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The CAP Report

Dar Long: Posted on June 22, 2013 10:16 AM

95% of alpaca births happen without any issues and require no human intervention. It's an important thing to remember as you sit in the barn worrying about an alpaca in labour. There are specific guidelines established to help you decide when assistance might be required - and just what kind of assistance that might be - but that's not what this post is about. You can go HERE to read about that.

This is a story about Baby L. 

Last summer was a tough one for alpaca births in this area. The early and extreme heat caught both humans and animals unaware, and we had a few births complicated by bad positioning and heat stress that required some help. When Miss L's labour went overtime and she seemed no closer to delivering, a quick check revealed that Baby L was trying to come into this world shoulders first. With the Vet on the way, I used my human midwife skills to try and rotate the cria and managed to get him partially turned. The Vet and I worked for an additional 45 minutes rotating and finally pulling out a very shaky but otherwise okay baby boy. Poor Miss L had a very rough delivery, and since baby was sitting up and okay we worked on making mom more comfortable.

Baby L was adorable and as mom recovered from the initial shock of the traumatic birth she nuzzled her wee boy and encouraged him to stand. When crias first stand up it's kind of like that scene from Bambi - they are all wobbly and it takes some practice for them to get used to their legs. As Baby L stood up and tried his first few steps I knew immediately this was different - something was very wrong.

His legs appeared to pull to one side - front and back. The more he tried to walk the worse it got. I was beside myself. I don't get like that often. Was it nerve damage? A stroke? I had no idea. I picked him up and held him as tears rolled down my face. His mom had laboured so hard and I was still covered in her blood. After working so hard to be born it was heartbreaking that Baby L's struggles weren't over yet. We called the Vet back.

In horses they call it "windswept legs" and it's usually the result of a bad position in utero. Mild cases can resolve with a few simple measures and time. Baby L had both front and back legs affected - in opposite directions. One of his rear legs could not touch the ground because it stuck out at the hip.

The vet had never seen this in alpacas, but a horse so badly affected would have limited options. The possibility that Baby L would never use his legs and the difficult choices that would bring was never far from our minds. Calls were made to the Vet school and slowly a treatment plan came together. Using a combination of activity restriction, soft splinting and passive gentle stretching we would try to support the delicate growth plates in the knee and stretch the tendons and ligaments to allow more normal positioning. He had worked so hard to be born, we figured we owed it to him to give him the best chance at a normal alpaca life. Plus, he was cute as all get out.

We kept him with mom and his grandmother in a small area in the barn where they could see other alpacas but couldn't run with them. I felt bad having to separate him from the other new crias, but I knew he would try to keep up with them and potentially crush the bones in his leg. Every morning and every night I massaged his legs and gently bent them into shape. After 3 days I would use soft gauze and foam to softly splint his legs into position each night, and remove the splints in the morning to let him strengthen his tendons. By the end of the first week all four feet could touch the ground at the same time. 

Our Vet team made many follow up visits, and while some were dubious about our therapy regime, it was clear that Baby L was growing stronger and getting better. It took many weeks of careful monitoring and care before we knew for sure his legs would be able to support his growing weight. I started him on an enhanced nutrition program to make sure he had the minerals he would need to heal as well as make sure his weight gain was slow and steady. His mom seemed to know we were trying to help and she was very good about letting us work with Baby L.

Nearly a year has gone by and the days of watching and worrying seem like a distant memory. Baby L is a big strapping (almost) yearling who runs and jumps with his buddies and shows no sign of any angular limb deformity. He has a sweet disposition, luscious fibre, and he's very tolerant of the humans that occasionally give him the once over. A year ago I was hopeful that someday Baby L would be able to support his own weight and walk well enough to live a normal life. After such a rough start, I wasn't sure we could expect much more than that.

Today I know better. Baby L has taught me that will to live and determination to overcome obstacles are not just human qualities. This little guy fought hard to stand, move, walk, run and play like the other crias. The least we could do was join the fight.

Just after shearing here is Baby L today:

**I've included only the mildest, least graphic, photos here. Photos do not show the extent of the original deformity, but hopefully convey the general idea in case others are looking for info on the condition in alpacas. Please contact me for more details.

Dar: Posted on March 17, 2013 2:17 PM

Is it still winter where you are? Here at the farm and fibre mill, we still have not shaken old man winter, so my imagination has been working overtime thinking about all of the gorgeous colours of spring. But first, meet Cosmo:

Isn't he beautiful? He's a sweet boy (and also the "Best in Show Suri" at the 2012 Rockton World's Fair) and I decided to dye some of his raw fibre. Given the endless supply of snow February brought us, I was dreaming about Caribbean waters and tropical temperatures - and perhaps the occasional rum punch. When you look at the end result - keep that in mind. : )

So first I selected some of the fibre, and picked out the unwanted stuff - that would be anything you do NOT want in your end product.

Yes Pixel, this means you.

Cosmo, like many of my boys, manages to cover himself in whatever happens to be in his paddock at the moment - so this part kept me busy. In the mill entire fleeces are spread out on skirting screens and we can shake out dirt and little short bits etc., but since I was only dyeing about a pound of fibre, my kitchen worked fine.

The next step is washing the fibre, and one of those mesh bags for fine washables or mesh laundry bags with drawstrings works well to soak your fibre. Use hot water and fill a wash tub, using about a teaspoon or so (depending on how much fibre you are washing) of either a basic baby shampoo, or a fine washables commercial detergent. (I have also used Dawn dish soap but don't tell anyone.)

Be sure to tie the bag securely - fibre likes to escape. When the sink or tub is filled with hot water and whatever soap/detergent you are using, only then add your bag of fibre. Gently push it under the water and hold it there until the bag and fibre are soaked, then let it soak for 15 minutes. RESIST THE URGE TO SWISH OR SQUEEZE! Agitation of wet fibre causes felting. Really. Unless you want a solid clump of felted fibre that would make an ideal Halloween decoration, be careful!

After 15 minutes, remove the fibre bag, drain the sink/tub and fill wit fresh hot water - no soap - for rinse. Repeat the above until the water you drain away is pretty clear. You can use the spin cycle of your washing machine for about 15 seconds to drain the excess water. Open the bag and spread on a towel to dry slightly before dyeing. 

Right about now is when I usually let my "Inner Space Geek" loose and declare (in my best Klingon voice) "TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO DYE..."

That part is strictly optional.

For the rest of you, fill a large pot with water and turn the burner on.

At this point you should follow the instructions that come with your dye. Unless you are me.

I'm going for a two toned effect with this fibre, so that means I'm going to start by adding about 3/4 cup of vinegar to the pot of water, then add my still damp fibre. I'll mix up my two colours, for this batch that would be Kelly Green and Turquoise, and put them into squirt bottles.

When the fibre starts to boil (for those using a thermometer that would be about 95C or 200F - just before the true boiling point) I use the Kelly Green and squirt it directly onto the fibre in the pot while stirring with a spoon. I'll pick up globs of fibre and squirt them then put them back into the steaming pot. I do this until I am happy with the result, put a lid on it for 2 minutes, then turn the burner off and let it sit to cool off for about 20 mins.

Then it's time to add the second colour, so I turn the heat on and just when the fibre starts to boil I apply the second colour the same way I did the first - only I carefully watch to be sure I get just enough colour to create highlights. I let it cool down quite a bit (an hour or so) before I dump it into a sink and rinse. This is what I get:

It's far prettier in real life. You can't really see the intense colour or the lustre here, but trust me, it is lovely.

I was so inspired, I tried another batch. I started off with Sunflower yellow.

When that was cooled a bit, I mixed up a mixture of orange and red called Tangelo, and when the fibre was starting to boil again I applied it carefully - I didn't want to drown out the lighter yellow. This is the result:

When everything was dry, I bagged the fibre and voila:

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