Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Best of the Midwest Alpaca Show

Jolly Roger attended the Best of the Midwest Alpaca Show in Columbus, OH on March 13-15. Our friends at Oak Haven Alpacas took him to the show along with 4 of their alpacas while we "alpaca-sat" for them back in Michigan. The show is a level IV show, meaning there were around 500 alpaca in attendance. This was Jolly Roger's first show and we worked diligently on halter training him and weaning him before he left. During color check, Jolly Roger was bumped into the light brown class instead of the dark fawn class we originally entered him in. We have volunteered to do color checking at shows in the past and alpacas frequently change color classes for show. If Jolly Roger was slightly darker that dark fawn, but lighter than light brown, they would have to bump him into the darker category which was light brown which is what probably happened in this case. Jolly Roger had 6 other alpacas in his class of light brown juvenile (under 1 year old) male alpacas. There were several large farms in JR's class. Large shows usually offer intense competition as large farms are normally in attendance. Because larger farms have so many crias born on their farm, they are able to put an awesome show string together and only bring the cream of their cria crop to shows. Also, all of the other alpacas in JR's class had been shorn last year. As JR was born in late August, we felt that it would not be in his best interest to have him shorn in the fall since the weather was getting colder. Our friends at Oak Haven reported that Jolly Roger behaved very well in the ring and on his halter. The judge had a difficult time locating both of Jolly Roger's testicles, but eventually found them both. Jolly Roger placed 6th in his class. He was awarded a beautiful green and black ribbon. The judge commented that JR was not as dense as the alpacas placed before him. This may have been because he had not been shorn and still had his wispy cria tips which would make him seem less dense or he was possibly just not as dense. Jolly Roger will be attending the Indiana Alpaca Invitational this weekend in Fort Wayne, IN and the Michigan Alpaca Breeder's Show and Fiber Fair in Davisburg, MI the first weekend in May. We will see how he holds up in these show rings before we decide to continue showing him and to have him become a herdsire one day or if we retire him from the show ring and have him becomes a pet/fiber alpaca.

Monday, March 30, 2009

In Memory of our Sephiroth

Our house is so quiet. Our hearts are heavy with sorrow. I have not felt much like blogging in the last few weeks. Our Sephiroth passed away in the early morning of March 4, 2009. If you have been following this blog, you know that Sephiroth was more to Noah and me than a great big dog. He was our child. The loss of him has been tremendous. I feel as though part of me is missing...that my heart and soul will never be the same. Sephiroth was a joy in our lives. Most days, our lives seemed to revolve around him. Did you let him out? He needs to come in now. Breakfast time. Leave work at lunch to go home and play with him. Dad's home...time to play. Let's romp outside or wrestle on the bedroom floor. Dinner time. Seph...lets go out and see the alpacas. My arm is getting sore from holding his rawhide while he chews on it as I watch tv. Let's go tuck the ferrets into their cage for the night, I know how you love to let them climb on your head every night before bed. Time for bed...lets move over and make room for Seph. Wake up in the middle of the night clinging to the edge of the bed with no blankets....Seph go to the couch... mom and dad have no room. It's the weekend...lets go to grandma's house and do laundry, or the dog beach, or the Whitepine Trail for a walk. My life seems somewhat empty without these things. I find myself looking for Seph...expecting him to come bounding into the room and lean against me with his whole butt wagging because he is so excited to see me. I am so sad for all the future memories that are now lost. Seph was going to go camping this summer. We were getting another puppy in May so Seph would have a sibling. Seph was going to be my children's dog someday. The dog they rode around and brought for show-and-tell. It hurts that all these things are gone. As the days and weeks have passed, the pain has lessened, but I don't think it will ever go away. We were so sure that God had sent us our "one-winged Angel" right from heaven and now we are so confused as to why he was called home so young. It is so strange...Seph just celebrated his first birthday and I was sitting with him on the bed after his party thinking that I would rather spend whatever time I could with Sephiroth (because danes have a shorter life span than most dogs) than never at all. I just felt so blessed to know Seph. He was an amazing dog. This was a strange thought to have, especially on his birthday. When I thought it, I was thinking 5 or 6 years....the thought never crossed my mind that he would pass away a week later.

Here is what happened to our Sephiroth. I woke up on a Wednesday morning before the alarm went off. The sun was shining and I was confused. I had slept really well...maybe straight through the night without even waking up. This was not normal as Seph was normally getting on and off the bed all night and whining until I moved over for him to get under the covers next to me. I immediately asked Noah where Seph was. Noah said that he was sleeping next to him, beside the bed, on the floor. Relieved that he was okay...I went back to sleep for a few more minutes. My alarm went off. I turned it off and Noah called to Seph to come snuggle. Seph did not get up and bound onto the bed as usual. Noah called him several more times with no response. I became very alarmed. Noah touched him and yelled that he was dead! Noah threw a blanket over him as we rushed out of the room in a panic. Seph was lying next to our bed, in a sleeping position with his eyes closed. He looked so peaceful, just like he was sleeping. You would never know otherwise unless you felt how cold he was. I am so glad that he passed peacefully in his sleep lying next to our bed. He was in no pain and he was not stressed. The rest of the day was a whirlwind...although it felt like the longest day I had ever had. We called Seph's breeder at Rainmaster Danes in Ohio as she has been a great friend to us and we did not know who else to call. Rainmaster breeds for healthy long living dogs. Seph came with a health guarantee and our breeder recommended that we take him to get an necropsy to determine the cause of death. It was just such a strange situation. He had no symptoms...he played, ate, and pooed like normal the night before. He did not appear sick, in pain, or stressed in any way. Our parents came up and helped us bring Seph to Michigan State Vet school to have a necropsy completed. It was such a shocking day and is even difficult for me to write about.

Several days later we received the preliminary necropsy report along with Seph's ashes. We had to pay extra at Michigan State to have a private cremation for Seph, but we felt it was the right thing to do and Seph needed to be back on our farm to be buried. The prelim. report showed that Seph's thymus gland in his chest failed to regress and it hemorrhaged and bled into his lungs and liver. Puppies are born with a large thymus gland and as they reach maturity is shrinks. Seph's never shrunk like it was supposed to. They find that this hemorrhage of the thymus is rare and spontaneous in dogs. It occurs before they are 2 years old, there are no symptoms, and it is fatal. The vets said that rodenticide (rat poison) can sometimes cause this. We decided to have them run a toxicology test to explore this further. It was over a week before we received the final report and toxicology. I was distraught to think that rat poison could have killed our Seph and it could have been prevented. We do not have rodenticide on our farm and we searched our house, basement, and barns to be sure. The toxicology came back and there were no rodenticides in his system. I was so relieved. I still feel shock over Seph's death. He was such a beautiful, loving, healthy dog and now he is gone.

Friends and family have offered us so much love and support during this difficult time. We have received lots of cards, emails, and flowers. Thank you all for your kind thoughts and prayers. This spring, we plan to put Seph to rest on our farm. We are going to plant a tree over him as a memorial. We are thinking a weeping cherry tree or a weeping willow tree. The tree can continue to weep for us so we won't have to. Our breeder has offered to give us a replacement puppy. I know Seph will never be replaced, but we will see what God has in store for us.

One of my favorite poems:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Rest in peace baby Sephiroth. Your mamma and your daddy miss you very much Bubba. We will never forget how excited we were when you were born. We will never forget the way you made us hold your rawhide so you could chew on it. We will never forget how people adored you everywhere we went. We will never forget how you loved to chase Smokey up and down the fence and take a chunk of fiber out if you got the chance. We will never forget how silly you were when you played with your hedgehog or your monster. We will never forget how you loved to lean against us or jump up on us and give us hugs. We will never forget how quick you were to learn new tricks. We will never forget how you hated to have your ears cleaned, your nails dremmeled and to have a bath. We will never forget all the restless night because we loved you so much and wanted you close to us...even if we had to share a full size bed with you. We will never forget how you loved to poke your head in the shower when we were in there. We will never forget how much you liked taking car rides and sticking your head out the window and barking at people at stoplights. We will never forget how you loved to snuggle with us on the couch....especially your daddy. We will never forget how you loved to bop you Uncle Mickey the Scottie on the head because he was so old and grumpy. We will never forget how much you loved going to the dog beach last summer and meeting all the people and other dogs. We will never forget how gentle you were with little kids and babies. We will never forget how patient you were when we had you pose for pictures. We will never how we laughed when you started lifting your leg to pee because you looked so awkward. We will never forget how you dragged the couch all over the house and tore it up over and over and over and over again. We will never forget how terrified you were of Santa Clause. We will never forget how you ate all the bunket off the table last thanksgiving without anyone ever catching you. We will never forget how we always said we needed a bigger tv because you loved to stand in front of it while we were trying to watch our favorite shows. We will never forget how you came running every time you heard the upstairs door open because you loved to let your ferret sister and brothers crawls on your face and head. We will never forget the mornings that we laid in bed with you between us just petting you and talking to you. We will never forget how amazed we were at how fast you grew and how much you could eat. We will never forget your gigantic paws, your black wing, your kissy lips or your big loving brown eyes. We will never forget how happy you made us. We will never forget how fiercely you loved us. You gave us an amazing year that we would never trade for anything. We love you Sephiroth and we are blessed to have had you in our lives.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Threat of the "Ninja Worm"

On any given day, this is the scene in the fields behind our pastures. The tiny dots everywhere are deer. Our farm is like a wildlife magnet. In addition to several turkeys, there is often a large herd of deer behind our house. We have counted as many as 40 turkey and 100 deer all hanging out together in the fields at one time. It is like a wildlife sanctuary!

At night, our dog runs from window to window growling. When I get up to see what is outside, I often find deer right outside our windows. I have watched them rear up onto their hind legs and have "boxing matches" right in our yard. They seem to like to play "reindeer" games when the sky is clear and the moon is full. Unfortunately our road is a deer highway as well. Several deer have been hit in front of our house this winter. While this deer situation may be a hunter's dream...it is an alpaca farmer's nightmare. Why you ask??? Because of the much feared and much dreaded "Ninja Worm."
Well, it is not actually called the "Ninja Worm"...it is called the Meningeal Worm or paralaphostonguylus tenius. Although, when you hear the word Meningeal...is sounds sort of like Ninja...at least it did when we first heard about this internal parasite. It is also dangerous and deadly...much like a ninja. Meningeal worm is a parasite of the white-tailed deer that completes its life cycle within the deer without significant effects. However, if this parasite infests an unnatural host, like an alpaca, it moves into the spinal cord and brain and causes neurological effects that are often fatal. (Schoenian, 2007)

"The life cycle of the meningeal worm requires terrestrial snails or slugs as intermediate hosts. White-tailed deer become infested with P. tenius by eating snails or slugs that contain the infective stage of the larvae. The larvae migrate through the deer's gut and eventually move into the central nervous system where they mature into adults, produce eggs, and the life cycle begins again. However, when P. tenius-infected snails and slugs are ingested by aberrant hosts, the larvae migrate into the brain and/or spinal cord. The larvae do not mature into adults, but rather wander through the central nervous system causing inflammation and swelling which damages sensitive nervous tissue producing a variety of neurologic symptoms. Experimental evidence suggests that it takes 10 to 14 days for the parasite to reach the brain and/or spinal cord after the animal eats the infected snail or slug" (Schoenian, 2007).

Meningeal worm is very difficult to diagnose in live animals because it cannot be detected with a fecal exam (because eggs are not produced that are passed on the the feces) or a blood test. Symptoms of meningeal worm infection include:
-light limp or weakness in one or more legs
-partially or completely paralysis
-head tilt
-disinterest in or inability to eat
(Schoenian, 2007)

Treatment of meningeal worm can be costly and time consuming. In most cases, infected animals remain alert and continue to eat and drink normally until the infection has progressed too far to treat it successfully. Meningeal worm is often fatal and difficult to treat. If the alpacas do survive through treatment, they often remain partially or completely paralyzed.

Because this parasite is so dangerous and difficult to detect and there is a very high concentration of deer surrounding our farm, we try to prevent our alpacas from picking up meningeal worm. Our pastures are on high and dry ground in order to avoid wet environments where slugs and snails like to hang out. All of our alpacas also get monthly injections of Ivomec as a dewormer. Although other parasites, will build up a resistance to Ivomec, meningeal worms will not because they cannot complete their life cycle within an alpaca. We also plan to get some chickens and ducks for our farm this year, in hopes that they will not only produce eggs and meat for us, but they will eat the sneaky intermediate hosts...slugs and snails...before they can ever reach the alpacas.

Meningeal Worm: Brain Worm-Dear Worm,
paralaphostonguylus tenius, University of Maryland Cooperative Extension (2007) by Susan Schoenian.