Friday, October 11, 2013

Maria's Miracle

Life is a story that leads to redemption, and miracles happen all around us on the most common of days.  Maria's little Miracle is such a story.

Without her mother, she could have been lost.  The bewilderment of finding herself alone in the world could have led to depression and despair.  But she wanted to live.

You could tell that she wanted to live.  After all, this was the baby we thought was already dead at her birth-- yellow from muconium staining, not breathing, limp.  Dr. Jana was so sure that she was dead that we all turned our attention back to Maria, her mother.  But 2 minutes later Lynette saw her breathing!  Even though she had shared in her mother's sedation, she made her presence--her life!--known.

Many crias who have a slow start refuse the bottle, but not this girl.  She was eager to take whatever milk was offered to her, in whatever form it was offered.  She wasn't picky at all!

But she had more hurdles to jump than just being an orphan.  Because she was a tail-first breach, her body had been crammed backwards into a tight space for quite awhile.  Her legs, hips, and neck were scrunched into positions not normally held by alpaca crias.  When she was finally freed from her cramped quarters, Miracle was a bit misshapen.

Her front legs gave the appearance of having been "windswept", with her left foreleg fairly straight, but the right curved abnormally to the right in a curve that encompassed her whole leg, from the shoulder to the ankle.  It almost hurt to imagine what it felt like to stand.

The hindquarters were similarly "swept" to the right. Her lower back and hips had been turned to the right, and her right hind leg opened out so that the stifle appeared to be on a sideways hinge.  Below the stifle, the leg was curved to the right similarly to the front leg.

Her neck was a normal length, but appeared shorter than usual because of a kink about an inch below the base of the ears.  It caused her chin to tuck in and her nose to point to the right a bit.  I wondered how she would be able to nurse, even if she did figure out how to stand.

Altogether, she was a discouraging sight, but nothing was too daunting for our girl!  

She learned to take the bottle quickly, and although she was only 12 lbs. at birth, she would virtually inhale 5-8 ounces in no time.  We ran into a local shortage of goat's milk, so we switched to organic whole cow's milk with some yogurt stirred in for the probiotic benefit, and she sailed right through the change.

On Day 2, I gave her a shot of Vitamin AD to help with the straightening and strengthening of her limbs and neck.  By Day 4 she was already looking straighter.  Now, two weeks later, even I have to look hard to see the slight curvature of her legs and hips.  Her neck straightened up quickly, also, which was a real blessing in the next part of the saga.

After Maria died, we tried Miracle with several other mothers to see if any of them would adopt her and let her nurse.

I knew she couldn't nurse well yet because of the kink in her neck, but I was encouraged with Clementine showed signs of accepting her.

Clementine is a maiden mother and had recently had her cria, so she was a good candidate for adopting an orphan.  Between Miracle's persistence and lots of good thoughts and prayers from friends, Clementine is now happily feeding both babies!! 

Hurray for Clementine---and for Kathy for being willing to let Clementine participate in our Adopt-A-Cria contest!

By the way, Clementine isn't the only one who has agreed to adopt little Miracle.  Kate and her grandson, Mason, have formally adopted Miracle, making this story even more miraculous.  Mason does almost all her care now, and is also practicing walking alpacas on a halter and lead rope for the Gold Country Gathering.  He hopes to take Miracle to shows when she is old enough.  He is getting to be a real Alpaca Wrangler!

So our little girl has found a family and security without her mommy.  I'm sure we're still not as good as another alpaca at making her feel secure and loved, but she definitely is--secure AND loved.

Miracles still happen in the modern age.  Don't let anyone tell you different!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The End in the Beginning

September 26, 4:30 AM

I found them this morning, keeping each other warm in the predawn.  Maria lay on her side, the coil set from the IV fluids stretched across the pen, still securely attached to her neck wrap.  The cria lay across her body at the base of her neck, sound asleep, like a tableau from a Greek tragedy.  The slight rise and fall of her tiny chest told me she was sleeping deeply.  The absolute stillness of her mother told me that Maria slept a different kind of sleep.

It would be unfair to leave the story unfinished.  Tuesday's triumphant and miraculous birth was a story that was almost too good to be true.  And as those stories sometimes do, it gave way to tragedy this morning.

Do you remember the movie, "Old Yeller", where the fierce and heroic dog saves his adopted family  from a rabid wolf at the bonfire?  Travis' mother insists that they keep Old Yeller in the corn crib for two weeks just in case the wolf had bitten him and given him the dreaded "hydrophoby".  Fourteen days later the tension in the music builds as an impatient younger brother, Arlis, creeps out to let the dog loose so he can play with his best friend.  Mama and Travis arrive just in time to keep the snarling monster bay.  All is lost.  Old Yeller is doomed…  Actually, he had been all along--we just couldn't see it before.

The seeds of Maria's tragedy began even as Tuesday's triumphant birth played itself out.  Despite antibiotics, banamine, a clean uterine flush Wednesday morning, normal vital signs and normal behavior, we were losing Maria all along.  I knew it when I came out to check on them after dinner.  She had been up almost all day, waiting patiently while her baby learned to nurse.   But as dusk descended, she lay in the corner of her pen with her head stretched out in front of her, too tired to stand.  

The sobbing started somewhere deep in my gut.  I heard it before I realized it was me…such an unearthly sound, the kind of crying that links us all in a chain where we feel each other's suffering.  After yesterday's elation, I was once again breathless, but this time with the knowledge of the death that was yet to come.  Nonetheless I called Dr. Jana.  I couldn't just let Maria fade away without some tangible proof that there was no other path to be followed.

For the second time in as many days Dr. Jana pulled her car into the yard.  She took a blood sample  and did a thorough exam.  Everything seemed normal except her potassium.  Hoping to correct it with fluids, we set her up with an IV drip in a small pen where her baby could be with her.

People often ask, "What's the down side of this business?"  I have to say, this is it.  We raise them from itty bitty crias to adults who go on to have crias of their own;  watch them, love them, monitor their nutrition, their pregnancies, help birth their babies… and then something like this comes along.  I usually have pretty good boundaries with my alpacas.  I can even sell most of them.  But when I have to do intensive nursing care because one of them is really sick, all those boundaries crumble.  I can't help it.  I wanted her to get well, to nurse her baby, to go on to have another one someday.

But instead, I watched her slip further and further away through the night, until at 4 AM she lay still.  It was almost anti-climactic.  I had known death was coming all night.  But I don't think anything ever prepares us for the actual moment that life ends, the realization that the soul of one who was with us is just… gone.  I felt an emptiness because I had hoped it could be different.

As I stood there letting reality settle in, the cria let out a loud sigh, as if to remind me that all was not lost--her little life had just begun.  It was comforting to be reminded of the "circle of life".  Maria would live on in her cria, and I would now have a much bigger role in this cria's life, so I better get busy and warm up a bottle!  Tomorrow, as Scarlett O'Hara would say, is another day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Miraculous in the Everyday

Miracles come in many sizes, shapes, and circumstances.  I often feel that we live in th
e realm of the miraculous here on the ranch.  Just waking up every morning in this setting feels downright miraculous.  It's where I've always wanted to be.

But some days are just a little more miraculous than others.  Today was definitely one of those days.

We had finished our usual Tuesday "Vet Day" with Dr. Jana--ultrasound, blood draws, checking up on previous procedures on some crias--and retreated to the ranch office for some cooling off in the air conditioning on a hot Indian Summer day.  Everyone went home except Lynette, so she and I ate lunch, untangled and re-wound some yarn, and chatted about crochet patterns.  At about 3:00, Lynette wandered out to take a look at the girls in OB, and called me to say that Maria was looking very uncomfortable and could I come look at her.

My shoulders tensed as I walked out to the pasture.  Something late in the day in the OB pasture usually means that there is a problem.  And sure enough, there was Maria getting down, getting up, getting down, rolling on her side, getting up, walking to another site, getting down……all the restless labor signs, except for the pushing.  This was definitely a problem.

I got my OB kit, a bucket of warm water and a halter from the barn and headed out to catch Maria.  Maria is a small maiden girl, but the product of Torbio and Matilda, a combination we had high hopes for.  My exam confirmed what I had already guessed--we had a problem.  Open hymen, spongy ligaments, developing udder, but no nose presenting and several inches of absolutely nothing past the pelvis.  I called Dr. Jana, who although she was at another call, dropped everything and came back--bless her heart.  30 minutes later we were ready to begin something that turned out very differently than I had expected.

Dr. Jana's exam confirmed what I had guessed was the problem.  It was a breach-- tail first, and very tight.  This called for heavy sedation and heavy-duty lube.  Dr. Jana prepared us for the possibility that we could lose the baby or both, but Doug and I agreed that we didn't have any choice.  A C-section was out of the question in this economy.  So with tighter shoulders and resolute focus, we prepared to deliver the cria back-feet-first, wondering if we could get them turned, wondering if there was any chance she could live.  Lynette breathed the prayer I was thinking: "Dear Jesus and St. Francis--please help this cria live and help Dr. Jana."

In order to give the vet room to manipulate the legs around so that they could be pulled, we faced Maria with her head downhill, letting gravity cause the baby to fall toward mom's head.  One foot was free when Maria did an amazing thing.  Through her sedation, she stood up in the hind end, leaving her head on the ground and her front feet in a cushed position.  It was exactly the thing we needed--part of the miracle-- and Dr. Jana was able to get both feet positioned to pull.

The back legs came out a startling bright yellow-orange.  The muconium had spilled and bathed the cria in feces.  Chances were good she had aspirated it into her lungs as well.  Due to her lack of movement and color, we assumed the baby was dead.  Her eyes were closed and she was covered with the orange color and fecal particles.  Disappointed but unwilling to see this as a complete loss, I began setting up to harvest the colostrum to freeze, and planned to put Maria in with another mother who was having trouble producing enough milk, in the hope that Maria would help feed the other baby.

As Jana and I began the mop-up on Maria (she was still very groggy), Lynette suddenly burst out, "This baby is BREATHING!!"  And sure enough, the dead cria was breathing….and moving around!  We'd forgotten to take into account the fact that the cria was also somewhat sedated from the dose we gave her mama. 

We were all stunned for a count of 3, then Dr. Jana picked her up by her hind legs and swung her a bit, and began rubbing her with a towel.  Her heart rate and respiratory rate were extremely fast, but the fact remained that her heart and her lungs were both working!  We took her to the barn and began drying her off with the hair dryer to keep her body temperature from dropping as the sun went down.  Maria started to wake up and got to her feet, so we whisked her off to the barn as well.  Pretty soon it was party of drying and rubbing and cleaning and giving antibiotic shots (to both girls) and milking colostrum and tubing the baby and the baby trying to get up…..Our new friend Linda had joined us on her way home from work, so we put her to work too!

I would say that 30 minutes to standing is about an average time for our crias.  20 minutes is exceptional, and once in awhile we get one that stands in less than 10 minutes.  Today's little girl, despite her horrendous beginnings, her share of the anesthesia, and having been crammed into a space too small for her 12.5 lbs, was on her feet in 30 minutes.  I still can't quite believe it.  It still leaves me a little breathless.

Once the baby was dry, we put a coat on her and took her out with her mom to a small pen by the barn.  Maria had been very dopey while we were fussing with her in the barn, but now she seemed like her old self, and began clucking to the baby, nuzzling her and humming.  This was the last bridge to cross--would maternal instinct kick in after all the intervention and interruption in the normal flow of the birthing process?  The cria responded by trying again to get on her feet, and before we knew it, she was hunting for the source of the milk I had tubed her with, her mom standing like a champ for this little baby to nurse--the baby we had given up for dead.

God honored Lynette's prayer.  Dr. Jana's skill and experience saved the day.  Mom and cria went along as though nothing unusual had happened.  The miraculous once again appeared in the here and now.  God brought us the miracle of life today, and we are so grateful.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Moulin Faon's first cria!

Yesterday our "baby" had a baby!  it's kind of like being a "grand-paca".  Sometimes, there is just one cria that is particularly special, and this one is that special one.

First, she is a SHE, which in itself is out of the ordinary these days.  We've been on a BOY STREAK for several months now.  They are nice boys, but they have been….boys.  If you've ever had one of those years, you know what I'm talking about.

Second, she is Moulin Faon's first cria.  AWH Moulin Faon has been my favorite alpaca since the day she was born.  Her daddy is the incomparable Pperuvian Torbio.  That's almost enough right there.  A Torbio girl.  So by defintion, she is lustrous, dense, silky, curly, and gorgeous.  Next, her mama is Whirligig--one of those adorable girls who stays that way even into her later years.  And then there was the day she won the coveted "Best Head" award at the International Alpaca Odyssey in 2012.

Third, she is Vortex's first daughter, and his fourth cria.  I remember when we wondered if Vortex would ever get to 50 lb, and now here he is  pumping out a Get of Sire to be proud of!  With fleece like his on the daddy side of the pedigree, there's little doubt about what he will produce.  It's only a matter of color and gender, now.

Fourth, she has all the luster and density and silkiness of both parents, and has an adorable head as well.

But what makes her special in a "special" way is the genetics that run deep into my history as a breeder.  
Not every alpaca we've bred has been a champion, but most of them have been in the ribbons-- even though we uphold a NO GROOMING standard in the show ring against others who don't.  Not every alpaca has been beautiful, but most of them have had traits we liked.  But this girl has taken all the best pieces of everyone who is in her pedigree…….  Torbio, Matilda, Whirligig, Flicka, MacGyver, Sargent Pepper, Belmonte, Curra, Luster King……..  it's a Who's Who of where I've been, breedings paid for, our studs, who we've bred and who we've owned.  This little girl IS my breeding program.  She's a special kind of special.

You probably know what I mean.  You probably have them, too.  But I just had to share.
Thanks for listening.  I hope you will come meet her.  Hopefully she'll have a name by the time you get here.