In 2006, my husband and I dared to start a new venture by purchasing a forty-acre hobby farm that came complete with a small herd of alpacas. When we first saw the realtor listing, we searched online to find out what an alpaca even looked like. Neither of us even heard of this creature.
The sellers gave us a crash course on caring for the beasts and drove away grateful (and probably laughing) that they no longer had to shoulder the burden. Saying that shearing alpacas is labour intensive is an understatement.
The joy that they brought our family outweighed the workload, though, and we soon settled into enjoying the adventure of owning such a unique animal.
Here are ten traits that we observed that are not commonly included in textbooks or on the websites of alpaca breeders:
1. Alpaca noses smell like flowers.
When an alpaca trusts you, it will reach its neck out to smell your face; a true act of courage since alpacas are very timid and skittish otherwise. If you reach this point in your alpaca/human relationship, you will note that their velvety soft noses smell like lilacs. Of course, regardless of the degree of trust, the animal will run away if it sees you even flinch your hand in its direction.
2. Alpaca spit smells like manure.
Here’s a warning: if an alpaca puts his ears back, he is getting ready to unload the content of his stomach into your face. If that happens, you will need to shower because the nastiness will be in your mouth, nose, hair, and eyes. You will smell nothing but manure until you have a chance to wash and change your clothes.
3. Alpacas scream when they are angry.
A screaming alpaca sounds like a small child having a temper tantrum. It is loud and high pitched. If someone in the herd gets mad at a companion, there will be a screaming match followed by spitting. They will also do this while being sheared, making it necessary to wear earplugs or risk having ringing in your ears for the following week.
4. Alpacas are suspicious of change.
We once had a sheep living amongst our alpacas. She walked with them, ate with them, snuggled with them; Sheep was a regular member of the herd. Then one day, after she was shorn and returned to the pasture, all naked and feeling fresh, they all ran from her like we had put a cougar inside the pen. They were running away from her and screaming while she ran after them, baaing like she was saying, “Dudes, it is me; it is your sheep!” When they did manage to calm down, they still wouldn’t go near her. Most of them slept outside for the next two nights rather than be in the barn where the naked alpaca with the short neck was. It was like this every time a new species of livestock was brought to the farm.
5. Alpaca females introduce their newborns to their sire.
Every fall, we selectively bred each female to the male that would provide specific traits. We had five males to choose from for colour, fibre quality, and conformation. Alpacas do not mate for life, so each year, the breeding pairs varied. Each spring, after the cria (baby alpaca-pronounced cree-ah) was born and on its feet, the female would take the new herd member to the adjoining fence and introduce it to the males. The father of the cria would hang back, spending extra time sniffing and checking out his prodigy. The cool part was when he would nuzzle the female to let her know she did a good job.
6. Alpaca males will cat-call a beautiful female.
True story: There was an air of excitement in the pens, as there always was on shearing day. We had decided to give the females their haircuts, shots, and nail trimming first. The males watched over the fence in anticipation of being unburdened from twenty or so pounds of fibre. Our oldest female, Cameo, wanted to go first. She walked with confidence to the shearing area and lay quietly during her beauty treatments. When it was time to walk back to the pen, though, she seemed like she was a little embarrassed. This was until one of the males let out a whistle that was akin to a construction worker cat-calling a beautiful woman. Clearly, the male approved of her new do! His declaration of her beauty not only gave Cameo the confidence she needed to walk back to the pen, but it also caused the rest of the females to fight over who was going next.
7. Alpacas are aware of the consequences of poor judgement.
Breeding season can be risky for humans, especially if the males can’t get to the females. We had a large male named Kenosee, who was normally a docile dude who enjoyed human affection. Zealous to begin the breeding season, he had been pacing the fence, day and night, until he wore a path in the dirt, exposing a rock. My husband bent over to move it out of his way, not expecting that his normally gentle pet would cause any harm. He didn’t see the alpaca coming at full speed, and the alpaca didn’t realize my husband was even there until he bowled right over the top of him. The expression on the faces of the other males was priceless. A bunch of them stood with their mouths gaping open; another one went and ploughed into the assailant to get him to stop. It was as though they knew Kenosee was in serious trouble for hurting the farmer. Fortunately for him, my husband was in too much pain with three freshly broken ribs to get after him. However, it was hard to stay angry when the animal went over and nuzzled the injured farmer in apology.
8. Alpacas love springtime.
Our favourite time of the year was when we could let the livestock into the pastures after spending long winters in the pens. The alpacas would run, kick, and jump into the air; locking their legs, they would sprong across the green grass. There would be no screaming or spitting, just per enjoyment.
9. Alpacas showing signs of illness are usually beyond help.
One day the alpaca is absolutely fine, running with its friends, eating and drinking as normal. The next day you will find it limp and despondent in a pile of hay. There are no warning signs, and unfortunately, there is usually nothing you (or the vet) can do at this point. Of course, giving up is never an option for farmers, so you do whatever your gut tells you to try. Once in a while, a sick animal will surprise you and recover.
10. Alpaca chiropractors need to be a thing.
Alpacas have very long necks. They use them to reach food or keep their bodies far away from potentially dangerous objects that they are sniffing. They will often wrap their necks around each other when wrestling or showing affection. On rare occasions, their necks will become misaligned. Unfortunately, nothing can be done for an alpaca walking around with a kink in its neck. The farmer can only wait it out and hope that the bones go back into place as the muscles heal.
Facts commonly given about alpacas are usually details about their fibre, information on their care, and general information on their histories. Our family experienced their unique personalities through owning these unique animals, including their senses of humour, connections to the farmers, and their silly hang-ups and fears.
Originally published at http://lifeinwritingca.wordpress.com on March 26, 2021.