Tuesday, February 18, 2014


CHAMPION!  It has such a nice ring to it!  I was grinning from ear to ear this weekend when AWH Torbio's Endless Summer won his championship in Arizona.  Not only is he beautiful and sweet, but he is one of our last Torbio boys.  He's built just like his famous daddy--square and blocky with heavy, shiny fleece.  A real joy!

There was a time, though, when I worried about him.  When he was about 6 months old we discovered one morning that he had broken his leg just above the hock of his right hind.  How he did it will forever be a mystery!  There was no indication of anything in the pasture.  Perhaps he had caught his foot in the fence while rolling and struggled to free it, or maybe he ran too fast and stepped in one of those nasty gopher holes.  In any case, he needed the vet, pronto!, so we called Dr. Jana and she rushed over with her casting kit.

We had to shave the copious amount of fleece on his hind leg to be able to cast it.  I cringed as Dr. Jana shaved it.  I had intended this boy for the show string, and now that deal was off, maybe indefinitely.

When an alpaca breaks a limb, it can cause them to walk with an uneven gait, sometimes forever, depending on how it heals, how good the casting was (which depends on how much he wiggles and how well the holders control him), and how quickly it heals.  This was a green stick break, thank goodness, so chances were good that it would be fine.  I was thinking of the cosmetic aspect of it, though.  We would have to see.

Six weeks in a 20 X 20 foot pen is enough to make anyone stir crazy, so when it was time for Endless Summer to return to the barn for the cutting off of his cast, he was glad to be allowed to walk on a halter anywhere at all.  

We put him on the shearing table to make it convenient for all concerned, and Dr. Jana revved up her cast-cutting saw.  What a racket!!  Cutting a cast always looks like it's going to cut off the limb in question to me.   But, being a good vet, she only cut the cast, which we then pried off of his leg, and examined the result.

The shearing table in action during shearing season.

The leg appeared to be completely healed--HURRAY!!  But the flakes of skin and the straggly fleece that had grown in the six weeks were pretty yucky looking, and I had to come to terms with the fact that this boy would not be showing as a juvenile, and maybe not as a yearling either.  Looking closely at the rest of his fleece made me almost want to cry when I thought about not showing him, but it was the only reasonable answer.

We turned Summer out for the rest of the year, shearing him on schedule.  His leg gradually got stronger and straighter.  We decided to hold him out his yearling year as well because the fleece regrowth on his leg made it look lopsided, even though his walk was now even and steady.

After his second shearing, though, his legs looked beautifully straight and strong, so we entered him in the Southwest Regional Alpaca Show for February 2014.  I hoped there was no remnant of unevenness in his gait.  It was really hard to tell sometimes because I was so used to seeing a hitch in his gitalong, but we decided to take a chance.  Endless Summer would show for the 1st time ever as a two-year old.

We took 3 alpacas for the Breeders Best Three class: Endless Summer, Wabash Cannonball, and Ste Mary.  They had 3 different herdsires and 3 different dams, but were amazingly similar despite the different pedigrees.  We took a 1st place, and the judge (Amanda Vandenbosch) had wonderful things to say about the group, so I had more confidence as I entered the 2 year old class with Endless Summer on Saturday afternoon.

Having been left primarily to his own devices other than being haltered at shearing time, Endless Summer was pretty "opinionated" about how he would walk on a halter.  I thought of Torbio, and how he resented having to wear a halter, as though it were somehow beneath him,  and I laughed.  Like Father Like Son.  To save my already sore arm (getting old is no fun!) I switched the lead rope around to give me more "torque", and Summer began to settle down, although never truly submissive.  He knows who his daddy was!

We won our class of 4, then re-entered the ring for the championship round.  On my left in the front row were 2 sons of our wonderful Apache, boys that we had bred and sold.  What a proud day it was to stand in the front row of the championship round with 3 gorgeous males that we had bred!

The judge examined each alpaca for a 2nd time and then asked for the champion banner. She hesitated just a moment, as usual trying to make everyone guess who she was going to award the championship to, but then walked confidently toward Endless Summer with her hand outstretched to shake mine.  What a thrill!  The championship often goes to the full-fleeced yearling in the class, but this time she chose a male who had never shown before, and had been shorn twice.  She asked me to lead him in front of the crowd while she talked about his heavy, fine, lustrous fleece, his heavy bone, and fluid gait -- apparently there was no visible trace of the broken leg!  It was a very exciting moment, made even better by the fact that the full fleeced yearling Apache son took the reserve championship!

Endless Summer will show a couple more times this season before retiring to his breeding career--the reward due a male who overcame a broken leg to become a champion!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Graduation Day for Miracle!

Some of you may remember Miracle's story…

…the cria we thought was dead who was really alive who had muconium spill and whose mother died the next day leaving her an orphan with legs all crooked and a kink in her neck who we thought wouldn't live but who has thrived in spite of our fears and dire predictions…

     Well, Miracle has graduated. She has become a full-fledged alpaca.  She's completely sold out to the idea. Unlike some crias who are bottle-fed, Miracle never really wanted to be a human, nor did she ever think we were alpacas.  She knew that she needed humans because they brought her bottle, but she never gave up hope that someday a real alpaca mommy would come along.  

     Now and then we put her together with a nursing dam we thought might adopt Miracle.  Being a survivor and an opportunist, our girl scampered across the pen and dove immediately for the milk bar.  She was not shy or apologetic about it at all!  Usually she would get a few sips for her efforts before she was discovered to be an interloper, but in the end the other moms were always determined to keep their nursing exclusive to their own cria.  She was disappointed, but continued to take her bottle eagerly the next time.  We found that a combination of whole cows milk mixed with plain yogurt was a good match for her digestive system, so fortunately we had no gastrointestinal challenges along the way.

     As a supplement at night, we began putting out Calf Manna pellets for her, and she nibbled at first, then began to look forward to them. It wasn't long before we saw her actually eating hay as well.    At first it was just "monkey see monkey do" to be like the alpacas we kept in the next pen, but there was a point at which we could tell she was actually chewing and eating the orchard grass.  She spent lots of time digging around in the feeder for the most tender morsels she could find.

     One night Miracle had a new game to play when we came with the bottle.  She had become the "Gingerbread Girl", pronking around the pen, taunting "Can't catch me! Can't catch me!"  It was a bittersweet moment, one that every parent (human and alpaca) faces-- the beginning of true independence, both behaviorally and nutritionally.   It wasn't long before she seemed confused about whether she should suck on or chew on the rubber nipple.  Our little girl was growing up! 

     At 4 1/2 months and 52 lbs, Miracle lost almost all interest in her bottle.  She loved Calf Manna, regular alpaca pellets, and hay.  She still got excited when she saw us coming, but wanted to run and play rather than nurse.  We began halter training her in preparation for the day we would take her out to a real pasture to be a "real" alpaca.

     On a Saturday in January when several of her human friends were here, we haltered Miracle and began the Pomp and Circumstance march to her new pasture.  It was Graduation Day for the little girl who had fought so hard to live.  We all laughed as she danced down the row on her little green halter, spooking at unseen surprises, running ahead of us, eager to see what was next.  

     Kate led her into Pasture 7--the young girls' pasture.  Miracle could hardly contain herself!  Although she had been taught to stand still until released after the halter came off, she leaped out of Kate's grasp as soon as she felt the buckle give way!  She couldn't wait another second to run in the wide open spaces!  It's fairly normal for the newest member of a pasture to be inspected by the herd, and although all the girls came to sniff who she was, Miracle was just as eager to greet and sniff them.  They chased her--she chased them.  It was a merry chase all around!

     With a tear in our eye we all left her with her new family.  She didn't even see us go.  That is what we wanted her to do, after all-- to assimilate seamlessly into the herd.  Secretly I think we all hoped that she might hesitate, look around, wave goodbye, smile, say she would miss us….  It's really impossible not to anthropomorphize these adorable creatures, no matter how hard you try, especially when you've spent a lot of time, effort, and prayer on them.

     Later that day we returned to her new pasture just to be sure all was well.  And it was.  Miracle came away from the crowd at the feeders that evening to say hello, but it was the way an alpaca says hello-- curious to see if we brought her anything, standing just out of reach.   We patted ourselves on the back, swallowing the lumps in our throats.  We had worked hard for this.  We were all successful--human and alpaca.