Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Fiber Competitions

My 9 year old daughter, Dana, participated in fiber-related competition this weekend. She was a member of a kids team in a Sheep to Shawl contest. That's where a team of 5-8 people (all kids in her case) take a clean sheep's fleece, card it, spin it, and then weave it on a pre-warped loom. Because their team was so young, they were allowed to weave a narrower piece. So I guess you could say they did a "Sheep To Scarf". The competition was held at the Alameda County Fair on Sunday.

There were a total of 6 teams: 4 womens teams, 1 kids team and 1 mens team.

Here's the scarf they did lying on the edge of a white table.

The warp was a burgundy wool along with a few grey strands of yarn. The weft, which is what was spun during the competition, was a grey Romney fleece.

The Results:
the kid's team tied for 3rd!! They were estatic!!

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Basics of Alpacas - an email conversation

It's been awhile since I've posted. Life off-line has been quite busy with the kids end-of-school-year events and our own short vacations to Eugene Oregon and Oakhurst California.

I received an email from a friend who has been interested in getting alpacas for awhile now. After writing up the reply, I thought it would make a good post. So here it is....

At 11:12 AM 7/5/04 -0400, Georgene wrote:
>Hi Kimberly,
>I love your web site!!! We're actually not sure
>exactly what we want yet. We want them first as pets,

I'm very glad to hear you refer to the animals you're considering in the plural sense. As you know, camelids MUST be with their own kind. You can not have just one. Their sense of herd is very very strong. There are documented cases of animals who died from complications of being alone (stress is the biggest contributor).

>and we want the smaller sized -- but we're starting to wonder
>if we might as well shear them and sell their wool?

All of the domesticated camelids have to be shorn once a year. You don't have to keep the wool but shearing them yearly (usually in May) is an absolute act of kindness. It'll run less than $25 per animal (I pay $15 but it varies regionally) so it's not a huge charge. I'd suggest making sure you can do this at the ranch you buy the animals from. Have them put it in the contract just to be sure.

What if they need vet care? Who's going to give shots? You can give them yourself with a small amount of training.

Do you have a way to transport them? Transportation is actually not so daunting. A simple mini-van with the seats removed and mats on the floor will suffice. If it's a short trip, they won't soil the floor. An SUV works okay too but I'd do that only in an emergency and only with an alpaca.

>We also know that their manure is excellent for the garden
>and that people will pay well for it.

Maybe your market is different than it is here in California - where organic gardening is big. We can't give away the manure for free! LOL. But that's okay -we use it ourselves and what's left goes out in the unused area of the lot.

>They are such clean animals. We have a few llama farms here
>in our area that we visit, but the crea's are excellent bloodlines
>and coats costing upwards of $20K each! We love llama's and want
>to add 2 to our menagerie.

Wow. I'm not familiar with the llama market but I didn't realize it was still that high. I know many places you can get average llamas which serve very well for pet use for under $1k - probably even less. I wonder if what you're talking about are the new (and expensive) "Suri Llamas". Their fiber is like pencil curls instead of the puff-ball wool-like fiber of common llamas.

>If we decide not to sell their wool then we will likely go
>for the multi-colored black, white and tan, I know that the
>multi-colored would not desirable for selling it's wool
>therefore they are less expensive. Maybe you can tell me
>exactly the kind that would be best for us as pets!

Multis, aka patterned alpacas, are starting to be the new "fad" in alpaca ownership. As a handspinner, I'd prefer a multi colored fleece because then I get several colors in one wool where all of the other characteristics are identical. What I mean is even though the item I make will have several colors, it will all feel the same softness, have the same crimp, be the same lock length, etc.. I've made a scarf using two colors from 2 different animals and you can feel a distinct difference between the colors. OTOH, some people want all one color. White would be a popular color animal because you can dye the wool. Some people like the darker color animals. My point is: get what *you* want. You can do something with the wool if you decide to but that's such a small part of owning the animal that it shouldn't be a major part of the decision for a pet quality animal.

Pet quality animals (llamas or alpacas) will be gelded males. Owners will geld males they don't need in their breeding program and are not suited for anyone else's program (flaw in conformation) and then they sell them as pet quality. It works best for everyone that way.

Have you seen any blue eyed white animals? They are almost always gelded due to the blue eyes but they can have some of the softest fiber. BEW camelids typically end up being born deaf or will have crias who are BEW and deaf, hence the reason for culling them from the breeding programs.

I'm sure there's tons of other things I could share with you but let me leave you with this one bit of advice. Camelid ownership isn't like buying a dog - you don't pick it out from the litter, wait 6 weeks for it be weaned and then take it home never to speak to the breeder again. When we started researching alpacas, we were told to find ourselves a mentor. Ideally, this mentor will be the person you purchase your animals from. They need to be the person you feel the most comfortable learning from. They should show you ALL aspects of camelid ownership and continue to guide you after you've taken your animals home when questions arrive. And they will.

Best wishes with your search!