Sunday, August 11, 2013

Addictive Alpacas

Maggie loves alpacas. She wants her own little herd of these very sweet animals. But alpacas come with a pretty high price tag and probably should be owned and cared for by a person with some knowledge about the animal. Although she has researched them extensively, none of us have had an opportunity to actually interact with one, until today...

In June, while attending the Big Butler County Fair, we came across this sign:

While in the booth we noticed a sign about a 4-H Alpaca club! We met for our first meeting today and it was the most fun 4-H meeting I have ever attended! We discussed the plan for getting this club started, learned a little about Alpacas, then headed out to visit the Alpacas.

Alpacas are herd animals. They have no natural defenses, so they stay close to one another for security. They are very gentle, slightly timid, animals. They are not as large as llamas - the alpacas were 4 - 5 feet tall (that's my guess anyway). They do not have top teeth, so are incapable of biting a person. They do spit occasionally, but usually at each other, not at people. They will come for food, but they do not like to be petted on the head. (Yep! I was listening at the meeting!) 

 As part of this 4-H club, the students will be showing alpacas at various shows and fairs. Some competitions will include taking the animal through an obstacle course, so a couple of the moms present set up a simple obstacle course and the 7 kids present took turns walking 5 alpacas through the course.

All but one of these alpacas have been trained to complete the obstacle course, and that one learned very quickly! It was interesting to watch how easily the children were able to work with the alpacas. They are quick learners, super gentle, and social animals. The alpacas were all about a year old, and only two of the children had any experience with alpacas.

MT is just over 4 feet tall and his alpaca, Collin, was just about his height. FRitW walked Collin as well, and later walked Captain. Captain was slightly bigger than Collin.

Maggie with Captain. Alpacas are shaved in May, so his fleece is pretty thin right now. They winter very well since they usually have a nice heavy coat by the time the snows arrive.

MT with Collin. MT walked Collin through the obstacle course at least 15 times. Even when Collin tried to run or avoid an obstacle, MT had the strength to control him and get him back on track. I was so surprised by how easy they are to handle!

FRitW posing with Collin. You can see how small alpacas are. Collin is not fully grown, but will only weigh 100 - 150 pounds full grown. He might be about a foot taller than he is now.

Collin decided to try to escape, but FRitW was able to hold him and get him calmed quickly and take him right back through the obstacle course.

After today's meeting, I am feeling much more comfortable around alpacas. They are such sweet, gentle animals. Through our 4-H club we will have the opportunity to work with our host's alpaca herd, 'adopt' an alpaca, show that alpaca at fairs and competitions, and learn about the care and feeding of alpacas. The older kids in the group may get to adopt a female and follow her through pregnancy and birth, and help train the baby. In another year or so, who knows? Maybe Maggie will get to start her own herd!


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