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Alpacas spit through spats

February 12, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

This week marks the three-month anniversary of our alpacas at Little Farm by the Creek.

The alpacas are named Basilio, Copperfield, Sterling and Nochero. If you have never seen an alpaca, think of a small llama. If you have never seen a llama, think along the lines of a cross between a sheep and a deer.

We got the alpacas in November, with the idea that if all went well we would get into the business of alpaca breeding. But our breeding program has been slowed somewhat by considerations of costs, the need for more fencing, the logistics of herd management and the fact that all four of our alpacas are boys.

So until science finds a way to artificially inseminate in reverse, we probably won't be breeding much, which is fine because even without the financial benefits of offspring, they are a dream to have around.

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Humans could learn from alpacas. They don't complain, their needs are few, they are polite and, as a general thing, the only noise they make is a gentle hum. They are the original zen livestock.

When dealing with people, that is. Among themselves, they are more political.

In fact, alpacas at play is one of the most amazing things you will ever see. All four will gracefully lope around the field in a wide circle, and about every third stride one of them will offer up a sort of snort/shriek/squeal and reach under the belly of another in an attempt to bite his moneymaker. This will go on for half an hour -- running, shrieking, biting, getting bitten and having a grand old time.

Sometimes they square off opposite one another, like two wrestlers, warily circling and making occasional dives at each other's HmHm. Before I knew this was normal -- well, you can imagine what I thought.

"Beth! Help! They're biting each other's ... uh, down there."

"Where?"

"There."

"There?"

"No, there."

"Oh, there. That's normal."

"I don't know how they do things in Alabama, but where I come from, that ain't normal."

"No. Normal for alpacas. It's how they play."

Well. If this was how they played, I figured I sure as heck didn't want to see them fight. But as it turns out, the fighting is mild by comparison. They don't bite, they spit -- not on people, but on each other.

In true boys-will-be-boys fashion, one is always conceiving a spite against another, usually involving who's going to get the girl. But since there is no girl to be had, they settle for fighting over who is going to get the hay.

Basilio will reach out for a bite, and THLOCK, a big ole lunger will hit him broadside in the face. He'll start to look around to see who committed the infraction when, THLOCK, a stream will nail him from the other side. It's the alpaca vaudeville version of a pie in the face.

Usually, they will go for the surprise attack, but not always. Sterling and Copperfield, the alpha males, have had some epic battles, standing muzzle to muzzle. First Copperfield will take about 30 seconds to hock up a good one. As the sound of gurgling mucosa rises in his throat, the suspense builds until, PHOOT! he lets Sterling have it right between the eyes. Sterling doesn't blink. He begins working up his own missile. Copperfield knows it's coming, but continues to stare him down. Sterling's getting closer, now. The sound gets higher in his throat until, wait for it, wait for it ... PHOOT!

Copperfield absorbs the blow and begins the ammunition-gathering process anew and the cycle repeats itself. The spits come closer together, until it's almost like a machine gun -- PHOOT! PHOOT! PHOOT! PHOOT!

Unconventional maybe, but it beats traditional warfare. Our leaders ought to try it some time. And I mean that.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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