Thursday, December 8, 2011


We only had 1 2011 cria from our own herd: Our Peruvian Thunder. So this year we don't have a cria gang to wean. (We do also have Dutch, who came to our farm when she was less than a month old, but she's still too young to wean so I'll talk about her another day).

I guess I should back up to say that our preferred method to wean would be self weaning. I would love it if the dam (mom) and cria (baby) would on their own decide to wean. I do believe nature knows best, and would love to let them do it on their own. However, it's not always practical to do that. For one, we have dams who will nurse to their own detriment. They will become so skinny that their own health is compromised. We can't have moms getting so thin that they are at risk of health issues. Also, we do take our cria to alpaca shows, which is stressful in itself. If you add on to that them being away from their mom for the first time, that's too much stress for a little one. We want weaning to be done well before show season starts up again.

I know different farms have different guidelines of when to wean. I've heard of farms that always wean at 6 months old. Once the cria are 6 months old they are taken out of the mom's pen. I've heard of 60 pounds being the cut off to wean. I've also heard of combining the two, a 6/60 rule, 6 months and 60 pounds (or it could be 6 months or 60 pounds). We like to do the AND rule, of 6 months AND 60 pounds. We also like to see that they are eating hay and grain well. Thunder just turned 6 months old, and is almost 60 pounds (he weighed in at 59 pounds). He has been eating grain for a long time now (and eats a good bowl of grain eat feeding time). He chows on hay with no issues. So we feel comfortable weaning him now.

There have been times we can't do our ideal. We have had situations when the dam got to thin and we had to wean earlier. You do what you have to. But I have to admit that we've always regretting having to do that. Our approach is to do whatever possible to keep the dam's weight up so that we don't have to wean early. In the past couple of years we've managed to do that and haven't had to wean early.

Sancha is an older mom who has been through weaning before. She handled it like a pro. Poor Thunder though, it was the worst day of his life.

Here he is, now in the young boy's pen:

Funny how he used to not want anything to do with me, but now that he's in the boy's pen, he follows me everywhere. I think he thinks I might be the one who can let him back by his mom.

I wish we had a better place to wean, because sharing a fence line between cria and dam is not ideal. He cries by the fence (note his mom is the white alpaca looking over at him, but she is at a distance. She's been through this before and I can tell by her behavior she agreed it was time):

My funny Sancha story from weaning day is this. We were a bit worried that Chaska who dominates the boys' pen might be a bit rough on Thunder. As boys will do, Chaska did try to mount Thunder. We kept an eye on it to make sure it was just normal boys play and not anything aggressive or harmful to Thunder (if it was at all concerning, I was ready to take Chaska up to the big boy's pen up the road. I even told him he better watch it or he will be the little one with the even bigger boys). Everything seemed to be going ok, so J and I went into the garage to finish putting stuff away from our herd health day. While in the garage we could hear a spit fight, which isn't unusual so we didn't even peak out to see what was going on. When we were done in the garage, I walked out to see the biggest spit lip on Sancha I have ever seen! I look over and through the fence she slathered Chaska with spit to the point his head and neck were green! She did not like him trying to mount her baby and she sure showed him!! He hasn't tried it again :)

Since Thunder is low man in his new pen, I opted to feed him his grain in the same area as Gabe (who has struggled with low weight so he is fed separate):

They are so wet it's hard to tell our black Gabe from our dark rose grey Thunder. In fact, in the morning in the dark I have a really hard time telling who is who until Thunder cries to me.

In one area is Chaska, Challenger and Sig, and in the other area is Gabe and Thunder:

To me there are three stages to weaning: first deciding when (for us 6/60), then how (take the cria out of the dam's pen, decide where to put them), and lastly, monitoring how they are doing. The first couple of days we watch that cria very closely. We want to make sure the new pen mates aren't hurting them. It is also essential that the cria is eating. If they are not eating hay, their gut can shut down and that is a horror story. I made sure to watch and see if Thunder was eating his grain, and we monitored that he was eating hay. Grain is not essential, but knowing he ate it shows he's doing well. There was one meal on his second day of weaning when he did not eat grain. I was assured to see that he did eat hay, and the next meal he ate up his grain. All was ok, as missing one meal of grain won't hurt him. We put a couple extra bins of hay out because sometimes the older ones in the pen will keep the new ones from getting to the hay bin (they will spit and push the new one away). Having extra bins out works really well whenever there is a new alpaca in a new pen.

You sure can tell by these pictures how wet it's been. The alpacas look very wet, but really, when you open up their fiber they are warm and dry by their skin. What I hate about the rainy cold weather is that the woods and ground look so bleak and blah. Snow would actually look prettier.

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