The Herd Moves In


Carol TornettaThe herd in the snow

We moved onto the farm six weeks before my birthday. Fourteen years before, on a milestone birthday, Mark had given me my much beloved Paton the African Grey parrot. Paton died a few years ago, not ever approaching the average lifespan of a parrot in captivity, due to a dreaded bird illness. Now, with the milestone of moving out of suburbia to our new rural home, it seemed appropriate to observe my birthday with another special gift. After a period of study, we decided: how about alpacas?

During our “review of the literature,” we learned that there were alpacas available that had failed out of breeding programs for a variety of reasons, such as imperfect conformation or unexpected fiber variations, who live out their lives as fiber animals, or pets. Since we were not, and still are not, interested in pursuing a dream alpaca, we elected to pursue this avenue, looking for males with soft, pretty fur. We surfed around the Internet for availability and price, and found a breeder located, ironically, close to our previous home.

I made an appointment to visit the breeder’s farm, and Mark and I drove through the old stomping grounds en route. We learned more about their care from the hands-on perspective of a woman more than a decade in the business. We met a score of adorable fluffy faces, and suffered from cute overload while trying to make the decision on who would move in with us. We decided we couldn’t decide, so we drove home, picked up Colin, and rode back to the breeder’s place late that autumn afternoon. We wanted the light fawn guy, who was pretty and he knew it, but there was a catch. The breeder really wanted him to go with the white one, who had been his best friend from early cria-hood.

herd in snow

The problem was, the breeder told us, that the white one was lovely and had super fleece, but had not been handled much and didn’t like to walk on a lead. She proceeded to halter and walk him; he didn’t seem so bad, so we agreed to take the pair. Alpacas are herd animals, and really must live with other alpacas, to avoid despondency and negative behaviors. In addition, she introduced us to an older pair of animals, also friends since birth that had been abandoned at her farm. The breeder had taken care of them at her own expense ever since. They were nice gentlemen, twelve years old, gelded, and well behaved. One of them was white, and had big blue eyes, while all the others had brown eyes. Blue-eyed white alpacas are most often genetic mutations, and more than 60% are hearing impaired. This boy was deaf, she told us, but he got along just fine at her farm, with the help of his dark brown friend.

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