Monday, May 30, 2011

Alma Park Shearing makes the front page of the Asbury Park Press

Shearing was covered this year by the Asbury Park Press.  Lots of positive comments (including a note on my A Mama for Mr. Frost Childrens book) in the article, some of the sale figures are off and I don't send my fiber to the co-op, but all in all - positive to my farm and hopefully  positive to the alpaca market as a whole!

Click here for full article.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Skirting, sorting and grading alpaca fleece

I know I haven't posted in 2 weeks, as a friend who stopped by the farm yesterday pointed out (you know who you are). . . so I thought I would write what was on my mind today.

As I was skirting through fleeces that were just sheared last weekend, I am always amazed at how much you can learn about your breeding program with the fleece OFF the animals.  Skirting, sorting and grading is the best way to see just how your breeding program is working.

We do not put fiber right in the bag during shearing but we treat each fleece as if it were a show fleece.  This is the best and easiest way to skirt, sort and grade.   It is also the best way to evaluate a fleece.  Having it thrown in a bag doesn't tell you nearly as much!  

Following is a quick overview in pics of how to properly gather a fleece so that skirting/sorting/grading work is minimized. . . more pics and info will be available in my new book being published this summer/fall name "Alpaca Yarn - from Mating to Market"™

If you are interested in learning more or want to be part of a future skirting/sorting/grading course - please contact us for more info. 

Putting the paper under the alpaca to catch the entire blanket
Blanket is almost completely off - see person to the right ready to pull the paper

Straightening out the fleece and putting all cut side up

Wrapping up the fleece like a sushi roll

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why alpaca fiber will remain a cottage industry

Alpaca fiber will remain a cottage industry at least for the foreseeable future because there is a constant blurring of the lines when it comes to livestock sales vs fiber. You don't have to pick one (showing vs fiber), but you DO have to understand the difference and profit motives for both.

For years, folks that have had alpacas simply for fiber have been looked down upon as having "inferior" animals. Other folks still believe that their entire herd is "seed stock", when in fact all other livestock models say there is about 10% - 15% of the population are seed stock and the rest are "commercial". (Read my blog post about seed stock vs commercial) In most other livestock - commercial means market or meat animals.  In our industry, up until now - it has meant nothing - because everyone thought everyone of their animals are "seed stock".  I would like to define (for the purpose of this article), commercial animals are meant for the end use market (in the alpaca industry now - it is fiber) .

So now I have both seed stock, commercial and dual purpose animals in my herd.  There are some animals that I dub "yarn animals" that would never do well in a typical AOBA show ring, so I simply don't show them and quietly breed them for the fiber market.  

Alpaca United (an entity borne out of the Build a Tent Meeting), is going to try to "brand alpaca fiber" so that we can have a demand (commercially) for alpaca fiber.  Yesterday I posted on FB (as well as someone else posting on Alpaca Nation) that having a link on the Alpaca United FB page to a Steering Committee/AOBA BOD member's website was one of the reasons I could not support them as a group.  It caused so much controversy that Nick Hahn felt the need to email me a ridiculously long email about his credentials and stated "I know you're a leader in the industry and we need your understanding and support"  and that "any breeder is free to post their site on AU page including you". And then he actively posted and encouraged people to post links to their farm pages on the AU Facebook page.  NOW I ask you --- is that why you (if you did donate money), donated $250 for ?  So that they can spend your money on Facebook ad (and it can be pricey)  to send people to the Alpaca United page so that there are links to farm pages having nothing to do with fiber????

I will keep my $250 - because I can process at least 10 pounds of fiber at any mini mill in the country and get back MUCH more that a modest return and it won't take me 5 years.

Food to think about people . . . .

Monday, May 9, 2011

Alpaca Fiber - gaining recognition among breeders?

In the past two weekends, I attended two different alpaca shows. . . one in NJ and one in PA.  There were a lot of breeders that I have know for years and a lot of breeders, that were either new or that I was unaware of in the past. 

The theme I saw over and over again from breeders I have known is "Fiber" with tag-lines on their banners such as "Fiber Shop" or "It's about the fiber" or "Our focus is on fiber".   While you may be thinking well that is a good thing, people are finally getting serious about fiber, I have a different take on it.  For years, the majority of alpaca people did nothing with their fiber.  They gave it away on Ravelry, sold it for $5 a pound raw, used it as compost, told prospective alpaca buyers that you could not make money off of it etc etc.  There were always those of us (like Alma Park), that used every ounce of fiber and touted that "thar is money in them that fiber'.   And let's not forget Alpaca United - born out of the Build a Tent work shop which is trying to "brand" alpaca fiber  and produce "a modest cash return in year 5 and forward".  Are you kidding me???? 5 years?  I am making MUCH more than a "modest cash flow" now and I don't have to give anyone $250 to do it.  I also find an AOBA BOD members involvement in AU to be a conflict and the new CEO visiting farms who never had or never will have a focus on fiber insulting.  I also find the fact that the CEO is an active real estate agent troubling if he is supposed to have a fiber consulting organization.   AFCNA is just recently returning a "modest return" on contributors fiber and I see AU, AOBA and AFCNA duplicating efforts and wasting money. 

I feel breeders have jumped on the bandwagon because they are not seeing the returns on the breeding end of the market that we all once did. . . .but alpacas (on the livestock end) still command a high price for low volume of work.  Higher than much other livestock in the US today and are quite easy to care for.  It makes me (and other fiber folks) chuckle because some of these new found alpaca fiber enthusiasts act like it is something new or "focus on fiber" is a new focus or a new idea or concept.  My tag line and mission statement have been the same since we started our farm in 2002 and continues to be a "focus on fiber".

Alpaca showing is necessary for marketing and recognition, but we need to concentrate on the fleece more.  We also need to make people aware that what wins in the show ring is not necessarily superior fleece for yarn.  Super crimp in huacaya is not necessary for good yarn (although it does produce a different and more lofty yarn) and neither is tight pencill locks in suri.  As a matter of fact, the flat lock type (in suris) is preferred for processing.

What we need to concentrate on in our herds is consistency!!!  This will allow a lot less labor in skirting, sorting and grading. 

There was a thread on one of the online forums the other day about coating alpacas and if that "keeping them coated and clean provides an unfair advantage in the show". . . I wanted to respond, but did not feel like being flamed.  An unfair advantage?  Are you kidding me people, if coating them keeps their fleece clean and we are SUPPOSED to be a fiber industry - they it should be applauded NOT penalized.  I actually have researched coating them over the last several years and wavered because I was worried about the hot, humid NJ summers . . . but am actually going to coat my crias and juvis, a a few of my top show boys this year following shearing.

The fiber is my passion!  Even before I had the animals, I sought out alpaca yarn to crochet with.  Fiber will always be my passion!!

If you want fiber to be your passion too - contact us and we will show you how!

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Champion Grows at Alma Park

Thor - Fleece at 5 months
Ever since we first looked at alpacas, I was drawn to the white ones. Sure, I love the colors and my patterned line of alpacas, and the beautiful yarn and roving I make from them, but I always envisioned my perfect alpaca in white!! Well, over the last few years I have produced some pretty wonderful white animals. Alma Park Mr. Frost (the subject of my latest child's storybook) is an incredible male, but we never showed him as it took 2 1/2 years to figure out who the sire was, so I was never validated. Also, since the male who turned out to be the father is not the male I chose to breed, I do not this I "grew" him. Frost is a very special male who will always have a home here at Alma Park and I do expect great things from his progeny. I will be showing his fleece at PAOBA this weekend. Another amazing male we have is Ant'ny, who took 4 out of 15 at PAOBA in 2010, however, he had a compression fracture of his leg recently and had to sit out the 2011 show season due to surgery! Ugh - I will also be showing his fleece this weekend. Again, I bought his mom pregnant, so he again was not "grown" at Alma Park. And then there was Thor. . . my choice, my female (Juliette) and my little champ!! I did not expect Thor to be a white, as his mother is a rose grey, I was hoping for grey, but I am truly happy that Thor is what he is. His mother, FMF Juliette, is a spectacular full Chilean with a remarkable handle to her fleece. His dad is a mostly Peruvian White who normally throws color and is partially Aliznza, dense with high frequency crimp and good fineness.  I was impressed with Thor from birth, he was strong, upright and very masculine and had fiber to his toes! His fiber was bright and crimpy and I had high hopes!

We have been breeding since 2002, and had no mentor, and the internet did not have the info on it that it does today. So, I started my breeding program basically by trial and error, and breeding "pretty" animals to each other. Then I got a little more savvy and since I have an engineering background decided that there had to be some science behind it. I started keeping my own set of EPDs (although that is not what I called them because I never heard that phrase until 4 years ago) on fleece characteristics (subjective), histograms (objective), conformation (somewhat subjective), and lineage including country of origin. I have done very few outside breedings over the years because I prefer to own the genes.

I always said, jokingly of course, that "I want a WHITE COLOR CHAMPION" Banner and then I can retire!! Well, this weekend we got the banner - but of course I am NOT retiring!! Now that I have one in the white category, I want MORE.

Alma Park Thor took the blue in a yearling class of 7 and then went on to get the champion banner at the New Jersey Alpaca Show and Sale, May 1st, 2011. Unlike my shock of winning Sebastian's Champion banner in 2008, I was a little more prepared and a little more confident in this one because Thor's blue ribbon was won in a larger class and Tim Lavan (who also gave Sebastian the banner), looked at 12 different spots in his fleece on his inspection. In my mind, I knew that must be good and that he was seeing just really how consistent this little guy was!!
Alma Park Thor at 2 weeks old

That is my second banner under Tim Lavan, and he definitely has a tell (I would love to play poker with him). When he has the banner in his hand, he looks at each animal in the line up EXCEPT the one he is going to win. He did that with Sebastian and he did that with Thor. So him stepping toward me with the purple banner, while exciting, was no shock.

Tim Lavan's comments included: solid conformation, very upright, proud stance, high frequency crimp and very consistent through the entire blanket, fine, dense and amazing brightness to his fleece. My friends told me that the crowd "wowed " when Tim opened the blanket and the comments included : "how bright" and "how white" his fleece was.

It was a good day indeed!!