Thursday, August 17, 2017

Camping at Lake Louis -Part 2

 After two years of exploring other trails' mountain tops, my sister, her three kids and I decided to once again hike to Lake Louise in the Bitterroot Mountains. Getting a bit of a late start, we arrived at the trailhead around 3:30.   Previously we had hiked and camped in June, which is early for this trail because the snow has not fully melted. We did not see a single other person for three days. This time, it was the beginning of August and we knew there would be more competition for the limited amount of campsites because of the additional hikers and campers during this trek. This was indeed the case where seven other vehicles were also in the parking lot.
Like a well practiced NASCAR team, we jumped out of our vehicle, doused excessive amounts of bug spray and sunscreen on our bodies, strapped on our packs (including the now 18 month old St.Bernard Cali) and were walking within eight minutes of putting the vehicle in park. We could hear distant voices behind us as we headed up the trail and we rambled up the mountain as quickly as possible. But inevitably, a couple of groups passed us over the several hour journey.
4 1/2 miles later, we reached the summit and started looking around for a campsite at 6:30 in the evening. We assumed our favorite one was taken as five other people stood around the rock firering we pined after.  We came in a bit close and put down our packs. Generously , this group offered us the campsite, apparently seeing the disappointment on our face with their presence and said they would take another site across the lake. We thanked them and did a little happy dance.
Looking out, it was smoky and the colors had significantly dulled compared to my memories several years before. We cooked dinner, set up our tent and crawled in for the evening.  In the morning the smoke had cleared. With the sun rising in the background, all the glory of the area with the emerald green color of the lake and sounds of the morning birds woke us to an amazingly Montana mountain day.
We took our time walking around the lake, hopping boulders and sliding down a small snow glacier. Two of the kiddos even jumped in the lake for the promise of three Smore's each as a reward that night.
The next morning, we packed up and once again headed down the mountain. We will be back again in a couple years to see the continuous and holding beauty of Lake Louise in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Great Mother's Day Gift Ideas




Gear up for the warmer months with walking / hiking sockslightweight beanies and around the fire blankets.   
20% off all Hats & Socks - Promo Code:  20SPRING 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Getting Ready for Cria Alpaca Babies


Cria Preparation

As I was flipping through our calendar of the upcoming weeks and months, I realized that we suddenly have babies scheduled to arrive in the next 3 weeks.  With an expected total of half a dozen cria this year, several of them are coming in late May.  I prefer that most of our babies be born during June through August.  In Montana's small Summer window, we try to breed our girls a little earlier in case the pregnancy doesn’t take.  However, it seems that almost everyone took on the first go. So while we do have some that are due in later Summer, there are quite a few coming right around the corner.  

Preparation

Most of our girls will carry about 11 ½ months (341 days), give or take a week.  Usually they are quite consistent. If they delivered 3 weeks early last year, they will likely keep the same schedule.    

We have a cria kit that is always ready to go.  We put our supplies in a portable file folder so it is water tight, dust free and easy to carry.

One of the most important items we have are towels to dry the baby.  Hopefully, this will be the only item you use during the birth.  However, its good to have other items packed.

Birthing/ Cria Kit  
  • Bottle of water-based, sterile lubrication
  • Plastic Gloves, both short and full arm length
  • Iodine – preferably at least 2.5% solution, liquid, or a spray bottle
  • Headlamp
  • Thermometer
  • Vet wrap to wrap the dam's tail out of the way
  • Umbilical cord clamp - or clothesline clip
  • Pocket knife
  • Stethoscope
  • Old towels if the cria needs to be rubbed dry and warm
  • Scales – bathroom ones, or hanging cria scales
  • Portable phone and vet's phone number
  • Bucket and plastic garbage bag for placenta collection
  • Cria coat – put on if there is any cool weather or breezy 

Because of the coolness of the Spring nights – and occasionally snow days in April and March, we also have an 8’ x 8’ pen set up in our garage just in case.  Many times if the weather is not cooperative, we have the mom and baby spend the night in the garage just to keep the baby as comfortable as possible. This is crucial for premature babies who have a hard time regulating their body temperature.  

The best way to become prepared is try to make it to a birth off of the farm with an experienced breeder (duh-of course, but this usually isn’t an option).  A great book I would highly recommend to just about everyone is Llama and Alpaca Neonatal Care by Bradford Smith, Karen Timm and Patrick Long.  It is informative, step-by-step in layman’s terms that everyone can comprehend.  Get it!

Watch for signs of the baby.  Most of the time, you will not need to do anything, but it is helpful to be nearby just in case.






Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What to do with all of that alpaca fleece - Fiber Co-ops

As I have written over the years, alpaca fleece is a versatile material that can be created into many  - from end use alpaca hats and alpaca socks like we sell as well as felting, dryer balls, felted soaps, insulation and other creative items.  It all depends on what you want to do with it.  However, if you are raising alpacas for pure joy and not overly interested in personally expanding into the secondary market, one of the easiest ways is to send your fleece to a fiber co-op.

At this time, they are few and far between and most likely not in your hometown (or state). But, as alpaca is being "discovered" the the U.S. and the industry grows, so does the demand.

A couple of options to look into:

ACOA - Alpaca Coalition of America - is a straight forward program there you send off a fleece and you receive a check (usually there is a 15% margin that goes to the processors).

NEAFP - New England Alpaca Fiber Pool - is a combination of fiber collection and making of finished goods.

As always, the more you put into your fleece (time or money or both), the more you will get out of it. If you shear it and send it to a co-op for someone else to deal with it, your overall gross and likely your net will be smaller.  If you take the time to wash and/ or card and/or spin and/ or knit your fleece, you could receive more.  Nails on a chalkboard could be preferred to any or all of these steps to some, and that is why the co-ops could be a great option for you to get the fleece out of your attic / garage / barn, a little money in your pocket and have someone utilize / wear / enjoy your fleece.

Monday, March 6, 2017

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).

SUDSY WASH OF FIBER IN THE MILL
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!
MOVING THE WASH FROM ONE TUB TO ANOTHER


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.

RINSE TUB WITH FIBER IN THE MILL

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.
DRYING FIBER IN THE MILL
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.  =)