Monday, April 30, 2012

PR Zack

They say when you have an alpaca farm you need a good PR alpaca.

PR = public relations

A good PR animal is one who is friendly and not easily scared off.  Some alpacas can be jumpy which doesn't make for good relations for people not familiar with alpacas.  People want to have the alpacas come  up to them and people want to touch them.  There are such alpacas, and often farms will hang onto a good PR animal even if it isn't in their breeding program (such as a friendly gelding). 

We actually do have a PR animal and that would be Rose.  She always comes up to visitors.  She LOVES small children and will follow them around the farm sniffing at their head.  At shows she will come up to people.  Not only is she so friendly, but she's cute, with that beautiful rose grey coloring.  She does a great job.   Twilight is quite friendly also, she and Rose are a really nice pair.  And even better, they are a big part of our breeding program.

I've often wondered if the fact they are friendly and not easily scared off is because they grew up on our farm (Twilight was born here, Rose came as a very young cria at her dam's side).  Our dams and cria live in our backyard.  From the time they are born we are around them (not in their face, but just there).  Our kids run and play in our backyard, right there with the dams and cria.  This means they are used to loud noises.  They are used to movement.  I've seen it at a show before where a young child runs down a pathway between stalls and the alpacas scatter to the furthest end of them stalls away from the kids.  Our alpacas don't seem to notice.  And especially for Rose, she's actually drawn to young kids.

But we found something better than a good PR alpaca ~  a PR son! 

Zack spent some time helping us set up at the show, he was great helping with any chore we needed to do, and any time we needed help getting the animals to the ring (as I mentioned in the last post he held onto Rose while J and I were both showing other animals).   Zack is also a friendly and talkative guy.  He loves to talk about what he knows, and he does know a fair amount about alpacas.  This was quickly picked up by some of the people walking around the show venue.  People who had never seen alpacas were referred to our stall, to hear Zack.  We ended up with quite a few people coming to our stalls.  In fact, J and I came to get some animals from our stall and found Zack in front of a TV camera!!! 

Later we heard the story that some university students were working on a documentary on alpaca farming and asked to talk to some people who could tell them what it is like to be an alpaca farmer.  They were instantly referred to Zack, who was already building a reputation.

Zack told me that he asked the university students if he could get a copy of their report.  They took a card and said they would email it to us.   Kind of funny how Zack came with us to the show for "fiber research" and ended up being a part of another research project :)   On the fiber research end, Zack did get his hands on a lot of champions.  It was quite an educational experience for him.

the BEST kids

I have the best kids!

Typically when J and I go off to an alpaca show, we leave the kids home, arranging for a grandparent(s) to watch them.  Zack remains in charge of all dog related care (water, food, getting outside).  Emma not only keeps up her regular chores of feeding our herdsires (twice a day everyday Emma feeds our 5 male alpacas who are housed about 1/4 mile from our house - up by her grandparents house), when we are gone to a show she also feeds our pregnant dams (8 of them), and any young ones that aren't at the show (this weekend that was 3 young girls).

This past weekend J and I attended The Great Midwest Alpaca Festival in Madison, Wisconsin.  Due to other things going on over the weekend, we opted to take Zack with us.  I did so with some hesitation given the few times the kids have gone with us they were bored and not well behaved.  But Zack was insistent he wanted to go and Emma was insistent she wanted a weekend without her younger brother (gotta love a 12 year old girl :) ).

Emma was responsible for 3 dogs (2 house dogs and our farm Great Pyrenees) and 16 alpacas.  She did a fantastic job! 

I know in some ways it makes sense.  She already feeds the 5 older males everyday.  The alpacas all know her, and she knows the routine.  But those pregnant girls, some days they give me a run for my money.  They can be grouchy and difficult if they want.  While alpacas are fairly easy to care for, there are things you do have to think about.  Our Great Pyrenees loves to escape so you have to always be one step ahead of him.  There's grain and hay and water ~ to some extent grain is optional but if they don't have hay or water there are serious health concerns.

I know I shouldn't take her great work for granted.  It would be so difficult to attend alpaca shows if we didn't know our farm was in good hands.

And, Zack was fantastic at the alpaca show!  He was a great helper.  There was a point J was in one ring showing Challenger, I was in the other ring showing Twilight with Rose in the very next class!  I had Zack stand in the line up with Rose ready to go (I made sure the check in person knew what was going on).  Thankfully J made it back just in time to show Rose because both girls ended up in the color championship. 

Zack also found his own niche which I will talk about in another post.  It turns out that while some farms have a great PR animal, we have a great PR son :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

fiber research

That's what Zack calls his newest adventure ~ fiber research

Just like sheep produce wool, alpacas produce fiber. Fiber is our product.

Zack spends a lot of time with me outside with the alpacas and loves looking at their fiber with me. He has been my faithful halter training assistant. And recently has shown some interest in attending an alpaca show. He has gone before. A few years back he went to Nationals with us, when it was in Fort Wayne, IN. However, he was quite bored and did not handle days straight of trying to behave at a show (he's a good kid, but is used to having places to run and be loud, being in public like that was stifling to him).  Last fall he attended one day at the Michigan fall show in Grand Rapids. That went well.

Recently we discussed taking Zack to a spring show. It would mean traveling and 3 days at the show (one day to set up, two days of shows). While I had my concerns, when we asked Zack about it, he said he wanted to go to a show because he has lots of "fiber research" to do. When I asked him what that meant, he said he needed to get his hands on all the champions.  He wants to know what to look for in alpaca fiber.  I love that he called it "fiber research" :)

He's aware of all those things we talk about: fineness, density, bundling, crimp, consistency and so forth. He talks about these things, but sometimes I wonder if he really knows what they mean.

Alpaca fiber on each animal is a little different. Some are more fine, or more dense, or more crimpy, and so on. The focus of our breeding program is for consistent fiber (consistent crimp and bundling) with bright shiny beautiful color. Hence our tag line Breeding Brightness You Can Feel.   The reason you can feel the brightness is because along with it being bright and shiny it feels good, soft and wonderful.

Here are some examples of the differences in fiber:

the less crimpy but very fine fiber from Rosco

the very fine and crimpy fiber from Lightening

fiber from our first color champion Pocahontas

one of our first girls, one of my favorites, fiber from Tehya

Blogger changes

I don't know how many of my fellow bloggers use blogspot/blogger, but I for one am getting very frustrated with it.  For one, not too long ago they MADE me change to a new format.  I can see it has some neat features, but I liked the old format.  It was easy to use. I was so accustomed to it I could crank out a blog post fast.  But no, I had to change :(   now they are saying I have to download Google Chrome or my blog won't work right.  I don't download very many things but did so, begrudingly.  Now it's saying I didn't download it.... but I did!

All I wanted to do was put together a quick blog post, but no such luck.  Now way too much time has passed and I can't figure out why the font changed on me for no reason


Have no fear, I will figure this out.  I love to keep up our farm blog.   But it may delay some blog posts in the mean time.

Edited to add that I think I have it figured out.  I just had a bit of a meltdown, it was quite frustrating to think I could quick put up a new post when in fact so many changes had happened it took me a couple hours to do what typically takes me a few minutes.  I do think once I get used to the new way, it will work great.  It will just take some time to get used to it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sneak attack chores

There are bigger projects on the farm that we will set aside days or parts of days to accomplish. This would include any building or repairs. It also includes things like cleaning out the hay tent, things that will take some time to accomplish. For these projects I prepare ahead of time and set aside the time.

But more often I have sneak attack projects. It starts out as me doing my regular chores. For example this afternoon I fed the alpacas and started my usual poop scooping routine. But, I decided I better get that poop in the older girl's shelter. It's good farming to clean up the poop, and especially important to avoid issues with parasites. I typically scoop poop every day to keep our areas safe and clean.  However, the girl's shelter I hadn't been getting on a regular basis.  I had a bad feeling that I was making a bit mistake by not cleaning this. What I should have done is planned out a time for this project, but for some reason, I went in there with my wheel barrow during this afternoons chores. In my head I was thinking I could do a load (a wheel barrow full) from the shelter, then clean up my regular areas. Oh how wrong I could be. Just like has happened to me in the past, I start with one load and it ends up being 4 or 5 or more! Before I know it this is no longer a quick extra 10 minute chore, but now an hours worth of work. But the good news is that I not only cleaned up the poop, but I got all the old hay out of there too. One chore done and I didn't even have to set aside another day. It's done.

Now I need to make sure to make cleaning this area part of my usual daily routine. I am quite concerned that with our mild winter, we could have increased issues with parasites. It's especially important to keep things cleaned up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Summer Cuts

Our house dogs were shorn, I mean groomed, this week.

Quinn before:

Shadow before:

After (they did not want to cooperate with pictures):

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Settled In

The girls seem totally settled in to their new area:

Here they are munching on hay in their new shelter (I think it's funny how their butts line up across the front of the hay bin):

They seem to like this shelter. And everyone seems happy now that the juvi's and yearlings/2 years old are separated from the pregnant girls. Bay seems to have accepted weaning Dutch, and Dutch is fine too. Everyone seems happy and at ease.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How Far We've Come

I remember when getting a halter on an alpaca was a huge ordeal. Now, Zack can do it on his own:

In order to do his "haltering sandwich" he had Twilight and Rose on halter, linked to the fence, while he got Princess.

Rose and Twilight:


And of course, Zack couldn't resist a chance to hug an alpaca:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Halter Training Sandwich

Zack is my faithful halter training helper. While we had all our alpacas halter trained, and even attended an alpaca show in early March, we then added Princess to our herd. She was not halter trained when she arrived at our farm. The first time we got the halter on her, she laid down on the ground pretending to be dead.

Zack and I have a few years of halter training under our belt. We have our typical protocol, but we like to come up with new ideas to help them learn. We know different things work for different alpacas. We typically use "train with a buddy" - which is where you attach a newbie to one who already is halter trained so that the newbie can see how it's done (I've often done this with the juvi and their dam). We don't have Princess' dam on our farm, so that option wouldn't work. Zack thought she needed lots of extra help. His idea "lets sandwich her between two alpacas who know what they are doing."

We decided to use Rose and Twilight as our experienced haltered alpacas - the bread of the sandwich. They are both almost 2 years old, they have been to many alpaca shows, and do well on the halter. Then Princess went between them. Here's the trio:

I didn't get a good picture of them walking, I wish I had because it totally worked! Zack's idea was right on. Princess walked right between Rose and Twilight. If Princess would hesitate or think about laying down the other girls led her the right way. By the end not only was she walking in the sandwich, but I took her alone and she walked!! It's a miracle!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Busy Week

I know I haven't blogged as much this week. I didn't think it was that busy of a week while I was living through it, but in retrospect it was pretty busy. Much of which didn't have anything to do with the farm.

The girls have adjusted well to their big move from last week. Everyone is in their right pen and eating the right bowl of grain. Success!

Princess is still giving us a *fun time* with halter training. I am starting to worry a bit because our next show is coming up soon ~ only 2 weeks away!!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Move and New Routine

This weekend we worked hard to get the new girls' area ready. J got the fence in place for a paddock and a small pasture area. At our farm "pasture" really just means room for them to move and run. We don't have grass growing in our sandy woods, so it's not for eating the grass. But they do need room to move. I love it when they get out there pronking. And, if they are in too close of quarters, it can cause increased issues with parasites.

So J worked on finishing up fencing, and finishing touches on building their shelter. I spent an afternoon painting the shelter. I found it funny how after spending a couple hours painting, I was sore! My quads still hurt a few days later. Yet I can run 7 miles and not have pain. Guess I need more work on cross training.

By Saturday evening we had enough in place to do the move. We got all the females in their current paddock, then separated out the younger ones and moved them into their new area. For that evenings feeding, J and Zack helped me get all the girls separated into the right area. First the pregnant girls.

I had a skinny pregnant area for Tehya and Sancha (each getting a cup of grain).
I had a regular pregnant area for Maddie, Jewel and Latte (each getting 1/2 a cup of grain).
I had a chubby pregnant area for Victoria and Miss Kitty (each getting 1/4 cup of grain).
That left Bay who is the one we were so concerned about her skinny self. After some debate, we separated her by herself and gave her not only extra grain, but some calf manna.

Most of the girls cooperated, but we did have to halter Maddie, Jewel and Latte to get them in the right area. It was too different from their previous routine.

For the young girls we separated them out into two areas. They all get the same ration of grain (1/2 cup) but we were concerned that the older yearling/2+ ones might be aggressive and take grain from the juvis. So we separated them by age.

Older group ~ Rose, Twilight, Mysteria and Gigi
Young group ~ Dutch, Princess and Lady Bing

Sunday morning I again had help separating out the girls. Though this time we didn't have to halter anyone. Then Sunday evening my helpers were on standby. By Monday morning it was all up to me ~ me out there at 6:30 a.m. on my own in the dark. I not only managed but all the female alpacas cooperated!!

We aren't done with this new area, as J still plans to add in a second small pasture for them. They don't necessarily need it, but it is nice to have different areas for them to roam and pronk.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

If alpacas could talk

We aren't quite ready to move the younger girls into their new area, but I was getting very concerned about Bay. She's been thin since she arrived at our farm last fall (the picture above is of her at her previous farm). We attempted to feed her additional grain, but somehow the area where she eats grain ended up getting a lot of other eaters (it was poor planning on my part, as new alpacas arrived at our farm, I added them to that area without much thought). So, she has remained thin. What concerned me greatly is that recently she has been acting tired and worn out. Whenever I looked out at the alpacas, Bay would be sleeping, or cushed down, or laying down. Alpacas do sleep, they do cush, they do lay down, but much of the time I see them feeding on hay. Bay was laying down much more than the rest of the herd.

I decided I needed to find a way to get her extra grain - now! Even though we aren't really set up to do that just yet, I needed to try. So on Monday afternoon I set out to find a way to get her more grain. Everyone was actually done eating grain, I was putting out hay, when I saw Bay cush down. This is not normal. Most alpacas flood to me when I put out new hay and gobble it up. I got both of my kids and told them we were going to get Bay by herself in the backyard.. Bay was cushed and was unaware that I was about to grab her. I managed to get her by the neck as she stood up. She's fairly new to our farm so not real sure about me, but let me hold her neck and guide her to the backyard (thankfully I didn't have to halter her). The kids helped open gates and made sure no other alpacas came in the backyard. I put down a bowl with 2 cups of grain. I knew that was a lot (1/2 a cup twice a day is our typical feeding for a regular size alpaca).

As soon as she started eating, I could see Victoria on the other side of the fence. If alpacas could talk, Victoria would have said something like "why does she get extra grain?" Zack was laughing because he could see the sense on Victoria's face of how unfair this was. Oh well. Victoria may be the herd leader, but she tends to be a chubby girl and no way does she need more grain.

Bay ate the entire 2 cups. Then she looked for me. I debated but decided not to feed her more. Alpacas have a pretty delicate digestive system and I didn't want to upset it too much more. If I could have, I would have put her in a pen with high alfalfa hay, but we don't have that option.

When I let Bay back into the area with the rest of the herd, she walked out, but she turned and looked back at me. I will never forget the look in her eyes. She has never looked at me like that before. It was as if she was saying "Thank you." The look in her eyes was of pure appreciation for that added grain. And even more great is the fact that after eating that she did go over and munch on hay.

The next day, Zack and I were haltering Princess and at the same time managed to get Bay into the backyard alone. I again fed her 2 extra cups of grain.

On day 3 I just shook a bowl of grain near Bay and she followed me into the area. Same thing on day 4. All it took was two times of getting her there for her to know and come on her own.

Thankfully of all our girls she is due last. We have until September to fatten her up:

A big help will be when we move her 2011 cria, Dutch, into the new area, and she can't nurse anymore. Between being pregnant and nursing Dutch, poor Bay is just plain worn out. We had hoped she would wean Dutch on her own, but that hasn't happened yet (Dutch is plenty old and plenty big to be weaned, in fact she was in an alpaca show last month, but still didn't wean). Bay is one of those moms who gives her all, bless her.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Playing Dead

Don't let her cute self fool you, she isn't dead, she's not even sick or injured. She is just reacting poorly to the idea of halter training.

It's always interesting how each juvi will act when we start halter training. Princess only came to our farm a few weeks ago, so I gave her time to adjust to us before putting on the halter. The first time with the halter on and she fell down, as if she was dead.

I've trained ones like this before. It can be done, it just takes a bit more time. I did get her to at least sit up cushed on the halter:

She's lucky she's a cutie:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Splitting the Girls

With the addition of the newest shelter, we plan to move the juvi and yearling/ 2 year old girls into that area. This would include: Rose, Twilight, Gigi, Mysteria, Lady Bing, Dutch and Princess.

As it is now, we have all our females in one ares - the juvis (Lady Bing, Dutch, Princess), yearlings/2 year olds (Rose, Twilight, Gigi, Mysteria), maidens (Jewel) and older dams (Miss Kitty, Victoria, Maddie, Sancha, Tehya, Latte, and Bay). They total 15 female alpacas.

There are two issues with this:

1) This summer we will have 8 cria born on our farm. This means adding 8 to the 15 already there. I don't think their current shelter will house that many (though they only use it in poor weather, they still need to be assured some shelter if there is bad weather). Surely yearlings and juvis can get along with cria, but, I kind of like the idea of the rough and tumble young ones being out of there so the dams and cria can have a more calm space for birthing and caring for newborns.

2) We pride ourselves on having a farm small enough that we can tailor each alpaca's grain to their own needs. This means feeding the skinny ones more grain and the chubby ones less grain. I actually do scoop out the grain knowing exactly who's bowl it is and how much they get. Some of the really skinny ones get different grain added to their bowl (such as calf manna).

While I do separate them now at grain time, I have a few that really aren't in the right spot (for example Latte used to be quite skinny, so she eats in the area originally for skinny girls, but now she's not skinny, but I can't get her to go in the other area. At the same time Bay eats in the same area as Latte and she is so skinny I'm worried about her). With less in each area to begin with, it will be easier for me to separate out the skinny and the not skinny and the chubby ones.

This isn't so much an issue for the juvis and yearlings/2 year olds. Though I do think I will have the older bunch eat together (Rose, Twilight, Gigi and Mysteria) and the juvis together (Lady Bing, Dutch and Princess).

For the older dams this is a big issue. Miss Kitty and Victoria continue to be our chubby girls. They don't need any additional grain, and in fact get a very small ration. These two are already separated out at grain time in the paddock (where they almost always fight over their two very small bowls of grain). The other 6 dams are a mess, they are separated out completely wrong for grain time right now. They are mixed in with the juvis and yearlings too, which only compounds the problem. Ideal would be for a skinny area for: Tehya, Sancha, and Bay. I could add any girl in there if as they deliver their cria they lose weight (I know in the past both Maddie and Latte have been thin while nursing a cria). The ones that are right on track, getting a normal portion on grain would ideally be: Maddie, Latte, and Jewel. That makes 8 pregnant girls in 3 areas.

I know another option would be to separate them into the two shelters by skinny and not skinny girls (not by age). But then do you put the juvis in with the skinny ones? I don't want the more aggressive older ones stealing grain from the young juvis, but I also don't want the young juvis getting into the higher protein grain for the skinny ones..... and so on.

We have separated them this way before and felt it worked well. Course if this time we don't like it, I can always change it up again ;)

Now the biggest trick will be making this change. Alpacas are extremely used to routine. I can separate them easily at grain time if I stick with the same old same old routine. A new routine will make every one of them up in arms. I realize this shake up will take a few days to accomplish. But, in the end I will be able to easily feed them, and then I will have them each in the right spot. Wish me luck!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fiber Fun

I have to admit, preparing the alpaca's fiber like I do is not my favorite part of this whole process.

I love my alpacas. I love the time I spend outside with them. I love thinking about and planning breedings. I love having cria born and everything about living with alpacas.

Shearing isn't my favorite day of the year, but having that fiber is. The next step of preparing the fiber - skirting and flicking also isn't my favorite. But I love spinning it into yarn.

Spinning their fiber is increadible. Knitting with yarn I made from fiber off of our own alpacas in beyond anything I can describe.

I've been told that I must be a very patient person in order to do the fiber prep like I do. Well, it's not that I'm patient. I'm not. In fact it's the opposite, I can't wait for the fiber to go and come back from the mill, when I want to spin yarn, I want to spin it now.

So, I do this fiber prep.

I go in our basement and weight out fiber from which ever alpaca I choose. I tumble it in our fiber tumbler (an old dryer without heat).

Then I bring it upstairs in a bag. Here is a bag of fiber off of our girl, Twilight:

While it looks black, it is acutally a dark silver grey. While mostly black, there are glimmers of white giving it a grey look.

Here are some bundles of her fiber:

I take those bundles and flick them:

I end up with a cloud:

From the cloud, I can spin it into yarn. But usually it takes me most of a day's fiber time to flick it. Spinning will be the next days project.

Monday, April 2, 2012

shelters and barns ~ live and learn

When we starter our alpaca farm in 2007, we used a barn that was already built. It's a nice barn, and worked great that first year. But it's about 1/4 mile from our house. Not bad for doing chores, I didn't mind the walk. It was when we were on cria watch that a 1/4 mile seemed like forever.

Here is our initial barn, (link to the original blog post about it) this picture is from 2007:

This barn worked great for our 2 bred females and 2 gelded male. The alpacas were in about 1/3 of the barn, hay in 1/3 of it, and the last 1/3 held herd health supplies and an alpaca chute (that J made). It worked great.


We added boys. We needed a new shelter for them. So in February of 2008 we built a boys shelter (link to original blog post). (I've called it either a barn or shelter, though I know this one really isn't a barn, shelter is a more accurate description).

I couldn't find a good picture of this shelter completed. Here it is in the middle of being built (roof isn't shingled yet nor it is painted):

Our first year of cria being born on our farm, in the summer of 2008, they were born up at that big barn. Being 1/4 mile down the road meant we made lots of trips back and forth just to check on them.

In the spring of 2009, we really wanted to move the pregnant dams closer to us. We live in the woods, so having a clearing amoung the trees was our biggest obstacle. The best open area was in our back yard - so that is what we used. We put in a shelter in our backyard and moved our pregnant girls there. Post about that can be found here.

Now that shelter looks like this:

I will say this is my least favorite shelter. If I had to do it again, I wouldn't use this model. I don't remember why we opted for the aluminum over the previously built wood structure. I know we had our reasons back then. I will also say that we've seen these used at other farms when we've visited. I didn't see any concern until ours was up. For one, almost everyday when filling the water buckets inside I bump my head on that metal of the entryway - that hurts! The alpacas are shorter so they don't do that. On the really wet and yucky days they all get inside this shelter. But I have to say, I'm not sure they like this shelter either. Just about any other time they will be found outside (though they might do that no matter what the shelter is).

In the spring of 2010 we decided to built a 3 sided shelter. Given we didn't really like the last one we put in, we wanted something different. A roof and a block from the cold wind is really all alpacas need. So we put this in (by we I really mean J ;) ). He put the back side to the north to block the coldest wind. Here is a link to the post of when this was put in.

This is what the shelter looks like now:

This is by far our favorite shelter! It works perfect for the alpacas. On the really cold and windy days or the really wet days, they go underneath the roof. On the other days they lay outside in the sunshine. They seem to like it and so do we.

So now in the spring of 2012, we opted to put in another shelter like that one:

It's not quite done, we still need some paint and to finish off the fencing.

Here you can sort of see all three shelters in our backyard:

The boys (juvi and yearling boys) off in the distance, the pregnant girls aluminium shelter and our newest shelter for the juvi and yearling girls.

The two barns/shelters 1/4 mile down the road, those are for our herdsires. Tucker and Greyt live in the big one, and Bo and Harley live in the smaller one.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A new one every year

J and Zack spent their weekend out here:

I think here they are measuring:

I don't know that we add a new shelter every year, but this is our 5th year in the business and there is J and Zack building our 5th shelter.

Maybe tomorrow I will get pictures of each barn/shelter. We have done different things and found what we like and what didn't work so well. We might as well pass that information on to anyone it could help.
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