Thursday, July 10, 2014

Livestock Guard Dog Video

Livestock Guard Dogs can be an amazing tool for a farm, whether it is a large or small set-up.  However, do your homework, talk to other others - with large and small operations - and see if they can fit into what you are looking for.  It always surprises me how many people will bring a dog into their family / lifestyle without taking into account what the hundreds of breeds of dogs were bred for - running, digging, nipping, lounging, barking.

With our 6 Anatolian guard dogs over the years, we have found several characteristics that are great for us, but are certainly not universally a positive trait for other homes.

1.  These dogs are playful with each other - but not an overly playful dog like a lab or golden retriever.  They are probably not that interested in playing with children.

2.  They are not that food motivated.  I would say 5 out of 7 nights neither of our dogs will finish the food in their bowl. And its top quality food with meat and/or cheese and/or any other usually oh-so-tempting treats for dogs.  Our lab and german shepherds in the past would INHALE the plain dog food or anything else that was available.

3.  Not really water dogs.  Our male Grizzly will go into streams up to his knees. Our female Cookie is totally void of water and does her best to go around each and every puddle.

4.  They are not really a great hiking / running dog.  We take our dogs on the trail when we take them for a hike and they just stick with us, not really exploring and always happy to be home.  But in small bursts, they can run up to 35 miles per hour and leap a 6 foot fence.  If you are hiking by foot, they should be just fine, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend with a horse or ATV that go at a faster speed for longer distances.

This video is excellent in understanding the different types of guard dogs available and what their needs are.  There is some overlap in protection instinct, but if you go too far off track from their thousands of years of breeding, you will be fighting an uphill battle for a long time.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shearing Videos of an Alpaca, Llama and Cria

The shearing crew rolled in at 6:51 am yesterday and an energetic day began.  Within 10 minutes, the first alpaca named Costello was picked up, laid down and shorn. 6 minutes later, on to the next.

Cisco's coat waiting to be skirted
The "blanket" of the alpaca is shorn first, covering pretty much where a saddle would go on a horse and a little of the rump. This is the prime fleece, the softest and most often uniform in length.  This fiber, depending on the grade (see below) will create next to skin products such as hats, scarves and mittens. The shearer pushes the fleece off into a separate pile where is it "skirted".  It is set on a table and picked through, removing guard hairs (prickly straight hairs) and vegetable matter (VM), along with other fantastic finds such as burs, sticks, hay, twine barb wire and other horror stories I have heard of found in people's pastures.  Luckily, no major finds in our fleece this year.

Next, the neck and legs are shorn off of the body and put into a separate pile as well. The fleece is a bit more uneven and rarely as soft as the blanket.  This will make socks and great felting materials.  Then, the clean up.  Another shearer takes over to clean up the belly, leg hairs and any "second cuts".  Second cuts are small bits of fiber that are not the same length as the rest of the fiber.  It is essential to get this out of the fleece you are going to use because it will cause "slubs" or bumps and unevenness in your yarn.  Once the blanket is taken away and the neck and legs (called seconds) are separated, we throw all of our "thirds" into a pile and they are put into our compost bin for recycling.  It makes excellent compost.

Fiber Classification: 

Royal Alpaca - finer than 18 microns 

Super Fine / Baby Alpaca - finer than 20 microns
Fine - finer than 25 micron
Medium - under 30 micron
Strong - 30 microns and greater

Mixed Pieces - short fibers, coarser than 32 microns - used for felting 

* A micron is a measurement of length equal to one millionth of a meter and used to measure the width of a single alpaca fiber to determine its fineness / softness. Most human hair is at least 100 microns, 5 times thicker than alpaca fiber

Isabella waiting to be shorn as her mom Maggie waits nearby
This video shows Isabella, a 2 week old cria with her little broken leg, being clipper cut.  When alpacas are born, the fleece they are born with is burned by the fluids in the vaginal canal.  Thus, it is brittle and fine fleece that acts like velcro to everything for the first year until it is shorn.  The fleece taken off is not usable because it is "tender" or brittle and so short.  It was recommended to us to have at least 2.5" of fleece to go to the mill to be processed.  This fleece will be bagged and people can feel and touch the fiber to see what it feels like during different events we attend.  Her little leg has a hairline fracture in it as of about a week ago, so she is in a pen with her mom Maggie for a few weeks.

This video is of a llama named Mimi. She hasn't been shorn in 7 years, nor her toes or teeth attended to (she does not belong to us). So, she is getting the full llama tune up.

A group effort to shear 121 alpacas and 3 llamas in 15.5 hours
Guard llamas are proud animals and Brooks is at the top of our herd.  To put him down, that would mean he would have to show submission and he does not go down easily.  He is not aggressive, but he is not being cooperative, showing his strength and non-compliance.  Its important to remember we and the shearing crew are as gentle and safe to the animals as possible, but they need to be laid down and constrained for the safety of each and every llama and alpaca.  A 13 tooth electric shearing blade can do damage quickly and massively if not given the utmost respect.    Unfortunately, my camera battery died half way through the shearing, but you will get the idea.  We throw away our llama fleece, as it not the same quality and softness as alpaca.

Skirting and cleaning the alpaca blanket

Ripley and Charmagne waiting to be shorn

Shearing Cocoa as the evening sets in 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Playing King of the Hill with the Alpacas

This is fun, brief video of James getting a little distracted with last year's cria when going out to see the new baby cria born 2 days ago.  They were playing for about 15 minutes before I picked up the video camera.  Mercedes, the gold one, continues to be friendly and playful every day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dressing Up and Celebrating the Alpaca

We recently returned from an alpaca show, where judges review, prod and pluck fleece from alpacas to determine which one in each class is the best.  This helps determine breeding opportunities, genetic lines and textile possibilities with individual alpacas.  I was fortunate to bring home a first place ribbon with one of our Medium Silver Gray Girls, Ava.  Here I am with Ava, dressed nicely, Ava standing attentively though not overly impressed with her new surroundings.

This makes up a majority of the Denver show events.

However, there is another event where the alpaca is celebrated with creativity and interaction - the costume class.  The tradition dates back hundreds of years in Peru, Bolivia and Chile, where there were parades to celebrate this wonderful animal, the basis of their culture. They were dressed up and costumed as much or more than the people.

In this competition, the tradition continues and I love it.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How fiber sorting affects your profitability

There is no easy button to determine how much profit you can make from your fiber.

There are several factors that determine your fiber profitability. The amount of each grade you produce is a major one.  Significant savings in processing costs can be realized when a certain volume is reached.  Decreased processing costs means an increased profitability. When used for the appropriate products, each grade will have a unique processing cost and profit.

Sorting your fiber increases your profitability by increasing usable fiber and decreasing loss during processing as well as reducing the amount of true waste. 
One of the many benefits of having your fiber sorted is receiving individual information on each alpaca!

Weighing each part of the fleece by body area gives you important information that assists you in making breeding decisions.

It is very common to have several grades within each body area.  This is why it is important to sort the fiber, not just rely on the histogram.  In the blanket you may find WR2 and WL3.  Not only are there two different grades but also two different lengths (WR is worsted length and WL is woolen length).  Each length category should be processed differently for best results. Unfortunately, it is also common for an alpaca's fiber to change from year to year. It's important to track those changes.  Individual sort records from your Certified Sorter can do just that.  The more information you have the better breeding choices you can make.  Uniformity of the fiber is the most important aspect we can be breeding for, within the individual fleece and from year to year.  

If you had thrown away the neck on the alpaca listed in the chart above you would have been throwing away socks.  Socks are the easiest products to sell.  Let's look at the 2 lbs of lower leg, belly and apron.   We've been profiting $29/ lb on that fiber.  If you had thrown that away you would have lost $58.00.  Hold up a second, $58.00 minus $35 to shear that alpaca, minus $15.00 to have that fiber sorted...I'd still have $8 in my pocket!! But wait, I still have all the other fiber from this animal yet to process in to products!  Pure profit!!! Hmmmmm....

Depending on the grades you end up with in your clip from year to year, you can expect an average of a 40% increase in profit by having your fiber sorted.

So you see there are a lot of variables in deciding how profitable you will be when you turn your raw fiber into product. 

How much can you produce?
What grades do you produce?
What end product should you have produced?
Where should you process it?
How should you sell it?
Should you have it sorted?

Thank you to for the above information.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Cold Winter's Night...And Day...And Night

The forecast for this weekend was that is was going to be cold - really cold - and the weather certainly followed through.  We prepared the barn early with six 1400 lb bales of hay and sealed up all of the doors except for one so that the alpacas could access the water.  However, with the
windchill ranging from -20 to -45 F, the water heaters could not keep up and they were quickly frozen over.

The neighbor's llama MrSnuffleupagus was still out in the pasture during the major part of the storm. The owner had tried to catch him to bring him over to our barn earlier in the day, but he wouldn't be caught.  The next morning, three of us walked about 1/4 of a mile in the screaming wind and found him curled up next to a hay bale.  Reluctant to get up, we pushed and pulled him until he eventually stood.  Once he crossed into our pasture, he eagerly pulled on the lead rope toward the barn, anxious to get inside.  Once inside, Snuffy stood in a stall, shaking, unable to eat with his mouth and body so cold.  Eventually, he started rubbing his eyes against the

wall and was able to eat the pellets and hay ready for him.  We walked him around, the alpacas enthusiastic about the new arrival, and his body warmed.  In about an hour, he was thawed, eating, drinking and being snoopy again.

The wind packed the pasture with hard, steep snow banks.  Some of the drifts are over five feet and flow over the fence.  The horses received a surplus of food and were full of rich hay and feed. The guard dogs were brought inside and snuggled up on carpet, glad to be out of the freezing weather.
This photo is taken from our back window.  During the storm, we could barely see the fence and definitely not the barn.

We are now climbing back to O F, which is always a little depressing to me!  However, we are on the edge of Spring and makes the slow thaw a little more tolerable.