What are the best alpaca questions to ask?

Welcome to the podcast for alpaca people! In this episode, I will be discussing some of my favourite questions to consider when spending time with these amazing creatures.

The first question to ask yourself is “What is it that I am seeing?” This is an important step in observation that can help you better understand the behaviour and actions of your alpacas.

The next question to ask is “What does it mean?” This question is crucial in interpreting your observations, and it can change depending on the context of the situation and over time.

So, the next time you are with your alpacas, take some time to pay attention to what you notice. Start by asking yourself “What is it?” and then extend your questions to “What does it mean?”

By utilizing these questions, you can deepen your understanding of alpacas and develop a stronger bond with these fascinating animals.



[00:00:00] 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 a just alpaca mad or love the fleece, welcome to the alpaca tribe. I'm Steve Hetherington.

[00:00:25] Hi, Steve here, and welcome to the podcast for alpaca people. It's so good to see you again. Lovely. As you know, I like questions, and I think it's really important that we ask the right questions. We have to work hard at framing them, at being clear about the question that we should be asking. And the first question is, what...

[00:00:54] What is it? Okay, let me explain. Uh, you see something, you see some behavior, you see the alpaca lift its tail, you see the alpaca lift its ears forward, you see the alpaca put its ears down and back. What is it? What is it that you're seeing? You're seeing... Some behavior. You're seeing something. It's in a context.

[00:01:21] So it could be because of you. It's not always because of you You're not always at the center of everything. Trust me, but it could be because of you and what you're doing and It could be because of other animals around or the circumstances It could be the wind or the presence of a cat or all kinds of things So the first thing is what is it?

[00:01:45] What is it that you're seeing? and noticing what's standing out to you. What is it? And the second question, which is the really important one. And what I'd like to talk about today is what does it mean? You can have the same behavior. The ears can come up and that can be for a range. of reasons. It isn't always the same reason.

[00:02:09] So the same thing is it, the it. What is it? Is the ears coming up? What does it mean? Can have a variety of answers. So how do we address that? How do we understand what's going on? Partly it comes with time and experience. You've seen this before. You've seen this behavior in this circumstance and you can draw a reasonable conclusion that This is what I'm seeing.

[00:02:35] This is what it means, because that's what it meant in a previous time. We're not always right, are we, when we do that? We can draw conclusions. I think a working hypothesis is a better way to look at that. I think this is what I've seen, and this is what I think is going on. And then you work from there.

[00:02:55] What else? Can you notice what else is going on? You think it's to do with you, you approach, the ears go up. There's, there's a threat of a spit. Uh, we had some friends and we were helping them feed the alpacas. We had the, the buckets and, uh, it was out in the troughs as well for the ones who don't like to come to the buckets, but they were feeding alpacas and there were lots of heads in there.

[00:03:18] Uh, which was lovely. And there was one of them spat. Well, okay. It was shrapnel. It was what was in the mouth. It was just the dry food, and it was a kind of a huff more than a full bodied spit. So it wasn't any green gunk, it was just the stuff that was in the mouth. Why did they spit at this person who was feeding them?

[00:03:41] Why did they spit at the visitor? Okay, so what you saw, the it, was an alpaca feeding from a bucket. who then lifted their head and spat at the person in front of them. They were spitting at the person. So that's the observation. What's the meaning of that? Were they actually spitting at the person? And the answer was no, they weren't.

[00:04:12] They were actually spitting as a warning to one of the younger ones who was coming in closer to the The food and, and the, uh, the bucket that was being held by my guest. Uh, I had warned them in advance that this might happen. So they were prepared, but nevertheless, it's a bit disconcerting when a friendly alpaca you just had a lovely little interaction with suddenly spits at you.

[00:04:37] They're not spitting at you. They're spitting to warn another alpaca off. So you've got to put it into a context. So what is it that? The it is, what is it I'm seeing? What's the behavior? And then what does it mean? And, uh, I've talked before about Millie, dear old Millie. She'll come and she'll stand in the doorway of the stable when I'm putting the food out.

[00:05:00] Um, and then sometimes as I come out with the bucket, she spits at me, but she's not spitting at me, she's spitting to warn the others off who are crowding in now, cause I'm coming out with a bucket. I found a way around this. Okay, so this is, this is the behavior. This is what it means. It's not spitting at me.

[00:05:15] It's spitting to warn others off. And then I think, what can I do, which will change that behavior and make it less of a problem to me. So I don't get spat at. So I found that if I put a bit of food in a bucket, just inside the door, that Millie can reach and can fend off others. She's, she's prepared to stand in the door where the other's not so much.

[00:05:38] They don't want to come in. So when I go out with the bucket, I can step past Millie. Got to do it carefully. She's got used to that now. And, and then I can feed the others and they stick their head in the bucket. Do all the things that they, they do. So that was an observation. What does it mean? And then what can I do differently?

[00:05:57] Hopefully you can see how this could apply to your situation. So what are you observing? What are you seeing? What's the it that you're seeing? Maybe the behavior. And it could be the ears go up. That's usually going on alert, slightly. I'm, I'm giving attention to what's in front of me. Uh, I had a really strange experience walking down the green path.

[00:06:21] Uh, I was bringing it back, it was a little bit dark and there was a, it's on a slope, so the path's flat in the middle, but there's a slope up and a slope down. And as we were walking along there, a lot of the alpacas had one ear cocked up and one ear cocked out. They were kind of watching for threats from the slope up and the slope down.

[00:06:41] And their ears, one was up, one was down. I thought it was very clever to be able to do that. So they can move their ears independently. So that was I'm giving attention. You'll regularly see that if there's a thumb, a something. It could be a cat, it could be a dog, it could be a fox. Something that catches that could be a squirrel, for that matter.

[00:07:01] We've had a few busy around and they go, ooh, what's that? And they do lift their head Up and back slightly, tip it down, ears go forward, and the eyes are now focused on the thing that's caught their attention, which is usually a movement. Their eyes are particularly designed for picking up movements. So it can be at a distance or it can be close up.

[00:07:27] They don't miss much. And for some of those things, like a bird flits in and flits out, they pretty much ignore that. Because they've learnt it's not a threat, it's not a problem, it's okay. And therefore the behaviour will adjust over time. The first see the, the first time they see, particularly the youngsters, first time they see a plastic bag blowing in the wind, it kind of freaks them out.

[00:07:55] You can understand there's this thing moving quickly and going up and down and making this rustling sound. It's a bit... What is this? It's a bit scary. So there are things that they will respond to, but there are things then, over time, their response will change. And I'm hoping that's true for you and your alpacas as you're spending time with them, that their behavior towards you does change.

[00:08:21] And hopefully your behavior towards them changes as well, but their behavior towards you becomes adjusted. They get to trust you. They get to know you. They get to know your little ways, the sound of your voice, the fact that you whistle when you're working. Sometimes that's not a panic. reason. That's just the sound that you make when you're around.

[00:08:42] The fact that you move sometimes a bit too quick, the fact that you move around them. I noticed the other day that I had to walk around the alpacas. Some of the boys, particularly, there was, I had to step around them. They weren't getting out of my way. They weren't bothered by the fact that I was stood quite close to them.

[00:09:00] They were busy having their food and I was just there. It wasn't a problem to them. They weren't panicking. And that was, that was interesting. Uh, I think that's a good thing. You sometimes get an alpaca that will stand in the way. Now that's a different, but there can be a different thing. What am I seeing?

[00:09:16] I'm seeing alpaca standing still in front of me. And sometimes that can be, if not aggressive, then it's, they're standing their ground and actually they're not giving you the respect that they should. You don't want this. You want them to trust you and be happy around you, but you also want them to give enough respect so that they'll move out of your way, rather than you having to continuously go around them.

[00:09:45] Tiptoe around the alpacas. Yeah, no. So it's, the thing will change over time. What am I seeing? What does it mean? And then what do I do differently? So these questions that we live with as we live with our alpacas are part of our learning, part of our growing, part of our becoming better alpacas, becoming more satisfied and confident.

[00:10:13] in our keeping of alpacas. And we end up with happy and healthy alpacas because they, they get used to us. They trust us. We're able to do those things. I mean, I walk around with a shovel now when I'm mucking out. And when the, the younger, younger ones, when they were very young, they weren't too sure about this thing in my hand.

[00:10:32] What was I going to do with it? And I brush around them. Sometimes I have to kind of Just give a little hip check or a, you know, just kind of move them slightly because their foot's too close to where I'm trying to sweep. I'm trying to clean up and they're not bothered. And that's because I haven't chased them with the brush.

[00:10:46] Don't chase them with a brush. It's really a bad thing to do. A little bit of pressure, a little bit of presence moving towards them, they will move away from you. Once they understand what you're asking of them, they become familiar with the signals that you're giving them. This is me trying to move you, I put my arms out, I go, I go big and wide, and I move towards them.

[00:11:09] And that pressure just encourages them to turn and move away. And sometimes some of them will stand, sometimes another one will come in, like dear old Amelia. She comes in, in front of me, standing broadside. Look how big I am. And She blocks the way, she's trying to protect some of the other younger alpacas, often her own, but definitely other young alpacas as well.

[00:11:34] She's very good at protecting, and being the, the, the anti, who's on, on control, you know, on patrol, and checking out and making sure. She's the one who's going to be at the back of the queue, as they're moving around. She's usually... Not the back of the queue for food, but she's usually the last one to leave for the food.

[00:11:55] She'll hang around and her daughter's following in her footsteps. I think some of that is learned behavior and some of it is probably genetics. Uh, proportion? No idea. But it's just an interesting observation. I've seen this thing that she tends to be the one who's the protector. She will rear up if I've got a...

[00:12:14] Alpacas, particularly younger alpacas, in a catch pen, she will rear up at the gate or the catch pen because she's trying to protect and she gets a bit stroppy and she kind of threatens. She's, she kind of makes a noise. What is that noise? Is it an intake or an out? Is it breathing in or breathing out?

[00:12:35] Have a listen. When, when they, when they make sounds, check out what's going on. Are they breathing in? Getting ready to huff or puff or spit, or, or are they kind of already doing that, expelling the air? Oh, they kind of groan at you and it's got a little warning. And then there's the sound of them loading up, ready to spit.

[00:13:00] You need to learn that sound. What is this? This is the sound of them loading up. They've now got a mouthful of green gunk. Your next move could be very important. Be careful. Uh, but you get to know that sound. And then you'll see them, they're chewing, and then they'll swallow it down again, usually, unless you upset them more, or they feel threatened, and then they will spit.

[00:13:24] So these things are, what is it? And then what does it mean? And then what do I do as a result of that? It could be you do the same thing because you have to, or it could be you change your behaviour. You slow down, you step back, you turn sideways. That's an interesting one, actually, turning sideways because you're making yourself narrow, rather than, you know, I mentioned Amelia makes herself look big.

[00:13:46] She turns broadside to me. She's, she's compact anyway, but she's making every use of everything she's got in terms of size. She turns, she dances and she will tend to, to be slightly higher than me. That's an interesting observation to make as well. Where, particularly on a slope, it's difficult on a flat field, I know, but where are they in terms of the height?

[00:14:08] And they usually like to be just a little bit higher than the The one they're, they're warning off. So she'll dance in front of me sometimes and stand there big and thick. So how do I do, what do I do with that? I recognize that's what's going on. I sometimes have a gentle voice that says, Oh, don't be so silly.

[00:14:25] And I diffuse the situation just by slowing down, being gentle, not provoking, and having the gentle speech, the gentle voice. My, my communication is all non threatening. My arms are down to my side. or even behind my back. There's, there's no kind of, I'm going to reach out and grab you, and I'm not advancing at the animal.

[00:14:50] I might be advancing towards, and sometimes I, I have a clash with, with, uh, dear old Megan, and she, she's, she stands her ground in the path a bit more. Sometimes I have to give her a chance to think about what's going on, and then she'll turn her head away. Instead of facing at me, she'll turn her head away slightly.

[00:15:09] I can then move and she'll move out of the way. Or if I stand long enough, she'll just move. And that's a good thing to learn. These different animals and the different behaviours. So Amelia does a broadside. If I reverse that, instead of being broad, I don't need to be broad, I need to be less challenging.

[00:15:27] How do I do that? I turn sideways. I talk gently. I don't wave my arms around, I don't get all excited, I don't do things quickly, I just take the heat out of the situation, diffuse the situation by being gentle in my speech, in my behavior. And the animals pick up on that. They, okay, okay, it wasn't quite such a threat as I thought it was.

[00:15:51] So they, they learn over time as well. They're also processing the same questions. What is it that they're seeing? You're advancing towards them. What does it mean? Okay, they've got to work that one out. Experience tells them one thing, you've got a bucket in your hand, there's food coming. You've got a spade in or a shovel in your hand, then you're cleaning up and you might want to get out of the way.

[00:16:16] Or he's got that little thing he carries around with all those... Needles in, or the syringes, because he's going to do vaccinations or whatever. Then, ah, this is a different thing. Or these are the bits of equipment he uses for shearing. They do know, they do recognize those things, seriously. So they're picking up on those same questions of what is it that I'm seeing?

[00:16:42] What does it mean? And then what am I going to do about it? So... Here's an approach that you can take. Go spend some time with your alpacas. I know I got it in quick, didn't I? I was going to come in at the end, but I'll come back to that. So spend some time. What is it you're seeing? Make a note mentally or dictate something into your phone or write it down, whatever, or afterwards.

[00:17:08] What is it that I noticed today? What were the things I picked up on? Just being attentive is helpful. And then... What does it mean? See if you can put some understanding to the things you've seen. You won't be able to fit all of them into a box, but some of it you'll go, that's what was going on there. And sometimes you get more data because the next thing that they do or other, they do it again and it's nothing to do with you, it's all to do with the animal stood next to them, who's standing deliberately too close, because they do, just to provoke.

[00:17:39] So see what you can see. And then what does it mean? See if you can go that next step and then think about the third step, which is, and what do you do with that? Hopefully that helps a little bit. Have a great day. Go spend some time with your alpacas if you can. Take care. Bye for now.

[00:18:15] This is The Alpaca Tribe. And I'm Steve Heatherington.

[00:18:25] Have a great day.

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