Alpaca new neighbors
We have new neighbors with their own special welcoming committee! A hillside full of grazing alpacas is new to dairy land. Like cows they are sure-footed harvesters on hilly terrain, more upkeep but lower cost than John Deere. On sunny days they stand at attention below the barn, wary and watchful, gentle creatures. The barn roof says what their curious behavior shows. Two weeks ago I sat with them on their hill, camera in hand, and learned:
- If you walk too fast they conclude you’re a threat and move away; makes it really hard to photograph anything but their backsides. If you walk too slowly they think you’re an easy mark prompting them to chase! Move like Goldilocks–not too fast, not too slow, but just right--and they settle into a peaceful calm!
- They have soft, murmuring voices that gurgle and purr, conversing among themselves, giving group warnings, laughing pleasantly. Gentle is the word that comes to mind for their character.
- Alpacas love and trust their pack. Their movements are fluidly synchronous, moving always together. On the other hand getting them to look the same way at the same time can be a challenge. Having a friend to whistle or call, “Here girls, come here, look this way,” helps immensely.
- After they were used to a stranger in their pasture it became possible to sit quietly among them while they paid me no never-mind! I watched them from inches away, my eye-level to their elbows, while they grazed and chatted.
- This pack includes a peculiarly different fellow named Jack. He is their protector-defender against all threats. A best friend forever kind of guy, Jack is a donkey! Until I shared that sunny hillside with Jack and his pack of alpacas, my notion of donkeys was informed–or rather misinformed–by latent childhood memories of the Jackass-boys in Pinocchio. I thought donkeys were tragic-comic creatures, dull-witted and homely beasts. But I learned a thing or two and am smitten with Jack! At first, he stood a bit away and watched me with his girls until he judged me no threat. Then curiosity got the better of him. He nuzzled my shoulders, chewed my hair and camera strap, licked the lens and me. If I ignored him to frame a shot, he pushed his way in front to be sure he had his share of camera time. But as soon as his girls moved a bit away, he went back to work herding them back to my side, being responsible for his charges. What a good camera grip! (Grips form a department on a shoot to provide camera support especially where the camera is awkwardly placed. Well, that certainly describes Jack on this day. So hats off to him for service as my key grip.) Donkeys don’t have public relations managers though perhaps they should.
- Alpacas love to take dustbaths. You’ll see them raising a cloud of dust–first one, then others join in until their “dust tub” is full, and finally even Jack gives his own sincere form of imitation flattery as he joins in their dusty fun.
Alpaca shearing day
Today was shearing day and I was there to record it. Someone has to go first and that can be quite a problem. These sweet, soft-spoken animals with beautiful wool can fight and kick with the best of them! The son-in-law of the family knows his work and is a gentle caretaker; before long the job was well underway. Hot days of summer are here and the girls will come to appreciate being cool alpacas, and looking even cooler with a new hairdo!
Ready, set, shoot!
Here’s my favorite shot! Shepherding the pack onto the shearing floor with all faces looking into the lens, dancing hooves, bouncing heads, flipping hair, family in full face-forward view, with camera settings and focus just right: it’s a good thing!
The little lady second on the left is due to deliver her cria* in two weeks and I hope to be there! (*Baby alpacas are called Crias, a female is called a Hembre, a male a Macho, and a twelve month old Alpaca graduates to be a Tui.)