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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shearing Day-Part 1

It is the time of year that alpaca farmers love and dread-shearing season.  We love it because that means we get a fresh new crop of alpaca fiber to play with.  We loath it because it is hard and stressful work.  The alpacas are not fans of the process.  The often cry out and spit.  The first year I helped with shearing, I cried as I watched our youngest girl get tied down.  However, it is more humane than letting them go through the summer with too much fleece.  And we are there to give the alpacas plenty of love and support.

This is the second year that I have been part of the ground crew.  This means I have an active role with the shearing team.  First, a team of folks walk the alpaca into the shearing area, place ropes on their legs, and pull the ropes tight to take them to the ground.  It seems harsh, but it is really for the alpaca's safety

Next, the ropes are pulled tightly so that the animal can't move during the process.

Now, it is time for the shearers to start shearing the blanket.

 I sweep the fleece after the final pass of the blanket.

I then wait until the neck pass occurs.  The roper releases the tension on the ropes, and the shearer and I each take one of the alpaca's legs to shear the chest and neck area.

After that, the ropes are pulled tight and I made sure that the alpaca's legs weren't tangled.  I then moved to the back hip to provide counter presser while the shearers finished the neck and the topknot.  At some point in this elaborate dance, teeth are ground and toe nails are cut if needed.  Then, we flip the animal over and move it toward us to finish off the legs.  I move to the head to make sure the halter and lead is put back on the animal and to help move the animal forward and backwards for the shearer.  When the shearer is complete with the animal, he moves on to the the second station while the rope team and I would take off the ropes and let the animal be on their way. 

Here is the end product.  A freshly sheared alpaca!

It is very physical work and I am paying for it today.  We still have three other animals to shear at the other farm we are boarding next Friday.  However, this shearer said they bring their own team and do not need help.  It should be interesting to see the difference in the two teams.  More pictures to come.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Our first female was born this morning.  We couldn't be more excited.  We had two cria born last year, but they were both boys.  We will have three born this year and we are off to a great start.  Meet Bet the Farm's Up the Ante

Her mother, Savvy, is one of our original foundation girls. This is her first cria and she is turning out to be an excellent mother. Way to go Savvy! Keep it up.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fiber-The reason we are in the business?

This is a conversation that has been going on longer than the two years we have been in the business. The future is fiber. The industry can't sustain the seed stock model that lured many of us into the business in the first place. However, at a recent show, I heard many breeders talk about the "bags and bags" of fiber that they have in storage with no idea what to do with it.

The Spring brings two things to alpaca farms-shearing and crias. Both of these things should bring out a farm's emphasis on fiber and how their breeding program is holding up. With the older animals, you can begin to assess how their fleece is maintaining with age. The cria that land can help you access if you are improving the quality of your herd. Fiber should be the focus.

My parents raised award winning show dogs and I was a professional handler. So, the show and seed stock model is VERY familiar to me. I was drawn to the alpaca business because I knew my past would help us be successful in the future. I won't lie. I don't know a lot about fiber (off the animal) and I am not the craftiest person on the earth. We do strive for superior fiber in our animals and have a herd of very low micron animals. So, I guess it's about time I learn.

I have been inspired by some of the other alpaca blogs and websites I have been visiting. The picture below is felted soap from Seldom Scene Farm. Isn't it beautiful! It is like a built in loofa
I am also coveting her llama trekking business and farm store. Check out the blog to find out more.

Another interesting concept is starting a fiber cooperative or a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. Fancy Fiber has a neat structure. Is it viable? I'm not sure, but the concept is cool.
I am thankful for all of the interesting things other farms are doing with their fiber. I am still a newbie in this world, but I am excited to turn our ENTIRE venture into a profitable business. It all starts with the fiber...

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Futurity

The Futurity Show and Sale was this weekend. I have a special place in my heart for this show. It was the second show that we ever attended and the first auction. We came THIS close last year to buying a silver herdsire. We haven't actually ever bought from an auction. But I can't wait until we do. I almost bought a day at Huacaya farm last year while waiving our mentor over to our table at Nationals last year. That would have been a costly mistake.

The sale was much better than last year. The highest selling alpaca was a Suri (yea!!) owned by Wilkins Livestock. She went for $70,000. That's right my friends! You too may be able to breed a female that goes for the big bucks. I sure hope we do someday. We just bought a herdsire from Wilkins. He is beautiful and a bargain at only 5% of that price. I'll take it.

The Futurity determines the Light and Dark Herdsires of the year. The rules changed this year (seemingly for the better) and I can't wait to see the results. I am not sure why I love this show, but I do. One day we will have a herdsire in the running and that will be exciting. It is more than a few years away, but I can dream!

High Selling Suri

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Our female is now officially overdue.  Savvy was due on April 16th.  We were all hoping that she would have her baby on time or just a little early.  But she seems to be waiting.

It is not abnormal for Spring alpaca births to go a little long.  The typical alpaca gestation ranges between 320 to 376 days.  The far end of the spectrum tends to be Spring births.  However, Savvy's mom is an early birther so we were hoping for the same.

I am only comforted by the adage that anything worth having is worth waiting for.  I am sure it is true in this case.  But hurry up already!

In the beginning

there were two of us.  We were living in California while missing the big city of Chicago. Future Farm Hand (FFH-my hubby) was spending a sleepless night watching infomercials.  He happened to catch the "I Love Alpacas" campaign and decided that alpaca farming was what he was meant to do.  I guess I have a lack of  sci-fi movies that night for my current life path.  After the thought "crazy" wore off, I, being my typical pragmatic self, told him to research the business side and get back to me. This never happened.

Fast forward to 2008.  Now there are four of us living in Chicago and missing the wonders of California.  I am raising two boys, working full time, going to grad school and teaching yoga on the weekends.  Suddlenly, the idea of an alpaca farm doesn't seem so crazy.  We visited a few farms and then jumped right in with the purchase of two suri females-one maiden and one bred.  We are on the road to our alpaca future! 

Present day, we are still living in the city and agisting our alpacas.  Like many, we bought our house at the top of the housing market.  So...we wait...not so patiently for the right time and the right farm to continue our dream. 

I figure an outlet for our highs and lows would be therapeutic for me and hopefully entertaining for you.  Welcome!