Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I've begun doing my alpaca handling homework. I purchased a CD-rom on alpaca body language by Cathy Spaulding, a noted alpaca handler. I've also been reading Camelid Companion, by Marty McGee-Bennett. She is regarded as the most skilled handler and trainer in the alpaca industry. An 'alpaca whisperer', if you will. Her stance on handling and training is that we need to help our animals understand that they can override their flight instincts by giving them enough space to move away from us if they need to. Alpacas can learn that humans are safe if we handle them with a calm, respectful energy. We must let them know that we understand their need to get away from us and we will accommodate that to some degree.

I went to visit my animal yesterday with the intention of working on two things: moving around the catch pen in an organized fashion, and standing in balance. These two things both lend themselves to helping the animal realize that it will allowed to move away from the human if needed, but only within the confines of the catch pen. I put Devi and two of her buddies (about the same age as her, all around six months old) into the catch pen. I was equipped with herding wands and catch rope (a la Ms. McGee-Bennett). I first worked on moving them in a mini 'herd' around the catch pen, causing change of direction only when I wanted them to by changing my position within the catch pen in relation to the animals. My attention was focused on Devi, since I was there to work with her. The other two little girls are just there to provide her some company so she can calm down more easily. The goal is to show the animal that I will allow her an escape route - a way to move a way from me - when she needs it, and to give her a chance to settle down. Also, moving the animals around the catch pen in an organized fashion allows them to see that the handler has a plan. Randomness produces more anxiety. A handler must show she is a leader.

I think I started out very well. The girls moved around the catch pen in the direction I wanted. I made this happen by placing my body at what Marty calls point one, or the walking point, in relation to the alpaca's body. This is back behind the animal's hip, outside of her flight zone. By placing myself more toward the middle of her body, but still behind her eye, I can get her to stop. By moving ahead of her I can cause a change of direction. Of course, this all sounds simple and Marty makes it look very easy, but in a catch pen with three six month old alpacas, real life does not necessarily follow the text book. There were several instances where, when I placed myself at the walking point, the animals didn't walk. Apparently they have not read the book yet. They were all humming for their mothers too, which created an interesting sounding little cria chorus, but prevented total focus.

Then I went for the catch rope. I've gotten it on the animal before, so that was no problem. Of course, clipping it in place when the animal is still walking is another story. "Hey! I'm at the stopping point. You're supposed to stop!" I did manage to clip the catch rope, but it wasn't properly placed high on the neck. Never the less, I got her to take a few steps in response to some re-balancing cues. That is a success for such a young animal.

Finally, I hoped to work with her head in my hands a bit so she could learn that having her head handled by humans doesn't mean danger, and so I could practice getting her to stand in balance. Easier said than done. She didn't want to stand, and my aim was to let her know that I understand her need to get away, so if she didn't want to stand we walked. Not exactly standing in balance.

All in all it was a successful experience. The animals were relaxed, even though they missed their mothers, and I improved my skills as a handler. I do need to keep in mind that when I read about handling and training, or watch a video, it's in reference to adult alpacas. Babies have a much shorter tolerance for the amount of time spent in 'school'. I kept these little girls in the catch pen for quite a while. They did very well.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Frickin' awesome!

I finally finished my first hanks of yarn spun on my Fricke wheel. One is a low yardage yield singles yarn from a bat that came free with the wheel, courtesy of Nikol Lorh of Art Club.

Then, there's the corriedale from Susan's Spinning Bunny that I hand-dyed with Kool Aide and finished with quite a large hank of two-ply yarn. This is my first successful plied hank. (See the 'when yarn attacks' post.) I started with this:

and ended up with this:

I drafted each color together during the predrafting process, and allowed the colors to blend at random on the wheel. I plied the singles with a lighter version of the same three colors, also Kool Aide dyed. It was too much fun too spin, although I think I like spinning singles better than plying. I find I'm having trouble keeping the twist even when plying. I plied at the same ratio that I spun the singles on. Maybe that's too much twist for plying. I think it's decent for a beginner though. I'm more of a spinner than a knitter at this point. It's interesting, the directions life takes you. Without Ravelry, I would still be a struggling knitter, rather than a knitter, spinner, and alpaca owner!

Fiber win!

I'm up to my elbows in alpaca fiber! I recently ordered some fabulous cria fleece from North Star Alpacas, a farm in Michigan. (Seen here in it's raw form.) I've begun to card and spin it, and it spins up like a dream.

You can be sure I'll post pics when I finish spinning it up.

I visited my mentor farm yesterday, and was given this:

It's blanket fiber from Briony, one of the females on the farm. They also lent me hand carders, since I apparently purchased the wrong ones. I purchased Ashford wool carders, when I needed to get cotton carders since alpaca fiber is so much finer than wool. FAIL. Oh well, I've been using mine, and I tried the finer carders, and so far I haven't noticed a difference. Thoughts?

Bebeh pics!

One of the owners of my mentor farm is an excellent photographer as well, and sent me some pictures of Devi when she was a few hours old. I especially love the one where the herd is lined up along the opposite side of the fence looking at her. It's like when humans stand outside the nursery at the hospital and make faces at all the newborns.


I'm learning a ton about the alpaca industry. My most recent fascination has been with the role that genetics and pedigree play in the pricing and sales of animals. As a newbie, I have a major case of barn eyes. I think my alpaca and her herd mates (and basically any other alpaca in the world) are gorgeous. I'm aware of what to look for when evaluating an animal, although I'm no expert at it by any stretch of the imagination. Conformation - the way the animals body looks. Staple length - you spinners out there know what this is, but for non-spinners it's the length of the individual fibers. A longer staple length is better. I've met alpacas that have too short a staple length, and are basically 'rug producers'. The breeder makes their fiber into rugs. Density, fineness and crimp are all very important too. Also, if you have an animal that has patterned or multicolored fiber, need to carefully consider how this fits into your breeding program. Do you want solid animals? Do you want to show your animals? Judges can zero in on the most inconspicuous blanket spots. After all this, there's genetics.

There seems to be, as with most things, more than one school of thought on genetics in the alpaca industry. Some breeders have told me that they focus on what the animal looks like. Others proudly display their animals alpaca registry certificates with the animals lineage mapped out family tree style so they can show that their alpaca's great grand sire was from the first wave of Peruvian imports. Or their herd sire is a Legacy son (Legacy was a well known and sought after herd sire who passed recently). The animals pedigree means a lot to some breeders.

This inspired me to research my own alpaca's bloodlines a little more. Her sire is Snowmass Goldvision, the light brown alpaca pictured above (on the left). He first caught my interest when I was doing my 'alpaca shopping'. He's even more handsome in person, and has put three gorgeous little girls on the ground at Flatland Alpacas (including my own)! His offspring carry his fleece characteristics. Through the magic of the interwebs (actually through the alpaca registry website) I managed to find pictures of some of his other offspring, who are also impressive. What's better (in terms of pedigree) is that Vision's sire is 5Peruvian Chaccu. He's also well-known, and from the fifth wave of Peruvian imports (hence, the 5Peruvian). He currently resides at Crescent Moon Alpacas and I believe is closed to outside breedings. He's pictured above as well (Top right). So, Devi not only has an awesome sire, but an awesome grand sire as well. Win!

Vision's herdsire listing