Welcome to Graydown Alpacas
My plan with this page is to write every now and then about our life as alpaca "farmers", the fun we are having, the work that faces us daily and maybe some of what we are learning will be of some help or at least give you a good laugh.
So maybe a bit about us first: Graydown Alpacas is owned and operated by Steve and Karen Vanderwerff, we moved from Seattle up to the Mount Vernon in 1999 and have loved being in the Skagit Valley very much. In 2006 we purchased our first alpacas and have enjoyed getting to know the animals, other owners and so many people that enjoy the fiber crafts, spinners, knitters and others.
After many years of boarding our herd we were given a wonderful suprise, in May of 2010, some dear friends of ours offered the use of their land for us to move our alpacas to.This summer in July, Ben (our son) and I got started, putting up fences, shelters and installing well heads next to the shelters and everything else that needs to be done to get raw land ready for alpacas, talk about work, this is when you find out that your not 25 years old any more. When we were done we had planted 100 wooden post, 200 t-post, streched just under 4000' of fence, put up 12 gates and put up two 10'x20' shelters, lastly, being I'm a lazy person, I trenched and installed about 1500' of conduit for water with well heads next to the shelters and other key areas.
I can't tell you how good it was to be done with the "set-up". It felt great to go get our alpacas from the farms where they were and for me to get into a routine that both our alpacas and myself are starting to get to know well. It's good to spend every day getting to know each alpaca as an individual and not just another fuzzy alpaca running around.
This year also saw the birth of ten new cria, only 3 were girls - I remember once that someone told me that you have a 50/50 chance for getting a female cria, after 5 years in business I'm not so sure any longer, maybe the next few years will go the other way for us. The upside of having so many boys is that you get some good ones with a great one every now and then, I think that we have a great one in the making, a very nice fawn out of one of our best dams and one of Patagoina's best (Lennox), we are looking forward to the 2011 show season.
I just spent a week at sheep shearing school and pasted with flying colors.... black and blue. What a week it was, Monday started with not ever having sheared and animal before in my life and I have come away with the ablility to shear sheep on my own. Now with some help I will be shearing our alpacas this year and maybe taking care of a few sheep along the way.
Shearing can be family fun, I helped out all day Saturday on another farm so I could have some hands on shearing at the end of the day and learn as the day went on, I think that it worked. Sunday after church Karen, Ben, Jaci and I went out to the farm and started to shear our own alpacas, not as easy as it looks but we are learning as we go and I will get better with shearing and finding a pattern that works for me. We will keep doing a few (or more) every weekend and I'm sure that everyone will survive - thank goodness for Advil.
We are all done with shearing our alpacas and that makes me happy, it makes Karen and Jaci happy also and let's not forget the alpacas.
July and August 2011:
I finaly got a chance to use my schooling, sheep shearing schooling that is, I ended up shearing 175 Horned Dorsets here in the Skagit Valley, I'm glad that I have 11 months to get ready before I have to do that again.
The first two pictures are of one of the 164 ewes that I got to do, the other two pictures are of the 11 rams, at 300+ lbs these were big boys and a lot of hard work. I am not looking to quit my day job to start a shearing business but look forward to shearing the same sheep and alpacas next year, visiting with the farmers and maybe even picking up more clients for next year.
Another year of shearing and caring for our herd of alpacas has passed, I don't know if it's an age thing or not, but that went fast.
Shearing went very well for me this year, I hope that's because I getting a little better but it could be because the sheep are corroperating better, no that can't be everyone knows that sheep don't corroperate. I found myself shearing more alpacas this year and not that I was looking too, but I am now shearing llamas and a goat, yes a goat, just one but what a great goat (a one year old angora female) and I got to shear her on our front lawn. I also got the opportunity to shear sheep and alpacas @ camp Brotherhood just south of Mount Vernon, the first shearing was for grand kids/grandparents and the second time I went out was for campers from the King County Boys and Girls club, lots of inner-city kids with lots of questions - it was a lot of fun.
Shearing season started out being a lot of fun this year, nothing like shearing sheep at a bar, or in this case in a tent acting as a beer garden. I got Al Schwider to come and join me at Shawn O'Donnells American Bar and Grill in south Everett for their St Patrick's Day celebration, we got two opportunities to demonstrate sheep shearing. The attached picture is our sad little camera trying to take a picture without enough light, but I had to put in at least one picture on the site.
Most of my sheep shearing is over for the year NOT!, it was nice to find some good weather early this year and get some of the sheep shearing over before alpacas need attantion, just wish that I could order up the weather that I want so I could shear when I want.
Sad time for us, my first post was how my son and I put up fence, shelters and everything that goes with it, we are now taking everything down. About a month ago we were asked by the land owners to please remove all our alpacas and other things off their property so by the end of the year we will no longer have a place to house our alpacas, so in light of that we have decided to sell all our alpacas and get out of the livestock business, we will still keep the business going with my shearing and with going to fiber shows and spin-ins as a vendor - we are not going away we are just having to change. Please keep us in mind if you know of anyone that may be looking for some quality alpacas.
So it's not so easy to sale alpacas just because you don't have a place to house them, the housing part was taken care of by a good friend from church but now comes that not so easy farm setup. You find out real fast who your friends are when you set up a new farm and we have been blessed. I still have some work to do but we are getting close to moving all the alpacas soon, more to come when I have time to put into words what the past few weeks have been.
Mid Jan 2014:
The alpacas have been moved, the other farm is all but removed; in a way it may be a better deal for us all around, I am a little closer to this farm and the alpacas now have a Skagit Valley address. Even though we have set up at another farm the alpacas are still for sale and in fact 6 of our alpacas never made the trip to the new farm having been sold, a good start that needs to keep going. I will have to say that I was very blessed as far as the weather is concerned, I have only spent a few days in the rain putting up fence or what have you, so thankful.
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