Friday, August 28, 2009

Rest in Peace Baby Rosco

I have saved the death of our little ferret Rosco until last to blog about this week. Not because she isn't important, but because she was very special to me and it is sad for me to write about her. Noah and I adopted Rosco when she was a baby ferret, spring of 2004. We were dating and in college and decided we wanted to get a pet together. I had always liked ferrets and we decided that would be a good pet that we could bring back and forth from home to college. We fell in love with little Rosco at Petco and rushed out to buy a cage and lots of ferret supplies. We thought she looked like a little raccoon and was much smaller than all the other ferrets. She also climbed up on the toys in the cage to sniff us through the top of the cage. She was so sweet! We brought her home and quickly learned how mischievous and playful ferrets are! A few hours after getting her home, she ran into an open air duct much to our dismay, but luckily we were able to coax her out. We originally name our little ferret Gizmo, but soon decided to change it to Rosco. Although she was a girl, Noah not so secretly wanted her to be a boy, so named her Rosco....a boys name. It wasn't long before we adopted a brother ferret for Rosco. We named him Duncan. He was so tiny and Rosco would beat him up and drag him around. It wasn't long until he outgrew her though and began returning the beatings. A year later, I fell in love with another ferret at the Petco in Ann Arbor. I kept going back to look at the little guy over a couple weeks and he still hadn't sold, so we added another baby brother to the family and named him Wiz Pigger (we will save the story of how he got his name for another time). Pictured below are lots of pictures of little Rosco over the last few years.

Rosco, Duncan, and Wiz Pigger spent two years with me in an apartment in Ann Arbor as I was going to the University of Michigan. Many days were spent scrambling to stow their cage under the bed and hide them in their travel cage in the car when maintenance needed to come through our apartment since we weren't allowed to have pets. On the weekends and during the summer, they would come home with me to my parents. Over the years, they also lived in our apartment after Noah and I got married, with us when we moved in with my Aunt and Uncle for a few months, and then ended up at the farm with us where they have their own bedroom with lots of toys and fun things to do.

It has almost been 6 years since we adopted little Rosco and she has really become a part of our family. Ferret's life spans range from 4-10 years. Most people consider ferrets old at 4 or 5 and ferrets rarely live to be 10 +, so we know our ferrets are getting up there in years. Despite their age, they are still as active and playful as the day we brought them home. They remind me of a mixture between a puppy and a kitten. Two weeks ago, I cleaned their room out and had Noah give them a bath (we usually give them a bath every few months). After the bath, I noticed Rosco was acting strange. She was standing funny and bobbing her head up and down. A few weeks earlier, I had a difficult time waking her up and had started really noticing how grey her fur had been getting. Noah cuddled with her for a few hours, but her symptoms did not seem to improve. Her eyes weren't as bright as normal, she was bobbing her head, she had a difficult time walking, and she seemed to have lost coordination in her back legs. She mostly just laid in Noah's arms without moving much (which is not like her....she is usually all over the place and never sits still). I was very sad and thought she was probably dying. We brought her outside and showed her around the farm. We showed her the barn and alpacas and laid with her in the grass in the sunshine. Despite her symptoms, she appeared to be hanging on. We spent the next week caring for her and making her comfortable. She was losing weight despite Noah hand feeding her chicken baby food and holding her at the water bowl so she could drink without falling in. Her eyes were also getting puffy and weren't bright like normal. Sores were also forming around her mouth. She slept a lot, but would try to walk around now and then, usually falling over every few steps. Surprisingly, she almost always made it to the litter pan to go to the bathroom. Our boys are lazy and sometimes refuse to use the little pan, but our little Rosco has always been a lady and dedicated to using the litter pan. I was so proud of her for continuing to use the litter pan even if it was a struggle. I don't mean to be grotesque, but her poos were not looking normal either. They were black and tarry and smelled funny. I researched what may be going on with our little girl and looked like she may have been suffering from kidney failure if not additional diseases. There was really no treatment for our little girl and I did not want to bring her to the vet to have them put her to sleep. I thought she would want to cross the rainbow bridge at home.
The week was very difficult. I think I was still experiencing some traumatic feelings from when our last dane Sephiroth passed away and I was often tearful. It was so difficult to see her go from a spunky, playful bright-eyed little girl to wasting away as I looked on feeling helpless. Last Friday, I snuggled with her before bed and told her how much I loved her and that she was an amazing ferret and that I was so proud of her for hanging on for so long. I told her that she didn't have to be strong anymore though, that she could go and we would be okay. As I petted her, I promised her that Sephiroth would be waiting for her at the rainbow bridge and that he would take care of her and let her sniff his eyes and ears (she always loved to do that!). I tucked her into her sleeping bag and told her how much I loved her. She looked at me and then bowed her little head down to go to sleep. I know it is strange, but I felt like she understood what I had said to her. I went to bed and woke up at 3:00am and could not fall back to sleep for the rest of the night. I laid on the couch with Rozalyn and read for the rest of the night. I woke Noah up early the next morning to go pick our new puppy Lola up. I told him that I felt like Rosco had passed away in the night and asked him to check on her. He said that he had dreams that she passed away and that it was all okay. Sure enough, she had gone to be with Sephiroth during the night. That evening, under a beautiful sunset, we buried our little girl Rosco under Sephiroth's Weeping Willow tree. I found this quote in one of my poetry books and read it during her burial. I really like the images it conjured and it reminded me of our little girl.

Figures of Death
by H.W. Beecher

You cannot find in the New Testament any of those hateful representations of dying which men have invented, by which death is portrayed as a ghastly skeleton with a scythe, or something equally revolting. The figures by which death is represented in the New Testament are very different. There are two of them which I think to be exquisitely beautiful. One is that of falling asleep in Jesus. When a little child has played all day long, and becomes tired out, and the twilight has sent it in weariness to its mother's knee, where it thinks it has come for more excitement, then, almost in the midst of its frolicking, and not knowing what influence is creeping over it, it falls back in the mother's arms, and nestles close to the sweetest and softest couch that ever cheek pressed, and, with lengthening breath, sleeps; and she smiles and is glad, and sits humming unheard joy over its head. So we fall asleep in Jesus. We have played long enough at the games of life, and at last we feel the approach of death. We are tired out, and we lay our head back on the bosom of Christ and quietly fall asleep.I know that Rosco was just a ferret, but she was like one of our many children. She had her own little personality; innocent, sweet, pure, and playful. Baby Rosco, we will always remember your bright little eyes. We will always remember how sometime you stopped moving and would just stare off into space. We will always remember the way you loved to sit on our shoulders and sniff our ears and lick our eyelids. We will always remember how you loved to run through the ferret tube and slide down it when we would hold it up like a slide. We will always remember how you loved to hide everything including pens, pencils, erasers, the computer mouse, remote controls, toys, kittens, ducklings....pretty much anything you could carry.....and you were surprisingly strong for such a little thing. We will always remember how you loved to crawl up our pant legs. We will always remember how you clawed your way through the window screen and jumped out the window to the ground 3 stories below...somehow you survived without a scratch and Dwamus found you when she was mowing the lawn (Grandma was ferret sitting you and you gave her some major grey hairs on that one!). We will always remember how much you loved squeaky toys and would come running every time you heard one calling you. We will always remember how you loved to sleep under the couch cushions inside the couch. We will always remember the time we thought we lost you when you had a horrible reaction to a vaccination at the vets office, but you were strong and pulled through. We will always remember how much you loved Whisker Lickin's Chicken and Cheese snacks. We will always remember how much you hated baths and would float in the bathtub with the bubbles around you. We will always remember how scrawny you were when you got wet during your bath. We will always remember how crazy you would get after your bath; your tail would look like a bottle brush and you would run around rubbing all over everything trying to dry off. We will always remember the little chirping sound you would make when you got really excited. We will always remember the way you loved to chase anything that moved quickly. We will always remember how you loved piggy-back-rides. We will always remember how you were our little Princess. We will always remember how you loved to curl up in your hammock or sleeping bag. We will always remember how you loved to crawl all over Seph's face and sniff his eyes and ears. We will always remember how you would stand on your hind legs to ask for a treat. We will always remember how you loved to play in the leaves in the fall and the snow in the winter. We will always remember how you feet resembled those of the children's book Little Critters characters. We will always remember how your ears smelled like Alyssum. We will miss you baby Rosco and always hold you cherished in our hearts!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ab-Duck-ted by Aliens???

Once the sun comes up and touches it's bright rays upon our farm, our animals are ready to wake up and start their day. The roosters begin crowing and the ducks sing along with cacophony of quacks. We lock them all in at night to prevent attacks from predators in the night. Well, about a week and a half ago, I went out before work to let the ducks and chickens out for the morning as usual and noticed that one of the male Indian Runner Ducks was already out. I originally thought he may have escaped somehow, but noticed the duck house door still securely closed. My next thought was that he must have not been in the duck house with the rest when I locked them in the night before after dark. I usually count the chickens to make sure they are all in for the night, but usually don't bother to count the ducks before lock down because there are only 5 of them and they are a pretty tight flock unlike the chickens who are always scattered everywhere. Anyway, I figured the escaped loner would find the rest of the flock and I didn't think much more of it, fed the birds, and went back inside to get ready for work.

A little while later, as I was pulling my car down the driveway to leave for work, I noticed the ducks crossing the road. The ducks have always been good about staying in our yard and I have never seen them in the road. I was running a little late so didn't bother to get out and try and chase them back across our busy road. I figured they would find their way home and hoped they would avoid the vehicles. I later got a call from Noah saying that our male Rouen duck was beating on and chasing the loner Indian Runner boy. He said that he kept biting his neck, pulling out his feathers and chasing him across the road into the soy bean field. This is very strange behavior since the 5 ducks were raised together since hatchlings and have always gotten along really well. I attribute the behavior to raging hormones that have recently seemed to come into play in our little duck flock.

As our little ducks grew, we couldn't tell if they were boys or girls. About 2 months ago, we thought we had two female Rouens until one day, the larger one's head turned emerald green, he got a white ring around his neck, and his underbelly turned a bluish grey color. He is really quite stunning! We also noticed that he had a different quack than the female. After this, I noticed two of our Runner's faces seemed to turn a slightly darker color than the third ducks and their quacks resembled that of the male Rouens. So we ended up with 3 male ducks and 2 females. Not very good odds for the boys I suppose. (In the picture below, from left to right, girl-boy-boy-girl).
Also, a few days before the duck brawl broke out, Noah drove into the driveway and thought one of the ducks was having a seizure while all the others stood around watching. From a distance, all he could see was flapping wings and a writhing duck body. On closer inspection, he learned first hand about the birds and bees duck-style! The Rouens were mating in the middle of the yard, while the Runners all stood around watching. Ducks have no decency! On top of this display, the female runner began laying eggs this week. She appears to lay them at night when locked in the duck house, but has not been sitting on them at all. They are cold by the time we retrieve them in the morning. I am interested to know if a duck egg tastes like a chicken egg, but haven't had the time or courage to try a duck egg yet...but I plan to soon. I will let you know how that goes.

Anyway, back to our outcast duck. Now that the duck's seemed to have reached maturity and their hormones are raging, the big Rouen male must have decided that there were one too many males in the flock and not enough girls. He seems to have taken care of the overabundance of testosterone by ousting one of the male Indian Runners. It is very sad because all the other ducks seem to shun him as well.

I do have an alternative, somewhat off-the-wall theory as well. I would think nothing more than attributing this behavior to duck hormones, except for one strange discovery. I am not an expert on ducks, so there may be another very normal and reasonable explanation for the evidence I found to support this theory. Here goes...Maybe the duck was abducted by aliens the night he was not in with the other ducks and is now some sort of strange alien android duck sent to spy and that is why the other ducks no longer wish to associate with him. What is the evidence I have for this theory you ask? Well, let me tell you. After the big Rouen chased the runner across the street to soybean field a few times, he seemed to get the idea and didn't come back. That evening, Noah and I went across the street to look for the outcast. We could not find him anywhere, although we did find a friendly black kitty. We went back home a little discouraged and feeling bad for the lost outcast. Later, as I was giving the alpacas water around dusk, I heard a quack off in the distance and saw the outcast runner coming across the road back to our yard. Noah and I rounded him up and caught him to see how he was doing. He feathers were ruffled here and there from scuffles with the other boy, but the first thing we noticed when we picked him up was a strange residue on his neck. His neck looked like a yellow cattail (the plant...not an actual cat tail). I hadn't noticed anything that morning, but then again he was at a distance and I probably couldn't have seen it unless I inspected him closer. He had a half inch of what I can only described as corn meal caked all the way around his neck from head to body. Noah and I were a little alarmed because we had not seen anything like this before. We weren't sure if it was coming through his skin or what so we got the hose and washed the cakey layer off. Beneath his skin was fine, besides his feathers being ruffled. We have no idea what this strange substance was. Evidence left behind from aliens??? Hmmmm....Makes one wonder.... Regurgitated duck pellets spit onto the poor soul from the big Rouen? Who knows?.... A strange sticky pollen from the soybeans or some other plant around our farm? Could be..... We may never know. If there are any duck (or alien) experts out there.....let us know your thoughts! I didn't think to take a picture of the strange occurrence for the blog at the time.

Luckily, our little outcast Runner has found a wonderful new home where there isn't so much testosterone for him to compete with. We met a great family who lives a few miles from us at the Grant Frontier Festival. Somehow we got to talking about ducks. They have 3 female Rouens and decided to adopt our little outcast Runner. We dropped him off last weekend and he has a wonderful new home with 3 lovely ladies. I got an email from his new adopted mom a few days ago and he has settled in and is doing well with the other ducks. I am happy that our little outcast is no longer a loner!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Welcome Home Lola!

We brought our new Great Dane puppy home last weekend. Her name is Lola Cloud Schwander and she is a merle piebald great dane. She is 7 weeks old and weighs 17 lbs. She got thrown into our family amidst all the excitement and heartbreak last weekend, but she is doing very well so far. She sleeps through the night without crying and is already getting the hang of potty training. She had her ears cropped a week ago, so they are still healing. The cone on her head helps the ears to stay straight and heal well.

Here are some picture of little Lola with her new family. Lola and her big sister like to attack and cuddle with Daddy. Lola also got to meet her grandma who loves her new little grand-dogter!

Rozalyn is a big sister now and is doing pretty well with the new puppy. It is difficult because Rozalyn is only 5 months old (3 months older than Lola) and already weighs 75 lbs! Despite her large size, she still acts very much like a little puppy and wants to play rough with little Lola. At first, Rozalyn was scared of Lola...but that only last a few minutes. Then she tried to play rough with Lola, trying to bite her and slap her with her massive paws. We had to supervise them very very closely for the first few days. Now Rozalyn is getting along better with little Lola. She isn't being as rough with her and is careful not to bump her ears which are still tender and healing (Lola cries when she does bump them). Lola loves to sit on the couch and bat at and bite Rozalyn's face while Roz stands on the floor and nibbles on Lola's neck. It is really cute, Rozalyn will nibble on her neck like we would a cob of corn. She is learning to be much more gentle with her and only runs her over when she gets really excited. The pictures of them below are of Lola's second day home when Roz was still being a little rough. (sorry some of the pictures are blurry...they just move so you can see below....Roz was very excited and like a whirlwind around her little sister!)

We are so happy to have little Lola home on our farm. She has a beautiful personality and is very outgoing. Stay tuned for more pictures as she grows.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grant Frontier Fest 2009

The alpaca booth at the Grant Frontier Festival was a big hit despite the yucky weather. We set up our tent and booth in the rain Friday afternoon, but it luckily got sunny by the time our booth opened at 5pm. We had a good turn out of Saturday as well, despite the weather...rain...sun...rain...sun...rain...sun. As soon as the parade started through town, it started down poring and stopped just in time for the parade to end; poor marching band : ( All in all, it was a good opportunity for our farms. Unfortunately, I didn't get to take a chance to take any pictures of our beautiful booth. Under our tent, we had panels set up to make a pen for 3 of Oak Haven Alpacas yearling females. We also hung our banners and had tables with samples of raw fiber, yarn, and finished products, like hats, scarfs, mittens, felting kits, stuffed animals, coloring books, etc. for sale. I felt like our booth was a petting zoo the entire weekend. Everyone wanted to pet the alpacas and most people referred to them as llamas. It was nice to be out in our community, educating people about alpacas and the alpaca life style. We had lots of people say they drive by our farm all the time. I got a chance to invite some people over for farm visits and even found a new home for one of our Indian Runner Ducks who was cast out of the flock by another male. There was also a lot of interest in our spinning and felting demonstrations. Although, Saturday, my hands got so cold, it was difficult to keep demonstrating. Overall, the event went very well and was a good trial run for our farm open house for National Alpaca Farm Days on September 26 and 27th.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ashton Stones Little Miss Rosco

I wasn't sure where to start blogging this week after our eventful weekend. I decided to start with our newest cria Ashton Stones Little Miss Rosco. If you read the previous blog, you know that our ferret Rosco had been ill for the last week before passing away early Saturday morning. I kept thinking all week that Cinderella was going to wait to have her cria until after Rosco passed away...or that Rosco was going to wait to pass away until Cinderella was ready to have her cria. Either way, I felt like they were somehow connected. After Rosco's little funeral on Saturday night, I asked Noah to charge the camera batteries because I felt like Cinderella was going to have her cria tomorrow. She seemed fine, I just had a feeling or intuition.

On Saturday morning after letting the puppies out, I went out to the barn to feed the alpacas at 7:30am. As I walked out to the barn, I noticed all the girls and cria laying in the barn and Cinderella kushed out in the field with Onyx standing over her. I noticed Cinderella had her legs kicked out to the side and thought....I bet she is in labor! As I was looking at them out in the field, I noticed a little dark head peeking out over Cinderella's back and I thought to myself, "now what cria is out there with her?" I did a quick scan of the other 3 cria in the barn and it dawned on me that the cria was much darker than the rest of our cria. It was so funny, like it was all working in slow motion and my brain was mush. I finally realized....Cinderella already had her cria this morning and it is already sitting up!!! I ran to the house as quickly as I could and yelled to Noah that Cinderella had her cria. Noah rushed out the door carrying our new dane puppy Lola and Noah, Lola, Rozalyn and I ran out to the barn in a whirlwind. We walked up to Cinderella and the cria who was still sitting up. Noah lifted her tail and saw that she was a little girl....we had huge grins on our faces and high-fived like a couple of farm nerds! Cinderella then got up and ran to the barn and the cria got up and followed at a shaky and awkward run. Our excitement quickly wore off as we realized that despite it being summer, it was only in the 50's outside and cloudy and windy. The cria was still very wet and shivering. We figured she was probably born within the last 30 minutes. I ran to the barn to get towels and as Noah dried her with the towel I ran to the house for my hair dryer. We brought her in the barn and began blow drying her. We took her temp and it was only 96 degrees. It should be at least 98 degrees and at the most 102 degrees. Crias are surprisingly difficult to dry. Normally, it takes them five or more hours to dry outside on a nice day. Their fiber is so thick, it takes a lot to dry it from skin to tips.

During this time, Cinderella seemed really confused. She didn't follow us into the barn when we took her baby. She stayed out with the rest of the alpacas. When we started drying the cria, she began expelling the placenta. Usually the placentas are born pretty quickly. The females just push them right out and they look like a purple jelly bean as they come out. Cinderella's hung for at least a half hour and just kind of oozed out, she didn't really seem to push it out. Although it looked a little strange dangling so long, it was normal once we inspected it on the ground though.

We put the cria on a heated blanket and continued to dry her in a stall. We also put Cinderella in the stall with us and gave her grain, hay and water which she really seemed to enjoy. I figured she must have been laboring in the wee hours of the morning and was probably famished. Once we got the cria pretty dry and got her temp up to 99 degrees, we let Cinderella and the cria bond in the stall. At first she was poking around in the dark corners of the stall (crias are attracted to dark spaces to nurse from) . Once we pointed her in the right directions and she found the nipples, she nursed vigorously, which I think helped to bring her body temp up too.

Once they bonded for awhile, we took the crias temp again and it was still normal. We weighed her; she weighed in at 15.8 lbs. We noticed her umbilicus was bleeding, so we tied it off with dental floss and dipped it in iodine. Then we put a coat on the little girl and sent her and Cinderella out with the rest of the herd. The cria seems strong and healthy. It is funny, she tends to follow Onxy around more than Cinderella. I am not sure if it was because Onxy was out there when she was born too, or if they are just programmed to follow animals that look more their color, or if Onxy is just a darker color like her mom while the rest of the females are lighter in color. Not sure what it is, but she tends to follow Onyx all over the place while Onyx tries to run from her because she is trying to nurse. Notice how sunk in Cinderella's sides are in the picture below now that she had the cria. I wish I had a pregnant belly picture to post too.

This is Cinderella's first cria and the birth apparently went well with no complications. She has a lot of milk and stands very still for the cria to nurse. When it comes to her mothering skills though, she still seems to be learning. I have seen her try to step over the little girl after she is done nursing and knock her down. She also tends to leave her sleeping out in the field while she goes and lays in the barn with the rest of the girls. I think she forgets she is a mommy. Unlike our other mothers, she is only mildly concerned when we touch the cria. I am sure her mothering skills will improve. We have always joked that she is the "ditsy blonde" in our herd.

It is strange for me to see such a dark black cria in our fields. We have always had lighter colored cria and my eyes are still adjusting. We did notice when we were tying off her umbilical that she has two tiny white dots on her belly near her back nipples and a small brown spot on the inside of her leg. We will see if she has any other colors hidden anywhere when we shear her in a few days.
We decided to name our new cria Little Miss Rosco. We named her Little Rosco after our ferret, Baby Rosco, that passed away the day before at the age of 5 1/2. She was our first pet together and we had had her since we were dating in college. She was very sweet and had a childlike playfulness and curiosity until the very end. We added the Miss in her name in honor of Noah's childhood dog Missy, a black furred mixed breed who passed away shortly before we got our first Rosco. Missy also had a innocent and pure childlike personality until the day she died too. We hope that our new Little Miss Rosco will have a beautiful personality like our cherished pets.