Alpacas and Finnsheep! February 2017
If you would like a good long talk about alpacas, visit Fulton Butler and his 44 alpacas at Justa Alpaca Farm on the Farmington Falls Road (Route 2) in Farmington. He will make you feel welcome. In his retirement, he and his wife Brenda Simoneau are enjoying the unique personalities of their animals. We were there on a nice sunny winter day. We can only imagine that during the rest of the year, Fulton must be very busy, haying and doing the chores that keep the farm going. As they mention on their website, they are working to bring an old farm back to life after many years of being dormant.
If you want to talk about yarn and fleece, try to visit on the weekends when Brenda is most likely to have more time. She has set up a little shop in an outbuilding. Besides having mill-spun alpaca from their animals, Brenda also handspins her fleece, mixing it with a little merino, as well as dabbling in dyeing the fiber. When we visited, there seemed to be only a few choices of yarn available in sweater quantities. As with many fiber farmers, there is a span of time between sheering and getting their fleeces or yarn back from the mill. However, picking up an extra skein or two of beautiful alpaca to throw into one's yarn stash is always a good thing!
We combined the trip to Justa Alpaca Farm with a visit to Sweet Clover Farm in Mount Vernon. Of course we had to find a good place to have lunch in between the farms and we did. We had the most delicious lunch at the Postal Cafe in Mt. Vernon: great food at a reasonable price. In the warmer months, this town is known for its numerous antique shops.
My traveling companion on this day is a spinner who just loves to work with Finnsheep fleeces. Finnsheep are not as common as other breeds but it’s popularity is increasing. The breed originated in Finland and came to the United States through Canada. The fleece has a lovely luster and is soft. This breed comes in all shades of natural color, but they are predominately white. The fleece is lightweight and has a long staple. Lambing season can be exciting because Finnsheep usually have multiple lambs!
Kathleen and Ben Stern have been breeding the sheep at Sweet Clover Farm for about 7 years now. Their main focus has been on breeding; currently, they have a dozen bred ewes. They are beginning now to focus on fleece production too. My companion bought some carded fleece to spin because she was taken by it's beauty and quality. You won't find any greater cheerleaders for this breed than the Sterns! We are excited at the thought of quantities of yarn eventually coming from this farm!
You may also enjoy meeting the farm's two Great Pyrenees, Jeremiah and Josie. They get to spend a few minutes together each day on the sofa, but they work different shifts: one guards the sheep at night and the other during the day.
We visited two farms on this day and we were reminded that it isn't a good practice to visit multiple farms without changing footwear. If you plan to visit more than one farm in a day, throw an extra pair of shoes or boots in your car. This ensures that possible contamination between farms does not occur. As always, it is best to call ahead before you visit.
It was nice to take a ride to a different county on a sunny and not too cold winter day. However, you may want to wait and visit one of these farms in the summer. There is lots to do in this neck of the woods to combine with a fiber stop if you happen to be traveling with a non-fiber lover. (How can this be possible?????)
In the Belgrade Lakes region, there is boating on the Belgrade Lakes even if you don't own one. Belgrade Boat Rental and Storage rents canoes and kayaks and delivers them to the lake for you! Or you can hike in the Kennebec Highlands. The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance has a website worth reading. The nearby French Mountain Trail is especially beautiful and is a popular and easy hike.
There is so much to do in this part of the state. We hope you get to explore it!