A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

September 1, 2009

Beautiful Day, Beautiful Cria

Willow's New Cria

Willow's New Cria

Monday was a beautiful day, temperatures were in the 80’s, a light breeze was drifting across the pasture and everywhere was damp from rain we had received the night before.  It was New Mexico at its best with bright blue skies, brilliant sunshine and some fluffy white clouds in the sky.

Willow must have thought it a beautiful day too for that morning she went into labor.  I first noticed her looking restless at 9:40 a.m., she was sitting on one hip her legs kicked out to one side.  After a while she would get up and walk around then cush again rolling onto one hip or the other.  From there she started pushing a little harder and making those frequent visits to the poop pile that are often a sign of labor in alpacas.  Then her contractions became very strong and she cushed again, rolling onto one hip and pushing hard.

I could see progress was being made and so left Willow alone (that’s the hardest part of watching an alpaca in labor sometimes!).  Soon I could see a little white foot and nose emerging from Willow, followed shortly by another little white foot.  When I saw Willow was between contractions I moved her to a pen so that she could finish labor in peace without being bothered by the rest of the herd.

At 10:40 the cria was born, a shiny bright, snowy white female cria – beautiful!  The cria looked quite small, but when I picked her up she felt heavier than she looked, perhaps an indication of some good heavy bone.  Willow is not a large alpaca and Treasure the cria’s sire is an average sized alpaca and so I expected that the offspring from that pairing would not be huge.  Later when I weighed Willow’s cria she was 14.7 lbs. a nice weight for a smaller dam to deliver.

A Close Up of Willow's Cria's Fleece - if only you could feel it!

A Close Up of Willow's Cria's Fleece - if only you could feel it!

There is no doubting that Treasure is the sire of this little girl for she has his outstanding brightness to her fleece and that silky, slightly waxy handle.  The pairing of Willow and Treasure was a good one and I think this little girl will be one to watch out for.

The usual routine of the day went out of the window as I spent time watching Willow and her cria, making sure Willow passed her afterbirth without problem and that the cria found Willow’s udder and had a good nurse.   Later I let the pair out in a pen so that the cria could stretch her legs and have a trot around, and as she discovered that her legs would carry her well and fast, so Willow ran beside her not wanting to let her new baby out of her sight.

Days like those are just one of the advantages of being an alpaca rancher.  For those first precious hours of that cria’s life you can put the routine to one side and just enjoy the miracle of a new life.  I think you have to agree it’s not a bad way to earn a living is it!


August 7, 2009

So Which Handsome Prince Created Sleeping Beauty?



Sleeper Enjoys Some Hay

Sleeper Enjoys Some Hay

I finally got around to sending in the last of the fall cria ARI registrations the other day. With the online registration complete, I mailed in the crias blood cards for DNA analysis for parentage verification. We often wait before sending in our ARI registrations for a few reasons. First we want to make sure that the cria makes it through the first few months of life. You hate to think of losing a cria but if does happen then it is usually within the first 30 days of its life. Some may argue that it would be useful to have the cria registered for the national herd records, but at the end of the day economics comes into play and to me it does not make sense to pay to register a cria who is no more.


Another reason we hold off registering our crias is that sometimes they change color as they mature. We have had several crias who start off beige at birth and change to white by the time they are six months old. Our Kanika looked to be dark brown or bay black when she was born but by the time we came to shear her she was the most beautiful true black. A client of ours delivered his dam to us for breeding with her white cria by her side. When he came to pick his dam and cria up he was surprised to see that the cria’s fleece was no longer white. The fleece looked white from the outside but when you parted the fleece the fiber inside was a definite light fawn (and no it was not staining from our red dirt!). Crias definitely can change color.


So often our crias are five or six months old before we register them, sometimes even older.


The registrations I sent off the other day were for Chandra and Sleeping Beauty (whom we call Sleeper) and they are both definitely older than six months. Interestingly in my herd book I show that Chandra and Sleeper could both have been conceived on the same day November 11,2007. I say “could” have been conceived on the same day because when it came to their birth dates there was quite a bit of difference. Sleeper was born on September 27, 2008 and Chandra was born on October 17, 2008. Chandra’s birth date is in the range of her being a full term cria. Sleeper would have been a little premature (and that was the note I had in my herd book).


Going back a little further in the herd book I could see that Sleeper’s Dam Keeva bred about three weeks prior to the November 11 breeding, so maybe that was the breeding that resulted in Sleeper, if so that would mean that Sleeper’s sire is our herdsire Travesura’s Altiplano Treasure rather than our herdsire Tobiano – hmmm…


My records show that we had tried breeding Keeva to Treasure but the breeding didn’t seem to take. As Treasure was in his first breeding season we didn’t like to force the issue and so decided to put Keeva with Tobiano instead at the next breeding attempt. Tobiano and Keeva bred without a problem and from then on Keeva was not receptive to any male alpacas, so we assumed that Keeva was carrying a Tobiano cria.


Thankfully when you go to register a cria you have the option to list two potential sires, and so that is what I did the other day. I personally feel that Sleeper is Tobiano’s cria, she has certain traits that I have seen before in his offspring and Keeva as an experienced dam is not likely to cush for a male when she is already pregnant.


Now we will wait and see what Sleeper’s DNA blood card reveals – is she a Treasure cria or a Tobiano cria? Time and DNA will tell.



June 25, 2009

Between Puppies and Crias

Rosie's New Cria

Rosie's New Cria

Life has been more hectic than usual on the farm.  Our puppy Blue keeps us busy with her need for play and exercise as well as constant vigilance to work on her housetraining.  She’s a smart girl but we do have to remember she is only 9 weeks old.  The alpaca girls have also been keeping us busy as the crias continue to arrive.

Following Chai’s surprise cria the next dam to present us with a cria was Rosie.   Rosie was due to have her cria at the end of May/early June but instead decided to hold on to that cria for a little longer and did not deliver until June 17.  Once the cria was born we knew why she had waited those extra days, she needed time to make the extra bit to make that cria a boy!  Yes, another boy and certainly this seems to be a boy year.

Rosie’s boy is out of our herdsire Treasure so we were not surprised that this little guy was white.  With both Rosie and Treasure being white the chances of a white cria were high.  Rosie’s cria has that same broad Treasure forehead that Queen’s cria has, and as Rosie herself has a broad forehead she probably contributed some in that department too.  It did mean that Ric and I winced a little as Rosie pushed out her cria, delivering that head took an extra hard push – but Rosie had a normal and unassisted delivery, which was a good thing.

While we own Rosie and Treasure this particular cria does not belong to us as we had leased out Rosie to our friend’s Bob and Regina Dart of Llano Soleado Alpacas.  Regina loves Rosie’s coverage and stylish head and knew I was not prepared to sell her and so we made an agreement that we would lease Rosie to the Darts meaning that her cria was theirs once it was born.  Of course the cria will stay at our farm with Rosie until he is weaned, but it was a great arrangement where we could allow someone to access Rosie’s outstanding genetics without losing her from our herd.

Rosie’s cria is a handsome young man, with nice sturdy bone, a compact body and a stylish head, but what you can’t see from the picture is the crimpy, brilliant white shiny fleece that lies under those cria tips.  Bob and Regina are going to have fun showing this little boy when he comes of age, even in the competitive white male alpaca classes.

Now all we need is a name for the little guy – but I know Regina is busy working on that!


April 16, 2009

Reading Between the Lines


Now that the visiting alpacas quarantine period is over its time for us to get started with the breeding process so that we can get the alpacas pregnant and returned to their owners.


Orchid is going to be shorn prior to breeding, she is carrying a lot of fleece and it will be much safer to shear her first rather than shear her in the very early stages of pregnancy.


Marti arrived at our farm already shorn and so at the weekend we introduced her to our herdsire Treasure, who is the male Marti is to be bred to.  Marti initially ran a little, not completely unusual in an open alpaca, but sometimes it is an indication that she is not at the part of her cycle where she is most receptive to breeding.


Marti did cush for Treasure fairly quickly so we were optimistic that she would breed that day, however a short while later she stood up again.   We were not certain why Marti stood up; it was possible that she found the act of breeding painful in which case we would have needed to investigate things further.   Treasure again mounted Marti and again she cushed but shortly afterwards stood up.  At that point we decided that it was time to call a halt to the proceedings, as something was not right as far as Marti was concerned.


We knew that Marti had a reproductive work up prior to coming to us and that her owner’s vet declared her sound for breeding so we suspected that Marti’s behavior with Treasure was most likely due to her being in the wrong part of her reproductive cycle for breeding, even though she cushed quite readily for Treasure.


Yesterday we decided to try Marti with Treasure again so see if her behavior would be any different.  Again she ran a little but this time when she cushed she stayed cushed and allowed herself to be bred.  The breeding proceeded without any problems and Marti did not show any signs of discomfort during the breeding.


So Marti’s behavior at the first time of being put with Treasure was her way of saying that she was not receptive for breeding.  The fact that she cushed was a little misleading, but she is timid by nature and she may just have felt dominated by Treasure which caused her to cush.  Her behavior of standing up during the breeding was a more definite indication that she was not receptive to breeding at that time.


Alpacas have very distinct individual personalities and when it comes to breeding females it is helpful to know and understand their personality.  By getting acquainted with the various personalities it makes it a little easier to read the behavior of the female alpaca when she is introduced to a male.  In Marti’s case we knew her to be timid by nature and that helped us assess her behavior when first introduced to the male.


Apart from the biosecurity advantages of the three week quarantine that we enforce on alpacas coming onto the farm, it also gives us a chance to observe and get to know visiting female alpacas before introducing them to the male alpacas.   By being able to read their subtle signals and understand what they are trying to tell us by their behavior we are better able to assess where they are in their reproductive cycle or if there may be something else causing them to be non-receptive to breeding.


We will behavior test Marti in about a week to see if she will reject the male indicating that she has probably cycled, if so we may be on our way to achieving a successful pregnancy.  The process of breeding alpacas is not a difficult one, but it does take time, knowledge of alpaca reproductive behavior and the ability to be able to read between the lines to understand what the female alpaca is telling you.




September 9, 2008

Well If You Will Make Him Wear A Dress

Kanika wearing her coat - there was much less fuss with the girls than the boys

Kanika wearing her coat - there was much less fuss with the girls than the boys





Having recovered from our Open Farm Day we decided on Sunday that it was time to start putting fleece covers on the alpacas.   We also need to replenish our supplies of covers so by using the ones we already have it will be easier for us to assess what size covers we need to purchase.


We started with the crias first.  Sometimes it can be a bit unnerving for the crias the first time we put a fleece cover on them, we do it as quickly and as gently as possible.  We also do it in a catch pen so that if one of them really does not take to the cover we can catch him or her easily and calm them down or if necessary remove the cover.  There is nothing worse than trying to catch a panicked cria who is trying to run away from a fleece cover in an open pasture.


The crias all handled their coats well, no-one was panicked and they all seemed more interested in eating hay.  The next step was to let the crias our and see how the dams responded to their crias wearing coats.  All of the dams sniffed their crias, checked out the coats and then allowed the crias to nurse, except TeQueely who would not let Pride anywhere close to her.    We caught Pride and removed his coat and TeQueely allowed him to nurse.  We will try putting a coat on Pride again in a few days, but this time we will put him and TeQueely in a pen to eat together for a while and then put the coat on Pride while TeQueely is present.  Hopefully if she sees the cover being put on her cria she will be more accepting of it.  If TeQueely still will not accept the cover at that time we will leave it off Pride until he is weaned.  It is far more important that he can nurse than it is to get a cover on him.


The weanlings took the process of putting their covers on in their stride, and barely missed a beat in their daily activities.


We then moved onto the adult boys, putting a coat on Cloudy first.  Well that was just too much for those boys, they instantly started jumping on Cloudy and chasing him.  To break up the “teasing session” we then caught Treasure and put a coat on him.  That meant that there were now two boys with coats on in that pen.


Our past experience has taught us that some of the alpacas find the coats fascinating.  They will grab at them, nibble on them and often chase the alpaca wearing a coat until they themselves are caught and their coat is put on.  We have learnt over the years never to put a coat on only one alpaca in a pen (especially in a pen of adult males) and if any chasing should start then catch the leader of the chase and put a coat on him next.  That soon diffuses the situation.


As we watched the boys checking out Cloudy and Treasure’s coats, the rough housing seemed to go on longer than usual.  I voiced my concern to Ric that the boys were not settling down as they should and his reply was “Well what do you expect you’ve made Cloudy and Treasure wear a dress!”


I had never thought of it that way, I guess Ric saw it from a much different and male point of view, in his mind the coats looked like dresses and it was not a surprise to him that the uncoated boys would pick on the coated boys.


We continued to watch the adult males until all of the fussing had settled down.  Fortunately that happened within a few minutes and calm returned to the herd, except that now I can’t stop thinking that my boys are wearing a dress, I had never thought of the covers in that way before Ric’s comment  – men!


July 14, 2008

Indifference – The Alpaca Way

Alpaca girls are quite matter of fact about their dates.  I have had one or two who have shown an attachment to a particular male, but for the most part they resign themselves to the breeding process, and during the breeding spend their time looking around at any activity nearby.  I have had one girl fall asleep during a breeding, much to the dismay of her mate who then started to sniff her and produce an orgle with almost a question mark in it’s tone.  (Orgling is the noise made by the male alpaca during breeding)


On Saturday we behavior tested Bjorn and Queen, both of whom have been bred and who are experienced dams.  Bjorn refused to go anywhere near the pen where the male alpaca was, planting her feet in the ground and putting her ears back.  Normally Bjorn leads easily so we took her actions to be a firm rejection of the male.  Queen ventured into the pen with the male but soon ran away and then as a parting gesture spit at him.  So it is looking promising that Bjorn and Queen may be pregnant.


Next we decided to breed Willow to Treasure.  We had tried this breeding combination last year but Treasure was not quite ready to breed at that time and Willow never did conceive from that breeding.  We later bred Willow to Tobiano, which resulted in her current cria Desert Sand Storm or Stormy as we call him.


Willow is quite the character; she was born hungry and always tells us she is hungry when it is feeding time.  She tends to be on the chubby side and so we don’t always listen to her grumblings as to how she hasn’t been fed enough.   Willow is also our alpaca escapologist.  She will try and get through the smallest of gaps, wiggle her way past you when you are opening the gates and generally seize any opportunity she gets to make an escape from the pasture.


In preparation for breeding we placed Willow in a secure pen and then brought Treasure over to her.  This year Treasure is definitely ready to breed (and now has a confirmed pregnancy to his credit) and he had no hesitation in starting to orgle at Willow as soon as he entered the pen.  Willow though had other things on her mind – food.  She had found something growing in the pen and was busily nibbling it.  She didn’t even glance over her shoulder at Treasure but just carried on eating.  Treasure was not to be deterred and mounted Willow, who continued to eat and still didn’t even acknowledge Treasure’s presence. 


We decided that Willow should probably be paying better attention and so lifted her head to stop her from grazing, once we did that she cushed and all seemed to be going well with the breeding.  That is until we went to leave the pen, at which time Willow seemed to think this was her opportunity to get out of the pen and back to her favorite past time of eating.   In the end we had to bring a flake of hay into the pen for Willow to nibble on while she was bred.  Then and only then would she stay cushed.   Poor Treasure it’s a good job male alpacas are not insulted by such behavior!




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