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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The "NIBBLER"! (LaCroix Alpacas)

Who me?  What did I do?!

Who me? What did I do?!

Ah! The "nibbler"! The alpaca cria that is just so cute that you'd love to have him or her as a pet. A little cria that is very curious and actually wants to interact with you. Beware! You are in danger of spoiling an alpaca, and a spoiled alpaca is a real problem for humans! Alpacas eventually mature sexually, and with sexual maturity, comes aggression and the desire to express that aggression. The aggression may be expressed in varying degrees, but it is aggression and it is exacerbated in a spoiled alpaca.

At LaCroix Alpacas, I have an alpaca that was a "nibbler": i.e., an alpaca that liked to nibble on a coat sleeve, a pant leg, or anything that was handy. This behavior really hadn't been a nuisance and it was something that was apparently tolerated by her original owner when "the nibbler" was a cria. Because alpacas aren't as social as some species, I had to admit that this little interaction on her part had been nice in a social, alpaca-to-human way.

For example, she nibbled to communicate her wants and needs to me. Nibbling at the elbow might mean that she wanted more hay or grain. My alpaca was communicating with me! It was nice. Because she had a sweet and gentle personality, what is there not to love?

Something. On warm and sunny summer days, I would hang hay nets from the trunks of shade trees. If a net hung empty for awhile and the weather was too warm to do anything except rest, she, in her boredom, would nibble on a connecting knot in an empty hay net until the connection had broken; and one broken knot rendered that hay net useless. Suddenly nibbling had become frustrating and a little costly.

What to do? The personality of this particular alpaca had been very gentle, even as a pregnant maiden, and I had only to gently discourage her from nibbling...and to keep hay nets either filled or completely removed from her presence. [Extra work that I didn't need.] However, I also realized that my problem could have been much more difficult if the alpaca in question had possessed a more aggressive personality.

Lesson learned: Do not tolerate a nibbling alpaca. Do not even tolerate nibbling when it begins with a cria. Be gentle but discourage this habit. You never know where it will lead but it will cause inconvenience and, possibly, more.

My little nibbler: mature, pregnant, & as gentle as ever.  But NO NIBBLING!

My little nibbler: mature, pregnant, & as gentle as ever. But NO NIBBLING!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Advantages of a DIRT Barn Floor. (LaCroix Alpacas)

LaCroix Alpacas farm: 1870 bank barn.

LaCroix Alpacas farm: 1870 bank barn.

Our farm has a large bank barn with a dirt floor. I like that dirt floor! I didn't at first because I compared my dirt floor to more modern concrete floors; but time convinced me that a dirt floor is a pretty nice asset.

Why? Well, a dirt floor is dry and dryness promotes desiccation and desiccation is the enemy of parasites and parasites are the source of a multitude of problems. And so I learned that the immediate advantage of a dirt barn floor is...

1. It is not an unintended host for parasites.

There are, however, other advantages.

Years ago, I read that alpacas are more inclined to poop in a specific area in a barn if that area is large enough and surrounded by a low barrier. I have used old, discarded barn beams that are about 8-10" thick to create that area, but any lumber that the alpacas aren't able to move is sufficient. Over time, a hole about 18" deep has formed in the poop area. Into this hole, I daily sweep the poop and urine-soaked sawdust/lime with a shrub rake and a garden hoe. When the hole is full enough, I simply shovel the poop out and into handy buckets. When a cria is born, I cover the hole for 2-3 days with whatever pieces of lumber are handy, so that the cria is protected from falling into the hole while it is gaining strength in its legs. Since the alpacas poop on the side of the hole, the cover is not in the way. And so two more advantages of a dirt barn floor are...

2. A hole will naturally form in the dirt of the floor, further encouraging the alpacas to poop in a small area.
3. The hole consolidates the poop so that I am able to collect it in buckets once or twice weekly, instead of a daily collection of poop.

And there is two more advantages to having a dirt barn floor.

4. It is much warmer during the winter than a concrete floor is!
5. It is always dry for the comfort of the alpacas.

Are there any disadvantages? One comes to mind. When the weather is very, very dry, raking the floor with either the lawn rake [for large areas] or the shrub rake [for the poop area] will stir up dust. However, I am able to compensate for the dust by turning on the barn fans, if necessary. So even this isn’t really a disadvantage.

Yes, I do like my dirt barn floor!

Note: In the immediate poop area, I use pulverized limestone covered with sawdust. The poop that is swept into the hole is also sprinkled with lime in order to effectively mask the odor of urine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

COLOSTRUM REPLACER Experiences. (LaCroix Alpacas)

Paradiso's MARS de LaCroix, a beneficiary of maternal colostrum replacement.

Paradiso's MARS de LaCroix, a beneficiary of maternal colostrum replacement.

Although I had not needed a colostrum replacer once in a ten-year period, having on hand an excellent source of colostrum in case of an emergency had been a concern of mine; and due to several "colostrum" emergencies, I finally resolved to find a reliable and readily available source of colostrum for my next-year’s crias.

Within a period of 30 days in one year, I found that I needed an emergency colostrum replacer due to the birth of 5-weeks premature twin crias and a cria born a few days early to a maiden whose milk did not come in until 36 hours after his birth. One of the twins was stillborn but the other did receive the necessary colostrum [a frozen source] and a precautionary and expensive plasma transfusion although he was so young and tiny that he survived for only a week. The second event occurred during the Labor Day holiday when, it seemed, EVERYONE was taking a holiday. The “local colostrum” that I was able to obtain proved to be inadequate, and another expensive plasma transfusion was required. Thankfully, the weather was ideal for a cria. Although our cria did rest more than a normal cria would, he always seemed healthy, despite a critically low IgG: only 287! In fact, because he appeared to be healthy and strong, the veterinarian, who administered the plasma transfusion, was quite surprised by his critically low IgG level. Thankfully, the post-transfusion IgG test result was a very respectable 1204 IgG.

BUT THAT DID IT! Unreliable colostrum sources and expensive plasma transfusions had cost too much in money, time, and worry. I became determined to find an excellent-quality, maternal colostrum replacer to have on hand in case of an emergency. In my search, I found helpful information on the internet in an exchange of e-mails between alpaca owners. I contacted the alpaca owner experienced in using a powdered colostrum replacer and, subsequently, contacted the company that manufactures the colostrum replacer and purchased the powdered, plasma-based, maternal colostrum replacer, in anticipation of future cria births.

Amazingly, my next cria did need a colostrum replacer! He was born a few days too early and his maiden dam had no colostrum yet. [No genetic relationship to the previously mentioned experience.] This was quite a surprise since his dam's dam had always had plenty of milk for her crias. Nonetheless, being able to administer a quality, plasma-based, maternal colostrum replacer, that was handily on my shelf for emergencies, was a relief. Our cria didn't miss a beat, and he grew into a very macho little guy with a beautifully fine and carpet-dense fleece!

What did I learn from my experiences?
That there is a complete maternal colostrum replacer in powdered form on the market. Just be careful that you select a COMPLETE and PLASMA-BASED maternal colostrum replacer.
That plasma transfusions are VERY expensive and time-consuming [vet visits & tests].
That a complete maternal colostrum replacer is VERY economical, easy to use, and safe.
That it is wiser to have a maternal colostrum replacer on my shelf for that rare emergency, even if it is not used by its expiration date [two years], than to worry about the availability and quality of fresh or frozen colostrum.

I do realize that some breeders have excellent and readily available sources of fresh or frozen maternal colostrum. However, this blog is written to help those breeders who have not been so fortunate. I welcome any questions or comments that you may have.
MARS with his dam, TEMPEST, at sunset.

MARS with his dam, TEMPEST, at sunset.

Mojito's RAMBEAU with his dam.

Mojito's RAMBEAU with his dam.

Friday, April 29, 2016

ALPACA CARE: Lessons in Economy. (LaCroix Alpacas)

Ah!  Large, rolling, grass pastures!

Ah! Large, rolling, grass pastures!

Over the years, I have learned a few very economical things about raising alpacas that have stood me in good stead.

For example, LARGE GRASS PASTURES present a number of economies for the alpaca breeder. By my definition, "large, grass pastures" are large pastures that have more grass than the alpacas are able to consume. Anything less might look like a "pasture" but is really only a very large paddock. Below are listed a few of the economies derived in having large grass pastures:

#1. Large grass pastures surrounded by electric rope fencing are economical to build and maintain.

#2. Alpacas are generally healthier and are least stressed if they are given daily access to large grass pastures. Healthier and calmer alpacas require much less veterinary care. Because veterinary care can be quite expensive, the savings in health care are quite noticeable!

#3. The terrain of these pastures is also important. Alpacas, especially pregnant dams, crias, and young alpacas, need exercise, and large grass pastures with ROLLING HILLS are perfect for exercising alpacas. Most importantly, the benefit to pregnant dams grazing on these rolling hills is in the development of strong muscle tone in preparation for birthing. My alpaca dams almost always give birth standing up and without assistance, and their labors are relatively quick. In fact, with the exception of dystocia, the few dams that have had longer labors have been heavy and/or have not gotten enough exercise prior to birthing.

For those alpaca owners and breeders who have enough acreage for large grass pastures with adequate shade, I encourage you to get you alpacas out there!


Plenty of grass for baby and me! [PATRISSE & PATIENCE]

Plenty of grass for baby and me! [PATRISSE & PATIENCE]

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Barn "WINDOWS". (LaCroix Alpacas)

Window openings [opened and closed] covered with chain link.

Window openings [opened and closed] covered with chain link.

When my barn was resided in 2010, I knew that I needed barn windows but was uncertain about my options. Ready-made windows with shatter-proof glass seemed to be the most logical choice but those windows also had limitations. Not only were they expensive windows, but all of the ready-made, barn windows that I located could only be opened half-way, thereby limiting air circulation. I was also concerned about the reliability of the window washer: me! I only have so much time and am not enamored with the task of washing barn windows. Before my barn was resided, there had been simple, old-fashioned windows, and so I knew how awful dirty windows look, how they restrict the light coming into the barn when they are dirty, and, most importantly, how much work is involved in washing dirty barn windows.

I finally decided that my best option was a “window opening”: i.e., window-sized openings cut into the siding of the barn. If you're interested in this option, here is basically what you will need.
1. 9.5 gauge chain link.
2. 3/4" HG staples [u-shaped exterior nails].
3. 2x4's.
4. Hinges and screws.
5. Circular saw.
6. Tape measure.
7. Barn nails.
8. Cleat hooks and screws.
9. Rope.
10. Pulleys.
11. Eye screws.
12. Window latches.

2x4's are nailed inside the barn along the top and bottom dimensions of the desired opening. Hinges are attached to the top 2x4. The barn siding boards are cut along the dimensions of each opening; usually 3 boards wide. To open a "window", pull the hinged barn siding boards into the barn, and out of sight, using a rope-pulley-cleat hook combination. When closed, the barn boards are lowered and latched in their original positions along the exterior of the barn. The sizes of the openings vary a little, depending upon the varying widths of the barn siding boards.

The advantages of window openings:
The cost is minimal.
You decide exactly how large the openings will be.
The amount of air coming through the openings is maximized during warm weather.
Because the grey color of chain link fades into the grey color of the exterior barn siding, the
barn looks neat in the winter when the window openings are closed. [Note: These photos were
taken when the siding was relatively new and had yet not faded to grey.]
And, most importantly, there are no windows to clean!

However, the window openings do have a limitations.

1. During the winter months, I must close some or all of the openings, depending upon the weather. Since alpacas need to be able to see outdoors, I limit the number of windows and doors that are closed as much as possible. Except during most severe conditions, I am usually able to keep a door partially open, as well as at least two windows so that the alpacas are able to walk outdoors and/or see outdoors.

2. There is no barrier in the opening, such as glass, to stop a predator from jumping into the barn. Although, my barn is surrounded by protective fencing and security inside of the barn is a minor concern, I decided that I still ought to have a barrier in the openings for peace of mind and anything unforeseen. My barrier solution is as unconventional as my window solution but it works and is reasonably attractive.

Borrowing from my experience with chain link fencing, I knew that heavy gauge [at least 9.5 gauge] chain link would not be damaged by alpacas and that it would remain in excellent condition for many, many years. And so appropriately-sized sections of chain link were nailed over the window openings with 3/4" HG staples [u-shaped exterior nails]. The resulting chain link barrier is very secure. [Note: The heavier gauge chain link is important. Alpacas are able to damage a lighter gauge.]

The advantages of chain link barriers:
Maximum ventilation for your alpacas.
Minimal cost.
Barn security.
The barriers will remain in excellent condition for many years.
At a distance, the chain link begins to “disappear”.

I hope that this information helps someone in the alpaca world!
Window opening covered with chain link and secured with coaxial wood staples.

Window opening covered with chain link and secured with coaxial wood staples.

View of barn window opening from the barn interior.

View of barn window opening from the barn interior.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


A well-ventilated barn.

A well-ventilated barn.

I want to share something that we've done to increase natural air movement in the animal area downstairs in the barn. Large, ground-floor window openings [no glass] are cut in the hemlock siding [pictured]. They open to the inside of the barn. There are also large window openings at each end of the roof. With the bank barn doors also opened, the air flowing up the stairs from the ground level is greatly enhanced, increasing the natural breeze that flows through the animal area below.

The construction of the openings is simple and inexpensive. In addition, there is no glass to clean so the alpacas have a healthy view of the outdoors all year, even during the winter months, when we often open either a few or all of the windows during the day. The openings have also been covered with 9-guage galvanized chain link [not yet pictured] for protection of the animals.

If you have questions [e.g., How do you close the gable openings easily?], just contact me, Patti LaCroix.

There is an awning extending over the large bank barn doors that helps to keep rain out of the barn upstairs during warm weather.
Simple bank barn awning designed to keep rain out of the barn.

Simple bank barn awning designed to keep rain out of the barn.