By Doug Davison, Houston Herald

During my recent visit with Jim and Connie Root to put together a bit of a story about their Rootin-Tootin Alpacas business in Houston, I became fascinated with one aspect of the whole alpaca deal: alpaca beans.

Beans is the aptly applied technical name for alpaca poo, which comes from its source in little brown bean-like nodules. For good reason, it’s also referred to as “alpaca gold,” or as Jim Root says, “black gold.”

Commercial fertilizers are labeled for their N-P-K content, indicating percentages nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. All three primary nutrients are in alpaca beans, but in much smaller amounts than manure that comes from other farm animals.

The result is, there’s no need to age or cure alpaca gold (or that of their cousins, llamas) and it typically won’t “burn” plants. Simply put, it’s a great fertilizer.

Many alpaca bean fans – including the Roots – just toss the stuff on their planting beds and let it “do” its thing.

“It’s PH ready right out of the animal,” Jim said.

And to further its claim as one of the best possible fertilizers, alpaca gold doesn’t have much of an odor at all.

Meanwhile, the animals producing these golden growth granules do so in a very tidy manner. Alpacas have apparently figured out that it’s kind of yucky to have poo all over their living area, so they actually return to the same spot to do their business.

At the Root place, the alpaca pens have neat piles in a few spots, almost like someone did some raking. Sure makes it easy to harvest the beans.

The sound of serenity

Jim said there are five sounds alpacas are known to make, ranging from a donkey-like bray that indicates distress, to a chicken-like cluck that a mother with a fresh cria (baby) might use as sort of a verbal leash.

But everyone should at least once have the chance to hear one of alpacas’ more common sounds. Referred to as humming, it’s a very soothing sound they make when they’re just relaxed and at ease. As Jim pointed out, it also tends to make humans in the vicinity relaxed and at ease.

And don’t be surprised when you find yourself humming back at them. It’s kind of hard to avoid.

You don’t know cold

With winter approaching, alpacas are no doubt gearing up for another season of, well, laughing at us in their little alpaca way.

In no time, we’ll be talking about (and complaining about) the cold and the snow and the ice.

Meanwhile, they’ll probably be humming to each other about how warm it is and how they can’t wait for shearing time to arrive.

Not having been there during late July (dead-of-winter in the southern hemisphere), one can only imagine the arctic temperatures at 15,000 feet in the Andes Mountains.
Brrrr….makes me cold thinking about it.

If grandpa alpaca could talk…“Cold? This ain’t nothin’– I’ll show you cold. Peru Andes in July; now that’s cold.”

Come here, Kumquat

The Roots have some fun naming their alpacas.

Each year a theme is chosen and all cria that come along that year are named accordingly.
One year the theme was western. In 2009 it was candy (say “hi” to Snickers, Twizzlers, Skittles and Starburst) and this year it was gem stones (“hello” Diamond, Topaz, Sapphire and Jasper).

Connie said next year it could be food. Who is on the way? Maybe Risotto, Waffle or Donut. Perhaps Taco, Hot Dog or PBJ.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Doug Davison is a writer, copy editor and office worker for the Houston Herald. E-mail him at