Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dawn meets Dusk

The last cria born to our herd this year arrived on Monday, September 29, and thankfully it was a simple, quick birth.

Murphy Brown is generally the first to greet me in the mornings, and very interactive with me when I'm in the pens. About three weeks ago during evening chores, I noticed her sitting very still, then sometimes rolling as if uncomfortable. I thought perhaps the baby was shifting and pressing on a nerve, and consulted our vet for his advice. Since Dr Pat was in our area the next day, he stopped to check her.

From my description, he suspected a uterine torsion (twist), but Murphy's heart rate and temperature were normal, which is generally not the case if there is a torsion. They are more common when the fetus us large, and if anything, Murphy looked small for her 10+ months of pregnancy. But when he did a manual check, there was a definite rotation of the ligaments supporting the cervix.

Torsions are rare, and most are "right-twist." Only one in 20 twist to the left, and that was Murphy's case. He could reverse it with external manipulation, but it would take three people, so I called our neighbor Elissa to come and help.

Once Murphy was mildly sedated, we got her to cush and rolled her on her left side. Dr Pat held and pushed on her uterus as Elissa turned her hind quarters and I rotated her neck and front legs. We returned Murphy to cush (upright) position and rolled her in the same manner one more time. Upon another manual check, Dr Pat declared her returned to normal positioning.

I kept a close eye on Murphy for the next few days, and she was once more her curious, interactive self. She's a tall, elegant dam, but needed some extra weight in the last few weeks of pregnancy, so she eagerly anticipated her morning bowl of pellets, rice bran and a handful of alfalfa for added calories.

Last Monday morning, I did not immediately see Murph's engaging face, so I went looking for her. She was one of the last to emerge from the barn, and when she turned, I saw that she had begun birthing. The cria's head and two legs were out, though still encased in the unbroken sac. I nicked it to release the water, then edged Murphy into a clean pen, and the other curious looky-lou's out.

Keeping a watchful eye on her, I gathered towels, the cria kit, a note pad and pen, and my camera. Within 15 minutes the baby was on the ground, a healthy, normal boy. There is little fluid and no blood with a normal birth, but the morning air was cool, so I towelled him lightly and stepped away.

I was thrilled to see that the cria was black, for this is the first offspring of our vicuña-colored herdsire, Canzelle's Orion. He is bred to two other black dams, and soon to a gray one. Orion's sire is medium silver gray Patagonia's Quijote, so we are hoping that Orion will also produce gray.

This is Murphy's second cria, and she is an attentive mom. Elissa and visiting friend Una came over to see him. We kept our distance to allow mom and baby to bond, while I took notes of when he sat sternal, tried to stand, tried to nurse, etc. Although he seemed small to me, he weighed 15.7 lbs that afternoon. By Friday, he had already gained two lbs.

Murphy still gets her morning bowl of calories, to increase her weight during lactation. On a scale of 1-5, she is a 2.

We have named him Navarre, the black-clad captain in the tale of Ladyhawke who cared for her each dawn, then turned into a wolf at dusk as Isabeau reclaimed her human form. Since Ladyhawke was the first cria born to us this year, it seemed fitting that the last one is black Navarre.

Ladyhawke greeting Orion's Navarre

Monday, September 15, 2008

Herd Alert - One Male's Perspective

On one of our first visits to an alpaca farm, we were standing in the pasture with the dams when they heard a coyote. The high-pitched, staccato alarm echoed through the group, all turning with necks and ears upright to face the direction of the danger. Immediately, the sentinel llama ran in the direction of the unseen marauder while the dams all ran in the opposite direction, circled up with the cria protected in the center, much like a wagon train under attack.

Alpacas make few sounds, and a 'herd alert' is generally used only for imminent danger. But some alpacas are more 'alert-y' than others. When we took our dog to a ranch that I had visited many times and kept her at a distance, Promise sounded the alert while the others quietly maintained a 'watch and wait' attitude. But as prey animals, it's always good to be cautious.

On a few occasions the distress signal has awakened us in the middle of the night. We jump up, pitch on jeans, jackets and shoes, grab the flashlights stationed by the door and head out to determine the cause. (We do not have livestock guardian dogs.) So far, we have only spotted the reflective eyes of deer meandering through our hay field on the way to the adjacent property. Before cross-fencing and critters moved in, this used to be their territory, too.

Last week during evening chores, as I exited Galileo's pen he sounded 'herd alert.' I looked all around and could spy no approaching danger. None of the other animals were on alert status, either by posture or sound. But Galileo was insistent and continued the shrill alarm.

Mike and I both looked all around and in the direction Galileo was facing. Finally we determined that the 'danger' he perceived was that the five yearling males in the pen next to the females, grazing along the same fenceline. As King of the Mountain, Galileo interpreted that as a strategic threat to his girls.

Shaking a dish of pellets, we enticed the boys back to their shed and closed them off from the neighboring pen. That was resolution enough for Galileo. He settled down and soon everyone went back to grazing.

All the while, our other herdsire, Orion, stood erect in his pen with his back to the drama, as if to say "I am not a part of the problem, I am not challenging you." These intelligent animals have a specialized system of body language that we continue to learn.

In the wild of the Andes, a macho herdsire stands atop a hillock and surveys his herd. Galileo is definitely in his prime and behaving exactly as he should. It's the silly humans that created this frenzy with our lack of understanding. If it weren't for the enforcement of fences, Galileo would have chased the boys away himself. So it was our job to rectify the disorder we'd created and return calmness to the herd.

This herd alert was not quite the heart-pounding rush of a 2:00 a.m drill by search-light, but very solvable once we paid attention. The alpacas listen and watch; as their shepherds, we must listen and watch them.

Moments later, a relaxed Galileo was eating his pellets out of my hand, satisfied that 'his girls' were safe.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Playing Barn

As a kid, I used to enjoy "playing house" — going to the store on my tricycle, cooking Tinkertoys for dinner, bathing the teddy bears and putting them to bed. So once when Mike came to find me puttering about in the barn, he innocently asked, "Whatcha doin' ?"

I paused for a moment, then replied with a smile, "Playing barn."

It seems such an apt term for the hum of delight that I feel at being able to work in this structure that is 108 years old (give or take a few), setting up my supplies, arranging the halters on a wrack that I built, watching the alpacas watch me as I move about their quarters. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, every part of what I do is somehow connected to another part: raking poop, fluffing hay, weighing crias, halter-training, spit-testing. And on I hum...

Whenever our granddaughters visit, they join right in the circle. The girls quickly learned 'gate ettiquette,' moving aside so the animals will proceed through without feeling threatened; and always closing a gate behind you. We haltered the yearlings and took them for a walk to a different pasture. And fed the big boys carrot treats. Alpacas and children seem to have a natural affinity. Perhaps its the playfulness and curiosity of both that makes them easy companions.

During their week here, Gwen was often out with the dams, just watching them, talking to the crias, or filling a water bucket. She went to horse camp this summer, and taught me a new knot. Sheba is on a 30-day penicillin regimen, and now I use the daisy knot when tying her to a fence post each morning for her shot.

Annika discovered that if she gets down close to the ground, a curious cria will come near to check her out.

We also went to the Creswell Farmer's Market where our friend Elissa was spinning and selling some of her sheeps' fleece. For dinner that night we feasted on dusky brown 'Black Prince' heritage tomatoes and herbed goat cheese, and lots of crookneck squash with onions.

During these Indian summer days, I've been revisiting my garden plot, adding more lasagna layers to it so the decomposition will make it ready for planting next spring. Even throw-away fleece (too short/ dirty/ coarse) becomes a layer in the garden. The rest of the fleece has been sorted into projects: some destined for yarn from the mini-mill, some for felting into pet beds, some for the Alpaca Blanket Project with Pendleton, and some for my own hand-crafting and spinning. So many ideas, so little time!

Other family hand-crafting includes homebrewing beer. In April, Matt and Mike brewed an India pale ale and a Scotch red ale. This trip, Gwen assisted in the counter-top labeling process. (typing paper labels floated on a saucer of milk and placed on the bottle, excess blotted off)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Downs and Ups of Animal Husbandry

As of the last posting, we were excited about the duo alpaca births, and still anticipating two more. We worked outside all day on Saturday and kept a close eye on Flora (slightly overdue). Didn't observe anything unusual or any pre-labor activity like straining at the poop pile.

On Saturday night, she was very quiet. In fact, she remained cushed in one place the entire night, for I went out and checked on her several times, and again at dawn. Just before 8:00 she started laboring, but something was not right. It was a brownish placenta she was delivering, not a cria.

We called alpaca friends, and the vet. Front feet were presenting along with a turned neck instead of the head. It took four of us to support Flora while Dr Pete delivered a stillborn female cria. She had likely only been dead for a day. Perhaps the umbilical chord had broken in the repositioning for birth. I had not seen Flora's water break, a sign of impending birth. We chose not to do a necropsy.

Dr Pete tended to Flora, verifying that her uterine lining had not been torn, that the vessels were pulsing normally, and flushing her with mild antibiotics. We gave her some homeopathy to assist with healing, and later, with grief. She grazed near her cria for awhile, saying her good-byes before returning to the barn with her herdmates.

Since Flora's milk was not stimulated by nursing, it did not come in. One teat swelled a bit over the next few days, but there was no milk to express. On the doctor's advice, we are cutting back on her pellets for a week, putting carrots in her bowl for something to chew on while the others eat their pellets in the neighboring pen.

The temporary reduction in calories will assist drying her milk, as well as call on some of her reserves. Flora tends to be a full-figured girl, so this will help to get her back in balance. Before breeding again in late September, the vet will check to make certain there is no infection.

One day when the dams and crias were in the pasture next to the farm office, I noticed several of the crias sitting near Flora, as if comforting her. Alas, I did not have my camera handy, so the picture is only captured in my mind.

On the following Tuesday morning, I went out early to check Black Lace — the last of our dams due in August. She was cushed and birthing her cria, and from the slight dryness of its ears, I knew she had been laboring for a bit. I gloved up and went in to check the position. The cria's knees were bent, so Lace needed help. I was confident enough to identify the problem, but not to adjust the dystocia myself. My job was to Not Panic. Immediately I called Dr Pete and he came and delivered a healthy male, 19.1 lbs.

As with Flora, we will do a pre-breeding check to make certain there is no infection. This is advisable anytime human intervention is necessary to go in to deliver a cria.

Mike had to leave for work that morning. Since it was only Week 2 of a new job, he did not have the luxury of calling in late. But he was able to stay long enough to see a healthy cria safely delivered before he had to dash away.

We have named Lace's boy Rudulfo's Troubadour, for he and his mom hum to each other more than most. Troubadour's were Spanish/Moorish in origin, and their songs often included themes of chivalry and romantic love. He has the confirmation and fleece possibilities of a quality herdsire, so the love songs should serve him well.

Even with the sad loss of Flora's cria, it's a relief to have the births complete. The last alpaca due this year is Murphy Brown in early October with Orion's first offspring. Lately, Murphy has really begun to 'show' and she is eating more.

When Dr Pat was here last week to do well-cria checks and regular herd health, he also ultra-sounded four other newly-bred dams. With three of them, I was able to see the tiny 45-day fetus moving; on the fourth, Sable's breeding date was later, so the view only gave us a 50/50 chance of viable pregnancy. But we spit-tested her the next day and she ran and kicked at the male rather than cushing for breeding. We will u/s her again in a month.

Next project: tomorrow I will take Sheba (accompanied by her 2-month cria, Jedlicka) to OSU to radiograph her jaw to determine the cause of a chronic infection. She is a good traveler and will cush in the van on our hour-long trip.

Troubadour, keeping Flora company

Friday, August 8, 2008

Not Quite Twins

On Wednesday morning, two cria were born within 45 minutes of each other. And neither delivery was by Flora, the dam I've been watching so intently. Flora is the first of four alpacas due within a three-week period, so I was surprised to glance out the window and see Sonnet (last due of the four) in the midst of birth, out in the pasture.

I ran to the barn to get my birthing kit, some towels and a bucket of water. As I approached, I noticed the other alpacas further down the field, gathered around another cria! Sonnet was obviously still in process, so I rushed over to see a still-wet cria just attempting to sit upright.

All the aunties were sniffing and greeting it while Summer was anxiously humming to the little white-faced creature. With a towel, I scooped up the baby, checked the gender -- it's a girl! -- and carried her to a pen, Summer trailing at my elbow. I wanted them in a safe place and undisturbed while I went to see how Sonnet was doing.

Labor appeared to be at the same stage as when I first noticed her: head and one leg out, partial second leg. By checking the flex of the joints, I was certain they were both front legs (proper for delivery), rather than a front and back leg, which would have to be manipulated for birthing. Thank goodness! But Sonnet was up and down, laying on one side or the other, and the cria was mouth-breathing continuously. I phoned another alpaca owner to ask some questions, and Heather volunteered to come right over. (I so appreciate this about alpaca people!)

Sonnet's due date was August 18th, so this baby was a bit early (known as 'dis-mature'), teeth not yet erupted, but quite healthy at 17.6#s. Birthing was a little bit long (one elbow was caught on pelvic ledge, otherwise quite normal), so both baby and mom were tired, and it took the cria some time to gain her strength. Giving the baby a dollop of Karo, getting her out of the sun, giving Sonnet a pain relief med, all worked together toward successful nursing. Her sire is RH Bentley (DB), and we've named her Bentley's Carrera. Her coloring is identical to her beautiful mom.

While attending Sonnet, I could see that Summer's cria was up and nursing quite well. She had delivered right on her due date. This little girl has a white/silver face and feet, yet her silky fleece is a taupey-brown color, probably dark rose gray. She was 15.5#s, and sired by Spirit Song's Vivaldi (MSG), owned by Silver Sun Alpacas in Santa Ynez, CA.

Her name still eludes us. Since Vivaldi composed The Four Seasons, and Summer is the dam, it seems there would be a natural tie-in. Summer and her lively little pixie hum and sing to each other a lot, so something musical is appropriate.

Both crias are nursing well (always a relief!) and have gotten steady on those long legs. The older three amigos (Ladyhawke, Jedlicka, and Gryffin) are inspired to romp past the new little ones, showing off their dancing feet.

Now it's Flora and Black Lace's turn. All week, I've been reminding them: "nose 'n toes!"

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Sorting Hat

Since Jedlicka had safely arrived, we had a break before being on 'cria watch' again for Nutmeg, due July 19. So last Monday, after errands, we unloaded groceries, checked email, etc, before I went out to check on Jedlicka.

To my great surprise, there was another cria in the pen!!

It was laying flat on its side, all dry and stretched out in the sun, and very still. For a few heartbeats I feared that it was not alive, but as I approached, little eyes opened and the head bobbed up. I scooped him up, shouted to our visiting nephew, Jacob, to go tell Mike we have another cria, and took him and his humming mom -- yes, it was a little male -- to a pasture with shade.

It was obvious the baby had already walked and even nursed, for he was strong and steady on his feet. We selected a few calm females and new cria Jedlicka and her mom, to be companions in the pen with Nutmeg and her surprise arrival. She clucked to him, and ate grass all around him as he sat cushed, resting. We dipped his dry naval in Novalsan, then got out of the way to let them bond.

The white swoosh on his forehead led to his name, but we searched along a few different paths for it:
  • Since he was born during Eugene's Olympic trials for track and field, something to do with Nike (originated in Eugene for Steve Prefontaine) seemed plausible.
  • The silhouette is the profile of a bird, so we combed through Oregon birding books for ideas.
  • Or was it reminiscent of Harry Potter's lightening mark?
  • We searched Spanish and Gaelic dictionaries, and a book on myths.
Finally, in the wine aisle of Trader Joe's, I came across the name 'Griffin' on a label and immediately liked it. I mentally tried it on him and it seemed to fit well. A 'griffin' is a mythological beast with head and wings of an eagle, body of a lion, and tail of dragon. Good, spunky name. And via the sorting hat, Harry Potter was placed in the House of Gryffindor at Hogwart's School of Wizardry. So Gryffin seemed a natural fit.

We'd misjudged Nutmeg's due date because she was receptive two weeks after the first breeding. Her cues to the male are not very assertive, and when she cushed again, we rebred her. Hence, the expected birth was calculated from the 2nd breeding. However, the first time must have taken, for Gryffin was right on time figuring from that date.

Gryffin is thriving, gaining a half a pound a day. He runs and plays with the other crias, a welcome kid-brother in the group. And he senses that Jacob is somehow like him, another kid in the family.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


As the old rose bush by the picket fence bloomed with soft pink buds, I crossed my fingers that it was harbinger of another female cria. And it was! Yesterday Sheba gifted us with a champagne-colored daughter -- the first offspring of Cusco North's stunning white male, Rudulfo.

Sheba's pregnancy was at day 366. We had been watching her closely for weeks, but were not really concerned since she is a 'push-button dam' who has had several cria with no difficulties. Still, it was only our 2nd birth since we've had the alpacas in our care, and we didn't want to miss seeing this one. Life is so magical!

I am in and out of the pens and the barn most days, so the dams are accustomed to my random presence. And I talk to them by name as I move among them, just like I do with my dog and cats. Sheba was cushing, humming, up and down, and finally she was dilating. I returned to the house to get my neonatal book, my knitting and my camera, and let Mike know that birth was imminent. Positioning myself just out of Sheba's sight, within 10 minutes I called Mike's cell phone to let him know that a nose emerging. This was the first birth either of us had witnessed from the very beginning.

I also dialed another nearby alpaca breeder, just to make sure she was available in case we needed assistance. Over the next half hour, I called Sheri 3 more times: I don't see toes yet; the head is presented but feet are on top... she carefully stepped me through each phase so I would know what to expect, and how long the progress should take if all things were normal. Her knowledge
at each step was a calm reassurance.

Sheba alternately stood and cushed, trying to adjust her discomfort. Curious Miss Nutmeg was overly attentive, so I escorted the 'helpers' out of the pen and they watched through the fence (birthing dam is circled in blue). Sheba was cushed during the final expulsion of head and front legs, and the baby lay half-delivered in a jumble on the grass. So with her next contraction, I assisted by pulling the hind feet free. The cria rolled over and I could see that we had a girl! I moved her away from the fence-line and exited quickly for bonding time.

With the 'Cria Checklist' on my clipboard, we observed and documented the time markers after birth: sitting in an upright cush position by 4 minutes, the umbilical cord doused with Novasan, cria standing at 10 minutes old, etc. And once she did stand, she remained on her feet for over half an hour. This is a strong little girl!

With a towel, I picked up the wet baby to move the little family to a flatter pasture, and on the way stopped in the barn to weigh her. Twenty pounds! Sheba is a big girl, and her pregnancy was on the long side, so we were thrilled with such a normal birth. Being able to observe the whole process was another good learning experience.

We purchased Sheba a few years ago from a ranch in Santa Ynez, CA. Before raising alpacas, Bonnie was a horse-owner, so in honor of this cria's 'roots' in Santa Barbara County and of Bonnie's love for horses, we've named her Rudulfo's Jedlicka, after a popular western-wear store in Santa Barbara and Los Olivos.

When we tucked Jedlicka in for her first night, I put on the flannel toddler jacket that had graced young Ladyhawke. Jedlicka is so big that she will need the next size soon. Pre-dawn is cool, and like all newborn mammals, temperature regulating and bodily systems and functions must adjust. I was glad to see her peeing this morning!

So, since there are no blue roses, does this mean we'll always have girls here?? At least our string of male births is being nicely offset by welcoming Ladyhawke and Jedlicka to our herd.

In Tribute: Today, June 25, marks my dad's birthday. Jud Holt was a large and small animal veterinarian in East Texas, and although he died several years ago, he would have loved the alpacas. I think of him often as we learn more about life on our farm and raising these unique animals.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

the Alpaca Marketplace

We've just completed our first 'show' -- a booth at the Emerald Valley Alpaca Association's annual Alpaca Marketplace. In a long list of 'firsts,' it's the first time we've had a booth of our own plus taken our own animals to a venue. Meeting people that stopped by was the most fun, talking about the animals, the possibilities and enjoyment of raising them, and using their amazing fleece. To some folks, alpacas were completely new animals to them. Others were well-acquainted and had dreamed of them for years.

We sold some fleece from the recent shearing, and some postcard of scenes from our farm. Mostly we invited people to join in on Open Farm Day this coming Saturday, to come see them on the farm in a more 'natural' habitat.

Dargan and Sulaymon went to the show, their first time off the farm. They were mellow and well-behaved. A show like this is 'boot camp' for them, where they learn to handle people coming up to them, and walking nicely on a lead. We'd take them out of the 8'x8' pen several times a day to walk around for exercise and diversion. In keeping with our Americana theme, they sported bandanas on their elegant necks. The bag of prime fleece from recent shearing and a 'Before' photo completed the setting.

Mike volunteered as a clerk in the Fleece Show. He held down the fort when I dashed home midday to let our dog out and to check on our dam Sheba, due 'any day now.' And I'd either make lunch or stop off for a burger to take back to him.

All in all, the show was a great experience for us. Now we look forward to greeting visitors on Open Farm Day on Saturday. Eight farms from the show are hosting this event, and it coincides with Eugene's Olympic Track and Field Trials, so there will be many visitors in our fair city. Lemonade, anyone??

Thursday, June 12, 2008


After booking the date in January, planning and prepping for days, our herd of 20 went from heavy winter coats to summer skivvies in just over three hours. It had rained lightly the night before, so first thing that morning, Mike and I haltered the boys and towel-blotted them as dry as we could. The girls had mostly slept inside the barn, so were much dryer.

Since we are still so new to handling our own animals, we invited a few other alpaca owners to come and help us. Our shearer, Allan Godsiff, shears while the alpaca is standing, rather than anchored down with restraints, so we knew it would take confident holding.

For a few of the younger ones, this was their first shearing. Some of the more experienced dams put up with the indignity with a smattering of reserve, while others let us know their displeasure by screeching, spitting and/or peeing. For the spitting, we had a sock ready to loosely put over the culprit's mouth, and rags to mop up when needed.

The two 'most pregnant' dams were given Rescue Remedy to help soothe their stress. Sheba is due 'any day now'... and shearing did not bring on labor. Nutmeg is due mid-July, and thankfully she has held her pregnancy fine. Some dams have been known to stress-abort a few days after shearing, so that is always a concern for late-term pregnancies. But overheating is also stressful, so we take off minimal fleece as a compromise, just to cool them. After giving birth, we will trim their legs.

Even 10-day-old Ladyhawke had all of her fuzzy blanket sheared. The ultra-fine baby fleece, called 'tui' fleece, is just like velcro for pasture debris, so getting it off makes for a much cleaner alpaca for a year.

Our shepherdess-neighbor Elissa was in charge of collecting the fleece as it came off. We sheared inside the barn, and the only place large enough to lay out the damp fleeces was upstairs. So she and her helpers collected it in batches of 'blanket' and 'seconds' (marked with the alpaca's name on colored-coded paper) and laid it out on big sheets of plastic to dry in the open air.

Thankfully the new barn cats have not yet been transitioned to the barn, so the upstairs world of fleece has remained undiscovered by them. Our indoor cat loves her alpaca-fleeced box, so I'm sure Charlie and Pangur would reek havoc if they knew it was there.

Nights are still cool (40s), so we put a cria coat on Ladyhawke. We had borrowed one when she was newborn, but a friend suggested going to the thrift store and getting some toddler jackets. Even though I have flannel and nylon fabric to make simple cria coats, the time to do so doesn't yet exist. So I got 4 jackets, cut the sleeves short on the smallest one and put it on a squirming Ladyhawke, buttoning along her back. Immediately, all of the aunties had to come over to sniff it and check out her new jammies.

Boyz in full fleece: Dakota, Dargan, Sorrento, and Sundancer

Boyz shorn: Dakota, Dargan, Sulaymon, and Sundancer

Now looking more like a herd of deer than alpacas!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Alis Vlolat Propriis

[translated...] "She Flies with Her Own Wings" -- a friend pointed out that this unusual phrase is Oregon's state motto. And since Disa's cria was our first alpaca birth at our Oregon farm, we like how it relates to the name we chose for her: Rockford's Ladyhawke. It suits her personality and her markings very well.

Ladyhawke is growing and thriving. She's changed so quickly in 3 days, learning what those long legs do and how to balance on them; how to nudge mom to standing so she can nurse. And even though hers was a completely normal, easy birthing, it is still a learning curve for us as new alpaca shepherds.

With the "Llama & Alpaca Neonatal Care" manual as guide, we stepped through each of the paragraphs, made the observations, accomplished the tasks, and gained new confidence. A few phone calls to Disa's former owner alleviated worries about where to best give a sub-q shot on a cria, and if a slight discharge from the dam was normal (it is).

For a few days, we've regrouped the herd so that a few calmer dams are in with the newborn, and the rambunctious 4-month-old Tesoro is in a different pen. Now that Ladyhawke is stronger, we will soon be able to reconnect the herd. The alpacas do not like being separated, and often cush near each other on each side of the fence.

I just peeked out the window to see Tesoro chasing birds. And we are once more on cria-watch, so soon Ladyhawke will have a playmate more her size.

Shearing is next week! The alpacas will finally be free of their winter coats and ready for summer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On Sunday morning we settled on the deck with bagels and coffee, with a view to the alpacas. I'd been out on morning rounds earlier and nothing was unusual. Now I did a nose count and noticed Disa's absence, so I went to see if she was in the barn. Indeed, she was, and not alone... "There's a cria in here!"

Mike came running. The cria was very wet and cushed (sitting upright, legs tucked under), only minutes old. We toweled it off a bit so it wouldn't chill, set it on a rug to pad the concrete floor, and backed off. I hadn't checked gender yet -- too hard to see on a dark little body in a darkened barn, and I didn't want to be overly intrusive. I quelled my curiosity since my 'need to know' to Disa's celebration of what she had produced, and their need to bond.

The area quickly filled with too many aunties checking out the cria, so we moved mom and baby to a clean grassy area where the sun would help to dry the wet little creature. Finally, I peeked... it's a girl! Overjoyed, we spent the rest of the morning observing, dousing the umbilical cord, doing minimal checks -- is Disa's milk in, is baby really nursing, etc -- and making excited phone calls to folks who had been awaiting the news.

Other than for his own daughter, this is the first time Mike had been present for the birthing process. Even though we missed the actual delivery, the follow-up responsibility was a first for both of us.

She's 16.9 lbs, and our first live girl after 10 boys in a row. Gestation was 11 months 3 weeks. The placenta delivered perfectly, no prolapse (which two of our dams had before, when agisting). What a relief to have such a natural, 'normal' birth! And we're already on cria watch for the next one.

She appears to be dark rose gray, a sort of deep maroon overlaid with taupe. She has a light gray dusting on her rump and across her face and ears, and a streak on her forehead. Her sire, Aussie Rockford, is MSG (medium silver gray), and her dam is out of grays.

We're still mulling over her name...