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.