It’s time to formally introduce you all to some of our fellow residents at The Woks of Life HQ—our small herd of two alpacas, two goats, and yes…one llama.
We shared some photos of the herd when we announced that we moved, but now that we’ve been at the new house for almost a whole year, it feels weird to not introduce the gang here on the blog! (Be sure to also catch the short video Kaitlin put together!)
Let’s start at the beginning.
How We Got The Herd:
Long story short, they came with the house. The previous owners had acquired them as pets and offered to have the animals stay with the house after they moved.
Most of the herd are on the elderly side, so we wanted them to be able to stay put in their home. It was decided! We would keep them.
I’ve had experience with horses growing up, so caring for larger animals didn’t seem all that daunting, and as it turns out, these guys are pretty easy to care for.
There was a bit of a learning curve starting out, as the previous owners left basic guidance for their care. We got the number of their veterinarian, a little spiral-bound handbook on how to care for pygora goats, and a few clues left in the garage in terms of what they were fed.
I’ll share a bit of what we’ve learned over the past year here, but first, let’s get to the introductions.
Trooper is our resident llama. We were told that he was intended to be a guard llama (i.e. protector of the others, hence his name), but from what we’ve seen, that didn’t really pan out with this gentle fella (who’s also a bit-of-a-scaredy-cat).
He’s the most chill of the bunch, and you’ll mostly find him slowly munching on grass in the pasture or sitting under the shade of the pine trees behind their shed.
He’s also the only boy we’ve got (alpacas are best kept in same-sex groups), which is perhaps why he’s the only one who separates himself a bit from the rest of the herd to go munch on grass while the ladies are hanging out at the hay feeder.
Bonnie is our brown alpaca. She’s feisty with her fellow herd members, and when the treats come out, she pushes to the front of the pack for first bite.
Our vet has let us know that she’s had problems keeping weight on, so we usually end up giving her first dibs anyway!
Bessie is our white alpaca and is probably the most curious and friendly of the three camelids in the group. She’ll approach when we call her (probably in the hopes of getting a treat), and has just about the cutest little face you’ve ever seen.
Bessie is also a tough lady. While the other four animals in the herd go for an immediate flight response in the face of danger, Bessie will stand and fight!
One time, a visiting family member’s dog accidentally got into the pasture and started chasing the herd. Bessie didn’t panic.
Like a giraffe defending itself against a lion, she lowered her long neck down to the level of the dog’s head and bobbed and weaved to stay in front of him. (Trooper, Bonnie, and the goats cowered behind her, of course.) Then she actually chased him off!
We didn’t know the goats’ names when we moved in, so we ended up naming them ourselves.
Kaitlin, thinking of the movie Hercules, in which Danny DeVito voiced Phil the satyr, named one of our goats Danny (our shy, fluffy white pygora goat), and the other, DeVito (our spunkier goat with a penchant for mischief).
Danny is definitely the gentler of the two, though they’ll both butt heads on occasion when they’re playing. She’s the most shy and skittish of the entire bunch, but hand-feeding and daily interaction has made her a bit more trusting than she once was!
Okay, so DeVito is definitely the boldest animal of the group! She will let you pet her a bit, and will come right up to you (and sometimes jump on you like a dog if you’re holding the right food and she’s hungry enough!).
On the flip side, she can be a tiny bit of a bully, which is why we have to make sure that Danny gets her share of food!
DeVito also has a favorite spot under the hay feeder (it stays nice and dry; goats don’t like getting mucky and wet), so she sometimes ends up with extra hay on her back, which makes her a walking snack buffet for the others:
We later found out from old vet records that the goats’ actual names are Tabitha and Glenda…but after standing outside their fence calling, “Tabitha, Glenda!” and getting no response whatsoever, we’ve decided to keep their new names.
Figuring It All Out
For those of you who are curious about their care, it’s relatively simple. (Keep in mind, these animals are family pets, and we’re not raising them to make money like some folks do. So that’s the level of “expertise” we can provide!) Here’s what we’ve learned over the past year:
Food & Water
Their primary diet consists of grass and hay. In the warmer months, when the grass is more plentiful, we need less hay to supplement their diet, but in the winter, hay is all we’ve got!
The quality of the hay is quite important. We pick up second cut hay from a local farm, and store the bales on pallets in the garage to keep them dry.
Bringing the hay into the garage (AKA the ground floor of the barn). Justin, who does CrossFit-style workouts, got a kick out of this real-life “farmer’s carry.”
We put out the hay in a covered feeder, so it’s protected from the elements. The herd also has all-day access to the pasture around the pond, so they can munch on grass to their hearts’ content.
The grass wasn’t super good this year, as we had drought conditions in NJ. We may have to re-seed with a good pasture mix in the coming seasons!
In addition, the camelids get a mix of alfalfa pellets, alpaca feed, and a supplement called Calf-Manna, which is an energy-dense feed designed to help lots of different farm animals, from horses to pigs to rabbits, put on weight.
The goats get a little handful of goat feed, but they’re already pretty plump! Those ladies eat a lot more than just grass.
They pull down tree and shrub limbs to get juicy leaves, eat poison ivy (yes, it’s safe for them!) and even fresh pine needles, and enjoy trying to escape the paddock to nibble at the burning bushes we have lining the driveway. (We’ve read the these bushes are toxic to goats, so make sure your animals don’t have access to plants that aren’t good for them!)
In terms of water, the previous owners put in an automatic watering system. It fills up on its own, kind of like the little water spigot at the dentist.
We just clean it out every couple days. It’s also heated, so their water doesn’t freeze in the winter. Super easy!
Now that we have ducks and chickens and have to change out their water multiple times daily, we’re glad we don’t have to worry about that for the big animals.
These animals can generally cope with a pretty wide temperature range, and a three-sided shelter to keep them out of the wind and the rain is all they need. Our herd’s barn sits in the middle of their paddock, and it’s where we feed them their supplements, give them their vaccines, and have vet visits.
When it gets really cold in wintertime, we have light fleece-lined blankets to keep them better insulated against the cold, along with their thick natural fiber.
Speaking of vet visits, as it turns out, alpacas and llamas need shots every 4-6 weeks to prevent them from getting infected with a parasite (carried by white-tailed deer) called meningeal worm (ew).
This is a very serious—usually fatal—parasite, so it’s super important to vaccinate them regularly.
Our vet suggested that we learn how to give these shots ourselves (“most farmers do it themselves,” she said. Which made me think…”whoa, are we farmers now?”)
After a few supervised shots, I can say that Justin and I are both now trained in giving the animals their monthly vaccines.
The vet does still come out once or twice a year to check the goats’ nails, give other annual vaccines, collect fecal samples, and all that fun stuff, but it’s nice to not have to pay for all those house calls!
The only other thing that this group needs is annual shearing every spring. The goats actually shed their coats naturally, but alpacas and llamas must be shorn every year before it gets too hot!
See how crazy fluffy they are by early spring?
Luckily, we had the name of the shearer (Anne Shroeder from Shroeder Shearing), so she was able to come by as she made her annual rounds in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The herd seemed pretty chill about the whole thing, and they were pretty excited (and a lot tinier-looking) after they got their haircuts!
We did end up getting a few chilly nights after their shearing, so we put those jackets on the alpacas to ease the transition.
Here’s a short video introduction to the herd:
Here are some of the questions we get the most from people who come to visit the house, and the animals.
The most obvious difference is their size. A llama is quite a bit larger, at around 290-450 pounds, while an alpaca is downright dainty at 110-190 pounds. Llamas also have coarser wool coats, while alpaca fiber is longer, finer, and very soft. (Hence, tons of alpaca sweaters and mittens, while llama sweaters aren’t exactly taking the world by storm). Both are domesticated camelids, a group of herbivorous mammals that also includes camels, vicunas, and guanacos.
Not much! They’re basically pets, and we enjoy seeing them out in the pasture just doing their thing. They are fiber animals, though, so we can take their fiber and have it made into stuff, like spun yarn, rugs, placements, and other crafts. If you have any suggestions on where to send alpaca and llama fiber, let us know in the comments!
Okay, so my favorite fun fact that I love telling everyone who will listen is that llamas and alpacas are “social poopers.” They literally line up one after another to all do their number twos in the same pile. It’s hilarious. It also makes cleanup easier!
Unlike cow or horse manure, alpaca manure can be added directly to the garden as fertilizer without composting first. You can also make “alpaca tea” out of the manure as a concentrated fertilizer. Basically, we keep a manure pile that we use for fertilizer, and we also add it to our compost pile.
The animals are only allowed in their paddock and pasture, and we haven’t planted anything super important back there after planting a few shrubs and watching the goats systematically pick off all the tender young leaves. (Said shrubs now have wire fencing around them.) The vegetable garden is protected by a fence, and the animals are respectful of any barriers or fences we put up.
Another fun fact: alpacas and llamas only have teeth on the bottom of their mouths, so they can’t really bite you. The goats are also pretty gentle.
It does happen sometimes, but they never spit at us—mostly at each other at feeding time or if they’re having an alpaca argument. Trooper’s not a spitter!
So at first Barley was trying to chase them at every chance she got, but I think she’s over the novelty. Plus, Bessie has stood her ground enough times that Barley knows they can’t be bullied. Nowadays, she leaves them well alone. I will say, if the gate to their paddock is open (for us to get the 4-wheeler in and out or something), Barley will stand at the open gate to make sure the herd stays put!
We’ve really enjoyed these new additions to The Woks of Life fam. It’s incredibly funny (and weirdly soothing) to see a llama walking across your yard every day.
Or seeing an alpaca lying in the grass and soaking up the sun like a big fluffy dog:
Other family members who’ve come to visit have also loved interacting with them. I don’t think that my grandmother would’ve ever imagined a scenario in which she would visit her kids, grandkids, and…their herd of farm animals.
But it’s these little surprises in life that keep things interesting!
Note: Music for videos included in this post courtesy of www.epidemicsound.com. The Four Seasons: Violin Concerto in E Major, RV 269, ‘Spring’: I. Allegro – Epidemic Sound. Another Pineapple Please – The Fly Guy Five – Epidemic Sound