Friday, August 7, 2009

Mrs. Buttersworth or Surrogate Mother?

We ended up with another bottle baby this year. We were desperately hoping to avoid it since we had to bottle feed our first cria Appalachia in 2007 because her dam Lady had horrible mastitis. We and the vet battled Lady's mastitis in 2007 for weeks. It was the worst mastitis our vet had ever seen with an alpaca. We had to milk her out and give her several shots a day to reduce pain, battle infection, and reduce scar tissue. It was weeks and weeks before it finally cleared up and it left Lady's teats large, saggy and leathery. It also left Lady with a bad attitude when it comes to being handled. We and the vet hoped that she would be able to nurse cria in the future, despite the fact that mastitis is almost always recurring. We were proactive this year as her due date in May got nearer. We gave her antibiotic shot daily and although her teats were still larger than normal, they did not have any symptoms of mastitis (as a side note, we have always heard that it is important to avoid giving alpaca shots and handling them when they are within 30 days of their due date so as to avoid stressing them and causing them to go into premature labor.....we were giving Lady shots for close to 5 weeks on and off before she finally had her cria at 367 days! So much for the stress least when it comes to our girl Lady). Anyway, once little Riphaeus was born, he was pretty small (only 13 lbs) and had a difficult time latching onto the front teats because his mouth was so small and the teats were engorged with milk. For the first few days after birth, he drank from the back two teats and then after a week, seemed to only favor one of them. The other three were large and engorged with milk. We milked Lady out everyday (which is not an easy task with Lady who has a horrible attitude) hoping we could shrink the teats enough for Riphaeus to latch on and to avoid mastitis, but they remained large and he continued to only nurse off one teat. Because he was nursing off of one teat, we were supplementing with a bottle to help him gain weight. Previously, we had used fresh goats milk and yogurt with Apple, but decided to use Vitamin D milk and yogurt this time because the goat farm we bought from a few years ago didn't have extra available. The only bottle we could find that would fit the nipple without leaking was a Mrs. Buttersworth syrup bottle.
We stopped trying to milk Lady out a week or two after Riphaeus was born. It was torture for both Lady and us. She would kick, spit, scream and lay down when we would milk her out which was very stressful. Looking back, we should have just separated her and the cria until she dried up and bottle fed him completely, but we were so determined to not have a bottle baby again and thought it would be better if he were getting milk from his mama.

When Riphaeus was about 5 weeks old and we were still supplementing with a bottle and he was nursing off one teat, something horrible happened. Lady's mastitis was back at full force and the pressure caused one of her back teats to rupture. Thick, glue-like milk oozed out of the rupture site. We had to strap Lady to the floor like we do when shearing, clean it out and work on milking the rest of the teats out to avoid any further damage. We brought her into the vet first thing the next morning. The vet had never seen this in alpacas, but said is occasionally happens in cows and goats. She recommended we separate her from the cria, clean it out daily with antiseptic and give her shots of Naxcel to clear up the infection and vitamin C for scar tissue which we did. She said that the ruptured teat would shrivel up and fall off, much like if it was frost bitten. If Lady was not already pregnant at this point, we would have considered retiring her so we did not have to deal with this again in the future. Since she was already pregnant though, our vet recommended that we bottle feed the next cria from day one and dry Lady up right away to avoid this happening again. Fortunately, Lady was dried up and her teat was healed within two weeks. Below is an image of her 3 remaining teats after she was dried up. Notice how large and leathery they are from scar tissue. It will be close to impossible for a cria to latch on in the future when they are engorged. I looks like we will have another bottle baby to deal with next spring.

Unlike Apple, who came running for the bottle every time we came to the barn, Riphaeus runs and spits at us every time we try to feed him. He seems to have a grumpy attitude just like his mama Lady. Apple would also suck down a bottle in no time. Riphaeus refuses to suck which leaves us having to make him kush so he won't run away and force feed him by squeezing the bottle into his mouth. It is very stressful for both Riphaeus and us. I am not sure why he refuses to suckle. We have been using the bottle with him since he was a few days old.

Now that Riphaeus is almost 12 weeks old, we have been working on weaning him. If he took the bottle well, we would not wean him until he is at least 4 or 5 months old, but he is horrible when it comes to eating. We bottle fed Apple until she was almost 6 months old. We have set up a creeper pen pictured below with a water bucket, a bin of grain and hay for him to use. We lock him in here at meal times for 30 mins or so and he also uses it throughout the day for snacks. Interestingly, our new cria d'Artagnan is already going in the creeper pen and eating grain and hay and he is only a week old! We are down to one bottle a day now for Riphaeus and he is gaining weight very slowly. Here is a picture of the creeper pen.

I think that d'Artagnan will be larger than Riphaeus in no time. I feel bad for the little guy, even if he is a grump. He has had a rough start at life. He was only 13 lbs when he was born, even though his dam was at 367 days. He has been very slow to gain weight, even though he is eating milk, grass, grain, and hay. Both his parents are smaller alpacas, but I wonder if a combination of giving Lady antibiotics for the last month he was in utero plus only being able to suckle off one teat, plus the stress of us bottle feeding him hasn't stunted his growth and made him grumpy. At almost 12 weeks, he only weighs 35 lbs. He has a lot of energy and his fiber is growing, but he just doesn't seem to gain much weight. Hopefully he will catch up as he has beautiful bright fiber, a gorgeous head and nice straight legs and back. Below is a picture of Riph and d'Ar on d'Ar's birthday. d'Artagnan is gaining close to a pound a day and already weighs 27 lbs at a week and a half old (he was 20 lbs when he was born). He is sure to pass little Riphaeus in weight very soon.

Although alpaca farming is full of lots of heart ache and stressful situations, it is also full of joy and blessings. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

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