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!