Pomino – A Very Special Alpaca


Pomino and Merlot

Pomino and Merlot

Little Pomino, a white male huacaya, was born on May 17th this year, a date that is indelibly engraved on my heart as it is also the day my husband died. So I had tears of happiness and tears of grief on one momentous and overwhelming day. For obvious reasons, that makes Pomino a very special alpaca.

He is already far more sociable and affectionate than the others. His friend Merlot was born the following day and despite identical treatment and upbringing, they are completely different. Merlot is a dark brown Suri, shy and nervy like his mother Champagne, and very beautiful. Pomino, on the other hand, doesn’t mind being cuddled and kissed on his small nose and is curious and tame.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Pomino’s left eye was swollen and closed. He seemed to have had some kind of sudden unexplained injury as I had checked him a few hours earlier and he was absolutely fine. I bathed the eye with camomile tea and didn’t get too worried.

When the eye didn’t improve I contacted the vet who examined it and told me he had a bad corneal ulcer. I had to inject him daily with antibiotics and give him eye drops and topical pain relief.

To my horror and distress, that didn’t work either and his eye got progressively worse and resembled a small volcano. I called the veterinary opthamologist (yes, there is such a thing!) who came out immediately and examined poor Pomino. The diagnosis was my worst nightmare. The ulcer was a kind known as a melting ulcer and had basically destroyed his eye. The only option was to have it removed.

I was desperately upset that this little creature was going through such pain, that I was having to cause probably more pain treating him. I was also petrified that he would die during the operation as the danger is not from the procedure, which is relatively straightforward, but from the anaesthetic, which for an alpaca, is not. I was reeling from the loss of my husband, then my elderly Labrador, surely Pomino wouldn’t be taken from me as well?

As August is the holiday period in Italy the opthamologist wasn’t able to do the operation, but my wonderful horse vet Simone was. He contacted a colleague from Bologna who was an expert anaesthetist and, more importantly, had worked on alpacas before. She also brought another specialist colleague with her.

Naively I thought they would be able to do the operation in my paddock, but Simone told me it was far too serious for that and he would have to be taken to his surgery. This in itself presented another nightmare for me, as I had no idea how to get him there, plus alpacas can’t do anything on their own, so I would need to take his mother Emilia there too. Fortunately Simone was a real star and organised transport too, in the form of Mauro and his horsebox which was so well equipped he even had a camera fixed up so he could see how the animals were from his Landrover while he was driving!

I was in a terrible state on the day of the operation, convinced that Pomino would die under the anaesthetic. My friend Kathy and her daughter Kaitlin came with me and took my mind off things as we sat in the lovely grounds of the vet’s surgery from three o’clock until almost seven o’clock.

All went well, Pomino was fine and was even feeding from his mother within half an hour of coming round from the anaesthetic. I was so relieved I thought I would faint! I could have kissed the vet.

So now, three weeks on, Pomino is doing well and doesn’t seem bothered by having just one eye. He is still adorable and very cute and starting to trust me again, now he knows I am not going to inject him or try to do other nasty things to him every time I come near him.

I am philosophical about why this happened.Maybe he is going to serve as an inspiration for children with a similar handicap. I don’t know. All I am grateful for is that he has come out of this in good health and, to me, is more beautiful than ever.

Brunello and the Missing Plums

Brunello and the plums

Plums? I haven’t seen any plums!

There is a large old plum tree in the alpacas’ paddock. They’ve managed to nip off the lower leaves and branches, so it’s now a bit of a weird shape, but their pruning seems to have worked wonders on the old tree. This year there has been an abundance of juicy purple plums, which I have been collecting daily. However, I have noticed some of the bounty has been going missing. I wonder who the culprit could be?

Spinning Heaven – Working With My Own Yarn

Dolcetto the cria after shearing

Dolcetto the cria after shearing – totally gorgeous!

The alpacas were shorn at the end of April. I was apprehensive about the cria being done and curious as to what they would look like, but all was well and the result was such super-cuteness as you have never seen. Who knew there were two such little bambi- like creatures inside those big woolly overcoats?

So now I have bags of fleece, which I am working my way through very slowly. I am determined to do each phase properly because I know how important it is to the end result – the yarn for spinning.

So far I have skirted, washed and carded all of Dolcetto’s fleece. It is like a cloud of softness and I am trying to decide what to make the yarn into as I want to do him justice!

I have only spun about 120 grams so far, it’s like having heaven on a spindle!


a batt and a drop spindle

Carded alpaca fleece and a drop spindle

I have learned to spin my alpaca fibre using a drop spindle and my own hand processed yarn – are you impressed?

There is something very therapeutic about making your own yarn and seeing a mass of fluffy fleece become a piece of knitting. I am incredibly proud of myself! It is a very ancient art and really puts you in touch with your roots.

There are very few things we do these days which are almost unaltered since we were living in caves. One is looking into a fire, another is sharing a meal, and then there is spinning…

I have written about all the stages and the equipment you need to do it all on a dedicated yarn processing page

Toenails and things…

Trimming alpaca toenails

Alpaca toenail trimming with my friend June

Alpacas need their nails trimmed regularly. Great if you have a helper. If you are on your own – not so easy! Last time I did them my friend June, an experienced and calm animal person though it was her first time with alpacas, held the halters as I got to work. This time I tried to do it alone and, to my surprise, I managed fine.

Apparently light coloured toenails grow faster than dark coloured ones, something that I have noticed to be true as the nails of my black Suri Nicola have hardly grown at all in months whereas the nails of white huacayas Diana and Emilia seem to curl up and away like those long-fingernailed people in the Guinness Book of World records!

Alpaca Whispering

Anyway, feeling quite nervous, but breathing deeply and regularly,  I tied Diana to the fence and, special clippers in hand, explained to her what I was going to do and that she would be much more comfortable afterwards. I always talk to them as if they were people, God knows what anyone overhearing me would think. She seemed to understand anyway and as I gently leaned into her and supported her front leg she was very patient as I clipped away. I did one side, front and back and then untied her and moved her round the opposite direction and retied her and repeated the process. Voila’ – one beautiful set of nails trimmed, textbook fashion.

I read that you need to be very patient and not to worry even if it takes you several days to clip one alpaca’s nails. This reassured me greatly as I tackled Emilia who decided to cush as I tied her and was not as relaxed as Diana about the whole issue. So I untied her and held the halter  rope loosely and then cut her front nails while she was cushing, which seemed to work really well. I decided to call it a day after just the front legs as was feeling ridiculously proud of myself and strangely closer to them as we underwent this experience together.

The Champagne Saga

I didn’t do Nicola, for the reasons explained above and am working myself up to doing Champagne, who is very flighty and skittish. This seems, from my limited experience, to be a Suri trait. Oh and by the way – no baby from her after all. I waited until almost the alapaca record time of 470 days (really!) and then gave up. Apparently she must have reabsorbed it,perhaps due to the “trauma” (not) of the move to my place back in March. Who knows. I am incredibly disappointed, but also realise that my land is really barely enough for six alpacas never mind seven, so it is probably just as well.

Hilary, the lady I bought her from, has offered me a free mating  for Champagne in the spring, but I am in two minds. Also I’m deciding whether or not to have Emilia and Diana mated again. My potential dream ticket of three female babies has turned into almost worst case scenario of two males and one missing in action. The males are super cute however, but I will also have to decide what to do with them, although I am 99% sure I will have them ‘done” as you can’t keep males and females together once the boys get a bit older unless they are castrated.

Decisions, decisions….

The Waiting Game

Champagne the overdue suri alpaca

Champagne the suri, now over two weeks overdue

Well, Champagne the Suri is keeping us all guessing with the arrival date of her cria. It was due on 6th November but that has come and gone without even a twinge or call for hot water and towels. The average gestation period for an alpaca is 11.5 months but they can have their babies after up to 13 months, so it’s not unusual that she is overdue. In fact, her last cria was born after a year and a week so we are not there yet.


She is a big and long alpaca and so doesn’t even look pregnant! She scanned positive back in March when I first got her and although they can reabsorb their crias I think she is still pregnant. I actually have a theory about when she will have it, so you have read it here first!  I checked the delivery dates of Emilia (28 August) and Diana (8 October )and both had their crias during the moon’s final phase, which known in Italian rather beautifully as the luna nera. My betting is that Champagne’s cria will also arrive during this period. November’s luna nera begins on 25 November so watch this space to see if I am right!

Happiness is a Warm Alpaca

my six alpacas

And then there were six!

It is now seven months since I became the proud owner of four female alpacas. Now the little herd has grown to six with the births of Brunello in August and Dolcetto in October. We are awaiting the final cria at the beginning of November, the first suri and I really hope this one is a girl! I’m not sure what I am going to do with the boys yet as once they mature they have to be separated from the females. I guess the choice is keep them and castrate them, keep them as stud males or sell them. I am leaning towards the first option as the thought of parting with any of them makes my heart lurch. Not the best attitude for a would-be alpaca farmer.

The babies are playing together almost all the time now. They run all over the place, skip and rear, curl their little necks round each other and dance around the paddock. Brunello is getting more confident around me and I managed to stroke his neck and scratch his chin today, like you would do a dog, but which I have never been able to do with any of the others. I’ve ordered a couple of cria halters as I want them to get used to wearing them as soon as possible. My dream scenario is to be able to take them for little walks in the woods. We’ll see.

It is autumn here in Tuscany, but apart from a couple of serious downpours (one closed our little road) it is like late summer with warm sunshine and mild evenings. I am having bonfires galore in my new oil drum which is located in the paddock. I’m using it to burn soiled straw and the hay they won’t eat. I was a bit dubious about having a fire so near the alpacas, but they couldn’t care less and graze right next to it. Another fear bites the dust!

Raking leaves the other morning as the bonfire smoke curled into the cobalt sky and the alpaca grazed and played nearby I felt supremely content. You can keep shopping and gadgets, designer goods and the non-stop burble of the media. For me, happiness is a warm alpaca.

Cria Number 2 Arrives!

New cria Dolcetto with Brunello

New Cria Dolcetto wih Brunello

Well, I was a lot less stressed this time round. Diana’s cria arrived at 9.10 am on Monday, October 7, two days ahead of its due date and weighing 7.5 kilos. It is another boy and to my great delight he isn’t white but a lovely mid fawn/rose grey colour with a couple of little white patches on his adorable little face. He has huge black eyes and the longest eyelashes imaginable.

Continuing the wine theme ( we are La Vigna Alpacas you know!) we have named him Dolcetto and he is doing very well and playing with Brunello, the first cria who arrived on August 28 and so is quite the big boy now!

The birth was very straightforward and unlike Brunello, Dolcetto seemed to be very hungry and ate from Diana straight away. However, he did seem very weak and couldn’t stay on his feet for very long and I was a bit worried about this. I kept him in the stable overnight with Diana (the others were a bit miffed, especially as it was raining, but I figured his need was greater than theirs!) Anyway, in the morning he was absolutely fine and bright as a button. I guess he was very tired from the birth and also I was probably fussing too much!

So, one to go, the lovely Champagne is due on November 6th.

First Cria is Born!

Brunello at one day old, verry cute!

Brunello at one day old, verry cute!

Brunello a few minutes after being born

Brunello a few minutes after being born

Well, bang on her due date of August 28th, my first pregnant alpaca Emilia gave birth to a healthy male cria. He is very cute and was on his feet within a few minutes of being born.

I went to feed them as usual at about 9am yesterday and noticed that Emilia has a “balloon” under her tail, the first stages of giving birth. The bubble contained the head and front legs. I broke the membrane over the baby cria’s nose and it gave a little cough and then remained there for a little while as Emilia had some carrots and apple. Then she gave a few moans and the rest of the cria came out, kind of nose diving into the grass. I took off the cling film like membrane and put antisepetic on what I thought was the navel – then realised it had two navels. Whoops! So – a  boy baby!

I then let mamma and baby bond and watched as he struggled over and over again to stand.After a lot of falling over he managed it and then took some wobbly steps. He is much bigger than I had imagined, although most of that is legs!

I was also astounded at the size of the  placenta which Emila passed in text book fashion one hour later. Another balloon emerged, it was absolutely massive.

Stress, Stress, Stress

I can’t say yesterday wasn’t extremely stressful as he didn’t feed from Emilia for hours so I had to resort to giving him colostrum with a bottle. That didn’t work so I resorted to a syringe. He was hungry and keen to feed but he and Emilia couldn’t seem to connect and I got more and more worried. This went on until about 7pm when I finally saw him latch on and take a drink. His little tail went up and he had a milk moustache, so I knew he had got some and for the first time since 9 am I could relax. I went inside to tell you the truth and had a large glass of wine!

All’s Well Today

This morning I fully expected to find that he hadn’t made it through the night, but a 5.45 inspection (!) found him next to Emilia and he was doing little skips and dances. So today I feel a lot more relaxed.

As to the colour, when he was born I thought he was pale fawn. Then I thought he was white, but now I think he is pale fawn again. I also weighed him and although it was a rather haphazard process as I had t take the bathrooms scales into the paddock, I think he is between 8 and 9 kilos, which is spot on. He is quite a confident little thing and we think we are going to call him Brunello after the famous red wine as that has been a kind of ongoing theme for us this year.

The builder has cooed over him as has the vet. He is very sweet indeed.

Emilia Birth Countdown

pregnant alpaca Emilia

Emilia is over eleven months pregnant and dirty from rolling in the ashes of the bonfire!

Well, the first of my three pregnant female alpacas – Emilia – is due on Wednesday 28th August. But from what I have read and discovered about alpaca gestation, this is a very moveable feast indeed. They can have their cria anytime from 315 days, the average being 350. However some have been known to go over a year, so who knows?

She is now looking pregnant and I am watching out for signs of labour, which include:

  • separating from the herd
  • using the poop pile more
  • relaxed muscles under the tail
  • hollow appearance in side from baby having “dropped” into position
  • more humming than normal
  • ears back and finding it hard to get comfortable

Well, so far she has the hollow side look and the relaxed muscle thing and I also noticed her whole tail area kind of pulsating, but that was two days ago and so far absolutely no sign of a cria.

I’ve also learned that alpacas tend to give birth between 8am and 5pm and that from the first signs to the cria being born can be less than half an hour. Apparently it’s not unknown to check on the mother for signs, see nothing, go away and when you come back an hour or so later there is a new member of the herd! Well, we shall see. I really hope it is like that to be honest!

A Question of Colour

Emilia is a solid white huacaya, mated to a solid white huacaya and with two previous white babies. I have traced her lineage back via the herd registry on the British Alpaca Society website and she seems to come from predominantly white stock although her mother was light fawn.

It would therefore appear logical that she is very likely to produce a white cria. But from my research it appears nothing is that straightforward in the world of alpaca genetics and the actual percentage likelihood of the baby being white is only around 60%.  I found a very useful alpaca birth colour calculator here. I am really keeping my fingers crossed for  a colour as I love the richness of the browns and fawns and variety is the spice of life right?

If Emilia doesn’t produce a colour then I think there is a good chance one of the other two will. My absolute dream colour would be rose grey and I think Diana has a good chance of giving me that, but we shall see.

As for the sex, well, speaking as a hard nosed breeder (ahem!) I should be hoping for females, but to be honest, I don’t really mind! My gut feeling is that I will get at least two females, so that is another exciting thing to look forward to!

Watch this space…