The Day the Alpaca Lifestyle Nearly Killed Me
WARNING: This post will deal with semi-graphic events of a farming nature which may include references to animal mating instincts, alpaca-on-alpaca violence, and fantasized violence towards an alpaca by a human. If you find this disturbing, join the club. Now that you are warned, you can decide for yourself whether or not you wish to proceed.
I know. It’s been awhile since my last update and I’m sorry. A lot has happened since my last post. There have been some pretty cool things. Sapphire and Fiona gave birth to a boy and a girl, respectively. Heidelberr Farms has two adorable little alpacas spronking around and causing adorable chaos.
Oh, and then there’s also the little teensie issue where I posted this a few months ago but forgot to change the setting from private to public. Once you finish through to the end, you will see how this is not at all surprising.
(Oh! If you could read this while pretending that it’s still October, I’d appreciate it. Cool, thanks.)
In a rare turn of events, I was present for both births AND I caught both of them on video. Someday when I get some extra time and can figure out the editing software, I will post the videos. Someday.
In between daily chores and random projects, each day is actually fairly predictable and kinda boring. Don’t get me wrong, I actually thrive on it. Now that I think about it, I probably should use the word pastoral instead of boring. Also, it’s peaceful. Yes, that’s it.
You might not believe me, but there are days around here where it is anything but peaceful.
This is the downside of having babies on the farm. It’s one of those pesky things that we just can’t get away from no matter how hard we try. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Stupid consequences.
On an alpaca farm this means that the consequence of having females who aren’t pregnant any longer is that there are herdsires on the other end of the property who know it.
As much as I love birthing season, it’s pretty stressful and it feeds my neurosis. There is the constant worry that something might go wrong. It hasn’t yet, and it probably won’t, but there’s always that niggling doubt that comes with “what-if” questions. While these worries do have some basis in reality, they’re really just me needing something to obsess over. So I do.
After the babies are on the ground, I need to continue my obsessing and so the babies must be weighed regularly to ensure they’re getting enough milk. If they’re not getting enough milk, they need supplemental feedings. If the babies are okay, then I need to obsess on the mamas. At the core, these are just regular husbandry items that responsible animal caretakers do. I just feel the need to internalize them to the very edge but-not-quite tipping over the line of unhealthy levels. It’s a thing that I do.
It’s a LOT of energy being expended here, just so you understand.
When I’m finally able to go to bed at night, then another level of obsession comes up since birthing season always seems to coincide with the natural coyote cycles. We won’t have a coyote presence for months until babies arrive and then the coyotes appear like magic.
Now, our coyotes are well fed and not desensitized to the presence of people and so I don’t obsess too much about them just yet. However, when the alpacas sound an alarm call in the middle of the night, I still feel compelled to check on them just in case.
Leading up to this fateful day, it was fairly normal for the alpacas to sound the alarm 2 or 3 times a night every night going on four weeks. Four weeks of interrupted sleep.
In all of this, Abigail has decided that she needs extra attention as well. She was bred last fall and while her breeding initially took, the pregnancy did not sustain. She has resorbed her cria and is once again open and hormonally confused.
The tension in the boys’ paddock has been bad enough with their vying for attention of the newly open Sapphire and Fiona. But Abigail’s flirtations have been absolutely torturous for them.
To be fair to Abigail, she’s had it rough. She put up with a lot of abuse from Sapphire and Fiona while they were pregnant. And now her own hormones are turning against her. It’s a lot to deal with. So while I understand why she feels the need to instigate fights between her potential suitors, her frustrations are starting to take a toll on everyone. It’s especially hard knowing that she’s having such a hard time and knowing that she can’t be bred for a few more weeks yet no matter how bad she thinks she needs it now.
I’m building up to it, I promise. I just need you to understand the weeks prior and how these things contributed to the massive eruption that followed.
This is the story of one of those not-so-peaceful days.
Here’s the timeline:
5:30 PM I start evening chores.
5:37 PM Abigail has decided that she is sick of me not doing anything about her frustrations and has taken matters in her own hands by mounting Fiona. I don’t need this right now. I make a brief attempt at distracting her in hopes that it will get her to stop the behavior. It doesn’t, but I have things to get done before it gets dark so I can’t spend time on this right now.
5:45 PM I resume chores
5:50 PM I once again return to the girls area to chase Abigail away from Fiona. She is ignoring Fiona’s attempts to run away and is getting increasingly assertive with her efforts.
5:55 PM I resume chores
6:18 PM Louder than normal screaming is coming from the girls side. I quickly throw the last of the food to the chickens and walk around the coop. I find a scene that causes me to nearly drop the egg basket. Abigail is not only chasing Fiona around the pasture, but she is actively chasing Fiona’s cria away and preventing her from nursing. This is unacceptable. I quickly make my way into the girl’s pasture and towards their shelter.
6:20 PM As I open the gate to the girl’s shelter, I watch in amazement as Jovie pops off the bottom board of the fence that separates her from the new moms. Before I can take another step, she manages to crawl right underneath the fence. If this weren’t bad enough, she whirled around and–I promise you–gave me the most proud and smug look I have ever seen on a human, let alone an alpaca before trotting off happily to rejoin her family.
6:20:10 PM I run after Jovie to wipe that stupid smirk off her stupid face.
6:22 PM I give up on chasing Jovie back into the weanling pen and return my attention to Abigail who continues to terrorize Fiona.
6:30 PM I am still chasing Abigail chasing the baby chasing Fiona running away from Abigail
6:31 PM I am now torn since Juliet, Remi, Rocketman, and Tink are eyeing the escape route laid out by Jovie. I figure that plugging this hole should be my next priority so that I won’t end up with more alpacas into the mix of alpacas being chased by me later.
6:40 PM I have just finished dragging a cattle panel over to the weanling side of the enclosure and have barely had a chance to prop it up. It is now sunset and it’s getting very difficult to see. The boys are now in an absolute free-for-all and are embroiled in the worst fight ever. I quickly slap on a haystring on the panel so i can assess the situation.
Situational Assessment: Yup. It’s a bad fight.
6:41 PM There’s not much I can do about the boys at the moment, so I resume my energies to chasing Abigail chasing the baby chasing Fiona running away from Abigail. I remember now that this is what I had started out to do in the first place.
6:45 PM I finally manage to get Abigail isolated outside of the shelter. I am feeling a fair amount of guilt in shutting her outside and out of view of her herd mates. Any guilt at leaving her to spend the night alone in the elements is quickly squashed by remembering that I have just spent the better part of an hour chasing her chasing the baby chasing Fiona running away from her.
I no longer feel guilt.
7:00 PM With mom’s help and assistance from the flashlight app of our iPhones, we manage to get the cattle panel tied in place. Jovie is still a renegade within the mama herd, but at least the yearlings can’t escape. If I have nothing else, I have that.
As it turns out, I have nothing else.
7:05 PM I head over to the boys side. Mom has already gone to the house to get the super secret weapon. Their fight is now going on a half hour with no sign of slowing down. This really is the worst I’ve ever seen them. There are open females on the other side of the field and they KNOW it.
7:10 PM Mom has arrived with Bonnke the Newfoundland to try and bring peace to the situation. The dogs are our secret weapon against fighting alpacas. Normally, the boys stop fighting instantly and then run over to greet the dogs. It’s not fear of the dogs that breaks up the fights, it’s curiosity. The alpacas are usually as delighted to see the dogs as the dogs are to see the alpacas.
Tonight, they don’t care.
Pain does not exist in this dojo.
Fear does not exist in this dojo.
Newfoundlands do not exist in this dojo.
There is no stopping it. There is only…the war.
7:15 PM Still working to separate the boys by chasing Elwood chasing Jake chasing Henri chasing Esteban chasing Baby Burton chasing Elwood. If the situation weren’t so bad and if I still had a sense of humor (it died forever at 5:37 p.m.) I would think the only thing missing from this scene is a musical accompaniment of Yakkity Sax.
7:20 PM FINALLY the boys settle down long enough that between Bonnke, the hose, the iPhone flashlight app, and the really big garden rake, mom and I convince the boys to leave the larger paddock and enter their smaller dry lot. The smaller area reduces their available fighting space and helps to further deflate their egos.
Or something. Whatever. You know what? I don’t even care anymore.
7:30 PM We collapse in the seat of the golf cart. I re-evaluate my life’s choices. I’m not entirely sure where I went wrong, but I feel that I can probably trace it back to Kindergarten.
7:32 PM We drive back to the house when mom gets the fateful call of “what’s for dinner”
7:33 PM After much soul searching, we finally rule out alpaca. It’s tempting–but honestly–it’s just too much work at this point.
Thankfully, the rest of the night was peaceful. There was no further screaming and humming, so no one is stressed. Well, the alpacas aren’t stressed.
In a minor miracle, that night I slept deeply for the first time in a month. There are no coyotes on the hunt. There are no 2 a.m. alarm calls.
I wake up refreshed.
7:00 AM Abigail is resting in exile outside of the girl’s shelter. She seems calm and peaceful and still has plenty of hay and water. I leave her be so as not to disturb her.
7:10 AM Fiona is doing well. She eats her pellets in peace as we give baby girl her morning bottle. All is well in the kingdom.
7:12 AM Jovie still has that blasted smirk on her face, but since I’ve had a full night’s sleep I am able to resist the urge to throttle her.
7:20 AM At the boy’s shelter, they file in one by one for their morning hay. Elwood first. Jake follows. Henri comes to a skidding stop with Baby Buron hot on his heels. Esteban limps slowly behind.
7:21 AM Wait. Esteban limped slowly behind?
7:22 AM Bang head against wall and make a quick call to work explaining that I’m going to be late.
As it turns out, pain did exist in this dojo and Esteban was finally feeling it. Thankfully, the cut he received to his foreleg during last night’s melee was fairly superficial. There are some things that don’t show up when the boys are on an adrenalin high and you’re working by the light of an iPhone. Some things, like the big puddle of blood in the paddock, only come to light, well…in the light.
This, my friends, is the alpaca lifestyle in all it’s glory. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not always as peaceful as the “I Love Alpacas” commercials make it appear. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oh, I do enjoy looking out my window and watching my alpacas spronk in the pastures. I do enjoy listening to them hum to each other. I enjoy the softness of their fiber and the way it rolls off in a lustery waves on shearing day.
But, please friends, don’t forget that LIFE is part of the lifestyle and the cycle of life will override your style of life every single time.
This is life, the same as yours with different characters. It’s so easy to compare our imperfect lives against carefully edited images on Pinterest and feel that we must be doing something wrong. That somehow we’re less than adequate.
You’re not inadequate. If your life doesn’t look like a Pinterest Fail more often than not, THEN you’re doing something wrong.
The alpaca lifestyle nearly killed me, but it didn’t. At least not until next birthing season.
Now, if you all would do me the favor of reminding me of all of this when September rolls around, I’d appreciate it.