Well, tonight I reflect on the many blessings, and heartaches that come with ranch ownership.
In 1995, when we lived in Downey, CA and had tiny house (800 square feet) and a postage stamp yard we dreamed of living someplace where our children would be safe, we could have loads of open space, and my secret dream of farm animal ownership. In 1999 our dream became a reality, and we moved to our 20 acre large spacious home with loads of room.
We discussed lots of options for animal ownership, I have always been a horse person, you know Barbies were only there to feed the horses! But after a serious back injury that I eventually had to have surgery from, it just wasn't feasible at that time. Too much risk for injury. Cows were out, as was anything we might have to kill to make a profit.
Alpacas waltzed across our television screen one night, and we were fascinated. After visiting the ranch we saw on tv, we knew we had found the perfect business, no kill, great for small children, potential for profit... and those faces. My heart was hooked!
When we started out on our new adventure, we learned everything we could, we attended seminars, bought books, spent days at the ranch where we eventually bought our animals - and basically lived and breathed these guys for months before we made the move. Finding the perfect mentor ranch was very important, and we were so lucky to have found our friends John and Tina Malkus at Alpaca de la Pacifica. I still call them and ask for advice 7 years later. You guys are wonderful, what would I ever do without you?
Ranching in a new industry like alpacas is a learning process. Husbandry is continually evolving as we learn new and better ways to care for these guys. Since I am the one who runs the day to day of the ranch, I still go to educational events, and we host them here at our ranch. I am also on the development committee for the Alpaca Research Foundation- who secures funding for new studies in subjects that will help us keep up with new concerns and innovations in our industry. Continuing education is vital to our future. Our families were amazed at how much we learned so quickly, but to us it was just love of the animal that led to our quick study :)
The joys of alpaca ownership are many, the peace of just being in their presence is not easily explained, it is something that one needs to experience personally to understand. The smiles a new cria can bring are heartwarming, and the creation of a new creature that you 'designed' for lack of a better term, through your very own, ranch specific breeding program continually amaze. It just never gets old. The deep breath you take after a difficult delivery with a positive outcome, or the favorable response to treatment of a sick animal are differing types of joy as well. Heck, just walking outside when you are having a really crappy day and having your heart softened in ten minutes time just by being in the same general space as they are is worth everything.
I have held the head of a very old, very sick friend as the life left his tired eyes- then buried him. I have fought to save the life of a newborn cria who crashed after birth, and cried what seemed like endless tears when a life was taken suddenly and without warning. The decision to end a life because an animal is suffering is one that every animal owner will have to make at least once in their lives. When you are a ranch owner, your chances for having to make the hard choice multiply. It never gets any easier, ever. You say, it is livestock, and with livestock- you have dead stock, it is just a fact of life. But tell that to your heart....
Sometimes death is greeted with a sense of relief, suffering ended, peace at last. But sometimes, when death strikes without warning you are left standing there in the wind with your soul in tatters around you while your heart is ripped open just asking WHY??
We have always believed that God gave us stewardship over the creatures of this earth. To be a good steward is to have respect for them, care for them, and provide for their needs. So, this we do to the best of our abilities. The questions why, and what could have been done differently, and how does this change the way we do ____? those are all a part of this stewardship- difficult as they are.
When a life is involved the looking back and asking of those tough questions is what tears you up the most. In talking with hundreds of breeders across the country, this is what they say. Even though you know, the vet knows, everyone knows there was nothing else you could do... you still feel the pain of not doing enough. Surely I could have done something more.... if only we had done (fill in the blank)........
Some people say that it's only an animal. And sure, we have over 20 on our property give or take a few at any given time, but I know each and every one of them. Every one. Their personalities, likes and dislikes- and their health status at any given time, can be rattled off easily. Whether my own alpaca, or one who belongs to someone boarding here, or one who is just here for a short time for a breeding- they are all precious to me.
Tell me animals have no souls and I won't believe you. Too many owners and breeders have I spoken to about this very thing, we know better. We have watched mothers mourn their lost babes, they grieve, they cry and they ask us why with their big, expressive eyes and soulful cries. We have seen a new cria orphaned as momma was taken suddenly, and before her time. They ask you why, they cry for days, sometimes weeks every time they see you- "Are you bringing my momma back??" and fight as you tube or bottle feed to save their life, and eventually they learn to move on. Some mothers don't ever quite trust you again after seeing you take their dead cria away from them. It is enough to break your heart.
We have seen our share of life and death in our seven years in this business. My heart is not in one piece anymore. Whenever something terrible happens, I think I just can't take anymore.
Then, a new cria is born and I fall in love all over again with this life and my job. Or my home girl Osita will gently blow her cud breath in my face as she cushes right next to me while I'm sitting in her pen and says, "See, I told you it was worth it, I'm still here aren't I? This is what it's all about."
Maybe the day will come when my heart just won't be able to take anymore. But it is not this day.
To those who have gone on before us, we will never forget you.
To those you have left behind- we will never be the same again.
Your presence in our lives has left a permanent 'footprint' on our hearts.
We look forward with great joy to the day when we will be able to see you again.
This is for you.