Sunday, March 15, 2009

This is the Way we Walk Alpacas, Walk Alpacas...

Amber, my neice, and I were invited to assist the Ziraldo's with their alpaca halter training a couple weekends ago.

Of course we were excited to have the opportunity to see the alpacas.
I would be seeing them for a second time and Amber had never seen an alpaca before. So, on the weekend we set out for Thorndale, Ontario, to Ziraldo's Alpaca Farm.

I told Amber no less than 8 times to dress warmly. I had lots of experience with the weather in the country compared to the city. We were expecting some rain and after Debbie and I chatted on the phone, we decided to go ahead with the training date as long as it was just a light rain.

I do have experience with country weather. All those open fields, without any wind breakers, can create some pretty cold winds. Probably the first person to come up with the word wind-chill, lived in the country.
That's probably why most farm houses have evergreen trees lining their lane and around the house - they create a wind block in winter and shade from the heat in summer. I just can't tell you how much I enjoy hearing the sound of wind as it goes through pine needles--but mind, I'm referring to a nice summer wind, not a bone chilling winter wind.

Of course, fashion meant more to Amber than anything else--she regularly comments that beauty is painful--and she didn't even bring a winter coat. This did not stop her however from 'jacking' a purple tam hat that I had knitted that she found on the seat of the truck.
(Photo - Colin Ziraldo and Amber give the cat Rodney a little attention).

After discovering that she hadn't brought a jacket I was going to insist that she wear the hat. But it turned out that the hat met well with her sense of fashion and she happily put it on with a, "I love this hat. I'm going to wear it to school tomorrow". That, I believe, is a knitter's compliment, and her backhanded way of telling me, "thanks for the hat."

Amber had never seen an alpaca before but she had read my blog. It certainly peaked her interest so when she heard I was going she asked if she could go too.

I called my sister to just be sure it was okay with her. Ruth referred to our trip as seeing the llamas.
I had to explain so I told her no, alpacas were different than llamas; they were from the same family (camilide) but they were smaller than llamas. To clarify I said, "Like Ostriches and Rheas", and then she understood right away.

Being an egg decorating family who knew about birds, she immediately understood the size ratio when I used these birds to explain. The Ostrich from Africa is very similar to the Rhea, being a two legged flightless bird, but the rhea, from South America, is quite a bit smaller than the ostrich.

We started our visit in the house, having a nice chat and Amber was first introduced to the animals by reviewing their fibre.
The first cut fibre from the topmost part of the animal is the softest and the second cut is still soft, but not so much. We admired the different colours - all natural, and the different textures in fibre compared from one animal to the next. It's interesting how each animal has their own signature in their fibre--no two fibres are the same.

Then we headed out to the barn where the babies were.

Not little babies, but growing young alpacas who will soon be put with the older animals.
The larger white alpaca is Prince Caspian. (Sorry I cropped off his head in the photo).
The beautiful pumpkin coloured female is called (guess) Pumpkin.

The cute little brown boy (he's kind of hard to see against the black background) is Mr. Tumnus.
Mr. Tumnus' fibre is actually a wonderful black on the inside).

These animals needed to learn to become familiar with being lead and wearing a halter which was the purpose of the training.
We would take them out and lead them around so that they could become accustomed to this activity. It would make them easier to handle when moving them, loading them on trailers, or at shows.
"Alpcas go to shows?" asked Amber.
"Yes, I said," and they've won prizes." I pointed to the blue ribbon that the Ziraldo's had on their shelf.

We got the babies in the shed and then had to hang onto them while we put the halters on. That really meant they got a really tight hug for a couple minutes.

Pumpkin didn't like all this activity and immediately laid down. This is an instinctive behaviour, which actually made putting on the halter much easier.
The rain thankfully held off and we set off on our walk. We would take them down the gravel lane because the paddocks were getting pretty muddy after the winter thaw. (Amber did have boots because before we left London I did a quick trip back to her house so she could get some).

The littlest, Mr. Tumnus was the least afraid and seemed to take everything in stride.

Prince Caspian was a little frisky at first but he seemed to catch on pretty quickly and settled into stride.

Then came Pumpkin, the girl. She was pretty upset about the whole thing and kept laying down on the trail.

We had to nudge her to get her back up and pull her along.

Several times along the path she laid down and even rolled over, putting her legs in the air. This reminded me a little of a child's tantrum. To perserve her dignity, we refrained from taking photos.

On the final trek back to the barn Pumpkin wasn't quite so bad and we were pretty certain once she realized it was just a little outing she wouldn't be so afraid.
Amber and I both agreed it was a great way to spend an afternoon and we really enjoyed ourselves.
Later I ended up telling her to keep the hat. It looked way better on her than on me anyway. Just as we were leaving, the rain let loose and it poured.
P.S. There are more photos to follow. I had brought the wrong batteries for the camera and it died on me after a few shots. No problem though, because I had a teenager with me who had both a camera and her camera cell phone with her. So Amber was our photographer for this occasion. The only problem is now getting the teenager to email me the photos so I can post them. (She might be withholding them in order to blackmail a sleepover out of me)....

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