Today was the day for our first ever baby alpaca to make her entry into the world. Unfortunately, she picked the coldest day of the month (50 degrees with 20+ mile an hour winds, when it was 90 yesterday), and the day that our sheep were being shorn (different day from the alpacas due to a mix-up), but you can't plan everything perfectly ...
Mama Tilly went into labor right before the shearer arrived. After Sheep #1 was shorn, I went to check on Tilly, and saw this:
... Little black nose coming out the back of Tilly.
A little black head followed, and then a front leg, and then nothing for awhile. Eventually, I gloved up and went in to make sure that leg #2 wasn't facing the wrong way. It was, of course, so that got fixed, and then baby came out quite easily. Did you know that giving birth is a spectator sport for alpacas? Mama's head is the black one in the center of the photo, with her ears back. (Yes, I realize that it looks like that head belongs to the black body on the right, but it doesn't. That body is Callie's [Tilly's older daughter], and her head is sniffing the baby. Pretty neat optical illusion, eh?)
This is big sister Callie checking out baby. Callie was VERY concerned for baby.
Baby got the idea of "standing" pretty quickly. She got the idea of walking shortly thereafter. (That's sister Callie behind her in the first photo; Princess Leia in the second.)
... Last but not least, she learned to nurse! Also, we put a coat on her. 'Cos it was freaking cold today.
Baby 'pacas, hooray!
We have a pretty exciting group in our quarantine pen right now. There are alpacas in there with some seriously elite fleeces and seriously elite genetics. One of these fantastic alpacas is so exciting not only because of what she is, but what she represents: This girl is THE color I am breeding for.
It just so happens that she is also the type, and the body build as well, which is an absolutely spectacular coincidence that I could not have planned better. The color is what's really amazing, though, because, while I have a few "type" animals in my herd, I have -- incredibly -- none who are the color other than this girl. Starr is completely unique, but that really isn't that surprising, because she is one of only a handful of alpacas of this color that I am aware of ... Period.
So, what color is it, you ask?
This one. I wish the pictures were better, but my photography skills were obviously on vacation the other day when I took these.
This is a harlequin. She is also solid silver. No spots ... Anywhere. At all.
When Starr started life, her owners thought that she was light fawn, and understandably so. She looked like this (photo courtesy Don Hyson):
A year later, she looked like this:
It would have been really great if I'd taken a side view of her, to illustrate my point, but I didn't, so here's another "present day" photo:
Now, she is unmistakably grey, and a solid grey, at that.
Why is this cool? Well, for one, her blanket is solid -- totally, spotlessly solid -- which is a big deal for many grey breeders. Spotless, uniform blankets appear to be highly correlated with more uniform fiber. Along those lines, I have noticed that the grey fleece from harlequins is often much more uniform in color than that of modern and tuxedo greys. Their fleeces are also often more advanced than those of tuxedos and moderns. I am not alone in noticing this -- when harlequins go up against other forms of grey in the show ring, they tend to kick butt.
In case I haven't blogged about them before, let's review what a harlequin alpaca is (since they have really come to be the main focus of our alpaca breeding program). This is a harlequin alpaca (specifically, this is Starr's mom, Sparky):
Sparky is a classic harlequin. She has a spotted face, a few spots around her chest, and a few on her belly. Her blanket is solid grey. She, too, started life as a fawn.
Here are two more classic harlequins. These two are maternal half sisters -- the one on the left is Sassy, an undefeated show champion. The one on the right is Ella, who has never shown but is also extremely awesome. Ella has some spots on her blanket, while Sassy doesn't, but they are both classic harlequins.
Then, of course, we cannot forget our beloved Logan Stormwrecker -- he is also a classic, with a totally solid blanket (as we confirmed on shearing day).
Related to the harlequin is the true appaloosa. The coloring appears to be caused by the same genetic mutation, but differences in other color genes determine whether an alpaca will be a harlequin, like the ladies pictured above, or an appaloosa, like these guys:
There are even more extreme appaloosas out there as well. These, like the solid silver harlequin, and very rare -- and quite coveted, because they are really freaking cool! Some even resemble giraffes in their patterning. Sadly, we don't have any of these yet at Howling Hill Farm ... Emphasis on "yet."
Back to the solid silver. We do have one other solid silver harlequin connection on the farm, and that is Arista. Arista is a tuxedo dark silver grey, but her sire is Aussie Rockford, a well-known harlequin carrier, and it appears that she carries the gene as well. Check out the before and after pictures of her first son, Corvis (photos courtesy Linda Buttolph):
Not only do these solid silvers look cool as all get-out, but I believe that they may be the key to producing the most uniform grey fiber possible. THAT is why this is my favorite alpaca color!
Woo-hoo! We brought home some new sheep yesterday. These guys fall well into the "always wanted it" category: Babydoll Southdowns. They are pint-sized, adorable, stout little sheep. Let's see: "bulldog" build, ultra-cute, and they come in a color that could be described as "blue" or "silver." YUP, these will fit right in at Howling Hill Farm.
They are freshly shorn (thank you, Pattie!), so they aren't quite as mind-meltingly cute as Babydolls usually are, but still, they are even pretty darned cute naked.
There is one lamb (not out of either of these ewes), and she is at that "so cute it could be weaponized" stage. Unfortunately she is a little camera shy, but I'll keep trying.
The Jacobs, meanwhile, are not to be outdone. They just can't compete in the cute department -- Babydoll Sheep are bred to be cute, after all -- but they make up for it with the fact that they win the title for Most Badass Sheep Breed. This year's lamb crop has at least two lambs who are going to grow up to have FIVE horns. Interestingly, both of the ones that have five so far have the fifth horn on the left. Hmm ... Wonder which side their dad's fifth horn was on?
The ram lamb's fifth horn is getting really obvious. Right now, it looks like he only has three ("only" three), but if you look closely at the two largest horns, you can see the split down the middle.
This ewe lamb's are a little more subtle as they are just starting to grow in, but the split is more obvious: two little horns on one side, three on the other.
Pretty cool, eh?
.... Yep, we sure sheared 'em alright!
Just in time, too, because immediately afterwards it started getting up into the 80's. The alpacas sure are happy to be naked!
They all look different, of course, but the most dramatic transformation was Logan. A few days ago, I posted him posing in full fleece ... This is what he sheared out into:
Yes, he is super-duper dark, completely and totally SOLID silver grey.
Also, he still looks like a total rock-star. That, to me, is even more impressive than the color change. (He is harlequin, after all -- they're supposed to change color.) How many not-quite-one-year-old cria do you know of who still look kickin' right after shearing?
Oh yeah, that was the other thing -- he has this giant DEWLAP. His skin is very soft and loose (but not wrinkly!), which is said to be associated with very great density. That was the other mega rock-star thing about Logan: His fleece is positively gorgeous, and he sheared a TON of it.
Fiber photos to follow ... I need to figure out how to photograph super-dark fleeces. They aren't as easy as the lights.
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.