Saturday, May 28, 2005

Fleece Weights

These are the weights of our fleeces in ounces. Barto’s blanket isn’t back from the show yet, which is why his first number is blank.

Alpaca fleece Weights
Aprli 30, 2005
weights in ounces
in this order: firsts, seconds, thirds, total weight
Barto, ?, 16, 14=30
Dawn, 19, 4, 7=30
Cabernet, 27, 29, 15=71
Antonio, 18, 18, 8=44
Consuella, 24, 17, 13=54
Totals, 88, 84, 57=229
Average/alpaca, 45.8

Cabernet has the most fleece, and it should be in the 24 micron range, still. Consuella’s fleece is heavy because it is coarse. Barto’s ought to add a pound at least when I weigh his show fleece, but his numbers are impressive, matching his mother’s total fleece without his blanket at only 7 months old.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The wading pool

Alpacas are endlessly entertaining to those (like us) who enjoy watching animals graze and occasionally pronk around the pasture, but ours were especially so this morning when I put a wading pool into their pasture.

We are finally having some warm weather, after a soggy April and May. Yesterday it made it up to 85 degrees, and today it is supposed to reach 90 degrees. Our alpacas are shorn, and they have plenty of shade in the pastures and the barn, so we are not actually concerned that they will become too hot, but I know they enjoy being cool. I have seen pictures of alpacas lying down on soaker hoses and in kiddie wading pools, and Cabernet has upturned a number of buckets by putting her feet in them over and over again. So this morning I decided to drag the pool we used for Tigger last year into the alpaca’s pasture and fill it with water. Then I went to take a shower.

Naturally, the alpacas ignored it for a good 45 minutes. They knew that it was there, but they pretended not to notice or care. As I sat down to my cereal, the girls lead by Cabernet surrounded the blue pool. First, they drank out of it, then Cabernet delicately dipped one foot into the water. Then she began kicking at the water. I think she wanted to splash the water onto her belly. Consuella began to do the same thing, reaching well over the edge of the pool with her front leg, like she was doing high-kicks. She, too, was trying to splash water onto her belly. There was much maneuvering as the two alpacas tried to get both front legs into the 4-foot wide pool, although there wasn’t any real fighting.

Finally, Consuella cushed next to the pool. She looked a little surprised that her belly wasn’t wet. Dawn came and cushed next to her while Cabernet continued to splash. Consuella got back up, put her front feet into the pool, and then cushed onto the edge of the pool! It didn’t look especially comfortable, but she stayed there for a while. Cabernet thought this was a good idea, and cushed next to Consuella in the same way, front legs in, back legs out! They were like a couple of bikini-babes—all they needed were a couple of tall drinks.

Suddenly, Cosuella and Cabernet got out of the pool and ran to the dust bath where they had a good roll. While they were doing this, Dawn cushed ½ in and ½ out of the pool too. They must like the pool since they spent the next half hour occupied by getting wet, rolling in the dust, and then pronking around.

As I said…alpacas are endlessly entertaining. I’ll have pictures up on soon.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Our first ribbon!

Our first ribbon!

Last weekend we entered El Barto’s baby fleece in a fleece show that was part of the Scio Lamb and Fleece show, and he won first place! Yay!

I don’t know all of the details except that he would have been more of a contender for best in show if the fleece had been better picked of vegetation. Oh well. I think that’s pretty good for my first skirting job. ☺

For a picture of El Barto’s fleece, check him out on our sales page at and scroll to the bottom of the page. See how crimpy and long it is? It makes me happy (and apparently, it makes judges happy, too).

That’s all for now. I’ll update this when I know more about the show.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Check out for the updated sales page! It even has some pictures of our critter's fleeces on it.

We are about three weeks from the end of the quarter, and therefore freedom to work on the farm and other aspects of our business. Here is a list of the things we hope to accomplish during the summer:

1. launch Version 2.0 full of new features and resources.

2. upgrade the barn including: a ceiling vent, gutters, french drains around the perimeter to deal with the drainage issue inside the barn, hanging another gate, possibly installing cabinets or shelves

3. improve the "pastures" (in quotes because what we currently have are patches of ground covered with thistle and daisies). To do this, we need to: pick sticks (some more), nuke the undesirable vegetation, analyze the soil and fertilize appropriately, seed, and finally let it grow. We'd like to get this done by next February.

4. fence the rest of our pastures after the fall rains begin

5. perhaps buy a livestock trailer

6. perhaps man a stall at the Oregon State Fair in September, and the Polk County Fair in August.

Other projects include upgrading the WABA website (, working on our business plan, going to seminars and classes, lining up breedings for our girls, and awaiting Dawn's cria, due in September (but she was a month late last year). I'm also going to devote some more time in training the alpacas. I'd like them all to walk on a halter and load up into a trailer easily.

Currently, I've begun training Milhouse, Consuella's little boy out of Tocto. He's still only a baby--2 1/2 months old--but I want to get him used to being handled. Plus, it means that I get to put my hands in his crimpy golden fleece!

This urge to train Milhouse probably has something to do with the fact that we saw two hand-reared baby alpacas at AWE (Alpaca Western Extravaganza) in Portland last weekend. Those 2-week old babies adored people, and walked among them with no fear. We were talking to a friend at one point and looked down to find the baby leaning against Charles's leg! Talk about adorable! When we got home, Charles looked at Milhouse wistfully and said, "I suppose it is too late for Milhouse to be that friendly." I suppose it is, but I don't want a critter that friendly if it means we have to hand-feed it (especially since that means that the mother rejected it or worse). However, the earlier and more often that we work with Milhouse, the friendlier he will be.

Have a good spring day!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Shearing day part 3

When we last left our heroes, they had all of the alpacas in a trailer (which they were pretty sure was light enough for their Subaru to pull), and were on their way to Polly’s at Fern Hill Ranch to shear.

We made it to Polly’s before the shearer Armando arrived, so we had time to beat some of the dirt out of the alpaca’s fleeces before shearing began. We use a special tool which consists of a wire attached to a handle. When you flick the handle against a fleecy alpaca, the dust fluffs out. It is better to get the dirt out of the fleeces by beating or by blowing with a shop-vac than it is to shear a dirty alpaca. The dirt is hard to remove from the fleece after shearing, and a dirty fleece makes the electric shears duller.

Once Armando and his two friends arrived and set up, we began shearing with El Barto, our little white male. When we shear, we go from lightest to darkest so if a little fiber ends up being mixed in to a fleece, it’s a lighter shade instead of a darker shade. Also, by doing them in this order, none of the fleece colors are drastically different.

Armando’s two friends, Conception and José, took hold of the alpaca, one in front and one in back, and Armando began shearing by taking off the blanket which lies across the alpaca’s back and flanks. This is prime fiber and is bagged and marked “firsts” or “blanket.” This is the best fiber on the animal and is usually reserved for spinning into yarn or making into fine, soft garments. Then Armando takes off the neck fiber which is bagged as “seconds.” Seconds are usually felted, but the seconds of some animals make fine yarn as well. Finally, he removes the leg and belly hair and any other patches which are bagged as “thirds.” In general, thirds are not much good except for compost or stuffing, but some thirds make good felt.

It took Armando and his friends about fifteen minutes to shear each alpaca, clean up the fiber that had fallen on the floor, and prepare for the next animal. Our jobs were to catch the fleece as it came off of the animals and bag and label it, vacuum/sweep up loose hair, and ferry animals between the pens and the garage where we were shearing.

This was the first time El Barto has been shorn, and he behaved quite well. He was worried, but he didn’t make any sound, nor did he try to kick at the workers, which was my biggest fear. Once his fiber was off, he looked quite ridiculous. Alpacas lose about 2/3 of their volume when they are shorn, and are reduced in appearance to long-necked drowned rats. Adding to Barto’s ridiculousness was the fact that Armando left sideburns and a little goatee of a beard on him. He reminds me now of the Jaberwocky that the Muppets had on their show once.

Once we got the routine down, the shearing went remarkably smoothly. The animals were well-behaved with a few exceptions. Dawn, our nine-year-old import, screamed the entire time she was being shorn. She didn’t kick, bite, or spit, as we had feared, but she never stopped her glass-shattering, shrill scream of indignant protest. It was the same noise she made when we picked her up from her former ranch after the ranch hands had taken her baby from her, thrown him in the trailer, and then tried to throw a towel over her head. We thought we had bought a hellion at that point, but Dawn is actually quite sweet. We’ll bring earplugs the next time we shear her, though.

Consuella and Milhouse were challenges, too. We decided to “tip” Milhouse’s baby fleece because the tips catch dirt and sticks, etc., and often end up a lighter color than the baby’s true color. This is controversial in the show circuit, but since we don’t know if we’ll show Milhouse or not, we decided to cut the tips off of his fleece to ease next year’s shearing.

In order to shear Milhouse, though, we needed to bring Consuella into the garage as well. I held Consuella back as Armando and company tipped Milhouse—a process similar in technique to trimming a poodle, although the design is thankfully different! Consuella did not like the men handling her baby, and Milhouse wiggled like a child getting a shot, but he was shorn with little effort. Consuella was relatively easy to shear, too, although hanging on to Milhouse was challenging.

When we finally arrived at the time to shearing Polly’s big studs, Armando and his friends would lay the animal on his side so he wouldn’t thrash around. The big males are sometimes harder to shear because they are so much stronger than the females that, given even a little leverage, they can make it very difficult to shear them. Laying them down makes it much easier on all involved, although the animals don’t like it much.

After five hours of shearing without a break, we were done, and ready for a nice meal…but first we had to re-load the alpacas and put them back into their own barn. However, if you remember from the last installment, we made two original trips because Cabernet hated the little boys. We fixed the problem by putting everyone into the trailer except Tony, who we lifted into the back of my mother’s Volvo station wagon! I’m sure she got a funny look or two from people she passed on the highway.

So, that’s shearing day. A couple days later, I picked El Barto’s fleece for a local fleece show. This involves lots of leaning over a table and pulling tiny bits of debris out of sticky fleece. I’m pleased with Bart’s fleece—it is crimpy and very soft. I am also pleased with Tony’s fleece—we thought he was a bay black, but it looks like the baby tips are the only brown on him…the rest of him is true black, and soft with some crimp developing! He, unlike Bart, is far handsomer for his haircut.

Shearing day part two

Shearing day

Shearing day was Saturday April 30, and boy am I tired. We took our animals to Polly’s ranch and had them sheared by Armando [Victoria]. In total, we had seventeen animals shorn, six of them ours, and eleven of them hers. It took five hours and all of us to shear them. Now they look very silly.

We began by taking the boys over to Polly’s the night before since Cabernet cannot stand the young males on the ranch. We had to think of a way to get all of them to Polly’s for shearing. The solution was borrow her trailer and make two trips. We loaded the boys up, easy as pie, and dropped them off at Polly’s barn.

The next morning was not nearly as much fun, although it was not as bad as I was afraid it was going to be. I have been working with all the adult alpacas on haltering a leading a little bit. The book I’ve been using is Marty McGee’s Camilidynamics which works pretty well, although I must say it is one of the worst-edited books I have ever seen. It is so bad that I as a writing teacher can barely read it because I want to mark it up.

But that’s beside the point. I have been using McGee’s techniques to make haltering and leading not-so scary for the girls, and it does work. They are all much better about catching, haltering, and leading than they were when I began. I didn’t have to work much with Cabernet, and she will follow you on a lead really easily. She will even lean into you once you have a halter on her, somewhat affectionately.

I was most afraid that Dawn, our import, would go berserk on us once we had a halter on her because many imports have not been handled. However, Dawn accepts the halter, and even leads reasonably well. Consuella, who was born in Canada, was my biggest challenge.

Consuella is challenging because she is smart and wily. She knows that she is bigger than I am, and she is not afraid of me (which is good, but presents its own problems). Catching her is difficult because she is quick, and haltering her is hard because she likes to throw her head around. Plus, she is not very willing to follow on a lead. However, she will follow her baby. Charles simply picks up Milhouse (who now weighs 40 lbs or so), and Consuella will follow. It’s a cheat, but it got us through the day.

We loaded the girls into the trailer by picking up Milhouse and leading Consuella in. Then we haltered up Cabernet and Dawn and let Dawn follow Cabernet in. It took some doing to get Dawn into the trailer because she didn’t want to go into the people door, which would have required her to step up, so I had to open the ramp in the back…that took a couple of my degrees to accomplish. She went in to be with her herd with a bit of encouragement, though.

Part three is coming soon!