A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

December 20, 2008

Anyone Need Any Tumbleweeds?


Because we have a few hundred to spare if anyone wants them!


Having made it safely home from my trip to England (a day later than expected thanks to a cancelled flight) I was greeted by below freezing temperatures of 15 F and walls of tumbleweeds that blew in en masse on Sunday when the sustained wind speed was 30-40 mph with gusts of 65 mph – lovely!


Tuesday was a little warmer and calmer and I foolishly spent time trying to remove some of the tumbleweeds.  I say foolishly as on Thursday the wind blew again and the tumbleweeds returned.  In some parts of town the tumbleweeds stacked up past the top of ground floor windows and there are suggestions that this is the worse year ever for tumbleweeds.


At the farm our fences did a wonderful job of collecting tumbleweeds and I had to spend time pulling them away from the pasture gates just to be able to get in to feed the alpacas.  You can just about see the alpaca’s faces peering through the wall of tumbleweeds in the picture above.


The alpacas were quite blasé about the new walls to their pastures, nibbling at the offending tumbleweeds and rubbing up against the tumbleweeds that made it into the pasture – I’m hoping they didn’t get too many broken pieces of tumbleweed in their fleeces.


The crias and yearlings enjoyed the windy weather, running around the pasture and spooking at each other and the tumbleweeds that rolled across their path.  There was much jumping and turning up in the air and running at full gallop, ending up with a game of “lets see who stops closest to the fence”.


So now for me it is back to work, sorting through the various emails and mail that arrived while I was away, trying to get back on track and perhaps even preparing for Christmas (most men I have spoken to have assured me that five days is more than enough time to prepare!).


For all who sent me messages of sympathy and support following my fathers’ death I thank you for your kind words and wishes.  Each and every message I received meant a lot to me and was a comfort at a sad time.


I hope to get back on track with my blog entries now and look forward to posting more entries about life on our farm and reading the comments of visitors to the blog.


(and don’t forget if you need any tumbleweeds we have plenty to spare – an excellent gift for that hard to buy for person in your life!)



August 23, 2008

A Case of Confused Hormones? (Or Perhaps What’s In Those Weeds!)




Male alpaca behavior is such that when an ungelded male alpaca comes in contact with a female alpaca he will usually start to orgle and then pursue her.    I have seen this behavior in little male crias just a few weeks old; it’s in the genes I guess.  Male alpacas will from time to time have wrestling matches, sometimes due to one male stealing the other’s place at the hay rack, sometimes because a beautiful female alpaca is nearby and sometimes just to reinforce their place in the hierarchy of the group.


Usually female alpacas are most concerned with eating, sunbathing and mothering their crias.  Occasionally the adult females will join in with the crias evening play session, its quite amusing to see a fully grown female pronging around the pasture the crias.  Of course when a cria is born the girls in the group are all keen to check out the new arrival.  When a male alpaca is brought over for breeding to one of the females it is not unusual to have several of the females come over and sniff him, sometimes following him over to the breeding pen, other times snorting in disgust and returning to the serious business of eating.


Wednesday evening as I finished chores TeQueely came over and did her usual dance by the gate, trying to get my attention (at which she was successful) and letting me know that she was looking for a tasty treat. 


There are some weeds on our property that I know are safe for the alpacas to eat and which they are particularly fond of, so I stopped to give TeQueely a handful, knowing that if I failed to do so I would be subjected to disgusted stares from her for the rest of the evening (She has me well trained)


As I fed TeQueely one of the other girls Primera came to see if she could get a treat too and so I fed the girls some more weeds including a little bit of green tumbleweed that they seem quite partial too.


Having given the girls some attention I went into the house to get ready to visit one of the neighbors.  On my way out of the house as I passed the girls pasture I heard a commotion – spitting, squealing and grunting.  Looking across to see what the commotion was I could see that Primera was trying to breed Anya, one of our adult females.


Naturally Anya was not too thrilled with Primera’s attention and was letting her know her displeasure by spitting and squealing, but Primera was not being deterred by Anya’s actions.


I decided that I should intervene so went into the pasture and pulled Primera off Anya, but Primera was determined to mount Anya again.  After I had pulled Primera off Anya a couple of times I made Anya get up from her cushed position hoping that would help the situation.  Primera though decided that she would give Queen a try and jumped up and mounted her.  I removed Primera from Queen and stood holding her for a while, she was softly orgling (the noise a male alpaca makes during breeding) and was obviously not quite herself.  I stroked Primera for a while to try and calm her and divert her attention, this was quite remarkable as usually Primera will not let you near her unless she is in a catch pen, yet here she was standing quietly allowing herself to be stroked, looking at me with doe eyes.  Having calmed Primera down I felt that perhaps some form of distraction would help and went and got some of the pellets we feed the alpacas and spread them out in the feeding trays.  That did the trick; Primera’s mind went back to thinking about food.


This is the first time we have experienced a female alpaca getting amorous over another female alpaca.  I have heard from other alpaca breeders that once in a while they have witnessed that type of behavior but I don’t think it is a common thing.  From my experience working at a dairy prior to raising alpacas, I know that dairy heifers will often mount other heifers that are in heat.  At the dairy where I worked some of the heifers would wear chalk that would rub off on the backs of the heifers they mounted, indicating to the herdsman that the heifer with the chalk on her back was in heat.


So all I can think of Primera’s behavior was that Anya must have been in the right part of her ovarian cycle for her to emit a scent indicating she was ready for breeding.  Either that or there was something really strange in those weeds!



March 16, 2008

A Productive Day

Yesterday we finally had a chance to catch up on some of the routine herd health tasks.  Between the show in Fort Worth and illness we were a little behind schedule and with many of our pregnant girls coming up to 60 days from birthing we wanted to take care of as many tasks as possible so that we can leave those girls alone until after they have their crias.

Our young friend Alex Stewart joined us for the day; Alex was the subject of a previous post on the blog when he formed an instant bond with Stars, one of the alpacas on the farm, during a farm visit.  Alex has a good touch and manner with animals and is interested in becoming a veterinarian, he had asked if he could come out to the farm on herd health days to assist us and this was the first opportunity we had for him to do so.

Between the three of us we were able to get a lot done and now most of the herd has received a manicure and pedicure (okay we really just trimmed their toenails), preventative ear tick treatment and had their weight and body score checked and recorded.  The few alpacas that we didn’t manage to get too will receive their herd health check during the week.

It is important to keep up with these routine tasks.  Overgrown toenails can cause the alpacas to walk badly and put a strain on their joints, as the weather warms up ticks will be more active and can cause major problems if they take up residence in the warmth and safety of an alpacas ear, and overweight or underweight alpacas need to have their diet adjusted to keep them in good condition.

While dealing with the pregnant girls we were careful to try and avoid excess stress on them, the last thing we want to do is lose a pregnancy because of stress caused by something as simply as a toe nail trimming.  Each girl is different in her personality and hormone levels, some took our work in their stride while others were not so at ease.  To help keep the girls from undue stress we gave them some Bach’s Rescue Remedy about 30 minutes before working with them.  Rescue Remedy is a wonderful preparation and helps just take the edge off things for the girls without us having to sedate them.

Having accomplished much during the day we were joined in the late afternoon by Donna Given of Kiss Me Alpacas who was delivering three of her females to us for spring breedings.  Donna traveled to us from her home in Bandera, Texas and was traveling with her friend Deborah and Deborah’s two daughters Laura and Rachel.  Donna’s daughter Tamara had intended coming on the trip but unfortunately had to stay home to write a paper for a course she is taking.

Donna’s three female alpacas – Celeste, Marty and Cariad – plus Celeste’s cria Skylar Moon and Cariad’s cria Copper Chai were all pleased to come out of their trailer after the long drive and took no time at all to start exploring the quarantine pen.  Celeste was enthralled with some tumbleweeds that had blown into the pen and proceeded to rub herself all over them and then roll on them.  While the tumbleweeds obviously felt good to Celeste we did remove them from the pasture, as the last thing Donna needs is to have to spend time picking tumbleweed out of her alpacas fleeces.

During the afternoon our friends Justus and MJ stopped over too, and so the group of us went out for an evening meal together.  We ate lots, discussed much and enjoyed a great end to a productive day.


January 5, 2008

It’s Time For Tumbleweeds!

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Nutrition, Alpacas, General — Tags: , , , , — alpacalady @ 7:39 am

Tumbleweed WelcomeYesterday was another windy day here on the high plains of Eastern New Mexico, as I drove to town I had to maneuver to avoid numerous large tumbleweeds that were rolling across the road.  In their current dried condition tumbleweeds are prickly and scratchy and the last thing I want is for my new Honda Element to be attacked by a herd of tumbleweeds!

Tumbleweeds are known as a symbol of the American Southwest.  Growing up in England the only encounters I ever had with tumbleweeds was seeing them rolling across the streets of towns in western movies.  I can still remember how thrilled I was when I saw my first tumbleweed in the U.S.; little did I know that they are considered an invasive weed.

We have noticed that sometimes the alpacas are partial to some tumbleweed, just the other day I noticed TeQueely nibbling at one that was on the other side of the fence.  She tried to work the tumbleweed over the fence so that it was on the same side of the pasture as her, but as dexterous as alpacas lips are, she was not able to get that tumbleweed to where she wanted it.

On one occasion I had a discussion with our vet about tumbleweeds.  Our vet mentioned that somewhere he had read that they actually have some nutritional value.   I remember thinking if we could market all of our tumbleweeds as being good forage we could soon become rich!

A little research has revealed that tumbleweeds do in fact have some nutritional value, in their winter dried state their protein content is about 12% and they are a good source of vitamin A and phosphorus.  I found one web site from the USDA Forest Service that has interesting information including some nutritional analysis on one species of tumbleweed Salsola Kali.  Another site that has some well presented information on tumbleweeds is the site for Desert USA.  There is even mention on that site of how during a severe drought in the 1930’s in Canada farmers used young tumbleweeds for hay and silage for livestock.

While tumbleweeds are somewhat of a nuisance, difficult to eradicate from farmland and considered an invasive weed I still get a kick out of watching them roll across the fields.  To me it is incredible to think of the evolution that has taken place for this plant to develop it’s rolling method of seed distribution.

For the next few months we will be no doubt seeing a lot of tumbleweeds, and even the odd alpaca or two wandering around with one hanging from its mouth as it enjoys a little bit of dietary variety by eating some tumbleweed.   We will periodically try and collect up the tumbleweeds and haul them off, but as fast as we can carry them off new ones will arrive to take their place.  If only we really could develop a way to harvest and market them, but of course if we figured that out everyone would be carefully keeping their tumbleweeds on their property and our “crop” would be severely diminished.  Who knows though, maybe someday there really will be a use for these symbols of the Southwest.


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