The crop harvest is in, the children have settled back into their school routines after the long break, and there is a chill in the morning air that only ever seems apparent in the transition of summer through to autumn. September is in full swing.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the extreme heat of summer and the sub zero temperatures of winter, so the arrival of autumn is a pleasing time for me. The alpacas, who were not overly impressed with the soaring temperatures in July and August, also appear happier in the cooler September climes.
The alpacas are now appearing fluffier; quickly growing back their fleeces that were sheared off back in June. A selection of our best blanket fleeces were processed at the East Anglia Alpaca Mill in Norfolk, so we now have a beautiful array of natural coloured yarns for sale.
Our four babies are growing up fast, and even Orion, who was the last to arrive at the end of July, is quickly catching up with his play mates. Our first year of breeding could be best described as the good, the bad and the ugly, and that is definitely not a description of any physical appearances or character traits!
Our first birth was textbook, with Inferno taking it all in her stride, like she’d done it many times before. I was almost euphoric; on such a high after an amazing experience, only to come crashing down with our second birth, with Libby losing her cria. The baby had two retained legs and was completely wedged in the birth canal. She unfortunately died a couple of minutes before being born, and it was a devastating experience. I wasn’t entirely convinced that I had it in me to be a breeder, but with the next three cria arriving relatively problem free (Comet had one retained leg and required vet assistance), I soon talked myself out of my negative mindset. Now watching our four lively and mischievous cria in the paddock, I feel excited for next year when we will hopefully have three more arrivals!
Apart from the necessary husbandry tasks, we try to keep handling of the cria to an absolute minimum in their first six months of life. They may be incredibly cute with their teddy bear appearance, but we know the importance of letting these cria learn how to be alpacas and to exhibit their natural behaviour in the herd. It is critical that any young animal imprints on its own mother, forming an attachment to her and learning its own identity as a species. This is especially important for young male alpacas, who, without adequate company of their own species, will form bonds with humans. Once at a sexually mature age, they can become dangerously aggressive towards their human handler, resulting in a psychological condition known as Beserk Alpaca Syndrome. And as the name would suggest, the alpaca or llama will indeed go beserk, rearing up, kicking, spitting and potentially trying to mate with its human handler.
A case in point would be Alfie the Alpaca; a young male alpaca living in Adelaide, Australia, who lives a domestic life with only a couple of humans for company. Alfie has his own website and Instagram page (a staggering 380k followers), with his owners sharing daily photos of him wearing various accessories and being walked down the street on a dog collar and lead. His two owners see nothing wrong with keeping a solitary alpaca in a domestic environment, appearing to treat him more like a dog, than an alpaca. With such a huge social media following, it is worrying that many people will think that it is perfectly acceptable to purchase one alpaca as a pet and keep it in the back garden. As alpaca owners and breeders, we have a sense of duty and care to ensure that the public are educated on the fundamental needs of these sensitive and beautiful creatures. They are herd animals and absolutely need to be with their own kind. Human companionship is just not adequate, or fair. Sadly, it will not be a happy or long life for Alfie, but by educating others, there will hopefully be less individual alpacas bought as pets.