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William, Mr. Darcy, Biak Bay

There is a morning routine:
a handful of pellets
in each of three bowls.
A stone in one bowl
to slow William,
who chokes
when he eats fast.
All three Alpaca are at the gate
as I open it.
Biak makes a cranky sound
and tries to get a first nibble.
William turns in a circle,
runs towards the feeding spot,
sometimes kicking his heels,
often bumping into Mr. Darcy.
I give him space,
then make my way through them into the pen,
and set William’s bowl in a box hanging on the fence.
Biak chows down from the bowl in my left hand;
Darcy turns around in a circle—
always—
before approaching the bowl
I hold for him in my right hand.
Darcy used to eat the slowest
and I’d have to put a stone in Biak’s bowl
to give time for Darcy to finish,
or Biak would be trying to eat Darcy’s pellets.
If William finished before Darcy,
he too would go after Darcy’s bowl.
Now that Darcy finishes first,
he doesn’t try to eat from William’s or Biak’s bowls.
He stands in his spot,
chewing.
The moment he nibbles
the last pellet from the bowl,
Biak, still eating his pellets,
starts threatening Darcy,
raising his head toward Darcy,
making his cranky sound.
I am amazed that he instantly
knows when Darcy is finished.
Darcy does nothing to approach Biak,
and he’s still chewing.
I don’t think Biak can see into Darcy’s bowl;
I think he notices that Darcy isn’t eating
from the bowl anymore
and makes his preemptive threats,
despite the fact that Darcy
has never tried to eat from Biak’s bowl.
Biak seems so focused on his food,
but he must also be keeping a close eye
on Darcy.

If someone is with me
to visit them at feeding time,
they are thrown off
by two or three people holding the bowls of food
and are confused about how to line up,
moving from one bowl to the other
before they settle at one.

These days,
when every two or three days
after emptying their bowls
I bring them alfalfa hay,
they stand in the pen,
waiting.
On the days I don’t bring hay
(and tell them it’s not an alfalfa day)
they wait anyway.
Not until I’ve cleaned the pen,
fed all the other animals,
filled water buckets,
let the goats in with them,
and leave the barn area,
are they convinced
it’s not a hay day.

There’s something about their desire
for a predictable routine,
and their predictable behavior,
that makes the morning feeding time
with William, Darcy and Biak
sheer pleasure.

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William, Darcy, Biak