A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

January 26, 2009

Weanling Update


Our spring crias are just about weaned, I say just about because we tried putting the female weanlings back in with the main female group this weekend and Annochia still wanted to nurse from Anya.  Annochia’s behavior was not a complete surprise to us; Annochia comes from the close Bjorn family who don’t like to be weaned.  Anya did kick Annochia off but we decided that we would put the weanlings back in their own pasture for a while longer just to make sure that no one brings their dam back into milk.


The dams really have taken the weaning process in their stride.  What was interesting with this group of weanlings was that the boys weaned with more ease than the girls.  Usually the boy crias are the most reluctant to wean, not so with this group though.


We have now graduated Pride and Atlas into the junior male pen.  After their move they did spend a couple of days hanging around the gate wondering how they could get back to the female herd, but now are starting to integrate well.  Something that was unexpected was that our orphan young male Mags has really settled down since the arrival of Pride and Atlas in the junior male pen.  Mags went over to that pen a few weeks before Pride and Atlas and was still actively seeking human interaction, but with the arrival of Pride and Atlas young Mags is acting much more like an alpaca.  Perhaps he feels he now has some seniority in the herd pecking order and that has given him the reassurance he needed.


Stormy has now gone to live with his new owner Abby Dart and we got a lovely report yesterday from Abby and her mother Regina on Stormy’s progress.  Abby already has Stormy going over bridges, jumping over jumps and going through a maze – good job Abby!


So now in the weanling pen we have only girls – Annochia, Dream, Serenity, Song, Zianna, Kaneka, Velvet and Carissima.   Kaneka, Velvet and Carissima are yearlings and are already weaned but have provided a good stabilizing influence on the weanlings.  We now take the weanlings (both boys and girls) for walks on their halters several times a week to help them become relaxed at being on a halter and they are all doing well.


For us weaning is a process that needs to be handled with care and consideration.  True it takes more time to go through day weaning before final weaning, but it makes for a gentler separation for the alpacas.  It is a stressful time for the weanlings and sometimes for the dams too and it is worth putting extra effort into the process to make it as easy as possible for all involved. 



December 24, 2008



The weaning crias rushing back to their dams

The weaning crias rushing back to their dams



I think that was the general cry as we let the fall crias back into the main pen following their first day of day weaning.  You can see from the blur of running weanlings in the photo above that they did not hang about in returning to their mothers!


The weanlings all handled their first day well, although some were definitely more at ease than others.  Zianna, Stormy and Pride walked over with us to the weaning pen without hesitation, while Dream and Annochia had already figured out that this was not going to be what they wanted and balked at the process of crossing the pasture.  Serenity and Atlas walked over with plenty of head turning and wondering where they were going.  Song being an orphan did not have a dam to worry about leaving, but was more concerned about staying with her buddies.  Song is no longer taking a bottle as Ric finished weaning Song and Mags off the bottle while I was in England.  Mags is already in with the juvenile male group and is settling in well.  Once they are weaned Pride, Stormy and Atlas will be joining him there.


During the day we kept an eye on the weanling group and for the most part they stayed in their shelter eating hay.  It was one of those windy New Mexico afternoons (sustained winds around 25 mph), helping encourage the weanlings to remain in the shelter and distracting them from watching the fence line for their dams.  There were a couple of times when one or two of them did come to the fence to look for their dams, but they soon returned to the weanling group when they realized that they could not get to their dams through the fence.


To help add some stability to the group we put a few of the maiden alpacas in the pen with them.  Kanika, Carissima and Velvet did a good job of calmly going about their daily business, reassuring the weanlings that all was well with the world.  We have found that the addition of two or three older alpacas in a weanling group helps provide an element of calm in what can be a stressful time for the weanlings.


Out of the whole group I think Annochia took the weaning the hardest.  A member of the Bjorn family, a very close family group of alpacas, she was not at all pleased about being away from her dam Anya, making me wonder if she will be as hard to wean as her dam was.  Both Anya and her sister Keeva took a lot of persuading when it came to the subject of weaning and I suspect Annochia may be the same.


As often is the case, the dams were not at all concerned about the crias being away for the day.  Serenity’s dam Snow did initially wander over and look through the fence at the weanling group, but soon returned to join the other alpacas at the hay feeder.


By evening chores though the weanlings were telling me they were more than ready to go back to their dams.   As you can see once the gate was opened they rushed to be reunited with their dams and then nursed hungrily as if they hadn’t eaten all day!


Today we will repeat the process again, and will continue to do so for about two weeks before the weanlings take the next step of staying away from their dams overnight.  Usually by that time they have adjusted to being away from their dams and will take the next step in their stride.  (Lets hope Annochia agrees with me on that point when the time comes!)




December 22, 2008

Mixing and Mingling


Until recently we have kept the fall cria group and their dams in a separate pen from the main female group on the farm.  This started before the fall crias were born when we wanted to provide a quiet place for the dams to give birth and for the small crias to be safely away from the antics of the larger spring crias.


Now though it is time for some change, the spring cria group is ready to be weaned and the fall crias are now nearly all over 30 lbs and growing well.  I say nearly all, as Little Man is still shy of the 30 lb. mark but is gradually headed in that direction.


We like to start the weaning process with day weaning, and in order to do that we need to be able to put the spring crias in a separate pen during the day to prevent them from nursing from their dams.  So some rearranging of the female herd has been necessary.


Our main female pen is close to our quarantine pen, with a 10 foot enclosed alleyway separating the two pens.  The fall cria group and their dams have so far been in the quarantine pen.  Now though we have opened up the gates between the pens to allow the two groups to mix and mingle.


It is always amusing to me to watch the alpaca’s behavior when we first open the gates.  Inevitably for the first day or so we find that the two groups swap places, the group from the main pen will be found in the quarantine pen and vice versa, I guess the alpacas just want to prove the old adage of “the grass is always greener on the other side”.


So far the two groups have been getting along well.  Young Pride, determined to prove that he is destined to be a herdsire has been checking out the new girls and receiving a suitable amount of spit in the process.  The fall crias have had great fun exploring the larger area, and the adult girls are convinced that the hay feeders that they did not have access to before must have better hay in them than the ones they have been feeding from.


We have allowed the two groups a few days to settle down before starting the day weaning process of the spring crias.  We don’t want to put any additional stress on the crias that are to be weaned.  By allowing free access to both areas for a while, the spring crias start to become familiar with what will become their day pasture. 


This week we will start the day weaning process, by putting the spring crias (without their dams) in the quarantine pen during the day and once again closing the gates between the two pens.  When we do evening chores we will feed the weanlings in their day pen and then open the gates to allow them to go back to their dams for the night.


With the spring cria group being quite a large one I suspect that they will handle the weaning process well.  They will have the company of each other, something they have had from birth and are familiar with.  I am sure there will be some displeasure at not being allowed to nurse from their dams during the day, but from the dams perspective its more than time for the spring crias to reduce their milk consumption (and some sighs of relief will no doubt be heard from the girls!)



January 24, 2008

Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Young Male Alpaca

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Health, Alpacas, camelids, Crias, General — Tags: , , , , — alpacalady @ 7:12 am

Blast NursingThe day weaning of Velvet, Blast and Athena has been going well, and the little group now is quite happy to head over to the pen where they spend their day.  They barely pay attention to the location of their dams in the next pen and usually spend most of the day at the hay feeder, with the occasional break for a chase around the pasture or a quick nap.

In the evenings when I let the weanlings back they are less concerned to dash immediately to their mothers to try to nurse.  Poor Velvet lost nursing privileges the very first day of day weaning, she tried, but Queen wanted nothing to do with her.  Athena was able to persuade Rebecca that she still needed milk for the first few days, but of late Rebecca is less cooperative about Athena trying to nurse, in fact Athena’s recent attempts have been unsuccessful.  And then there’s Blast, dear sweet little Blast who finds his dam Clarissa and the nurses and nurses and nurses.   I swear if they were in a cartoon Clarissa would be reduced to a withered little pile on the floor by the time Blast has finished with her.  If that weren’t enough Blast is now so big that he has to cush to be able to nurse from Clarissa.  I hate to tell Blast this but it’s time for the nursing to stop.

The weather over the next two days is supposed to be atrocious, with freezing temperatures, freezing rain and snow.  Not a good scenario for weanlings to spend their first night away from their dams.  I have seen crias spend all night sitting by the fence line when they are first weaned, and that is the last thing I want when the weather is so wintry.  The beginning of next week though is supposed to be warmer, with daytime temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s.  With that in mind I am scheduling those days to do the final stage of weaning by keeping the weanlings away from their dams overnight.  They’re not going to be happy, and I will have an anxious couple of nights watching over them to make sure they are not stressing out too much.  That final step is necessary though.

I am confident the weanlings will be fine with their new situation after a couple of days, but I feel of the three of them that Blast will take it the hardest.  But that is often the case with male crias who seem bound and determined to nurse for the rest of their lives!

Once the final step to weaning has been taken I will leave Blast in with his weanling pals, but then of course in time he will need to be moved over to the pen of young male alpacas.  That will most likely be just as tough on him, as he will then be in a pen of completely strange alpacas.

Usually we have more than one male cria being weaned at a time and so they go to the young males pen as a pair or more.  This year though we were blessed with more girls than boys and so Blast is the only male in his peer group.  Zeus is the next male cria to be weaned, but that will not be taking place until at least March, possibly later, and I cannot leave Blast in with the females for all of that time.

What I may end up having to do is put the weanling girls back in with their dams.  I can then bring a couple of the smallest young males over to be with Blast for a few days before taking them all together as a group back to the young male pen.  At least that will give Blast a little while to get acquainted with a couple of his new pasture mates.  Over time Blast will get used to his new environment and will eventually join in the wrestling and rough housing that takes place between the boys.   It will be a little stressful for him at first though, but sometimes it’s just hard to be a young male alpaca.


January 13, 2008

Stepping Out on Their Own

Yesterday was the day for three of our crias to start the weaning process.  Athena, Blast and Velvet are all ready to be weaned, although if you asked them they would tell you that they would be quite happy to continue nursing from their dams for the rest of their lives.

Weaning normally occurs after the crias reach 6 months of age.  Some breeders wean their crias at exactly six months but we prefer to watch the crias and dams and judge weaning time on their behavior. 

Knowing that we have a show approaching I have been watching Athena, Blast and Velvet to make sure that they are mature enough to handle the stress of their first show.  With all the best preparation in the world a show is still a stressful event for a young alpaca.  Alpacas can be entered in shows once they reach six months of age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will all be ready for the show experience once they reach the six month point.  Some alpacas mature later than others and need a little longer to develop both mentally and physically before experiencing a show.

We usually don’t like to show our young alpacas until they are about eight months old.  This gives them the time that they need to mature, so that they can handle the show experience better.  I hear of some breeders who use showing as a way to wean their alpacas, taking a young alpaca from its dam on the day that they leave for the show.  This is not a good practice and will at best result in an alpaca that does not show well because it is distressed at being removed from it’s home herd and in particular it’s dam.  At worst the young alpaca will get sick from the stress of being taken from it’s dam and then being placed in a show situation.

For the next few days Athena, Blast and Velvet will be placed in a separate pasture from their dams during the day for day weaning.  We will also put Shiimsa with them as she is fully weaned and will be attending the show with the three weanlings.   Shiimsa will provide a calm and stable presence to the group.  In the evening the crias will be allowed back with their dams.  Within about a week the crias will be ready to spend their first night away from their dams.

We kept a close eye on the weaning group yesterday, to make sure that they were handling things well.  All three of the crias seemed to be happy eating hay and exploring their new pasture and not too concerned about the lack of their dams presence.  This is a good sign as it tells me that they are at a good age for weaning.  By 3 p.m. though Velvet was starting to hang around the fence line looking for Queen.  This surprised me a little as I rarely see Velvet nurse from Queen anymore.  I would have thought that Blast being the youngest of the group would have been the first to show signs of missing his dam, but instead Velvet was the one who walked the fence a little.

When it came time for evening chores I fed the weanling group before allowing them back in the main herd.  As soon as I opened the gate they all went galloping into the main pasture with the exception of Athena who was in no hurry to go back- she was definitely ready for weaning!  Interestingly though not one of the crias dams came looking for them during the day, I guess the dams were more than ready for a break from their crias!

This morning we will take the crias back over to their new pasture, and again keep a close eye on them.  Sometimes the second or third day is when they will show more signs of missing their dams.  We will give the crias some probiotics too in order to help their digestive system cope with the extra stress that they are under.

Within a short time the crias will be taking weaning in their stride, and their dams (who are all now pregnant again) will probably be breathing a sigh of relief at the reduced drain on their bodies!


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