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!

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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 Viña 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

Friday, May 2, 2014

Knitting -- Old Practice with New Twists!

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     KNITTING has experienced a revival in the last several years.  In this day of electronics, many people are choosing to get in touch with some of the more tactile and traditional skills of human history.  The Knitting Circle has become popular again.  It might, at first glance, look like a group of Millenials texting on their phones, but it’s really a group of people (men too!) getting in touch with their fuzzier, warmer side by actually talking in person while they create something useful and satisfying with knitting needles and yarn.  

     The really determined among us are also contributing to the growing and milling of natural fibers rather than acrylic, nylon and polyester by buying and using locally-grown and milled natural fibers (see the Gold Coast Fibershed).  In our case here at Windy Hill, that is ALPACA.

     Alpaca is growing in popularity as it gains notoriety due to a growing number of alpaca farms in the U.S.  Huacaya fiber is crimpy and fuzzy, similar in style to sheep’s wool.  Suri fiber is slick, shiny, and equally soft, similar to silk.

     We raise primarily suri alpaca at Alpacas at Windy Hill, although we usually have huacayas here as well.  Suri, however, being a bit different from wool and even huacaya fiber, needs some special attention to make knitting projects successful.  Once the knitter embraces the differences, suri is often preferred due to it’s superior drape.  Suri also lends itself well to lace-weight yarn and projects, and always looks elegant.

     Sue Simonton, owner of Little Gidding Farm Suri Alpacas, has written a guide for knitting with suri alpaca that I thought might interest some of you, our blog readers.  Sue is a member of the Suri Network Product Development Committee, and contributes to the Facebook page by the same title.  Read and enjoy!  

     We invite you to come out to Alpacas at Windy Hill (Like us on Facebook!and get some suri yarn to try for your next knitting (or crocheting) project!



Why knit with suri? What can I expect?

• Fine suri yarn is a beautiful lustrous yarn,
• Like cashmere in its softness and silk in its drape and luster.
• It takes color as beautifully as silk or kid mohair.

What are the properties of suri yarn?
   • Its drape and weight make it perfect for garments that drape rather than cling.
   • Fine and open work garments are warm.
   • Not as elastic as wool but more elastic than silk, cotton or bamboo.
   • Suri blocks and holds its shape.  That is, it is resilient if it is not made of heavy yarn and not knit loosely.

What does fine mean?
   • Fibers are classed by micron. British cashmere is < 19 microns. Vicuna
   • Alpaca, including suri, includes a wide range of fineness and the fleece is classed accordingly.
      The Suri Network, along with the Australians, the Canadians, and Peruvians class fibers as follows:
          Grade #1, Suri Ultimate,
          Grade #2, Suri Superfine, 20 -22.9 μm,
          Grade #3, Suri Classic, 23-25.9μm,
          Grade # 4, 26-28.9μm.
          Grade #5, 29-31.9μm,
          Grade #6, 6 32-35μm.
      Classing provides guidelines for sorting fiber into micron, color and staple length.
      The fibers’ micron grade will determine how the yarn is used as well as its price.
   • Fine suri, Grades #1 or #2 can be worn next to the skin, a Grade #3, if it is carefully sorted with few
      fibers over 30 can make a comfortable garment— coarser fiber is best used for rugs or felting.

How do I use my fine suri yarn? How do I find patterns?
   • Suri — fine, lustrous, sound, consistent in handle and staple length is a luxury fiber.
   • This yarn is ideally suited to shawls and scarves but also lace sweaters, christening bonnets and
      dresses, and wedding veils.
   • Whether spun in a fine lace weight (250 yds/oz) or a light fingering (75 – 100 yds.oz) it should adapt
      easily to patterns for such garments. Attention to needle size is important.
   • Go down a needle size or two from a pattern created for wool. Always check gauge!
   • Patterns for silk and fine cotton should behave much the same as suri as these yarns do not have the
      elasticity of wool. Patterns for huacaya fall somewhere in between — not as elastic as wool, not as
      silky as suri or silk. So again, check the gauge.

What do I do with my stronger (coarser) yarns?
   • Heavier garments of stronger (coarser) fiber do not work well when made of pure suri.
   • Lovely drape in a finer yarn is a weighty drag unless care is taken to knit very firmly.
   • Pure suri in the heavier weights of yarn, worsted and bulky, becomes rather like string.
   • Suri can be blended with wool, preferably a wool of similar staple length and micron count and one
      with some luster. This makes the yarn lighter, more resilient, suitable for outerwear.
   • Patterns for this weight are most likely to be for wool so checking gauge and needle size is important.

What needles should I choose?
   • For knitting suri yarn smooth wooden or bamboo needles are good; for lace projects addi lace needles
      are wonderful. As suri is a slippery yarn, the addi lace needles have just enough drag to hold the yarn
      on the needle and are still fast and addi lace needles now come in a full range of sizes.
   • The size needle can very according to the project. The finer the needle the more stable the finished

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

Monday, April 28, 2014

CRIA SEASON IS HERE-- Are you ready?

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Pretty exciting times coming up…  CRIA SEASON IS HERE! 

Due Dates
Remember that due dates are like they are with people. Crias comes when they are really ready, not when the calendar says they will.   In fact, at this time of year in California, anyway, they tend to run late.  Our vet says not to worry until 2 weeks past a year before you think about intervention.  A healthy womb is always better than the outside environment for that last little bit of gestation.  We try not to bug the moms about anything in the last 60 days before the due date, keeping stress to a minimum.  Toenails can wait until after the cria is born.  It’s really hard to wait when they go over their due date!

We usually feed Mazuri Alpaca Growth and Repro pellets for about 3 weeks before the female is due. We sometimes use lactation herbs as well, but our girls seem to do just fine now with just the pellets.  Developed by Dr. Norm Evans, Growth and Repro gives the late term mom the extra "oomph" she needs in the last 3 weeks of her pregnancy when the baby is making big demands on her resources.  It helps her with milk production and keeps her weight from dropping rapidly when she starts lactating.

If you have a female who you know needs an extra boost with her milk, we have used Dr. Pollard’s Lactation Herbs and Riley’s Lactation Formula mixed with the Growth and Repro.  You would only need to give her about 1/4 cup a day each for the last little bit of her pregnancy, and continue for the 1st 3 weeks after she delivers the cria.  It should help her peak and hold her milk production by about 3 weeks postpartum. 

You should probably have a couple of cria coats in case it's cold when they are born.  Being too cold is something you really need to watch, because if they are too cold they can't get up and nurse.   If the cria is born at 6 am, it could be in trouble if it's really cold in the morning.  Rule of thumb:  if you need a jacket, the cria needs a jacket.  Newborns have very little ability to regulate their internal temperature, and they are born wet.

Antiseptic Solution
You will need Novalsan or Betadine solution, diluted 1:1 to dip the navel in after birth.   Bacteria love to crawl up those open blood vessels, so we dip once and sometimes twice.  The solution helps dry up the umbilicous.  If the stump is really short, watch carefully for any swelling, and call the vet if you see it happening.

Have a supply of dry towels to wrap the cria in when it’s born, and do some gentle rubbing to help it dry off if it's cold.  You can peel the membrane off if you want to, but it's not really necessary.   I’m always anxious to examine the fleece, but there is time enough for that when the cria is dry.  You might need a small heater or hair dryer to warm the baby up if it's too cold.  If it's a nice warm day, you're probably not going to have to do too much.

If the cria is slow to get up, it's usually a good idea to roll it onto its chest in a sternal position so that it can breathe more easily.  If you would be chilly in wet clothes, put a jacket on the baby.  If the wind is blowing, take it inside for awhile.  If it just seems a little lack-luster in its behavior, you can try putting Karo syrup on your finger and rubbing it on the cria's gums.  It's amazing how fast it absorbs!  The sugar gives them a little shot of energy, and can even stimulate the sucking reflex.  We also keep a supply of goat’s milk around, just in case the cria is too weak to get up at first, or mom’s milk takes a few hours to come in.  If the little guy won’t take a bottle, you can syringe the milk down the cria’s throat (remember to warm it up a little first), or in extreme cases, use a feeding tube (ask your vet for directions on how to properly use the feeding tube).

Be prepared to do NOTHING.  
If you see mom in labor and are tempted to help, sit on your hands another 20 minutes and watch. 
If the cria looks a little sleepy when it’s born, it probably needs a nap.  Getting born is hard work!  
If the cria falls on its face 4 or 5 times while trying to get up, cheer her on, but try to stay out of mom’s way.  That’s all normal.  
If the cria looks wobbly when it stands up and you think it will never find the udder, go for a walk around the ranch before you try to help.  
Alpacas are really good moms—even the newbies.  The last thing you want is for that cria to ID you as its mother and be confused!  Those first few hours are essential to a cria growing up with a healthy and proper self-image in order to avoid over-"friendliness" and problems down the line.  Dip the navel and back away.  Maybe, just maybe, you can wait until the next day to weigh the little cutie so she has more time with mom.  Weights are good to have, but not essential on Day 1, in my opinion.  Sometimes you have to intervene to be sure the cria is healthy, but that should be the exception, not the rule.

Mostly, just enjoy your time observing the new cria.  What a wonder it is to be a part of the birth of a new creature.  A miracle!  Like opening a Christmas gift!  It’ll always be a surprise—different gender, different color, different markings—you never really know what to expect!  But it’s infinitely fascinating and fun to meet this new member of your herd.  I think crias are the best part of raising alpacas!

How can we help you with what to expect as your dams approach birthing?  Please call or email me if you have questions.  We’ve witnessed literally 100’s of births here at Windy Hill.  And I used to teach 4th grade, so I have a California Credential in Answering Questions!  We look forward to hearing from you.


Cindy Harris ~ Alpacas at Windy Hill ~ 907-5162  
Alpaca Ownership with a Safety Net-- How can we help YOU?


Friday, April 25, 2014

Simplest Thing, There Isn’t Much To It...

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Ventoso's lustrous fleece!
Skirting is a dream come true… especially if you love alpaca fleece AND happen to be ADD with a little OCD thrown in for good measure.  I just love to dump a fleece out of the bag onto the skirting table and take a good look at it.  I learn a lot about my breeding program by skirting fleeces.  Yes, it’s time-consuming, pains-taking, and it can even cause you to lose your perspective after you’ve done 10 or 12 of them.  But it’s worth every minute. 

Every fleece has its own character.  Sometimes it takes me a few minutes of handling a fleece to figure it out.  I try to lay it out on the skirting table like it came off the alpaca.  This can be a challenge-to-impossible if it’s a cria fleece that falls out of the bag like so many shining little “worms”.  I try to get a feel for where the outside edge of the blanket is.  With a suri you will sometimes see the fleece coarsen slightly and lose luster around the outside edges.  I remove that ring of fleece first.  Then I go back and try to capture the stray pieces of hay, sticks, straw, dingleberries and unidentifiables.  After that’s done, the rest is usually pretty good.

When I was a kid I learned that there is a song for just about every event in life, from the grand moments to the minutia of life.  Skirting is no exception, and pretty soon I was in my own little world, mindlessly singing snatches of camp songs while I obsessed over yet another cria fleece.  Fortunately today Juan’s crew was weed-whacking and Annie the Border Collie was pleading with Kate—at the top of her voice— to come rescue her from the yard, so no one heard my little ditties in the barn….

“Simplest thing, there isn’t much to it,
All you gotta do is doodlie-do it….”

As I finish each section of the blanket, I pick it up in a loose ball and shake vigorously, letting the tiny little bits and tags of fleece caught in the mass fall like snowflakes to the surface of the net.  Some of them are so small that I would never find them otherwise.  When that is the case, they can sneak past the mill as well and end up as little balls of fiber in my roving, or worse yet, in my yarn.  Our shearers have been very good the last 3 years about avoiding the dreaded “2nd cuts” as they shear.  The one shearing the blanket has the task of making sure that he doesn’t go back over the edge of the previous pass as he starts a new one.  If he can remember to leave just the slightest bit of space between passes, then those little short pieces don’t end up in the blanket.  The better the shearer, the fewer the 2nd cuts in the bag.

Those little pieces shaken out of the skirted fleece, both on the table and on the floor.

What did I do with the fiber I extracted from the edge of the blanket?  I put it in a bin of “skirtings”, otherwise known as the Mush Pot.  These are not 2nd’s, such as neck and leg.  They are merely the parts of the blanket that are not as nice as the prime fleece, and hopefully there isn’t much of it.  Sometimes there are wonderful twisted locks in that lot, good for craft projects later.  It also makes wonderful rug yarn—not as much guard hair as the 2nd’s—and it can be dyed and used as needle-felting projects.  There are all kinds of uses for “skirtings”.

The Mush Pot full of "skirtings"
One of these days I plan to take a course in sorting so that I understand the difference between the grades of fleece.  In the meantime, I am looking for obvious differences within the blanket and separating them.  You know you have a consistent fleece when there is hardly anything to remove from the blanket except hay.  And the denser and more uniform the fleece is, the less junk you find in it.    It’s amazing.  A more open fleece is more “hospitable” to debris.

Fleece full of unsavory crud.
When I am finished with a fleece, I have a bag of exquisite blanket to be spun, some really stained or dirty stuff in the trash bin to go in the compost, and a bag of skirtings, the use of which I will determine later when inspiration strikes.

Michelle's fleece, ready to be skirted.
And then on to the next one!
“…I like the rest but the part I like best is
Doodlie doodlie doodlie doodlie doodlie doodlie do!”

For more information on skirting, fleeces for sale, and suris, please complete the form HERE

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