Camelids on the West Coast: We’re not in South Dakota Anymore

Several weeks ago, this small-town farm girl was given the opportunity to embark on a journey to explore a new field of study: alpaca medicine. Wait, what? Yeah, that’s right, alpacas. Why? Because I knew nothing about them! And it would just so happen that the area in which I will now be working actually has a decent sized-herd! So I applied for a travel scholarship through the North American Alpaca Association and was lucky enough to be awarded the stipend! After talking it over with the illustrious Dr. Schleining, my advisor for the trip, I decided to trek to Woodburn, OR to work under Dr. Paul Jones at the Woodburn Veterinary Clinic. There, I was blessed to be able to work with one of the most proficient camelid veterinarians in the country along with some of the most prestigious llama and alpaca breeders in the nation! BOOM! There’s no way I could elaborate on everything I was able to see and do on this 2 week adventure so I thought I would try my best at highlighting some of the more interesting things starting with….

Interesting Alpaca facts:

  1. Some basic knowledge: they are in the camelid family along with camels, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas. You can tell the difference between a llama and alpaca by their overall size and the shapes of their ears. Llamas tend to be larger with long, banana-shaped ears while the smaller alpaca has shorter more triangle shaped ears. To make things more confusing, they can inter-breed and look a little like both…. Let’s not go there.
  2. You can break alpacas down further into different types: huacaya (wa-ky-ya) and suri. If you’ve ever seen an alpaca, it was likely a huaczya type that looked like a puffy teddy bear. The suri variety have a much different look with long curled fibers that almost form dread locks and look a lot like Favio in the wind when they move.
  3. They are kind of like Grumpy Cat. Work with me, I’ll explain, it’s just a bit of a bunny trail. Alpacas’ tongues are short and muscular, so much so that they can’t actually stick their tongues out…. At all! Not a big deal, right? Unless you consider when a new little alpaca cria is born. How is momma puff-ball supposed to clean off puff-ball junior? Simple: they don’t. They adapted in such a way as to be born nearly completely dry! Whoah! However, since they don’t get the bonding experience of being cleaned by mom at birth like many other mammal species, they tend to not be very affectionate animals. Even after they are born, they mom and cria may touch noses, but there’s not a lot of nuzzling or cuddling or anything cute like that. So when you see this adorable little puff-ball and think, “oh I bet they just love being smothered with love”…. They don’t, and would prefer you to stay out of their bubble.
  4. They are like little land sharks! Dr. Jones and I had several conversations about the alpacas dentition, or teeth, and he kept talking about the rows of razor sharp ridges they have for molars. I kind of rolled my eyes each time; “razor sharp…. Right. They eat grass….” Then we sedated one for a procedure and he opened up its mouth for me to have a look inside. Oh. My. SWEET GRANDMA HELEN! I think I’d rather jump in a shark tank after swimming in a pile of dead fish than stick my hand it that!
Alpaca Selfie

And here I am, risking my head being gnawed right off to take this alpaca selfie!

And now, some fun Oregonian facts:

  1. Its stinking beautiful! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think SD is one of the prettiest states in the union, but this place was giving it a run for its money! Trees, trees, and more beautiful trees only to be broken up by mountains and small fields of practically anything. Hops, berries, grapes, peas, more berries, tulips, grass seed, and on and on! Every turn was something new to see and because they get so much rain, everything was lush and green! Absolutely stunning!
  2. People can tell if you’re a local Oregonian by your umbrella… or lack there of. Dr. Jones pointed out several folks carrying their umbrella and professed their non-native-ness. Apparently, if you hail from this great state, you have a honey badger outlook on precipitation. (PS: we can tell who’s a native South Dakotan as well. If you ever meet one, tell them the name of our state capitol and watch them give you a funny look and correct you.)
  3. Everyone is a farmer. We come from an area where having a herd of 100 cows is common. Most folks have at least 30 or so. Not the case here. Many of the stops we made had only 2 cows or 5 goats or 4 chickens, etc. There were no large herds of anything and a lot of the animals were utilized as lawn mowers rather than food! It was a very self-sufficient lifestyle where the animals were used for fertilizer and/or milk and everyone had a garden that they grew most of their produce! There were few, if any, large operations with extensive herds of animals. Even the folks from Portland proper were bringing in their pet goat that lived in the front yard! Move over Fido, Billy’s taking over!
  4. Mistletoe is a parasite! That’s right! The lovely holiday sprig is actually a parasitic plant! Driving down the winding roads of west central Oregon, Dr. Jones pointed out these bushy nest looking objects up in the trees and asked me what they were. I had no idea. I had seen them along our travels, but thought they were actual birds’ nests. Turns out, mistletoe forms these little nest balls in the limbs of oak trees! How the tradition of using them as a ploy to get kissed got started is beyond me. Even better, they used to harvest them by shooting them out of the tree with a .22 rifle and tried to catch them before they’d hit the ground and shattered. While that sounds like more fun, they have moved on to using a pole device to cut them out more gently. Either way, it’s ruined it for me and Jake can forget his hopes of a Christmas smooch from me!
Carolyn at tulip festival

At least the tulips still have a warm place in my heart. They have a whole tulip festival in Oregon!

My trip to Oregon was a great learning experience and I had a lot of fun. Since I now know more about alpacas than anyone in my family, they make a lot of jokes about me being the local “alpaca whisperer”. Because of this, I received the puppet for graduation that we had the naming contest for last week. And to let you know, the winning name is “Dr. Pac”. Thanks folks!



One response to “Camelids on the West Coast: We’re not in South Dakota Anymore

  1. The alpaca in your selfie photo was probably smelling the shampoo and conditioner that you used earlier that today.

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