Category Archives: Suri Alpacas

Animals off Farm

photo 1The alpacas and kitty have left the farm. A friend took two of our girls down on Sunday, and we hauled the other two down to her yesterday. This is a good move for our alpaca friends, but it was hard to say goodbye after so many kissy and derpy faced moments shared with our four-legged friends. They have gone to live with the Shetlands, which made for a fun experience watching them adjust to life with sheep neighbors.

On the way back through town, we stopped again at the farm and picked up Watson, who appeared confused about the missing alpacas in his domain. He wasn’t terribly happy about the prospect of being in the van, but he quickly snuggled into daddy’s lap and is adjusting well.

photo 4 (1)As for us, as we drove away from the alpacas, whose ears were alert and forward, watching us carefully back down the drive, I felt a pang of anxiety. It was the realization that for the first time in a very long time, we are not farming. Not really, at least. And while I know this is temporary, it was a strange realization.

We leave Sunday for New York to close on the house. And while there, we’ll be visiting a couple of farms and families we’ve met along the way. It’ll help to focus on the next step, but in these quiet few weeks before the big move, it also gives us time to really reflect on these past four years. What a strange and wondrous ride it has been. photo 4

As we walked away from the alpaca enclosure, Chris put his arm around me, leaned in
close and said, “Now, the next leg of this journey really begins.” And I am reminded of the of the following:

“But what if I fail of my purpose here? It is but to keep the nerves at strain, to dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall, and baffled, get up and begin again.” -Robert Browning

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A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation, and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

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Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place has been preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.

Herding Cats

photo 1 (12)Life as a barn cat must be pretty strange, especially for the barn cat surrounded by Suri alpacas, the muppets of the animal kingdom. Though size-wise, they are quite different, cats have more in common with alpacas than nearly any other animal.

Alpacas and cats are both naturally curious, they do not like to be handled, except on their terms, they appreciate companionship, and they each think we humans exist to provide a steady stream of adoration and praise (I think they’re right).  photo 1 (11)

According to esteemed alpaca whisperer (and author of the wonderful book, Camelid Dynamics), Marty McGee, cats are the animals most similar to alpacas and relationships between the feline and camelid are often forged. In the photo at left, you are seeing the beginning of a daily pattern in which Bree (she’s in charge) approaches Watson, our cat. They get close enough to touch noses. Bree then retreats back to allow the next alpaca to come forth for a similar friendly initiation of sorts.

After this happens (usually when Watson emerges from his resting perch in the morning or after a nap in the afternoon), there is a period of “follow the cat,” which sometimes turns into, “follow the alpacas,” in which it is clear Watson has joined the herd to some degree and is paying attention to the locality of the alpacas.

photo 2 (13)McGee (Camelid Dynamics) describes that by watching this exchange, we can better understand how to approach our alpacas the way they wish to be approached. It was one of the most helpful aspects of reading her book and has altered our perspective in a way that has made handling the alpacas safer and gentler for all involved.
As for Watson, like any cat, I think he enjoys the attention (at least when no one is watching).

Super wash

photo (16)I washed Ebony’s fleece way back in the early spring without realizing that just because alpacas lack lanolin, they do have an oil in their fiber that is removed only at a certain temperature wash. Her fiber gave off a light odor, so I decided last week to rewash the entire carded fleece. Unfortunately, I left the fleece out to dry and then went to town for errands. My husband was kind enough to save the fleece from a sudden rainstorm. When I returned home, I promptly returned the fleece to the drying rack (the rain had subsided), where it sat beneath an unanticipated evening storm.

In the days that followed, I left the fleece, only to see the clouds roll in while away from home, knowing that fiber was getting yet another rinse. Today, in the warm sun and gentle breeze, I have finished another wash, to prevent any mildew, and brought the rack up on the deck for easy access. Decided to put the fan on it.

I’d like to think I’ve learned something. That my feedback loop shrunk from the experience of having to wash a fleece multiple times. And maybe, yes farm family, just maybe it’s the universe answering Chris’s call for retribution for my innocent thievery of Chris’s short hoses for my wash tubs… Maybe.

Pseudopregnancy in Alpacas

imageAs it turns out, under the right circumstances, pseudopregnancy among alpacas may be fairly common. Especially at times when alpacas are not being bred following a routine breeding season. Our Pecan experienced labor symptoms for one full week in July, then returned to normal as if nothing had happened. Her humans were in a panic trying to first determine what was wrong, and then after pregnancy was suspected, the long wait for an uncertain arrival.

I suspected a false pregnancy, but until today had not read about the possibility. In literature from the 1960s on camelid mating behavior, I found a paragraph dedicated to the commonality of pseudopregnancy. Perhaps the reason it’s not seen as often in breeding populations is because alpacas are often bred at regular intervals.

In any case, even the breeder was stumped by Pecan’s behavior. The alpaca seemed healthy, but exhibited all of the usual labor symptoms including separating herself from the herd, regular returns to the dung pile where she produced only a few or no beans, lying on her side and kicking her leg out at regular intervals, etc. Her bag even looked full.

In the end, we’re just really happy Pecan is in good health and back to normal alpaca mischief.