In the "Ask a Country Vet" column of the July/August issue of Country Living magazine, a reader asks if its possible to own just one alpaca.
At first, I thought this was an odd question. The alpacas at That'll Do Farm are raised to sell and also for their fiber. How could anybody want just one? It didn't make sense to me. Then it occured to me that there are people out there that are hobby farmers. They have other "real world" jobs, but they live on a few acres with just enough room for an alpaca or two. (I never said I was the sharpest tool in the shed, that's for sure!) Alpacas make perfect sense for the hobby farmer.
Country Living's vet, Dr. Rob Sharp, explains that alpacas are herd animals. They don't like to live alone. They need their buddies around them. And he is exactly right.
But they don't need a couple dozen buddies to be happy, just one more would be good. Think of it as an alpaca BFF.
Alpacas make great pets. They aren't hard to handle. They don't need much room -- two alpacas could easily live on an acre. Their beans (a polite word for poop) make excellent fertiziler for the garden and isn't "hot" -- meaning it can go directly into the garden without danger of burning the plants. And, if you're a knitter or weaver, you have a constant supply of yarn.
Shy and somewhat aloof by nature, they are not usually an affectionate animal, but they are very curious. If you're in the barn, they want to know what you're doing. But they don't demand attention 24/7.
Children love alpacas. Those big doe-like eyes get you every time (I'm talking about alpaca eyes, not the pleading eyes of a small child, although those get you too!) Alpacas are great animals for 4H and there are even alpaca agility trials. At the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival, I watched kids put alpacas and llamas through their paces; walking over crinkly objects, jumping small fences, walking across bridges. I was fascinated and all the kids seemed to have their animals under control. It's a great way to introduce children to caring for livestock.
Pet qauality alpacas can be purchased for as little as a few hundred dollars. Upkeep costs include worming and vaccinations, hay and grain supplements and shearing. On average, costs for caring for a couple of alpacas would be on par with costs for caring for a couple of dogs.
You also need a barn or three-sided shelter with a good, fenced in pasture and access to water.
If you're curious about what it would be like to own alpacas, as pets or for any other reasons, give us a call. We'll be happy to introduce you to these gentle creatures.
That'll Do Farm is hitting the road this Saturday, July 7th. Join us at River Colors Studio in Lakewood, Ohio for the Homespun Market Gathering, noon to 4 p.m.
River Colors is a great, independent local yarn store. Shop Owner Erika is a true believer in going local and has invited several Ohio farm yarn producers and dyers to spend the afternoon showcasing how fabulous Ohio-made products can be.
In addition to our yarn in its natural colors,
we're bringing a bit of dyed yarn
and art batts.
We're also bringing roving
and the drum carder to show you how plain colored roving can be blended on the carder
and made into batts that are a beautiful blend of colors just begging to be spun up.
And we're not just bringing natural colors. We have some stunning dyed roving that can be made into an array of batts in outstanding color combinations.
And here's the best part. YOU get to be the designer. Pick out some roving, in its natural or colored form, bring it over to the drum carder and we'll show you how to blend it for your own custom-made art batt.
Take it home, spin it up and let the serious bragging begin. Not only will you have spun and knit your garmet, but you can tell your throng of admirers that you custom blended the fibers for a one-of-a-kind designer yarn.
What did I tell you -- really serious bragging rights!
If you're in the area, I hope you can stop in at River Colors on Saturday. We'd love to meet you and talk Ohio yarn.
This year, I have trained, and trained hard, for the Tour de Fleece, the spinning equivalent of the Tour de France.
Every day those conditioned athletes ride in the Tour de France, we spin in the Tour de Fleece. If they climb hills, we pull out something challenging. Their days of rest are our days of rest.
The Tour started yesterday and already, I'm way back in the pack.
It has nothing to do with training or conditioning. This year, I've been spinning regularly and mentally preparing for the Tour.
But on day one, I had a setback. Faulty fleece.
At a recent fiber festival, I purchased some Bluefaced Leicester roving. I've never spun this type of wool before, but I do love to knit with it. I was excited to begin.
It looks pretty enough.
But I have been deceived by a pretty face.
As soon as I began to spin, I discovered all kinds of second cuts and other short pieces.
I HATE second cuts and short pieces. We spend hours skirting our fleeces to avoid this. When spun, they make for fuzzy yarn with sticky-out pieces. And yes, sticky-out pieces is the official term. Sticky-out pieces make your yarn itchy and unattractive.
So wheel and I are going to have to go back to the starting line and begin again.
I pulled out a bit of our own alpaca roving. You can see, it is not filled with second cuts and short pieces.
I pulled the Bluefaced off the wheel and will begin with the alpaca. The Bluefaced will take a couple of turns on the drum carder to see if the second cuts will come out in the re-carding process.
I have learned my lesson. Really, really, REALLY look at any roving you buy. I think I can salvage it, but it's going to take a bit of work.
But wheel and I are seasoned professionals. Like all highly trained athletes, we will look at this little obstacle as just a bump in the road on our way to spinning gold.
The first cria (that's what baby alpacas are called) of the season was born on Monday.
Meet Clint. He belongs to Maia.
Don't let Brigitte Bardot, the tan alpaca pictured above, fool you. She is not his mother. But she loves him with every fluffy hair on her head. Are there such things as cougar alpacas? Because if so, she is definitely one of them!
Here's the scoop on Cling: He's a male, born on June 25th at 7 a.m. Maia went 11 months and 17 days with him and had a very quick, no issues kind of delivery.
Clint is very healthy and extremely energetic, spending his days running laps. His father is Hobby Horse Farm's "For a Few Dollars More" but is known as Eastwood. Hence Clint's name.
All the alpacas born at the farm this year will be given names begining with the letter C. It helps us keep track of their birth year.
The next cria is due July 7th. We're taking any and all suggestions for outstanding names starting with the letter C. Send 'em in! We can use the help.
WOW! That just about sums up my experience learning how to dye with indigo.
I'm in love with the whole process and I want to drop everything on my to-do list and dye fiber, fiber and more fiber.
Saturday, I had the good fortune to take a dye class from Nancy Zeller of Long Ridge Farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire.
There wasn't anything I didn't like about my day, including the drive up to the property.
Anytime this is your commute to class, you know its going to be a good day.
Long Ridge Farm sits perfectly in its environment. The house is on one side of the road.
And the barns and dye studio are on the other.
The day started off so nice and sunny that Nancy decided to set us up in front of the studio, which happens to be on the road. You've got to give the neighbors credit. Not one person who drove up or down this small, gravel road over the course of the day gave us a crazy look. They all took it in stride, like it's perfectly normal for eight women to be dressed in aprons and dyeing blue any piece of fabric that stood still long enough to be swept into the dye pot.
This is Luna. She is one of the good will ambassadors at the farm. I believe she thinks it is her duty to say hello to each and every car that passes by.
She had a recent incident with a barbed wire fence, but I am happy to report that the score is fence 0, Luna 1. It beat her up kind of bad, but she emerged victorious.
The inside of Nancy's studio is to dye (or is it die??) for. Everything was measured out and ready for us.
We spent the first part of class mixing our solutions and preparing the yarn.
Then we waited for the indigo dye stock to be just the right color.
Yes, I know its green and not the blue you associate with indigo. We'll get to that.
You have the right chemical mix when the vat is what I think of as the color of the Incredible Hulk.
Next, Nancy gets out the pH strips to determine if our solution is at the correct pH levels.
This is my dye partner, Nina, checking the pH level of our dye vat.
When we had the right mix, it was time to start dyeing. Everybody brought different things to dye. Some brought yarn and roving while others brought clothes. Nancy is making sure we're doing it correctly.
The fabic comes out of the vat green-ish blue. Then the magic happens. As it is exposed to air, it begins to oxidize and turn blue. Please don't ask me the chemical reason for this. I prayed and cried, in equal measures, my way through chemistry classes in college so I have no idea how this actually happens. I like the magic explanation. I can live with magic. Chemistry I can not live with.
As the fabic is exposed to more oxygen, it blues up even more.
A few more trips to the dye vat and this piece of clothing was blue as blue could be.
Some of the dyers got wildly creative. This dyer tied small rubber bands around beans to get an almost tie-dyed look. After her piece finishes its magic blue-ing up, she will remove the bands and beans and have a piece of fabric that is unique and varied in color. The rubber bands should act like a resist, not letting in blue dye underneath them.
At one point, we were "Dyers Gone Wild" with one dyer seeing how dye would react up close and personal. Yes, that is a strand of her hair that is now blue.
And no, we weren't egging her on. Not one little, tiny bit. Honest.
I don't know if I could have done that. I'm just getting used to the grey in my hair. I'm not sure how I'd feel about introducing yet another color!
Long Ridge Farm is postcard pretty.
With it's rolling landscape,
stone foundation buildings,
CVM sheep out grazing in the pastures,
and more stone fencing,
I felt like I was having a Martha Stewart-type of day. Actually, a better than Martha kind of day.
Martha is a bit too perfect for me. She makes me nervous.
Nancy, on the right, didn't make me nervous.
She made me feel perfectly at home and at ease with natural dyeing.
My yarn turned out nicely, with many depths of blue.
It was hard to leave this idyllic setting at the end of the day.
Let's just get this out in the open here and now: I unabashedly love Vermont and New Hampshire. Not a mild like or a general interest. Nope. It is a true love affair with these two New England states.
It's been that way since a ski trip during high school, more than 30 years ago. Since then, I've been back more times than I can count for assorted vacations -- skiing, hiking, and just general galavanting about.
This past weekend, I had the extreme pleasure of taking a solo business trip to Long Ridge Farm in New Hampshire for an indigo dyeing class and then on to the Vermont Fiber Mill to drop off some fiber for processing. I met the nicest, most interesting people at both places and I promise a post about them tomorrow.
But today, this post is a general, open love letter to the two states I adore the most. Sorry Ohio. I do love you. Really, I do. But would it have killed you to leave behind a mountain or two when you were doing that whole glacier thing. I'm not asking for much here. Just a couple of 4,000-footers. Something along these lines:
Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
I arrived in Vermont late on Friday afternoon. With GPS in hand, I set out to find Vermont Shepherd in Putney, Vermont.
Lesson learned. GPS devices and mountains don't mix. Neither do high-tech cell phones with all the latest bells and whistles. Take a map! After many wrong turns on dirt roads heading seemingly nowhere, I arrived at the farm of this award-winning cheese producer. It was feeding time for the lambs.
Now really, is there anything cuter in life than a lamb? Even one that sticks it's tongue out at you is as cute as cute can be.
Vermont Shepherd has a tiny retail store at the end of their driveway to purchase various cheeses, soaps and yarn.
O.K., I may have found that thing in life that is cuter than a lamb. This tiny, bright yellow store is pretty high up there on the cute-o-meter.
I bought some delicious Vermont Shepherd Invierno cheese. Luckily, I had a bit of it for dinner on Friday night, because on Sunday morning, when I checked out of my hotel, I left it in the fridge. Broke my heart when I remembered it -- 2 hours away. Oh well, no use crying over spilled cheese.
One of the great things about traveling the unmarked back roads of New England is the unusual things you'll see, such as this round schoolhouse.
I screeched the car to a halt and jumped out into the road to nab its picture. Yes, I am the type of tourist that gives tourists a bad name.
But I learned something. Now when Alex Trebek asks the three contestants on Jeopardy, "In what state is the only round school house in the country located?" I can shout at the television, "What is Vermont." It will be the only question I get right all night, but I will earn the right to feel superior and say things like, "I can't believe they didn't know that." A little road-side sign knowledge goes a long way.
On another dirt road near Woodstock, Vermont, I again came to a screeching halt, this time for obvious reasons.
I. Want. These.
In a big way. Really, who wouldn't?
Vermont. New Hampshire. You never fail to surprise me. Llama/alpaca sculptures on an unmarked road heading into the woods. This is a delightful part of the country.
Chocolate Mint and Honey Cocktail
We have been including chocolate mint, along with other herbs, in our last few CSA baskets and I wanted to give you all a different way to incorporate them in your kitchens. This cocktail is light and refreshing and includes our farm-made wildflower honey as the sweetner!
* recipe measurements are for a single cocktail*
1 oz of Dry Gin (your prefered brand)
2 slices of lime
5-7 sprigs of chocolate mint
1/2 tbsp of honey
splash of seltzer or tonic water
Take the lime slices, mint sprigs and honey and muddle in a "rocks" glass with a wooden spoon or muddle tool, if you have one. Make sure to get as much juice out of the limes as possible and "bruise" the mint leaves in order to release the flavor.
Once the ingredients are nicely incorporated, add in a good amount of ice cubes, the gin and top it off with the seltzer/tonic. Give it a stir so that all the goodness gets mixed throughout and take a sip!
Blueberry season has come early to Northern Ohio, and that's a-ok with us.
We don't grow blueberries at the farm (yet!), but there is a near-by farm that does. So every year, at least three or four times a season, we head out early in the morning to do a bit of berry picking. Perhaps a smidge more than a "bit" of berry picking. Maybe more like a hundred pounds or so of picking each Summer.
Some of the berries end up in our CSA baskets, but most end up in our freezer for enjoying in Winter morning smoothies. And nothing can bring you back to the warmth of Summer quicker than a blueberry muffin on a cold January day.
This particular berry farm is an exceptionally beautiful farm. It's down a quiet road, with weathered old out buildings that add so much character to the land.
Now I'm sorry folks, but I'm not telling you where it is. Most local finds, I'm happy to share with you. But this farm's location, along with my grandmother's spaghetti sauce recipe, are not up for sharing. Those are two pieces of information (with perhaps some events that happened in college) that are going to the grave with me.
A good blueberry farm is a treasure.
The picking was slow-going today. The berries have been small -- perhaps our recent lack of rain? -- but tasty.
Halfway through picking our buckets, the sky opened up and it began to pour. The first real rain we've had in weeks. We've needed it desperately, so we were not about to curse the heavens for our unfortunate timing. Luckily, we had raincoats in the car and spare baseball hats, so we kept on picking.
We were really unattractive pickers, more in the drowned rat category than the human category. But when fresh-from-the-bush blueberries are your prize, you pick through anything.
Ohio's short strawberry season is already over. You don't want to miss blueberry season. Go out TODAY and get yourself some Ohio-grown blueberries.
Toasted Pita Bread with Sauteed Kale and Poached Eggs
Kale is in abundance here on the farm and it is a great green to use in a variety of ways. I created this recipe from other items I took from the farm and things I happend to have in the kitchen- I hope you enjoy!
Garlic Scapes (or cloves)
First you want to fry up the bacon in a large skillet until nice and crisp, then set aside on a paper towel to drain the excess grease.
Then take the grease from the bacon and drain all but 1 Tbsp, leaving that in the skillet to sautee the greens. Cut the chives and garlic scapes into a small dice and toss into the hot bacon grease- the skillet should be over medium heat. Once those have cooked for a minute or two, add the rinsed kale with stems still attached and season with salt and pepper. The kale will be done when it has begun to wilt and changes to a darker green.
Meanwhile have a medium to large pot of salted water boiling for the eggs and turn on the oven in order to toast the pita bread. Remove the kale from the heat once it has finished cooking and set aside with the bacon. Once the water is boiling, crack the eggs (one at a time) into the pot and watch them poach- approximately 1-2 minutes. Remove from water with a slotted spoon, careful not to puncture the soft yolk, and set aside while you poach the remaining eggs.
Now throw the pita into the oven for just a few minutes in order to get crisp and then prepare to plate! The pita goes down first, then spread a small amount of hummus onto one half and top with the sauteed kale- fold over the other half. Add the poached eggs (salt and pepper to taste) and sprinkle with the crumbled bacon strips.
Yesterday was the perfect day to drive to a beautiful part of Ohio and take a dye class. So that was exactly what I did.
I arrived at the farm of Lee Ann King and the home of Midwest Fiber Company.
Lee Ann's lovely hilltop home overlooks several surrounding farms. The view from her front porch is spectacular. It looks like the kind of front porch upon which you could while away the hours in one of the rocking chairs, a good book in hand. But I know Lee Ann is a farmer and there is no hour while-ing going on on this front porch. There is work to be done.
She has llamas to take care of.
And flowers to raise.
And dye classes to teach.
We started the day learning to dye roving and yarn in Ball jars.
We got some truly brilliant colors with this method. I LOVED my orange yarn.
Then we moved on to hand painting.
Some students hand painted sock blanks.
What the heck are sock blanks, you ask? They are long pieces of white knitted cloth you buy, dye, then use to knit socks. It’s a clever way to design your own color and stripe pattern.
I painted up some white alpaca yarn.
These are not normal colors for me. I felt very daring and livin' on the edge. Yup, a little dab of yarn dye can do that for ya.
At the end of the day, I think the lot of us did a pretty good job. Everybody's colors were so different from each other's. We were all artists for the day.