Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Little Blessings!

Blessing #1 happened this morning.

Despite two events causing stress in the hen house...a) Gary cleaning the henhouse floor on the weekend and b) the nasty winter weather we've had this week...still,
we get eggs.

My in-laws used to keep hens. I never understood why anyone would keep chickens when you could buy the eggs cheaper in the grocery store.
I get it now.
There is something remarkable about going out in the morning, and finding a perfectly shaped egg, being kept warm by the hen. The hens don't ask for much and in return, they will feed your family.

Blessing #2
I found this beautiful mohair blanket at Value Village. What a bargain!

Blessing #3
I have had some time to do some handpainting this past week.

Blessing #4
This last one isn't a little blessing, this is a BIG blessing.

....that I have so many positive people in my life, that I can quickly forget about the negative ones....

I hope that you can count many blessings in your life today.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Warm, Cold, Black, White

Just a few pictures from the past week.

We had some cool winter days....

These are the older girls sharing some breakfast on a chilly day...

This is a picture of Quincy, settling in for a little nap after breakfast.
Quincy was part of our original herd that we brought in from Double E Alpacas in Saskatchewan back in 2002.
She was definitely the grand matriarch back then...she used to put her ears back, her tail up and gurgle (her cud) as a warning that she was going to spit any minute. This, while standing atop the frozen straw\poop pile while clucking at the other girls to get behind her.
We soon found out that she would tolerate being scratched along the jaw line and that in the summer, she loved to be cooled down with the water hose or a kiddie pool.
She'll be 15 this summer. Over the years, she has welcomed the new herd additions with varying degrees of tolerance. She no longer challenges the younger females for top position in her herd. She's given us a few good cria, the last one is a black female that looks just like her. Even though Quincy is a senior citizen, she's the first one to run with the cria in the twilight and dances on her hind legs when the fresh hay is brought out. She's earned a little rest.
She's the foundation of excellent breeding females with lots of milk, easy breeding and birthing.

Vivaldi is still my most photogenic little guy.

And we had a bit of January thaw....

Beautiful days to be outside. We heat our house with a Heatmor outdoor wood furnace. Although we can put large logs in...we do split our wood to make it easier for us to manage.
Usually we cut all the wood into lengths and then rent a log-splitter. However, this year, Gary is using an axe.
We usually have all the wood done in the fall, but this year, we are doing a little bit every week. It's a nice reason to be outside on a nice winter day. I won't show you the pile still to be cut and split. We'll just get to the end of it and it will be time to get next year's wood delivered!

January is a nice time, even though it's often cold and snowy here. My yarn events and farm work starts in the spring. The farm work carries into the late fall when my Christmas yarn and garment shop is busy.
I like January to March for catching up on personal jobs and fibre-related things that I want to try.

I am currently spinning a blend of alpaca\kid mohair\merino that I carded up last year. The kid mohair comes from Lee Resmer's angora goat kids at Elmlea Farm in Ontario.
The blend is very silky. It's easy to spin quite fine, although if I get distracted it slips apart quite easily.

This is kid mohair in washed locks form.
The kid mohair is silky, bright and soft with a long staple length.
I am in the process of blending the rest of it for sale.
Although I like the process, I find the locks a bit tedious to use as I have to tease the fibres prior to putting them into the carder. Perhaps, I need more knowledge about processing these mohair locks. I'll likely buy pre-carded mohair tops to blend instead.

Regardless of the process challenges, I am making a lovely white yarn from it. I think I will handpaint it and then knit it into a triangular scarf\shawl. Stay tuned.

I am spending a lot of time thinking of the yarns that I will make from this year's fleece harvest. I find myself checking out the fleeces on my alpacas and formulating a plan for my 2010 yarns. We shear in early June, then I sort\skirt and transport to the mill. The mill usually has a 4 to 6 month waiting period. That's before dyeing, labelling, etc. It may be that I have to buy another farm's 2009 fleece to get another run of yarn in and back prior to September.
This is Aurelia's fine fleece....yummy...will likely become 2 ply 100% fingering weight once more.

What is this?

This is the top down view of two pen mates...Aurelia who is brilliant white and Raven, who is true black. Raven is the youngest (and likely last) offspring of Quincy, pictured above).

Thanks for popping by.
Have a good week.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Favorite and Not Such Favorite Things

This morning, at the barn, I got SPIT ON! Full face, gobbed on glasses, spit on by Daewoo the Llama. This has me particularly offended because I am forever trying to dispell the bad publicity that llamas suffer from.

I often have people here at my open houses that ask of the alpacas, "Do they spit like llamas?" and then continue to tell me of the nasty, cantankerous beast that they met.

To which I start my well-rehearsed speech about llamas having a bad reputation in North America because most people have only met them in petting zoos where they are confined to a small pen or have been improperly socialized. Llamas and alpacas both spit at each other in competition for food, sex or for a first line of defense. Pregnant females will spit at an amorous male to tell him to 'Go take a cold shower, Buddy!'. A stressed alpaca - getting examined by the vet - may spit up in the air or at the wall she is facing to express her concern. During these times, we caretakers may get caught in the cross-fire. However, properly socialized and cared for llamas or alpacas should never spit at humans.

I would like to believe that Daewoo looked a bit sheepish listening to me rant at him while wiping my face and cleaning off my glasses. And I would like to believe that he was aiming at the female alpaca that was near to me. Even after I reminded him that he was not a llama of particular endearing qualities, that he had a lot of guard hair and bad teeth and that I wasn't sure that he was earning his keep around here, he didn't look too concerned. Llamas are a bit like cats...they think we are lesser beings than their 'royal selves' and could live without all of our emotional drama.

Here's a picture of Frankie the llama. He's quite large and currently, more appreciated than Daewoo, at least today.

Here's one of our male alpaca, Striker.

Llamas and alpacas are in the same family - camelid. The most obvious difference between the alpaca and llama in the pictures are the size, the shape of the ears (see Frankie's telltale banana shaped ears?), and the shape of the head. In person, you would notice an obvious difference in the fleece. Although llama fibre can be used for textiles, llamas were originally bred for pack animals and meat. Alpacas have been bred for their fleece quality for thousands of years.
Both are extraordinary, intelligent animals.

Being larger, llamas take on a guardian role with the alpaca. If we pasture a llama with our weanling alpacas, the llama will bond with weanlings. This is particularly useful with the male weanlings - as the llama will protect the young male from the older male alpacas when they are moved to the boys pasture. Our llamas are gelded males - otherwise, they could impregnate an alpaca and thus produce a poorly fleeced cross-breed.

In this picture, you can see the difference in the size between the alpaca and the llama. This particular alpaca, Carmel, is our largest alpaca but you can see that Frankie the Llama is quite a bit taller and is likely double his weight.

Happy Day! New books arrived at the library...and since I received the courier package...I got to open the box. It's like Christmas at the library!!!
I am probably the world's slowest-reading library clerk but I can still dream of having time to read all the interesting ones!!!

I'm back at the weaving studio. I've put a warp on for a couple scarves. The warp is a handdyed 2 ply of 100% alpaca with some stripes of my handspun, handdyed alpaca\merino blend from my stash. I am weaving the first scarf with a black alpaca\merino blend milled from my own black alpacas. The colours are beautiful and the warp feels incredibly soft.

I wove and undid the first 5 inches three times before finally hoping that I have the proper tension.

Weavers will note by the pin on the woven part and the little bowtie on the back view that I broke a warp thread. Another one happened shortly after.

I'm sure things will go smoother in the studio next time....

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pink Fluff and Farm Pics

We all seem to be having a bit of a struggle to get back in the swing of things after the holidays. I guess it was just too relaxing around here over the Christmas/New Years break.

Well, since moving the carder into my store area, I've been working at getting this batch of pink fluff completed. The store area has a lot less static than the rest of the house, due to our heating area, so I hope it will increase my production of fibre this winter.

What starts as 70% washed fine white alpaca, 20% white merino top and 10% handdyed silk (Merlot).....

gets put through my Patrick Green electric carder twice...

During the first pass, most of the bits of hay or any little second cuts get thrown off and the initial blending takes place. I do about 80 grams at a time and make a bunch of 'first-pass' batts. Then, I strip the 'first-pass' batts to refeed through the carder for the second pass. The second pass throws almost all remaining bits of matter and improves the blending of the colours.

Usually, I pull the fibre off into rovings. I spun for from batts for a long time, but customers mostly prefer rovings.

So, this ends up as pink fluffy rovings....

This looks like cotton candy in real life.

I've been back at the weaving studio. I've put a lovely scarf warp of heron and mint dyed alpaca. I hope to get pictures here soon.

Here's my little Vivaldi, looking through the pen gate. Keep in mind that he has already had his morning pellets. Can't you just picture him as Oliver Twist in the orphanage scene "Please, Sir, I want more?"....