Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trimming Teeth

I mentioned in our shearing posts about trimming toes and teeth ~ I thought I'd elaborate what that all means.

Alpaca teeth are actually only on their bottom jaw.  On top they have a hard pad where they mash their hay up against.

I was not able to get a good picture of this myself but found several pictures on-line that give a good visual of what I am talking about:

This picture shows the alpacas mouth, with nice trimmed teeth.  The teeth come out of the alpaca's bottom jaw, and there is a pink/grey pad for the top jaw.  They rip off hay there, and then mash the hay in the back of their mouth.

I found that picture on a wonderful blog with a post about trimming teeth - you can find that here.  It's a great write up.

Here's another picture I found:

In that picture (link to where I found that picture) the people are holding the alpaca's lips back, the teeth come out of the alpacas lower jaw, with a black/pink pad on the top jaw.  Further back, the blue and green arrows point to fighting teeth.  Typically only males have fighting teeth (though sometimes females will have them also) and they are for exactly what you'd think - fighting.  Out on the range in their native lands of South America where alpacas roam (not kept inside fences like they are in the United States), males will fight for hierarchy and left to their own defenses, males use their fighting teeth to try to castrate each other.  Boys!?! Right :)  Well, it is survival of the fittest out there.  Here on our farm we trim back fighting teeth so there is no on farm castration (at least not by the alpacas).  They do wrestle and fight some but without fighting teeth to cause damage.  We also house our boys some distance from the females (just the smell and sight of females will cause males to fight more - fight over who can get to those pretty girls first).

This is our alpaca dentistry kit:

This is an alpaca tooth-o-matic (I don't sell them but you can do a quick google search if you'd like to purchase one).   Like all tools it can be used incorrectly and cause serious problems.  While alpaca teeth can grow long, it also can happen that people trim their teeth too low and open up their pulp cavity which could result in their losing their teeth.  As with any tool, it is essential that it is used correctly.   At first we were scared of the tooth-o-matic due to hearing some horror stories.  We started out using a dremel instead.  However, I have problems with my joints and J has back issues, the shear mechanics of holding an adult alpaca still long enough to dremel was not possible for us.  We decided for our alpaca's health and our own safety we needed the tooth-o-matic.

The tooth-o-matic works by putting the light orange part (far right) into the alpaca's mouth, then turn on the rotating circular saw, zip in and out and it cuts off the top of the teeth in seconds.  I can hold them for seconds :)

For the little ones and even older alpacas who only need a little trim we do use a dremel:

We decide which tool to use based on what the alpaca's needs are, and what we can manage the easiest in order to get them what they need.

Some alpaca farmers choose to trim teeth with OB wire.  We haven't chosen to do it this way because it also takes some time which leaves me holding an alpaca still longer than I really can.  It is a safe and effective way to do it.

Here is a video that shows using an OB wire then a dremel:  link to video.  

Here is using a dremel:  link to video.

And here they are finishing up shearing then do a quick cut with the Tooth-o-matic: link to video.

We don't do it exactly like that, we actually have the alpaca strapped down for shearing and keep them with their head on the ground while using the tooth-o-matic or dremel.  However, this gives the idea of what it's like.  And you can see how the tooth-o-matic is so much quicker than the other methods.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Trimming Toe Nails

In their native land alpacas are on rocky mountain areas and eat very coarse grasses and weeds.  There nature does a great job of keeping their teeth worn down and their toe nails worn down.  Alpacas were created to be able to withstand that climate and location.  Here in the United States we really baby our alpacas.  They don't climb mountains or deal with rocky areas or coarse grasses.  They walk on soft ground and we give them lush green hay that is soft and moist.  This means that sometimes their toe nails and teeth grow longer than they would in their native climate.  So, as part of our alpaca husbandry we need check and sometimes trim toe nails and/or teeth.

We check toe nails each month, during our herd health day.  Most of them only need trimming every other month (this various greatly by farm and how it is set up, we have a lot of sand and no concrete so their nails tend to grow more than a farm that has a concrete barn floor and harder soil).  While they do sell specific alpaca nail trimmers, we use a pruning shears:

They seem to work best for us and stay sharp longer than the actual nail trimmers that are sold.

Our routine is for me to hold the alpaca's head and neck, while J bends over and says "foot" to grab each foot and trim the nail as needed.  Their nails are quite similar to a dog or cat's nails.  A little clip even with their foot pad (like a dog and cat have) is all that is needed.  Though just like dogs and cats, alpacas do have a vein going through their nail and if you nip that, they will bleed a little.  No harm done, but it can look pretty ugly, so we really try to avoid doing that.

Here is a picture of the bottom of an alpaca's foot, the two toes with pink pad then two nails coming off the front.  These nails are in need of trimming so that they are even with the foot pad.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our Shearing Journey

Like many things through the years, shearing has changed a lot for us.

In 2007 our first alpacas arrived at our farm (in the fall, after shearing time).

So 2008 was our first experience shearing.  We had 7 alpacas to shear :)  We hired a local alpaca farmer who also did shearing.

That story is told in my blog post in May of 2008 ~ link here.

The next year, in the spring of 2009, we had more animals (11 total), and decided to shear along with another farm.  They had been having a shearer come from out of town and we used their shearer (that way there was only one set up free that we split between our two farms), and it gave us more adult helpers.  We had learned the year before that our kids were really too young to help out as much as we had thought.  This way we had more adults to help, and we could help out with the other farm's animals too.

Our shearing day 2009 blog post can be found here.

I took pictures of each animal before and after and those can be found:
~ Pregnant girls before and after pictures (3 pregnant dams) ~ link here.
~ Maiden girls before and after pictures (4 maidens) ~ link here.
~ The boys before and after pictures (4 boys) ~ link here.

2010 shearing day was pretty much the same as 2009, with the addition of our having more alpacas (16).  That blog post can be found here.

I took before and after pictures that can be found:
+ 4 pregnant dams ~ link here.
+ 4 maiden girls ~ link here.
+ 2 juvi boys ~ link here.
+ 6 herdsires ~ link here.  

One thing you start to notice as you gain more alpacas is that the cost for shearing goes up.  Most people in this area charge a $50 to $100 set up and mileage fee, then $25 to $30 per alpaca to shear, and add on another $5 per animal who needs their teeth trimmed.  It was getting pricy.

There is also the issue that as more people have alpacas, those that are trained in shearing are in more demand, which makes it harder and harder to schedule shearing with someone.  We were getting to the point we had too many animals to take them to the other farm.  We also noticed our own kids were getting older and more able to help.

In 2011 we took the dive and started shearing our own - all 17 of them.

Here is my blog post from May of 2011 explaining how we set it up - link here.

I took before and after pictures that year too:
+  we started with our 4 herdsire boys that year because, well, who wants to experiment on a pregnant girl? yeah, the boys were our first experiment ~ link here.
+ then the 5 little juvis ~ link here.
+ and last the pregnant dams - all 8 of them!! ~ link here

2012 we again did our own shearing, this time we had even more help from our kids.  It sure is nice when they get older and can help more :)

We had 26 alpacas to shear in 2012!! Wow was that a lot of work.  I did not get specific before and after pictures.  It was all too busy.  Here is the post from that shearing day.

After having the most alpacas we have ever had in 2012 (I believe our peek was 28 alpacas), we have cut back quite a bit for this year.  We are stronger farmers when we have a smaller herd that is best able for us to manage.  Right now we are at 18 alpacas (link to list of our herd), with 5 cria due this year.  This is a good place for us to be.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fiber and wool and hair

I've mentioned before that our sheep are hair sheep, not wool sheep. I've had people ask about what that feels like, so I made up these samples. While feeling them means more, pictures capture some of it too.

Here is an example of:  sheep hair ~ suri alpaca fiber ~ huacaya alpaca fiber

This is the sheep hair a little more close up (notice that the individual hairs are rather thick and wirey, it would not be comfortable made into anything that touched your skin):

This is suri alpaca fiber, it comes in these sort of dread locks:

That might not be the best example of suri, but it's what I had on hand quick when I thought of doing this blog post.

This is huacaya alpaca fiber, and this sample I did play around a bit with so it is not organized like it would be right off the animals, but I think you can see how the fibers are smaller and not wirery. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Camouflage in the oak leaves

Look who is hiding:

Ruby is hiding in those leaves:

Here is an interesting thing about leaves.  When we first started our alpaca farm we had read about how oak leaves can be toxic to alpacas.  This scared us and even made us rethink having an alpaca farm in an oak forest.  We did all the research we could, and came to the conclusion that in order to be toxic the oak leaves would have to make up the majority of their diet, or leach into their water (at a high volume).  As long as they have enough hay to eat this will never be an issue.  They will always prefer green grass hay over old leaves.

I do admit our first few years I raked up leaves like crazy.  But as you can see, that is unrealistic.  We are in an oak forest, the amount of work it takes to rid the area of leaves is unrealistic.

More recently we have heard about a theory that the tannins in the oak leaves that supposedly were toxic to alpacas, may actually instead be toxic to parasites.  We have often wondered why we have a low parasite load and do not seem to have to worm near as often as other alpaca farms.  There is no proof to their theory but I do believe it holds true on our farm.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


This is our third year shearing our own alpacas.  What I like most about doing it ourselves is that we have total control over when we shear.  If it is suddenly hot, we can shear them.  If the weekend is rainy we can wait.  When you schedule with a shearer, you are on their schedule and when it's shearing day you shear - rain, snow or sunshine.  I also like that we can pace ourselves.  If a shearer comes, you shear all your alpacas that day.  In some ways it's nice to be done all at once, but shearing is hard work and makes for some very sore muscles.  By doing our own, we can space them out.  Typically we aim to shear about 6 to 8 each weekend through May.

This means that over the past couple weeks some of our alpacas are shorn and some are not:

Here is an up close picture of the difference:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Who is Who? The Sheep

We also have sheep at our farm: one ram and 5 ewes with 2 baby lambs.

Our sheep don't actually have names, just numbers, but we find we end up calling them names.  Like the mom of the twin lambs we call "Ma".

Here are the twins:

Here are the ewes with the ram diving into some hay:

There you can see how their winter coat is falling off.  They are hair sheep (not wool sheep) so we do not shear them, their wool naturally comes off.   I have noticed the ram's hair came off first.

Here is the ram (the one in the back who's face is fully showing and his summer hair coat is showing):

There is also panda, one of our ewes who has neat markings:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Who is who? The Boys

The boys were less than cooperative with pictures so I did not get individual pictures of them.  I fought them for awhile and it just wasn't happening.  Boy?!!?

Here are all four, but of course my favorite is the black one, Gabe (Gabriel Star of RobAsia)

It is true that they are have great fiber and all bring something to the table for the ladies :) I just happen to like the black and my dream from the time we started was a black boy.  I admit it, I favor Gabe.

Here are the other three:  Bubba (the other Gabriel but in beige), Vamil (white) and Greyt (rose grey)

We actually also own three other boys who are not on our farm.   Smokey is a modern dark silver grey, who has very soft fiber.   He is an older experienced male (the sire of our own Twilight who is one of my favorites).   Then we have two juvi boys, Max a true black suri male and Stoney, a silver grey huacaya male.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Who is Who? Farm Friends

We don't just have alpacas on our farm. We have our farm dog, a Great Pyrenees, Spot, who is a wonderful Herd Guardian Dog. And we have two cats (who protect me from mice!!!).


Phantom is Zack's cat, the one that is mostly white with some grey patches.  Buddy is Emma's cat and he's the tiger striped one.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Who is Who? The Old Girls

I don't say "old girls" to be mean, since I consider myself in that category.   We actually have sold off most of our older girls so there are only three who fit into this category (ie over 2 years old).




While all these older wiser girls are great, Tehya has a special place in my heart because she was born on our farm, the first year we had our own cria.  She came to our farm inside her mother and we waited so impatiently for her impending birth.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Who is Who? The Two Year Olds

These girls were born in 2010 and will turn 3 years old this year. Some of them are bred and will have their first cria this year.

~ ROSE ~

Rose is a beauty and has won many first place awards (see our 1st Place Winners page).

On the farm she's less glamorous, and kind of likes her food:


Twilight is a beauty on and off the farm (she even eats dainty like ~ well compared to Rose anyway):

 ~ GIGI~ 

I snapped that picture of her while she was chomping on some hay.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Who is Who? Our Yearlings

All of these girls were born in 2011, they are currently yearlings but will turn 2 years old this year.  We have 2 suri yearlings, and 2 huacaya yearlings.  The suris here were not shorn as juvis and in fact have never been shorn.  They are very furry!!!  They will be super happy to be shorn this spring.  I can't imagine all that fiber weighing them down like it does.


~ TAKE FIVE (AKA: Candy) ~


~ DUCHESS (AKA: Princess) ~ 

And just to show how the show pictures are so much better than mine, here is Princess' picture from her spring show:

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Who is who? Our Juvis

I thought since we've had quite a few changes on our farm this year that I would do a who is who post.  I'll split this into groups, the first being our 2012 juvis (those who will turn 1 year old this year).

~   RUBY ~ 

Isn't she so cute!!!  We have since taken this jacket off her.  We had it on for the winter because she's a little bit small for her age.  We hoped keeping her extra warm would help her grow.

~ PATTY ~ 

Patty is our first suri juvi.  I found it really hard to get a good picture of her.  I know this lighting isn't the best.



After the lighting for Patty was too bright on her face, here the light is too bright behind Raspberry.  She is a very dark brown almost black (bay black) and those alpacas can be the most difficult to photograph well.   Her face always gets lost in pictures.

But at least these pictures give you an idea of who is who among our juvis.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Fog

I thought this picture was a neat contrast to the warm and sunny one from yesterday (this was taken Monday morning over at another farm):

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Warm and Sunny

This is my favorite season and my favorite weather ~ warm and sunny!!

Yesterday was the first day this spring that temps went above 80*F.   Zack took this opportunity to spray down our alpacas to help cool them off.   They sure love it!!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Maxine's Ribbon

In addition to Gabe and Take Five winning 1st in the show ring, so did Maxine:

That meant three 1st place ribbons for our show weekend :)

Both Take Five and Maxine are to be bred this summer, we have the right boy picked out already.

Gabe is ready to start his breeding career and we have some really great dates set up for him.
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