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Archive for February, 2012

 One of our 2011 crias (a baby alpaca) was born deaf. It only took a day or two to determine she could not hear. I came into the barn and she was lying next to her mom, sound asleep. My arrival at the barn in the morning means it is feeding time and the alpacas all start letting me know they are ready to eat. This little girl, Shelby, slept through all the excitement. She didn’t wake up until I touched her.

I still talk to Shelby all the time, but I knew I would need to do something extra to communicate with her and let her know what I needed her to do. I began using hand gestures. When I would walk by, or into, her pasture I would wave to her and make eye contact. When I wanted her to go in or out of her pen I would gesture like a door man, pointing the way for her. I made sure to touch her gently while passing by so as not to startle her. To let her know she was doing well, I would massage her shoulder. Shelby is very bright and figures things out quickly.

My newest challenge was to lead train Shelby. I had been putting a halter on her for 20 minutes or so a few times a week for her to get used to the feel of it. Now came the big test; could I get her to understand walking on the lead. My normal words of encouragement and commands were not going to work. So again, I thought of the gestures I could use. The same procedure I use would work if I could get what I wanted across to her.

I gently pulled on the lead and when she moved her feet I would give her slack. Another pull, more slack. It took the length of the barn but she was getting the idea. Drawing her close to me I massaged her shoulder to let her know she was doing what I needed her to. We headed the other direction at the same pace. Now I am not going to say Shelby was exceptional and after 10 minutes was lead trained; but she did get the concept and our first session was over. A few more times and I know she will be all right with it.

An alpaca that is born deaf doesn’t know it is deaf. It thinks that the world is, as it perceives it. There are not sounds to distract it or alert it, so it has to rely on visual cues to stay safe and to learn what it needs. Shelby is just like all the other crias. She runs and plays, follows the herd, looks for mom to nurse, wrestles and spits at the other crias. Shelby doesn’t know she is deaf and I am glad she doesn’t. Her world is just as full and she is just as happy. It is the shepherd that has to adjust.

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Jasper, a Preemie Alpaca

We had snow this week; about 4”. It has been a very mild winter so this is only the second snowfall we have had. There was sleet and ice pellets mixed with it so the alpacas mostly stayed in the barn. The exception was our Chica Gris. Chica is the mother of our preemie alpaca, Jasper. She loves being outside, no matter what the weather is. Of course this means that Jasper is outside too. Of all the alpacas in my barn who don’t need to be out in the elements, Jasper is the one. When I went to feed and clean up around noon, there they sat, covered in snow.

The great characteristic of alpaca fiber is that it provides warmth while wicking the moisture away. The snow setting on top of their fiber just sits there. Their body heat never melts it. Their coat is just like a coat; sheltering them from the elements. Even so, I did bring Chica and Jasper in out of the snow.

Jasper, Day 1

Jasper was born August 4, 2011. He was 20 days early. For an alpaca, that is pretty early. He had a low birth weight but was up and nursing and he had a good chance of survival. I weigh my new crias (baby alpaca) daily to be sure they are getting enough to eat. Jasper was not gaining weight. The good news was he was not losing weight, but all he was doing was maintaining. I tried to bottle feed him to supplement mom but he wouldn’t have it. I gave him some vitamin/mineral paste, again to supplement mom. After a few weeks I even tried to get him to start eating grain which I softened to a paste state. He would try it for a few days and then stop taking it. He seemed a little weak but where ever mom went, Jasper followed; slowly but he followed.

A month went by with no change, except that he would gain a pound every now and then. A cria should gain 3-4 pounds a week. All I could do was monitor his progress and try different ideas to get him to eat more. Several times I thought we were going to lose him. We had visitors coming to our ranch one weekend and I even had a plan on what to do with him if he looked like he was fading away. Jasper just kept plugging along. He would even graze lying down.

Jasper, Grazing

I bring my crias into the center of the barn during morning feeding. Here they get used to eating grain out of a feed bucket and learn to eat hay. The have a chance to play together, wrestle and share feed. The older crias teach the younger ones how it works. Jasper was one of the older crias but he always keeps to himself. I noticed he was eating hay so I started putting some of the grain on top of the hay bale to trick him into eating it. It worked! He not only started eating it, but he would come look at me when it was gone. He actually wanted more! Of course, the other crias figured it out too and he had to fight a little for his share if I did not intervene on his behalf. I at least saw him eat and hoped he would keep getting stronger.

Now Jasper is 6 months old. He should be ready to leave mom and should weigh about 60 pounds. He weighs 27 pounds and we are delighted he has achieved that. I kiddingly say he may never get weaned from mom. Each day we are grateful for his life. He may never be all the alpaca he should be, but he will always be a very special alpaca to me. AND, he has the most beautiful rose-grey fiber and an adorable face.

So Jasper, keep on plugging along. The barn wouldn’t be the same without you.

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Our Dog Saga

I wasn’t going to blog about this but the story just keeps getting bigger as the days go by. So I will try to keep it brief.

On January 20, our 2 ½ year old Labrador Retriever was hit by a delivery truck in our drive. I rushed him, Dodge, to the vet. His leg was broken in two places and he had a broken pelvis. The damage was too severe for surgery and we had to have him put down. I have been raising Labradors since 1980 and this is the first one to be hit by a vehicle. It was especially hard since he was so young.

Dodge 2009 - 2011

After grieving for the weekend, I came to the conclusion that I could continue to grieve or do something positive. I contacted our local animal shelter to find a dog that needed a home and give it one. Dodge was also a rescued dog; from the experience of his adoption I learned that large black dogs are very hard to place. For that reason, and for my love of the Labradors, I sought a black lab or lab mix.

Linus was a black lab mix whose owner had died and he was now at the shelter. He had been chained up most of his life, as far as they knew, and needed to be socialized. He is probably about 3 years old. After a visit with him at the shelter, I decided to take him home on a trial basis and see how he worked out. He was very timid but I knew we could give him the attention he needed and was sure he would adjust to ranch life.

Our first experience was that he was uncomfortable in the house and did not understand stairs. Stairs could be an issue because our dog pen was off the downstairs door. Deciding not to press the issue with him, I would walk him out the front door, around the house, to the pen. First adjustment made.

Second adjustment was the house issue. If I let him out to “do his business” he would not come back to me or come into the house. I wanted to let him be who he was and not make him into the dog I thought he should be, so I put a blanket down for him on the front porch with food and water by it. The first night we did get him to sleep in the house but the second night he slept on the porch. Second adjustment made.

The third day together was great. I have an office at the ranch and Linus stayed with me in the office. I took breaks to give him attention and let him know this was his home. We went to the barn together and he watched as I fed the alpacas then returned with me to the office. He went to feed the cows and again returned to the office. He didn’t chase the alpacas, cows or the cats. We had it made; or so we thought. That evening he again slept on the front porch.

Day 4 I tried to get Linus to come to me in the morning but he was still too timid. I put out his food and let him eat while I dressed for the day. It was just dawn when I went to the office and even when I called him he didn’t come. I headed to the alpaca barn; still no Linus. After chores I checked and he had eaten his food. We drove around the ranch with our gator but there was no sign of him. By noon I notified the shelter that he was missing. They were pretty sure he would come back on his own.

A week later Linus still had not returned and the shelter crew decided a “dog hunt” was called for. I joined them and we drove and called and dropped off flyers. No sign of Linus. After several hours we decided to stop the hunt and resume again later. The next day, Sunday, I got a call that Linus had been spotted. The crew was out again and we spread out in the area he had been seen. After several more hours Linus was found! He was a little thinner, very tired and very smelly. A bath was a must. He was so exhausted he slept well in the house that night.

Linus' Story

This story is still continuing and we take it one day at a time. Linus is still with us on the ranch and is on a leash on in the pen when he is not in the office or house with me.  He still doesn’t do stairs but he is not allowed to run free yet. I may start a blog section just for him.

I don’t think this story is anywhere near ending.

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Nothing Happening

Sometimes I feel that people, in general, think that nothing really happens on the ranch. Let me be the first to tell you, that is not the case.

Yesterday began as any other day; feed the pets and let them out, have some coffee, Bible study, check overnight emails, dress for the day. I then headed to the barn for normal chores. Everything was going as it should. Just as I was finishing up with the alpacas my husband arrived at the barn to take the gator. He had decided to take some heifers to the cattle auction this morning. And by the way, we captured another skunk in the live trap.

Yes, just a “nothing happening” day on the ranch.

After checking all my gates, doors and lights, I left the barn to help with the loading of the heifers. I short hike from one barn to the other. Two were already in the trailer so the job was half done – or was it? One of the two in the trailer was a bull and not a heifer. I climbed to the other side of the trailer, opened the front door to let the bull out; being sure to get out of his way. Closing the door, we were ready to continue. Number 2 was now in and the mid panel closed. Number 3 made it into the chute. Number 4 was left with another bull by her side so we kept them circling until she made her way into the chute. Open the gates and they were in the trailer. Off to the auction they went.

Just a “nothing happening” day on the ranch.

Remember that skunk? Off we head to the alpaca barn to get the caged skunk loaded into the truck to re-locate her/him. I had been doing some research since my last skunk blog and I found that the skunk will face its enemy first and if that doesn’t work it will turn to spray. SLOWLY I inched my way toward the cage with the tarp between us. When the skunk started to turn I stopped until it faced me again. A few more steps; stop and wait. Now I was close enough to cover the cage and I DIDN’T GET SPRAYED!! Skunk was loaded in the back of the pickup and we were off to the re-location site. Another mission accomplished.

Just a “nothing happening” day on the ranch.

Two days earlier we had agreed to foster a dog from the local shelter. It was time to take her out and acclimate her to the ranch property. After a short walk, on and off the leash, we were ready for a coffee break. Time to run monthly reports and do the mail.

I am sure glad nothing happens on the ranch.

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