Monday, January 9, 2017

A Rooster Goes Home

  
One of these birds is Chuck as a hatchling.





  You might recall that we hatched the fertilized eggs from our Rhode Island Red rooster, Ross, and the three Bantam hens we bought.  Ross is the same rooster that Daniel bought two days before his passing, and so Ross and his offspring will always be important to us. Normally there is a hatch rate of a percentage of fertilized eggs, but we were strangely lucky on our first attempt. The wet sponge in the incubator is a wonderful trick and I think it maximized the hatch rate. All the eggs we determined to have been fertilized hatched in the incubator. We had a hundred percent hatch rate !

        Since we had quite a few hens and roosters, we gave some of them to friends as they grew, but many of them remained here on the farm, including roosters.   Sometimes, animals who have known each other from hatchlings will cooperate with one another even though they are each roosters. Other times, some must be housed completely separately from others.

         Chuck was one of the roosters from this large legacy of Ross the Rooster.  Chuck is a beautiful looking rooster. He was of nice size, and had abundant red feathers with a spray of darker green ones at the tail. Some of the other roosters picked on him, and so he spent some time in a cage within the corner of the barn with other animals. Since he had a view of a beautiful hen, he seemed contented.  Each time we placed Chuck in outdoor housing, he seemed to become ill. He didn't move or eat well and he seemed to tolerate extremes in temperature and weather poorly. This was interesting because his siblings, except for one or two of the original hundred, did not.  Several times, Chuck made the journey to accomodations outside in Spring, but tolerated weather changes poorly.  Eventually, we found him a large cage designed for many more animals, and he lived in it in the corner of the barn. He watched the other animals and listened to the radio for most of the day.

          This year, Chuck would have been eight years old. He was living in the barn and had his cage cleaned daily. We would take him out to move around in the sunlight every so often. About a month ago, I noticed that Chuck had a normal wattle, but that his comb was not the crimson it should be. It looked paler somehow. I remembered that one of Chuck's brothers has a heard defect and that I had read a heart problem can cause pallor in the comb.  I decided to treat him with an antibiotic in the event that he had an underlying pneumonia. The color did not change, but afterward he seemed well.

           The last few days have been exceedingly cold here.  The outdoor chickens who has houses within fenced enclosures, seem fine. The guineas also are dealing with the cold and wind. The ducks, who are exceedingly old, and were bought when Daniel was a small boy, are spending extra time in their house, but they too are fine.  I noticed that Chuck was spending more time than usual curled up. He seemed okay, and after all, he was in a warmer spot than the others.  I did not bring out the Delonghi heater or lights because he seemed to be weathering the cold, but I kept a close eye on him.

           Today when I checked him, he seemed okay, but by this afternoon, his posture did not seem right. I took a closer look at him and he seemed to be in a torpor.  He's too cold, I thought.  I placed the Delonghi on a low setting near him.  I also gave him an antibiotic injection, and he barely noticed.  He looked healthy and beautiful other than the pale comb.

             I checked Chuck thirty minutes later and he responded as if to thank me. I stroked him and told him he was a good rooster, and that I hoped he felt better.  A half an hour later, I checked him and he was peacefully lying on his side and had passed.

             I wonder if Chuck has a similar cardiac defect to his brother who also passed?  Almost eight years is a long lifespan for a rooster with a birth defect.   Still, I will miss this bird.  I often get very close to the ones who have difficulties that require my assistance.   Goodbye Chuck.  Thanks for coming.  May you find your family in Heaven and may Daniel look out for you there, in the farm in the sky.

              Chuck was buried this weekend  overlooking both one of the hen houses, and a beautiful forest.










Saturday, December 17, 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Blessing of a Life With Animals

 
Daniel and Cammie, 2004      Copyright 2016


 

The following post originally appeared on my blog What I Learned from Daniel.

The post has relevance for those of us who love animals, and so I would like to call your attention to the link to the post here:


http://learnedfromdaniel.blogspot.com/2016/10/an-alpaca-on-oriental-rug.html


Saturday, September 24, 2016

From Rational Preparedness: What Is Myiasis ?

          Because the infection of wounds with fly larvae can be an issue for both animals and human beings, I would like to call your attention to this article, which appeared first on my blog Rational Preparedness.

Although the post was originally written for human beings, the post also gives insight as to the issues of wound infection with fly larvae for animals as well.


http://rationalpreparedness.blogspot.com/2016/09/for-survivalists-maggot-infestation-of.html


The post in it's entirety appears below:

Photo: atlantablackstar.com





                 Most people who have an interest in survival and emergency nursing believe that maggot infestation of wounds is a problem only in the Third World.  Most correctly, maggot infestation of wounds can occur absolutely anywhere in the world.   There are a wide variety of flies including Old World and New World screw worms which can cause a fatal infestation in animals and also in people.   A soldier, a homeless person, a traveling migrant, or anyone else who frequents the out of doors or a tent living situation, can develop a wound and have flies lay larva in it.  The larvae then hatch and the insects feed on moist necrotic tissue.
                 The first time I ever saw this was the time I rescued a turtle with an compression fracture of its shell.  Flies had laid larva in the compression fracture area before I had encountered it. Once the infestation was established, not even the vet could not save the poor creature.    On a farm we see this occasionally with elderly dying animals. especially those who are no longer able to swat flies or in those who are in in multi-system failure. Even though curing the issue might not save them in the long term, it will promote their comfort. Make no mistake, some animals and some humans can die from such infestations, even when whomever is treating them finally gets a handle on the primary cause for their health problem.Infection with fly larvae can be an important cause of mortality for some.

                  Occasionally, nursing homes are fined when maggots are detected in bedsores. This is the reason that restaurants as well as nursing homes often use a blue wall device which electrocutes flies.

                    There are some harrowing accounts of soldiers from the first world war who were caught in no man's land for several days with open fractures. By the time the men were retrieved, their wounds were filled with maggots.  Such men had a 75% chance of mortality when discovered in this manner.  The Civil War also had its share of deaths from this issue.

                       In later years physicians used sterile maggots bred in labs to clean wounds with large amounts of necrotic tissue, however these are specially bred and fairly innocuous  types and the entire process is watched very carefully.

                    Myiasis is the medical term for such infestations. It is pronounced as if written my-eye-a-sis.


There are a variety of different classes of infections of this type:

1. The first one is a nosocomial myiasis.   Nosocomial always means hospital acquired or acquired during the course of receiving medical care.  (An example of this would be the bedsore with nyiasis encountered by the nursing home patient as I mentioned earlier.)    Hospitals take great steps to avoid flies for this reason.

2.  A cutaneous myiasis is also possible.   This is an infection of this kind within the skin. This is far more common in tropical regions, but it can occur almost anywhere in the world.
3. Infections of the eye, or Opthalmomyiasis can also occur.
4. Such infections may also occur in other body orifices, such as nose, ears and occasionally mouths. The urinary tract and the intestine may also be infected, particularly when someone ingested larva in food or drink.
5. In animals, injections of Ivermectin and Dectomax can be used to kill the invading agent.  Although this is done in animals often, Ivermectin can cause liver enzyme increases and is rarely used in human beings, although it is known to work, particularly in Africa where it has often been used in those with helminthic eye infections.  In human beings, a 1% topical solution may be used, particularly when the wound is near the eye. Stromectol is one of the brand names of this drug when used in human beings.
6. Improved personal hygiene and better handling of trash can also improve the likelihood of not contracting such an infection.
7. Occasionally antibiotics of certain types may help with secondary bacterial infection, but will not help against the invasion of these larvae. 
8. It is possible simply to cover the wound with generous amounts of vaseline, choking off the larvae. They will slough off when dead by themselves in about 5-8 weeks.  Rarely, a physician will surgically remove them, but this is often not the best course, and leaving them to slough off may be the safest course after thick vaseline application.    Theoretically, vegetable oil or thick mayonnaise could be used, although I would be concerned that food substances may attract other flies.


How such an infection progresses depends largely upon the species of fly and worm that invades the wound.  There are some as mentioned in the cutaneous version above that afflict intact skin.
Infections of all these types may lead to septicemia and to death.


Of course, the most prudent course with regard to Myiasis is PREVENTION.

When someone in your party is injured, wounds should be bandaged when possible. They should stay indoors until the wound has almost healed.   Badly injured people in wilderness situations should be in the most solid and clean structure you have, away from food which might attract flies.  Building this patient a "net bubble" as is often done with children sleeping in parts of Africa in order to avoid malaria, may also be beneficial.
In the cutaneous versions of this disease, the insect often creates an air hole for itself.  You may be able to get the insect to come to the surface for removal by covering the open hole with a thick glob of vaseline, cutting off its air.

I am well aware that this is a difficult topic for many to read about and that the mental images of such are particularly unpleasant.  However, during a migration, a protracted disaster with or without injuries, this can be an issue. Proper management can make a difference in the survival of the infected.

    The pictures of such were so disturbing that I chose not to include them so that our readers were more likely to read and learn from this article.  They certainly can be googled.



 Preparedness Implications:
 In view of this, please purchase extra vaseline, extra gauze for application to wounds and extra amounts of clean roller gauze in order to secure the gauze to such wounds.   Consider buying mosquito netting for your emergency medical kits.   A bug zapper might be a good idea also.


Rational Preparedness ©2016  All rights reserved.








Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hot Reggae: We Will Meet Again



                           Hot Reggae is an alpaca who was born in 1994 in the Pacific Northwest. He was the cria of an alpaca who was owned and bred by two vets in a very large operation.  By the time of his birth he was owned by a dentist and his wife who also lived in the Pacific Northwest.  Hot Reggae accompanied two other alpacas we purchased from them in March of 2000.  Hot Reggae made the long trip from the Pacific Northwest to Virginia in the air conditioned horse trailer that people in the alpaca trade call "The Alpaca Train".  He arrived to us with Mr. Ditto Two and Noche Buena.  Hot Reggae was a gelded male, but he had a very important job within the herd. He was the lookout, the security officer and the alpaca policeman, not only when the herd consisted only of three, but later when others were born, or added through additional purchases.
                          Alpacas are very much herd animals. The herd is a family to them, and when one dies, there is a grieving period. They are more loving and more empathetic than most realize. While protecting the herd and notifying us of marauding dogs and coyotes, he also grieved and supported grieving when Shakria, our first cria died when just a few days old.  He also supported the herd when Shakria's mother eventually died of astrocytoma.  He oversaw and participated in alpaca soccer tournaments until the farm vet put a stop to the practice saying that it could lead to a potentially fatal broken leg. Then, he became part of the tetherball alpaca league.  He also dutifully listened as our children learned to play a variety of musical instruments. The Irish whistle and the uileann pipes are the two I remember that he seemed to enjoy best. I also remember his placing his chin on my shoulder as I sat on the stump within the alpaca pen and cried when I heard that my aunt had died.

                        In 2004, we moved all of the alpacas to a new farm we built where they would have much better accommodations.  Hot Reggae never seemed all that impressed.  All he ever really seemed to need was his herd, some green grass, some good hay in winter, a handful of Mazuri pelleted alpaca feed per day, and lots of fresh water.  He tolerated shearing as if he understood. We never really needed to trim his nails much because he used to file them down himself on a sharp rock in the pen. He seemed to stop, as if it were a secret, each time he realized that we were watching.

                          Alpacas have a stated lifespan of about fifteen years, however in captivity and with good care, some individuals have lived much longer. As they have aged, we have developed additional habits which have kept them healthy and living longer.  Normally, We add zinc to their feed.  We continue injections to prevent meningeal worm. They receive an annual rabies and CDT shot.  With age, we give occasional thiamine and vitamin A,C, and D, shots.  We drop selenium tablets in their pellets

                           In the past year, we knew that Reggae, as well as his dear friend Mr. Ditto II, were failing. Neither were moving particularly well. Hot Reggae seemed to have a stiff neck. Their tolerance for heat was also not what it once had been. We made sure they had extra water and we added fans suspended to the rafters from their now shared concrete floored barn room.  When the weather was hotter than 90 degrees F, then we would spray them down with cool water particularly on the legs and underbelly which is where they dissipate heat.

                            At the end of July, both Mr. Ditto Two and Hot Reggae were illl.  Both seemed to have pneumonia to me. I treated both with an appropriate dose of Tylosin intramuscularly over several days. I also gave multiple injections of thiamine.  Hot Reggae rallied and seemed to recover.  Ditto died peacefully at the end of July, this year, at age 20.

                              We knew that Hot Reggae, though he appeared completely recovered, was living on borrowed time. He was now 22 years old !  He simply appeared not to want to leave his herd, and the human family who had loved him for all this time, right on top of Ditto's loss.  So he hung in there with us.
This morning, he seemed congested again.  I gave another injection of Tylosin. He drank some water and ate all the pelleted grain in his dish. Then, he grazed in his pen with his nephew, Chocolat, while I moved four horses out to graze.  He appeared all right, and yet I knew that we wouldn't have much longer together.

                               When I returned from lunch to top up waters and to check on him, he had passed quite recently. He was lying in the stall on his side under the fans on the cool concrete floor, his eyes still open.  I imagine that it had been just moments ago because as I wrapped him for burial, rigor mortis had not yet set in.

                                Today, Reggae joins a herd of alpacas who were all loved here. It is my hope that Daniel will look after them until we get there to, once again, help with the task.  It has been my honor and privilege to know you and to care for you while you were here, Reggae.  I will do my best to ensure health and safety for the remaining herd.  And of course you know, you will be sorely missed.  We will meet again, my friend.
                           



A kind and gentle animal who was always the protector and the "police officer" of the herd.





Sunday, August 14, 2016

Rehydration Solutions and Indications for a Variety of Species





This post first appeared on my other blog  www.rationalpreparedness/blogspot.com

This is the direct link to this particular important article.

http://rationalpreparedness.blogspot.com/2016/08/oral-rehydration-solutions-for-various.html



    

(Picture from: www.grit.com )




   I used to buy a commercial apple flavored electrolyte powder which could be added to water for horses. I usually used a gallon sized orange or lemon gatorade for alpacas, dogs or even ailing poultry.  I have been very lucky with my interventions with animals and many of my animals, whatever the species, live far beyond their normal life expectancies.   Lately though I have been doing some research.  The commercial apple flavored electrolyte mix for horses has gone up to fifty dollars for a large container. It is sold out in my area, and the livestock supply house where I buy the heavy bucket size says they may not be buying it again.  In addition, I have read that horse electrolytes may not been formulated in the manner that is best for alpacas. Even though they are mammals, other species do not need electrolytes balanced exactly as humans do. Also, giving sugar to other animal species (other than hummingbirds, of course) without a specific veterinary direction to do so can be risky. We also need to establish for each species when the use of a rehydration solution or electrolytes is indicated. Although some farmers leave an electrolyte water solution out for horses or alpacas all the time, many vets think that this may be a bad practice. It may cause tooth decay. It may allow bacterial growth in sugared water that is sitting all day, and it may attract flies, even the more dangerous borer variety. So we should define the conditions for each species under which we would use such things. Since we are planning in advance for such emergencies, you have time to consult your equine vet or your farm vet either during a routine visit you have already scheduled, or by talking to them online.

                  Rather than spending fifty dollars for a large container of apple horse electrolyte, you could gather the ingredients for your own. Place the boxed ingredients and a copy of the recipe in a large transparent freezer style bag and then mark it for the animal species for which it is intended. Since I have alpacas, horses, dogs, guinea fowl, chickens, ducks, cats, and sheep, some could be used interchangeably but many formulations should not. 


 Then, after you have created a species specific  rehydration kit, place it in a location where you can gather it at a moment's notice.  

Some electrolytes are best delivered to the animal in water, where others might get more of it when given as a top dress to their dry food, with water given nearby.

        Since this was one of my tasks this week, I established an electrolyte and rehydration kit for each species here, and then I placed it in a durable large plastic bag. Then I marked each bag with the species for which it is intended to be used. Then I placed each prepared bag in a rectangular plastic bin with a lid which came from Wal-Mart. Then I placed a piece of masking tape on the lid and the side of the box and marked it "Varietal species rehydration kits" When kept in a cool dry place with the component parts in original packaging, they should last for a considerable period of time, perhaps many years.


The benefits are as follows:

1. By creating rehydration packages for each species and placing them in a large freezer bag, you are saving a great deal of money over purchasing the prepared varieties.
2. You will know how to make such solutions for each animal species you have and be enabled to hydrate your animals in a more customized  fashion.
3. You will reexamine your own practices of hydration and have a better plan for hydration when indicated, not simply when it's hot.
4. On finding an animal with heat stress or another issue during hot weather, by having these packs pre-gathered, you are not only saving the time by not needing to run out and gather these things under what could be worse conditions than now, but you are going to be able to provide appropriate rehydration much more quickly than if your animal had to wait for you to return from a quick emergency trip. You will have the species specific recipe and the materials right in the plastic package.
5. Remember that very hot conditions may trigger the need for rehydration solutions, but that diarrhea necessitates at least a phone call to a veterinarian. Diarrhea is not normal and although it can indicate a simple change in diet, it can also indicate gastrointestinal worms, or a serious infectious disorder of some kind, which could require additional intervention often in terms of a drug, in addition to rehydration.



This is the unsweetened flavoring. It doesn't take much of this to flavor for horses or alpacas.  Sometimes, plain lemon juice works best.  This is great to have as a backup in your rehydration kit to add to one of the recipes here.


Animals who are too hot, too cold, under stress, or found in Winter with frozen water should receive assistance with rehydration.  Animals with diarrhea need to be provided with rehydration solution as well as plain water immediately, and then you need to call your vet.


Horses:

Some people believe that their horse automatically requires electrolytes in hot weather. Vets say this is not always true.  A horse should always have access to a clean bucket of plain water, and should have access to salt. For many horses, this may be all you need to do. Generally having a lot of plain salt blocks available and having them in a protected plastic bag is a good plan. I try to stock up when they are on sale.
For a horse with diarrhea,exhaustion or excessive perspiration, they lose salt and water.  Again, find out what your equine vet's objectives are if this happens.

This is one home recipe for equine replacement of electrolytes:

HORSE RECIPE  #1

This particular one is sugar free and ideal for a horse with insulin resistance

26 ounces of NON-iodized salt
22 ounces of Lite Salt (potassium)
2 Tablespoons of Epsom Salt
OPTIONAL: One half packet of unsugared unsweetened lemon Kool-aid
        (Some horses benefit from the flavoring)

This can be used as either a top dress to feed or added to a separate bucket of water.  If the horse is one of the few who do not like the taste, you may add lemon juice, 6 Tablespoons.

                                                                 _________________



 HORSE RECIPE #2

Some equine vets believe that in Summer, especially active horses may benefit from a bucket of plain water, and then this solution placed next to it.  This is helpful for horses who aren't fans or frequent users of a salt block.

    5 ounces of non-iodized salt added to

    5 gallons of water

                                                                     __________________

HORSE RECIPE #3

Mix equal amounts of non-iodized salt with
                            Morton's or similar Lite Salt (which is potassium chloride)
in five gallons of water.
  ( In this method, your horse should also eat because most horse feed contains adequate magnesium  and calcium.)

                                                                  _____________________


ALPACA REHYDRATION:


RECIPE #1

Take a clean five gallon bucket.
Add equal amounts of non-iodized salt, Morton lite salt (potassium) and baking soda.
You may flavor with lemon juice.
Do not add sugar unless vet has ordered it for a specific reason.

This is a great hot weather supplement in addition to having a salt block and plain water available.

Some farms keep this available in Winter also, in a heated bucket.

   

Notes on alpaca hydration:  Although many of us have gotten away with using four or five scoops of a lemon gatorade powder in a five gallon bucket for alpacas at risk, vets tell us that gatorade is low in electrolytes and high in sugar for alpacas, and so the recipe above is superior for them.
Resorb, can also be used in emergencies. Check with your vet and his/her objectives. 


SHEEP REHYDRATION:

You may use the alpaca recipe above.  Please read the links below on sheep dehydration also.


GOAT REHYDRATION:

You may use Gatorade solution so long as you are also providing plain water.   Resorb as reconstituted for humans will also work. The alpaca recipe would also be helpful.  However, a goat who is dehydrated is very sick indeed and requires veterinary input in order to rectify the underlying cause of the dehydration whether it be infectious or otherwise.

                                                               ________________________

 Chickens, Ducks, Guineas, Doves, Pigeons, 

These animals should generally have an abundant and clean supply of water, year round.
Last year, a Texas chicken farmer told me that when it becomes hotter than 100 degrees F, he slightly salts the chicken feed for his chickens once time each morning.  I have been doing this here in Virginia, and I have not had any sudden hen deaths since.


If you find one of your birds injured, stressed or ill, they should still have abundant water and food, but they should also have available.


Bird Rehydrator         Gather the materials and bag in advance, but mix only when needed

1. Place one gallon of water in a clean bucket 
2. Add one tablespoon powdered sugar   (or plain sugar if that's what you have)
3. Add one teaspoon non-iodized table salt.
4. Add one teaspoon baking soda
5. Add 1/2 tsp. Morton lite salt (which is potassium)

  Most of the time no additional flavorings will be needed.  Lemon juice, one tsp could be added. 


Recommended United Kingdom Recipe for bird rehydration  (Structured in measurements most familiar to them.)


7g sodium chloride
5g sodium bicarbonate
3g potassium chloride
40g glucose
2 litres water


  It is not necessary and could be harmful to provide the electrolyte solution to birds who are well so save this recipe for the sick or stressed animals.

 Rehydration Solution for Dogs:

A dog who is rescued and looks slightly dry and is hungry, can be given lots of plain water and food.  Lemon gatorade can be offered in addition.   A dog with a more complex issue will need veterinary attendance.



Rehydration Solution for Cats:


Cat Rehydration Recipe #1:

Plain lemon gatorade in addition to a separate dish of water nearby will work for most cats.

                                                          _____________________
Cat Recipe #2
This recipe is designed for cats in kidney failure who are having trouble holding on to potassium.
HOME-MADE, ORGANIC ELECTROLYTE FORMULA
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
    (Use spring or filtered water to avoid chlorine and flouride.)
  • 2 Tablespoons raw honey
    (Raw honey has natural antibiotic properties.)
  • 3/8 Teaspoon sea salt
    (Table salt from the supermarket has sugar in it – [what, you haven’t read the label recently and noticed this?] – and is missing all the trace minerals available in a good quality sea salt.)
  • 1/8 Teaspoon potassium salt (365 mg)
    (Sometimes called “potassium chloride” and available in health food stores in powder form.  I use the NOW brand Potassium Chloride Powder and that’s the basis for this measurement.)
  • 1 Teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    (For a bit of vitamin C and to cut the sweetness.)
  • Enough water to make 2 full cups (16 ounces).
OTHER THINGS YOU WILL NEED
  • A glass bottle that will hold 2 cups of electrolyte liquid for storage purposes.
  • A 1-ounce brown dropper bottle for easy dispensing.
  • An extra dropper for dosing your cat so the dropper in the bottle isn’t contaminated.
MAKING THE ELECTROLYTES
  1. Put the raw honey into the warm water and stir.  I use a small wire whisk, but a fork will do as well.  You want to break up the honey and spread it through the water.
  2. Add the sea salt, potassium salt, and lemon juice.
  3. Put the mixture into the glass bottle and add enough water to make 2 full cups.
  4. Shake well.  This distributes the ingredients evenly throughout the liquid.
  5. Pour about an ounce of this into the dropper bottle.
  6. Refrigerate both bottles.
 Offer four times a day.
 A sick cat should be seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
This recipe was obtained at: 

  http://www.raysofhealinglight.com/blog/2015/04/11/homemade-all-natural-feline-electrolytes/#.V7B4ZRKG3cs



                                                            _____________________


More detail from veterinarians in dehydration treatment and assessment:

http://www.infovets.com/books/smrm/f/F145.htm

Information on Lamb Dehydration from a Veterinarian

 http://www.pipevet.com/images/Baby%20Lamb%20Survival.pdf

Information on Sheep Care:

http://www.farmsanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Animal-Care-Sheep.pdf 

Data on Pigeon Rescue:

 http://www.angelfire.com/fang/mattjohnson/pigeonrescue.htm


DISCLAIMER:   This post is designed to allow an owner or animal enthusiast hydrate an animal while the vet is either on his way or while you are making arrangements to have your animal seen by one.   Dehydration is often a symptom of an infectious illness or a serious disorder. Unless you are absolutely certain as to a cause of dehydration do not simply treat for dehydration without getting a vet's input after initiating rehydration.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Tribute to Mr. Ditto Two

Ditto, as an older herdsire, after shearing, in his stall.

               Mr. Ditto Two came to us as a jet black young adult intended to be a herdsire. He came with a group of three to us from the Pacific Northwest in 1999.  We had purchased him in a small starter herd of three when alpacas were perhaps not so plentiful in the East.  When Ditto arrived, he came with one female, Noche Buena, and one gelding, Hot Reggae.  I remember as they disembarked from the air conditioned transport truck affectionately called the "alpaca train", there was a lot of distressed humming. Ditto countered with a lower and shorter hum, as if he were telling them that it would all be okay. I can't blame them for being concerned. They had left the green, wet pastures with more than a hundred alpacas and taken a more than three thousand mile trip to Virginia, a hilly, dryer and decidedly less green environment at that time of year. Also, at the time, their species was almost unique in these rural hills. We were the first alpaca breeders in our county.  Ditto had a nice and calm nature. He was generally cooperative for sheering, nail trimming and immunizations. All of our alpacas are loved, but Mr. Ditto II had a special place in the hearts of everyone.

               In the beginning we were told that alpacas live about fifteen years, but that a bit more time was possible in captivity with good care. Mr. Ditto II has lived a good life.   As our herd grew, he played soccer against half of them until the farm vet stopped the practice fearing that someone would break a leg.  He listened to Irish whistle and fiddle music as our children needed an audience.  He watched as a first barn was built on our first farm, and then he and his herd moved to a smaller temporary barn or run in, while our family built another farm and a much larger barn for his herd and his family.  Over the years, Mr. Ditto II sired a dark brown female Shakria, who died as an infant.  He sired Chocolat, a male who is at his side today, and a daughter with a jet black fleece like he once had, named Warrior Princess Camellia, or Cammie in these parts.   Mr. Ditto Two was a devoted male partner first to Queen Isabelle, the mother of his crias, who died from astrocytoma, and later to jet black Noche Buena.  Ditto's easy going nature never changed.

               Mr. Ditto Two is now twenty years old.  He was born on Valentine's Day just a few months before Daniel.  When many of us die, whether we are human beings or animals, our bodies simply wear out and can no longer continue to house our souls. Eventually, our souls must escape and go home.  This week, Mr. Ditto II's body is so well worn that he needs to sleep. Multiple systems are failing, even with good support and attention.  Sadly, with time our herd has returned to being a small one, and the herd sire does not wish to go, and to leave his remaining family without him.  He continues to fight to rally to remain, when he should simply just sleep. His herd takes turns cushing next to him in support.  It's strange that they know.  An apple horse gatorade bucket sits next to him and I lift his head every couple of hours for a sip, if just for comfort.   Every once in awhile he falls into a deep sleep and his respirations are shallow. Then he moves his legs as if running, as if he sees the green field in the next place and can't wait to run free once again. My husband and I turn him side to side on sheets laid on the concrete stall floor.  Part of us wants him to go so that he is spared any discomfort during these last hours, but part of us realizes that our children's childhoods and teen years were punctuated by the presence of this animal, and that his departure marks aging and a new era for our human family as well.

             You owe us nothing, Ditto.  It's time to go.  We will make sure that the remaining alpaca members of this farm family are cared for well.  Go home. Let Daniel and my father rejoice with you, as you will no longer be encumbered by your shell, as beautiful as that shell really was. Thank you for all the time spent with us.  You brought a lot of joy, and you deserve to be set free.




Ditto in his later years, when his black fleece turned gray.

                 Ditto passed quietly, at nine am this morning, with his son Chocolat cushed by his side, while I penned most of this post.   Hot Reggae who is also elderly and who has also been ill this week, seems to be moving well at the moment, and Ditto's daughter Cammie will receive extra attention today as well.