I’m going to take a step back today. Back to the beginning (and even a bit before) of our alpaca journey.
Being raised on a farm, I have always had a love for animals. We always had dogs, cats and cows. I can even remember chickens when I was little. I wasn’t very fond of the latter, but that was because they would peck at me when I tried to get the eggs. I can recall calving season, and how cute they were when they were born.
Dad never sheltered us from the cycle of life and death. By being around animals and on the farm, we learned at an early age that not every animal lived, no matter how cute they were. We also learned that there came a time for the cattle to go to market, so getting attached to them wasn’t wise. My older sister and I did have a couple of favourites, even though we knew they would be shipped to market eventually. On more than one occasion, we would wake up to find Dad had brought a newborn calf into the house to warm it up during the night.
In 2007 we had the opportunity to move onto an acreage, which I jumped at. I missed living in the country, as my ex and I had spent the better part of our twenty years together living in either the city or a town. After our divorce in 2006, I got reacquainted with an old friend from high school and the rest is history.
As my daughter loves animals as much as I do, she decided to join 4-H for the 2009/2010 school year. She moved out of her dad’s and in with us. It was a learning experience for her and me, as neither of us had ever had a 4-H experience. My boyfriend helped her with the steer, as did a good friend of ours.
When the sale was over, and her steer had been loaded on the trailer (albeit a lot of tears), she decided to invest some of the money from his sale into a couple of horses. She worked part-time and within a few months she had her horses paid for, and spent as much time with them as she could.
2010/2011 was her second time in 4-H, and instead of boring you with details, I’m going to jump ahead to June 2011. Her and I invested some money into a small herd of alpacas. We had done a lot of research prior, and were fortunate enough to visit a couple of alpaca farms. As I wanted a source of extra income, I knew alpacas were the way to go.
They are a fiber animal, which means they can spend their lives with us and provide some luxurious fiber every spring/early summer. I taught myself to spin using a drop spindle, then graduated to a homemade spinning wheel. I inherited a spinning wheel from a great aunt about three years ago, so when I am able to sit down and spin, I can generally do a couple ounces in an hour.
In addition to the fiber, alpacas provide great lawn maintenance and a never-ending supply of fertilizer. I am quite attached to our little herd, and can’t wait until we can be on the same property they are. (We moved in 2013 to be closer to hubby’s work, and the alpacas are a few miles away from us.) If all goes according to plan, we will be living there by the end of the summer (hopefully sooner).
The nice thing about alpacas is the variety of natural colours they are (22 and counting). The white ones provide fiber which can be easily dyed in a variety of colours, and the darker ones provide variations that are hard to replicate with dyes. The most interesting ones are those that are not a solid colour. Our male has a range of light fawn to medium brown, and spinning his fiber makes for some interesting yarn.
I am still learning about the shearing process, and last summer I finally figured out a system that works for me. I do the shearing alone, and securing the alpacas for their safety (and mine) is essential. My system will need a slight modification this year, but more for stability than anything else.
The most tedious part of processing the fiber is cleaning it. I know of farms that use a leaf blower to get rid of dust and the bits of hay that end up in the fleece, and I am going to invest in one this year. It doesn’t hurt the alpaca, and makes shearing easier as well. The dirt and bits of vegetation are hard on the blades.
As I mentioned earlier, alpaca beans (the poop) are great for plants. It can be made into alpaca tea (recipe below) and poured directly onto your plants. The beans can also be dried and ground up using a food processor (don’t put this one back in your kitchen), then the powder is used as a top-dressing for houseplants. It doesn’t have an odour, so don’t worry about your house smelling like poo.
- 2 cups of dried alpaca beans (preferably in a burlap bag)
- 5 gallons of water (bucket)
Place the bag of beans in the bucket of water, and let steep for 24 hours. Mix the solution well, remove the bag and water your plants. The bag can go into your compost pile.
I have used the beans directly in garden beds, providing my plants with nitrogen. If you wish to compost them first, that’s alright. Composting will kill any weed seeds present in the beans (there are few anyway, so it’s personal preference).
My goal once we get settled is to have an actual farm store with yarn, alpaca wear and packaged alpaca bean products. Your support is greatly appreciated and will help me achieve my goals quicker.
If you have any questions about the fiber, using the beans in your garden or wish to try a sample of my handspun, feel free to comment below or send me a message using the contact form. I can also be contacted via my Etsy Shop (click on the shop widget).
Have a great day 😀
The photo is one I took awhile back with my boy Nick. He is so loveable sometimes. I can’t wait to spend more time with him and get him used to the halter again.