Jo, Katie & I went to visit Rainer Goetze of Scorry Breck Alpaca in Woodlawn, about 35 minutes out of Ottawa. Mrs. Goetze wasn't able to join us, but her husband was a wonderful host, giving us a delightful and informative tour of their farm. It was simply beautiful, with a picturesque view of the river and mountains... My, oh my... And seeing the alpacas in person for the first time - just wonderful. They were about a foot taller than I had expected, but oh so beautiful. Very curious, but cautious. Mr. Goetze singled out a few of the 7 month old crias to show us what to look for in their fibre and conformation. He demonstrated how to check for density by grabbing a handful of fibre at their sides (I was really surprised by just how much was in a handful) , and how to separate the fleece to see the crimp, colour and bundling. The crias were so soft that I literally could have brushed off the hay and spun the fibre straight off their backs.
After interacting with the animals, we went inside, where Katie, Jo and the kids watched Ice Age, and Mr. Goetze spoke with me about the business side of raising Alpacas. He was a bit disturbed that I hadn't written down questions to ask him, although he seemed to appreciate that I had "done my homework". I knew what 'double registered' meant; that females are basically pregnant their entire lives; that males have their fighting teeth removed... I was even able to identify the males' fencing as ElectroBraid ;)
To be honest, I didn't have to write down my questions because I really didn't have many. I had spent so long reading about Alpacas on the internet that I felt fairly confident in my head-knowledge. The questions I had were South-Eastern Ontario-specific and more subjective, experience-based than textbook; I figured they would all be answered as Mr. Goetze talked us though our tour - What kind of shelter he used (small barn for females & crias, 3-sided shelter for males); what he fed them in the winter (hay & a cup of specially formulated pellets); how he administered vaccines (he took a course & watched his vet the first year); how much time his small herd required per day (2 hours); how much his animals costs in upkeep per year ($200), etc.. I guess those are the questions I should have written down, but they seemed so obvious that I didn't feel I needed to. Like if you took a tour of a local bakery, most people would probably ask the same questions - How long have you been in the business, what do you bake, how do you make those braided breads, etc. You don't write them down, because the tour itself either gives you the information as you go, or the experience prompts you to ask the questions at the appropriate time. A good tour-guide knows exactly what information the visitors want to know, and so tells them. An excellent tour-guide knows exactly what information the visitors should want to know, and so tells them... Mr. Goetze was an excellent 'tour-guide'.
So, I had most of my answers; what I was lacking was hands-on experience - seeing how the animals reacted to strangers, how they are coaxed into the barn, how to handle scared crias... I really needed to watch the animals in their environment, being handled by their owner. That's why visiting the farm was so wonderful - it gave an experience with the animals themselves. However, I don't think I could be truly confident with them until I actually had a pair of my own.
If I might philosophize for a moment, it's like going swimming on the beach in March. You know you want to swim, and you know it'll be fantastic once you're in. The problem is physically getting into the water. You can estimate the temperature with your fingers or toes, but you can never truly experience the water until you're floating on your back with your hair swirling around your head. Getting from the shore to under the water is the most agonizing part of swimming. You really only have 2 options - to slowly wade in or take the plunge.
Slowly wading into the water is absolutely the most awful way to adjust to the temperature. Sure, it's gradual, and won't send you into vagal shock, but you feel every millimiter of coldness creeping up your body. Each wave finds new skin to torture. You're shivering so intensely that you could be mistaken for an epileptic. Then, once you're finally up to your neck, the chill clings to you. Your body is so tense from shaking that you can't loosen up and enjoy the water.
Plunging in, on the other hand, is an immediate, intense shock; the cold engulfs you so suddenly that your lungs freeze up and your knees become permanantly attached to your chin. If you've done it right, however, you've landed deep enough that you are forced to move your arms or legs in order to stay afloat. The movements heat your muscles and, in less than a minute, the cold fades away. You're able to enjoy your swim, without all that tension from shivering for 10 minutes as you inched into the water.
I think that's how it is with raising Alpacas.