So I am supposed to be working on my lecture notes for my Alpacas 101 lecture and my Alpaca Fleece lectures as part of a seminar at the farm of my friend, Jane, at Thistledown Alpacas on November 17th & 18th. Part of the deal there is that everyone who signs up for the seminar on Saturday will get a FREE copy of our Alpaca Care DVD - "Alpaca Care for Beginners - We Walk You Through It."
My husband, Tom - alpaca shearer extraordinaire - will also be lecturing at this event about how to set up, adjust and use shearing equipment. If you want to become an expert on alpacas and alpaca fleece and shearing, you can still sign up for this seminar here:
Thistledown Alpacas Seminar
Jane is mentioned in my post about the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival 2007 here:
Jane at Sheep & Wool
But, I was so excited about the birth of the first cria of my former girl, Reinette, that I couldn't concentrate on my lecture notes very well.
Don't Tell Jane!!!
I feel kind of justified in gushing instead of working though, because Reinette, is the granddaughter of the very first alpaca that I ever picked out and bought, Lanark's Latte.
and both of Reinette's parents were born on our farm. They were, Teddy's Peruvian Valentino and Mount Airy Cassandra.
There is something really special to any alpaca breeder (or animal breeder of any type) in seeing the continuation of a bloodline that they have helped to establish over several generations. Reinette felt like my own granddaughter to me and I am so excited that she is now a Mom in her own right! She was named after my own mom, Ruth Reinette Benson, and that name is French for "little queen." Reinette, the alpaca, did a good job of birthing and is, reportedly, a very protective mom.
She had a gorgeous medium fawn boy for her new owner, Ben Clark at Wishful Thinking Farm . Ben was good enough to call me from his cell phone while he stood in the field admiring Reinette's brand new baby. That meant SO much to me! Thanks Ben! But then I already knew that Ben is a good guy and, I hear, that he's turned into a good shearer too! Ben and one of his two lovely daughters are pictured in the previous post - showing alpacas at The Great Frederick Fair.
Don't be confused if you click the link for Wishful Thinking Farm above and get Dameron Alpacas, that is the website of Ben's sister, Rose's alpaca farm. Rose and Ben kind of share the website.
If you follow this blog, you may know that it was pretty hard for us to deliver our last few alpaca girls to Ben and Rose. Here is the post describing that delivery of Reinette and our other girls:
Post on delivering our last girls to their new homes
Here is Reinette cushed next to her dam, Cassandra, in the first hour of her life. She was so cute, but a strong baby - just the way we like our crias to be.
Not the best photo! but Reinette was born inside of our barn because the weather that day was cold and dreary.
She quickly fluffed up a little, and grew up, and, at about 3 months, ended up looking like this:
What a doll! I can't wait for the photos of Reinette and her son (HINT HINT) Ben.
Meanwhile, I have finished both a handspun skein and a couple of alpaca felting projects from my beloved alpaca girl, Galadriel, mentioned in this post:
left to right: hand-spun alpaca skein, silk skein, alpaca skein from Galadriel
felted alpaca (Galadriel's fleece) on alpaca felt background from Pinka
Felting is not really my thing but I may try to expand on this little felted scene later. Galadriel was Reinette's half sister out of Latte.
I am also hand-knitting a pair of alpaca socks:
and cleaning out our business office here at the farm. So I am managing to stay pretty busy!
We tried to give as many alpaca show ribbons to the people who bought alpacas from us as we could - whenever we could remember which ribbons were won by the alpacas they bought! That's why you SHOULD take the time to write the animal's name, the show class and the show date on the back of each ribbon! - alpaca people - even if you ARE exhausted from standing in the show ring all day.
I also kept some of our grand champion alpaca ribbons but I still have a big pile to throw out.
boo hoo! But I'll always have my photos and my memories of my beloved alpacas, so I still feel pretty lucky.
Reinette and her special pal, my son Nick.
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piglet piglet - who needs a piglet? Me, of course!
So Saturday I was at the Great Frederick Fair returning fleeces from our Alpaca Fleece and Skein Show and spinning away on the drop spindle. I don't pretend to be an expert on the drop spindle, but it does make a nice change from lugging the spinning wheels around and, since it is a different motion, it gives your back and hands a rest from wheel spinning. People are always amazed that you can spin yarn with such a simple "toy-looking" thing. This is sheep fleece roving bought from my friend, Cynthia Koonce.
The fleeces looked nice hanging on the wall with their pretty ribbons and I always make sure that those who enter get plenty of credit for winning so that they will want to enter the fleece show again. For that reason, I write their names and farm names really big on index cards and staple the card to the fleece. Unfortunately, I couldn't display a lot of the fleeces this year because the owners did not put them in clear bags as instructed. FYI fleece exhibitors- I do not know of any fleece show, alpaca or sheep, that does not require CLEAR plastic bags, untied.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Uh Oh, Another, Other Kate~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Speaking of Sheep Fleece Shows, once again this year I begged that mean Kate Bostek (of Roclans Farm in Fairfield, PA) to sell me one of her prize winning Rambouillet fleeces and, once again, she laughed in my face. OK, she didn't really laugh in my face. As a matter of fact, she very politely declined because she wants to show her fleeces again in October. She even opened the fleece bags for me to take a photo of them. Congratulations on your big wins at Frederick other, other Kate (as opposed to Kate McKelvie - a.k.a. other Kate and me, KateP), but I still feel a little bitter about not getting one of those fleeces from you!
The sheep fleece show is run by Barbara Mullen, a good friend of mine from the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival Committee. Barbara and her daughters, Karren and Sharron are some of the people that I'll miss the most now that I am moving and won't be able to work at the Great Frederick Fair again. Boo hoo!
Barbara sometimes lets me help judge the Maryland Lamb and Wool Queen Contest, like, this year, when we picked Ashley Stevens.
Blog entry about Ashley at the MD Sheep & Wool Festival 2007
I was happy to see Ashley win Supreme Champion Ewe, Supreme Champion Ram AND Champion in Fitting and Showing at Frederick's 4-H Sheep Show this year. But, as perfect as she is, she DOES have something to hide!!! I caught her red-handed, fondling a non-sheep. You are So Busted Ashley! Doesn't she have sort of a guilty look on her face?
Of course, I'm just kidding. Unlike SOME alpaca breeders, I never go around saying dumb stuff like, "Alpaca fleece is so much better than sheep fleece!" I can love both of them and throw in some silk, cashmere and Yak for good measure. In fact, Barbara and I yanked a little piece of fleece off of George's (see previous entry) Gorgeous Ram and our alpaca judge, Wini, figured it to be about 14 microns! Tell that to the next uneducated alpaca person you know who says sheep fleece is coarse.
Of course I ran over to watch the live alpaca show off and on all day.
There was a huge crowd of entrants in the "showmanship" class. Glad I didn't have to compete against all of them!
I was happy to see that some of my buyers (trained by me) placed well in the show including Ben Clark of Wishful Thinking Farm in Dameron, MD. Ben will not put up a website no matter how I bully him but he is represented on his sister Rose's website for Dameron Alpacas Doesn't he look like a pro out there?
Of course he is totally upstaged by his beautiful daughter. It's pretty hard to beat these cute little kids-n-alpacas for shear adorableness. What brats!
The big winners in the youth showmanship this year were no surprise. These are kids that have worked hard at training and showing alpacas for years except the boy in this group shot. He was in the show ring for the first time ever and did great. 1st and 2nd were the formidable sisters, Tiffany and Crystal German. I did not recognize the 3rd place winner (sorry kid!) and 4th was Courtenay Coles. Since the boy is not high school age, I won't use his name here; can't be too careful on the Internet with kid's names and photos!
Ben brought one of my old boys, Nickleby and his daughter out of Cassandra to the show. The daughter's name is Sadie Bug. I was struck by just how much these two look alike. Sorry the photo is fuzzy!
Now that's a guy with a predictable genotype as opposed to just phenotype!
As always, I spent a good bit of time checking in on all of my friends at the Birthing Tent. Em Pig (mentioned in previous post) had her piglets on Wednesday and she seemed to have a smile on her face as all of us people came by to admire her little ones.
All of them looked healthy and adorable:
But I was just a little bit concerned about the runt of the litter. Wouldn't it be a good idea to give that one to some nice, old, farm lady-person just to make sure it has extra care and TLC? Like, I don't know, Me - for example? I mean he does have to tough it out with his larger brothers and sisters for a turn at the milk bar. Just trying to be helpful here.
Speaking of coveting the animals of others..... I should know by now not to tease people on my blog because, invariably, they stumble upon the blog and find out what I'm up to. No sooner did I threaten to steal the cute BabyDoll Southdown sheep in the "County Roads - City Streets" exhibit in
This Post ,
than I got an e-mail from the owner threatening legal action. No, not really, she was kind enough to thank me for profiling her cute little sheep. Her name is Kim and she owns a place called Friendly Acre Farm (I would have linked to it if you had a website, Kim! ). She mentioned that she and her cute animals will be at Rose Hill Manor in Frederick for Rose Hill's "Fall Festival." Then she sent me an even cuter photo of the very sheep in question. Ever hear of "enabling" Kim?
I watched this poor cow pushing and pushing for a good while but, when it came time for the calf to actually be born, I couldn't even get near the Birthing Tent.
It was jammed with people.
And, I never did find out how it went for Ms. Sheep. She was gone when I turned up at the Fair Saturday morning. Hope things went well for her.
Like a lot of people, I sometimes feel sorry for the animals in the Birthing Tent because it must be hard to give birth with a crowd of people around (and No Epidural!) but I think the good does outweigh the bad.
Too many of our kids grow up with no idea of where their food and clothing comes from. We keep hearing about our kids not being interested in pursuing careers in science. I wonder how many more kids would do just that if they were on more intimate terms with that greatest laboratory of all, our natural world and the amazing living things in it. To see a new life on this planet come into being is a miraculous thing and it's bound to open up the minds and hearts of one or two of those little spectators.
Bye Great Frederick Fair. You can't imagine how much I'll miss being a part of you when I move this summer! Goodbye to all of my livestock friends (human and otherwise) and to the Great Frederick Fair staff and Great Frederick Fair Board - I Thank You so much for giving me the opportunity to be part of your event!
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Day 3 at the Great Frederick Fair and TODAY IS THE DAY! when we judge the alpaca fleece and skein show. Wini Labrecque is always my first choice of alpaca fleece judges because she is a hand spinner, weaver and all around fiber artist. Many of AOBA's judges have no actual experience in working with fleeces in real life and, because of that, they tend to be influenced too heavily by fads and trends in judging (in my opinion.) Also, they are allowed to judge skeins even if they are not hand spinners themselves, which seems ridiculous to me. As a hand spinner, I can tell you that I don't appreciate my hard work being judged by someone who knows a lot less than I do.
But Wini and her friend Jillian did a great job as usual. Once again, Wini gave a one-on-one fleece preparing lesson to an exhibitor who came to watch the judging. And Jillian is very funny so she keeps us laughing while we work.
Having no more alpaca fleeces left from my own animals, (boo hoo!) all I had to enter were skeins. I won two 1st places for those. Also doing pretty well in her skein placements despite being a beginning hand spinner, was Cathy Drennan of My Lady's Manor Alpaca Farm Cathy was nice enough to enter two skeins at my urging and I sure do appreciate her willingness to do that! And, despite having a little-tiny bit of room for improvement, I still thought that her skeins were gorgeous! I loved the colors and the weight of them. One was silver and the other, rose gray. They are displayed at the fair until this coming Saturday:
Another person that I kind of bullied into entering was my friend, Kate McKelvie a.k.a. "other Kate." of Alpacas of Sunset Fields and, really, she ought to thank me (hear that Kate!!!) because she did great in the fleece show, winning 2 out of 4 of the championship ribbons. Here is the fleece of her girl, "Cinnabonne" who won "Best Hand."
Best hand is a really good thing to win because it means that, out of 20 fleeces, "Cinnabonne's" felt the softest.
Also winning a championship ribbon was other Kate's girl "Black Magic Woman" who, despite being true black, won best brightness. It's pretty hard to win best brightness with a black fleece so that's a good win to have too.
Below is a fleece from Peaceful Hollow Alpaca Farm, which won "best crimp." The alpaca's name was "Hillside Royal Cherokee."
If you are paying attention, maybe you've noticed that sometimes, fleeces that win championship ribbons are not 1st place in their color and age class. That's why the "best of" ribbons are a good idea. They reward fleeces with outstanding qualities that might not weigh as much as another fleece or be as perfectly prepared as another fleece. It's almost impossible for one fleece to be best at everything. Speaking of preparation, Best Preparation was won by Nicole Tait of Pilgrim's Reward Farm. She did a very good job of skirting, preparing and bagging her fleeces.
For a full list of winners in the skein competition, click here:
Alpaca hand spun skein winners Frederick 2007
and for a full list of fleece show winners, click here:
Alpaca Fleece Show Winners - Frederick 2007
After a hard day of judging and points tallying, Wini posed with the fleeces and their pretty ribbons.
If you have noticed that some of these fleeces were bagged in black trash bags, please don't ever do this! Don't even store them in black bags.
More of my sheep friends turned up to say Hi, including George Stutz who always brings a sheep to visit me during the fair. Here is is showing off his beautiful Ram:
Also checking in was my good friend, "goat girl." I see this wonderful girl every year at the fair because she is showing her goats while I am doing alpaca fleece stuff. I never use her real name on the blog for safety reasons (you know, online predators and such.) Here she is happily washing one of her goats.
and here is my mention and photo of her in an blog entry from last year at the Great Frederick Fair.
Goat Girl at Great Frederick Fair 06 She's grown up a lot this year.
At the end of the day, I cruised by the Home Arts building to check out the weaving, spinning, knitting and quilting entries. Here is a sweater that I would really like to know the pattern for. (Not that I necessarily feel that I could successfully knit it!)
Here was my favorite quilt for this year:
and, totally un-related to fiber and fleece but too cute not to put a photo of - the bull rocker!
The alpaca halter and handling shows (with animals rather than fleeces) will be held this Friday and Saturday at the Great Frederick Fair. Don't miss it! I'll be there to take photos, give back fleeces and, of course, check on my cow, pig and sheep pals in the birthing tent.
One last Fair photo. If my kids knew that I had put this funny photo of them "clowning around" at the fair on my blog, I'd be dead now. But I really do think it's cute:
my two cute clowns
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Spent Sunday doing a hand spinning demo in the "Fiber Optic" tent at the Great Frederick Fair. It's "FIBER" as in spinnable fiber and NOT edible or optical fiber for telecommunications. Let's get that straight because I'm tired of being asked that question all these years by every 3rd or 4th guy who enters the tent. For some reason women GET that this is a play on words but a lot of men feel it needs clarification. Or maybe they feel tricked into accidentally entering an entire tent about spinning, knitting, fluffy non-edible animals and other girly-girly stuff when they thought it would be computer stuff.
One of the big perks of hanging out in this tent is that so many of my sheep friends come by to hang out with me while I spin, including the three friends pictured above. Kids LOVE spinning wheels and other machines and I love kids and sheep so this works out for everyone.
And, speaking of cool machines, there was another lady demo-ing in the tent and she was working an antique sock knitting machine. To tell the truth, I felt a little shown up by this gal. The spinning wheel's kind of boring in comparison to this thing!
I decided to step out of my box today and spin something other than alpaca for once. As much as I love alpaca, I do like to experience other fun fibers now and then, so I brought some of my "stash" with me including Yak, bamboo and silk caps. Here is what I learned: Yak is pretty hard if not impossible to spin with people crowding around, looking at you and talking to you. It's too short. So I looked dumb trying to spin that perfectly in front of an audience.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is even worse! I hated it. I bought this bamboo at the MD Sheep & Wool Festival because I had heard and read that this is the up-and-coming thing. Even Google now sells bamboo/cotton blend T-shirts. I found it terribly hard to draft and really harsh to handle for any length of time. It made my fingers chapped. It wasn't cheap to buy either! The final nail in the coffin came when my sister came over to watch and remarked that the bamboo roving was the exact same color as Cheetos!!! Up until then I kind of liked the color.
So I moved on to spinning up the silk caps and Eureka! I loved it! Can't say they came out perfectly but I loved the way the silk felt in my hands and I loved the way the colors didn't get all blended together in a big mud color once they were spun. This happens to dyed sheep wool a lot. It's better to "paint" the dye onto the already spun skein in my humble opinion. But the silk skeins kept their unique colors:
Sorry silk worms! but I think I'll be buying a lot more silk at next year's MD Sheep & Wool Festival.
At exactly 12:15, Susan's perky voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing another impending birth in the birthing tent. I'm like Pavlov's dog after spending so much time at the fair for the last few years. As soon as I hear Susan's voice, I jump up and run to the birthing tent. I got there in time to see the vet and a few of her helpers "pull" a female calf from her tired Momma. Don't let the chains fool you - they are actually not painful for the calf and much better than leaving the poor creature struggling inside of an exhausted mother. These guys did a great job and pulled the calf out very quickly but carefully.
The calf curled up in the straw and Momma cow got right up to lick her new baby and start nagging her to nurse. The owner named the calf "Pretty." That she was, and pretty big as well. No wonder Mom was worn out.
Meanwhile, yesterday's new born calf is now an old hand at charming the kids as well as their parents and is getting non-stop petting. He's like a little Rock Star there at the birthing tent. In the pen behind him is a big-as-a-house sheep Momma to be. I can't wait to see the lambs! We have not had a sheep in the birthing tent before, just pigs and cows. Not that piglets and calves aren't thrilling too.
Along with the birthing tent, I also check in at the Country Roads - City Streets exhibit each day to see my animal friends there. They have the huge Brown Swiss oxen named Cain and Abel, a pretty baby llama, a miniature horse and donkey, alpacas and, this year, they have added 2 emus. That cracked me up because, back when we became alpaca breeders in 1999, half of the people who saw our truck sign or business card would ask us, "are they large birds?" meaning the alpacas! For some reason there was a crossed wire in the brains of a lot of people that confused alpacas with emus maybe because they both happened to enter the public consciousness at the same time.
Even now, reporters for business magazines and newspapers love to predict the impending crash of the alpaca market using crashes in the U.S. market for emus and ostriches as a basis for comparison. The trouble is that they have been making this same prediction every year for at least 20 years. So crazy! You wonder how these people get hired. As my friend Ingrid Wood from Stormwind Alpacas said in her rebuttal to one such article in the Wall Street Journal,
"Would you warn a sheep breeder to get out of business because the chicken farmer in the next town lost his customers?" and she also said,
"Can you say species?" good one Ingrid! Birds and mammals have as much in common as, say, reptiles and mammals. You might just as well talk about the market for Iguanas in relation to the market for alpacas.
So, I do kind of like the Emus but I really don't get the idea of raising very large, fast-running birds with scary claws so I can eat them. I'll stick with the fuzzy calm alpacas and the warm sweaters and socks that don't require slaughtering. Emus are pretty though:
My favorite inhabitant of the Country Road - City Streets this year is this amazingly cute Babydoll Southdown sheep!
How cute is that little thing!!!???, and it wouldn't really be any trouble to put this guy under your arm, walk to the parking lot and stuff it inside of your car. Not that I'm advocating livestock stealing but a person can have her fantasies.
Don't assume that this is some designer breed of sheep; It's actually a heritage breed. To find out more about the long history of this breed, go here:
Baby Doll Southdown Sheep Breed Association
On my way out of the fair grounds, I always stop behind the sheep barns to watch the children "fitting" their sheep for show. These kids work so hard and take such wonderful care of their animals. How beautiful that their parents gave them the gift of this life experience! I wish every child could be doing something like this instead of sitting in front of their television set 4 hours (average) a day! Oops - I'm lecturing again - sorry.
So, tomorrow is the judging for the alpaca fleece show. I got 20 fleeces and 6 skeins, which is not as many as I wanted but enough for a pretty good show.
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