Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sunshine Alpacas of Maine

I went on the Circles trip to the Sunshine Alpaca Farm a few days ago and I am still basking in the experience. It was a long day filled to the brim with amazing things. I can only do it justice by posting an incredibly long post. You are warned!

I love, love, love visiting the source of fibers. There is something slightly spiritual in meeting the animals from which the fiber is harvested and the people who share their world. One can really get a sense of the length of the process and the amount of energy that is put forth to come to the point of a finished garment…from animal to fiber to yarn to knitted garment. At the very least, it demonstrates to me what a good deal I get when I buy yarn, especially yarns from small farms like the Sunshine Alpaca Farm. I came away from the day with a lot of memories, some new knowledge, pictures and a few skeins of yarn (one of which was hand-dyed by me!).

Our trip began with a tour of the barn/animals. As I mentioned earlier, this farm contains a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals including alpacas, llamas, dogs, chickens, angora rabbits, cats, a salt-water aquarium complete with a sea anemone and, lastly, a parrot that meows.
We touched the alpaca undercoat. The top coat gets a bit like a dreadlock, a very hay and dirt-filled dreadlock.

The alpaca got to know my leg, my dog-scented leg.

In the barn we encountered many of the animals including the alpaca. The owners of the farm, Lori and Shawn, educated us as to the different kinds of alpacas, some of the logistics and history of their farm and let us have lots of hands-on time with the alpacas, llamas and angora rabbits. For anyone who is not alpaca-knowledgeable, we learned that alpacas and llamas are both part of the camelid family but alpacas are much smaller than llamas. An alpaca’s back would likely stand about waist high for many adults. When their long necks are taken into account, they are about 6 feet tall. Llamas are more the size of a small horse. Both animals have split upper lips that reminded me of an elephant trunk and both have big, luscious eye lashes. Neither alpacas nor llamas have upper teeth. This combination of facial features results in a combination of beauty and the geek.

Showing off those lower teeth!

Lori and Shawn telling us about their alpaca.

As for the angora rabbits, I am biased. I have a bad childhood memory with rabbits. When I was little my grandma was dating a clown/magician. Part of his act included the clich├ęd trick of pulling a rabbit from a hat. What this meant for my grandma was that he had a pet rabbit that stayed at her house. What this meant for me was that when I visited I was allowed to play with the rabbit. Sounds great, right? Well, on one of my visits I was all dressed up for church (it was either Easter or Christmas, sometime around 3rd grade, the details on this part are a little fuzzy). I distinctly remember how much I treasured the dress I was wearing. It was made of a plush grey velvet with white lace trim and a satiny pink ribbon around my waist. I was ready earlier than the rest of the family so somehow I ended up being offered the bunny to hold until we left. I was sitting on the couch with the bunny on my lap, petting it when something didn’t feel right. The damn bunny had peed and the pee had puddled on my lap until it soaked through my dress! I have held a grudge ever since.
Ok, back to the farm. When we got to the part of the barn where the rabbits live, Shawn took some of the rabbits out so we could touch them. He said that they like to be held and that he and his wife try to hold each of them once a day. I was feeling my heart melt a little bit and it has been awhile since my third grade trauma, so when he offered to hand off the one he had in his arms so I could hold it, I took him up on the offer. Bad idea! In transitioning from his arms to mine it freaked out and scratched me. Then, after settling in to my arms, it randomly freaked out and scratched me again. Grrrr! I’ll knit with your fur, but I won’t love you, darn rabbits!

Angora Rabbit

I also learned that alpacas are quite jumpy/flinchy and they freak out easily, all with the exception of one particularly friendly alpaca named Chili (or is it Chile?). Chili is one of their award-winning alpaca. I could see why, as she was a beautiful color and much more at ease around people than the other alpaca. Taking photographs of the other alpacas was quite challenging because they would jump out of the way or rush at the camera right as I was taking the photo, but not Chili. Chili held her head high and still while looking right at the camera almost as if saying, “Go ahead. I’m ready for my close-up.”

Chili striking a pose.

After meeting all of the animals, we headed indoors for the tour of the mill. The farm processes and spins all of its fiber into yarn and will also process batches for outside customers. The mill is set up in their attached garage which leads into a showroom/office/yarn store and then into the house. Many of the questions posed by our group centered on the costs involved in their operation. It was stunning for me to discover how much each element of their farm/mill costs. An alpaca can be sold for thousands of dollars and each animal has an insurance policy for the full amount of its worth. The milling machines cost in the tens of thousands each and there are multiple machines involved in taking the raw fiber and turning it into a skein of yarn. This goes back to the point I made at the start of this post: yarn is a really good deal!

Lori and Shawn explaining one of their machines.

Sunshine Alpaca yarn
By this time in the day our stomachs were growling so we went to lunch at the Sebago Brewery where I had a chance to get a proper photo of each of the group members:

Alice and Alice

Shawn and Kristina

Lori and Allison

Me and Lori
Another part of the trip that amazed me was to talk to the people who care for these animals. Lori and Shawn love their animals and care for them with the utmost of respect and dedication. Lori told me of the only cria (baby alpaca) they have lost on their farm. With tears in her eyes she told me that she was reluctant to let go and held on to the hope that it would be able to pull through for quite a while. She had gone so far as to bring a sleeping bag outside so she could spend the night keeping the cria warm and bundled in the sleeping bag with her. In a world where PETA is constantly investigating and revealing the atrocities that happen at farms, it is easy to forget that there are plenty of animals that are living contented lives and being cared for with love.

As if this wasn’t all enough, we had one last part to the day in which we dyed a skein of Sunshine Alpaca Farms yarn. We didn’t learn a lot about the technical aspects of dying but at that point, I don’t think I could have absorbed much more information. I was grateful to slop on some dye and see how it turned out. As with so many fiber-related things, I think I could become addicted!

1 comment:

  1. Trinity, this is a great report of our day. You really captured the warmth and spirit of the event, as well as the complexity of the work done by people like Shawn and Lori. And I love the photos!

    P.S. I made a skinny scarf out of the skein I dyed.


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