Alpaca Farmgirl

  (Fairhope, Alabama)
Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm
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Over 90 Alpacas Get Naked

 

White alpacas get shorn first

White alpacas get shorn first

Shearing alpacas kept us busy on St. Patrick’s Day at Fairhope Alpacas with 92 alpacas to shear. Shearing day is about working hard and working together towards a common goal.

Me and Jim - our first year shearing together

Me and Jim - our first year shearing together

Alpacas must be shorn once a year to keep them healthy. Shearing prevents heat stress in warmer temperatures.

Jim Carries Suzie Q Over to be Shorn

Jim Carries Suzie Q Over to be Shorn

First the alpacas are led to the shearing area where they are tied with ropes. This may look mean, but it keeps them still while the shearer takes off the fleece. If they wiggle they may get cut by the shears so keeping them from moving is essential.

Helping keep the cria calm

Helping keep the cria calm

While we have them “captive” we trim their toenails…

Jim gives an alpaca a pedicure

Jim gives an alpaca a pedicure

…and their teeth. (if they need it)

Dental work for alpacas who need a touch up

Dental work for alpacas who need a touch up

Did you know that alpacas’ teeth continually grow? For years alpacas lived in the Andes mountains and the rocky terrain wore their teeth down as they grazed. In the U.S. our pastures are so soft that sometimes their teeth need to be trimmed. Fortunately we have a tool called the Toothamatic that makes it easy to do.

Shorn Alpacas

Shorn Alpacas

This is what the fleece looks like right as it comes off the alpaca:

Fawn Alpaca Fleece

Fawn Alpaca Fleece

The whole family helps on shearing day. It’s definitely a team effort.

The girls helped put the fleece in bags

The girls help put the fleece in bags

Hey Girl...I got this. Why dont you just go get a drink?

"Hey Girl...I got this. Why don't you just go get a drink?"

Jim was amazing!  And when our sire Magnum kicked a hole in his pants (crotch area naturally), he just laughed.

This is only a small portion of what we sheared

Only a portion of what we sheared

By the time we were finished, we had harvested over 400 lbs. of luxurious alpaca fleece!

Ready for Summer

Ready for Summer

And the alpacas are cool and happy!

This year my pictures didn’t come out as well as I would have liked. To see more pictures of alpaca shearing check out:

We Sheared 97 Alpacas on Saturday!

 
 

National Alpaca Farm Days

 National Alpaca Farm Day

This weekend alpaca farms across America will be hosting National Alpaca Farm Days on their alpaca farms. Our farm, Fairhope Alpacas, in beautiful Fairhope, Alabama will be open to the public on Saturday & Sunday, September 24 & 25th both days from 1-5 pm.
To find a farm near you, visit the National Alpaca Farm Days website and check out their farm locator. Go see an alpaca breeder near you this weekend to learn more about these magical creatures!

 
 

5 Tips For Faring Winter with Alpacas

 

Colt alpaca in winter with snow 

  1. Don’t Let the Fluff Fool Ya! – Alpacas Look Fat and Happy in the Winter with all that Fleece but they may actually be loosing weight under all that fleece. Be sure to get your hands on them and body score at least once a month to be sure they are still in good body condition and you don’t have any surprise “skinnies” in your herd. You want to catch any problems early.
  2. Alpacas don’t like to drink freezing cold water when temps are frigid. Try to give them warm water to drink when it’s cold out if at all possible. They will drink more and stay hydrated better. Remove the ice chips from their buckets at the very least.
  3. Check their gums. Pale gums can be indicative of parasites and/or iron deficiencies. Alpacas can suffer from this even in the winter in certain climates. (We do this monthly during herd health.)
  4. Have vitamins like Vitacharge and supplemental feeds like crushed alfalfa or beet pulp on hand for those animals that need a little bit extra in the nutrition department.
  5. In climates with rough winters, consider weaning before or after the worst of winter. Wean cria in groups if possible and if you can, move the dams instead of the cria. That way the cria stay in the same environment and the only thing they are losing is mom, not everything around them too. The stress of weaning is tough, and extreme temperatures can be the last straw for a severely stressed cria who is not adjusting well.

    Following these tips may save you & your alpacas some unnecessary hassles and heartaches this winter season. What are some other things alpaca breeders should be mindful of this time of year? I’d love to hear from you.

    Read more posts like this at the Alpaca Farmgirl Blog.

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Tiny Phoenix Alpaca Rises

 Andy and Phoenix

It started out a glorious morning. My beloved herdsire Magnum was coming home from a long breeding engagement in Colorado. Another of our herdsires, Firecracker, was on trailer as well. IN addition there were three other alpacas who belonged to me but that I had never seen in person – Guardian Angel (our Archangel daughter) and her male cria by side, and Foxy Lady who we had gotten in exchange for several of Magnum’s breedings.

I was thrilled with the prospect of hugging Magnum’s neck again and greeting the new arrivals. The transporter was to be here at 8:30 AM. This was the kids’ first morning out of school for the break so we all lingered in bed a little longer than usual.

When I heard the buzzer indicating that the transport trailer had entered our front gate, I flew out the door. Running towards the trailer, I saw Magnum’s head in the back window. I almost wept with joy! I hurriedly greeted Capt. Dick Hegeman of Alpacas In The Forest, who was driving the rig. We exchanged pleasantries and got Magnum off the trailer. Poor alpaca had been traveling for 7 days!

As I walked Magnum into the barn something caught my eye in the first stall on the right. A lifeless brown lump and a placenta.

My heart sunk. Tapioka had had a stillborn. I felt an empty pang in the pit of my stomach. Disappointment flooded through me, “Oh no!” Dick and I both said at the same time. I quickly put Magnum in his pen and rushed to get back to the dismal scene. “It’s stomach looks like it moved a little,” Dick said.

“Really?” I asked disbelieving. I scurried into the pen and picked up the lifeless cria who hung like a limp dishrag in my arms. “She’s really cold,” Dick said. “Do you have a hot tub you can warm her in?” “No, but I have a bathtub,” I said, without thinking.

“Go ahead. I’m empty so I can wait while you see about the cria,” Dick said. “Let me know what I can do to help!”

“Okay!” I hollered over my shoulder as I ran to the house with my little dishrag.”

As I ran, I looked down at the cria. “It’s dead,” I thought. “It’s already dead.” Caught up in the drama I thought I’d try anyway. There was no life in the cria’s eyes. No spark to show me she was with us. I was going on a fool’s errand, but for some reason I was compelled to go...

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What Do Alpacas Eat?

Alpaca grazingAlpacas are ruminants. Their digestive system are different from humans. Their stomach has three compartments, and they chew their cud like cows do. However, cows can exist on low quality forage, while alpacas need higher quality grass and hay.

Alpacas should have access to young, tender pasture grass or good quality hay at all times. Alpaca Nutrition expert, Norm Evans, DVM recommends for alpacas hay or pasture that is 10-14% protein with a TDN of 55-63%. The calcium and phosphorus ratio should be 2:1 or less and the potassium should be 1.75% or less. Orchard grass is ideally suited for alpacas, but other grasses with the above ratios will work as well. Pasture and hay should account for around 80% of the alpacas’ diet.

In the United States many alpaca breeders give their alpacas a supplemental feed. It’s like “alpaca chow”, a dry food specially made for alpacas. You can order alpaca feed from most feed stores, and some brands allow you to have it shipped directly to your farm. Extra vitamins and minerals are also available for alpacas. These are fed as top dressing or offered in a separate dish free choice.
For more information about Alpacas and their care, visit our website. More articles like this one at the Alpaca Farmgirl Blog.

Photo credit: Val Newell of Crown Point Alpacas
 
 

Farming Is Like A Disney Movie

 pasture grass

Farming is a metaphor for life. Everything that happens on a farm – birth, growth, harvest, successes, failures, and eventually death – happens in real life as well.

In most jobs, we expect to have things go well. And when they don’t – we have a bad day. We’re disappointed and hope the next day goes better. The same thing happens on a farm, but in more of a Man vs. Nature format. When things go bad on the farm – let’s face it – they can go really bad.

Mother Nature is the friend and the enemy of the Farmer. She’s like the little Girl with the Curl. When she is good, she is very, very good (Think adorable baby alpacas who come up to you for butterfly kisses). And when she is bad she is horrid (Think Hurricane Katrina).

I am the kind of girl who would rather be at a spa than a camp ground. I actually wish farming weren’t dirty. Yet I am inexorably drawn to the constant in-your-face struggle with nature. We usually win. Life on the farm is peaceful, beautiful, and serene. The joys and rewards that come with farming have no equal in my eyes. Yet there is the darker side. It’s a rollercoaster we must ride. In order to have the highs, we must endure the lows. Do you remember in the Ron Howard movie, Parenthood, when Granny tells them that she likes the rollercoaster?

Me too, Granny. Me too.

This morning, after a 2 hour nap rather than a full nights sleep, I sat, bleary-eyed, feeding our new premature cria, Pippi. Exhausted to the core, I looked outside the barn to see the alpaca herd grazing. Occasionally a cria would jump or run. A light fog was lifting. The grass was so green it jarred my sleep-filled eyes. The sounds of alpacas gently munching on the grass was a song in my heart.

I looked down at the tiny being in my arms, depending on me for everything – her very life. The thought she might not make it brought a tear to my eye. But that is okay. It is who I am. Farmer. Nurturer.

Walt Disney once said that for every laugh there should be a tear.

He would have been a good farmer.

This was originally posted on the Alpaca Farmgirl blog. If you liked this article, you might also like How Can You Eat At a Time Like This?

 
 

Alpaca Bunny Smackdown

Napster alpacaIt started as a friendly competition among online Twitter buddies Kathryn and Lynn. They got to talking about whose fiber was finer (& perhaps better), Lynn’s adorable angora rabbits’ or Kathryn’s beloved alpacas’?

They decided that they would settle the matter once and for all by having an impartial judge, a master spinner, spin a sample of both fibers. Each participant sent a sample to "celebrity judge" Chris, who blogs here) for him to spin. They also sent samples to each other so they could spin the others’ fiber and comment on it. Chris has spun the fiber and knitted a sample square from each. The results will be posted this week on Fiber Arts Friday on the Alpaca Farmgirl Blog.

EnglishangoraRead Kathryn’s take on the smackdown here and Lynn’s here. We are awaiting our Celebrity Judge Chris’ results and his account of the Alpaca Bunny Smackdown this Friday. I admit to stalking him contacting him in order to get inside scoop. He’s not talking so bugging him to death asking him about it won’t work.

This week on AlpacaFarmgirl we are celebrating both alpacas and bunnies, the animals and their fiber. We are hearing from both the rabbit camp and the alpaca camp. We’re giving away fiber, yarn and more so check with us each day this week. Tune in Friday for the unveiling of the judges results on the Fiber Arts Friday Blog Carnival, where you can also link your own fiber-related blog posts.

Read more here...


 
 

A Tale of Two Cria

Welcome to the Herd!

Welcome to the Herd!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was a day of easy births, it was a day of dystocias (difficult births), it was a season of tiny babies, it was a epoch for a rather large baby. One cria was up and running around, the other was weak and wouldn’t stop bleeding!

rachelfirstmin

Rachel Alexandra's first minutes. Photo: Cheryl Bowen

Saturday, May 30 was an eventful day on the farm! It began with a nice farm visit from our friends, Cheryl and Andy Bowen of Humming Star Alpacas. They came by to see their alpacas that are currently boarded here while they get their facility prepared. After enjoying their alpacas, we observed Poquita getting ready to have a cria. The Bowens had yet to see a cria born so this was the perfect opportunity for them to witness an alpaca birth first hand.

As the birth progressed, one leg of Poquita’s cria appeared to be stuck. I tried to get it out, but it was really stuck. The placenta was wrapped around it and wouldn’t let me get it out. So I had to break it. I had really been hoping that it was a membrane that I was popping, rather than the placenta because you are not supposed to break placentas. Unfortunately, it was the placenta. Fortunately, the cria did well from there, mostly coming on out on her own. I did help pull a bit when it was time for the chest cavity to come out. She was a big baby. Poquita was tired at this point, and I wanted that baby out ASAP since I had broken the placenta.

It all turned out beautifully! The cria just about hit the ground running. She was almost 23 lbs. and happy to join the world. By nightfall she was playing with the other cria, giving the older male cria a run for their money. We’ve been calling her Rachel Alexandra, in honor of the incredible filly who won the Preakness last month.

Just as Cheryl and Andy were packing up to go to a lunch date, I looked over at Sonyadore and said, “You know, we may be about to have another one.” Sure enough, about 30 minutes later, (just as I was sitting down to eat my lunch), the Artist calls to me, “She’s having a baby!!!”

I will admit that I did go ahead and eat a few bites of my lunch. It’s not like me to miss a meal. By the time I got out there, the baby was on the ground. Whoosh! Born. No problem being born, but once she was here, the difference between this cria and Rachel Alexandra, born an hour earlier, was staggering. In comparison, this cria was tiny! 12 lbs. and weak as a kitten. The little darling had no get up and go. She was born to a first time dam and just didn’t seem quite ready to be outside in the world.

mimamitybig

Mimosa is so personable. She had to meet her new herdmate!

Her umbilicus began to bleed. I called the vet who advised me to tie it off with waxed dental floss. (the wax would help keep out germs) I did this, not once but 4 or 5 times. And it kept bleeding. Lots. This little gal had me worried with so much blood. (This is the first and only time in 10 years of alpaca breeding that I have ever had to tie a cord. Go figure.) But it finally stopped bleeding. I treated her with an antibiotic and dipped the naval several extra times.

It has been two weeks since these cria were born. Their beginnings were very different. One with an easy trip, one with a leg hung up. One strong as an ox from birth, the other needing a little time to adjust to the world and catch up. Today, Rachel Alexandra is still running around, daring the boys to chase her. She’s big and strong with the ultra long legs of a colt.

Rachel A. off to the races!

Rachel A. off to the races!

Amity all better now!

Amity all better now!

I decided to name her counterpart Amity which means friendship. Amity is a social butterfly. She loves to play with other cria and she runs around like she’s at a sock hop! You would never know that she had a rough start if you saw her today. She’s Miss Personality, and her fleece is to die for!

The day they were born, Cheryl and Andy came back over to visit Amity. I loved being able to show them that cria can have very different beginnings, and that sometimes the weaker and/or premature cria just need a little extra time to get with the program. Now there’s no stopping either of these precious darlings!

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2nd Annual World Alpaca Conference Blog Coverage

This week I’m gearing up for the National Alpaca Conference and Show. This year AOBA (Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association) is hosting the Second Annual World Alpaca Conference in Cleveland, Ohio June 3-7. It is to be held at the I-X Center and will include an International Fleece Show, National Halter Show, Fiber Arts Competition, Vendors, Fashion Show, the Annual AOBA Auction, and much more. It’s like Disney World for Alpacas Lovers!

Yours truly will be attending this fabulous event where I’ll be blogging & Tweeting. My usual Twitter name is

@AlpacaFarmgirl

. For this event I will be switching over to

@AlpacasLive

. If you would like to follow along with what’s happening at the Conference, just keep visiting my

Alpaca Farmgirl Blog

and/or follow on Twitter for live updates and TwitPics. They say there is wireless internet access throughout the venue, and it is my intention to do interactive LIVE blogging during the Auction. If you have questions you should be able to login and ask me. I will do my best to post prices as we go.

Sponsorships still available for Blog Coverage of next week’s events. Advertisers will receive excellent coverage as this event will have a full year’s “shelf life”. Contact me at katy (at ) alpacafarmgirl.com for more information.

 
 

What Small Farms Can Learn from Alpaca Nation

Alpaca Nation Means Business

an-_girl-125x125

Alpaca Nation recently sent it’s customers an email. In it, they let customers know that they appreciate their participation in their customer satisfaction surveys and that they will be making some changes based on the feedback they received.

They report that they will be upgrading with larger photos, lineage reporting, and show results in the coming months. Alpaca Nation states:

The survey results included a lot of comments about the current economic challenges and our prices.  We are proud of the fact that we have never raised our membership fees in the 10 years since Alpaca Nation started.  However, many members indicated that additional pricing options are desired and that many of the additional services offered by AN, such as ANSync and banner advertising are cost prohibitive.  As a result of this feedback, we are announcing pricing changes.

The email goes on to report that price changes will include AN Sync. This is the service where the updates to customers’ Sales Lists and Herdsire Lists on their own websites are  in sync with their Alpaca Nation listings. (To demonstrate this service, here’s an example: Fairhope Alpacas Sales List and Fairhope Alpacas Alpaca Nation sales list are in sync. When the Alpaca Nation account is updated, the farm website updates as well.) This makes life easier and saves lots of time for breeders. New pricing will be $50/per year for all modules, decreased from pricing that started at $200/year with a $100 set up fee for each module and each module was an extra $100-150.

Alpaca Nation is also lowering their banner ad prices by an average of around $100/ad. Ad price includes design and artwork, which has always given them extra value. They’ve also added new payment terms and new herd count tiers. For more information visit the following:

More about ANSync:  www.alpacanation.com/ansync.asp
More about Banner Advertising:  www.alpacanation.com/ads.asp
More about Membership Prices:  www.alpacanation.com/FAQ/FAQ_cost.aspx

What Can Small Businesses Learn from Alpaca Nation?

  1. Know what your customer needs. How do you do that? Ask. On a small scale, you can call them and ask them. “How are we doing with our customer service?” “How can we serve you better?” “What additional services/products would you like us to provide?”If it’s not feasible to call your target audience, email them a questionnaire or have them fill out a form on-line when they sign up for something or make a purchase. The main point here is to DO something with the information that you gather. Hear what your customers want AND find a way to give it to them. This is a time to build loyalty, not be greedy.
  2. Hear what your customers want and respond to it. Find a way to give it to them. Even if you make less money from each customer, building/maintaining your current client base will ensure your long-term success.
  3. Make your price points more accessible to consumers in the current economic climate. By lowering their ad prices, AlpacaNation will likely increase the number of advertisers which should make up for the revenue lost by lowering ad prices. If your product’s pricing is not accessible, your sales will suffer.
    • *If you are selling alpacas, I am not suggesting you sell them “cheap”. Instead, consider offering a select number of animals at a lower price or put together a discounted package price. In this economic climate, I generally recommend that alpaca breeders hold their alpaca investments and grow their herds. That said, do continue to create cash flow and build your customer base by making prices more accessible to a larger target audience with a small percentage of alpacas from your herd if your herd is large enough to do so.

  4. Research your competition. Find out what services the competition is offering…and beat it. Alpaca Nation is the 2,000 lb. gorilla when it comes to advertising alpacas on-line. They were the first on the scene and they own the market share. It is hard to imagine anyone else catching them when it comes to internet traffic. Within the past few years, other on-line alpaca sales sites have come onto the scene. They have done several things to try to compete with Alpaca Nation, including offering FREE sales sync programs, and fees and ad rates that are lower than Alpaca Nation’s. Rather than resting on their laurels and letting their disgruntled customers gradually drift over to the competition, they are meeting the challenge head-on. The recent move to make these same services on Alpaca Nation more accessible with new lower pricing, should allow Alpaca Nation to maintain most of their current customers.

Thanks to King Kong traffic statistics, Alpaca Nation will maintain their spot atop the Empire State Building of alpaca internet sales lists for the foreseeable future.

What other business lessons can we learn from those at the top of their respective fields? Leave a comment and tell us.

 
 

Alpaca Shearing Day

mark

We shear the alpacas once a year. Since we do a large number (77 this year), it works best for us to have a professional shearer come in and to do it all in one day. Our shearer is Mark Loffhagen who lives in Colorado. Mark and his team travel around the USA and shear over 7,000 alpacas a year. Each year he brings a “head man”. This year it was Jason from Wisconsin. The head man is Mark’s right hand man and moves the alpaca into the different positions as Mark shears. Jason also trimmed teeth and worked some ropes.

stevecaesar

I thought I’d walk you through what happens here at Fairhope Alpacas on shearing day. We start with white animals, then light fawn (pictured above), darker fawns, browns, greys, and blacks are last. This keeps the fleeces from getting contaminated by darker colored fibers.

This year we used a blower to blow all the excess dust off the fleece before we brought the alpacas inside for shearing. We did NOT blow the fleeces that we intend to show as that would disturb the natural architecture of the fleece. However, I want to utilize the rest of my fleeces for my fiber biz this year so I decided to try getting the dust out before we sheared. (We will also process last year’s show fleeces this year.) To begin, the animals are walked in, by color (above).

shearingbig-picture

Our shearer uses ropes to stretch out each alpaca. This restraint keeps the animal still, which helps to prevent them from getting cut during the shearing process. When we started shearing over 50, we began to use two stations. Notice in the background there is another station where another alpaca will be shorn. After the shearer is finished with one alpaca, he can quickly move to the next station to shear another one without having to wait for us to move that one, clean up, and bring him another one. This makes the process run more smoothly and enables us to shear up to 100 alpacas in a day. Though today we only had 77 to do.

macropes
The ropes are put above their feet, and the rope man pulls them to the proper amount of tightness so that the animal is comfortable, yet cannot flop around and injure itself. Above is Mac, working the ropes. (Mac is the greatest - be sure to stop by his blog)

steverp

Steve snuggles up with Rose Point as she awaits her turn.

Andy trims toenails

Above, Andy trims toenails.

While the alpacas are restrained we take care of other herd health measure such as administering any shots that need to be given and we trim the teeth and toenails on those alpacas that need it.

bagtableThe bags we will be putting the fleeces into are labeled prior to shearing day.  We owe a huge thank-you to Jodi for doing this! Clear plastic bags are preferable, often we purchase shredder bags from an office supply store. Each alpaca has a bag for it’s prime or blanket fleece. This is their best grade of fleece and is what is used for next-to-skin products. Then we have a bag for their seconds, usually neck fiber. It is usually a bit shorter and can be a bit more coarse than the blanket. Last is the thirds which is the belly, lower legs, and the rest of the fibers. This fiber is usually the most coarse and can be used in rugs and other products that don’t have to be very soft.

Each alpaca also has its own ziploc bag where we put a 2" x 2" sample that comes from the mid-side of the blanket fleece. We send this sample to Yocom McColl for testing. The test results will tell us how fine the fiber is, how uniform it is, and how much variation there is in the sample. In the picture above, don’t miss the weeds flowers the kids brought me during shearing. They’re sweeties.
shearingpcycloneHere Pink Cyclone is being shorn. The lovely ladies in the picture are the fiber crew (left to right: Jodi, Carmie, and Sarah of Sierra Echo Accoyo Alpacas.) They help pick up the fiber as it comes off the animal and put it into bags. Merci Beaucoup!

marystation

Then the bags were handed to Mary for weighing. Mary is a wonderful spinner who is always helpful to us on the farm! During many of our Farm Events,  she and Mac can be found conducting spinning demonstrations and even giving spinning lessons. The white bundles on the table (pictured above) are our show fleeces.

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10 Reasons Spit Happens

 Hope Alpaca

Ever wonder what goes through an alpaca’s mind before they spit? Here are some humorous answers to the question, “Why Alpacas Spit?” - from the Female Alpaca’s perspective.

  1. “Don’t even THINK about touching my cria. Or any other cria, for that matter.”
  2. “Excuse me! That’s MY feed bucket.”
  3. “Teats?? You want to check my what?”
  4. “I’m pregnant and you looked at me the wrong way.”
  5. “That’s my girlfriend. Don’t even think about it.”
  6. “Great. Here comes that macho again. Been there. Done that. No need to do it again.”
  7. “Don’t even THINK about coming near ME with those (shears/needle)!”
  8. “Not the TOENAILS!! It took me forever to grow them out!”
  9. “You aren’t thinking about using that thing on my teeth now are you???”
  10. “You did say you had just showered and washed your hair and were on your way to town didn’t you? You’ll never learn, will you? “

*Inspired by a similar list written by Alan McConkie, published on Alpacasite.

More Spittin’ Saturdays. What are some other reasons alpacas spit?

 
 

Fiber Arts Friday

felted alpaca

Welcome to Fiber Arts Friday!

If you have a blog post or a webpage that highlights your Fiber Artwork, we want to see it! All you have to do is post your link in the Mr.Linky widget here. Then visit the other sites listed and leave comments on their blogs.

The goals of the Fiber Arts Carnival are to promote Fiber Arts, showcase your work, increase your web traffic, and inspire others! Please join us every Friday for this fun blog carnival.

 If you have any questions, contact Katy at katy-AT-alpacafarmgirl.com

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Saving the Energizer Bennie

 Energizer Bennie alpaca

Years ago, I was caring for an adorable, little cria named Bennie. Bennie kept getting sick, and against all odds, he kept getting better. He had pneumonia several times, many IV’s and even TPN (total protein nutrition IV). On 3 different occasions I kissed Bennie goodnight and goodbye, only to return again the next morning to see him alive and well, there. This lead to his nickname, the Energizer Bennie. He kept going, and going, and going, and going,…….

One day the nationally renowned veterinarian (NRV) with whom we were consulting, told me that I needed to do a transfaunation with Bennie. This meant that I was supposed to go and get rumen (stomach juices) from another animal and put them into Bennie’s stomach. Ooookaaay.

So I asked NRV where I was supposed to get this donation rumen. He wasn’t sure. Hmm. Goats were considered. My vet said he wouldn’t work for me anymore if I bought a goat. (No offense goat lovers, just that alpacas and goats aren’t a good mix due to parasite issues.) Then we decided to find out if there were any slaughterhouses around so that maybe we could get some rumen from a cow who had been slaughtered for beef.

I was so proud of my resourcefulness for thinking of this! I had no farming background prior to alpacas. This stuff was seriously foreign to me, WAY outside of my frame of reference. We got alpacas to avoid having to slaughter animals so I wasn’t familiar with where to find a slaughterhouse. Finally I located one about 90 miles away. I called ahead and told them that I needed a cow’s stomach. They said,” Oookaaaay,” like I had asked them for a heart from a Martian.

I had brought a medium sized styrofoam cooler with me in which to transport, the, ahem, rumen. When the nice man lead me into the “kill room”…do not faint, Katy, do not faint… I saw a massive thing on the ground. All around it had been cleaned up. The room smelled strange, of disinfectant plus something eerie, like death. I looked at my cooler. Then I looked at the bovine stomach on the ground. Hmmm. The cow’s gut was about 6 times the size of my cooler. I was at a loss.

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I'd Been Waiting for Rusty

 

Our first two alpacas were scheduled to be delivered soon. I wasn’t sure how we would keep them safe from predators. Our fences were new and strong, but I knew I needed to find some livestock guard dogs.

Enter Beverly Coate. This wonderful old country woman had been raising and breeding Great Pyrenees for dozens of years. Since I was 8 months pregnant at the time, I told Beverly I didn’t really want a puppy. Instead I was looking for some dogs that were already trained and ready to work.

“Well”, she said, “I’ve got two rescue dogs…” Red flags went up in my head. Rescue equalled untrustworthy to me. Not what I wanted guarding my precious, expensive investments. But I listened to her story.

Rusty and Joy were two dogs she had rescued. They had been found wandering on somebody’s front porch out in the middle of nowhere. They tried to find their owners, but had no luck. Beverly kept them, and after a while she gave them a chance to guard her sheep and goats. “They came to me already knowing how to work. They are really good guard dogs.”

Beverly told me that I could return Joy and Rusty to her if they didn’t work out. I trusted her judgment and agreed to take Joy and Rusty to guard our herd.

It was the week of Christmas. Super cold temperatures were causing air traffic delays all across the country. The morning Joy and Rusty were supposed to be flying in from Oklahoma, I mentioned to my husband, “Beverly says that Rusty has a habit of putting his paws up on your shoulder. She says that he knows not to, so if you just tell him to get down - he will.”

“Can’t we get one without that option?” Steve asked, thinking about his very pregnant wife getting knocked down by this huge 100+lb. dog.

“No, we’re getting Rusty,” I said with conviction.

The dogs’ plane had been delayed by several hours due to the frigid temperatures at the Dallas airport. When they finally arrived at the airport it was close to midnight. It was pitch black outside. We had to meet them at a remote part of the airport since they were “cargo”.

By this time, the poor dogs had been in their crates so long that they had gone to the bathroom in them and were dying to get out. They rushed out of the crates and were wildly excited to see us. They fell in love with us immediately as we freed them from those cages! We clipped on their leads and went outside to let them relieve themselves.

Steve walked one dog, and I walked the other. In all the commotion of getting them out of their crates and with it being so dark, we couldn’t tell which of these big white dogs was which. As we walked along, the air was crisp and cold. The stark white of the dogs’ coats contrasted sharply with the black of the night. The stars were shining brightly overhead, and there was a sense of peacefulness. The kind that can only be felt on a winter night where nature is still, as you walk with a friend without speaking.

The silence was broken when I said, “I wonder which one is Joy and which one is Rusty?”

At that moment, the dog I was walking turned towards me. Very gently, he lightly put one paw up on my left shoulder, then the other paw came to rest on my other shoulder. The weight upon me was no more than that of a butterfly resting upon me. I looked into his eyes. Mine were filled with tears as I said, “Oh, Rusty, it’s YOU!”

rustyside1008

Since that night, I have known that Rusty was meant to be my dog. I don’t know where he came from, though I have fantasized about it countless times. But I know he is a treasured soul and over the years our bond has only gotten stronger. Rusty is an amazing guard dog with a ferocious bark and a steadfast heart. He is protective of me and my alpacas. He would lay down his life for any of us, of that I am sure.

Thank you, God, for helping Rusty and me to find each other.

 

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