Alpaca Etiquette Basics

IMG_20210220_150736488If you’re in our area, you’re welcome to pull over and say hi to the alpacas at the gate. They spend a lot of the day behind the barn eating, but if they’re out, Theodora and Clementine are likely to greet you. We have some tips to help you not scare them off.

Alpacas look sweet and cuddly, but they actually don’t like to be touched very much—not even by each other! If you have visited our herd, Theodora probably sat down for you to pet her. That’s not actually typical behavior; she’s unusually friendly. If an alpaca doesn’t let you pet them, don’t take it personally. When making friends with an alpaca, calmness and patience are key. 

Our tips for petting an alpaca:

  • Get down on their level. 
  • Let them sniff your face. Scent is part of alpaca communication and smelling you is a way for them to get to know you. 
  • Approach an alpaca from the front or the side. 
  • Extend the back of your hand. Grasping fingers can be alarming to alpacas. 
  • Stroke the alpaca on the side of her neck or body. 
  • Do not reach for the alpaca’s face or top knot. They don’t like being touched there.
  • Do not stand behind an alpaca or pet their bums. You could get kicked.
  • Use your ears. Alpacas hum for many reasons to communicate with each other. One reason is that they’re stressed. They also make a clucking noise to warn you that they might spit at you. And a dinosaur-like sound when they’re really annoyed. Back off if they seem annoyed with you.

Don’t Stand Behind An Alpaca

Naturally, alpacas are vulnerable to predators like deer are. Their primary defenses are their herd dynamics, spitting, and kicking. They are always on alert to potential danger, so it’s generally not good manners to walk up behind an alpaca. It startles them.

Our girls weigh between 100-150 lbs, so they’re not likely to really injure you, but it’s possible. Our biggest concern is a child chasing behind an alpaca and getting pegged. So, always remember: 

Do not walk, stand, or chase behind an alpaca.

You don’t even have to be bothering them to get kicked. Several times, one of the girls has gotten annoyed by another and we got kicked just for being nearby. 

We learned on shearing day that if you have to bother an alpaca (for example, to get them on the scale or in a halter) the closer you stand to their back legs, the less they can hurt you because their kick won’t have enough velocity at that short distance. Physics!

Still, it’s best to just give their back ends some space. 

Don’t Feed the Alpacas

Unless given explicit permission by their human, it’s not good etiquette to feed an alpaca. Not all of the foods in the video are bad for them, but you see, they don’t recognize a lot as food. 

Alpacas are lean-mean fluff-producing machines who only need to eat 2% of their body weight to stay healthy. They are modified ruminants who have three compartments to their stomachs and keeping a neutral PH and a healthy gut microbiome is essential to their health. Putting on too much weight is also bad for them, particularly for pregnant alpacas.

Alpacas eat grass, hay, alfalfa, and we also give our herd just a little bit of Equine Senior Feed to fill any gaps in their diet, like a multivitamin. Alpacas are browsers, though, so they will taste whatever they find. We have to keep the pastures clear of debris and harmful plants for this reason. We’ve gotten really good at using Google Lens to identify weeds so that we can pull any that are poisonous to the alpacas. And just like with dogs and cats, some foods that we eat are toxic to alpacas. 

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Sol Homestead in Winter

Miss Firecracker

Winter is allegedly a quiet time, when the garden and apiary are done for the season and I am all cuddled up reading a mystery novel. There’s always something to do, though, between the toddler, the chores, and keeping all of us living things warm, fed, and growing. 

Animals

The hens went on “sabbatical” for about six weeks and egg production is slowly ramping back up. They molted starting in November. When hens molt it can be a “hard” molting when they lose their feathers all at once and look awful for a minute before they grow back. Our hens did a “soft” molt. Aside from feathers blowing everywhere on the property and Eliza looking a little naked around her neck, you’d not really guess that they were molting. The energy needed to produce new feathers, plus the very short days probably caused them to stop laying eggs. Someone is also eating eggs if we don’t get to them soon enough. This would indicate that they might need a little more calcium in their diets. Oyster shell it is! 

Freeloading chickens Angelica, Persephone, and Peggy

The alpaca herd is doing well and getting fluffier by the day. Little Luna has grown so much. She is four months old and almost as tall as her mama, Miss Firecracker. We didn’t really notice how much shorter Miss Firecracker is compared to the other girls until Luna started to catch up to her!

We still have two 200 yd 2-ply worsted weight skeins of Miss Firecracker’s yarn left for $35 each. Send us a note in the contact tab if you’re interested!

Bees

A couple of weeks ago, we had a three-day stretch of temperatures in the mid-50s, so I decided to get into the hive for a couple of quick chores. I had seen bees out flying occasionally and I could hear them when I put my ear to the hive, but still, I was nervous that when I opened it I would find that they had blitzed through their food or that there would be signs of too much moisture or too few bees. None of the above happened. I didn’t pull any frames out, but it looks like they have most of their honey left. I added sugar to the feeding shim just in case they do run out of food (the Mountain Camp Method), as I am not planning to open the hive again until spring. If they don’t use the sugar they will just haul it out eventually, but in the meantime it will help absorb moisture.  

A big winter cluster still!

I also did a quick Oxalic Acid dribble just in case the previous mite treatments weren’t sufficient. I wanted to do it when it would be warm for a few days so that the moisture had time to dry out before it got cold again. I have read over and over that this year was an especially gnarly mite year. I think I got out there just as they were heading out for the day, which was the perfect time because they were still mostly in one place for the treatment. There was just one little hiccup. To dribble the OA in the lower deep box, I just tilted the top one up, as I was trying not to disturb the hive too much. Just as I was dribbling the solution along the last frame, the top box slipped and almost fell to the ground. It was heavy and I was holding it one-handed, but somehow I didn’t drop it or smash anyone. 

An undertaker bee at work

Once I reassembled the hive, I brushed as many dead bees out from behind the mouseguard as I could and then watched the bees coming out to relieve themselves and do their chores. I got to watch some undertakers at work. I did help them by brushing the dead bees off the landing board before I left. 

Overall, I am really encouraged by the size of the cluster and how tidy and well-stocked the Bee & Bee is looking. The average overwinter survival rate is ~40%, though, so I’m still keeping a close eye on the hive on sunny, warm days.

Orchard

IMG_20220113_154658038We are hoping to see more growth out of our orchard trees in the coming year now that they are fenced in and safe from alpaca attacks. We need to be more regular about watering them, but for now, the blanket of snow is taking care of that. Our little orchard trees have stood up to some brutal winds this season, assisted by a slight windbreak created by the barn. 

Ideally, I should have wrapped the trunks on the trees around Thanksgiving, but I got to it around New Year’s Day. Hopefully the little guys are okay. I wrapped each trunk in felt, which provides breathable protection from the harsh winter sun in the absence of leaves. They look like they are wrapped up in little scarves. I saw tiny buds on one of the trees when I was wrapping it, and that little glimpse of spring was encouraging. Colorado is not the easiest place to grow fruit trees. 

Garden

I am getting ready to start seeds in about a month, and the first order of business was organizing the seeds I have left over and the new ones I ordered on sale last month. The result was too many seeds! My big goals are to expand the pumpkin patch and get the pollinator garden blooming this year. I think the soil was too hot last year, since the beds had a layer of old horse poo under them, so I put down a heavy layer of mulch to try to cool it down. In order to make everything fit, I am expanding the container garden on the patio, using some pots left by the previous owners. In terms of seed starting, last year was a total flop, so this year I am adding heating pads and humidity covers to try to get some little plant babies growing! These additions should be especially helpful for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Any tips, master gardeners?

First attempts at spinning

Spinning

I am learning how to spin. After almost a year with little progress, I decided that I needed to put a deadline on myself to get the ball rolling, or the spindle spinning, rather. I decided to use the pretty merino fiber I had to make Christmas gifts for my grandparents. I was really pleased with how my first two yarns turned out, but I got less than a third of the way through knitting a cabled headband before I was out of yarn. That’s when I learned how to measure a skein using a niddy noddy, and discovered that I had only spun ~30 yds out of 4 oz of fiber. Yikes. I had to learn to spin thinner!

My first skein. So fluffy and pretty, but only 30 yds!

I eventually managed to spin three 2-ply 100 yd skeins of bulky weight yarn and I thought they turned out nicely. I know they are durable too, because I had to restart one knitting project three times due to some technical mistakes, and the yarn held up splendidly. Now, I am working on spinning thinner, more consistent yarn and finishing skeins so that they are not just usable, but saleable. A huge help in all of this was the book and DVD Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont and the Youtube channels MeganERisk Tutorials and JillianEve. I’m spinning every day now, for at least a few minutes and I’m enjoying it, which is a huge improvement from just a few months ago. 

Home 

Spinning thinner yarn with leftovers from Moira.

Aside from holiday festivities, things have been quiet around the house (knock on wood, throw salt over your shoulder, whatever it takes). We have been enjoying our repaired fireplace and trying out some new recipes. We are vegetarians, and each winter I am on the hunt for new veggie comfort food. This winter has had some real hits. 

Some of our favorite new-to-us recipes this winter have been:

In a few weeks, we will be putting up a new fence, to provide some more privacy and deaden the road noise in the backyard and pasture. That, we hope, pray, cross our fingers, is our last big house project for some time. 

What do you do during this winter season, for fun or around your own homestead? Let us know below. -Kasey