Morning Chores

My husband is gone this week, so I’m doing double duty while he’s away, his work and mine. Along with shipping orders and a number of other things that he normally takes care of, I’m doing the morning chores. I should rephrase this … I get to do the morning chores! There are definitely days I’d trade the time I sit in front of the computer a good share of the day, for the stress relieving, sometimes down and dirty, tasks of caring for our animals.

Alpacas Eating

The squeaky wheel gets the grease is a phrase used to convey the idea that the most noticeable (or loudest) problems are the ones most likely to get attention, and that’s true when it comes to our Angora goats. Quieting the bleating of our three goats, Mike, Ike, and Lola comes first. They act like they are starving, and I can hardly get the feed in the tubs as they push each other out of the way. Not very mannerly.

The chickens are also very near the top of the feeding order. My husband’s automatic chicken coop door will close around 10pm, then re-open around 7am, but it does not open or close the outside people door so I am anxious to get the chickens fed before they are out free ranging and laying eggs who knows where.

If I happen to not get to the chickens before they are out, it’s not the end of the world. They do come eagerly when they see me coming, and I feel like the pied piper as I dish out their feed, and close them back in the coop until later in the day after they’ve had a chance to lay their eggs. They’ll get let outside mid-afternoon hopefully to eat lots of pesky bugs like flies and such, until our beautiful, grey rooster named Beauregard corrals his girls back in at dusk. If all goes well, they are back in their coop and roosting before the automatic door closes. Most nights, this works like clockwork.

Beauregard

Our Angora rabbits are next, especially if we have babies, which we do right now. They get feed free choice until they are about six months old, so I try to get to them early, and feed our rabbit mom, Mrs. Fitz, who can’t seem to get enough to eat. Got to feed mom, so she can feed her babies.

Alpacas are next. They do the least complaining, except for maybe standing at the gate watching, so they are last. My husband and I do this differently, go figure! If you’re going to see alpacas spit, it will be at feeding time, arguing about who will eat out of which feed tub. I choose not to be spit on, so I like to put the alpacas out of the barn, dish out the feed, then let them back in to eat. Less alpaca stress. My husband does not put the alpacas out first, but seems to like the chaos of alpacas practically on top of him trying to get their heads in the bucket, or pushing others out of the way trying to find the tub with the most feed in it. That’s not for me.

I’ll clean up manure next, so that I can just hang out with the alpacas for awhile. I’ll put out hay in various places, or recycle hay from the day before turning it over so the smaller, greener pieces that have fallen to the bottom are at the top and can be eaten a little easier.

Filling water bottles, water buckets, and water troughs is next. From time to time I’ll leave the water running somewhere, so I’ll try not to do that this morning. Check minerals and replenish if necessary. Make note to self that toenails need trimmed on a few of our alpacas next month when we do herd health.

That’s it for the outside animals. I usually will have already fed the cats, Desmond and Priscilla, and our dog Louie as well as carried Louie outside quickly as he has back issues and has become incontinent in his older age.

It feels good to have cared for all the animals, who depend on us to do so, and to be outside in nature, with God’s creations. Unless I leave a gate open somewhere and the alpacas get out, there really is very little stress doing morning chores, but rather something very peaceful, therapeutic, even joyful.

Of course, nothing beats my granddaughter Brylee spending the night, and helping me with morning chores, watching her enjoy the animals, like I do, and happy to be sharing that experience with her.

10 Reasons to Raise Alpacas

Why did we start raising alpacas? We fell in love with them, and the alpaca lifestyle! There are soo many more reasons to choose to start an alpaca farm…here’s just ten of them!

1. Love of the Animals

Like I said, we fell in love with the animals! When we visited that first alpaca farm and saw those intriguing looking animals, it was love at first sight! There is a peacefulness about these gentle animals, with their long elegant necks, large eyes, long lashes, and gentle humming. Alpacas continue to transfix us, making them irresistible for those of us who have taken the “taken the plunge.” 

We raise both suris and huacayas!

2. The Love of Luxury Fiber

As I sorted through the crop of fiber after our first shearing, I knew I wanted to learn how to use such luxurious fiber. It is very high quality, super soft, fluffy, lustrous, and silky. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is not prickly and has no lanolin, making alpaca fiber hypoallergenic.

Suri Fiber

The fiber can be sold raw off the animal, carded and spun into yarn, crocheted, knit, or woven into countless products, or felted. The possibilities are endless!

Huacaya Fiber

In both our Online Store and in our Farm Store, you can find anything from raw fiber to finished garments made directly from the fiber of alpacas. Though we do breed and sell the alpacas themselves, today the fiber is my main reason for raising alpacas.

3. The Desire for a Rural Lifestyle

Having alpacas gives us a reason to get outside, be in the outdoors, and enjoy the beauty all around us. Though we live right next to a major highway, there is something much simpler about living on a farm, raising animals, caring for their basic needs because they depend on us to do so, and sometimes getting dirty. It’s a slower pace. I love living with nature all around us, and looking out my window seeing alpacas graze in the pasture just makes it all that more enjoyable. Alpacas are gentle, inquisitive creatures that make us want to take time out to watch and enjoy them.

Our dogs Lizzie and Louie have a lot of courage on the other side of the fence!

4. A Great Family Endeavor

Living on a farm of any kind teaches kids responsibility, and alpacas are good with kids. When visitors come, we suggest they crouch down, so they are more child size because alpacas are less intimidated by children and more apt to approach them. There are tons of ways kids can help to take care of the alpacas, from filling water buckets, to scooping poop, to halter training…there is always a task with which they can help. Giving chores to your children will instill work ethic and responsibility to take into adulthood. Not to mention, they will treasure the bonds they make with the alpacas!

Raising alpacas is great for the kids
My grandson in the middle of things, loving the attention from the alpacas!

If your children participate in 4-H, they can now do alpacas as a 4-H project! When my children were growing up there was not a 4-H group dedicated to alpacas, now it is becoming much more common. The Richland County Fair in Ohio even has an alpaca barn and hosts an alpaca show every year. 4-H is an awesome program for kids to make friends, build leadership skills, learn about the projects they’ve chosen, and participate in the yearly fair. Find out more about Getting Your Children Involved in 4-H.

Alpaca 4h group at the Richland County Fair in Ohio
Richland County 4-H Club

7. Easy to Care For

Compared to other farm animals, alpacas are low maintenance. They are also very adaptable to different kinds of weather and climates. If you have one acre of land, you can comfortably keep six to ten alpacas. Alpacas require regular feeding and easy access to plenty of clean water, as well as adequate shelter from the elements. They spend most of their time grazing in the pasture. Additionally, plan on annual shearing, de-worming, toenail trimming, occasionally teeth trimming, and annual vaccinations.

8. Alpacas Provide Stress Relief

Even though alpacas have some quirky behaviors like spitting when they are unsatisfied, more and more animal lovers are opting to raise them because they are easy to look after, intelligent, and tidy. Time spent with alpacas is stress-relieving — perfect for forgetting about all the troubles of the world!

Suri alpaca at Alpaca Meadows
Not a good look for such a pretty girl!

8. Alpacas are Trainable

Alpacas are perfect animals for training using a halter and leash. Though fearful initially, I’m always amazed how quickly a weanling begins to trust and learn once halter training begins, and how quickly they begin to trust and do what you’re they’re being asked. Alpacas can be taught to maneuver obstacles courses, walk across bridges, over teeter totters, through streamers, and even crawling in and out of mini-vans!

Sisters Amelia and Annalise are out for a walk with me!

9. Alpaca Manure is Great Fertilizer

We absolutely love to use the alpaca poop as fertilizer! In my opinion the smell is not as strong as cow manure and our plants grow like crazy! We take it straight out of the pasture and into the gardens. Free fertilizer is a great perk of alpacas.

Speaking of manure…interestingly enough all alpacas poop in the same place…yes, they have communal dung piles! When it comes to cleaning out the barns or the pasture there are just a few large poop piles where they all do their business. I know, it’s weird, but that’s just their nature and it makes for pretty easy clean-up.

Alpaca Manure for fertilizer
I always treat my flowerbeds to alpaca manure

Alpacas are grazers and they love a nice green pasture. Typically we will let them in one pasture for a few weeks, let them eat it down, and then move them to another pasture to let that one grow back a bit. Rotating pastures also helps with parasite control.

Alpacas in the pasture
The girls enjoying a pretty day and a green pasture

10. The Cutest Babies Ever

One of the greatest joys of raising alpacas is the babies, called crias. Seeing them born is extra special, and watching themrun in the pasture just brings a smile to my face. Females can be bred once a year and have a gestational period of 242-345 days. Working with the animals starting from when they’re crias makes for a great owner/animal relationship and deepens trust…and the babies are sooo cute!

Alpacas are herd animals so if you want one, you’ll need to have two. This is actually a great thing because they don’t really need us. If your animal has at least one companion you don’t need to worry about not having enough time for them or keeping them engaged or entertained. Just get them some buddies and they will be just fine.

Want to know more about alpacas and our farm? Check out our website.

save the planet, wear alpaca!

Preparing for Shearing Day

Shearing day is one of the most important days of the year on alpaca farms. It is the day that we harvest the beautiful fiber that our alpacas have grown over the last year. Getting organized for the day ahead of time certainly makes the day less stressful and chaotic. Teamwork and a well thought out plan will make shearing day run like a well oiled machine.

That being said, shearing is one of my least favorite parts of raising alpacas, because though our shearers claim it takes them just eight minutes to shear an alpaca, and though they are not harmed in any way, it still is a scary experience for them. Some tolerate it better than others. All of them feel better when it’s over.

So I think of it as an day at the spa for alpacas … they get their teeth, their toenails, their topknots, and their tails all trimmed … in addition to a summer haircut!

alpacas

The cleaner your alpacas are on shearing day, the more value your fiber harvest will be. It has been said that you should “Groom your pasture, not your alpacas.” Make sure that briars, sticks, evergreen needles, dead leaves, and other small, loose vegetative matter are removed from your fields so that it doesn’t get into the alpacas’ fiber. Ideally, keep them in a nice grassy pasture with no hay one week prior to shearing.

I did say a green pasture was ideal. Our alpacas were on straw and a winter’s worth of manure (layered with straw) on shearing day. In Ohio, we go from winter to mud season and it just always seems to be too wet to clean the barns and haul manure anywhere. It’s not the end of the world.

In the pictures, you can see that we’ve used our interlocking stall panels so that we can herd each alpaca into our chute for cleaning. Our chute has belly bands and various restraints to keep the alpacas semi-still while we do some cleaning. Cleaning involves picking the debris out of their fiber, as much as they will tolerate. If they are getting stressed, we quit. This is also a good time to give yearly vaccines, dewormers, and any other medication they are needing.

Here is a list of items to have on hand on shearing day:

  • Large sheets for collecting blanket (prime) fiber. Plastic tablecloths work nicely for this, or a large plastic bag cut up both sides.
  • Large clear plastic bags for seconds (neck and upper leg) and noodled blanket fiber. Clear bags can be hard to find. Check Costco or Odd Lots. Read how to noodle alpaca blanket fiber here.
  • Trash cans for collecting thirds (leg fiber, tail, top knot, trimmings), or a smaller bag if you plan to weigh fiber from each alpaca.
  • Trash can for contaminated fiber.
  • Labels to identify fiber from each alpaca.
  • List of alpacas in order you plan to shear, males first, then light colors to dark colors.
  • Loaded syringes if you plan to administer shots the day of shearing.
  • Towels for “accidents”.
  • Broom for sweeping fiber.
  • Halters/leads to move alpacas to shearing area and back to pasture/barn.
  • Cleaning tools. We use the Crimp Slick N Go and the Oster Curry – Coarse, found at Quality Llama Products. Some people use blowers, but we never have.

Weather is always an issue. If it looks rain, keep your alpacas in the barn to so they can stay dry. A wet alpaca cannot be shorn.

We shear males first so they can be put back out in the pasture and away from the girls that will be parading by all day. We then shear lightest colors animals to darkest, which helps to prevent color contamination.

If we have a mother and cria, we try to keep them close in the shearing line-up to minimize stress for both.

You will need some help. The shearers, of which we have four young, strong men who are professionals and know what they are doing, will perform most of the physical work. This year we got by with three additional people helping the shearers, four or more is better for our size herd. Each helper has a job:

Helper One and Two: Halters alpacas for shearing in listed order, brings alpacas to shearing area. Once alpaca is restrained on mat for shearing, brings next alpaca. Returns alpacas to pasture once they are shorn, making sure to return males and females to appropriate places!

Helper Three and Four: Lays sheet down next to alpaca to collect and noodle blanket fiber, collect seconds, and puts correct label with each. Collect thirds. Sweep up any fiber too dirty to use, toenails, etc.

In the background, you can see the plastic sheets we use, and bags ready to go. Next to them is a clipboard with the list of alpacas in order to be shorn. Labels for bags are also on clipboard.

It’s always a delight to see the lovely fiber that comes off our alpacas!

This is a picture of blanket fiber that has been noodled, label enclosed, with a bag of seconds next to it. I slip the noodled fiber in the bag of seconds, using just one bag per alpaca, but still keeping the blanket and seconds separate.

Alpacas spit! Usually it is at each other, or when they feel threatened. Unfortunately some of them feel threatened on shearing day, and Kevin took it right in the face.

Our grandchildren, Wade, Clayton, and Brylee were the clean-up crew this year! I love that we live on a farm and can involve them!!

Alpacas look a whole lot different without their beautiful fiber, just in time for warm weather to arrive.

Be sure to see Shearing Day and Shearing Day is Behind Us. Coming soon … What to Do With All This Alpaca Fiber!

Crochet and Knitting Patterns for Alpacas and Llamas

We’ve been raising alpacas for quite a few years, and now suddenly they’ve become popular! They seem to be everywhere, and on everything. There are some darling knitting and crochet patterns for alpacas and llamas, as well as purses, backpacks, finger puppets, pillows, hats and mittens, shaped like or adorned with these magical creatures!

Crochet and Knitting Patterns for Alpacas and Llamas

Some still mistake alpacas for llamas, and vice versa. The size difference between alpacas and llamas is obvious, but the other distinct difference is their ears. Alpacas have smaller, spear shaped ears and llamas have larger, banana shaped ears. Find out more by reading 6 Differences Between Llamas and Alpacas by Modern Farmer.

Photo by Modern Farmer

Hope you enjoy my Pinterest board collection of Crochet and Knitting Patterns for Alpacas and Llamas … some of the patterns are free!


New Home for Alpacas at Broken Spirit Ranch

Blazen Spirit of Lady Liberty, the first cria born on our farm, has moved to a new farm in Tennessee.

Male Alpacas Establish Pecking Order

It is true that alpacas are quiet and peaceful.  However, when it comes to male alpacas there is a pecking order, and sometimes they fight to determine who’s going to be in charge.  Mostly they disagree over who’s going to stand closest to the girls.  We’ve had two separate groups of males this winter for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. Recently, I nonchalantly opened the gate between the two groups because we are needing the barn space, hoping they all could just get along.  I stood and watched what unfolded next, and found it to be quite interesting.

                  Males Forced to Back Pasture

Let me back up and give you a little history.  We have a bully and his name is Ranger, or shouldn’t I label him?  I guess as nature would have it, he has fought his way to the top of the pecking order, but he’s almost gone to auction for the last three years because he’s a management problem.  Not only does he fight with our other males, he keeps them in the far pasture so they can’t be near the girls, or the hay, or the water.  We did solve the water problem by putting another water trough in the back pasture.

               Derecho and New Water Trough

As we prepared for winter, we were forced to put Ranger in a separate pasture, and give him half of the small barn that the boys use, in order for the rest of the males to have access to shelter this winter.

                             Ranger In Charge

Then came Derecho, a male huacaya that was rehomed to us this winter.  He is our only huacaya male, the rest being suri’s.  We knew better than to put him with Ranger, and have him get beat up, but being a small male, he somehow was able to squeeze between fence posts and get in with you know who.  Why would he want to do that?  I have no idea.  There were a few skirmishes, but Derecho always came out on top, don’t ask me why.  Because he’s fluffy? Because he looks bigger than he really is?  At any rate, the two have lived together fairly peacefully all winter.

                                      Ranger and Derecho

So, back to my story.  When I opened the gate between the two groups of boys,  they didn’t even notice for quite some time.  I went about doing chores, and after some time had passed, I glanced over and saw that Ranger was right up at the fence, as close as he could be to the girls, the rest of the males back out in the far pasture.  No surprise.

 I then saw Sam put his head to the ground and come charging towards Ranger, followed by all but one of the rest of the males.  Thunderstruck, the oldest, stayed back leaving such nonsense to the younger boys.  They circled Ranger, as if to say “we’ve had enough”, and chased him back to the far pasture.

                                                   Sam

Derecho meandered up to the fence, taking Ranger’s place, closest to the girls.  None of the other boys seemed to mind.  It seemed to be okay to let the new guy be in charge, without him even having to fight for his position.  Perhaps he is the peacemaker.

                    Derecho Stakes Claim at Fence

I stood and watched awhile longer.  Ranger seemed to be sneaking out of the back pasture, running to the front.   Sam lead the enterage again and corralled Ranger to the back pasture.  I found their behavior to be so interesting, doing only what comes natural to them, to be male alpacas.  There has been no fighting, no screaming, and no blood.  There has been body posturing, ears laid back , and looks that mean business.  Now all five males are living peacefully, together, for now.

Males at Alpaca Meadows

Marty McGee Bennett says, “It is only possible to affect what you can control.  Trying to make males that live together play nicely all day and all night is impossible, even if you were willing to move out into the pasture with them!”

Understanding Male Behavior in the Alpaca is a great article written by Marty and published in Alpaca Magazine.  Marty writes, “Convincing alpacas NOT to engage in natural behaviors is a losing proposition. I think an easier approach to males is to make fighting, or any other problematic behavior, unnecessary.”

Marty McGee Bennett has traveled the world, including two different visits to our farm for training and handling seminars.  She has devoted her professional life to the well-being of camelids and the education of their owners.   CAMELIDynamics is the result of Marty McGee Bennett’s over 30 years of experience with camelids. If you ever get a chance to attend one of her workshops, it is well worth it.  She not only teaches training and management of alpacas, but training of their people!

It seems we’ve always had a bully.  Spirit claimed the title before Ranger.  Keeping a lot of distance between males and females, giving them ample room to establish boundaries they inherently need, spreading food dishes out at feeding time so there is less to squabble about, all help to manage our sometimes rowdy boys and lower the stress level in the male pasture.

Thursdays in the Alpaca Barn

Thursday is my day in the alpaca barn, my turn to do farm chores.  Of course chores get done every day, but Thursday is my day, and today I think the alpacas are excited to see me!

When we first had alpacas, I did all the chores.  My husband was busy working a real job.  Years passed, life happened, and Matt found himself with time to do farm chores.  We took turns for awhile but before long, he was doing them every day.  This freed me up to develop and grow our alpaca business, process fiber, run the store, teach classes, work on the website, crochet, knit, spin, felt, weave.   It worked, for awhile.  He found that there just really isn’t much  stress in the barn, and that was very appealing to him.  I found that I missed caring for the alpacas.  So we’ve made some changes and now Thursday is my day … and I am loving it!

I love it most on sunny days, but that was not the case today.  It seems to have turned to mud season … ugh!

  

Certainly, not a job everyone would love, but I do.  Getting outside, caring for animals that count on me to bring them hay, feed, and fresh water is a privilege, really.  Clearing my mind of all except the task in front of me, is therapeutic, and a welcome relief from some of the tasks of running a business that weigh me down.

                                                                                                              

I don’t waste any time putting their feed out, spreading it out in numerous different feed dishes to keep the arguing (and stress level) over who eats first and who stands where to eat, to a minimum.  Yes, alpacas do spit (mostly at each other), and feeding time is when you will see it.  Hence, this is the reason the inside of our barn is covered with spit.

This is Mabelle, waiting patiently.   I like to put the alpacas out of the barn, then put their feed in their dishes, and then let them in.  This way I have a chance to touch each one, and they have a chance to learn to trust me enough to walk that close.

                                                                                                                                  

 

This is Savannah, Amelia, and Amelia’s sister, Annalise.  Sorry if there mouths are full, but it is feeding time.  I put out hay in different locations, both inside and out, in Rubbermaid wheelbarrows that can be moved to different places as needed.

     I start clean-up, working amongst the alpacas, wanting them to feel comfortable with me in their midst, and also because I just like being with them.  In the winter, chores are actually a bit easier because we layer fresh straw over the manure each day, a system called deep bedding.  The water and urine seep down to the lower layers of straw and the straw on top keeps the animals dry.  Find out more caring for Alpacas in Winter.  Did you know there actually is a Manure Management Handbook?  I discovered it just today.  It actually is quite interesting.

I add fresh water to the water troughs and heated buckets, that we switched to mid-winter, because the floating heater in the boys’ water trough gave out.  The chickens get feed and water.

 

Fitzgerald, our angora rabbit, and the latest addition to Alpaca Meadows, gets some leafy greens, and fresh water.  More about him later.

Chores don’t take that long, just depends on how much time I want to spend.  It’s very peaceful in the alpaca barn.  Sometimes I just enjoy sitting on a bale of straw watching the alpacas interact.  Caring for the animals on our farm, as well as the two that are inside, seeing that their simple needs are met, is the least I can do for them compared to the joy they give back to me.

I finish up my chores each week by working with one or two of the alpacas, on halter training, and going on walks out of the pasture back through our woods and hay field.  I worked with Martha today, three years old, but still resisting having a halter on and being led anywhere.  I’m making progress, but it takes time to build trust.  Today Amelia (left) and her sister Annalise go for a walk with me through the hay field.  They are somewhat tentative, but have each other so it’s not quite as scarey.  The walk back to the barn is at a much quicker pace.

Alpacas in Winter

Alpaca fiber is oh, so, so warm and socks, hats, scarves, gloves, and sweaters made from alpaca, are the best!  Alpacas have their fiber to keep them warm, and honestly they mind the heat much more than the cold. However, there are times and conditions when our alpacas appreciate a little help keeping warm.

Alpacas in Winter

Our rule of thumb is that we close the alpacas in the barn, when we hit single digit temperatures.  Even alpacas appreciate being able to get out of cold, harsh winds and pelting rain or snow.  We line the inside walls of their shelter with bales of straw, stacked three or four high, to cut down on the drafts as well as have handy for layering on top of the manure.  Other than the cold and the snow, alpaca care is actually a little easier in the winter because we don’t clean up the manure in the barn.  Rather we spread straw on top of the manure.  Heat is generated from the lower layers of composting manure and straw.

Alpacas in Winter

Feed ahead of the weather.  In winter, we always have plenty of hay available and when it is cold, our alpacas easily eat twice as much.  They seem to know when a change in the weather is coming.

Alpacas in Winter

Older alpacas and little ones can have trouble staying warm.  There actually is Winter Wear which can help immensely especially if an alpaca is sick or compromised in some way.

Alpacas in Winter

Below are some tips written by Ben Fisco of Humminghill Suri Alpaca Farm on “Raising Alpacas in Harsh Winter Climates”.  Read the entire article here.

  1. Breed for spring and autumn births.
  2. Use layered, thick, dry bedding in sheds and barn.
  3. Bring alpacas inside in extreme cold and when they are wet dry them off before sending them back to the pasture.
  4. Use a flame and fan-free heating system when heat is used.
  5. Avoid drafts.
  6. Provide good drainage.
  7. Provide good ventilation and air circulation in all barns year round.
  8. Clear pastures of snow in areas large enough to provide exercise.
  9. For cria hypothermia, place cria in a plastic water-tight bag in warm water up to, but not including, the head.
  10. Use heated water buckets.
  11. Use cria coats and coats for adults when you see them shiver.  Use common sense.
  12. Feed large volumes of high quality hay in cold weather.

Alpacas in Winter

Several other helpful articles:

Can It Get Any Colder?
Tips On Raising Suris in Cold Weather

This Must Be A First: Alpacas Blessed In Nation’s Capital

Here’s something you don’t see every day in Washington, D.C.

Standing just a couple of blocks from the U.S. Capitol, a group of Peruvian highlanders, draped in handwoven cloths and ponchos in all the colors of the rainbow, pray to Mother Earth, to the mountains, to the spirit of their ancestors. They offer wine, incense and flowers.
Their wish is that their alpaca “cover the earth like the grains of sand by the ocean.”

Blessing of the Alpacas - Alpaca News

Alpacas, in case you don’t know, are llama-like animals in the camel family. Their wool — called fiber — is prized for its softness and warmth. It’s woven into textiles and garments. So the more alpacas, the better. That’s why Peruvians hold a traditional blessing ceremony, performed since before Columbus discovered the New World and re-created at the national mall last Friday for the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The Peruvians kneel in front of the alpacas’ pen to prepare their offering. Behind them, six alpacas, on loan from Sugarloaf Alpacas in Maryland, stand nervously. It’s apparent they’ve never been blessed before.
A weaver named Timoteo, from the village of Chinchero, leads the ceremony. As he speaks, a translator echoes his words.

“Lightning storms, please, I supplicate you with this offering. Please be gentle with us, support us and allow our animals to be fruitful and multiply, don’t be harsh.”

Before the ceremony began, I spoke with Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, a traditional weaver. Callañaupa is a cofounder of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, a nonprofit formed to preserve the art of weaving. As we talk, her hands never stop moving as she spins alpaca fiber into yarn.

The alpaca ceremony, Callañaupa explains, takes place once a year during their rainy season, which in Peru lasts from November through April. The people ask Mother Earth — Pachamama in the Quechua language — and the spirits to look out for their animals.

“Spirit of our ancestors, angels that protect us, please take care of us. We offer to you this blessing.”

Alpacas are native to South America, where they are sometimes raised for meat (which is low in calories, fat, and cholesterol) but are primarily prized for their fleece, which grows naturally in over twenty colors. Alpaca fiber is not only soft, Callañaupa says, but warmer and finer than sheep’s wool.

Ann Rowe, a researcher at the George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum in D.C., says these attractive properties of alpaca fiber are due to its structure. “Alpaca is softer than wool because [the shaft of each fiber] has fewer surface scales,” she says. “It is warmer because many of the fibers have a hollow core.”

It also costs more than wool, Callañaupa says, an advantage for the farmer. Peru is reportedly home to 3.6 million alpacas — that’s most of the world’s population and produces 80 percent of the world’s alpaca fleece. Those exports, however, are managed by large fiber mills.

“The export industry is an entirely different thing than local use of alpacas” for textiles, says Rowe.

“Let the alpaca be as strong as can be because their bones are like steel. The mountains should run with alpacas like grains of sand, and their caretakers should be so overjoyed that their eyes run with tears.”

It’s a long road from animal to textile. It starts, Callañaupa says, with shearing the animals, which is done every year or two (in warmer climates, annual shearing is more common).

Next, the fiber is spun by hand into yarn on a traditional drop spindle — a wooden spike that is weighted at one end. The spinner fixes the fiber to the spike, then pulls and twists the fiber while holding the spindle between the legs. When the twisted fiber reaches a certain length, the spindle is dropped toward the floor, and its weight makes it rotate, twisting it into yarn.

The finished yarn is washed and can be dyed. The Cusco weavers use natural dyes made from leaves, flowers and insects.

When the yarn is ready, artisans use a Backstrap Loom to weave bright, intricate textiles. Each community, Callañaupa explains, has its own designs and style of weaving. “It’s part of our identity,” she says.

“Let there be a great abundance of alpacas, so that the alpacas should be like the condor and appear to fly from one mountain to another, and let them come in all the beautiful colors.”

People sell their woven textiles. If they have a lot of alpaca, they’ll sell the actual fiber as well. Callañaupa says that in many of these villages, raising alpaca is the basis for the economy. “In high altitudes where the alpacas are kept, there is not agriculture,” she says. “So all the food will come through [sale of the] fiber.”

Is it enough to make a living?

She doesn’t look up from the creamy, pale fiber she is spinning into soft yarn. “Most people, that pays for living,” she says. “The food, the education. No savings.”

When the ceremony is over, necklaces of carnations and woven tassels are hung around each alpaca’s neck to show it has been blessed. In Peru, the end of the ceremony marks the beginning of a festival, so right there on the National Mall, to the beat of drums and the whistle of flutes, the Peruvians dance their thanks to Mother Earth.

Back in their pen, the blessed alpacas pace, perhaps not yet aware of their good fortune.

From NPR
By Jessie Rack

Read the original here.

Picnic in Alpaca Pasture is Highlight of Farm Tour

 A group of gals from Columbus, Ohio came for a Farm Tour over the weekend.  They had asked if they could bring their lunch, then do a Drop Spindle Class in the afternoon.  Though they enjoyed learning to spin, and they enjoyed shopping in The Farm Store, their picnic in the alpaca pasture was the highlight!

Picnic in the Pasture

When given some options where they could have their lunch, they opted for in the pasture under a shade tree.

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What a spread they had … they were very kind and invited me to join them!

Picnic in Pasture is Highlight of Farm Tour

Mabelle, Martha, and our guard llama, Silver Beauty ventured over to the picnic spot to see what was going on.

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Before long, curiosity got the best of some of our other girls and they ventured over to check out who was in their pasture.

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Having been a little disappointed during the tour that our alpacas were not more social, our guests were now getting undivided attention.

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I thought they might end up having to share their lunch with their new fiber friends.

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 That is what Miss Miami was hoping!

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Lunch in the pasture after a Farm Tour was definitely a first, and very much enjoyed by our guests!

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See it live!  Watch it on YouTube.

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Little Martha enjoyed some lunch too!



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