A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

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!


September 20, 2008

Too much Sunscreen?

Moonie wearing his sheep cover

Moonie wearing his sheep cover


Our friend Nancy Thompson of Tres Amigos Ranch recently posted a couple of questions on the blog on the entry of February 29, 2008 entitled “Kanika you’re a Mess”  I thought others would be interested in Nancy’s questions and my reply so rather than just reply to the comment at the post I decided to discuss Nancy’s questions in a new post.


This is the question Nancy posted


“I think I am going to try the Matilda sheep covers this year on a few of our show animals.  I know I have asked you this in the past, but can you tell me again who you buy your covers from?  My vet has mentioned she doesn’t like them because if blocks UV rays…but I figure, especially on a dark animal, is the sun going to penetrate all that fleece anyway?  Have you ever had any vitamin D issues using the coats?”



To answer Nancy’s first question, unfortunately the lady who I was buying my Matilda Sheep Covers from is no longer a distributor, however if you go to the Matilda Sheep Cover Website at http://www.sheepcovers.com.au/  there is a USA Distributors Button at the top right hand side of the screen.  Just click on that button and you will be taken to a list of distributors in the USA.  With the ever rising cost of shipping these days it might be best to contact a distributor who is geographically close to you.    There is also some good information on the Matilda Sheep Cover Site and also some of the individual distributor pages about fitting and caring for your Matilda Sheep Covers.


Now onto Nancy’s second question as to whether we have ever had any vitamin D issues when using the sheep covers.  I can honestly say that we have not, but I feel I need to qualify my answer a little.


We have been using the Matilda Sheep Covers for several years and just as a personal preference we do not usually put the covers on the crias until they are at least three to four months old.  To me an alpaca cria needs to have some time just running around and being a cria before he or she starts to wear a fleece cover.  Yes, cria fleece attracts vegetable matter like Velcro, but if their fleeces have good density most of the vegetable matter stays on the outside of the fleece and we find some of it drops off once the covers are on.  I do know of one alpaca breeder who puts coats on her crias when they are just a few days old, she never seems to have any Vitamin D issues in her crias, and her crias are all beautiful, healthy and have great conformation.    Do watch newly coated crias carefully though as very occasionally you will get a dam who will not accept her cria once the coat has been put on, if that is the case it is obviously much more important to have a healthy bond between dam and cria and so we remove the coat immediately and put the cria and dam in a catch pen with a bowl of hay for a short while to allow them to regain their natural bond. 


For our adult alpacas we take the coats off the alpacas on shearing day and then we leave them off until the weather starts to cool in the fall.  We initially did this as we were concerned that in our hot, dry climate the alpacas would overheat with a fleece cover on.  Over the years it has been our experience that the fleece covers actually help keep the alpacas a little cooler, if the weather on shearing day is warm the alpacas with the fleece covers are cooler to the touch than those without them.  But again we are big softies and feel that it is nice for the alpacas to have some time without wearing the covers, the amount of vegetable matter that accumulates from spring to early fall is small and again tends to drop out of the fleece when the covers are put on.


So there are several months of the year when are alpacas do not wear sheep covers, and those months tend to be the sunniest ones.  Bear in mind also we have very few cloudy days year round and we are close to 4,000 feet altitude, both factors that contribute to the amount of vitamin D our alpacas receive from natural sunlight.


We have noticed that the juvenile and yearling alpacas do seem to experience a growth spurt after shearing, which prompts the question, is it the removal of the fleece cover or the removal of the fleece, or a combination of both that causes that growth spurt?


As Nancy mentions in her question, I too wonder how well sunlight penetrates a full fleeced alpaca, especially a dense one.  I tend to think that a lot of the time the sunlight is absorbed through areas such as the muzzle and the belly, our alpacas do their fair share of sunbathing and expose their bellies to the sun when doing so.  Even wearing a sheep cover the alpacas belly can still get good sun exposure.


Of course nutrition also plays a key role in vitamin supply of alpacas – but that’s a whole other subject!


All in all I cannot say that the Matilda Sheep covers have been detrimental to our herd health.  The fleeces from the covered alpacas are healthier, stronger, cleaner and brighter than those from the alpacas that are not covered (I don’t like to cover heavily pregnant females).  The covered fleeces are protected from the elements such as wind, dry summer heat, vegetable matter and in our case from that “lovely” fine red Clovis sand.


In conclusion I think that each alpaca breeder needs to assess their environmental conditions as to how beneficial the covers will be for them and perhaps come up with a plan to allow the alpacas to be uncovered for part of the year. 



May 9, 2008

A Shearer’s Industry

Shearing days often bring with them a mixture of interesting thoughts and opinions as the alpaca owner, shearer and helpers work together throughout the day.  As different alpacas are shorn, comments are often made about each alpaca’s fleece and various stories of different experiences are shared.  Not that we just sit back and chat on shearing day, that is definitely not the case, but it would be somewhat boring to work in total silence for the whole time and so the conversation gently flows throughout the day.


We were at a shearing the other day when the conversation drifted toward how to keep your fleeces clean.  This year with the extreme dryness and high winds it has been nearly impossible to keep the alpaca fleeces as clean as we would like them.  We did put Matilda sheep covers on some of the alpacas and hopefully those fleeces will be reasonable clean, but those alpacas that have been out in the wind and the dust will undoubtedly have a lot of dirt hidden in their fleeces.


The Matilda sheep covers do a great job of keeping your fleeces clean, but there are some alpaca owners who are reluctant to use them as they feel that the show judges mark alpacas down if they have been wearing a fleece cover.  Under the current show rules judges are not supposed to mark down alpacas that have been wearing fleece covers, but the covers do give the fleeces a different appearance and the judge might find it difficult to look past that different appearance and judge the alpaca equally.  Having said that since we have been using fleece covers we have not experienced any sort of adverse affect in our show records, although I have had a couple of judges ask why we use the covers.


During the conversation about fleece cleanliness I said that I would be continuing to use the fleece covers for, after all, the alpaca industry is a fleece industry and the covers considerably reduce the amount of time I have to spend on skirting fleeces for processing.  At that point the shearer replied that not only is the alpaca industry a fleece industry it is also a shearer’s industry.


I have never thought of the alpaca industry from that point of view before, but I could see where the shearer was coming from with his comment.  This particular shearer specializes in shearing alpacas and without an alpaca industry he would not have a business.  To him it is important that our alpaca fleeces are clean as if the alpaca fleece is dirty the dirt and vegetable matter dulls his blades as he shears, causing him to have to have more blades and cutters available and having to stop more to maintain his equipment.  Dull blades will not cut the fleece as well and I suspect that even sharp blades will not give as good a result if they are constantly fighting against dirt and debris.


It is always good to look at something from someone else’s perspective, and the shearer’s comments have given me food for thought.  Shearing is an important part of an alpaca breeders business and it should be important to us to have our alpaca fleeces as clean as possible not only for good processing but also to help ensure a good shearing job.  Having said that with the weather conditions this year it has been a real challenge to keep our fleeces clean, and I am glad that I have fleece covers for at least some of our herd.



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