Every farm visitor and or customer at one of the many events we attend always asks …..
What do you do with the Fiber?
So here is a bit of info on shearing the alpacas and what WE do with our fiber.
DISCLAIMER: Everyone has different abilities and limitations on skills and time. So what we do with our fiber may not be what you want to or can do.
Every spring we hire a shearer with a team of handlers that come to the farm, usually in April, and shears the fiber off the alpacas. They manage the alpacas, bringing them into the barn for shearing, lay them down and secure them SAFELY with the pulley ropes. They talk to them, console those that are scared and keep them safe from the clippers during the shearing process. They also get spit on, peed on, kicked, knocked around and beat up …. these guys work hard and they deserve every penny they get.
Question: Why do we hire someone and not do it ourselves?
Answer: We are not young chickens anymore. Paul has trouble with his knees. We are not experts in the art of shearing an alpaca … believe me I’ve tried! If you wants a good harvest with fiber that is worthy of processing to yarn and other products, you need to have your fiber shorn off in the most efficient manner while also keeping stress to a minimum for the alpaca. Although we are pretty healthy, we prefer to pay the experts their due wages for the work they do. The shearing is all done in a matter of a few hours with each alpaca being down on the matt about 5 minutes… and then we are good to go till next year. It’s a day of hard and dirty work, but organization and preparation is the key.
Once the harvest is complete and the guys have gone off to shear for someone else, we take a DEEP breath and relax for the rest of the day and evening. Then our real work begins ……
- FIRST things FIRST ….. the first thing we do is take the bags of fiber and weigh them. It’s important to keep good records of your fiber harvest. The weights we get from the Neck Fiber or “SECONDS” and the Blanket Fiber or “PRIME” is entered into our Herd Management Database. We have a record of every alpaca that is on the farm. During shearing the fiber is placed in separate bags. the neck fiber is kept separate from the prime blanket fiber. The belly and leg fiber is swept up and combined in BIG HUGE bags in the barn. This fiber, called “THIRDS” is used for garden mulch around the farm.
- The next thing that we do is to separate the bags into piles. All the bags of blanket or prime fiber are put in one pile and the bags of neck fiber are in another. The bags are organized further by color. We then take all the bags of prime fiber and put them on shelves in the barn, according to color. Having this all organized makes it easy to see exactly how much we have in each color and it’s easier to find a certain bag when a customer contacts us for fiber.
- The bags of neck fiber are opened and analyzed for use. We look at the length of the fiber as well as the grade of fiber. If it’s a really nice grade and length suitable for hand spinning we consider preparing it for sale. Usually we will advertise it for sale in the raw state, but sometimes we process it first. It all depends on the time we have. If it’s not been sold or processed by the end of summer, we will send it off to the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool. NEAFP.
- The bags of blanket / prime fiber are then focused on. We pretty much know what our alpacas are producing and know which animals have fiber good for yarn. Some will be good for hand processing and some needs to be sent to the mill for dehairing first. The mill we use is New Era Fiber in Gallatin Tennessee. If we are sending fiber there we will drive it down to the mill or plan to give it to them at a show or other event where we may both be in attendance.
- Before our fiber can be sent to the mill for processing we skirt and clean it of all larger size vegetable matter (grass / hay / burrs / leaves ). We also remove any fibers that are not of the same quality as the overall blanket. The fiber is laid out on a skirting table which allows most of the dust and dirt to fall to the ground during the processing. The blanket is picked apart section by section. As we remove the hay and poop we also analyaze for grade and consistency of micron. Each section we remove is placed in a bag with like fibers of the same color for processing at the mill. This skirted fiber that is removed is kept for use in bird nesting balls that we sell.
- Once we have the fiber cleaned and skirted we sort it into bags according to color and quality. These bags are then weighed and labeled for use. If they are going to the mill we will put a form from the mill in the bag which identifies it as ours and also what we want done with the fiber. If we are unsure on what we want done we can ask the mill to choose for us. Once all our fiber for the mill is ready we will deliver it to them for processing which can take up to several months depending on how busy the mill is.
- While our fiber is at the mill we will process some fiber at home. The skirted and cleaned fiber is first washed in small batches in our apartment sized washing machine. We put the fiber loosely into a lingere bag.
1. Add hot water with a little bit of gentle detergent to the tub.
2. Add the lingerie with the fiber to the water. Push it down to Soak. Make sure your machine is not going to agitate … just soak.
3. Let the fiber soak in the hot water for about 10 minutes.
4. Drain the water, spin … or squeeze the bag ( DO NOT WRING )
5. Add more hot water to the tub and soak again for another 10 minutes, Drain and spin
6. Soak and Drain until the water is clear.
7. Add COLD water to the tub, soak and drain and spin.
QUESTION: What kind of dertergent do you iuse to wash your fiber?
ANSWER: We have used a variety of things such as Dawn Dish Liquid, Woolite or All Free and Clear. It really does not matter which one you use, they all do a good job. Alpaca fiber is not like Sheeps wool and does not contain lanolin. Sheeps wool requires VERY HOT water and a detergent that is an excellent degreaser.
8. Once the alpaca fiber is washed it is placed into hanging net bags and hung outside on the porch for drying. These bags have sections in them and are zipper closure. So the wind can blow all it wants, the fiber stays right in the bag. Every once in a while we go outside and fluff it up in the bags to help it dry. These bags were made for horticulture and drying herbs. You can get a couple at a decent prince on Amazon.
9. Clean and dry fiber is then bagged and labeled. Each bag starts out with an index card inside. As the fiber goes through its processing the card is updated with the latest status. This is a BIG HELP if several months go by between each step.
Fiber that is going to be processed here on the farm into yarn is then fed into the carding machine and combed into a large BATT. Sometimes it’s blended with other fibers such as silk, merino or bamboo. The batts are also bagged when ready for spinning to keep them neat and clean. Spinning is done on a Schatch Ladybug. Margie mostly spins a nice even sport weight yarn. Some fibers are plied with other fibers that she buys from other farms. OR she may include accenting threads and beads.
CLICK HERE to visit our farm store and see all the yarn, rovings, batts and fiber for sale.