River Hill Ranch

The Future Commercial Suri Herd

Alvina Maynard
680 River Hill DriveRichmond, KY 40475
859-408-5132
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

David Grossman Never Heard of Guard Llamas

Photo Credit: Rocking Dog Ranch

Photo Credit: Rocking Dog Ranch

Odd, sometimes twisted connections are made when you’re both military law enforcement and an alpaca rancher. Watching the public reaction to the Michael Brown shooting made me think about llamas. Yes, llamas.

Lt Col (ret.) David Grossman is an expert in the field of understanding violence. One of his books, “On Killing,” is required or recommended reading for several law enforcement and military organizations (fun fact: this book was the first gift my husband gave me. Romantic, right?).

In one of his books, he illustrates a metaphor about Sheep, Wolves, & Sheepdogs:
“If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed…

As a shepherd to alpacas, I cannot always be there to protect our herd, so I researched options for guard animals to do the job in my absence. One of the cons in “hiring” a dog to protect a herd is a dog is still a carnivore and therefore instinctively seen as a predator by the herd, or as Grossman describes, the flock:

“The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence.”

Despite the fact that the sheepdog’s mission is to ensure no harm come to the sheep, “still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa." (Which might be why so many livestock guardian dog breeds are white, but I digress).

While his teaching using this metaphor continues and is valuable, the metaphor itself ends there. The issue of the flock’s fear and distrust of the sheepdog persists.

Allow me to continue this metaphor further by introducing guard llamas. Because llamas are also prey animals, the flock or herd does not see the llama as a threat. They have similar social behavior so the flock readily listens to their commands without coercion. They do not cause stress or uneasiness because they see the llama as one of their own.

The presence of guard llamas does not replace the need for sheepdogs as a llama is not equipped to fight off a pack of wolves. However, they have a substantial presence, are alert to potential danger, and have a decent capacity for violence if the situation calls for it.

Who are the guard llamas in our communities? What would they look like?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Alpaca Herd Management Routine

A quick run down of basic required care for alpacas:

DAILY

Spring/Summer/Fall: Fill water buckets, check hay bunks (we fill ‘em around every 3 days), spray their bellies if it’s too hot, see if anyone’s in labor, make sure everyone is still alive & healthy, scoop poop.

Winter: Same as the rest of the year, but NO SCOOPING POOP! WAHOO! Throw down straw instead (we do deep bedding). Lock them in the barn if it’s below zero wind chill. Blanket anyone that looks cold.

MONTHLY

Check body condition, de-wormer shot to ward off Meningeal Worm, check toenails (some need trimming every 3 months, some annually), trim bangs, check ears, nose, armpits, & ankles for mites. We can do about 25 animals in a hour with 2 people. It can be done with just 1 person depending on how calm all the alpacas are during the process (or using a chute, but that takes longer ‘cause you have to strap them in).

ANNUALLY

Shear (our pro shearer takes 3-5 min per paca), check fighting teeth/trim if needed, vaccination shots

That’s it! What takes the most time is when one gets sick or gives birth. Otherwise, they’re super easy keepers.

Want to know more? Here’s a video series posted by the Alpaca Owners Association discussing parasite management, handling, and other basic need-to-know for alpaca owners: https://www.arilist.com/academy/camelid-education-videos/parasite-control

Want to know a lot more? Here are some references we keep on hand:

Llama and Alpaca Care http://www.amazon.com/Llama-Alpaca-Care-Reproduction-Nutrition/dp/1437723527

Alpaca Field Manual http://www.lightlivestockequipment.com/evansmanual.php

Neonatal Care for Camelids http://www.lightlivestockequipment.com/proddetail.php?prod=NEONATALCARE

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Whoa. What a First Year!

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year!!!

I just finished knitting a pair of hot pink fingerless gloves made with yarn from our 2013 fiber harvest. Aidyn (our 3-year-old daughter) is actually taking a nap, so I’m caught in a moment with just enough time to sit and think. I think this is the first time this year this moment has happened!

I am amazed at how much God has permitted us to accomplish this year. For posterity, here are some of the highlights & some of what I’ve learned:

Our herd has doubled since last year to 50 Suri alpacas.

Our 2-man family crew has put up around a mile’s worth of fence in 5 pastures on around 12 acres, drove countless t-posts, wired the barn for power, installed 2 waterers, built 3 hay feeders…in their “spare time.” I’m watching them finish the equipment shed right now.

I learned how to tie a skein of yarn so that when dyed, it turns into a lovely, gigantic knot that would keep us up until midnight for entire week before a craft fair trying to untie and re-skein. We still have 5 left to untie if anyone’s bored.

We cried, yelled, and laughed our way through learning how to properly care for our animals and laughed more watching their antics.

Our alpacas were cover models?? BG Magazine thought we were just cool & weird enough to make the cover story.

We learned the proper way to tell an alpaca to back down is to spit in its face. If that fails, punching in the face should work.

We got official with a logo, biz cards, website, Facebook page, a marketing plan, even a banner & shirts.
Our first batch of yarn went to a yarn shop on consignment & we started getting paid for our yarn!

I naively volunteered to secure $10k to fund, then produce a 4 hour educational video for the Suri Network. I have a new-found appreciation for non-profit volunteers. I am proud of what we’ve done & have been blessed in many ways through the process…I will be elated to get this project off my plate. Check out SuriNetwork.org for more info on “Pasture to Process, Product to Profit: Getting the Most Out of Your Suri Alpaca Fiber.”

Despite my self-doubt & the rain, my first fiber festival was very successful!

We experienced the excitement of new life, became “those people” nursing a preemie cria in the corner of our bedroom, and took great joy in watching the healthy little ones play in the summer pasture.

Returned to Estes Park for another wonderfully progressive Suri Network Summer Symposium.

We had our first taste of alpaca. I learned that even taking the butthole brothers that did nothing but pick fights was still tough. They sure were delicious though.

Attended two highly coveted Fiber Sorting & Grading Course from Suri Network's Donna Rudd & Olds College in Canada. It’s nice to actually understand fiber when raising fiber animals!

Our first public event thankfully had bad weather. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t eat until it approached 2 o’clock & potentially passing out. Will be seeking volunteers to help next year!

Went to “Farm School”: the Kentucky Farm Start Program. Thought about becoming a chicken farmer. Still thinking about it.

I’m still learning that it doesn’t have to be perfect. The red metal on the equipment shed going up doesn’t match the main barn. It would be silly to pay to paint it to match, right?...

Had a conference shake my soul as I learned what other women veteran farmers have overcome & how they continue to serve their country by farming.

The goals for 2014 are currently spinning in my head…we’re just getting started.

A million thanks to the following folks who helped me to learn, grow, & survive our first year:

The big man upstairs

Our family

Our customers!!!

Mentor/Sounding Board Alpaca Farms: Dos Donas Alpaca Farm, Akuna Matada Alpacas, Little Gidding Farm, Susan Tellez, Seldom Scene Farm, Wombat Farm, Barnett’s Creek Farm, Rivendell Meadows Alpacas & Angoras, Long Hollow Suri Alpacas, Luna Sea Alpaca Farm, Sweetheart Suris Alpaca Farm, Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch, Kinney Valley Alpacas, Northern Rocky Mountain Alpacas, & a special thanks to all those I’ve never met on Paca This!

Fiber Artist Mentors & Partners: Donna Rudd, Bluebonnets & Bluegrass Alpaca Farm, R.A.D. Fibers, Fiber Frenzy, Southville Spitters, Colors to Dye For, Forest Room Art Yarn, New Era Fiber, Star Weaver Farm & American Alpaca Textiles, Odelia, ReBelle, Alpaca Fiber Solutions, Olds College, A Tangled Yarn & Luna Bud Knits, Simply Natural Clothing

Business & Ag Mentors: Ag Credit Richmond Branch, Madison County UK Ag Extension Office, KCARD, UK Ag Econ, Kentucky Dept. of Ag, Farmer Veteran Coalition, Growing Warriors, Kentucky Farm Bureau, Park Community Credit Union Richmond Branch, Baldwin Farms, Marksbury Farm Foods

The Suri Network & Kentucky Alpaca Associations Boards

Dr. Patrick Reister, Boonsboro Animal Clinic

Wholesale Suppliers: Kentucky Royalty & Altera Alpaca, Classic Alpaca

Awesome Neighbors: Four Sisters Farm, The Howells, Vaughans, Jacks, & Brenda Evans

Marketing: Two Rivers Strategies, BG Magazine, Three Little Birds Designs, Liz Thomas Photography, First Gear, Ag Credit Leader, Openherd

First Cut Shearing

J & V Slaughterhouse

Kentucky Sheep & Fiber Festival

Faith & Fancy

Kickstarter

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

First Time Cria Mom

I discovered the supposed 11 month gestation for alpacas isn’t even an average; it’s more like the beginning of the window. There is actually a 40 day window where they can possibly give birth to a normal cria. Talk about a waiting game!

Luna has resembled a bloated Shetland pony for some time and is 11 days overdue. I put Aidyn down for a "rest break" (because she now refuses to take a nap for me) and head to the barn to make sure everyone's ok. Halfway there, I notice a red and gray blob on the other side of the pasture. Scan, scan, CRIA! But for whatever reason she is in the run, with her mom nervously pacing on the pasture side. Somehow the cria has managed to get through not one, but two panel gates.

I run to the barn to grab a towel and the iodine and get to the cria. I scoop her up, but she's already pretty dry and breathing just fine. YAY!!

Flashback about a month, our best herdsire, Backstage, was super skinny, had an infection, mites, & probably allergies. To help get him up to breeding health, we put him in the maternity ward. He's done very well & is back to being his full macho self.

Back to today, while I'm on the other side of the fence two gates over, Backstage realizes Luna is no longer pregnant and wants to now prove just how macho he is. I am now towel snapping his orgling face as he's trying to mount her. Ruth is doing her best to help by madly barking and jumping at him.

I somehow open two gates without letting the rest of the herd through while carrying the cria (they are ALL pressed up against it tying to sniff the new arrival or show Backstage they are also available). I put the cria down in the correct pasture, put Backstage in a full nelson and drag all 200 pounds of him back through those two gates, past the flirting maidens, and lock him in the run.

Now back to the cria. She's already pronking! She's running up to the fence and saying hi to everyone, looking up at Purple Martin aerial combat, and trying to figure out what the white poof ball creature is making all the noise in the other pasture. Shoot; I forgot to figure out what to put the iodine in to dip the umbilical cord...baggies! There's a slew of baggies for histogram and poop samples.

Ok, that's done, now what? Well you know by now that she’s a she, but I didn’t think to check until just now. Wahoo! It’s a girl! Has she nursed? She's trying to nurse the wire fence. Maybe if I get her and Luna together in the barn she'll have better luck.

So I was reminded of something I'd read after I did that: the cria will instinctively go to the darkest place, which on a normal, sunny day is under mom. In our barn, it's the corner by the waterer. She's now trying to nurse the waterer. Awesome. Back out to the pasture with you.

After holding my breath for what seemed like hours, she finally starts to nurse. Good, because I really didn't want to get up on a 12' ladder to find Aidyn's bottles from two years ago. Aidyn & I sit in camp chairs to watch the funny active girl explore her new world. A hawk flies low over her & I'm certain the raptor is going to scoop her up as his next meal, but he just cries a welcome to her.

Of course at this point the sky is darkening. No I don't mean dusk, I mean sirens are soon blaring and I'm certain we will be struck by lightning right there in our metal camp chairs.

Thank God; hubby's home. The certified weather watcher (yes, he has a card to prove it) announces its time to go to the basement. But not before he's going back up to the barn to lock the cria & mom in their stall. I see animals sprinting everywhere; he's also putting Backstage up on the porch. I see lightning hit the ground what seems like right behind him while he's holding a metal gate. Somehow he makes it alive back to the house and we go down to the basement.

Upon arrival, we see the brand new trampoline Mom bought Aidyn for her birthday go floating by several feet above the ground. Of course I flip at my hubby for not anchoring it right. The storm passes and the trampoline is somehow lodged in the corner of our fencing with only minor tears. I apologize for flipping out. He re-anchors the trampoline and I go check on the cria.

Luna looks hungry. It would probably do her some good to give her some grain. She inhales it. Literally. She’s now choking and vomiting and stumbling about so horrifically that I’m certain she’s going to die. Crap. Can you milk a dead alpaca?? Can I somehow get Estrella (who hasn’t delivered yet) to adopt the cria?? I’m madly searching the internet on my phone to see what I should do. Estrella is very concerned about her mom (she’s Luna’s daughter from some years back) and is humming nervously following Luna around. Luna is apparently going to live because she bites Estrella’s ear to tell her to leave her alone and get out of her way. She heaves violently for 20 minutes before finally settling down.

She immediately turns back to her baby and tries to call her, but her throat is still upset so it sounds pitifully gargled. I’m sure during all that hurling, she was even more stressed asking “who would take care of her baby if she didn’t fight through this?” As a mom, I could see the relief on her face not for the restoration of her own safety, but for the sake of her cria.

I stay and watch into the twilight. I lift up a celebratory prayer when I see the cria nurse again, then pee for a full minute. I laugh thinking of all the things you celebrate as a new parent (we cheered together when Aidyn finally took a dump in the middle of church at a couple days old). I had been questioning whether I was ready to go back there again. As the fireflies came out around us, a wave of comfort and relief washes over me with the cool summer breeze. I stayed up most of the night worried about that little girl out in the wet grass. But I didn't mind. I was ready for a baby. And I didn’t mind as much now that all that puking from Luna had made me throw up a little…

Cria = baby alpaca
Herdsire = alpaca stud
Orgling = the sound a courting male alpaca makes
Maiden = female alpaca that has not been breed
Pronking = a way alpacas run when they’re playing
Purple Martin = a species of bird that swoops after flying insects

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Perfect Shearing Day:

On a perfect shearing day, the following happens:

1. The shearer shows up on time...not a day late (not his fault; stuff just happens).

2. The alpacas calmly all walk to the barn to wait their turn...instead of madly dashing everywhere in the pasture because they know it's not their feeding time so we must be trying to eat them.

3. The alpacas politely poop and pee out in the pasture before entering the barn...instead of creating a pee poop butter they then spread all over the barn floor.

4. No one gets spit on...instead of several people getting it in the face...up the nose...with mouth open.

5. All animals calmly walk from the stall to the mat...instead of barreling right through a full grown man and the metal stall gate with such force that it bends the gate eye bolt screwed into a post (Tom amazingly fell onto the mat and was uninjured).

6. Once on the mat, all alpacas calmly lay down...instead of screaming, thrashing wildly, and needing to be lowered by two men in what looks like a slow motion double-double-leg wrestling take-down.

7. The weather is partly cloudy, 55-65 degrees, dry, with a slight breeze...not 80, humid, then turn into 30 mph hour winds with thunder, lightning, and driving rain.

8. It wouldn't rain on a perfect shearing day...no alpacas would escape from the barn before shearing to get soaking wet and needing to be chased back into the barn in the driving rain.

9. The barn wouldn't flood right next to all the power cords for the shears and needing to be dug out with a shovel outside in a lightning storm.

10. All bags of fiber would get properly labeled, then placed in a dry place to air out...and not have the barn cats think they just scored play toy heaven by batting the open bags around, splilling out the fiber.

But even on a perfect shearing day, the alpacas still end up looking like 4-legged aliens!

We didn't have a perfect shearing day, but we're so grateful for our professional shearer conducting a proper fiber harvest and leaving our animals uninjured, the tremendous amount we learned throughout the experience, and the laughs we had through it all!