The CAP Report
95% of alpaca births happen without any issues and require no human intervention. It's an important thing to remember as you sit in the barn worrying about an alpaca in labour. There are specific guidelines established to help you decide when assistance might be required - and just what kind of assistance that might be - but that's not what this post is about. You can go HERE
to read about that.
This is a story about Baby L.
Last summer was a tough one for alpaca births in this area. The early and extreme heat caught both humans and animals unaware, and we had a few births complicated by bad positioning and heat stress that required some help. When Miss L's labour went overtime and she seemed no closer to delivering, a quick check revealed that Baby L was trying to come into this world shoulders first. With the Vet on the way, I used my human midwife skills to try and rotate the cria and managed to get him partially turned. The Vet and I worked for an additional 45 minutes rotating and finally pulling out a very shaky but otherwise okay baby boy. Poor Miss L had a very rough delivery, and since baby was sitting up and okay we worked on making mom more comfortable.
Baby L was adorable and as mom recovered from the initial shock of the traumatic birth she nuzzled her wee boy and encouraged him to stand. When crias first stand up it's kind of like that scene from Bambi - they are all wobbly and it takes some practice for them to get used to their legs. As Baby L stood up and tried his first few steps I knew immediately this was different - something was very wrong.
His legs appeared to pull to one side - front and back. The more he tried to walk the worse it got. I was beside myself. I don't get like that often. Was it nerve damage? A stroke? I had no idea. I picked him up and held him as tears rolled down my face. His mom had laboured so hard and I was still covered in her blood. After working so hard to be born it was heartbreaking that Baby L's struggles weren't over yet. We called the Vet back.
In horses they call it "windswept legs" and it's usually the result of a bad position in utero. Mild cases can resolve with a few simple measures and time. Baby L had both front and back legs affected - in opposite directions. One of his rear legs could not touch the ground because it stuck out at the hip.
The vet had never seen this in alpacas, but a horse so badly affected would have limited options. The possibility that Baby L would never use his legs and the difficult choices that would bring was never far from our minds. Calls were made to the Vet school and slowly a treatment plan came together. Using a combination of activity restriction, soft splinting and passive gentle stretching we would try to support the delicate growth plates in the knee and stretch the tendons and ligaments to allow more normal positioning. He had worked so hard to be born, we figured we owed it to him to give him the best chance at a normal alpaca life. Plus, he was cute as all get out.
We kept him with mom and his grandmother in a small area in the barn where they could see other alpacas but couldn't run with them. I felt bad having to separate him from the other new crias, but I knew he would try to keep up with them and potentially crush the bones in his leg. Every morning and every night I massaged his legs and gently bent them into shape. After 3 days I would use soft gauze and foam to softly splint his legs into position each night, and remove the splints in the morning to let him strengthen his tendons. By the end of the first week all four feet could touch the ground at the same time.
Our Vet team made many follow up visits, and while some were dubious about our therapy regime, it was clear that Baby L was growing stronger and getting better. It took many weeks of careful monitoring and care before we knew for sure his legs would be able to support his growing weight. I started him on an enhanced nutrition program to make sure he had the minerals he would need to heal as well as make sure his weight gain was slow and steady. His mom seemed to know we were trying to help and she was very good about letting us work with Baby L.
Nearly a year has gone by and the days of watching and worrying seem like a distant memory. Baby L is a big strapping (almost) yearling who runs and jumps with his buddies and shows no sign of any angular limb deformity. He has a sweet disposition, luscious fibre, and he's very tolerant of the humans that occasionally give him the once over. A year ago I was hopeful that someday Baby L would be able to support his own weight and walk well enough to live a normal life. After such a rough start, I wasn't sure we could expect much more than that.
Today I know better. Baby L has taught me that will to live and determination to overcome obstacles are not just human qualities. This little guy fought hard to stand, move, walk, run and play like the other crias. The least we could do was join the fight.
Just after shearing here is Baby L today:
**I've included only the mildest, least graphic, photos here. Photos do not show the extent of the original deformity, but hopefully convey the general idea in case others are looking for info on the condition in alpacas. Please contact me for more details.
Is it still winter where you are? Here at the farm and fibre mill, we still have not shaken old man winter, so my imagination has been working overtime thinking about all of the gorgeous colours of spring. But first, meet Cosmo:
Isn't he beautiful? He's a sweet boy (and also the "Best in Show Suri" at the 2012 Rockton World's Fair) and I decided to dye some of his raw fibre. Given the endless supply of snow February brought us, I was dreaming about Caribbean waters and tropical temperatures - and perhaps the occasional rum punch. When you look at the end result - keep that in mind. : )
So first I selected some of the fibre, and picked out the unwanted stuff - that would be anything you do NOT want in your end product.
Yes Pixel, this means you.
Cosmo, like many of my boys, manages to cover himself in whatever happens to be in his paddock at the moment - so this part kept me busy. In the mill entire fleeces are spread out on skirting screens and we can shake out dirt and little short bits etc., but since I was only dyeing about a pound of fibre, my kitchen worked fine.
The next step is washing the fibre, and one of those mesh bags for fine washables or mesh laundry bags with drawstrings works well to soak your fibre. Use hot water and fill a wash tub, using about a teaspoon or so (depending on how much fibre you are washing) of either a basic baby shampoo, or a fine washables commercial detergent. (I have also used Dawn dish soap but don't tell anyone.)
Be sure to tie the bag securely - fibre likes to escape. When the sink or tub is filled with hot water and whatever soap/detergent you are using, only then add your bag of fibre. Gently push it under the water and hold it there until the bag and fibre are soaked, then let it soak for 15 minutes. RESIST THE URGE TO SWISH OR SQUEEZE! Agitation of wet fibre causes felting. Really. Unless you want a solid clump of felted fibre that would make an ideal Halloween decoration, be careful!
After 15 minutes, remove the fibre bag, drain the sink/tub and fill wit fresh hot water - no soap - for rinse. Repeat the above until the water you drain away is pretty clear. You can use the spin cycle of your washing machine for about 15 seconds to drain the excess water. Open the bag and spread on a towel to dry slightly before dyeing.
Right about now is when I usually let my "Inner Space Geek" loose and declare (in my best Klingon voice) "TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO DYE..."
That part is strictly optional.
For the rest of you, fill a large pot with water and turn the burner on.
At this point you should follow the instructions that come with your dye. Unless you are me.
I'm going for a two toned effect with this fibre, so that means I'm going to start by adding about 3/4 cup of vinegar to the pot of water, then add my still damp fibre. I'll mix up my two colours, for this batch that would be Kelly Green and Turquoise, and put them into squirt bottles.
When the fibre starts to boil (for those using a thermometer that would be about 95C or 200F - just before the true boiling point) I use the Kelly Green and squirt it directly onto the fibre in the pot while stirring with a spoon. I'll pick up globs of fibre and squirt them then put them back into the steaming pot. I do this until I am happy with the result, put a lid on it for 2 minutes, then turn the burner off and let it sit to cool off for about 20 mins.
Then it's time to add the second colour, so I turn the heat on and just when the fibre starts to boil I apply the second colour the same way I did the first - only I carefully watch to be sure I get just enough colour to create highlights. I let it cool down quite a bit (an hour or so) before I dump it into a sink and rinse. This is what I get:
It's far prettier in real life. You can't really see the intense colour or the lustre here, but trust me, it is lovely.
I was so inspired, I tried another batch. I started off with Sunflower yellow.
When that was cooled a bit, I mixed up a mixture of orange and red called Tangelo, and when the fibre was starting to boil again I applied it carefully - I didn't want to drown out the lighter yellow. This is the result:
When everything was dry, I bagged the fibre and voila:
Instant Spring! I can almost hear the steel drums and taste the fruity rum punch!
Sometimes when life gets a little dreary and gray, you have to take matters into your own hands, and jump start things with a burst of colour. Drop me a line (email@example.com) and let me know your favourite way to add some colour to life.
You can tell a lot about what an organization stands for by taking a look at the kind of people behind it.
Canadian Alpaca Products is kind of a unique group for a lot of reasons. It's not just our many years of experience in the alpaca industry, or the fact that we can help with everything from buying an animal to shearing and processing fibre, that sets us apart - it's the people. There's no better example of this than a story from this past shearing season.
It was a few weeks into the season and we were at DL Farms with a full schedule of alpacas to shear. Both of our expert shearing teams - Dee and Adria Graham and Fred and Faye Glauser - would be kept busy that weekend getting all of the animals taken care of. We also had our expert fibre sorter Sheryl and her team, and my job was providing medical support and any injections or medications an animal might need.
That day we were making decent time and coming up on a much needed lunch break. I could tell the shearers were tired, and we had worked with some of the larger pregnant gals that morning so we were all looking forward to a snack and a cold drink. I spotted a truck pulling an older horse trailer coming down the laneway toward the shearing shed. We often have "drive-bys" when we shear at a farm - local people who may have an animal or two and drop by to have their animal tended to - and we are happy to do it. It doesn't usually take much time out of our schedule and it's sometimes the only way these animals have access to professional shearing or routine herd care. So we weren't too concerned as we cleaned off the tables to get ready for the next animals. That's when we saw him.
He was a recently rescued llama, and the kind folks that brought him had no idea of his age, past health or anything else. The animal seemed old and a little dazed, his posture was hunched, and he seemed to be stepping gingerly as he was led to the shearing area. Obviously he hadn't been shorn in some time - or as his new owner put it "He's in bad shape and I don't think he can wait much longer."
He was right about that. I immediately noticed the llama's rapid breathing and a quick listen to his heart confirmed that the poor guy was in trouble. It had been a very warm spring and *Brutus was already suffering from serious heat stress. This can happen quickly in unshorn heavier fleeced animals, and swelling around his testicles indicated the backup of fluid that comes with heart failure.
There was no doubt he needed immediate care, but we were wondering just where to start with such an overgrown animal in such precarious condition. His fleece was severely matted and since he was sweating, his skin would be as fragile as a baby's under all of that fibre. The weight of the fleece would need to be supported to avoid pulling the skin and causing the shears to nick or cut the animal. After a quick assessment, both shearing teams carefully got to work.
I prepared some vitamin shots and supplements to help keep Brutus as calm as possible - but considering what was happening, he was pretty still. While Fred worked on carefully parting the matted fibre and shearing, Dee worked on chipping away at his overgrown nails. It was long past break time but the crew stayed to assist in any way possible, even if just holding back fibre or helping to lift a foot.
It took awhile and there were many stops to sharpen blades or cool down the overworked shears, but slowly the prison of matted fibre was peeled away and Brutus seemed to revive before our eyes.
As his overgrown toenails were brought down to size he stood taller, and as the weight was pulled away from him he began to shake his head and take interest in his surroundings. I could already see his breathing becoming more regular and and his heart rate was closer to normal. Finally, Brutus was free.
It didn't take him long to notice the girls on the other side of the fence, and he pranced energetically towards them looking nothing like the stressed, worn llama that we started with. His new owners were grateful and amazed at what a handsome young stud he was under all of that fibre. After a final check to be sure he was recovering, Brutus was loaded back onto his trailer for the return home - without a scratch. He left behind a mountain of matted fibre and a weary and slightly bewildered shearing crew. We walked back to the house for an overdue break, and nobody said a whole lot about what we had just finished.
We had a short break and got on with the day, staying later into the evening to make up for the time spent on Brutus - but nobody seemed to mind. The crew didn't make a big deal about what they'd done and you won't hear any of them calling attention to the way they do their jobs. They give the same kind of care and attention to all of the animals they work with - and I've watched them shear hundreds of animals in all kinds of circumstances. They are the people that make CAP the kind of group it is. Whether you visit us at the market, drop in to an open house, or even visit us online, you are dealing with people who truly care about the animals we work with and the products we create.
We are getting ready for a new shearing season and we know it will bring its share of surprises and challenges. We are hoping it also brings us a chance to meet up with Brutus again and see how he's liking his new haircut.
Even though things have been quiet on the CAP report during January, we've been very busy keeping the alpacas warm and healthy during the snowstorms and dry during the thaws of the month. I also had a nasty ear infection which kept me flat on my back for awhile. But there's lots to catch up on! We've been doing ultrasounds on our gals to monitor their pregnancy status and I am happy to say that we are expecting at least 6 new crias this year. Savannah's cria can be seen kicking her poor momma and she should be the first to deliver in June. We are also booking our shows for the year, and Canadian Alpaca Products is planning to be at the KW Knitter's fair, The Woodstock Fibre and Fleece show, and Port Elgin's Pumpkinfest later this year.
Our first event will be our own open house on March 16th at Shears To You Fibre Pros. (See Upcoming Events for more info) I'll be busy dyeing yarns and making our exclusive Inca roving-yarn for the big day. Pantone has declared emerald green to be the colour for 2013, so I'm thinking I'll be using several different shades of green in our spring collection.
Speaking of dyeing, I had 1 very special double skein of 70% alpaca 30% Tussah silk yarn, with no idea of what to do with it. One of the other vendors at the St. Jacobs Market is just learning to knit and we've been searching for an easy but interesting pattern for her first ever "real project". She was a little nervous about starting something, but felt inspired by the colours in one of my sock yarn skeins - but wanted a worsted weight. I remembered my alpaca/silk skein and brought the sock yarn skein home to use as a reference. I set about dyeing it and I think it turned out beautifully. The greens and blue make me think of a tropical sea - just the cure for the mid-winter blahs. She was thrilled with the skein and has already started the project, and even I am amazed at the lustre and softness of the yarn. Before I presented it to her I snapped a few photos, not the best due to lighting, but you can see the colours. I hope she'll let me take a picture of the finished project, and I'm so glad my yarn inspired her to pick up the needles!
What kind of yarn inspires you? Sometimes even before the alpaca has been shorn, I can picture the kind of yarn the fibre will make - and what to do with it! Now that the holiday season is behind us, what kind of serious knitting/crochet projects are you working on?
The next installment will be about our very special Inca yarn - with photos of how we turn average roving into amazing yarn using a kettle and some dye. Check back soon!
I've written before about Archer, our 5 month old wandering
boy who manages to slip under fences, gates etc. in spite of everything
we do to block him. He never strays - stays right beside the fence or
wanders to the grass on the lawn, and when I approach him he slips back
under the fence or goes to the gate and waits for me to open it.
Yesterday he caught sight of the big boy paddocks across the lane and
went for a stroll. I wasn't far behind him, and I was curious to see
just what he'd get up to. Most of the big boys gave him a quick sniff
and them dismissed him. A few ignored him. But Tango - his father -
stuck his head out of the fence and gently nuzzled him, and they rubbed
heads and then ran together along the fence line.Their bond was obvious - in spite of the fact that they hadn't been exposed to each other before this. It's another reminder that there is so much that we do not yet understand about the way these remarkable creatures interact and communicate. I've seen this kind of thing before and it tells me that the bonds of herd and family are very important to alpacas, and I am very aware of this as I manage my herd.
Archer slipped out a few times more during the day, and strolled over to visit his dad. I followed him each time to make sure he got back where he belonged. Soon he will be too big to wiggle under the fence, and his Houdini days will be over. Then I'll put him in a halter and take him for walks to see his dad, and when he is weaned he will join him in that group. By then my main challenge will be trying to tell them apart.
In the process of turning alpaca fibre into lovely alpaca yarn and socks, we put the fbre through a picker, a carder and a pin drafter to get Rovings. This is alpaca fibre that has been essentials combed with fine combs to set all the fibres in the same direction and remove impurities or uneven fibre etc. This is what spinners use to make yarn, crafter use to make projects, and I use to make our unique Inca bulky yarn. (More on that later this week!) It's not very common that you find rovings that are 100% Suri alpaca. Suri fibre is long, silky, slippery and full of lustre - quite a challenge to work with. Adding a bit of huacaya alpaca fibre or even high quality merino makes it easier to work with. But as a Suri breeder (Suri alpacas are the rarest type of alpacas) I long for a pure Suri product. Sheryl, the Mill Manager at Shears To You Fibre Pro's (The home base for CAP) took on the challenge and developed her technique to bring out the best in the Suri fibre. She's been working with fibre many years and brought all of her experience together to bring us the most luscious, soft, slinky 100% Suri rovings! I am thrilled! The roving feel like silken clouds! I haven't packaged any yet, for now I am content to just look at the bag and occasionally reach in for a touch. : ) Because we all need some silky softness on a Monday... Gertie The Great, Conchita and Ozzie bring you a touch of Suri.
When we talk to people about alpacas we often get asked "What do they eat?"
The simple answer is hay and a blended pellet with minerals.
But it goes a lot deeper than that. Much like other animals and even humans, they will eat a great many things - and left to their own devices they can exist on all kinds of forages and grains. But, just like with humans, the issue becomes "What SHOULD they eat?"
Like all creatures, alpacas have nutritional needs, and if we expect them to produce the best quality in fibre and offspring, then we need to pay attention to these needs. You can't feed your animals forage that has minimal nutrition and expect them to produce quality. That's like feeding your child nothing but junk food and wondering why they are not Olympic athletes.
We work with a local feed mill, and a representative I can call on the phone and talk to about what goes into the next batch of feed. A little more of this, a little less of that - all depending on the weather, the nutritional needs of the herd at the time, and the quality of the hay that makes up the bulk of their diet. Every alpaca will eat approximately 2-4 pounds of hay a day. The 1 cup of pelleted feed they eat daily is meant to add the minerals and other elements that the hay doesn't provide.
The widespread drought in North America has meant that the cost of good hay has tripled. We are lucky because we have local farmers who can supply us with just the kind of hay we need for our growing herd. Many people have had to ship in hay from far away. It may be pricey this year, but we are still very picky about the hay we feed our alpacas. A lack of rain this summer left the pastures pretty lean and nutritionally lacking, so we are not seeing the summer build up of weight on our animals - making good hay over the cold winter even more crucial.
So when someone squeezes a skein of our yarn at the market, or holds a shawl up to their face, exclaiming at how luscious and soft it feels, I'm sure they are not thinking about bales of leafy hay with just the right blend of alfalfa, well dryed and crumbling all over your neck as you lift it in to the feeder - but I am.
Nuno that is. Nuno felting is a method of creating felted scarves etc using wool or alpaca fibre and felting it onto silk. I've been learning the process in various forms, trying to get good enough to create some of the amazing kinds of art you can see here.
I'm not quite there yet, but this weekend I worked on a large silk that I heavily felted with an actual intentional pattern. I'm not sure I like the heavier weight, but I certainly learned a lot in the process. There's a lot of rolling involved, and if nothing else my upper arms got quite a work out. Here are some photos of the work in progress. I'll be taking what I've learned on this project and applying it to the next - as soon as the ache in my upper arms goes away. Have you ever tried Nuno felting? Have you seen Nuno felted items in your travels? Comment and let me know.
Our brief interlude of Spring like weather came to an end, and the alpacas once again were wondering where their grass went. I've been struggling to update the site and add items to the shopping cart - there was a glitch in the uploading process. although to be honest, I'm not certain if it was mostly "user error", I am new to this after all. : ) Thanks for your patience, I've added our socks to the store, and more yarns should follow today. I have to take some photos of them first.
I had some dental surgery done last week, so holiday preparations are the furthest thing from my mind as I recover. Keeping up with the alpacas, and orders for our hand dyed yarn have kept me quite busy. Our shop at the farmer's market has not been decorated, although right now it's so crammed with hand made hats and scarves and other items maybe nobody will notice? : )
This is our best selling Alpaca Infinity Scarf Knitting Pattern Kit. It's something I'll be adding to our online shop. Designed to take advantage of the 23 natural colours of alpaca, it is a lovely hatch stitch pattern, and customers adore the way it drapes and the subtle change from light to dark.
It comes with the pattern, instructions, and all 8 colours of 100% alpaca yarn required to get the light to dark Ombre effect. Priced at 72.00, it's great value as you don't have to purchase 8 different skeins of yarn. Thanks to our fibre artist Sandy, we now also have it in shades of grey to black - but it's so new I have yet to take photos. I will though, and I was wondering, what other colours would you like to see in this infinity scarf kit? Drop me a line and let me know - firstname.lastname@example.org.
How are your holiday preparations going?
Life with alpacas can be wonderful and interesting, and The CAP Report is a little glimpse into life behind the scenes.
The weather turned warmer and the snow that covered our pastures has
melted. (Not for long as the temps are about to drop but we'll take what
we can get.) The alpacas reacted to the unexpected gift of green grass
like kids at Christmas. I don't have the heart to tell them that the
winter has only started and that this isn't really spring. : )
At the shop, we are getting in some lovely hand knitted hats and
shawls as well as our best selling hand knit thrum mittens. Our Thrum
mitten kits have always been popular, but customers were asking for
ready made thrum mittens, so we've had some made up. We've also made up
some thrum slippers for those who want the ultimate in cozy toes.
I'm working on making some alpaca and silk Nuno felted scarves for
the holiday season and the big news is the arrival of the Alpaca-opoly
games. Based on Monopoly, players get to purchase and work to build
their own alpaca business. The cards have all kind of cool information
about the industry, and the little pewter playing pieces are adorable!
You can find this in our market store or our online shop.
At the mill Sheryl has just finished the big batch of alpaca batts
for customers and is working on a really soft batch of sock yarn. I'm
already thinking about spring colours for hand painted sock yarn.
Our resident Houdini this year is Archer. Every year we have at least
on alpaca baby (cria) that constantly escapes by slipping under the
fence. Archer waits by the fence - munching on the lawn - until someone
notices he's out, and then he follows us to the gate and waits for us to
open it before bouncing back in. On a day with nice weather he will do
this several times until we get tired of putting him back and put the
moms and babies in the back pasture - where it's harder for him to
escape. This game will continue until he's too big to easily fit under
the fence...and I'm counting the days. I'll post a photo in the
slideshow of the little escape artist.
Until tomorrow, I'll be making alpaca dryer balls.