Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Kicker

Alpacas are very passive and stoic creatures. They are rarely if ever aggressive. Their initial instinct is to run. And let me tell you, if you need to get a hold of one to do herd heath or halter them to take them somewhere, their running instinct shows! Some of them will spit if they are cornered. We find it is usually the older pregnant girls who do this. Usually the younger ones do not spit. We have had a male spit at times but that seems more rare. Pregnant woman in general are more ornery, it only makes sense that they are there to protect their young. Don't mess with a mama bear, or a mama alpaca.

My favorite alpaca response are the ones who growl. Our own Maddie will do this sometimes during herd health. I will hold her so J can give her a shot and I can feel and hear this growl in her throat. Her daughter, Twilight, also does this. It's an unusual cute sound, though I do feel bad that they are upset enough to growl, it's more like a whimper I would make when having to have a shot.

I would say alpacas never bite, but we had an incident of biting a couple weeks ago. We were trimming nails on the older boys. I was holding Greyt while J clipped his nails. While clipping Greyt's nails, Tucker came over and bit J on the ear! Alpacas only have one set of teeth so they can't do much harm by biting, but it is a pinch and can hurt.

Other than running or spitting, their other main defense is kicking. I have had my fair share of being kicked, usually during herd health. I can hardly blame them when we handle them to give them shots. I don't care for shots either! Occasionally we'll have an animal who kicks a lot. They will even do an air kick when you walk by, as if they were hoping to catch you. We have discovered that Sig is one of those kind of alpacas. It is a fact that he was used by a vet school for training on starting IVs. I can't help but wonder if that experience traumatized him to the point he doesn't trust any humans. In many ways that is sad.

At the alpaca show last weekend I was trying to get a hold of Challenger so that I could let some people feel his fiber. While trying to catch him, Sig thought I was after him and he gave me a good kick. I still have a huge bruise on the back of my leg from that! Sig is only about 80 pounds, so it's not that their kicks are dangerous (nothing like a horse kick), but they do hurt and the bruises they make are not pretty.

When we were haltering all the alpacas to leave the show late Sunday afternoon, Sig was still on the defense. I should have known better, but I let Zack lead Sig and Gabe out to the trailer. As you might already guess, while walking, Sig gave a back kick and hit Zack square on his upper thigh. I should back track to explain that Zack is a very sensitive guy. He's also an animal activist (and a vegetarian of sorts). He has already told me that he does not think alpacas enjoy going to alpaca shows and he does not think we should take them. I would agree that alpaca shows can be stressful for them. We have found the more shows we go to, the more used to it they get, and the less stressed they appear. This fall we only went to one show, and it was Sigs first show. Being kicked by Sig only enforced to Zack that he would not take alpacas to shows. I should add that while that is Zack's opinion, J and I do not share that with him. We will certainly be attending many alpaca shows in the future. We believe that we take extremely good care of our alpaca livestock, more so than most farmers do with their livestock. Like most alpaca farmers, we go above and beyond to care for them in the best way possible. Alpacas in general are cared for better than just about any other livestock. The stress of an alpaca show is nothing like the stress they would feel left in the wild, or living in less than ideal conditions. But, I do hope not to be kicked at the next show, which means work with not only halter training, but also building trust with our own alpacas.

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