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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Make sure your dog is really a dog..."

That's the title (paraphrased) of a blurb about a blog that caught my eye in a recent marketing newsletter I receiving. Well, who could resist a tagline like that?? I clicked and found myself at an online 'popular news' site that talked about a man in South America who bought two ferrets that had been given steroids and groomed to be passed off as toy poodles. Yes, sadly this is real; you can search the web for "giant ferret toy poodle" and the story pops up.

Besides the novelty of this absurdity, why am I mentioning this? Well, like a lot of times, I started thinking about the 'moral of the story'. I quickly was able to find parallels in my own life as an alpaca breeder.

Before I illustrate this, I want to assure everyone of a few things: as a whole I have never worked with a group of people that is so willing to help and educate others, I think that the alpaca industry is inherently unique and innovative -- progressing in great strides, and I think there are always 'bad apples' in the bunch in any venture, community, and area. I do not feel deterred by any 'bad experiences' but have learned from them to be both a better buyer and seller!

So, in the spirit of this learning and the desire to help others grow with us, below are some examples of things that could go 'wrong' and what things that can be done to prevent them or to protect yourself.

a) You got stuck with a 'Bred female' that is neither bred nor breedable:
Make sure the female stays at the selling farm for 90 days after breeding no matter how much you (or they) want to transport her early. Ensure that an ultrasound is done before she transports (not just spit checks, progesterone checks, or ultrasound that occurred 60 days ago). Make sure your contract specifies the recourse if she is not able to become pregnant INCLUDING your right to decline the first proposed replacement (you and the seller must agree or a refund occurs), AND that there isn't an overall date in the contract by which all claims must be made. We had an instance where there was such a date that superceded the 'breed back' and breedability warranties. Ouch.

b) You made a long distance purchase that arrives not looking quite like what you expected from the listing:
Get CURRENT pictures of: both sides in profile, the back legs, the front legs, the bite from both the front and the side, the face to include both eyes and both ears, the fleece parted ON THE BODY and the 'under the tail' shot. Ask for pictures of the dam/sire if they are not on the listing (if they don't own them, the seller may not be able to provide this). Proven dam or sire? Ask for pictures of the cria. Get fleece samples of the alpaca from as many years as possible. Don't be shy to see if they would be willing to take a clip from the side if this animal is not showing and is not close to shearing (be nice though -- you should be really serious in the animal). Get fiber samples of its dam, sire and any offspring. I have receive boxes of many samples before; and I have sent them out too! This last one many people don't do because they are afraid to offend... ASK the seller point blank if the animal has or has ever had breeding /birthing/nursing issues, any fiber loss or skin afflictions, any foot issues, eye issues, gut/feeding issues, major trauma or illness, parasite issues that required more than routine treatment, and ask if they currently need to feed them differently than their other alpacas. Does it sound like you are interrogating them? Well you are ... or a form of it. You are interviewing them because you cannot interview the alpaca. They should expect and applaud you wanting to have the necessary information to make an informed purchase. If they get hostile, that's your sign to move on.

c) You find your 'won' alpaca or breeding at an auction comes with extra costs:
This solution is easy in concept, but hard to remember when caught up in the excitement and sometimes hard to do if you and the seller don't see 'eye to eye.' You should never agree to buy anything without READING A CONTRACT. In fact, verbal agreements are not binding for purchases that require details to be finalized and have warranties. In major auctions though, your registration to bid is you signing a contract with the auction that you will honor your winning bid. If you know that you will likely bid on a particular animal, then in the pre-auction review ask to see their contract. Talk then about any 'deal breaker' concerns you may have. If you find that you are bidding at a more informal event where there was no registration to bid, ASK your question beforehand or right then if this is surprise addition. Yes, I said it -- interrupt the bidding if it is an important issue. Chances are that if it is a concern to you, then it is a concern to others. Remind yourself that while you likely can find another 'so special' alpaca or breeding, if you charge in blindly you may rue your loss.

To keep this from becoming a novella, suffice it to say that you need to be actively aware in all transactions -- with friends and with 'friends', at live and online auctions, in remote purchases and at-farm purchases.

A few key points:

*Know the alpaca you are looking at, even if it is a 'gift' or steal of a deal.
*Know about the farm you buying from (some have a poor behavior known in the ' alpaca community').
*READ THE CONTRACT. And, make sure it says what you want it to, even if you have to have it revised.
*Don't feel pressured -- think it over, take a day, discuss it with an impartial third party.
*Always get a vet check at your farm after the animal arrives (this should be in the contract with a 'escape' clause). You are not a veterinary expert and could miss things.
*Don't forget about the 'extra costs' -- CVI/transport exam, transportation, agisting, ARI transfer, pre-purchase vet exam, ultrasounds,etc. And, remember that extra costs occur for both purchases and breedings.

My biggest advice is from the old Kenny Roger's song: You have to know when to walk away. If it feels wrong and your smiles seem to be more like baring teeth, then it is not the right deal. For at least the contract warranty period and maybe longer depending on breedings, breed-backs, and partial ownership, you will be working with them. Generally, bad starts lead to hard feelings and harder relationships. Walk away, my friend.

But, no worries -- there are LOTS of fantastic alpacas and people in the alpaca community. I hope that some of this helps you avoid some pitfalls, but if not then my last piece of advice is to climb out, brush yourself off, find a friend to commensurate, and then let it go. :) Good luck!