Feeling Sheepish

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The animals that I have long dreamed of for our farm have been chickens (check), ducks (April 11th), alpacas (I guess we’ll try again), donkeys (yes donkeys), and a draft horse to haul wood and for me and Maryjane to ride!  The latter two will have to wait but the last animals we have been thinking of are sheep.

Like I said before, I do tend to act hastily, even rashly, when giving things away.  I have read too many of those stupid articles that promise forever happiness if you shed all of your earthly belongings.  I figured I didn’t have alpacas, I didn’t have sheep, I couldn’t afford roving, it was high summer and I didn’t have to time to spin.  I promptly sold the spinning wheel (and I mean promptly, that sucker sold same day).  A trip down Craigslist shows a lot of ISO’s (in search of) and less wheels.  The wheels available are either chintzy or more than what I paid for initially.  Who knew they were so hot?  But, as with all things, we will put it back out there and I shall find another spinning wheel.

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We have put dibs on two not yet born infants.  They shall enter this fine world mid-March.  At five days they will come to Pumpkin Hollow Farm with their bottles in tow and will require our utmost care and attention…and snuggles, and baby talk.  We are getting sheep.

We still need to take this year’s farm plan over to the landlord’s house to get approved.  We also do not know exact costs of said farm animal menagerie I speak of.  Well, the ducks are five bucks.  But, I know that if we desire it and plan and save we will have our wish.

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Let me introduce you to the breed we are getting.  These are Finnsheep.

The breed is several hundred years old.  They are known for being able to find roughage in not so lush areas as well as be able to withstand harsh climates.  They are known for having several lambs in a litter.  They are predominantly white (they look a smidge like my Saanen goats, don’t you think?) but do come in other colors as well.  Their fleece is light but spins up very well and blends nicely with other fibers.  Well, people, it looks like my fiber mania is taking back over.

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They don’t have horns, which is nice, don’t want them to be taking out alpaca knees, or mama’s.  They don’t need their tail docked.  The rams are super friendly and will eat right out of your hand.  We like super friendly animals around here.  We will likely get two ram lambs but if they should have a female available, for obvious reasons, I would like to have one of each.

We are in our planning stages still but if all goes well, we will have quite a fun farm to visit and learn at.  I’ll keep you posted on this year’s farm plan and please feel free to comment on your favorite farm animals and the ones you hope to get this year!

 

 

Fiber Animals- Take 2

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Isn’t January a time of reminisce and future plans?  There isn’t much to do so we review our progress, our successes, our hopes, dreams, and ideas.  Two years ago in January we posted about alpacas.  Doug and I had been avidly attending alpaca festivals, visiting farms, yarn stores, and reading up and dreaming of the day that we would get our very own marionette-like animals.  I would while away the hours spinning on my old fashioned wheel, knitting socks from our very own fiber from our very own alpacas. *Sigh.

Look who wanted in this morning!

We adopted two alpacas, a sweet boy named Natali, and a young one named Cody.  The brown one was a Suri and the second a Huacaya.  The Huacaya was going to be our main fiber boy.  A big, fluffy white alpaca would be great for hand dying my own fiber with plant dyes.  A garden was going to be created with plants specifically for dyes.

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We bought two big bags of fiber from a friend of ours down the way to practice on.  I did not have the equipment to card the fiber and everything was so expensive to purchase.  So, we sent it to the mill.  The total cost to us was a whopping $20 a skein of yarn.  Let’s just say that was not a profitable adventure.

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I bought a beautiful spinning wheel, new, full price.  I practiced and practiced and used roving that a student of mine gave me.  My “yarn” looked lopsided, lumpy, and fell apart easily.

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The two alpacas were terrified of us.  The younger one kicked anyone that went by.  His leg cocked back was the exact height of a small child’s face.  Not good.  We had saved a lot of money (for us) to adopt these animals.  The farm folks that sold them to us had promised to help us and be a resource for us but were nowhere to be found when we had issues.  A mere four months later we had to give them away.  That’s right, gave them away for free.

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I was so upset over the whole situation that I also promptly sold my new spinning wheel for under cost.  I regret that now.  I do tend to make rash decisions rather quickly.

That was last spring when everything seemed to be going wrong.  Fast forward to a few days ago.  Knitting club at the coffee shop and we girls are talking about alpaca yarn and alpacas and my poor experience when two gals came across the room to greet one of the knitters.  They each have an alpaca ranch and we laughed at the coincidence since we were just talking about that.  We recalled my horrible experience and the alpaca ladies were horrified that that had occurred to us, especially after so many years of planning and dreaming.  We felt jipped.

One of the ladies offered me a free alpaca.  He has fabulous fleece, smaller than some, and is mentally handicapped.  Well, y’all know we are suckers for the misfit animals.  He apparently loves attention.  Of course, I don’t have her phone number but in a small town I bet we can locate it.  I had put it out of my head, not thinking Doug wanted to delve into the world of alpacas and fiber again, but yesterday he casually mentioned pasture fencing and special ed alpacas.  He loves alpacas and was every bit as disappointed as I was in our experiment.

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So, joining us on Pumpkin Hollow Farm (I need to go across the way to the owner’s house of this fine land and see if we can bring on more animals) may be a few sheep and a smiley alpaca.  Now I need to find another spinning wheel!

 

 

Alpaca Lessons

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They sure are cute.  That is about all I could tell you about alpacas before yesterday morning!  All Doug and I knew is we wanted one, or two, or fifty-five, but we’ll stick with two.  They look like marionettes who have lost their strings.  They hum.  Mmmm.  They are very sweet and timid.  We have been to every alpaca festival in a twenty mile radius for the past two years.

Alpacas

Alpacas

Llama

Llama

A lot of people confuse alpacas for llamas.  I cannot tell you how many people have warned us about our upcoming alpacas!  Llamas are bred to be guard animals.  They are the junkyard dog of the barnyard world.  I have met very sweet llamas, but most are aloof and on the job 24/7.

Doug carrying a baby back after dental work.

Doug carrying a baby back after dental work.

Alpacas are skittish prey animals that provide the most luxurious fiber.  Imagine fiber as warm as wool but as soft as fleece.  My spinning wheel is waiting to make plush yarn that I will knit into soft, warm sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, and socks.  As soon as I master spinning….and knitting…and taking care of alpacas.  They get sheared in the spring.

They can be snuggly though, I just had to learn how to handle them.  My first inclination was to pat their soft heads.  Which they immediately balked against being quite head shy.  We were told to reach out to their necks (this is easiest when they are on a harness) and put our face near theirs (which seemed aggressive, but apparently not) and blow softly into their face.  Softly, mind you, no talking, or excessive blowing.  They return the gesture with a soft kiss.  Delightful.  Thank God they don’t have the bad breath that llamas do.

We practiced cornering the two we are taking home Sunday and getting a harness on them.  Then we learned how to lead them around, then how to take the harness off again, all while keeping the seemingly upper hand.  Gentle does it with alpacas, and they responded well to us.

Introducing Ferdinand!

Introducing Ferdinand!

We clipped nails.  I couldn’t have imagined what the bottoms of their feet looked like.  I assumed a hoof or something.  But there is actually a large pad, much like a dog’s main pad on the bottom of their feet, with two nails that also look like a large dog’s.  We have to clip them with pruners and put a bit of muscle into it (which automatically made that Doug’s job) keeping them even with the pad.  They have a quick like cat’s and dog’s nails so we have to take care not to get overambitious.

Introducing Natali!

Introducing Natali!

We watched Natali, our three year old alpaca that we are getting, get gelded.  Sorry bud.  They were worried that as he gets a little older he will try to overpower the one year old, Ferdinand.  Which would be awkward and inappropriate having an alpaca attempting to ride the other around the back yard.  Snip.  Snip.

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This last week we were busy finishing their shelter.  We have to be pretty creative around here.  Remember, we live in town and cannot just erect full sheds and structures without permits and such.  We also don’t have a lot of money to spend on it.  So we viewed the space between the garage and the chicken coop with new light.  2x4s had been placed there when we moved in to stabilize the chicken coop.  It provided a place to put old metal sheeting on top to make a roof.  We then placed corn stalks from the garden on top to provide cushioning from sound (like hail or hard rain, spookable animals, remember) and then covered everything with a tarp that was securely fastened to the first board.  Another was added that hung down the back. We stacked straw bales along the tarp to create a wall.  A nice, snug, weather proof, wall that the chickens are enjoying nibbling.  We now have a shelter.  We have bowls.  We are so ready for the boys to come home Sunday!

Designer Yarn; short and sweet

Look what I learned to do!  This is what every spinner I have spoken to refers to as “designer yarn.”  They are not being smart-allecky.  Truly, this would crochet or knit up into a nice scarf, something very beautiful and unique.  And I have been told that once spinners get really good and have all the even, thin strands of perfect looking yarn they wish that they could still create some of the funky stuff.  It sells well, apparently.  Come to think of it, it is something I would buy!

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I also do not spin like I was taught.  As with everything, I have to trudge through and find my own way.  Instead of smooth, impressive motions of tapping the foot on the petal, spinning seamlessly while stretching the roving and releasing perfectly spun yard onto the bobbin, I step on the petal using my right hand to spin the wheel and get the yarn into the contraption.  Then I stretch the roving.  Stop.  Repeat.  It sounds like it would take a long time but I got this whole bobbin filled during So You Think You Can Dance.  I am ever so proud.

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I took the other three “skeins” (you’ll see why that is in quotes in a minute) and tied four little embroidery floss ties on them, washed them as directed, and stretched them over the back of the chairs to dry.  Basking in the glow of aptitude and success, I started dreaming about how popular my yarns will be.  Our blend of alpaca and wool together being called wittily, Pacywoo, as Doug named it.

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I decided I’d better check how long a skein is.  I stood with my mouth open at the bundles of yarn I bought.  150 yards.  200 yards.  Folks, if I tied all the ends together of the yarn I made I would have 12 yards!  What the…..?  How on earth does one get even 100 yards and still get it to fit in the front seat of the truck?  How do I get the ends together?  The bobbin is full and it is probably only five yards.  Oh, this is makes me anxious. I need to consult an expert!

In the meantime, I am pleased with how the yarn is coming along.  Look at how far I have come! Spinning my Wheel(s) and Alpaca Love .

Spinning my Wheel(s)

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Yesterday I went and bought some new wheels.  Sleek, rose colored, needs a little wax.  One pedal.  Not a new truck, a spinning wheel!  You all saw it coming.  I have been bit by the fiber bug.  It’s a pity coordination is not my middle name.  I am providing free entertainment if anyone wants to come over and watch me attempt to push a pedal with my foot and use my fingers to pull and push and try not to knot and twist too much beautiful roving into respectable and lush yarn.  Last night I made dreadlocks.  That should make an interesting scarf!  I feel like a small child, tongue sticking out, in deep concentration, temper tantrum in the end.

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I should change the name of this blog to the “Patient Farmgirl” for I have had two lessons now on spinning and should be making skeins of luxurious yarn by now!  Okay, the first lesson I did talk a lot, the second was good though.  Now, it is a matter of practice, and according to spinners and books I have read, it will just hit me and I will all of a sudden be able to spin.  Much like when I learned how to drive a stick shift I imagine (another feat where one must do two things at the same time) only less dangerous.

Spinning wheels cost pretty pennies and I hesitated (for a minute) to give up $600 plus dollars.  It came out of my homesteading fund that I have been religiously putting money into (slow but sure; I think I can afford a wood stove and a chicken coop so far). I figured that this is a homesteading craft.  One that can bring in a little income, allow us to have farm animals without feeling like we have to eat them, make my own yarn (I spend a bit on good yarn), and make that much more of our own things.  I could even learn to weave at some point and make our own fabric.  That is pretty ambitious though, I’d have to say!

I cannot wait to be out at the barn with my alpacas and my sheep.  Right now I have been out with the chickens and the greyhound.  Not much fleece on those guys.  So, I do have a friend that will sell me one of his alpaca’s “blankets” or fleece.  I will have to card it or have it milled to turn it into roving in order to spin it.  That is this week’s task.  Price, find, conquer fleece.  Because once I do master this spinning yarn thing, I want to have my beautiful roving at the ready.  I am going to color it in natural herb dyes of my own making.  Spin some that is natural colored.  You will see them on the table at the farmer’s market and maybe on the website.  If I am worth my apron strings as a farmgirl, I tell you now, I will have luxurious (limited quantity!) yarn ready to share come June.  It won’t be perfect but it will be “artsy” and farmgirl-ready to knit or crochet into something wonderful.

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Alpaca Love

It was a beautiful scene outside the French doors yesterday morning.  I had just filled the bird feeders the eve before and the commotion at dawn was enough to bring the cats to the window.  Out by the lilac bushes, not twenty feet away, stood the most magnificent deer.  Graceful in her movements, her towering frame was gentle and regal.  Mourning doves hopped by.  I love how they’d rather hop than fly!  Hundreds of sparrows and finches filled the quince bush singing their praises and no doubt sharing the latest gossip as they reconvened, chatting and hooting with laughter.  What a wonderful little mini-farm!

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I hope to have these same views on our next homestead along with a few others.  Those of alpacas!  We are vegetarian homesteaders.  Having a lot of cows or pigs would just be silly, as they would become spoiled pets who ate more than any teenager!  And Doug draws the line at having cows in the living room.  We do hope to get a few goats for milk, more chickens for eggs and entertainment, and alpacas.  Fiber animals earn their keep by donating to us their haircut every year.  They feel better, less hot, and we have lots of wonderful fiber to spin into glorious yarn.

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Now mind you, I don’t know how to spin yet…or how to dye yarn, or really how to knit….or how to take care of alpacas!  But this year we are learning.  I did do a spinning lesson, one, and was quite horrid at it.  It is a smooth repetition, one that requires your foot and hand to move simultaneously while spinning the fleece into a beautiful length of yarn.  I am taking lessons this year and getting a spinning wheel.  I hope the cats don’t like it too much.  It is hard to do fiber arts with cats!

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Many of the herbs that we use for medicine would also be great to make natural dyes out of.  I am anxious to try.  Black Walnut would be a lush brown, Goldenrod for yellow…would beet juice turn the yarn pink?  Oh, I do hope so.  So much to find out!  What fun in the process!

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We go to every Alpaca fair that comes through.  This is an active community of alpaca farmers.  We visit with everyone so that when we are ready to get our boys, we will have established a relationship with people who can help us get a few.  They teach us a lot in the meantime and we are trying to be as prepared as possible.  It would seem silly to have alpacas in town in our backyard so we will have to wait until we get our homestead.  (“No officer, that is a dog.  An odd type of Afghan hound…”)

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Doug even came up with a fabulous, sure to be a hit product (now don’t steal the idea!), PacyWoo.  That’s right, alpaca and sheep fleece spun together to make a wonderful, warm, and sturdy yarn that is soft and unique.  We sit around day dreaming quite a lot in case you didn’t notice.

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We went to visit our friends at Falkor Ranch who have seventy five alpacas.  It was a bitter cold morning but we trudged out to their farm for our visit.  We want to see as many farms as we can before we get our own.  Two beautiful white dogs came to greet us, tails wagging.  Their parents were surprised as the dogs are often aloof.  They must have sensed our childlike wonder and mistook us for seven year olds.  We snuggled with them before heading over to the alpacas.

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Alpacas are sweet, gentle animals.  Buck teeth, soft fleece, and the unmistakable appearance of those marionette puppets they sell at fairs.  They hum.  A gentle hmmm, hmmm, as if they are thinking and are nervous.  We were surrounded by an overload of cuteness and our hearts warmed our extremities.  As Doug was scrunching Noah’s thick fleece, Diane said nonchalantly, “When you get your own animals you will have to be careful not to mat their coat!”  We both jumped back looking as if we just got caught stealing.  She showed us how to properly look at their coat and taught us a bit about fleece grades and textures.  We went home with a Marans chocolate egg and a pair of alpaca socks.  What a treat!

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We learned a few things while visiting her farm.  We saw a great design of a greenhouse, her dome filled with delicious vegetables even this time of year.  We learned that in order to be a self sufficient farm we have to grow our own feed for our animals.  One cannot do this in Colorado.  We learned that roosters can fertilize any breed of egg.  We learned about Marans.  We learned that goats are eternally naughty.  I mentioned to Diane casually as we were leaving, “Is that goat supposed to be eating that tree?”  She shot off fast chasing the culprits away from the sleeping fruit trees.  We learned that Akbash dogs are a strong possibility as a farm dog for us.  We learned that alpacas are some of the cutest creatures God made up and we are excited to share our journey with them.  Snuggling live puppets while making fantastic yarn.  Someday…..

Homestead Christmas Festival and Pet Reindeer

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When you have a dream, a goal, a vision of what you would like in your life, you should write it out. I will probably say that again sometime in future posts as I have seen many written dreams come to life. This one is in regards to Christmas and Doug as Santa Claus. Now, I understand that Doug is Jewish and not quite old enough to have the long white beard but I am working on it. He is a good sport and knows he will become Santa Claus. Just a matter of time. (Evil laugh) We already refer to each other as Mr. and Mrs. Claus when addressing the labels on presents.  He already has the beard thanks to our new small town lifestyle, and it looks great. Thanks to our teenaged daughters, he gains a few white hairs in it regularly. I suppose I add a few too.  We both love Christmas and the twinkly lights, and candles, the carols, the food, family, friends, fun and the spirit of Christmas.  We love festivals and animals so here is where the plan begins.

When we get our homestead, we will have fleece animals (more on that later) but why not throw in a few reindeer?  We must have reindeer.  They are gentle, docile, fuzzy and would look great on any homestead, particularly mine!  I am so enamored by Christmas, no one would even think twice.  Now as my friend, Nancy, says, “Everything must have a job, must pull their own weight.”  They don’t give milk or eggs, we don’t eat meat, and I have enough animals whose entire job is to be cute, so we will take them to Christmas events.  Enough events to pay for their food maybe.  Anywhere in December that would like a few live reindeer can call us.

Back at the homestead though, we will have a festival of our own.  Lord, we like ourselves a party so we will throw a Christmas festival of our own!  Spinning demonstrations, food and drinks, farm tours…..wait, hold that thought….What about a private party?  Buy tickets, get a full farm to table dinner, reindeer hugs, farm tour, spinning demonstrations, yarn, eggs, and other delightful gifts for sale in a relaxed off grid atmosphere?  And Santa Claus!  I,  myself, have some darling costume outfits that can be used to portray dear Mrs. Claus.  I will have to learn to sew a beautiful suit for Doug complete with plush velvet and faux fur, shiny boots (good for trudging around a farm in the winter anyway), and a lively hat.  Oh what fun we shall have!  You are invited dear friends, one and all.  Merry Christmas!  Santa comes tonight!