Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Barn for Alpacas

Or, how to convert a dairy barn to an alpaca barn. When we inherited the farm, the barn was sadly neglected. No, more than neglected. It had been leased to a dairy farmer who kept his dry cows here until they gave birth. Rather than cleaning out the barn, he'd just bring in more sawdust a couple of times a year. By that time, the floor of the barn was about 5 feet higher than it should have been. It took us a good two years to clean everything out and pour a cement floor in the barn before we could move the alpacas in. We chose a cement floor because it could be washed down every day. We also have many livestock mats made out of recycled tires for the alpacas to sleep on in the cold, but they never seem to prefer the mats to the floor.
We have our fields and barn divided into three areas. The Girls, The Big Boys, and the Little Boys. The above picture shows our three yearling boys in their field. They have access to their own portion of the barn and lean to for shelter.

This is the Big Boys domain. This is the covered area behind their section in the barn.

You can tell I have finished washing down for the day.

Meanwhile, the boys are still in the barn, wanting to know what I'm up to. They are so afraid they might miss something.
The first thing Alan did with the barn was cut a hole in the hayloft and build a nice stairway up to it. We didn't want to use the horizontal ladder in the background. I hate ladders. The opening provides much more light in the barn, and it's fun to be able to see what's going on up in the loft. We often times have barn owls roosting there. And, you can see our hay supply. We start out with about 200 90 pound bales of Eastern Washington orchard grass hay. Since we are down to 31 alpacas, this should last us the winter.

Each section of the barn has a waterer like this, with a heater available for when it gets below 30 degrees. We had just come through a cold spell and hadn't removed the heaters yet.


Here is the DMZ, or no man's land.
It is to separate the boys from the girls. The boys have learned to operate all kinds of latches, have lifted the gates off the hinges, and have just broken through the gates, which are very sturdily built. So, we keep the latches on the side away from them, and have a double latch on the main gate. Darn boys. They have only one thing on their minds.
We also use this area to treat the males for vaccinations, worming, etc. If you put them all in a catch pen together, they hardly know what you are doing to them.

This is the Girl's catch pen. We also use it when we have a sick alpaca who we want to observe. Eve and her mom spent alot of time in this pen this Fall.

This was originally built as a maternity pen, but we like to see the alpacas deliver in the field where they are more comfortable. This pen is used when one of them has to be quarantined or is really sick. It has a radiant heater in there, too.

And here is more of the girls side. They have the most room because there are more females with crias than boys, thank goodness.

Here is the girls' entrance to the barn.

Another feeding area and where we shear. Also, it has a gate so we can use it for a catch pen or breeding pen.

And finally, my handy dandy fiber tumbler.
Our barn is well over 100 years old, having been buildt by the homesteader, Mary Harkness in the 1880s. When my Father in Law decided to do Dairy farming, he added on a good portion, so we have over 3000 sq.ft. of space.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Parasites and Stress in Alpacas

Though we have 7 wonderful vets at Kulshan Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Amber Itle is by far our favorite. She has never let us down. This past event with the ear infections that Eve suffered is an example. She is willing to go the extra mile and to try new procedures for us, always keeping in mind the expense.

When Eve was sick, she lost about 6 pounds in 15 days, which is extreme. So, we did a fecal exam and found she was loaded with parasites. Amber came by three days in a row to collect fecals and the difference is the count was amazing after treatment.

I had Amber write an article about this for the newsletter we put out for the North Sound Alpaca Association, and I copy it here:

According to the Journal of Animal Science, "stress" consists of external body forces that tend to displace homeostasis internally. There are environmental forces continuously acting upon animals that disrupt homeostasis, resulting in new adaptations which may be adequate for the animal to compensate, but may also cause disease. When we think of stress for an alpaca we may think of transport, exhibitions, being chased by dogs, shearing, or weaning. However, other stress may also appear as something less subtle such as poor nutrition, heavy parasitism, chronic lameness, or an infection. Over the last few months, we have been working with a 6 month old, bottle fed cria named, Eve. Eve presented two months ago with an ear droop, head shaking, and a low grade fever. She was treated for an ear infection with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and seemed to make a full recovery, but then 8 weeks later, the symptoms were back. Although she was treated the same way, she was slow to respond and began to develop soft stool and lost weight. A fecal test revealed extremely high parasite counts when she was negative just 1 month before. It was a good reminder to all of us that even though we were focused on her infection, we didn't consider the impact the chronic "stress" the pain was having on her ability to deal with the parasites. Stress causes the animal to become immunocompromised and therefore more vulnerable to those "external forces", such as coccidia or stomach worms. After the treatment for the ear infection had a few days to work, Eve began to feel better and her parasite counts nearly returned to zero. The impact of stress is real, whether it's an infection or transport to breeding. Always remember to check for parasites during periods of stress as they are an opportunistic organism that will take advantage of any compromised alpaca and make their recovery more difficult.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ear Infections in Alpacas

I've posted a couple of times about a chronic ear infection one of our crias was suffering from. Our vet clinic is awsome, and three of the vets worked as a team in treating her for this condition after she healed from the second bout.
Perry Stanfield was a large animal vet for years, and just a few years ago switched over to treating small animals. He has perfected a technique that he uses frequently in dogs, and the team decided it would be appropriate for this alpaca.
Problem No. 1. The animal has to be perfectly still, which means total anesthesia. Alpacas are usually operated on only using sedation and ether. In came Brooke Johnson who has worked with anesthetizing alpacas at a clinic in another county. Then our vet, who we call on the most, Amber Itle, was the team leader.

Here Eve is obviosly sedated as they insert a catheter for administering the drugs.
Here you see the canellas.

Two vet techs hold Eve's head up while Perry takes a look in the ear.

You can see the inside of her ear on the screen in the background. I don't know if this is the start of the procedure, or the end. What he did was totally irrigate the ear. The eardrum had healed after the last infection, but was very tough and had to be broken. Behind the eardrum was loads of putrid matter, just working it's way into another infection. It was all washed away and sterilized.

Here is Eve, coming around.

And the Tech, Emily, poses her for a picture. They all love her and say she was the model patient.
Eve has been doing great since the procedure. We have a concoction that Perry "brewed" up, and had to put it in the ear two times a day for two weeks. Now we are at once a day, and will soon be twice a week for a month. She hates it, it makes her cough, but it is because it drains through her sinuses, and as long as that happens, it means she is clear.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Ain't Never Birthed No Babies, Miss Scarlett

I took prenatal and birthing classes for alpacas. I had my birthing kit all packed and ready to go. But nothing prepared me for the birth of Mister Goodbar.

I went out to the barn at about 7 AM and found Baby Ruth lying on her side with a baby's head sticking out. You are also supposed to see two legs, or at least the feet. Nope. So, I lubed up and went in to explore, so to speak. I was hoping the legs were just caught up at the pelvis, which is common, but no luck for me. The legs were facing backwards toward the rear of the cria. First rule of thumb is to push the head back into the uterus, enabling you to reposition the baby. Baby Ruth had clamped down so tightly around his head, it was impossible to accomplish. I would love to have called the vet, but I knew that I would lose either the mother, the baby, or both, if this little one was not born NOW. So, I broke all the rules. I manipulated those legs forward using shear strength and faith, muttering prayers the entire time. As you can see by the picture, I was successful in bringing the handsome little guy into the world alive.
Once I had him on the ground and breathing, I called the vet to come check out Baby Ruth. I wanted to make sure I had not damaged the uterus. Poor Baby, she was incontinent for 48 hours after that battle, but boy, did she love her baby!! Unfortunately, she has never been able to conceive again. The vet didn't find any damage at the time, but she did develop scar tissue.
Baby Ruth was a very special Alpaca. She is named for my mother. She must have known that, because she was always my protector when someone else was in the field with me. Whenever we gave tours, or had visitors, she would place herself between me and them. She like the attention tremendously, but no one but Alan was allowed to get next to me.
She would perform a trick that she discovered and taught herself to do. If a man was wearing a baseball cap, she would reach up and take it off his head and drop it on the ground. Then, she would pick it up again by the bill, and flip it back to the owner. We were astounded the first time she did that. She also loved to untie shoes. Anyone who had tie shoes would soon find themselves tripping over their shoelaces.

Baby finally got to be too much of a pest and a liability. In order to "protect" me, she started biting those who got too close. We finally had to face the fact that she needed to find a new home. I placed her with a wonderful woman who has had llamas for years, and she is doing very well there. But, I still get teared up and emotional whenever someone asks about her. I miss her terribly, and visiting her is too hard.

Anyhow, the gist of this post is that when you only have yourself to draw on in a difficult situation, it's amazing what you can accomplish.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I have to be honest with you.
This is when I became disenchanted with the farm. I know you in other parts of the country are probably laughing about this, but we are not "wired" for the extremes in weather. No AC in the summer, no snowblowers in the winter.

As you can see, the alpacas were very distraught with what they saw outside, and went back inside, where they stayed for two weeks.

Tuesday morning, I called DH in tears. I had handled things this far, proud of myself, feeling like Pioneer Woman, but now I broke. He turned to his boss and said "Linda needs me, I'm going." That's what I love about this dear man. I come first. He arrived at about noon, bearing three extra long heavy duty extension chords. YeeeHaaa. We strung them from the old shop, all the way down the lane to the barn, and were finally able to heat the waterers. I'm making a long story short in telling you that we got the water running at 10-PM. It took a hairdryer and heat lamp and alot of four letter words. In the meantime, my clients alpaca died, and I felt just awful. But, it turned out her line had a condition called megaesophagus, and I will write about that later.

We got inside to eat dinner at 10:30 that night. DH told me to not feel bad about not being able to handle this by myself, since he couldn't have handled it alone, either.
Oh, some lightness to the story. Ha ha, a bit of sarcasm added here: We were moving two males from a quarantine field to the main section we keep the males in in the barn. They got loose and ran into a pasture, over a 5 foot drift! Then they couldn't figure out how to get back. We had to climb through the drift and round them up. Wind was still at 85mph and temp was dropping to the lower teens. DH and I looked like Abominable Snowmen.

Things have been much better since then. We have faced another flood and lots of wind, but this was the worst.

The alpacas paddock.
The lane during a calm in the storm.

My truck! I don't remember why it is so high!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our Story, Part III, the Winter Storm

November 15th, 2006.
These pictures don't come close to describing the damage and the scariness of this first storm. Winds were clocked at 105mph!!! I was terrified! I'm sure you realize from my many pictures of the farm, we have a large stand of old growth evergreen trees by the house. We lost power at about noon, and a big branch from the pine tree landed on the power line going out to the barn. This was the third time this had happened in 5 years, so it was time to consider putting the power lines underground. I wasn't cold, just lonely and afraid. I ran over to my neighbor's house and begged for cover. The police chief's daughter was sitting on the couch, wrapped in a quilt. She opened it up to me and said, "Come on In". What a warm welcome. Judy has a gas stove and a fireplace, so it was very cozy there. In fact, she was serving nachos and chocolate milk!! I only stayed a couple of hours, being nervous about the alpacas. Like I could do anything, but I had to keep checking on them in the barn.
Part of a tree fell on my store and broke the rafters and struts. Fortunately DH was able to repair it from inside. He would have been blown away if he'd gotten on the roof. The circumfrence of the branch that fell was the size of a regular tree.
With the power out to the barn, we had no way to heat the water buckets. With the temperature dropping, that was extremely important. Alpacas eat and drink more when it is cold than when it is hot. They are using that food for internal combustion, and the water helps.
By the next Sunday, the temp was in the teens, the wind was blowing at 85mph, and the snow had joined the party. I had three and four foot drifts in the lane to the barn. I often thought about Ma and Pa in the books I read about settling the west. They had to run a rope from the cabin door to the barn so Pa could find his way back. Well, believe me, if I hadn't had a fence to follow, I would have had the same problem.
By now the water in the buckets was frozen solid. I turned the water to the barn off every night, covering the faucet with insulation to keep it from freezing. Monday Morning I could not get the water to run. One of my clients alpacas was dying from a case of pnuemonia caused by choke, and I was beside myself.
To be continued.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Our Story, Part II

I moved to the farm with my 21 alpacas in October of 2001. I was ecstatic! I finally get to be a farmer!!! We celebrated with a Barn Blessing party with all of our friends and relatives. My brother, who is a pastor, gave the blessing and a nice talk. We pressed apple cider and served chili and homemade soups and pies.

In December, we had our first crias born on the farm. I was a wreck, never having delivered a baby before. It was only about 25 degrees, so I had a towel tucked in my jacket, keeping it warm, and as soon as a baby hit the ground, I'd wrap it up and take it to a stall in the barn. Princess Buttercup was the first one born, on Dec. 27, and then Mistletoe gave birth to Toblerone, just when I thought I would get a break and go to the bathroom. Two days later, Majestic Snow was born. No more winter babies. That experience convinced us.

Now for some highlights of my being alone on the farm.

#1: Winter, 2002. I woke up at 6:30am to a sound like a nuclear halocaust. I looked out the window, and saw the wind ripping the barn roof off like a banana peel. Pieces were flying everywhere. I could see alpacas running around, and I knew I needed to get them in the barn.
I was shaking so hard, I could barely get my clothes on. I ran out into the lane, and then stopped wondering what to do next. I knew I had to get the alpacas in the barn, but did I want to risk a piece of flying metal roofing decapitating me? As I stood there, a neighbor hollered at me, asking me if I was okay. "No", I said, "I'm scared shitless." He was heading back to his porch when the wind picked up another piece of roofing and it flew towards him. He got onto his back porch just in time! I have pictures of the devastation somewhere, but can't find them, otherwise I would share them with you. So anyhow, I braced myself, ran to the barn, and found all of the alpacas had decided this was the safest place to be. I closed all the doors and sat down to recover, the adrenaline pumping maddly through me.

When we assessed the damage, we found that "Quality Roofing" who had installed the roof only 4 years previously, had been very sloppy. Fortunately, when we got bids from them and another company, the insurance company allowed the higher bid, since they realized the sloppiness of the previous work. We are not likely to have a repeat of that incident. Phew.

#2: November 6, 2006. I had just returned from a conference in Atlanta, Fiber to Fashion, where I was instrumental in a Student Design Competition. I had arrived home on the 5th and Alan had returned to Lynnwood. On the 6th, a Monday, the Nooksack River started flooding. We have an oxbow slough that passes through our property two times which holds the overflow from the river when it floods. It's actually the remains of the original route of the river before the diversion of it during the Ice Age. I kept a close watch on the river all day, and would call Alan regularly to report. At about 5PM I told him the slough was about a foot an a half from the top of the culvert, so it didn't look too bad. Well, by 5:45 the slough was running like a river, very fast, and had risen to 20 feet from my barn!!! All I could do was stand there and watch it rise. Where was I going to move the alpacas to? It was a long two hours for me, but fortunately, the river crested and started to subside by 7:30. The next morning, there were just a few puddles in the field to remind me what had happened.

Okay, don't want this to get too long. Later, Baby.

Our Story, Part I

People are always asking how we got started in the alpaca business, so I thought I would address that question here. It's been a long and enjoyable journey.

In 1996, both of my in-laws died, leaving us the family farm in Nooksack, comprised of 40 acres, a house and barn and assundry outbuildings. It was a former dairy farm, and was extremely run down, since the folks had been in their 80's. We tried our best to help them, spending a couple of weekends a month with them, cleaning up after storms, replacing broken windows, repairing fencelines. You know the things. But, it needed daily attention. After their passing, we spent more time, trying to clean up the place, with many, many trips to the dump.

In 1997, I was in a Doctor's office, reading a Sunset Magazine. I came upon a short article about alpacas and thought I had died and gone to heaven. Never had I seen such an adorable critter! I looked around to make sure no one was watching, and I ripped the article out of the magazine. That night, I handed the article to my husband to read, thinking he would laugh at me. Having been raised on a dairy farm, he knew livestock and the possibilities, and his reaction was possitive. We started our research that night. This was followed by many visits to local alpaca farms. Alan had a four page list of questions that he would take with him, and boy, did those people have to work when we came a calling.

In 1998, we purchased 6 alpacas, 4 huacayas and 2 suris. The farm was not ready for them, and we were still working in the Seattle area, so we agisted (boarded) them at a farm in Ferndale.

Before buying the alpacas, we created a 5 year plan. We had two sons to put through college. We knew we couldn't retire for at least 5 years, but we felt that the alpaca business would provide us with a way to retire early, and we could live a good life with them. We would keep the alpacas at the boarding farm, continue to work on our farm, and continue to make money at our respective jobs.

Is there ever a 5 year plan that doesn't get revised? I had to quit my job due to a vision disability. Yikes. I was able to collect short term disability of awhile, but not long. Then, the people we were agisting with anounced they were getting divorced and selling their herd. We would have to be out in 60 days. Actually, to be honest, they did not announce. We drove up to their place one day, and there was a For Sale sign in the drive. They never told us about the divorce. We heard it from other breeders.

At that point, we decided that I would move to the farm, along with the 21 alpacas we now had. Alan would continue to work at his job as an Architect, and come up Friday afternoon and stay until Sunday afternoon. It would only be for a year of so. NOT. One year turned into 7.

This is a long story, so this is the end of Part I. To be continued.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pippi Longstockings

Pippi Longstockings is our latest cria, and also the last for this season. Here she is with her mother, Betsy Ross. Last year, Betsy had major problems as a mother, and we were very apprehensive about her this year, but she has lots of milk and is being a steller mom.
Pippi is an absolute doll, and very friendly. Every time we go into the field, she has to come say hi and see what we are up to.
I'm a bit baffled by her coloration, but as they say, you never know what color you will get from a breeding. Her sire is Janus' Notorious, whose sire is dark brown Victor's Julius. Betsy's mother is the same color as she is, and her father was white, NWA, LTD, Accoyo Barreda.

We are happy that birthing season is over, and are very fortunate to have had all girls!!!

Here is Pippi with Julia. They are becoming fast friends, and Julia is also very friendly and inquisitive.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The First 48

The first 48 hours of a crias life are so busy. The first day is concentrated on survival. How do I breathe? How do I get these long things under me out and in front so I can stand? Now where did you say that dairy bar was? Over here in the dark corner? The crias will look for the dark place, and often will go to corners of the barn or stall, looking for milk. Once they find their mother, it's pretty easy to find the dark place. Usually. If the cria is strong and healthy. With the unusually hot weather we have had here in the Northwest, I'm afraid several of our crias were born with heat stress. We've tried very hard to keep the alpacas cool, but as the old saying goes: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. The same goes for alpacas. The barn is about 10 degrees cooler than outdoors, but it's rare that the girls will go inside. I could go on and on in this vein, but I won't

So, to continue. The cria will spend her first day nursing and sleeping. She will try out her legs a little, but probably won't stray very far from mom. She will meet the rest of the herd, which can be pretty overwhelming.The second day, she will sleep ALOT. Nurse, sleep, nurse, sleep.

She has to regain her strength from all the work she put in the day before. Then on the third day, she starts running. This is so much fun, and if there are other crias around, they all join in. In fact, even the yearlings and adults will join the fun.

By nature, the alpacas enjoy running in the evening, right as the sun is going down. We call it running laps. In the high Andes Mountains, where they are from, they do this to get the blood running and warm them up for a long, cold night. So even when it's still 90 degrees at 9PM here, the alpacas are out running. Their instincts tell them to. Besides, it's such fun.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's Another Girl!!

Velvet had her cria yesterday. Isn't she a beauty? A big girl, and the best part, she's strong and healthy!
The night before, Velvet was having a really hard time with the heat, hovering near 90 still at 9PM. I checked her and determined the baby was in position, but she was not dilated. Then yesterday morning, she took a couple of bites of grain, then went outside to get to work. The baby was born at 8:15.
I named her Julia. My husband likes to think she is named for Julia Child, who he just adores. But I wanted to link her to her famous grandsire, Victor's Julius. Thus, Julia.

The day before, we had some visitors
come to see the alpacas.
My friend Christina arrived at
about the same time. Here she is
getting a kiss from Bambino.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Heat Stress

It's heat stress time, and you must take extra measures to keep your alpacas cool. When the temperature and humidity added together exceed 150, it's bad news. Today we are at 153 at 11am. Soon to be worse. Make sure your alpacas have shade. Sprinklers and wading pools a must. Fans in the barn if you have electricity. We have two girls due any time now, and I'm very concerned. So, time to turn on the sprinklers and give the girls a break. Think I'll stand in it too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How Refreshing

The other day I posted about how my hands hurt from chores around the farm. Well, Pat, over at Artfully Ooglebloops,

sent me some magnetic bracelets. Here they are. You can tell I've been skirting fleeces, look how dusty they are. I'm wearing all 5 of my bracelets, trying to get results.
Thought you might enjoy seeing the girls enjoy playing in the sprinkler. I sure do.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Poop Scoop Blues

This is Betsy Ross. She is due to have her next cria on or about July 21. I thought she was acting a bit "off" today and took a few minutes to observe. When I looked at her from the back, I could see a big lump prodtruding on her left side. Looked like an elbow or a knee was really poking on her. So, she's a bit uncomfortable. Can't blame her. She's been humming for a couple of weeks now, so I expect she will deliver pretty close to the due date.
Now, as most of you know, scooping poop, which is an important part of alpaca breeding, can cause some real pain in the hands. I have been battleing this for years, especially in the summer when I am also doing alot of weeding. I have a few suggestions to help ease the pain.
First of all, try wearing magnetic bracelets. I met a woman in a yarn shop the other day who used to be a commercial fisherman. She had tendonitis in her thumbs so bad, she couldn't brush her teeth or button her pants. She would wear magnets and wrist warmers to bed at night and swears they cured her. As you can see, I have acquired the bracelets. I don't know how long it takes to feel a difference, but this is a pretty cheap way to go.

This stuff really works. Most Arnica creams you can buy only have 3-4% arnica in them. I believe I was told that this cream has 12%. You can find it at

Then, get ergonomically designed tools for the job. This handle has worked great. I have it on all my rakes, all sizes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I've been dying to get this on video. When the alpacas breed, the male alpaca orgles, or sings, to the female. Research cannot prove but supposes that the orgling is essential for conception. Alpacas are induced ovulators, like cats, meaning they release their egg during the act. Without the orgling, that egg might not be released. So turn up your volume and enjoy the music!

One veterinarian we heard speak said that alpacas are more like cats than any form of livestock when it comes to breeding, or even personality. That could explain why the alpacas are so intrigued with cats.

We have 10 girls to breed this year, so we try to work with two each morning.

That's it for now.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Happy Update

I am sooooooooooooooooo happy to report that Margaret's cria has made a miraculous recovery, and is acting like any newborn cria. We have named her Phoenix, the bird rising from the ashes. Tomorrow, she and her mom will get to go out and meet the other girls and play in the sun. Getting lots of exercise will help those legs of hers. She has been nursing on her own all day, so I get to sleep all night.

Meanwhile, Edna and Eve are finally bonding. Last week you would not have found them settled in like this with each other. Eve is a little character, exploring her surroundings and greeting all guests. She will be thrilled to have a playmate in Phoenix. They should be quite a pair.
Raising alpacas is usually not this difficult. This has been a terrible year, and has had me questioning my abilities. Only two more babies due this year, and I'm hoping for easy births and healthy crias.

A Long Exhausting Day

As soon as I got up yesterday, I could tell Margaret was in labor. She started pushing at about 8:15, and her contractions were only about 10 seconds apart. She was getting exhausted and stopped pushing. The babies head was out, enveloped in the sack, and I decided to break the water and see if the feet were out. They were, but one leg was holding back a little. I pulled on it and got the baby in position, but Margaret was still not pushing. Seemed like we needed to get this cria on the ground, so I delivered her. Yes, another little girl.

From there it went downhill. Poor little thing is down in the pasterns and unable to stand to nurse. We milked Margaret a couple of times, feeding the colostrum rich milk to the baby. But by mid afternoon, she was like a rag doll, weak as can be.

We finally resorted to bottle feeding her whole milk. Still no improvement, and she was "honking" with every breath. Never heard anything like it. I finally called the vet, figuring we would take her in and have her put down. My son Michael drove while DH held the baby. I was amazed when he called about 40 minutes later and said he was bringing her home.
She had apparently suffered hypoxia during birth (a period without oxygen). The honking was coming from her throat, not her lungs. The vet thought it might be from swelling or stress, so he gave her a couple of shots to help with that.

I got up every two hours last night to feed her bottles, and at 6AM, she refused to take one. She is steadier on her feet and is nursing. Hallelujiah.
We still don't know if she will survive, but the vet felt it was worth a try and that we were doing everything right.
I'm exhausted.
I have a tour coming at 11am, and then it's to bed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


ADR is a term the farmers use around here to describe an animal that "Ain't doin' right". In light of our recent trials with Eve and Edna Mae, I thought I would tell you about the importance of observation.

Alpacas are a prey animal in their natural habitat in the high Andes Mountains of South America. Prey animals know that if they look weak, they will be targeted. As a result, they have honed their skills at looking healthy. They will stand and appear to be grazing, but they are just touching the ground with their noses. If you see an alpaca "down", meaning lying flat out, you are usually beyond the point where they can be saved. As a result, I make observation of my herd a priority, and pay particular attention to those with ADR. That is how I determined Eve was having problems, and Edna Mae was developing a serious infection. I caught both before they got dangerous.

Last October, this girl, Nutmeg, was found down in the field in the morning. The picture above is me holding her in an upright position while DH called the vet. Keeping them upright improves their ability to breathe and the intestinal tract to function. Being a ruminant, that is very important.
The vets arrive and work at putting in a shunt to administer IV fluids and medications.

They also took blood samples. Nutmeg took two liters of lactated ringers with calcium and magnesium before she was able to get on her feet again.

Here we are, Nutmeg standing, shooting the bull while we wait for her to stabilize. The young man in the plaid shirt is a vet student from WSU, my alma mater, doing his internship at our vet clinic.
Nutmeg's blood work showed she was fighting an infection, a few days after giving birth. Same as Edna Mae. But let me tell you, we didn't have a clue until we found her down. Same case as with Edna, I had assisted in the birth. Whenever I have to put my hands into the birth canal or uterus to deliver a cria, I start her on penecillin immediately, even when I have washed up thoroughly. It's an unnatural invasion, leaving the area exposed to infection. The penecillin was not strong enough to stop the infection from developing. A uterine infection isn't always caused by germs. In Edna Mae's case, it seems that the uterus has not contracted enough to regain it's natural size, so fluid gathered inside has turned bad. So, fortunately, I observed that Edna was
"ADR" and got the vet out here before she crashed. She will be back to normal in a couple more days.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Eve and Edna

I'm happy to report that little Eve is doing great and acting like a typical cria, exploring her world and trying out those long legs of hers.

On the other hand, Edna has become ill. I noticed her lying on her side and groaning when she was urinating. She had an elevated temperature. By the time the vet got here today, she had some nasty vaginal discharge. So, even though we had been treating her with penecillin, it had not done the job. So, she is getting an antibiotic twice a day, some banamine (animal aspirin), and possibly some oxytocin to help her uterus regain it's shape and expel the nasty stuff.
I'm glad we know what is going on now, and she will feel better soon and be more accepting of a lively, demanding baby.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Problem Solved (I think)

I think I have figured out what was ailing Eve. Like humans, alpacas are born with a meconium plug that MUST come out. Friday morning I gave Eve an enema, and thought she had passed the entire plug. Today, worrying and worrying, I was sitting in the field with her, observing. She went over to the poop pile and strained and strained, making little grunts. Hmmmmm, could it be that part of the meconium plug is still in her intestines? I went in the house and prepared an enema for her and administered it. Then I laid down in the grass next to her to watch what happened next. After about 15 minutes, she stood up and propelled a mass. Wooo hoooo. She pooped, she pooped. We get so excited about these things. And just to be cautious, we gave her a dose of mineral oil to keep thinkgs moving . Sometimes an impaction can form at the entrance to the spiral colon, which eventually bursts and you have a dead cria.

I will report in the morning on her status.

Milk Shortage

Unfortunately, Edna Mae is not proving to be a very good mother. I noticed yesterday that when Eve nurses, she does so for a very long time. When I weighed her this morning she had lost 3 pounds! A weight loss is normal in the first couple of days, but not 3 pounds. So, I'm supplementing her with whole milk with a little Karo syrup in it for sweetness and energy. That's the other thing. A cria this age is usually running and enjoying life. Poor little Eve is either nursing or sleeping. I just gave her a bottle and she took a full 8 ounces. To be perfectly honest, at this point I'm being hopeful she survives, but I have some bad feelings. Tomorrow I will obtain some Domperidone from the vet. It is a med that promotes milk production. It doesn't always work, but it's sure worth a try.
The other thing is: Edna Mae just leaves her baby sleeping, and goes off to the barn or to be with the other girls on the north side of the barn. We find the poor baby asleep in a field all by herself. I have NEVER had a mother do that. They usually don't leave the baby's side for a week.

Well, wish me luck. This is tough.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Star is Born

She finally did it. After 361 days of pregnancy, Edna Mae broke the rules and delivered her cria at 8:45 this evening. In honor of the late hour, we have named her Eve. HER!!! Yes, a girl!

I was watching Steven Colbert and falling asleep, when I decided to go take one last round of the pastures and then go to bed. As soon as I saw Edna, I knew she was in trouble. The head was out and the cria was trying to clear her airways. Both feet were out, but one leg was wrapped over the head. So in I went. I had to break the water, which sprayed all over me and my feet. Straitened out the leg, and then started to pull. It took awhile, but Eve seems healthy and robust, and is now nursing. Yayyyyyyyyyyyy, she really was pregnant. Baby weighs about 16 pounds.