This is going to be a long one ladies and gents. Pour yourself a cuppa or something stronger....
We always knew we would be paranoid when we realised Lily the alpaca was pregnant again. It was almost planned! About a year ago Alan and I had discussed getting the girls pregnant. It was going to be Lily's last attempt as she had sadly lost her last two cria. The previous two were both born a month premature. The first arrived on the day one of my granddaughters was born, and I was in England. She lived for 4 days, and poor Alan had to deal with the nightmare on his own. The second baby lived just a matter of hours and died beside Lily and myself. How on earth were we going to cope if this baby had problems!
The boys must have great hearing or intuition, as a matter of days after we had discussed matings, big Arf the mastin was going ballistic in the middle of the night. Arthur is very good at letting us know when something is going on that we should know about. It may be a kitten close to his lookout point, or an alpaca nibbling a tree it shouldn't, he's always first to inform us. He's a good lad! Alan dashed out in his boxers and found the boys in with the girls. The great thing about living so rural is that you can be in your underwear most of the day and not be seen! I called through the window to see if he needed help. He called back "Can you bring me a t-shirt and a torch. The bloody boys are in with the girls, and I'm having a problem seperating them!" Usually most things can be stopped with a bucket of food, yes even that, and eventually calm was restored. For anyone that doesn't know, alpacas are self induced ovulaters, the females don't have a 'season'. When they mate the egg is released. I remember having this conversation with a young Canadian man, who was delighted to think for about 10 seconds that female alpacas laid eggs!
The deeds had been done and we were doing everything we could to keep the girls, especially Lily, stress free. Alan went back to England for a long weekend at the beginning of June and the day he came back we noticed Lily's rear end, when she was lying down was bulging, like there was a little nose there, just ready to make an appearance. So from then our worries really started. Thankfully that bulge did not make an appearance until Friday August 15th.
We had been setting the alarm for 7am, and basically checking the girls, especially Lily about every half hour. The longer she went, the happier we were. On Friday 15th Alan fed the girls to enable him to have a good look at them at 11.30am. At 12 he toddled off again, and came running back panting "She's had the baby!" Sure enough a baby was on the floor of the stable. Lily was standing over it, looking as proud as punch. The cria was flat on the floor, just trying to lift it's head, it was still very wet with the membranes from the birthing sack all over him. Alan dried the cria gently, he checked the cord wasn't bleeding and he put iodine on it. We were rather chuffed to see it was a boy, as Lily's last two cria were girls. We sat on the floor giving them some space, and whilst wondering how we could have missed the birth when we have hardly taken our eyes off her, we watched and waited in awe at the miracle of the birth we had just missed.
The minutes went by and this little boy struggled to get to his feet and we gasped and "awww'ed" as he would fall to the floor again. He would summon up all his strength and try again, time after time. Once he was up he would be able to look for the milk supply and hopefully start feeding. Alan and I weren't moving from the floor in the barn anytime soon, although we were getting bitten to smithereens by some sort of blasted nibbling flies that wanted our blood! Alan was getting anxious that the little boy was taking his time standing, and that maybe he would not be able to feed. I tried to calm Alan down reminding him it was very early afternoon, he had the rest of the day until nightfall, before we needed to worry. The last thing we wanted was Lily and her cria to feel any stress from us. Plus I really did think he would get there, eventually.
Time went on, and even I began to worry a little. The little fella was up on his feet but he was struggling to find the udders, and when he did all he seemed to do was lick them. Of course we tried to help him latch on as you would to a human baby but he couldn't seem to get the hang of it. He was exhausted and wanted to sleep, but we knew he would be hungry too. We made a decision to give him powdered colostrum. We knew it wasn't perfect for him but at that stage we thought it was the best option. Like a baby with a bottle for the first time it didn't go perfectly but he did manage to take some. We were then happy for him to have a little sleep. We checked Lily's udders to see if she had milk, and she had it in all 4, although very little was coming out. We collected what we could and the most we got was 4 mls! We guessed we were having to go down the bottle feeding route and Alan did as much research as he could online with regard to which milk he should have.
If any other alpaca owners are reading this, please remember that we live in a very rural part of Spain, and I sometimes question our craziness in having these beautiful animals here. We are lucky in the fact that we have very little humidity, even though we do have very high temperatures. We don't have any goat farms near us that we know of (although in the last couple of weeks we have been informed by our vet that there is one) so we do what we can for our animals, although we know we don't always have the facilities that other alpaca owners have.
The first milestone to cross is always the birth, the next being alive for 24 hours, which Lily's previous baby sadly did not. We were doing well! We knew we would not relax until baby had passed 4 days, and then at a week old we would shout of our joy from the roof tops!
So this 'Little Fella' was bottle feeding, he was enjoying it immensly and made cute moans like a baby does when having milk. We began to be aware that we hadn't seen him have a poo. Although apparently they only do a tiny bit and it can be easy to miss, but something worried us and we discussed it with our vet. He suggested we wait until his second day and if we still hadn't seen anything to try an enema. Alan is not an enema specialist, but it's suprising what you can do when you feel you have too. The strange thing was the tube came out as clean as it went in. The vet suggested to give him a gentle laxative as the milk needed a bit of help moving from his tummy.
At first he enjoyed the laxative, we put it in a syringe and he lapped it up, I also thought maybe he was thirsty so we also gave him a little water too which he also enjoyed. All this time he was still trying to feed from his mum, but we didn't think he was managing to get any or much milk. The laxatives and enemas seems to be working and Alan and I began to relax. Especially when we passed day 4! On around Day 8 Alan emailed a lady that had been a part of Alan's crowd funder project last year. He had raised some funds for publicity, and one of the rewards was to name a cria. We had been in touch previously and informed the lady of the birth, but she knew we wanted a few more days before we named him. She was delighted to hear he was doing well and her and her daughter named him 'Milagro' It is Spanish for miracle, and we thought it was the perfect name for our little miracle boy. In fact we even went out for a drink and a bite to eat with friends on day 7. Then sadly things then changed on day 8! The swimming pool hoover had broken, and so we decided to nip into Cordoba and buy a new one as Milagro was doing ok. We would only be a couple of hours, we wouldn't hang about.
We arrived home and made up "Little fella's" bottle, plus whatever else we needed to take out to him. He was also on a general antibiotic, as well as enemas 2 or 3 times a day, plus his liquid paraffin laxative. He seemed ok apart from his little face was soaking wet where his eyes had been streaming. I bathed his eyes in pre boiled water and hoped they would settle or we would need eye drops to add to the routine. Later on that evening, when we went out to do the last feed we had a bit of a shock. Within seconds I could see his eyes looked different. From beautiful solid black eyeballs, they had changed to what looked like a marble. His eyes were cloudy and no longer solid black. Then the most upsetting thing happened, he walked into a wall! We were shocked and upset, and then to top things off, he began walking around in a small circle! After his bottle we watched as he settled down in a cozy cush position and closed his eyes. As worried as we both were we left him and immediately looked online for any ideas what could be wrong! As well as his eyes looking different the skin around them were very red also, and his little nose and mouth. The redness around his eyes could be a symptom of another huge problem called 'sepsis!' Also the fine fleecy hairs around Milagro's eyes and mouth seemed to be falling out. Bless his heart!
Alan fairly quickly found something that looked as though it maybe what was causing Milagro the problems he was having. It was called Thiamine deficiency induced polioencephalomalacia (PEM) for short. There are many symptoms of PEM but our little cria was showing signs of the following, which are all symptoms..
• decreased appetite
• staggering or unsteady gait
• elevated head or stargazing
• head or ear twitching
The acute stage of PEM is typically characterized by
• increased severity of symptoms seen in subacute PEM
The only thing that made us feel the teeniest bit positive was if we could get some thiamine B1 into the baby he SHOULD be ok! First the hunt for it! On Amazon.com you can buy it for your household pets. Here in Spain it's a totally different story. We could buy it, however only a Vitamin B complex with vitamin B1, with also B6 and B12 too. We had to buy that, and get him started as soon as possivble, whilst trying to source a 'complete' thiamine in the meantime.
Little Milagro remained in this condition for a few days, apart from one of his eyes turned into a red ball! so we decided we needed to get some plasma into him as soon as possible. We hoped our friend Jane in Gaucin would have some although it would have meant a 8 hour round trip and we would need to consider the crias injections etc throughtout that day. As it happened she didn't have any but an other friend Alison in the north of Spain did, and she managed to get some sent to us. Unfortunately it took a day longer than we hoped but we had to be patient. It was delivered straight to our vet, and Andres contacted us and he came straight to us to give the little fella the transfusion. At this point he was still pretty fiesty, which of course was a great sign, but we thought it may prove difficult for a slow dripping transfusion going into his vein.
For anyone that has not had any dealings with alpacas, they are a nightmare to find their veins, especially in the crias. Their jugular vein is hidden behind the oesophagus, therefore all of us, including Andres were hoping it would not be too difficult to find the vein , let alone get the blood plasma into him. We decided to take him into our casita so Lily wouldn't be humming whilst we were dealing with him, which would then of course upset him too. So we gave the ladies a little food and we managed to take him without Lily noticing. Luckily Andes hit the jackpot first time, although little Miligro did wriggle around quite a lot, and in the end the three of us were like statues. I got lucky and managed to sit on Andres's medical box, whilst Alan and Andres had sore knees for the following hour. We all managed to be still enough for Milagro to be calm and just after an hour the procedure was finished. After the canula was removed we took him straight back to his mum, who clucked around him like a mother hen, and he tried to drink from her, something he was still doing regularly even though there was very little, if any milk for him.
That evening, although exhausted we mentally allowed ourselves to relax, just a little. We were doing everything we could. Little Milagro was having his thiamine, antibiotics, eye drops and he had now had his blood plasma. I remember saying to Alan "Is that it? Does that really mean he will be ok now?" We had always thought that once he had his plasma he would no longer be susceptible to picking up infections, and once we got the PEM under control he would be ok.
We continued the treatments but the good news was Milagro no longer needed his enemas and we were reducing his laxatives as his digestive system seem to have kick started. He could go to the toilet on his own now, like a big boy, but whilst grunting and groaning like a toddler! At least he could go! We were however concerned the Little Fella's eyes didn't seem to be improving and that was a worry. It did cross my mind, would it be fair to keep him alive if he was blind? Alan had read about a cria that was blind and followed his mum by the tinkling of a bell around her neck. Personally I wasn't sure. He should be able to run, pronk and play and little Milagro would not even walk far, as he had no understanding of where he was in the paddock and when we took them inside for most of the day, due to the heat, he would walk slowly and carefully as he knew there were walls all around him.
We never had to make that decision......
Day 16 of our beautiful little boys life, and in the afternoon he didn't want his bottle. In the early evening I noticed his breathing had changed, and I have since questioned myself over and over again, why I did not insist on getting the vet out that evening. We telephoned him and he suggested we take his temperature and give him a different antibiotic which would also help his respiratory system, plus another injection to help bring his temperature down. So Alan shot into town and bought them, and it was arranged for Andres to come first thing the following morning. When we first took his temperature it was 40.4. I bathed him with cool water to try and cool him down. During the night we took his tempeature again and it had dropped slightly to 39.6, and he would not take any milk but he took a good drink of water. We were relieved and although his breathing was the same, we thought he had improved slightly.
At 9am Alan collected Andres our vet as arranged. The moment he looked at our little boy he shook his head and said "No me gusta" (I don't like) we discussed the treatment we had been doing and he suggested getting an x-ray of Milagro's lungs, at the vetinary hospital at the university in Cordoba and we would decide where we go from there. Alan and I suggested we go immediately, so we took Andres back to his surgery and he telephoned the vetirinary hospital and explained the situation, and told them we were on our way.
The drive from Montoro to Cordoba would have taken not much more than 20 minutes. Our little boy was struggling to breathe and it was becoming uncomfortable to see and to listen to. I think in my heart I had thought he wasn't going to get through this, but I didn't say. I stroked him gently as I sat in the back with him, but he was still fairly strong and kept his head up, as I guess it was easier from him to breathe in that position. About 2 minutes before we arrived at the hospital Milagro made a gasping sound, I didn't like it! At around this same time two tears fell. It took me a few seconds to realise they were tears! The first landed on my hand the second on the seat of the car. I said to Alan to go a little faster, I was frightened we were going to lose him. Alan pulled up right outside the door as he took 2 more gasps and put his head on the seat beside me. They were his last breaths! I said quietly to Alan "We're too late" Alan didn't want to believe it, he leapt out of the car and took the baby out and rushed up the stairs. When two young vets saw the limp little baby in Alan's arms they rushed over with their stethoscopes. Alan lay the baby alpaca on the floor, and we all knew it was too late, he had gone.
As the tears fell from my eyes Alan told me to wait outside. I sat on the stairs and sobbed for about a minute, then pulled myself together, Alan needed support too.There were other people waiting to be seen, goodness knows how they felt. They would have no idea what this little baby was, and then for it to be lying, and not breathing on the floor, I hope it didn't upset any of them too much. The two young vets listened to his heart, they said "We are sorry!" but we knew.
There was no mention of keeping the little baby for a necropsy but Alan and I both knew in our hearts we hard to take him home for Lily. So we carefully lay him in the back of the car and Alan held me tight for a few minutes before we climbed in for the long drive home. We were heartbroken once again. I got into the back seat and stroked the little boy most of the way home.
When Lily lost her first baby, Alan took it to the veterinary hospital and he didn't bring her home. Lily cried for 2 whole weeks every time she saw Alan, she wanted her baby back, and Alan was the one who took it away. The second baby she lost was with Lily when it died so she cried only for 2 or 3 days. That was the day Alan, I and Andres witnessed the tear that ran from Lily's eye! It wasn't until we were both in the car we admitted to each other that we both wanted to take the baby back to her if the worst was to happen. We know how badly alpacas can grieve. Alan had read online about someone that had covered their baby with a towel and then after a while took the body away. The mother and other alpacas thought the baby was still underneath the towel. It was in the high 30's on day 17 and we could not leave the cria outside too long. Lily had been left inside as they would normally, due to the heat since having her cria. As soon as we opened the gate she quickly moved towards the cria on the ground. Bermuda also seemed quite upset and sniffed the baby for a while and Lily hummed loudly as we knew she would. After about 15 minutes we placed a towel over him and and a little while later Alan took our 'Little Fella' to his final resting place, leaving the towel there. We left the towel for quite a while but maybe it wasn't long enough. At he end of the day it may have eased Lily's pain to think she had her baby with her a little longer, but he was no longer alive, humming for her, and trying to find his milk.
We will do everything in our power to ensure Lily never has to feel this pain again. As for us, the pain becomes harder each time. Losing this beautiful boy, has completely knocked me for six. and I'm not sure how many more times we can also go through this! Fences are being re constructed so no naughty boys will be able to escape!
Can I say on behalf of Alan and I how fantastic the alpaca forums have been. We have put many posts on there and have always had helpful advice from people that have gone through similar experiences, or simply want to offer their support to us when it was most needed. Also very grateful thanks to our good friend Ginny Cobb who immediately telephoned us when she saw our first question on a forum, and who was there with us every step of the way. Thank you Ginny.
I have decided to only put what I consider nice photos of our little cria.
RIP Milagro, also known as 'Little Fella' you were just too beautiful for this world!
I have decided to only put what I consider nice photos of our little cria.
RIP Milagro, also known as 'Little Fella' you were just too beautiful for this world!