A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

March 17, 2009

Hang on Queen!

 

Our alpaca Queen is one of the grand dams of the pasture.  Now eleven years old, she is able to rule over the younger alpacas by just looking at them.  She can throw a look that says “you wouldn’t dare” and the younger alpacas agree, they would not dare to cross our Queen.

 

Queen is an alpaca who breeds easily, births easily and has beautiful, robust, vigourous cria.  Her last cria Atlas recently took 1st in his class at the TxOLAN Alpaca Spectacular and is a striking herdsire in the making.  The only time Queen has lost a pregnancy was after she moved here from her previous owners farm.  She was seven years old at the time and had never been off her home farm, the stress of the move was just too much for her I guess and while she never outwardly showed any signs of stress she did absorb her pregnancy.  Once rebred though she carried her next pregnancy to term and has never looked back since.

 

When Queen lost her pregnancy it drove home to me just how bonded these alpacas become with their herd mates.  I had already decided that Queen would live out her days here and purchased her knowing that she would become one of our foundation herd, but the reaction from her being moved here helped me decide that once our alpaca girls reach a certain age we need to plan on them staying with us for the rest of their lives.  To move them to a different herd just becomes too hard on them.

 

This past weekend I noticed Queen was a little uncomfortable, she laid around more than usual, rolling on one hip and pushing her legs out to the side.  She did eat but not as heartily as usual and it was obvious that she was not feeling 100%.  I could see her cria moving every now and then, which was a good sign, and when I offered her some soaked beet pulp shreds she readily ate them from the spoon, something she would not normally do, as she prefers to keep her distance from humans.  I felt the beet pulp shreds being soft, moist and fibrous might help her digestive tract stay active and as an added precaution I gave her some MSE drench that contains probiotics and digestive enzymes.  By the afternoon Queen was acting normal, eating hay and cushing in a more relaxed way.

 

Having owned Queen for a few years now I have my herd records to refer back to and I know that she has had this type of uncomfortable stage in each of the pregnancies she has had here.  Queen is a compact alpaca and by now her unborn cria will be going through some major growth spurts.  It almost seems as if in the last week her pregnancy “bump” has doubled in size.  I am sure at times her cria is pressing on her digestive tract and causing some of the discomfort she is feeling.

 

Last year Queen decided to have her cria early, when he was born Atlas was healthy and strong and looked like a full term cria, but he was born 2 –3 weeks prior to his due date.  In fact Queen caught us unawares with Atlas’s birth as we had gone out to another farm for the day to shear alpacas, but fortunately had our alpaca neighbors Bob and Regina Dart check on the herd only to find that Queen had delivered her cria.

 

I am hoping that Queen holds on at least another month before delivering her cria, two months would be even better.   The cria is only in its ninth month of gestation and its survival chances should it be born now would be slim to none.  So Hang on Queen, we know you are uncomfortable but we really need you to carry that cria for a while longer!   (And you can guarantee that from now on Queen will be under very watchful eye!)

 

Rosemary

July 3, 2008

Tracking Down The Culprit

Atlas and Dream have fun wrestling

Ahh, the joy of crias.  We watch them chase each other around the pasture, checking out new sights or sounds, stalking one of the cats when it is close to the fence line and then jumping and runing away when the cat turns to look at them and then there is the joy of trying to figure out which one of your crias has diarrhea.

 

Yes, the cria diarrhea has revisited the pasture most likely brought on by the crias really starting to eat the hay.  They love our new hay and the other night one hay feeder was completely surrounded by all eight crias and Griffin the llama.  The diarrhea does not seem to be something that is contagious, as we are not seeing evidence of a lot of it; just enough for us to know that most likely just one of the crias has it.

 

We have checked under all of the crias tails and no clues there, we have checked the crias hind legs for evidence but there is none.  All of the crias are behaving well and are lively, none of them has a temperature and so how on earth are we going to figure out which one is the culprit.  Well we are just going to have to watch and wait.

 

We thought we stood a good chance of finding out who has the problem when we cleaned up all the poop piles and kept all the adult girls in their pens while they ate.  We did manage to eliminate at least three of the crias from our suspect list as we saw them use the poop pile and everything was okay.  Then we turned our backs for a second and there is was, diarrhea on the poop pile and not a cria one next to the poop pile in question!

 

So back to more watching and waiting it is.  Once we find the culprit our first step will be to use probiotics and something like Biosponge, a product which will help stop the diarrhea itself but will not address the cause of the diarrhea.  If that does not work we will most likely resort to an antibiotic and treat the alpacas water for coccidia, which may be the cause of the problem.  But my instinct tells me that this is a result of one of the crias eating the new hay as the diarrhea is the exact color of the hay!

 

Of course we will also be keeping a close eye on the crias for any other signs that one of them is not feeling well, we cannot completely assume that the hay is what is causing the problem.  In the meantime our eyes will be glued to the pasture – guess it beats watching TV!

 

Rosemary

 

 

June 6, 2008

Witnessing Life’s Circle

Raising livestock brings all aspects of life to your doorstep.  Some things are welcome and some are not but insist on showing up anyway.

 

In the early hours of Thursday morning Bjorn’s dear cria “Legs” passed away.  “Legs” was never intended to be the little guys’ permanent name, but the name kind of stuck due to the problem he had with lax tendons in his legs.

 

Initially we thought that the lax tendons were Legs only problem, now it seems that possibly there was more going on to challenge this sweet boy in his short life.

 

On our vets advice we had confined Legs and Bjorn after Legs was born, in an effort to restrict his movement and allow his tendons to contract back to normal.  For a while the restriction seemed to be working, but after several days both Legs and Bjorn were anxious to leave the stall and Legs appeared to be getting depressed.  We let them out for a couple of days but it turned out that Legs was fighting an infection and running a fever.

 

Again we consulted with our vet who advised that we treat Legs with antibiotics for his infection and for a couple of days he seemed to be doing well.  He was gaining weight, looking stronger and even attempting to play with the other crias.  His legs were getting straighter but still had a way to go.  Unfortunately the antibiotic we used is known to have a disruptive effect on the rumen and so we also gave Legs probiotics to try and keep his rumen functioning properly.  Then Legs stopped gaining weight and a thermometer reading showed he was again running a temperature.  Another consultation with the vet was made and Legs was back on antibiotics but this time he did not respond as well.   He seemed lethargic and generally not happy.

 

Legs stopped nursing from his dam and so we had to supplementary feed him.  He wasn’t too keen on that to begin with but then seemed to appreciate that at least he was getting food, but all the time he continued to get weaker.  Legs temperature was back to normal so we hoped we were making some progress in the right direction

 

Tuesday evening Legs almost seemed to fall asleep while I was feeding him.  I had a cria once before who would fall asleep toward the end of his feed, but Legs seemed almost unable to stay awake for long.

 

By Wednesday afternoon we knew we Legs was in trouble.  Unfortunately our vet was called out to several emergency calls that day and was unable to contact us until 7 pm that evening.  Our vet told us he suspected White Muscle Disease, something that is brought on by selenium or vitamin E deficiency.

 

We treated Legs with some Selenium and Vitamin E but it didn’t make a difference.  By the late evening the little guy had labored breathing and things were not looking good. 

 

We checked on Legs through the night.  His dam Bjorn stayed close by and was obviously concerned about her cria she knew something was wrong.   Legs died shortly after 2 a.m.

 

Our vet has performed a necropsy on Legs to see if he can help us understand what happened to this poor cria.  Initial findings are that there was a problem in his lungs that were filled with blood.  Lung swabs and muscle samples have been sent off for testing.  We hope that they will give us an answer but it is not unusual for test results to come back as inconclusive.

 

It is hard to watch a little cria lose his fight for life, even harder to watch is the grief of his dam.  We left Legs body with Bjorn after he died and we took her with us to the vets with Legs laid beside her.  We wanted her to have a chance to realize he had passed away and we also decided to run some blood work on her to see if there are any clues that will explain Legs illness.  Bjorn is the picture of health, but alpacas are very stoic creatures and just in case something is going on with Bjorn we felt it was best to test her.

 

I have given Bjorn some Rescue Remedy during the day.  It contains Star of Bethlehem Flower Essence, which is helpful for those who are grieving.  Bjorn has done a little better since we returned from the vets, but she still searches for her baby every now and then, sniffing the other crias in the pasture in the hope that they are her boy.

 

And in the same day that Legs was starting to lose his battle with life, Life also delivered us the happier side of the circle.  Ivanna delivered a beautiful light fawn female cria on Wednesday afternoon.  The cria is strikingly beautiful with thick eyelashes and deep brown soft eyes.  Of course Ivanna’s cria is not a replacement for dear Legs, but she is a reminder that life is indeed a circle and for the circle to be complete you have to accept the various stages.

 

Rosemary

January 27, 2008

Their First Night Alone

Last night was the night, the first time the weanlings have been away from their dams overnight.  The weather is forecast to be mild over the next few days and even the night time temperatures will be above freezing and so it was a good time to make the final break.  Often newly weaned cria will sit out by the fence line all night and that is not the best place for them to be if the weather is very cold.

The weanlings were not too concerned at first last night.  I fed them and put out extra hay for them and while they came to the gate a couple of times to see if it was open, they soon settled down to eating hay followed by a chase session around the pasture.  As time went on though the realization set in that they were not going to back to the main herd for the night.

Shiimsa of course is already weaned, and we hope that her lack of concern at being in the weanling pasture overnight will help the three weanlings feel less stressed about the event. 

During the course of the evening I checked on the weanlings, Athena and Shiimsa were in their barn eating hay, Velvet and Blast were setting together by the fence line.  Some of the main herd were sitting by their fence line where the weanlings could seem them, and if truth be known the weanlings are physically no further away from their dams than I have seen them on several other occasions.  The only difference is there are two fences on either side of the 10 foot gap between them.

When I checked on the weanlings Velvet and Blast ran up to see me, and Blast did a fair amount of “talking” telling me he wanted to go back to the main pasture.  Velvet too had some curious hums to pass onto me.

Today we will give the weanlings some more probiotic.  They are sure to be suffering with a little stress, which is not good for them or the health of their rumen.  The probiotics will help keep their rumens healthy and also contain B vitamins that have calming properties.  I might even put some Bach’s Rescue Remedy in the weanling’s water to help calm their nerves.

In a day or so the weanlings will have settled in to their new pasture and will be adapting to spending their nights together.  They will remain there until the show and then will return to that pasture for quarantine following the show.  By the time that process is all through we should be able to return Velvet, Athena and Shiimsa to the girls pasture.  Little Blast though is another matter – I may have to borrow an alpaca buddy of the same age as him to keep him company for a while until he is big enough to join the junior male herd.

And what about the dams during this final weaning process?  Well not one of them has been looking for her cria, a sure sign they were ready for the weaning process to happen.  Sorry to tell you this kids but Mom says it’s time to move out and set up home on your own!

Rosemary

January 13, 2008

Stepping Out on Their Own

Yesterday was the day for three of our crias to start the weaning process.  Athena, Blast and Velvet are all ready to be weaned, although if you asked them they would tell you that they would be quite happy to continue nursing from their dams for the rest of their lives.

Weaning normally occurs after the crias reach 6 months of age.  Some breeders wean their crias at exactly six months but we prefer to watch the crias and dams and judge weaning time on their behavior. 

Knowing that we have a show approaching I have been watching Athena, Blast and Velvet to make sure that they are mature enough to handle the stress of their first show.  With all the best preparation in the world a show is still a stressful event for a young alpaca.  Alpacas can be entered in shows once they reach six months of age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will all be ready for the show experience once they reach the six month point.  Some alpacas mature later than others and need a little longer to develop both mentally and physically before experiencing a show.

We usually don’t like to show our young alpacas until they are about eight months old.  This gives them the time that they need to mature, so that they can handle the show experience better.  I hear of some breeders who use showing as a way to wean their alpacas, taking a young alpaca from its dam on the day that they leave for the show.  This is not a good practice and will at best result in an alpaca that does not show well because it is distressed at being removed from it’s home herd and in particular it’s dam.  At worst the young alpaca will get sick from the stress of being taken from it’s dam and then being placed in a show situation.

For the next few days Athena, Blast and Velvet will be placed in a separate pasture from their dams during the day for day weaning.  We will also put Shiimsa with them as she is fully weaned and will be attending the show with the three weanlings.   Shiimsa will provide a calm and stable presence to the group.  In the evening the crias will be allowed back with their dams.  Within about a week the crias will be ready to spend their first night away from their dams.

We kept a close eye on the weaning group yesterday, to make sure that they were handling things well.  All three of the crias seemed to be happy eating hay and exploring their new pasture and not too concerned about the lack of their dams presence.  This is a good sign as it tells me that they are at a good age for weaning.  By 3 p.m. though Velvet was starting to hang around the fence line looking for Queen.  This surprised me a little as I rarely see Velvet nurse from Queen anymore.  I would have thought that Blast being the youngest of the group would have been the first to show signs of missing his dam, but instead Velvet was the one who walked the fence a little.

When it came time for evening chores I fed the weanling group before allowing them back in the main herd.  As soon as I opened the gate they all went galloping into the main pasture with the exception of Athena who was in no hurry to go back- she was definitely ready for weaning!  Interestingly though not one of the crias dams came looking for them during the day, I guess the dams were more than ready for a break from their crias!

This morning we will take the crias back over to their new pasture, and again keep a close eye on them.  Sometimes the second or third day is when they will show more signs of missing their dams.  We will give the crias some probiotics too in order to help their digestive system cope with the extra stress that they are under.

Within a short time the crias will be taking weaning in their stride, and their dams (who are all now pregnant again) will probably be breathing a sigh of relief at the reduced drain on their bodies!

Rosemary

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