Monday, February 22, 2010

Pregnant Bellies

Alpacas are prey animals. As nature would have it, prey animals do not show their weaknesses. If they did, predators would attack the weaker ones. This is why alpacas are stoic and do not show when they are sick (if they are showing their illness, they are actually much sicker than they appear). And pregnant alpacas do not show their pregnancy like other animals.

For example, with cats, you can pick a cat up fairly early on in their pregnancy and feel that they are pregnant (feels like lumps in their belly). Cats also have a short gestation, so if one week you think that cat might be pregnant, within a couple weeks you are sure. And I've seen cats later in their pregnancy, they hardly walk around, and waddle when the do. Alpacas seem to run all the way to the day of delivery. They don't seem to show until very late in the pregnancy, and it's hard to feel or tell. I've thought I've seen a cria move, only to later realize it was the mother's breathing. There comes a point where I'm sure it is the cria, but earlier on, it can be hard to tell for sure. I have found as the females age, it's easier to tell they are pregnant. Now that this is our 3rd year with breeding females, J is getting pretty good at feeling for the cria.

I have heard that since their gestation is so long (11.5 months on average), the cria is very small and wouldn't show until late in their pregnancy. Now having been pregnant myself, I don't completely buy this line of reasoning. The baby may be small, say 2 inches long, but by the time you add in amniotic fluid and the placenta and so forth, it feels like a lot more. Maybe I'm jaded because I have unusually large babies, but still, they are hard to hide. Though, the alpaca body is built better to hide it, with their rib cage and long torso.

I thought I'd get some pictures of our girls' bellies and let you see for yourself. To me, I think I notice the belly bulge just past their ribs, and how their belly hangs down lower. I swear near the end of the pregnancy Sancha hangs so very low. Near the end of the pregnancy, they all get a indentation just in front of their hips.

This is Tehya, who will be 2 years old in June. She is NOT pregnant. This is to give you a frame of reference. Note how she is tight past her ribs:

I think the smallest pregnant belly on our farm belongs to our Maiden, Maddie. Maddie is due in May but this is her first cria (making her a maiden). I think she looks pregnant, but this may be because I knew what she looked like before. I'm not so sure she looks pregnant to people who don't know her.

She doesn't seem quite a tight behind her ribs as Tehya is:

I remember when Victoria was pregnant with Shelby. Shelby was her second baby, but Victoria hardly showed at all. Even the day she delivered Shelby, it was hard to tell for sure that she was pregnant.

As she's gotten older, I think Victoria is starting to show more. This is her 4th pregnancy. She is due in August 2010, just under six months from now. Note in typical Victoria style, I caught a picture of her while she was eating, mid chomp of her hay:

Victoria seems to be hanging pretty low there, especially given she's the one who is due to latest of any of our females. She's got awhile to go.

I think Kateri did show near the end of her pregnancy with Tehya, her 2nd cria. Then last year with Po, she really showed, and early on too. Po was born the same size as Tehya, but Po was born early, so she was actually bigger per gestational age. This pregnancy she seems to be hanging pretty low in the middle like she did with Po. This is Kateri's 4th pregnancy, and she is due in July.

Sancha is our oldest alpaca and she is the first one due this season. Now from the back, I don't think she looks pregnant:

But from the side, wow!

I have heard a theory that a cria that is more in the mother's (dam's) ribs indicates a female cria will be born. I haven't found this to be true, my biggest example is that Kateri looked completely different when she was pregnant with Tehya than with Po, and both are girls. I haven't been able to find any link between how they carry and the sex of the cria. I am curious to hear if others have theories.

Boys and cleaning up

We had a slight thaw = which means the snow on top started to melt and cause a mess, but the ground underneath did not thaw at all, so the melting snow/water had no where to go. There is a solid layer of frozen tundra preventing water from draining into the ground. Even though I had this great plan this year to avoid poop soup, it still found it's way into the paddock. I cleaned up what I could, to lessen the mess the best I could. This meant wheeling 3 wheelbarrows full of poop out of the boys' paddock.

I debated taking picture of this ugly mess. The reason to do so would be so that anyone reading this is clear what I mean by "poop soup". But, I figured my farming friends know what I am talking about. My non-farming friends don't want to know. So we will leave it at that. Unless of course there is an out cry and people demand pictures. I'm willing to oblige :)

Instead I got some pictures of the boys. When I arrive at the barn, walking with my wheel barrow (remember I need to wheel this about 1/3 of a mile back and forth from the boy barn, they can see me almost the entire walk), they are instantly curious and pose very well for me.

From left to right: Navigator, Greyt, Lightning, Snowstorm (his back end) and Apollo (further back).

Lightning and Greyt:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Typical Farm Saturday

I often spend my weekend afternoons relaxing inside and working on alpaca fiber. Here I have all my stuff set up next to the chair. I have a bin of washed but raw fiber, my flicker, and a bin for the flicked fiber. I also have the laptop computer set up on the armrest. I often surf the web while I flick fiber. We have dial-up internet (I know, the dark ages here. Our only other choice is satellite service that is more costly per month than I am willing to pay). So I multi-task.

Bin of washed but raw fiber:

notice how the raw fiber is lumped together, and has some vegetable matter in it (ie: hay):

Here is the flicker:


The fluffy flicked fiber:

A bin of flicked fiber:

Once all the fiber is in here, I am ready to spin it into yarn. I vastly prefer spinning to flicking, so seeing this fill up brings joy to my heart.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pasture Sledding

We have this neat hill in our backyard, that is enclosed in the alpaca pasture. The kids used to sled there quite a bit before the alpacas came back here by us. This year they haven't done much sledding. We've had some nice snowfalls, but most of the winter we've had hard crusty snow that isn't useful for sledding.

It just so happened this past week when I was hauling out hay on the kids' sled, that it was snowing ever so softly. After I had the hay put away in the hay bins, I suggested to Zack that we sled down the hill. We both jumped into the sled, and headed down the hill.

I knew it might freak out the alpacas. They are scared of the sled as it is. Anything that moves in the pasture is suspect to them (I remember a day when a bag was blowing down the fence line and it freaked them all out). Certainly Zack and I on a sled going at any speed would put them on edge. But, we did it anyway. It was too tempting.

What I didn't expect was Spot's response. Spot apparently wanted to be in the sled with us. He ran along the side of the sled down the hill, and near the bottom of the hill, he jumped on my back and joined us in the sled! I've never had such a dramatic slide down a hill. Here's this big white dog running right next to me, and he lands on top of me!

That was enough going down the hill for me. But Zack was willing to go down a few more times. I held onto Spot's collar so he couldn't run after Zack in the sled.

I was glad to see that the alpacas were not traumatized by this (I think I was more traumatized by Spot landing on me! He's a big dog). The alpacas did keep a close eye on the sled, but did not panic:

This reminds me of another sled story. A few weeks ago when we were watching weanlings for Ashton Stones Alpacas, I had an incident with d'Artagnan and the sled. I had the sled full of hay, and was standing in the doorway of the barn filling hay bins. D'Artagnan was inside the barn, but he was the only alpaca in there. This freaked him out, so he started to run out of the barn. I tried to get out of his way, I didn't want to cause him undo panic. Well, as he left the barn he did a leap right in front of the sled, and his legs became tangled in the led rope of the sled! This freaked him out even more, so he ran, fast. The sled, attached to his legs now, followed him, making him freak out even more. He thought the sled was chasing him. He ran fast all throughout the pasture, with hay flying all over. I thought for sure he'd end up breaking a leg. Thankfully, the rope eventually fell off his legs, and all was fine. *phew*


Three weeks until the first show of the spring season!

Three months until the first cria of the season is due!

We are slowly getting ready for the show. The main thing we need to do is halter train the 2009 cria. I know I really should start this when they are a few weeks old, then it would be done by now. But, I always seem to wait until I *have* to do it. After the other weekend of taking all of them, we decided to break up training. For a week, each afternoon we picked one to work with. Then we decided to train them along with one who is already trained. We have a three prong lead that we can attach to three halters. We put Tehya in the middle, because she is already trained. Then we put a baby on each side. This seemed to work pretty well. We practiced being in the show ring by having a person stand out front and act like the judge, then stop the alpaca and feel them. Some alpacas do not like to be touched so they need to get used to this. Zack decided to label each training method by level.

Level I is putting the halter on them, and try to get them to turn in the circle.

Level II is getting them to take a few steps.

Level III is haltering them with an older alpaca who is already trained, having them walk around and go in front of judge.

Level IV is haltering the alpaca on their own and having them walk in front of the judge.

Level V is halter trained.

(These are subject to change as we refine these methods. Zack is a 7 years old, so he's likely to change his mind on how these levels go).

Po did great at level III so she is ready for level IV. Golden and Rosco did ok at level III, but need some more work. Caviler and Lily attempted level III but did not do well. Caviler continued to buck and lay on the ground. Lily wouldn't even let us halter her with someone else.

Unfortunately, we hit a few days where the temps were high and the snow melting. Despite my best efforts, we have some poop soup areas. The worst is the poop soup in the paddock. This is where we corral and catch the alpacas to halter them. It's been too wet and messy in there to attempt this.

We still have quite a bit of work to do on haltering.

Now for cria birthing, we are debating if we should put in another shelter and fenced in area for the maidens. This would allow the 4 pregnant dams to have their own space during birthing. This is yet to be determined.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Halter Training

It is only a few weeks until we go to our first spring show of 2010. This means all the 2009 weanlings need to be halter trained. This is not a job I particularly enjoy. But, having it done is a reward in that from then on we can halter and lead them wherever we need to go.

On Sunday we did a short herd health check over, then haltered all the young ones. Rosco was the first one that we got on the halter and let her struggle a bit. Here J is holding the lead and Emma is watching:

Rosco did pretty well. She struggle some, but didn't fight as much as we had feared. Then we got Cavalier on the lead. Oh my!!! He not only fought but decided to cush and lay down:

I think with him alone we have our work cut out for us!

J and Emma were quite frustrated after struggling with Cavalier, so I found another helper, Zack:

On Sunday evening he offered to lead Rosco around a bit:

I took the lead and by then she was tired and just gave in and followed me. I love it when they do that!

Lightning Bugs

Not to be overshadowed by our line up of grey breeding males, Lightning is about to begin his breeding career. His fiber has remained incredible, very bright white, with fineness and crimp to match. He has grown and is now looking very macho.

head shot:

It's hard to believe this was the first baby born on our farm. He's not a baby anymore.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Breeding Age Grey Males

We now have FOUR breeding age grey males.

We have found ourselves drawn to grey alpacas. I know many farms set out to specialize in grey fiber. That was not our specific plan. I wanted superior fiber in a variety of colors to use in crafts. This is still our goal, but we have found that we use the grey fiber the most. We also like grey males because they also have black cria, the other color that we find we could use the most in our knitting projects. This had led to our seeking and gaining quality grey males.

I have heard that there have been vast improvement in grey fiber in a very short time frame. It was not that long ago that there were few alpacas in the grey classes at shows. Not only are those classes growing, but where grey fiber used to not have crimp, now it is quickly catching up to the quality found in other color classes.

Grey alpacas have undergone some clasifications. Recently there was a separation made between modern and classic grey. My understanding is that classic greys, also known as tuxedo greys, are the ones that look like our Tucker: where he has a white face, and white on his legs, with grey wrapped around his back and into his chest, as if he is wearing a tuxedo. These animals have white on their extremities and are considered to have a white spot (which does need to be taken into consideration as they risk passing on the white spot gene. When bred to another animal with a with spot, there is a 25% chance of having a blue eyed white cria. A blue eyed white is not bad in itself, but this gene can also cause the animal to be deaf, which is a defect we would not want to carry on in the industry.) The modern grey does not have a white spot, they do not look like they are wearing a tuxedo. These greys are at the base black or brown (rose greys are at the base brown, silver greys are at the base black). They breed like a solid black or brown. Their fiber has grey fibers throughout, but no white spot. Both modern greys and classic greys have their pros and cons. For example, classic greys are more likely to have grey offspring, modern greys are safe to breed to a white/white spot female (as the classic greys risk the white spot gene). We are excited that we have both on our farm!

The newest addition is NL Smokey, who we co-own with Ashton Stone Alpacas. Smokey is a modern dark silver grey with a compact body style that we like so much. He also has held onto his fineness even as he has gotten older. We are excited to add him to our list of males. Smokey is the sire of our newest little girl, Rosco. And, he is the sire of the cria that Maddie will have this spring. He already has quite a few cria on the ground.

SA Peruvian Greyt Exxpectations came to us in December. He is a modern grey, with a brown base, though his grey can easily be seen even from a distance. Greyt has a beautiful rose grey color, on his compact body frame. Greyt will be ready to breed this spring. We already have some girls picked out for him! Greyt is co-owned with Ashton Stone Alpacas.

Our Peruvian Navigator also came to our farm in December. I asked what Navigator would be considered, a classic or modern grey, given he does have white on his extremities, but it's not really a tuxedo shape. I believe the answer I got was that he is classic, but because he really doesn't look like he is wearing a tuxedo it was suggested he be referred to as a "fancy grey." Navigator has some confirmed pregnancies, all are at the farm we co-own him with, Zenith Alpacas. Those cria are due this year. We are excited to see what he will produce.

We have had ARF Our Peruvian Tucker for awhile now. Tucker is co-owned with Zenith Alpacas, and currently is at their farm. We bred Tucker to Victoria last year and are very eager to see what they produce this year. We have breeding plans for Tucker when he comes back to our farm next year.

New Face

We have an addition to our farm, Ashton Stones Little Miss Rosco!

We were keeping her for Ashton Stone Alpacas, so that she could be weaned from her mom. Both J and I were already taken in by her, and when she came to stay for a couple weeks, we knew we wanted to add her to our herd. Rosco is a true black, a solid, shiny, bright black with no fading. She is incredibly soft, with very fine fiber.

Here are more pictures of her:

Thankfully we had a sunny day to get pictures of her. A true black can be very hard to photograph, as the dark black color often makes their features almost impossible to see.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Things I wish I knew

In the time we have been alpaca farmers, we have learned a lot. But there are some things that I wish I knew more about, or how to do better.

I wish I could take a class in how to trim an alpaca's top knot. You would think it wouldn't be that big of a deal. Especially given the fact I use to cut people's hair. But for some reason, I cannot get a top knot to look the way I want.

I wish I felt more confident about halter training the young ones. Somehow they all manage to get halter trained. But, I feel like I'm making up a lot of it along the way. I have read some books on halter training, though nothing specifically has clicked with me. Maybe I'm creating my own halter training method :)

We do a pretty good job using the prime fiber, but I wish we did more with the seconds. I had plans to spin it all and make up a bunch of slipper socks and rugs, but, that hasn't happened. I still have plans to do this, we'll see when it actually happens.

I wish I knew more about knitting. There are a lot of things I can do, but I have not had success using circular knitting needles. I also am not fond of double pointed needles. I know by not using either of these I limit my knitting options.

There are other things that while I personally don't feel anywhere near expert on, I tag team it with my husband. I turn to him for the information, as he has done more research on it. Some days I'm glad to have him be the expert in various areas, when I have plenty of other things to do. Other days I think that I should really learn more about those areas.

For example, he's the expert when it comes to herd health. We do herd health days together, but he's the one in charge of shots - what shots we give, who they go to, and administering the shot. He also trims the toe nails. I'm the one who catches and holds the alpacas for him to work on. It works for us, but sometimes I think I should really know more about our herd health management.

He also has done more research on genetics. I know some of the big name alpacas, but I do not have the vast knowledge that he does. He also understands more about fiber stats than I do. We both are able to evaluate fiber for crimp, consistency, bundling and brightness. I have really worked on being better able to feel for density. This one has been harder for me. I understand the basics on micron count and CV etc. But J understands how these all work together much better than I do. Sometimes I wish I had a better handle on the bigger picture in regard to fiber; though thankfully, for this weakness J is able to fill in.

There certainly is a lot to learn in regard to alpaca farming. I don't think there ever comes a time you can know it all. Maybe that's what keeps us so interested in it.
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