Sunday, July 29, 2012

Close Call

When cria are shorn, one possible negative outcome is that their dam (mom) will reject them following the shearing.  The dams recognize their cria by look and by smell.  They smell the cria's top knot and tail as they push them under them to nurse.

We've never had a problem in the past, but we do try to be careful with cria shearing.  We take the cria and the dam to the shearing station.  Last weekend we had Zack hold the halter of the dam while the rest of us helped with shearing. This way the mom can see the cria go from unshorn to shorn.  We also don't shear the cria's tail or top knot.

Last weekend we had a serious scare when Jewel completed rejected Ruby.  I have never seen anything like it!  After the shearing Ruby ran over to her dam, Jewel, and Jewel walked away.   When Ruby persisted, Jewel became more obstinate, to the point of spitting and walking away.  We did all the tricks we've heard to do: rub the cria's shorn fleece all over them to give them more scent back on them.  We locked them in a paddock together so they had to be together.  We put vanilla on the dam's nose and under the cria's tail (that way the cria smells just like the dam's nose).  Ruby continued to be persistent, she sure recognized her mom, but Jewel, became more and more upset.  There was one where Jewel kicked at Ruby ~ thankfully no contact was made so no physical injury resulted, but I'm sure Ruby was completed confused why her mom, the star of her life, is suddenly being so mean to her.

We exercised patience, and every so often (an hour or so) we'd try something new to help mend that bond between them.  As it was nearing our evening chore time we had not seen Ruby nurse since before shearing that morning.  While she was up and walking and appeared fine, we considered the worse and gave her a bottle.  She fought it at first, and I've heard many alpaca farmers say they won't take a bottle if they are nursing at all.  But we didn't want to head into night time without more food in her.  After some coaxing, she did take the bottle.  A couple hours later she eagerly took another.  I was considering that we had a bottle cria on our hands.  Somewhere in there we noticed she was nursing again.  We kept an eye on it, yet offered another bottle at bedtime.  She wouldn't take any of that one.  She was back to nursing on mom and all was well with the world again.

I was hesitant to say anything about this last weekend, even after Ruby was nursing again, because I was so scared it wouldn't last.  But here we are to the next weekend and all is good, as if it never happened.

I do have to say that rejection was nothing like I have ever witnessed.  Horrifying to the cria, and I think scary for the dam who is annoyed by this mystery cria that won't leave them alone.  I did find it interesting that Jewel didn't seem to be looking for Ruby or even mourning the loss of her.  She was so fixated on chasing this unknown mystery cria away it was like that was all she could focus on.  I knew this before but having seen it first hand I know it even more: I hope we never have to face total cria rejection.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How & Why of Cria Shearing

Here are my answers to questions I have gotten about my cria shearing post:

Yes ~ we do shear our own cria.

We actually shear our entire herd, and have done so both this year and last year (2011 &  2012).  Now we aren't beauticians, and we are still relatively new to shearing.  But we've learned that it all grows out, so no worries on that.  You can always trim it up later on if it's not quite the way it should be.  The real trick with cria is that they are small, and to get the shears into all their spots is difficult.  We shear the cria pretty much the same as the adults.  We have a mat we put on our garage floor and we have a rope system to help hold the alpaca down (this is a safety measure as it is essential that they not move as they could be seriously injured).  J is the one who does the shearing, I hold the alpaca, and the kids help wherever needed.  During cria shearing, Emma helped hold the back end of the cria while I had the front (I get two legs and a neck, Emma just had two legs).  Zack held onto the halter of the mom of the cria near our shearing area.  We do this so that there is less chance of a dam (mom) rejecting their cria (baby).  The dam can see the shearing so they know it's the same cria, their cria.   Rejecting is something that can happen if the dam doesn't recognize the cria after shearing, and will refuse to feed the cria anymore.

I've been asked why we shear our cria.  There are two main reasons:

1 ~ cool them down

2 ~ make more usable fiber from them
(fiber is the alpaca's hair, on other animals it is called wool, fur or hair, depending on the animal)

Cooling them down is a pretty obvious explanation.  They are born with quite a bit of fiber, then add on their fiber grows fast after they are born, and they end up with inches of fiber.  Their fiber is warm and insulating, so it quickly gets very hot for them.  We do have warm summers (this one especially) so having less fiber on them helps them stay cooler.

The usable fiber part is a bit harder to explain.

+  cria are born with fiber on them, called tui tips, that were exposed to the amniotic fluid in utero

+  tui tips are often a different color than the fleece that grows out, due to amniotic staining

+ the amniotic fluid also wears down the fiber, makes it more frizzy

+ tui tips collect debris like Velcro, which is a pain to skirt if left on for a full years shearing

I prefer to have their 1st years shearing pure fiber without the tui tips.  I don't want the added debris, the color variation, and the lower quality fiber of the tui tips (it doesn't have the same feel or look as the rest of the fiber that grows out).  If we get rid of the tui tips now as cria, by the time they are shorn next spring, at almost a year old, I have really nice fiber to collect.  That's what I get excited about!!  If we leave the tui tips, then I have a mess come next spring's shearing.

We have opted to shear our cria at about 6 weeks old to get off all the tui tips (which we throw into the compost pile - it's too short to do much else with it).  We've found if we shear earlier we don't get all the tui tips off.  We also feel that by shearing at this age, their fiber has a chance to reorganize so that when it does grow out, it looks the best it can when it comes time for spring show season.  We have shorn at an earlier age and didn't feel that works as well for us.  I felt like there was still a bit of tui tips lingering.  Debates ensue on when is the best age to cria shear.  There are a lot of variation and opinions among alpaca farmers.  Many alpaca farmers swear a certain age is the best.  I think what is best comes down to what works best for you and your farm with your own specific circumstances.

For those wondering about the term "baby alpaca" and how yarn or products that boast of being "baby fine" or made from "baby alpaca" or "royal baby alpaca" can be so incredible, it's because that does NOT mean the tui tips, it is NOT the fiber the alpaca is born with.  These terms have to do with the micron of the fiber, how soft the fiber is.  A 4 year old alpaca's fiber can be made into "royal baby alpaca yarn" provided the fiber has a low enough micron, it is fine enough, to meet that requirement.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cria Shearing

Today we set out to shear our cria (the ones that have been born anyway).

Raspberry and Stormy (born June 6 & 7) are now a couple days older than 6 weeks old.  Ruby (born June 16) is 5 weeks old.  We prefer to shear them after 6 weeks old, but given how hot this summer was, earlier was okay with us.  We really didn't want to wait another week, with another hot spell predicted.

We started with Ruby, then Raspberry, and ended with Stormy.  While cute and small, they are hard to shear because they have so many small spots that need to be shorn.  They really are all legs and neck.  Plus, as Emma and I noted, we feel like with a full size alpaca we can put our weight into them and hold them well.  We've been known to wrestle some of them.  But these small little cria have no good spot to hold onto and we tend to be cautious because we wouldn't want to hurt them.

No one got injured, and all three were shorn.

We had a bit of surprise in that Raspberry matches the color chart as a Bay Black.  We had wondered if she was darker than the reddish brown color that she appeared to be on the outside.   We had been debating if she was dark brown, bay black or even true black.  Bay Black is one color that I have wanted and we haven't had yet, so that was a nice treat!

After cleaning up I walked out to see this:

Nothing to be alarmed at, it's the two girls, the paternal half-sisters, sun bathing together.


I bet the sun feels nice on their newly shorn bodies.  They love to sun bath anyway, but I bet feeling the sun soaking into their skin is an even better treat to them.  And I like to see it because they are also soaking up vitamin D, something they need to grow healthy and strong.

I tried to get a picture of Stormy but he gave me the "back treatment". The "back treatment" is anytime an alpaca turns around and shows me their back side instead of looking at me when I'm talking to them. It's amazing how often they do this to me! Maybe I talk to much :)

There have been several times I was sure they were giving me the "back treatment" on purpose. I've had grown adult females do that to me after I was gone for a few days. Typically they like me but they were clear to give me their opinion of me being gone.  I am always thankful for whomever fills in on farm chores when I am gone, I just hope the ladies don't give our farm helping hands the "back treatment", it kind of hurtful.

Friday, July 20, 2012


here is a sneak peek at my latest knitting adventure:


I know it's been a week since my last blog post. I wasn't intending to be MIA (missing in action).  I got caught up in summer :)  

The farm is going well.  We've hit a lull in births, as our next one due is Victoria and that isn't until the end of July.  The 3 cria that have been born are doing well.  The kittens are growing and adding to our farm fun everyday.  The heat has subsided.  And even with worries of a drought, we have found a supply of hay for our alpacas.

I've found some time to knit.  I need to get a picture of that up soon.  In fact I have quite a few pictures that I haven't upload yet.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fiber Update

This weeks fiber accomplishment was plying two strand of yarn from fiber from our boy, OHVNA The Challenger, into a nice skein.

I made a contrasting skein by plying Challenger's rose grey fiber with a strand of yarn spun from fiber from our silver grey male, Tucker:

yarn up close:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Races

Stormy and Raspberry love to race around the pasture area.

Here they are bursting out of the pasture gate:

At full run speed over the hill in the pasture area (see the moving blobs out there on the hill):

Stormy comes through the gate with Raspberry not farm behind, Ruby is waiting at the finish line:

A quick pit stop:

And they are off again:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

mom! mom!! mom!!!

As any mom can relate to, it always seems like the minute you take a break to use the bathroom, that's when a child suddenly absolutely needs you.   Alpaca kids are no different:

Yep, Raspberry sure did find her mom in the bathroom and demand a nursing session!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The hard part

There are truly pros and cons about being farmers.  A few weeks back I posted about getting our kids their own kittens, after their hard work with shearing the alpacas and spring cleaning the barns.  There has to be rewards to balance out those hard working days.   Just like there are benefits for hard work, there are also days that are awesome, and days that aren't.  An awesome day would be an evening watching the cria gang play chase through the pasture.  Then there are the days you face a tragedy.  Nature can be incredibly amazing, and nature can be cruel.

Today we saw the cruel side of nature, our newest cria, OHVNA Koko, passed away.

As I've mentioned we've been in the midst of an extremely hot heat wave. It has been hotter than we have ever seen in our area.  If this were typical weather or even likely or something to consider, we wouldn't breed to have crias be due this time of year.  With temps this high, it's too easy for these newborns to dehydrate.  In fact we've been quite concerned about our entire herd throughout this heatwave, it's been hotter than we've ever seen and these animals aren't used to or prepared for these temps.

We did all we do for every cria plus we were hosing her down to keep her temp cool, putting her in front of the fans, and giving her extra electrolytes.  We were out there in the pasture constantly keeping an eye on her.  Sadly even this wasn't enough.  The heat was so oppressive.

While I'm sad that we've lost this beautiful girl, this black girl that I have dreamed of for so long, the harder part for me was that it was our 12 year old daughter who found Koko.  I know these are life lessons and this all goes along with why we chose to make farming part of our family's life, but I also know these life lessons can be hard. I'm so proud of all she did to comfort Koko and be there with her until the end. 

Rest in peace beautiful Koko, we won't ever forget you!


Our newest cria was born on July 5, 2012, very early in the morning, out of our dam, Tehya.

We went to see fireworks on the evening of July 4th.  It had been a record breaking extremely hot day.  In fact that afternoon when I was hosing the girls off I noticed that Tehya's back end was quite loose, but she wasn't acting in labor. I hoped she'd wait until after this hot spell.  I was sure to hose her off really good and get her as cool and comfortable as I could.   We got home quite late, checked on the alpacas and went to bed.

We slept a little later than usual given our late night, I woke up to J saying "there is an afterbirth out there and I don't see a baby!"  He could see Tehya, and knew by the fact her belly was smaller that it was her who had delivered.  I got dressed as J rushed outside to check on this baby.  He calls back to me saying, "it's black and it's a girl!"  This is my dream cria!!!  I said, "Is this for real, or am I dreaming?"  It was for real.

We named her OHVNA Koko

OHVNA = Oak Haven Alpacas
Koko = Native American for "night" ~ she was born overnight and she is dark like night

For each of our breeding females we have a theme that we name their offspring.  Tehya is Native American for "Precious" and her theme is Native American names.

Here is Tehya and Koko:

Here is Stormy checking out the newest herd member (notice the size difference):

Raspberry never likes to have her picture taken, but I did manage to get this one of her on one side of Tehya and Koko on the other:

Having a cria born during this super hot spell, means that we are keeping an extra close eye on her. In these temps a young cria can dehydrate too fast.  Tehya is an attentive mom, and we are doing all we can to help her along.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The hottest heat wave yet

We are in the midst of a very hot heat wave.  Having lived most of my life in the Midwest, I can count on my fingers how many above 100*F days I have lived through.  This week there were two 100+ days on our farm.  Yesterday it got up to 103*F and today it topped out at 104* (note that for the previous week it has been in the 90's which for our area is extremely rare, there are summers were never hit 90* all summer).

While I love summer and I like hot, this is a bit much for me.  And worrisome for all the animals I care for.

I've been filling this pool twice a day for our guardian dog, Spot:

He loves it filled with fresh cold water, he won't use it once it's dirty (even if it was his own feet that put the sand in there).  So at least twice a day I dump it out, rinse the pool, and refill it.  It's worth it to see him happy and splashing in there.

We've been hosing the alpacas off multiple times a day.  And on the 4th of July I figured out how to use our soaker hose to help them too.  We had the soaker hose out in the pasture area, but none of them ever used it.  I was outside hosing the girls off around noon time on the 4th, it was in the upper 90's and I was sweating just standing there hosing them.  I couldn't bare what the heat was like for them.  I got an idea to move the soaker hose to the places they cush anyway, the shady areas under the trees where they hang out.  So I set out to do this, not caring that it was in the 90's and I was sweating bullets, not caring that once I get done they might not even use it. I figured it was worth a try.

And it was totally worth it!   Maddie made my day when she went over there:

Later on I caught several of the ladies out there cushed on the soaker hose.  But of course when I opened the door to take a picture they all jumped up:

We had a cria born on July 5th, early in the morning.  I will get a post about that whole story up soon.  The concerning thing is how to keep a newborn cria from overheating in this weather.   I've been keeping on eye on all of them, trying to keep the cool and comfortable.  They really need a break from this unusual very hot weather.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Good Herd Guardian Dog

Spot is our farm dog and the alpacas are his herd to guard.

Spot usually does a great job of knowing what is a threat and what isn't.  Our kittens are not a threat in his book:

Most of the time he completely ignores them:

But it does seem like fireworks are a huge threat to his herd, he barks every time he hears one.  Since they are similar to the sound of a gun shot, I can't blame it.  But it sure does make holiday time interesting when he barks at every single one.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


I know July 4th is a day as an American we celebrate our independence ~ life, liberty and the pursue of happiness.... but with all the devastating and scary things going on, I am taking this day for thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving that I have life, liberty and the ability to pursue happiness.

Thanksgiving that my home and life is not threatened by wild fires.

Thanksgiving that we haven't gone through terrible storms and lost power for days at a time in intense heat.

Thanksgiving that war and threats of violence are not in my backyard or in my neighborhood or even anywhere close to me.

Thanksgiving for all those who put their life on the line so that I can have life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, in addition to safety from wild fires and violence.

Thanksgiving for all I do have: a wonderful family, a wonderful farm, and lush fiber to play with all day.  I am blessed.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cria Gang

The best part about having several cria, is watching them play together.

We joke they are like a gang.  Each year we see them form bonds and friendships.  They run and play and seem to have a lot of fun together.

Each year a leader emerges. This year the leader is Stormy:

His gang includes these 1/2 sisters (they share the same sire, our own Tucker):

Raspberry looks kind of intimidating there!

The leader is the one who rounds them all up to play.  They will do this by going over to the other cria and nudging them.  They sometimes nudge the moms but rarely will a mom join in the games. 

Here he is nudging Ruby to join in the fun.  Ruby isn't sure she wants to just yet, so trying to push him back:

And here is Stormy racing with Raspberry:

In this picture you can see the sign difference between the cria - Ruby is the petite one, Stormy the biggest and Raspberry the really dark one.  Don't worry, while they look like they are going after Maddie, they aren't (and even if they did, she can handle herself, no fear of this cria gang of cuties):

We have a few more cria yet to be born this year. I wonder if they will all join in the same gang, or if they might start another one.  In years past we've only had 3 or 4 cria, this year we have 8 expected.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 350 Gestation

An alpaca's gestation (pregnancy) typically last from 335 days to over 400 plus ~ yes it can last over a year!  Based on typical birthing on our farm, we set their due date at day 350, but realize that cria could come before or after.

Today our own Tehya is on day 350 gestation:

To me, her face is saying "not today".

Ok, actually it's that her tail is down and she has been acting completely normal all day. (The signs we look for:  milk bagging up, loosening on their back end, and as labor starts multiple trips to the poop pile.  Then there are the clear signs like bag of waters erupting and cria coming out.  Tehya has been pretty loose and bagged for for a couple weeks now, which can happen that early, she's close but not actually in labor yet.)

 While her belly looks big:

I admit, I've seen bigger more uncomfortable pregnant bellies. This is only her second cria; in 2011 she gave birth to OHVNA Cheyenne (links to that birth story and pictures of Cheyenne). It seems it's often the older dams who look the most worst for wear by day 350. Tehya's last cria was born on day 356, so it I'm guessing this week is a likely birth day for this one.
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