Saturday, October 5, 2013

Setting up Shop

My shop/office/workspace has been evolving for the past 3 years.  It started as a hay barn with a good roof, but not much else.  It's grown into a 24x24 building where I work on my fiber and manage the dog training business


Visitors who come to the farm are often interested in what happens to the fiber after it comes off the alpaca after shearing each year.  I'm able to show them the process from raw fleece to yarn in my workspace.  Right now, we're processing everything on-site:  washing, picking, carding and spinning into yarn.

A couple of weeks ago, a very talented young lady, Jessica Johnston, came to visit to learn more about fiber work.  She's a professional knitter and is going to make some things from the yarn I've spun.

In the shop right now is one of her creations - not made from my yarn, but from organic cotton.  It's a lovely cap-sleeve sweater that would fit size small to medium.   There are more details in the Etsy listing.  I'm so amazed at what talented knitters can do.  I'm lucky to be able to make a scarf without dropping stitches and having things come out lopsided.

We welcome visitors by appointment to the farm and the shop.  We enjoy having home-schoolers and other small groups of kids and adults to learn about the animals and the fiber process.  We can tailor each tour to your group's interest.  Contact us to arrange a visit. 
Check out our website at for more information.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


A couple of years ago, we added some girls to our herd and last fall we decided it was time to try for some babies. Female alpacas carry their babies (crias) for an average of 355 days. We learned (too late) that fall babies are born earlier than spring babies, probably because of the heat. And, boy, did we have heat this summer.

Lucy, our 11 year old, gave birth on September 1 - one of the hottest days of the year, it seemed. The baby girl had a hard time breathing and struggled for every breath. She wasn't able to suckle and nurse. We suspect that she was born a few weeks too early and her lungs weren't fully developed. She put up a good fight for 4 days. We milked Lucy every hour and fed the baby by syringe and eye dropper. She was a beautiful copper-colored baby and we all grew very attached to her. Our first-born died on September 5.

It was a heartbreaking loss. We were exhausted from not getting enough sleep each night. We got angry with each other for both giving up hope and having too much hope. We were disappointed the vet didn't have any good answers. Her lungs sounded "horrible" he said, and the drugs gave her only a brief respite. We struggled with the fact that this baby was not a "pet", but livestock. Livestock bred for profit. As business owners, how much could we, or would we, invest in saving her life, if she could even BE saved? It turned out to be a moot point. She wasn't meant to survive. She was just wasn't prepared to live in this world.

We vowed to be better prepared and ready for the next birth. We ordered the bible on alpaca birthing and gathered our supplies.

We didn't have much time to read the book. On Friday, September 13, our grey girl, Star, gave birth to a beautiful grey baby boy. This cria is so different than our first. He's very strong. At birth, his teeth were already coming in and he had fully developed toenails - 2 things the first baby never had.

Star is a first time mom and she's a nervous animal, even without a newborn. She's very worried about her baby and checks out everything we're doing with him. Thankfully, they have bonded well and he's nursing regularly. He's gained at least a pound in his first few days here. He's running around the enclosure, exercising those long legs leaping and bounding about.

We don't have a name for him yet.  Some sort of tie-in with Friday the 13th would be neat or a connection to his mama "Star".  Feel free to comment with suggestions!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back to Business

We're back! I feel like we've been on hiatus for the past year or so. Leaving the corporate world 2 years ago was my dream come true. I'd have time to build my dog training business, take care of the farm, get my house in order, and have time to spin my ever-growing supply of alpaca fleece.

The only thing that's truly been accomplished during that time was growing the dog business, for which I'm very grateful. My house is more a mess than ever, the guys have been taking care of the farm, and my spinning wheel was gathering dust.

In addition to that, our application for an agricultural land use exemption, which would have reduced our property taxes, was denied. Although this wasn't the main reason we keep alpacas, it's a huge cost saver at tax time. Texas doesn't have a state income tax. They get homeowners instead with a huge property tax, compounded by the city and local school system. The denial of the ag exemption was pretty discouraging and we were ready to disperse most of the herd to save money.

In a last ditch effort, we went through the appeal process in front of a local review board. We presented our case and to our surprise, we won! We are the only property on our road to have an ag exemption.

Along with that good news, I've found a wonderful person to help out around the office and farm. The combination of these 2 things has really energized me to start focusing on the potential of the farm business. We are moving fleece through the process of cleaning, carding and preparing for either spinning or making other products for sale. I've re-opened the Etsy shop and have alpaca items for sale here at the office when visitors come for tours.  Here are just a few of the things we've been working on:

Dryer balls

Roving for spinning or felting

Nesting fleece for birds
If you have a Cub scout pack, homeschool group, or just want to bring the family out to see the critters, drop us an email!  We'll get you scheduled and hope for cool weather.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Surviving the Texas Summer

This spring, we bought some Black Copper Marans chicks. This breed of bird lays very dark brown, chocolate-colored eggs, which I thought would be a nice contrast to the pretty blue and green eggs that our Americaunas produce.

Black Copper Marans is apparently a rare breed and I was happy to have found someone local who had a lot of them for sale. They are black with red/copper coloring on their head and feathered legs. We picked out 10 and took them home to add to our flock.

Since then, they've been dying off one-by-one and only 3 pullets remain. I'm not sure whether they are sensitive to the heat or there is something genetically wrong in the line that's causing their early demise.

Today, I removed the 3 survivors from the hen yard and brought them to my office building to stay cool while it's over 100 degrees outside. I also brought down my Naked Neck pullet who is limping and seems to have a broken wing or leg.

We're all trying to stay cool here while the temperature soars with no end in sight in the forecast.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Truth about Keeping Chickens

Chicken keeping has spread from rural farms into subdivisions and urban areas in the last few years.  While I can't argue with people who want to control where their food comes from, there's a lot of BS out there about how easy keeping chickens is.  I'd like to address some of the things I've read and heard recently.

  • Chickens are quieter than dogs and your neighbors will never know you have them in your backyard.  In fact, one of our most recent acquisitions is a hen who cackles so loudly after she lays an egg that the neighbors in the subdivision she lived in threatened to call the city.  So, she's living with us now and I can verify that she's got some powerful lungs.  Chickens cluck quietly while eating, a little more loudly when they are excited about something, but let out a powerful yell after pushing the egg out.  Imagine going through the birthing experience every day.
  • Chickens create very little waste.  Fact is, chickens poop everywhere they are allowed to roam.  If you truly allow the hens to free range in the yard, they will poop all over it and all over anything they can climb on.  I had a person ask me how to stop their chickens from pooping on the lawn furniture.  The answer is easy, confine your chickens to their coop.  Her answer was "I want my chickens to have freedom".  My reply -  then give up sitting on your lawn furniture without squirting it off each time. 
  • Chickens stay close to their coop and can't fly.  When chickens are young and light, they will fly - over fences, on top of your patio covering, and into your neighbor's yard.  In that case, you will have to learn to clip their wings.
  • If the chickens are in my backyard, they will be safe from predators.  During the winter when food is scarce for any predator, they find very creative ways to get their meals.  Hawks that can pick up and carry small dogs won't have any problem nabbing a chicken.  Wild cats and stray cats that are hungry will find a way to have a chicken dinner.  Domesticated dogs don't even have to be hungry to kill a chicken.  If they have enough of a prey drive, it's instinctive for them to stalk/chase/grab/kill a chicken.  Snakes are often attracted to chicken coops to steal eggs and rats and other rodents can be attracted to spilled chicken feed. 

I don't want to scare anyone away from keeping chickens, but a reality check is in order.   Yes, they are a lot of fun to watch, they help keep bugs in check, their poo is good compost material, and best of all, fresh eggs can't be beat.  However, I'm already seeing the results of unrealistic expectations being promoted by the "chicken movement", so before you dive into chicken keeping, ask questions and do your homework.  Talk to someone that doesn't want to sell you something.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Where Does Your Meat Come From?

When we first started keeping chickens a few years ago, each hen had a name and we got to know each one individually.  This flock of about a dozen birds kept us amused as we unwound after work by sitting and spending time with them at the end of the day.  I decided that even when they stopped laying, they would be allowed to live out their natural lives as pets.  We were able to rehome a few roosters that we picked up, not wanting to think about the alternative.

Our jobs moved from Arizona to Texas and when we packed up the house, the chickens came along.  They traveled in dog crates in the back of the Impala and the Suburban.  They were part of the family and we weren't going to leave them behind. 

When the Fleece Fur and Feathers farm become an official business entity and our flock expanded, it was harder to keep track of who was who, especially when they all looked alike.  We could still recognize our Arizona girls and they had a special place in our hearts, surviving the long trip and a stray dog attack on arrival.  A couple of those hens are still with us.

We have about 50 birds now and we band them so we can distinguish birth dates to know how old they are and how much longer we can expect them to lay.  For the most part, they don't have names.  The troublemakers and the 2 roosters are exceptions.  We've hatched lots of babies and sold most of them to people wanting to add to or start their own flocks.  We've also sold to people who want to butcher and eat them, something we hadn't done yet. 

Though all of our hatches, we didn't have a rooster mature.   Sales had taken care of that.  Until last week.  One of our 14 week old birds, who we were fairly certain was male, attempted to mate with one of the younger birds.  He had to go.  Our 2 resident roosters are plenty for the flock and this boy was obviously going to be a problem. 

Chet had butchered a couple of older birds before, but we didn't eat them.  The older the bird, the tougher the meat.  I kept the meat and used it for training treats for the dogs.  

We're not vegetarians.  We try to eat local foods.  Our meat purchases in the last year have been locally raised and slaughtered animals from local ranchers; nothing from the grocery store.  Our vegetables come from our garden.   Just a short step from eating chicken from our own flock, and one we decided to take.

The guys did the killing and cleaning over the weekend and last night I roasted the bird.  It was, by far, the best chicken meat I've ever had.   Can't get much fresher and the meat was tender and moist.  It was smaller than a typical roaster bought in the store since it wasn't a "meat bird", but it was enough to feed the 3 of us.

This animal lived its entire life with grass under its feet, eating what chickens are meant to eat; no hormones, vaccines or antibiotics injected in its system.  It enjoyed fresh air and freedom, the company of other birds, being part of a family unit, flapping its wings and flying around once in a while.  You can't say that about any commercially produced chicken.  While it was a bit weird preparing the bird for cooking, it's something that I know I'll do again.  It's the way this country used to eat, the way my dad describes his Sunday meals when he was a boy. 

So, in honor of this bird, here's his photo.  Yes, he had a face, but so did all those who end up in the meat aisle at Krogers.  We still enjoy watching our birds each evening, but realize in order to have a sustainable homestead, everyone's got to make a contribution.  This guy definitely did.

Thank you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gourmet Garlic

Chet planted 8 varieties of garlic last fall as an experiment to see what would grow here in our garden.  We had a beautiful garlic bed with rows neatly marked with the names of each variety.  Then the storm came that took the roof from our barn, which tore across our garlic beds and ultimately landed in our neighbor's yard.  In the process, garlic was broken, markers disappeared and it looked like our crop was a bust. 

Never one to give up without a fight, Chet salvaged what he could and we ended up with a nice little harvest of 5 different varieties of gourmet garlic! 

Persian Star Garlic
Persian Star is a hardnecked garlic and it's really tasty.  It's a sweet garlic when you roast it.  I baked a clove to have with pasta last week and it was awesome!  This is one of the varieties that we have the most of.

I put an ad on Craig's list hoping to find some local customers that enjoy cooking with garlic, but my first reply was from someone out of state that wants bulbs to plant.  I was happy to accomodate and the order is getting ready to go out the door!

Bagged and on its way to OK!
Besides the Persian Star, we have Sonoran, German White, Chesnok Red and Metechi varieties.  If you'd like to try some, email us at or call 817 337 4690.  We're selling it either by the clove ($1) or by the pound ($7).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Learning to Felt

My favorite thing to do with alpaca fleece is to spin it.  However, not all the fiber that comes off the animal is suitable for spinning, so I'm always looking for ways to use the "seconds".   Felting fibers is very popular right now and I've sold fleece to crafters for this purpose.  I've seen people make purses, hats and even slippers by felting.

I thought I'd teach myself to felt by doing something pretty easy to start with.  I have to admit that although I've seen dryer balls in the stores, I've never been tempted to buy a plastic or PVC ball made in China to bang around in my dryer.   Dryer balls are replacements for liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets.   The action of the ball in the dryer reduces drying time and naturally softens fabric and reduces cling.

I recently came across wool dryer balls which intrigued me.  If a plastic dryer ball can reduce drying time, imagine how much more moisture could be absorbed by a fiber ball.    An alpaca dryer ball with no dyes would also be hypoallergenic and so much safer than something made of PVC.

As every spinner has, I have a stash of leftovers - small balls of singles and leftover plied yarns that aren't enough to make a complete project, but too much to throw away -  along with some badly spun yarn made when I was just learning.  So, I gathered my baskets filled with the yarn remnants and started winding.  I had enough leftovers to wind 3 balls that measure about 9" around.  Then I put the ball in a tube sock and tied each end off with acrylic yarn that doesn't felt.

I ran each through the washer in hot water with a regular load of clothes.   Then into the dryer for at least 2 cycles of high heat. 

The yellow ball at the top left is pre-washing (you can still see the strands of yarn) and the other 2 are finished.   The yellow balls contain a mixture of alpaca and merino wool which was dyed.  This is some of the fiber I learned to spin on that I had stashed, but wasn't worth knitting with.  The brown ball is pure alpaca and this is what I'll continue to make my dryer balls with so there will be no chemicals or dyes in the process. 

Ideally, I'd like to make the balls directly from roving or even washed fiber.  That will be my next experiment. 

These dryer balls are great for drying diapers, too.  Smaller balls can also be cat toys and I'll trying to make those as well.  Stay tuned for 100% alpaca dryer balls and toys for the kitties coming soon!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yes, it's hot enough for me, thank you

It's hot in Texas.  Very hot.  Excruciatingly hot for the past few weeks.  The heat index is around 105.  A month ago we were complaining about the constant wind.  Now we hope for the wind to cool it down a bit.

Everything in the books say that alpacas can withstand the heat up to a heat index of 120.   All of our new animals were shorn the first weekend in June, just after the heat wave started.  A few days after shearing, Lightening, one of our new grey boys was spending a lot of time just laying flat out in the sun.  We have shady areas where most of the animals took cover, but Lightening insisted on sunbathing.  His respiration was rapid and shallow.  He was on his way to heatstroke.   I had to go out every couple of hours and get him up and moving and get him cooled down.  I truly thought we might lose him, but he survived.

An alpaca's cooling system is on the surface of their belly, armpits and groin area.  Chet put a sprinkler in the pasture so they can cool themselves as needed.

Nothing like playing in the sprinkler on a hot day.  Lightening is front and center!

On the other side of the fence, mamas and babies come to get cooled off with a belly squirt from the hose. 

Mama Stephanie and baby girl.

And once they get their bellies wet, they cush to keep the cooling effect as long as possible.

A little boy in the dirt, imagine that!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Buy Local Farm Eggs?

Someone asked me the other day about the benefits of eating farm fresh, free range eggs. My first thought was to tell them that it’s like eating green beans from the garden as compared to ones with Libby on the label. But then, maybe not everyone gets that either. 

So, here are the facts, according to 2 studies done by Mother Earth News in 2005 and 2007. Eggs from hens raised on pasture contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Our laying hens eat what hens are supposed to eat - grass, seeds, bugs, along with their normal feed, which contains no antibiotics or medications. They have access to the outdoors every single day and have access to roam over an acre of land. (We take pains to keep them out of our garden!)

Eggs bought from a grocery store are from hens that live their short lives in a factory farm in a cage, never seeing the sky and never being able to stretch their legs or their wings. Even labels that say "free range" or "cage free" actually don't mean that the chickens have free access to the outdoors. The USDA has no requirements for chicken houses on what these terms are supposed to mean for laying birds. Often these are uncaged birds living inside a giant warehouse in overcrowded conditions. Because they are so crowded, they are often de-beaked to reduce injury to each other.

Even if you truly don't care about the humane aspect of chicken raising, the fact that free range birds are healthier animals is a big deal! Last fall, some giant factory farms produced eggs contaminated with salmonella. Rodents running rampant through chicken houses can do that. The FDA report from that investigation doesn't paint a pretty farm-like picture:

 "Dark liquid, which appeared to be manure, was observed seeping through the concrete foundation to the outside of the laying houses..."

 “Un-caged birds (chickens having escaped) were observed in the egg laying operation in contact with the egg laying birds at Layer 3 –Houses 9 and 16. The uncaged birds were using the manure, which was approximately 8 feet high, to access the egg laying area. “

 “The live flies were on and around egg belts, feed, shell eggs and walkways in different sections of each egg laying area. In addition, live and dead maggots too numerous to count were observed on the manure pit floor”.

Ew. This is where grocery store eggs come from. Is this what you really want to feed your family?

If all of that isn't enough to convince someone of the benefits of eating local, fresh eggs, then just crack one open. They really do look and taste better!

If you're local to Keller, contact us at for eggs or to tour the farm. The girls will be happy to visit with you!