Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Another Day in Blindnut Grove

It has been a rough couple of weeks here on the farm. Two weeks ago, my great Grandma Josephine passed away at the age of 92-years-old. It was so sad to lose such a creative and wise soul.

Then a little over a week ago
, Noah was grinding paint off of a chair lift pole at work and got something in his eye. He thought it was just sand or something else and would get flushed out on its own. It only got worse and by the next day, I could see something over the pupil in his eye and his vision became blurred so we ended up making a trip to the ER. Unfortunately, the doctor said it was a piece of metal in his eye and was beginning to rust, which is the spot I could see. The cornea had already begun growing over the foreign object and she was unable to remove it with a cotton swab, a needle and a tool called a Burr, which is like a tiny dremmel that cuts into the cornea. The doctor had horrible bed-side-manner and we didn't have much confidence in her ability. Luckily, they had Noah's eye numbed the whole time so he couldn't feel any of it. They sent him home with some antibiotic ointment and dilation drops which were supposed to help reduce irritation. They only put one drop in his eye and this is what it looked like for the next 24 hours so we didn't put anymore in.

On Saturday, we went to a specialist, who was able to remove the metal piece and most of the rust with the Burr tool. He left a little bit of the rust because he said that otherwise, he would have to drill through the whole cornea leaving a hole and it would be better to leave a little rust. The ophthalmologist did a very thorough job of removing everything and checking out the whole eye and lid. He told Noah to continue applying the antibiotic creme and to put a nighttime eye creme in his eye every hour to prevent the lid from irritating where he had drilled. He told Noah that his vision would eventually recover completely but said that he would feel pain for the next few days. Needless to say, Noah is now bringing his own safety goggles to work. Luckily his eye has seemed to heal a week later.

Then of course last Thursday, we had to put our little ferret to sleep because of an adrenal tumor. Rest in Peace little Wiz Pigger.

Then yesterday morning, I went out to the barn to take care of the animals and noticed our reddish brown rooster laying on its side. He didn't seem to want to get up or move around. Noah checked out his leg later and said it was either dislocated or broken. I think one of the big boy alpacas probably stepped on him when they were fighting. I talked with a large animal vet (I didn't call for the chicken, but for a completely unrelated matter). The vet laughed at me and said there wasn't really anything we could do unless we wanted to dump a ton of money into him. He of course only cost me $5, so I wasn't about to get him treated. The vet said if he could get around okay, he might heal, but said if he couldn't it would probably be best to put him down. I put him in one of our empty alpaca stalls with some food and water (which he gobbled up) yesterday and a few hours later, found him in the other barn back with his buddies. I will have to see how he is doing tonight before we decide what to do. I hate having one more thing to worry about. I hope he is not suffering a lot.
Then yesterday when we got home from work, Noah was out feeding the alpacas when he noticed something seriously wrong with Silver Sox's eye. He had me come out and help catch her and hold her still. It appeared as though a piece of her lower eyelid had been almost completely severed from her face and was dangling and dripping blood. We checked out her whole eye, and there didn't appear to be any other damage. We flushed the blood and any debris out of the eye with clear eye solution for horses. We have no idea how it happened. Alpacas will sometimes scratch their heads and sides on the fence line. All we can think of is that she was rubbing her head on something and got her lid caught and sliced it. Being so close to the eyeball, we were amazed that there didn't appear to be any damage to the eye. I called the vet and they had the on call vet call me back. This is not our normal alpaca vet, but is the vet who helped treat Snowflake back in January. He asked if we could bring her in right away to the office because eye injuries typically need to be treated right away and don't heal well. We were unsure as to what he would be able to do. He planned to stitch it back on, but I told him it was a very narrow piece hanging....just the rim of her eye. Here is what it looked like (sorry...a little gruesome).

This is her normal eye:
Here is her injured eye:
We loaded her and her cria up in the trailer. It was her cria Alpacula's first halter lesson and he really didn't like it. As soon as we got to the vet's office around 7:30pm, the vet looked at it and immediately decided that it would be better to remove the lid instead of trying to sew it back on. He said that he could try sewing it, but the tissue was already dead and the stitches would irritate the eye...he said we would most likely be bringing her in several times to redo the stitches. He check out her eyeball and was also amazed that it looked so good and appeared to have no damage. He helped close her eye and luckily, she can close it almost completely without the missing chunk. He said it would bleed for a while longer and then start healing. After cutting away the severed piece, he gave us an antibiotic eye cream to put on it every 4 hours and told us to continue flushing it out with the clear eyes. He also said it was okay to give her banamine for pain. Today, her eye is still looking yucky, but not any worse. I am praying that it heals well and does not get infected.

So what is the title of this blog entry all about you may ask? My brother always teases me and says I live in "Blindnut Grove." We grew up watching Little House on the Prairie (one of my all time favorite shows) and he is referring to how difficult life was on the Prairie and in their little town of Walnut Grove. Of course, he calls it Blindnut Grove since he swears in addition to bad things always happening on the prairie, everyone seems to go blind as well (which if you have watched the show, you know seems to be somewhat true). When he heard about our recent string of bad luck, he said..."Whoa! That Stinks. Another day in Blindnut Grove..." It seems like tragedy always tends to strike our farm and family all at one time, so I am praying Sox's eye was the last of this bought. I am a week and a half from my due date and trying to relax and not get too stressed out. Every time I get stressed, I get contractions and I am not quite ready for this baby to come. Please pray that the storm has passed for now in our own little Blindnut Grove.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Our First Children

Back in the summer of 2004, when Noah and I were in college and just dating, we decided to start a family. No...not a human family, but a fuzzy one. We already had a turtle named Petey together and decided that we needed a larger family. So we added Rosco, Duncan and Wizzer (Wiz Pigger) to our family. They were 3 ferrets; 1 female and 2 males. Back then, we had much less responsibility and much more time than we have these days. Our little ferrets were a big part of our life. We bought them all kinds of ferret toys and treats and even splurged and bought them the largest and nicest ferret cage on the market....the FerretNation! We would play with our little ferrets inside and outside and occasionally take them to the pet store. The ferrets would travel back and forth with me from Ann Arbor whenever I would come home to visit Noah and my family. We took tons of pictures of them and I even had scrapbook pages of them in my scrapbooks (back when I had time to scrapbook). Ferrets have a life span of about 5-7 years and we joked when we first got them that when they died, we would have "real" kids. Well....those 5-7 years sure flew by quickly and at the time, I had no idea how true that statement would be. As time went by and we graduated college, got married and started a farm, our responsibilities got greater and our time got spread thin. While our ferrets had their own bedroom in our farm house and they would get playtime and care everyday, we just didn't have all the time that we used to to devote to them. Luckily...ferrets sleep about 20 hours a day and they had each other for company. While we had a few scares in the 6 years that we had the ferrets...once where they were given a bad vaccine from a vet and almost died, one where Rosco jumped out of a 3 story window and my mom found her running across the lawn when she was mowing it with the outdoor cat following her, and one where Rosco disappeared into a heating vent and had to be coaxed out.....the ferrets were healthy and happy. I know so many people buy ferrets thinking they are cute and fuzzy only to find out that they can be a lot of work and they give them up a short time later or they get neglected and sit in a cage all day long. I like to think that our ferrets had a nice long and happy life.
Last year, our little Rosco (the oldest of the 3) was the first to pass away. She had organ failure, probably due to old age and we nursed her for a week, but she didn't make it. I was so sad to lose our little girl!
Then this past summer, Duncan suddenly passed away in his sleep with no warning. He seemed healthy and happy. Although I was very sad that he crossed the rainbow bridge to be with his sister, I was happy he didn't suffer like Rosco.

After Duncan passed away, we moved Wiz Pigger and his cage to our living room, instead of being upstairs alone. While he was the youngest of the 3, we always thought he would be the first one to go. Boy, did he prove us wrong. First of all, Wizzer was born deaf, not that that shortens his life expectancy, but something interesting to know. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with adrenal disease (which is very common in ferrets). It is where they have a tumor on their adrenal gland and it causes them to lose their hair. It can also enlarge their prostate, making it difficult for them to urinate. We brought Wizzer into the vet and successfully managed the tumor with a melatonin implant for a year and a half. Then last spring, he started having a difficult time urinating and was straining when he tried to go. We brought him back to the vet. The vet said he had an infection and the tumor was affecting his prostate. He gave him another melatonin implant, some antibiotics and a shot of estrogen, but said he didn't expect him to live past two more weeks. He recommended that we euthanize him once it got worse because once he couldn't urinate at all, it would be very very painful. Miraculously, our little Wiz Piggy pulled through! He got better and was almost completely back to normal, although this time, his fur did not grow back, and of course he was already deaf, and we noticed that he didn't seem to be able to see quite as well as he used to and seemed to be going blind. Anyway, we spent the summer giving Wizzer lots of attention, especially after Duncan died. Wizzy was just as playful as always (he was always the craziest and most playful one). Unfortunately, last Thursday I went to clean Wizzer's cage out like I do every morning and noticed he wasn't right. He had all his blankets all over the place in his cage and he had pooped everywhere. Every 20 seconds, he was jumping out of his bed trying to pee, but nothing would come out. It was so sad...he was making little struggling noises. I almost immediately knew that Wizzer's time had finally come. He had been such a little trooper for so long. I called the vet who was completely shocked that Wizzer was still alive after 6 months! He squeezed us in even though he was booked for the day. I came home on my lunch hour and let Wizzer out to play upstairs for a while. He still ran around and explored like he normally does, but would stop to try and pee every 20 seconds. After work, I brought him outside to walk around, but he seemed very uncomfortable and didn't want to go far. Noah met me at the vet's office. As the vet tech brought us into the exam room, I couldn't stop crying. I knew there was no saving our little guy this time. The vet checked him out and said his urethra was completely blocked and his bladder was almost the size of a tennis ball. He said we could try a catheter (which was extremely invasive in ferrets) and more of the estrogen injections (that are only meant to give them a few days more) but said it would be most humane to put Wizzer to sleep since he seemed to be in pain. We agreed that that would be the best thing for our little guy. I couldn't stand to see him suffer any longer. The vet went to get a sedative and I snuggled with Wizzer. He was never really much of a snuggler....he was always more likely to crawl all over you and try to jump from your hands, but today he just rested his little head on my chest and let Noah and I pet him. I felt like he was telling us goodbye and that's how I knew we were doing the right thing. They came in and gave him the sedative and left us to say our good byes. I told him I love him and that he was the best little ferret ever. We decided not to watch him be euthanized as the vet said if he couldn't find a main vein, he would have to inject his heart, which wouldn't be pretty. A few minutes later, the vet brought Wizzer back in. He said that he had luckily found a main vein so he went painlessly. He also showed us that he could palpate the adrenal tumor now that he was relaxed. It was almost the size of a golf ball! They are normally small...like a peanut! Again, the vet was shocked he had lived so long. It is just amazing to me that yesterday, he was just fine and was peeing normally and then today he took a sharp turn for the worse. I am just happy that we caught it before he was completely incapacitated and suffering greatly. We thanked the vet for all he had done for little Wizzer and asked him for the number of a local ferret rescue so we could donate our ferret stuff. When we went out to pay at the desk, he said to the receptionist "no charge" and turned and left the waiting room quickly before we could even say thank you. We decided to send some money and a thank you card to the vet to put towards the ferret rescue vet bills or towards someone else who can't afford their bill. We took Wizzer home and buried him under Sephiroth's Willow tree along with Seph, Rosco, Duncan and my childhood Scottish Terrier Mickey. (You will probably notice in the pictures below that it does not look like the same ferret....that is because he was very dark colored when we first adopted him and he eventually kept getting lighter until we was almost all white. Of course, he eventually went bald and only had fur on his head and legs, but I don't have any pictures of the little bald man. Also his weight would fluctuate greatly depending on the season.)

Life can be very difficult sometimes, but if you are going to survive, you have to realize that life is an adventure, filled with ups and downs. I read a quote today that said "Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?" Noah and I really try to look at life as one big learning experience. I have really only come to this realization in the last year or so. We try not to get caught up in whether an experience is "good" or "bad" but try to examine what we have learned from each up and down. With each new experience, we learn skills that help us better deal with more experiences in the future. Our ferrets were our very first children. I believe they have helped prepare us to be better parents. They taught us what is means to be responsible for something twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They taught us to care for something that is helpless that would not survive without our care. They taught us how to spoil them, especially on Christmas morning when they would open all their gifts. They taught us to love unconditionally, even when we would get so frustrated when Wizzer refused to use the litter pan on a regular basis. They taught us to work as a team and share the responsibility of taking care of them. They taught us to laugh at their silly little antics and life's little moments. They taught us how to protect a fragile little creature from our 130 lb Great Danes who constantly wanted to "play" with them. They taught us how to deal with pain and heartache when they were sick. They taught us dedication and how to stick it out for the long haul, even when life got really busy and stressed. We have learned so much from these little creatures in the last 6 1/2 years. Now that I am two weeks away from having our very first "human" baby, I feel truly blessed to have had them in our lives and as a part of our family. Thank you Rosco, Duncan and Wiz Pigger. You will remain in our hearts and memories forever.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Breeding...Breeding...Breeding

Last year, we bred all of our alpacas from mid May to mid September. This year, we have decided to breed mid June through mid October. No real reason other than we have been a little less diligent about breeding this year than we were last year. Last year, we had 8 females to breed and we made darn sure that all 8 of them got pregnant and stayed pregnant. When we got ultrasounds last December, all our hard work had paid off and all 8 of them were pregnant over 90 days. This year, we are expecting our own child and have been very busy getting ready for that as well as building a barn, putting up fence amongst a million other farm improvements. Therefore, we have been a little less diligent when it came to breeding and even being around to see our alpaca births. In the past, we had only missed 1 cria being born on our farm because the dam had it in the night. This year, we missed 4 of the 7 births on our farm. Life has just gotten really busy.

Now that fall is just about here, we are working on getting all our females bred. While some farms are choosing not to breed right now because of the crumby economy, we are breeding all but two of our breeding age females. We got almost all boys this year and are hoping for a healthy crop of girls next year. We have decided not to breed our older girl Bellesa this fall because she is pretty old (over 13 years) and is very thin. We are working on putting weight on her. We are also not breeding our suri girl Paisley. She is old enough, but we don't have the money to spend on a breeding for her right now, our suri boy is not mature yet, and I couldn't find a good breeding/breeding trade. We will wait to breed these two girls until next spring.

So, we are working on breeding 6 of our own females and 2 boarding females. Two of them are just about 90 days bred, so we don't have to worry about behavior testing them too much longer. If alpacas are going to absorb or abort their pregnancies, it will almost always be in the first 90 days after being bred. For those of you who are not familiar with what behavior or "spit" testing is, it is when you bring a male in with a female to see how she reacts. If she stands still and lets him mount her or kushes (lays down) right away, she is usually NOT pregnant. If she puts her ears back, spits, screeches, or runs with what we refer to as "fear in her eyes" she is usually pregnant. This isn't a fool proof pregnancy detection method as alpacas can sometimes have false pregnancies (called retained CLs) and act like they are pregnant when they are not. But for the most part it is pretty accurate, especially for the experienced females. The maidens (females who haven't had a cria before) can be a little trickier to tell as they are more likely to "run with fear in their eyes" than to spit, but once you get to know your alpacas, it is pretty easy to tell. We feel confident enough this year in reading the females' behavior, that we will probably not be getting ultrasounds. We have always gotten them in the past, but now that our herd and family are growing, we are looking to save some money in a few areas.

Alpacas kush to breed and normally breed for 8-45 minutes. We do pen breeding where we bring the male in with the female in a small pen and make sure he gets the job done. We normally make sure he gets his business done where it is supposed to be done and we time the breeding. If the female is rolling or trying to get up, we stop the breeding, usually to the male's dismay. Alpacas are induced ovulators so they ovulate when they breed. The male makes an orgalling noise when breeding to help stimulate the female and to help her to ovulate. After the alpacas breed, we behavior test them 7 days later to see how they react. If they kush, we breed them again and repeat the process. If they "spit off" and are non-receptive to the male's advances, we behavior test every 3-7 days until they are 90 days bred. It can be a lot of time and effort (and frustration for the males when everyone is spitting them off), but we have found it is the best way to ensure that they get pregnant and stay bred. This year, once the end of October hits, we will probably stop behavior testing since we don't plan to breed any later than October anyway. Alpacas have an 11 1/2 month gestation and we don't want any cria born in the cold weather next fall/winter (even though our new barn has a heated stall in it). Its better for them to be born in the warmer months of the year here in Michigan.

Here are some pictures of us breeding a few females at one time last week. Alchemy and Lady are breeding on the right and Smokey and Maree Sol are breeding on the left. Notice Noah helping Smokey out a bit. Smokey is a small boy and Maree Sol is a very very large girl, so he needed a little helping staying on top. Also notice all the other females surrounding the breeding. There are 4 females kushed near the breedings. These females are not pregnant yet (open) and want some of the action. Also notice Cafe, Apple, and Jewel still with the herd, but standing at a distance. These females are 4-11 weeks bred and aren't really interested in the breeding which is a good sign that they are holding their pregnancies.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Coyotes

I don't sleep well these days now that I am 9 months pregnant. I wake up every few hours to pee and then have a difficult time falling back asleep. Well last night, I was up around midnight to pee and take some Tums (the lasagna dinner gave me horrible heartburn). As I was laying in bed trying to fall back asleep, I suddenly heard coyotes howling very close by! We hear them occasionally from a distance. Once in awhile if we are out in the barn at night, we can hear them come as close as the corn field that butts up to our alpaca pastures...but last night....I swear they were right in our yard! Rozalyn heard them too of course and started barking and running to look out all the window. Roz and I woke Noah up and I told him I swear there were coyotes in the yard! We listened for a few more minutes and did not hear anything else. I assumed that if they got too close to the alpaca pasture, the alpacas would start doing their warning call (which sounds sort of like a donkey braying). They do this warning call when they see almost anything foreign in our yard, including porcupines, raccoons, opossums, etc. I kept waiting for a warning call, but heard nothing and Noah and Roz fell back asleep. Then about 20 minutes later, I heard it again, but it sounded further away. Noah got up this time and grabbed a flashlight and headed out to the barn just to check on everyone. The pacas, cat, chickens, and ducks were all fine and seemed relaxed and not alarmed at all. When he came in the house, he said it sounded like the coyotes we 1/4 mile down from our house and across the street. He said he could hear a dog barking from that direction too. They didn't howl for long and I eventually fell back asleep, but had nightmares about howling werewolves the rest of the night! I at least feel comforted to know that coyotes would have a difficult time getting into our alpaca pastures with our tall fences (they would have to dig under). Some of our alpacas will attack our huge great danes by kicking, spitting, huffing and stomping at them, so I can imagine they would take on a much smaller coyote to protect themselves and their cria. I think it would take a large, really desperate and hungry pack of coyotes to do any harm to our alpacas. Luckily, we have tons of smaller and easier prey for them to hunt here in Grant. I think the first time I heard them, they were probably across the street in front of our house; in the future, hopefully they will stay far away from our farm.

Friday, September 10, 2010

2010 Llama Fest and Alpaca Showcase

Last weekend, Noah and I attended the Llama Fest and Alpaca Showcase at the Pavilion on MSU's campus in East Lansing. This was the first alpaca show we ever attended back in 2007 with Snowflake and Cinderella. Although it is not currently an AOBA certified show, it is still a great show to check out and participate in. We decided not show any of our animals this year with me being 9 months pregnant and all. Besides, we only have 2 that we could really show anyway. We instead went to the show to watch, network and set up and man the MI-ALPACA booth. While the show has always primarily been a llama show, the show organizers really tried to make it a bigger and better alpaca event this year. MI-ALPACA helped them advertise the show and the alpaca turn out was twice what it had been in years past, which is great considering many people are opting not to attend shows right now because the economy is so crumby. The show was fun and we met some great people who were just visiting and looking into getting alpacas. The highlight of the show was when Noah and I were sitting at our booth (which happened to be across from the restrooms and a woman walked by with her gigantic llama and brought it into the bathroom with her! I wish I remembered to bring my camera so I could have taken a picture. Oh well. If anyone is interested in possibly helping this show grow in the future and sitting on a show committee for next year, let me know!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Welcome FCA Incan Alchemy

We added a new herdsire to our herd yesterday. We bred our girl Lady to FCA Incan Alchemy last year, which produced our little ASH Incan Alchemy's Peruvian Panacea. We are really happy with how he turned out and are excited to get him in the show ring next year. Our friends at Flying Cloud Alpacas decided to retire this year and were selling the rest of their alpacas this weekend. They contacted us a few days ago and offered us a deal on Alchemy that we could not refuse. They knew that we were very happy with our Alchemy cria, and had been interested in possibly purchasing him in the past. We have been looking for a good quality full peruvian fawn male to compliment our grey breeding program and Alchemy fits the bill. He has done well in the show ring and has awesome conformation and fiber characteristics. Here is some information about Alchemy from our AlpacaNation page, click on his name below for more information on his fiber, lineage, and show record:
Incan Alchemy is a fabulous light fawn, full Peruvian, 3/4 Accoyo proven herdsire. Alchemy is covered in bright crimpy bundles. His fiber exhibits uniformity in expression of crimp from his topknot to his toes. His coat also has excellent color uniformity. Alchemy's dam is Royal Peruvian Adelphi, a Royal Fawn daughter and full sister to Royal Apollo. She is an awesome producer of champions. Incan Alchemy carries on his mother's beautiful, stylish phenotype and outstanding fiber characteristics. Incan Alchemy has world class genetics on his sires side as well. He is sired by WLM Camillo who is sired by Caligula and his great grandsire is Peruvian Hemmingway.

Noah picked Alchemy up last night and got home around 7pm. He checked his mouth and found that his fighting teeth had already been trimmed, so we felt okay about putting him in with our two big bully males Smokey and Sequoia. While Smokey is 7 years old and Sequoia is 4 years old, they are both quite a bit smaller than Alchemy who is 5 years old. Alchemy is a very big boy and I was a little worried to see how all three males would do together. At Flying Cloud, they had Alchemy in a pen by himself. He used to be housed with other males, but is sounds like he starting beating on them once he started breeding. Well, we put Alchemy in with the bullies. They attempted to jump on him and pummel him, but they bounced off like he was a brick wall. Alchemy is so large and solid that they looked like little cria playing with an adult alpaca. Instead of fighting back, Alchemy would just spit at Smokey and Sequoia. So far they are all doing really well with each other. I am a little worried what might happen if Alchemy decides to really fight back because I am pretty sure he could beat the smaller boys up with no problem. It's probably better that Alchemy went into their territory and not the other way around....otherwise Smokey and Sequoia would probably have ended up in a world of hurt. I am very happy they are all getting along well though....maybe Alchemy will be a peacekeeper in the boy herd and things will be more quiet around here. I am very excited to add Alchemy to our herd and we will be changing our plan of who we will be breeding who to this fall. Also, we might have to start calling our little Alchemy something else, because having two Alchemy's around might get confusing. Here is a picture of Alchemy when he was younger.....I just love his look!