Ribbons aren't everything!
There are basically four ways that one can assess the quality of alpaca fleece. The first is eyes and hands – how does it look and how does it feel? The more fleeces you get your eyes and hands on, the better you will be able to judge a quality fleece. The risk is “barn blindness,” which is when you only look at your own fleeces and judge them to be superior – which we all do! That is why it is important to get someone else’s eyes and hands on fleeces, and to look at fleeces that don’t live in your barn.
The second way is to go to the shows. Halter and fleece shows will give a lot of feedback – with a few caveats. If you send your fleece to a fleece show, you will get a scorecard with the judge’s comments, regardless of placement. If you go to a halter show, your alpaca will also be scored on conformation, which is important for breeding. You won’t get comments in the halter ring, though, unless your animal places in the top six. By the time you pay to register the animal, reserve stalls, travel and secure lodging, pay for farm sitting, etc, the shows get pretty expensive. For some of us, that is a real issue.
The third way, histograms, gives objective data. That is why we do histograms on all our animals. At shearing, a 4x4” sample is taken from the side of the animal, which is sent to a lab in New Zealand where the fiber diameter, curvature (crimp), and staple length are measured in a machine that has no bias or error. Of course, the measurement is only as good as the sample. Histograms only look at fiber – not the whole animal, and not density, because that is based on hair follicles per square millimeter. Hair follicles are in the skin, so can’t be measured by a fleece sample.
An option with histograms is to participate in the EPD program. EPD stands for Expected Progeny Difference. All the data that is available for a particular animal – most of it from histograms – is entered into an algorithm that tells breeders how likely an animal is to pass on particular characteristics. EPDs are available for cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, and within the last few years, alpacas. The EPD algorithm for alpacas assesses fleece diameter (fineness), percent of fibers above 30 microns (comfort), medullated fibers (can produce itchiness, and don’t take dye well), mean staple length (2” staple length is necessary to go through machinery at a commercial mill), fleece weight (more is better), and birth weight. The higher the percentile (closer to zero), the more likely the animal is to pass that particular trait on.
Histograms only take a couple of weeks once the sample arrives at the lab, but EPDs are run as a batch at the end of the year, as the data is needed from all the animals participating. Our EPD results for 2022 came about a month ago, and we are SO pleased.
We don’t have a lot of show wins, mostly because it is so expensive to show. We’ve never stood in the championship ring (although we’ve bought animals who have!). But our EPDs tell us we are right where we want to be as a fiber producing farm.
Two of our animals are in the top 1% for fineness (AFD), one is in the top five%, and three are in the top 10%. Consistency (SDAFD) is even better: 1 in the top 1%, 5 in the top 5%, and 5 in the top 10%. Mean staple length (MSL) is where we fall off: 1 in the top 5%, 1 in the top 10%, and 2 in the top 25%. This means that out of 53,247 females, some of ours ranked in the top 300 for various traits. For males, 29,710 animals were ranked, so again, those in the top 25% are more likely to pass that trait on than 22,282 of the animals participating. Not bad for a small farm like ours!
These results tell us that our breeding decisions are paying off. We have been focusing on consistency for several years. Consistency gives us nice, soft yarn that tends not to shed and is less prickly than yarn that has fibers of different diameters and length. Fineness is important for softness, but the mills can’t use fiber that is too fine, so we prefer to focus on consistency. Now, while we maintain a strong focus on consistency, we will turn to improving our staple length.
There was an interesting article in The American Alpaca Journal in the January, 2023 issue, that judges in the show ring are not currently showing a preference for staple length, and in fact are rewarding fleece traits at the expense of staple length. “To win in the halter ring, breed to produce animals with fleeces that are finer, denser and much shorter than average.” (p. 3). The data bears this out: from a sample of 50 male halter show champions and reserve champions with shows from January 2021 to May 2022, all were at the 85 percentile or lower for staple length (p. 5). In fleece shows, the highest percentile for staple length in a cohort of 38 male champions and reserve champions was 63% (p. 9). The problem is that staple must be two inches long, at least, to be commercially made into yarn. There is a disconnect here somewhere. As one exhibitor at a show a few years ago told me, we have to make breeding decisions based on what we want – to win ribbons or make yarn, because the two aren’t necessarily the same. This particular exhibitor has champion alpacas and owns and operates a fiber mill, so he knows whereof he speaks.
What does this mean for Sugar Hollow Farm Alpacas? As we say on our website, we breed for yarn. We don’t need the finest alpacas who win in the show ring. We want consistent fleeces with a staple length of 2 inches or more. Our EPD results tell us that we are exactly where we want to be as far as consistency goes. Now we need to work on staple length.
What does this mean for you? Look past our show ribbons – we aren’t big winners at the shows. Look at our histograms and EPDs, and if you need help interpreting them, give us a call. If yarn is what you want, our animals will help you get it!
Edens, L., & Bienenstock, S. (2023). Winning Fleece Formulas By Venue. The American Alpaca Journal, 8(January), 2-11.
2022 Fall Events
The days are getting shorter and cooler weather is upon us! Following is a list of the events we will be hosting or attending this fall. Other events may be added so check back often!
National Alpaca Farm Days - Saturday, Sept. 24 from 10:30 to 4:00 & Sunday, Sept. 25 from 1:30 to 4:00. This is the weekend that alpaca farms all across the United States open their doors to the public. Stop by our farm to visit the alpacas, take a tour of the farm, learn about the care and handling of these amazing animals, and also the process for turning their fleece into yarn and eventually into the soft and warm apparel that you've come to know and love. Then finish off your visit in our farm store and get a jump start on that Holiday shopping!
Waynesboro Market Day - Saturday, Oct. 1 from 9:00 to 4:00. Held on Main Street in downtown Waynesboro this annual event features dozens of vendors along with lots of food and activities. We will have alpacas with us so be sure to stop by and say hello! For more information click here.
1st Annual Hagerstown Fiber Fest - Saturday, Oct. 15 from 9:00 to 4:00. Located at University Plaza, 50 West Washington Street in Hagerstown, MD this event is for fiber enthusiasts of all ages and experiences. There will be demonstrations, vendors of all things fiber and of course, alpacas from Sugar Hollow Farm! If you love the fiber arts don't miss this festival! Click here for more information.
Waynesboro Tree Lighting and Holiday Market - Friday, Nov. 18 from 4:30 to 8:00 - See us on Main Street (not in Main Street Park) before and after the official lighting of Waynesboro's Christmas tree (or even during, if you want to beat the crowd)! We will have all our usual favorites for you to find just the right gift for that very special someone. And don't forget to treat yourself! Click here for details.
Wright Hand Studio Fall Event - Saturday, Nov. 19 from 10:00 to 3:00. Held at the Wright Hand Pottery studio at 571 Jefferson St., Hagerstown, MD this semi-annual event features pottery created by owner Steve Wright and his many talented students. We will be there with alpacas and alpaca apparel, books, toys, and some pottery of our own created by Kathy Brown.
Fifth Annual Holiday Open Farm - Saturday, Dec. 3 from 10:30 to 4:00 - Rain or Shine!- Come to our farm and see the alpacas in their natural habitat - COLD. Then warm yourself by our fire pit with some hot chocolate and cookies, while that special someone finds the perfect alpaca gift for you in our shop! Don't forget to drop a lot of hints!
Ramblin' man pics
Shearing day is behind us, so now what do we do? Shearing is just the first step in turning the crazy soft and warm alpaca fleece into crazy soft and warm apparel for people to wear. After shearing we skirt the fleece on (what else) a skirting table. Skirting is when the fleece is picked through to remove any unwanted fibers and barnyard debris to get it ready for processing at the mill. The mill will wash the fleece and then run it through a carder to get all the fleece fibers pointing in the same direction. The end product is called roving. Once that is complete the roving is spun into yarn. We pick up the yarn and then label it including a picture of the alpaca that produced it, our farm logo, and our Homegrown By Heroes-PA Preferred logo. Now it is ready to be used by Kathy to weave or knit products for our farm store or simply sold in our shop and at various vendor events in the area. The other big item we look forward to after shearing is the arrival of our Spring crias! We are expecting two in 2022 - one from our true black dam Rhiannon in late May and the other to our blue ribbon winning Layla in early to mid June. The sire for both is our own Poseidon Isaac's Matoskah. His previous offspring with Rhiannon took 2nd place in a class of 7 a few years ago so we are hoping for a repeat performance! We will have two more cria coming in the fall and have already planned our breedings for this spring which will produce next year's cria's. Spring is always an exciting time on the farm!
The pictures above are a before and after shearing picture of Sugar Hollow's Daydream Believer. In the group picture on the right he is the one on the far left. What a difference shearing makes!
Congratulations to the Yeagers!
Congratulations to Drs. Joel & LuAnne Yeager of Newmanstown, PA on their purchase of Sugar Hollow's Born to Run, Deacon Blues, and Abracadabra! They are off to a good start on their alpaca adventure with these three fabulously fleeced young males. Runner earned an Advanced Fleece award at the 2020 PAOBA fleece show with a score of 83. Deacon and Abby also show excellent fineness, consistency, staple length, and crimp. All vital characteristics to produce wonderful yarn!
2021 Fall Events
Here is a list of the events we will be hosting or attending this fall. Other events may be added so check back often!
National Alpaca Farm Days - Saturday, Sept. 25 from 10:30 to 4:00 & Sunday, Sept. 26 from 1:30 to 4:00. This is the weekend that alpaca farms all across the United States open their doors to the public. Stop by our farm to visit the alpacas, take a tour of the farm, learn about the care and handling of these amazing animals, and also the process for turning their fleece into yarn and eventually into the soft and warm apparel that you've come to know and love. Then finish off your visit in our farm store and get a jump start on that Holiday shopping!
Waynesboro Market Day - Saturday, Oct. 2 from 9:00 to 4:00. Held on Main Street in downtown Waynesboro this annual event features dozens of vendors along with lots of food and activities. We will have alpacas with us so be sure to stop by and say hello! For more information click here.
Wright Hand Studio Fall Event - Saturday, Oct. 9 (time TBD). Held at the Wright Hand Pottery studio in Hagerstown, MD this semi-annual event features pottery created by owner Steve Wright and his many talented students. We'll be there with alpacas and alpaca apparel, books, toys, and some pottery of our own created by Kathy Brownefferson Street
Hagerstown, MD 21740571 J571 Jefferson Street
Waynesboro Tree Lighting and Holiday Market - Friday, Nov. 19 from 4:30 to 8:00 - See us in Main Street Park before and after the official lighting of Waynesboro's Christmas tree (or even during, if you want to beat the crowd)! We will have all our usual favorites for you to find just the right gift for that very special someone. And don't forget to treat yourself!
Fourth Annual Holiday Open Farm - Saturday, Dec. 11 from 10:30 to 4:00 - Come see the alpacas in their natural habitat - COLD. Then warm yourself by our fire pit with some hot chocolate and cookies, while that special someone finds the perfect alpaca gift for you in our shop! Don't forget to drop a lot of hints!
Holiday Farm Store Hours. You know what we always say - "Give us a call, if we're home, we're open!" We realize however that in the rush of the Holidays it's not always convenient to have to stop and find our number to call first. Therefore, we will have the following set Farm Store hours, no calling ahead required:
Saturday, December 4 from 11 AM to 4 PM
Saturday, December 11 from 10:30 AM to 4 PM - Holiday Open Farm (see above)
Sunday, December 12 from 1:30 PM to 4 PM
If you can't make it during our holiday hours you can still call us at other times to see if we're home. But do please call first - it's a busy time for us, too!
Our third and final cria for 2021 arrived on June 24 at about 1:25 PM. Kathy and Jay were off the farm that day, but fortunately daughter, and experienced alpaca midwife, Julia, was on site to ensure a smooth delivery! Louie Louie (from the unintelligible Kingsmen tune) weighed in at 15.5 lbs and was standing and nursing in short order, and then even running after only a few hours. That is not a typical activity for the day you are born! He is a beautiful light fawn color and according to Kathy looks rather like a lightly toasted marshmallow. Louie is the son of our herdsire BGF Poseidon Isaac's Matoskah and Sugar Hollow's Tiny Dancer. Dancer is the daughter of our Champion herdsire Snowmass King Leonidus. This is our second breeding of a Leo daughter to Matoskah and we are very pleased with the results!
Our first male cria of 2021 arrived at 1:05 PM on Friday, June 18. His name is Daydream Believer (from the Monkees tune) and he weighed in at 16.9 lbs. His dam is Sugar Hollow's Keep the Faith who is one of the most consistent alpacas on our farm. Consistency refers to the fiber diameter of each individual hair being nearly the same as every other. This makes yarn that will not "pill" and garments that are much less likely to "shed". Dreamers sire is Sugar Hollow's Honey Boy Edward. Honey Boy's distinguishing characteristic is his incredible staple length. His fleece is routinely over 4 and almost 5 inches in length. That makes it easy for the mill to spin into yarn that is 100% alpaca. Dreamers fleece is stunningly bright and assuming he inherits his dam's consistency and sire's staple length his fleece will make fabulous yarn!
LOng Tall Sally
Sally is the daughter of AOV Peruvian Enterprising Encore owned by Double 8 Alpaca Ranch in Purcellville, VA and Sugar Hollow's Jack Flash's Maybellene. Encore is a Champion in the show ring and has sired offspring who have also been awarded that honor as well as Judges Choice! Read more about him here. With her sire's genetics and dam's good natured disposition we're expecting Sally to be a spectacular addition to our herd!
11 day old Sally romping in the pasture with her new best friends Cecilia and Bohemian Rhapsody
We are Jay & Kathy Brown of Sugar Hollow Farm Alpacas in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. Learn more about us here.