Friday, June 20, 2008

Just a summer's day

The weather is hotter today. It's been such a cool spring that it's nice to have the sun pound us now and then. It was hot enough that we ended our work early and came in to enjoy the cool of the house. My oldest daughter Bethy finished her little scarecrow baby from one of Jean Greenhowe's books. Bethy isn't all that happy with the results but I think he's very cute for her first try at this kind of pattern. On to greater challenges and the bigger dolls for her.

Younger daughter, Abigail, tried her hand at decorating cupcakes--also her first try at the tender age of 11. We found a website all about baking and decorating cupcakes. They have a monthly challenge and the first one is making flower cupcakes. Here's her entry. I think they turned out really good, although the cake is just from a mix. I'm sure she'll get better at the baking part, but for now, she's very excited about the decorating.

As usual, an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in around 3:30.

During the storm and through the rain and hail, the sun shone brightly through the clouds and the rainbow seemed to end right at our house. We searched and searched for the pot of gold, but with no luck. Alas, all we got was a picture and a cool and windless summer evening. Good trade if you ask me.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sheared, shaved, shorn

Well, we've reached the other side of the shearing mountain. I now have a barn full of alpaca fiber in clear plastic trash bags, forming yet another mountain for me to scale.

We shear our animals using ropes and pulleys that stretch the animal out on the floor.

This is how the shearers from New Zealand do it and they're the absolute best. Because alpacas' instincts tell them that their heads, bellies and legs should never be touched lest they become a quick meal for a predator, this method of shearing incapacitates them so we can get the job done in 20 minutes or less. It's also much safer for the animal. Sheep shears can cut the skin wide open in a split second and a jumpy and nervous animal like an alpaca is especially at risk for this. I've heard of people shearing their animals standing up, but I can't imagine getting a safe, thorough and clean cut with the animal fussing and jumping around. It's also difficult to get all of the fiber off of the animal in the belly area, back end and the arm pits when the animal is standing. Not removing that fiber is an invitation for skin parasites and an opportunity to overlook areas that may harbor infection or wounds from the previous year.

Contrary to the concerns of those who believe that this method of shearing is cruel, I believe it is the most humane, the safest, the most efficient, and best option in terms of the long term health and comfort of the animal. The ropes allow me to put my hands and my eyes on every part of the animal, which gives me a chance to discover any previously unseen injuries or conditions that have developed. I think this is important for the overall health of the animal. 20-30 minutes stretched out on the ropes is much better than living 24/7 with the discomfort and long term effects of a chronic infection or infestation.

OK, enough of the preaching. This is our set up and here is an animal on the floor ready to shear. Most of the animals are not stretched tightly unless they struggle and fight. Pregnant females are not stretched fully and are not put on their bellies for any long than it takes to turn them over.

We take the blanket off first.

If we can get it in one piece, so much the better, but if an animal is having a hard time of it or if the female is within 30 days of delivery, we'll do one side at a time. The blanket is the main section of fleece, from the shoulder to the hip, possible including the neck if the fiber is of high quality. This is the prime fiber and the most valuable.

After the blanket, I shear the belly, the back leg and the neck and head--in that order. The animal is then raised upright and I shear the back end, the tail and the other side of the neck and head.

The animal is turned over to the opposite side and the last of the belly, the back leg, the front leg and the chest area are finished. The animal is completely sheared in an average of 20 minutes. We take the opportunity to trim toe nails, give vaccinations, vitamin injections and wormer paste. At the end of 30 minutes, the animal is back in the pen with the herd wondering what just happened.

I'd love to say I'm as good as the NZ guys, but that will never happen. With a full crew, those guys can shear an alpaca in 10 minutes and they can do 50-60 animals in one day. Sheesh! I'm not that fast, that tough, that young, or that focused. I do 10-12 on a good day, and I never have a full crew--just me and my two girls. I'm always afraid I'll get too tired and cut the animals by accident just because I wasn't on top of my game. Also, my shearing helpers are my two young girls who don't need to be wearing their backs out by trying to be heroic.

So that part of the year is over. We sheared our own animals and sheared for several other farms. I don't know how many we did altogether, but I'm glad it's done. We'll shear goats again in the fall and we'll be sorting, cleaning, and combing fiber for the rest of the summer. After that, the knitting starts again--hurrah!!