Friday, 20 April 2012

A close shave

One for the Alpaca owners really..  No cute kids, no humorous photos, in fact writing this I am wondering can anything from our vast archive of Alpaca photos illustrate the topic.  I'll think of something no doubt but..

I believe that convention is that you castrate non-breeding male Alpacas at around 18 months old. But when 18 months came along we didn't follow convention. We had done some superficial research and taken some advice and believed that it would be better to let the boys grow fully before doing this.

At 18 months this was an easy decision to make.  They were still growing and at that time the decision was made not to castrate mostly to avoid any chance that their conformation could be effected.  And anyway, there really wasn't any outward sign of any other pressing need we could think of so the event was postponed until they were a little older.

Time passed and as the boys are now nearly full grown that reason has evaporated. We fell in with convention and booked the vet so we could get it done before flies were a problem. However, we are not ones for following convention and usually plough our own furrow - however daft. As we waited for the appointed date we started to try and rationalise the decision, the debate went something along the lines of..

Reasons to do it ...
  • Improving the national herd. Removing less than desirable genes from the pool.  Well, given enough time and bottles of malt we could debate eugenics vs husbandry vs economics vs animal rights and arrive at a decision based on moral and philosophical argument.  I am sure I would enjoy the debate not to mention the malt.  But we can save our anguish and hangovers as this this isn't applicable. The boys genes are not in danger of entering the pool so this isn't a good reason to rush into a castration.
  • Avoid accidental breeding.  Well unless there is a realistic chance of the boys leaping the walls and creating a Chimera from next doors hens, or a passing horse this reason doesn't apply either. 
  • To modify group behaviour.  This I can buy.  I can see a rationale that rivalry and competition within the group could be avoided by castration and that the welfare of all the members of our group would be improved by reducing stress. There is a well established dynamic in the group.  I was going to say pecking order but its not a straightforward as that. Fin is the nearest thing to a 'leader'.  He will try to muscle in on Noah's feed bowl if he finishes his own first but Noah has his limits and Fin will back off. There is a healthy respect between Fin and Kenzie.  They are not aggressive to one another and will both avoid confrontation but again, lines are drawn, and Kenzie will let Fin know if he oversteps the mark. There are antics in the field, the occasional wrestle and mounting but its clearly horse play and its as often as not Noah instigating as anyone else.  So I don't think we have a problem here that would mean castration is needed.
  • To avoid frustration.  Males in a herd have a purpose. It is an artificial environment we have put them in where they can't fulfil that purpose.  If there were females around then I could see this being a problem but there really isn't a whiff of Alpaca oestrogen anywhere near.  I am not sure what signs I would look for though.  I have noticed Kenzie has a sniff around the poo pile and he does lift his nose and sniffs the air.  But I think this is as much a personality thing as anything else as he also does this as a greeting to me.  Is there anything else I should be looking out for?  So this is a good reason, but unless I am missing the signs, not a good enough reason by itself.
  • To fulfil an obligation.  Most often 'pet boy' is assumed to mean wether  (I think I am right in this?) this would mean that they would have come to us castrated young, or not come until adult so that the breeder gets more of a chance to assess the value or potential of the animals. We wanted to get the boys young as there were many benefits to us in terms of handling and learning, not to mention our excitement and a wish to start the adventure as soon as possible. We were very grateful that our breeder was willing to risk loosing a potentially high value sale and risk their investment in genetics 'leaking' by selling the boys intact.  Again a good reason, but if there is an obligation, its not one that can't be fulfilled by honesty and trust. So not a good enough reason to wield the knife.
 Then there is the reasons not to ...

  • Medical Risk.  The procedure would mean sedation and then there is a risk of infection in the wound.  Minimal risk I know and we have a great vet so I don't think that this is a problem. 
  • If it ain't broke - Don't fix it.  Really this is a bit of a question due to our inexperience.  Perhaps if we delay until we see an obvious reason the damage will be done and we will have to live with the consequences?  Does anyone have experience to share?
  • Would I like it done to me?  There is a clear answer to that .. NO.
So as you can guess, we cancelled the vet who was very understanding of daft folk. We will have to do it now or wait until September so we have a few more months to observe and decide.  But experiences and opinions would be welcome. 

So now for that picture ..

Would castration diminish Noah's fascination with farm machinery?  Here he is actually pawing at the tractor.  He really is fascinated by it.

And to sign off.  Despite his passive demeanor, smaller stature and low standing in the group.  Noah has the most to lose - he's well endowed down (back?) there !

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Where to Start?

Blog writing is one of those things, the longer you leave it the harder it is to pick up again.  And we have left it rather a long time.  Each time I think about it I think through the whole back-log of ideas and then I think its too daunting to do.  Well - now or never, then I can get back to a more regular schedule.

So let me cast my mind back.  Early in the year I always go to Las Vegas for a trade show.  I hate the idea of Vegas.  Its made of plastic and nothing is real.  Over the years I have come to accept it for what it is and be more comfortable, but it's still fake.  One treat is the flight home, I usually leave in the late evening and make sure I get a window seat and watch the sun go down hitting the canyons and massive sandstone features in the desert and making them glow.  Stumbling off the plane the next morning, and chugging round Manchester on the M60 I even sometimes wonder if moving back to the UK was such a great move, the wildlife and geography in the USA is really something else.  Then a mile away from home this vista came into view.

Somewhere in the vale of mist is our house and my boys were waiting.  Nothing fake here and glad to be home where the boys seemed pleased to see me.

Time passes and routines are now well established.  So there isn't much news.  Hay consumption rose to a bale a week at the coldest times.  Poo picking in the frost becomes easier as long as you don't let it thaw and re-freeze (that lead to broken rake syndrome).  So perhaps all this routine means that the boys are under stimulated?  Perhaps they need something to enrich their experience of life?

Hmmm, Whats going on down there ?    She seems to be standing on something
Better Send Fin to check it out                Noah joins in the fun
You want us to kick these things ?      Can I have a cuddle instead ?
 2 minutes later.

Football antics aside things were dragging on and it was time to have a break.  So a quick trip away was called for leaving the boys in the capable hands of our Alpaca minder Julie (I really don't think anyone could be better at it !) 

Gallicia - North west Spain.  Sea, Food , Castle (not fake , no plastic) Best of all - There was a Sausage festival !

Winter eventually gave way to a wonderful patch of spring time.  The grass started to grow and things sprouted.

A mole provided a hill for the boys to roll on.

Have you ever noticed that Dry Stone walls have a sticky out stone every few feet.  Some say its there to provide extra strength, some say its so you know how much to pay the waller.  But I know what they are really for..
They are there to give your Alpaca a leg up so he can reach over and munch on the nice new Bramble shoots !  Its only Kenzie that shows any interest in the over the wall delicacies.

And then Winter came back again.

So that's more or less up to date.  Except for a decision that resulted in very near miss for the boys ... That deserves a blog of it own.