A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

June 4, 2009

And We Do This Because…?

Carissima and Glow

Carissima and Glow

I find it a little amusing that sometimes the alpacas and llamas decide that our good management practices are not really for them.  Too often I have seen one of the herd toss some hay on the floor beside the hay feeder and merrily munch on the hay on the floor.  We do put grids over the hay in our hay feeders but sometimes they still manage to pull a clump out and deposit it onto the floor where apparently it just tastes better.  The llamas are perhaps worse about the alpacas for doing this.  They think nothing of overturning a hay bucket to deposit the contents on the ground, often destroying the bucket in the process. (Note we are now trying flexible rubber hay buckets to see if they stand up to llamas better).

Yesterday morning I was greeted by the site of Carissima (that’s her on the left of the picture that was taken prior to her being shorn) happily drinking out of a muddy puddle that lay just a foot or so away from the automatic waterer.  We had a pretty good storm the night before and as often happens on our hard, dry ground the water accumulated in puddles.  To Carissima this puddle was tasty, she stood and drank heartily from it, while close by stood the Nelson automatic waterer full of cool, clean, fresh water with not an alpaca or llama close by except for Carissima.  I shooed Carissima away from the puddle but later in the day caught her drinking from it again.  Perhaps the dirt gave it some added flavor or better mineral content, whatever the reason Carissima thought the puddle water was worth drinking.

In any herd management seminar you will be told to make sure that alpacas and llamas have fresh, clean water and that their hay is put into above ground feeders.  We are advised to do this to help keep parasites at bay and to make sure our alpacas and llamas have the best and most sanitary feeding conditions possible.  The trouble is that the alpacas and llamas are smart enough (within reason) to rearrange their feeding and drinking arrangements to their wants.

Of course we will continue to put the hay in the hay feeders to keep it off the ground and we will continue to have lots of fresh, clean water available to the herd, but as I watch the alpacas and llamas happily tossing their hay on the floor or drinking from a muddy puddle I do have to wonder “and we do this because…”


February 2, 2009

What a lovely hat!

Rose Marie in her lovely hay hat

Rose Marie in her lovely hay hat


That’s our Rose Marie wearing the latest in alpaca headgear – the hay hat.

As fetching as Rose Marie’s “hat” looks it is something we try to avoid.   The hay on her head will at some point fall off and then possibly land on the blanket area of her fleece or another alpaca.

We do our best to keep our fleeces as free from vegetable matter as possible, it makes preparing the fleeces for show or processing so much easier, and processors do not like to deal with fleece laden with vegetable matter.  Once in the fleece the vegetable matter can shatter making it almost impossible to remove.  If the processor tries to process the fleece with a large amount of vegetable matter still in place it will result in a yarn that has a prickly, harsh feel to it.

In an effort to keep the vegetable matter under control we built our hay feeders so that they are only a few feet off the ground.  This encourages the alpacas to keep their heads down as they eat, rather than to take mouthfuls of hay and then pick their heads up.  With their heads up the alpacas look around and inevitably drop hay on the nearest alpaca contaminating that alpacas fleece.

Further steps we take to protect our fleeces is to put heavy duty wire grids on top of the hay in the hay feeders to help keep the hay in the feeder, plus we put Matilda Sheep covers on some of our alpacas to keep their fleeces out of the wind and fine sand that we have, particularly the young crias with their extra fine fleeces.

 Rose Marie’s “hat” came about on one of the colder days we recently experienced.  We mixed a little alfalfa in with the rest of the hay and the alfalfa leaves dropped to the bottom of the hay feeders.  Rose Marie is particularly fond of alfalfa and in an effort to make sure she didn’t miss out on a single one of the sweet alfalfa leaves she dug deep in the hay feeder and when she lifted her head she was wearing her fetching hat.  We had needed to remove the wire grid from that particular hay feeder that day making it easy for Rose Marie to get her head into the hay and forage for alfalfa leaves.

When it comes to clean fleeces we keep in mind the phrase “clean pastures, clean fleeces” and do our best to reduce the chances for things to get into the alpacas fleeces.  Fortunately the hay Rose Marie had on her head that day was easily removed out of harms way – and rapidly eaten by another alpaca!


March 5, 2008

Fixing Up Feeders

A client of ours is preparing his property in readiness for taking his alpacas home.  He emailed me the other day and asked if I could send him pictures and dimensions of the hay feeders we use.  I thought others might find that information useful too so I am posting it here for all to see. There are ready made alpaca hay feeders available on the market, but they are quite expensive and most are made a long distance from where we live and so the freight alone makes them cost prohibitive.  We have always tried to run our farm on a reasonable budget and when we first set up our farm we decided that we should make our own hay feeders.

All of our hay feeders are made from scrap lumber, we hate the thought of throwing good wood away and while the wood we used was no longer effective for it’s original use (most of it came from a house that was being torn down) we were able to put it to good use for building hay feeders.  If you are using scrap lumber stay away from that which has been previously painted or varnished, the alpacas will sometimes rub their gums on the edge of the feeders and so you want to make sure that the wood you use is free from any toxins such as paint or varnish.

 Deep FeederWe have several different versions of the hay feeder, in our girls small shelter we have one that is about 3ft wide by 4ft long (pictured above).  It is quite deep and lower to the ground than some of the other hay feeders we have used.  The depth of the feeder is about 18” and it doesn’t seem to cause the girls any problem.  The one thing I would caution about on this particular feeder is that it should probably be higher off the ground.  Just the other day I read about a cria that got trapped under a similar hay feeder and became severely chilled overnight.  Fortunately the cria seems to be doing fine, but it could have been a different story if the owners had not found the cria in time.  We have had one occasion when we couldn’t find a cria and found her stretched out asleep under this hay feeder.  She was able to get out unassisted, but having read the story of the other cria getting trapped I can see where having a higher feeder with plenty of space for a cria to maneuver in would be beneficial.

Our other hay feeders all have about 2ft clearance off the ground.  They are all rectangular with most of them being 3ft by 4ft, but we also have one in the girls large blue shelter that is about 7 ft long (pictured below).  With the exception of the deep hay feeder mentioned earlier the hay feeders are 6 – 8” in depth, which is enough to allow a good layer of hay. 

Long Feeder

I have heard of some breeders making hay feeders that are big enough to hold a whole small bale of hay.  I can see the convenience of that but I like to be able to shake out the flakes of hay from the bales so that I can see if there is anything unusual in them (weeds, baling wire, dead snakes etc.) and also make sure that one alpaca doesn’t pick up a whole flake of hay and then spread it all over the place.

 In the bottom of each feeder we have a sheet of pressboard.  This works well to a point but sometimes I feel a fine mesh on the bottom of the hay feeder would be better.  That way rain (when we get it!) and dust (we have plenty of that!) can fall through and not accumulate in the feeder.  Any mesh used for the bottom would need to be heavy gauge and fairly solid so that it doesn’t get bent as the alpacas push on the bottom of the feeder.

For the outside framing we have used recycled 2 x6’s and the legs for the feeders are recycled 4 X 4’s or 2 x 6’s which are placed inside the frame to add stability and make the outside of the feeder a smooth outline (See picture below).Feeder Leg

Once the feeders are built we use a piece of cattle panel on top of the hay inside the feeder.  This weighs the hay down and stops the alpacas from throwing it on the floor or all over each other.   You can just about see the panel through the hay in the picture below.Cattle Panel Inside Feeder

You want your feeders to be low enough that the alpacas have to reach down for the hay, this tends to keep their heads down and stops them from continually bringing their heads up in order to have a look around while they are chewing.  Of course make sure there are no sharp staples or nails sticking out from the feeders once they have been built. Our feeders are simple but effective and quite reasonable to build.  They are a little on the heavy side, but if they were any lighter the alpacas or the wind could knock them over.  It takes two people to move one of our feeders but with two people they can be easily relocated wherever they are needed.

We like to position our hay feeders just inside the shelters.  The alpacas actually prefer to eat outside, but with the hay feeders just inside the shelter it gives the alpacas a sense of space and also helps protect the hay from the elements.  With them being just inside the shelters we can also use the hay feeders to encourage the alpacas to stay inside if the weather is really bad.  An extra helping of hay can go a long way to keeping alpacas in a shelter. One thing to bear in mind is that some alpacas get quite grumpy when they are feeding directly across from another alpaca.  In their natural grazing state alpacas spread out and graze in a line, all facing roughly in the same direction.  To an alpaca to feed face on to another alpaca is a little confrontational, so you may want to consider putting your feeders up against a wall or a fence so that only three sides are accessible.

So, that is a basic description of our hay feeders, simple yet effective and with recycled wood they can even be environmentally friendly too!


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