Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Today's Overwhelming Feast of Fiber

Our weekly spinning get-together today produced an unusually robust collection of incredible fibers, in various stages of the craft. I couldn't take my eyes off them. It was a huge feast for eyes and fingers...

From rovings:

To spindled yarns:

To wheel-spun beauties:

To hand-spun knitting yarns:

To handwoven treasures:

To knitted lovelies:

And specially crafted art dolls:

Hat's off to incredible doll artist, Gail:

And the growing group of spinner-knitter artist friends:

Whew. Everybody rest up, and we'll do it again next week.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Joy of Spring (with Alpaca Video)

We get a few of these perfect spring days each year, where the air is fresh, the sun is bright and warm, and the water coming out of the tap is still icy cold. These are the days I treasure, before everything in the world turns tepid. And then hot.

These are perfect days to linger in the pasture with the beasts, to drive with the windows open, to tinker with the lawn mower, and to enjoy your dinner outside. We soak it up while we can, because these days are fleeting.

Here's a little video of our newly sheared alpacas enjoying their dinner:

I hope you get a chance to soak up a little Spring Joy today...

Monday, March 29, 2010

We Will Come Rejoicing, Bringing in the Fleece

Done for another year.

Ted and I loaded the alpacas into our borrowed trailer this morning (that short phrase belies the interesting adventure it describes) and headed to Greenville, TX, to A & A Alpacas, owned by Amy and Arlen McCroskie.

There are many interesting sights in the small towns along the way, all reflecting the true Texas spirit.

Ted showed up for his first experience in the shearing barn and immediately went to work wrangling ornery alpacas.

Mark-the-Rock-Star-Shearer wields an impressive array of tools.

We learned that the barn system works best with three people, instead of just two, walking alpacas through the process, but people hanging around offered us a hand at critical junctions. We tried to do the same for them. Everything went very smoothly.

Fast forward to getting back in the pasture after an uneventful trip home. Solomon was a complete toot the whole day - bronco bucking in the morning, and bucking again once he was back on his own turf. We will need some re-education here.

Jonah was a pretty good boy and as usual, gave us an enormous fleece.

Micah impressed Amy, our hostess, with his luster, softness and density. Good little guy!

Moonie behaved pretty well, and as usual, should give us some melt-in-your-mouth spinning fiber.

Boaz looks so beautiful, even without his incredible fleece. He's so glad to have it off, and be able to scratch himself on the juniper branches. Ahhhhhh.

Gizmo was off by himself when I took these, and not up to indulging the paparazzi.

The group is, as a whole, thoroughly enjoying having that fiber off, on this sunny day where the temperature could reach toward 80 degrees. Not a moment too soon.

And, of course, the lovely harvest waits for its turn on the skirting table and in the washer. I'll weigh these fleeces for my records, and then we'll begin getting them ready to mail off to Lynn and Jim at Spinderellas.

And to top it all off, they've pretty much taken, uh... precipitation out of the forecast after Friday. It may not [rain] on us after all. Oh well, I'm happy we got the job done early, and the boys can enjoy the warm week ahead without their winter coats.

2010 Shearing = Success.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Best Laid Plans: We Shear TOMORROW!

Y'know, you lay your life out and you assume that most of the time, things will go as planned. But here on the farm, I'm about done being surprised when everything changes.

The part that went swell: Shareholder Chris, with her mad science skills, came over and helped me vaccinate, medicate and worm some of our sheep who were dealing with various issues.

This was actually kind of fun and went pretty easily. You remember from last time that our big boy, Shadrach, thinks wormer is candy. Once he figured out what we had in our big syringe, the problem was keeping him out of the way. Our other big boy, Phineas, has been handled so much that he is also very easy to dose with oral meds and shots. That's a real blessing.

Itzhak, having been raised on a bottle, doesn't give me too much trouble taking his medicine. Fortunately, the opportunity to practice doesn't come up much.

Mary Elizabeth and Phineas will need another shot in two days, but I don't expect it to be a major event. Thanks again, Chris, for being Jill-on-the-Spot.

The part that threw us for a loop: Remember our plan to shear the alpacas next Monday with our fantastic sheep shearer, Danny? Well, the weather is not looking good. Strong chances of R-A-I-N Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Since we don't have a good place to keep the alpacas really dry, or a place that would be mud-free for the actual shearing, I had to come up with Plan B.

Mark Loffhagen will only be up in Greenville one more day to shear alpacas. I had to figure out how to get our guys up there tomorrow. Lots of phone calls.... The Daughertys agreed to let DH and me borrow their trailer. DH is off work tomorrow and is available to drive the truck/trailer. Amy in Greenville says there's room in the day's lineup for us to squeeze our six boys in. Whew. Next week will be in the 80's, so it's the perfect time to get the fiber off. Everything is falling into place.

We thought it would be a quick hook up and go, but it took the guys about 2 hours to get the trailer lights working. We had to go buy an adapter to hook up the trailer wires to our truck, and then the adapter didn't work--it had been assembled wrong at the factory. Fortunately, we had two engineers on the job and they finally worked out the electrical kinks.

So, we're jumping the hurdles as they come, and are praying for a smooth day getting up to Greenville and back. This came up suddenly, so I'm still getting used to the idea that all our fiber will be off the animals and into bags by mid-day tomorrow. DH has never been to a shearing, so this will be an adventure for him. Wait, every day with me is an adventure.

When you next see the alpacas, they will look exceedingly ridiculous. Try not to laugh.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pasture Patrol

As you might imagine, it really does pile up around here. The pens and stalls get raked out every day, but the pasture collects the treasure a while before we get out there and rake up the piles. Our recent rains and snows have kept us from tackling this any sooner, but today's lovely weather mandated that we finally get the job done.

Working in the pasture with my rake, bucket and wagon, I had a funny thought: "I can't believe EVERYONE doesn't want to be a farmer!" The sunshine felt great, and I needed a little exercise. I had some help for the first part of my chore day.

DH helped me move the chicken coops and get started on the raking. Then he had some excuse about running errands that took him away from all the fun.

I got most of it done before the wind picked up and nearly sent us off to Oz. I love knowing the chicken coops are clean and comfortable for the girls, and that the pastures are poo-free, for the moment.

Good news for our egg lovers: the girls laid 18 eggs today. New season record.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The "100 Spinners" Project

I have a dream. I want to help 100 people learn to spin this year. We've already had about 10 new spinners come through classes at the Little Red Barn, and that has been such a blast, but that clearly isn't going to get us to the goal.

Here's my crazy idea. I'm going to take 100 CD spindle kits to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival on May 1. Through the Jacob Sheep Conservancy booth, I'll give out free tickets to a flash mob spindle class to be held somewhere on the grounds on Saturday afternoon. When folks show up for the class, I'll trade them their ticket for an ounce of awesome Jacob wool to spin with. We'll have a short class, get a bunch of new people spinning, and send them back into the festival to buy wool and excellent spindles, and generally support the fiber community. And there'll be swag. You know how I love the swag.

Sound good? Help me get the word out. Tell anyone you know who might be attending MDS&W this year. We can all be part of the dream.

Farm update: once the snow melted the weeds weren't far behind. Henbit has exploded in the spinach patch. Time for some garden attention.

My friend Donna came by to get some areas ready for raised beds. Won't be long now...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Lifeblood

Without you, this farm is just lines on a map. With you, this farm is a beating heart with open arms. Saturday at our spin-in, Cara visited for the first time, and captured some photos of the farm's residents. I've included a couple of my favorites. When I see these pictures, I see the critters I interact with every day, but I see them in a new way. You, by your arts, bring out the richness of the farm.

An Ameraucana Hen

Siblings at the Trough

I've been spring-time busy here at the farm this week. The warm weather brings lots of chores that can only be done when the air temperature is tolerable. I've dealt with a little drainage issue in the north paddock, given the sheep a little green grass time in the far north paddock, cleaned out the chicken coops, and done some preliminary wool sorting. We've entertained several groups for farm tours, and added some new egg customers. There's so much more to be done.

The alpacas will be sheared on April 5, probably around 8 AM by our sheep shearer, Danny. Please come if you'd like, and help out or just observe. Once that fiber is off the animals, the prep work will begin in earnest. We've been offered a washing machine, which will live on the back porch, and will be used to soak and spin out the wool and alpaca fiber before we send it to the mill. The cleaner, the better!

I'm long overdue for both a newsletter and a podcast, but if you're a regular blog reader, you know all there is to know. I do plan to get both a newsletter and a podcast put together soon. The next big event, for me, is the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival (May 1st and 2nd). I have a Really Big Project planned for that. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Little Red Barn in Black and White

You may have noticed we had a real photographer or two with us last Saturday. Ellie is a serious visual artist who visited us from Arlington. She did a little image interpretation in black and white. Here are just a few of my favorites - they all may be seen here. Learn more about her work here.

As much as I love b/w photography, I'm tempted to color in some of those fibers the ladies were spinning - the dazzling colors would take your breath away!

Monday, March 22, 2010

OK, Now is it Spring?

Yesterday, bitter wind and eight inches of snow. Today, green grass, blue sky and 63 degrees. And of course, mud.

I discovered yesterday while doing my chores that my trusty black rubber boots had both sprung leaks back by the heels. You haven't lived until you have freezing mud seep into your boots while you're scrambling to feed 6 hungry, shivery sheep. Dangerous. So today I treated myself to a funky pair of Target rain boots. They were on sale. Not sure how long they'll last, but I'll be stylin' in the pasture.

The snow did not slow down egg production. Can you believe it? The girls are on a mission now, and they stuck to their jobs. Thanks, girls. We really appreciate it!

They got to free range again after having been confined during the storm. Boy-howdy, they made up for lost time. What a busy bunch of biddies. Seems like there were chickens everywhere today--all with places to go and things to do.

I love our girl, Rachel--she's always been one of my favorites. She is one of our original hens, celebrating her third birthday this spring. I had thought that the five "old ladies" had given up laying, but when they were locked up, we collected two green eggs and a brown egg from the barn coop. Rachel and "Momma Bird," the two green-egg-layers, were back on the payroll. Not sure who laid the brown egg, but the ladies have redeemed themselves as a group, and will not be sent out to the chicken nursing home.

While I was reveling in our resident chicken society, I realized we're being invaded by a new pest: Mosquitoes. Big ones. Big as helicopters.

Fortunately, the sheep have regrown enough fleece to keep the suckers frustrated, but I don't have that advantage. I had peeled off layers of clothing as today's temperatures rose, and found myself getting pestered to death by the biters. So as the sun sets in the Texas west, I'm heading indoors for supper.