Christmas Cheer

The holidays have been quite nice to us so far.

On Christmas Eve we decided to go and visit some new neighbors who move in about 500 meters up the road 6 weeks ago. How do you greet new neighbors- why with camelids of course! So we haltered up Jim and Hyouki and went up to see them. The gobsmacked look through the sliding glass door when they saw a llama on the porch was very amusing. Viv, Mike and their teenage son Al are very nice people, British immigrants who have been here about a year.

Chritsmas morning had an unexpected start when the doorbell rang at 7:30 AM. You know something is not right when an unexpected visitor drops by at such a time, on such a day. It was Viv and Mike from up the road! Their transformer was shorting and sparking, and they had no power! (and of course their cell phone was flat, and their line-line was a hands-free model that needs power to work). Since we were now the people they knew best in the valley (barring on other neighbor who was away for the holidays), they came ot borrow our phone and call the pwoer company. While they waited, I made them pan cakes for breakfast and we all had a grand time. Normally it would take 4-6 hours to get a crew out for such a fault, but on Christmas day it took only an hour becauuse everything was so quiet.
We also had a grand gift for Christmas- more rain! We got over 25mm on Chirtsmas day. I am sure some people who had planned Christmas BBQs were a bit bummed by the rain, but we loved it. It did, ironically enough, prevent me from setting up a new Chritsmas toy- a weather station.

And for Christmas dinner we went over to Al and Mel’s and were treated to a vast feast of very tasty heart-explodingly-good food. And cake. Sugar-rush-inducing cake. As they were jetting off for a holiday today, we ended up with most of the leftovers, which is good, because today is the “Feast of Stephens”, our annual Boxing Day bash at our place. I don’t know how many people will show up, but I expect fun and merriment from those that do.

And who knows, with the nice weather today maybe Saffron will decide to drop her cria and provide some extra entertainment for us all.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

photo deluge

Jasmine doing the “furry periscope” thing. I like it when we have this much grass. (She’s kushed, not standing. The grass isn’t that high.)

Furry Periscope

The mob we’re agisting for the fellow up in Hamilton. They’re settling in well, and despite the way this photo (which was taken before we mixed them in with our mob) looks, they’re mixing with our herd already, and they’re not shy about checking us humans out and introducing themselves — both of which say good things about their owner, I reckon.

The agisted mob

Aaaand, some cute cria photos, including a couple of Cindy’s new boy:

Just born
Cindy's cria Cindy's cria and Jasper

…and of the two oldest boys chasing each other around like crazy things. They tooks turns who was chasing whom & it looks like Cindy’s boy will beat Concetta’s and start playing with them first.

Ring around the poplar and up the hill

Earthquake

If you’ve heard about the earthquake and are wondering — we’re fine. We felt the house shake around 9 o’clock last night, but that was it for us.

It was a 6.8, and Gisborne (about 8 hours northeast of us) got the worst of it, with a couple collapsed buildings in the CBD, and general damage around the district, but no casualties reported.

A break from Summer

The last 5 weeks have been very un-Wellington-like. Every day has been consistently warm, fine, and sunny. Many days there is narry a cloud in the sky. While Welllington is famous for taunting people with short, erratic spurts of lovely weather, it is really rare to have it go on, and on, and on, like it has.

Now, one downside is that all this fine sunny weather means there has been no rain. We, as professional grass-growers, were starting to get worried. It was a dry Winter and Spring, so the soil moisture is way below where we would want it. Yesterday we caught a break- and the weather turned terrible. A cold southerly wind started blowing, the temperature dropped from the mid 20’s to the mid teens- and it started raining! 20mm fell yesterday, much of it in a rather large burst. Today the rain has been more gentle, and another 10mm has fallen so far.

The combination of wind and rain was a bit much for some of the girls, man of whom were shivering quite a lot, so I moved them down to the shed where they could get out of the wind and rain and fill their bellies with nice warming hay. One nice thing about alpaca is that they give birth on fine sunny days, so no need to worry when the weather turns nasty, right?

Wrong. Cindy dropped a cria this afternoon. When I checked her at 12:15 she was standing around in the shed eating hay like everyone else. When I checked her again at 2:10 she was in the back corner of the dog-yard, a cria was kushed next to her, and she was just passing the placenta. And no need to ask, as you know the answer already- another boy. A cute little fawn boy with white tips on his ears. He looks very similar to his deceased brother, who died during birth two days previous (the 17th of December) last year.

I gave him a quick toweling off, and put a raincoat on him. He is up and about, and seems very coordinated and vigorous. I left him with mum in the yards (with all the other very-curious girls and cria behind a fence) so they culd get the milk-bar sorted.

Baby Sitting

Or should I call it mommy sitting? Or mommy watching?

Whatever I call it, we now have a new business. On Saturday another alpaca breeder from up the road dropped off two pregnant females, Bonus and Fabrege. They are due sometime in the next few weeks. She used to work from home, but recently changed jobs. She wants someone to watch them, to make sure they give birth okay. This is known as “agistment”, where we care for someone elses animals. As we have three girls of our own on birth-watch, it is no extra effort to keep and eye on two more.

In the next few weeks a truck should arrive with 6 more alpaca, 5 white females and a white male (Zeus). We will be watching them at birth time (March-April, again we have plenty of our own due that time), and caring for them for about a year.

It feels like we have suddenly passed a threshold of some kind. Agistment business has started, and I am getting consulting-calls from other alpaa owners in the region. Pretty cool.

Superstition

The human brain is very good at picking out patterns, even creating patterns where they do not exist. From this many superstitions have arisen, as events that are unrelated are somehow linked in their significance.

One common such superstition is that “things happen in threes.” When two seemingly related events occur, you are left waiting for that third shoe to drop. Well, for better or worse the Universe provided such a pattern for us.

At the beginning of October Jake was shot and lost a leg.

At the beginning of November Ferrari fell over dead of a bowel torsion.

Yesterday one of Yvonne’s horses slipped and fell while jumping at an event, and broke his leg. The vet on site thought it was a hairline fracture (and thus could be fixed), so they rushed him to Massey (the big vet hospital 2 hours north of here) for treatment. At Massey they discovered the injury was too severe, and he was euthanized.

What a terrible experience, especially for poor Joanne who was riding him. To be 14 years old and lose your pony must be truly awful. Especially if you are left blaming yourself when he slips beneath you. (The ground is very hard due to a lack of rain, but yesterday a light mist fell, leaving the surface greasy and slippery.)

Zam had been trouble since he arrived. He was a willful, smart, difficult horse. He taught Joanne to have a great “seat”, as he was prone to bucking and rearing. Yvonne had put in a huge amount of work trying to correct his behaviour problems, as well as some niggling back injuries he had earlier. Joanne had pushed through the frustration of his bucking and resistance to have great pride in what she and he could do. And, like only a 14 year old girl can, she loved Zam.

I guess the only consolation is that the superstitious part of my brain can now stop waiting for the third bad animal-related thing to happen.

Numbah Thrrree

Concetta had her cria today — a completely normal, easy-as-pie *schllllloop!*, I’m happy to say. He’s a wee light fawn boy, a good two kilos smaller than the previous two were at birth. Stephen reckons the three of them will be a little trio of terror in a couple weeks.

Concetta's cria Up and about

Just some pics

Photos I took yesterday afternoon of Joy’s cria — now a couple weeks old — and Jasmine with her blue-eyed boy.

Joy's cria Jasmine and cria

The white boy looks like he was born a little early — the tips of his ears are still a bit droopy, he’s really knock-kneed in front, and his teeth have only just come through the gums. He came out plenty vigorous, though, despite being stuck half-way for so long, so he’s coming along fine. We put him and Jasmine in a separate paddock overnight, so he could figure out who his mother is — for a while there, he’d wander off following anyone who came up to look at him. He’s about got it now, though.

Local Film

Before the drama on Sunday afternoon became the news, I was planning on posting on the film we matched Saturday night. Black Sheep, a film that could only be made in NZ. And I am surprised it hadn’t been made yet. What is it? Well, it is your standard zombie-apocalypse, except with sheep.

Hordes of flesh-eating, genetically modified, zombie sheep. It was hilarious. You might be able to find it in your video store, as it did get a world-wide release. It does have gore, of the classic spurting bad-zombie film variety. I am also amused that it was shot entirely in the Wellington region. “Miles from nowhere” is actually Terawhiti station behind Makara, about a 20 minute drive from downtown. And we are pretty sure that the house they sheltered in was the same as Peter Jackson used in Bad Taste. But of course, there are only so many houses back in Makara.

So, if you are looking for a uniquely NZ film, add Black Sheep to the queue.

A Helping Hand

How did you spend your Sunday afternoon ? If you didn’t say, “On my back in a paddock, up to my elbow in an alpaca, swearing up a blue streak,” then your afternoon was probably less… gooey than mine. You probably don’t have the interesting bruises on your arm, either. Please note that I will be describing this afternoon in a bit further detail, so if this squicks you, now might be a good time to glance at the photos, sigh, “Ah, everything turned out okay,” and go read something else.

So Stephen noticed about lunchtime that Jasmine was probably in first stage labor. This is Jasmine. Isn’t she pretty ?

Jasmine the alpaca

The next time he went out to check, he came back with the terse instructions, “Trim your nails and wash your hands!”

Uh-oh.

Jasmine had pushed out a little white head and a little white foot. Problem is that alpacas have, yes, two front feet, and both of them are supposed to come out at the same time. The other one must be folded back under the cria’s body. According to the neonatal class we’d both gone to last year, that meant getting a hand up in, catching the other front foot, and executing this tidy little maneuver whereby you flip the front leg under the body and pull it out properly alongside the other one.

If you are thinking, “Boy, I bet that’s harder than it sounds,” you would be right. In the class, we practiced with an “artificial uterus”, which I can tell you is a hell of a lot roomier than the real thing. Especially when the real thing is really eager to squeeze both the cria AND your arm out right the $#%^ now, thank you very much.

Now, I can tell you that once I figured out which slick, squishy-yet-bony lump was the leg I wanted, and how it was positioned, I could see that part of the problem was that the knee was already through the opening of the cervix and into the birth canal. I had to try and push it back into the uterus to even have a hope of flipping the leg. I can also tell you that I was thinking (quite out loud) that if she’d got the knee through the cervical opening, could she not get it the rest of the way through the pelvis as-is ? I mean, that little leg is a good bit skinnier than my arm, after all. Well, but that’s not what we’d learned, so I gave it my best. So did Jasmine. Ow. She’s a strong girl ! It was difficult to get my arm far enough up there in the first place to get a grip on the wrist, difficult to maintain a grip on the slippery, gooey wrist*, and, in fact, impossible to get that leg flipped around. It’s possible that I just didn’t have the proper angle. It’s possible that there really just wasn’t enough room.

*Here’s an experiment for you: Have someone wrap both hands around your forearm, at the meaty bit below the elbow. Clench your fist as tight as you can. Now have that person squeeze your forearm with both hands. If they’ve got your arm wrapped properly, you’ll find it hard to maintain that grip — there’s some tendons in there that’ll try to make your fingers open.

At any rate. I was getting tired, Jasmine was getting tired, and Kerry was getting sunburnt — and tired from running down to the house and back for the cell phone, and then for the bit of rope we were going to try looping around the slippery ankle. Then we had to send Beth back for the phone book… note to self: reassess the contents of the “birthing kit”. Using the cell phone Kerry fetched, Stephen rang our neighbor Shaunie, a much-more-experienced-than-us farmer, who’d assisted cows, sheep, and horses before. Huzzah for good neighbors!

Here’s Shaunie having a look (that jug I’m holding is lubricant, if you’re curious, and if you weren’t, would you have read this far?):

Before

And here’s the result:

After

She lined the leg back up and pulled him (yes, a boy — a blue-eyed white) out with that leg knee-first — she reckons the leg was too long to flip (“They’re built like greyhounds — they’re all leg!”). So I’d been correct, actually, with my first instinct. And now I’ve got the experience to know to trust it.** So that’s one good thing to come of the afternoon’s experience.

And here’s another:

Jasmine's cria

**EDIT: Just to be clear, the narrowest part of the birth canal is the pelvic frame. The cervix is just tissue, and can expand, but the pelvic frame, being bone, can’t. The widest part of the cria is the shoulders, so it is important that the cria is positioned so that there’s nothing — like, say, a folded leg — adding extra width to the shoulders as they go through the pelvis. The class we took also covered things like shifting the cria’s shoulders around onto the diagonal, where’s there’s just slightly more room, and little tricks like grabbing the legs and shoving one shoulder back while pulling the other forward, so that one scapula comes through slightly ahead of the other, narrowing the shoulders that way. (That’s what we had to do with Cindy’s stuck cria last year.) Sometimes, if the cria is already in the birth canal (i.e., past the cervical opening) but in the wrong position to go through the pelvis, you do have to shove the thing back into the uterus to reposition it. We were lucky that Jasmine is a big, sturdy girl with a pelvis plenty wide enough to get the job done despite the less-than-ideal position.