Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Officially Spring on the Farm!

Spring came in with beautiful weather all weekend. No complaints about that!

As I said before, it is time to think about springtime things like weaning, breeding, birthing and shearing on our Ohio alpaca farm. We started Saturday with some weaning. We leave our crias with their moms (dams) for about 6 months. By this age they are well able to thrive on hay, grass and the supplemental feed we give twice a day. We had 10 crias in the fall, all born in September and October. I had already weaned the oldest, as he is sold and I'd like his new owners to come and pick him up soon. So with Sam's help, 3 6-month-olds were moved to the weaning pasture, and 3 18-month-olds were moved back into the main barn. Next weekend, we will wean the remaining young'uns. I call them whiny weaners because they have a tendency to whine at me every time they see me since they
miss mama. But that doesn't last long.

Sam also did the unenviable task that needs done twice a year of spreading 6 months worth of collected manure on the hayfields. A tractor with a front end loader and a manure spreader pulled by a tractor make this job less back-breaking than it could be. He said someone driving by actually stopped and asked him if he was a politician as he was spreading a wagon load of s**t!

The weather was warm enough to entice Rowdy to swim in the pond. That water is way too cold for me, but it doesn't bother him at all! Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me.

In case anyone was interested in more information on spinning, I thought I'd explain a little more about it in this post. Last week I posted photos of 2 of my spinning wheels. This week, I am posting a close up of the "flyer" unit of the frame wheel, to the left. The "U"-shaped piece is called a flyer and it has a bobbin on it, onto which the yarn winds as it is spun. To the left of the bobbin is a round piece called a "whorl". The size of the whorl determines how fast the treadle (foot pedal) spins the flyer. If you use a smaller whorl, you can treadle at a slow speed and the flyer will go faster than if you treadled the same speed with a larger whorl. Why would you want to do this? Basically, all the flyer does is twist the individual fibers together. Sometimes, you want the fibers twisted tightly, which you would need to do with a shorter length fiber. Other times, you do not need as much twist to hold those fibers together, like with a long "staple" length fiber. The less twist in your fiber, the softer it will be in general. There is a string on the wheel which goes in a figure 8 around both the whorl and the bobbin. This is called the drive band and it is what makes the wheel turn both the whorl and the bobbin as the spinner treadles. it turns the bobbin a little slower than the whorl, which allows the spun yarn to wind onto the bobbin. The yarn on the bobbin in this photo is some of my hand-dyed alpaca roving, which looked like this prior to spinning. Now I have spun it, it must be "plyed" to make a 2-ply yarn.

A busy week is ahead. My mother comes to visit tomorrow for a couple of days and I need to make some vet arrangements for some male alpacas I sold to Georgia so they have proper paperwork when their new owners come in 2 weeks to pick them up. The garden is ready for tilling and it's time to get lettuce and beets into the ground. And all the alpacas need their monthly wormer shots, so I won't be bored! Almost forgot to add that I also received about 15 pounds of processed roving back from the fiber mill this week. Need to do some more dyeing!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Feels Like Spring!

The weather this week has been glorious, warm, sunny, just about perfect.

The spring -like weather gets me to thinking about things that spring brings to our farm. We will soon be deep into breeding, shearing and birthing season.

It is also time to think about weaning fall crias (babies), which is always somewhat traumatic, with usually either mama or baby crying at the fence for a day or two. We move our crias to a pasture where neither mama nor baby can see the other, so going with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind theory, the whining doesn't last as long as if mama was just a fence away. We generally wean at 6 months and can keep the male and female cria
s together for a few more months, but as they can become sexually mature as early as 1 year, we will separate them again in a couple months after shearing into boy and girl groups.

Shearing will start no sooner than the end of April. We have shorn in early April before, only to have a cold snap and have to find coats and sweat shirts to put on "naked" alpacas. So now we wait. We do our own shearing on a table Sam built and we do it over a period of a month or so, doing a few a day or maybe 10 or so on a weekend day until we are done. I will do a detailed shearing post once we get started on that.

We only have 5 or 6 crias due this spring and not until May and June. Hopefully I can get a series of birthing photos and post on that. I do like to be present for births whenever possible. Sometimes I have to get the latex gloves and the lubricant out, but not very often. Sometimes I need to call the vet, but that is even less often, thankfully.

Now is the time to contemplate who is getting bred to whom. I have some I am sending to other farms for breeding, so I need to get any necessary paperwork done for that. If we start breeding in Late April, early May, our 2011 spring crias will be due about 11 1/2 months later.

Now in other news, I finished up the "sugaring" or making of maple syrup last Friday. Our final approximate amounts are that we collected and cooked down 75 gallons of sap into 2 1/2 gallons of pure maple syrup in about 9 days. Some of the finished product is pictured to the left. On the days we cooked down 14 to 15 gallons of sap, the syrup came out darker, due to the longer time in the evaporator pan than in the days we only cooked down 6 to 8 gallons. It all tastes great, though! We plan to do even more next year.

I also received my new to me Rick Reeves Frame Spinning Wheel (photo to the left) that I purchased from a lady in Washington State. I have tried it out and love it so far. When I say "frame" wheel that is the style. It is also known as a "castle" style wheel. It works just the same as my other Reeves wheel, which is called a Saxony Wheel (photo below), but it is more compact and takes up less room. Both these wheels are hand made of solid oak are no longer made and so are hard to find and highly collectible. They are also quite functional and I spin a lot of yarn.

More on spinning in the next post.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The sap has been flowing, so we have been making syrup. This is our first year and so it is kind of a small scale trial. We are using gallon milk jugs on our taps, of which we have only 11.

Then, we collect it in 4
gallon buckets with lids, acquired at the local grocery store for $1 apiece and bring them from the woods either with the tractor or 4-wheeler. It is extremely muddy and slushy right now as about 2 feet of snow has been slowly melting.

The next step is to filter the sap through a milk filter to remove any bits of bark or dirt or bugs or whatever may have fallen into the buckets. The filter sits in the bottom of a big coffee can that Sam drilled some holes in. We filter it into a warming pan on the stove in the kitchen. We keep it warm because as the sap evaporates outside, we need to add more sap to the evaporating pan and we don't want to change the temperature too much.

We are using our g
as grill, which is hooked directly to a line which comes from one of the gas wells on our farm. This is not the ideal set-up, as it won't hold the sap at a good boil without closing the lid, but so far it is working and we can boil off about a gallon of water an hour from the sap. So basically, if we have 10 gallons of sap, we will spend 8 to 9 hours boiling sap and end up with about a quart of syrup! Watch for more on this next week.

I think next year we will build a wood-fired evaporator, which will be more labor-intensive, but will stay hotter and boil the sap off more quickly.

By the way, the syrup is YUMMY!

I received my yarn for the Mystery Lace Shawl KAL on Friday and started it on Monday. I had to get to a good stopping point in my sweater before I allowed myself to start. Very pleased so far, I am working on clue 1 and have clue 2 and clue 3 comes out this Friday. Then I will have 2 weeks before clue 4, so I think I will catch up!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March Arrives!

March has come in with calmer weather, although February went out with a bang. We got another 6 to 8 inches of snow on Friday the 26th, but since then we have seen the sun and much of the white stuff is finally melting!

I went Saturday the 27th to Buffalo to pick Zac up. He had been there since October and was heading back out to California this week, so needed all his "stuff" brought home. I took him to Columbus to the airport early Tuesday morning, so he is now back at Yosemite at Evergreen Lodge.

Sunday around noon we had a little excitement when our chimney caught fire. The fortunate things were that this happened during the day and while we were home, so the fire department arrived in time to put out the fire before any real damage could be done to the house. It could have been devastating. Thank you to the Graysville VFD!

The weather has finally turned warm and the sap is running! Sam has tapped a few trees and is doing up our very first batch of maple syrup today. It will likely only amount to about a pint, but we are starting out small and hope to figure out what will work better for more production next year.

I am excited that I have ordered a new spinning wheel! It was listed on Craigslist in Washington state and is a Rick Reeves Frame wheel. I already have one of Rick's wheels and they are collectible pieces of functional art, each signed by the artist, as is appropriate. Once I get it,
I will post photos.

I am still working on my cabled alpaca sweater, but have also joined a "Mystery Knit-a-long". I have never done one of these before. It is through Ravelry and basically, you sign up and are told w
hat the item you will be knitting is. In this case, it is a lace circular shawl (I love to knit lace shawls). Once you sign up, every 2 weeks the KAL host e-mails you a new part of the pattern. So you never see what the finished product will look like until the end. I have ordered yarn for it from KnitPicks in a hand-dyed blue colorway and will also need to order beads, but will wait til I get the yarn. It just sounds like so much fun!