Alpacas and Goats and Bunnies, Oh My!

Monday, April 28, 2014
I was never a couch potato, but I will admit that before last spring I was very content to not venture too far and just be a "homebody" mostly.  Like my Dad, I love my home and my yard and I'm not one to be bored by staying home.   However, since revisiting my love of photography I am constantly looking for cool places to go in search of photo ops.  Dusting and cleaning have taken a rather drastic dip on my priority list and I must say, it feels awesome not to be obsessed with making sure our home would pass a white-glove test.   Last Friday my mom sent me a link to a newspaper article about the Washington County Fiber Tour which was taking place this past Saturday and Sunday.  The tour featured 15 farms, all of which raised some type of livestock raised for the production of  "fiber" as well as the Battenkill Carding and Spinning Mill.  Now I'll admit right off that fiber doesn't exactly excite me, but alpacas, goats, and sheep.....well now you've got my interest.   So on Sunday morning, John and I headed out to Washington County to check out some farms.

Our first stop was the Elihu Farm in Easton.  Unfortunately we didn't get to see their Romney and morrit sheep up close as they were out in the pasture, but it was a "fiber tour" and we did get to see some spinning and carding done and that was pretty fascinating. (Please note that if you click on any photo, the photos will appear in a slide show format, larger than they appear in the blog.)

The machine on the right is where the fiber gets carded and blended before it's then spun
We got to see Betsy of the Wooly Hutch do her magic "carding". (Above)
This is Karen Lloyd of Knit in Color demonstrating spinning.

From there we travelled to Buskirk to September Morning Alpacas where we were warmly greeted by us a preview of the wonderful hospitality we were about to receive by the Giglio family. 

Let me say right up front, this farm was our favorite of the day!  The farm is located on 26 acres of some of the most picturesque views you can imagine.  The barn was so immaculate, I'd eat a meal in it.  The Giglio family began raising alpaca's about five years ago and their herd currently consists of 13 alpacas......this is accomplished while the family holds down full time jobs!!  We honestly could have spent the whole afternoon here, but with 14 more venues on the list, we had to keep moving....but not before getting these shots!

I just wanted to kiss this pretty alpaca  right on his nose!

Will you look at this floor??  Talk about clean!!

Next stop on our tour was St. Mary's on-the-Hill Cashmere.  Our close second favorite location, this location features award winning cashmere goats raised by the Anglican/Episcopalian Sisters of St. Mary at their convent in Easton.  I attended a parochial school as a kid with Canadian nuns, but I've never seen a nun in a barn wrangling goats!!!  The sisters have been raising these goats for over a decade as part of their Benedictine style of life which emphasizes prayer, study and manual work.  I'd say raising these goats and maintaining their beautiful grounds qualifies for the "work" aspect!  We were told that last year they had a 'live birth' during one of their tour days.  Although one of the mamas was expecting triplets, she wasn't cooperative enough to deliver yesterday, but there were a few babies for us to enjoy.    This place was not only beautiful, but just roaming the grounds gave me the feeling I was in a sacred and holy place.  So glad we made it to this stop!

This guy was in training to pull a cart.

Youth preparing for confirmation were doing some
of their community service work at the farm

This is a view of the Christ the King Spiritual Life Center.
The fourth stop on our tour was the Alpacas of Haven Hill in Greenwich.  Established in 2003 by Judy Leon and Kim Akins after experiencing the joys of alpaca fiber while living in Peru.  They currently have a herd of 13 alpacas, as well as a farm where they grow plants, flowers and vegetables for the Cambridge farmers' market.  In addition they sell yarn and scarves and other items. 

I know....I bet you (like me) wish you had an alpaca!

The fifth stop on our tour (which is self guided and required the help of our GPS) was Fiber Kingdom in Salem.  Fiber Kingdom raises angora rabbits and houses a beautiful shop which sells angora/wool yarn, all sorts of fibers for hand spinning, including silk, yak and mohair, equipment for spinning, weaving, felting and knitting and so much more.  Next door was a barn which "housed" 30+ angora rabbits.  Let me say, I am an animal lover, but what we were about to see might have been a bit more than even I could handle.  We entered the barn behind three folks (French and Italian) who owned a retail store in NYC.  As we opened the barn door, the aroma hit us and the city folks immediately pulled their sweater necklines up over their faces.  From the ceiling several cages hung suspended about 6 feet above the floor of the barn which was covered in straw.    Covering the floor and all about us were Masgovey ducks and chickens.  (I'm pretty sure this is where the smell came from.)   When the city spectators asked why the seems that "duck - only mascovey ducks - and chickens are great mouse and rat hunters and mice and rats are filty animals!"    Who knew?!?!?!?   We only got to see one bunny up close.....the most docile and cooperative, as described by Sylvia Graham, the farm proprietor.  Sylvia was a gracious host and so enthusiastic and informative about the business of raising bunnies for angora.   Unlike alpacas and sheep which are sheared annually, bunnies are sheared every 3 or 4 months.  Let me say, this BIG guy was even softer than he looks!

The sixth and final stop on our tour - only because we ran out of time - was Moments in Time Creations Farm in Salem.  This is a newer farm that raises a small herd of Icelandic sheep and registered blue-faced Leicester sheep.    They also are home to two happy alpacas and a border collie.  Today the sheep were confined to their stall because as soon as the tour ended, they were scheduled for their annual shear and were 'being kept clean'.   This year Elizabeth and David Cope had their first baby lamb and hope to grow the farm as time allows while holding down full time jobs!  I have a new-found respect and admiration for farmers!  Who knew they maintained farms AND worked fulltime?

This was a great experience, one which I'd recommend to anyone who loves farm animals and especially families with children.  Every farm had loads of activities for families, and  the owners were so informative and enthusiastic about sharing their farms and their stories.   The tour takes place on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00-4:00.  I'd recommend starting early since the farms are spread all around Washington county and this year featured 16 different stops.  The countryside is breathtaking - I didn't even include those pictures here.  I promise this is an experience you will be glad you took the time for!  

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