The Alpaca Year
Winter is a time for doing indoor jobs and for keeping the alpacas comfortable and fed. During winter and especially if the weather is snowy or frosty, the alpacas eat a lot more hay and so their hay feeders need to be topped up. In cold weather, their water troughs must be kept ice-free. The alpacas are checked several times a day in all weathers and are closely observed at feeding times especially.
The females who have cria (a baby alpaca is called a cria) will be working hard in winter to feed their cria and to maintain their own body condition and so some may need supplementary feeding.
December is a busy time in the Alpaca Farm Shop with sales of gifts, and of Gift Vouchers for the Shop itself or for Alpaca Days Out.
In January, we'll be checking though our diaries for dates of events that we want to attend. We'll also be making arrangements for any training courses that we wish to attend or to organise, and generally making plans for the year to come.
In early Spring, we'll be weaning cria from their mums and starting their halter-training. This is a gradual process for each cria but it is a fairly intense, although highly enjoyable, period of work as each cria will be handled and walked several times a week.
We'll also be making good any damage done to pastures, buildings and facilities over the winter as well as planting trees, maintaining footpaths and trekking routes.
We’ll be looking forward to the arrival of the coming year’s cria - we’ll be making a list of potential cria names beginning with that year’s letter. 2020 will be a “P” year for instance. Each year, we think “That was a hard year for names but next year will be easier !” It never is !
We'll be getting busier with Alpaca Days Out at Easter and this will (hopefully) continue on into the Summer.
In Summer, life speeds up a little bit more with cria births and then matings. We keep a very close watch on the due females. And once the cria arrive, we’ll monitor them carefully to make sure that they are getting plenty of milk from mum. All being well, we’ll re-mate the females three weeks after they give birth - we then have 11½ months to wait for the next cria to arrive.
Shearing is an exciting time and our shearer James Dixon comes all the way from his home in Australia to shear our alpacas and those of many other European breeders. Ideally, there will have been several fine and dry days and nights beforehand but it doesn’t always work out that way ! We need to be very organised for shearing day and have all the alpacas gathered up. We also need lots of bags for the lovely fleece and plenty of helpers.
After shearing day, we must “skirt” the fleeces to remove any vegetable matter such as bits of hay and twigs. Skirting also removes any coarser fibre and anything else that might spoil the finished product.
Throughout the summer, grass needs to be topped to keep it in the best condition for the alpacas.
The school summer holidays brings lots of visitors for the family-friendly Alpaca Safaris and for the adult-only Alpaca Treks. We schedule the Safaris and Treks to make sure we still have plenty of time for essential alpaca tasks.
Autumn is for consolidation. We will be keeping a careful watch on our females’ early pregnancies and often also dealing with giving in-depth husbandry training to would-be new alpaca owners before their alpacas go home to them.
The school half-term holidays - "tattie holidays" in Scotland - will be busy with Alpaca Days Out.
We’ll also be preparing for winter - checking drains, buildings and fences and doing the essential maintenance that might have taken a bit of a back-seat during the busy summer.
The lengthening dark nights are a time for stocking up the shop with gorgeous hand-woven, knitted and sewn goodies ready for pre-Christmas gift buying rush !
There are plenty of year-round tasks too. Each day every alpaca, adult and cria, is fed a small amount of specialised camelid concentrate, Camelibra, that helps to keep them healthy. There are regular injections to give too.
Each day throughout the year, we’ll be observing the alpacas to ensure that they are feeding well moving normally and freely and are general looking fine. At the same time, we are in the alpaca paddocks checking fences, troughs and looking for any harmful weeds.
And we use our poo-picker regularly to keep the paddocks clean. The alpacas help with this task as the males especially poop in piles rather than randomly across the field.
Careful observation is the key to keeping alpacas well - watching alpacas is never a hardship for us though !
So, there is never a dull moment and always plenty to do.