During my Art Residential on the farm, I have enjoyed watching the alpacas. For someone used only to horses, cattle, sheep, dogs and cats, they are singular creatures, and some of the things they do show just how far they are from these other quadrupeds.
They are very alert and curious, and will watch and approach rather like a bold foal might. When I returned from a particularly hot walk and flung myself down on the grass on the side of the drive, it gave me a start to open my eyes (once the red mist had cleared from them and my breathing had stopped sounding like a forge bellows) to see them all silently regarding me from just the other side of the fence. I expect they had never seen someone so unfit before.
Alpacas hum gently to each other and to you when they are happy. It's a kind of Mmmm? Mmmm-mm sound, lovely to hear. But if they are scared or cross, they'll spit smelly puffs of air and gobs of acidy juice, as my son found out when he assisted with their shearing a few weeks ago.
Alpacas are about half the size of llamas. Llamas were bred to be pack animals and have two types of hair - soft under wool, and a 'saddle' of coarse hair to protect their backs from rubbing. But Alpacas were bred (over 5,000 years!) for their fibre and have only one type of soft hair on their bodies.
I read that the Peruvians distinguish 300 shades of natural alpaca fibre colour.
|The two on the left have recently been shorn.|
They roll in the dust like horses ...
... and love to splash their drinking water on a hot day
They will fight each other by biting, kicking and banging their necks together, and can scream something awful when they get really mad, something I'm glad not to have heard.
When they're bothered by flies their short fluffy tails flick and flap, and if they are itchy a delicate deer-like foot or mouth gets to work.
Speaking of tails, if you are approached by an alpaca with its tail up and its head down, it would pay to retreat, as this is a threat display.
The most interesting thing, I think, is that alpaca have communal toilets. Sometimes only one or two spots in a paddock are the loos, where all the herd members 'go'. This certainly makes for a much cleaner paddock, and perhaps is one of the reasons why you can run so many alpaca to the hectare - about as many as sheep. That and the fact that although fussy eaters, they like to eat a small amount of a variety of plants.
Alpaca spend a lot of their day sitting chewing their cud, like a cow. I like to think they are enjoying the view of golden distant sea, or the sun slanting through a faraway patch of misty rain and making a rainbow.