2010 Blog Entries
This boy is in a foul mood. We had to replace another 10ft. cattle panel in our fencing on Monday that was caved in with staples laying 10 feet away. For those who do not know what a cattle panel is, it is much, much stiffer than wire fencing. Heavy gauge and meant to withstand livestock strain.
About 8 this morning, I heard Sophie setting off her alarm bark. Totally different sound than just annoyed barking. Max immediately took off to back her up. The barking did not let up, so I decided go to check it out.
Max and Sophie had tails up and would not back down. Tails up is like waving a bat at someone when it comes to Maremmas. It is a definite signal to back off and don't cross the line.
This monster refused to leave. Sophie and Max refused to be called off. Little 3 month old Ghita was sitting up the logging road from them barking up a storm like she was 10 ft. tall. I did manage to get a couple of pictures before deciding to leave. The raised hair on the moose's back and his ears pinned spoke volumnes. He charged the fence twice. At this time, I decided I would be the slowest one on the hill if he decided to jump the fence, which is really, really easy for a moose his size.
I grabbed hold of little Ghita and towed her off to the barn to be locked up. There is no way she would stand a chance if it came after her. It would have stomped her to death.
The standoff went on for over 4 hours before I left to go to town. I don't know how long after that. When I got back 3 hours later, the big boy was gone, Sophie and Max were back at the barn with the goats and there was no sign of injuries to anything. All is well that ends well.
Moose are particularly aggressive this time of year and being with dogs, which are their natural enemies, is a bad place to be for humans. Stay away from these behemoths anytime, but particularly in the Autumn when rut is going on.
More dehairing pictures
Ann and I feeding the cashmere into the machine. The second photo is the machine rolling out cashmere cloud. It is unbelievably light when you pick up a handful of it.
If you close your eyes, you cannot even tell it is in your hand. We played that game with one another. "Close your eyes and tell me when you feel cloud in your hand." No one could guess when it was placed in the palm of their hand.
Beautiful, beautiful cloud.
If I can get a video to load, I will add one that shows the cloud coming out into the bin.
Standing in the shoes of a dehairer
The next time I hear anyone complain about the cost of high quality cashmere, I am going to ask them to accompany me to Montana. Traveling over to Kila, Montana to Ann Keenan's home was a wonderful trip that gave me a stark reality check when it comes to dehairing cashmere. She purchased the large dehairer that was formerly owned by Going to the Sun Fiber Mill.
After a great deal of work and investment, I had 24 lbs of partially dehaired cashmere returned to me from a mill that uses a commercial dehairer. It came back full of hair and noils after one run, which is the equivalent to 4 runs on one of the small Mini Mill machines. I honestly thought it was unsalvagable.
My friend, Liz Tafere, accompanied me over to Ann's to also help. We stood behind the dehairer an average of 6 1/2 hours a day feeding it. One can only go as fast as the machine. It took an entire day to run 2-3 lbs. We spent 6 days there helping to get as much done as possible.
Ann did a wonderful job with the fiber I took over there, constantly adjusting the machine to the right speed to get the fiber cleaned out. She also cleaned the drums after every batch. That is something I wondered about since my white fiber came back full of black hairs from the other mill. Ann's machine turned that horrible mess into something beautiful and promising. It eliminated more than 90% of the hair and noils and some will be run one more time.
Liz and I had a great time visiting with Ann and John during the week and look forward to the beautiful yarn that will now be spun at GTTS. Finally, finally, we can begin moving forward with our patterns and spun yarns for sale. Won't be long now!
So.........be patient with the anyone dehairing your fleece that is dedicated to doing a good job with this elegant fiber. Believe you me, I have a much, MUCH, greater appreciation for Ann and the effort that goes into this!
Send your fleece to Ann Keenan (www.pnfcashmeres.com) if you want peace of mind regarding your fiber and great results!
Ghita comes home
Well...........the best laid plan.............Going to the Sun Fiber Mill, due to personal problems, has let go of the dehairing machine that processes the cashmere. This is a huge blow to all the efforts that have gone into our project for the last year. To complicate matters even further, Haneke Mill shut down this year as well. That only leaves one mill that can custom process cashmere.
After the fiber sitting at GTTS for 5 months, Designer Jen Hagan finished with wonderful patterns, samples made, kits being worked on, now we have no yarn. We are scrambling to find someone who can custom process it for us. We have had the fiber run through a commercial dehairer but will not run it through a large machine again. It needs to be finished off on a small machine.
Ann Keenan, a member of our producer group, has applied for a loan to buy the GTTS dehairer. A building will need to be put up and the machine set up before she can begin. All our hopes and prayers are with her in this endeavor. Proper dehairing of the cashmere has always been a bottleneck in the industry here in the U.S. Ann has experience on this machine and is a meticulous fiber crafter, so I am really hoping this all works out for her and us.
Once the machine is operational we will be sending all our fiber to her for processing and look forward to working with her.
My Irish grandmother used to say, "It is what it is". We will be flexible and patient and the dream will come;-)
One thing about moose - nothing stands in their way - not even a brand new 14ft. wire filled gate!
Most of the time, by virtue of standard height of 4-5 feet, gates represent nothing more than a hop over to moose. The dogs must have found it inside the pasture perimeter and chased it. On the run, it probably did not have enough room to prepare for a jump. Instead, decided to go through it. Gate was actually laying down and bent up in two different places, enough that I could not get it to stand back up by myself. Cow moose tracks all over the place. Just think, this was a smaller version of moose!
$150 later and installing it in the middle of the night, things are finally back to normal - for now. September issues in mating season for moose here and they become a lot more active.
The bull moose show up in foul moods. They wander through the woods thrashing their racks in the brush and making low, bellyaching sounds to call the girls in. This goes on for about 3 weeks and it is not uncommon for a big bull moose to stake out our nice soft green grass in the backyard for a place to sleep. Sept. means taking a flashlight out at night to make sure no moose are around, since they are the most unpredicatable critters on the mountain.
Nope, do NOT want to meet a moose in the dark!
Raspberries and Pollywogs
Threw away my list of chores today to play with grandaughters, Brenna and Kaylee. Grandma's garden is always a favorite, especially when the raspberries are ripening. Blueberries and currants are not far behind. Soon the freezer will be filled with freezer jams, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and currant syrup.
Then a trip to the pond to try and catch tadpoles. Tried to explain to the girls that tadpoles were all grown up now and turned into frogs, but that did not deter them from spending a timeless hour looking for them and ooohing and ahhhing over bright blue dragonflies that swept across the water.
Goats are growing cashmere, goat kids are growing fast, finished with shots, taggings and other bothersome things humans do to them. Happily munching away in the pasture and turning covetous eyes to the new 4,000 ft of fencing that weaves through brushy woods. 4 gates and we will be ready to let them in that area to get rid of the brush that is such a fire hazard here. In a couple of years it will look like a park up there, as new wilderness grass seed will be planted this Fall. With sunlight reaching the ground now, the grass and trees should do very well. The goats will keep things trimmed down, fertilized, and maintain a good defensive area for wildfires that occur in drier areas from time to time. Lived here in Spokane during the last firestorm in the 90's. Learned a few lessons from that experience that I wish not to repeat.
Life on a farm is a lot of work, but there is nothing like feeling a degree of self sufficiency, caring for and raising animals that give us something back, stewarding the land and forest, and having the opportunity to share the magic of this place with children. Great day spending time being a kid again!
Here they come. HERE THEY COME!
Just can't stand not giving you all a preview................
A few final tweaks are needed but we are almost there. Now, just waiting for the yarns from the mill!!
Here are pictures of the pattern covers, with the exception of the Lace Scarf. The size of picture this blog allows just does not do them justice at all. When I get them in their final form, I will put larger pictures in the Gallery Section and rename that section Debut....... Jen is still trying to get a picture she likes the feel of on a live model, but I have included her picture of the scarf on a mannequin for an idea of scale.
I have got to tell you, my husband has rarely seen me so excited, as when I opened the box and unwrapped the samples and patterns !! It's been a lot of work for everyone involved, and to actually hold these wonderful creations in my hands, is nothing short of JOY. To see the dream come true after everyone's efforts, time and talent is so very, very fulfilling - all American- even the goats :-).
American grown, American combed, American processed, American designed, American custom handknitted.
How much better can it get!!!
Cable and Lace Beret
Where does time go?
The older I get, the faster time goes - at least it seems that way! Jen Hagan is finished with the patterns and we are waiting on the mill. That is the only bottleneck in the cashmere industry - the amount of time it takes to get it back from the processors. Too few mills processing cashmere the way I want it done! So trying to be patient a while longer- it will be SOOOOOO worth it. The items made from the patterns are beautiful:-)
Cool and wet June for this part of the state, but things are heating up. Garden is finally growing. Have a couple of apple bins my girlfriend, Roni, and painted black, turned upside down, added 2x6s, filled with soil and this year planted some petunias in them. Picture is of the wave petunias finally growing. If you have to work in a garden, might as well have something fun to look at!
The last of the cashmere kids have been born, grass is growing, fencing through the woods coming along well. Up to 70 goats now, counting kids. Will start neutering some of the little bucks, tagging and giving CDT shots this week. Some of these look very promising as breeding stock, but can't keep them all as bucks. Wethers (neutered males) grow good fiber, so will keep the best.
Lil'Bit: "I be small but I be mighty"
You can't tell much by the picture, but Lil'Bit is about 4 lbs. Most kids average 6 lbs. She is a tiny little thing but has the sweetest temperament, just like her mom, Ariel. Ariel was a bottle baby and is small for a yearling. We avoid breeding yearlings and Lil'Bit's birth was a total surprise.
I have a feeling sweet hubby, Reed, left a gate open and just refuses to fess up about it, since leaving gates open can be a touchy subject around any farm :-) Ah well.......who can't love a baby cashmere goat?!
Max checking out Lil Bit after Vit E/Selenium shot.
Every newborn gets what is called a BoSe shot shortly after birth. It is a Vitamin E/Selenium shot given animals that live in an area where selenium is deficient in the soil and therefore in the hay and feed. Selenium deficiency can cause a lot of problems with a tendency toward retained placenta in some does, and white muscle disease in newborns. Newborns short on selenium often cannot stand and drag their hind legs behind them. The shot can provide dramatic results with the lacking newborn up and normal often within an hour. Custom mineral mix is provided free choice at all times, but some animals need more than others and a shot is a good preventative treatment for the newly arrived.
Maremmas are attentive guardians and Max always fawns over does with the newly born. Here Ariel likes to hide her baby behind the upside down water tank. Max stayed with them until she was ready to move her out. The dogs also demonstrate a lot of concern when newborns are handled and bleating from fright or pain. Max came to check out Lil'Bit after her shot to make sure things were alright. Good guardian, Max!
Memorial Day Weekend we welcomed two special guests, Fred and Jen Hagan. What a delightful couple! We had a great weekend getting to know them, going over pattern options and discussing the cashmere project in general. Jen was kind enough to give me a knitting lesson! Thanks Jen for your patience and for introducing me to a fun pastime. Now I understand why so many people love knitting.
Jen is the knitwear designer for the cashmere patterns being created for us. They are the owners of Figheadh Yarnworks in Tacoma, Washington. Jen has the sweetest light Southern accent and is absolutely bursting with creativity and ideas for knitting design. She is quite the inspirationi!
Everything is almost in place for the patterns and kits. We just need to wait for the yarns to be processed at the mill. I can't wait to share them with you. I think they really address the elegance of cashmere and most projects can be finished with one skein.
One of our does had a pair of twins during their visit so Fred and Jen got to see new cashmere kids literally minutes old.
Weather has been one rainstorm after another for the week. Have one little doeling born Tuesday that is so small I have named her Lil'Bit. She will probably just wind up to be a pet, but she sure is cute. I will post some pictures of her if we ever get a nice day to take photos!
White, white everywhere!
Scurrying to get back into the swing of things and catch up here, but could not resist giving you a quick peek at some of the new arrivals since we have gotten home. Our buck, Madagascar, is great for throwing white kids with good conformation. Will get some more pics up soon of colored kids, but I just thought these were way too cute!
These large, black rubber feed pans attract and retain heat, so the kids just love piling into them to take a nap and wait for mom to come back to feed them.
Meet the producers
I think it's time you meet some of the conscientious producers helping to launch this project to put American Cashmere back on the radar! Today, I'll be introducing Ann Keenan of Kila, Montana and Lisa Knutson of Tres Pinos, California. These gals are quality conscious and dedicated to producing the finest cashmere fiber and yarn you can find. No hunger fine animals. No adverse effects to the environment - just healthy happy cashmere goats, lovingly cared for by two great gals.
When I get back from what we think is a well deserved vacation in Maui (only the 4th vacation we have had in 26 years!) I will introduce you to Mickey Nielsen and myself:-)
Ann Keenan : Pine Needle Farm, Kila, Montana (pnfcashmeres.com)
Ann has been raising cashmere goats for nine years. Ann says she got into raising cashmere goats when she accompanied a friend to look at some dairy goats. The gal they were visiting also had some cashmere goats for sale and Ann bought 4 of them, along with three dairy goats.
Over the years, she has experimented with different breeding lines of cashmere goats. She has developed a good cashmere producing herd. Ann continues to develop the lines, breeding for a shorter guard haired animal, micron between 14-17 and good differentiation between the cashmere fiber and guard hair to make dehairing at the mill easier and more productive. Her down averages 2-3 inches long. After the dehairing, the yield is about 80-90% spun to yarn.
Ann micron tests her herd bi-annually to maintain quality control and remain on track for her breeding program. Animals that do not meet the requirements are butchered for meat, because she does not want to pass on bad traits by selling them to someone else.
She also breeds for good personalities, preferring goats that she can just walk up to and pet or work with. Cashmere goats tend to be flighty animals and Ann says the difficult ones just require more handling. She says her bucks are all easy going and easy to handle.
Ann uses a holistic approach with her goats, using herbal wormers. Her goats free range in the forest all Summer and are able to pick and choose all kinds of good vegetation to eat and keep them healthy.
Ann is a handspinner.
The first yarns to arrive from the mill for this pattern project are Ann's! They are absolutely beautiful, soft, luxurious. They will be used to make items from Jen Hagan's patterns for display and for sale.
Lisa Knutson: Lisa's Farm, Tres Pinos, California (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lisa currently has a herd of 66 cashmere does that have kidded this Spring. She has 24 doelings from last year that will also be bred this Fall. Her goal is to carry 150 does. She currently uses 2 bucks for breeding and has kept 4 bucklings to use.
Quality conscious, every one of her animals has had their fiber tested at the Fiber Research Center at Texas A & M. She does not keep any goat that does not meet the standard set for micron diameter or style. She has a lot of white cashmere and is breeding for more morrit/taupe and grey.
Lisa leases 300 acres from friends in Tres Pinos, California. She practices sustainable farming. This year, she will also be grazing grass fed poultry(chickens, ducks and turkeys) with her goats and 50 merino sheep to continue to improve grass quality and insect/parasite control.
Lisa is a handspinner.
2010 First Born - Triplets born this afternoon
March on the Mountain
One of the first things we watch for during March on the Mountain, is the arrival of the wild tom turkeys. They show up to court the wild hen turkeys. This year, the hens wintered over here on the place. Right on schedule, three tom turkeys have arrived. I keep trying to figure out how in the world the girls find these fellows attractive. The body looks alright with his wings spread out to sweep toward a pretty girl turkey, but the head - looks like an art project gone awry.
Since a lot of people don't get to see these kind of things, I thought I would post it. He must be really handsome, because he has about 7 wild hens hanging out with him and ignoring the other two gents.
Sophie had her puppies late yesterday afternoon. 2 Girls and 2 Boys. First pup was very large and stillborn. Rushed her to vet and had her x-rayed. Out of three remaining pups, two were large, so they performed a C section. Ultrasound had suggested 6 or more. Oh well, so much for ultrasounds that are not an exact science in veterinary practice. All is well that ends well. Surviving 2 Girls and 1 whopping sized boy, are healthy and happy. Sophie is a proud mom! Check out pics on Maremma 'puppies link'
After a very long struggle with cancer, my very best friend passed away last week in California. Just got back from spending those last days with her with her and her family and giving the eulogy at her funeral. She was a bright light in everyone's lives, a valiant spirit, and will be missed terribly.
When I was down in Jan/Feb, she told me she could still crochet, despite her hands being crippled from rheumatoid arthritis. So, when I came home from that trip, I asked designer, Jennifer Hagan, if I could change the upcoming Lace Cowl design from knit to crochet. Kathy was excited to see it and work with the cashmere. Although she did not get to do that, that pattern will now be called 'Kathy's Cowl' in her honor. I know she would have loved the beautiful design and wearing that warm soft fiber around her neck.
Soon, I will be showcasing the producers I am working with on this project to help put American cashmere in everyone's sight. They are as excited about this as I am and diligent about producing wonderful cashmere for our yarns.
Spring is finally shining on the mountain. Patches of green are appearing in the pasture, the goats are basking in the sunlight. Sophie, our Maremma, is ready to have pups anytime after today. She is so big and looks uncomfortable. I am heading to the barn to take her out in the sun so she can enjoy it.
She started digging for a nest under our chicken coop, so she is now in the barn with a ready made cave made from strawbales and covered with plywood. She likes her new home and seems to approve of it for a cave for her pups.
Baby goats are due towards the end of next month. Did not want kids born in cold weather like we had last year, so between Sophie having pups, and 16 does having babies, this place will be hopping - literally- come late May!
Back to Work
OK, now that Reed's big party is over, I can get back to work! We had a life celebration party to commemorate his reaching 70 year mark, 21 years in the military and 40th year practicing medicine. Son, Ryan, put together a great video presentation for it. Son, Scott, helped with quotes from Hippocratic oath to have a beautiful plaque made up. Sons, daughter in law, Melanie, and grandaughters helped with decorations and setting up a nice table of memorabilia. Great time had by all! Many thanks to all who came out to support Reed!! Scott back on plane to Denver, miss him already. Glad he made it out to help his brother reduce mom's stress level :-)
Big sigh, here. Now, back to combing. Had fully planned on shearing this year, but doesn't seem like any animal on this place has read the manuals lately. They started casting fiber early. I've got to think the mild winter and warmer temps contributed in some way to this, since I am hearing from other breeders who are experiencing the same.
Still completely stoked about the patterns and kits that are coming. Jennifer has done such a wonderful job.
Well, better head back out to the barn and get back to the job at hand. Think I'll just put on some Celtic music and enjoy feeling that wonderful fiber slip through my fingers :-)
I am so excited, I can hardly sit still! Today, I received the swatches of the designs by Jennifer Hagan. They are everything I asked for: elegant, feminine and appealing. Just holding them, admiring the knitting and crocheting design, feeling the wonderful lightness, warmth and softness of the fiber is amazing. Can't wait to show you the full sized items!
Thank you for all the inquiries regarding cashmere. Addressing some questions I have been asked, here is what I am looking for:
Cashmere 14-19 microns in diameter
Cashmere 1-1 1/2 inches or more in length
Cashmere with good crimp all along the fiber
Clean and skirted
Rump fleece separated from rest (just include in shipment in separate bag)
Neck can be included with Mid if sufficient length
No kid fleece: I know, I know. Kid fleece is the finest fleece out there, but it also has the weakest tensile strength. And, unless you have a buck that throws coarser guard hair that gives good differentiation, most kid guard hair is almost as fine as their cashmere. It makes it difficult to dehair and raises the expense of processing which is already very expensive. For this project, I prefer not to use kid cashmere in the yarns.
Combing continues......Tried one of those funky long tined combs invented by Dr. Evans. I've always reverted back to the double row shedding rakes for dogs, because I always found these long tines and wide handle cumbersome to use.
This time, however, I decided to try Evans comb on some new longer staple, wooly type does I bought last year. Now I am sold on it for these type. Nice to have the bale on the tines and piling up of cashmere. Work went quickly.
ON the lighter side;-)
Cecile Charles who displays my soaps in her Gallery of Thum, downtown Spokane, called the other day. She and a gentleman had been discussing cashmere and he was a fly fisherman. He told her that cashmere is used for fly tying. She asked about buck cashmere since, in my heart, I am always thinking there must be a way to salvage that.
They discussed how buck scent would cover human scent on the flies/flys (sp? help me out there). Can you tell I don't fly fish?
I needed to make a trip into town and found myself screeching to a halt at a corner close to a Swedes Fly Shop. Hmmm. Curiosity getting the best of me, and disbelieving the whole concept, I walked into the store and up to the desk where a gentleman was making a purchase.
"Can I help you?", the kind looking man behind the counter queried.
"Yes, I have a question about tye flying?"
Both men snickering. "You mean fly tying?"
Undeterred. "Uh hmm yes, do you use animal hair for fly tying? I raise cashmere goats and have been told it is used for that purpose."
"Cashmere comes from goats?", he replied, looking a bit surprised.
Feeling somewhat vindicated, I smiled back. "Yes, and I have been told that buck cashmere is used because it covers human scent"
Now, they were both chuckling."Well, I have never heard of that, but it is used because of it's length."
He trotted me back to a rack that has several displays of cashmere guard hair about 6+ inches long, dyed in various bright colors.
As things progressed, I found myself immersed in the complexities of the fly fishing world, and most importantly found, it is a 'visual' stimulus for fish, and probably has absolutely nothing to do with scent.......
I thanked him for the education, his kindness and patience, and walked out with a, "Say, lady, don't throw that out, you may have a market for it.
Well, folks, if you want to look into that, maybe there is a local fly shop in your area that could use the long guard hair of your does? I'm passing on this one- especially since they don't want the buck hair :-) Have a great weekend!
For prospective sellers of raw cashmere:
Especially as we start this endeavor, and because I am working with a designer that can help further our industry, I need to keep the raw fleece I buy within the standard for cashmere. It is extremely important to me as we try to grow awareness of American cashmere, that we provide the highest quality yarns that we can.
I need to know that people wanting to sell their cashmere have a grasp on what the standards are and how to raise cashmere to meet the standard.
Some of the questions I am going to have regarding you as a seller are:
How long have you been raising cashmere
How many animals do you have
Do you comb or shear
Do you use your own bucks or those of others, if so, have those bucks been micron tested
Have you had, or do you have your animals micron tested and how often
Do you have an understanding about how to sort/class your fiber
Do you know what cashgora is in the cashmere world. That is a separate market I am not interested in.
For people just beginning to raise cashmere, please realize how important it is to the industry that you do your research, work with others who can mentor you (you'll find most cashmere breeders are more than happy to share what they know with you) and learn and try to maintain the standard for cashmere.
I firmly believe this industry will grow once people are aware of us. What will put us on the radar is the quality of yarns we produce.
Veteran cashmere growers out there, I look forward to your feedback on any and all I am trying to accomplish here and advice on how to maintain quality control. I am open to suggestions, respect your experience and hope we can work together in the future.
And so it begins................WE ARE GOING TO TRY OUR BEST TO PUT NORTH AMERICAN CASHMERE BACK ON THE RADAR!
Stay tuned. Soon I will be revealing some really beautiful designs, created by a wonderfully talented knitwear designer. I searched for a long time for the 'right' designer to work with. I saw one of her creations on the cover of a British Magazine, and knew as soon as I saw it, that this was the gal that could showcase cashmere in the manner I wanted: elegant, feminine, appealing, inspiring.
But that is only the beginning. She is extremely excited about the quality of our yarns and wants to work within her network to promote American cashmere. We are starting with small projects to test the market while we rally cashmere producers. If we get a positive response and enough production, we have plans to move onto much bigger projects, and hopefully create a reliable market for American cashmere.
We are presently purchasing raw cashmere. If you have quality raw cashmere for sale, please contact us.
Shearing and combing time is here!
Ravenwood Cashmere and Soaps