Monday, September 19, 2016
By Barbara Patterson, Golden Pine Alpacas Farm
Girls coming down paving stone path
Like the changing of the seasons, the time to trim the alpacas’ toenails comes around every three months, give or take.
That schedule changed at our farm this year with the addition of concrete paving stones around the feeders, barn entrances, and a heavily used alpaca walkway.
After giving it a lot of thought, my husband Pat came up with the idea of creating an abrasive surface for our alpacas to walk on, which we hoped would extend the time for toenail trimming. In the Peruvian high Andes, alpacas walk on rocky terrain which keeps their toenails nicely trimmed. We brought in three pallets of square paving stones, with 144 stones in each pallet, to cover the areas the alpacas use the most.
Our alpacas, curious creatures that they are, stood about watching as Pat placed the paving stones around their feeders and at the barn entrances. Their enthusiasm for this change, on a scale of one to ten, was one! The alpacas attempted, with some success, to jump over the paving stones into the barn. It was more difficult, despite their long necks, to reach the hay in their feeders. The alpacas avoided walking on the long stretch of paving stones leading to one of the feeders by stepping off onto the dirt. We thought, Oh, what have we done! All the labor and expense for nothing? But in a few days, all the changes were accepted and the alpacas are again happy campers. Marvelous animals they are and so adaptable!
This new experiment seems to be a success. The last time we trimmed toenails was mid-March and early April. We are now in mid-September and the toenails are still looking okay.
Pavers on all sides of feeder
Pavers on two sides
Pavers at one of barn entrances
Pavers at a west barn entrance
Sunday, March 6, 2016
By Barbara Patterson, Golden Pine Alpacas Farm
Dryland Alpaca Farming
There is something about watching alpacas graze and pronk in the beautiful lush green pastures of alpaca farms in Western Washington or Oregon that makes me feel a pang of envy. These charming pastoral scenes featuring such fortunate alpacas are prevalent in alpaca publications and Facebook videos.
In contrast to this idyllic vision lies our Golden Pine Alpacas farm, located within the arid area of eastern Washington known as a rain shadow, caused by the Cascade Mountains 40 miles to the west. Goldendale receives shy of 18 inches of rain in a good year and less in the recent drought years. Eight months of the year our pastures are brown with nary a blade of grass to delight the eye. This is what is known as dryland farming. Consequently, year-round our alpacas are fed orchard grass hay grown locally. Pasture irrigation is not an option. Our 15-acre farm is located in a 1,000-acre community with a water system shared by the residents.
Without a doubt, the biggest advantage of dryland farming is a sizeable reduction in parasitic infestation, as compared to wet, humid environments. Parasites can multiply rapidly and, if unchecked, can lead to severe illness and even death in livestock. Most internal parasites enter the alpaca through oral ingestion. Pasture grazing presents a higher risk of exposure than dry lot feeding.
Strongyles are worms that are common intestinal parasites of alpacas on most farms. Their eggs are passed in the feces and under the right conditions of temperature and moisture they hatch into larvae. The mature larvae are found primarily in the lower 2 inches of the plants on pasture. Alpacas become infected with parasites while consuming these plants. In hot and dry climates, such as eastern Washington, these parasitic larvae die faster than in cool, moist regions.
Coccidia, another parasite which infects alpacas, are one-celled organisms that multiply rapidly under certain conditions. They are also passed through the feces and after several days become highly infective when ingested.
The manure pile is a big source of parasitic larvae. Regular removal of manure from the barn and pastures is an excellent way to control parasites. At our farm, this chore is done on a daily basis. Fortunately, alpacas, unlike goats and sheep, have a communal dung (poop) pile which makes the cleanup job fast and efficient.
When we started our farm in 2007, we administered drugs to our herd which were developed to combat internal parasites. This was done every six months - whether the alpacas needed them or not! After a few years, we began to pay attention to warnings that resistance to drugs capable of destroying or eliminating parasitic worms and other internal parasites had become a major problem in veterinary medicine. Drug resistance is considered a threat to animal welfare worldwide.
We decided to invest in equipment to do our own fecal testing so that we could treat with drugs only the alpacas that needed it. Through periodic fecal testing of our herd, we can keep a check on any parasitic load that may be affecting the alpacas. We take three to four random samples for testing. Also, we will test any alpaca which shows signs of loose stool or diarrhea. We prepare slurry of a sugar and water solution and alpaca “beans” which is placed in small vials and spun in a centrifuge. Fecal matter and eggs which have risen to the top of the vial are then put on a glass plate and examined under a microscope. The outcome is usually negative or shows very small numbers, which requires no treatment. Should the sample show significant amounts of parasites, then treatment is in order. Alpaca farms, in conjunction with their veterinarians, should determine what a significant amount of parasite load is.
External parasites such as mites, lice, and ticks are a rare problem in our dryland setting. These parasites tend to like warm, humid, and wet environments.
There is no getting around it – alpacas love to graze on the very grasses that can harbor parasites. When the rains come in the late fall and winter months, the brown pastures in our farm slowly turn that beautiful green color, testament to the alpacas’ ability to graze without pulling up roots. During this time, we close off some pastures until the grasses grow high enough for grazing. Meanwhile, the alpacas stand by these pasture gates after eating their hay and gaze longingly at the emerging grasses. I’ve seen a few informal studies which attempt to determine whether alpacas are colorblind. From my personal observations, alpacas have absolutely no trouble spotting green – or at least their version of what green looks like!
Another area where grasses grow during this time is alongside the driveway from the road up to the barn. We often let our three gelded males graze on this stretch. The boys watch while we place a temporary fence at the road and at the top of the driveway. They know exactly what is happening and start to run and jump with joy at the prospect. Their gate to the driveway is opened and out they bound, happy as can be.
In this dryland setting which is their home, despite the fact that there are not the lush green grasses to graze, our alpacas seem happy and healthy – and rarely bothered with parasites.
Fecal Testing Equipment
Pastures in August
Sparce green grasses Mid-March
Yearlings early summer
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Here's a nifty idea Pat came up with for easily weighing alpacas in our barn. We don't have the space to put in a permanent weigh station so this works great for us. The lightweight movable wall slides over to the scale, providing a barrier that the alpaca won't challenge. A swinging gate closes off the front of the scale, the alpaca's weight is noted, the gate is opened and we lead the alpaca back to its stall.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Skirting Carmella's Fleece
Late spring into summer is a busy time for alpaca farms, including ours (Golden Pine Alpacas). This is the time to tackle all those poly bags stuffed with fleece from the May shearing.
During shearing, the fleece from each alpaca is separated into three bags. The prime fleece comes off the alpaca's back and sides, the seconds are taken from the neck and lower thighs, and the thirds are everything else. The bags for each alpaca are weighed then stored in a cool room in the barn.
The prime fleeces are gone through individually to determine which will make the grade for processing into yarns or roving. A roving is a long and narrow bundle of fiber. Rovings are produced during the process of making spun yarn from wool fleece, raw cotton, or other fibers. Their main use is as fiber prepared for spinning.
The qualities we look for are fineness, uniformity, staple length, and brightness – the qualities that make alpaca fiber unrivaled even by cashmere. To make these decisions, we place the prime fleece, which usually weighs from 3 to 4 pounds, on a homemade skirting table made especially for this purpose. Not all fleeces make the grade. However, the rejected fleeces can still be used for other purposes.
The 4-foot by 4-foot skirting table is made from white coated metal grid closet shelving material. The legs are 1.5 inches white PVC water pipe and connected to the table with pipe fittings. The reason for the grids is to allow dirt and debris from the fleece to fall through onto the floor. Alpacas love to roll in the dirt!
The fleece, called a blanket, is first laid out carefully on the table, cut side up. Our shearer attempts to cut the fleece off the body in such a way that she does not need to go over the area again with the shearers. However, that is not always possible and what are called "second cuts" will appear on the fleece. These are very short pieces of fiber which must be removed as they will adversely affect the yarn and roving quality. An expired credit card will nicely flick off these unwanted second cuts.
"Skirting" is a good term for what comes next. The edges of the fleece are carefully examined for unwanted pieces, such as lower quality fiber, dung, and vegetable matter. These pieces are discarded. Next, small tufts of fiber are pulled from several places in the blanket to determine staple or fiber length. Hopefully, the staples will be uniform in length as variable lengths will make poorer quality yarn. Any fiber showing a variance over one-half inch of the average staple length is eliminated from the blanket.
A truly uniform fleece will be consistent not only in staple length but also fineness. Uniformity is an important quality in alpacas' fiber that we selectively breed for.
The fleece blanket is now turned over, cut side down. Here, we continue to remove unwanted material such as hay, burrs, and other debris which alpacas collect on their fleece over time.
Tumbling is the final step in fleece preparation before it goes to the mill for processing into yarn and roving. Here, the skirted fleece is placed in a large drum with wire screening and 14 fiberglass separators designed to penetrate the fleece and open it up during the tumbling process. The tumbler drum is attached to a belt driven electric motor and mounted waist-high on a wall behind a shed. We secure the drum cover, set the timer for the length of tumbling time, and watch the dust fall to the ground. It is amazing how much dust these alpacas retain in their fleeces!
Now the fleece is ready for the milling process. We deliver the fleeces to a small, family-run mill in Sunnyside, Washington which washes, picks, and cards the fiber before placing it in a draw frame to stretch and straighten the fiber before spinning and plying it into yarn.
Cottage industry mills in the U.S. are usually small operations. Because of the high demand from alpaca farms, the time from raw fleece delivery to finished yarn or roving can take up to 10 months.
It's a day to celebrate when we receive our newly finished yarn. Labels with the alpacas' pictures and information about the yarn are quickly slipped onto the skeins and local knitters are notified that their favorite colors from their favorite alpacas are again available. The yarn and other products from our alpacas are also sold throughout the U.S. from our websites.
[This Blog is a reprint from an article written by Barb Patterson of Golden Pine Alpacas for the Goldendale Sentinel: Alpaca Fleece Gets Prepped for Production| October 14, 2015 | Vol.136 No.41]
Sunday, July 5, 2015
By Barbara Patterson
Midgey Lou & Lori Lou wait for their turns
Our shearer Kim shows up the evening before shearing and we put her up for two nights. This year 26 alpacas are to be sheared. Each takes about 30 minutes so the plan is to shear 16 the first day and 10 the second.
The alpacas have been cooped up in the barns with fans running for four long days and nights prior to shearing - which they don’t appreciate at all. But it’s due to the rainy weather. Wet weather and wet alpaca fiber is never a good combination. There is definitely a lot of humming going on!
Threatening clouds, light rain, and high humidity greet us on shearing day. We shear outdoors beneath a large canopy in front of the barn - so everything should be fine. “Except,” Kim cautions us as she raises her electric shears, “the first clap of thunder brings an immediate halt to the proceedings!”
Four assistants are needed for our shearing days. We’ve hired Kirk and Becky to help us. Alpaca shearing is new to them. Kim takes time before we begin to instruct our new helpers. “The safety of the alpaca is the most important thing and we need to be constantly aware of that,” she says. “That means total concentration on the job because we don’t want the alpaca or any of us to get hurt,”
My husband Pat’s job is to halter and lead the alpaca from the barn and to give shots and clip toenails as needed while the alpaca is restrained. My job is to pick up and bag the fiber as it comes off and to clean the area after each alpaca is sheared. Kirk’s main responsibility is to hold the alpaca’s head and neck in position while lowering it to the mat and during shearing. Becky assists in lowering the alpaca to the mat and maintaining pressure on its hip when needed. She also helps in picking up fiber and cleaning up after the alpaca is sheared.
Usually, Pat brings up our three gelded males, Donovan, Dakota, and Dominic, to begin the shearing. They are in a smaller barn, a good distance from the large barn area where the shearing takes place. The boys have been through this shearing routine many times and know the ropes, so to speak. They are good, easy candidates for teaching our two new assistants. But it is raining lightly this morning and we need to wait until later. Don’t want alpacas with soggy fleece! So they will remain in their barn until tomorrow.
The first three alpacas we shear are girls who are also old hands at this shearing business and will cooperate nicely.
The first alpaca, Angelina, is led to the shearing mat. Kirk holds her head while Pat removes the halter and stands directly in front of Angelina to prevent her moving forward. Becky is at her hips, holding fleece to help keep her from cushing. Now Kim places the rear feet into loop restraints, while the alpaca is held upright. Pat now moves away. Kim next lifts the front feet into the restraints as Kirk keeps Angelina standing. Restrains now in place, Kim pulls the ropes out ahead of the alpaca. Kirk and Becky ease the alpaca to the mat then roll her onto her left side. Kirk takes care to position her head and neck correctly. Angelina is now stretched out fully, ready to be sheared. As head holder, Kirk has a very important job. He’s got to hold the alpaca’s head and neck perpendicular to her body to prevent any forward movement during shearing.
The first three are sheared and led back into the barn where they are treated as total strangers by the other alpacas. “Who are you!” their comrades seem to be saying as they sniff and circle the shorn alpacas. They are not recognizable at first. Usually, we let the newly sheared alpacas into the pasture instead of taking them back into the barn. But today it is very cool and still showering. We think they will be warmer in the barn.
Pat brings Danielle out of the barn. She is the first of three pregnant girls. Tania and Miss Bea will follow. They will get their shearing out of the way and not have to stand anxiously in the barn awaiting their turn. All three do well.
Now comes a screamer and spitter! There are always a few of these. This girl wants nothing to do with this shearing business. Bring on the towels because Bianca is spitting greenies! Anyone have earplugs? Hope the neighbors don’t call the sheriff. Probably won’t because neighbors are already here observing the spectacle.
Kim talks quietly to the alpacas as she shears. “You’ll be fine! Everything will be okay. No one’s gonna hurt you.” If they are quiet and well-behaved, she will sometimes give them a kiss on the cheek. Bianca didn’t get a kiss this time around.
We get some relief with the next two girls, Midgey Lou and her daughter Lori Lou. No screaming or spitting. Just blessed quiet. All of Midgey Lou’s cria have been the same way – maybe it’s in the genes!
A welcome break comes for lunch and the crew heads to the house for pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, and a yummy pumpkin cake brought by our longtime farm helper Jyl.
Eight more alpacas to go this afternoon before we’re done for the first day. Brandy’s first. She does not want to come out of the barn and cushes on the floor. Just like last year. Out comes the big old bath towel. Kim and Kurt get the towel beneath her belly, lift her, and carry her out to the shearing pad. Once stretched out, she remains very quiet during the shearing and actually seems quite relaxed. She gets a kiss.
And so it goes until the shearing is completed early the next afternoon. Everyone is tired because this is work! But it’s a good tired that comes with a feeling of accomplishment. The alpacas have forgotten all about it and are happily romping around the pastures, rolling in the dirt, and glad to be rid of a year’s heavy fleece.
One of the most delightful things about shearing is seeing the cut side of the prime fleece as it comes off the alpaca. It is clean (compared to the dirty outer fleece), it shines, and it is so very soft! This is the fleece that will eventually become the rovings and yarn which will be spun and knitted into scarves, hats, handwarmers, baby clothes and many other beautiful garments people love to wear.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
By Barbara Patterson
Setting up canopy for shearing
At our Golden Pine Alpacas farm lots of prep work is done prior to our mid-May shearing date.
How alpacas love to roll in the dirt! And there is plenty of that on our dryland farm east of the Cascade mountain range in Washington - where rainfall is not abundant and any grass is gone by mid-June. We attempt to get as much dirt, hay, and other debris out of their fleeces before shearing. It’s much easier to get it off the standing alpaca than when the shorn fleece is laid out on the skirting table. In good weather our alpacas are brought into the barn the day before shearing, cleaned, and are not released to the pastures until they are sheared.
We set up a catch pen by a window, strap on face masks, and proceed to separate the dirt and debris from the alpaca. This is not a particularly fun job! We halter the alpaca, lead it to the catch pen, and then vigorously rub the sides, upper leg, and neck areas. It is amazing how much dirt their fleeces can hold! The fleece is examined for hay, burrs, beans, and other undesirables which we remove.
Some of the alpacas take the handling in stride with no fuss. A few hate it and let us know right away by either cushing or rearing up. The majority just tolerate it. We’ve experimented with using a blower to remove the dust but find it isn’t as effective as rubbing them. The alpacas find the noise and velocity of the blower far more distressing than the manual rubbing.
Bags for the fleece are prepared and labeled with the alpaca’s name prior to shearing. The prime fiber is always sheared first and placed in bags labeled 1st. This is the fiber that goes into rovings and yarn. The shearer takes a small amount of fleece from the prime fiber on the alpaca's side which is placed in a small ziplock bag to be sent to a lab for histograms. Histograms give us valuable information about the quality of the alpaca’s fiber. We bag and use the remaining neck and leg fiber for products such as rugs and needle-felted items. A small amount of fleece is not usable and is thrown out after weighing the entire fleece.
Several days before shearing, a 10 by 20-foot canopy is set up in front of the barn. If it rains, the alpacas stay dry. The canopy also provides relief from hot and sunny days. We make a list of the alpacas, the order in which they will be sheared, and which ones need toenails clipped or shots given. If any are to have their legs “stove-piped,” meaning leaving some fleece on, this is noted. Reminder calls are made to Kirk and Becky, who we've hired to assist with the shearing: “See you at 7:30 sharp on Wednesday morning!”
And now we are ready for the shearing!
Next blog: Alpaca Shearing Part 2 Please Don’t Rain –We’re Shearing Today!
Clean-up time before shearing for girls in barn
Sunday, May 3, 2015
By Barbara Patterson
Little visitor feeds herd sire Mackenzie
The alpacas were a hit, as always, coming into the barn to greet each new set of visitors. Such curious animals alpacas are! They don’t want to miss a thing, especially the grain handouts which they seem to know are a big part of the fun – for them and the visitors. We’re usually pretty stingy with the grain so these events are a real treat for the alpacas.
In our neck of the woods in rural Goldendale, alpacas are a rare livestock animal. Sheep, cattle, and goats predominate. So visitors are often just as curious about alpacas as alpacas are about them!
Visitors always ask lots of questions: What’s the difference between an alpaca and a llama? (Short answer: size, temperament, fiber, and purpose.) Do they spit? (Only at each other over food issues.) Do they bite? (No.) Can I pet them? (Some will let you.) Why do you raise them? (Ah – for their beautiful soft fiber!)
Beautiful weather prevailed for our May 2015 Open Farm Weekend event. Many visitors came to enjoy our friendly alpacas as well as the many products produced from their fiber. Baskets with many colors of fleece were set around the barn for guests to sink their hands into. We love the smiles these baskets generate! An information table with handouts, photo albums, a guest book to sign, and door prizes to sign up for is set up for all our events. The door prizes at this event were a skein of Bianca’s yarn and a needle-felted teddy bear from our alpaca fiber.
The very best thing for us about open farm day events is watching the delight on the faces of our guests as they get acquainted with the alpacas. What a joy!
Alpaca Products Tables
Photo ops! Get the cell phone handy!