A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

April 23, 2009

Tragedy of the Shortage of Large Animal Vets



Moonie in happier times

Moonie in happier times


This post is a difficult one to write, and if you love animals it will be difficult to read, but what happened here on the farm on Monday is one example of the consequences of a national shortage of large animal vets


On Sunday afternoon one of our herdsires Moonlight Surprise (Moonie) had a seizure.  Just before I went out to do afternoon chores I noticed a commotion in the adult males pen.  I thought they were just doing the usual wrestling and chasing, but then I realized something was wrong. 


I could see Moonie getting up and then being picked on by the other males, they were chest butting him and chasing him away from the male herd.  While the male alpacas do fight and squabble this was different, the other males were making a concerted effort to ostracize Moonie from the herd. 


As I watched I noticed Moonie was also running strangely with his neck straight out, he was following the fence line and there was something very odd about his behavior.


I went out and caught Moonie and realized that something was affecting his vision.  I prepared a small pen in the area where the younger males are and took Moonie over to that pen.  Moonie wasn’t blind, he had some limited vision allowing him to see things when he got close up to them, but his vision was not normal.


Moonie was distressed about his condition, his nostrils were flaring and he was unsettled.  I gave him some Bach’s Rescue Remedy and then showed him where the water and hay were in the pen.  I took his temperature which was 99.5 a little low but not terribly concerning.  A while later Moonie had another seizure, his body contracted pulling his neck to the right, followed by trembling of his head and rapid movement of his eye lids, he staggered as the seizure progressed.  As the seizure continued I did my best to make sure he didn’t hurt himself by falling against anything.  As Moonie came out of the seizure I could tell his vision had been affected again.  Moonie started following the fence line, walking round and round the pen.


This was not the first time we had known Moonie to have a seizure, about two years ago Moonie had been seen to have one.  He was in quarantine following a show at the farm of our alpaca neighbors Bob and Regina Dart.  Following shows we often quarantine our show string together.  It means that one farm can quarantine the boys and the other farm quarantine the girls often avoiding the situation where one alpaca is quarantined alone.  When Moonie had his first seizure the quarantine period had passed but we had not picked our alpacas up from the Darts farm.  That seizure was small and was followed by another about a week later.  Our vet examined Moonie and run some bloodwork on him but there were no clues as to why Moonie had those first two seizures.   Now two years later Moonie was having seizures again.


Being Sunday night our vet was not available, by the time nightfall came Moonie had calmed down and was quietly cushed in his pen.  He was not drinking any water or eating hay, but he did nibble on some pellets we put in his pen.


Monday morning came and Moonie was comfortably cushed in his pen.  We saw him get up and go to the poop pile and then again start eating the pellets in his bowl.  He seemed more alert and almost back to normal, but about an hour after we first saw him in the morning he had another seizure.


As soon as the vet clinic was open I called our vet.  Our vet told me that he was unable to come out to our farm that morning, his schedule was already fully booked, but he could see Moonie at 4 p.m. that afternoon.  Listening to my description of Moonie’s condition he was puzzled as to what could be going on with Moonie, but of course it is very difficult to diagnose a condition over the phone. 


By the time I spoke to our vet Moonie was going around and around in circles around his hay bucket, always circling to the right.  Moonie had also started alarm calling, indicating his level of distress to be high.  The poor boy couldn’t understand what was happening to him.


Our vet suggested I give Moonie a small dose of Acepromazine and some Thiamine to try and help Moonie remain stable and calm until the afternoon appointment.


Moonie was having seizures approximately every hour, the Thiamine did seem to help him and I was optimistic that the vet would be able to treat him later that day.  As the morning progressed though the seizures continued and started to get more severe each time.  As if that was not bad enough our vet then called me to say that he was not going to be able to get away from the client he was with and could not see Moonie that day.  I explained that Moonie was getting worse and asked what I should do, our vet suggested that I call another veterinary practice in Texas to see if they had any vets in our area.  


You might wonder why our vet suggested calling a veterinary practice in a neighboring state, we are after all in an agricultural community with a large number of cattle and horses, but the truth is that the vets who are contracted with the local dairies will not come out to see other clients.  The veterinary practice in Texas was our only other option.


Sadly the veterinary practice in Texas did not have anyone in our area, they offered for us to drive Moonie over to them but by this time Moonie was down and couldn’t get up.    At 2:30 p.m.  Moonie died.


I have had alpacas die before; sadly part of any livestock business is the inevitable death of some of your animals.  With the best care in the world at times things will happen that we cannot fix and animals die.  This death though was the hardest I have had to witness yet, my alpaca was suffering and even when I knew he was dying and tried to get a vet to come out to put him down the response I got was that the area vets were busy and could not help.  It is one thing to lose an alpaca, it is entirely different thing to have to watch that animal suffer in his final moments and not be able to do a thing to ease that suffering.  My only hope is that in those final moments Moonies brain had shut down to where perhaps he wasn’t feeling what was going on.


It is known that there is a national shortage of Large Animal Vets in the United States, a recent article in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel refers to the problems that shortage presents, not just to livestock owners but also how that shortage could be a threat to national security.  What is worrying is that the situation is only likely to get worse.


Our large animal vet has been looking for another vet to join his practice for well over a year with no luck.  The number of veterinary college graduates who choose to specialize in large animal practice is small.  Trying to find a veterinarian who is of the caliber that our vet desires and who also wants to live in dry and dusty eastern New Mexico is a difficult task. 


I am sure our vet is not happy about the situation with Moonie; it cannot be easy for him to turn down a client with an emergency situation.   Our vet is just one person and if he is already dealing with another client’s emergency he cannot walk away from that emergency until he has completed whatever treatments he needs to administer.  How is he supposed to choose between two clients both urgently needing his services?  On speaking to his wife later in the day she described Monday as “a day from hell”.


Large animal veterinary practice is not a popular choice of career, the hours are long and the conditions are often filthy and demanding.  It takes a special person to be a large animal vet and while at times the job is rewarding that is apparently not enough to persuade people to become a large animal vet.


I wish I had a solution to the shortage of large animal vets in the US, if only to prevent another animal and owner from encountering the situation I did on Monday.  The only thing I can think to do is to sponsor organizations who have a scholarship scheme for veterinary students specializing in large animal practice.  


We do not know what caused Moonie’s seizures; we have submitted his body to the Texas Veterinary Medicine Diagnostic Lab (TVMDL) in Amarillo, Texas for a full necropsy.   We hope that something from that necropsy will shed some light on what was wrong with Moonie, but there is always a chance that the results of the necropsy will be inconclusive.


My heart breaks over the loss of my gentle herdsire Moonie.  He really was one of the gentlest alpacas, his easygoing nature inherited from his dam Carina.    Moonies fleece was very fine and consistent with little guard hair; a trait that is valued in the alpaca world and that made him a valuable part of our breeding program.


We had not used Moonie as much as we would have liked to, he currently has three offspring on the ground with a fourth one due later this spring.  One of his offspring is our Windrush Peruvian Tonka who we lovingly refer to as Little Man.  Ironically when Little Man was born he bore no resemblance to Moonie, but now as he grows his face is strikingly similar to that of his sire.  That similarity will now be part of Moonie’s legacy and in time we hope that Little Man will step in to take over the herdsire career that his sire was unable to complete. 


To my dear Moonie, I hope you understand that I did what I could for you; it was not enough to save you I know, but I don’t know what else I could have done.  I will truly miss you.



March 26, 2009


The Girls Help Themselves to Hay

The Girls Help Themselves to Hay


What can I say?  Leave a herd of alpacas alone long enough with a bale of their favorite teff hay which has been “secured” in a pen and one of them will figure out how to get the pen gate open allowing the herd an “all you can eat” buffet on the bale!

We had one bale of teff hay left and decided to store it in the pen we use for big bales in the girls pasture so that we could ration it out a little every day.  Word soon spread among the herd that the teff hay was there and the girls happily spent their day pulling pieces through the chain link of the pen.  That teff hay tastes so good and our girls wanted more.

Maya the llama was the first to lead the assault on the big bale pen.  Using the chain link material on the gate to the big bale pen she managed to climb up high enough to where she could reach her neck out and just manage to nibble at the edge of the bale.  This wasn’t the easiest feat in the world but Maya was determined despite being told off by Ric for climbing on the chain link gate.

Having been discouraged from accessing the bale by going over the fence there was only one alternative, go under the fence.

We have two alpacas at the farm that are champions at putting their heads under the last rung of any portable panel or gate in order to reach anything that is tasty on the other side.  Carina started this trend, reaching under her feeding pen each morning to steal one of the bowls from the group of girls in the adjoining pen.  Carina also discovered that there was sufficient space for her to get her head and neck under the gate of the big bale pen.

Carina is one of those girls who puts her energy into milk production and tends to be slim, so when we saw her getting access to the big bale by putting her head under the gate we were not too concerned.  We checked to make sure she had sufficient room to get her head in and out of the gap under the gate and allowed her to continue stealing some extra calories.

Glow’s cria Nochi then noticed Carina’s trick and decided that she too could steal hay from under the gate and was soon joining Carina.

Having accessed the hay from under the gate it didn’t take long for Carina to figure out that she could use her head (in a physical way rather than an intellectual way) to push up on the gate just enough to unlatch the lock. 

So it was that yesterday afternoon I glanced out of the window to be greeted by the sight of the herd piling in that gate to help themselves to teff hay – boy were they happy!

While I would love to give them free access to the teff hay, it is the last bale we have and we are trying to make it last.  We do have other hay to feed the alpacas but it will be August before we have access to another load of teff hay.  So for now the gate to the big bale pen has been secured not only with the latch but also with a strap that prevents the alpacas and llamas from maneuvering the gate in any direction – and I have a herd of alpacas who sit longingly outside that pen quietly thinking about how they can once again get free access to that bale of teff hay.


October 11, 2008

What A Week That Was

Carina's Cria

Carina's Cria


First I would like to say a big thank you to all who emailed kind words or posted them to the blog following Beeper’s passing.  It means a lot to us to know there are so many caring people in the world.  Cinnamon has settled down, but still looks for her cria every now and then; only time can help her now.


I usually take a break from writing the blog a couple of times a week, but when you see a break for several days it’s a sign that something else is demanding my attention and that was the case this week.


Following Beepers death on Monday, we had happier news on Tuesday when Carina went into labor – a cria was about to make its entrance into the world, and what an entrance she made.


As we watched Carina in labor we started to get the feeling that all was not right with the delivery.  Carina had managed to deliver the crias head but after waiting a short while there was no sign of the crias feet.  I examined Carina and discovered that the cria had its front legs folded as if it was cushed.  There was no way that cria was coming out without some help.  I tried to get one leg free but could not get the cria back far enough to give me room to maneuver the leg, so we decided that it was time to call the vet.


Fortunately our vet was out headed to an appointment in Portales, which is South of us.  While he was able to get to us quickly it seemed like an eternity, during which time we tried to distract Carina to stop her from continuing to push.  Alpaca pellets, hay and soaked beet shreds were all employed but each would only distract her for a few seconds.  Carina’s body was telling her to push.


When our vet arrived he immediately went to work and was able to free the crias leg and deliver the cria.  By this time Ric was completely convinced that the cria was a boy, as the cria was large, but when we took a closer look we discovered that the cria was a girl.


When we had been deciding who to breed Carina to last year, Ric had pointed out that we didn’t own any daughters from our herdsire Enchantment’s Prince Regent.  Regent’s daughters have all been sold or born to other alpaca owners.  Ric said he thought we should have at least one Regent daughter in our herd and so Carina was bred to Regent in the hopes that their breeding would result in a girl.  I don’t know what Ric said to Regent to make that happen but it worked for we did get a girl.


Following the birthing Carina was obviously sore and tired and initially the cria seemed vigorous, but as the day went on we realized that she too had soreness.  The crias neck was bent and we could feel a couple of the neck bones protruding – she needed a chiropractor!  When the cria tried to stand on her legs she was uncomfortable and her right shoulder turned in at an odd angle.  Poor thing must have been really squashed on her journey into the world.  The cria was also two weeks early, but was a healthy 17 lbs. and apart from her joint discomfort she seemed fully developed.


With such a sore dam and a sore cria we knew we would need to work to keep them both comfortable and to help the cria nurse.  Carina was put on arnica to help with the bruising and was also given some banamine to ease her pain.  We were reluctant to give the cria banamine until she at least had nursed some colostrum.  As long as the cria was cushed she seemed comfortable and so we put her on blanket to cushion her from the ground.


To get the cria to nurse we were able to put her in a cushed position on my knees and then raise her up until she could reach Carina’s udder.  The cria nursed heartily and so began a regimen of helping the cria nurse every hour by putting her on my knees and supporting her.  We also massaged the crias neck and shoulders, which she really enjoyed, particularly between her shoulder blades.  It was good to feel her muscles start to relax as we worked them and to see her doze off while being massaged.


Unfortunately Ric had to leave town the day after the cria was born and so my days and nights have been spent working to help the cria nurse and of course doing the routine chores.  It’s not the first time I have had to work such long days and nights and probably won’t be the last, but the reward for all of those hours of work is looking out in the pasture early Wednesday morning and seeing our new little girl taking some shaky steps followed by a little buck and a kick – progress!


I am happy to report that as of Friday the cria is now able to stand on her own to nurse, trots along beside Carina and still enjoys her massages.  The cria is still not quite up to joining Sleeper and Dutchesses cria in cria races, but she gets more active every day and will no doubt soon be joining in the fun.  Her neck is straightening out and her shoulder joint has returned to a normal position.  Carina too is a lot more comfortable now and has been able to come off the banamine and arnica, but we will be waiting until the spring to breed her back.  After such a traumatic birth some extra recuperation time will not do her any harm.


And as for me, on Friday night I was able to have my first full night of sleep since Beeper was taken ill, and I can assure you I had no trouble sleeping!



September 29, 2008

When One Starts They All Start!

Keeva and her cria

Keeva and her cria





Cinnamon having her cria the day before National Alpaca Farm Days seemed to start the other pregnant dams thinking about birthing.


Saturday morning as I was telling Bethany, our teenage helper, our plans for the day, I looked across the pasture and could see something was different about Keeva.  Lying in the shade of our large blue shelter, with Carina (also due soon) next to her,  Keeva’s tail was making some funny movements – she was in labor.


Our cria kit was still in the front porch from Friday when Cinnamon delivered, so it was nice and handy, but my collection of towels and blankets that I use at alpaca births was still in the washing machine.  We made a quick raid on the towel cabinet before heading out to the pasture.  (Note – if you are planning on delivering crias at your alpaca farm a large collection of old blankets and towels is a good idea!)


By the time we got to Keeva she had the crias head presented, and shortly afterward two feet appeared.  The delivery went well and with a couple more contractions Keeva presented us with a beige, female cria.  This was such a difference from Keeva’s previous birthing when she had a terrible dystocia (badly presented cria) and had to have veterinary assistance, which ended up with us losing the cria.  This time all went smoothly for Keeva and Keeva was anxious to meet her new baby, sniffing and clucking at the birthing fluids on the ground before she fully delivered her cria.


Keeva’s little girl is about three weeks premature.  Keeva had been showing signs that she was not going to carry her cria to term (See blog entry Doing The Cria Dance, September 10, 2008) so we were not totally surprised at her early labor.  Fortunately the cria’s lungs are well developed and with the exception of her being quite sleepy and wobblier than a full term cria she is doing well.  Keeva’s cria is just a little thing weighing in at 13.3 lbs.  We did end up having to milk Keeva a couple of times and feeding the colostrum to her cria to get the cria started and give her a little strength, but by the early afternoon Keeva’s cria was able to get up on her own and nurse from Keeva without a problem.


Keeva's Cria Soaks Up Some Sun

Keeva's Cria Soaks Up Some Sun


Interestingly Keeva’s cria and Cinnamon’s cria are almost identical in looks.  If you part their fleece you can see that they have different fleece styles, but just looking at them in the pasture it is hard to tell them apart.  They do both have the same sire, Tobiano.  We were very careful to make sure that Cinnamon and Keeva recognized which cria was which once we put Keeva and her cria into the pasture for the rest of the day.


So our National Alpaca Farm Day visitors got to see a brand new cria and of course Cinnamons cria who had been born the day before.  They also got to see me looking a filthy mess from taking care of Keeva and her cria but they all understood. 


During the course of the day Carina also started to look uncomfortable, but she did not go into labor.  Probably just that uncomfortable day that alpaca dams have about two weeks before giving birth, which will put Carina close to her due date.  Dutchess is the next girl due to give birth, only time will tell if Cinnamon and Keeva have made her thoughts turn to delivering soon.



September 10, 2008

Doing The Cria Dance!

 With Mags and Song receiving bottles of milk three times a day, there are plenty of opportunities to keep an eye on our late term pregnancy girls.  Cinnamon, Clarissa, Carina and Keeva are all due in October or November. 


In theory Cinnamon should be the first to deliver, followed by Keeva and Carina (who were bred on the same day) and then Clarissa who is due in early November.  I say in theory as any alpaca breeder will tell you that the girls have their crias when they feel like it and not to our schedule or planned due dates!


I noticed a couple of days ago that Cinnamon has some udder development which is about right for her stage of pregnancy.  She is a maiden alpaca and so we need to be prepared for her having her cria a little early or a little late.  I also noticed though that Keeva has udder development, in fact she has much more of a developed udder with full teats and wax caps on her teats, but on paper her due date is October 20.


Keeva’s last cria (which was also her first) was born right around his due date, it may be as she has previously delivered a cria her udder will develop a little while out from her due date.  Some experienced dams do develop their udder early, but Keeva is about six weeks from her due date and the signs I am seeing make me suspicious.


Yesterday afternoon, as I fed Mags and Song I noticed Keeva sitting not far away.  As I watched her I could see the form of her cria pushing against the skin under her tail, doing what we sometimes refer to as the cria dance.  It is not unusual to see that type of movement in a late term dam, but usually it is in the last couple of the weeks of pregnancy.  Eventually Keeva tired of the cria’s movements and stood up.  She stretched and as she did so her tail lifted showing a very swollen vulva.  I watched her again as she waddled off and visited a poop pile, thinking that the swelling might change as she walked or after she had pooped, but it didn’t. 


So Keeva is now under close observation.  She did breed more than once so it is possible that the first breeding did take, or it may be for some reason she is going to deliver early.  Only time will tell, in the meantime while the cria is doing his or her dance inside Keeva, the crias actions are making me do a cria dance all of my own, as I glance out of the window to the girls pasture checking on Keeva every time I pass, and wander out to the pasture if Keeva appears to be cushed in what to me looks like a funny position.  I still get the feeling that Fall cria season could be earlier than we expect!



October 25, 2007

There’s A Head In My Bucket, Dear Liza Dear Liza

Alpaca with head in bucket

Yes I know the words to the song are really “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza dear Liza”, but I felt it necessary to use a bit of poetic license.

The picture at the top of this post was taken at an alpaca show.  The alpaca in the photo had been reaching for a tasty treat at the bottom of the bucket but the owner of the alpaca had not laid the handle of the bucket down flat and “bingo” one bucket stuck on an alpacas head.  The bucket was over the alpacas muzzle and the bucket handle was wedged on the alpaca’s neck. We reached the alpaca soon after the bucket had become stuck, and were able to remove it without a problem.  Fortunately the alpaca had not yet realized that the bucket was stuck on its head, but over time it would have done and could have panicked once it realized it was trapped.

I was reminded of this picture when I was doing chores a couple of days ago and Carina had reached into our beet pulp bucket while I was spooning out the beet pulp.  Before I knew it she had dodged her head under the bucket handle and had the bucket firmly wedged on her head.  It wasn’t too easy getting Carina’s head free from the bucket especially as she was quite content to guzzle the beet pulp shreds inside, but with a bit of wiggling and gentle persuasion I got the bucket free. 

Now to Carina having her head wedged in strange places is not unusual, she often tries to reach the feed bowls in the adjoining pen at feeding time and will push her head and neck under the panels of the pen to do so.  The panels fortunately have enough of a gap that she can do this without becoming trapped but there was one day that she managed to get a little stuck when she gave an extra push and got her shoulders under the pen.

Whenever we do chores we always check that all bucket handles are lying flat against the rim of the bucket to avoid having an alpaca get its head stuck.  I tend to think that we are less likely to get “bucket problems” when we are talking about water buckets as while alpacas enjoy fresh water they don’t go after it with such gusto as when there is a tasty food treat in the bucket.  Still making sure that bucket handles lie flat is not a bad habit to get into, and I really think alpacas do a lot better without a bucket stuck on their head!


October 15, 2007

Hey Llama Lady – Got Milk?

Zeus Nursing Inca

Well it looks as if little Zeus has found yet another milk source to feed his appetite.  I took this picture on Saturday after evening chores.   A few minutes earlier both Carissima and Zeus were nursing from Inca the llama but by the time I grabbed the camera Carissima had decided that she wanted to play and had moved away.

I’m not sure if Inca has got milk at this stage, usually once she starts allowing crias to nurse from her she takes a few days before her milk actually comes in.  Inca is the one who is initiating this; she follows the crias around and then nudges them underneath her and encourages them to nurse.  She has never had a cria of her own but this is not the first time she has encouraged crias to nurse from her and on previous occasions she has produced milk.  It is fairly unusual for an alpaca to allow a cria other than her own to nurse from her (unless she is like Carissima’s dam Carina and easily distracted with a bowl of good hay at which time she allows Zeus to nurse from her), but from what the ladies at Southwest Llama Rescue tell me it is not unusual for a llama to allow other crias to nurse from her.

Inca typically waits until the crias are at least a few weeks old before she starts encouraging them to nurse, our theory is that by that time they are about the size of a llama cria and so she feels more attracted to them.  Maya and Griffin our other two llamas have not yet allowed a cria to nurse from them but the other morning Maya was standing with Carissima under her while Inca had Zeus under her so it may be that Maya will soon be joining the “milk bar”.

Zeus is now up to 21 lbs.  It has been a slow and erratic road to get him to this point with some days showing very little gain and others having greater gain, but at least we are seeing a steady gain which is a good thing.  He has now started nibbling on hay and today we found him eating some soaked beet pulp shreds.  Zeus still gets to nurse from Carina a couple of times a day while she is distracted with the alfalfa hay, any calories we can get into him are good calories.

We are very fortunate to have a llama that will come into milk for our crias, I know of another alpaca breeder who uses goats to feed alpaca crias who need extra milk, although with goats being so short that conjures up quite the picture in my head!  With the llamas there is plenty of room for that cria to stand and nurse even as he grows up, so we will stick with our llama girls and look forward to Zeus showing even better weight gain.


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