A fright for us all

Thursday we had a heck of a fright. We went on a walk with some of our camelids (Jim, Hankyo and Hyouki) and our friends MJ and Cathy- who brought her dog Jed. We were walking in the forest up by Colonial Knob in Porirua.

Everything was fine, we walked up the forest track for about half an hour with Cathy and Jed in the lead. The ‘paca and Jim did very well at crossing the various bridges and the like- they had done this all before.

When we turned around to head back down the problems occured. The ‘paca did not want a dog following. What we should have done is had Cathy lag well behind until we got down to the flatter, wider part of the trail further down. But we got stupid, and tried to change the marching order then and there. Tam and I were trying to get out of the way (I had Jim, Tam had Hankyo), and Cathy came by before we were fully in position. Jed lunged at Jim, and pulled cathy off her feet on the wet and slippery wet trail. The four of us went tumbling down the bank. Scrambling bodies, a frenzied dog, a frenzied Jim- not a good scene. I still was clinging to Jim’s lead, so Tam was shouting for me to “let him go.” I did so, and unfortunately Cathy also responded to the cry and let Jed go.

Jim took off down the trail, with Jed in pursuit. Jim crashed into MJ and Hyouki, MJ let Hyouki go, and Jim continued onwards, followed by the dog, then by Hyouki. Tam managed (barely) to keep Hankyo from breaking free and taking off in pursuit of his herd leader and best buddy.

I didn’t see any of this, as I was running down the trail at full speed, my mind full of all the possible horrible outcomes that included broken legs, mauled animals, squashed dogs, etc.

I had run about a kilometer down the trail when I head Jim alarm calling in the distance. Shortly thereafter Jed passed me, heading up the trail- back towards his Master Cathy. About 100 meters further along I found Jim, he was the in the rocky stream bottom, half way over a short waterfall trapped by some Supple Jack wrapped all up and around his hind quarters.

While Jim was extremely agitated, freaked out even, and alarm calling continuously, he was also completely obedient. Probably the best behaved he has ever been. Clearly he was looking to me for help in the situation. I got him untangled from the vines, and walked him out. By the time we got back to the parking lot he had stopped alarm calling, and was merely puffing. Not a surprise, Jim is a fat llama, and had just made a heck of a run.

Jim ran a kilometer or more down a steep trail and stream bed, through a forest, all covered with loose jagged rocks and slippery mud. He suffered a small cut on the top of one foot, and might had slightly pulled/twisted his left rear knee. That was it. A miracle. We all came out of the woods muddy, having had lots of scrapes and falls in that mad dash.

This is also where it was convenient having MJ on hand, since she is a vet and we could check Jim out immediately.

Anyway, it was a heck of a fright, both for us and the poor camelids. Thankfully Jed was really just excited, and not trying to bite, but we plan to have him and Cathy back up, perhaps this weekend, to do some formal “stock-proofing” training with him.

Big gay 'paca, part two

On Sunday we brought the girls down for another round of matings. Breeding alpacas is all on a 7-day cycle. You mate on day 0, then on day +7 you put the male and female back together. If the female “spits off” the male, she has ovulated, otherwise she sits down and they mate again. At day +14 you put them together again, if the female spits she thinks she is pregnant, otherwise she sits and they mate. Any given mating has about a 50-50 chance of getting the female pregnant. You continue periodic “spit-off” tests throughout the pregnancy, as a certain fraction will spontaneously abort- at which point they become receptive again and will sit for the male.

So, this Sunday we had to do the +14 for Concetta, and the +7 for Joy. Joy spat off Heir-y. Concetta sat, so she did not get pregnant on the first go. The matings are done in a pen area just beside a larger enclosure where all the other females are waiting. Cindy, who lost her cria in a bad birth the weekend before, came over to the fence and sat down, very clearly receptive (asking “can I have some sex too?”).

So what happpens? Victoria comes over, mounts Cindy, and does her best to orgle! She is our big gay ‘paca! We only hope that she is in fact still pregnant, and that this behavior is not showing up because she has lost her cria at some point. I don’t know enough about how the hormones could be affecting her behavior to make a guess either way.

When Heir-y is done mating he hopes up and walks away, looking for another female. When Vicotria is done she settles down for a snuggle. I will let the readers draw their own conclusions.

Snip Snip

Yesterday I took a little road trip with two alpaca. I loaded up Hankyo and Hyouki and drove them up to Otaki (about an hour north) for a vet visit. The trip was for Hankyo, Hyouki was just along to keep him company.

The time had come to get Hankyo snipped. This was very important, as he was starting to feel the testosterone, and was getting stroppier by the day. His “play fights” with the other alpaca were getting much more vigorous (picture him running around mouth agape, biting anything he could get in his mouth), and he ever tried a test-orgle at the females over the fence.

The hardest part of the procedure was getting the needle in the jugular vein for the Ketamine injection. Alpaca have protected/armored viens- see the mouth-agape fighting reference above. Once the drugs went in he dropped right off, and the surgical procedure took all of 4 minutes- whihc is good as the Ketamina only last 10-20 minutes. And when it wears off the first indication can be the patient climbing to his feet! Apparently alpaca are very much an on/off sort of species when it comes ot anestesia.

It was educational to watch the little surgery. If I had the ketamine and the nifty suturing tool I could totally do that. Have to check the MAF regulations some time and see if I would be allowed to.

Hankyo is much more reserved today. Some combination of sore nther regions, and a strange sense of loss. Hopefully as the testosterone fades from his blood stream he will lose some of his ardor. Being less fighty and spitty would be a good thing.

New Skills

So, today we milked Cindy. The first milk produced is the colustrum, and it is full of extra goodies for a newborn. The gut lining of a newborn can only absorb most of the extra godness (particularly the antibodies) for the first 12 hours (plus or minus), and it is vital to get colustrum into the baby. Sometimes a new mum doesn’t produce enough milk in the first few hours, especially if it was a difficult/assisted birth. We have freeze dried cow colustrum on hand, but it is not ideal.

Now we have about 75 ml of alpaca colustrum in the freezer, where it will keep for a few years. If we need it, it’s there. What you call making the best of a bad situation and all that. Thankfully Cindy was extremely accomodating while I used a modified 10 ml syringe to milk her. Probably the hormones, telling her to stand still and let the cria drink.

She is still looking for her lost cria. Very sad.

We also gave her a shot of long-acting antibiotics, and hopefully everything will be okay. Here’s hoping this is our only birth-trauma of the season.

Not a fun day

So, for better or worse, we got to put our alpaca birthing training to the test today.

About noon I went to check on the girls, as the rain had stopped an hour before and it was getting nicer. Cindy was in labor, presenting a cria that was not looking good. She was at least 2 weeks premature, based on her predicted due date. At first I thought it was a minor problem (both legs on one side of head), easily corrected. I could not catch her myself first try. I ruashed back to the house and called Tam (who was finishing her dance class) and Yvonne (who is only 5 minutes away) for help.

The cria was dead, and stuck. The cria had been dead for some time, as the eyes had totally filmed over. Cindy was exhausted. I don’t know how long she had been in labor, but I had not noticed anything when I checked at 9 AM. After talking to Nic (from the Neonatal course) he suggested that it may have been a head-down presentation, where in stead of coming nose-first the head pitches forward as it enters the birth canal. This pinches off the top of the neck, and the little cria died from a lack of blood to the brain as he was being born.

Yvonne was holding Cindy, and Tam managed to pull it free while I was back at the house calling vets and stuff. Cindy was so tired she was not longer really pushing, and was lying on her side. She was even letting out disturbing groans and lolling her head about, which was a sign of just how completely spent she was.

It would have been a cute little male cria, medium fawn in color, with little white tips on its ears. Birth weight 7.25 kg, so not too large, just really bad luck. The cria looked fully mature, so if not for the bad birth, it would have been fine. We gave Cindy a drench of electrolytes and some sugar to help get her going again. We left her with the dead cria for about 90 minutes, so that she could understand what happened.

Needless to say this has sucked the fun from the day. Now we have the girls in the yards, waiting for Cindy to pass the placenta. She knows she has a cria somewhere, and is very upset that she cannot find it. Her distress adds to the sadness of the whole situation.

I have placed the cria in the freezer. We will transfer it to Nic and Linda eventually, so it can be used in another neonatal course and help other people learn skills that might someday save another cria. Tomorrow I get antibiotics from the vets, as after a troubled birth like this infection is a definite risk.

We can console ourselves that we saved Cindy’s life. If I had gone to fight practice, and then we had gone over to Tracy’s directly afterwards (as we were invitied for afternoon “nibbles”), we would have come home to a dead mother, with a stuck dead cria. That would have been even worse. As I said at the start, for better or worse the neonatal training has already come in very handy.

UPDATE: It’s 7:30 and she’s passed the placenta, so that’s a good thing. We won’t need to call the vet out to give her an oxytocin injection. It was really sad, though, because she kept nuzzling it. We’ve let the girls into the glen paddock for the night & they’re all very happy to have grass instead of hay, and a new hill to run up and down. -T.

All about alpaca

This was an alpaca-tastic weekend.

Friday we tried our first mating with Highland Heir. He was very interested in Persil, but she spat him off in no uncertain terms. He showed a little interest in Concetta, but she also spat him off. We figured she might not yet be ready, and decided to try again with her Sunday.

Saturday we got up early to drive the two hours up to Palmerston North for an all-day alpaca neonatal training course. It was very useful, and totally worth the time and money. The morning was largely theoretical (powerpoint slides) talking about how to recognize birthing problems, and what can go wrong. In the afternoon we went on to using artificial uterus setups with stillborn cria. These dead cria could be arranged into various dystocias (incorrect birth positions), so we could learn how to determine by-feel what was wrong, and correct it. Hopefully this willl never come up, but knowing what do do provides a huge boost of confidence. Plus it turns out my hand will fit in an emergency, though a smaller womans hand is preferable. We also learned just how hard you mave to pull if extracting a stuck cria. Knowing what level of force is appropriate and safe in totally invaluable.

Sunday our friend MJ, who is a zoo vet, came over in the afternnon. We looked at the ‘paca. We took Hankyo and Hyouki for a walk up the valley. Quite an enjoyable afternoon. She gave Victoria a vet-check for us, which we need for her insurance. Then it was time to try mating Concetta again. We brought everyone down to the pens. Once again Heri-y showed great interest in the white girls, and got another firm spit-off from Persil, who may in fact be pregnant. But he had no interest in Concetta. She was standing there, clearly somewhat aroused by all the orgling he had done for Persil- yet he steadfastly ignored her. (heck, he kicked her away when she came over and sniffed his tail!)

It seems he only liked white girls, and Concetta is a lovely fawn. What were we to do? MJ came up with the solution (though it seemed ludicrous at the time)… flour! I got some flour, and tossed a handful on her hindquarters. Heir-y saw the lovely now-white bum, and the action immediately commenced! (Photots later) After 12 minutes of silly orgling he was done, and we put everyone back to their paddocks. Next week we mate Joy, and test Concetta to see if she has ovulated (if she spits off). Plus we willl try spitting off Minty. Latte is clearly pregnant, you could see a little cria foot poking out the side of her abdomen. Cute, yet slightly creepy. Looks like from here on out it is alpaca sex every weekend for the rest of the summer.


In other news, we also had Smitty and Claire blow through on the weekend. That’s twice now ! They came in on the evening ferry Thursday & we hauled them a block and a half from their backpackers (communications glitch — they couldn’t get ahold of us before they had to make the booking) to Cha on Courtenay place. It was cold and drizzly, but apparently they’d been having terrific weather their whole trip, so a little rain didn’t put them off.

Friday, Smitty joined the usual lunch crew at Wellington Market, then she and Claire picked me up after work (forgot to explain the one-way streets around the Michael Fowler Ctr — oops) & we went out to pester the alpacas before the rain came back. They kipped at our place after the Friday game & Stephen stuffed them full of breakfast before they blasted off for Kapiti and further north. Looks like they had good weather for Kapiti, too, lucky them.

Saturday night was Pat & Danie’s housewarming — they’re our neighbors across the valley whose house we watched built. It was good to hang with neighbors for a while, and meet some new people. Danie’s just gotten herself a horse — a big red gelding named Goldstien (after a character in a long-running banking ad campaign; she says she may change it). Bruce & Jenny (the people exchanging firewood for our rhododendrons) had us over for dinner Tuesday and as we were walking by, this huge red horse was, near as we can tell, doing happy dances in the paddock. He has this little red and white mini that is now apparently his bestest friend & the two of them together are a hoot. Anyway, this big gelding was jumping in the air and rearing up and pawing the air and bucking and kicking up his heels and rearing up and then jumping on his hind legs — I kid you not ! — and generally doing all on his own (except possibly for the benefit of his diminutive paddock mate) all those things you’re used to seeing Lipizzaners do at the behest of little men in jodhpurs. It was amazing to watch. Some combination of new home, new friend, and spring grass. And nice weather. All the animals will run around and frolick when the sun finally comes out. We sat and watched three sheep chase each other around in big circles on the back hill for about 20 minutes the other day. I swear at one point they were chasing a rabbit — or maybe the rabbit was just getting the hell out of the way.

Cue the Barry White music

On Sunday we took a 2-hour drive up to Woodville to pick up Highland Heir (AKA Heir-y) to be our primary stud male for the season. He was supposed to have been shipped down via a horse transporter, but they flaked out. So we met Peter half way (they live in Hawkes Bay) and did the transfer in a gas station parking lot.

I’ve never stopped in Woodville before. The long line of wind turbines on the hills to the west is quite pretty.

Peter was quite impressed with the transport box we were assembling on the back of the ute- which is better than horrified considering we were loading their valuable stud male into it!

The addition of Heir-y has confused the herd distribution a bit. Heir-y cannot be in the same paddock as another intact male for safety reasons, as they can castrate each other when fighting. So now we have 3 mobs of alpaca (wethers plus heiry, all other males including Jim, females), plus the mob of horses. I am glad I have been building fences and subdividing the property. I still need to finish a few, and add some extensions to the water system (more troughs), then it will be even easier to manage this.

Startng this weekend we cue the bad 70’s buka-chika-wow music and have our first mating! Should be amusing, and hopefully successful. We have to remember to tell Heir-y “females only please!”