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Archive for the ‘Alpaca Mischief’ Category

It is breeding season at the ranch. As we select the ladies to breed the guys line up at the pen gate hoping they get the opportunity to enhance the herd with their genetics. At Missouri Alpacas we breed for quality grey fiber which means we try to choose a dam and sire that will have the best possible chance of producing grey crias (baby alpacas).

When you introduce a male to a female alpaca she will either cush, letting the male know she is ready to breed, or she will run, kick and spit. The latter is a definite “I don’t want to have anything to do with you!” Depending on the time of day it is, you could see a frustrated male covered in green spit. Not a pretty sight.

We use a blood test to check our females for pregnancy; some ranches use a “spit test”. A pregnant female will “spit off” the male and not allow him to breed her. Not completely accurate but a good indication that a cria is on its way. Spit is a defense mechanism for the alpaca and signals that something is happening they do not agree with.

So when someone asks me “Do alpacas spit?” I say “Yes, but not usually at people.” An alpaca will spit at another alpaca for various reasons other than breeding: you are too close to their feed bucket, in their space or they just have a bad attitude right now. Most of the time if I get spit on it is because I am in the cross fire of the event. Once I opened the side barn door just in time to get the effect of one alpaca mad at another alpaca – wrong place at the wrong time.

Now don’t get me wrong, if I make an alpaca mad, by trying to get it to do something it does not want to do, I could get spit on. I have one alpaca that will wait until I am finished with the chore (usually trimming nails) then will turn around and try to spit at me after I take the halter off. I know the deal so I try to stay out of the way. I have to give her credit for her effort. She definitely tries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have a sign hanging in the barn, Spit Happens, because sometimes it just does.

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No matter how much planning we do or how well organized we are or how good our volunteers are, if we do not have a great shearer we are in trouble. Fortunately we have a GREAT shearer.

Eddie has been shearing our alpacas since we started raising them in 2005. Actually, Eddie is the only one who has sheared our alpacas. Besides loving his Australian accent and his wit, I appreciate the fact that he comes when he schedules, he is prepared and professional and he knows what he is doing. Eddie never fusses about us having new volunteers each year. He quickly gets them up to speed on what he needs them to do and is patient when they lose focus or get distracted. When we make a request for a show blanket to be cut or ask that he please not trim the top knots too much he just goes with the flow and gets the job done as requested. Most important, I don’t think there is anyone who is more caring of the alpacas than Eddie is. I have never had an alpaca miss treated by him no matter how rowdy or obstinate they may be. We do have a rule that the alpacas are not to spit on the shearer and most of the time the alpacas follow that rule. When the job is done we pack up, head to lunch and have a great time catching up on news over the year. On or away from the shearing mat, Eddie is the best!

We have been going through this process for over 10 years now. The first couple of years we took our alpacas to a neighboring ranch, now we do the shearing in our own barn. I pull out my list of things to do and begin the process.

  • Send out an email to gather volunteers to help. (We could not do this job without these wonderful people)
  • Assign tasks to the volunteers. (Try not to over work the help)
  • Print pen signs to identify the alpacas. (Not everyone knows them by name like I do)
  • Find the list of things we need to gather for the barn. (We try not to forget anything)
  • Prepare the food list. (Must feed the volunteers after we are done shearing)

If everything lines up correctly then we have a smooth running, fun filled event.

When shearing season comes we never dread it. We do our part to get the alpacas and ourselves ready and Eddie does his part. We appreciate and respect each other and each year it is a pleasure to meet up again. We now head into shearing season for 2015.

Thanks Eddie and to all of our volunteers who give up their time to make this job easier.

ShearingShearing Blanket Volunteers  Uh Oh

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A couple of years ago I started to notice an unusual (to me) bird in our alpaca pastures. It made a lot of noise and did more running around on the ground then flying. I grabbed my Missouri bird book and discovered the Kill Deer. They have very distinct markings so they are easy to identify. I then discovered that they lay their eggs on the ground, usually amongst a small cluster of rocks. They don’t build a nest; just lay them in a hollowed section of the grouping. The eggs are almost the same color pattern as the rocks so you have to really look to find them.

The problem with laying eggs in the alpaca pastures is that the alpacas are continually moving around the pasture grazing. Usually the older alpacas will avoid the eggs but the crias (baby alpaca) haven’t figured that out yet. As the crias are exploring and romping around the pasture they sometimes get too close for momma bird’s comfort. When this happens a series of events and antics begin.

One of the birds, they usually guard the eggs as a pair; will start making a lot of noise to sound the alarm. She/he is probably screaming, “Get away from my nest!” Of course alpacas don’t speak Kill Deer so they haven’t a clue what is being said. The crias think the bird wants to play so they are more than willing to participate. The bird will try to draw the cria away by leaving the nest in hopes that she will follow. If that doesn’t work then the second diversion is started. The Kill Deer will spread out its wings and tail feathers, revealing a yellow coloring, meant to draw attention to itself. As the cria draws closer the Kill Deer will keep moving away from the eggs. The third diversion is known as the “broken wing” scenario. The Kill Deer will throw one wing out to the side and flap it as if it were broken; demonstrating that it is an easy prey. Again as the predator – cria – approaches it moves farther away.

I was taking a break from chores and noticed one of our new crias, Quibble, encountering one of these nests. Knowing what was to follow I watched the process with a grin on my face. After several minutes the cria finally lost interest and moved back to the herd. I am sure the Kill Deer was relieved and a little tired of the whole thing.

I’ll Play!

Nature has such a wonderful way of protecting itself. Sometimes it provides comic relief to the spectator as well.

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I was listening to my local public radio station this morning. We have a special feature called “The Backyard Birder”. He gives insight into what is happening with the birds in our area; migration, nesting, hatching, feed and feeders, etc. This morning he mentioned that everything, concerning the birds, is about 3 weeks ahead of schedule. The bird migration and their nesting have all been affected by the crazy Spring weather we have been experiencing. I am sure the fruit crop and berries will be affected as well.

The odd thing is my alpacas may be affected too, but in the opposite direction. I have 3 pregnant females, all due in the Spring. Normally the gestation period for an alpaca is 344 days.

Still Pregnant

That alone is a long time to be pregnant. Two of our ladies were due to deliver in April. April came and went and they were still pregnant. That actually became our response after checking on them; “still pregnant”.

A couple of summers past we had very high temperatures. Everyone was miserable, especially the pregnant alpacas. The gestation time started to increase. We thought it was a result of the heat and we did our best to keep the moms as cool as possible. Our barn record that year was 376 days!

Our first mom, Okura, passed her due date and we headed to shearing. Being 10 days past due we still had to shear her and it didn’t seem to matter a bit. Temperatures were unseasonably warm and we were even wearing shorts. We then had a reprieve and the temperature dropped back to more normal levels. Now she will deliver, we thought. Another week passed and still no delivery. Now the second mom was due. We were approaching the end of April with no crias on the ground yet. Our April crias were now becoming our May crias.

As I counted up the days, we were approaching our barn record. Flying by the 376 mark I was starting to get a little anxious. Visitors were scheduled for the weekend. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could see a newborn? Not much I could do but wait and pray for a healthy, live cria.

Friday was day 380! We officially would have a new ranch record. As I finished my breakfast I noticed Okura was more uncomfortable than usual. I decided to check her again in about an hour. Going to the barn I found her lying on her side, and in labor. Delivery was beginning and it went like a text-book example.

Okura & Quibble

After some serious pushing, Okura delivered a beautiful female weighing 15 pounds (an average birth weight for an alpaca). It was standing and nursing within 90 minutes. I was relieved and excited. It was a champagne day on the ranch. The visitors were thrilled to see the new arrival.

Our second mom hit day 365 today. This is an experienced mom and she has never had this long of a gestation. She still is giving no signs of being ready to deliver. Our third mom is due in 8 days. So here I am, still counting the days and waiting.

Now I don’t know if this is weather related, but it sure seems like a wild coincidence. What I do know is waiting is not an easy task. The shepherd is growing greyer with each passing day.

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For over a year I have been trying to get a photo of Santa Fe’s face. You would think this would not be that difficult. I suppose I could have put a halter and lead on her and staged the shot, but what would be the fun in that? I wanted a natural pose in a natural environment. So what was the problem?

Santa Fe, like her mother, likes to eat. She is always grazing, which means her head is always down.

Always Grazing

When she would finally come up for air, she was turned away from me or heading in the opposite direction.

Looking the Wrong Way

I would patiently (or not so patiently) sit in the pasture waiting for my elusive shot. In the mean time I would capture plenty of photos of the other alpacas. It wasn’t a wasted effort but I was not accomplishing the task at hand.

So on Sunday, I again grabbed the camera and headed to the pasture. The sun was shining, the alpacas were all outside and I had nowhere else to be. I even had a plan; I would take our new dog Linus with me to get her attention. That was a good plan except that Linus is a little intimidated by the alpacas and would not respond to my coaxing him into the pasture with me. Plan B: I would be on the pasture side of the fence and Linus would be on the non-pasture side of the fence. This could still work. There I sat with Linus right behind me. The alpacas were curious about what he was up to. I was finally going to get my opportunity! All I had to do was get all the other alpacas out of the photo, make sure the lighting was good, be ready when her head finally came up and hope my battery did not go dead.

Click! Click, Click! Not Santa Fe but great shots of the little ones. Still waiting for the right moment. Patience; wait for it. Now! I captured Santa Fe!

All right, she does have a mouth full of hay, but her ears are up and the lighting is good, and her eyes are open, and I did wait a year for this photo. At least I finally captured the shot I have been trying for. Maybe I could get another one. Would that be pressing my luck? What have I got to lose?

What a Face!

A second shot! This one is better than the first. The coloring is actually more accurate. Must have been that cloud blocking the sun. Yes, I know, she still has hay in her mouth but this is who she is, and doesn’t that just give her more character? Please say “yes”, I did wait a year for this face.

Well, I am off to update her page on our website and find out what other shots I may be in need of. Hopefully my next prospect won’t be so elusive. Smile for the camera, pacas!

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I am a sunshine lady. Two or three days of clouds, overcast skies, or rain and I am starting to slide into a slump. Just let a hole break in the clouds which shows a patch of blue and I perk right up. I will find whatever excuse I can to get out into the sunshine, including cleaning up pastures. I don’t want to lie out and “sun bathe”, I just want to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the brightness it gives to everything around. I suppose I am most appreciative in the cooler months than in the heat of summer.

Living in Missouri has the advantage of lots of sunshine. We get a good amount of rain but after it is finished watering our fields, the sun re-appears and smiles on us.

Catching the Rays

I think my alpacas are sunshine happy too. It is not uncommon to find “alpaca rugs” lying in our pastures as they spread out on their sides and soak up the warmth of the sun. Sometimes I wonder if they are alive as they lay so still in their comfort. I have one large male who will even turn his head up as if to catch the sun’s rays on this extended neck. On a warm Spring or Fall day you are apt to find me sitting out there with them, enjoying their company and the shared sunshine.

Sometimes it is good to just stop and sit and take in everything around you. I become too fixed on the next chore that needs to be done, or the next item on my schedule, or the next errand I have to complete and I miss the wonderful things around me. I watch the dust fly through the air as the alpacas roll in the spot they made; a mother and her cria nose to nose giving kisses; a dragonfly landing on the sleeve of my shirt; a hawk calling out from the top of a tree; a blue heron looking for lunch in the pond.

Maybe the sunshine is just a reminder to look around and appreciate the day.

Join me?

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The Sequel

This could be the sequel to a couple of my previous blogs; The Great Escape or Nothing Happening.

I was heading to the alpaca barn with my second load of hay. As I crested the drive, something didn’t look right. It only took a few seconds to realize THE BIG BOYS HAVE ESCAPED FROM THE BARN!! Do you think they would follow the gator load of hay back? Not a chance! How about some grain? No way!

So here I go, rounding up a group of adult, male alpacas who would prefer to find the newly sprouting grass than listen to anything their shepherd has to say. With the help of our other worker, we managed to herd them back into the barn and their pen.

Life on the ranch continues …

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