Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shearing Day

Shearing day is a blur of activity. All the Alpaca at Highland get sheared in May. Their fiber is thick, heavy and dirty. If there are any warm days in April and May they are definitely ready to get rid of their coat.

I drove up to the farm and got there about an hour after they started. The two guys who came to shear are originally from New Zealand, but now live in the states and travel around to farms shearing animals all over the country. It is really hard, back breaking, work bending over animals all day on your knees. When I walked in the barn they had two mats set up on the floor so there is always an animal to shear. The guys work together and they move from one animal to the next. They only take about 4 mins per animal. That day they had 85 Alpaca to shear. They separate them by color and sex to shear. Fiber is flying around along with the dust from the barn floor. All you hear is the buzz from the shears. The animals are all restless and crying, especially the ones being sheared. The only breaks are to oil the shears and briefly for lunch.

The blanket, which is the middle section of the Alpaca is the best fiber. The blanket is placed in a plastic bag marked with the Alpaca's name. The neck and butt fiber is segregated by color, which is still good quality, and placed into large bags. This fiber can be made into socks. I had some of this fiber made into yarn last year and it is spectacular. I am making a sweater from the yarn. The fiber from the legs is courser and very dirty. It is usually thrown away, but can be used as nesting for other animals. One of the ladies last year brought some home for her chickens. I brought some home for the birds to use in their nests.

When you see Alpaca being sheared for the first time you think the contraption they put them in is a torture device. They have to keep them still so they aren't hurt during the shearing process. Ropes are put around all four legs and the front and back legs are gently pulled apart until they are lying on the ground. The ropes are around pulleys, so they go down nice and smooth. They shear one side at a time. This is also a great time to trim their nails, as Jenny is doing below.

Once they are done the ropes are taken off and they are able to get up. At first they are disoriented from the shearing process and need to be guided out into the pasture. It takes a couple minutes, but then they begin to eat and act normally.

I was beat after shearing day. I was soar all over and couldn't wait to get into a hot shower. But have such great memories and can't wait for shearing day in 2009.

Below is what they look like sheared and at the top is Boudica before she was sheared.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My First Show

Yes, there are Alpaca shows. They are very similar to dog shows. You walk the Alpaca around a ring. They are shown by color and are judged on their confirmation and fiber quality. While I was off looking for a job Jenny and Fay from Highland Alpaca were able to take the time to show me the skills I needed to step into the ring.

I was so excited to attend my first show in Michigan. There are rows and rows of Alpaca in stalls. Farms have display's with the ribbons they have won. Lots of display's of each farms best Alpaca. Vendors have their booths set up selling all kinds of things for and with Alpaca. It is very festive.

I drove up with them to Michigan. We took two vehicles. One was a commercial van with the girls in the back and the other was a truck, which they towed the boys in a trailer.

The show was magical. It was a Cinderella moment. I took Boudica and Morag to the show. Boudica won a color championship and Morag won reserve color championship. Which is second in her color class. Some people wait years or never win a championship. I never thought the first time I walked into the ring that I would win. So many people came up to congratulate me. Even some were judges.

Highland did really well at the show too. All their Alpaca won some kind of ribbon. When you win a ribbon you hang it on the stall. Well, it was a sea of blue at their stalls.

That was just the beginning for Boudica. She ended up winning many ribbons and color championships. Below is a picture of the ribbons I have won so far and Boudica along with her little baby boy Angus.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Beginning...

The company that I worked for in 2005 merged with another company and I lost my job in 2006. I got interested in learning how to knit and crochet in 2006. I attended a local yarn festival where a local Alpaca farm had a display. For most of my adult life I wanted to have a farm and own Llama. So I was immediately attracted to Alpaca. They look like small Llamas, but much smaller.

So I ended up visiting that farm to buy more yarn and fell in love with their soft fiber and large dark eyes. They make a soft humming noise to communicate. I fell in love. After this visit a local yarn store had a day trip to a local Alpaca farm, so I went. After I heard the owners of the farm talk about Alpaca I had an Oprah moment. I thought I can do this!

After a couple months of visiting local farms and asking a lot of questions we bought our three girls Morag, Ebony & Boudica in August 2006. All in different colors. It was hard to decide whether to buy maiden or proven females. The difference is you have either had a baby or not. These two choices brought many possibilities, all with different outcomes. We choose girls with excellent backgrounds and fiber that they would pass on to the next generation. Since we are boarding them at a local farm we had to consider the monthly expense too.

Ebony was bred in the Fall of 2006 then Morag and Boudica were bred in the Spring 2007. By buying maiden females this gave us some time to adjust to the business and attend a few shows before the babies came. A females show career ends when she gets pregnant.

After picking out our three girls we made a trip up to the farm to see them again. We weren’t sure which ones were Boudica, Morag and Ebony. After Jen & Fay, the owners of Highland Alpaca, picked them out for us we took a lot of pictures. Morag came right up to me and leaned on me. She loves attention. I gave her a good neck and back rub. The whole time puffs of dirt were coming out of her fiber. She loves to roll in the dirt! All I could think about was Pigpen from Peanuts. Boudica and Ebony just weren’t too sure about us two-leggers. They kept a safe distance.

Now some of the fun began. We picked our farm name, Chocolate River Alpacas. I was watching the Travel Channel and they were talking about the Chocolate Mountain range and it just clicked. What woman wouldn’t like a river of chocolate!

In the next few months after we bought the girls we made many trips to Highland Alpaca along with a trail of friends. Our friends didn’t know what an Alpaca was. Some laughed, but for the most part all were interested to hear more and see the pictures.

The most memorable trip was with my girlfriend Lori and her granddaughter Regan. Regan took to the Alpaca right away and it seemed they realized she was a small two-legger and she was able to move easily around them. They weren’t scared when she approached them. She was able to get really close and pet them.

Some More Pictures........