Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to Have An Effective Farm Visit


One of the best ways to have people truly learn about you and your alpacas is through a farm visit. But, what is the most effective way to get the most out of your and their time?  You pick up the phone and you have someone on the other end asking for a farm visit.  Or, you get an email asking if they can come by and see the alpacas.   

Here are a few tips to go through to help the visit be smooth and effective.

What kind of visit do they want? Is it a grandparent with little children wanting to pet alpacas, or are they interested in raising a herd of their own?   These are two very different meetings.

The casual afternoon visit.   

For the casual afternoon viewing, I schedule about an hour and greet them on the porch so they do not need to come inside. We start off with the Anatolian Guard Dogs greeting us at the gate.  This is great segway for predator control and alpaca safety.  Next, we walk in the female pasture towards the barn.  We stop as the ladies approach us and, if I am prepared, hand visitors grain in my hand for them to feed.  The ladies can get a bit “enthusiastic” about the pellets, so I limit the amount offered.   If there are any babies, I do my best to catch one or two, scratching up the backs and necks of the more friendly adults. We head to the barn and I explain our housing system for weaning, training, shearing and such.   The boys are always fun, as they are more rambunctious and confident than the girls.  One of our older males LOVES the pellets and will do tight circles around anyone with feed in tow.

This round leads us back to the house where I offer to show them our alpaca products.  Many are interested in the creation of these products from animals right outside the doorway.  The visitors are usually on their way after this.

The raising alpacas visit

There are three types of alpaca buyers 
1)  Family project – 4H, pets, love of animals.
 2) Fiber processors – creating their own hats, sweaters, socks. 
3) Wanting alpacas as a business/ income. 

The three are not mutually exclusive to each other, and all involve learning how to keep an alpaca alive and well.  I set out significantly more time for this meeting – usually 3 to 4 hours. Both types of meetings are just as important, but we begin our visit in the house, sitting down and talking about what they are looking for, their ideas and how we can help them.  This group receives an alpaca farm packet, overviewing the market, husbandry and the care needed for raising alpacas.   When the initial set of questions have been answered, we head outside in the same route, visiting the guard dogs, females, barn and the males.   However, it takes several hours to go through, explaining the hay and watering systems, pasture layout and general upkeep of a farm. 

I found that about 3 hours and 10 alpaca fleeces is about the maximum before the brain starts to melt.  Visitors tend to get the glazed-eyes syndrome and are done.  At this point, ask if there are any other major questions, and wrap-up your visit for the day.

Preparation Tips for the Visit:

  • Ensure they have good directions.
  • Look at the weather ahead of time and have the visitors dress appropriately.  We have several sets of muck boots that we offer so they do not have to drive home with alpaca manure on their shoes.
  • Greet them at the front door. Do not have your visitors come and find you somewhere on your property. 
  • Offer information and really listen to the types of questions they are asking and what they want alpacas for – money, fun, clothing?
  • Ask about their farm layout, timeframe, future growth plans.
  • Help them understand why the alpaca industry is strong and how it can work for them.  If you do not understand it, why are they interested in you?
  • Convey that they will not be alone when buying these animals.  Reaffirm that you will be there to help out with any and all questions they have about alpacas.
  • Be able to catch and feel the alpacas.  If your alpacas are shy or skittish, have a few already caught so visitors can feel the fiber.  Or, have bags of fleece on hand.  An alpaca visit is a very tactile experience. 
  • If you do not know an answer to a question, say so and then go find it for them.

Farm visits are fun.  Everyone is enthusiastic and takes away something they didn’t know – even the kids.  Appreciate the variety of people and the many ways alpacas can be enjoyed.  Just because you are utilizing them one way, expand other’s opportunities on how they want to enjoy this unique lifestyle.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Alpaca Marketing - Creating an Image


Marketing - Creating an Your Image

Marketing is all about building an image that catches our prospects’ attention and holds it long enough to make them interested in becoming your customers.  Your prospects’ perceptions of you form impressions in their minds that position, or brand, your business.  Whether the impressions are good or bad is your job to convey.  Powerful and long-lasting, these impressions may or may not be what you had intended, yet it is these very perceptions which influence whether or not your prospects will ultimately pursue buying from you - or from someone else.

A significant amount of this impression-building happens long before your prospects ever get close enough to interact with you personally.  Your goal before they actually make contact with you is to project an image that will make them want to meet you, visit your farm, and become your customer. 

What often happens is that as breeder and alpaca products creator, you work so hard on face-to-face marketing, you overlook the impression you are giving to those you have yet to meet.  While focusing on the big picture of marketing – getting business cards, placing strategic ads, going to shows, getting on-line, etc. – it’s easy to overlook the little things that can change a good impression of you and your farm into an image that causes the prospects NOT to take action to pursue doing business with you. 

“Little things are not little things.  Little things are everything.”  Harvey MacKay

Print Materials 

What do your marketing materials say about you?  Cheap?  Sloppy?  Tacky?  Professional?  Informed?
  • Does your ad speak to a prospect’s needs?  Does it say anything they didn’t know?  Even a small ad can ask a leading question what will entice prospects to pursue whether or not you can fulfill their needs and desires.  Be customer focused, not about how great you are.
  • Use bullet points and headlines.  Realistically, they are not going to read your entire brochure – just like most people will skim this blog.  Get to the point.  Overloading with wording and photos can turn people off.  Use of essential photos is crucial.  Keep the brochure clear, flowing and uncluttered.
  • Is your business card graphically consistent with the rest of your identity package?  Does it show clearly that you are in the alpaca business?  VistaPrint.com has excellent quality products, but no alpaca related materials.  You can get great business cards from them, but try to introduce your own theme into the cards.  * And use good card stock wherever you go.  Show prospects you are willing to put in a couple of extra dollars towards paper and gloss on your cards.  This small piece of marketing collateral can begin to build a positive image of you or it can make a potential buyer stop right there.
  •  Is the sign on your vehicle in good condition?  Does it offer a phone number and website to contact you in LARGE, legible print?  Is the vehicle in clean and good repair?  If it is, your prospects will perceive that you take good care of your farm, animals and customers, too.

Think in your prospect’s perspective. How will he/ she perceive your print marketing materials?  Keep them prospect-focused, uncluttered, and consistent in design and brand imagery.  Always give prospects multiple ways to contact you and a directive call-to-action to do so.  The easier you make it for them to feel they can get the right product from you, the more likely they will be to move from distant viewer to interested buyer.



Online marketing

What is unique about your website?  Eighty-five percent of all prospects research on-line before making calls, attending shows and meeting breeders.  This is excellent.  It means they are interested and want to me more informed.  The Internet has become your filter to helping people see if it’s even an option before “wasting” your time.  By the way, talking to someone is never wasting time.  Even if they do not buy, there is a high chance that their sister / neighbor / cousin / friend-of-a-friend may be interested.  So always make your best efforts with every person you meet.
  • Is your website easy navigate to?  Have friends and family test it out with a certain question they want answered in mind.  Is it graphically inviting?  Does it include photos of you living the lifestyle?  
  • Does it have AMPLE ways to easily contact you – phone and email and mail?
  • Does your e-blast have an attention-grabbing subject line that makes prospects want to open it at all? Does is offer links to your website or your inbox to make it easy to investigate further and speak with you? You need to be careful you do not fall under spamming regulations.  If your email is put on blocked lists, if falls back negatively on your electronic rankings.
Show and Event Booth

It can be overwhelming for prospects to walk into an alpaca show and know where to begin.  So, many of them initially keep their distance, slowly deciding what to see, and with whom to converse.


Walk the aisles slowly and see what makes you spot your own both.  Is there anything about it? Then think in your prospect’s perspective.  Would you approach your booth? Is it clean, uncluttered and inviting?  Does it offer take-away information about your farm and your animals?  Is it manned throughout the show?

Stand Out In A Crowd

  • Have the names and ages of the alpacas posted on the outside of your booth.
  • Wear your logo on your shirt.  Embroidery is about $10 and makes you look professional.
  • Hand out an “Alpaca 101” or “Alpaca Fun Facts” sheet with your info on it.
  • Approach people confidently but slowly with a smile, say “Hello”, wait another 5-10 seconds while they are still looking at the animals, and then start talking.  Ask them what they want to know. 
  • Don’t overwhelm them with your knowledge of alpacas.  Help them get to know about alpacas, and you, without inundating them.
  • Many alpacas like chew toys tied to the side of the pen because they get bored.  We often coat them with salt or molasses. This makes people smile and laugh, which is a good place to start a conversation.
  • Speak up when a passer-by shows interest. Stand up and smile. You have a collective group going out of their way to learn about alpacas.  Use the opportunity to your benefit.

Farm Appearances
  • You never get a second chance to make a first impression – and this is no exception.  Most farm visitors will form an initial impression of your farm within the first few minutes from the time they turn into your driveway. For those unfamiliar with rural living, they really do not know what to expect.  Little things they notice will have lasting impressions.  And all this will happen before you even get a chance to introduce yourself.
  • Was the farm easy to find based on your brochure or website?
  • Did you suggest cold/ warm clothing or farm boots?  Patent leather shoes love to retain the alpaca manure smell.  And for those having to get back on an airplane, no fore-warning is not appreciated.
  • Is it smelly?  Our “Spring Thaw” is rough for a couple of weeks and many understand that. But do your best to keep “farm smells” to a minimum.
  • Is your farm sign visible from the road?
  • What can visitors see as they drive up your road?  Are the fences in good repair? Has the garbage been removed from the road?  Are the buildings in good condition?  Is your barn clean?
  • As you there to greet your scheduled visitors or must they come find you?
  • Inside the barn, are the alpacas approachable / catchable and is it clean and organized? 
If your prospects form a good perception of your farm appearance, it will support you in making them feel comfortable and confident about you as a breeder.  They will be likely to listen more intently to what you tell them, and to leave feeling good about their visit.

Customer Service

Once your prospect has become a buyer, she / he may leave your presence, but she will have a strong need to feel connected to you from a distance.  How you communicate with her after the sale is important to future business, as she becomes a potential repeat buyer and strong referral source.
  • After the sale is finalized and alpacas are either agisted or delivered, what do you do to initiate regular contact with your customers?  We call about 3 days after they are on their farm to see how things are going and we also encourage them to call us.  Send them cria photos of their alpacas to give them a sense of history with their alpacas.  Offer to take them to shows, share herd management techniques and nutrition information.  Do you make visits to their property to offer pasture evaluation and layout?  Many buyers are happy to show you how they have developed their own alpaca farm.
  • Share in shearing, tooth and toe trimming, birthing and farm operation.  They want to learn and we can all use extra help with husbandry.
  • Help them to determine which male is the best choice for breeding their female.  Does she need density, coverage, staple length, fineness?  Who is the best match for each particular female?   

The relationships you build when your customers away from you can either create distance between you or bring you closer to future sales and referrals.

In a marketplace where actual distance between breeders and potential buyers is commonplace, the techniques you practice to close that gap will increase your chances of bringing those prospects face-to-face with you.  Practice these techniques and you will increase prospects’ intention of learning and wanting to buy from you now and in the future.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cria Preparation




Cria Preparation

As I was flipping through our calendar of the upcoming weeks and months, I realized that we suddenly have babies scheduled to arrive in the next 3 weeks.  With an expected total of 42 cria this year, many of them are coming in late April and early May.  I prefer that most of our babies be born during June through August.  In Montana and with our small Summer window, we try to breed our girls a little earlier in case the pregnancy doesn’t take.  However, it seems that almost everyone took on the first go. So while we do have some that are due in later Summer, there are quite a few coming right around the corner. 

Preparation

Most of our girls will carry about 11 ½ months (341 days), give or take a week.  Usually they are quite consistent. If they delivered 3 weeks early last year, they will likely keep the same schedule.   

We have a cria kit that is always ready to go.  We put our supplies in a portable file folder so it is water tight, dust free and easy to carry.

One of the most important items we have are towels to dry the baby.  Hopefully, this will be the only item you use during the birth.  However, its good to have other items packed.

Birthing/ Cria Kit  
  • Bottle of water-based, sterile, lubrication
  • Plastic Gloves, both short and full arm length
  • Iodine – preferably at least 2.5% solution, liquid, or a spray bottle
  • Headlamp
  • Thermometer
  • Vet wrap to wrap the dam's tail out of the way
  • Umbilical cord clamp - or clothesline clip
  • Pocket knife
  • Stethoscope
  • Old towels if the cria needs to be rubbed dry and warm
  • Scales – bathroom ones, or hanging cria scales
  • Portable phone and vet's phone number
  • Bucket and plastic garbage bag for placenta collection
  • Cria coat – put on if there is any cool weather or breezy 

Because of the coolness of the Spring nights – and occasionally snow days in April and March, we also have an 8’ x 8’ pen set up in our garage just in case.  Many times if the weather is not cooperative, we have the mom and baby spend the night in the garage just to keep the baby as comfortable as possible. This is crucial for premature babies who have a hard time regulating their body temperature.

The best way to become prepared is try to make it to a birth off of the farm with an experienced breeder (duh-of course, but this usually isn’t an option).  A great book I would highly recommend to just about everyone is Llamaand Alpaca Neonatal Care by Bradford Smith, Karen Timm and Patrick Long.  It is informative, step-by-step in layman’s terms that everyone can comprehend.  Get it!

Watch for signs of the baby.  Most of the time, you will not need to do anything, but it is helpful to be nearby just in case.





Friday, March 22, 2013

Rickets - Don’t just old people get that?


Alpaca Rickets

After almost 10 years with hundreds of alpacas, we had our first bout with Rickets this past fall.   I had little idea what Rickets was until we started seeing several of our crias gradually more uncomfortable on their feet, becoming arched in the back and increasingly lethargic.  Babies born during the Summer are often found sleeping on their side, stomachs with minimal fleece facing the sun and absorbing Vitamin A & D. Vitamin D is absolutely essential in proper bone development.  Without vitamin D, the necessary amounts of phosphorus and calcium may be present in the blood, but will not be incorporated into bone.

Rickets is more common in the fall and winter crias, but is also found in spring and summer crias, especially in warm climates where mothers and crias are in the barn during the day and do not receive adequate UV light.  It appears more common in dark, heavily fleece and unshorn crias.  Heavily fleeced animals, especially dark fleeced animals have more vitamin D difficulties compared to light-colored or less densely fleeced alpacas – especially in lower altitude.  Crias born in the fall are especially susceptible to rickets compared to their spring siblings. 

Most clinical signs are common at 4 to 6 months old, especially in the months of January through March which are often cloudy, overcast days.  Signs are more apparent in aged alpacas, especially females.  It appears as an osteomalacia or osteoporosis.  This is call “milk lameness” in dairy cows.  Alpacas often show a sway back, weak pasterns and show hypophosphatemia in blood minerals.  On one of our crias, where the Vitamin D range should be 250-450 and cria blood work is preferred around 400, our girl came in at 9.

The most common signs we found are and awkward gait, arched back, reluctance to move, in activity due to sore or swollen joints, reduced supplement intake, slow grown and crooked legs.  She kept on shifting weight on her back legs and we knew something was not right.

Rickets result in a combination of circumstances where there is a continuous lack of dietary intake of calcium, phosphorus, UV light or supplemented vitamin-D3.  This results in depletion and lack of mineral metabolism.  Sun-cured hay, which contains Vitamin D2 is not sufficient without UV light.  Vitamin D is not stored in alpaca milk but in the alpaca liver, so it is not passed on to the cria.

Diagnosis of deficiency is based on blood chemistry and CBC testing.  A key note is that the blood needs to be spun and separated from the clot within 2 hours of pulling or the overall results can be skewed.

Helping to prevent Rickets is relatively easy.  Alpacas need UV sunlight to grow.  Crias’ digestive systems are not fully developed at 4-8 weeks old and if they are not in the sunlight they may need to be supplemented.  Vitamin paste at 1000 IU’s per pound may be necessary every 10 to 14 days.  Additionally, injectable Vitamin A & D should be given IM in conjunction with Phos-aid for absorption of the minerals.  We have also give our crias bananas to help absorb phosphorus into their system. As mentioned above, Vitamin D is stored in the liver and utilized throughout the year.  Early supplemental vitamin therapy can alleviate these symptoms and resolve the initial problem. However, with no intervention, joint and/or long bone dysfunction may become fixed and non-treatable to later vitamin therapy. 

It is important to consider the variation of geography (sun exposure), housing and physiology of your alpacas while considering if a member of your herd has rickets.