Sunday, May 30, 2010

Our Visit with Alpacas

Two weekends ago, my family went on an expedition to Home Again Farm in Theresa, NY ( , to learn about alpacas.  The farm is owned and operated by Gail and Daryl Marsh.  Home Again Farm is a family-run farm, originally established in 1831 as a dairy farm.   After 30 years away in New Jersey, Gail and Daryl returned to the north country as the sixth generation to farm the land Gail grew up on.  They have been raising alpacas since 2005. The 50-acre farm is currently home to 20 alpacas and Red, the cat.  Gail and Daryl also have begun growing grapes for wine-making to supply local wineries.

I had called ahead to make sure our visit would work with their schedule, and they fit us right in on Sunday afternoon.  We received a 2-hour personal tour!  Gail and Darrel were very welcoming, and put us all immediately at ease.  It was apparent that they had given many tours for families, school groups and other audiences. 

Gail told us that we would first visit the "ladies" in a small corral next to the main barn, and that they would be most comfortable with us if we kept our arms and hands down, walked slowly and just sat down on the rock or bench provided.  We followed her instructions, and it wasn't long before we were nose-to-nose with these curious, expressive animals!  Bailey, the brown alpaca most comfortable with human company, laid down at our feet and let us stroke her amazingly deep, soft fleece.  We watched as Peaches, the head female, squealed a warning to the herd when a cat appeared across the road, and all 9-12 alpacas stood alert and focused.  Alpacas are most comfortable in a herd for protection, and we could see why.  Their most dangerous predator in our parts are not cats or coyotes, but domestic dogs.

We had a shorter visit with seven "fellas" in a separate pasture.  Only one decided to come to the fence and sniff us.  They were very spirited young men, too!  Daryl had sheared two of the boys recently, and it was amazing to see how much bulk the fur adds to their physiques.  One alpaca yielded 10 pounds of fiber!  Daryl demonstrated the operation of their shearing table in the barn, and showed us the variety of clippers needed to humanely remove the fur.  With summer coming early here, I'm sure the shearing would provide much relief for the animals.  By fall, their thick regrown coats will keep them warm outside in temperatures well below zero.

I also was able to spend quite a bit of  time browsing Gail's lovely shop.  I was most interested in the yarn from her animals, and she pulled out a healthy stock of yarns for me to peruse.  While I took to drooling and moaning as I petted the yarns, she told me which animals had contributed which fiber.  I chose three skeins - two a gorgeous warm brown, and one a dark chocolate and cream blend.   Each skein came with a tag telling all about the individual that grew that particular yarn.  Her shop was also filled with items from a Peruvian coop crafted with alpaca yarn, and I certainly plan to return for holiday gifts - oh the double-layer alpaca gloves and the slippers lined with luxurious alpaca fur!

Other interesting things I learned about alpacas:
Alpacas hum!
Fur color is not determined by genetics necessarily.
Alpacas' feet are not hooved - they have two toes with nails, and their feet are soft.
All individuals in the herd go pee and poop in one chosen spot, not all over the pasture - easy to clean up the mess!
Alpaca babies are usually born in the very early morning so that they can move with the herd later.  If not ready, the mother will leave the baby behind in favor of staying with the herd.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Mom with a Hook

My mother was my role model as far as sewing, knitting, and crocheting.  Most evenings after supper clean-up, my mother would sit and knit while my father and I watched television.  I loved to see the items develop. She would turn a string into these amazing sweaters, blankets, hats, and mittens that would keep me, my siblings, my father, and our friends and neighbors warm all winter long.  This was just one of her amazing mom superpowers that convinced me that moms could do anything and everything!

In my teens, Mom taught me to sew, knit and crochet.  What I learned was that, with practice, patience, perseverance, and an open mind, I could make just about anything made of fabric or yarn on my own.  I also learned how to measure accurately, how to reason through how something is made, and how parts fit together.  These skills have served me well throughout my life.

Crocheting started out for me as a decorative art.  I began with doilies and table runners made with number 10 cotton thread.  Though I loved crocheting, I became more interested in knitting after awhile because I could make sweaters to wear - even though I don't think I ever finished one!  I stopped doing either needlecraft in high school and college because studies and social interests took over...  Every now and then, though, I'd pull out my skills to make a small gift for someone here or there.

Once my children had begun sleeping through the night, i.e., when I was thoroughly trained as an insomniac, I found I loved having that magical quiet time late at night to myself.  However, I needed a quiet activity (for heavens sake, DON'T wake them up!) that would help settle my thoughts - and keep me from eating unhealthy amounts of snack foods!  So I picked up crocheting again with a passion, which led to an overstock of stuff, which led to thoughts of selling my stuff.  Thus, my Etsy shop ( was born.

Very soon after I opened my online shop, I noticed the profusion of plastic bags handed out at our local farmer's market, and became determined to sell reusable market bags there in an effort to reduce plastic bag use.  This summer will be my first attempt to sell my bags at said farmer's market, along with other durable household goods that can replace disposable options.  I'm also working to incorporate as much local, organic, upcycled, recycled, and otherwise earth-friendly materials in my products as possible. 

And here I am today... happily a compulsive, late-night, sleep-deprived crocheting Mom!