Sugar Ray turned 11 in December. He was born on the farm and has been here here his entire life. That alone is a bit unique. In a livestock business animals come and go. Sugar Ray possessed the right traits so we kept him around to be a stud and make babies. His offspring have been consistently excellent. That is not really why he is unique, or worthy of keeping or special. He simply is the smartest and most thoughtful alpaca (perhaps animal) I have known. He has very poor impulse control and has on occasion kicked me and also spit on me and afterwards looked at me as though he regrets his actions. I swear that is the message conveyed.
He has taght me more about alpacas than any other alpaca we have ever had on the farm and when I figured out I needed to pay attention I learned. When he was about 6 months old I began halter training him , to have him ready to attand alpaca shows and in general be a well behaved and polite alpaca. On a fine spring day, on went the halter. He did not like it one bit. He swung his head around wildly and bucked. We went through this for several days and finally he tolerated the halter being on. It still was not easy to get on mind you, but once on he was OK. I wanted him to stand still as I took the halter off and on and I decided we would work on that. When he started trying to dodge the halter and spit as I approached him with it I would put my hand on his leg. Most alpacas object to having their legs touched and will lie down in protest. I thought this would be an effective way to have him submit to me. He did stop spitting and lie down , or kush, which is the term used for an alpaca or llama. We went through this a few times. I approached, he spit, I grabbed him by the leg. He went down. On perhaps the fourth or fifth time, Sugar Ray kushed as I approached and spit directly at my face. O.k. I get it, you’re smart and have little tolerance for my stupid human tricks! It did get better but I had learned to listen to him and eventually we worked together well. we still do. I learned how to ask him to do things, not demand. Sugar Ray continued to do his own thing and be his own alpaca, I admired him for it and I think he knew!
We attended shows and he won many blue ribbons. At one show, a guy from a large alpaca farm, who had attempted to pull a switch on us to get us to purchase an alpaca that was much more costly than the one we inquired about and made up a story about the lower priced alpaca losing her baby, so we should by this other alpaca at twice the price. I confirmed this story to be bullshit when I looked to see if the first alpaca we had wanted had a baby , and yeas she had- no lost pregnancy! I am glad we did not do business with him. Anyway, he approached our show pen and Sugar Ray, completely unprovoked, spit in his face. It made me so happy! I have never again seen Sugar spit at anyone or anything else for absolutely no reason. I think he new the guy was a lowlife. So yes, I do believe he is perceptive.
One day we were taking Sugar Ray to another farm so he could breed. Traveling with one or two alpacas in the back of the minivan is an easy and convenient thing to do. Never thought I would drive a minivan, though. Sugar Ray was in the back, relaxed and staring out the window. My son in the back seat and daughter in the passenger seat. (There had been much ado about who got to seat where, but the older kid won, as they usually do.) . At some point, I desperately needed something, now long forgotten, at Home Depot, so a brief stop was in order. As my son, daughter and I made our way deep in to the middle of the store, my son turned and shrieked, MOM, SUGAR RAY IS COMING! and he was. confidently trotting up behind us in the store, perhaps slightly annoyed that we had left him behind in the car. Following him was a gaggle of humans snapping pictures. He had found us, how? Clearly my son had left the side door ajar and Sugar Ray opened it. It’s the two sets of large sliding doors he had to get through that I find amazing, and how did he know where we were!
He has proven particularly adept at getting to where the girls are. Going over, under, around and through many gates and fences that we firmly believed impenetrable. This has resulted in the occasional unexpected baby or cria, in alpaca terms. I have watched him push and push on the fence until the bottom rises up just enough that he can drop and lie flat and scoot under. Up and off, after the girls. I witnessed him banging his neck in between the bars on a gate which ultimately resulted in the latch slipping, gate open and off he goes.
Sugar Ray has been a joy to know. He has even stood quietly by, staring at me as I have shed tears over the loss of another alpaca.
Currently, he attends the Fryeburg Fair with me in the fall and without ever being taught he can manoever through an obstacle course of weave polls, doors, and jumps with ease. Of course, when he’s done he’s done. But really he is quite patient and gentle, a great camelid ambassador. Fairgoers love him, and people come to the alpaca/llama barn to meet Sugar Ray, because they have heard the story of his shopping adventure.
I have also come to understand that his traits of intelligence and being a great escape artist are highly heritable. His son, Lucky Seven, can now get over every fence we have have. Even the stall dividers in the barn. It is not graceful or pretty, but he gets over. Spring is going to be tricky. We have to secure the girls!
So that’s Sugar Ray, the alpaca that taught me everything I needed to know about caring for these really cool animals!