Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two new alpacas

We are so excited to have two new alpacas join us today! Westminster and Magellan were given to us by the grandparents of one of Jer's cross country athletes. They are around five years old and are adjusting to their new home fairly well.
Last spring they were shorn, but just their blankets were taken. They seem to be extra large next to our boys because of they have two years (or more) of fiber growth. We anticipate some beautiful yarn, roving and blankets from these boys.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Roving - A Project in Waiting

When our shipment of yarn arrived, so did our first roving. We have been waiting to have access to roving because I have this crazy desire to learn to spin fiber into yarn. Our good friend Karen loaned us her spinning wheel last fall and it has set idle while we wait for one, time, and two, roving. The second arrived and then we had to wait for a break.

Settler's Farm in Wamego offers classes which means a qualifed instructor is available. Now, we are back to the question of time. And, the philsophical debate of should I learn to spin or knit first. If I learn to spin first, then, what to do with the yarn. If I learn to knit first, then we have yarn already spun by The Shepherd's Mill. I'll work all of this out over winter break.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New arrival - handwoven rugs!

We are really excited to have our first shipment of handwoven rugs from our alpaca fiber. Ingrid's Handwoven Rugs in Paint Rock, Texas created these beautiful 2x4' and 3x5' rugs. We selected one for in front of our desk in the living room - it is so soft and warm!
The rugs are woven from the "seconds" or fiber from the neck and legs of the alpacas. This fiber is less desirable because it is typically shorter when compared to the fiber on the body of the animal that makes up the blanket.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


My fiber artist friend, Megan, asked me about felting. Last spring, Jeremy and I attended a workshop to learn how to felt and made this purse and some other felted pieces that we used to make flowers. The flowers ended up as embelishments on this purse and as pins and magnets we have given to friends.
This felting was done through a process called wet felting where warm soapy water is applied to the felt and then it is massaged until the fibers begin to bind together. More soapy water, more massaging - the end result is a very strong material and very clean hands and wrinkly fingers. For more on wet felting.
Some people felt by using their washing machine, but we have never tried this method. We have been told to proceed with caution because of the wear on the washing machine. Others use a needle felting process, that uses a form and needles with little barb-like hooks on the end. We have also never tried this method.
A great kids' project is to felt a bar of soap. The end product is a bar of soap that has a soft covering that can be used in the bath. This project is easy and fun.

A Fiber Artist's Work

My dear friend Megan is working with some of the alpaca fiber from the April shearing. We are really excited to see her finished product - a scarf that a co-worker has commissioned.

Megan has a studio in Boston and does fantastic knitting projects in addition to her day job.

I am hoping to commission a wrap or shawl from her with some of Manny's fiber.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The fiber is here!

After much anticipation, our fiber arrived! Jer's parents brought it to Manhattan and we finally got to see how the processed fiber looked in yarn and roving.

We have all neutral colors - all natural. The colors range from Scout's dark brown to Manny's fawn to Blue and Carl's white.

We are really excited to share the fiber with our friends who knit, spin and weave.

Monday, August 11, 2008

We have eggs!

We finally have eggs! Jeremy found five eggs in the coop - one actually in the nests on Sunday night. We are still trying to figure out who is laying which colors. Two more eggs on Monday; we may soon have a dozen!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Chicken update

When we first considered getting chickens, Jeremy and I had several "chicken chats" where we would talk about all the details. Our chicken chats continue - we just speculate about their behavior, when the hens will begin to lay, why it seems we have so many roosters, etc. This has been quite the adventure.

We have one gigantic Rhode Island Red rooster. He has these amazing iridescent tail feathers and a developing crow. The first few crows where like a teenager with a changing voice - "Errr Errr Errrrrrrr!" at about 7 a.m. I was saying a prayer of thanks that our neighbors were very supportive of the chicken adventure and even said they missed the sound of crowing in the morning. We are very lucky indeed.

We have two batches - the group we bought at Tractor Supply Company (my favorite store) because we could not wait for the mail order and the mail order. Both batches were a straight run which means they are not sexed. The mail order company said to expect about 50/50...we have tried to count, but they are too fast! The rooster types will find a home in our freezer before winter - that is, if we can find someone to help us do the dirty work. I don't have good memories of chicken harvest from my youth.

We have affectionately begun to call the Big Boy rooster "Lunch." My niece, McKenzy, was sort of amused by this name and kind of horrified. Right now, no one is worried about harvest, they all come running when we bring the cart of weeds or the enamel pan of what used to be compost feed.

Now, we are on egg watch...still waiting...maybe waiting into'll be the first to know when the eagle lands.

Long time - no blog!

Needless to say, life has been busy this summer. My last post raved about our beautiful yard which has most recently been subject to the usual scorching hot days of Kansas. We do have some beautiful sunflowers. These hearty, natives thrive in this kind of weather. I wish I could say the same!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What's blooming...

Our yard has rarely looked more beautiful. We have several flowers in full spring bloom. The clementis near the garden is full of buds and has just started to bloom. The old-fashiond lilac is lovely and the Korean lilacs are just a little behind. Our bleeding hearts made it through some cold early spring mornings and we feel fortunate to not have them reduced to piles of wilted greens. It is a beautiful spring!

Mystery solved - we think!

Our starter chickens were sort of a mystery to us. We purchased them at the Tractor Supply Company and knew we likely had three Rhode Island Reds and three bantams of an unknown breed. Last weekend, we found a picture that helped us identify the breed. We are reasonably confident that we have Barred Rock bantams - three of them. Our next mystery is learning if we have hens or roosters!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chickens graduate to the pen

We finally finished the

chicken coop and got the chickens outside. They have almost all their feathers, so it might be safe to say that our starter chickens are doing well. The big shipment arrives on May 19th!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I Heart Lucas (Kansas)

This weekend I had the chance to visit Lucas, Kansas to see one of my favorite artists and the Kansas Grassroots Arts Center. Eric Abraham does some amazing ceramic work and his use of the flying pig makes his work extra attractive to me.

Our weekend actually began by staying at the Victorian Inn at Abilene ( We had a gift certificate from some of my students and it worked perfect to stay and then proceed on to Minneapolis for Jer's track meet. The house had a lot of character and the breakfast was really amazing - homemade granola in a parfait to begin, a fritata and lots of other good food!

After Jer got started at the track, I went to Rock City outside Minneapolis. It was cold, but still fun to see this amazing natural phenomenon. After I said good bye to the two great volunteers at Rock City, I made my way to Lucas.

Lucas was amazing! Eric was very gracious and welcoming. He showed me around his studio, which doubles as his house. He has fabulous vintage appliances in his kitchen - the stove and fridge were super cool vintage. My purchase was a small pig with wings and I am saving for a larger piece of art from Eric's work.
He encouraged me to go to the Grassroots Arts Center and I had a very thorough tour. My favorite part was the courtyard area where they have been preserving the art incorporated in limestone houses and buildings in our state. As a resident of a limestone school house, I am a huge fan of this type of preservation.

On my next trip, I want to try out the antique store and the old-fashioned meat market. If you want a great day, go to Lucas!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chickens moving to the big house!

After a couple of weekend's worth of construction, our trial run chickens (total of six) have moved to the new chicken coop! It has just the right look of rustic style and has been designed to be rodent proof (we hope).

The six babies are developing their feathers nicely. What we thought to be six bantam breeds might be three Rhode Island Reds and three from an unknown bantam breed. That's what you get when you buy from the local farm supply store when you are overanxious to have something live try out the results of your work.

We look forward to our big shipment of chicks from the McMurray Hatchery. In mid-May, we should have 31 new chicks arriving - thirty of mixed bantam breeds of our selection and one mystery rare chick. We could have a very interesting and colorful chicken crop this year.

Then, it will be a waiting game for our first eggs.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The beginning

This inaugural blog is my first attempt to put to words the adventure Jeremy and I have started. We have always talked about having a small farm. Little did I know that at ages 30 and 32, we would begin.

After much discussion, we purchased our first alpacas in October 2007. We have five total and have been learning a great deal about caring for and maintaining these really beautiful animals. They are much different than the sheep my family raised during my childhood and certainly different than the market pigs that were my 4-H project and the cattle my dad now owns.

People question why very busy 30-ish professionals are launching a farming adventure. We have several inquiries about our sanity. In the early months of our alpaca purchase, people would drive by slowly on the county road that runs adjacent to our house - sometimes even stopping to stare. My favorite was our neighbor who call and just flat out asked, "What are those animals in your yard!?" While we could name the animal, I am not sure we can put a label on our motivation for this lifestyle choice. It's complex.

Maybe this blog will help us label it. My husband said it best when he said, "You got to have the 4-H experience growing up and I have to have that - 4-H at 30." We laugh when we tell our friends that is "the reason." I think there is something to that, but maybe that is putting it a little simply.

We do want to have a connection to the earth. We want a joint project that brings us together. We want to have animals in our care that are useful (fiber production) and entertaining. We want to join a community that could not be more welcoming to two very green alpaca farmers. We want to have farm fresh eggs gathered in our own backyard. And, we like that we will know (when our chicks reach laying age) what the chickens have been eating before they offer up their eggs for our consumption.

Looking back, some of these motivations were some of the outcomes of my 4-H experience. Granted, at 7 years old, I couldn't tell you these were the best things about 4-H membership. I would account the fun times with my family, learning new things, and making great friends. Alpacas have been an avenue to all of these things.

So far, our farming adventure has delivered on most of our desires. I look forward to seeing what else we learn about the process of farming, together as a young couple, and what we learn about ourselves in the process.