Been a bit full-on

I see that the last post was the “this year’s babies” post…  Spring, with shearing, matings and birthings is our “silly season”.  After that, we usually have the big camping event down south, with the frantic period of prep as we try to get stuff finished off around the farm, and try to get projects finished for the trip itself.

Then this year, when we got back from down south, we got hit with the news that the New Zealand Transport Agency wants to build a new highway literally through the middle of our farm.

Cue several months of crash up-skilling ourselves on the Wellington regional roading network, national and international motoring trends,  assorted traffic modeling tools and analysis, regional resilience plans, etc.

The good news is that the road they want to build is actually a dumb road, and there are better roads they could build (and/or upgrade) to solve the problems they are supposed to solve.  The bad news is that because this is a well-funded government bureaucracy, that might not matter.

In the middle of this, my mother and her partner came to visit, which was the expected mix of additional stress and genuine fun.  We had a lovely little trip up north.

I’ve had to build a new PC.  I will probably get it dual-booting Windows 8.1 and Linux Mint.  We’re shifting to new herd management software as well.

AND we bought in a new stud alpaca from Australia.

AND Stephen was a guest speaker at the Australian alpaca conference.

AND we’re putting in photo-voltaics and starting (finally) the build on the new barn.

AND my job is being restructured out of existence, so I need to get a new one.

So yeah, busy.

Spring is bustin’ out

Here’s this year’s cohort (photos by Stephen!):

MAGOTHY and mother Marlett:



FOXACID and mother San Serif:




ESCHELON with big sister Suleluri in the foreground and mother Svalinn in the background.  That’s FOXACID’s butt to the right (they’re already playing together) and various others in the background.  One of the two remaining geese is the speck back left.



It’s the first time we’ve had one of these born here !  Very cool !  The mare is Rosie, being looked after by our grazer, whose own mare is due to give birth in another couple months.  Then we’ll have TWO baby horsies ! (Something about this little guy makes me twelve again).


It’s actually kind of startling how disproportioned they look at first.  Check out those legs.


He faced Death standing

Sunday we lost one of our stud males, Fred.

Every year a few of our animals die. It’s the inescapable statistics of scale. Some of these deaths are easier than others.

Fred was not our first stud male, but he was probably one of the most successful. He was purchased on short notice, a little fellow originally imported from Australia with lovely soft brown eyes. He sired many cria, and passed through genes that helped our herd.

But at nearly 18 he was starting to slow down. We don’t know how long he’d been feeling crook, camelids are so stoic they hide their illnesses too well. But when we were bringing Fred and the young boys up for shearing, he was having a tough time of it, having to pause and rest every few steps.

Anaemia, quite severe.

We didn’t shear him, knowing if he was going to have any chance we had to keep him warm and happy. I treated him as best I could for his anaemia, but to no avail.

On Sunday it was clear he was fading. He was gasping for breath, his thin blood incapable of providing him enough oxygen.

Tam and I got him out of the paddock, though we had to assist his walking by carrying most of his weight using a towel slung beneath him. To our surprise he hopped up into the trailer, a good cooperative soul to the end. We expected him to promptly sit down as we drove up to the yards, but he stood the whole way, then hopped out and walked in on his own. We’d brought him up so I could take him to his final appointment with the vet on Monday.

Then we left, off to shear alpacas all day. When we returned, he had died.

Normally an alpaca dies sitting. It is natural to sit when you feel weak and sick. We find them on their side, with the neck curled back in the posture of death. It’s how we expected to find Fred. He’d been mostly sitting in kush for days, rarely standing, as the anaemia took its toll.

But I could tell from the way he lay that he’d died standing. His heart stopped, and he toppled over.

Did he know his death was coming? Did he stand up to face it? We’ll never know, but he certainly left a mark on our herd, and in our hearts.


RIP Cedar House Frederick    2.2.96 to 3.11.13

Introducing Ziggy

New llama arrived Friday morning!  Meet Ziggy:

Ziggy the llama

Ziggy, with Hob in the background.

A closeup of Ziggy the llama


He has one light blue eye and one dark blue eye.  Guess how he got his name? (No, we didn’t name him.)  He impressed us with his general grooviness when we met him back in May.  Stephen’s already taken him through Tawa.



Animal Interactions

So, as you well know, we do stuff with our llamas and alpacas. Beach walks. Christmas Parades. Stuff like that. Back in November I had Hob (llama) and Durendal (alpaca) up at the PakNSave Porirua for the SPCA street appeal. Camelid work well for money-raising, as people come up and pet them, then look guilty and put money in the bucket.

The SPCA folks, seeing how well camelids did with the public, asked if I could bring them along to a more challenging and potentially more rewarding environment- a visit to a secure Child Youth and Family facility for highly troubled teens.

This is way more than a foster home, it is in-effect a low-security prison for kids who are starting to go really off the rails. A psychiatrist-friend was not very optimistic of my chances of having much of an effect on the kids, who in her experience were early-stage psychopaths most of whom would spend the rest of their lives in and out of the Justice system.

The problem many of these kids have is that they cannot connect, cannot trust people, due to a long history of abuse and other serious issues. The SPCA works with CYF to bring in animals to try and get positive reactions from the kids. They assured me that there would be plenty of staff on hand, and that the kids are “generally on their best behaviour.”

And it went really, really well.

Hob is the largest and thus most intimidating, but he is also amazingly calm and groovy. The alpacas were a bit less forgiving, and that was what made it really work. I gave the kids a talk about how if they moved or acted like predators (loud, fast, sudden) then the animals would be afraid of them. They needed to be calm, controlled and gentle- and they needed that to be in their body language.

And it worked.

The kids really, REALLY wanted to interact with the animals. Lead them around. Pet them. And they discovered the more they controlled and calmed themselves, the more they could do with the alpacas. It was a situation where the kids got to see immediate positive feedback if they controlled themselves. Sure, the CYFs counsellors can tell them that self-control is important, but when a formerly-dubious alpaca lets you quietly pet his neck, then it makes the value of self-control real.

I expect we’ll be going back. Over time I can try and vary what I tell the kids before we start, and what mix of animals I bring, to try and maximize the value of the experience.

A dog problem

I have an issue with dogs. We have actually had a few, those Greyhounds we fostered a few years back, but too many people don’t understand dogs.

They are hunting and killing machines (like cats) that work with their humans. All dogs have the wolf still lurking within.

The upshot of all of this is we now have one less alpaca. I caught the dog, which was happy and friendly when I came out to see what the commotioin was- a big Rotweiler standing over the body of a 5 month old. (The alpaca and its mother had been in the pen by the house to treat the young ones staggers, I heard lots of alarm calling and went out to see what was going on- the attack had just happened, probably only seconds before. Altun was still alive, he died less than a minute later in my arms.) Animal control came and took the dog away. There were no external signs of injury, and the Animal Control officer was concerned the dog might “get away with it” (which is why most farmers apply the “shoot, shovel and shut up” procedure to any dogs on their land). My post-mortem examination turned up “good news”, multiple sub-dermal haematomas on the neck consistent with the pressure marks of large canine teeth, some torn musculature on the neck, and a broken cervical vertibrae- it snapped his little neck.

I *really* want to know where the dog came from. I don’t know of any neighbor with such a dog. It had collar and tags, so they should be able to track down the owners pretty easily.

So I start my weekend angry and sad. I am struck by the irony that years ago, back in the lab, I used to joke “I’m glad I didn’t go to Med School, ’cause when you have a bad day as a MD, people die.” Now I get to deal with those bad days, except I get to do the post mortem, and dig the grave, too.

Edit: Turns out this is an “everyone loses” situation. We found out today that the log- an 11 month old puppy- had been newly acquired by Kim up the road. She is really upset. They have been dog owners for years, yet this puppy was an escape artist. When the pound called them, they discovered it had been in the pound multiple times before- caught wandering. So the seller knew it was a problem dog, and didn’t tell them.

Kim and Shawneee were looking for the dog immediately after it disappeared- it had run ~1.3 km down the road, and up our drive. They went 1km down the road, but the alpaca we have grazing on a drive up the road were completely unconcerned, so they figured it had not gone that far. Maybe it run past and they didn’t notice, or it ran past and 5 minutes later they were calm again. Just stupid bad luck he came up our drive, and that led right to a pen where we had Altun, who was not at 100% anyways because of his staggers. Mora, his mum, is upset and wants to know where her baby is, but that will pass in 3 or 4 days.

The dog will most probably be left at the pound, and be euthanized. I think they are going to go after the seller for false representation.

Shearing basically done

We shore two animals this morning, and that marks the “end” of the shearing. The end of the list we know about, that is. I am sure a few more will emerge from the woodwork over the next few weeks, but at least the long weeks of seemingly-endless shearing are done. All up we shore about 150 animals this season, including our own.

The alpaca stuff is generally winding down for the season now. We have a few cria due in Feb/March, but hopefully that goes easily. Most of the matings are now for other peopl’s animals, which is nice, because it is business and a bit of income.

Looks like I will be busy bottle feeding for the next few weeks, though. A friend, who has also had a very tough year with her alpaca, had a new mum fall over dead on Saturday- leaving a 3-day old cria at foot. For the first few weeks, the young cria needs about 6 feed per day, so I will take care of it since I can. When the cria is a bit older it can get by on 3 or 4 feeds a day, and it can go home. For better or worse, I have gotten quite experienced at bottle feeding.

The crazy time begins

Of course, you may ask when is it not “crazy time” for us. Perhaps I should have called it “the busy time”.

Shearing all of our alpacas started last week. (12 down, about 40 to go) We will be shearing every free evening and weekend for the next 2 weeks to get them finished. And when that is done, we get to shear almost every other camelid in the Wellington region. Every other shearer who used to work in the area has either moved away, become to busy, or is fully booked with shearing closer to home.

So, basically from now until mid December (at least) every evening and weekend is booked. We are trying to fit in some social stuff in the cracks in the schedule, just to make sure we are extra-exhausted.

Oh, and did I mention that cria are due to start dropping, and we need to start getting matings going again. And delivering animals we have sold. Plus other stuff I am sure I am forgetting right now.

Busy indeed. Crazy even.

Doing the right thing

Trying to do the right thing is difficult, especially when the right thing is not the easy thing.

This last week has seen two difficult and ultimately irreversible decisions.

Last Friday Yvonne had Max, her big quarter-Clydie, put down.

Max and Friends

Max had been sick for a while. Back in May he lost a lot of weight, but bounced back a bit, but never back to his big, wide “sofa with legs” look. At the beginning of September the problems returned, scouring and weight loss. Testing, treatments followed. Finally, after rounds of probiotics (get gut going again) and anti-biotics (nuke the gut flora, as GI infection was one possible cause) it was clear he was not going to get better. In his last week he lost a lot of weight, it was painful to see the big guy just wasting away.

The insurance company required a PM to determine cause of death, so I got to learn a lot while Julia did the deed. She was nice enough to narrate during the PM. The “good” news is that it was massive cancer throughout the small bowel. That news is “good” because it confirms there was nothing that could be done. I always fear the PM will show that “we could have easily saved him, if only we had done X”.

The second difficult decision was acted upon this morning, when we had Oak put down.

Oak was one of our first alpaca, he and Chris were the first two to arrive seven years ago. Chris sadly died only 9 months later.

A very young Oak

We first knew something was wrong with Oak in May 2009, the poor boy was nearly crippled, collapsing to his knees as we tried to move him to the shed. He responded a bit to VitD (though he was not suffering from Rickets). We kept him going with frequent D injections for the last 17 months, but it became more and more clear he was in pain. Best guess (which may yet be confirmed) is a spinal injury, probably when rough-housing with the boys.

The plan to have the new vet come and do an educational post-mortem (she has never opened up a camelid before) fell through when her young son fell suddenly ill. Unfortunately by the time she got in touch with me, Oak was already dead, so it was too late to postpone.

The last 6 months have been tough. Sugar, Cotton, Tessa, Persil, Robin and now Oak. The great irony of it all, is Oak is the only one who we can be sure did not suffer in the end. It was over in an instant, the last he knew he was eating some chaff.

Sometimes, when life is nothing more but pain, death is a kindness. It is a difficult decision to make for an old friend, but in the end I have to think about his welfare above and beyond my feelings.

It is difficult, but it is right.

Living in a fishbowl

For the last few weeks of April we had 3 alpaca living in the yard around the house. Marlett was the primary reason. She was too thin, so we wanted to supplement her- the grass around the house was best, plus extra food provided in a creep-feed. I also gave her vitamin B (dissolved Berocca tablets) to stimulate appetite and active-culture yoghurt to kick-start her rumen. She was also getting eye drops twice a day, as she had conjunctivitis in both eyes. Boo, her mother, had to be there too of course. We also put Blaze in with them to keep them company. She was a bit lame, and we figured she would be happy to not have to go up and down the back hill on her bendy old legs.

Familiarity breeds, well if not contempt, then at least a very laconic attitude. By the end of the week Boo was merrily (and greedily) eating from our hands, and had a good appetite for both carrot and apple.

Blaze was deeply fascinated by the “monkey house.” There was this big glass door where she could look in and see what we were doing. One evening we had friends over to watch a movie, and in the dark I saw her come up to the slider, look at us, look at the TV, and clearly think “just what are those monkeys doing?”

If it were not for the 2 wobbly wooden steps up into the room, I am sure she would have come in to explore. I saw her test the steps more than once, but with her bad legs she is a bit conservative.

Blaze is a funny animal. I would have loved to see her when she was young and spry, she must have been a real hoot.

what're you doin' in there?