Learning is a Treasure
By Joan Myers, AFBF Women’s Leadership Committee NE Region Representative
Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will.
I have been around farm animals all my life! I was raised on a small dairy farm in Pennsylvania and was active in 4-H Dairy Club. My father and mother farmed 150 acres and milked 60 Holstein cows. My parents also had chickens and it was my job to gather the eggs. To this day I do not like chickens! Nothing against the chicken farmers because I am thankful for the eggs and meat you produce; but my memories of chickens are not pleasant.
When my husband and I married in August 1971, he moved me to the other end of the county and broadened my horizon in the field of “farm animals”. At the time, he and his father were farming 650 acres and feeding 600 grain fed Holstein bulls and had a farrowing operation. Over the course of our first 9 years of marriage we had veal calves and a feeder to finished swine operation. My in-laws lived in the farm house, which was a double house and they lived in the one end and my husbands’ grandparents the other end. Grandfather raised chickens and when he decided he was going to quite raising chickens my husband had the nerve to say to me, I think you should take over raising the chickens. With much determination I told him that was not happening! In 1980, we decided to return to dairy farming and remained dairy farmers for 25 years. Presently, we are raising grass fed beef.
So, up until now my exposure to “farm animals” has been what people normally picture on the farm: dairy cows, pigs, chickens, beef cattle and veal calves. This all changed three weeks ago when I met my new “farm animal” obsession……ALPACAS!
At the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference, various tours were available; so I decided I would like to visit an Alpaca Ranch. It was time to experience another kind of “farm animal” in my life. We arrived at the Quarry Critters Alpacas Ranch (www.quarrycrittersalpacas.com) located in Littlestown, Pennsylvania. This is home to an adorable and high-quality herd of ARI registered alpacas. Owners Julie and David Wysong started their alpaca farm in 2005, as a fun and profitable way to enjoy their retirement together. They were new to farming as Julie taught first grade and David is a construction project manager. The Wysongs breed and raise alpacas for resale and for their fantastic fleece.
Alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Incan civilization and played a central role in the Incan culture that was located on the high Andean Plateau and mountains of South America. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984. There are two types of alpacas – the Huacaya and the Suri. The life span of the alpaca is about 20 years and gestation is 11.5 months. Alpacas eat grasses and chew a cud like a cow. They are about 36 inches tall at the withers and weigh 150 pounds.
The alpacas are gentle and easy to handle animals. Alpacas can be raised on relatively small acreage and they are a clean, safe, quiet, intelligent and disease resistant animals. Alpacas are safe as they don’t bite or butt. Little harm can be done because the alpacas don’t have incisors, horns, hoofs or claws.
From the Alpaca to our backs….
Shearing… Alpacas are prized for their fleece that is shorn annually in a manner that does not harm the animals. The fleece is extremely soft, comparable to angora and yet very strong and extraordinarily warm. The US navy has used alpaca garments as insulation under wet suits. Its inflammable nature makes alpaca products safe to wear. Alpaca is popular to everyone in the fiber industry from hand-spinners and knitters to the high fashion industry in Europe.
Skirting…The freshly shorn fiber is spread out over a mesh table. The grass clippings, dirt, twigs and any other matter is removed from the fleece. The mesh table will allow all the matter to fall through the mesh while the imperfections are picked out of the fiber. A fiber tumbler works in the same manner.
Washing…After the skirting the fiber gets washed. The alpaca’s fiber is not greasy like other wools. The fiber is gently put into mesh bags, keeping them loose and using enough water so the fibers are thoroughly cleaned. If the fiber is mixed or agitated in the water too much, the fiber will interlock and become one large matted fur ball that is useless.
Drying…The fiber is taken out of the mesh bags and put on the skirting table to dry. The fiber is fluffed so that it can breathe and the air can circulate through the fiber.
Carding the Fiber…To make the fiber usable the fiber now has to be carded. The carder basically takes the fiber and faces all of the fiber in one direction.
Plying…This process takes several strands of yarn and twists them together into a multi-ply yarn which will be much stronger and more durable than a single twisted spin.
Spinning…The fiber is ready to be spun into yarn. An alpaca produces fleece each year to create several beautiful soft, warm sweaters for its owners comfort.
Felting…Alpaca’s fiber is needled with felting needles which have barbs that tangle the fibers together. This is another way of using the alpaca’s fleece.
Do you know that alpacas are environmentally friendly? The alpaca’s feet are padded and they leave even the most delicate terrain undamaged as it browses on native gasses. The dung of the alpacas is used for fuel and gardeners find the it a rich fertilizer perfect for growing fruits and vegetables.
I became captivated with these interesting, unique, gentle, cute, adorable stuffed-liked animals. The alpaca is becoming my new “farm animal”. Just as my daughter feared when she found out I was going to the Quarry Critters Alpaca Ranch, I fell in love with the alpaca and I really want to see them be a part of the Myers Family. I think I see a new type of farming coming to the Myers Homestead….ALPACA Farming (as soon as I can convince my husband)!
Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.
Anthony J. D’Angelo