Thursday, 15 September 2011

Processing raw mohair by hand

An angora goat and her kid
At the moment I am busy processing some mohair.  Mohair is the fibre which comes from the angora goat.  This can be confusing since there are angora rabbits and angora goats, the fibre from angora rabbits is referred to as angora whereas the fibre produced by angora goats is known as mohair.  

I saw the flock of goats shorn and I picked what I considered to be the best kid fleeces.  By kid I mean the goats were about a year old and this was their first shearing, they weren’t tiny kids but this will be the best fleece of their lives.  I need to produce about 800g of finished yarn for the owner of the goats.  This is a massive job.  I don’t know of any easy way of preparing mohair fibre.

The raw mohair

 First of all I washed the mohair with Unicorn Power Scour, it was very dirty and smelt terrible while wet!

Now the mohair is dry I am combing through one lock at a time with a pet brush.  The locks open up easily except at the butt end, the end where the fibre was shorn from the goat.  The underside of the fleeces are heavily matted and in places scurfy. 

I don’t know much about this scurf, I’ve heard various explanations, some people say it is hardened wax but I think it is dry skin, a kind of goat dandruff.  It doesn’t dissolve in water which I would expect it to if it was grease.  It is gritty in texture.  I have heard that dry skin is a breeding fault or a lack of oil in the diet, who knows.  All I know is I have my work cut out producing 800g of ready to spin mohair!  I must say, despite the scurf, the fibre is beautiful, soft and luminous.  I'll let you know how I get on.

Have you ever worked with raw mohair?  How did you prepare the fibre for spinning?  

Thursday, 8 September 2011

MOTs for rams

Newly shorn rams sniffing each other 

I had an amazing experience last week.  I went to a talk by a vet on ram health and saw a ram have a vasectomy.  Yes, like humans, some rams are vacestomised.  I’ll explain why in a minute.  The talk was by Maarten Boers from The Livestock Partnership.  The sheep breeding season is coming up so now is apparently the time for checking your ram.  Maarten gave a short presentation on what to check to make sure the ram is in ‘tip tup condition’.  A tup is a ram and tupping time is the time when the rams are busy serving the ewes so I loved the pun.  I’m not sure if my international readers will know the expression but here people say something is ‘tip top’ if it is in the best condition.  

I knew about the three T’s:  teeth, toes and testicles but it appears pre-tupping checks involve much more than making sure your ram doesn’t need dentures or has raging foot rot.  Giving a ram an MOT (an MOT is a legally required annual check of a car to make sure it is road worthy) is mostly common sense however you do need to know what to look for.  It’s obvious a lame ram wont spend his days running after ladies.   Now I am not a vet so if you have landed on my blog looking for advice on ram care please check with a qualified vet.  Maarten went through a checklist for the MOT, including checking the ram’s eyes.  It made me chuckle when  we got to checking the eyes are healthy as the ram needs his eyes in good working order to see  where  the ladies are! 

After a short presentation, Maarten collected a semen sample from a ram, this is done by sticking an electric probe up the ram’s backside – ooh!  Semen was caught in what looked like a giant condom on a stick.  You can see a photo of the procedure and find out more on the Livestock Partnership’s website.  It is a very quick procedure but not one the ram seemed to enjoy.  The vet had a microscope in his van so fertility testing can be done on the farm.  We all got to have a look at the semen sample under a microscope.  Fortunately the ram turned out to be very fertile. 

Apparently you can get a certificate confirming the results of the test so when the ram is sold the buyer knows he is a fertile ram.  Buying rams, the sheep farmers assured me, is always a worry as you can’t be sure the ram will do his job but with these tests the buyer can have some peace of mind. 

After the fertility testing, the vet performed a vasectomy on another ram.  The ram was sedated first and given a local anaesthetic so he didn’t feel any pain.  Rams that have been vasectomised are known as teaser rams.  They are put in with the ewes before the fertile rams to bring the ewes into season.  Using a teaser ram means all the ewes come into season at the same time.  This makes for a shorter lambing time, no one wants to be up all night for six weeks or more with a spread out lambing.  The vet explained it is better to use older rams as teasers because they are smellier and waft more hormones around than young inexperienced rams.  

Another good idea was to use a ram which stands out in the flock, in this case the ram having the snip was a Black Welsh Mountain, a black sheep with big curly horns, he will be put into a flock of white sheep with no horns so it will be easy to tell which ram is the teaser.   After all, it would be terrible to muddle up the fertile rams with the teaser, which is all too easily done if they all look alike. 

The good news for this ram is he is now ensured a long and happy life, he has an important job to do on the farm for many years to come.  Whereas if he was still fertile he would have to be sold and may have gone for meat because he cannot be bred to his own daughters kept on the farm.  The ram will never know he’s had the snip, unless of course some insensitive soul whispers in his ear, he will feel just the same and will still be able to serve as many ewes as he fancies, he just wont get them pregnant.   All in all, the life of a teaser ram is not a bad one.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

New Yarns in the shop now!

Sweet Pea
I have just put some new yarns in the shop.  I explained the story behind these yarns in my post The Origins of My Yarn.  There are more colours to follow, including some skeins dyed with natural dyes.  Do go and have a look at the range in the Shearer's Girl Yarns shop!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Fibrefest 2011

It’s been a bit mad getting straight after Fibrefest but I am back to normal now.  It was good to see familiar faces again and make new friends.  My stand was opposite Atomic Knitting’s so I got to chat to Emma, the owner of Atomic Knitting, in the lulls.  Emma makes lovely stitch markers.  I also met Jamie Lewis who makes lovely hand felted hats, animals and other items.  There were too many people to mention everyone.  

I did meet up again with Paul and Mandy Brittain of Classic Carders, I was next to them at Fibre East.  If you are looking for a drum carder I recommend you try Classic Carders. Paul makes all of the drum carders himself by hand from real wood.  The feature I really like about the carders is Paul makes them with interchangeable drums.  With other manufacturers if you want a fine and a coarse drum carder you have to buy two but with Classic Carders the drum just lifts out and you can put in either a fine or coarse drum depending on your project.

I was very restrained on the shopping front, the only thing I bought was some gorgeous dyed silk from Oliver Twists.  Their stall was along from mine and the temptation was just too much. 

 The picture doesn't do the subtle colours justice.  I'm looking forward to spinning this!