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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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’.