Though usually referred to as “fiber”, alpaca fleece is an exceptionally thermal and thick form of wool. More valuable than sheep’s wool, alpaca fiber is prized for its warmth, high tensile strength, and is lacking lanolin, which creates the “itch factor” in sheep’s wool clothing. Alpaca fibers are hollow, which means materials made with alpaca tend to wick sweat away from the body.
But even for alpacas kept as pets, regular shearing is an important part of their overall health. Alpacas do not shed their fleece naturally and unshorn animals can overheat during the summer months. Most alpacas need to be shorn annually, but some individual animals with slower growing fleece may wait almost two years between shearings. Younger cria usually receive their first “haircut” at around six to eight months old.
Because alpacas have a rigid backbone, they cannot be shorn by sitting them on their backside like sheep. While there are some shearing techniques that allow the alpaca to remain standing, we recommend the “side shearing” position, with the animal on its side, both fore- and hind-limbs restrained. This prevents any sudden movements on the part of the alpaca which could lead to a nasty cut with sharp shearing blades!
Shearing is generally a three-person job, with one person using the clippers, another to hold the head and neck, and a third to clean up loose fiber and keep an eye on the animal’s hindquarters. One side is shorn at a time, then the alpaca is gently turned to trim the other side. Finally, the restraining ropes are released somewhat to get the animal’s legs, chest and neck. We generally trim our alpacas into a “show cut”, leaving a tuft of fiber on the head between the ears and forward to above the eyes. A fluffy “pom pom” is left on the tail as well. Legs are trimmed down to the knee area.
Need help shearing your alpacas? We can do that!
Just give us a call at 815-646-1300 or send us a message on Facebook.
We get a lot of questions about alpacas and taking care of them here at TFA, and one of the most common type of questions is cria care. Be it emergency care or routine care, it is important to be prepared ahead of time. We're going to cover some basics today, but they should not be taken as a substitute for a vet or as advice given by a vet. TFA and all its employees are not and do not claim to be veterinarians and we always recommend contacting a vet as soon as possible when you have a problem.
Presuming everything has gone well, a newborn cria will not need much assistance, or any at all. However, if you are present you should remove the membrane from the cria and dry him/her. The mom will not lick or remove the membrane from the cria and it will dry to it. The newborn cria should be working on getting into a cush position almost immediately after birth then working on standing and nursing within around three hours. During this period, we will dip the umbilical stump in iodine, get a weight on the cria, assess the cria for issues such as genital or anal deformities, umbilical hernia, cleft palate, and any signs of weakness.
Once mom passes the placenta within about three hours, and the cria is up and nursing on his or her own, that is about all there is to a normal cria birth. Over the next 72 hours, we do have a few more care tasks to complete to make sure all is well.
The First Few Days
Here at TFA we put mom and baby into a small stall and have a friend nearby for mom so she is not stressed from being alone. This makes it easier for the cria to get to mom for nursing on wobbly legs and lets us keep a very close eye on both mom and baby. We monitor the crias weight and make sure he or she is gaining weight, make sure mom is allowing the cria to nurse and producing milk, and we also schedule the cria for the first vet appointment. All of our crias go to the vet within 72 hours of birth for BVD testing, IgG testing, a DNA blood card, a microchip, and general assessment. The IgG is to ensure that the passive transfer of anti-bodies has taken place via sufficient colostrum ingestion. If this passive transfer has failed, we will do a plasma transfusion via IV to ensure the cria is protected by anti-bodies.
Once the cria has been seen by the vet and the IgG is good or we do a transfusion, mom and cria are then put back with the herd. We keep our moms with crias together and separate from the other herds, but it is safe to put mom and baby back with their usual herd. From this point, we just monitor that baby is growing, mom is not struggling with milk supply, and we vaccinate and worm the cria as is appropriate by age. Weaning occurs at approximately six months once the cria is existing mostly on hay/pasture, feed, and water.
When something isn’t right
Hopefully your cria and mom are healthy and all is well, but it is important to recognize the signs of things being wrong and be prepared. There are many things that can go wrong and we will touch base on more common issues, however, TFA always recommends you consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.
WHERE IS THE CRIA? – If mom has been pushing for 45 mins or more and there is no progress, that is a problem. There are many reasons for dystocia and it is best to call a vet immediately. Alpacas have a very small pelvis and a very large cria for their size. Imagine a 150 pound human giving birth to a 15-22 pound baby, which is about the same for an alpaca. Unlike with other livestock there is very little room to manipulate a poorly positioned cria, doing so can cause severe damage to mom.
THE CRIA IS VERY WOBBLY – Birth is hard work even for a cria! Sometimes crias are born with lax leg tendons or are just very unstable. When we see this issue we give mild doses of selenium and vitamin E paste, and give the severe cases a prescription injection called BOSE. Also, we give a couple CC’s of Karo syrup to our weak and wobbly crias. Occasionally, they are born with low blood sugar and the syrup provides a quick zap of energy to get on their feet and nursing. We always monitor these crias closely to ensure there are not neurological issues causing the wobbles. We also assist the cria with standing and support to nurse until it is capable.
THE CRIA IS LICKING WALLS AND IGNORING MOM – Is your cria acting very strange? Is he or she wandering all over, ignoring mom, refusing to nurse mom, and licking dark corners, walls, hardware, and more? It is a safe bet that your cria is what is called a “dummy cria”. Sometimes when birth is too fast or too long the cria is born without the proper firing of neurotransmitters and is pretty confused. There is no direct way to reverse this however there are steps you can take to help. “Madigan Squeeze Technique” was developed for horses and does show success in alpacas but it is not promised and should only be done by a vet or someone trained in the technique. The most important thing is to make sure baby is eating which means tube feeding or bottle feeding until he or she comes around. It is advised to have frozen colostrum on hand and be sure baby gets 10% of their bodyweight in the first 12 hours. After that, you should be milking mom to keep her supply up, feed baby, and also use formula to make sure the cria is getting 15% of its bodyweight in food a day. If your cria has a suck reflex bottle feeding is better than tube feeding. If the cria does not have a suck reflex, you will have to tube feed and consult a veterinarian for how to do so. Generally, dummy crias come around on their own within a few days to a week after birth.
THIS CRIA IS EARLY – Premature crias can be identified easily. They will be very small, their lower front teeth will not be erupted through the gums, the tendons will be loose, and the ears can be curled. The very first thing you will need to do is make sure the premature cria is dry and its temperature is normal. To accomplish this the best steps are to towel dry the cria and then either put the cria in a plastic bag with its head out and submerge it in warm water being sure to keep it dry or get out a blow dryer and start warming it that way. You cannot feed a cold cria. The second step is to get some energy into the premie. Generally, a little karo syrup followed by colostrum is best. Many premie crias do not have a suck reflex and will be unable to bottle feed. If the cria will swallow you can slowly syringe feed tiny bits by inserting a syringe in the corner of the mouth and squirting tiny amounts for the cria to swallow. Alternatively, there is tube feeding. The cria will need to have you manage its body temperature until it is stable using heating pads and lights and checking its temperature. It will also need to be fed small amounts frequently. It is best to get this premie to a vet for assessment immediately and come up with an action plan.
'There are plenty of things that can go wrong, but remaining calm and prepared are the two most important steps you can take to handle any issues that come up. Always have a couple of vet phone numbers available, have supplies on hand and ready to go, and do research before your cria is due. It is scary, exciting, and sometimes heart breaking to raise alpacas, but it is definitely an amazing experience. Here at TFA we do offer tours, education, sales, and herd consultations to the public if you want further or personalized information. Please contact (815) 646-1300 for assistance in scheduling those services.
It is that time again here in the Midwest when temperatures suddenly soar to dangerous extremes for animals and farmers. With the news warning everyone to stay in the air conditioning, pools and cooling centers opening for free to keep people safe, and hospitals preparing to treat for heat issues, what can we possibly do to protect our herds? What about ourselves?
First, Take care of yourself
We all know the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” and that rings true on a farm. Your very first line of defense against heat related issues in your herd is keeping yourself safe and functional so you can care for your animals and be alert to subtle signs. Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and how to start treating them on the way to official medical help. Check your staff for them and make sure everyone is drinking plenty. Here is a list of tips and tricks to help keep you and your team safe:
-Begin work earlier in the day and stop before the afternoon or only do essential tasks beyond Noon.
-Wear light colored, light clothing.
-Stay out of the direct sun as much as possible
-Going from one temperature extreme to the next could cause dizziness, nausea, fainting, headaches, and more. Be careful when going from the outside to the air conditioned indoors. If possible try to cool down slightly first.
-Drink plenty of fluids such as water, pedialyte, and Gatorade. Sodas, coffee, and alcohol will not help you stay hydrated.
-Always tell someone where you are working and a time you should be done. Use the buddy system and check on each other. Try not to be out alone in remote areas when possible should heat sickness strike.
A good offense is best for your herds
The very best thing you can do to keep your herd safe is to plan ahead. Pay attention to the weather and how long the extreme temps will stick around. Gather supplies, set up equipment, create an emergency action plan and share it with your staff, and get a good assessment of your herd and who may be susceptible to the heat. Here are some ways to protect your alpacas…
-Have your alpacas shorn every year before the summer heat hits. This is the number one means to prevent overheating in the summer months.
-Put out fans. Make sure the fans are rated for outdoor agricultural use, it is well worth a few extra dollars to prevent fires. Set the fans up to create air flow around the barn vs conflicting directions that can create hot spots and trap heat.
-Add additional water sources even if you have automatic waters. Refresh the water multiple times a day. Animals do not like drinking hot water on a hot day.
-Add some tasty electrolytes to the water. There are many commercially available powdered livestock electrolytes, but powdered Gatorade is also a favorite go-to because it is readily available, affordable, and usually the animals enjoy the taste.
-Ensure that there is shade or shelter available with sufficient space for the number of animals using it. Trees can be good in pasture, but be sure that as the sun moves there is still shade available. If you have a shelter or barn ensure that there is very good air flow and ventilation. Barns and run in shelters can be come unbelievably hot.
-Do multiple herd checks daily, and do them thoroughly. Alpacas are great at hiding pain and weaknesses. It is vital to catch a heat stressed alpaca early and have a heat stress plan with care kit ready.
-Do not work your alpacas at all in the heat. That means no transport unless an emergency, no breeding, no location changes, no herd changes, no show practice, or otherwise.
-Hosing off alpacas or watching them in a kiddie pool is usually a comical and enjoyable experience but a word of caution if you absolutely can’t resist doing it; it is possible to rot the fleece off your alpacas depending on your climate and other factors. Keep water low, meaning legs and bellies and not necks, backs, and heads. If you do not properly saturate the alpaca down to the skin the moisture in the fiber can act like a steamer and make the alpaca hotter.
Hopefully being prepared keeps emergency situations at bay, but things do happen. When checking your alpacas you need to be looking for the signs of heat stress. Pay special attention to crias, elderly, sick, pregnant, and dark colored alpacas. The symptoms of heat stress in alpacas are panting, depression, anorexia, and increased heart rate, temperature and/or breathing. As the condition progresses, drooling can occur, trembling, weakness, lying down (and trying to expose the belly), sweating, shock and disorientation, muscle damage, and ultimately, death. If you observe any of these symptoms, you need to take action immediately and contact your veterinarian.
While TFA and its employees are skilled in alpaca care we are not and do not claim to be veterinarians, the following information is how we handle heat stress care for educational purposes only and not prescribed medical advice.
-Move the alpaca to a cooler area.
-Water – cool down as fast as possible by applying cold water to legs, belly, armpits and groin. If using a hose, ensure cold water is flowing (water in a hose lying in the sun can be quite hot!).
-Drinking Water – offer cool water to drink. If your alpaca won’t drink, you can administer water as a drench, but can only be done if patient will tolerate it. The amount of water given must be moderate such as 1 quart to 1 gallon for an adult.
-Breeze – turn on fans if nature won’t oblige
-Ice – ice packs (frozen peas will do) in the armpits and groin
-Cold water enemas – effective but can hamper the ability to monitor core body temperature. Best administered by your vet.
-Newborn cria – give a plasma infusion as soon as possible, this will do more to save your cria than anything else
The main product from Alpacas is their fleece. Alpaca fleece is very different from wool in multiple ways and can be processed into a multitude of products. Today we are going to discuss how fleece is different than wool and the two most common products that farmers have their fiber turned into, yarn and roving. There are more products a mill can produce for you, but those products are made from the yarn and roving. We encourage you to speak with your selected mill about what products they can create for you from your yarn and roving.
Fleece Vs. Wool
Aside from wool being the hair on sheep and fleece being on alpacas, there are some big differences between these fibers. Alpaca fleece is not only softer and warmer than wool, but also hypoallergenic, moisture wicking, and meets the guidelines for being flame resistant.
Yarn and Roving
After an alpaca is shorn, the fleece will need to be processed. Here at Tiskilwa Farms Alpacas, we send our fiber out for processing due to the incredible volume of fiber we have, however, many choose to process their alpaca’s fleeces themselves. Once the fleece is received by the mill, it is then cleaned, has irregular or coarse hairs removed, vegetable matter is picked out, and prepped for the next steps. A carder is used to align all the fibers and it creates almost a sheet of alpaca fiber. Once the fiber is carded, it can be packaged as roving or be made into yarn. If it is being spun for yarn, the carded fiber is then pulled through a diz or goes through a draw frame and then on to be spun and plied.
The yarn from alpacas is a wonderful fiber for a fiber artist to work with. It is incredibly strong and has beautiful luster and drape. The yarn is ideal for weaving, knitting, and crochet. Items from alpaca yarns are incredibly light weight, they will last and hold up to wear and washing, and the colors stay vibrant.
Roving is like the foundation of opportunity with alpaca fiber. Being the starting point for yarn, roving is often purchased by handspinners to create beautiful, one of a kind yarns and blends. It is also what is used for felting. Alpaca fleece felts well in all applications from dryer balls, to felted blankets and clothing.
Handmade at Tiskilwa Farms Alpacas
Something new here at the Farm is handmade products from our alpaca yarns and roving. The Farm manager, Kalie, has fiber arts experience in her background and has started creating things for the storefront that is currently being remodeled. These pieces take time but will be featured on our website and Facebook page. Once the shop is open, they will be down at the shop as well. Until there is a stock of handmade items available we are going to share a very easy and quick scarf project with you. We have yarn in stock and can ship if you want to treat yourself to this beautiful scarf! Remember to like and follow Tiskilwa Farms Alpacas on Facebook and Instagram for photos, farm events, and new excitement!
Aside from being adorable pasture décor, do alpacas have a use? Alpacas actually have multiple uses throughout the world ranging from traditional livestock uses to more modern and creative ones. Let’s learn more about these uses.
Alpacas as meat animals
In South America, alpacas are a staple meat source and is a regular delicacy in Europe and New Zealand. Here in the United States this use for alpacas is still fairly new with many states not allowing the inspection and sale. However, the popularity of this meat is gaining as people are looking for additional revenue streams, becoming more health conscious, and more adventurous eaters in a cultural melting pot.
There is good reason for this use to be creeping into the United States. Alpaca meat is lean, tender, and almost sweet. It is nutritionally better than other common meats in the US boasting low calories, fat, and cholesterol while packing a high protein punch. Many conscientious eaters are seeking it out as alternatives to conventional meats and wild game.
With the rise of the alpaca in pop culture came people wanting to get up close and personal with these quiet and curious animals. The changing agricultural industry has embraced the opportunity and come up with various forms of agri-tourism. Farms like ours are offering tours and the chance to meet and greet with these cuties in new and creative ways. Wineries are now on board and bringing in a historical use of the alpaca, packing. You can find wineries offering the use of an alpaca to carry your bottle of wine and glasses as you stroll through a breathtaking vineyard.
Alpacas as therapy animals
A very new use for alpacas is in the therapy industry. Alpacas are quiet, generally non-aggressive, and have soft feet. Their soft fleece provides wonderful tactile experiences. These animals are being brought to nursing homes, schools, and support centers all over the country. Animal assisted therapy is not a new trend, but seeing camelids involved is. It is reported that they provide physical and emotional comfort, reduce blood pressure, and stimulate bridges of outward communication.
Fiber is still king
The beautiful, silky soft fiber produced by an alpaca is still the number one use globally for these wonderful creatures. Alpacas are shorn once a year which is a necessary maintenance task for their own well-being. This fiber, called fleece, is sold in many ways. Some farms sell the fleece into fiber pools, direct to commercial producers, sell raw fleece directly to local artisans, or the farmers send their fleeces to be turned into various products such as yarn or roving or even finished products like blankets and rugs.
Next week, we'll talk more about fleece, why the fleece of an alpaca is so incredible, and discuss fleece based products. Be sure to like and follow Tiskilwa Farms Alpacas, LLC. On Facebook and Instagram!
Not long ago, Alpacas were virtually unknown in the United States. In 1984 the first alpacas were imported to the US from Central America and it didn’t take long for these curious and gentle animals to find their way into the hearts of animal lovers, and onto the screens of YouTube and social media. Today it is hard to walk through a store without seeing their unique form printed on water bottles, pillows, clothing, and as stuffed animals. Pop culture has even brought about the Alpaca-corn to children’s cartoons and novelty toys. Today we'll discuss the rich history of the alpaca, the types of alpacas, and their uses to kick off our "Alpaca 101" blog series.
6,000 years ago, alpacas were first domesticated by the Incas in the Andean plateau and mountains of South America. They were a central part of the culture where their soft-as-cashmere fleece was reserved for use by royalty. When the Spanish conquered the Incan civilization, the alpacas were almost completely decimated, saved only by their importance and their ability to live at altitudes and in conditions other life could not survive.
In the mid-1800’s the wonderful fleece of the alpaca was rediscovered and regained prominence. In 1827, Simon Bolivar signed rulings that protected camelids in South America. This included alpaca, llama, guanaco, and vicuna. Since then, camelids have been a vital resource to South America. They are so vital that only 3,000 alpacas have been exported from South America and account for only .1% of the alpacas in the world. When they were imported to the US in 1984, a frenzy hit and alpaca fever is still alive today
Is it a sheep? A goat? A deer?
An alpaca is considered a camelid. Yes, they belong to the same group as the hump-backed desert loving camels. There are two types of alpacas, the huacaya and the suri.
The Huacaya, pronounced “wah-KI-ya”, is the type that most frequently comes to mind. It has short, dense, and crimpy fiber. They are often said to look like teddy bears. Another comical description is “long necked sheep”.
The Suri, pronounced “surrey”, has long, silky locks that cling together in pencil-like locks. It is far less common than the Huacaya and makes up only around 20% of the alpaca population.
Both types of alpaca have the following things in common:
- Soft padded feet
- Their hair is called fleece
- Three stomach compartments, making them a pseudo-ruminant vs a true ruminant
- They are compact in size with the average wither height being 36” and the average weight being 150 pounds
- They have an average lifespan of 20 years
- They can adapt to any climate and can do well on small acreage
- They do not have upper front teeth
Hopefully this has answered some questions as to what an alpaca is and how it came to the United States. Next week’s post will be about the primary uses of alpacas. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates and excitement on the farm!
Exciting things have been happening at Tiskilwa Farms Alpacas during our absence from the Spring 2019 Show Circuit. With Spring comes new life, and that has never been more true than it has here. We have welcomed a new management team, started building a new building for our breeding program, teamed up with the Tiskilwa Inn Bed and Breakfast for agri-tourism and marketing, and have many more changes and offerings planned for the future. Along with all the changes on the farm, we now have website management and will be doing weekly blog posts on Fridays ranging from alpaca care to fiber information, and project how-to’s.
For today, and the first blog post, we would Like to introduce everyone to the full-time staff here at the farm. The team is excited to make connections with new and old friends, clients, and guests; Remember the farm is open for tours by appointment, please come say Hi! Please contact Jeremy Gassen at (804) 466-2862 or Kalie Gould at (309) 258-0396 to schedule a visit. Without further delay, meet the team…
Kalie Gould, Farm Manager
In March, Tiskilwa Farms Alpacas welcomed Peoria, IL native, Kalie Gould, as the new Farm Manager. Kalie has a 20 year background in livestock based agriculture across a diverse array of species and production settings, as well as experience in Administration and Human Resources. Immediately prior to joining the team, she ran her own Artisanal Micro-Farm and brought her knowledge of alpacas and fiber arts with her. Nutrition and supportive foundation health practices are the focus of her herd management program followed closely by responsible and conscious breeding program development. She is looking forward to the fall show circuit, re-opening the fiber shop and teaching fiber arts classes, and the results of the new breeding program come spring birth season.
When not at the farm, Kalie enjoys spending time with her two daughters, fiber arts, horseback riding, hunting, and outdoor recreation. She is also an active voice within the Female Agricultural movement and strives to provide mentorship to females and youth.
Tim Morris, Facilities Manager
Tim Morris returned to the team here at Tiskilwa Farms in April after having been the Buda, IL Town Commissioner. He has family history here on the farms grounds and is glad to be back working in agriculture. Tim brings an expansive skill set to the farm including, but not limited to, carpentry, mechanics, and grounds management. Tim has also worked on cattle farms out of state. He is looking forward to the building projects and all the updates that will be done on the farm in the near future.
In his spare time Tim is an active outdoorsman and can be found kayaking the many local waterways, hiking, hunting, fishing, or out on his motorcycle.
Jeremy Andersen, Herd Manager
Last, but certainly not least, is Jeremy Andersen, our Herd Manager. Jeremy is a familiar face at Tiskilwa Farms Alpacas and has been working here for over three years. Jeremy’s background is in the cleaning industry working with his father. He joined the agricultural field when he started here and has become a jack of all trades. Jeremy splits his time between assisting Kalie with animal care, and doing projects with Tim. He is always ready to step in when help is needed, and has helped Tim and Kalie learn the behind the scenes history to plan for the future needs of the herd and facilities. He is excited for all the new ideas that are in the works, and eager to learn more about hands on herd management.
Jeremy enjoys spending time with his daughter, riding his motorcycle, and doing handyman work in the community when he is not at the farm.
All of us here are excited for the future and to get back out to shows and events. We look forward to seeing you all, and keeping you updated on all the excitement here at the farm. You can also find us at Tiskilwa Farms Alpacas, LLC on Facebook for daily updates like newborn crias, in progress projects, fiber products, and community events.