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.