Tuesday, April 10, 2007

life & death on a farm- - reposted by request

This post, the 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' post, and 'The Sari Incident' post are all older blogs from last year. But my friend Carol asked me to post them again, so I will!

Since I am going to be super busy the next week or so preparing to go to Kentucky, these just might be the last you hear from me until after the 20th! If so- Love all of you!
Here they are, and here is a picture of "Little Boy" (now named
Quickbeam) and his friends. His 'momma' Heathertoes is the brown (who is actually gray under all that fleece) cria with him.
I hope you enjoy them!

Hello faithful readers,
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.
Then, when my heart had healed a little bit- I posted this (I actually just snipped it from a longer post):
I think I can write about what was hurting my heart last week now. On Sunday September 24, I went outside to do a routine check and found one of our female alpacas dead. It was the mom of the little white cria I wrote about (his picture with his mouth open). So, of course I was totally freaked out, there was nothing wrong with her that we could see, no signs of a struggle- she had hay in her mouth (had been eating last time I looked) wasn't sick, nothing at all to indicate what happened. I tried to revive her, but couldn't.
Her little one was freaked out as well, and after resuscitation failed, we had to take her away from him and put her somewhere safe until we could get her to the state lab the following morning for a necropsy. A necropsy is an autopsy for animals. I couldn't believe it when I saw it, my mind just couldn't comprehend what I was seeing. I thought she was just laying in a weird position, that she was sleeping heavily, that I could easily bring her back.... All her herd mates came over to see what I was wailing about after I found her. I did wail, loud and long. I was so sad, and it seemed to help the rest of the herd to weep with me.
Not a lot of time to lose it though, there was this wee little one to take care of. He was only 2 weeks old, and didn't understand what had happened. He needed to be fed, and watched closely to make sure he didn't hurt himself trying to find his mom. Remember that post about loss I wrote? It was right after this happened. That was me standing in the wind with my soul in tatters asking why.... Remember how I wrote about how some crias will fight supplementation, because they want mom? That you have to literally force it, and then sometimes they just give up? Well, not this guy. It took him a few days to figure out mom wasn't coming back, and food was from now on coming from a bottle, but he DID get it thank God. He is now taking supplementation without a fight, and has maintained his weight, and even gained a little bit in the week since his momma died.
Poor little one, it just breaks my heart... how hard I will fight for him to keep alive and well! So after the necropsy, we look at the results to see what happened. What went wrong? How do we fix it? God forbid, if we did something wrong, how do we make sure it never happens again?
Well, nothing was wrong. Nothing was abnormal, nothing unusual, nothing.... So, sometimes things happen. The pathologist who did the necropsy said it's like that with people, sometimes they just die and there's nothing to say why they did. So, it is kind of a weird thing. On the one hand, no disease, no parasites, no toxins. No heart trouble, no stomach trouble, nothing. Other hand, what happened?? So, sad times. A stunningly beautiful alpaca dead long before her time. A little orphaned cria having to go through life alone.
This is the first time this has happened to us. We have lost new crias in the past- who have been premature, or sick. Lost our Bob the Llama when he got old and sick.... but never an adult, a momma, a healthy thriving alpaca. Sometimes when something happens like this, the rest of the herd shuns the little one. Especially when all the other females in the pen are moms with newer crias. Little ones who have lost their mommas miss out on that momma lovin they would normally get. They get depressed and lonely and just give up.
Enter my Osita. She has a 4 month old female cria, who is almost as big as her mom now (super Jersey Cow Osita!). Osita won't let the little guy nurse on her, but she has let him join her 'family'. She lets him rub up against her neck, and tolerates his rough housing. Her cria lets him play nurse on her, and isn't jealous of him. He sleeps squoze in between them both. He is able to get that much needed physical alpaca contact so vital to his wellbeing. Even for Osita this is unusual behavior. She doesn't tolerate other crias around her (on a regular basis anyway) at all.... usually. So, between the 2 leggers feeding him physically, and Osita feeding him emotionally- the little guy has a good chance. As time goes on all of our broken hearts will heal, although with a piece missing.
This was such a difficult time...............


Anonymous said...

Beautifully writte3n post.

I got here from the AlpacaGeldings post. I feel for you guys, I really do. If we weren't on the other side of the country...

My family is going through some hard times, too (how long do you stay with an employer when they aren't paying you?). I keep telling my other half that we WILL get through this, one day at a time. That's really the only way to manage the hard spots--watch where you step, keep slogging through and eventually you will make it out the other side. The trick is to do it all without looking too closely at what's ahead of you. If you do, you get discouraged.

Thanks for letting me ramble. I just wanted to let you know that you aren't alone in the rough spot--and that we all WILL make it through.

Fayetteville, NC

Rachelle Black said...

Hi Marna,
Thanks for dropping in :)
I know, sometimes life is incredibly fantastic, a beautiful wild ride. And sometimes it is a terrifying downward slide and all you can do is hang on for dear life.

I will keep you and your family in my prayers, and send positive thoughts your way.

Thanks for sharing your story with me! We will get through this, together we are stronger.
Stpo by and visit again, and keep in touch okay?

Mousie said...

oh dear , I just remember one year ago , when i had to take my old dog to the vet, as she was suffering too much...and the small dog at home cried for a whole week didn't want to eat, and hardly sleep, at the end he came in my bed very tight close to my belly and went to sleep...the old dog was not his mum but just the same...you see when i pick up Tao on the pavement in front of the station, he couldn't feed himself alone...but there he is and we love him, and we miss the old one so much...Mousie

Rachelle Black said...

Mousie my dear,
Losing an animal is a terrible thing. I can't bear to think of what I would do without my Lumpy dog, I just can't bear it....
Hug for you, and me too.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Rachelle,

I've posted your question and my advice to you, along with a link to your site.



Shrink wrapped scream said...

Oh Rachelle,

The love, howling losses, and the sheer tenacity of your spirit, is a living testamony to the ability within you, to overcome and embrace all that life will throw. I wish you (and your extended family) joy and peace. You are a rare ray of hope, in a world that so needs it. (You are also a writer, my friend.)

From me to you, your own friend, Carol. x

phaseoutgirl said...


I don't think I have ever seen an alpaca. One of these days I just might go look for a farm close by that has it, and visit!

Lovely post..


Rachelle Black said...

You are welcome to drop in here at any time... but of course there are places closer to you :))
Thanks- these were really long posts, some of my first ones.
I hope to learn how to convey everything inside with less verbosity eventually!

Rachelle Black said...

Carol- thanks so much!
You know, the more I read these older posts the more I say "No wonder no one visited then!! I mean, sheesh... looooooooong, loooooong, loooooong!

Anonymous said...