Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Doe - Walker Story

"Hi, I live down the street."
"Nice to meet you short stuff."
"So, what are you, like a horse?"
"No, I'm an alpaca, kinda like a goat with a long neck."
"Mom, can I have one?"
"I gotta go have a nap. Later my parents and I will discuss the how the world's finest livestock investment can help me save money for college. "
"Excellent. Don't be a stranger Champ!"

Monday, September 29, 2008

National Alpaca Farm Day - Sunday

Mac and Mary, the MVP's of Farm Days. Their spinning demos were a big hit!

Farm visitors shopping for alpaca products
The guys talk alpacas

This weekend we had well over 100 people join us to learn more about alpacas, and to buy alpaca yarn and products. It was a really fun weekend. Our dedicated spinning friends, Mac and Mary taught several people how to spin alpaca fiber into yarn. I think the kid's corner was also a success. Thanks to all who visited, and thanks to all who helped us pull it off! What a great industry, full of great people.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

National Alpaca Farm Day - Saturday

Spinning Demonstrations with Mac and Mary
photo: Cheryl Bowen

Saturday's Open House was a big success. With around 70 people in attendance, we had a great day introducing visitors to the world of alpacas. Interestingly, at 2:20pm, the last person left. No one else showed up, though we were open til 3pm. It was so quiet, you could've herd a pellet drop (an alpaca food pellet of course. Don't get me started on how my kids, who normally love bathroom humor, have reprimanded me for putting the word "POOP" into the alpaca word search for kids...). Oh yeah, the Auburn game started at 2:30pm. Life in the SEC... don't you just love it?

Kids love Doe, reigning alpaca PR Queen

above photo: Keith Stewart

Zachary, age 6, learns to spin

Sorry I didn't get these up last night as promised. Fell asleep watching "America's Toughest Jobs" with my son. Who knew bull fighters made that kind of money?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Today's the Big Day!

Today's a big day for the Alpaca Farm. It's the beginning of National Alpaca Farm Days! We expect many people to come visit our alpacas this weekend. We have 3 other local alpaca farms joining us for the event for the first time. Thanks to Humming Star Alpacas, Gulf Breeze Alpacas, and Ed! With the Artist gone, I couldn't have done this without you! The weather is supposed to be lovely. Will post pictures tonight.

Today is also a huge day for the Artist! His monument will be dedicated today on the beach at Normandy, in France. The Utah Beach Museum actually has a webcam so you can watch the dedication, and see the monument. At the moment, it is covered with a big white sheet that is blowing mightily, telling us how windy it is there. An except from the Artist in his last email,"This place has been crazy. I have been coming in to the museum at 8am every day and working all day helping with preparations for todays dedication. The French have been as wonderful as their countyside is beautiful. The Navy Seabees have been building the stages and color gaurds have been rehearsing. The speech I am supposed to give has been swirling around in my head every night while I try to sleep...." So exciting!

Sometimes you hear that the French don't like Americans. The Artist reports that in Normandy, the French love Americans. They are grateful to us, and fly American flags. (At other times of the year too, not just when the monument is being installed) The French have worked diligently to have this monument installed. An American film company is doing a documentary on the making of the monument. I will keep you updated when you can see that on the History channel.

Don't forget to comment to win FREE chocolate croissants!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Berry Good Smoothie

Tired of the same ol' cereal bars for the kids and a "delicious slimfast shake for breakfast" for mom, I decided to try something different. This morning I made a smoothie with frozen berries and bananas and yogurt. Has to be healthy, right? It was very good, and a nice change of pace for us. Two of the kids ate/drank theirs. One didn't like all the seeds, and the pre-teen didn't make it to the table for breakfast, so busy primping was she. AFG loved it and can't wait to try this recipe out on the Artist. Here's what I did:

Berry Good Smoothie
1 medium banana that I had cut into several 1/2 inch slices and frozen, pieces separated, in a ziploc the night before.
2 cups plain fat-free yogurt
2 cups frozen strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and red raspberries. (These all came in a frozen sack labeled "Berry Medley")
2 T Honey

Throw it all in the blender and blend til smooth. My hand-me-down blender is apparently not meant for smoothies so I had to stir it around a few times to get the icy fruit at the top to go to the bottom. True confessions: I added a little, teeny, tiny bit of powdered sugar. Like 1 T. Okay, maybe 2. I was scared it wouldn't be sweet enough. But I will leave that out next time. Promise.

This was my first time to make a smoothie. It feels like I've just joined the smoothie club, and I understand now why it has so many members.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Secrets that Sell Alpacas - #1

People are always asking me how to sell alpacas, so I will be posting tips on my blog.

If you want to sell some alpacas, first of all, take a deep breath and look at the picture on the right. These guys really sell themselves. A big part of your sales job is done by the alpacas themselves. No need to hard sell anyone or feel like a slimy used car salesman.

You just have to get people to your farm to see these cuties. How do we do that? Join AOBA and participate in the Farm & Ranch Guide Program. If you live in a state with a moderate number of alpaca farms, just a listing and maybe a 1/3 page ad will suffice. If you live in a state highly populated with alpacas you may have to spend a bit more to get noticed. The Farm and Ranch Guide will get people (qualified leads even) to call you or at least check out your website.

When people contact you, invite them to your farm. Tell them about your alpaca experience and what the animals have done for you (emotionally, financially, etc). Stick with the positive. This is not the time to talk about Fluffy's expensive vet trip. (I can never do this, I always wind up telling visitors tragic stories. I'm slapping myself on the wrist as I type) When they are at your farm, have them fill out a guest book or something that gives you their name, address, and email address. Be sure to ask permission to email them. You don't want them to think you're a spammer.

It's always nice to follow up a visit with a thank-you note. (I don't always remember to do this, but I should. more wrist slapping) If not, then call and follow-up in a few days to see if they have any more questions. There have been several instances where I have sold alpacas to people who told me, a) "You were the only person who contacted us after we visited them", and b) "No one else called us back."

Secret #1: Participate in the Farm & Ranch Guide (and Return Interested Parties phone calls!)

Addition to Secret #1: Visit the Alpaca Livestock Company for more info on participating in the Farm & Ranch Guide.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bred Females come in all shapes and sizes

You know how individual women carry their babies differently while pregnant? Some remain thin, and look like they merely tucked a basketball under their shirts. Others begin to develop third chins the minute the pregnancy test comes back positive. I will not comment here on which one I was (my reticence to share may provide a clue...hey, they were twins!)Well, Alpacas are the same way!

I have been totally fooled by a chunky alpaca who turned out NOT to even be pregnant, though I would have bet a week of barn chores that she WAS! That is heartbreaking. But what I find even more interesting are the girls who you would swear were NOT pregnant by looking at them. I had occasion to ponder that question today. One of our females who is due in early November looks downright svelte. I purchased this female after she gave birth last year. She came here and we bred her. There have been ultrasounds and spit tests, all indicating pregnancy. But she doesn't look it. So I called my friend and this alpaca's previous farm manager, Jamie at Windy Ridge Ranch. She tells me that Bella will carry low to the ground and not out to the side. It looks like her center of gravity may be getting lower, but nothing earth-shattering. I asked about Poquita as well, because she looks like she's carrying triplets and she's only about 90 days pregnant. (Alpacas gestate for 11-12 months so she has a ways to go.) Poquita, she says, will almost drag the ground with her belly once she's ready to deliver. Now this I gotta see! (and capture on film for you to see)

Last year, Delilah was shorn in the Fall so she was pretty much naked. She was due in November and her belly showed NO signs that she could be pregnant. I asked a long time alpaca breeder to look her over. "There's no way she could be pregnant", we agreed. But she kept spitting at the boys. Hmm. Had an ultrasound done. Um, baby. And when he was born he was a decent sized baby too! So some moms really pack them up tight, and others let it all hang out. An aside: The Australians call the process of the alpaca giving birth "unpacking". I love that!

I am sooo disappointed that I do not have photos for this post. I have to get some really pregnant alpaca pictures soon. Readers, if you have any pictures of really pregnant alpacas please send them to me, and I will post them. I remember Crimson used to get as wide as she was tall. Why didn't I photograph that? And if you have any funny alpaca pregnancy stories please share them with us in the comments section!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Alpaca Farmer Makes A Splash Abroad

Alpaca Farmgirl's husband is an Artist. Yep, with a capital "A". In 2000, we BOTH quit our jobs and moved to the country to follow our dreams. (I do not recommend that two people in the same couple do this at the same time.) My dream was to be an alpaca farmer and stay at home mom. My husband's dream was to be a sculptor full-time. Can I just say that there is no overnight success. The term "paying your dues" could be the title of the Artist's life for the past 10 years. (He actually quit his very lucrative job as a computer engineer in 1998.)

Pictured at right is the Artist with his D-Day monument, "Operation Neptune". That's him, in France! He is there to install this monument on Utah Beach at Normandy. The work commemorates the U.S. Navy's role in the D-Day invasion. The Navy was the only branch of the service that did not have a monument at Normandy, until now. This is a really big bronze, as you can see. The Artist has been worried about it getting there in one piece. It was cast in Colorado, and was a foot too large to fit in an airplane. After the long trip across the pond, it has finally found its home, atop a German bunker. For more information about the monument visit the Utah Beach Museum. They have a fabulous website! You can see more about the Artist on his website.

To celebrate this HUGE feat, which has involved several years of loving support from the Artist's darling family, I am doing a giveaway! Don't you just love croissants? Alpaca Farmgirl is giving away fifteen chocolate croissants from William Sonoma. These are the BEST! We always have them for breakfast on Christmas and Valentine's mornings.

To participate in the giveaway, just answer one of the following questions in the comments section: Do you know anyone who was at the D-Day Invasion? Please tell us your D-Day stories! What is your favorite thing about France? I will leave the contest open until September 30. The winner will be chosen at random and prize will ship directly from William Sonoma.

Footnote: Thanks to the alpacas for supporting us while we got to this point!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Parasites, Parasites Go Away!

Yuck! I am so sick of dealing with parasites...C'mon Winter, please get here. Or dryness. Something. This summer has been so nice and cool, and wet. That's great for warding off heat problems, but it's an engraved invitation for parasites. Alpaca breeders in the Southeast have to be very careful and keep an eye on our alpacas, and our alpacas' poop! Do lots of fecal checks, and watch the animals for any signs of weakness or anemia. Have your vet perform the fecal or send it out to a lab if you don't have training in these procedures. We do fecal exams both at the farm and in conjunction with our vet's office to be on the safe side.

I remember the brilliant (and hysterical) Auburn Large animal veterinarian, Dr. Pugh, once saying that alpacas were like "glorified goats". So true. Both ruminants. Alpacas are more like sheep and goats than cattle in many regards. For a very informative website on parasite control click here. Of particular importance is the FAMACHA chart. Very helpful!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Don't Scare Me Like That!

Cover Girl WITHOUT with her head stuck under the bar

This morning at the barn, I heard a commotion. I turned to see Cover Girl vigorously trying to extricate herself from between a rock and a hard place. She had her head under the panel bar and into the next pen. She must have scooted closer to the other stall while relaxing (or trying to eat her neighbors' food. The grass is always greener over there ya know...) because her body was all the way up to the edge of her pen. And her head was under and her whole neck was in the neighboring pen. Hmm. This is not terribly unusual. They usually figure it out and get where they want to go. So I didn't worry too much, especially when she started happily eating out of a feed dish that had been knocked to the ground in the neighbor's pen. After I finished the chore I was doing, I came over and helped her get her head and neck back into her own pen, the one that had her body in it.

That's when I got scared. I sent the rest of her group outside so that I could clean their stall and feed them. Alpacas have such a strong herd instinct that if you send the rest of the group outside, it is rare that one alpaca will stay inside. For the neurotically herd oriented alpacas, it's all about hanging with your buddies, kinda like it is for preteen humans. When Cover Girl did not get up to go outside, I went over and gave her a little nudge. Nothing. I nudged harder, the kind of nudge that almost always gets them up and bolting away from you. Her legs trembled and she appeared unable (unwilling?) to get up. Oh dear. I walked to my office with thoughts of heat stress, (heat stress in September? oh yes, it is usually the result of the cumulative effect of heat rather than one incident so August and September are probably the worst months for it) polio, neurologic diseases, and wondering if my vet was on call this Sunday. I was planning injections, thermometers to nether regions, and my next diagnostic steps. My concern was made worse by the fact that Cover Girl is due in about 60 days. Bred to Magnum, she's carrying possibly the best cria of the year in her belly. Fortunately, I turned to see Cover Girl standing there, in the stall...eating hay.

My thought now is that she had probably been stuck with her head under the panel bar for a long enough time for her to have panicked over it. I think she got herself worked up, and when she first tried to rise, her body was still so close to the other stall that she couldn't really get up the right way. Anyway, WHEW! She is fine and dandy. She seemed content to stay in the stall alone so when I fed her group she got to go around and eat from several of the feed buckets. She drank from all the water buckets, too. It was like Goldilocks trying out all of the bears' porridge. But Cover Girl was happy when her friends came in to eat. They had been peering over the double dutch door watching her and wondering what she was doing, and why she had gotten to eat before they did.

We have horse sized panels in the barn, and we put temporary fencing on the ones that have babies in them so that they don't slide under away from their moms. Cover Girl is in a group without the temporary fencing so she was able to scoot a little too far next door. We like the Priefert horse panels because they are strong, nice for when we had males and females housed in the same barn. This week I will post on the "Magnum" panels which are our new favorites. They hold males AND keep crias and alpacas inside.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I'm a Farmgirl!

A true Alpaca Farm girl! (that's a poop scooping rake in her hand) My daughter loves to tell visitors that she's a farmgirl.

The last couple of weeks have been a blur of hurricane watches and warnings, tissues, cold medicine, and being glued to the Weather Channel. Between Ike, Gustav, Faye, Hannah, and Josephine and the dreadful cold that has been going around our house, I haven't been writing much. Hopefully that will change soon. The alpacas are all well, but looking forward to cooler weather. It will be in the mid-90's today.

Our first cria is due in November, and we won't be breeding until December 1. That is, if I can stand it that long. It drives me crazy for them to be open (not pregnant). I feel like there's a hole in my piggybank and money is just seeping out when they are open for a long time. When it gets cooler in late October and early November I usually get antsy and breed one. The problem is that that means a September or October baby and that's really too hot for us to be brithing down here in L.A. (lower Alabama). Fortunately there are only a couple that we had to hold over until Fall/Winter for breeding.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Secrets from the Alpaca Vault

Doe Shares Her Paca Secrets with owner Andy Bowen Alpacas enjoy a visit from new breeders, Cheryl and Andy Bowen.

Last weekend, Cheryl and Andy Bowen, of Humming Star Alpacas, came by to visit their first cria, Moonshadow. (the brown in front looking at Andy) Their lovely foundation dam, Doe, was all snuggles and sweetness, giving Andy lots of kisses and sharing her secrets with him. Adorable, that's Doe sitting down giving Cheryl all her attention above.

Those of you will be attending our Open House on September 27th and 28th will have the chance to meet Cheryl and Andy in person. They will be on our Q & A Panel about the Business of Breeding Alpacas on Sunday from 3pm-4pm, September 28th. For more info click here.

Hurricane Season Shoes

This hysterical photo was sent to me by Gulf Coast Alpaca Farmgirl, Cindy Labbie. Such a fun farmgal who would rather hang out with the alpacas outside than do housework inside. Amen, Sista!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

National Alpaca Farm Days!

This September 27th and 28th, Alpaca Farms around the country will be celebrating National Alpaca Farm Days! Visit the National Alpaca Farm Days official website for more info on the farms near you and the hours they will be open.

Our Farm will be open for visitors too! Click here for information about our Upcoming Events.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What's a Farmgirl to Wear?

We want to look good, even when we're scooping poop. Right, ladies? Since I discovered the Super Birki clog, it has been hard to get me to wear other shoes to the barn. Last Fall I found a pink pair with poodles and the Eiffel tower printed on the inserts. I've worn them so much you can't still see the Eiffel tower - wish I had taken a picture of them when they were new. That pair seems to be sold out but they are always coming out with new fun colors. I have a purple pair, too. Here's a dusty pink pair. These shoes are great because they can get wet. When they get dirty you can just hose them off. Plus they cover enough of the top of the foot that it usually protects you from the occasional alpaca toenail that steps on you when doing herd health.

Okay, now that I think about it, maybe the Birks aren't THAT good looking. But they are comfortable, and they get the job done safely and effectively, and the color brings a little cheer to my day. The biggest problem that I have with Birks is that they have lead to my insisting on wearing Birkenstocks everywhere, not just to the barn. I am so addicted to comfortable shoes that I am going to be in serious trouble when I am expected to attend a wedding this Fall. This summer I branched out into FitFlops for daily wear, but I can't wear those to the wedding...... Can I?
Let me know what you think, and if you have some other recommendations for what Alpaca Farmgirls might like to wear!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Essential Resources for the New Breeder

Today I thought I would provide some resources that are helpful for alpaca breeders.

For buying things like haybags, halters, leads, vaccinations, etc. I recommend Useful Lama Items. Some things they have will be cheaper at your local feed store so do check prices and local availability before you go hog wild online. Another great resource for medication, wormers, syringes, plastic gloves, fly control products, etc. is Jeffers. Both the equine and the livestock departments have items we use. Valley Vet supply is another resource for wormers, medications, and supplies.

We use Norm Evans, DVM formulated minerals. Dr. Evans' Book, The Veterinary Field Guide to Llamas and Alpacas is an essential reference that we use several times a week. I've heard that it's out of print right now so I will let you know where to get it as soon as I find out.

To learn more about handling and training your alpacas, we recommend Camelidynamics. For halters, this is the kind you want! It's really important that your halter fits your alpaca properly. If it slips down onto the cartilage just above the nose - THEY WON'T BE ABLE TO BREATHE! So make sure it fits tightly around the head, up by the eyes rather than down on the nose.

If you are expecting a new cria to be coming soon, you will want to have some plasma available in case he/she needs a transfusion. This will be a plasma transfusion given IP (in the gut), rather than a blood transfusion. It is important to have a bag of plasma in your freezer in case you need it. You can get this from Triple J Farms. In case their website is confusing, (I found it so since I am not a vet) just call them and tell them you need some lama plasma. More on this when we talk about cria care. Or leave questions in the comments section and I will answer them.

**FYI: When you see the word "lama" it refers to both llamas and alpacas. The one "l" instead of two means that they are talking about both types of camelids.**

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Back to Normal

Waiting for Gustav

Monday when Hurricane Gustav visited the Gulf Coast, I spent most of the day in pajamas hunkering down in the small hallway between my bedroom and my bathroom - with 5 other people. Some of them were really noisy. There were lots of feet in faces and other body parts trying to fit without offending others. Some tickling. Some complaining. A real family bonding experience.

After waking up at 5:00 to find out how we were faring the storm, I finally woke everyone up and rounded them into the "tornado safe" (yeah, right) hallway around 6am. These warnings lasted until 9am. I usually ignore. But this time the local weatherman was describing these twisters and telling us that in a few moments they would be at the local elementary school so I woke everyone and made them go to the hall. As soon as each warning expired, we all exited the hall and went to do something else until the next one. In total there were 6 tornado warnings yesterday and we took cover for all of them. I was supposed to clear out my big walk-in closet the day before (What? It's full of Creative Memories stuff from when I was a consultant years ago. very full) but I was so busy getting the alpacas ready I never got to it.

Steve boarded up half the house in prep of Gustav. I filled up every water bucket I could find for the alpacas in hopes that I wouldn't have to mess with the generator. That brings me to the big question you are all probably wondering..."How DO you prepare for a hurricane with over 50 alpacas?" Good question.

The Deep South Alpaca Connection has a good emergency preparedness document. For our farm, the first thing we do is decide if we should stay or go. This time I was sure that we had too many animals to evacuate so we were planning to stay. Thanks to the many alpaca breeders who offered to help us with evacuation. Turns out that was an option after all. But for Gustav we decided to stay because we were out of the "danger" cone a couple of days prior to landfall.

If you stay to ride out the storm you need to have one or more generators and plenty of gas to run them. This is necessary for when the power is out and you need to crank up the well for water and the fans to keep the animals cool. It is a good practice to start your generators once a month and run them for a half hour each time to make sure that they run properly when you need them. We try to do this the first Tuesday of each month. Having lots of water around is good during a storm, so fill all the buckets you can before it arrives. Other things you will need are chainsaws, extra chainsaw blades, tarps, medical emergency kits, (I even bought a few suture kits though I'm not sure exactly how they work. I figure if I need them I will learn how to use them quickly!) halters, and leads. Temporary panels are helpful in case your fencing becomes compromised and you need to quickly put together a pen to hold the animals.

Another thing you will have to determine is whether you will lock the alpacas into the barn/shelter or let them run outside in the storm if they so choose. We had Morton Buildings build our barn, and it has a 10 year wind warranty. Meaning that if it blows down within 10 years of being built they will come and rebuild it at no cost to us. Keeping that in mind, I generally will lock my alpacas in during a hurricane and some tropical storms. It depends on the wind speeds that are projected. Sustained winds above 70 miles an hour and I will lock mine inside. But this is only because I know my barn has withstood a category 3 storm (Ivan). This time it wasn't supposed to be quite that bad so I locked the North doors and let them roam in and out at will. During the lulls in the feeder bands the alpacas did go outside and graze. Some people will tell you to always leave them outside in a storm. If you aren't confident that your shelter will make it through the storm, do let them go outside so the building doesn't collapse on them. Personally, I worry that if they were in the field during a hurricane they would get hit in the head by a roofing tile from the construction next door or something. However in a tornado, alpacas are supposed to be safest outdoors, away from buildings. No one has a perfect answer. Let's face it, the best we can do is make a decision and live with it. So far we have been very fortunate.