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MYSTIC MOUNTAIN ALPACAS

CALIMA PACA & PIGGIE RESCUE.

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

General Information

We are a small alpaca farm on the outskirts of Newton County. Although other livestock such as chickens, pigs, a llama, and a donkey can be found on our farm; our livestock of choice is the alpaca. We currently have a herd of 45 of all colors and sizes that keep us busy, especially during the Fall and Spring show seasons. Due to their small size, gentle nature, and easy care alpacas are the perfect choice of livestock. We breed, sell, and show our animals, but our main source of income comes from their fiber which comes in 23 natural colors and has almost as many uses. Warmer than wool, softer than cashmere, and lighter than cotton, alpaca fiber is gaining in popularity by leaps and bounds around the world.

Once a year, in mid to late spring, we harvest or crop for the year when we have shearing. The fiber is carefully removed from the animal and graded based on its possible use. The prime blanket is usually the area referred to as the “saddle” area and is the best fiber on the animal. Fiber from this area will be either kept carefully intact for sending to fleece shows or bagged for later use by hand spinners or sent to a mill for processing into yarn. The next area to be removed are the haunches, chest, and neck areas. This fleece is usually still of very good quality, but is sometimes lacking in staple length so it will be bagged to be used as roving. The last fiber to be removed is from the belly and legs. This fiber is meant to provide the alpaca with protection from hard surfaces and flies and other biting insects so it is noticeably coarser than the rest and is primarily used in rug yarn. Once the fiber has been removed, each bag is carefully weighed and logged in to a database and then put into one larger bag labeled with the year and the alpaca’s name. Our typical harvest comes in at around 215 pounds. Sale of this fiber and products made from it are our primary source of income from the alpaca business although we do derive some income from stud fees and sales of the animals themselves.

Alpacas are a member of the camelid family along with camels, llamas, vicuñas, and the guanaco. They are native to the mountains of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia where they are found at altitudes ranging from 12,800 to 15,000 feet. These are pack animals by nature and so being must be kept in, at the least, pairs. Although they are known for their soothing “humming” sound, alpacas are known to sound an alarm meant to alert the rest of the herd of impending danger. In many cases the “danger” in question turns out to be the ferocious house cat or alpaca eating red hen, but no matter the cause the high pitched and totally unique sound never fails to get the attention of the rest of the herd. Because these gentle creatures have no other defense against predators they have been known to kick and attempt to stomp an enemy. It is this lack of defense that has given the entire camelid family the bad reputation as spitters. Yes, an alpaca will spit but only in times of great stress or fear.
Alpacas come in two types; the huacaya which have soft fluffy fleece and the suri which have long, twisty locks of fiber. They have a relatively small head, a cleft (split) upper lip, a dental pad on top and long teeth on the bottom in the front of their mouths and both upper and lower teeth for chewing in the back, a long neck, and large, pointed ears. The tail is short and fluffy and the feet have two toes with toenails on the top and pads on the bottom. The average adult alpaca weighs about 120-140 pounds and is 3-3.5 feet tall at the shoulders and will live 15 to 20 years. A young alpaca is called a cria and is born weighing from 13 to 25 pounds after an average gestation of 350 days.
Alpaca are herbivores (plant-eaters). They eat mostly grasses, herbs, and other plant material as well as a pelleted grain produced especially for them. Much like cattle, alpacas are ruminants and have a three-part stomach. They partially chew their food; later, the food is regurgitated as a cud, which the alpaca then chews thoroughly.
Classification:Class Mammalia (mammals), Order Artiodactyla, Suborder Tylopoda, Family Camelidae, Genus Lama, Species L. pacos.
Michael & Melissa Hall
mysticmtnalpacsa@att.net
www.mysticmountainalpacas.com

Friday, January 4, 2013

Inside An Alpaca Show

Inside Setup

Inside Setup

The alpaca lifestyle has many facets. Along with the less than pleasant tasks of scooping poop, running fecal tests, and giving shots there are the many positive aspects of the industry. One of the best parts of this wonderful industry is the many new relationships that are formed in the process of marketing and taking care of your animals and the show circuit is the best venue for spending time with friends and acquaintances that you would not otherwise get to see. Although it is possible to be successful in the alpaca industry without attending shows, there is no better place to network with others in the industry and market your alpacas and fleece. 
    So why do some farms not go to shows? Because they are expensive, tiring, nerve wracking, and a LOT of work. On the other hand, they are fun, exciting, and well worth your marketing dollars if you do well in the ring. Here is a little peek into the alpaca show process:
    The first challenge is to decide what show or shows you wish to attend. Most farms have a certain number of shows that they attend each year. These are usually chosen based on either their proximity to the farm or the venue at which the show is held. Because the venues available for alpaca shows are usually either something that was built with horses in mind or a multipurpose arena, the amount of preparations needed vary. Some venues have horse barns complete with wooden stalls to house the animals while at others corrals must be made from portable panels. 
    Most shows have check in on Friday before the show so everyone must be packed and ready to roll in time to reach the venue in time for check in and color check. Taking alpacas on a weekend trip is comparable to making a trip with small children...EVERYTHING ,must go with you just in case. Once you have packed the feed dishes, water buckets, poop scoopers and rakes, broom, halters, leads, hay containers, fans, first aid kit, grain, minerals, electrolytes, hay, portable panels, stall pads, and grooming tools for the animals you must turn your thoughts to what you want to do to market your farm. The setup that is used for an indoor arena with panel corrals may be different from the one you use when the stall is outside and exposed to varying degrees of weather. The set up that we use for our outside shows will use a little less paper.
Once the animals are comfortable and the booth is set up it is time for color check. Because alpacas come in 22 natural colors and some of them are close enough to the same that a difference in lighting can make a beige alpaca look white or a light fawn alpaca look beige, every animal needs to be looked at under the lighting specific to the show venue. Since the entire show is based on the sex, age, and color of the animals, it is imperative that the color class that your animal is shown in is the color the judge will see when he/she opens that fleece in the ring. After color check there is usually an exhibitor's dinner...a chance to unwind, check in with friends, and grab a bite to eat before going back out to feed, water, and clean up after the animals. Only after the animals are satisfied and bedded down for the night are you able to check in to a hotel and crash...but not for long because the mandatory exhibitor's meeting is usually bright and early the morning of the show and the feeding, watering, and poop scooping need to be done before the meeting.
    So with the exhibitor's meeting behind you, the show begins. Classes usually start going into the ring by 9:00 a.m. and continue until around 5:00 p.m. the first day culminating in another exhibitor's dinner that evening which sometimes includes auctions, live bands, and a bar. The evening ends just as the one before did; going back out to feed, water, and clean up after the animals so that you can get back to the hotel and crash. Sunday morning begins the classes again around 9:00 a.m. and they run until every alpaca has been judged.
While all of this drama is happening in the ring, the rest of the venue is also a hive of activity. Vendors selling anything and everything alpaca are set up, a silent auction is going on, and several smaller competitions such as fleece shows, spin offs, and photo contests are taking place. Most shows also have several seminars being taught for everything from fleece sorting to fecal testing.
    Last, but certainly not least, the little ones get a chance to show off their animals in the performance classes usually held at the end of the show. In these classes children (and some adults) are tasked with getting their alpaca to complete an obstacle course which has been set up to contain things that alpacas just do not like. Things like steps to climb, bridges to walk across, ball pits to walk through, and plastic sheeting in a dark color to walk across. Completion of this course requires an enormous amount of trust, practice, and hard work on both the human and alpaca sides. I am always amazed at how small some of these children are...they look so tiny next to their big ole' alpaca!
And then the show is over. It is time to pack everything and everyone back up for the trip home. The following days will be spent trying to get everything back to normal. The animals who have been to the show should be kept away from everyone else until you can make sure they didn't bring any critters back with them. 
    Then all that is left is to look forward to the next show!
-Melissa Hall-

Outside Setup

Outside Setup

Malachai Waiting to be Judged

Malachai Waiting to be Judged

Vesper Being Judged

Vesper Being Judged

A Little Girl with A Big Alpaca

A Little Girl with A Big Alpaca


Friday, January 4, 2013

Unexpected Blessings

Friday, March 11, 2011 started pretty much the same as any other Friday. Michael and I were at work and Michael just happened to me sitting in my office when his phone rang. I watched his expression trying to determine whether the caller was imparting good news or bad. I finally decided that it must not be all bad because he looked kind of excited, but it must not be all good either because he also looked sort of confused and uncertain. As I sat there watching him I heard him say “Let me talk to her and I will call you back.” Now it was my turn to be confused and uncertain. As the parent of six kids over the age of 16, a phone call ending like that could mean a lot of things…not all of them good!
Fortunately, this one had nothing to do with the kids. It was our vet calling to ask for our help. It turns out that one of her other clients had a cria that had been born early the day before and the mother was totally and brutally rejecting him. Any time the poor little guy got anywhere near her she would try to cush on him. The owner had tried everything to get her to accept him, but to no avail so she was giving him goat colostrum to try to keep his strength up. Finally, he got to a point where the vet deemed it necessary to do a plasma transfusion. It was right then that we should have known that this little guy was going to be different because for the first time in her career, she was unable to get the entire transfusion in him. Strangely enough, only about half of it would fit and he weighed in at 19.1 pounds! Thankfully, the half of a transfusion was enough to give him the boost he needed, but it would only last for a little while so he needed to be bottle fed…a lot…and often…around the clock…for months and the owner was not in a position to be able to take on that kind of commitment. She made the decision to give the cria away, not because she didn’t want him; because she knew what he needed and that she couldn’t provide it…and so we got the call. Why us? I have no idea, but we have been thankful every day since that we were chosen.
We drove down to pick him up that afternoon right after work. It was love at first sight. He was so precious! The owner took us into her home and explained the processes that she had been using to get him to eat, but she was really worried because he wasn’t taking in very much. She made him a bottle of goats’ milk and warmed it just right. We took the bottle out into the pasture and he came running. He was definitely interested in the bottle, but as soon as he started nursing on it he would hear or see his mother and run to her hoping for the real thing. Michael and I both felt that once we got him to our farm, where this mother was not around to give him false hope, he would probably take to the bottle just fine. The owner agreed, but I could tell it was breaking her heart to let the little guy go. We promised to keep her up to date on his progress, send pictures, and let her come see him any time she wanted to. Thirty minutes later we left her farm with a precious 18 hour old cria, his blood card so that we could get his registration started, LOADS of goat milk, the nipple from the bottle that he had been using, the cria coat the he had been wearing, and the prayers of his previous owner.
The ride home was an experience that we will not soon forget. We were driving a KIA Sportage and had decided that it might be best to let the cria lay in the back on some blankets for the ride. That lasted until we got almost to the end of the driveway before he was up, pacing back and forth, and constantly humming. We were beginning to think that we were just going to have to grin and bear it until we could get him home when the funniest thing happened. We had gotten on the interstate and we started to notice that every time we went past an eighteen wheeler on the side he was looking out of, he would stop humming and pacing to watch the truck go all of the way by; as soon as the truck was out of sight, the pacing and humming would start back. Who would have thunk it? Little boy alpacas like big trucks too!
Once we got him home and settled we made him a bottle of goat’s milk and he fell into a routine of taking two or three ounces every couple of hours. Soon he was taking six or eight ounces at a time, but his poop was pure white water. At this point we started adding a few ccs of Caro syrup to his bottles and giving him a little probios here and there. We also started putting full fat yogurt in his milk a couple of times a day to try to replace some of the cultures that he was losing with the diarrhea and goat’s milk.
On day 5 the goat’s milk that we had was beginning to get low. We had to decide whether to try to find a place to get more goats’ milk or to try regular whole milk. We called our vet and she suggested that we go ahead and go with the whole milk, but to transition him to it gradually so that we might avoid messing his little stomach up again. By the time the transition to whole milk was complete on day 18, he was taking 10 to 12 ounces at a time. At this point he was at about 24 pounds which isn’t bad, but it isn’t really that good either. Normal weight gain for a cria is .5 pounds a day and our little guy had only gained 5 pounds in 18 days. In order to put more weight on him we started putting as much as 10 ccs of full fat yogurt in every bottle and we started offering him straight Mazuri Ultimate grain. Let’s just say that we had hit on the winning combination! His weight at the end of month 2 was 32.8 pounds, month 3 was 44 pounds, and by the time he hit 5 months of age our little boy was up to a strong, healthy 61 pounds.
It is really amazing to look out the window and see this beautiful creature grazing peacefully; happy and content with himself and his home and remember the little guy who was rejected by his mother, but is so loved today by everyone who knows him.

-Melissa Hall
The End



Friday, January 4, 2013

A Cria's Story

Anyone who has been in the business of breeding and raising alpacas will know what I mean when I talk about the excitement and anticipation that leads up to the birth of a new cria. It’s one of those feelings that never really go away whether this is your first cria or your last. Well, this particular one was number three for us.
We had purchased two females; one was an old pro who had given birth over and over with no issues, the other her yearling daughter. Finally our little one reached the ripe old age of two. She had grown into a big girl with nice long legs and a sturdy body. She was mature and healthy and ready to be a mommy. We took our time deciding which male would be allowed to pollinate our little flower and came up with the perfect match. We checked the calendar to pick the optimal day for breeding, spent weeks afterward tormenting one of the boys to see if our girl would spit at him, and finally had the pregnancy confirmed by ultrasound. Now began the waiting. As fast as time was flying by in our personal lives, it seemed to slow to a crawl down at the barn. Spring flowed into summer, summer drug into fall, fall slid into winter, and finally winter gave way once more to spring. Thus began the watching for those slight changes in our girl that might tell us that she is ready to give birth. Days spent watching and waiting; afraid to leave home less the blessed event take place and we are not there to help. Day 350, which is supposed to me the magic day, comes and goes. So does 355, 356, 357, and 358…
The morning of day 359 dawned warm and sunny. We dragged ourselves out of bed on this Saturday morning with a purpose in mind for the day. Our son and his wife were moving to South Carolina and taking our new grandson with them. We absolutely MUST help them move; not because they really needed our help, but because as the grandmother in this equation I MUST be able to see where they are going to be living so that I will be able to find them when (not if) they need me. And so, as with every other day in the lives of alpaca farmers, we headed to the barn at the crack of dawn to feed grain, refill hay bins, refresh water buckets, and scoop the ever-multiplying poop piles.
No sooner had we gotten to the barn and started feeding, we noticed that our girl wasn’t acting right….nothing we could really put our finger on…just not right. As our chores continued and the morning started heating up, we realized that our little girl really was in labor! Okay, everyone knows that alpaca labor doesn’t take more than a couple of hours or so (yeah right! And they always poop in piles and they never give birth at night, but those are different stories for another day!). There is no reason why we can’t get this little one on the ground and nursing and still make our date with the kids, right? Wrong.
It wasn’t long before we started seeing some real activity around the rear end of our girl. In no time at all we were blessed with a sight that alpaca breeders everywhere pray for; a nose and two feet. I always giggle a little at the thought of that little nose and mouth sticking out with the tongue just agoin’ and the nostrils flaring…but I digress. So everything is moving along according to plan. Within just a few minutes the little one is born. He slithers out of his nice warm home of almost a year in all his gooey glory looking for all intents and purposes like a big bundle of sticks with ears. At this point we are making record time. Just a few minutes to get him cleaned up a little, take his temperature, dip his navel a few times, and get him up walking; then in no time he will be nursing and we can be on our way, right? Wrong again.
We cleaned him up, took his temperature (a little low at 99.8, but nothing too alarming), dipped his navel one, two, three times and sat back to wait for him to get up so that he could nurse. Now I am not a patient person. I hate having to wait for anything, but watching a new cria makes the waiting much easier…or it does when everything works right. As we sat there watching this little guy and waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more for him to get up, we began to suspect that something might be wrong. Neither of us was willing to say anything out loud at this point. I think we were hoping that it was just our imagination and if we didn’t say anything it would just go away. Finally, he started trying to get up only to end up in a heap, nose first into the ground. Looking back on it now, it was actually quite funny watching him try to stand up when his back feet where standing on his front ones. At the time laughter was the last thing on our minds or in our hearts. We did everything we could to help him stand, but the end result was always the same; he would stand for only seconds before his legs would fold up under him like spaghetti noodles and send him rolling in the dirt. The time for trying to pretend that he was normal had passed and we knew that if he couldn’t stand to nurse, we had to take over.
Now our little female was completely bewildered by the entire situation and more than a little freaked out by it all. That was nothing compared to her dismay when we pinned her against the stall and began milking her in an attempt to get some of her extremely important colostrum into a bottle so that we could feed it to the little guy. The next few hours are a blur of milking mom and feeding cria until somewhere around noon we realized a couple of things. First, we were not going to make it to help the kids move and secondly (and most importantly) we were about five hours into this whole thing and our girl had still not passed the placenta. Now we were worried about both of our patients and had no idea what else we could do for either. So we did what we probably should have thought to do hours earlier; we called our vet.
After the inevitable series of “Yes, I will hold,” and elevator music our vet finally finishes with the patient she is working on and comes to the phone. We explain to her what is going on with the cria’s legs and hold our breath praying all the while that she doesn’t mention spinal damage or anything that nears the possibility of having to put our new little one down. Thankfully, our vet is a very special young woman who not only knows how to treat animals, she also knows how to love them and she does so freely and without reserve. She immediately began listing things other than a damaged spine that could cause his legs to do what they were doing. She did her best to assure us that she REALLY did think that his problem was most likely just some loose joints and tendons that would strengthen with time. She told us to continue to get what colostrum we could from mom and supplement with milk loaded with full fat yogurt to keep the little guy’s energy up so that he would be able to work the tendons and ligaments that needed to be worked. She promised to come out on Monday to check him over first hand and told us to call if anything happened before that time.
She also said that at this point, the mom might be our bigger issue. As it turns out retained placenta is a fairly common ailment among new alpaca moms, but it can lead to infection which can be dangerous and it needs to be treated. Since she had office duty that weekend, she asked one of the other vets in her practice to come out to our farm to take care of the retained placenta. This vet knew little to nothing about camelids but agreed to give it a try anyway. He arrived at our farm, introduced himself, gave the mom a shot of Oxytocin, walked back up to his truck to get an antibiotic wash for her uterus, and before he could get back to the barn the placenta had delivered completely intact and healthy. Whew! That was one bullet dodged.
So, here we are on a sunny Saturday afternoon looking at precious new born cria who is depending on us to keep him alive until he is strong enough to nurse as he should. It was going to be a long, long time until Monday. Every hour on the hour we milked mom and fed cria and then followed up with yogurt filled milk. Slowly, the little guy seemed to be gaining some strength and he began to take a couple of extremely wobbly steps at a time. I have to tell you that as ugly as those first steps were, we couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful at the time. Unfortunately, he was so unstable on those little stilts that he had for legs that he still could not stand long enough to nurse so the bottle feeding had to continue around the clock.
On Monday the vet arrived in the early afternoon and immediately had good news and bad news to share. The good news was that she was more certain than ever that our little boy only had what is known as “windswept” legs which happens when the cria is positioned awkwardly or doesn’t have enough room in the uterus so the muscles, ligaments, and tendons do not get the exercise that they need to make them strong. Thankfully, this condition usually corrects itself with time as long as the cria is able to keep its strength up enough to exercise.
The bad news was that he also had a condition called Patent Urachus. After she was able to overcome her shock at seeing the first case of the condition she had ever heard of in an alpaca, she went on to explain that the umbilical cord contains different tubes to carry different things back in forth from the mother to the cria. The tube that carries waste in the form of urine from the cria to the mother to be disposed of is called the Urachus. Usually the Urachus closes on its own during the birth process, but for some reason our little boy’s did not close up so he was actually urinating from his umbilicus instead of his penis. She tied a piece of suture around it as tight as possible in hopes that it would close up on its own and told us to watch it closely.
So now we have a newborn cria to feed and try to keep strong enough to exercise who just happens to have an open tube that leads straight into his bladder which is a constant risk for infection. We did it all; the milking of mom, the bottle feedings, the cleaning of the umbilicus, and the praying. Still, by Tuesday evening our little one was visibly weaker and nothing that we did seemed to help. We called the vet and she immediately advised a plasma transfusion as soon as possible. She made an appointment to meet her at her office at 8:00 the next morning; the catch was that she didn’t have the plasma that we needed and neither did we…as it turned out, neither did the first half dozen farms we called looking for it. In this case persistence finally paid off and we found one about an hours’ drive away.
We got up bright and early the next morning so that we could leave home in time to get the plasma and get back to the vet by eight. By this time our little cria was so weak that he rode in my lap in the front seat. We arrived at the clinic where all of the nurses and other patients made a huge fuss over our adorable little guy. Once we were in our room the vet had us lay him out on the exam table where she gave him an antibiotic shot and a mild sedative. She then shaved a spot on his abdomen and inserted a needle straight into the abdominal cavity so that the organs were actually bathed in the rich plasma. Once that was done she used silver nitrate sticks to cauterize the umbilicus. The entire process was done in under an hour and we were on our way home.
As soon as we got home we reunited the cria with his mother and went in the house to warm his next bottle. Sometime during the process of making and warming the bottle, my husband happened to look out the window and there he saw proof that miracles do happen. Not only was our little guy standing up on his still wobbly legs; he was nursing!!!!!
From that moment forward his progress was nothing short of amazing. Within a couple of weeks he was able to run and play with the other crias. Our little guy is just over three months old now and the only sign of his rough start in life is a very slight curve in his spine right at his tail. The vet has said that she thinks that too will go away with time and we hope it does, but all that really matters now is that the little one that we were once afraid might have to be put down is now strong, healthy, and the biggest rascal of the group.

---Melissa Hall---