Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I'm really excited about having some raw fleece, straight off an alpaca, to work with.  I'm on vacation this week and I've started about 3 new fiber projects here at home.  This particular project - starting with the raw fleece - will end up being a dog bed if all goes according to plan.

Chet made me a sorting/drying rack.  It's PVC with plastic netting; which I think is really some kind of fencing.  Dirt and loose vegetable matter fall through as the fleece is layed out.  On the table is 2 washed batches of second cuts from an alpaca.  Second cuts are from the legs and neck of the animal.

I put a blanket underneath to catch the debris, but my plan didn't work out so well when the dogs decided it would be a great place to camp. 

So, everything that fell to the blanket is attached to the underside of the Husky, which means it's all over my house now. Oh well.  With 4 dogs and wet alpaca fleece in the house, I wasn't going to win any good housekeeping awards this week anyway.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Farm Logo

We officially have a registered name and a logo for our farm business now - C&B Fleece Fur and Feathers.  We'll be selling products from our alpacas (raw fleece, roving, yarn and possibly finished products); spinning dog hair into yarn for customers who want to have a keepsake of their companion; and selling eggs from our free range hens.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday on the Farm

If you scroll down in the blog to older posts and find Aug 19, you'll see the photos of Luke and Leia, our Anatolian puppies, being held by Gregg.  That was just 3 months ago.  Look at them now.  I think Chet actually has to help Gregg hold Leia up.

These guys are not quite 5 months old.  Luke is close to 60 pounds and Leia isn't far behind.  They are going to be very big dogs.  Luke has a big serious bark already, but only barks when something unusual comes into sight. We really haven't heard Leia bark much, she kind of hangs back and lets Luke scare the intruder away.

Gregg and his friend, Jay, are here from Ohio for a few days and Chet's putting them to work doing some fixin' up around the place.

The chickens are thinking about climbing to new heights while the alpacas just enjoy the grass.

And...we think we have a young rooster.  This chicken is starting to get curved tail feathers and a couple of them are shiny and green.  We haven't heard any crowing yet, but it won't surprise me when we do. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Spinning Husky

This is Nikki.  Nikki is a 10 year old Siberian Husky. 

Nikki hasn't had much formal training.  She's been a natural "teacher" dog for lots of fosters and puppies that have boarded with us.  The thing Nikki is best at, though, is shedding.  She's a natural at that, too.

She's got a beautiful reddish coat and she leaves it behind wherever she goes.

Since I don't have carpeting here in the new house, Husky-fur dust bunnies blow around everywhere.  I guess in the old house, the carpeting caught it all.

I've been itching to spin something directly off of an animal and my alpacas won't be sheared until springtime.  So, I'm spinning dog hair.

This box from one brushing session that lasted about 10 minutes.  That's all she would put up with.  The fur is about 6 inches deep in the box.

Before it can be spun, it has to be hand carded to get the fibers to go all the same way.

These are my brand new hand carders.  I've never worked with carders before and there's been a definite learning curve. They almost look like dog slicker brushes.  Next to the carders are the finished "rolags" of Nikki's fur.  These are what come off the carders after you've run the fur through a few times.

Once I got some rolags ready, I couldn't wait to start spinning.

So, here's what it looks like on the spinning wheel.  It almost comes out looking like twine.  I'm not sure what I'm going to make out of it yet.  Hopefully I'll have a better idea when I get a couple of bobbins of yarn spun up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rain, Rain GO AWAY!

It started raining here in the DFW area in mid-September.   I think we've had about 5 days of sunshine since then.  The ground is saturated and there haven't been enough sunny days to even come close to drying out.  My chickens stopped laying eggs when it started raining.  The girls are from Arizona and the worst rain they've seen before had been one or two big monsoon days in 2008.  They've been hiding out in the hen house but not producing any eggs.  That wouldn't be a big deal except I finally have a few regular egg-buying customers.

So, we decide to buy some more hens - 14 to be exact.  We make a 45 minute drive to south of Ft Worth on a rainy, dark and gloomy Sunday night to get these "good layers".  Well, they must be homesick, cause they haven't been laying any eggs here.  Now we have 25 hens, eating 50 pounds of chicken feed every couple weeks and I have no eggs to sell.

The new girls are a variety of breeds and some mixes.  This one is very pretty with her gold markings.  If you look, you can see a lot of feathers in the background as some of the hens are molting now - probably due to the days getting shorter and colder and lack of sunlight for the past month.  When chickens molt, their reproductive system shuts down and they produce no eggs.

The AZ girls were very stressed when the TX girls moved in.  They were like 2 rival gangs.  The AZ girls all huddled together as the newcomers took over their turf.  There was a quite a bit of fighting and posturing to determine the new pecking order.  The TX girls were pretty sassy about taking over the chicken yard.

I guess patience is going to be the key while we get through this transition time.  I've read that the molting can take up to 3 months.  Hopefully we'll have some sunshine back by then, too!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October, getting settled in TX

I can't believe it's October already.  The days are definitely getting cooler here.   It's supposed to rain for the rest of the week and I'm not looking forward to that very much, although I understand we need it. I am missing the desert.

Chet's been working so hard around here.  We're dividing the pasture areas so we can keep the camelids separated as necessary and Chet has been fencing almost continually for the past month. 

Because of all the rain, the grass is in constant need of cutting.   This photo is of the front yard.  Chet bought a used tractor when he got here that only works for short periods of time before it overheats.  He hasn't taught me how to drive it yet, but all the ladies in the neighborhood do their lawns on the riding mowers, so I'll have to learn soon.

As we're making some good progress getting all the boxes unpacked, I'm finding some time to work on spinning and knitting, which I've really missed.

I don't know whether the colors will come through on the blog site, but this is a very pretty batch of roving from Unique Designs by Kathy in Tucson AZ - http://www.uniquedesignsbykathy.com/

Kathy is an awesome fiber artist and a very patient teacher.  I was able to have a few spinning sessions with her this summer before I moved and really learned a lot.

From this roving, I'm spinning a single ply yarn and making a lacy shawl.  I'm almost finished with it, but don't want to post photos until it's all done.

I'm very excited that I was invited to a spinning group this weekend.  I'm sure I will learn a lot from these ladies who also have alpacas.

I got my TX driver's license yesterday.  I guess it's official - I'm a Texan (or as much as a Yankee-by-way-of-Arizona can be).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Already doing their job

Luke and Leia are 12 weeks old now. They are typical puppies in many ways - exploring new things with their mouths, wrestling with each other, arguing over the food bowls - but different from other puppies I've dealt with. Luke, especially, is very independent. He's always happy to see me, but after he greets me and gets a little attention, he's very happy to go about his business of being a guard dog in training. Leia enjoys people a little more, but she doesn't make a fuss when I leave the barn. They seem to be very content with the barn as their home base and sharing a yard with the alpacas. I have to keep Luke separated from the chickens unless I'm there to supervise. He tends to get excited after being with them for a while and will chase them. This is definitely something we have to work on before he gets much older.

Over the weekend, they had their first chance to be livestock guardian dogs. A full size Doberman and a buddy came back to the barn/pasture area. The puppies barked their little heads off and chased the Dobe and the other dog away.


Because Cosmo has been so aggressive to Choco and Chip and even to the llama, we decided to have him gelded and reduce the testosterone level on the farm. We got Choco done at the same time as we don't plan to breed him.

We had the choice to have it done here Friday in the barn or take them to the clinic. Good thing we took them in. 24 hours after surgery, Cosmo was still bleeding. His red blood cell count was down to half of what it should have been and he was becoming very weak. We were afraid we would lose him. Dr. Royse at the Argyle Vet Clinic was great, monitoring him all night and doing everything he could to try and stem the bleeding. Finally mid-day on Saturday, he got it under control, but kept him until Monday to be sure he'd be OK. Choco's surgery went fine, but he stayed at the clinic to keep Cosmo a bit calmer. Alpacas don't like to be without other alpacas.

He's home now and just a little worse for the experience - thinner and his beautiful white fluffy fleece is now coated with blood. The good news is that he hasn't picked a fight with anyone since he's been home. I hope that's a result of the gelding and not just that he's still too weak. He was feeling good enough to smile for the camera.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our Place

Everyone tells us how lucky we are to have found land in Keller. Keller is a great little bedroom community just north of Ft. Worth and it has just about everything you can ask for - groceries, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, fantastic local restaurants, tractor supply and a feed store just around the corner. However, most of the housing in Keller is in subdivisions now. Our place is on 2.7 acres on a dead end street of houses on the same size lots. About half the families on the street keep some kind of livestock. We've seen horses, cattle and there are supposed to be goats nearby, too.

The back pasture is divided in half. The llama is on the right hand side and the photo of the chickens below is the left side. The property behind us is a horse farm where someone is always riding. I wished I would have had the camera the first time the alpacas and the horses saw each other. Everyone was very curious, but no one freaked out.

The chickens are molting right now, so not laying many eggs, which is a good thing because I haven't found a market for them yet. In Marana, there was a great Farmer's Market every Monday in Gladden Farms. They took my eggs and sold them for me on consignment. If I can't find a way to sell them soon, we're going to be eating lots of omelettes and souffles.

Sad Day on the Farm

We knew it would happen eventually, but this happened way too soon. We lost an alpaca last night. Bravo, our new Suri boy, who just got here on Saturday, died last night. He didn't show any signs of being ill. When I went to check on them after dinner last night, he was out in the field and couldn't get up. Chet carried him back to the barn, but it was too late.

Then I did something I never in the million years thought I would do. We took his body to a taxidermist and we are having his pelt preserved. There aren't an awful lot of options when livestock becomes deadstock. You can't reallly bury them as it's against the law in most places. Some people will leave them for the predators to finish off, but we didn't want to have that happen around here. There are rendering plants, I guess, but I didn't really want to consider that. The other option was take him to a landfill, which I thought is the worst of all the possibilities.

Besides the sadness of losing an animal, we're feeling pretty badly that the little deaf boy, Frankie, has lost his hearing ear guide. The breeder has generously offered to replace him with another animal that looks just like him so that Frankie will have another Suri to hang out with.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

New Additions to the Farm

We got our new critters yesterday. 3 alpacas and the llama. In the photo above are the 2 white boys. The little one is Frankie and the bigger guy is Bravo. They are Suri alpacas and are good buddies. Wherever Bravo goes, Frankie is not far behind.

Frankie is about 9 months old and he has blue eyes. The breeder believed he was deaf, but we're pretty sure he has some hearing as his ears will move in the direction of noises. He is as cute as can be.

Just to show the size difference, here are Frankie and Bravo standing next to Zoltan, the llama - who isn't full grown yet. In case you're wondering about the llama's name, we're big fans of the very stupid movie "Dude, Where's My Car?". In the movie, the main characters, Jesse and Chester, get trapped and attacked by a bunch of ostriches. Jesse thinks they are llamas. The character Zoltan in the movie is the "wise and powerful" leader of a bunch of geeks in bubble wrap space suits.

And last, but not least, the boy in very bad need of dental work is Mulligan James. As funny looking as he is, his fleece has won blue ribbons.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm NOT a poodle!!

He's a beige alpaca - with a bad haircut. The story is that the shears ran out of juice before they finished shearing this spring. This is Dreamcatcher Cosmo, a 3 year old boy who came to live with us this past weekend. His fleece is very, very soft.

We had quite an learning experience introducing him to Chip and Choco. In his past life, Cosmo was involved in a lot of male fighting with his herd-mates. He tried to bully our two boys, so we had to separate them for a few days. We put them all together again last night and he's doing much better with them.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Luke Skywalker & Princess Leia have arrived

When clients tell me they have littermates, I inwardly cringe. I've seen lots of problems with sibling puppies raised together as pets. Most of the time, the puppies are so bonded with each other, they don't give a hoot about the humans in the household and in worst cases, they have a very hard time being separated from each other.

So it went against everything I preached to bring home these two pups from the same litter. However, these guys aren't going to be pets in the house. They are livestock guardian dogs and will live with the alpacas, llama and chickens.

This is such a new experience for me. I've never had a dog this young. (They are 8 weeks old). I've never had a dog that lived outside. We step up a stall for them in the barn and puppy proofed it. When the barn door is opened they have access to a play yard all to themselves where they can see the other animals, but not interact directly yet. Friday night when we brought them home, I walked out to the barn at least 6 times to be sure they were OK - (they were).

Their calmness amazes me. Yes, they play like puppies, but even when they play there is a seriousness about them that I've never seen in another breed. They are curious about the alpacas, but not too afraid. No barking or darting around like I would expect from a pup. I walked them around the chicken coop and they did well. There's no instinct to chase even when the chickens run. That's a HUGE difference from Border Collies and Greyhounds!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Llama

I didn't want a llama. Had no desire to have an animal that big. I was just getting used to handling my little alpaca boys and llamas are much larger animals. Actually, llamas are used as guardians for sheep, goats and alpacas. They sound an alarm and will try and herd their flock away from predators.

My hubby had his heart set on a llama and I couldn't say no. He is a very striking animal and his fleece is a pretty light brown - another color to spin!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Livestock Guardian Dogs

When Chet made his first trip to Texas, he took 3 of our hens with him. They were living in the barn while the chicken coop was finished. One night when the barn door didn't get closed, a loose dog got in and killed 2 of them. The dog came back the next night trying to get in again.

Everyone we talked to about keeping alpacas in the area told us that we would have to have some sort of protection for them. After the chicken/dog incident, we decided to take action. Losing chickens was bad enough, but if a predator got to our alpacas, we'd never forgive ourselves.

After some research about livestock guardian dogs, we decided to adopt a puppy who would grow up and bond with our alpacas and chickens. We found some Anatolian Shepherd puppies in the area and went to meet them. We decided on getting 2 of them so they could have an appropriate playmate while they grow up - and not to play with the alpacas and birds.

Princess Leia (L) and Luke Skywalker (R) are 6 weeks old in this photo. They are very big puppies. Luke was the biggest in the litter; the breeder says he might be close to 150 pounds when he grows up. Leia was one of the smaller girls. We think they'll make a good defender team!

Clicker Training Alpacas

I was very excited to have another species to work on clicker training skills. Chickens and alpacas are a lot less forgiving than dogs. They don't have that "desire to please" like most dogs do. Targeting is a very simple skill that is the basis for more advanced work and it gives me an idea of the animal's capabilities. Chip caught on right away and was ringing a bell on cue after just a week of target training.

Here's a short video: http://tinyurl.com/lhf2fr

Beginning the Blog

So many people have asked for photos and information about our newest critters, that I've decided it's a good excuse to set up a blog. I've been thinking about it for quite a while, but never had the time to actually do it. Diana Hansen gave me my motivation to "GET TO IT!!" as she so gently put it, so here we go!

A few months ago we were generously gifted with 2 young alpaca boys. Chet and I had thought about getting alpacas some years ago after visiting a farm in Southern AZ, but after we saw the price tags, we reconsidered. Alpacas are gentle, docile animals with fabulous fleece and we jumped at the chance to adopt these guys even though we knew we'd be moving in August. The boys have made the trip from Marana AZ to Keller TX and are loving the green pasture at their new home.

Chip (with the white face) is the more outgoing of the pair. Choco is a little more cautious about things. I have been having such a good time working with them - more on training to come.