Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cabin Fever, Begone!

My husband will tell you that I have been growing increasingly more grumpy the longer I have been confined to the house by the frigid weather...and he would be right! I have snapped at him for no really good reason on several occasions over the past four or five days. Yesterday Rich even told me to go visit the grandkids who were out of school today and that involves a drive of an hour and a half. Instead I contacted one of my good friends and drove over to meet her for lunch today. A wise move. We arrived at the restaurant at noon and two hours later, when the place had emptied out and the servers were cleaning up the buffet and shooting irritated looks at us we were still chatting. We both must have needed this outing.

This evening, just after Rich got home and before we sat down to supper, we went out to the barn to release the herd into the pasture for the first time in a week. Last Wednesday evening when the temperatures first sank below zero and the wind chills were worse we confined the animals to the barn. They are comfortable in there and don't seem to mind it too much. During the daytime, Rich opens the barn door enough for them to see outside and vent the moisture out. He puts up a gate so that they cannot get out but can see outside. When we went out this evening, this is what we saw:

Actually, at first all five were gazing wistfully outside but Took and Asterius were the only two left by the time I had taken off my gloves, turned on the camera and snapped the picture. The others had their attention diverted by Rich who had entered the barn by the other door.

I helped Rich harness up Nikko and lead him over into his own pasture and then I set myself up with the camera just outside their door so that I could catch the picture when Rich removed the gate. This is what I captured as they rushed out into the pasture:

The kids had been suffering from a bout of cabin fever just like me and could hardly wait to play in the snow. Leading the pack is Took with her "baby" Asterius on her right and her grown up daughter, Mango on her left. Brutus is in the middle of the pack and Leezza is bringing up the rear. You can see Nikko in the background checking out the "condo" that he hadn't seen in the past week. What followed was a joyful sight as they rolled and romped in the snow.

First they walked around in the area cleared out by my wonderful brother-in-law, Danny, with the tractor bucket. Just checking out the snow drifts. Then as a group they ran back into the barn when they heard Rich fill the feed bins.

Once in the barn they all took a quick nibble of sweet feed and then one-by-one ran back out into the pasture. Brutus and Asterius were leaping and twisting and romping around so joyfully that we just had to laugh!

Even Mango, who is a mature, pregnant young lady now, had to gleefully kick up her heels a bit, too.

They rolled in the snow:

And climbed on it:

When my hands started turning blue and I could no longer feel the buttons on the camera to snap any more pictures I had to give up and go inside and leave them to their playing. After dinner, when Rich went out at sundown, they were still enjoying their freedom. I peeked out a few minutes ago and could see their shadows in the dark still moving about the pasture. These amazing animals are native to the high plains of Peru and their thick, crimpy fleece insulates them against cold winter temperatures. More than likely they will all sleep outside tonight and Rich will find them with a layer of frost on their backs in the morning.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Brutus, Blizzard Winds, A Candle Light Dinner And A Red Sweater

Ten degrees outside with 40-45  mile an hour wind gusts and snow on the way. Yup! Looks like a homemade pizza night instead of our usual Friday night date night. Pizza by candle light will make it a bit more romantic I guess.

I had the vet come out late this afternoon to check out Brutus's "goopy" eye. We have been treating for infection for the past month and the eye seems to clear up then returns a week later. Dr. Brothers was on call today and I was grateful that he came out in this awful, frigid, windy weather. He examined Brutus's eye carefully and checked him out all over. His final diagnosis was that Brutus is generally healthy but could have one of two things going on with the eye. It could be an ingrown eyelash that is nearly impossible to see with our naked eye because Brutus is brown, his lashes are black and the rims of his eyes are black. There doesn't seem to be any small lumps there. Another possibility could be an underdeveloped sinus cavity that prevents the nose from draining properly and forces the gunk up and out of his eye. Either way, we just need to watch it carefully for signs of infection. Eventually he may just outgrow it.

I was glad to hear this because I really had no great desire to go out into this uber polar weather twice a day to treat Brutus's eye with any more medicines. It is so much easier just feed the animals and visually check out the eye. Brutus doesn't seem concerned with it and it surely hasn't affected his appetite or energy levels.

I don't have any new alpaca pictures today. The barn is a bit too dark for good pictures. So Callie gets to take center stage in tonight's blog. She would like that if she were aware, since she is more than a bit jealous when we pay more attention to the alpacas than to her. I knitted a doggie sweater for Callie last year. A really big doggie sweater that she didn't get to wear much because it was so mild last winter. This year it has gotten some mileage. We have put it on her so often that when I pick it up she comes running  because she knows we are going outside. I must say she does look pretty in her red, cabled sweater. The contrast between her black fur, the red sweater and the snow outside makes for a striking picture. She's a pretty girl and she knows it.

The amaryllis that my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas is in full bloom today. The brilliant, orangey-red triple flower looks very cheerful in the living room. It holds a promise of spring even if the weather outside says otherwise.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Brutus Outsmarts Asterius

Rich and I just came in from performing the nightly barn chores: feed, water, hay, etc. He filled some extra buckets with water and put them in the heated shop in preparation for the below zero weather that is coming tomorrow. Rich went up to do his time on the stationary bike (I did mine just before he came home for dinner) and this seemed the perfect time to settle down with a cup of tea and update the blog.

I have the nightly news on television in the background and I just heard the weather person say that our county is still on a Level 1 snow emergency and driving is a bit hazardous. He suggested that maybe we should stay home unless we had to go out. Oops! I went out this afternoon to meet some friends for lunch. Probably not absolutely necessary, but enjoyable. I met with my friend, Debbie, who is still teaching but had today off for Martin Luther King Day, and Linda, who retired from teaching last spring at the same time I did. Socializing with my colleagues is probably the thing I miss most about teaching. I was so lucky to work with great teachers who are also easy to get along with. We had a great staff.

Saturday, Rich and I went down to watch our grandson, Max, play basketball. It was the only game all season that was scheduled for a Saturday and we didn't want to miss the opportunity to see him play. It was an exciting game and Max (#4)  helped the team win with one basket and diligent fending off of the opposition. Attending a seventh grade game with the cheerleaders and cheering students was reminiscent of my years spent teaching middle school.

Sunday afternoon, we took Rich's mom to calling hours at the local funeral home. The mother of one of Rich's oldest friends died. She had also been friends with my mother-in-law for over 57 years. They met as young mothers when they joined the Mother's Club. The whole bunch are still meeting regularly after all these years. It's rare to have a group of women friends that hang together that long in this day and age.

An update on little Brutus...he has figured out that when he and Asterius, who is a month older and much bigger, are playing and the bigger boy gets a little too rough, all he has to do is run to one of his sisters, turn and puff air at Asterius. Whichever sister, Mango or Leezza, is his protector at the moment also puffs an air spit and Asterius backs off. Brilliant! Brutus is a smart little guy.

I witnessed this behavior several times this morning when I was out there watching them play. At first I didn't believe what I was seeing. I thought maybe it was a one time off occurrence. But Brutus repeated this several times, first running up to Asterius to encourage him to play and then when the going got rough, Brutus ran to the nearest big sister. I couldn't help but laugh at the ingenuity of the little guy.

Brutus is still the first one to run into the barn when he sees us inside filling the feed troughs.

The others usually aren't far behind.

Yesterday I finished the "Braided Glory" Shawl that I started when the weather first got rough causing everything to shut down and forcing us inside. It is a project that I started because I had the yarn and pattern and needed something to keep me from going stir crazy. Today I blocked it out on the kitchen table where it will probably lay for a few days while it dries. It should be ready to wear before the weather warms up. Not likely to happen in the near future.

I am using the leftover skein of yarn to make a beret to match. I hadn't planned to make a hat but the three skeins of sock yarn I ordered a couple of weeks ago (shhhh! Don't tell Rich I bought more yarn) hasn't arrived yet and I need to keep busy in the evenings so I don't snack. Well, that's my excuse anyhow and I'm sticking to it!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January 8th

I just had to go out for a walk this afternoon and take advantage of the dry pavement, mild breeze (as opposed to the gales we've had lately) and the beautiful sunshine. Callie appreciated it, too. She's always up for a walk and fairly dances whenever someone picks up her leash. There'll be more snow tonight and tomorrow. We will again be forced to exercise inside; but for today, we walk.

Last week, when the temperatures were 50 degrees lower, at minus 15, with blizzard force winds, and even Rich's work was cancelled, both of us vegged inside. The only time "we" (Rich) went out was to perform routine care of the alpacas. On Sunday the 5th, the eve of the temperature dive, Rich's brother, Danny, and I went out to help round up the animals and lock them in the barn. Rich even rigged up a barrier between the "girls" side and the storage area in the entryway  so that Nikko could be confined in the main barn, too. I believe that's the last time I went out for the next three days.

When the temperature moderated a bit on January 8th, I accompanied Rich out to the barn when he got home from work to transfer Nikko to his pasture and open the door to free up the rest of the herd. Rich carefully slid open the main barn door a crack so as not to let Nikko escape. Imagine our surprise when that proved totally unnecessary. Nikko was gone! After a moment of panic we realized that a very happy Nikko was peering at us from among his harem on the other side of the gate. Somehow he had jostled the latch loose and entered the girls boudoir.

We quickly cornered the little stud, harnessed him up and led him over to his own pasture. Our beautiful Leezza seemed unconcerned. Mango, who is supposed to be pregnant and her mother Took, who is not, were both stressed out and mouth breathing. This mouth breathing is something alpacas do when they have "sour mouth" which occurs after they have hocked up a spit from the depths of their three-chambered stomach. Alpacas have three categories of spits. The first is just an "air" spit; a warning to back off. The second may contain some saliva and grass remnants and is a more serious warning that you're really bugging them. The third contains partially digested matter and slimes the recipient leaving an awful smell. Fortunately, unlike llamas, alpacas rarely spit at people. I am pretty sure that Nikko was trying to "sow his wild oats," to use a trite old metaphor, and probably got the big spit from Mango and Took.

Our dilemma now is, Mango is pregnant, and Took is....well, who knows? We had planned to breed Took to Nikko but not until late summer. Alpacas are pregnant for 345 days; with an margin of 5 days either way. No one really wants to have crias in the middle of a bad winter like this one so most breed for late spring or early fall births. Mango and Leezza are due in late August of September and we were planning to breed Tookie in spring. The choice may have already been made for us.

Little Brutus is doing very well. He is a voracious eater and doesn't seem to be mourning his mama Firenze. We miss her and the pasture seems to be missing a certain something without Firenze. Mango and Leezza, Brutus's big (half) sisters do seem to be looking after him. Mango and Leezza hover near him in the pasture and let him sleep near them at night. He's a survivor, no doubt about it.

Just one more totally unrelated comment...Happy 13th Anniversary to Rich, undoubtedly the most patient and thoughtful man in the world.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Brutus and the Bitter Weather

The weather has turned bitterly cold; -15 degrees at present with winds gusting to 35 mph. We were prepared for more snow but lucked out with only an inch more than we had before. Knowing that this was coming helped us prepare the barn and the animals. In the storage area Rich cleaned up and stowed everything out of the way that could harm a curious animal. He even raised the dividing fence and gate by another foot. This area has become Nikko's temporary living area for the duration of the record low temperatures, wind and snow. The girls and the two little boys are confined to the other half of the snug little barn.

Since his mother, Firenze, died three days ago, I have been swamped with questions from caring friends on Facebook and in person about the condition of her little cria, Brutus. We have been observing him for signs of mourning as instructed by the vet; mooning about, humming in distress and most importantly, lack of appetite. I am happy to report that the little guy is the first one to the feed trough and the last one to leave it. He has been eating solid foods for the past two months and has a hearty appetite. That's Brutus, partially hidden by his chubby, month older, half-brother, Asterius! If one of the other animals tries to crowd him out he just pushes into another position further down the trough! Because of the impending nasty weather, I bought an insulated man's red coat at Walmart on Saturday afternoon. Brutus has outgrown the newborn cria coat and the next size larger that I had made out of one of Rich's old coats. He wasn't big enough yet for his mama's old coat so on Sunday morning I measured the little guy while Rich held him as he wiggled around in protest. Then I cut up the new red coat (only $30) and made Brutus a new one. He sure looks handsome, even with the duct tape band around his middle to hold it on!

We have also noticed that his older half-sisters, Mango and Leezza, seem to be keeping an eye on him when he plays and when he wants to hang with them they don't kick him away like they do Asterius. Even Took, just walked away when he tried to nurse on her and didn't get forceful with him. They all seem to be looking out for the little guy but we'll keep a special eye on him for a while anyway as a precaution.

The kids seem to be doing well  confined in the barn. I know they'd rather be out romping in the pasture but when it's this windy they tend to stay inside anyway. We have to be careful to lock the barn door so Nikko doesn't escape but that's what a good farmer does anyway. It's a habit you build early on. And when we enter the barn the door can only be opened enough to squeeze inside. No problem. All of the animals are eating, drinking and doing what animals do in the barn so that when Rich goes out there he gets a bit of exercise shoveling.
Rich and Callie, napping on the floor.

So with the animals snug in the barn and Rich, Callie and I snug in the house we ride out the storm.

Mango w/Asterius in the background at dinner time.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Firenze, 2001-2014

Our beautiful black Firenze died shortly before sunrise this morning. She had been battling a particularly insidious intestinal parasite for some time and, in fact, had seemed to be winning for the past week. Apparently this particular parasite is one that can lie dormant for years and then flare up when the animal is under stress, which is what happened when her cria was born in September. Since then the vet had been treating her and things seemed to have improved.

Then yesterday, when Rich went out to feed her she was reluctant to get up; instead of being the first one at the feeding trough as usual, she was the last. Because it was so bitterly cold and windy yesterday, Rich had confined the herd to the barn. When checked, Firenze was laying peacefully along with the others in the straw. Then when we went out to feed the animals at 4:30 Firenze was "down" and  did not lift her head when we entered. She was breathing with difficulty. We called the vet  and she arrived within 30 minutes.

Firenze was diagnosed with pneumonia and possible anemia by the vet who told us that this parasite had compromised her immune system. She gave Firenze several shots and helped us put the animal in a kush and prop her up with bales of hay on each side. Rich checked her before we went to bet and there was no change. When we went out at 5:30 this morning she was gone.

From the moment she arrived in October, 2013 she assumed her rightful position as the Queen of the Herd. Took, Leezza and Mango, who had arrived in September, 2013, had all been very timid and slightly disoriented until then. From the moment  Firenze emerged from the back of the minivan that was her unconventional "ride," and entered the pasture the others deferred to her and followed her lead. They no longer shied away from Callie, who chased along the fence stirring them up on purpose. Firenze walked calmly toward the fence where Callie barked, and faced her down. Callie realized immediately that Firenze wasn't easily scared off and in fact might be a threat. The other girls followed suit and stood their ground...right behind Firenze!

When Firenze entered the barn, the rest followed. If she wanted to graze in the pasture or just bask in the sun, the other girls did the same. Firenze got the preferred spot at the feeding trough, the hay bin or out in the pasture and when any of the others dared to challenge her they got an "air spit" or a neck nudge from her as a warning. She easily delivered an adorable brown male cria in September  and proved to be a nurturing and protective mother.

Rich named the little guy Brutus in honor of the Ohio State mascot. He is a bit small for his age, but he's healthy and growing steadily. He started eating solid food and grazing at an early age, probably because Firenze's milk didn't contain quite enough nutrition for him. The vet assured us that Brutus will probably do well on solid food alone. We will watch him closely for signs of mourning and hope that the rest of the herd will offer comfort to him. He will miss his mama, Firenze. We will, too.