Today Char and I have been together for nine years. For most of that time we had a dream, a dream which came true when we moved to the middle of nowhere over a year ago. The multi-faceted landscape of that dream, for some reason, always included the presence of alpacas. So, for this year’s anniversary, I surprised Char with our very first two. Meet Pacman and Alpacino:
They came with different names, but it was years ago that we joked about “Pacman” and “Alpacino” as the names of our first alpacas.
Alpacas are gentle, docile, comical creatures. They have a sort of nervous curiosity about them, which, when partnered with their enormous glossy eyeballs and absurd appendages, makes them seem otherworldly. E.T. comes to mind.
Their behaviour is unique among animals you might usually find on a farm. They have a communal dung pile, they hum and coo to comfort themselves and their buddies, and, well, read up on their mating habits… both peculiar and charming.
Char was stunned and overjoyed to find a couple of alpacas in the yard when she arrived home from Auckland on Friday. She’s an avid animal lover, and couldn’t wait to tame them. We spent the afternoon getting acquainted with the boys, enticing them with sheep nuts and chaff from the coveted pink bucket (the bucket which will have you swarmed by sheep if you’re not careful).
Alpacino, the brown alpaca, is almost three, and Pacman is almost two. You’d be surprised how much pricier young females are in comparison, which answers the question of why I got slightly older boys.
The pair are half-brothers and are best of friends – inseparable said the breeders (QTAZ Alpacas in Paeroa). They do not fight, despite their bollocks being intact. We wonder how their friendship might change if we ever throw a sexy female into the mix… They’ve had the odd spat (literally, they spit at each other) over who gets the treats first, but other than that they’re good buddies. We’ve only had them for a weekend so far, and they’re already warming up to us and allowing us to give them the odd head-scratch over a bucket full of nuts.
I had a bit of a fright on the first night they arrived at the farm. Pacman, above, almost died.
There was only one place I could put the alpacas until Char got back (because of temporary fencing reasons), which happened to be our yard. Our yard has a large rhododendron growing in it. Rhododendron is extremely poisonous to alpaca. One leaf can kill them, even a dried one apparently. So I’d spent the day pruning back this large tree and reinforcing the fencing around it, in preparation for their arrival. I even put the catcher on the mower to collect all the dried leaves it had dropped, at the suggestion of the breeders who dropped the boys off. The breeders also said my setup was fine – so I was confident they were in the clear.
After spending the afternoon watching over them and scouring the ground for stray rhododendron leaves, I went inside to shower. When I glanced out the bathroom window, I spotted Pacman tugging at some tiny leaves which were growing out of a little stump. Shit. What kind of plant was that? I hadn’t even seen it when I was clearing the yard.
A couple of hours after dark Pacman is foaming at the mouth, spluttering, gagging, and coughing. Shit, shit, shit. I’ve killed one of our first alpacas. Happy anniversary…?
They hadn’t gone anywhere near the rhododendron, so I was hoping that whatever stump he plucked didn’t belong to another old chopped-down rhododendron. I was in no way familiar with alpaca behaviour, so I didn’t know if his reaction was related to car-sickness after his long journey, or if he’d eaten too much dry chaff and not drunken enough. It wasn’t until I went online to search his symptoms that I panicked.
It was pretty clear that he was poisoned, and I had no medical supplies on hand, like activated charcoal. So, around midnight, I wake up two after-hours vet receptionists, whose phone manners were groggy and annoyed, unsurprisingly. Zero assistance from them, because I wasn’t registered. Great, thanks. So, I call the breeders. They helped calm me down a bit. But yup, probably rhodo poisoning, they said. You’d better move the alpacas to another paddock so they don’t eat any more, they said.
Oh, and you’d better do it alone, at midnight, in the dark, and miles from anywhere.
So there I am, panicked out of my mind, isolated and alone and unable to communicate my emergency to Char without spoiling the surprise, putting up guidelines through three paddocks with a torch wedged into one armpit and a stack of standards spilling out of the other.
The gates were open, the guides were up, I was ready to usher the alpacas through. But no, they don’t behave like sheep, and with one person it was practically impossible to coax them through. So, that hour wasted, I took down the guides, fetched some sheep standards, and strung up a couple of lines of hot tape, dividing the yard into two. One half with the rhododendron, the other with the alpacas. This worked. They did not challenge the fence like I thought they might (since they were unfamiliar with hot tape). It was now 2 a.m.
I turned my attention to Pacman. And then, after all that, he coughs a couple more times, shakes off his mouth-foam, and goes to fucking sleep.
I checked on him again at 3 a.m. and he was fine. Totally fine. One hundred percent fine. FINE! The next morning, he was happy as anything. I wasn’t… It was a tough night.
Pacman certainly earned his name that day, eating something he shouldn’t have. Whatever it was, luckily it seemed only mildly disagreeable. I’ll say this, though – we’ll definitely be signing up to a livestock vet clinic and stocking up on medical supplies!
In the end, both Pacman and Alpacino are content little sweethearts, happy and healthy, warming up, and enjoying life alongside our growing family of chickens and cat – which they take great pleasure in sniffing and chasing.