Posts Tagged ‘Ollie Series’
May 3, 2013
If you remember at the three-month mark, Ollie required a couple of bottle feedings daily to give him a little extra nutrition.
Well, only a few short weeks after I fed him a bottle, he was completely off bottles altogether! (I am so glad I got to feed him when I did!) Although he still got a little milk from Duchess, Ollie was mostly eating with the other alpacas, having hay and some grain. (This was all perfectly normal, and meant that he was growing up like any other little alpaca!) Part of the early stages of weaning is when the crias can eat in the “cria creep,” which is a little fenced-off area that only the crias are small enough to fit into.
That way, the crias can eat like the adults and be near them, but they also start being more of a “mini herd” with each other and learn independence.
On February 5, I got an email from Sara saying that Ollie began weaning! *proud* This is because Foggy Bottom begins weaning either at 6 months or 60 pounds, and Ollie hit 62.6 pounds.
This is the general guideline for weaning, but it is still best to look at the cria as an individual and make a judgment based on its own merits, while using the guidelines as… well… guidelines. This means that Sara and her parents did not decide to wean Ollie based solely on his weight, but also on other factors that they observed about him, such as his independence, how well he eats on his own already, his interaction with Duchess, his interaction with other alpacas, and more. In particular, here is what Sara had to say about Ollie:
Some crias hit the 60 pound mark really early, but they aren’t “mature” enough to be weaned from mom. Since [Ollie] is so independent naturally, we knew he would be okay because he is 4.5 months old already.
This was an exciting time for me as his adoptive mom since it meant that he was that much closer to living at Linda’s (and thusly right near me!). But, I also had to be patient, as the first and most important thing to know about weaning is that it is a process, not an event, which means that it takes time and should not be rushed. Typically, weaning takes about a month, but it depends on the cria. (I suspected Ollie’s would be pretty speedy, and I was right! It took about three weeks.) As a bonus, the weaning process was pretty comical thanks to the individual personalities of the alpacas. Let’s take a closer look at how it all worked and the antics behind it!
In the beginning, Ollie was first separated from Duchess only for a few hours during the day in a fenced-in area that is right next to where Duchess spends her time. This way, he could still see her, but did not have direct access to her. Gradually, Ollie’s time with the other weanlings was increased until, after a couple weeks, Sara and her parents kept him overnight with them to see how he did. With Ollie still thriving, he spent more and more nights with them. Eventually, it was clear the weaning was successful, so they gave Duchess a couple more weeks near the weanlings before she was moved to the barn that houses the females. At this point, Ollie’s weaning was complete, and he now spends all of his time in the weanling area, having adventures during the day and sleeping with his friends at night. According to Sara, he fits right in, and they are one big happy group!
First, let’s see how Duchess took the separation…
True to her casualness as a mom, she didn’t even notice Ollie was gone. This is just another way that Duchess is a good mom—she practically weaned Ollie herself!
As for Ollie, he was not weaned alone and shared a pen with about a dozen other crias who were undergoing various stages of the weaning process themselves. Alpacas are herd animals and don’t like to be alone, anyway, but going through a process like weaning all by yourself, well… that’s no fun! The weanlings got all the food and water they wanted, and extra attention from Sara and her parents to help ease the transition. Ollie did so well that when it was time for him to go back to Duchess after his first four-hour stint with the other weanlings, he did not want to leave the weanling area… Sara had to physically carry him back to Duchess (no small feat with a sixty-pound alpaca!)! Ollie began to wait at the entrance to the weanling area in the mornings, ready to go back and be with his friends (though Sara suspected it may also be because he gets breakfast over there!).
About a week in, I went to visit Ollie to see how he was getting on. First, the weanlings ate…
(Apparently, eating is really hard work because later Ollie was sitting next to the trough, cozying up to it like he was ready to take a nap.)
After mealtime, the weanlings went exploring…
At one point, Ollie wandered over to a gate that was open…
He then went about exploring the snow, as you can see…
I told him he had snow on his face and so he came closer so I could get a better picture.
See how his ears are flattened? He is uncertain about me, so he is being a little cautious.
Then he went to go contemplate deep cria thoughts by the fenceline…
Throughout the weaning process, Sara and her parents observed Ollie closely, checking that he was gaining weight steadily and was overall still healthy and adjusting well.
So, as we can see, little Ollie did just fine during the weaning process! Sara and her parents took great care of him, and now he spends his days with his friends in the weanling pen, plotting adventures and seeking fun! Duchess is back with the other females, awaiting the next time she will become a mom. Let’s check back in with her once more as we sign off for today…
If you can believe it, the next installment in the Ollie series will be when he comes home and begins life with me and Linda’s alpacas! (I think someone else will have to take pictures that day because I will be too busy flailing in excitement.)
March 27, 2013
Last month in the Ollie series, we met Ollie’s parents, the alpacas behind the cria. Let’s now meet the people behind the alpacas behind the cria! First, though, I’ll go over what, exactly, alpacas are since I’ve been remiss about that (stick with me—I’ll try not to get too science-y!); plus, it will give us some context for the interview!
Alpacas are camelids, which started out in North America approximately 40 million years ago. At one point about three million years ago, a land bridge formed, allowing some of the animals to migrate into Africa, Asia, and South America. The camelids that stayed behind in North America became extinct, likely due to overhunting and environmental changes. The camelids that migrated to Africa became the Dromedary (one hump) camels, and those that migrated to Asia became the Bactrian (two humps) camels. The camelids that migrated to South America split into two groups: vicuñas and guanacos. Over time, some vicuñas and guanacos were domesticated by the ancient peoples, and these animals became alpacas (cousins to the vicuñas) and llamas (cousins to guanacos).
Interestingly, vicuñas and guanacos still run wild in South America! Vicuñas have the finest fiber of any animal in the world and have been a protected species since the 1970s when it was discovered their numbers had dwindled to only a few thousand as a result of poaching and habitat loss. Today, however, their numbers are back up into the hundreds of thousands, and, though they are wild, they are still rounded up once a year for counting and shearing using the same methods as the ancient peoples.
And, of course, alpacas are still very common in South America, and are becoming more popular all over the world. Ironically, when alpacas made a comeback in the U. S., they were imported from South America, the very place the original ancestors from North America migrated to all those millions of years ago.
There are two types of alpacas: huacaya (pronounced wuh-KAI-ya) and suri (pronounced SOO-ree). Each type comes in a variety of colors, ranging from white to brown to gray to black. Huacaya alpacas are like Ollie, with short, crimped fiber and suri alpacas look like they have “dreadlocks.” Suri alpacas are much rarer than huacaya alpacas. Alpacas are herbivores, primarily eating pasture protein-rich grasses, hay, and sometimes grain. They chew cud and, like other ruminants (this means they chew cud, like cattle and goats), they have a chambered stomach, but they have only three chambers instead of four.
Personality-wise, they are friendly and gentle, but standoffish. The best way I’ve heard it described is that they are like cats, seeking attention when they want it and staying at a respectful distance when they don’t. They can be curious and fun to watch, and they are very intelligent and trainable. They are generally quiet, but they do make some noises, such as “warning” sounds, humming, or sounds reserved only for mating. They are herd animals who must be kept in groups of at least two, though three or more is ideal.
There! I think that about sums them up in a nutshell. I could go on (and on…), but it’s time now to talk to Sara! I mentioned in my introduction post about Ollie that Foggy Bottom Alpacas, where Ollie currently lives, is owned by Mark and Barb Bender. Sara is their daughter, and she manages Foggy Bottom Alpacas as well as her own Over the Rainbow Alpaca Ranch. People like Sara are important because they are often mentors for individuals (like me) who are just getting into this hobby. Though I can (and have) read many books and websites about alpacas, I often find the best information comes from having real-life interaction with other people who own alpacas. When Ollie is old enough to live at Linda’s, I will be lucky enough to have both Sara and Linda as mentors, which will help to ensure that I can give Ollie the best care possible!
Sara, how did you get interested in alpacas?
Sara: My parents got their first “group” of alpacas in 2008. At first, I thought they were crazy… but then I started to really like the alpacas. In 2009, I went with my dad to a farm in Virginia, Double “O” Good Alpacas, and that is where I bought my first alpaca. I haven’t looked back since.
Jillian: That seems to be the general consensus for alpaca enthusiasts—the alpacas just puuull you in. I think it’s their soulful eyes!
How did you and your parents come up with your farm names?
Sara: I named my farm Over the Rainbow Alpaca Ranch because I have an alpaca named Over the Rainbow. She is very social, and loves to be petted and hugged. She even comes when you call her! My parents named their farm Foggy Bottom because they have 20 acres of rolling land… and it is usually foggy in the mornings.
How many alpacas do you have?
Sara: Between each farm, there are about 70 alpacas, all huacaya. This year, we are expecting 29 babies to be born!
Do you have any other animals at your farm?
Sara: Other than our family dogs and our two barn cats, it’s just alpacas! We used to have chickens, but we needed the space in the barn to create our “nursery,” which is a heated area in our barn.
We have talked above about what alpacas eat, but do they have any favorite treats?
Sara: Some alpacas like shredded carrots, some will eat apple bits, and one even likes animal crackers! We try not to feed too many “treats,” but when we do, it is usually something called alpaca chews (it is grain that is in bigger pellets so they think it is a treat!).
Jillian: When I visit Linda’s alpacas, they like it when I bring carrots and dark greens!
How do alpacas do in the extremes of the Minnesota climate?
Sara: They do very well in our climate overall, though the summer heat is dangerous to alpacas because of their fiber—imagine wearing a fur coat in 80-degree weather! We keep them cool in the summer months with fans and sprinklers that wet their belly and legs. We have to be careful not to wet the top of their backs with water in the heat because that acts more as a thermal blanket and traps heat inside, rather than cooling them off. (Some farms even put out little kiddie pools with a few inches of water that the alpacas kush in!)
Jillian: What about the cold? Would you say the heat is more of a threat than the winter months?
Sara: The cold is not something that we worry about. They have so much fiber that they can insulate and stay pretty warm. We have a few girls that get cold, and laying straw down in the winter helps to insulate and keep them warm. A few select females and younger alpacas need coats, some of which we make here on the farm out of felted alpaca fleece!
Tell me about the first cria born at your farm!
Sara: Windsong was his name, and Duchess was actually his mom! My mom was at a breakfast meeting and I was at work (when I worked for Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis) and my dad was alone. He called to say that Duchess was in labor! Though my mom left her meeting right away, by the time she got home, Windsong was already up and walking. I think my dad was nervous, but after it was done… it was exciting!
Jillian: Given what I know of Ollie’s birth, I am not surprised Windsong’s was just as quick! It is pretty exciting that Duchess, Ollie’s own mom, was Foggy Bottom’s first female and that Windsong was the first cria born on your farm. This makes Windsong, who was sold as a sire to Wildflower Alpacas in Princeton (he is their top sire!), Ollie’s older half-brother! Cool!
How do you know whether a cria will be a fiber boy (like Ollie) or a sire (like Windsong)?
Sara: Well, the goals for breeding are basically always the same: breed for the best quality fiber without compromising the conformation [correctness of body shape] of the alpaca. You can usually tell by a couple of days old, but sometimes you need to wait until you can get the animal sheared in the spring. Cria fleece usually looks a little “fuzzy” and can be very long, which will pull the fleece and the crimp out. But sometimes they are born and the fiber looks straight… then I know that it will not be the fleece I was hoping for. Practice, practice, practice. The more crias you see, the better you get at knowing good fleece right away.
Jillian: So, because the goal of breeding is never to go backward in either conformation or fiber, an alpaca male must be exceptional in both of these areas to be a sire. By dint of being an alpaca, Ollie has lovely fiber, but in the grand scheme of things, his fiber is simply average for an alpaca, not a leap forward in getting to the goal of alpaca fiber that rivals what the ancient peoples of South America created. (We still have not, to this day, been able to replicate the fineness of their alpaca fiber, which was the result of thousands of years of breeding knowledge that was lost approximately 500 years ago during the Spanish Conquest. Basically, breeders of today are having to relearn what the ancient peoples had already figured out, though a basic rule of “never go backward” is simply common sense.) Because breeding Ollie to a female would not get us closer to that goal and, in fact, might take us backward, he will only ever be my fiber pet. Windsong, on the other hand, had both good conformation and good fiber—because of that, he is now a sire!
Speaking of fiber, what do you do with the fiber from your animals?
Sara: Right now, we turn a lot of it into yarn which we then sell in our store, we knit with some of the yarn to sell the finished goods, and we also sell some of it raw (spinners out there want to process the fiber themselves!). We have a machine called a FeltLOOM. [Jillian: I've seen it, it is so cool!] It needlefelts the fiber into any size sheet, which we can use to make a variety of things. So far, we’ve made boot inserts, bags, purses, and blankets. We also will start donating a lot of our fiber to the co-op in exchange for products to sell in our store.
Jillian: I am pretty excited to figure out what I am going to do with Ollie’s fiber! I have a special plan for a little bit of it that, if it works out, I’ll reveal here on the blog closer to shearing time.
That’s all for today! I hope you enjoyed the closer look at alpacas, and the bits behind-the-scene where Ollie lives. Next up, we’ll talk about the weaning process! (Can you believe Ollie is old enough for us to even start thinking about that? Time sure has flown…)
February 21, 2013
At the end of March, Ollie will begin the weaning process, so I thought this would be a good time to talk about his sire (father) and dam (mother), giving tribute to the two alpacas who gave Ollie his unique personality and characteristics! Though I have gathered bits and pieces here and there about Ollie’s parents during my visits to Foggy Bottom Alpacas, I checked in with Sara for some extra information about them for this post.
Hmmm… Who is this mysterious fellow?
Well, he is…
Ollie’s Sire, Kingscliff
Kingscliff hails from a farm in New York called A. L. Paca’s Farms. Somewhat aptly named, when you see Kingscliff for the first time, he certainly comes off as kingly, strutting about like he owns and manages the whole of Foggy Bottom Alpacas. Ollie gets his playful nature, curiosity, and distinctive head shape from Kingscliff, as well as some of his color (more on that later).
And, you guys know who this is from her previous appearances on the blog…
Ollie’s Dam, Duchess
Duchess is seven years old and came from a farm in Oregon called Northwest Alpacas. As understated as Kingscliff is regal, she is kind of the quintessential alpaca. Calm and neutral, easy to handle, and just a really good girl. (As you can tell, I kind of adore her. ^_^) Having had four other crias before Ollie, she is an experienced, reliable dam who brings up personable, well-balanced little ones without fail. She tempers personalities from sires (like Kingscliff!) that may be a little overwhelming, which helps to make crias like Ollie even-keeled with just a touch of spunk. She is so matter-of-fact about the whole business of birthing and raising crias that she had Ollie all on her own while the humans were inside for their lunch break, then went about the rest of her day as if that were no big deal, little Ollie trailing behind like he’d always been there.
Breeding Kingscliff to Duchess was no accident. Indeed, Sara had a plan:
“I bred Duchess to Kingscliff because I knew that Duchess had color in her backgroud and was trying to get something other than white. Her past crias have all been white… so I wanted to see what she was capable of throwing [a word breeders use that is another way of saying "to give birth to"]. With her dad being a multi, I knew that the chances of her throwing a multi were pretty high.”
I won’t get too much into color here because it is a varied and multi-faceted topic that I am just starting to learn about myself, but it is interesting to note that Sara did get a (mostly) non-white cria out of pairing Duchess with Kingscliff, as was hoped! Ollie is registered as a medium fawn (primary) and white (secondary) alpaca.
Before I sign off for today, I have a special treat: Ollie’s Alpaca Registry, Inc. (ARI) certificate! (See it bigger here.)
While the certificate can look a little confusing at first, let’s take a step back, reading it as if we are Ollie and this is his family tree.
At the top, we have Ollie’s official name of “FBF Oliver,” which is a combination of 1) the breeder who owned the dam at the time the cria was born and 2) the name of the cria itself. Directly underneath that, it states the farm where he was born. Along the left, a quick glance shows us his birth country, his primary and secondary color classifications, his gender, and other information.
Then we get to the interesting bits along the right, which is Ollie’s lineage back to his great great grandparents! If you go back far enough, there is no breeder identifier in the name, but what looks to be a misspelled “Peruvian” instead (such as in Great Great Grandpa Caligula’s case). This is because the word “Peruvian” on these certificates can mean two different things, the first and most straightforward of which indicates the alpaca’s full heritage from Peru. The second meaning is more complicated, as it indicates the alpaca was from one of six batches that were imported to the U. S. from Peru before importations were closed in the 1990s. To keep track of these alpacas, the word “Peruvian” was added to their name to indicate they were in the first batch from Peru. At the second importation, and for each after that, a prefix was added to help keep things straight: PP, PPP, 4P, 5P, 6P. The “unknowns” in Ollie’s pedigree chart occur mostly because there is no way to track the lineage of these alpacas imported from Peru. During my research for this post, I found out from Sara that Caligula is actually a very well-known sire who appears on many ARI certificates for some of the top alpacas in the country today. Cool!
That’s it for now. Up next time, I’ll have an interview with Sara from Foggy Bottom Alpacas!
January 17, 2013
As Ollie hit the three-month mark, Sara determined that he was not getting enough milk from Duchess (it is nothing to worry about, it just means he needs a little extra nutrition) so she began to supplement his diet with a bottle a couple times daily. Personality-wise, he is a good-natured, spunky little guy. Though he continues to be independent, he loves bottle time and (when she catches him) Ollie even allows Sara to plant kisses on his cheek!
Now that the general update is out of the way, I have two squeeful bits of news for you in this installment: I got to bottle-feed Ollie and, even more exciting, I officially purchased him! *commence flailing*
On December 29th, Logan (my husband) and I arrived at Foggy Bottom Alpacas and Mark (Sara’ father) was waiting for us. We signed the papers, I paid for Ollie, and then I received a folder containing health records, Ollie’s Alpaca Registry, Inc. certificate, and my copy of the papers. All of this means that, as Ollie’s official owner, though he will stay at Foggy Bottom Alpacas until he is weaned, I am now responsible for his “room and board” and any other expenses since he has reached the three-month mark.
After a bit of flailing and waiting for the bottles to heat up, it was time to feed Ollie! Mark informed me that he is a bit of a vigorous eater, so I had to hold the bottle tightly in my hand. Ollie was (im)patiently waiting for us in the pen when we got there, and after Mark got him started on the bottle, he let me take over. Here is a short video Logan took while I was feeding Ollie:
Mark was right that he is an enthusiastic eater, so I had to keep a tight hold on the bottle!
You can see from this angle how Ollie is positioned just how he would be if he were getting the milk from his mother. I had to hold it at just the right angle and height.
Ollie was hungry and ate nearly two whole bottles while I was there with him.
I wondered how I would know when he was finished eating, but it was pretty obvious. Midway through his second bottle, Ollie stopped abruptly and became completely uninterested in the bottles.
Done with mealtime, he began to wander around doing whatever it is baby alpacas do when they are cozy and full, though I did nab him for a quick picture of us together to celebrate us being a family now.
(I had that smile on my face all weekend!)
Up next, we’ll learn about Ollie’s parents and pedigree!
December 20, 2012
When last we left Ollie, he was just three days old and was having some difficulty in gaining enough weight. This meant there was a question about whether Ollie would be healthy enough for me to buy him and raise him as my very own with Linda’s existing alpacas.
Let’s check in on my little boy now. How is he doing? *drum roll*
Hmm… he seems to be doing just fine! Here is a summary of the first months of his life so far.
At one week, Ollie’s weight began to become more consistent and the original fears about his health dissipated.
When Ollie was one month old, I attended a class at Foggy Bottom Alpacas which was geared toward assisting and informing both new and potential alpaca owners. It was run by Sara Bender of Foggy Bottom Alpacas and a special guest from Virginia, Nancy Ogan of Double “O” Good Alpacas. We had classes on how to set up pens, create a business plan, and manage your farm, as well as hands-on learning with regard to witnessing a breeding, trimming toe nails (alpacas have toes, not hooves!), administering medications, and catching and haltering alpacas.
In between training, I got lots of pictures of Ollie!
Ollie is becoming more independent and really starting to mature. Just look at that handsome face!
He is growing so quickly! *sniff* He is already spending less time with his mother and more time with the other crias, running around the field, kicking at the air, grazing on his own, and prancing just out of reach of Sara and her parents.
What’s next for Ollie? Look for a three-month update and… as the New Year turns over, I become his official owner!