Vo-Ag department expands 'family'

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Wed., Nov. 30, 2011
Suzette is one of three new alpacas who arrived at Rockville High School on Nov. 15. Photos courtesy of Calvin Brodersen/RHS Ag-Ed. - Contributed Photo

It seems romance could be in the air at Rockville High School’s Agricultural Education Program. Three new alpacas – two females and one male – recently joined the animals cared for by the department’s students and staff. The Vernon Board of Education formally accepted the donation at its meeting on Nov. 28.

Sadly, one of the two alpacas RHS had acquired in April, Panama Jack, became ill in October, and did not survive. “[Jack] became very ill very quickly, and passed away,” said Superintendent Mary Conway. “Our remaining alpaca became very lonesome, actually, very quickly.”

Teacher Calvin Brodersen asked Sunset Hills Farm Alpacas of Butler, Pa. – the same farm that had donated Panama Jack and Jedi Master – about possible replacements for Jack, and was offered not only another male alpaca, but two females as well.
Conway said the alpacas arrived in Rockville rather quickly.

“Once the alpacas were en route, it was very difficult to stop them,” Conway said. Brodersen explained that the system of transport vehicles used to deliver alpacas was simply on its way to deliver other animals to locations in New England, which dictated the delivery date.

Macchiato (the male), Pearl and Suzette arrived on Nov. 15. The arrival of the females adds a new aspect to the curriculum, as the alpacas can now be used to breed. Brodersen said he is excited about the educational opportunities. “It provides a unique opportunity for the kids,” he said. “Even if they are familiar with the breeding of other animals, this is something different.”
The process of breeding is already somewhat underway. Conway said that other school staffers said the alpacas were already “making eyes at each other.”

Brodersen said that alpaca females are induced ovulaters, meaning that they begin to ovulate in the presence of a male. Pearl, since the females and males are currently housed in separate-but-adjoining areas, has begun ovulating. “She was cycling this morning,” Broderson said, on Nov. 28. “The students were getting an education. The alpacas weren't breeding, but they were doing everything else they could.”

Brodersen said he plans to breed one pair of alpacas sometime this coming spring. However, the animals have an 11-month gestation period, so any further “additions to the family” (baby alpacas are termed “cria”) would be unlikely before 2013.

Pearl is the most likely female to be bred first, as she is younger and white is generally a more desirable color, Brodersen said, but part of the students' education is that they are researching the ancestry and history of each animal to see how best to pair off the two couples.

“We look back at their pedigree and look for the most desirable traits,” Brodersen said. “Students are working right now on looking at their lineage and which alpacas have the potential to produce the best offspring. With genetics, there's always a bit of randomness, but you try to do the best you can.”

Brodersen said the facilities at Rockville High School are more than adequate to house four (and later more) alpacas, and the feeding and care for the animals falls within the current budget for the program's animal care. He added that alpacas are docile animals, making them easy for students to work with.

“They eat very little and they don't waste a lot,” he said, adding that there is room in the feed budget due to some comings and goings of other animals in the program.

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