A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

November 26, 2009

A Herd within a Herd

 

The Girls from Dancing Wind Alpacas

Four of the Six Girls from Dancing Wind Alpacas (the other two were too busy at the hay rack to pose for pictures)

 

 

On Sunday our herd was increased by six alpacas – but only temporarily.   We have been given the opportunity to take over the lease of six female alpacas that are owned by Mary Schaare of Dancing Wind Alpacas.

Leases on alpacas can work in many different ways, sometimes a pregnant female alpaca is leased for a fee and then upon the birth of the cria the lessee is the owner of the cria.  It was that type of lease that we did to get one of our first alpacas, Ma Cushla.  We leased Ma Cushla’s dam Plata by paying a fee to Plata’s owners and then when Ma Cushla was born we owned Ma Cushla.  Of course we could not bring Ma Cushla home until she was weaned but it helped us get an addition to our herd at a reasonable price.  Typically the lease on a pregnant female alpaca is less than her purchase price and the cost of feed and care of the dam are paid for by the owners.  The lessee is responsible for any feed and care costs on the cria when he or she is born.  With a lease you do not know the sex of the cria until it is born and so there is a bit of a gamble involved, but it can help you bring fresh bloodlines into your herd without taking on the full cost of the pregnant female alpacas.

Other leases we have been involved in have been structured so that the lessee pays one fee if the cria is a boy and another if the cria is a girl.  I am sure that there are other formats of alpaca lease on the market too.

This particular lease will involve us boarding and caring for the six girls, delivering their crias and then keeping the girls and their crias until the crias can be weaned.  In exchange for our services we will get to keep some of the crias.

The six girls in question are an interesting group, they have excellent bloodlines and are beautiful girls, but what is interesting to me is their behavior as they are a very tightly bonded group.  I call them the herd within a herd because they really do behave as if they are their own herd rather than part of the main group of girls.  The “matriarch” of the girls is Ms Genevieve and where Ms Genevieve goes the others follow!  They never stray very far from each other and Ms Genevieve is definitely the boss and is respectfully acknowledged by the other girls in the group – Luna, Sierra, Bella, Grace and Mariah.

So for the next 18 months or so the girls will be in our care, it will be interesting to see if their behavior changes over time or if they continue to be their own herd within a herd.  Of course when they all have their crias they will be a much bigger group and hopefully their crias will socialize with our crias and help break down some of the boundaries the girls have put up – but only if Ms Genevieve allows it I’m sure!

 

Rosemary

October 31, 2009

Fall’s First Snow Fall

 

First Snow of Fall

First Snow of Fall

 

 

This was the sight we were greeted with when we did chores on Thursday morning – snow!  You may be able to tell from the picture that this was a wet snow with big, heavy snowflakes.  As fast and as furious as the snow was falling you would think that we would have had a large accumulation, but our ground was still warm and we ended up with just about an inch of the fluffy white stuff.

When I had set out for Blue’s early morning walk at 5:45 a.m. the temperature had been quite mild, but as is often the case in New Mexico within an hour everything had changed.  The wind started to roar, the temperature dropped and then the flakes started falling.

Many of the alpacas remained cushed as the snow started.  They had made a nice warm spot on the ground and didn’t want to give it up.  Theresa in particular did not want to move, heavily pregnant she felt more comfortable staying put, blinking away the snowflakes as they landed on her eyes.

 

Theresa Sits in The Snow

A very pregnant Theresa refuses to budge from her spot despite the snow

 

 

After feeding, the boys soon made a dash for cover and stayed under their shelters until things started to warm up.  The girls ate quickly and then headed for the hay feeders, but some of them were quite happy to stand out in the snow.  Theresa was a little shivery at feeding time, a result of her refusing to give up her spot in the pasture, but a bowl of alpaca feed and alfalfa followed by some hay and warm soaked beet shreds soon had her warmed up.

We usually have a snowfall around Halloween; this one was a little early but not too far off track.  Parts of the state got a foot or more of snow – rather them than me.  Once our Halloween snowfall has arrived we often don’t see snow again until January.

For this weekend the forecast is for temperatures in the 60’s – much better weather for Theresa to deliver her cria in.  As of Friday night it looked like she had a little udder development so maybe we will get more of a treat than a trick this Halloween!

 

Rosemary

September 22, 2009

Oh My Goodness

Well summer is definitely over!  Yesterday it was 88 degrees in the afternoon, by 5:30 pm the temperature had started to drop and then “wham” the cold front hit us with stiff winds, dropping the temperature down to 42 (and that’s without the wind chill).  Ironically yesterday was officially the last day of summer.  Typically we do get cooler fall temperatures, but the days usually cool off a little at a time, not in one fell swoop.

It is not entirely a surprise that fall has arrived so swiftly as there have been little signs that fall would be early this year.  Some of the trees are starting to change color already, berries have already appeared on winter bushes, the tarantulas have already completed their fall migration and different birds have appeared in the area.  (Yesterday we had a Wilson’s Warbler in the garden who would be in the process of migrating from the North West to the south east).  Parts of Colorado and Northern New Mexico received their first snow on Monday.

The alpacas seemed to enjoy the sudden cool temperatures.  Our two youngest crias started off the frisky activities by galloping around their pasture at high speed; they were soon joined by the adult females in their pasture.  Once that group were galloping around the main female herd decided that they too wanted to kick up their heels in the cool, windy air.  Evening chores was interesting as we had to dodge all of those low flying alpacas.  By the time the alpacas had settled down to eat they must have felt nice and warm.

According to the older people of this area the signs are all pointing to a cold, snowy winter.  After yesterday’s dramatic fall arrival I can definitely believe winter is not far away.

Rosemary

September 21, 2009

How Precocious!

Well our new bay windows have certainly paid off already.  While having lunch yesterday I gazed out of our new beautiful windows and could see one of the alpacas by the fence line.  As I looked I realized something was wrong with the picture.  What was wrong was the alpaca was walking out of the pasture gate and was now on the wrong side of the fence!  Our Annochia had just executed a pretty smooth exit from the pasture!

Annochia is now 15 months old and her hormones are talking to her.  She has been cushing for the male spring crias who enjoy trying out their future role as herdsires and she has also been mounting other females.  Because of Annochia’s behavior we have moved her from the main female group and put her in with a smaller group of more mature females who will not tolerate her mounting them.

Annochia has settled in well with her new pasture mates, but apparently still has her mind on other matters.  So it was that yesterday she managed to work open the gate latch and head straight for the male alpacas.   Obviously in Annochia’s mind we have not been paying attention to her needs, she feels she is ready to breed and was heading off to find a suitable date.  While we appreciate Annochia’s ingenuity it is a bit early for us to start our fall breedings and we usually don’t breed our maiden females until they are at least 18 months old.  So Annochia is going to have to wait a little longer before she has her first date.

Of course once Annochia’s pasture mates saw that Annochia was out they soon followed suit.  Willow (our usual escapologist who must have now passed on her knowledge to Annochia) galloped off leaving her cria Whisper behind (bad Willow!), Bjorn and her cria McKinley were next out of the gate and then Carissima brought up the rear.

Our lunch came to an abrupt halt while we rounded the girls up and herded them back to their pasture, where Lady Belle, Keeva and little Whisper were waiting.  A pin has now been inserted in the gate latch to prevent Annochia from opening it again and we had better start thinking who Annochia’s first date will be, before she figures out another way to escape from the pasture in pursuit of romance!

Rosemary

September 8, 2009

Snake Herding

Monday morning as I was happily scooping the poop in the girls pasture I noticed some of the crias paying attention to something outside the fence line.  I couldn’t see what was causing their distraction but thought it was most likely a rabbit.

A short while later though the attention had moved to the middle of the pasture and now along with the crias were Inca (one of the guard llamas) and Cinnamon.  Just looking at Inca and Cinnamon I could tell that something was amiss – they both were dancing, their tails held high and their necks stretched forward toward something on the ground.  At first I thought it was a stick and then I realized it was moving and the stick was in fact a snake.

I went over to see what sort of snake it was; if it was a rattle snake something would have to be done quickly as the attention of the alpacas and llamas would surely annoy it (snakes are not very sociable creatures and prefer not to be the center of attention!).

Fortunately the snake was a bull snake, about four feet long and the brown and tan variety, unlike the black and yellow bull snake I had seen earlier in the summer.  Still I didn’t think the snake would be too pleased about the attention the girls and crias were giving it so I needed to try and get it out of the pasture without the alpacas or llamas annoying it along the way.

Armed with my poop shovel in one hand and the rake in the other I decided that it would be easiest to follow the snake to the fence line using the shovel and the rake to keep any inquisitive noses away.  Of course once word got around the pasture that something different was happening the whole herd gathered to look at the snake.  The snake was very cooperative and made his way across the pasture with me walking behind him and the shovel and rake at either side of him.  Theresa got a little brave at one point and tried hard to get closer to the snake but I was able to guide her away with the rake and keep her from getting too close.  I did have to chuckle though as walked behind the snake guiding him on his way, it was just as if I was using the shovel and rake as we use the herding wands to move the alpacas when we need to, but this time I was herding one well behaved snake.

Soon the snake was through the pasture fence and headed down the driveway, my first attempt at snake herding had been successful and the girls and crias could go back to eating their hay.  I’m not sure my snake herding would be so successful with more than one snake and I am pretty sure that if the snake had been a rattle snake I would be using the shovel for a different purpose than herding snakes!  Let’s hope the rattle snakes stay away from the pasture and I never have to find out!

Rosemary

September 7, 2009

Sometimes You Just Have to Spit!

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from people who are meeting alpacas for the first time is “Do they spit?”  It is sad that many people automatically associate alpacas and llamas with spitting as it is one small part of their behavior and it is something that occurs far less often than many people think.  On the whole alpacas and llamas are docile animals who are happiest going about their business.

Yes alpacas and llamas can spit, it is part of their vocabulary to other alpacas or llamas (usually saying “get out of my feed” or “stop annoying me”), and it is also a part of their defense mechanism.  Llamas and alpacas have very few ways to defend themselves and spit is one of those few ways.  If someone or something does something to a llama or alpaca which they really don’t like then they can spit as a way to startle that person or thing and stop whatever is annoying them.

We recently had a farm visitor who had been to a county fair where there was a camel on display.  The camel was being used to give rides and apparently had a ring through his nose so that his handler could lead him.  Our farm visitor witnessed a teenage boy go up to the camel and pull hard on the camel’s nose ring – and guess what, the camel spit at him.  Who can blame the camel for doing so.  No doubt that pull on the nose ring hurt the camel and the only way he could communicate his displeasure was by spitting.  Hopefully that teenage boy will never repeat his behavior again.

Our herd of alpacas and our three guard llamas are all laid back animals.  Farm visitors unfamiliar with alpacas and llamas are given a brief rundown of good pasture etiquette resulting in a happy, fun farm visit for both them and the animals.

Sometimes though we find ourselves in a position where we need to communicate to one of the alpacas that their behavior is inappropriate.  Such an occasion happened over the weekend when young Annochia kept mounting and attempting to breed Dream.  Now Annochia and Dream are both females so Annochia’s breeding attempt was never going to be successful.  Rather it is an indication to me that either one or both of those young ladies is reaching maturity and there is some hormonal confusion.  While Annochia’s behavior could be considered innocuous it is something I want to discourage.  If she continually tries to mount and breed Dream it could cause a retained CL in Dream causing her to be non receptive when the time comes to breed her.

Initially I tried removing Annochia from Dream, that worked for a little while but Annochia hung around close to Dream and as soon as I started to walk away Annochia would start to orgle and try and mount Dream again.  After several times of trying to remove Annochia from Dream I knew that I needed to talk to Annochia in “stronger language”.   The next time Annochia went to mount Dream I spit at her just as another alpaca would.  Now when I say spit I am talking of an “air spit” where there is the spitting noise but no accompanying regurgitated slime (I am sure you will be pleased to know that!).  At the first air spit Annochia turned away, I then followed up with a series of air spits and at that point Annochia got the message, walked away and left Dream alone.

I don’t recommend spitting at your llamas or alpacas as a part of your daily routine.  It is much better to use other methods of communicating with them as a rule, but once in a while the other methods just don’t get through and then you just have to spit.  Done right and in the right circumstances it does work and is quite effective.

Rosemary

September 6, 2009

It’s hard to have a cria when your back’s against the wall!

Bjorn's cria - glad to have found his way into the world!

Bjorn's cria - glad to have found his way into the world!

That’s what we had to tell Bjorn yesterday as she tried to deliver her cria.

Yesterday wasn’t particularly a hot day, but it was a humid day making it feel hotter than it actually was.  As we fed the girls in the morning I noticed Bjorn cushed shortly after eating which was unusual for her.  Sure enough she was in labor and once we let her out of the pen where she eats she made her way to the shade of the shelter.

As Bjorn’s labor progressed she wandered around the pasture.  I prepared a pen to put her in once her cria had been delivered.  Being on dry lot I prefer to have a pen with blankets or bedding to put new crias and their dams into so that they can bond after birthing.

Bjorn was definitely seeking out the cool breeze of the fan, but she had strong competition for the prime spot immediately in front of the fan.  Ivanna had already staked her claim to a spot in front of the fan and Black Prince and Buccaneer were cushed there also.

Before long I could see the nose of Bjorn’s cria emerge, but by now Bjorn had firmly wedged herself in front of the fan with her rear pressed up against the wall of the shelter blocking the cria from making any progress.  I tried to move Bjorn so that there was space behind her but as fast as I moved her she moved herself back.  The crias nose came out and went back in again at least twice, and once the cria’s head and feet had fully emerged Bjorn was pushing but there was nowhere for the  cria to go.

Eventually I manage to get Bjorn’s rear away from the shelter wall and with a few more pushes she delivered her cria a large white boy.

Bjorn usually has large crias and at 19.8 lbs this was one of her smallest cria.  You would have thought that Bjorn would be anxious to get her cria delivered quickly rather than position herself to where her cria could not come out.

Bjorn’s cria didn’t seem any worse for wear once he was fully delivered, and was cushed and then up on his feet in a short while.  Bjorn though looked tired after the birthing and took her time resting after the cria was born, but some MSE drench, a bowl of alfalfa and a nice cold bucket of water to drink soon had her up on her feet again.

So we have another white boy to add to our herd.  He’s a handsome looking cria with bright white silky fleece and the dense bone of his sire Zin.  I think he will be quite the good looking lad as he grows up and will be competitive enough to take part in the white classes at the alpaca shows once he is of age.   Now he’s finally out I suspect nothing will stop him!

Rosemary

September 1, 2009

Beautiful Day, Beautiful Cria

Willow's New Cria

Willow's New Cria

Monday was a beautiful day, temperatures were in the 80’s, a light breeze was drifting across the pasture and everywhere was damp from rain we had received the night before.  It was New Mexico at its best with bright blue skies, brilliant sunshine and some fluffy white clouds in the sky.

Willow must have thought it a beautiful day too for that morning she went into labor.  I first noticed her looking restless at 9:40 a.m., she was sitting on one hip her legs kicked out to one side.  After a while she would get up and walk around then cush again rolling onto one hip or the other.  From there she started pushing a little harder and making those frequent visits to the poop pile that are often a sign of labor in alpacas.  Then her contractions became very strong and she cushed again, rolling onto one hip and pushing hard.

I could see progress was being made and so left Willow alone (that’s the hardest part of watching an alpaca in labor sometimes!).  Soon I could see a little white foot and nose emerging from Willow, followed shortly by another little white foot.  When I saw Willow was between contractions I moved her to a pen so that she could finish labor in peace without being bothered by the rest of the herd.

At 10:40 the cria was born, a shiny bright, snowy white female cria – beautiful!  The cria looked quite small, but when I picked her up she felt heavier than she looked, perhaps an indication of some good heavy bone.  Willow is not a large alpaca and Treasure the cria’s sire is an average sized alpaca and so I expected that the offspring from that pairing would not be huge.  Later when I weighed Willow’s cria she was 14.7 lbs. a nice weight for a smaller dam to deliver.

A Close Up of Willow's Cria's Fleece - if only you could feel it!

A Close Up of Willow's Cria's Fleece - if only you could feel it!

There is no doubting that Treasure is the sire of this little girl for she has his outstanding brightness to her fleece and that silky, slightly waxy handle.  The pairing of Willow and Treasure was a good one and I think this little girl will be one to watch out for.

The usual routine of the day went out of the window as I spent time watching Willow and her cria, making sure Willow passed her afterbirth without problem and that the cria found Willow’s udder and had a good nurse.   Later I let the pair out in a pen so that the cria could stretch her legs and have a trot around, and as she discovered that her legs would carry her well and fast, so Willow ran beside her not wanting to let her new baby out of her sight.

Days like those are just one of the advantages of being an alpaca rancher.  For those first precious hours of that cria’s life you can put the routine to one side and just enjoy the miracle of a new life.  I think you have to agree it’s not a bad way to earn a living is it!

Rosemary

August 30, 2009

Mags Makes An Appearance

Yes, Mags made an appearance on Friday; he appeared beside me by one of the poop piles, which would have been fine except that the poop pile was not in the pen where Mags stays.

I had been busy scooping poop in the mature male’s pen when Mags made his appearance.  Mags always likes to check out what I am doing and often stands on the fence line when I am working in the mature male’s pen which is adjacent to the junior male’s pen where Mags stays.   On Friday I guess Mags decided that it was time to venture into pastures new and hopped over the dividing fence.  I have to give him credit for his skill in jumping the fence, I didn’t even hear him land and I was close by to where he landed.  Very graceful jumping Mags!

One minute I was scooping poop alone, the next minute there was Mags furry face beside me.  Of course Mags had no idea that he had just invaded the territory of the more senior male alpacas, but Tobiano and Asteroid soon spotted the intruder and started heading his way.  Fortunately Mags can be easily guided and so I quickly led him to the gate between the two pens and put him back where he belonged just as Tobiano also reached the gate ready to take on the young punk who had just invaded his space – phew!  I think Mags would have had a rude awakening had Tobiano reached him before I did.

It didn’t take much to figure out how Mags was so easily able to jump the dividing fence.  Our spring winds had piled dirt against the fence line reducing our five foot fence to a three foot fence, a height that was no challenge to a rapidly growing Mags.

Saturday morning saw Ric out with the tractor removing the built up dirt by the fence line.  We had never had one of the boys think about jumping the fence before but now it had been done once we didn’t want to risk it happening again.   Next time Mags makes an appearance it will probably be at our Open Farm Day a much safer venue than the mature male’s pen!

Rosemary

August 17, 2009

Preparing for Baby

It’s interesting to watch our pregnant dams as they get closer to the end of their pregnancy.  Their pregnant bump grows larger and often changes shape as the cria repositions itself during the day.  Sometimes the cria looks to be all on one side, other times the cria looks as if it has dropped right down in the dams abdomen and at the very end of the pregnancy the cria looks as if it is about to pop out of the dam at any moment as it stretches its legs causing movement at the base of the dam’s tail.

Some dams, such as our Queen, develop a voracious appetite and seem to spend their day constantly eating.  Others slow down their eating, delicately nibbling here and there and taking their time to chew their cud often.

When the weather is warm we often find our heavily pregnant dams parked in front of the fan.  The extra weight of the cria they are carrying generates more body heat and they need the opportunity to spend time in a nice cool spot.

We often notice that our late term dams “pick their spot”.   They will spend more and more time in one particular spot in the pasture, often an area a little way from the rest of the herd.  This spot usually ends up being where they go to when they start labor.  Alpacas don’t “nest” as such, but they do seem to find comfort in being in that spot that they have picked once labor starts.  This isn’t to say that the cria will be born in that spot as once labor starts the dams can move around quite a bit as they push and work on getting their cria delivered.   Unless something drives them away from that spot then often the cria will be delivered not far away from the area where the dam has spent many hours in her final weeks of pregnancy.

Willow is due to have her cria at the end of August and she has already picked out her spot in the pasture.  Last time she delivered her cria she did so in our large blue shelter, but the weather had dictated that choice as she delivered during a sandstorm.  Willow is smart enough to know that the shelter was a much more comfortable place to deliver a cria when the wind and dust are blowing.

This year Willow’s spot is in one of the pens that we use to feed the llamas every morning.  It has now become part of Willow’s routine that once she has been fed and the llamas have been let out of their pens that she make her way over to the one llama pen where she carefully cushes on the ground.  Once she is comfortably cushed she sits there for at least an hour, sometimes more, her ears back a little, sometimes flickering as her cria gives her a swift kick or two.  Willow doesn’t look uncomfortable during this time but you can tell something is going on.

You can bet we will be watching Willow as she gets closer to her delivery date, particularly when we see her over in her “spot”.  Let’s hope the llamas have finished eating by the time Willow decides to go into labor, or else there could be competition for that selected spot!

Rosemary

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