Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The great alpaca escape

We haven't had too many problems with alpacas escaping. They don't generally challenge fences (there are a few who's personalities are such that they do, but of the ones on our farm, we don't have any who do. And I'd say the typical alpaca does not). Fences are more to keep predators out. Alpaca do tend to run from people, it's their only defense (spitting is a last resort if running doesn't work).

Well, this weekend I was lax while doing my barn chores and accidentally left the gate from the boys barn open. I was getting water out of the girls barn when I noticed Snowstorm strolling out of the barn into the driveway. I yelled to the kids who were playing nearby. Zack instantly saw the issue and screamed "alpaca loose". This is one time children running to the barn from the direction of the alpaca is ideal. They chased him right back to the barn. However, as I was trying to get him into the barn, Apollo and Tucker jetted out of the barn, past the children and into the wooded area between the pasture and the road. Now this is a bigger issue. I had to make sure they did not get into the road. A vehicle driving by at 55+ mph was not going to stop in time.

I got Snowstorm and Lightning Bugs locked into the pasture so that I could leave the gate to the boys barn open. This way, once we got Tucker and Apollo to the barn, they would walk in.

I decided we needed a plan to get them back into the barn, using what I know of herding dynamics. I'm not a great herder, yet. And with only children under 10 as my helpers, I was a bit nervous if we could pull this off. I had told Emma to call J, but somehow in all the activity, that message didn't get to her.

Basic herding is that you need to be on the other side of the alpaca of where you want them to go. For example, if you want them in the barn, it needs to be you, the alpaca then the barn. You walk towards the alpaca, they flee from you and end up in the barn :) In our situation it was alpaca, us, then the gate to the barn. Somehow we had to get on the other side.

I decided to have Emma and Carlie run around the barn and pasture to get on the other side. That way the alpacas would be between E&C and the barn. Perfect set up. Once they are on the other side of the alpacas, if they start walking towards the alapcas, the alpacas will walk towards the barn. Emma and Carlie did a great job running around the entire pasture and meeting the alpacas. Apollo and Tucker started walking. I was standing with herding sticks parallel to the road so that they did not run into the road. Zack was positioned so that the alpacas would not keep going past the barn, but turn into it. All was on track, it as working. Then, just as we got them to the barn, it is discovered the gate to the boys barn is closed! (no one ever fessed up to who did that). When I tried to open it, the alpaca boys got scared and ran right back to where they were in the wooded area! Since the plan had worked, we did it again, this time with the gate open.

I had fears I would never get those two boys back into their barn. It was not easy with only children under 10 to help, who really don't understand how to herd well. But we did it, and I would have never done it without the kids' help.

That was my hard lesson on the need to make sure gates are closed.

(I editted this because my first version was not writen well - sorry! must have been in a hurry that day)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Exactly 1 month to Sancha's due date

and that due date is set at 350 days. I've heard farmers who set their due dates at anything from 320 to 250 days. Last year we went with an earlier date and it was so frustrating waiting for the little one (born on day 356). So this year we are setting the due date at 350, but will start watch and be prepared a month ahead. It's a month ahead!

This past weekend J was concerned about how Sancha was acting. We got her into the catch pen and he felt her abdomen. He said he could feel baby parts and there was some movement. I have noticed less movement this time than when she was pregnant with Lightning. I've heard theories that there is more movement with boys. J also pointed out that for the most part, Sancha has alternated between boys and girls (holding that 50/50 % to a tee). Also, it seems like Sancha is carrying this baby further up in her ribs than she did Lightning. So is it a girl? Or all those things just myths? I already put in my guess of a fawn colored boy, but I also thought Shelby would be a black colored boy LOL I was right on with Tehya. J said that Sancha did not seem to be bagged up yet, but her teats are starting to swell and her ligaments are quite loose (I compared them to Kateri's and Sancha is much more loose). We estimated about 2 to 3 weeks (from this past weekend), based on the fact she still needs to bag up and we remember how low and loose she got last year. We'll see how accurate that is when this cria makes it's entrance. The reality of it all is that this baby will come when it's good and ready. I'm ready :) and eager... but that's not what matters.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Show Results

The first one we showed was Shelby. After all the attention she got at the Best of the Midwest show, we were anxious to see how she was going to do here. Unfortunately, she was very hot and sweating which does affect their crimp and bundling of their fiber. We also get the impression the judge has a preference for zipper crimp. As I've stated in the past, I wasn't sure how Shelby would show because I have heard zipper crimp is prefered. At the Best of the Midwest show it didn't matter. That judge looked at how uniform the crimp was, not what kind of crimp it was. There she placed 2nd. Here in Indiana she took a 4th, out of 12.

To back track a bit, let me explain a bit more about how the show works. Each alpaca is put in a class to show based on the type of alpacas, their age and color, and fiber length. Shelby was in the Huacaya Full Fleece Medium Brown Juvenile Female class. Huacaya is the type of alpacas (all of ours are Huacaya, the other type is Suri and those are in separate classes). Full fleece means that she has more than 2 inches of fiber (I've talked about the shorn class before, look to our fall show posts to see my vent on that). Shelby is Medium Brown in color. And she is under a year so she is classed as Juvi (over a year is "yearling" and over 2 is "2 years and older" class). They are put into classes based on these criteria. A class can have up to 14 before they split it into 2 classes. In Shelby's class there were 12, not enough to separate into 2 sections of her class. They give ribbons up to 6th place, all other ones "get the gate" (no ribbon and no feedback from the judge). Tehya's class was separated, as was Lightnings. If they do more than one section of the class, they separate by age. The alpacas in each class are listed in age order with the oldest first. That way the judge knows right off the bat who is older than who (so you can see the size comparison). If the class is split into two sections, then the older 1/2 goes first, then the younger 1/2.

Shelby got a 4th out of 12 in her class. The judge's comments on her include: she has a good frame and is proportionate (meaning her neck isn't too long or too short, her body is confirmationally correct), her fiber is uniform, but was less fine and had less staple length than the one who placed above her.

Tehya was our next to show, but did not show until Sunday morning. Sunday was our busy day! We had one animal show right after the other. Tehya was in ring 2, Lightning in ring 1, and Tucker in ring 4. I was worried I might have to show one of them, but as it worked out J did all the showing *phew*

Tehya's class had 17 alpacas in it, so it was split into 2 sections. Tehya was in the second section, being almost in the middle age wise in that 2nd section. Sometimes it is thought there are advantages to being older or younger in a class. For example, the older ones have the benefit of being bigger. The younger ones may be a bit more immature. Being in the middle balances that all out. Tehya showed in the Huacaya Full Fleece Light Fawn Juvenile Female. She placed 2nd in her class! That is a 2nd out of 8. We are very excited about her placing there. The one who beat her is from Sunset Hills, out of their Seena's Goldilocks, an alpaca touted to be extremely good. We are very excited to be a small farm completing with the big farms so closely. The judge said she gave first to the other one because it was the finest. The judge said all the top ones had dense top knots. Tehya was said to be more dense, and to have longer staple length.

Because Tehya placed in 2nd that meant she got to stand in the Color Championship (I explained in my posts from the Best of the Midwest show how the color championship works). So this meant another time J walked an animal into the ring.

The next to show was Tucker. There were 5 in his class, so he was sure to place, but a 5th out of 5 doesn't mean a whole lot. Farms are less likely to take older alpacas to the shows, as usually they make a name for themselves as juvi and yearlings. Tucker had never been shown, so we don't have that background on him. He was a stinker there at the show too. The farm who's pen was next to us was getting a bit annoyed at Tucker's constant climbing the fence. I had visions of him getting loose and running free around are the arena. Thankfully he never did get free, but he sure provided entertainment for all around. It was fun to see him catch people's eye, and they would have to stop and talk to him. He showed in Huacaya Full Fleece Gray 2 Years and Older Males. Because there are less alpacas that show at the older ages they did not separate out Light Silver Grey and Dark Silver Grey, etc. They put all the 2+ greys males together. He was the oldest in his group, which can make it harder because as they age their fiber loses some of it's qualities. Ideally you want a male that does not lose their good qualities, but sometimes the younger ones do have an advantage there because it is unknown how they will hold up as they age. Tucker took 2nd out of 5! We were thrilled with that result. The judge said all these males had good bites. For Tucker she said that he was not as dense as first place, but he has a soft handle and uniform crimp. We are very excited to start his breeding career this year. With a 2nd, this added another color championship for J to show it. Thankfully Tucker's class was the last to show, and the color championship was right after.

Last to show was Lightning Bugs. It was said that there were 60 juvi white males there! Of course they were split into group, each section had 11 or 12 in it. Bugs was in the first section to show because he is an old juvi (birth date in May, he is almost a yearling). Being that 5 in his class got the gate (no ribbon) we were happy to have him get 4th. We had hoped for more, being that the judge pulled him up to the placing line first, but then she moved them around. White is said to be the hardest class to show in. There are many reasons for this, part of it is because white fleece was improved upon the most in Peru because that is what the European textiles wanted. It also has happened that farms in the US specialize in white and have invested a lot improving the white fleece. Given how colors work, white is dominate, which increases the number of white ones born. Also, given there were 60 in his class, you can see how much more competion there is in that then that 12 in Shelby's class. With that many more of them, there are bound to be some very good ones. Bugs got 4th out of 11 in his class.

Overall we had a great time at the show and are excited to brag about our wonderful babies. Those hard decisions on which alpaca to buy is coming to fruition in how these cria are showing. Given that the reason we bought the moms had to do with these little ones (and their sire), we are excited to see our choices play out in the show ring.

Lightning Bugs is going to go with Ashton Stone Alpacas to show in the spring Michigan show. It is a level 2 show, much smaller than the 2 shows we've done this spring. We wanted to get our alpacas out to some very competitive shows, and have been able to do that. Males seem to benefit most from more exposure. Girls only produce 1 alpaca a year so some exposure and ribbons is great, but males need that background to help when it comes time to sell breedings. For this reason we wanted to get Bugs to another show, and one in Michigan is great because it's easiest to do drive-by breedings with local farm. Exposure to Michigan breeders is ideal. Bugs has at least a year before he starts his breeding career, but it's nice to have some ribbons and exposure beforehand, rather than the situation we are with Tucker having had no previous exposure. That will be it for our spring show season. We are sad to see it ending, as we do enjoy the shows.

Now onto waiting for crias to be born :) I'm watching those tickers at the bottom of the page very closely. Sancha is already considered full term, so any day now. Though, given Bugs was born on day 356, and the ticker is set to day 350, I think it will be a bit before she delivers (the ticker gives us about 5 weeks). J wonders if she might deliver earlier this year because we have Sancha's weight up. We have been feeding her a lot more and making sure she won't be as thin as last year. We will see. I'm eager to see our Lord Stanley baby. And now that the moms are back by our house, we will be able to watch those cria all the time.

Show set up

Every show has a slightly different set up. Most of them have panels already in formation, you are then assigned a number that matches a pen that is for your animals. Some shows require that you bring panels, but that is less common. The ones we have been too have all provided panels. They also provide a bag of cardboard shreads. The idea is that you put the cardboard shreads down for your animals to lay on, and it will soak up urine etc. The Michigan fall show usually has sod laided down, but all the other ones we've been to have the shreaded cardboard. Many farms also buy matts to put down in their pen too. The first show we went to we had sod, then put our matts on top of the sod. This was a dissaster. We came in the next morning to our alpacas laying in poop. It was horrible! After talking to some bigger farms, we were told that putting straw down is best because it will cover the poop and the straw falls off the alpacas on their walk up to the show ring. Some venues do not allow straw due to fire hazzard issues. At the Best of the Midwest show in Ohio, straw was allowed. There we put the shreaded cardboard down first, then a matt, then a bale of straw. This worked great! The urine went through the straw and mat and was soaked up by the shreaded cardboard. The poop was hiden by the straw (we did scoop up what we could, but we did not come in to find our alpacas laying in and covered in poop). At the Indiana Invitational straw was not allowed. There we put our matt down first, then the shreaded cardboard, using it like straw. We bought an extra bag of the shreaded cardboard so we had 2x as much. This worked well, not as good as the straw set up, but we didn't walk in to find poop covered alpacas.

We have also found that the earlier you sign up for a show, the closer your pen stall is to the show ring. The prime pens are for the farms that sponsor the event, but the next nicest ones go to the early birds who sign up fast. We were not one of the first to sign up so at the Indiana show we had a pen near a back corner. However, we were by the photographer, and we did seem to get quite a bit of traffic.

We've found that shows vary greatly in the amount of foot traffic. I don't know if some venues advertise to the public more or how this happens. At the Best of the Midwest we saw very little foot traffic. At the Indiana Invitational we saw a lot of foot traffic. Even though our stall was near the back corned, we had Tucker there who is taller than most of the other show animals and his face is striking so we had a lot of people stop and look at him.

I'm a great-grandma

That's what Emma tells me anyway. Her cat, Fluffy, had kittens this past weekend. We came home from the show to find 2 little kittens in a box safely tucked behind Fluffy. This is Fluffy's third litter, but none of the others have survived. This time Fluffy is being very careful not to leave their side. I'm a bit worried about her because she won't even leave the box to eat or drink. I've been putting food up next to her to get her to eat. She needs her strength.

April 15th update:
I'm sorry to have to say that neither of the kittens made it. I really thought this time they would. Fluffy was so attentive. On Sunday we found one of them in the box with Fluffy, but taking her last breaths. We don't know if there was a fatal birth defect, or if she suffered some injury (could she have fallen out of the box and hit her head?), we don't know what happened. J tried to revive her but it was not to be. I wanted to move the box with the remaining kitten in case it was an injury from falling. I did not want to risk that happening again (the box was set on top of a stack of hay bails). However, when I tried moving the box, Fluffy refused to go into it with the kitten. That remaining kitten would not have survived even a few hours without it's mom. So, knowing that Fluffy was already mourning the loss of one baby, I kept the box in it's place in hopes she would not reject the remaining kitten. Fluffy did get back in the box and I prayed it would be ok. The next morning I found Fluffy in the box and the one remaining kitten doing well. I waited a day, then moved the box to a lower location. Fluffy went into the box with the kitten and it seemed ok, however, the next time I came to the barn, the kitten was missing. Fluffy cries and cries when I come into the barn, but I have no been able to locate the missing kitten. I assume it has also passed on. Without Fluffy's constant care it could not make it on it's own.

This is one reason why having barn cats isn't the best idea. I know there are dangers out there, and there are consequences of having a barn cat. We do need to have Fluffy fixed so that she is not going through this. I hate to see the loss of life.

I have wondered if Fluffy passes on a type of genetic birth defect that account for why none of her kittens survive. There has to be some reason none of them survive. I have read that maybe 40% of all kittens born do not make it to weaning, but for none of Fluffy's to make it seem rather harsh odds. I also find it odd that her litters are all very small (first litter was only 1, the next 2 were litters of 2). If not a birth defect, it may be some other issue at play. I've read things like Feline leukemia virus infections can cause stillbirths and fading kittens (sort of like SIDS in humans). We have never seen Fluffy give birth, it is possible there are stillbirths along with the live kittens. It seems there are a number of reasons why this could be happening. Sad none the less.
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