Male Alpacas Establish Pecking Order

It is true that alpacas are quiet and peaceful.  However, when it comes to male alpacas there is a pecking order, and sometimes they fight to determine who’s going to be in charge.  Mostly they disagree over who’s going to stand closest to the girls.  We’ve had two separate groups of males this winter for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. Recently, I nonchalantly opened the gate between the two groups because we are needing the barn space, hoping they all could just get along.  I stood and watched what unfolded next, and found it to be quite interesting.

                  Males Forced to Back Pasture

Let me back up and give you a little history.  We have a bully and his name is Ranger, or shouldn’t I label him?  I guess as nature would have it, he has fought his way to the top of the pecking order, but he’s almost gone to auction for the last three years because he’s a management problem.  Not only does he fight with our other males, he keeps them in the far pasture so they can’t be near the girls, or the hay, or the water.  We did solve the water problem by putting another water trough in the back pasture.

               Derecho and New Water Trough

As we prepared for winter, we were forced to put Ranger in a separate pasture, and give him half of the small barn that the boys use, in order for the rest of the males to have access to shelter this winter.

                             Ranger In Charge

Then came Derecho, a male huacaya that was rehomed to us this winter.  He is our only huacaya male, the rest being suri’s.  We knew better than to put him with Ranger, and have him get beat up, but being a small male, he somehow was able to squeeze between fence posts and get in with you know who.  Why would he want to do that?  I have no idea.  There were a few skirmishes, but Derecho always came out on top, don’t ask me why.  Because he’s fluffy? Because he looks bigger than he really is?  At any rate, the two have lived together fairly peacefully all winter.

                                      Ranger and Derecho

So, back to my story.  When I opened the gate between the two groups of boys,  they didn’t even notice for quite some time.  I went about doing chores, and after some time had passed, I glanced over and saw that Ranger was right up at the fence, as close as he could be to the girls, the rest of the males back out in the far pasture.  No surprise.

 I then saw Sam put his head to the ground and come charging towards Ranger, followed by all but one of the rest of the males.  Thunderstruck, the oldest, stayed back leaving such nonsense to the younger boys.  They circled Ranger, as if to say “we’ve had enough”, and chased him back to the far pasture.

                                                   Sam

Derecho meandered up to the fence, taking Ranger’s place, closest to the girls.  None of the other boys seemed to mind.  It seemed to be okay to let the new guy be in charge, without him even having to fight for his position.  Perhaps he is the peacemaker.

                    Derecho Stakes Claim at Fence

I stood and watched awhile longer.  Ranger seemed to be sneaking out of the back pasture, running to the front.   Sam lead the enterage again and corralled Ranger to the back pasture.  I found their behavior to be so interesting, doing only what comes natural to them, to be male alpacas.  There has been no fighting, no screaming, and no blood.  There has been body posturing, ears laid back , and looks that mean business.  Now all five males are living peacefully, together, for now.

Males at Alpaca Meadows

Marty McGee Bennett says, “It is only possible to affect what you can control.  Trying to make males that live together play nicely all day and all night is impossible, even if you were willing to move out into the pasture with them!”

Understanding Male Behavior in the Alpaca is a great article written by Marty and published in Alpaca Magazine.  Marty writes, “Convincing alpacas NOT to engage in natural behaviors is a losing proposition. I think an easier approach to males is to make fighting, or any other problematic behavior, unnecessary.”

Marty McGee Bennett has traveled the world, including two different visits to our farm for training and handling seminars.  She has devoted her professional life to the well-being of camelids and the education of their owners.   CAMELIDynamics is the result of Marty McGee Bennett’s over 30 years of experience with camelids. If you ever get a chance to attend one of her workshops, it is well worth it.  She not only teaches training and management of alpacas, but training of their people!

It seems we’ve always had a bully.  Spirit claimed the title before Ranger.  Keeping a lot of distance between males and females, giving them ample room to establish boundaries they inherently need, spreading food dishes out at feeding time so there is less to squabble about, all help to manage our sometimes rowdy boys and lower the stress level in the male pasture.

Thursdays in the Alpaca Barn

Thursday is my day in the alpaca barn, my turn to do farm chores.  Of course chores get done every day, but Thursday is my day, and today I think the alpacas are excited to see me!

When we first had alpacas, I did all the chores.  My husband was busy working a real job.  Years passed, life happened, and Matt found himself with time to do farm chores.  We took turns for awhile but before long, he was doing them every day.  This freed me up to develop and grow our alpaca business, process fiber, run the store, teach classes, work on the website, crochet, knit, spin, felt, weave.   It worked, for awhile.  He found that there just really isn’t much  stress in the barn, and that was very appealing to him.  I found that I missed caring for the alpacas.  So we’ve made some changes and now Thursday is my day … and I am loving it!

I love it most on sunny days, but that was not the case today.  It seems to have turned to mud season … ugh!

  

Certainly, not a job everyone would love, but I do.  Getting outside, caring for animals that count on me to bring them hay, feed, and fresh water is a privilege, really.  Clearing my mind of all except the task in front of me, is therapeutic, and a welcome relief from some of the tasks of running a business that weigh me down.

                                                                                                              

I don’t waste any time putting their feed out, spreading it out in numerous different feed dishes to keep the arguing (and stress level) over who eats first and who stands where to eat, to a minimum.  Yes, alpacas do spit (mostly at each other), and feeding time is when you will see it.  Hence, this is the reason the inside of our barn is covered with spit.

This is Mabelle, waiting patiently.   I like to put the alpacas out of the barn, then put their feed in their dishes, and then let them in.  This way I have a chance to touch each one, and they have a chance to learn to trust me enough to walk that close.

                                                                                                                                  

 

This is Savannah, Amelia, and Amelia’s sister, Annalise.  Sorry if there mouths are full, but it is feeding time.  I put out hay in different locations, both inside and out, in Rubbermaid wheelbarrows that can be moved to different places as needed.

     I start clean-up, working amongst the alpacas, wanting them to feel comfortable with me in their midst, and also because I just like being with them.  In the winter, chores are actually a bit easier because we layer fresh straw over the manure each day, a system called deep bedding.  The water and urine seep down to the lower layers of straw and the straw on top keeps the animals dry.  Find out more caring for Alpacas in Winter.  Did you know there actually is a Manure Management Handbook?  I discovered it just today.  It actually is quite interesting.

I add fresh water to the water troughs and heated buckets, that we switched to mid-winter, because the floating heater in the boys’ water trough gave out.  The chickens get feed and water.

 

Fitzgerald, our angora rabbit, and the latest addition to Alpaca Meadows, gets some leafy greens, and fresh water.  More about him later.

Chores don’t take that long, just depends on how much time I want to spend.  It’s very peaceful in the alpaca barn.  Sometimes I just enjoy sitting on a bale of straw watching the alpacas interact.  Caring for the animals on our farm, as well as the two that are inside, seeing that their simple needs are met, is the least I can do for them compared to the joy they give back to me.

I finish up my chores each week by working with one or two of the alpacas, on halter training, and going on walks out of the pasture back through our woods and hay field.  I worked with Martha today, three years old, but still resisting having a halter on and being led anywhere.  I’m making progress, but it takes time to build trust.  Today Amelia (left) and her sister Annalise go for a walk with me through the hay field.  They are somewhat tentative, but have each other so it’s not quite as scarey.  The walk back to the barn is at a much quicker pace.

Alpacas in Winter

Alpaca fiber is oh, so, so warm and socks, hats, scarves, gloves, and sweaters made from alpaca, are the best!  Alpacas have their fiber to keep them warm, and honestly they mind the heat much more than the cold. However, there are times and conditions when our alpacas appreciate a little help keeping warm.

Alpacas in Winter

Our rule of thumb is that we close the alpacas in the barn, when we hit single digit temperatures.  Even alpacas appreciate being able to get out of cold, harsh winds and pelting rain or snow.  We line the inside walls of their shelter with bales of straw, stacked three or four high, to cut down on the drafts as well as have handy for layering on top of the manure.  Other than the cold and the snow, alpaca care is actually a little easier in the winter because we don’t clean up the manure in the barn.  Rather we spread straw on top of the manure.  Heat is generated from the lower layers of composting manure and straw.

Alpacas in Winter

Feed ahead of the weather.  In winter, we always have plenty of hay available and when it is cold, our alpacas easily eat twice as much.  They seem to know when a change in the weather is coming.

Alpacas in Winter

Older alpacas and little ones can have trouble staying warm.  There actually is Winter Wear which can help immensely especially if an alpaca is sick or compromised in some way.

Alpacas in Winter

Below are some tips written by Ben Fisco of Humminghill Suri Alpaca Farm on “Raising Alpacas in Harsh Winter Climates”.  Read the entire article here.

  1. Breed for spring and autumn births.
  2. Use layered, thick, dry bedding in sheds and barn.
  3. Bring alpacas inside in extreme cold and when they are wet dry them off before sending them back to the pasture.
  4. Use a flame and fan-free heating system when heat is used.
  5. Avoid drafts.
  6. Provide good drainage.
  7. Provide good ventilation and air circulation in all barns year round.
  8. Clear pastures of snow in areas large enough to provide exercise.
  9. For cria hypothermia, place cria in a plastic water-tight bag in warm water up to, but not including, the head.
  10. Use heated water buckets.
  11. Use cria coats and coats for adults when you see them shiver.  Use common sense.
  12. Feed large volumes of high quality hay in cold weather.

Alpacas in Winter

Several other helpful articles:

Can It Get Any Colder?
Tips On Raising Suris in Cold Weather

This Must Be A First: Alpacas Blessed In Nation’s Capital

Here’s something you don’t see every day in Washington, D.C.

Standing just a couple of blocks from the U.S. Capitol, a group of Peruvian highlanders, draped in handwoven cloths and ponchos in all the colors of the rainbow, pray to Mother Earth, to the mountains, to the spirit of their ancestors. They offer wine, incense and flowers.
Their wish is that their alpaca “cover the earth like the grains of sand by the ocean.”

Blessing of the Alpacas - Alpaca News

Alpacas, in case you don’t know, are llama-like animals in the camel family. Their wool — called fiber — is prized for its softness and warmth. It’s woven into textiles and garments. So the more alpacas, the better. That’s why Peruvians hold a traditional blessing ceremony, performed since before Columbus discovered the New World and re-created at the national mall last Friday for the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The Peruvians kneel in front of the alpacas’ pen to prepare their offering. Behind them, six alpacas, on loan from Sugarloaf Alpacas in Maryland, stand nervously. It’s apparent they’ve never been blessed before.
A weaver named Timoteo, from the village of Chinchero, leads the ceremony. As he speaks, a translator echoes his words.

“Lightning storms, please, I supplicate you with this offering. Please be gentle with us, support us and allow our animals to be fruitful and multiply, don’t be harsh.”

Before the ceremony began, I spoke with Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, a traditional weaver. Callañaupa is a cofounder of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, a nonprofit formed to preserve the art of weaving. As we talk, her hands never stop moving as she spins alpaca fiber into yarn.

The alpaca ceremony, Callañaupa explains, takes place once a year during their rainy season, which in Peru lasts from November through April. The people ask Mother Earth — Pachamama in the Quechua language — and the spirits to look out for their animals.

“Spirit of our ancestors, angels that protect us, please take care of us. We offer to you this blessing.”

Alpacas are native to South America, where they are sometimes raised for meat (which is low in calories, fat, and cholesterol) but are primarily prized for their fleece, which grows naturally in over twenty colors. Alpaca fiber is not only soft, Callañaupa says, but warmer and finer than sheep’s wool.

Ann Rowe, a researcher at the George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum in D.C., says these attractive properties of alpaca fiber are due to its structure. “Alpaca is softer than wool because [the shaft of each fiber] has fewer surface scales,” she says. “It is warmer because many of the fibers have a hollow core.”

It also costs more than wool, Callañaupa says, an advantage for the farmer. Peru is reportedly home to 3.6 million alpacas — that’s most of the world’s population and produces 80 percent of the world’s alpaca fleece. Those exports, however, are managed by large fiber mills.

“The export industry is an entirely different thing than local use of alpacas” for textiles, says Rowe.

“Let the alpaca be as strong as can be because their bones are like steel. The mountains should run with alpacas like grains of sand, and their caretakers should be so overjoyed that their eyes run with tears.”

It’s a long road from animal to textile. It starts, Callañaupa says, with shearing the animals, which is done every year or two (in warmer climates, annual shearing is more common).

Next, the fiber is spun by hand into yarn on a traditional drop spindle — a wooden spike that is weighted at one end. The spinner fixes the fiber to the spike, then pulls and twists the fiber while holding the spindle between the legs. When the twisted fiber reaches a certain length, the spindle is dropped toward the floor, and its weight makes it rotate, twisting it into yarn.

The finished yarn is washed and can be dyed. The Cusco weavers use natural dyes made from leaves, flowers and insects.

When the yarn is ready, artisans use a Backstrap Loom to weave bright, intricate textiles. Each community, Callañaupa explains, has its own designs and style of weaving. “It’s part of our identity,” she says.

“Let there be a great abundance of alpacas, so that the alpacas should be like the condor and appear to fly from one mountain to another, and let them come in all the beautiful colors.”

People sell their woven textiles. If they have a lot of alpaca, they’ll sell the actual fiber as well. Callañaupa says that in many of these villages, raising alpaca is the basis for the economy. “In high altitudes where the alpacas are kept, there is not agriculture,” she says. “So all the food will come through [sale of the] fiber.”

Is it enough to make a living?

She doesn’t look up from the creamy, pale fiber she is spinning into soft yarn. “Most people, that pays for living,” she says. “The food, the education. No savings.”

When the ceremony is over, necklaces of carnations and woven tassels are hung around each alpaca’s neck to show it has been blessed. In Peru, the end of the ceremony marks the beginning of a festival, so right there on the National Mall, to the beat of drums and the whistle of flutes, the Peruvians dance their thanks to Mother Earth.

Back in their pen, the blessed alpacas pace, perhaps not yet aware of their good fortune.

From NPR
By Jessie Rack

Read the original here.

Picnic in Alpaca Pasture is Highlight of Farm Tour

 A group of gals from Columbus, Ohio came for a Farm Tour over the weekend.  They had asked if they could bring their lunch, then do a Drop Spindle Class in the afternoon.  Though they enjoyed learning to spin, and they enjoyed shopping in The Farm Store, their picnic in the alpaca pasture was the highlight!

Picnic in the Pasture

When given some options where they could have their lunch, they opted for in the pasture under a shade tree.

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What a spread they had … they were very kind and invited me to join them!

Picnic in Pasture is Highlight of Farm Tour

Mabelle, Martha, and our guard llama, Silver Beauty ventured over to the picnic spot to see what was going on.

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Before long, curiosity got the best of some of our other girls and they ventured over to check out who was in their pasture.

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Having been a little disappointed during the tour that our alpacas were not more social, our guests were now getting undivided attention.

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I thought they might end up having to share their lunch with their new fiber friends.

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 That is what Miss Miami was hoping!

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Lunch in the pasture after a Farm Tour was definitely a first, and very much enjoyed by our guests!

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See it live!  Watch it on YouTube.

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Little Martha enjoyed some lunch too!

Spring Open House Pictures

    

We had more families with children at our Spring Open House than we’ve probably ever had.  Fortunately I remembered to take some pictures, especially of kids and alpacas!  Gentle and curious by nature, alpacas respond  very well to children.  Kids got a chance to pet the alpacas and walk Sunscape, one of our Spring babies born last year, just shy of her first birthday.

Kids and Alpacas

We had neighbors we had never met stop by to see what was going on.  Others planned their visit intentionally to learn more about alpacas and what we do with their fiber.  Visitors saw spinning demonstrations throughout the weekend in The Fiber Studio and took advantage of our Spring specials.   Stacy Swesey was the winner of our drawing for a FREE pair of Alpaca Socks, congratulations Stacy!  We enjoyed two awesome days of beautiful weather … thank you to all who visited!

Schedule an Alpaca Farm Tour at Alpaca Meadows

If you’d like to visit our farm with your school, your scout troop, 4-H Club, civic organization, Garden Club, Mother’s Club, guild, family, or group of friends, find out about scheduling an Alpaca Farm Tour.  If you would like to be keep abreast on what’s new at our farm, upcoming classes, new products, free patterns, and other fun stuff, click here.

Shearing Day

Sloppy Joes, buns, chips, apples, Little Debbies,  bottled water, coffee, grooming tools, halters, leads, bags, labels, broom, dust pan, garbage cans, and helpers!  I think I have everything ready for shearing day the next day.   The shearers are to arrive sometime between 11am and 1pm so we plan to spend the morning cleaning alpacas.  I can relax … until … I get home about 7pm and there is a call from the shearers that they will be arriving at 7am!

Seriously?

Alpaca Shearing

My 16 year old daughter Abby usually keeps us organized on shearing day, but she is on medical status at school, and can’t miss more school without a doctor’s excuse.  So be it.  She will go to school post-shearing day and be unexcused.  We need her help!

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Three of our grandchildren also stay home from school for “family business”.  Their mother feels helping with shearing day is as much an education as a day at school.  How right she is!

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Friends arrive to help.  My 21 year old son Aaron drags himself out of bed.

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We will shear light colored alpacas first, then medium and dark colors to try and limit different colored fiber getting mixed together.

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Some of us will clean alpacas with several different types of grooming tools, picking out hay, straw, and burrs the best we can, and as much as each alpaca will tolerate.  It is much easier to clean fiber while it is still on the animal than after it has been sheared off.

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Someone will halter the alpacas, they will go into a holding pen, and await their turns.

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A team of four strong and young men come from ShearingAlpaca.com.  They are very experienced at handling the alpacas, laying them down on a mat, and restraining their legs to be shorn.

The head shearer on the shearing crew will shear the blanket first.  The blanket is considered to be the prime fiber.  Another shears the neck, the belly, the legs.

Grades of Alpaca Fiber

Topknots, tails, toes, and teeth get trimmed.

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And there is lots of fiber to gather.  The blanket is laid on a flat plastic sheet to be carefully rolled in the sheet.  This way it can later be unrolled the same way it came off the alpaca and skirted.  Skirting is the process of removing coarse or dirty fiber away from the blanket.

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And of course, there is always time for my children to check text messages!

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Until they see they are having their pictures taken!

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Llamas are twice the size of an alpaca and according to our shearers, the “take down” is much more fun!

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Our llama, Silver Beauty, has her own ideas about getting a hair cut.

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She is down, and the shearers discuss what they might have done differently!

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The cleaning is done.  Grandson Keandre’ and son Aaron take a break.

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It is Sam’s turn to be shorn.

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One of the shearers and Sam take a break!

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Cuddle time?

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The shearers finished 24 alpacas and one llama in about three hours.  The shearers were paid, the fiber was loaded in the trailer, tools were put away, the floor was swept, and our alpacas were all a little bit lighter.  And cooler!

Shearing Alpacas

The sloppy joes were ready but it was only 10am!  We loaded up and headed to another alpaca farm nearby to help with shearing there.  Finally, with another herd shorn, we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed some lunch!

See Shearing Day is Behind Us

 

Alpaca Hairstyles

Check out these great alpaca pics at Animal Tracks on Today!   Laura T. Coffey writes “Shear Madness: Hairstyle Dos and Don’ts for Alpacas”.  There definitely are some “don’ts” in the group!

Shear Madness: Hairstyle Dos and Don'ts for Alpacas

“If you’re an alpaca, you know how it is: You’re standing around, grazing and minding your own business, and all of a sudden some human comes along and shears off your fur so they can turn it into sweaters, coats and socks.

The experience is always a jarring one — but you know what?  It provides an opportunity to a) exude confidence and
b) LOOK STYLISH.”

Be sure to “like” Alpaca Meadows on Facebook for other interesting posts and updates!

Spring Suri Special, Ariella!

Our little Ariella is all grown up and we are offering her for sale at 1/2 price this Spring!  Born October 14, 2009, Ariella is 2 1/2 years old and ready to breed!

Though she could have been bred younger, but we did not breed our herd last year because of our move to a new farm.  Experience has shown that sometimes alpacas bred young end up being babies having babies, kind of like teenage mothers, and aren’t ready to be moms!  At this age, Ariella should be prime for motherhood!

Sister to Sophie Ann, who has a reputation for laying down in the barn at the county fair to let people pet her, Ariella is also inquisitive and friendly.

Little Ariella

She comes from some fine genetics, with her daddy Zumaya producing lots of nice babies, and her mama Miski coming from the Ameripaca breeding program!

Dam – Ameripaca’s Miski
Sire – Peruvian Zumaya

 

 

 

Ariella's Fiber

Her fiber is soft and fine and a beautiful beige color, a hand spinner’s dream!

Camelid Health Conference

Camelid Health Conference

For Owners and Breeders

Camelid Health Conference

 

The Ohio Alpaca Owners & Breeders Association is proud to be a sponsor of this year’s Camelid Health Conference, hosted by The Ohio State Veterinary Medical Center. The conference coincides with the International Camelid Health Conference which provides experts in the field of camelid medicine.

Topics include:

  • Herbal & Organic Deworming
  • Parasite/Nutrition & Reproduction
  • Dystocia Management
  • Geriatric Alpaca Care and more….

Conference Details:

  • DATE: March 24, 2012 7:30 am-5:30 pm
  • (6:30 reception following)
  • FEE: $100 for OABA members or $150 for non-members
  • Early bird registration deadline February 29, 2012

A complete informational brochure can be printed from:

www.ohioalpacaassociation.com or www.vetmedce.osu.edu

Last year included numerous side discussions with the attending veterinarians & speakers…

This is an opportunity not to be missed!
 

 

For more information about the conference or registration contact: 

Genevieve Thompson
thompson.2241@osu.edu

 

 

 

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