Saturday, October 20, 2012
Herd health day has consistently proven to be quite the interesting ordeal for Whitley and William. Aside from being the day I administer parasite preventative for the two alpacas, it is also the day that I trim their toenails on an as-needed basis.
Up first was William. While he raised a particular fuss over being caught, once the halter was on, he mellowed considerably. My helper held onto him while I administered the preventative. William stood calmly, without so much as twitching. Then, once that was done, I was unsurprised to find that the young male was in need of another hoof-icure. It is a mystery to me as to why his toenails grow so fast in comparison to his companion, Whitley’s. Regardless, I knelt down and set to work correcting the elongated toenails. Being the grateful gentleman that William is, he lifted up his feet for me. He stood very still, without pulling or making my job difficult in any way, shape, or form.
Whitley, on the other hand, was concerned and curious regarding what I was doing to her friend’s foot. While I kneeled on the ground, she circled around William, ultimately coming around behind me to look over my shoulder. When simply being present in the process wasn’t enough, she rested her chin atop my head and observed quietly. After finishing with the first foot, I moved around to the next one. William once again picked up his foot for me, and Whitley came around to rest her chin on my head and watch. This continued for each foot respectively, until I had finished.
Finally, it was Whitley’s turn. While I administered the parasite preventative, William stood patiently on the opposite side of his companion, humming softly. When I had finished, I inspected Whitley’s feet and, seeing no need to trim her toenails at the time, sent her on her merry way.
After a visit to their favorite playpen, and eating some fresh grass, all was forgiven and forgotten.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Sadly, due to time constraints, I have not had the opportunity to work with Whitley and William much as of late. Although, in what time I have had to work with them, I have come to appreciate their ability to remember what we accomplished thus far. The pair seems to have a knack for picking up right where we left off, regardless of the time between sessions. Within reason, of course.
During one of our training sessions I came to notice Whitley trying various ways of optimizing the number of treats she received vs. her companion; even though William is anything but competitive, especially when it comes to getting in her way. Among her various schemes, the most noticeable idea the clever female came up with was what I have deemed a chipmunk imitation. Basically, rather than pause to chew the treat she has just earned and received, she will store them in her mouth until no more will fit. Then, when she realizes she can’t hold anymore, she will hover over the treat she has just earned before taking the time to chew.
The first time she attempted the chipmunk imitation, I was rather befuddled as to what she was doing. Moments before she’d been readily moving on from one request to another, but then suddenly stopped and proceeded to glue her nose to my hand. Naturally, I assumed it was her usual signal to me that we were too far from the target. But, seeing as we had been working on ‘stay’ and ‘come’ up to that point, that couldn’t have been the case. It was only after she finished chewing the mouthful of carrots, and took the reward from my hand, that I realized what the alpaca was up to.
Not a second after it disappeared did she look at me with that eager expression, effectively asking to continue the click and treat game she so enjoys.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Two weeks into clicker training and Whitley is still loving it. If anything, the inquisitive alpaca seems to get more excited each time she sees the target. Even William seems to be enjoying the mental stimulus, even if he mostly just watches Whitley.
William, more then happy to observe
During the first few sessions, I made sure to keep the target relatively stationary and always within arms reach. Once Whitley had the basics of a stationary target down pat, I decided to mix things up a little by walking about the pasture. Whitley gave me a rather skeptical look when I walked away, as if to ask if I was serious. Needless to say, that too became child’s play for her rather quickly as she readily followed me around the paddock.
Next project ultimately turned out to be a little more challenging for her. Simply placing the target on a fence post, I stepped back a foot or so. Although mildly confused, she touched the target and got the corresponding click and treat. After doing this a few times, I stepped a little further away. At first she followed me, but about a minute later she realized that I didn’t have the target. Whitley looked back at the target and then the clicker a couple of times, realizing that she would have to go back to the target to get her reward. It took a bit of time, but sure enough, she got into the rhythm of walking back and forth between me and the target.
Slowly, I got progressively further away from the stationary target, increasing the distance she had to travel to get her treat. The first few times I tried this with Whitley, three feet tended to be her limit. Once I reached a distance she deemed too far, she would glue her nose to my treat filled hand and just stand there until I got closer to the target again. During our most recent session she decided to expand her range a little for me, returning to and from the target when I was a maximum of four feet from it.
William, after watching Whitley the first few days, has picked up the concept. Although more hesitant, and not nearly as ambitious, he will go find the target to get a treat every now and then. If I ask nicely, that is.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Near the beginning of the summer I had the opportunity to attend a short seminar revolving around the positive influence of clicker training on horses. Although, immediately thereafter, I thought of my two alpacas, I didn’t act on the impulse as there was little time for such endeavors at the time. But, just a week or so ago, I came across my old dog training clicker and the thought resurfaced. Once the idea was planted I decided to try it out.
Ever the inquisitive one
Prior to starting any introductory work, I first had to find something either William or Whitley would like enough to act as positive reinforcement. In the past I had read that alpacas enjoy small pieces of carrot, so naturally I gave that a try. To give them an initial feel for the treats, I placed a few in with their feed that afternoon. Sadly, they ate around the unfamiliar treat the first few times I introduced it to them. Eventually, after leaving a few loose in their feeding bowls, they finally got the idea that the little orange objects were for eating. I saw immediate interest from Whitley towards the carrots; to the point that she would readily seek me out if she thought I had any.
With the method of reinforcement established, next came the introduction of the clicker. At first I assumed the loud, foreign sound would frighten the pair of alpacas. I was rather surprised when neither William nor Whitley seemed to mind it going off around them, and paid it little mind. That was, until I started associating the clicker with the carrots Whitley had so quickly learned to love. And, shortly after, I brought a ‘target’ into the mix.
As Whitley had shown the greatest amount of interest and drive, I decided to work primarily with her. The first session lasted maybe five minutes, much to my surprise. It was astounding how quickly she picked up on what it was I wanted her to do. At the first sign of the target, being the inquisitive alpaca that she is, Whitley immediately brushed it with her nose. In turn, I quickly clicked the clicker and gave her her reward. Intrigued by the strange series of events, she touched the target a second time and was rewarded again. After repeating this another couple of times, she checked the hand I held the carrots in, as if trying to see if she could get one without having to touch the target first. When that proved futile, she went to the clicker which proved to be equally fruitless – or vegetable-less as the case may be. As she rechecked her findings, I could practically see the gears turning in her head as she retraced, forwards and backwards, the steps that ultimately led to getting a treat. After that, she consistently knew that, to get the tasty treat, she had to touch the target.
I plan to continue working with Whitley, and eventually William, to see how far we can take this new venture.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Some time ago we decided that we would like a way to allow William and Whitley to graze outside of their traditional paddock. We had some fencing left over from constructing their enclosure, as well as some hollow metal rods from various other building projects. It was relatively simple, provided the necessary tools and materials to construct five 4’X6’ panels. The first few took about thirty minutes to construct, and were admittedly a little messy. By the third panel the time was cut in half and they started to look more neatly constructed. It was almost a shame when we finished the fifth one, as we had finally seemed to have gotten it all down pat.
As for Whitley and William’s opinion: They love it. Initially, they weren’t too pleased at being removed from their normal yard. I had to close them into the shelter just to catch them and put their halters on. As per the usual, when taking them out, Whitley follows close behind me, with William at her tail. He reminds me of those baby elephants, the way he stays so close to her. About ten minutes after placing them in their new portable hangout, they couldn’t have been happier. I kept an eye on them, ensuring that the makeshift gates would hold. The two alpacas didn’t so much as lean against the portable gates; they were simply too caught up, in their grazing and leisurely rolling in the grass, to bother with such a troublesome notion.
After the first two times taking them out in the afternoon, they quickly got into the routine of waiting for me to show up. When they see me moving the panels around, they get excited and start following me along the fence line. This last time I didn’t even have to close them in the shelter to catch them. William, who generally tends to avoid getting caught, practically jumped into his halter at the prospect of going out.
Project Playpen: an overall success.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
The past several days have been excruciatingly hot, with temperatures in the 100’s. This is a major problem in my mind, so I began contemplating ways to help the winter loving creatures coupe with the high temps. In the past I have used a garden hose to spray down their bellies and legs to alleviate some of that heat. However, given the extreme temps the past few days, I decided to try something that lasts a little longer. I’ve heard of other alpaca owners using kiddy pools to cool their alpacas, but it doesn’t take long for those stagnant pools to heat up.
Meet the sprinkler
Still debating the options, I happened to see a neighbor watering their lawn with a sprinkler, and it hit me. If Whitley and William enjoyed the garden hose, surely they’d like a low flow sprinkler. Fetching an old rotating sprinkler and setting it up in the paddock was the easy part. Getting the two alpacas to use it, on the other hand, was not so easy.
Upon spotting the spinning device, William and Whitley’s first reaction was: “What the heck is that?”
Needless to say I was a tad disappointed that they didn’t seem to like the sprinkler, but as always watching William and Whitley’s reaction to it was enough to lift the mood. As I have mentioned once before, the two alpacas have a set protocol when confronted with certain circumstances. This protocol, however, had no mention of what to do when it came to the strange spinning water dispenser. As they peered around the corner at the sprinkler, they looked at each other as if to argue who was supposed to lead the initial investigation. Normally, Whitley is charged with greeting people and cats, while William is responsible for leading the way when it comes to dogs. In the end, since William normally deals with the more threatening things, he had to check it out first.
Whitley followed close behind, using her hesitant companion as a shield as he approached the sprinkler. Slowly they nosed their way closer to the sprinkler, that is, until one of the water droplets hit Williams nose. Surprised by the water drops, William shook his head and took off. Whitley followed behind as her companion circled around the outer edge of the sprinklers reach, kicking up her heels as they dodged the little water drops. In the midst of dodging the droplets, they seemed to get a kick out of running past it and around it as quickly as possible, all the while trying to use each other as reluctant shields. As the day wore on, the two alpacas never truly got into the sprinklers reach, but they did get their noses and toes wet.
And so, even though the handy device didn’t go over as I had intended, William and Whitley do seem to enjoy playing around it.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Perched atop two distant posts of William and Whitley’s home, are a set of bird houses. Even prior to the alpaca’s arrival, we had a large variety of birds that graced us with their presence on a day to day basis. However, since William and Whitley have joined us, the number of birds that favor the, now enclosed, area has grown quite a bit and the two nest boxes have become prime real-estate. From the elegant bluebirds, to the frisky little finches, the colorful fliers really seem to enjoy having the alpacas around.
But what, you might ask, do the alpacas think of this?
Whitley treats the visitors as an enrichment of sorts. Whenever a bird lands on the fence line or roams around on the ground, she watches them curiously. She especially seems to enjoy the robins, who like to scour the pasture for earthworms. I have often looked outside to see the inquisitive alpaca following behind one such bird, her nose inches from it. Strangely, the robins never seem to mind the large fluffy creature looming over them as they hop around the pasture, blissfully ignoring her presence.
William, on the other hand, often chooses simply to ignore them. He doesn't mind them, and they clearly don’t mind him. However, even though he doesn’t interact with them like Whitley does, their presence still benefits him. While he grazes, he is, albeit unintentionally, shortening the grass so that they can more easily find the insects they so enjoy. And, in the process, they eat up the flies that buzz around his ears and annoy him.
Over all, it seems William and Whitley enjoy having their fluttering neighbors just as much they enjoy having them.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
In the far corner of William and Whitley’s yard is a small triangular mound. It is just a few inches taller than the surrounding area along the lower fence line, but the two have found a strange liking for the little hill. ‘The Triangle’ as we call it, has become not only their miniature lookout point but their way of settling all of their disputes. When they have an argument, whether it be over a particular patch of grass or deciding when play time is, they go to The Triangle. The ritual that follows a disagreement has three stages.
Stage one: who reaches The Triangle first. This rarely decides who the winner of the whole dispute is, but it does give the first to arrive a little advantage. Generally, the first to arrive is completely dependent on the cause of the argument. If it’s over when play time is, Whitley is always the first to arrive at The Triangle when William becomes too annoying for her to tolerate any further. If it’s over a particular patch of grass, William is generally the first to arrive. He is a rather passive aggressive guy, and can’t seem to get up the nerve to straight out challenge Whitley – especially around food.
Stage two: pushing match. The objective of the second to arrive is to knock the first out, while the first to arrive tries to maintain their claim on the miniature hill. The pushing match consists mainly of just that, pushing, and nipping at each other’s feet. At times both alpacas will be standing inside the boundaries of The Triangle, but they often fall off the small edges of the hill onto the flat surroundings. However, even when they fall out of The Triangle, they will keep close to it, essentially circling it like plush toy versions of sharks.
Stage three: deciding the victor. Eventually, someone has to give up and more often than not, the victor is none other than Whitley. In fact, I have never seen William win one of these disputes now that I think about it. To symbolize that the quarrel is over, William will move a short ways away and cush, while Whitley takes her spot in the center of The Triangle. This lasts for about half a minute, until all is forgiven and the original purpose of the competition is completely forgotten. The two then go back to grazing side by side peacefully.
The title is King of the Hill, but I guess it would be more accurate to call it:
Queen of the Hill
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Over the course of the first week Whitley and William forged a bond. They stuck together all the time. No matter the situation, they were never more than ten feet away from one another. Whenever one would wander a little further away, the other would go rushing over to close the gap. They grazed and walked together, laid beside each other at night, and on occasion William could even convince Whitley to play with him.
Whitley bugging William
The two didn't play too much during the initial two days, as they were just settling into their new home and routine. By the third or fourth day, a pattern had been established. Eat feed in the morning, graze all day, eat more feed in the afternoon, and then sleep in the shelter until the feed arrived the following morning. Those were things that I set up for them, by choosing when to feed them and when to put them up for the night. The intriguing patterns, however, were the ones they created all on their own.
They very quickly came to an agreement with one another for how to handle certain circumstances, should they arise. One such circumstance is when they see me. If they see me, or any other human for that matter, it was decided that Whitley should be the one to investigate and ultimately greet the guest(s). Meanwhile, William would hide behind her, never straying too far from his friend no matter how much he wants to avoid the inevitable attention I'll give him. The next circumstance is when they see another animal, such as a dog. Given this scenario, William is to take the lead and investigate the source of their apprehension. Whitley will then follow behind him, albeit much more slowly.
Together they've created their own little protocol, and it's worked very well so far.
Never far behind
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Prior to building our own enclosure for the alpacas to live in, I had been boarding/agisting them at a friend’s alpaca ranch. Once the enclosure was set up, and all the necessities were gathered (ie: alpaca feed, poo collector, heated water bucket, halters, lead ropes, ect.) we decided it was finally time to bring the alpacas home. How to get them here was the only issue remaining. We thought about renting a trailer, and my friend even offered to bring them here in her trailer, but in the end we decided against it since turning a trailer around in our area isn't the easiest thing. We have a small HHR, and after doing some measuring we decided we could fit an alpaca in the back. I figured that this was a good option for me, because then I could keep an eye on them throughout the car ride.
On Saturday, the day my friend and I agreed upon, I put down the seats in the HHR, laid out a large blanket, and grabbed the halters and lead rope. Then I made the 60 minute drive to my friends farm. Once there we loaded Whitley into the car. Once she was in, we shut the door, fully realizing that this would require a second trip. There was plenty of room for one alpaca to get up and move around, but two would have been a little too cramped.
First trip was with Whitley, whom I hadn't met prior to our little drive. She certainly kept me, and the passing drivers, entertained throughout the journey. At first, Whitley preoccupied herself with watching the scenery through the rear window. But, it was a cold day so it wasn't long before she'd incidentally fogged up the window. With that window obscured for the time, she got up and moved to the left window. She never went over to the right side, since all the other cars were on the left and she wanted to look out at the smiling drivers/passengers. When she fogged up that window, she moved on to the next one. Whitley continued going to the various windows, occasionally poking her head up front to check on me and see where we were going. Upon our arrival to her new home, she went into the shelter like she owned the place. While I had been at my friend's farm I picked up a bucket full of alpaca manure, then I spread it where I wanted the poop piles to be. Since I knew that they would create their community pile somewhere, I figured I’d at least try to convince them to put it somewhere convenient for me to clean. Sure enough, Whitley knew exactly where I wanted her to go. It also made her more comfortable, having the scents of other alpacas nearby, until I got back with William.
William's journey wasn't quite so pleasant. Unlike Whitley who had cushed/laid down quietly while enjoying the scenery, William paced round and round for most of the trip. In fact, the only thing that ever distracted him during the trip was the occasional cattle field that we drove by. Remarkably, both alpacas had found the cattle fascinating, even though we only saw them for maybe 30 seconds. During the trip I was very concerned with how stressed William got. I knew being away from his fellow alpacas was stressful for him, made all the more evident by the little bit of drool I saw on his mouth. I had been told once before that alpacas drool when they're stressed - it's true. Luckily he wasn't too stressed out, though I did pull over once to try to settle him down. After about the 45 minute mark, he started cushing more often and was beginning to relax. Thankfully, in fifteen minutes I arrived home, and was able to introduce the two.
The second William was out of the car he rushed straight up to the fence and practically Velcro-ed himself to the fence next to Whitley. It took a lot of effort to drag him out of her sight for the five seconds it took to go around the shelter and put him into the enclosure with his fellow alpaca. You'd think neither of them had seen another alpaca in days, the way they stuck together for the next week. But that story is for another week.