Today, we're starting to shear our CSA alpacas.
We invite anyone who has purchased the fleece of one of our animals to come out for the day and watch their animal getting its haircut. Sort of a, "See your yarn before its yarn" day.
This morning, Katrina, who purchased Annelise's fleece, came to help her girl on her day of beauty.
We shear our animals a little differently than most farms because we tranqualize them.
We think it makes it easier to do their toes,
trim their teeth and give them a nice even haircut, including a dust removal session with a shop vac.
It's all about sending the nicest fleece possible to the mill to get the nicest yarn back.
And Annelise has some really nice fiber.
Our next step will be to skirt the fleece, which means removing all the lesser quality fiber and debris from the prime quality fleece. After skirting, the fleece is shipped off to the mill where it will be washed, carded and spun into yarn.
With the fiber CSA, the owner of the fleece gets to pick what weight they would like their yarn (worsted, lace, sport, etc...) and if they would like to mix in any wool or have it spun as straight alpaca.
This is the closest non-alpaca owners can come to designing their own yarn without actually owning the animal and having to do the day-to-day animal chores.
Plus who wouldn't want a picture of themself with a silly, shorn alpaca.
It's the start of shearing season here at the farm.
We started with four alpaca, and then all the sheep and goats got their haircuts.
Shearing days are long, either really hot or really cold, hard, boring, fun, rewarding and challenging all rolled into one.
We spread out shearing over five or six days because there are only so many hours in any given day that you can stand at a shearing table without spending the next month at the chiropractor.
Professional shearer Mary Jane Fox came out yesterday. We always have a good time when Mary Jane is shearing because she tells the most unusual stories. They are never dull and they are never repeatable. But they certainly are funny!
She has been shearing the goats since they were tiny. But they still don't show her the respect she deserves.
They have come to accept her.
But I'm not sure goats respect anything or anybody.
The sheep, once we were able to haul them over to the barn for shearing, stood still and allowed Mary Jane to work her magic on them. We did have to talk her out of leaving them with a "Lion Cut."
They have some beautiful wool which we will be selling as raw fleece and roving.
The alpacas are much more docile and accepting than their sheep counterparts.
They wait quietly, watching, as if they were all in the on deck circle.
Cinco was the first to go.
He has a ton of beautiful fleece.
Plus, he looks darn cute "naked."
Cinco's fleece had to come off ASAP because he is moving to California on Saturday. Sweet, gentle Cinco has been sold and will now become a west coast alpaca. It would be way to hot for him to travel in full fleece, let alone arrive in California in his Ohio Winter coat.
The shearing continues next week with more alpacas.
The goats are done until Fall, when they go through this all again.
May is a rush-against-the-clock kind of month.
We rush to finish shearing. It's getting hot here and we don't want the alpacas in full fleece as summer begins. They are so much more comfortable with their snazzy new haircuts.
Once the fleece is off the animal, we rush to skirt them so they can be either washed and carded here or sent to the mill for processing into yarn. The sooner we get them to the mill, the sooner we get the yarn back and into your hands. Mills get quite busy in the Spring so we like to have our fleeces in early.
Skirting is an important step in creating beautiful yarn or roving. This is where all the short or rough fiber is removed.
To skirt, first we place the fiber on a mesh table to shake and bounce dirt and loose debris out of the fleece.
You'd be surprised at how much dust falls out of a fleece. The short "second cuts" fall through the mesh as well. Second cuts are small pieces of fiber that result when the shearer backs up with the shears and goes over the same area again.
At this point, if the fiber is going to the mill for spinning, it is weighed, labeled and boxed up to be shipped.
If we're going to card it into roving, or sell it as fleece, we wash it.
This is some Navajo-Churro fleece we purchased from a local farmer.
Navajo-Churro is a rare breed sheep that can be soft or a bit on the rough side. This is a medium soft wool that would be great for sweaters worn with a shirt under them.
Sheep fleece, unlike alpaca, is loaded with lanolin. That's the yellow stuff you see on the fleece. Don't worry, it washes out.
We skirt the sheep's fleece just as we do the alpaca, removing debris and second cuts.
Then it's time to wash it in hot water to remove the lanolin and the dirt.
And then we wash it again.
This fleece was pretty dirty so it got yet another bath. We wash it until the water runs clear.
Then the fleece gets laid out on a screen to dry. After that, it's ready for carding and spinning. We don't wash all of the fleeces because many spinners like to spin "in the greese."
Skirting and washing fleeces is boring, repetitive work. However, if you are a library geek like I am, you are a fan of these Playaways -- self-contained books complete with their own headphones.
I stick one of these in my pocket and spend the day "reading" while skirting and washing. I like these "cozy mysteries" -- few characters, an easy to follow plot and enough intrigue to keep you going. I can't listen to anything heavy while skirting -- I tried it once and found myself frequently sitting down so I could pay attention to the plot. That doesn't make for a productive day.
Let's see, 30 alpacas, 4 of our own sheep, 4 goats, and about 10 Navajo-Churro sheep -- That should be about three books. I'll be very well read by the end of skirting season.
April and May are the two busiest months here at the farm. It is a time for wearing many hats.
First, there is the growing hat.
We start our vegetables from seed, and they are in various stages of growth, from babies to teenagers.
I guess we even have some pre-babies. Those are the potatoes and turnips. You can't see them yet, but they are there, just waiting to break through.
We also wear our fiber hat. April and May are shearing months. But the fun doesn't stop with the shearing. In fact, it's just getting started.
From shearing, we move on to skirting. Skirting is when we take the newly shorn fleece and move it to a mesh table. Then we give it a good shake to let the dust fall out and begin taking out the less than "perfect" fiber -- fiber that is too short, too coarse, too dirty or that doesn't match the rest of the fleece.
Don't tell anybody, but I secretly love skirting. It's like spring cleaning, only with fiber. O.K., maybe by the 20th fleece or so, I don't enjoy it quite as much, but skirting can be great therapy.
From there, the fleece goes down one of several paths. If it will be mill-spun, it goes to large boxes and is shipped off to the mill.
If we are selling it as raw fleece, it goes into a nice paper bag and is put into the store for sale.
If it will be handspun by us here, it gets a bath.
This fiber is ready for washing by hand and then it will be layed out to dry. If you look closely, in the background you'll see Moose, lying on the floor exhausted from a long day of "helping."
We seem to have that effect on dogs. Dewey is exhausted from "helping" with the shearing.
If you find the humans lying on the floor or on a nice soft bale of hay, you'll know it's April or May.
On any fiber farm, April and May mean shearing. Time to get the fiber off the animals and to the mill for processing.
It's days of shearing, skirting, washing, sorting and shipping. But it's exciting. There is always something to do each and every day.
Sometimes we've got animals that are waiting in line for their hair cuts.
Sometimes we have animals that have just had their Spring beauty tune-up and are out to enjoy the feel of the sun and breeze on their newly shorn backs.
Sometimes we have dogs with wool on their brains.
O.K., o.k. -- Moose usually has wool on the brain, but not in this form. His sheep were busy getting their hair cut so he had to resort to thinking about wool in yarn form only.
This is the first year we've had the sheep and I'm really excited by their wool.
It's absolutely beautiful and my spinning wheel has inched its way across the room to stand next to it. Wheel is begging to spin this. But wheel will have to wait.
More shearing is scheduled for today and for the rest of the month.
It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood yesterday. Sunny and NO RAIN. I'd call it a miracle day.
We were going to shear the goats today, but it is threatening to rain yet again so we started shearing yesterday -- while it was briefly dry. The animals need to be dry to be shorn.
The poor, unsuspecting boys. They were just out for a day of dining alfresco, not suspecting that they would soon be dragged into the salon for maintenance. Joey the llama had his haircut last week and is looking very handsome.
Look out! They've spotted us and here they come. A thundering herd of turtles. We nabbed Donatello first. He's the ring leader -- the light grey one in the lead.
He's going for the sympathy vote here. He'd like you to think he's being lead off to his death, but once he got on the shearing table, he was a perfect gentleman.
Brave. Strong. Fearless.
And totally ticked off.
But he survived his trip to the barber. As did Fred.
Don't tell anybody but Fred is my favorite goat. Just look at the face. What's not to love!
Post haircut, Fred could only be described as sassy. Normally, he's quite shy. But with his new style, he is one hundred percent sassy.
Raphael is very impressed with Fred and can't wait for his turn in the barber's chair.
At the end of the day, Fred and Donatello checked each other out and decided that new haircuts are the way to go. They think they look goooood!
We hope to finish the rest today. All we need is a day day -- a very short commodity in Northern Ohio.
Yesterday was the day we plan for all year -- it was shearing day.
Mary Jane Fox, our shearer (and in our humble opinion, the best in the business), arrived early. Lucky for us it was the one day it wasn't raining. Rain and damp animals make the whole shearing process a small nightmare. But dry days are a thing of beauty.
The barn was ready. Mats were down on the ground to keep the fleeces clean. The skirting table was set up and ready to go. And we had a steady supply of pop and cookies. Nothing like good, healthy food to round out a good shearing day.
First up was Quintessa. As you can see, in addition to her haircut, Quintessa needed a bit of dental work. It was a regular day of beauty for her -- hair, nails and teeth.
And a massage. Sure it's a massage by ShopVac, but what the heck. Any massage is a good massage.
What could be better after a day of beauty than a quick rest on the back of one of your friends. Quintessa is one happy alpaca.
This beautiful fleece is from Cinco. If you felt the softness of this fleece you would weep tears of happiness. It looks like a chinchilla and it certainly feels like it, too.
Good job Cinco. Well done!
This is the fleece you may have to fight me for. It is from LaBamba and is a stunning Rose Grey color. While I was skirting it, my mind dreamily drifted to how I would hand spin it. Then my mind really took off, thinking about what I should make with my new hand spun yarn.
Then reality smacked me in the head. I have gobs of yarn. Heaps of roving. Do I really need this extraordinary fiber? Sadly, the logical answer is no. But then I perked up. I remembered I'm not logical. Never have been. This fiber could be in my future yet!
Dewey couldn't take all the back-and-forth conversations in my head. Get on with the task at hand she said. And so we did.
We rounded up Joey the llama for his turn at That'll Do Farm's Beauty Salon.
First we had to capture him. Joey is our rescue llama. He hadn't had a haircut in at least three years and he had no intention of getting one yesterday either. After some coaxing and much trickery, he was captured and walked over to the beauty parlor.
Only one little mishap along the way: a sunken llama.
Joey went knee deep into the freshly dug soil over the new water line.
For those of you that like to play the game "who-made-this-track" -- this is the mark a llama makes when his leg is sucked out of the mud.
But soon Joey was all done and on his way back to his pasture -- this time AROUND the mud and not through it.
His new 'do was received with a less-than-warm welcome by the goats. I think they were shocked that their big, hairy guardian is really much, much smaller than they thought.
Little do they know their turn is next week. They, too, will become much smaller after their haircuts.
But today, it is still alpaca shearing time.
We're shearing today -- come on out to the farm!
We'll start at 10 a.m. and go all day.
Even Joey the llama will have his hair cut today -- a first. We'll see how he does. We'll also see if he's as big a boy as we think he is under all that fleece. Maybe he's just fluffy and not big boned.
The goats aren't scheduled for their day of beauty until next week. It's still a little too cold and damp for them. We'd hate to cut off their beautiful fleece and then have to put sweaters on them to keep 'em warm. Just seems wrong.
So come on out. Bring your camera. A newly shorn alpaca, or llama, is a sight to see.