Monday, 3 February 2014


He almost looks like he's smiling here.
He was so much better on this day, so
perky. Here he is pictured with the soft
toy we nicknamed Dally, as in Dally
Llama. It is amazing how close they are
in colour
No suspense this week, I can't do it. It is one of the most difficult posts I have ever written, as  emotionally I am quite exhausted. Our little alpaca, who we named Benedikts -meaning blessed - died on Friday and it hit us both hard. We tried everything we could to keep him alive and still it may have been our inexperience that lead to his demise, although to be fair to ourselves, it was partly our experience and that of friends that kept him alive to that point. Before I go onto explain, I do want to say I'm not looking for sympathy, I really find it difficult to take much fussing. Life can be tough sometimes especially if you have animals and intend rearing them. We know this will not be the last death of a cria we will see, but it is our first and that's always tough. I know brighter days are ahead and even now we are starting to recover; the sight of our young female alpaca prancing around the paddock, without a care in the world was funny to watch and cheered us up. The random huge angel model in the window of the technical college also helped, but it still hurts that we couldn't do enough.

Mum time
Well I guess I had better fill you in then. We may have over done the Mum time on the Monday, as little Benedikts (oh yes! I am spelling this correctly, as this is the Latvianised version of the name) was rather poorly on the Tuesday. We called the vet out and she spent quite a bit of time with us. She tried to put a drip in, but it was tricky as she wasn't exactly sure of the anatomy of an alpaca - they don't teach that in veterinary schools here in Latvia. It didn't seem to work well, so Ian tried. His haematology training coming in handy. It worked best with our vet and him working together to locate a vein and this time it worked. Our vet also wondered if the baby milk was not doing him any good, so she rang around and located some goats milk and her and Ian went to get it from an old lady. I think the old lady gave us pretty much what she had and unfortunately it wasn't a huge amount, but enough to get us by and she agreed to give us some every day after that. The drip gave him enough energy for us to risk taking out for a brief visit to his Mum, but this time we kept it short. It kind of broke our heart to see the distress it caused Mum when we took him away, but there was no other option, he couldn't stay with her and he needed to maintain contact if possible. Ian managed to get hold of a number of a breeder in England and he ran through a few things to try and his chat was reassuring.

Snug under a blanket of straw
The temperatures remained low and there was a cruel wind blowing, which wasn't helping our little one. One of our friend's was in the nearest big town and so we got him to purchase a heat lamp for us, to see if that would help with Mum time. He also came round to help us see if we could still get any milk from Alicia, Benedikts' Mum, as there just hadn't been much time to milk her, we weren't hopeful and he only managed to get a little. She was obviously drying up and only to be expected. We kept the time with Mum short again and went through the agony of separating them. Her calls for him were heart rending. It's not easy to convince an alpaca Mum that her baby wasn't safe with her, not in those temperatures anyway. Benedikts and I both sat in the caravan, next to the radiator and wrapped in one of my Granny's Jacob blankets, while we waited for Ian to finish his daily chores. I think my Granny would have approved of me wrapping up our little Benedikts in the blanket she crocheted many years ago. It had the advantage of being big to wrap him up well and yet dried fast when it got soiled.

Potty training!
We found Benedikts would get some energy and have a little walkabout, but then he would crash, so lots of ups and downs. On Thursday though there seemed to be a real improvement, with him wolfing down his milk, as if trying to make up for lost time. We even risked letting him spend a little longer with Mum and both of them seemed to appreciate it. I took him back to the caravan and continued feeding him there and now he was getting strong enough to make a real effort to get up when he needed a pee - made looking after him a whole lot easier and a few less blankets to wash. I think I was washing blankets twice a day up to this point. We just weren't set up for him at home, apart from loads and loads of blankets that I happen to have. There was one point he needed to pee and I took him out to the greenhouse and he even took a little run around. It felt like he had really turned a corner and was on the mend. We even took him around to the vet to show her and get him weighed at the same time.

Mum was taking a keen interest in his feeding
We had had an exhausting week, as we were taking it in turns to feed him through the night. I would take the late night shift and Ian would take the early morning one. We slept on the couch when it was our turn, just to keep an eye on him. His midnight feed went okay but in the early hours of Friday morning he took a turn for the worse. He wasn't comfortable at all. We wondered if he was constipated and so gave him an enema after consulting our vet. It seemed to help. He continued to deteriorate during the day, to such an extent we didn't even take him out to his Mum, just out for a ride in the car to the land to see if whatever was troubling him would shift, but it didn't and I just ended up nursing him again in the caravan for a little while before deciding he needed to go back to the vet. Once again Ian and the vet worked together to find a vein and Ian got him hooked up to a drip. Ian then had to go back to the land to put the animals away. Meanwhile the vet gave him another enema and again he perked up. Before Ian got back our vet had to take her daughter for music lessons and our little perked up Benedikts went for an explore around the surgery and shop while we waited for everyone to come back. By the time Ian had got back though he had flopped, but was still perkier than when he left.

Alicia, his Mum
Friday evening though, he lost energy. He wasn't suckling and he even seemed to lose his ability to swallow at all. His little eyes lost spark as I tried to dribble feed him. He also seemed to be in pain and so uncomfortable that eventually at 11pm we decided enough was enough. We phoned the vet and started to get ready for going to the surgery, for one last attempt to save him. It was at this point Benedikts seemed to go into cardiac arrest, he threw his head back. My immediate reaction was to start pumping his little chest and try to bring him back, we knew we were losing him. Ian tried too, but then we stopped, it wasn't fair, enough was enough. We had to let him go. At 11.10pm we phoned our vet and said not to bother coming out, it was too late, he had gone. It was a hard night. We both cried a lot. I'm not usually so emotional, but we had fought so hard for him and seemed to be winning only the day before. It all seemed so unfair.

Clearing up the ice
I went with Ian back out to the land in the morning, we were both still emotional and needed each other's support. We had to tell the old lady, we didn't need any more milk and the irony of it was, that it was possibly the first time we had ever communicated something effectively in Latvian apart from ordering food in a restaurant. After breaking the news to our friend who had first helped Ian when we saw her in the village, we headed on up to our other apartment to light the fire and look forward to a bath that evening and some downtime watching a DVD. Unfortunately that turned out to be a bad idea, when we got there a disaster had happened during the week. Ian had been in at some point in the week and everything was fine, but sometime after that our cast iron radiators had blown with the ice due to the extreme cold we have had. In fact one had blown a piece of iron clear across the room. There was ice on the floors and black marks up walls. It wasn't a pretty sight at the best of times and not something we really wanted to see. We went home at that point, we needed to sit down and have a cup of tea. How English!
The power of ice. It blew this piece of cast
iron, clear across the room
One of the bedrooms
We knew we couldn't just leave it though and went back after that breather and started on the clear up. Ian chipped up the ice and I followed with a bucket of water and cleared up the black stuff. Fortunately as we worked, that side of things didn't seem so bad. The water hadn't penetrated the laminate. We worked away on that for a while, until the vet rang again. When we had rung her to tell her that Benedikts had died the night before, she suggested an autopsy to see what we could learn and we agreed. We wanted to know as well. It might seem odd to some of you, but we stayed to watch the autopsy, I suppose it was the scientific side of us coming into play. It wasn't just a morbid fascination though, we really wanted to know what an alpaca looked like inside, so we knew when they were ill, what part was in pain. We also wanted to learn from this and take the lessons back with us and sometimes we just have to see with our own eyes for the lesson to stick. What we did find though was disheartening. The milk was in the first stomach, when it should have been in their third stomach. Apparently when that happens in calves, it usually means the milk was either not warm enough or they weren't suckling properly. Our conclusion was that if a baby alpaca is not suckling then they need to be given sugared water, or even an enema with sugar in it and when they are suckling, make sure that the milk is warm enough. I guess not having bottle fed babies when they were first born meant that I didn't really internalise that message strong enough and not even sure whether coolish milk is harmful to human babies or just not desirable. We are still not sure if this really was the problem and the guy from England that Ian rang earlier in the week, suggested that sometimes it is just a problem with animals settling down in a place. It was ultra cold, not a good time to have a baby anyway and just a few months after relocating. The odds were stacked against little Benedikts.

Not much snow, but bitterly cold
We took Benedikts back to the land after the autopsy. Ian fed the other animals first and then we spent the rest of the afternoon chipping through frozen ground to dig a hole big enough to bury him. We had to dig in the bed where the Jerusalem artichokes are, because it had a layer of straw on the top, that meant it was less like concrete than the grassed over areas. This winter has not been a kind one from that point of view, we are more like the hard frozen tundra of Mongolia, than the soft snow sculptured land we have seen in the past few years. It almost seems superfluous to say we felt so sad. This little gift of life that burst into our lives with no warning, was now laid to rest under the frozen ground.

The sheep have been making good use of the shelter
in the cold that Ian built them 
Fortunately the news this week hasn't been all bad. Just over a week ago, I was trying to get a form filled out for an evaluation I had to have done this week, in order to be allowed to carry on studying. I was having a hard job contacting my supervisor, as he is often away. I text him to let him know about the email and found out he was having trouble with his computer. This wasn't going well and hence I was fairly stressed before the weekend. I really don't do stress normally and need to get a handle on this, I'm sure I will find coping mechanisms soon. Anyway I ended up trying to get this stuff done while nursing the little one - not good for the nerves either. I requested a change of date for the evaluation, as I realised that I wasn't going to be able to make it on the Friday up to Tartu, no matter what happened. In the end it was decided to do it by Skype. As Benedikts was much better on Thursday, I managed to get my head around what I had actually done last year and got some notes down on my computer. I was reading through the notes in preparation for a 10am start, when the Professor rang and asked if we could do the evaluation straight away at 9am instead and make one of my poor student colleagues wait. Fortunately they took pity on me and weren't expecting a full presentation and just asked me to run through the past year and then asked a few questions. They even told me that the evaluation form was very thorough. I am so pleased that's over with. Only another three years to go!


  1. Such a sad story but you did all you could. Try and take things a bit easier. X

  2. No wonder you were upset when you did so much to save him. Wishing better times Joanna.

  3. you have had a hard few will turn a corner, I know it. I was, am, so sad about Benedikt. I told my husband about him, about you and Ian and where you are and how your life is, (all amazing) and was keeping him updated on Benedikt too. We were all supporting him from afar, bless him.

  4. Aww thanks Karen. Much appreciated. Hopefully the next time we talk about baby alpacas it might be a little less traumatic


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