chair business so I was able to print off the form I needed fairly easily. I think it costs a little bit more but is also easy to do if you don't have an account.
His fleece came in first out of four entries under Judge Amanda VandenBosch. The entries are broken up by color and age. One of the things I like about the fleece shows is that you receive a score sheet with the rating in each category. They are not actually comparing one fleece to another but against a specific standard. Also, specific to this show, we will receive a DVD with the judge's reasons for ribbon placement. I am looking forward to seeing her comments and will post them here.
So all of you who are just starting out, I encourage you to try it and see.
September 1, 2006
It is almost fall and our fall cria (all two of them!) are arriving. Andromeda was due August 17 and she delivered very nicely on August 19. That I like; anticipation is bad enough without them being overdue. It was about 4:10 PM (so much for delivering mid-day. She was up and about very quickly but took a few hours to nurse properly and even then it seemed to take a few days for Andromeda and Evie to get their rhythmn down. Andromeda, who had been "bagged up" (developed an enlarged udder) for weeks, stayed quite engorged for a while. Now, no problem.
The other thing we noted about Evie was that her fleece seemed very long and it looked like suri fleece. I had to go read up to be sure that it was not possible to get a suri out of two huacayas. It is possible to get a huacaya out of two suris, but not the other way around. Her ears also looked a little odd. Sort of turned inside out. Patience is a virtue I reminded myself--and sure enough, her fleece is pure peach fuzz on the ends but exhibits bright, bold crimp once you go looking and her ears are just perfect..
She is gaining well and keeps us entertained every evening when she tears around the pasture. She occaisonally can get Dahlia to join her, but usually it is just the white ball of fleece tearing around.
Puella is due September 6 (335 days) but her pattern is to go 340. However, her vulva are enlarged and lengthened (first time I have been able to see it) and there is a distinct bulge in that area so it would not surprise me if she went sooner. Maybe we can keep up this wonderful record and have four girls in a row!
September 9, 2006 Another Girl
With the arrival of Puella's girl "Sugar N Spice" on September 2, we feel like we have turned a very big corner. It is so fun to have three moms out there with three babies at their side. However, Dahlia looks nothing like a baby as she is quite large already having been born in May. Mystique at a year, is just about as big as her mother and it looks like we will be breeding her late fall.
We brought Skye over to breed Andromeda. First visit, just a bit of hanging around together. No action. He sniffed, she sniffed all was calm. The next night the girls were out in the field. Skye was much stronger on the lead and very interested in being with the girls. Finally he stood and sniffed Andromeda and she just stood there. I pushed on Andromeda's back and down she went. Skye stood over top of her until I pushed on his back a little and then down he went. He tried to arrange himself and began the orgling but I am not sure he was in good contact. Still, we were glad he had figured it out since he had been so passive, we weren't sure he was ready. We had a hard time keeping Mystique away from Skye and she ended up kushed right next to the couple breeding.
The next morning, we left them together alone for a little bit and Skye was more interested in Mystique who was in the pen next to them. Finally, I put Skye back on the lead, brought his head around to Andromeda's rear, pushed on her and down she went. He climbed on. This time we pulled her tail out of his way and to check and it was very clear he had made contact. His orgling was very random and light at first and then we watched him situate himself and he got very concentrated and the orgling sound deepended. We were quite sure he made contact.
Because of other things going on today, we decided not to try again. We'll try again tomorrow. This is part of the milestone feeling--that we are using our own male to breed and we have one of our baby girls ready to become a mom. Four girls in a row feels like real progress.
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October 17, 2006 New England Coastal Classic
I think we are beginning to recover from the New England Coastal Classic. Thunder attracted a lot of attention and took 4th in a very competive rose gray yearling class. Several people complimented us.The show was tiring and despite the fact that we had been to it several times without exhibiting, I didn't feel prepared for what it would be like. I was much more nervous about going in the ring and Chuck took Thunder in. He was not standing very nicely for anyone and that is definitely something we need to work on.
It was fun to see a few people who we are gradually getting to know, to see some related animals and their offspring etc.
In all, it was a good experience, but one I'll wait until Spring to repeat. I am looking forward to Open Farm Days. Thanks to the Maine Alpaca Association putting out a press release, we are having an article in our LOCAL paper, the Advertiser Democrat, that features our farm. The reporter was very nice and is also interested in alpacas. Come see us October 28 and 29, 10:00 to 4:00 PM.
Since I wrote last, we also spent a weekend at Fryeburg Fair with the animals. That too was very tiring but so many people come by and appreciate the animals, it is really very nice.
We finally have our very own Maine's Bellemont Farm Alpacas logo wear thanks to Jim and Amy from Good Kharma Farm. They also have a embroidery business and were able to stitch up some items in very short order. We traded some of our Shaker chairs for this service. We also donated a chair to the Maine Alpaca Assocation vet fund. Thank you to all the farms who bid on it to benefit veterinary education in Maine.
Sugar N Spice and Evie are doing well, growing like weeds. The reporter who came to the farm asked me "What is the most rewarding aspect of having alpacas." Without hesitation, I said "Watching the crias run around the pasture at sunset." Come enjoy the view!
I have been doing some reading lately and wanted to share with you some great articles.
Everyone says toenail trimming is simple but this article "Tackling Toenails without Tackling Your Camelid" by Marty McGee Bennett gives lots of great tips.
And this "Alpacas DNA for Dummies" is neat, even though it still shows how much there is to learn. Thank you Rick from All Amercian Alpacas.
Being new at breeding, this "Introduction to Alpaca Sex" is so far the clearest explanation I have found on the breeding cycle. Thank you Classical Mile End Alpacas. Also--this is pretty funny but if you have never heard it--orgling, the sound the male alpaca makes when breeding, go to this link: Orgling.
Contact us: let us know you enjoy reading these installments!
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