A Looming Adventure

 

loomY’all know I am always up for a new hobby.  My friend, Lisa (our California vacation host), came to Colorado to clear out her daughter’s storage unit.  Her daughter is in Asia teaching English.  She doesn’t want to give up the loom, Lisa doesn’t want to ship it to China, so guess who is going to hold onto it?

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I have always been interested in looms.  I love the large, elaborate one at Los Golondrinas in New Mexico.  I had sheep, Sven and Olaf, to try my hand at sheering and wool though we lost our rented farm when they were only six months old and had to give them up.  We had two ornery alpacas that kicked.  They are now lawn mowers in Limon.  I bought and sold two spinning wheels that went to friends for between nothing and cheap.  Just the wrong timing for me in the world of fiber arts.  Heck, I can’t even knit.  I can crochet a bit though.  And I have studied the herbs to grow to use as natural dyes.  And I love yarn.  And once I get into our new homestead next Thursday I will try to figure out this lovely loom.

Field Trip to a Farm to Adopt Lambs (a tale of ridiculously cute animals)

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Guess who came to live at Pumpkin Hollow Farm?

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A funky sign met us first.  Blessed Bit of Earth Farm is owned by Kevin and Kim Babcock outside of Elizabeth, Colorado.  Incidentally three doors down farm-wise from Emily and Maryjane.  We picked up our grandbaby and headed over there for a farm tour.

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We first met Grandpa, oh goodness, I don’t remember his real name.  He is a Colorado Mountain Dog.  A breed developed specifically to combine the strong traits of an outdoor loving guard dog with the loyal and gentle traits of a family and child-friendly dog.  He was lovely.  A large dog that reminded me of a blend of Great Pyrenees and Yellow Lab.

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They breed these lovely dogs to share the unique aspects of this breed.  They just had puppies and we were thrilled to see them.

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If they weren’t $850 we may have ended up with a fuller car.

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The Churro and Finn sheep roamed the pastures with a menagerie of other animals.  At Blessed Bit of Earth Farm you will find chickens, ducks, I just noticed that horse in the background, and the sheep and goats they raise.

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I love this idea, a trampoline for shade (and perhaps a little fun when the folks aren’t looking)!

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Into the barn we crept. The sweet smell of clean hay and bedding, the warmth of the sheep and goats and the sweetness of newborn lambs met us in the filtered light.  Barn cats tried to steal our attention.

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Two of the mommies had broken out of their stalls and were running about attempting to keep their babies from us.

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But alas, we had ours picked out.  One from each mama.

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We said goodbye to the rest of the kids and headed down the dirt road with our new babies.

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We then went to visit our friend, Vickie, at her shop, The Smells Good Store, in Castle Rock.  Her large Great Dane didn’t know what to make of these little screaming creatures!

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Introducing Sven (doesn’t he look like a reindeer?)

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And Olaf… the snowman.  We already have Elsa, why not?

We then had a flat tire on the way home and had to stop at a Discount Tire.  With a cute two year old running around and two screaming lambs we will not soon be forgotten!  Timing, I tell you!

The babies have learned to use the baby bottles and are quite satisfied.  Sven is rather lovey, Olaf a bit more reserved.  Both adorable.  They have wonderful fiber for me to spin and lots of adorable antics to make my heart melt.

We have lambs.  They are in the house so they don’t freeze, get beat up by the goats, or eaten by coyotes.  They have wet on my slippers and on the couch.  Baby season is upon us!

 

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.

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Alpacas

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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 .

The Original Homestead Checklist

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First gather your friends and build a fabulous structure out of mud.  The small windows on the outside are so that intruders cannot easily get in.  It keeps children from sneaking in past curfew as well.  The small door is opened so that people can come in and out.  If you open both gates you can let in people with their horses and all their stuff.  Being hospitable is always important when homesteading.

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The front room is where business would be conducted.  You could come and get herbs or herbal medicines from us.  Get your broken arm set, or we could fix a wound, send you home with something for your sick child.  It would also serve as a guest room if anyone doesn’t want to travel home after dinner. (It’s a long horseback ride to Colorado.)

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A watch tower to see how your animals are doing, see the whole compound, see if you are about to be attacked by Indians, or more relevant, by traveling salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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The original kitchen.  The fireplace (kiva) is in the corner.  It serves as a cookstove by placing hot embers beneath pots.  The heat rises to the shepherd’s bed above.  We would put grandpa there, a sick child, or a new lamb to keep warm above the fireplace.

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I did barter for a hand grinder for grains so that will make my life a little easier, but one could always get a couple of flat rocks and grind the corn and grains into flour.  It wouldn’t kill me to work out a little anyway.

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This is Maryjane’s swing for when I am watching her while working in the kitchen.  It is covered in sheepskin to keep her nice and toasty.  Here is something I learned, see that black vase in the background?  I can still order olive oil and have it come up from Mexico on the Camino Real.  Or, if I am a little strapped for cash I can always use lard.  It might be hard to be a vegetarian on this homestead!

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These good looking men are standing in front of the hornos, the outdoor ovens.  Simply start a fire in them and close it up.  When it is down to embers, sweep the embers out and put a small piece of wool in there.  If it burns, it is too hot.  When the wool becomes a light cinnamon color it is ready to place bread into.  No heating up the kitchen!  I wonder if Doug will build me one.

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Coming out of my refrigerator.  I am afraid it was rather empty.  I won’t even ask if Doug will build me one of these.

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These are Churro sheep.  They have great, thick wool that makes wonderful blankets, and I will take their word for it, good meat.

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They were exceptionally friendly and Mark had a great time petting them through the fence and speaking softly to them.  It was nice to see him taking a break from video games and out seeing animals and history.

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How fitting that the weavers, carders, and spinners were there.  I learned how to card my future wool and turn it into roving.

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Imagine all the beautiful, natural plant dyes out there at my fingertips!  Many plants we use for medicine can also be used to turn yarn into lively colors.

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Welcome to my future homestead. (or a variation of it.) A gentleman that tagged along with our group was baffled with my absolute awe of everything.  He said, “You wanting to live like this would last one day.”  I answered a bit too quickly, “You don’t know me!”

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Pat and I taking a break from our many chores on the homestead.

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The weather here is so beautiful and the vacation is most appreciated!  If you are in Santa Fe, I recommend that you visit Las Golondrinas.  It is a wonderful place to see how things were a few hundred years ago.  There are many things that we could implement now.  Sometimes I suspect technology has actually made our lives more difficult instead of easier.  We are losing time, are frazzled, and it seems to take longer to do simple tasks.  Getting back to a simpler path is my goal for this year.  To find that homestead.  To live healthier and more free.  To find what I want and live it.  My birthday is tomorrow so this makes me think harder on what I want to do the next year.  I feel like life is short and if we want to live a particular way, we ought to get going on it!

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This is my new favorite saint, San Ysidro.  The patron saint of farmers.  May this year be the year that we get a farm!  Chase your dreams, friends!

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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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