Sunday, November 07, 2004

Meet Melody

She's the new member of our herd. We bought her a few months ago. She's a 2 year old pregnant female who should deliver in mid June. On the other hand, as a maiden she might not deliver until July or maybe even August. As you can see, she's a tuxedo. We bred her to a true black male. Should make for a dreamy cria! Then again, is there any other kind? :-)

Monday, November 01, 2004

AlpacaFest West 2004

Halloween Weekend at Firestone Winery is when and where SoCalpaca holds their annual alpaca show. This year's events included halter classes, agility/obstacle classes, and the most fun of all, costume classes! Check out the purple octopus on the right.

My personal fav is the Girl Scout with her S'More. " Cause everyone knows when you've had one alpaca, you'll want s'more!"

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"I tried to tell you!",

said the pregnant female alpaca.

Today was more breeding and testing for pregnancy. The very first female on the list was Halle, a rose grey female who throws very nice babies when paired with Regal, another rose grey. Both alpacas are mature, experienced animals. Halle has had several crias and is a phenomenal mom. Regal is a stud the Auslands have used for quite a few years. Actually, he was retired until I came along. Because Halle is not for sale, I requested this mating because their crias are so nice. They were bred earlier and now it was time to behavior test her.

So we caught Halle, haltered her up and Wayne walked her out to take her to the breeding pen. Halle's first step outside her paddock triggered a spitting right at the back of Wayne's head. "What did you do that for?" Wayne rhetorically asked Halle. Being more cautious now, he made sure she walked next to him so he'd not be in the line of fire should anything else bother her. Well, something was bothering her because she spit again. And again. And again. She spit the entire walk back to the breeding pen. Why? She *knew* where she was going and was trying to tell us "I'm pregnant." She didn't feel the need to wait until in a pen with a male and spit him off. Did the dumb humans catch on? I didn't. But I'll be smarter next time, you can bet!

Thursday, September 09, 2004

No 'paca time this week...

It's too hot. Today I was going to work with our boy, Autie, on obstacle training. If there was time, I was also going to try out the youngsters, Arnold and Anthony. In late October, we're going to AlpacaFest West, a show in Central California that has performance competition. Alas, we'll have to work another day. Summer has finally decided to show up here in the Bay Area. The last few weeks, we've been having highs mostly in the 90s with a few days over 100. With temperatures like that, it's best not to work with the alpacas. I'm kinda bummed - it's been a week since I've been out to the ranch and was looking forward to some 'paca time. Sometimes ya gotta let Mother Nature make the decisions.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Property update...

We did close escrow on the property in North Fork. Woo Hoo!!! At some point in the future, Humming Hearts Ranch will reside within 11.3 acres just off Road 221. Here is a BEFORE picture of the house.

We plan on doing some serious changes to the house before we move in ourselves. To the exterior for example, the roof will be replaced. The house will be painted white with green trim. We'll add a proper porch to the entire front that you see in the picture. You can't really see the front door because it is directly behind the tree. For now, the house is being rented out to a very nice local family.

Anyone want to come and help put in fencing? :-)



Bad News: West Nile Virus is a very real threat to alpacas.
Good news: Camelids can be protected by a series of vaccinations.

Ohio State University and Oregon State University have both done extensive studies with an equine WNV vaccination and found it to be effective in camelids. Their studies showed a series of three shots will provide protection against WNV infected mosquitoes. The study results can be read here:

Something worth noting: Several WNV vaccination serums are on the market. If your animals are vaccinated using one serum, all booster shots must be given using that same one. If for some reason you have to switch to a different vaccination serum, all animals must start from ground zero and begin inoculations all over. Make careful notes in your vaccination documentation which vaccination you or your vet is using.

Today we spent time giving the young boys and the young girls their second WNV vaccination. It's days like today when you really appreciate a well designed ranch. The girls and boys are in the front of the ranch. The boys are at the end. The girls are next to the boys but there's a catch pen in between the two with gates from both paddocks leading into the catch pen. We had to first round up the boys into the catch pen. Easy. Just open their gate and they run right in. Could it be that they know they'll be closer to the girls? :-) Close the catch pen gate. Next, we caught a boy, haltered him, I held him while Wayne vaccinated him, and finally I released him back into his own paddock. Same routine for the girls.

Sometimes they are less eager to go into the catch pen so I use a long PVC pole (probably 12 feet long) held at waist height to guide them where I want them to go. We have also on occasion used a long flat woven rope with one person holding each end. I prefer the pole because I can do it myself. Alpacas rarely challenge barriers (they'd rather flee to an open space like through an open gate), so they never come in contact with the pole or rope.

Halters aren't always necessary for these vaccinations. We used them today because most everyone was a bit on the feisty side. It is simply safer for them if they are haltered and tied up even though you have one person holding the animal while the other innoculates. For the truly feisty ones, we can walk them back to the barn and use the chute. It contains them very well. Thankfully, we didn't need to do that for anyone today.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Weaving: making something from nothing

A few weeks ago I drove to Southern California to pick up a LeClerc floor loom I bought through eBay. Thankfully, we have friends who live in Porterville, a town about halfway between where we live and where the loom was located. Our friends kindly offered to be a waypoint for me and the kids on this excursion. Here's my new treasure! I've even got a bit of my own weaving showing on it.

Here's a close-up of the weaving. I unrolled it off the front beam so that you could see more of it than is pictured above.

Now, lest you think I've been rather industrious since the arrival of the loom, let me say that the loom came warped with some-once-white cotton string. The previous owner had started a project but never finished it. I rolled the old project onto the front beam and started my own project using some of my icky* handwoven yarn. For yarn I considered garbage, it worked up quite nicely. Maybe if I full it (felt the fibers with soap and gentle agitation) the remaining paint flecks will come out and it'll make a nice placemat.

*"icky" because I dyed a wool roving using dyes that mostly sat on top of the fiber. It was an experiment gone bad. When I spun the roving, I got tons of paint flakes all over me. But could I throw away the yarn or roving? Of course not. Now I'm glad I didn't.

Location Update
As you know, we don't have a ranch of our own yet. We have been taking time this year to scout out various locations. To make a long story short (and I'll elaborate on it in a later post), we're in escrow on a nice 11 acre property in North Fork, California. We're supposed to close escrow tomorrow. I'm a firm believer in "nothing is yours until the deal is done" and there is one glitch that cropped up on Monday so who knows what will happen in the next 48 hours. Cross your fingers for us. I'll post more as soon as the title is (or isn't) in our hands. For now, I'm going back to weaving - it's been a huge stess reliever for me this week.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Fiber Competitions

My 9 year old daughter, Dana, participated in fiber-related competition this weekend. She was a member of a kids team in a Sheep to Shawl contest. That's where a team of 5-8 people (all kids in her case) take a clean sheep's fleece, card it, spin it, and then weave it on a pre-warped loom. Because their team was so young, they were allowed to weave a narrower piece. So I guess you could say they did a "Sheep To Scarf". The competition was held at the Alameda County Fair on Sunday.

There were a total of 6 teams: 4 womens teams, 1 kids team and 1 mens team.

Here's the scarf they did lying on the edge of a white table.

The warp was a burgundy wool along with a few grey strands of yarn. The weft, which is what was spun during the competition, was a grey Romney fleece.

The Results:
the kid's team tied for 3rd!! They were estatic!!

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Basics of Alpacas - an email conversation

It's been awhile since I've posted. Life off-line has been quite busy with the kids end-of-school-year events and our own short vacations to Eugene Oregon and Oakhurst California.

I received an email from a friend who has been interested in getting alpacas for awhile now. After writing up the reply, I thought it would make a good post. So here it is....

At 11:12 AM 7/5/04 -0400, Georgene wrote:
>Hi Kimberly,
>I love your web site!!! We're actually not sure
>exactly what we want yet. We want them first as pets,

I'm very glad to hear you refer to the animals you're considering in the plural sense. As you know, camelids MUST be with their own kind. You can not have just one. Their sense of herd is very very strong. There are documented cases of animals who died from complications of being alone (stress is the biggest contributor).

>and we want the smaller sized -- but we're starting to wonder
>if we might as well shear them and sell their wool?

All of the domesticated camelids have to be shorn once a year. You don't have to keep the wool but shearing them yearly (usually in May) is an absolute act of kindness. It'll run less than $25 per animal (I pay $15 but it varies regionally) so it's not a huge charge. I'd suggest making sure you can do this at the ranch you buy the animals from. Have them put it in the contract just to be sure.

What if they need vet care? Who's going to give shots? You can give them yourself with a small amount of training.

Do you have a way to transport them? Transportation is actually not so daunting. A simple mini-van with the seats removed and mats on the floor will suffice. If it's a short trip, they won't soil the floor. An SUV works okay too but I'd do that only in an emergency and only with an alpaca.

>We also know that their manure is excellent for the garden
>and that people will pay well for it.

Maybe your market is different than it is here in California - where organic gardening is big. We can't give away the manure for free! LOL. But that's okay -we use it ourselves and what's left goes out in the unused area of the lot.

>They are such clean animals. We have a few llama farms here
>in our area that we visit, but the crea's are excellent bloodlines
>and coats costing upwards of $20K each! We love llama's and want
>to add 2 to our menagerie.

Wow. I'm not familiar with the llama market but I didn't realize it was still that high. I know many places you can get average llamas which serve very well for pet use for under $1k - probably even less. I wonder if what you're talking about are the new (and expensive) "Suri Llamas". Their fiber is like pencil curls instead of the puff-ball wool-like fiber of common llamas.

>If we decide not to sell their wool then we will likely go
>for the multi-colored black, white and tan, I know that the
>multi-colored would not desirable for selling it's wool
>therefore they are less expensive. Maybe you can tell me
>exactly the kind that would be best for us as pets!

Multis, aka patterned alpacas, are starting to be the new "fad" in alpaca ownership. As a handspinner, I'd prefer a multi colored fleece because then I get several colors in one wool where all of the other characteristics are identical. What I mean is even though the item I make will have several colors, it will all feel the same softness, have the same crimp, be the same lock length, etc.. I've made a scarf using two colors from 2 different animals and you can feel a distinct difference between the colors. OTOH, some people want all one color. White would be a popular color animal because you can dye the wool. Some people like the darker color animals. My point is: get what *you* want. You can do something with the wool if you decide to but that's such a small part of owning the animal that it shouldn't be a major part of the decision for a pet quality animal.

Pet quality animals (llamas or alpacas) will be gelded males. Owners will geld males they don't need in their breeding program and are not suited for anyone else's program (flaw in conformation) and then they sell them as pet quality. It works best for everyone that way.

Have you seen any blue eyed white animals? They are almost always gelded due to the blue eyes but they can have some of the softest fiber. BEW camelids typically end up being born deaf or will have crias who are BEW and deaf, hence the reason for culling them from the breeding programs.

I'm sure there's tons of other things I could share with you but let me leave you with this one bit of advice. Camelid ownership isn't like buying a dog - you don't pick it out from the litter, wait 6 weeks for it be weaned and then take it home never to speak to the breeder again. When we started researching alpacas, we were told to find ourselves a mentor. Ideally, this mentor will be the person you purchase your animals from. They need to be the person you feel the most comfortable learning from. They should show you ALL aspects of camelid ownership and continue to guide you after you've taken your animals home when questions arrive. And they will.

Best wishes with your search!

Monday, April 26, 2004

Monterey Pronk 2004

Competing in a show is exhilirating
yet nerveracking
and also exhausting
but most of all, awesome!

This weekend was our first show. It was held at the beautiful Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey California. Our yearling male, Autumn Heat, competed in a full fleece halter show. Here we are walking in the ring as the judge (in red) looks on.

In addition to the halter competition, they also had a Fiber Arts Competition. I entered 3 handspun skeins of yarn and my daughter entered 1 handspun skein. Between us, everything we entered won a ribbon. I won 2 First places and 1 Second place and my daughter won a First place on her skein. Here's one of my First place skeins with its ribbon.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

It pays to work.

All the time I've spent with Autumn Heat is starting to pay off. I went to the ranch today for a few hours. The first thing I always do is get Autie's halter and lead and go into his pen. In the pen is a mulberry tree just starting to grow leaves that the 'pacas love to eat. They'll stand up on their hind legs to try to reach any of the lowest leaves. Of course by now they've eaten all the ones they can reach. I, on the other hand, can reach farther up than they can. So I pulled down a few leaves and the boys came running over. You'd think I had candy!! Autie was the boldest. He would eat his leaves standing right there in front of me - the other boys would take the leaves and move out of arm's reach. After Autie took the last leaf, I reached out, told him "stand", put my arm around his neck, and put his halter on. How easy!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The chores of a big herd - part 1

Alpacas have toenails, of a sort. Sometimes those toenails need to be trimmed. Of course, convincing the animal that what you're doing is best for them is a lot like trying to convince my five year old son that eating his vegetables is in his best interest. The big difference is that while you can't force-feed a five year old his vegetables, you can strong-arm an alpaca into letting you trim the toenails. It just takes practice.

Each visit, Wayne and I catch at least one animal in his herd of 70. We look over the animal's basic condition, weigh it, review the shots records, look at the teeth, and check the toenails. I should note that each and every animal get the same mini-exam during shearing days. We do this with just a few animals each visit to help me 'learn the ropes'. I've watched enough toe-checking and trimming now that I felt comfortable trying it out on my own. We caught Aurora, an older female with a very sweet disposition. Here's me trimming a back foot as Eileen holds Aurora's head.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Working with Autumn Heat

Now begins a bit of work: halter training Autumn Heat. It sounds easy. At least it did before I started working with him. I mean how hard can it be to get an animal to let you put a halter on? Well, guess what? The joke is on me.

I worked with him yesterday for about 2 hours. First Wayne (owner of Foothill Alpacas) and I herded the boys into a catch pen next to their paddock and separated out each boy until Autumn Heat was by himself. Then we cornered him and got a halter on him. The point I'm trying to get to is not having to use the catch pen or cornering him. I should be able to tell him "Autie, Stand" and he'll stay until I can get close enough to ease the halter over his nose. At the end of yesterday's two hour session, while still in the catch pen, he would let me walk up to him and tell him to stand. He would stand and then I could touch his wool or lift one of his front legs. As a general rule, pacas don't like to be touched. But if he's to perform well in a show ring, he needs to be comfortable (or at least not skittish) with being touched.

How he performs in a catch pen is one thing - I need him to do these things while in the paddock with his buddies. Unfortunately, his buddies are definitely skittish so I was concerned that once I let him back into his paddock, he'd be skittish too. Turns out I was right. He's what happened:

I led him back to the paddock using the halter and lead. Once inside, I unhooked the lead. Drat, I forgot to remove the halter! Double drat. Next I had to spend about 10 minutes trying to corner him so that I could take the halter off. In the end, Wayne helped me isolate him back in the catch pen.

I'm pretty sure that if Autie is going to be comfortable with me approaching him to put on the halter, I or Wayne will have to work with all of the boys in that paddock. Thankfully there are only five of them!

We'll see how Autie does today. I'm off to work with him again for a few hours.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

He's ours!

We are now the proud owners of FTHL Autumn Heat, a yearling male. You can see a picture of him in the January 13, 2004 post. He's being agisted at Foothill Llama and Alpaca Ranch until we are ready to move to our own ranch.

The search for a viable ranch location continues. This month we'll be scouting out parts of Oregon and Washington. The kids have a week off from school in February so we're driving up and staying with friends and relatives. (The kids just had two weeks in December and they get another week in April. I don't remember getting that much time off when I was in school!) Given that dh is a California boy and I've become spoiled by the temperate CA climate, it's going to be interesting to see how we fare for a week of February weather up north. DH is spending this week on Long Island New York, where the winter has been especially tough this year. We'll see how he feels about snow when he gets back. For me, I guess I'd be okay with a bit of snow each winter. When I say a "bit", I mean inches. Shovelling feet of snow just to get out to feed the animals is out of the question.

This week I'm spending my evenings sorting a dark chocolate baby alpaca fleece for cleaning. So far, the fiber is quite nice. This one doesn't have a lot of crimp but it sure is soft. I think I'll spin it a bit thicker than I usually would and then ply it with itself to make a chocolate yarn. I've already mixed a bit of this fiber with some white baby alpaca fiber and it made an interesting white with chocolate flecks yarn.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Is it real?

Check this out -

That is a tower of Cahir Castle in Ireland. Didn't know they had alpacas in Ireland, did you? Hee hee. They don't, that I know of. That image is a merge of two digitial photos. The alpaca you see there poking his head out of the tower window is Anthony, a cria at Foothill Alpaca Ranch. I took the photo in November. The castle tower photo was taken by my husband, Ken, during our trip to Ireland in February 2003.

To create that image, I used Paint Shop Pro ver.8 to crop the photo of Anthony, then cut and pasted him into the photo of the castle.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Technology meets livestock

Look what I found! I can spy on alpacas at farms all around the country as I sit here at my desk. How? Web Cams! It's best to visit these during daylight hours.

Ann Arbor Alpacas Paca Cam in Michigan

Lone Juniper Ranch AlpacaCam in Southern California

Stargazer Ranch Alpaca Cam in Colorado

It has been my experience that while many people choose the "alpaca lifestyle" to escape from a busy life in the city, they still want to enjoy the gadgets and toys created by the technological advances of our generation. At the AlpacaFest West show I went to in October, I have no doubt that everyone had a cell phone. One ranch used a computer to run a media presentation using PowerPoint. Digital cameras were being used everywhere to record the blue ribbon winners. I even saw someone "beam" his e-card to a PalmPilot when a fellow ranch owner asked him for his email address. So it comes as no surprise to me that web cameras are installed in key locations so that owners can keep an eye on their animals.


Saturday, January 24, 2004

A visit to Southern Cross Farm

Just outside Gilroy California, off Highway 152 -- in fact, right across the way from Bonfante Gardens Theme Park which is one of my children's favorite summer hang-outs -- you can find Southern Cross Farm and their 30 or so alpacas. Tom and Robyn Houts breed and raise a very colorful herd of alpacas. In fact, they have some of the most beautiful black females I've seen. I may just have to get myself one for my herd....

Meet Annikka and her male cria Carmelo (who is only 9 days old in this picture). These gorgeous animals are owned by Wendy MacBain of Shekinah's Alpacas. Wendy agists her animals at Southern Cross while her ranch in Colorado is being built.

So what is agistment?
Agisting an animal is kind of like boarding but with extras. For example, when you board a horse at a ranch, it has it's own stall. You, the animal's owner, are responsible for feeding your horse, mucking the stall, and maintaining its health care. When you agist, the feeding and clean up are handled by the ranch owners. Alpacas are herd animals. They are kept in paddocks with usually 3 or more animals of the same gender and age. Because of this grouping nature, it would be impossible to require a boarded alpaca to be fed and cleaned up after separately. As for health management, I'll have to double-check on that and get back to you. I don't know if that's included in the agistment fee. Many alpaca herd owners administer the basic meds themselves - yearly shots, worming meds, things along that nature. I would expect the ranch owners to keep an eye out for any health problems and pass along any pertinent information to the animal's owner. Although I would certainly expect that owners have to pay for any vet bills for their agisted animals.


Saturday, January 17, 2004

Spinning Guild Day

I love today. It's the third Saturday of the month. I look forward to today all month long. Today is the monthly meeting with the local spinning guild. I get to hang out with fellow fiber enthusiasts. I always come away from the meetings having learned something new. Part of what I love is the time that I get to spend, doing something that I find very relaxing with other people who are doing the similar things and chatting about everything under the sun but usually about fiber stuff that just puts me in a place of comfort. Another part is the fact that I *always* come home having learned something new. And yet another part has to do with this activity being something I do just for me.

The guild I belong to is called Serendipity Spinners and they are located in San Jose, California. Their web site is Mystery Batt

I borrowed someone's Lil Herbie wheel to spin up a yarn sample. Just yummy! Okay, you're going to have to trust me on that because this is a really bad picture.
Tropical Yarn sample

Tomorrow we're headed to Southern Cross Alpaca Farm in Gilroy. Robyn Houts is a nationally known alpaca fiber judge so I'm eager to see what's she got available in her fiber store. We're also curious about the layout of the ranch they have since it sits on only 5 acres - a plot size we may well end up with ourselves.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


At Kristine's request, let me introduce you to Autumn Heat, our first alpaca.

Autumn Heat

Technically he's not ours yet, but that's only because money hasn't changed hands. We have notified his current owners of our desire to buy him so they're holding him for us.

Now I know I said we'd be buying females so why are we buying Autumn Heat, a yearling male not even old enough to be a stud? One word: Dana. Back in the fall, the kids and I went to an alpaca show in Santa Ynez, CA. At this particular show, they had obstacle course competition where most of the participants were kids. My dd, who has ZERO livestock experience just like everyone in our family, decided then and there that this was something she wanted to be involved with. At the time, I didn't take her serious figuring it would be yet another item to add to the list of "long forgotten desires" by the beginning of the New Year. Not so. She's still very much interested in showing alpacas. When you travel to shows you typically bring males (because females old enough to work with would be pregnant and you don't want to endanger the pregnancy), so we decided on Autumn Heat. Hopefully when he's old enough in two years, we can use him as our stud. He's got perfect conformation and a shy dispostion, not to mention buttery-soft, ultra-dense fiber. I sure hope he passes on those traits to all of his crias.


Humming Hearts Ranch is the our dream for the future. My husband and I are in the planning stages to escape the big city rat race of Silicon Valley to the quiet peace of an alpaca ranch. Perhaps we'll even have chickens (for fresh eggs - yum!) or sheep (to feed my wool habit) or angora goats (again, to feed my fiber needs).

Currently, the only decisions we've made include 1)we will start an alpaca business this year and 2)we would like to own property for said ranch by Summer 2009. We don't know where we'll be doing this ranch so we're spending about one weekend a month scouting out various parts of California. We are planning on selling our (IMO overpriced, thanks to the Silicon Valley real estate market) 4 bedroom / 2.5 bath 2186 sf house after we decide on a locale. In the meantime, we will buy 2 females a year and breed them so that we may grow our herd. All of our animals will be agisted in Hollister, CA at Foothill Llama and Alpaca Ranch. More about Foothill later.

Oh, there has been one additional decision: the name of our ranch! As I mentioned earlier in this post, we are Humming Hearts Ranch. Why that name? Well, you know how sheep "baa" and goats "bleat"? Alpacas "hum." And even your heart will hum when you see our alpacas.

Happy Day to You!