Sweat running down my face, in muck boots and shorts, we spent that afternoon shoveling ancient manure mixed with dirt from underneath the barn where they used to keep the pigs--all to make room for our alpacas who needed a place to stay dry from the rain but more importantly a cool place away from the bugs of summer. This isn't what everyone would call fun but we were loving it.
In the beginning, the animals themselves were not the draw for us, it was the fact that there could actually be an animal that could make it so my husband and I could make a living with our farm. We have owned 25 acres in rural Maine for the past fifteen years. Our's is one of the grand old New England farmhouses known as "big house, little house, back house barn" for their connected farm buildings.
Our first two babies were due in a few weeks and we were increasingly anxious. I have always wanted baby animals on the farm but not being rich, I knew whatever animals came on the farm had to be self-sustaining or non-reproducing. The alpacas fit the bill. It has been only nine months since we first started thinking about them.
We loved the idea that anything we did to accommodate the alpacas, would be tax deductible and thereby make the farm more affordable.
The animals themselves continue to grow on us. From scurrying away at our intrusion in to their paddock, they now greet us looking for their dinner and will gently take a few bites out of our hands. Though they don't welcome it, they tolerate our closeness.
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Here's how it started
"What's an alpaca?" was the question around the lunch table that day in early October. Everyone had some idea, but noone seemed to really know. That same week , I'd found out that my job was going to end in March. Friday, I saw an ad in the paper "Come learn about investing in alpacas." The location was close by. I felt like we had "nothing left to loose" and went to see.
Unlike most people, it was not love at first sight. The animals had been in pens all day, away from their usual pastures and shelters. They were "humming" incessantly and seemed agitated and annoyed. The products were impressive-soft and luxurious and way out of my reach financially. But I picked up a lot of material and read and read. The owner of the farm let us help herd them back to their usual pens. I began to see their fluid movement and gentle nature.
Turns out it was the Open Farm Days in Maine and I remembered that my daughter's friends family had alpacas. We decided to visit them and get the "real" scoop. He a physician, she a stay-at-home Mom, are "part-time" alpacas people but still have close to 30 animals. They had been in it awhile and figured they be in it a while longer. I picked his brain candidly about the financial rewards of alpacas. Since he was a doctor, he had to be somewhat savvy financially. Right? The more I read about raising alpacas I found it was being done by people from traditional professional backgrounds. These were smart, educated people. Could they all be wrong? I doubted it.
After visiting Chase Tavern, I went home to our farm and had a vision of alpacas sprinkled throughout the fields. In imagining them in my own space, I was getting closer to wanting to own them.
We spent hours on the Internet trying to understand the animals, the market and the people involved. We made two additional visits to Chase Tavern, With each visit, the animals grew on us. And this in the pouring rain. Somehow looking at alpacas and rain were our fate that fall. The alpacas are herd animals and do not like to be separated from their herdmates. They are also extremely curious. When we first approached their pasture, they would group and stare at us. If we moved toward them, like a school of fish, they would move away to what they felt was a safe distance. I loved seeing their big brown eyes and fuzzy faces staring at me.
By December 20 we had used our home equity loan to buy $53,000 worth of female alpacas: Puella, Angelina and Juney. We ended up buying from Chase Tavern because they had such a large selection. We could get females with diverse bloodlines and colors to build our herd plus they had a selection of males to chose from when it came to rebreeding. Several breeding credits were included as part of the package.
We chose three bred females as the fastest way to get started without going over my self-imposed loan limit. I wanted to leave enough on our home equity loan so that we would have a cushion if I couldn't find work. We almost walked away with part ownership in an adorable male--but my generally conservative nature took over. We needed the balance of the home equity loan to buy a new truck!
Why the rush?
We wanted to get the transaction completed before the end of 2002-while I still had income to deduct against! Though the animals were growing on us; we could justify our purchase because they are a sound business decision. That is where the biggest leap of faith has to come in. If others are successful in this business, we can be too. There is much written on various websites about investing in alpacas. Here is one you can try: AOBA "Investment Potential."
Waiting for fencing
Even though we already had a barn, we needed secure fencing. Since it was December, when we bought, we had to wait until May to get the fencing in. We decided to use seven-strand high-tensile electric fencing. If you have unlimited resources, most people recommend going with a mesh or "no climb" fence. We didn't have unlimited resources and knew many other farms in our area has used the high-tensile. We chose to have professional installers do it. We were enclosing about three acres and knew it would take major equipment we didn't have and huge chunks of time we didn't have either. As it was, it was a major effort to get the fields ready. Many of our fields were created a hundred years ago and have not been well-maintained for the past 20. The weeds, poison ivy and general brush had climbed over the old stone walls and taken over the edges of the pasture. When we put the fencing up, we didn't want to loose several feet of the perimeter, which meant cutting brush and trees back to the stone walls.
We did some of it on our own, but then we held a pasture clearing party, sort of like a barn raising, but we already had a barn. About 15 of our friends, old and new, showed up to help for an hour or a whole day. I fed them and they worked--hard. We got a lot done and the younger set enjoyed tending the fires to get brush burned. The rest of it we did over the next few weekends and the last of it, especially where we had to break through the old walls for the new fenceline--we worked on a few feet ahead of the fence installers.
The alpacas come home
Our first two pregnant alpacas arrived May 9. The third one stayed back at the farm to be bred. Tim and Cindy gave us several portable fence panels to help us get started. Though we had fenced the three acres, the alpacas were sharing it with the horses and we had to have a way to keep them separate. The panels were a huge help until we figured out who was going where. We were so excited to have our first girls home. We spent many hours improving their pasture area and just hanging around with them.
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Summer 2003 And then there were more
Puella's cria was not due until August. We spent June and July enjoying the two we had. They didn't require much work. Sometimes I would clean up their tidy poop piles just to have a chance to hang out with them. The bugs in Maine are fierce, and the girls spent a lot of time under the barn in the cool sand. We would make a puddle for them so they could lie down in it. Sometimes they would even stand and let us hose them off directly.
Finally on a hot August afternoon-a baby appeared in the alpaca pen."Echo's" birth was textbook. He was already up and around when my husband found him. He nursed vigorously and was active and alert. We had delightful hours sitting in the field watching him sprint from one end of the enclosure to the other. While the others were eating, if we sat very still, he would come up to us and touch us gently with his nose. If we reached out to him, he'd pull quickly away.
Juney, our third female arrived shortly after Echo, and our farm was up to four alpacas!
Unfortunately, 17 days later, it was already time for Puella to be rebred. Choosing a mate for Puella was as difficult as choosing our first three alpacas. Puella is an imported female--her fleece extremely fine, but not much density. She is a great Mom--reliable breeder. Chase Tavern was hosting The Last Don. An alpaca from Camelids of Delaware--a well-known import. Chase Tavern thought that a cria from The Don would have the prestige, conformation and Accoyo name, Puella would add the fineness of her fleece. It was an opportunity we felt we couldn't pass up. (The price of the truck we would be able to afford just went down!)
Off Puella went to be bred taking Echo with her and we were back to two alpacas, Angelina and Juney, and waiting for the second cria to be born in September.
If it can go wrong, it will, even with alpacas
Unfortunately, this time the second birth was not so textbook. Angelina, the mother, was straining over the manure pile for most of the afternoon. Thinking it was a first-time pregnancy and since we hadn't witnessed the labor or the birth of the first cria-though we recognized it as first-stage labor, we weren't concerned. Fortunately by 9:00 that Monday evening we called the vet-he came out and literally pulled the little guy out of the mom.
"Tupac" did very well in his first few hours. Up walking around it appeared that he had nursed well. We took the routine blood-test for IgG (immuglobin-a measurement of the transfer of antibodies from the mom to the cria). We got the results late Thursday night that his IgG was only 217. It should be over 800. Echo's had been 2114.
We took him for a routine transfusion on Friday-but he was allergic to the plasma. He almost died. They had to stop the transfusion and administer anti-allergy medications. We took him home and hoped he would be OK without the additional antibodies. By Saturday night he was weak and not nursing. We began giving him penicillin, Gatorade orally to rehydrate him and took him to the vet Sunday morning. She diagnosed pneumonia. She milked Angelina, and tube fed him plus gave him fluids under the skin and an additional antibiotic.
By Monday he seemed to be slowly improving but we added supplemental tube feedings and as much mother's milk as we could express from her. By 10:00 PM his fever was up and we could see that he was in great distress. He died by 4:00 AM that next morning.
We were saddened deeply by the death of this creature we had worked so hard to save. We both walked around depressed and poor Angie would run to the gate looking expectantly every time she saw us.
We were anxious to get Echo and Puella back and Angelina was due to be rebred. We left last Saturday to make the switch. On the way over to the farm---we learned that Puella was breeding again-which means even though it had been three weeks since she was last receptive to the male-she was not pregnant. We left Angelina at the farm to be rebred and borrowed a gelding, Huasacar, to keep Juney company.
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And now, October 2003
We volunteered at our first alpaca show. It was hard work, but fun too. We met other small breeders who were just starting out. We saw how the classes work, listened to a great judge tell exactly what he was looking for and learned how to weigh fleece. We went to some good seminars, and were on a guest panel of new breeders. That was fun. I recommend you volunteer at a show near you. Much less stressful than showing first time around.
At the show we saw alpacas winning awards who were related to alpacas we had purchased. It helped us feel confident in the choices we had made in our early breeding program. We also met many people who were interested in buying alpacas and saw that the the market is strong in our area. It gave us confidence.
And now we are left with our three girls and one, rather than two crias, to start our herd. We have a free rebreeding to make up for the lost cria but it doesn't make up for the year of time we lost. We knew going into this experience that things can go wrong so we are not surprised, even though disappointed. We learned a lot about birthing and cria care and breeding cycles and choosing a stud.
We also learned that we are a pretty good team working together on the farm and the time spent together has renewed our marriage. We learned how delightful it is to have little animals on the farm. Even our two teenagers enjoy them. We renewed our love for our property and now spend more time on it knowing it will pay off for us over time. Someday-we hope the money will start coming in, rather than going out!
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Chuck built a winter shelter for the animals under the barn so they can get out of the weather. So far though, they haven't used it. They seem to prefer to sit in the pouring, wind-lashed rain. Chuck is busy reclaiming Echo's friendship. He squats down at meal time and waits for Echo to come up and sniff him or eat out of his hand.
We have learned to do toenail. It really doesn't take much but we were worried and only trimmed a tiny bit each time at first. It takes two of us--one to hold the animal, the other to pick up her foot and trim. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be! We haven't attempted teeth yet. Cindy and Tim Lavan were nice enough to do Puella's when they brought Juney over.
Friday we picked up Puella, Echo and Angelina and stopped at the vet on the way back. They did the blood draw for progesterone. We were crossing our fingers that the numbers would be high enough to keep the girls home and not have to bring them back to be rebred. The vet called by Wednesday that both are bred. Finally.
We have also ended up with a fifth alpaca--our borrowed gelding Huasacar is now a member of the herd. He is a suri gone awry for some reason. I have to find out what the issues were. He is quite atypical looking--has a funny gait. He is very alert and acts like he is the boss most of the time. We figure he will be a good companion for Echo when he has to be weaned in March.
Now that everyone is home, it really feels like we are raising alpacas. We love looking out the window to see what they are doing. Last Saturday, (their first Saturday home) my 12-yr-old son called me to the window to watch Echo pronking around. We sat there in front of that window for over an hour. The afternoon sun was coming in while a fierce fall wind blew the leaves higher than our second-story perch. How I treasure that hour as we sat and watched the animals.
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Echo has gotten very brave and walks right up to us now. He loves to eat out of our hand and if we are wearing gloves, he will take the tip of the finger and pull. He doesn't enjoy being caught but stands pretty well once we do get him.
We had our first MAJOR snow storm. Though we had the doors on their shelter, we hadn't put the plastic in the windows or the tarps up on the back wall to keep out the wind. This Saturday, as the storm was just hitting, we were busy bringing in wood for our wood furnace, getting the plow on the truck and getting the alpaca shelter closed in to stop the wind. We used the most rugged tarps and hung them from the barn floor (their shelter is actually under our New England barn) down to the ground, then weighted them with rocks and boards. You could feel the drop in the wind and the shelter started to feel very cozy. With the wind howling and snow flying everywhere the alpacas were finally using their shelter. While we were fixing their tarps, they couldn't wait for us to get out of there so they could get under cover.
We made sure their water and hay was with them under the shelter which was a good thing. That night when I went out , the snow was still swirling inside the shelter so I added a short wall of hay bales. As it turned out, they got completely snowed in with a three-foot drift outside their door. The next morning, Sammy, our 12-yr-old son, shoveled a path for them. He was like the Pied Piper; as he shoveled, the pacas were in a line behind him, anxious to get out and stretch their legs. Echo was about buried in the drifts but he managed to romp his way out. They didn't stay out long, as the wind was still howling and the snow still swirling. There was still much snow on their fleece, even in the morning, a testament to how well insulated they are; the snow does not melt from their body heat.
Tonight when I gave them grain and hay, they ventured forth for a few minutes but didn't last long. Still windy and cold--about 20 degrees F.
December 27, 2003
We had saved up several rolls of film from the past few months and just got them back. For the most part, they were terrible. The hardest part photographing the animals is that you can't tell how they came out. A digital camera seemed the only way to go so for Christmas, we gave ourselves a digital camera. My sister-in-law also sent us some pictures so I'll be adding them to these pages--I'll have to scan those in the old-fashioned way.
I've added some pictures of our barn and the pacas winter shelter. This is actually the same place they get out of the bugs and heat in the summer but without the door and tarps. Because we are on top of a hill, underneath the barn there is often a breeze and shade.
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January 11, 2004
Aside from the two early very wild winter snow storms, the weather had been mild up until now. Now the thermometer has dropped to negative numbers. It was twelve below this morning. We have put hay in their shelter so they don't have to come out. It must be warmer for them under there because they spend almost all their time there, only coming out at feeding time. We have mixed their usual llama feed with crimped oats and molasses in hopes that the extra protein and sugar will help keep them warm. They really don't seem to mind but who knows what animals are thinking! They have little droplets of ice on their noses from the moisture of their breathing.
Today is my mother's birthday. She was a grand lady and I know that she would have loved seeing the alpacas. She probably would have thought we were nuts to invest in them but she would have been intrigued by them as well, and who knows, she might have invested in them herself. Indirectly, she is the reason we were able to do it to begin with. My father's family and her mother's family both left some money to my mother and father. Fortunately, they didn't squander it and they were able to leave it to their children. Split six ways, there really wasn't much but it was enough for me to feel secure enough to take out a home-equity loan to buy the animals. I keep being tempted to go back to the home equity to buy more but feel like we need the security of selling our first cria before we do anything more rash than we have already done.
We are going to the 2nd meeting of the Maine Alpaca Association, a newly formed group to benefit alpaca breeders in Maine. We are anxious to meet more people in this venture and see what we can learn. They all seem very nice so far.
Watching the auction results, it is amazing to see some of the prices that the animals are fetching. It makes me optimistic that we too are going to be able to benefit.
January 23, 2004
We have had cold spell like one we haven't seen in a few years here in Maine. Chuck went to Florida to see his mother for eight days. The day after he left, it dropped to 18 below three mornings in a row and never got above zero for probably five days. Add the wind to that and you can get an idea of what it was like. Strangely enough, I didn't mind doing the chores. I made sure I had on my three layers (silk long underwear, jammy bottoms and lined wind pants, sweatshirt with hood, neck warmer, hat and anorak, insulated gloves and Muck® brand Chore boots). It was invigorating! Between the horses and the alpacas, it took about 45 minutes morning and night to be sure that everyone had hay and water and part way through I would be too warm! Unfortunately, our hydrant to the barn is not insulated correctly so we have to use a hose from the house to fill water troughs. The trick was to be sure the hose was drained completely, otherwise the water left in the hose would freeze as soon as it got outside and no water would flow through it. I had to use torch to unfreeze the spigot. Any water left around it would freeze solid making it impossible to open. Those who are just starting out in winter climes need to plan their barns and water access carefully. We have work to do on ours for next season.
Today I was out for two hours cleaning poop piles from alpacas and horses. It was about six degrees but I was toasty. I strongly recommend those Muck boots. We can get them at our local feed store. They come on and off easily, are completely rubber and can be turned down at the top for warmer weather.
We also did a body check on everyone--basically feeling along their spine to be sure they are carrying enough body fat. I am sure that a scale would be far more accurate but this will have to do for now. Everyone felt great, their fleece so fluffy and thick. Apparently they are getting plenty of grain and hay and the cold is not taking too much out of them. Juney's fleece is by far the longest, Angie seems almost denser and Echo seems to have all three characteristics, of the "girls" density, staple length and fineness." Puella's strength is extreme fineness but I want to get it tested to quantify that quality. Puella is also carrying more weight than she did in the last few months of her pregnancy. The fall grass I think made big difference for her. She and Angie spent much of the summer under the barn and didn't want to come out because of the bugs. We have great, lush pastures but they didn't want any part of them until late September.
Today we also haltered Echo for the second time. He didn't mind the halter so much but sure didn't like being led. We also haltered Angie and led her with him to try to give him the idea. Chuck walked behind him and urged him on while I walked in front of the two of them. I think he is catching on. I believe in short successful lessons so we'll try again in a week or two. Angie is our tamest of the three. I think someone spent a lot of time with her when she was young. Juney is quite frisky and Puella being an import was probably hardly handled at all. I am sure that if we were very patient, and worked with her more she wouldn't mind being caught and leading but it is not a priority for us.
The Maine Alpaca Association is well on its way. It is fun to meet new people. I think that is one of the attractions to getting started in this business. It open you up to a whole new world. The meeting was to review the by-laws and decide our goals as an organization which seem to be joint marketing efforts and education. There is a lot to learn and more being understood all the time. There is significant research going on at a few different universities. I started reading about Choanal Atresia which apparently is causing quite a stir in alpaca circles. Alpacas by the Sea has collected links to many articles. I have only had time to read a few of them.
I have started the process for getting Echo registered. The Alpaca Registry is moving though so there will be a delay. I went ahead and insured the three girls for another year. Just starting out we can't afford to loose any of them but it sure adds up as a "chunk of change" and something I wasn't prepared to pay without alpaca income the second year. It is an expense that someone starting out needs to keep in mind. You may not sell something in the first year. We went to a seminar last July about opening an alpaca store. One of the things that the seminar leader kept stressing is that most small businesses fail because they are undercapitalized. That has continued to ring in my head with so many decisions I am trying to make about the alpaca business and our chair business. My dad always said, "It takes money to make money" and it has taken me almost 50 years to truly understand that.
We can't wait to sell our first cria though I am sure it will be hard to see it go. I am truly hoping for a female cria out of Juney. Evander (her service sire) and his get have been doing so well in the show ring and the females from last year have all sold so I am hoping for the same. It is fine to get a male but they just have the potential to take much longer to sell.
That is all for now.
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Tim from Chase Tavern Farm came over a few weeks ago and gave us some good news and some bad news. The Good News--Echo is developing well and his fleece looks good. Tim recommends waiting until fall to show him because his fleece still shows some "tips" that are damaged. This is his original cria coat. Since Tim is now an AOBA Certified Alpaca Judge, we will follow his advice. In some ways I am disappointed to not show him this Spring, but we don't really feel ready and it will be good to have a few more months to get organized.
We have yet to choose a farm logo, aren't even certain of our name or tag line. Both the name we have and the tag line we chose are already taken. For the name, there is another farm in Virginia that spells it "Belmont" farm which is different from ours but we decided for now to keep Bellemont Farm but always add Maine in front of it. Bellemont is the original name of this farm that goes back to the 1700's. We have an old photograph of the house and barn that shows an old sign on the barn with the name. The name is also recorded in a book of architecture of the area. I found out about Belmont Farm, when I received a copy of the AOBA Membership Directory. I casually checked to see if we were in there and saw the Belmont Farm. I actually called David Woodson, the owner, to talk to him. As most people have been, he was very friendly. He is also a very new breeder and had equally compelling reasons for wanting to use the name. He said he didn't think we would be close enough geographically so people wouldn't get mixed up but we decided to use "Maine" in front of our name anyway to avoid confusion.
We wanted to use "The future is fleece" or "The future of fleece" but "The future of fleece" is already taken by SkyeView Farm. They are co-owners of Evander, who is service-sire to our Juney. We found this out when we went to the New England Coastal Classic. It was good to walk around and see what everyone does to decorate their pens and advertise their farm. It is one thing to take our animals to a show, but another to optimize the time spent there to promote our animals and farm. It was amazing to me how many people were walking around thinking about buying alpacas! I am sure there were some deals made that weekend.
Tim was kind enough to bring with him one of his breeding age males, Vaccoyo's Triumph, and behavior test the females so that we know if they are still pregnant. Both Puella and Juney tested NR, not responsive, but Angelina dropped right down and was ready for mating. Very discouraging. We will wait until April to breed since we don't want a mid-winter cria. It feels like a very long time!
He also let us know that it would be fine to keep Echo in with "the girls" for a few more months. He will be six months old next week and could be weaned, but we rarely see him nursing and both he and his mother appear to be carrying a good weight. I know they are first at both the grain bin and the hay rack. Right now the ground is frozen solid so it would be impossible to get fence-posts in to create another area. We knew this back in the fall but figured that we could wait until the ground thaws to wean him. We were glad that Tim agreed.
One of the fun things about having animals--any animals--is watching the things they do. It has been snowing here off and on for the last 24 hours. Actually quite welcome compared to the cold we have had. This morning Chuck put the hay out for both the horses and alpacas. He happened to put it close to the fence that divides them and here is a picture of the adorable result. What is amazing about this picture is that when the alpacas first arrived, the horses were terrified. They took off running! They would come around the end of the barn to look at them and then snort and take off again. The horse entrance to the barn is right next to the alpaca pen so in order to get their grain, the horses have to go past them. For the first week they had to be led snorting in and out because they were so afraid. Now they are good buddies. They watch each other or are aware of each other all the time. If we bring a new alpaca on the property, the horses know. They throw their heads up and watch intently. When there is something going on in the horse pasture, the alpacas let us know by all watching as well. By following their heads we can find out what's happening.
We have not used Red, our big draft horse, in a couple of years. Rational thinking would say, sell him! But it is moments like these that make selling any of our critters difficult. They are part of our landscape.
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Today was the second official meeting of Maine Alpaca Association. We passed our bylaws without too much discussion and moved on to planning some events for the year. There are wonderful seminars coming our way, most of which are very expensive. One of them is a neonatal seminar with Dr. LaRue Johnson. I had read about this seminar and it sounded excellent. They teach you what to look for at birth and have frozen crias in simulated wombs to be able to tell what you are feeling if everything is not coming out exactly the way it should. It is $200 for one person from a farm and $300 for two. My husband and I decided that he would be the one to go and we wouldn't spring for the extra person. Hard decision but we figured if going to the seminar saved just one vet bill, we would be better off. There is also a seminar with Maggie Krieger who is a guru of fleece but we will pass on that one for this year. Only so much we could do.
In mid-February we visited Sea Hill Farm. They have some shelters that cattle farmers also use for calving season. The alpacas seem to love them and they are light weight and easy to roll around for temporary shelter. Paula was most hospitable, telling us in detail about each animal and letting us get our hands on each one as well. It is always overwelming to go to a new farm and learn about the bloodlines represented there but slowly but surely the names start to repeat and start to make sense over time.
Today after the meeting, Paula came and visited us. Over a cup of tea we covered many topics including breedings. We will have to pick another stud for Puella in the fall and we may consider Paula's Teddy or Nemo. Nemo was the my uncle's nickname for my Dad so I am very fond of him--not a good reason for choosing a stud but Nemo is also a Caligula son which is a good reason. Paula was very complimentary of our starter girls and liked Echo very much. It is nice to have some outside confirmation of our choices. Fortunately, that morning Chuck and I had gotten out with the tractor and eliminated all the poop piles. Some had been buried under snow and we couldn't get to them but today the paca pen was all raked and clean for Paula's visit.
Yesterday, I received an interesting email from Mike Safley of North West Alpacas saying he was interested in purchasing breeding age females from particular lines. I was pleased to see that both Caligula and The Last Don were on the list. (The Last Don is Puella's service sire this season). Hopefully if someone like Mike is interested in Don offspring, that is a good sign that we made the right decision in selecting him as sire.
Yesterday too, I gave a presentation to a 4-H group. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation and my friend Marcia MacDonald of Long Plains Alpacas was nice enough to bring her animals so the kids could see them up close and personal. I also brought fleece samples and Marcia brought products. The presentation was well received. The ages ranged from probably eight to sixteen, plus adults. They all seemed interested, didn't squirm too much and asked questions.
At the meeting today too, we met a woman who had contaced us through this web site and wants to make a farm visit. I was glad the site had encouraged someone to get in touch with us. She and her friend want to start with alpacas so she is coming to see how we do what we do.
So it has been quite an alpaca weekend!
At the beginning of March we got all the animals vaccinated, CDT, rabies and wormer and gave Echo an A & D shot to help him grow nice strong, straight legs. There are many people who swear by that therapy but there is much indecision about how to give it. Some believe in giving it orally in a paste, every two weeks, others prefer the injection because you know how much they are getting. We went with the injection.
We are anxious to get Angie back over to Chase Tavern for rebreeding and we have to start planning how we will get them all shorn. Tming is important since it can change the class they are in for showing in the fall. There is a lot that goes into planning for showing, including the microchipping of your animals that is required in some states. When the vet was here we tried to have him get a blood sample for the registration but he couldn't get it because of all the fleece. We are going to have him try again in the tail or ear which is recommended by the Alpaca Registry (we didn't know that when the vet was here.).
That pretty much is what we have been up to for the last month. I hope you take the time to visit the farm links we have here. Anyone we link to has been helpful to us in one way or another and this is one way we can repay them for that. Check out our links page too. I added one today to a farm in Colorado. I had posted to the Alpacasite when we were having so much trouble with our second cria. Dave Colby was nice enough to actually pick up the phone and call us to offer what help he could. He then also followed up several days later.
Don't forget to drop us a line and let us know if you enjoy reading these posts. I would be glad to let you know when I update the site.
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May marks one year that we have had our animals home. It feels good and we are still delighted to be doing this.
Spring is almost over but you wouldn't know it from this weekend's weather. We are relieved that it is cool though as last weekend was so hot, we worried terribly about Juney. She is due literally any day. Today she is at day 349. We have been checking websites and asking around to find out what is "normal." Though 335 is normal, there is a wide range. One breeder even said that she has three that are at day 365, and another who said she had one that went 371 days. There is a study by George Davis that says that gestation is, on the average, longer in Spring. We did not shear her the first of May the way we did the others because she was due May 9. We didn't want to stress her with the car ride to Chase Tavern. By last weekend though, she seemed liked she was in distress from the heat. Her breathing was quite rapid. Cindy at Chase Tavern, recommended hosing her her belly and arm pits to get her cool as well as cutting away the fleece along her spine and pouring rubbing alcohol on it to cool her rapidly. We did this and she does seem better, except since it has been cooler this week, it is hard to tell. She looks awful!! She has been rolling so much in the muddy paddock and any vegatative matter she comes in contact with sticks to her like glue. With her stripe down her back, she looks especially funny. Every day we check her at least every hour. One of the things she does is hang right in front of the water bucket. I have read that this is common in the last few days of pregnancy but she has been at it for a week now!
Cindy and Tim Lavan at Chase Tavern were nice enough to trade shearing our animals for helping with theirs. Chuck put in a full day and then the two of us put in another day. I enjoy it; spending the whole day immersed in the animals is rare for us and a treat. We are usually very busy with our other work. I always learn something new.
Cindy is the major shearer of the pair. She does them standing up and her record is four minutes! That is with a very good and patient alpaca. Tim uses his height and strength to hold the rowdier ones but most tolerate it quite well. There are other shearers who use an expensive table that tilts up and holds the animal. This method is more fool proof, but not necessarily any faster and doesn't take any less time. It is a little easier on the back though.
Our friends Cindy and Dan Mingle of Mt. Brook Farm use the table method and the shearing does go very smoothly. They too offered to shear ours in exchange for helping them but we didn't have any ready at the time. Chuck went up for the morning and I came up late morning and helped with the last few. They let Chuck shear the last one. Since he works with his hands, it came naturally to him and he did a good job. They of course gave him their mildest alpaca. Cindy Lavan has to tranquilize a few of their animals to get them done without a table. Mingles blow dry the animal for fleeces that they don't plan to show. It works well but they say it destroys the character of the fleece for showing purposes. It does give a nice clean fleece though with little effort and the animals don't seem to mind.
The fleece is so beautiful as it comes off. It reminds us of why these animals are so valuable. It is beautiful to see and feel. Three to four people are optimal when shearing. One to shear, one to hold, one to gather the fleece and put it in marked bags. Even with the table, you still need someone to hold the head. The blanket is kept separate from the neck and legs as they are coarser. Sometimes the shearer will take a sample for micron testing just as they are starting. We took samples last year and one from Echo this year but have yet to get them tested. I want to send out the samples to the new testing lab that can give a full profile of the fleece, rather than a cross-section. They say that you can see the story of the fleece told in the sample, changes in diet and weather etc. It should yield a wealth of information about your animal husbandry in addition to the quality of the fleece.
They look so funny when they first come back from shearing. We hardly recognized Echo without his mountains of fleece. Underneath that tip-damaged cria fleece though, he has the most beautiful chesnut brown coat with lots of sheen. He is shaping up to be most handsome!
There are so many details and so much research to do. I can put in days at a time understanding everything. If you never have before, think about spending some time on the Alpaca Registry website. It is fun to look up different animals and see what sex and color offspring they have produced. I get lost in the maze but it is a remarkable resource we have available to us as breeders.
One of my latest projects is to create a flier to have on display at the Poland Spring Inn. They have purchased some of our chairs from Shaker View Furniture and are willing to promote both the chair business and the alpacas. This is an amazing old Inn that brings you back to the days of "yesteryear." There are no phones in the rooms! Many people come back year after year and their favorite activity is to go see the moose at the wildlife center. We figure, being just ten minutes away, why not send them up here to see the alpacas too.
At the last Maine Alpaca Association meeting, I volunteered to be on the Marketing Committee. I have some ideas about how we might market alpacas and it will be easier to do it as part of a organized effort. So far we have sent out a survey and tonight I will be sending out the announcement for a logo and slogan contest.
I have also been working on the logo for our farm, Maine's Bellemont Farm Alpacas. It is difficult to do on a low budget. If you are just starting out it would be worth it for you to budget for some of that money for developing your logo and other kinds of low-level marketing efforts that you will need down the road. We are lucky in that my son has skills on Photoshop that come in handy!
We took Angelina over to Chase Tavern when we took the others for shearng. She is being rebred to Silver Thunder since we found out she had absorbed the pregnancy last January. Discouraging, but not unusual we hear. Silver Thunder is a handsome male out of Bolivian Black Thunder from Alpacas of America. Bolivian Black Thunder has an impressive pressence. Silver Thunder's first two cria sold at under one year!
The vet did come back and was able to easily pull blood from underneath the tail for the registration. I got the paperwork all filled out This time he was successfull getting the blood from the underside of the tail. Worked perfectly and Echo was very good about it. He is also getting better about leading. Since Angie was our trainer animal and she is away, we led Echo by himself. He did very well with very little prodding. On the way back toward the others though, he still gets very excited and dances about on the end of the lead rope. We'll have to keep working with him so he remembers his manners at his first show.
My friend, Marcia MacDonald of Long Plains Alpacas, sold her first male cria, a female and her female cria. They have been in the business just two or three years so this was excellent! Cindy from Chase Tavern helped put a package together with some of the animals from her farm. Now that's support and service after the sale. I was encouraged about selling ours when the time comes.
Now that the bugs are back, the alpacas are spending most of their days under the barn in their shelter. We left the doors on, but took down the tarp walls so that there is a good breeze. We are in the process of slowly but surely removing all the straw that we laid down over the winter. Here they are looking out their window as I clean up the poop piles. Too cute.
A few weeks ago, we cleaned up the area the horses use in the winter and rerouted their lane to save the grass for the alpacas in the high security fencing. We briefly let the alpacas out in a much larger area, but they actually preferred the area they were used to. Echo did take the time to roll in the new territory.
My sister came to visit with her husband and little terrier dog. They were driving a big RV. Well, you would have thought a dragon had come on the property. The alpacas were all on high alert and very curious but also sounded the alarm call several times before they settled in and accepted our guests.
I occasionally check in on some of the chat groups, Alpacanation forum, and Alpacachat and Alpacasite through Yahoo Groups. I recommend visiting them and seeing if there are any you want to stick with. Some have more going on than others but they are a great resource if you have a question.
One of the things I learned talking to Cindy Lavan, is that people really do use AlpacaNation to sell alpacas. That is where the people found Marcia's animals. It is something to consider soon. It is I think $250 per year. Auctions are another venue that is very big. I was talking to Claudia Raessler of Royal River Alpacas. She belongs to a cooperative marketing group called "The Alpaca Group." She said that every member of the group sold at least one animal in their first auction. There are so many ways to spend money selling and caring for the animals. It is hard to pick and choose! I am glad we are taking our time so we can pick and choose carefully.
Speaking of picking and choosing, Chuck just came back from the Larue Johnson neonatal clinic. He was a bit overwhelmed and hasn't told me much but he said it was worthwhile, especially feeling the crias inside the artificial wombs. We have decided that Juney was waiting until Chuck went to the clinic so that he would know what to do! I'll keep you posted, and don't forget to drop us a line if you enjoy reading these posts.
If by any chance you are at AOBA Nationals, look for our chair in the Silent Auction.
The other night when Chuck went out to feed, it was just starting to get dark. Rumor has it, that this is when the alpacas like to play. Rumor confirmed. Puella and Echo were tearing around the pasture, graceful as ballerinas. It is a site to behold. We all managed to see the moment. It is part of why we love them!
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Finally, Friday June 4, Juney had her baby. We had been waiting since May 9 which would have been day 335. The usual range of dates for gestation is somewhere between 335 and 365 but the longer we waited, and the more people we talked to, the wider that range became. She had hers on Day 361 but we heard of others delivering at 366 and as late as 371.
She also delivered at 9:00 PM. We had given up cria watch for the day since most cria are delivered between 10:00 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon. I was away, but Chuck has seen no signs all day. When he went out to pick up my son from his Friday night of Roller Skating, he saw Echo (our weanling) and Juney in an area of the pasture by themselves. Knowing this was unusual, he looked closer and saw a cria 1/2 way out. Since he had just taken the neonatal clinic, he knew better than to do anything at that point so he just watched and sure enough a snowy white cria made it to the ground all by itself. He was up and walking around but not nursing much until the next day. We put a little cria-coat on him to help keep him warm and spread fresh straw in the shelter. We also fenced in everyone close to the shelter so that he couldn't get through the fence. Since it was after 9:00 PM, we were concerned. Cindy Mingle from Mt. Brook Farm was nice enough to come and check him out and help us give some injections and she thought he was doing well. She stripped the teats of a waxy plug and made sure she had milk.
Echo was so strong and textbook in his birth, we didn't bother with the Bose (selenium) and Clostridium CDT Antitoxin (not the same as Clostridium CDT Toxoid) injections. I am still researching the difference between the CDT Antitoxin given at birth and the Toxoid given routinely later.
Unfortunately I was out of town for the birth and first 20 hours. How frustrating. The second birth I've missed. When I got home I sat and watched the little guy for quite a while. He didn't seem as strong as I remembered Echo. Since we had lost one, I felt extra vigilant and was watching closely. I saw him tuck his head under every once in awhile but he didn't seem to nurse. We were getting concerned and thinking about tubing but finally he went under and nursed vigorously. I couldn't see the tell-tale milk moustache but another sign that they have latched on is that their little tails go straight up in the air and Momma turns and breathes on their hind end. A strange ritual but one that seems to indicate successful nursing.
He also kushes nicely. If they can sit up by themselves it is a sign of strength. It is hard to tell otherwise as they are so wobbly learning to use their new legs and his seem particularly long. His fleece is snowy white and has little pop-corn shaped tips. A sign of good quality. Though we are hoping for a girl, we are excited just the same and love having these guys. We still need a name for this one. Ideas anyone? Send them along! Ideas for names
Nameless 12-hours old with Echo in the background
We had put up signs at the Poland Spring Inn about visiting the animals and sure enough the first weekend the signs were up two groups of people came for visits. Our first farm visits. The first set of folks seem to be there just for a lark. I guess we will get all kinds but hopefully they will learn more about alpacas. Be sure to check out our For Sale page for the first items for our farm store.
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Summer just goes. We are nearing the end of July and still have not completed our fencing for the males. This meant that we had to take Echo to "summer camp" at Mountain Brook Farm. He was acting a little too much like a stud, even at 10 months. We didn't want to take our chances with him breeding Angelina or harassing her. Theoretically she is bred back to Silver Thunder but we need to retest her soon to be sure. She was definitely letting Echo know she wanted nothing to do with him but still, we didn't want conflict while we were on vacation. Cindy and Dan Mingle graciously agreed to board him. When first put in with the stud males and geldings, he went right up to them with no fear. Wings, their dominant male, was the first to let Echo know Wings was boss. Echo was very interested in the girls in the other area and followed them up and down the fence line. A few days later, Cindy said that he decided to challenge Wings and though Wings always wins, Echo keeps trying. We miss him though and feel sad that our herd is decimated once again for breeding season. Hopefully, this will be our last year.
To separate the males, we finally decided on woven wire, 32" high with 9" spacings. The 9" we read is supposed to be optimal to keep cria's in but prevent heads from being caught. This will be a non-electric fence but we will put two strands of electric on top. I wouldn't think that the extra strands would be necessary except that we watched Juney try to go over one of the green panels when we took her up to Mountain Brook to be shorn. She had gone so long without being shorn due to the preganancy that her fleece was a complete mess. Tangled with all bits of things from the pasture. We used a blower on her which does an amazing job of cleaning her up but still she was quite a mess. She hated the blower and tried to get out of the pen any way she could. So after seeing that act, we decided we needed a male and weaning area that was truly safe. The blower tends to ruin the structure of the fleece as a whole so it is not recommended for a fleece you want to show.
We bought the fencing from Wellscroft Fence in New Hampshire. They are super helpful there.
I know we thought about separating males and weanlings long before we had to do it, but it sure still seemed to come up very quickly that we actually had to do it. The area we chose will also need another shelter built. The fencing alone is $475. All of these first few years expenses do add up!
In late June we had to decide who to breed Juney back to. We decided on Altiplano Gold. One of his female crias from last year sold for $50,000 at the AOBA auction this year. Since he is right in our back yard at Chase Tavern and he has consistently produced show winning fine fine alpacas with great fleece, we decided to go for it and make the investment. My attitude about this whole venture is shifting slightly. I was budgeting for selling something in the first year and though that is possible for many farms. It just hasn't happened for us. I think it could be a few more years before we do. I keep toying with the idea that we should have bought more females at first. But the level of investment of the first three felt right at the time. Definitely though if you want to see returns sooner, it makes sense to invest more heavily up front.
We have installed a fan underneath the barn for the very hot days. It also seems to help with keeping the bugs away. We were surprised to see when we got back from vacation that they had created a new poop pile under the barn. For a whole year they kept that area clean. We are at a loss as to why they chose that spot as it used to be their favorite lying down spot in the cool sand. They also moved their other pile farther out from underneath the barn. Still much to understand about these creatures!
July 10th I had the opportunity to go to a seminar with Ian Watt at Royal River Alapcas. He is an interesting fellow from Australia and bring with him much knowledge about the sheep industry in Australia. His perspective is that as time goes on and the herd increases in the US that the elite breeders will be the ones to succeed. It won't be good enough to just market alpacas, we will have to have alpacas with extreme density and fineness. His challenge to us is to only breed the best and he is much in favor of a breed standard.
He believes that the Australian herd has increased much more rapidly than the US herd because they breed their females earlier. He pokes fun at the approach in the US of treating alpacas as honored pets rather than livestock. He believes we coddle them far more than necessary. He didn't give me any significant new information but did convince me to use the new Australian method of fleece measurement that measures the whole shaft of the fiber and then averages the diameter rather than taking a cross section of the fiber and calling it an average fiber diameter. He believes that studying the way the diameter varies over the length of the fiber that it can tell you reams about your nutritional program as the changes in the husbandry, diet and other evironmental factors can influence the fiber diameter. Since the diameter can also be measured at the tip, this value would represent the fiber diameter in-utero which would eliminate most of the environmental factors and give you a value of what the animal is biologically capable of. An interesting perspective.
He also said that in Australia, the males there have to be certified conformationally to breed. That takes at least some of the decision-making out of the equation for someone looking for a breeding male. Makes a lot of sense. See this article about Ian that appeared in Alpacas Magazine in 2002.
Our first show with Echo is coming up, the New England Coastal Classic. This is another expense I am not particularly prepared for. It costs $200 for the stall! And if you want to have a farm booth setup next to the stall, it costs just as much. Phew! The entry fee is $30. At least this show is local for us and we won't have expenses staying over.
All of these expenses I am sure will seem minimal once we begin to sell animals. But for now, that still feels like quite a ways away!
Today was Open Farm Day in Maine. My husband visited Mountain Brook to say Hi to Echo and people were streaming in. It is exciting to see how much interest there is.
Right now, the GetAlapca Auction is in progress. This is an auction run by Cindy and Tim Lavan of Chase Tavern. There are so many auctions but this is one I try to follow and see what sells for how much. I look at each animal and go to the website of each farm and learn as much as I can about their approach.
I think that covers the extent of the alpaca activity in this household for now. Things are pretty quiet. Waiting for our next baby in mid-September. That will be the one from the Last
. Should be lovely. Excitement springs afresh! Don't forget to drop us a line if you enjoy reading these posts.
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August September 2004
How to begin to explain the overwhelming events of the past two months. August 3 our barn was struck by lightening and completely burned. Fortunately all animals escaped safely and were evacuated to our friends Dan and Cindy Mingle of Mountain Brook Farm, also fellow alpaca owners. The two ells (from big house, little house, back-house, barn) that housed our business, Shaker View Furniture were also destroyed and the house severely damaged. It has been a roller coaster of a ride ever since. The events have given the words "friends, neighbors and community" all new meaning as we discovered what amazing people surround us on all sides. Everyone has been extremely generous and kind and we don't know how we can thank them enough. But as my sister said, perhaps we can't, but we can pass it on and we plan to.
Now we are in the midst of the cleanup and rebuilding. Losing our old New England barn is a loss shared by many. More and more of these barns are disappearing from the landscape and cannot be replaced. We will save as much as we can of the integrity of the beautiful Colonial home we love and try to recreate the feel and sense of the farm even if we cannot replace the barn.
One of the things we are grappling with is the fact that without the barn, there is an amazing new view from our kitchen. The farm name comes from its historical roots. It was called "Bellemont Farm" back in 1899. The translation is Pretty Mountain and indeed the view from there is just that. We don't want to give that up. So finding a new location and new design for the barn is our biggest challenge. Of course, we want to be sure that we design this barn for optimum utilization by the horses we still love and our growing alpaca herd that is now up to seven!
Yes, September 11, Puella had her second cria with us, this one out of The Last Don. He is a striking tall feisty little guy, and his fleece seems to glow. After much deliberation, his name is Don's Bellemont Skye (of course, Skye for short). I have always wanted to name one of my children Skye but was voted down by their father. So now is my chance. This picture at three hours old, doesn't due him justice but we think he is still pretty exceptional and proud to have him as an addition to our breeding program.
Don's Bellemont Skye
Once Angelina was at Mountain Brook, Cindy and Dan Mingle were nice enough to behavior test her. Alas, she was receptive to the male. We are truly hoping that she does not have something wrong with her. August 29 we brought her back to Chase Tavern and brought Juney bred to Altiplano Gold, and this year's cria Ande (out of Evander) back to Mountain Brook, their home away from home. Read news from July 2004 to see why we are so pleased to have this mating.
I have been going up to Mountain Brook a few times to halter train Echo. He is doing well in among all the grown up males and has attached himself to Wings, one of Mountain Brook's foundation herdsires. He is so grown up now and is doing well on the lead. He has to learn to behave himself to be in his first show: New England Coastal Classic.
If you have ever thought of visiting Maine and seeing all the wonderful alpacas we have here, this is a great time to do so. If you want to show your animals for the first time, it is also a great venue because it is a smaller show and very friendly and supportive. While you are here, consider staying with our friends Deb and Keith Ladner at Hillside cottages or Tim and Fran Buck at the Mollyockett motel. Deb and Keith are long term friends who have helped us so much after the fire. Tim and Fran were marvelous hosts when we stayed at their place for three weeks before we could move into our rental home.
We are settled in a very nice place in Otisfield. It is right down the road from Seeds of Peace. "Founded in 1993, Seeds of Peace is dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence." I encourage you to visit their website and learn more about this amazing place. The attendees from Seeds of Peace come from war-torn countries all over the world. Our problems seem small compared to theirs and we are extremely grateful.
Next week I take Puella back to Chase Tavern for the last breeding in our initial package. This time she will be bred to Magnito. A stunning male out of Accoyo Grand Master. He is just starting out in his career so again he will add unique bloodlines to our herd. In addition, I will be taking Echo for his vet appointment to get his health certificate with Cindy Mingle and several of her animals. Showing can be a little bit complicated, there is much to be aware of. Cindy Mingle has been so helpful, going above and beyond what she needs to do. Last week we took three animals to Oxford County Fair. Unfortunately the rain kept many people away and we didn't get to tell too many people about alpacas but the few that stopped we chatted with for quite awhile.
It is now late. Though the fire has been difficult, we know that we want to go back to the lifestyle that we were cultivating. The day of the fire, we had one of the first visits to the farm from people who wanted to see the chairs but were also very interested in alpacas. We were encouraged.
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