Friday was Independence Day here in America and I was busy doing what many of us do whenever there’s a long weekend – home improvement projects. Sorry, they’re documented on another blog and aren’t really relevant here anyway.
Friday I spent several hours with Madison, working on installing a new bath sink. She fretted the entire time about having to go down to the farm to feed hay after we were done, and the day was getting hotter by the minute. We had to run to town for a part, but the installation went well – no leaks, no breakage and the water was turned on and running in the sink in good time.
I was feeling pretty good, but I could tell that Madison was losing her shit. Her knees have been bothering her and she’s narrowed down the causes to the way Rene insists on feeding the hay. It’s absurd, really – all of the animals are overweight (okay, there are a few exceptions) and they are feeding bales of hay at a time, twice or three times a week for as many as 10 alpacas. True, there isn’t anything edible in some of the pastures, but the amount of hay is unreasonable and the schedule is erratic and arbitrary.
Madison was down at the farm until after dark, feeding hay, following orders and she was fit to be tied on Saturday, which was spent at the yarn shop on a sun dyeing project for Rene. I ended up driving the entire project, going in early to prepare materials, running the show, pushing people along until we lost the direct light at 4 PM. Now, I thought it was a cool idea and volunteered to get it going, so I’m not blaming Rene for anything except being absent the whole time. That’s a different blog post :-)
Madison was visibly in pain, her knees no better. Rene did not even ask why she was limping. After the dyeing was over, we motored over to the local Lan-dro-mat where we indulged in a long re-hash of just what was wrong with the dye project and out at the farm.
Madison is convinced that the hay cart is a large part of her body woes and we went back to the studio to fabricate a hay bag that she will be able to manage by herself instead of using the hay cart. It’s a simple, elegant solution. We don’t know yet how it will be received by Rene and Bob. Updates later…
Today (Sunday) I went out at 0900* to help give 10 alpacas their follow-up shots for mites. 0900 is earlier than either Rene or Bob wants to be up and about (!!!) and I apologized for the early hour with, “I know it’s early, but it’s only going to get hotter. Let’s get this job done!” Because, really, what farmer sleeps in until 1100 in July? If I hadn’t reminded them that it needed to be done and made a point of pushing for it, this project would not have been done at all.
Rene had the name tags in a paper sack in the barn when I went in to get a halter (why they weren’t prepared for my arrival I no longer even question) and I said, “Oh, we should put tags on the alpacas we give shots to so we can easily see where we need to go back next week!” and began to paw through the bag. Rene had written down the names of the animals she’d given shots to while they were on the shearing table (my surprise knew no bounds!) so I knew what tags to look for. No surprise that three of the animals we were to deal with had no tags. Sigh.
I looked to Bob to direct us as to what pastures we were to visit (Rene still doesn’t know what animal is where on any given day) and we formed a plan of attack. Name tags around my arm, halter in hand, we set off, Bob in the lead with a little dish of crunchies, Rene in her water-filled cool-down vest** with the shots in her pants pockets, sunglasses firmly on, bad mood written all over her. Whatever.
In the first pasture, we found Daisy & Amber. While we opened the gate, I took a long look around. I saw no grass. Daisies cover 2/3 of the field, raising their jaunty flowers two feet into the air. Daisies are pure poison for most livestock and should not be in the pasture at all, but that’s another post.
Bob and I cornered Daisy and pushed her up against the fence so Rene could give the shot. I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s 5cc and she did not have the syringe prepared. Bob and I stood there, holding onto a very vocal Daisy, while Rene drew up the syringe, laboriously put the large vial away, tapped the air bubbles and on and on until I wanted to scream, before she was ready to step up and find a spot of loose skin to give the sub-Q shot. I probably don’t need to say again that I find pointless inefficiencies maddening. I find dramatic gestures and control tactics repugnant, especially when aimed at someone who has volunteered to assist with a project that has no tangible reward.
Anyway. She has been giving these shots sideways and/or from the top down. I asked her why she was administering the shot from an angle that won’t allow it to drain if it becomes infected, and she insisted that it was the only way because, “the medicine will run right out if I do it with the hole on the bottom.” Granted, my experience has only been with cats, dogs and horses, but in all cases the shots can cause an abscess that will not drain if the hole is at the top. Simple physics, really, and I thought everyone knew how it works.
::Aside – she refuses to wear her glasses to give shots. She can’t actually SEE what she’s doing, evidenced by totally missing and/or putting the needle in with the bevel facing the wrong way. She only wore her glasses for giving shots on ONE DAY during shearing, and she was putting them on and taking them off constantly. Vanity? Plausible deniability?::
Daisy and Amber were soon done, name tags on and we proceeded in this fashion to do four more hembras (female alpacas.) At the third pasture, one of them led us a merry dance, refusing to be caught, playing with us really – you could see the joy at the diversion all over her cute little face. Rene said we should give up. She was hot and didn’t want to go on. We had been in that pasture for maybe five minutes and I might not have been hiding my irritation all that well.
“Everyone on the list gets a shot today!” I declared. “We’ll have her in a minute. We can’t give up – this second stage is already way overdue!”***
She was not happy, but soon we had the alpaca captured, the shot was administered and we were off to the next.
Rockefeller is a handsome macho (male alpaca) pastured next to the pregnant hembras. He makes beautiful babies and is always eager for girlfriends. He tends to pace up and down his pasture, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of any girls who might be coming into the barn for his attentions. Consequently, he is not overweight. He looks pretty good, actually, very bright-eyed and alert, body hard and fit. Rene, of course, started lamenting that he was “skin and bones” and blah, blah, blah.
She was extra cautious, declaring “he kicks!” several times. Bob handles the animals with confidence, if not grace, holding them, soothing them and showing that he’s comfortable restraining them. Even after ten years, Rene is awkward, scared, and surprisingly incautious with the animals. It baffles me and intrigues at the same time. What’s the psychology at work here?
After Rocko, we went across the street for the last two machos on the list. Blackjack went off without a hitch (he’s a personal favorite of mine, coal black and just handsome as can be.) Fred, on the other hand, had some problems. He did not want to be caught, and as soon as we had him I saw why – he had a very large abscess on the back of his off side rear leg***. It was obvious where he’d gotten his shot at shearing time.
Rene made an exclamation of disgust and said she would not give him a shot today. She was ready to walk away and call it done.
“That needs to be lanced,” I said. “We could have a big problem here if we don’t lance it.”
“But he’s kicking! Look at him! I can’t get near him!” she began to protest.
I was watching his behavior and saw a solution that would get her out of the way. “Let Bob lean over him from the front and lance the abscess at the bottom – you stay out of the way, I’ll hold Fred’s head and no one will get kicked.”
She was not happy about my idea at all. I asked if she had a spare needle to lance with, thinking she would hand me the business end and step back. Nope. She laboriously emptied the syringe back into the bottle, capped it and handed Bob the syringe, standing right in Fred’s kick zone*****. I told her to stand back (again!) held onto Fred’s head, and Bob lanced the abscess, which began to drain immediately. Thinking back on it now, I should have left further instructions because they will go out there and spray Blu-Kote on it which will cause it to close up and fester. Shit. Or, they’ll ignore poor ol’ Fred entirely and maybe he’ll be okay. I’ll be out there again on Tuesday and will report back.
At this point I’d been on the property 1.5 hours, which was all the time I’d budgeted for this project. There was an empty pasture over with the boys and Rene said we should move Rocko over there so he could have some grass.
“We’re heading for some shade now,” I said as I walked back to my water bottle. “Shall we move Rocko while we’re out here?” I asked Bob.
“Yeah. We should do it while it’s Rene’s idea…” was his reply. I’m beginning to see which way the wind blows on this ranch.
Rocko was moved without incident. He and his closest neighbor, Dukie, were posturing over the fence, which got Rene all upset. It was nothing, and I said (several times) that neither one of them was serious and they would calm down in a minute. I think it really pisses her off when I’m right – both boys were doing their own thing within five minutes. No one got hurt. No one escaped.
It was a very long morning. Bob is coming along with the tumbler – more on that in a future post.
Nothing has been done about the clutter all over outside. Madison was still pretty upset about the hay feeding and what’s going to happen with her arrangement out there.
She asked me not to say anything about her knees or how inefficient things are run.
“Fair warning, I’m feeling savage today,” was my reply, and if they’d said one stupid thing about how she does her job I might have come unglued. I held my tongue, pushed the job through, and tried to keep a smile on my face.
This little project is getting more complicated by the day. They really need someone out there full time who knows what they’re doing. A Gentleman Farmer is a fine thing to be, but you only get to be one by hiring competent people to do the day-to-day grind. Rene and Bob don’t have the funds to hire anyone and even if they did, I don’t think they’re ready to admit they aren’t All Knowing about alpaca ranching.
It’s a good lesson for anyone – be conscious of your incompetence. Understand that you don’t know everything and take the advice of people who know what you don’t know. There’s no shame in it – we can’t all be experts at everything – it would make us all boring, now, wouldn’t it :-)
* As a contrast, Madison had already cleaned house, dumped and rinsed her black water tank, tidied up outside, had breakfast & tea and a couple of other things I forget before I arrived. She had only to change into boots before heading down to the barn.
** Rene can’t function in the heat and wears a special vest to keep her cool if the temps are over 70* F. Why a person who is so sensitive to heat would live in an area that has a Summer, I don’t understand. When they left California, they could have gone anywhere, but they chose to move here.
*** According to Rene, one shot is administered, with two more at one week intervals to combat mites. We gave the first shot when the animals were on the shearing table, at least two of them in the earliest days of shearing, so they were ALL way overdue for the second course of treatment. More Bad Farming Practices in action.
**** Instead of giving the shots in an area where the muscle will naturally work the injection site (for horses this is half-way down the rear leg, the shoulder or the chest, with the needle going in from below so any abscess can drain easily) she insists on giving the shot at the joining of the hip and belly (no strain at all when an animal is walking) or on the back of the rear leg – not over a muscle area at all. I asked why and was not given a satisfactory answer.
***** Even after ten years of living with alpacas, she seems to have no notion of where to stand to avoid getting kicked. I’ve told her a few times to stand close enough to touch the animal or out of range – close so if they try to kick she’s pushed away and the kick has no strength, or out of range completely. She insists on standing where she could get the worst of it. Every. Damned. Time.