Lessons Learned on the Ranch: Alpacas and the Keystone Cops

A few months ago, the Ranch was gifted with two Alpacas.  We are a cattle and horse ranch so these long-necked, wooly animals were new to us.  We didn’t really know what to do with them so we searched online and found an Alpaca Association (they have associations for everything, don’t they) and we ordered a book about how to care for them.

The ranch guests love having them wandering around the ranch.  Tons of pictures of our new alpacas are showing up online from our guests’ photo shoots.  The alpacas are enjoying their new-found fame.

At first they didn’t like the staff to mess with them.  They walked away from us if we tried to approach.  Like any good rancher would do, we just let them become familiar with their surroundings and us with them and little by little, our new friends began to let us approach them.  Of course, approaching with treats is always the magic trick for any animal training (and people training too!).

The summer was hot and the alpacas hadn’t been sheared.  We didn’t even know how to shear them so we did our research again and purchased the blades to shear their thick wool.  When the day arrived for the shearing, the entire staff stopped what they were doing to “help” and to “watch.”  Since I’m a business consultant working on the ranch, I was on the “watch” team – or so I thought!

I learned quickly, everyone works on the ranch, especially when the rest of the team has no clue what they are doing. I was given a job to do and thankfully it was outside the pen holding a rope waiting for an alpaca to be tied to the other end of it.

I stood outside the pen and watched an episode of “Keystone Cops: Get the Alpaca” play out before my eyes.  I could not stop laughing and thanking God at the same time that I wasn’t inside the pen.  I was really happy that I wasn’t in range of the Alpacas defense mechanism – spitting at the person they don’t like.  The spitting was furious and the staff members were dodging the spit while trying to land the alpaca.

We were finally able to get one positioned for the shearing and the team began shearing quickly to eliminate stress with the alpaca – and with the staff!!

One person sheared; one person took the wool and put it in a container; and one person petted the alpaca and tried to calm his nerves.  It was a team effort and was going well UNTIL the shears dulled (quickly) and we had a half sheared alpaca on our hands and one more to land and shear standing silently against the fence.

Yikes – we realized that we would have to purchase new shears, play Keystone Cops again and all the while, we would have to watch our half-sheared alpaca hide from guest photo shoots because of his body image problem that we had created.

We drove to Billings to purchase a set of shears specifically for Alpacas.  (There are no Alpaca Shear Stores in Cody!) Episode 2 of “Keystone Cops: Get the Alpaca” took place and this time we were successful.  We sheared them both and let them out of the pen.  As they walked away – another laughing fit took place because we realized…we are the world’s worst Alpaca shearing team ever.

Let me put it this way:  “Think of a $10 walk-in hair cut place vs. a high-end hair salon.  Our alpacas looked like they had a $2 walk-in hair cut.”

We decided to leave well enough alone and pray for their wool to grow back quickly and when it does, we will make sure an expert hair stylist/shearer is here for the shearing!

A few days later, another Alpaca story appeared in our pasture.  Two men came to our office to buy a gift certificate for a fly-fishing trip on Monster Lake.  They were both smiling and laughing and we asked what was so funny.

They said – “There are two funny looking animals up on the hill ‘making a baby.’”  We ran outside to see what was going on and lo and behold, it appeared the Alpacas were having some fun that should only be done outside the view of our guests.  They were pretty far away and the male was doing some type of ritual dance around the female.  Embarrassed to be watching something so private, we went back inside the office and tried to keep from blushing as we filled out the gift certificate.

Less than an hour later, one of our staff members came flying up on her 4-wheeler and she was shouting and tears were streaming down her face.  She screamed –  “We have a baby.  We have a baby.”  We jumped up and ran outside and to our amazement – what we thought was “baby making” had actually been “baby arrival.”

What fun!  What joy!  What a neat surprise!

We gathered our cameras and started shooting videos and photos of the new baby and the proud parents.  Mom was attentive and Dad was roaming around ready to spit on anyone who might bother them.
As we snapped pictures, I said to the team “Just think.  This poor baby came out, opened its eyes and looked at its parents and thought – ‘I have the ugliest parents in the world.  Who the heck sheared them like that?’”

Without a doubt, the new baby alpaca is now in charge.  Mom and Dad follow her around and the baby leads them where she wants to go.  She is growing fast and daily pictures are being taken to show her progress.  We are in love with her and her family!

So what lessons did I learn from the Alpacas on the Ranch?   So many…

  • When taking on a new project (or animal) – do your research well.  Make sure you fully understand how to handle that new project (or animal) or bring on an expert to help you.  This will cut down on the amount of spitting aimed at you!
  • Make sure you have the right tools available.  There is nothing worse than taking on a project and realizing your toolbox is empty or the tools are dull.  You’ll make a mess of the project – just like we made a mess shearing the alpacas.  Sharp tools are a must!
  • New projects require all team members working well together and enjoying the excitement.  Planning your strategy and making sure each team member knows his responsibility is key.
  • If the team fails to do a great job, laugh out loud at your mistakes and try again.  Never punish someone who hasn’t sheared before!  They can’t help it if they aren’t trained!
  • Don’t believe everything you see.  Get the facts straight.  Never assume anything.  It may be that something else is really going on and a baby is being born instead of made!
  • And last but not least – don’t let the baby be in charge!  Wisdom is gained through experience and new recruits on the team must be willing to follow the leader or a coyote may eat them!