Sunday, December 30, 2007

kicking

While horses are known to kick, it's rare that an alpaca will kick. However, Linda warned us that both Snowstorm and Victoria have been known to kick. She reports that their mom, Hana, teaches them to kick.

J has been kicked at when he was trying to herd the alpacas for their health check. That is somewhat understandable since they do not liked to be touched.

Yesterday I fed the alpacas as usual. Except when I was taking Kateri's grain out to the pasture all the sudden I felt something on my leg and realize Victoria kicked me! The only thing I can figure out is that she was in front of me but stopped walking, she did not like it that I was so close behind her and still walking so she kicked me. I was quite put out because she was in MY way, yet she kicked me! She made contact on my leg above my knee. It didn't really hurt, more felt like pressure. I was most annoyed by her actually doing it than any discomfort caused by the kick. Of note though, had she kicked a child like that it could have been a more serious issue. Given children are shorter her kick would have hit higher and she did have a lot of force behind it. I'm use to Zack running into me so I'm use to standing up to lots of force, it didn't knock me down. But I could see that being enough force to knock a small child down. Not that I think alapcas are dangerous to children. In general they are not dangerous at all. I just will be careful when we have kids in the pen to avoid having kids behind the alpacas. So far when kids have come to see the alpacas they have fed them carrots and see the faces of the alpacas. I will just be more observant that kids do not end up behind an alpaca. Better to be safe than sorry.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Visiting Kids

My neice, Carlie, had her birthday party yesterday. All the kids came up to the fence and were looking at the alpacas so J and I went out there to let them into the barn. I brought out carrots for the kids to feed them. Snowstorm would have nothing to do with the carrots and Kateri was not willing to take any from the kids but Victoria was all over them! J went to catch one of the alpacas for everyone to touch but opted not to because they were pretty excited from having all the kids in the pen.

I have been working on making a knit alpaca finger puppet. My plan is to hand those out to any kids that visit our farm. I have made 2 that turned out pretty cute (picture pending my getting a digital camera - waiting on Kodak for my 25% discount). I do not have a pattern, I just knit them until they look how I want. The 2 I made a little different but I think that's what makes them more charming. No 2 alpacas are alike either. I plan to knit them out of our own alpaca yarn but for now it's alpaca yarn that I bought.

Peru, Chili and Bolivia

Alpacas come from Peru, Chili and Bolivia. From what I've read it appears the first alpacas to come to the US were from Chili as Peru did not export them until later (early 1990's). When Peru started exporting them, they touted them as the best of the alpacas. It is true that Peru focused on breeding for the best fiber they could, but only in white, which is what was desired by the English textiles. The white fiber class is the most competitive because there is a long history of breeding for excellent fiber in that color.

Alpacas from Chili are more likely to be of color. Natural colors have become popular in the yarn/craft industry. Natural brown and grey have been popular for some time, now natural silver is the big color.

Few alpacas have come from Bolivia, but some are reported to be from Bolivia.

Of note there is no current importing of any alpacas. I believe in 1998 the US border was closed to any more imports. From what I've read this was done by the alpaca industry to help the US alpaca farmer, with no imports everyone will have to buy from US alpaca farmers.

Some farms choose to focus on the genetics from one particular county. We have decided not to do that. Our thought is that for one, the borders in that part of the world (Peru, Chili, Bolivia) and not structured. Alpacas were able to go from one country to another, it's impossible to know exactly which country they came from. I've read that importing from Chili was easier than from Peru so people would take an alpaca from Peru to Chili then export it. In addition, I do not know that having "Accoyo Peruvian" in the alpaca is noteworthy. While Accoyo is a very good farm in Peru, after being exported it would be very difficult to prove it definately came from that farm (alpacas were held in detentions when they arrived at the US, it was a long journey from there to here, unless you went to Accoyo farm and saw the alpaca there it would be difficult to know for sure it was there). And even if it did, it would be impossible to prove if it had the great genetics from the farm or was a mediocere one on that farm. We have based out decisions of purchase on the animal and how the relatives of that animal has places in shows in the US rather than focusing strictly on country of origin.

I found this quote from a judge which I think sums up our thoughts (Alpaca Judge Maggie Krieger (http://www.alpaca-uk.co.uk/articles/alpacabrand.htm ):
“Further centuries of careful genetic engineering, using the colour palate of the Chileans and Bolivians and the quality of the white Peruvians, I believe, will provide the ultimate in high quality coloured alpacas. …… Let us not write off one brand over the other, forsaking the incredible potential we have been lucky enough to be blessed with and privileged enough to own.”


Like Ken and Linda from South Haven Alpacas, we have decided to include all backgrounds, but when breeding to take into consideration what would make the alpaca better. For example, Victoria has very dense, soft fleece, but does not have the best crimp (it has gotten better as she has aged). When breeding her, we will look for a male with really good crimp. Kateri is a smaller alpaca so when breeding we want to make sure the male is on the bigger side. We are looking at the animal and what genetics it brings with it that should create an even better alpaca, rather than looking at the country of origin. I have heard that Chilean alpacas have density and softness, Peruvian have crimp, so combining them gives the best of both worlds.

Suri vs Huacaya

As I mentioned in the post yesterday there are two types of Alpacas, Suri and Huacaya. We are raising Huacaya which is the more popular of the two. We like the look of the Huacaya better, we also feel that since we live in a colder state, it makes sense to raise the alpaca that has the warmer coat ;) Though there are Suri farms in Michigan, so it comes down to a personal choice which to raise.

I found this on wikipedia:
There are two types of alpaca: Huacaya (which produce a dense, soft, crimpy sheep-like fiber), and the mop-like Suri (with silky pencil-like locks, resembling dread-locks but not actually matted fibers). Suris are prized for their longer and silkier fibers, and estimated to make up between 19-20% of the Alpaca population. However, since its import into the United States, the Suri is growing substantially in number and color diversity. The Suri is thought to be rarer, possibly because it is less hardy in the harsh South American mountain climates, as its fleece offers less insulation against the cold. The Suri fleece parts along the spine, exposing the animal to the cold, unlike the Huacaya fleece which provides excellent cover over the backbone.


another quote I found about the two different kinds of alpacas (http://www.delphialpacas.com/alpaca-wool-fiber-fleece-article.htm):
Huacaya fleece is usually crimpy, and grows out perpendicularly from the alpaca's body, giving huacayas that “poofy” look. Suri fleece has a long and silky look, hanging straight down from where it grows on the alpaca's body. Suri and huacaya fleeces each have desirable characteristics making them highly sought after for different uses in the textile industry.


Crimp refers to the waves in the fleece. There are differing opinions on the benefits of more crimp. I have read that the crimp helps alpaca yarn have memory once the fiber is made into yarn and knit into product. However, as a spinner, I prefer the more bold crimp. At our farm we focus on producing animals with consist crimp, especially across the blanket area (the blanket is the fleece that is across the back and along the sides of the alpaca, considered the "prime" fleece). Crimp, luster (shine) and density are considered good traits in huacaya fleece. Guard hairs are a bad trait. Guard hairs are the coarse hairs that are usually longer (they are what causes wool to be scratchy). Alpacas fiber is more desirable than wool because a good alpaca does not have much guard hair and is not scratchy. Alpacas who are overfed are more likely to grow very coarse guard hairs (called "blowing out their fiber"). Reportedly in Peru they sometimes underfeed alpacas to keep their fleece from becoming coarse but instead staying baby soft (this was referred to as being hunger fine). This is not practice in the United States, though we do watch their weight, we do not underfeed. Of note, alpacas have a longer life expectancy in the US, of around 20 years.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

More alpacas?

Yes, we've found more alpacas. J came across a really good deal that we've decided to go ahead with. We went to Autumn Alpacas, LLC this morning to meet Shirley and John from KaSar Alpacas (they board these alpacas at Autumn Alpacas, LLC). Shirley and John have decided to specialize in Suri Alpacas so they are selling off their Huacaya.

To back track a bit in case I lost some of you, there are two types of Alpacas. The Suri have a bit longer hair that is in ringlets. The other type of alpaca, Huacaya, have more fluffy fiber. Most farms pick one to focus on, though some farms do have both types. We choose to work with Huacaya, which is the more popular of the two types. There isn't a great reason why we picked Huacaya other than we prefer how they look. For an example of a Suri Alpaca, put "Suri Alpaca" into google and you can find links to some pictures.

The deal we got includes four alpacas (considering was have 3 right now this more than doubles our herd!).

Pictures and information on the four can be found at the farm website. I'll post some here too but more info can be found at: http://www.alpacanation.com/farmsandbreeders/03_viewfarm.asp?name=13596

We are getting a 2 year old male, Sir Remington. He has potential to be a herdshire. We are looking to start breeding with him this spring. He can be found at http://www.alpacanation.com/alpacasforsale/03_viewalpaca.asp?name=61207
and he looks like

Sancha is a full Peruvian female. While she is a bit older (almost 10 years old) she is full Peruvian which we have mostly Chilean (I'll explain in another post the difference). Peruvian alpaca are more popular in our area of the country so it makes sense to have at least one full peruvian. The farm page: http://www.alpacanation.com/alpacasforsale/03_viewalpaca.asp?name=77389 and a picture: opps having trouble with that picture

Sancha's daughter, Sommerfield, is also part of the package deal. She was born on April 8th so is not quite a year old. We have some pictures of her but I can't find any on-line right now. The write up by KaSar Farm can be found at http://www.alpacanation.com/alpacasforsale/03_viewalpaca.asp?name=85565

And my favorite, Midnight Masquerade (“Maddie”)


I know we have a lot more pictures of Maddie that I'll post later. She is only 3 months old so we cannot bring her to our farm until she is weaned which should be in March. I can't wait to have her. She is such a cutie!! She is a 1/2 sister to Remington (they have the same mother). They both have the multiple colors on their face.

Now we have to think about where these alpacas will go. Remington is not gelded so he will need to be kept separate from the girls. And we have potential to show Remington, Sommerfield and Maddie. Many decisions ahead!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

knitting

I haven't posted much about my knitting because it can be very boring to talk abuot, especially since without a digital camera I do not have any pictures to show off my work. But I have been very busy with knitting and should do an update.

I made several pairs of slippers socks for Christmas gifts. I knit a pair of baby booties out of alpaca yarn (I bought some at The New Ewe, a yarn shop in town). I also knit a scarf out of alpaca yarn. The alpaca yarn was interesting to work with. I realized quite quickly that I will need to get different knitting needles as my metal ones are too slippery. I have pictures of these projects that I will have to add when I get them developed.

For Christmas I got a yarn swift and a winder. J spent most of yesterday using them to rewind all my yarn. He then wanted me to show him how to knit. I am a horrible teacher, but attempted to. By the time we went to bed J had knit a small swatch in garter stitch. For his first attempt and the fact I was his teacher I think he did great! Emma has been begging me to teach her to knit but I do not think I have the patience or the skill to teach her. Maybe if J gets better at it he can teach her.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

We've had several Christmas parties prior to Christmas Day so things are a bit more calm around here today. On Christmas Eve day we were surprised by the delivery of a wonderful chocolate strawberry cheesecake! Thanks so much Ken and Linda from South Haven Alpacas! It is very yummy.

For the holiday I took carrots down to the alpacas. I've read that alpacas are similar to goats and horses and like carrots and apples and the like. I first held one out for Victoria and she ate it right out of my hand. Snowstorm stepped back and did not want one. I then held one out for Kateri who licked it, but did not take it. If I held it pointing at her she would grab it and eat it. Both girls wanted more. Snowstorm would not come near me. J took one for snowstorm and actually started chasing him with it to the point Snowstorm went to kick J! No carrots for him. Though in retrospect not worth all that given Snowstorm never did eat any.

The best laugh of the day in reguards to animals came from Dottie. She likes to balance herself on the top of our couch and was taking a nap. I could tell she was dreaming as her feet were running, then her tail wagging, then more running. I stopped paying attention to her until I heard her fall off the back of the couch! Poor dog. I felt bad, what a way to wake up, but it was so funny. She gave me a very mean look for laughing at her.

Monday, December 24, 2007

goofy cat

On Sunday morning after I scooped poop, I wheeled it out to the woods where we keep a pile. It was slushy out and a bit icey (as temps were falling to freezing). I was concerned I might fall and land in the wheelbarrow full of poop (yuck!). And it's difficult to wheel it into the woods as it is not plowed or shoveled so I push it through snow. I was relieved to dump the poop and be on my walk back to the barn. On my walk back I noticed Fluffy had followed me and was trying to climb up a tree. I grabbed her and put her on my shoulders (which is a place she loves to be). It must have been the wind because she decided she did NOT want to be there. She jumped off, slid on some ice, and ran to the barn! Emma and my mother-in-law saw the entire episode from the living room window.

Winter weather - a snowstorm

a real snowstorm (not our alpaca Snowstorm). We had some snow on the ground, then Saturday night it rained almost all night, with really strong winds. We were lucky we did not lose power, as many did. Sunday the temp dropped below freezing and all the slush froze. Then it snowed and snowed. On Sunday morning when I went to feed the alpacas it had no yet started to freeze. Snowstorm was digging away the slushy snow to eat grass in the pasture, though it seemed like he was eating more leaves than grass. By evening when I went to feed the alpacas there was a thick sheet of ice and a couple inches of fresh snow on the ground. Zack fell at least 10x while walking to the pasture due to the ice. In the barn I could see the snow was blowing into the openning and onto about 1/2 of the area the alpacas lay in. I put more straw on the side that wasn't getting the blowing snow and encouraged the alpacas to lay there overnight. But really they do not seem to mind the snow. All three of them had a coating of snow/ice on their backs. I've been told their fleece is so warm that they stay warm even in these conditions. I am anxious to get down to the barn this morning to see how they did overnight. We got more snow throughout the night, along with lots of wind. I'm sure they are fine but curious to see how much snow blew into the barn. It's still dark outside and I do not want to walk on ice in the dark. Plus almost all of us are sick at our house so I need to make sure the kids are set before I head out to the barn. I took Zack with me last night so it's Emma's turn this morning. I'll head down soon.

pictures found

J found these pictures of Snowstorm in his file from South Haven Alpacas. The one from 2006 is when he was a baby. How cute! The other is when he's older. We are pretty sure that's Victoria in the background. Snowstorm has a very impressive history. Too bad he is white, it's such a tough class.



Friday, December 21, 2007

Petting alpacas

I do not think I have fully explained the fact that alpacas do not like to be touched. They know exactly how far your arms and hands can reach and will stay just out of this range. However, if you do not try to touch them, over time they will come closer to you. But beware, the moment you try to touch them, they move back out of this range. Alpacas are curious, so they do try to come near you. But they do not like to be touched so they keep that distance. The best bet is to not touch them, but let them come by you. You will get a good look at them that way. The hard part is that they look so soft and cuddily you want to reach out and hug them but they won't let you. Sometimes a farm will have an alpaca that is very friendly and will let you pet them. I've been told that Victoria has let my neice pet her. I do not reach out to grab at them because I know in general they hate that. So they are not afraid to come into the range of my arms and hands. I actually have to tell them to move out of my way when I am doing chores! But if I reach out to touch them, they do jump back out of range. We've made it a family rule not to reach out and grab at them. They will be much more friendly if you don't. I tell the kids if they want to pet an animal the cat loves attention.

Because of this arm/hand range that they stay out of, the best way to herd them is to hold your arms out and move towards them. They cannot get out of your way fast enough! Just make sure the alpaca is between you and where you want them to go and start walking toward them, they will move to whatever openning is available. But be sure noone is standing where you want the alpaca to go. The alpacas do not want to be trapped between 2 people. This is how I herd Kateri into the pasture to eat. Most of the time I end up having all 3 alpacas follow me into the pasture (they know I have food and they want it). And since Victoria is always the first to go anywhere (she's the lead alpaca) I usually can't get Kateri to go into the pasture until Victoria leads the way. I get all three into the pasture, then I try to move around so that Victoria and Snowstorm are between me and the gate openning to the barn, yet Kateri is on the other side of me. I usually have to move between the 3 of them to get this arrangement right. I hold my arms out (which can be difficult while holding bowls of food especially when they are trying to eat the food!) and move toward the gate. Victoria and Snowstorm move through the gate, I lock it and put a bowl down for Kateri. Then I go through the gate and put food in the barn for Victoria and Snowstorm. Most nights this goes quite smoothly but there have been a couple times when it was very hard to get Kateri on one side of me and the other two on the other side of me, yet by the barn. Then in the barn there are times Snowstorm tries to steal Victoria's food. I end up standing between him and Victoria's food with my arms out. He sometimes will look for a way to get around me, but if I move at all he jumps and runs out of the barn. They are not agressive animals, simply by having my arms extended even the guardian alpaca runs (and Snowstorm is a big alpaca). Which compared to other animals this is easy. I'd be much more hesitant about getting between a dog and some food!

Our first farm visitor

We had our first farm visitor last night. The kids' babysitter, Karen, came over to take a look at our alpacas. She had never seen any and wanted to know what they were like. We took her to the barn and fed the alpacas so that they came near her. But alpacas do not like to be touched so that part is more difficult. At the farms we've visited they would catch an alpaca and hold them so we could feel the fiber. But J was at work and I have never even tried to "catch" one yet so I didn't do that for Karen. I'm not eager to try to wrestle an 150+ pound animal that does not want to be touched. I did have some items I knit out of alpaca yarn for her to feel and I had some loose alpaca fiber (some of the 2nds from our animals sheering last spring). I can talk about alpaca facts and about how they behave. So while we did not catch one for her to feel first hand we did have a lot of other things to discuss. Victoria was being a stinker and kept eating all the food, so I had to bring Kateri out into the pasture for her feeding (which is how we usually do it but I was trying to hand feed them instead). Then Victoria kept trying to get Snowstorms food, so after Kateri was done eating I put Snowstorm in the pasture and fed him there. You could see Victoria's personality very well!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Visiting South Haven Alpacas

On our way to Chicago this past weekend we stopped in South Haven, the home of South Haven Alpacas where our 3 alpacas came from. We got to see Kateri's baby, Princess, and we saw Contessa who is Victoria's baby (they were both born in June). Both girls look awesome. They have dense fleece, lots of crimp. I'm excited to see how they do in shows this spring. Linda said that she has 7 that were born this past year that she will be showing in the spring. We saw her other babies and they look really awesome. J offered that we could help her in showing as there will be so many she can't be everywhere at once. She seemed excited we would do that. I'm looking forward to show time! It's not until early April though. Thankfully it's in Indiana so not a bad trip at all.

We also got to see Victoria's and Snowstorm's mom. I still chuckle about it because I think Snowstorm looks so much like her. They have the same fun smile. Snowstorm is my buddy, we roll our eyes at Fluffy and stand back when Kateri and Victoria get into their spitting matches. He's a great guardian of the girls, so we are glad we got him along with the 2 girls. We also saw Kateri's mom but I didn't see much family resemblence. For that matter, I don't think Victoria looks like Snowstorm or their mom, Hana. You never know what traits will be carried down.

You might be an alpaca farmer.....

I saw this on an alpaca forum (yes, there are forums on the internet where alpaca people gather to chat about alpacas). Here's a link to that thread that lists many great ones http://www.alpacanation.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=6074

I want to add that You Know You Are an Alpaca Farmer when:

* you spend time on an alpaca forum!!

* you're told that your husband is on the internet looking at girls and you aren't jealous, of course they are bred alpacas ;)

* you think of money in terms of how many alpacas that can buy. J recently changed his cell phone service, cut out that monthly bill so that we may be able to get another bred female

* you walk around with straw in your gloves and don't even notice.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Going on vacation

Going on vacation is more complicated when you have an alpaca farm. We went away this past weekend, Saturday to Sunday. We decided not to have someone come and feed the alpacas. Instead we fed them all their grain for the day in the morning on Saturday and again on Sunday evening (unfortunately I got back even later than I intended so it was rather late). My mother-in-law did check in on Fluffy and made sure the water buckets had water. I figure we will save asking someone to feed the alpacas to when we are gone for a longer stretch of time.

My in-laws said that after we fed the alpacas on Saturday morning they started running all over the pasture. I was told that horses will do this too, if they eat a lot of grain they get extra energy and will run around like crazy. They reported that the alpacas were running around and at times fighting (Victoria and Kateri have been known to get into spitting fights).

My father-in-law said on Saturday evening the alpacas all were gathered at the end of the pasture closest to my house. They were waiting for me to show up to feed them. I wonder how long they waited!

But all was well, they did fine. Though when I finally got there later on Sunday and went into the barn, Victoria stood with her butt towards me and would not look at me, as did Snowstorm. Kateri was the one who came up to the gate to greet me. Usually she is the most shy. She also is getting more use to being separated from the other two at feeding time. I think we may have finally gotten the right amount of food to the right alpaca.

Attack cat

Our barn cat, Fluffy, is the first to greet me when I come into the barn. She is desperate for attention and circles my feet. I have stepped on her more than once. Last week one morning I didn't have a lot of time so I didn't pet Fluffy, I went straight to feeding the alpacas. While I was scooping out the feed, Fluffy jumped up into the hay and pounced on my back. She was determined to make sure I paid her some attention! She usually jumps on my legs and climbs anything she can to get up near my face. She is a very nice cat, loves to be held and petted. J says we need to get a friend for Fluffy so likely in the near future we will get another barn cat to keep her company.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Personality

The alpacas do have personality. As I have gotten to know our three, I have seen some personality emerge.

Victoria appears to be the leader of our group and is the most outgoing. She is the first to walk up to the gate when we come to the barn. She is the only one who has let people pet her. When they walk around the barn and pasture, Victoria is the first to go into the next place (like if they go from the barn to pasture, Victoria is the first to go through the gate).

Snowstorm has turned out to be a great guardian. If there is danger, it is Snowstorm who sounds the call. He sticks very close to Victoria (they do have the same mother which it seems like they know because they are close buddies). Snowstorm is bigger than the girls so he does create a presence of protection. Snowstorm has some fairly big teeth (J says they meet up right in his mouth and do not need to be trimmed yet - alpacas do need their teeth trimmed when their bite no longer matches up). These teeth make him look like he is always smiling. He seems like a happy alpaca (though who knows, maybe he's secretely making fun of me). He is stubborn so haltering him is difficult, especially given how big he is. But he is also very curious. When I am doing something in the pasture, Snowstorm will walk up behind me. As long as I ignore him, he will stay there, if I turn to acknowledge him, he backs off.

Kateri is the shy one. She also seems the most nervous. She's most likely to be humming, but to be standing behind the other two. She seems to get left out when the other two seem to be such buddies. I did once find Kateri laying down with Tiger (the kitten), but Kateri often jumps when Fluffy is around (Fluffy must be too active for Kateri's taste).

Their personalities are all fun in their own way. I enjoy having Victoria walk up to the gate to greet me, and to have Snowstorm watch everything I do, and I enjoy seeking out Kateri to make sure she doesn't get lost in the shuffle. I know what it's like to be the shy one in the back ;)

Typical Day

Now that we have had the alpacas here for a few weeks, I'll give an example of a typical day on the farm.

In the morning I walk down to the barn sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. When I open the barn door, Fluffy jumps out at me (often greeting me with a loud "meewww"). Fluffy is very friendly and very affectionate and wants attention. If I don't pick her up she will be under foot the entire time and will climb up the stacked hay to jump on me. I have never met a cat like her :) but she is so much fun.

I greet the alpacas and then get their food together. We had been feeding them all in the barn, but Victoria has become the leader alpaca at our farm, and she was not letting Kateri eat. Snowstorm, being a gelded male, has a tendency to put on weight and does not need much grain, but was pushing his way into eating more. When we did a health check a couple weeks ago we monitored their weight. You can check their weight by feeling their back spine. It should feel like a triangle. If it buldges out too much they are getting too much grain. If it goes in to fast they are not getting enough grain. At our last check Victoria and Snowstorm were on the too heavy side. Kateri was on the too thin side. So to make sure Kateri is getting enough grain and Victoria and Snowstorm are getting less, I have had to separate them at meal time. They are pack animals so they do not like to be separated. I put the grain in the cups and I walk out into the field. Victoria usually follows first, then Snowstorm, then Kateri. I try to get to where I can be between them so that Kateri stays in the pasture but I heard Victoria and Snowstorm out. Some days it takes longer than others but eventually I get Victoria and Snowstorm out of the gate, close the gate and give Kateri her big bowl of food. She eats slowly so I am not that concerned about her choking (we did have an incident when Snowstorm was using that bowl that he choked but he wolfes down his food). I then put Victoria's food on one side of the barn in the cut in half PVC pipe and I put Snowstorms on the other side. I stand between these two and prevent Snowstorm from going over and eating Victoria's share. He tries to get past me but so far I haven't let him.

After the food is gone, I make sure their water buckets have some water and I'm done for the morning. In the middle here I am of course picking up and petting Fluffy as she follows me all over.

I go back to the barn between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. (Depending on what else I was doing that day). I greet Fluffy, give her attention (I usually have the kids with me in the evening so they give Fluffy lots of attention). Then I feed the alpacas, again separating Kateri and standing between Snowstorm and Victoria. I make sure the water buckets are full. Then I scoop some poop (usually about 1/4 of a wheelbarrow full).

On the weekends I do additional jobs like sweep the straw in the barn into the corners. And I dump out what water is in the water buckets, rinse them, and fill with fresh water.

None of this has been very time consuming. More often I am trying to come up with things to do so that I can stay down at the barn and watch them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

more pictures of alpacas

I uploaded a few more pictures of the alpacas in our barn. The kids are feeding them out of their hands.







Sunday, December 2, 2007

pictures

Meet our alpacas! This picture was taken from inside our barn since it was raining outside. Snowstorm is a 2 year old gelded male, he's white. Victoria is in the middle of the other 2, she is a 3 year old female. And Kateri is on the end, a 3 year old female.



The kids, Zack and Emma, with the alpacas:


I have more pictures but that's all the time I have to post any today. I'm get some more up this week.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Snow!

Overnight we had our first snowfall that stuck to the ground (we've had some flurries but no accumulation). I was not expecting this much accumulation or I would have gotten up earlier to tend to the alpacas. As it was, we had time to feed them this morning and that was it. Friday I volunteer in Zack's class at school so we had to get going. Zack only has half a day of school so we got home by lunchtime to go out of the barn.

The alpacas seemed to be poking their heads through the gate inside the barn to reach the hay that is stacked up. There is some hay in their 2 feeders (one is a little kiddie pool and the other is a blue barrel). But seems that hay was picked over and not as tasty as the ones stacked in the barn ;) I took down a new hay bail and put that out for them, they instantly started eating it up. Zack and I shoveled the snow off the front drive to the barn so that we don't have to walk through deep snow to get in the barn. And I shoveled snow out of the pen just in back of the barn. The Alpacas tend to hang out there and often sleep there so I thought it best to get the snow out of there and let them see some grass. I can see tracks in both pastures so they have gone into the pastures today, but it doesn't look like they could get to any of the grass to eat.

The water bucket heaters appear to be working very well, the water has not been freezing. I have had some problems with hay and dirt falling into the water so I cleaned out the buckets today and put in fresh water. Fluffy's water needed to be changed as it was frozen, and her canned cat food was frozen. Guess she'll have to settle for dry food this winter. Maybe one day a week we could put canned food out for her. Oh and for the water, even if her water is frozen she will be fine. I caught her one day climbing up the fence and leaning over to drink out of the alpacas' heated water buckets. She's resourceful.

We have mats in the barn that are insulated to help the alpacas stay warm, but so far I have not found them to sit on them. Instead they sleep in the pen just outside the barn. We have not yet gotten straw for inside the barn. Most farmers do provide straw for warmth. J is concerned about how messy straw will be and we are not sure it is necessary, especially given the fact the alpacas seem to prefer to stay outside. Though today with the snow and cold wind they do seem to be standing in the barn.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do alpacas spit?

Do alpacas spit? I get asked that a lot when people find out we have alpacas. Yes, like Camels and Llamas, Alpacas do spit. But they do not spit as much as Llamas (at least that's what Alpaca farmers all say).

In the time we've had the alpacas on our farm, I've witnessed four spitting incidents. The first one was Kateri spitting at a jogger going by on the road (which is through the woods, so some distance off, the spit did not get anywhere near the jogger). Then one day, I think it was last week, Kateri and Victoria got into a fight about something and they were spitting at each other. Last week I also saw Kateri spit at Fluffy (not sure what that was about). Then last night when we fed the alpacas Kateria and Victoria got into a fight and were spitting. I was scooping poop and didn't move out of the way fast enough. Spit came flying and landed right on me. Nice and green and wet. If you've seen the "Dirty Jobs" episode with alpacas, Mike got sprayed too (but the alpacas was mad at him, at least in my situation I was a bystander). The girls kept this spitting fight up even when I yelled at them to stop. Emma yelled and finally got their attention to stop. They were standing in the barn door spitting at each other.

I wonder what they have been fighting about because something is going on between them. Tonight Kateri would not let Victoria anywhere near the feeding area. I had to move Victoria's food for her, but she still would not eat. Kateri kept giving her a mean look. J said that shows that Kateri has to still be pregnant to be that moody. Kateri had been very passive and Victoria was the one who ate first. I think Kateri had enough of Victoria pushing her around and took a leadership role.

It has been a rough few days at our farm due to the loss of Tiger. Zack cried and cried on Tuesday, but now by Thursday seems to be doing a lot better. He had a ton of questions that I answered as honestly as I could. While doing errands on Tuesday he and I bought a box at Hobby Lobby to burry Tiger in. Zack and Emma drew on the box. Zack drew a picture of himself in the box so Tiger would know he was always watching over her. Emma drew hearts around the name "TIGER". J dug a hole by a tree on the side of our house where we burried Tiger in her box (the story is a bit longer in that J burried her before we got home, not knowing we planned a funeral so he went out in the dark to unburry her so we could burry her as Zack and I planned). It was a hard day for all of us. Emma had more questions the next night, I think because she had less time to process it all. Zack was there when I finally admitted Tiger was no longer alive, so he rocked with Tiger and said goodbye while crying. He spent the afternoon alternating between crying and asking questions. Emma did not find out about Tiger until Zack and I came home. She found out and jumped right into decorating the box then outside to burry Tiger. J believes Tiger had a hole in her heart. He says when he puts all the symptoms together it appears she had a heart defect, which he thinks likely was that she was born with a hole in her heart.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The cruelty of nature

Today is a hard day at our farm. Tiger passed away.

Tiger was the runt of the litter and has always acted like she was moving in slow motion. I worried her heart was not working right because she seemed to breathe in a belabored way. I also noticed she seemed to lack survival instincts. For example when Zack would run around, Fluffy would move out of Zack's way, Tiger never did, she just sat there. We also had trouble getting Tiger to eat, and she was very very thin.

This morning when I went to the barn she was having a difficult time moving. I found her snuggled up in the cage in a warm blanket, but while I was feeding the alpacas she dragged herself over to me. She had so much difficulty I was concerned she was dying. I took her home to feed her kitten milk through a dropper. I got some milk into her, but while I was rocking her after feeding her, she passed away. Nature was cruel to her. She was not born with what she needed in order to survive. The kids will be very sad, as will we all.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kids and Alpacas

You know your child spends too much time at the barn when his swimming instructor shows him how to swim holding his hand as a scoop and she asked him what you scoop (she was thinking ice cream) and he replies "poop". So Zack has been swimming while "scooping poop." (I bet his instructor is telling everyone she can about the kid she's teaching who scoops poop). The kids both love coming to the barn with me.

In general Alpacas are gentle animals and are safe around children. Alpacas only have bottom teeth (they have a hard plate on top) so they cannot bite like other animals. In addition, alpacas are not aggressive. Their first defence is to run, though they will also stomp (I have heard of them stomping a squirrel or similar size animal). Children can be more the issue, because alpacas are gentle animals they are also very protective. Any fast movement and the alpacas get away. Alpacas do not like to be touched, and they know how far away your hands will reach so they stay that far away. Our alpacas have been here for over a week and I have yet to touch them (other than when I haltered them when they first came). This is deliberate on my part. The reason being if you try to touch them they will back off and the more you do that, the more they will stay away from you. I want them to be friendly and to feel safe coming near me, so I do not annoy them by grabbing at them. We have taught our children this also. The kids take turns coming with me to feed the animals. But they know they are not to grab at the alpacas. They can measure out and bring the feed to the alpacas. If they want to touch an animal they can pick up the kittens and pet them and play with them. So far this has been working. Sometimes Zack has a hard time with moving too fast in the barn and scaring the alpacas, but for the most part the kids and alpacas are getting along very well.

It will be interesting to see how our alpacas handle it when we have our first visitors to the farm. One of my nieces said Victoria let her pet her. I hope they are friendly and allow visitors to pet them. That is part of the fun of visiting a farm.

Safer feeding time and chores

This morning I got Snowstorm to eat out of the cut PVC pipe. I put his grain in his bowl, and let him smell it (as I do every morning). Instead of putting it on the ground as I have been, I stepped backward towards the PVC pipe. Then showed him as I poured the grain into the pipe. Initially he stepped back when I poured it. I put the bowl leaning up against the pipe and then I backed out of the way. He stepped foward and ate. He was happy to have his grain!

Chores with alpacas are pretty minor. I choose to feed them grain twice a day. I prefer this so that I check on them at least twice a day and it spreads out their food. It is possible to feed them grain once a day, or no grain at all (there is debate on the necessity of grain, but because we are breeding for good fiber, we feel grain and fiber nutrients are important for our alpacas). In the morning I feed them grain and fiber nutrients. I have been feeding the kittens extra canned food at this time too (more so for Tiger who is so very small but Fluffy is active so I'm sure it helps her too). The kittens have dry food out all the time. And I check all the water to make sure the alpacas buckets are full and the cats water isn't frozen. That is all I usually do in the morning. It takes maybe 10 minutes max.

In the evening I again give grain to the alpacas. Then I usually scoop poop. Some farmers scoop poop everyday, others less often. I find once a day to work well for me, then it is a small chore (but if I miss a day it isn't terrible either). Our alpacas all use one spot so it is very easy to find and scoop. I knew the alpacas had small poop pellets, but I did not realize they poopped as much as they do. I thought since they ate so little grain that there would not be that much poop, but I forgot about all that grass and hay. I put all the poop in a ditch that was dug in the woods. We plan to use it as fertilizer (it is supose to be one of the best fertilizers).

While doing my chores the alpacas follow me around, as does Tiger the kitten. Tiger usually sits right by me. Fluffy runs around and investigates what I do but also runs up trees and chases leaves. The alpacas seem fine with the kittens. They watch where the kittens go and smell them occassionally. Today when I was cleaning I found Tiger laying right by Kateri. It was like Kateri was mothering Tiger, watching over her and blocking the wind from her.

We have a mat area in the barn which is intended to help insulate the alpacas against the cold. In general alpacas tollerate the cold very well (hot weather is difficult on them, cold is not such an issue). But with the cold weather of Michigan, most local farmers have some sort of mat insulation and/or staw in the barn to give additional warmth. Today when I was finishing up my chores I noticed some hay that had spilled onto the mat. We keep the hay in a kiddie pool in the barn for the alpacas to eat, but as it the nature with hay, some spills out. I decided to sweep it off. After I was done, the alpacas came in and sat down inside the barn. They have been sitting and sleeping in the pen just behind the barn. I guess they were waiting for me to sweep ;)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

choke

I had my first experience with choke. This is when an alpaca eats their grain too fast and it gets caught in their throat. The hope is they will cough and gag it up, but there have been times owners have had to put a tube down the alpacas throat. We had heard that feeding the grain out of half a pipe (a pipe cut in half) lessens choke, but Snowstorm has not been receptive to eating it that way. I bought him a bowl that he has been using. Well he choked tonight. He seemed to gag, then throw up, then gag, then throw up. This happened several times. I went inside to ask J about it, and he said it was choke, to make sure Snowstorm was still breathing. I went back outside where Snowstorm was still gagging and throwing up, yet breathing. Emma and her cousin had feed the animals tonight and were watching with me. He seemed to throw up quite a bit, then sat down. At first I worried he was cushing, like he was in pain, but he was sitting down. Every evening after supper the three alpacas sit in the pen just outside the barn. I have seen them sleep there. He seems to have just been settling in for the night. We waited a little bit to make sure he was alright, he was no longer gagging or throwing up.

I will check on him again tonight to make sure he is ok. We will need to switch him to eating out of the cut pipe. I do not want to risk this happening again.

Additional information on choke:

http://www.bluebirdhills.com/alpaca_husbandry.htm

Caution must be used in the case of pelleted and ground up pelleted feeds. While these are excellent for providing alpacas with a specific measure of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, their ability to expand in size when combined with water can lead animals to choke. "Choke" in alpacas refers to clogging of the esophagus or the tube leading to the stomach, not blockage of the wind pipe (trachea). It is a medical emergency though, and sometimes requires veterinary intervention to relieve it. Sometimes the alpaca can dislodge the food, or the breeder can massage the esophagus externally to move the blockage on. If not relieved, the alpaca will be unable to swallow their food and the saliva that they secrete in copious amounts. This can quickly lead to aspiration and pneumonia. Choke is easily identified by the repetitive regurgitation of saliva with some food particles mixed in. Sometimes the alpaca can fix the problem themselves, but if it is not relieved in a few minutes by the alpaca or the manager intervening, a veterinarian needs to be called.



and http://alpacalady.wordpress.com/2007/11/13/choking-is-a-scary-thing/

Grain or pellets are not the alpacas “natural” diet and so the alpaca has not evolved to deal with large clumps of food traveling down its throat. One alpaca might try to take another’s food, which encourages them to take larger mouthfuls than they normally would, swallow faster and sometimes cause a choke.

Usually it is quite obvious when an alpaca is choking, they will cough, make louder swallowing or gulping noises than usual, put their head down towards the ground, flare their nostrils and in some instances regurgitate food. It is an unpleasant experience for the alpaca and also a scary one for the owner to observe. If the choke continues the alpaca may cush and lay it’s neck out along the ground, it can also start to bloat or even colic a little during a bad choke episode or if the choke is not attended to fast enough.
One of the problems with choking is that typically the alpaca becomes stressed and tense about the situation, and the more tense the muscles of the alpaca are the less able they are to release the stuck food.

If we see an alpaca choking during feeding time we monitor that alpaca but keep enough of a distance to where the alpaca does not feel stressed about our presence. If we can see that the choke is resolving itself we will do no more than observe the alpaca. Once we are convinced the choke is over then we will leave the pasture but not before. Often that is all that is needed, but on the few occasions when the choke continues then more action may be called for.

If you are inexperienced at dealing with an unresolved choke your best course of action is to call the vet, he or she will be able to guide you through steps you can take to help the alpaca to relax and to dislodge the stuck food. Often the vet will recommend a dose of banamine to help the alpaca relax, the banamine takes a little while to kick in but it is usually very effective in relaxing the alpaca and resolving the choke. We also like to give a choking alpaca some Bach’s Rescue Remedy as that can help them to relax too.
We have some steps in place at our farm to help prevent choke in the first place. Our feed is specially made for alpacas and has been developed to dissolve should it become lodged in the alpaca’s throat. At feeding time we group our alpacas so that the slow eaters feed together and the faster eaters feed together. By feeding our alpacas by their eating habits the risk of choke is lowered. Another important thing is to have enough feeders or feed bowls to allow each alpaca to have sufficient room to eat. We feed most of our alpacas using individual rubber bowls, and are careful to leave adequate space between each bowl. We also have some feeding trays dotted round the pens. The feeding trays are set a little off the ground and made of PVC pipe cut in two and mounted on a wooden frame. An additional step we take is to always be present when the alpacas are eating grain, it doesn’t take them long to eat it and you can catch a choke situation much earlier and decide which action, if any, to take.

With good feeding practices chokes are rare things, if you have an alpaca that frequently chokes during feeding time it would be a wise move to have it checked out by your vet to make sure there isn’t something physically wrong with the alpaca that is causing it to choke so frequently.

Choke situations can be a scary thing for both the alpaca and the owner, but with the correct handling they can usually be resolved easily, and with good feeding practices they can be reduced or avoided, which is the best way to be.

Sounding the alarm

I took the dogs jogging again today, and we passed the alpaca's pasture. First I had Dottie with me and the alpacas stayed back when usually when they see me they walk towards the fence. But they did that the other day when I jogged with the dogs. Then I jogged with Bailey. For some reason they did not like Bailey. I heard this odd shrill sound, sort of like a bird, but I could tell it was coming from the alpacas. I couldn't tell who was making the sound as none of their mouths moved. Emma happened to be in the barn playing with the cats and said Snowstorm was making the sound, she knew because she could see his lungs moving. On my second lap they still were making that sound at us so I took Bailey home and finished my jog on my own. Snowstorm did it again when it was just me, even after I spoke to let him know it was me. I guess jogging with the dogs is too scary for them.

Our dogs and alpacas

On Thursday I took the dogs jogging with me. The path I take goes past the alpaca's pasture. I first had Dottie with me. She noticed the alpacas right way. Barked a couple times but then stopped and looked as I told her it was ok. Dottie came into the barn with me when I fed the alpacas. Dottie behaved but the alpacas did not want to come into their side of the barn with Dottie in the so I had to tie her outside.

Then I took Bailey jogging with me. On the first pass of the pasture Bailey was so intent on sniffing Dottie's trail that her nose never left the ground. After I turned and took a second pass at the pasture, then she noticed. She stopped, looked, but never did bark. I'm surprised because Bailey is scared of everything. But Bailey also loves to go jogging and I do find when she's jogging with me she is happy and does not bark and get into trouble as much. The alpacas would not come anywhere near the fence where Bailey and I were, when they usually do follow me. They stood back from the dog. Overall I think that is a good safety measure. In our area domestic dogs are the biggest danger threat to alpacas, so I want them to stay away.

Editted to add that I was careful when allowing the dogs near the alpacas. I kept the dogs at a safe distance. The dogs were always on a leash and on the other side of the fence from the alpacas. Even when Dottie was in the barn, there was a fence between her and the alpacas, and Dottie was on a leash. Our dogs are great family dogs, but are not trained alpaca guardian dogs. Domestic dogs are the biggest threat to alpacas, dogs can hurt an alpaca. And even though my dogs are great with my kids, I do not know how they would act towards an alpaca. I think it is important to observe safety measures with all animals. Our dogs are not meant to live with the alpacas, but to live with us and walk/jog on a leash next to the alpacas pasture. Only trained guardian dogs should be allowed near alpacas.

Cold! 20* overnight

It has been very cold overnight, temps in the 20's. I went to feed the alpacas yesterday morning to find them happy, but frost on their fleece. We had several days of misty rain weather. That combined with them rolling in the dirt created some damp fleece, that then froze. They looked like they had frosted tips. Cute beauty technique.

The alpacas definately are warming up to us. They come into the barn when we arrive, knowing we will be feeding them. They now go to their own feed, so feeding time works out well. When I leave after feeding and cleaning up the pasture, they follow me along the fence.

The cats seem to be doing ok in the cold too. They have really long fur and they stay in the barn by the hay when it's really cold. Their water did freeze overnight but Fluffy figured out how to walk on the wood part of the divider in the barn to reach the alpaca's water (it is heated to prevent freezing). I do not think Tiger has figured this out, so we bring fresh water every morning to make sure she has plenty of water. Poor Tiger. Tiger remains small and do not appear to eat much. We bought wet cat food for her, hoping to get her to eat more. We give it to her and she just looks at it. Initially we keep Fluffy away so Tiger can eat, but she doesn't. Fluffy ends up eating it. Tiger must be eating some of the dry food (we keep that bowl full all the time), because she is going to the bathroom. Fluffy is very active, running all over, chasing leaves and climbing trees. Tiger is calm, mostly sitting by our feet while we are there.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Clean fleece?

I wish I could post a picture of Snowstorm, how he was when he arrived, and what he looks like a few days later. You could all laugh with me! Clean fleece, ummmm that was a pipe dream. Seems Snowstorm likes to roll on the ground and picked a spot in the pasture where the grass was thin. He's filthy. The girls seems to do it too, but their fleece is brown to start with so you do not notice it as much.

First time in the barn

I forgot to tell the story of how the alpacas came into the barn after being in the pasture (we did herd them into the barn when Linda dropped them off, but after that they did not want to come into the barn). The alpacas seemed scared of the barn and wouldn't come in.

On Sunday, J and I were in the barn trying to get the alpacas food sorted out. Emma and Zack were out in the pasture with the alpacas. The kids got into a fight and Zack started bawling, then ran into the barn to us. The alpacas followed him. Seems alpacas either felt bad for Zack, or are that nosey.

They are curious animals. Yesterday (Wednesday) I was picking up leaves in the west pasture. They had been using the east pasture, but I said "you can come with me". They ran out there before I could get through the gate! The grass must be greener on the other side ;) They ate grass, ran around, and rolled in some dirt, while following me around the pasture. They would come up to me, but not close enough for me to touch them. If I looked at them, they would back off. I have read that alpacas know how far your arms/hands can reach and will stay just out of that distance. I witnessed this to be very true!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

success

J did the morning feeding on Monday and got the girls to eat out of the pipe trough. Snowstorm wouldn't but J left some grain on the ground that did get eaten. Snowstorm is proving to be very stubborn (which isn't a big deal, we have a stubborn dog, a stubborn child and J and I have been know to be a bit stubborn too). Snowstorm will fit right in with us!

The kids and I fed them in the evening and the girls ate out of the trough with no problem. I bought a bowl that we could put on the ground for Snowstorm. No sense fighting with him over it. The alpacas either really like their food or are getting use to us because they stayed in the barn, in the pen, even with me and the kids in there pouring grain (Emma poured for the girls, Zack brought Snowstorm his bowl).

The cats remain in the barn so they must be getting along fine with the alpacas. I will need to start brushing the cats though, their fur is so long, I worry it will mat if it is not brushed. We will see how they like that.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The second nights feeding

On the second night (Sunday night) I went to the barn by myself so there were no kids moving around to distract the alpacas. When I got to the barn, the alpacas were already inside. Seems they have adjusted to it. I gave Tiger (the kitten) some wet cat food (since she's a runt she seems to need more) so she was out of the way eating that. Fluffy was mad I did not give her any so she was running around the barn pestering everyone, but the alpacas did not seem to notice her. (After Tiger was done eating I did let Fluffy finish up what Tiger did not eat).

The alpacas appeared to think it was food time and had their eyes glued on me. They came up to the gate that separates them from where the food is (and where I was). I measured out food for 1 female and walked into the pen and poured it into the pipe. Victoria started eating it and then Kateri joined in. I was happy seemed to be working just right. Then I went and measured out food for Snowstorm. But when I brought his food into the pen Victoria came after that food and Snowstorm refused to come over by it. I spent the rest of the time trying to get them to eat where I wanted them too, trying to cox them to where I had put their food. In the end the girls ate out of the scoop and Snowstorm would only eat if I dumped the food on the ground. He is stubborn!

While it was not quite what a wanted it is progress from the night before. The biggest plus being they were in the barn, and they let me walk all over the pen while they were in there too.

Next we will try pouring the grain into bowls and putting the bowls by the pipe trough. Eventually we will get something to work.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The First 24 Hours

When Linda arrived with the alpacas, she took me into the trailer and showed me how to put the halters on them so we could walk them into the barn. The first one she haltered and we passed that one over to Emma to hold until we walked to the barn. The second one I attempted to halter, then passed to J to walk to the barn. The last one I haltered and walked to the barn. Zack wanted to walk one but we worried he would have a hard time with it so he hung onto the leash with me.

We brought the alpacas into the barn and then out into the pasture. They instantly started eating the grass. We have been so happy with how well it came in and seeing the alpacas enjoy it we know our work to put it in was worth it.

Linda helped us herd up the alpacas so that we could get Snowstorm into the alpaca chute where she could show J how to cut Snowstorms toenails. J is in charge of the medical stuff (being that he is an RN). J will cut the girls nails another day. It was a bit of a struggle to get Snowstorm into the chute, seems he is very stubborn and he is a big alpaca. I'm glad Linda was there to help.

Linda gave us the fleece from all three animals from this past years sheering. I was so excited to get that! I was not expecting it but have wanted to get my hands on some alpaca fleece. She also gave us all the ribons the 3 alpacas have won, and their records (medical records, transport records and show records).

After Linda left we set out to feed the alpacas. We had seen one farm where they took a plastic pipe, cut it in half and let the alpacas eat off of that. The reason to do that was that is lessens the chance the alpaca will choke on their grain (which can be a complication). Also, you can flip the pipe over when not in use and the flies cannot sit on it. We liked the look of that set up and put that in our barn. But, these alpacas had never seen it before, they were use to eating out of bowls. We put the grain out and they would not come into the barn. We tried many different things. J was able to get them to eat out of his hand when he walked to them in the pasture and they would follow him to the barn but not go in. He took herding poles and guided them into the barn. They stayed for awhile but would not eat. The kids and I tried moving into the pasture so the alpacas might want to go into the barn to escape us. Nothing seemed to work. We left for a bit to see if they would eat after we were gone. We came back about an hour later and they had not eaten. We let the cats out of the cage and left the animals for the night hoping the alpacas would eat once we were gone.

The next morning (Sunday) we went out to the barn around 7:30 a.m. The alpacas were in the pasture. My Father-in-law said he saw them laying down just outside the barn door, where they apparently slept. They seem very skiddish of our barn (maybe it is too different then they are use to). The grain was still there, they had not eatten any of it, even though they knew where it was.

I took the scoop for the grain and put the grain in it, then went out to the pasture and coxed the girls into eating out of the scoop. I had seen other farmers do this, and Zack did it at one of the farms we visited. Victoria was the first to eat, then finally Kateri joined her. I made sure Snowstorm stayed back as the pregnant females need this grain, his is optional. I was able to get the girls to eat all their share. J fed Snowstorm, some Snowstorm ate out of J's hand, and some Snowstorm ate off the ground.

At one point during the feeding it sounded like Kateri sneezed. I wondered if she was mad and was actually spitting (they will spit when mad). I looked and on the road there was a jogger going by - she had spit! She was on the alert. That jogger had not made any sound that I could hear. These alpacas are in tuned! Victoria watched the jogger until he was out of sight.

We have gone out there to visit the alpacas several times today. I went for a walk around the pasture and the alpacas would come out to the fence near me. The cats did too. In fact Tiger escaped through the fence, she is so small she could fit. I worry about her going on the road so we will have to keep a very close eye on her. Fluffy is too big to fit through the fence, but she is a climber and I bet she will learn how to get out (she climbed a tree on Friday, Zack was so upset yelling "call the fire department we need a fireman" she did end up climbing down herself). I did see the kittens in the pasture where the alpacas sniffed them. Tiger didn't seem to notice, but Fluffy did hiss at the alpacas. The alpacas sniffed and walked away. Hopefully they will all get along, they seemed ok (especially for a first meeting). I have read Alpacas like cats, and they seemed to be fine with the kittens there. But alpacas do stomp as a defense and those kittens are small (especially Tiger who is a runt and not very fast). So far so good.

We will see how feeding goes tonight. One thing we have noticed is that the alpacas are more likely to come into the barn if the front barn door is open (the alpacas come in through the back). Then they can see through the barn. The problem being if the barn door is open the kittens can get out and Fluffy likes to hide under cars. I worry Tiger would not know to move if a car did come near her. We will have to try some different things. I think tonight we will lock the kittens in their cage, then feed the alpacas with the barn door open. Leave them alone for awhile. If the alpacas eat, then later we can let the kittens out of their cage and close the door so all is safe overnight.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Alpacas are here!

This afternoon Linda arrived with the alpacas, Kateri, Victoria and Snowstorm. It worked out great as J had just finished getting all the leaves out of one of the pastures so it was all set for the alpacas. I spent the last three days raking leaves (a chore I hate but did for the sake of getting the leaves out of the alpacas way). The alpacas loved the grass and immediately started eating.

Linda showed J how to trim the toe nails on Snowstorm. He will do Kateri and Victoria's toe nails on another day (after they have settled in more as they are pregnant and we don't want to put too much stress on them).

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of their arrival because my digital camera is not working. We also are trying not to put too much stress on the girls so we are keeping things low key. Pregnant females when under stress can reabsorb a pregnancy which we do not want to happen. We would get another breeding but being winter we do not want a cria born in the winter, so we would have to decide if we should hold off until spring which postpones having a cria significantly.

Kateri is due July 19th
Victoria is due July 14th

July will be baby cria fever!

I am very excited that Linda brought the fleece from all three animals for me! I was thinking I would have to wait until the sheering in the spring before I would get any. Now to look into a mill to send it to so I can have some yarn.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Victoria - picture and information

Birthdate: 7/28/2004
Heritage: 7/8 Chilean, 1/8 Other/Unknown
Color: Dark Brown

Awards Received
2005 MOPACA 5th place combined brown juvenile females
2005 PAOBA Breeder's Showcase 5th place dark brown juvenile females
2005 Michigan International Alpacafest 3rd place dark brown yearling females
2006 Wisconsin Spring Fling 4th dark brown yearlin females
2006 IAOBA Alpaca Festival 4th of 8 dark brown yearling females
2006 Great Midwest Alpaca Festival 4th of 7




This is what South Haven Alpacas says about Victoria:

On June 16th Victoria gave us a gorgeous Light Fawn female cria. Perfectly conformed and dynamite fiber. Victoria is an excellent mom and easy birther. .....

Victoria was the first cria born on our farm. We were very pleased with the result of breeding our award winning dam Hana to the sensational true black Dark Shaddow. She has very fine fiber combined with perfect conformation and bite. Her color background includes True Black, Silver Grey,Medium Fawn, White,and obviously Dark Brown. She has three award winning half brothers,our own Thorr, Snowstorm, and The Buccaneer.

Victoria is mild mannered and easy to handle. Definitely not the dominant female, she can hold her own at feeding time. She sports the same topknot as her dam and brothers so we feel she will probably pass this attractive trait to her offspring.

Snowstorm - picture and information

Birthdate: 7/29/2005
Heritage: 1/2 Chilean, 1/2 Peruvian
Color: White



South Haven Alpacas has this to say about Snowstorm:

Snowstorm is the biggest cria born on our farm. His color was a surprise due to his dam's propensity to throw color. Even though she is white she has produced two black and one brown crias. Never the color she was bred to. Snowstorm carries color genetics for Fawn(all shades), True Black, Brown(all shades), Silver Grey, and White.

Snowstorm's show record is very respectable when considering the level of competition among whites. He handled very well in the ring. His personality is shy and he prefers to stand back when the boys come to the fence. He gets along well in the herd... So why are we selling him? Too many boys from the same dam. Two of his brothers are being retained for our breeding program. We cannot give him the breeding opportunities he deserves.

Kateri - picture and information

Kateri:
Birthdate: 6/28/2004
Heritage: 1/4 Chilean, 1/2 Peruvian
Color: Light Brown

Awards Received
First Place Brown(combined) Juvenile females 2005 MOPACA
Second Place Light brown Yearling females 2006 IAOBA





Fiber:


This is what South Haven Alpacas say about Kateri
Kateri is named for an Mohawk princess who several times saved the lives of some of the first french missionaries in north america. We felt this was a good name for a female sired by Tecumseh. Having explained the name, we can guarantee that you will easily fall for this princess. She has a gentle nature and is easy to handle. Her fiber is very soft with a bold crimp. Conformation is perfect as well as her bite. Her light brown color is perfectly accented by her true black muzzle and feet.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Pictures of the kittens

Here are some pictures that Jillian took of the kittens.

They are sisters, though the orange striped one is smaller (likely the runt of the litter):
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This will be Zack's. He named it "Tiger":
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This is Emma's kitten, she named it "Fluffy":
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Tonight we will go and pick up the kittens. We will put them in the barn with lots of food and warm hay. I'm expecting the kids will be spending most of the weekend down at the barn.

J talked to Ken and Linda who say the Alpacas may be coming November 15 or 16th, which is next week! That works out well as the kids do not have school on the 15th so I was planning on being home anyway.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Coincidence

We have been looking for 2 cats for our barn. The idea is for them to (hopefully) be mousers as we have alpacas food in there. And with living in the woods mice are a given. Also, I thought it would be neat for each of my kids to have a cat to take care of. They can play with the cat and be responsible for feeding the cat, and possible chase the cat around. But then not mess with the alpacas as much. Some of the farms we visited, the kids got to chasing the alpacas. My kids are curious and want to pet and play with the alpacas, but alpacas do not always want to be petted and chasing them gives them anxiety. We don't want our new alpacas to be scared off by kids chasing them. So the hunt for 2 cats began. Unfortunately most shelters will not adopt out cats to be outdoor cats, so that left us with looking for "free kittens" signs.

As it happened, one of my co-workers, Jillian, sent out on email asking if anyone wants 2 kittens! She also happens to be an alpaca farmer - for an office of about 20 people, that's a huge coincidence.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Not so fast

The alpacas aren't coming quite yet. Linda wasn't able to go to Wisconsin to pick them up. We are hoping to get them by the end of November, but plans are not set exactly. They will get here, just a matter of when.

In the mean time we are looking for a vet for our alpacas. We thought the vet we use for our dogs would work, but they no longer see large animals. So we need to come up with a plan B. We also need to find more hay. There is a hay shortage in Michigan due to the dry summer (drought). We have some hay, but not enough for the winter. Oh, and we are looking for 2 cats for our barn, as mousers. Plus this way the kids can each have a cat to call their own.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Alpacas are coming!!

The alpacas are scheduled to arrive the first full week in November! This is getting very real. Linda from South Haven alpacas will be bringing the alpacas here sometime during that week. We are very excited.

J has been busy down at the barn. He has been stocking it with hay, building a chute and making sure we have all the medical supplies on hand that we will need. I have been less busy there, I have done some knitting (finished a hat/scarf/mitten set for my daughters) and I have been trying to find time to read "The Camelid Companion". I have been looking for some barn cats. We were hoping to find 2, one for each of our kids (to keep them busy so that they follow the rule of no chasing the alpacas, they can chase the cats). Also Alpacas reportedly like cats. And we expect there will be mice around the barn given the food source there and the fact we live in the woods.

An alpaca chute is a restraining device to put the alpaca in when trimming nails and doing veterinary care. Here is a link to the plans J used: http://www.autumnstaralpacas.com/Chute.aspx . I do not have a picture of ours because our camera decided now was a time to stop working.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Finishing up the barn

It will never completely be done as I'm sure we will continue to need more things and will want to change around things. But we are trying to get things prepared as much as possible before the alpacas get here.

The fence is all up, and J has designed a catch pen along with a holding pen with the fence. From what I understand (at this point) the catch pen is a small 10x10 area where the alpaca is confined for training purposes. The holding pen is a bigger area between the barn and the pasture. From reading "The Camelid Companion", it is recomended to use a catch pen rather than corner the alpacas in a larger area (which is often the recommended way to do it). The reason being that cornering the alpacas seem to make them more scared of humans and interact less. I need a read up a lot more on all of this a lot more. At any rate, the fence and gates are all up.

J has spent a lot of time organizing the barn, getting feed, hay and medical supplies. I have been doing more knitting, working on a mitten/hat/scarf set for my daughter.

J updated our logo. He used the outline of an actual oak leaf, then traced the outline of a picture of Victoria and Kateri for this:

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Fence

We started putting up the fence. This has proven to be more difficult that we realized. The fence comes rolled up and doesn't want to unroll. Also, it does not want to pull tight. We did about half of the fence this past weekend.

We used welded no climb fence that is 5 feet tall. Alpacas generally do not challenge a fence, so this type of fence should be enough. The main reason for the fence is to keep other animals out. The main wild animals we have around here are deer. There have been reports of a bear but it has been years since any were spotted nearby. The main threat would be dogs (either stray dogs or dogs who get loose). This includes our own dogs, since we are not sure how they will react to the alpacas. I have heard from other farmers that dogs are the biggest threat to alpacas. Many farms have a guard Llama or a guard dog. At least initially we do not plan to have either. For some reason I do not really like Llamas. And I have heard some farmers say their Llama is not much a guardian. If we were to use a dog to guard them we need to get a guardian dog and train it. Most often alpacas are guarded by Great Pyrenees dogs. Possibly in the future we will look into getting such a dog. For now we will stick with our 2 house dogs and let the Alpacas guard themselves. At one farm we visited a puppy got into the alpaca fence and the alpacas went after it (they will stomp other animals). Seeing how they reacted to that puppy, I think the alpacas do a fine job of protecting themselves.

Fence:


The sun shines into the barn in the mornings. I hope the alpacas enjoy the morning sun.


Here is our Irish Setter, Bailey, enjoying the grass. We will need to keep her away from the alpacas. Bailey is scared of everything, and I expect the alpacas will be no exception.

Knit blanket

I finished my first knit blanket. This was great practice at doing different stitches and I did some of it as panels to practice sewing them together. The stitch I used is the Horseshoe Print which my daughter picked out. The blanket is for her American Girl doll.



Now I'm really eager to get my hands on yarn from alpacas. It will be awhile before we had some though. In the mean time I will keep practicing knitting with other yarn.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Updates: the grass and mushrooms

The grass has come in really nice. We have had a perfect fall for planting grass, it's been warm and we've had enough rain that we only had to water a few times.
the grass up close, it is getting thick and long.
compared to what the grass was just a couple weeks ago, it has grown a lot!



I stuck with plan to leave the mushroom be and see if they take care of themselves. This does appear to be working, they are turning brown and appear to be disappearing.
There appears to be a lot less mushrooms. This shows how big some of them were.

updates: the barn

The barn has had some changes. The ground in the barn was dirt, but it was very low in some spots, due to it's previous occupant, a horse. We wanted to level it out, plus we did not like having a dirt floor. Alpacas do lay down (more so than horses). And since we do want the fiber to turn into yarn, I'd like the aim to make things as clean as we can get it. So we had sand delivered to level the ground out.
This picture shows the outside of the barn. You can see the sand on the bottom, that's how much we had to raise the ground there.

After the sand, we put a layer of ground lime stone. It's more expensive than crushed concrete but not by that much, and the lime stone has the added benefit of neutralizing odors. We considered having concrete poured but the cost was a lot more. Plus we've heard some farmers who prefer the limestone because the animal pee can pass through it and drain into the ground. We put a 4 inch layer of limestone down, then sprayed it with water, filled in the help level it. J rented a tapper to push the limestone down even more. This has made it very hard and almost like concrete.This is the back of the barn where we made a ramp with the sand then limestone.



In the inside of the barn, J put up feeders. This is about 1/4 of the barn, where the alpacas will be housed and can eat.

J put pallets here where we will stack the hay and other animal food.





And this is the water spout.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Our Alpacas

It's time to talk about the alpacas we will be getting! We've made plans with Ken and Linda from South Haven Alpacas to purchase 2 of their bred female alpacs and will also get a gelded male in the package. They have been wonderful people to work with. We have had to make a lot of decisions and they were kind to be patient with us. It's been journey to work out starting our business, setting up the farm and figuring out how we will make this all work.

The two females we are purchasing are Victoria and Kateri.

Victoria is a 3 year old dark brown female. The cria she produced this past year was awesome! Her name is Contessa (we did not purchase Contessa, but it does show what kind of quality Victoria is capable of producing). Victoria has been bred to Goldsmith from Hibben Hollow Farms. He is Medium Fawn color.

Kateri is a three year old light brown female. She is also bred to Goldsmith. Her cria from this year is Princess. I believe Princess may be staying with us for awhile since she is not yet weaned from Kateri (same situation with Contessa and Victoria). Weaning usually takes place at about six months of age. Contessa and Princess were born in June so are only four months old.

The girls have both been at Hibben Hollow Farm where they were bred to Goldsmith. Both are currently pregnant. Pregnancy last about 11.5 months, at which point they give birth to a 15 to 20 pound cria (baby)! Given that alpacas are around 150+ pounds themselves, that's a huge baby! Goldsmith is a medium fawn male. Using a color calculator it is most likely the crias produced will be light brown, dark fawn or medium fawn. I'm hoping for light to medium fawn to give us the most variety of color, but browns are nice too. I believe both crias will be due in August of 2008 - it will be baby fever at our farm then! Beware of cria pictures.

And with the 2 girls we will get a gelded male, Snowstorm. He is a 2 year old, white, gelded male. Snowstorm has won several impressive awards. However, there is lots of competition among white alpacas (more so than other color groups). He was at a disadantage due to his color. This led to the decision to geld him instead of becoming a herdshire (stud). I am very excited to be getting him, as I want some white yarn. White can be used as is, or can easily be dye (not sure if I will attempt dying the yarn, but the option is there). He will also be a great companion animal. Being that he is gelded, he can be in with females or males. Initially he will be in with the females, but if we have a male cria next summer we will need a companion for him. Male crias can be with the females until they are weaned (at about six months old). Then they need to be separated, but alpacas cannot be alone, due to being a herd animal. They freak out if they are not with other alpacas (think of a neurotic, separation anxiety dog, but at 150+ pounds!).

Last I heard the alpacas could be coming to our farm as early as the end of this month! We are almost ready, just need to get up fence, gates and have food on hand.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Logo?

We have been thinking about a logo for our ranch (ok, I've been thinking, J has been working on designing it). We want to tie in the oak theme, plus add in alpacas. This is the start (rough draft) of the logo:



We want the lettering curved. And we want a picture of alpacas on there too. I was thinking an outline of a dam and a cria (mother and baby) would be neat, over the leaf.

Friday, September 28, 2007

oh no, Mushrooms

Unfortunately we have some mushrooms coming up in our pasture. I've done some research on them to find out how to get rid of them. Seems it's very difficult to do that because they grow by spores that are spread when you pick the mushroom, plus by picking them you leave a part of them underground that will just regrow. Digging it all out is difficult. Many sites suggested just leaving the mushroom. Mushrooms are a fungus that grows on decaying matter. There is lots of decaying matter in our pasture. About 8 years ago many trees were knocked down to create the pasture. Knocking down those trees left a lot of tree roots underground, which now is decay matter. Not to mention all matter that accumulates in a woods, like leaves and branches. It would be impossible to dig out all those decaying roots, left over leaves and other decaying plant matter. The mushrooms are actually good in that they are breaking down that decaying matter.

However, I can't confirm whether or not the mushrooms are poisionous to alpacas. Some mushrooms are, so I don't think it's a chance I want to take!

I've read that sometimes mushrooms are a result of poor drainage. I do not think that is true in our case given our soil is mostly sand. Drainage has never been an issue here. However, our frequent watering to get the grass growing likely contributed to the mushroom growth. I do think the abundance of decaying matter is the big issue, which we can't get rid of. Some sites said that acidic soils are more friendly to mushrooms, so putting down lime should help get rid of mushrooms. We did put down lime before we seeded the grass. Maybe we could put more lime down? I read that you can put down lime in the spring and fall, given the fact the soil is acidic and the mushroom problem I think we should put lime down again in the future, again in the spring and again next fall. Some sites mentioned a lack of nitrogen could encourage mushroom growth, so that is another thing to consider. One suggestion was to use baking soda to neutralize. I've also read to pour bleach on them, but I don't want to use chemicals like bleach or a pesticide since that could be harmful to the alpacas.

I think I will leave the mushrooms for now. Some sites said they bloom for only a short time (the part we see is essentially the bloom). While there the mushrooms do help the decaying matter decay, so it's part of nature. Possibly by letting nature take it's course it will take care of itself. However, I'm concerned given how much decaying matter is there, it could be a long time before the mushrooms run their course. So if there are still mushrooms around when we are ready to have alpacas in our pasture, then I will pick off what is showing. That way the alpacas would not be able to eat them. The mushrooms will reappear so I will have to watch the pasture closely and pick any new growth. But that way the mushroom underground will continue to decay the matter below the surface. Digging out all the mushrooms underground and all the decaying matter would be impossible so total elimination is not possible. I think picking off the tops and staying on top of any new growth is out best option given the situation in our pasture. I will also keep up with lime and consider the nitrogen issue to see if either of those could help slow down or prevent futher mushroom growth.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Michigan International Alpaca Fest

On Saturday we attending the alpaca fest. I was most surprised by how many alpacas were there. Someone told us there was just under 500 alpacas present. We looked at all of them. I most loved one named Bella. Generally while I do like animals, I like them from a distance. I'm not likely to touch and pet them. Animals will come near me but most not close enough to pet. Well Bella did, I could tell right away she really liked me (ok, maybe she's just friendly). I told J that alpaca was the best in the place since she came up to me and enticed me to pet her.

Not only did we look at all the alpacas but we also looked at the products made from alpaca fiber. It confirmed for me that I am able to make products that would be worthy of selling. I'm excited to get my hands on some fleece!! We also watched some of the judging, but found that difficult as we could not touch and look closely at the fiber like that judges could.

While there was put a deposit down on some alpacas from South Haven Alpacas. J was most impressed with the genetics they had, and the quality of the fiber. For now we are purchasing Kateri and Victoria, though we may also get a gelded male. It's all becoming more real!

Friday, September 21, 2007

grass!

About two weeks after planting the grass, and lots of watering, we can see definately shoots coming up. From a distance it looks really green, but up close there are still a lot of bare spots. Hoping it will fill in for a fully pasture. THe more grass the alpaca's have to eat, the less they will need of hay, plus the more grass the less dirt meaning the cleaner the alpacas will be.
Here's a picture from the front of the barn. It's hard to get a good picture that shows the size of the barn vs the size of the pasture. I also got pictures of the pasture on both sides of the barn. Again, I don't think the pictures show the true size of things.





Tomorrow we are going to our first alpaca show. Not sure what to expect! But we are excited to be going.
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