Have you ever wondered what we do on an alpaca farm? This depends very much on the size of your farm and how active you can or want to be.
We feed our alpacas every morning a grain mixture, prepared by a local feed mill, of Corn/Oats/Barley and Molasses. The alpaca love it and come running when they see me showing up with my little red bucket. While they eat, I count them (to be sure none was left behind), look them over and observe to be sure there is no unusual behaviour.
In the winter I fill the mangers with hay, in the summer they eat grass in the pasture. I might supplement with hay in the summer, depending on the pasture quality and if it is very cold in the winter I will feed them an extra ration of grain at night.
Once a year we shear the alpacas. On our farm, we focus on the fibre, so this is really our harvest time. We do this in the spring just to make sure they don’t get cold at night anymore, but also before the hot days of summer occur.
We tie them down just to keep them and our shearing crew safe. It does not hurt the alpaca and most of them just wait for it to be done and over with. While they are immobilized we also trim their toenails and vaccinate. Some need their teethe trimmed as well.
Alpacas can breed anytime and for this reason, we keep the males and females in separate pastures and pens. The gestation period is 11 1/2 month and they give birth usually between 10 am and 3 pm – business hours! Of course in the wild, the crias would have to be up and running by nightfall to keep up with the herd and away from any predators.
Alpacas need very little help when they give birth and we observe from a distance just in case. Quite often we are not around to witness the birth. So the rule in our house is, whoever “finds” the new cria has the right to name it. Now I have a very powerful male called Spot – my son was 8 years old at that time and this is the name he chose.
I do realize that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but that doesn’t mean that I believe that any of our alpacas should not have an individual name granted to each of them. By the time I write this post in 2019, most of our alpacas were born on our farm and each one is dubbed S.A.M.Y.’s Sir ____ or S.A.M.Y.’s Lady ____, depending on whether they are male or female. But the blank, that’s the name that’s hard to figure out.
Over the past 15 years, my family and I have developed a tradition for naming each wonderful cria (baby alpaca) born here. Now, our wonderful females have a habit of trying to hide when they are about to give birth. Also, no hours long labours here. Someone’s working in the barn for the day, leaves for 30 minutes to have lunch, and comes back out to find mama cleaning up her newborn. Therefore, we have figured out that whoever finds the baby, has the honour of naming it. This also means that in the 2 weeks before a due date, whenever one of us comes home from town, we leave everything in the car to rush out to the field to see if there’s a new cria. If we went out together, it’s a mad dash to the pasture. (I normally win this race because I am the fastest, Michael is slow and my parents are a little old now).
Each of us seem to have developed a pattern with the names we have chosen over the years. My mom’s (Yvonne) names tend to be more traditional human names. Dawn, Katherine, Elizabeth, Joe, Henry, and Isabella are named by her. Mom also tries to insist on L names for our llamas: Leyla, Leo, Lara, and Lorenzo.
My Dad’s (Steve) likes to name his after real people. Winston is named after Winston Churchill, and Raleigh is technically Walter Raleigh or another exception Chivas Regal (Scotch Whisky).
Michael and I’s names tend to stick out a bit more. My names tend to be based on whatever story I’m immersed in at the time. Guinevere, Galahad, Anora, Aveline, inerva were all named by me. Michael so far has had the least chances of anybody to pick names so far, but Royce and Mercedes are two of his and are both named after cars.
Michael found his first cria, the one he got to name, when he was 11 years old. He knew the rules that had been established over naming rights and he had the perfect name and it didn’t matter how much we argued with him, Michael was steadfast, the name was Spot. Spot became alpha male when he grew up. That’s why we have Sir Spot ruling over all the other of nobility – Sir John, Lady Katherine, Sir Galahad…
We normally do stick with our naming traditions, but we’ve had a few exceptions over the years. Ned, aka Sir Nathaniel is named after one of my friends, Natalie. Ned was the first cria whose delivery we were present for and Natalie had been over the night before for a sleepover and was still there. We called her our good luck charm that day.
One of our other exceptions is little Daisy Ditch. Daisy’s grandmother had died a couple years before from natural causes on another farm, but we had been active with the owners in doing everything we could to save her, unfortunately it hadn’t been enough. Her grandmother’s name was Daisy, and it carries on with our Daisy.
Each of us has our own traditions when choosing the names we get to pick and almost always involves watching the newborn for a time to make sure our first choice will stick. But sometimes, our names have needed a slight tweak. Mom found a surprise baby in the middle of the night and after a quick check named her Angela. The name stuck until shearing day. We laid her down on the shearing matt, and Michael and I looked at the alpaca, looked at each other then back to our mother and said “Mom, you know SHE is a HE, right?” We had a good laugh and no longer fully trust Mom’s sex checks and insist that someone else double checks.
So that’s how our alpacas get their names. I wonder what they call us?
One of the big “benefits” I had, being full time on the farm, was that I was flexible in my time and was able to help out at my children’s school and their field trips. I made sure all the animals were well taken care of in the morning before I left. I have to admit, I am not really a morning person and do a lot of things “on auto pilot”. I have my routine and everything goes just fine. When the routine gets disturbed and the brain is not fully awake, things tend to go “not that fine”. Here the story:
Michael and I left bright and early one day for a very exciting end of the year school trip to a horse farm. The children were taught how to saddle the horses, their basic care and after a few rounds in the arena, they all were able to go on a trail ride. Us parents were there to help out when needed but mainly enjoyed a beautiful summer day and watch our children having a great time.
At lunch we all gathered in the dining hall and were just ready to have lunch, when the owner of the farm came over and was asking for me by name. Now you must know that this was before cell phone era! She told me my real estate agent had called her and that my alpacas were on the road!
Wow, slight panic attack now! My car was parked at the school, the school trip would go past regular school hours and we would not be leaving for another couple of hours. People started to offer help immediately. I got a car ride back to the school, hoped in my car and was “flying home” to our little farm in no time. I parked the car and my daughter, Anna who had beaten me home on her school bus, came running back from the barn shouting: “Mom, Mom there is a baby in the ditch!”
A huge semi truck was blocking the country road so the alpacas could not go up to the main highway! There they were, my whole female herd was munching grass along the country lane, enjoying their outing. They had already a little poop pile in the middle of the road, obviously they had been out for a while.
The baby had not been born long, it was still wet. I picked the cria up and carried it back to the barn for closer inspection. It looked just fine and I put it in the hay and was ready to herd some alpacas back to the barn. This angel of a truck driver was still there and tried to help us herd them back. But these girls had no intention to go back and evaded the three of us constantly.
Finally I came to my senses and realized we can’t herd them but I could lure them. Back I went to the barn, not for feed but for the cria. I wasn’t sure yet who the mother was, there was too much running and chasing going on. I showed the alpacas the cria and mom, Penny, came running immediately. Sniffing her little one, giving me dirty looks for touching it and followed me back to the barn and the pasture. All the other females followed her and I only had to put the cria down, close the gate and watch Penny nursing her baby.
So what had happened. They got out quite easily. I hadn’t locked the gate properly. I assure you, alpacas find every unsecured gate and take advantage of it. The truck driver had seen them on the road and as nobody was home, had called the number on the “For Sale” sign in front of the farm. My agent had figured out that I must be on that field trip and, as she is a local farmer herself, made the connection with the horse farmer.
Magic of small town and rural living!
The cria was a beautiful white girl. If it had been a boy I would have called him Ditch, but she was far to innocent looking to get such a harsh sounding name. We named her Daisy for her late grand mother.
I don’t think I thanked this angel of a truck driver properly. I was rather flustered and upset and did not ask for a name. If you ever read this, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your help was surly needed and greatly appreciated. Thank You!
Sheena was part of our foundation herd of alpacas. Her registration papers said she was born in Australia in January 1992 and was imported to Canada, Alberta. Her journey was not over yet and she took another trip to Ontario, Briers Run Alpaca, and finally to our farm in September 2004. She was now 12 years old and bred to Royal Peruvian Black Star, who was also part of our foundation herd.
Alpacas have a gestation period of 11.5 months, give birth between 9 am and 3 pm and hardly ever need any help. These are the things we had learned from other farmers and Sheena’s due date was end of June 2005. I was ready for this big event. Our first cria born on our farm and I wanted to be there to witness this miracle of life.
By June 20th I probably started to walk out to the pasture a few times a day, just to check if I could see any movement of the baby and to make sure that nothing was bothering her. Sheena was very shy, maybe her long journey made her a bit more suspicious of humans. She looked irritated by all the attention she got from me. However, she had started to accept food from my hand and I thought we were making progress in the trust department.
I had reorganized my daily tasks, so I would not be away from the farm for more than 2 hours. I checked in the morning at feeding time around 9 am and would be back for noon the latest. On June 24th 2005 Sheena ate with the herd and there was no suspicious behavior. I went shopping and was back out in the pasture by noon. And there she was with cria aside. He was all dried up, on his feet, standing beside his mother and I am sure they both had a little smirk on their face – got you! I named him Sir Winston.
She must have had her cria right after I left the pasture to have him dry and standing up like that 3 hours later. Usually alpacas giving birth that day don’t come for breakfast and stay a little to the side of the herd. They are a little cranky, walk a little, roll a little, just to get that baby into the right position and move things along the days before the event. That is what the books say and my mentors explained to me at the time.
Well, Winston was not Sheena’s first baby and she had everything under control.
She did it again the following year. Winston got a sister and this time she gave birth outside “business hours”. The cria must have arrived around 7 am. Alpacas usually give birth between 9 am and 3 pm, giving the cria a chance to gather their strength and be up an running before night fall. An important skill when you need to survive in the wild and keep up with the herd. Her name, how could I ever forget, Dawn.
It was 3 years before I saw a cria born on my own farm!
We started in 2004 with 8 alpacas and our business plan called for a slow growing of the herd by selective breeding. This would give us enough time to learn and gain experience for our retirement venture. However every once in a while the need of an alpaca or llama seemed to overwrite any artificial business plan. The “rescue” animals started to arrive.
Once again Anna and I were at one of her lessons, this time horse back riding. I usually waited around, chatting with other parents and the owner of the Riding School. Everybody knew each other casually and everybody knew about my little alpaca farm.
Then one evening the owner came back out to the barn all agitated looking for me. Her daughter was on the phone and she thought they just had bought an alpaca and didn’t know what to do. Back to the house we went and I talked on the phone to a very energetic young lady, I had never met before.
This young lady was very active in a horse rescue group. One of the places they observed, scouted and actively bought horses from was a livestock auctions. The animals at the auction sometimes would go to other farms, but sometimes they would go for meat. So they tried to re-home as many horses they could. She told me they saw this very scared alpaca in the auction ring. Nobody really wanted him, as nobody really knew what to do with “that funny looking horse”. He was running from one end of the ring to the other and looked utterly lost. Out of a whim one of her friends bit on him and long and behold they got him.
They could not transport him with the horses or bring him to any of their horse farms. They also realized they didn’t know anything about alpacas and did not want to treat him wrong. So she remembered her mom telling her about a women who brought her daughter to the farm for riding lessons who had an alpaca farm. Maybe they could get help from there!
We figured out on the phone that one of the ladies would take Peety home in her van (alpacas transport well in minivans). They took one seat out of the van. The other one was occupied by her son. So she took Peety (and her son) home and kept Peety in the garage over night. The next day I hooked up my little horse trailer, strapped my kinds in the car and drove for 2 hours to pick up an alpaca that needed a new home.
When I finally met Peety, I had to look twice. For once he had not been sheared in quite a while and he was dirty (unusual for alpacas). His proportions and behavior were a bit off as well. I put it all to not being properly cared for in a while and probably being traumatized from his past experience. I got him home safely and slowly integrated him into the herd.
What did we learn? Peety is not an alpaca, but a crossbreed of an alpaca and a llama, explaining his proportion and his behavior. After he got over his initial trauma he became very friendly. This trade goes clearly to the llama in his blood. Llamas are much more approachable then alpacas.
All this happened in 2008 and he is still with us in 2016. He likes to be with the herd but also likes to be by himself – a very clear llama behavior. Alpacas need a herd for their health and well being.
We had been living at our new house in the country for about 3 month and were very new to this alpaca farming. The barn was and still is always open, so the alpacas can come and go to the pasture as they please. They got into a rhythm to come in by night fall and everybody was settled in nicely.
… it was a dark and stormy night! The alpacas were safely “tucked away” in the barn and cold rain was coming down hard. My daughter and I were driving back from skating practice down the old dirt road towards our farm. Half a mile before home there was a pick-up truck parked partially on the road with its high beam on and almost blinding me. My thought of course was .. who on earth would be doing something like that. How annoying and dangerous .. and so on until I was close enough to see that this was my husband’s pick-up truck. Oh, oh, this was bad news.
I pulled over and jumped into the cold rain and hollered out into the dark. My son, only 6 years old at the time, came running towards me, bundled up in some over-sized rain gear crying that the alpacas were out, and they can’t get them back, and they are always running away, and they are not listening, and that he was cold, and that he hated alpacas and ….. By that time my husband caught up to him and confirmed the story, in a much calmer way but with the same content. Anyway, the alpacas were out! The two of them had been trying to herd them back to the barn, keeping an eye on the road, expecting us home soon. (This is 2004 – before cell phones!)
We parked both kids together at home and enlisted the help of a neighbour and went back out to the field. The alpacas were out on the neighbour’s fresh harvested corn field, chomping away. They stayed together as a herd, but kept running up and down the field between the road and the next not harvested corn field. It was so dark, we had a hard time to see them. There were 6 of them, all dark brown and black except Sleet. Sleet is a snow white alpaca and every once in a while we saw him “popping up” in the darkness. He was like a beacon in the night.
The three of us were chasing these alpacas all over the place, trying to herd them back towards the barn. It did not work. Alpacas are fast and I was pretty close to my son’s mantra from earlier this evening. And then all of a sudden the herd turned around and ran back to the barn! Why? No idea! It sure was not our doing.
What did I learn that night? Gates can break in a nasty storm. Alpacas don’t really run away, they stay close to the barn and the rest their herd. They are fast and a little bit – cheeky?!
I gave up my booth at the local indoors Farmers Market last Spring. However, I missed my little kingdom. At first I thought I could transform parts of my garage into a studio, or parts of the barn, but then my eye fell on the “kids playhouse”. The kids are fully grown and my garden tools could move back into the barn! So I ripped everything out, my husband brought in hydro and I started to clean!
It took me a while to make up my mind how to place my shelving. Then I pulled everything out again to change the mats on the floor, changed the shelving again – now I think I am satisfied.
I have my little shop back. Missing is a fan for the summer and a heater for the winter and I am open for business again.