Up before dawn.

I rolled over and checked the clocked at 4:22 am.  My alarm was set to go off at 4:30, but I had been lying in bed awake for some time.   I will never understand why my internal alarm is so “on it” for early mornings, but if I want to get up at 7:30, I had better set an alarm or I absolutely will not wake on time. This time though, I was fortunate.  My phone charger wasn’t connected quite right and the battery had drained down to 6%.  It’s more than likely that the 4:30 alarm wouldn’t have gone off at all.

As I rolled out of bed, I heard a less-than-half awake Jeremiah roll over beside me.

“Wha time ‘sit?”

“It’s about 4:30, love.  Go back to sleep.  I’ve got this.”

“You sure?”

“Yup.  Go back to bed.”

He did so without ceremony, muttering a thank you as he pulled the covers up. Under normal circumstances, Jeremiah is infinitely easier to get out of bed than me, but he had only crawled under the covers after midnight.  The day before, he had been on the road for an obscene number of hours, shoeing horses 5 hours away in Columbia.  He deserved to sleep.

I wandered into the bathroom, trying to keep the doors and the dogs quiet.  Throwing on yesterday’s barn clothes without a sniff check, I dressed quickly and made my way into the kitchen.  Only then did I flip on the lights, punching the power button on my Keurig and waiting for it to warm up.  Lights in the kitchen wouldn’t stir the dogs in their kennels to go outside, and 4:30 am is way too early to even think about bothering the neighbors.

I rustled through the cabinets looking for one of my travel cups only to realize that the only ones still at the house had been half-moved; their lids were at the ranch…somewhere.

I was too tired to care, and for the first time I was thankful that my Keurig doesn’t actually brew enough coffee at once to fill a large travel mug.  The somewhat anemic fill power gave me two inches of buffer between my hot beverage and the likelihood of a spill.

As quietly as I could, I made my way out the front door and into my car.  I turned it on, set the seat heater, and took off toward the ranch.  It was just before 5am.

I know that there are certain people who are always up by 5am; I am not one of them.   I was first introduced to 5am, and earlier, during high school when I would regularly drag myself out of bed in what I considered the middle of the night to compete at a llama show.  L and I would load animals in the dark, grab breakfast at some nondescript interstate McDonald’s, and spend the day fluffing wool, cleaning dirty knees (they always get dirty knees), and prancing our prized pasture poodles in front of judges who often liked them almost as much as we did.  Later, when halter classes were done, Minnett and I would throw grooming to the wind…sort of…and head into performance classes where he would prove that he was just about willing to follow me through fire.  (Don’t worry, there was never actually fire at the shows, but you try convincing an adult male llama to follow you up and down steps (one at a time), under tarps, and into tunnels, and then tell me it isn’t sort of the same thing.)  I always loved showing, even considering it’s early wake up time.

I haven’t been to a show since undergrad, but I have had plenty of cause to wake up at 5am.  Whether catching an early flight for my job or tagging along with my husband on one of his shoeing runs (which almost never start after 6am), I still set my share of 4:30 alarms.  (In an effort towards full disclosure, I really do try hard to avoid anything that makes me get up before 5am…)  Still, this time, I wasn’t up early for any of those things.  This time, I was meeting the vet.

Some of you might remember back in June when I was on vacation with Jeremiah and our stud got out with the girls.  (Ah vacations…)  It was determined that he had probably been out with them for 12 hours or so… I can’t say I know for a fact what he spent his time doing, but I have some very strong suspicions.

I got to the ranch about 20 minutes before the vet, flipped the lights on in a barn, and was greeted with some very sleepy, and very familiar, expressions.  (Llamas have this uncanny way of asking why on earth you would disturb their slumber at such an unholy hour without saying a word.)  Six of our females were shut up in a stall.  In truth, any female in the herd could be pregnant, but those six were the “concerning” ones.  I had two maidens, one that has a hard time keeping weight on, and three with genetic issues.

They watched as I got things set up, pulling the ultrasound out of the tack room and setting it up in the aisle.  I haltered each of the girls, finishing about the time the vet pulled up in his diesel truck.

“Good Morning!” I yelled from across the barn feeling oddly chipper; I sometimes go through that phase when I’m stupid tired.  No way it would last

“Morning.  Thanks for coming out so early.”

I responded with a quick “no problem,” even though I would never have come out this early by choice; our llama vet only makes farm calls before dawn or in an emergency.  I’d take the former over the later any day.

Without much ado, we pulled the girls out of the stall.  By now I should know that it is worthless to try and predict their behavior.  I apologized for one girl in advance; she had been born on the farm but come back as a rescue and could be very scared.  She, of course, was perfect.  I deemed another an “old pro” before we started.  She was the only one of the group to spit.

In quick succession, they were pronounced “not pregnant,” and I breathed a sigh of relief.  For the females with genetic concerns, a pregnancy would have meant a termination, and that is a serious deal for llamas.  The vet explained that the drug could make them hypothermic.  For the other three, it would have meant a lot of fuss and worry, especially come next Spring.

The vet turned off the ultrasound.  I let the girls back outside.  Everything was said and done before dawn.

“Well,” I told myself as I ran through barn chores after he left, “that’s one less thing to worry about.”

In truth, I will still be watching for baby bellies and udders come late May of next year.  The possibility of a pregnant female is still reasonably high (and if there is a cria–cria, by the way, is the proper name for a baby llama or alpaca–next year, I’m still planning to name it Orlando), but all of my high risk girls are happily baby-less right now.

And that, my friends, is one less thing to worry about.


15 thoughts on “Up before dawn.

    1. Most of our girls are well into their retirement, but I still have a few young ones bopping around. Of course, young used to mean crias and now it means anyone younger than 6 or so. Funny how things change.


  1. Bless… what a morning! Well done you for hopping out of bed so easily! I have hormonal changes to thank for my 4 a.m. wakeup calls that wax and wane between 4 and 9 a.m., and then at odd intervals during the day, commonly in response to stress, but not necessarily. I hate it. In my head, I still feel about 19, but my bod tells me otherwise. Oh well… enough about me. Frankly, I am pleased your at-risk girls are out of the woods… but I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see a baby cria come out of all this! But that’s just me, wanting to be a long distance llama auntie… I’m kind of maternal like that… 🙂 Keep us posted! I enjoyed your morning. Mother Hen


    1. We stopped actively breeding a while back; many of them were retired by default. Otherwise, I let the animal tell me. Some hold up better than others. In general though, I start to truly get concerned around 15 and wouldn’t intentionally breed a 14-15 year old. Beyond that, I think it’s way more draining on mom to raise a cria. They don’t bounce back as well


      1. Thanks, I have been thinking the same about a 15 year cut off.. I’ve seen a couple of pregnant 17 year old girls lately and to me they look like they aren’t really up to it. My eldest girl is 4 so we have plenty of breeding seasons left.


      2. Thanks. I have seen a couple of pregnant 17 year old girls lately and they didn’t look up to it. Our oldest girl is only 4 so we have lots of breeding seasons yet.


      1. I’ve started leaving paper & pen on my nightstand at night for the random turn of phrase or idea that comes to me at 3 am. It’s better than turning on all the lights & searching for a tablet, etc, and my husband appreciates it, too. 🙂 Afterwards, I can usually get back to sleep.


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