Friday, July 18, 2014


I pulled up behind the truck, finally close enough to really read the bumper sticker: “STOP GLOBAL WHINING”.  
        Humor is often based on a surprise—a word trick that suddenly spins the world sideways or upside down.  This surprise made me shriek with laughter.  I don’t really know why, but I giggled all the way home.  It’s a good thing I was alone. I might have scared somebody.
Aside from the obvious reason it amused me, I was delighted to have a humorous reference to a practice that otherwise falls on a scale in my mind somewhere between Mildly Annoying and Infuriating.  Circumstances, persons, and duration influence where it sits on that scale at any given time.  Whining does appear to be ‘global’….
Kittens, having lost their mittens

Growing up as a compliant child, I quickly learned not to whine.  Whining was met with frowns, scolding and even derision.  I was incredulous that other children, my younger brother included, continued to use it as a method of wearing down their parents.  I was shocked to learn that if one persisted, it even worked sometimes!  Still, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  It was just one of many things in childhood that fell into the “life isn’t fair” category.
When my children were small I used a variety of methods to discourage whining.  After all, there were four of them and one of me, so I tried my best to keep them off balance.  A terse, “Stop it!” with “The Look” could be useful for its surprise value.  “I can’t hear you when you use that tone of voice”, although untrue, was helpful on occasion.  It became my default response eventually, abbreviated to simply ignoring the whiner.  Another sibling usually had to whisper, “Shut up!  She can’t hear you if you whine, remember??” to make it actually sink in, but eventually all four of them got the message.  Complaining was ok sometimes, but not whining.
There are whiners in the classroom as well.  Can I get an “Amen!” from all the 1st Grade teachers out there?  And from the High School teachers?  In the 4th grade classroom I could usually extinguish it in the first couple of weeks by referring to whining as “3rd grade behavior” .  No 4th grader wants to go back to being a “little kid”.

Pound puppies from Lady and the Tramp

There is one place I have not been successful stopping whining, though, and that is on the ranch.  Alpacas just don’t respond to my usual methods.  We have had some World Class Whiners out here at Windy Hill.

Quicksilver came to us from Maryland. She had had one female cria, a very lustrous girl named Resi.  Quicksilver was not much to look at herself, but she produced very pretty babies for several years.  The other thing that she produced was copious amounts of whining.


Quicksilver did the usual humming to her crias and quibbling at the feeder, but when she was put in a small pen for any reason, she would whine.  She whined about being out of the pasture, about being haltered, walked, sheared, and examined.  She whined frantically if her cria would get too far away, and when weaning day arrived, Quicksilver would settle in for a Marathon of whining.  Fortunately, Quicksilver’s crias did not grow up to be whiners.  Not until Naiisha.
Naiisha is Quicksilver’s daughter by Apache, and she a lovely girl. She now belongs to Julie and Jamey, and is a model alpaca.  When she is open she is quite affectionate, and can change overnight into a witchy pregnant female.  But pregnant or not, if you put Naiisha in a pen, she whines.
Showing Naiisha was always a musical affair.  She would start whining as soon as I led her to the trailer, and continue until I took off her halter in the quarantine pasture when we arrived home.  She wasn’t frantic. She didn’t pace.  She just whined, non-stop.  Have you ever heard an alpaca whine while chewing their hay?  It’s a little muffled, but clearly recognizable as whining.
Now Naiisha has a daughter named Dakota.  I don’t remember Dakota whining as a cria, so it may be that weaning was the catalyst in her case, but for a solid week she and her mama paced on opposite sides of the fence, whining a duet.  They would sing to each most of the day, and at night they would sit side by side at the fence.  In the morning the pacing and singing would begin all over again.  Fortunately it only  lasted a week.  Dakota is a big girl now, but still whines if she is penned up.  I guess it just runs in Quicksilver’s family.

Naiisha at weaning time

Another vocally-expressive girl is Spring Reign.  Spring Reign is a large girl loves treats, and is sweet and easy to handle, which is always good with a really big girl.  However, when she was due to deliver her first cria, we discovered that Spring Reign was more than a bit of a prima donna. 
I watch the “OB” pasture closely for the last month of our girls’ pregnancies.  You never know when one of them may deliver early, need help, or pop a cria out while you’re at lunch.  One morning on my first visit to OB, I heard a loud noise before I even rounded the corner from the office.  It sounded like…well…a MOOSE!  As I reached the gate I saw Spring Reign lying flat out on her side.  When she saw me, she got clumsily to her feet and walked toward me. When she was sure she had my attention, she carefully lowered her huge belly back to the ground, flopped on her side, and began again to bellow.  Needless to say, I was alarmed. I saw that her due date wasn’t for three more weeks.  “I hope she’s not in labor!”, I thought.   Just then, she let out another thunderous groan, rolled up into a cush, then flopped over on her other side and repeated the whole cycle.
I called the vet.  Dr. Jana checked her thoroughly and assured me that she was not in labor, was not presenting a uterine torsion, and did not appear to be in any kind of pain.  She just wanted to bellow.  She was huge and miserable and it was warm outside.
I think that was the first time I really equated an alpaca pregnancy with a human pregnancy.  I thought back to the last month of any of my pregnancies.  How did I feel?  Like groaning, of course. I called it the Beached Whale Phase of pregnancy:  I couldn’t get up,  I couldn’t get down, there was no good way to sit or stand or lie down, it was too hot, I only wanted ice cubes to eat, and if you were not interested in rubbing my swollen feet, you better not touch me.
Spring Reign continued her daily bellowing.  I called the vet twice more before she convinced me that there was nothing wrong.  When she finally did go into labor, Reigny delivered her baby with grace and ease, and the bellowing stopped.  Until the next year.  

I've rolled over and I can't get up!

I guess the truth is that we all whine now and then.  I’ve learned that people are much more tolerant of it if I announce ahead of time that I’m going to whine.    If you expect whining, it’s a little easier to take.  “Oh, there she goes.  She is whining again.”  We can all acknowledge it, then go on.  It certainly seems to be a global problem.  
The bumper sticker begs the question: CAN we stop global whining?  Do we NEED to stop global whining?  It’s one thing for a bumper sticker to demand it, and quite another to really expect to conquer something so ubiquitous.

I think I’ll wait until I see peace in the Middle East, good manners on the freeway, and Naiisha standing patiently in a pen.  Perhaps then there will be some chance of ending Global Whining.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What Do We Want To See in 2024? Imagining the Future Together

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  What will happen to our wonderful herds of alpacas in the next 10 years?  Imagine with me for a moment what the alpaca industry might look like in 2024….

If we ask the man on the street in 2024 “What is an alpaca?”, we might get a variety of answers.

“Alpacas?  Weren’t they like ostrichs?  People used to pay ridiculous prices for them but the bubble burst.  Now you don’t hear about them much anymore.”

“Alpacas?  Yeah, they tried to make them into livestock.  You know—sell the fleece to make money. But the recession of 2008 came before they got their act together.  Some people tried to create a meat market, but it never caught on.  I know people who still have a few in their back yards, but there isn’t much use for them.  I haven’t seen one of those TV commercials in years!”

“Alpacas?  Oh, they are so adorable, and their fleece is to die for!  My whole winter wardrobe is alpaca, and it’s all made in the US.  Cashmere and merino used to be the go-to natural fibers for cold weather, but now if it’s not at least 50% alpaca, I won’t buy it.  It’s the only thing I can comfortably wear that lasts.  I even have alpaca upholstery on my couch now—it’s beautiful and hardly shows wear, even after five years and three kids!”

Which scenario would you rather see?

I “see” a real future for the alpaca industry.   And what do I want it to look like in the future?  
Here are some of my answers.  I would like to hear yours.  It’s time to cast a new Vision…

I want…
  • ‘alpaca’ to be a household word.
  • more young families to catch the vision and join the alpaca movement.
  • US grown and manufactured alpaca products to be common in upper end department stores.
  • the value of an alpaca to be based on science and objective data, not just show ribbons.
  • U.S. alpaca socks and long underwear to be the go-to choice for cold weather wear in sporting goods stores.
  • alpacas to become a regular part of 4H and FFA.
  • U.S. alpaca rugs, draperies and upholstery to be common in U.S. homes.
  • sports fans to take alpaca stadium pads and lap blankets with them to outdoor games.
  • U.S. grown and spun yarn in every privately own yarn shop.
  • to drive across the U.S. and see large herds of alpacas grazing on open plains and filling valleys at the foot of the mountain ranges.
  • the number of AOA registered alpacas to climb to over 2,000,000.
  • standardized measurements for histograms and skin biopsies.
  • sorting and grading become 2nd nature to breeders and growers—a standard skill in the pocket of every alpaca owner.
  • us turning down offers from foreign entities to buy our fleece because we have a use for every scrap of fiber produced in the U.S.

What do you want to see happen in our Alpaca Industry?

Cindy Harris~ Alpacas at Windy Hill~ (805) 907-5162~

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What We Need...

What We Need for the Long Haul

     The alpaca industry has undergone a shake-down during the recession just like all industries in the U.S.  Prices have gone down, just like the housing market.  Some breeders have trimmed their herds down to the very best.  Some have taken this opportunity to retire.  Most of us have had a long dry spell in alpaca sales.  What used to pass for moderate quality alpacas are now relegated to the “rug yarn” herd…or even the meat market.

     There has been an increase in the pet/fiber market for alpacas that needed to move to someone else’s feed bill.  Many people now own alpacas who could not afford them during the period when prices were high.  These are all positive things.

     The quality of alpacas in the show ring has progressed by leaps and bounds every year, and yet many alpacas who have the desirable fleece characteristics needed for a fleece market are selling as pets for the simple reason that their owners can no longer support them.  Many breeders stopped breeding altogether, some for several years, because they were out of room, or out of funds to feed additional mouths.

     We still need to increase our numbers by quite a bit to have the amount of fleece necessary to interest commercial fleece buyers.  And we need to continue our good breeding practices that have led to the level of quality we are seeing today.  WE CAN DO THIS!

     This leads me to ask, “What do we need?”  Our national organizations, AOBA and ARI have combined into AOA in an attempt to better serve the industry.  Perhaps it is time for the mindset of us as breeders to push the reset button on their goals and objectives, study where we have been and where we need to be, and re-write those goals to better serve the future of alpaca in the U.S.

Here are my thoughts about the alpaca industry as we go forward.


We need....

People with vision who
  • are passionate about a commercial alpaca fleece industry
  • will set standards that advance the overall quality of the national herd
  • want to usher in the U.S. alpaca fiber industry
  • will coordinate the collection and sale of fleece at a fair price
  • will run AOA with drive and determination to make the U.S. Alpaca         Industry succeed at home and abroad

Serious livestock-model alpaca breeders who 
  • are in it for the long haul
  • breed herds of quality alpacas to create a viable U.S. fleece industry
  • have the financial standing to get through lean times
  • have enough pasture land to support alpacas in an economical manner
Objective methods for evaluating breeding stock and fleece so that
  • reliable choices can be made when planning breedings
  • the quality of the national herd continually improves
  • breeders have reliable means of achieving realistic breeding goals

Businesses that create commercial uses for alpaca fleece to
  • create finished products from U.S. alpaca fleece
  • create U.S. jobs with U.S. fleece
  • accommodate different grades of fleece
  • present the best possible use of each grade to the market
  • diversify the fleece market in the U.S.

A community of support businesses that will provide
  • sorting and grading services
  • shearing services
  • competent veterinary care
  • feed specifically aimed at healthy fleeces
  • equipment for alpaca handling and fleece processing
  • transportation and warehousing

An alternative end-use community of individuals, businesses and charities that
  • use alpaca fleece in craft and art endeavors
  • absorb culls from breeding herds
  • as pets
  • as meat and hides
  • as therapy animals
  • as ambassadors to the public


     I am sharing these ideas with you knowing that this is not the complete picture. I'm sure I’ve left things out, and what I have included probably needs tweaking.  I invite you, my readers, to add things you think would benefit the alpaca industry as we march onward toward the goal of the commercial U.S. fiber market.  Will you join me?  I would love to hear from you!

Sign up for our Email Announcement List:


Alpacas at Windy Hill ~ ~
7660 Bradley Rd. Somis, CA ~ (805) 907-5162

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Alpaca Blogging at Windy Hill: Bringing Alpacas into the Fold of Small Sustainabl...

Alpaca Blogging at Windy Hill: Bringing Alpacas into the Fold of Small Sustainabl...: Small Farms are the wave of the present and the future.  You have probably noticed that you can’t get very far off the main highwa...

Bringing Alpacas into the Fold of Small Sustainable Farms

Small Farms are the wave of the present and the future.  You have probably noticed that you can’t get very far off the main highway in any rural area before you see signs for small, sustainable organic farms.  There is a wave of people who are headed back to the farm for various reasons—
  • to escape the Rat Race
  • to do something tangible and real
  • to get out of the traffic and the lights of the city
  • to give their children a healthier place to grow up
  • to get back to their roots
  • because their Inner Rancher has finally broken free…

They raise specialty produce to sell locally to restaurants and farmer’s markets.  They till their own soil, plant their own seeds, live on the land, and are content with making a comfortable living.  They realize that in farming, they already “have it all”.

Aside from orchards and vegetables, small farmers often have livestock of one kind or another, and I would like to make the argument that the Alpaca is the ideal livestock for the small, sustainable farm.  
  • Alpacas are about as Green as an animal can be!  They
  • don’t churn up the turf or the sod with their padded feet
  • nibble grass rather than pulling it up by the roots
  • are neat and clean about where they deposit their manure
  • don’t require slaughter to produce a viable product
  • make very efficient use of their food, leaving manure that is low in nitrogen and greenhouse gases
  • create extremely rich and “cool” fertilizer
  • produce a luxury fleece that does not require harsh chemicals and hot water to process
  • are gentle and easy to handle.

Rotating crops with fallow fields and alpaca pasture would help the soil maintain its richness, making everything work well together.  

(Thanks to

If one were to design a small farm from scratch, it could include 
  • produce to sell locally  
  • chickens to provide eggs, pest control, fertilizer and meat 
  • composting to recycle by-products into fertilizer
  • alpacas to fertilize the land and produce fleece
  • tree fruit
  • farm-made food products such as jam or apple butter 
  • home-made products using alpaca fleece and other natural fibers.

Here are some resources that might inspire you, give you ideas and connect you with your Inner Farmer/Rancher.  

Alpagriculture...Sustainable life!—
California Small Farm Conference--

Give it some thought.  It might just be what you have been trying to do all your life.  It took me 50 years, but I got here, and I’ve never been happier!

Join our mailing list and come out to Alpacas at Windy Hill to find out more.


Alpacas at Windy Hill ~ Cindy Harris & Doug Fieg ~ ~
7660 Bradley Rd. Somis, CA 93066  ~ (805) 907-5162

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Are You Ready For A FIBER RETREAT This Summer???

To my Fiber-Minded Friends, near and far--

We are putting together a 

Spinning/Knitting/Crocheting/Relaxing/Weaving/ Playing Retreat 

this summer in Temecula at the ViƱa de Lestonnac Retreat Center, 39300 De Portola Road, Temecula, CA 92591. 


25-27 July (anytime from 1pm on 25th until around 2pm on 27th)

-Cost: $240 pp

Double room with 2 single beds (or $100 extra for a private room); 
One meal Friday, 3 Saturday, Brunch on Sunday; 
Free coffee, tea, water 24/hrs/day; 
Plenty of room to spin/knit/crochet/gab/weave (stories or yarn)/rest/read......

-Deposit is $120 with final $120 due NLT June 25th. Reservations are limited, so if you'd like to join us, please let me know right away.  

Send your deposit check to

Cindy Harris
7660 Bradley Rd.
Somis, CA 93066


Informal sharing of ideas, information, stories, tall tales, fiber arts techniques, songs, and fun. 
No formal classes are planned, but we imagine that many will spring up spontaneously!  

If you have something to learn or something to share, then you are just right for this event!

We have seen the grounds and they are beautiful.

Wine country --lovely scenery. 
Rooms are very clean. 
Special meals can be arranged at no extra cost. 
Catholic services held daily at 9am for those so inclined.
Sing-alongs in the Amphitheater in the evening.

You are welcome to bring any snacks or beverages (including alcohol if you wish). We might be dyeing fiber, dyeing laughing, networking, dancing, teaching, learning, singing and giggling at any time.  I'm even bringing my guitar!

Let me know right away if you'd like to join us!

Email me today if you are interested in going with us!
Questions?  Email me or call me: 805-907-5162