Saturday, November 24, 2012

Firenze Has Arrived!

Our dignified, black beauty, Firenze, arrived this morning during a snow squall. She was familiarly greeted by the rest of the herd and immediately assumed her place as the head mama of the herd. In fact the whole dynamic of the herd changed as soon as she stepped foot in the pasture. The others rushed up to greet her and she made it clear that she was in charge. In fact, mama Took seemed only too glad to cede leadership of the other girls to the new arrival. Firenze's dignified demeanor also had an unforseen benefit. When Callie dog was turned loose at the pasture's edge to look through the fence at the new arrival and began running back and forth like she has done since the others arrived, Firenze stood her ground staring grandly down her nose at Callie. Callie stopped short opposite Firenze and just stared. The most amazing thing though was the fact that Took, Leeza and Mango who usually run across the pasture from one side to the other to be as far from Callie as possible, just stood behind Firenze as she stared down the dog as if to say,"This dog is just nuts!" Firenze was clearly not impressed by the dog nor fearful in any way and the others assumed the same attitude.

Firenze is also very people friendly and comes right up to the fence when we visit the pasture alone or with friends. She came face-to-face with me and hummed gently in reply to my voice. Her eyes are very wise and curious at the same time. She has a serenity about her that has affected the other girls and she is behaving as if she has lived here for years. Apparently their barn and pasture meets Firenze's standards of comfort.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Such a Happy Girl!

I am such a happy girl tonight! When I got home from school today I changed into something more comfortable, opened the mail, read the paper and started dinner. It is such a mild day for November that I thought I would just go out and spend some time in the pasture. I donned my white fleece jacket. I have found that Mango seems to be attracted to this one maybe since it is the same color as she is. I strolled on out to the pasture and entered through the barn. I started to open up the gate and as an afterthought I backed up and dug into the food bin for a handful of sweet feed. We have been using this to lure the girls into the catch pen leading up to the day when we will close the gate and try to harness them. (Plan B, if you read the earlier blog on how NOT to corral alpacas) I stood just outside the barn door, leaning on a fence post with one hand in my pocket and the other close to my body about waist high holding the handful of sweet feed. All three girls came to within two feet of me but only Mango came closer. She came right up to me and sniffed my jacket and sniffed at the feed in my hand but would not take a bite. She backed off for a few minutes and then returned, only to sniff but not eat. I stayed by the fence post for almost 10 minutes until my feet were numb from standing still in one spot.

Then I decided to cross the pasture and go into the catch pen just to see if the girls might be more receptive to the feed if I were in the spot they were used to receiving it. I dribbled a few grains into the pan and then backed up against the fence inside the pen. Boy did they change their tune then. All three of the girls trotted eagerly into the pen. Mama Took was the first to the pan. She nibbled at the grains in the pan, pushing Leeza and Mango away with her head whenever either one of them tried to eat. Took was positively greedy for the little bit of sweet feed. When she finished the treat in the pan she lifted her head and sniffed in my direction. I was almost afraid to breathe. I couldn't believe what happened next. She took two steps forward and put her nose right down into my hand and nibbled away at the treat. I could feel her breath on my skin and the slight touch of her lips in my palm as she nibbled up all of the sweet feed. She lifted her head, looked me in the eye for a second and then turned and trotted back out into the pasture. Mango and Leeza followed her.

Before tonight, I would have bet money that Mango would be the first to eat out of our hands because she is so curious and because she is the one who consistently approaches and sniffs at me. I knew that Leeza probably wouldn't ever eat our of our hands because she is so timid. Took is usually the one with her ears drawn back humming a warning at Mango when the baby gets to close to us. Apparently the lure of sweet feed was too strong to resist.

Took looking for more, please?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where's The Camera When You Need It?

I rose early this Sunday morning since Rich and I had planned a quick trip to Columbus to take our grandson, Max, to see the new Lincoln movie. (Which was long but very good.) I went outside at sun up to feed the alpaca girls and they must have been hungry for their daily dose of supplemental feed because they were waiting for me just outside the door of their barn. I scooped out a bucketful of their feed and a handful of sweetfeed that I always use to tempt them to come near enough to eat out of my hand. So far no results in that endeavor. They kept their distance a few feet outside of the barn's open door as I entered from the inside gate. I turned my back on them to fill their trough and peeked over my shoulder to see three fuzzy heads peering through the door! Instead of leaving, I strolled slowly to the back of the enclosure to check the water bucket and the hay bin. I turned around and to my surprise all three of the girls were at the trough feeding! I sat down on the edge of the hay bin with my handful of sweetfeed open by my side, talking and humming to them all the while. Took and Leeza pretty much ignored me and kept on eating. Baby Mango, on the other hand, took several steps in my direction looking inquisitively at me. She seemed to know that I had a handful of her favorite treat and I could tell that she really wanted it. I wish I could say that she overcame her shyness this time and helped herself but she didn't. However, I am sure that one day she will be the first one to overcome her fear and try to eat out of my hand if I can just be patient enough.

It is deer hunting season in Ohio now and this weekend was the youth hunting weekend before the regular season opens. So early this morning the group who hunt the woods out back were in place long before dawn. As our girls were eating I was glancing out the big barn door towards the woods. As I watched five deer trotted across the field heading towards my brother-in-law's house. Smart deer. Hunters cannot shoot towards houses and other buildings. At that distance there is no way one could hear the deer but amazingly enough, Took seemed to sense their presence. She raised her head from the trough and perked those big ears up. Leeza also became alert. Both ran outside to the side of the fence toward the deer followed by baby Mango. How did they know? Is it the smell? Can they actually hear at that distance? I have no doubt that they could see the deer with those wide, black, inquisitive eyes of theirs. All three remained there alert with their heads raised and ears perked up until the deer were no longer visible. Amazing. All this action and I had forgotten to bring my camera out with me.

Leeza needed a good back scratching!
Mango is as big as Leeza now!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ahh Sunshine!

This weekend warmed up a bit, 64 degrees. But the best part was the sunshine. Our alpaca girls thoroughly enjoyed basking in the rays.

They even let me approach to within a couple of feet and snap a few pictures. They sat serenely humming in the grass while I talked and hummed to them. I let them know that we were really sorry for our gaffe last weekend. (Remember the flying yellow flags?) I think they have forgiven us.

Rich built a catch pen in one corner of the pasture for use in future attempts to herd and harness them. For now the gate to the pen is fastened open and today he put a pan full of "sweet feed" inside to entice them. Our strategy is to get them used to the penning area as a pleasant place where they can find an occasional treat. Then the next time we want to try halter training we will close the gate and try a gentler approach. One can hope.

Rich also dug an electric line to the far end of the pasture for future connection to the "portable" three-sided shed that we will use later when it is necessary to separate the young ones from the mamas at delivery time. He has had a very productive weekend with his faithful sidekick, Callie, following him every step of the way. This evening they are all tuckered out. Rich is restfully rocking in the recliner while he channel surfs. (Another male activity that I will never really "get.") Callie is dutifully sleeping at his feet; or her version, which is actually sleeping with her head draped over his crossed feet!

  The sun is dipping into the western horizon and the Buckeye Star Alpaca Farm is settled in for the night.

Monday, November 5, 2012

How Not to Catch an Alpaca!

OK! So yesterday afternoon, after a good month of visiting the girls daily to build trust, Rich and I blew it in 15 minutes of a bungled attempt to corral Leeza and put a harness on her. We have both read books, articles and multiple websites that advise the novice about how to cut a single alpaca out of the herd in order to put a harness on her and begin to leash train the animal. We decided that Sunday was THE day. We carefully discussed and planned what our strategy would be when we entered the pasture and found what we thought would be the exact thing to use for a herding "tape." In the materials that we read, alpaca owners used everything from a special webbing tape to a sturdy brightly colored rope to gently surround their animals and gradually herd them in to a catch pen. We were even advised by a fascinating woman who was probably in her seventies or so, that she could herd her animals alone using a simple webbing strap. How difficult can it be, we thought.

The cold, damp wind was blowing my hair around my face as I entered the pasture alone, strap in one pocket and halter in the other. Keeping my hands at my side I slowly approached the girls, talking softly to them the whole time just like I usually do on my nightly visits. So far, so good. Rich entered the pasture behind me and greeted our alpaca girls in the same friendly manner he always uses with them. They stood staring and humming at us totally unsuspecting that they were in for some unwelcome excitement. I pulled the "herding tape" out of my pocket and handed one end to Rich and I took the other and began to circle around to the other side of the girls. At this point they got nervous and realized that we were advancing toward them and slowly penning them into the corner of the pasture with the tape. We shortened the tape until all three animals were in the corner and then I put myself between Took and Leeza and gently put my arms low around Leeza's neck. Took and Mango took off and Leeza realized in an instant that she was stronger than I am. She backed out of the corner and joined her buddies in flight. Rich looked at me a little disgusted that I could not hold on to an animal that is shorter than I.

Undaunted, Rich and I decided to try the same move again in another corner of the pasture. No luck. We made a third attempt but this time Rich put a hug on Leeza. Guess what? She is stronger and faster than him, too!  But this is where the trauma begins. Leeza escaped cleanly but in the process somehow the lightweight plastic "strap" got hooked around baby Mango's chest and she took off at a gallop across the pasture trailing 50 feet of yellow caution tape complete with flags dangling at regular intervals behind her! Mama Took ran along side her baby, clearly distressed about the ethereal yellow "monster" chasing her baby. Rich and I stood rooted to the spot staring helplessly for the few minutes it took for the caution tape to finally break loose and drop to the ground.

Mango and Leeza ran to the far side of the pasture and huddled behind Took who was screeching and spitting in our direction warning us to stay clear of the young ones. Richard and I retreated out of the pasture with our tails between our legs, figuratively speaking, feeling awful that we had traumatized our girls.

In our nightly visit this evening all three girls turned their backs on me at first. I apologized profusely for about 15 minutes in the cold wind before they finally turned around and looked at me. Before I came inside Took, with her ears drawn back, finally approached within two feet. I was afraid that I was going to get a face full of spit but I stood my ground ready to take my punishment. She perked up her ears, stared at me calmly, hummed and then returned to her baby. I think that I am conditionally forgiven.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bedtime Snack

Rich finished a three-sided shelter for the pasture this afternoon and dragged it into the pasture. We both figured the alpaca girls would be afraid of the old tractor and a moving building. Quite the contrary. All three of them stood gawking as he moved the building across the pasture only moving slightly out of the way as he passed by. After he jockeyed the building into place and unchained it he chugged out of the pasture on the tractor. Before I could even get the gate closed behind him the girls were circling the building and sniffing at the new resident. When they were satisfied that it wasn't alive they started frolicking around and around it. Leeza and Mango, the kids, were leading the way but even mama Took made a few leaps along behind them before she settled back down to grazing. It was quite a sight to see the young ones playing happily like that.
I went  back out with my cup of tea and camera just a few minutes ago to check on the girls and tell them good night before the sun went down. As usual Mango was the first one to come up and greet me. She didn't spend much time talking with me tonight. The reason soon became obvious. She trotted back to mama Took and nuzzled her head down under looking to nurse a bit. I normally only see her trying to nurse during the day and usually Took just walks away from her as if she is trying to wean her own baby. But this morning just after sun up I looked out and Mango was nursing heartily while Took stood patiently and let her have her fill. Then this evening Took once again stood patiently while Mango had her bedtime snack.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Grace Under Pressure

Tonight I am electing to talk about something other than my new preoccupation with my alpaca girls because I got a visit after school from a former student. This is a young man who was seriously a pleasure to have in my class two years ago. He is one of those kids who make coming to school each day worthwhile. He always had a smile and a positive attitude. Every day. He always did his best work. Every day. He comes from a close-knit, supportive family. I have always liked this kid but after some difficult times in his first year of high school I have come to really respect and admire him. This year he has faced unwarranted stress and harassment that finally came to what could have been a tragic climax. But through it all he held his head up and just kept coming to school and doing the work and struggling to keep a positive attitude. In the end he told me that he felt that this incident and the accompanying stress happened to him instead of someone else, because he is strong enough to take it and survive. That's the definition of grace under pressure. You cannot help but admire that kind of strength, integrity and dignity.