Human vs. Alpaca Round 1


This past Sunday evening we decided to give the alpacas their monthly Ivermec shot and to trim toenails. Monthly shots are hardly exciting anymore and usually none of the alpacas put up much of a fight. Clipping toenails turned out to be a totally different story.

It turns out alpacas are fully aware of the 80/20 rule. 80% of your problems will come from 20% of your alpacas. I seriously think alpacas can count and do math. 1 out of 5 girls is 20% after all.

We saved the hard ones for last with the false hope that maybe they’ll watch the others and get the idea that no one was being killed. The others did such a good job and stood quietly as I picked up each foot and clipped the long nails off, I was really feeling hopeful. That was until we went to catch the last one.

Giving the shot wasn’t a problem at all and went smoothly. I slowly worked my hand down from the neck to her legs and the first explosion went off. Did you know that alpacas when standing on their hind legs are WAY taller than my 6’2” frame? Thankfully M was with me and the 2 of us got her under control, or so we thought. First it always starts with the spitting but in our case it was more like dodging grape shot. M had been keeping her occupied by feeding her hay stretcher and each time she spat the chunks of stretcher would fly out of her mouth like bird shot. Potentially hazardous, but thankfully no match for Carharts.

M finally got her in a good hold and I managed to clip the first foot and she then went into full wrestling mode with M. After a short tiff, the position I found both alpaca and husband was quite peculiar. M was straddling her, heck stuck out between his legs like a large knight mounted on a really small and fuzzy horse. M seemed as confused as the alpaca on how they ended up that way but she seemed to be comfortable and was still standing. So, I took quick advantage of the situation and managed to trim the other 3 legs.

Mission accomplished M dismounted his trusty steed. His mount seemed to have forgotten the whole event and immediately went back to sniffing out our hands and pockets for treats.
I’m not quite sure how to award this round so I’m going to consider it a tie.

How to Build Alpaca Creep Feeder

With cria comes the need to find away to let them get away from the adults and have their own private little space to rest or get some extra grain or hay.  Hence the invention of the creep feeder.

A creep feeder is a simple concept of a space wide enough for a cria to “creep” through but too small for an adult to cram through.

I chose to make a little fenced in area just outside the door to the stall the alpacas use for shelter.  I cut cattle panels into 3 pieces; (2) 5 foot sections and (1) 10 foot section. I used fencing staples to secure the 5 foot sections to the walls of the stall and baling twine to hold one end of the of the 10 foot piece to the 5 foot and 2 carabineers for the other 2 so I can easily get in and out of the pen. 

The creep part is made by the stall door itself.  I open the door just wide enough for a cria to slip through but so the adults can’t and hold it in that position with a stopper.  I used an old exercise step but a cinder block will work just fine.

Here’s my creep feeder in action.  Unfortunately, Beanie wasn’t going to show us how she can sneak through.

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Dealing With Mud

They call it the January Thaw.  To me it’s a pain in the $(@*#.  The snow pack by January has usually built up higher than the step up into the run-in sheds which means when a thaw comes all that snow melt runs right into the barn! It doesn’t help that our farm is also built on a slope and ALL the rain/snow melt from the pastures also makes its way right into the barn.

I’m sure the original farmer who built this barn put it in this location because of its close proximity to the artesian well.  Great for hauling water, not so great for getting out of the way of run-off.

Future plans have us rebuilding the barn in a new location but until then it is a constant battle with Mother Nature.  With the heavy rain we got this weekend on a frozen ground I knew I’d be in trouble.  My only defense against the onslot of water, a spade.  I spend about 15 minutes of my AM/PM chores digging trenches to control the flow of water away from the barn. Labor intensive but it works!

Hmm, the Mega Millions is at 121M. Maybe I should buy a ticket and dream of a new barn and landscaping.


Coyote Alarm Call

Finally the weekend! I was so excited about being able to sleep in to 7am on Saturday morning. The week was busy with long days and short nights and all I wanted was to catch up on some sleep.

All that hope turned to panic with M. jabbing me in the side at 5:15am Saturday morning. “Do you hear that?” he said. The sound was unmistakable, coyotes. Usually we hear them far off in the distance but they sounded like they were right out our window.

I couldn’t get the lights, clothes, shoes on fast enough. My blood was boiling. If they sounded that close I just came to the immediate concussion that they had gotten into the alpaca paddock.

Armed with nothing but flashlights we bolted out the front door which thankfully was enough to scare off the coyotes. To my relief all alpacas and horses were accounted for and unharmed. Needless to say with that much adrenaline running through my system there was no going back to bed. *sigh*

Instead I decided that putting a full effort into researching livestock guard dogs(LGD) was a better use of my time. Looks like I have a lot of reading and talking to breeders to do before I settle on which one would be right for our farm. I’ll keep you updated in future posts of our LGD research, purchase and integration.

Preparing Shots for Alpacas

alpacashots

Today is the day of the month I feel like a junkie.  Since I live in a region that has the meningeal worm my alpaca chores the first weekend of each month involves giving our alpacas a shot of Ivormec.   My little cria Albina also got a booster of CD&T and some Vitamin A&D Paste today also.

I utilize my morning feeding routine to lock the alpacas in their run-ins.  Surprisingly they know something is up even though it’s the same routine.  Smart animals!  While they are in munching away I head back inside to prepare all the syringes. 

Ivormec is given at 1cc per 70lbs of body weight.  It’s a good idea to know your alpaca’s weight so having a livestock scale is recommended.  I don’t weigh and give shots on the same day.  It seems to stress them out so usually I weigh them 1 or 2 weeks before hand to spread out the scary moments.  I’ll often psych them out and sometimes lock them in just to give them treats and let them back out to keep them guessing but they always seem to know when I have other intentions.

I use a 20 gage, 3cc, 1 inch long needles for ivormec  - I find the 22 gage is too small and it’s hard to draw.

NOTE: Mark the bottom of the plunger with the initials of the animal it’s going to

Preparing the Syringe:

·         First wipe the top of the bottle off with alcohol to sterilize it.

·         Draw back on the plunger

·         Uncap the needle

·         Insert the needle into the bottle and Depress the plunger adding air to the bottle

o   Adding air makes it easier to draw

·         Tip the bottle upside down and slowly draw back on the plunger

o   If you draw back too fast you’ll get a lot of bubbles

·         When you have the desired amount remove the needle and recap it

Giving your alpaca shot via SQ (Subcutaneous):

·         SQ means you will be injecting into the area between the skin and the muscle

·         Use either a helper to hold your alpacas or confine a bunch of them in a small area so you can barely can move between them. 

·         When ready to give your shot check for air bubbles. 

o   Tip the syringe so the needle is pointing up and tap the side

o   Uncap the needle

o   Slowly depress the plunger until all air is out and you have a small bead of solution bead up or drip

·         I find it easiest to lean over the top of my target alpaca with me standing on their left side and reaching over the top to their right

·         Use your left hand to grab their chest fiber behind their right elbow making a tent in their skin

·         With your right hand insert the needle into the tent of skin.  Ideally you’ll want to draw back to see if you hit a vein but the chances are slim and their fiber makes it difficult to see.

·         Depress the plunger

·         Rub the area – if your hand is wet you probably injected their fiber and totally missed the alpaca all together.  The thicker their fiber gets the harder it is to give them shots!

Disposing of your needles:

·         Get a puncture proof can or jar.  I like coffee cans myself

·         Label the jar “Bio Hazard – SHARPS”

·         Untwist the needs to remove them from the syringe and put them in your jar

·         When your jar is full.  Duct tape it up, make sure all labels are still visible and throw it away.  

Feeding and Weaning a Bottle Fed Cria

Well I must say that our first experience with birthing and raising a cria has been an exciting one.  I wasn’t expecting to be so involved though.  I thought I’d share with you our hands on 2 month timeline for raising our little Albina. 

There are many different opinions of what to feed cria. Here is the milk cocktail we chose to feed.

2 large spoonfuls of store brand probiotic vanilla yogurt.  Cover yogurt with half/half (~ 3-4oz), fill rest of the bottle with Vitamin D whole milk.  Leave some air in the bottle and shake very well to mix in all the yogurt.  Warm the bottle in a pot of water and it’s ready to serve.  Depending on quantity of milk we chose to feed in a 9oz glass human baby bottle or in a 24oz soda bottle with a flutter lamb nipple.  Cut an ‘X’ in the nipples so that milk flows freely. 

Day 1:
Weight: 20lbs
Albina was able to stand and walk within 40 minutes of birth.  She had a great suck reflex and tried to suckle on the wall.  We checked mom for milk but she was dry.  We repeatedly applied a hot cloth to mom’s belly but no milk dropped.  By hour #2 we decided to mix up some powdered colostrum.   (NOTE:  Learn from our mistake to NOT use powdered colostrums, it does nothing.  Try for fresh cow/goat or frozen llama/goat.)  Baby drank down 24oz of (what we thought was useful) colostrum in 12 hrs. 4oz every 2hrs or so.

Day 2:
We continued to apply hot towels to mom’s belly and finally started to get milk.  YIPPY! Or so we thought.  We pointed baby at mom’s udder but she freaked out, kicked and sat on her baby.  Back to the bottle.  We mixed in the last bit of useless colostrum, with some electrolytes into the above milk cocktail and Albina continued to drink well. 

We took Albina and mom to the vet for a checkup and an IGG and BVD test.  Both came back with a clean bill of health and a 24hr wait for test results from the blood work.

Feeding schedule was 4oz every 2hrs around the clock total of 48oz of milk. Albina drinks bottle without human contact.  We put the bottle in a feeder and she feeds herself.  See Self Feeding Bottle Baby

How much should a cria drink?  10% of body weight to maintain.  15% of body weight to grow.  
15% of 20lbs = 3 pounds = 48oz of milk.  

Day 3:
Feeding still at 4oz every 2hrs around the clock
Weight: dropped to 19.8 lbs

IGG test came back at a ZERO!  Yikes.  Lessoned learned about powdered colostrum. Next time we will be getting fresh cow’s colostrum from the dairy at the end of our road.  Back to the vet we went for a plasma transfusion.

Day 4:
Feeding 4oz every 2hrs around the clock.  Getting very tired.

Day 5:
Feeding 4oz every 2hrs around the clock.  Back to the vet for another IGG test
Weight: 22lbs

Day 6:
Tried feeding in the middle of the night.  Cut out the 2am and 4am feeding… now feeding 6am, 9am, noon, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 10pm.  Albina is drinking 7-9oz per feeding now.  IGG Came back at 800!  Yippy!

Week 2:
Still feeding at the Day 6 schedule and she is consistently drinking 8-9oz a feeding all week

Week 3:
New feeding schedule: 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, 10pm She is a piggy and is now consuming 64-70oz a day. We stopped feeding out of 9oz baby bottles and now are using a lamb nipple on a 24oz Mt Dew bottle.

Week 4:
New feeding Schedule: 7am, noon, 5pm, 9pm  Still is consuming 64-70oz a day.

Week 5 & 6:
New feeding schedule: 7am, 3pm, 9pm She is now drinking over 70oz a day

Week 7 & 8
New feeding schedule: 8am & 9pm She’s losing interest in milk all together beginning of week 8 and often refuses the bottle or only drinks 2-4oz.  By now she’s happily eating grass, grain, hay and uses the bottle more for a water supplement than for nourishment.

Weaning:  At the end of week 8 she was drinking only 6oz a day maybe.  I made the decision to cut her off fully.  She weighs 52lbs now and is very independent, strong and healthy.  My only concern was her water intake but recent barn cam footage shows she is drinking.  I did consult a vet about weaning at 2 months of age since usually cria will nurse off mom until 6 months or more. They assured me that 2 months is perfectly fine for weaning as long as the cria has a creep feeder with as much hay and grain they want that adults can’t get to.

beaniedrink

Albina drinking water @ 2 months old

Economy Horse Run-In Shelter/Shed

My weekend was a busy one.  With winter coming so are my winter horse boarders.  This year I ended up filling up my 20×35 run-in shed with hay which means I needed a place for the horses to get out of the wind, rain, and snow. The problem?  Yeah I’m broke.  So after researching shelters that are frequently used for alpacas, sheep, goats, and other small livestock I got to thinking; Why can’t it be modified for horses?   The general idea was to use cattle panels for a shelter as I saw at this site.

Saturday morning I woke up with an “ah ha” moment on how to modify the cattle panel shelter for horses.  The idea was to sink some wood posts, use 3/4″ plywood as a kick board, and attach the panels to that.

How to build the horse run-in shed shelter barn
My Supply List

  • (8) pressure treated posts (round or 4×4 will work)
  • (3) 3/4″ ply wood sheets – non treated ok if painted
  • (3) Cattle Panels 52″ x 16′
  • 12×16 heavy duty tarp
  • box of 2″ screws
  • box of fence staples
  • 30 thick UV black cable ties 11″
  • 100 8″ UV black cable ties
  • Can of barn/fence paint
  • Paint Brush

I placed the posts 4′ apart down the long side and 9′ wide.   We get some good snow and wind storms so I didn’t want to put the posts any wider or the dome wouldn’t hold the wind/snow load.  Once the posts were in I put up the ply wood and made sure it was level holding it up with just a couple of screws temporarily.

So far this was all a 1 person job.  I needed help to put the cattle panels in place.  We bent them up and placed them between the posts and the ply wood pushing them down 2 squares on each side and then screwed the plywood back to the posts.  I also held the panels to the top of the posts with staples.

We over lapped the cattle panels as seen in the photos and secured them heavily with cable ties.

Putting the tarp on was easy, I unfolded it, tied a rope to the 2 end corners and threw the top over the dome and pulled the tarp up and over.   I made sure it was even and secured it down with cable ties.

Finishing touch was to paint the plywood so it would weather better.  You can paint the plywood before securing it but I really didn’t have a place to paint it first and found it easier to paint it after it was up and off the ground.

Cost:  $250
Time: 4hrs – This assume you have a Post Hole Digger or Pounder on your tractor or have rented one.



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UPDATE: On 9/28-29/09 we had some nasty storms roll through.  Sustained winds of 20mph and gusts fof 50mph.  The shelter held fast and didn’t appear to even move in the wind.  I thought the horses would be afraid of the sound of the tarp or the cattle panel roof as the wind hit it but nope.  Even my scardy-cat took cover in the shelter.  I have high hopes for it this winter.  I do plan on brushing snow build up on it not to give it any excuse to sag.
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UPDATE: on 10/25/09 Well the winds have snapped off some of the thick cable ties holding the taprt to the cattle panels.  I’ve decided to replace them with twine from my hay bales.  I folded the twine in half and made sure the knot was tight. I’ve had twine hold a fence gate up for 2 years before it failed so there’s no doubt in my mind it’ll be up to the job of holding a tarp on.
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UPDATE: 12/5/09:
So far so good.  We’ve been putting the Big Bale Buddy in the center of the run-in which is keeping the hay dry and allowing 4 horses, 2 on each side, eat without a problem.
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UPDATE: 3/26/2012:
This year I had to put up new panels and a new tarp.  Nasty wind storms of 70+ mph along with wet snow collapsed the roof finally.  The new roof I put up I decided to shorten a bit and slid the cattle panels down an extra foot on each side.  I’ve also gotten good enough moving the panels that I replaced the whole thing by myself with no assistance!
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UPDATE: 5/15/2012:
I just got some photos from someone else who made one of these shelters.  She made some changes to fit her needs and here’s what she said….

Well I finally finished the run in and I think it came out great!. We adjusted your plan a little. I put pressure treated 2×8′s along the bottom so the plywood wouldn’t rot and put silicone in between the plywood and the pressure treated boards. We also used pine 2×8′s to hold down the cattle panels in addition to putting them behind the posts.  I bolted those on to secure them really well. I cemented all the posts to steady everything. I bought a heavy duty tarp hoping that will hold. I put some plastic edging on the plywood inside so they wouldn’t chew on the wood. I have a young boy who loves to chew. Of course they are really afraid of it since I put the tarp on.  It will take time for them to get used to it. If I feed them in there they will eventually come around.  The size is about 9′ x 24′. I thought it was way too big but it seems fine.

CLICK HERE to see photos of her shed
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Installing Alpaca Paddock Fence

Like most ranchers I’m sure we spent our Labor Day weekend hard at work.  With a new cria due any week now it was long past due to put in field fence.  The last thing I’d want is for a healthy cria to be born just to sneak under the fence and into the horse paddock!

While I worked on taking down the old and installing the new the girls got to enjoy a temporary graze on my “lawn”.   I used, SunGuard II Fiberglass step in posts, Kencove electric twine and a nice wheel winder to make it easier to handle the twine.  Oh, mental note; when using the winding wheels they are fully insulated so if you don’t use all the 800 feet of twine just keep the rest on the wheel, hand the wheel on a nail or something and electrify the fence!  Saves the hassle of cutting your twine just to want it longer the next time you put up a temp paddock. 

Tractor Supply had a great sale on field fence.   Red Brand Field Fence, some t-post clips, and a few wedge-loc diagonal brace kits and I was ready to go.   We decided to take out the old fence totally, grade out the area to level it off and re pound all the t-posts.  I opted to use t-posts instead of wood because our barn is old and located in a bad spot so some day it’ll have to come down and all the fence will have to be moved again.

I’m very happy with the finished look.  The field fence is 47” high and we topped it off with a strand of hot rope.  This way my nosy horses keep their heads on their side of the fence and feet off of it too.


If any of you moved into an old farm and had to work with what was left over after years of neglect you’ll appreciate the first few photos.  

Alpaca Hay Bin

At all the alpaca farms I visited everyone had a different method of feeding their animals hay.  The general consensus was that alpacas (like any other livestock) will make a total mess of hay and instead of eating all of it will make it into a bed, poop or pee on it.  All not good for your hard earned $ that is supposed to be food, not bedding.

I’ve seen folks who just toss out the flakes of hay and let the animals have at it, others who make fancy wooden boxes with cattle panels weighing it down, overhead feeders, and hay nets.

My first year I just threw it on the ground and had a lot of waste so this year I had to think of something else to help save $ on hay.  I really didn’t feel like sawing, nailing, screwing, cutting yadda yadda yadda to make a hay bin, nor did I feel like spending that kind of $$$ to make one either.  My solution had to come from items I had already in the house or barn with minimal out of pocket expense.

The solution? Rubbermaid pink tote hay bins!  Who doesn’t have a ton of Rubbermaid bins hanging around the house?  It turns out 2-3 flakes of hay fit beautifully into these tubs and you can still put the lid on.
COOL! 

Trials:
1. Put hay in bins without lids.  – Resulted in just as much hay waste, the alpacas thought it was a game to dig all the hay out of the bin.  The bin also became a toy and was kicked around.

2. Secure bins to stall wall with screws and washers. – This solved the kicking around the bins but didn’t slow the hay waste down.

3.Cut a hole in bin cover and line the opening with duck tape (hole size ~10”x~12”.  Voila!  – The alpacas can easily get their head in the bin and the lid provided a lip so they couldn’t rake all the hay out of the bin with one mouthful.

Total out of pocket cost?  $0!  I had everything laying around that I needed.  However I’m sure I’m now going to want 2 more bins for something else but at $5 ea. I think I can manage that cost.

I know what you’re thinking, but their heads will get stuck!  Actually, it hasn’t been a problem.  Because the bin is screwed into the wall it’s not moving anywhere and the lids snap on pretty tight.  I guess the worst case scenario would be an alpaca manages to pop the top off while they pull their head out of the bin.  In that case, they will be wearing an interesting necklace until you catch them and take it off.  I’ve been monitoring mine via AlpacaCam and so far no one has even struggled getting their head in or out of the box.  2 alpacas seem pretty comfortable eating out of one box too.

Alpaca Hay Feeder Bin

Alpaca enjoying their new hay bins

Some other cool things about these hay bins.  Easy to load, pop the top off add 2 flakes of hay and snap the top back on.  Should they get really dirty on the inside, 2 screws/washers hold them to the wall.  Unscrew, hose out, dry, and screw back onto the wall.

Transporting Alpacas

When I first got into alpacas I moved them around in my 2 horse bumper pull trailer.  After all I was a horse person first and it’s what I had.  However it became apparent that a different mode of transporting alpacas was needed with the crazy gas prices now days.  Hitching up a 2,000 pound trailer (which is not the most aerodynamic) to haul around a 120lb animal to be bred or to the vet is not economically friendly.

I did a lot of research and asked a lot of questions and answers ranged from mini vans to the Honda Element as possible alpaca haulers.  My thoughts went straight to, OMG I have to buy yet another vehicle? I don’t think so.  Not to mention all of those options have the animal riding in the same space as you and I really don’t feel like smelling alpaca poop, pee, spit for a 4 hour trip to a drive-by-breeding.  Not to mention clean up afterwards.  It’s not like you can take a hose to the back of your commuter vehicle should someone decide to spit on your upholstery.

The answer to our alpaca transport needs?  A truck cap!  Folks seemed to shy away from truck caps because A) they had a small s10 pickup B) a full size truck but a short bed C) a low profile truck cap with no headroom.    All which were not issues in our decision.  We have a Chevy Silverado, 8 foot bed and the cap we decided to get was a high profile cap that the alpacas can actually stand up comfortably in.

We found our cap on craisgslist for $250 which was a great bargain.  Add another $100 for new locks, sealers, wiring and another $65 for play mats and indoor/outdoor carpeting and voila! We have alpaca transport deluxe without the need to purchase a new vehicle or constantly hitch up our trailer.

The white cap reflects the sun and keeps it cool inside. The play mats make a nice squishy place for them to cush and the indoor/outdoor carpet pulls out very easy for bean cleanup and everything including the bed of the truck can be hosed off for easy clean up.

I can comfortable fit 2 alpacas plus gear or 3 alpacas no gear in the back.  There are 2 large screened windows which give ample air flow while traveling and we’re thinking of installing a 12 volt fan to keep them cool should we get stuck in traffic.

Loading the alpacas turned out to be simpler than anticipated.  By backing the truck up to a hill it puts the tailgate to a height which is easy to step in.  The first few times we had to “assist” the alpacas by picking up their front end and putting their feet on the tailgate and encourage them the rest of the way in with a lead rope.  Usually the 1st one needs some assistance and the others just jump in behind them.  I’m sure given time and training they will load/unload just as easily as they do with the trailer. No hill to back up to?  No problem, 2 people can easily pick up an alpaca and put them into the back of the truck.   To be honest, we haven’t yet had a problem finding a burm of some sort to back up to.

How do the alpacas like it?  They seem to really love it!  Big windows and fresh air.  Most of the time the face backwards and watch the world go by out the big back window.  Other times they sit right in front of the screen and let their hair blow in the breeze.

 

Our Alpaca Transport

Our Alpaca Transport

 

We use these play mats

We use these play mats