The Farmer's Wife OR when the Farmer is a Wife!
Its already September, and I can't believe it! We've been so busy at both farms, 30 new crias, (need to do another count- and more coming in October) and best of all a new farm manager. We want to thank Tom Iamonico for all his hard work and great skills in managing the farm til shearing really got going. At that point our good friend Benedito Ananias was able to step in, so Tom could focus on the shearing and travel that goes with shearing. We've been good friends with Dito for over 15 years now, and consider ourselves so fortunate to have him take on farm manager. Dito is a very accomplished horse trainer ( he trained and rode the National Champion of Brazil) and recently managed the buffalo herd for Rawhide Electric Company. He has managed up to 5 ranches at once, and has great skills in handling people as well as he handles animals, ha! Already, we've made great progress on pasture rotation and management, the animals are quite content and peaceful, and the barns are showing major changes and improvements! I am having lots of fun on the farm, and I know the neighbors are all very happy with the changes. I still need to get done with logging the 2014 clip into our records, and get all the samples to the lab as well as fleeces to the mill. I just heard our one of our favorite people at the mill is needing hip replacements. Been there and done that with my husband, and fortunately it is pretty easy surgery and a nice fast recovery so we wish Ted the best. And that will buy me a little more time to get things done. I've also been very busy with pattern and product development this summer. Great things are on the horizon, and the PV fiber just keeps getting more popular. We are also very happy to announce that the Recycled Lamb Yarn shop is now the exclusive vendor for our Paco-Vicuna yarns and rovings! The Recycled Lamb is one of the nicest yarn shops I've ever been in- they have a large store and multiple rooms for classes and group workshops. Plus a full basement for even more class space. Its a rare treat to be able to spread out projects and materials and still have plenty of room to visit and see everything else that is going on.
Hi Everyone, we've completed the shearing here at Jefferson Farms Natural Fibers! Over 430 animals total were shorn, teeth and toenails trimmed, and a few shots given. It took just a little over 4 days, we finished by 5 our first day, then finished at 3 pm ( I know, how funny is that!!) the second day, then moved down to Salida for the remainder. In Salida, 340 animals were shorn in 2 and a half days. We finished by 5:30 the first day, then 4:30 the second day, and by 11:00 am the third morning we had everything done and cleaned up. The shearing crew was led by Paul Smith and Tom Iamonico, with Jeremy Lamm as headman. Our usual staff of Brittany, Dito and Ralph handled set up, and staged the animals, and Dito did toenails. Three extra helpers came down from the Denver farm, and I picked up fleeced. We were supremely organized, everyone just pitched in where needed, and it was all so calm, happy and incredibly easy I thought I was dreaming! Food was delicious and gourmet, prepared by Pat Schmidt, a new friend who brought 4 animals to the Denver farm. Everyone loves to be in Salida and at the river house, so it was like a mini-vacation. I know that i am onto some seriously good karma now, at the end of the shearing at each farm, just 10 minutes after finishing we had a tremendous hail and rain storm at both farms! But not a drop on any of our shearing days. My luck is really just getting better and better! I will be posting a few videos on Facebook, and if I can ever figure out how to post a video to the website I will do that as well. Its' truly amazing to watch how well choreographed a great shearing crew is. Paul and Tom are always calm and happy, and really pitch in where ever a hand is needed. So the fleeces are ready to be graded and sampled, then we will make a master list for the mill for processing. But before that, we go up to Estes Park Wool Market. This is a big event for us, and so nice to be able to bring fresh fleeces for sale, and some of the most beautiful little weanlings on the farm. I have a long "to-do" list, but also want to spend some time in the yard and garden. Making dinner, not so much, ha! So be sure to visit the Facebook pages for Jane Levene, and Jefferson Farms Natural Fibers to see the shearing photos. And as we have our new crias we will keep those photos posted as well. Take care, and have a safe and wonderful summer! Jane
Hi Everyone, its been a long time (as usual!!) for me to update the blog. Since my last posting, we've taken the extended family to the Bahamas for a low key vacation-just the children and grandchildren, now ages 9-20. We had a great time, lounging and snorkeling on absolutely deserted beaches that went on for miles. We stayed at a friends apartments, with attached restaurant. All very family styled, only one TV (yay!! No continuous sports on) and internet by request only. On Eleuthera, people were wonderful, and we highly recommend the Ship to Shore vacation if you only want peace and quiet without the crazy high end resort prices! So after 8 days there, and 4 books later, it was home to be a part of the National Western Stock Show for the next 18 days. I am a big part of the Natural Fibers Display, I'm there every day, where we have many of the different types of wool fleeces as well as alpaca and paco-vicuna fleeces on display and for sale by silent auction. Our primary objective is to educate the school groups on tour and the general public of the path from animal to product. So we help the public learn how to make yarn through basic spinning, and talk about incredible variety of fiber producing animals! Great fun, it's the best Livestock show in the USA, many photos are posted on my facebook page. After that show ends its on to book keeping and tax preparations. So I really needed that vacation before January started, ha! Like most of the US, it's been a crazy winter in terms of weather. We've boomeranged from the 60s, and plunged down to subzero temperatures in the space of 6-8 hours sometimes. The herd can tolerate cold weather well, but these extreme swings in temperature in such a short time frame is very hard on us all. The best way to deal with it is to feed very heavily BEFORE the weather changes, so everyone has lots of calories on board. Lots to digest = lots of body heat produced. We also focus on feeding hay, rather than any supplements. Most grains (we never feed the alpacas grain anyway!) don't generate anywhere near the same body heat as do the cellulose fibers contained in grasses. And this year we coated more animals than ever before, as we had suri-pv fall crias and some of the girls are getting a little old. If it gets cold and stays cold, specially with our sunny days (that is changing as well here- it can get gloomy now) animals adjust easily. I have also added some nice passive solar areas to the barns, so we can really maximize our heat gain for the animals. So I think we have a good plan now to deal with it, but it does add another chore that wasn't there before. And of course, we have to deal with the crias that love to remove the coats from their buddies! Solution- good old duct tape around the Velcro bands keeping the jackets on, and we'll be adding more coats with buckles that they haven't (yet) figured out how to remove. Snowpack is wonderful in the mountains, so our irrigation season is looking good as well. In Salida. we are gearing up to have our first full year of true pasture rotation, for grazing management. I am thanking Brittany Singleterry in advance, she is our livestock manager, for taking this on. The record keeping is the unseen never-ending chore that most people don't have a clue of, that is the most vital part of any farms success. And usually everyones' least favorite chore as well, ha! I know I'd much prefer to be out in the barn, interacting with animals. My mind is also well into shearing season already. I have a new, improved game plan for sorting/skirting fleeces as they come off the animals, rather than just bagging and dealing with it all later. So hope springs eternal, and is in good supply on every farm. I wish you all a wonderful, mild spring, and hopes that Mother Nature is in a better mood this year! Take care, Jane
We've had a long year, focusing mainly on our Salida farm. Our big project was to complete the interior fencing so we can implement rotational grazing and keep the animals out on high quality pastures year-round. Fencing was completed by early spring and we started record keeping on the regrowth and stocking rates. Of course, its' been a major baby year here as well! We've had 65 crias born between the 2 farms, not all of them mine, of course. And what a beautiful sight it is, to see them all growing and playing. Our fiber went into production nice and early this year, I had fleeces into the mill by early August, and had product back by October. The micron values keep getting finer and finer with over half the herd below 18 microns regardless of their age! I even had my first 15 micron alpaca, out of my top male Orion. So I hope you all get a chance to come over to either farm to see a truly spectacular array of fine yarns and rovings! Our previous Salida farm managers retired, and now we are fortunate to have Tom Iamonico running the farm. He is a very skilled shearer, and has a very gentle way with the animals. We are making great progress on farm improvement projects at both farms. I've designed a passive solar enclosure for each farm, and the Denver one is finished. In the process we've created a chicken palace out of my mothers greenhouse and nearly ready to move the chickens over. I'll post photos once we get past an open house in Salida this weekend (December 21-22, 10-4:30 each day with great food and barn tours as well as a very well stocked farm store!) and our farm party Monday Dec 23. Then on to Christmas, and a quick trip with all of the grandkids for some R&R that all have earned. I will also be very busy at the National Western Stock Show again this year, helping to run the Natural Fibers educational display and silent fleece auction. We show the school tours how to make yarn by spinning rovings, show samples of fiber production at each stage of the processing, as well as samples from a multitude of fiber producing livestock. Its great to be down at the stock show, so don't miss it! There isn't a bad day to come as the livestock competitons and displays change constantly! So never a dull moment here, or extra time on my hands. MY parents continue to do well (their house is at the front of the Denver Farm), my dad is 88 and still out helping every day, and my mom is younger and younger every day. Can't wait for her sugar cookies and pizelles for Christmas! So Merry Christmas and a very Happy and healthy New Year to you all! Hope to see you at the farm, for a nice visit.
Its almost Thanksgiving, and rarely a break in the action here! We've had such a busy summer and fall. In mid-September, when the floods devastated the northern front range of Colorado, our good friends Ann and Richard Phillips lost all of their fencing, suffered major damage to the home and barns as well as pastures and hay losses. When they called, there was no question that we'd be there to help out. They quickly began moving the animals out of the flood waters- females and crias to the Denver farm and we moved their male herd down to Salida. Their fencing is repaired and now its' just the hard work of picking up all of the debris left on their pastures as the water receded. We've been a bit crowded, but with our barn configurations, we could accommodate nearly 60 extra females and crias in Denver, and over 20 males down in Salida. I didn't even do a real count (didn't want to know, ha!) but we just made sure their herd was all microchipped and we kept them separate from our herd. They've begun to move animals home slowly, giving them time to adjust to changes at the farm. We were happy to do this for them, as their other option would have been to have their animals scattered over many farms, which is unbelievably stressful for both animals and owners!
Our fiber events have all be very successful, with the paco-vicuna fiber taking center stage and getting rave reviews. We've succeeded in educating people about just how nice and how unique the PV fiber is, and the rovings and yarns back from the mill in Utah are nothing short of spectacular! Our herd is getting very refined fiber statistics, with so many coming in under 19 microns at mature ages. The Paco-Vicuna Association has signed the contract with Colorado State University for our EPD program and the data upload and analysis has begun, yay!! Our aim is to be the most fully documented herd in the US. So, after the Second Annual Fiber Festival in Salida Colorado, we went on to events at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, in Golden Colorado and most importantly we attended SOAR in Chicago for our second year as a vendor. Our products received great attention, and sales went well beyond our expectations for just our second year. Once a spinner has worked with such fine, silky fiber, its' kind of hard to go back to other fibers! Now we are scheduled to attend the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet show in March. With trunk showings and events at yarn shops, I really need to set my year in advance, so things aren't such a scramble for me. And we are finally getting around to making some long-overdue changes to our barns both here and in Salida. In Salida, we are replacing heavy wooden dividers with plexiglass panels to allow more light into the barns. These wooden dividers were put up as windbreaks, and always bothered me as they blocked so much light from getting into the barns. So time for a change! We are doing this for both the male and female barns. The animals are spending more time out on pasture, and as a result are getting a bit chubby. We are calling in a long time expert and friend, LaRue Johnson, DVM, former head vet at CSU to come and walk the pastures and help us figure out a better division of time between barns and fields for good weight control and to combat boredom and/or food fights in the barns. The PVs and alpacas are like all intelligent animals, a little stimulation each day is a good thing to keep everyone more peaceful. Brittany Singleterry and Tom Iamonico are doing a fantastic job in Salida, and have become a great team. Animals are lots happier and we have fewer issues to deal with. The key to our success is simply good communication between all parties. Easy, right? But oh, so hard to get sometimes. Now on to our barn modifications! I've heard many talks about barn structures and layouts. Some people love a really small structure, with low roofs, but more commonly barns are pretty large buildings. The efficiency of the barn should be the goal. Larger barns are good for a few reasons, the primary one is for flexibility! Large, airy barn structures allow for better ventilation, key in avoiding respiratory illnesses during the colder seasons. A small, more tightly closed up barn can be a recipe for disaster in terms of poor ventilation. Pneumonias are a difficult bug to treat in animals, and can progress very rapidly at onset, giving the farmer little time to react and treat adequately. The PVs and alpacas that we raise, don't like to be enclosed in a barn- good visibility and lines of sight are their primary defense. And they hate dark corners! They simply refuse to use some of the inner areas, far too confining for them, and don't allow for the safe quick exit they like to have. The main dark northwest corner of the barn was never used by the animals so we converted that stall to an office and treatment area. So we leave our barn doors open, at all times except for the worst blizzards, and have stall configurations that can be easily joined or reconfigured, and most often are left open. And farm animals really only need shelter from wind and wet, cold is not the problem. Hello! They have fleeces! Summer cooling is a much bigger issue we deal with, so by having very open structures with good ventilation and natural air movement the herd can easily get out of the heat, and the ventilation keeps flying pests moving such as flies and mosquitos. Our second reason for a larger barn is for the ability to accommodate a variety of livestock. I think more long range- maybe I won't always be the owner of the farm, and the next person may have horses, or cattle, or just want good outbuildings for RVs or farm equipment. So I tried to design our barns for all possible purposes. I felt this was the best use of the resources, and in the future we won't need to make many changes. The Salida barns were built for this multi-purpose use of equipment and livestock. A large shop building was added, with a woodworking shop that now isn't needed. So the shop building has become the ideal shearing space, and I long to use it to sort and grade fiber! We've taken the woodworking shop and converted it into a nice, warm breakroom for the helpers. Now, people are the ones that need the heated spaces, not animals! But the area outside the breakroom will multifunction as a warm room for a sick or special needs animals. So the flow of animals is simple, and more importantly, accommodates the way the animals think so we can easily move groups around. In Denver, I've posted a photo of our latest change. We began with a normal 30'x30' pole barn, then added a large overhang area that quickly became the primary area used by the alpacas. One more addition to the west, and now we've bumped out a half wall to add more areas for feeders and extended the roofline a bit. Its' not a "cozy" and small space, but by far their favorite due to the openness but provides good windbreak and shade. 20 years of watching how the animals actually used their spaces have allowed me to make the best modifications to the barn. The animals want good light, great visibility and lines of sight, and multiple avenues of "escape". they love nothing more than to do an extended romp through all the open stalls and gates. And the flow between male and female barns, as well as out to pasture will be improved when we move our chickens away from the male barn and take over my mothers little greenhouse for our new chicken coop. I know everyone will love the changes. So Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, specially to all the hard working family cooks! Enjoy the holiday, and remember to support the small businesses and family farms as you start your holiday shopping. Take care, Jane