Thursday, April 11, 2013

Life and Death on the Farm

Overlook by our animal cemetery

Spring is bursting with new life, from each swelling bud to the baby creatures that arrive during this "ideal" time of the year.  We like to have our alpaca babies born in the spring, too, (though we've had them every month of the year), when there is plenty of fresh green grass and mild temperatures.

Last year was as problem-free with our alpaca births as we have ever had... We had trimmed our numbers down quite a bit which always makes things easier, but we never had a single issue with birthing or babies.  Almost all of our spring-bred girls are due in May this year, but the recent short heat wave had me a little worried since the alpacas are in their fullest fleece (our alpaca shearers are coming next week) and 85 degrees with a fur coat on is HOT, even IF we pamper them with fans and such.

Today we moved the girls due in May to our "birthing" barn, and it wasn't much more than an hour later that a new cria was found, 3-4 weeks premature.  Uh oh.....  Premie alpacas can survive with lots of help and we have pulled some through, but they take full-on, intensive care from the start- I knew that even if we had chosen to take her to Ohio State or University of Tennessee, she wouldn't make the trip without intervention first.  Often they are too weak to nurse, so it's important to substitute the dam's all-important colostrum (first milk, full of antibodies, etc.) for colostrum and/or plasma from another dam.  In this case, we had both.
Mom encouraging weak, premature cria

This was a beautiful, 11 pound white girl, very weak and floppy, so we burst into quick action.  Our helper started drying and warming the baby, which seemed cold from the start when I put my finger in her mouth to test her warmness and suck reflex.  She was floppy like a dishrag, breathing slowly, and unable to lift her head.

I quickly thawed some frozen colostrum and plasma to give to the cria.  Alpaca babies are born slightly dehydrated and with low blood sugar, and this one needed all the help she could get since she wouldn't be able to stand to nurse.  She was unable to suck from a bottle, so I tube-fed her while we continued to try warming her on a large heating pad made for piglets.

We also gave her oxygen supplementation, my only regret is that I didn't think of this sooner, otherwise I know that we did EVERYTHING possible for this baby.  I guess she was just not meant for this world, and she died about 2 hours after birth....  We let her mom stay with her for a few minutes alone so that she would understand that her baby was gone, but a while later when she was back with her herdmates she still seemed to be asking us what we had done with her...

As I took the baby's tiny little soft body to a remote area at the back of our farm where we sometimes lay out creatures that have died, I reflected on how far I have come from being a city girl to living on a farm for over 23 years.... how I used to be devastated by a cria's death... and how now I was sad but quietly accepting it.  I comprehend now that one animal's death is sometimes another's food (the vultures, foxes, possums and coyotes normally strip a dead animal clean within a few days), and that each and every baby isn't necessarily meant to survive.  And sometimes there are unseen problems in a cria that won't allow them to live a healthy, quality life.

I know that when we lose a cria, there are usually others to look forward to.  I realize that there are tragedies and challenges WAY more serious than losing a baby alpaca (even an especially valuable one), as I remember friends that are struggling with cancer, the unexpected death of a family member, hungry and orphaned children in remote places, and my own life challenges.
Rest in peace, innocent one

Yes, I am sad... but I also feel so very fortunate to have been able to be close to this natural cycle of life and death on our farm.  Faith and perspective, living on the farm has taught me about these things and so much more.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Country Mice and City Mice

As much as I LOVE and appreciate our farm, it's nice to get away sometimes and go to the big city.  In this case, our daughter and I went with her good friend and her parents to one of our favorite places, Chicago, during spring break.  Wow, did we ever pack a lot into our time there!

SkyDeck on the 103rd Floor of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower, tallest building in the Western Hemisphere!
One of my new favorite places EVER, the Art Institute of Chicago.  I will never again visit Chicago without going back there.  It makes me giddy just to remember the inspiration of it, SO many wonderful impressionist pieces (TONS of Monet's, and this favorite Seurat, above).
  The Picasso exhibit was happening, I highly recommend a trip to Chicago just for that.  Even if you don't think you "like" Picasso, the exhibit was fascinating and highlighted his prolific artistic life.  He created up to 3 paintings per day at times, and took up ceramic sculpture in his 80's and 90's.  

The modern art there was awe-inspiring as well (Diego Rivera and Georgia O'Keefe and Jackson Pollack to name a few!), and I want to return for more of the modern wing and also to visit Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. 
This was an interesting 3-dimensional piece that "spoke" to me, I had to learn more about it's creator, Lee Bontecou, and am eager to devour the books about her and Picasso that I just received.
My girl loves to travel, I am so lucky to have an adventurous daughter like her to keep me young!  We loved going to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the Hancock Building to watch the sunset.

On top of these highlights, we also went to the Shedd Aquarium (very crowded but the girls LOVED it!), Lincoln Park Zoo, Chinatown, sightseeing on The Magnificent Mile, dinners at Giordano's, Cheesecake Factory, and Bubba Gump at the Navy Pier.  We walked through Millenium Park, enjoying the beautiful giant reflective sculpture, "The Bean" and had great shopping at Crate and Barrel, Watertower Place, and more!

And now, spring has arrived back at the farm and there is nowhere else I'd rather be, right here, right now, with memories of this wonderful trip floating through my imagination!  Watch for spring farm photos in the coming days, and check out some of my photography and fiber art on my new website, 

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