Shearing Day

Today is fall shearing day.  Danny Smith arrived to shear our 18 Icelandic sheep and 3 Angora wethers. As usual, the critters were not happy about being stripped of their wool, but we got through it without any fatalities or too much pain.  All the fleeces are so soft and beautiful!  I will be taking everything down to Gale White for processing on my way to the Master Spinners classes in Davis OK, on Sunday October 14th.

I am sooooo excited about going to the Master Spinners classes in Davis, OK.  I am looking forward to learning loads of new stuff and meeting lots of fiber enthusiasts.  Will certainly post about it when I get back.

Kool-aid Dyed Icelandic Roving

This weekend was my birthday (Aug 4th) and I decided to spend the day dyeing!!! What fun. I dyed 3 oz batches of Icelandic Roving in to 15 different colors, using Kool-aid and the microwave.  It was a very easy process and you can see from the picture that the rovings are just beautiful!  Now I have dyed Icelandic and Alpaca fiber to work with.

Thank you for visiting BlackWater Treasures. Hope you had fun and perhaps learned a thing or two.


Vicuna Shearing

Monday November 27 2006 (republished with permission)


Capturing the Wild, Wily, and Woolly Vicuña

The following story comes from guest blogger, Frank Seier, who lives in La Paz, Bolivia, with photos by Rory William Finlay.

Sajama, Bolivia, November, 2006

As if being in the Parque Nacional/Area Protegida Sajama on a gloriously sunny day, with blinding snow-capped Tata Sajama and three other towering near-six thousand meter volcanoes wasn’t magical enough. Factor in the altitude and a recent visit to the “wildwest” village of Sajama, home to a crumbling adobe medieval church and nearby puffing thermal springs and geysers, and I was feeling pretty excited. To top it off, my visit coincided with the third annual vicuña capture and shearing – a community event that, to date, hasn’t made it onto the tourist circuit and that few outsiders have had the pleasure to witness or participate in. As a foreigner living in Bolivia looking for rich wilderness and indigenous culture, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Sajama National Park is four hours drive southwest of La Paz, just off the road to Arica, Chile (one of the best highways in Bolivia). The park covers a huge area of remote altiplano, with altitudes ranging from 4100 meters at the Village of Sajama, to 6500 meters at the summit of Volcan Sajama (Bolivia’s highest peak). There are several other volcanoes in the 6000 meter range, some of which are shared with Chile’s Parque Nacional Lauca just across the border. Of course, all this volcanic activity gives rise to a plethora of steaming hotsprings and geysers.

Sajama Park’s elevation and remoteness make it an ideal environment for the vicuña, the smallest and onlyvicuna2 undomesticated of the 4 species of South American camelids (the llama and alpaca have been domesticated by Andean people for millennia – recently, the guanaco has been semi-domesticated in Argentina by Guenguel) The vicuña is a nationally protected species – in the 1980s, it was seriously threatened in Sajama Park. Military personnel and other hunters had reduced its population in and around the park to 350 – a recent census indicates vicuña numbers have increased to 3500 in the park, and another 1500 in its immediate surroundings.

Until recently, it has been illegal under Bolivian law to commercialize any part of the vicuña, including its wool. Last year, however, a law was passed making the sale of vicuña wool legal. This has significantly increased the number of community capture/shearing events in Sajama Park – in 2004, 5 communities conducted vicuña harvests, this year nine are planned. This is due to the high market value of its wool. It is the softest, lightest, warmest and most valuable of the S.A. camelid wool (comparable in many ways to South Asia pachmina) – the fleece closest to the animal has the feel and density of cotton balls, it takes the fleece of 4 to 5 animals to make a kilo, and a kilo is worth from $500 to $1000 depending on quality/grade.

Its value is also a reflection of how labour-intensive it is to collect vicuña wool. Vicuña are wild animals, and very timid – its hard to get closer than about 50 meters before they take notice and start moving off. Therefore, the first and most difficult step in a shearing them is catching them.

The Plan
Current methods haven’t changed all that much from past practices. Historically, Aymara herders constructed huge stone corrals, into which they would drive the vicuña herds – today, they erect barriers with fabric fishing net. In the case of the Sajama village harvest, the natural geography helped a great deal. The capture site was a huge U-shaped valley, with the lateral moraines created by the receding Sajama glacier on the flanks and the head wall of the glacier at the top. At the bottom of the valley was a huge “bofedal”, or high-altitude swamp, in which the vicuñas gathered to feed. These bofedals, fed by glacier or snowcap runoff, have luxuriant, moist vegetation in comparison to the surrounding arid and infertile altiplano, making them a veritable chocolate shop for grazing animals.

The villagers had constructed a huge net enclosure around this bofedal, along the tops of the moraines and at the head wall, 5 days in advance of the capture in order to accustom the vicuñas to the net, and leaving 4 openings in order to give them a sense of free movement. Our task would be to creep silently up the valley under cover of the moraines, and on a coordinated walkie-talkie signal, race up and over the moraines to close off the four openings. As the vicuñas headed up-valley looking for an escape, we would close off the human wall behind them, eventually forcing them into a smaller net corral at the head of the valley.

The approximately 200 villagers from Sajama and 4 other surrounding communities (and handful of gringos) were organized into 6 groups, 1 for each net opening and 2 to sweep up from the bottom of the valley (this collective community work practice, referred to as “ayni”, is still a common Aymara custom in the altiplano). Organizing 200 Aymara campesinos from 5 different communities is not easy – given the inhospitable environment they have to survive in, and their history of isolation from mainstream society and populated cities, they are fiercely independent people, each having their own understanding and ideas of how things should be done. As things played out, the plan threatened to become more of an exercise in herding cats than capturing vicuña.

The Capture
In the end, the plan worked marvellously, with only a small group of “rogue” machos (single males without their own harems) escaping through one of the openings before it could be closed off. As the 2 groups swept up from the bottom of the valley, each gate-keeping group descended into the valley in turn, linking hands with them in order to maintain intact the human cordon. Then we marched up valley in a single horizontal line, sweeping a herd of approximately 40 vicuña in front of us, made up of typical nuclear family groups and rogue males (vicuña are very social animals, and rarely are found alone – a typical family grouping is made up of a dominant male, several females and their various offspring – even a male without his own harem will form a herd with other single males until such time as he assembles a harem).


Vicuña, like other herding animals, behave with a typical “herd mentality” – when feeling threatened, they seek protection in the herd and the direction of a leader. Our captured group of 40 went into a stampede, lead around in increasingly smaller circles by the patriarch as he looked for an escape route and our human cordon tightened in on it. As we got closer, and eventually within 10 meters of them, they seemed to sense escape was impossible, started to calm down, and stood milling around without direction or further escape attempts. In their now relatively chilled-out state, it was pretty straight-forward to lead them off into the holding pen, and take a much-deserved break before the next flurry of activity – the shearing.


The Shearing
Okay, I admit that I’ve never been to a sheep-shearing or cattle-branding before, didn’t know what to expect and hadn’t really given much thought to the details of the shearing process. Also I admit that I have a somewhat sentimental view of vicuña – although they are wild, I see them as pretty much harmless, even cuddly, creatures. Aymara herdspeople, on the other hand, are a pretty pragmatic bunch. While they are used to dealing with llama and alpaca, much heavier and powerful animals, the wildness of these 20 to 35 kilogram balls of energy make them a handful to deal with (plus, their hooves are sharper). In a practical sense, vicuña are basically “wool on the hoof” to the locals – they need to be dealt with as efficiently and pragmatically as possible (i.e. no warm and fuzzies).

Wrangling vicuña is not pretty – basically it consists of grabbing them in a head-lock with one arm, grabbing hold of their tail, hoisting them off the ground as they (sometimes) thrash about wildly, doing the herky-jerky with them out to the shearing floor, flipping them down onto the ground and lashing their hindlegs to a stake driven into the ground and stretching their forelegs out behind their ears (if any of you played at all-star wrestling while you were kids, this procedure is the animal-world equivalent of Dr. X giving you a snuggy, while his tag-team partner puts you in a full-nelson). Needless to say, this is all pretty distressing for the poor little vicuñas . In Peru, they are experimenting with putting hoods on their heads to cover their eyes and thereby lower their stress level. At the very least, this would prevent them from seeing what comes next – the pulling out and sharpening of the shears.

The shearing itself was pretty straightforward – using manual shears, a two-person team can shear an animal in about half an hour. The fleece comes off in a single piece, with the texture, density and weight of cotton baton – this is then handed off to a gaggle of cholitas, who pick out the naughty bits, bag it and record the animal number for later record-keeping of fleece weight and quality details. The vicuña wrangling is then conducted in reverse and the animal is returned to the holding-pen and the safety of the herd (although the shearing procedure is conducted in a pretty mechanical fashion, without much time for niceties, certain steps are taken to protect the animals’ physical and mental health – since the animals appear visibly distressed during the whole shearing procedure, the Sajama communities are considering the use of hoods in the future to reduce stress levels – in addition, the super-soft underbelly wool is not sheared in order to maintain thermal protection of the animal’s vital organs – young animals and pregnant females are not sheared at all, as they are the most stress-prone – and finally, each animal is given an anti-biotic injection as a health precaution).


The Ch’alla
Aymara are very respectful and appreciative of Mother Earth, or Pachamama, and the gifts she has bestowed on them – this is shown in many ways, the most common being the spilling on the ground, as an offering of a small quantity of whatever alcoholic beverage is about to be consumed. The other common form of respect is a “challa”, the burning of a “mesa”, or table, of assorted icons, together with the incantation of prayers and wishes that Pachamama continue dispensing her beneficence.

In the case of the Sajama vicuña capture and harvest, the offering was extremely simple but very poignant at the same time. After the last sheared vicuña was returned to the holding pen, and the herd sensed that it was whole again, one wall of the enclosure was dismantled and a path through the pack of community-members was cleared to create an easy escape route for the vicuñas. Again, in classic herd behaviour, none of the vicuña wanted to be the one to take the first step toward freedom. A young animal made a break for the opening and escaped, but none followed. Then, all at once, the herd moved as a whole toward the opening, and stampeded through it, to the cheers of the community members. And in the ultimate display of respect to Pachamama, the community leaders and elders showered the herd with coca leaves, the “sacred leaf of the Andes” as it streamed past them and back to the wild.


BlackWater Treasures and Gandalf the Suri

~ Presents
“Who needs a Guard Dog?”

I see you, you mangy mutt!


What are you doing in my field!?

Run Faster, I’m gaining on you!!


Now we are safe.Cute face
(such a cute face)
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Our Curly Boys Antics

Badger1 Badger2 Badger3.

Bad Boy Badger is caught!!!

TumnusonStool1 TumnusonStool2

Tumnus wants to know ‘Is the grain up here? I must check!!!’

BadgerLookingOverFence CupidBeingBendy BadgerAndTux

Badger is always looking for attention. Cupid is very bendy. Badger and Tux best buddies.

Rams at Play

Rams can be quite intimidating, especially the horned rams. My Husband captured some ‘playful’ moments in the ram pen.

Rams1 Rams2