Tuesday 25 January 2011

A Muddle of an Explanation!

Three blogs on three consecutive days...some people will think that I have nothing better to do (you know who you are!). I thought that I should clarify that I was not making 'light' of the difficulties of dealing with a berserk male (although not common, they can be a real nuisance when it does happen) in yesterdays blog. It was about finding the middle ground i.e in my experience:

  • Alpacas are no different to the majority of domesticated animals i.e they need to understand that they are alpaca and not human. In the same way that a sheep/cow/pony needs to know. Imprinting (that is humanising) of young cria must be avoided. However routine handling and the occasional hug does not turn the average cria into an out of control adult (berserk).

Case study: Explorer was handled at lot from birth, as was necessary for his survival. Plasma, antibiotics, twice daily weighing, eye drops etc etc. Now... Explorer is easy to handle but he is not especially friendly...humanised?...all that grumbling and grumping about?...well now that I have given it more thought...we might have a human living here with similar qualities!

  • Alpacas, again like all domesticated animals (and most children) need to know who is in charge and need to have a healthy respect for their line manager i.e us. Controlled cuddling is fine. Pushing is not. N.B we do recommend castrating the pet boys that we sell but there lies another debate!

Case study: Minnie came to us as a seven month-old cria at foot. She was naturally very friendly (I don't imagine that she had been especially over-handled by her breeder). This was very endearing until she became adolescent when she did start to invade our personal space a little; become rather pushy over food; and generally have a high opinion of herself. A few gentle taps with the lid from the garlic tub and she soon learned her place. In fact she is totally disinterested in us now that she is pregnant. N.B Most farmers will have a tale about being knocked over by a tup who was hand reared!

  • Some alpacas like being handled; others don't. But in our experience it is possible to attain a relationship of some meaning, that makes working together less of a challenge and more of a pleasure. Some alpacas most certainly enjoy human touch.

Case study: Handling of our first pregnant females was something that we tried to avoid at all costs. By the amount of spitting that went on it was pretty obvious that they didn't like us...and to be honest we were beginnings to wonder if we really liked them. How things have changed. We are obviously more confident in our handling of them now but the real difference is that they know and trust us. There will of course always be the occasional Hoity Toity exception...likes attention but no touching thank you very much!

Last explanation; cuddling. I see that some like to call this rummaging or even condition scoring :)) I have decided that it will be called 'muddling' from now on. This is a cross between a cuddle and a massage. It is therapeutic, it works wonders for provider and receiver. I have been teaching Amanda this technique. I gently massage the two knobbly, boney bits between the alpacas ears whilst holding them in what might look like a cuddle, to the untrained that is. It is lovely to feel them relax and breath easily...great distraction technique too. So no cuddling here...that's that one cleared up...just going to condition score Noah...is he looking a bit thin?!!

P.S What has happened to The Futurity Select Alpaca Auction...they are keeping us waiting...is it going to be worth the suspense...I really need to know...just in case I need to do some 'muddling' on Paul!!


  1. I think its good to have a little debate on these things every now and again, I am perhaps a little to wary after our experience, the cria in question was a male he was very friendly but was discouraged by us all the time, he was gelded but still went on to be very aggressive to the point that I couldn't go into the field on my own as he would be up on his hind legs in front of me. We do have good fleece rummages, bodyscoring and a little neck massages during regular husbandry sessions though, and If we want our animals to behave in a show ring they have to be used to being handled. Not sure my show team have worked out the behaving in the show ring bit yet.

  2. These debates are useful. We inherited an adult male, whose early history is unclear; he was very aggressive and difficult to handle, in fact I was quite afraid of him and we even wondered whether he'd have to be euthanased. We had him castrated and worked slowly with him, as we would a cria. Even though he'll never be "friendly", he now accepts that we are in charge and we can handle him and he's lovely with the weanlings...and a fantastic herd guardian! We are very careful to establish boundaries, but we do begin to get our cria used to us touching them early, following the Camelidynamics approach. So far...so good, and our alpacas are gentle and easy to handle.

  3. Very sensible comments Barbara and we agree with them. Over the years we have had total bottle feds, partial bottle feds and the most friendly? A black cria from 2010 whose Mum fed her ridiculously well - 40kilos at 4.5 months. Pixie is like a puppy and was like that from the day she was born. Should she start to get uppity, which I don't anticipate from her female line, we will discipline her, by gently tapping her backwards on her legs.

  4. See...what u have started...here !!....Oh dear...I think that being sensible is the key to any animal/human bond......at the end of the day ..its a healthy working relationship that we are aiming for......with mutual respect....not a confused animal....no matter what species.....! ....Jayne

  5. Okay new topic...do girls understand the off side rule?. No only joking...no comments on football please!!!

  6. Berserk male syndrome, is to be avoided at all cost.
    It is unfair to the alpaca, who eventually is not only a menace but dangerous.
    And in some cases, has to be put down, as he is a danger to all.
    The sad thing is, this condition cannot be reversed.
    The alpaca also quite often is not accepted by the alpaca world either.

  7. Hooray, a good healthy discussion about our alpacas - it had been a bit quiet with no showing, birthing or other pursuits from the busy period for discussion, so egg-laying and the weather were coming to the fore - well, even the newspapers and t.v have their quiet days. My feeling is that alpacas, like other animals and humans, have their different personalities, and those personalities respond in different ways to a certain situation, but of course it takes time to get to know a crias personality, so a degree of caution is probably wise - me? well I'm a bloke so cuddling is of course out of the question - Grrrr and grunt - I've developed 'what I like to call' (thank you Miranda), a 'scrumble' - yes it looks just like a cuddle - but isn't! :-)