Tips learned in 2007
Don't be afraid to ask about paying on time, trading or working out a barter arrangement. That's how we obtained a breeding, a herdsire and all the logo wear we could ever want.
Some thoughts about research and showing....
Don't assume that because a male alpaca has won lots of blue ribbons, he is studworthy. Check first, "How many were in the class?" You can do that by going to the AOBA Show Results web site. The results must be listed within six weeks of the show and they are all there--back to 2002. Which is another topic--how long ago were all those ribbons won? The animals we are producing now, are almost always improvements over a few years ago and the competition is getting stiffer all the time. Nowadays, don't assume that because a male got 3rd 4th or even 5th that he is not worthy. Again, check out the competition and it helps to be at the show to hear the judge's comments. Sometimes they will say "I wouldn't hesitate to see all these males in my breeding program."
Sometimes, an animal can come in second and still not be very good quality. I saw a judge decide that none in the class were blue-ribbon worthy and the first ribbon she gave out was a second place.
Next--"Does that male have any babies on the ground." Not only "Can he reproduce, but can he put his stamp on the cria?" This is what "Get of Sire" classes are all about. The judge is looking for quality in all the cria from that male and the degree to which they resemble each other. It's called progeny testing and frankly, it is the only way you can tell if a male is studworthy--to actually use him as a stud and find out. So... see a high breeding fee? Expect to be able to see the cria on the ground--anything else is just hype. Some breeders will offer low introductory breeding fees to progeny test their male, even before accepting him into their breeding program.
Don't assume that because the male comes from a small farm without name recognition, that he isn't worth of consideration. Do the rest of the research and then decide. Some farms cannot or choose not to promote their males.
If you are going to show, work with your animals so that they will stand nicely when being examined. I had one in a class this year that jumped just as the judge had her hands on him. He placed third out of three and I will never know if she was able to get a good look at him or not as I think that he bumped her somewhere and she was not about to go down for a second look. Run your hand down their tail, touch their testicles and check their fleece in several locations. This is what the judge will do and the animal better be used to it. I regret not spending more time with him; practicing leading was not enough, it was the standing and touching that mattered.
Dont judge a cria in the first few days or even the first few weeks. When Evie came out, her fleece looked more suri than hucaya.It hung limply off her. Her ears looked misshapen and twisted. I was very worried that we had a dud. A few days later her fleece came in and her ears straightened right out. She is now gorgeous!
Tips on breeding and herd management
To get a young male started breeding, you can literally stick his head in her tail and push gently on her back. If she goes down she is ready and from there he figures out what to do. Holding her tail to one side can help him out. When the male is on-don't be afraid to help reposition him.
Male alpacas are not like humans--they dribble ejaculate and it can take up to 20 minutes before they are finished.
If a maiden comes around and acts interested when there is an alpaca male in the pasture, she is probably ready to breed. She may even be more friendly to human males and be generally easier to approach and less stand-offish. If she lies down next to the breeding pair, she is definitely ready.
Despite all the best efforts to predict birth dates, including previous records, there is no predicting. This year Puella when a full nine days before her regular breeding time.
Despite your best efforst to predict a brith that day, it may happen without any notice at all. We were however this time, quite sure that Puella was going to go early as her vulva was quite stretched looking and there was a true bulge under her tail. She still went another 24 hours so even that was not a sure sign.
If you have a female that is getting thin, don't assume it is only the baby milking--check for parasites. Then you can put the food to her; up to four cups morning and night. It's important to have a way to segregate an animal for feeding when you need to, otherwise, you never know how much she is getting.
Having two to three crias is as fun as it can be. Though one will play and run around a little, it is practically a daily affair when you get a couple going together. Rather than have them leave the farm, if there is a good stud nearby--beg for mobile breedings so you don't loose that enjoyment. It's the best!
Going into the second year, a few more tips
Some additional signs of labor: hanging out over the water bucket! Someone said, (and I have yet to confirm it) that you can tell how close they are to delivery by how flexible they are when you lift their tail!
If it can go wrong it will, even with alpacas. Afterall, they are livestock.
Breeders tell you what you need for start-up costs for the first year. Don't forget to ask about the second year too. Due to any combination of factors, it could be awhile before you sell your first one.
If you need to cool an alpaca quickly, shave their spine and pour rubbing alcohol on it. Short of that drastic measure, run cold water in their armpits, belly and any place there is little hair.
Alpacas are as lovely and fun as everyone said they are!
Things we learned the first year
Straining over the manure pile can also be labor. Watch closely. If it is frequent, and no baby appears within an hour or two, call the vet.
Use straw for bedding, not hay or shavings. It helps keep vegetative matter out of the fleece.
When alpacas are alarmed, they make an interesting warbling sound. We still don't know why they were alarmed but it was loud enough to wake us up one autumn night.
Use lots of sand in their paddock for them to roll in. It is heavy and will fall out of the fleece while "skirting."
Have a water hose available in the heat of summer. They love getting cooled off.
If you want to show your fleece, get someone to shear it who knows how to remove it carefully.
It should be "skirted" prior to showing which is when you remove all the vegetative matter you can. Build a screen to do it on so the dirt can fall through. This is when you will decide you want to learn to spin because you won't be able to stop touching it!
Tube feeding can be mastered--have confidence but use a vet to teach you.
Same with milking a female. It can be done. It takes patience but stay with it. To help get it started, take a 6 cc syringe and cut off the top. Remove the plunger and put it into the cut end. Put the rubber gasket end over the nipple and pull. Milk should begin to flow after a few tries.
Buy your first animals from a breeder you like and trust. The relationship will be a long one and you will need them for lots of information the first year. Unless you have the time to become an expert yourself, you will rely on them for choosing quality animals and selecting sires to breed to.
Buy unrelated animals so that if you get a male and he is a potential herdsire, he can breed to the unrelated females. One farm we know bought a mother and daughter. They got a fantastic male out of the one and now can't use him to breed to the other. They have to go out shopping for another female--a very expensive proposition in the first few years.
Alpaca people are great--just as other people are.
Unless you buy a herdsire right off, be prepared to be without your females and crias for several months a year. The females breed back about 17 days postpartum and the crias go with them to the farm to be bred. They don't always get pregnant right away and it can take awhile!
Alpacas will ride just fine in a mini-van but use the side door; it is easier to get them in. Use two people, one to lead them up to the door, the other to push their butt. They should jump in with their front feet but it may take some coaxing.
Half the appeal of raising alpacas has to be having the crias around. There is nothing like having a baby around to make you feel blessed and delighted. There are some of us who would have kept having children, just for the infant stage--crias are a great substitute.
Naming the animals can be very difficult but fun. Your friends can help.
Getting decent pictures of these animals is Very difficult. Use lots of patience.
There is much to learn from the Alpaca Registry. You can look up any animal, see what the names and registration numbers of all the animals from that male or female, the colors, sexes and complete pedigree. You can also research what names are available. Its fun.
Even before you purchase your animals or get them home, there are several things you can do to stay involved. Visit alpaca shows; better yet, volunteer to help out. There is lots to learn in that environment. Go to fiber festivals. Learn to spin. Offer to help on shearing day. Go to seminars. Visit farms on Open Farm Day. Watch the auctions and see which animals sell and for how much. Join AOBA or regional affiliate. It gets you on the mailing list and you'll be swamped with information.
Read "Blue Ribbon Winner" with a skeptical eye. Many shows have only a few alpacas in each class. Ask how many were in the class or visit the website of the show and view the show results for yourself.
Buy second cutting hay when you can. It is a little more expensive but since they prefer it, there is virtually no waste.
If you want to insure a newborn cria, you must test the IgG. This is a routine blood test to see if the cria has received enough antibodies from the mother. If the IgG is low, the insurance company will not insure the baby. Also, if the IgG is low, some people recommend a transfusion of camelid blood to boost the immune system. Though this is a routine procedure, there are risks. If you purchased a bred female with a "live birth guaranty" talk to your breeder as soon as there is a problem. In order to take advantage of the guaranty, you may be required to administer the transfusion.