There are definitely not enough pig-related posts on this 'blog. The four newbies are growing up (albeit a lot more slowly than the first two). Our first two gilts were basically free-fed grain, and reached what would be market weight in just a few months. The newbies have been fed grain much more sparingly -- mainly raised on grass haylage -- and have grown at a more "reasonable" rate.
This is almost certainly healthier for them in the long run, but the downside is that it's taking forever to see how our future stud boars are turning out! Thus far, I have been really happy with one of them (Phish, on the left in the photograph) but a little disappointed with the other (P-Nut, on the right). P-Nut has recently undergone a growth spurt, though, and he's starting to look like a stud after all.
I think I still like Phish better, though.
Yes, it's true. We are now Sheep Farmers. Back to the roots, man. (All those stone walls on our property were most likely not erected to contain alpacas ...)
It is an inevitable truth of farming that most alpaca farms will eventually obtain at least one or two sheep. It just kind of makes sense, since many mills can't even process pure alpaca wool, and it just seems crappy, somehow, to have to buy wool to process your alpaca.
So, we got sheep. These are not (of course) just any sheep: These are Jacob Sheep, and they are not just any Jacobs; they are really good Jacobs from a long-term breeding program.
I've always wanted sheep -- our family very nearly got into sheep when I was a kid, but that never quite materialized -- but, having owned dozens of different breeds and species in my life, I know by now that researching, meeting and wanting something does not guarantee that it is going to "click" with me once we have brought it home. We brought a goat onto our farm very briefly (before this 'blog even existed!), and, although I adore goats on other farms, it did not work out well. As cute as her bouncy personality was, it meant that she totally got in the way at chore time -- sometimes dangerously, in the case of the horses -- and that, coupled with her complete disregard for fencing, meant that we had to quickly find her a new home. On the other hand, I was concerned that sheep might be too flighty for us. They're cute, and wool is good, but I wasn't sure how their personalities were going to mesh with ours.
As it turns out, we both feel that the sheep are a terrific fit! We brought the girls home on Saturday, and we are already totally taken with them. Contrary to my concerns, these sheep are not particularly flighty; they are outgoing, curious, friendly, and about as confident as I can imagine sheep ever get. I don't think these sheep were particularly babied by their breeder, so I think this is just their natural disposition. They greet me in the morning and clamor over each other to eat out of our hands. They also seem a lot more -- dare I say it? -- intelligent than other sheep I have met. My previous sheep experience had suggested that sheep have truly earned their reputation as Dumbest Livestock Species, but these girls really seem to give thought to things.
Enough blather, though -- expect to see more sheep updates from Howling Hill Farm in the future -- for now, here are the sheep!
This is Sally. (We named our sheep ... Anything bigger than a duck gets a name, here, and some of the ducks and chickens even have names as well.) Sally is the Alpha Sheep. I had no idea that sheep herds have an Alpha Sheep, but there is no question that these girls do, and Sally is it.
This is their usual configuration: Sally in front.
This is Marge. Marge and Sally have horns that stick up straight, and you can't see it in the photos, but they also have tiny buds of horns directly behind their ears. So, these girls will eventually have four horns!
Betty and Harriet have rear-facing horns, and I haven't looked closely, but I suspect that they only have two each. However, the ram that they are bred to has five horns ..!
We gave them all names that sounded like 1950's housewives.
They are all due to lamb in March-April ... Expect mega cuteness this spring! (As if cria weren't cute enough ..!)
... But it was totally worth it, because nothing says "Internet" like an animated GIF. (Yes, this one is choppy and primitive, but at least I got it to work! The next one will be better ...)
Yeah, the fiber is all well and good, but seriously. Animals!
The weather has been completely hideous of late (ice and rain, then just rain, then freezing cold and snow, then more snow), so I have been seriously pining for the ability to just traipse around the farm with my camera. Luckily, I had a backlog.
Yes, I apparently skipped over all of the greys in my fiber photos. Since that is the color that we are primarily focused on, that is pretty remiss.
For those not initiated to the alpaca world, let me state that grey alpacas are, in general, less "evolved" than whites and fawns when it comes to fiber. According to some loose data compiled by Ian Watt, by the year 2011, roughly 35% of 12 - 36 month old white alpaca fiber was under 20 microns. By contrast, only 18% of rose grey and 16% of silver grey 12 - 36 month old alpaca fiber was under 20 microns. This is not even taking into account fiber crimp, brightness, organization and density.
Many (about 16-18%, apparently) greys do rival the lights in terms of fiber statistics, and all of our grey boys are among them. However, when it comes to grey alpacas, you often wind up having to choose between crimp and fineness. There are still only a small handful of greys in the country that can compete with the light colors in terms of both fiber statistics and character (that sweet combination of traits that, when ideally configured, can earn an animal the coveted, yet undefined title of "elite fleece").
I am pretty pleased with the greys we have here, and in only a year or two, I hope to be producing animals in that latter category (the rare and outstanding "elite grey").
Note that by some standards, our greys are elite already. My standards are such that I reserve the word for animals whose "eliteness" is indisputable -- even though the word isn't defined, so really, anything you want can be considered "elite" if you define it right. Because I am so strict with my use of the word, I actually only have a few whites and fawns that I feel qualify. At the 2014 Parade of Champions auction, only a handful of animals qualified for "elite" status by my standards (just to give you a sense of how damn fussy I am about that word).
With that blather over with -- here are my grey fiber shots.
This is the fourth fleece of Stillwater Island's Avalanche. Avi's fleece is very dense, bright, and high-frequency, though, at age four, she has lost a lot of organization. The most exciting thing about this girl is that she is lavender. I want a whole herd of alpacas that are this color.
This is the third fleece of Miss Silver Surfer. I love this girl's fleece. The best part about it can't be seen in a photo, and that is that it is so incredibly soft (that is, like, my thing when it comes to alpaca fleece). Her 2nd-year histogram read 16.6 AFD / 4.1 SD / 24.4% CV / 100%, and her 3rd fleece shows zero signs of guard hair, so that softness seems to be holding steady. She also has an almost totally spotless silver blanket, which is pretty cool.
Here is the 3rd fleece of Knightrider's Rosedale. Rosedale is a junior boy who has a lot going for him. He hasn't been properly "introduced" on the website yet. Rosedale's 2nd year fleece stats: 18.6 AFD / 4.2 SD / 22.8% CV / 98.4% CF.
Here is the cria fleece of our ever-photogenic harlequin, Logan. I wasn't sure what to think about Logan's cria fleece at first, but I think I like what it's turning into. The crimp isn't terribly high-amplitude, at least not yet, but it has a nice, high-frequency, which I prefer. The color is gorgeous, too. No stats on him, because he hasn't been shorn yet!
Best for last, IMO, as far as grey fiber shots go: our new boy, Eddie Cloud. I posted Eddie on our Facebook page and on Openherd, but haven't quite had a chance to make his page on this site, yet. (It does get to be a bit of a task keeping three different sites current!) This is Eddie's fourth fleece. I wish I had seen his second, because, given the crimp that his third and fourth fleeces have, I'm sure it was absolutely awesome. His third fleece tested out at 18.6 AFD / 4.5 SD / 24% CV / 98.4% CF, which is completely rokken for a three-year old grey stud. The fourth feels like it is going to come in about the same.
Eddie will start his breeding career here next spring ... Huzzah!
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.