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Alpacas at Windy Hill

"Alpaca Ownership with a Safety Net"

Cindy Harris
7660 Bradley Rd.
Somis, CA 93066

Friday, July 18, 2014



I pulled up behind the truck, finally close enough to really read the bumper sticker: “STOP GLOBAL WHINING”. Humor is often based on a surprise—a word trick that suddenly spins the world sideways or upside down. This surprise made me shriek with laughter. I don’t really know why, but I giggled all the way home. It’s a good thing I was alone. I might have scared somebody.
Aside from the obvious reason it amused me, I was delighted to have a humorous reference to a practice that otherwise falls on a scale in my mind somewhere between Mildly Annoying and Infuriating. Circumstances, persons, and duration influence just where it sits on that scale at any given time. Whining does appear to be ‘global’….
Growing up as a compliant child, I quickly learned not to whine. It was met with frowns, scolding and sometimes even derision. I was incredulous that other children, my younger brother included, continued to use it as a method of wearing down their parents. I was also shocked to learn that if one persisted, it even worked sometimes! Still, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was just one of many things in childhood that fell into the “life isn’t fair” category.
When my children were small I used a variety of methods to discourage whining. After all, there were four of them and one of me, so I tried my best to keep them off balance. A terse, “Stop it!” with “The Look” was often useful as shock value. Or, “I can’t hear you when you use that tone of voice”, although untrue, was helpful on occasion. It became my default response eventually, abbreviated to simply ignoring the whiner. Another sibling usually had to whisper, “Shut up! She can’t hear you if you whine, remember??” to make it actually sink in, but eventually all four of them got the message. Complaining was ok sometimes, but not whining.
There are whiners in the classroom as well. Can I get an “Amen!” from all the 1st Grade teachers out there? And now from the High School teachers? In the 4th grade classroom I could usually extinguish it in the first couple of weeks by referring to whining as “3rd grade behavior” . No 4th grader wants to go back to being a “little kid”.

There is one place I have not been successful stopping whining, though, and that is on the ranch. Alpacas just don’t respond to the usual methods. We have had some World Class Whiners out here at Windy Hill.

Quicksilver came to us from Ameripaca. She had had one female cria, a very lustrous girl named Resi. Quicksilver was not much to look at herself, but she produced very pretty babies for several years. The other thing that she produced was copious amounts of whining.
Quicksilver did the usual humming to her crias and quibbling at the feeder, but when she was put in a small pen for any reason, she would whine. She whined about being out of the pasture, about being haltered, walked, sheared, and examined. She whined frantically if her cria would get too far away, and when weaning day arrived, Quicksilver would settle in for a Marathon of whining. Fortunately, Quicksilver’s crias did not grow up to be whiners. Not until Naiisha.
Naiisha is Quicksilver’s daughter by Apache, and she a lovely girl. She now belongs to Julie and Jamey, and is a model alpaca. When she is open she is quite affectionate, and can change overnight into a witchy pregnant female. But pregnant or not, if you put Naiisha in a pen, she whines.
Showing Naiisha was always a musical affair. She would start whining as soon as I led her to the trailer, and continue until I took off her halter in the quarantine pasture when we arrived home. She wasn’t frantic. She didn’t pace. She just whined, non-stop. Have you ever heard an alpaca whine while chewing their hay? It’s a little muffled, but clearly recognizable as whining.
Now Naiisha has a daughter named Dakota. I don’t remember Dakota whining as a cria, so it may be that weaning was the catalyst in her case, but for a solid week she and her mama paced on opposite sides of the fence, whining a duet. They would sing to each most of the day, and at night they would sit side by side at the fence. In the morning the pacing and singing would begin all over again. Fortunately it only lasted a week. Dakota is a big girl now, but still whines if she is penned up. I guess it just runs in Quicksilver’s family.

Another vocally-expressive girl is Spring Reign. Spring Reign is a large girl loves treats, and is sweet and easy to handle, which is always good with a really big girl. However, when she was due to deliver her first cria, we discovered that Spring Reign was more than a bit of a prima donna.
I watch the “OB” pasture closely for the last month of our girls’ pregnancies. You never know when one of them may deliver early, need help, or pop a cria out while you’re at lunch. One morning on my first visit to OB, I heard a loud noise before I even rounded the corner from the office. It sounded like…well…a MOOSE! As I reached the gate I saw Spring Reign lying flat out on her side. When she saw me, she got clumsily to her feet and walked toward me. When she was sure she had my attention, she carefully lowered her huge belly back to the ground, flopped on her side, and began again to bellow. Needless to say, I was alarmed. I saw that her due date wasn’t for three more weeks. “I hope she’s not in labor!”, I thought. Just then, she let out another thunderous groan, rolled up into a cush, then flopped over on her other side and repeated the whole cycle.
I called the vet. Dr. Jana checked her thoroughly and assured me that she was not in labor, was not presenting a uterine torsion, and did not appear to be in any kind of pain. She just wanted to bellow. She was huge and miserable and it was warm outside.
I think that was the first time I really equated an alpaca pregnancy with a human pregnancy. I thought back to the last month of any of my pregnancies. How did I feel? Like groaning, of course. I called it the Beached Whale Phase of pregnancy: I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t get down, there was no good way to sit or stand or lie down, it was too hot, I only wanted ice cubes to eat, and if you were not interested in rubbing my swollen feet, you better not touch me.
Spring Reign continued her daily bellowing. I called the vet twice more before she convinced me that there was nothing wrong. When she finally did go into labor, Reigny delivered her baby with grace and ease, and the bellowing stopped. Until the next year.

I guess the truth is that we all whine now and then. I’ve learned that people are much more tolerant of it if I announce ahead of time that I’m going to whine. It’s all in knowing what to expect. If you expect whining, it’s a little easier to take. “Oh, there she goes. She is whining again.” We can all acknowledge it, then go on. It certainly seems to be a global problem.
The bumper sticker begs the question: CAN we stop global whining? Do we NEED to stop global whining? It’s one thing for a bumper sticker to demand it, and quite another to really expect to conquer something so universal.
I think I’ll wait for peace in the Middle East, good manners on the freeway, and Naiisha standing patiently in a pen. Perhaps then there will be a chance to end Global Whining.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Imagining the Future Together...

What will happen to our wonderful herds of alpacas in the next 10 years? Imagine with me for a moment what the alpaca industry might look like in 2024….

If we ask the man on the street in 2024 “What is an alpaca?”, we might get a variety of answers.

“Alpacas? Weren’t they like ostrichs? People used to pay ridiculous prices for them but the bubble burst. Now you don’t hear about them much anymore.”

“Alpacas? Yeah, they tried to make them into livestock. You know—sell the fleece to make money. But the recession of 2008 came before they got their act together. Some people tried to create a meat market, but it never caught on. I know people who still have a few in their back yards, but there isn’t much use for them. I haven’t seen one of those TV commercials in years!”

“Alpacas? Oh, they are so adorable, and their fleece is to die for! My whole winter wardrobe is alpaca, and it’s all made in the US. Cashmere and merino used to be the go-to natural fibers for cold weather, but now if it’s not at least 50% alpaca, I won’t buy it. It’s the only thing I can comfortably wear that lasts. I even have alpaca upholstery on my couch now—it’s beautiful and hardly shows wear, even after five years and three kids!”

Which scenario would you rather see?

I “see” a real future for the alpaca industry. And what do I want it to look like in the future?
Here are some of my answers. I would like to hear yours. It’s time to cast a new Vision…

I want…
--'alpaca’ to be a household word.
--more young families to catch the vision and join the alpaca movement.
--US grown and manufactured alpaca products to be common in upper end department stores.
--the value of an alpaca to be based on science and objective data, not just show ribbons.
--U.S. alpaca socks and long underwear to be the go-to choice for cold weather wear in sporting goods stores.
--alpacas to become a regular part of 4H and FFA.
--U.S. alpaca rugs, draperies and upholstery to be common in U.S. homes.
--sports fans to take alpaca stadium pads and lap blankets with them to outdoor games.
--U.S. grown and spun yarn in every privately own yarn shop.
--to drive across the U.S. and see large herds of alpacas grazing on open plains and filling valleys at the foot of the mountain ranges.
--the number of AOA registered alpacas climb to over 2,000,000.
--standardized measurements for histograms and skin biopsies.
--sorting and grading become 2nd nature to breeders and growers—a standard skill in the pocket of every alpaca owner.
--us turning down offers to buy our fleece from foreign entities because we have a use for every scrap of fiber produced in the U.S.

What do you want to see happen in our Alpaca Industry?

Cindy Harris~ Alpacas at Windy Hill~ (805) 907-5162~

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Do We Need for the Long Haul? The Alpaca Industry is morphing into yet another step toward the commercial fiber industry. What do we need to get there?

The alpaca industry has undergone a shake-down during the recession just like all industries in the U.S. Prices have gone down, just like the housing market. Some breeders have trimmed their herds down to the very best. Some have taken this opportunity to retire. Most of us have had a long dry spell in alpaca sales. What used to pass for moderate quality alpacas are now relegated to the “rug yarn” herd…or even the meat market.

There has been an increase in the pet/fiber market for alpacas that needed to move to someone else’s feed bill. Many people now own alpacas who could not afford them during the period when prices were high. These are all positive things.

The quality of alpacas in the show ring has progressed by leaps and bounds every year, and yet many alpacas who have the desirable fleece characteristics needed for a fleece market are selling as pets for the simple reason that their owners can no longer support them. Many breeders stopped breeding altogether, some for several years, because they were out of room, or out of funds to feed additional mouths.

We still need to increase our numbers by quite a bit to have the amount of fleece necessary to interest commercial fleece buyers. And we need to continue our good breeding practices that have led to the level of quality we are seeing today. WE CAN DO THIS!

This leads me to ask, “What do we need?” Our national organizations, AOBA and ARI have combined into AOA in an attempt to better serve the industry. Perhaps it is time for the mindset of us as breeders to push the reset button on their goals and objectives, study where we have been and where we need to be, and re-write those goals to better serve the future of alpaca in the U.S.

Here are my thoughts about the alpaca industry as we go forward.


We need....

People with vision who
are passionate about a commercial alpaca fleece industry
will set standards that advance the overall quality of the national herd
want to usher in the U.S. alpaca fiber industry
will coordinate the collection and sale of fleece at a fair price
will run AOA with drive and determination to make the U.S. Alpaca Industry succeed at home and abroad

Serious livestock-model alpaca breeders who
are in it for the long haul
breed herds of quality alpacas to create a viable U.S. fleece industry
have the financial standing to get through lean times
have enough pasture land to support alpacas in an economical manner
Objective methods for evaluating breeding stock and fleece so that
reliable choices can be made when planning breedings
the quality of the national herd continually improves
breeders have reliable means of achieving realistic breeding goals

Businesses that create commercial uses for alpaca fleece to
create finished products from U.S. alpaca fleece
create U.S. jobs with U.S. fleece
accommodate different grades of fleece
present the best possible use of each grade to the market
diversify the fleece market in the U.S.

A community of support businesses that will provide
sorting and grading services
shearing services
competent veterinary care
feed specifically aimed at healthy fleeces
equipment for alpaca handling and fleece processing
transportation and warehousing

An alternative end-use community of individuals, businesses and charities that
use alpaca fleece in craft and art endeavors
absorb culls from breeding herds
as pets
as meat and hides
as therapy animals
as ambassadors to the public


I am sharing these ideas with you knowing that this is not the complete picture. I'm sure I’ve left things out, and what I have included probably needs tweaking. I invite you, my readers, to add things you think would benefit the alpaca industry as we march onward toward the goal of the commercial U.S. fiber market. Will you join me? I would love to hear from you!

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Knitting with Suri: Old Practice, New Twist

KNITTING has experienced a revival in the last several years. In this day of electronics, many people are choosing to get in touch with some of the more tactile and traditional skills of human history. The Knitting Circle has become popular again. It might, at first glance, look like a group of Millenials texting on their phones, but it’s really a group of people (men too!) getting in touch with their fuzzier, warmer side by actually talking in person while they create something useful and satisfying with knitting needles and yarn.

The really determined among us are also contributing to the growing and milling of natural fibers rather than acrylic, nylon and polyester by buying and using locally-grown and milled natural fibers (see the Gold Coast Fibershed). In our case here at Windy Hill, that is ALPACA.

Alpaca is growing in popularity as it gains notoriety due to a growing number of alpaca farms in the U.S. Huacaya fiber is crimpy and fuzzy, similar in style to sheep’s wool. Suri fiber is slick, shiny, and equally soft, similar to silk.

We raise primarily suri alpaca at Alpacas at Windy Hill, although we usually have huacayas here as well. Suri, however, being a bit different from wool and even huacaya fiber, needs some special attention to make knitting projects successful. Once the knitter embraces the differences, suri is often preferred due to it’s superior drape. Suri also lends itself well to lace-weight yarn and projects, and always looks elegant.

Sue Simonton, owner of Little Gidding Farm Suri Alpacas, has written a guide for knitting with suri alpaca that I thought might interest some of you, our blog readers. Sue is a member of the Suri Network Product Development Committee, and contributes to the Facebook page by the same title. Read and enjoy!

We invite you to come out to Alpacas at Windy Hill (Like us on Facebook!) and get some suri yarn to try for your next knitting (or crocheting) project!


Why knit with suri? What can I expect?

• Fine suri yarn is a beautiful lustrous yarn,
• Like cashmere in its softness and silk in its drape and luster.
• It takes color as beautifully as silk or kid mohair.

What are the properties of suri yarn?
• Its drape and weight make it perfect for garments that drape rather than cling.
• Fine and open work garments are warm.
• Not as elastic as wool but more elastic than silk, cotton or bamboo.
• Suri blocks and holds its shape. That is, it is resilient if it is not made of heavy yarn and not knit loosely.

What does fine mean?
• Fibers are classed by micron. British cashmere is < 19 microns. Vicuna
• Alpaca, including suri, includes a wide range of fineness and the fleece is classed accordingly.
The Suri Network, along with the Australians, the Canadians, and Peruvians class fibers as follows:
Grade #1, Suri Ultimate,
Grade #2, Suri Superfine, 20 -22.9 µm,
Grade #3, Suri Classic, 23-25.9µm,
Grade # 4, 26-28.9µm.
Grade #5, 29-31.9µm,
Grade #6, 6 32-35µm.
Classing provides guidelines for sorting fiber into micron, color and staple length.
The fibers’ micron grade will determine how the yarn is used as well as its price.
• Fine suri, Grades #1 or #2 can be worn next to the skin, a Grade #3, if it is carefully sorted with few
fibers over 30 can make a comfortable garment— coarser fiber is best used for rugs or felting.

How do I use my fine suri yarn? How do I find patterns?
• Suri — fine, lustrous, sound, consistent in handle and staple length is a luxury fiber.
• This yarn is ideally suited to shawls and scarves but also lace sweaters, christening bonnets and
dresses, and wedding veils.
• Whether spun in a fine lace weight (250 yds/oz) or a light fingering (75 – 100 yds.oz) it should adapt
easily to patterns for such garments. Attention to needle size is important.
• Go down a needle size or two from a pattern created for wool. Always check gauge!
• Patterns for silk and fine cotton should behave much the same as suri as these yarns do not have the
elasticity of wool. Patterns for huacaya fall somewhere in between — not as elastic as wool, not as
silky as suri or silk. So again, check the gauge.

What do I do with my stronger (coarser) yarns?
• Heavier garments of stronger (coarser) fiber do not work well when made of pure suri.
• Lovely drape in a finer yarn is a weighty drag unless care is taken to knit very firmly.
• Pure suri in the heavier weights of yarn, worsted and bulky, becomes rather like string.
• Suri can be blended with wool, preferably a wool of similar staple length and micron count and one
with some luster. This makes the yarn lighter, more resilient, suitable for outerwear.
• Patterns for this weight are most likely to be for wool so checking gauge and needle size is important.

What needles should I choose?
• For knitting suri yarn smooth wooden or bamboo needles are good; for lace projects addi lace needles
are wonderful. As suri is a slippery yarn, the addi lace needles have just enough drag to hold the yarn
on the needle and are still fast and addi lace needles now come in a full range of sizes.
• The size needle can very according to the project. The finer the needle the more stable the finished

Sue Simonton, Little Gidding Farm Suri Alpacas
Cindy Harris & Doug Fieg ~ Alpacas at Windy Hill ~
(805) 907-5162 ~ ~ 7660 Bradley Rd. Somis CA 93066

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sleek! Chic! Sveldt!

The first glimpse of brilliance!

The first glimpse of brilliance!


This is how I think of newly-shorn suri alpacas.

Some people think they are funny-looking when they are newly-shorn.

But as an alpaca breeder, this is one of my favorite moments of the year.
I see how their conformation stands out better when I can see the clean lines of their bodies.
I can clearly see how their pregnancy is developing, whether they are too lean, too heavy, or just right.
I re-evaluate their bone structure, the shape of their head, the proportions of their neck, legs and body.
I see where they may have skin irritations. I can see the coverage of the fleece on their skin.

But what I see most of all is the LUSTER!

It’s the luster that makes the difference with suris. Luster is pretty much the whole point! If we do don’t have luster, then there is no point in having suri.
That shine! That glow when the fiber sits on the skirting table…. when the yarn sits on the shelf…. when the garment is worn under lights….
It’s the same luster that I see on a newly-shorn suri (before she rolls in the dust!). It’s the priceless fleece trait that suri breeders work harder for than anything else.

Luster is the kingpin of all suri traits.
In fact, if a suri has brilliant luster all across their body, they will almost always have the other traits we are looking for—fineness, density, consistency.

Luster is the Holy Grail for suri breeders.

Imagine for a moment having raised these lovely creatures from Day 1, shown them, cared for them, and then, leading them to the shearing mat. The fleece has been of great concern, and now you are about to discover the truth about the fruit of your labor.

The alpaca is stretched out and the shearer makes the first pass across the body…….. you hold your breath…….and then the light hits the fiber close to the skin. A flash of brilliance catches your eye and you step in to look closer. Did you see it? Is it really there?

The greatest reward for your careful breeding and husbandry practices is to see a suri stand up, shake herself, and walk off the mat glowing more brightly than the moon on a clear night. It’s intoxicating.

She looks……….

Oh yes.

Cindy Harris ~ Alpacas at Windy Hill ~ ~ (805) 907-5162 ~
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Blinding luster on Brando!

Blinding luster on Brando!

Cindy with 3 sleek girls

Cindy with 3 sleek girls

Endless Summer watches his buddy being sheared.

Endless Summer watches his buddy being sheared.

Glistening! Sparkling!

Glistening! Sparkling!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Shearing Comes But Once A Year

Doug with his buddy, Stormy Crawford.

Doug with his buddy, Stormy Crawford.

Shearing alpacas is a big deal Windy Hill.

It’s that defining moment when we finally see the fruits of our labor in a tangible way:

What is the fleece really like?
Is there enough luster?
Did that breeding create an improvement in the fleece?
What does it feel like if you close your eyes?
How much does the bag weigh?

There’s a lot of preparation and planning that goes into an alpaca shearing day:
make arrangements with the shearing crew (this can happen as early as November!)
line up our volunteers
inventory and order supplies—bags, cards, vaccines, Sevin dust, syringes and needles, name tags
take “glamour shots” of the alpacas—they will never look exactly like this again
get the equipment ready—sharpen toenail trimmers, test the scale, set up tables
set up the ranch-wide chute through which the pasture groups will travel to and from the barn

We start early and go like crazy. Although the 4-man team from BioSecure Alpaca Shearing does all the “heavy” work, we have to keep them supplied with the next alpaca so that we don’t slow them down! There are always minor instructions to give:
“This one is a show fleece”;
“Stop shearing this neck at the jaw line”;
and decisions to make:
“Yes, trim those fighting teeth”;
“Put this alpaca in the lineup ahead of that one because her owner has arrived”
to keep us on our toes.

At noon we all take a lunch break and sit in the shade of the big pepper tree on the front lawn. I call it “The Veranda”, because for the 1st year I lived here it was the only shade on the whole ranch! It’s wonderful to relax, have a sandwich and a cold drink, and talk about the funny things that happened over the morning with friends who have come to help. We take our shoes off to wiggle our toes in the cool grass, and just about the time it feels like a nap would be a great idea, it’s time to get back to work!

Because we run our tails off, the end of the day is always welcome, and the end of shearing the last alpaca is even better! But we’re not done quite yet. Now it’s time to clean up, put everything away, and sort through the fleeces. Windy Hill fleeces go out to the sea container to be hung up. All the boarders’ fleeces go into the office to be sorted by owner where they will wait to be picked up for a week or two.

Fleece up my nose, in my shoes, in my ears, and in every itchy place you didn’t think it could go. Then at last, the much-anticipated shower.

We’re finished for another year—but reallyjust beginning.
Many decisions and projects await us:
Which fleeces will I prep for fleece shows or spin-offs?
Which special fleeces do I want to spin myself?
Which fleeces should we send to the mill to be made into batts, roving and yarn?
Which fleeces will we hold out for sales “as is”?
Will we do any dyeing?
Where is that list of enthusiasts who bought fleeces last year??
What to do with the coarser fleece?
Shearing, like herd management, is something that we never really leave before beginning again. After all, this entire experience is about the fleece. That wonderful, luxurious alpaca fleece. Come get your hands in alpaca fiber. You’ll never be the same.

Cindy Harris & Doug Fieg ~ Alpacas at Windy Hill ~ ~ (805) 907-5162
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AWH Silvano's Gunpowder & Lead gets his

AWH Silvano's Gunpowder & Lead gets his "glamour shot".

High luster meets a sure and steady hand.

High luster meets a sure and steady hand.

John demonstrates how he makes his first cut of the blanket, not overlapping passes with the  blades

John demonstrates how he makes his first cut of the blanket, not overlapping passes with the blades

Miracle gives me an unsure look as the shearers stretch her out on the mat.

Miracle gives me an unsure look as the shearers stretch her out on the mat.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Humming in the Rain

People ask us all the time: “What do you do with the alpacas in the rain?”

“Not much”, I tell them. “The alpacas have their own ideas about what to do in the rain.”

They hum, so sometimes I just hum along with them. It’s the friendly thing to do.
Some of them stand under their shelters and eat.
Some of them go out to graze because staying under cover is boring.
Some of them sleep in the rain. Those are usually the ones who grew up in Oregon.
Some of them stand in the damp under the shelter and pull their skirts up. Those are ALWAYS the Southern California girls.

At night they all huddle together under the shelter to stay warm. I’ve yet to find an alpaca that is wet to the skin after a couple of days of rain. They have an amazing ability to stay warm and dry. I guess that’s why I like wearing alpaca on days like this!

The dogs have their coping mechanisms, too.

Lucy is not pleased with the rain. The rabbits hide, and gophers don’t come out. There’s no one to herd. I told her that she needs to stay outside until the rain really gets underway and play with Molly for awhile. She got soaked coming out of the barn several times in an hour to see if I had returned to the gate to rescue her, so now she’s sleeping on an afghan in the office.

Solomon and Molly like to curl up on beds in the barn, but Athena—clever girl— likes to make her bed on high ground—the top of the hay cart. No flood is going to get HER!

The chickens are all tucked in their warm little coop.
The ground squirrels have taken the day off.
The snails, on the other hand, are having a field day. I understand we have the French to thank for that ...

So let the thunder roll, the lightning flash, and the rain come down. It may not relieve the drought in ALL of California, but it’s filling up the local aquifers for our well, and I am grateful. Think I’ll pour a cup of tea, pick up my warm, dry alpaca crochet project, and hum another tune.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


AWH Torbio's Endless Summer

AWH Torbio's Endless Summer

CHAMPION! It has such a nice ring to it! I was grinning from ear to ear this weekend when Endless Summer won his championship in Arizona. Not only is he beautiful and sweet, but he is one of our last Torbio boys. He's built just like his famous daddy--square and blocky with heavy, shiny fleece. A real joy!

There was a time, though, when I worried about him. When he was about 6 months old we discovered one morning that he had broken his leg just above the hock of his right hind. How he did it will forever be a mystery! There was no indication of anything in the pasture. Perhaps he had caught his foot in the fence while rolling and struggled to free it, or maybe he ran too fast and stepped in one of those nasty gopher holes. In any case, he needed the vet, pronto!, so we called Dr. Jana and she rushed over with her casting kit.

We had to shave the copious amount of fleece on his hind leg to be able to cast it. I cringed as Dr. Jana shaved it. I had intended this boy for the show string, and now that deal was off, maybe indefinitely.

When an alpaca breaks a limb, it can cause them to walk with an uneven gait, sometimes forever, depending on how it heals, how good the casting was (which depends on how much he wiggles and how well the holders control him), and how quickly it heals. This was a green stick break, thank goodness, so chances were good that it would be fine. I was thinking of the cosmetic aspect of it, though. We would have to see.

Six weeks in a 20 X 20 foot pen is enough to make anyone stir crazy, so when it was time for Endless Summer to return to the barn for the cutting off of his cast, he was glad to be allowed to walk on a halter anywhere at all.

We put him on the shearing table to make it convenient for all concerned, and Dr. Jana revved up her cast-cutting saw. What a racket!! Cutting a cast always looks like it's going to cut off the limb in question to me. But, being a good vet, she only cut the cast, which we then pried off of his leg, and examined the result.

The leg appeared to be completely healed--HURRAY!! But the flakes of skin and the straggly fleece that had grown in the six weeks were pretty yucky looking, and I had to come to terms with the fact that this boy would not be showing as a juvenile, and maybe not as a yearling either. Looking closely at the rest of his fleece made me almost want to cry when I thought about not showing him, but it was the only reasonable answer.

We turned Summer out for the rest of the year, shearing him on schedule. His leg gradually got stronger and straighter. We decided to hold him out his yearling year as well because the fleece regrowth on his leg made it look lopsided, even though his walk was now even and steady.

After his second shearing, though, his legs looked beautifully straight and strong, so we entered him in the Southwest Regional Alpaca Show for February 2014. I hoped there was no remnant of unevenness in his gait. It was really hard to tell sometimes because I was so used to seeing a hitch in his gitalong, but we decided to take a chance. Endless Summer would show for the 1st time ever as a two-year old.

We took 3 alpacas for the Breeders Best Three class: Endless Summer, Wabash Cannonball, and Ste Mary. They had 3 different herdsires and 3 different dams, but were amazingly similar despite the different pedigrees. We took a 1st place, and the judge (Amanda Vandenbosch) had wonderful things to say about the group, so I had more confidence as I entered the 2 year old class with Endless Summer on Saturday afternoon.

Having been left primarily to his own devices other than being haltered at shearing time, Endless Summer was pretty "opinionated" about how he would walk on a halter. I thought of Torbio, and how he resented having to wear a halter, as though it were somehow beneath him, and I laughed. Like Father Like Son. To save my already sore arm (getting old is no fun!) I switched the lead rope around to give me more "torque", and Summer began to settle down, although never truly submissive. He knows who his daddy was!

We won our class of 4, then re-entered the ring for the championship round. On my left in the front row were 2 sons of our wonderful Apache, boys that we had bred and sold. What a proud day it was to stand in the front row of the championship round with 3 gorgeous males that we had bred!

The judge examined each alpaca for a 2nd time and then asked for the champion banner. She hesitated just a moment, as usual trying to make everyone guess who she was going to award the championship to, but then walked confidently toward Endless Summer with her hand outstretched to shake mine. What a thrill! The championship often goes to the full-fleeced yearling in the class, but this time she chose a male who had never shown before, and had been shorn twice. She asked me to lead him in front of the crowd while she talked about his heavy, fine, lustrous fleece, his heavy bone, and fluid gait -- apparently there was no visible trace of the broken leg! It was a very exciting moment, made even better by the fact that the full fleeced yearling Apache son took the reserve championship!

Endless Summer will show a couple more times this season before retiring to his breeding career--the reward due a male who overcame a broken leg to become a champion!
Shearing table in use.

Shearing table in use.

Sire: Pperuvian Torbio

Sire: Pperuvian Torbio

Dam: Accoyo America Encantadora

Dam: Accoyo America Encantadora

Monday, February 10, 2014

Miracle's Graduation Day!

Some of you may remember Miracle's story…
…the cria we thought was dead who was really alive who had muconium spill and whose mother died the next day leaving her an orphan with legs all crooked and a kink in her neck who we thought wouldn't live but who has thrived in spite of our fears and dire predictions…

Well, Miracle has graduated. She has become a full-fledged alpaca. She's completely sold out to the idea. Unlike some crias who are bottle-fed, Miracle never really wanted to be a human, nor did she ever think we were alpacas. She knew that she needed humans because they brought her bottle, but she never gave up hope that someday a real alpaca mommy would come along.

Now and then we put her together with a nursing dam we thought might adopt Miracle. Being a survivor and an opportunist, our girl scampered across the pen and dove immediately for the milk bar. She was not shy or apologetic about it at all! Usually she would get a few sips for her efforts before she was discovered to be an interloper, but in the end the other moms were always determined to keep their nursing exclusive to their own cria. She was disappointed, but continued to take her bottle eagerly the next time. We found that a combination of whole cows milk mixed with plain yogurt was a good match for her digestive system, so fortunately we had no gastrointestinal challenges along the way.

As a supplement at night, we began putting out Calf Manna pellets for her, and she nibbled at first, then began to look forward to them. It wasn't long before we saw her actually eating hay as well. At first it was just "monkey see monkey do" to be like the alpacas we kept in the next pen, but there was a point at which we could tell she was actually chewing and eating the orchard grass. She spent lots of time digging around in the feeder for the most tender morsels she could find.

One night Miracle had a new game to play when we came with the bottle. She had become the "Gingerbread Girl", pronking around the pen, taunting "Can't catch me! Can't catch me!" It was a bittersweet moment, one that every parent (human and alpaca) faces-- the beginning of true independence, both behaviorally and nutritionally. It wasn't long before she seemed confused about whether she should suck on or chew on the rubber nipple. Our little girl was growing up!

At 4 1/2 months and 52 lbs, Miracle lost almost all interest in her bottle. She loved Calf Manna, regular alpaca pellets, and hay. She still got excited when she saw us coming, but wanted to run and play rather than nurse. We began halter training her in preparation for the day we would take her out to a real pasture to be a "real" alpaca.

On a Saturday in January when several of her human friends were here, we haltered Miracle and began the Pomp and Circumstance march to her new pasture. It was Graduation Day for the little girl who had fought so hard to live. We all laughed as she danced down the row on her little green halter, spooking at unseen surprises, running ahead of us, eager to see what was next.

Kate led her into Pasture 7--the young girls' pasture. Miracle could hardly contain herself! Although she had been taught to stand still until released after the halter came off, she leaped out of Kate's grasp as soon as she felt the buckle give way! She couldn't wait another second to run in the wide open spaces! It's fairly normal for the newest member of a pasture to be inspected by the herd, and although all the girls came to sniff who she was, Miracle was just as eager to greet and sniff them. They chased her--she chased them. It was a merry chase all around!

With a tear in our eye we all left her with her new family. She didn't even see us go. That is what we wanted her to do, after all-- to assimilate seamlessly into the herd. Secretly I think we all hoped that she might hesitate, look around, wave goodbye, smile, say she would miss us…. It's really impossible not to anthropomorphize these adorable creatures, no matter how hard you try, especially when you've spent a lot of time, effort, and prayer on them.

Later that day we returned to her new pasture just to be sure all was well. And it was. Miracle came away from the crowd at the feeders that evening to say hello, but it was the way an alpaca says hello-- curious to see if we brought her anything, standing just out of reach. We patted ourselves on the back, swallowing the lumps in our throats. We had worked hard for this. We were all successful--human and alpaca.

Watch the Video!

Friday, January 24, 2014

One is Silver and the other's Gold...

Alpaca Dreams

Alpaca Dreams

Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver and the other's gold.
-Girl Scout Camp Song

2013 marked the joyful beginning of a dream come true. And like all good dreams, it took a fair amount of planning, sweating, figuring, conjuring, and just plain hard work. But that's what you do when you have a dream worth following.

Lee's dream started during the presidential election of 2012. I hadn't talked to Lee for years, but found him one day on--what else?--Facebook. We had been friends in the Photo Club in high school, and now he was working as an elected county official in Illinois. He lamented, "Well, I won my election, but I'm going to lose my job--my position is ending in a year. NOW what am I going to do?"

In response, I tossed off a casual, "Don't worry--you can always raise alpacas."
That was "one of those moments"--the kind where you know something life-changing has just happened.

Lee spent 2013 moving mountains. He attended workshops and shows, visited his local alpaca breeders in his area, flew to Windy Hill to shadow us for a week and pick out his herd, sold his house, bought a farm, sold a farm, bought another farm, retro-fitted the new farm, had lung surgery, had shoulder surgery, researched and purchased a tractor, a truck and a trailer, and did a lot of dreaming.

Exactly one year later, Lee arrived at Windy Hill with his new truck and trailer to take home his new herd of 15 beautiful suris to his new farm in Illinois--to start his new adventure.

Lee's daughter and business partner, Katie, drove with him. Katie recently spent an Air Force tour in Saudi Arabia, so she was ecstatic to be part of the "homecoming" of her new herd of alpacas. She has decided to major in Farm Economics when she finishes her duties in Colorado Springs. One of the yearling females in named KKKKatie in her honor, but her main alpaca squeeze is AWH Torbio's Accoyo King Xerxes.

Since 2000 I have made multitudes of New Friends. But there's something special about reconnecting with an Old Friend in a New Way. Lee was my high school mentor shooting football pictures for the yearbook. Now, 46 years later, I am mentoring him in raising alpacas. One is Silver and the other's Gold.

Visit Lee on Facebook:

Visit us at Windy HIll soon!
Lee & Katie hitting the road

Lee & Katie hitting the road

Illinois pastures!

Illinois pastures!

California suris brave snowy paddock!

California suris brave snowy paddock!

Lee & guardian Lucy

Lee & guardian Lucy