Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Curing Summer Boredom Alpaca Style

Summer is finally here in the central valley of Oregon.  The fruit trees are getting close to ripening.  The cherries came and went mostly to the birds.  Now the apples are beginning to drop and although still tart to my taste, the alpacas are enjoying them.  Soon I will have enough that drop each morning to fill up buckets and I can take them out to the pastures.  I don't have irrigation so the grass is getting dry and less appetizing to the alpacas for grazing.  So taking out buckets of apples is such a treat for them.  By summer's end or at least end of apple season, even the alpacas that haven't been sure about liking apples are enjoying them.  Everyone has sticky lips.  I take those buckets and toss them all around.  Alpacas being foragers, it is more interesting for them to hunt for their apples than me just handing them out.  It's apple treasure hunts.  It sure is cute to watch them run after the apples like we were playing fetch only they don't bring them back for me to toss again.  Some are so clever.  They use their feet to hold the apple still so they can get good bites while others have the apples squirting about as they try and get those first bites. 

Alpacas get bored like the rest of us.  Being able to graze and change their environments occasionally stimulates their interest.  I see their boredom more in summer with the poorer grazing available to them.  The boredom is indicated with them chewing on fencing more and of course the consumption of hay goes up too.  Once in awhile if I don't get out to mow the fields for a bit and it gets longer, I make paths.  I get bored mowing and it is fun for me to change what I'm doing than going back and forth.  Sometimes they notice and the younger ones especially enjoy the paths and play their cria races in and out of them.  For a few days, it gives them entertainment at least.  And then, the apple treasure hunts give them a little bit of more stimulation.  I am forever looking for different things to do with them especially in the summer.

Pal and Tinker Bell Curiosity Over  Tree Stump
Doing clicker training with the alpacas is another cure for boredom.  Summer is a good time to teach them a new behavior or trick.  It stimulates their brain, it is different and fun.  It is also a good break for me.  With the long days of summer and all the work always needing to be done, I have found it important for me to take time to stop and enjoy the alpacas too.  So tossing apples and spending a few minutes to clicker train the alpacas is good for all of us.  Being a little playful is good for the soul.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sargon and Renee: Two Beautiful Spirits

I recently lost a friend of mine.  Renee was one of my counseling friends I made while I was interning to get my Marriage, Family Therapy license.  We worked at the same clinic.  She was a fantastic therapist and a super human being.  I was always so impressed with how she threw herself into life including hard challenges.  She was taken from us way too soon.  I'd like to dedicate this blog to her memory.

The one down side of having alpacas and being in a livestock business is the fact that we occasionally (and thankfully it is occasionally), we lose an animal.  If you haven't noticed, I deeply care about my animals.  And when I lose an animal, it is very difficult and sad.  None was more painful than when I lost my boy Sargon.  He was my buddy alpaca.  Sargon was an extroverted alpaca which is so rare.  He loved people and actually preferred to be with us two-leggers than with his herd mates.  I so enjoyed taking him for walks around the farm I boarded my animals at.  He would come running when he saw me and we would walk the 25 acres and I could even drop the lead rope with him and he'd just follow me.  I clicker trained him.  Sargon was so smart and such a character.  I taught him so much.  He just loved to learn and to please me.  We were learning dance steps and I was going to get him to do a little routine to show off to folks.  He was going to be my ambassador on my own farm some day and he was just going to be a big star when folks came to the farm. 

Unfortunately, Sargon took sick right after I moved up to Oregon and just before I moved my animals.  They discovered him doing poorly when they did the vet checks that needed to be done before they were transported up to me.  He was doing so poorly that he had to remain back after the others came up here.  It was so hard being so far from him when he was so sick.  Friends did all they could for him but his illness was too strong and I lost him.  It broke my heart.  I felt so guilty because I wasn't with him when he needed me most and although I know all did everything they could to save him, it wasn't me with him. 

The day he died, I was just grief stricken but I got to witness one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced in my life.  That evening my alpacas were enjoying their new pastures.  Just as dusk was setting in, they got the zoomies.  The adults and cria started to pronk and race around their big pasture.  I stopped what I was doing to watch but it was with such a heavy heart because I so wished my Sargon was there enjoying my beautiful pastures too.  As I watched, my alpacas started to pronk in a huge circle.  They were spread out but followed each other and pronked in a counter-clockwise direction.  They ran in that circle a few times around and then stopped.  The alpacas were still spread out and making the huge circle.  They all faced the center of the circle.  They stayed staring at the center for about 30 seconds and then one by one, they lowered their head almost to the ground as if to bow and walked away to go graze.  It made me smile thinking of how "taking a bow" was Sargon's favorite trick I had taught him.  Tears streamed down my face but my heart wasn't as heavy.  Their dance lifted my spirits.  The energy they put out doing their dance and the ritual I witnessed felt like such a gift. 

I have never seen my alpacas do anything like that before nor have I seen it since.  It appeared and seemed as if they were performing a ritual dance and the way they looked so intently towards the center of their circle, I believe my Sargon was there.  It was a beautiful and touching sight.  Watching such an amazing spectacle, made me so grateful for my alpacas and although I was so deeply sad that I lost my Sargon, I was also so honored that I had my boy in my life and that I got to witness their ritual dance.  I would have wished for much longer with him but even knowing the pain I suffered in losing him, I wouldn't have traded all the joy and happiness he brought me and others while he was here.

Sargon Hamming it Up for the Crowd

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Today I got to observe the dynamics between the alpacas, my livestock guardian and me during a threat of a potential predator.  While out raking, I noticed a turkey vulture circling above my pasture.  It was up high doing slow circles and seemed to be watching where some of my new cria were napping or playing.  I watched it circling and didn't think too much about it.  I didn't think a turkey vulture would go after a cria.  I figured they were too big for something like that to go after.  They would go after much smaller prey or things already dead in fields or roads.  My livestock guardian has been into chasing birds out of the field so I called him over and pointed to the turkey vulture just because I know he likes to chase the birds away and it would be a fun game for him.  Moose saw what I was pointing at and ran barking and trying to lead it away from his alpacas like he normally does with other birds in the field.  The turkey vulture lazily flew across the way and I lost sight of it.

About 15 minutes to a half hour later, the turkey vulture was back circling again over the babies.  This time, my internal alarm started to go off.  I didn't like the feel of it and it circled over the field longer.  I was raking in another area but seeing that bird so intent on my babies, I went hurrying over to them with rake in hand and called to Moose.  He came running and barking at it and I stood near the babies until it left.  I watched for a bit and didn't see it so went back to raking.  Only 15 minutes or so passed and it was back.  I saw it and didn't wait long before rushing over to the babies.  Each time it came back it stayed overhead longer and longer.  I was officially worried about my babies.  I was to go over to a friend's place to cria watch for an expectant mom while she attended a friend's graduation.  I didn't want to leave my babies with that vulture ogling them.  I decided it was best to bring them in.  The vulture circled over head for quite a long time and at a lower altitude.  The adult alpacas in the pasture next to where the babies were began running back and forth.  The shadow of the vulture was floating along the ground and it was scaring them.  Moose didn't try and chase the bird away this time but stayed close to the alpacas that were running about their field afraid of the bird.  The moms had gathered the babies and took them under my giant maple tree and I stood between them and the vulture.   I didn't have my rake this time so took some sticks and tossed them in the air at the bird and looked for rocks to throw too.

I'm not sure how much time passed.  It felt like an eternity but it was probably only a couple of minutes before the vulture decided to fly off.  It wasn't going to be successful with Moose and me standing there.  I could tell it was coming back to see if Moose and I were going to be gone long enough to strike.  After it took off and I could no longer see it, I told my moms to take their babies back to the barn.  They would typically never let me herd them in that far away from the barn at that hour.  It was prime grazing time and they were about as far from my barn as they can get.  But they listened to me and we quietly walked back towards the barn.  I told them to keep babies near them and to keep walking.  They kept their babies at their side as we walked.  I told Jamilah who is my most intuitive alpaca and I have a close connection with to lead the way and take us back to the barn.  She did just that.  No one tried to run away or break from the herd.  They kept their babies close and we quietly and calmly walked back.  They stalled on the last leg but my friend Carrie was there so I called her to give me a hand.  She grabbed a pellet bowl and shook it and that got the alpacas' attention and they ran the rest of the way to the barn to get some goodies.  I was so relieved to have them back I got them some of their favorite alfalfa pellets to reward them for being so good about coming in for me.  I know they sensed the danger too.  I'm not sure if they picked it from me or from the flying predator or both but they trusted me enough to do what I needed them to do.  When the vulture was flying overhead, they kept their babies safely under the tree and when it was safe to get them moved, they listened to me to head to the barn.  They didn't complain once about being locked back in the barn area either.  I kept them there for a couple of hours before I felt it was good and safe for them to go back out.

I started to ask around to see if anyone else has had issues with Turkey Vultures going after their cria.  So far no one has.  Either they were incredibly hungry to try and go after such a large target or they were just thinking about it and sizing the situation up.  But I sure didn't like how they kept coming back every time Moose and I left the area and the moms and babies were out there on their own.  Moose is going to be hanging out with moms and babies for a few days when I can't be out with them.  What a good dog I have that he knows when he is needed and does all the right things to protect his herd.

It was pretty cool to see how the alpacas trusted me during the time of danger and listened to me in what I needed them to do to help protect them too.  They don't listen to me very often so I was so relieved and grateful that they did when it mattered.  It was even more meaningful because those moms typically steer their babies away from me and this time, they knew I was not the threat but the one protecting their babies.  It was also very fascinating to observe and witness their dynamics while under a real threat.  The moms kept babies by their side and the single adults with no babies took charge of leading the way and being the guardians which allowed moms to hang back with their babies and it was cool to see moms put their babies in the middle while under the tree.  One of the babies tried to break off and I saw it and shooed it back and mom must have said something because it didn't try again and stayed right by mom's side until we got to safety.  These animals are smart and know how to deal with things.  So fascinating to watch but hope we don't have to do it again!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Naming Cria at Hum Sweet Hum

All five cria have been birthed and doing well at Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum.  Such a relief to have them on the ground and doing so good.  I keep a list of names going but I like to wait until they are born to see what their personalities are like before naming babies.  Three names came quickly and none of the names were on my list.  Those names just didn't seem to fit. 

The first baby born is Miss Marple.  She stood up in less than 10 minutes after birth and went straight to mom's milk source and got it in two tries of finding it.  She was running around by four hours old and checking everything out all around her.  She is a light beige multi and cute as can be.  She comes over and gives me kisses and snuffles my face all the time all the while talking away to me.  She has no fear and just into everything.  She reminds me of fudge marble ice cream and playing with that name and her personality of being so inquisitive, the name Miss Marple came out and I knew that was a fit immediately. 

Miss Marple (left), Jujube (front right), Sputnik (back right)
 The second baby born took me a little longer to find a good name for him.  He was two weeks early but he was strong and needed no extra care.  Windsong, his mom, was very protective of him though so I had to wait a few days to get a feel for his personality better.  He is a small little tyke compared to the others.  He was good size for a premature baby (15 lbs) but compared to the others born this year, he is a peewee.  At first I was thinking of names that might go with Miss Marple.  I like to do trends and most of the names I have picked have a musical theme to go with them to match my farm name of Hum Sweet Hum.  He was so pink when he was born that I thought about naming him Clouseau after the Pink Panther movies and fitting with the investigative theme to go with Miss Marple.  But he just wasn't that curious of a baby like Miss Marple.  I also thought of Sherlock which I thought cute since he is a suri and has some nice locks coming in.  But those names just didn't fit his personality.  One night I sat at my computer and went over names while texting my friend Carrie to try them out on her.  We bounced all sorts of ideas back and forth.  I went through some of my various backgrounds and areas of interests to see if I would find something that might trigger a good name.  I have my undergrad degree in Aerospace Engineering and have a love of space travel.  Looking up the various names of astronauts and spacecraft, I came across the name of Sputnik, the first Russian satellite put into orbit.  As soon as I came across that name it was a fit. 

The name for Sputnik was work but the next baby's name came pretty fast and easy.  Sweet Bell's cria is a multi color too similar to Miss Marple but she is a suri.  This cria has dots all over her legs.  She is the one I wrote about in a previous blog that crashed on me after a few hours.  It was a frightening few hours while we worked on her and got her going again.  Another friend of mine suggested the name JuBellation since we were so jubilant that she made it and it goes with mom's name.  It's also a bad pun which I'm quite known for so that was a good fit.  She reminds me of jujube candy that I used to love as a child so her barn name is Jujube.

My next two cria were very late in arriving.  They were my first ones due and the last ones to be born.  My first due was actually my last to deliver!  These two cria are so exquisite.  Naomi's cria is the best baby born to Hum Sweet Hum so far.  Her fleece is amazing.  Dove's little boy is pretty spectacular as well so I wanted to name them a bit classier names.  These names did not come easily at all.  I tried on lots of names and none fitted.  It was like me going shopping and trying on outfits (which I hate!).  Nothing fit.  I spent nights at the computer and Wikipedia searching various topics and ideas.  I tried Latin translations, I pulled out my name book, I tried all my various interests and names that I liked but none fitted their spirit and quality.  Finally, while raking the other day, I came up with the name Calvin for  Dove's boy.  To class it up a bit I put Lord in front so his name is Lord Calvin.  I really like the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes.  It took a few days for his personality to start coming out and I could see that little cartoon boy impishness coming out.  I debated on that or Lord Kelvin but he got himself into mischief getting into the wrong pasture and both his mom and I were looking down at him wondering how he got there and I could have sworn he said, "Hobbes made me do it!"  But to make sure a name fits, I like to try it out on them to see if they react.  Alpacas learn their names and I have had babies react immediately to a name and ignore others.  Whether it is a coincidence or not, who knows but I take that as a sign if they react.  So that evening after chores, I sat down on my bench near where Calvin and his mom were.  I called his name and his ears perked up.  I then asked him to come to me and he walked right over to me and snuffled my face all over.  He hadn't done that before so I took that as a good sign that his name should be Lord Calvin.

Lord Calvin
 The last cria has been the hardest.  She is so lovely and exquisite.  I want just the right name for her.  She is pure white with crimp down to her skin and so incredibly fine.  If her fiber is over 16 or 17 micron I will be shocked and I bet she is closer to 15 micron.  She is so soft you don't even feel it.  There are lots of good names for her but many that I liked so did a lot of others.  When doing my research, I can go onto the Alpaca Registry database and look up how many have that name.  I don't like to have too common a name unless I'm pretty sure it will be a fiber male.  Many names I would finally find and like, I'd go on the registry and see that there were pages of them.  Back to the drawing board I'd go.  It took me a week but I finally have narrowed it down to two names.  I came up with Lenox but how I got there was because I was humming an Annie Lenox song in my head so it fits with my theme of music and it is very class china too.  I liked it but there were a good dozen names that she would share with it.  The other name I came up with from a similar vane is Royal Doulton which there is only one in the registry and I could call her Dolly.  I haven't decided which one fits her best or perhaps a better name will come to me.  She is very shy and doesn't come to me much and mom keeps her away so that has been part of the reason why she has been so hard to name.  She was also a stealth baby.  Mom waited until all were gone to deliver her.  She didn't want anyone out watching.  She also wouldn't show me when she was nursing which drove me nuts.  I could tell she was getting milk because she was such a strong baby, held her head up well and so alert but I never could catch her in the act of nursing.  I would put her under mom to make sure she was getting milk and she would go straight to mom's teats if I did that and nurse well but it took me over 24 hours before I saw her finally get up on her own and go straight to mom to nurse.  I found a name I liked that fit with the stealth theme - Nighthawk but being white, "night" doesn't quite fit but hawk does since that is the father's name.  The final decision isn't made on her yet.

Lenox? Royal Doulton?  Nighthawk?
  I suppose some would say that I spend too much time coming up with babies names but I find it fun and I have made the mistake of naming a baby with a name that they have lived up to and so I take care of finding a name that fits their personality and one that also attracts the energy that I want them to have!  It's also been fun because so many friend have participated in the process.  It's been pretty cool to see the interest and engagement of others in the naming process.  Anyone with suggestions or you have a preference on one of the names already for this baby, let me know.  She needs a really good name!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Who's Yer Daddy? Observations During First Day of Cria's Life

Kaleidoscope Greeting His Daughter Jujube

The birth of cria is such an exciting time.  I never get bored with the experience.  It is always thrilling, anxiety provoking and miraculous.  Mother Nature is an amazing engineer.  I have had 4 cria in two weeks.  This year was especially exciting because I had used two males that were just starting their careers.  Baloo is my first male born to me that I have used as a stud.  The other male is one I purchased and co-own with Wings and A Prayer that has a quite successful show career behind him.  Would I get an appy like him?  Would I get a gray pulled from his background and mom's?  Waiting for the baby is like waiting to open your presents on Christmas morning.  All that research and decision making process to choose a male and then you have to wait over 11 months to see that prize inside.

After the births, I move my dams and babies to my barn area to bond and recuperate.  I give lots of goodies to mom and there is less space for her to have to chase after a baby just learning to use its legs.  I don't necessarily have the optimum set-up where I can move my males far away from my females.  I don't have much space for them either so I work hard to keep only the males I really need on my farm.  The three males that I used for breeding my first three cria just happen to live in the pasture adjacent to my barn area.  There is just the fence separating them and yes once in awhile there is some flirting going on but fortunately and with a conscious choice, I have males that are pretty easy going guys.  They do their job and boy do they love it but they get along pretty well and the girls nearby don't amp them up too badly.  This year was the first time where the fathers were nearby to see their babies.  It never even occurred to me until mom and baby were standing by the boys that the papas were there to see their babies and I was thrilled to get a family picture.  That is such a rare thing to get.  When Baloo, the low guy in the pecking order in his pasture of three males, chased the other two males away from the fence when he met his baby girl, I wondered if he knew that was his baby.  He stayed near the fence where she was and was very gentle sniffing her through the fence and if the other two came near her, he backed them off.  I even saw saw them all napping together.  There was no flirting with mom.  It was just an attentive presence of mom and dad watching over their baby girl.  I wondered if that was a fluke or did Baloo know that was his baby.

Baloo and his Daughter Miss Marple
 The second baby born was with Windsong and Makeanu.  When I brought them in to the barn area, Makeanu came to the fence and he sniffed the baby while the other two boys stayed back.  Mak wasn't quite as interested in the baby as Baloo but he did seem to watch over things.  The third baby that arrived was Kaleidoscope's baby.  Klyde came to the fence and sniffed at his baby and was so sweet with her.  He watched attentively while the other two males stayed at the far end of the pasture.  Sweet Bell and Klyde's baby took a bad turn a few hours after birth (I wrote about it in my last blog) and out of the corner of my eye, while I was working feverishly and frantically to take care of the baby, I noticed Klyde racing the fencing.  He was so upset.  As soon as the baby was out of the woods, he stopped pacing.  Was he picking up my high anxiety?  If so, why weren't the others pacing and upset too?  Or, did he know that his baby was in trouble?

It is only a statistic of three so not a lot of data to be sure that fathers seem to know their babies.  But, it sure was interesting to observe and notice and track in the future.   My next cria's sires are at other farms so I won't get to observe this behavior again until next year.  Has anyone else seen this behavior with their males and cria?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Diary of A Birth at Hum Sweet Hum

Family Picture: The Papa Greystone's Kaleidoscope and Momma Sweet Bell Loving Their Daughter

6:00 am: Check maternity group to make sure no births during the night.  All are resting.  Naomi and Dove chewing their cud.  Over two weeks past due dates for both.  No indications of births going on from them.

6:30 am: Check on maternity group and offer some alfalfa to all.  Naomi and Dove enjoy their alfalfa.  Windsong and Dulcie scarf theirs down.  Sweet Bell stays in shelter.  Not interested in alfalfa.  Hmmm, not like her turn down an extra treat.

7:00 am: Let out maternity group to big pasture.  Meander out calmly visiting others in middle pastures as they head out for the day of grazing.  Bell and Lucky Charm first ones wanting out. No signs from my imminently due alpacas of wanting to go into labor.  Go back to house and do computer work.

8:00 am: Notice Sweet Bell laying down not grazing much.  Others grazing away. 

9:00: Bell up going potty and laying right back down.  Windsong was two weeks early having her baby.  Haven't noticed Bell grazing much.  Better start watching her more.  Her energy seems off to me.   Better go out and start chores in case baby comes today.  Want raking done before I'm too tuckered out if birth happens.

9:30 Get barn area cleaned.  Notice Bell up to potty again but lays down.  Text Ann down the road, could be Bell is in labor.  My nearest alpaca neighbor and I try and be at each others births.  Try and give Ann as much heads up that labor maybe happening so she can get her chores worked and let out her herd.

9:45: Bell up and potties but then goes and lays back down.  Rubbing her head on ground before trying to go potty.  Noticed the previous two dams doing same thing when in labor.  Getting more sure we are in labor.  Continue with chores.  Text Ann again and say pretty sure we are in labor.

10:00: Need to empty wheelbarrow but see Bell up again to go potty.  Progress is moving more quickly.  Debate on emptying wheelbarrow or get my gear ready.  See Bell pushing.  Leave wheelbarrow and get birth kit and head to house to make "dipping sauce" for cria's umbilicus.  Call Ann.  She is on her way to my farm.  Definite labor!  Remember to bring towels and dipping sauce and stop by bathroom myself.

10:05: Get call from neighbor.  Is animal in labor?  Yes!  Come watch.  Grab dipping sauce and head out.  Get to barn area.  Darn.  Forgot towels.  Run back to house.  Grab towels.  Get to barn.  Darn!  Forgot to go to bathroom.  Set towels down by dipping sauce.  Watch Bell.  Back laying down.  Have time to run to bathroom.

10:07 Grab kit, towels and dipping sauce and start to head out to observe Bell in big field.  Ann arrives.  Wait for Ann.  Bell up and going to potty again pushing.  Walk out slowly to field keeping good distance.  Darn.  Forgot binoculars.  Oh well.  More pushing.  See nose coming out.

10:15 Nose and toes.  Stay about 50 feet away.  Bell comes over and sniffs Ann who is kneeling.  Uh oh.  Need help Bell?  Noes and toes are out.  Wait a bit to see what happens before seeing if something stuck.  Moose with us.  Bell wants him away.  Shoo Moose back.  Minds.  What a good dog.

Bell has Nose and Toes Out

10:20 No progress.  Still observing.  Bell walks some.  Lucky Charm and Naomi greet baby's face.  Miss Marple comes over and sniffs baby too.  Dove walks far away and doesn't want to watch.  Good Lucky Charm watching.  Maiden.  Needs to learn.

10:25.  Still no progress.  Start to worry.  Should have had more progress by now.  Talk it over with Ann.  Bell eating grass.  Give it a few more minutes.

10:27: Still no progress.  Go up behind Bell and hold feet.  Wait for push.  Hard push. Hold legs don't let legs go back in.  Little more legs come out.  Baby and Bell now grunting with pressure of pushing.  Hard push. Hold legs.  More leg comes.  Hard push.  Almost got shoulders.  Another hard push shoulders out!  Good girl Bell!  Lays down.  One more push.  Get rest of baby out.  It's a girl!!!!!  Looks rose gray or multi.  HOORAY!!!!!  Got what I hoped for.  Peel a little membrane off away from nose and face.  Baby squirming.  Good sign.  Take dipping sauce and dip umbilicus.

Cindy Assisting Bell with Delivery

10:30.  Step back and let Bell and baby bond.  Darn. Forgot camera.  All is good for now.  Run to house to get camera.  Ann watches baby.  Baby sternal.  Yay!  Take pics as baby tries for first stand. Cute.  Long legs.  Gets it after few tries.  Good girl!  Others come to greet new arrival.  Kismet is very nosy.

Kismet too nosy.  Interfering with baby and mom.  Shoo her away.  Take mom and baby to barn area so baby can figure out how to get milk.  Bell a little confused and loses baby I'm holding. Set baby down.  Still confused.  Halter up mom.  Lead mom in with baby to bond.  Bell passes placenta.  healthy looking.  Give Bell Banamine shot.  Hard delivery.  Give Bell some alfalfa and pellets.  Eats some.  Not humming much yet.

Get baby under Bell.  Several attempts finally get her to nurse. Hour after birth.  Not bad.  Good latching on.  Mom standing still.  Whew.  Relief on getting nursing started.

Ann heads home.  All looks good.  Watch mom and baby nurse again.  Hungry.  Go in for lunch.

Check mom and baby.  Baby resting nicely.  Eat lunch.  Better go out and finish chores.

Baby looks too limp.  Rush over to her.  Way too limp.  Rouse her awake.  Go nurse baby.  Mom kicks baby off.  Darn.  What's wrong?  Try again.  No go.  Baby having hard time standing.  Call Ann.  Help!  Need milk to supplement.  She has will bring it over.  Hurry.  Baby crashing on me.

Grab kit and Jump Start.  Get some energy in kid fast.  Get some in mouth.  Baby falls down.  Can't stay up.  Neck arching.  Call Ann.  Hurry.

Ann arrives.  Run to house get milk heated in bottle.  Run back.  Try giving baby little bottle.  Not much in.  Ann holds Bell. Try getting baby under her.  Kicks off.  Fights us.  Try and milk her out.  Fights harder.  Have sedative shot.  Run to house.  Give sedative to Bell.  Try more bottle on baby.  Bell's eyes drooping and see her weaving bit.  Try again putting baby under her.  Kicks off and fights us.  Damn it!  Call local Vet.  Dr. Pete can be here 45 minutes.  Keep trying bottle.

Ann suggests maybe merconium is stopped up.  Do I have enima?  Run to house.  No mineral spirits but put a little warm water in.  Run back.  Give to baby.  She tries to get up to go but too weak to stand.  Straining.  Holding her in cush position.  Baby can't stay in cushed position on her own.  Flops over and neck arches.  Hold neck and keep massaging energy in.  Feel her cramping and massage her back and tush.  Calm self and try doing energy.  Holding down my panic.  Hard to do energy in panic mode.  Holding baby.  Neck arching.  Supporting her and sending energy in her.  Please hang in there baby.  Maybe take temp?  Run to barn.  Get thermometer.  Take temp.  100.1.  Normal range.  Hard strain and gush of poo matter comes out.  Thermometer in tush helped get things passed.  Baby stands up.  Eyes look brighter.  Still wobbly but looking better.  Holy cow that was it!  Stuffed bottom.  Still weak.  No milk for couple of hours.  Need nourishment in her.  Dr. Pete said give syringe of Karo Syrup.  Run to house and get syrup. Try little more bottle.  Baby lays down but can hold a cush on her own.  Better sign.  Dr. Pete gives another sedative to Bell after exam.  Milk in sac but stress keeping her from dropping milk down.  Very little coming out.  Wait a few minutes to see if sedative takes hold.  Try putting baby under.  Nothing.  Wait a bit longer and baby tries again on her own and success!  Yeah!  Not much in Bell so try and give more bottle to baby.  Bell still not happy and kicks off baby after Dr. Pete leaves.  Not sure what else to do.  Dr. Pat calls confirming appointment for next day.  Inform him of day's events.  Maybe bring some of others in.  Stress might be because of Bell's rejection of baby.  Needs her buddies in with her.  Such a balancing act of not having interference and distraction to bond with mom and baby and keeping the from being stressed.  

Bring Dulcie and Miss Marple in.  Works.  Bell calmer and letting baby nurse more.  Sit down.  Need to cry.  Carrie and Carol arrive to see new baby.  Tell them day's events.  Help watch over baby.  Visit with them and observe.  Bring others in to be with Bell.  Almost time to feed.  Morgan comes over and finishes my chores.  Thank goodness for finding high school kid to help with chores sometimes.

Carrie and Carol leave.  Feed pellets to gang.  Start noting how often other moms nurse babies.  Baby needs to be encouraged and help to find mom but once finding mom is good to nurse on her own. Bell standing better for baby but walks away from her after nursing.  Watches baby but doesn't make baby stay near her and doesn't feel the need to stay near baby.  Bit of a concern over the bonding still.  Still not sure how much milk baby is getting.  Only short sips so far.  Baby fighting me harder when I try and give bottle.  Good sign getting stronger.

Finish feeding and baby goes to mom.  Latches on good.  Nurses two minutes.  Wonderful!  Go in and get something to eat.  Bring out to barn and eat watching baby and mom.  Resting.  Get up in about an hour and needs help finding mom who stepped away.  Point baby in right direction and baby nurses.  About two minutes again.  Go in and shower.  Feel better after shower.  About an hour since last feeding.  Go outside.  Dark now.  Sit in chair and observe resting packies.  Baby and Bell cushed outside shelter.  Double jacket seems to be keeping baby warm.  Windsong and little boy get up to nurse.  Dulcie and baby get up to nurse.  Bell stands up.  Baby stays down.  Go over and make baby get up.  Baby needs help finding mom again.  Point her in direction of mom.  Goes right under mom and nurses two minutes.  Go inside.  Check computer work and decompress some.  Go out in hour.  Baby and Bell moved under tree.  Cushed.  Sit on park bench.  Exhausted.  Lay down on park bench.  Doze off.  Hear Windsong and baby boy nurse.  Sit up.  Bell gets up.  Wait.  Baby not up.  Walk over to her.  She stands on her own and needs just a little nudge from me to find mom.  Good two minutes of nursing.  Go inside and sleep in bed.  Get up in two hours and check on them.  Bell gets up when sees me.  Baby wakes up.  Stands up on own and finds mom without me.  What a relief.  Go back to bed.  Check on them in two hours.  Same.  Baby looking much better.

Regular morning check.  Mom and baby up and nursing on own.  Baby finishes nursing and says good morning to Miss Marple.  "Wanna play?"  Off they go to the races!  Most beautiful sight to see.

Dr. Pat comes for well baby checks.  Does IgG on baby.  Collostrum count within range we want.  Baby named JuBellation!  

JuBellation Nursing!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alpaca Story Time With Sprite

Sprite Before Broken Leg

One of the reasons I moved to the Willamette Valley of central Oregon was to be near Oregon State University's (OSU) Veterinary Hospital.  It has one of the premier Camelid vet schools.  Moving to Creswell, I would be near the latest studies and I figured there would be good vets in the area knowledgeable on alpaca care.  You always hope for no emergencies but if there is one, being near a vet hospital like OSU would be a godsend.

On a cool June morning, I went out to the barn like I always do to open the gates to the big pastures and let the alpacas out when I noticed Sprite not getting up.  I thought she might not be feeling well the way she was laying there so I walked up to her.  She got up and it was obvious immediately that she had somehow broken her leg.  I called my vet and my nearest alpaca neighbor for assistance.  My vet said I should get her up to OSU right away and he would call in the referral.  He talked me through how to splint her leg and Ann came over to assist me in doing that and getting Sprite into my car.  Fortunately, my Honda Element lends itself so easily in hauling alpacas.  We gingerly got her in the car and rushed her the hour to OSU.

The leg required a plate and surgery to repair the fracture.  Their skill, knowledge and state of the art equipment not only saved Sprite's leg but her life.  She remained at OSU for about a week while they made sure healing went correctly.  She did really well and came home for the remaining part of her recuperation.  It was two months of having to be in a small pen while her leg healed.

Sprite had just had her first birthday and being young and used to running in big pastures was hard to keep her in a small pen.  She was bored stiff and not happy being confined.  I would go out as often as I could and offer carrots and visit with her.  Because of the handling she got, she was rather skittish of me and she had been just coming around before her accident in becoming quite social.  But with every time we handled her being so painful, it was no wonder she didn't want much to do with any human.  I tried to just sit outside her pen for awhile and offer carrots or other goodies without doing anything else to her.  I would take a book and my lunch sometimes and read out loud to her.  I enjoyed it even if Sprite didn't.  I noticed though she would relax and lay down after a bit. 

My friend Ann's grand-daughters were visiting her farm for a few days so I had the idea of inviting them over to spend time with Sprite.  I thought maybe a child might be more welcome than us adults that seemed to only remind her of pain and suffering.  I asked if they would like to come and see Sprite and read to her and give her carrots.  Annika thought that would be fun and she came over.  We picked out a Shel Silversteen book from my shelf as we both agreed those silly poems were perfect for someone not feeling well.  They would lift Sprite's spirits.  We took the book and a bag of carrots with us.  I placed a stool in Sprite's pen and left Annika and Sprite alone in the pen.  Annika has such a way with animals and it didn't take long for Sprite to enjoy her carrots and poetry.  It was so sweet watching Annika read to Sprite and after reading a poem making sure she showed Sprite the pictures.  A few times I saw Sprite look over Annika's shoulder as if to look at the page and read along with her.  Sprite seemed to be quite comfortable with the entire process and they shared carrots both munching away as Annika read aloud.

I have found that when I am stuck with socializing an alpaca that having a young child can be the key in breaking through the alpaca's fear and mistrust.  A child is more their size and non-threatening.  Sprite will come for carrots but she still looks at me with great mistrust.  But the afternoon with Annika showed me her willingness and enjoyment of being with a person.

This gave me another idea.  Wouldn't it be great to invite children that have reading difficulties to visit the alpacas and read to them?  The alpacas don't care if they miss or struggle over words.  I bet normally reluctant readers would find it fun and be more enthusiastic to read to an alpaca.  The R.E.A.D.S. program does something like this with dogs.  Admittedly, dogs are easier to bring to kids but it would be another great avenue to encourage kids who are challenged in that area to do more reading.   I'm sure my Great Pyrenees, Moose, would love to be read to if nothing else and he makes a great pillow too!  Sounds like a trip to the wonderful library in Creswell is in my future to talk to the folks there about having some of their reading groups come to the farm.  How fun will that be!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Alpaca Therapy: How an Alpaca Changed Dynamics in a Teenaged Girl

I recently wrote a couple of blogs talking about alpaca therapy and how alpacas can help people with various issues.  Someday I would love to work with a psychologist or therapist in designing a therapy program using alpacas.  There are many such programs out there using equine therapy as well as small animals such as dogs and cats.  Alpacas would be another wonderful modality to offer people.

I shared a couple of observations I had with the foster care facility I had invited out to the farm I had been boarding my alpacas.  I was giving a farm tour and had a bucket of pellets that the alpacas love so much.  I had about 20 kids with me and I was giving my standard talk about alpaca basics.  I was letting the kids take handfuls of grain to feed the alpacas.  A teenaged girl of about 15 or 16 was enjoying herself from the second she walked onto the farm.  She was obviously a big animal lover.  Her energy was extremely high but you could tell that it could shift in a heartbeat from being high to in your face anger.  She wore her hurt and anger on her sleeve.  She was the type that was going to hurt you before you hurt her.  I didn't know her story but you could feel her anger and pain coming out her pores.  I was thrilled that she was getting some time to let the anger go for a bit while enjoying the animals. 

This young lady asked if she could take the bucket for a bit because she wanted to feed this one alpaca that was hanging back.  I looked at the alpaca she was pointing at and it was Scarlet, one of the most difficult alpacas on the farm.  I was concerned because I didn't want her to have a bad experience.  I had brought the kids to the alpacas I was sure would give them good responses and engage with them.  This alpaca was not only difficult for us humans but she didn't get along with the other alpacas either.  If there was a spit fight in that pasture, she was almost guaranteed to be one of the two in the spit fight.  I had tried to work with her and get her to take food from me but had never been even close to having any kind of success with her.  I told the teenaged girl that Scarlet had not taken food from anyone before but she was welcome to try and I gave her the bucket. 

I watched for a few moments to see how she was doing and noticed she was square in front of Scarlet.  I went over to her and suggested that she turn her body slightly.  I told her that if you face an alpaca square like that, they will take it as a confrontation.  They read body language and that position is seen as being aggressive.  I suggested she try turning her body to more an angle and lower her eyes so she wasn't looking directly at the alpaca.  I got asked some questions by the other kids and was busy answering them when in about 5 minutes, this teenaged girl came over to me so excited.  She was literally hopping up and down.  She told me she did it!  She had gotten this animal to eat from her.  I was flabbergasted.  It took her less than 10 minutes to do what I had tried time after time after time to do.  I went over to see it and she wanted me to witness her success as well.  Sure enough, this alpaca was eating from her hand like so many of the others do with me. 

Later after the kids left, I pondered on what I saw and realized that those two were absolutely two peas in a pod.  They both would spit at you before you spat at them.  They somehow recognized kindred spirits in each other and connected.  This was at a farm with over 400 hundred animals on it and she connected with the one animal that was just like her. 

I had almost steered this girl away from working with that alpaca because I was afraid she would be disappointed if that alpaca treated her like she normally treated me.  I had never thought for a million years that a response like that was even possible.  What is really cool about alpaca therapy or any other kind of animal therapy is that it doesn't feel like therapy.  For kids, it feels like play.  I have no idea what diagnosis or treatment plans this young girl was on.  But what I do know is that with Scarlet, she got to experience connecting with someone she wanted to reach out to by changing her normal aggressive stance.  She didn't take what I suggested to her personally or defensively.  It was safe and non-threatening for me to teach her how to connect to this alpaca.  She took that advice and tried it.  Then she got to experience the success of it.  In that single event, this girl got to feel a different way of being with someone else.  Did this moment change how she was for the rest of her life?  I doubt it but can you imagine if she came regularly to the farm and worked with the alpacas how it could change her dynamics? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mom and Cria Dynamics in the First 48 Hours of Life

Miss Marple (on left) and her mom, Dulcinea

The latest addition to Hum Sweet Hum is a sweet little girl cria.  She was born on Sunday and only 48 hours old.  It was a classic birth.  My first alpaca I purchased is her mother and she is a pro.  With minimal effort required from me, I get to be able to just observe their dynamics.  Dulcinea is an attentive mother.  The first 24 hours, while the baby was busy exploring her new environment, Dulcie ran after her to make sure she didn't get lost or into too much mischief.  This little girl is very active and inquisitive so Dulcie had to keep up with the little one.  I kept them in my barn area so it wasn't a huge area to run after the baby.  It was a rainy day too so I wanted to keep them near shelters.  I haven't had to do much other than put a cria coat on the baby and weigh her.  It has been Dulcinea who is doing all the work.  I have had the opportunity to just observe Dulcie's parenting. 

I named the cria Miss Marple.  She has markings and coloring that remind me of fudge marble ice cream.  She is also so incredibly inquisitive of her surroundings and quite confident for such a new little being.   Dulcie, like most dams, hum to their babies so the baby can learn their voice.  Each dam has her own unique hum that they sing to their babies.  Dulcie started about 24 hours before the baby was born to hum which gets the baby still in the womb to get to know her voice.  It is a stead hum for days as the baby learns who mom is.  I have several white animals and Miss Marple isn't always sure which white animal is mom.  It seems like she thinks that white animal should also provide her milk.  The other white alpacas have been quite patient with her nudging her gently away or dancing away.  She keeps trying to get to the milk bar but none are cooperating with her.  Only one have I seen get irritated with her and spit at her.  I noticed it wasn't a loaded spit though but air.  There was no green on the baby.  So it was a warning shot. 

The first 24 hours, Dulcie stayed within feet of the baby even if she was running about checking things out and testing her legs.  The next morning, Dulcie let the baby have a bit more freedom to explore without running after her.  Dulcie was busy eating some hay and goodies I had given her when the baby got into some mischief.  I could see her following another white female and I could tell she was thinking that was Dulcie.  I called to Dulcie to come get her baby because they were heading out into the big field.  I could see Dulcie watching but I wasn't sure if she saw that they were heading out all the way into the big field.  When I called Dulcie's name, she came running when I told her to come get her baby.  I could see the surprised look on Miss Marple's face as she saw mom coming to her and it was really quite cute when she looked up at the face of the female she had been walking with.  It looked as if she was wondering how mom could be in two places.  Mom is standing next to her AND running to her?  She didn't seem bothered by the confusion and simply followed the one that was humming at her. 

Later in the afternoon, Dulcie was teaching Miss Marple how to find her without Dulcie chasing her down.  She was watching her from the shelter and hay bin but she let Miss Marple run around a bit and then try and figure out where mom was.  I could hear Dulcie humming to the baby but she waited to see if Miss Marple could figure out where she was.  The day before or earlier that morning, Dulcie would have run after Miss Marple but this lesson was teaching the baby to find mom on her own.  She went up to several white animals and got the message that they were not mom.  She wasn't afraid but seemed to be having fun looking around.  She checked out a lot of the barn area and then she got into the right spot to spy mom and I could see her body language change and she trotted over to mom and snuffled her side.  Mom bent down and sniffed her tush and gently pushed her towards the milk source.  Miss Marple had a little drink and laid down tired after her big exploration. 

I was so impressed with Dulcie and how she is parenting this little girl.  She watches her like a hawk but is not so overly protective that she is making the baby fearful of her environment.  On the contrary.  Dulcie has been giving the baby lessons that it is ok to go out and run a little and play but come when called and she is teaching her how to find mommy on her own.  It's going to be fun watching their dynamics and how Dulcie teaches Miss Marple the ways of alpacas and being a member of the herd at Hum Sweet Hum.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Alpaca Therapy: Observations with Foster Children and Alpaca Interactions

Cute Cria are Great Alpaca Therapists: They Guarantee Lots of Smiles

In my last blog, I talked about trauma and how being around alpacas can help people who suffer from the effects of traumatic events in their lives.  I invited a foster care organization to the farm.  It was a live-in foster care facility and the coordinator was looking for activities that would be good to bring about 20 kids to for an outing.  She was eager to accept my invitation and we set a date.  The kids got out of their vans and were quite hyped up.  I talked to them briefly about gates and keeping them closed and then told them the best way to interact with alpacas.  Fast movements and loud noises would startle the alpacas.  I wasn't sure how much was heard but alpacas are clever enough and can move fast if they need to run away.  I hoped the alpacas wouldn't be too frightened by the hyper-activity and would interact but one never knows.  I had a bucket of pellets to hand out to kids and hoped that would overcome any fear the alpacas might have of the large number of people coming to see them.

A few kids took to the alpacas right away and enjoyed giving treats.  As first, I took them to my most social animals I'd worked with so as to set them up as best I could for successes.  These kids needed whatever successes they could get.  The ages of kids ranged from around 8 or 9 to around 15 or 16.  Two teenaged boys were trying to act "cool." One kid was uncomfortable with wanting to enjoy himself and appeared to be the leader of the other boy even though the meeker boy was double the size.  He went along at first with the one kid that wanted to make fun of the entire situation and also wanted to be center of attention.  I took them to a pen that had a couple of more skittish alpacas.  I wasn't sure why I did that but I tend to follow my instincts.  I asked the larger kid if he wanted to try feeding one of the younger and skittish alpacas.  The boy took some treats but the alpaca was a little too afraid of this big kid.  I suggested he bend down a little.  He did so and the alpaca was more curious and wanted some pellets so overcame its fear and took pellets.  I watched as this big kid who was following the lead of the mischief maker was now ignoring the antics of the other kid and focused his attention on this alpaca.  His energy softened and this large kid became this gentle soul talking so softly to this alpaca.  I wear a treat pouch at events like this so I have treats at the ready as well as have both hands handy.  This big kid asked me if he could borrow my pouch while I helped with some of other kids.  I smiled and handed him my pouch.  The mischief maker started to tease the big kid about wearing my pouch and the big kid told him to "shut up" and turned his back focusing on his alpaca.

Without coaching or interference on my part, I observed this big kid who was initially going along with the peer pressure and leadership of a kid who wanted to cause trouble quickly change to being a gentle and caring guy and he walked away from the peer pressure.  Just a little positive reinforcement with encouraging this kid to feed this little alpaca and he was able to choose for himself what he wanted to do and not follow the cycle of negative influences of peer pressure at least for a couple of hours.  

I did notice that the mischief maker gave up on the larger boy who was now totally into the alpacas and turned his attention on a younger child.  This young boy was a different kid than the rest.  You could tell he was teased a lot and probably bullied.  The mischief maker kid was definitely more cruel with his "teasing" of the younger boy.  The young boy found an alpaca he wanted to interact with.  My heart sank a bit because he chose a very aloof alpaca.  She didn't interact much with the herd and she never came over for pellets.  She was difficult to halter train and just didn't like people or alpacas for that matter.  The young boy asked for some pellets to offer this little alpaca so I gave him some.  There were other alpacas that were very interested in the treats and I hoped perhaps he'd be interested in them but he was totally focused on this aloof alpaca.  We were in a catch pen of about 15'X15' so she couldn't go far to run away.  I got asked some questions by some of the other kids and after a few minutes, this young boy came over to me and asked if I could help him.  The teasing started in again with the mischief maker and I stepped in and walked the younger boy away offering to help him.  He asked me if I could distract one of the other younger alpacas that kept interfering with him and his desire to connect to "his" alpaca.  I shooed the other alpaca away and he sat on the ground.  I kept the others away while he interacted with this alpaca and got talking to some of the others again.  The next time I looked back to see how this boy was doing with "his" alpaca, I smiled as she was taking treats from him and their foreheads were touching in such a sweet fashion.  He had connected with her and she with him.  They were in a corner of the pen and for the two of them, no one else was around.  They were so connected.  The other boy attempted to tease again and I interrupted and started to praise this young boy for doing something I had tried for months to do and wasn't successful at.  This young boys face lit up with the praise and the taunting and teasing of the other kid fell on deaf ears.

It was sad that the mischief maker couldn't or wouldn't let his guard down but what was very interesting was that all the others that would normally follow his lead chose not to and the ones that he would taunt and be mean to ignored him as well.  The hold he typically held over the other kids was quite diluted while at least on the farm and around the animals.  The alpacas were able to defuse and undo his hold.  He increased his antics as their time wore on but it didn't have any affect.  You could tell he was very unsettled by the loss of control he had over the others.   

This all happened plus more in about two hours at the farm.  Can you imagine what healing could take place if troubled kids could spend more time with alpacas?  Alpacas and animals are wonderful healers.  (I have not included pictures of that event to protect the children that were present). 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Alpaca Therapy: Understanding Trauma By Observing Flight Animals

I came to alpacas in my mid-40's.  I had a couple of other careers and when I got into alpacas, people thought (including myself) that it was such a different thing to do than what my career choices had been.  I worked for nearly 20 years as an engineer for the Navy and then received my Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Depth Psychology.  Two careers that seemed quite different from each other and then to become an alpaca farmer is yet another crazy direction.  But as I have worked on my alpaca business and the more I'm around these animals, I am seeing how those previous career backgrounds are used regularly.  The skills I had in project management and problem solving are so useful that I obtained from my engineering background.  The area that I find the connection most intriguing is with my psychology background.  I'm amazed how many people that have suffered a traumatic experience(s) are drawn to alpacas.  There seems to be such a kindred spirit between the traumatized person and alpaca.

It makes sense that there is a healing connection between a traumatized person and animals such as alpacas.  The area of the brain that deals with the flight or fight response is very similar in all mammals including humans.  In a threatening situation, there are three means of response to the threat.  Most know of the flight or fight response.  We either run from the threat or turn and fight.  The third response is less known and it is when one becomes immobile or frozen in the moment of threat.  This is a physiological response.  When faced with an overwhelming threat, this "immobile" response can be a last ditch effort to survive.  It is commonly known as playing possum.  The animal or person "plays dead."  In the wild, an animal will go into this immobile state and perhaps the prey animal will drag it away from other predators so not to share it.  If lucky, the prey animal will get an instant that it can escape at which time, the chemical that puts the animal into this possum state will instantly wear off and the ability to run is engaged.  The other reason for this immobility response is to put the body in an altered state so it doesn't feel the pain of imminent death.  Peter Levine talks about this in his book "Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma."  He discusses how we can learn much about trauma and healing it by observing animals in the wild. 

Our society sees that reaction of freezing in the face of danger as a weakness.  When it occurs, we consciously and unconsciously judge ourselves for being weak.  Experiencing that freezing state goes beyond that judgement piece though.  That freezing moment is related to our fear of death.  Our desire is to avoid death and our fear of it at all costs and that is normal and understandable but it is that avoidance that causes future difficulties sometimes lingering debilitating issues.  How we are able to come in and out of that frozen state is an important role in whether we suffer long term traumatic effects.  If we stay frozen, that is when Post Traumatic Stress issues come into play.  

Being with flight animals such as alpacas who go in and out of those three threat responses models for individuals who are suffering from trauma.  It can help teach them to move through those areas that they find themselves stuck.  An additional benefit to alpaca therapy is that they are so darn cute.  You are guaranteed a smile or laugh being around these creatures and their antics.  When we smile and laugh endorphins are released.  It is the body's natural anti-depressant.  I know personally that if I am in a down mood and funk, going out and being with my alpacas lifts my spirits.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Essential Oils and Alpaca Weaning

It's day two of weaning Djembe.  The first day, Djembe seemed to handle it fairly well.  He ran the fence line a number of times and then went off with his herd and grazed.  He repeated that cycle throughout the day but seemed to be doing better than many others that I have weaned.  On day two, however, his anxiety went up and he was running the fence-line in a panic and trying to break through my gates to get to his mom.  I offered him pellets to see if that would distract him.  He ate a few mouthfuls and then ran back to the fence to see if he could get through the gate's slats.  I thought I would try the Essential Oils that I used during shearing to see if that would help calm him down.

I went into the house and got one of my spare bandanas which I've been using to help identify my pregnant dams that are imminently due. I put a drop of the Peace and Calm oil on one side of the bandana and Stress Away on the other.  Djembe comes readily to me now and eats a few pellets from my hand.  He also lets me hold him calmly.  I put the bandana on him and observed his behavior.  He was walking around in the cria submissive position with his tail up and neck shrunk into his shoulders.  Djembe went back to the far area of my pasture where he can still see his mom.  Within 2 minutes, he stopped walking around in the cria pose and no more racing about.  He started grazing and although humming and watching for his mom, he calmed way down.  He is still anxious and not happy but he is observably calmer.  I'd like to see him with his herdmates more but at least he isn't running in a panic.  The oils appear to have taken his energy and emotions down a notch.  No cure-all but definitely an improvement. 

A Calmer Djembe with his Essential Oiled Bandana

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Creating A Calm Alpaca Shearing Day With Essential Oils

Largest Alpaca Calmly Being Sheared

Shearing is complete for another year for Alpacas At Hum Sweet Hum.  In an earlier blog, I talked about experimenting with essential oils to calm the alpacas during their stressful day.  I put a dab on the palms of my hands of Peace and Calm oil and if an alpaca was extremely frightened would let them take a whiff of my hand.  I also put some on rags as well as some volunteers so when the alpacas were being sheared on the ground and looking overly stressed, we'd lightly place the rag over their faces or near their noses.  The oils appeared to work on some alpacas better than others. 

Alexis is one of my new girls on the farm and more skittish.  When haltering her, she was pretty high strung and then she took a few whiffs of the oils and she didn't care at all what was going on.  The essential oils made a noticeable difference in her demeanor and she laid there about as calm as I have seen with an alpaca.  Misty also was calmed dramatically with the oils.  She normally would have fussed more.  She was extremely zenned out when I experimented with the oils a few days prior to shearing.  It was really quite hilarious to observe her looking almost stoned.  She is my piggiest alpaca where food is concerned and after taking a few whiffs of the Peace and Calm oil, she was letting all the others go to the pellets and treats.  During shearing, I was struck at how calm she was about being picked up to be laid down to the ground for her shearing.  She is a big girl and can be a handful when she is so inclined yet she acted like they could pick her up and carry her anywhere they wanted.  She didn't scream, spit, or pee at all but laid there like she was getting a massage. 

However, there were other alpacas that I saw no signs that the oils did anything for them.  Windsong who when pregnant is a crazy thing when handled.  She will come for carrots and treats but try and handle her and she alarms.  When not pregnant, Windsong will wrap herself around you to get a full body massage.  Her behavior suffers a dramatic change when pregnant.  I don't even need to spit tests or have ultrasounds on her to confirm pregnancy.  Her behavior is an easy indicator. We used the Essential Oils on her and she still spat and alarmed.  She did somewhat calm after the shearing started but not sure if that was due to the oils or she just gave up.  She was highly stressed until I took her halter off in her pasture away from the hullabaloo going on in the barn area. 

Alpacas All Sheared At Hum Sweet Hum

The one the oils did work on was me!  Shearing day is one of my most stressful days on the farm.  It's a lot on my shoulders to keep track of and running from one station to another answering questions of volunteers and filling in a spot that needs someone to work and just make sure everything gets done that is required.  It's a long full day of having to stay focused.  Once the routine of shearing gets going, I calm down more but in the beginning, I feel my stress more and work hard to keep it under check so the alpacas don't pick up my anxiety.  I would take whiffs from my own palms when I felt my anxiety pick up and I could feel my body relax. 

I have only a single day of use so not a huge amount of data to judge with but I would and will use the Essential Oils again and knowing which animals that definitely calm down with its usage is good information for me.  If others use it during shearing, I'd love to hear how it works for you.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cria Watching at Hum Sweet Hum

 The alpaca breeding business is a true lesson in patience.  You carefully research genetics and examine your female and if she has cria, what worked and what could be improved upon and then you make the big decision on which stud to use.  After that, it is approximately 11 1/2 months of waiting to see how you did in making your choice.  The first eleven months actually seems to fly by but those last couple of weeks and days before that cria is delivered come to a screeching crawl.  The anticipation mounts and I look for the most subtle signs that the blessed event is near.  Alpacas tend to deliver their babies before mid-afternoon and usually in the morning so I stay close to home checking every 20 minutes to a half hour to see if anyone is in labor.  But, alpacas like to prove that old adage, "Watched pots never boil!" 
Naomi and Dove: The Watched Pots
 My observations have gotten more vigilant the last two days.  Naomi is hanging out by herself more and laying down more too.  She is huge so she must be so uncomfortable and tired lugging that big baby around inside her.  I was watching her very closely the other day when she was standing at the poop pile for an extra long time.  That can be a sign of labor.  They feel the cramping and think they need to go potty but in this case, she stood there and nothing came out so that triggered me to observe her more closely for a bit.  After nothing happened, she took a few steps and decided she was too tired to head back to the herd so cushed right where she was.  She looked miserable.  I have a tree stump in the pasture and decided to sit down on it and offer her a little energy session.  Naomi is one of my new members to my herd.  She is still rather skittish and wary of me so I didn't want to touch her so I can intuitively "send" the energy to her.  I sat and watched her for a bit and she would shift her body to one hip and then back into a sternal position.  I could tell by watching her which areas of her body seemed to be most uncomfortable by how she laid on the ground.  I could also tell by her eyes that she just wasn't feeling great.

I focused my attention and took slow breaths to help me concentrate and let my regularly rambling brain quiet down.  I visualized nice quiet white light drifting over her and wanted it to feel gentle and soothing.  I kept picturing the energy enter into her body and helping her to relax.  I do my energy much like a guided meditation talking to the animal in my mind about the light and oxygen entering her body to move through her body to all those areas that need comfort.  I sent her this gentle energy for about 5 minutes when I saw her eyes get heavy and she laid her head down on the ground and fell sound asleep.  I was pleased that it gave her some comfort to get some rest but it also pleased me that she accepted the energy.  She has been so very wary of me so to let me sit as close as I was to her and to take in the energy being offered was a sign that she is starting to build some trust in me.  

Back to my hot tea, my binoculars and get further tested in patience.  Perhaps that should be one of the babies' names -  Patience!  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Shearing Day: Harvest Day for Alpacas

Lark and Donatello Sheared Prior To Arrival At Hum Sweet Hum
Shearing day is quickly approaching.  The annual alpaca fiber harvest.  This will be the most animals sheared on the farm this year.  Thirty-two animals needing shearing so a long day ahead.  Volunteers are coming and makes the work go so smoothly and fun.  There will be a holding area where animals will be prepped and weighed, then come over for shearing where toenails are trimmed, teeth trimmed if necessary and booster shots given.  It's a full spa day for alpacas. 

I'm not known for being the most organized person around but on this day, I make an extra effort to be organized so it goes more smoothly.  This year could be even more interesting with cria due any time.  But with so many volunteers coming, there will be plenty to help no matter what added events happen.  The biggest concern for me is knowing how stressed my animals are during shearing.  The ones that have been through it before, still are not happy about it.  I was so pleased last year that they all handled it pretty well though.  There was only had one spitter!  I have some new animals since then and they haven't full adjusted yet to the ways of Hum Sweet Hum.  I use Rescue Remedy for stressed animals (and me) and this year I'm also going to try using calming essential oils.  I used Rescue Remedy on animals at a recent show I attended.  I experimented with them sniffing it instead of putting it in their mouths.  We were about to enter in the ring and the alpacas started to act up.  I didn't want to amp them up more by opening their mouths and putting Rescue Remedy drops in their mouth.  It seemed counter-productive.  So I opened the bottle and held it up so they could sniff.  It was almost immediate that they calmed down.  The scent is very strong and they would shake their heads at the strong odor but then came back and take another whiff.  It was totally on their terms if they wanted to take a whiff of it or not.  When they seemed to have enough, I put the stopper back on and observed them.  The alpaca's energy calmed down a couple of notches.  They were still alert and not happy about being in these foreign surroundings of the show ring but calm enough to be handled more easily and they showed beautifully too.

After my experience at the alpaca show, I decided to learn a bit more about Essential Oils and so this year at shearing, we will be trying a couple of different oils to see if they help calm these critters down before they get sheared.  I'm most interested in my very pregnant females.  It's always a dilemma on whether to shear or wait.  Temperatures are beginning to rise and full fleeced females that are near term can be stressed more than the stress of a quick shearing.  The daily heat is an extended and long term physiological stress whereas the shearing is a short term fear based stress.  I know how gentle my shearer is and how fast he is so this year we will proceed with shearing them all.  So this year, I'm opting to shear all my pregnant females and hope I can keep them calm with my essential oils and Rescue Remedy to keep them from going into premature labor.

Shearing day is a lot of details for me to keep straight.  With three females near term, I will be on hyper-vigilance for babies so think I will be giving a whiff of essential oils to the animals and one for me!  Or maybe two or three for me!!!!  If anyone out there has had experience with Essential Oils on their alpacas and other animals, I'd be interested in hearing what you think has worked or hasn't worked.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Alpaca Birthing Season Begins At Hum Sweet Hum

Watched pots never boil.  Alpaca gestation is about 11 1/2 months.  It's a long wait and amazingly, the first 11 months go by really pretty fast but the last couple of weeks before they are due comes to a standstill.  I like to start keeping closer tabs about 2 weeks before their estimated due dates.  Alpaca instinct is to keep it pretty stoic about any weakness.  It is imperative to their survival in the wild not to show it.  They would be first one to be taken by prey if they are seen as weaker.  So seeing signs of labor can be very subtle.  They can even put labor on hold if they feel they are being threatened.  So I try and watch from afar if I think one is in labor.  I pull out my binoculars and watch at a distance or I grab a rake and start raking poop.  They are used to seeing me do that on a daily basis so they tend to not be bothered if I'm raking.  I rake with the binoculars around my neck taking peeks regularly.

There are times when those gals run late.  They must not look at the calendar because I know when I breed them and can do a pretty good estimate but they ignore that and have it when they are darn well ready to have that baby.  I had one that was 364 days into her gestation.  I had second guessed myself into believing she had slipped the pregnancy.  I walked my pastures looking for a stillborn.  I drove myself nutty watching her and seeing any unusual movement as either she was in labor or I used it to convince myself she wasn't pregnant.  Then I would see the baby move and I would take a deep breath and make myself go back to other projects.  I was ready to name the baby Timex because it just was on its own time about being birthed.  But when the time was right, a healthy baby was born with no issues or assistance required. 

Birthing is both exciting and high order anxiety.  Until all is well and baby nursing nicely, I am on full alert mode.  It's been six months since the last birth here so it's time to dust off the neonatal kit and check that all is in order in my box and all my supplies and gear are in place and within easy reach.  I'm starting to watch the mom's tummies to see if babies are kicking and moving.  So fun to watch a leg kick or roll.  The babies start to drop and get into position.  A sign we are getting closer.  Then waiting to hear the dam humming.  Sometimes they start to hum a day or two before birth.  They talk to their babies so the babies know mom's voice.  That is a good sign to step up the watchfulness if I hear an expectant mom humming.  If I can get into position, I try and sneak a peek at the dam's udders to see if milk is coming in but some of my Huacaya's have so much fleece, it's impossible to see under there.

I have notes with the list of possible names written down and add to it.  Some names come so easily and others take time and research to get the one that fits them just right.  I try and follow a musical theme to fit with my Hum Sweet Hum farm name but sometimes a baby just wants to be named something else.

It never gets boring being an alpaca breeder.  New babies on the way, pastures going to be filled with new life and lots of cria races.  I love it!  

Monday, April 16, 2012

1000 Hellos: Alpaca Training and the Rewards of Patience

When I began clicker training and doing Energy Work on alpacas I was presented a challenge of working with Serena.  She was one of the most skittish alpacas at the farm when I was still boarding.  I had just gotten my first alpacas a few months earlier and had been experimenting with the clicker on my animals and had been having good success.  One day I came to work with my girl and I heard this horrible scream coming from the barn area.  It was ear piercing and could be heard from the far reaches of the 25 acre ranch. I ran to see if help was needed but got there to find all the humans acting quite normally.  It sure didn't match the fearful screams coming from the alpaca.  I was told Serena always behaved that way the second she was caught or even looked at.  Talking more to her owner I saw a glint in her eye as an idea took hold.  She looked at me and offered me a challenge.  If I wanted to prove my clicker training was worthwhile then I should see if it would work on Serena.  If I could get Serena to take treats and do some of the stuff I had been doing with my animals, then I would really know that it worked and she said she would be really impressed.  I said I would take on her challenge if she would keep Serena and her cria in a pen up by the barn for two weeks.  She readily agreed.

I waited a little while for Serena to calm down and went in to the pen to assess her reaction to me.  I didn't expect much especially after just being handled and going through the stress of her pregnancy test.  I was going up against a lot.  She was just confirmed pregnant which is when they are so hormonal and spitty to all.  She was extremely frightened of humans at the best of times and she had a young male cria at her side she would want to protect.  The odds of me being successful were slim.  She of course kept her distance from me but her cria was fairly calm and liked pellets and he came over to accept.  I thought perhaps he was my way "in" with Serena.

I went out every day for two weeks.  The first few days were not real successful.  Serena kept her distance but I got in some nice training with her boy.  He was a good candidate for the clicker so I worked with him all the while she observed me warily.  I had a thought of trying some Reiki on her.  I came in one day and sat down after working with her boy.  I just sat right down in the dirt with my back against the fence for my comfort and got as far away from Serena as I could in the pen.  I can "send" energy so used that distance technique.  I was amazed that after about 10 minutes, I watched Serena's eyes get heavy.  She did a few head bobs fighting off the sleep and then finally gave into it.  She cushed and dozed off with me in the pen with her!  I was thrilled.  It showed me she could calm down and that she was accepting the energy.  The next day I came back and tried again and she cushed quicker and fell sound asleep.  What was really astonishing was the fact that the vet was there again and there was so much commotion going on all around us and lots of stressed animals.  She would normally be on high alert wondering if she would be the next one to be caught but there she was sound asleep.  The owner passed by one time and did such a double take as she saw me sitting on the ground and seeing Serena sound asleep with me only a few feet away.  I saw her shaking her head as she walked into the barn.  The chances of me winning the bet and challenge were showing promise.

It came down to the last day of my two weeks with Serena and she was coming so close to eating from my hand.  She would eat pellets out of a trough with me sitting there and my hand near but she would only take it from the trough and not my hand.  After trying various things, I finally got her to take the pellets if I sprinkled them right next to my hand.  She had to touch my hand to get the pellets.  It took her a few tries and to get her courage up but she finally did it.  I let her do that a few times to get more trust in me and then upped the ante to putting the pellets in my hand.  She did it!  She took pellets from my hand.  It took all I had not to do a loud whoop!  But I didn't want to scare her so I kept my mouth shut.  She took more treats from me when I stood up and when I called the owner over, she got to witness me giving Serena pellets from my hand. 

Unfortunately, once Serena got put back into the big pasture with the others, she wasn't about to come near me again.  I was a bit sad about that but that was all I was asked to do and I moved on to other training and working on other methods.  But, every time I saw Serena in a pasture, I would say hello and offer her pellets.  She always turned me down.  Two years passed and the most I did with Serena since our time up by the barn was to say hello when I saw her and offer her pellets that were never taken.  She never came closer than 10 feet near me and if I moved anywhere near her, she bolted.  So one day when I was walking down the path to do some work with my animals, I was caught by surprise when offering treats at random this white suri named Serena took treats from me.  I did a double take to make sure I was seeing right.  Yes, it was indeed Serena.  I offered her another handful and she took it again.  I found out later she was pregnant so that her being receptive to suddenly accepting treats wasn't because I timed it right to when she wasn't pregnant.  She had just decided that after two years, it was safe to accept and she was ready.  It was those 1000 times I said hello but never asked more from her and respecting her wishes for distance.  It was on her terms.  After that day, I went into the pasture and offered her pellets and got her to even give me kisses! 

She now has a new owner that adores her and lives in a beautiful setting in Vermont where she gets tons of treats, carrots and apples.  Visitors mean more treats for her.  This once very shy animal that screamed if you looked at her now comes and gets her goodies, doesn't scream even during shearing!  It only took 1000 hellos.