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Alpacas Magazine  Summer 1996

4-H Can this program improve the value of your herd?

by Victoria Hibbits

Now that you have educated yourself about the best characteristics and top standards of alpacas, the real excitement begins! You made your initial purchase, and are building your herd like the most of us, so now you are ready to explore ways in which you can train your animals. Many believe that this will add to the return on your investment. If it is really will, just how are you going to accomplish this? There is only so much time to spare. If you are like most of us, you are already working with your alpacas as much as you can. So, what can you do to get closer to accomplishing this goal?

Well, there is another option besides working these animals all by yourself (which can be time prohibitive if you have more than three or four), and our solution is simple and even educational. The 4-H Program is somewhat like a savings account. You will get very little in return if you do not invest up-front. We quickly recognized this opportunity and invested in this program.

When we started, we had no experience in 4-H or FFA so don't be afraid to try this because, if we can do it, anyone can. The return on our investment is exciting and we are pleased in ways that we did not anticipate upon our initial investigation.

Why did we feel that 4-H was an option for us?
My husband and I have no children. We are both corporate executives working in the medical device arena and really do not have much time to participate in any new projects, at least at the present time. I travel about one to two weeks a month and our travel schedules often overlap. Hence time caused us to explore 4-H as an option for training our alpacas. Were we home enough to make it worth our while? Would we let these kids down once we got started? Would our animals really benefit? As expected, we had many questions at first, but we thought, "nothing ventured, nothing gained". Sometimes risks must be taken and this risk seemed worthwhile if we managed the program in accordance with our long term ranch goals.

Our scenario looked like this: We have fourteen alpacas and one llama. This year's crias included several males and therefore, we realized that would be important to socialize and train these animals in order to maximize our long term herd potential. We felt the 4-H Program could help us achieve some of our long term goals.

This program can be a benefit to newer ranches in particular. Since outside breedings can be a significant investment for new ranches without a developed herdsire, it is important to offer well-trained males for sale. With this in mind, we developed a program to enhance the value of each new animal according to that individual animal's needs and requirements. Every animal must be trained in order to return a higher than average value. So, really our ranch mission statement was to differentiate our animals by breeding to top herdsires and training our animals. That is exactly what we have set out to do.

Due to our primary jobs and little extra time to spend with each individual animal, we needed some help. We decided that all of our animals should be handled at least once every two weeks. All crias must be halter trained as soon as the weanling halter fits their little faces. Bred females are not included in the 4-H program.

One real concern with males is over socialization. If male crias exhibit any imprinting characteristics, they are put on a special program to discourage this undesirable behavior. These males are halter trained a little later than other crias and are placed on a "hands-off program" designed to direct them to the other herd members rather than people. This insures that they have not imprinted with humans and allows them to socialize properly with other alpacas. All animals are worked through a different schedule accordingly. The 4-H students are trained to recognize these signs as well. The students help us to train each animal on a regular basis and, more importantly, benefit by learning goal setting for each care giving activity they provide. It is essential that the students understand what the program goals are. This really helps provide focus and a track record of measurable results for their project.



Our group of kids has named themselves The Amazing Llamas and Alpacas, (T.A.L.A.). The ages of the group are eight to sixteen years, with six girls and two boys. The animals are leased for the project year of September to September. We got started with September of 1995, with a rush to get prepared for the Christmas Parade. Everyone had to get ready for the 4-H and FFA Show and Sale Fair in May.

The group has been invited to participate as exhibitors. We invited a 4-H Llama group from Flagstaff to participate as well. They have since added alpacas to their group.
    For more information on any particulars of our group pleas feel free to call me at (520) 775-3380 anytime.

- Noreen Vaughan
Arizona Alpaca

How did we get started?

We simply spoke to the local elementary school and asked if they were aware of a 4-H extension in our area. We were given a contact name for 4-H, went to one of their local meetings and the rest is history. We now have three 4-H students and we meet on a regular basis, at least once or twice a month. The next step is to secure insurance. 4-H leaders are usually covered for liability by the state. Kids can purchase extra medical insurance for 4-H events from companies recommended by your extension agent. This is all explained in detail by the staff and through the materials that are provided to you by 4-H.

I also contacted Jeannie Flavin in Conifer, Colorado. Since Jeannie was experienced with 4-H after establishing her own successful program, she sent me some great information and guidelines regarding the 4-H objectives. She just couldn't have been more helpful - I really have to thank her for the advice and direction she gave me. The Jacksons of Chualar Canyon Ranch also may be a great long term resource for 4-H program. Their Alpaca Sweepstakes Program made its' debut a the AOBA Meeting in Estes Park last year was an excellent opportunity for the younger members of the alpaca and 4-H community to participate and learn. The agility course is by far the most popular activity with our 4-H group. This type of unique programming can benefit all interested.

Steps that I have taken in our 4-H program:

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All members keep track of their activities in a three ring notebook and document their project. They record husbandry activities, health records, grooming records, outside activities, as well as grading of the halter or obstacle class activities of the week.

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Each member is assigned an animal that is their main responsibility during the project. This animal is the one they will work with over the next year, and show in parades and local fairs. I made sure that my top males Pierre, Denali and Kona were assigned a student. All other males are worked through the halter and obstacle class at least every other meeting. This is a requirement that must be checked off in their notebooks.

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I attempt to take a few pictures, especially during outside activities like the parade or trip to meet the FFA. These pictures are then placed in their notebooks for documentation of the event. The purpose of the notebook is to provide a record of the year's activities which can then be submitted for competition in the local fair. In other words, if a 4-H member wants to participate in the fair besides the halter or obstacle classes, they can. This is another way of validating their participation in the project.

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About every fourth meeting I attempt to come up with an activity that is off the ranch. They are always excited and look forward to this. A few examples are: the zoo, to look at a real humped back camel; a trip to the FFA, to meet the older kids and see what they are doing with llamas and alpacas, a parade event; a local alpaca halter show; a trip to the local fiber and weavers guild to evaluate fiber; etc., etc. I encourage you to be creative.

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On rainy days we watch videos on alpacas or have a workbook session with a sporadic test on anatomical features. This is always fun for me and keeps the kids on their toes, even though it is all quite informal.

Things that we do on our alpaca ranch:

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Halter Training (working).

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Practice Obstacle Course - We run all the animals through this during our session.

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Desensitization - Animals are gently touched on their necks, legs and ears each time they are handled.

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Grooming - Regular picking of debris along with picking and blowing prior to shearing helps keep the fiber cleaner than usual, and it appears that we have cut our labor charges in processing our fiber since we started our 4-H project.

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Practice Quick Release Knots.

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Medical Checkups - Give quarterly worming medications, keep track of annuals, nail checks, weight recording, etc. 4-H'ers keep records of their assigned animals; all other animal records are kept in the main log notebook residing in our tack room.

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The 4-H'ers are present for annual shearing and record this in their notebooks. Weight of each animal's fiber harvest is recorded.

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Clean Up Duties include: raking up dung piles and cleaning catch pens, cleaning water dishes and putting tack back where it belongs. These are simple prerequisites to participate in our program. Other duties may be requested.

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Birthing: When a cria is born I call the students to come and view the cria the first day. Activities include: Check vitals, navel dippings, weight and nursing response. They love this.

Now, you ask how can we have enough time to do all of this with our heavy primary work schedule? Well, we try to keep these sessions to a two hour limit, although sometimes we do run over. However, it basically gets easier with each session. The reason its gets easier is that the kids simply get more familiar with their animals every time they work with them. Furthermore, since I have seen positive results in the males' temperaments, I will continue the program and enhance it wherever I can.

For example, after participating in a recent parade with some nearby breeders, the work the kids had put in became apparent. Our alpaca friends were amazed when all three of our alpacas jumped up into our van with little prodding when we were ready to go home. It is quite a high jump for these guys, but they were used to moving over obstacles for the 4-H workouts. Our friends asked us what we were doing with our animals which made them behave so well in the parade and so eager to go home when it was time to go. I simply said that these three animals were part of a 4-H project. My 4-H students were proud and smiled happily.

I guess that I would sum this up by saying that my time is valuable and I am sure that yours is too. I want to make the most out of the time that I spend with my alpacas. My 4-H students have enhanced my relationship with my animals and their excitement and enthusiasm is worth a lot to us as well. I thank Joan Speirs as well as Eric Hoffman and Cecile Champagne for their initial encouragement and support.

Objectives of a 4-H program:

  1. 4-H members enjoy alpacas as they learn their history, care and training.

  2. Encourage and develop 4-H members into better citizens by working together for the good of the individuals, the alpacas, the club and the community.

  3. Establish 4-H members as persons responsible for the alpacas physical, nutritional and mental health needs.

  4. Promote the 4-H program and the alpaca industry within our county.

General Rules:

  1. An alpaca may be owned or leased by a 4-H'er and owned alpacas kept at the 4-H'ers farm/ranch. If available, alpacas may be "borrowed" from the leaders of other farms willing to lend them but kept on leader's farm during 4-H season.

  2. Two 4-H members in different age divisions may share an alpaca for the 4-H season.

  3. The 4-H'er is expected to respect the dignity and personality of the alpaca and treat it with gentle kindness.

  4. Club meetings should generally be held monthly September through June and increase to weekly from June until the 4-H fair. Extra excursions and alpaca activities will be offered as possible throughout the year. Some clubs may meet year round.

  5. All 4-H members must allocate extra time the week before and during their fair for preparation and display of their alpacas.

  6. Fees which will cover material costs (books, tack, feed, etc.) will be decided upon yearly by leaders and are due at the first meeting of each year. These are not to be confused with club dues, which are voted on by members.

  7. All meetings will be conducted by 4-H rules. There will be elected officers to include president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.

  8. There can be Merit and Demerit systems to help encourage good behavior.

  9. It is the responsibility of the 4-H'er to clean and groom their project animal before outings and shows. It will also be their responsibility to arrange time to be at the farm to do it.


If you have been kicking this idea around, I would say, "Go For It." It's worth all the effort you invest.

Please call me if my husband, Ken, or I can be of any help to you in starting up your program. Ken and Victoria Hibbits, Alpacas by the Sea, Montara, California. (415)728-LUCK.

 

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Alpacas By The Sea
P. O. Box 371628
1162 Tamarind St.
Montara, CA 94037
(650) 728-LUCK
Fax: (650) 515-3000

For further information on Alpaca farms, alpaca husbandry and alpaca sales,
write to:  Hibbits@alpacasbythesea.com