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Posts Tagged ‘llama fiber’

One of the questions we often get asked is, “Just what do you do with a llama?”
Llamas are wonderfully versatile animals and there are lots of things that people enjoy doing with them.

1. Packing. After all, this is what they were bred to do for thousands of years in South America. The greatest advantage of llamas as packers is their low impact on the environment. Their padded feet do less damage to the trail than people in hiking shoes. They are much smaller than horses or mules with the average pack llama weighing between 300 and 400 pounds. Llamas require much less to drink than most pack stock. Since they are members of the camel family, they are able to obtain much of their water from the foods they eat.

Llamas on the trail

Llamas on the trail

2. Shows. There are llama shows all around the nation where llamas are judged on their fiber and conformation and they can compete in a variety of agility and obstacle courses.

Backing through hay bale maze

Backing through hay bale maze

3. Parades. Who doesn’t love a parade, and everyone loves to see llamas in a parade. We have walked with ours in several Christmas Parades. We dress them up in reindeer antlers and tinsel and they are the hit of the day. They have been real troopers and haven’t been spooked by the High School Bands, fire engines, horses, or dogs. AND I have never had to clean up poop behind them.

Christmas Parade

Christmas Parade

4. Fiber. One of the most prized byproducts of llamas is their fiber. Their fiber can be used to make anything that you can make out of sheep wool. Plus llama hair does not have lanolin and comes in a variety of natural colors.

We shear our llamas once a year, usually in April or May, when the temperatures are above freezing and the highs are in the 70’s. By the time winter comes around again, their coats are grown out enough to keep them warm. Shearing the llamas is an absolute necessity. Heat stress is a major killer for llamas, especially with the heat and humidity in Virginia.

Before and After Shearing

Before and After Shearing

5. Pets. Although we pack with our llamas as a business, they are first and foremost our pets and companions. The time we spend with them brushing and grooming, feeding them, and even cleaning up poop, is very relaxing and enjoyable. We talk with them and watch as they interact with each other. Llamas can be very entertaining and affectionate in their own way.

Oooo! The water tickles my tongue.

Oooo! The water tickles my tongue.

6. Therapy animals. Llamas are often taken to nursing homes and children’s hospitals to brighten the day and bring a smile. Llamas are intuitive and seem to sense the needs of others. They are very calm and gentle animals.

7. Guardians. Llamas make good livestock guards. They prefer to be with their own species, but they will adopt and bond with their new herdmates, be it sheep, alpacas, or cows. They are very protective against coyotes, wild dogs, and other predators.

8. Golfing. Believe it or not, there are golf courses that use llamas as caddies. I’m not much of a golfer myself, but I could get into the game if I could walk the course with a llama.

9. Carting. Llamas can also be trained to pull a cart. They can be used singly or as a team. I expect that it would take a good bit of time and patience to master this skill, but I can only imagine the attention that you would get driving your llama through the park.

10. Walking and jogging. Sometimes I want a change of pace from walking the dogs. I halter one of the llamas and take a relaxing walk around the neighborhood. The llamas are very curious and attentive, and it is entertaining just to watch them as they observe the interesting things along the way.

Taking a stroll with Domino

Taking a stroll with Domino

So you see, llamas can be much more than just a pasture ornament, though that is one of the greatest pleasures that they give to me. There is no better feeling than to gaze down on the fields, no matter the season, and watch the llamas as they bask in the sun, roll in the dust, munch grass, hike through the snow, or pronk around the fence in expression of the sheer joy of life. So, what do YOU do with a llama?

Taking a dust bath

Taking a dust bath

Dreaming of spring

Dreaming of spring

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The second most frequently asked question we get, after “do llamas spit?”, is “What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?” I’ll admit, to the untrained eye, it can be difficult to tell, but the number one giveaway is the ears. Llamas have very long, “banana shaped” ears, and alpacas have shorter, spear shaped ears, similar to a fox.

llama vs alpaca. jpg

The second giveaway is the size, but unless you see them side by side, it may not be so obvious to the newbie. Llamas are almost twice the size of an alpaca, averaging around 6 feet tall at the ears, whereas alpacas come in at about 5 feet. And llamas weigh between 250-350 pounds, with alpacas weighing in at only 100 – 175 pounds.

Other differences that you will notice are in the body shape. Llamas have a flat back or “top line” which makes them very good for carrying a pack. Their tails are set right off the end of their backs, whereas alpacas’ tails are sloped down from their backs. From the side, the llama has a longer face, a very noble profile, where the alpaca’s nose is very short and compact.

Llamas generally don’t have a lot of hair on their faces, but alpacas have a puffball face, much like a dandelion ball. The llama has a very coarse outer coat over a softer inner coat – as opposed to the alpaca, which has a very fine, single coated fleece.

As far as personality goes, there is a big difference of opinion. Llama owners say that llamas have the best personality, and alpaca owners think that alpacas are the best. But most are in general agreement that llamas are more independent and confident, making them easy to bond with. Whereas alpacas are shy and timid. Alpacas are very much herd animals and like to be with their herdmates.

But it is undeniable that both llamas and alpacas are very intelligent, easily trained, gentle and curious.

So to sum it up

table

So now you know the difference and you won’t embarrass yourself by yelling out “look there’s an alpaca” the next time you see a llama.

And for those of you who have asked us if our llamas are emus, you should be embarrassed. Please see below. ‘Nuff said.

emu vs llama

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Step by Step Tutorial on How to Build Your Own Box with PVC Pipe

Blowing out a fleece

After owning llamas for 11 years, I am finally starting to get interested in producing things with their wonderful fiber. Up until last year, we had been sending all of our fiber to mills that would process it from the fleece into a finished product, such as socks, rugs, scarves, and mittens.

I decided last year to have my llama fiber spun into yarn so that I could learn to make things myself. I have really enjoyed working with the yarn from my very own llamas. It is so soothing to feel its softness slip between my fingers as the intertwining loops grow into a finished creation.

I’m still very new to this process, but one thing I have learned is that there is a definite cost benefit to taking the extra time to prepare your fiber before sending it to a mill, or before processing it yourself if you are clever enough to be a spinner. When the mill receives your fleeces, the fees are initially based on the incoming weight. By the time it is processed into yarn, you can lose up to 50% of your initial weight if you haven’t cleaned it up a bit beforehand.

I’m only talking about llama and alpaca fiber here, as sheep wool contains lanolin, and requires additional steps, which I’m not going to go into. Before shearing, we carefully blow out our llamas to remove vegetation and dirt.

Blowing out the dust

Blowing out the dust

How llamas get so dirty in the first place

How llamas get so dirty in the first place

Then we brush them to further remove vm (vegetable matter). But even so, there will be junk that remains stuck in their hair. Then there are the inevitable second cuts, the small pieces of short fleece remaining in the fiber, caused by shearing the same area twice. All this waste will be processed out, but adds to your incoming weight.

Now— an easy way to clean up that fleece right off the animal, the Fiber Blow Out Box. (It’s still best to clean the fiber as well as you can while it is still on the animal). Just put your shorn fleece into the box and blow it with a Circuiteer high speed blower, or a leaf blower will do. This allows the fleece to tumble and separate so that the dust, trash, and short fibers are blown out of the mesh of the box.

blowing the dust out of the fiber--off of the llama.

blowing the dust out of the fiber–off of the llama.

I saw a version of a fiber blow out box at a recent llama conference and came up with a simple and inexpensive way to make one myself. I’ve been using PVC a lot lately in building agility equipment for my Goldendoodle pup, Bayley. PVC is lightweight, inexpensive, and very easy to work with. I’m not a “tool girl” and I only need one tool to make most anything with PVC.

PVC cutter. This one cost about $10.

PVC cutter. This one cost about $10.

These are the instructions for making your own blow out box. It will take a couple of hours and will cost less than $30 in materials. The finished size is 24” x 34”.
It is important to be accurate when cutting and gluing, making sure each pipe is fully seated in its connector, and your squares are as true as you can make them.

TOOLS
PVC cutter
Sharpie marking pen
Measuring tape

MATERIALS

You will need three 10′ lengths and one 5′ length of ¾” Schedule 40 PVC pipe. All of the connectors are for ¾” pipe. I designed the box with these measurements to minimize waste. If you cut one piece of 10′ pipe into four 22″ pieces, you will have 32″ left over for your side pieces. The fourth piece of 32″ pipe will be cut from the 5′ section.

All the pre-cut pieces, ready to be assembled

All the pre-cut pieces, ready to be assembled

1. 90-degree slip connectors (4)
2. 3-way corner fitting connector (8)
3. 22” pipe sections (12)
4. 32” pipe sections (4)
5. ½” plastic hardware cloth (36” by 15′)
6. White cable ties (8″ long) (100)
7. White Cable ties for door hinge (12″ long) (4)
8. Glue (see comments below)
9. Two 10″ mini bungee cords

ASSEMBLY

Let’s start with the 24” end squares. There will be 3. One square will serve as your opening door.

2 end squares and the door panel

2 end squares and the door panel

Start by gluing four 22” sections to four 3-way corner fittings. Once your square is assembled, place it on a flat surface and adjust so that it lays flat.

24" end square with 3 way corner fittings

24″ end square with 3 way corner fittings

A NOTE ABOUT GLUE
I don’t recommend using the PVC glue that is sold in the plumbing section. This stuff bonds IMMEDIATELY and does not allow for any readjustment that will be necessary to make sure all of your angles are true. Since this doesn’t have to meet a water pressure test, I have found that a plastic epoxy works wonderfully. This glue sets up in from 10 to 20 minutes, allowing you to tweak the joints once they are assembled.

Plastic welder

Plastic welder

Make the second end square the same way. Then make the door square using four 22” sections and the four 90-degree connectors.

Square for opening door with 90 degree corner fittings

Square for opening door with 90 degree corner fittings

Place one of the end squares flat on the floor, and stick one of the 32” sections in each joint gluing as you go. Then place the top end square in place and glue, pressing firmly to assure the pieces are fully seated.

Your box frame is now complete and ready to be wrapped in the plastic hardware cloth.

Cut the plastic netting to 9′. This will be too long, but we will cut it to size once it is attached to the frame. Lay the netting out on a flat surface and place the box on top so that one end of the box is aligned with the edge of the net. You want the net to be the exact width of the box, so go ahead and cut the net to the correct width. It should be 34″ wide.

Place one of the end squares on the remaining net and cut two pieces. They should be 24″ square.
My advice, measure the net to the frames before cutting it. There could be variations in the dimensions of your box.

Laying out the netting

Laying out the netting

Now line up one edge of the box with the 34″ edge of the plastic net.

Position frame along edge of netting

Position frame along edge of netting

Attach the net to the PVC pipe with the 8″ cable ties. I put 3 on each pipe, pulling the net tightly as you wrap it around. Once the net is secured, go back and put a couple more ties on each rail and trim off the tails. You can get an idea of what we did in this photo.

Initial wrap with 3 cable ties on each rail

Initial wrap with 3 cable ties on each rail

Finished wrap with 5 cable ties on each rail

Finished wrap with 5 cable ties on each rail

Attach the net to one of the square ends, but leave the other end open. This will be your door opening.

Then attach the net to the square that you made with the 90 degree corner connectors.

Attach net to door square

Attach net to door square

Now you are ready to attach the door to the box. For hinges you will use the 12″ cable ties. Connect one side of the door panel to a top rail of the open end of the box. 3 ties should be enough, and don’t tighten them down too much. You want the door to swing easily but not be too loose.

Use 12 inch cable ties to attach the door.

Use 12 inch cable ties to attach the door.


The door should swing easily.

The door should swing easily.

To secure the door, use the two 10” mini bungee cords. It’s quick and easy to “lock” and open the door to load your fiber.

Bungee latches

Bungee latches

Now you’re ready to try it out.

Load one fleece at a time. You want the fibers to be able to separate and move around as you are blowing it out.

Blow Out Box with 1 Raw Llama Fleece

Blow Out Box with 1 Raw Llama Fleece

Use a circuiteer high speed blower or a leaf blower and blow air into the box. There will be a lot of dust flying, but it doesn’t show in the photos.

blow out 1

Keep rotating the box and blowing up under the fiber to keep it moving. When you don’t see any more dust, (it’ll take about 5 minutes or so), it’s done.

blowing out fiber

blow out

You fiber should now look clean and fluffy.

Fluffy fleece

Fluffy fleece

You may find some remaining longer pieces of grass and hay that is still in the fiber. The longer stuff won’t be blown out of the small holes in the net. This stuff you will have to pick out by hand.

Long hay pieces may remain.

Long hay pieces may remain.

In the future we’ll try to make sure our floor is clean when we shear. I know what happened here. We had a hay bag by the shute to keep the llamas entertained while we sheared, and they dropped pieces of hay into the cut fiber on the floor.

Shearing Santiago

Shearing Santiago

As I said earlier, it is much easier to clean the fiber while it is still on the llama. Time spent on this step is not wasted. This blow out box will not clean a filthy fleece. It will merely remove any dust, dirt, small second cuts, and bits of vegetable matter that may remain in a relatively clean fleece. You might want to use a 1 inch plastic hardward cloth, but I was afraid of losing too much of the good fiber.

Please let me know if you decide to build one of the boxes. You might come up with even better ideas that I would love to hear about.

Next, I’m going to run this fleece through a drum carder to make it into batts that I can use for my needle felting and wet felting projects. I’ll let you know how that comes out.

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Ever wish you could dye your own yarn to get the variegated color effect? Well I just learned how to do one method, and I’m going to share it with you here.

Knotted Skein

What you will need:
Large bowl
White vinegar
Food coloring
Saran Wrap
Small cups for mixing dye
Large syringe
Large pie plate for microwaving yarn
Towel

There are many types of dyes, but chemical dyes can be hazardous and have to be used very carefully. Food coloring, on the other hand, though it may sound like kindergarten, is very safe and offers up some amazing results. You can buy the McCormick’s liquid colors in the supermarket, but I like to use the cake decorators gel paste colors because they come in many different colors.

First of all, food color dye will only work on protein/animal fibers. You will want to buy wool yarn. I am overdyeing my llama yarn which is heather brown.

There are a few basic components necessary for dyeing:
• Colorant. I’m going to talk about food coloring here. McCormick’s can be bought in the grocery store, in the traditional primary colors and a neon set. The gel/paste colors can be bought at most hobby/craft stores or on Amazon.
• Acid. In this case, vinegar. The acid opens up the fibers and makes the color stick. The more vinegar, the brighter the color and the faster that it sets.
• Water. I’m using my tap water, which comes from our well. If you have a lot of minerals in your water, you can opt to buy distilled water.
• Heat. Some methods call for using the stove, a crockpot, or the oven. I am using the microwave for this technique.

You will need to have your yarn in a skein. My fiber mill processed my yarn in skeins, so easy peasy. If you buy yarn at the craft store, it will probably come in a roll (sorry, I don’t know the proper name for this bundle). You will need to unroll it and make a skein. One technique is to place two kitchen chairs back to back at the desired distance and unroll the yarn, wrapping it around the backs of the chairs. Or wrap it around the back of a recliner, whatever works. My skeins stretched out are about 26 inches. You want to make your skeins a manageable length for laying out on your work surface.

skein measurement

Once you have the yarn wrapped into your skein, you will want to tie the two loose ends together. Trim as necessary. Then tie some waste yarn around the skein every 15 inches or so to keep the yarn from tangling when you are rinsing it. Don’t tie it so tight that you tie-dye your yarn.

Okay! We are ready to start dyeing. This has the potential to be messy, so find a work surface that you can’t ruin. I use my Formica counter top. At any rate, it’s best to cover your surface with a sheet of plastic like an old shower curtain to avoid staining anything. Same for your hands. Wear plastic gloves if you don’t want your fingers to turn funky colors.

First we need to soak the yarn in a solution of vinegar water. I use 6 cups of lukewarm water and 2 TBSP white distilled vinegar. The yarn needs to soak a minimum of 1 hour, and preferably overnight.

Yarn soaking

I use a large serving bowl. But notice how some of the yarn wants to float. To make sure that all the fiber stays submerged, I place a smaller bowl on top to press the yarn down into the water.

Yarn Soaking

Meanwhile, you can mix up your colors.

I’m going to use two colors for this yarn, but since I’m overdyeing an already brownish yarn, I’m going to end up with three colors. The colors I am using are red and purple. This is not an exacting science, so feel free to play around. I am using beakers and syringes to mix my dyes. I like the 150 ml beakers since I don’t need to mix up a large quantity of dye, and the syringes work well for sucking up the dye and controlling where I place it. Besides, I had plenty of syringes on hand for the llamas. You can buy syringes at any farm supply store. You can also use a squirt bottle. I would think a turkey baster would be too messy.

150 ml beakers

syringes

I use ¼ cup water with about 6 small squirts of the gel dye. Mix well to dissolve. Use warm water when using gel or paste dyes to help them dissolve.

The colors I am using are gel food colorings by Spectrum in Super Red and Violet.

gel dye

You can get a feel for the color and intensity by dipping a fork into the dye mix and blotting it on a paper towel.

fork test

I then use my syringes to draw up the dye.

dyes in syringes

When you are ready to take the yarn out of the vinegar bath, gently squeeze the water out. You don’t want it dripping wet, but you don’t want it bone dry either.

Lay Saran Wrap in an oval the size of your skein and lay out the skein on top of the Saran Wrap.

skein on saran wrap

I’m going to apply the dye in about 4 inch sections, starting with the red dye. I then am leaving a 4 inch space of the natural color yarn. Then applying the violet dye to a four inch section and leaving a 4 inch space of the natural color yarn ,etc. until I have gone all around the skein.

applying dye

Make sure that you saturate the yarn with the dye. Turn the section of yarn over and squirt color on the bottom. Use your fingers to mash the yarn to make sure the color gets all the way through.

This is what the skein looks like when I’ve applied the dye.

skein with wet dye

Notice that the colors look very muted. I was surprised at how much they brightened up after heating the yarn and then especially after the yarn was dry.
Now you want to wrap the cellophane around the yarn like a snake, sealing it the best way you can.

wrapped yarn

Place the yarn in the largest microwave safe dish that will fit in your microwave. Try not to think about how much this looks like the entrails of some animal.

Yarn in plate

Heat the yarn in the microwave at full power for about 5 minutes. Remove the plate from the microwave and let the yarn cool until it is cool enough to handle.

Rinse and Dry
Unwrap the yarn and rinse carefully in the sink or in a bowl of water with a small amount of mild detergent.

Continue rinsing until the water runs clear.

I like to add a little hair conditioner in the final rinse. It makes the yarn super soft. And it smells nice, too.

Gently press out as much water as you can. Wrap the yarn in a towel and press to remove more water. Then lay flat on a dry towel to dry completely.

I was completely amazed at how beautiful the colors came out when the yarn was dry.

dyed skein

This is what the yarn looks like as it is being knitted into a scarf.

knitted up

I can’t wait to experiment with more colors.

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Spot

Remember the fun we had as children taking a ride in a little red wagon? Reminiscent of those treasured times, I’m introducing a new line of needle felted animals. Each unique little animal is taking a joy ride in a precious 3 1/2 inch x 2 1/2 inch rustic metal wagon and the series is called the “Wagon Tails”. Each animal is lovingly felted of 100 percent natural fibers, to include llama, alpaca, wool, and mohair. I have these cute little animals for sale on my Etsy shop. To view the current listings and prices, please visit my shop at tcllamas Etsy Shop.

Barney Bear

Baylie the Goldendoodle

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