Daily Lessons Learned Here at Red Coach Alpaca Farm.
the following are excerpts from my daily life as a farmer raising and breeding alpaca's, thirty five alpacas, seven horses, four dogs, Two daughters one fourteen and the other eleven. Oh and a husband
Friday, not sure which Friday but I know it's September and the weather couldn't be worse. North East Ohio is good at producing these cold, rainy, windy and dark days where forty degrees feels worse than if it were below zero. This morning, the dampness sets in my bones as I feed the alpacas and horses dressed only in my pajamas. No coat. Every fall I go through a period where I feel if I don't get the winter coats out from where ever they spent the summer, that somehow I'll keep the cold weather at bay - if I don't acknowledge it, the cold weather won't come. And, this being the very first cold morning since last year - I'm still strongly in my "fall denial."
With my teeth clenched and shoulders held at ear level, my morning routine commences. I walk around the barn paying no attention to the blank stare of astonishment that Good Gracious is issuing me. "save it Good Gracious, I don't need your oft expressed opinion of me this morning. Besides, I'm not cold you know, I could be suffering from a horrible stiff neck or some muscular affliction and these clenched teeth could just be lock jaw! Did you ever think of that?" I know she know's what I'm saying as I mutter aloud while walking from feeder to feeder, just as sure as I know what she is thinking of me. I need to explain Good Gracious. She is a three year old alpaca who hasn't missed a mistake I've made of misstep I've taken since her arrival here at RCAF. Fall down out of the grain room and look left, she'll be standing there, blank faced with a slight curl of disgust on her lips. Good Gracious manages to gracefully possess an air of great importance while she strolls the farm and this isn't easy to do while being the spitting image of Tim Conway complete with borrowed toupee and goofy look.
Picture of Good Gracious
I sit a few minutes with a maiden named Honey, whom is near her due date for her first cria (baby alpaca) well, actually a little over her due date. Looking at her, she looks very un-pregnant to me but at the same time she seems very uncomfortable. Not an uncomfortable like rolling and thrashing about or anything - just a look on her face. With this I decide to stay close to this part of the farm today. (Alpaca's have very large offspring compared to other animals their size and are pregnant almost a year and sometimes a little over also, nearer the time they go into labor which is almost always in the morning - this is because for thousands of years of living in the Andes at an altitude around thirteen thousand feet, having their cria's early in the morning allows their thin inner lining of the placenta which they come out covered in from about the muzzle back, to actually expand in the warm morning sun and act like a green house and therefore keep them warm and dry their thick fiber. Those born in the cold night in the Andes are much more likely not to make it. Alpacas don't lick their newborns like other animals. The rest of the thick placenta comes out anywhere from fifteen minutes to forty-five minutes later) Anyhow, nearer the time of labor the cria goes from the belly up into the birth canal and that's when some can have that appearance all of a sudden of not being pregnant, which is what Honey looks like this morning.
Twelve noon: It's still raining. Ted has stayed home from work today to help me monitor the maiden, Who's still suffering that not pregnant/uncomfortable look. I have learned over the years not to speculate on due dates or the out comes of illness out loud to anyone on the farm. Of course having such a close relationship with all of them and spending most my day and nights with them I can usually tell something is not right with just a glance or hearing a sound I don't like. I find most breeders of any live stock have this ability, especially if they are the ones out in the barn doing all the work among their animals. I'm asked all the time by the kids or the part time help about when so and so will drop her cria or about some condition and I constantly annoy them with only a slight facial expression. Sure as the sun rises, if you say when a cria will be born, it won't happen and if I think Miss Marvel will have another spectacular pink or purple shaded cria - if I answer, sure enough she'll have a white one. That's a another whole lesson I was taught and I call it the "God willing lesson" and sometime I'll write about that.
Today, I MUST not forget that I promised Kara I'd pick her up at school. Kara is my fifth grader. This sounds like such a small task especially since the school is around the corner, but for me it is not! She is afraid I won't look presentable so she actually left me a check list. My list includes the following absolute musts and she underlines "musts" two times. 1. Change poop covered boots. 2. wash dirt from under my nails. 3. Brush my long hair into a new braid and wear a clean base ball cap. 4. Most importantly, wash my face and visually inspect it! 5. Wear the jacket she likes. But you know what happens when a list is made, God show's his sense of humor and even though I pray he doesn't, boy does he throw me a curve at the worst possible time.
I assure you, in the past, my eleven year old saw no humor in the appearance of her mother cheerfully sloshing into her classroom in muck boots with alpaca and horse manure following each step I take.
Two PM I check on the maiden again for the umpteenth time and she has been happily munching on orchard grass in the barn for the last hour. I decide to turn her out with the other ladies so she can have a proper roll in the sand pile. She probably won't go into labor now that it's this late into the day. Note added later: Oops, guess this is where I slipped on my "God willing lesson," never to make a prediction. At this moment in time, this is where I must have been sent a re-fresher course on the "God Willing Lesson."
Two Thirty PM, I am in the kitchen grabbing a quick sandwich,
Ted bursts into the house I hear in a loud panicy voice
"quick she's having her cria."
We run to the barn, I yell "where did I put my emergency blow dryer?"
"What blow dryer?" he says, now perturbed.
"The one I put in a special spot....not so hidden that I can't access it in an emergency but, hidden enough that those two hair-product gobbling girls can't get their hands on it."
We run through the indoor ring and into the alpaca barn. Spotting the cria I momentarily stop in my tracks. I guess I thought he'd still be outside in the due-paddock where I put his mother but, here he was a sorry site of a skinny, shaking, stone dust covered cria and all legs as he sits on fresh pile of fresh green orchard grass. Just where Ted had left him.
Something weird - no one seems to be claiming this little fella. No squeaking mom hanging over him protectively. I scan the crowd of ladies that are all around staring at him but not claiming him. Now I see her. She is standing with the rest of the herd with the same surprised look on her face.
"Honey I know this is your new born cria." She looks from me to the new born and back to me. Now she had me doubting it was her. She holds a bodily position and facial expression saying "well, I saw him first. I was minding my own business when I went over to use the communal pile and afterwords there he was, just so weird!'
"Oh I have a feeling this is going to be a really long day" I exclaim to Ted.
Ted and I move the reluctant Maiden and her son to a warm, quiet stall in the barn so she can bond with her cria and still see the herd - who are still very interested. Honey stands as far away from the cria as she can. I announce my concerns as Ted hangs a second heat lamp. While I dried him off and put iodine on his umbilical and gave him some vitamin shots I realized he was showing dis-mature signs. Floppy ears, fine fiber, and lax joints. I went to the med room and looked at Honey's breeding charts, she was bred three times and confirmed by ultrasound a few months later. This little cria was showing dis-mature signs because he was overdue and I figured she may have gotten pregnant on the first of second breeding but being a maiden maybe she didn't turn the stud down out of not knowing. In all breeding you get great breeders and great mothers that are wonderful to their young year after year. A proven breeder goes for more money then a maiden for obvious reasons.
This little guy was adamant of gaining command of his legs. Ted held honey still, and I brought the little guy over and helped him find the teat and latch on. Once on, he aggressively nursed and I helped hold the weight of his neck and head while he succled. Alpacas only receive immunity through the colostrum, which is the first milk to come out. They receive no immunity through the thick placenta.
"Oh no what time is it?" I say in a panic.
Ted say's "3:25 why?"
"I'm supposed to pick Kara up from school in seven minutes!"
"Go" says Ted, "I'll stay right here."
Kara with a new born
I run to the truck, not once assessing my appearance. I know I am a complete mess after cleaning off that new born! I knew I should have written that note on my hand instead of making a mental note of what I read from my daughters note she left this morning. Driving the mile and a half to the school I berate myself about mental notes and how they've never come through for me in the past and I should know better. Oh, who am I kidding. Notes on my hands have been completely disappointing to me - at this point I should resort to writing a note on my forehead that says "ask me what's on my hand."
I arrive at the school in no time at all and successfully squished my F-350 Dually into the smallest spot to date! I run into the front office and there I stand staring at the secretary. She stares back. I freeze in horror as it ocorrs to me, being the beginning of the school year, I have no idea who her teacher's name is.
"Can I help you?"
"yeah I'm, uh, hear to pick up my daughter."
There she goes again, just staring at me. "And your daughter is?"
"Oh, Kara, Kara Karman."
After another long pause of her staring at me she says "and you are?"
"Me, I'm her mother." Now I look around the office to see if anyone else is seeing this lady acting so stragely towards me. But, I'm pretty certain no one shares my view.
Directions to her class room in hand, I find my way to her room. As soon as my daughter spots me, her jaw drops and so does the teachers. Kara gathers her stuff and she and her teacher approach me, teacher smiling now and Kara frowning. I'm now getting a really self conscious feeling.
"Hi" I say, "I have dirt all over my face, don't I?"
The teacher laughs.
Kara says "And you have it all over your jeans and everywhere and, I hope thats Iodine all over your hands."
I tell the teacher "I appollogize, we had..." Kara, cuts me off mid sentance as she's slowly pushing me out the door.
And guess what my little darling daughter says to her teacher as we leave? "Well, I even left her a note this morning for her to clean her self up before coming to school."
Oh I laughed all the way home and guess what, Kara hasn't asked me to pick her up from school since!!