Monday, March 6, 2017

50% Off Hats & Socks Sale

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 Alpaca Sale

Washing Alpaca Fiber

Washing Alpaca Fiber

By Linda Kernstock, Sage Critter Alpacas

One of the most popular questions I receive is, " How do I wash my fiber?"

I wash my alpaca fiber in big livestock water tanks.  We simply use hot tap water and Ajax dish soap.  We use Ajax because it is the cheapest surfactant dish soap that I have been able to find.  By the ounce from Wal-Mart (in the big bottles) it is even cheaper than the bulk I have been able to find online.  It seems too simple, but it works well for me and I wash a little over a thousand pounds of fiber a year!  (note:  you will see Equate hand soap in some of the pictures, I don’t use that to wash, we use that for felting…. it is NOT a surfactant and it will not be effective in removing  grease from your wash fibers).

The next question is:  “How much soap do you use?”  

Well the beautiful part of using Ajax is it will not scorch or dry out your fibers, so you cannot damage the fiber by putting too much in.  If the fleece is small poundage (under 4 pounds) and not too dirty, I use “one big squeeze”.  
Right... that is where people go “Huh?”  
It is as specific as I can get!  I use one big squeeze and it makes a coffee cup saucer size spread of soap in the bottom of the tub.  
Then I take my hose and spray the soap to make it bubble and foam.  When I have enough water, about 25 gallons, I add the fiber and push it under the soap bubbles until every piece is wet.  With suri or mohair, this may take a little bit of wiggling with your fingers to get it to separate enough to adsorb the water.
I like to let this initial wash sit for a whole night.  It makes a big difference with the alpaca fleeces if you let one of the washes sit overnight.  Those dirty buggers love to roll and sitting in the wash seems to allow more of the sand and stuff to drop off the fleece.
Next we move the fleece to the second wash.  Adding soap the same way we did before.  Question #3 is:  “How do you move the wash?”  =)  

Well, we are pretty simple, we just put our hands in the water and pull out a clump and squeeze it and toss it into the next wash tub!

See…… simple.  When the tub is mostly empty of fiber, I use a strainer, or colander, to drag around in the water to catch the little bits.  Then I turn the colander upside down over the drain hole after I pull the plug.  This helps to keep much fiber from going down the drain.  I like a metal mesh type colander the best.
For the second wash, there is no need to leave the fiber in for a night… only 30 minutes or so.  Longer will not hurt, but it can be a short wash.  Then, on to the rinse tub.  Move it the same as previously described.


The rinse tub is the same hot water, but no soap.  Here we use a little tablespoon of Syntholube.  This helps us keep the static down when the fibers are running through the big machines.  You don’t usually need this product for home / hand spinning projects.  Do NOT add conditioner to the fibers.  Conditioner coats your fibers and if you are going to felt them, they will not felt correctly.  In addition when you spin them, they will not hold the twist as well.
Please, please, please, take the fiber OUT of the rinse BEFORE the water gets cold.  You don’t want any leftover grease cooling back onto the fibers before you pull it out of the water!
Squeeze this tub really well when you take it out to put it on a drying rack.  If you have a spin dryer, those are a dream at this point.   The more water you squeeze (or spin) out the shorter the drying time.
We use wooden racks with chicken wire on it.  There are fans at the far left end (you can’t see them in the picture) that I turn on to help speed up the drying time.  Direct sunlight on a warm day speeds up drying tremendously as well.
Spread the fiber out thin and it dries a lot faster!  You can see I have some dry batches bundled up in piles here, but the white thin one is freshly washed I am trying to dry in the picture.
No, you don’t have to wash in livestock tubs.  You can use buckets, bathtub or utility sinks.  Anything big enough to hold the fiber you have to wash.  We do big loads here, so we use big tubs.
Yes, people tell me you can wash in a top-load washing machine.  I don’t know how to do that, you will have to look online for those instructions.  =)
When we have to wash bison or sheep wool (which is MUCH greasier with lanolin than alpaca), we use a stronger soap called:  ECCOSCOUR EF-312 CONC  – A biodegradable, non-ionic detergent and scouring agent for both natural and synthetic fibers. The emulsification system is produced solely from derivatives of natural plant & animal products. ECCOSCOUR EF-312 CONC has a pleasant citrus smell and does not contain any petroleum or chlorinated solvents, alkyl phenols, phosphate, glycol ethers or other chemicals that are hazardous to the environment.”  (Eastern Color website.)  Use Eastern Color and Chemical Co. in the first wash.  Otherwise, you have to wash a sheep fleece up to 6-7 times in ajax to get through the lanolin, which is a lot of work.

Admittedly, I do not like to use much of the eccoscour, and we are lucky we don’t have to.  It smells different and sometimes that gives me a bit of a headache.

I hope this helps.  Nothing fancy, simple process, easy to do at home.  =)

Friday, November 18, 2016

New Sock Release- Mountain Crew Alpaca Hiking Socks

Do you have yet to find the perfect hiking sock?
One that will fit like a second skin, wicks moisture away, and keep you comfortable, wet or dry?  These highly durable socks provide maximum comfort and moisture control.  Specialized ribbing on the top of the foot and sides create flexibility without bunching or bulk. This technology keeps the sock in place throughout your travels. Padding clinically shown to reduce blisters, foot pain, pressures and odor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mycoplasma Haemolamae in Alpacas

By: Internet, Norm Evans and Mike Six

Saving Your Alpacas' Life

“The Silent Killer”

Mycoplasma Haemolamae

This paper is to help you save your alpacas' life from one of the little-known alpaca diseases. The disease is Mycoplasma Haemolamae (MH). It is a “Silent Killer”! MH has been detected since the 1990's and was originally called Eperythrozoonosis or EPE. Recently the name has changed in the medical community for camelids, but it is still the same disease. 
Alpaca health is very important to an alpaca business. Educating yourself about this disease will help protect your investment and your beloved alpacas. 

If you have an animal that is lethargic with chronic weight loss (frequently even though they are eating like crazy), chronic diarrhea, and/or has light to severe anemia you should consider Mycoplasma Haemolamae (MH) as a possible cause. You should start tetracycline treatment immediately. Weight loss can be +/- ¾ of a pound per day, then lethargy and anemia set in very quickly. The alpaca can die within days of the onset of MH without treatment. Over the 10 days of treatment the alpacas will respond positively quickly with weight gain, less lethargy and less anemia. It is possible for it to take months until they are back to normal and have gained all of their weight back. (If your alpaca is down and has had these symptoms and nothing you or your vet has tried has helped, please go immediately to “Treatment” below.)

Disease Definition:
Mycoplasma Haemolamae is a bacterium that attaches itself to the red blood cells of an alpaca. The immune system recognizes this as a problem and destroys the affected red blood cells. Your alpaca then becomes anemic. In the majority of alpacas infected with these bacteria, there are no signs of the disease. If your animal becomes immunocompromised through another one of the alpaca diseases or is stressed from a move, birthing, weaning, or through other environmental changes (like extreme heat), MH can rear its ugly head. Because of the immunocompromised condition of the alpaca with MH, other opportunistic parasites like strongyles, nematodes, coccidia, EMAC, clostridium A/B/C, SNOTS, etc. can quickly infect the alpaca and MH symptoms could be masked by the similar symptoms from these other parasites and illnesses.

Many animals have died from Mycoplasma Haemolamae but have an incorrect necropsy diagnosis. Most vets and/or labs do not look for MH during necropsy or even during standard blood panels. What usually comes back from a blood panel is anemia with high counts of white blood cells indicating potentially lymphoma. If you have a blood panel done by your vet and the white blood cell count is very high consider treating for MH. It has been found that misdiagnosis of the blood panel can lead to, lymphomic cancer diagnosis in your alpaca. This should be an alarm and treatment for MH should start immediately to prevent death. Use tetracycline treatment prior to other treatments to give your alpaca the best chance for survival. Giving tetracycline will not do any harm. Do not let your alpaca die from not trying. After the full treatment is completed, request another blood panel and compare with the first approximately 10 days after treatment has ended. The white blood cell count will be down significantly and continue to drop to normal counts over time if the alpaca had MH. This has amazed many vets had who were sure the alpaca potentially had cancer. Many alpacas have been put down or left to die after the cancer diagnosis. Why not treat with tetracycline? 

The disease can manifest as an acute problem. Your alpaca may suddenly be unable to stand and be extremely weak. Routinely weighing your alpacas (or checking their body score if you do not own a scale) and paying special attention to alpacas with weight loss is the key in achieving early diagnosis. (Remember to record weight after shearing.)
Or MH may be a chronic problem. As mentioned before, your alpaca may have chronic weight loss and lethargy. Diarrhea, moderate to severe may accompany the many symptoms during the failing health of the alpaca. Anemia is one of the last symptoms to appear. Check for anemia by raising the eyelid of the alpaca. Look under the eyelid it should appear bright pink and/or red looking (healthy). This is called the FAMCHA method found in the sheep and goat industry. Pale pink and/or white or almost white usually means the alpaca is close to death with severe anemia.
Testing for MH:
This disease is a “Silent KILLER” and once your alpaca is weak and down you may only have hours to possibly save their life. In this case do not worry about testing. Please start the tetracycline treatment immediately unless your vet can draw blood within the hour.

If you have the time and suspect infection with Mycoplasma Haemolamae, have your vet do a PCR (polymer chain reaction) test from Oregon State University (OSU). The blood is drawn with a “purple top” vile. This test amplifies the DNA so low levels of the bacteria can be detected on the red blood cells. In case you cannot get the PCR results back from your vet or lab in a timely manner like (1-3) days, start treatment immediately, especially if you have exhausted all other potential causes and their treatments. 

If your vet has drawn blood for testing, ask for the blood to be tested by Oregon State University. OSU has the only lab testing for MH in the country. OSU holds the patent for the process and I have not found another lab or university who performs the testing. If blood is sent for testing it must be in a “purple top” test tube, handled and processed properly and delivered immediately to OSU. OSU will provide your vet with the handling and shipping procedures, found on their web site. OSU does testing on Thursday's and if your sample arrives late it does not get tested until the next testing day which is Thursday of the next week (although they claim there is always a 1-3 days turn around). Results can be delayed causing death prior to receiving them. Also, if the blood is handled improperly or the alpaca has had antibiotics or some types of worming medication prior to testing, the results can be affected. Start treatment of your alpaca(s) immediately after the blood draw with tetracycline and then wait for the results from OSU. You will find that if it is positive for MH your ahead of the death curve. If it is negative you have not hurt your alpaca with tetracycline treatments.

Mycoplasma Haemolamae is treated with tetracycline (LA200). (Other brands of tetracycline are available but make sure they are the same strength as LA200.) It is available at your local farm supply. Tetracycline is a very common antibiotic and inexpensive.

The dosage used is .045 x the alpaca body weight = number of cc’s of tetracycline to administer. (Example: .045 x 100 pounds = 4.5 cc’s of tetracycline.) The dose is injected subcutaneously (under the skin) for 5 doses. The doses are given every other day for 10 days (5 shots total).  

Tetracycline is an over the counter drug and does not need to be prescribed by your vet. Check with your vet or refer to the “Norm Evans Field Manual” for dosages if you are unsure of my recommendation.

Unfortunately, it appears that tetracycline does not completely rid the infected animal of these bacteria for the rest of its life. It only lowers it to safe undetectable levels enough to save your alpacas' life. MH may reoccur in some alpacas more than once in their lifetime. If this happens repeat the process again.
Disease Transmission:
This is one of the alpaca diseases thought to be spread by blood. Blood sucking insects such as biting flies, mosquitoes, lice, fleas, and ticks can transmit MH. Or a used needle can spread the disease.

Decreasing Transmission:
You should work to keep biting and sucking insects to a minimum on your farm. Biting flies can be controlled by placing fly predators around poop piles and in areas of fly population. (Search for “fly predators” on the internet. They really work cutting the fly problem by 70 to 90% in a season!) Fly traps and fly sticks/tape help as well but do not eliminate the root of the problem. The fly predators last for approximately 2-3 years without placing more. Having chickens free range with your alpacas can eliminate many parasites like ticks, fleas and mites, plus other biting and sucking insects. (One chicken can consume 500 ticks per day.)

Only use a clean unused needle on each individual alpaca when giving injections. Needles are cheap. There is no reason to reuse a needle on another alpaca and risk the chance of transmitting any disease. (Besides, you dull the needle after the first use and it hurts more.)  

Yearling alpacas, crias, pregnant females and old alpacas seem to be affected more than an average healthy adult. Test and treat your suspected alpaca(s) with chronic weight loss issues. Then if positive, consider treating others or all in the herd having similar weight loss issues. AGAIN - watch weight closely as it is the primary symptom recognizable (+/- ¾ lb per day) without the interference of other opportunistic parasites. Purchase a good scale and use it. It is worth its weight in gold.

Treated animals usually go on to live a long healthy life. Even though they have not gotten rid of the disease, they can live with it.  

MH Carriers:
All alpacas have the potential to be a MH carrier. Mycoplasma Haemolamae is thought to be in approximately 70% of camelids (alpacas and llamas) in the United States per Norm Evans. More studies are being done to try and eliminate MH and other alpaca diseases.  

The MH carrier may look fine, you bring them home and potentially they can infect others in your herd causing problems. Biting fly's can be found everywhere and your alpaca can be bitten at your farm, during transport or even at an alpaca show and now become a carrier. A carrier can be healthy not showing signs for months or even years and maybe never. 

Follow-Up Care/Treatment:
It is important to follow up treatments of MH with a series of herbs, minerals and vitamins to assist your alpaca's immune system recovery. (Please contact me if you would like to know what I use.)

Remember - Your Vet Does Not Save Your Alpaca’s Life. YOU DO!


Camelid Red Blood Cells are Unique:
Here's a couple of interesting facts about camelid red blood cells:
• They have a lifespan of 235 days vs. 100 days for human red blood cells 
• Camelids have oval red blood cells instead of round like other mammals. This gives them a larger surface area so there is better oxygen exchange which helps them survive at higher, thinner air altitudes in their native South America.

The unusual shape of an alpaca’s red blood cell makes understanding alpaca diseases a challenge to veterinarians. 

My Personal Opinion:
My personal opinion is that hundreds if not thousands of alpacas die in the US, yearly from MH without the knowledge of the vet or the owner. Most times the death is blamed on something else, failure to thrive, heat stroke, internal parasites, cancer, etc. How many times was this just an "educated guess"? I think many!  

I am not a vet, but an experienced alpaca owner. When I say experienced I mean, having experienced the effects of this “silent killer” disease first hand. I have seen animals die on my farm and many other farms, with most necropsies determining the death of the alpaca was from common parasites, heat stroke, failure to thrive or some other educated guess from the vet(s). This is done without the exact testing for MH. Without testing it is the vet's best guess. Remember, other parasites become opportunistic and flourish during the process of this disease, including cancer. The alpaca cannot fight anything else because it is busy fighting MH by attacking its own red blood cells, hence anemia. The alpaca dies quickly. Once you see an alpaca die from this disease with parasite and other medical treatments doing nothing to stop it you will never let it happen again!  

I am not a vet, but an experienced alpaca owner. If you are not sure about the advice and information I have given, call your vet and discuss MH with them prior to treatment, then get a second opinion and maybe a third. Just act quickly!

When you hear of multiple deaths on alpaca farms around the country it creates the alpaca disease of the year fear. It seems every year something new hits like SNOTS, EMAC, Barber Pole Worm, and so on. The blame is placed unknowingly on the new found disease of the year. Then the "experts" begin to give a series of seminars on the new disease of the year fear. Be safe rather than sorry and treat for MH during these so called outbreaks and you may save your alpacas' life.

Giving LA200 in the dosage mentioned earlier is RISK FREE and can do nothing to harm your alpaca, and it can't hurt even if the alpaca is by chance, ill from something else. Most vets do not recognize the deadliness of this disease and little is written about it, even in the Norm Evans Field Manual, it is just a mention. The articles I have read do not stress the seriousness or deadliness or even the treatment of MH. 

Educating yourself can save your alpaca investment, money spent on vet assistance and your alpacas.

Feel free to copy this information and pass it to other alpaca owners.

Knowledge is Power!

Be aware, I am not a trained vet and many may poo-poo this article. Time will tell. To date, passing this information has saved hundreds of alpacas, and I hope many more to come!

The word is getting out and alpaca lives are being saved. But even as you read this article there is an alpaca dead or dying from Mycoplasma Haemolamae unbeknownst to their owners and their vets.

Thank you for the information about MH found on the web at: , Oregon State University, Dr. Norm Evans and input from multiple alpaca farms who have experienced this “Silent Killer”. 

Alpaca owners, potential owners, veterinarians, and vet techs - if you would like to discuss this further, or if you have any questions contact me anytime.

Friday, March 4, 2016

New Product Release! Alpaca Felted Dryer Balls - Hypo-Allergenic, No Chemicals, Decreases Drying Time

All-natural, hypoallergenic alpaca dryer balls are an excellent alternative to the chemicals of fabric softeners or dryer sheets for softening clothes, reducing static, eliminating wrinkles. You also save electricity by reducing drying time up to 25%. Minimums of two balls are required and a set of 4 is recommended to generate maximum effectiveness, absorbing moisture from wet clothes while maintaining the humidity inside the dryer. 
   Save time and money – decreases drying time up to 25% - The more dryer balls you have in your load, the quicker the clothes will dry (4 balls are recommended per load).
   Softens clothes - reduces static, eliminates wrinkles (they will not shed on your clothing)
   Hypo-allergenic – 100% Alpaca Fiber - Commercial fabric softeners and dryer sheets are filled with harmful chemicals and perfumes that coat your clothing, eventually ending up on your skin and inside your clothes dryer.
   Environmentally friendly -No dyes added…All natural Alpaca colors – Go green and save at the same time
   Durable - The balls may last anywhere from several months to well over a year(s) depending on use. Dryer balls may continue to shrink slightly with continued use, which is normal.  They remain just as effective.
 *As these are handmade, colors and sizes may vary. Approximately tennis ball size.

How Alpaca Dryer Balls Work
Simply place dryer balls in your dryer with your wet clothes. That’s it – they do the rest! Felted dryer balls bounce around with your laundry to shorten drying time and reduce wrinkles without exposing your clothes to any of the chemicals used in dryer sheets or plastic dryer balls.  We recommend using at least three dryer balls to help keep laundry items from tangling around each other and increasing the airflow around the clothes, sheets or towels.
Dryer balls help reduce drying time by absorbing moisture and assisting the tumbling process. The balls may also help reduce static, although mixing natural fabrics with synthetics within the same load can cause some static.

For your first use, run the dryer balls through a dryer cycle with wet towels. The balls may initially become “hairy.” (They will not shed on your clothes). Carefully trim off the fuzzy hair with a pair of scissors, and they are all set. Over time, the balls may “pill,” which is normal. You can shave the pills off or leave them alone. If cleaning the dryer ball becomes necessary, run under hot water, add a drop of dish soap and rotate ball between palms until lathered, rinse in warm, then cold water. Air or machine dry.

Miss the scent of dryer sheets? Apply several drops of essential oils to scent your dryer balls (lavender and lilac are very popular). When using essential oils, we recommend sending the dryer balls through alone on a short cycle, or place them in a closed pillowcase in the dryer after you first put essential oils on them. Otherwise, you may get oil spots on your clothing. 

See other great gift ideas:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Alpaca Market Then and Now

When we first “discovered” alpacas 12 years ago, we were highly skeptical of the business model.  Too easy – just have a baby alpaca, sell it and pay your mortgage.  It was a tough sell, especially to our banker in order to take out a business loan.  But, we penciled out how we could make it and stuck to it.

After nearly a thousand cold calls, marketing, advertising and showing around the country, we were a profitable business in 9 months.  We had the money to pay back our loan, but the bank suggested we keep it and continue to reinvest in our company.  And that is what we did.  We purchased better males, higher quality females, bought and sold. 

We were afraid that this type of market was a house of cards.  With so much transition in our economy, I questioned many times if the alpaca industry still valid, or is it a fleeting fad like many other markets seemed to be- llamas, ostriches, buffalo and all of the others.  The problem with the meat-based products (buffalo, ostrich) is that there is only so much room on Safeway's shelf for meat.  The cattle lobbyists are one of the strongest lobby groups in the world.  If Ted Turner with his 10K buffalo and $7 Billion dollars cannot bust through into the meat market and get shelf space, no one will.  Emus can be used for meat or their oil, but they are extremely difficult to raise and you have to kill them, not giving you a lot of product for the cost and risk involved.  I spoke with one guy who said they had to kill 30 ostriches a day to break even, so he could not make money.  Llamas are meant to be a beast of burden for packing or guarding.  (We have 3 llamas that we use for protecting our alpacas.)  They were extremely high priced in the 80s and a lot of people got burned, but this was always a house of cards.  There are only so many people that need a packing or guarding animal. 

The difference with alpaca is that it is hard to argue against extremely soft, warm, high performance clothing.  Who doesn't need warm socks or a hat when the weather gets cold?  The function of the alpaca is for its fiber.  It’s a textile animal that has a viable, in demand product for a large majority of the population.  Buying and selling unique livestock looses its novelty in the market after a while, although it seemed strong the first few years of business.  At one of our country market shows, someone asked for yarn.  Wow- what a great idea!  Utilize the alpaca what is was made for…

So we sent 10 pounds of fleece to a local mill, contacted a local knitter and had two hats made for our niece and nephew. 

The more we experienced alpaca products, having some made and trying items from other companies, the more we realized how great this product really was.  No wonder it has been used for over 6,000 years.  We began to explore and research the fiber itself – biological structure, potential uses, and availability locally and worldwide. 

We knew that this was the future for the business – the actual function of the animal.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love our alpacas, but this is where we needed to plunge our time, money and business – textiles.  And selling our alpacas would finance the research.

Then, 2007 happened.  Tough times for everyone, including non-essential markets.  Breeders stopped almost all major purchases.  Families who wanted alpacas for pets and 4-H suddenly didn’t have the discretionary money that most of us did the year before.

But, our alpaca product sales continued to grow.  The consumer market had begun shifting back towards home grown, natural products.  During Christmas (our largest sales time of the year), instead of buying many inexpensive gifts for people, we found our buyers were purchasing one or two high quality items – like $30 socks or a great hat that will last for years and years.

To some extent, the alpaca market as a hobby has returned.  They are excellent for kids – alpacas are gentle and intuitive, demanding respect in order to cooperate.  But, unless you are in the high-end breeding program, which we are not, it is extremely difficult to make your entire living off of breeding, buying and selling alpacas. 

I love alpacas.  I think everyone should have them. But to make a living off of them you need to have an additional “day job” with outside income or really treat alpacas as a business or some combination of the two.  Alpacas themselves are the easy part of my work schedule.  They are shorn once a year.  We have herd health checks every few months, trimming toes, checking teeth and their weight.  I look forward to going out every evening and seeing them contently lying around the pastures.

The work is going to the shows, sitting on the computer, sending fleece to mills, developing and packaging products.  It’s a fulltime business.  It’s definitely not the same selling a $12,000 animal in a day as selling a couple of pairs of socks. But that market, like many other markets (like real estate at the time) could not hold up.  They were a house of cards.  But there is still high function and demand for the animal – as a fiber and textile source.  Don’t get me wrong – I love each and every one of our 150+ alpacas.  I know their names, lineage, family members, when they are not feeling well.  I spent a week sleeping in the barn next to a premature pet-quality male cria that couldn’t stand or feed, milking the mom every couple of hours until he was strong enough to drink on his own.

I enjoy every aspect of this unique animal, but be sure that you thoroughly research the market and profitability before trying to make them your sole income.  We were fortunate to get into the alpacas when we did, dedicated our business to best utilizing them and giving them a great home.  But mortgages and living life is very expensive.  Make sure you have a plan before you put all of this on the backs of your alpacas.