Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter with the alpacas

Thanksgiving Day brought 5 inches of snow after a week of high winds and temperatures in the teens.  This is quite early for this part of the country, and I couldn't help but reflect on how lucky we are to have the family farm as our home.

The girls love the shelter of this 100+ year old apple tree during all seasons.

This farm has been in the Bylsma family since 1949.  Foppe Bylsma was a fine farmer and herdsman.  He added on to the old barn to exactly meet the needs of his dairy cows, and made the barn easy for us to convert to an alpaca friendly environment.  We are very fortunate to have over 3000 sq.ft. in the barn so we have a place for everyone.

Introduced to a new, fresh field, the girls first have to roll in the snow, then run and jump.  I think they are making alpaca angels.
These are our youngsters in 2006.
Snow makes for good wrestling mats!

When we first moved to the farm, we poured concrete in the barn to make the floors easier to clean.  Whenever the temperature is above freezing, we wash the floors down after cleaning up all the poo.
This is done daily.
Another benefit to the concrete floors is that it helps to wear down the toenails.  We rarely have long toenails on our alpacas. 
When it gets really cold, we throw down straw so the pacas will benefit from the insulation.

For the most part, our alpacas would rather be outside than in the barn.  We usually have at least one week stretch in which they choose to be inside.  Snow, ice and high winds drive them inside for food and shelter.
Here the girls are trying to decide if they want to go back outside after their breakfast.  You can see they are soaking wet, having been out all night, but it is now raining pigs and cows.  Decisions, decisions.

Dolly Madison says she is going to find some grass to eat here.

Julia knows the snow sets off the lovely shade of brown in her fiber.

We have had 5-6 foot drifts in the lane, making it difficult to even get out to the barn to tend to the pacas.  Sometimes the wind will blow the snow out of the pastures, but we will still have drifts to circumvent.  One year, the snow and wind were so strong, I could not have found the barn without the fence there to guide me.
And to wrap this up, I had just finished washing down the barn, when one of the boys left me a gift.
Paca Poo, the renewable resource.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Farwell to Eve and Sancho

It was a melancholy day at Lost River Alpacas Sunday when two of our favorites left to go to new homes.  But hey, you can't keep them all.

We acquired Sancho through a trade, and he came all the way from Ohio.  Sancho is the sweetest gentleman.  He was always the last one to leave the barn in the morning, and kept me company until I sprayed his legs with the hose.  I always wondered if he just liked my company, or was he waiting for that spray.  Then again, he spent most of the time cleaning out the grain feeders for those last morsels.
This is Eve on drugs.  She had just had a procedure done on her ear to correct a chronic ear infection.  She was definitely a favorite, having been bottle fed for three months, and very friendly.  After I loaded her in the trailer I gave her a hug and then started crying.

So our herd is down to 27 now.  Both the girls and boys are feeling a bit disconcerted, a bit apprehensive.  They know one of them has left, and they will be a little at odds for about a week, and then their new positions will go into effect.

Sancho and Eve have gone to live with some wonderful people in Eastern Oregon, and I know they are going to be well cared for and happy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Herd Health

Monday we had the vet in for a number of reasons.  It was the biggest group we had looked at in a long time.  We had health certificates done on a maiden female and a herdsire who have been sold and will be traveling to their new home this weekend.  6 girls had blood draws for pregnancy testing.  Two crias had blood draws for DNA testing.  It all went quite well.
The final exam was for a female who has not held a pregnancy since her last cria was born in 2007.  Serafina would breed, and then reject, only to show up open again in a couple of months.  This year she has been "humping" the other females, and refusing the males.  Very frustrating, and also disruptive.  An ultrasound showed no major problems, but possibly a retained corpus lutium.  We tried the series of hormones on Serafina last year to no avail, so this time we chose to have a blood analysis done to see if she had a hormone imbalance.  Better to know what you are dealing with before spending the money on the hormone injections.  The blood is sent to the lab at Washington State University's Veterinary department, so we may not have answers on any of the tests until next week.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Record Keeping

This is our latest cria, Lost River's Charger.  He was on his feet in about 15 minutes and jumping and running within the hour.  Charger was a wonderful surprise for us, since we'd had a stillbirth earlier in the day.  You can catch up on those details at my other blog.

Now on to record keeping.  I have a white board in the barn where we keep track of all of the breedings, due dates, births and weights of the crias.  I use red markers to indicate a breeding, and green to indicate a rejection.  Ha ha, green for spitting off.
WELL, I had apparently converted a few of the breeding dates to due dates on the board, and when I copied them down to enter into the computer records, I used that date as the breeding date instead of the due date.  I hope I only did this on the one girl.  We spent a month waiting for a cria, and were convinced the dam was well over a year of gestation.  When she went past 375 days, I realized my mistake.  Unfortunately, she is the one who had the stillborn, after all that time and waiting and watching.
Good record keeping is important in your herd management, but is also essential to your own sanity.  There was a time when we were starting out that I knew every little detail about each alpaca, their  genetics, their fiber statistics, their birthdate, due date, and service sire.  I guess some of that saved data needs to be purged so I can remember the more recent details.  You know our brain is like a large filing cabinet.  We just have to figure out where the details are filed.
So, I try to keep a paper file and a computer file on each of our alpacas.  We use a computer program called ALPACAEASE.  I've been very happy with this program.  Updates are available every year or so, but I've just used the basic program and found it meets our needs.
Now it is time for me to update the medical records on all the critters.  I've gotten really lax about that and need to be more vigilant.
According to my records, our next crias will not be born until August.  Unless I copied that info wrong.  In any case, they should not come any sooner.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Day 373 of pregnancy for Princess Buttercup.  Sigh.  Poor thing.  Yesterday I observed her lying on her side and pushing, three different occasions.  Why does she stop pushing?  So, I checked her and could tell she was not dialated, but what is going on?  This is not right.  Finally called the vet.  He did a thorough exam and said she was having "positional labor".  The baby is very big, and she's trying to get it into position to birth.  Usually, when you invade the alpaca this way, it stimulates the system and they have their cria within 24 hours.  Not our Princess.  She is so uncomfortable, and is humming to her baby already.  This is almost as bad as being pregnant myself!!!  I can't wait to get this cria on the ground.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

We sheared early this year.  We ususally don't shear until late May or early June, since we can always get a cold spell here until then.  But, when you hire someone to come in, you go by their schedule.  We did 20 of the pacas.  We didn't do the 4 weanlings, since they don't seem to have enough meat on their bones yet, and I'm really glad we didn't.  It was 35 degrees this morning.
Last week we noticed Aristotle was shivering, so I got the blanket out for him.  His mother was the last one to wear this.  He tried to run away from it at first, but is now quite content with it.

Sancho has staked out his place in the barn and won't go outside until the sun comes out.  He's the smart one.
Then there is Chico.  35 degrees and he still wants to play in the water as I wash down the barn.  Makes me cold just thinking about it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Buyer Beware!

I now have all of my alpacas listed on Alpacastreet, instead of Alpacanation.  Half the money, the same exposure.  And things had gotten a bit stagnant.  Time for a change.  Anyhoooo, I was reading an article posted on Alpacastreet, and really wished it had been out 12 years ago when we bought our first alpacas.  It is "The Ten Commandments For New Alpaca Breeders", or something like that.  You can follow this link to read the entire piece.

When we decided to buy alpacas, we visited about 6 farms.  We bought two from a small breeder who we ended up agisting with for the next two years.  Then we bought 4 from a very large breeder, who also was very close to us.  Now I am going to share a story of what happened with one of our alpacas we bought from the "big boys".

One of the alpacas we bought was a cute, friendly little white suri, pregnant with her first cria.  She had a little nick on her upper lip, which we were told was an injury.  We didn't care.  Her fiber was to die for, and she was so sweet and pretty.  Being newbies, we did not know that deformed facial features were a sign of more serious genetic problems.  How would we?  Whenever we asked questions of this breeder, we were told "No Brainer".  They are so easy, they take care of themselves!!

Mattie gave birth, late in the day, to her first cria, who lasted maybe three hours.  The big breeder gave us a free breeding to the herdsire of our choice, and a year later, Mattie delivered an adorable pure black female cria.  She lasted about three weeks.  We knew she was frail, and was not thriving.  She succumbed to Clostridium type A.

By the time Mattie had her third cria, we had the herd at our own farm, and had more control over the cleanliness, environment, and herd management.  We were by then certain that those were the issues responsible for the crias not surviving.  The third cria was sensational!  A white male, dripping with luster and total fiber coverage.  We named him Majestic Snow.  We had been advised from some top Suri breeders to show him in the show ring, and were preparing to do just that.  We had the vet come out to do health checks before going to the show.  The vet looked over at Majestic and said, "Oh, a wry face."  What?  What's that?  Oh, it's genetic, and an indication of more serious genetic problems."  We were devastated.  By that time, Mattie had already been bred, and was due to have another cria that summer.

Cria number 4 was born with her right, front leg fused in the bent position at the shoulder and could not stand to nurse.  I bottle fed her through the night, and had her put down the next morning.

Okay, time to contact the Big Boys.  What can you do for us?  Well, they could not afford to give me another suri in exchange for Mattie, but they could exchange her for a like quality huacaya.  By this time we felt as if we were star crossed in the suri end, and had decided to no longer breed suris.  So, this was okay by us.  I took a trip to their farm to pick out a new female.  With over 1000 alpacas, they made three available for me to chose from.  Three?  One had a terrible jaw infection, and another one could not be found that day.  So, I was left with a white maiden, due to have her first cria in a few months.  She was sway backed and her fiber was rather coarse, but we had fine fibered males to breed to her to improve these characteristics.

I can handle just about any birthing situation or dystocia on my own, but I had to have a vet out on an emergency call to deliver her cria.  It's pretty hard to tell at that point what is going on, but it seemed she had a persistent hymen.  The delivery was very difficult, and resulted in sewing up tears in her vaginal wall.  She had a healthy, adorable appaloosa female cria.

The saga continues.  As the cria grew and came to breeding age, she would not allow a male to get close to her.  We tried hormones, we tried several different males.  She was having none of it.  Finally, we had a vet check her out, and her vagina does not attach to the uterus.

Would anyone out there like a non breeding female?

I have been trying to get a response out of the Big Boys for four months now, to no avail.  The thing is, I don't want another alpaca.  We are trying to downsize.  I'd just like an acknowledgement and an apology at this time.

Edit on June 11, 2010:  Since I cannot get an apology, or even a response from Alpacas of America, I don't feel bad for posting this about them.

Bottom line:  Buyer Beware.  Buy from a small breeder who will give you full support after your purchase.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Halter Training

Halter training can be quite trying, but if you approach it with a sense of humor, it can be fun.
I have a friend, I will call him an Intern, who wants to learn everything he can about alpacas. He manages a pet store and owns all sorts of animals. Alpacas have piqued his interest, and so he is working with me to learn.

The first picture is of us herding the girls into the barn.
This first girl is Nutmeg. Obviously not the sharpest knife in the drawer. We use the Camelidynamics method of training and never leave an alpaca in training on the halter for more than 5 minutes to start. We take the halter off when they have behaved or accomplished something. Nutmeg faught me the whole way. What I am doing is exerting pressure on the lead in small jerks. Usually, the alpaca finally takes a step forward, at which point I let up on the pressure. Then you can actually see the lightbulb go off in their brain. " Oh, so if I walk, there won't be any pressure on me." Well, Nutmeg figured out that if she took a step I would let up, but then she would brace herself full force again. Oh, well, another day. She will probably get it on her third session.
This is also a good time to learn about the individual's personality. I know my herd well, and I could pretty well predict who would succeed, and who would be a chore.

Nutmeg again, fighting me. I finally just got her to stand still and removed the halter.

Here is Velvet. Her entire family line is very smart, so she did as well as I expected. I could take her for a walk down the city streets if I wanted to now. But we will save that for the younguns.
Abigail's Mom is a psycho, so I expected her to be a handful. She was, but she was catching on. I think she will get it in her next session.

This one was a surprise. Pippi Longstockings thinks (knows) she is special, and when I put the halter on her, she was devastated. I've never had one throw themselves on the ground like this. I was cracking up. We let her lie there for awhile. She then stood up and stood straight, so I removed the halter. I really don't know what to expect of her next session, but I think she will realize we didn't hurt her and will do better.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Bachelor Herd

How to integrate new males into the Bachelor herd.

I know, isn't it just awful? You bring a new male onto the farm, and all the boys go crazy, trying to prove who is the best and most dominant. Well, we have developed a very peaceful, effective way of adding new boys to the herd.

We currently have three yearlings that need to join the main bachelor herd. Last week, we took the two most laid back, gentle natured boys and put them in with the yearlings, in the yearling pen. This only works when you use either a neutral field or the field the newcomer is in. Champ and Chico joined the three little ones with no incidence. Every two days, we would add another male, usually taking the least aggressive to add, working up to the most aggressive. They are all together now in the yearling pen and field and doing well. Today we will put them all into the large male field. Now they will have room to stretch out and run. It is usually a very peaceful endeavor, for the alpacas, us, and our neighbors! No fighting or screaming. It also helps that the yearling field is very small, and they are all in close proximity.
Now, when we put them all back into the larger field, it is new territory for all of them.

Postscript: The boys are all together in one field now, and this has been the calmest transistion we have ever experienced. To top it off, Steller, the one who normally runs the new boys down, is the close friend of the three yearlings!!! We have been practicing this method for 5 years, but this has been the most successful.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tidbits About Alpacas

Do alpacas smile when they are happy? Well, here is Pippi greeting me. I think it's obvious, don't you?
Alpacas are as good as a hunting dog. Chico and Champ, full brothers, saw something in the back yard of our neighbor. I went over to see what had captured their attention and saw a HUGE possum. Ick, I hate those things. Give me the creeps.

This is Sancho, teething on the wire fence. If you look closely, you can see that the alpaca does not have front teeth on top. They have a hard pallet, which they like to massage on cold things. Sancho does this every morning. He stays in the barn with me each morning, while all the other boys are outside. He is waiting for me to spray him with the hose. (Or better yet, bring him a girlfriend).

The weather has been glorious here the past couple of weeks. The frogs are coming out of hibernation, as are the possums. And here are the mountains, showing off in all their splendor. These are the Coastal Range in Canada, which is just 5 miles from us as the crow flies.

We let the girls into a new field the other morning, and I always like to watch them. The whistle I use to call them is the same one my Mom woke me up to each morning as a child.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rabies Scare

I have been listening to the book "To Kill a Mockingbird". This afternoon I heard the part about the "mad" dog that they had to kill. The description of the dog and his behavior reminded me of Rocky, one of our young suri males. It was January of 2008. Rocky had had a case of choke, and we were keeping a close eye on him. Choke can lead to pneumonia and death, and Rocky came from a line that carried mega esophagus. That's another long story I won't cover here.
Anyhow, Rocky started acting strangely and appeared to be shivering. I put him in our sick bay, took his temperature and put a coat on him. He did not have a fever, but continued to shiver. I gave him some penicillin as a precautionary measure and continued to watch him.
We had made the hard decision at one point, that if Rocky ever got really sick, we would not go to great lengths to save him. He was not a breeder, and we knew he carried this gene, which we would not want to pass on to any offspring.
I had been in the house for awhile, and when I came out, I found Rocky in the girl's pasture, walking in circles and humming. I went up to him, put my hand behind his ears, and led him into the barn again. It was then I discovered he had broken the lock on the stall he was in and had forced his way through the second gate. Darn, I'm crying as I'm remembering all this.
I got him secured in the stall, putting a heavy object in front of the gate so he was unable to get out again. It was at this point that I realized he was blind. He was also walking up to the wall and trying to walk through it. Meeting up with the wall did not deter him, he just kept trying to walk through it. (In the book, they said the dog would just walk determinedly in a straight line, going through anything that got in it's way.)
I talked to my husband on the phone that night and said I thought I should have the vet out the next day to have Rocky put down. There was nothing we could do for him. But the more I watched him, the more disturbed I became.

The next day the vet got there. I told him he would think I was crazy, but that Rocky was exhibiting symptoms of rabies. So Gordon says, let's take a look. He agreed immediately that Rocky was blind. He examined him a bit more and then said "let's go outside". I got a chuckle out of that, as if he wanted to tell me something where Rocky couldn't hear us. But then he said he had to make a call. He got in his truck and closed the doors. He got out, starting to talk to me, and then went back to the truck and made another call. Finally he comes out and says:
"I don't mean to alarm you, but there is a chance that Rocky has rabies". He asked if I had had my hands in Rocky's mouth. I had, to see if there was something in his throat, and I had abrasions on my hands. Well, if he had rabies, I would have to be treated immediately, as well as vaccinating all of the herd. I was leaving for a Fiber to Fashion conference in Las Vegas the next morning. This meant, if the tests proved positive, I was to go to the emergency room in Las Vegas to begin the series of shots. (while watching a nature show this year we learned that Las Vegas does not have any rabies vaccine on hand). In order to test for rabies, they would have to send the head to Seattle for testing. It was rather gruesome.
In Washington, the only animal that caries rabies is the bat. It was January, and as I recall, a very cold January. The bats were all hibernating, or whatever bats do in the winter. The only possibility we could come up with was a raccoon having been bitten by a bat and becoming a carrier. We had several raccoons in the barn that year.
Then there ensued a number of phone calls from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Wildlife, asking me a million questions. I was starting to be a little nervous. I had been taking this all in stride, but when I saw how seriously the agencies were taking this, well, yikes, I might have been exposed!!

It takes 24 hours to get the results on the test of the brain, so I was in the airport in Las Vegas, just meeting up with my niece, when the call came in to tell me I did not have rabies. Phew. I could now concentrate on having a great time!!

What had happened with Rocky was that the choke had caused an infection in his brain. The alpaca has a tendency to aspirate when choking, which leads to pneumonia in many cases. But for some reason, the choke took the route of the nasal passages and met up with the brain.

It seems the longer you have livestock, the more freaky things you see.
When we first bought alpacas, the salesman from the largest breeder in the area told us, "oh, raising alpacas is a no brainer, they practically take care of themselves." Not so, my friends, not so.