Did you know that alpacas queue?

Welcome to the podcast for alpaca people!

In this episode, we look at ‘normal’ alpaca behaviour – starting with their queuing.

The RSPCA Five Freedoms and Five Domains give us some pointers about how we can ensure we care for our animals in the best way. Let me know if you come up with any good ideas for extra things we can do for our alpacas.

Good news – the Canada Geese’ eggs have hatched (3).

Reducing numbers of horse-flies the hard way but we keep trying.



[0:00] This is the Alpaca Podcast for all things alpaca. If you're an owner, a soon-to-be owner, a want-to-be owner or are just alpaca mad or love the fleece, welcome to the alpaca tribe.

[0:13] Music.

[0:24] I'm Steve Hetherington. Hi, Steve here and welcome to the podcast for alpaca people.

Great to see you.

Have you noticed that alpacas queue?

[0:38] Well, they seem to. It's a very British, it's a very British thing, perhaps because they're in South Wales. Perhaps that's why they queue, because they, no, I think they do it anyway.

[0:48] But they queue for different reasons. There are different things going on.

There are some things they don't queue for.

It's just a general melee, where you put the food in the troughs.

They're all everywhere.

They do wander around. They don't just, some of them, ah, most of them wander around.

Some of them will just stand and keep guard over their bit of the trough and protect everybody else from getting to it.

But going down a narrow path, for example, when it's not so easy to have more than one wide, then they'll queue.

And there's an order to that, and it's kind of not a pecking order, but it's a queuing order. It's a traveling order.

It moves around a bit. It changes a bit.

But yeah, there is some kind of sense of being in a queue.

And sometimes they just do that meander, slow walk that alpacas do.

They don't have to walk slowly. They are very fast if they want to be, but they like to wander. They like to meander, don't we all?

And there's sometimes you hear a bit of something happening, a bit of unhappiness or objection to what's going on.

And it's usually, it's usually Hermione. She stands her ground and she won't let anybody come past.

Oh dear bless her. So, she's very...

Very particular about that, about her queuing and her position in the queue, and she doesn't like others coming past her. Sometimes they'll queue for the water trough.

[2:14] If it's been filled up and they're ready to get in there, feet in first. Sometimes I fill up the metal tank. There's usually a bit in there, but sometimes I'll fill it up and that can form a queue of them wanting to get in there.

In the past when we've used a paddling pool for the alpacas to get into when it's been really hot, then they'll queue up for that.

And sometimes the other water, when I'm filling it, oh, fresh water, and it's full now, and they'll come over and they'll queue.

I think they should be coming to drink, but no, the usual suspects are there ready to put their feet in it, forming a queue.

And then the particular thing that caught my attention yesterday, and I've been hearing a number, I think, what is that sound?

What am I hearing? And it's this funny kind of clicking sound.

[3:03] Sound of things knocking together and a clicking kind of, it's an interesting, very distinctive sound, but it's caused by branches.

What's happened is we've had a large branch fall off the tree, snapped off the top of a conifer and it landed.

So I dragged it out the way slightly, but it's there and it's lying and all its smaller branches are facing up into the air.

So they're like, like, can you imagine this? Like the teeth of a very, very large comb or a brush.

[3:36] And that's what they're using it for. The alpaca, they weave their way between these branches and they brush off, because there's so many flies around.

This is very comforting and it just brushes the fleece and it just takes, brushes the flies away.

So there are some in particular who feel the need for this and they form a queue.

And there's a little kind of collection of them and they stand end.

So it goes on for ages. Once somebody says, oh, I'm going to have a brush, the others go, oh, that's a good idea.

[4:05] They'll come over and form a queue and take it in turns, which is really, really funny to see.

So yeah, so they do like that. And going along the green path from the top end of their field here, going along the green path among the trees, there's a whole load of little seedlings that have grown up, little ash seedlings.

And they do like to walk through those and they brush themselves as they walk down there.

So yes, they will queue. This is a behaviour that is normal for alpacas, at least for my alpacas.

I think it's normal for all alpacas probably. So what is this thing, normal behaviour?

Have you heard me talk about this before? I'm always talking about normal behaviour.

What's normal? What's normal for alpacas in general?

And what's normal for this alpaca in particular? and there are some that are very much different.

But there's a general trend, there's a general thing that you can say, this is what alpacas are like, this is normal behaviour for them.

But I was thinking about normal behaviour in relation to the RSPCA and the five freedoms of animal welfare.

[5:15] You may or may not be familiar with this. And back in 1965, there was a British parliamentary inquiry.

[5:24] Into the welfare of animals, particularly intensive livestock production systems, and they focus on the attention on farm animals to be able to stand up, lie down, turn around, stretch their limbs and groom all parts of the body.

And this was a kind of a basic thing that they were saying, this is how we should be looking after animals.

And, or rather, if they can't do those things, then they're not being looked after in a way that we'd like to see.

[5:54] So a few years later in 1979, there was a professor, John Webster, UK Farm Animal Advisory Committee.

And he extended this concept to encompass both physical and mental needs of animals, such as avoiding fear and distress and being able to express normal behavior.

That's where this comes in, being able to express normal behavior.

This is good animal husbandry.

This is good animal care, is allowing them to express normal behavior.

And what emerged from that were five separate freedoms, of considering an animal's welfare and how well that was being catered for.

And the inclusion of psychological needs was a significant step forward and later on acknowledged animal sentience.

So it was in 1993 that the original five freedoms were updated with explanatory words on how you can meet each of those things. So let's have a look at those. The five.

Freedoms were number one, freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

So enough food, but not too much food.

Ready access to fresh water as well. Freedom from hunger and thirst.

Number two was freedom from discomfort.

[7:21] Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

[7:30] Freedom from discomfort. Number three, freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention through rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Freedom from pain, injury or disease.

Number four was freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.

And number five, freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoids mental suffering.

So those were the five freedoms.

[8:12] And of course things move on a bit and there's been some further development of those, those ideas and going into the domains.

So going beyond freedoms into the five domains, to extension really.

So the domains then become nutrition, number two, environment, number three, health, number four, behavioral interactions, and number five, mental state and experiences.

So it just similar, but just a bit broader and a bit more simple perhaps to understand and relate to.

So this means of caring for animals appropriately. And this is something that we would want to do, something as alpaca owners, that you strive to achieve that kind of thing.

You make sure that they have got food and water enough, but not too much, that they have freedom from discomfort so that they have shelter, they have the other things that they need for comfort, a place where they can push down, a place where they can be out of the sun, a place where they can be out of the rain, If need be, you know that they're going to go do their own thing anyway.

But freedom from pain, injury, and disease. So if there's something wrong with them, we check it out and we take appropriate action.

[9:32] Freedom to express normal behaviour, which I guess includes walking through these natural combs, brushing themselves. They do it up against my fence as well, and they keep snapping the fence posts because they push so hard. Oh dear.

But also they like to get into water, if they can. And that's another factor. How can we provide that? Sometimes it's more difficult than others, but they do like certain things that they like.

Also the stimulation, being able to move around, to have a choice about where they go. If they've got enough space, then they can choose to go one place or another, rather than just being in a small square field with nothing interesting. So can we provide those extra things? And then, freedom from fear and distress in an environment where they feel safe, they feel safe around you, they feel safe in their environment, there aren't lots of dogs and other potential threats around and they're comfortable, able to be alpacas in a normal way. So those are things that, in a sense you think would be given. It's just, this is what you would do. And.

[10:46] In the extreme situations, I think that's true, where all of those things would be provided.

But is there more that we can do? Are there things that we can add to the environment?

And you can get things for dogs.

[10:59] Like a ball with slots in it. Not for putting the round peg in the square hole, those kinds of toys, although some dogs might enjoy that.

They have treats in and they roll them around and the treats come out and they, it's just a bit of a, you know, but you can do that for other animals as well.

You can do it for pigs. You can do it for horses. A horse with a football.

Have you seen horses play with footballs? It's amazing.

We live in a valley, which is fairly steep sided. Everything's on a slope mostly.

And anything which would roll like that, it would end up in the bottom of the valley, probably end up actually in the lake.

And that would be an interesting kind of thing. So balls are not really going to work very well, but the number of times I have to fish out the brush that I keep next to the water trough to keep it clean from particularly this time of year, from the green algae that grows, but also the bits of dirt and just washing things, brushing them down.

I have to keep fishing out the water trough, the water bucket, because they keep putting it in there. And there are other things I leave around and they move them. They're not where I left them.

And there's bits of string and bits of things that they'll pull on and move around.

And it's, there's things I keep finding well away from where I left them in the car park.

This bit of wood, which is an old bit of fence post and it's kind of rotted away.

And so I moved it and left it there ready to either burn or to put in the fire pile.

[12:27] Or, well, it's entertainment for the alpacas.

They're always moving it around. So there are things like that which they like to do.

So what can we do that would help with that?

[12:39] That's probably needed a bit of thought, doesn't it? But I shall leave you to think about that.

Come up with any good ideas. I'd love to hear from you. Steve at alpacatribe.com.

What kind of things do they play with or engage with like that?

Do let me know and we can pass it on to other people.

So that whole kind of thing of stimulation is important. That's normal behavior.

And where we can give them the ability to be at rest, so they're not stressed by the animals, the other animals that they're with. They need to be with their own kind, but there are some that they just don't get on well with. Have they got enough space?

In the way that we feed the animals, can we spread it out enough so that there's no fighting, unnecessarily fighting over the food?

So there are things that we can do, which will go beyond the basic standard freedoms, and be a bit more thoughtful about the way we deliver those things. That would be good.

So just give you some things to think about. What would you do?

How could we do it better?

And I'd love to hear if you've got any ideas.

[13:43] Yeah, so big day today, big day today. Okay, so we've had a lot of flies around.

Yesterday was my record for the year at least.

I got six of those big horse flies. Oh, where were they all coming from?

I don't know. But I managed to kill off six of them.

Still not enough. They're still buzzing around. And the alpacas, I can see them, but they don't want the flies there, but they don't want me interfering too much either.

And you know, Millie, Millie the matriarch, she is really difficult to help sometimes.

She doesn't appreciate. And I'm hearing this buzz and it comes and it's landing on her back. I go, oh no, no.

But she's not looking, she's looking at me. She's not looking at the fly.

She's not considered about the noise.

[14:29] She's watching me and what I'm doing. I'm sorry, a bit too close, coming too close.

No, so she's, I got spat at a few times today.

I was trying to help, Billy, I'm trying to help you. So I had a little conversation with her at the edge of the stable. She was inside.

I kind of hid by the doorframe so that I didn't get spat at again.

But she was ready. She was kind of half loaded, if you know what I mean, if you've been around alpacas, when they get upset like that.

So she was ready.

To spit if I made the slightest move further. And there it is. I'm sorry. It's in. It's in the stable. Okay. So I'm looking at her and I'm talking, she's staring straight back at me.

I'm telling her it's landing on your... Millie, it's on your leg. Millie, it's on your front leg. Move your leg. Move it. No, it's settled now. It's going to be starting. It's going to bite you.

I'm trying to help you. In the end, I wandered in. I kind of turned away and wandered in amongst And I managed to stir them up enough to move the fly off and it went out and it landed on the frame.

Oh, oh, and I missed it.

And it's, there's nothing worse than risking being spat at and failing to achieve the desired fix that you were trying to do. And it was, I wound them up unnecessarily. I missed the fly.

[15:46] I did get another one. They managed to whack it and stamp on it. You gotta do both.

Sue caught one the other day, today. She caught one, had her gloves on, doesn't, It's not a nice feel, actually, just grabbing these things by hand, but she had her gloves on. She grabbed this thing and threw it on the ground and then went to stamp on it, but it moved and flew off before she could get to it.

So you've got to be quick. You've got to kind of, yeah. I don't like killing things at all.

Even these horrible flies, I'd rather not. If I could find a way of keeping them off my alpacas and off me, then I would do that in preference.

But there are some things it's more difficult to do. Anyway, that is an update on the flies, still going.

[16:28] And some are more difficult to help than others, so we'll carry on doing what we can do.

And then, what's the other thing? The other thing, big day, hey, hey, Canada geese, the eggs have hatched. Now, I saw something in the car park.

[16:45] I saw two Canada geese down in the corner and there was some little things moved it.

Now, by the time I managed to grab my binoculars to have a closer look, one was there and turned into imagination. Did I see that?

No, but it kind of disappeared around the back of the mum. So she sat down and this little one had disappeared and I couldn't see it. So, oh, okay.

So then I go down to feed the girls, feed the alpacas and okay, that's complicated.

The mum who's been sat on the nest all the time was sat on the nest.

What is she doing sat on the nest? Who did I see? Who did I see?

Where's the other couple of Canada geese with the two babies?

Three babies, three, there's three of them.

[17:29] How do you know? Because I saw them. Because she got on the nest, I think, to protect them from the rain. And then they got off and moved around.

Now it's high and dry because all the water levels come down.

And now where the nest is, is kind of miles away from where the water is.

There's big drops.

Okay, normally the level's right up there, but it's way, it's like a meter plus drop off the little island thing that they've built this nest on.

But they had moved them and they had them in the car park and they put them back in the nest and they look after them.

And then they were back in the car park and I saw them on the water.

So the little ones have been out on the water, the three in between the moment.

And I was watching the male and he was, well, I was feeling a bit sorry for him actually.

He was on guard and he's going to be on guard a lot of the time.

And this is what happens.

[18:17] This is what happens now. The male stands around most of the time, not eating, just watching every direction, standing, staring, looking for movement, looking for threats and being ready.

So he doesn't get to eat.

And I was feeling a bit sorry for him. And then I remembered, I remembered that the female, she sits on the nest without having access to grass, apart from little brief little things when she gets off.

[18:42] So that was a bit of a problem, but they're sharing the workload, aren't they?

So these little ones are now out and about doing all the pecking.

They're programmed to peck. Did you know that?

They're programmed to peck. So they've been eating the grass and straight away, they don't get milk or anything like that.

They don't get fed. Can you imagine a big beak of an adult, kind of the goose trying to feed a tiny little baby?

It's not gonna happen, is it? So they're pecking away and they seem to be really good.

A lot of crow interest and I went down to feed the alpacas again later today, this evening, and there's a problem. One Canada goose by itself. Oh no. And it wasn't until I got a bit further down that I could see that he's standing next to the nest. Standing. And no sign of the mum or the baby so I was really concerned.

Scouring the whole of the valley, looking for these things. Went a bit further down and then I could see.

And they'd come up out of the water, but below the wall. So it's a good metre drop.

He was on guard above. This is so clever, so clever.

[19:50] He could protect things coming over from that direction. He could see very clearly.

He was overwatching his family.

[19:59] The female and the youngsters were immediately below him. He could give good protection from where he was.

So that was so clever.

I thought that was impressive. So anyway, I'm gonna worry about them until they get a bit bigger, but I think they're gonna do okay.

Yeah, so there you go. That's the update from the valley.

Alpacas form a queue and follow each other.

They have natural normal behavior, which includes walking through branches to brush the flies off them.

And they like getting in water and they like to have the stimulation of going to new places and wandering around.

So if we can take care of our animals in a better way, let's do that.

If we have to think about that, let's do the thinking. And if you've got any thoughts of things that work for you and your alpacas, please let me know.

So that's steve at alpacatribe.com.

Love to hear from you.

[20:50] Music.

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