A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

January 27, 2008

Their First Night Alone

Last night was the night, the first time the weanlings have been away from their dams overnight.  The weather is forecast to be mild over the next few days and even the night time temperatures will be above freezing and so it was a good time to make the final break.  Often newly weaned cria will sit out by the fence line all night and that is not the best place for them to be if the weather is very cold.

The weanlings were not too concerned at first last night.  I fed them and put out extra hay for them and while they came to the gate a couple of times to see if it was open, they soon settled down to eating hay followed by a chase session around the pasture.  As time went on though the realization set in that they were not going to back to the main herd for the night.

Shiimsa of course is already weaned, and we hope that her lack of concern at being in the weanling pasture overnight will help the three weanlings feel less stressed about the event. 

During the course of the evening I checked on the weanlings, Athena and Shiimsa were in their barn eating hay, Velvet and Blast were setting together by the fence line.  Some of the main herd were sitting by their fence line where the weanlings could seem them, and if truth be known the weanlings are physically no further away from their dams than I have seen them on several other occasions.  The only difference is there are two fences on either side of the 10 foot gap between them.

When I checked on the weanlings Velvet and Blast ran up to see me, and Blast did a fair amount of “talking” telling me he wanted to go back to the main pasture.  Velvet too had some curious hums to pass onto me.

Today we will give the weanlings some more probiotic.  They are sure to be suffering with a little stress, which is not good for them or the health of their rumen.  The probiotics will help keep their rumens healthy and also contain B vitamins that have calming properties.  I might even put some Bach’s Rescue Remedy in the weanling’s water to help calm their nerves.

In a day or so the weanlings will have settled in to their new pasture and will be adapting to spending their nights together.  They will remain there until the show and then will return to that pasture for quarantine following the show.  By the time that process is all through we should be able to return Velvet, Athena and Shiimsa to the girls pasture.  Little Blast though is another matter – I may have to borrow an alpaca buddy of the same age as him to keep him company for a while until he is big enough to join the junior male herd.

And what about the dams during this final weaning process?  Well not one of them has been looking for her cria, a sure sign they were ready for the weaning process to happen.  Sorry to tell you this kids but Mom says it’s time to move out and set up home on your own!


November 12, 2007

Time for School Kids!

Carissima and Zeus Kiss   The fall show season is over for us, but rapidly approaching is the spring show season and so it is time to set a regular halter training program in motion for our “kids”.  Blast, Athena and Velvet will all be making their debut on the show circuit this spring and Shiimsa will be entering a few more shows before we start to consider breeding her.

Our halter training program starts early in life for our crias.  One of the biggest keys to success with halter training an alpaca is trust, if your crias trust you then it is far easier to work with them and the results will usually be better.  So how do you gain a crias trust?  Well one of the first things to bear in mind is that as cute and cuddly as crias appear it is a pretty scary prospect to have a human wrap themselves around the cria in a hug.  That is not a behavior that alpacas do to each other and really is quite intimidating to them.  We always aim to be calm and quiet around our crias, they are naturally curious and so we will often crouch down and allow them to come up and sniff us.  Sometimes even eye contact is enough to put off a cria, remember that in alpacas a direct hard stare can be interpreted as a challenge or defensive behavior.  If I have a cria that seems interested in approaching but is a little reluctant I will often look down at the ground rather than at the cria and that in itself is enough to reassure the cria that it is okay to approach.

Each cria has its own distinct personality, some will be timid, and some will be bold.  Be aware that the cria who comes up to you all the time sniffing, following, nibbling and even jumping at you in play may be viewing you as his or her alpaca equal and in time that may lead to behavioral problems.  Crias need to understand appropriate boundaries and behavior around humans so that they grow up to be well mannered and manageable alpacas.

As our crias grow I do from time to time run a firm but gentle hand over their neck and back to get them used to a human touch.  I am careful never to surprise them with this, the last thing you want them to do is be on edge around you, but it is good to get them used to the human touch.

Handling the crias legs is another step that I start from an early age.  At lot of issues with handling alpacas legs arise from the alpaca feeling unbalanced, insecure or trapped when a leg is felt or lifted and it is important to work with the alpaca to ensure that it feels comfortable with having its legs handled and its feet picked up.

Like children a crias attention span is usually pretty short, so little and often is the way to go.  A few minutes of good handling work every other day or so will give your cria a sound basis to work from as the training progresses and will make the trainers job much easier.  I enjoy my time working with the crias and the weanlings, learning to adapt to each ones personality and figuring out which methods work best for that individual alpaca.  Training alpacas is not a “one size fits all” system and it is important to remember this.

If you are new to working with alpacas (even though you may have experience with working with horses, cattle or other species) I heartily recommend a visit to the Camelidynamics web site. There you can learn more about the Camelidynamics system of handling alpacas and obtain useful tools to help you with your work with alpacas.  I will write more about handling alpacas as the week goes on and I make progress with my class of 2007.  I am sure I am looking forward to working with Blast, Athena, Velvet and Shiimsa more than they are looking forward to working with me, but I will make their school lessons as relaxed and pleasant as can be.


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