Monday, 18 January 2016

RIP Snowdrop

Snowdrop in June of last year
I finished my blog last week with the worry that we were in for a snow storm, fortunately that did not materialise. We have had snow but nothing we couldn't handle. Not so fortunately, however, we lost Snowdrop. Our vet came out again to see her with another vet and both said it felt as if she was pregnant, which we knew would have been extremely unlikely. There was a day when she and the others got out of their enclosure, but the only intact male we had at the time was still safely within his enclosure. He would have had to have jumped over the fence and then nipped back in, which would be rather unusual. Alpaca mating is also a rather noisy affair, so I think Ian would have heard. Ian joked to the vet that if she was pregnant he was going to change her name to Mary.
No snow storm, but lots of frost

Winters are often stunning times of the year here in Latvia
The examination by the vets though seemed to tip the balance and shortly afterwards Ian found her on her side and breathing very shallowly. One of us stayed with her for the next 3 hours or so as she faded away. We, along with our vet performed an autopsy on her shortly after she passed away. We didn't have a choice, with temperatures way down, there was only a short window of time to investigate before having to deal with a frozen animal. We needed to know why she died so we can increase our knowledge, it also helps the vet to know what she is looking for when examining other alpacas. They don't learn this in vet school yet, not here in Latvia anyway.

The same oak tree taken at sunrise this morning.

The ram is finally taking an interest in at least one of the ladies
Towards the end it looks like her heart started to fail, a little like Alicia's did a couple of years ago, but it didn't appear to be that that made her sick, it was her liver. Firstly it was huge and it was also unusual, not a fatty liver thank goodness, which would have had possible implications for our other alpacas, but probably cancerous. The liver is now awaiting a histological examination. We don't have the facilities to do that sort of investigation.
Frosted tree, perfect blue sky and the moon

Frosted tree, cloudy sky and the moon
Snowdrop was a bit of a character. She wasn't a dear, sweet, old lady. She would have been twelve years old next month and so technically nearly a geriatric, but some alpacas in good condition are still producing cria at her age. She was the one we used to have to lock away when we had visitors as her interest in food was always paramount, and if she thought another alpaca was going to get "her" food she spat. Not helpful when you want visitors to come. She was also always, always, always the first in at night and we placed her food down first in a corner so that we could then feed the others. Woe betide any alpaca trying to eat from her tray. She had calmed down a lot though, as she got used to us. As long as we handled her correctly to make sure she didn't spit in our direction when trying to deal with her for any reason she was fine. She was only articulating her displeasure  after all.
Liquid gold sunrise

It has been difficult to choose photos from the ones Ian has taken

Of course we have also been trying to think back over the last few months to try and identify if there was anything that we could have done differently, any signs we should have been aware of etc. I don't think it would have made any difference to the outcome, but it could help us to recognise when another alpaca is sick. It is often difficult to recognise when herd animals are ill, because they don't show until it is often serious and something we just have to accept. There were a few things though that we now know were signals that something was wrong. We were worried about her weight, as she definitely seemed thin and despite not breeding from her this year to allow her time to recover, she didn't put weight on, despite extra feeds and free access to hay.
Soaking up the sunshine

Sometimes our animals prefer snow to the cold water
Another sign was the day she walked up to Ian and looked him hard in the face. When some of the others do that it usually means they would like some water, but that wasn't what she wanted. We remember an alpaca breeder mentioning that if an alpaca was pregnant and seemed to want attention, then something was wrong with the birthing process so perhaps it also means they are trying to get attention when they are sick. The final sign was a rapid weight loss in the last few weeks. I was surprised how much she seemed to have lost since it got cold, but I guess all her energy was going towards trying to stay warm. Thank goodness those two blankets made her comfortable in the end.
Says it all

The morning view from our apartment
Her name and her birth date should give you a clue that Snowdrop was a winter baby. The breeder we got her from didn't intentionally breed at that time of year and she was a surprise birth. It almost seems fitting that to bury her we had to dig through 40cms of permafrost before finding ground soft enough for the back hoe to handle. We had to use long handled chisels and a masonry drill to get through, then the frozen ground was so strong we were able to excavate underneath it without it giving way. So our feisty old lady is now buried beneath a blanket of snow, close to Alicia.

A picture I painted in our art class on a fantasy theme
The nibbler
She isn't the only one causing concern this week. As I mentioned last week I made a coat from an old sleeping bag. The bag must be over thirty years old, as Ian had it before he met me and we have known each other 33 years and so the fabric is not terribly strong. Our youngest alpaca, Brencis, is nibbling everything in sight at the moment. It is possible that he is a bit hungry as he isn't feeding as much from his mum and he hasn't quite got the hang of feeding from the trays yet. More often than not he picks the tray up in his teeth and so scatters the pellets everywhere. He does have free access to hay though and chomps his way through that, but you know how it is when kids are growing fast and trying to fill them. Anyway, he managed to tear a big section of the blanket and the next morning the patch was torn right off and no evidence of the fabric anywhere. We can only surmise that he has eaten it. Ian keeps checking to see if it has appeared, but nothing yet and after checking the internet it could be a while. Apparently the contents of an alpacas stomach can stay there for up to 60 days!
Our geriatric alpaca, is still going strong. Her condition is good

Eyre with her winter ruff
Next on the concern list was Eyre our youngest kitten. She may have eaten something she shouldn't have and definitely has worms. Great! Anyway I finally found the tablet we have for worming cats in my handbag at home, so tomorrow she will get that and hopefully that sorts her out. She got to spend a night in our caravan, rather than the greenhouse like normal. Don't worry about our cats though, firstly the greenhouse gives them lots of protection from the elements and they have both put lots of growth into their fur coats and have bushed up beautifully. We used to take Sofie and Bella (our previous cat) home in the winter, but found they hated the over-heated flat at night, which is why they stay out now. Finally we also lost one of the chickens yesterday. It was the one that was sick a little while ago, so the cold probably hasn't helped. At least the rest seem okay.

I finished knitting my Christmas hat
Talking of over-heated flats, that isn't the case this year. For anyone that has followed the blog over the years, you may realise that we often have heating issues. Too hot or too cold and too expensive regardless of the heat. This year it has been consistently cold and we even had mouldy walls. We now put our woodburner on in the evenings to keep us warm enough and to dry out the place. It is no good complaining, because it is a house issue and not just the company who provides the heat. Until the people in our apartment block decide to come off the communal heat, it will remain expensive and unpredictable. The re-circulation pump that was installed at excessive costs about eighteen months ago is the reason for the cold, but steady temperatures from what we understand. So the saga continues.


  1. Sorry to read about Snowdrop. Your wintery photos are stunning.

    1. Thanks Gina. Most of the winter photographs are Ian's work. I sent him out to take some and he came back with over a hundred. It was so difficult to pick just a few.


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