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Are “Fiber Alpacas” or “Gelded Alpacas” right for you?

White Male Suri Alpaca Herdsire | Bozeman, Montana

White Male Suri Alpaca Herdsire | Bozeman, Montana

In researching alpacas, alpaca ownership and husbandry, you’ll come across alpacas advertised as “fiber quality”, “gelded fiber males” or just “fiber males”. So what’s up with these alpacas?

These alpacas are generally considered non-breeding animals and can be used for producing great fiber for your projects. A gelded alpaca refers to the removal of the testicles ofthe males so they cannot reproduce.

As an intact male alpacas begins to mature, they will start to notice the females more and more. Then its like high school all over again! Pacing back and forth on the fence line wrestling with each other to prove dominance. We recommend separating these young boys from the girls around 8-12 months of age. Some males will come into maturity quicker than others as early as 12 months. Intact males will have higher levels of testosterone which will effect the quality of the fiber making it more course as it matures.

One thing to consider is not every male is a worthy breeder. In fact, we will use only 1% of the males we have as breeders. Many times we will also use other studs for our females. Studs that exhibit the quality characteristics we are looking for.

Intact males temperament will be a little more frisky especially when near females. All males will develop and grow fighting teeth that will need to be trimmed. Once an intact males realizes he has fighting teeth, be aware. He will use them to his advantage. Always keep them trimmed. It may also be necessary to separate intact males to avoid damage to each other.

Male Suri Alpaca Fiber Herd | Bozeman, Montana

Male Suri Alpaca Fiber Herd | Bozeman, Montana

Please don’t think intact makes are unruly. Just like with most animals, the more you train them the better they will handle. We have also been experienced a group of intact makes get along quite nicely. The older ones are king and put the younger ones in their place. It’s nothing more than herd dominance

A gelding usually will have an even keel temperament. He will not be as interested in the females and more interested in food. Watch out for geldings becoming overweight! Lower levels of testosterone will grow better fleece than an intact males. As described above, the more you handle and train your animal the better disposition it will have.

Lastly, alpacas advertised as “fiber alpacas” or “gelding fiber alpacas” serve an integral part in the future can make for great fiber animals and enjoyable to watch in the pasture.

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Alpacas love the fall season in Montana. Where did summer go?

 

Now that we are approaching Halloween with winter right before us, the alpacas, llamas and humans appreciate the nice fall days we’ve had. The forecast looks to be good for a few more days of crisp mornings, cool days, and golden sunsets. But…what happened to summer?

Summer proves to be a busy time for most of us. Raising alpacas and llamas here in Montana, definitely proves to be busy times. The days of nice warm hot weather extend from June through the middle of September. The beginning of summer began with shearing all the llamas and alpacas. Soon following shearing, we had the pleasure of  3 alpaca cria (baby alpacas) born on the ranch. One little girl and two boys.

FullSizeRenderThe little girl, Delilah, is out of our great proven female Cherry Jubilee. Jubilee has done a great job for us when paired with the late Hershey’s Hugo. All of their offspring have great conformation, fine, great luster, and a beautiful maroon color. We just love the maroons.

The two boys born this year were Knox and Highlander. Knox is a medium fawn boy out of the stunning white Constance del Sol x Hershey’s Hugo. Knox is a great looking boy with fineness and good density.

The last late summer cria we had was Highlander. He has the cutest little face and is a brilliant fawn color. He is the progeny of our wonderful fawn female maiden Hyalite x Lazy G’s Accoyo Goldstar. The sire, Goldstar, was a male I had seen years ago when he was just a juvenile. He is c0-owned by some friends in Nebraska and Ohio.  Breeding to Goldstar was the first time we’d used an outside stud. Hyalite is just a maiden (she’s never had a baby) and in our experience maidens can be a little hard to judge whether they become pregnant or not.  . They haven’t had the breeding experience yet (to learn more about the breeding alpaca, click here) and can be a little hard to get pregnant. She was left at the hosting ranch for 2 months and just before she was ready to come home, she cushed down which meant she was receptive when put with a breeding male. Unfortunately, Goldstar, the chosen male, made his way back to his home in OH and Hyalite was in NE. She made the long jouney up to OH and then back to Montana just before last winter.

IMG_2028Knowing Hyalite bred a few times in June, August, and at the end of September, we weren’t quite sure when to expect her to give birth. We had to plan for  all time periods. In the end, the beautiful healthy Highlander was born in September. We are really excited about this little boy. He has the best little head just like his father Lazy G’s Accoyo Goldstar and we cannot wait for him to mature a little more. We anticipate he become one of our newest studs!

Hey wait a minute….that looks like a llama!

081614_8857_DDLlamas have always been on the back burner for us. They have always been on my mind as a great benefit to have for a couple of reasons. First, they make great guard animals for the little alpacas. Secondly, and my most favorite reason, they make great pack animals. We live here in Bozeman, Montana for the lifestyle. We love being able to raise alpacas, llamas, chickens, and dogs while being so close to an abundance of outdoor activities. Once our little ranch is setup for the summer, Anna and I had the great pleasure of hitting the trails with our side kicks Wookie and Granite.

I wasn’t quite sure what to consider when looking for pack llamas a few years ago. Talk to one person and they’ll tell you any llama will do. Talk to an person and they’ll tell you to get a specific kind. In the end, it really depends on what your expectations are for pack llamas. Commercial outfitting may requiring a certain lllama breed for working and packing. Commercial outfitters expect a lot more in distance, terrain, and weight going all summer long putting on hundreds of miles. A weekend recreational packer can get by with most any llama.

091814_9487_DD_WEBFortunately, Wookie and Big Granite have done a great job. I couldn’t ask them to do much more. We trained all summer for the long archery hunting season here in Montana. The season runs September through the end of October and we had some great trips. I’ll continue to work with the llamas throughout the winter while looking for additional great pack llamas to add to the pack string. We are in the process of building our pack llama herd with great genetics to add to the alpacas.

FullSizeRenderThe changing of the leaves always signals the hunting season and winter preparation. I always get a little nervous when looking for good quality hay for the winter. We prefer second cut grass hay which is harvested in September. Until then, nobody knows what the fields will produce. Weather is such a factor. Fortunately, we have some great resources for quality hay and quality hay stackers. Thanks to all our friends with help you provide.

We hope you enjoy this fall where ever you may be. If you find yourself in Montana, please give us a shout a come by for a visit. Our alpacas and llamas always love visitors. And of course, the dogs love anyone who will give them treats.

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Alpaca Shearing in Montana: It’s fiber harvest time!

 

Alpaca shearing time in Montana has become very iconic for us. Shearing season marks the beginning of summer. Our alpacas have braved the long winter months here in the northern rocky mountains continually growing their super fine fiber keeping them warm from the bitter cold. Here at our small alpaca ranch in Bozeman, Montana its not uncommon for the winter months of November, December and January for the temperatures to be below zero for days on end. I always wonder, will colder climates produce finer and more dense alpaca fiber? Why not? Evolution and adaptation have a way about them.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years of owning alpacas, it’s important to know what to do with all of my fiber. Knowing what I want in the end will help me at the beginning. The outline for harvesting and processing fiber is pretty straight forward:

Prepare for shearing > Shear > Sort/Grade Fiber > Tumble > Pick > Wash > Card > Spin/Felt > Sell/Assemble End Product

Many times I find we all do a good job of getting the fleece off the animal into bags only to deal with it later. Then it sits in the barn. The anxiety of opening up each bag is devastating. So we procrastinate and there it sits.  I like to reduce the amount of times I touch the fiber throughout the process. I’m finding having a plan and properly preparing is key. Here is some brief information to help understand the basics in alpaca fiber harvesting and processing. This is information we’ve learned along the way that has helped us.

 

Prepare for Shearing

Alpaca Shearing Setup Montana This is one of the most critical aspects of the entire process. Preparation should be done well in advance of the shearer showing up at your door step. Know what your going to do with all your fiber before shearing will help in proper sorting, grading and processing into yarn or felt. Don’t forget about the other details of the day such as electricity, a clean shearing area using tarps and matts, and proper lighting if inside the barn. Barns are nice if you experience bad weather. Yet, they can be inefficient if there isn’t proper lighting to get the job done.

Make sure to have plenty of help planned for the day. Communicate with your shearer what exactly he or she will be providing and what you are responsible for and to provide. Determine how many people he will be bringing and how many is sufficient for the day. Will there be two shearing stations or just one? I’ve found 5-7 people total is ideal. Especially for larger herds. 1 Shearer, 1 head person (controls the head of the alpaca. Usually comes with shearer.), 1-2 people to blow out and bring alpaca to mat, 1 to collect fiber, 1 to sort/grade, and 1 additional for support where needed.

Have a plan for moving alpacas around and who is responsible for the task. Use corral panels to create an in and out door for passage out of the way of the work stations. Create a work station area dedicated to fiber collecting. We have all the fiber bags labeled and ready to go before shearing day. Any fiber histograms have the information already printed out and in the bags.

 

Shearing Day

Alpaca Shearing Preparation MontanaPrior to your shearing day watch the weather. The worse thing that could happen is to plan for the iconic fiber harvest day only to leave your alpacas out all night and it rains. If you have wet animals, you will not be shearing. Period!

Plan to have help there before the shearer arrives. It’s always a good idea to have plenty of food and water for all those joining you for the special shearing day event. We like to make it an occasion inviting friends and families over for the yearly event which usually ends with grilled burgers, beers, music and laughter.

Another thing to consider when the alpaca is down for shearing, it may be an opportune time to trim toe nails and inspect the animal of any unhealthy conditions. Make notes along the way and address health conditions as needed.

 

Sorting and Grading

Alpaca Fleece Sorting MontanaWe know that each alpaca is going to have different grades of fiber on the body. Typically, the blanket is going to be the prime (or firsts) fiber on the animals. The blanket is covers from hips to shoulders and down the side to the top of the belly. The seconds are hip, shoulder, and neck. Thirds are leg, belly and whatever is left on the mat. Knowing what you are doing with each animals fleece will help in this process. If you know an older female has course fiber and is well suited for rug yarn, then there may be no need to collect fiber in 3 different bags. Put it all into one bag and move on to the next.

My goal is to reduce the amount of waste associated with processing fiber thus reducing my cost to process. Time does equal money. Reducing the number of times the fleece is touched can lead to less time spent dealing with fleece. If you have a small herd, before shearing go through each animal and evaluate the grade of fleece and determine which pile the fleece will be sorted into. Or, once the fleece comes off the animal, take it directly to your sorting table. Sort it by removing vegetable matter and separating the coarse fiber from the finer fiber. You’ll find around the “arm pits” or where the leg meets the body will have coarser guard hair. Legs, belly, arm pits, tail, chin and cheeks (Thirds) will all be much coarser and shorter than the rest of the body. The neck (seconds) generally is finer than the thirds. Neck fiber is generally shorter than the blanket and a little more coarse. Fiber mills like to spin fiber that is no more than 2 inches difference in length and within 2 microns of each other in fineness. However, it all depends in what you want and for what.  Sometimes the neck and blanket can go together in the same pile if you plan to make felt. Felt doesn’t have the same requirements as yarn fiber.

 

Tumble/Pick/Wash and maybe Tumble/Pick/Wash some more

If you are sending to a fiber mill for processing, they usually handle the tumble/pick/wash. Shipping fleece can be quite expensive. To reduce our overall weight and to help aid in removing dirt and vegetable matter, I choose to tumble my fleece before sending to the mill. My goal is to reduce the amount of waste associated with processing fiber thus reducing my cost to process. Tumbling is nothing more than the fleece tumbling around in a wire cage allowing short fibers, dirt and debris to fall out. I highly encourage everyone to use a leaf blower and blow the animals fleece out. This helps everyone out. There is less dirt and debris you collect with your fiber and it helps keep the shearing blades stay sharp.

Picking is a process of the fleece being picked apart or opened up whereby allowing dirt and debris to fall out.

Washing is washing the dirt out as much as possible. Always keep in mind, water, soap, agitation or washing results in felt. Once its felt it cannot be yarn.

 

Carding for spinning or felting

Montana Alpaca RovingI have spent many years and many visits to different mills to understand the process. In doing so, I’ve also realized why yarn can look great or look horrible. It all comes down to better preparation and proper sorting and grading. I know for good consistent yarn the mills needs fiber with little to very little vegetable matter, micron or fiber diameter within 2 microns of each other, and staple lengths with 2 inches of each other.

Felting is a little more forgiving in that it can be different microns and different fiber staple lengths. Always consult with your fiber mill on exactly what you want and what is needed to achieve the desired results. If you plan to try it yourself, experiment and have fun. Keep notes about what you learn and what you can improve on. Always remember, it is alright to fail. Learn from it and try it again.

 

Create, design and manufacture

Baby Hat, Boote, Mitt | Made of Alpaca MontanaFor many people, the use of alpaca fiber is what it’s all about with alpacas. Once you have an idea or plan of what you want to do with alpaca fiber, then develop the process. A business plan might be to design and manufacture alpaca yarn selling direct to retailers whereby you are the manufacturer wholesaler. Or maybe you open your own retail shop and sell yarn farm direct to consumers. What ever it might be, it helps to establish a plan, develop the process, accept failure, and continue to move forward with a smile.

In the end, we all got into alpacas to raise livestock and use their wonderful special fiber. Don’t loose sight of the dream you created.

Feel free to give us a call at 406.600.3835, email dennis@nrmalpacas.com or send us a message on our contact page