What It All Means to Kids

Alpacas mean different things to different people.  To kids … alpacas mean a lifetime of learning, adventure, and development opportunities.

Opportunities for kids unfold everyday at the barn, in the show ring and throughout their community.  Seize each opportunity and watch your kids grow.  The barn is a playground, class room, science lab, workshop and career centre.

Working with Dad low res

Working with Dad is a pleasure, even in midwinter.

So in your busy day, how can you be sure your kids are getting all they can out of the experience?

First, get the kids involved at the outset.  When you begin your research, if your children are old enough, have  them help with the research.  There is not an adult alive that can outperform a preteen or young adult when it comes to research – particularly internet research.  Explain what decision-making is all about.  Teach them to objectively weigh the pros and the cons.  Let them dig into the wealth of knowledge and information out there and bring their findings back to the family table to discuss.

I recall a morning when my husband and I were discussing the pros and cons of acquiring a new pair of alpacas over breakfast.  As we shared our thoughts my 10 –year old threw down her spoon, abandoned her cereal, and proclaimed that she was obviously needed in this discussion.  She began to give us her well-informed opinion of the pair and recited the pros and cons of the acquisition.  Look out Bay Street!

Once you have decided that alpacas are for you, involve the children in herd selection.  Their research skills will be invaluable.  And there are many teachable moments, and many willing teachers at the farms you will visit who will help both you and your children to learn about conformation, fleece, herd health, breeding and genetics.

Kids are always eager to bring the cria in for daily weighing.

Kids are always eager to bring the cria in for daily weighing.

It goes without saying that a good day’s work in the barn ingrains in our children both good work ethics and a sense of responsibility for the livestock they are raising.  Having kids, both young and old, by your side as you hoist hay, clean water buckets or scoop beans provides a wonderful opportunity for your kids to learn to work with others, and in particular adults.  Periodic chores such as vaccinations, shearing or toe trimming are good times to assign older children specific responsibilities for the task or planning and record keeping.

Remind your children to keep an eye out for changes in animal behavior or the environment.  Kids’ eye for details will often pick up subtle changes that can be a sign of health issues, or other problems.  They may be the ones to notice that the yearling is getting pushed away from the feed dish, or that one of the boy’s toes needs trimming.  As their observation skills develop, so too does their sense of pride as you acknowledge that it was their keen eye that triggered a necessary response.

Kids do a wonderful job showing. Here, an 11-year old shows her animals' bite to the judge.

Kids do a wonderful job showing. Here, an 11-year old shows her animals’ bite to the judge.

A farm is filled with responsibilities and duties, but for kids it is just brimming with fun and opportunity for adventure and expression.

Alpacas are very unique creatures in that they respond best to children.  When training for the show ring, this becomes a distinct advantage.  Allow your kids to experience the show ring and help them to find a mentor that can teach them the “do’s and don’ts”.  And then, let them spend the time needed to gain the trust of their animals and to work with them.  Each season the gentle touch of experienced children is evident in the show ring.  And there is no prouder moment than that of a child, and their parent, when they step out of the ring with a ribbon.

Alpaca BeansThink outside of the box when providing your children with opportunities for self-expression.  We have two talented young artists in our family.  Our eldest daughter has developed outstanding graphic design skills and was able to put those skills to work to create our farm logo and a product logo for the alpaca beans we sell in a local garden centre.  Filled with confidence, she has now produced logos for other rural businesses and is developing a varied portfolio of work to carry into her career.

Artist low resMake the link for your children between their alpaca farm and other aspects of their life, such as school and recreation.

Alpacas make for some cute and compelling show and tell moments at school.  But beyond those two minute classroom teasers, our daughter has developed speeches for use in school and in the community, speaking at women’s institute, church groups and community organizations.  Alpacas always capture the interest of groups who have never seen these gentle creatures.  A recent Ancient Civilization unit in school provided our daughter with an opportunity to look more closely at the clothing of ancient Incan civilization and the important role that alpacas played in clothing the nobility.

A quick shower provides relief from the heat and yet another opportunity to play in the water.

A quick shower provides relief from the heat and yet another opportunity to play in the water.

Our children have also discovered the link between the community’s needs and what alpacas have to offer.  Business lessons become very real when a few hours spent collecting and bagging beans turn into sales at the local garden centre.  Nothing motivates like coins in your pocket – or seeing real uses for what your farm is producing.  Our girls have learned very early to ask – what does the community need and how can that create an income for me?

Ownership & sales create opportunities to generate revenue for kids.  Our eldest daughter was delighted to see what was left in her pocket when she recently sold her alpaca, paid the agistment bills (she now lives off-farm in her first apartment) and realized her first real “profit”.

Our 14-year old neighbour is eager to play a role on shearing day.

Our 14-year old neighbour is eager to play a role on shearing day.

And while business is one way to connect to your community through alpacas, volunteering is yet another way that children can experience and learn.  When a local alpaca farmer suffered an injury, our eldest daughter jumped at the chance to help with chores.  She learned so much in those weeks.

Every friend who visits gets a guided tour of the barn and a walk with the alpacas.

Every friend who visits gets a guided tour of the barn and a walk with the alpacas.

4H is another fun way that kids can connect with both their animals and their community.  Alongside their friends, kids learn how to bring out the best in their animals, how to showcase them, and how to contribute to their community through farm life.

Consider the range of opportunities for children ranging in ages.  Our children span 10 years in age and both play a meaningful role on and off the farm.  They bring their own skills and interests to the table.  And having them involved makes it more fun and rewarding for us all.

Kids’ adventures on the farm can help them to discover the adventure of a lifetime.  By exploring their passions they may find skills that can lead to fulfilling hobbies or even a future career.  I have watched our children discover graphic design and veterinary science, developing at the same time planning, public speaking, research, business and conflict resolution skills, just to name a few.  The values they are developing as they work alongside both us and their friends who visit the farm will last a lifetime.

Alpaca farming is an adventure, an escape.  It’s a means of building a sense of responsibility, compassion and autonomy.   It’s goal setting and achievement.

Alpaca farming allows kids to discover their skills.  Gentle alpacas provide opportunities for self-expression, learning, and fun with friends.  And alpacas can even foster that entrepreneurial spirit.  Alpaca farming is all these things and more … and it’s not just for kids!

Working alongside adults provides many teachable moments and opportunities for fun.

Working alongside adults provides many teachable moments and opportunities for fun.

Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Camelid Quarterly.  A special thanks to the editor for their permission to reprint.