A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

February 25, 2013

Even alpacas like to have friends

A question was posted recently on one of the online alpaca groups I belong to:

“Do alpacas make friends and if so do they remember those friends if they are separated and meet up again?”

The answer from alpaca owners was a resounding “Yes”.  There were many mentions of alpacas who bonded with other alpacas, some were related others not.  Stories of alpacas recognizing past friends at shows or when they met up at farms were also recounted.

Over the years we have witnessed the strong bonds that alpacas form with each other.  Certainly alpacas recognize their own family groups and seem to have stronger bonds with those alpacas (except for our alpaca Queen, for as far as Queen is concerned once those crias are weaned they are on their own!).    But it is not only family ties that bind alpacas together, they definitely also make friends.

We recently witnessed an example of this when we moved the two boys in our current weaning group, Patton and Leo, over to the Junior Males pen.  Patton and Leo were part of a group that consisted of five boys and seven girls.  Three of the boys Sentry, MacArthur and Espresso were moved over to the Junior Males pen a few months ago, but we decided to keep Leo and Patton back in the weanling pen for a little longer.  Patton was small for his age and we were concerned he would receive too much rough housing attention from the other males.  Leo was a tough boy to wean, at our first attempt he became distraught at being separated from his dam Velvet and tried to break through fences to get to her so we put Leo back with Velvet for a little longer until we felt he was able to better handle the separation.  Over time we could tell that Leo had matured more and was ready to be weaned so he soon joined the other weanlings.  This time Leo handled the separation from Velvet much better.  When Leo started to show too much interest in the weanling females (when he matured he really matured!) we decided that it was time to move him and Patton into the Junior Males pen.

Our process for introducing males to a new group is to create a smaller pen within the pen the males are being moved to.  We then put the new boys plus a couple of mellow boys from the existing group in that pen too.  The smaller group can have nose to nose contact with the other boys and will remain in that pen for a week to two weeks.  Usually by that time the novelty of the new arrivals wears off and when we let everyone get together we typically have very few problems.   We also make that final introduction at feeding time so that there is an additional distraction.

When the time came for Leo and Patton to meet the other junior males all went well.   Soon they were wandering around, checking out their new surroundings and new pen mates.  It was then we noticed something else, that Sentry was almost glued to Patton’s side!  Sentry was so happy to meet his buddy Patton again!

When the weanling boys had all been together prior to weaning they all got along well, but we hadn’t realized how much Sentry liked Patton until we saw them together again.  Sentry would not let the other boys mess with Patton and Patton was pleased to have his buddy by his side, even though Sentry is now considerably bigger than Patton.

Patton with his buddy Sentry

Patton with his buddy Sentry (Sentry is the brown alpaca taking it easy in the background)

Alpacas are most definitely a herd animal, which is why we tell people that you should never have a lone alpaca.  We have been fortunate to witness alpacas in our herd group over a considerable period of time and know that they do form bonds.  When they are with their families or their buddies they are happy, separate them and it definitely causes them some stress.

Sometimes though it is inevitable that those bonds are going to be broken.  Male and female crias that grow up together are not going to be pastured together, alpacas that are sold to other breeders will often be sold without their friends (unless we can work out a great deal with the new owners and we will try and do that when possible) and of course at times an alpaca will pass away leaving a buddy behind.   Any time there is going to be a separation we do our best to manage it well; probiotics to keep the alpacas rumen functioning well and to supply B vitamins to help them handle the stress of separation, Rescue Remedy to help them deal with the loss, over time the alpacas do adjust.   It is sometimes a fine balancing act to keep the herd happy and run a successful alpaca business, but we do our best to respect the alpacas while also keeping our business functioning.  Then of course there are the happy reunions we sometimes see, such as Patton and Sentry or a female who comes back to the farm for a breeding and is happily reunited with her dam or her sister for the duration of her stay.

So yes, alpacas do make friends and do remember those friends – and sometimes those friends can also be humans, but that’s a subject for another time 🙂

Rosemary

July 21, 2009

Alpaca Reunion

We had several alpaca reunions over the weekend starting first with the return of Anya to our farm.

 

Anya now belongs to Terri Faver of Almost Canyon Ranch in Amarillo, Texas and last weekend we had taken Zin and Regent over to Terri’s ranch to breed Shiimsa and Anya. All went well with Zin and Shiimsa but Anya was not in the mood for breeding! In fact Anya was far from in the mood, running hard, spitting and even trying to get out of the stall – definitely not receptive. Anya’s reaction to the male was so dramatic that we started to wonder if she could have a retained CL or somehow be pregnant.

 

The pregnancy theory was a remote one, Terri had her two male alpacas Opie and Rian gelded after she purchased them and then kept them separated from the girls for at least three weeks. Terri did try and put the two gelded boys in with the girls but that was unsuccessful as she came out to the pasture one day to find Anya cushed and Opie acting as if he was breeding her. If Anya had cushed for Opie there was a chance that Opie’s act of breeding her could have been a factor in causing a retained CL.

 

We talked the situation over with Terri and decided to have her test Anya with Opie during the week to see if Anya’s reaction changed. About the middle of the week Terri reported that Anya seemed a little more flirty and so we made a plan for Anya to come over to our farm to see what happened when she was put in with Regent.

 

Saturday morning arrived and so did Terri and Anya. Thankfully Anya did cush for Regent this time and we will keep our fingers crossed that the breeding results in a pregnancy. Terri has left Anya with us for the next week or so in order that we may test Anya with a male to gauge if she might be pregnant.

 

It was fun to see Anya again and she settled right in, making her way to the feeding pen where we always fed her, checking out the hay feeders and of course sniffing and greeting her old pasture mates. What was interesting to me was that Anya’s dam Bjorn and sister Keeva were among the first in the herd to come and see Anya.

 

The other reunions arose from one simple act. Allowing the weanling alpacas back in the main herd. It didn’t take them long to find their mothers and by the evening each weanling was cushed at its dams side reinforcing once more the strong family bond that alpacas have.

 

So by Saturday evening our pasture was filled with happy alpaca families and hopefully a newly pregnant Anya.

 

Rosemary

January 26, 2009

Weanling Update

 

Our spring crias are just about weaned, I say just about because we tried putting the female weanlings back in with the main female group this weekend and Annochia still wanted to nurse from Anya.  Annochia’s behavior was not a complete surprise to us; Annochia comes from the close Bjorn family who don’t like to be weaned.  Anya did kick Annochia off but we decided that we would put the weanlings back in their own pasture for a while longer just to make sure that no one brings their dam back into milk.

 

The dams really have taken the weaning process in their stride.  What was interesting with this group of weanlings was that the boys weaned with more ease than the girls.  Usually the boy crias are the most reluctant to wean, not so with this group though.

 

We have now graduated Pride and Atlas into the junior male pen.  After their move they did spend a couple of days hanging around the gate wondering how they could get back to the female herd, but now are starting to integrate well.  Something that was unexpected was that our orphan young male Mags has really settled down since the arrival of Pride and Atlas in the junior male pen.  Mags went over to that pen a few weeks before Pride and Atlas and was still actively seeking human interaction, but with the arrival of Pride and Atlas young Mags is acting much more like an alpaca.  Perhaps he feels he now has some seniority in the herd pecking order and that has given him the reassurance he needed.

 

Stormy has now gone to live with his new owner Abby Dart and we got a lovely report yesterday from Abby and her mother Regina on Stormy’s progress.  Abby already has Stormy going over bridges, jumping over jumps and going through a maze – good job Abby!

 

So now in the weanling pen we have only girls – Annochia, Dream, Serenity, Song, Zianna, Kaneka, Velvet and Carissima.   Kaneka, Velvet and Carissima are yearlings and are already weaned but have provided a good stabilizing influence on the weanlings.  We now take the weanlings (both boys and girls) for walks on their halters several times a week to help them become relaxed at being on a halter and they are all doing well.

 

For us weaning is a process that needs to be handled with care and consideration.  True it takes more time to go through day weaning before final weaning, but it makes for a gentler separation for the alpacas.  It is a stressful time for the weanlings and sometimes for the dams too and it is worth putting extra effort into the process to make it as easy as possible for all involved. 

 

Rosemary

December 24, 2008

Mom!!!!

 

The weaning crias rushing back to their dams

The weaning crias rushing back to their dams

 

 

I think that was the general cry as we let the fall crias back into the main pen following their first day of day weaning.  You can see from the blur of running weanlings in the photo above that they did not hang about in returning to their mothers!

 

The weanlings all handled their first day well, although some were definitely more at ease than others.  Zianna, Stormy and Pride walked over with us to the weaning pen without hesitation, while Dream and Annochia had already figured out that this was not going to be what they wanted and balked at the process of crossing the pasture.  Serenity and Atlas walked over with plenty of head turning and wondering where they were going.  Song being an orphan did not have a dam to worry about leaving, but was more concerned about staying with her buddies.  Song is no longer taking a bottle as Ric finished weaning Song and Mags off the bottle while I was in England.  Mags is already in with the juvenile male group and is settling in well.  Once they are weaned Pride, Stormy and Atlas will be joining him there.

 

During the day we kept an eye on the weanling group and for the most part they stayed in their shelter eating hay.  It was one of those windy New Mexico afternoons (sustained winds around 25 mph), helping encourage the weanlings to remain in the shelter and distracting them from watching the fence line for their dams.  There were a couple of times when one or two of them did come to the fence to look for their dams, but they soon returned to the weanling group when they realized that they could not get to their dams through the fence.

 

To help add some stability to the group we put a few of the maiden alpacas in the pen with them.  Kanika, Carissima and Velvet did a good job of calmly going about their daily business, reassuring the weanlings that all was well with the world.  We have found that the addition of two or three older alpacas in a weanling group helps provide an element of calm in what can be a stressful time for the weanlings.

 

Out of the whole group I think Annochia took the weaning the hardest.  A member of the Bjorn family, a very close family group of alpacas, she was not at all pleased about being away from her dam Anya, making me wonder if she will be as hard to wean as her dam was.  Both Anya and her sister Keeva took a lot of persuading when it came to the subject of weaning and I suspect Annochia may be the same.

 

As often is the case, the dams were not at all concerned about the crias being away for the day.  Serenity’s dam Snow did initially wander over and look through the fence at the weanling group, but soon returned to join the other alpacas at the hay feeder.

 

By evening chores though the weanlings were telling me they were more than ready to go back to their dams.   As you can see once the gate was opened they rushed to be reunited with their dams and then nursed hungrily as if they hadn’t eaten all day!

 

Today we will repeat the process again, and will continue to do so for about two weeks before the weanlings take the next step of staying away from their dams overnight.  Usually by that time they have adjusted to being away from their dams and will take the next step in their stride.  (Lets hope Annochia agrees with me on that point when the time comes!)

 

Rosemary

 

December 22, 2008

Mixing and Mingling

 

Until recently we have kept the fall cria group and their dams in a separate pen from the main female group on the farm.  This started before the fall crias were born when we wanted to provide a quiet place for the dams to give birth and for the small crias to be safely away from the antics of the larger spring crias.

 

Now though it is time for some change, the spring cria group is ready to be weaned and the fall crias are now nearly all over 30 lbs and growing well.  I say nearly all, as Little Man is still shy of the 30 lb. mark but is gradually headed in that direction.

 

We like to start the weaning process with day weaning, and in order to do that we need to be able to put the spring crias in a separate pen during the day to prevent them from nursing from their dams.  So some rearranging of the female herd has been necessary.

 

Our main female pen is close to our quarantine pen, with a 10 foot enclosed alleyway separating the two pens.  The fall cria group and their dams have so far been in the quarantine pen.  Now though we have opened up the gates between the pens to allow the two groups to mix and mingle.

 

It is always amusing to me to watch the alpaca’s behavior when we first open the gates.  Inevitably for the first day or so we find that the two groups swap places, the group from the main pen will be found in the quarantine pen and vice versa, I guess the alpacas just want to prove the old adage of “the grass is always greener on the other side”.

 

So far the two groups have been getting along well.  Young Pride, determined to prove that he is destined to be a herdsire has been checking out the new girls and receiving a suitable amount of spit in the process.  The fall crias have had great fun exploring the larger area, and the adult girls are convinced that the hay feeders that they did not have access to before must have better hay in them than the ones they have been feeding from.

 

We have allowed the two groups a few days to settle down before starting the day weaning process of the spring crias.  We don’t want to put any additional stress on the crias that are to be weaned.  By allowing free access to both areas for a while, the spring crias start to become familiar with what will become their day pasture. 

 

This week we will start the day weaning process, by putting the spring crias (without their dams) in the quarantine pen during the day and once again closing the gates between the two pens.  When we do evening chores we will feed the weanlings in their day pen and then open the gates to allow them to go back to their dams for the night.

 

With the spring cria group being quite a large one I suspect that they will handle the weaning process well.  They will have the company of each other, something they have had from birth and are familiar with.  I am sure there will be some displeasure at not being allowed to nurse from their dams during the day, but from the dams perspective its more than time for the spring crias to reduce their milk consumption (and some sighs of relief will no doubt be heard from the girls!)

 

Rosemary

August 26, 2008

Taking Baby Steps

 

We are once again trying Dream with a lesser amount of milk during the day.  The last week or so while she has drunk her bottles without a problem there have been several times when she has either not seemed too hungry or drunk less milk from each bottle.

 

Yesterday we fed Dream in the morning along with the other crias and did not offer her a morning bottle.   She didn’t come and seek me out looking for it and she didn’t seem ravenously hungry when I gave her a bottle in the evening.  So it seems as if it is time to wean Dream off at least one of her two daily bottles. 

 

Dream is now just over three months old and is eating hay well plus a little bit of pellet supplement and calf manna.  She is a sturdy cria, full of energy and certainly not thin.  It is amazing to think that in the space of three months we have gone from feeding her every few hours to now only giving her one 10 oz bottle a day.  We were very lucky that Dream took well to the bottle and did not fight over it like many alpaca crias do and of course Dream still has her dam Rosie who she nurses from and the occasional drink of milk from our guard llamas.  Food is not in short supply where Dream is concerned!

 

It is interesting to watch the progress of the crias, they go so quickly from nursing from their dams every hour or so, to starting to try out the hay and then making sure that they get their fill of the hay before going to nurse and then play.  One of our neighbors dropped by the other night to watch the crias play and was most disappointed to find them with their heads immersed in the hay racks.  I explained to our neighbor that play starts later these days once the crias are feeling full, often that is after dark when all you can do hear is the whisper of their feet as they fly across the pasture.

 

People often talk about baby steps, meaning small steps, but with crias I am not sure those baby steps are so small.  In a few short months they go from birth, to first steps, to playing, to eating and the visits to their dams for nursing while still there, become less frequent.  Just a few months more and we will be thinking about starting to wean them and wondering how time has yet again passed by so swiftly.

 

Rosemary

March 30, 2008

Velvet Takes On A Challenge

Velvet - March 2008

I’m not sure what is on Velvet’s mind these days; since weaning she seems to be seeking attention from the other alpacas and not always in a good way.

Velvet does follow her dam Queen around sometimes during the day, but Queen is one of those alpaca dams who has no qualms about “cutting the apron strings”.  Once Queen is ready to wean her crias she does not want to have anything to do with them.  Bjorn on the other hand is quite happy to have her daughters by her side even when they have had crias of their own, and most of the other dams in the pasture have some bond with their adult offspring but not Queen.

So perhaps Velvet is feeling that severance from Queen, but what ever it is, she has decided that she will get attention one way or another. 

First she started by trying to wander round with some of the other dams in the herd but they were not interested in buddying up with her. Then having failed at finding a friend with the older dams Velvet decided to go for something bigger – a llama!

As I looked out across the girls pasture the other day there was Velvet with her head under Griffin, one of the llamas.  Velvet appeared to be trying to nurse from Griffin, and while Griffin tolerated it for a minute or two she then decided that she had enough of Velvets affections.  Turning around she nudged Velvet from under her and then placed her neck over Velvet’s, a dominant action in the body language of camelids.

Velvet didn’t take the hint from Griffin, instead deciding to provoke her more by taking Griffins leg in her mouth and pulling on it.  Now Griffin can be tolerant, but she is a very proud llama and so could not allow herself to be pulled around by an alpaca weanling.  Griffin retaliated by grabbing Velvet’s leg in her mouth and pulling on Velvet.

At that point I decided that it was time for me to intervene.  The horseplay was not yet rough, but having seen alpacas and llamas play I know that it can soon escalate to some heavy pushing and shoving.  As gentle as Griffin is, she is several times larger than Velvet and even in play she could inadvertently hurt Velvet.  So Velvet’s game was over at least for a while.

Yesterday though Velvet was back provoking Griffin again.  As I looked out to check on the girls there was Griffin with Velvet’s leg in her mouth and then Velvet was grabbing Griffin by the leg.  I intervened again and sent the two girls off in different directions, watching and waiting to make sure Velvet didn’t return to bother Griffin again.

Velvet has other alpacas close to her age in the pasture who she feeds with every day, and I am a little surprised that she doesn’t seek their attention over that of Griffin.  Blast is always happy to play with other alpacas and Athena has been around since Velvet was born and is quite happy to walk around the pasture with Velvet.   But for some reason Velvet seems to need more than the attention of her peers.  If we had forced weaning on Velvet I would be suspicious that she had not been fully ready for weaning, but it was Queen who started that process off and made it clear to Velvet that the milk bar was closed.  Then again perhaps it is something in the genes, Velvet’s half sister TeQueely used to challenge the llamas when she was about Velvet’s age, but she would never take them on physically, instead preferring to run up to them and posture at them trying to intimidate them as best she could.

So perhaps Queen’s crias have a dare devil streak in them.  Whatever it is Velvet had better be careful that she does not take on too much of a challenge, and I had better be keeping an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t get herself into a heap of trouble!

Rosemary

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