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Posts Tagged ‘alpacas’

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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There are so many times when I wish I could talk to and understand the animals around me. This is especially true when one has been injured. Wouldn’t it be great to get an answer to the question “how did this happen?”  It always amazes me when the vet asks me that question. I want to say, “You’re the vet, you ask him.” But I just smile and say, “He wouldn’t tell me”.

Last week I sent 3 of my female alpacas on a road trip. They were purchased by a farm out in California and a transporter stopped by on a Tuesday morning to pick them up. When he opened the trailer I noticed they would be spending part of the trip, if not all, with 2 llamas. Compared to an alpaca a llama is huge. My ladies had never seen a llama and I wondered what they thought of the sight of them. We ushered the alpacas into the pen, shut the door and off they went. The trip to California was by way of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio. I just knew they would have loads of stories to tell when they arrived at their new home. Wouldn’t I love to hear those stories!

Road Trip

Yesterday a cardinal slammed into one of the living room windows and landed on the deck. When I looked out I could see that he was alive but stunned. The temperature was in the teens and I knew the odds were good he would freeze just lying there. I found a hand towel and scooped him up. Taking him into the laundry room I placed him in a basket to see how he would fare. As he looked at me I tried to reassure him I was just trying to help but I knew he didn’t know my language. About 20 minutes later I went in to check on him. He was less stunned and turned his head to see what I was doing. I could tell he may be able to fly so I carried him to the front porch and set him there still nested in the towel. Shortly after I went to see how he was doing. As I approached he flew off. Did he share his adventure with his other feathered friends? What would he have said to me if he could?

Feathered Friends

Maybe animals don’t tell stories. I hope that is not true. I hope they have the ability to share the many things they experience in life as they interact with each other and us humans. So, until we are both in a place where we speak the same language, I will continue to talk to my animals and think about what they may be telling me. I hope they find their crazy shepherd and friend amusing. I hope I add to their list of stories.

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When people come to visit our alpacas, whether they are considering buying or not, I usually hear this question; is it hard to sell them? Meaning, can you really part with them? The answer is “yes” and “no”.

When you go into a business where you are breeding and raising animals, no matter what type they are, you have to decide if you are willing to sell them. Seeing an alpaca being born and watching it grow day by day forms an attachment to them. Each one has its own personality and character and they can often touch your heart in a special way. Those large eyes just draw you into their soul.

In the last 10 years we have only had to help birth one alpaca, Electra. Her head was turned back and she could not come through the birth canal. After working with her for a while she finally arrived and thrived. She gets treated a little gentler than other alpacas. Then there was Jasper who was premature and we had to make sure he was getting enough to eat so he would gain weight. He also survived those times. Even these two we are ready to release to new owners.

The thing that makes the answer to that question “no” is we have always had good, caring people become the owners of our alpacas. Some, I believe, have even gone to a better ranch then ours as they received more attention and had all the grass they could eat. I love it when the new owners have children because children and alpacas react so well with each other. Watching a child’s face light up when an alpaca moves in to say hello is wonderful. It doesn’t matter if the child is 2 or 17 the smile is the same. The alpaca learns to trust the child and the child learns to care for something that needs them.

We want to not only find good homes for our alpacas, but we want to see the alpaca industry grow and continue to expand in the states. There is a large demand for alpaca fiber and we are not currently able to meet that demand. We need more people raising and breeding these wonderful animals so we can continue to expand the product lines. The quality and fiber traits make alpaca ideal for so many items. Alpacas need very little acreage to graze on, a shelter to get out of the elements, fresh water and hay in the winter months. They are gentle and easy to care for and I think they are therapeutic. Introducing people to alpacas and the alpaca industry is one of the most satisfying reasons we raise them.

So, is it hard to sell my alpacas? Not when everything is right.

Providence&Destiny

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Have you ever gotten one of those Christmas cards showing a house surrounded by snow? The windows are lighted and you feel like you are standing in the distance looking in. You know it is cold outside where you are standing and the house looks so warm and inviting. That image comes to mind on these cold, dark winter mornings when I am out working in the barn.

My day begins before sunrise. I turn the barn lights on so I can see to clean and feed the alpacas. Before I leave them I will often take some hay out into the pastures for them to eat on during the day (providing there is no snow or rain in the forecast). As I turn to head back to the barn I see the lighted door openings; it looks so inviting. Not as warm as that Christmas home but a bit warmer then standing out in the pasture.

I sometimes stop, look up into the starry sky and think how fortunate I am. Yes, the mornings can be very cold and cleaning up muck is not glamorous, but spotting Mars, Venus or even Jupiter and a familiar constellation is remarkable. On mornings like today I even get the splash of color across the sky as the sun begins to come up, it makes the cold a little more bearable. The hum of the alpacas always reminds me that the effort is worth it. So, until spring arrives, I will bask in the warm glow of my barn.

Basking in the warm glow of the barn.

Basking in the warm glow of the barn.

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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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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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 One of our 2011 crias (a baby alpaca) was born deaf. It only took a day or two to determine she could not hear. I came into the barn and she was lying next to her mom, sound asleep. My arrival at the barn in the morning means it is feeding time and the alpacas all start letting me know they are ready to eat. This little girl, Shelby, slept through all the excitement. She didn’t wake up until I touched her.

I still talk to Shelby all the time, but I knew I would need to do something extra to communicate with her and let her know what I needed her to do. I began using hand gestures. When I would walk by, or into, her pasture I would wave to her and make eye contact. When I wanted her to go in or out of her pen I would gesture like a door man, pointing the way for her. I made sure to touch her gently while passing by so as not to startle her. To let her know she was doing well, I would massage her shoulder. Shelby is very bright and figures things out quickly.

My newest challenge was to lead train Shelby. I had been putting a halter on her for 20 minutes or so a few times a week for her to get used to the feel of it. Now came the big test; could I get her to understand walking on the lead. My normal words of encouragement and commands were not going to work. So again, I thought of the gestures I could use. The same procedure I use would work if I could get what I wanted across to her.

I gently pulled on the lead and when she moved her feet I would give her slack. Another pull, more slack. It took the length of the barn but she was getting the idea. Drawing her close to me I massaged her shoulder to let her know she was doing what I needed her to. We headed the other direction at the same pace. Now I am not going to say Shelby was exceptional and after 10 minutes was lead trained; but she did get the concept and our first session was over. A few more times and I know she will be all right with it.

An alpaca that is born deaf doesn’t know it is deaf. It thinks that the world is, as it perceives it. There are not sounds to distract it or alert it, so it has to rely on visual cues to stay safe and to learn what it needs. Shelby is just like all the other crias. She runs and plays, follows the herd, looks for mom to nurse, wrestles and spits at the other crias. Shelby doesn’t know she is deaf and I am glad she doesn’t. Her world is just as full and she is just as happy. It is the shepherd that has to adjust.

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