Alpaca Blog



The planning began 6 months earlier; but the adventure started on May 25, 2008.  The night before, the trailer was packed and arrangements had been made to pick up the 4 lovely female alpacas at Victory Farm the next morning at 6:00.

Here we are at a rest stop in Quebec:


I was nervous.  Could I really do this?  Take 4 beauties across Eastern Canada on a 1,200 km. trailer drive and install them on the coast of Prince Edward Island?  The P.E.I. property was not fenced and we were determined to do the drive without staying overnight anywhere.  This would mean that we would arrive at our cottage very late on Sunday night, the alpacas would have to spend the rest of the night in the trailer and, with the crack of dawn the next morning, we would construct a temporary pen into which the ramp of the trailer would fit.  The pen would have to last until their permanent pasture had been fenced.  We were bringing something called deer fencing with us because we could install it ourselves without having to rely on a crew to show up on time, come rain or shine.  We were willing to work in the rain to get the fencing up; but we knew that no one else would have the same motivation:  4 anxious girls, wanting to get out of their small pen.

Here is the temporary pen behind the cottage:


Only time will tell whether the deer fencing was a good idea.  We had seen it near Ottawa after several winters of heavy snow:  especially the winter of 2008!  It had stood up well; but some P.E. Islanders doubted that it would do as well against the snow and winds coming in off the ocean at our cottage.  Deer fencing is “plastic” mesh that is fairly invisible and light, making it easy to handle.  The “system” we had bought into included metal poles painted black and separate aluminum sleeves about 3’ long which you pounded into the ground with a sledge hammer. The poles were inserted into the sleeves and voilà a 5 foot high fence. The fencing material was then strapped to the poles using 5 plastic cable ties, tightened down with a tightening/cutting gizmo. The attraction of this for us was that we could do it ourselves and it was fairly attractive in appearance. For anyone interested in knowing more about this fencing, there is a website:

One Glorious Moment

The Tuesday after our arrival, we were set to do the fencing.  We moved the trailer to the new location, where it was supposed to take up its new responsibilities as “summer barn”.  Then we set up a small pen in the centre of the pasture we were about to fence and moved the alpacas to this.  At this point we were more-or-less committed to doing the fencing in one day.  Otherwise the alpacas would either have to stay overnight in the temporary pen or be locked up in the trailer again.  Neither was an attractive option from the alpacas' point of view, so, we got started early.  I was holding the first aluminum sleeve to be sledge-hammered into the ground when the leader of the Island black fly army struck.  He did not come alone, he brought his entire army and, wow, were they hungry.  I tried to hold the sleeve and pretend that he was not feasting on my ear.  Then a whole separate troop decended upon the back of my neck.  Maybe if I tipped my head back and tried to raise one shoulder against the ear that was under attack… well, you try this position while on your knees holding a sleeve which has an 8 pound sledge hammer crashing down on it about 6 inches from your nose.  It was at this point that I asked myself “what if Robert is secretly resentful of getting stuck with 4 alpacas on the wind-swept coast of PEI? And, worse still, what if he blames me?” Well, I’m still on the green side of the pasture, so I suppose Robert either missed his opportunity or is okay with the enterprise.

The day we did the fencing was a long day.  I sprayed everything I could think of on my face and neck and the result was that I became irresistible to every black fly on P.E.I.  Just as night fell we hooked up the last piece of fence to the last post.  We went over to the small pen in the middle of the pasture and slowly opened up one side.  Then we stood back.  This was the moment I had been waiting for.  The alpacas edged toward the opening.  Then the most daring of the four, Dalia, went beyond where the fence had been.  They all followed her.  AND THEN THEY BEGAN TO RUN!  They ran all over their new pasture.  They kicked up their heals and bounced all around.  They were unmistakably joyous, and so were we!  It was a great moment and, at least for me, justified the work, the expense, and even the black fly bites.

Here are some pictures of the "pasture".





The Trailer as Barn

Another part of our “concept” for this adventure was that we would tell the alpacas that their trailer would become their summer barn.  As the viability of the whole adventure was somewhat debatable, we didn’t want to incur the expense of a barn right away.  What seemed like a great idea when we came up with it, seemed much less appealing when early in the morning of day 2 of the adventure it began raining.  The alpacas refused to go back in the trailer.  Their thinking was obvious:  “how dumb do you guys think we are?  The last time we obligingly walked up that ramp into the trailer you kept us trapped in there for 26 hours!”  So, they sat outside in the drizzle looking unspeakably miserable.  I felt terrible!  At any moment the PEI Humane Society might descend upon the place and level charges of alpaca abuse.  Finally, in desperation, we lay out some nice fresh hay in their trailer and herded them up the ramp.  Once inside they began munching on the hay and began looking happier.  Ah, yes, the best way to an alpaca’s brain is through its stomach.

What will the Neighbours Think?

One of my many worries about this alpaca adventure had always been:  would the neighbours be upset?  I had checked with all the relevant Island authorities and determined that there were no zoning restrictions or anything else that would inhibit the residence of some alpacas on our property; but unhappy neighbours are never a good thing.  Their first visitor was a chocolate Labrador retriever, who barked a bit.  Four pairs of dark brown eyes turned on her with a look that clearly said:  “dogs, we know all about dogs.  There are 3 dogs, larger than you, at our regular residence.”  The lab’s owners came by to assure us that she was 11 years old, overweight, and harmless. “Ah, good”  I thought “keep them on the defensive” and handed them the Alpaca Canada brochure on alpacas. 

The neighbours closest to us took an immediate interest in the girls.  On the third night after our arrival, we had a vicious storm with driving rain and high winds.  The sound of waves crashing, wind screaming and rain hitting everything was deafening. I went out to the trailer and the girls were cushed, chewing their cud. Early the next morning, our nightbours arrived to ask how the alpacas had fared during the storm.  They had both been worried about them.  Fortunately, the trailer was facing the right direction and the girls were dry and seemed in fine fettle. 

“Working Alpacas” 

Just about this time, we came up with the idea that, since the fencing was so easy to install, we could rotate small pens around the property outside of their main pasture.  Since alpacas don’t challenge fences, all we needed were some “T bars” to knock into the ground. From this idea, grew our “working alpacas” project, wherein the alpacas could take care of all the lawns at the cottage.  This is a good thing, since we can’t believe how quickly they have taken a pasture that is 100’ by 200’ and turned it into a red rectangle. The soil on P.E.I. is bright red and this is the colour that shows up when the grass has been seriously attacked.  This description is a slight exaggeration, as we saw what was coming and took precautions, otherwise known as pasture rotation. (In our case the rotation was into temporary pens.)  Our neighbours got quite a kick out of this and began to wonder if the alpacas could visit them, too.

Here is the temporary pen in front of the cottage:



Now, this “working alpacas” concept was panning out pretty well until we didn’t secure the closure of a temporary pen adequately.  We were sitting on our porch drinking coffee when Robert peeked around the corner to where the alpacas were supposed to be “working”.  Yikes!  there was only one alpaca in the pen!  We ran around the corner and succeeded in scaring the other three, who were just on the outside of the fence. They bounced off, looking particularly pleased with themselves.  For a moment of panic we started to chase them:  absolutely the wrong thing to do.  Then our “Camelidynamics” training kicked in and I called a neighbour over to hold out his arms to block one potential exit and Robert secured a rope at one end and we all slowly advanced upon the escapees.  In no time they were back in the pen, our neighbour was a hero and my blood pressure returned to as near normal as it ever is.  Several lessons were learned.

Alpacas Are Prey Animals

Then there was the encounter with the attack kayak.  I’ll bet you didn’t know how aggressive kayaks can be!  Well, in the mind of a landlubber alpaca, a kayak can be a very scary thing.  When a lovely yellow kayak appeared at the mouth of our cove, Mariabella jumped to her feet and began issuing her alarm call.  The younger 3 girls lined up behind her and all 8 ears pointed at the merauder.  They followed the kayak across the horizon and did not take their eyes off of it until it was well out of sight.  A cruise ship, several freighters and numerous fishing vessels passed by without so much of a hum.  We have theories to explain this behaviour; but who can really know the mind of an alpaca?

Worse still, was the Wild Duck Attack.  Oh, yes, 2 black ducks swam into our cove and encountered the same reaction.  They were unfazed (the ducks, that is) by the alarm calls and calmly swam around looking for whatever ducks look for in the ocean.  The more alarm calls, the more slowly the ducks swam:  they were evidently enjoying the attention.  At this point I decided the alpacas were bored and should go into a temporary pen to do some more grass mowing.  

Here I am taking the "girls" for a walk on the beech:



Impacts on the Cove

We spent four glorious months with the alpacas on P.E.I.  As time passed, we realized that our neighbours around the cove were more than putting up with the alpacas—they were enjoying them.  In fact, the alpacas were providing a focus for the cove.  They provided endless entertainment and subjects for discussion.  Everyone knew their names and had views on their personalities.  When cottagers had visitors, they brought them to see the alpacas—known around the cove as "the girls."

The girls, in turn, provided their own special brand of performance for visitors. We began to notice the pattern of a visit.  It usually began with the alpacas withdrawing to the far end of their pasture to signify to the visitors that their respect, or even interest, had to be earned.  Next, we would explain to the visitors why it was useless to try to chase down the alpacas and pat them, which is what everyone appeared to want to do.  We would stand quietly and chat with the visitors and pretend not to notice the alpacas, who were slowly edging their way over to us.  Their standard procedure was to pretend that a line of delicious grass was leading them in our direction.  Before you could say “fluff ball”  there they were, just out of reach, munching on some grass and  appearing to have no interest in us or our visitors.  This behaviour typically made everyone chuckle.

Here is a picture of the Ontario Girls Softball team. They and their coaches visited during their time on the Island to competed in the national championships held at Summerside. 

When to end the Adventure

We knew that we would have to return to Ottawa sometime—driven by cold weather and the need to earn a living.  I had hoped that we could go home via Halifax, enabling us to participate in the Alpaca Canada 3rd Annual General Meeting and Halter Show at Pacafiesta. While the weather did get cooler, it still seemed delightful and I was still swimming in the cove in late August, when the decision had to be made.  We decided it was “a go”.

Since we would be on PEI until near the end of September, we decided that we would take the opportunity to get the girls more used to walking on lead and halter.  We began taking them for long walks on the back roads around the cove.  Each day we would visit a different neighbour: The girls would dutifully allow themselves to be touched (mainly on the neck) and, in payment, could munch on the cottage lawn while we chatted.  Maritimers have a strong sense of hospitality which typically involves food.  The girls munching on their lawns seemed to satisfy this requirement nicely, without all the fuss and bother of dishes and napkins.  Everyone emerged from the visit happy!

We also had to decide which girls would go in the show.  Mariabella was four years old and, although she did fit in the Senior Class, it is extremely rare for a female alpaca of that age to compete.  Most of these girls are pregnant; but sadly, Mariabella had been discovered to be “open” as they say in alpaca speak, despite having been bred the previous October.  She had already had one cria, BOF Mia (another of the Fab Four) and had not yet been re-bred.  As I watched her over the Summer, I felt that she had developed a poise and a stateliness that complimented her lovely conformation and still-fine fleece (AFD 21).  I felt that she should show along with the younger girls.

Then we began to wonder how they would adjust to their summer barn starting to move. Here is a picture of the girls in their "barn":


We imagined that this could be a disturbing development for them:  after all, if a couple of black ducks could cause alarm, how much worse would a moving barn be?  We devised a devious plan.  Could we outsmart four alpacas?

Early one beautiful Sunday morning, we loaded the girls into their trailer and drove them to a nearby park.  This magnificent site, owned by Parks Canada, is across the water from Charlottetown.  More to the point, it had delicious green lawns.  While the girls cared little about the historic significance of Fort Amherst, they enjoyed the lawns immensely and even allowed some German tourists to touch them.  The trip came off without a hitch and the next time we loaded them into their trailer, they almost smiled and rushed right in.  We felt relieved, and just a little guilty, as we drove toward Halifax.

Just One Stop

My Father, who is 92 years old, and my step-Mother, a sprightly 88, live in an old house overlooking the Avon River in Nova Scotia.  They had never seen the alpacas “in person” so to speak, and we decided to make one detour to Avondale to show off the girls.  Fortunately, it was a lovely day and the girls disembarked from their trailer happily when the saw the green lawn.  My Father was in a wheelchair on the porch and enjoyed watching the girls munch on his lawn.  The humans had tea and cookies and the alpacas had grass and water.  Everyone was pleased.  Dalia even nibbled a treat from my Father’s hand and made him exclaim at how soft and gentle her mouth was.  This seemed a positive note on which to end the visit and we loaded them back into the trailer before anything could go wrong.  We did not detect any accusations from the girls that my Father’s grass was inferior to that at Fort Amherst and our consciences were relieved.


Showing an Old Girl

Upon arrival at Exhibition Park in Halifax, the girls disembarked and took one look at the somewhat gloomy horse stalls in which they were to spend the next 3 nights.  Then we felt accusations flying!  They looked at the heavy metal doors of the stalls and seemed to say “Have you mistaken us for buffaloes?” However, there were other alpacas around:  a definite plus, as they had only seen eachother all summer.  Then we took them for a walk within the facility and they could see that there were lots of alpacas around and that a fiesta was going on.  There was music, there were alpaca products for sale, and more importantly, there were treats!

The show was quite a delight.  We felt that the girls behaved well because of all their training on lead and halter.  Mariabella, Dalia, and Mia all ended up with first place ribbons.  But the big surprise came in the championship round when Mariabella (who had been alone in her class of “old girls”) took Female Huacaya Champion!  She seemed pleased that Judge Cathy Merkley had recognized her superiority, despite being the oldest alpaca in the show.


Going Home

We decided that returning to the girls’ permanent residence west of Ottawa in one day was too much of an ordeal.  We would stop somewhere in northern New Brunswick for one night.  Suddenly, the requirements for our accommodation en route changed significantly from our usual considerations when traveling without alpacas.  Who cares about room service, a swimming pool or chocolates on the pillow at bedtime?  We needed somewhere with direct access on to the parking lot from our room and green grass that had not been treated with insecticide.  We needed alpaca-friendly motel management who didn’t mind our trailer near our door and our alpacas grazing on their lawn. 

Voilà, Leo’s Motel in Perth-Andover.  It was perfect, with a desk clerk and an owner who came out to visit the alpacas and were thrilled at how keen the girls were about their lawn.  The owner proudly assured us that the lawn was pesticide free.  He also shared with us, as we were watching the alpacas munch, a story about Leo, his Father.  It seems that Leo had a very elderly friend who told him a truth.  Leo’s son passed it on to us as a reply to the anguish we expressed about the state of the Stock Market.  He told us that “you have to treasure some ideas and pass them along, because they are not written down in books”.  In a nutshell, here’s the point:  we should think of Canada as a whale tail—the tail thrashes around, going left and right; but ultimately it goes where the whale (the U.S.) goes.  We often think of Leo, as we watch the Canadian economy deteriorate.

Home Again

We arrived back at Victory Farm Alpacas at about 5:00 p.m. and immediately released the girls back into their regular pasture.  They rushed in, without a backward glance, to join their old buddies.  We watched them go, feeling bereft…
I thought about the amazing scene near the end of “The Life of Pi” where the tiger leaps off the boat, over the boy with whom he spent so much time, and disappears into the jungle.  Animals don’t say “good bye” or “thank you”.  They just are.  We drove home quietly.  I cried some of the way.

End of the Adventure

Looking back, this was a magical summer.  We had a wonderful time and believe that some PE Islanders met four lovely alpacas. We’re glad that we did it and would love to repeat the experience. People of all walks of life, ages, and nationalities found delight in the alpacas. 

Copyright 2008 Blueprints of the Future