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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home Grown Alpaca

It's way too long since I wrote on here. Life has been so very busy here yet again. I was just looking back through my older posts and realised that I hadn't updated for such a long time about my alpaca's. Well, way back when I used to have 2 there are now four, and have been for the past 18 months. Here's proof:

My four big hairy boys waiting for the shearer.

From left to right are Caesar, Jupiter, Radar (the brown one who we should have named Ewok) & Saturn.
They are a constant source of amusement and pleasure for us. Radar & Saturn are 2 years old now, they were a birthday present and I could not have wished for anything better.

The boys after their recent shearing:

They look so thin and vulnerable now. Radar doesn't look like an Ewok any more, he just looks sad.

The combined weight of their fleece was over 20kg.

Here's a pic of Saturn's fleece before skirting:
 It doesn't look too bad at a distance, but believe me it's filthy. All the times he would be soaked in rain, go and roll in patches of dirt or mud then top himself off with a roll in the hay didn't do his coat, or myself, any favours at all. However, it's wonderfully soft and lustrous and the staples are very long at an average of 9".

I decided the only way forward was to pick out a few choice parts of the saddle and clean it it. What a job! I ended up quickly flick carding individual locks just to remove as much of the debris as possible. I would work at that until I had a basket full (which weighed just over 20g, but 20g is a lot of alpaca fibre). Then I washed the batches lock by lock using a bar of pure soap and lukewarm water and they came up a brilliant white.

The lock at the front has been cleaned, the one in the back is pre-washing. My camera is making the pre-wash fleece look far cleaner that it really is.

I combed the clean fibre on my Viking combs:

It's all very labour intensive.
At the same time it's very rewarding and enjoyable.

The fibre nests in the box weigh just 60g in total. I have another similar sized batch drying and hope for another 60g from that. I have been running a kind of production line of flicking out the debris, washing, rinsing, drying and combing for 2 long afternoons and this is the sum total of my efforts so far. I could package up all the fleece and send it off for commercial washing and carding, but where's the fun in that?

My aim is to process enough fibre by the end of this week (200g, yes I'm possibly kidding myself!) to start spinning it next week. I want to produce enough laceweight yarn to make a big luxurious shawl.

As much as I would love to process and spin all this fleece by hand, that just isn't going to happen. I have to be realistic and do the same with the other 3 fleeces, pick out the bits I want to use and take the rest to the local alpaca buyer or I will end up storing it forever and a day and won't find the time to do anything with it.

Although I haven't found time to blog I've been busy with other things. I finally got a greenhouse which I have wanted for such a long time and have been using it to grow different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, along with peppers, chilies, cucumbers and aubergines. The tomatoes and cucumbers have been so prolific, and I've been harvesting both at least twice a week since early December:

I've kept up with preserving my home grown produce - raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries, blueberries, plums and apricots have all been turned into jams and jellies to fill the pantry shelves. A big batch of yummy tomato ketchup came from some of my excess tomatoes and I experimented and made some spicy plum sauce for the first time ever.
The apples and corn are nearly ready for harvesting. The garden has kept us in a variety of salads and potatoes all through Summer, and I've just planted out the Autumn/Winter crops.
The weather hasn't been too great, we have had more significantly cooler nights since December and lots of rain (which I would never complain about as the garden really needs it).

All in all it's been a good few months, we have had family over from England for the past three months. They went home last weekend so we have all been feeling a little sad. We had a great time going on lots of small holidays around the South Island and we tried to squeeze in as many places as possible - Queenstown, Arrowtown, Dunedin, Picton, Nelson, to name a few. So it's back to reality here for us this week.

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