The Mystery of Teddy Bear

When you get a rescue dog, I think most people are curious about what the dog’s story is.  Sometimes, if the dog was surrendered, you have some information.  But for us, there was no story about his origins.

I started looking for a new dog in 2011, after our Great Pyrenees, Princess, had passed.  I had the idea that I wanted to rescue a dog, but being an alpaca farmer, I had to be careful what breeds I looked at.  The most dangerous predator for alpacas in our area is the domestic dog.  Because of that, I only felt safe looking for dogs that had livestock guardian breeds or herding breeds in their background.  Bred to live with livestock, they would not be as prone to see alpacas as prey.  They also had to live with cats and kittens.  I found Big Fluffy Dog Rescue on the Internet.  Based in Tennessee, they rescue the heavy-coated dogs that are in shelters and are at risk for euthanasia.  There was a picture online of a big yellow Fluffy with a huge bear-like head.  I inquired about him and after sending in an application, we got him.

This was the first picture I saw of 'Fred'.

This was the first picture I saw of ‘Fred’.

He had been sent up to New England in early 2011 and placed with a couple in Quincy, Ma., but they worked all day, and the dog had not taken to being alone.  I think they said he tried to go out a window in their apartment building, so the people sadly brought him back to Big Fluffy Dogs.  The Rescue had called him ‘Rhett’ and the couple had called him ‘Fred’.  We changed his name to Teddy Bear, figuring calling him ‘Ted’ would be close to ‘Fred’.  When we got his paperwork we found that he’d been picked up as a stray from a shelter in Murfreesborow, TN, around November 2010.  He was very underweight at that point.  I was told he weighed around 46 pounds when he was found.  He got veterinary care, was neutered and then went to Big Fluffy Dog Rescue and was sent north.  In January his first adopters took him to the vet and he weighed 67.2 pounds.  The vet said on the paperwork, ‘Fred is severely emaciated and is in extremely poor condition.  He has a mass on his left hip and enlarged lymph nodes in his neck’.  This dog was billed by the rescue as a Great Pyrenees/Golden Retriever cross, but looked like a Great Pyrenees with gold fur.  Pyrs usually weigh between 80 and 100 lbs – especially the males.  He got the care he needed, but was still underweight when we got him in the summer of 2011.

I had hoped that the Golden Retriever in his background would help make him more obedient than the average Great Pyrenees.  Princess, who was a very sweet girl, was not inclined to do what you wanted her to do.  This is common to the breed, as they were bred to work alone with herds of sheep and to make their own decisions.  But Teddy Bear was all Pyr in his temperment, and I could find nothing to use for reward-based training.  Treats did not work, nor did toys, nor did praise.  He only wanted to do what he wanted to do.  But I knew that Great Pyrenees didn’t come in that golden color.  Something else was in there.  And upon closer examination, it didn’t seem to be Golden Retriever.  He had a white collar and little ears that lay back.  His ears didn’t look exactly like a Pyr’s ears, as they were smaller, and definitely not like a Golden’s.  Could he have collie in him???  But collies don’t come in that color gold.  Would a light sable rough collie somewhere in the background have made Teddy’s white ruff and little ears???

Teddy playing with our collie Luna.  They both have white ruffs!

Teddy playing with our collie Luna. They both have white ruffs!

Teddy snoozing, showing his little ears laid back on his neck.

Teddy snoozing, showing his little ears laid back on his neck.

I decided to get his DNA checked to see what would come out.  I chose Mars Veterinary product ‘Wisdom Panel’ which, although not perfect, is scientific and has a ton of breeds that it checks against.  I did the cheek swabs and sent them off.  Keep in mind that all they have is two cheek swabs.  They have my name and address and Teddy’s name, but no pictures and no breed(s) specified to look for.  The results came back and they show a graph to help people understand the results.  It shows three generations and the breeds that were the most likely combination.  The Great-Grandparents are four dogs on each side of his family, for a total of eight dogs.  Six were Great Pyrenees.  On one side, all four were Great Pyrenees, which meant his grandparents on that side and a parent on that side were Great Pyrenees.  On the other side, two of his Great-Grandparents were Pyrs, which meant one Grandparent on that side was Pyr and that the parent on that side would be half Great Pyrenees.

Ok, that all made sense.  His DNA was almost 88% matching to the markers for Great Pyrenees.  But what was the other small match, which obviously would have contributed to his coloring and those little ears.  The Wisdom Panel said ‘Borzoi’.  I was shocked at that.  No sable rough collie?  No collie/golden cross?  No mutt anywhere?  I emailed them to see if they were sure about the results or if maybe the Borzoi markers could have been close enough to another breed to have come up false.  They were wonderful and reviewed the results.  They even ran an analysis of Ted’s profile to that of a Golden, but it did not group at all near the Golden’s genetic profile.  They asked for pictures of Teddy Bear, so they could try to explain the traits we see. After the review, they sent me a very long email with a great explanation of how they go through the process, plus they listed Teddy’s traits that could have been influenced by dominant genes in both the Pyr and Borzoi.  They confirmed that his DNA had showed no markers for any breeds, including mixed breeds, other than Great Pyrenees and Borzoi.

While waiting for the results of their review, I had done my own research on Borzoi dogs.  Although rare, there were quite a few breeder websites out there, and more than a few in Tennessee.  Who knew?  They also can come in Teddy’s color and carry the white spotting gene that gives them a pattern they call ‘gold Irish marked’.

A picture of Junot, an Irish marked Borzoi from C'lestial Borzois

A picture of Junot, an Irish marked Borzoi from C’lestial Borzois

Teddy's coat color, with his 'Irish Marked' trimmings.

Teddy’s coat color, with his ‘Irish Marked’ trimmings.

I have to say, I can see the possibility.  All Great Pyrenees with a smidge of Borzoi.  And if the test failed in that last little bit, and there is a collie back in the generations, the test did include checking for the MDR1 mutation which causes collies to have sensitivity to certain drugs.  Ted is Normal/Normal which is great, so no need to worry about that!

I still don’t know why a beautiful dog like Teddy Bear was found wandering and starved.  He has perfect house manners and is very loving.  Somebody socialized him well.  I can wonder about why a person breeding Great Pyrenees would breed out to another breed, and then take that mix and breed back to the Pyr.  Who knows.  I’m glad that someone found him, and that Big Fluffy Dogs sent him North.  They missed with the first adoption, but the second was just what a Great Pyrenees needs – a farm and people who understand the Pyr mind.  We appreciate his barking at night, warning off predators, and his diffident way with the alpacas.  Now when people visiting the farm see him and ask, ‘What kind of dog is he?’, I can smile and say, ‘He’s 88% Great Pyrenees, with a little of something that made him gold.’

Family Planning

When people think of family planning, they usually think of the politically charged Planned Parenthood or of birth control pills or something to do with people having babies.  But many people practice family planning on a regular basis when they spay or neuter their dogs.  Responsible breeders and shelters spay and neuter before they place their dogs or cats, which is the epitomy of family planning for someone else.

Here at Foss Mountain Farm we are practicing family planning on a daily basis!  With the Ragdoll cats, it is a simple matter of keeping the one intact male, Blaze, away from any of the intact females that I don’t want bred.  Might be a simple matter, but it isn’t as simple to execute. He wants his girlfriends and they want him (when in heat).  Lots of unhappy crying when they are kept apart.


Blaze lounging on the rug.

With the alpacas, the procedure is similar.  The boys are kept separately from the girls.  One male herd has their own barn and double rows of fencing and a driveway between them and the female herd.  The other male herd is closer, and very sturdy fences and gates separate those guys from the girls, as they share the same barn.  Unlike with other livestock, like cattle and horses, male alpacas are easy to manage if left intact, so we don’t geld them unless they are fighters.  We have one gelding boarder, and he lives in with the girls.  In summer, we are vigilant about the electric pasture fencing being on and working correctly.  In winter the gates are the weak point, as we go in and out of them and have to always remember to latch, latch, latch!

But the latch wasn’t the cause of the serious breach in family planning that happened in January of 2014.  The gate in the center of our big barn that separates the boys from the girls was securely latched.  But some overzealous male put his head through the rails and lifted up.  The gate was hung so that it could be removed easily, so the gate lifted up and then fell over, hanging on one end by the latch.  All eight of the boys eventually figured out they could jump over the half-fallen gate.  I’m not saying Axel, shown below, could have been the gate-lifter, but I wouldn’t put it past him.


Axel, one of the more ‘randy’ boys.

We discovered that the boys and girls were together when we went out to do chores.  We figured they had been there for a couple of hours, at least.  Both of us panicked, as we did not want any more crias.  Our numbers were where they needed to be for a fiber farm and both the barns and pastures were at capacity.  Four males were breeding when we got there and boys were in the girls’ section and girls were in the boys’ section.  Just ripping boys off of girls wouldn’t help.  We had to sort them out, which was a bit of logistics nightmare.  I had to stop panicking long enough to figure out how to make a secure place (without girls) to put boys, and then how to get the girls back to their own section.  Alpacas need to be herded.  You just can’t open a gate and say, ‘Come on in here’.  After awhile, and with much swearing and hauling by the neck, we had the boys secured.  We then opened the back slider barn door and called to the girls, who were in the boys section still.  God love them, they came.  They were probably desperate to get back ‘home’.

Of the sixteen girls, twelve had marks on the fleece of their backs, to indicate they’d been bred.  Dick was horrified.  I tried to calm him by telling him about some drug I’d heard about that could end an early pregnancy.  Sort of like a morning after pill…  Thank goodness for the internet!  After some research and a call to the vet, we got the injectable estrumate that would terminate any pregnancies that occurred.  To find out who got pregnant we had to bring a willing male to each of the twelve girls.  If she rejected him, she could be pregnant.  If she was glad to see him and cushed for breeding, then she wasn’t pregnant.  (Poor guy gets pulled away, quite frustrated.) On the first test, a week after the break-in, five of the girls were receptive for breedings, so by that, we determined they hadn’t taken.  The seven remaining were tested again a week later.  Four more were receptive for breeding, so we determined those also had not gotten pregnant.  There were three that still ran from the male.  They were Susannah, Tupelo Honey and Queenie.  We gave Susannah and Tupelo the injection but did not give it to Queenie.  We had caught Troubadour with her the prior summer and I thought she might have become pregnant from that breeding, though we didn’t really think she’d been with him long enough.  But I didn’t want to chance using the Estrumate if she was into her seventh month of gestation.  The following week we checked on Susannah and Tupelo Honey, and they were receptive to the male.  Yay!!


Susannah, no baby for you!

Summer came and went and Queenie never got round and never delivered a baby from Troubadour.  By September I was starting to think of how we could handle a mid-winter birth.  And who was the Daddy?  Of the boys who broke in, two were her uncles and one was a half-brother.  Now line breeding is somewhat acceptable in livestock breeding, but I preferred the parents be less related than that!  Winter is a terrible time to have crias born, especially here in New Hampshire.  Sigh…  Should have given her the Estrumate.

So we knew the date of the break in, so knew she would be due between December 25 and January 25.  The temperatures were up and down, but we knew that January usually had lots of days in the teens, with nights going below zero.  We decided she had to come into the cellar to give birth, or the cria might freeze.  Dick’s workshop, which opens out to our cat pen, was converted to a big stall.  We covered the shelves and a bureau with sheets to keep out nosy alpacas.  We put show mats on the floor and covered them with straw.  Dick fixed a gate up so the Ragdolls would still have space to cross to get out to their pen through the cat door.  We brought in Queenie and her mother Cherry Bomb.  The Bomb was not happy.


Queenie looks at cat peeking in from the other part of the cellar, while Cherry Bomb looks unhappy to be inside.

A couple of weeks after coming in, Queenie delivered her cria.  It was a beautiful white female with a brown nose and a couple of brown spots on the ears and back.  Yayyy!!  I now knew the father!  Our intrepid appaloosa Troubadour had gotten to Queenie again during the break in.  We had bred Queenie to him a couple of years back and they had a beautiful appaloosa daughter, Pennies from Heaven.

Troubadour, The Man

Troubadour, The Man

She, Pennies, on that very day of the birth, was acting very ‘off’ out in the barn.  She wasn’t eating and kept laying down.  She’d been acting that way for a couple of days, so we decided to bring her to her mother and take Cherry Bomb out.  It worked out wonderfully!  Cherry Bomb was thrilled to get back to the herd and Pennies was totally happy to get with her mother and new sister, who we named Athena.

Athena meets Pennies.  Both have the brown nose and spots.

Athena meets Pennies. Both have the brown nose and spots.

All’s well that ends well.  Due to a frigid winter, the girls remained in the cellar for two months.  Angel Baby, the cat, had a great time hanging out around them.  She and Blaze made nests out of straw and generally messed up the whole cellar with it.  The cria stayed warm and mother, sister and baby were totally contented.

Maybe I should have titled this ‘Failed Family Planning’.

Lessons learned…

When you have a lot of animals you are continually learning.  This Fall has been full of new ‘lessons’, which translates to lots of money spent and lots of anxiety.  I’ll start with the most recent ‘lesson’.

Dorie Jo had a litter of four female kittens.  At around nine weeks old, the little blue colorpoint girl, Noelle, started being very lethargic.  She still ate well, but slept all the time.  The vet found no temperature, but she had little muscle tone and her white blood cell count was high.  She was tested for about eight different illnesses but came back negative on all.  Her fecal was fine.  Dr. Rachael suspected toxoplasmosis, even though the test had been negative, so prescribed clindamycin, a broad-based antibiotic that treats a number of things, including toxo.  It was a tiny half a pill that was to be given with food.

Now I know that antibiotics can be hard on the stomach sometimes and often cause diarrhea.  So when it said ‘give twice a day with food’, I thought giving it after she ate would work, as she would have a full stomach.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  After a day or two on the pills, Noelle was feeling better and was playing and eating well.  But after about a week, she started having trouble swallowing.  She got so she couldn’t eat the crunchy food and even had trouble with the bits of food in the canned with gravy varieties.  She choked on them and sometimes threw them up. The vet suspected some type of ulceration in her esophagus caused by the clindamycin.  Ulcerations  like this can lead to ‘strictures’.  I’d never heard of such a thing.  I looked ‘strictures’ up on Google, of course, and found that people get them, as well as dogs and cats.  In some of the literature, I found that cat strictures are rare, but the cause is often clindamycin.  (Now ya tell me!)  Strictures are scar tissue that narrows the esophagus and can cause the cat to be unable to swallow food at all, to regurgitate food into the lungs and cause pneumonia.  They can lead to death if untreated.  As this kitten was getting worse, the solution was to go to a board-certified specialist to have an endoscopy, which would see if there was a stricture and if so, destroy it.  Of course the destruction of this scar tissue can result in more scar tissue which has to be removed.  Holy crap, that means two procedures or more???  (These procedures ain’t cheap, as you can imagine.)  The hope is that the second stricture is smaller than the first and can be more easily removed and when it heals, it doesn’t narrow the esophagus much.  Hope, hope, hope and crossed fingers.

Noelle_favorite toy

Noelle went down to Scarborough, Maine and had the endoscopy.  Luckily her stricture was small and easily removed.  We will cross our fingers that in a week she is still eating well and has no sign of another one forming.  If so, back to the specialist she goes.  As of right now, she is lively and eating her soft canned food well.

The hard lesson learned is this.  If you have a cat who is given clindamycin as an antibiotic, you MUST give food immediately after you pill her to make sure the pill clears the esophagus.  In fact, it would be a good idea to do this with any pill you give a cat.  Studies showed that dry pilling sometimes delays the pill from getting to the stomach for over thirty minutes.  It just sits in the esophagus.  A little tuna juice, a favorite treat, a bit of favorite canned food, given right after the pilling, will make it go down.

I learned a very expensive lesson here.  And it may get even more expensive.  Noelle, thank goodness, is doing well and enjoys her canned food.  She came through her procedures well and being a Ragdoll, did not stress much over being in the hospital overnight.  But we won’t know for awhile if the throat will heal now, without another stricture.

But that wasn’t my only lesson this Fall.

Before the kitten issue, came a problem with my sweet collie Luna.  She seemed to be very itchy and her coat was getting cruddy.  She sheds in late summer and early Fall and usually I find it easy to groom out her gray undercoat.  But this year was different.  I blamed the itching on her food.  After she’d gained too much weight over the winter, I’d switched her to a weight management kibble and weight management canned food, using the same brand as she’d been on.  She also had diet biscuits.  I figured she was on such a low fat diet that she was getting dry skin.  So I added in some fish oil and started to alternate the diet canned food with the regular food.  Still itchy and with poor coat.  She had lost a little weight though. (yay)

Luna by flowers

Luna by flowers with normal coat

Her itching eventually caused her ears to become red and hot looking, plus I’d found a scab behind her elbow where she itched a lot too.  I thought it was from an old tick bite.  So off to the vet’s we went.

After an exam, Dr Lindsey did a skin scraping of the edge of Luna’s ear, which was pretty raw.  By then the hair was coming off the ear too.  I was still thinking it was the food…

They called me out back to look into the microscope.  Damned if there wasn’t a freaking MITE in the viewfinder!  I know what mites look like because alpacas get a type of them and I’d seen pictures.  Luna had sarcoptic mites.  Vets see the mites in only 20% of the slides done on infected dogs, so we got lucky.  How did Luna get them?  She isn’t around other dogs, she doesn’t go to a kennel.  The alpacas get a different kind of mite.  The vets’ best guess was that she had gotten them from the foxes who live around our farm.  We have both red and gray foxes.  Somehow Luna had gotten into their poop or their sleeping spots or something, while out on a walk through the woods.  She is always sticking her long collie nose into holes in the woods, so maybe one of them was a foxhole.  The treatment was antibiotics for her poor scratched ears, Revolution spot-on to kill the mites, and after one ear developed a haematoma, prednisone for that.  Ka-ching, ka-ching, goes the cash register at the vet’s office.

Luna is getting better.  It will take a couple of months for her hair to return to normal, but her ears have already cleared up, though the edges still look dry and scaly.  She gets Revolution every two weeks and then goes to monthly treatment.  Revolution is also a heartworm preventative, safe for collies.

I never thought that a pet dog could get mites, also called ‘scabies’.  I never knew that Revolution kills sarcoptic mites.  We always used Frontline Spray on the alpacas.  Sigh.  It has been an expensive Fall.


And the living is easy.  Or so it is for our alpacas.  They just love the summer because it means they go out to the pastures to graze.

Grazing in the back field

Grazing in the back field

We have two barns, a large one and a small one.  They both have overhangs and paddocks in the front.  During winter, the alpacas stay in the barn and paddocks and don’t go to the pastures.  They don’t particularly like snow and here in New Hampshire we have a lot.  But when Spring comes they start humming to go out.

The big barn holds our large female herd and a small herd of males we call the ‘young boys’.  The girls have the largest areas in the barn, and the boys are kept separate in their own stall and section of overhang.  They are not all young anymore, but are younger than our other male herd (known as ‘the big boys’) who live in the smaller barn.

Big barn and front paddock.

Big barn and front paddock.

Small barn looking from their pasture.

Small barn looking from their pasture.

Both barns have access to pasture behind them.  The girls and younger boys access their fields by going up a rather steep aisle-way that takes them up to the grass.  The young boys’ aisle-way parallels the girls and those young boys will not go to pasture until the girls do.  The older boys in the small barn next to our house, go downhill a bit to their field and though they can see the girls go out in the distance, they don’t depend on the girls to tell them when to graze!  When we are cleaning stalls in the morning, we watch the girls as they stare at the back sliding door and hum anxiously.  It is open, but for some strange and unknown reason, they don’t go out automatically.  Dick thinks that it is one female, MoonDance, who ultimately makes the decision to go.  One or another of the other females, who are lower down on the hierarchy, may attempt to go out.  She’ll go into the aisle-way, but when nobody else follows, will come running back in.  Finally, MoonDance will start off and the whole group leaves the barn.  The young males see them start up and they run to their aisle-way and go up too.  Once and a while I get impatient with the constant humming and indecision and will clap my hands and shout, “OK! Let’s GO!”.  It does work on occasion.  Sometimes if I just walk out the door after saying that, they will follow me up the aisle-way and into what ever section of the field we’ve rotated them to.

MoonDance, the fearless leader of the girls

MoonDance, the fearless leader of the girls

Summertime may be easy for the alpacas, but it is not easy for Dick.  He spends a great deal of time tending to the pastures.  Because we practice rotational grazing, he is always moving temporary electric netting around to funnel the animals into different sections of the fields.  It became obvious to us that we didn’t have enough pasture for the girls.  But we had a back field that wasn’t fenced and was growing some nice grass once Dick started mowing it regularly.  We had long been storing manure there for it to age, and once spread on the other fields, good grass was growing where the piles had stood.  So this summer we decided to try to graze the girls in that back field.  Three sides of it were bordered by woods and ancient stone walls and the fourth side had an existing perimeter fence for what we call ‘the hidden pasture’.  (Before we cleared our land of new growth trees, the hidden pasture was surrounded by woods.  The woods are gone, but the name stuck.)  The only real large opening to the back field was below our vegetable garden where we had access to that field.  Dick put up the electric netting to that opening, blocked a couple of other little places with field fence and we let the girls out there through the hidden pasture gate.  It worked great, except that I fretted that the ancient stone walls couldn’t protect them from predators when they went out at night.  To make myself feel better, I take the dogs out there frequently in hopes they leave dog smell around.

Girls gawk at Teddy in the hidden pasture.

Girls gawk at Teddy in the hidden pasture.

Alpacas leaving the back field through the hidden pasture gate.

Alpacas leaving the back field through the hidden pasture gate.

We have plans to have the whole back field fenced with the six strand high tensile electric wire, but in the meantime I’m hoping the dogs are a deterrent.

Girls grazing in back field. Netting keeps them out of the garden.

Girls grazing in back field. Netting keeps them out of the garden.

The not so ‘hidden pasture’ and the back field have become the girls favorite places.  The back field has an added benefit of having some undergrowth where they can scratch.  Seeing as New Hampshire has a lot of bugs in summer, the underbrush gives them a place to rub at the itchiness.  The young boys also have a grove of trees where they scratch.  On hot days, that is their place to hang out.

They've worn out all the underbrush!

They’ve worn out all the underbrush!

It is now August and the grass has slowed it’s growth so we supplement the pasture with hay.  Since the hay is now almost a year old, the alpacas prefer their grass, but being the chow hounds they are, they eat the hay too.  As Fall approaches, we know they will have to be closed off of the pastures once the grass stops growing.  By then, we’ll have all new second cutting hay to give them.  But they will still hum at the back door for a month or so.  And by then, there can be no, “OK! Let’s go!”.  Alas, winter is not so easy…


My Kitten-less Summer

My last kitten left for his new home yesterday.  Normally I am a little sad, but this litter was the last one from my boy Rusty which makes it more poignant.  Poor Rusty was such an easy keeper that I kept him breeding until he was eleven years old!!  As many of you know, intact male cats have this nasty habit of spraying, so they have to be kept separated if you want your house to smell good.  Though Rusty loved his ‘job’, he deserved to have part of his life as a pet, with the freedom to roam the house.  He is now in his new home with a friend of mine and is an ‘only cat’ who gets lots of attention.


Randal at six weeks old. He was the last to leave.

This most recent litter was also the last one from my girl Delilah.  She is seven years old today and for a female that is about as old as you want them to get for breeding.  She will be spayed next week and remain here as my pet.  (Yeah, yeah, I’m not good at parting with my retired cats.  Rusty couldn’t stop himself from mounting girls after he was neutered or from intimidating my other boys, or else he would still be here too.)

At three weeks they are so adorable!

At three weeks they are so adorable!

Usually when a litter is gone, I have another planned soon, but this time there are no litters coming.  My new boy Blaze hadn’t yet matured enough when Susie Q and Angel Baby came in heat last month.  So now we wait for them to cycle around again, which I hope is soon.  So I am trying to look on the bright side of being without kittens for a few months.  The reasons to be happy about it are as follows:

Not so much litter box cleaning!  We have oodles of cat boxes in our house.  I even have three hidden in my living room.  Now there are way more than the recommended number for the eight adult cats that live here.

The toy basket is fun to lay in.

The toy basket is fun to lay in.

The cellar door can be left ajar!  We have a fenced in enclosure that the cats get to via a cat door in the cellar.  Kittens are NOT allowed in the cellar or in the cat pen.  I spend my days opening and shutting that door for the adult cats.  Unlike dogs, they don’t scratch to go in or out.  They just sit their looking put upon…  Ok, so Beyonce does scratch like mad to come in, but the others are martyrs.

The living room rug is uncluttered!  The kittens love to spread their toys around everywhere and they themselves are often draped around on the rug.  So now the living room rug will look nice.  Well, until the next time our golden Pyrenees Teddy Bear comes in from the peeper pond and dumps his drying mud flakes all over it.

Annie (and toys) on the rug.

Annie (and toys) on the rug.

We can get a good night’s sleep without worrying about kitten teeth on our toes!  When the kittens are getting close to the three month point, they discover what fun it is to climb up on the bed and attack those big bumps under the covers that move from time to time.  Nothing like being shocked out of a deep sleep by an attacking tiny feline.  Hard to tell your sleeping self to keep those feet still!

The resident cats are very happy!  It is not like they hate kittens, as many of them are very good to them.  But with no kittens around, they get more attention from me, the cellar door is open and they don’t have to fend off the greedy kittens from their canned food bowls.

Ok, so why am I still feeling lonesome for those adorable faces, and the thunder of kitten hooves (yes, they sound like little horses) racing down the hallway from the living room through the kitchen to the family room?

Maybe I’ll get used to the silence…

Alpaca for dinner?

I just read a couple of articles in Alpaca Culture Magazine on using alpacas for meat.  One article contained reasons why it wasn’t a good idea and the other stated reasons why it was a valid course of action.  Both articles had good points.  It made me think, so I decided I’d express myself here on the subject.

The ‘meat’ subject is very controversial in the alpaca industry.  People on both sides of the issue have strong opinions.  My reaction when I first heard about it was horror.  Eat these adorable, soft creatures when you could use their fleece and let them live long, happy lives??  But over time I came to see the reasoning behind using some of them for consumption.  It is, bottom line, a personal decision for each farmer to make.

When I was in my horror stage, Dick did not feel that way.  “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”  But when I asked if he would eat Leroy Brown, one of his favorite fiber boys, he said he really wouldn’t want to.  Ok, so there’s nothing wrong with other people doing it, but he doesn’t really want to do it.  That’s where I am at now.

Bad Bad Leroy Brown

Bad Bad Leroy Brown

Since we started in the alpaca business, I have been breeding for fine fiber that can be worn against the skin.  When I see an alpaca, I see the yarn that can come from it.  We never bred alpacas to show them.  Yes, we do show fleeces and attend one halter show a year, but that was never the goal.  So maybe that is why I had such a first strong reaction to the idea of using them for meat.  I still get a gut reaction when I think of the animals that Cas Cad Nac culls.  I’m sure I’d just love the yarn from those animals!  But there aren’t enough fiber farms to support the breeders’ excess alpacas.  My thought is that it is the lack of the establishment of a good fiber market that has led us to the meat market.  It is a viable option for farms that need to cut expenses and who want to continue to have new crias every year.

Cracklin' Rosie's blue ribbon fleece

Cracklin’ Rosie’s blue ribbon fleece

We aren’t breeding anymore and have morphed into a fiber farm.  We use our fleeces to bring in revenue, but don’t depend on our alpacas to support us.  If we were younger, we would probably continue to breed, especially since we are losing alpacas now to old age and illness.  But we, like many older alpaca farmers, want to downsize.  But not enough to eat them…

We do have fun with the dye pot too

We do have fun with the dye pot too

We lost two alpacas this Spring, and both have fiber out at the mill being processed into yarn.  Caraz was eighteen at her last shearing and her yarn, blended with our fine girl MoonDance, is very nice.  Those import guys knew good alpacas when they screened Caraz.  Gambler, who was only nine when he died, had strong primaries that caused the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool to downgrade his fleece.  But it felt so soft when I skirted it, that I sent his fiber to Sallies Fen Fiber Mill and the bulky yarn was wonderful.  I’m not sure what happened to the primaries, because there was none visible in the yarn.  I knit a cowl from his yarn and was very pleased that it didn’t itch at all!  (I’m so glad I have that cowl, now that he’s gone.)  Are all of our alpacas soft enough for good yarn?  No, of course some of them are coarser than others.  But the Pool has uses for their fleeces, so we send them there.  For us, using the fleece is what we want to do with our alpacas.  Each farmer decides for themselves what they want from their animals.  We all should be accepting of each others’ choices.

Leroy, you can rest easy.  No dinner plate for you…

Alpaca Hazing

There isn’t very much about alpaca farming that we don’t like.  But one of the things we dread is relocating males to a different group.  This happens most often when we have a young boy who is old enough to bother the girls, but not yet full-sized.  Putting him in with older boys always results in alpaca hazing that scares the devil out of the little guy and makes us wildly protective.

This happened last night with our new boy Krypton.  We got him when he was thirteen months old, so initially put him in with the girls.  The girls will sniff to death a new alpaca, but they don’t haze like the boys do.  Krypton has been with the girls for a couple of months with no problem, but last night he started to mount Brownie and was orgling to beat the band.  Boys orgle (alpaca singing) only when they breed.  Worried that he could be getting fertile, we put him in with our youngest boys, who are adjacent to the girls.  They’d seen him and he’d seen them, but it didn’t make much difference.  Immediately, Axel, the very randy son of a very randy Sammy, chased him and mounted him, with all the rest of the eight boys in hot pursuit.  Add to the pursuit, a very irate Dick, with a plastic rake to discourage such mean behavior.  After about a half hour of trying to deter Axel, and about five black fly bites later, we decided that Axel, the oversexed fawn hothead, would have to be moved down to the older male barn.  That will teach you, we thought.

Axel fit right in this morning!

Axel fit right in this morning!

The older boys are the more aggressive ones and include Axel’s father Sammy and his grandfather Orion.  Sammy, just like his son, immediately started the chase and Orion with the others behind, joined the melee.  But Axel is no baby and fought back.  In just a few minutes we watched as Axel stood screaming at the top of his voice and the others backed away.  I’m sure they thought he was a complete madman.

Ok, we thought, all is set.  We went back to the big barn to check on Krypton and wasn’t our young rose gray boy, Guns n Roses, pouncing on the little one.  He had him flattened.  All the others had been fairly calm after Axel left, but Gunny wouldn’t quit.  After both of us tried convincing Gunny to stop, we gave up and moved him down to the other barn as well.  Now Gunny is a big boy, so we thought he should be able to handle himself with the older males, since he is just as big as the biggest one down there.  Didn’t Axel start the chase when we brought him down!  Sammy quickly took over, with Axel mounting Sammy, who was mounting Gunny!  All at a run, mind you.  But Sammy got tired.  After all, Sammy and Axel are short, so it was a reach for Sammy to get up on Gunny, running on the hind legs the whole time.  That hazing lasted awhile, accompanied by the high-pitched frantic barking of our collie Luna.  She does NOT like when the boys fight.  She raced along the fence she shares with the boys, barking hysterically.  That and the alpaca screams made it sound like a massacre was happening.  Good thing we have no close neighbors.

Gunny (l) Axel (r) in with the 'Big Boys'

Gunny (l) Axel (r) in with the ‘Big Boys’

This morning, all is calm.  Krypton hums mournfully and paces the fence between him and the girls, which is heartbreaking to watch, but the other boys leave him alone.  Gunny is also crying for his former herdmates, humming at the fence closest to them.  Axel seems happy as a clam.  Perhaps he knows he’s with others more like himself.

Axel and Leroy Brown make friends... maybe

Axel and Leroy Brown make friends… maybe

Ah, the joys of alpaca farming…

Krypton, alone in the field and pacing the fence. :(

Krypton, alone in the field and pacing the fence. 😦

The Inevitable

When you have lots of animals, you’d think you would get used to death.  It is, obviously, a part of life, but it doesn’t really get any easier.  I suppose those farmers who raise meat animals get used to it, but those of us who don’t, still find it sad to lose a member of the herd.  Alpacas aren’t the same as pet dogs and cats.  They don’t bond with us the way that pets do, or even the way horses can bond.  Nevertheless, when you’ve taken care of them for years, used their beautiful fiber, watched them raise their young and interacted with them on a daily basis, it is hard to see them go down.  When we first got into alpacas, we used to tell people that they lived into their mid-twenties.  I guess that was based on llamas, because the lifespan of most alpacas that I’ve heard about has been late teens.

Caraz, who was euthanized yesterday, was an import from Australia with a birth year documented as 1995, making her 19 this year.  She’d been thin for a couple of years but still made very nice fiber.  In fact, her last year’s fleece is at the mill now, being spun into yarn with MoonDance’s fleece.  Caraz made it through this past cold winter, wearing her coat, but ten days ago we found her down in the stall on her side.  We got her into cush position and she was able to get up.  But after a few days, she could no longer get up at all.  We’d help her up and she was able to walk stiffly to the poop pile, the water and the hay, but did not stay up for long.  Whenever she tried to get up, she fell over onto her side, and couldn’t right herself from there.  It was time.  Now when you know it is time for a pet to go, you pack them into the car and take them to the vet.  But when a large animal can’t walk, you can’t do that.  Our vet was coming out for the annual rabies herd shots, so we had to wait for that.  We tried to make her as comfortable as possible during the wait.  When the herd all went outside, we’d go out to try to get her up so she wouldn’t be stressed by being left alone.  More than once we found her grand-daughter Susannah and her great-granddaughter Judy Blue, standing inside nearby.  Did they know she was a relative?  We’d get her up and they all would go outside.

Susannah and Judy as a youngster.

Susannah and Judy as a youngster, Caraz’s legacy

Caraz was a typical import.  She was spitty and grouchy and never liked us.  Susannah inherited that temperment, but thank goodness Judy Blue is a sweetie.  But Caraz did pass on her wonderful fleece characteristics, so for that we are thankful.  Despite her crabby disposition, it was still sad to see her deteriorate and sad to put her down.

Dick teased me by asking, “Do you think Caraz will be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge?  She’d come over, spitting at you all the way?”.  I laughed and said that I didn’t think alpacas would want to wait for their owners.  They rather spend eternity with other alpacas in perpetually green meadows.

Rest In Peace, Caraz, you old witch.  We’ll enjoy your yarn, and Judy’s too.

The Purebred and the Rescue

As people who know me could guess, I am a fan of the purebred. But I have had a lot of random-bred pets over my lifetime, so certainly appreciate them as well.  I think I was interested in purebred dogs from an early age.  I was a voracious reader and read books about Irish Setters, Cocker Spaniels, and the most telling for my future, books about Collies.

My first dog, Frosty, was a gift from my parents for my eighth birthday.  Mom told me that his mother was a cocker spaniel, but his father was unknown.  I spent lots of time poring over dog books looking for the breed that was his father.  Could he have been an English Setter?  Maybe a Golden Retriever, but no, Frosty is white.  I don’t think I ever really determined what he was and I’m sure now that he was a mix too!

Frosty and me

Frosty and me

My first cat, Melody, was a mix-bred brown classic tabby with a coat like a mink and what I now know as the mitted pattern of white.  She was so friendly and went everywhere with me and had no objection to the car.  When she was at home she was in my lap.  I got other mix-bred cats along the way, but none  of them had the personality of Melody.  When she passed at 19, I had two other cats, Chloe and Thumbalina, and Chloe did not like other pets being added to the household.  But I was researching purebreds to see what breed had the temperament like my sweet Melody.  So when Chloe passed a few years later, at age 17, she was barely cold in her grave when I was on the phone with a Ragdoll breeder in Rhode Island.  Finally, I could have another cat like Melody.

Melody the Wonderful

Melody the Wonderful

One of the benefits of the purebred dog or cat, is that you can tell what type of temperament they will have, and what they will look like.  This predictability is wonderful.  But I also love the pedigree itself.  It is, I suppose, like people who love genealogy. When I got my first Ragdoll, Blue Moon, I ordered a five generation pedigree and pored over the cats in it.  It actually helped me years later when I started breeding.  But I’m not sure very many people care about a pedigree on an altered pet cat!

When we started breeding alpacas (also purebred and registered), we wanted a livestock guardian dog.  We got two purebred LGDs, an Akbash Dog and a Great Pyrenees.  I also got the dog of my childhood dreams, a rough Collie.  All three breeds were bred for centuries to have temperaments that are safe around livestock.  But when the Great Pyrenees passed, I started looking for another dog, but wanted a rescue dog.  I found Big Fluffy Dog Rescue who focuses on, well, big fluffy dogs, which are often Great Pyrenees.  They had a picture of a dog with a huge bear head that looked like a Pyr, but was a golden color.  They thought he was a Great Pyrenees crossed with a Golden Retriever.  Livestock Guards are generally very independent, which means they do what they think they should do and not what you want them to do.  I thought, wow, the Golden is so trainable, now I can have a Pyr who will do what I want!  But when we got him, named by us Teddy Bear as we didn’t like his previous name of Fred, and before that Rhett, he was all Pyr in his head.  The only sign of the Golden was in his coat color and smaller size.  But the good thing was that the Pyr brain made him very safe around the alpacas.  Teddy Bear had been a stray in Tennessee and was very thin.  He still has an issue with food and is not a good eater.  Because with a rescue, you don’t know their backgrounds, they can have issues.  Teddy couldn’t be closed in the house at first.  He broke through numerous screens.  He didn’t, and still doesn’t, like being confined in the backyard fenced area and repeatedly got out.  He isn’t good on a leash at all and isn’t motivated by any training aid I can find.  Would a purebred Great Pyrenees have been easier?  Probably on the leash, yes, but they also are hard to keep confined!  There is a very good feeling you have when you rescue a dog or cat, even if they aren’t always what you expected they would be.

We are happy with our two dogs, for now, but the next dog we get will be another Collie.  I admire other breeds of cats, but expect I’ll always have Ragdolls.  But geez, I do love the mix-bred tuxedo cats with white …

Pet Food Trial Verdict

Back in November, I posted about the dry pet foods I’d been trying for my Ragdolls.  I continued to try different ones, per suggestions from friends and kitten buyers.  Over the years and up to the present I probably tried about all of them – Science Diet, Nutro, Pet Lovers Soul, Fromm Family, Earthborn, Evo, California Natural, Wellness, Royal Canin, Blue Buffalo.

With most of them, a couple of my cats would like the new food at first, but then nobody wanted them anymore and the dogs got them.  Since I would always transition them onto the new food from the old, the old would still be there.  At first that was Purina One and then recently it was Royal Canin.  Blue Buffalo was the only one that could compete with Royal Canin, and it was quickly obvious that only the Wilderness was really accepted. (Of course it was, it is the more expensive of the Blue selections.)  But the Blue Wilderness is high in protein, at 40%, and I didn’t really like all of my cats having that, especially the older ones.  A few years ago, when I tried Evo, the group had liked that, but it also was high in protein.  At that time I had a cat with compromised kidneys, so I took them off if it.

The other issue with the Wilderness was Rusty’s reaction to it.  He has traditionally had trouble with throwing up whenever I made the slightest change to his food.  He also has had digestive trouble on the other end.  Diarrhea in his stud pants are not fun, and on the Wilderness, he had that issue day after day when he was out for his exercise.  His litter box was a horror show as well.  My only conclusion was that it was too rich for him.  The lower protein Blue variety didn’t fix it either.  Could it possibly mean that he needed the ‘cheaper’ ingredients?  I went back to Royal Canin’s site to see the ingredients of the Indoor Adult 27, which hadn’t seemed to bother him.  Chicken meal was the first ingredient and further down there was corn gluten and wheat gluten as other sources of protein.  I’ve gone back to it and his problems have gone away.  I’ve also given it to the other cats, along with the Blue Wilderness, and they choose the Royal Canin first, but still like the Blue when the Royal Canin is gone.

I have a litter of kittens now, and at four weeks old, when they start to eat solid food, I put out some of the Royal Canin Babycat that I had left from last spring.  They immediately started eating it.  It ran out quickly, as their mother loved it too, and I put out the Wilderness kitten kibble.  Though Susie Q still ate it, the kittens barely touched it.  So I bought the new Royal Canin Mother and Babycat and they love that too.  I do still put out the Wilderness Kitten, but only the mother eats that.  The kittens still like their Blue Wilderness canned kitten food, but also steal the older cats’ Fancy Feast when they get a chance.

Kittens eating their Blue Wilderness canned food.

Kittens eating their Blue Wilderness canned food.

As a result of all this, I have had to rethink my issues with Royal Canin.  I went back to the internet to see if I could determine why the top foods were rated the way they were.  And what I discovered is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of scientific reasons for why various sites rate certain ones high, but instead they are rated on ‘good ingredients’.  They are also, invariably, the most expensive brands.  What are the best ingredients?  It seems they are the ingredients that people like.  Chicken, turkey, fish, carrots, peas, rice.  Because more people now think they are sensitive to gluten, and we know people with Celiac Disease really are, maybe dogs and cats are too, so gluten became a bad ingredient.

I thought about what felines and canines in the wild eat.  You see big cats bringing down an antelope on TV and what do they eat first?  They dive into the viscera of the animal.  They don’t go for the rump roast, they go for the intestines, heart, liver, i.e. ‘by-products’.  When my cats that I had as a young women caught a bird or a mouse, they ate the whole thing.  That meant fur, feet, eyeballs, some feathers, bones and other yukky things – more ‘by-products’.  Included in the antelope was a stomach (or maybe a rumen) full of grains and partially digested grasses.  The birds and mice had plant material in their stomachs too.  Mmmm, could that be the reason why my cats like the food with by-products and grains?

Royal Canin makes a very large number of different varieties of foods: by breed, by size, by taste, smell, or textural preference.  The ones, like the Ragdoll variety, that don’t sell in huge quantities, have higher prices.  Are their ingredients really cheap?  Maybe, or maybe not.  The important thing is that all my cats like the Indoor Adult 27 and really like a new one I tried, Selective 40 – Protein Preference.  Because I know that my cats like variety, I will still offer them the Blue Wilderness.  They also get a variety of canned food like the trusty favorites from Fancy Feast, as well as Earthborn Chicken Cacciatore, Wilderness chicken and turkey varieties, and Wellness chicken and turkey varieties.

But I’m no longer averse to corn or wheat, providing meat is the first ingredient.  I never really did have a problem with by-products, since they are the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart and other yukky stuff that dogs and cats just love.

I keep remembering the cats of my youth, who lived healthy lives to advanced age on Meow Mix and 9 Lives…