The Herd Moves In

Reader Contribution by Carol Tornetta
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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.

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.

Like any good special education teacher, I accepted the deaf alpaca and his buddy too. We gave the breeder a deposit, selected a date for her to visit our farm for a pre-delivery inspection, and headed home, in a mixture of excited awe and stunning disbelief. What just happened here? We bought four large animals! We don’t know anything about livestock — they are so cute it hurts. Is out barn big enough for four of them? I can’t wait to make yarn from their fleece. And so the internal conversation continued, through the unexpected pre-Thanksgiving snow, the barn clean-out, the fence upgrade, the online search for appropriate halters, the trips to the farm supply store for feed and bowls and water buckets.

Then we passed our inspection, and in between snowstorms, around dusk on Pearl Harbor Day, they arrived. The breeder and her associate convinced the foursome to jump out of the van, and into our corral, one by one. The boys were frantic from the travel, and insecure in the new environment with the approaching night. We stayed in the barn with them until it was dark, showing them the hay feeders and water buckets, and just watching with amazement. We gave them their new names: Archie, Finn, Munch, and Gordon.

When the alpacas were still alive and within our fences at daybreak the next morning, I knew Paton had given his approval.

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