Miracles and Paradise

Sunday:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

The tune lilts through my head as I look around the house, but while there is probably a tree in the grand hotel, and while friends have been sending me pictures of their trees and decorations, my house…well, so far it’s slightly less than festive.

I know.  I know.  My last post outlined my determination to really be ready for the holiday this year.  I was to have all my shopping and gift wrapping done by now…and all the decorating…and even have cookie dough mixed up and waiting in the freezer for cookie making, ready for my now highly efficient self to commence with the baking.  Instead, I have a tree up in the living room with no decorations (yet), about two-thirds of my gifts purchased and none of them wrapped, and a couple of packages of sugar cookie dough in the cupboard ready to mix up in the next few weeks because really the fun part is the decorating anyway…

And I’m sitting on my couch sipping coffee just now, with barn chores in my near future, realizing that today is the first day all week without anything specific on the calendar.  No work.  No grading.  No event that I signed up for while feeling extroverted that I begin to regret as soon as my introverted brain kicks in again.  I just know this, tonight, John and I will finally decorate the tree…very gingerly with our most durable ornaments that the kitten hopefully won’t be able to break.  

This life is chaos.  Sometimes it’s controlled, and often it isn’t, but, right now, it feels a little bit like Paradise.

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November was more chaotic than usual.

If you follow almostfarmgirl on Facebook or Instagram, you already know about our latest rescue and source of chaos, Miracle Max.

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Max had the dual misfortune of being orphaned at birth and being owned by idiots.  At two weeks old, having bottle fed him in the house since his birth, his breeders decided to put him up for sale… for $500.  

Let me be clear: a two-week old, bottle-fed llama cria is not worth a dollar, especially a two-week old, bottle-fed cria with questionable breeding and no papers, but I digress.

Anyway, the owners put him up for sale on Facebook, commenting that he “loves attention and hanging out with us.  He will follow us anywhere doesn’t matter if we are inside or outside,” and the post was immediately very popular and littered with two sorts of comments.  There were the less experienced people who thought raising a bottled cria (baby llama) would be all sorts of fun. “Oh look how cute he is!!!” over and over.  Then there were the experienced llama handlers who were generally horrified.  My friend, Elizabeth, was among the later group.

Most people don’t realize this, but bottle fed crias are notoriously difficult to raise: far more difficult than a goat or a calf or even a horse (and horses have their own challenges).  The reasons for this are many, including the fact that they need to be fed every 2-3 hours or so around the clock, but one of the big ones is that bottle fed cria are prone to developing Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (or ABS… otherwise known as Berserk Male Syndrome).  When they are inappropriately socialized with people, specifically when they are over socialized or coddled as babies to the point that they fail to recognize the difference between other llamas and people, they basically lose their minds.  The females are bad enough; the males are nightmares.  Bottle raising any cria, but especially a male, is not for the faint of heart, or the inexperienced, or for anyone who is inclined to ignore warnings and make a pet of the poor thing while it’s tiny and extra cute.  (Saying in the ad that he loved attention and followed them everywhere was a huge red flag for how things would go if left in his original owners’ care.)

Elizabeth messaged me the posting and asked if I had room for him.

Did I have space in the barn?  Sure.  But I knew the question was more about space in my life and my head than it was about space in the barn.

The answer, as usual, was no.  And yes.  And no.

I can’t save them all.

Even as I write that, it stings a little.  It reminds me that there’s an invisible line out the door of all the creatures and people whose pain I can’t alleviate.  The world is big, and people are cruel.  I am small.

And yet, I firmly believe that we are sent that which is supposed to be ours, and somehow I always know when I see the creatures who have been sent to me.

I knew when Jiminy’s photo showed up, from Pennsylvania, as he stood in a kill lot waiting to ship to Canada.  I knew when my friend posted Miss Rosie Posie after her daughter found her in a ditch in Texas.  And I knew when I saw this tiny cria.

There is a voice somewhere deep down inside that says, “This one, darling.  This one will hold a piece of your heart.”

So I said yes.

Therein began a two day long saga of getting the little guy home.  The owner refused to take a penny less than $500, telling us that there was a petting zoo that wanted him if we didn’t.  (I  cannot think of a worse situation for a bottle fed cria, or a more dangerous situation for the public, than placing him in a petting zoo.)  Truthfully, neither Elizabeth or I had ready access to $500 to throw at a rescue, not really, but, since I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try, I told her to commit to buying him.  I would figure the money out later.

Later that day, the owner reported that the baby had died.  Rescue off.  Later still, he realized that he had mistaken a stillborn baby on the ground for the bottle baby he had been feeding for two weeks.  Rescue back on.

Two days later, with $500 borrowed from various sources I usually don’t touch, including my hay fund, and an online appeal for help hopefully crowdfunding his ransom and the associated bills I knew would be coming, Elizabeth and her husband purchased the little guy.  They drove him home where I was waiting with a new dog coat, lots of goats milk, a shot of antibiotics, and my little herd of mamas and babies, who were shut in a stall and exceptionally confused.

I saw him and heard that little voice again.  “This one.”

Rescue, like life, never has guaranteed outcomes.  You never know what you’ll encounter. What will come up.  Health issues.  Behavioral issues.  You just do it, because it’s the right thing to do.  Because something in you tells you to jump even when you can’t see the net.

I wasn’t quite sure what to name him until I saw him.  Originally, I had thought “Little Orphan Andy” (for obvious reasons) or “King’s Ransom” (because the $500 we paid for him was basically ransom money), but neither of those names quite fit.  Honestly, it came down to this: I didn’t want his entire life to be defined by being an orphan if I could help it, and, as cute as he is, he is never quite going to look like a “King.”

I landed, instead, on “Miracle Max,” partly because I went in hoping for miracles with this guy (and so far, by the way, I’ve gotten them), partly because Elizabeth and I found ourselves referencing Miracle Max from The Princess Bride during the whole “is he dead or alive” debacle, and, honestly, partly because one of the best dogs I’ve ever known was named Max.  I thought naming the cria Max might invite my dearly departed, dog Max to look out for the little dude from heaven, and dog Max would make an exceptionally good guardian angel and namesake.

I put Max in a dog jacket, fed him straight away with a warmed up mixture of 2/3 goat’s milk and 1/3 water.   His wool felt like spun cotton under my fingers.  He was alert and curious.  I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking.

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John and I alternated feedings that night.  I fed at 11:00 and 2:00.  He got up and fed him at 5:00.  The mama llamas and babies were intrigued, but not yet attached, and I felt bad every time I came out to see him sitting alone.  Bonding with a herd is a process…I thought, watching for signs of attachment.  Starry Knight, my oldest cria, seemed to take to him first.  I hoped the others would follow suit.

Over the next few days, donations began to pour in.  Some from social media followers who I had never met.  Some from dear friends.  Some came in locally.  Some from across oceans.  I found myself in tears more than once as paypal notified me of a donation with a message like “thanks for saving the baby llama.”  People were sharing his posts across Facebook and keeping tabs on his story.  Max, it would seem, had a whole host of fans out there rooting for him, dozens of good people cheering him on from all over the world.

The world is small, and people are kind.  We belong to eachother.

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Within three days, my mama llamas started allowing Max to occasionally nurse.  The babies counted him as one of their own, and I would see the three playing in their pen, the two older boys obviously being extra gentle with their new little friend.

That night, I had concerns that he seems lathargic.  I gave him his bottle before bed.  Gave him another in the middle of the night.  I convinced myself I was being hypervigillant.  Two friends, and fellow livestock people, reminded me that Max was likely to have a lot of catching up to do after the way he was handled for the first two weeks (in addition to everything else, he was also notably underfed).  I slept fitfully, even more fitfully than you get when you have to go to a barn every few hours.

The next morning, I found him in the corner of the stall, almost unable to stand up.

Something was very wrong.

I took his temperature.  94.4.

Very, very wrong.  Part of me wondered if my thermometer was malfunctioning.

My mama llamas looked on with obvious confusion as I ran back down to the house.  They were downright alarmed when I collected Max and put him in the car.

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I drove us straight to the vet, keeping him from standing on the seat with one hand while steering with the other.   (It only worked because he was pretty out of it at that point.) The vet techs ushered us straight into an exam room where we placed Max on a heating pad, covered him with extra blankets, and began running a space heater while we waited on the vet.  Everything we knew said hypothermia.

Max at Vet 1

(This, by the way, is what happens when you try to raise livestock in the house; their system doesn’t know how to handle actual weather.)

I waited until the vet came in.  He wanted to keep him for the day and work on the body temp.  I left Max in the capable care of the vet techs.  He was alert and his temp was steadily ticking up.

I went home and took a nap.  Four days of about five hours of heavily interrupted sleep was taking a toll.  I rested for several hours, checked in with the vet when I woke up, and was told that it looked like I could bring Max home that night.

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Max Riding Home

Max rode home on my lap in the backseat of my sister’s SUV.  He wore four blankets to sleep that first night, and  woke up not only to feed him every few hours, but also to take his temperature.  It dipped down a tiny bit in the middle of the night, but generally held steady.

Over the next few days, I watched as my mama llamas went from sort of adopting Max to fully adopting Max.  I moved them all into my front pasture, which is drier and can be seen from the house, and watched as he fully integrated into the little herd.  (Personally, I think maybe the mamas doubted my ability to keep him alive, given the whole putting him in the car debacle, and begrudgedly took over.)  His bottle feedings decreased the more llama milk he drank until he eventually refused them altogether.

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Last week, I pulled Max’s little coat off of him.  He had outgrown it, playing catch up with his weight after a very rough start.  I watch in the evenings as one of my mamas, Baby, nurses Max and Hardy Boy at the same time.  They both tuck against her at night to sleep.

This one, darling…

Max, for sure, has captured a bit of my heart, but he also reminded me of just how small and kind this world can be, even in the face of ugliness.  He reminded me that, even when one day at a time seems like too much, we always have it in us to do the next right thing.

His temp is holding steady.  He is adopted and healthy and on track to be a normal, non-abberent little llama.  He is a miracle for sure, in every sense of the word.

The world is small, and people are kind.  We belong to eachother.

Max Eyelashes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter, Christmas, and All of the Lists

I sat down last weekend and made my Christmas lists.  Christmas shopping.  Christmas goals.  Taking some inspiration from a blogger I follow–Karen at The Art of Doing Stuff–I decided that this year, I want to have my holiday obligations (the shopping, the wrapping, the decorating, etc) out of the way by the end of November, leaving December wide open for less-stress celebrations and evenings enjoying the season in front of a nice fire.

This year, I will be organized and intentional, and I WILL NOT be wrapping the last of my gifts on Christmas day before we load the car…again.  I refuse.

Maybe it was the early first snow that kicked my butt into gear.  Maybe it was Karen’s email about her Christmas pledge.  Maybe it was the fact that my furnace chose the evening of our first snow to take a shit, reminding me very clearly and viscerally of what cold and winter feel like.

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Maybe it was a combination of the three.

Either way, Winter, I’m here with you.  To-do lists in hand. Continue reading “Winter, Christmas, and All of the Lists”

Utter Nonsense

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I present to you, my husband.

Utter Nonsense

I left for Costa Rica, and my husband went on quests and turned himself into a Legolas (yum) /Gandalf (ummm….) hybrid for the week.  And by quests, I mean taking care of the farm and constructing things (like exceptionally apt signs), and by Legolas/Gandalf hybrid, I mean he did so while carrying a quiver and wearing a wizard’s hat.

(Interesting side note: He took this photo by himself using his skid steer as a tripod.)

This photo pretty much perfectly sums up my life.  Here on the ranch, we live at the intersection of adult responsibilities and utter nonsense.

Just yesterday, someone asked me when I possibly find time to “just relax.”  He was astounded that we both work outside jobs while renovating the house(s) and running the farm.  I sort of laughed because that question has a different answer depending on the day.

On the one hand, sometimes it gets to be a lot, and I really question why I’m not the sort of person who goes to the spa or travels extensively, instead of the sort of person whose horses eat all my spare money in the form of hay…

On the other hand, there is a sort of Zen that comes from cleaning stalls, or grooming horses, or walking my fields.  And very little gives me as much satisfaction as a good training session with one of my critters, or watching the flowers that I plant bloom, or making breakfast with eggs I collected from my own chicken coop the day before.

I mean, really, does life get any better than watching a chicken ride a llama???

Joker and Marilyn
When the coop door blew shut during the day, Miss Marilyn took stock of her options and decided that Joker would make a pleasant roost.
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Joker opened the feed room door to alert Jeremiah that a chicken was roosting on his butt. He required assistance to remove her.

(The llama was less amused than we were…He was very polite to her, but Jeremiah said it was clear he preferred his butt to be chickenless.)

These days, things are greening up, and we are starting to shift focus to a whole new sort of work.  Fences need mending.  Our farm road is in need of repair.  The gardens need weeding.  Shearing is just around the corner for the llamas and alpacas.  New chicks are on order to come in a few weeks.  (Sadly, I’ve lost a few chickens to predators this week…but that’s a different post.)  Horses will be starting back under saddle soon.  And hopefully the ponies will start work towards their eventual jobs as therapy animals this year.  There is so much to do, and we seldom check anything off our to-dos without adding more.  But this place and this work is my “relax.”

Come to think of it though, I wouldn’t say no to a nice massage to wind down from “relaxing”…

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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.