Monday, May 26, 2008

Shearing 2008

Sunday was shearing day at our farm. This was our first shearing experience, and since fiber is our industry it was an exciting day. We started out with bags for each alpaca, one for the "prime" and one for "seconds". Prime = the best fiber, the part that comes off their back, mid-section. The seconds is lesser quality and comes off their thighs, neck and some down the legs (though most of the leg fiber is 3rds, which is generally trashed). You could use 3rds for batting in cria coats (but we do not plan to birth in the cold months so likely will not need that). The little ones (a year and under) have prime all over because they have not been shorn before (so Maddie, Maxito and Sommerfield have mostly prime, no seconds).

Bags laying out:

We set up in the barn, clearing off the mats so that Paul could put up his shearing table (I forgot to get a picture of it - sorry!). Paul came from White Cloud Alpacas to shear for us.

We did the maidens first, Sommerfield, then Maddie, then Lightening, Sancha, then on to the pregnant girls, Kateri and Victoria. Victoria was so funny because she was so nosey when we were shearing the other ones, walking into the barn to see what we were doing. But when it was her turn, then she ran! She didn't want to do it herself at all. Last we did the boys, finishing up with Snowstorm. Snowstorm was the biggest baby, he is the only one who cried! He cried the entire first 1/2 of shearing. The big gelded male, the biggest baby.

We have decided the shorn ones look like cartoon characters, or drowned rats? They look quite funny, and very thin. I took before and after pictures to share. I will show the girls first, oldest the youngest, then the boys. I didn't take before and after of Lightening because he only had his 2 week cria tips and doesn't really look any different. They look dirty in the shorn pictures because they rolled on the ground after being shorn, when they still had some oil on them from the clippers. As the oil wears off the dirt will not stick as much.

We had a total of 28 pounds shorn. 18.2 pounds of it are prime fleece.


Sancha had 3 pounds of prime fleece and 3 pounds on 2nds. She was our record holder for the most fleece shorn. It was a surprise to use because she is our oldest (10 years old) and because her fleece looked thin to us. We were very wrong, she had a ton of fleece.

Sancha in full fleece:

Sancha shorn:


She had 2.4 pounds of prime, and 2.6 pounds of seconds. She was the only one we had to trim the top knot on, she had it covering her eyes so much we trimmed it back.

Victoria full fleece:

Victoria Shorn (I had to adjust the lightness of the picture so you can see features better):


Kateria had 2.0 pounds of prime and 2.2 pounds of seconds.

Kateri in Full Fleece:

Kateri shorn (lightness adjusted here too):


Sommer had 4.8 pounds of prime, our biggest prime holder, but we expected as much because we could see her long staple length and because her fiber was all prime (no seconds).

Sommerfield full fleece:

Sommerfield Shorn:


Maddie had 3.8 pounds of prime, great given she was born in September and did not have as long to grow as the others.

Maddie full fleece:

Maddie Shorn:


Snowstorm is the bigger boy, Maxito the smaller one. Snowstorm had 2.2 pounds of prime, 2.0 pounds of seconds. Maxito had 4.4 pounds of prime.

Full Fleece:


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lightening - 10 days old

Lightening is now 10 days old. He's alert and fun, teasing the other alpacas and trying to get them to play with him. I think he will like it when Victoria and Kateri deliver their cria, he'll have someone to play with. Now he spends his time jumping over his mom's grain dish while she tries to eat, and taunting the other girls trying to get them to chase him.


Curiosity - he wanted to come and see my camera:

Pretending to eat hay. He is really too young to eat hay but he mimics the other alpacas. His sister, Sommerfield is next to him and behind her is Sancha, their mom. Sancha is mid-spit as she is annoyed at Sommerfield for something, which is a pretty typical scene between these three. Sancha easily gets annoyed at Sommerfield, but tolerates a lot from Lightening.

My niece luring Lightening to come up to her:


Our maidens are Sommerfield and Maddie. Sommerfield is beige, Maddie black with white. Sommerfield is over a year old, and we hope to bred her this fall. Maddie will not be one until fall so we will wait until late spring (likely after the spring shows) to bred her.

At feeding time we herd the two maidens into the catch pen so that they do not steal grain from the maternity girls (pregnant or nursing). This is a picture of Zack standing in front of the catch pen. Sommerfield is stepping back to get away from Zack, Maddie is looking for the last bits of grain:

Sommerfield was curious about the camera so came right up to me. The nature of alpacas is that they are curious. But if you grab at them, that makes them feel threatened so they will not come by you. I make an effort not to grab at them (no matter how much I might want to touch that soft fiber), and in return, they are more likely to come up to me.

It is hard to get a good picture of Maddie's face. The darker fiber alpacas' features do not show up well in pictures. This one is one of the best I've seen for a head shot of Maddie:


To move the alpacas you herd them. The ideal is to have an openning you want them to go through, them, then you on the other side, walking toward them with your arms straight out. This works, most of the time ;) We find the worst is when they are in the pasture and can dodge around us rather than go through the gate.

This is a picture of Emma in the herding stance:

You can see Maddie, mid-step walking away from Emma.

More information on Uno

I misunderstood J, I thought he found the kitten in the rafters, but he said Fluffy had moved the kitten. He worried that maybe Fluffy moved the kitten to late and it was already too cold. Or that Fluffy dropped the kitten when moving it (given the jumps she needs to make to move the kitten from that rafters/eves, it is possible. I was nervous when I saw her take it up there). Fluffy is such a young mom, any of those could have happened, even with her doing the best she can.

But this morning I realized we have not seen Thunder since Sunday. When we didn't seen him yesterday evening I noted it but figured I'd see him in the morning. When he wasn't in the barn again this morning I decided it was time to look for him. No one had seen him at all on Monday. I worried he was hit on the road, and planned to walk the road to see. When I was bringing a load of alpaca poop out to the pile in the woods I found Thunder, dead. Thunder did not die from the frost on Sunday night, he was fine all winter in the barn. This makes me wonder if there was a disease or parasite that got both Thunder and the kitten, but why not Fluffy? Or possibly another animal attacked. I don't know cats well enough, would a male cat chase off an animal to protect a female cat? Since both the kitten and Thunder died on the same night I can't help but think they are related. And a parasite/disease I would think would take the kitten faster than Thunder, and would affect Fluffy. We may never solve this mystery.

I feel so very bad for Fluffy. She lost her sister last fall, Tiger. Now her baby, Uno, and her husband/male friend, Thunder. She is back to her friendly self, but now she a lone cat.

The kids had a hard time last night with the news about the kitten. Hearing of Thunder today will be really rough. The cycle of life can be so cruel.

Monday, May 19, 2008

another animal loss

This morning J found the kitten, Uno, dead.

Fluffy had been taking good care of the kitten, feeding it and tending to it. Yesterday it took a bit to locate the kitten, we could hear it crying but had to look around a bit for it. J found it in the barn rafters and got it down, putting it back on the hay where it had been. Once Fluffy saw it there, she picked it up in her mouth and jumped up into the rafters again to put it back up there. I was impressed with her ability to climb with the kitten in her mouth. I was afraid the kitten might move and fall but J said there was a block of wood in the way, the kitten couldn't fall. I've heard it's common for momma cats to move their kittens. And since she brought it back up there we could tell she was insistant that it be up there. I don't blame her, with the kids in and out of the barn so much spying on the kitten I can see where the mom would want to put the kitten somewhere she felt it was better protected.

We were suprised to discover it had passed. I worry it was due to the freezing temps and the fact the kitten was in the rafters (with only a thin metal sheild between it and the elments) rather than on the hay where there was insulation. I'm surprised Fluffy didn't move the kitten as the cold set in. But then, Fluffy is such a young mom. I've also read that about 50% of kittens do not live to weaning age. What a sad thought. I worry how hard Fluffy will take this.

What a sad loss.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Everyone is home

Now that Lightning is on his feet and doing so well, we decided we can safely move Sommerfield and Maddie back into that pasture. We did that this morning. All seemed to go well, I was surprised there wasn't more spitting. But the matriarchy was very watchful of Sommerfield (in this picture Sommerfield is on the far left side of the picture, and Lightening is over by the mom's but actually closest to Victoria, Sancha is following him and Kateri has her eyes glued to Sommerfield):

I found Kateri and Sancha with their eyes glued on Sommerfield. Whenever Lightening would wander off, Sancha would follow him everywhere, but Kateri would keep her watch on Sommerfield, and Sancha would glance back to her. Seems they were concerned what Sommerfield might do. I do not see her as harmful at this point. She has had time away from her mom (Sancha) and Lightening is quick on his feet now. Though Kateri and Sancha keeping a close eye on things is a good idea too. We have noticed that Kateri is like a 2nd mom to Lightening. I don't know if that is a herd thing or if that is Kateri's personality.

Here is Maxito on our farm:

Our three white boys (Snowstorm is the biggest one, Lightening the cria, and Max the medium size one - for now) Lightening is in a different pen from the other two boys, it's hard to see there is a fence separating them. Snowstorm and Max are in one pasture/barn and the girls with Lightening are in the other pasture/barn:

These are our white/biege ones, which I am sure will get confused from a distance (from Left to Right it is Snowstorm, then Lightening and Sancha back in the doorway of the barn, then Maxito in the front facing the camera, then on the farthest right side is Sommerfield. Max is about 11 months old, so older than Maddie but younger than Sommerfield (by about 2 months):

what is it?

When at the barn Wednesday morning I heard this very unusual crying sound. It took me a bit to see this thing near Fluffy. My first thought was that it was a kitten, but it was all clean (so it was born at least a little while ago, Fluffy had time to clean up) and there was only 1 (given the time frame it was unlikely there were more coming). What also puzzled me is that it was crying and crying, and while Fluffy was nearby, Fluffy was not going over to comfort it. I looked at it and it sort of look like a rat or a mole. This made me wonder if it was a kitten, or Fluffy was mid-kill on some rodent.

This picture was taken on Friday but it looks about the same as what I found Wednesday:

After calling J to tell him about this thing, and the fact I had to run to work ASAP, I picked it up and put it right by Fluffy. It stopped crying. I figured Fluffy was either warming it and it was finding milk, or Fluffy was smothering it. J arrived and confirmed it is a kitten.

I have since heard that a litter of one is not that unsual when the mom is a young and it is her first litter. One is good for me. Less work for Fluffy, less kittens to find a home for.

It is hard to get a good picture of this kitten. Not only it being blurry, but also the size comparision. It is really small (but they all are when they are born). I know it takes some time before they open their eyes, not sure when to start looking for that.

This is Fluffy carrying the kitten in her mouth:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

cria update

By day two Lightening was 21.8 pounds, so he's gaining. We haven't actually seen him nurse, but he has to be doing fine at it to be gaining like he is.

This is him at one day old:

Lightening is curious about Zack (Zack makes the cria look small, keep in mind Zack is big for a five year old). This was taken today, when Lightening is 3 days old:

Lightening has started running, and he is fast! Looks like a streak of lightning:

white alpaca boys

I've been asked by several people if it's "good" that we had a white boy. Well, that's difficult to answer.

To start, while we didn't intend to have so many white alpacas, we knew when we bought Sancha that she was bred to Avatar and that there was a high chance the cria would be white. I believe it's a 58% chance of a white cria when 2 whites are bred to each other. We felt it was higher given the fact both parents have had several white offspring. There is a 50/50 chance of male vs female. Having a white boy was not a surprise (though I had predicted a white girl, it was a 50/50 guess). We all had predicted the cria would be white.

White alpacas do have benefits. White fiber is really nice to have. I can make a lot of different things with white/offwhite yarn. And white is the easiest to dye if I so choose. The disadvantage of white is that it's the most competitive. Back in Peru they focused on improving the white fiber because that is what the English textiles wanted. The whites tend to have more crimp and shine and luster etc. What this means is that a decent white might not ever get any awards because there are really great whites. Whereas a decent black alpaca, where there has been less focus on imroving that fiber, has a good chance of getting a few awards.

What this means for Lightening? If he's great, he could show really well and be a Stud someday. His sire (father) is a white male and made it to stud status. In fact, he's a $5,000 bred. But if Lightening is good, but average, he likely will not show well which means less likely he'd make it to stud. Then he'll end up like Snowstorm, a gelded male. For that matter Snowstorm did show and did win some awards. He just wasn't quite good enough for a farm to want him as a sire. We love him as a gelded male :) but we hope that isn't the fate of Lightening.

As for male vs female, it's hard to say what is better. The benefit of females is that unless there is something seriously wrong with them, they are of value because of breding. Even an average female can be "bred up" to a better quality male to make a great cria. The industry does not "bred up" males though. Since you can purchase stud service, it makes the most sense to buy the best girl you can afford, then purchase stud service to an even better male. If Lightening is a "bred up" quality of male, he'll have a good career as a stud. A really good stud can make money through stud service alone. There is also potential to sell "half interest" in the male (two farms then would "own" him and his service). Additionally, the highest dollar amount purchase in the alpaca industry have been of males. If males are good, they can be worth more than a female.

Lightening is the first cria on our farm so I'm not one to judge how good or great he is. I think he's awesome, but I'm biased and I have nothing to compare him too. Only time will tell. From what we do see, we think his face will be quite wooly. It also looks like he has good coverage of fiber on his legs (which is of concern because his sister does not have good leg coverage, on a male that could end his stud potential, on a female, we will just make sure to breed her to males who have full coverage).

Sire: Aztec's Peruvian Avatar

Sancha was bred to Benchmark Alpacas' male, Aztec's Peruvian Avatar. He is the father of our newest cria, Sancha's White Lightning. Avatar has won several first place awards:

Supreme Color Champion (at 2 years old) - Farm Fair International 2004, Canada
Reserve Grand Champion (at 3 years old!) - Rich Valley Show 2005, Canada
1st Place - Farm Fair International 2004, Canada
1st Place - Rich Valley Show 2005, Canada
1st Place Fleece (at 3 years old!) - Alpacafest 2005, Red Deer, Canada

That record is even more impressive when you take into account he is a white boy. It's tough competition for whites.

He was residing in Canada so his genetics are more rare here in the US. He is a Hemingway grandson :)

Avatar has 3 cria who have started showing. "All three placed first in their class at the New Jersey Show and Sale 2007. Cassandra in the Beige Class, Jazz Man in the White Class and Latisha in the Multi Class." ( )

His latest cria to show is "BENCHMARK'S P. Lightning by Avatar " AKA: Lightning- we did not realize he already had a cria with the name Lightnign :( We can still names ours the name we picked because it isn't really the same. Ours is officially "Sancha's White Lightning" (we call him Lightning on our farm). But had we known, we would have picked something else. We would have avoided 2 boys close in age by the same sire with the same tag name "Lightning". Though he is considered a "pattern" while our Lightning is white (very white!). I do have to add that Lightning (not ours, the other one ;) ) started showing and did awesome!

"Lightning just returned form his first show. He competed at the Level V Indiana show in Fort Wayne. The show had 1136 alpacas in attendance! Lightning took 1st in his class and then took Reserve Color Champion over Indefinite Darks, Indefinit "

We were at that show and it was a really tough show. He has been to some other shows too:
Reserve Color Champion - LEVEL V Fort Wayne, IN Show , April 2008
1st Place Halter - Indiana Show, April 2008 - Level V
1st Place Halter at the Largest Show Ever Held - MAPACA 2008!

His web page:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More Cria Pictures

This morning Lightening is up and is now running around. He seems to be getting enough to eat and stayed warm enough. We weighed him today and he was 21.1 pounds, which is a loss of 1/2 a pound but that's ok this first day. Hopefully from here on out he'll start gaining.

One thing we have noticed is that the other alpacas seem to sniff him and stand near him. I had to chase Kateri away from him yesterday because she kept knocking him down (not on purpose, she would sniff him, but he was so unsteady on his feet this would tip him over). What surprised me is that Sancha was right there, she was grazing on grass but was right near him, yet she did not get mad at Kateri. It must be a part of their herding instinct for the other alpacas to watch him as the mom eats. It bothered me, but it was not bothering Sancha at all. After trying to chase Kateri off with no success (and it made Sancha uneasy when I did that) we decided to just let them do as they do (Sancha will get after Kateri if Sancha feels she's doing somthing wrong). Sancha does seem to be an attentive mom.

The kids are very excited about the new baby. We let the kids touch him today. We all thought his fiber feels like cotton balls - it is so soft! We have been careful not to have people touch him too much due to concerns of Beserk male syndrome. If I haven't already explained this I'll give a quick explanation. This happens when a male has too much human contact and starts to think of himself as a human rather than an alpaca. As a cria it's fine, but when he hit puberty an alpaca with the beserk syndrome will start to see humans as rivals and then becomes agressive to humans. We do not want this. So we are making sure most of his contact comes from his mom and that he knows he's an alpaca.

Lightening was born in the pasture but we moved him to the barn because he was shivering (he was wet from birth and it was a bit windy). This is him in the barn with mom, Sancha, and Victoria looking in on him:

Inside the barn J rubbed Lightening with towels, then used a blow dryer to dry and warm him. We let Sancha by him the entire time. I was suprised that Sancha let us so close to him and let us help with him. I think with the birth that's what scared me the most, I could see he was coming out a bit wrong, yet she let me walk right up to her and touch him in the middle of labor. Sancha NEVER lets us near her (she's a spitter).

During this entire time he was breathing very loud and labored. We knew this was not normal because the birth manual said you should not be able to hear the cria breathe unless you put your ear up to their face. I did call the vet to consult because we were concerned about an obstruction in his windpipe. He also was shivering quite bad, and was not sitting or trying to stand. It felt like a long time but likely it wasn't as long as it felt. Once dried and warmer his breathing slowed down. Likely he had something stuck, maybe part of the membrane, in his windpipe.

He had a really hard time standing the first day, in fact usually one of us had to get him on his feet. Once on his feet he could walk:

The kids did not end up watching the birth. They were there when we first found her in labor, but when J started to reposition the cria and pull they went inside with grandma. We were not sure how the cria was doing given the bad presentation and the fact he was breathing so poorly. They came out shortly after the birth. Emma has always been the most interested in the alpacas, but Zack was excited to see the baby too.

Emma is in red watching the babe and mom:

By the time we went home to bed Lightening was able to get himself up to stand and walk, and he had started nursing. With the cria coat on and with his mom by his side we felt he would be ok all night. Seems he was as today he's even stronger.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


our first cria born on our farm

Sex: male
Color: white (very white!)
Name: Sancha's White Lightening

He was born at 11:50 a.m. weighing 21.6 pounds.

Mom and cria are doing well, but was a bit of a tricky birth.
Sancha and Lightening (note the other alpacas looking in the background, they were all very curious):
Lightening fitting in on the farm (and Emma watching too):

Longer story:

J came home from work around 8:00 a.m. and fed the pregnant alpacas. Sancha ate all her grain, no sign of birth at all. He came home to sleep. The kids and I went on errands. We got back home around 11:30 a.m. to eat some lunch., which we drive past the pasture to get home. I saw all three pregnant girls rolling in the dirt. We slopped and talked to them out the window (as we usually do). I started to drive on because I was hungry. Well as I started to pull away Sancha stood up and I saw a baby head already out of her!

Pulled the car around to the front of the barn and told Emma to get J (I asked her to run home but she opted to tell grandma/grandpa to call). I went out check on Sancha. I could see the cria moving and breathing, though a labored breathing. I saw two legs, which is how it's supose to go. But one leg is out further than the other. Not good. Then Sancha tries to sit down right by the fence, bashing the crias head into the fence. Then the cria's leg gets stuck in the fence. I'm trying to move her out of the way, and look to see if I can pull the one leg out further. Sancha is just sitting there. My father in law went to wake up J and they finally got there. J came and was able to adjust the cria and help pull it out.

At that point the main concern was the cria's labored breathing. And the fact the cria was starting to shiver. After some concern we were able to warm him up with the blow dryer and finally his breathing became normal. We think he may have had something caught in his wind pipe that finally broke free.

He wasn't quick to stand either. Not only that but he didn't nurse within the first 4 hours so J had to give him some colestrum. On the plus side Sancha delivered the afterbirth fine. And Sancha appears to be an attentive mom. Also, the other alpacas while curious, appear to help Sancha with him.

Since he is not regulating his temp that well and because it's cool tonight J put a coat on him (many farms us cria coats, ours is a vest made into a cria coat). I hope he nurses well overnight. I'm sure Sancha will keep a good eye on him.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Maternity Ward

Sancha sitting inside the barn:

Victoria and Sancha chewing their cud while sitting in the barn (Kateri is watching out the doorway so she is not in the picture):

We've found that the alpacas always have at least one of them looking out the door to keep guard. I'm sure it's an instinctual thing. We also notice that Snowstorm has taken on the role of guardian. He keeps a look out constantly and will make a calling sound if he determines there is danger. They definately act like a herd and do watch out for each other.

barn friends

Fluffy has become a less friendly cat. We are not sure why, she may be pregnant so that may be why. Here she is hiding in the hay (her usual hiding spot):

Thunder if very friendly and walks up to everyone when they come to the barn. He looks black but actually is grey underneath. His eyes are a yellow/green color:

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Labor Signs

Sunday evening started a new sign of labor, Sancha did not eat her evening grain. Not eating can be a sign of impending birth.

Monday morning came and again she did not eat (only took a couple of bites but then walked away).

We kept close eye on her all day Monday, J checked on her periodically throughout the day. But no further signs.

Monday evening comes - she eats all her grain. Ugh! Another false alarm.

Tuesday arrives, she doesn't eat her morning grain. I was away all day on a field trip with my son, but J was home and spent most of the day in the barn. He said Sancha was starting to pace, then go over to the poop pile but not poop, then sit down again. That is definately a sign of impending birth! However, 3 p.m. came and no additional signs. I'm checking on her hourly now, but thinking today isn't likely. At my last check she was just sitting there.

Typically Alpaca have their cria before 2 p.m. The reason being is that in the wild they climb down the moutains in the morning and have to climb back up in the evening. A baby needs to be strong enough to climb back up, so it has to be born before at least 2 p.m. Generally alpaca today follow this pattern, however, there are times a cria is born later in the day, so that option is possible (just less common).
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