Interns and Alpacas!

By Noah Bogdonoff

Yesterday the Better Farm interns headed over to Home Again Farm—Gail and Daryl Marsh's little utopia of alpacas, guinea hens, and grape vines—to assist in "herd health day". The Marshes currently tend to 20 alpacas and must keep close tabs on their antibiotic regimens, weight, and hygiene. If something is wrong, Gail explained, they have to know right away. Ailments such as copper poisoning can harm or even kill an alpaca, and the Marshes have learned from experience that the best resistance to infections and diseases is vigilant observation of the herd.

All that said, what is an alpaca? Until today I had never actually laid eyes on one. Happily, the Marshes' alpacas are quite social and pretty docile, so I managed to get up-close and personal with some of the creatures:
They're pretty silly.

In addition to their incredibly humorous appearance, alpacas provide the world with some of the softest, most usable fur in the world. The Marshes use their alpaca fur to make yarn, and run a little store out of their home that sells clothing, hats, gloves, scarves, and more. I walked away with a hat for the winter. (This year, I'll finally have something warm enough to protect my ears from winter in the northeast!). They are also, as we saw, herd animals. Gail and Daryl taught us how to round the alpacas up and catch them so so that we could harness them and lead them to the scale.

Gail and Daryl weighing an alpaca.
From the scale, we led the alpaca's into a device called a "shoe" that keeps the animal (and human) safe and secure while shots are given, toenails and clipped, and tails are trimmed. Because these alpacas don't get much time on rocks, it's essential to manually clip their nails.

Alpaca in a shoe.
The alpacas proved to be a pretty rowdy bunch. At one point, we led four males into the barn to find the entire female herd lingering on the other side of a fairly thin fence. Chaos ensued. As Daryl said, "We know what's on these boys' minds." Later on in the day, one of the males snuck around us and made a made dash for another area of the farm. Daryl rounded him up and led him back to the herd with a chuckle.

As Better Farm begins to accrue animals, this type of experience and exposure will likely come in handy. Maybe we'll take the plunge and buy an alpaca or two one day. Who knows? In any case, I'm excited to keep up with the Marshes and their business.

To learn more about Better Farm's internship program, click here.