Category Archives: Traverse City fiber

A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation, and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

photo (4)

Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place has been preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.

Skinny Loves and the Humblerer

imageIt finally happened. We had to call in the professionals when it came to shearing Tassie (It’s official! I received my first kick!) and Bree. Jeff Goodwin (and his incredibly helpful family), our new farm heroes, came to our rescue.

The ladies are looking great and the process went smoothly save for one small bump at the end.

Ironically, as Jeff and his family were about to head out, I mentioned that the farm had a personality all its own. I explained that just when I feel like I’ve got it figured out, it throws a dramatic curve and sweeps me off my feet again. It shouldn’t be called a farm; it should be called a humblerer.

As little ‘Topher and I watched the trucks pull out of the drive, I was feeling pretty great. The Goodwins had successfully sheared, vaccinated, clipped nails, and done teeth, and the alpacas did great. Loads of gorgeous Suri fiber lay piled high on a blanket beneath the old white pine. The sun was looming  lovely and bright over the horizon. Chris would be home soon for dinner. It was time to relax and enjoy this thing we call farming.

However, the humblerer had other ideas.

Before we headed up to start the fire, alpacawarningI checked in on the ‘pacas and noticed Pecan, Tassie’s mother, was down. Not down in the way I expect to find them while resting, but a death’s door kind of down.

I ran out to check her breathing and found she was breathing normally, but her behavior was way off. She snuggled into me (totally abnormal for an alpaca, no matter how adorably snugly they appear). I ran for my phone only to realize the battery had died.

I had two options – one to flag down someone on the trail for their phone, or two to try to get her to her feet and better assess the situation. Chris would be at the farm shortly, so I opted for a better assessment.

I got her to her feet and she stumbled into me. She walked zombie-like and it appeared she was either blind or suffering from some kind of neurological reaction to the vaccines. Chris arrived with his phone and we called Jeff to first find out whether he had ever seen this reaction. He had not and quickly walked us through a process of evaluation to determine the urgency of the situation. In this time, we saw signs Pecan was improving, but it felt painfully slow.

As it turns out, she had a quickly-resolved reaction to (we think) the vaccine. Before long, was walking normally. By morning, she was eating and behaving as though nothing had happened. We, on the other hand, were again keenly aware of how precious and precarious our walk with livestock can be. Not one, but two large-animal vets now programmed into our phones, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for each twist and turn life takes. And also how wholly in love we are with these magnificent animals, no matter the spit, kicks (Tassie!), and dung piles…

With special gratitude to the Goodwins for their gentle handling of our animals and for their support following. 

Rainbow

Experimenting with dyes and wanted to try a fun yarn with some blended and bold shades. The image included here is of an acid dye process (we use vinegar) and we also tried a cold dye with a lighter shade of green. What can we expect at the end of this rainbow? Some gorgeous yarn!

-1 -2

Twist

While spinning some of the oatmeal Shetland fiber the other day, a wisp of brown became twisted in the first ply. I watched the contrasting colors whirl as they inched closer to the spool; an imperfection so eloquently represented. I wondered whether the two sheep who produced these colors were close pasture mates. Maybe they looked out for one another the way sheep do, or perhaps they were mortal sheep enemies. It’s hard to tell with sheep.

Regardless of their sheep preferences, here in this place of quiet meditation, with the steady hum of the drive wheel and the clinking of the hook, they have blended to create a thing of beauty; differences erased with a twist.

It is the twist that makes the yarn strong. And in the twist that morning, I discovered a subtle metaphor for family or community. Some of the fibers are short and crimped with high luster, others are long and straight. Combed, they blend into handsome roving and strengthened when brought together by the cyclical power of the wheel. We are all made more beautiful when we offer up a little of ourselves to the greater good. Especially when we don’t let our differences define us, but compliment the uniqueness in others. We are all subtle variations in hue and luster made stronger by the twist we share in common.

Tree Hugging with Wraps and more…

Hand spun from local Shetland, this is the latest skein rolling off the farm.
Hand spun from local Shetland, this is the latest skein rolling off the farm.
photo 4(1)
Chris wrestles with a tree guard (or he might just be serenading the tree – I can’t tell which).
photo 2(2)
We wrapped the front acreage to protect from voles and deer. Along with this physical deterrent, we’ll be tying bags stuffed with unwashed wool, to attract predators and deter apple tree-eating animals. Plus we love how visible the trees have become!
photo 3(1)
Fall on the farm is truly spectacular.