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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Make a Silky Suri Tunisian Crochet Baby Afghan

(1st published in PurelySuri Magazine, January 2014)

Harper's Suri Baby Blanket

My first grand baby was born in October, and I'm so excited!  Knitting and I have never come to a meeting of the minds, but I love to crochet and have recently learned the Tunisian simple stitch.  I was delighted by the thick, knit-like pattern it creates, so I set out to make a Baby Afghan with some super-silky 100% baby suri I had.  I've also been experimenting with dyes, so it was a natural to want to dye this afghan with fun colors.  With a bit of trepidation, since I've not done this before, I decided to share this pattern with you.  I hope you find it easy and fun, and I would love some feedback on how the instructions were to use.

Medium weight light fawn baby suri yarn
Tunisian crochet hook, size K
Regular crochet hook, size K
Large-eyed embroidery needle
Food coloring, vinegar and water

Tunisian Simple Stitch
Single Crochet
Slip stitch


1. Start with a slip knot on the end of your tunisian hook.
Chain 13, counting the stitch on your hook as 1, making 14 in all.  This was the size I chose to make.  Yours might be larger or smaller, depending on your needs. 


 2. Putting your hook through the 1st chain next to the hook, pull a loop through, leaving the stitch on your hook.  Continue going through each stitch and pulling a loop through until the hook has all the stitches on it, almost like a knitting needle (this is why you need the long-handled afghan hook).  

 3. Without turning your work, pull a loop through the last stitch. 

4. Now pull a loop through 2 stitches, and continue pulling a loop through 2 stitches all the way back to the beginning.  You should now have only 1 loop on your hook.  This completes the 1st row.  Each Tunisian row has 2 steps. 

 5. To begin the 2nd row, put your hook through the first vertical bar and pull a loop through.  Continue to the end of the row.  When you get to the last bar, put your hook through 2 strands instead of only one, then pull your loop through. 

 6. To begin your journey back to the other end, pull a loop through 1 stitch only, then pull a loop through 2 stitches back to the beginning. This return stitch is the same in all Tunisian crochet stitches.  

 7. Continue making rows in like manner until you have a square.  You can test to see if your piece is a square by folding it diagonally. If all the sides line up to make a right triangle, you have a square!  Fasten off, leaving a 4-inch tail.  Make as many squares as you need for your afghan. I chose to make 6 since mine was designed to be baby-size. 

 8. At this time, prepare your dyes if you decide to use them.  This pattern looks equally lovely in natural colors.  I chose to use dye because I wanted it to be colorful for my new granddaughter. I used food coloring because it was easy, as well as non-toxic for the baby.  Dyeing at this stage also allows you to block the squares. 
I found good dye instructions for food coloring here:  

9.  Using a slip stitch, join the contrasting yarn to one corner of the 1st square.  Single crochet in each stitch along the first side.  When you come to the corner, sc- chain 1- sc in that corner stitch to create a square corner.  Continue in like manner around the square at least twice--more if you like--and fasten off, leaving a 4-inch tail.  Do the same with each square.

 10. Arrange the squares next to each other, and using the embroidery needle, sew together 2 sets of 3 squares, then join the 2 sets together.  Leave a 4-inch tail when you finish sewing each section.

11. At 1 corner of the large rectangle formed by the squares, join the contrasting yarn (leaving a 4-inch tail) and single crochet in each stitch around the edge.  Slip stitch in your original stitch.  Chain 1.  In the same corner stitch, sc-ch 1-sc to create a square corner. 

 12.  Edge-stitch:  Starting in the 1st stitch after the corner, sc-chain 1 (skipping the stitch under the chain)-sc.  Continue for the remainder of the edging, alternating sc and ch 1, skipping the stitch under the chain, and making square corners as described above.  You may choose to do more than the 2 rows of edging that I did.   At the end, leave a 4-inch tail of yarn.

Using the embroidery needle, work each tail of yarn into the surrounding stitches to make them inconspicuous.  Trim any tips. 

 Hand wash your afghan in cool water and simple shampoo, being careful to squeeze-not-wring with no agitation.  Use conditioner if desired.  Lay flat to dry, blocking the corners and edges to make them uniform.

Optional:  I am still debating whether to attempt a simple (I'm really into simple!) cross-stitch on the squares.  The Tunisian pattern makes that an inviting idea.  

Please let me know how you did!  I would love to see how yours turns out.  I will post the results here.  You can post a picture on my Facebook page: or email me a picture at

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Cindy Harris ~ Alpacas at Windy Hill ~ ~

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sleek! Chic! Sveldt!


This is how I think of newly-shorn suri alpacas.

Some people think they are funny-looking when they are newly-shorn.

But as an alpaca breeder, this is one of my favorite moments of the year.
I see how their conformation stands out better when I can see the clean lines of their bodies.
I can clearly see how their pregnancy is developing, whether they are too lean, too heavy, or just right.
I re-evaluate their bone structure, the shape of their head, the proportions of their neck, legs and body.
I see where they may have skin irritations. I can see the coverage of the fleece on their skin.

But what I see most of all is the LUSTER!

It’s the luster that makes the difference with suris.  Luster is pretty much the whole point!  If we do don’t have luster, then there is no point in having suri.
That shine!  That glow when the fiber sits on the skirting table…. when the yarn sits on the shelf…. when the garment is worn under lights….  
It’s the same luster that I see on a newly-shorn suri (before she rolls in the dust!).  It’s the priceless fleece trait that suri breeders work harder for than anything else.

Luster is the kingpin of all suri traits. 
  In fact, if a suri has brilliant luster all across their body, they will almost always have the other traits we are looking for—fineness, density, consistency.

Luster is the Holy Grail for suri breeders.

Imagine for a moment having raised these lovely creatures from Day 1, shown them, cared for them, and then, leading them to the shearing mat.  The fleece has been of great concern, and now you are about to discover the truth about the fruit of your labor.

The alpaca is stretched out and the shearer makes the first pass across the body…….. you hold your breath…….and then the light hits the fiber close to the skin.  A flash of brilliance catches your eye and you step in to look closer.  Did you see it?  Is it really there?

The greatest reward for your careful breeding and husbandry practices is to see a suri stand up, shake herself, and walk off the mat glowing more brightly than the moon on a clear night.  It’s intoxicating.  

She looks……….

Oh yes.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Alpaca Shearing comes but once a year…

Shearing alpacas is a big deal Windy Hill 

It’s that defining moment when we finally see the fruits of our labor in a tangible way:
Doug with his buddy, Stormy Crawford.
  • What is the fleece really like?
  • Is there enough luster?
  • Did that breeding create an improvement in the fleece?
  • What does it feel like if you close your eyes?
  • How much does the bag weigh?

     There’s a lot of preparation and planning that goes into an alpaca shearing day: 
  • make arrangements with the shearing crew (this can happen as early as November!)
  • line up our volunteers
  • inventory and order supplies—bags, cards, vaccines, Sevin dust, syringes and needles, name tags
  • take “glamour shots” of the alpacas—they will never look exactly like this again
  • get the equipment ready—sharpen toenail trimmers, test the scale, set up tables
  • set up the ranch-wide chute through which the pasture groups will travel to and from the barn

AWH Silvano's Gunpowder & Lead gets his "glamour shot".

Sculpting a topknot...

     We start early and go like crazy.  Although the 4-man team from BioSecure Alpaca Shearing does all the “heavy” work, we have to keep them supplied with the next alpaca so that we don’t slow them down!  There are always minor instructions to give:
  • This one is a show fleece”;
  • Stop shearing this neck at the jaw line”;
  • and decisions to make:  
  • Yes, trim those fighting teeth”;
  • Put this alpaca in the lineup ahead of that one because her owner has arrived
to keep us on our toes.

High luster meets a sure and steady hand.
     At noon we all take a lunch break and sit in the shade of the big pepper tree on the front lawn.  I call it “The Veranda”, because for the 1st year I lived here it was the only shade on the whole ranch!  It’s wonderful to relax, have a sandwich and a cold drink, and talk about the funny things that happened over the morning with friends who have come to help.   We take our shoes off to wiggle our toes in the cool grass, and just about the time it feels like a nap would be a great idea, it’s time to get back to work!

     Because we run our tails off, the end of the day is always welcome, and the end of shearing the last alpaca is even better!  But we’re not done quite yet.  Now it’s time to clean up, put everything away, and sort through the fleeces.  Windy Hill fleeces go out to the sea container to be hung up.  All the boarders’ fleeces go into the office to be sorted by owner where they will wait to be picked up for a week or two.

     Fleece up my nose, in my shoes, in my ears, and in every itchy place you didn’t think it could go.  Then at last, the much-anticipated shower. 

John demonstrates how he makes his first cut of the blanket, not overlapping passes with the
blades in order to avoid short "second cuts".
Miracle gives me an unsure look as the shearers stretch
her out on the mat.

     We’re finished for another year—but reallyjust  beginning. 
Many decisions and projects await us:
  • Which fleeces will I prep for fleece shows or spin-offs?
  • Which special fleeces do I want to spin myself?
  • Which fleeces should we send to the mill to be made into batts, roving and yarn?
  • Which fleeces will we hold out for sales “as is”? 
  • Will we do any dyeing?
  • Where is that list of enthusiasts who bought fleeces last year??
  • Skirting. 
  • Sorting.  
  • What to do with the coarser fleece?
Deb and Kathy stuff another bag with fleece.

Molly and Lucy arm-wrestle for toenail trimmings
at the end of the day.

     Shearing, like herd management, is something that we never really leave before beginning again.  After all, this entire experience is about the fleece.  That wonderful, luxurious alpaca fleeceCome get your hands in alpaca fiber.  You’ll never be the same.

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