And it is for alpaca people everywhere, so a shout out to our listeners in Australia - know that you are not forgotten.
I simply can’t believe the immensity of the struggles so many Australians are facing with bushfires at the moment. On the news, they said that an area nearly twice the size of Wales had been burnt. I live in Wales and it feels big. Nearly twice that is hard to imagine.
I know it is not all over yet and it is going to be an immense uphill climb to recover from this. Our thoughts are with you.
I don’t know whether you “do” New Year’s resolutions - personally, I think good thoughts about being better but avoid getting too specific. Of course, I am never sure if I have achieved anything or not. Maybe Émile Coué’s ‘every day in every way I am getting better and better’ is enough. Or maybe not.
As an alternative to making resolutions I offer you the following questions to ask yourself and to work with:
It comes under the heading of RESOLVE - (notice how this is similar but subtly different to resolution)
1. Inspirational - what catches your heart, not just your eyes or ears for this coming year? Can you find one word or phrase to carry with you through the year?
2. Aspirational - who do you want to become this year? I want to be more…
3. Perspirational- what will you work hard on this year? All achievements that are worth anything require the application of energy and focus.
OK, that is your homework for this week - answers on a postcard, or email, or voice message - you know how. If it helps you be accountable, let me know.
You will probably have already noticed and I know that I have already mentioned, that when you are watching alpacas, they, in turn, are watching you. You are observing them, identifying behaviours and noticing what is normal. And they do exactly the same - they are getting to know you.
It is unsettling enough when you see them staring at you with purpose but to learn that they are making mental notes about you…
Is it possible that in the same way that you try to get to know your alpacas, the individuals, the characters, the norms, that they try to get to know you? Okay so maybe not in the same way but maybe there are similarities.
I think so.
They are watching you, observing you, noting your behaviour, noting how safe you are. On a purely instinctual level they are deciding how safe and trustworthy you are; how much of a threat. Of course, we don’t intend to be threatening or make our alpacas feel uncomfortable - in fact, I would be mortified if you proved to me that was what I was doing, even if subconsciously.
I think we need to be careful about the kind of expectations we create in our alpacas - do we always do the same things? Do we suddenly reach out and grab them? - fast and furious. Or do we try and show respect and deal with them appropriately, gently and with sensitivity. Time for some thought and intentionality.
Sometimes people ask me whether they know their names. I have found that for some of mine more than others, they do seem to recognise and respond to their name. I’m not talking about calling them like dogs but I do use their names when doing husbandry tasks and it does seem that when I say to Millie that it is her turn for the injection, she becomes alert, ears up and aware that she has become the focus of attention (and sometimes then getting ready to spit but I knew that was coming), while the remainder of the group in the catch pen relax – as if to say ‘oh thank goodness for that, he is not looking at me’. What do you find with yours? Do you use their names?
As an aside - have you seen what can be achieved training alpacas? You wouldn’t believe it - well you might but I wouldn’t! Whenever I see videos like that I tend to try putting myself and my alpacas into the ‘picture’ if you know what I mean. Can I see me and mine doing that - not easily if I am honest. I have put some links in the show notes - should while away a few hours and maybe inspire you to think what you could achieve during the year. Mmmm -
Going back to us and alpacas getting to know you - I think it is possible to generate “good“ behaviour and “bad“ behaviour. Our animals learn from us and react accordingly.
On the following spectrums where would you place yourself?
• Shouting or gentle speech.
• Much waving of arms, or quiet confident movements around them.
• Slow (but not creepy slow) and steady, or quick and unpredictable
They become acclimatised to the environment you give them – I am not just talking about Fields or stables, Barns or catch-pens - but the general environment you create by your presence.
Hopefully, we can make this something they are happy to be in. This means that they will stay nearby when they have the opportunity to move away. Sometimes this is pure curiosity but actually, I think alpacas can get to like being with you. It’s so easy to move into anthropomorphising – they are still animals, they are still alpacas and to a large extent will remain a mystery to us humans.
We learn, observe and recognise repeated behaviours. So do they. To them, we begin as mysterious others. In time we become familiar.
So my challenge to you is to begin deliberately and consciously creating an environment where Alpacas and people intersect, meeting where a measure of relationship can develop. It will not happen immediately, today, next week, or even next month but is something to be aiming at - a trajectory, a posture we can assume - I will do everything I can to create an environment where my alpacas can be happy and healthy and where I make a positive contribution to their lives - just by being around. It may sound a bit vague and as we say in the UK airy-fairy. But it may be the next best thing to a New Year’s resolution.
Here’s hoping you have a great year - remember to do your homework - go spend some time with an alpaca