A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

October 18, 2017

Unexpected Treasures

Sunflowersblog1

Sometimes we can try so hard to make things happen, yet our plans don’t work out as expected. Then at other times we discover acts of serendipity, when things just happen without any effort on our part.

Our gardening efforts at the farm have been historically hit and miss. A shortage of water on the farm, dry desert heat and drying winds, lack of time to dedicate to care of the plants, and a distinct lack of green fingers on my part have meant that any crop production has been low.

So imagine my surprise when I recently discovered a bumper crop of pumpkins and sunflowers in the area where we compost the alpaca poop! I’ve tried for years to grow sunflowers on the farm but experienced total failure, pumpkins had never really crossed my mind as I knew that they needed quite a bit of water. Yet here they were happily growing side by side, and in the case of the pumpkins very happily growing.

So had did this bounty happen? Well every fall we ask people to bring us their leftover pumpkins to feed to the alpacas. We feed the pumpkins to the alpacas and the alpacas are very happy. Every day we feed black oil sunflower seeds to the alpacas and the alpacas enjoy eating the seeds. As part of the feeding process some of the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are left on the ground and get raked up when we are raking up the poop piles and off they go to the compost area. In addition to this process last year we had a whole bag of sunflower seeds that got moisture in the bag and molded, so off they went to the compost pile as well.

Maya Eating Pumpkin

The seeds have been sitting there for a while, the alpaca poop has been breaking down into what alpaca breeders like to refer to as black gold, then this year we have been blessed with some rain and poof! Low and behold our bountiful crop appeared!

How cool is that! That Mother Nature did her own thing and created a much better result than all my efforts could produce!

Pumpkinsharvested

The pumpkins are about ready to harvest. To start with we will use some to decorate the farm. Once their decoration duties are done we will use some of them to feed to the alpacas, llamas, chickens and guineas. Some of the pumpkins appear to be sugar pumpkins so will be cooked and used for pumpkin pies and cookies, with some cooked pumpkin being reserved in case we need it for a sick animal (pumpkin is an excellent soother of the digestive tract). I was hoping to be able to harvest some sunflower seeds from our sunflowers but our horses Savannah and Saber decided to eat the heads off most of the sunflowers. No wonder their coats are looking so glossy! Hopefully they will leave me at least a few sunflower heads to harvest for next year.

Sunflowersblog2

So where do we go from here. Well my plan for next year, provided we have a chance of rain, is to take a random assortment of vegetable seeds, toss them on the alpaca compost area and let them grow if they wish to. Why toil for vegetables when they apparently do better without me? (Although I probably should consider a horse fence!).

Until next time,

Rosemary

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January 6, 2010

Fetching the Feed

Monday I had to make a flying visit to Albuquerque to pick up a load of feed.  It’s about a four hour drive from our house to the feed mill, a drive that might seem excessive to some, but when it comes to getting good quality, fresh feed the drive is worth making.

Our feed is milled by Onate Mills using a pre-mix supplied to them by Dr. Norm Evans.  Dr. Evans is one of the top authorities on alpaca nutrition in the United States and has formulated feed to suit the different nutritional needs of alpacas in different states.  While some might think that one generic feed would be sufficient for all the alpacas in the US that is not the case.  Differing mineral soil content, varying amounts of sunlight, weather conditions and differing water qualities are just a few of the factors that can cause different nutritional requirements in alpacas across the US.

We could purchase the feed under a different brand name from a closer store, but that brand sells the feed in 40 lb bags instead of the 50 lb. bags we get from Onate and the price on the other brand is quite a bit higher.  When you are feeding 60 plus alpacas every day a difference of 10 lb. per bag and a couple of dollars per bag soon adds up.  So when all the factors are taken into consideration it is worth our time to drive to the mill in Albuquerque to pick up feed.  We also know that the feed is fresh as the mill manager can tell us when the feed was milled.  This last load was actually milled on Saturday – pretty fresh feed!

Fortunately my drive was uneventful, with some good CD’s to listen to and some snacks for the trip I was able to sit back and enjoy the New Mexico scenery.  Ric was able to take care of chores for the day and so I was able to get a reasonably early start and was back home before dark – perfect.

With alpacas being a fiber producing animal to us it is of the utmost importance that their nutrition is the best that we can give them.  Over the years we have seen how much difference good nutrition makes not only to the alpacas fleeces but also to their overall health – we are what we eat and that phrase most definitely applies to alpacas too.

Rosemary

July 30, 2009

Another Hay Bites The Dust

Last Sunday Ric and I (accompanied by puppy Blue) drove down to Roswell to meet with a hay grower and bring some sample bales of hay back. The hay we were interested in was a Bermuda grass hay and an oat hay.

 

The hay grower was a lovely man, very amenable to working with us and very proud of his hay. The grower already had an analysis on his oat hay and it was only running around 10% protein which is too low for our needs. Having ruled out the oat hay we brought some of the Bermuda grass hay home with us.

 

We tried the alpacas out with the hay and they ate it but were not as zealous about it as they are with the wheat hay we are currently feeding them. We would never just switch from one hay to another as that can really have a bad affect on the alpacas digestive system and it means that if they really don’t like the new hay then they have nothing to eat. We blended some of the Bermuda in with the wheat hay and over a couple of days the alpacas were starting to eat more of the Bermuda. Griffen the llama was particularly taken with the Bermuda grass hay, but her tastes in hay do tend to be different from the rest of the herd and our other two llamas Maya and Inca.

 

On Tuesday we ran the hay in for testing to our local lab ADM Labs. We received the results back on Wednesday and sadly they were not the best. While the Calcium/Phosphorus balance was good and the Potassium was not a disaster (higher than we like but better than some we have seen this year), the crude protein was only 9% which is nowhere near high enough for our herd, especially the pregnant and nursing females.

 

We were sad that the results did not pan out as we had hoped, we liked the hay grower and had looked forward to working with him. There is not point though in buying hay that is not suitable for our needs, at 9% protein it is not even sufficient for our fiber boys.

 

The results of the hay analysis will be shared with the grower, it is only fair to do so and it will help him decide what adjustments he needs to make to his hay management. For this year we will not be buying hay from him, but by next year perhaps things will have changed and we will be able to business.

 

In the meantime we will be keeping our eyes open for more potentially good hay on sale. Eventually we will find some I am sure and for now we have a reasonable stock of wheat hay on hand, but of course every day the alpacas keep eating it and the stack gets smaller!

 

Rosemary

May 21, 2009

Back on the hay trail

It’s that time of year again; time to start looking for a supply of hay to keep the herd fed and healthy for the next year.  Already area farms are starting to cut wheat hay and with yet another dry year hay is going to be sparse and sought after.

With the annual quest for hay we are also reminded how important it is to have the hay tested before we purchase it.  Hay can look good and smell good but without an analysis there is no way to tell the nutrient content of the hay. 

I get into some interesting conversations with hay farmers when it comes to asking about analysis of their hay, one farmer I spoke to recently became quite indignant when I asked if he had analyzed his hay.  He assured me he had but when I pushed him for the results of the analysis his reply was “seven”.  I asked him what the seven related to and he told me “that was what the hay tested at and it’s some of the best hay you will find”.  Well, if the “seven” related to the protein content of the hay then I would not consider it to be very good hay, but who knows what the “seven” was.  I asked the farmer if I could see a copy of the analyses and he told me “your not supposed to ask that”.  I decided that particular farmer and I did not need to do business, thanked him for his time and left it at that.  I suspect that the hay had not been analyzed and that he had mistakenly assumed that I was not knowledgably about matters of hay analysis.

One of the next hay farmers we dealt with was a much more pleasant experience.  A lovely man with some nice looking, sweet smelling wheat hay.  He readily admitted that he had not had his hay analyzed but was quite happy to sell me a bale so that I could take it to our local forage testing lab for analysis.  The farmer asked me questions about what nutrients the alpacas needed in their hay and was willing to hold some of his crop for me until the hay was tested.  Sadly the hay came back with a very high potassium level, something that could cause reproductive problems with the alpacas and could also contribute to heat stress.   The forage testing lab told me they have seen a lot of high potassium in the wheat hay this year, so much so that they have already checked the calibration of their equipment to make sure that the tests are accurate.  To date it seems that the testing equipment is fine but there is a problem with a lot of the wheat hay this year.

So the search continues and this afternoon we spoke to a hay grower who seems to really know what it takes to grow good hay.  He tests his soil and fertilizes to balance out what his soil is able to provide.  He tests all of his hay and also seemed knowledgeable about the nutrient requirements of various livestock.  This particular grower has not dealt with alpaca nutrition before but was interested to learn about our needs.  For now his hay is sold out but we have asked to be notified when his next cutting becomes available.  This particular hay grower is the type of hay grower that we like to deal with, he understands not only what it takes to grow good nutritious hay but has an understanding of livestock nutrition and understands our concern about acquiring hay that is suitable for our alpacas in its nutritional content.

If we did not take the effort to test any prospective hay we could easily make some costly mistakes.  Hay that is only 7% protein is completely inadequate and would no doubt cause health problems in our herd over time, likewise hay with high potassium could cause problems in the herd.  Granted it takes some time to get hay tested and we have to pay for the testing, but our local forage testing company can usually get us test results within a day or two and the test costs less than $20 – a small investment but necessary investment if you ask me.

(Footnote  – we also always ask for a sample of the hay to take home to feed to the alpacas, in the past we have had hay that tested out well but that our alpacas would not eat.  No matter how well the hay tests if the alpacas refuse to eat it we would be wasting our money to buy it!)

Rosemary

March 30, 2009

Warning – Crias In The Pasture May be Heavier Than They Look!

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Health, Alpaca Nutrition, Alpacas, Cria Care, Crias, General, shearing — alpacalady @ 6:36 am

 

With the snow clearing from the pastures it was time to get back to routine chores and maintenance tasks.

 

One task that needed doing was weighing the fall crias; we like to weigh them about once a month and knew we had gone past that time period.  Our teenage helper Bethany was with us over the weekend and so it seemed an ideal opportunity to get all seven fall crias weighed.  While I can weigh alpacas on my own it is always so much easier to have someone else around to open gates and write down the weights during a weighing session.

 

Bethany and I started off the weighing session while Ric dumped the poop wagons.  Nochi was the first cria we selected and as I picked her up to carry her to the scales I realized that Nochi was considerably heavier than the last time I had weighed her!  I made it to the scales with Nochi, but my muscles were telling me they were ready to put her down.  Nochi’s weight made me think that it is also time to train the crias to stand on the scales on their own.  Up until now we have used the tare function on our scales, which deducts our weight from the total weight of handler and cria displaying the crias weight only.  That tare function is a handy tool especially for those of us who are challenged in the area of mental arithmetic, but as heavy as Nochi felt it was time for her to stand on her own four feet.

 

Nochi weighed in at 52.8 lbs!  No wonder my muscles were telling me to put her down!  We still had six more crias to weigh, this was going to be quite the work out!  I decided that while I could carry the crias one way to the scales I would walk them back using my catch rope – one of the tools I use to start halter training.

 

Bethany and I continued with the cria weighing, but had already decided that Ric would get the job of carrying Chandra (the biggest of the fall crias) to the scale.  As it turned out Ric was soon back and put to work carrying crias.

 

All of the crias weighed in at over 50 lbs.  It’s hard to think that those tiny crias we had in the fall were now that big, but it is good to know that they are healthy and growing.  Even our Little Man (aka Windrush Peruvian Tonka) weighed in at 50.9 lbs!  Way to go Little Man!

 

Knowing that Chandra was the largest we left her until the end, by which time Ric had announced that not only did her refuse to carry Chandra back from the scales he was also refusing to carry her to the scales (he kept muttering something about his back).  So we introduced Chandra to the catch rope, got her moving while wearing it and over to the scales we went to discover that our little Chandra a mere 17 lbs when she was born on October 7 was now 74.4 lbs!

 

With the crias all doing so well we need to start planning weaning as it won’t be long before they are ready to wean (and Chandra is already more than ready but I would rather wean her with her group of friends than alone).  Halter training is also on the agenda, while all the fall crias are used to the catch rope it is now time to go a little further with the halter training and help them to learn to be completely at ease with wearing a halter and walking on a lead rope.  Besides which Ric has told me that he absolutely refuses to carry any one of those crias to the scale again – and I can’t say that I blame him (although he could move the scales nearer to the girls pasture which would also solve the problem!)

 

Rosemary

March 26, 2009

Scoundrels!

The Girls Help Themselves to Hay

The Girls Help Themselves to Hay

 

What can I say?  Leave a herd of alpacas alone long enough with a bale of their favorite teff hay which has been “secured” in a pen and one of them will figure out how to get the pen gate open allowing the herd an “all you can eat” buffet on the bale!

We had one bale of teff hay left and decided to store it in the pen we use for big bales in the girls pasture so that we could ration it out a little every day.  Word soon spread among the herd that the teff hay was there and the girls happily spent their day pulling pieces through the chain link of the pen.  That teff hay tastes so good and our girls wanted more.

Maya the llama was the first to lead the assault on the big bale pen.  Using the chain link material on the gate to the big bale pen she managed to climb up high enough to where she could reach her neck out and just manage to nibble at the edge of the bale.  This wasn’t the easiest feat in the world but Maya was determined despite being told off by Ric for climbing on the chain link gate.

Having been discouraged from accessing the bale by going over the fence there was only one alternative, go under the fence.

We have two alpacas at the farm that are champions at putting their heads under the last rung of any portable panel or gate in order to reach anything that is tasty on the other side.  Carina started this trend, reaching under her feeding pen each morning to steal one of the bowls from the group of girls in the adjoining pen.  Carina also discovered that there was sufficient space for her to get her head and neck under the gate of the big bale pen.

Carina is one of those girls who puts her energy into milk production and tends to be slim, so when we saw her getting access to the big bale by putting her head under the gate we were not too concerned.  We checked to make sure she had sufficient room to get her head in and out of the gap under the gate and allowed her to continue stealing some extra calories.

Glow’s cria Nochi then noticed Carina’s trick and decided that she too could steal hay from under the gate and was soon joining Carina.

Having accessed the hay from under the gate it didn’t take long for Carina to figure out that she could use her head (in a physical way rather than an intellectual way) to push up on the gate just enough to unlatch the lock. 

So it was that yesterday afternoon I glanced out of the window to be greeted by the sight of the herd piling in that gate to help themselves to teff hay – boy were they happy!

While I would love to give them free access to the teff hay, it is the last bale we have and we are trying to make it last.  We do have other hay to feed the alpacas but it will be August before we have access to another load of teff hay.  So for now the gate to the big bale pen has been secured not only with the latch but also with a strap that prevents the alpacas and llamas from maneuvering the gate in any direction – and I have a herd of alpacas who sit longingly outside that pen quietly thinking about how they can once again get free access to that bale of teff hay.

Rosemary

March 5, 2009

Gathering Up The Feed

The last couple of days have been busy with feed related tasks.  On Tuesday Ric and I made the 3 ½ hour drive to Albuquerque to pick up alpaca pellets and then of course had to make the 3 ½ hour drive back again!  It was a beautiful warm, sunny day, great driving weather but that is a long drive.

 

Why drive so far for feed you may ask.  Well, there isn’t a local or nearer distributor for the feed we use so we really don’t have an option.  Our feed is milled at Onate Feeds in Albuquerque to a formula put together for this area by Dr. Norm Evans, DVM.  Dr. Evans is a highly respected camelid veterinarian who has formulated feeds especially for alpacas and llamas.  We could use a different brand, and have tried different brands in the past, but have achieved the best results for our herd using the Dr. Evans feed. 

 

Having made the drive to Albuquerque and back it was then time to clean out the feed barn and unload and stack the new feed.  We always stack our feed on a pallet to allow air to circulate underneath the feed, which hopefully will help keep the feed fresh.

 

The next feed related trip was to get a sample of hay for the alpacas to try.  The alpacas beloved Tiffany Teff hay is now out of supply until August, we have one bale left and so wanted to source some more hay that would compliment the wheat hay we are also feeding.  We found some Bermuda grass hay available in town and for once the grower had an analysis on his hay – progress!  Very few of our local growers provide analysis on their hay meaning we usually have that test done at our cost, but this grower had an analysis on both cuttings of his hay.  It is always important to analyze the hay that you are looking to purchase so that you can know what you are feeding.  Hay can look good and smell good, but without that analysis you really cannot tell the nutritional value of the hay.  But along with the analysis you also need to do a taste test on the hay.  Take a sample and let the alpacas try it, for it is no good spending your hay budget on a load of hay only to find the alpacas will not eat it.  That would be a costly mistake.

 

This hay passed both the analysis test and the taste test, granted the alpacas were not quite as enthused over this hay as they were with the Tiffany Teff hay, but they did eat it and over time will adjust to the different taste of it. 

 

So all that feed activity took care of two days of the week, but is was to a good cause.  To us correct alpaca nutrition is extremely important, it helps keep the alpacas healthy, it provides the nutrients that enable our alpacas to grow beautiful, healthy fleeces and it keeps the alpacas content and happy.

 

Rosemary

January 29, 2009

More Teff Please!

Teff Grass (right) Wheat Hay (Left)

Teff Grass (right) Wheat Hay (Left)

 

The alpacas have eaten their way through the large bale of Tiffany Teff grass we purchased a couple of weeks ago.  We didn’t let them have free access to the bale but rather rationed some out at each feeding.  One thing is for certain they love the taste of it.

 

I still have not been able to find anything hugely worrying about the Teff grass, but part of the problem is the lack of information on it.  I just hope that there isn’t something about it such as a mineral tie up that will cause problems several months down the road.

 

Just from observing the alpacas we have not seen any bad reactions to the Teff grass such as diarrhea or bloating and they seem very content with it.  With the little bit of alfalfa we were feeding with the wheat hay prior to getting the Teff grass I did notice that the alpacas seemed a more aggressive when they saw the alfalfa bucket.  There would be much pushing and shoving, grumbling and spitting.  With the Teff hay they are certainly excited to see it but are less aggressive than with the alfalfa.

 

One of the drawbacks of the Teff hay is the seed heads.  The seeds are tiny and many.  This second bale seems to have less seed heads than the first but I wonder if those tiny seeds will work their way into the alpacas fleeces.  From what I have seen so far the seeds seem to stay on top of the fleece rather than work their way into the fleece and brush off quite easily.  Lets hope it stays that way.  The picture at the top of this post shows Teff grass to the right of the picture with a piece of wheat hay to the left to give a comparison of size.  The picture below this paragraph shows a wheat head on the left of the ruler and a Teff head on the right of the ruler.  You can see just how tiny the Teff grass seeds are.

Wheat Hay Seed Head (Left) Teff Grass Seed Head (Right)

Wheat Hay Seed Head (Left) Teff Grass Seed Head (Right)

 

So far we are happy with the Teff hay.  I really feel our herd needs that bit of extra protein.  I was not happy with how they were looking when we fed them the wheat hay alone.  We have had wheat hay in the past and our alpacas and fleeces have always looked good, but this year’s wheat hay was not giving the same results despite its good figures on the hay analysis.  Since we started feeding the Teff hay along with the wheat hay we have already seen an improvement in the herd.  If our alpacas were usually on lush green pastures the Teff hay might not be a good choice for them, but for our situation it seems to be working well.

 

Rosemary

January 13, 2009

Trying Tiffany

 

We’ve received the analysis back on the Tiffany Teff Hay.  It is higher in protein than we had expected and also has more potassium than we like to see making me wonder if perhaps it was fertilized more heavily than it needed to be.  The Calcium/Phosphorus ratio is good as is the TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients).

 

During my research on Tiffany Teff grass and alpacas I have found varying reports.  Some farms said their alpacas would not touch it, others said their alpacas loved it.  For the most part though the alpacas that would not touch the Tifffany Teff grass were kept on fairly good quality pasture, while the alpacas that loved it were kept on dry lots as our alpacas are.  So it seems that when alpacas are used to lovely fresh pasture the Tiffany Teff grass is not of interest to them, but for alpacas that don’t have the fresh pasture it has seems to have an appeal.

 

We have decided to try a big bale to see how it works with our feeding program.  It will not be the main hay for the alpacas but rather will supply some extra nutrition to the girls who with various stages of pregnancy and nursing crias tend to need more nutritional care than the boys (although on cold nights the boys will be treated to a little of the Tiffany Teff grass too).

 

For ease of feeding we are putting the bale of hay in a feeding pen within the girls pasture.  The pen has a gate that can be shut, meaning that we will be able to restrict the access to the Tiffany Teff grass as we feel necessary.

 

The girls were quite excited to see a big bale being delivered to their pasture.  They have had big bales to feed off in the past and seem to like the idea of having 24/7 unlimited access to hay.  As much as the girls like that idea, the Tiffany Teff grass is too high in protein to allow them 24/7 free access, so they may be a little disappointed to find the gate to the bale shut from time to time.

 

Griffin the llama was particularly excited about the delivery of the big bale.  She spied the tractor outside the bottom gate and started performing a dance of joy, bouncing and twirling around outside the gate.  By the time we opened the gates to move the tractor and bale into the pasture word had spread among the girls that something exciting was going on and they were all galloping and pronging around the pasture as Ric drove the tractor in – making for some hazardous driving conditions (beware the low flying llama!), but Ric made it in and out of the pasture without injury to himself of any of the herd.

 

So we will give the Tiffany Teff grass a try.  The farmer who grew it is local to this area and so perhaps we can speak to him about making some adjustments to his next crop.  We have to remember that this is a relatively new forage crop and it will take time for the hay growers to figure out how to get the crop to the nutritional levels required by their customers.

 

This morning will be our first time of feeding the hay to the girls.  I always prefer to feed a new hay during the day when I can be around to see the alpacas reaction to it, we try to be careful to buy safe weed free hay, but should there be any adverse reaction by any one of the herd it is better to happen during the day when the vets is available and we are around to see what is happening.

 

Judging from the small sample we fed prior to purchasing the hay I think everything will be fine and hopefully the only problem we will have is persuading three greedy llamas to leave the pen when we come to close the gate in front of the bale of hay!

 

Rosemary

January 6, 2009

Exploring new options in hay

As we move forward into the New Year, our minds can’t help but start to think about hay.  Will there be any new hay available locally?  What quality will it be?  What will the price be?

 

We are fortunate enough to have a stash of wheat hay on hand, and should be okay for hay until after the spring, however then we will need to look for something to replenish our stocks.

 

Typically we feed wheat hay to our herd.  It is grown locally, it tests well provided that it is cut at the right time and the alpacas love the taste of it.  If possible we prefer to buy a full years supply at a time to make sure we have plenty on hand and to provide consistency in the alpacas diet.

 

When Ric was at the feed store the other day the store owner mentioned to him that they have some large round bales of Tiffany Teff grass for sale.  A relatively new hay crop Tiffany Teff is a warm season annual grass that originates in Africa.

 

In the literature that is available about Tiffany Teff grass it is often referred to as being similar to Timothy in nutritive value and highly palatable.  Values such as 12-17% protein, 80 –120 RFV are mentioned and Tiffany Teff is also said to be high in calcium phosphorus, iron, copper aluminum, barium and thiamine.  Potassium levels can be as high as 2.5 to 3.0, which in the world of alpaca hay is too high.

 

So the question to us is “Is this suitable for alpacas”?  At the moment we really cannot say for sure.  We took a small sample of the hay and let the alpacas try it and they ate it readily and seemed to enjoy it.  So the hay has passed the taste test, however we really do not know what is in the hay until we have it tested.

 

Our local forage testing lab ADM Labs has been out and taken a core sample of the hay for testing and we should know soon how the hay looks on paper.    Depending on the results of the forage testing we will most likely try and do some further research to see if can determine if Tiffany Teff hay is suitable for alpacas when fed long term.  With Tiffany Teff grass being so new to the hay market it is possible that no one really knows if it is suitable long term for alpacas, but as it seems to be an up and coming forage crop I think it is worth us taking a little time to find out all that we can about it.

 

Rosemary

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