A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

October 2, 2009

Now Where Are We?

Well…  Ric is still at home with the alpacas.  I am in England visiting my mother on my annual trip to my home country.  Usually I travel earlier in the year, but this year shearing, crias and new a new puppy meant I postponed my trip to the fall.

Today England is warmer than I remember it being in the fall (or autumn as we tend to refer to it in England).  The English summers have been getting warmer and drier, the storms more severe and the fall and winter milder.  You cannot help but wonder about global warming when such climate change takes place.  I think you would have a hard time convincing many British people that global warming is not a fact.

 During my trip I will be helping my mother with tasks such as filing her tax return and anything else she has on the to-do list for me.  My mother has coped remarkably well since the loss of my father last year, but there are a few things she needs assistance with (and let’s face it who really enjoys filing tax returns anyway!).

 I also will be spending time with my good friends Linda and Val (with a very special party on the agenda but more on that later), my nephews and former sister in law Roisin (who is still very much a member of our family) and of course Laura (step daughter), Ren (Laura’s husband), grand-daughter Aida and Paul (step son).  Also on the agenda is a trip to Totley in South Yorkshire to visit my Dad’s cousin Stella and hopefully see a nearby alpaca farm and while I am there I am hoping to be reunited with my friend Anne-Marie who I have known since pre-school.  Anne-Marie and I have kept in touch on and off through our parents and now via Facebook which has brought us together again.

 At home Ric is very busy with caring for the farm.  It’s a lot for one person to take care of, and now has he added task of looking after puppy Blue who will let  you know in her own way (by chewing something you treasure!), if she feels she is not getting enough attention.  I fully expect Ric to be somewhat worn out and possibly a little thinner by the time I get home – although our dear neighbor Darlene is providing him with some meals and so I know he will not starve to death (A big Thank you Darlene as always!).

 As well as routine chores Ric will be hauling loads of hay while I am gone.  We finally found some wheat hay that satisfies our requirements, with only one drawback; it has some wheat heads in it.  We really do prefer beardless wheat hay, but this year have not been able to find any that is nutritionally correct for the alpacas.  The hay we purchased is almost perfect in its analysis and was cut just as it started to head out, so we felt that it was the best option available to us.

 As if all of that is not enough Ric also will be keeping a close eye on Theresa who is due October 25.  For her first four crias Theresa gave birth on day 345 of her pregnancy, but then threw us for a loop by not delivering her fifth cria until day 368 in temperatures above 100 degrees.  So who knows when Theresa will give birth this year.  Before I left I checked Theresa, her udder was not yet developed and she was not puffy under her tail so there should be at least a little time before she gives birth.  I had a word with Theresa too and asked her to hang on to her cria until I was home, but not to wait until day 368 again – I guess we will soon find out if she was listening.

 My blog entries will be sporadic during my trip I am sure.  Ric may decide to post an entry or two – in his spare time that is, but whether his entries will be coherent or just consist of a string of exhausted zzzzzz’s will remain to be seen!

 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 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

September 18, 2008

When You’re Loading Hay Don’t Wear Shorts!

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Nutrition, Alpacas, camelids, General — Tags: , , , , — alpacalady @ 6:17 am

Ric will be leaving to take four of our alpacas to the New Mexico State Fair tomorrow and so we have been trying to get everything ready that he will need for his trip.  I say trying because life has, as usual, thrown a few distractions our way.

 

Yesterday’s distraction was an advertisement for some hay in our local paper.   The hay was alfalfa, not something that we would feed in large qualities to the alpacas on a daily basis, but it will be good hay to feed our horses in the winter, and the pregnant alpaca girls will benefit from a little of it every now and then.

 

We called the hay grower and discovered the hay was reasonably priced; it was time to strike while the iron was hot, as the saying goes.  We have discovered that where good hay is concerned any action to buy it must be sooner rather than later.

 

The hay was located in Fort Sumner (home of the gravesite of Billy the Kid), about an hours drive to the West of our farm.  It was a beautiful day for a drive and it was good to see that some of the pastures along the way were greening up following a showery week last week.

 

We had a good look at the hay, it was first cutting, a lovely bright green in color with lots of leaf and not too much stem, and decided to buy the 115 bales that the hay grower had available.  Then came the fun part – stacking the hay on the trailer.

 

With the hay grower, Ric and myself all working at putting the hay on the trailer it didn’t take too long to get the hay stacked, but we weren’t long into the process before Ric kindly pointed out that I shouldn’t have worn shorts, for as I moved the hay bales they hit against my legs and those alfalfa stems are pretty sharp!  By the end of the hay stacking I had green and red legs – green from little pieces of alfalfa and red from scratches on my legs.  As I pointed out to Ric though with a little bit of lotion my legs will soon be as good as new.

 

We will get the hay tested in the next day or so, if it was the only hay we were going to use I would have tested it before buying it, but as this will just be used as an occasional supplement we could take the liberty of buying the hay prior to testing.

 

Next time we go to load hay I will try and remember not to wear shorts, but if the weather is still warm I know that the chances are I will forget my previous hay experiences.  It’s a good job I always have plenty of great lotion on hand at the house!

 

Rosemary

July 8, 2008

Big Bales versus Small Bales The Verdict is in

Last year we fed our alpacas from big round bales of hay, we were unable to find small square bales in our area and we were curious as to how the big round bales would work in an alpaca operation. We ended up feeding two different types of hay in the big bale form, one had a higher protein value than the other. The lower protein hay we put out a whole big bale at a time in the alpacas pasture. The higher protein hay we forked off the bale and only put out a certain amount twice a day.

We fed from big bales for a whole year, now we have purchased our hay for the rest of this year and this time it is in the small square bales. Going back to the small bales has highlighted the pros and cons of using big bales. So what have we discovered on the subject of feeding big bales or small bales? Here are our thoughts and observations.

§ The big bales are typically cheaper to buy, but we feel there is more wastage. During our time of feeding the big bales we did not use a specially designed big bale feeder and discovered that the alpacas and the llamas love to rub against and climb on the big bales causing the hay to fall onto the ground. We did end up putting a panel around the big bale to keep the hay contained, but it still seemed as if there was a lot of wastage.

§ You don’t want to have the waste hay from a big bale around your pastures just before shearing. The alpacas love to roll in it, their owners do not love having to pick all of that hay from their fleeces.

§ The waste hay can be used for bedding in your trailer, and the alpacas love to lie on the waste hay in the pasture.

§ The big bales need more specialized equipment to move. They are very heavy and you cannot possibly move them without using a tractor or specialized big bale hauler.

§ The lower protein big bales were a good source of “noshing hay” for the alpacas during the day. As we are a dry lot operation having a big bale available 24/7 in each pen meant that the alpacas had constant source of grazing.

§ If a big bale starts to mold there is not much you can do to stop the rest of the bale from molding. We had that happen with one of the last big bales we had and we were unable to feed it to the alpacas at all.

§ Small bales are much easier to handle. They usually weigh between 40 – 60 lbs. and can be easily lifted or put into a wagon to move around.

§ Small bales do not require specialized equipment.

§ You can be more accurate as to the quantity of hay you are feeding from a small bale.

§ There is less wastage from each small bale when you separate the flakes of hay to feed to the alpacas.

§ Small bales are getting harder to come by. Many hay farmers feel that the harvesting and baling costs are less for big round bales, and in our area the large livestock operations (feedlots, dairies, etc.) prefer the big bales.

§ Small bales tend to be more expensive per ton than large bales.

§ Small bales are quicker to feed making the time spent doing chores less, anytime I can save time but still provide the same standard of care I am happy!

So all in all I have to say that the small bales are the winner. The real deciding factor was the time saved. Since we have moved back to using small bales I have been amazed at how much faster chores have gone, and even more amazed as to how many hours I must have spent forking hay from big bales during the last year.

Now if we found ourselves in a situation where we were again unable to get small bales we know that we can cope with feeding big bales. It may not be the best option, but it is not a bad option. All in all though the small bales are really the way to go, so for the next year or so until our current hay supply is used up I will enjoy being back to working with small bales, and when it comes to looking for our next supply of hay we will try our best to get small bales, provided the quality of the hay is good.

Rosemary

October 7, 2007

The Wonders of a Wagon

Green WagonA couple of our favorite pieces of equipment on the farm are our green wagon and our yellow wagon.  We started off with a green wagon a few years ago and then liked it so much we bought another one, but could only find a yellow one.  The yellow one is slightly lighter in weight but still works just as well.

So what do we do with these wagons, well for most of the year we use them as portable hay feeders.  They are great during morning chores, I can load up all of the girls hay and feed bowls, wheel the wagon over to the pasture and when I have finished feeding leave the wagon filled with hay in the pasture.  If it should rain we can quickly move the wagon inside one of the shelters, if we have young cria just starting to eat hay we can drop down one of the sides on the wagon to give them easier access to the hay.

We have also used our wagon for hauling feed bags (it can take quite a bit of weight), hauling a whole small bale of hay, moving bags of fleece from the shearing area to the studio and even giving small children rides (a great workout, and yes on once occasion the small children were not so small but rather adults who were feeling young at heart!).

The wagons are reasonably priced ($70 – $80) and really are a great asset to the farm.  You can get them at most large hardware stores (Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware etc.)  and if you look at this time of the year you may find a good sale deal as the stores try and reduce their garden center inventory for the fall and winter. 

While on the subject of wagons if ever you get a chance to see the movie “All We Need Is A Little Red Wagon” then take it.  The movie only lasts for 5 minutes and will make you want to go out and find your wagon – then you will understand how two alpaca owners were once sighted at dusk taking rides in a wagon.  It wasn’t a red one, but it was just as much fun!

Rosemary

September 27, 2007

Using Big Bales with Alpacas – Follow-up

Big Bale in Carport ShelterIt’s been a little while now since we started our experiment with using big bales of hay with the alpacas.  The girls have almost munched their way through two big bales, while the boys are just about finishing their first one. So what do we think of the big bale experiment so far?  There are definite pros and cons, lets start with the pros. 

  1. Cuts down on chore time – using a big bale reduces one step from the daily chores as we do not have to put out as much hay into the individual feeders.
  2. Hay price is cheaper – typically the price of a big bale is less than the price of the equivalent weight of small bales.
  3. In a dry lot situation the alpacas have something to munch on all day.  Having a big bale of hay available 24/7 helps simulate the natural grazing habits of alpacas
  4. They provide instant bedding for the alpacas – as the hay falls onto the floor it makes a nice layer of bedding for the alpacas that they love to lie on.
  5. The crias love to play on the bales as they get smaller.  Our crias have certainly found the big bales fun to climb on as the bale gets smaller.

 So onto the cons. 

  1. There is a lot of wastage.  As the bale is eaten down the hay falls down around the sides of the bale and gets stepped on and blown around in the wind.
  2. Less exercise for the alpacas (and llamas!).  We are finding that instead of wandering from feeder to feeder the alpacas and llamas get stuck into eating the bale and there they stay until they are full.
  3. Harder to monitor the daily consumption of hay by the alpacas.  The big bales we are using are lower protein hay that is suitable for all day feeding, however if the hay were higher in protein it could result in some chubby alpacas over time.
  4. Certain alpacas can dominate feeding at the big bale.  Some of the alpacas are finding a position to eat the bale from and then not allowing the other alpacas into that spot.
  5. Risk of spreading parasites is higher.  The alpacas stand on the hay that falls on the floor, they may have been standing on the poop pile a short while before standing on the hay and whatever is on their feet can easily transfer to the loose hay around the bale.
  6. Harder to obtain hay for shows.  It really doesn’t work as well to fork some hay off the bale and take it with you to the show.  We got lucky this last show and had a small core of a bale left which we were able to place into a large hessian sack for transporting to the show.  If the bale had been bigger though it would have been more difficult to work with.
  7. Crias love to play on the bales as they get smaller – fun for the crias, but also has a potential for one of them to get hurt jumping on and off the bale.

 So at the moment there are more cons than pros on using the big bales, however we haven’t given up on the idea yet.  

We feel that in order to successfully use big bales we are going to have to devise some sort of containment system for the big bale that will allow the alpacas to eat the bale, but also will contain the hay that drops off the side of the bale.  The containment system would need to be adjustable so that as the bale gets smaller the containment system can be adjusted to the size of the bale.  By containing the hay that falls off the bale we will hopefully also stop the alpacas from standing on the fallen hay and reduce the parasite contamination risk.  The other advantage of the containment system is that it will prevent the crias from jumping on top of the bale.  I hate to be a spoilsport, but there is a risk that one of them could get hurt jumping on and off the bale. 

For now we have the girls big bale in the large carport shelter in their pasture.  The shelter keeps the rain or wind off the bale, but still there is a mess of hay on the ground.  The problem I have with the position of that bale is that I cannot see what the girls are up to.  When you have alpacas due to have their cria it causes moments of concern when you can’t see that girl and so walk out to the pasture only to discover she is engrossed in eating a big bale.  Ideally I would like to have an open sided carport in the pasture where I could see the alpacas, yet which would still provide shelter to the alpacas and the big bale. 

So we will keep working with the big bales for now and see if we can reduce the cons and increase the pros. 

Rosemary

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