Monday, October 26, 2009

Tools of the Trade

We're coming up on our one year anniversary of having the alpacas come to live with us, so I thought I'd do a series of posts on different pieces of "equipment" we have come to rely upon.
Alpacas are generally "easy-keepers". They don't require very much in the way of gear. What we have found is that the gear you need to keep your farm tidy is mostly in the way of self protection and preservation (which at my age becomes more and more important), and cleaning implements you may already have.
This is the Walmart $3.99 Shrub Rake. My husband got 2 of these for Christmas last year from me. Some men get sweaters and neckties, Len gets Shrub Rakes or Poop Rakes as they're known by alpaca owners. These things do the job. They are as close to perfect as you can get to accomplish the daily manure removal.
The Poop Scoop...this is an item I've not been able to find except at Alpaca Shows. It is a plastic dust bin that sells for under $20. The combination of the Walmart Shrub Rake and one of these bad boys makes the scooping quick, convenient and effective. In the background is a wheelbarrow that we already had that has a persistent tire leak.
PVC Pipe...A miraculous invention. Cut it in half lengthwise and you get a feeding trough...or dig a ditch in front of the barn, stick it in the ground and you have a gutter to redirect rain runoff.
Gloves...Do not skimp here. These gloves came from Tractor Supply. They were around $23 dollars. I have never in my life paid $23 for a pair of work gloves. It felt insane at the time. Here's the hitch...I have never regretted paying the $23 for the gloves. They fit and they feel good. You'll thank yourself if you buy a good pair of work gloves.
Gates...Someone told us early on that you never have enough gates. They were right. We put in two more gates than we thought we needed. I wish I had put in an additional two mid-span between the pastures.
A good travel mug...Thanks to one of our TV commercial clients, Dr. Borja at the Spine & Wellness Center ( ),I've been using this coffee mug for years. Do I take it to the barn to feed and scoop poop? Yup. Isn't that unsanitary? Yup.
Barn Coat...Some women get jewelry. Alpaca women crave barn coats. This one came from Cabelas; a surprise Christmas gift from Len. Waterproof shell with a sweatshirt hoodie thing lining. Knit wrist cuffs. One great coat.
Boots....Don't skimp on gloves and don't skimp on boots. These are "Muck" brand boots. I think they are the "Garden" model. These came from Weavers Store in Fivepointville (truly a shopping Mecca ). They cost in the neighborhood of $60...yikes. When you're tromping around in the snow and mud, you'll be glad to have nice dry feet. A tip: buy a size larger than you need. That way, you can practically "jump" into them, and removal is so much easier.
That's it for now. I will try to be a little more consistent in posting our alpaca adventures.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Three Bags Full

It's more like 8 bags full. Besides the new arrivals each year, this is where your breeding decisions, feeding and supplement programs, and farm facilities all come together...on the fleece table. For the past three days, we have been washing and drying Flirtation and her son Gabriel's fleeces. It is a labor intensive process...First, you must skirt the fleece. This means laying the fleece out and picking out hay, dirt clops, guard hair, and any other yucky stuff that you see. Then the fleece gets washed 3 times in small batches in garment bags. Then the wet fleece is placed back on the skirting table to air dry. What you see here is Gabriel's fleece, washed and mostly dry.

Wednesday night the fleeces will get put through the picker...a medieval-looking torture device that rakes the fleece through 600 razor sharp spikes. This prepares it to be carded on an electric drum carder that we share with two other farms. You can also hand card the fleece at this point as well to prepare it for spinning.

Our plan is to create an Oedipus yarn (mom and son's fleeces mixed), and then solar dye it in our yet to be created solar dye boxes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Girls Go to Summer Camp

Yesterday we took Cassandra and her cria Izzy and Flirtation and her cria Jewel to Hilltop Alpacas for breeding. Kathy Kenworthy once again helped us out by allowing us to hitch a ride in her trailer up north. Here are one of Kathy's girls, Flirtation (big white alpaca), her cria Jewel (little white alpaca), and the top of Izzy's head. Cassandra had already decided to lay down and enjoy the ride.

Hilltop Alpacas also runs a summer camp. It is a huge beautiful place. Here is one of the main camp buildings.

Hilltop has strict health procedures for incoming alpacas. All of the animals had to be vet checked, blood tested, and fecal tested for fitness to stay at their farm. It's good practice for everyone...protects their animals and ours, too!

Here are the girls checking out their new digs. They'll be gone a little over a month, and then we'll go pick them up.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

And Then There Were Three

Finally I got a pic of all three new crias together. The dynamic has been pretty funny. Chief (on the right) has decided that the new little girl is a fun little push toy. He just walks around behind her and nudges her round and round the pen, until she has to lie down and rest. Izzy kinda jumps around everyone, trying to figure out what she can do at the same time. We're still debating the name on the newest girl. It's taking a bit longer this time.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Name That Cria...

We were surprised around noon on Tuesday to find an extra little wobbly head sitting with the group of girls out in the field. We were expecting our final cria of the year from Flirtation, our Legacy girl, but not so soon. Sure enough, our newest girl was laying right in the middle of their dusting pile, covered with dirt.

After taking her back to the barn for weighing and clean up, she showed signs of being pre-mature. She was very sleepy and unstable for a long time. It took her over four hours before she would stand and nurse.

Two days later, now she's very perky and gaining back weight she lost on her first day in a very typical fashion. Now with two Crias in maternity, we haven't had time to give her a name yet.

"Chief" has been off the supplimental bottle since Sunday, but his weight has been like a Yo-Yo. Trouble is, "Izzy" our 7-week old likes to run him all over the field every time he gets out. And Sonya, his mom, is very nervous and protective. If he tries to nurse while other animals around, she is constantly moving, trying to keep them away from him. He can't get any quality time nursing when everyone is together, so we still have them isolated for most of the day, now coming up on three weeks. I can see the dynamics changing already with the addition of the newest girl. This morning, Chief was pushing her around the pen like she was a toy to play with. Now Izzy has stepped back a bit, even though she's older. Hmmm...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What the @&*!% is Camelid Dynamics?

Well... if the answer were only that easy. It actually took me two days to find out. Actually, it's all about handling Alpacas in a way that is supposed to create a more cooperative relationship.

First, as shown here, we got to see what it feels like to have a halter on your head. Kinda kinky, I must say...

Then there were blow up dolls...Alpaca heads. We used them to get an idea of how to use catch ropes and halters.

There was plenty of individualized tutoring. Getting the hands in the right place can make all the difference.

Finally we got to try out the techniques on live animals. Funny how they weren't quite as cooperative as the blow-up Alpacas. Things that make you go hmm...

Sunday, May 17, 2009


It's been four weeks since Cassandra's Chocolat Isabella was born. She's been growing like a weed, almost doubling her weight already. She's been going from one female to the next, looking for someone to play with. Leah, our only maiden, has been the only one to take much interest in playing... sometimes too much. But "Izzy" has finally gotten sturdy enough to take the occasional kick that results from her over-exuberance.

Finally, today she got a playmate her own size...well, sort of.

Peruvian Sonodor (Sonya) our only maiden giving birth this year, was about a week overdue. Officially, she was at 350 days. Her signs of labor began about 7 am. By noon, she was in active labor. Of course, that was just after Len and Max left to run errands. After about an hour and a half of pushing, pulling and wrangling, our first BIG boy was born. At 21.7 pounds, he weighed as much as Izzy did when she was 4 days old.

Both mother and cria were exhausted from the struggle, but after a few hours, everything seemed to be getting close to normal. We've noticed that his hind legs sweep to the right when he stands. Upon researching he issue, it seems this is a fairly common occurrence with larger crias. They just run out of room to grow and get stuck in one position with their legs off to one side. We'll be checking in with our vet tomorrow, but even in just a few times getting up, he seems to be getting better. He's still a bit confused about which legs to get between to nurse. You'll see his mom try to re-direct him, but she's also distracted by Izzy wanting to play. So we put them back in the stall to get some quiet time alone.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Just Chillin...

Who says you can't keep cool on a hot day? Even though our girls shed their winter coat last week, they were not ready for the first 90 degree day. So when we broke out the water sprinkler, they were just like a bunch of kids.

On the other hand, our two boys who are still in their winter coats weren't so keen on the idea. So we just had to corner them in the pen and give them a quick hose down. I hope this isn't a preview of what our summer's going to be like. We may have to get their own wading pool before it's over.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's A Girl!

As if shearing day wasn't exciting enough...we had the first alpaca birth on our farm today!

I looked out of the window at about 11:40 AM and Cassandra (whose due date was 4/19, or 4/20, or 4/25, or 5/06 depending upon which cria birth calculator you used) was looking...well...funny.

Of course, we couldn't find the binoculars which had been sitting on my desk for the past 2 weeks, so Max, Len and I made our way out into the pasture to be witness to a textbook alpaca delivery. Cassandra showed these newbie farmers how it was done. Ten minutes later we were carrying a 17 pound female baby back to the barn to be dried off and placed in a nice clean stall with mom.
It's been quite a full day, but one with great joy, as Cassandra and little Isabella are doing great!

Shearing Day

Spring is finally here, and the Alpacas are feeling uncomfortable in their winter coats. We find them out in the field rolling and dusting themselves to scratch their backs. And after a rainy couple of days, they begin to start smelling like a bunch of homeless people who live outdoors all the time and never get a bath. Shearing Day finally brings some relief.

When the value of Alpaca fleece is about $3-$4 per ounce raw, you don't want to be learning how shear animals yourself. You leave that work to the professionals. In our case we used the services of Shear Relief, LLC. You can visit them at They have three crews that originate out of Ohio. We saw them in action last year and were amazed. A crew of four can easily shear over 85 Alpacas a day. So our four females were no challenge at all. We're holding the two males back for a show in York next month. After they're shown there, we'll be able to get them shorn there.

Since this is something that only happens once a year, we're sharing it here for anyone who really wants to learn the reality of living with Alpacas. (PS: Our shearers are gentle and safe, despite our one alpaca's protests.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


It's supposed to be Spring, but some days... Of course, I do see a lot more sunrises than I used to. We've had plenty of foggy mornings where the alpacas just blend into the mist. We've been getting ready for our first baby, coming around the 19th of April. Jo and I both have been to neo-natal workshops, so hopefully we'll be prepared. I'm hoping we'll just pass by the window , there they'll be, doing their alpaca thing without any help from us.

The two boys (alpacas) are getting big. They're about 10 months old now. Gabriel, the white one weighs at least 15 pound more than Duende, but it always seems like Duende's starting the fights. They're just like typical boys...always seeing who can best the other. When we let them out into the field, we have to stand back, as they literally kick up their heels when they get out. Yesterday, they were chasing each other across the field, and they made a mad dash straight toward me. I thought I was going to have to hit the deck, but they swerved off just in the nick of time. They've become quite entertaining.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day

This is the first time in many years that the boys had a place to sled.
With 5 inches of snow, covered with a crispy coating of ice, it was a great day to blow the cobwebs off the sledding equipment and have a run at it.

The ever-smiling Duende checking out the flakes. We tried showing how to catch them on his tongue, but he'd rather have hay.
The girls know what to do during the snow...just stay under cover and munch hay.
The Farmer decided to snow blow a path, so everyone could get out and walk around. Then getting them to get up and move around took some coaxing.
Decisions, decisions...
Of course, then they totally passed up their grazing patches we had so carefully cleared...and headed for wide open spaces.
But then they finally got it and settled in for a snack.
Why, there's grass under the snow! What a concept!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Alpaca Containment

Sure...they look innocent. But these monkeys are very stealthy and clever.....
They found that if they climb to the top of the mulch/poop pile, they could see the girls. They did not jump off, but we were concerned that the temptation might be too much. So off to Home Depot to find some kind of temporary fencing that would be easy to get in and out of until we can figure out a better solution...or not.

It turns out that plastic snow fence comes in an attractive green color as well as orange. So $25 later, the Farmer installs our fix.

An example of "function" over "form".