Monday, October 24, 2016

Fiber Farmer Profile - Karin of White Oaks Alpacas

As our first Fiber Farmers on The Farm Profile, we would like to introduce Karin Finch of White Oaks Alpacas. Her yarn was used in the Capriccia Cowl that was sent in Week 3 of COWLtober. We met Karin at a fiber festival a couple of years ago, and she invited us represent crochet at her annual Sheared Delights Open House event that she does every May.
So many colors, mostly natural from her alpacas.
How did you get started raising animals for fiber?
We bought our land first then decided which animals would be the best fit for our lifestyle.
How long has your farm been in operation? 
Bought our first 2 alpacas in 1999 and proceeded to grow from there.
Do you have any special experience with art or science that influenced your choice of animals?
Always loved animals and the country lifestyle wanted to blend the two. No special experience but have enjoyed learning how to care for alpacas and have become a knitter, spinner and fiber artist in the process.
What kind of fiber products are made from your animals?
We feature roving and yarns custom made from our alpacas fiber and finished goods ie shawls, gloves, mitts, mittens, scarves, socks made from American alpaca fiber including ours.
What makes your fiber special or unique?
Our alpaca and products are all American produced and I use the best mills I can find, preferably in the Pacific Northwest to do the processing. You can buy a roving or skein of yarn and come meet the alpaca that produced the fiber. We support local businesses, hand spinners, knitters and fiber artists.
What is something interesting about your animals or the sheering process that someone who doesn't raise animals for fiber might not know?
Every part of our operation is ‘hands on with love’. We lay our alpacas down to shear, this reduces the chance of getting hurt. Using soft rope hobbles they are gentle lowered to a matt in our barn and are shorn by rolling from one side to the other. There is always someone at their head to make sure they are comfortable. In this position we can gather the fleece quickly as the shearer shears, check the alpaca from tip to toes, trim toenails and give annual vaccinations. This is not just shearing time it’s our time to evaluate the health of each animal too. In about 30 min they are done with their ‘Spa’ date and back in the pasture until next shearing. We make it as stress free as possible and they get a great new look for Summer.
How do you choose your animals?
We select for the best fiber on a strong healthy alpaca
Do you purchase or breed them for certain characteristics?
While we strive for improved fineness and uniformity of their fiber we also look for great conformation and temperament. Evaluation of each animal is important in the choice of breeding, deciding which male has the characteristics that will improve the female is part of that process. We use our on ranch studs or have bought breedings to off ranch males to complement our females. We started with 2 females and have grown our herd from there.
What is your favorite part about the animals or collecting and processing the fiber?
Watching our alpacas grazing in our pastures on a beautiful day is magical. Each has a personality, they all relate to each other in the herd and when they are enjoying their day they will pronk around the pasture. Pronking is sort of a hop, skip and run all at the same time, only done when happy and to see 40+ alpacas doing it is really something.  I am the happiest when I am working with alpaca fiber in some way.  Be that up to my elbows in skirting fleece to send to the mills for processing.  I love challenging myself to create a new roving on my drum carder either by blend or color, and the pleasure I get spinning or knitting with the fiber from our wonderful alpacas.
© Guy Holtzman
What breeds of animals do you keep?
We specialize in Huacaya Alpacas. There are two kinds, Huacaya and Suri alpacas. Both are alpacas just look and have different fiber characteristics, Huacaya fluffy, Suri long, silky look.
How did you choose those animals?
Best fit for our lifestyle, they take less area, food and daily care than some other livestock and I didn’t want anything I needed to slaughter.
How many animals do you typically keep at any one time?
We have 74 on the ranch right now. As part of our business plan we board and care for alpacas from 3 other ranches. Our personal herd is about 30. We had 3 cria (babies) born this summer.
When do you sheer the fur/fiber?
We shear in mid to late April each year.  
Why is that time more desireable than any other time of year?
We have a great covered barn so can shear on the early side and have them done before we get any hot weather. Walking around in your heavy winter coat when our temps reach 80 in May is not very comfortable.
How much do you collect on average?
Average is 3-5 pounds of fiber on each alpaca. That can depend on age, density, cleanliness and length of locks.
How do you process it/store it?
Each fleece is taken off the alpaca in 3 bags, #1 for Prime...blanket, #2 for neck fiber, #3 for leg. I skirt each bag of fleece for each alpaca separately, that means that I pull out anything that is debris, dirty or that I don’t want in the finished product. Then I decide what will be the end product, i. e. roving, yarn, etc. and if I will process or send to the mill. Fleeces are put in 33 galleon clear plastic bags and stored on shelves in our shop until I have skirted them. For longer term shelf storage I use heave paper bags and tape shut. Periodic checking for moths is a must.
Where can we find yarns or fiber made from your animals? 
Blizzard Yarn & Fiber, Vancouver, WA
Urban Wolves Fibre Arts, Vancouver, WA
© Guy Holtzman

What do you enjoy most about working with animals and fiber? 
Interacting with our animals on a daily basis and the opportunity to create with their fiber.
Do you name your animals?
Absolutely! Each has a name and knows it, but they have a cat like personality and don’t always respond. Ps. we also love cats, have 2 house cats and 2 barn cats.
Do you have a favorite among your animals?
2 of our stud males are probably my favorites, Macallan 11 and Maximus. They are our first choice when we want to take alpacas to yarn shops or other events.  Also I am a sucker for the cria, this year we had 3. 2 boys and a girl and they are too cute.
Do you crochet, knit, spin, or dye?
All of the above although I need to take some of Laurinda’s classes on crochet to get better.
Which came first? Your choice to farm for fiber?
Property came first. But the alpacas have led me down the path to being a fiber artist.
Or did your animals lead to your love of farming for fiber? We have 30 acres, always wanted a ‘little’ more room but never thought we would have this much and be ranching.
Anything else you would like to share? You don’t have to have acreage to love alpacas and their amazing fiber. Come share our journey, meet our alpacas.


Facebook: White OakAlpacas

Join COWLtober now, and you will get links to the previous weeks newsletters with the Week 3 pattern featuring White Oaks Alpacas yarn, in your final confirmation email.

Capriccia Cowl

1 comment: