Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Llama Biography #12: AAL Navarro

As I sat down to write this post, I realized that I'm to the point where I can't remember who came next in our herd!  I'm pretty sure AAL Navarro is next, or at least close enough!

Navarro, Spring 2003, after shearing.

In the fall of 2002, I started to realize that we needed our own breeding male if we were going to really get into the breeding end of having llamas.  For a few weeks I emailed various farms in the Midwest, looking for that perfect male.  And then like most people I got impatient, and decided to visit the farm with the best prospect over October Break from school.  That farm happened to be Animal Acres Llamas in Wisconsin, so my dad and I hooked up the trailer and had a very long day...

Spring 2002...the picture that sold me on him!

Navarro was truly a gorgeous male.  He was born in September 2001, but was shown extensively in spring and summer 2002, so he hadn't been shorn when we saw him in October 2002.  His red fleece was absolutely gorgeous, and he had a beautiful face.  He was a bit of a handful, but was 4-H trained so I felt he would be easy enough.  After spending a few hours with him at the farm, we bought him and headed home.

Chrys, Navarro's dam.  Chilean lines.

Nuevo Laredo, Navarro's sire.

Baby Navarro!

Luckily we already had 2 pastures at the old farm, so Navarro got to live with Duque (most importantly, not with the girls!).  Navarro was pretty young so he and Duque got along fine.

Fuzzy face!

Shortly after coming to the farm, fall 2002.

The next spring I started showing Navarro, and continued until fall 2004.  He was by far the best halter llama I'd shown yet, and really helped me improve my showmanship placings.  Navarro placed very well, finishing off his ALSA Recognition of Merit in halter, and peaking with a Grand Champion in Medium Wool Male at the 2003 NAILE.

His first show with me, the 2003 Western Ohio Triple Crown.

The 2003 Indiana State Fair.

3rd at the 2003 Great Lakes Regionals.

Grand Champion Medium Wool Male at the 2003 NAILE.

3rd at the 2004 Western Ohio Triple Crown.

Grand Champion Medium Wool Male at the 2004 Southwest Llama Show.

3rd at the 2004 Great Lakes Regionals.

We started trying to breed Navarro in the fall of 2003, but he wanted nothing to do with the girls!  Thinking it would just take him a bit longer to mature, we let him off the hook and instead used an outside breeding for the one female we chose to breed.  He finally got the hang of things in the spring of 2004, and bred 2 females, Casa Loma's Little Sheba (our herd) and Little Cattessa (back for an outside breeding).  Unfortunately Cattessa's cria died during delivery, and Sheba's cria died at only a few days old (very unrelated issues), but they were both beautiful.

Autumn Hill's Snowflake Obsidian, Sheba and Navarro's cria.

By the fall of 2004 we had acquired a second breeding male, and we chose to use him to breed our females that year.  But in the fall of 2005 Navarro got his chance again.  We bred him to 2 of our best breeding females, SHAG Cattera and Little May Flowers.  Both had gorgeous female crias, Autumn Hill's Cataleya and Autumn Hill's Camissia.  The red genes were obviously very strong in Navarro, as neither dam had thrown any red crias.

Autumn Hill's Cataleya, Cattera and Navarro's cria.

Autumn Hill's Camissia, May and Navarro's cria.

After Cataleya and Camissia were born, we decided that we only needed 1 breeding male after all, and unfortunately Navarro wasn't the best that we had on the farm.  So Navarro was gelded and sold to a fiber farm.  I'm so glad he found a loving home where his beautiful fiber is still appreciated!

While Navarro didn't have a huge impact on our breeding program, he had a wonderful impact on my show career for a year.  He was fun to have around, even if he was a bit of a pain!

Navarro with my sister.  He has the distinction of being the only llama we ever took to the second floor of our house...he was very willing to go up, but did not want to come down!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winter Weather Prep

After spending a few harrowing days in the past few weeks worrying about how the lamas would deal with the cold, I decided that I would write up some of what I learned.  So here goes…

Duque in his coat.

Back in Indiana, we never seriously worried about the cold.  We did the usual preparations: rubber mats over the cement floors, heated water buckets, extra hay and grain, and coats for those who needed them (mostly April and crias).  It never got terribly cold for more than a day or two, so we didn't have to worry about it too much.

A cold snowy day in Indiana.

Now that the animals are in New York, it is a WHOLE different ball game!  It is only the first week of December, and already it has gotten below 20*F more than 10 nights.  It even got down to 1*F last week!  I was pretty panicked the first few nights it got really cold, but I've since done a lot of research, tweaked a few things about our barn and feeding practices, and now feel much more prepared for the inevitable cold weather.  To make things a bit easier to follow, I will break down the suggestions that I found into a few categories.

Our first big snowfall in New York.


As I mentioned before, there are a few basic things that we already were doing in our barn.  We always have rubbed mats down in our barn, and they do a great job to insulate the animals from the cold concrete.  Heated water buckets are also a must in the winter, even if the weather gets just below freezing.

Heated water bucket.

The first really easy thing to adjust for extreme cold is adding a layer of bedding (straw is preferable, but hay works in areas like ours where straw is really hard to find).  I always hated putting bedding down on the barn floor because it makes a huge mess, but honestly that is inevitable in the winter!  My geldings insist on potty-ing in the barn when it gets cold, but they have been limiting that to one half of the barn, so I spread some stemmy hay on the OTHER half of the barn (where I assume that they are sleeping).  That way I don't have to clean up yucky hay, and I don't waste as much.

Stemmy hay on the floor of the barn.

Another thing that we did back in Indiana (though for a very different reason) was putting a tarp up over the huge door opening.  Our old barn had a very tall door (at least 12-15' tall), so my dad rigged a tarp that covered most of it (it came down to about 6' high).  It was mostly to keep birds out of the barn, but it did help with the wind.  In our new barn, the door is only 8' tall, and is luckily located on the south end of the barn, but some days we were still getting a lot of wind coming in the barn.  So I set up a smaller version of the tarp door, to cover the top 4' of the door.  I folded a 6'x8' tarp in half so it was 4'x6'.  Using screws and large washers, I screwed through the metal rings on the tarp to attach it to the top of the door frame.  I then used bungee cords to keep the bottom corners of the tarp from flapping (I used the bungee cords to attach the tarp to various parts of the barn door), and threw a couple scrap pieces of wood in the fold of the tarp to weigh it down.  It gets a bit annoying to duck every time I walk out the door, but it does seem to help with the wind.

Tarp door.

I've read that a lot of people simply lock their animals inside the barn when it gets cold.  I've really tried to avoid that so far (and will continue to do so), but it is certainly a good option in some circumstances. If it ever gets below 0*F, or if one of the animals is shivering despite my attempts to get them warm, I would definitely lock them in the barn.


Feeding practices can also really help animals deal with the cold.  Since I don't have any breeding animals currently, only April gets a grain supplement on a daily basis.  However, I've decided that whenever the forecast says it will get below 25*F at night, I'm going to feed everyone 1c of llama pellets that afternoon/evening.  If it is going to get below 15*F, I will add 1c beet pulp.  I've also added beet pulp (as much as she will eat) to April's daily ration for the winter.  (Note: Beet pulp should be soaked thoroughly in water to allow for expansion before feeding.)  For really cold nights (below 15*F), I've also been mixing in a bit of alfalfa hay with the regular grass hay.  April won't eat it (I got it to put weight on her), so everyone else might as well benefit!

Beet pulp (brown) and alfalfa pellets (green) before soaking.

Beet pulp and alfalfa pellets after soaking.  I also mixed in a little calf manna to entice April.

A lot of people suggest feeding cracked corn during cold temperatures, but I personally hate feeding corn to my lamas!  I used to feed it as part of a weight gain mixture, but the animals never seemed to digest it, so I stopped.  From what I've heard beet pulp is also good to raise their internal body temperature (as it is digested).

Of course I always stuff the hay feeders whenever it gets cold.  We have one big hay feeder outside and one big one inside, but I've started leaving the big bucket feeders in the barn on cold nights.  I think having more feeders with hay will encourage more of the lamas to stay in the barn, which should keep them warmer.  For 5 lamas, I end up with 4 feeders inside the barn and 1 outside.  When it gets nice during the day I move the bucket feeders outside to encourage them to get some fresh air!

April and one of the bucket feeders.


For some animals (like April), coats are a necessity for getting through any winter.  I've discovered that April starts shivering when it hits about 25*F, so that is my threshold for putting her coat on.  Her coat came from Llama Hardware- it is by far the best one I've ever purchased!  Duque gets his coat when it hits about 20*F- his came from Useful Lama Items.  It isn't nearly as nice (it slides around as he wears it), but it works.  Since moving Ralph has become the next one to shiver, so he got to wear a yearling llama coat (also from Useful Lama Items) one night last week.  He looked so cute!  I know a lot of alpaca people use human vests as coats.  Horse/foal blankets can also work, but they don't fit as well in my opinion.

Ralph and April in their coats.

April in her first coat, a foal blanket.  It didn't fit very well...

It is important to remember that you should never coat a wet llama (dry them first!), and not to leave coats on if it gets too warm (this will also vary by lama).  I also like to take them off if rain is in the forecast, as most are not really waterproof.

For the recent extreme cold temperatures, I went out and bought old wool sweaters at a local thrift shop.  I cut them up and sewed them back together to make coat liners.  Wool blankets (or even fleece blankets) would also work great!

Patchwork wool coat liner.

So there you have it…a few ideas on how to keep your lamas warm this winter!  If you have any other tips that I didn't mention please share them!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knitting Pattern #3: Work Horse Fingerless Mittens

I just realized that I had taken pictures of my fingerless mittens a few weeks ago, so I can finally publish the pattern!

As with most of my patterns, these fingerless mittens were designed out of necessity.  I have pretty small hands, and I couldn't seem to find a simple pattern on Ravelry that fit snug enough to be functional.  I was looking for a pair of fingerless mittens that I could wear to death…thus the work horse fingerless mittens were born!  I have done just about everything in these mittens…I wear them to walk the dog, work in the garden, feed the llamas, put up fence, even at my computer in the house when it is really cold!  They have held up really well!

The best thing about this pattern is how easy it is to memorize and how quick it knits up!  I can make a pair of mitts in just a couple of hours.

So as promised…the pattern…

Work Horse Fingerless Mittens Pattern

Women’s small

Worsted weight yarn (Lion Brand Wool-Ease, 1 ball)
#5 DPN

CO 40 sts
Work 4x1 rib (k4, p1) for 3.5” (or desired length)

Set up thumb gusset:
Work 4x1 rib for 35 sts, m1 purling, k4, p1

Work 4x1 rib for 30 sts, k4, place marker, p1, m1 (the rest of these will be knit), p1, place marker, k4, p1
Work 4x1 rib to first marker, sm, p1, knit to purl st, p1, sm, continue in 4x1 rib to end of row
Work 4x1 rib to first marker, sm, p1, knit to purl st, p1, sm, continue in 4x1 rib to end of row

Thumb gusset:
Work 4x1 rib to first marker, sm, p1, m1, knit to purl st, m1, p1, sm, continue in 4x1 rib to end of row
Work 4x1 rib to first marker, sm, p1, knit to purl st, p1, sm, continue in 4x1 rib to end of row
Work 4x1 rib to first marker, sm, p1, knit to purl st, p1, sm, continue in 4x1 rib to end of row
Repeat these 3 rows until 15 sts (13 knit and 2 purl) between markers

Work 4x1 rib to first marker, p1, place 13 knit sts on scrap yarn or stitch holder, p1, continue in 4x1 rib to end of row
Work 4x1 rib for 30 sts, k4, p2tog, continue in 4x1 rib to end of row
Work 4x1 rib for 1.5” (or desired length)
Cast off

Pick 13 sts up from scrap yarn or stitch holder- knit
Where thumb joins the palm of the mitt, pick up and knit 3 sts between last stitch of thumb gusset and the first stitch of the thumb gusset- join to work in the round
K12, k2tog, k2tog
Continue knitting in the round for 5 rows

Cast off

I've knit a few pairs of these now, so hopefully the pattern is correct, but please let me know if you find any mistakes!  Enjoy!

They are now available on Ravelry too!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Building the Compost Pile

It seems like this entire summer/fall has been spent bouncing around from one project to another!  First it was the really important stuff like fencing and the barn, and now we've moved on to smaller secondary projects.  Of those, one of the most important was getting the compost pile constructed.

For those of you who don't know, I clean up the llama manure on a daily basis (or every 2-3 days).  This is mostly for parasite management, but it also allows me to harvest the manure for use in the gardens.  For the first month or so after the llamas moved in, I was dumping the llama manure around the established fruit trees in our small orchard.  Llama (and alpaca) manure has the wonderful quality that it can be used fresh- it doesn't have enough nitrogen to "burn" plants so it can be applied directly.  Composting is good (especially when there is hay or grass mixed in with the manure), but not always necessary.  It quickly became evident though that there weren't enough trees to fertilize, so we got to work building the permanent compost pile in the fenced garden area.

My compost-building companion, Abby.

In addition to using the manure/compost in our gardens here on the farm, I would also like to sell some starting next year.  So we definitely needed a permanent place for the compost to "brew".  I had seen plans on Pinterest for compost bins built with t-posts and wood pallets- this seemed like the easiest way to go, and I had already found a place to buy pallets pretty cheap.  I chose to put the compost pile in the corner of our fenced garden.  That way it would be out of the way, protected from the dogs, but still easily accessible with the tractor (so I can turn the pile with the front-loader).  Originally I wanted to build the pile so it was 2 pallets wide and 2 pallets deep (it would be 3-sided).  This was wide enough for the front-loader to easily turn the manure.  However, after a month of adding manure to the pile this looked much too small, so we expanded it another pallet wider.  It currently only has 2 sides…I'm waiting to see how it works this winter to decide if I want to add the 3rd side in the spring.

Pallets ready for use.

First we had to set some t-posts.  I measured the spacing for the t-posts by using the pallets, so they would fit snugly.  Then my husband set the posts in the ground with a manual post driver.

Metal t-post after being set.

Next we lifted each pallet over its t-post, and set it in place.  I later went back with some 14-gauge high-tensile fence wire and wired the edges of the pallets together for extra stability.

One side of the compost pile wired together.

The corner wired together.

And that's it!  It was really easy to build, and it looks to be very functional.  Only time will tell how well the pallets manage to keep the manure/compost contained.

The finished compost pile (version 1).  It now has an extra pallet on both sides.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Farmer's Market Wrap-Up & Looking Towards Next Year!

Well I thought I was being good about posting regularly…until I realized it has been over a week since my last post!  Sorry about that!

Anyway, the farmer's market up in Hamilton is FINALLY over!  I'm very glad that I ended up trying it this year, but by the end it was a very cold way to spend a Saturday!  Overall sales were pretty good.  My mother-in-law's doll clothes did very well at the beginning, and once it got cold my knit accessories (hats, gloves, scarves, etc.) sold nicely.  Plus I got a TON of spinning in, and got to educate the public.  All in all not a way to spend a few months' worth of Saturdays!

My knit item display.  I love displaying scarves like this, but once I have more inventory I need to adjust it to hold more hats, ear bands, and mittens.

Any ideas how I can make this work for 30-40 hats/mittens/cowls/earbands?

The rest of my display.  There are doll clothes on the table, along with other random things (stitch markers, handspun yarn, insoles, etc.)

Now that my in-person sales are almost over (see below), I've listed most of my remaining inventory on my Etsy site.  I have a great selection of felted bags and rugs, and some gorgeous handspun yarn.  And of course the usual selection of hats, scarves, mittens, and cowls.  There is something for everyone!

A new felted bag my mom made.

I do have one more in-person sale left, the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  One of the other vendors at the farmer's market suggested that I try this "Christmas Bazaar" at a school just north of Hamilton, so I thought I would give it a shot.  The entry fee wasn't too expensive, and it is INDOORS!  Hopefully it is a successful day.

Some gorgeous new handspun merino/yak/silk yarn.

Before I start making more inventory for next year, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what items I want to make.

As far as knit items go, I think I just need more inventory.  I had a lot of people asking for hats (which I ran out of), and the fingerless mitts and ear bands sold quite well.  The cowls were a bit slower, but I love making them so they're still on the list.  I'd like to be able to make 10-15 of each type of item, in a variety of sizes and colors.

My favorite cowl of the year!

In terms of handspun yarn, I'm thinking about trying a new approach.  I'm going to try and design 5-6 new knitting patterns (1-2 for a few different yarn weights), and then sell kits with handspun yarn and the pattern.  Advertising the patterns (and yarns) on Ravelry should help drive traffic to my Etsy store, and the kits might be more successful than just selling random skeins of yarn.  I'm planning on designing a hat, cowl, and fingerless mitt pattern at the very least, but hopefully I can come up with a few more small project ideas.  I already have one fingerless mitt pattern that might work for worsted weight yarn.

The fingerless mitt pattern I designed last year.  Eventually I will get organized and publish it!

One big decision I need to make fairly soon is whether or not to try and get into some fiber festivals for next year.  I have quite a bit of roving that I could sell, but I'm not sure I'll have enough handspun yarn inventory by spring to really make it work.  I'll have to keep thinking…

Some of the new roving I got back from the mill.  This is brown llama, teal merino, and green firestar.

Once again I have more ideas and plans than will probably ever get turned into reality, but at least I have something to strive for!  Hopefully next year is a great one for my fiber business!

Kara says "hi"!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rhinebeck (aka NY Sheep & Wool Festival) 2013!

I had a pretty busy weekend last week...spent most of the day Saturday spinning at the Hamilton Farmer's market (unfortunately didn't sell a whole lot), and then spent ALL day Sunday at Rhinebeck (aka the NY Sheep and Wool Festival)!

I've always wanted to take a spinning class at a fiber festival, and I figured Rhinebeck was the place to do it!  I found 2 spinning classes that looked interesting, and ended up signing up for the one about spinning different thicknesses in yarn (I think it was called "Spin it Thick, Spin it Thin").  The class started at 9am, and Rhinebeck is almost 3 hours from Norwich, so it was quite the early morning.  The class was very interesting, but I didn't get as much out of it as I was hoping.  (I'm hoping that means I know more about spinning than I originally thought!)  It was still a great experience though.

After the spinning class, I went to check out my competition entries.  About a month ago, I sent 4 items to be judged: a felted bag with flowers, a handspun Polwarth skein, a handspun alpaca/silk skein, and a handknit cowl.  As it turns out, I can't read directions and the festival management can't write directions!  I had the cowl disqualified because I used yarn with bamboo, which apparently isn't a "natural" fiber.  I also had the alpaca/silk skein disqualified because I forgot to write the fiber content on the information card, even though the directions didn't say to do so!  I was bummed, but my other 2 items placed well so I can't be too upset.  My Polwarth skein got 3rd in the 2-ply natural wool class, and the felted bag got 2nd in the felted class!

My Polwarth skein is the white one in the middle with a ribbon!

My felted bag!

Another picture with better lighting.

And of course the most important part of the day was shopping!  I had 2 Christmas presents to shop for (one was yarn for a cowl, the other can't be mentioned), and found exactly what I was looking for.  I also splurged and bought some roving for myself...8oz of dyed Cormo pencil roving, 1 pound of natural Cormo roving, and 4oz of dyed silk!  I have no idea what I'm going to do with any of it, but it was too gorgeous to pass up!  I'm actually thinking about knitting something for myself out of the dyed Cormo!  (Shame on me for not taking pictures of my loot!)

Rhinebeck is also great because of all the entertainment they have!  They once again had frisbee and flyball demos from a dog rescue group, as well as sheep herding!


Border collie herding sheep.

She was really good!

Gotta love the border collie crouch!

I miss flyball so much!

It was a long weekend, but all in all a great one!  I have one more long day tomorrow (another farmer's market day in Hamilton), but I'm going to sleep in on Sunday!