A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

March 28, 2009

Brrr!

A Snow Covered Dream

A Snow Covered Dream

 

That was the word for the day yesterday when our temperatures plummeted, the winds picked up and the snow fell.

 

We were initially forecast to receive 5 – 7 inches of snow, but there was nowhere near that amount on the ground except for where the snow piled into drifts.  I suspect that whatever snowfall was supposed to be ours blew south in the high winds.

 

The alpacas were huddled up and snow covered by the time we woke up in the morning and I couldn’t resist taking the picture above of poor Dream who was just caked in snow.  Dream had created herself a warm dry spot by the shelter and did not want to get up, but the sight of the morning feed bowls soon changed her mind, persuading her to jump up and join in with the morning feed.

 

Marti who is here for breeding was a concern for us as she was shorn before she arrived here this week.  Fortunately Marti is a smart girl and was cushed in the corner of the shelter in the deep straw.  She was a little shivery though so after giving her a little alfalfa and her morning ration of pellets we put a blanket on her and also covered her with one of our sheep covers to act as a windbreak and to keep the blanket dry.  We kept a watch on her all day and she was up and active, eating hay and occasionally venturing out to the poop pile.  I bet she was wishing she could have her fleece back for at least a day.

 

Little Candytuft fared well in the snow, despite being very young she is a sturdy girl who already weighs close to 40 lbs and she already has a good staple length on her.    I didn’t see her looking cold or shivery all day, which is good, and by the afternoon she was skipping around in the snow.

 

The alpacas were all treated to some extra hay including some alfalfa, warm soaked beet pulp shreds and buckets of warm water.  They all remained active during the day, checking out the various hay feeders and running from shelter to shelter.  Of course they also decided that they didn’t really need to venture outside to use a poop pile and so by the end of the day the poop piles in the shelter were large and spreading.

 

Once again Mother Nature gave us a sharp reminder of how quickly the weather can turn in this part of the world, dropping us down into the 20’s and 30’s and sending us to the closet to pull out our insulated coveralls and alpaca socks once again.  It is incredible to think that the day before we had sunny skies and temperatures in the 70’s.

 

Today we are supposed to warm up just as dramatically as we cooled down, the snow will melt, the pastures will dry out and I’m betting Miss Marti will be just a little bit more comfortable than she was yesterday!

 

Rosemary

March 17, 2009

Hang on Queen!

 

Our alpaca Queen is one of the grand dams of the pasture.  Now eleven years old, she is able to rule over the younger alpacas by just looking at them.  She can throw a look that says “you wouldn’t dare” and the younger alpacas agree, they would not dare to cross our Queen.

 

Queen is an alpaca who breeds easily, births easily and has beautiful, robust, vigourous cria.  Her last cria Atlas recently took 1st in his class at the TxOLAN Alpaca Spectacular and is a striking herdsire in the making.  The only time Queen has lost a pregnancy was after she moved here from her previous owners farm.  She was seven years old at the time and had never been off her home farm, the stress of the move was just too much for her I guess and while she never outwardly showed any signs of stress she did absorb her pregnancy.  Once rebred though she carried her next pregnancy to term and has never looked back since.

 

When Queen lost her pregnancy it drove home to me just how bonded these alpacas become with their herd mates.  I had already decided that Queen would live out her days here and purchased her knowing that she would become one of our foundation herd, but the reaction from her being moved here helped me decide that once our alpaca girls reach a certain age we need to plan on them staying with us for the rest of their lives.  To move them to a different herd just becomes too hard on them.

 

This past weekend I noticed Queen was a little uncomfortable, she laid around more than usual, rolling on one hip and pushing her legs out to the side.  She did eat but not as heartily as usual and it was obvious that she was not feeling 100%.  I could see her cria moving every now and then, which was a good sign, and when I offered her some soaked beet pulp shreds she readily ate them from the spoon, something she would not normally do, as she prefers to keep her distance from humans.  I felt the beet pulp shreds being soft, moist and fibrous might help her digestive tract stay active and as an added precaution I gave her some MSE drench that contains probiotics and digestive enzymes.  By the afternoon Queen was acting normal, eating hay and cushing in a more relaxed way.

 

Having owned Queen for a few years now I have my herd records to refer back to and I know that she has had this type of uncomfortable stage in each of the pregnancies she has had here.  Queen is a compact alpaca and by now her unborn cria will be going through some major growth spurts.  It almost seems as if in the last week her pregnancy “bump” has doubled in size.  I am sure at times her cria is pressing on her digestive tract and causing some of the discomfort she is feeling.

 

Last year Queen decided to have her cria early, when he was born Atlas was healthy and strong and looked like a full term cria, but he was born 2 –3 weeks prior to his due date.  In fact Queen caught us unawares with Atlas’s birth as we had gone out to another farm for the day to shear alpacas, but fortunately had our alpaca neighbors Bob and Regina Dart check on the herd only to find that Queen had delivered her cria.

 

I am hoping that Queen holds on at least another month before delivering her cria, two months would be even better.   The cria is only in its ninth month of gestation and its survival chances should it be born now would be slim to none.  So Hang on Queen, we know you are uncomfortable but we really need you to carry that cria for a while longer!   (And you can guarantee that from now on Queen will be under very watchful eye!)

 

Rosemary

March 14, 2009

Snow Crusted Crias!

The alpacas swarm in on a hay feeder in the snow

The alpacas swarm in on a hay feeder in the snow

 

After several dry weeks we finally got some moisture, a couple of inches of wet snow!   Yesterday morning started off with sleet but it soon turned to large white flakes of snow.  The snow soon covered the ground and also covered the alpacas.    Cushed, warm and comfortable the adult alpacas did not want to get up and so stayed cushed getting covered in snow until we started to put out feed.  The crias enjoyed the snow, playing chase, digging in it and nosing it, oblivious to the crust of snow building up on their backs. 

A Snow Crusted Chandra

A Snow Crusted Chandra

It’s amazing how a full fleece can stay on the top of the fleece and almost become an insulating crust.  Look at this close up of Velvet’s fleece to see how the snow just sits on the top.  If you parted that fleece you would discover that she was warm and dry close to the skin.
snow-crusted-velvet-fleece

Velvet's Snow Covered Fleece

The alpacas didn’t seem concerned about the snow and thankfully the wind was light and so the temperature did not feel too bad as we did chores.  Obviously warm clothes and gloves were needed (including of course alpaca socks), but with the right attire doing chores in the snow was really not bad.  Of course I am talking about an Eastern New Mexico snowfall as opposed to a northern state snowfall, which would be much heavier and last for much longer.  I know I can cope with a few days of snow, but I’m definitely not cut out for the several weeks of snow some of the more northern states experience.

 Once the feed and hay was out the alpacas were all quite happy to stand out in the snow and eat from the hay feeders.  I was going to move one our of outside hayfeeders in to one of the shelters but as you can see from the picture below it was quickly surrounded by alpacas who were not keen on me moving it!

 

The alpacas enjoyed their daily treat of warm soaked beet pulp and we also added a little alfalfa to their hay to help them stay warm throughout the day.  

 

By the time the snow stopped falling everyone was pretty happy, the alpacas had full stomachs, the crias were having fun and we were happy to see moisture finally soaking our parched ground.

 

Rosemary

December 5, 2008

Staying Warm In Record Lows

 

Sometimes life doesn’t cooperate the way we would like it to.  While I made it safely to England for the funeral services for my father, Ric has had a more challenging time at home.

 

When Ric returned from his trip to England, he apparently brought an unwanted gift with him – a nasty virus which has left him with a sore throat, cough, low energy and which has stolen his voice.  Not really what you want when you are running the farm on your own, but so far he has been managing. 

 

If that was not enough to deal with the weather has turned really cold with Wednesday night/Thursday morning bringing record lows.  (I think Ric said minus 15, but with his lack of voice it is difficult to understand him sometimes).

 

Cold weather always brings more work with it, the alpacas need extra bedding and we also increase their hay to help them keep good energy during the cold temperatures.  Extra beet pulp shreds soaked in warm water are always welcomed by the herd, who love to slurp up the warm sweet water that the shreds are in.  We also like to put out buckets of warm water for the alpacas to drink.  Ric contends that the warm water freezes more quickly, but often the alpacas drink most of it before it gets a chance to freeze.  The first couple of warm water buckets may show less consumption but usually once word gets around (and it is amazing how quickly alpacas spread the word of something good to eat or drink) the warm water is the first to go.  It makes sense really; I know I prefer to drink warm drinks over iced drinks on a cold day.

 

The youngest of the crias have been practising their warm up routine, galloping at high speed around the pasture at dusk, and Ric reports that on Thursday morning the cria group had figured out that if they all cushed close together they could all be pretty comfortable.  Usually crias tend to sit with their dams at night or when it is cold, but I have noticed in the past that this fall cria group will often sit in a group together and sometimes even lie across each other.  They are a happy, friendly (and now in the cold weather comfortable) little group.

 

To keep us humans warm in such cold times the solution is lots of layers of clothing and I can be pretty certain that Ric is using his insulated coveralls, fleece lined jeans and of course alpaca socks (a post on our newly arrived line of alpaca socks will be following in the next day or two!).

 

The forecast says that the temperatures in New Mexico are due to start to warm back up again, so hopefully that will be the case.   I am sure not only Ric but all of the animals will appreciate some warmer weather.

 

Here in England I am doing my best to stay away from anyone who has the slightest hint of a cold or sickness, the only thing I plan on bringing back are my suitcases and some goodies from the grocery stores that I cannot buy in the United States (and with my trip coming so close to Christmas there are lots of goodies to choose from!)

 

Rosemary

August 19, 2008

Ow Baby, That Hurts!

Clarissa, one of our alpaca dams is due to have her cria in the fall.  We have started to see the cria moving frequently and it seems to be an active little thing.

On Friday evening when I was doing chores I noticed that Clarissa was not getting up.  Instead of coming over to check out the hay wagon she stayed cushed in front of the shelter.  That is not normal behavior for Clarissa who is usually up and milling around with the others trying to get the first bite of the hay.

I went over to check on Clarissa and discovered why she was not getting up; her cria was kicking heavily, drumming out its own dance on Clarissa’s side.  Poor Clarissa, no wonder she was not getting up!  I left Clarissa alone, knowing that in a while, once the cria had settled down, she would get up and join the other girls at the hayracks.

Clarissa did get up and was soon eating as normal.

During our Saturday morning feeding Clarissa again had a problem, she choked on her feed while eating.  A choking alpaca can be a serious situation, and is something that should not be left unattended.  Sometimes the attention needed is just some close observation, other times more intervention is needed.  One important thing to remember though is to try and keep the choking alpaca calm.  If the alpaca is calm it will be easier for him or her to relax allowing the blockage to clear the throat.  If the alpaca is stressed the muscles around the throat will tense and make it more difficult for the blockage to move.

Fortunately our feed is designed to dissolve should it become stuck in an alpaca’s throat.  It’s not a pretty sight, as the alpaca will regurgitate a green foamy mess as it clears the blockage, but better that than a choking alpaca.

We kept Clarissa under observation during the day and she seemed to improve and eventually joined the other alpacas eating hay.  In the evening though she started to cough and choke again.

By this time I was becoming concerned about Clarissa and wondering what effect all of this choking and coughing might have on her cria.  She seemed to be moving the blockage but was obviously still not feeling herself.  I gave her a large dose of Bach’s Rescue Remedy, which did seem to help her relax a little, but by the early hours of Sunday morning Clarissa was still having intermittent choking spasms.  By this time she didn’t appear to actually have anything blocking her throat, rather her throat was now irritated and possibly sore.

We decided to give Clarissa some Banamine to help her relax further and to maybe take away the soreness and irritation to her throat.  About 30 minutes after having the Banamine Clarissa seemed a lot better and we decided it was okay for us to call it a night.

 

A bad choke can cause irritation to the throat, and once you get irritation there it can lead to further choking as food comes in contact with the irritated area.  We didn’t want Clarissa to have another day of choking and so on Sunday morning we soaked her feed along with some beet pulp shreds and once everything was nice and soft we fed the mixture to Clarissa in a pen by herself.  We wanted to make sure Clarissa got all of the feed she wanted and make sure Clarissa could eat in peace without being challenged over her food by her usual pen mates.  Clarissa ate well with no further choking episodes, but just to be on the safe side I left her penned up for a while with a bucket of hay so she could continue to eat in peace.  Clarissa also got a dose of the MSE drench to help her digestive system to continue to function normally.

Once Clarissa had a good feed I allowed her out of the pen to rejoin the rest of the herd eating hay.  For the rest of the day Clarissa did well, she was a little less active than normal and I went out to check on her frequently only to discover she now had hiccups!  Poor Clarissa, what a time she was having.

This is not the first time Clarissa has had hiccups, and her previous bouts of hiccups have been at the same stage of pregnancy.  One time she had hiccups for three days in a row, which seemed to concern us more than her.  This makes me wonder if there is a connection with her stage of pregnancy and her choking and hiccupping.  Perhaps her cria is pushing on something and having an effect on Clarissa’s ability to breath normally and pass food into her stomach compartments.

Another large dose of Rescue Remedy seemed to do the trick for Clarissa’s hiccups and by the evening feed she was pretty much back to her usual self.  We will continue to soak her feed and feed her separately for the next week or so, we don’t want to risk another irritation to her system.  We will also hope that Clarissa’s cria will settle down for a while and stop doing whatever he or she is doing to cause Clarissa such discomfort.  I’m betting that cria will be quite the character when it is born and from the way it was kicking the other night quite the runner too!

Rosemary

January 23, 2008

Whatever Next!

Well yesterday was pretty eventful, so much so that it took me 5 ½ hours to do morning chores.  I think that has to be a record!

It was just one of those days with one thing going wrong after another.  Frozen faucets, a leaking automatic waterer, two male alpacas with bloody ears (in separate pastures and fortunately nothing serious, just the result of frisky wrestling boys on a cold morning), a female alpaca with a grungy eye (again thankfully nothing serious, just an inturned long eyelash, but still requiring the eye to be bathed), and a 40 lb sack of beet pulp shreds that split open as I lifted it out of my truck to put it in the feed shed.  It just seemed that life was determined to challenge me yesterday.  The good news of the day was that my dental appointment for a filling was cancelled due to the dentist coming down with stomach flu.  I hate to think of the poor dentist being ill but at least it meant I didn’t have to rush to that appointment on top of everything else.  I did chuckle though as I thought of how many dental patients were overjoyed at the news that their appointment had been cancelled for the day!

I think there were two causes for yesterday’s mayhem; first Ric is away for the week (a sure way to ensure everything is going to break down in his absence) and also a full moon.  I need to remind myself to never let Ric leave town during a full moon again, the combination of the two is too much to handle!

That full moon was spectacular last night at Sunset, it was huge and golden as it rose over the horizon and I couldn’t help but admire it despite the problems it had caused during the day.  

Oh well, I survived the day and am now more educated in the inner workings of an automatic waterer, plus the dogs and I had a great walk in the beautiful moonlight.  Fingers crossed the gremlins will be worn out after yesterdays mischief and today will be a quieter day.

Rosemary

December 30, 2007

Warm Shreds or Cold?

With the temperature staying on the chilly side we have been making sure the alpacas have enough feed to keep them warm.  Certainly they all seem to be more hungry during the cold weather and are eager to see us at feeding time.

Call us soft, but during these cold months we soak the alpacas beet pulp shreds in warm water.  We just feel it must be nice to get some warmth inside them from the shreds.  I am pretty certain that in South America you don’t find alpacas sitting around the campfire warming water to soak their feed in, that would be quite the picture wouldn’t it!  Still we have the ability to give them that little luxury and they certainly don’t object.

When we soak the shreds we always check the temperature of the water to make sure that is not so hot that it will burn the alpacas lips and mouths, and usually by the time we get around to putting the shreds out the cold outside air has cooled them a lot.

One thing we have noticed though is that the shreds seem to swell up better in the warm water than they do in the cold water that we use in summer.  As part of our reasoning for feeding beet pulp shreds is to get additional water into the alpacas diet, I have started to wonder if we would not be better to soak the shreds in warm water in the summer and then allow that water to go cold before putting out the shreds. 

When we first started using beet pulp shreds in our alpacas diet we would make up a big container of them and use it over two or three days.  We found out pretty quickly though that the shreds seemed to deteriorate after a couple of days and the alpacas were not that keen on eating them, so we went to soaking the shreds on a daily basis.  I might well try soaking the shreds in warm water overnight this summer and seeing how that works out.

The temperature today is supposed to be a little warmer, but by Monday evening we are supposed to drop down to 10 to 15 degrees.  I have been busy skirting fleece in the garage this past few days and as there isn’t any heat out there I would really appreciate some warmer weather.  We seem to be in a pattern of a couple of cold days, a warmer day and then a drop back down into the cold temperatures with a little snow thrown in for good measure.  One good thing about living in New Mexico though is that we won’t be seeing this weather for too long.  With the passing of the winter solstice our days are gradually getting longer and before we know it the winds of spring will be here, followed by the heat of summer. 

Rosemary

October 25, 2007

There’s A Head In My Bucket, Dear Liza Dear Liza

Alpaca with head in bucket

Yes I know the words to the song are really “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza dear Liza”, but I felt it necessary to use a bit of poetic license.

The picture at the top of this post was taken at an alpaca show.  The alpaca in the photo had been reaching for a tasty treat at the bottom of the bucket but the owner of the alpaca had not laid the handle of the bucket down flat and “bingo” one bucket stuck on an alpacas head.  The bucket was over the alpacas muzzle and the bucket handle was wedged on the alpaca’s neck. We reached the alpaca soon after the bucket had become stuck, and were able to remove it without a problem.  Fortunately the alpaca had not yet realized that the bucket was stuck on its head, but over time it would have done and could have panicked once it realized it was trapped.

I was reminded of this picture when I was doing chores a couple of days ago and Carina had reached into our beet pulp bucket while I was spooning out the beet pulp.  Before I knew it she had dodged her head under the bucket handle and had the bucket firmly wedged on her head.  It wasn’t too easy getting Carina’s head free from the bucket especially as she was quite content to guzzle the beet pulp shreds inside, but with a bit of wiggling and gentle persuasion I got the bucket free. 

Now to Carina having her head wedged in strange places is not unusual, she often tries to reach the feed bowls in the adjoining pen at feeding time and will push her head and neck under the panels of the pen to do so.  The panels fortunately have enough of a gap that she can do this without becoming trapped but there was one day that she managed to get a little stuck when she gave an extra push and got her shoulders under the pen.

Whenever we do chores we always check that all bucket handles are lying flat against the rim of the bucket to avoid having an alpaca get its head stuck.  I tend to think that we are less likely to get “bucket problems” when we are talking about water buckets as while alpacas enjoy fresh water they don’t go after it with such gusto as when there is a tasty food treat in the bucket.  Still making sure that bucket handles lie flat is not a bad habit to get into, and I really think alpacas do a lot better without a bucket stuck on their head!

Rosemary

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