MABA Maryland Alpaca and Fleece Festival 2018

MABA Alpaca and Fleece Festival

Fleece, Yarn, Crafts, and Food!

What better way to spend a November weekend? 

Come on out and visit the MABA Maryland Alpaca and Fleece Festival at the Howard County Fairgrounds – admission is FREE!

There will be a great variety of vendors, so you can be sure to stock up for all of your winter crafting needs.  The festival features a huge assortment of one-of-a-kind project supplies and high-quality fibers of all sorts.   This is the perfect place to find that special something for a holiday project or gift!

There will also be seminars and classes if you want to try something new or just hone a skill you already have.

Our booth will be in the dining hall this year, so no matter the weather, you will stay dry and comfortable when you visit us.  As usual, we will be offering hand-spun art yarns made with fleece from our herd.  There will also be cottage-milled yarns from our herd’s fleece, spun at a local mill.  Heather will have beautiful felted pieces of wearable art for sale as ready-made gifts as well.  In addition to the items for sale, we will offer live demonstrations throughout the day, including spinning and blending boards. 

Stop by and say hello!

For more information visit the MABA Maryland Alpaca and Fleece Festival site.

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You can also check our Events page here on the website.

MABA: Maryland Alpaca and Fleece Festival

Maryland Alpaca and Fleece Festival

Come and see us at the Maryland Alpaca and Fleece Festival!

We’ll be in the Dining Hall, in booths 10 & 11.  Rain or shine, we’ll be dry and comfy!

Admission is free, and there will be plenty of animals, vendors, and refreshments for a great weekend.

A Trip to Peru (part 1 of 2)

In September, we were lucky enough to go to Peru!  Well, Alex and the kids stayed home to take care of the farm. But my sister and I, as passionate alpaca breeders,  got to go to Peru and experience alpacas in their native environment and learn about the long tradition of alpaca-based textiles there.  Thanks, Alex and kids!

Today’s post will take a look at the incredible land alpacas call home and the alpacas themselves. A post next week will feature our visits to two different cultural heritage centers/museums.

The Land

So. Peru. We spent most of our time in various towns in the Sacred Valley, in the Cusco Region.  In this landscape, the Andes dominate, and are absolutely gorgeous.  We “oooooh”-ed and “aaaahhh”-ed enough during one drive that our blessed driver finally just laughed and pulled over so that we could get out and take some pictures.  How can you not be awestruck with views like this?

View of Sacred Valley

Looking down into the Sacred Valley

View of Sacred Valley

Just gorgeous!

Or, from the other direction, as it were, views like this?

Mountains

Looking out and up from the Sacred Valley

Do you see all of those lines going across the mountain in front?  Those, it turns out, are worn and ancient remains of stepped terraces cut into the mountainside by the Inca peoples of the region.  In fact, when we were at the pulloff spot taking the pictures from above the valley, there were ruins right behind us that were in better shape.

Ruins

There are ruins just about everywhere you turn, and it’s humbling to think how ingeniously (and how far up the mountains!) the people indigenous to this land worked with their environment to develop a thriving society.

The Alpacas

We were fortunate enough to meet up with an alpaca breeder in the area, Feliz, who agreed to take us to the land where he keeps his herds.  It wasn’t quite seeing alpacas in the wild, but the grazing lands he shares with his community are vast enough that they don’t fence alpacas in the way we have to keep them here in the states!  Feliz wasn’t quite sure how much land their community had for grazing, but he thought it was probably over 1,000 acres.

He and his son drove us out of town, then out of the smaller town, and then up, up, up into the mountains, where there were small villages that dotted the landscape.  Eventually the paved road gave way to packed gravel, and before it was over we were just literally driving up the side of a mountain where no road at all led the way.  It was not a trip for a person with a tendency to get car sick!

As we rode along, it seemed like Feliz was looking for the herds – not too surprising given how much land they have for wandering.  It turns out, that’s exactly what was happening, except technically he was looking for his aunt, who stays with the herd to keep an eye on them, and passes the time spinning fiber and weaving in the field.  When he spotted her, we all got out of the car and hiked our way down to where she was sitting with her weaving, and Feliz let us look around while he visited with her.

Rancher and Tia

Feliz and his aunt. He’s holding a slingshot, which he uses to throw rocks at predators that get too close to the herd. His aunt is spinning fleece with a drop spindle.

Our alpacas in Maryland have a pretty sweet life, but we couldn’t help but think they would be jealous of the space their cousins in Peru get to enjoy.

Grazing herd

Alpacas (and their sheep friends) have LOTS of room to roam in Peru.

It turns out that Feliz has three different herds of alpaca, and we were visiting one of them.  The other two herds had moved too far from the road for us to get to – it was looking for the second that we ended up driving up the roadless mountain!  Fortunately, while we were wandering around this first herd, we thought to ask Feliz if it might be possible to actually get a good look at the fleece on the animals. The herd isn’t what you’d want to call tame, but Feliz managed to sneak up behind one of the alpacas and grabbed a leg, which was impressive to watch.  Once he had the alpaca in hand, it was quite calm, and we got to go up and investigate.

Alpaca closeup

This beauty is the alpaca Feliz caught. Look at that fleece!

Because of the altitude and climate, they shear the alpacas every two years instead of annually.  The fleece gets unbelievably thick, and we were wondering just how long it was on these Huacaya that are due to get their shearing in March.  The density and crimp of the fiber was incredible.

Fleece closeup

No wonder they stay so toasty warm in the mountains!

How lucky to be able to visit this alpaca breeder’s herd!  It was kind of him to take the time to pick us up, drive us out there, and show us around, not to mention catching an alpaca!  It’s hard to imagine ranching on the scale that he does – both in terms of the number of animals and the expanse of land.

One thing is for sure, though: no matter where you find them, alpacas are just about the sweetest animals around.

Alpaca hug

Feliz and his aunt with Heather and her new best alpaca friend.

Also, just because they were the happiest piggies I’ve ever seen, here’s a picture of some pigs, who were happily rooting around in the mountains with the alpacas and sheep.

Piggies

Happy pigs! The amount of earth they can throw around while they root is impressive.

6 Neat Uses for Soft Fluffy Alpaca Fleece

So, you’ve sheared your alpaca for the first time… or maybe you’ve bought some alpaca fleece in Maryland. But what to do with the fleece once you’ve got it? While selling it is certainly an option (who doesn’t need the money?), you should first take a look at how many cool things you can do with it yourself. You might know about some of its uses, but others might surprise you. Read on to find out more!

1. Yarn

Of course, you can turn your alpaca’s soft fleece into yarn. Anyone who’s a fan of knitting or crocheting can certainly appreciate some good quality fiber! Even if you don’t have the time or equipment to do the spinning yourself, there are many mills that are happy to process your fleece.  Most will even dye your fiber for you.  Imagine how many possibilities that opens up. Whether you decide to sell it, give it away, or make a masterpiece with it is up to you!

2. Clothing (especially winter wear)

Who doesn’t love attractive and comfortable alpaca fleece clothing?  Because alpaca fleece is hypoallergenic, anyone can include alpaca fiber clothes into their wardrobe.  Oftentimes, light-colored alpaca fleece can be dyed and handled in such a way that produces gorgeous shirts, bottoms, and clothing accessories. With the yarn produced from your better alpaca fleece, you can create the ideal shawls or cardigans for yourself or as gifts for your friends and loved ones.

Because alpaca fleece is so soft, warm, and comfortable, it’s ideal for winter wear. Imagine having light shawls during the summer and thick coats in the winter! Further, you can make gloves, hats, and scarves that are sure to keep you toasty and cozy during the coldest part of the year. What a blessing!

3. Felting

Just like sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece can be felted.  Felting the fleece opens up a whole new realm of crafting and fiber arts possibilities!  From fun and funky felted hats to delicate needle-felted accents on scarves to toys for kids of all ages, alpaca fleece felt produces items that are sturdy, hypoallergenic, and beautiful.

4. Rugs

If you think alpaca fleece is limited to clothing items, you can think again. Whether spun into super-thick rug yarn or felted, alpaca fleece produces durable and attractive rugs.  And, of course, since it’s alpaca fiber, it’s soft.  This makes it preferable to many wool rugs, which often use lower-quality wool; most feet agree that soft rugs are better than scratchy ones!  Who could argue?

5. Bedding

Using alpaca fleece for your sheets, blankets, or pillow cases can be one of the best decisions of your life. Nothing is better than a good night’s sleep, especially after a long and tiring day. That time in dreamland can be even more blissful when you’re surrounded by the warmth and comfort of alpaca fleece bedding. (You might not want to get out of bed in the morning, though!)  For smaller projects, you can create wonderful throws and afghans from alpaca fleece as well.

6. Toys

Almost every child has a toy they cling to at all times. If you’re in the market for a good child’s toy, you’re in luck! All of that extra alpaca fleece you have (if there’s any left by now) can be used to make the perfect toy. It’s almost guaranteed that your child will love a homemade stuffed animal toy made with real alpaca fleece. Such a toy is sure to put a smile on your child’s face! What better gift could you give?

Now that you’ve read through a variety of ways to use your alpaca fleece, why not get started? Of course not everybody has their own alpaca to shear for fleece.  We are thrilled to be a resource for alpaca fleece in Maryland, and invite you to peruse our collection of high-quality yarns, roving, and finished items.  You can stop by the Little Boutique at Breezy Hill in person or online.  We also will have booths in a few craft fairs throughout the year – check back for updates!

Shearing Day!

Back in April at Breezy Hill we had shearing day!  With our herd of about 40 alpacas, it was quite a project to get them all rounded up to the shearing shed and then trimmed up for summer.  Fortunately, we had great shearers (from Shear Perfection Farm, in Windsor, PA), who do good work quickly, and some wonderful volunteers who helped with restraining the alpacas and collecting the fleece.  Many hands make light work, or so they say.

alpacas

The alpacas mosey up toward the shearing area.

alpacas

The alpacas are not good at waiting single file.

There are a few different ways to restrain an alpaca during the shearing process, and none of them, done properly, cause the alpaca any pain.  On the contrary, the restraint prevents them from injuring themselves or the shearers, and makes the process go much more quickly.  It’s really better for everyone involved!   The method preferred by our shearer is called Australian Restrained shearing.  The alpaca is restrained between two “anchor points” and laid out on a mat, with its front legs bound together in one direction, and the back legs bound in the other.  This gives the shearer great access to the alpaca’s body and prevents any struggling that might result in bruises or worse.

shearing

“Oh, hello there.  I’m about to look so fresh!”

During the shearing, the alpaca gets turned over just once, which is nice for the animal and the shearer.  The shearing happens in specific sections: the blanket (back, sides, and belly), the neck, and the legs and haunches.  The blanket provides the best-quality fleece by far, but the other sections work well for felting, especially, and can become fiber for rugs and baskets and the like.  Depending on the size of the alpaca, and the density of the fleece, the fleece from one animal can weigh anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds!

Don’t tell the animals, but after shearing they can look a little silly.  You’d never know it by the end of the winter, before the shearing, but they have little noodle necks!

How does such a noodle neck hold up the head??? It’s a mystery.

Needless to say, we now have mountains of high quality fleece to clean and get to work on.  Before too long, we’ll have roving to dye (or not – the natural colors are beautiful too) and spin into incredible yarn or use in felting projects.

This fluffy cloud of roving (with a hint of filament for shimmer) . . .

. . . can become some of our beautiful hand-spun yarn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We take a lot of pleasure in working with our animals to produce unique fiber products truly from scratch.  It’s incredible to look at the alpaca, then look at the yarn we’ve created from its fleece – the transformation is definitely a testament to the quality of our herd’s fleece and to Heather’s creativity when it comes to dyeing and spinning the fleece into yarn!  Stop by the boutique when you visit the farm, and see how beautiful alpaca fleece products can be!

7 Reasons Alpacas Make Great Pets

Most people know that alpacas can be used as pack animals and that their fleece is valued for its silkiness. Pet lovers often ask if alpacas can make friendly pets. The truth is, these llama cousins are friendly and easy to handle. Besides being inquiring, they are also intelligent and sensitive. Additionally, they are calming to be around and show a quick response to gentle handling. Here are 7 reasons alpacas make great pets.

1. Alpacas Have Super-Soft Hypoallergenic Fleece.

If you have never touched alpaca fleece, you will be delighted at how soft it feels. Besides being fluffy and soft, alpaca fiber is naturally free from lanolin and other allergy-causing agents. Whether you want to hug an alpaca or make a blanket from its fleece, you are not likely to suffer the same redness and itchiness caused by other types of fiber. Additionally, alpaca fiber has been granted a class 1 rating by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission because of its flame resistant nature. This fleece is also water resistant, making it a warmer alternative to cotton, and a lightweight option to sheep’s wool.

2. Given Time, Alpacas Are Typically Receptive to Human Touch.

Every relationship is founded on trust. Once this amazing animal becomes acquainted with you, it will be much more receptive to your contact and touch. In fact, alpacas tend to be more similar to cats in behavior than to dogs. After establishing trust from familiarity, most alpacas will allow you to stroke their backs and necks, and even hug them! What’s more, alpacas are very friendly and even more receptive to children than adults, perhaps because children are small, and therefore less intimidating to be around with than adults.

3. Alpacas Have Different Personalities and Come in Many Shades.

Like people, alpacas are individuals, each one with a different personality. Some are shy and passive, some playful and boisterous, while others are proud and determined. They are not only fun to be around, but also curious about everything happening in their surroundings. Furthermore, alpacas are colorful creatures; their fur has been classified in 16 different shades. This attractive range of colors eliminates the need for artificial dying when their fleece is used in interior design or fashion. Alpacas’ special blend of characters and colors will make you spend most of your time strolling among them, watching, and being entertained by their antics.

4. Alpacas Are Easy to Train Compared to Other Pets.

Alpacas are perfect animals for training and can even be trained by kids using a leash and a halter. It is wonderful to watch children put alpacas through their paces — walking over crinkly obstacles, navigating between hay bales, walking across bridges, and even jumping small fences!

5. Alpacas Are Tidy.

As stated earlier, alpacas are more similar to cats in behavior than to dogs. An example of this is that they tend to love a communal dung heap. This quality is beneficial to you because it relieves you from the stress of collecting randomly scattered droppings. Thus, you can select an ideal spot for your alpacas to deposit their beans. Not only does this make clean-up easier, it provides you with a great source of perfect garden fertilizer. Alpaca dung is not “hot”, so you can take it directly to the garden without the risk of scorching your plants.

6. Alpacas Are Helpful.

Alpacas make great guardians of other herd animals like cows, goats, and sheep. They can co-habitate peacefully with most domestic herd animals, as they are not very intimidating to them. However, even though they are smaller than llamas, they do an excellent job keeping away small predators like possums, coyotes, weasels, and skunks. As a bonus, alpacas can help with your lawn mowing, because they bite off the tops of grass while grazing, rather than pulling it up by the roots like sheep.
And always remember, if the need arises, you can use them to transport your luggage from one place to another!

7. Alpacas Are Easy to Care For.

If you have one acre of land, you can comfortably keep up to ten alpacas. Their day-to-day upkeep and training is easy, but like any animal, alpacas need care and attention. Alpacas require regular feeding and easy access to plenty of clean water, of course, as well as adequate shelter from the elements. Additionally, plan on annual shearing, regularly scheduled vaccinations and de-worming, and routine toenail trimming. The cost of keeping alpacas varies depending on your plans and herd size.

Even though alpacas have some quirky behaviors like spitting when they are unsatisfied, more and more animal lovers are opting to keep them as pets because they are easy to look after, intelligent, and tidy. Time spent with alpacas is stress-relieving — perfect for forgetting about all the troubles of the world!

If you’re in the area and want to see just how friendly alpacas are, you should stop over at our alpaca farm in Md. We think you’ll agree that alpacas make great pets! After a fun visit with the animals, you can visit our store as well to see a beautiful variety of alpaca fiber products.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Alpacas

Most people know that these cute, furry llama cousins are native to some regions of South America, that they are used as pack animals, and that their fur is prized for its silkiness. However, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about alpacas.

Whether you love their adorable pouts and wide eyes or you’re interested in keeping domestic alpacas on your farm, there are a few things you might be surprised to learn about this member of the Camelidae family.

About Alpacas 1: They are Hypoallergenic

Pet allergies are not uncommon. These days animal breeds like hypoallergenic cats and dogs can cost a small fortune.

The same is not true of the trusty alpaca, whose fur naturally lacks the lanolin content that some attribute to itchiness. Whether you want to hug an alpaca or make a sweater from its fur, you’re unlikely to suffer the same itching and redness caused by other types of animal fleece.

About Alpacas 2: Their Fleece is Water and Flame Resistant

Not only is alpaca fur given a Class 1 rating by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission thanks to its flame resistant nature, but the fact that alpaca fleece is also somewhat moisture wicking makes it a lightweight alternative to sheep’s wool and a warm alternative to cotton.

About Alpacas 3: Alpacas are Colorful Creatures

No, we’re not talking about their personalities, although they are known to be a somewhat fun-loving and mischievous species. We’re talking about their fur, which has been classified in a whopping 16 different shades.

About Alpacas 4: They can be House Trained

Most people don’t realize that alpacas behave more like cats than dogs when it comes to waste elimination. They tend to prefer a communal dung heap.

This is most likely due to the fact that alpaca males smell female waste to determine the proper time for breeding. It works in your favor, though, because you can select an appropriate spot for an alpaca outhouse, so to speak.

About Alpacas 5: Alpacas are Quite Useful

Not only can they carry your packs and provide you with valuable fur, but a herd of alpacas could also replace your lawnmower. Unlike sheep, which tend to pull up grass at the roots, Alpacas behave more like goats by chopping blades of grass.

While some people keep alpacas as family pets, many around the world rely on them as a means of earning a living. Whether you create beautiful clothing from their fur, they help you to haul your goods to market, or you rent out your herd for landscaping and brush control, there are few animals more practical to own than alpacas.