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.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Short Life of "Peep"

This is a picture of a normal Rhode Island Red hatchling

On Thursday afternoon I went out to begin the afternoon care of the dogs and I heard a loud chirping like a bird. I thought that a mother bird teaching its fledglings to fly probably had a straggler who was calling for her. Still, the chirping did not let up, and it was of some urgency. So I took a break and went in the direction in which I heard the noise.  Then, I looked into the hen home with rooster nearest the dogs and I saw what looked like a hatchling duck flailing in their deep water dish.  "Help me, I'll drown !" was apparently the probable translation of the urgent chirping. The rooster in the pen and the four hens acted as if the chick were a predator.   When I scooped the little bird out of the water, I took her into the barn to dry her with a paper towel. Then I took a look at her in bright light.  She wasn't a duck at all. She was clearly a new hatchling from one of my hens in the pen in which she was found. She was a small Rhode Island Red, and she was quite a pretty one.  Domestic hens don't always know how to mother, and an accidental chick such as this one, would likely pass away, just as two did inside the hen house last year.    So, I took the little chick, found a small box, a jar cap for water, and a jar cap for food. It was quite warm and so a hatch light for warmth could wait until this evening.   She certainly was active and moving well.  I did notice when she was wet that she had a prominent crop.  Rather than food passing right to the stomach, as it does in mammals, chickens have something called a crop, which is a pre-stomach which houses food until it moves on to the fore-stomach.  Sometimes, food gets stuck in the crop and can cause problems, usually for adult chickens. I had never seen a chick with a prominent crop in her neck.  For a moment I considered that she may have a congenital anomaly, but this possibility did not change what I had to do. I had to take care of her as if she were any other chick. An anomaly, if it existed, would take her soon enough.

       I had quite an afternoon.  I didn't have a cage quite small enough and she kept exiting the cage by squeezing through the bars.  The barn cat Brielle would have been more than happy to eat her, but I looked at Brielle, and said, "No !" and Brielle flounced off as if to say, "You owe me a better treat than that, later."
Eventually, I placed the little chick in a box and moved her to the laundry room in the house.  That would be warm and bright, and safer.

       For a hatchling, she didn't seem to eat and drink as much as I remembered them to.  Still, for two to three days, they are hatched with enough nutrition to allow them to take those three days in order to learn to eat and drink.  I had lined her box with paper towels and there were stools, and so I thought she was doing well.  That evening, my husband found the hatch light so that the chick could be warm enough as the temperature would drop overnight, and chicks need a fair bit of warmth.   On Friday, she still didn't seem to eat or drink well.  Since hatchlings learn almost everything from other hatchlings, we decided to see if the feed store in the next county could sell us a couple of chicks. They had no chicks but they had a guinea of the same age, whose early developmental milestones are about the same, so we came home with a friend for our hatchling I had named Peep.   The guinea, whom I have called Skoot was much more active and much hungrier than Peep.  By evening, I thought Peep needed some rest and so I separated them in two boxes for the time being.

         This morning I checked on Peep at 5:30 am.   Despite the light and all the care she had been given she was clearly deteriorating.  When I examined her carefully, her vent wasn't closed shut (a reason that a hatchling might not want to eat and drink)  Her umbilical area was as expected.  However, her skin and wings seemed dehydrated to me. I mixed a drop of golden syrup in water with a grain or two of salt and proceeded to feed her with an eye dropper being careful to approach the side of the beak and not get liquid in the nostrils. She took some. There had been no stools overnight.  She seemed quite weak. She also seemed quite cold despite the fact that she'd had the benefit of the hatch light overnight.

            As I held the little bird, I realized that she had deteriorated overnight to a point at which I was unlikely to be able to save her. How sad to overcome such odds to be hatched, to avoid drowning, to call for another species to save you, just to succumb to some type of anomaly or difficulty just two days later. Poor Peep.  I hoped her passing would be as quick and as painless as it could be. It's Sunday, and I don't have a particular schedule this morning. I can feed the horses, alpacas and dogs a bit later, and so I held Peep in a gloved hand speaking to her, while holding her under the hatch light. I thanked her for calling me and giving me the chance to try to help her. I told her that she had fought hard to come here and to stay, but that sometimes the lessons God teaches here on Earth can be taught in a very short time. I told her I had a son and a father who could look out after her in the next place, if God allows them to, and I think he will.  Then she started to use accessory muscles for breathing and I didn't think it would be long. I held her with one hand and stroked her with one finger until her respirations became difficult to see.  Then she tried to jump out of my hand with energy I didn't know she still had. When I gathered her into a more comfortable position in my hand, I saw that she had died.

         Goodbye Peep, I will miss you, and I will take care of your friend Skoot.  Thank you for coming.


Update:   July 24, 2016       After Peeps death, we bought five more guinea keets to keep Skoot company. All of them are growing well and enjoying the summer.