A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

September 7, 2009

Sometimes You Just Have to Spit!

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from people who are meeting alpacas for the first time is “Do they spit?”  It is sad that many people automatically associate alpacas and llamas with spitting as it is one small part of their behavior and it is something that occurs far less often than many people think.  On the whole alpacas and llamas are docile animals who are happiest going about their business.

Yes alpacas and llamas can spit, it is part of their vocabulary to other alpacas or llamas (usually saying “get out of my feed” or “stop annoying me”), and it is also a part of their defense mechanism.  Llamas and alpacas have very few ways to defend themselves and spit is one of those few ways.  If someone or something does something to a llama or alpaca which they really don’t like then they can spit as a way to startle that person or thing and stop whatever is annoying them.

We recently had a farm visitor who had been to a county fair where there was a camel on display.  The camel was being used to give rides and apparently had a ring through his nose so that his handler could lead him.  Our farm visitor witnessed a teenage boy go up to the camel and pull hard on the camel’s nose ring – and guess what, the camel spit at him.  Who can blame the camel for doing so.  No doubt that pull on the nose ring hurt the camel and the only way he could communicate his displeasure was by spitting.  Hopefully that teenage boy will never repeat his behavior again.

Our herd of alpacas and our three guard llamas are all laid back animals.  Farm visitors unfamiliar with alpacas and llamas are given a brief rundown of good pasture etiquette resulting in a happy, fun farm visit for both them and the animals.

Sometimes though we find ourselves in a position where we need to communicate to one of the alpacas that their behavior is inappropriate.  Such an occasion happened over the weekend when young Annochia kept mounting and attempting to breed Dream.  Now Annochia and Dream are both females so Annochia’s breeding attempt was never going to be successful.  Rather it is an indication to me that either one or both of those young ladies is reaching maturity and there is some hormonal confusion.  While Annochia’s behavior could be considered innocuous it is something I want to discourage.  If she continually tries to mount and breed Dream it could cause a retained CL in Dream causing her to be non receptive when the time comes to breed her.

Initially I tried removing Annochia from Dream, that worked for a little while but Annochia hung around close to Dream and as soon as I started to walk away Annochia would start to orgle and try and mount Dream again.  After several times of trying to remove Annochia from Dream I knew that I needed to talk to Annochia in “stronger language”.   The next time Annochia went to mount Dream I spit at her just as another alpaca would.  Now when I say spit I am talking of an “air spit” where there is the spitting noise but no accompanying regurgitated slime (I am sure you will be pleased to know that!).  At the first air spit Annochia turned away, I then followed up with a series of air spits and at that point Annochia got the message, walked away and left Dream alone.

I don’t recommend spitting at your llamas or alpacas as a part of your daily routine.  It is much better to use other methods of communicating with them as a rule, but once in a while the other methods just don’t get through and then you just have to spit.  Done right and in the right circumstances it does work and is quite effective.

Rosemary

August 11, 2008

Spit Leaves a Bad Taste in the Mouth

Filed under: alpaca, Alpacas, camelids, General, llama — Tags: , , , , — alpacalady @ 6:08 am

 

Maya Demonstrates The Post Spit Droopy Lip

Maya Demonstrates The Post Spit Droopy Lip

 

 

Well it does at least if you are a llama or an alpaca.

 

One of the questions we are frequently asked at Open Farm Days is “Can alpacas spit” It sometimes seems as if the general public are a little pre-occupied by the thought of llamas and alpacas spitting.  Of course both alpacas and llamas can spit, but usually they have to be provoked to do so.

 

Most alpaca or llama owners have experienced being on the wrong end of a spitting incident, but if you talk to them you will usually discover that they were either caught in the cross fire between two alpacas or llamas (or even one of each) or were doing something that the animal concerned with was not too thrilled about, such as toe nail trimming or shearing.  Feeding time is another time when spitting may occur as the llamas or alpacas send messages to their herd mates that one particular area of hay or bowl of food is theirs.

 

One farm I know used to allow visitors to hand feed their alpacas, until they realized that feeding time is one of the times when alpacas will spit at other alpacas who try to get their food.  With the farm visitors having handfuls of feed to give to the alpacas they soon found themselves in the crossfire of a spitting match – not good public relations material.  So the farm in question stopped the visitors from hand feeding and the spit problem went away.

 

Pregnant female alpacas and llamas can be a little more inclined to spit.  They are often hormonal and tired of carrying their cria around and so tend to be more temperamental and who can blame them, after all they carry their crias for 11 months or longer.  Who wouldn’t be tired and hormonal?

 

Llamas in particular seem to have an even bigger spit reputation and people are often surprised when I tell them that our three llamas have never spit at us or at any visitors to the farm.  That’s not to say that they don’t spit at all, but they reserve that behavior for each other or the alpacas at feeding time.  Our llama ladies will come up and sniff at people to check them out but then they will step back and keep a watchful eye on the farm visitors from a distance.

 

One thing that many people are not aware of is the “droopy lip” that alpacas and llamas exhibit after they have spit.  The spit is not at all pleasant in taste and so after spitting the alpacas and llamas let their bottom lip completely relax (as demonstrated by Maya in the picture at the top of this blog entry) and walk around with their bottom lip drooping.  To the unitiated owner or farm sitter this can cause concern that something is wrong with the alpaca or llama displaying that behavior, when in fact all that is happening is an “airing out” of the lip and mouth to help clear the bad taste.  It’s not unusual for an alpaca or llama displaying such a droopy lip to seek out some hay to chew on in order to remove the bad taste from their mouth.

 

Spitting is a minor part of alpaca and llama behavior, with them having so many other charming attributes it is a shame that spitting is the one thing that people seem to focus on when thinking of alpacas and llamas.   To the owners of alpacas and llamas who know how docile and endearing their animals are that thought process leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth – just like spit (except that thankfully us alpaca and llama owners don’t walk around with a droopy bottom lip!)

 

Rosemary

April 3, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like…….

Theresa

A mother alpaca who feels that someone has threatened her cria! 

Just as I was finishing chores yesterday morning I heard a huge commotion coming from the large blue shelter in the girls pasture.  A group of the girls came running out and I could hear a couple of them screaming.  While the girls do squabble from time to time this was more than squabbling and I couldn’t figure out what on earth was going on.

As the dust settled I could see that the two screamers were Theresa and Rebecca.  Both girls are due to have their crias in May and both are very hormonal!  Alongside Rebecca was her last year’s cria Athena.  Athena is weaned and now over a year old, but she still likes to spend time with her dam from time to time.

The screaming continued as Theresa and Rebecca faced off and along with the screaming there was also some spitting taking place. 

When alpacas get into squabbles I usually wait a little while to see if they sort things out for themselves, more often than not they will.    Occasionally I do have to intervene if a couple of the boys are fighting too hard, but with the girls their battles are usually short.    That was not the case today though as Theresa and Rebecca continued to chase each other in circles, screaming as they went.

I went over to see if I could at least break their eye contact and diffuse the situation.  Fortunately I was wearing one of my hooded sweatshirts – the hoods provide excellent spit protection when required.

The two girls were as mad as they could be at each other.  I walked between them and Theresa stood in a defiant pose with her head and tail up, her lips trembling with anger.  Rebecca was very agitated and continue to scream and spit but now was directing her anger toward me.  I stepped toward her and Athena (who had remained by Rebecca’s side), put my hand up in front of her and firmly told her “No”.  The girls know that this means I am not willing to take any more spitting or screaming and will usually stop at this hand signal.

 Rebecca did stop, but then Athena decided that under the circumstances maybe she should return to nursing, putting her head under Rebecca.  As Athena is well weaned, Rebecca was not going to allow her to nurse and now directed her fury at Athena.  Poor little Athena flipped her tail up over her back in submission, and so I stepped between Rebecca and Athena and again raised my hand in front of Rebecca and told her “No”.

By this time Rebecca was getting the message, but there was still a lot of posturing going on between her and Theresa.  I got the girls moving and did my best to make sure that Theresa and Rebecca went in separate directions, but neither one of them really wanted to back down from the other.

Eventually Rebecca and Athena went into one of the feeding pens and Theresa headed off toward another.  I decided to take each girl a little hay, not as a reward, but rather as a way for her to clear the spit out of her mouth.  Alpacas and llamas will usually head to the hay following spitting, and use a mouthful to get the taste of the spit out of their mouths.

Theresa accepted her hay quite readily, Rebecca was a different story.  Athena by this time had cushed in the pen with Rebecca and looked a little shaken, so I walked over to check her and was met by Rebecca who started to scream at me again.  Athena remained cushed but again flipped her tail over her back.  It then struck me that something had caused Rebecca to be protective of Athena, while she had appeared to be directing her fury at Athena a little earlier, I think she was actually trying to protect her.  What I saw perhaps was not so much anger but fear that something was going to happen to Athena.

I stayed with Rebecca and Athena for a while, talking calmly to Rebecca and letting her see that I was not a threat to Athena.  She started to calm down and then sniffed Athena all over, checking to see that her daughter was okay.

I think that most likely this whole episode started when Theresa chased Athena away from one of the hay feeders.  Theresa can be particularly grumpy at the end of her pregnancy and I have seen her chase other alpacas away from her patch of the hay before.  She can become quite angry in the process and on one occasion a couple of years ago we ended up putting her in a pen on her own for a while until she calmed down.  I guess those hormones are just too much for Theresa by this time of her pregnancy.

Rebecca on the other hand is usually very calm.  She does get excited at feeding time and is quite vocal, grumbling to let us know that we should be getting her feed to her sooner, but I have never seen her get as angry as she was today.  While she has always been attentive to Athena, she has never been a dam who is extremely protective of her cria. She certainly showed Theresa today that even though Athena is more than capable of surviving on her own, Theresa had better not mess with her or else she will have to deal with Rebecca!

The rest of the day was peaceful with Theresa and Rebecca settling down to eat hay in separate areas and Athena joining her weanling friends in an afternoon chase around the pasture.

When I think of all of the girls we have in their last 60 days of pregnancy, I realize that we have quite a hormonal concoction in the pasture right now – maybe I will be wearing that hooded sweatshirt with it’s built in spit protection for a bit longer yet!

Rosemary

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