The Latest Scoop
29 June 2010 - I spent last weekend attending The Alpaca Fiber Symposium which was held in Richmond, Virginia. After attending a previous symposium last fall in Denver, I knew that I did not want to miss this one.
The symposium was a meeting of the minds of those from all over the country who are passionate about alpaca fiber and who are interested in moving this industry forward in all its possible manifestations. Most of the attendees were from the mid-Atlantic area but there were also people there from as far away as Arizona, Kansas, and Colorado.
As with the Denver conference, I left with much to think about---both in terms of what direction I want to take, as a breeder and budding fiber artist, as well as the future of the industry as a whole. Some of the highlights:
There were several groups represented that are already making and marketing products out of alpaca fiber on a large scale. We saw examples of what could be done with less than ideal fiber (quilt batting) as well as prime blanket fiber (woven throws and blankets).
We were also brought up to date concerning the ongoing research to test alpaca fiber’s properties. We have all heard and repeated various things we have heard about the properties of alpaca fiber---“warmer than wool”, “hypoallergenic”, etc, but we need firm conclusions based on careful research to back this up. There was a representative there from Gaston College which has been involved in much of the research over the past several years.
A highlight of this conference for me was seeing what various other alpaca farmers are producing for their individual farm stores. I find that people are eager to show and tell what works for them to bring in revenue from their products and I picked up several ideas that I will be able to use.
Another highlight was the presentation by 2 AOBA show judges which explained the differences between judging a halter show vs. a fleece show. As you can imagine, this generated much lively discussion. In fact, most of the presentations generated lively discussion which is, I think, one of the purposes of the symposium----to bring us all together to see what ideas we can generate as a whole.
Two of the attendees had been working on business plans for a fiber farm model and it was decided that they would join forces and work on this together.
I left Richmond with much to think about, many ideas to put into action, and looking forward to attending the next fiber symposium. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is involved with any aspect of alpaca fiber make plans to also attend.
18 June 2010 - This morning I was watching the alpacas lazing around in their stalls and on the porch---all chewing their cuds—even the crias which looked so cute. Their little mouths were moving as fast as they could.
Alpacas are ruminants, or animals with more than one compartment or chamber to their stomach. In the first chamber, called the rumen, the food is mixed with fluid to form a soft mass, the cud. This cud is regurgitated, chewed again, re-swallowed and passes through the rumen into the other stomach chambers for further digestion.
When alpacas chew their cuds they secrete saliva. This saliva contains a natural antacid which helps to buffer the rumen or first compartment.
Sounds sorta gross, huh? It is said that cud chewing is a sign of contentment and the alpacas do look very peaceful and content when they are quietly cushed, chewing their cuds. Here is a photo of Briza, totally relaxed, chewing her cud while sun bathing. I’ve never before seen an alpaca chew cud while reclining---usually they are kushed, but sometimes standing.
What is really interesting is to watch the left side of their necks, as they bring up the cud, chew a while, then send it back down. You can see the lump coming up and going down. Another interesting thing is that their mouths move in a horizontal figure 8 pattern while chewing. Really interesting when observed from the rear.
While I see the crias chewing their little cuds as a sign that they are growing up fast, it is an indication that, in addition to nursing, they are taking in solid food---hay and grain.
9 June 2010 -Our Calla is a month old and was shorn a few days ago. As her fleece rolled off her back, I could not believe what I was seeing!
She had been the most beautiful blend of light fawn and beige in a vicuna pattern---“exquisite” is the word I used to describe her. She was so pretty that I couldn't stop looking at her.
Now she is a medium fawn. Still beautiful, but I miss that exquisite baby fleece.
4 June 2010 - We have a new cria! Cynara was born around 6 PM on June 2. I was packing up to leave for my spinning group and glanced out the window to check on M-O-Lee as we were on cria watch. She was lying down and Cosmos was sniffing her rear end.
Now, that is not unusual. When M-O-Lee takes her naps in the sun she is dead to the world and we have seen other crias, not her own, use this opportunity to check her out from head to toe. I grabbed my binoculars to take a closer look and sure enough we had a cria on the way. I changed into my barn clothes and headed up to check on things. Within 15 minutes, a beautiful light fawn girl was on the ground.
Cynara’s sire is Oberon, out of Highland Alpaca’s highly-regarded breeding program and is co-owned by Mobe Alpacas. Thanks to Beth Sample of Mobe Alpacas for transporting Oberon here for the breeding and back again for spit testing.
What is interesting is that our boy cria Cosmos takes much more interest in the new arrival than our girl cria Calla does.
25 May 2010 - We bought Jack the llama 1 ½ years ago as a companion for our then weanling boys. Since then they have been pretty much inseparable. But-----it happened again this spring. His fuzzy pals disappeared and 2 distinctly unfuzzy pencil-neck geeks appeared in their place.
Now if Jack were not the timid sort that he is, he would get close enough to smell them and realize that these really are his buddies in disguise. But Jack is a timid sort. When he is anxious his upper lip twitches and it has been twitching---a lot. On both sides.
Jack and the boys always sleep together, sometimes outside but usually in their stall. For the past few nights since the boys have been shorn it has been raining and the boys have slept in their stall while Jack has slept alone up in the field shelter in their pasture.
This morning I was pleased to see that Jack and the boys were once again together. All three were in their stall, chewing cud.
But I can’t help but wonder what Jack thinks of this. Does he recognize his buddies or has he made friends with what he perceives as new buddies??
23 May 2010 - M-O-Lee and Barbi have learned that one bucket can serve 2 alpacas if they take turns.
21 May 2010 - As soon as the weather heats up, a sure sign of the season is the onset of the bucket battles. One of my dams, M-O-Lee does not handle heat well and wants to take total control of the water bucket. This has lead to frequent confrontations with Barbi, who has always had aspirations of usurping M-O-Lee’s position as Barn Princess. There are screaming hissy fits on the part of Barbi and well-aimed spits on the part of M-O-Lee.
My solution---at least I thought it would be a solution---was to have a bucket for each girl. This did nothing to solve the problem as it seems that one bucket is more desirable than the others. The bucket which is hung on the porch is the “best” bucket as it is in shade all day but more importantly, the girl commanding that bucket can cush with her chin resting on the rim of the bucket---staking out her claim in no uncertain terms---and only has to move her head forward a few inches to take a drink.
My solution to that was to hang all of the buckets along the fence but their water consumption went down. Way down.
So the porch bucket is back and the battles continue but at least they are drinking lots of water as they jockey for position.
14 May 2010 - Late last Sunday night, after returning home from the show, we decided to put Calla’s cria coat on as the temperature was to drop overnight. After coating Calla, I noticed that China had blood oozing out of her eye. After cleaning out her eye, it appeared that she had a small cut on her lower eyelid. I fully expected it to be OK by the following morning, but on Monday morning the entire underside of her upper and lower eyelids was badly inflamed.
After picking up eye drops from our vet, and starting China on them, I returned to the barn to see Briza standing there with blood dripping from her mouth. I cleaned out her mouth, but could not find a cause for the bleeding except that a tooth on one side appeared to have broken off. The bleeding did not recur and all appears well with Briza.
I continue to be amazed at how cooperative these animals can be when they know we are trying to help. When I walk up to China outside, eye drops in hand, she is not happy but will stand and allow me to tilt her head up and she keeps her eyes open so that I can instill the drops.
As we learned from years of owning horses, it is indeed always something---and when something happens, it is invariably on a weekend or holiday.
12 May 2010 - Our yearling girls have been both shown and shorn. Last weekend we participated in the PAOBA (Pennsylvania Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association) show. We were happy that all 3 girls won a ribbon and Briza’s was blue!!
After being shown in their halter classes, we took advantage of the shearing service that was available. I tell the girls that they look like pencil-neck geeks but in reality they look very graceful as they move about the pasture-----they appear to move with an extra bounce without all that heavy fleece.
Most alpaca breeders who were having their animals shorn were donating their seconds to Matter of Trust, a non-profit out of San Francisco. This organization, which has been working on environmental issues for years, will take that portion of the fiber which often goes to waste to stuff into nylon stockings and use to make floating booms which will capture the oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico region. As some of their fiber heads to Louisiana, we are proud that our girls’ will, in their own unique way, be a part of this massive clean-up effort.
The Matter of Trust website is quite interesting for those who are concerned with environmental issues---particularly in regard to natural solutions to problems.
6 May 2010 - Cosmo is so excited about the new cria. He has been an “only” for the past month and has been driving the adults nuts by his attempts to play. He finally took up with Ella the llama and has been following her around.
Now, with the new cria, he is eager to play with her but China keeps driving him off. Calla is still a little shaky in her back end and Cosmo persists in trying to jump on her from the rear, making these little noises that sound like pitiful attempts to orgle.
So I am just as glad that China is keeping him away while Calla continues to get her land legs.