Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fall on the Farm

We finally got some rain here in the northwest and the grass is growing. I enjoy the new green, and the alpacas are happy to be out munching! What I find strange is to see them eating the ponderosa needles that have fallen!
BMCA Jenna
Jenna is expecting a cria next July. The father is Brown Sugar, another dark brown suri. Don't have a picture of him yet--he is new to Big Meadow Creek Alpacas.

I've been busy knitting lately. I will have a booth at the Moscow Winter Market at the 1912 Building on November 16 and December 14 with lots of new items, many made with alpaca yarn from my own animals.

In the meantime, I have alpaca socks in stock. Two types, both made in the USA.  OUTDOOR ADVENTURE socks have a nice terry lining and are made from 44% alpaca (the balance from microfiber, nylon and lycra) SUPERWARM socks are thicker, with 45% alpaca (acrylic and nylon for the rest). Both types can be machine washed and dried. Go to the online store at the BMCA website:   or if you are in Troy, stop in at Backyard Treasures.

More later!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring in Troy is an April Fool's Trick

Look out the window!  The wind blows--the  tops of the trees bow to the east. Then the rain comes down in sheets, followed by hail. The driveway in front of the house is white for just five minutes. And then the sun shines through the clouds! Yes, it's still April, so, it is to be expected!

But the Palouse is beautiful in the spring--the winter wheat greens the hills and newly plowed fields darken. Even under cloudy skies, the landscape is beautiful.

Fortunately, last Friday morning brought lovely, true spring weather, with blue skies and soft breezes. I was honored to speak at the funeral of Charlie Argersinger, composer, jazz pianist and husband of my good friend Jana. And in honor of his music, the funeral echoed the New Orleans-style funerals, with a jazz band leading the casket through the lane at Moscow Cemetary to its final resting place. Buds on the bare branches of the trees, green grass--a lovely setting for such an affair--sad, but at the same time, uplifting.

I hadn't seen Jana and Charlie's son, Forest, for many years. I worked with Jana when I was a grad student at WSU, fortunate enough to get a year's assignment on the literary journal ESQ. Jana would bring Forest to work with her. I was determined that he would learn to say my name first! "Judy, judy, judy," I would say to him as he laughed at me.

I get nostalgic thinking of those days when I never would have imagined myself living with a herd of alpacas! Hawthorne, Poe, Melville and the Chicago Manual of Style! Searching through the old books for non-copyrighted illustrations; debating usage--such enjoyment. The days before I learned the words finite-difference-time-domain, Schroedinger and Fourier transform!!

I learned one of the best lessons in life while working with Jana on ESQ. I had searched for many hours before I found the perfect illustration for an article on Moby Dick. The old book sat in our office, a Post-it holding the place, until it was time to send the journal for printing. As I removed the Post-it, the page tore! Just about an inch, but there was no way to hide the tear. I was devastated. The picture was perfect for the article, but now, ruined! And it was my fault. It seemed like a DISASTER to me. But Jana asked, "What difference will this make in a year?" And of course, the answer was, "None."

So many "things" in our life that seem to matter so very much at the time make no difference in a year, a month, a week. It's hard to let go, to sit back and relax. But I often think of that day when I do something that I regret. Life goes on. A simple lesson.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Spring "Bus-e-ness"

It's almost summer, and we're not sure here in  Troy, ID, that spring really came. We've had more than enough rain. But the daffodils did bloom!

And we got ready for shearing. Fortunately, it did not rain on shearing day. Lots of folks came to watch, to sit and spin or knit, or to help (those who helped get my grateful THANKS!).

Cathy D. spins alpaca
We got 28 animals sheared, 15 of mine, some alpacas belonging to others and three llamas. A friend of mine took some great pictures that she's put on flickr. If you want to see the process, which shows my wonderful shearer and his exceptional shearing table, take a look at
(While you are there, take a look at some of her yarns and batts! She does some beautiful dying!)

Someone looked at the pictures and asked "why is there a sock on the black alpacas nose?" The answer is also the answer to another question: do alpacas spit? The answer is: "In their 11th month of pregnancy, especially when getting sheared!"  Leyla, as of today, is three days overdue. But we're having another cold, windy, cloudy day, so she won't give birth. You see, alpacas (generally--I'm sure there are exceptions) give birth on sunny days between 10 am and 2 pm!  Very convenient for the owners.

And shearing day was a good tryout for my new dog--Sam I Am. I don't (or didn't) think of myself as a dog person, but I keep chickens on the farm--not only because I enjoy free-range eggs and sell them, but because the chickens keep the bug population down! Early this spring, I had at least 18 chickens and one rooster. As the coyotes came and went, I ended up with one rooster! Rosebud (as his former owner named him for his tight comb), as gentle as he had been with the "girls," must know how to fend for himself. So, it came down to this: chickens and dog, or no chickens.
Sam I Am
Fortunately, an acquaintance of mine who had sheep and chickens was preparing to move permanently to New Zealand and had a dog she needed to rehome. I reluctantly called her, knowing the dog was a Great Pyrenees but not knowing gender or age, but I knew Pyrs were known for roaming. Sam turned out to be a one-year old male that had lived with sheep.

So I brought him home. And I'm now a dog person. He has adjusted so well! The alpacas were frightened at first--most of them had never been around a dog. But Sam pays them barely any attention and he calmly lay in the yard while we were shearing, with traffic and animals coming in and out of the place (he was on a chain).

Now, is he going to help me keep chickens. Well, I know he will chase coyote. One of my crew heard the alpacas give a warning call and saw a coyote--he then watched Sam chase after it!! But, I have a funny chicken story. The mother of Madi (my animal manager) brought four chickens out for me and they were put in the coop while I was otherwise busy. Later that evening, I went up to look at them. One panicked and flew out the coop window and starting running around the area that we have penned in, just to keep new chickens in place until they know their home. Well, she just ran around cackling; Sam kept watching with great interest, tail up high--I kept saying, NO!!! But the hen found a place to get out under the fence and ran cackling down into a highly wooded area. Sam followed in pursuit. No way for me to follow. I heard silence, then cackling, more than once.

Very disappointed, I assumed that Sam would end up eating her, and since I got Sam to help me keep chickens, I went into the house, sat at the computer and tried to find information about what to do. Then I heard, outside my window, cackling!! Went outside! Sam had caught and brought back the hen! She was a bit beat up, feathers missing, but no bleeding. Supposedly, he's purebred Pyr, so I wouldn't expect him to be a herder! But apparently, that's what he thought he was doing--returning the chicken to me.

So I need to find out how to stop chickens from panicking and running away!!

So enough for now. But here's a before and after shearing picture of one of my alpacas, Lexy.
Lexy with and without fiber.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Knitting Granddaughter

I visited my granddaughter (and her father and mother) in Tennessee this Christmas. I enjoyed getting to know this precocious 7-1/2 year old who is a tough little girl! We played catch, and she could throw harder than I could and catch better than I ever could. Ellie plays basketball; was in gymnastics before too many other sports took her away--and I think her arms are stronger than mine! You don't say "pink" around Ellie! She fishes and hikes with her father in the Great Smoky Mountains.
And now she knows how to knit! Here she is with the scarf she knit (well, she knit at least half of it!). I cast on for her and was amazed at how quickly she caught on. It's a ten stitch row--she would knit two or three rows and then ask me to knit six! She really sped up as she progressed, learning how to push the point of the needle so her old stitch would come off and recognizing when she made a mistake that needed fixed. She also added the fringe by herself! Next visit, the purl stitch!

I did have a disappointment--As you can read in an earlier blog, Ellieowns Leroy, one of my alpacas. I spun Leroy's fiber and tried to knit her a sweater from her own alpaca. I still spin too tight, so it wasn't as soft as it could have been (which she noticed right away) and it turned out to be too small for her, especially the width of the arms.  But I knew she appreciated the thought--we spent some time looking at the alpaca farm website, talking about Leroy and other alpaca things.
One of my spinning/knitting ventures this Christmas was a success, though. Madi got a scarf made from Madison! BMCA Mitchell and BMCA Madison were both born in 2009 and named for the sister (Madison) and brother (Mitchell) who work on the farm and noticed first when the dams were getting ready to give birth. Both the alpacas now belong to their mother who said she would now always have a Mitchell and Madison at home! They are greatly loved by Madi's twins sisters who call them paca-doos! This is what BMCA Madison looked like before shearing in June 2011.

Anyway, I spun up fiber from Madison and knit a lace scarf for Madi for Christmas. She said it was "BEAUTIFUL," and when she showed it to her mom, her mom said she would have to learn how to spin and knit. Here's a picture of the scarf, on blocking wires the night before Christmas eve!
I'm going to unknit Ellie's sweater and use Leroy to make a vest for me!

I might wait til Ellie's older, or I'm a better spinner, to try to knit her another original!

Monday, October 31, 2011

In the News!

"An English major from Pittsburgh never would have guessed she'd become an alpaca farmer in northern Idaho, but at age 70, Judy LaLonde is "totally happy" with her lifestyle." That is how a Daily News article about me and the farm begins.

It's always fun talking about the farm, the fiber and the alpacas! Don't know that they needed to include my age!

It wasn't easy to get a good picture! I had Leyla on a lead, but all she wanted to do was to get back in with the other alpacas, so the picture has her pulling on the lead, with her ears back! And she just wouldn't stand still.  That is, until the photographer left. Oh well!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alpacas Swimming and Fleece Cleaning

Yes, summer finally came to the Palouse--slow as spring! It's been an unusually cool and wet summer with few days in the 90s. That's good for the alpacas though, since they seem to have a harder time with heat here on the Palouse than they do with the winters. I'm assuming that this is because their homes in South American are at higher, and therefore cooler, elevations.

So we make sure the alpacas have a swimming pool in each pen!  Some of the alpacas just stand in the pools or use their front feet to splash water up at their bellies, but there are "swimmers" who take a full dip and sit down. To each his own!  This is BMCA Jenna taking her first dip of the year.

While the alpacas enjoy the summer grass and their swimming pools, I'm busy skirting fiber. What do I do with it then? I have several options--all of which I use.
Some of it gets sent off to small mills. I used a new mill this year in Lebanon, Oregon--Creekside Fiber Mills. Sent some fiber off this spring and got back about nine pounds of luscious alpaca/mohair/silk from four of my medium brown alpacas (Leroy, Miguel, Dominga and Jane Wagner).  It looks grey on my screen, but it's a great shade of medium brown. I'm selling it on my Etsy site (Alpacaknitter) and at the Yarn Underground in Moscow. 

I like what they did so much, I sent more fiber their way. I'm also trying out a mill in Pennsylvania--Lazy Meadows.

I take some of my alpaca after skirting and wash it myself. I'm lucky enough to have traded my crew's skills at trimming alpaca toes for a used top loading washing machine I keep in the garage. I fill it with hot water using a hose from my laundry room near the garage door. The fleece goes in with some dishwashing liquid and soaks and then gets spun out. I may soak an extra dirty fleece a second time, and rinse it. The usual method of drying is to set the fleece in the sun on screens or the skirting table--that can take a day or two, turning the fleece, rescuing it from bursts of wind, etc.

But this year, I had a great idea! The story goes back about 9 or ten years ago when I accompanied my brother Brad up to an appliance store in Spokane where he was talking/pricing range tops. I got bored with the discussion and wandered around the store. "Brad, come look at this!" It was a "drying system," a "two-story" appliance with a "regular" dryer on the bottom and a second story of shelves and racks for drying/airing stuff. I had never seen anything like it before!

I should have known better than to wax eloquent over anything, because when Brad went up to Spokane a few weeks later to pick up his new range tops, he drove back with the "system" for me! Funny thing was, it wouldn't fit into the house where I was living at the time. So, it's been sitting in Brad's (now my) garage for years, unused!

Lightbulb appearing over my head!! Could I set fleece on the shelves instead of sweaters??? YES!!!! A trial run and it worked! Takes less than an hour to dry fleece. Wonderful!

So now, I can sell washed fleece---so much better than the fleece straight off the alpaca. No matter how hard we try to clean them beforehand, using a shop vac even, there's always dust left! I don't wash the fleece that gets sent to mills, but this skirted, washed fleece is wonderful for spinners!

So I tried something else this year. An inveterate Ravelry-er, I asked if there were spinners who were comfortable with suri and made an offer--I'll send you clean fleece; you spin; you send me half and keep the other half!  I've had quite a few takers.

My first "return" came this week from Raveler Tara from Tennessee--she combined my suri with cormo (wool) and you'll have to take a look at the result on her flikr page:
I'm so happy with it!  Looking forward to seeing what I get from "my" other spinners!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Yes, It is Spring


Well, at least the bluebirds know what time of year it is!  They have been romancing my truck and its mirror and flying around having a good time.

Spring is such a mixed up time. Madi, the young woman who works for me, was so happy on Wednesday because she got to cut the grass on the farm! Having sun was so unusual, she forgot to put on sunscreen and so was suffering the following day (when it rained again!) We got up to nearly 80 degrees on Saturday, but we were spared the tornadoes and hail that were predicted! Early this morning it snowed--but of course, it didn't stay long!

Sunday, after a beautiful morning, it rained, but the Girl Scouts that came for a farm visit didn't seem to mind. They enjoyed visiting the alpacas, feeding grain and petting BMCA Madison and BMCA Leyla, who always love the attention. The group of older girls and geldings and Katherine, the llama, kept approaching the girls with their usual curiosity. The girls learned what it meant when I explained that alpacas were herd animals, as they pursued the animals to try to get them interested in the grain.

The girls collected eggs and laughed at the skinny, bare necks of the turkins! They each picked their "favorite" egg to take home. They also took small ziplock bags of alpaca poop home!

In the garage, after spending time with the animals, the girls used alpaca fiber dyed with Kool-Aid which they felted and strung along with beads to make zipper pulls. They feasted on cake and lemonade and worked on an alpaca crossword puzzle and word search.  I gave them a demonstration of spinning and they read the display boards that showed pictures of shearing, a cria birth, and other pertinent alpaca "facts."

"I really had fun!" one of the girls said to me. And her grandmother who came along as one of the chaperones decided that she really wants two alpacas!